Last time, I explored boredom and curiosity. This time, I intend to explore something rather different. Always learning, me.
Casting about for the other anthropomorphic personifications. Going on slim source material. Sorry.
Everything related to the Discworld belongs to Terry Pratchett.
One could have heard the clatter of bone against paving stone had they been listening for it. If snow hadn't muffled the sound. And if the sound of robes flapping and tack jingling and a horse shifting uncomfortably hadn't masked it. And if the city ever really fell silent.
"You realize the Watch can trace the poker, don't you? I wonder if you've thought this through."
And if certain dead people would ever shut the hell up.
IT WILL NOT BE TRACED.
"You're leaving a remarkably clear scent trail, don't you think? And no scent bomb to confuse it! The Watch werewolf won't have any trouble picking it up." The shade that stubbornly followed him from half a dimension over sounded sincerely concerned about this possibility. To be fair, the concern was probably about having a job well done. It was the principle of the thing; the consequences meant nothing to him. He was dead.
THERE WILL BE NOTHING TO FOLLOW.
"You sound so sure."
IT WOULD PROBABLY BE IN BAD TASTE TO SAY I WAS DEAD CERTAIN. Death, seven feet tall, skeletal, and more than just mildly irritated, dragged a corpse from the back of his pale horse. AS IT STANDS, HOWEVER, I AM.
He held the body mostly upright by its collar. A common iron household fire poker protruded from its chest; it went clear through, and whatever blood might have seeped out was hidden against the dusty blackness of the dead Assassin's clothing. The head, topped with pale curls, bobbled back and forth with every movement.
Death turned where he stood on the bank of the river Ankh and took the step that brought him to the brick ledge that kept the sober from tripping into the river by mistake. He reached up and yanked the poker from the corpse, making it sway and empty of blood rather faster than it had been doing. The snow-dusted bricks appeared to go black in places; the sun would render the red-on-white rather pretty in a few hours.
He extended his yard-long arm over the edge of the bank, letting the corpse's feet dangle and the blood drip. Then, with the air of a housewife putting the cat out of the house for the night, he let go.
The silence that followed was heavy, and, from half a dimension over, accusing.
I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE THROWN A BRICK FIRST, he mused.
A brick probably wouldn't have helped. An entire building still would have had to use a shovel to make it into the waters of the Ankh, semisolid even in times of flood. On Hogswatchnight, corpses bounced.
"Where's the skelington?"
"And the creepy man?"
It took all of six seconds for Susan to go from a sort of horrified relief and pride that she'd defended her grandfather from a mad Assassin to exasperated that Death's getting her involved at all meant she'd have to answer questions like these.
In contrast, it took a little more than twenty minutes to explain to the little boy and little girl in her care that the 'skelington' was Death and that Susan had invited him to a very early Hogswatch breakfast. The children found the breakfast part much harder to understand than the invitation part.
"Wouldn't the bikkit – biscuit – just go right through him?"
"Ooh, what if he'd had tea?"
"It'd look like he wet himself!"
Normally, Susan discouraged this sort of playground one-upmanship, but as it took their thoughts off Death and the death she'd just brought about, she decided to let it go. It was Hogswatch, after all. A little later, Twyla explained that they'd found out that the Hogfather didn't really exist, and how. After commending them for accepting the change into a Young Lady and a Big Boy with such equanimity, Susan reminded them that they'd still receive presents each year.
Twyla's resilience to the revelation was summed up in the perfectly mercenary, "Mummy and Daddy never really know if we're naughty or nice."
"I think you broke my neck," complained the spirit of Jonathan Teatime. He was only minutes dead and had passed out of the realm of the living, but he was well on his way to pulling himself back through as a ghost. Death did not look forward to having that conversation with Susan. Teatime was likely to haunt her, since he'd died at her hands, and Susan would blame Death. His relationship with his granddaughter was strained enough as it was.
A courteous cough drew his attention. Both he and the faint shade of the dead Assassin turned to find themselves the subject of keen observation.
"Oh, my," Teatime's ghost said gleefully, "It is Hogswatch, isn't it?"
Death ignored him to peer at the new arrivals with a mixture of habitual irritation and rising dread. WHAT DO YOU WANT? he asked, only barely polite.
The female smiled, though that smile never reached her eyes, which were green. They were green not in the way of irises and poetry, but emerald green from corner to corner, giving her face the eerie appearance of a mask – or would have, if her shape ever consented to be observable. It helped to think of ink dropped into water with brief flashes of modest curves and curling dark hair. It was in fact exactly nothing like this, but this sort of visual aid prevents a terrible case of the heebie jeebies.
The male of the duo nodded with a certain obligatory courtesy. His form was that of a middle-aged man, temples going just barely gray; though his expression was pleasant, he had the air about him of someone you didn't want to defy. His eyes were like holes poked into reality and spangled with stars.
"We've begun a new game," he answered, gesturing vaguely at the lady beside him. "That one is a pawn." This time, he pointed at the ghost.
"We're arguing over possession," the lady added.
THE DEAD BELONG TO ME.
"Their deaths belong to you," said the lady with a smile that wasn't unkind. "But once their afterlife is decided, they pass from your jurisdiction."
HE HAS MET HIS FATE, Death argued, glaring at the eponymous anthropomorphic personification. IT'S DONE.
As if to a recalcitrant child, Fate said, "You know it's not until I say so. He's got another role to play, now." He lifted his hands before him and clapped twice, and Death felt the edges of reality tear apart and ooze back together in a new pattern. "Come along," Fate ordered.
"That was uncomfortable," a tenor voice complained from the ice covering the Ankh. A rustle of cloth and the muffled sound of scrabbling on ice preceded the appearance of a young blond dressed in black and bearing a sunken hole where a left eye should be. Balancing on the edge brick that separated street from open air, Jonathan Teatime rolled his neck on his shoulders and patted just below his sternum.
"Just like new!" he chirped. Then he frowned, adding, "But for the clothes. And this." His left hand went up as if to cover the empty eye socket. He turned to Death and said in a voice that had worried several hundred lesser beings, "I must go back and get it. May I borrow that poker?"
Bone creaked around iron. CERTAINLY NOT. He wanted to add a threat about staying away from Susan, but he thought his tone conveyed the sentiment anyway.
"Come along," Fate repeated implacably.
And, as if attached to the newcomers by a string, Teatime went from the riverbank to Fate's side in a second.
The lady, whom those in the know referred to as the Lady, lifted what was probably a long index finger and tapped it against the side of where a nose should be if one had to guess. "Let's don't tell Susan," she suggested in a way that was not suggestion. "She'll manage like the rest do, without anymore unfair advantage than she already has." Fate turned, Teatime standing there beside him, looking mulish.
"Ta!" she tossed over her shoulder.
And Death – you know, Death? Cloak, scythe, pale horse, granddaughter, End of Things That Lived and Many That Kind of Didn't? Death! – was left standing on the edge of the Ankh, staring at angrily at snow on stone.