Legend said that any mortal man who read more than a few lines of the original copy would die insane.

This was certainly true. Legend also said that the book contained illustrations that would make a strong man's brain dribble out of his ears.


This was probably true, too. Legend went on to say that merely opening the Necrotelicomnicon would cause a man's flesh to crawl off his hand and up his arm.

No-one actually knew if this was true, but it sounded horrible enough to be true and no-one was about to try any experiments.

Legend had a lot to say about the Necrotelicomnicon, in fact, but absolutely nothing to say about orang-utans, who could tear the book into little bits and chew it for all legend cared. The worst that had ever happened to the Librarian after looking at it was a mild migraine and a touch of eczema, but that was no reason to take chances. He adjusted the smoked glass of the visor and ran one black-leather finger down the Index; the words bridled as the digit slid past, and tried to bite it.

Occasionally he'd hold the strip of film up to the light of the flickering torch.

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The wind and sand had blurred them, but there was no doubt that there were carvings on the rock. And the Librarian had seen designs like that before.

He found the reference he was looking for and, after a brief struggle during which he had to threaten the Necrotelicomnicon with the torch, forced the book to turn to the page.

He peered closer.

Good old Achmed the I Just Get These Headaches . . .

' . . . and in that hill, it is said, a Door out of the World was found, and people of the city watched What was Seen therein, knowing not that Dread waited between the universes . . . '

The Librarian's fingertip dragged from right to left across the pictures, and skipped to the next paragraph.

' . . . for Others found the Gate of Holy Wood and fell upon the World, and in one nighte All Manner of Madnesse befell, and Chaos prevailed, and the City sank beneath the Sea, and all became one withe the fishes and the lobsters save for the few who fled . . . '

He curled a lip, and looked further down the page.

' . . . a Golden Warrior, who drove the Fiends back and saved the World, and said, Where the Gate is, There Am I Also; I Am He that was Born of Holy Wood, to guard the

Wild Idea. And they said, What must we do to Destroy the Gate Forever, and he said unto them, This you Cannot Do, for it is Not a Thing, but I will Guard the Gate for you. And they, not having been Born yesterday, and fearing the Cure more than the Malady, said to him, What will you Take from Us, that you will Guard the Door. And he grew until he was the height of a tree and said, Only your Remembrance, that I do Not Sleep. Three times a day will you remember Holy Wood. Else The Cities of the World Will Tremble and Fall, and you will See the Greatest of them All in Flames. And with that the Golden Man took up his golden sword and went into the Hill and stood at the Gate, forever.

'And the People said to one another, Funny, he lookes just like my Uncle Osbert . . . '

The Librarian turned the page.

' . . . But there were among them, humans and animals alike, those touched by the magic of Holy Wood. It goeth through the generations like an ancient curse, until the priests cease in their Remembrance and the Golden Man sleepeth. Then let the world Beware . . . '

The Librarian let the book snap shut.

It wasn't an uncommon legend. -He'd read it before at least, had read most of it - in books considerably less dangerous than this. You came across variants in all the cities of the Sto Plain. There had been a city once, in the mists of pre-history - bigger than Ankh-Morpork, if that were possible. And the inhabitants had done something, some sort of unspeakable crime not just against Mankind or the gods but against the very nature of the universe itself, which had been so dreadful that it had sunk beneath the sea one stormy night. Only a few people had survived to carry to the barbarian peoples in the less-advanced parts of the Disc all the arts and crafts of civilization, such as usury and macrame.

No-one had ever really taken it seriously. It was just one of those usual 'If you don't stop it you'll go blind' myths that civilizations tended to hand on to their descendants.

After all, Ankh-Morpork itself was generally considered as wicked a city as you could hope to find in a year of shore leaves, and seemed to have avoided any kind of supernatural vengeance, although it was always possible that it had taken place and no-one had noticed.

Legend had always put the nameless city far away and long ago.

No-one knew where it was, or even if it had existed.

The Librarian glanced at the symbols again.

They were very familiar. They were on the old ruins all over Holy Wood.

Azhural stood on a low hill, watching the sea of elephants move below him. Here and there a supply wagon bobbed between the dusty grey bodies like a rudderless boat. A mile of veldt was being churned into a soggy mud wallow, bare of grass - although, by the smell of it, it'd be the greenest patch on the Disc after the rains came.

He dabbed at his eyes with a corner of his robe.

Three hundred and sixty-three! Who'd have thought it?

The air was solid with the piqued trumpeting of three hundred and sixty-three elephants. And with the hunting and trapping parties already going on ahead, there should be plenty more. According to M'Bu, anyway. And he wasn't going to argue.

Funny, that. For years he'd thought of M'Bu as a sort of mobile smile. A handy lad with a brush and shovel, but not what you might call a major achiever.

And then suddenly someone somewhere wanted a thousand elephants, and the lad had raised his head and a gleam had come into his eye and you could see that under that grin was a skilled kilopachydermatolist ready to answer the call. Funny. You could know someone for their whole life and not realize that the gods had put them in this world to move a thousand elephants around the place.

Azhural had no sons. He'd already made up his mind to leave everything to his assistant. Everything he had at this

point amounted to three hundred and sixty-three elephants and, ahaha, a mammoth overdraft, but it was the thought that counted.

M'Bu trotted up the path towards him, his clipboard held firmly under one arm.

'Everything ready, boss,' he said. 'You just got to say the word.'

Azhural drew himself up. He looked around at the heaving plain, the distant baobab trees, the purple mountains. Oh, yes. The mountains. He'd had misgivings about the mountains. He'd mentioned them to M'Bu, who said, 'We'll cross them bridges when we get to 'em, boss,' and when Azhural had pointed out that there weren't any bridges, had looked him squarely in the eye and said firmly, 'First we build them bridge, then we cross 'em.'

Far beyond the mountains was the Circle Sea and Ankh-Morpork and this Holy Wood place. Far-away places with strange sounding names.

A wind blew across the veldt, carrying faint whispers, even here.

Azhural raised his staff.

'It's fifteen hundred miles to Ankh-Morpork,' he said. 'We've got three hundred and sixty-three elephants, fifty carts of forage, the monsoon's about to break and we're wearing . . . we're wearing . . . sort of things, like glass, only dark . . . dark glass things on our eyes . . . ' His voice trailed off. His brow furrowed, as if he'd just been listening to his own voice and hadn't understood it. '

The air seemed to glitter.

He saw M'Bu staring at him.

He shrugged. 'Let's go,' he said.

M'Bu cupped his hands. He'd spent all night working out the order of the march.

'Blue Section bilong Uncle N'gru - forward!' he shouted. 'Yellow Section bilong Aunti Googool - forward! Green Section bilong Second-cousin! Kck! - forward . . . '

An hour later the veldt in front of the low hill was deserted except for a billion flies and one dung beetle who couldn't believe his luck.

Something went 'plop' on the red dust, throwing up a little crater.

And again, and again.

Lightning split the trunk of a nearby baobab.

The rains began.

Victor's back was beginning to ache. Carrying young women to safety looked a good idea on paper, but had major drawbacks after the first hundred yards.

'Have you any idea where she lives?' he said. 'And is it somewhere close?'

'No idea,' said Gaspode.

'She once said something about it being over a clothes shop,' said Victor.

'That'll be in the alley alongside Borgle's then,' said Gaspode.

Gaspode and Laddie led the way through the alleys and up a rickety outside staircase. Maybe they smelled out Ginger's room. Victor wasn't going to argue with mysterious animal senses.

Victor went up the back stairs as quietly as possible. He was dimly aware that where people stayed was often infested by the Common or Greatly Suspicious Landlady, and he felt that he had enough problems as it was.

He used Ginger's feet to push open the door.

It was a small room, low-ceilinged and furnished with the sad, washed-out furniture found in rented rooms across the multiverse. At least, that's how it had started out.

What it was furnished with now was Ginger.

She had saved every poster. Even those from early clicks, when she was just in very small print as A Girl. They were thumb-tacked to the walls. Ginger's face - and his own stared at him from every angle.

There was a large mirror at one end of the poky room, and a couple of half-burned candles in front of him.

Victor deposited the girl carefully on the narrow bed and then stared around him, very carefully. His sixth, seventh and eighth senses were screaming at him. He was in a place of magic.

'It's like a sort of temple,' he said. 'A temple to . . . herself.'

'It gives me the willies,' said Gaspode.

Victor stared. Maybe he'd always successfully avoided being awarded the pointy hat and big staff, but he had acquired wizard instincts. He had a sudden vision of a city under the sea, with octopuses curling stealthily through the drowned doorways and lobsters watching the streets.

'Fate don't like it when people take up more space than they ought to. Everyone knows that.'

I'm going to be the most famous person in the whole world, thought Victor. That's what she sail. He shook his head.

'No,' he said aloud. 'She just likes posters. It's just ordinary vanity.'

It didn't sound believable, even to him. The room fairly hummed with . . .

. . . what? He hadn't felt anything like it before. Power of some sort, certainly. Something that was brushing tantalizingly against his senses. Not exactly magic. At least, not the kind he was used to. But something that seemed similar while not being the same, like sugar compared with salt; the same shape and the same colour, but . . .

Ambition wasn't magical. Powerful, yes, but not magical . . . surely?

Magic wasn't difficult. That was the big secret that the whole baroque edifice of wizardry had been set up to conceal. Anyone with a bit of intelligence and enough perseverance could do magic, which was why the wizards cloaked it with rituals and the whole pointyhat business.

The trick was to do magic and get away with it.

Because it was as if the human race was a field of corn and magic helped the users grow just that bit taller, so that they stood out. That attracted the attention of the gods and - Victor hesitated - other Things. outside this world.

People who used magic without knowing what they were doing usually came to a sticky end.

All over the entire room, sometimes.

He pictured Ginger, back on the beach. I want to be the most famous person in the whole world. Perhaps that was something new, come to think of it. Not ambition for gold, or power, or land or all the things that were familiar parts of the human world. Just ambition to be yourself, as big as possible. Not ambition for, but to be.

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