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A Barrel of Paradox: A Discworld Tale, Part 8

Illustration for article titled A Barrel of Paradox: A Discworld Tale, Part 8

(Part 7, Previously)


Lu-Tze moved faster than any of the wizards assembled would have though possible, and flung a finely-woven net made of some kind of shimmering silver metal over the billowing cloud, causing it to abruptly hiss and contract. The net, surprisingly, shrank with it, until it became a solid silver orb the size of a fist, rolling around wildly on the tabletop. Lu-Tze put on a thick glove made out of some kind of woven plant fiber and lined with fluffy yak wool to gingerly pick up the orb and place it in a small velvet-lined wood box, next to an identical silver orb on a divot of velvet, and snapped the lid shut. There was a whirring of gears from within the box, and the diminutive monk placed the box on the table as the wizards craned their necks to get a closer look at it.

The Dean was the first to speak, prodding the box gingerly with a fingertip and eliciting no reaction from the inanimate wood. "Well, erm, good show and all, but what was that net you threw at him made of? Even our strongest cages* couldn't hold the damned thing."


Lu-Tze smiled as he took off the glove, and said quite simply "Why, quicksilver, of course."

Ponder furrowed his brow for a moment, digging his finger into his ear to make sure he hadn't mistook an echo off of an obstinate glob of earwax for the word "quicksilver." It was a common reagent, particularly amongst the Guild of Alchemists, but all Ponder had ever known it to do was either ooze about in a dish, vaporize into a choking cloud, or simply explode when the Alchemists attempted to mix it with other substances.


Ridcully's voice boomed out, jarring Ponder's train of thought off of the rails and into the gully of forgetfullness. "Lu, please tell me you know what's going on with these damned..erm, whassname...Arbiters."

"Auditors**, Mustrum," corrected the tiny man, "and they are here because the Time Monks failed to properly fix a hole in time," said Lu-Tze quietly, a tinge of regret coloring his voice.


"Failed to...What, tell me this isn't the first time you lot've dropped the ball on all this timey-wimey stuff? grumbled Ridcully, to which Lu-Tze merely nodded.

"Indeed, we have let time rip and retear before, but only once before has a living person been pulled through the tear."


"Pulled through?" said Ridcully. "Who was the poor sod you pulled through last time?"

Lu-Tze sighed heavily, and said "Sods, actually. Tell me: Have you ever heard of the 'Great and Implacable Empire of the Silver Moon, Which Verily Reaches from Hub to Rim?'"


The assembled wizards thought for a moment, each waiting for someone else to admit ignorance first. Finally the Bursar began to shake his head violently side to side. Quick to grasp any opportunity, the Chief Wrangler stated "I have never heard of this Empire either." He was swiftly echoed by the remaining wizards, until the Dean, and finally the Archancellor admitted they had never encountered mention of the Empire.

Lu-Tze sighed again. "Exactly."***

There was a murmur of concern around the table, cut off by Ridcully clearing his throat. "So then how do we fix this ripped-trousers-in-time problem then?"


Lu-Tze looked out the window, overlooking a slightly less aesthetically grubby section of Ankh-Morpork.

"Tell me where I can find Kennard Oakstave."


Kennard was currently sprinting very quickly down the Street of Bookkeepers, the rumble of the sidewalk indicating his pursuers had just entered the Street off of the Street of Cunning Artificers.


He had been trying to mind his own business, insofar as much as a person with a small creeks worth of water merging from a stuffed animal could, when the whispering started. He frantically sidestepped into the center of the street, away from loose gargoyles or crumbly sewer roofs, when the words abruptly said "Yes, interpersonal organic friction will resolve the issue," followed by the booming noise he had heard twice before. It was at this moment, that his foot slipped on a puddle of very confused deep-sea minnows, and he stumbled.

Kennard caught himself before he crashed against the cobbles, but abruptly became aware of a very large number of people nearby simultaneously staring and sucking in breath between all shapes and conditions of teeth. Behind him came a low grumble, like rocks falling on the side of a scree slope, saying "'Dis be my best suit. Pegmatite, does you know why my best suit be all wet and fishy?"


Kennard slowly turned, with the horrifying clarity one has when they see the light at the end of the tunnel has wheels. Before him stood three trolls, soaked with water and covered with the remainder of the minnow school Kennard had trod in. The outside two were massive, nearly scraping their heads on the eaves of the houses lining the street, but the central one was dressed in a tailored, if lumpy, purple suit, made of a currently-waterlogged pinstriped cotton.

Chrysoprase the troll frowned, resulting in a crumbling sound as his eyes narrowed. "'Dis here little man has ruined my good suit, and I hates it when my nice things get ruined. Picrite," the other troll, slightly smaller than the other bodyguard, perked up at his name, "I'd very much 'preciate it if you were to help this clumsy little man here 'preciate how much I hate my nice things being ruined."


As the troll took a lumbering step towards him, years of experience on the street kicked Kennard's legs into action before his brain could catch up with current events, and he turned and began sprinting down the street, his cart behind him sloshing brine and confused sealife**** all over the street as he ran.

Kennard had entered the Street of Bookkeepers at random, primarily because it was a narrow corner that he fervently hoped the troll would not be able to make, and was sadly disappointed in. Several sellers had their wares out on tables and handtrucks, and delivered a veritable thesaurus of curses on Kennard as his cart's emissions soaked those unable to gather their tomes off of the street quickly enough, and splashed water on countless priceless novels.


As he emerged next to the Temple of Io, he heard the thumping footsteps of the troll abruptly recede, and turned with relief. The relief swiftly was replaced with a cold douse of terror as he saw a mob of angry bookmakers and bookbinders chasing after him, waving quills and throwing books at his head*****, followed at a distance by the smug troll. Worse, the street further up past the temples was blocked by a congregation waving ladles, whisks, and potato mashers on the steps of the Temple of the Small Gods, and from the other direction was Chrysoprase and his other bodyguard, cracking his knuckles and creating small piles of gravel on the road as he did so.

Kennard's shoulders sagged, but as he closed his eyes with a sigh and prepared to accept the inevitable, a hand tugged on his sodden pants.


(Part 9, Continued)


*This elicited a round of coughing, shuffling of feet, and intense navel-gazing. The idea to use statue swords as the cage bars was the Dean's idea alone, and he had quite insisted on it despite arguments to the contrary and demonstrations of how difficult it would be to bend the blades through the tabletop.

**The assembled wizards stared at the small wood box at the naming of the creatures inside, and those who had read the more arcane and madness-scarred texts took a measured step away from the table. Ponder, recalling the more vivid descriptions of the powers of Auditors, was abruptly regretting not stopping Ridcully after he made the first caramel-lined trap, and the image of a stack of boxes filled with nigh-unstoppable entities that they had made oh-so-angry continued to flash into his mind.


***The Great and Implacable Empire of the Silver Moon, Which Verily Reaches from Hub to Rim still left remnants for lucky ditch diggers to occasionally whack their shovels into and curse colorfully as they removed the object in question. However, due to the temporal flux of the object in question, it typically vanished into nothingness after transporting the digger in question several hours, over even days into the future. One such digger, whose urn had taken him two years, seventeen days, and fourty-five minutes into the future (And subsequently into a dye vat for a carpet maker that had sprung up in the intervening years) had started a religion based around the objects, called the Time And Religion Digging (Insular Sect). However, most everyone else who heard tales of the supposedly-magical urns and pots simply called them the Time Gourds.

****Several cooks had begun taking to serving up the beached aquatic residents ejected from Kennard's doll, and several chefs renowned for their ability to perfectly serve Curious Squid were delighted to have Curious Squid onhand in the off-season. The fact that a perfectly-prepared dish of Curious Squid had no trace of actual squid in it was a mere formality; it was the principle of the thing that mattered.


*****The books were those on mind-numbing law cases, and the countless annals of recorded minutes from organizations and societies that had disbanded shortly after the ink had dried. Every library has a collection of books like these, and while good practice for a novice bookmaker, for an experienced craftsman they were as pleasurable to create as eating a bowl of wooden fruit.

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