Gaspode shot backwards as Angua’s paws slipped from under her, and landed further up the roof, legs spinning. Both of them made it to the crest and hung there, panting.
Then Angua bounded away, clearing the next alley before Gaspode had stopped seeing a red mist in front of his eyes.
He spat out Big Fido’s collar, which slid down the roof and vanished over the edge.
‘Oh, thank you!’ he shouted. ‘Thank you very much’ Yes! Leave me here, that’s right! Me with only three good legs! Don’t you worry about me! If I’m lucky I’ll fall oft before I starve! Oh yes! Story of my life! You and me, kid Together! We could have made it!’
He turned and looked at the dogs lining the roofs or, the other side of the street.
‘You lot! Go home! BAD DOG!’ he barked.
He slithered down the other side of the roof. There was an alley there, but it was a sheer drop. He crept along the roof to the adjoining building, but there was no way down. There was a balcony a storey below, though.
‘Lat’ral thinking,’ he muttered. ‘That’s the stuff Now, a wolf, your basic wolf, he’d jump, and if he couldn’t jump, he’d be stuck. Whereas me, on account of uperior intelligence, can assess the whole wossname and arrive at a solution through application of mental processes.’
He nudged the gargoyle squatting on the angle of the gutter.
‘Ot oo oo ont?’
‘If you don’t help me down to that balcony, I’ll widdk in your ear.’
There were, eventually, two theories about the end of Big Fido.
The one put forward by the dog Gaspode, based on observational evidence, was that his remains were picked up by Foul Ole Ron and sold within five minutes to a furrier, and that Big Fido eventually saw the light of day again as a set of ear muffs and a pair of fleecy gloves.
The one believed by every other dog, based on what might tentatively be called the truth of the heart, was that he survived his fall, fled the city, and eventually led a huge pack of mountain wolves who nightly struck terror into isolated farmsteads. It made digging in the middens and hanging around back doors for scraps seem . . . well, more bearable. They were, after all, only doing it until Big Fido came back.
His collar was kept in a secret place and visited regularly by dogs until they forgot about it.
Sergeant Colon pushed open the door with the end of his pike.
The Tower had floors, a long time ago. Now it was hollow all the way up, criss-crossed by golden shafts of light from ancient window embrasures.
One of them, filled with glittering motes of dust, lanced down on what, not long before, had been Acting-Constable Cuddy.
Colon gave the body a cautious prod. It didn’t move.
Nothing looking like that should move. A twisted axe lay beside it.
‘Oh, no,’ he breathed.
There was a thin rope, the sort the Assassins used, hanging down from the heights. It was twitching. Colon looked up at the haze, and drew his sword.
He could see all the way to the top, and there was no-one on the rope. Which meant—
He didn’t even look around, which saved his life.
His dive for the floor and the explosion of the gonne behind him happened at exactly the same time. He swore afterwards that he felt the wind of the slug as it passed over his head.
Then a figure stepped through the smoke and hit him very hard before escaping through the open door, into the rain.
Cuddy brushed himself off.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I see. I didn’t think I was going to survive that. Not after the first hundred feet.’
YOU WERE CORRECT.
The unreal world of the living was already fading, but Cuddy glared at the twisted remains of his axe. It seemed to worry him far more than the twisted remains erf Cuddy.
And will you look at that?’ he said. ‘My dad made that axe for me! A fine weapon to take into the afterlife, I don’t think!’
IS THAT SOME KIND OF BURIAL CUSTOM?
‘Don’t you know? You are Death, aren’t you?’
THAT DOESN’T MEAN I HAVE TO KNOW ABOUT BURIAL CUSTOMS. GENERALLY, I MEET PEOPLE BEFORE THEY’RE BURIED. THE ONES I MEET AFTER THEY’VE BEEN BURIED TEND TO BE A BIT OVER-EXCITED AND DISINCLINED TO DISCUSS THINGS.
Cuddy folded his arms.
‘If I’m not going to be properly buried,’ he said, ‘I ain’t going. My tortured soul will walk the world in torment.’
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO.
‘It can if it wants to,’ snapped the ghost of Cuddy.
‘Detritus! You haven’t got time to ooze! Get over to the Tower! Take some people with you!’
Vimes reached the doorway of the Great Hall with the Patrician over his shoulder and Carrot stumbling along behind him. The wizards were clustered around the door. Big heavy drops of rain were beginning to fall, hissing on the hot stones.
Ridcully rolled up his sleeves.
‘Hell’s bells! What did that to his leg?’
‘That’s the gonne for you! Sort him out! And Corporal Carrot too!’
‘There’s no need,’ said Vetinari, trying to smile and stand up. ‘It’s just a flesh—’
The leg collapsed under him.
Vimes blinked. He’d never expected this. The Patrician was the man who always had the answers, who was never surprised. Vimes had a sense that history was flapping loose . . .
‘We can handle it, sir,’ said Carrot. ‘I’ve got men on the roofs, and—’
‘Shut up! Stay here! That’s an order!’ Vimes fumbled in his pouch and hung his badge on his torn jacket. ‘Hey, you . . . Pyjama! I need a sword!’
Pyjama looked sullen.
‘I only take orders from Corporal Carrot—’
‘Give me a sword right now, you horrible little man! Right! Thank you! Now let’s get to the Tow—’
A shadow appeared in the doorway.
Detritus walked in.
They looked at the limp shape in his hands.
He laid it carefully on a bench, without saying a word, and went and sat in a corner. While the others gathered round the mortal remains of Acting-Constable Cuddy, the troll removed his homemade cooling helmet and sat staring at it, turning it over and over in his hands.
‘He was on the floor,’ said Sergeant Colon, leaning against the doorframe. ‘He must have been pushed off the stairs right at the top. Someone else was in there, too Must’ve shinned down a rope and caught me a right bang on the side of the head.’
‘Being pushed down the Tower’s not worth it for a shilling,’ said Carrot, vaguely.
It was better when the dragon came, thought Vimes After it’d killed someone it was at least still a dragon. It went somewhere else but you could say: that’s a dragon, that is. It couldn’t nip over a wall and become just another person. You always knew what you were fighting. You didn’t have to—
‘What’s that in Cuddy’s hand?’ he said. He realized he’d been staring at it without seeing it for some time.
He tugged at it. It was a strip of black cloth.
‘Assassins wear that,’ said Colon blankly.
‘So do lots of other people,’ said Ridcully. ‘Black’s black.’
‘You’re right,’ said Vimes. ‘Taking any action on the basis of this would be premature. You know, it’d probably get me fired.’
He waved the cloth in front of Lord Vetinari.
‘Assassins everywhere,’ he said, ‘on guard. Seems they didn’t notice anything, eh? You gave them the bloody gonne because you thought they were the best to guard it! You never thought of giving it to the guards!’
‘Aren’t we going to give chase, Corporal Carrot?’ said Pyjama.
‘Chase who? Chase where?’ said Vimes. ‘He hit old Fred on the head and did a runner. He could trot around a corner, chuck the gonne over a wall, and who’d know? We don’t know who we’re looking for!’
‘I do,’ said Carrot.
He stood up, holding his shoulder.
‘It’s easy to run,’ he said. ‘We’ve done a lot of running. But that’s not how you hunt. You hunt by sitting still in the right place. Captain, I want the sergeant to go out there and tell people we’ve got the killer.’
‘His name is Edward d’Eath. Say we’ve got him in custody. Say he was caught and badly injured, but he’s alive.’
‘But we haven’t—’
‘He’s an Assassin.’
‘Yes, captain. I don’t like telling lies. But it might be worth it. Anyway, it’s not your problem, sir.’
‘It isn’t? Why not?’
‘You’re retiring in less than an hour.’
‘I’m still captain right now, corporal. So you have to tell me what’s going on. That’s how things work.’
‘We haven’t got time, sir. Do it, Sergeant Colon.’
‘Carrot, I still run the Watch! I’m the one supposed to give the orders.’
Carrot hung his head.
‘Right. So long as that’s understood. Sergeant Colon?’
‘Put out the news that we’ve arrested Edward d’Eath. Whoever he is.’
‘And your next move, Mr Carrot?’ said Vimes.
Carrot looked at the assembled wizards. –
‘Excuse me, sir?’
‘First, we need to get into the library—’
‘First,’ said Vimes, ‘someone can lend me a helmet. I don’t feel I’m at work without a helmet. Thanks, Fred. Right . . . helmet . . . sword . . . badge. Now . . .’
There was sound under the city. It filtered down by all sorts of routes, but it was indistinct, a hive noise.
And there was the faintest of glows. The waters of the Ankh, to use the element in its broadest sense, had washed, to bend the definition to its limit, these tunnels for centuries.
Now there was an extra sound. Footsteps padded over the silt, barely perceptible unless ears had become accustomed to the background noise. And an indistinct shape moved through the gloom, paused at a circle of darkness leading to a smaller tunnel . . .
‘How do you feel, your lordship?’ said Corporal Nobbs the upwardly mobile.
‘Who are you?’
‘Corporal Nobbs, sir!’ said Nobby, saluting.
‘Do we employ you?’
Ah. You’re the dwarf, are you?’
‘Nossir. That was the late Cuddy, sir! I’m one of the human beings, sir!’
‘You’re not employed as the result of any . . . special hiring procedures?’
‘Nossir,’ said Nobby, proudly.
‘My word,’ said the Patrician. He was feeling a little light-headed from loss of blood. The Archchancellor had also given him a long drink of something he said was a marvellous remedy, although he’d been unspecific as to what it cured. Verticality, apparently. It was wise to remain sitting upright, though. It was a good idea to be seen to be alive. A lot of inquisitive people were peering around the door. It was important to ensure that rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated.
Corporal self-proclaimed-human Nobbs and some other guards had closed in around the Patrician, on Captain Vimes’ orders. Some of them were a lot bulkier than he rather muzzily remembered.
‘You there, my man. Have you taken the King’s Shilling?’ he inquired of one.
‘I never took nuffin.’
‘Capital, well done.’
And then the crowds scattered. Something golden and vaguely dog-like burst through, growling, its nose close to the ground. And was gone again, covering the ground to the library in long, easy strides. The Patrician was aware of conversation.
‘Did that look a bit familiar to you?’
‘I know what you mean.’
Nobby fidgeted awkwardly.
‘You should’ve bawled her out for not being in uniform,’ he said.
‘Bit tricky, that.’
‘If I’d run through here without me clothes on, you’d fine me a half a dollar for being improperly dressed—’
‘Here’s half a dollar, Nobby. Now shut up.’
Lord Vetinari beamed at them. Then there was the guard in the corner, another of the big lumpy ones—
‘Still all right, your lordship?’ said Nobby.
‘Who’s that gentleman?’
He followed the Patrician’s gaze.