Three fresh deaths. At the end of a short side tunnel were the bodies of two, no, three dwarfs, half buried in mud. They glowed. Vurms had no teeth, Carrot had told her. They waited until the prospective meal became runny of its own accord. And, while they waited for the biggest stroke of luck ever to have come their way, they celebrated. Down here, in a world far away from the streets, the dwarfs would dissolve in light.
Make that very fresh
"They found something," said a voice behind her. "And then it killed them."
The leap wasn"t intentional. Her hindbrain arranged it all by itself. The front brain, the bit that knew that sergeants should not attempt to disembowel lance-constables without provocation, tried to stop the leap in mid-air, but by then simple ballistics were in charge. All she managed was a mid-air twist, and struck the soft wall with her shoulder.
Wings fluttered a little way off, and there was a drawn-out organic sound, a sound that conveyed the idea that a slaughterhouse man was having some difficulty with a tricky bit of gristle.
"You know, sergeant," said the voice of Sally, as if nothing had happened, "you werewolves have it easy. You stay one thing and you don"t have any problems with body mass. Do you know how many bats I have to become for my bodyweight? More than a hundred and fifty, that"s how many. And there"s always one, isn"t there, that gets lost or flies the wrong way? You can"t think straight unless you get your bats together. And I"m not even going to touch on the subject of reassimilation. It"s like the biggest sneeze you can think of. Backwards."
There was no point in modesty, not down here in the dark. Angua forced herself to change back, every brain cell piling in to outvote tooth and claw. Anger helped.
"Why the hell are you here?" she said, when she had a mouth that worked.
"I"m off duty," said Sally, stepping forward. "I thought I"d see what I could find." She was totally naked.
"You couldn"t have been so lucky!" Angua growled.
"Oh, I don"t have your nose, sergeant," said Sally, with a sweet smile. "But I was using a hundred and fifty-five pretty good flying ones, and they can cover a lot of ground."
"I thought vampires could rematerialize their clothes," said Angua accusingly. "Otto Chriek can!"
"Females can"t. We don"t know why. It"s probably part of the whole underwired nightdress business. That"s where you score again, of course. When you"re in one hundred and fifty bat bodies it"s quite hard to remember to keep two of them carrying a pair of pants." Sally looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "Look, I can see where this is going. It"s going to be about Captain Carrot, isn"t it ...?,
"I saw the way you were smiling at him!"
"I"m sorry! We can be very personable! It"s a vampire thing!"
"You were so keen to impress him, eh?"
"And you aren"t? He"s the kind of man anyone would want to impress!"
They watched one another warily.
"He is mine, you know," said Angua, feeling the nascent claws strain under her fingernails.
"You"re his, you mean!" said Sally. "You know it works like that. You trail after him!"
"I"m sorry! It"s a werewolf thing!" Angua yelled.
"Hold it!" Sally thrust both hands in front of her in a gesture of peace. "There"s something we"d better sort before this goes any further!"
"Yes. We"re both wearing nothing, we"re standing in what, you may have noticed, is increasingly turning into mud, and we"re squaring up to fight. Okay. But there"s something missing, yes?"
"And that is ... ?"
"A paying audience? We could make a fortune." Sally winked. "Or we could do the job we came here to do?"
Angua forced her body to relax. She should have been saying that. She was the sergeant, wasn"t she?
"All right, all right," she said. "We"re both here, okay? Let"s leave it at that. Were you saying that these dwarfs were killed by some ... thing from the well?"
"Possibly. But if they were, it used an axe," said Sally. "Take a look. Scrape some of the mud away. It"s been oozing over them since I arrived. That"s probably why you missed it," she added generously.
Angua hauled one dwarf out of the shining slime.
"I see," she said, letting the body fall back. "This one hasn"t been dead two days. Not much effort made to hide them, I notice."
"Why bother? They"ve stopped pumping out these tunnels; the props look pretty temporary; the mud"s coming back. Besides, who"d be stupid enough to come down here?"
A piece of wall slithered down, with a sticky, organic, cow-pat sort of noise. Little plops and trickles filled the tunnel. Ankh-Morpork"s underworld was stealthily reclaiming its own.
Angua closed her eyes and concentrated. The slime reek, the vampire"s smell and the water that was now ankle deep all jostled for attention, but this was competition time. She couldn"t let a vampire take the lead. That would be so ... traditional.
"There were other dwarfs," she murmured. "Two - no, three ... er ... four more. I"m getting ... the black oil. Distant blood. Down the tunnel." She stood up so sharply that she nearly hit her head on the tunnel roof. "C"mon!"
"It"s getting a bit unsafe-"
"We could solve this! Come on! You can"t be afraid of dying!" Angua plunged away.
"And you think spending a few thousand years buried in sludge is likely to be fun?" shouted Sally, but she was talking only to dripping mud and fetid air. She hesitated a moment, groaned and followed Angua.
Further along the main tunnel, there were more passages branching off. On either side, rivers of mud, like cool lava, were already flowing out of them. Sally splashed past something that
looked like a huge copper trumpet, turning gently on the current.
The tunnel was better built here than the sections nearer the well. And there at the end of it was a pale light and Angua, crouched by one of the big round dwarf doors. Sally paid her no attention. She barely glanced at the dwarf slumped with his back against the bottom of the door.
Instead, she stared at the symbol scrawled large on the metal. It was big and crude and might be a round, staring eye with a tail, and it gleamed with the greeny-white glow of vurms.
"He wrote it in his blood," said Angua, without looking up. "They left him for dead but he was only dying, you see. He managed to make it to here, but the killers had shut the door. He scratched at it - smell here - and he"s worn away his fingernails. Then he made that sign in his own warm blood and sat here, holding the wound shut, watching the vurms turn up. I"d say he"s been dead for eighteen hours or so. Hmm?"
"I think we should get out of here right now," said Sally, backing away. "Do you know what that sign means?"
"I know it"s mine-sign, that"s all. Do you know what it means?"
"No, but I know it"s one of the really bad ones. It"s not good seeing it here. What"re you doing with that body?" Sally backed away further.
"Trying to find out who he was," said Angua, searching the dwarf"s clothing. "It"s the sort of thing we do in the Watch. We don"t stand around getting worried about drawings on the wall. What"s the problem?"
"Right now?" said the vampire. "He"s ... oozing a bit. .
"If I can stand it, so can you. You see a lot of blood in this job. Don"t attempt to drink it, that"s my advice," said Angua, still rummaging. "Ah ... he"s got a rune necklace. And" - she pulled a hand out of the dead dwarf"s jerkin -"can"t make this out very well, but I can smell ink so it may be a letter. Okay. Let"s get out of here." She looked round at Sally. "Did you hear me?"
"The sign was written by someone dying," said Sally, still keeping her distance.
"Then it"s probably a curse."
"So? We didn"t kill him," said Angua, getting to her feet with some difficulty.
They looked down at the liquid mud now rising to their knees.
"Do you think it cares?" said Sally, matter of factly.
"No, but I think there may be another way out in that last turning we passed," said Angua, looking back along the tunnel.
She pointed. Scuttling along with blind determination, a line of vurms marched across the dripping roof almost as fast as the mud flowed down below. They were heading into the side tunnel in a glowing stream.
Sally shrugged. "It"s worth a try, yes?"
They left, and the sound of their splashing soon died away. Slowly the mud rose, rustling in the gloom. The trail of vurms
gradually disappeared overhead. The vurms that made the sign
remained, though, because such a feast as this was worth dying for. Their glow winked out, one insect at a time.
The darkness beneath the world caressed the sign, which flamed
red and died.
On this day in 1802 the painter Methodia Rascal tried putting the thing under a heap of old sacks, in case it woke up the Chicken, and finished the last troll, using his smallest brush to paint the eyeballs.
It was five a.m. Rain rustled out of the sky, not hard, but with a gentle persistence.
In Sator Square, and in the Plaza of Broken Moons, it hissed on the white ash of the bonfires, occasionally exposing the orange glow, which would briefly sizzle and spit.
A family of gnolls were sniffing around, each one dragging his or her little cart. A few officers were keeping an eye on them. Gnolls weren"t choosy about what they collected, provided it didn"t actually struggle, and even then there were rumours. But they were tolerated. Nothing cleaned up the place like a gnoll.
From here, they looked like little trolls, each with a huge compost heap on its back. That represented everything it owned, and mostly what it owned was rotten.
Sam Vimes winced at the pain in his side. Just his luck. Two coppers injured in the entire damn affair, and he had to be one of them? Igor had done his best, but broken ribs were broken ribs and it"d be a week or two before the suspicious green ointment made much difference.
Still, he enjoyed a bit of a warm glow about the whole thing. They had used good old-fashioned policing, and since good oldfashioned policemen are invariably outnumbered, he"d employed the good old-fashioned police methods of cunning, deceit and any damn weapon you could lay your hands on.
It had hardly been a fight at all. The dwarfs had mostly been sitting and singing gloomy songs because they fell over when they tried to stand up, or had tried to stand up and were now lying down and snoring. The trolls were, on the other hand, mostly upright, but went over when you pushed them. One or two, a little clearer in the head than the others, had put up a ponderous and laughable fight
but had fallen to that most old-fashioned of police methods, the well-placed boot. Well, most of them had. Vimes shifted to ease the aching in his side; he should have seen that one coming.
But all"s well that ends well, eh? No deaths and, just to put a little cherry on the morning cake, he had in his hand an early edition of the Times in which a leading article deplored the gangs stalking the city and wondered if the Watch was "up to the job" of cleaning up the streets.
Well, yes, I think we are, you pompous twerp. Vimes struck a match on a plinth and lit a cigar in recognition of a petty but darkly satisfying triumph. Gods knew they needed one. The Watch had taken a pounding over the whole damn Koom Valley thing, and it was good to hand the lads something to be proud of for a change. All in all, it was definitely a Result
He stared at the plinth. He didn"t remember what statue had once been there. It celebrated generations of graffiti artists now.
A piece of troll graffiti adorned it, obliterating everything done by the artists who used mere paint. He read:
Mine sign, city scrawl, he thought. Things go bad, and people are moved to write on the walls ...
He turned. Captain Carrot, armour gleaming, was hurrying towards him, his face as usual radiating an expression of 100 per cent pure Keen.
"I thought I told every officer not on prisoner duty to get some sleep, captain," said Vimes
"Just clearing up a few things, sir," said Carrot. "Lord Vetinari sent a message down to the Yard. He wants a report. I thought I"d better tell you, sir."
"I was just thinking, captain," said Vimes expansively. "Should we put up a little plaque? Something simple? It could say something like "Battle of Koom Valley Not Fought Here, Grune the 5th, Year of the Prawn." Could we get them to do a bloody stamp? What do you think?"
"I think you need to get some sleep yourself, commander," said Carrot. "And technically, it isn"t Koom Valley Day until Saturday."
"Of course, monuments to battles that didn"t take place might be stretching things a bit, but a stamp-"
"Lady Sybil really worries about you, sir." Carrot broadcast concern.
The fizz in Vimes"s head subsided. As if awakened by the reference to Sybil, the creditors of his body queued up to wave their overdue IOUs; feet: dead tired and in need of a bath; stomach: gurgling; ribs: on fire; back: aching; brain: drunk on its own poisons. Bath, sleep, eat ... good ideas. But still must do things ...
"How"s our Mr Pessimal?" he said.
"Igor"s fixed him up, sir. He"s a bit amazed at all the fuss. Now, I know I can"t order you to go and see his lordship-"
"No, you can"t, because I am a commander, captain," said Vimes, still fuzzily intoxicated on exhaustion.
"-but he can and he has, sir. And your coach will be waiting for you outside the palace when you come out. That"s Lady Sybil"s orders, sir," said Carrot, appealing to higher authority.
Vimes looked up at the ugly bulk of the palace. Suddenly, clean sheets seemed such a sweet idea. "Can"t face him like this," he murmured.
"I had a word with Secretary Drumknott, sir. Hot water, a razor and a big cup of coffee will be waiting in the palace."
"You thought of everything, Carrot. .."
"I hope so, sir. Now off you-"
"But I thought of something, eh?" said Vimes, swaying cheerfully. "Better dead drunk than just dead, eh?"
"It was a classic ruse, sir," said Carrot reassuringly. "One for the history books. Now, off you go, sir. I"m going to have a look for Angua. She hasn"t slept in her bed."
"But at this time of the month-"
"I know, sir. She hasn"t slept in her basket, either.
In a dank cellar that once was an attic and was now half full of mud, the vurms poured out of a small hole where wooden planks had long since rotted away.
A fist punched up. Soggy timber split and crumbled.
Angua pulled herself up into this new darkness, then reached down to help Sally, who said, "Well, here"s another fine mess.
"Let"s hope so," said Angua. "I think we need to go up at least one more level. There"s an archway here. Come on."
There had been too many dead ends, forgotten, stinking rooms and false hopes, and altogether too much slime.
After a while the smell had become almost tangible and then it managed to become just another part of the darkness. The women wandered and scrambled from one dripping, fetid room to another, testing the muddy walls for hidden doors, searching for even a pinprick of light in the ceilings hanging with interesting but horrible growths.
Now, they heard music. Five minutes" wading and slithering brought them to a blocked-in doorway, but since it had been filled using the more modern Ankh-Morpork mortar of sand, horse dung and vegetable peelings, several bricks had already fallen out. Sally removed most of the rest with one punch.
"Sorry about that," she said. "It"s a vampire thing."
The cellar behind the demolished wall had some barrels in it and
looked as if it was regularly used. There was a proper door, too.
Dull, repetitive music filtered down between the boards of the ceil
ing. There was a trap door in them.
"O-kay," said Angua. "There"s people up there, I can smell
"I can count fifty-seven hearts beating," said Sally.
Angua gave her a Look. "You know, that"s one particular talent I"d
keep to myself, if I was you," she said.
"It"s not the sort of thing people want to hear," Angua went on. "I
mean, I personally am quite capable of cracking a man"s skull in my
jaws, but I don"t go around telling everyone."
"I shall make a note of it, sergeant," said Sally, with a meekness
that was quite possibly feigned.
"Good. Now ... what do we look like? Swamp monsters?"
"Yes, sergeant. Your hair looks dreadful. Just like a great lump of
"I"m afraid so."
"And my emergency dress is back down there somewhere," said
Angua. "It"s past dawn, too. Can you, er, go bats now?"
"In daylight? One hundred and fifty-five disorientated bits of me?
No! But you could get out as a wolf, couldn"t you?"
"I"d kind of prefer not to be a slime monster coming through the
floor, if it"s all the same to you," said Angua.
"Yes, I can see that. It does not pay to advertise." Sally flicked away
a lump of ooze. "Ugh, this stuff is foul."
"So the best we can hope for is that when we make a run for it no
one will recognize us," said Angua, pulling a lump of wobbly green
stuff from her hair. "At least we- Oh, no. .."
"What"s wrong?" said Sally.
"Nobby Nobbs! He"s up there! I can smell him!" She pointed
urgently at the boards overhead.
"You mean Corporal Nobbs? The little ... man with the spots?" said Sally.
"We"re not under a Watch House, are we?" said Angua, looking around in panic.
"I don"t think so. Someone"s dancing, by the sound of it. But look, how can you smell one human in the middle of all ... this?"
"It never leaves you, believe me." The smells of old cabbage, acne ointment and non-malignant skin disease became transmuted, in Corporal Nobbs, into a strange odour that lay across the nose like a saw blade on a harp. It wasn"t bad as such, but it was like its host: strange, ubiquitous and hellishly difficult to forget.
"Well, he"s a fellow officer, isn"t he? Won"t he help us?" said Sally.
"We are naked, lance-constable!"
"Only technically. This mud really sticks.
"I mean underneath the mud!" said Angua.
"Yes, but if we had clothes on we"d be naked underneath them, too!" Sally pointed out.
"This is not the time for logic! This is the time for not seeing Nobby grinning at me!"
"But he"s seen you when you"re wolf-shaped, hasn"t he?" said Sally. "So?" snapped Angua.
"Well, technically you"re naked then, aren"t you?"
"Never tell him that!"
Nobby Nobbs, a shadow in the warm red gloom, nudged Sergeant Colon.
"You don"t have to keep your eyes shut, sarge," he said. "It"s all legit.
It"s an artistic celebration of the female body, Tawneee says. Anyway, she"s got clothes on."
"Two tassels and a folded hanky is not clothes, Nobby," said Fred, sinking down in his seat. The Pink PussyCat! Now, fair"s fair, he"d been in the army and Watch and you couldn"t spend all that time in uniform without seeing a thing or two - or three, now he came to recollect - and it was true, as Nobby had pointed out, that the ballerinas down at the opera house didn"t leave a lot to the imagination, at least not to Nobby"s, but when all was said and done ballet had to be Art even though it was a bit short on plinths and urns, on account of being expensive to look at, and moreover ballerinas didn"t whizz around upside down. And the worst of it was, he"d already spotted two people he knew in the audience. Fortunately they hadn"t seen him, which was to say that whenever he"d sneaked a glance their way they were looking in completely the opposite direction.
"Now this bit is really hard," whispered Nobby conversationally.
"Er ... is it?" Fred Colon closed his eyes again.
"Oh, yes. It"s the Triple Corkscrew-"
"Look, don"t the management object to you coming in here?" Fred managed, shifting even further down in his seat.
"Oh, no. They like having a watchman in, "said Nobby, still watching the stage. "They say it makes people behave. Anyway, I only come in so"s I can walk Betty home."
"Betty being - ?"
"Tawneee"s actually only her pole name," Nobby said. "She says no one would be interested in an exotic dancer with a name like Betty. She says it sounds like she"d be better with a bowl of cake mixture."
Colon shut his eyes, trying to banish a mental conjunction of the bronzed lithe figure on stage and a bowl of cake mixture. "I think I could do with a breath of fresh air," he groaned.
"Oh, not yet, sarge. Broccolee"s on next. She can touch the back of her head with her foot, you know-"
"I don"t believe that!" said Fred Colon.
"She can, sarge, I"ve seen-"
"I don"t believe there"s a dancer called Broccoli!"
"Well, she did use to be called Candi, sarge, but then she heard that broccoli is better for you-"
The sound appeared to be coming from under the table.
Nobby stared at Fred Colon, and then looked down. "Yes?" he ventured, with caution.
"This is Sergeant Angua," said the floor.
"Oh?" said Nobby.
"What is this place?" the voice continued.
"The Pink PussyCat Club, sergeant," said Nobby obediently.
"Oh, gods. There was some conversation down below, and then the voice said: "Are there women up there?"
"Yes, sergeant. Er, what are you doing down there, sarge?" "Giving you orders, Nobby," said the voice from below. "Are there women up there?"
"Yes, sarge. Lots."
"Good. Please ask one to come down into the beer cellar. We"ll need a couple of buckets of warm water and some towels, got that?"
Nobby was aware that the musicians had stopped playing and Tawneee had paused in mid drop-and-split. Everyone was listening to the talking floor.
"Yes, sergeant," said Nobby. "I"ve got it."
"And some clean clothes. And" - there was subterranean whispering -"make that several buckets of water. And a scrubbing brush. And a comb. And another comb. And more towels. Oh, and two pairs of shoes, size six and ... four and a half? Really? Okay. And is Fred Colon with you, or is that a stupid question?"
Fred cleared his throat. "I"m here, sergeant," he reported. "But I only came along to-"
"Good. I want to borrow a set of your stripes. I"ve got a bad feeling about the next few hours and I don"t want anyone to forget I"m a sergeant. Got that, the pair of you?"
"It"s full moon," Fred whispered to Nobby, as one man to another, and then he said aloud: "Yes, sergeant. This may take a while-"
"No! It won"t. Because you"ve got a werewolf and a vampire down here, understand? I"m having a really bad hair day and she"s got toothache! We come up in ten minutes looking human or we come up anyway! What?" There was more whispering. "Why a beetroot? Why in gods" names is a girly show likely to contain a beetroot? What? Okay. Will an apple do? Nobby, Lance-Constable Humpeding needs an apple, urgently. Or something else that she can bite. Now, jump to it!"
Coffee was only a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your slightly older self. Vimes drank two cups, and had a wash and at least an attempt at a shave that made him feel quite human if he ignored the sensation that parts of his head were stuffed with warm cotton wool. At last, deciding that he felt as good as it was going to get and could probably handle quite long questions, he was ushered into the Oblong Office of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.
"Ah, commander," said Lord Vetinari, looking up after a considered interval and pushing aside some paperwork. "Thank you for coming. It seems that congratulations are in order. So I am told."
"And why"s that, sir?" said Vimes, putting on his special blank talking-to-Vetinari face.
"Come now, Vimes. Yesterday it looked as if we would be having a species war right in the middle of the city, and suddenly we are not. Those gangs were quite fearsome, I gather."
"Most of "em were asleep or squabbling amongst themselves by the time we arrived, sir. We just had to tidy them away," Vimes volunteered.
"Yes indeed," said Vetinari. "It was quite astonishing, really. Do sit down, by the way. It really is not necessary for you to stand in front of me like a corporal on a charge."