19,679
26.12.2018

“In writing, I think.”

The Librarian swung on. It was slow progress, because there were things he wasn’t keen on meeting. Creatures evolve to fill every niche in the environment, and some of those in the dusty immensity of L-space were best avoided. They were much more unusual than ordinary unusual creatures.

Usually he could forewarn himself by keeping a careful eye on the kickstool crabs that grazed harmlessly on the dust. When they were spooked, it was time to hide. Several times he had to flatten himself against the shelves as a thesaurus thundered by. He waited patiently as a herd of Critters crawled past, grazing on the contents of the choicer books and leaving behind them piles of small slim volumes of literary criticism. And there were other things, things which he hurried away from and tried not to look hard at …

And you had to avoid cliches at all costs.

He finished the last of his peanuts atop a stepladder, which was browsing mindlessly off the high shelves.

The territory definitely had a familiar feel, or at least he got the feeling that it would eventually be familiar. Time had a different meaning in L-space.

There were shelves whose outline he felt he knew. The book titles, while still unreadable, held a tantalising hint of legibility. Even the musty air had a smell he thought he recognised.

He shambled quickly along a side passage, turned the corner and, with only the slightest twinge of disorientation, shuffled into that set of dimensions that people, because they don’t know any better, think of as normal.

He just felt extremely hot and his fur stood straight out from his body as temporal energy gradually discharged.

He was in the dark.

He extended one arm and explored the spines of the books by his side. Ah. Now he knew where he was.

He was home.

He was home a week ago.

It was essential that he didn’t leave footprints. But that wasn’t a problem. He shinned up the side of the nearest bookcase and, under the starlight of the dome, hurried onwards.

Lupine Wonse glared up, red-eyed, from the heap of paperwork on his desk. No-one in the city knew anything about coronations. He’d had to make it up as he went along. There should be plenty of things to wave, he knew that.

“Yes?” he said, abruptly.

“Er, there’s a Captain Vimes to see you,” said the flunkey.

“Vimes of the Watch?”

“Yes, sir. Says it’s of the upmost importance.”

Wonse looked down his list of other things that were also of the utmost importance. Crowning the king, for one thing. The high priests of fifty-three religions were all claiming the honour. It was going to be a scrum. And then there were the crown jewels.

Or rather, there weren’t the crown jewels. Somewhere in the preceding generations the crown jewels had disappeared. A jeweller in the Street of Cunning Artificers was doing the best he could in the time with gilt and glass.

Vimes could wait.

“Tell him to come back another day,” said Wonse.

“Good of you to see us,” said Vimes, appearing in the doorway.

Wonse glared at him.

“Since you’re here . . .” he said. Vimes dropped his helmet on Wonse’s desk in what the secretary thought was an offensive manner, and sat down.

“Take a seat,” said Wonse.

“Have you had breakfast yet?” said Vimes.

“Now really-” Wonse began.

“Don’t worry,” said Vimes cheerfully. “Constable Carrot will go and see what’s hi the kitchens. This chap will show him the way.”

When they had gone Wonse leaned across the drifts of paperwork.

“There had better,” he said, “be a very good reason for-”

“The dragon is back,” said Vimes.

Wonse stared at him for a while.

Vimes stared back.

Wonse’s senses came back from whatever corners they’d bounced into.

“You’ve been drinking, haven’t you,” he said.

“No. The dragon is back. ”

“Now, look-” Wonse began.

“I saw it,” said Vimes flatly.

“A dragon? You’re sure?”

Vimes leaned across the desk. “No! I could be bloody mistaken!” he shouted. “It may have been something else with sodding great big claws, huge leathery wings and hot, fiery breath! There must be masses of things like that!”

“But we all saw it killed!” said Wonse.

“I don’t know what we saw!” said Vimes, "But I know what I saw!”

He leaned back, shaking. He was suddenly feeling extremely tired.

“Anyway,” he said, in a more normal voice, “it’s flamed a house in Bitwash Street. Just like the other ones.”

“Any of them get out?”

Vimes put his head in his hands. He wondered how long it was since he’d last had any sleep, proper sleep, the sort with sheets. Or food, come to that. Was it last night, or the night before? Had he ever, come to think of it, ever slept at all in all his life? It didn’t seem like it. The arms of Morpheus had rolled up their sleeves and were giving the back of his brain a right pummelling, but bits were fighting back. Any of them get. . . ?

“Any of who?” he said.

“The people in the house, of course,” said Wonse. “I assume there were people in it. At night, I mean.”

“Oh? Oh. Yes. It wasn’t like a normal house. I think it was some sort of secret society thing,” Vimes managed. Something was clicking in his mind, but he was too tired to examine it.

“Magic, you mean?”

“Dunno,” said Vimes. “Could be. Guys in robes.”

He’s going to tell me I’ve been overdoing it, he said. He’ll be right, too.

“Look,” said Wonse, kindly. “People who mess around with magic and don’t know how to control it, well, they can blow themselves up and-”

“Blow themselves up?”

“And you’ve had a busy few days,” said Wonse soothingly. “If I’d been knocked down and almost burned alive by a dragon I expect I’d be seeing them all the time.”

Vimes stared at him with his mouth open. He couldn’t think of anything to say. Whatever stretched and knotted elastic had been driving him along these last few days had gone entirely limp.

“You don’t think you’ve been overdoing it, do you?” said Wonse.

Ah, thought Vimes. Jolly good.

He slumped forward.

The Librarian leaned cautiously over the top of the bookcase and unfolded an arm into the darkness.

There it was.

His thick fingernails grasped the spine of the book, pulled it gently from its shelf and hoisted it up. He raised the lantern carefully.

No doubt about it. The Summoning of Dragons. Single copy, first edition, slightly foxed and extremely dragoned.

He set the lamp down beside him, and began to read the first page.

“Mmm?” said Vimes, waking up.

“Brung you a nice cup of tea, Cap’n,” said Sergeant Colon. "And a figgin.’

Vimes looked at him blankly.

“You’ve been asleep,” said Sergeant Colon helpfully. “You was spark out when Carrot brought you back.”

Vimes looked around at the now-familiar surroundings of the Yard. “Oh,” he said.

“Me and Nobby have been doing some detector-ing,” said Colon. “You know that house that got melted? Well, no-one lives there. It’s just rooms that get hired out. So we found out who hires them. There’s a caretaker who goes along every night to put the chairs away and lock up. He wasn’t half creating about it being burned down. You know what caretakers are like.”

He stood back, waiting for the applause.

“Well done,” said Vimes dutifully, dunking the figgin into the tea.

“There’s three societies use it,” said Colon. He extracted his notebook. “To wit, viz, The Ankh-Morpork Fine Art Appreciation Society, hem hem, the Morpork Folk-Dance and Song Club, and the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night.”

“Why hem hem?” said Vimes.

“Well, you know. Fine Art. It’s just men paintin’ pictures of young wimmin in the nudd. The altogether,” explained Colon the connoisseur. “The caretaker told me. Some of them don’t even have any paint on their brushes, you know. Shameful.”

There must be a million stories in the naked city, thought Vimes. So why do I always have to listen to ones like these?

“When do they meet?” he said.

“Mondays, 7.30, admission ten pence,” said Colon, promptly. “As for the folk-dance people-well, no problem there. You know you always wondered what Corporal Nobbs does on his evenings off?”

Colon’s face split into a watermelon grin.

“No!” said Vimes incredulously. “Not Nobby?”

“Yep!” said Colon, delighted at the result.

“What, jumping about with bells on and waving his hanky in the air?”

“He says it is important to preserve old folkways,” said Colon.

"Nobby? Mr Steel-toecaps-in-the-groin, I-was-just-checking-the-doorhandle-and-it-opened-all-by-itself ?”

“Yeah! Funny old world, ain’t it? He was very bashful about it.”

“Good grief,” said Vimes.

“It just goes to show, you never can tell,” said Colon. “Anyway, the caretaker said the Elucidated Brethren always leave the place in a mess. Scuffed chalk marks on the floor, he said. And they never put the chairs back properly or wash out the tea urn. They’ve been meeting a lot lately, he said. The nuddy wimmin painters had to meet somewhere else last week.”

“What did you do with our suspect?” said Vimes.

“Him? Oh, he done a runner, Captain,” said the sergeant, looking embarrassed.

“Why? He didn’t look in any shape to run anywhere.”

“Well, when we got back here, we sat him down by the fire and wrapped him up because he kept on shivering,” said Sergeant Colon, as Vimes buckled his armour on.

“I hope you didn’t eat his pizzas.”

“Errol et ’em. It’s the cheese, see, it goes all-”

“Goon.”

“Well,” said Colon awkwardly, “he kept on shivering, sort of thing, and groaning on about dragons and that. We felt sorry for him, to tell the truth. And then he jumps up and runs out of the door for no reason at all.”

Vimes glanced at the sergeant’s big, open, dishonest face.

“No reason?” he prompted.

“Well, we decided to have a bite, so I sent Nobby out to the baker’s, see, and, well, we fought the prisoner ought to have something to eat . . .”

“Yes?” said Vimes encouragingly.

“Well, when Nobby asked him if he wanted his figgin toasted, he just give a scream and ran off.”

“Just that?” said Vimes. “You didn’t threaten him in any way?”

“Straight up, Captain. Bit of a mystery, if you ask me. He kept going on about someone called Supreme Grand Master.”

“Hmm.” Vimes glanced out of the window. Grey fog lagged the world with dim light. “What time is it?” he said.

“Five of the clock, sir.”

“Right. Well, before it gets dark-”

Colon gave a cough. “In the morning, sir. This is tomorrow, sir.”

“You let me sleep all day?”

“Didn’t have the heart to wake you up, sir. No dragon activity, if that’s what you’re thinking. Dead quiet all round, in fact.”