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At the center of the Disc, rising above the world like nothing less than the tallest mountain on the Disc stands the tallest mountain on the Disc: Cori Celesti, home of the gods of the Disc. There, in the city the gods call Dunmanifestin*, games are played. Though games such as Significant Quest and Literal Interpretation** help pass the long millennia, the foremost pastime is the Game.
The Game is always being played, and for high stakes. Some gods are regarded as better players than others, if only because they are. Alliances are forged and broken, the dynamic between gods is a fractious thing in large part because of it.
And lately, one can't help but notice, there are a fair amount of equine pieces being put into play.
* The gods of the Disc are inordinately proud of their cleverness, and no one has the heart (or, indeed, the suicidal bravery) to tell them otherwise.
** A lot like Pictionary, except players sculpt their entries out of clay and bring them to life once successfully guessed. When it comes to wildlife on the Disc, it explains a lot, actually.
"Tell me again about the fields."
"There are wide, rolling fields there," the elder sister replied softly. "Fields of sweet grass and blue grass and beautiful, sweet flowers."
"And there are no humans there, right?"
"No, sister. No humans at all."
There was a long, contemplative silence, as the caravan moved down the road.
"We're going to go there someday, right?"
"Yes," said the elder, and she can hardly be blamed if she thought she was lying at the time.
A man and a pony walked side-by-side, heading turnwise from the city of Ankh-Morpork. This in and of itself wasn't too outlandish, particularly on the Disc. The man was somewhat gangly -- thin for his height, with knobby knees -- and the exceptionally worn, formerly red robe he wore entirely failed to even attempt to hide this fact. Perched on the man's head was an equally worn hat, which had also clearly been red before time and travel faded its colour. Tarnished sequins and flaking glitter spelled the word "WIZZARD" in large letters, in case there were any doubts about the nature of the man wearing it.*
To say the man's clothing had seen better days was a gross misrepresentation of fact. What it had seen, in fact, was worse days, and a great many of them. Rincewind had been to Hell and back, and worse places besides, and even if it hadn't always made the journey with him, his hat was still a testament to the kind of life he lived.**
The pony was a relatively fit (albeit middle aged, and going a bit pudgy 'round the middle) specimen of the species Equus Monocerata (Dikos Mou Micros), blue in color, wearing a blue robe decorated with golden stars and large brass bells, and a wide-brimmed hat with similar decorations. Whereas the man had a scraggly attempt at a beard, the pony's was long, full, and white.
Rincewind struggled to contain his jealousy.
Star Swirl, on the other hand, was excited - nearly jubilant, in fact. When he first tracked the Earth Ponies' food shortage down to a small herd of Windigos, he knew how to solve the problem plaguing all three tribes. Granted, he didn't seem to even be in the proper plane anymore, but all he needed to fix that was the help of a good wizard or two, and here was Rincewind. Why, his hat even said "WIZZARD" on it! Things, he thought, were going to be all right after all.***
* There were. Many of them. Even (in fact especially) with the hat.
** One that involved quite a lot of fleeing and near-Death experiences.
*** Star Swirl, not being native to the Disc, can be forgiven for this lapse of sense. Sadly, he is not exempt from the consequences of it.
As the sun set over the Disc, night didn't so much fall as trickle (and, in places, crystallize) across the landscape like a thick, black treacle. This was normally caused by two things: the effect of a strong magical field on light, slowing it down and causing it to flow like a thick liquid, and the fact that, in a reality* of a magical nature, everything has its opposite. The third factor, heretofore unknown on the Disc - at least not during recorded history - was the unexpected cold weather that appeared in pockets** around the Circle Sea, crystallizing the fluid darkness and only enhancing the metaphor.
Even in the city of Dunmanifestin, at the top of Cori Celesti, at the very center of the Hublands, the cold was noted. Gods, not universally known for their thick clothing, felt the chill despite the heat generated by the thick magical fields they radiated.
Still in the game were, unsurprisingly, Fate and the Lady, glaring at each other across the game board coolly, assessing each other as always. More surprisingly, Offler the Crocodile God, who had formed an unexpected alliance with Errata early on but had played an even more unexpectedly conservative game thus far, was, if not still in the game, not yet out of it.
Fate smiled almost warmly, His eyes crinkling almost merrily as He made His move. The nature of His eyes, however, made such a gesture worse than meaningless. For the eyes of Fate, while they appear to be merely shadowed and dark, upon closer inspection are the cold black of an empty space, where entropy has done its work and done it well, and nothing remains but the End of All Things.
When He lifted His hand from the board, the other players (and observers as well) noted that the three pieces he'd had at the start of his turn had each multiplied again, each piece remaining in place while two smaller pieces advanced to other places on the board. Fate, it seemed, was playing a game of attrition, a strategy that had served Him well against other opponents.
The Lady surveyed the Board, her green*** eyes narrowing speculatively. Almost idly, She moved two of Her pieces - an old favourite, and a new piece introduced when Errata had suggested they try Her new custom character rules.
Offler snorted, looked over the board, fingered something in a satchel He wore, then shook His head. "I'll path," he said for the twelfth time that day.
* The term is, admittedly, used loosely.
** Not, it must be said, literally - those whose clothing did not feature pockets experienced the phenomenon every bit as much as those whose clothing did. Those who didn't wear clothing, pockets or no, experienced it even moreso.
*** The gods of the Disc could take any form they chose, with the exception of their eyes, the nature of which they could not change. The eyes of the Lady were, as always, emerald green, sans white or pupil.
Unseen University sparkled in the night, which was similar enough to its usual behaviour to fool the casual observer. Where it would normally give off the occasional octarine spark, however, visible only to wizards, it now shone with reflected light where ice crystals formed on nearly every surface.
Students holed up in their rooms, as did most of the faculty. Fires, natural or magical, did not last long in the fireplaces around the University. No sooner would they get started than frigid winds would blow through the flue and blow them out, no matter how powerful the spell to light it.
In fact, there was one warm place left in the University - the Library, warmed by the magical radiation of thousands of assorted spellbooks, grimoires, and magical codices.
The Librarian knuckled his way through the stacks, making soft grunting noises in the back of his throat as he looked around. A surprising number of students and faculty had suddenly discovered a need to do late night research tonight. He couldn't blame them, he supposed. So long as the books were undisturbed, and cigarettes were smoked outside, the Librarian would not raise a fuss.
He moved almost invisibly and inaudibly, watching over his charges and, for tonight at least, his guests.
"Oh yes," Star Swirl was saying as he and Rincewind plodded on, "there are some truly magical beasts where I come from."
"More magical than talking unicorns, d'youmean?"
"What's so magical about talking unicorns?" scoffed the pony. "Talking unicorns are a bushel a bit. A unicorn that'll shut up, now, there's someone to sit up and take notice of!"
"Oh really," Rincewind said drily. "Know any?"
Rather than take offense, Star Swirl laughed. "I have been accused of prattling," he admitted. "If it bothers you, just let me know. I've been known to keep quiet for, oh, seconds at a time."
Rincewind stifled a yawn.
Star Swirl glanced up at him. "Am I boring you?"
"Oh no," Rincewind said, startled to find it true. "I'm actually rather enjoying the company for a change. It's just..." He yawned again. "If we don't find some shelter soon, I'm liable to fall asleep on my feet."
Star Swirl chuckled. "Nothing wrong with sleeping standing up," he said. "These days, I find it's easier than climbing out of bed in the mornings."
"Except I haven't got four legs." Another yawn. "Falling asleep for me is liable to turn rather literal, I'm afraid."
"Huh." Star Swirl thought for a moment. "Might be able to do something about that," he said. "Can't promise a soft bed, but I should at least be able to keep the wind off."
Rincewind let out a yelp, as something bumped into him from behind. He leapt forward, turning in midair, only to find his Luggage plodding along patiently behind him.
Such was his startlement, he actually had time to run that sentence through his head two more times before he touched ground, certain there was something wrong with it.
"Oh, it's you," he said. "Sorry I didn't come get you. I was rather in a hurry to leave town."
The Luggage gave him a long-suffering look that altogether lacked menace, then sat down, retracting the dozens of pink legs it had been following the two on. As Rincewind stared in amazement at this altogether not-nearly-hostile-enough display, it flipped open its lid to show him its contents.
"What is that?" The blue pony approached the Luggage with, in Rincewind's opinion, not nearly enough trepidation and entirely too much curiosity.
"It's just The Luggage. It sort of belongs to me."
"There's generally a bit of disagreement as to who owns whom," Rincewind clarified.
"You'll have to explain the enchantments you've got on it," Star Swirl said with a slowly widening smile. "I've never seen a luggage do that before. Not even with a Come-to-Life spell."
"Oh, I haven't enchanted it. It's made of sapient pearwood. A staggering amount of it, if I'm to be honest."
"So it's the material itself that makes it move like that?"
The Luggage extended its legs - hundreds of tiny, pink-hued wooden legs covering the entire bottom of it, which fascinated Star Swirl - and trotted up to Rincewind, nudging him again.
"Is that...?" Rincewind blinked at the contents. The luggage was completely stuffed with a large, lumpy, formerly white bulge of cloth. "That's my mattress!" he said accusingly. "You've gone and eaten my mattress, you wretched thing!"
The Luggage sagged, emanating an aura of disappointment.
"Erm," said Star Swirl.
Star Swirl frowned. "Have you considered," he said, "that it was bringing you your mattress?"
"No," said Rincewind in genuine surprise.
"Well, I mean, it is your Luggage, you said. And it only interrupted when we were talking about finding a place to sleep."
The Luggage shuffled around to face Star Swirl, a complicated manouvre that would make the Centipede's Dilemma seem like basic arithmetic, and sat down for all the world like a happy puppy.
Rincewind shrank back in terror. "What's got into it, I wonder?" he said. "Besides my mattress."
"It's..." Rincewind examined the Luggage closely. "It's being nice." Carefully, more-than-half expecting the Luggage to revert to form and behave as hostilely as ever (if not moreso, which was a truly horrifying thought), Rincewind pulled the mattress out of the Luggage, marveling as it unfolded into something other than its usual lumpy self.
Lumpy it remained, and there was an apparent limit to how clean even the Luggage could get the off-white monstrosity, but it was, indeed, clean. Rincewind sniffed it. As he suspected it would, it smelled faintly of lavender. Taken aback, he addressed the Luggage again. "Thank you," he said.
The luggage merely flipped its lid shut and radiated satisfaction.
"I don't suppose you managed to grab a tent on the way out?"
Without moving, the Luggage gave the impression of shrugging, a remarkable feat, all things considered.
"Something's different," Rincewind said. "I'm not sure if I like it."
"In my experience, the Universe is only ever nice to me when It's setting me up for a fall."
"That's a terrible outlook," grunted Star Swirl.
Rincewind had to agree. But, he also stubbornly insisted, it was accurate.