19,691
26.12.2018

They’d try nothing fancy this time round. Somewhere inconspicuous…

Around him the Brethren were chanting what each man considered, according to his lights, to be something mystical. The general effect was actually quite good, if you didn’t listen to the words.

The words. Oh, yes…

He looked down, and spoke them aloud.

Nothing happened.

He blinked.

When he opened his eyes again he was in a dark alley, his stomach was full of fire, and he was very angry.

It was about to be the worst night of his life for Zebbo Mooty, Thief Third Class, and it wouldn’t have made him any happier to know that it was also going to be the last one. The rain was keeping people indoors, and he was way behind on his quota. He was, therefore, a little less cautious than he might otherwise have been.

In the night time streets of Ankh-Morpork caution is an absolute. There is no such thing as moderately cautious. You are either very cautious, or you are dead. You might be walking around and breathing, but you’re dead, just the same.

He heard the muffled sounds coming from the nearby alley, slid his leather-bound cosh from his sleeve, waited until the victim was almost turning the corner, sprang out, said “Oh, shi-” and died.

It was a most unusual death. No-one else had died like that for hundreds of years.

The stone wall behind him glowed cherry red with heat, which gradually faded into darkness.

He was the first to see the Ankh-Morpork dragon. He derived little comfort from knowing this, however, because he was dead.

“-t, ” he said, and his disembodied self looked down at the small heap of charcoal which, he knew with an unfamiliar sort of certainty, was what he had just been disembodied from. It was a strange sensation, seeing your own mortal remains. He didn’t find it as horrifying as he would have imagined if you’d asked him, say, ten minutes ago. Finding that you are dead is mitigated by also finding that there really is a you who can find you dead.

The alley opposite was empty again.

“That was really strange, ” said Mooty.

extremely unusual, certainly.

“Did you see that? What was it?” Mooty looked up at the dark figure emerging from the shadows. “Who’re you, anyway?” he added suspiciously.

guess, said the voice.

Mooty peered at the hooded figure.

“Cor!” he said. “I thought you dint turn up for the likes o’me. ”

I TURN UP FOR EVERYONE.

“I mean in… person, sort of thing. ”

sometimes. on special occasions.

“Yeah, well, ” said Mooty, “this is one of them, all right! I mean, it looked like a bloody dragon! What’s a man to do? You don’t expect to find a dragon around the corner!”

and now, if you would care to step this way … said Death, laying a skeletal hand on Mooty’s shoulder.

“Do you know, a fortune teller once told me I’d die in my bed, surrounded by grieving greatgrandchildren, ” said Mooty, following the stately figure. “What do you think of that, eh?”

I THINK SHE WAS WRONG.

“A bloody dragon, ” said Mooty. “Fire breathing, too. Did I suffer much?”

NO. IT WAS PRACTICALLY INSTANTANEOUS.

“That’s good. I wouldn’t like to think I’d suffered much. ” Mooty looked around him. “What happens now?” he said.

Behind them, the rain washed the little heap of black ash into the mud.

The Supreme Grand Master opened his eyes. He was lying on his back. Brother Dunnykin was preparing to give him the kiss of life. The mere thought was enough to jerk anyone from the borders of consciousness.

He sat up, trying to shed the feeling that he weighed several tons and was covered in scales.

“We did it, ” he whispered. “The dragon! It came! I felt it!”

The Brethren glanced at one another.

“We never saw nothing, ” said Brother Plasterer.

“I might of seen something, ” said Brother Watch-tower loyally.

“No, not here, ” snapped the Supreme Grand Master. “You hardly want it to materialise here, do you? It was out there, in the city. Just for a few seconds… ”

He pointed. “Look!”

The Brethren turned around guiltily, expecting at any moment the hot flame of retribution.

In the centre of the circle the magic items were gently crumbling to dust. Even as they watched, Brother Dunnykin’s amulet collapsed.

“Sucked dry, ” whispered Brother Fingers. “I’ll be damned!”

“Three dollars that amulet cost me, ” muttered Brother Dunnykin.

“But it proves it works, ” said the Supreme Grand Master. “Don’t you see, you fools? It works! We can summon dragons!”

“Could be a bit expensive in magical items, ” said Brother Fingers doubtfully.

“-three dollars, it was. No rubbish-”

“Power, ” growled the Supreme Grand Master, “does not come cheap. ”

“Very true, ” nodded Brother Watchtower. “Not cheap. Very true. ” He looked at the little heap of exhausted magic again. “Cor, ” he said. "We did it,

though, dint we! We only went and bloody well did some magic, right?"

“See?” said Brother Fingers. “I tole you there was nothin’ to it. ”

“You all did exceptionally well, ” said the Supreme Grand Master encouragingly.

“-should’ve been six dollars, but he said he’d cut his own throat and sell it me for three dollars-”

“Yeah, ” said Brother Watchtower. “We got the hang of it all right! Dint hurt a bit. We done real magic! And dint get et by tooth fairies from out of the woodwork either, Brother Plasterer, I couldn’t help noticing. ”

The other Brethren nodded. Real magic. Nothing to it. Everyone had just better watch out.

“Hang on, though, ” said Brother Plasterer. “Where’s this dragon gone? I mean, did we really summon it or not?”

“Fancy you asking a silly question like that, ” said Brother Watchtower doubtfully.

The Supreme Grand Master brushed the dust off his mystic robe.

“We summoned it, ” he said, “and it came. But only as long as the magic lasted. Then it went back. If we want it to stay longer, we need more magic. Understand? And that is what we must get. ”

“-three dollars I shan’t see again in a hurry-”

“Shut up!”

Dearest Father [wrote Carrot] Well, here I am in Ankh-Morpork. It is not like at home. I think it must have changed a bit since Mr Varneshi’s great-grandfather was here. I don’t think people here know Right from Wrong.

I found Captain Vimes in a common ale-house. I remembered what you said about a good dwarf not going into such places, but since he did not come out,

I went in. He was lying with his head on the table. When I spoke to him, he said, pull the other one, kid, it has got bells on. I believe he was the worse for drink. He told me to find a place to stay and report to Sgt Colon at the Watch House tonight. He said, anyone wanting to join the guard needed their head examined.

Mr Varneshi did not mention this. Perhaps it is done for reasons of Hygiene.

I went for a walk. There are many people here. I found a place, it is called The Shades. Then I saw some men trying to rob a young Lady. I set about them. They did not know how to fight properly and one of them tried to kick me in the Vitals, but I was wearing the Protective as instructed and he hurt himself. Then the Lady came up to me and said, ‘ ‘Was I Interested in Bed. I said yes. She took me to where she lived, a boarding house, I think it is called. It is run by a Mrs Palm. The Lady whose purse it was, she is called Reet, said, You should of seen him, there were 3 of them, it was amazing. Mrs Palm said, It is on the house. She said, what a big Protective. So I went upstairs and fell asleep, although it is a very noisy place. Reet woke me up once or twice to say, Do you want anything, but they had no apples. So I have fallen on my Feet, as they say here but, I don’t see how that is possible because, if you fall you fall off your Feet, it is Common Sense.

There is certainly a lot to do. When I went to see the Sgt I saw a place called, The Thieves’ Guild!! I asked Mrs Palm and she said, Of course. She said the leaders of the Thieves in the City meet there. I went to the Watch House and met Sgt Colon, a very fat man, and when I told him about the Thieves’ Guild he said, Don’t be A Idiot. I do not think he is serious. He says, Don’t you worry about Thieves’ Guilds, This is all what you have to do, you walk along the Streets at Night, shouting, It’s Twelve O’clock and All’s Well.

I said, What if it is not all well, and he said, You bloody well find another street.

This is not Leadership.

I have been given some chain mail. It is rusty and not well made.

They give you money for being a guard. It is, 20 dollars a month. When I get it I will send you it.

I hope you are all well and that Shaft #5 is now open. This afternoon I will go and look at the Thieves’ Guild. It is disgraceful. If I do something about it, it will be a Feather in my Cap. I am getting the Hang of how they talk here already. Your loving son, Carrot.

PS. Please give all my love to Minty. I really miss her.

Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, put his hand over his eyes.

“He did what?”

“I was marched through the streets, ” said Urdo van Pew, currently President of the Guild of Thieves, Burglars and Allied Trades. “In broad daylight! With my hands tied together!” He took a few steps towards the Patrician’s severe chair of office, waving a finger.

“You know very well that we have kept within the Budget, ” he said. “To be humiliated like that! Like a common criminal! There had better be a full apology, ” he said, “or you will have another strike on your hands. We will be driven to it, despite our natural civic responsibilities, ” he added.

It was the finger. The finger was a mistake. The Patrician was staring coldly at the finger. Van Pew followed his gaze, and quickly lowered the digit. The Patrician was not a man you shook a finger at unless you wanted to end up being able to count only to nine.

“And you say this was one person?” said Lord Vetinari.

“Yes! That is-” Van Pew hesitated.

It did sound weird, now he came to tell someone.

“But there are hundreds of you in there, ” said the Patrician calmly. “Thick as, you should excuse the expression, thieves. ”

Van Pew opened and shut his mouth a few times. The honest answer would have been: yes, and if anyone had come sidling in and skulking around the corridors it would have been the worse for them. It was the way he strode in as if he owned the place that fooled everyone. That and the fact that he kept hitting people and telling them to Mend their Ways.

The Patrician nodded.

“I shall deal with the matter momentarily, ” he said. It was a good word. It always made people hesitate. They were never quite sure whether he meant he’d deal with it now, or just deal with it briefly. And no-one ever dared ask.

Van Pew backed down.

“A full apology, mark you. I have a position to maintain, ” he added.

“Thank you. Do not let me detain you, ” said the Patrician, once again giving the language his own individual spin.

“Right. Good. Thank you. Very well, ” said the thief.

‘ ‘After all, you have such a lot of work to do, ” Lord Vetinari went on.