Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Terry Pratchett's Discworld or his characters. Merely my representations. And the punes or play on words.
Warning: The following chapter has some disturbing imagery regarding cruelty to animals - even though said animal is imaginary, just thought I'd warn you.
A strange mood has gripped the city, dictated the quiet tones of William De Worde from his desk. He paused. The problem, he thought looking ruefully at a recent clacks missive, was exactly that – Strange with a capital S. It has been well established that the average Ankh-Morporkian is inclined to be distrustful of verified written facts of say the dietary habits of country porcines, but are nevertheless staunch supporters of flying rumours. (1)
(1) Which meant a class of people while not prone to whipping out their spyglasses when hearing the phrase, "Pigs might fly" would still end up arguing that well, it might happen you never know with those pigs, bless their little aerodynamic tails.
Bearing this in mind and very much against his truth telling grain, William had authorized the publication of one or two articles that dealt with the 'quirkier' dealings of the city. Like the one over the holidays about the appearance of a Hogfather complete with real pigs turning up at the city's biggest shopping Maul. It was a pity that Otto had been unable to get a close up owing to an humbuggian discrimination against the vampire from entering the Hogfather's grotto. Or what about the perplexing blitz of bodies that were found on rooftops all over the city including those of a notorious gang of criminals? The Watch said that Inquiries Were Underway which meant that they were still as stuck as the aforementioned bodies before their subsequent discoveries.
And then there was this missive that had arrived late last night.
The diocese of the temple of Offler in Ankh had sent in a statement that their 10ft graven image of the reptilian god (hitherto always dry eyed in the face of its worshippers earnest pleadings) had suddenly sprung a leak. Worshippers and clergy were further amazed when it was discovered that the rose coloured liquid seeping from the statue's eyes was in fact wine. Not the best vintage, mind but quite palatable all the same. William had not been impressed, recalling that the Temple was located on an old mining site with its disused underground pipeline still in place. In all likeliness this was simply a matter of corroded water, but he sent a runner down to temple for further investigations.
Another missive was from his old friend Mr Wintler and his other gardening friends. Their vegetables had started producing less humourously shaped versions of well, of divine beings.
It wasn't even the kind where you cock your head, wink one eye and it looks in fact like a misshapen potato with very precise markings of eye shoots. So far Mr Wintler's buddies had made a collection of 15 recognizable gods and 12 recognizable goddesses made ready for tomorrows front page with a special place of honour reserved for the three Petulia radishes unearthed in different suggestive poses. (2)
(2) Petulia is the Ephebian Goddess worshipped by the ladies of negotiable affection. Known for wearing dresses that accentuate rather than hide her figure, a fact both distressing to all right thinking women and not at all distressing to all right thinking men.
William tried to ignore the innocent brown box on the edge of his desk. A radish shouldn't be capable of even achieving that position…
He glared at the disorganizer who gave an impatient cough.
Other sightings that reached the office over the week had included mysterious disappearances of kitchen items from drawers, unexpected showers of mushrooms, birds flying backwards on the migratory route via the Ramtops. (3) and the classic writings on the wall, although no one took this one seriously until yesterday when the same script was written on hard to reach places like the Tower of Art and the copper bridge, the same script over and over: It Is Coming.
(3) A phenomenon explained by the cautionary measures adopted by our fine feathered fowls against Granny Weatherwax's merciless aviation skills, i.e, allowing nothing to stand or fly in her way. Ever.
That sent a shiver down everyone's spine that had nothing to do with the increasingly cooler weather of late.
But on top of all this, the most perplexing mystery had to be the mysterious summons from the Patrician that arrived on his desk just then. There was just the tiniest hint of relief as William grabbed his coat. Whatever was on the Patrician's mind was bound to occupy his entire attention, however unsettling, from the days' curious news items.
There were trees, trees everywhere…
As horse and rider maneuvered their way through the forest, Susan eventually gave up on the horse. The creature had been uncontrollable since the chase from the grim hounds. It was far kinder to let it take its chance on the forest. Maybe it would find a way out. Whatever this land held it would be after her. The dogs were just a friendly warning. Even if she turned her head very quickly, the branches tried to cover up and add unnecessary detail as soon as her eye was drawn to it.
And not a branch is real.
For one panic filled moment when Teatime had opened the gateway, Susan thought that she was back in the Tooth fairy's land. This place felt similar in nature. It was like a child's rendition of a Hogswatch card, all white snow everywhere because its easy to draw and doesn't take a lot of imagination to think up. Unlike the Tooth fairy's castle, there were very definite shadows among the trees, deep and long and menacing. She could feel eyes on the horse as it galloped away before refocusing on her.
Oh yes, she thought grimly, I know exactly where I am now.
She glared at the book. The title mocked her, raising its metaphorical curled finger in a come-hither motion. Changing her grip, she tried prising the book open. It was no use. Its insubstantial form kept slipping through her fingers. It was like trying to twist air into a pretzel.
Albert hovered in the foreground looking offensively smug.
"Found anything yet?"
Of course she hadn't she said and lost her grip on the book…
That hovered in mid air.
They stared at the book as it rose and returned to its place on the bookshelf. They were silent for a while.
"Well, I've got Twyla's descriptions" she had said uncertainly. "It's enough to go on."
Albert just stared at her, all traces of smugness gone.
"I think you should wait for the Master to come back." He said in an unexpected voice. It wasn't kind or gentle, just unexpected with its trace of underlying anxiety.
"I can't wait, Albert. He's changed it. I don't know how he did it, but he's changed the
nature of his self. I have to find him. Find them. Bring them back."
"Yeah, but the Master has more - experience in this sort of thing."
He missed Susan's stiffened pose and flashing eyes as he went on. " I was thinking I had seen this somewhere before. In one of them grimmoires. Its been done before in places like Howandaland where the usual practice is placing it in a jar underground. Nothing can touch them see? Ride into battle and let the buggers fire whatever they've got – Old Johnny Klatchian can take it with his hair in a braid and a drink in his hand."
"Yes, well I believe I can manage--"
"How are you going to do it, eh?" he argued, "This is High Arts meddling, serious incantations and circles and such like that only the exalted wise men of the age ever attempted in times of peril or just some bloody fool of a kid messing around in stuff he doesn't understand. If your kid was involved-"
"He wasn't" she snapped. "Not intentionally. He-He didn't understand what he was doing."
"But he was taught what to say and he had enough practice on how to say it. See here? Your girl's book says that you told him off on three occasions in the last two weeks for disappearing on his own."
'All those powers and you use it for such trivialities like planning unauthorized excursions for your students' Damn him…
Well, she knew how to handle that, didn't she? She was glad that she was still angry from the escape and the fight because her other less red eyed thoughts did not like the idea of her breaking into a run and rushing into the gray form who tried to retreat back into the shadows…
..that disappeared in the fog. Puzzled she reached out and her questing fingers found a tree that shrank back from her touch. She kicked it for good measure and moved forward keeping her hands outstretched. The fog was really thick; she could feel her breath getting shorter as the air condensed around her. Her hair lay flat on her head losing its will to primp itself under current conditions. She wanted to get out of this right now.
It was the last ironic thought she had before her boots missed contact with the ground and met with thin air.
Snow drifts fell thickly in columns of gray and white. It fell on the remains of the wreckage, sprinkling a fine powder over the wheel spokes that had since stopped rotating. The dogs approached it with stealth bearing their razor teeth. Or what remained of it. Just earlier, they had leapt upon the first intruder and its rider and the experience had been very unpleasant. They managed to get a few nips and instantly regretted such rashness seconds later. Never before had they encountered an intruder so angry that they picked one of the dogs by the hind legs and smashed them against the other two!
The Queen would be angry for the lapse in security later but as they say, let sleeping dogs lie…
(1) The dogs sniffed the remains of the wagon's bunker that had entangled itself around a tree.
(1) Straight out the realms of nightmares, these fiery eyes, razor bearing canines nevertheless exhibited all the usual hallmarks of canines everywhere and peed against the tree which dissolved on contact. (2)
(2) Although technically the bunker was in the tree since the trees had not been trained to smash upon impact not having seen enough of real trees to get the knack.
Nothing. The snow had removed all traces and the scents had disappeared along with it. As the dogs turned away, one of them paused and glanced up, panting in doggish amazement. A pair of hands grabbed it before the others astonishment.
A series of high pitched yelps and it was soon over. Boots crunched over the snow spattered ground picking its way delicately over the broken spine of the wagon. A gloved hand patted the muzzle of the nightmarish thing that gurgled with laboured breaths before ceasing finally. The figure stooped to pick up some snow, rubbing it between his flecked fingers until a fine pink spray fell at his feet.