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Men at Arms

Men at Arms

Men at Arms 34

Page 34

 

  I really couldnt say.

  Hes got a present for you.

  Angua risked a glance. Gaspode was holding, but only just, a very large bone in his mouth. It was wider than he was long, and might have belonged to something that died in a tar pit. It was green and furry in places.

  How nice, she said, coldly. Look, you go on. Let me see what I can do . . .

  If youre sure . . . Carrot began, in a reluctant tone of voice.

  Yes.

  When hed gone Angua headed for the nearest alley. There were only a few minutes to moonrise.

  Sergeant Colon saluted when Carrot came back, frowning in thought.

  We can go home now, sir? he suggested.

  What? Why?

  Now its all sorted out?

  I just said that to waylay suspicion, said Carrot.

  Ah. Very clever, said the sergeant quickly. Thats what I thought. Hes saying that to waylay suspicion, I thought.

  Theres still a murderer out there somewhere. Or something worse.

  Carrot ran his gaze over the ill-assorted soldiery.

  But right now I think were going to have to sort out this business with the Day Watch, he said.

  Er. People say its practically a riot up there, said Colon.

  Thats why weve got to sort it out.

  Colon bit his lip. He was not, as such, a coward. Last year the city had been invaded by a dragon and hed actually stood on a rooftop and fired arrows at it while it was bearing down on him with its mouth open, although admittedly hed had to change his underwear afterwards. But that had been simple. A great big fire-breathing dragon was straightforward. There it was, right in front of you, about to broil you alive. That was all you had to worry about. Admittedly, it was a lot to worry about, but it was . . . simple. It wasnt any kind of mystery.

  Were going to have to sort it out? he said.

  Yes.

  Oh. Good. I like sorting things out.

  Foul Ole Ron was a Beggars Guild member in good standing. He was a Mutterer, and a good one. He would walk behind people muttering in his own private language until they gave him money not to. People thought he was mad, but this was not, technically, the case. It was just that he was in touch with reality on the cosmic level, and had a bit of trouble focusing on things smaller, like other people, walls and soap (although on very small things, such as coins, his eyesight was Grade A).

  Therefore he was not surprised when a handsome young woman streaked past him and removed all her clothes. This sort of thing happened all the time, although up until now only on the inner side of his head.

  Then he saw what happened next.

  He watched as the sleek golden shape streaked away.

  I told em! I told em! I told em! he said. Til give em the wrong end of a ragmans trumpet, so I shall. Bugrem. Millennium hand and shrimp! I told em!

  Gaspode wagged what was technically a tail when Angua re-emerged.

  “Change into fomefing more fuitable”, he said, his voice slightly muffled by the bone. Good one. I brung you thif little token—

  He dropped it on the cobbles. It didnt look any better to Anguas lupine eyes.

  What for? she said.

  Stuffed with nourishin marrowbone jelly, that bone, he said accusingly.

  Forget it, said Angua. Now, how do you normally get into the Assassins Guild?

  And maybe afterwards we could kind of hang out in the middens along Phedre Road? said Gaspode, his stump of a tail still thumping the ground. Theres rats along there thatll make your hair stand on—No, all right, forget I mentioned it, he finished quickly, when fire flashed for a moment in Anguas eyes.

  He sighed.

  Theres a drain by the kitchens, he said.

  Big enough for a human?

  Not even for a dwarf. But it wont be worth it. Its spaghetti tonight. You dont get many bones in spaghetti—

  Come on.

  He limped along.

  That was a good bone, he said. Hardly even started going green. Hah! I bet you wouldnt say no to a box of chocolates from Mr Hunk, though.

  He cringed as she rounded on him.

  What are you talking about?

  Nothing! Nothing!

  He trailed after her, whining.

  Angua wasnt happy, either. It was always a problem, growing hair and fangs every full moon. Just when she thought shed been lucky before, shed found that few men are happy in a relationship where their partner grows hair and howls. Shed sworn: no more entanglements like that.

  As for Gaspode, he was resigning himself to a life without love, or at least any more than the practical affection experienced so far, which had consisted of an unsuspecting chihuahua and a brief liaison with a postmans leg.

  The No. 1 powder slid down the folded paper into the metal tube. Blast Vimes! Whod have thought hed actually head for the opera house? Hed lost a set of rubes up there. But there were still three left, packed neatly in the hollow stock. A bag of No. 1 powder and a rudimentary knowledge of lead casting was all a man needed to rule the city . . .

  The gonne lay on the table. There was a bluish sheen to the metal. Or, perhaps, not so much a sheen as a glisten. And, of course, that was only the oil. You had to believe it was only the oil. It was clearly a thing of metal. It couldnt possibly be alive.

  And yet . . .

  And yet . . .

  They say it was only a beggar girl in the Guild.

  Well ? What of it ? She was a target of opportunity. That was not my fault. That was your fault. I am merely the gonne. Gonnes dont kill people. People kill people.

  You killed Hammerhock! The boy said you fired yourself! And hed repaired you!

  You expect gratitude? He would have made another gonne.

  Was that a reason to kill him?

  Certainly. You have no understanding.

  Was the voice in his head or in the gonne? He couldnt be certain. Edward had said there was a voice . . . it said that everything you wanted, it could give you . . .

  Getting into the Guild was easy for Angua, even through the angry crowds. Some of the Assassins, the ones from noble homes that had big floppy dogs around the place in the same way that lesser folk have rugs, had brought a few with them. Besides, Angua was pure pedigree. She drew admiring glances as she trotted through the buildings.

  Finding the right corridor was easy, too. Shed remembered the view from the Guild next door, and counted the number of floors. In any case, she didnt have to look hard. The reek of fireworks hung in the air all along the corridor.

  There was a crowd of Assassins in the corridor, too. The door of the room had been forced open. As Angua peered around the corner she saw Dr Cruces emerge, his face suffused with rage.

  Mr Downey?

  A white-haired Assassin drew himself to attention.

  Sir?

  I want him found!

  Yes, doctor—

  In fact I want him inhumed! With Extreme Impoliteness! And Im setting the fee at ten thousand dollars – I shall pay it personally, you understand? Without Guild tax, either.

  Several Assassins nonchalantly strolled away from the crowd. Ten thousand untaxed dollars was good money.

  Downey looked uncomfortable. Doctor, I think—

  Think? Youre not paid to think! Heaven knows where the idiot has got to. I ordered the Guild searched! Why didnt anyone force the door?

  Sorry, doctor, Edward left us weeks ago and I didnt think—

  You didnt think? What are you paid for?

  Never seen him in such a temper, said Gaspode.

  There was a cough behind the chief Assassin. Dr Whiteface had emerged from the room.

  Ah, doctor, said Dr Cruces. I think perhaps wed better go and discuss this further in my study, yes?

  I really am most terribly sorry, my lord—

  Dont mention it. The little . . . devil has made us both 2. 80 look like fools. Oh . . . nothing personal, of course. Mr Downey, the Fools a
nd the Assassins will be guarding this hole until we can get some masons in tomorrow. No-one is to go through, you understand?

  Yes, doctor.

  Very well.

  Thats Mr Downey, said Gaspode, as Dr Cruces and the chief clown disappeared down the corridor. Number two in the Assassins. He scratched his ear. Hed knock off old Cruces for tuppence if it wasnt against the rules.

  Angua trotted forward. Downey, who was wiping his forehead with a black handkerchief, looked down.

  Hello, youre new, he said. He glanced at Gaspode. And the mutts back, I see.

  Woof, woof, said Gaspode, his stump of a tail thump-ing the floor. Incidently, he added for Anguas benefit, hes often good for a peppermint if you catch him in the right mood. Hes poisoned fifteen people this year. Hes almost as good with poisons as old Cruces.

  Do I need to know that? said Angua. Downey patted her on the head.

  Oh, Assassins shouldnt kill unless theyre being paid. Its these little tips that make all the difference.

  Now Angua was in a position to see the door. There was a name written on a piece of card stuck in a metal bracket.

  Edward dEath.

  Edward dEath, she said.

  Theres a name that tolls a bell, said Gaspode. Family used to live up Kingsway. Used to be as rich as Creosote.

  Who was Creosote?

  Some foreign bugger who was rich.

  Oh.

  But great-grandad had a terrible thirst, and grandad chased anything in a dress, his dress, you understand, and old dEath, well, he was sober and clean but lost the rest of the family money on account of having a blind spot when it came to telling the difference between a one and an eleven.

  I cant see how that loses you money.

  It does if you think you can play Cripple Mr Onion with the big boys.

  The werewolf and the dog padded back down the corridor.

  Do you know anything about Master Edward? said Angua.

  Nope. The house was flogged off recently. Family debts. Havent seen him around.

  Youre certainly a mine of information, she said.

  I gets around. No-one notices dogs. Gaspode wrinkled his nose. It looked like a withered truffle. Blimey. Stinks of gonne, doesnt it.

  Yes. Something odd about that, said Angua.

  What?

  Something not right.

  There were other smells. Unwashed socks, other dogs, Dr Whitefaces greasepaint, yesterdays dinner – the scents filled the air. But the firework smell of what Angua was now automatically thinking of as the gonne wound around everything else, acrid as acid.

  Whats not right?

  Dont know . . . maybe its the gonne smell . . .

  Nah. That started off here. The gonne was kept here for years.

  Right. OK. Well, weve got a name. It might mean something to Carrot—

  Angua trotted down the stairs.

  Scuse me . . . said Gaspode.

  Yes?

  How can you turn back into a woman again?

  I just get out of the moonlight and . . . concentrate. Thats how it works.

  Cor. Thats all?

  If its technically full moon I can Change even during the day if I want to. I only have to Change when Im in the moonlight.

  Get away? What about wolfbane?

  Wolfbane? Its a plant. A type of aconite, I think. What about it?

  Dont it kill you?

  Look, you dont have to believe everything you hear about werewolves. Were human, just like everyone else. Most of the time, she added.

  By now they were outside the Guild and heading for the alley, which indeed they reached, but it lacked certain important features that it had included when they were last there. Most notable of these was Anguas uniform, but there was also a world shortage of Foul Ole Ron.

  Damn.

  They looked at the empty patch of mud.

  Got any other clothes? said Gaspode.