Eventually a muffled voice said: 'You leaned.'
'Nonsense. A fine mess you got me into. What is it?'
'Some kind of vegetable?'
'Can't stand vegetables. Thins the blood.'
There was a pause. Then the farmers heard the other voice say: 'Well, I'm very sorry about that, you bloodthirsty overbearing tub of lard.'
There was another pause.
Then: 'Can I sack you, Bursar?'
'No, Archchancellor. I've got tenure.'
'In that case, help me out and let's go and find a drink.'
The farmers crept away.
'Dang me,' said the believer in cabbages. 'They're wizards. Best not to meddle in the affairs of danged wizards.'
'Yeah,' said the other farmer. 'Er . . . what does dang mean? Exactly?'
It was the time of the silence.
Nothing moved in Holy Wood except the light. It flickered slowly. Holy Wood light, Victor thought.
There was a feeling of dreadful expectation. If a movie set was a dream waiting to be made real, then the town was one step further up the scale - a real place waiting for something new, something that ordinary language couldn't define.
' ,' he said, and stopped.
' ?' said Ginger.
They stared at one another for a moment. Then Victor grabbed her hand and dragged her into the nearest building, which turned out to be the commissary.
The scene inside was indescribable and remained so until Victor found the blackboard that was used for what was laughingly referred to as the menu.
He picked up the chalk.
'I'M TALKING BUT I CANT HERE ME,' he wrote, and solemnly handed her the chalk.
'ME TO. Y?'
Victor tossed the chalk up and down thoughtfully, and then wrote: 'I THINK BCOS WE NEVER INVENTED SOUND MOVIES. IF WE DIDNT HAVE IMPS THAT COULD PAINT IN COLOR MAYBE THERE WOULD JUST BE BLAK AND WHITE HERE TOO.' .
They stared at the scene around them. There were untouched or half-eaten meals on almost every table. This wasn't particularly unusual at Borgle's, but normally they were accompanied by people complaining bitterly.
Ginger delicately dipped a finger in the nearest plate.
'Still warm,' she mouthed.
'Let's go,' said Victor quietly, pointing at the door.
She tried to say something complicated, scowled at his blank expression, and wrote: 'WE SHUOD WAIT FOR
Victor stood frozen for a moment. Then his lips shaped a phrase that Ginger would not admit to knowing and he made a dash for the outside.
The overloaded chair was already bowling along the street with smoke billowing from its axles. He jumped up and down in front of it, waving his arms.
A long silent conversation went on. There was a lot of chalking on the nearest wall. Finally Ginger couldn't contain her impatience any longer and hurried over.
'YOUVE GOT TO STAY AWAY. IF THEY BRAKE THRU YOU WIL BE A MEAL.'
'SO WILL YOU.' This was neater handwriting; it was the Dean's.
Victor wrote: 'XCEPT I THINK I KNOW WHAT'S HAPNEN. ANYWAY, YOU WILL BE NEEDED IF IT GOES WRONG.'
He nodded at the Dean and hurried back to Ginger and the Librarian. He gave the ape a worried look. Technically the Librarian was a wizard - at least, when he'd been human he was a wizard, so presumably he still was. On the other hand, he was also an ape, and a handy man to have around in an emergency. He decided to ask it.
'Come on,' he mouthed.
It was easy enough to find the way to the hill. Where there had been a path there was now a broad trail, poignantly scattered with the debris of hurried passage. A sandal. A discarded picture box. A trailing red feather boa.
The door into the hill had been torn off its hinges. A dull glow came from the tunnel. Victor shrugged and marched inside.
The debris hadn't been cleared right away, but it had been pushed aside and flattened down to allow the crowd to go through. The ceiling hadn't fallen in. This wasn't because of the debris. It was because of Detritus.
He was holding it up.
Nearly up. He was already down on one knee.
Victor and the Librarian stacked boulders around the troll until he could let the weight off his shoulders. He groaned, or at least looked as if he'd groaned, and toppled forward. Ginger helped him up.
'What happened?' she mouthed at him.
' ? ?' Detritus looked puzzled at the absence of his voice and tried to squint at his mouth.
Victor sighed. He had a vision of the Holy Wood people stampeding blindly along the passage, the trolls scrabbling at the blockage. Since Detritus was the toughest, naturally he'd play a major part. And since the only function he normally used his brain for was to stop the top of his head falling in, equally naturally he'd be the one left holding up the weight on the hill. Victor imagined him calling out, unheard, as the rest of them hurried by.
He wondered whether to write him a cheery message, but in Detritus' case this was almost certainly a waste of time. Anyway, the troll wasn't about to hang around. He loped off along the tunnel with a grim look on his face, concentrating fiercely on some private errand of his own. His trailing knuckles left two furrows in the dust.
The passage opened out into the cavern which was, Victor now realized, a sort of ante-chamber to the pit itself. Maybe thousands of years ago supplicants had flocked out here to buy . . . what? Consecrated sausages, maybe, and the holy banged grains.
Spectral light filled it now. It was still full of damp and ancient mould wherever Victor looked. Yet wherever he didn't look, at the edges of his vision, he kept getting the feeling that the place was decorated like a palace with red plush draperies and baroque gold decorations. He kept turning his head sharply, trying to trap the ghostly, glittering image.
He met the Librarian's worried frown, and chalked on the cave wall:
The Librarian nodded.
Victor winced, and led his little group of Holy Wood guerrillas -at least, two guerrillas and one orang-utan up the worn steps into the pit.
Victor realized later that it was Detritus who saved them all.
They took one look at the swirling images on the obscene screen and . . .
Dream. Reality. Believe.
Await . . .
. . . and Detritus tried to walk through them. Images designed to trap and throw a glamour over any sapient mind bounced off the back of his rocky skull and came right out again. He paid them no attention at all. He had other fish to fry.
Being trampled almost to death by a preoccupied troll is almost the ideal cure for a person confused about what is real and what isn't. Reality is something walking heavily up your spine.
Victor hauled himself back on to his feet, pulled the others towards him, pointed to the flickering, bulging oblong at the other end of the hall, and mouthed 'Don't look!'
Ginger gripped his arm tightly as they inched their way down from the aisle.
All of Holy Wood was there. They saw faces they knew ranged along the seats, immobile in the shivering light, every expression nailed in place.
He felt her nails dig into his skin. There was Rock, and Morry, and Fruntkin from the commissary, and Mrs Cosmopilite the wardrobe lady. There was Silverfish, and a row of other alchemists. There were the carpenters, and the handlemen, and all the stars that never were, all the people who had held horses or cleaned tables or stood in queues and waited and waited for their big chance . . .
Lobsters, thought Victor. There was a great city and lots of people died and now it's the home of lobsters.
The Librarian pointed.
Detritus had found Ruby in the very front row, and was trying to pull her out of her seat. Whichever way he moved her, her eyes swivelled towards the dancing images. When he stood in front of her she blinked for a moment, scowled, and knocked him aside.
Then her expression slid back to vacuity and she settled into her seat.
Victor laid' a hand on his shoulder and made what he hoped would be soothing, beckoning motions. Detritus' face was a fresco of misery.
The suit of armour was still on the slab behind the screen, in front of the tarnished disc.
They stared at it, hopelessly.
Victor tentatively drew his finger through the dust. It left a streak of shiny yellow metal. He looked at Ginger.
'What now?' he mouthed.
She shrugged. It meant - how should I know? I was asleep, before.
The screen above them was bulging very fatly now. How long before the Things came through?
Victor tried shaking the - well, call it a man. A very tall man. In seamless golden armour. Might as well try to shake awake a mountain.
He reached over and tried to free the sword, although it was longer than he was and, even if he could lift it, would be as manoeuvrable as a barge.
It was gripped fast.
The Librarian was trying to read the book by the light of the screen, feverishly thumbing through the pages.
Victor chalked on the side of the slab: 'CAN'T YOU THINK OF ANYTHIN AT AL?'
Ginger took the chalk: 'NO! YOU WOKE ME UP!! I DON'T NO HOW TO DO IT!!! WHATEVR IT IS!!!.'
The fourth exclamation mark only failed to be completed because the chalk snapped. There was a distant 'ping' as part of it hit something.
Victor took the other half out of her hand.
'MAYBE YOU SHOUD HAV A LOOK AT THE BOOK,'
The Librarian nodded and tried to put the book in her hands. She waved him off for a moment, and stood staring into the shadows.
She took the book.
She looked from the ape to the troll to the man.
Then she pulled her arm back and hurled the book away from her.
This time it wasn't a ping. It was a definite, low and very resonant 'booong'. Something could make a noise in the place with no sound.
Victor skidded around the slab.
The big disc was a gong. He tapped it. Bits of corrosion fell off, but the metal shivered under the light blow and gave out another tinny rumble under his touch. Below it, now that his eyes were instinctively seeing it out, was a six-foot metal pole with a padded ball at one end.
He grabbed it and heaved it off its supports. Or tried to, at least. It was rusted solidly in place.
The Librarian positioned himself at the other end, caught Victor's eye, and this time they hauled on it together. Flakes of rust dug into Victor's hands.
It was immovable. The gong hammer and its supports had been turned by time and salt air into one single metallic whole.
Then time seemed to slow and became a series of frozen events in the flickering light, like moving pictures sliding through the box.
Detritus reached down over Victor's head, grasped the hammer by its middle, and lifted it up, tearing the rusted supports out of the very rock.
They threw themselves flat as he gripped it in both hands, flexed his muscles, and took a swing at the gong.
Caught in a series of tableaux, Detritus appeared to move instantly into . . . click . . . different but connected positions as he pivoted on one horny foot, the hammer head . . . click . . . making a bright arc in the darkness.
The impact knocked the gong so far backwards that the chains broke, and it slammed against the wall of the pit.
Sound came back quickly and in vast quantities, as though it had been dammed up somewhere and had then suddenly been released, to slosh joyfully back into the world and drown every eardrum.
The giant figure on the slab sat upright slowly, dust cascading off it in slow streams. Underneath it was gold, untarnished by the years.
It moved slowly but deliberately, as though propelled by clockwork. One hand grasped the giant sword. The other gripped the edge of the slab to steady the figure as its long, tapering legs swung down to the ground.