Disclaimer: Discworld and all it's characters are the intellectual property of Terry Pratchett. The words and my own characters are mine. The plot: no idea. I don't make it up, I just write it down, and I am not responsible for any of it.
Some of what I write is quite dark. Blacker, possibly, than Sham Harga's coffee. Blacker, that is to say, than a moonless night, overcast by cumulus clouds and viewed from a point far away from human habitation. I will warn readers at the top of the relevant chapters, but if you skip them, it won't make sense.
Author's Note: I've not added to this story for a while, since I've been trying to concentrate on original work - I aim to have a novel written and start trying to publish it by next summer - but I hope to have another chapter up soon. Eagle eyed readers may notice that two chapters appear to have gone missing: I've done some editing and, since some of the chapters were quite short, I've condensed the story so far into two less sections. The six chapters published at the time of writing contain everything from the eight chapters I had before this editing. I haven't added any more or changed any of the events, but I've altered the writing in a lot of places, and tried to take on board what reviewers have said.
I would like to thank everyone who has reviewed so far, especially those who gave constructive criticism (and one or two that pointed out mistakes, please do!). Very much appreciated.
Please review, you'll get a shout-out in the next chapter (unless you ask not to). I'm not going to rewrite all the shout-outs for previous reviews, but they're still appreciated. If I was able to reply to your review, I'll probably just say thank you: I don't appreciate it any less than people I give longer comments, but their review was anonymous, so I couldn't reply.
On that note: Reviews (since my last update):
mischieflover, ozymandias, History Buff: thank you very much.
Dav1d: thank you very much, glad you liked it. You don't by any chance want to comment on what you think is going on/whodunnit? I could really do with knowing how much I'm letting on: I know what's going to happen, so it's impossible to be impartial.
[X X X denotes a change of POV or time/location; footnotes are referred to by numbers in bold and are located at the bottom of each chapter]
The boy limped along the street. His right leg dragged behind him and didn't seem to want to take his weight. He was rake-thin and every few steps he stopped and coughed heavily, his ragged frame shaking as if he was a rat in the grip of a terrier. He didn't get a second glance. Maybe he should have: if this was a fairy tale he'd have been taken in by a rich, kindly old gentleman and would have turned out to be his long lost nephew1and lived happily ever after, but this isn't a fairy tale. The only people who got a second glance in the Shades were people who looked rich, and he couldn't have looked less rich; or people who didn't look as though they belonged there.
But we've noticed him. He's wearing dull brown and dark grey. His face is dirty to match. His feet are bare. It's hard to see his eyes in the shadows in which he walks, but they are also dull brown. His hair is very dark, and hasn't seen a brush for a long time2, or maybe never. He looks about four, but is probably nearer seven.
x x x
In a better part of the city, which is anywhere else in the city, Commander Vimes of the Watch was annoyed. Which was usual. On this particular Thursday afternoon, he was annoyed because he'd just had a meeting with the Patrician. Lord Downey had been there. Vetinari had as good as told him that if he didn't catch The Bastard soon the Watch would be taken off the case and replaced by the Assassins' Guild.
The Bastard was a particularly cunning killer, responsible for a number3 of particularly perplexing murders. The first one had been more than three months ago, and the Watch were no nearer to solving the case; there had been a confession, but this was a case that Vimes wanted to solve in earnest, and Done-it Duncan had been sent packing as soon as he'd finished his cup of tea.
. Vimes thought of the him as The Bastard because he'd spent three months saying things like: 'we've got to catch the bastard soon' or 'the bastard's bound to slip up some time and then we'll have him' and although he'd been wrong, the handle had stuck.
Vimes knew that the Assassins thought they should handle this. The Bastard seemed to be a contract killer. All but one of the victims had been powerful men; the one was the fifth, who had been a powerful woman; with the sort of wealthy enemies who saw assassination as a faster alternative to negotiation, but who had their reasons for not wanting to go through the official channels. Although the killings were clearly the work of one man, there was no single person who had wanted more than three of the victims dead, so it looked as though this was the work of a freelance, unlicensed assassin.
Vimes knew very well that the Assassins had a good claim to the case. He also knew very well that it would be sensible to hand it over. After all, the Thieves Guild handled all unlicensed theft, and he never complained about that. It took the load off his men, and Thieves were better prepared to catch a thief in any case. Vimes reflected that the saying about setting a thief was probably just as true for an assassin. But he would be damned if he let that bunch of black-clad pompous snobs take his case. And it was his case. It was personal. Not that The Bastard had done anything to Vimes, and most of the people killed had been the sort of people Vimes felt the world was better off without. It was personal because he had worked on almost nothing but this case for three months and was beginning to suspect that the man4 was evading justice purely to annoy him.
Vimes hated The Bastard's guts; also Lord Downey's. The things he would like to do to them both would take a long time to list. As he proceeded back to Pseudopolis Yard he was indulging in a fantasy of discovering that the killer was, in fact, the chief Assassin.
X X X
In the Shades Lieven Aderlessan struggled to his feet, clutching his side where the knife had gone in. Then he realised that it didn't hurt as much as he would have expected. Not much at all really. Then he looked down and saw the reason why. Then he looked up.
A bystander was not a good sight if you'd just been attacked in the Shades in Ankh-Morpork. The chances were they weren't going to help you up and ask if you were alright. But somehow Lieven didn't think the very tall, extremely thin individual dressed in black was here to slit his throat and strip his corpse.
LIEVEN ADERLESSAN? IF YOU'D JUST STEP THIS WAY. The scythe moved.
'He killed me! The bastard!'
THAT WOULD SEEM TO BE THE CASE.
'I never even saw him!'
Death was surprised. And quite impressed. Usually the people he met were calmer. It was to do with glands and so on, and not having them. It meant that while you could think much more clearly, you didn't feel more than, say, mild annoyance.
'Who was it?'
I HAVEN'T THE FAINTEST IDEA.
'Didn't you see him?'
I WAS NOT HERE AT THAT TIME.
'So you don't even know what happened to me! I wouldn't call that doing your job properly?' Lieven believed firmly in doing a job properly. But his anger at being murdered was beginning to subside; 'What's going to happen to me now then? Do I get reincarnated? Or is there some sort of afterlife?'
Death sighed. This was not part of his job description. THAT IS UP TO YOU. I AM JUST HERE TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU DIE.
X X X
Julyan Biondi walked along Sweetheart Lane. He didn't hurry, or stroll, or stride; he certainly didn't dawdle or saunter. That sort of thing could get you noticed, and in the Shades, you did not want to be noticed. Biondi could probably take on anyone who tried to attack him, but there was always the chance of being taken by surprise. He was also wearing an old, rather ragged brown cloak so that, unusually for even an off-duty Assassin, the only thing black about him was his hair. Assassin's Black would also get you noticed. In most parts of Ankh-Morpork, that was fine, but in the Shades there were people who weren't frightened of Assassins. In fact, inhuming an Assassin gave you a certain status. The Shades was a dangerous place, even for the dangerous.
He walked as fast as he could without seeming to hurry. There was a skill to it, but Biondi was well-practised. He was in a hurry, though. His informant had found the body nearly two hours ago; the Watch could get there at any time. He needed to be there before the Watch this time. Biondi was well aware that Samuel Vimes did not want Assassins interfering with what he saw to be his job, and the case was still officially under Watch jurisdiction, despite Lord Downey's repeated appeals to the Patrician.
Biondi was investigating the killings himself, with the informal consent of his chief. The Guild considered it to be their business. The man was almost certainly killing for money, which made the crime unlicensed assassination, not mere murder.
X X X
Sergeant Angua reappeared from behind the pile of rubble where a section of wall had collapsed, and made her report:
'He's been dead about seven hours; died here. Lots of blood. There're plenty of other scents, most old. I think five people have been here today.'
'How many of them could have killed him?'
'Two were here together, a man and woman; easy enough to smell what they were doing.'
'Easy enough to guess too. Unlikely then. Who else?'
'A troll, wandered in here, sat down over there and snorted something beginning with 'S', not sure exactly what. Sat here for a while then left. He didn't go near the body.'
'A troll wouldn't have stabbed him neatly like that anyway. Any dwarfs?'
'One was here earlier, but I'm almost sure that was before our stiff was anywhere near. Came in, threw up in the corner and left. Heading towards the Troll's Head. You think it's a dwarf, Sir?'
'Either that or the killer was sitting down. The stiff isn't any taller than the next man, but he was stabbed below the waist, upwards.'
'Could have been close to him, talking maybe, got the knife out without him noticing and stabbed him with his arm by his side. Sorry Sir.' Captain Carrot spoke apologetically, and slightly nervously. Vimes was not in a good mood to be contradicted.
'Damn!' Vimes swore, 'Every time I think I've found out anything about The Bastard, anything at all, it turns out to be wrong. He's doing it on purpose, I'm sure.'
'Yes sir.' Carrot's expression was wooden. 'But who were the other two people who've been here?'
'Both men, one middle-aged, the other quite young. He smells familiar, but I can't place him. The older one came straight to this spot, stood by the body for a minute, but didn't touch it.'
'Hard to have killed him then. I want to find him, though.'
'Yes Sir. The other man was here later. He didn't come straight over here: walked around the alley, poking into corners. Then he came and looked at the body. Stood still for a minute, just looking, then he turned him over. His scent's all over the body. He spent quite a while looking at it, then left in the opposite direction than he came.'
'Find him. The other one too, but the second's the most important. He's the killer, he must be.'
'He wasn't here until hours after the man was dead, Sir, I'm sure of that.'
How sure, Sergeant? How about this: he's a cunning Bastard. He knows there's a werewolf in the watch, so he covers his tracks-'
'He couldn't fool Angua's nose, Sir. If she says he wasn't here when the man was killed, he wasn't.'
'Do not interrupt me, Captain. So he remembers exactly where he went, waits a few hours, comes back, retraces his steps exactly, handles the body, leaves the same way he left before. Would you notice the older scent under the new one, Sergeant? Find him, anyway. See if you can follow him. You said he smelled familiar, work out where from. Find him.'
X X X
The dog trotting along, nose to the ground, got plenty of second glances. In the shades it was followed by looks of hunger5 or of greed as it was mentally transformed into a coat and a pair of gloves. Somehow it didn't seem a good idea to try for the physical version. The few individuals who did try to approach backed away hurriedly when the dog looked up and gave the tiniest, but most menacing of growls. When it reached the wealthier parts of the city the stares were of admiration.
Dogs were easy to find in Ankh-Morpork: pets, lapdogs, guard dogs being exercised; any number of stray dogs roamed the streets in packs. Almost all were mongrels with more varieties in their ancestry than Heinz. This one was tall, sleek, elegant. Obviously of such high pedigree as to make William Charles Ormonde 'Fluffy' Fetherington the Sixth look like the sort of puppy who, if he was bathed, brushed, house trained and had a bow tied round his neck, might just aspire to be the sort of puppy who is given away 'free to good home'.
The dog, or rather bitch, rounded the next corner, looked ahead of her, sniffed the air a few times and appeared to swear under her breath. Lowering her nose back to the pavement she followed the scent to the gate of the Assassins' Guild, growled a little and turned back the way she'd come.
1Or grandson, or something. Unless it's the one where he turned out to be the third son of a king, and had a number of exciting adventures, saved the world, slew the dragon, married the princess and lived happily ev- But this isn't a fairy tale and I'm not going to write one in this footnote.
2But it did once see a comb, which ran away in terror.
4Estressa Partleigh, of the Campaign for Equal Heights, has asked that it be stated that the word 'man' is in this context used as shorthand for 'individual who might belong to any of Ankh-Morpork's many races, and any gender.'
5It's true that dwarfs will eat dog, but only when they can't get rat. In Ankh-Morpork, this is not a problem. The hungry looks were from the humans.