A subdued Liliac rejoined Class Two as they made their daily walk from Uberwald down to Ankh-Morpork. She glanced over the column as she slipped in between Phoebe and Cazzie. "Where's Lindyellwen?" she whispered to Phoebe.
Phoebe didn't look round. "With a doctor in the city," she said in a low voice. "Are you asking because she's an elf?"
Liliac blinked. "Well, yes."
"And is that why you claimed to be my friend, too?"
"... oh." Liliac shook her head slightly. "Phoebe, protecting elves is my job, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. Personally I think Lindyellwen is a vapid waste of oxygen."
"Then why did you ask about her?" Cazzie said tautly. Liliac sighed.
"Because it's not about 'personally'. She's an elf, and elves are..." She shook her head. "Look, do you realise how important the elven races are to fiction? To imagination? Try and picture a world without Shakespeare's fairies, Wells' Eloi, Tolkien's Eldar – and without all the stories inspired by them."
"I suppose it would be a bit less interesting," Cazzie conceded, but Liliac shook her head vehemently.
"The whole of fiction would fall apart," she said. "We know – we've checked. There's a universe where the most popular subject for fanfic is, I kid you not, The Sound of Music – which has been remade six times. That's what happens without elves – and it still could."
She glanced between her erstwhile friends, her expression almost pleading.
"Don't you see? Cruelty to elves is lessening people's respect for the fantastic. It doesn't matter if it's an original character torturing Legolas or the PPC killing a Mary-Sue – it turns the immortal into a joke. And if we let that happen, the human imagination will die."
"So I'm just a pawn to you," Phoebe said through gritted teeth and tear-streaked eyes. "Thanks for nothing, Liliac."
"No," Liliac said, "a thousand times no." She grimaced. "I'm sorry, I've just got back from being dead, my priorities are a bit scrambled. I meant to say it earlier – the fact that I protect elves doesn't mean I like them. I might have first spoken to you because you were an elf – but I spent time with you because I enjoyed your company. I really am your friend, Phoebe – that is, if you'll let me be."
Phoebe looked at the young woman, her hands in her pockets and dark roots showing in her blonde streaks, and sighed. "Maybe, then," she relented. "But only if you promise not to try and drag me through any more wormholes."
Liliac laughed softly. "No more wormholes," she promised. "Although... oh, dear. Is that what I think it is?"
A murmur was spreading through the class, and there was a surreptitious movement towards the back of the column. It wasn't hard to see why. They were approaching the gates of Ankh-Morpork, and the familiar figure of Lindyellwen was waiting for them. Or mostly familiar – for in place of the hand Magrat had hacked off was a beautifully polished, intricately carved and extremely realistic wooden hoof.
Phoebe bit her lip and glanced at Liliac, who was working equally hard to keep from laughing.
"Respect for elves, eh?" Phoebe asked. Liliac grinned.
"Sometimes it's harder than others," she admitted. "Still, as long as nobody hits her, I think we can let this one pass."
"Good thing, too," said a new voice, and the girls turned to look – or rather, stare – at the speaker. It chewed briefly on the end of what was probably meant to be a cigarette and continued reflectively. "Mind you, I wouldn't complain about seeing that thing you did in Lancre. Sounds interesting." Somehow, the word 'interesting' managed to come with connotations of 'easy to steal and sell'.
Cazzie broke the silence. "What... are you?" she asked. "Some sort of monkey in armour?"
The monkey sniffed. "Shows what you know," it said. "I'm human. Got a piece of paper to prove it."
"Oh," said Phoebe, realising. "Then you must be-"
"Corporal Nobbs, Ankh-Morpork City Watch," said Nobby Nobbs, and grimaced. "And you lot are my new students."
"Awesome!" screamed Maligna Chiroptera. "We get taught by Nobby Nobbs!"
"I love this job," Nobby said to no-one in particular, sidling up to the front of the group. "Rightio, ladies, this here is the Onion Gate of the great city of Ankh-Morpork."
"We know," called Sirius Skylighter from the back. "We've been here before."
"Oh? Good," Nobby said with a huge, beaming grin. "Then you can prob'ly take over here. How about you tell your friends all about how to get in after nightfall, and I'll go and do some actual work?"
"Er," said Sirius. "You knock?"
Nobby tsked disapprovingly. "And here I thought you were the expert," he said. "I suppose I'll have to keep-"
"I don't think that will be necessary, Corporal," said a new voice, and a tall man with red hair stepped out of the gate. "I'll take-"
"ME!" squealed the voice that cut him off, and Becky Glienna launched herself out of the crowd in a flying tackle intended to knock Captain Carrot to the ground.
She bounced off with a clang and fell to the dusty ground. Carrot didn't even flinch – just looked down at her with his big, honest face.
"I really ought to charge you with Assaulting an Officer of the Law," he said sternly, "but given the ineffectiveness of your attack, and the fact that you are a visitor to our fair city, I will let you off with a warning." He straightened up and smiled at the stunned faces of Class Two. "Now, let's begin. How many of you ladies have ever considered a career in the City Watch?"
A scattering of hands went up, including Kisheara and Phoenix Flight, and (of course) Maligna and Esme. Becky, still on the floor, raised a foot, and Phoebe was mildly surprised to see Iplis nudge Penny. "Hmm?" the PPCer mumbled, then raised a hand in response to a whisper from Iplis. Phoebe shook her head – clearly her friend wasn't getting enough sleep.
Carrot was practically beaming. "Marvellous!" he exclaimed. "Your enthusiasm for upholding the law does you credit. But apart from that obvious priority, I would be delighted to hear what else attracts you to the Watch. Perhaps you can go first, Miss... Chiroptera?"
Maligna blinked, then shrugged. "Mostly Nobby," she admitted. "He's just so awesome."
"Too right I am," called Nobby from where he leant against the gate, attempting to light his cigarette. "You've got a good one there, Captain."
"And what about you, Miss Flight?" Carrot asked, ignoring his colleague completely.
"It just seems so exciting," Phoenix Flight replied. "I mean, chasing criminals over rooftops, dodging bullets – er, arrows – that sort of thing."
For a second, a look crossed Carrot's face – something between disapproval and disappointment. Then he glanced at Nobby, gave a slight nod, and put on a surprised expression.
"My goodness," he said. "It seems Corporal Nobbs has lost control of a dangerous criminal. If only someone were to catch him for me, I would be very grateful."
In retrospect, Phoebe realised that Captain Carrot was an extremely bad actor, and that none of them ought to have been fooled for an instant. Unfortunately, at the time the collective thought process of Class Two went: There is a running man. Captain Carrot will like us if we catch him. Captain Carrot is nice (or, in several cases, 'hott'). Therefore...
The girls charged. Phoebe knocked Cazzie to one side, gasped an apology, and then fell over as Traveler collided with her knees. Either elven grace or sheer good luck let her regain her balance, just in time for an invisible arm to slam into her, hard. She fell down, and was still on the floor when the fleeing figure turned and shot his closest pursuer – Vee – through the heart.
As the Death of Fangirls climbed to her feet, she met Llama's eyes. "Sorry for knocking you down," the Personification of Insanity said cheerfully. "Hey, this is fun!"
"I'M SURE," Phoebe intoned, and stalked towards Vee's fallen form, passing through the confused crowd like an anti-ghost. Only a few of them met her eyes – Hawkelf's shade, and Iplis, who gave her a long look and approving nod. Then Carrot began to speak again, and even they turned away.
"Well, you've let him escape," the watchman said, shaking his head. "How do you account for this?"
"He shot Vee!" called a handful of the girls. Carrot raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, he was extremely dangerous," he agreed. "That should have made apprehending him all the more important. But Miss Vee was the only one of you to even come close."
"Well, he ran fast," Andy said, and as Phoebe knelt down next to Vee she practically heard Carrot's smile.
"Then clearly you need training. I think three laps of Endless Street should do for a start, don't you, Corporal?"
"Oh yes," grinned Nobby Nobbs. "And you know what? I reckon their Administrator will be right behind the idea of punishment for the slowest..."
"You're well out of that one," Phoebe said to Vee's motionless form. "Does that make you feel better?"
"Not significantly," Vee's shade replied, sitting up. "You're Phoebe, right?" She stood and glanced down at the blue cord extending from her ankle. "Er..."
"Let me get that for you," Phoebe said, and swung her scythe. Vee nodded her thanks.
"So what happens now?" she asked, stretching. "I asked to be a zombie if I died – do I just go back in?"
"Er," said Phoebe. "I prefer not to tell people – YOU KNOW HOW IT IS."
"I suppose I'd better get settled in, then," Vee said cheerfully, and dived back into her corpse. Phoebe blinked, then looked down at the disgruntled shape of the mini-Luggage Hexxx.
"Don't blame me," she snapped as her scythe vanished. "You should have run faster. You've got the legs for it."
Vee sat up with a groan and pulled the crossbow bolt from her chest. "That hurt," she said to no-one in particular, and looked around.
"Ah, ladies," said Captain Carrot politely. "I'm pleased to see you're both back with us."
"Not that you get to stay," Nobby put in. Carrot smiled.
"The corporal is of course correct. You have three laps of Endless Street to complete – and your classmates have quite a lead on you."
Disclaimer: All Discworld canon characters and locations are the creations of Sir Terry Pratchett. The Official Fanfiction University concept is the creation of Miss Cam. The Interdimensional Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Elves is my invention. Phoebe is based on an application to OFUDisc by Fawkes Phoenix. All other students are based on applications to OFUDisc. All details of (and mistakes in) plot, narrative and dialogue are mine. Thanks to the Irish Samurai for betaing.
Author's Note: Gosh, it seems like ages since we saw an actual lesson at this University. Pair it up with the 'other side' view of Ispace and its operations, and this is one of the most information-rich chapters in the story – at least for the students.