Stake [Part 1/3.
Fandom: Monstrous Regiment & Discworld/Good Omens crossover [novels.
Rating: Something like PG-13 for sexual themes and unpleasant milit'ry things.
Summary: Something bad is going down in PrinceMarmadukePiotreAlbertHansJosephBernhardtWilhelmsburg, and someone's got to stop it. Fortunately, our favourite rogue arsonist lesbians are up to the job. Unfortunately, two nosy, homosexual ethereal beings from an alternate dimension become entangled in the proceedings. (It's Aziraphale's fault, of course.) And if that does not sound awesome to you, then you are clinically insane.
Warnings: Vast amounts of slash and femslash, flagrantly ignoring the one-in-ten rule for a veritable orgy of massively gay folks. Three original characters (gasp!). Very thinly-veiled political statements. Spoilers for Monstrous Regiment, Good Omens, The Last Continent, The Truth, and probably some more Discworld books I've forgotten.
Pairings/Characters: Tonker/Lofty, Crowley/Aziraphale, hints at Polly/Mal and William de Worde/Sacharissa Cripslock.
Author's Note: I have this disease in which I must write at least one Good Omens crossover for every fandom I'm in. It's probably terminal. I am eternally grateful to Twitch, my beta, who, unlike me, actually has a life, yet still managed to tame this monstrosity in her limited spare time, rather than doing something useful (i.e., reading porn).
Disclaimer: Crowley and Aziraphale are the creative genius of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. All other characters, save for Alyss, Barbia, and Celia, are from Terry Pratchett's brilliant-o Discworld series. The aforementioned OCs are from my brain, partially inspired by Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence. A wealth of material used in this fic was shifted and twisted from the late Randy Shilts's Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, which everyone should read, especially those sillyheads who persist in believing that humanity is basically good.
Magda "Tonker" Halter stepped out of the bath, shook her hair dry, and slipped into a pair of trousers. They were, she felt, quite nice trousers: soft, yielding, and stretchy enough that she could easily kick someone in the fork should the situation call for it.
Still dripping a bit, she walked into the bedroom and began to flip through the mail. Bill, bill, advert, bill, bill, threatening note from the Thieves' Guild, bill, invitation to the grand opening of Much Ado About Nothing Very Much, bill, bill, letter from Borogravia, bill—
She stopped, and picked the letter up again. She pulled it out of the envelope. Then she read it through, once, calmly, and then once more, not so calmly.
Then she slammed her fist down on the table and stomped out of the room, shouting, "I don't believe this!"
Someone called back to her: "Is there a problem?"
Magda found Tilda going through a stack of packages by the door. "Have you read this?" she demanded, waving the letter in the air.
"Hmm? Oh, that. Yes, I have," said Tilda.
"Can you believe this? It's bullshit!" Magda fumed. "They have no legitimate reason to court-martial any of them!"
"It's ridiculous, yeah," said Tilda absentmindedly.
"And can you believe that little bitch? Giving away her mates, just like that! I mean, that's no way to keep a squad together, even I know that! That was the first thing we learned, practically! She's the one who should be court-martialled. And Pol says she's a—" Magda looked at the paper again. "—'a keen lad and a credit to her country'. Good grief, she's been spending too much time around ruperts."
Tilda snorted. "That's certainly true."
"Somebody ought to do something!"
And to this, Tilda made no response: she kept going through the packages, picking one up, eyeing it, putting it back.
Magda squinted at her. "When did we get this, anyway?" she asked suspiciously.
"Oh, it came this morning," said Tilda, smiling serenely. "That nice fellow in the gold hat hand-delivered it, actually. Wanted the stamps for his friend."
"Where was it all day, then?" Magda demanded.
"I hid it in the fireplace."
"What?" Magda blinked at her.
Tilda rolled her eyes. "It was on the table, Magda," she said patiently. "You had a long night."
"Well, couldn't you have woken me—"
"No, I was out."
"All day? What the hell were you doing?"
"Getting ready," said Tilda firmly. "Spent ages in the Street of Cunning Artificers." She pulled something slim and heavy from one of her packages and handed it to Magda. "This is for you," she added.
Magda stared at the sword held on her palms. It was plain steel, with a plain hilt and a plain shine; it drew the eye and said, in the simplest and firmest of fashions: this is a sword. It was, in fact, perfect. Ornate weapons distracted opponents; Magda wanted her enemies to know that they were being beaten, and beaten by her.
"Well, try it on, won't you?" Tilda teased, tossing a soft leather sword belt at her.
It was perfectly balanced, both in the air and on her hip. Magda looked up, grinning widely. She picked Tilda up and swung her around easily, kissed her on the nose, and said, "You are a marvel, Tilda Tewt."
"Of course I am," said Tilda. "Ready to go, Tonker?"
"Whenever you are, Lofty," Tonker replied, putting her down and tightening the belt securely.
"We have to stop a couple of places before we leave the city."
"Oh? I thought you'd already got everything down at Cunning Artificers."
"Nearly," said Lofty, holding the door open. "But some things are too cunning for one person to manage. Oh, and—minor point—you might want to put on a shirt before we go. You never know, in this town."
It was always easy to shift back into the roles. Polly would probably have called it "wearing the pants", but that wasn't right, because they wore pants all the time now. It was more like a sharpening, perhaps a look in the eye. It said: we have a secret.
They had many secrets, of course, but this one had grown out of an experience like a pressure cooker, the kind you don't emerge from the same as you went in--and they'd gone through it together.
It was too much energy to be Tonker and Lofty every day, so they usually eased back into the slightly less consuming identities of Magda and Tilda. Unfortunately, Tonker and Lofty seemed to be necessary more often than Magda and Tilda were.
They'd kept their hair short, just in case, and because it seemed to mean something to most people, but mostly because it kept their necks cool.
"Now look here," said William de Worde, looking peeved and significantly less anxious than a man should look with a sword point at groin level, "you can't just come in here and threaten us—"
"Yeah, I can," said Tonker. "I've got a sword. You've got a pen. One for the books. You want to fight?"
"Well, of course not, but—!"
"Then come with us."
"Why should I?"
Lofty, who had been inspecting one of the printing presses with apparent enthusiasm, looked up and said, in her normal, quiet tones, "We have a story for you."
De Worde looked at her suspiciously. "What do you mean, a story?" he said.
"She means a story that needs to be told, idiot!" snapped Tonker. "You know. Words. I'm sure you've encountered them."
"Yes, yes," said de Worde, "but what kind of story? Is it Human Interest? Politics? Do you need my Opinion? I need to know the Who, What, Where, When, and—"[1
Tonker rolled her eyes. Lofty shot her a sharp glance, then looked steadily at de Worde.
"It's a story," she said after a moment, "quite like the one about us, except it's completely different."
"What the hell are you talking about?" said de Worde.
"Your readers will like it," said Lofty, turning her attention to the printing presses. Tonker took this as permission to take over with the writer man.
"Look," she said to him, sheathing her sword (which was probably the polite thing to do), "this story is—it's a story nobody wants to deal with right now. Nobody wants to cover it. But if you do . . . well, then everyone will know about it. Everyone will want to know more. And you'll be the only one who can tell them. Understand?"
De Worde frowned at her. "You mean," he said slowly, "that I would be getting an exclusive?"
Tonker rolled the word around in her brain. "Yes," she said, "I suppose you could say that."
"Well, I suppose I could discuss it with—" de Worde began.
There was a commotion from the direction of the cellar. Lofty looked up and watched with interest as Otto stalked[2 up the steps to the printing room, a stormy expression[3 on his face, muttering something about imps. He stopped when he saw them.
"Hallo!" he said brightly. "Villiam, I vas not avare that ve vould be havink visitors today."
"Nor was I," said de Worde sourly. "These girls seem to think they have a story we should cover."
"No. We know that we do," corrected Tonker, letting the 'girls' bit go for now.
"Oh? Is it in ze city, zis story?" Otto inquired, sliding into a desk chair.
"Borogravia," said Tonker. "At PrinceMarmadukePiotreAlbertHansJosephBernhardtWilhelmsburg."
"What do you think, Otto?" said de Worde, turning to the vampire. "They tell me we've got an exclusive, and we have met them before, after all. Should we—"
"Ve can't," said Otto.
"Why not?" asked de Worde.
"Why the hell not?" snapped Tonker.
"You haff promised to cover the vizards' Excuse Me, Villiam. You haff promised the Archchancellor, and His Lordship the Patrician," said Otto sadly, placing special emphasis on the last part. "And, you remember, Vimes doezn't vant you going anyvhere near Borogravia right now, given the situation—"
"Since when does anyone tell you what to do?" Tonker said, looking at de Worde. "And what situation?"
"No one tells us what to do," said de Worde proudly. "We are the press. We go where we like. But," he added, deflating a bit, "we do have other obligations. I am sorry, ladies, but I have promised Lord Vetinari, and if he doesn't get his way, he gets a bit—" He shuddered. "—a bit snippy."
Tonker looked sideways at Lofty. Lofty gave her a vague smile, pulled something out of her pocket, and flicked it open.
It was a unique device on the Disc. It was small, slim, and silver, with a top that flipped open at the press of a thumb. The most unique thing about it, however, was what happened when it was opened.
Tonker watched de Worde watching the flame and grinned. "Is there a problem?" she asked.
"Er, no," he said. "Not, er, a problem as such, but—"
"There's a lot of paper in here, I expect," Tonker interrupted, looking at him with a friendly expression on her face. "Paper is, after all, what you sell. And from the way it smells," and some close forensic testing, "I'd guess this paper is especially flammable. Plus there's this lovely wood floor you've got here."
She stamped on it, and leaned over de Worde.
"Wouldn't it be a shame," she said cheerfully, "if there was a fire in here?"
De Worde glared at her. "Are you threatening me?" he demanded.
Tonker sighed. "No," she said. "I'm simply telling you that if you don't come with us, or send somebody with us, and somebody decent, too, this place will burn down. It comes easy to us, believe me."
"Then we'll buy a new place! We've done it before!"
"We'll burn that down, too," Tonker said. "And if you buy another place, whoosh, up it goes. I imagine it could get quite expensive after a while."
De Worde stood up, stomped over to her, and waved his finger under her nose, the effect of which was somewhat ruined by her impassive stare and slightly raised eyebrow, which expressed quite clearly how unimpressed she was.
"Don't think we haven't been threatened before," he hissed furiously. "We don't cave in that easily! And you won't accomplish anything by it! You'll be arrested! Commander Vimes may not like me, but he hates arsonists!"
Tonker laughed out loud. "Oh, we don't get arrested." She grinned. "We get other people arrested, Mr de Worde."
"Then you don't know Sam Vimes," de Worde said grimly, standing back. "Once he notices you, he doesn't forget you."
There was a snap as Lofty closed the flame-device. She looked at Otto for a moment, and then said politely, "Mr Chriek. Are you still experimenting with those eels?"
If it had been possible, Otto would have gone pale. However, he already was pale, and therefore had to settle for the slightly less dignified option of gaping like a fish for a moment and then asking blankly, "How did you—"
"We've got mutual friends, sir," said Lofty. From beside de Worde, Tonker gave a grin that was, while still completely her own, indefinably sharp around the canines.
Otto sighed. "Oh dear," he said quietly.
"What does that have to do with anything?" de Worde snapped, glaring at Lofty and looking quite relieved that she'd put the flame-device away.
"Villiam," said Otto tiredly, "vhat I am doink—zese experiments—zey are not vhat you might call . . . legal, back vhere ze eels come from."
"Actually, they're what you might call 'illegal'," said Tonker, resisting the urge to hug Lofty until she was in serious danger of popping. "And back home, we don't go for jail time. Especially not for vampires, right, Mr Chriek?"
Otto nodded miserably.
De Worde expanded with rage. "Now you're blackmailing us?" he sputtered.
"Yes. Yes, I believe we are," Tonker conceded.
"It won't work! We are—"
"The free and fair press, you've said." Tonker prodded him in the chest, causing him to nearly topple over backwards. "But if this place, I dunno, mysteriously burns down, these eels of your vampire's'll turn crispy, right? He'll have to order more. And if he tries. . . ." She trailed off meaningfully.
De Worde looked from Otto to Lofty to Tonker to Lofty again. He looked a bit worried. Lofty was playing with her little fire-starter again, seemingly paying no attention to the proceedings.
"Excuse us a moment," said de Worde, grabbing Otto's arm and dragging him into a corner.
There was a lot of excited whispering and the occasional wide hand gesture. Lofty walked over to Tonker and squeezed her hand. They grinned at each other, each reading in the familiar hollows and curves of the other's face the same message: we've won. Again.
The whispering rose to a very quiet crescendo; then de Worde walked back to them, with Otto trailing behind, looking very sheepish[4.
"Fine," the man said shortly. "We'll come with you, on condition that you don't threaten us again."
"Right," said Tonker, smothering a smirk. Lofty nodded beside her.
"How are ve travelink?" Otto asked.
"Quickly," said Lofty.
Otto glanced at de Worde, who shrugged and said, "I'll just pack a few things and—"
"Regrettably, we can only take one of you with us," Lofty said. "The other will have to travel by coach."
De Worde stared at her. "I'm sorry?" he managed.
"Our method of travel seats four people, or three people and Mr Chriek's iconography gear," Lofty said. "I'd suggest that Mr Chriek comes with us, unless you can operate an iconograph, Mr de Worde."
"We will do no such—"
"She has a point, Villiam," Otto said. "After all, you could get ze story aftervards, could you not? Vhereas pictures. . . ." He sighed happily. "Pictures are only vunce there, you see."
"In any case, you must explain all of zis to Mr Goodmountain and Miss Cripslock, or else zey vill vorry, correct? Vhereas I come only vith literal baggage."
"Otto—" de Worde began. Then he shut his mouth and threw his hands in the air in a highly overdramatic fashion. "Fine. Fine! Go gallivanting across the continent, Otto. I'll catch up eventually, I'm sure. Ladies, please try not to kill anyone I'll want to interview," he added sourly.
"Of course," Tonker said, grinning sharply. "We'll keep them all safe for you, sir."
De Worde glared at her and stomped out of the room.
"Do not mind him, please. He is a good person, but rather . . . stubborn. I shall be right back vith my things," Otto said over his shoulder as he bustled down the stairs.
Tonker nudged Lofty with her elbow, once they were alone. "Nicely done," she said.
Lofty grinned up at her. "I could say the same to you. Anyway . . . on to step two."
"Ah, yes." Tonker smirked. "The fun part."
Meanwhile, somewhere entirely different: a conversation.
"Oh, dear. Oh, my dear."
"What are you on about, Aziraphale?"
"Oh, dear. Oh—Crowley, put that down!"
"Look, if you arm me with a hardcover copy of The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde and then ignore me, I am not to be blamed for what results."
Sniff. "Pardon me, I'm sure. I was in a state of shock. Give me that book. You have no respect."
"Are you planning to tell me what you're dithering about, or do I have to guess?"
"I'm sure it's none of your business, Crowley."
"All right, what are you looking at—"
"Give me that!"
"Hah! Now let's see. . . . Oh. Oh, no, Aziraphale, not spying on alternate dimensions again. . . ."
"Why can't you understand this? We Do Not Meddle with the alternate dimensions! There are mad gods with cow heads and seven penises and thirteen arms and—pay attention!"
". . . What? Oh. Well, they were threatening to commit arson! They wanted to destroy that nice young man's newspaper offices!"
"So? You don't even like newspapers!"
"The crosswords are rather nice. . . ."
"Oh, for Rasputin's sake—"
"It's not our jurisdiction!"
"But it's Wrong!"
"I don't care! You should keep your nose out of it!"
"Hmph. Well, I want to see what those horrible girls do next. I don't approve of this sort of hooliganism."
"Aziraphale, just let it go—damn. Who installed headphones in the DVAD?"[5
Tonker regarded the broomsticks thoughtfully. "Funny," she said, "I thought it was witches who used these."
"It is," said the wizard in front of her, who had introduced himself as Rincewind. She had privately classified him as a perfect example of a thin streak of piss. "But we're on, er, fairly good terms with some of the witches of the Ramtops. They, er, send us spares."
"And what do you do with them?"
Rincewind regarded her blankly. "Sweep?" he suggested.
"Are you sure you can spare them?" Tonker said dryly.
She still wasn't sure how Tilda had managed to talk her into this. She didn't trust magic, because she didn't understand it, and she had always found things she didn't understand to be dangerous. Then again, she couldn't imagine that this Rincewind character understood very much at all, and yet he seemed to be in one piece, albeit a slightly rabbity one.
Rincewind fiddled with the corks that were, for some reason, dangling off the edge of his hat. "Er," he said, "when do you think we can have them back? The only thing is, if they turn up missing, I'll most likely be sent after you, what with me being probably responsible for the brooms, and I don't like wars much."
"Why are you loaning them out, then, if you're likely to get in trouble with the head wizards for it?" Tonker asked suspiciously, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
"You're here," said Rincewind reasonably, shrugging. "They're not."
Ah, Tonker thought, grinning. The logic of cowardice.
"Well, I'll take these, then," she said cheerfully. "Oh, and you've met Lofty. . . ." she added, as Lofty padded out of the Library and across the green to them.[6
"We've met," said Lofty, giving Rincewind a polite smile. "Thank you for this, Mr Rincewind; you know we wouldn't ask if it wasn't important." Behind her, Tonker began to nonchalantly clean her fingernails with a knife. Quite a large knife.
"No worries," Rincewind said automatically, eyes on the blade. His gaze snapped back to Lofty, and he corrected himself. "Certainly, miss. Not a problem at all. Safe journey, et cetera. Well, must dash, lots to do, shouldn't keep you, is that the Librarian's 'ook' I hear, have a nice day—!"
Most of this was shouted over his shoulder as he hitched up his robes and ran for the Library.
"Good-bye! I hope the potato problem gets better!" Lofty called after him, waving. She caught Tonker's eye and coughed. "It's quite serious. Really."
"Right," Tonker said, snickering. "Of course."
They had left Otto waiting forlornly on the other side of the student's entrance to Unseen University. He watched them now as they clambered over the wall. Then he saw the broomsticks.
"Zat is not how ve will be travelink, is it?" he said, horrified.
"Yes," said Lofty.
"It's practical," Tonker said. "What's the problem?"
"Oh, my eqvipment—my iconographs—und my imps, zey get sick at heights—" Otto wrung his hands. "Ze last time I travelled by broomstick, I lost two lenses, five tripods, and my etching kit!"
"Yes, but last time you didn't have us," Tonker pointed out.
"I am afraid it simply vill not vork." The vampire shrugged helplessly. "I am sorry, ladies, but ze only vay I could possibly manage it would be to lash everysing on several times, and zat vould reqvire a great deal of—"
A coil of rope hit him in the face.
"Rope?" Tonker suggested. "Will that do?"
Otto looked at the two of them for a moment and seemed to decide that it was pointless to argue further. "I suppose it vill have to," he said, as he began to organise his equipment into a bundle. He paused. "But . . . ladies . . . if I may ask . . . vhy the rush? I vould understand if you vere from ze Times yourselves, but . . . you are civilians."
"You're wrong, Mr Chriek," Lofty said, patting him kindly on the elbow. "We're not civilians. We're veterans."
"We'll explain on the way." She caught his look. "We will, Mr Chriek. You're just going to have to trust us. Now then . . ." She scratched her chin with her lighter, tucked it into a pocket. "Let's blow this joint."
It is a universally known fact that wizards smoke. They are quite famous for it, mostly because it disappoints people to see a wizard named Wilmer the White with nicotine stains on his teeth, beard, and robes, not to mention the wheezing coughs that interrupt every incantation.
Wizards do not, however, smoke in the Library; too many of them have been reprimanded, hissed at, given a Look, and (in recent years) given a Look and then bounced up and down on their heads by the Librarian, and the surviving wizards are wise enough to keep their smokes where they belong while wandering the mysterious highways and byways of the stacks.
Of course, there is always the odd slow learner.
Later, the ever-popular blame game would be played with great gusto, with the Lecturer in Recent Runes swearing it was the Dean, and the Dean saying with great dignity that this was ridiculous because he never went into the Library these days, what with all the banana peels, and surely it was the Senior Wrangler, and the Senior Wrangler saying that he had an alibi, he was in the kitchens, and the Dean asking him what on Disc he was doing in there, and the Senior Wrangler muttering and then shouting suddenly that it must have been young Stibbons, who always did have a shifty eye, and Ponder saying no, that's stupid, because, look, he didn't even smoke! and the Librarian hitting everyone in the face indiscriminately with a fist like a hairy sandbag and/or picking them up with his feet. Of course, everyone secretly knew it was Ridcully.
Nothing was too awfully damaged; after all, the books of Unseen University are even more sentient than books are to begin with, and they had the good sense to cluster on top of the shelves and rustle loudly until rescued. A few brave but frankly stupid tomes had jumped to their demise in an effort to quench the flames. The Librarian eventually put them out by unceremoniously sitting on them.[7
Everything turned out just fine. The entire event was soon forgotten by the staff, except for the Librarian, who refused to let anyone in for weeks afterwards.
But the point, the main point, was this: there was a great deal of smoke. And from the outside, to onlookers, it seemed a dangerous fire indeed. . . .
Meanwhile, half an hour past Elsewhere:
"I . . . I don't believe it. I just . . . I refuse to believe it."
"No, really, it's true—I can't believe you didn't hear about his death, the bloody stick-wavers won't shut up about it—"
"Not that! They've—they've burned down the Library!"
"Which 'they'? And which library? And incidentally, I'm mildly concerned that you can insert capital letters into spoken sentences."
"Those girls—they burned down the Unseen University Library! The poor Librarian must be in shock!"
"Oh, that place. Look, I'm sure it's all fine and the ape's therapeutically pulling people's heads off by their ears, can we get back to Du—?"
"Crowley, there are priceless works of literature in that library!"
"So? You didn't do anything when Alexandria burned!"
"That was different! I was forbidden!"
"What, and now you're allowed? Come off it, angel, you're being ridiculous."
"I haven't been given any orders to stay—"
"Not being forbidden isn't the same as being allowed, and you know it. Do you really want to get into any more trouble?"
"They're on a rampage, Crowley! Can't you see it? They're rogue arsonists, menacing the innocent libraries and print shops of the Discworld! I've got to do something!"
". . . Well, ignoring the total ridiculousness of that statement—look, Aziraphale, remember your last brilliant idea? In Vegas?"
"That was not my idea! Besides, this is completely different!"
"And then there was the one before that, where Adam had to save our arses again—you recall?"
"I really wish you'd stop bringing that up."
"If you stopped coming up with these mad schemes, maybe I would."
A rustle of cloth, scratchy-sounding and quick. "Crowley, I've got to go. Something isn't right."
"It's not our world!"
"That doesn't mean it isn't our responsibility. But you may certainly stay here if you'd like."
"But, look, Aziraphale, I can't—who'd look after the cottage?"
A door opening, slamming shut.
"Argh, you—!" Groan. "That's it. No more sex for you. For . . . at least a week."
And the door again.
"I still don't understand why you're doing this," Sacharissa said petulantly to the back of William's head.
"Mail coach leaves in two hours' time," said the coachman. "Fee for passengers is twenty dollars."
William sighed. "Thank you," he said, pressing money into the coachman's hand. Then he turned to Sacharissa, who was tapping her foot impatiently on the cobbles. "What was that?"
"I said I don't understand why you're rushing off like this! You've only the one tip, and from what you say those girls don't sound like reliable witnesses at all! They haven't even been there in years!"
"True," said William absentmindedly, tapping his chin. "I think they're unlicensed thieves, too."
Sacharissa's eyes bulged. "You see?" she hissed. "You can't trust them! I don't understand why you're going at all, much less on the mail coach! It's hardly a civilised way to travel, William."
"I could try going by clacks if you'd prefer," said William mildly. He raised his hands placatingly when he saw her expression. "Just a joke, Sacharissa, just a joke. Listen . . ." He leaned towards her. "You didn't see what I saw in those mountains, Sacharissa. You just read about it. These countries . . . they're at each other's throats night and day; they form alliances just to break them. The war they were fighting up there, it was hopeless—the one side was starving, the other was stuck. But these girls, all of them, they had . . . some kind of spark, I suppose, some kind of power that made people stop and look at them and think for a bit." He smiled wryly. "True, they had to make a big fuss first, but . . . they got things done. And now they're out of the picture, it's all falling apart again."
"I understand that it's news, William, and that it's important, but you still can't trust them! You don't know their histories, you don't know their motives—"
"When do we ever? Look, I'll find out whether they're telling the truth when I get there. I know I can't really trust them, but, you know, the funny thing is . . . I trust them anyway."
Sacharissa stared at him as if an arm had suddenly sprouted from his forehead. Then she threw up her hands. "Fine. Fine! On your own head be it if you're robbed by bandits and forced to live off the Sto Plains cabbage crop for a month; you certainly know best—"
She ducked, then frowned at William. "Did you feel that?" she said.
Above them, clinging tightly to their broomstick, closely followed by a green-faced Otto, Tonker and Lofty grinned at each other and headed for the city walls.
Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal "Nobby" Nobbs leaned alertly against the Brass Bridge, giving the occasional suspicious-looking potential bridge thief a nasty look.
It had been one of those days, hot and muggy in the sun, cool and clammy in the shade, where everyone just wants to be indoors, at sub-basement level for preference. Sadly, the proud members of the City Watch did not have this luxury, especially when the commander was shouting at them to get off their arses and go be coppers, for gods' sakes. Therefore, Colon and Nobby had trotted in a leisurely manner to their default on-duty position at the Brass Bridge, which was, of course, highly recognisable and a prime target for any man for whom the collectable carved souvenirs of Ankh-Morpork were just not big enough.
Nobby took a drag off his permanent dogend, looked down at the foundations of the bridge, and said to the sergeant, "What're them things down there?"
"Things?" Colon squinted downwards. "What things?"
"Them little leg things. On the bottom of the bridge, look." Nobby gestured with the cigarette.
"What, those?" said the sergeant, laughing a little. "They're just vines, Nobby. Nothing to worry about."
"Vines? In the water?"
"Well, reeds, then. Twisty ones," Colon insisted. "They're always all in rivers, reeds. They're the devil to row around."
"When have you ever been in a boat, sarge?"
"I used to go boating on the Ankh as a lad, Nobby," said the sergeant proudly. "With me dad."
"What, on the Ankh?"
Together they stared down into the turgid waters of the river. A bubble grew and burst, the shape of it remaining on the surface for a moment before smoothing over again, leaving behind the sharp smell of sick goats.
"Well, it was cleaner back then," Sergeant Colon conceded.
"Must've been," said Nobby. He scratched his chin. "Hey, sarge?"
"What'd you say them things were?"
"So . . . definitely living things, then?" Nobby squinted at the base of the bridge.
"Course they're alive," said Colon scornfully. "Fancy you not knowing a thing like that."
"Only . . ." Nobby said slowly.
"What is it, Nobby?"
"In the Ankh, sarge?"
Sergeant Colon looked from the river to the bridge to the reeds. Then he glared at Nobby. "Now, listen here—" he began, and paused, cocking his head. "Do you hear something?" he asked.
For a moment there was silence. Then Nobby poked his head out from behind a barrel and ventured, "Sarge?"
"Down here, Nobby," said a glum voice.
Nobby made his way down to the bank of the river. In the shade of the Brass Bridge, Sergeant Colon sat waist deep in what was theoretically water.
"Tripped," he explained gloomily. "Fell."
"Come on, sarge," Nobby said, in what he probably assumed was a soothing voice, as he helped Colon up, "we need to get back to the station anyway."
"Yeah," said the sergeant. As he stumped along, bits of river squirted out of his boots. "Mister Vimes won't be happy when he hears how fast them brooms was going."
"Right," Nobby said. "We'll prob'ly get a commendation and everything for pickin' that up—"
After a moment, Nobby looked down at Sergeant Colon, who, contrary to the common laws of physics, had crouched down so far that he was closer to the ground than Nobby was.
"You all right, Sarge?" he asked.
"Just great, Nobby," Colon growled, standing up and dusting himself off. "Let's go."
"Right." Nobby started off down the street.
Colon grabbed his elbow. "And Nobby—"
"I won't tell him about the flying men if you don't."
"No way, sarge."
As they walked off, the bridge tensed, appeared to observe its surroundings for a moment, lifted up its tendrils, and scuttled around in an exact half-circle.
Scream with me, journalism students. Scream with me!
2. Otto did not usually stalk; stalking was frowned upon by the League, for the somewhat vague reason that stalking fell under the category of Menacing Behaviour. Nevertheless, one must fall back on something in times of stress, and stalking was significantly less provocative than certain other behaviours.
3. With 75 chance of showers.
4. Except, you know, very, very carnivorous.
5. The Device for Viewing Alternate Dimensions. Crowley had wanted a TiVo.
6. She had been visiting the Librarian, whom she and Tonker had met a few months before at the Ankh-Morpork Opera House. She liked the Librarian, because he didn't talk much or expect her to talk, and he liked her, because she was neat and unobtrusive and never set fire to any of his books. Generally their visits were spent sitting on opposite sides of the Librarian's desk, reading old books gently so as not to wear out the words, or sometimes doing repair jobs, which, if not precisely safer with two people, at least meant less chance statistically of being imbibliated.
7. Orang-utans have thick bottoms.