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Mistaken Identities

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It was a good thing, Tavros thought, that his robotic legs had turned out to work in this universe as well as they had in their own, because otherwise he would be in a pretty tricky situation right now. The streets of Ankh-Morpork were not designed with an eye to wheeled-seating-transportation-device accessibility at the best of times, but when you happened to be running away from a mob of half-naked people waving axes around and bellowing “Minotaur!” being able to jump over carts and handle stairs was a real plus.

(He’d considered trying to reason with them, but the problem was that he’d made the mistake of poking his head and his associated rack into a pub frequented by the Disc’s greatest heroes just after Ecstatic One Hundred and Twenty Minutes, so reason was maybe not the best option in the face of all those edged weapons. Tavros just knew Karkat was going to yell at him for starting riots when he got back. Assuming he got back, that was.)

He vaulted over an extremely surprised brewer’s dray and hung a sharp left, skidding over the cobblestones in a shower of sparks, and leaned against a handy alley wall, panting. After a moment a herd of heroes went pounding past in a haze of loincloths, oiled muscle, chain-mail bikinis, hair, and legendary swords.

“What’s a nice gent like you doing in a place like this, I wonder?” said an amused little voice in his ear. Tavros jumped, almost banging a horn against the wall, and squinted: a human was watching him from a little way down the alley in the dimness, arms folded. He was wearing a scarf not unlike Eridan’s.

“Uh,” said Tavros, brilliantly.

“Let me guess, the heroes stampeded? It happens about once a month in the summer, something’ll set them off and then there’s a lot of angry arguing about property damage and whose responsibility it is to deal with all those tiresome enchanted weapons what won’t go back into their sheaths until they’ve tasted blood. I’m Pepe, by the way. I’m a dwarf.”

“Uh,” he said again. “You, um. You seem a little tall? For a dwarf?”

“Lesson one regarding chatting to dwarves in this city, never mention height.” Pepe detached himself from the wall and came closer. “As it happens I’m one of the two adopted dwarves running around in this burg. I ran into your friend Ampora the other day, we had quite a natter. We’d no idea alien trolls were so fashion-conscious.”

Tavros was aware of losing any grip he might have had on the conversation. “Eridan’s pretty into, um, clothes and stuff, yes. So’s Kanaya. Um, you don’t happen to know if, maybe, there’s a way I could get back to the university without running into those guys again?”

“I think I might be able to manage that. Those really are magnificent horns you’ve got there. Do you ever hang things on them? Madame Sharn would love to get a closer look.”

“Um, not as such, no. I mostly just try not to bash them into things,” Tavros admitted. “They’re a little inconvenient at times.”

“Oh, inconvenient,” said Pepe, waving this away. “Style is never convenient, they’re practically the opposite of one another. Give Sharn half an hour with those things and one single show and you’ll have half Ankh-Morpork clamoring for great big orange spiky headgear. --I think that’s enough time for them to’ve lost the trail; come with me, there’s some shortcuts back to the classy side of town.”

~

Narrative causality is one of the most powerful forces governing reality on the Disc. The others are gravity, the strong and weak thaumic forces, and whichever of the Fate/Lady duo is currently on top; all of these are trumped by the sheer force of narrative causality swinging into play when a situation arises that invokes it with sufficient clarity. Murphy’s Law dictates that anything which can go wrong will go wrong, but on the Disc this is rewritten to state “anything which can go wrong in such a way as to fulfill the dictates of narrative convention is absolutely guaranteed to do so and, if prevented from going wrong, creates a paradox loop in the fabric of reality which will inevitably destabilize matters to the point of forcing the original thing to go wrong anyway, so you might as well just run with it.”

~

The Guild of Fools and Joculators is well-known to be the least hilarious place in Ankh-Morpork. Within its sterile whitewashed walls, built on the site of the ill-fated monastic order of the Brotherhood of Infernal Zoth and redesigned to dreadful effect by Bergholt Stuttley Johnson, tyro Fools learn the way of the custard pie, the bucket of whitewash, the ladder, and the balloon on a stick--and, in secret, the ancient and deadly martial art of battle-clowning.

It is probably a very good thing that nobody has told Karkat Vantas about this last bit, for the sake of his blood pressure and the eardrums of everybody in his immediate vicinity.

The morning assembly had just let out and a herd of young Fools--mostly Mugginses, Dupes, and Gulls, the fourth-year Butts were always the last to leave the hall--was crossing the quad under the shadow of the Giant Red Nose, when a sinister little noise made them stop and look around in well-earned paranoia.

Honk.

“Did you hear that?”

“Of course I heard it, you heard it too?”

“Is it him?”

“Is it Whiteface?”

“Oh gods, what if there’s a surprise inspection?”

“I don’t even have my pies with me!”

“We’re going to be laddered...”

HONK.

“Oh gods...”

They turned, shuffling, toward the darkest corner of the courtyard, the entrance to the Gallery, where no student clown went without permission and accompaniment.

honk

“There’s someone there!”

“There’s something there,” another student, more perceptive, corrected. “.........Oh Gods. It’s, it’s got horns...”

It did. It also had yellow eyes that appeared to glow ever so faintly in the dimness. A gangly, menacing, long-haired figure sloped toward them, absently tossing a juggling-club in one hand. It wore black and purple clothes unlike any Guild uniform they’d ever seen. It had fangs. And its face...

Its face was painted in a terrifying mask of white and burnt-grey that did the bladder control of the young Fools absolutely no favors. This was no face carefully recorded on an egg to stand the test of time. This was savage atavistic wildclown slap.

They stood, frozen, as it advanced. It seemed to be grinning behind the paint, although there was...no way to know.

“What’s up, my motherfucking clownbros?” it asked, sounding dreamily interested.

They ran.

Gamzee was having a fantastic morning so far. He’d wandered away from the University while his best bro Karkat was distracted shouting at spidersis for something to do with some crazy magic book shit called the Octavo, and had encountered some totally bitchtits new friends who had let him have some of their magical elixir after he’d entertained the motherfuck out of them by doing some righteous juggling with his clubkind. He wasn’t really sure what it was he’d drunk, but it had made him fall over for a while, which was awesome, and now he was pretty cool with the whole motherfucking universe, every last bit of it, specially the little pink elephants who’d showed up just recently. Those little motherfuckers were wicked chill, he wanted to show them to Karbro and make him get his smile on.

He’d wandered into some big echoey dark place by dint of climbing the fuck over this big wall, something in his pan had suggested it and he’d thought why the fuck not, and now he’d come across a whole bunch of little motherfuckers in righteous fucking paint, he had not known that these human fuckers were down with the motherfucking clown and that had just made. his. day.

When they took off running he grinned and loped after them. Fuck yeah, motherfucking conga line!

~

“He went that way!”

“No he didn’t, you brainless musclebound berk, he can’t have gone that way, that leads to the river!”

“Maybe minotaurs can swim!”

“In the Ankh?”

“...okay, good point. But he’s a gigantic monster with great big bull horns, how could we lose him?”

“Possibly because he hadn’t been playing Drink the Hero Under the Table with Hrun the Barbarian? I think I’m going to be sick.”

“You’re a disgrace to herodom.”

“Shut up, what do you know, you’re a sword.”

Grumbling and panting, the herd of heroes had mostly slowed to a walk by now, which is why when a group of panicked student clowns piled directly into them the net result was, instead of the student clowns bouncing right back off again, more of a sort of melee. Somebody somewhere was honking a horn and yelling in delirious glee, which got the more sober of the heroes on the move again, and then somebody bonked somebody else over the head with a brightly-colored club and utter chaos descended.

The flailing, swearing, honking, screaming, sword-clashing, club-bonking, and above all disorganized bolus of heroes, Fools, and Gamzee might have bashed one another into relative calm were it not for the sudden appearance of a guy with enormous orange horns from an alleyway up ahead. Tavros took in the situation, said something unprintable, and took off running at top speed, leaving Pepe behind him in the alley to shake his head in total lack of surprise.

“There he goes! AFTER HIM!”

(Narrative convention nods, dusts off its hands, and goes on its way.)

 

The appearance of crazed mobs in Ankh-Morpork was not exactly a weekly occurrence, but it happened often enough to render the majority of the citizens blasé about the prospect--and the rest of them tended to want to join in on the principle that free entertainment was too good to pass up. By the time the mob had reached Sator Square the Watch had already begun closing off streets and preventing the spread of chaos, and when Tavros ran smack into a wall of rock holding a siege crossbow the whole crowd chasing him piled to a halt.

“WOO!” someone yelled from the middle of the crush. “FUCK YEAH, MOTHERFUCKING MOSH PIT!”

Tavros, who had bounced off Detritus and was now staggering to his feet, facepalmed. Of course Gamzee would have to be involved, oh, gog, Karkat was going to flip his shit so hard it might actually achieve escape velocity...

“Mister Vimes,” rumbled the Watch troll, “is goin’ to go spare.” He leaned down to give Tavros a hand, and addressed himself and his siege bow to the mob. “--HELLO HELLO HELLO, WHAT IS DER MEANING OF ALL DIS DEN?”

There was a general shuffling as everybody tried to get as far away from the cluster of arrows as possible. The reorganization thus produced revealed a very happy and somewhat intoxicated Gamzee waving his club. There were....clowns? Tavros thought, surprised, as well as the bunch of underdressed people who had been chasing him. Where had Gamzee found clowns? Oh, god, were there subjugglators on this planet after all?

“Heeeey, Tavbro, my main motherfucker!” Gamzee shambled toward him. “Didn’t know you were all up at this wicked bitchtits party!”

“Uh, hi, Gamzee, it, uh, I think it’s kind of more of a big angry mob,” he said, but at that point another voice cut in. The ranks of the Watch stepped aside for a gent in battered armor who somehow drew everybody’s attention without actually coming right out and asking for it.

“It has been thirty-two days since an angry mob caused substantial property damage and committed a major breach of the peace in this city,” said Vimes, and lit a cigar. “The boys--and girls and individuals of indeterminate gender--down at the Watch House have a lot of money riding on the outcome of this one, to wit who started it this time. Anyone care to explain?”

“Uh,” said Tavros, and felt the weight of Vimes’ gaze on him. “I think it was all a big misunderstanding?”

“Do tell.”

“I was, um, down by the docks and I decided to stop by a tavern on my way back and, um, I think, that some of these people, may, um, have mistaken me for a--”

“HE’S A MINOTAUR!” a tinny little voice at the back of the crowd squealed, and was abruptly silenced when its owner resheathed it.

Vimes transferred his gaze slowly from Tavros to the mob, and just as slowly pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingertips.

“Okay,” he said. “And you, Mr., uh.”

“Gamzee,” said Gamzee, cheerfully. “Honk, motherfucker.”

“Mr. Gamzee. What part exactly did you play?” He was choosing his words delicately--in fact, William de Worde, clinging to a lamppost to get a good view over the crowd and scribbling in his notebook, was put in mind of the dwarf typesetters’ care in selecting the little lead blocks one by one--and as yet his voice didn’t have much anger in it, but everybody who knew Vimes even a little bit could see the mental equivalent of the noise the Piecemaker’s string made under tension.

“I was all gettin’ my chill on and hanging with my little fucking pink elephant bros, and shit, what do I see but a whole motherfuckin’ troop of clownbros all up and doin’ a fuckin’ conga line,” Gamzee explained. “What’s a brother to do but fuckin’ get down with that shit?”

“...Anybody else who isn’t cataclysmically drunk want to add anything?”

A very small clown was shoved to the front of the crowd, trembling. His buttonhole dribbled nervously as he looked up at Vimes. “Um, sir, it, um, he, we, we weren’t...we didn’t know...he’s one of the aliens, isn’t he? Um? He...startled us.”

“Aw, bro,” Gamzee said, and reached over to ruffle the clown’s hair, eliciting a terrified squeak. “Shit, I ain’t meanin’ to scare nobody, just got my wicked dance on, it’s all good.”

Vimes straightened up with a nod. “Right. So you, the patrons of what I have to assume based on repeated experience would have been the Cracked Pail, took it upon yourselves to chase after this gentleman with the headgear, who is a visitor to our city and not in fact a fictional monster, and along the way you ran into these unfortunate students and this other gentleman with the headgear, and it was all a big misunderstanding and nobody actually got his head chopped off, is that about the size of it?”

Tavros was staring at him, but a slight movement out of the corner of his eye made him glance over to see Karkat, arms folded and face set in its perpetual expression of disgruntlement--but this was a slightly different shade of that expression. There was a kind of resentful wonder in there as well.

“I don’t know if any of you have the slightest idea how damn hard you make my job on a daily basis even when you aren’t acting like total and utter imbeciles,” Vimes was saying. “I doubt if you know how much your idiotic caper has cost the city in sheer property damage and inconvenience, or how very many interestingly varied charges I could throw at each and every one of you right now and have them stick. The gent with the horns here--what’s your name, anyway?”

“T-Tavros Nitram, sir.”

“--Mr. Nitram would be within his rights to press charges against the lot of you for attempted assault, and frankly given some of your records I’d like nothing better Mr. Snorisson will you put that stupid axe away or get it to stop muttering than to see you banned from the city. --Would you?”

“Sir?”

Vimes sighed. “Do you want to charge any of these idiots? I’m afraid we only have a limited number of cells down at the Yard, but I expect we could shove a few of them in together.”

“Uh. N-no, that’s, that’s okay, sir. Just, um, maybe don’t try to kill me again? If that could be a thing you guys could do? That would be awesome.”

There was a general downcasting of eyes and scuffing of toes at paving stones, and the heroes mumbled variants on an affirmative (with some squeaky dissidence from various enchanted weaponry).

“In that case,” said Vimes, “I invite the whole lot of you to cock your shell-like lugs up and listen very closely to what I am about to say because I am about to say it only once: fuck off. Get out of here, disperse, and for the love of all the gods don’t let me catch you doing anything this miserably stupid anytime soon, or there will be consequences.”

There was a wonderful, if brief, silence before the spell broke and the crowd started shuffling hurriedly away, trying to look unmemorable. Tavros glanced back at Karkat, who was now actually showing something related to open admiration on his face, and then at Vimes, and back to Karkat.

“And you,” Vimes said, turning, “can stop looking like that, Vantas. Doesn’t suit you in the slightest. --All right, everybody, show’s over, go the hell back to work. Detritus, stand down. Carefully.”

Tavros looked at Gamzee, and for a second he was sure he saw a little pink elephant with wings alight on the top of his head and wave its trunk at him.

This was the weirdest planet.