Death takes a holiday
It was dark and silent in Methos’ apartment, as it often is at night, and because it was twelve o’clock, the clock struck midnight. Methos stirred in his bed, and awoke. He was never one to believe in the supernatural, but something, perhaps a finely honed survival instinct, made him look down at the end of the bed. There, floating some seven or so foot from the floor, were two blue pinpricks. Methos rubbed his eyes, but they did not disappear. He moved one hand to the light switch and the other to the revolver under his pillow, and then turned on the light.
YOU SHOULD GET ONE OF THOSE CLAPPING THINGS, a voice from the end of the bed said amiably. Ostensibly it came from the figure at the end of the bed, but as that was an eight foot tall skeleton, and its jaw hadn’t moved, Methos wasn’t entirely certain that was the case. He just had the general impression that the skeleton had spoken to him.
“You mean a clapper? Not very good for surprising sneak thieves,” Methos pointed out. The skeleton nodded, conceding the point. “Now, who are you and what the hell are you doing in my bedroom?” Methos demanded.
YOU KNOW WHO I AM
“No, I know who you think you are,” Methos replied, rationality desperately trying to maintain a grasp on his rapidly slipping sanity. This couldn’t actually be who he thought it was, that was ridiculous, but then, that Voice… “I have to admit, the costume’s good. I can’t see the joins, must have cost a fortune; and the voice is…”
I AM DEATH. I HAVE COME FOR YOU
“Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. A: you don’t exist and B: the last person on earth you would come for is me.”
FOR TOO LONG YOU HAVE USED MY NAME, PASSED YOURSELF OFF AS DEATH INCARNATE.
“Ah, well about that…” Methos began.
THERE MUST BE A RECKONING.
“Really? A reckoning?” Methos said, pulling the gun from the pillow and aiming it at the intruder. He fired three shots, one in the chest, two in the head. Death looked down at the hole in his robe, then back up at Methos, who simply shrugged and dropped the gun. “Worth a shot.”
AH, A PUNE. HA HA. YOU MUST COME WITH ME NOW.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not. There’s an I Love Lucy marathon on cable tonight, and I’ve been meaning to read The Da Vinci Code…”
Suddenly, they were no longer in Methos’ apartment; they were standing in a garden. At least, it was trying to be a garden.
“Now see, this is exactly why I don’t sleep naked anymore,” Methos sniped, grateful for the pyjamas. Wherever he was, it was cold. And strangely monochrome. “What is this place? It’s like I’ve fallen out of Oz and into Kansas,” he said. Death looked at him. Methos wasn’t sure but he thought that the skeleton looked confused. “And people complain I don’t get pop-culture references.”
THIS IS MY HOUSE.
“Oh! Lovely, bijou little place it is too. Why are we here?”
Death didn’t answer, but instead strode toward a stable. He walked into the building and past several stalls. Confused, Methos followed. They reached the final stall, where a fine white stallion was housed.
“And Death rode a pale horse,” Methos said, almost in a whisper.
HIS NAME IS BINKY.
“Of course it is,” Methos said, suppressing a laugh.
I GENERALLY USE THE SCYTHE, BUT YOU MAY PREFER THE SWORD AS IT IS MORE FAMILIAR.
“Well yes…wait a minute, what sword?”
I AM TAKING A HOLIDAY. YOU WILL BE FILLING IN FOR ME. ALBERT KNOWS EVERYTHING, HE WILL HELP YOU.
“What! You want me to do your job? Are you mad?”
YOU USED THE NAME. NOW YOU MUST DO THE JOB THAT GOES WITH IT.
“But that was a long time ago. I’m not you; I can’t transport people from one place to another, or do that spooky voice of yours.”
THE ESSENCE IS IN THE NAME. THE NAME IS YOURS SO YOU ARE DEATH.
NO I’M NOT. “Er, I mean, no I’m bloody well not!” Methos replied, scaring himself slightly. “I rejected that name, that’s not who I am.”
YES IT IS. YOU WILL GET USED TO IT. I WILL ONLY BE GONE A CENTURY OR SO.
TIME MOVES DIFFERENTLY HERE. IT WILL NOT BE AS LONG FOR YOU. BESIDES, YOU ARE IMMORTAL. THE GAME CANNOT TOUCH YOU HERE. Death reasoned. Methos thought about this for a moment. GOODBYE. And Death vanished.
“No! Wait! You haven’t explained…” Methos began, but stopped when he realised he was taking to thin air. He looked around him. “Now what?” he asked Binky. Binky just stood there chewing his hay. “Fat lot of use you are.”
With that, Methos stalked out of the stable and headed for the house. Now, what was that name? he thought, Oh yes. ALBERT, YOU’VE GOT A BLOODY LOT OF EXPLAINING TO DO!
 Although this is not always the case. In some parts of the multiverse they have no concept of time at all. In others the hours of the day are asymmetrical so there is no midnight, instead they call it parrot. But the strangest of all is probably the universe where they believe that the clock striking twelve is cause and not effect and so, in hopes of extending their lives, they have not let a clock strike in over four hundred years. Needless to say, Death still keeps regular business hours in that universe.
 Actually, this isn’t true. The last person on Earth that Death will come in person for is a Mrs Ethel Buffer of Crapstone in Devon in the year 2675. She will be the last person to believe in the personification of Death as a skeleton with a scythe. Everyone after that will be processed by a giant hedgehog named Phil.
Chapter 2: This Is How It's Done on Discworld
Stranded in the house of Death, Methos must take on the Duty, but thankfully Albert is on hand to show him the ropes...
This Is How It’s Done on Discworld
The house of Death was nearly silent, but for the constant hissing of falling sand in the innumerable lifetimers and the immense hallway was in darkness, except for a small pool of light that spilled out from the open study door.
Inside the study was a desk, and sitting at that single desk was Death or, as he was currently known, Methos. He was bent over an ancient tome, pouring through every detail contained on its cracked parchment pages.
Albert shuffled into view carrying a large silver tray, but Methos didn’t notice his arrival.
“I brung you a nice cold beer, sir,” Albert said, and placed a frosty glass on the table. Methos looked up from the book he was reading.
“Hmm? Oh, thanks Albert. This is fascinating stuff. Have you ever read any of it?” he asked, waving at a large stack of books he had placed on the floor. Albert shook his head.
“The Master’s books? Never!” Albert replied.
“Good reading. Mostly philosophical stuff that isn’t really my cup of tea, but I’ve recently changed my views on one or two fundamental concepts about the universe and it’s all really intriguing,” Methos said, distracted, his mind already focussed back on the book in front of him. Albert coughed.
“Er, not to be a worry-wort or anything sir, but, don’t you think you should be getting out there?” Albert said. Methos looked at him. “Well, it’s just the Duty, it doesn’t stop, someone has to do it. The Death of Rats has been minding things, temporarily like, but he can’t cope for long, he’s verdegris challenged,” Albert explained.
“I think you meant vertically,” Methos corrected automatically, then processed what Albert had said. “Hang on, there’s a Death of Rats?” he asked sceptically.
“Yes,” Albert replied, as though it were the most normal thing in the universe.
“O-kaay then,” said Methos. “Well, it looks like I’m not leaving here any time soon, so what do I have to do?”
“Didn’t the Master say?”
“Nope, he said: ALBERT KNOWS EVERYTHING, HE WILL HELP YOU. Methos said, then shuddered. “That Voice still freaks me out.”
“You’re not the only one. Right, well, um, the Master usually collects a few lifetimers that are about to run out, and then he goes collecting,” Albert explained, feebly.
“And how does he know which ones to take? There must be millions.”
“And billions,” Albert helpfully supplied.
“So, how does he know?”
“I don’t know. I guess he just knows,” said Albert with a shrug.
“Fantastic,” Methos said.
“That’s the spirit, I’m sure you’ll do admirably, sir,” Albert said with a grin, completely missing the sarcasm in Methos’ voice. “Susan managed when she…er, um…”Albert swallowed his words, realising he’d said too much.
“Susan? Who the hell is Susan?” demanded Methos. “And more to the point, if she’s done it before, why isn’t she here now?!”
“It’s…complicated. But she’s currently unavailable,” Albert said quickly. “Look, there’s no time, you have to perform the Duty. If there’s no Death…well we’ve been there before and it’s not pretty.”
“Wait a minute! Death happens, doesn’t it? It’s a natural part of the ebb and flow of life. It doesn’t require any bloody great skeleton with a scythe to go round collecting spirits. I mean, he can’t be everywhere at once.” Methos said, a lot less confident than he sounded.
“Well, yes and no. See the Master is an an-thro-po-morphic per-son-ifi-cation…yeah, anthropomorphic personification, of your actual concept of death. Now, for most worlds, like your own, death ticks by quite merrily without the need for Death. But there are certain places, like the Discworld, where he needs to put in regular appearances. Grease the wheels of the machinery as it were,” Albert explained.
“The Discworld?” Methos asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Oh yes, the Disc is where I’m from. Big flat disc; rests on the backs of four elephants who are standing on the shell of the great turtle A’Tuin,” said Albert. Methos snorted with laughter, but stopped at the earnest look on Albert’s face.
“You’re kidding, right? Such a place couldn’t exist. Even in an infinite universe…”
“Multiverse,” Albert corrected.
“Multiverse? Okay, but even so, it’s against all the laws of nature, of gravity, of thermodynamics…”
“Thaumodynamics,” Albert put in. Methos looked confused. “It’s the study of magic, from the thaum, the smallest unit of magic. That’s all wizarding business; don’t know much about it meself. ‘Cept what I read in Archancellor Weatherwax’s A Very Long Hypothesis on the Future of L Space,” he hastily added, but something in his eyes made Methos suspect he knew more than he was letting on.
“Magic?” Methos said and shook his head. He was beginning to get a very large headache. “Albert, you and I are going to have to have a very long talk when I get back. But, in order to save myself from an even larger headache than the one developing, let’s go find some lifetimers. Lead on MacDuff!” he instructed. Albert just looked confused. JUST GO, Methos said, making himself shudder again.
The house of Death wasn’t just immense; it had been built by a being that hadn’t quite got the hang of perspective. Walls seemed to be both quite close and several miles away at once, but Methos noticed that Albert had developed some sort of coping mechanism that allowed him to perceive each room as being an average shape and size. To Methos, the study was so huge that he couldn’t see the walls from the desk, but Albert walked from the rug to the door in one step. Methos found that he could do the same as long as he focussed on Albert or the place he wanted to go to.
He followed Albert into the Hall of Lifetimers and stopped in his tracks. He had yet to visit this room, and he was astounded by the rows upon rows of giant hourglasses marking out the passing seconds of lives all over the universe.
Multiverse, Methos thought and shook his head, I thought that there was nothing left to surprise me, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. He looked at a few of the closest hourglasses. He picked one up, which was about half full (or half empty, depending on your perspective). Etched on the glass Methos read the name Ponder Stibbons. He placed it back on the shelf and looked around.
“They’re over there,” said Albert, pointing.
“What?” asked Methos.
“The Immortal lifetimers. Got their own section.”
“I don’t want to see it!” Methos said, although he had to admit he was curious. But the very idea that Immortals, that he, had a finite amount of time, that idea dropped a very large ball of ice into the pit of his stomach. “Knowing how long you’ve got takes all the fun out of it,” he added.
“Not for me, carry it everywhere I go. Only got a few moments left if I go back.”
“You mean you aren’t coming with me?”
“Can’t, sorry. Don’t worry though, you’ll be fine,” Albert said reassuringly. Methos was doubtful. “Why don’t you try something simple? Summon the scythe; you just have to snap your fingers.”
Still sceptical, Methos stretched out a hand and snapped his fingers. The scythe appeared in his hand, the blade glittering blue and humming. Methos stared at it. After a few moments, Albert coughed.
“Now, maybe a lifetimer?” he suggested. Methos looked up, but he wasn’t looking at Albert, more through him. As if in a trance, he moved forward, he ran a hand along the shelves as he went, searching for the right lifetimer. In the deepest part of his pupils, pinpricks of blue light flickered for the briefest of moments. He walked on and down the rows until he stopped at an hourglass that had barely any sand left at all.
THIS ONE, Methos said. Albert nodded his approval.
“Yes, a wizard, very right and proper. Just one more thing though?” Albert said. Methos tilted his head, quizzically. “Perhaps a change of clothes?”
Methos looked down and realised he was still wearing the pyjamas he had been in when Death had kidnapped him. He concentrated, and his clothes changed. His pyjamas became a black suit, with black shirt and tie, and a long black leather coat. With a nod of approval, he turned and headed out to the stables, leaving Albert alone.
“A hooded cloak is more traditional,” Albert muttered. There was a scurrying noise behind him.
SQUEAK? asked the Death of Rats. Albert shrugged his shoulders.
“Breaking in a new one is always difficult. But the Master seems to think he can do the Duty,” Albert said.
“It was never fair for her to do it. Trying to be mortal and immortal at the same time, it would only lead to trouble. At least this one’s completely immortal,” Albert reasoned.
“I hope so, or we’re all in trouble,” Albert said. The Death of Rats nodded in agreement.
 This would have been unbearable for any human ear, except that Death had thoughtfully installed sound-proofing. After about six months of Albert shouting “What?” after every question.
 The most normal thing in the universe was a small, white teapot belonging to Mr Arthur Bostrangle of Little Thropping in Sussex. It was so normal in fact, that it created an enormous drain on the normality of the area, making Little Thropping the most bizarre place on the planet until the entire village was swallowed by a tortoise on March 17th 1963.
 Death also seemed to have trouble with plumbing, something Methos had discovered in his first few hours in the house. For the sake of everyone, Albert allowed Methos to make use of his bathroom, which had fixtures that had been brought from Ankh Morpork.
Chapter 3: The First Duty
Methos heads down to the Disc to collect his first soul...
The First Duty
Methos walked out of the house of Death in a kind of stupor, putting one foot in front of the other on some kind of autopilot. The Duty was directing him toward the stables, but his mind could not help but once again register the bizarre surroundings he was in.
The monochrome garden was oddly flat and, as in the house, perspective seemed to be meaningless. But the oddest, and somehow most real thing in the garden was a tree where a swing hung forlorn and empty from one branch. Part of Methos’ brain idly wondered who it had been made for. Death didn’t seem the type to enjoy a swing.
Methos went into the stables and brought out Binky, who was already saddled. He realised he still held the scythe in his hand, so he made it vanish again, and then made the great sword appear before fixing it to the horse’s saddle.
Still acting on the impulse of the Duty, he mounted Binky and leaned forward to instruct the horse. Binky trotted forward and they rode out of the garden of Death. Outside, Methos realised that the house of Death was really an oasis of paradise in comparison to its surroundings. Outside was chaotic, freakishly devoid of anything, a swirling vortex that the human brain found nearly impossible to process.
So instead of trying to process it, he continued on, down to the Discworld, into the city of Ankh Morpork.
Ankh Morpork, where even the rain was likely to mug you. The type of bustling metropolis where grandmothers sold their knitting to supplement their extortion rackets.
It was the sort of city where Methos would probably have been at home, had he been born on the Disc. Ankh Morpork was a place where deviousness wasn’t a character flaw, it was an essential survival skill, and those who were good at it thrived. He would have easily earned a place in the Assassins’ Guild, or the Patrician’s staff. Had he been born on the Disc, he might even have been born with magical talent that would have earned him a place at the Unseen University. Methos quite liked the thought of that.
Once he had absorbed the idea that magic really did exist, Methos liked the idea of the power that wizards held. But the lifespan of the average wizard was far less appealing to him.
The Unseen University followed the time-honoured tradition of promotion through dead-man’s shoes. But wizards are an impatient, power-hungry bunch and think nothing of occasionally hurrying the process along. It was a kind of sneaky that Methos respected.
Due to their magical nature, wizards were entitled to a personal visit from Death. On those rare occasions that a wizard lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes, he knew the exact time and date of his demise. Accordingly, he was thrown a farewell party, to which Death was expected to arrive just before the end.
Far more often though a wizard met a violent and unpredicted end through magical misadventure, or the ambition of another wizard. However it was often possible for a wizard to predict his untimely demise had he simply paid more attention to the signs.
It was the death of a wizard that had brought Methos to the Big Stink, as it was affectionately know by its citizens. The wizard in question, Alfrick Wolfsbane, was a lowly cog in the Unseen University administration, the secretary to the Chair of Indefinite Studies. His role entailed an inordinately large amount of contact with the student body: something the staff generally avoided at all costs. Thanks to this he had managed to reach the ripe old age of 127, and was hoping he’d finally get a lie down and a nice cup of tea.
Methos was a little nervous as he entered the courtyard of the Unseen University and slipped from Binky’s saddle. He’d been working on a kind of autopilot since entering the hall of Lifetimers, acting as a conduit for the Duty. But now his personality was reasserting itself, and he was uncertain of how to proceed.
“Now what?” he asked Binky, who just looked blankly at him, as if to say ‘Don’t ask me, I’m just a horse’. Methos shrugged and cast his gaze back to the horse’s saddle, where a great sword rested in its sheath. As he drew it, the sword rang with a note so clear and perfect that it could shatter a man’s soul.
Although it was large, almost as long as Methos was tall, it was not heavy and it felt right in his hand. He examined the blade, which glinted with a blue light even in shadow and experimentally sliced the air with it. The blade sang again as it moved through the air and although he couldn’t see them, Methos knew instinctively that he’d just cut the air molecules cleanly in half.
He shuddered before sheathing the sword again and lifting it from Binky’s saddle. Then he took a deep breath, turned to face the wall and walked forward.
“Ow!” he cried, rubbing his nose. He glared at the too solid wall. He knew that he should be able to walk through it. How he knew this was something he preferred not to think about right now. He didn’t like the cold feeling that crept over him when he accessed Death’s power, the feeling of not being in control. But right now he had a task to perform and the only way to accomplish it was to tap into that power.
He concentrated, trying to access the power without losing himself in it. Suddenly he knew that he needed to not be there, and all it took was a force of will. In fact, once he examined it, he realised it took more effort to be there than to not be there. He let his mind wander, and the world around him began to turn grey and discolour. With a smirk he stepped forward and through the wall.
The room inside was filled with old men dressed in robes in varying stages of must and decay. It was difficult at first for Methos to figure out who he had come for, but he then realised that one elderly wizard had been given a seat of honour, a comfortable armchair in the middle of the room. The other wizards milled about, eating canapés, drinking, smoking, and otherwise looking expectantly at Alfrick while trying to look like they weren’t.
The wizard Methos took for Alfrick suddenly spotted Methos and stood up, pointing.
“You’re not him!” he exclaimed, causing the other wizards to start, though none of them dropped their food or beer, Methos noted. One of them did send a purple fireball in Methos’ direction, but he was still insubstantial and it simply sailed through him and singed the curtains.
The wizard’s declaration wrong-footed Methos, making him lose the certainty of the Duty again.
“Er, sorry. You see…” Methos began, but was interrupted by a lot of coughing and spluttering from the other wizards. Methos’ eyes glazed slightly, coloured by blue pinpricks in the depths of his pupils. I AM DEATH; TREMBLE MORTAL FOR YOUR TIME IS AT HAND.
“Ah, much more like it,” said Alfrick, clapping his hands together and rubbing them gleefully.
Methos drew the sword, causing a few of the closer wizards to step back hurriedly. There was a general murmur from the crowd, impressed that Alfrick warranted the sword rather than the scythe. Methos stood there, stock still, watching Alfrick, who looked around nervously for a minute and then leaned toward Methos.
“You are going to..um…do it, aren’t you? I mean, this isn’t some sort of hoax?” he said conspiratorially.
IT’S NOT A HOAX. IT’S JUST NOT TIME YET, Methos replied. He held out his hand and a large hourglass appeared in it. All eyes in the room focussed on the lifetimer as the last few grains fell into the bottom. There was a moment of silence as the last grain fell.
“…Well that was an anti-climax, I must say,” said Alfrick. “I…oh!” he exclaimed as he looked down to see his own corpse. “So, I expect you get asked this all the time, but what happens next?”
DON’T ASK ME, I’M NEW, Methos replied. He swung the sword, severing the invisible bond between spirit and body and Alfrick Wolfsbane began to fade from view.
“I love the coat, but isn’t a hooded robe more trad…”
Methos shook his head and sheathed the sword. There was a polite cough at his side so he turned to find a majestic looking wizard, waving a sausage on a stick.
“Archancellor Ridcully, at your service. And you would be?”
“Well, yes, obviously. But the coat, the flesh, you’re clearly not the regular chap. And you’re definitely not that girl that had a go a few years back…Are you?” Ridcully finished a little uncertainly and popped the sausage into his mouth. The mention of a girl brought Methos back to himself again. With a rumble from his stomach, he realised he hadn’t eaten since arriving on the Disc and grabbed a sandwich from a passing tray.
“A girl? Was her name Susan by any chance?” Methos asked, grasping firmly to this faint glimmer of hope. His sandwich was starting to curl up at the ends and smelled strange, but he was starving so he took a large bite of it. He instantly regretted the action, but at that point had no choice but to chew and swallow. Oh well, at least it can’t kill me, he mused.
Ridcully seemed undaunted by the quality of the food, merrily chewing his way through a mini quiche that would probably bounce if dropped. Once he’d finished masticating, he answered Methos.
“Sounds about right. She was a bit hopeless, but the old boy had done a bunk, and she did her best in difficult circumstances. Is that what’s happened? Or is it all under new management?”
Methos shook his head, his mouth still too full of indigestible sandwich to answer. The Archancellor’s words got him thinking. Clearly Susan existed, and she had definitely performed the Duty before. If he could only find her, he could probably trick her into taking over and he could get home. He finally managed to swallow the sandwich.
“I’ll be off then. Time and tide, and all that,” he said, making for the door.
“Oh, yes. Cheerio then. Don’t take this the wrong way, but hope not to see you soon,” Ridcully said.
Methos left without further word, more conventionally through the door this time. He marched out to the courtyard with a determined stride, slung the sword back on the saddle and mounted Binky. He leaned forward and spoke into the horse’s ear.
TAKE ME TO SUSAN.
In a dark corner of the University courtyard, there was a loud thwack, followed quickly by an even smaller squeak. A small figure went about his business, and then watched as Methos exited the University, and overheard what Methos said to Binky. The Death of Rats shook his tiny head and put one skeletal paw to his forehead.
 Which was actually a lot faster than you’d expect. When you’re in the house of Death these things become more believable.
 This was a far more frequent occurrence until a couple of ambitious types came off the worse against the current Archchancellor, Mustrum Ridcully. It’s amazing what the threat of a crossbow bolt between the ears will do for workplace harmony.
 Although there were a few embarrassing instances where Death had arrived before the party. Generally the wizards still held the party saying, “It’s what he would have wanted,” repeatedly in loud voices.
 For example: lusting but psychotic glances over the dinner table, or the large axe suspended above his pillow.
 It was less affectionately referred to as the ‘Crapulent Giant Cesspit’, which was more accurate, but less poetic.
 I mean this literally, not figuratively. Whilst the plaintive strains of many a note may break a heart, and any old note can shatter glass if sung with the correct resonance, there is only one note in the multiverse that can truly shatter a soul.