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Death (of Rats) Takes a Holiday

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The Death of Rats did not lack for things to do. After all, the world contained very many rats with very short life spans, and the Death of Rats arranged the ushering of each into the Great Beyond, which it neither confirmed or denied as having a great quantity of cheese and no cats.

Still, the Death of Rats had perhaps inherited certain peculiarities when it was chipped off the old block. It enjoyed quiet moments with a hunk of moldy bread overlooking the view of the river Ankh as it crawled imperceptibly past. It visited small old ladies who had reached the comfortable stage in their lives when a rat made of bone and carrying a scythe was merely an excuse to get out the good china. And sometimes even a person with the Death of Rats' flexible interpretation of time and physical space liked to go on holiday.

A flying holiday, in fact. Which was why Quoth the Raven had just arrived through the window in Death's study, with a fluttering, self-important air. “Where are we off to, then?”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“Fine, don’t tell me. It’s not going to take all day, is it? There’s a riot planned for tonight around suppertime. My suppertime, if you take my meaning.”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“Just get on already.” The Death of Rats securely aboard, Quoth fluttered out the window once more and turned, as directed, in the general direction of the Rim. Traveling along byways known only to ravens, they arrived soon enough over the steamy and geographically adventurous island of Krull, which sits half over the edge of the Rim waiting for that exciting, once-in-a-lifetime moment when gravity overcomes structural integrity. “Come to do some stargazing, have we?”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ. The Death of Rats dug its bony heel in the desired direction.

“What? I never said I’d do that. I’m not going to do that! There’s nothing to breathe out there, or fly on, either, and while breath is only a nicety for you, for some of us—”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ, the Death of Rats said comfortably.

The raven squawked something unprintable, fluffed its feathers in irritation, and bore directly towards the edge of the Rim – not very smoothly, it must be said. There were a certain number of sharp turns and unexpected drops which the Death of Rats did not comment on. Over the very edge of Krull they sailed and into the airless black. As soon as the ground fell away beneath them, the raven started gasping and squawking in crashing downward tumble, its wings athrash. Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ, the Death of Rats said, yanking on the raven’s feathers. Startled, the raven gave one solid flap of its wings, which righted it enough to let it start moving forward again.

“This is impossible,” it told the Death of Rats.

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“So now where?”

Eᴇᴋ sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“Sure. Why not? Great idea.” Muttering under its breath, the raven dropped lower and lower in big lazy swoops on non-existent air currents. Even ravens don’t know all the tricks that an Anthropomorphic Personification knows.

The light was peculiar there, for though the Rim above them blocked the sun, the whole of space surrounding the underside of the disc was infused with a shadowless twilight that seemed to brighten far, far below them. They kept on dropping until the fall of the ocean over the Rim was nearly gone, dissipated into space along that water cycle that no sane person attempts to untangle. (Mostly because within moments of attempting to untangle it, they aren’t sane anymore.)

For a while the raven stopped squawking, even stopped muttering to itself. There was too much blackness, too many glittering stars to wonder at. Then below them approached a great rounded stony surface, pocked with the old crash sites of meteors. It took the raven a few moments to recognize the great white points projecting out from the surface, and once it did, it didn’t even bother to complain that technically the elephant was much too large for one puny raven to see properly from this angle. Size, as with many physical quantities, became flexible while in the company of the Death of Rats.

Some unaccountable period later, the turtle came into view. The Great A’Tuin. The raven was a pragmatic creature; while it didn’t doubt the existence of the great Chelys galactica, it didn’t put much effort into belief, either. The study of the turtle was the business of wizards and astronomers, not ravens, who are generally very little interested in what they can’t see or, more importantly, eat.

But Quoth could certainly see just fine as it alighted on the Great A’Tuin’s back, which seemed now to be hardly broader than that of a very large snapping turtle up on the Disc. Light hung around it, bright as day – necessary, of course, for the great turtle to see where it was going.

The Death of Rats hopped off and addressed the turtle. Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

The turtle didn’t reply as far as Quoth could tell, but the Death of Rats seated itself on the edge of the turtle’s shell with its bony toes hanging over the edge.

Well. This was not precisely what the raven had had in mind when agreeing to accompany the Death of Rats on an outing. It had tired of stars by now, and so, bored, it wandered over to the nearest elephant, which from this angle was about the size of a large dog. Its ear flapped as Quoth approached. Then it flapped again, and the elephant trumpeted into soundless, airless space, though Quoth heard it just fine.

Quoth was inclined to ignore it, but then the elephant called again, and Quoth perked up. “Is that so?” The raven hopped a few steps closer and fluttered up, and there, impertinent as you please, was a big juicy, flea. The raven snapped at it, and found it tasty, if a bit gritty. Came of its diet, the raven supposed. “There more?”

The elephant trumpeted again and flapped the other ear.

The raven worked its way almost all the way around the elephants and was feeling comfortably full and benevolent towards the world at large when it heard an urgent Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ. sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ..

The Death of Rats very rarely found reason to be urgent.

The raven came flapping around the last elephant leg. “What? What?” Then it saw what.

Out there, not far – from this angle – a cat was incoming. Even from this angle, it was quite a large cat, although a bit difficult to make out, as it didn’t grow its own light as the turtle did. It was the antithesis of light, a black toothy silhouette against the stars, its fur shining with the very faintest gleam reflected with the light of Discworld.

And the raven knew, with that knowledge inborn to things whose lives are frequently ended by being eaten, that the cat was hungry, and that it was suppertime, and that the Discworld was supper.

The raven didn’t think. Things susceptible to being eaten often don’t. It hopped into the air, and it did what it did to every unfortunate back-alley tom and grimalkin in Ankh-Morpork who dared to give it a speculative glance: it went for the eyes.

The great black cat yowled as all the Ankh-Morpork cats did, and it scrabbled at the raven, but the raven had a good firm grip on the cat’s back now, and it pecked and it pecked until something like blood squished wetly against its beak, and then with one last yowl the cat changed course and sprinted away from the Discworld in the direction it had come.

The raven flapped upward and it landed on the Great A’Tuin’s back in a not entirely graceful heap. Then it squawked for a while in long bursts of squawks that didn’t quite make sense even to itself. When finally it was capable of sentences again, it said, “Did you know that was coming?”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“Yeah, right. Like we just happened to be here today.”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ, the Death of Rats said, unconcerned.

“Well, why didn’t you do something about it?”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

The raven snorted, which is a peculiar noise coming from a bird. “You’re just like the other one, you know that?”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“What?” said the raven, hopping closer. The Death of Rats gestured towards the turtle’s head. The raven hopped until it could see the turtle’s liquid eye, huge as a small island or a dollar rolling in the street. The turtle didn’t say anything. The raven was beginning to suspect that turtles didn’t speak. Still, gazing into that huge eye, it gained the firm impression that it was being thanked.

Which was all well and good, but didn’t fill any bellies, did it? And the raven had worked off most of those elephant fleas from earlier. “Great, can we go now?”

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ, the Death of Rats agreed, hopping up on the raven’s back. Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“All I’m saying is, if I missed the riot, you owe me.” It flapped up into space and beat its wings against more non-existent air. It seemed to work going up as down.

Sǫᴜᴇᴀᴋ.

“Yeah, yeah. You’re welcome.”

[end]