A/N: First Discworld fic! And, true to my style, I'm going for a villain/heroine pairing. Yes, that's right - another dreaded Teatime/Susan fic. I'm sorry, I can't help how dearly I love it. Anyways. I love all comments and critiques! Hope you like the story. Enjoy! :)
DISCLAIMER: Susan, Teatime, and the incredibly awesome Discworld belong to Terry Pratchett and not me. I do not contain one-fifth of Terry Pratchett's brilliance, and I mean no harm or offense to his works. I make no money off this fic – it just brings joy to my soul.
Ibycus Shandry liked libraries.
Stating that is somewhat akin to saying that heat is hot, or that wood comes from trees, or that puce is the ugliest name one could ever give a color. Ibycus Shandry had, in fact, been born in a library, to a librarian and his wife, who repaired books. Both the librarian and his wife liked to write in their spare time, but they didn't have much of that – what with the librarian being the father of eight very rambunctious (though studious) sons.
So Ibycus Shandry had essentially been destined to like books. He could, of course, have chosen to loathe them, but that would most likely have caused him either to run away at a young age, or simply die from an overload of hatred. Rather than go to all that bother, Ibycus gave in and loved books and libraries with all the affection he had in his being. He knew how to make books, how to repair them, how to keep them clean and perfect, and where exactly they went on each library shelf. He also knew how to read, which was something that most other people on the Disc could not actually do.
Thus it would have been no surprise to anyone whom he had known in the past (or anyone who knew him now, for that matter) to find him seated at a table in the middle of the Unseen University's library. Granted, it was the single most dangerous library in all of the Disc, but that didn't seem to bother Ibycus much. He had gravitated towards the library like a moth to a candle flame the moment he had arrived at the Unseen University, and it was rare to find him outside its physics-defying walls when classes were not in session.
Ibycus had been destined for the Unseen University from the moment he was born, as he was the eighth son of an eighth son and had, as dictated by ceremony, been given the power and staff of an older, dying wizard. They'd sent him off to the University when he had reached the preteen years, and he'd settled in quite happily there almost at once. He didn't necessarily excel at all his classes, but he certainly wasn't failing either. In fact, the only thing that made him stand out in any particular way – besides his apparent obsession with reading, of course – was his curiosity.
Now, all wizards are curious by nature. They like playing with magic, seeing what their powers can do and in what ways they can alter the world. But Ibycus Shandry's curiosity went far beyond that. In the wizarding world, he was comparable to a certain little monkey well beloved in Earth children's literature (except that his name wasn't George, and he wasn't a primate, and he hadn't been brought to Ankh-Morpork by a man in a yellow hat.) Whenever he got any sort of idea into his head he would, without thinking, set about experimenting to find out what the result of said idea might be.
Ibycus was looking for a spell to assist him with just such an idea at exactly that moment, flipping through a thick volume of spells titled "Thee Symmonyng of Spyryts." It had taken him a bit to subdue the work, which, due to its magical nature, was quite capable of biting his hand off or sending the spells contained within it leaping into his brain, but now that he had it firmly held down with some chains and its rustling growl was no more than the occasional angry shuffle of feathery pages, he was reading in earnest.
Ibycus had, foolishly, wandered out into the streets of Ankh-Morpork earlier that day without any friends to travel with him. He'd been rather lost in thought, and thus had wandered out of the bounds of the Unseen University and into the midst of Ankh-Morpork's filthy, crime-ridden streets without even noticing where he was going. At some point or other he had gotten the vague notion that he was being followed, and had glanced over his shoulder in time to note the several shadowy figures stalking after him and cackling quietly to themselves.
It had occurred to him at that point that it might be handy to have a bodyguard of some sort that followed him around at all times, to protect against just these sorts of situations. He'd wondered how he would go about finding such a bodyguard, and if it was possible to bend a dead spirit to his will, and if so what sort of dead spirit he should summon.
Somehow it hadn't occurred to him to wonder if he was going to become one such dead spirit himself.
And miraculously, his apparent lack of fear had helped him to avoid what otherwise would have meant almost certain death. His strangely confident air had caused the three thugs behind him to stop and argue amongst themselves about the danger of the particular target they'd chosen – which had given him plenty of time to slip off quietly and unnoticed, back towards the Unseen University and into the relative safety of its walls.
So he'd found himself back in the Library, searching for books on the summoning of spirits and doing the equivalent of comparison-shopping amongst the different types of spirits that he could summon. He could summon various sorts of demons, but the mere thought of such monsters made him cringe. Different books also suggested ways to summon incubi and succubae, but that hardly seemed a solution to the dilemma he had posed. The book he was currently reading, however, suggested spells for summoning formerly human spirits – and it had different spells for individual types of humans.
It was a more recent work, as far as Ibycus could determine – he was uncertain of its author, but it seemed to be an experimental line of spells. He didn't think he'd ever heard of anybody setting down spells for bringing back specific types of people from the world beyond, but, he reflected, it really was a pretty brilliant idea. There was a spell for summoning former cooks, and one for thieves, and one for lords and ladies, and even one for summoning the spirits of whores. (This page, Ibycus noted, was rather dog-eared, and had apparently been used before by other students.)
The spell at which he was currently looking was one regarding the summoning of assassins.
Ibycus liked the idea of having his own ghostly assassin. Assassins were feared even by the nastiest of Ankh-Morpork's criminals, and they had class to boot. They were well trained but aristocratic in nature; he could expect a good product if he summoned an assassin to follow him wherever he went. And, naturally, by summoning said assassin, he would be master of the ghostly creature. At least, he assumed that was the case. It only made sense to him, after all – if he brought the person back, then they surely would be bound to obey him.
His eyes flickered over the dancing magical characters on the page. They were particularly nasty little letters, flicking to and fro across the paper and swirling in an ugly manner before his slightly bewildered gaze. He was used to fighting with magical script, however, and he soon had the spell under his control. With great care, he bent over the page and began to whisper the words, his lips spewing perfectly formed syllables across the page.
The spell began to glow and spin.
Excitedly, Ibycus began to mumble faster, rushing over the words and feeling the air sizzle around him, inhaling the metallic scent of magic at work as the atmosphere crackled. The spell's preface stated that it would summon the most recently deceased assassin for his service, one that still had a strong recollection of his human form. Ibycus wasn't sure which assassin had died most recently, but it didn't matter much to him; they were all equally high class, weren't they?
He said the last word of the spell with a satisfied air and watched as the book shivered, shook, and finally settled back onto the table. Smiling in approval, Ibycus started to turn around to look at his new protector, but before he could, two hands closed very firmly around his neck and began to strangle him.
"Hello!" a voice said brightly in his ear. "My name's Jonathan Teh-ah-tim-eh. What's yours?"
Gawain and Twyla were playing with the marbles again.
This, in and of itself, should not have been particularly disturbing to Susan Sto Helit, governess, duchess, and granddaughter of Death. For one thing, the marbles kept them wonderfully distracted and prevented them from getting into any other sorts of mischief, which was a welcome relief for her. But it wasn't the game in and of itself that was irritating Susan – it was Gawain's favorite marble, that shiny gray-black glass orb, that was grating on her nerves and keeping her from enjoying the book she was desperately trying to read.
The marble, of course, was not a marble at all, but a glass eye of unknown power that had formerly been the property of Mr. Jonathan Teatime, an assassin with the mannerisms of a small boy and a mind like a corkscrew. And, disturbingly, that eyeball followed Susan everywhere.
At first she had tried valiantly to convince herself that it was just her imagination, or that she was just paranoid. But it had been a week since Hogswatch, and there really was no denying the fact that the eye was following her wherever she went. The first night, it had mysteriously managed to roll all the way from the children's room into Susan's room, even though the children's room was quite a distance from where she slept. Then it had found its way down the stairs to sit by her foot at the kitchen table the next morning. And somehow it had discovered Susan's favorite place to read and had sat just beside her while she flipped through one of the Gaiters' books. Most of the time its presence was so unobtrusive that she didn't notice it until she got up to leave the room. Even now, when she was on the lookout for the damn thing, she usually couldn't spot it until she was changing locations in the house.
Susan was very, very sure that Teatime, even dead, was watching her.
Fortunately, his eyeball was currently rather occupied with winning the game of marbles instead of spying on her. Unfortunately, she couldn't really leave the children by themselves for the time being, so the eye was still in her vicinity. She was so vexed by its presence that she had read the first sentence of her book exactly forty-seven times now and hadn't managed to get any further.
She reread the first sentence again, heaved a sigh, and glanced reluctantly back at the game of marbles. The eyeball rolled, spun, and knocked into Twyla's marbles with perfect precision. It was impressive, really, the accuracy with which the eye shot across the circle. It was obviously not Gawain's finesse that was winning the game, but the marble itself.
Twyla was no fool; she knew her brother's skill level with marbles, and she knew he hadn't been able to win like this before he got his new marble at Hogswatch. "You're cheating!" she exclaimed, leaping to her feet and pointing an outraged finger at her younger brother.
Gawain stuck his tongue out at her. "Am not!" he retorted, blowing a raspberry in her direction.
"Are too!" Twyla snapped, reaching down to shove Gawain on the shoulder. "It's that stupid marble – it helps you cheat!"
"It doesn't!" Gawain exclaimed. "It's just lucky!"
"It's a cheating marble!" Twyla cried in outrage.
"Isn't!" Gawain retorted.
Twyla turned to Susan. "Susan, he's got a cheating marble!" she said in a tone of injured pride.
Susan heaved a sigh and slammed her book closed. "Give it here, then," she said, reluctantly holding out a hand.
"Susan!" Gawain whined.
"Gawain, what have I told you about whining?" Susan asked, looking severely at him.
He pouted. "Whining is an irritating habit for silly kiddies," he muttered.
"Right," Susan said. "And we all know very well that you're not a silly little kiddy." In fact you'd probably throw a rock at anyone who thought to call you a silly little kiddy, Susan thought, a trace of a smile flickering across her face and disappearing just as quickly. "Now, give me the marble."
Gawain sniffed. "Fine," he sulked, turning back towards the marble pile.
For a second there was dead silence. Then, Gawain turned to glare at Twyla and snapped, "Where is it, Twyla? Give it back!"
Twyla looked affronted. "I don't have your stupid cheating marble," she said.
"You've got it!" Gawain yelled angrily, jumping to his feet and tackling her. "Give it back!"
"Twyla! Gawain!" Susan said sharply, but it was too late; they were rolling on the floor in the midst of a mighty row. Susan groaned, but stood by and watched them tussle for a few minutes before both of them finally gave up and stepped away, nursing bruises and a few small cuts. "Feel better now?" Susan asked scathingly.
They glared at each other.
Susan shook her head in irritation. "Twyla, do you have Gawain's marble?" she asked, almost not wanting to hear the answer.
"No!" Twyla exclaimed angrily.
Susan felt a vague sense of dread. "All right, then," she said resignedly. "Let's go looking for it. Look under all the furniture in this room, and I'll check and see if it rolled out into the hall."
"Don't you think we would have heard it?" Gawain asked.
"I doubt it," Susan said in a disgruntled voice as she headed for the door.
Almost as soon as she walked out the door, the children began arguing about which areas they were going to search and whether or not the marble was actually a cheating marble. It was a quieter argument, but Susan still understood its gist. Distracted as she was, she didn't bother to listen much longer; she was going to find that marble, and sod all the rest to hell.
"Where have you gone, you bloody bastard?" she hissed under her breath as she scanned the hall floor. She got down on her hands and knees and felt along the edges of the hall wall, but there was nothing to be found there. Frustration boiled over as she continued searching through the next few rooms, spinning around occasionally to see if it was following her. "Come out, damn it," she snarled to the silent air.
That was when she heard something rolling across the floor.
She turned sharply and spotted the glass eye as it rolled out through the door towards the foyer. "Oh, no you don't," she said ominously, gathering her skirts in her hands and running after it.
Ignoring her protest, it sailed smoothly across the floor, somehow keeping just ahead of Susan's long strides. She noticed, with considerable irritation, that one of the other servants had left the door propped open a little despite the chilliness of the season. The eyeball made for the opening of the door, sliding through the crack and out onto the stoop. Susan hurled open the door and bent down to grab the smooth dark orb as it paused in the snow –
And felt someone else's very, very cold fingers cover hers.
Susan looked up sharply and found herself staring into the equally surprised face of the ghostly Mr. Teatime. His eye widened momentarily in astonishment, and then his whole face smiled, a terrifying happy smile that made Susan flinch away.
"No," she said flatly. "No, you're not here again. You wouldn't dare."
His lips pulled back over his dazzlingly white teeth, and she caught the brief flash of his hand as it started to move towards her –
Susan jumped and spun around to face Gawain and Twyla, who were standing in the door and staring at her in confusion. "What're you doing out there?" Twyla asked, her face suggesting that she felt Susan had perhaps gone a bit insane.
"I -!" Susan turned sharply, but there was no one standing behind her – no sign of Teatime, ghost or no, anywhere. "I… I found your marble," she said weakly, holding out the eyeball to show them.
Gawain looked incredulous. "Out here?" he said. "How could it get out here?"
"It's a cheating marble," Twyla said in smug satisfaction. "That's the only explanation."
"Yes, well, I'm going to throw it out," Susan said fervently, pushing her way past them into the house.
"Aww, but Susan -!" Gawain protested.
"No, Gawain," Susan said sharply. "It's more trouble than it's worth. Now, go back to school room; I'll be with you in a minute."
The children shuffled ahead, Twyla smirking and Gawain sulking. Susan waited until they had gone, and then slumped against the wall, momentarily allowing her brief panic to flow through her and settle.
He had been there. He bloody well had been there, just outside. He had touched her. His hand – he'd tried to grab for her. Or stab her. He had touched her hand, the monster who had nearly – no. No, she wasn't going to think about it anymore.
And anyways, she had something he obviously wanted. She had his eye, and she was going to destroy it that night.
And if his ghost protested… well, she still had the poker.