'Indeed.' The Patrician looked down at the paperwork on his desk. 'Thank you. You may go.'

'You know what, lordship? They liked them. They actually liked them!'


That the Alchemists had a Guild at all was remarkable. Wizards were just as unco-operative, but they also were by nature hierarchical and competitive. They needed organization. What was the good of being a wizard of the Seventh Level if you didn't have six other levels to look down on and the Eighth Level to aspire to? You needed other wizards to hate and despise.

Whereas every alchemist was an alchemist alone, working in darkened rooms or hidden cellars and endlessly searching for the big casino - the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Life. They tended to be thin, pink-eyed men, with beards that weren't really beards but more like groups of individual hairs clustering together for mutual protection, and many of them had that vague, unworldly expression that you get from spending too much time in the presence of boiling mercury.

It wasn't that alchemists hated other alchemists. They often didn't notice them, or thought they were walruses.

And so their tiny, despised Guild had never aspired to the powerful status of the Guilds of, say, the Thieves or the Beggars or the Assassins, but devoted itself instead to the aid of widows and families of those alchemists who had taken an overly relaxed attitude to potassium cyanide, for example, or had distilled some interesting fungi, drunk the result, and then stepped off the roof to play with the fairies. There weren't actually very many widows and orphans, of course, because alchemists found it difficult to relate to other people long enough, and generally if they ever managed to marry it was only to have someone to hold their crucibles.

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By and large, the only skill the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork had discovered so far was the ability to turn gold into less gold.

Until now . . .

Now they were full of the nervous excitement of those who have found an unexpected fortune in their bank account and don't know whether to draw people's attention to it or simply take the lot and run.

'The wizards aren't going to like it,' said one of them, a thin, hesitant man called Lully. 'They're going to call it magic. You know they get really pissed if they think you're doing magic and you're not a wizard.'

'There isn't any magic involved,' said Thomas Silverfish, the president of the Guild.

'There's the imps.'

'That's not magic. That's just ordinary occult.'

'Well, there's the salamanders.'

'Perfectly normal natural history. Nothing wrong with that.'

'Well, all right. But they'll call it magic. You know what they're like.'

The alchemists nodded gloomily.

'They're reactionaries,' said Sendivoge, the Guild secretary. 'Bloated thaumocrats. And the other Guilds, too. What do they know about the march of progress? What do they care? They could have been doing something like this for years, but did they? Not them! Just think how we can make people's lives so much . . . well, better. The possibilities are immense.'

'Educational,' said Silverfish.

'Historical,' said Lully.

'And of course there's entertainment,' said Peavie, the Guild treasurer. He was a small, nervous man. Most alchemists were nervous, in any case; it came from not knowing what the crucible of bubbling stuff they were experimenting with was going to do next.

'Well, yes. Obviously some entertainment,' said Silverfish.

'Some of the great historical dramas,' said Peavie. 'Just picture the scene! You get some actors together, they act it just once, and people all over the Disc will be able to see it as many times as they like! A great saving in wages, by the way,' he added.

'But tastefully done,' said Silverfish. 'We have a great responsibility to see that nothing is done which is in any way . . . ' his voice trailed off, ' . . . you know . . . coarse.'

'They'll stop us,' said Lully darkly. 'I know those wizards.'

'I've been giving that some thought,' said Silverfish. 'The light's too bad here anyway. We agreed. We need clear skies. And we need to be a long way away. I think I know just the place.'

'You know, I can't believe we're doing this,' said Peavie. 'A month ago it was just a mad idea. And now it's all worked! It's just like magic! Only not magical, if you see what I mean,' he added quickly.

'Not just illusion, but real illusion,' said Lully.

'I don't know if anyone's thought about this,' said Peavie, 'but this could make us a bit of money. Um?'

'But that isn't important,' said Silverfish.

'No. No, of course not,' muttered Peavie. He glanced at the others.

'Shall we watch it again?' he said, shyly. 'I don't mind turning the handle. And, and . . . well, I know I haven't contributed very much to this project, but I did come up with this, er, this stuff.'

He pulled a very large bag from the pocket of his robe and dropped it on the table. It fell over, and a few fluffy, white mis-shapen balls rolled out.

The alchemists stared at it.

'What is it?' said Lully.

'Well,' said Peavie, uncomfortably, 'what you do is, you take some corn, and you put it in, say, a Number 3 crucible, with some cooking oil, you see, and then you put a plate or something on top of it, and when you heat it up it goes bang, I mean, not seriously bang, and when it's stopped banging you take the plate off and it's metamorphosed into these, er, things . . . ' He looked at their uncomprehending faces. 'You can eat it,' he mumbled apologetically. 'If you put butter and salt on it, it tastes like salty butter.'

Silverfish reached out a chemical-stained hand and cautiously selected a fluffy morsel. He chewed it thoughtfully.

'Don't really know why I did it,' said Peavie, blushing. 'Just sort of had an idea that it was right.'

Silverfish went on chewing.

'Tastes like cardboard,' he said, after a while.

'Sorry,' said Peavie, trying to scoop the rest of the heap back into the sack. Silverfish laid a gentle hand on his arm.

'Mind you,' he said, selecting another puffed morsel, 'it does have a certain something, doesn't it? They do seem right. What did you say it's called?'

'Hasn't really got a name,' said Peavie. 'I just call it banged grains.'

Silverfish took another one. 'Funny how you want to go on eating them,' he said. 'Sort of more-ish. Banged grains? Right. Anyway . . . gentlemen, let us turn the handle one more time.'

Lully started to wind the film back into the unmagical lantern.

'You were saying you knew a place where we could really build up the project and where the wizards wouldn't bother us?' he said.

Silverfish grabbed a handful of banged grains.

'It's along the coast a way,' he said. 'Nice and sunny and no-one ever goes there these days. Nothing there but some wind-blown old forest and a temple and sand dunes.'

'A temple? Gods can get really pissed if you-' Peavie began.

'Look,' said Silverfish, 'the whole area's been deserted for centuries. There's nothing there. No people, no gods, no nothing. Just lots of sunlight and land, waiting for us. It's our chance, lads. We're not allowed to make magic, we can't make gold, we can't even make a living - so let's make moving pictures. Let's make history!'

The alchemists sat back and looked more cheerful.

'Yeah,' said Lully.

'Oh. Right,' said Peavie.

'Here's to moving pictures,' said Sendivoge, holding up a handful of banged grains. 'How'd you hear about this place?'

'Oh, I-' Silverfish stopped. He looked puzzled. 'Don't know,' he said, eventually. 'Can't . . . quite remember. Must have heard about it once and forgot it, and then it just popped into my head. You know how these things happen.'

'Yeah,' said Lully. 'Like with me and the film. It was like I was remembering how to do it. Funny old tricks the mind can play.'



' 'S'n idea whose time has come, see.'



'That must be it.'

A slightly worried silence settled over the table. It was the sound of minds trying to put their mental fingers on something that was bothering them.

The air seemed to glitter.

'What's this place called?' said Lully, eventually.

'Don't know what it was called in the old days,' said Silverfish, leaning back and pulling the banged grains towards him. 'These days they call it the Holy Wood.'

'Holy Wood,' said Lully. 'Sounds . . . familiar.' There was another silence while they thought about it.

It was broken by Sendivoge.

'Oh, well,' he said cheerfully, 'Holy Wood, here we come.'

'Yeah,' said Silverfish, shaking his head as if to dislodge a disquieting thought. 'Funny thing, really. I've got. this feeling . . . that we've been going there . . . all this time.'

Several thousand miles under Silverfish, Great A'Tuin the world turtle sculled dreamily on through the starry night.

Reality is a curve.

That's not the problem. The problem is that there isn't as much as there should be. According to some of the more mystical texts in the stacks of the library of Unseen University

- the Discworld's premier college of wizardry and big dinners, whose collection of books is so massive that it distorts Space and Time -

- at least nine-tenths of all the original reality ever created lies outside the multiverse, and since the multiverse by definition includes absolutely everything that is anything, this puts a bit of a strain on things.

Outside the boundaries of the universes lie the raw realities, the couldhave-beens, the might-bes, the neverweres, the wild ideas, all being created and uncreated chaotically like elements in fermenting supernovas.

Just occasionally where the walls of the worlds have worn a bit thin, they can leak in.

And reality leaks out.

The effect is like one of those deep-sea geysers of hot water, around which strange submarine creatures find enough warmth and food to make a brief, tiny oasis of existence in an environment where there shouldn't be any existence at all.

The idea of Holy Wood leaked innocently and joyfully into the Discworld.

And reality leaked out.

And was found. For there are Things outside, whose ability to sniff out tiny frail conglomerations of reality made the thing with the sharks and the trace of blood seem very boring indeed. They began to gather.

A storm slid in across the sand dunes but, where it reached the low hill, the clouds seemed to curve away. Only a few drops of rain hit the parched soil, and the gale became nothing more than a faint breeze.

It blew sand over the long-dead remains of afire.

Further down the slope, near a hole that was now big enough for, say, a badger, a small rock dislodged itself and rolled away.

A month went by quickly. It didn't want to hang around.

The Bursar knocked respectfully at the Archchancellor's door and then opened it.

A crossbow bolt nailed his hat to the woodwork.

The Archchancellor lowered the bow and glared at him.

'Bloody dangerous thing to do, wasn't it?' he said. 'You could have caused a nasty accident.'

The Bursar hadn't got where he was today, or rather where he had been ten seconds ago, which was where a calm and self-assured personality was, rather than where he was now, which was on the verge of a mild heart attack, without a tremendous ability to recover from unexpected upsets.

He unpinned his hat from the target chalked on the ancient woodwork.

'No harm done,' he said. No voice could be as calm as that without tremendous effort. 'You can barely see the hole. Why, er, are you shooting at the door, Master?'

'Use your common sense, man! It's dark outside and the damn walls are made of stone. You don't expect me to shoot at the damn walls?'

'Ah,' said the Bursar. 'The door is, er, five hundred years old, you know,' he added, with finely-tuned reproach.

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