Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.
This is not going to be a gentleman’s game.
IT WAS MIDNIGHT in Ankh-Morpork’s Royal Art Museum.*
It occurred to new employee Rudolph Scattering about once every minute that on the whole it might have been a good idea to tell the Curator about his nyctophobia, his fear of strange noises and, he now knew, his fear of absolutely every thing he could see (and, come to that, not see), hear, smell and feel crawling up his back during the endless hours on guard during the night. It was no use telling himself that everything in here was dead. That didn’t help at all. It meant that he stood out.
And then he heard the sob. A scream might have been better. At least you are certain when you’ve heard a scream. A faint sob is something you have to wait to hear again, because you can’t be sure.
He raised his lantern in a shaking hand. There shouldn’t be anyone in here. The place was securely locked; no one could get in. Or, now he came to think about it, out. He wished he hadn’t thought about it.
He was in the basement, which was not among the most scary places on his round. It was mostly just old shelves and drawers, full of the things that were almost, but very definitely not entirely, thrown away. Museums don’t like things to be thrown away, in case they turn out to be very important later on.
Another sob, and a sound like the scraping of . . . pottery?
A rat, then, somewhere on the rear shelves? Rats didn’t sob, did they?
‘Look, I don’t want to have to come in there and get you!’ said Scattering with heartfelt accuracy.
And the shelves exploded. It seemed to him to happen in slow motion, bits of pottery and statues spreading out as they drifted towards him. He went over backwards and the expanding cloud passing overhead crashed into the shelves on the other side of the room, which were demolished.
Scattering lay on the floor in the dark, unable to move, expecting at any moment to be torn apart by the phantoms bubbling up from his imagination . . .
* Technically, the city of Ankh-Morpork is a Tyranny, which is not always the same thing as a monarchy, and in fact even the post of Tyrant has been somewhat redefined by the incumbent, Lord Vetinari, as the only form of democracy that works. Everyone is entitled to vote, unless disqualified by reason of age or not being Lord Vetinari.
And yet it does work. This has annoyed a number of people who feel, somehow, that it should not, and who want a monarch instead, thus replacing a man who has achieved his position by cunning, a deep understanding of the realities of the human psyche, breath- taking diplomacy, a certain prowess with the stiletto dagger, and, all agree, a mind like a finely balanced circular saw, with a man who has got there by being born.†
However, the crown has hung on anyway, as crowns do – on the Post Office and the Royal Bank and the Mint and, not least, in the sprawling, brawling, squalling consciousness of the city itself. Lots of things live in that darkness. There are all kinds of darkness, and all kinds of things can be found in them, imprisoned, banished, lost or hidden. Sometimes they escape. Sometimes they simply fall out. Sometimes they just can’t take it any more.
† A third proposition, that the city be governed by a choice of respectable members of the community who would promise not to give themselves airs or betray the public trust at every turn, was instantly the subject of music-hall jokes all over the city.
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