'It's heading for the Library!' he repeated. 'You've got to stop it! If it gets there the magic'll make it invincible! We'll never beat it! It'll be able to bring others!'
'You're wizards,' said Ginger. 'Why don't you stop it?'
Victor shook his head. 'The Things like our magic,' he said. 'If you use it anywhere around them, it only makes them stronger. But I don't see what I can do . . . '
His voice trailed off. The crowd was watching him expectantly.
They weren't looking at him as if he was their only hope. They were looking at him is if he was their certainty.
He heard a small child say, 'What happens now, Mum?'
The fat woman holding it said, authoritatively, 'It's easy. He rushes up and stops it just at the last minute. Happens every time. Seen him do it before.'
'I've never done it before!' said Victor.
'Saw you do it,' said the woman smugly. 'In Sons of the Dessert. When this lady here', she gave a brief curtsey in the direction of Ginger, 'was on that horse what threw her over the cliff, and you galloped up and grabbed her at the last minute. Very impressive, I thought.'
'That wasn't Sons of the Dessert,' said an elderly man pedantically, while he filled his pipe, 'that was Valley of the Trolls.'
'It was Sons,' said a thin woman behind him. 'I should know, I watched it twenty-seven times.'
'Yes, it was very good, wasn't it,' said the first woman. 'Every time I see a scene where she leaves him and he turns to her and gives her that look, I burst into tears-'
'Excuse me, but that wasn't Sons of the Dessert,' said the man, speaking slowly and deliberately. 'You're thinking of the famous plaza scene in Burninge Passiones.'
The fat woman took Ginger's unresisting hand and patted it.
'You've got a good man there,' she said. 'The way he always rescues you every time. If I was being dragged off by mad trolls my ole man wouldn't say a word except to ask where I wanted my clothes sent.'
'My husband wouldn't get out of his chair if I was being et by dragons,' said the thin woman. She gave Ginger a gentle prod. 'But you want to wear more clothes, miss. Next time you're taken off to be rescued, you insist they let you take a warm coat. I never see you on the screen without thinking to myself, she's temptin' a dose of 'flu, going around like that.'
'Where's 'is sword?' said the child, kicking its mother on the shin.
'I expect he'll be off to fetch it directly,' she said, giving Victor an encouraging smile.
'Er. Yes,' he said. 'Come on, Ginger.' He grabbed her hand.
'Give the lad room,' shouted the pipe smoker authoritatively.
A space cleared around them. Ginger and Victor saw a thousand expectant faces watching them.
'They think we're real,' moaned Ginger. 'No-one's doing anything because they think you're a hero, for gods' sake! And we can't do anything! This Thing is bigger than both of us!'
Victor stared down at the damp cobblestones. I can probably remember some magic, he thought, but ordinary magic's no good against the Dungeon Dimensions. And I'm pretty sure real heroes don't hang around in the middle of cheering crowds. They get on with the job. Real heroes are like poor old Gaspode. No-one ever notices them until afterwards. That's the reality.'
He raised his head slowly.
Or is this the reality?
The air crackled. There was another kind of magic. It was snapping wildly in the world now, like a broken film. If only he could grab it . . .
Reality didn't have to be real. Maybe if conditions were right, it just had to be what people believed . . .
'Stand back,' he whispered.
'What're you going to do?' said Ginger.
'Try some Holy Wood kind of magic.'
'There's nothing magic about Holy Wood!'
'I . . . think there is. A different sort. We've felt it. Magic's where you find it.'
He took a few deep breaths, and let his mind unravel slowly. That was the secret. You did it, you just didn't think about it. You just let the instructions come from outside. It was just a job. You just felt the eye of the picture-box on you, and it was a different world, a world that was just a flickering silver square.
That was the secret. The flicker.
Ordinary magic just moved things around. It couldn't create a real thing that'd last for more than a second, because that took a lot of power.
But Holy Wood easily created things over and over again, dozens of times a second. They didn't have to last for long. They just had to last for long enough.
But you had to work Holy Wood magic by Holy Wood's rules . . .
He extended a rock-steady hand towards the dark sky.
There was a sheet of lightning that illuminated the whole city . . .
Gaffer spun the handle furiously.
No-one saw where the horse came from. It was just there, leaping over the heads of the crowd. It was white, with lots of impressive silver work on the bridle. Victor swung up into the saddle as it cantered past, then made it rear impressively so that it pawed the air. He drew a sword which hadn't been there a moment before.
The sword and the horse flickered almost imperceptibly.
Victor smiled. Light glinted off a tooth. Ting. A glint, but no sound; they hadn't invented sound, yet.
Believe it. That was the way. Never stop believing. Fool the eye, fool the brain.
Then he galloped between the cheering lines of spectators towards the University and the big scene.
The handleman relaxed. Ginger tapped him on the shoulder.
'If you stop turning that handle,' she said sweetly, 'I'll break your bloody neck.'
'But he's nearly out of shot-'
Ginger propelled him towards Windle Poons' ancient wheelchair and gave Windle a smile that made little clouds of wax boil out of his ears.
'Excuse me,' she said, in a sultry voice that caused all the wizards to curl their toes up in their pointy shoes, 'but could we borrow you for a minute?'
'Way-hey! Draw it mild!'
. . . whumm . . . whumm . . .
Ponder Stibbons knew about the vase, of course. All the students had wandered along to have a look at it.
He didn't pay it much attention as he sneaked along the corridor, attempting once again to make a bid for an evening's freedom .
. . . whummwhummWHUMMWHUMMWHUMMMMwhumm.
All he had to do was cut across through the cloisters and . . .
All eight pottery elephants shot pellets at once. The resograph exploded, turning the roof into something like a pepper shaker.
After a minute or two Ponder got up, very carefully. His hat was simply a collection of holes held together by thread. A piece had been taken out of one of his ears.
'I only wanted a drink,' he said, muzzily. 'What's wrong with that?'
The Librarian crouched on the dome of the Library, watching the crowds scurrying through the streets as the monstrous figure lurched nearer.
He was slightly surprised to see it followed by some sort of spectral horse whose hooves made no sound on the cobbles.
And that was followed by a three-wheeled bathchair that took the corner on only two of them, sparks streaming away behind it. It was loaded down with wizards, all shouting at the tops of their voices. Occasionally one of them would lose his grip and have to run behind until he could get up enough speed to leap on again.
Three of them hadn't made it. That is, one of them had made it sufficiently to get a grip on the trailing leather cover, and the other two had made it just enough to grab the robe of the one in front, so that now, every time it took a bend, a tail of three wizards going 'whaaaaa' snapped wildly across the road behind it.
There were also a number of civilians, but if anything they were shouting louder than the wizards.
The Librarian had seen many weird things in his time, but that was undoubtedly the 57th strangest.
Up here the could very clearly hear the voices.
'-got to keep it turning! He can only make it work if you keep it turning! It's Holy Wood magic! He's making it work in the real world!' That was a girl's voice.
'All right, but the imps get very fractious if-' That was a man's voice under extreme pressure.
'Bugger the imps!'
'How can he make a horse?' That was the Dean. The Librarian recognized the whine. 'That's high-grade magic!'
'It's not a real horse, it's a moving-picture horse.' The girl again. 'You! You're slowing down!'
'I'm not! I'm not! Look, I'm turning the handle, I'm turning the handle!'
'He can't ride on a horse that isn't real!'
'You're a magician and you really believe that?'
'Well, whatever. This isn't your kind of magic.'
The Librarian nodded, and then stopped listening. He had other things to do.
The Thing was almost level with the Tower of Art, and would soon turn to head for the Library. Things always homed in on the nearest source of magic. They needed it.
The Librarian had found a long iron pike in one of the University's mouldering storerooms. He held it carefully in one foot while he unfastened the rope he'd tied to the weathercock. It stretched all the way up to the top of the Tower; it had taken him all night to fix it up.
He surveyed the city below, and then pounded his chest and roared:
'AaaaAAAaaaAAA - hngh, hngh.'
Maybe the pounding wasn't entirely necessary, he thought, while he waited for the buzzing noises and little flashing lights to go away.
He gripped the pike in one hand, the rope in the other, and leapt.
The most graphic way of describing the Librarian's swing across the buildings of Unseen University is to simply transcribe the noises made during the flight.
First: 'AaaAAAaaaAAAaaa.' This is self-explanatory, and refers to the early part of the swing, when everything looked as if it was going well. .
Then: 'Aaarghhhh.' This was the noise made as he missed the lurching Thing by several metres and was realizing that, if you have tied a rope to the top of a very high and extremely solid stone tower and are now swinging towards it, failing to hit something on the way is an error which you will regret for the rest of your truncated life.
The rope completed its swing. There was a noise exactly like a rubber sack full of butter hitting a stone slab and this was followed, after a moment or two, by a very quiet 'oook'.
The pike clanged away in the darkness. The Librarian spread-eagled himself starfish-like against the wall, ramming fingers and toes into every available crevice.
He might have been able to climb his way down but the option never became available, because the Thing reached out a flickering hand and plucked him off the wall with a noise like a sink-plunger clearing a difficult blockage.
It held him up to what was currently its face.
The crowds flowed into the square in front of Unseen University, with the Dibblers to the fore.
'Look at them,' Cut-me-own-Throat sighed. 'There must be thousands of them, and no-one's selling 'em anything.'
The wheelchair slid to a halt in another spray of sparks.
Victor was waiting for it, the spectral horse flickering under him. Not one horse, but a succession of horses. Not moving, but changing from frame to frame.
Lightning flashed again.
'What's he doing?' said the Chair.
'Trying to keep It from getting to the Library,' said the Dean, peering through the rain that was beginning to thud on the cobbles. 'To stay alive in reality, Things need magic to hold themselves together. They've got no natural morphogenic field, you see, and-'
'Do something! Blow it up with magic!' shouted Ginger. 'Oh, that poor monkey!'
'We can't use magic! That's like pouring oil on a fire!' snapped the Dean. 'Besides . . . I don't know how you go about blowing up a fifty-foot woman. It's not the sort of thing I've ever been called upon to do.'