A Game Without Rules
If you could change your days, arranging them in some sweet new sequence
Like any new arrangement's gonna make a difference
Cause it's the moment that you're living in and not the one that follows
That makes this mess you're cleaning in your head
Time still drags you forward, though you keep resisting
You know it's what you leave behind, you'll soon start missing
"A New Arrangement" Bright Eyes
It was a cold place, devoid of life. Nothing stirred if it was not moved by the wind itself. And even the wind droned on, unenthusiastic. It was low and seemed to whine. This was a desert of sorts. The sky was filled with stars, but the light shining off of them was cooler then it would usually be in normal circumstances.
After a moment the empty, dead landscape seemed to altar slightly, until shapes rippled in the foreground. Grey hoods, hung without substance. One of them turned to the others. They formed a circle. Because a circle is infinite.
One said; We have called this meeting for the first and last time. This world is flawed. It is time that things were put right.
It did not have a voice to speak of, and yet the words were somehow said.
Yes, said another. But we must take certain precautions. We remember our previous failures.
The figures seemed to think for a moment.
After a while one said; We must make sure that Azrael is not aware of our participation in these events. He must know only that we are watching as a matter of concern.
That, we think, will not be difficult. Azrael's attention is too large to focus on small details.
Another spoke after a moment; But what of him? Are we certain that this will expell him for good?
We have been thinking very carefully about this. His actions are becoming...illogical...most dangerous.
One of the auditors looked uncertain…or it was presumed this was the case. It did not technically have a face, so it didn't really have anything to be uncertain with.
We've tried to delete him before. We remember. It did not work.
This time it will be different. We will not give him a chance to fight back. We will make sure his next folly is seen and acted upon by Azriel himself.
One of the Auditors seemed to be curious.
What did we have in mind? It asked.
He has done something most unreasonable. He has married a human woman.
Most ridiculous. But not, might I point out, particularly against the rules.
No. Not yet. But it is only a matter of time. His judgment is beginning to fail.
The figure paused.
Did you just say "I?"
What? No. Certainly not. I wouldn't dare…oh…Damn!
It vanished and another indistinguishable gray shape came in its place.
As we were saying, the other continued, If for some reason he refused to take this humans life away, he would have to be retired.
Yes, but as far as we know, she will not expire for many years. Too many. We do not want to wait any longer. The auditor almost seemed impatient, although it could be said that the auditors were nothing but concentrated patience.
We will not have to. The other exclaimed with some smugness. Not if we hurry things up a bit.
Death was in his Office. Beside him, a cup of chamomile tea cooled on the surface of his desk. There was a faint hissing sound beneath his robe. It was not so much comfortable now as it was annoying. The sound frustrated him. He'd been around hourglasses for a very long time, and until now the sound of sand running did not bother him so much.
Death picked up his mug for a moment and swished the contents around before sighing and putting it back down.
There was a faint knock on the door.
COME IN ALBERT. Death said, without looking up.
Albert entered the room; he was holding another cup of tea on a rather tarnished silver tray.
"I brought you more tea, Master." He said as he crossed the room.
THANK YOU. Death replied. When Albert reached the desk he did not bother to comment on the already full cup still sitting on the desk's surface. Instead he took it and replaced it with the new tea.
"Umm…" Albert started. "Also, there's someone here to see you…he uh…let himself in." Death looked up from his desk curiously.
WHO IS IT?
"Dunno…looks like a milkman. You uh…didn't invite him did you?" Albert asked suspiciously.
NO. Death said as he stood. He walked around his desk and passed Albert without comment. Albert frowned, catching a brief glimpse of the ring, which seemed to glimmer on his master's skeletal finger.
HELLO RONNIE. Death said as he stepped into the Entryway of his house. The figure he addressed was leaning against the wall and was dressed in a white apron. He was holding what appeared to be a case of milk.
"Hello." Ronnie said as he straightened. In this realm he looked a lot less like a milkman then he might, perhaps, down in the world. "How are you, old friend? It feels like it's been a while."
IT HAS HARDLY BEEN ANY TIME AT ALL. Death responded. I SEE YOU STILL ARE IN DAIRY. I WONDER IS THIS A HOBBY, NOW OR STILL A CAREER?
"It is a career, while Kaos is a lifestyle. It seemed a shame to give it up. I have so many customers who expect their milk on time, you know." He sounded just slightly embarrassed. "And of course, there is no better place for chaos then Ankh Morpork. It has it's own unique breed of chaos. I rather enjoy it there."
INDEED. WHAT IS IT THAT BRINGS YOU HERE RONNIE? The broad smile left the large man's face and Ronnie contrived to look slightly awkward.
"Actually…um…I came by because…I heard you got married." He said after a moment.
"So it is true?" Ronnie gave Death a guilty look.
YES. Death replied. IT IS.
"Well…I guess I'm just surprised. I mean…never would have thought you'd get married." Death was silent. "And…she's human?"
SHE IS. His voice, as much as it could be called a voice, held a small note of warning. Ronnie nodded and then acquired the look of someone who has something to say, but doesn't really want to say it in case it's something that doesn't want to be heard.
WHY HAVE YOU COME RONNIE? Death asked wearily.
"It's great…I mean…congratulations…only…"
"Certain people, I myself included, inquire as to why? Particularly, why to a mortal woman?" He spoke slowly.
CERTAIN PEOPLE? WHOM?
"It isn't really important…people like us."
I DO NOT SEE HOW IT IS ANY OF THEIR BUSINESS. Death said with some annoyance.
"Well, we are slightly concerned about where this fancy of yours will lead. After that business with Time…"
I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH HUMANS FOR YEARS NOW, RONNIE. WHY, SUDDENLY ARE YOU SO CONCERNED NOW?
"It isn't just me. After the catastrophe with the glass clock…this is just making people uncomfortable. Look, it isn't even the marriage that concerns us. After all, War has been married for decades. The prospect has even attracted me from time to time to tell you the truth, but…I mean…to wed a human, almost seems to beg for disaster. And it also, forgive me for saying so, seems rather pointless. I mean, you of all people must know what short life spans they have. They expire at the very best of times in a short hundred years."
I KNOW WHAT HUMANS ARE, RONNIE. Death replied with some irritation.
"Yes, I know…look I'm not here to complain or make you angry." Ronnie said quickly. "The real reason I stopped by is to warn you."
"Yes. I listen to things you know...and being Kaos...I mean...I'm rather in tune with...the people who organize. Certain parties are not happy about this. You are…being watched…closely. As is she."
SHE IS BEING WATCHED?
"Yes…" He was quiet for a moment. Finally, he shook his head. "I feel as if I have been away from this business for too long. Perhaps I've lost some of my senses."
I DO NOT THINK IT IS POSSIBLE TO FORGET HOW TO BE US. Death said, while deep in thought.
"No, I suppose not. I urge you to be careful."
"Only…I feel as if something's going to go horrible wrong."
"Hopefully I'm wrong."
YES…Death replied, his mind elsewhere.
"In any case, I should be on my way."
"The milk won't deliver itself after all." Ronnie said, while watching Death with something that could have passed for concern.
NO, I IMAGINE NOT.
"You wouldn't happen to want a few bottles would you?"
NO THANK YOU. Death said, still obviously, focused on something else.
"It's supposed to make your bones strong you know?" Ronnie said hopefully.
PERHAPS ANOTHER TIME RONNIE. RIGHT NOW, I MUST SEE TO SOMETHING. Death said as he turned and headed back to his office. THANK YOU FOR STOPPING BY.
"Right, no problem, later then." Ronnie said as he vanished.
Elizabeth stopped what she was doing, panting slightly. It was too damn hot. For the last hour she had been trying to mow the lawn. Not the whole lawn…because that would take days but at least the majority of it around her house. She was beginning to feel that she should just wait for winter to come, though. Let the seasons take care of the overgrown grass.
She wiped her brow and dropped the handle of the machine she had been trying to use. Apparently it was an improvement to the old way of cutting grass, which had once been done with a sharpened blade. But it weighed almost sixty pounds and in this heat the old way sounded almost attractive.
Elizabeth sighed and, after stepping over the handle of the machine, headed back to her house.
It had been a month since she had gotten married, and now, a month later; she had to admit to herself that she had not been thinking very straight that night. Admittedly, her choices at the time had been limited, and as far as she could tell she'd made the best, but things had happened so quickly.
She didn't have any time to think about what she was doing. She'd spent fifteen years expecting to die alone in her father's house. (It hadn't been planned, just a subconscious certainty) and then suddenly she had to get married, and somehow she'd wound up being wed to a seven-foot skeleton. It had all rather been spur the moment. And she hadn't had time to consider what the downsides would be.
For instance, though she had never thought about it before, she wasn't ever going to be able to have children. This, as well as several other things had been flying through her mind continuously in the weeks after her marriage.
Elizabeth closed the door to her house and stepped into what could have been an oven. She groaned and wondered briefly when it would rain next. She fell back onto her couch and covered her eyes with her arm.
Her…husband…still a title she was not entirely comfortable with, seemed to be staying away for the most part. He had come by a couple times for one reason or another. She suspected that he had assumed that her desire to live in the world for four months doubled as time spent away from him. She had said that this wasn't the case, but it didn't seem to get through to him.
It had occurred to her just lately that liking someone was not quite good reason enough to marry them. This put her in an uncomfortable position. It had been difficult enough to accept Death as an employer. She was still trying to come to terms with the idea of being married to him. It was hard enough just grasping the idea without considering emotions.
She knew she wasn't in love with him. That one was easy, although she had never been in love before. She wasn't sure, at this point how close she could get to being in love with him. How close could any human get to loving Death? Any sane human, in any case.
And I don't know if he can feel anything at all. She thought to herself, not for the first time. Elizabeth sighed and wiped the sweat from her brow. She eyed the metal tub hanging on the wall briefly and then stood.
Death returned to his office. Albert had already gone back to the kitchen, leaving the cup of tea to cool on his desk. Death walked around it and sat down. His sockets resting on the surface briefly.
If he could have glared at that moment he would have.
YOU NEED NOT LURK. He said to the room, which had been empty up until now.
We do not lurk, little Death. Said a robe, hanging in the thin air several feet from him.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
We have come to inform you that because of your recent actions we must take all irregular behavior into consideration. The cowl said. It's voice, if it could be called that was dry and dull, like the pages in an ancient volume of book, which has hung on a dusty shelf for centuries.
I HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG. Death said warily.
Not yet. We suspect it is only a matter of time. Incidentally, the human will also be kept under very careful examination.
DO NOT INVOLVE HER. Death said with what could have been anger. YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY TO DO SO.
We are doing it because we are concerned over the order of the universe. If the Auditor had any emotions, he would currently be presenting that of smug satisfaction.
This is the reason for our existence. Being wed to a mortal is not yours.
IF YOU HARM HER, YOU WILL BE BREAKING MANY RULES. Death said, while rising from his desk and gazing at the shape rippling in the air.
You should not concern yourself over our actions, while yours are being watched so carefully. The auditor said. We will keep in touch.
After a moment, Death headed towards the back door.
Taking a bath was a lot more work then it should have been. First, one must gather water from the well or whatever their source for finding water is. Then, they must heat it, sometimes heating each bucket separately. And if this was not enough of a tedious task, by the time the tub was full (subjectively full anyways) the water will have already begun to get cold. Elizabeth could skip a step because she had no desire to heat the water up.
After she had the tub full she removed the large filthy shirt and her oversized slacks and submerged herself in the cool water. She splashed it on her face and over her hair and then laid back against the edge of the metal tub, closing her eyes as she did.
The only sound that filled the room was the occasional drop hitting the surface of the water from her hair or skin.
I HOPE THAT I AM NOT INTERRUPTING.
Elizabeth shouted and banged her ankle against the side of the bath as she reacted in the customary manner of someone who is snuck up upon. (Particularly in the bathtub or shower.) The water in the tub rocked and a good deal of it spilled over the edge.
Death withdrew slightly, surprised by her reaction.
"What are you doing!?" She shouted, as she attempted to conceal what little she had to cover up. (Another customary reaction when being caught without clothes on.)
I APPOLOGIZE. I DID NOT KNOW THIS WAS A BAD TIME. Death answered bewilderedly.
"I thought we agreed you'd use the door!" Elizabeth replied, turning red.
I KNOW. I AM SORRY. I WAS IN A HURRY.
"Just hand me the robe beside you!" She said while pointing to a wrinkled garment hanging beside him. Death turned, and after a moment of puzzlement, took the piece of clothing carefully and handed it to her. She took it from him and pulled it around her with clumsy hurried fingers.
DO YOU NEED A HAND? Death asked cautiously.
After she had the sash tied she stepped out of the tub, and nearly slipped on the spilt water. Death steadied her hurriedly by her shoulders. He did so awkwardly, as he was becoming increasingly nervous. Her response to seeing him had been near frenzied, and she was turning a deep red color.
She took one of his wrists and pulled him into the living room.
"Stay here while I get dressed." She demanded, and left him standing in the center of the living room in a state of bewilderment.
Elizabeth pulled on the first thing she could find, barely looking at it as she did. She wasn't sure which bothered her more, the fact that he had decided to stop by at that very moment, or the fact that he didn't seem to understand why it was a bad time to do so.
When she returned he was standing where she left him, his hands folded behind his back.
"All right." She said, trying to abate her embarrassment.
I AM SORRY TO INTRUDE. Death said, after a moment with just a hint of uncertainty.
"It's fine, just…knock next time, all right?"
I SHALL. I TRUST YOU ARE WELL? He asked.
"Yeah…fine." She said while wringing out her hair.
I AM GLAD. He seemed, for a moment to have nothing more to say. Elizabeth raised her brow.
"Would you like some tea?" She asked, trying to break the silence. Silences were disconcerting around Death.
NO, THANK YOU.
"Okay…are you here for a reason? You said you were in a hurry."
YES. I WAS.
"Okay…so what is it?"
I MERELY WISHED TO ENSURE THAT YOU WERE WELL. He said.
"Oh. I am." She frowned. "Is that all?"
NO. He continued I HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE IN DANGER. Elizabeth blinked.
It was hard to react to him. Everything he said, he said in the same tones. His voice was always grave and impassive. Words like the ones she had just heard should be said with an edge of danger and urgency...
"What makes you think so?" She said, unable to think of anything else to say.
I HAVE MY REASONS. He said. I THINK THAT IT WOULD BE WISE IF YOU WERE IN COMPANY FROM NOW ON.
"What?" She asked, alarmed.
I CANNOT, UNFORTUNATELY BE HERE ALL OF THE TIME, AND OF COURSE, I WILL NOT ASK YOU TO STAY WITH ME WHEN YOU STILL HAVE TWO MONTHS HERE, BUT I HAVE SOME PEOPLE IN MIND WHO KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH ABNORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES, AND ONE PERSON IN PARTICULAR.
"Sorry?" Elizabeth said, trying to wrap her thoughts around this new information.
THEY WILL NOT COME HERE, I'M AFRAID. YOU WILL HAVE TO GO TO THEM. I THOUGHT FIRST OF REFERING YOU TO OTHERS OF MY KIND, BUT I THINK IT WOULD BE BEST IF YOU STAYED WITH MORTALS INSTEAD.
Elizabeth was staring at him as if he'd said the most peculiar thing she had ever heard. When he stopped speaking, the open-mouthed expression turned to one of annoyance.
"All right…what the hell is going on?" She asked in exasperation.
IT IS COMPLICATED. Death replied solemnly.
"I don't give a damn. I'm not going to do anything until I know why I'm in danger!"
I AM NOT SURE THAT IT WOULD BE WISE TO TELL YOU.
"What?" She scowled. "Why? I thought I was the one in danger!"
YES, BUT YOU ARE HUMAN. IT WOULD BE SAFER IF YOU REMAINED IGNORANT OF THE OCCULT.
Ignorant? I'm married to the damn occult! She thought angrily.
"So you expect me to just…leave everything and go with some…people I don't know without knowing why I'm doing it."
IT IS NOT. I ASSURE YOU THAT IT IS FOR YOUR SAFETY.
YES. THIS IS MY ONLY CONCERN.
Elizabeth sighed and went to sit down on the couch.
"How long would this be for?" She asked after a while.
I…AM NOT SURE. I WILL BE MAKING INQUIRIES. AND I WILL OF COURSE, KEEP IN TOUCH…AT THIS POINT I AM HOPING THAT I AM WRONG.
"What's the likelihood of that?" She asked wearily.
NOT GOOD. She nodded.
"And you really can't tell me what's happening?"
IT WOULD BE BEST IF I DID NOT.
"Fine." She conceded. "Can you at least tell me about these people who I shall be in company with?"
YES. THAT I CAN DO.