Methos walked out of the house of Death in a kind of stupor, putting one foot in front of the other on some kind of autopilot. The Duty was directing him toward the stables, but his mind could not help but once again register the bizarre surroundings he was in.
The monochrome garden was oddly flat and, as in the house, perspective seemed to be meaningless. But the oddest, and somehow most real thing in the garden was a tree where a swing hung forlorn and empty from one branch. Part of Methos' brain idly wondered who it had been made for. Death didn't seem the type to enjoy a swing.
Methos went into the stables and brought out Binky, who was already saddled. He realised he still held the scythe in his hand, so he made it vanish again, and then made the great sword appear before fixing it to the horse's saddle.
Still acting on the impulse of the Duty, he mounted Binky and leaned forward to instruct the horse. Binky trotted forward and they rode out of the garden of Death. Outside, Methos realised that the house of Death was really an oasis of paradise in comparison to its surroundings. Outside was chaotic, freakishly devoid of anything, a swirling vortex that the human brain found nearly impossible to process.
So instead of trying to process it, he continued on, down to the Discworld, into the city of Ankh Morpork.
Ankh Morpork, where even the rain was likely to mug you. The type of bustling metropolis where grandmothers sold their knitting to supplement their extortion rackets.
It was the sort of city where Methos would probably have been at home, had he been born on the Disc. Ankh Morpork was a place where deviousness wasn't a character flaw, it was an essential survival skill, and those who were good at it thrived. He would have easily earned a place in the Assassins' Guild, or the Patrician's staff. Had he been born on the Disc, he might even have been born with magical talent that would have earned him a place at the Unseen University. Methos quite liked the thought of that.
Once he had absorbed the idea that magic really did exist , Methos liked the idea of the power that wizards held. But the lifespan of the average wizard was far less appealing to him.
The Unseen University followed the time-honoured tradition of promotion through dead-man's shoes. But wizards are an impatient, power-hungry bunch and think nothing of occasionally hurrying the process along . It was a kind of sneaky that Methos respected.
Due to their magical nature, wizards were entitled to a personal visit from Death. On those rare occasions that a wizard lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes, he knew the exact time and date of his demise. Accordingly, he was thrown a farewell party, to which Death was expected to arrive just before the end .
Far more often though a wizard met a violent and unpredicted end through magical misadventure, or the ambition of another wizard. However it was often possible for a wizard to predict his untimely demise had he simply paid more attention to the signs .
It was the death of a wizard that had brought Methos to the Big Stink, as it was affectionately know by its citizens . The wizard in question, Alfrick Wolfsbane, was a lowly cog in the Unseen University administration, the secretary to the Chair of Indefinite Studies. His role entailed an inordinately large amount of contact with the student body: something the staff generally avoided at all costs. Thanks to this he had managed to reach the ripe old age of 127, and was hoping he'd finally get a lie down and a nice cup of tea.
Methos was a little nervous as he entered the courtyard of the Unseen University and slipped from Binky's saddle. He'd been working on a kind of autopilot since entering the hall of Lifetimers, acting as a conduit for the Duty. But now his personality was reasserting itself, and he was uncertain of how to proceed.
"Now what?" he asked Binky, who just looked blankly at him, as if to say 'Don't ask me, I'm just a horse'. Methos shrugged and cast his gaze back to the horse's saddle, where a great sword rested in its sheath. As he drew it, the sword rang with a note so clear and perfect that it could shatter a man's soul .
Although it was large, almost as long as Methos was tall, it was not heavy and it felt right in his hand. He examined the blade, which glinted with a blue light even in shadow and experimentally sliced the air with it. The blade sang again as it moved through the air and although he couldn't see them, Methos knew instinctively that he'd just cut the air molecules cleanly in half.
He shuddered before sheathing the sword again and lifting it from Binky's saddle. Then he took a deep breath, turned to face the wall and walked forward.
"Ow!" he cried, rubbing his nose. He glared at the too solid wall. He knew that he should be able to walk through it. How he knew this was something he preferred not to think about right now. He didn't like the cold feeling that crept over him when he accessed Death's power, the feeling of not being in control. But right now he had a task to perform and the only way to accomplish it was to tap into that power.
He concentrated, trying to access the power without losing himself in it. Suddenly he knew that he needed to not be there, and all it took was a force of will. In fact, once he examined it, he realised it took more effort to be there than to not be there. He let his mind wander, and the world around him began to turn grey and discolour. With a smirk he stepped forward and through the wall.
The room inside was filled with old men dressed in robes in varying stages of must and decay. It was difficult at first for Methos to figure out who he had come for, but he then realised that one elderly wizard had been given a seat of honour, a comfortable armchair in the middle of the room. The other wizards milled about, eating canapés, drinking, smoking, and otherwise looking expectantly at Alfrick while trying to look like they weren't.
The wizard Methos took for Alfrick suddenly spotted Methos and stood up, pointing.
"You're not him!" he exclaimed, causing the other wizards to start, though none of them dropped their food or beer, Methos noted. One of them did send a purple fireball in Methos' direction, but he was still insubstantial and it simply sailed through him and singed the curtains.
The wizard's declaration wrong-footed Methos, making him lose the certainty of the Duty again.
"Er, sorry. You see…" Methos began, but was interrupted by a lot of coughing and spluttering from the other wizards. Methos' eyes glazed slightly, coloured by blue pinpricks in the depths of his pupils. I AM DEATH; TREMBLE MORTAL FOR YOUR TIME IS AT HAND.
"Ah, much more like it," said Alfrick, clapping his hands together and rubbing them gleefully.
Methos drew the sword, causing a few of the closer wizards to step back hurriedly. There was a general murmur from the crowd, impressed that Alfrick warranted the sword rather than the scythe. Methos stood there, stock still, watching Alfrick, who looked around nervously for a minute and then leaned toward Methos.
"You are going to..um…do it, aren't you? I mean, this isn't some sort of hoax?" he said conspiratorially.
IT'S NOT A HOAX. IT'S JUST NOT TIME YET, Methos replied. He held out his hand and a large hourglass appeared in it. All eyes in the room focussed on the lifetimer as the last few grains fell into the bottom. There was a moment of silence as the last grain fell.
"…Well that was an anti-climax, I must say," said Alfrick. "I…oh!" he exclaimed as he looked down to see his own corpse. "So, I expect you get asked this all the time, but what happens next?"
DON'T ASK ME, I'M NEW, Methos replied. He swung the sword, severing the invisible bond between spirit and body and Alfrick Wolfsbane began to fade from view.
"I love the coat, but isn't a hooded robe more trad…"
Methos shook his head and sheathed the sword. There was a polite cough at his side so he turned to find a majestic looking wizard, waving a sausage on a stick.
"Archancellor Ridcully, at your service. And you would be?"
"Well, yes, obviously. But the coat, the flesh, you're clearly not the regular chap. And you're definitely not that girl that had a go a few years back…Are you?" Ridcully finished a little uncertainly and popped the sausage into his mouth. The mention of a girl brought Methos back to himself again. With a rumble from his stomach, he realised he hadn't eaten since arriving on the Disc and grabbed a sandwich from a passing tray.
"A girl? Was her name Susan by any chance?" Methos asked, grasping firmly to this faint glimmer of hope. His sandwich was starting to curl up at the ends and smelled strange, but he was starving so he took a large bite of it. He instantly regretted the action, but at that point had no choice but to chew and swallow. Oh well, at least it can't kill me, he mused.
Ridcully seemed undaunted by the quality of the food, merrily chewing his way through a mini quiche that would probably bounce if dropped. Once he'd finished masticating, he answered Methos.
"Sounds about right. She was a bit hopeless, but the old boy had done a bunk, and she did her best in difficult circumstances. Is that what's happened? Or is it all under new management?"
Methos shook his head, his mouth still too full of indigestible sandwich to answer. The Archancellor's words got him thinking. Clearly Susan existed, and she had definitely performed the Duty before. If he could only find her, he could probably trick her into taking over and he could get home. He finally managed to swallow the sandwich.
"I'll be off then. Time and tide, and all that," he said, making for the door.
"Oh, yes. Cheerio then. Don't take this the wrong way, but hope not to see you soon," Ridcully said.
Methos left without further word, more conventionally through the door this time. He marched out to the courtyard with a determined stride, slung the sword back on the saddle and mounted Binky. He leaned forward and spoke into the horse's ear.
TAKE ME TO SUSAN.
In a dark corner of the University courtyard, there was a loud thwack, followed quickly by an even smaller squeak. A small figure went about his business, and then watched as Methos exited the University, and overheard what Methos said to Binky. The Death of Rats shook his tiny head and put one skeletal paw to his forehead.
1 Which was actually a lot faster than you'd expect. When you're in the house of Death these things become more believable.
2 This was a far more frequent occurrence until a couple of ambitious types came off the worse against the current Archchancellor, Mustrum Ridcully. It's amazing what the threat of a crossbow bolt between the ears will do for workplace harmony.
3 Although there were a few embarrassing instances where Death had arrived before the party. Generally the wizards still held the party saying, "It's what he would have wanted," repeatedly in loud voices.
4 For example: lusting but psychotic glances over the dinner table, or the large axe suspended above his pillow.
5 It was less affectionately referred to as the 'Crapulent Giant Cesspit', which was more accurate, but less poetic.
6 I mean this literally, not figuratively. Whilst the plaintive strains of many a note may break a heart, and any old note can shatter glass if sung with the correct resonance, there is only one note in the multiverse that can truly shatter a soul.