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The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and sombre, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as alter candles. The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle.

It is well known the eight colours make up white. But there are also eight colours of blackness, for those that have the seeing of them, and the hives of Death are among the black grass in the black orchard under the black-blossomed, ancient boughs of trees that will, eventually, produce apples that... put it like this... probably won't be red.

The grass was short now. The scythe that had done the work leaned against the gnarled bole of a pear tree. Now Death was inspecting his bees, gently lifting the combs in his skeletal fingers.

A few bees buzzed around him. Like all beekeepers, Death wore a veil. It wasn't that he had anything to sting, but sometimes a bee would get inside his skull and buzz around and give him a headache.

As he held a comb up to the grey light of his little world between the realities there was the faintest of tremors. A hum went up from the hive, a leaf floated down. A wisp of wind blew for a moment through the orchard, and that was the most uncanny thing, because the air in the land of Death is always warm and still.

Death fancied that he heard, very briefly, the sound of running feet and a voice saying, no, a voice thinking oshitoshitoshit, I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna DIE!

Death is almost the oldest creature in the universe, with habits and modes of thought that mortal man cannot begin to understand, but because he was also a good beekeeper he carefully replaced the comb in its rack and put the lid on the hive before reacting.

He strode back through the dark garden to his cottage, removed his veil, carefully dislodged a few bees who had got lost in the depths of his cranium, and retired to his study.

As he sat down at his desk there was another gust of wind, which rattled the hourglasses on the shelves and made the big pendulum clock in the hall pause briefly in its interminable task of slicing time into manageable bits.

Death sighed, and focused his gaze.

There is nowhere Death will not go, no matter how distant and dangerous. In fact the more dangerous it is, the more likely he is to be there already.

Now he stared through the mists of time and space.

OH, he said. IT'S HIM.

It was a hot afternoon in the late summer in Ankh-Morpork, normally the most thriving, bustling and above all the most crowded city on the Disc. Now the spears of the sun had achieved what innumerable invaders, several civil wars and the curfew law had never achieved. It had pacified the place.

Dogs lay panting in the scalding shade. The river Ankh, which never what you might call sparkled, oozed between its banks as if the heat had sucked all the spirit out of it. The streets were empty, oven-brick hot.

No enemies had ever taken Ankh-Morpork. Well, technically they had, quite often; the city welcomed free-spending barbarian invaders, but somehow the puzzled raiders always found, after a few days, that they didn't own their own horses any more, and within a couple of months they were just another minority group with its own graffiti and food shops.

But the heat had besieged the city and triumphed over the walls. It lay over the trembling streets like a shroud. Under the glowlamp of the sun assassins were too tired to kill. It turned thieves honest. In the ivy-covered fastness of the Unseen University, premier college of wizardry, the inmates dozed with their pointy hats over their faces. Even bluebottles were too exhausted to bang against windowpanes. The city siesta'd, awaiting the sunset and the brief, hot, velvet surcease of the night.

Only the librarian was cool. He was also swinging and hanging out.

This was because he'd rigged up a few ropes and rings in one of the sub-basements of the Unseen University library - the one where they kept the, um, erotic* books. (*Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It's the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.) In vats of crushed ice. And he was dreamily dangling in the chilly vapour above them.

All books of magic have a life of their own. Some of the really energetic ones can't simply be chained the bookshelves; they have to be nailed shut or kept between steel plates. Or, in the case of the volumes on tantric sex magic for the serious connoisseur, kept under very cold water to stop them bursting into flames and scorching their severely plain covers.

The Librarian swung gently back and forth above the seething vats, dozing peacefully.

Then the footsteps came out of nowhere, raced across the floor with a noise that scraped the raw surface of the soul, and disappeared through the wall. There was a faint, distant scream that sounded like ogodsogodsogods, this is IT, I'm gonna DIE.

The Librarian woke up, lost his grip, and flopped into the few inches of tepid water that was all that stood between The Joy of Tantric Sex with Illustrations for the Advanced Student, by A Lady, and spontaneous combustion.

And it would have gone badly for him if the Librarian had been a human being. Fortunately, he was currently an orangutan. With so much raw magic sloshing around in the Library it would be surprising if accidents did not happen sometimes, and one particularly impressive one had turned him into an ape. Not many people get the chance to leave the human race while still alive, and he'd strenuously resisted all efforts to turn him back. Since he was the only librarian in the universe who could pick up books with his feet the University hadn't pressed the point.

It also meant that his idea of desirable female companionship now looked something like a sack of butter thrown through a roll of old inner tubes, and so he was lucky to get away with only minor burns, a headache, and some rather ambivalent feelings about cucumbers, which wore off by teatime.

In the Library above, the grimoires creaked and rustled their pages in astonishment as the invisible runner passed straight through the bookshelves and disappeared, or rather disappeared even more...

Ankh-Morpork gradually awoke from its slumber. Something invisible and yelling at the top of its voice was passing through every part of the city, dragging in its wake a trail of destruction. Wherever it went, things changed.

A fortune-teller in the Street of Cunning Artificers heard the footsteps run across her bedroom floor and found her crystal ball had turned into a little glass sphere with a cottage in it, plus snowflakes.

In a quite corner of the Mended Drum tavern, where the adventuresses Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan, Red Scharron and Diome, Witch of the Night, were meeting for some girl talk and a game of canasta, all the drinks turned into small yellow elephants.

“It's them wizards up at the university,” said the barman, hastily replacing the glasses. “It oughtn't to be allowed.”

Midnight dropped off the clock.

The Council of Wizardry rubbed their eyes and stared blearily at one another. They felt it oughtn't to be allowed too, especially since they weren't the ones that were allowing it.

Finally the new Archchancellor, Ezrolith Churn, suppressed a yawn, sat up straight in his chair, and tried to look suitably magisterial. He knew he wasn't really Archchancellor material. He hadn't really wanted the job. He was ninety-eight, and had achieved this worthwhile age by carefully not being any trouble to anyone. He had hoped to spend his twilight years completing his seven-volume treatise on Some Little Known Aspects of Kuian Rain-making Rituals, which were an ideal subject for academic study in his opinion since the rituals only ever worked in Ku, and that particular continent had slipped into the ocean several thousand years ago*. (*It took thirty years to subside. The inhabitants spent a lot of the time wading. It went down in history as the multiverse's most embarrassing continental catastrophe.) The trouble was that in recent years the lifespan of Archchancellors seemed to be a bit on the short side, and the natural ambition of all wizards for the job had given way to a curious, self-effacing politeness. He'd come down one morning to find everyone calling him 'sir'. It had taken him days to find out why.

His head ached. He felt it was several weeks past his bedtime. But he had to say something.

“Gentlemen -” he began.


“Sorry, and mo -”

“Oook.” “I mean apes, of course -” “Oook.” The Archchancellor opened and shut his mouth in silence for a while, trying to re-route his train of thought. The Librarian was, ex officio, a member of the college council. No one had been able to find any rule about orangutans being barred, although they had surreptitiously looked very hard for one.

“It's a haunting,” he ventured. “Some sort of a ghost, maybe. A bell, book and a candle job.” The Bursar sighed. “We tried that, Archchancellor.” The Archchancellor leaned towards him.

“Eh?” he said. “I said, we tried that, Archchancellor,” said the Bursar loudly, directing his voice at the old man's ear. “After dinner, you remember? We used Humptemper's Names of the Ants and rang Old Tom*.” (*Old Tom was the single cracked bronze bell in the University bell tower. The clapper dropped out shortly after it was cast, but the bell still tolled out some tremendously sonorous silences every hour.)

“Did we, indeed. Worked, did it?” “No, Archchancellor.” “Eh?” “Anyway, we've never had trouble with ghosts before,” said the Senior Tutor. "Wizards just don't haunt places.“ The Archchancellor groped for a crumb of comfort. ”Perhaps it's just something natural,“ he said. ”Possibly the rumblings of an underground spring. Earth movements, perhaps. Something in the drains. They can make very funny noises, you know, when the wind is in the right direction."

He sat back and beamed. The rest of the council exchanged glances. “The drains don't sound like hurrying feet, Archchancellor,” said the Bursar wearily. “Unless someone left a tap running,” said the Senior Tutor. The Bursar scowled at him. He'd been in the tub when the invisible screaming thing had hurtled through his room. It was not an experience he wanted to repeat. The Archchancellor nodded at him. “That's settled, then,” he said, and fell asleep. The Bursar watched him in silence. Then he pulled the old man's hat off and tucked it gently under his head. “Well?” he said wearily. “Has anyone got any suggestions?” The Librarian put his hand up. “Oook,” he said. “Yes, well done, good boy,” said the Bursar, breezily. “Anyone else?” The orangutan glared at him as the other wizards shook their heads. “It's a tremor in the texture of reality,” said the Senior Tutor. “That's what it is.” “What should we do about it, then?” “Search me. Unless we tried the old -” “Oh, no,” said the Bursar. “Don't say it. Please. It's far too dangerous -” His words were chopped off by a scream that began at the far end of the room and dopplered along the table, accompanied by the sound of many running feet. The wizards ducked in a scatter of overturned chairs.

The candle flames were drawn into long thin tongues of octarine light before being snuffed out. Then there was silence, the special kind that you get after a really unpleasant noise. And the Bursar said, “All right. I give in. We will try the Rite of AshkEnte.” It is the most serious ritual eight wizards can undertake. It summons Death, who naturally knows everything that is going on everywhere.

And of course it is done with reluctance, because senior wizards are generally very old and would prefer not to do anything to draw Death's attention in their direction. It took place in the midnight in the University's Great Hall, in a welter of incense, candlesticks, runic inscriptions and magic circles, none of which was strictly necessary but made the wizards feel better. Magic flared, the chants were chanted, the invocations were truly invoked.

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