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26.12.2018

Zlorf took the proffered beer.

“So?” he said. “I’ll kill him. Then you rob him. Is he that funny looking one over there?”

“Yes.”

Zlorf stared at Twoflower, who grinned at him.

He shrugged. He seldom wasted time wondering why people wanted other people dead. It was just a living. “Who is your client, may I ask?” said Ymor.

Zlorf held up a hand. “Please!” he protested. “Professional etiquette.”

“Of course. By the way-“

“Yes?”

“I believe I have a couple of guards outside-“

“Had.”

“And some others in the doorway across the street-“

“Formerly.”

“And two bowmen on the roof.”

A flicker of doubt passed across Zlorf’s face, like the last shaft of sunlight over a badly ploughed field. The door flew open, badly damaging the assassin who was standing beside it.

“Stop doing that!” shrieked Broadman, from under his table.

Zlorf and Ymor stared up at the figure on the threshold. It was short, fat and richly dressed. Very richly dressed. There were a number of tall, big shapes looming behind it. Very big, threatening shapes.

“Who’s that?” said Zlorf.

“I know him,” said Ymor. “His name’s Rerpf. He runs the Groaning Platter tavern down by Brass Bridge. Stren – remove him.”

Rerpf held up a beringed hand. Stren Withel hesitated halfway to the door as several very large trolls ducked under the doorway and stood on either side of the fat man, blinking in the light. Muscles the size of melons bulged in forearms like flour sacks. Each troll held a double-headed axe. Between thumb and forefinger.

Broadman erupted from cover, his face Suffused with rage.

“Out!” he screamed. “Get those trolls out of here!” No-one moved. The room was suddenly quiet.

Broadman looked around quickly. It began to dawn on him just what he had said, and to whom. A whimper escaped from his lips, glad to be free. He reached the doorway to his cellars just as one of the trolls, with a lazy flick of one ham-sized hand, sent his axe whirling across the room. The slam of the door and its subsequent

splitting as the axe hit it merged into one sound.

“Bloody hell!” exclaimed Zlorf Flannelfoot.

“What do you want?” said Ymor.

“I am here on behalf of the Guild of Merchants and Traders,” said Rerpf evenly. “to protect our interests, you might say. Meaning the little man.”

Ymor wrinkled his brows.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought I heard you say the Guild of Merchants?”

“And traders,” agreed Rerpf. Behind him now, in addition to more trolls, were several humans that Ymor vaguely recognized. He had seen them, maybe, behind counters and bars. Shadowy figures, usually -easily ignored, easily forgotten. At the back of his mind a bad feeling began to grow. He thought about how it might be to be, say, a fox confronted with an angry sheep. A sheep, moreover, that could afford to employ wolves.

“How long has this – Guild – been in existence, may I ask?” he said.

“Since this afternoon,” said Rerpf. “I’m viceguildmaster in charge of tourism, you know.”

“What is this tourism of which you Speak?”

“Uh -we are not quite sure…” said Rerpf. An old bearded man poked his head over the guildmaster’s shoulder and cackled, “speaking on behalf of the winesellers of Morpork, Tourism means Business See?”

“Well?” said Ymor coldly.

“Well,” said Rerpf, “we’re protecting our interests, like I said.”

“Thieves OUT, Thieves OUT!” cackled his elderly companion. Several others took up the chant. Zlorf grinned. “and assassins,” chanted the old man. Zlorf growled.

“Stands to reason,” said Rerpf. “People robbing and murdering all over the place, what sort of impression are visitors going to take away? You come all the way to see our fine city with its many points of historical and civic interest, also many quaint customs, and you wake up dead in some back alley or as it might be floating down the Ankh, how are you going to tell all your friends what a great time you’re having? Let’s face it, you’ve got to move with the times.”

Zlorf and Ymor met each other’s gaze.

“We have, have we?” said Ymor.

“Then let us move, brother,” agreed Zlorf. In one movement he brought his blowgun to his mouth and sent a dart hissing towards the nearest troll. It spun around, hurling its axe, which whirred over the assassin’s head and buried itself in a luckless thief behind him.

Rerpf ducked, allowing a troll behind him to raise its huge iron crossbow and fire a spear-length quarrel into the nearest assassin. That was the start…

It has been remarked before that those who are sensitive to radiations in the far octarine – the eighth colour, the pigment of the imagination- can see things that others cannot.

Thus it was that Rincewind, hurrying through the crowded, flare-lit evening bazaars of Morpork. With the luggage trundling behind him, jostled a tall dark figure, turned to deliver a few suitable curses, and beheld Death.

It had to be Death. No-one else went around with empty eye sockets and, of course, the scythe over one shoulder was another clue. As Rincewind stared in horror a courting couple, laughing at some private joke, walked straight through the apparition without appearing to notice it.

Death, insofar as it was possible in a face with no movable features, looked surprised.

RINCEWIND? Death said, in tones as deep and heavy as the slamming of leaden doors, far underground.

“Um,” said Rincewind, trying to back away from that eyeless stare.

BUT WHY ARE YOU HERE? (Boom, boom went crypt lids, in the worm-haunted fastnesses under old mountains…)

“Um, why not?” said Rincewind. “Anyway, I’m sure you’ve got lots to do, so if you’ll just-“

I WAS SURPRISED THAT YOU JOSTLED ME, RINCEWIND. FOR I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THEE THIS VERY NIGHT.

“Oh no, not-“

OF COURSE, WHAT’S SO BLOODY VEXING ABOUT THE WHOLE BUSINESS IS THAT I WAS EXPECTING TO MEET THEE IN PSEUDOPOLIS.

“But that’s five hundred miles away!”

YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME, THE WHOLE SYSTEM’S GOT SCREWED UP AGAIN. I CAN SEE THAT. LOOK THERE’S NO CHANCE OF YOU-?

Rincewind backed away, hands spread protectively in front of him. The dried fish salesman on a nearby stall watched this madman with interest.

I COULD LEND YOU A VERY FAST HORSE. IT WON’T HURT A BIT.

“No!” Rincewind turned and ran. Death watched him go and shrugged bitterly.

SOD YOU, THEN, Death said. He turned, and noticed the fish salesman. With a snarl Death reached out a bony finger and stopped the man’s heart, but he didn’t take much pride in it.

Then Death remembered what was due to happen later that night. It would not be true to say that Death smiled, because in any case His features were perforce frozen in a calcareous grin. But He hummed a little tune, cheery as a plague pit, and pausing only to extract the life from a passing mayfly, and one-ninth of the lives from a cat cowering under the fish stall (all cats can see into the octarine)

– Death turned on His heel and set off towards the Broken Drum.

Short Street, Morpork, is in fact one of the longest in the city. Filigree Street crosses its turnwise end in the manner of the crosspiece of a T, and the Broken Drum is so placed that it looks down the full length of the street.

At the furthermost end of Short Street a dark oblong rose on hundreds of tiny legs, and started to run. At first it moved at no more than a lumbering trot, but by the time it was halfway up the street it was moving arrow-fast…

A darker shadow inched its way along one of the walls of the Drum, a few yards from the two trolls who were guarding the door. Rincewind was sweating. If they heard the faint clinking of the specially-prepared bags at his belt…

One of the trolls tapped his colleague on the shoulder, producing a noise like two pebbles being knocked together. He pointed down the starlit street…

Rincewind darted from his hiding place, turned, and hurled his burden through the Drum’s nearest window.

Withel saw it arrive. The bag arced across the room, turning slowly in the air, and burst on the edge of a table. A moment later gold coins were rolling across the floor, spinning, glittering.

The room was suddenly silent, save for the tiny noises of gold and the whimpers of the wounded. With a curse Withel despatched the assassin he had been fighting. “It’s a trick!” he screamed. “No-one move!”

Three score men and a dozen trolls froze in mid-grope.

Then, for the third time, the door burst open. Two trolls hurried through it, slammed it behind them dropped the heavy bar across it and fled down the stairs.

Outside there was a sudden crescendo of running feet. And, for the last time, the door opened. In fact it exploded, the great wooden bar being hurled far across the room and the frame itself giving way. Door and frame landed on a table, which flew into splinters. It was then that the frozen fighters noticed that there was something else in the pile of wood. It was a box, shaking itself madly to free itself of the smashed timber around it.

Rincewind appeared in the ruined doorway hurling another of his gold grenades. It smashed into a wall, showering coins.

Down in the cellar Broadman looked up, muttered to himself, and carried on with his work. His entire spindlewinter’s supply of candles had already been strewn on the floor, mixed with his store of kindling wood. Now he was attacking a barrel of lamp oil. “inn-sewer-ants” he muttered. Oil gushed out and swirled around his feet.

Withel stormed across the floor, his face a mask of rage. Rincewind took careful aim and caught the thief full in the chest with a bag of gold. But now Ymor was shouting, and pointing an accusing finger. A raven swooped down from its perch in the rafters and dived at the wizard, talons open and gleaming.

It didn’t make it. At about the halfway point the Luggage leapt from its bed of splinters, gaped briefly in mid-air, and snapped shut.

It landed lightly. Rincewind saw its lid open again, slightly. Just far enough for a tongue, large as a palm leaf, red as mahogany, to lick up a few errant feathers.

At the same moment the giant candlewheel fell from the ceiling, plunging the room into gloom. Rincewind, coiling himself like a spring, gave a standing jump and grasped a beam, swinging himself up into the relative safety of the roof with a strength that amazed him.

“Exciting, isn’t it?” said a voice by his ear.

Down below, thieves, assassins, trolls and merchants all realised at about the same moment that they were in a room made treacherous of foothold by gold coins and containing something, among the suddenly menacing shapes in the semi-darkness, that was absolutely horrible. As one they made for the door, but had two dozen different recollections of its exact position.

High above the chaos Rincewind stared at Twoflower.

“Did you cut the lights down?” he hissed.

“Yes.”

“How come you’re up here?”

“I thought I’d better not get in everyone’s way-“