"All right, are you sure you have the key to the High Energy Magic Building?"
"And you'll remember to lock everything up when you leave?"
"And you know you have to reorder the Librarian's banana supply on Thursday, the Great Hall needs a new candleholder—oh, and room 3B is still missing—oh dear, what else am I forgetting?"
"Stibbons!" Ridcully was fed up. "This University has managed to run for over two thousand years without you. I think it will manage for three months."
Ponder Stibbons hesitated. "Right. Of course, Archchancellor."
"Now, no more of this. You're the one who wanted to go off to Genua, so be off with you."
"I don't know what's in Genua that he can't get here," the Senior Wrangler muttered to Dr. Hix. "All these foreign places, I don't know. It's just like home, except everything is in foreign languages and the beer tastes odd."
"Well, he said he wants to participate in intra-community fraternizing, didn't he?" muttered the Lecturer in Recent Runes, earning a look of faint shock from the Senior Wrangler.
"Did he? I never."
"We have a lot to learn from our international brotherhood," Ridcully said loudly, staring at Ponder. "So I'm told, at least."
"Er... yes." Ponder nodded, looking at a group of men whose concept of fraternity was usually shattered around the time the cheese plate came out. "I'm just going to study with them for a bit to help them develop an understanding of High Energy Magic, and bring back insights about their research to further enrich our own work." He'd practiced that. It didn't sound half bad, to him. The other wizards looked baffled.
"Yyyyes," said the Lecturer slowly, "but you weren't here the last time things got international, were you?"
"This won't be like that at all!" Ponder protested. "This is being done in the spirit of goodwill and the pursuit of knowledge!" Someone in the muddle groaned, and out of the corner of his eye, he caught the Egregious Professor Of Cruel And Unusual Geography edging away. "Where are you going?"
"Oh, nowhere. Just off to buy some lead for the walls. Or run away."
Ponder huffed in frustration. "Look, I'll only be gone for three months. Everything will be fine." He turned back to Ridcully, who had his arms folded. "Let's see. You know the door to the Uncertain Solarium needs to be fixed before anyone can use it."
"Good gods, man, yes!"
"And I told you about the problem with the tea kettle--"
"Stibbons!" Ridcully was turning red.
At that moment, the Bursar wandered up, said, "My, what a charming wheel of cheese," and moved on.
"Where?" asked the Senior Wrangler.
"Oh, yes! And the Bursar's new shipment of dried frog pills is coming in on Octeday."
Ridcully drew a deep breath. "Stibbons, if you don't leave this moment, I will personally see to it that you and all of your belongings wind up right where the sun does not shine."
There was a pause.
"But that's in Scrote, isn't it?" offered the Lecturer.
Ponder had understood the point, but felt that Ridcully might not have the best grasp of idioms. "I don't think that's how you use that--"
"Shut up, all of you."
"The point is," Ridcully said, calming slightly. "We will be just fine without you, Mr. Stibbons. We've managed before."
Ponder Stibbons knew when a battle was over. He sighed and lifted his bag. "Yes, Archchancellor. Good luck, gentlemen. I'll see you in three months."
They saw him off en masse, except for the Librarian, who was actually working, and the Bursar, who was insisting to anyone who would listen that he'd woken up as a beetle and had been quietly taken away.
When he was gone, the Senior Wrangler turned to the others. "What was all that about the tea kettle?"
"We're shedding wizards left and right," Ridcully snapped as he strode down the hallway; followed by the de-beetled Bursar, who was caught in his wake. The man had grown into an excellent sounding board, Ridcully found, as long as you didn't want any actual feedback, or at least not any from this dimension. "It's unconscionable!"
"A taxi-cab?" The Bursar replied. "In this weather?"
"Bloody ingratitude, is what it is. Gall and ingratitude. And Stibbons. Hah! Did you hear him, Bursar?"
"No, I don't need any bunting."
"As if the University only functions because of him. You used to do half the jobs he's doing, and without all that huffing about! As if he's so put-upon!" The Bursar didn't respond to that, but Ridcully pushed right on. "We certainly don't need him. We can do perfectly fine on our-- hello, where are we?"
It wasn't uncommon to get lost within the University, or indeed for entirely new hallways to spring up out of nowhere. But Ridcully had always prided himself on a certain exploratory nature and, as such, liked to think he knew more about the place than most. This hallway was completely new to him. On a whim, he opened the first door he saw.
He stared inside.
He closed the door, and looked at the number.
He opened the door again.
"My gods," he gasped. "It's full of students!"
"But what do they want?"
"They say they want to learn, Runes."
"Rubbish! I've never heard such a thing!"
"Regardless." Ridcully stood his ground. "Gentlemen, it appears that we have in fact discovered Room 3B, and it's full of eager minds awaiting your tutelage." A shudder went up amongst the group. "Now the real question remains: What the hell do we do with them?"
"And is anyone but me concerned about the tea kettle?" the Senior Wrangler interjected.
"I hate to mention it, Archchancellor," Dr. Hix suggested, "although it's not particularly evil, per se, but... didn't Stibbons deal with some students at one point or another?"
"Oh, yes." The Lecturer snapped his fingers. "He had that fellow, that Adrian fellow who went off to work with--"
"Don't say it," snapped Ridcully. "We all know what you're talking about. And no! We're not fetching Stibbons back two days after he left. Don't be ridiculous. Any other ideas?"
"I've got a hammer and a piece of liver."
"Thank you for your contribution, Bursar."
"Archchancellor, what are we supposed to do?"
"Now that you've let them out, all they do is try to come to my office hours and ask me to teach them things!
"By the gods, man, we're not equipped to handle this!"
"Anything else," the Senior Wrangler tried to reason. "We would have been able to deal with anything else, but not this."
"I'm not asking Stibbons back, gentlemen, and that's final." Ridcully eyed them over his desk. "I don't suppose it occurred to you to actually try teaching your classes?" They stared at him in horror until he shook his head. "Never mind. Just run away if they come near you, and maybe they'll get the hint."
Unseen University was in chaos.
The halls were deserted, the offices empty. Classrooms, such as they were, had been ransacked for weapons and defenses. Even the Great Hall had been devastated, the massive dining table overturned to provide cover for the wizards who had entrenched themselves behind it.
And still, they came.
The Librarian discovered, to his great distress, that in the chaos no one had ordered his bananas. He decided to hold Rincewind responsible, but the Egregious Professor Of Cruel And Unusual Geography was nowhere to be found.
In the end, he settled for sticking an empty banana peel to Ridcully's door with a crossbow bolt, and swung off to the docks to terrorize some importers.
If he'd been in a better mood, he might have suggested using the tea kettle... But no one would have listened, anyway.
Ridcully had held out as long as he could. Even while his University crumbled around him, he had commended himself on his own calm and rationality. They would get through this! They had survived sourcery, the Dungeon Dimensions, and a dozen lesser apocalypses.
Yes, everything would be fine, Ridcully thought as he settled back in his chair and kicked his feet up onto his desk. It was only a matter of time before it all blew over.
"Excuse me, sir," came a voice from the door. "Professor Thrumbleby said that I might find you here."
Ridcully went pale. "And?"
"He said that you were the best, sir, if I wanted to learn about thaumic generation in--"
Ridcully had had enough. "Someone get me Stibbons!"
"Sir, I came as fast as I could," Ponder Stibbons panted. "What's the magical emergency that's threatening the survival of the Disc itself? What do you need me to do?"
"Oh, you're back, are you?" Ridcully said.
Well, really. It wasn't as if he needed him, after all.