Great A'Tuin tranquilly sculled upon the cosmic tide, thinking her *1 own thoughts at her own glacial speed, above noticing the gnat bites of meteors obliterating themselves on her carapace. Others rained down upon the disc, flaring and vaporizing as they struck its domelike atmosphere. It was as if the world was being attacked by fireflies.
As the disc's small orbiting sun was up its inhabitants were unaware of the spectacle. In fact it was probable that the only being aware of and enjoying it was Lily, sitting on a peak of the mountains that hemmed in Death's Domain gazing appreciatively out into the void. When A'Tuin finally swam clear of the meteor swarm Lily gave a little sigh, half of regret, half of satisfaction and rising from her icy seat began to pick her way downward.
Back when she'd first seen the mountains they'd been nothing more than a landscape feature, meant to be viewed from afar, fuzzy in outline and crumbly as old cheese. Lily had fixed that. Though still scenically steep and jagged the mountains were now solid as rock can be and snow capped with darkling forests of pine and hemlock clothing their lower slopes and plenty of waterfalls. Lily loved waterfalls. She done the moors too but that had been by accident, the mountains she'd done on purpose. All in all Lily was very pleased with her first attempt a deliberately molding the plastic reality of the Domain.
Silky was waiting patiently in the darkling dell where Lily had left her, munching meditatively on the black grass starred with white snowdrops - that was one of Lily's touches too - The Domain definitely needed a bit more contrast. She mounted and rode back across the purple tinged moors to the house.
The scenery wasn't the only that had changed over the last few years. Albert had gotten all het up again when Lily started to grow. Miss Ysabell hadn't grown! Miss Ysabell, Lily had pointed out, was sixteen and had probably finished growing by the time she moved to the Domain. Lily was fourteen, naturally she still had a lot of maturing to do! The plants in the garden grew didn't they? The cats grew up and had kittens which grew into still more cats. Albert simply must stop upsetting himself over nothing!
Uncle said not a word.
Lily had to admit that she'd never expected to grow quite this tall. The top of her head was level with Uncle's mandible now, and she had to look rather far down to see Albert. Her figure had filled out a most satisfying way, nicely set off by the long tight bodices in fashion down on the disc. It was a little odd that her hair had darkened the way it had. It was a lovely shade of black, almost purple in some lights, but at least she no longer had any problems putting it up. In fact she didn't even need pins and combs anymore.
There was one lack that had worried her a little, one that she simply could not ask either Uncle or Albert about. Then she'd got the idea of writing Ysabell. The answer had been prompt and reassuring. She, Ysabell, hadn't had any periods while living in the Domain either but they'd come right back when she moved down to the disc. It probably had something to do with there being no real time in the Domain, just duration - or maybe the lack of a moon. Either way it was nothing she, Lily, need worry about.
Ysabell had, unsurprisingly, wanted to know about Susan. Lily liked absolutely nothing she'd heard about Death's granddaughter but she'd done her best to write a favorable account to Susan's mother. Apparently she'd done a good job for Ysabell had been quite pleased according to her thank-you note.
Lily rode in the gate, under the wrought iron 'Mon Repos', and up the long carriage way, reflecting yet again that they really should get a carriage. They could use it for visiting Dunmanifestin. The gods just didn't seem to appreciate Uncle's importance the way they should. A formal arrival via carriage might help. She was still trying to picture Albert in coachman's livery when Silkie brought her back to reality - loosely speaking - by halting in a pointed way next to the mounting block in the stable yard.
She saw to her horse, then went upstairs to change her dress. When Lily came down, trailing white lace, Uncle's tea tray was waiting for her, left by Albert on a table between the two branches of the staircase. The silver tea service was chased with skulls and crossbones. The same motif predictably decorated the china cups, saucers and dishes. It was Uncle's trademark after all. Lily went with brisk steps down the corridor, opened the door to Uncle's study, carefully balancing the tray in one hand, stepped inside - and came to an astonished stop.
Death's study had no windows, being lit by large numbers of runny yellow candles in iron sconces. Books and hourglasses filled the rows of shelves and covered the surface of the big desk. The high backed leather swivel chair behind it was empty. Lily put the tea tray down on the card-table and looked around for her Uncle. When she'd first arrived the study had looked like a normally sized room, now she could see the vast, shadowy spaces beyond the square of carpeting that defined the conceptual room and the strange, wheeled and geared machinery they contained. What she could not see was Uncle.
Puzzled she went back into the corridor and a few steps down to the next door which opened onto the infinity of the Lifetimer room. It was full of light, from no discernable source, shimmering and gleaming on bubbles of glass full of gently hissing, crystaline sand. Uncle would have been immediately visible in his light drinking black robes had he been there. He wasn't.
Trying not to feel alarmed Lily opened the last door on the passage to the Library. The warm dimness was alive with the soft scribbling as the biographies wrote themselves and punctuated here and there by more racks of dribbly candles. There were plenty of shadows wherein a seven foot black robed skeleton could lurk.
"Uncle?" Lily's voice sounded quavery even to herself. Taking a candle she sent a ray of light down the stone steps to be swallowed by the velvety darkness of the stacks. "Uncle?" But she knew he was not there.
She put the candle back into its socket and hastily retraced her steps up the corridor then across the entrance hall to the kitchen. "Albert," she said to his back as he stooped over the moloch. "Albert, something's happened to Uncle."
He turned, frying pan in hand. "Don't be daft, miss. Nothing can happen to the master, he's what happens to other people!"
"I premember *2 him in the study and he's not there. He's not anywhere in the house, I can feel it. Something is wrong, Albert!"
He put the pan down on the table, ignoring the smell of scorching wood. "Lemme have a look."
The Uncle-less study was exactly as Lily had left it, with the tea cooling on the card table. Albert gave the room a frowning once over from the doorway then his squinty eye fixed on a certain shelf and opened wide. "My Auntie's Spotted Under-drawers!"
"I beg your pardon?" said Lily.
Albert pointed a nicotine stained index finger. "The master ain't the only thing missing round here, miss."
She looked blankly in the indicated direction for a moment, then realized what she wasn't seeing. "Uncle's Lifetimer!"
"It's the little grey buggers again, it must be!" Lily said, sitting in Uncle's big leather chair.
"Most likely," Albert agreed. He finished pouring and handed her a cup of tea. "Drink that, miss, you'll feel better."
She drank but didn't notice any discernable increase in well being. "Could they have turned him into a mortal again?"
Albert shook his head. "Naw, Azrael would never let 'em pull that one again."
"And Death doesn't require belief ..." Lily bit her lip. "What can they have done, Albert?"
"Dammed if I know, miss. Pardon my Klatchian."
"We've got to find out..." Lily considered. "Albert, can you get us down to the disc?"
"I can get you down, miss, but I can't go. No time left, remember?"
But I need your help - " she broke off. "Of course - I'll give you some of my time!"
Greed and temptation shook hands in Albert's unappealing countenance, then both were abruptly overpowered by an impulse of nobility, uncomfortable in such an unfamiliar venue but determined to have its way. "I can't take it, miss. I'm set here forever but someday you may want a normal life again. Trust me, forty-five years ain't so much as it sounds when you're just sixteen."
"I was thirteen when I came to live here, I can give you the three years I didn't spend down below without losing anything," Lily argued. "Be reasonable Albert, I'm not going to get anywhere on my own am I? I'm no wizard."
'You'd never pass the physical, miss," Albert's faint smile faded quickly. "It just don't seem right - and that's not something I'm used to worrying about let me tell you!"
"It's my choice, Albert, not yours," Lily said firmly, reminding herself who was mistress and who servant around here! "Now let's see...how do we do this? Oh!" She formed a fist then opened it to show a pretty blue china Lifetimer painted with white lilies. She stared into it and the pearly sand moved, a brief trickle passing from the upper to lower globe. A golden light flared on the desk and faded into a handsome gilded Lifetimer, it's top a diamond studded Wizard's hat.
Albert picked it up gingerly, looking at the small triangle of sand in the upper globe. "It's - it's beautiful, miss. Much nicer than my old one."
"Thank you," said Lily. "I think we should start by back tracking Uncle, to find out exactly when and where whatever's happened, happened."
"Right," Albert nodded. "His last stop was going to be Ankh-Morpork to pick up a curry for dinner."
"So the Curry Garden is our first stop," said Lily. "What are we going to need?"
Lily went upstairs. She looked down at her tea gown, decided not to take the time to change and put a nice warm, long waisted pelisse over it instead. She frowned intently into her full length, gold framed Genuan mirror as her hair restyled itself into a smart, practical chignon, with little curls clustering around the temples then put a plumed hat at the fashionable angle on top of it.
Kid gloves, a reticule... The little bag was very light, containing nothing more than a spare hanky, powder compact and lipstick. Lily thought; they might need money - in fact they were sure to if they didn't have any, that's the way Narrative Causality worked. She went back downstairs to the study and opened the iron strongbox next to the desk scooping a double handful of coins into her reticule. As she turned to go she saw Death's sword on the rack by the door.
Albert was waiting for her at the foot of the stairs. Alberto Malich's wizard's staff was as tall as Lily and thickly carven down its entire length with weird magical runes and symbols. He had also put on a long, rather moth eaten velvet coat and the battered broad-brimmed hat he wore in the garden.
"All set?" Albert asked. "Right. Stand next to me, miss."
"You haven't brought your Lifetimer have you, Albert?" she asked.
"Naw, I never make the same mistake twice."
"I don't understand why you had it with you in the first place," she remarked as he drew a circle around them with the tip of his staff. It glowed octarine, the color of magic. Lily was slightly surprised she was able to see it as she wasn't magical - or was she? Living in Death's Domain might have changed that.
Albert shrugged. "Just general wizardly suspicion - we're not a trusting lot. Now hush, miss, I gotta concentrate."
He sketched an octagon inside the circle and it throbbed with audible power. Albert took a deep breath and a firm hold of her arm with one hand raising his staff over their heads with the other. He cried aloud a word that cracked like a whip; green-blue fires flared from both ends of the staff and octarine flames leapt high from the points of the octogram.
1. This author feels that 'Light Fantastic' has definitely established A'Tuin's sex. Of course baby Chelys Galactica definitely indicate a male is somewhere out there too....
2. 'Premember' a word coined by Lily for remembering what hasn't happened yet.