Looking Through Fresh Eyes 5: So high on eyes I almost lost my way!

(Tying up a dangling loose end left hanging at the end of Nature Studies)

Right, to it again after the Hogswatch break... can't think of a suitably sinister eye-related soundtrack yet, but no doubt it will come. It will come by the end of this chapter.

It had occurred to Alice Band that she could get a crack at winning the Teatime Memorial Prize (for best theoretical or actual inhumation of a supernatural entity, or of a normal Discly mortal protected by magic or Gods) by investigating the subject of whether Hughnon Ridcully could ever be the subject of a successful inhumation. She knew her uncle would laugh and treat it as a huge joke, after he'd got past his initial paranoia concerning whether they really WERE out to get him. And she could sweetly suggest to him that if it were for real, he'd be far happier to know that a member of the family, who knew him best, was giving the issue her personal bespoke attention. There was already a potentially winning submission concerning the putative Guild-assisted demise of his brother Mustrum Ridcully, after all. (1)

Hughnon Ridcully filled space. Even a space as massive as the High Priest's formal office became small when he was in it. He leaned back in his chair and exhaled. He was intent and interested.

"Now that's a bloody interestin' theological question!" he declared. "Bloody interestin' indeed. I may have to consult."

Alice and Emmanuelle exchanged a glance. The study of theology on the Disc was not the dry and restful, largely theoretical, discipline it was on other worlds, where even the existence of Gods was in doubt. On the Disc, it was dynamic and urgent. Interpreting the Divine Will on the Disc could sometimes be a matter of some urgency, especially when a thunderbolt was pointing meaningfully at you and poised to go, should you interpret the wishes of the God in a way that deity personally disapproved of. Being a theologian on the Disc could be a high-risk activity, as the Gods took a keen personal interest in what was said about them. The Council of Churches, Temples, Sacred Groves and Big Ominous Rocks was a considerate body in this regard, and set aside considerable sums in its fire insurance policy for its theologian members. (3)

Theology could be hazardous on a world where the gods took a personal interest and took a critical interest in the quality of your at this present moment, it had become important to ascertain, in a theoretical and non-prejudical manner, just exactly what the drift of thought going through the mind of the Great God Blind Io concerning an entirely novel situation (with considerable room for a personal gnosis if it all went wrong) actually was. More of an abgnosis(4), in fact.

Ridcully sighed, then harrumphed. He then bellowed for a junior deacon to provide tea and coffee for his guests. A harassed-looking very junior priest rushed to fulfil the order.

"Good man, Higson." he said, conversationally. "Newly ordained, learnin' the meanin' of selfless service, coming along a treat. Now. Ladies."

He was suddenly businesslike again.

"This is a new one on me, I have to admit. Trust the bloody Igors to shake everythin' up like this! So. When in doubt, grasp the known facts. So you're the Goddess of the Eyeball People, m'dear?"

Ridcully's eyes twinkled. He was definitely amused.

"Please believe me, High Priest. It is not an advancement I would have chosen for myself." Emmanuelle said, hurriedly. She wasn't sure if the God was listening. But in the presence of His spokesman on the Disc, it was very probable. Although it was said the Gods were fairly lazy. Weren't they? She fervently hoped so.

"Very wise of you to deny it!" he said. "Io claims a monopoly on all things ocular. He's cornered the market in eyeballs, you might say. Now if it were sausages, you'd be havin' this conversation with the Chief Priest of Offler. And kitchen utensils, now, you'd be discussin' the practicalities with young Tremmie Mume. Clever girl, Tremmie. Anoia owes her, big-time. Sugar?"

He beckoned the young cleric over to pour the drinks.

"Me god-daughter here takes hers with two sugars." he said. "Which is fine, the girl leads a healthy active life, she's out in the fresh air a lot, always has done!"

Alice acknowledged her coffee with thanks. She suspected the skinny young curate didn't get enough.

"But what do you think, Uncle Hughnon?" she pressed him.

Ridcully frowned.

"Well, you cannot be blamed for a situation the bloody Igors forced on you." he said. "Damn people all have built-in lightning conductors, so they're immune to thunderbolts. Curse 'em with a plague, they'll laugh it off 'cos they do the vaccines. Smite their firstborn, they'll re-assemble the buggers. Curse them with boils and they'll lance the wretched things, apply one of their ointments and walk on. Turn their water into blood, and they'll bottle it for transfusions. Those damn people are God-proof."

"What about a plague of frogs and locusts, Uncle?" Alice asked. "Apparently in Djelbeybi they got into the air-conditioning, and all the magnified croaking and chirruping echoing in the pipes sent everyone nuts."

"Always thought sendin' a plague of locusts into a desert was a waste of effort and a damn' poor grasp of geography." her uncle remarked. The young curate glanced apprehensively upwards. There was a distant roll of thunder.

"And a bit cruel to the locusts, too."

Thunder cracked again and tailed off.

"Probably Offler takin' it personally. We're protected here, it's built in. Alice, m'dear, Igors would positively welcome something like frogs and toads. Adds to the boffo, d'y'see?"

She laughed, appreciatively.

Emmanuelle said "Eyeballs?" to remind him.

"Of course. Eyeballs. Goddess of. I feel I'll need to go deep on this one."

He addressed the deacon.

"Go and fetch the wife, lad? She likes to sit in on this. It's a treat for her and I don't want to dissappoint."

He turned to Alice and Emmanuelle.

"Just got to get in the right state of prayerful mind for this... Now, Alice is familiar with what's going to happen next. Her father was good at this too, as I recall. She's seen it a hundred times if she's seen it once. So just let me tune in..."

Ridcully composed himself and his eyes closed. Emmanuelle was interested: she'd heard of this, but this was the first time she'd seen it in action. She wondered what privileged glimpses she was going to get. As she watched the High Priest's eyes close and his shoulders slump into relaxation, she heard Alice warmly greeting her aunt as she scurried in.

"I'm not late, am I, dears? Oh good, it's just starting..."

Mrs Ridcully settled into a comfy chair and her face took on a look of rapt devotion. The deacon took up a notepad and a pencil and poised to write...

..after an expectant silence, Ridcully started speaking, in a distant faraway voice, but one laden with excitement, enthusiasm, and multiple exclamation marks. In contrast to his normal speaking voice, it was strangely accented and had a vaguely sing-song Hublandish tone to it, Alice noted.

"And tonight in the Divine Brotherhood House! In response to your prayed-in vote, we said goodbye to the former God Nuggan, voted out of the House after his belief vote crashed to near zero. Doing himself no favours there with all those unpopular and frankly bizarre Abominations, whour Nuggan! Voted in, with a titanic surge of faith was the Goddess Pedestriana, whose faith rating surged up out of nowhere, and hasn't this bonny lass made herself felt in the House!"(5)

Emmanuelle raised an eyebrow. Alice said, softly

"It varies. Sometimes it's like a talent show where they do little performances in front of a jury. Some are pretty good, but some are frankly terrible. The jury comments can be fun(6)."

Emmanuelle reminded herself that as daughter of a long line of priests, Alice Band had the ability to tune into the God-Consciousness if she so chose. She would tune in late-nights for recreation and amusement. Ridcully went on, the words sounding as if they were echoing from far, far, away:

"And Tubso, the Virtue of {{CRACKLING STATIC}}, has just crossly shouted at Astoria, Goddess of Lurve, and Dike, Goddess of... well, Goddess of Justice, and Now Also of Embankments and Holders-Back-Of-Water",

"Why don't you two bloody exhibitionists go and get a room or something! I'm as broad-minded as anyone but you're frankly making me puke!"

There was a retching noise in the background.

"Oh, sorry, Bilious.."

The Oh-God of Hangovers smiled weakly. His place among the Gods was assured: everybody believed a night on the piss was inevitably punished the next morning. Except Bibulous, who seemed to be immune to it.

"Don't knock it till you've tried it, petal." Astoria said, with a seductive smile. "It's a kind of love, isn't it? Go and read my job description..."

She went back to nuzzling Dike's neck, as the former Goddess of Justice continued to industriously dishevel her robes.

"And it's DEE-KAY, right?" said the former Goddess of Justice and Due Process of Law. "Two syllables!"

"Well, yes." said Tubso. "But it beats me why you two have to do it in public where everyone can see."

"See?" said Dee-Kay, with a sort of triumph. (Watching on the inner screen of her mind, Alice Band detected a Reg Shoe didactic note in her Goddess's voice.) "I'm telling you, Astoria, this is the sort of narrow-minded intolerance we have to face from bloody heteros. The moment you kiss your girlfriend in public, which is a basic human..."

"..divine," Astoria corrected.

"A basic right for deities, humans, trolls, dwarfs or any sentient created thing, they tell you they're tolerant, but when you actually DO it, they scream about it being disgusting and push you back in the closet again!"

"Plenty of closets round here, love." said Tubso. "The new girl's just cleared all that bloody stationery out that Nuggan left behind, the little creep. And isn't it mandatory to do it in the stationery cupboard after a few drinks?"

"That's what Nuggan used to say." Astoria remarked, off-handedly. "Little nonce. The only time stationery is an aphrodisiac, and I should know, is when people get pissed at the Hogswatch staff party!"

"Well," DeeKay mused, thoughtfully, "this is sure as Hell more fun than poring over those bloody Law books and appearing in his dreams to inspire Mr Bloody Slant. It was getting embarrassing. I'd manifest, make a point, and Slant would tear it to bits and advise me to go back and read up, as what I was saying would never stand up in Court!"

Tubso expressed her sympathy. She could see it was no fun being Goddess of Law if your principal believer was a centuries-old Zombie who had all the time and leisure to read all the law books and be better at it than you. And besides, nobody down there really believed in justice or the impartial process of Law any more. Even Death had declared U.D.I., with his oft-repeated proclamation of "THERE'S NO JUSTICE. ONLY US", the bony back-stabbing bastard. Dike had been sliding rapidly into Small God oblivion until an unlikely salvation had come for her, in the form of one of those little misunderstandings over a name people had only ever seen written down and thought they knew how to pronounce. This had brought her an entirely new and largely militant group of worshippers, who were temperamentally behind the proposition that a Goddess with a name like that was too good to waste.

And while belief sustains a God and pays the rent for an upmarket address in Dunmanifestin, it also shapes form and in this case gender preference.

It was a whole new lease of life for Dike. Reading the newly-appeared volume of police procedurals by Sir Samuel Vimes could wait. This was indeed a hell of a lot more fun. The old robes and blindfold were hanging in her wardobe alongside the scales and sword for when she needed them: a duty manifestation to Slant with the Scales of Law, or an occasional prod to Sam Vimes from the Sword of Law, although the cynical bastard seemed not to even notice. That was if she could get past the psychic doorman he'd had installed from somewhere. She sighed. At least this new duty didn't require her to wear the blindfold(7). Walking around tripping over things with a sword in your hand was no fun. These days, Dike, or Dee-Kay, dressed more informally than before. It was a whole new lease of life.

Tubso sipped her wine. A short plump dumpy Virtue, she was entitled to a place at Dunmanifestin because of an ages-old timeshare agreement. All eight Virtues jointly got one apartment. In practice, since Bissonomy was still barred, there were only seven. It was left up to Diligence to arrange the diary, and all the Virtues agreed she was good at that. And even though Tubso had slid so far down the scale that nobody remembered what she was Virtue of, she still benefited. It was like having tenure at a university. Tubso appreciated the independence of mind and the inability to give a damn that this conferred. Her regular drinking buddy was Errata, Goddess of Chaos, Misunderstanding, and Random Factors.

"Don't mind me." grumbled Blind Io from his throne. "I'm only Chief of the Gods round here. Nobody important." He stood up and descended the steps, orbited by his many eyeballs. A deep sense was telling him that his Chief Priest was on the line. He needed privacy. Things had been happening in Ankh-Morpork that he felt obscurely troubled by.

"Where's that dentally gifted bastard Offler?" he asked. Although he already knew, he asked anyway.

"Out in the back, guv'nor. In the jacuzzi." offered Norris, Doorkeeper of the Gods, who as door porter had to know where everyone was.

Io nodded thanks. It still astounded him that only the most senior Gods seemed to know the secret, that suitably gifted humans could tune in and eavesdrop on the intrigue and drama and general mundanity that was Dunmanifestin. Although he suspected that it wouldn't make a scrap of difference if they knew; they were so monumentally self-absorbed anyway that they'd just shrug and say "so what?" and get on with whatever petty squabble they were having.

He focused. After a while the message came in, a voice speaking inside his mind:

Who Is Online: There are three registered users(8) and one guest(9) currently browsing.

"Well, it all adds to belief." he thought to himself, as he left the lounge through the large sliding Quirmian windows, and stepped out onto the patio decking.

"Io" said Offler, neutrally.

"Offler." said Io.

The crocodile-headed God was at his ease in the heated pool, his messenger birds picking industrially at his teeth.

"Coming in?" he asked.

"Join a crocodile in a Jacuzzi? I'll sit up here, thanks."

Offler chuckled.

"Very wise." he said. For a few seconds, there was no noise except for a faint unmistakeable but muffled ticking. Io looked questioningly at Offler.

"Look, it's something I ate, OK? I don't want to discuss it." The tone said that the subject of muffled ticking and things unwisely consumed would not be entered into.

Io nodded, sympathetically. Then he said the hitherto unsayable.

"I need your advice, Offler. I've got a problem in Ankh-Morpork."

To his surprise, the crocodile god did not laugh scornfully or make a sarcastic comment. The reptilian eyes looked up at him with something akin to sympathy.

"It's always bloody Ankh-Morpork, isn't it? You never get these problems in Klatch or Agatea or Genua. If it's not the bloody University, it's some bloody Dwarf who's too clever for his own good..."

"Or the Guild of Clockmakers.(10)" Io said, with seeming innocence. Offler looked up at him sharply.

"That business with the Glass Clock, is what I was referring to." Io clarified. "Not any other sort of clock, digestible or otherwise. Nearly had us all, that one."

"And that spacecraft." Offler added. "Caused us no end of bother."(11)

Io nodded, ruefully. He'd offered the Librarian the personal attentions of the Monkey God.(12) Advised afterwards of the trouble this could have caused had the Librarian's attention not been diverted elsewhere, Io still wondered how that one might have played out. He'd once been head-butted by Om in his own hall, after all. Gods were vulnerable in their own space.

"Igors." said Io. "And this woman who ended up as Goddess of the Eyeball People."

Offler was sympathetic. He sighed. And a crocodile sigh is a long sigh.

"Igors. You can't touch them." he said, regretfully. "Send a thunderbolt and they use it to power one of their electrical machines. I sometimes think they provoke us on purpose, for the free electricity."

Io nodded.

"It was all so much easier in the old days." he reflected. "A mortal offends thy eye, you smite. Now..."

"At least the human woman was horrified at the idea and expressly said she didn't want it." Offler reflected. "And she's Ionian, so smite her and you lose a believer. Not good. If that business with Om taught us anything, it's to keep your believers, as you never know when you'll need them. But the other thing... Io, did you know the sodding Igors are making teeth now?"

Io shared his fellow God's horror. Teeth were Offler's. Eyeballs were his. It was a very old arrangement. Only Gods had the right to call new teeth or eyes or other bodily parts into existence from nothing. This was another case of humans usurping god-like powers. This usually called for Thunderbolts With Extreme Prejudice. But thunderbolts were useless... and would kill true believers... and if they carried on like this, in a millennium or two, Gods might be redundant.

"Besides, she's an Assassin." added Offler. People in parched countries would have prayed to hear a crocodile-headed God pronounce the word "Assassin". "Smite her, and they'll come gunning for us. And you don't know what these people are potentially capable of. Look at what Teatime did to the Hogfather a few years ago. I hear trhey're actually encouraging each other to think of ideas now, with this Teatime Prize of theirs."

"Tey-ah-teem-ah" corrected Io, automatically.

"Whatever." shrugged Offler.

Io and Offler sat in gloomy silence for a while, allies in the moment.

"We can't stop this..." Io said.

"No. We can't." agreed Offler.

Then Offler sat up straight.

"Here's a thought!" he said. "It might look good for the record if we graciously say we endorse the bio-artificing of eyes and teeth. That we are aware, we have graciously permitted the Igors to produce bodily parts under licence, etcetera etcetera, but that we COMMAND that every implantation of a new eye or a new tooth be accompanied by a formal short service of thanks to the respective God, ie, you and me, for the miraculous bounty as regards dentition and oculence. If we can't stop it, we may as well be part of it and focus their minds in the right direction, get a bit more belief that way. Maybe suggest a donation to the Temple is in order, I know your man in Ankh-Morpork is all for free and unforced thanks in terms of hard cash."

"You could be onto something there." Io said, thoughtfully. "Ridcully gets the cash, I get the belief. Same for you if you talk to your man."

Are you getting all this, Hughnon? thought Blind Io. I know you're online right now.

And over a thousand miles away in Ankh-Morpork, Ridcully surfaced from the trance state of communion with the Gods.

"...same for you if you talk to your man." he mumbled, then tailed off.

Alice came out of the trance too, exclaiming "Damn and blast!" She'd followed Astoria and Dee-Kay back to a bedroom in Dunmanifestin and had been quietly observing. "It's always when you get to the good bit!"

Who Is Online: There are two registered users and no guests currently browsing. Hughnon Ridcully, High Priest of the Temple of Blind Io in Ankh-Morpork, and one guest, have gone offline.

"Did Ridcully get all that, do you think?" Offler asked, politely. Io smiled.

"He will have. He's very good. Unlike the rather senile old dodderer he succeeded(13). The man in Quirm used to be good too. What was his name... oh yes, Algernon Band. Shame Death claimed him."

"Thank you both, m'dears! That was a good night's work! Need to get crackin' on writin' a new Liturgy. Service of Thanksgivin' on the receipt of new eyes by the gift of Io, sort of thing. Do you want to bring your young woman round to Temple so she can get Io's blessin' on her new peepers, get her in the clear with the God?"

Emmanuelle smiled. She was relieved to be no longer in danger of divine displeasure. That was worth an eyeball or two in offering. If I have to sacrifice a pair of my eyes to the real God of Eyeballs, Igor has plenty and to spare in two glass jars, she decided. And having Catherine's new eyes formally blessed would do no harm, either.

It had been a good evening all round. But there were more disturbing things emerging in Catherine Perry-Bowen that needed her attention... as at her sword-fighting class that morning...

(1) This had been undertaken by Assassin Andrew Salt (2) (Welcome Soap House) , who, at great personal risk and some consequent injury, had infiltrated the university and stalked the potential client to build up a picture of his everyday routine, preferences and contacts. He had concluded "Don't bother. This man should go in the same category as Sam Vimes. Unkillable.")

(2)Andrew Salt is in real life a member of the deviantArt community. His report on the inhumability of Ridcully is available on the dA site and is a masterpiece of both fanfiction and fan-art. I completely recommend it! Shame FF won't let me post a link.

(3) Under the standard Acts of Gods clause, naturally. Insurance companies being as they are, the very small print lists numerous exceptions, including the Abraxas Clause: mishaps deemed to be the result of deliberate provocation will not be covered by this policy.

(4) It's like this. A gnosis is a personal encounter with the Godhead in which a revelation may be communicated or a Gospel proclaimed. An abgnosis is when the Godhead calls round to your front door to deliver a personally bespoke thunderbolt. Hughnon Ridcully describes it as "the difference between a rapture and a rupture, y'follow? In the one, the God raises you up, yea, even unto the Third Heaven. In the other you come back down again, pretty fast, and it's a bloody long way to drop."

(5) Note to non-British readers: this should be said in a Geordie accent (north-eastern dialect English). Imagine, depending on your age, Eric Burdon, Alan Price, the Likely Lads, Sting, or Cheryl McCole. Sting was famously thought, in his Police days, to be affecting a West Indian accent in his singing voice. He really, really, wasn't. This is Geordie. Why-aye, man!

(6) Whenever the Gods played Exaltation Factor, Reg, the God of Club Musicians (who knew what it was like) was generally sympathetic and constructive in his criticism. Fate, on the other hand, was a cutting, scathing, bastard. He still kept the form of a kindly-looking man in his prime to whom a maiden might offer a drink. But his eyes remained terrible soul-less pits, and he had taken to wearing well-tailored trousers that (unaccountably) were waisted far too high up his torso. The Lady sat between them on the judging panel, outwardly sympathetic but following an agenda of her own.

(7) Except for certain games suggested by Astoria. As Goddess of Law (semi-retired), Dike also had access to handcuffs and restraints.

(8) Ordained priests.

(9) Suitably gifted members of the laity (Alice Band, in this case)

(10) Refer to Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time.

(11) Refer to Terry Pratchett's The Last Hero.

(12) Who, sensing trouble, had disappeared back into the roof space and had evaded all attempts to coax him back down.

(13) Hughnon Ridcully's predecessor as Chief Priest met his end in Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. The religious heirarchy must have expressed a wish for his successor to be a quiet unworldly country prelate who could be easily pushed around...