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Everywhere, words have real power. Perhaps not the cosmic power ascribed to them by dwarfs (although it's difficult to tell), but one word in the right place at the right time can alter how things are perceived; it can open minds, close them, drive them mad, or keep them sane. A single word can start a war, and a single word can end it[*] (Editor’s note: yes, that is a freaking footnote in LIVEJOURNAL. Scroll, baby, scroll. Or, fine, we were nice and added code to let you click. CLICK IT.).
Certain words uttered in the right settings by the right people can summon gods or demons or even Death himself. These words have direct magical power, but it's often the case that the ones that don't are the ones that change the world.
"Your name is Emerson Keys, isn't it?" said Carrot as he reentered the Commander's office. He offered his hand in greeting.
"That's me, yessir," said the boy, shaking it. Carrot examined the kid quickly, noting first impressions. Small stature, fair-haired--not blonde exactly, but a very light brown, and wavy--and delicate, almost womanly hands.
"I don't think I've met you before," Carrot continued. Angua had remarked earlier that this was strange; Carrot knew everybody.
"New in town, sir," said Emerson.
"Are you sure you're old enough to be a Watchman?" Carrot was skeptical. It was difficult to determine how old the boy was.
"I'm older than I look." Emerson shrugged. "My mama's always told me being a copper is a respectable job, and I've heard the city is the best place to learn how to be one. I completed the training course, sir," he added reproachfully.
Not ours, though, thought Carrot. The kid had apparently graduated from some school in Genua. Carrot hadn't even known there was a Watch force in Genua--at least not a real one, because most cities had gangs of bullies masquerading as a police force--but then, it was a long way away, and news traveled slowly.
"When can I see the Commander?" said Emerson.
"There's a lot going on right now," said Carrot. "I told him you wanted to meet with him, but I think he considers you pretty low priority." He watched carefully, but Emerson didn't seem to be offended by that, or indeed show much of a reaction at all.
"Should I wait here then?"
Carrot glanced at the clock on the wall. He didn't have time to sit and wait with the boy, and he doubted Mr. Vimes would appreciate a stranger being left alone in his office. "I don't think so. Come with me, Mr. Keys."
Carrot made sure Emerson was following him, then made his way briskly downstairs to the main floor. He glanced around, scoping out who was around. There weren't many people in the Watch house today--there was so much going on that even with everyone pulling double shifts, there weren't enough Watchmen to go around. He ruled out Constable Visit on the basis that he didn't want to scare the boy off. Sergeant Detritus was there but looked about to leave, and anyway, Detritus wasn't the best candidate for the position of mentor. A door opened to the right and Sergeant Cheery walked in, humming to herself. Carrot's face lit up.
"Cheery!" he said brightly. "We have a new recruit all the way from Genua! He didn't go through the training program here, so show him around, will you? Just take a couple minutes, let him know how we do things, then send him home for the day. He starts tomorrow."
Cheery looked surprised but nodded her agreement and introduced herself to Emerson. Satisfied, Carrot turned.
"I have to go deal with the people in the cells," he told the Watchman at the desk. "If Commander Vimes returns, tell him I'll be back shortly and that I have something to discuss with him."
"Yes, Captain," said the constable. Carrot nodded his acknowledgment, walked over to the steps leading down, and very nearly collided with a wildly unlikely man of the sort for whom there are not enough adjectives in existence. "Interesting" might be a good start, but it was difficult to decide where to go from there.
"Ah," said the man, "I begin to see the obvious flaw in this plan." A petit girl behind him made an exasperated noise.
"You must be the Doctor," said Carrot, smiling and holding out his hand. The Doctor shook it, smiling amiably.
"I am indeed," he said. "And you are?"
"Carrot! They're trying to escape! Stop them!" said Sergeant Colon, who was only now making it to the bottom of the stairwell. People like Fred Colon were not built to be sprinters, even if the sprinting distance was only the length of a room.
"Does it look like we're going anywhere at the moment?" snapped an irate-looking young man who Carrot thought was probably Owen Harper (Carrot always did his homework).
"It's all right, I'll take it from here!" said Carrot, waving to Colon. "You and Nobby can get back to your post."
Colon called back an affirmative and Carrot turned his attention back to the group in front of him, smiling pleasantly.
"I'm Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson. I was actually just coming to tell you all that you're free to go," he said.
"Oh really? That's great! We'll be off now, then!" the Doctor said brightly.
"What?" said Owen. "Are you kidding?"
"Now hold on," said Carrot. "Before you run off, I wanted to ask you; do you have a place to stay? You're clearly new to the city...."
The Doctor frowned, tilted his head, and looked thoughtful. "Doctor," Sarah Jane hissed, "we're not staying!"
"Oh now don't be hasty, Sarah Jane. We'll have to stay one night at least! No, Captain, we have not found a place yet. Any recommendations?"
"I know of a place or two that might have rooms open," said Carrot. He motioned for them to follow and strode back out of the stairwell. The Doctor cheerfully followed and, after some glance-exchanging and shrugging, the rest did as well.
"We should head back to the Watch House," said Vimes. "Probably Carrot has released your friends by now, and if we're lucky they've stuck around long enough for us to get back."
"They won't have. The Doctor never sticks around," muttered Donna.
"That's a little confusing, isn't it? He's the Doctor, but you're the doctor," said Vimes, eyeing House. Donna eyed both of them.
"Not really," said House. Vimes raised an eyebrow, clearly expecting more, but House, it seemed, was lost in thought. They turned onto yet another long, winding street that looked much the same as all the others--dirty, ancient, and containing a wealth of strange folk milling about. Donna took in everything, trying to memorize the route.
When it became clear that nothing more was forthcoming from House, Vimes didn't bother to push it, seemingly content to let the conversation lapse into silence. Donna hadn't known either of them long at all, but she thought it quite clear that they were made from the same mold. She approved of them both, which was rare, but she couldn't stick around.
The walk back to the Watch House wasn't far and Donna needed an escape route before they got there as she had to keep track of even more people. There were definitely some things she wanted to check out about this place, and if she knew the Doctor--and she thought she did even though his face was different at the moment--they wouldn't be leaving anytime soon. She had a good sense of direction and there would be plenty of time to find them again later.
The chance arrived sooner than she expected in the form of a wide-eyed, slightly twitchy looking man in a copper's uniform. Vimes sighed heavily as he saw the man running down the street towards them.
"Sir! I'm so glad I found you! It was only by the grace of the Great God Om--"
Vimes interrupted him. "Yes, Constable Visit, what is it?"
"Of course it is. What's the matter?"
"There's a commotion down by the Palace, sir! They're sending out the clacks message now! All available officers to report to the Palace!"
"What sort of commotion? Can't Carrot take care of it?"
"Carrot's not around, sir! Busy, sir! They say the Patrician might be in danger!"
"What!" Vimes shouted. "Why didn't you say so?" He took off running in the opposite direction.
"Hey! Wait up! You're not ditching me here!" shouted House as he hobbled off after him with impressive speed. Constable Visit followed after them, and Donna simply stayed there, wondering if they'd notice she wasn't coming. They didn't.
She shrugged her shoulders and surveyed the area. There had to be something more she could do for those poor sick people.... Maybe do a few hours of work in exchange for some food or blankets?
About half a block further up the street was an intersection. She headed towards it, feeling that it was a promising place to begin.
The street she turned onto was lined with peddlers and fruit stands and, feeling pleased with herself, she stopped at the first stall that she liked the look of.
"Excuse me, would you perhaps be willing to--" she began.
"No freebies!" said the frowning man behind the counter.
"I wasn't going to ask for a freebie," said Donna crossly.
"Suuuure, lady. That's what they all say. But lemme tell ya', I can smell a leech when I see one!"
"Look, you terrible little man, that doesn't even make sense! And I wasn't going to ask you to give me anything! How dare you imply such a thing!" She stamped her foot for good measure.
"Just run along before I'm forced to make you go away," the man growled.
Donna was very offended, but she wasn't stupid. She blew a raspberry at the man, turned on her heel, and walked away.
"Honestly," she said to herself. "This place doesn't make an ounce of sense."
She next stopped by a stand apparently selling candles, soap, and other fat-based items, but got a similar reaction. She was stomping away when an older man stopped her and said, "If you don't show them you got coin straight up, they ain't gonna be receptive." He grinned at her, showing a mouth containing only a few brown teeth.
"Uh, thanks," she said, flinching away in disgust. She turned and left without giving him a chance to say anything else. Unfortunately, she wasn't watching where she was going, and she smacked right into a tall woman. "Excuse me," she muttered in a tone that wasn't very polite at all.
"Hello Miss, I'm Constable Sally von Humpeding, and I think you'd better come with me," said the tall woman. Donna finally looked up and noted belatedly that the woman was dressed in a copper uniform.
Christ, are they everywhere or something? she thought to her self. Out loud, she said, "What for?"
"I've been watching you, and you've been acting very suspicious. We've had some unpleasant things happening lately and I'm under orders to bring in anyone suspicious for questioning. I do believe you qualify."
"Oh, no, I am so not doing this again!" Donna darted around the woman and took off as fast as she could, thanking her lucky stars she wasn't wearing tall heels.
"Hey! Come back here!" she heard Constable von Humpeding call as she took chase.
Not many people knew this about Donna, but she was actually quite a fast sprinter. She was no good on the long distances, but she had strong legs that allowed her to make a good dash when she had to. The Doctor had been impressed.
Her good initial burst of speed coupled with the element of surprise meant that Donna was able to turn the nearest corner before the Constable ever got moving.
She leapt over a crack in the road and sprinted forward, then turned the next corner she came across onto another bustling street. She chanced a look behind her and nearly ran into a man wheeling a large cart.
"Sorry!" she shouted behind her as she ran on, dodging people.
"Stop!" she heard the Constable shout from behind her and she picked up another burst of speed, turning two more corners at random.
This wasn't going to last. She could feel herself wearing down already. Oh, buggerall, she thought crossly. She looked about furiously for a place to hide, but for a city full of nooks and crannies, everything seemed surprisingly unsuitable.
She was still running, though slowing down drastically, when something down another street caught her eye. Overwhelmingly curious, she stopped and backtracked.
That's odd, she thought to herself.
The thing she was looking at was a forest, right in the middle of the city. The city didn't seem to mind. Derelict houses and other structures surrounded it and almost seemed to fade into it, as if they suddenly realized they couldn't exist there after all. The bustling crowd seemed to avoid it naturally, without thinking about it, perhaps without even realizing it. None of them were looking at it--in fact, they were looking everywhere but the forest, and they parted naturally in front of Donna so her line of sight was unobstructed, like the sea before Moses.
The forest itself was confusing to the eyes. It appeared to go on forever even though Donna could see where it ended, only a block or so wide. Fog curled out of it and mixed with the natural damp of the city, but instead of the dark, dirty haze that perpetually hung around Ankh-Morpork, it was a cool, light mist., thick but refreshing. Donna imagined she could feel it even from where she stood more than a block away.
The wood was ancient and gnarly, the branches and roots entwined with each other so thickly that she could not see past even the first line of trees.
As the sounds of the city faded the forest appeared to come closer without ever moving, until the stretch of cobble-stoned street between her and it gave off the impression of being no distance at all. Donna thought she could hear sounds emanating from within the forest, a hypnotically pleasing chime-like sound.
At that moment she wanted nothing more than to go to it.
She took a step. Then a voice rang out, shouting at her. She turned to look, and--
Shit! Corporal von Humpeding was sprinting at her. She turned and ran, but this time she didn't get far; the Corporal had gained too much ground and caught her in a flying tackle.
"Oi!" she shouted. "You don't have to try to kill me!"
"You're under arrest!"
"I bloody well am not!"
"Yes you are, I'm arresting you!"
"Look, I've already been arrested once today and that's quite enough."
Sally stood up and Donna followed, wiping the dirt off herself in the process. "I wasn't doing anything wrong anyhow. I was just seeing if I could work for a couple hours in exchange for some food or something."
"I doubt you'd have much luck with that lot. What's this about already having been arrested? Were you part of that big group they brought in earlier?"
"Yes, and I've been released, so kindly stop chasing me all over the place and manhandling me."
"Ah, my apologies. I'm under orders to bring in anyone acting suspiciously, you know," Sally said.
"You've managed to get me completely lost anyway. Where am I?"
"Quarry Lane. Is there somewhere you need to be? I can take you there. You can call me Sally, by the way."
"Well, I suppose I probably should be getting back to the barracks, see how they're doing," said Donna, tapping her chin.
"The barracks? Why there?"
"I'm helping. I'll explain on the way if you like," said Donna in a very no-nonsense tone, and then turned sharply on her heel.
Wilson yelped softly when something small and heavy knocked against his leg.
"Watch it, mister!" said a gruff voice from around waist-height. A bewildered downward look identified the source as an absurdly hairy child mostly encased in iron. Wilson adjusted part of this assessment when angry, beady eyes glared up at him from a face that could not possibly belong to even the most unfortunate child. The entire exchange last less than three seconds, but it left Wilson frozen as the--whatever it was--continued on its way.
"What?-- Sorry?" he managed belatedly.
"I think he's well out of hearing range by now," Archimedes commented mildly. "Good try, though."
"What was that?" Wilson said in a stage-whisper.
Archimedes shrugged. "The world has seen stranger things."
"Yeah? Not much, I expect."
The other man wasn't paying attention anymore and had instead resumed walking down the busy street. Wilson followed. "Look," he said, pointing upwards at a nearly 90 degree angle. Wilson craned his neck and squinted against the sun, which was hot and high in the sky. "What do you suppose that is?" Archimedes was pointing at one of the most illogical structures Wilson had ever seen. It was ridiculously tall and slightly crooked as well, like it was taunting gravity, daring it to try something.
"Wow," Wilson said. Then, feeling that this was perhaps not sufficient, he added, "Looks more like modern art than a building."
"I wonder what's up there?" said Archimedes.
Wilson squinted up at it critically. "You know, I think I'd rather not find out. I can't even imagine the vertigo I would get from such a position," he said. Then he tripped over something. If this is another hairy armored midget I am going to-- to-- I'm going to do something really stupid, he thought as he flung his arms out to stop the onrushing cobblestones. He managed to avoid serious injury , but he banged his elbow pretty badly and by the time he'd regained his bearing a stern-looking woman was standing over him with a raised eyebrow and Archimedes was smiling amicably at her.
He noted that the thing he had tripped over was a very large dog, and this helped to calm him. Dogs were familiar. The dog, which in addition to being very large was also very sleek and dark brown with big, floppy ears. Wilson scrambled to his feet.
"I'm really terribly sorry about that. I'm normally not so spacey, I swear, I've just been a bit distracted lately. Oh, what a cute dog! What's her name?" he said.
"Spot," was all he got in response. He stared.
".... But she doesn't have any." The dog woofed loudly and gruffly.
Wilson gave up and shrugged his shoulders helplessly.
"We're very sorry for causing you trouble, madam," said Archimedes.
"Genevieve!" called an unconventionally handsome man, tall, thin, and perhaps in his early thirties, as he jogged up to the group. The woman put a hand to her forehead and let out the unmistakable sigh of the long-suffering. Wilson felt something of a kinship.
"Yes, Law?" she said. "Where have you been?"
"I must've gotten lost," said the man, switching to a slow gait and adjusting his sunglasses as he approached. "Big city. Who didja find?" He nodded at Wilson and Archimedes.
"Nobody. We had an accident. I were just about to go."
"Ah. Well. Hallo there. My name is Joshua Law. My associate here is Genevieve West, and I mention this because I'm sure she hasn't said a thing." The man turned a blinding smile on them and offered a hand.
Wilson shook it. "Err, James Wilson, and this is Archimedes. We're not from around here," he said nervously.
"What a coincidence! Neither are we," said Law.
"And we really should be on our way," cut in Genevieve, who was already walking in the opposite direction.
"Oh, we're terribly sorry, we don't mean to keep you," said Archimedes. The dog barked once, loudly. Wilson jumped.
"Ah well." Law shrugged and turned to follow her. "It was nice to meet you," he called over his shoulder.
Wilson and Archimedes watched them walk away.
"Well," Archimedes said after a moment, "they were interesting folk."
"Err, yeah," said Wilson. "I must be really tired. I can't seem to keep up with current events well enough. I'm sure I came off as an idiot."
"Now now, it's fine I'm sure. Anyway, we should really be finding the others, shouldn't we?"
"Ah. Right. Um. I have no idea where to even start. I doubt I could even find my way back to the TARDIS at this point."
"This city is like a giant maze, isn't it? Fascinating, though! So advanced."
Wilson glanced around at the ramshackle wooden, thatched buildings and the horse-drawn carriages. "Err, right," he said. "Doesn't seem that much different from where you came from to me."
"Why do you have to stay and chat with every moron who comes into your line of sight?" growled Genevieve as she and Law made their way down a busy street.
"Don't be so uptight, dearie, I was just making conversation. Who knows what I might find out?" said Law off-handedly. He strolled along casually with his hands in his pockets and his sunglasses slipping down his nose, dressed somewhat bizarrely in brightly colored trousers, t-shirt, and vest, with shaggy brown hair that was mostly covered by a forest green beret. Although he was clearly over six feet tall, this was understated by his slightly slouched posture and unassuming, friendly demeanor.
This was all in direct contrast to Genevieve, who cut a severe figure, dressed in greys and dark blues, and also tall but with a ramrod straight back and a no-nonsense expression. She had light curls in her brown, shoulder-length hair, but while on anyone else the style might have worked to soften the overall appearance, on Genevieve it did the opposite. She was beautiful, but the kind of beauty you only dared to admire from a very great distance.
Spot the dog padded along silently next to Genevieve, taking no special notice of her surroundings
"It is not uptight to wish that you would behave for five minutes. We are going to be late now, because of you. This is very important!"
"Hey, hey, you're hardly new anymore. You've been with them for three years now. You don't have to worry so much about making a good impression."
"Not all of us are content with just strolling through life, Law. And not all of us get everything just thrown in our laps. Most of us have to work for it." Genevieve's shoulders were tense and squared. Law sighed.
"Do not ever call me that," Genevieve hissed.
"Whatever, Gen, look--"
"My name is Genevieve. Try it."
"Genevieve, that's way too long a name, you definitely need a cute nickname. I quite like Genny myself. I could call you Vee."
"If you ever call me that you won't live to see the next sunrise."
They turned a corner onto a slightly less populated street that was the quickest route into the heart of the Shades.
"You really need to lighten up, Genevieve. Acting like you have a stick up your ass isn't going to impress the Boss," Law said and adjusted his sunglasses.
"How I act does not concern you in the slightest. And neither does anything I do."
"C'mon, babe, lighten up!"
"I will end you!"
"If you do that, babe, we'll be even later."
Vimes knew he shouldn't, but he felt a thrill as he bolted through the streets. The sun was high in the sky, sweat was pouring down the back of his neck, and the chase was on.
Granted, he wasn't chasing a criminal, but running towards the Patrician's Palace trying to beat the clock and get there in enough time that no harm would come to anyone was almost as good.
He was vaguely aware of House limping along somewhere behind him, shouting for him to wait up, but he considered that the man was resourceful enough to find his own way there. If he wasn't, surely he could at least find his way back to the Watch House.
Vimes leapt over a random beggar and wove his way through the busy streets. When he glanced up he could see the Watch's semaphore towers blinking furiously, and the thrill of the chase rushed through him like a breaking wave, refreshing and exhilarating.
The Patrician's Palace wasn't all that far away though, and that was probably a good thing because Vimes wasn't as young as he once was and being Commander meant that he didn't get as much exercise either.
He arrived after only five minutes and a predictable scene of chaos met his eyes, but it didn't look like the dangerous one he'd expected. There were lots of coppers milling about and also lots of civilians because in Ankh-Morpork everyone likes free entertainment, and everything counts as free entertainment if it's on the street. He had expected to see something indicating immediate danger, but since he didn't he stood there and waited for something to make sense.
He didn't have to wait long. Sergeant Angua pushed through the crowd, followed by Sergeant Detritus, who didn't have to push--people will naturally make way for a massive troll coming at them. Detritus was carrying someone of small stature, who looked even smaller against the troll.
"Angua. What's going on?" said Vimes. "This doesn't look like the emergency I was told was happening."
"It's not. People panicked for no reason. This boy here--" she indicated the boy Detritus was carrying, who looked extremely miffed, "--broke into the Palace and was making his way up to the Patrician's office. He wasn't being terribly subtle about it, though. One of the guards on the first level alerted the rest of the Palace, which means he was spotted pretty quickly. He still got pretty far up, but luckily Detritus was just arriving for guard duty and he quite literally ran right into him."
"That's sort of pathetic."
Angua shrugged. Vimes took a closer look at the struggling boy and raised an eyebrow. Huh, he through. He's dressed like a boy, but that is definitely not a boy. And surely Angua with her sense of smell knew that; nothing much got by her. Which meant that she didn't see any reason to announce that she knew the intruder's real gender.
At that moment House, whom Vimes had all but forgotten about, came huffing and limping up behind him.
"Hah!" he said, after pausing a second to catch his breath. "Is that kid trying to dress like a boy? Because that is definitely a girl."
Vimes sighed. So much for that.
"Yes, thank you Dr. House." He sighed. Then, to Angua and Detritus, he said, "What's her name? Has she said anything?"
"She won't talk to us," said Angua. "But I didn't really expect her to."
"Of course. Well, take her back to the Watch House, will you? Put someone on her more competent than Colon and Nobby. We don't want her escaping. I'll be back there shortly; I just have to speak to Vetinari."
"What about me? Are you just going to leave me here all by my lonesome to get lost in this big, ugly city?" said House.
"You can go with Sergeant Angua and she can hook you back up with your friends, or if you like you can follow me. I'll be going back to the barracks later," said Vimes, not in any mood to deal with inanity.
"Well, as much as I love a beautiful woman, I think I'll come with you. Interesting things seem to follow you, don't they?" House snickered.
"Well don't expect anything interesting to happen soon. You'll be waiting in the lobby while I talk with the Patrician."
Captain Carrot strode along with the Doctor, Sarah Jane, Owen, and Tosh following him. The Doctor was pointing out things and yammering about them with enthusiasm, and Sarah Jane's eyes followed his finger with obvious wonder. Owen just looked grumpy and was resolutely not looking where the Doctor was indicating, and Tosh seemed lost in her own world, staring at the people who passed her.
"There's a very nice place where I stayed when I first came to the city," said Carrot when the Doctor paused for breath. "That's where I'm taking you."
"Oh? What sort of place is it?" said the Doctor brightly.
"Very nice, good people, reasonable rates. It's run by a very friendly lady named Mrs. Rosemary Palm, she heads the Seamstresses Guild."
"Seamstresses, huh?" said the Doctor.
"Okay, really, why are we sticking around?" groused Owen.
"Don't be a party pooper now," said the Doctor. "Have a sense of adventure!"
"I sort of agree with Owen actually," Tosh interjected. "We really need to be off. We have a job to do, and someone's life depends on us."
"It'll be fine, it's all right! End of the line and all that."
"We're going there."
"You are making no sense at all," said Owen. He crossed his arms crossly.
"He never makes sense," said Sarah Jane in a stage whisper. "You learn to ignore the filler, and there's a lot of it, because he's always talking."
"Now, now, Sarah, I do not at all!" said the Doctor.
"You do so," she retorted.
"It's just a couple blocks away now," said Carrot.
"Oh good!" said Sarah Jane. "I'm really looking forward to sitting somewhere comfortable for once! And I'm starving."
"For once, you and I are in agreement," said Owen. "Can we stop somewhere quickly and get something to eat?"
"There are a couple of street stands the next block over."
"Great!" said Sarah Jane.
Owen wasn't picky--he chose the first stall they came across and started pulling change out of his pocket and pointing at things.
"How much can I get for, uh, $1.61?" he said. The stall attendant got very excited at the sight of the unfamiliar coinage and started offering up slightly old vegetables.
"How come they don't mind that it's not Ankh-Mopork money?" Sarah Jane asked the Doctor.
The Doctor shrugged, but Carrot replied, "As long as it's metal, most people don't care. I don't really understand it myself."
Owen collected a nice armful of vegetables and some fruit and handed over his coins. The man behind the stall took them quickly, like he was afraid Owen would change his mind, and started looking them over carefully. Owen turned around and shrugged.
"Give me that," said Sarah Jane, and stole an apple.
"Hey! That's mine!"
"You can't possibly eat that much and you know it."
"I could try!"
"Hush, children, don't fight now," said the Doctor.
"I'll take you to Mrs. Palm's place now, if that's all right," said Carrot. "I really have to get back to the Watch House."
"Of course, we don't mean to keep you," said the Doctor, smiling. He flipped his scarf over his shoulder and marched off in a random direction.
"Uh, Doctor, I think it's the other way," Sarah Jane called.
"Quite right, Sarah Jane! Thank you very much!" said the Doctor.
It wasn't until they reached the large building that was apparently Mrs. Palm's place that Owen noticed Tosh was no longer with them and spoke up.
"Oh no!" said Carrot. "I'll put out a notice if you like! I can't believe I got her lost, oh, I feel terrible!"
"Don't worry, Captain," said the Doctor brightly. "She's a bright girl, she can take care of herself!"
Oh shit, thought Tosh. How did I get separated from everyone? I just wanted something to eat!
She hadn't meant to get lost, she really hadn't. She was sort of intimidated by this place, this strange city with its strange people and strange way of life. It was in many respects similar to Earth, or perhaps fifteenth century Earth, if there was a God and he was a science fiction enthusiast who took everything a lot more literally than would be normal.
Either way, she had only just stopped when she'd been called over by a very insistent sausage salesman, and in the five minutes it took her to convince the man there was no hope of selling her one, the others had wandered far enough that she now had no idea where they were.
There had to be an easy way out of this situation. Maybe if she could find another Watchman, he could take her back to the Watch House, and that would at least be a start.
She started walking at random, taking in the city and almost enjoying herself with the exploration, all the while looking out for anyone in a copper's uniform. Even after over fifteen minutes, however, she still hadn't seen any, and she was beginning to get a little anxious. She had no idea when they were going to be leaving this place and although she knew it was completely irrational, she still had a slight fear of being left behind.
Tosh was crossing a moderately busy intersection when she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned to look, she saw nothing out of the ordinary--or, what passed for ordinary here at any rate.
She dismissed it and kept on, but at the next intersection the same thing happened and this time when she looked she was confronted by an ancient forest growing right in the middle of the city.
She stared at it, baffled. It almost seemed to stare back.
She took a step towards it, and now she thought she could hear something, voices, coming from inside. She took another step.
The closer Tosh got, the less aware she was of her surroundings, and the more focused she became on the forest. The gnarled roots seemed to shift heavily aside to make a path for her as she approached, and the twisted branches reached out to her in a way that seemed almost welcoming. She was overcome by curiosity, and by wonder. What was such a thing doing here, of all places? She had to find out.
Without any real memory of the moving process, she found herself standing right in front of the tree line. Somehow, she couldn't really see into the forest, despite the inviting path that was there for her. Mist and fog rolled out and felt pleasantly cool against her face.
The voices called her. Without thinking, for once without considering the consequences, without being suspicious, she closed her eyes and stepped forward.
When she opened them again, the city was gone. Trees surrounded her on all sides, and the pleasant coolness had already started to become something colder. The forest was dark and its canopy let in no light from the sun above, but there was still a glow that was eerie, but enough to see by. She could not locate the source.
She heard laughter. The voices that had drawn her near were laughing almost merrily, but there was an undertone now that she couldn't identify but didn't quite like.
Unsure what to do, she took another step forward, looking around now for a way out. She decided she didn't like this place after all, and wondered what had possibly possessed her to waltz so casually into a strange forest in the middle of a city where it clearly did not belong.
A few more steps and suddenly the forest opened up and she was standing in a clearing. All around her were dancing lights and voices, and mixed in with the soft laughter was singing.
Follow me in the twilight of this slow summer night, for a while.
The song was soft, slow, melancholy, and the slightly dazed feeling she'd felt entering the forest was starting to come back.
Let me tell you a tale that's never before now been told.
The lights drew closer and she saw they were some sort of lantern, and each was held by a smallish flying creature, bobbing back and forth on the light breeze. The voices came from them.
I can take you back to a time before those memories. Only you have the power to decide.
The song ended there, but the laughter did not. Tosh found herself nodding, although she wasn't sure what she was agreeing to.
One of the creatures, slightly larger than the rest, floated forward. It, like the others, was humanoid, but had a strangely elongated head, dark, large, opalescent eyes, and a long torso. Its arms were shorter than a proportionate human's would be, but the legs were long and slender and accented by a long, wispy tail that curled and twitched and ended in a long tuft of fur. Everything about it was longer, more graceful, than a human, and its wings were nearly transparent. They seemed to have their own shine, as well, like their skin produced a soft glow naturally. We are the iele, it whispered.
"Yes?" was all she could manage. She felt dizzy. The moistness of the air and the soothing sound of the laughter were hypnotizing.
We would like you to come with us. We can show you many things, said the creature. Its tail twitched forward, then glided back.
"Yes," she gasped.
We would be very pleased to help you. I am Vie, and I am the ruler of this forest, which is called Baia.
"Yes," she said again, then passed out.
Alice the cat was stealthily following Carrot and the rest of the group, and so she was the only one who noticed Tosh, who had been trailing slightly behind the rest in order to take in the sights, getting waylaid by one of the only people she never accepted food from. In fact, she always stayed well clear of this particular sausage salesman. A cat's sense of smell is well-developed, and in this particular case that was not an advantage. She could smell all the bizarre and often unidentifiable ingredients that went into those sausages.
Tosh wisely refused the man's offer of a sausage in a bun for half off, but it took her several minutes to shake off the insistent man. Alice debated letting her go and following Carrot, who was much more likely to produce treats, but in the end curiosity won out and she stayed and waited for Tosh.
Because of this, Alice was the only one who witnessed Tosh entering the giant and clearly magical forest, and she was the only one who followed.
"Look, I need to know where the rest of my group is," said Donna as she and Sally walked along together.
"No worries, I think Captain Carrot was supposed to deal with them. I can send a clacks down to the Watch House, and if they're still there they'll get it directly. Otherwise someone at the House can deliver the message."
"See those big flashing towers on top of some of the buildings? The ones with the shutters?" Sally pointed up to the rooftop of the Thieves Guild, where there was a small clacks tower.
"Yeah," Donna nodded.
"They're used to send messages really quickly! They're fairly new technology."
"Ah," said Donna, eyeing them dubiously.
"We--the Watch, that is--have our own private towers within the city. So do most of the larger guilds," said Sally. "By the way, I've been meaning to ask you; what made you stop like that, back there? When I was chasing you. You looked like you'd seen a ghost."
"Oh, yeah, that was really weird. Is there, er, is there a forest in the middle of the city?"
"What?" Sally laughed. "No! It would hardly fit. This city isn't all that big actually, it's just very densely populated."
"Well, that's what I saw. A great bleeding forest sitting cool as you please between two blocks. And don't tell me I'm crazy, because I know I'm not."
"Um," she said. "Hang on...."
"It was all misty and there were voices or something coming from it. Totally weird."
"Hang on, you saw the Laughing Forest?"
"I suppose it could have been laughter, yeah."
"But that's a myth! It's not even a common one!"
"Well, what I saw wasn't a myth, and I can guarantee you I don't know any of your myths. I'm not from around here."
"It's pretty vague. It's a really old story, so people just kind of make up the details, but basically it says that there's a mysterious force residing in Ankh-Morpork that doesn't like all the crowds and people and noise. Occasionally it rises up and sort of... steals people."
Donna raised an eyebrow. "The mystical force steals people?"
"Well, people disappear and never are seen again, you know, that sort of thing. They say it appears in the form of an enchanting forest that draws people in. And they say there's always the sound of laughter emanating from it, which is why it's called the Laughing Forest." Sally shivered a little.
"If they're never seen again, how does anyone know these things?"
"That is the question, isn't it? Everyone thinks of that, no one has really looked into it. I mean, it's just a myth."
"Well, I saw it, and I'm still here."
Donna got the feeling Sally didn't quite believe her. She felt she ought to be indignant, but she couldn't bring herself to really care.
Laughing Forest, huh.
As they walked, the barracks of the sick loomed up before them.
[*] (yes, you can click to go back)
Though more usually it's a great many words, often shouted, occasionally over great distances, and almost always over great periods of time, and even then it's rarely conclusive.
To Chapter 20: Interview with a Vampire
Back to Chapter 18: Escape from Singapore
Summary: Rabid Rabbit Sally races Not A Turtle Donna, while elsewhere House gets Vimes into trouble and Carrot is stuck playing babysitter. Also, several dubious characters appear, and one of them likes to play fetch.