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26.12.2018

“Don’t even say it,” warned Colon.

“The best bit is when you stick the knife in and crack the fat and all the browny gold stuff bubbles up,” said Carrot dreamily. “A moment like that is worth a ki-”

“Shutup! Shutup!” shouted Colon. “You’re just- what the hell was that?”

They felt the sudden downdraught, saw the mist above them roll into coils that broke against the house walls. A blast of colder air swept along the street, and was gone.

“It was like something gliding past, up there somewhere,” said the sergeant. He froze. “Here, you don’t think-?”

“We saw it killed, didn’t we?” said Nobby urgently.

“We saw it vanish, ” said Carrot.

They looked at one another, alone and damp in the mist-shrouded street. There could be anything up there. The imagination peopled the dank air with terrible apparitions. And what was worse was the knowledge that Nature might have done an even better job.

“Nah,” said Colon. “It was probably just some . . . some big wading bird. Or something.”

“Isn’t there anything we should do?” said Carrot.

“Yes,” said Nobby. “We should go away quickly. Remember Gaskin.”

“Maybe it’s another dragon,” said Carrot. “We should warn people and-”

“No,” said Sergeant Colon vehemently, “because, Ae, they wouldn’t believe us and, Bee, we’ve got a king now. ‘S his job, dragons.”

“S’right,” said Nobby. “He’d probably be really angry. Dragons are probably, you know, royal animals. Like deer. A man could probably have his tridlins plucked just for thinking about killing one, when there’s a king around.”[17]

“Makes you glad you’re common,” said Colon.

“Commoner,” corrected Nobby.

“That’s not a very civic attitude-” Carrot began. He was interrupted by Errol.

The little dragon came trotting up the middle of the street, stumpy tail high, his eyes fixed on the clouds above him. He went right by the rank without giving them any attention at all.

“What’s up with him?” said Nobby.

A clatter behind them introduced the Ramkin coach.

“Men?” said Vimes hesitantly, peering through the fog.

“Definitely,” said Sergeant Colon.

“Did you see a dragon go past? Apart from Errol?”

“Well, er,” said the sergeant, looking at the other two. “Sort of, sir. Possibly. It might of been.”

“Then don’t stand there like a lot of boobies,” said Lady Ramkin. “Get in! Plenty of room inside!”

There was. When it was built, the coach had probably been the marvel of the day, all plush and gilt and tasselled hangings. Time, neglect and the ripping out of the seats to allow its frequent use to transport dragons to shows had taken their toll, but it still reeked of privilege, style and, of course, dragons.

“What do you think you’re doing?” said Colon, as it rattled off through the fog.

“Wavin’,” said Nobby, gesturing graciously to the billows around them.

“Disgusting, this sort of thing, really,” mused Sergeant Colon. “People goin’ around in coaches like this when there’s people with no roof to their heads.”

“It’s Lady Ramkin’s coach,” said Nobby. “She’s all right.”

“Well, yes, but what about her ancestors, eh? You don’t get big houses and carriages without grindin’ the faces of the poor a bit.”

“You’re just annoyed because your missus has been embroidering crowns on her undies,” said Nobby.

“That’s got nothing to do with it,” said Sergeant Colon indignantly. “I’ve always been very firm on the rights of man.”

“And dwarf,” said Carrot.

“Yeah, right,” said the sergeant uncertainly. “But all this business about kings and lords, it’s against basic human dignity. We’re all born equal. It makes me sick.”

“Never heard you talk like this before, Frederick,” said Nobby.

"It’s Sergeant Colon to you, Nobby.

“Sorry, Sergeant.”

The fog itself was shaping up to be a real Ankh-Morpork autumn gumbo.* Vimes squinted through it as the droplets buckled down to a good day’s work soaking him to the skin.

“I can just make him out,” he said. “Turn left here.”

“Any ideas where we are?” said Lady Ramkin.

“Business district somewhere,” said Vimes shortly. Errol’s progress was slowing a bit. He kept looking up and whining.

“Can’t see a damn thing above us in the fog,” he said. “I wonder if-”

The fog, as if in acknowledgement, lit up. Ahead of them it blossomed like a chrysanthemum and made a noise like “whoomph”.

“Oh, no,” moaned Vimes. “Not again!”

"Like a pea-souper, only much thicker, fishier, and with things in it you’d probably rather not know about.

“Are the Cups of Integrity well and truly suffused?” intoned Brother Watchtower.

“Aye, suffused full well.”

“The Waters of the World, are they Abjured?”

“Yea, abjured full mightily.”

“Have the Demons of Infinity been bound with many chains?”

“Damn,” said Brother Plasterer, “there’s always something.”

Brother Watchtower sagged. “Just once it would be nice if we could get the ancient and timeless rituals right, wouldn’t it. You’d better get on with it.”

“Wouldn’t it be quicker, Brother Watchtower, if I just did it twice next time?” said Brother Plasterer.

Brother Watchtower gave this some grudging consideration. It seemed reasonable.

“All right,” he said. “Now get back down there with the others. And you should call me Acting Supreme Grand Master, understand?”

This did not meet with what he considered to be a proper and dignified reception among the brethren.

“No-one said anything to us about you being Acting Supreme Grand Master,” muttered Brother Doorkeeper.

“Well, that’s all you know because I bloody well am because Supreme Grand Master asked me to open the Lodge on account of him being delayed with all this coronation work,” said Brother Watchtower haughtily. “If that doesn’t make me Acting Supreme Grand bloody Master I’d like to know what does, all right?”

“I don’t see why,” muttered Brother Doorkeeper. “You don’t have a grand title like that. You could just be called something like, well . . . Rituals Monitor.”

“Yeah,” said Brother Plasterer. “Don’t see why you should give yourself airs. You ain’t even been taught the ancient and mystic mysteries by monks, or anything.”

“We’ve been hanging around for hours, too,” said Brother Doorkeeper. “That’s not right. I thought we’d get rewarded-”

Brother Watchtower realised that he was losing control. He tried wheedling diplomacy.

“I’m sure Supreme Grand Master will be along directly,” he said. "Let’s not spoil it all now, eh? Lads? Arranging that fight with the dragon and everything, getting it all off right, that was something, wasn’t it? We’ve been through a lot, right? It’s worth waiting just a bit longer, okay?’

The circle of robed and cowled figures shuffled in grudging agreement.

“Okay.”

“Fair enough.”

“Yeah.”

certainly.

“Okay.”

“If you say so.”

It began to creep over Brother Watchtower that something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t quite put a name to it.

“Uh,” he said. “Brothers?”

They, too, shifted uneasily. Something in the room was setting their teeth on edge. There was an atmosphere.

“Brothers,” repeated Brother Watchtower, trying to reassert himself, “we are all here, aren’t we?”

There was a worried chorus of agreement.

“Of course we are.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Yes!”

“Yes.”

There it was again, a subtle wrongness about things that you couldn’t quite put your finger on because your finger was too scared. But Brother Watchtower’s troublesome thoughts were interrupted by a scrabbling sound on the roof. A few nubs of plaster dropped into the circle.

“Brothers?” repeated Brother Watchtower nervously.

Now there was one of those silent sounds, a long, buzzing silence of extreme concentration and just possibly the indrawing of breath into lungs the size of haystacks. The last rats of Brother Watchtower’s self-confidence fled the sinking ship of courage.

“Brother Doorkeeper, if you could just unbolt the dread portal-” he quavered.

And then there was light.

There was no pain. There was no time.

Death strips away many things, especially when it arrives at a temperature hot enough to vaporise iron, and among them are your illusions. The immortal remains of Brother Watchtower watched the dragon flap away into the fog, and then looked down at the congealing puddle of stone, metal and miscellaneous trace elements that was all that remained of the secret headquarters. And of its occupants, he realised in the dispassionate way that is part of being dead. You go through your whole life and end up a smear swirling around like cream in a coffee cup. Whatever the gods’ games were, they played them in a damn mysterious way.

He looked up at the hooded figure beside him.

“We never intended this,” he said weakly. “Honestly. No offence. We just wanted what was due to us.”

A skeletal hand patted him on the shoulder, not unkindly.

And Death said, congratulations.

Apart from the Supreme Grand Master, the only Elucidated Brother to be away at the time of the dragon was Brother Fingers. He’d been sent out for some pizzas. Brother Fingers was always the one sent out for takeaway food. It was cheaper. He’d never bothered to master the art of paying for things.

When the guards rolled up just behind Errol, Brother Fingers was standing with a stack of cardboard boxes in his hands and his mouth open.

Where the dread portal should have been was a warm melted patch of assorted substances.

“Oh, my goodness,” said Lady Ramkin.

Vimes slid down from the coach and tapped Brother Fingers on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, “did you by any chance see what-”

When Brother Fingers turned towards him his face was the face of a man who has hang-glided over the entrance to Hell. He kept opening and shutting his mouth but no words were coming out.

Vimes tried again. The sheer terror frozen in Brother Fingers’s expression was getting to him.

“If you would be so kind to accompany me to the Yard,” said Vimes, “I have reason to believe that you-” He hesitated. He wasn’t entirely certain what it was that he had reason to believe. But the man was clearly guilty. You could tell just by looking at him. Not, perhaps, guilty of anything specific. Just guilty in general terms.

“Mmmmmuh,” said Brother Fingers.

Sergeant Colon gently lifted the lid of the top box.

“What do you make of it, Sergeant?” said Vimes, stepping back.

“Er. It looks like a Klatchian Hots with anchovies, sir,” said Sergeant Colon knowledgeably.