Well... 'tis my first submission to ff.n, and my first fanfic in about ten years, so we'll see how this goes. ;) I was recently inspired by rereading The Last Hero, and thinking of what Angua's reaction must have been to Carrot landing on, of all places, the moon... I'd think this sort of thing would seriously mess with a werewolf's head. The below is the result.
Note that this contains a whole lot of spoilers for The Last Hero, and it's best if you read that for purposes of understanding the backstory before diving into this. (There's a reason I don't subject you to Vimes' summary to Angua of what's going on. Terry did that already.) The short form, if you must: Cohen the Barbarian has decided to go out with the proverbial bang, and return the fire that was stolen from the gods eons ago. The trouble is, the explosion he plans will destroy the Disc's magical field and end the Discworld as we know it. Enter our intrepid heroes: Leonard of Quirm, inventor of the flying machine that's the only way of getting to Dunmanifestin in time; Rincewind, the wizard who knows Cohen and seems to survive everything thrown at him; and, of course, Captain Carrot of the City Watch, who probably needs no introduction.
I'm not giving away much in pointing out that they are successful in saving the day. But this story's about what happens on the world below, before and after the crisis.
PG-13 for some violence, described and implied, and some serious angst. ;)
City smog whirled the light above her into enticing abstractions. Street-level smells crowded her senses and tugged at her instincts. The monochromatic night looked sharper, more real, than anything she saw by day through human eyes. Beneath her feet, she could feel the city's pulse.
But a subtle arrythmia made her pause.
Something here felt off-kilter; something was out of balance, tilted, subtly skewed. The air, somehow, felt as if it were holding its breath.
She lifted her sensitive nose and sniffed the wind. Nothing worse than Ankh-Morpork's usual fumes, she thought. Not on the surface. But there's something else -- something that almost felt touched with sulphur.
She turned her head, peering into the distance, but nothing suspicious -- at least for Ankh-Morpork's usual value of "suspicious" -- was anywhere to be seen. The city, as much as it ever was, was quiet.
Until she heard a faint, far-off howl.
She listened to its echo for a moment. If she'd been in human form just then, she would have frowned. She was used to the tone of the canine chain of communications, but not to messages this cryptic:
The Horde is ascending....
She padded forward, straining for anything else, but the howl had faded into silence, and had anyway been overpowered by the nearby sound of someone hollering, "Stop! Unlicensed thief!"
Angua snorted out a breath and turned around to follow the trail. Duty, as always, calls....
Morning dawned cloudless, if not exactly clear, and Angua woke up to it earlier than she'd hoped, with a long yawn. In one slow stretch, she pulled her arms up above her head and pointed her toes, forcing each muscle to re-adjust to their human shapes. And then her growling stomach -- feeling the effects of last night's exercise -- made its own demands to go find food. She decided to take the hint.
The Watch house when she got there was crowded as usual with people coming on and off shifts, and grabbing breakfast in the canteen before going out onto their beats. Angua peered at the tables and tried not to think too hard about some of the meal selections. Dwarves, trolls, and the assorted other beings who worked here tended to prefer the sorts of things people called exterminators for; Angua didn't even eat meat by choice.
At least when she wasn't on four paws.
A lingering hint of last night's appetite still made the sausage smell appetizing -- although, fortunately, not the rat. Angua pinched the bridge of her nose and moved toward a safer smell: eggs and toast, and oranges, and....
Well, that other smell wasn't what you'd call appealing, but at least she knew who it belonged to.
"Morning, Nobby," she said.
The allegedly human Watchman raised his gaze from his plate and grinned at her. "Hey, Sergeant."
Fred Colon, sitting across from Nobby, waved at her with a piece of toast in one hand. "Morning! Wasn't expecting you in until later...."
"Couldn't sleep," she said, rubbing her hair with one hand. She still felt a bit... wolfy. The days around the full moon were always a bit dodgy for this form, and she still felt oddly tense....
"So how was patrol?"
She sat down and thought about that for a moment, staring off into the middle distance; it was partially to avoid the sight of Nobby shoveling scrambled eggs into his mouth at record speed. "Uneventful," she said at last. "Except I feel like something was brewing... not sure what...."
She frowned, sighed, and scratched the back of her neck. She realized she was sniffing absently for something that wasn't there: that familiar, astringently-clean scent that inevitably meant their Watch captain."Has Carrot come in?"
Fred flicked a glance at Nobby, who paused with his fork halfway down from his mouth, and muttered around the eggs,"Haven't seen 'im."
Fred scrubbed his hands absently on his pant legs. "He was in that meeting yesterday at the Palace--"
"Yeah, I know," Angua said, a bit distantly. A worry was beginning to prick at her.
"Mister Vimes was there, too. He came back later in the evening -- you were, uh, out by then -- but I haven't seen Carrot...."
Angua had taken a glance up the stairs when she came in. At the top was Vimes's office. The door was usually open (or in fact absent), but this morning he'd pulled it halfway closed.
Something was definitely happening.
Her appetite began to drain away, but she glanced around for something to eat regardless as Fred said, "Probably just a special assignment. I'm sure he'll be around."
Oh, of course. A special assignment. The sort Carrot would feel duty-bound to carry out to the ultimate best of his ability, wherever it might take him... and whatever it might involve....
Angua gulped down something she vaguely recognized as bread, and perhaps juice of some sort, before excusing herself and heading for the steps.
Nobby looked at Fred when she'd gone. "Wonder if she knows anything?"
Fred was staring at his plate and empty glass. Angua had absently relieved him of half his breakfast.
"Oh, just get another plate, Fred," Nobby muttered.
Fred shoved the last few crumbs around with his fork and heaved a sigh before answering Nobby's question. "Hard to say. Maybe she can get something out of Old Stoneface, if it has to do with Carrot...."
"He wouldn't tell you what was going on at the Patrician's, would he?"
"Not a word."
"Think we could get her to spill if she finds out?"
Fred Colon's highly-tuned sense of self-preservation waved its flag of warning. "At this time of the month," he said, thinking of her glinting incisors digging into his toast, "I wouldn't push her."
Angua knocked twice on the half-open door before saying, somewhat hesitantly, "Excuse me -- Mister Vimes..."
There was an indrawn breath, slowly released. "Come in, Sergeant."
Angua pushed open the door to see her Watch commander sitting at a preternaturally clean desk. The paperwork was pushed into neat piles, all of them shorter than usual. Sam Vimes sat behind a faint haze of cigar smoke, tapping the end of his pen against one sheet as Angua walked in.
This is not normal, she thought, watching his eyes scan over the words. Not normal at all....
He made a face at whatever the paper said, shook his head once, and scratched his name at the bottom. Then he looked up and rubbed a hand over tired eyes. "Have a seat."
"You haven't slept tonight, have you?" Angua asked, the question barging out before tact could shove it back into the closet.
Vimes returned her gaze, eyes blank, then said, "No, not really. You were out all night too, I'm sure --"
"There's something wrong, sir," she said flatly. "I could sense it. Strange messages on the howl -- 'The Horde is ascending'....?" She let the quote dangle. Vimes didn't take the bait.
"Did anything in particular happen?"
She shifted in her seat. "No, nothing more than usual. I'll -- well, I'll get the report in shortly...."
He waved a dismissive hand. Vimes never minded late reports on full-moon nights; he understood the need to wait for the return of opposable thumbs.
"Don't worry about that." He peered up at Angua's eyes, his gaze almost unbearably sharp, then blinked and returned absently to the paperwork. "I swear this stuff breeds while I'm away. It took me hours to get this far...."
"You don't normally stay up to finish it off, sir."
"I hate leaving unfinished business," he muttered, which, Angua thought in puzzlement, was true, but not usually where things like this were concerned. And then she stopped to think of what that meant. Paperwork went on forever as long as there was a job to do....
He sighed heavily. "You came to ask about Carrot, didn't you?"
Angua, totally unable to guess where this conversation was going, leaned back in her chair and stared at Vimes for a moment before finally saying, "Yes, sir. He hasn't been in."
"He's gone on a mission for the Patrician," Vimes said. "A very important theft case. Of sorts. He headed out this morning."
Vimes leaned back and stared at the ceiling, dodging the question by answering a different one. "He's going with Leonard of Quirm and Rincewind -- you don't know him -- wizard famous for surviving all sorts of improbable disasters--"
He stopped and winced as he realized he'd hit exactly the wrong word. Angua's hands clenched around the chair arm. "What on the Disc would require that bunch to work on this case?"
"Angua--" Vimes leaned forward again, his face carefully expressionless. "I probably don't need to tell you that the meetings yesterday were strictly confidential. Confidential of the 'you tell anyone, you wake up in the scorpion pit' variety."
"This is Carrot," she returned sharply. "Our Captain is very mysteriously absent from a city you'd normally have to drag him away from by force, and that's never a good sign."
Unspoken memories of the last time Carrot went dashing out of Ankh-Morpork flashed between Angua and Vimes. He lost the staring contest and gave her a small look of concession.
"There's something going on out there that's worrying you as much as it is me," Angua said. "I don't know what it is. But I think both you and Carrot do. There's nothing normal that would make you clear the decks like this -- you look like you're preparing for the--"
She saw the look in his eyes and stopped dead.
"Sir..." she tried, and trailed off.
There was a moment of empty silence. Finally Vimes said, "You're sure the door is closed?"
Angua glanced behind her. The door was well and truly shut. She nodded mutely and turned back to her commander, who was clearly turning words over and over in his head before speaking.
And then he braced his hands against the edge of the desk, and told her.
## continued in chapter 2.... ##