©Jane H. Buckingham 2008 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.

ru/

Methodius Buslaev The Midnight Wizard
Dmitrii Emets

Translated from Russian by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by Shona Brandt and Ivan Rodionov

Cover designed by Georgiy Lebedev

©Jane H. Buckingham 2008 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Prologue Tibidox. Office of Sardanapal. Three years after the birth of Tanya Grotter and seven years before her appearance on Buyan Island. A fire was blazing in the fireplace of Sardanapal Chernomorov, the head of Tibidox. The pithecanthropus Tararakh was sitting by the fireplace and roasting shashlik threaded on a sword. The meat was sizzling tastily and intermittently shooting drops of fat. “Of course, it’s not bad mutton, but no comparison to mammoth nonetheless, some tears!” Tararakh grumbled. “And what am I roasting with? Seven magicians in the school, all smart — horror, one is even an academician — and you’d think at least someone could find the time to conjure up a normal skewer. Thankfully, Two hundred years ago I took away Marshal Davout’s sword. A good sword — just right for twelve pieces.” Tararakh did not exaggerate. In the office of the academician were actually all seven Tibidox instructors — Sardanapal himself, the Great Tooth, Yagge, Slander, Medusa, Nightingale O. Robber and Professor Stinktopp. Moreover, they were in a situation, which could not be called pleasant in any way. Sardanapal’s moustaches intermittently trembled hopelessly. A gold clip firmly kept their rebellious tips at the back of his head. This was a sure sign that the head of the Tibidox School was disposed to a serious manner. “I have two pieces of news: poor and abysmal. Which one should I begin with?” the academician asked. “Sardanapal, take pity on an old woman. Begin with the poor. I’m finishing knitting a cap for Yagunchik. If I make a mistake now, I’ll have to take apart a lot,” Yagge remarked carefully, raising her eyes from the knitting needles. “No-no, don’t be over-modest! Don’t age the old folks, they’re younger than fine young folks! Has she forgotten how to charm knitting needles so that they knit by themselves?” the Great Tooth smiled. “My Yagunchik doesn’t like conjured caps. He said that his ears cannot find room in them,” objected Yagge. Little Yagun, lively like mercury, was the pet of Granny and a big problem for the rest of Tibidox. He could not stay in one place at all. They had removed him several times from the vacuum half way to Bald Mountain, and once they found him by the Sinister Gates, which he was trying to open with a nail, using it like a master key. A minor detail prevented him: the nail turned out to be a centimetre short. “Yes, Yagunchik’s ears are rare. I won’t be surprised if the boy plays dragonball well. They’ll allow him to decrease flying speed rather well, gradually and smoothly, and make sharp turns,” nodded Nightingale O. Robber. Sardanapal reproachfully gave a cough. “This morning I finished some calculations. In three days, at 5 p.m., there will be a total solar eclipse. It will last seven-and-a-half minutes — the maximum astronomically possible duration for solar eclipse. Here, on Buyan, we will see nothing. But then Moscow will find itself to be completely in the dark shadow. From one outlying district to another. For seven-and-a-half minutes the city will be submerged in darkness...” Tararakh licked the fat off a finger and examined the meat. “In my life I’ve seen a number of eclipses. And never anything… Except somehow during Palaeolithic times a
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brisk young fellow from a neighbouring tribe took advantage of the panic and robbed me of an outstanding rock axe.” “Tararakh, the eclipse, which I’m talking about, is not ordinary. Even The Ancient One warned about it. And The Ancient One was not inclined to senseless panic,” said Sardanapal. “As far as I understand, the eclipse — it’s also the promised bad news. And now I’m beginning to get a bad feel!” Medusa said. “Really. He will be named Methodius Buslaev. He will appear on Earth two minutes after the sun is hidden. The Ancient One was convinced that the boy will have the gift.” “Many babies will knock on the door of the world in those seven-and-a-half minutes. It’s possible someone else will have the gift,” Medusa objected reasonably. “No, Medi. I’m convinced that precisely he will have the gift. There are too many coincidences. The arrangement of the stars, place, and time of birth, the eclipse, and, most importantly, the blood. Among the boy’s kin were numerous magicians. In the Middle Ages they burned one of his great-great-great… at the stake. With a look she inflicted the plague on her neighbours and did this more often than normal courtesy required.” “And is there any hope that Methodius Buslaev will not become aware of his gift?” Medusa carefully asked. “Hope is eternal. However, in the given situation it has passed away even before the appearance of the boy in the world,” the academician joked darkly. Sardanapal got up and, not looking at anyone, began to walk around the office. “White magicians? Wonderful! Black magicians? Remarkable! But we have forgotten those, whose power exceeds our sorcery and incantations many times! Those more ancient than the Egyptian pyramids! The guards of Gloom! The guards of Light! Here are the ones who need his gift!” he said with conviction. “But Sardanapal! You are probably exaggerating. It’s possible the guards of gloom and darkness know nothing about Methodius Buslaev,” the Great Tooth carefully said. Slander Slanderych and Professor Stinktopp exchanged ironic glances. “Zey know eferyzing about ze boy, if his gift is vorz at least one kopeck!” Stinktopp muttered. The clip came off Sardanapal’s moustaches, and they began to jump, conducting an invisible orchestra. “Yes, Professor, yes and again yes! In the last centuries, we were all criminally negligent! Magic books, incantations, dragonball, fights with ancient idols not wanting to calm down — it has become our world. But this…” here the academician lowered his voice to a whisper, “why deceive ourselves? On the day when the boy is born, the accursed spring again will begin to turn, so that in thirteen years… I don’t even want to think about this.” “The guards of Gloom…” Medusa said thoughtfully. “Only imagine that there was a time when I didn’t see the difference between magicians and guards. But later I understood. Magicians — white or black — do not depend on moronoids. Their world exists separately from ours. We don’t interfere in its history and only strive to keep moronoids from finding out about us. The guards of Gloom are a totally different matter. They need the moronoids… Their thoughts, their feelings, especially their eide…” Slander looked at her sombrely, “Exactly, Medusa! There is a monstrous difference between simple magicians, such as us, and the guards of Gloom… Like between chickens and turkeys. Some fly, and others… others fly…”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2008 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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“It’s because we, even the darks like Stinktopp and Deni, are not injected with the power of eide,” said Docent Gorgonova. “If we put aside morals, the renunciation of the use of eide has its minuses. The gift of each magician — white or dark — is assigned primordially. It’s possible to learn to manage it, to learn several hundred incantations, but the gift itself will not become bigger with the years, just slightly more polished. Take at least our students. Among them are strong magicians, but also such, who only know how to force a stool to grow buds and to bloom. And we are also forced to take them!” Yagge beat around the bush. “But a ring? An artefact? Really, don’t they intensify the gift?” Tararakh naively asked. Nightingale O. Robber began to laugh, “They strengthen. But only until you master them. An artefact is like a club for a pithecanthropus. Does it make him stronger?” “You bet! Indeed, I know! Especially if a good one appears. Entirely smooth, even, and with a bulge at the end. With a twig or something there also,” Tararakh assured him. Nostalgia clouded his eyes. “In my opinion, if you strike a sharp blow with the club, it won’t seem like anything. But what’s with eide here? What is it in general?” “Eide are what the guards of Gloom strive to keep in their darc in order to become stronger!” the Great Tooth explained. Tararakh minced words, “Great! I adore you, Deni! You have the ability to analyse and pigeonhole so understandably. Imagine, I don’t know what such a thing as a ‘mouse’ is and I ask you. You answer, ‘Dear Tararakh, they catch a mouse with a mousetrap.’ ‘And what is a mousetrap?’ I ask. ‘A mousetrap is what you use to catch a mouse.’ Now I understand why your students dread your lessons.” “Eidos, which guards of Gloom hunt for, is this nucleus, the essence of spiritualization of material, the ticket to eternity, the key to immortality, the soul. The most essential and important thing there is in each moronoid, in you, and even in Yagge, although she’s also a goddess. Everyone only has one eidos. One that can’t be counterfeited or copied with the help of magic. A moronoid who has lost his life and body but preserved his eidos loses nothing. But a person who has lost his eidos loses everything even if his body, reason, and life are out of danger,” explained Sardanapal. “Hmm… And how does it look?” Tararakh asked. “Almost not at all. Eidos doesn’t have a weight, a form. Or it has. Magicians have been arguing this already for several thousand years. Absalom the Flattened considered that eidos is an invisible precious stone thousands of times more valuable than any diamond, even the largest. Ekril the Wise was certain that it’s the second, the main heart, which governs the beating of the first heart. Hugo the Sly foggily asserted that eidos is ‘that is, which is not.’ In other words, eidos does not exist until each concrete individual is aware of its existence. Only then will it appear. However, the majority of scientists, including your humble servant, concurs that everyone has an eidos, independent of whether he is aware of it or not. An eidos is like a small bluish spark or a grain of sand. This spark has enormous incomparable power, precisely attaches us to eternity, and doesn’t leave after death of the flesh that rots. Eidos is the eternal element of existence, in a word, a part of The One who created us. It can’t be destroyed by either a division of gargoyles or nuclear explosion or loss of the Universe — nothing. And even one eidos has this power! “Specifically, this is also how guards of Gloom earn their living. The more eide in a guard’s darc, the greater his ability and, therefore, the higher he stands in the hierarchy among his own. It troubles the guards not in the least that they take away eternity
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together with the eidos from the moronoid. To them it’s the object of the hunt, nothing more.” “They take eide away by force?” “Eidos cannot be taken away by force. But it can be voluntarily given away. It’s possible to present it as a gift, to sell or exchange it for a diamond, an empire, a bite of an apple — whatever one values it at. There is already nothing to be done about this. For hundreds of years millions of moronoids have already parted with their eide migrating to the darc of the guards of Gloom,” said Sardanapal with sadness. “And the guards of Light? They don’t need eide?” the pithecanthropus asked. “Guards of Light are summoned to protect the eide of mortals and not to steal them! They don’t obliterate someone else’s eternity. The Ancient One, however great he was, never encroached upon a single eidos. Although now and then it seems to me that he was not simply a white magician. I do think that…” “…he was one of the guards of Light?” Slander finished for him. “Possible,” Sardanapal answered evasively. “Guards of Light rarely shout about themselves in everybody’s hearing. They respect the freedom of choice and prefer the role of observers.” “But why is this boy so dangerous, Sardanapal? Why must we fear Methodius Buslaev?” Sardanapal sat down at the table and, after dipping a goose feather into the ink, made an intricate flourish on the paper. “What do you know about The Ancient One? Not as the wisest magician, the founder of Tibidox, but about the man of flesh and blood? Not much, right?” “Very little. He didn’t like to mix business and private life. And generally, when I was acquainted with him, he behaved like he was out of the body. He could pass by a half metre from you and not even notice you. It seemed that all the time his thoughts were somewhere in astral,” said Medusa. The academician nodded, “Approximately how the matter stood. Especially in the last years, when The Ancient One reached such enlightenment, when he saw both the past and the future. And when you see both the past and the future at the same time, the present somehow comes up short. And you, of course, didn’t know that The Ancient One had a son?” “I, no,” said Medusa. “But I knew. However, what became of him is unknown to me. The Ancient One never mentioned it,” announced Yagge. “It happened on a fall night in the last year of the magic wars,” remarked Sardanapal. “The world was so overcrowded with evil that it already began to tire. The Ancient One and his son were returning after some meeting. It so happened that the two of them found themselves in a remote forest. Suddenly they were attacked. Evil spirits and guards of Gloom surrounded them forming a continuous wall. They could not teleport or summon aid or use incantations — the attackers foresaw everything and provided themselves with strong artefacts. Then The Ancient One plunged his sword deep into the tree. The magic of his sword, the magic of the tree, and the magic of the earth, which the tree was connected to with roots, joined together, and a narrow ring of light was formed around the tree trunk. The Ancient One and his son stood in that shining circle, around which crowded the attackers. Evil spirits swarmed, climbed onto each other, crushed the ones in
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front, but could not force their way inside the circle. The guards of Gloom were smarter. They got up to a certain distance and, without attempting to force their way in, stood calmly, and awaited their hour. They knew that all the same, they could not force their way into the circle and the wisest thing was not to expend energy in vain. So passed two days and two nights. There were more and more evil spirits all the time. They covered the circle on all sides, even swarmed below, underground. All the time the guards of Gloom were still there. They quietly sat on the ground and waited. All their best soldiers were there — the hunchback Ligul, the swordsman Ares, Horse, and others. They hoped that their time would come. The Ancient One and his son slept in turns, racking their brains over how to send a signal for help and call the remaining powers of Light. Then on the third night, already near dawn, when The Ancient One, on duty till then, fell asleep, the swordsman Ares insulted the son and challenged him. Ares swore the inviolable oath of Gloom that they would fight face to face and if the son won, then they would let him and his father go. The son of The Ancient One, very young and passionate, accepted the challenge. He pulled his father’s sword out of the tree, not noticing that the tip broke off and remained in the tree, and took a step from the circle…” “And here the evil spirits attacked him?” Tararakh asked anxiously. Forgetting about the shashlik, the passionate pithecanthropus waved Marshal Davout’s sword, splashing Professor Stinktopp with hot fat. “You out of your mind! You zrow your bad shashlik at me!” Stinktopp began to squeal. “No. I think that the battle was actually honestly fought. There was no point for Ares to violate the oath, and it’s also not his principle,” continued Sardanapal. “While Ares and the son were fighting with cold steel, a tired Ancient One was sleeping inside the circle, seeing and hearing nothing. I think that his sleep was intensified by witchcraft of the Gloom magicians. The son of The Ancient One handled the blade well, but nevertheless not as good as the best sword of the guards of Gloom. A minute had not passed when Ares beheaded him and spilled his blood on the ground… The evil spirits, sensing blood, completely broke loose. They went for the sleeping Ancient One, but could not kill him because the magic circle though weakened, nevertheless sustained; indeed the tip of the sword had remained in the tree trunk… After a day, a detachment of white magicians, having gone through the entire area, found The Ancient One. I was also there, in that detachment. The Ancient One was still under the power of the sleep spell. None of the serious guards of Gloom was there. Only the evil spirits, whom they drove away sufficiently quickly, and whom, rumbling, crawled away along the burrows and the ravines… The Ancient One buried what the evil spirits had left of his son. In complete solitude he dug out the grave with a dagger.” “I knew nothing. Strange that it was never talked about,” said Medusa. “Only the closest students and friends of The Ancient One knew this. He made us take an oath to keep silent about this. I would not have violated the oath even now, if I did not see an urgent need,” said Sardanapal. “Indeed? What’s here with the son of The Ancient One and this boy Buslaev? What connects them?” straightening her glasses, Dentistikha asked. The academician looked at her with reproach, “You’re rushing it, Deni. The ties of the magic world are too complex to be possible for understanding by a superficial look. The sword of The Ancient One was lost. The hunchback Ligul, who was there with Ares, picked it up from the ground and took it away. This Ligul, once a close friend of Ares,
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was already beginning to envy him then and little by little became his fierce enemy. But he also remained a friend to some degree. Man has this variation on a theme called ‘cursed friend’. Some time later Ligul found the means to turn the strongest artefact of Light into an artefact of Gloom. For this reason, he brought the sword of The Ancient One through many transformations, in each new transformation making it slightly worse and darker than it was before. However, this occurred so gradually that the sword itself didn’t notice the changes. It became a spear, a fiery whip, a stirrup, a ring, and a dark dagger. In its entire embodiment, it sowed death and took away many lives. But these transformations of the artefact were only partly the way. In the finale, it will again become the sword of The Ancient One, but a sword converted into its own opposite. As a sword of Gloom… I don’t know, has the sword passed all the transformations and who has it now? It’s possible that Ligul still has it. Indeed, does the hunchback not hope to go with its help into the Temple of Eternal Skip, located in Middle Earth, between Eden, where dwell the guards of Light, and Hades, where the Chancellery of the guards of Gloom is? But hardly this even with the power of the sword of The Ancient One.” “The Temple of Eternal Skip… The temple, over which neither Light nor Gloom has any authority… The Temple is so ancient that all the civilizations of Earth are only sand at its feet,” dreamily repeated Yagge. “Indeed, indeed, I was there. Frightfully long ago. Then there wasn’t even a trace of Tibidox, and Buyan only just stuck its top out of the ocean… Middle Earth, somewhere between Eden and Hades! A foolish moronoid taking it into his head to find them on the globe would only spoil his eyesight, and meanwhile Middle Earth is much more real than all their continents. Imagine an enormous plain — sand bleached by the sun, greyish islets of soil with dozens of stunted trees, and rocks jutting from the ground at unthinkable angles. The rocks stand tight together, precisely forming a corridor. You go between them like in a spiral — there is no flight magic there — and suddenly your sight stumbles upon columns. And you understand that before you is something more ancient than magic, more ancient and wiser than even Light and Dark. Something such that no one among the living now has any authority over.” “How about Egyptian pyramids?” Nightingale O. Robber asked. Although he played dragonball excellently, he travelled little, and in the previous years even stayed put completely in his native Mordovia, catching passers-by in the forests. Yagge sneered, “Egyptian pyramids in comparison with the Temple of Eternal Skip — it’s such a sick fantasy along the theme of a vertical coffin… You go along for a few hours, and no time does the Temple get any nearer, or it approaches so gradually that you don’t notice it. Then suddenly — no less surprisingly — you find yourself beside it. The doors of the Temple are always open. You can approach very near and see the floor — black and white marble squares. Another door is visible in the distance, slightly opened but not so that it would be possible to see what’s behind it. But the temptation is great. Certainty it strikes you that there, on the other side, lies something awfully important, some such thing that all present and lost artefacts pale before it… Some such thing, for which those who lived before Gloom and Light, those for whom magic was as natural as breathing, even built this colossal Temple.” “Can’t you simply approach and have a look? Or use remote sight?” Medusa asked. The knitting needles in Yagge’s hands traced a reproachful semicircle. “Medusa, dear, although this happened awfully long ago, I was already far from a naive girl and knew
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enough magic. What variations didn’t I try! Teleportation, flight, all forms of sight, remote intuition… Useless.” “You vere unable to but Mezodius Buslaeff vill know how?” inflating his cheeks, Professor Stinktopp asked. Sardanapal compassionately looked at his rat waistcoat. “It’s possible, Ziggy… Everything is possible. Methodius Buslaev, who will become aware of his dark gift. Who, after receiving a cloak, will go to the labyrinth of marble slabs on his thirteenth birthday, will go through the slightly opened door and, after taking what the ancients had left there, will give this to the guards of Gloom. The relative equilibrium between Light and Gloom will be disrupted. Gloom at once will cut its way through all cracks like water oozing through the bottom of a rotted ship. Thousands of eide, which Light is protecting now, will be stolen by Gloom. Everything depends on whether Methodius Buslaev will be able to control this darkness that is primordially placed in him.” The fire in the fireplace blazed and went out. In complete calm, the heavy velvet curtains puffed up like the sails of a ship. Two ancient black magic books began to rush about in the cage and, having suddenly turned into ashes, crumbled through the bars onto the carpet. Yagge raised her eyes from the knitting needles. “Well now, I knew it! The loop was torn. And indeed I’m almost finished,” she said with regret. “Methodius Buslaev! He hasn’t yet been born and Gloom is already in premonition of his birth!” Medusa said. “Methodius Buslaev… We’ll try to influence him somehow? To get into contact with him? To bring him, eventually, into Tibidox?” the Great Tooth asked huskily. Sardanapal’s beard did a wavy movement. “What’s with you, Deni? This boy — into Tibidox? With his gift? No, the road to Tibidox is forever denied him. We won’t even be able to interfere, since the matters of Light and Gloom are not subject to us, elementary magicians. We’ll observe the boy from a distance — no more. In such matters there’ll be a little bit of caution… And remember: no one in Tibidox, besides us, must know anything about Methodius! NOT ONE STUDENT! In the next twelve years in any case! I demand, I insist, I, finally, order everyone to take an oath!” “Sardanapal, what precisely is the boy’s gift? I know what a dark gift is, but how will it appear this time?” Tararakh asked. “We know that its forms are infinite!” The head of Tibidox stared back at the pithecanthropus’ ardent Asia Minor gaze. “I don’t know exactly, Tararakh! I can only surmise. And if it’s what I think, then it’s terrible. So terrible that I prefer to be silent. And now swear! Well! I want you all to utter May lightening strike me down!” Several sparks blazed — red and green. Slander, Medusa, Yagge, the Great Tooth, Professor Stinktopp… Sardanapal, attentively following so that everyone without exception would make a vow, let out the last spark. Tararakh, not having a ring, did it without a spark, limiting it to a simple utterance of the oath. The gold sphinx on the office door tucked its paws under and became like a wet unhappy kitten. So many May lightening strike me down in one office in something like a minute — this was a lot even for a sphinx that had seen sights.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2008 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Chapter 1 The Lunar Reflection Edward Khavron thoroughly squeezed out the blackhead on his cheek and, after stepping back, admired his own muscles. He was standing naked to the waist in front of the mirror, and inspecting himself like a doctor from the military registration and enlistment office would inspect a draftee. “Well, am I really not an athlete? Really not a handsome man? I would simply fall in love with myself, but I must go to work!” he said complacently. “Eddy, don’t pull in your stomach!” Zozo Buslaeva shouted from the room. Even through two doors, she knew all her brother’s tricks. “What’s with the stomach here? It’s just that I have such bulging solar plexus. But generally you can’t see it under a coat,” Eddy was insulted; however, his mood was destroyed. Oh, indeed these sisters of one’s own! It is necessary to put up with such things from them that one would drown any outsider as Gerasim did to Mumu. Having thoroughly cleaned his twenty-eight teeth — according to statistics, thirty-two teeth exist only in a third of humanity and in the imagination of writers, who adore indiscriminately endowing their heroes with superfluous wisdom — Edward Khavron made his way to the only room of their apartment. The apartment was misplaced so far in the outskirts of Moscow that now and then it seemed as if Moscow did not exist at all. But the Moscow Ring Highway with its endless cars was visible from the window like on one’s palm. Not without reason they were living on the topmost, sixteenth floor. The room was partitioned off into two unequal parts by a dresser standing sideways like a screen. In one part — the larger — dwelled Zozo Buslaeva (Khavron before her married life) with her son Methodius. In the other — the rather fine Eddy with his family of suits, twelve pairs of shoes polished to a lustre, and a bar, on which two twentykilogram weights tingled despondently at night. When Eddy Khavron entered the room, Zozo was dejectedly thumbing through a magazine of dating ads, occasionally encircling the most interesting ones with a felt-tip pen. In her passport, Zozo Buslaeva was Zoe. However, Zozo did not like her passport. The pages of the passport contained too much excessive information. In the opinion of the owner, it would be completely sufficient if it would simply appear there: Zozo. Nice, brief, with taste, and allowing room for imagination. Her son Methodius was sitting at the table and already for about forty minutes glumly simulating the writing of a composition on literature. So far, he had given birth to only one phrase: In my opinion, the books are average and not very. With this, his creative juice ran low and now Methodius dully slaved on. Having pensively stomped around in the middle of the room, Eddy Khavron set off to his side behind the dresser and began to get dressed, hypercritically scrutinizing shirts and even for some reason sniffing some of them under the arms. Methodius considered his own uncle to be like a monkey. Eddy even had hair on his neck. From there it ran down like a snake and in the region of the chest transformed into an untidy reddish lawn. Furthermore, from the point of view of the same Methodius, Edward Khavron was terribly old. He was twenty-nine years old. Unfortunately, in spite of decrepitude, the old age home still would not take Eddy for the time being. Therefore, the wretch had to work as a waiter in the fashionable restaurant Ladyfingers. In his free time, the might-have-been pensioner courted visitors of his institution, preferring rich
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ladies expressing maternal instinct. “If I would be like Eddy in my old age, I’d jump out the window!” Methodius decided. He slammed shut the notebook with the composition and without any inspiration moved to his chemistry textbook. The day had somehow gone awry. Zozo Buslaeva crossly nibbled the felt-tip pen and, drawing a horn over one of the photographs, decorated it with dozens of pimples. “Oh, look, what a cad! I’d kill such a man on the spot! What he writes! ‘Lady with apartment and car, I will serenade you on your balcony! Your pussy. Age — 52. Weight — 112 kg. Phone the Bumble Bee Restaurant on Tsvetnoi Boulevard between 9 and 10 p.m. Ask for Victor.’” she exclaimed with indignation. “I know this Bumble Bee. Such a cheap dive. The last time they washed the glasses was on opening day. Since then the glasses are sterilized only if vodka is in them…” Eddy said capriciously. “Are you finished?” Zozo asked. She was up on how Eddy adored criticising strange restaurants. “No, I’m not! And the prices at Bumble Bee are not rounded up. How’s this for price? Sixty-two fifty or a hundred and seven eighty? What fool will add all this up? The higher class the institution — the more the prices round up. It’s easier for a client to be in the mood for generosity, but here he mechanically reaches for the calculator, mechanically starts to count and becomes mean as a result!” the voice said from behind the dresser. Zozo yawned. Methodius occasionally fiddled with the chemistry textbook in his hands, moved it aside, and, listening to his internal state, touched the history textbook with a finger. He touched it very carefully and again listened to his sensations. No, again not that… Not one string trembled in his soul. Neither desire nor even a half-desire to be occupied with anything. Why is he like this today? “Interesting, could a lunatic weighing a hundred and twelve kilos break a balcony?” he asked. “We don’t have a balcony!” Zozo said. “And no car either! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be necessary for me to catch a taxi eternally. I only have a cell phone, a pile of clothing, and an honest noble heart!” Eddy added. “What’s that about you having a heart? Did you say something?” Zozo again asked inattentively. “I said that I’ve had enough of everything. Especially your good-for-nothing with his tricks!” Eddy was offended. At last, he finally decided on a shirt and appeared from behind the dresser. Now in order to become a waiter thoroughly, he only lacked a bowtie. But he usually put it on after being already at work. “My good-for-nothing? What complaints do you have against Methodius?” Zozo exerted herself. “He knows what! My complaints are as big as a whale and as serious as a gangster’s family!” Edward unexpectedly leaned over and firmly took Methodius by the ear. “Listen here, victim of an intoxicated midwife! You take any small change from my wallet again, I’ll break you like a hot water bottle, and it’ll be nothing to me! I have the white slip!” he affectionately turned to Methodius, baring teeth as small as a polecat’s. Edward Khavron was simply a pathological skinflint. Now and then, it drove quite a wedge into Eddy and he would even begin to draw lines with a felt-tip pen on toilet paper, placing his signature
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on the lines. Fortunately, this did not happen more often than twice a year, when he had lost all his money at cards or at the arcades. “I did not,” Methodius said. “Don’t you think that I’m a fool. I’m only a fool in profile! How many buttons were done up on my wallet this morning? Two! But I always button only one! And I never zipper to the end in the partition for small change!” “Look after your buttons yourself! Mom, your relative is killing me! I’ll be one-eared and… ah… deformed!” Methodius reported, after puckering from the pain. The uncle was digging his nails very painfully into his ear. Possibly, they gave the white slip to him lawfully, though also took 300 bucks for it. “Here I’m an ass! The second button! Had to be nabbed for such nonsense,” Methodius thought. The nails clamped down like pincers on his ear. “Have you understood everything, shorty? What about the take?” Eddy hissed. “Ah! Leave me alone, twerp! Buy yourself an inflatable doll!” Methodius snapped. “What did you squeal? Well, repeat it! Repeat, say it!” Khavron raged. “Boys, boys!” Zozo interceded conciliatorily. “Perhaps we’ll stop fighting for no reason? So, shake hands and make up?” Khavron unwillingly let go of his nephew’s ear. “Shake! Only let him remember: I catch him again — I’ll break him!” he repeated. “Like hell you’ll catch me again!” Methodius said in an undertone. Lucky for him, Eddy was no longer listening. After jumping into a pair of his beloved boots, with a brush he whisked away from them a speck invisible to the world, and rushed into the big city on the hunt for tips and success. *** Methodius and his mother remained in the apartment. Zozo Buslaeva put down the magazine and pensively looked at her son. A normal twelve-year-old adolescent — in any case, he appeared normal: skinny with narrow shoulders. He was also not noted for his height. He was ninth in line at gymnastics among fifteen boys of his class, but at the same time somewhat adroit. He played soccer well, ran not badly. When it was necessary to climb up a rope — here he was generally the first. Unfortunately, being ninth in line, more frequently he had to reach up to the rope. And outwardly… outwardly, perhaps, not without charm. The edge of a front tooth chipped off to a third, long light-brown hair gathered at the back into a ponytail. The uniqueness of the hair was that they had not given Methodius a haircut since the moment of birth. At first Zozo did not do this because the child kicked, fought, and shouted like he was wounded, and then the grown Methodius began to assert that it was painful for him when scissors touched his hair. Zozo did not know whether this was true or not, but once, about five years back, when she attempted to clip off a piece of modelling clay stuck to her son’s hair, she saw blood on the scissors, not knowing where it came from. Zozo Buslaeva was frighteningly afraid of the sight of blood. This was left in her from childhood, when, after cutting her hand with a kitchen knife, she decided that she was bleeding to death. Her parents were not at home. Little Zoe, losing her head, hid in the closet and, whimpering from the horror, hundreds of agonies coming alive in her imagination, sat there for one-and-a-half hours until Mother returned and threw open the
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sobbing door. The cut turned out to be minor; however, the horror did not go away and, having once settled in, had arranged for permanent residence. Now then, attempting to cut Methodius’ strand with the modelling clay, Zozo heard that terrible resonant and persistent sound when something drips onto the linoleum. Closing her eyes tight, she stood in the middle of the kitchen and felt how the blood was pouring onto her woollen socks. When, after getting a grip on herself, Zozo nevertheless opened her eyes — the scissors were completely dry, if we do not consider the small brown speck. Besides the hair, there was something else in Methodius, which in no way fit into the scheme called “twelve-year-old adolescent.” And these were the eyes: slanting, not quite symmetrical, and of completely indeterminate colour. Some considered that they were grey, some green, some black, and a couple of people were ready to swear under oath that they were blue. In actuality, their colour changed depending on the illumination and the mood of Methodius himself. Now and then, especially when her son began to be angry or was agitated by something, Zozo — if she happened to be beside him — felt a strange vertigo and weakness. It seemed to her that she was in an elevator descending infinitely into a tight dark mine. She almost saw in reality this elevator with the dim light, the flat iron buttons, and the boldfaced inscription of a marker: “Welcome to Gloom!” She saw and in no way could shake off the hallucination. She experienced the worst shock when Methodius was still a child. Then a dog violently frightened him. This was a foolish sheepdog that adored rushing silently, even without a growl, at people and, without biting, knocking them down with its paws. Then for some time the sheepdog would stand over the victim, sowing horror and delighting in the produced effect, and would run away afterwards. However, three-year-old Methodius did not know this. In his belief, the dog was attacking in earnest. A bewildered Zozo did not even hear how Methodius yelled. She only understood that her son shouted and fixed his eyes on the dog. The sheepdog ran up to Methodius, knocked him down, and then suddenly, by itself with a kind of absurd comicality, fell down sideways and remained lying so, with a thread of saliva gleaming on its canine teeth. Later in court, they said the sheepdog had unexpectedly had a heart attack. For long afterwards, Zozo could not come to her senses. She was unable to forget the dark flame flaring up for a moment in her son’s eyes. This was something impossible to describe, commonplace words like “glow,” “tongues of flame,” “fiery jets,” and so on, would not even come close. Something simply appeared in his pupils, something, which, even she, his mother, could not recall without a shudder. But in the end Zozo discarded everything from her head. Fortunately for her, she was particularly frivolous. She constantly attempted to arrange her personal life, and this took away all her time and energy. Methodius only knew that at first there was papa Igor. Then life rolled papa Igor up in a rug and dragged him off somewhere. Now he appeared once every two or three years, grew bald, threadbare and worn-out by destiny, brought a nosegay of three carnations for the ex-wife and Chinese pistols for the son, and bragged that everything was fine with him. He had a new wife and a firm engaged in repairing washing machines. However, Eddy Khavron, knowing everything, asserted that papa Igor’s business was only so-so and it was not his firm but he himself that repaired washing machines. Sometimes Eddy Khavron branded Mr. Buslaev Sr. with the insulting term “an inferior one-man operation.”
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After papa Igor in the life of Zozo and Methodius there were Uncle Lyosha, Uncle Tolya, and Uncle Innokentii Markovich. Uncle Innokentii Markovich hung around for a long time, almost two years, and earned Methodius’ objection. He forced Methodius to hang up pants, wash his own socks, and call him by name and patronymic. Then Uncle Markovich vanished into thin air somewhere, and Methodius no longer memorized the names of the remaining uncles in order not to overload his young memory heavily. “Choke up the cells of your brain with any nonsense, and then there won’t be enough space for lessons!” he reasoned. Zozo Buslaeva scratched her forehead. She vaguely felt that what happened should not be abandoned so simply. That Methodius got into Eddy’s wallet was extremely serious. She, as a mother and a woman, must now stir up something pedagogical in the spirit of what the wise Makarenko devised. To punish perhaps, or in any case, to be strict. Here the only problem was that Zozo completely could not conceive how to be strict. She herself was even a slob in life. “Ahem… Son, I want to have a talk with you! You’ll not take more of Eddy’s money?” she asked. “Do you know how much I took from him? Ten roubles and fifty kopecks! It wasn’t enough for me to get to school on the shuttle. I didn’t manage the bus because I overslept,” Methodius said unwillingly. “But why did you not ask me?” “You weren’t here. You met that German, who turned out to be a Turk, and set up a date at eight in the morning at the subway,” Methodius said. Zozo blushed slightly, “You can’t talk like that to your mother! I wanted it so myself! But couldn’t you ask Eddy in words? Really, he wouldn’t give it?” Methodius hesitated, “Our Eddy? In words? Have to ask him with a brick instead of words. He would give a thousand lectures. Like: ‘I’ve worked hard and sweated since seven years old, and no one gave me nothing. And you’re already almost thirteen, yet you’re a bum, a retard and a fool. You smoke on the sly and always go stuffing your face.’” Zozo Buslaeva sighed and gave up. Actually, her brother began to manifest business wit early. Maybe not seven, but at seventeen he was already selling nested dolls and army hats on Vorobev Mountains subway stop, for which he was repeatedly beaten up by bad competitors. True, soon Eddy tired of standing under the open sky, catching the wind and head colds. After spending three weeks for checkups in the crazy house, he was discharged from the army and settled down in a restaurant. His wide shoulders and the passionate gaze of a conventional schizophrenic, crowned with the appropriate certificate, brought forth in the visitors of Ladyfingers an unhealthy appetite and a desire to repeat a double coffee with liqueur. “Met!” Zozo summed it up. “It’s possible you’re right and Eddy is a pain in the neck, but promise me never again…” “Never, so never! I’ll go to school on the exhaust pipe of a shuttle!” Methodius promised. Zozo sighed and was about to go into the kitchen, but suddenly some late thought overtook her and lightly nudged her in the back. Zozo stopped. “Kiddo, this evening I’ll have a… eh-eh… guest… Wouldn’t you like to go somewhere? For example, to Ira’s,” she proposed with the look of a cat digging with its paw in a tray of sand. “And not be under foot?” Methodius specified with understanding.
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Zozo thought for a bit. When you are fighting for your destiny and trying to arrange your life, a twelve-year-old son is already compromising material clearer than a passport. “Something like that. Don’t stick your head into the kitchen, don’t gurgle in the bathroom, don’t go for all kinds of nonsense every minute, and don’t be under foot. Exactly!” Zozo decisively repeated. Methodius gave it some thought, estimating whether it was possible to bargain in this matter. “And how about my enormous desire to do homework? Soon the quarter will end. I officially warn you that I’ll grab a railroad carload of threes for the year,” he stated. In general, he had already grabbed it, but now appeared an excellent occasion to find some other guilty person. To miss it would be a sin. “This is insolent blackmail! Maybe you’ll do homework now? Still lots of time till the evening,” Zozo said helplessly. It seemed to Methodius that he saw a weak lilac glow, which Zozo threw out into space. Turning pale, the glow began to extend to the boundary of the room like a drop of paint on wet paper. Methodius, as usual not having any idea how he did it, absorbed the glow like a sponge and understood: mother had yielded. “No. I don’t have the inspiration now. My hour of triumph begins precisely in the evening. In the daytime I don’t get into the theme,” Methodius said. The most ridiculous thing was that this was the truth. The nearer to night time, the clearer his brain began to work. His sight became sharper, and the desire to sleep, so strong in the first morning classes and in the daytime, disappeared completely. Now and then, he felt sorry that school did not start with sunset and last until dawn. Instead, in the morning he was usually sluggish, thought badly, and generally moved on autopilot. At ten to eight, Zozo decisively escorted Methodius from the apartment. “Go to Irka and sit at her place! I’ll call you when the uncle leaves!” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “Aha. Well, see you later!” Methodius said. He had already left mentally. “I love you!” Zozo shouted and, after slamming the door shut, rushed to freshen herself up. She concentrated, like a general before the main battle in life. In the next ten minutes, she had to make herself ten years younger. For a while, Methodius aimlessly lounged around on the landing, then summoned the elevator and went down. Walking out from the entrance, he watched as, from an automobile parked by the house, an unpleasant copy of the masculine sex stepped out with a large bouquet of roses and a bottle of champagne, which he held with the kind of care that a militia would give to ammunition. Although theoretically the individual could be a guest for any apartment, Methodius instantly grasped that this was Zozo’s new worshipper. It was not even an assumption. He simply knew this and that was that. He knew by a whole hundred percent, as if on the man’s forehead was the sign: “I’m going to Zozo! I’m her type!” Thickset, with grey stubbles, a double chin, and almost without a neck, the new uncle resembled a pylon, through misunderstanding or because of genetic failure, born as a man. Methodius stiffened, looking him over. He did not even consider moving away from the entrance door. “Why are you in the way? Don’t hang around here, young man! Quick!” the example of masculine sex said, after making a vain attempt to go around Methodius. “Are you talking to me?” Methodius asked with hatred.
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“Yes, you. Now get away from here! Take off!” the example bellowed and, having unceremonious pushed Methodius aside, forced his way into the entrance, while the door did not yet have time to close. Methodius calmly looked around. Then he found a rusty nail, approached the automobile, glanced back, and thoroughly shoved its tip into the rear tire cover with the calculation that when the car made a move, the nail would enter deeper and pierce the tire. For a while, Methodius contemplated his work, experiencing a feeling of creative dissatisfaction. One nail seemed to him too little. He found the bottom of a broken bottle and settled it under the front right tire, and put a balloon onto the exhaust pipe, tying it with a wire. Pity he will not be here when the balloon begins to inflate, and then it will break. Well, no matter — let someone else take pleasure from this spectacle. “It’s you who shouldn’t be under foot! Understand?” Methodius said, turning to the car. He experienced not the least pangs of conscience. No one asked this hog swimming with fat to come to his mother with a broom of roses. *** Severnyi Boulevard slowly immersed in the embraces of evening. Shadows shrouded its stone sides. A corner house had become mysteriously crumpled and it moved away deep into the shadows. Proportions were playing tricks. A sudden wind gust lashed Methodius in the face with a rumpled newspaper. An empty beer bottle was rolling behind the newspaper, recklessly jumping and attempting to catch up. For some reason this simple event seemed terribly important to Methodius. “If the bottle rolls first onto the road, mother will drive away this character!” he quickly proposed, dashing right after them. But, alas… a torn portion of the newspaper was first on the roadway and instantly fell under a truck. The bottle rolled out immediately after it and shared its tragic fate. “Rotten trick! She won’t! Unless he takes off by himself!” Methodius growled. He stared at the newspaper with such irritation that… no, for sure, it only appeared so to him. The newspaper could not flare up without any reason. Moreover, the wind immediately took it away, so that it was not possible to say anything for sure. Methodius discarded all this nonsense from his head. He crossed the road, jumped over the cast iron barrier of the boulevard, and made his way to Irka. Irka was his good friend, precisely a friend. The word “girlfriend” gives birth to unhealthy associations in the unhealthy mind of people, whereas the words “female acquaintance” or “lady friend” smack of something rotten. They talk this way about someone they are not sure of. Irka was exactly a friend, moreover with a capital F. Irka lived in the neighbouring building, and it was possible to appear at her place at any time of the day without phoning first, which, you must agree, is especially useful. Even at midnight, since Irka lived on the second floor and the tenants on the first were so kind to fence off the world with very convenient figured latticework. Irka’s grandmother posed no obstacle. She adored Irka so, that every desire of the granddaughter was for her not even a law but an order to the subdivision. The parents… But, about this a little later. It was still not so late. A light was burning in the window beyond the porch of the first floor. It was visible through the open curtains that a moustached woman of grenadier build was standing by a cabinet and rearranging something on the shelves. For this reason Methodius decided to use the dullest of all the existing methods of guest appearance —
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namely to do this through the door. It is extremely unpleasant when they knock you down with a mop through the figured lattice. After getting up to the second floor, he rang and almost immediately heard tires rustling in the hallway. This was even not rustling, but a light yet distinct sound of the inflated rubber outer-tires momentarily sticking half-heartedly to the linoleum. “Ir, it’s me, Met!” Methodius shouted so that Irka would not have to look through the peephole. The lock clicked, the door opened. Methodius saw the dark corridor and the bright yellow spot of light shining through from the wide open door of the room. In the luminescent spot, a wheelchair was standing with a small stooping figure in it, a rug thrown over the legs of the figure. “Hello! Hop in!” Irka invited him in. She deftly turned around in the narrow corridor and dived into her room. Methodius followed her. Irka’s room differed from the remaining ones in that there was not a single chair in it. Bright metallic handrails stretched along the walls at different heights. Irka hated to call her grandmother when it was necessary to get in or out of the wheelchair. The computer monitor twinkled by the window. Irka was in a chat room before Methodius’ arrival. Books and magazines covered the dying sofa. Irka was eternally reading twenty books at once, not counting textbooks. Moreover, she did not read consecutively, but pieces from different places. Strange that with such chaotic reading the books did not tangle up inside her head. “Why are you standing like a lonely jerboa? Clear a place for yourself and sit down! And I’ll be right with you! Just have to tell people that I’m not home,” said Irka, nodding towards the bed. She rolled up to the computer and quickly typed: Ciao, all! Gone to the front! Me. “Well now, politeness, first of all! Otherwise people will think that I was hijacked,” she said, turning to Methodius. He was going to sit down on the bed, but somehow he did not. As if there was a perpetual motion machine in the lumbar part of his spine. “Better let’s go to the kitchen. I’d like to get a bite of something,” he said. Irka snorted, “Don’t frigging petition to me! Go to Granny. All I know about the refrigerator is that its door opens.” “Well, are we going?” Methodius repeated. “It’s you ‘go’ and I ‘ride’. Indeed I’m a race car,” explained Irka. Methodius had noticed long ago that Irka, like many handicapped people, loved to joke about herself and her wheelchair. However, when someone else tried to be witty regarding the same, her sense of humour dried up right there and then. She stretched her hand to the control panel and the wheelchair quickly rolled along the corridor to the kitchen. Methodius barely managed to follow her. After all, wheels will always outrun feet, it goes without saying, if there are no fences along the road. Everything happened eight years ago. Then Irka was four. The automobile, in which Irka and her parents were returning from the dacha, was pushed out into the oncoming traffic towards a scheduled bus. Irka’s father and mother, travelling in the front seats, perished. Irka, with spinal trauma and two long, almost parallel scars from two pieces of iron gashing her back from the left shoulder down, ended up in a wheelchair. Still, Irka was lucky that she had an energetic and sufficiently young grandmother. Although in this case, it was better not to hint at luck at all. With such an argument, it was possible to get looks with daggers in her eyes.
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In the kitchen Notre Dame de Paris was roaring. Grandmother Ann — she was the same Granny — was sitting in glory on a high stool by the microwave. Waiting while the chicken with French fries from Ready-made Food was warming up, Granny was listening to the part of the hunchback and conducting with a chef’s knife. Few true grandmothers remain nowadays. They died out like mammoths. For those who think that fifty-year-old grandmothers must walk around in headscarves and spend the entire day working their magic by a stove, it is time to turn in their imagination for recycling. Granny stared wonderingly at Methodius. Listening to Notre Dame, she missed the moment when he arrived. “Hello, Met! Nice to see you!” she said. A pale yellow glow with a bit of green came off her head and spread along the room. “Of course, not quite enthusiastic, but she’s glad!” Without thinking how he did it, Methodius deciphered. He waited until the glow ceased to be a part of Granny and had spread along the room, then absorbed it and felt that he had become stronger. Maybe, to something like a millionth part of what he was before, but nevertheless… Again, this happened instinctively, without the interference of reason. Simply Methodius understood that everything was so, but how he did this and why — remained in the background. When we breathe, we do not think about breathing. We breathe even in sleep. We would breathe even without knowing that there is respiration. In the same way, Methodius also did not suspect that he was absorbing the energy of other people’s emotions. “Met, come here, my little tousle! I’ll give you a hug!” Granny said. “Sure thing! Only please put down the knife!” Methodius said. He loved Granny. Granny not without interest looked at the knife in her hand. It seemed she had already managed to forget that she was holding it, though very recently she opened the packaging with it. Granny’s hair somewhat resembled Methodius’ hair, although she was not related to Methodius, and in general they did not even meet. “They say that in spring many lunatics have relapses. Herds of maniacs begin to wander along the streets,” she stated thoughtfully. “Granny, it’s already almost May. People go crazy in March,” said Irka. “But don’t say that here. You go crazy in March, with me it’s every day. Especially when everyone throws on a clearly unsuccessful dress, and the most successful will hang out of sight and dream of moths,” Granny said. She had a small studio in a semibasement, which she loved to call the “House of fashion named after me.” Besides Granny herself, two more girls were working in the “House of fashion named after me.” One of them was a terrible gossip, and the second was always ill, moreover somehow so cunning that she could never be reached on her home phone. All the time she “has gone to the doctor’s and not yet returned.” “I like the second girl better. With her you don’t get earaches,” said Granny. “Gram, Met wants to eat!” Irka said. “Sure,” agreed Granny. “You know where the fridge is. And you know how to work the microwave. I’m going. By tomorrow morning, I’m under orders to think up such a dress so that the investigator, getting married for the third time, will look as naive as the director of the church choir.” “Okay, Gram, fine! We’ll do it ourselves!” Irka said. She knew better than Methodius that Granny did not particularly like to cook. Instead, in supermarkets she purchased cartloads of yogurts, sausage, oranges, and frozen dinners. Methodius was greatly amazed. For example, it seemed the upper compartments of the freezer were almost half©Jane H. Buckingham 2008 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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packed with ice cream, and Granny did not try to count how many portions there were. Skinflint Eddy with his habit of drawing lines with a pencil on toilet paper would get upset if he found out about this. Granny, singing, left, and Methodius and Irka remained in the kitchen. They warmed up nothing. They confined themselves to extracting from the refrigerator a big tub of ice cream and a large stick of sausage. The sausage Methodius professionally sliced with a knife — picked up from Eddy, who started out as a cook — and then began to eat ice cream, wielding rounds of smoked sausage instead of a spoon. It seemed to him tastier this way. “Your grandmother is cool,” said Methodius with a well-packed mouth. “She’s everything to me,” agreed Irka. “Only she cannot stand it when they call her Grandmother. Here a new teacher for Russian came to me — they come to me at home, you know — and said to her: ‘How do you do, Grandmother!’ And Granny was angry: ‘It’s you,’ she said, ‘who’s a grandmother, I’m a person!’” “And that’s true. Parents are people too. What, are they guilty, perhaps, that they’re parents?” Methodius agreed. He suddenly recalled how and under what circumstances he was introduced to Irka two years ago. With his one friend — already former — he was passing by her entrance at the moment when Irka was trying to get the wheelchair onto the step in front of the entrance door. Irka, for the first time getting out of the house without the grandmother (afterwards she really got it for this), was considering how she could get out of the tight spot. Possibly, Methodius would have rushed past altogether, not noticing anything, if not for his friend, who began to laugh aloud. He found it very comical that a freak in a wheelchair could not get into the entrance — all the time rolling backwards. For a long time Methodius attentively, as if comparing them, looked first at the friend, then at Irka, who was pretending with all her might that she had heard nothing, though her cheeks and ears were already crimson, and then very swiftly and precisely he clouted his friend in the chin. This (like the slicing of sausages) was also a lesson of Eddy Khavron, who, until the failure with nested dolls and army hats spent about three years being busy in the boxing ring. “Throw a punch without effort like a stone. The power of the impact is in the legs and the turning of the trunk,” he taught. The impact turned out unexpectedly powerful. Methodius almost dislocated his hand. After the punch, the friend settled on the asphalt like a bag of manure. He sat on the asphalt and shook his head. A neigh not entirely quieted down yet gurgled in his throat. After this, he essentially stopped being a friend. On the other hand in the life of Methodius appeared his first true friend — Irka. They sat in the kitchen and ate ice cream, chatting about all kinds of nonsense. Methodius did not mention Zozo, expecting her hog, escorting him from the house. He could not bear to complain. There is something fundamentally pitiful in someone complaining, even with a reason — this he mastered sufficiently long ago. Irka also never complained — and this united them much stronger than if they on meeting cried on each other’s shoulder. “And how’s your dream?” Irka suddenly asked. Methodius tensed up, “You know about that dream?” “Aha.” “Well, it happens sometimes. Not very often,” he unwillingly said.
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“Always the same one?” “Yes. But I don’t want to recall this.” However, he involuntarily recalled nevertheless, and his mood immediately crawled down like the worm that did not like the Eiffel Tower. This was one and the same disgusting dream, which he had once or twice a month. In this dream, he was standing in front of and looking at a dull closed lead sarcophagus with ancient signs imprinted on it. Methodius did not know what was inside there, but sensed it was something terrible, something he should never look at, something that must on no account escape. But at the same time he could not take his eyes off it. And the most terrible thing was that the lead sarcophagus began to melt under his gaze. However, every time Methodius woke up before what was in the sarcophagus managed to break loose. Once he even yelled in his sleep, waking Zozo and Eddy. Eddy was so astonished that he did not even swear. “I understand you perfectly, buddy! I have nightmares. Somehow, I dreamt that they ordered my foot with vegetable ragout for supper, and at the same time — dig the impudence? — puckered all the time afterwards and asserted that the meat was over-cooked!” he said then. They talked some more still, until finally, about ten o’clock, Zozo phoned Methodius. “Come home. I’m waiting for you,” she said. “And this one has already rolled away on his cart?” Methodius was interested. “From where did you know that he was not on foot… Everything fell apart.” Zozo’s voice was quite crestfallen. “How’s this?” “He arrived a little early. I wasn’t ready and in order to gain time, asked him to dash into the supermarket to buy white wine. I hate it when people with nothing to do hang about near the door and prevent me from putting make-up on. He was about to go, but returned almost immediately — mad like you on Sunday mornings when I wake you up out of habit. Something there with his Audi… Well, I started to calm him down a little, to warm him with sincere heat, and here, imagine, his eyes fell on the wedding picture of your daddy, which Eddy throws darts at. He began to coax and fished out, such a parasite, that I have a son. I didn’t violently deny, nevertheless he indeed found out, even showed him some of your photos. Who knows, I think, what if he manages some major male bonding? Play soccer together, share a first cigarette. ‘Do you smoke, son? I hope, with filter?’ Not frigging likely, didn’t come through! He sat for nearly an hour as if on needles, and then left… My life is shattered!” Zozo’s voice rose to a tragic Mont Blanc and hung there, intending to break loose into the abyss of hysterics. “Nonsense, mom! Your life shatters about three times a month, and then immediately grows together,” Methodius comforted her. He had already lost count of how often his mother met with second-hand princes from the dating magazine. And each time everything concluded with an inoffensive zero, except one case when the prince at hand dragged away a pathos-arousing bronze ashtray, which Eddy, in turn, had hauled away from the cafe, where he worked before Ladyfingers. The next day this prince returned drunk, drummed on the door for a long time, attempting to have a talk, and fell asleep right on the landing, laying his impetuous head down on the rug. Good that Eddy returned early and, taking revenge for the ashtray, with well-aimed kicks banished Adam from paradise. “You think so? Okay, forget it,” Zozo said sadly. Methodius felt that in this very minute she was tearing the fat hog out from her heart, crumpling and throwing him into
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the wastebasket. “Will you come yourself or do I have to meet you?” Zozo asked. It clearly sounded in her voice that she was too lazy to get dressed. “With biker escorts,” Methodius said. “Well then, by yourself. I’ll wait! We still have the trophy cake left,” Zozo said. “That’s it, you’re going?” Irka asked when Methodius replaced the receiver. “Aha. Tomorrow I’ll hop over after school!” “Do, bye!” Irka said with light envy. She had never walked into a school. However, Methodius now and then felt that she, working alone at home and with teachers coming, outstripped him by about two grades, no less. In any case, in some subjects Irka had already passed exams for grade nine. *** Methodius crossed Severnyi Boulevard and approached the house — this time, for variety, from the other side. Here his way was barred by an enormous puddle, which absorbed the melted snow of surrounding courtyards and occasionally with delight sipped water from broken pipes. This gave crafty real estate agents the chance to assert that the house was located in picturesque locality next to a pond. Through the puddle was a caravan path of bricks and boards, scattered at whimsical intervals. The moon lay like a gold coin on the flat dark surface of the puddle. Once in a while, hardly noticeable ripples passed over it. Methodius looked at the moon — at first in the puddle and then raising his face to the sky — and suddenly a strange feeling enveloped him. It seemed to him that he was absorbing the force of the moonlight — saturating him with its calm power and deathly void. Startled, this was the first time after all, he lowered his eyes and suddenly saw how, obeying his gaze, the reflection of the moon glided along the puddle like a spotlight. Methodius’ skin crawled. He decided that he was going insane. To chase the moon like a ball with his gaze! To describe such things to the school psychologist would be extremely dangerous. Methodius again tossed his head up. No… the big moon, fortunately remained on the spot. His gaze governed only the lunar reflection. Met shook his head and blinked several times, breaking off his gaze from the lunar reflection. He succeeded. The reflection stuck and continued to bathe in the black water already by itself. “It only appeared so!” Methodius thought, experiencing simultaneously easing and disappointment. To govern the reflection of the moon was, of course, eerie, but at the same time, it was something difficult to refuse. Jumping over from brick to brick, he crossed to the other side of the puddle and approached the entrance. A bell began to ring suddenly in Methodius’ consciousness. This was the special bell of intuition, which Met had long since gotten used to trusting. Now this bell clearly ordered him not to walk into the entrance. Methodius looked around — everything was somewhat quiet: nothing and no one. However, the bell nevertheless did not break off. “Well then, am I to climb to the sixteenth floor along the balconies?” Methodius thought perplexedly. He wavered for a while, and then approached the entrance nevertheless. He had already typed in the code and even heard the inviting peep of the door, when from behind someone’s shadow flickered. A strong hand shoved and dragged Methodius to the gate. He attempted to hold onto the doorknob, but a strong slap pushed him into the entrance. Stumbling, half-thunderstruck, he took several steps.
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“Well, finally! I thought you’d never return, puppy,” someone said triumphantly. Methodius already recognized the hog by the voice. In the semi-darkness of the entrance — lights only at the four corners by the elevators and mailboxes — his face seemed greenish and swollen. Methodius puckered from the pain. The strong fingers of the hog sunk so into his collarbone that it was as if they desired to take it with them by way of moral compensation. Methodius almost felt sick from the red waves of fury projected by the hog. They rolled over him, shoved him. Methodius sensed that he could absorb their force, but he involuntarily repelled, deflected, and set up a block — for this reason the wave also smashed with such sprays. “Let go of me!” “Let go? Only from the roof head first! What did you do to my car, piglet?” “What car? I never saw your car at all! Didn’t see who pierced you tires!” The powerful box on the ear, which jerked his head to the side, burned Methodius’ cheek. He was shaken with doubled fury and dragged along the steps to the elevators. Methodius realized that he had committed a strategic error. He could not but see the hog’s car, indeed the first time they met was precisely beside it. And indeed all the more, being innocent, he could not have known at all that the tires were punctured. “Well, don’t try to escape! I’ll take out all of your insides and wind them around my hand! We’ll now go together to your devilish mother, and I’ll have a heart-to-heart talk with her! I’ll take from you triple for each tire cover, and if not, I’ll break everything in your home!” the hog wheezed. He was so angry and retained with such fury the breaking away Methodius that he in no way could put his finger on the button to summon the elevator. Finally, he managed it. But at the moment the button lit up with the sad red eye, someone’s calm voice uttered, “Hey you, victim of a printer, leave him alone!” Chapter 2 The Skomoroshya Settlement Methodius and the hog turned around at once. They heard neither the click of the entrance door nor steps, but they were no longer alone on the landing by the elevators. Next to the mailboxes, above which the mysterious “NUFA — SVENYA!” was scratched on the wall, a tall, very plump girl of about twenty with ash silver hair was standing. In her hands was a triple-decker sandwich so immense that all double burgers in comparison would seem like pitiful undersized objects with a complex. However, the girl was obviously not a bit disturbed by its size. She was conducting with the sandwich like a maestro with his baton, without forgetting to bite off good-sized pieces occasionally. It is worthwhile to add that the girl was in a thick leather jacket and a short skirt. Completing the outfit were tall boots — one red, another black — and bubble bracelets in the form of lizards with eyes of shiny stones. “Hey you, slammed by a scanner! It seems I ordered you to let go of the boy! If you don’t, I’ll stuff you inside the cable of a busy phone! I’ll have you wandering from one beep to the next! I, Julitta, am telling you this!” the girl repeated, brandishing the sandwich threateningly. The hog began to snuffle, digesting the complex threat. A whole wrestling match of motivations was launched in his small cranium; however, in the ring the desire to get
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even with Methodius flattened the possibility of putting in her place the insolent girl with the strange name. “Don’t be in the way! This young criminal punctured two of my outstanding tires!” he growled, shaking Methodius like a pear. “A whole two tires? Oh, Gloom! My condolences in connection with the loss of the mechanical relative!” Julitta was horrified. “What???” the hog did not take it in. “Build yourself a supernatural monument! The road surface will not grow over it!” the girl continued. She was clearly mocking the hog, Methodius, and herself at the same time. Here was some round of shooting. “The prince’s” scanty eyebrows, angrily wandering towards each other, formed on the forehead a fold like a bulldog. “Go away, fatso!” he bellowed, taking a threatening step towards her. It was not worthwhile to do this, because immediately the girl took a step towards him. “Who’s a fatso, me? Why are we, heavy people, eternally obligated to listen to this filth? They attempt to vulgarize our kingly proportions by the meanest means! And the main thing, whom do I hear this from? Apollo Belvedere? The handsome man Prometheus? The jock Heracles? Not in the least! From the pitiful crossbreed of a pig with a computer keyboard! A walking cemetery of cutlets! The drain tank for beer bottles, who greases the folds on his diathetic belly with cream!” Julitta was insulted. The hog started to grunt angrily. The girl, by some mysterious means, had gotten to his sorest point. Dragging Methodius behind him, he threw himself at Julitta. Showing how frightened she was, the girl began to tremble and, after collapsing onto her knees, began to wring her hands. “How horrifying his glance is! What terrible thoughts are concealed under this low pimply forehead! Mammy-nanny, where’s my stiletto? I want to stab myself! At the same time grab a bucket of poison, if the knife, like last time, breaks against my stone heart,” theatrically howled Julitta. She wanted to drop the sandwich for an increase in effect, but she looked at it and thought better of it. “In short, I’m tormented by melancholy and I’ll die in terrible spasms! Consider this an expression of my reproach!” she explained in an ordinary voice. “What, are you batty, yes? A hysteric?” the hog fearfully asked. His fingers, never closing over Julitta’s hand, gathered empty space. The unpredictable behaviour of the strange person overloaded his grey matter. Must admit, Methodius was not a bit less astonished, although in this match the girl was clearly playing on his team. On a most heart-wrenching note, she suddenly got up on her feet and, having spat with disgust, cleaned her knees. “How barbaric! You play for them, you try, and you’d think that at least someone would clap! At least one pig! This also concerns you, Buslaev! I’m also a tragic adolescent! Mephistopheles from kindergarten!” “Buslaev? Where does she know my name from?” Methodius was surprised, hurriedly attempting to recollect whether he had met the girl in school or in the courtyard. Of course not, hardly. Indeed the interpretation that he could simply not pay her any attention faded immediately. Such loud and substantial individuals do not hide behind a cactus, although now and then they take refuge somewhere in a dark corner of an auditorium, concealing a fashion magazine with their knees. The elevator that arrived with strain threw open its doors. The hog began to push Methodius forcibly into it. The boy attempted to break loose and earned a good punch in
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the ribs by a fist from behind. “Who are you beating up, support for a bald spot? Are you generally well-informed on what I’ll do with you now?” Julitta asked grimly, and the elevator doors slammed shut much faster than usual. The hog looked around. “He mutilated your car?” Julitta continued. “And, Xerox not finished? Excellent! So I’ll add something still!” Not postponing her threat, she blew on her palm. The sound of broken automobile glass distinctly reached them from the courtyard. Complaining to fate, the alarm began to cry. “Poof! Oh-oh-oh, what vandalism!” Julitta was horrified and blew on her palm again. This time — judging by the sound — it had reached the windshield. For some reason Methodius did not experience the least surprise. He only thought that if Julitta, instead of blowing on her palm, had made the movement of catching thrown keys and at the same time moved her shoulders in undulation like in Indian dances, the car would flatten in the manner of a hippopotamus-suicide jumping onto it from the Crimean Bridge. “Magic of motion” — it seems it is called. After thinking this, Methodius wondered slightly about his own knowledge. By then the hog was simply in shock. He glanced with distrustful horror at Julitta, and then, towing the resisting Methodius after himself, he rushed to the street. The glass splinters had barely stopped jumping on the asphalt. The alarm no longer howled, but was only sobbing quietly. The face of the hog changed three or four colours. He was frightened, lost, and enraged. Everything was in disorder in the Oblonsky home. “It’s you… it’s all you, trash! I knew it!” he began to roar. The ashen-haired girl, who lazily came out after them, made a face, and touched her ear with a long nail, “Calm down, darling! Don’t tempt me unnecessarily with a return of your tenderness! Better to say, cut the cackle!” “WHAT?! You… you!! I’ll finish you off!!!” Julitta shrugged her shoulders, “Turn down the sound track, citizen! Of course, it’s necessary to speak up, but not so loud! Well, me, not me — what’s the difference? Is it worthwhile to go into details? From a philosophical point of view it’s all irrelevant!” The bull was shown a new red rag. The hog flung Methodius away and took a step towards Julitta. His bulging eyes became malicious and wild, as if an entire battalion of scum microbes was lapping in them. “I… Yes you…” “Calm down, daddy! Heart attack on alert! Oho, it seems they are going to kill me on the spot! Perhaps you’ll kiss me before death, eh, uncle Desdemon? How about a fiery caress? To both burn and sear? Eh, old fax? Or did the battery die?” Julitta lazily asked. “And do you understand whom you’re dealing with? Whom you’re teasing? I’ll rip out your heart!” the hog croaked hoarsely. “Ah, if only there were something to be ripped out…” Julitta said quietly. It seemed to Methodius that incomprehensible melancholy flickered in her eyes. But this did not continued for long at all, only up to the moment when the hog, turning, croaked the most overused and worn phrase ever heard, “You have no idea what I’ll do with you!” “Sounds very promising, pappy! But I already thought that you love to beat up only the young!” The female purred huskily and suddenly, although Methodius was ready to swear that she had not taken a step, she turned out to be right next to them. Her chubby hands with some kind of icy force lay on the unhappy fiancé’s shoulders. “It’s been a very long time since someone among the living has declared love to me! How do you relate to female vampires? I hope they’re to your taste?” Julitta asked with strange
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significance. Chubby lips moved apart. The hog, like a blind man, sensed wild horror filling his body. Methodius did not notice what was there beyond the lips, but the auto-maniac started to wheeze and somehow immediately went morally limp. He became like the pig, to which a pensive butcher with a camomile behind the ear arrived at the pen. Smiling bewitchingly, Julitta pulled him to herself, persistently and mockingly demanding a kiss, to which the victim of a fax answered only with a pitiful whimper. “Look, Met! It seems not everything is well in the Danish kingdom,” she giggled, turning to Methodius. “Every time when I attempt to kiss him, he begins to shake. Stop thundering with your bones, I said! This prosaic detail oppresses me! What, are you deaf, can’t hear?” The auto-maniac despondently bleated that he could hear. The courage left in him was no more than the juice in an empty juice box. “Then memorize something else in case we meet again some time. Rule number one: don’t be rude to me. Rule number two: my requests have to be received like orders, and orders like natural calamity. Rule number three: my friends are a part of me, and they don’t offend me… Rule number four… Never mind, you won’t be able to violate the fourth rule, because you won’t live till that moment! Go away!” Julitta, with disgust, unclenched her hands. The hog attacked the porch and, without losing time, ran on all fours to the car. Ten seconds had not even passed when the motor roared, and the mutilated automobile dragged itself from the courtyard with the speed of a traumatized tortoise. Methodius turned to Julitta. The feeling that he had flipped did not forsake him. Reality faded like an old newspaper, and in its place, complete phantasmagoria decisively forced its way with its elbows. Surrealism in the spirit of Salvador Dali. “Poor devil! I understand him! To see how a witch’s eyeteeth slide forward is not a sight for the nervous. And this regardless that I never frolicked with pure vampirism — I simply met one vampire and learned the technique. It’s not very complex — basic question in the modification of the bite.” “And did it take long?” “No, not particularly. I learned to advance the teeth in a month or two! At first it was dreary to train, and then it’s alright,” the ashen-haired one informed him. “Well! Let’s get acquainted!” Julitta stretched out her hand, and Methodius touched her fingers indecisively. He for some reason expected that the hand of a witch would be cold, but it was warm and, perhaps, encouraging. “Methodius!” he said. Julitta nodded. “Yes, I know, I know… Good at least that you didn’t say ‘Methodius. Methodius Buslaev!’ One of my acquaintances in glasses, who is now having a ‘great love’ with a certain Russian photo-model, would present himself precisely in this sequence.” “You know me?” Methodius wondered. Julitta burst out laughing. Methodius already noticed that she moved from one mood to another with surprising rapidity. If she was not in all of them simultaneously. “Oh, we’re already on informal ‘you’! What can be better than being informal? Treat me with familiarity as much as you want! Okay?” “Okay,” Methodius said. He again felt uncomfortable. It was not everyday that ladyvampires fell to your lot and asked you to treat them with familiarity.
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“I know you, Methodius, and very well. We have been observing you every day of your life. However, only now, when you’re more than twelve, can you learn the truth about yourself. Up to this moment, your consciousness simply could not sustain it. You could die of horror, scarcely finding out who you are and why you came into this world,” Julitta continued with an air of importance. “A so-so announcement to me!” Methodius thought sourly. Until now, he was certain that he had come into this world without any special purpose. The type: “Hello! May I drop in?” “And you? You didn’t die of horror? Are you indeed a tiny bit older than me?” he asked without irony. Julitta’s face suddenly became serious and sad. As if the pain, which Methodius’ question involuntarily caused her, forced her for a moment to remove her mask. “I’m a special case. I had no way out. They cursed me immediately after birth. Besides, the one who did the cursing, his curse had special power… But we’ll not talk about this,” she said and turned away, showing that the conversation was finished and this theme would not be developed further. “Did you come specially in order to protect me from this character?” Methodius refined his question. Julitta glanced at the place where the car had been standing very recently and burst out laughing. “Are you serious? To protect you, the very Methodius Buslaev, from this slug? Something I’ll not understand: is this is a funny ha-ha?” “But he was indeed stronger. And generally he was somewhat malicious,” said Methodius. Julitta snorted. “Malicious? Him? And what about you, very good perhaps? Who started to puncture the tires first? And as for who is stronger… Delirium! Memorize from this minute and until your brain tissues harden: physical force is nothing in comparison with mental power! You yourself would also have managed if you would exert yourself slightly. You haven’t yet managed your gift by yourself, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Simply this evening was favourable for my appearance. Look, how many coincidences! A lunatic who wants to knock your brains out. The reflection of the moon in the puddle, which you chase with your eyes like chasing a ball. And finally your dream, about which you recently recalled.” Methodius shivered. He was unpleasantly startled that Julitta knew about the puddle and the dream. He looked around at the empty courtyard, the entrance door, through which already for a very long time — so it seemed to him — no one had entered or left. It was sufficiently absurd, especially if one considered that at this hour dogs would normally fill the grass plots by the building. “Strange… Everything is very strange! It’s possible to think that all this is a plot. As in the theatre,” thought he. Methodius noticed that the zipper of Julitta’s jacket was undone approximately to a third, and an unusual adornment — a silver icicle on a long chain — had broken loose outside. In passing, he thought that if Julitta now attempted to do up the jacket, then the zipper would cut the chain in two. Such happened to Zozo repeatedly, without considering the stupid incident when Eddy accidentally swallowed her earrings, which she placed in a small vase with candies. Methodius mechanically stretched out his hand in order to repair the adornment, but, after touching the silver icicle, for some reason held it in his fingers. He suddenly noticed that the icicle was behaving extremely strangely: it
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changed shape and colour, attempted to come over his hand to clothe his palm like a glove, and something elusive inside, more like a cigarette flame glowing in an empty dark room, lit up. “Hey, what are you doing there with my jacket? A forward type and all that?” Julitta giggled. She looked down, but, after seeing what Methodius was holding precisely, she began to squeal shrilly. Methodius perplexedly let go of the adornment. He was shaken. It seemed to him that the witch, with such skill getting rid of the hog like a soccer ball, would not squeal this way at all, especially over such trifles. Julitta issued two or three additional trills, and then, breathing heavily, took a step back. “What’s with you? This is darc!” she said with horror. “Well, so?” Methodius asked. “What do you mean so? DARC!” “Well?” Methodius asked. “You don’t understand what this is?” “Ne-a! An icicle.” “You’re losing your mind! To touch a darc! So casually take and touch someone’s darc like this! Lunatic! Nuts!” Now, when Julitta had calmed down slightly, admiration was definitely detected behind the fear in her voice. “And what’s this darc? Why is it necessary? I thought it’s simply a trinket on a chain and some such,” said Methodius. “Darc — it’s not a trinket. Darc — it’s darc… I don’t know how to explain it! But what you did is more dangerous than if you touched a rattlesnake! Understand?” “Sort of,” said Methodius. “Say, how long did you hold it?” “Not long! Well, about three seconds, maybe five,” Methodius estimated. “Five sec-conds?” Julitta drawled. “But it’s wildly painful!” “Painful for you? Sorry!” Methodius apologized. “No, not for me! It had to be wildly painful for you! You should be rolling on the ground and attempting to bite off your hand in order that the new pain somehow muffles the first! It’s MY darc, you understand? And a STRANGER, i.e. you, touched it! And with naked hands: not a staff, not a sword, not magic. With your hands! Have you considered? Darc can only be removed from a defeated enemy, and not by tearing it off, but by felling him, cutting the chain! And you felt nothing?” “No… Well, almost. It was not painful, in any case,” refined Methodius, honestly attempting to recall what he had experienced. Curiosity — yes, but there was clearly something else. Something reckless and slightly evil. Something like what he felt, say, when he succeeded in crushing a fly on glass. “Hmm… The great Methodius Buslaev! Then I, perhaps, understand why…” Julitta began, but, after recollecting, changed the theme. “Well, it’s unimportant… Let’s switch over to business. I came to you not entirely by myself… That is, I came by myself, but they sent me. Someone wants to meet with you personally. How about tomorrow night? Say, 1 a.m.?” Methodius was uneasy. He was a contemporary teenager, and a contemporary teenager does many things automatically. For example, he does not trust the unacquainted much. And indeed more so he generally does not go to unknown places on a first summon to a meeting with some unknown person.
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Julitta, it seemed, reading his thought, wonderfully understood his fears. The little witch raised her head, squinted and ambiguously blew into space. And immediately Methodius felt like cold fingers were closing on his heart. An invisible icy snake was sliding through his blood into his brain. And in the next moment Methodius’ feet took several steps by themselves. He stared at them with horror — the feet did not obey him anymore. They served an alien will. “So!” Julitta said with satisfaction. “And now this!” She raised her hand to the level of her face and, smirking, lifted her fingers. Methodius discovered that his own hand was repeating the same gesture — it rose and lifted the fingers. “Ah, stop! Stop! I don’t want to!” he shouted. He tried to lower his hand by force, after gripping his wrist with the other hand, but the insidious witch suddenly brought both hands to her neck, grabbed herself by the throat, and began to squeeze it. Moreover, she was clearly doing this carelessly, although with the exaggerated grimace of a man hanging. Methodius started wheezing. Spots spread before his eyes. He was suffocating himself and could do nothing about it. Moreover, in contrast to the insidious Julitta, who was barely squeezing her throat, Methodius’ own hands were suffocating him extremely responsibly. Only when he, almost choking, fell onto his knees, Julitta, taking pity, let go of her own throat. “Well, that’s it. Enough with you. Get your arms and legs back,” she said. The witch smiled, shook her ashen hair, and Methodius again gained control over his own body. Coughing, he got up and, looking at his hands with distrust, began to massage his throat. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “Ah, why! I only wanted to show you that if I wish, I could deliver you to this meeting even without your consent. And the most disgusting — I’m being nasty sometimes! To play such a trick on Methodius Buslaev himself!” Julitta languidly said. “But not this time! You couldn’t!” Methodius announced simply from obstinacy. Julitta yawned, “Yes, my dear, yes… Although you’re monstrously strong in the magic sense, nevertheless I have more experience. I could force you to do everything I want. Say, to get up to the roof and take a leap down like a swallow. And not simply to leap but to laugh aloud in flight and sing a song about brave pilots…” “Stop. What fly of humanism has bitten you today?” Methodius asked glumly. “None. Just that I want tomorrow’s meeting with the one who sent me to be voluntary for you. No one forces you to go anywhere. And generally, the meeting is necessary not so much to me as to you. Do you finally want to find out who you are? Do you want to learn to manage your own gift? Trust me; you’re several times more brilliant than me in the magic sense! After the appropriate development and faceting, it goes without saying, it’s possible to cut out from your magic dozens of witches such as me… Although, of course, they wouldn’t be so charming. Charm is not a dead person, you won’t dig it out of a cemetery,” thinking for a bit, Julitta said more precisely. Methodius related with distrust to the girl’s assertion that he had many magic abilities. “She’s mixed up something! To make a magician of me is like turning a live elephant into a stopper for the bathtub!” he thought not without regret. “And who sent you? Who must I meet?” he asked. Julitta interrogatively looked up suddenly, accurately trying to examine something in the air. In Methodius sprung up a sensation that they were not alone here — that right beside them in the void of the courtyard there was still someone else — terrible and
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invisible. “No. I can’t tell you this for the time being. He… He himself will tell you everything. You will come?” Methodius swiftly glanced at her. The glow around Julitta was a pale pink. Such a normal, calm glow. Usually a lie from an outsider is like a black hole. The person locks his outlines, instinctively tries not to give off any energy and possibly give himself away, even if he behaves calmly on the outside like a professional poker player. Likely it was possible to trust Julitta. Or, at least to trust her to some degree. “Her energy glow is indeed somewhat very at ease. It’s possible she understood that I know something about this and took measures,” thought Methodius, not devoid of reasonable suspicion. “I’ll think for a bit. He — well this person, to whom I am necessary — indeed can’t show himself to me?” he asked. “He can do everything. You even cannot imagine how much he can do!” Julitta said with conviction and even with enthusiasm. “But, alas, the mountain doesn’t go to the wise man for a cup of tea. It’s necessary for the same wise man to catch a taxi and go to the mountain. And now some details. We’ll call them bitter prose of life. Do you know Moscow well?” “Well…” Methodius began. “It goes without saying, poorly,” Julitta interrupted him. “The majority of Muscovites hardly know their city. Taxi drivers are exceptions. So, tomorrow we’ll wait for you at the old Skomoroshya Cemetery. I didn’t pick the place; therefore don’t be hard on me if it sounds rather dismal.” Methodius shivered. “Somehow he’s not dragging me to a cemetery!” he said. “Don’t be disturbed! Graves won’t open up and corpses with scythes won’t interrupt their sleep. Everything there will be all neat and proper. We’re not in a bad movie. And there hasn’t even been a cemetery for a long time. A normal house stands there… Almost a normal house, to be frank. Our office, our residence, our home — call it what you want. Even then I doubt that besides a couple of skulls, there remained anything of Skomoroshya Cemetery under the foundation,” Julitta calmed him. “Where’s this?” Methodius asked with quite a bit of doubt. “In the centre of the city. And at the same time monstrously far from Moscow. You see, when the fifth dimension joins the game, the picture of the world changes sharply. A distant object frequently becomes close-by, and the near-by steps aside. For example, Kamchatka and Kremlin turn out to be almost at the same point, and from your nostril, it’s necessary to go on a train for a week to your eyes… In vain you laugh. I, of course, exaggerate, but not so much as it seems to you.” “Strange… I thought magic buildings are constructed somewhere far away on islands in the ocean, in towns, in the forest, but not here right in the centre of the city!” Methodius said. “You see, it’s out of necessity. Good for white and black magicians. Their magic in no way depends on moronoids. But we are guards! Some day — and even very soon! — you yourself will understand everything, and then — he-he! — the aimlessly squandered years will kick you like a flock of ostriches. So, tomorrow at one in the morning we’ll wait for you!” Julitta repeated. “And it can’t be earlier? I doubt that Mother will let me go! She has other plans for me at one in the morning. I should be lying under the blanket and finding out in dreams how to improve my grades,” said Methodius.
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Julitta looked at him with compassion. “You’re a strange person…” she said. “You have so much magic power that if you exert yourself a little, there will be smoking ruins on the spot of your building block. I have much less power, but then you yourself saw what I could do! You wish to go out — no mother can stop you. And with one look you’ll chain her to a cliff like Prometheus!” “But if I don’t want to chain Mother? Did this not occur to you?” Methodius asked unhappily. He could not stand a raid that would affect relatives. Julitta thought for a second, thrust a hand into the pocket of her jacket and took out a small box. “Take it!” she said and thrust it at Methodius. Methodius took it. The box turned out to be strangely heavy for its size. On the cover, there was an ambiguous and frightening figure. At first glance, it seemed inoffensive — grape leaves of different sizes and a couple of clusters. But the longer he looked, the more distinctly he realized that these were no grape leaves but someone’s malicious face with swollen eyes. “Don’t be afraid, it’s… an ancient Icelandic spirit, which kills thieves and the curious. It’s not terrible for you if you’re actually Met Buslaev and not some namesake. You will find a stone inside, and you will see a rune on the bottom of the box. Try to trace exactly the same on the floor of your room… With what? With the stone! Only see you don’t make mistakes, or it’ll be no end to nothing good. When the rune is ready, its outlines will flame up. All it remains is for you to take a step inside and you’ll turn up at our place in an instant. Grasped the essence? Do this tomorrow night after midnight. But not till midnight…” “And that’s all?” Methodius asked. “What, too little for you? Trust me: if you draw the rune poorly, it won’t seem little,” Julitta smiled. “And what’ll happen?” “Nothing will happen. There’ll be neither flash nor crash. Everything’s quiet and peaceful. But then what’s left of you, it’s necessary to rake into a coffin with a scoop. And where’s the laughter in the hall? Hey, Kislyandii Anufrievich, you’ll at least imitate a smile, eh?” “I’m mentally smiling,” said Methodius morosely. “And what do I do with the box?” “Whatever you want. Put stones back in it or pour copper money into it, and then they’ll turn into gold. If you need it — keep it. I still have more!” Julitta dismissed it. “And who made it, the box?” “Who? British gnomes! They willingly sell us their wares in exchange for a small quantity of preserved moronoid happiness. True, moronoids become a little sadder, but it’s only for their benefit. Magciety writes protests till it turns blue.” Methodius hesitated, “What, you trade with gnomes?” “You can’t imagine how lonely the poor gnomes are underground. All day they hang around in the smithies, search for precious stones in the depths of mountains, and in the evenings sobbed out of idleness like oil-industry workers in the tundra. Not surprising that they’re eager for preserved happiness.” Methodius opened the box. On the bottom lay a large white stone, inside which an indistinct white fog swirled. Next to the stone rolled a dark wrinkled fruit resembling a prune. “And what’s this for?” he asked.
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“Where? Ah, I forgot! This is charisma from the charismatic tree! They made off with half a bucket of these from the Garden of Eden for one of our clients. Eh… a loud politician, who sold his eidos to us. Well, I also pocketed a couple. I was going to eat it, but then decided that I have enough charisma myself… Keep it!” “A-ah!” Methodius drawled. He very vaguely pictured to himself what charisma was, but decided not to ask. Moreover, Julitta in a business-like manner glanced at the stale night clouds and unexpectedly rushed. “Well, that’s it! Till the meeting, great magician! If there are problems — howl!” she said mockingly. The witch winked at Methodius, turned, and quickly went away. After reaching the corner of the building, she turned around, waved at Methodius, and very simply dissolved in the air. There were neither dazzling sparks nor incantations of teleportation nor rings nor magic wands, nothing… Everything took place instantly and effectively. Guards of Gloom preferred to manage without excess motions and vivid gestures. True force — economy of force. *** A puzzled Methodius ran to the place where Julitta was standing recently. He discovered no trace — neither burnt spots on the asphalt nor the sharp smell of sulphur. Nothing remarkable. An old man’s shoe of size forty-three, lying on the glass-plot and snapping an unglued sole jealously at the world, clearly contained nothing weird. Methodius, trying to digest what had happened, slowly wandered into the entrance. “Someone, who wants something from me, sent her. This someone is undoubtedly a wizard, moreover monstrously powerful. If he wishes to turn up beside me this second — he would do it also without Julitta. That means, it’s important to him that I go to the meeting voluntarily and the meeting will take place precisely there, in that house on the spot of the Skomoroshya Cemetery,” he thought, going up in the elevator. Edward Khavron, it goes without saying, was not home. At this hour, he was still catching tips on modest ledger bait using his brutal appearance in conjunction with reasonable caddish behaviour. This was precisely that Molotov cocktail, which office ladies visiting Ladyfingers especially fell for. Zozo Buslaeva, who had time to cry over her female fate, had long ago washed off all the make-up and was now with appetite eating the trophy cake, chasing it with a crunchy pickle. The gustatory preference of Zozo was slightly off, as if she was eternally in a state of pregnancy. “What took you so long?” she asked her son. “It’s this… Listen, why did you name me Methodius?” Zozo wrinkled her forehead, “Methodius… Ah, I remember! When we went to register you at the Civil Registry Office, your papa intended to name you Misha. Misha Buslaev and all that. Along the way I argued with him, he jumped into a shuttle and left, and I, to spite him, when I filled out the form, wrote you down as Methodius. You know, how your papa hit the ceiling when I showed him your birth certificate. All the time he was to change your name, but never made up his mind about it. Funny, isn’t it?” “Very funny,” Methodius side gloomily. “But why precisely Methodius?” “Don’t know why… Somehow, it jumped into my head. Misha is M, Methodius is M… Well, you’re not mad at me, kid? You’re satisfied?” Zozo suddenly thought. “Kid is happy and satisfied!” Methodius confirmed and went into the room.
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He suddenly felt enormous irritation. Such irritation that he was afraid to even look at the wallpapers and the objects in the room, vaguely fearing that they would now flare up. Instead of this, Methodius turned off the light, approached the window, and began to look into the courtyard, at the dumpster illuminated by a searchlight, seemingly tiny like a matchbox from the height. “Excellent! Now we’ll check if I have magic power or not!” Methodius said to himself. He decided that if he had the ability to cause fire from this great distance, it would really prove that he had a gift. He concentrated. He tried to visualize the dumpster nearby. Here are the packets, here are tied up ski boots, proudly raised above all kinds of scattered rubbish, a doll without a head, broken wooden blocks, crumpled advertising newspaper… Methodius exerted himself. Time after time, he imagined how he set the newspaper on fire, and the fire was already leaping over from the newspaper onto the blocks. It was useless. Nothing happened. Methodius got tired and despaired. “From what did I decide this, that there are stumps and newspaper? Obviously nothing! And indeed Julitta mixed me up with someone else altogether! There’s less magic in me than in a rotten egg!” he thought, examining the dumpster through the window. It became unimportant to him whether he had magic power or not. What is the difference after all? Consciousness blanked out and became absolutely lifeless. Suddenly, precisely at this moment of internal devastation, Methodius saw a dancing flame, appearing from heaven knows where and sliding along the arrow of his sight. He blinked in amazement and immediately calmed down, after understanding that this was most likely the light of distant headlight, licking the asphalt snake of the Moscow Ring Highway, smearing the sky. “Well now! No magic power!” Methodius thought with satisfaction. He drew the curtains, undressed, and lay down to sleep. He was already asleep when above the dumpster a puff of smoke ascended. The painted blocks burned for a long time. At first, the flame only crackled, but soon the entire container was blazing. Even the ski boots and packages with half-eaten food were burning. It was already towards the morning, when the rubbish had burnt down and the first floors of the building were wrapped in thick fumes, that the fire engine arrived, and for a long time was standing by the container, soundlessly blinking its warning lights. *** Methodius woke up around eight. He woke without the alarm clock, but with the unpleasant sensation that no one had cancelled school. The kingdom of dream was reigning over their room. From under the blankets projected the heels of Eddy Khavron, having returned towards the morning. If some reckless author of puzzles tries to find seven differences between the heels of the great waiter, he would be impaired by overexertion, because there were only two differences. One heel was slightly more pink and smoother; the other had a small birthmark and often shuddered a little in his sleep. “Hey you, newbie, don’t push me with the tray! You smudge the suit, you’ll get a knee in the romance department!!” Khavron distinctly said in his sleep, turning to an invisible collocutor. His noble sister Zozo Buslaeva was sleeping on a sofa bed in plaid, motheaten for years. “Met, eat something for breakfast and go somewhere! To school then!” she said languidly from under the blankets. “Breakfast on what?” Methodius asked.
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“Whatever you want. And, I beg you, don’t depress me with life! I beg you!” Zozo asked and rolled over onto the other side. She hoped to see again in dream the modest young millionaire, trembling with love, shyly open for her the door of the white Mercedes. Methodius cut a piece of fish and cake — remains of yesterday’s splendour — and left for school. Approaching the school, Methodius noticed not without regret that the school was safe and sound. All professional and non-professional terrorists at night went around it. Sticking out of the doors of the school was the sixteen-year-old forehead with the touching last name of Krovozhilin, having appointed himself to the critical post of person-on-duty, and he was checking the second pair of shoes. Subjects without smenki got from Krovozhilin a whack to the back of the head. But then the magnanimous Krovozhilin rewarded all happy possessors of smenki with a powerful kick. Simply for historic injustice it is worth noting that Krovozhilin himself was also without smenki, but this is already excessive detail, which must be chased from the prose like a ram from the new gates. As a result a small crowd of seventh- and eighth-graders were standing on the side, patiently waiting until the wind of change would take Krovozhilin away for a smoke behind the school. In Methodius again sprung up the temptation to verify his magic gift. He stared at Krovozhilin from a distance and thought with concentration, “Away from here! Be gone! Take a hike!” However, Krovozhilin did not think of vanishing anywhere, remaining indifferent to all suggestions. Only about five minutes later, a worked-up Krovozhilin, not making a distinction, accidentally gave a kick to a senior student and, avoiding retribution, dissolved into space like a genie. However, this happened without any magic interference, but particularly on the internal impulse of Krovozhilin himself. “It’s useless! I’m without talent like a toilet seat cover! Julitta really simply mixed me up with someone else!” Methodius thought and sadly pushed the school door. Methodius ran into the classroom three seconds after the bell. The chemistry teacher had a stern disposition. She loved to summon precisely the late ones first. However, instead of the chemistry teacher, the principal Galina Valerevna, like a round loaf getting thin, rolled into the classroom. “Unfortunately, Frieda Emmanuelovna has had a great misfortune. She will not be able to come, since she has to be in surgery,” she informed them in a funeral voice. Half of the class issued a joyous howl, but, after recollecting, they unskilfully transformed it into a sympathizing sigh. “Frieda Emmanuelovna’s Doberman has twisted bowels. They’re operating at this exact moment,” continued Galina Valerevna. “But I have good news for you. I do not remember which thinker said it, but let’s not lose in vain a breath of our precious life. The girls will tear off the wallpaper in the cloakroom of the old sports hall, and the boys will throw the old linoleum on the scrap heap! And a last announcement. Who thinks that he can manage much more important and interesting work?” Borya Grelkin raised his hand. Methodius, sitting at the same desk with him and having heard the principal’s question, also raised his hand, simply for company. No more hands went up. “Wonderful, Grelkin and Buslaev! The school and our native land are proud of you! You will transfer twelve stumps from the basement into the assembly hall — decoration for the play Yaroslav the Wise,” said Galina Valerevna. Along the way, half of the people sent to tear off wallpaper and to take out linoleum disappeared somewhere. These were the smarter ones, who believed that nevertheless no
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one would make a note of their absence. But then Grelkin and Buslaev were not going to vanish anyhow. No one called off the stumps, and responsibility was personal. In the basement, where they were steered, Methodius dourly examined the stumps for a long time. They turned out to be genuine and very heavy. In time immemorial, some fool had sufficient mind to saw a log, and then even cover all the sawn parts with paint… under the wood. Probably, so that the wood would be a little less like itself. “Why did you raise your hand?” Methodius attacked Grelkin. “Huh?” Grelkin was astonished. “Your hand, I say, why did you raise it?” Methodius almost began to howl. “Who, me? I didn’t!” “What? You didn’t? Then who did?” Methodius roared, without noticing how the paint on the end stump was beginning to melt under his gaze. “Really, didn’t you raise your hand first? My ears are stuffed up from a head cold,” sniffing suspiciously, Grelkin whined. “Idiot!” Methodius growled. He had already calmed down. It was indeed not possible to be angry with Grelkin — that would be like being offended by a penguin. Borya carefully sat down on one of the stumps and slowly began to eat a banana taken out of his bag. Grelkin was a sad chubby silent type. He usually inhabited the last desk, yearning sadly, and with incomprehensible significance cast looks at the window, where stood a pot with a withering violet as cheerful as him. Borya answered the majority of questions monosyllabically: “Well?” “A!” “Ne-a!” Teachers neither praised nor berated him. They even rarely called him to the board, simply preferring to forget about him. In a word, Borya Grelkin was one of those, whose presence classmates did not notice even with the largest magnifier. “Do you intend to drag the stumps or what?” having calmed down finally, Methodius asked him after about five minutes. He remembered to try to talk softly to Borya if possible so that he would not die of horror. Grelkin pensively looked at his stomach and shook crumbs off it. “I can’t lift anything. I had a hernia last year,” he informed despondently. “Then why did you not tell the principal?” “But she didn’t ask.” Methodius blinked, finished counting mentally to ten in order not to break Borya into ten small idiots, and began to move the stumps by his lonesome. The stumps were quite heavy, and it was necessary to roll them to the stairs, storming each step. He had had such a hard time with the first stump already that, after rolling it into the assembly hall, he got back down barely alive. When he again tumbled into the basement, Borya Grelkin had finished pensively licking his fingers. “You know, it’s a somewhat strange taste! But on the whole, generally speaking, trash!” Grelkin uttered a phrase of a length simply phenomenal for him. “What’s ‘it’?” “The prune!” “What prune?” Methodius did not understand. “There, lying in your knapsack. Your knapsack dropped with a crash from the stump, I began to gather your textbooks, and there — pop! — a prune. I gobbled it. You don’t mind?”
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Methodius pondered slowly. What prune! He had already leaned over in order to take the next stump, when suddenly he froze in the stupid pose. The fruit from the charismatic tree, it was in the box! In the morning before school, he hid the box with the stone among old notebooks, and the fruit for some reason slipped into the knapsack. And now it was safely resting in Borya Gelkin’s stomach. Methodius stared narrowly at his classmate. No special changes had taken place in Borya Grelkin. Outwardly he was still the same amusing penguin, but already slightly more talkative and with a smile. Probably, basic magical changes were still ahead. Methodius wanted to deal a blow to Borya Grelkin, but this was so not possible, like kicking a chow-chow puppy. Borya emitted such geniality. Methodius spat and rolled from the basement the stump next in line… Borya Grelkin stroked his own tummy with his hand and uttered several grating phrases, inspirational for the task. His usual caked dirty-white aura rapidly thickened and was saturated with colours, involuntarily attracting and charging those, whose energy outlines were weaker. But Methodius was indifferent to it. His energy outlines were strong, and in his immediate plan, eleven more stumps still loomed. Chapter 3 The House with a View of Gloom The day and the evening passed dully, this was, however, completely in the spirit of their family. Eddy Khavron hung out at home and, panting, was lifting weights, not forgetting while pausing to call Methodius a wimp and a sap. The very strong sweaty body of Eddy Khavron smelled of a stable. “At your age… huuu… I was unlike those, who… in short, you’re a fool!” he summed it up, lowering the weights so decisively that his sweat pants began to crack. His sister Zozo Buslaeva had locked herself in the bathroom, turned on the water, and was talking on the phone. Once in a while Methodius heard how his mother laughed loudly and provocatively, even muffling the water. This laughter indicated only one thing: Zozo was concocting for herself a date with the next-in-line example with no understanding of women. Even now, Methodius, in advance, was ready to swear that this was some mothball dolt poured into another mould. He determined this by Zozo’s strained laughter, which was heard twice more often than normal. A feeling suggested to Methodius that the collocutor bored mother stiff and she had already mentally written him down as surplus. Methodius usually endured Eddy’s laughter and commentaries. His patience was wasted if and only if Khavron blurted out, “Listen, I understand that you’re doing homework! But could you not write smaller so that the ink in the pen isn’t used up so fast?” “Fine!” Methodius said obediently and thirty times finely wrote on the last page of the notebook: Eddy is a fat hippo, squared! “Like this?” he asked, showing the notebook. “Smart kid! Excellent!” Eddy said with approval. Methodius understood that he read nothing and in general was already distracted from his economic daydreams. “Ha-ha-ha! You’re such a dear! It seems I’ve known you for a hundred years! No, two hundred years! Ha-ha! Certainly, I don’t have in mind that you’re so old! For a man the main thing is the soul… What you did say, pardon me, is the main thing? Ah, what a
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comedian you are! Simply Petrosyan Khazanovich Zadornov!” Zozo trilled from the bathroom and shouted with suffering laughter. Methodius drew a long thick line and shoved the notebook into the drawer. He was fed up with this delirious pair. He felt that he was ready to throw open the window and take a step directly from the windowsill to the clouds. At this moment he understood that today, he would definitely draw on the carpet that same rune from the bottom of the box. Come what may, but he simply could not remain here any longer. Methodius recollected about the three scoops of ashes, which would be left of him, if he incorrectly drew the rune, but even this suddenly seemed unimportant. Either he would become a wizard and flee from here, or let them gather him from the carpet. *** The genuine Swiss clock of Chinese manufacturing squeaked unmusically and pitifully, indicating midnight. Methodius, getting up on his elbows, waited patiently until the clock finished torturing the small battery. Not so long ago Edward Khavron had gargled in the shower and run off somewhere. Possibly even to work. He would positively not appear until morning. Zozo Buslaeva was lolling about on the narrow sofa. She had an unhappy look even when sleeping. In the morning, she was expected to get up at the crack of dawn and run five kilometres, teasing doggies out for a walk, and jumping over puddles. She was introduced to the new admirer, the essayist Basevich from the newspaper Yesterday’s Truth, at the exhibition of auto tires, where the creative person was thoughtfully picking at a Matador tire with his nail, vaguely hoping to scrape up a theme for his new article. Besides work, Basevich turned out to be a health nut. He ate only beets, cooked onions, cabbage, and millet sprouts. Sometimes a couple of cucumbers and a peach. And nothing else. “A woman, who doesn’t drink a glass of untreated spring water on an empty stomach, does not exist for me!” he stated to Zozo in the first five minutes of acquaintance. Clever Zozo immediately assured him that she drank untreated spring water not only on an empty stomach, but also in place of dinner, and she loved cooked onions only more than beets. She did not suspect that she was a ten. Against a background of mutual love for cooked onions, their hearts rushed towards each other. Moreover, Zozo, never getting up earlier than noon, to the happiness of Basevich, turned out to be a fan of early morning runs. Basevich immediately became happily excited and, while the highly experienced Zozo was turning over in her mind what the deuce attracted her beyond his language, he stated to her that for the first time after his three unsuccessful marriages, he saw not a frivolous female bitten by the rabid dog of materialism, but a real wise woman. Overall, the romance developed rapidly and was interrupted for two days only by the unsuccessful experience with the hog. Fortunately, the fan of millet sprouts did not find out about it. About that approximate time, he had scorched his vocal chords gargling with iodine, for two days could not talk on the phone, and was only croaking hoarsely. However, even in this state he had sufficient strength to phone Zozo on the previous night and croaked that the next day at six in the morning he was coming on the subway in order to jog a little under the windows of the dear woman. It was necessary for Zozo to dig out her tracksuit urgently from the mezzanine and to take Methodius’ running shoes. Luckily, their shoe sizes coincided.
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Methodius took out the box and carefully opened it. The bottom of the box was flooded by a deathly glow. The transparent stone blazed in the darkness. The fog inside stretched out and attempted to take the shape of a rune — the same one as on the bottom. The rune suddenly seemed awfully hideous to Methodius. It was like a crushed beetle spreading half-bent legs in different directions. The centre was a circle. “It’s time!” Methodius thought. Cautiously looking over at the sleeping Zozo, on whose face the bluish light from the box fell, Methodius hurriedly got dressed, sneaked into the kitchen, and placed the box on the table. He stretched out his hand and decisively took the transparent stone. It was only slightly warm to touch, but, when Methodius, becoming familiar with the rune jumping like a cardiogram, made several strokes in the air, the stone heated up and became almost scorching. The fog inside became a reddish snake, throwing itself to the walls, positively trying to break loose. “Aha! I can’t even try it out! It’s simply a monumental dirty trick!” Methodius growled and, not giving himself a chance to change his mind, quickly traced the rune on the kitchen floor. This was doubly complicated, since the stone left no trace on the linoleum. It was necessary to draw blindly. Sweat appeared on Methodius’ forehead. Mentally he was already ashes scattered all over the kitchen, soiling Eddy Khavron’s dried shirt, which quivered on the chandelier like a white spectre, chained by a hanger to a bend in the wire. Methodius drew the last line and stepped back, just like an artist attempting to survey his creation. The stone gradually cooled in his hand, and then suddenly — without any warning or sign — shattered into a fine glass powder in his palm. In the same moment, the rune flared up. A particularly bright flame was on its bent legs. But the centre, where Methodius with foresight drew a big circle, was much paler. Without waiting until the rune faded, Methodius carefully took a step into its centre. He expected tingling, flash, pain — anything, but what took place. Methodius suddenly understood that the kitchen with the dark-blue photo-wallpaper had disappeared, and he was standing in a completely different place. Small puddles scattered on the asphalt. The wind, playing, chased the plastic from cigarette packages. The red eyes of traffic lights smashed into pieces in windows and shop windows. The sky, interlaced with cables and billboards, was dusted with stars. Methodius turned around and immediately leaping into his view was a plaque “Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 13,” fastened at the corner of a long grey house, a large part of which was enclosed in safety construction netting for repairs. “Skomoroshya Cemetery my foot!” Methodius thought. *** House № 13 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, solidly but boringly built, had already been staring with its small windows for almost two centuries at the opposite side of the street. House № 13 is so dull and cheerless that even with one accidental look at it, the mood barometer would come to rest on the “melancholy” point. At one time, on the same space — possibly the foundation was still preserved — was the Church of Resurrection in Skomoroshkakh. And here, up to the church, solidly buried over the centuries, stretched the naughty Skomoroshya Settlement with saloons, fiery dances, and tamed bears. They led these last ones by a ring in the nose, forced them to
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dance, and soldiers brought them home-brewed beer in a pail. Robbers played pranks almost every night here, with knives gleaming, clubs brandishing, undressed down to the waist, and even beat to death those who overindulged in drinks. During the immense fire of 1812, engulfing Moscow from three sides, the Church of Resurrection in Skomoroshkakh burned down, and soon on its foundation the priest Belyaev built a dwelling. But the clerical estate could not be supported at the cursed place — as if the bones of the skomorokhi chased it away. And two decades had not yet passed, when the Versailles Furnished Rooms appeared here, with the sooty tunnel of a corridor, bug spots on the walls, and an eternal smell of cheap tobacco from the rooms. Every evening there were drinking bouts and card games in the furnished rooms, and in the corner room lived a cardsharper, a Pole with dyed moustaches, who played the clarinet well. He lived here for about five years and would have lived longer, had his marked deck not been put on the spot once and a juiced-up artillery major not turned up with a charged revolver. The Versailles Furnished Rooms were located on the second floor. Setting up shop on the lower floor of house № 13 was the optometrist Milka, from whom Chekhov ordered a pince-nez for himself. From the alley, finding a spot for itself was the little store Foreign News, where high school students bought cigarettes with powder, firecrackers, and frivolous pictures from under the counter. In secret, as if to justify the exorbitant prices, it was reported that the cards were from Paris, although in actuality the thread stretched to Gazetnyi Pereulok, to the photographer Goldenveizer — a sentimental Bavarian and a splendid artistic painter of animals. In the Soviet times, house № 13 first turned into the Hotel Mebelprom, and then the united archive of Moscow Waterworks Management moved into it. Brisk archivists in sleeve guards made excerpts, and the first chief of the archive Gorobets, a former midshipman of the Baltic Fleet, cut liver sausage on the varnished desk of Milka, who had died of typhus in Kharkov in ’21. This way — with furnished rooms, store bustling, and glossy sleeve guards — day after day and year after year the forgotten altar of the Church of Resurrection in Skomoroshkakh was defiled, until once at dawn two people walked out from a secluded wall of the neighbouring wing of a former military school. One was an ugly hunchback. Traffic lights reflected off his silvery armour, which for some reason seemed splashed with blood. On his belt, passing through a ring, hung a sword without scabbard. The sword was of a strange shape. It ended in a hook with notches. The blade was covered with cabalistic symbols. The other, a stocky man moody and stern like a pagan idol, was black-moustachioed, with grey streaks glistening like silver in his beard. A red loose garment with black inserts flowed exactly from his shoulders. The guards of Gloom, emerging so unceremoniously, looked around. The fog, reeking like a damp blanket, was lying in pieces on the asphalt. The black-moustachioed man raised his eyebrows interrogatively and glanced back at the hunchback. “Well, and? I’m waiting, Ligul!” he said, breathing with effort through a broken nose. “Yes, Ares. This is that same house. A rare place, all energy flows necessary to us converge here. Everything necessary is ready. I have seen to it. Shielding magic, fifth dimension… Agents and succubae have been notified. Tomorrow you’ll begin the work: the movement of reports, the sending of eide, and so on. Usual routine work of Gloom. It goes without saying, in the given situation it’ll be more distracting; however, it’s not
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worthwhile to ignore it. Eide aren’t scattered all over the road. What your primary task will be is known to you,” said the hunchback patronizingly. “Excellent. Well, titan of spirit and prisoner of body, what else do you have to say? What else have you hit upon in those centuries that we did not meet?” Ares asked ironically. The pretentious tone of the hunchback clearly irritated him. “That traitors don’t exist, instead there are only morally adjusted people,” the hunchback answered in a thin throaty voice. “Not badly said, my cemetery genius! You’re a poet and a philosopher, cultivated on the sickly soil of the Chancellery of Gloom. In that case, Judas is nothing but an intellectual, acutely in need of a handful of silver coins, deciding to earn extra money… But enough feeding each other a stew of paradoxes. Let’s return to business. You’re sure that the time has come?” The hunchback jerked his head up. His voice sounded fanatical, “Yes. The day has come increasingly closer when Light and Gloom will again join in battle! And Gloom will prevail! The wizards of Light will cease to interfere with us, will hide in their burrows beyond the clouds, and the eide of moronoids, which we now rip out of them with such difficulty, will gush out to us in an endless stream… Everything that we need — this is the last effort!” Ares looked at him with badly hidden mockery. “I’m well posted. Very nice that you reminded me…” he said. Ligul glanced sharply at him. His hand involuntarily slid to his thigh, where the sword was hanging. “Indeed you hate me, Ares? You would take my head with pleasure, with the hook of your sword you would pluck the darc off me and smash it. And would take away for yourself all eide incarcerated in it!” he hissed. Ares shrugged his shoulders. “Possibly. And you hate me, Ligul. We all hate one another. It’s the usual story for Gloom. Do you want us to fight? Perhaps you’ll be luckier and precisely your boot will come down on my darc,” he said coldly. The hunchback fixed his eyes on him with hatred. It seemed lava was boiling at the bottom of his pupils. “Now a fight between guards of Gloom is impossible. Must not kill our own while the guards of Light are in power. But later I’ll meet you and let the strongest one win,” he said. Ares smiled. His teeth were square and wide, the trustworthy colour of ivory. “Knowing you, I would say: let the most immoral one win. Isn’t that true, Ligul?” he refined. The hunchback began to grit his teeth, but he got the better of himself. His hand let go of the hilt. “One day we’ll still return to this conversation. But for the time being get busy with the boy! Twelve years have already passed. His gift is necessary to us,” he said in a honeyed voice. “Gift, gift… It’s necessary to Gloom, it’s necessary to the guards of Light… As far as I know, until now, they haven’t determined in the Chancellery how worthwhile it is for us to trust the boy. And the main thing, why his gift emerged. Or am I mistaken?” Ares smiled. “It’s not worthwhile to underestimate the Chancellery of Gloom, swordsman… We haven’t determined only because we don’t want to draw hasty conclusions. We’re interested only in what’s known for sure. The gift of the boy is a dark gift, but he’s managing excellently without darc, which is already suspicious in itself. To manage
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without darc is a quality of guards of Light. He alone among us doesn’t need eide to support and augment his power. And his power is very significant. He, born at the moment of the eclipse, absorbed into himself the enthusiasm and horror of millions of mortals observing true darkness. And precisely then the gift woke up in him. Without realizing it himself, he learned to amass the most diverse energies: love, pain, fear, enthusiasm — whatever he likes. He makes them his own and can make use of them. The boy works like an enormous storage battery of magic. This side of his gift is completely known to us.” “That is, our dear Methodius Buslaev is a bio-vampire?” Ares refined with irony. The hunchback shook his head, sitting so crookedly on his body as if it had been pulled down in a great hurry. “No. A bio-vampire is one who wrings out energy, attaching by suction to the energy aura of man and drinking it to the last drop. A pitiful essence, a jackal. The boy wanted to shrug off all kinds of auras there, although he also sees them. He’s unique; he catches the spontaneous outbursts of energies. A person doesn’t even notice this. He discards his anger into space simply to get rid of it, and that serenely falls into our boy’s storage, the boy doesn’t even suspect this. Methodius can become an irreplaceable soldier in the struggle with the guards of Light. He’ll mow them down by the dozens, even the golden-wings. If we, of course, know how to properly prepare him. A guard of Gloom not knowing how to manage his gift is nothing. But again — the first tasks of Methodius will not be battles. Soon he’ll be thirteen, and you know where he must be on this day.” “One more thought deep as our abysses, Ligul… Today you’re in great form — you speak solemnly of common truths with a speed very much like that of a high school teacher. You would agree, if not for the training of the boy, you would manage very well without me?” The hunchback grinned, showing small, corroded teeth. “Ares, no one argues that you’re the best of the soldiers of Gloom. I would like to know what method of battle you don’t know. And you know extremely well how to impart your knowledge. However, allow me to remind you of something. Once you were even somewhat related to ancient gods, and the uncivilized glorified you as a god. Next, already in the Middle Ages, after that incident, I’ll not remind you which, you went into exile. Don’t forget where you were until I pulled you out! An unpleasant, dim, cheerless place. It seems, a desolate lighthouse on a distant northern cliff in the ocean? I’m not mistaken?” Ares broodingly looked at the hunchback. “You’re not. Indeed, you precisely also arranged this exile for me, Ligul. You arranged and you pulled out. An old enemy is more reliable than a friend is already what I always remember about you. And, you know what’s the most amusing? That I also did not forget,” he said quietly. The hunchback rapidly and uneasily glanced at him. “Well-well, no need for thanks, old chap. What kind of old scores can be here?” he said. “You’ll find the boy, get in touch with him, and you’ll train him! He must become the horror of Gloom, the nightmare of Gloom, the retribution of Gloom — whatever he wants! This girl, what’s her name there… your servant… will help you… Isn’t that so?” “Julitta is not a servant! Mark this on your… hump!” Ares said quietly. Ligul turned pale. The blow hit the mark. “She’s worse than a servant!” he shouted. “She’s a slave of Gloom. She was cursed even in infancy, moreover by her own mother, who dealt with black magic. They took away her eidos, leaving only a hole. According to
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the book of life and death, your Julitta had died a long time ago. And the worms should have eaten the girl long ago! Turned out to be an irregularity, eh? Argue with death itself, which isn’t aware of mistakes! It was necessary to finish the girl off, but here you appeared. Why, for what joy? You even gave her some portion of your abilities. If she would at least be a beauty, but only so-so… We gave up on this. A baron of Gloom having lost his mind occupies himself in his deserted lighthouse, what difference does it make?” “Shut up! Don’t touch with your dirty fingers the memory of one whose nail is worth more than you!” “You have flawed notions about the market cost of nails,” the hunchback said maliciously. “Yes indeed, of course… Old foolish Ligul! How would he understand the moral castings of Baron Ares, swordsman of Gloom! Only think, what an original story! When you fell in love with a mortal, breaking our laws, had a daughter with her, and saving this ridiculous idyll, you committed massive follies… So much happened at the lighthouse. Waves, stones, and wind should have cleansed your brains. And what? Even at the lighthouse, you didn’t get some sense into your head. Saved this moronoid girl, whom her confused mother had condemned to death. Interesting, for what joy? Or did she remind you of your daughter, whom you couldn’t save? At some point, you’ll finally learn that we are immortal, and moronoids and the children of moronoids — they’re such expendable material… Pawns in the eternal game of good and evil. Foolish flesh, clay with a flickering flame of eidos, which heaven knows why landed there!” “You got carried away, hunchback! Perhaps, for variety, you should live your own life for a while?” The hunchback shook his head. In his eyes appeared some kind of dry, feverish lustre. “Well indeed no! For the time being, yours suits me! I want to understand! Well, tell me, why was that duel necessary to you? Why kill your own while enemies are living? Perhaps they didn’t teach you that you always reserve sweets for dessert?” “I took vengeance upon those, who crossed my path — directly or indirectly. And, what torments me is that I haven’t taken vengeance on all. One is still living…” Ares said, looking to the side. The plastering of the neighbouring house, 15 Bolshaya Dmitrovka, began to smoke from his look. “They wanted much better, Ares… They saved you from the vileness of life. You yourself know that magicians, long rubbing shoulders with moronoids, lose their magic! Wallowing, like in a swamp, in petty everyday concerns! Such guards are lost to Gloom. Lost forever!” the hunchback said with conviction. “I didn’t ask Gloom to crawl into my affairs! It’s enough for you that I hate Light!” Ares bellowed. “Maybe. But you don’t serve Gloom with all your heart. You value freedom, or what you consider freedom, too much. You’re a fool, Ares! You don’t understand that there cannot be absolute freedom. There are only Light and Gloom. That which is not Light is Gloom. That which is not Gloom is Light. By definition, there simply cannot be any half tones. There cannot be evil on the good ledge or good on the evil ledge! You catch the nuances, Ares? You curse what you’re doing!” Conversing with Ares, Ligul unnoticeably followed him with peripheral vision, ready to react to the first suspicious motion. However, he missed the attack all the same. He even did not understand if it was an attack or if Ares had employed magic. The hunchback
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only heard how his armour clanked against the asphalt. The next minute he understood that he was lying on the ground and his own sword tenderly, exactly like a razor, scraped red hairlines on his neck. With the bend of his sword, Ares hooked the chain of the darc and was now coldly examining the hastily changing forms of the hunchback’s silver icicle. “And indeed you have incarcerated numerous eide in your darc. I heard that in recent years you prefer to buy them from agents and not win them in combat? It’s correct: in all the centuries gold smelled better than Damascus steel.” “Battles between our own are forbidden, until we’re done with Light,” hissed Ligul. “A wise and farsighted law! Interesting, who passed it? Indeed not you perhaps, Ligul? Have in mind that the prohibition of duels always led to a drop in morals, obesity, and the triumph of purses! Less blood flows — yes, but instead of blood snot flows… It’s you who wisely made a remark about pitiful essence. A jackal is not a lion, and a beast could never behave like a tsar. You’re a jackal, Ligul. You really think that you’ll know how to bring Gloom under your control?” Ares moved his hand, forcing the hunchback’s darc to swing like a pendulum on the blade of the sword. “Only think, how simple! One light motion and the terrible Ligul will be deprived of all his magic and become the usual pitiful spirit…” he said pensively. The lips of Ligul turned white. “But something else bothers me more,” continued Ares. “I think about that one eidos, the fate of which nothing is known to me. And sometimes it comes to my mind that it can turn out to be in your darc, then I lose my head and want to cut you up into dozens of little freaks!” “I’ve said a thousand times! I didn’t kill yours! I know nothing about the fate of your…” Ligul started. The hand of Ares trembled. A long scratch appeared on the hunchback’s cheek. The hunchback lifted his hand, wiped the blood off his cheek and thoughtfully licked his palm. “Don’t utter her name! It’s too pure for you! Or you’ll part with your tongue!” Ares said quietly. Ligul hastily began to nod. “So you patronize the girl because she reminds you of that one… Don’t be angry! You see, I didn’t say the name,” he remarked. “None of your business! Better think about your darc! Lest you’re deprived of it!” Ares said. The hunchback shrugged his shoulders. He had already gotten the better of his initial fear. “Silly threat! You’re far from a saint. Perhaps I should remind you how many you have cut down and how many eide are in your own darc?” he asked. “Not worth it. Everyone I killed, I killed in honest magic battle. I didn’t cut down the sleeping and didn’t kill by stabbing in the back. And especially not children and women,” remarked Ares. “In honest battle? When one opponent is twenty times more experienced than the other, can the battle really be called honest? It would be honest with an equality of strength!” the hunchback smiled. “No one prevented my opponents from learning to manage a blade,” Ares said. “Aha… But at the same time fifteen hundred years as the god of war, participating in all combats and battles, and to acquire the same experience… It’s all demagogy! It’s not possible for another to acquire the same,” growled Ligul.
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Ares thought for a bit. Ligul’s words nevertheless shook his confidence. “They could provide themselves with some artefact! Many did so,” he growled. “Well now! We returned all to the same stove from which they began to dance. If you cannot win in honest battle, win in a dishonest one,” grinned the hunchback. Ares lightly tossed his darc and caught it on the sword turned flat. The chain pulled. Ligul tensed up. “Be quiet, Ligul! Your reasoning is of no interest to me. Forget Julitta. And tell the others, your hangers-on, to forget her. If something happens to her, they have to find themselves a new hunchback. Do you understand everything?” Ares said slowly. After swallowing hard, the hunchback nodded. The chain for the last time slid on the bend of the sword. Ligul instantly jumped up and contentedly bared his teeth. Selfconfidence returned to him in enormous leaps. “You’re as good as before, Ares. I was afraid you had lost your form. But I cannot distract you any longer. This is your house. Methodius is also yours. Decide for yourself how exactly you’ll train him. It’s unimportant to me. But be aware of this: the Chancellery of Gloom will not take its eyes off you. And don’t lose time. Methodius will soon be thirteen…” “You don’t have to tell me this…” The hunchback stepped back and with his back, he took a step directly into the wall of the house. “Then till we meet again, swordsman Ares, Baron of Gloom! You know, this is the only chance for you to vindicate yourself after that episode! Or again the lighthouse alone and the same cold waves — day in and day out!” a receding voice reached Ares. “For me Light is too dull and Gloom is too foul. Perhaps the lighthouse and solitude is the best way out for me!” he thought. Soon, when the first trolley bus, filling neighbouring alleys with an electrical rumble, briskly rolled along the parallel street, there was already no one near house № 13. However, from that morning on some devilry began to happen to house № 13. Informed people spat and crossed to the other side of the street. At first, as if not having any connection with magic, the chief of the Moscow Waterworks Management United Archive, one of the many successors of the former warrant officer of the Baltic Fleet, was unexpectedly taken to court for an unpleasant financial matter. An audit appeared out of the blue, fists banged on table tops, hearts became flustered, Validol tablets started to jump under the tongue, and centuries of dust was stirred up. Then the entire archive of Moscow Waterworks Management was tossed up into the air, there was a blizzard of papers, and it moved to a new address. For approximately a month house № 13 stood empty, and during this time someone contrived to break the glass on the second floor using a bottle and warped the Zepter lock with a nail, having installed into its distrustful soul a steadfast aversion to keys. Furthermore, in broad daylight some unknown persons stole the cellar’s figured cast lattices, doing its duty still to the priest Belyaev and having a cross in the decor. They were stolen boldly in broad daylight and were never seen again. Almost immediately, scaffolding was built outside the house and dense safety netting was tightly stretched over it, and, strangely, its existence was completely forgotten… Meanwhile the present story of house № 13 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka began from this day. ***
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Methodius roamed near the house long enough until he was convinced that no one intended to come out for him. The solemn welcome with bread and salt was clearly called off. They either did not want to notice him or were expecting something well defined from him. “You’re waiting for a visit? Excellent, I’m coming!” Methodius thought with a challenge. After looking around, he lifted the construction netting and made his way in under the scaffolding. The house was covered in a network of lime ridges. It smelled of damp plaster, peeling by layers. Protecting his head from the metallic clamps of the scaffolding, Methodius found the door — high, wooden, with glass painted on the inside, which could plainly get first prize at a world competition of mediocrity. It opened in, and the scaffolding did not visibly interfere with it. Methodius knocked and then pushed it once, again, and a third time. The door did not yield. “Hey! It’s me, Methodius Buslaev!” he purposely shouted and heard how his voice resonantly rolled along the empty corridors and the rooms. Nothing. Nothing and no one. Methodius began to get angry. “You came to me with your stupid trick! I’m leaving!” he shouted and was already about to leave, when suddenly he heard a low sound. The door slowly opened a little. Slightly, not more than a third, not to invite but more not to prevent him from entering. Methodius squeezed his way in. He expected it to be dark inside. It turned out to be so. However, the darkness was not complete. He distinctly distinguished a narrow landing with dented parquet and stairs going up. Inside, the house appeared deserted. Everything that presented some value had already been taken away. Somewhere on the floor were only some faded paper dropped for uselessness, and a chair without a seat. Yielding to a vague call, Methodius went up the stairs and turned twice to the left, sometimes groping and sometimes guessing the curves of the corridors. The old oak parquet creaked from time to time under his feet. Somewhere a half-open window also creaked. Stopping next to a large double door, Methodius thought for a second, and then decisively pushed it. He saw a round table — unexpected in this house deprived of furniture. Two thick black candles, inserted into the eye sockets of a skull, were burning on the table. And again no one. Methodius experienced a mixed feeling of superstitious fear and irritation. “The candles I can also light… A skull I can get hold of in the biology lab! Then what? How much longer do I have to wander around?” he asked unhappily. The strange remark of Methodius had an unexpected effect: someone beside him burst out laughing. Methodius turned sharply but saw no one. He only realized suddenly that the narrow blade of a knife was flying towards him. Everything took place in countable seconds. He only had time to understand that this was death. It was not possible to dodge, but at the last moment, when the blade almost entered his body, without a moment's hesitation and not planning this earlier, he put forward a transparent barrier. Thin as a sheet of paper, durable as steel. The blade tinkled and bounced as if it had hit a solid obstacle. “Not bad. Instinctive magic protection went into operation. If it were not so, it wouldn’t make sense to bother with the fellow at all,” said someone in an undertone. There was neither smoke nor flash nor the smell of sulphur — a man simply appeared suddenly next to Methodius. He seemed to Methodius like a pagan idol. Widely set eyes, a broken nose, moustaches, and a beard with grey. A tuft of hair forming a point crawled in the centre of
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an uneven forehead. He was breathing hoarsely, with effort. But then he was standing so confidently on the floor as if he had grown roots into it. “Well, what a wrist he has! A leg bone, not a wrist! You crush cut-glass only with such hands,” thought Methodius. He believed that this was the same magician, whom Julitta had invited him to meet. Methodius did not bow, although at some moment an unknown force attempted to bend his head down against his will. However, he intended and had the ability to resist. Moreover, Methodius put so much force into his resistance that his chin pulled absurdly high up instead of coming down. Feeling awkward, Methodius carefully returned his head to the previous position. The man, from whom, it seemed, nothing could be hidden, cleared his throat with respect. Julitta appeared beside the table with the black candles. From the previous Julitta there remained only the chubbiness, ashy hair, and the eternal mockery in the eyes — mockery at herself and the entire world. Her clothing had changed strikingly. Over a camisole hung a shoulder belt with a shiny narrow rapier having a bent tip. However, Julitta was not interested in the rapier customary for her. She paid it no more attention than an infant did to the dentures of a grandmother. She was occupied with a box of chocolate rum balls she was holding in her hands. Ares turned to Julitta and, after nodding at Methodius, asked in a low viscous voice, “This is the one? I wasn’t mistaken?” “No, Ares. Methodius Buslaev in person. Uno piece. Dos arms, dos legs,” mockingly confirmed Julitta, biting off a piece of candy. “An original lad. But I doubt that he’ll be right for us. He’s somewhat emaciated, tousled. Julitta, you haven’t made a mistake? You’re sure this is actually him?” Ares sternly repeated. However, it seemed to Methodius that he knew all the answers already. Julitta nodded. “Precisely him,” she said in the sterile voice of an ideal secretary, reading the forehead of Methodius like a sheet of paper. “Methodius Buslaev. Born twelve years ago in the hour of total solar eclipse. Pugnacious and quick-tempered. Inclined to generosity but vindictive. Has not bad health and comparatively flexible psyche. Loves trips.” “It’s good that he loves trips. This is useful to us. One who loves trips will fall in love with flights,” Ares approved, in a business-like manner rubbing the cut bridge of his nose. “And now what about his parentage?” “Parentage… hmm… Parents are neutral, not warm, not cold. Lives with his mother and her brother. Amusing individuals; however, according to our profile, without abilities,” stated Julitta and ate two more rum balls after this sad news. “Look, you’ll get sick!” Ares warned. “Me? But any bug will die once it’s seen me! Let beauties suffer, it makes no difference to me at all: any flood, any swelling, any harmful microbes,” stated Julitta. “You can talk about yourself afterwards. What more do we have on Methodius?” “Impressionable. Last year for three months, he tailed a girl from a neighbouring school. He followed her from a distance, hiding behind trees, saw her home, but never once got up close to her. And then the girl’s knapsack with textbooks suddenly flared up. By itself! Must have been sublimation of desire… Now then, having put out the fire, they were acquainted. True, the great love kicked the bucket after the first dozen remarks. The girl turned out to be just slightly smarter than a stool. Our Signor Tomato was very disappointed.”
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Methodius, getting mad from the explicit slander, wanted to interrupt, but Julitta stretched out her hand and with a long nail lightly scratched him on the cheek. Immediately Methodius’ lips and gums became stiff as if from narcosis and his mouth moved to the side. “I hate it when they interrupt me,” said Julitta. “What about our friend with regards to studies? Of course, moronoid knowledge isn’t worth anything, but it’s interesting all the same with what speed the brook of knowledge waters the convolutions of his brain,” continued Ares with his questioning. “Signor Tomato is indifferent to his studies. Nothing to brag about. Although some teachers find that he’s not deprived of abilities, but…” The stiff lips of Ares were extended into a smile, “Oh, indeed this ‘could, but’ and the simple ‘but’! How often have I heard it! What short words, but how many people have stumbled over them in all the centuries! Much more than over all the objects lying about in the wrong place! More, Julitta! Don’t drag on!” “But what’s more? Here he is before you. Methodius Buslaev. Please give him a warm welcome!” the little witch shrugged her shoulders. Ares glided an evaluating glance along Methodius. Methodius felt like huge weights were on him. “Hmm… Well, I don’t know. Well, what do you personally think of him?” Ares asked. “I simply adore this boy! He’s so nice and pleasant! Would eat him with kasha, but pity the kasha,” stated Julitta. “Julitta, stop! Your little jokes bore me,” Ares frowned. “I haven’t even started. Only just warmed up.” “JULITTA!” The voice of Ares barely changed, did not become louder; however, it was as if a bell began to ring in it, and both — Julitta and Methodius — felt this. “Careful!” Methodius said to himself. Julitta stopped eating candies and hurriedly bowed her head, “My apologies, Baron!” Methodius glanced at her with surprise. Is he really truly a baron? And if not, then why did she call him that? “You already spoke with him about the training?” Ares continued, clearly and probably intentionally not turning to Methodius. “Ne-a. He knows less about this than a hen knows about an omelette,” again growing bolder, Julitta said. Methodius could not control himself. To stand on the side and listen to them talking about him in the third person as if about some insect was against his principles. “Aha, I understand! You’re like the magicians from the idiotic little book about magic schools! The type that said holeinpipus, waved a wand, and it rained!” he said with a challenge, after discovering that his mouth had already thawed. He was sure that he blurted out complete nonsense; however, Ares and Julitta exchanged glances with uneasiness. “Holeinpipus? Hmm-m-m… it seems I actually met something like that in elementary magic. Now I just haven’t heard about magic wands for a long time. It seems to me, magicians had given them up even in the Middle Ages, in an epoch of inflicting rage on artefacts,” knitting his brow, Ares said pensively. “Perhaps we’re too late, and elementary magicians have already gotten into contact with him?” Julitta asked anxiously. Ares quickly glanced at Methodius. That one did not have time to avert his eyes. When their eyes met, it seemed to Methodius that his brain turned into ice. Ice, through which
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the experienced guard of Gloom could easily see the essence. “No,” Ares said lazily. “False alarm! They didn’t get into contact. He knows nothing.” “But how about holeinpipus and the information on the schools?” “Don’t get too wrapped up!” Ares brushed it off. “Common fault of the secret service. The usual flow of secret information into literature. Remind me tomorrow morning to send to the Chancellery a demand for systematic heart attacks of writers. We must thoroughly thin out our secret service agency. Remember?” “Yes, Baron. Without fail,” said Julitta and made a note to herself on her palm with a pen that appeared suddenly. She clearly did not trust her memory. The dullest pencil is better than the worst sclerosis. Ares gave a cough. And with this cough it was as if he had placed a dot showing that precisely now, from this point on, the serious conversation would begin. “You see, Methodius, we don’t have schools. Tibidox and Magford exist only for elementary magicians. We represent another force. A regular recruitment of students and their training aren’t in our plans. Although now and then — in exceptional cases — we’re also forced to take students. However, not many of them. Hundreds of students in a millennium are more than enough for us. Moreover, realistically only a tenth of them stay. But even these ten remaining don’t know about the existence of the others, since we never bring students together. Our training is personalized,” he said. “And why does only a tenth remain? They don’t like it at yours? They leave?” Methodius asked with a challenge. Although he also felt fear before Ares, all the same he wanted to tease the Baron of Gloom, testing the permitted boundaries. Ares smirked sullenly. “They leave. To there and there!” He showed with his eyes looking up and down. Having suddenly understood what he had in mind, Methodius swallowed hard. “You’ll do nothing,” continued Ares. “The training of guards of Gloom is little like the training of normal magicians. We don’t have exams and evaluations. There are no compositions, accounts, retellings, or homework. We don’t learn incantations by heart and don’t brew decoctions from corns of shrew and St. John’s wart. We train guards, moreover by exceptionally dangerous methods.” “Why dangerous?” Methodius asked. “Because we play with those forces, which don’t distinguish between a game for real and a game for fun. It’s never for fun to drop into red-hot lava, to curse, or to chop with a two-handed sword. The notorious dragonball, considered a dangerous sport, is simply child’s play in comparison with our trainings. It’s better for us that a guard of Gloom would not live to the end of the training than fail his task and disgrace us in front of the guards of Light, our enemies.” “A not so bad chance to remain among the living! One out of ten… On the other hand, this girl Julitta somehow managed to survive. What am I, worse?” Methodius thought, experiencing what they call: torn between desire and fear. “And you want me to become your student?” he asked. “Something in this spirit. As a student on probation, hired employee, combat magician — whatever you want. I don’t care a straw about words, the essence is important. Consider that I’ll take you in. You’ll do the same things as Julitta and me. In any free time, I’ll train you to fight, to cut off darc, and to master true magic, which is in you
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originally. The main thing is to wake it up. This can come in handy for you in the future. Of course, whether you’ll remain among the living, that I personally can’t promise you.” “And if I refuse?” Methodius asked. Julitta looked at Ares with alarm. “If you refuse, you refuse. We respect freedom of choice. It’s the main and mandatory rule of the game. If this freedom doesn’t exist at least in theory, our battle with the guards of Light, which has been carrying on already for all eternity, would be devoid of sense from the very beginning,” coldly said Ares. “So, I’ll be able to leave?” Methodius asked. Ares looked at him with irony. “Easily. We’ll erase today’s meeting from your memory and let you go. It’s another matter that sooner or later your gift will torment you nevertheless. It’s not possible to live with this gift calmly, trust me, but no one has the power to take it away from you. Even me. Except together with life, which, again I repeat, contradicts rules. But if you want — again return to your wretchedness. Set up petty dirty tricks for mother’s admirers and snitch small change from Eddy’s pockets,” he said. “And what, you never have to snitch small change?” Methodius asked. Ares’ possession of information did not please him, although it no longer astonished him. “Except according to the call of the heart. Magic will make you independent, in any case, of money. But now I need a definite answer: yes or no.” Methodius hesitated, floundering in the embraces of temptation. The spectre of success, dressed in a black tailcoat with a collar of realized desires, beckoned him to itself with a well-groomed finger. On the other side of the scale lay the boring to nauseating school and the tiny room in the outskirts, in which Zozo and her eccentric brother enthusiastically damage each other’s nerves on the field of apartment battles. For Methodius, an interesting life in this environment was doubtful. “Hmm… It’s all the same to Eddy, but I can imagine how my mother will treat this. She doesn’t notice me when I’m there. But when I’m not — this she actually notices very much…” Methodius growled. “I’ll assume responsibility for your maman. I promise she’ll agree. We’ll act courteously but firmly. Tomorrow morning one of our agents will phone her and settle all questions. I can even promise that we’ll manage without zombification magic or other tricks,” said Ares. “And what are these agents?” Methodius asked. Having heard the question, Julitta could not control herself and began to laugh. The nibbled candy in her fingers splashed rum. “Agents? But really you’re not… In any event, you’re a little lost! You’ll even be introduced to these old foxes!” she could hardly utter through her laughter, but immediately she became silent, having caught Ares’ glance. “If there are no other objections — then one more little ritual. Let’s manage without the rusty needles and the parchments… On your knees!” Ares ordered. In his hands appeared a heavy two-handed sword with a curved blade. The curve at the end for cutting darc was hardly noticeably. Methodius knelt. The sword touched his cheek, burned it precisely like ice, and descended onto his shoulder. “I, swordsman Ares, Baron of Gloom, god of war, take you, Methodius Buslaev, as student and armour bearer. I’ll teach you everything I know and be your guardian till death separates us…” raising his voice, Ares pronounced distinctly.
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“‘Till death separates us…’ I would also like the guards of Gloom to have authority over me only till death…” Julitta whispered with envy. Chapter 4 Everyday Life in the Garden of Eden The cat Depressiac looked like a walking reproach. Its mama was a nice and tidy Eden kitty, but papa was a run-away cat-monster from Gloom, with leathery wings, a tail with a notch, red eyes without eyelids, claws, and fangs, from which dripped poison. When they banished it from the Garden of Eden, two nervous guards fainted, and a third, well scratched, was taking the antidote for a long time. Depressiac, fruit of this short union, inherited if not all the best features of its papa, then indeed precisely the most outstanding. It was naked, without a single wool strand, red-eyed, skin with folds, and membranous white wings, on which all arteries and veins could be seen. A walking biological atlas of unnatural essences and an obvious bio-vampire to other merits. After putting it on one’s lap for a minute, it was possible to be deprived of one’s good mood for a week. Only its nature was more nightmarish than its looks. Depressiac picked a fight with whatever necessary, right up to stone griffins, and the number of its scars was comparable only to its one-hundred-and-twenty sharp teeth, which grew in three rows. It had lost its right ear in a scuffle, and someone’s sharp claws had torn the left one into three parts, exactly like a flag shot through by shrapnel. All day Depressiac flew around the Garden of Eden and hunted, dreaming of transforming some bird of paradise into a small carcass with the same name. Fortunately, the birds of paradise were on the alert. Depressiac did not dare attack the finists, the calm, confident in themselves brave falcons. Even if its brain was not functioning well, it was not suicidal. Only Daph with her tendency towards unpredictable behaviour could have enough imagination to acquire for herself such a beastie. However, even Daph was justified by Depressiac establishing itself. It happened this way. Once, an extremely unpleasant sound woke her up in the morning. Someone was ripping something up into shreds, and this something, in all likelihood, was the pillow on which she slept. After opening her eyes, Daph saw membranous wings and a crushed, dissatisfied whiskered snout. Daphne in a hurry checked whether her wings were in place. The bronze wings were hanging by a leather cord on Daph’s neck. They were small, not exceeding half-a-hand in size. However, this was the most valuable thing that any guard of Light treasured and feared to lose most of all. To each guard of Light the wings were as dear as the darc to a guard of Gloom. However, a difference nevertheless existed. If in a darc were stored enslaved eide, then in the wings was accumulated the energy of appreciation of already rescued eide. It goes without saying that they were the ones the guards of Light were successful in winning back and snatching out from the tenacious paws of guards of Gloom. All this time the cat continued to observe Daph. It had already stopped ripping up the pillow. Feathers were dancing in the air. “What do you need, stray nightmare? You’re well aware that I hate cats, dogs, and small hamsters? My weaknesses are rattlesnakes,
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tarantulas, and chameleons,” said Daphne. The cat kept silent — only looked at her with eyes red like burning coals, which first narrowed, then enlarged. “You’re hypnotizing me? A lost cause!” Daph stated. The cat continued to look. It clearly was not hurrying off anywhere. “Okay: convinced, disgusting! Milk or shall we dance?” Daph gave up. The cat meowed hoarsely. “So, milk,” Daph translated. “And then take your wings and shoo! I warned you: I don’t need cats!” She approached the little cupboard and opened the creaky door. She adored any moronoid junk, which she secretly dragged here from the mortal world. She could be punished for this and frequently she was, but Daph did not care. The cat refused the milk, only sniffed it with disgust. It also decisively ignored the canned fish, nectar, and even ambrosia. “Well, excuse me! I don’t have anything better. Only sulphuric acid!” Daph, who recently brought it in for some experiment, said in exasperation. Depressiac began to meow excitedly and, soaring, attempted to knock the bottle of sulphuric acid out of Daph’s hand. It even succeeded in biting off the neck with its triangular teeth. “You’re sure you actually want it? Well, your risk! I very much hope that you’re immortal,” pensively pronounced Daph. Without stopping to purr, the cat drank all the sulphuric acid from the smoking bowl. “Well, I’ll be!” Daph said, after making sure that the cat was still living. “I like you. You won’t object if I’ll call you Depressiac? This name is simply created for you. I’m not inviting you to stay; however, you can hop in to see me from time to time.” The cat indifferently flopped down on its side and began to lick a hind paw. It clearly did not need permission and wanted to spit on any cooing. So began their acquaintance. Later Daph already grasped that the cat could not be petted and held. Blisters would immediately appeared and the mood would instantly go down to minus. Depressiac’s claws left tracks even on iron and stone. But then it turned out to be simply impossible to get rid of the cat. Depressiac was wonderfully oriented in space, including the fifth dimension. Several times, it disappeared for a long time, but afterwards found her wherever it wanted — in the most improbable places. Daphne was sure that it would sense her even on the Moon. *** In the morning when everything began, Daphne — simply Daph — simply Da… on the whole, regardless what she was called… without any special purpose was roaming around the Garden of Eden. White clouds, the sun, sweet-smelling roses, cedars of Lebanon, arches twined with grapevines… It was all-normal and, as was customary all the time, plunged her into ennui. A blasphemous thought came to Daph’s mind that the Garden of Eden, putting it mildly, was somewhat dull. Daph approached the pond, in which several mermaids (three mermaids were laughing aloud invitingly, and one, in an unrefined manner, was eating a raw fish), were splashing, and, after leaning towards the water, stared at their own reflection. Turned-up nose, long hair gathered into two of the longest bright tails standing up on end at unthinkable angles (nothing but the magical arranging of extremity of the third degree, in operation no more than seventy years after the imposition of invocation), chubby lips, and a generally bored expression of the face.
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“Could be vampires here! Or, at least a couple of terrible ghosts clanging with chains! It would add a little peach into this sweet syrup!” Daph thought and with vexation threw a pinecone at the laughing mermaids. This was not the best idea, because the mermaids immediately answered Daph with volleys of rotting algae and clay from the bottom, and the one who was eating a fish very successfully launched the unfinished head at her. Depressiac attempted to dive from above onto one of the mermaids and grab hold of her hair, but the mermaid very deftly caught it by the tail with the notch and dipped it into the pond. Depressiac climbed miserably out onto the shore and was very out of sorts. Daph had to escape promptly behind the boxwood bush. Already behind the bush, smelling sweetly of warm resin, she understood that she could simply use magic protection — say, put a power cocoon in place — and then the mermaids could throw at her at least till the pond was complete drained. Even if a barrow of algae would grow around her — Daph did not care one way or the other about this. After all, she was one of the guards and mermaids were nothing but evil spirits. But, alas, all good ideas always come with a delay. And the better the idea — the bigger the delay. Daph threw a dozen more cones from a distance at the mermaids, removed algae stuck to the bronze wings and, after restoring her peace of mind, continued the stroll around the Garden of Eden. A wet Depressiac meandered after her. Daph had not been assigned in the morning. She was convinced of this when on a clearing she stumbled upon her former musmagic teacher Elsa Kerkinitida Flora Zaches, nicknamed Sniffka. Sniffka was in an Empire dress, which had come into fashion during the epoch of the Napoleonic wars. Fashion reached the Garden of Eden usually with a delay of a century. Elsa Flora Zaches slowed down yet another century, which also confused some people. Students surrounded Sniffka and she, according to her habits jumping and continually passing the back of her hand over her nose (they called her Sniffka for this habit), was teaching them to play the flute. In essence, Sniffka’s students were all still babies, who had barely reached seven or eight thousand years old. “My children, the flute… eh-eh… as you very fascinatingly fknow… is a very basic magic finstrument. A guard of Light without a flute is as impossible as a guard of Gloom without a sword and his darc. Fdon’t part with your flute fday or fnight. The music of your very remarkable flute can create miracles. Astrolyabii, my friend, please be very kind, fdemonstrate to us maglody of transformation, which we covered yesterday!” Sniffka shrieked enthusiastically. A chubby little boy with a large forehead stepped forward with his flute. In his little eyes shone eagerness for education. Even Daph, a good judge of excellent workers, shivered. “What should I transform?” he asked in a business-like manner. Sniffka looked uncertainly around the clearing and suddenly found Daph, who did not have time to step back into the brushwood. Sniffka even jumped — either from happiness or from anticipation that Daph had finally fallen into her clutches. It goes without saying that Elsa Kerkinitida Flora Zaches recognized the one who had kept her busy for four long centuries when she taught Daphne to play the flute. Daph was not a bad student, but only indeed painfully independent. Instead of the usual maglody, she loved more to play the works of moronoid composers. Sniffka could in no way resign herself to this and in any suitable situation beat on the pride of the student with the sledgehammer of her teacher’s authority.
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“Transform… indeed what to transform!” Sniffka muttered, sliding her glance along the grass. “AHA!” “Will she indeed ask me to transform now?” Daph began to worry, searching with her eyes her own flute, hanging in a special case on her belt, slightly flicking away from the soft velvet in the case. However, Sniffka acted smarter. She pretended that she was not paying any attention to Daphne. In any case, for the time being. Daph found herself in a complex situation: to leave now, when Sniffka’s glance had already stopped at her, would be unseemly. Especially as Sniffka and her students were standing directly in her path. To dive without rhyme or reason into the prickly brushwood would be really strange. “Astrolyabii! Fdo you see this very remarkable cone? Fdo be kind, change it into a frog,” Sniffka said loudly. The excellent worker thought for a bit, putting the maglody together in his head. Then he brought the flute to his lips and began to play. His chubby cheeks were puffing with inspiration. After several seconds, the cone started to stir, then it jumped, and after a minute, it produced green paws. Astrolyabii, very pleased with himself, lowered the flute, and looked over at Sniffka questioningly. “Well?” he asked. “Astrolyabii! You presented to me a fimmense disappointment in your modest abilities! This is not a frog!” Sniffka pronounced reproachfully. “What do you mean not a frog?” the excellent worker protested. “No, Astrolyabii, not a frog! This is a very banal ftoad! Please look, Astrolyabii! Superior skill consists of the precise mastery of nuances. Nuance — it’s what drives the world,” said Elsa Kerkinitida Flora Zaches. She presented to her lips her ancient wooden flute in a rare shape, and with one short smooth trill, she completed the transformation. The toad, having become a frog, was satisfactorily croaking at the side of the pond. “However, Astrolyabii, you’re not the fonly one who distresses me!” Sniffka continued. She turned for effect and found herself face to face with the approaching Daph. “Get acquainted, children! This is Daphne, my most gifted student! Fonce I very carelessly asked her to repeat a simple maglody to break a fglass, which, by the way, was already cracked. Only the fglass. Only needed a short trill! And what do you think? Her maglody broke all seven frystal spheres of Eden! And I’m still using the fglass now.” At least twenty pairs of eyes were set on Daph. There was nothing left for her but to wave with an insincere smile to everyone. Was it for her to explain to these babies that she was out of sorts then, and, at the necessary moment instead of thinking about the glass, she created — in spite of her own will — an entirely different thought image? Murphy’s law — the most reliable and most immutable of all laws of the universe — kicked in. All the time she was afraid of breaking these spheres and for this very reason broke them at the inappropriate moment. It seems the same story happened to the Greeks when they tried to forget about the reckless Herostratus. At the time, they treated Daph quite leniently — did not even scold her specially, although the damage was big enough. After all, foolishness is the most pardonable of all the vices, since it does not have a touch of evil intention. Perhaps, then Sniffka intermittently fell even more than Daph. Therefore, Sniffka decided that Daph had arranged this entire circus intentionally and harboured good. A guard of Light was not supposed to harbour evil according to official regulations. Twenty young gifted ones continued not without malice to contemplate Daph. She herself knew: nothing delivers such sincere happiness as the contemplation of a full teapot, which they lower below the waterline in your presence.
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“And now, my little fones,” Elsa Kerkinitida Flora Zaches continued in a sweet angelic voice, “Let’s ask Daphne for a very fnice favour. I’m certain this fimportant young fperson will not refuse us. Fdo you remember, you asked me to show you the parry maglody? It’s fone of the important combat techniques, fespecially useful in a clash with guards of Gloom and fother unexpected contingencies.” “Only not this!” Daph thought. She could not stand the parry maglody, her fingers hardly managed to run along the holes of the flute. And, it goes without saying, who could know this better than her musmagic teacher? “You will not refuse, Daph?” Sniffka asked with an even more fascinating smile. “Of course not. It was my pipe dream,” said Daph. Elsa Kerkinitida Flora Zaches smiled with the pleasant smile of a hungry crocodile, to which they reported that at noon today the finalists of the beauty pageant would be swimming in the Nile. “Fwonderful, darling… I think so too! Then let’s not lose fany time! Time is money, and money is the appendicitis of civilization. Get your flute, Daph!” Daph’s hand slid to her thigh. If anything, indeed she knew how to pull out the flute faster than an average American cowboy could draw from his holster. In the first decade of lessons, guards of Light already perfected this skill until it became automatic, since now and then, only it could help to preserve wings and life in the struggle with the guards of Gloom. “Dear children, I remind you that parry is a fexceptional shielding magic. While you’re fusing this maglody, you are so absolutely protected against fall kinds of magic and moronoid aggression. Fexceptions consist of only swords and spears made of the fwood from the Judas tree; however, the chance of meeting them in combat is not so great. The main thing, never be out of tune… Now I’ll demonstrate feverything to you in an example. We gather these nice little cones and begin to throw them at Daph.” “And can we throw lumps of dirt?” Astrolyabii asked. “Dry bird dung? Stones?” Instantly someone improved on it. “Ah, children! You’re such fnaughty kids, such fidealists! How will you throw dung so far to the middle of the clearing? In your fplace I fwould move closer… But here stones, perhaps, we shouldn’t. Daph, of course, is a smart person, but her shield… he-he… is not entirely ideal. Begin!” The gifted ones bent down at once, and in the next instant, a hail of projectiles rained down on Daph. A lump of dirt, launched with good aim by the young genius Astrolyabii, outdistancing the volley of cones, scratched Daph on the cheek. She was going to try to jump, but understood in time that all the same she could not dodge at once from twenty idlers, and began to play in a hurry. A large piece of bark flying at Daph’s head struck an invisible obstacle and bounced. In order not to be distracted and not to dodge on reflex, which could damage the correctness of the performance, Daph closed her eyes and concentrated on the maglody. It was not very long — approximately half a minute of pure sounds. The maglody, resembling a light puff of wind among the leaves, turned into a rhythm similar to quick breathing, and stopped suddenly on a high, interrogative note — in which sounded something from the hymn of the loving heart to the universe. Further, the maglody paused for two or three bars and repeated itself in a circle.
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Daph heard how the hail of projectiles outside drummed on the shield. Her fingers quickly ran along the holes of the flute, and consciousness gave birth to a customary chain of images. The great power of a maglody lay precisely in them, in the unity of images and music — the flute itself contained a minimum of magic and was only the transmitting component. Individually they would not possess sufficient force even to deflect the flight of grit. “Instead of cones and dirt, as I intend to remark wisely, it can be everything, anything!” Sniffka said loudly. “Stones from a sling, moronoid rockets, bewitched Death-PursuesMe spears, cold steel… It has no key importance. As you see, not a single one of the cones has reached its target. And now, very dear children, memorize the main thing: the force is in you yourself and not in the one who attacks you. The main thing is not to be frightened and not to be distracted. Think about the maglody, dream, and spit on those, who attempt to harm you… Then nothing will happen to you!” The shower of cones and lumps of dirt did not weaken. Moreover, one of the young experimenters found a stick somewhere and, running around Daph, was beating on different places of her shield, attempting to find a breach. His round close-cropped head with large inquisitive eyes irritated Daph terribly. “Nice good kiddies! A good young generation will grow up, my dear mama! Were we really like this? We were humane, responsive… Ah! What a skunk, he’s found a hole after all!” Daph thought, driving off sweet childhood recollection about how she jammed the head of one specimen between the locker and its door so that it would be more convenient to give him a kick. She was already playing the maglody for the fifth time and was beginning to get tired. Now it was most dangerous to be engrossed in the motion of the fingers and the correctness of breathing instead of creating images and thinking about the maglody. This instantly shifted the maglody into commonplace material and killed any magic. Daph had already made mistakes twice, and then the shield disappeared. One time a little lump of dirt flew very near Daph’s neck, and another time a stick, after passing through the weakened barrier, scratched her shoulder. The children had not yet noticed this; however, this did not escape the experienced Elsa Kerkinitida Flora Zaches. “And this is what I’m talking about! There is nothing more dangerous for art than good old-fashioned professionalism! Dilettantes merely vulgarize art, but professionals kill it!” she said didactically. Daph inopportunely reflected on her words and immediately a lump of dirt almost knocked the flute out of her hands, forcing her to flounder. Immediately an entire shower of odds and ends rained down on her, things only nimble creatures knew how to collect on a meadow in Eden. Daphne understood that it was time to slip away. True, they had not yet lifted the ban on her flying around in Eden, but, after all, had they taken away her wings? Yes or no? And why then leave her the wings if you want to ground her in earnest? Is it not for her to take off occasionally on a full schedule? She somersaulted, leaving the firing zone, and during the spin already groped for the bronze wings. The lace as usual slid along her hand, and Daph touched with a finger the small opening between the bronze wings. In that same moment, Daph felt a resilient push. It was from behind, behind her back, was caused by magic as ancient as the world, and enormous wings materialized. Daph brought them forward as if scooping air, and then sharply pushed them back, after making two or three sequential strokes. She felt how the wind strained the wing-feathers. On the ground, a powerful force already caught and
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tossed her above the clearing. This was a motion activated nearly automatically — the magic of flight, which always turned out excellently for Daph. Much better than standard maglody, which she had to cram till she was blue in the face. A volley of cones and dirt lumps passed over a taking-off Daph, and then she saw only the enraptured faces of the young gifted. The child prodigy Astrolyabii, also rashly summoning his wings — small and weak as a chicken’s — with magic, bounced and attempted to take off; however, the most he could get off from the ground was about two metres. “I also want to! Why can she but not me?” he howled passionately. However, Daphne knew that nothing would work for him. Earlier than ten thousand years after birth, the wings of a guard of Light rarely gather enough strength for flight. Only later would the wings begin to become stronger and the wing feathers grow. Even Daph took off no earlier than her third century of the eleventh millennium. Until that time, she had in essence hurt her nose badly while attempting to learn to glide from the rocks. “So! You can whistle more into your reed-pipe!” Daph thought with a sense of superiority and, after executing a beautiful turn — the right wing up and forward, and the left with two strokes down, she disappeared beyond the trees. It seems this was the grove of creative dreams, although not excluding the usual home-grown hallucinations — matters concerning magic botany were unimportant to Daph. Daph flew past the vineyard of eternal bliss, when below appeared Retired Fairy. A long pink dress with ruches, bows, and flowers made her look like a flowerbed from above. A network of comely wrinkles covered her face. Glasses in a copper frame gleamed on the bridge of her nose. In her hand, Fairy held a magic wand of respectable calibre. In the catalogue of artefacts the wand was designated by the abbreviation WFDMA — Wand for the Fulfilment of Desires of Multiple Activities. The power of this wand would be sufficient to change a whole division of second-rate magicians into cacti. The main flaw of this wand was the duration of its charge. After the fulfilment of fifty serious desires in a row, it had to be soaked for a long time in elderberry juice with the addition of nectar, clover, and St. John’s wart. If the desires were to be fulfilled with dirty tricks or the wand was intended for military purposes, it was necessary to use viper poison instead of the nectar. Having noticed Daph, Fairy waved at her, entreating her to come down. Daph obediently descended beside her, not quite understanding what Fairy needed. The trees of the Garden of Eden were seen through the figure of Fairy. Retired Fairy was a spectre preserving a large enough amount of magical power. She first wandered among moronoids, precisely playing solitaire with their fates, and then showed up in the Garden of Eden. It was not possible to drive her away. “If she were an egoist, it would be possible to still deny her entrance. But here — no chance! Eden is safeguard against those with ill intentions, but not against idealists and happy lunatics!” the guards of Light said sadly. Fairy looked at Daph inquisitively and, elegantly picking up her skirt, she sank down onto the little bench appearing beside her. More precisely, hovering in the air above the bench. Spectres adore maintaining conventions, which connect them to the world of the living. It is especially sad to observe as they drink tea and it, spilling through their body, flows to the floor. If this perplexes anyone — the spectres immediately understand that a complete fool is in front of them.
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“Hello, Daph! I see you’re bored! Do you know who I am?” smiling nicely, Fairy asked. “Aha. The spectre of a fairy,” Daph said lightly, offering her hand. At the moment when Fairy touched it, Daph experienced a small tingling. Somehow, they had already met in passing. It seemed at one of those merry parties, where they handed out euphoria in clay jugs, and, blindfolded, they broke crystal wine glasses by a spell of distant vandalism. These wild parties were full of ghosts. Still — what are the poor wretches to do for a fool’s eternity if not to roam among a shady crowd? “Precisely. I’m a spectre,” confirmed Fairy. “And do you know what such spectres are?” “Well, roughly…” “To know roughly means not to know anything. Spectres are hostages of complex situations. In life, we could not get out of them and now time after time we painfully go through our past mistakes, Gloom takes them! Since our own lives adhere to conventions, we actively interfere in those of others. Daph, kiddo, allow me to fulfil any of your desires!” Retired Fairy proposed. Daphne smiled with understanding. She had already heard about this eccentric Retired Fairy. Once having started granting wishes, Fairy could not stop and demanded new ones all the time. So she continued hour after the hour and day after the day, until desires in a poor wretch finally ran low. Fairy took to the fulfilment of only genuine, true desires at that. Wishes of the type “Fetch my slippers,” “Take this tea away, it’s cold!” or “Turn on the light! Air is not visible to breathe in the dark!” were not rated primordial. Such wishes would not do for Fairy: they tackle problems of one’s complex. Only global tasks were of interest, she willingly left trifles to insects and others of that ilk. “Fetch your own slippers, your hands won’t fall off! Magic wands are indeed magical because they don’t waste time with trifles!” Fairy said decisively. When true desires came to an end, she shrugged her shoulders, destroyed everything that the wretch had time to wish for, and took herself off, disappointed, leaving the wretch no better off than before. She proved to these that indeed there were actually not so many genuine wishes — one or two at best, but all the rest were trifles and banal waste. After meeting Fairy, a poor guard was only left with bitterly contemplating the shell of his own broken hopes his entire life. Daphne, this very sensible girl, in spite of her youth knew all of Fairy’s tricks very well. Therefore, she was going to ask for nothing for herself. This was the best way to leave Fairy with nothing. “A wish? Sure! Pet my cat!” Daph lazily proposed. Depressiac, having long been casting interested looks at Retired Fairy, tried to rub against her leg and meowed with disappointment. It is not simple to rub against the leg of a ghost. Fairy leaned over and scratched the back of the cat’s neck with the magic wand. Depressiac began to spark. Both its eyes turned several times in the eye-sockets and expressed complete bliss. He had never received so much energy so fast. For a while, the cat even became an optimist. Then it crashed back down to the earth, and the paws crawled away. “Drugged!” Fairy said understandingly. “Still, you have a splendid little bio-vampire, it drew out a lot magic. What’s it called?” “Depressiac.” “How many s’s?”
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“Don’t know. It has no ID. But just in case I put down four. Won’t go wrong.” Fairy looked at Daph with interest. “You’re a strange guard of Light, kiddo! Somewhat irregular. You don’t try to save the world, you acquired for yourself a screwy cat with a craving for absurd brutality, and young men are not important to you. You could have been playing the flute with someone already long ago. Such a magical duet,” she remarked. Daph hesitated, “Yes well, this flute bores me… I don’t want to be a guard of Light. It’s boring. I want to be an actress.” “An actress? Not such a bad dream. I would call it a dream of a statistically average moron. Perhaps, you even want them to rename the chocolate ‘Downty’ in your honour?” “You don’t understand, but still, Fairy…” Daph sighed, examining her own reflection in the glasses in a copper frame. With full consciousness of the conditionality of her actions, Retired Fairy passed a finger along the bridge of her nose, adjusting the frame. “Not much, darling. I understand more than Doctor Ziggy in his best years. Simply it has long bored me to understand. Do you want me to make you an actress? It’s simple for me,” she proposed, checking with her tongue the residual magic charge of the magic wand, the way the small square battery was occasionally checked. “Ne-a, no need. I know your tricks. You will make me an actress of some burnt theatre. I’ll have to play the eighth lamppost on the boulevard and believe that there are no bit parts, only bit actors. Thanks. Better that I somehow become disillusioned with everything by myself later,” refused Daph. Fairy threatened her with a pale transparent finger. “I’ll be, you guessed! You didn’t read my mind, no? Approximately what I would have done. Instead of the eighth post it would be: ‘Eat what’s given! Drinking your own booze is forbidden!’ Do you know how reality differs from fantasy? When dreams come true, everything happens not in the manner that you imagined. A rose, the most excellent of colours, has thorns. The throat hurts from eating ice cream. Dysphoria always sets in after euphoria and so on. Fulfilling the desires of my clients, I bring this principle to absurdity rather than have a good time… By the way, did I ever tell you how I died?” “Ne-a.” “The story turned out to be absurd. Cinderella’s prince poisoned me. I think this happened about four hundred years ago…” Fairy said. “Poisoned? You?” Daph could not believe it. From surprise, she even passed onto the informal ‘you’. “Well, yes… To tell the truth, one can understand him. I left him awfully vulnerable. Cinderella’s nature was very nasty. Flies and mice died from her evil eye. Her own father was afraid of her, and she simply harassed the daylights out of the poor stepmother and her daughters. And even the prince too. He was stooping and his white horse was limping. And on the whole it was even a mare.” “Why then did he fall in love with Cinderella?” Daph asked, taken aback. Fairy smiled radiantly. “Riddle of nature. Love of evil,” she said and stroked her magic wand significantly. Daph thought for a bit. “Good. I understand you used the standard charm spell and strengthened it with round-the-clock magic, operating till midnight within the bounds of a calendar day. At this moment, reverse transformation of enchanted materials and loss of
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its acquired properties took place: the coach became a pumpkin, and the horses mice. But how about the beautiful fairy tale?” she asked, disappointed. “You think there was no PR in the Middle Ages? Fie, mon amie, there has always been PR. Do you know what size Cinderella’s slippers were in reality? Forty-six! For this very reason, no more than one girl in the kingdom could fit into them! Later on they turned it into an advantage,” said Fairy. Daph looked at the azure sky, where correct little cloudlets were floating. The special division of comeliness and silence answered for their shape. It never rained in the Garden of Eden. Only planned downpours from four to four-fifteen in the morning. This was completely sufficient for irrigation. “I’m bored here!” Daph complained. “They don’t entrust important tasks to me, and it’s a green ennui in the Garden. Other guards fence or play on the lute day and night. And their only conversations are that they cut the darc off some guard of Gloom and recaptured dozens of eide or someone performed a virtuoso piece on the harp without the aid of magic.” Fairy gave her a meaningful look. “Kiddo, be more careful with the wings! A guard of Light, who puts the lace with his own wings on the neck of a mortal, will fall in love with this person and will love her eternally! And indeed sometimes it’s necessary to separate them!” she said. “There are no mortals in the Garden of Eden,” Daph quickly objected. Fairy did not answer. Daph turned around in surprise. The bench was empty. Fairy had disappeared. Spectres love sudden disappearances and unexpressed thoughts. Daph thought for a bit. She already grasped that she had to deal with prophecy. However, any guard of Light and Gloom who felt like it made predictions, so that they were too lazy even to write down a large part of the prophecies. *** Unexpectedly a suspicious noise reached her from the clearing. There was definitely trouble. Daph, having the talent to be caught in all fishy stories, certainly could not remain on the side. She squeezed her way through the prickly bushes of dangerous desires — must be, all these thoughts were also suggested to her by the smell of its resin warmed in the sun — and carefully stuck her head out. However, even if she had not done this so carefully, no one would have noticed her appearance. Everybody was too occupied with what was going on. Four house-spirits from the squad of defenders of traditions — all strong fellows in bast sandals and red shirts — were purposefully beating up a western gnome. The gnome, evidently having slipped through at night from the western sector of Eden, was kicking hopelessly but accurately, trying to hit the house-spirits in the stomach and on the knees. Now and then he was successful; however, this did not lessen a bit the just indignation of the housespirits. A minute had not passed and the house-spirits had knocked the gnome down on the ground, pulled a red cap over his eyes, and efficiently tied up his hands with a belt. However, even unable to see, the gnome continued to sullenly spit and kick. At the same time he was smart enough not to yell and to kick in complete and even ominous silence. The sorting out of house-spirits and gnomes must not exceed the scope of decency — this rule was thoroughly learned.
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The house-spirits, having looked around, rolled from somewhere a small cannon, shoved the gnome into it head first, and started to ignite the fuse. The house-spirits clearly did not see Daphne; otherwise they would behave more prudently. “No more spies here, westerner! Next time it’ll be worse!” a house-spirit stated, looking out of his eyelids at the three younger ones. The obstinate gnome, even sticking out of the cannon, attempted to kick at the voice. The grenade launcher shot out. Having traced an arc in the air, the gnome flew past the forest and soon landed already in the western sector of Eden. His angry howl swept over the Garden. Only now, Daphne recalled that she, as a guard of Light, was obligated to keep order, disrupted by the most insolent means. “Ahem… Daphne, junior guard of Light! What’s happening here? Please report the situation!” she ordered. Three house-spirits immediately advanced forward, blocking Daphne’s way, and the fourth hurriedly dragged the cannon into the bushes. “Nothing is happening!” the housespirits briskly stated. “A lie! I saw how you recently launched the gnome!” Daphne stated. The house-spirits became agitated. “It’s accidental. He climbed into the cannon, apparently wanted to measure off some gunpowder, and it went off and bang!” the ruddy one briskly squealed. “There was no need to poke his nose into our territory. Today a gnome, tomorrow the landing of the elves, and soon even the trolls will show up. The main thing here is not to give any slack. Someone comes to us with a sword, we use bricks on him!” the grey-bearded house-spirit stated. “According to the law for violation of boundary he was supposed to be given only a warning!” Daphne said uncertainly. “Then why do these gnomes hit us? Only crossed the boundary by chance, and already scores of them — with picks and lanterns. Until you break all their lanterns, you’ll have black-eyes,” complained the ruddy one. The third house-spirit, the youngest, said nothing but only sniffed. He was barely five hundred years old, and was deprived of the right of a voice. Daphne thought for a bit. The war of house-spirits and gnomes did not begin today and, apparently, would not end tomorrow. Moreover, house-spirits were, whatever you may say, our own, folkloric through and through, while the gnomes were strangers. And the house-spirits understood this excellently. “Well, so what? No one saw anything, no one heard anything? Are we leaving?” winking, grey-bearded asked. Daphne cleared her throat. What she intended to do was entirely not by the book, but not have to fill in a pile of scrolls, after all, formalizing a fight in the Garden of Eden. “Okay, quick away from here! But if this happens again…” she began sternly. “Naturally, Daph! I’ll disappear on the spot! We’ll meet their ballroom pianists with flowers! With buttercups, with belladonnas! You understand, like the doctor prescribed!” Ruddy said chummily. “Quick, I said!” Daph repeated. Grey-bearded and the youngest of the house-spirits did not begin to wait for the proposal to be repeated and disappeared. The fourth house-spirit, having already hidden the cannon, looked with curiosity out of the brushwood. Only Ruddy did not go away and persistently loomed before her eyes. “May I ask something? You’re that Daphne, who… well, about whom all kinds of rumours are going around? As if you’re to be kicked out of
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the guards to somewhere far away for a long time?” he asked and, although only reaching slightly higher than Daphne’s elbows, walked around her, insolently examining her. “You heard them?” Daph softly asked. “Not such bad wings! And this is a guard of Light! Five, six, seven black feathers! Not sickly, no? Reminds you of anyone?” Ruddy giggled, and again started running from behind. He jumped and, after gripping Daph by a wing-feather, attempted to pull it out. Daphne, having forgotten to use a bronze talisman and de-materialize the wings, was angry. This was no longer simply a request. This was explicit impudence, which in no way could be allowed. Even in the Garden of Eden. Smiling, so that the house-spirit would suspect nothing, she concentrated and mentally uttered the short formula of the liberation of energy, which consists of two words, each of which would be fatal for any non-guards, if, it goes without saying, they were uttered with the necessary intonation and the proper degree of internal concentration, “Non possumus!* (*No can do! (Lat.). Formula of flat refusal. — Author’s annotation)” Daph said, extracting the flute with one motion. The trill was short and spectacular. After all, four hundred years of practice. The housespirit, taken aback, was teleported directly into the chamber of the cannon hidden in the brushwood. A shot thundered. The house-spirit, somersaulting, flew over Daphne’s head. She noticed not without pleasure that the cannon was aiming in the necessary direction. Judging by the dual howls, the echo of which soon informed them, Ruddy had satisfactorily reached the western sector of the Garden of Eden and even met the same gnome, who not so long ago conscientiously shook out dust. Only now, the gnome was already in the company of his comrades. “The most disgusting! Somehow, I’m so not myself today! Spiteful, petty…” Daph guiltily said. House-spirits, bathhouse spirits, mermaids, elves, gnomes, wood-goblins and other essences, having partially moved to the Garden of Eden after barely a safe corner remained on Earth, were characterized in majority by enviable health and longevity. It was extremely complicated to injure them seriously, it goes without saying, if we do not use special magical means. Earlier, as inferior spirits connected to paganism, they would never be allowed into Eden; now its gates were thrown open willy-nilly to ancient folks. Some of them were now under the guardianship of elementary magicians and their Jerky Magciety, and the keepers of Light took on the care of the others. In the hospitable Eden the ancient folks quickly settled in, divided into sectors — Russian, Western, Chinese, Indian, very soon they quarrelled and now they got into skirmishes continually. They had not become serious clashes only for the efforts of the keepers. The question of whether it was wise to invite the ancient folks into the Garden of Eden had remained one of the most contentious here for almost a hundred years already. On one hand, these were evil and unclean spirits, on the other — the times had changed, and those, who once ruled the swamps and the forests, clearly needed protection and patronage now. *** All of a sudden, high under the transparent dome of the heavens, a white speck appeared. It had just become perceptible. After getting accustomed, Daphne understood
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that it was one of the guards, moreover not an ordinary one but a messenger from the House of the Highest Light. This was already evident from the spread of his snowy wings, which exceeded the spread of Daphne’s wings by almost one-and-a-half times. Daph experienced something similar to professional envy. The wider the spread of the wings, the greater the acrobatic manoeuvres. Although this messenger, as Daph determined when he flew nearer, had race wings, poorly adapted for manoeuvring. Daph’s own wings were more for piloting, and could even keep a not bad speed. The golden mean. Daphne immediately wanted to compete with him in flight, although she also understood that this was not acceptable. Moreover, Daphne sensed slight uneasiness. Such messengers were not sent to the store for a flask of essential oil. He was clearly bearing an important message to someone. “Who is it he’s going to?” Daphne thought, after noticing that the messenger, tracing circles, was coming down gradually. And almost immediately she got the answer. “And there will be Light!” the messenger greeted her. “And Gloom will vanish!” Daphne fearfully uttered the second part of the greeting. The third part of the greeting: “And the heart is ablaze with eagerness!” had to be pronounced by the same one who uttered the first, but it was usually omitted for brevity. Who wants to bother to listen all day to one and the same — the guards of Light were no exception. Right away, the messenger immediately switched over to business. “Daphne, Guard №13066, Third Battalion of Light?” he asked. “Well… eh-eh… generally speaking, yes…” said Daphne. “Guard General Troil demands your presence! A summon of the first urgency! House of the Highest Light, Third Heaven!” the messenger informed her and, after gathering height, began to blend in with the cumulus clouds. “Hey! But when must I be there?” Daphne shouted after him. “Immediately!” a voice responded from the cloud. Daph became not quite herself. “What have I done?” she began to worry. Daph had never run into Guard General Troil before, had not even seen him. And on the whole, what could the Guard General want from a junior guard? This was not explained the way as, say, when a high school student was summoned to the principal. However, it was not worthwhile to linger. The hierarchy of the guards of Light was arranged very simply. The greater the merits, the smaller the number. So, Daphne was registered on the 13066 th list, and Guard General Troil was on the first list of guards. Do you get the difference? Daphne looked around, considering whether it would be worthwhile to bring the cat with her, but Depressiac, having taken in excess energies after meeting Fairy, was still not standing firmly on its feet. And in general, Depressiac hardly belonged to that breed of dear kitties, which forces hearts to melt and hands to reach for the downy fur. At the sight of Depressiac, any hand would reach for anything except the mouser. Daphne took a run, straightened her wings, and took off. The airflow caught her, and here under her already was the Garden of Eden — a garden of eternal summer, where fruits never disappear from the trees. Olives of wisdom, bunches of grapes of tenderness, pears of generosity, plums of honesty, nuts of immortality and invulnerability (their taste is dreadful, not everyone would dare, and the shells are such that you can hardly overpower even with a nuclear explosion). Here below are prickly bushes of beauty, the small white berries protected. There, much more to the right, small yellowish catkins of sentimentality is blooming. During dozens of sunny days, the wind will spread pollen in the Garden, and then even in the most distant corners of the Garden it will be possible to
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hear sweet sobbing. Even withered bureaucrats in the House of Highest Light are languidly lost in thoughts, dropping contemplative tears onto unfinished parchments with reviews of the deeds of individual moronoids. Reigning above the Garden, the tree of knowledge grows on the hill in the middle of Eden. Its branches break because of the fruits, leaning on the ground. No one among the guards dares to touch them — for this, they expect the unavoidable loss of eternity and an exile among the moronoids. Some caterpillars alone gnaw its fallen apples. They know both good and evil, but they will never say anything. Daphne descended and directly in flight deftly tore off a large peach from the tree of bravery. When you go to management of this level, surplus bravery will not hurt. Especially when you are not on the best footing with the authorities. The incident, after which they forbade her to fly, was not pretty. Out of curiosity, Daphne had drawn a rune commonly used by guards of Gloom. Moreover, she had not simply drawn it but had even taken a step into it. The rune should not have worked, since magic does not put up with substitution, but it did. There was such a flash that keepers from the entire Garden of Eden congregated. Everybody had the possibility to admire the sooty and smoking Daphne. New feathers soon grew on her singed wings, but for some reason they were black. Since then many looked askance at her with suspicion. What is this with the junior guard, who has a good ten dark feathers on one of her wings? However, wings could not be exchanged. They were issued once and for life. It was considered that the colour and the shape of the plumage reflected the internal life of a guard of Light and his experience. The most annoying — Daphne herself was totally afraid to acknowledge this — was that it flew out of her head precisely what rune she had drawn then. She remembered only that the rune was complex, and the whole time, when she was guiding the branch on the sand, the sensation that someone was controlling her hand did not leave her. But who, why — this she did not know and preferred not to think about. *** The House of the Highest Light resembled most of all a column of light or fire piercing the heavens. Somewhere on the level of First Heaven, the clouds hid the House of the Highest Light. Indeed Second and Third Heaven were lost in the boundless heights, not allowing even the most dedicated guard of Light to see the apex. Some claimed that when this happens, the end will encroach upon the universe, but they claimed without special rigidity, with that portion of distrust, with some retelling of ancient apocryphal stories. At the entrance, two enormous stone griffins were standing still. They were located here from the day of the founding of the Garden of Eden and had time to be covered with a network of cracks. This was effective protection. Griffins possessed well-developed deep sight. If a guard of Gloom tried to penetrate the House of the Highest Light, the revived griffins would immediately tear him, under whatever mask he hid himself, to pieces. There were already such cases in history. Guards of Light quietly passed between the griffins, without paying them any attention, but every time Daph felt a strong discomfort, as if she was precisely not a respectable guard but an insolent impostor. Here and now, she slipped past between them as fast as possible. The left griffin remained motionless; however, the right one turned its head
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slightly. In its opened stone eye, Daph saw with horror an attentive dark pupil. A living pupil, shrewdly studying her. There was no hatred in this pupil, but then there was rapt and hostile attention. Daph licked her lips. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Griffins paid her no more attention than to any of the peacocks strolling around Eden. Earlier, but not now… Now the griffin definitely suspected something! There was no time or possibility to reflect further on this theme. Daph already flew into the hall, enormous as a dragonball stadium of elementary magicians, and lowered herself onto the marble floor next to the transport rune. Two guards were vigilantly on duty by the rune. Even the flutes they had were special — they had a short fixed bayonet with a curve for cutting off darc and quick parrying of the thrust of cold steel. To bring the flute to the lips also needed time… These were soldiers from the regiment of golden-wings — the guards of Eden. On the neck of each hung a thin chain with gold wings — the highest award for courage. The wings of the rest of the guards could only be bronze. Daph had heard that in order to obtain gold wings, it was necessary to make no less than three excursions to the home front of Gloom and to return from a mission with at least one captured darc, complete with recaptured eide. But indeed you can believe that those in Gloom do not meet guards of Light with open arms. To lose one’s head and wings there is simpler than playing Murka on the flute. The names of the golden-wings that did not return from a mission flared up in the same hour in purple letters on the marble plaque mounted in the Eden barracks. One of the guards — with thin lips and a regular Greek nose — stared persistently at Daph. “Senior Guard Populus,” Daph read on his shimmering badge. The name was as contrary as its possessor was. “And there will be…” Daph began. “And ablaze!” the guard interrupted dryly. “Who are you seeing, girl?” “Third Heaven! Guard General Troil!” Daph proudly reported, trying to suppress her suddenly emerging antipathy. “When will I finally stop judging guards on first impression?” “He’s waiting for you?” the other guard, slightly more good-natured in looks, asked. On his badge was registered “Senior Guard Rufinus.” “Aha, he’s waiting!” Daphne said. She rashly attempted to get into the rune; however, the thin-lipped guard barred her way. “Wait, kid! Don’t have to rush, you have time! First show the pass to Third Heaven!” “My pass is only for First. But Troil summoned me! It’s the truth!” Daphne said, adding into her voice the required bit of sweet naiveté and presenting the guards a smile. Usually this worked; however, now before her were obviously cold hard sticks. “In writing or orally?” “Orally,” confessed Daph. The golden-wings exchanged significant glances. “Perhaps, even personally?” “No, not personally. Through a messenger…” “Hmm… Name of messenger? His number?” “The messenger’s? How would I know?” “You didn’t look at his number?” “Ne-a.”
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“Thoughtless. But you do remember your name?” Rufinus smiled. In Daph’s opinion, he was a little softer than Populus, and even treated her not so suspiciously. “Daphne! Guard №13066, Third Battalion of Light,” Daph said resentfully, showing the inside of her bronze wings, where this number was cast. Populus nodded. The roll of omniscience appeared in his hands. Populus examined it and compared the imprint of aura. “Let someone say now that among the guards of Light there are no skunks and pains-in-the-neck,” thought Daph, almost physically sensing how the tip of one of her feathers had grown dark. In Eden, such rebellious thoughts were not encouraged. Theoretically, they also could not wander into the correct head of a correct guard. “Hmm… Amusing story. Not very likely that this is actually your aura. In the roll of omniscience, it’s much pinker. And even the halo is somewhat suspicious. According to the shape, like that of guards of Gloom, although, perhaps, they don’t happen to have this nuance. I don’t like this!” Populus grumbled. “What, you think that I’m not me?” Daph asked. “I think nothing. My task is establishing the truth,” sternly said Populus. “Age?” “Whose, mine?” Daph did not understand. “No, mine!” “How would I know yours? I don’t go to second-hand stores!” Daph was astonished. “What, have you gone nuts?” Populus asked unexpectedly quietly. “Eh? Your age, yours!” “An impolite question to ask a girl! For such questions, they drop candelabrum onto the head! Then raise and drop it again!” Daphne was in a huff. Rufinus lowered a hand onto her shoulder. “Stop irritating him, kid. He’ll explode now and I’ll have to be on duty alone. If you want to reach Troil, you have to say how old you are,” he said. “Well, okay. Thirteen thousand five hundred and eighty-seven years!” Daphne unwillingly forced it out. No sense in lying. All the same, her age was stated in the roll of omniscience. Populus shrugged his shoulders. On his stern face was clearly read: “They hire all kinds of babies for work!” “But I look more grown-up! Almost no one gives me less than fifteen thousand!” Daphne hastily added. Rufinus started to laugh. “I would give you all of eighteen thousand. In a good light. In a very good light,” he said noncommittally. Daph stared sadly at the ground. Guards mature slowly. Thousands of times slower than moronoids. “If only… But for the time being I’m only thirteen!” she sighed. “No matter, kid. Don’t lose heart! Five thousand years will pass quickly. You won’t even have time to blink. Several moronoid civilizations will turn over, Egyptian pyramids will become sand — nothing more,” Rufinus said in encouragement, without any dirty tricks. Daph began to like him. But then Populus stuck to the roll of omniscience like a leech. “Status in the battalion!” he demanded. “Junior guard!” The golden-wings glanced into the parchment. “Junior guard? A hitch! You’re registered only as an assistant to junior guard. How will you explain that, ha?”
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“That’s not true!” Daph was agitated. “I’m already a junior guard… Well almost… They promised to promote me to junior guard, if…” “If what?” “If I’ll not get underfoot till the end of the century!” she wanted to say, repeating the words of her immediate superior, but thought that this information would be already excessive. “If my further help will be so invaluable!” Daphne stated. She wanted to add that all junior guards had already turned down such an assistant as her, therefore management simply had no other way out but to promote her also, though they decided that it was better to keep quiet about this. “Populus, in my opinion everything is in order with the girl!” Rufinus said conciliatorily. “Now let’s check…” Populus said slowly through clenched teeth. He blinked and, without raising his voice, said, after tuning to the necessary telepathic channel, “Office! Senior Guard Populus, rune guard… Please confirm invitation! Daphne, № 13066, to Guard General Troil!” Daphne was certain that they would send her away, saying: ‘Girl, go for a walk! Troil also knows nothing about you,” but the voice of the clerk indifferently pronounced, “Registered on the list… Summons is confirmed.” Populus moved aside unwillingly, obeying the order, and Daphne took a step into the rune. Not able to control herself, she waved good-bye to Populus and sent him an air kiss. “Bye, pink and downy! You’re simply a very nice person! I’ll ask Troil to appoint me your chief and I’ll check your documents every day. In the evening and in the morning. You’ll like that!” she said. Rufinus laughed aloud. Populus turned away with annoyance and activated the rune. The rune flared up. Several instants later Daphne materialized in the other hall. *** It was the first time Daphne had gotten up so high. Third Heaven! She is on Third Heaven! She, Daph, whose pass extends only to First! Even Second Heaven seemed almost unattainable to her earlier. In order to be on it, it was necessary to serve Light without blemish for no less than twenty thousand years. And still another ten thousand years in order to get a pass to Third. Even hardly all golden-wings had it; the reason Populus was keen on finding faults. Having stepped out of the rune, the edge of which continued to be slightly gilded, Daphne looked around. She was standing on a slope surrounded by a low marble border. Here was no trace of any kind of confused flickering, which First Heaven was always disadvantageously noted for. Neither surplus guards nor bustling house-spirits with brooms and vacuums nor spectres with harps — nothing distracting. Peace and quiet were complete but not excessive. On the floor, with their magnificent decadent tail feathers spread out, peacocks were strutting about with an important air. In the corner on a copper tripod in a modest clay pot, the cactus of true greatness was blooming with homely little flowers. A fountain murmured, nudging even those, who never did so in their lives, to think. A flock of white doves took to their wings towards Daphne. A white unicorn with contemplative pensiveness in its convex eye went past. Daph thought that a unicorn here was not quite the right theme. It would be much more comfortable below on the green
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pastures of Eden. Having read her thoughts, the unicorn gratefully snorted and attempted to rub against Daph cordially with its horn of almost a metre. Dodging with great difficulty, Daph proceeded further. The unicorn was about to follow right behind, but quickly slowed down, squinting with a violet eye. Bright light flowed through the transparent walls in the hall. It literally stunned endlessly, splashing happiness. Daphne sensed how cheerfulness was beginning to fill her. She was ready not only to take more — drag further, but also to attack alone a legion of guards of Gloom. But here Daph’s mood dropped slightly. She saw the plaque: Careful! The atmosphere of Third Heaven contains saturated euphoria. Do not make the mistake of taking deep breaths on the first visit! Do not go out on the balconies and do not look with unprotected eyes at the sun. This can lead to the dissolution of personality. “Aha! And here’s also the spoonful of tar in this barrel of dynamite! I so knew that there would be something like this!” Daph thought disenchanted. She took a step forward. Double doors, so enormous that their upper part was lost somewhere in the skies, opened noiselessly. Daph turned out to be in reception. At the long table, standing sideways to the door and covered with parchments and folders, sat a sad, very thin guard, on the bridge of whose nose the glass of a pince-nez was gleaming. He was so tall that, even sitting, he was taller than the standing Daphne. Daph carefully approached him from the side. It seemed to her that the lanky person was writing, but he, with his tongue sticking out from enthusiasm and as if that was helping him, was cutting something from the paper using small scissors. He did not notice Daph. Daphne stood for half a minute beside him, and then irresolutely gave a cough. The lanky person jerked up his head, was embarrassed, and hastily covered his work with a folder. This seemed sweet to Daph: imagine that — this giant also has such a touching domestic hobby. “I’m listening,” said the lanky person in an unexpectedly thin and high voice. “Are you Troil?” Daph asked. “I’m his secretary, Berenarii.” the lanky person hid the scissors. “You’re Daph?” “Yes.” “Go in, Guard General Troil is waiting for you!” She knocked and found herself in an unexpectedly small comfortable office. Troil did not love excessive space. Several trophy swords and daggers with the characteristic notches for cutting darc were hanging on the wall, on a tapestry. In his youth, the Guard General served as golden-wings, won several victories in complex scuffles with the guards of Gloom, and loved to recall those battles. When Daph entered, Troil was sitting at a desk and writing something in a thick notebook almost two-thirds full. The feather, with which he was tracing on the paper, from time to time dipping into the inkpot, was white with a golden tip. A typical wingfeather of Pegasus. Recently such feathers had come into fashion in the highest governing body of Light. Taking into account that Pegasus indeed did not have too many wingfeathers and they grew slowly, the plucked Pegasus was ashamed to fly to moronoid writers and instead of itself sent winged jennets. Jennets were easily tempted by sugar
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and they willingly carried on their wide backs to publishing houses the manuscripts of fruitful writers, which they also stamped with a back hoof. Daph gave a cough, reminding him of her appearance. The Guard General first finished the sentence and only then, putting down the feather, raised his head. Troil was not tall, refined, with a bright bald spot, and vividly green, exactly emerald eyes. In profile, he looked slightly like old Andrei Bolkonsky, after surviving the unpleasant episode with the shot and escaping with a light contusion. His chain with the golden wings had been taken off and simply lay on the edge of the table. This slightly astonished Daph. Troil remained silent, examining her with curiosity. He was clearly in no hurry to begin the conversation. Daph already began to get nervous, when he softly asked, “What do you have on your lower lip?” “Nothing. What about it?” Daph was frightened, just in case touching the lip with her tongue. “I’m asking about the gold ring.” “Ah-ah-ah, it’s a piercing!” Daph came to the conclusion. “Oh, Light! To walk around with a punctured lip! It’s uncomfortable!” “I’m already used to it. At first, of course, it interferes, but then you forget about it,” stated Daph. Troil pensively chewed his lips. “A guard of Light with a piercing… Unusual. And what compelled you to pierce yourself? Asceticism? Imitation of African sorcerers? A necessity for informal expression?” he softly asked. Daph decided that he was clearly one of those old men, who try to keep track of everything new, to understand everything, to keep abreast of time, and therefore lag even more hopelessly behind it. “Of course not, simply en…” she started, but, after glancing at the reproachful face of Troil, she broke off. The Guard General got up and began to walk slowly around the office. Daph followed him with glances like following a pendulum. “I’ve observed you for a long time,” continued Troil. “Now and then I have had to calm those, who considered you unworthy to be a guard. I assumed that it’s necessary to give everybody a chance. In any case, I thought so till the specific moment…” Daphne tensed up, attempting to understand what he was driving at. “There were particularly large disputes after that incident with the magic of Gloom. It did not even worry us that you had employed it — after all, it can be copied by error of youth — so much as that the rune traced by you assumed force. It should not have, if you are a true guard of Light. Understand? It simply should not.” “Even if I had traced it correctly?” Daph doubted. “Even if you correctly traced one hundred thousand runes of Gloom! A rune — it’s a figure, no more! A whimsical figure! An empty jug, if you’ll allow me this banal comparison. A jug won’t help one dying from thirst in the desert, if there is no water in it. Isn’t that so? Now a rune, while he who drafted it will not fill it with force, will remain simply a figure. Moreover, the force must be well-defined — force of Light or force of Gloom.” Troil became silent and looked at Daph so narrowly that she wanted to check that everything on her was buttoned or tied. The pause became wearisome. “What was I talking about? Ah, yes! All this led me to the thought that you’re not the usual guard of Light. Yes, you were one by birth, but in the course of time the features of a guard of Gloom began to manifest increasingly more in you,” Troil summed it up.
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Recalling the dark feathers, Daph hastily brought together the wings behind her back. She already felt sorry that she did not have them dematerialized in the corridor. “It’s difficult to deceive the wings. They understand a guard before he understands himself,” edifyingly remarked Troil. “What now then? I must return the wings? I’m a guard no more? I’ll be deprived of the pass into the Garden of Eden and be banished to the moronoids?” Daph emotionally asked, recalling the stone griffins. Not only the wings, the griffins also sensed something. “The mortals,” Troil corrected her reproachfully. “Not moronoids, but mortals… You must not use all these dangerous words, which elementary magicians so love.” For a long time Troil examined the ring on his own finger, turned it, as if trying to remove it, and then said with a sigh, “No, Daph, we’re not banishing you. During other circumstances, possibly the council would insist on your expulsion. But not now… Now we need such an improper guard as you… An individual containing in himself both Light and Gloom. How would you like to get a special mission?” “What?” Daph greedily asked. She was never given any special mission. Only: “Don’t get underfoot! Go do something!” “A mission, on which depends the fate of Eden, our fate, and the fate of mortals,” Troil said with regret. In his voice was clearly: “Such a mission, and I’m giving it to a girl! Am I in my right mind?” Daph waited tensely for the continuation. She had already begun to get accustomed to Troil making such pauses, into which there was time to unload a railroad car of metal scrap. “We need a secret service agent. An agent of Light in Gloom. I realize that you’re not the most suitable candidate, but there is simply no other choice. In no time at all they’ll crack any other guard, in whom there is no internal Gloom. Indeed, we can banish you and they’ll accept you, since you’ll be for them the… Possibly, they’ll accept you. But we’ll still have a talk about this. And now the main thing…” The Guard General softly ran his palm through the air. “Look!” he said. Daphne stared. In the air slowly appeared a chipped front tooth, long light-brown hair, and impertinent eyes slightly squinting. “Ah, he’s not bad! Interesting, who’s this boy?” Daph thought. She definitely had not met the like in the Garden of Eden. “His name is Methodius. He’s your mission. There are Light and Gloom in him as in you and so far it’s unclear which authority will take precedence. And he even has a gift. With each hour, the young fellow becomes increasingly stronger. He, like us, doesn’t need the force of darc, absorbs like a sponge the power of emotions of moro… hmm… of mortals, and he alone has the chance to pass the black and white marble labyrinth of the Temple, after reaching the internal door!” Troil said. “This is wonderful! Smart boy!” Daph said with the enthusiasm, after deciding that she should interject something. “WONDERFUL?” Troil asked again without understanding. “Well, yes! It’s so wonderful when a person can go somewhere, reach something! Isn’t that so? Are we really not encouraging this?” Daph said, no longer so confidently. The Guard General gave her a penetrating look. “How were you taken in as a guard at all? You don’t even know history!” he said. “On the whole I passed briefing,” objected Daph. And even what else could she say? That during lectures she sketched caricatures of the instructor (well, who is guilty that he had such a unique foolish face and a habit of enthusiastically bleating in any tiny little
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pathetic place?), and on the test she copied from a grind enamoured with her. By the way, the poor grind was much less lucky. He failed the test. The professor noticed how he stretched a hand with paper towards Daphne and decided that he was copying from Daph, especially as Daph always attended lectures, staring into her notebook with an extremely serious look. Every time when the professor began to bleat, she nodded and smiled, which the professor accepted as unanimity of views and feelings. “Clearly,” patiently said Troil. “Then allow me to remind you quite briefly of the details. Many years ago, a monumental battle took place. Gloom, having accumulated monstrous forces in their darc, challenged Light. We suffered an immense defeat. Our best regiments were crushed, the centre was destroyed, and flanks were pushed aside. Only several brave guards of golden-wings remained. A little longer and the guards of Gloom would have taken the Garden of Eden — our last citadel. With the help of the titans freed from the bowels of Earth, they bombarded the Garden of Eden with rocks and boulders. We suffered monstrous losses and would have been killed to the last man. And here the survived brave guards — nine golden-wings: Patrick, Euphrosynus, Dius, Bithonius, Galycus, Illyricus, Aniketos, Conan and Onisius — as you see, I remember them by name — decided on a desperate step. At night, they stole into the camp of the enemy and at once attacked the excellently guarded tent of Kvodnon, the Lord of Gloom. All nine perished — but Dius managed to deliver a fatal blow to the Lord and break his darc holding many thousands of eide. You would see this flash, when all eide were freed at once! It became brighter at night than in the daytime! The forces of Gloom trembled. This served as a signal for us that began the critical moment. Our regiments picked up spirit, rushed into battle with the enemy’s army deprived of a leader, and gained victory. Dark guards ran into Gloom. For long years — golden years for us all — they stayed there until they again started to make raids, capturing new eide. Since they mostly attacked secretly, without going into open battles, their raids had an effect. Then appeared the first agents and succubae — servants of the dark from the lowest spirits, which were given bodies. Little by little, our forces were again at a balance. It’s bad but tolerable for the time being. However, the guards now have a chance to destroy the balance of power, if they obtain what is concealed in the far room of the Temple of Eternal Skip.” “And what’s hidden there?” “No one knows. But if it isn’t worthwhile, the temple would not exist at all. Something that is possibly worth the entire universe. If so, then we — the guards of Light and not the guards of Gloom — must get it. Not one guard of Gloom, same as a guard of Light, can pass the black and white labyrinth. But there is one who will be able to. Soon Methodius will be thirteen.” There was sweat on Troil’s forehead. His eyes wandered uneasily along the tabletop. His fingers touched the feather of Pegasus and angrily rejected it. “The Temple of Eternal Skip — it’s a nightmarish place! A place independent of us, the guards of Light and the guards of Gloom. Neither the power of a darc of Gloom nor the First Light operates inside there. No one ventures to visit there. It’s the inevitable destruction of every mightiest wizard… Inevitable destruction! How often we sent messengers, people, and strong magicians there, how many adventure-seekers wandered off there with the freshest ideas, throbbing hearts, and reliable maps. How many magicians confident in success stepped over the threshold of the Temple, and none — not one — returned. Somehow, twenty voodoo magicians from a sect playing with death made their way there. They vowed that either they would all perish or they would pass
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the labyrinth. At first, as a test, they drove into the labyrinth hundreds of mice and fifty rabbits. Those immediately scattered chaotically, without any system. All disappeared without a trace, scattered like tiny ashy dust, which could not even be called dust. There was neither blood nor sorrowful peep nor crushed bones, but the voodoo magicians know even without this when death begins. Only one mouse accidentally ran zigzag as far as the tenth stone slab and stopped there, completely alive and healthy. Then one of the voodoo magicians, with a bag full of frogs, set off along the tracks of this happy mouse, stepping on the same slabs as it. The voodoo magicians brought all these with them, since none of the incantations had any power here. The magician had hardly stepped on the tenth slab when the mouse was scattered like dust. At first the paws, then the tail, and finally also the body. The magician yelled. He understood that the tenth slab also killed, but it was a deferred kill. It should be passed quickly, very quickly, but it was compulsory to pass! And still he understood that he had all of several minutes left. But he was a true voodoo magician — one of those who, having previously prepared for death, sleep in a rock tomb and eat with forks made of the bones of the teachers of their teachers. He released all the frogs from the bag and they began to jump every which way. Only one of them passed six more slabs, but when it attempted to jump to the seventh, it disappeared. Then the voodoo magician looked around at his people, smiled at them, and went along the tracks of that frog. From the threshold, the remaining magicians looked how he went. He passed four slabs, but when he stepped onto the fifth, his foot suddenly scattered like dust, and then he himself also… His dust remained on the fifteenth slab. The count, however, is relative. As I already said, the correct slabs are scattered about the labyrinth.” “But why so soon? Was he detained on the tenth for too long?” Daph asked. “Don’t think so. More likely, he didn’t repeat very accurately what the frog had done. The fourteenth slab was a slow one. It was necessary to linger not less than a minute, as the frog did accidentally. The magician left it too soon, and the slab punished him for his haste… The second magician went after the first. He was unexpectedly lucky. He reached the sixteenth slab — the same one his predecessor did not reach, and then he sufficiently dashingly passed nine additional slabs. Moreover, mice only helped him pass five of them. The next four he guessed by himself. And then he guessed two more. Only he guessed them in a way it’s better not to speak of at all. He stumbled and fell forward on his hands. His hands, which he put forward, were on the twenty-seventh slab, but his feet remained on the safe twenty-fifth. However, on the twenty-sixth his dust lay. His dust… The third voodoo magician reached the twenty-seventh slab, having satisfactorily jumped over the twenty-sixth. But he made an error: he let out rabbits not on the one he was standing but the adjacent one, which turned out to be a trap. No, the rabbits did not disappear. But they all remained on this slab and in no way could jump off it, as if hitting against invisible glass walls. Twenty white rabbits in a trap of void. The magician should have started them one at a time, but, I think, he lost his head. Attempting to correct his mistake, he himself took a step onto one of the adjacent slabs and suddenly he began to laugh aloud. He was laughing loudly as if he was very happy, and his feet were stuck on the slab like in a quagmire. So he disappeared, guffawing and pointing with a finger at somewhere in the void, as if he saw something that amused him extremely.” “So he also learned nothing?” Daph asked with agitation.
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Troil shrugged his shoulders, “Why? Nevertheless he learned a little, namely that the twenty-eighth is a trap, and the twenty-ninth is a quagmire of laughter. The fourth voodoo magician passed yet several more until the thirty-fourth put an end to his sad life. The remaining magicians saw how he froze on the spot, shuddered, as if he was pricked by something, and then suddenly he squatted down and stared at something. He was scooping something by the handful, smiling joyfully in astonishment and, raising his hands, unclenched them, exactly pouring out coins. Then his face became predatory, greedy, his features became more emphasized, and an unhealthy lustre appeared in his eyes. His hands were pouring continually and pouring invisible gold. Thus, he continued for a sufficiently long time until the outlines of the magician become transparent and he disappeared. Then the remaining magicians noted this stone slab as dangerous on the plan, and the next voodoo sorcerer stepped onto the squares of the floor. He succeeded in satisfactorily passing several traps, until he fell onto the slab of senseless race. That’s how it was called later. Here he suddenly shot up, clicked his feet, and afterward began to run like mad, precisely as if he was late for somewhere and wanted to be on time. He rushed, fell, leaped up, again ran, gasped for breath, was dripping with sweat, and was already almost crawling in the end because he had no strength to get up. It continued this way for many hours until he fell down dead. Here he was only running on the spot, remaining on a single slab. The sixth or possibly the seventh voodoo sorcerer reached the fortieth slab, while the mouse released by him ran almost to the forty-second. But something that in no way could strike the mouse befell the sorcerer. He was on the slab of senseless talking. He spoke, shouted, argued with himself, gesticulated, threatened someone with a finger, leniently approved of somebody, again he prophesied, then grew hoarse and was almost hissing, but nevertheless continued to talk. And all this with the extremely complacent look of a speaker who knows a certain final truth. This looked odd, because earlier he was known as an extremely taciturn and even crestfallen man. Then he died a downright Demosthenese. The following voodoo sorcerer killed himself with enormous hatred — perhaps he thought he was battling the enemy. He literally tore himself to shreds with his teeth and nails, and appeared very contented in the end. Probably, he understood that his fierce enemy was already dead. Here his only enemy was himself. One more almost reached the fiftieth stone, and then — whole and unharmed — suddenly sat down on the floor, began to cry bitterly, and died of despondency. The one who replaced him satisfactorily passed the dangerous slab, but the following fire of ambition already burned him. The fire — you can believe — was genuine, just as the ashes also. Here only the burnt one clearly did not experience pain and did not notice the flame. So he went, with his head held high, while he could still walk…” Troil became silent and licked his lips. “How strange this all is,” said Daph. “With such stones it indeed makes no sense using mice — at least send in legions. There are no ambitious ones, skinflints, or chatterers among mice.” “Yes, but mice frequently died from gluttony… The smaller the essence, the less passion it has. But you’re right about something. After the twenty-seventh, they were already theme stone slabs. The remaining voodoo sorcerers were already extremely rarely scattered like dust, although some did all the same,” confirmed Troil and glanced searchingly at Daph. “So the voodoo magicians perished one after another, and those that remained made records in order not to repeat their errors. The nineteenth voodoo
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magician almost reached the hundredth slab, and suddenly courage failed him… He tried to turn around, stepping on the same slabs along which he came, but he disappeared one slab from the threshold. It was not the way! One must never return from the labyrinth by the same way, just as one must never relinquish the path once having stepped on it. In my opinion, the black and white labyrinth precisely showed this, when it allowed him to reach the next-to-last stone.” Troil’s voice, at first quiet, now became suddenly loud and shrill. “And he perished? Everyone perished? But how did the rest learn how everything went?” Daph asked with agitation. Troil raised his head. It seemed to Daph that he had hardly heard her. The face of the Guard General was white, only the eyes, it seemed, were burning. “Huh? What?” he asked without understanding. “How did they learn how everything went if everyone perished?” Daph repeated. “The last voodoo magician did not keep his oath and did not step into the labyrinth. He forewent the dream, returned and described everything to the rest. He reported those records, which passed dozens of hands of elementary magicians and as a result reached the guards of Light and Gloom. Possibly, he acted wisely. Possibly, those nineteen acted wisely… I don’t know. But this was altogether only the hundredth stone slab. A tenth part of the way. Further, the labyrinth is increasingly more complex. Altogether a thousand slabs, and there won’t be enough magicians and guards on the entire Earth to pass the labyrinth. Besides, consider a little that every day at noon or possibly at midnight, the slabs change places, and then all previous diagrams become meaningless. It’s too much for anyone to pass the labyrinth of the ancients.” “No one besides Methodius?” Daph asked. Troil looked at his own palms. He clenched and unclenched his fingers, as if doing this for the first time. “Yes. Only him. His gift is unique. He doesn’t need eide and possesses exceptional intuition, about which he himself doesn’t suspect thus far. An intuition, which will allow him to pass all one thousand slabs in the correct sequence, if he knows how to master his gift. On the day he turns thirteen, when the constellations occupy a specific position, Methodius’ gift will strengthen a hundred times, and then the labyrinth can let him through. I emphasize — can, although no one knows this for sure. Maybe this is the next-in-line mockery of the labyrinth.” “And therefore the guards of Gloom want to get the boy? Because they hope that he’ll pass the labyrinth, take what the ancients left, and know how to return?” “Exactly.” “And how did the boy turn out to be a student among the guards of Gloom?” Daph asked. “The guards long ago, even from his birth, kept an eye on him and have now made the first step. Several days ago, one of our agents reported this to us. He even named Methodius’ teacher: the swordsman Ares, the Baron of Gloom. Yesterday we were waiting for more precise information from our agent; however, he did not make contact. There is every reason to believe that the agent was declassified and destroyed. We conclude this from his wings, which he left here in Eden. They had turned black and charred in the morning. For this very reason we’re sending you.”

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“How touching! What, I have written on my forehead that I’m kamikaze?” Daph was moved. Troil let her remark pass. He possessed the lucky talent to hear only what he wanted to hear. “It’s possible that when Methodius goes into the labyrinth, someone else will be able to go with him. Someone, who will repeat every one of his steps, will turn up together with him in the far room, and then will leave the labyrinth with him. Possibly, he’ll even know how to be the first to get what is stored in the far room. With the condition, of course, that this is something that can be taken at all.” “It seems I can guess who this someone will be! Someone by the name of Daphne,” Daph said without enthusiasm. “Precisely. While the hour has not yet struck and Methodius is going through training, you must be there and not lose him from your sight. It’s desirable that at the same time you do everything secretly, without irritating Gloom. Consider that from this day you’re appointed guard-keeper of Methodius Buslaev. Including keeping him from his own talent.” “I suppose being next to him and not arousing the suspicion of Gloom will be complicated?” Daph asked apprehensively. Troil nodded. “Insanely complicated. The least suspicion and they’ll simply destroy you, as happened with the other agent. For this very reason your mission is to remain above suspicion.” “How will I do this?” The Guard General smiled mysteriously. “The most correct means is not to irritate Gloom — to become a part of it, so that we have to banish you. From tomorrow, you will begin to harm the guards of Light… Another couple of broken spheres, rudeness, aggressive behaviour, theft of dozens of forbidden fruits, and then we’ll devise something big. Something that, after which you’ll be forced to escape from the Garden of Eden. Well, say, the theft of some important artefact. But we’ll see when the time comes. I don’t think that Gloom would miss the chance of picking up a fallen guard of Light… And later, who knows, they may even allow you to get to Methodius, although it won’t be simple. Don’t rush things — be somewhere beside him.” Daphne could hardly believe her ears. They were proposing to her to vandalize the Garden of Eden and steal artefacts! And who? The Guard General himself! “Well, how does the proposal sound to you?” Troil asked her. “There are pleasant moments. I’ve always dreamt of plucking these puffed-up peacocks and snitching something,” said Daphne. Troil squinted and again shifted his gaze onto his ring. “I don’t doubt this. You’ve confirmed my worst assumptions about you. Now go. I’ll summon you again in order to discuss details,” he said and, taking up the feather, was buried again in the papers. After understanding that the audience was over, Daphne moved to the doors. Already at the doors, she turned around. “You want to ask something else?” without raising his head, Troil asked. “This is indeed very critical, yes? It’s extremely important to us that the gift of Methodius Buslaev does not serve Gloom?” Daph asked. “It goes without saying.” “Well, why send me then? There are many more experienced agents. There is the celestial hit regiment, after all. They can simply steal Methodius — and it’s a sure thing.”
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Troil shook his head, “I very much don’t want to talk about this. Perhaps we’ll pretend that you asked me nothing and I heard nothing?” “But I asked! And you heard!” Daphne tactlessly said. The Guard General sighed, “Don’t you see, golden-wings can’t be sent. There are no adolescents among them, as you surmise, and the guard of Gloom will instantly crack an adult. We especially can’t steal Methodius. By doing this we will have made null and void one of the main records of the Book of Destiny — a record, according to which Methodius Buslaev will be in the Temple of Eternal Skip on his thirteenth birthday and will try to pass through the labyrinth. Whether he will pass through or not — the book, alas, keeps silent. Furthermore, in the Book of Destiny there is one additional record. It says that on this day, a fugitive guard of Light with dark principles will be beside Methodius. I think that this is also known to Gloom and they’ll search for this guard.” “Me?” Daph asked fearfully. Troil did not answer. “In another old list that evokes confidence — here it is, cursed passion for reading anything I come across! — I discovered that at the critical moment we can send into Gloom the most confused, the most luckless, and the most unskilled guard that we have. For a long time we could not decide on this unique one until finally your service record came into my hands… You’re the most confused guard of Light that we have available at the present moment! This caught my attention, and will catch that of Ares, if he by chance spots you next to Methodius. He’ll simply not believe that this… eh-eh… slo… disorganized person can carry out any mission. Even Gloom will not think that we were capable of sending this… m-d-eh… slob.” Daph blushed. Never heard anything like it! Disorganized person! Slob! Really! “Ah, Gloom! Damn you all!” she flew into a rage, boiling up to the depth of her soul. A deep crack went along Troil’s desk, which, according to rumours, was even presented to the Guard General by Descartes. Troil looked at Daphne with infinite reproach. His snowy wings radiated such infallibility. Somewhere outside in the corridor, an alarm, set up against guards of Gloom, went into action. Berenarii ran into the office and looked around in alarm. Must be, he again did not pull away in time from his favourite matter. In his hands were the small scissors. “What happened? Should I summon the guards?” he asked, after glancing quickly at Daph. “Everything’s in order! Please go, Berenarii!” Troil imperatively sent his secretary away with a motion of his hand and ordered him to turn off the alarm. “Oh, please forgive me! I myself don’t know how everything came about,” Daph was frightened. “Don’t apologize! I’m sure I made the right choice. Now I’m certain!” Troil said quietly and traced the crack with a finger. “Right choice?” Daph asked again. “Indeed! Did you see how my secretary looked at you just now? He saw in you a potential guard of Gloom, the enemy — no more and no less. This is very good.” “Why?” Troil looked at her with sympathy. “Remember: besides the two of us, no one will know anything about your mission. The rest of the guards of Light will sincerely consider you a traitor. And when, after stealing an artefact, you escape from the Garden of Eden, they will hunt you with the same zeal that they usually hunt guards of Gloom. All goldenwings, all rank and file guards having access to the moronoid world, will set forth on
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your track…. They’ll search for you in order to repay you for treason, and I’ll not be able to prevent this in order not to provoke suspicion. You understand? Everything must be absolutely realistic. Even now, you must think over how you’ll hide yourself. No excess magic, and try to keep to big cities — there, in the thick of the moronoids, it’ll not be simple to detect you.” Daph sighed. “And can this not be avoided in any way? You see, Gloom is not quite stupid. News known to one is already known to another. A secret known to two is already not quite a secret, but there is at least a chance that it’ll remain so. News known to three is known to the entire world… For this very reason, you’ll be a traitor to all golden-wings. Are you ready?” “Not particularly. But I’ll try,” carefully answered Daph. “Try. To be an agent of Light in Gloom — it’s not work. It’s destiny… Daph, remember! From this day Light and Gloom will coexist full-fledged in you. The latter, it goes without saying, must remain within strict limits measured out in doses. It’s tough luck that Gloom never wants to remain within these limits. It doesn’t know the boundaries: it grows, it occupies increasingly more places, and in the end you become Gloom entirely.” The Guard General pronounced this with effort, looking bitterly at his own snowy wings. It seemed to Daph that there was sweat on Troil’s forehead. “And indeed he pities me!” Daph suddenly thought. Already in the corridor, about to step into the rune of displacement, Daphne noticed that two more of her wing-feathers had darkened. Chapter 5 Best Friend of Madame Mamzelkina When in the morning Zozo Buslaeva got a call from a man with an ultra-intellectual voice presenting himself as Glumovich, director of the high school Well of Wisdom, and inviting Methodius to an interview, the amazed Zozo even sneezed into the receiver. She decided that they were pulling her leg. “Are you serious about this? My Methodius in a fancy high school? But he’s barely making any headway in an ordinary school!” she said. “You shouldn’t look at it this way. Methodius is a very capable boy. The ‘barely making any headway,’ as you expressed it, is connected with them not having found the right approach yet. Your boy has talent, gift,” said the director. In his voice was suddenly heard extreme and genuine conviction. “But how do you know?” Zozo asked, slightly yielding to charm. She suddenly posted to herself the question: whether the director is married or not. And even if he is married, then how solidly married. “Your boy managed all non-standard tasks excellently. Especially where creative potential is necessary. His test is ideal,” explained Glumovich. “He copied someone’s!” Zozo thought with distrust. She knew her son well, and the methods, by which he usually improved his knowledge, were known to her. “So, I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow! Please come with your son after three. I’ll wait for you in my office,” finished Glumovich and, after giving her the address, politely said goodbye. “Methodius!” Zozo nervously shouted. “Did you write a test?”
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“Aha,” said Methodius. “And how?” “Sorta circled and ticked everything,” evasively answered Methodius. Zozo calmed down slightly. What Glumovich said became closer to the truth. “And how’s the result?” “How am I supposed to know? Made all the ticks, finished — and went to scrape on a violin! They didn’t tell us…” Methodius brushed it off. He did not begin to specify that he marked the answers without delving too much into the meaning. In general, he loved tests where one must circle the correct answers, knowing that he was frequently guessing. But he also did not guess, simply did many subconsciously. When he read a correct one, it was as if a bell began to ring in his head. “Lucky!” they said in school. After looking on the map, Methodius was not greatly surprised, having discovered that the building of the high school Well of Wisdom actually adjoined the house on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, in which he spent a large part of the past night. It was possible to get from one place to another in five minutes. There was no doubt. This was that same agent Ares and Julitta were talking about. “What’s this workshop called, the one interested in our deadbeat?” Eddy asked in a business-like manner. He was hanging around at home and sharpening weird brass knuckles. According to his idea, brass knuckles had to satisfy three requirements: to be convenient; not to catch the lining coming out of the pocket, and at the same time to resemble a weapon as little as possible. “What’s it called? Well of something or other…” Zozo absent-mindedly said. “Well of Wisdom? It’s the best high school in Moscow. The cost there simply overshadows. It’s so expensive that one can buy a helicopter with the difference,” stated Eddy. “You think we shouldn’t go?” Zozo asked. “Why not? Go down for the sake of a yarn. Listen to what they have to offer. All the same we don’t have the money, and they don’t take money for a look-see, if, of course, it’s not a club with pole dancing,” said Eddy. Zozo went together with Methodius down to the given address, had a talk with the director, and returned home in utter surprise. “You should have seen this school! You can’t pass through the territory even in a tank! The guards! Everything inside — well, pure European decadence! They feed them better in the school cafeteria than in a restaurant! And the teachers! No one even knows how to speak Russian! Almost all foreigners!” she said with enthusiasm. “And how much for all this disgrace?” Eddy asked sourly, getting ready to pronounce the crown phrase: “I’ll not sponsor you!” “None at all. A fund will pay for Methodius. There’s a program, in which a fund pays for the education of the most talented children in the best schools. Met will live there in the school, they have something like a boarding school there, and come home only on vacations. And sometimes won’t even come home, when there are additional studies.” Her brother thought for a bit. “I don’t like this! Something’s a little fishy here! If they would take a little from you, I would still understand, — but this way, absolutely nothing… Free cheese is only found in two places: a mousetrap and our Ladyfingers! Bonus program. Buying a wineglass of vodka gets you a hundred grams of the most expensive cheese free,” he stated.
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“What, actually free?” Zozo doubted. “Naturally. We don’t have any kind of cheats there,” indignantly said Eddy. “True, the cost of the cheese is included in the vodka. And even in general many people can’t stop after one wineglass. Till they get dead-drunk, any cognac for the road can be added to their bill.” “So what about the high school? Not go?” Zozo asked with uneasiness. Though she did not get along with her brother, she respected his experience. “Why not? Go! Of course, if this director is not a maniac. If he’s a maniac, there’s also no fear. I’ll make the observation to him by landing a blow on his body,” said Eddy and tenderly stroked the brass knuckles like the hand of a beloved woman. *** The next day a shuttle bus arrived in the morning for Methodius. Standing in splendour on its side was the emblem of the school — a snub-nosed profile in the spirit of either the legendary Prutkov or Paul I, with the inscription: Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) around it exactly like a laurel wreath. After loading Methodius into its imposing womb, the shuttle bus drove him away to a new life. Buslaev was dispirited. He again dreamed of the sarcophagus at night. If earlier the sarcophagus was whole, then in the last dream it cracked. Obeying a vague call, Methodius jumped out of the bus on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, just when it slowed down at the traffic light. House № 13 was still covered with safety netting and scaffolding. Nothing had changed. Methodius bent back the netting, deftly climbed through under the scaffolding, and knocked on the familiar door. The door had not yet opened when he suddenly noticed the black magic rune drawn on the asphalt. A normal person would mistake it as a drawing done by charcoal or a can of spray paint and would take it into his head to crawl under the scaffolding. However, Methodius, having already acquired some experience, noticed that the outlines of the rune blurred just barely noticeably when he stepped through the threshold. And immediately, almost without transition, Methodius disappeared into an entirely different world. Inside, the house had changed from the night before. He saw a large hall serving as reception. The reception was furnished in decadent luxury. A fountain was babbling. Green curious ivy ran up along the legs of antique statues. On the wall in a frame behind glass hung the authentic ear, dried in the necessary manner and secured, of Van Gogh. At the secretarial desk, with her feet crossed on the desktop, Julitta was sitting and pensively aiming a duel pistol at her own reflection in the mirror. Behind her pinned onto the wall with a rusty knife was a declaration done on a printer: Job done — leave boldly! A little to the side, it was possible to examine yet another piece of paper of an informative nature: Citizen agents! Please store eide in darc! Ten percent annually on all kinds of magic energies!
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Having noticed Methodius, Julitta waved the pistol in a salute to him, “Hello, Met! How do you like our nest? When they transferred us here, it was a room of horrors. Imagine: sooty walls, a coffin for papers, a bewitched crypt-safe, terribly stuffed, and a desk stained with blood. Earlier some pothead from the division beyond worked here. Only a month, but fouled everything awfully. Well, I hammered away at Ares, and now look! Hand-made furniture. No motleys in the upholstering, no glued sawdust. A picture on the memento mori (remember death — Lat.) theme with an abstract subject. A small fountain with a marble young lady, spurting red wine from a broken jug. Nice, pleasant, with well thought-out trustworthy banality. Our client also only appreciates such. On the one hand, it’s likely all the same to him, on the other hand — all his veins tremble and he’s inclined to a heart attack against the background of fatal surprise.” “Yes, classy here!” Methodius politely agreed. Julitta nodded and patted herself on the head, “My credit! We’re strict about this: nothing excessive, or else they’ll bring any trash into the office. Last week someone tossed a chopped-off head there under the little magazine table. On top of that, the beast even covered it with a newspaper. One word — riffraff. You don’t bawl someone out, don’t deny, and don’t leave rubbish behind.” “Listen, last night everything here was entirely different! Some ruins!” Methodius remarked, belatedly recalling the damaged walls and parquet that one could fall through. Julitta yawned, “The fifth dimension. You saw the rune of displacement there? So small? Anyone, even if he forces open the door, would fall simply into a house under repairs. And nowhere else. Strangers, outsiders don’t walk in here. More questions? Come on, brother Methy! I’ll answer, I’m nice for the time being.” “There is. Is the pistol loaded?” Methodius asked with curiosity. “What? What pistol? Ah, this! As if I remember! Now let’s conduct an investigative experiment!” Julitta carefully took aim at the forehead of her reflection in the mirror and squeezed the cock. A shot thundered. The mirror shattered into smithereens. The bullet rebounded against the wall. “Straight into the forehead! Well really, am I not a smart one, not a beauty?” Julitta said with satisfaction. “Julitta! Don’t kick up a row! Now the agents and succubae are rushing in with the quarterly account!” Ares angrily shouted from his office. The door into his office was closed, but that did not prevent him from hearing very well everything going on in reception. Julitta dropped the pistol. “Oh no! I’ve forgotten about these idiots! They tumbled out of my head. May I at least get Methy to take part? After all, he’s our new colleague. Is that so or not?” she groaned. It smelled of sulphuric smoke behind the doors. Ares thought for a bit. “Very well. The little one must get accustomed to our work. Let him sit at the second desk and also accept reports. In our time the skill to unmasking agents is more important than artefactology or chopping with swords,” he finally decided. Methodius unwillingly sat down at the adjacent desk, from which an impatient Julitta in a flash threw all papers down to the floor. “And who are these succubae and agents? How will I distinguish them?” he asked. “Easily,” said Julitta. “It’s nothing to distinguishing them. The succubae will arrive first… These are such sickly sweet sharp lads you’ll not confuse them with anyone. They
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answer amorous dreams and any visions, in which there are magical swaps and psychic energy. Furthermore, they do a very good job of getting hold of eide for the darc. Understood?” “Ne-a! I only understood that they’re some kind of loonies!” Met insolently said. Julitta propped up her fat cheeks with her hands. “I’ll explain simply and in plain language. In the style of an encyclopaedia for the underdeveloped. Let’s assume a fellow from a distant city fell in love with a well-known female singer. It goes without saying he has no chance whatsoever, and there is no money for a ticket, and generally she’s from the group Tuk-Tuk. In a sense, so very clever. Well, the fellow eats his heart out, loses strength, and withers away. To him the singer is dearer than life. And suddenly this singer comes to him in the drowsiness of half-sleep, begins to embrace him, caresses him, and says, ‘I love you! I’ve long dreamed of such a capital fellow. Only, before I kiss you, make me a trivial gift: give me your eidos! Simply say yes and that’s it!’ The fellow gives it away, clearly not even knowing what it is. Here a simple word is enough. A second to give away eidos, but here to return… Well, the succubus grabs the eidos and vanishes into thin air. The poor fellow has neither the singer, nor eidos, nor eternity — nothing. Got it?” “So, succubae are those who assume the appearance of the ones we love,” Methodius summed it up. “Uh-huh. Or those we desire!” Julitta said sweetly, as if holding candy in her mouth. “And agents?” Julitta puckered up her face contemptuously and flicked her darc with a finger. “Well, agents — they’re all riffraff. A type of jackal or hyena, but in human form. Not quite spirits, but also not people. Thus, small fry, half-and-half, middleman for executions. To bring overblown accounts of drunken quarrels, unfaithfulness, broken heads, bitten off noses, and other petty mutilation. Brisk, insolent, frankly even I am no match! You see, Met, be firmer with them. No familiarity, no personal relations. And guard your eidos — these guys are shrewd. For them, leaving you, me, and Ares vulnerable is their only pleasure.” “But why do they bring the reports to us? Why eagerly?” Methodius asked. “What do you mean why eagerly?” Julitta became furious. “We’re the guards of Gloom. Forgotten? GUARDS OF GLOOM! And agents and succubae are at our service. Just they try not reporting to us — they’ll skin them alive in the Chancellery and their stay in the moronoid world will not be extended. Then where will they snatch eide for themselves? In Gloom? There they pave the streets with such smart fellows instead of hammering a pile into the ground. So don’t dash about in a tizzy, brother Methy, and don’t tuck a fur coat into shorts! Understood?” “Understood,” nodded brother Methy, after deciding for himself that he would gain an understanding during the course of events. Julitta softened. “Well, he understood, okay. Then you’ll help me. We’re here, in reception, Ares in the office. He doesn’t particularly love coming out to these riffraff, and they’re even rather afraid of him. Recently in a fit of temper he hacked a couple of jokers to pieces here — they butted in,” said Julitta. ***
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The squeaky clock, hanging in the hall of house № 13 from the times of the Versailles Furnished Rooms, sharply struck noon. Immediately, not tarrying, succubae began to arrive. Their line crept out the door and snaked along the stairs of the former back entrance. Forced in the line to socialize with those like them, the succubae behaved sullenly and chastely and bloomed only at Julitta’s desk. Along the hall spread the smell of either Indian incense or French cologne bottled in China. “Accepted! Next! Don’t hang around, citizen! Job done — leave boldly! You don’t know how to read perhaps?” Julitta bellowed, gathering reports. The succubae cast looks with coquettish interest at Methodius as at someone new. One even asked permission to kiss his hand, after which he tried to become a girl from a neighbouring class. Without limiting himself to this, the succubus with wet kisses climbed onto Met’s knee, muttering nonsense. However, Met had not yet forgotten that only a minute ago the same succubus had had the appearance of a middle-aged emaciated uncle in glasses and with an Adam’s apple overgrown with hair. “Ah, be gone! I’ll banish you to Gloom!” Methodius shouted angrily, and the trembling succubus faded in a flash, after dropping the parchment with the report from his moist hands. Julitta encouragingly showed Buslaev the thumb. Towards the end of the second hour, the succubae had made their reports and, having extended visas for their stay in the world of mortals, left directly from the rear window, going out to the blank wall of the house. Julitta, covered in sweat, did not have time to take a breath or shake off all the reports into the very strong box, which was expected to be sent to the Chancellery, when the time for agents had arrived. Here it was necessary to be on the alert, since the agents, inflating their own merits, were inclined to distortions and falsifications. As a whole agents resembled people; however, their faces were soft, exactly like modelling clay. All the time they were crumpling and bending. The noses were sniffing non-stop. “Now here-a, dearie, records of suicides, and here-a, so, of arrogant men… And those who did not believe in miracles, I scratched on a separate piece of paper… After a comma, so, in an interval. You will deign to extend the stay!” the agent next in line muttered, dumping onto the desk a pile of parchments full of fingerprints. Julitta took them with disgust and, after punching them with a new clanging holepuncher, she filed them into a red cardboard folder covered with bubbles. They handed the accounts over to her and the witch examined them for a long time and suspiciously, hissing at the agents for insolent postscripts. “Phew, cheeky mug! Since when does 1+0 = 10? Even wrote it in small! Are you trying to pull wool over someone’s eyes? You understand that you fabricated the document?” Julitta roared. “But why, dearie? One and zero was never ten! Not twelve… We don’t know all this knowledge. Didn’t graduate from ’niversities. We write such that everything looks the best!” the agents mumbled. When Julitta backed them completely into a corner, the agents shamelessly blinked, cried, and swore by whatever. Especially willingly by each other’s health. “How could they not swear! Indeed they can’t stand each other, these bastards!” Julitta explained to Methodius and whole-heartedly bashed particularly shifty agents with the hole-puncher. The agents endured this stoically and only anxiously felt the fresh dents on their modelling-clay heads.
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Sniffing pitifully, they made ignorant denunciations of each other to Methodius, frequently shooting out antiquated figures of speech like: “I the worthless humbly ask Your Lordship,” “this nasty snake made off with an eidos from me and when I tearfully said to him you come to your senses what are you filthy scum doing he beat me mercilessly,” “please don’t be offended at the poor orphan please strip the snake skin off him a comfort to me the orphan also banish him to Gloom for eternal exile!” Methodius’ eyes began to water from the many pages reeking of onions and tobacco, and he all the more nervously slammed the press down on the inkpad, prolonging registration for the agents. “Nothing remarkable for me in the day! Is it always so with them here?” he thought gloomily. When toward the end of the second hour Methodius was thinking of almost nothing but only slamming the press, someone’s adroit hand suddenly palmed a parchment off on him. Methodius, without thinking, also stamped it. “So-o!” a voice said with satisfaction. “And now place your signature here! On each page.” “Why?” “It’s supposed to be so, according to procedure-s! The law is unyielding, but we turn it to our advantage-s!” Methodius’ consciousness began to ring a warning bell. This was that very bell of intuition, which always warned him of danger. Methodius raised his head, after recalling what happened last time when he did not listen to the bell. A soft dejected face loomed before him and the narrow eyes of tainted colour began to blink. However, in spite of toady intonations and fawning eyes, the agent in no way pleased Methodius. “Well sign! The line is waiting! Work doesn’t wait!” the agent politely hurried him. After glancing at the first page, Methodius with surprise discovered his name written down there. He tried to read deeper into it, but was dazzled by the many points and subparagraphs. “What’s this paper for?” Methodius asked, not having understood anything. “My assignment to Gloom! I want to visit my grandpa! Haven’t seen him for twenty years! He was crying his eyes out!” the agent explained sentimentally and immediately started to blow his nose into a large red shawl. “But why is my name here?” “Supposed to be so. The signature of the great Methodius Buslaev will throw open any door! I entreat: for grandpa! The old man was worried to death, but I don’t have money for the ticket! You will make him happy for life! I’ll tell the kids about you!” the agent pleadingly said. Methodius shrugged his shoulders and, after muffling his intuition, stretched his hand out for the feather. “Hey, stop! Stop, I’m telling someone!” suddenly Julitta shouted. The feather froze by itself above the paper. “Give it over here! Let me have a look, I say! Just what I thought! You know what you’re doing? This is an agreement for the sale of eidos! You don’t give away your only soul to him, fool!” Julitta said. “But grandpa?” Methodius asked. “What grandpa, for crying out loud? Where do agents get grandpas from, donkey! They’re made of muck and plasticine! Whom do you believe? Him? And agents never have eidos of their own, here they bear malice!” She ran up to Methodius, snatched the parchment away and lashed the sour face of the agent several times with it. The agent
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grunted with disappointment and teleported with dignity. His dejected face expressed the deepest grief. “Do you know who this was? Tukhlomon! Maestro of sleaze! Our best agent, but a terrible bastard. I suddenly thought — would you give your soul away to him for… well, let’s have a look for what! For a jar of swollen sprats! Here’s a slicker, it’s not enough that he loves to take cheaply, he even mocks so!” Julitta explained indignantly, looking over the recaptured parchment. “I understood nothing in that paper. Everything was so confusing…” Methodius said perplexedly. “And how would you want it? Your terrestrial jurists made up the contract. They’re bored for centuries in Gloom, here they bend over backwards. For a bottle of ambrosia, they would give their own mommy away for lease for three centuries. And in general, I’m sure, you’ll still meet Tukhlomon! If he has his eyes on someone’s eidos, he never backs off. A tricky snake!” Julitta said and, being angry for some reason, knocked on the pile of papers on Methodius’ desk. “And what’s this? Just look at how many denunciations he gathered! It’s them, the parasites, sniffing out a newbie and shoving them in! Next time immediately hit them, kick them! I’ll show them denunciations!” “What, should never have taken them? Let’s throw them out!” Methodius proposed. “Are you crazy: throw them out? Did you stamp them? You did! Therefore, the matter is to take them in. Sort it out with the Chancellery later. Everything with us is strict!” Julitta stated. The clamouring line of agents was pressing. It smelled then of tobacco and petty passions. Suddenly a genie youth, resin-like, resilient, chiselled from shiny ebony, rubbed with odorous eastern oils, materialized in the middle of reception and grinned, unceremoniously looking Julitta over. From the genie’s shoulder hung a canvas bag with the emblem of express mail of the guards of Gloom. After discovering that Julitta, occupied with the training of agents, did not notice him, the youth stole up and tenderly blew into her ear. Julitta’s shape, gravitating towards a sphere, produced an indelible impression on the passionate genie. “I don’t have time! Don’t you see I’m working? Come in the evening, Ali!” Julitta brushed him off. “Bah! I not Ali, I Omar!” the genie was offended, devouring Julitta with a passionate look. “Omar? But what has become of Ali? So you’re new perhaps?” “Why new? What new? I not new! Now I be old from disappointment!” the genie youth was offended and again blew into her ear. “I said I don’t have time, Omar! In the evening! And grab something for a bite. Only, I entreat, without magic. I get heartburn from bewitched foodstuff,” softened Julitta. The genie youth brightened up and intended to disappear. “Hey!” Julitta said. “What about work? Let’s see what you brought! Must eternally remind you!” The genie slapped his forehead. “Bah! Completely forgot! Urgent message for Ares!” He thrust a long roll to Julitta and disappeared, after turning into a column of smoke. In the end, he again had time to grin, packing into one smile all his plans for the evening. “Ali, Omar, Javdet… You can’t tell them apart, fools!” Julitta dreamily said.
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Having used a nail to break the seal of sealing wax, the witch slid her glance along the sheet. Her ashen locks trembled. Having grasped that something important had happened, the agents began to bustle and sniffed nervously. One even attempted to glance into the parchment, but Julitta with an adroit whack of the folder made his nose flat as a board. “Reception is closed! Everybody quick! Come tomorrow, wet feet!” she roared at the agents and hastened into the office to Ares. *** The agents obediently faded away after Julitta’s shout. Methodius remained in reception alone. Red wine was spurting in the fountain and parchments with reports were piled up on the table. All the time Julitta did not come out. Only once in a while the resounding voice of Ares reached him from the office. “Interesting, will Ares teach me something or is this already training? I almost gave away my eidos by mistake there! So it would fall into someone’s darc,” thought Methodius. He became alarmed. He wanted to fade away, and only the thought of Eddy Khavron and the eternal worshippers of his mother brought him to his senses. There was nowhere to go back to. He was in Moscow anyhow. The outside door creaked. An old lady, growling something to herself under her breath, entered reception. From her shoulder dangled a very strong, seasoned knapsack, into which it was possible to hide a whole division. In her hand, she held a scythe in a slipcover. Finding herself in reception, the old lady looked around. Then she approached Methodius in a business-like manner and touched his forehead. “How do you like that, warm again! You’re not my client, no? What’s the name?” she asked affectionately. “Mine?” “Well, not mine! My sclerosis is always with me.” “Methodius Buslaev.” The old lady was not too astonished. “Oh, Methodius! What a small world! Hear, hear! They reached you after all. And how the little heart trembles! And the eidos is with wings like a white dove, chirp-chirp! Ah, my little sweet, you sat too long, I dare say, in a cell of ribs! Come to Grandma!” Methodius moved away. “I need it myself. Grandma will break off for the time being,” he said. The old woman threatened him with a finger. “Look, how smart! I suppose as you’re twelve years old, so they caught hold of you,” she remarked complacently. “Who caught hold of me?” “Those there, the guards of Gloom! See!” the old woman said and poked a finger at the door of Ares’ office. “Come, perhaps we’ll get acquainted! I’m Aida Plakhovna Mamzelkina. Do you have a business card?” “Nope,” said Methodius. The old woman slapped her pockets. In one pocket a bottle tinkled, a slot machine chip rolled out from another. “You work badly, friend Methodius! Imagine, I don’t either. I’ve handed everything out. I’m a fool, dust of a grave… Brought one here this morning — we just exchanged business cards. He to me — I to him. So left without one. A funky guy, only not so lucky with friends. Comrades from another collective placed a bomb in
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his Mercedes. He was interested in everything on the way: what the punishment will be in Gloom, who is prominent, and what grub they give.” Methodius looked sideways in anxiety at the scythe. “You… you’re Death?” he asked. “Sort of! Nowadays, so that people won’t be frightened quickly, I am called differently. ‘Senior Manager of the Necro-department’!” Aida Plakhovna announced with pleasure. “Ah-h!” Methodius drawled. From his point of view, the difference was small. Death straightened the slipcover on the scythe. “How do you like that, he hardly jumped. Remember, you don’t look at the blade. You’ll have time still to have a good look in your own time… My poor scythe, without imagination. Understand? Need to chew over the thought?” Methodius shook his head. “I confess, friend, indeed I came regarding you! Found out some situation here, wanted Ares to describe it. And you’re right here; you’re such a bundle of mischief… Fate and destiny! There is a person, and then suddenly — gone!” Mamzelkina said in a businesslike manner. Her vacant look became suddenly attentive and cutting. Methodius perceived that the old lady was far from inoffensive. The alarm bell in his consciousness briefly tinkled and calmed down fearfully. “What happened?” he asked, trying to be soft and downy. It definitely did not make any sense to quarrel with Mistress Mamzelkina. “So, one little conversation. About you — but not for you… He-he!” “How’s this: about me but not for me?” “Wait a bit — you’ll find out.” Aida Plakhovna straightened the wig that had moved down her head and approached Ares’ office. The door opened. Methodius finally saw the chief. He was strolling around the room, occasionally stopping in front of the window and drumming on the glass with his fingers. The deep scar appeared even more distinct. It was noticeable that Ares was concerned. A burnt, shrivelled parchment was lying on the table. Methodius was ready to swear that the parchment had flared up from a mere look, without the application of any magic or non-magic means. A quiet Julitta was standing next to Ares. When the door creaked, both turned around with displeasure. Not a bit embarrassed by this reception, the old lady leaned against the scythe and immediately, with a speed surprising for her years, rushed to Ares. “Ares, my dove! I heard your exile was over! How bored I was, how bored! You didn’t forget me, eh? All the time I intended to fly in to the lighthouse to visit you, my grey-winged drake!” she squealed. Ares hugged her, and they kissed three times. “How do you do, how do you do, Aida! Long time no see!” he greeted the old lady. “And who is this?” Julitta jealously asked. She liked the old lady even less than Methodius did. Aida Plakhovna puckered up. “Who am I? Calm down, fidget! Go rinse yourself in formalin! Those born to crawl should not show themselves!” she sharply put Julitta down. “Aida, there’s no need! Don’t offend her! This is Julitta!” Ares reproachfully said. “What? The same girl who…” Mamzelkina started. “Yes. The same one,” Ares rudely interrupted her, clearly giving to understand that this theme was forbidden.
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Mamzelkina nodded in understanding and switched to her own problems. “Ah, Areushka! I toil by the sweat of my brow, I hum like a bee, and never any appreciation! My curly hair fell out! My breasts dried up! They wore out my life, the snakes! Never gave me a copper penny for the work, never threw me a dry crust… Even reproach me for my share! No indeed, you kill, kill-l!” she was tearing slightly. Her tears rolled down like mercury balls onto the floor. Ares and Julitta exchanged glances. They had long sensed that the sly old lady needed something. She clearly dragged herself along with an ulterior motive. “Honey wine?” Ares proposed without bestirring himself. Aida Plakhovna ceased sobbing. The mercury tears evaporated. “I’m at work,” she said dryly, nevertheless somewhat pensively. “Good honey wine!” Ares tempted her. Mamzelkina began to doubt. The swamp of her own desires pulling her tightly like a stray horse. “What, it’s good? You know why I didn’t visit you, Areushka, at the lighthouse — I thought, where would you get honey wine? And my inside doesn’t accept any other swill. My inside is shaken up by work!” she said. “I have to admit, I still have a keg or two from old times. I consume honey wine with sufficient great care,” said Ares. “Listen,” Methodius could not contain himself. “Aren’t you guards? Omnipotent magicians, yes? If you want anything — can’t you just conjure it?” The proposal provoked an unexpected reaction. Julitta giggled. Aida Mamzelkina spat. “Immediately see, young fellow, that you’re yesterday’s moronoid! Only moronoids are hung up on magic, although they know nothing about it! Ah, magic! Ah, sorcery! Ah, magic wands! Phew! It’s possible to conjure anything. It’s possible even to convert all the water in the Atlantic Ocean into honey wine. But this won’t be the same. For one who’s an expert in real booze,” she refined. “And indeed Aida knows! No doubt about this!” Ares nodded. “What else! In a world full of magic forgeries and substitutes, only the real and true is worth something. Real things, true love, real brew! The rest — let it roll to all… us!” Mamzelkina stated pathetically. She did not digress anymore. Especially as on the table appeared an imposing covered clay jug of about eight litres. “A good honey wine disdains other containers,” immediately the “senior manager” commented and was silent for a long time. Barely having sucked out a third of the jug, Aida Plakhovna recalled the purpose of her visit. “Ah… yes! Yaraat… your… and not only yours… acquaintance… has escaped from imprisonment!” she reported, after anxiously looking around at Methodius. The Baron of Gloom stuck out his neck. “I know about the flight of Yaraat. Not so long ago a messenger brought a letter from the Chancellery,” he remarked. “Which you burnt for some reason,” thought Methodius. “Who is this Yaraat?” he asked, understanding from some sign that all this concerned him directly. He asked this of Julitta, but both Julitta and Mamzelkina turned to Ares, being inferior to him in the right to answer. Methodius perceived that something connected Yaraat and Ares. Something old. “Yaraat is a werewolf. A killer. A traitor… Your… and not only yours… fierce enemy. Pick any one of the three definitions or all three at once. You won’t be mistaken. Now Yaraat will search for you in order to finish you off,” briefly explained Ares.
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“To finish me off? I didn’t even have any quarrel with him in the magic world,” Methodius was worried. Ares shrugged his shoulders, “Do you think it’s so important? In our world, quarrels don’t happen so frequently. The majority of the guards have enemies long before birth. This isn’t even hostility in the usual sense… Someone simply needs what you have and he could in no way be without. Well, like one rope, on which two people are hanging above a precipice. Two ways out: you either yield nobly and let go, or attempt to throw the other guy down. Each chooses the solution, which is closer to his heart and corresponds better to his essence. Is the basic idea clear?” “And the two can’t be rescued together?” Methodius asked. “No. Imagine that it’s a thin rope. Possibly, it wore out. It’ll only support one. Someone must compulsorily fall or both will perish,” dryly said Ares. He turned away, but Methodius already saw death in his eyes. It first appeared when Ares named Yaraat a traitor. “Did they really not guard Yaraat?” Julitta asked. “Very… hic… well,” hiccupped Mamzelkina. “But someone unnoticeably delivered to him the fortieth significant artefact of Gloom — the tiger-bite sabre. It doesn’t cut but gnaws out pieces of flesh. He attacked his guards, cut off their darc, seized their eide, and hid himself.” “And what about the guards he attacked? Are they alive?” Methodius was naively interested. The “senior manager of the necro-department” laughed out loud. “Oh, yes! More alive than all living. Like pharaohs’ mummies…” “So, it means, they’re…” “The question lacks sense. It was Yaraat. I repeat, Yaraat. He and life — they’re incompatible,” distinctly said Ares. “And what did I do to this Yaraat that he’s after me?” Methodius asked. Ares smiled gravely, and Methodius again saw his square teeth, slightly yellowish like the keys of an ancient piano. “Nothing in particular… You took away his power. Almost everything that he accumulated in his darc during the long centuries,” said Ares. A strange satisfaction sounded in his voice. “I took away his power? When?” Methodius asked with doubt. “And he doesn’t even know! At the moment of your birth. You drained the poor devil in one gulp. Puff! Before he knew where he was, Mety squashed down on him! Stubby and chubby! Ha-ha!” Mamzelkina said in rhyme. The honey wine disappeared in her by the litre against all laws of physics. “Yaraat is a thief of artefacts. He was hiding at the same time from both the guards of Light and guards of Gloom. He pretty well did a bad turn to one or the other, and all would remember him if they could find him. He was hiding, it goes without saying, among moronoids. At the moment of the solar eclipse Yaraat accidentally showed up in Moscow and hit upon your birth like hitting a tank… After several instants, you scooped from him all his energy, even without knowing this. And not only from him, it must be said. But Yaraat suffered more than the rest. Indeed he was the sole guard, who found himself in the zone of eclipse,” said Ares. “How gifted I am, it turns out! I can’t do anything,” said Methodius, dismayed.
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The “senior manager of the necro-department” was guffawing so that she choked on the honey wine and had to be slapped on the back. “Did you hear? Our little one can’t do anything!” coughing, she said. “Can or not — it’s unimportant!” Ares explained. Now he was looking at Methodius with special attention. His half-asleep torpor had disappeared. “During the moments of the eclipse you became the navel of Earth, the centre of the small universe… All the energies of the world converged in you. You would know that it happened the moment you yelled! Then I was standing on the upper landing of my lighthouse, very far from Moscow. White lightning suddenly split the sky. The island shuddered from the terrible thunder. It was altogether only the first cry of a child having stepped into the world, but if the eclipse had not ended, the world would have cracked…” “Just look what a wicked insidious one this Methodius is! He almost cracked the world… Perhaps, he… with a scythe?” giggling, Mamzelkina proposed. She was clearly joking, but the alarm bell in Methodius’ consciousness nevertheless began to ring for some reason. “We’re talking about Yaraat,” Ares cut her short. “After the birth of Methodius, he became poor in the magic plane. He even didn’t have enough strength to manage those artefacts he had abducted earlier. He immediately tried to get even with you and have everything returned, but this was a mistake. He was too weak. Besides, confidentially, you were guarded rather well. Yaraat was seized by the guards of Gloom, imprisoned, and escaped only now… I think his further plans are clear to me, as to whom he’ll try to get even with first of all.” “Will they catch him?” Methodius asked anxiously. Ares shook his head, “I doubt it. He has the eide of the killed guards from their darc and the not bad artefact — the tiger-bite sabre. And he knows how to hide. The last time they searched for him for about two hundred years and only found him because you took away all his power, which he has now at least partially restored with the eide of the guards. My gut feel suggests that in this case no news is good news.” “And how should I act now? Hide? Lie on the bottom and not gurgle?” Methodius asked. Ares looked hard at him. “There’s no way out. I’m sure Yaraat has hidden somewhere a stash of not bad artefacts, many of which are capable of pointing at the concealed. He’ll find you anywhere. And you know, perhaps, I even want him to find you,” he said quietly. “Why?” “Because then I’ll find him. It’s been my only desire for many years already,” said Ares. Methodius wanted to ask why, but felt that it was not worthwhile to do this. In any case, not now. Instead, he quickly glanced at Ares’ aura and immediately looked away in a hurry, after perceiving that he was weakening. He felt that he was glancing into a sucking abyss. Other people, whom Methodius met, in fury propagated red waves, the strength of which he — not having any idea of it — savoured and absorbed. The angry Ares indeed became exactly a black hole, into which the strength of those beside him fell. “I search for Yaraat. Yaraat searches for you. In countable days, you have to go along the path that takes years for others. You must be prepared for a possible battle, unless you want to waste your life and more. Once you already knew how to overcome Yaraat. Only
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now, an eclipse will not help here… Highly improbable that it’ll happen precisely at the moment when you cross blades. We’ll start training tomorrow. Eh, if we know that nothing will threaten you next week at least. Then, possibly, I would find the means to protect you!” Ares summed it up. Aida Plakhovna glanced askance at Ares and, turning the clay jug upside-down, caught the last drop on her tongue. “Well, that’s it! Sisters, to Moscow! Ich sterbe!” she hiccupped, dropping the scythe. Methodius rushed to pick it up. “Don’t touch my work tool, civilian! It’s necessary for the motherland! Well, Methodius, well Buslaev! He fears nothing! I… hic… respect you! If I have to uncover the scythe for you, I promise, it’ll be… hic… quick… Like a vaccination! Word o… of the manager! Well-a, we’ll meet again soon!” Mamzelkina babbled. She, swaying, took a step to the doors. Her slightly open old knapsack looked like a dark abyss. Methodius became terrified. In a blink, he understood that he could easily disappear there, in her knapsack, in spite of all his magical powers. Ares overtook Death and put a hand on her shoulder, “Hey, Aida, what’s this hint? If you know something, own up!” Aida Plakhovna stopped and winked, “I love you all! Dear, possible to say, people. Do you want to know a secret? Methodius is not on today’s list! So that the little one doesn’t have to tremble till midnight. Well and there’s a new day…” “So, everything is normal till midnight? And tomorrow, the day after tomorrow?” Ares quickly asked. The manager of the necro-department began to shake her head and was filled with administrative zeal. “I cannot, darling! It’s… hic… a secret! We’re strict about this. Downright shock and tremor! I must not!” Ares squinted with distrust, “Aida! Don’t torture me! Who’s asking you? I am!” “They’ll tell you it’s a secret! I’ll fall in battle for you, but I can’t! The law… hic… of cosmic harmony! The balance of universal justice! Never!” Mamzelkina said and for effect hit her resonant chest with a fist. “And a half keg of honey wine won’t gain an understanding of cosmic harmony? Won’t grease the balance of universal justice?” Ares asked with mockery. The old lady reproachfully threatened him with a finger, “Ah, Areushka, you cynic! To sneer at such things! That’s also why you ended up in the lighthouse!” “So how about the half keg? Simply say, is Methodius in your lists or not for next week?” Ares pressed. “Never! Even if you kill me — I can’t!” the old woman stated and, having reached the highest degree of righteous indignation, added without switching over, “A keg! And that’s the limit! And it’s only for you! If someone gets wind of it — they won’t pat me on the back.” “Ah, Aida, Aida! Spare yourself! Well, so it is!” Ares smiled and uttered the incantation of displacement. In the middle of his office appeared a three-bucket keg of honey wine. Mamzelkina looked critically at the keg, one would think at an object of concealed magic, and clicked her fingers. Her knapsack swelled up like the mouth of a volcano and easily swallowed the keg. Having dealt with the keg, Aida Plakhovna reached for a parchment smudged with brown dry blood. Her finger slid along the lines. “Here they are, dears, my clients! Buratinkin… Burenkin… Burkin… Burchenko… Buskin…
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Buslenko… Buslaev… Oh, a familiar last name! I already met such a one somewhere! Well, let’s look at the initials: M.I. — Methodius Igorevich! So here!” Methodius froze. His body suddenly became like cotton wool. “That’s it, the end!” he thought. “Well, let’s have a look!” suddenly Ares demanded. Aida Plakhovna started to laugh and quickly hid the parchment. ‘Strangers aren’t supposed to! No such right!” “Aidka! Don’t joke with me!” Ares bellowed. “Yes, I’m joking, I’m joking! Should I not have a little moral happiness? He’s not here! It appears your young boy will be alive next week. Further lists have not been established, so I promise nothing!” Mamzelkina stated. “Very nice on your part. Thanks,” Methodius growled. “You’re welcome!” the old lady said with authority and, justifying herself, added, “It’s only fools who think that I cut down just anyone. I’m very… hic… strict. I wipe them out neatly according to the list, without dust and noise, and then deliver notices to Light and Gloom. In order that each, you know, reached where and whom it should. If I find out something — by myself, I’ll whistle, and only then I’ll mow down all the same. Such is work! Clear?” Aida said almost in a sober voice and left, after hitting the lintel with the scythe. The reception of house № 13 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka was deserted. “She likes you. Indeed, I understand that! See, she even let out a secret to you!” Julitta stated with knowledge of the matter. “Leave me alone!” Methodius snapped. Suddenly Ares burst out laughing. For the first time Methodius saw an almost human expression on his stern face almost carved from wood. “Here’s an old woman! She took us like children!” Ares said through the laughter. “How did she take us?” “Yes, she did! She came in order to wheedle out a keg. She got wind that Yaraat ran and Methodius is with us, and came for the honey wine. She knew that she’d conclude a transaction with us! Shrewd old hag, she considered everything! I love her for that!” Methodius with a flick brought down a broken-off piece of sealing wax from Ares’ desk. He had already completely pulled himself together. “Will there be work today? Magic, artefactology? Chopping with swords? Any kind of nonsense?” he asked. Ares gave him a penetrating look, “Tomorrow. Today the agents and Mamzelkina are enough for you. So go to the Well of Wisdom, take a look there, ask that they take you to your room. You should have a good sleep.” “I’ll not be able to live here? Lots of space here,” said Methodius. Ares shook his head, “I don’t think that it’s the best idea. At some point, you’ll understand why. Better to keep further from the residences of Gloom, even if you have connected your life with Gloom. And now go! Although… wait! Perhaps I may have the need to get in touch with you. Julitta, give him the book!” “Which one?” “You know which one. The Book of Chameleons.” Julitta ran off somewhere and returned with a worn booklet, on the cover of which was: G. Kaneluk. Do-it-yourself Repair of Household Appliances. Met leafed through it. Inside were diagrams and tables. “I’ll compulsorily read a little. I adore getting new knowledge,” hiding disappointment, Methodius politely said.
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“No need to read this book,” said Ares quietly. “And indeed the name on the cover especially means nothing. Each day it’ll be different, so don’t be too surprised. Only remember: you need the thirty-first page, the thirteenth line from the top. Open it from time to time. In case there is something urgent, the book itself will let you know. If you’re going somewhere for a long time, always take this book with you.” “Why?” Methodius asked. “Don’t you see,” said Ares, “I’ll be far from always next to you. And now and then I’ll have to get in touch with you urgently. Cell phones aren’t that classy. Zoomers of magicians — not a bad means, but too easy for our enemies to hear them. So, you have to turn to the aid of this book. It’s unique at least in that no one, besides you, me, and Julitta, knows the secret in it. But now open to the thirty-first page and read the thirteenth line.” Methodius found the thirty-first page and counted off thirteen lines from the top. “After the completion of the operation of extraction the door should open automatically in two minutes…” Methodius read aloud. “Fie, Signor Tomato! Who indeed reads with this sight? This way it’s possible to read heaven knows what! Deeply!” Ares winced. “I don’t know how!” Methodius said. “Try!” Ares said dryly. “Look more attentively… Don’t blink! Wait until tears come. So! And now blink!” prompting, Julitta whispered. Methodius blinked. Suddenly the letters trembled, they spread and… “There are no new communications,” he read. “Precisely!” Ares said. “None for the time being because there’s nothing for me to communicate with you! Nothing so far. But there will be — this I promise you.” Chapter 6 The Order of the Yellow Skull Methodius pushed open the door. The early Moscow evening accepted him into its damp embraces reeking of railroad linen not yet dried. The wind whistled some frivolous little motif at the wires. Manoeuvring between pedestrians, Methodius reached the high school. “I’m going to Glumovich!” he said to the tall guard strolling by the entrance gates. “He’s waiting for you?” the guard asked. A longhaired young fellow with a split front tooth little resembled a person, who would have an appointment with the omnipotent director of the most expensive private school in Moscow. Methodius already knew from Julitta that Glumovich was not any agent but simply one of the moronoids, who had handed over their own eidos to Gloom in exchange for fulfillment of some special desires. By agreement, his eidos should still be in the hunchback Ligul’s darc until the end of the year. Now Glumovich was being sly and dodging in order to postpone this moment at least for about ten more years. Certainly, he would hang onto Methodius with both hands. Not fully trusting the boy’s statement that his director was waiting for him, the guard brought Methodius to the office. Behind the door with glass inserts, someone’s face appeared white. It was Glumovich, who was agitated but was walking from the table to
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the door and vice versa. Fulfilling the duty of the author to describe all new heroes, I will say that Glumovich was tall, emaciated, and insinuating. Like a sick fox. On noticing Methodius, Glumovich rushed to him, but recollected and changed his steps. “You may go!” he said to the guard. The guard was slightly surprised; he left nevertheless. Methodius surmised that Glumovich was experiencing the utmost contradictory feelings towards him. On the one hand, he was the terrible director of the most pathosarousing high school in Russia, and Methodius was altogether only a new student bringing not a kopeck to the school. On the other hand — he was nothing but Glumovich, a moronoid having sold his eidos, and before him was Methodius Buslaev — the boy whom Gloom itself was looking to with hope. “How do you do… eh-eh… little friend! Here’s your trunk. The driver brought it. I hoped to see you still in the daytime. You were detained… eh-eh… over there, I think?” he greeted Methodius, continually jumping from servile muttering to the negligent speech of an important leader. “Yes,” said Methodius, contemplating Glumovich’s aura. It was porous and all in black spots. Methodius did not want to savour this energy. After thinking a little, Glumovich generously extended his moist skinny hand to Methodius. “Next time… eh-eh… little friend, try to come earlier and not skip classes. We have strict discipline and mandatory attendance in the school. You must spend the night in your room. Furthermore, in our high school there are rules, which all students are obligated to follow. Nine hundred and twelve rules in all. I’m sure you will learn them in the course of time. Furthermore, inside the school you will be obligated to wear a soccer shirt with the emblem of the high school and the number of your class. Agreed?” he said with a complacent intonation. Glumovich’s speech sounded smoothly like that of a guide. He must have repeated this to every new student. “A soccer shirt with numbers? The kind as if we’re prisoners? And does the window in the room open? What if I take it into my head to run down to Bald Mountain?” Methodius asked lazily. He heard about Bald Mountain from Julitta in passing, but concluded that in the given situation there would be no need for details. And in fact, Glumovich bit his tongue. Methodius smiled. After the crowds of agents and the brisk Aida Mamzelkina with her instrument of necro-work, Glumovich seemed like a small fry to him. No more than the seven of diamonds in the card deck of life. “Come, I’ll show you your room,” continued Glumovich. “You won’t be living alone. Single rooms for students contradict the rules of our high school. Rule number eightythree. Your roommate will be Vova Skunso. Remember: Skunso. Stress to the last syllable.” “He’s Italian?” Methodius asked. “No. Nationality differences don’t exist for us. Under the threat of expulsion, we even must never say the word Russian. Only citizen of Russia. Rule number three… The boy is very good, very informed. You will obtain enormous pleasure from contact with him,” Glumovich assured him. “Really? Then I can’t wait to see this Vova Skunso!” Methodius insolently stated. Reliable wit suggested to him that indeed they would not kick him out of this high school, even if he managed to break all nine hundred and twelve rules. In any case, for the time being the director would have some illusions at his expense.
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Glumovich looked at Methodius with anxiety. Then he turned and went ahead, showing the way. They went up to the second floor. The staircase was beautiful, with semicircular windows, but Methodius did not like the railing. They concluded with wooden figures. You take it into your head to slide down — and the finale is clear. At best, a dozen splinters. At worst — also a dozen! — even fractures. Moderately soft runners covered the steps. The corridors were moderately wide. The ceiling was moderately high. In general, “moderation” was the central idea, around which revolved the life of the high school Well of Wisdom. Numerous photographs of past graduated students hung on the walls. The complete name of the happy fellow and the important post, which the student managed to occupy, were obligatorily shown on a card under each photograph. “We graduate into adult life the well-prepared. All our students reach significant heights! Here, take a look: Maxim Karyabin. Head of the State Bank’s credit card division. And here’s Boris Vilkin — our pride! Last year’s Nobel Prize winner for his contribution to the development of cosmetics and make-up for disguise,” Glumovich informed him. “What, was he actually so pimply?” Methodius asked, examining the photograph with a defeatist attitude. “Phew! What, do you see negative sides in everything?” Glumovich could not refrain. “I learned this from Eddy. He says: either you are dissatisfied with life, or it will be dissatisfied with you. I personally think that acridity — it’s this predisposed complication of the brain that I have,” stated Methodius. “And here’s your room! Very convenient!” Glumovich said, stopping at the door with the number “five” and knocked on it. The door opened. Met saw a sufficiently large room divided into two parts by a long cabinet. Red boxer gloves were hanging down from the ceiling. A flaxen-haired adolescent of about thirteen, pink and white, with light eyebrows and short crew-cut, was strolling around the room and talking on a cell phone. He was taller than Methodius, wider in the shoulders, and generally larger. “Get acquainted, Vova! This is Methodius Buslaev, your new roommate,” said Glumovich. “I’ll call you back later…” said the adolescent negligently into the phone. “Hello, hello, newbie! I’m Vladimir Skunso. Have you heard of the presidential envoy Skunso? I’m his son…” Methodius looked sideways at Glumovich, as if asking whether there existed some rules forbidding bragging, but Glumovich discreetly kept mum. Obviously, such a rule did not exist. “I sympathize!” Methodius said, after deciding to put Skunso in his place. It was better to do this immediately right there and then. Skunso chewed his lips, attempting to digest the information. But, not having really digested it, he said, “Papa now has all kinds of important transfers in the service. No matter, after his transfer I’ll dump this wretched high school. Only not to England, it’s indeed painfully strict there. But then in France, they say, it’s not too bad,” he stated, not batting an eye at the presence of the director. After hearing his educational institution described as wretched, Glumovich sniffed in offence, but as a highly experienced leader, pretended he was deaf. “And I don’t like France. Frogs for breakfast is nothing, it’s possible to endure, but when they give you the same frogs not just for breakfast but for dinner, moreover without
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ketchup, it’s indeed too much…,” stated Methodius. It was his style. He always talked in such a way that it could not be understood whether he was speaking seriously or joking. Skunso looked at Methodius with suspicion, not knowing whether to believe him or not. It was evident that he was hastily considering who was before him. He was dressed indifferently, but then the director himself brought him. And even on the whole, can you really figure someone out now according to the clothing? “Only salesmen of Chinese screwdrivers wear good suits now! Seven in one for the price of two for five!” Eddy Khavron loved to say repeatedly the same quote all the time. “And who’s your father?” Skunso carefully asked. “A cosmonaut. He was smoking inside the space suit during space walk, and his oxygen cylinders exploded,” answered Methodius. Skunso looked at him distrustfully. Methodius perceived that he was being x-rayed, weighed, and considered unfit, being put down in a classification somewhere between an amoeba and a microorganism of a shoe. “Remember, you said I’ll get enormous pleasure from contact with my roommate?” Methodius asked Glumovich. “Yes.” “Well. I don’t.” “Me neither!” Skunso said. “Boys! Stop! I beg you! Shake hands! This is so miraculous, so nice, so promising!” Glumovich said with sugary enthusiasm. Methodius and Vova Skunso at once hid their hands behind their backs. Clever Glumovich decided that it was a convenient moment to make his escape. “Boys, I’m so glad that you found each other! Happy entry into adult life!” he briskly cooed and disappeared. In that very second the last friendliness of Vova Skunso evaporated. He approached Methodius and poked a finger into his chest. “So, well… If you want to remain here and not to have problems, learn several rules. First: I’m not Vova to you!” “Then who are you?” “Vovva! Two v’s. From now on, you’ll call me that. Notice the difference?” Skunso edifyingly said. “Vaguely. What, you’re Vovva according to your birth certificate?” Methodius was interested. “According to my birth certificate I’m Vladimir. But for you — personally for you — Vovva! Got it?” “Got it. Vovva, so Vovva. Let a psychiatrist investigate further. What other rules are there?” Met said in mockery. “You’ll not get under my feet and not go to my half of the room. Do you see the cabinet? Draw a mental line from it to the door. Done? And now draw it in reverse — to remember better! Everything that’s on my side from the cabinet — is mine.” “And if I drop something and it rolls to your side? The boots over there?” Methodius asked. “You really have round things that roll? Then they’re my trophies. You won’t get them back. Walk barefoot… Now further. Do you have many things?” “This trunk here.” “So, a few. Half of the shelves for you will be too much. I’ll give the two end ones to you.”
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“Well, definitely not. I’ll take exactly half, even if I have to gather empty bottles on the street in order to put something on them,” decisively stated Methodius. He already reckoned that he could totally feel at home here. After all, the room, which he shared together with Zozo and her brother, was approximately the same size, and it was indeed much more cluttered. They were quiet. Then Methodius asked, “Do you have girls here?” “We have classes together. But they live separately, in the right wing,” unwillingly said Vovva Skunso. Someone knocked on the window. Vovva came alive, jerked back the curtains and threw open the window. Methodius saw that on the wide cornice of the second floor was a well-fed curly adolescent in a red soccer shirt with the emblem of the school. “Here you gave birth to a crocodile With your own fate. Let them burn polycandelon in the skies, Darkness — in the grave, (Poem of V. Solovyov.)” He said loudly and, moving aside the flowerpots with his stomach, crawled into the room. “Pasha Sushkin. Son of the minister of culture and gymnastics,” Vovva let drop in an off-hand manner. It was clearly read in his voice that the minister of culture and gymnastics was not his equal. Pasha Sushkin stared at Methodius. “Now who is this? Who’s he?” Pasha asked. “My papa is a banker. While parking, he accidentally smashed into the district militia officer Tavrii and is hiding in order not to pay for repairs!” Methodius said in a mocking tone. “A-a-ah!” Pasha Sushkin drawled in understanding and alternately winked with both eyes. “Complication of idiocy in an inflated form! If someone asks me again who my father is, I’ll do him harm!” Methodius thought. “I know what you’re thinking!” Pasha said shrewdly. Methodius was slightly worried. Last time he took similar statements too seriously. “What?” he asked. “You’re thinking that you’re lucky to be in our company. In mine and Skunso’s.” “I’m in seventh heaven. I’ll now take a power saw and saw you into memorable souvenirs,” said Methodius. “My friend, apply the brakes to your humorous attempts! Your monotonic humour casts a depressive boredom over me,” Sushkin said with disgust. He clearly hoped to nail Methodius to the fence with this phrase. But it did not work here. “From the point of view of commonplace erudition, not every human individual is capable of truly reacting to all tendencies of potential action,” coolly answered Methodius. Zozo taught him this phrase. “Not important what it means, but it knocks fools healthily down a peg! The main thing is to say it without any strain like something you understand. Somehow with this phrase I put a puffed-up physicist down lower than any chemist,” she declared.
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Pasha Sushkin, who had nothing suitable ready for the occasion, was lost, exchanged glances with Skunso, and went away with him behind the cabinet. Sushkin disturbing the line did not trouble Skunso. “And where is the preventive shot on border crossing?” Met asked. Sushkin and Skunso pretended demonstratively that they heard nothing. “As always?” Methodius heard the voice of Sushkin, “Aha. Run to Zaplevaev and Andrukha Bortov. And I to Drell. Tell them there that…” Vovva Skunso looked around at Methodius and lowered his voice. Now Methodius heard only “Shu-shu-shush.” “Understood?” Skunso asked near the end. “No problem!” Pasha Sushkin answered and left the room. This time by way of mastering the new experience of using the door. “Hey! You would put on Achilles’ helmet, A copper helmet on a copper forehead, It was heavy, and the body is sickly: You will fall under it,” His voice reached them from the corridor. A couple of minutes later Vovva Skunso also left for somewhere. Methodius shrugged his shoulders. He did not like this foolish mysteriousness at all. On the other hand, he did not want to pay great attention to these halfwits of blue blood. He began to put away his things. There were few of them. Jeans, sweater, toothbrush. All this would be accommodated perfectly even on one shelf, but in order that Skunso would not become presumptuous, Methodius tried to do it such that his things would occupy as much space as possible. He had already intended to kick the trunk under the bed when suddenly he sensed the presence of the book under the belt of his pants, where he had shoved it two hours earlier. Met pulled it out. Written on the cover was A. Shmakov-Dyavkin. How to work out cosines. “What’s this?” Methodius thought, when suddenly he understood that this was Ares’ Book of Chameleons, which had changed its appearance again. He opened the thirty-first page and found the thirteenth line from the top. This time the tuning to deep sight happened almost instantly. The letters obediently misted and delivered: This night you will find out many new things about yourself. Ares. Methodius wanted to close the book, but first he mechanically leafed through it. His sight, not having time to return to normal, moronoid sight, now saw strange things. On those dull pages, where very recently A. Shmakov-Dyavkin inoffensively discussed cosine, dashingly dealt with sine, and nicely picking his teeth with tangent, bloody runes were scattered and ominous letters were jumping. On the last page, Methodius discovered a table of contents: BRIEF GUIDE FOR A GUARD OF GLOOM Code of guards of Gloom 3 History of guards of Gloom for millennia. Dates, epoch, milestones Guards of Light and principles of their elimination 69 Recruitment of magic armies 71
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Basis of necro-magic 86 Instruction on the awakening of corpses 95 Freezing, storage, and reanimation of hanged men under the conditions of an average groove 131 Theories and practice of general zombification 143 Operating principles with agents and succubae 153 Methods of enlisting gnomes, house-spirits, wood-goblins, and others, with instructions for objects serving as valuables for each type of magic people 157 Thirty-two taboos of Madame Snow White 158 Standard contract for the expropriation of property rights to an eidos 160 Stupor and other methods of fashionable meditation 164 An artefact like it is not 171 A short list of the artefacts of Light and Gloom, including those found in a search since 1064 198 Method of magic jab — means of determining the true value of an artefact 212 Tables of exchange of artefacts and eide without taking into account Gloom’s commission and taxes 222 Contemplation of the navel as the method of demonstration of magical superiority 241 1665 means of magic killing with illustrations and diagrams 262 Basic principles of care of darc 366 Legend about sarcophagus 372 Methodius looked around in alarm. After the terrible dream, any reference to the word “sarcophagus” threw him into a cold sweat. After a short fight with himself, he attempted to open to page 372 in order to find out something of interest on sarcophagus, but the book unexpectedly became obstinate: Access to inquired information is limited! To obtain access touch the binding of the book with a personal darc. “Darc? It’s in for repairs!” Methodius awkwardly lied. The book must have known how to understand speech, because in the following instant it already angrily slammed shut, almost pinching Methodius’ fingers, and on the cover flared up the letters: WITHOUT A PERSONAL DARC YOU CAN: Be connected to the channel Beyond Gloom Broadcasting (except for paid channels 600 to 669). Contact the Chancellery of Gloom and the head of the Chancellery Ligul the Hunchback personally. Obtain free information from the senior phantom in the city crematory. For a while, Methodius was determining his desires, after which he concluded that for the time being he was not drawn to contacting the Chancellery or obtaining free information in the crematory. However, it would be interesting to link to the channel Beyond Gloom Broadcasting. He stretched out his hand and traced with his finger along
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the line. The book was opened somewhere in the middle, after showing flat numbers of sine and cosine. Methodius understood that he had accidentally backslid to moronoid sight, and, waiting until his sight again grew misty, he blinked. Immediately the sines and cosines crawled away like frightened cockroaches. Methodius saw pleats of dark curtains, across from which sat a stern man with a sallow face and sagging lips. He had grass and loamy soil sticking to his hair. His heavy eyelids, like that of a bull, were lowered. The voice sounded low, hoarse, and terrible, as if dirt was blocking the throat. “On the air is Venya Vii and his daily analytical program Putrid Eye. Ack! Dirt blocking the throat, please excuse me… “This week marked a series of failures for the guards of Light. Announcements of the program: night attack on a guard of Light ferrying to the Garden of Eden eide once recaptured from guards of Gloom. In an honest battle, a guard of Light has been heavily injured by three daggers into the back. The hunchback Ligul adds seven new eide into his darc. The squadron of guards of Light sent to intercept was late — Ligul had hidden in Gloom. Other news: theft of an artefact of Light — the famous marble horn of Minotaur. Daphne, an assistant junior guard suspected of the theft, vanished from the Garden of Eden in the same night. Not such bad staff, eh? Continuous degeneration of degrades. That is, the degradation of degenerates… Overall, I hope you understood what I wanted to say, because I myself did not understand it. Ack-ack… “And finally, the sensation: the brave boy Methodius Buslaev is with us! He will go through training in one of the residences of Gloom in the territory of the moronoid world. The swordsman Ares, having recently returned from exile, and his ward Julitta refused to report to us any further news about Buslaev, his first successes and failures. Moreover, Ares threatened to cut off the nose of our special correspondent Psoi Zabodallo. If this happened, it would already be the third attempt on the nose of our correspondent in the given calendar year…” Venya Vii smiled mysteriously with teeth soiled by dirt. “And finally, dessert. At the end of the program, on numerous requests from the audience, I will have my eyelids raised. I greatly hope that Nagiana Pripyatskaya, insolent anchor from Bald Mountain, will be on screen at this moment. I will stand no competition on the air, like her brisk plagiaristic broadcasts… Now, more details about these and other events. Let us examine them, so to speak, in the microscope of our telescope.” Instead of the promised details, Vii suddenly became silent, lowered his head, and began to snore. He was clearly not one of those anchors, who, chattering, shoot out words as if they are firing two machine guns at once. The pause was dragging on until it became unseemly. After about two minutes from behind the curtain appeared a little gypsy witch in a very short skirt and, smiling charmingly to the audience, she shook Vii out of a slumber. “I beg forgiveness. A small technical pause…” said Vii hoarsely. “Baby Daphne, earlier having become famous for being present at scandals in the Garden of Eden, and also for dark feathers on her wings, had sunk to stealing the marble horn of Minotaur. I will remind you that this artefact possesses a unique effect. Any essence touched by the horn transforms into an icy chunk for half a year. No magic protection can rescue it, including universal incantation and total superstition. The mentioned magic does not extend to the next owner of the horn. Until now, it is incomprehensible how Daphne,
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having access only to First Heaven, was able to steal the horn stored in Third. It is possible that she used the rare magic of re-identification or exchange of essences. Gloom is following with interest the further course of events. In turn, I am obliged to keep you posted on the course of this whole artistic delirium.” Vii yawned, demonstrating ground-off yellow teeth to the audience. “And now the promised dessert! Assistants, raise my eyelids! Music!” he ordered. The curtains moved apart. Two very young witches put bandages on Vii’s eyelids and pulled them clear over his eyes. The succubae orchestra, famous in the entire Beyond world for its musicality and humanitarian gifts, started to rumble. The image floated somewhere to the side, trembled twice, and faded. Vii’s somewhat crooked legs flickered in the last frame. The music faded, having been interrupted sporadically as if the succubae were mowed down by dense machine-gun fire. Methodius surmised that the cinematographer of Beyond Gloom Broadcasting, seeing Vii’s eyes for the first time, fainted, and, having crashed down together with the camera, saved the lives of thousands of spectators. Those in the studio were less lucky. Methodius slammed shut the book. He perceived that it was enough impressions for him today. “Guards of Light, guards of Gloom, darc, eide... What have I gotten into?” he muttered. Methodius turned off the light and slid under the blanket. Vovva Skunso had not yet returned, although it was already nearly eleven o’clock. “Not so bad top brass! Just let this snake try to turn on the light when he returns,” thought Methodius, falling asleep. He hoped that he would not dream of the sarcophagus today. However, after the nice Vii with his grave humour it would be much harder to surprise him. The awakening of Methodius was not among the most pleasant. Someone poured a glass of icy water over his head. He pulled off the blanket and sat up with a jerk. Light simultaneously flared up. There were five more besides him in the room. Each had over his head a paper bag with slits for eyes. Everyone was in a long white cloak, clearly a sheet some time earlier. A stamp of the school remained on one of the cloaks. Each held a burning candle. “Get up, worthless! The head of the Order of the Yellow Skull wants to see you!” a voice thundered. Methodius was certain he was hearing it for the first time. It was precisely neither Skunso nor Pasha Sushkin. “Buy yourself a ticket to the crematory!” Methodius snapped. The joke was not appreciated. They unceremoniously grabbed and dragged him along the corridor. Methodius resisted as much as he could. He punched a fist rather well directly into the centre of a paper bag over one head. Into the stomach of another, he successfully kicked with a bare foot. His gymnastic successes ended with this. The wise law of nature says that when it is one against five, justice most often takes a rest. Methodius did not understand why he did not call for help. He must have considered this beneath his dignity. They pushed Methodius into some room. He saw several chairs set up beside each other with small spaces between. On each chair were a burning candle and a boot. The chair on the end was resting against a cabinet. The door of the cabinet was slightly open. Methodius surmised that someone was hiding inside. Most probably the crafty head of the Order of the Skull. They shoved a disgustingly reeking sock into Methodius’ nose. It was possible to decide that it had been worn specially for about two weeks in expectation, until
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Methodius appeared in the school. “You must pass the rite of introduction to the head of the Order! You will take this sock with your teeth! Is that clear? You will climb through in turn under all the chairs and kiss each boot once.” “And is it possible to do it twice?” Methodius asked. He had decided that he would sooner hang himself than do this. The door of the cabinet creaked. “Don’t be smart! Do everything, lively!” a voice ordered. It sounded muffled; clearly they tried to change it. “You do it! Same with the Order of the Skull! Nitwits with fast food bags over the head!” Methodius said and, rushing, gave a well-aimed kick to the door of the cabinet. The head of the Order of the Yellow Skull squeaked. The door pinched his finger. Someone’s fist gave a sharp blow to Methodius’ cheekbone. He staggered. They piled on top of Methodius and forced him against the floor. They got him down such that he could only move his eyes. They began to shove the sock into his mouth. “Again I repeat! You will take the sock with your teeth and crawl under the chairs,” someone hissed, twisting his arm up almost to the back of his head. The pain in the twisted arm acted strangely on Methodius. He stopped trying to break away. A sudden glass-like clarity began in his consciousness. It is the same at sea sometimes — the waves calm down and you will suddenly see the bottom, even at a great depth. He understood that in all twelve years of his life he had been gliding over the surface like a water measurer, not knowing the depth under him. He did not know the ocean of his strength. “You are the navel of the Earth, the hope of Gloom, the lord of a small universe! You are Methodius Buslaev! You can do more than anyone!” he heard the voice of Ares so clearly, as if the Baron of Gloom was with him in the room. Methodius looked at the fire. The flames of all the candles stretched to him. He perceived how he drew the fire with his sight. He drank it with greediness and lit up his power. The voices of the “yellow skulls” broke through to him like through a pillow. Methodius no longer heard them, but even if he did, then everything they were saying was unimportant. He was both in and outside his body. He grew and saw simultaneously the room, the floor, the entire building of the school, and even part of the roof of the former rental-housing unit on Dmitrovka 13. One of the skulls, that same one who was unsuccessfully shoving the sock into Methodius’ lips and nose, decided to use other tactics. Firmly grasping Methodius by the hair, he blocked up his nostrils. Methodius felt that he was choking. The dirty sock was pressed into his lips. “Open your mouth, clumsy! All the same, I’ll force it! Tasty sockie, nice sockie! Say ‘Arf! Arf!’ ” the “skull” said almost tenderly. “What should I do?” Methodius thought, as if asking someone. “And is it worthwhile to do something? Or has the sock already become cold steel?” the calm voice of Ares asked. The walls parted. Methodius clearly saw that his chief was sitting in his office, with his feet on the table, and smiling mysteriously. “I can’t deal with them!” Methodius shouted mentally. “You can TOO! Use the fire, which you absorbed! It’s in you! Indeed!” “I… can’t!” “Perhaps I’m to summon another division of Gloom? Fight them yourself! They’re piglets against you! Fight or… however, why don’t you chew the sock? I don’t think that it’s poisoned.”
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“Never!” Methodius thought with hatred. His consciousness darkened. Choking, he accomplished what he would never do in his normal state. Still unsure — but gaining strength with each instant — Methodius mentally rolled up the fire into tight little lumps, strengthened them with his own power, and threw the flame. The “skulls” began to howl. It seemed to them that they saw two narrow fiery jets, drawing lines in the room with redhot filaments. The most terrible thing was that the jets came out not even from Methodius’ mouth but from his eyes, emerald and sombre. The paper bag on the head of the “skull” holding him flared up. The “skull” tore it away it and dropped it, burning his hands. Buslaev saw swollen frightened eyes and smoking hair. An unknown face distorted by fear. Methodius closed his eyes tightly, sensing that it was the only way to extinguish the fire. Shutting his eyes — the external eyes — so that together with them he would shut out those present. “Zaplevaev is burning! I cannot hold his arm! Kick this snake, Drell!” Pasha Sushkin began to yell. In horror, he had not considered what was happening and where the flame was from. Methodius opened his eyes and again threw the flame. Two red-hot tongues instantly caught the flared-up tulle curtains and rested on the cabinet. Suddenly Methodius understood that he no longer needed the candles in order to summon flame — the fire was inside him. The “skulls” let go of him, scattering in different directions, beginning to crawl into cracks, rushing to the window and the door. The room was filling with smoke. Buslaev slowly rose, groping the wall. He swayed. All his muscles were hurting. However, his thirst for vengeance had not yet been quenched. All the time Methodius was looking and looking at the cabinet, until the finish began to melt and reek. Until the decorative key began to flow with the heated metal. The head of the Order began to yell terribly, choking with smoke and surrendering. Only then did Methodius again close his eyes tightly. “Skuns! Come out!” he ordered. The door of the cabinet opened, and Vovva Skunso did not even walk but tumbled out from there. Coughing, he fell onto his knees. The face of a menacing Vovva was painted in red and dark-blue strips that he himself had probably also devised for strengthening the effect. Only now, this appeared absurd. Methodius squatted down and, after finding himself on the same level with him, looked into his eyes. He did not know what he had in his pupils, but Skunso began to wheeze in horror. “Do you hear me?” “He-ea-a...” “If you’re having trouble with speech, nod!” Methodius said in understanding. Skunso convulsively pulled his head, which probably indicated a nod. “Do you want me to forget everything and again become the nice fluffy and affectionate Methodius?” An assimilated Vovva began to nod like an ugly Chinese figurine. “Then take the sock in your teeth, climb under the chairs and so on according to the list! Only don’t slobber too passionately over the boots. Leave something for Pasha Sushkin. It’s his turn after you,” ordered Methodius. Chapter 7 The Nicest Monster
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Sunset was flowing like raspberry syrup. Edward Khavron was standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, rubbing his ears with cologne, and with stoic heroism pulling hair out of his nostrils. The champion of soup bowls and prince of over-cooked chops was dreamy and fine like sleep on a summer night. His sister Zozo was standing beside him, using her thigh pushing Eddy away from the sink, and nervously gargling with water and iodine. After the morning run, she felt worn out morally and physically. The essayist Basevich literally put her through the wringer with his healthy way of life. The last time he phoned an hour ago, for about fifteen minutes he was acting thoughtlessly, asking whether she was meditating today in the daytime. When he finally hung up, Zozo was shaking and feeling strange. She wanted to grab the phone and hit it against the wall. All her chakras were gulping negative energy like the Kingston valves of a sinking battleship taking in ocean water. Zozo clearly was not in harmony and unity with the surrounding world. “Phew!” Zozo said, spitting water out into the sink. “I’m terribly concerned about Methodius! How is he there in the new school? Do the other kiddies treat him badly?” Eddy Khavron laughed aloud, “Kiddies? You still say: babies! And there a third can be hung, the other third can be shot, and the remaining jailed for life! I know these papa’s boys! They are eternally soiling the loos in our restaurant! As if you send porters with them!” “I worry about Methodius! What if they treat him badly there? He’s so complex, so hard to understand!” Zozo compassionately said. She, like a true woman, idealized her own son and related sceptically to the children of all other women. “He’ll adapt!” Edward Khavron confidently stated and with a powerful push of his pelvis drove his sister away from the sink. “There are two laws, which all men of the world yield to. The law of the fist and the law of an iron nature. Without the first it’s still possible to manage here and there, though complicated, but without the second indeed not at all. Methodius is entirely normal with that and other things. But, remember, if your young brave sticks his paw into my wallet ever again — I’ll finish him off like Taras Bulba with his own little Bulba!” Zozo Buslaeva pensively scratched her nose and was a little comforted. “You do think so, Eddy? Well, okay! Their director Mikhail Borisovich is simply a gem. I’ll even rub him with pickle juice and kiss him all over! To take our boy free of charge into this expensive school! And there each teacher is a professor and all janitors are candidates of science!” “Whoa-whoa, and indeed I’m about that. Rather strange somehow. Must punch a hole through your Aryan in a militia base. This disinterested love for children is suspicious to me,” said the cynical Khavron. The telephone began to ring persistently in the room. “Oh no!” Zozo groaned. “Only not this! Eddy, you answer! If this Basevich asks whether I rinsed my throat, tell him I died.” Eddy shrugged his shoulders and picked up the phone. He adored scaring the suitors of Zozo. “Zoe! She choked and went to the morgue… I was so distressed that I was a halfhour late for work…,” he said offhandedly. “What? Whom do you want? And he’s also not here… He doesn’t live here now. He’s in a boarding school for the intellectually gifted… I don’t know how much. For the time being, it’ll not be intellectually
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presented… No harm done! And same to you!” Eddy turned off the phone and was still, pensively nipping the antenna of the cell phone. “Who’s this? Basevich?” Zozo shouted from the bathroom. “It’s not Basevich. It’s some Irka, asked for Methodius. Her voice began to tremble when I told her that Methodius is not here. Clients stole two silver spoons from us and I paid for them!” Puckering his forehead, Eddy said. “And how did Irka treat my having choked to death?” Zozo jealously asked. “Reasonably. She sympathized a little.” “Typical daughter-in-law,” Zozo sighed. She became sad. She lay on the sofa, put her hands together on her stomach, and began to imagine herself as unhappy, deserted, and forgotten. A little tear, soon appearing in the corner of Zozo’s right eye, did not prevent her a bit from examining in a business-like manner the cracks in the plaster on the ceiling and estimating how to start the greedy Eddy on repairs. Eddy Khavron arrayed himself in restaurant armour and was off, in the elevator whistling an annoying fresh hit tune, the words of which he had not memorized, but then the music was sweet as syrup and immersed the brain in liquid jam. After pushing open the entrance door, Eddy went out into the courtyard and discontentedly sneezed. The first week of May wound an allergic slipknot around his neck. Eddy was about to direct his steps to the shuttle bus, when suddenly a girl, with a little gold ring in her lower lip, efficiently barred his way. A frightening cat with a sullen snout sat on her shoulder, a scarf wrapped around its body. The scarf swelled by strange means, forming on its shoulders a kind of hump of obscure origin. “Hello!” the girl said. “Goodbye, youngster!” Eddy said. He took a step to the right, intending to go around her, but the girl took a step to the same side, not letting him through. Khavron was greatly astonished and mechanically wanted to be rude, but instead nervously licked his lips. It seemed to him that he saw over the girl’s head something like a shining circle. Several instants later, he understood that this was simply the light of the lamp, across from which the girl was standing. But the desire to behave boorishly had disappeared for some strange reason. “Hello!” Eddy said. “Here you see! Even pleasant to be polite! And now quickly think about Methodius!” the girl ordered. “Again about Methodius? I don’t intend to think about anyone! Including also Metho…” Khavron started. Suddenly he stopped and involuntarily looked around. It seemed to him that someone was blowing softly from behind into his hair. “Smart fellow! Quite enough. You don’t have to think more! Leave your little secret for the poor!” the girl allowed generously. The hideous cat jumped down and, meowing, began to rub against Eddy’s legs. Khavron’s mood sharply deteriorated. The cook at Ladyfingers seemed to him an incorrigible cad, the clients were utter fools, his own life in the can, and, in general, he wanted to cry. “Depressiac, leave the man alone!” the girl said angrily. The cat licked its paw and unwillingly went away. “Well, that’s it! Wipe your eyes! Depressiac already left. And now think where Methodius is!” again, the girl demanded.
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“Kiddo, what do you want from me? I don’t intend to think where Me…” having stopped sobbing, Khavron started. The girl interrupted him with an affirmative nod. This time the sensation of tickling in Khavron’s hair was quite fleeting. “Smart fellow, it’s all I wanted to find out! When the shuttle door slams shut, you will forget everything. Go!” the girl ordered and, not looking back at all, was hidden by the corner of the building. Eddy blinked perplexedly and headed for the road. Along the way he looked around two or three times. The mysterious cat was about to set off after him, but en route slowed down, arched its back, and directed its steps to a sheepdog, which was tearing away from the leash in the hand of the police captain Klepalov, living in the same building as Eddy. “Hey, remove your cat! This is a special duty dog! It’ll tear it apart!” Klepalov yelled. “Depressiac, don’t offend the doggie! It’s at work!” the girl said. She picked up the cat and was hidden by the corner of the building. The shuttle stopped. Grabbing some people’s elbows, Khavron elbowed his way into a vacant spot. The door slammed. The back of the passenger sitting in front for an instant became double before Eddy’s eyes, and then was joined together again. Khavron again sneezed, mentally scolding his allergy. He suddenly understood that he could not remember how he turned out to be in the shuttle. “Buddy, do you intend to pay?” the driver asked. “I still haven’t paid?” Eddy asked absent-mindedly. “No.” “Then I intend to gradually. Very gradually,” Khavron sighed. *** Daph, by that time sitting on one of the nearest roofs, was contented. She had clarified where to search for Methodius and even a mass of interesting details. Moreover, she did this so that the guards of Gloom suspected nothing. The idea of making use of the consciousness of Eddy Khavron was very successful. It was unlikely that the contents of his head would interest someone else. But even if they did, she did not leave a trace. Depressiac, having rolled along the roof for a long time, finally tore away the scarf, put on in order not to shock moronoids too much, and freed its leathery wings. “Ah, pity I cannot do some flying!” Daph thought despondently. But there could not be exceptions here. Flights in the world of moronoids were allowed only in extreme cases. This rule did not extend to Depressiac, especially as its wings, in contrast to Daph’s, were a part of it that could not dematerialize. The past hours and days turned out to be dreadfully complicated for Daph. After several days of disgrace in the Garden of Eden and having cut out the inscription I was here, but who read, pig! on the bark of the tree of knowledge, even without that slightly soiled reputation she finally became a social outcast. Considerable guards turned away on meeting her, and sharp house-spirits winked suggestively and struck gnomes without any embarrassment in the presence of Daph. Same as the spying gnomes sneaking into territories of others, they darted near her feet with doubled impudence. A kick strengthened with the incantation of reactive ejection now and then fell intermittently from Daph onto some heedless ones.
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However, the most characteristic in this story was that what she did provided the present Daph pleasure. Dark feathers on her wings became increasingly more, but she had decided to fly past the rock griffins no longer, especially after the incident when one of the griffins came alive. Guard General Troil no longer summoned her. But once in the morning, after waking, Daph discovered something foreign under her cheek. This was a parchment tied up with a delicate bright ribbon. For a while, Daph examined the odd knot and could not grasp from what end to approach it. She reached for the scissors, but she had hardly touched the ribbon with them when it untied by itself and like a living silvery snake slid under the bed. There were only two lines of old-fashioned letters on the parchment. The letters pressed close to one another and appeared sleek and quiet like intimidated students. Daph was even slightly astonished that Troil could have this handwriting. However, it seemed without a doubt that the letter was from Troil. Below shone the Light seal, which could not be counterfeited. “Tonight. The marble horn of Minotaur — the only artefact, which will allow you to leave Eden unnoticed. Third Heaven. Depository of artefacts next to my office. Use Hrunelon’s rune. In the third hour after midnight go to any place of Eden’s wall far from the guarded gates and touch it with the horn. The formed passage will be sufficient to slip through,” read Daphne. Daph rushed to the Book of White Guards — the reference manual for all guards of Light. This was a slender little brochure, no more than forty pages at first glance; however, the longer you read it, the thicker it became. Some rare ones managed to read five hundred pages in a day and in ten years hardly reached the middle. However, it could be that they artistically exaggerated, since artistic exaggeration is characteristic of all born under the sun. Leafing through the subject index, Daph found a reference to Hrunelon’s rune: Hrunelon’s rune (see Hrunelon) is considered one of the most dangerous black magic runes. Draw it with blood from the ring finger of the right hand on a gravestone of white marble, on condition that in the last hundred years not one crow has sat down on the gravestone. It allows a single magic penetration into any guarded place, including Hades, the Garden of Eden, and Third Heaven, and return. The use in combination with the maglody of invisibility and the marking of the rune of eluding appearance on a foot permits one to remain unnoticed to guards. SIDE EFFECTS. It can cause short-term blackout of consciousness and other unexpected behaviour. FORBIDDEN FOR USE BY GUARDS OF LIGHT UNDER THREAT OF EXPULSION FROM EDEN. “In short, blows the cover… You won’t frighten me with these. My cover is already in free fall,” decided Daph. After re-reading the entry in the book, she noticed that the words “Hrunelon,” “maglody of invisibility,” and “rune of eluding appearance” were emphasized. “Aha!” Daph was delighted and, after understanding what this indicated, she found in the Book of White Guards the information about Hrunelon.
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Hrunelon — twelfth duke of Gloom, practitioner of black magic. Killed by the guard of Light Philaretos in the beginning of 2000 B.C. In the section Maglody of Invisibility Daphne discovered the notes, which she only just managed to understand. “If I train for an hour or so, possible to play it quite properly,” she thought, after estimating that there were not that many notes. The “rune of eluding appearance” worried Daphne much more. The figure of this rune, similar to a gnarled tree trunk, was running for a long time at first along the pages of the book, fully living up to its name, and only near the end, forced against the index, allowed Daphne to examine it. The rune of eluding appearance. First used by the French magician Cherchez La Femme for the flight from Hades in 375 A.D. Draw on the sole of the left foot (near the heel) with the juice squeezed out of a fig at midnight. Visually the appearance of the magician using the rune changes sixty times per minute, allowing him to make a fool of even that keen-sighted guard, who is capable of spotting the invisible. SIDE EFFECTS. Capable of causing vertigo and temporary loss of memory, especially during simultaneous application with other magic means. WARNING. To avoid the loss of one’s own appearance it is necessary to erase the rune no later than an hour from the moment of putting it on. Furthermore, try not to lose anything. The action of the rune does not extend to lost (aloof) objects belonging to you. Just in case Daph still looked in the book about the magician La Femme, but the article about him turned out to be quite brief. It only informed that the magician mentioned above was seized in Hades after the unsuccessful theft of Cerberus’ magical caries, escaped using the famous rune, and in a couple of years was captured again in the Garden of Eden for an attempt at the theft of the fruits of immortality. During the detention by golden-wing guards he had time to nibble on a fruit and, taking into account the acquired immortality, he was kept under house arrest for a thousand years; however, he ran off after six months, using jumping socks and enticing scarves tied together while in captivity. The further fate of La Femme was unknown. Daph’s love of reading vanished with this. She sighed and, after taking the Book of White Guards with her, set off to search for the white marble gravestone. If something was bothering her at the given moment, then it was the need to pierce her finger deeply. She did not like blood donation in such forms. *** That same night Daph broke into the depository of artefacts next to Troil’s office and stole the horn. Silence met her in Troil’s office, which she sneaked past crouched down. The door was open slightly. Beside it, wings spread out, lay a strangely motionless peacock. However, Daph was in too much of a hurry and too scared of meeting a guard to pay attention to this. It was already the third hour, when she finally left the House of the Highest Light. After speeding on her wings over the Garden of Eden quietly dozing in the embrace of the warm night, she flew up to the wall. The wall was indeed not too high, it was simply
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more a rock fence of about two metres in height, but Daph knew that if she tried to fly over it now without a pass, the wall would grow to the sky and would not let her through. The guarding magic of the wall was as ancient as Eden itself. And very reliable. For almost half an hour Daph searched for a suitable crack within the wall, one in which the horn could go, and nearly let the time slip past. And here, when not more than ten minutes were left till the end of the period, she found a suitable crack, which almost half of the horn of Minotaur went into, after touching the wall with the part where strange patterns began. The horn flared up in the same instant, and a small part of the wall lit up with a green radiance, forming a semicircular trapdoor, where it was just barely possible to squeeze through crouched down. Daph did not see what was created on the other side. Depressiac, forced against Daph’s leg, started to hiss. It did not like the horn at all. It did not like everything going on altogether. After getting down on all fours, Daph irresolutely touched the wall with her palm, felt a tingling, and carefully moved her hand further. For a while, the hand moved as if through melted butter, until finally it went out on the opposite side. Daph felt that her fingers had dipped into a void. The trapdoor continued to shine — it first became brighter, and then went out completely. Daph was afraid that she could be stuck inside the wall if she wasted time and pulled her hand back. The hand was covered with a brownish slush from the melted stone. Daph checked whether it could be rubbed off. The slush in principle could be rubbed off, but no better than machine oil or grease. Having shifted her spirit psychologically to “Don’t snivel!” Daphne lay on her stomach, closed her eyes tightly and, trying not to breathe, crawled forward like a grass snake. The stone, melted by the magic of the horn, was sticky and disgusting. When Daph touched it with her head, the loathing of imagining what had become of her hair nearly made her puke. Soon Daph found herself outside, on a flat stony plateau by a desolate camp. It required great imagination in order to assume that upwind stretched the sweet-smelling Garden of Eden, unattainably far and simultaneously close. Daph was alarmed that Depressiac had remained in the Garden, but the cat had already squeezed its way through the trapdoor, slippery, frightful, displeased, but terribly sure of itself! Oh, heavens! “If they dropped you into margarine, and then rinsed you in a vat of resin, you would look better,” Daph said to it. The cat, naturally, let her words slip past its ears. It only became anxious regarding what to do for food or with whom to fight. Daph pulled out the marble horn, the tip of which was visible out of the wall. The radiance gradually grew dim. Daphne understood that she had deserted Eden, but sensed no special happiness about this. “Well, now that’s it!” she thought and, after touching the hardened stone with her fingers, teleported into the world of the moronoids. The rest of the night Daph spent washing herself clean in the ocean by the island of St. Helena, using all the magic known to her and suitable for the moment. Then somehow determined her position with the direction of light and, keeping above the waves, flew towards Moscow… *** The spring morning groped in the bed for the essayist Sergey Basevich, as for any man leading a superfluously healthy way of life. After thinking for a little bit, Basevich decided not to run today, especially as Zozo Buslaeva assured him the day before that she
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would not be able to keep him company in connection with a complete cleansing of chakras and a withdrawal to a 24-hour meditation. She asked him not to phone for the same reason. Worrying about the work of his stomach, as the first business of the day Basevich sipped a glass of untreated spring water. Then the pride of Russian essayists went solemnly into the bathroom and gargled with water and iodine. To do this, he drew the water in through the nose and let it out through the mouth. Finished with gargling, Basevich carried out a shortened set of morning exercises for ten minutes and at the end of the morning wanderings honoured the kitchen with his presence. “Aha!” he thought, having critically studied the contents of the refrigerator. Generally, Basevich was a vegetarian, but twice a week he allowed himself fish. The essayist put on the electrical kettle and, looking at the plate with the cut herring, began his daily exercises of the mind. “The Atlantic herring, taking a fragrant bath of vegetable oil, luxuriated on a long dish covered with onion, in the escort of a retinue of boiled eggs,” he blurted out in one breath and thought for a bit. “No, ‘luxuriated’ — bad,” analyzed Basevich. “‘Stretched’ would be better. ‘The Atlantic herring, floating in an ocean of vegetable oil, stretched trembling on the long dish…’ No, ‘stretched’ is also bad. Really can a herring stretch? What about: ‘The herring was lying on the dish, quivering before the unavoidable end in the Gehenna of the stomach…’ Aha! Indeed good! Now… he-he… I’m in great form!” The contented essayist already wanted to set this still life, executed in words, down into the special booklet bought for intellectual exercises, but suddenly a strong pain caused his egg-shaped paunch to swell up. Squeaking from the pain, the essayist bounced on the chair. For a moment, it seemed to him that the volcano Etna had lodged in his bowels and would spew out lava. “Really a pang? And how strong! Ah-ah-ah!” Basevich was frightened, dropping the booklet and instantly forgetting about mental gymnastics. In timid expectation of a new awakening of the volcano, Sergey Tarasovich froze on the chair; however, the agonizing pain fortunately stopped. His usual self-reliance soon returned and, attacked by appetite, he suspended the fork above the herring, aiming at a rather good piece. At this bad moment, the dressed herring doubled up on the plate and, opening a dead mouth, reproachfully said, “Aleutian god! Were you absolutely messed up in your youth? What if I get a boo-boo?” The fork fell with a “bing” onto the table. Basevich froze, swallowing air with his mouth like a fish. His frightened eyes were glued onto the herring, but that one already without any new sign of life was again lying on the plate. Moreover, one could see very well that it was gutted. “Cursed cocktails! You never know what kind of kick they’ll give you! The blackguard Wolf almost ruined me!” the essayist thought uncertainly, recalling yesterday’s reception in the French cultural centre, where the critic Wolf Cactusov was forcing weird cocktails on him. The envious Cactusov hoped that Basevich, if drunk, would make some fatal blunder, but he certainly miscalculated. Even after the sixth cocktail Basevich behaved like a true wise man: saw everything, heard everything, ate everything, and at the same time kept mum. But then, now, the day after the reception, the cocktail, it seemed, by some strange means was calling out as a speaking herring.
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Having explained to himself how everything happened, Basevich calmed down. He did not want to look at the herring. He drank tea, glanced at the clock, and, recollecting that at twelve he was invited to the opening of the personal exhibition of the avant-garde artist Igor Khmaryba, hurried to the Central House of Artists. Haste had affected the way the venerable essayist travelled by the most improbable means. From a respectable gallop he jumped to a full gallop, and from there, after considering that he was indeed absolutely late, rushed with a fast Cossack full gallop to the subway. Igor Khmaryba’s exhibition was held in one of the private little galleries on the grounds of the Central House of Artists. After greeting the artist warmly and congratulating him on definite creative success, Basevich rapidly looked at the works on display. Then he ate three sandwiches and drank two glasses of champagne. After which he quietly opened a small notebook and with an air of importance walked along the wall, examining pictures in more detail and making brief notes. He had been invited particularly for this. It was necessary to work for the sandwiches and champagne. After noticing a red fish on a plate in one of the pictures, Basevich shuddered. He already had time to forget about the morning’s incident; however, now this involuntary recollection forced his heart to beat with inexplicable despair. It was pounding in such a way as if his chest had long become loathsome to it, became tight and tedious, as if the heart wanted to break away and fly off to where a sliver of dark-blue and enthusiastic sky cheekily seeped through the window. Of course, Basevich, as a particularly materialistic man, did not understand the weariness of his heart and explained everything very simply, “Ah-ah-ah, warming up to coronary problem! Forty-eight years old — the age for blockages. So now it’ll pester once and that’s it!” “Ah-ah-ah, you’re my darling! What’s with you? Your cheeks are like paper! Perhaps, a little Valocordin?” an insinuating voice unexpectedly sounded beside him. Basevich turned around and saw Wolf Cactusov, his enemy and competitor. Arms crossed on his breast, the critic with a long mane was looking at him with big hope. Villainous smiles were roaming along his face. “And don’t hope, Judas! Let’s see still who will earn thirty bucks on whose obituary!” Basevich thought and unexpectedly felt much better. The heart, after understanding that it would not break away, rushed for the last time with doomed effort and, having been subdued, beat evenly. “Thanks, Wolf, no need. I was simply looking and reflecting whether there is Matisse’s influence here! Do you remember his Red Fishes in a Glass?” the essayist said in his most normal lively voice. Basevich could not see his own face; however, he felt that his cheeks were flushing with the usual bloom, possibly even healthier than before. Wolf Cactusov also noticed this change. He paled and, after growling out something unconvincing, withdrew. The bitter presentiment that articles in glossy periodicals would slip away again this month to the enemy and again he had to be limited to one or two reviews in small circulations, preyed on the wretch Wolf, working for the same magazines as Basevich. After staining a couple of pages of the notebook with a discussion on the creative individuality of Khmaryba, Basevich patronizingly slapped the beaming artist on the stomach and sailed away in a hurry. Mysterious excitement got hold of him: it suddenly seemed to Basevich that he was in a great hurry and more so — he was late. Like an old regimental jade hearing the trumpet, the art critic paused for a minute, pulled up his pants, took a deep breath from the stomach to the chest — and set off with a jerk. Exactly
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like a Mexican hurricane, he rushed without restraint along the dusty courtyard, leaving behind a slight noise of cutting through air. Subway stations, concrete fences, dumpsters, and concert posters flashed by, escalators squeaked alarmingly, automobiles buzzed, but Basevich was flying, noticing nothing around. Getting up to his place on the eighth floor, he turned the key in the door — and collapsed into the cool silence of the apartment. Only here did the worker of art come to his senses, after understanding that in reality there was nowhere for him to rush to, and, having realized this, he was frightened. “What’s this I’m doing? What has come over me? Drink some motherwort, perhaps?” he posed a question to himself, removing his boots bespattered with mud. Suddenly a sad ringing sound, as if a spoon jumped in a glass, reached him from the kitchen. “Who’s there?” Basevich hailed. Silence. And again a spoon tinkled. “Who’s there?” Basevich repeated, getting even more frightened. On tiptoes, with his heart fallen into the precipice of uncertainty, Sergey Tarasovich stole up to the kitchen door, opened it, and looked in. At first it seemed to him that no one was in the kitchen, it was totally quiet, but then a low hacking from the direction of the table attracted the essayist’s attention. All the pieces of herring, not removed since the morning, leaped up, leisurely raised themselves a little from the plate, formed an uneven pyramid, and got up on the tail. The decapitated fish head stared at Basevich with red swollen eyes. “Hand over the eidos!” it demanded threateningly, opening and shutting its mouth. “Hand over to whom?” Basevich whispered without understanding. “Say ‘I give away my eidos and renounce all rights to it!’ Repeat!” the herring hissed indeed quite threateningly and swam through the air up to the very nose of the essayist. An onion ring was stuck to the nostrils of the herring and this little circle, sufficiently ordinary in every respect, now for some reason especially scared Sergey Tarasovich. “No!” “WHAT?! I WILL GIVE YOU ‘NO’! I WILL BOIL YOU IN OIL! NOW REPEAT PROMPTLY!” goggling frightfully, the herring began to cackle. “I give away my eidos and renounce all rights to it!” stuttering, Basevich repeated, not giving a moment’s thought to the meaning of the uttered words. He balanced on wadded feet and most of all wanted the delusion to disappear. “Well done!” the herring approved. “Half the deal is done. Still a little phrase, I beg you: ‘I agree to the eternal imprisonment of my eidos in the darc!’ ” “I agree… to the eternal imprisonment in the darc,” not understanding anything, Basevich pronounced loudly. “Eidos, my dear! Eidos! Do not leave out any words!” the herring prompted. “Eidos,” Basevich obediently repeated. “Merci! I think it’s done! Ah, Aleutian god, you’re simply in my little palm! So compliant, my dear!” the herring was touched and nodded favourably with its decapitated head. In the following moment, the pieces of fish crumbled onto the plate, and near the table, where the shadow of the curtain fell onto the dense English oilcloth with poppies, there was a short man with a wrinkled face and stooping with protruding shoulder blades.
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Having approached the startled Basevich, the little fellow hung onto his neck and, snivelling from tender emotion, kissed him three times on both cheeks. “Oh! I’m flattered, a very magnanimous gift! And five minutes for all the work now and a minute in the morning! I adore intellectuals! Six minutes for everything in total! Inspired fear with the herring, bellowed — and that’s it, the deal is done: please pack the goods!” he said enthusiastically and started to babble complete nonsense. The frightened essayist vaguely grasped that he heard complaints about non-payment of percentages to agents. The possessor of the wrinkled face described this as arch-infamy and caddishness squared. However, according to that greediness, with which he spoke about the percentages, and on how he puckered even without his face crumpling, it was perceived that the strange visitor of Basevich was an essence, although pitiful and crestfallen, but sly and aggressive at his best. Once again kissing Basevich with fishy-smelling lips, the stranger decisively stretched out his hand and… stuck it directly into the essayist’s chest. There was neither blood nor pain. Everything took place like in a dream. Basevich with horror watched how the hand, after entering his body almost up to the shoulder, was fumbling for something there. “Phew! Fell down somewhere, under the liver! And I was indeed frightened someone stole it before me!” the little fellow said happily a little time later, extracting his hand from the essayist’s chest. For a moment, it seemed to Basevich that something flashed sharply and in farewell in the agent’s palm. The wrinkle-faced one thoroughly hid the tiny bluish point, no bigger than the head of a match, inside a button loose from the sleeve of his weather-beaten coat. Basevich became bitter and sad, although he actually did not sense the loss. The lungs were breathing, the heart was beating, the stomach was properly digesting nourishing gruel, and the brain was briskly cracking logical problems. The organism did not notice the disappearance of the eidos. After obtaining what was necessary to him, the agent began to shuffle to the exit, but, after taking several steps, he slapped himself on the forehead and turned around. “Ah yes, completely forgot! If any confusion should emerge after death, they say, what did you do with the eidos, this and that, some kind of mess — you will say, my eidos is deeded to Tukhlomon! There they will understand. Not the first time!” he explained in a businesslike manner. After complaining once more about low fees and leaving the stock-still theorist of art standing in the kitchen, the wrinkle-faced agent went out onto the landing and carefully closed the door behind him. *** On the stairs, Tukhlomon reached for a small notebook and with delight put down a big fat cross. Then, not able to restrain himself, he rubbed his yellowish palms with pleasure. “One more!” he muttered with special importance and, extremely contented with himself, began to go down the stairs. Agents adore raining curses on stairs, clothing, footwear, and everything else that brought them together with moronoids and allowed them to be at least something instead of not being anything. He went down to the third floor, when suddenly something forced him to experience sharp anxiety. Outwardly, everything was normal — the patches of sun on the stairs, walls with spray-painted writings, but a feeling suggested something was not quite right.
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The careful agent tried to teleport, disappearing into the entrance floor lined with tiles, but the magic for some reason did not snap into action. Tukhlomon, grasping such things perfectly, understood that, basically, he was wrapped in cotton wool. All his magic was blocked. Somewhere here, on the walls or the ceiling, in the motley confused patterns scratched with a nail, an ominous rune was hiding, nullifying all of his abilities. Guards of Light drew a great number of such runes in the moronoid world, aiming at limiting the authority of messengers of Gloom. It was necessary to find the rune and erase it — to find it urgently, while it was not too late. If the rune was old — no problem, he would erase it. It would be more dangerous if the rune had appeared recently and the guard of Light who did this was still somewhere hereabout… Sniffing and looking around, Tukhlomon slowly began to go down. At this moment, he resembled more a lynx ready to spring than an agent on a search. His view slid along the walls. Primitive revelations on the theme of personal life, someone’s declaration of love, a cigarette butt pressed into the plaster. Where is it, after all? Tukhlomon already began to worry, when suddenly something precisely pricked his eye. Here it is, the rune of Light — small but clear, similar to the sharp stroke of a pen! After sneaking up to it, the agent hastily squatted down and stretched out his forefinger with a long and sharp nail, intending to destroy the ideal integrity of the rune with one extra line. However, an instant before his nail touched the rune, someone invisible unceremoniously pushed his shoulder with a foot. The agent rolled down the stairs, counting the steps with his plasticine head. After the eleventh step, the drop started to slow down, and he travelled with his back along something relatively flat. “The landing!” Tukhlomon understood, opening his eyes and resetting his pressed-in nose. He tried to get up, but a bayonet attached to a flute rested on his chest. “Don’t move, don’t blink, don’t breathe! Don’t stir your toes! Don’t move your eyeballs! Don’t use magic!” someone bellowed, materializing in the middle of the landing. A broad-shouldered strong young person with a regular nose and thin lips was leaning over Tukhlomon. It was Populus, the guard from the House of the Highest Light. After the recent embarrassment, when he scandalously arrested an elder keeper of Light, who, due to distraction, did not answer the guard’s questions, Populus and his partner Rufinus were removed from guarding the House of the Highest Light and sent to patrol the moronoid world. Now Rufinus was standing behind his partner’s back, keeping his flute in readiness. Thin chains with gold wings gleamed on the necks of both guards. “Regiment of golden-wings! Special raid,” Tukhlomon realized with horror. Guards of Gloom composed legends in verse about golden-wings. Only the best soldiers, such as Ares, having mastered the force of hundreds of eide and techniques of magic battle, could allow themselves not to be afraid of unexpected attacks. Like all agents acting at their own risk, Tukhlomon was terribly afraid of being caught. He took all precautionary measures and had never been caught, although he had been working for many hundred years. Not without reason he surpassed the majority of agents of Gloom in the quantity of eide obtained. But now here… And how could this have happened? “What were you doing here, pitiful? You really knew nothing about the ban for you, a servant of Gloom, to hunt in the moronoid world?” Populus asked threateningly. “You’re saying this to me? I was not hunting, I simply went for a walk!” Tukhlomon mumbled piteously. All his magic was blocked. He could do nothing and now had no more abilities than any ordinary moronoid.
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“How touching! Did you breathe any fresh air?” Rufinus asked. “Yes, fresh air! What, I can’t?” Tukhlomon squeaked and for effectiveness started to breathe like a mammoth, having covered a marathon distance. In a split second, the entrance glass steamed up. “Stop puffing! I hate your agent stink!” Populus ordered. Tukhlomon obediently stopped. “For air, you say? Then why in the entrance? Why not in the Siberian taiga?” Populus asked with mockery. “The air in the taiga is too fresh! I’d catch cold in the draught! I’m weak!” Tukhlomon sobbed so sorrowfully that even a professional beggar would involuntarily be sorry for him and give him a kopeck. The plasticine face was so radiant with benevolence. However, this did not touch the guards of Light. “I’ll go, guys? Less people — more oxygen,” said Tukhlomon ingratiatingly. “You forgot to return something to us!” Rufinus beat around the bush. “Really I took something from you? You’re confusing me with someone else! I’m merely a modest salesman of disinfectant soap! And in general I don’t understand you! I need simultaneous translation into Ukrainian!” Tukhlomon started to whine. “Don’t play dumb! We need the eidos!” Populus said quietly. “A nose? What nose? They did not hospitalize me with this diagnosis!” Tukhlomon was sincerely astonished. But he immediately understood that he had overplayed it. The golden-wings exchanged glances. “Eidos! You will return it to me now!” Populus pronounced very distinctly. Tukhlomon inquisitively glanced into his eyes and read something there such that he became terrified. Tukhlomon suddenly recalled that the flute of a guard of Light possessed sufficient force to destroy his immortal essence. “Okay, okay!” he said conciliatorily. “Why cut to the basics so fast? Everyone is nervous. I’m nervous, you’re nervous… I took it simply as a souvenir. They begged me! I could not refuse on account of weakness of character. I entreat you, please move your sharp little stick aside a bit! I’ve feared toothpicks since childhood.” Populus hesitated and withdrew the hand with the flute, however, continuing to keep it not far from his lips. Tukhlomon hastily unscrewed one of the buttons and threw it to the guard. “Your disgusting eidos is there, inside! Take it, wicked!” he said in a whine. “And now please let me go! It’s cold for me to lie here. I’m a sick old man! I have radiculitis and dandruff! I’ve eaten nothing for three days! Hey, why don’t you pick up the button?” “Leave it for yourself, my friend! We need the other one, from your sleeve!” the guard said. “Gloom, take me! They know it!” the agent thought. Tukhlomon understood that someone from his own had given him away. Otherwise, the guards of Light would never surmise where he hid eide. “Skunks, no corporate solidarity! I’ll find out who — I’ll put him through the meat grinder, then glue him back and put him through again!” he thought. “The button from the sleeve! Quick!” Populus repeated. “I won’t give it! I had you in mind, disgusting snakes!” losing courage before his eyes, Tukhlomon squealed. “THE BUTTON! NOW!” Populus blew briefly into the flute, forcing the agent to do a somersault on the landing. “Have you come to your senses? I’m waiting!” Threatening,
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the guard of Light again brought the flute to his lips. Tukhlomon in horror covered up his ears and screwed up his eyes. Any sounding of a flute of Light was unbearable for servants of Gloom. “I’m waiting!” Populus repeated quietly and indeed quite threateningly. Tukhlomon opened first one eye, then the other. What, they were making him an offer! “Yes, here you are, here! Take everything!” the agent squealed hysterically. Breaking the threads, he decisively ripped the button from the sleeve and flung it to Rufinus. The button, cut from a bone of the terrible Typhon, a patron of First Gloom, was bewitched so that it only served Tukhlomon alone. If any stranger, even Ares himself, decided to touch it, his hand, having instantly stopped obeying, would snatch the dagger out from the scabbard and stick it into the owner’s chest. If there turned out not to be a dagger, the hand would grab the throat in a death grip and squeeze it until the hand was chopped off. No other method existed for removing black magic from fingers that touched the button. However, the experienced Rufinus, who knew all the tricks of Gloom, did not take this bait. He indifferently waited until the button fell, then brought the flute to his lips and split the button with one sharp trill. “My little button! My little glorious one! For my goal, it cost me three eide! You broke it, disgusting fools!” the distressed Tukhlomon lamented. He extremely valued his button and had high hopes for it. Rufinus leaned down, using the bayonet moved apart with distaste the two halves of the split button, and with great care picked up with two fingers the eidos from the floor. The tiny grit gratefully lit up with a soft bluish light, not quite like the sharp prickly light, which flared up when Tukhlomon’s fingers touched it. The bluish shining spiral slid to the window and melted away, hiding where the fingers of Gloom would never be able to reach it. Your lucky fate, Mr. Basevich! Although you have to remain heartless to the end of your life, your eidos has been saved. The agent howled from disappointment. The eidos! The guard of Light has his eidos! If he could tear them apart now, burn them alive — he would do it. His soft face was distorted. Poisonous saliva dripped from his corroded teeth. “It was mine! The owner renounced it!” he shouted, stretching out a hand with gnarled fingers. “Well, so? The moronoid wretch didn’t know the true value of eidos!” Populus said severely. He lightly blew into his flute, nailing Tukhlomon to the floor. Meanwhile Rufinus with the edge of his flute drafted a rune around the agent. “The time to pay has come. You know the law, agent. We could destroy your essence; however, we’re not going to do this. This is only a rune of expulsion! Now you’ll leave for Gloom, and for a thousand years the doors of the mortal world will be closed to you!” Rufinus said. “Ah! Don’t! I don’t want to be in Gloom! I’ll be in decline in the dark!” Tukhlomon quickly stated. He was downright frightened. A thousand years in the society of those like himself — so sly, aggressive, and greedy, who see right through you and cannot be deceived! He, vulnerable little Tukhlomon, will not be able to stand this nightmare! Rufinus traced the concluding line. The rune started to shimmer. The guard of Light nodded with satisfaction. Everything was drawn correctly. Now there remained only to play the maglody on the flute and that would be all. The agent would leave for Hades. “Guys, don’t! This is a misunderstanding!” Tukhlomon begged. “I’ll do everything you want, only please don’t torture me with Gloom! Please tell me what guards of Light love.
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Beautiful plumes! Ah-ah, you’re all musicians! Do you want me to get you the original of Strauss’s notes? There on one of the sheets — I swear on my stomach! — is the print from a chop! The crafty Chopin threw it!” Rufinus shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t negotiate with servants of Gloom!” he said and slowly began to play. In the run of a simple motif divined the age-old: Nemo prudens punit, quia peccatum est, sed ne peccetur. (“A sensible person does not punish a man because he has sinned, but in order to keep him from sin,” Seneca, About Anger.) Tukhlomon began to squeal, attempting to crawl out from the rune. He knew that when the last part of the melody corresponding to the word peccetur sounded, the rune would dispatch him to Gloom. And here the entrance glass shattered. Rufinus, surprised, became silent and lowered the flute. An emaciated cat with leathery wings flew in onto the landing. It looked as if it had recently miraculously fled from the table of a taxidermist. The cat jumped onto Populus, improved his face with two sharp-clawed slaps and, after tearing away with its teeth the gold wings on a chain from Populus’ neck, it dashed upstairs. Populus was at a loss. He had never battled with cats before. But the cat did not linger. Its tail, naked like that of a rat, flickered on the upper landing. Populus and Rufinus rushed after in pursuit. For a self-respecting golden-wings to be deprived of his wings would be as bad as a guard of Gloom losing his darc. Without his wings, all his magic would dry up, even the flute would stop working, and the guard would find himself forever chained to the moronoid world. To say nothing about how simply humiliating it was to be deprived of his wings. Even if a guard returned sometimes to Eden after this, for long centuries an indelible spot of disgrace would be attached to him. He would not be given a second set of wings, and, devoid of the possibility to regain his magic powers, the guards would wander along the Garden of Eden and moan piteously, scaring timid spectres and making insolent house-spirits laugh. *** Daph herself did not know what compelled her to rush to the aid of Tukhlomon. True impromptu. She was sitting at the edge of the roof — why was she drawn to these moronoid roofs? — on the stone barrier covered with tin and, with her legs hanging down, dangling her barefooted soles above the asphalt abyss of the courtyard with the multicolour spots of automobiles and crawling points of moronoids. New sneakers, which Daph had teleported by the most insolent means from one of the shop windows — to spit on Troil’s warning not to use magic, were beside her. The sneakers evaporated to an unknown direction before the eyes of the sports store’s fat owner, who quietly fell down and settled heavily onto the box of tennis balls. He watched how the girl, playing on a flute, walked past the shop window, but she clearly did not touch the sneakers, since the rather thick glass separated her from them. “And no need to stink — I’m saving your world. And to do this barefooted is not always convenient…” thought Daph, hiding the flute. The owner of the store still did not know that Daph, true to the principle of guards of Light to take nothing as reward, obligingly showed her gratitude by presenting him the gift of foresight. From now on, he would always know how much money a buyer coming into his store had, how serious were his intentions, and whether he was a petty swindler,
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dreaming of distracting a sales clerk and swiping a Swiss army knife with two dozen blades and tweezers. Subsequently, if we run ahead, since our road will hardly cross that of this hero in the future, he closed the store, opened an occult salon, began to practice as the White Magician Fedul, grew a beard, purchased a second-hand limo and, eventually becoming stuck-up, broke a leg stepping onto the loose grid of a rain drain. This proves once again that the less a moronoid knows, the more useful it is for him and his surroundings. Suddenly Depressiac, strolling along the roof, started to hiss and arched its back. He saw before Daph the two white dots. The dots, something resembling seagulls in a distance, emerged in the sky somewhere above Kursk Station and slid slantwise to one of the buildings located not far away. “Depressiac, what’s with you, my pigeon? See a bloody parakeet again?” Daph wondered. After tracing the direction of the cat’s line of vision, she noticed the swift silhouettes, when they were already almost hidden inside the building. The bronze wings on Daph’s chest grew perceptibly warm. They always reacted this way to the proximity of their kind. Afraid of being caught, Daph dived behind the barrier, only sticking out her head. “It’s golden-wings! Combat patrol! What are they doing here?” she whispered, turning to the cat. Depressiac, naturally, refrained from answering. “Interesting, who are they searching for? If for you and me, then why into that building? How about flying closer and checking?” Daph continued. Depressiac, with its gift of getting into any mess, was only “for.” It jumped over the barrier, past a couple of floors like a normal cat falling from the height, and only then opened its leathery wings. Daph touched the cavity in the bronze amulet and took a step downward, sensing how the air was resilient against her wing feathers. What enjoyment to fly after all! Daph turned up at the necessary window almost at the same time as the cat. Having looked carefully through the glass, they saw both the guards of Light at the same moment when they demanded from a wrinkled shrieking individual — clearly an agent — the stolen eidos. Daph recognized Populus and Rufinus. “Rufinus is still not too bad, not quite dregs, but here it’s better not to show myself to Populus, especially after my escape from Eden. He’s capable of detaining his own grandmother for violation of visa regulations and rules of stay in the moronoid world,” she thought. Daphne immediately wanted to disappear further away from trouble, but Depressiac was in high spirits. After looking at the gold wings enticingly swinging on a chain on Populus, the cat found that they were similar to a bird, and Depressiac was always wonderfully worked up by birds. Daph missed the instant when a maniacal lustre appeared in the cat’s eyes, and the following moment the glass had already shattered. While Daph was still gathering her thoughts, the maniacal cat had already torn the wings away from Populus and, proud of its booty, dashed upstairs. The guards followed it. Using the moment, Tukhlomon crept out from the rune and attempted to bolt. However, his attempt at flight was noticed. Rufinus turned around, brought the flute to his mouth and immobilized the agent with the incantation of capture — ancient as the battle between Light and Gloom. Now Tukhlomon could only jabber and stir with his pupils — and nothing more. Any opportunity disappeared on its own. Tukhlomon was lying and very quietly lamenting, gradually resigning himself to his future journey to Gloom. Someone’s thin hand pushed through the broken glass and opened the window. Tukhlomon stopped keening and squinted, trying to understand what
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was happening so far, happening in his interest. A girl with a little gold ring in her lower lip jumped down from the windowsill. She was dressed in a sweater and shabby jeans. Behind her back hung a small denim backpack, out of which peeked a flute. Small bronze wings on a lace were swinging on the girl’s chest. The experienced Tukhlomon immediately grasped that this was someone from the guards of Light. Now only what is the girl doing here? Possibly, she came here with the golden-wings. But, if not? Hope began to appear in Tukhlomon. He recalled suddenly that somewhere he had heard about a girl-guard with a gold ring in her lower lip, the mistress of a cat that strongly resembled the cats he saw in Hades. Thoughts began to click efficiently and hurriedly in the agent’s consciousness like beads in an abacus. “I’m wretched, unlucky! I have no strength! Help me!” he whimpered. “Why are they doing this to you?” Daph asked. “Don’t ask, my dear! I’m simply in shock. Guards of Light had their eyes on the darc, which dear old Tukhlomon had reserved for his own honest old age! Can you remove this invocation from me? Only do this fast before the bad golden-wing uncles return!” Daph squinted. She already understood how she could make use of Tukhlomon for her own interest. Now only will it work? But nothing ventured, nothing gained. “So! Possibly, I would be able to help you. But for what reason? I don’t give to charity on Fridays!” Suddenly the agent’s eyes flared up, and his face became sweet, almost syrupy. He finally understood who was before him. “I know! You’re Daph — the guard on the run, the stolen horn of the Minotaur is worth at least hundreds of eide!” he exclaimed. “Serious? You haven’t hurt your head? Here I indeed didn’t think that this marble icic… oh!” Daph suddenly remembered, having grasped that she had given herself away lock, stock, and barrel. Tukhlomon beamed. Now the sly agent knew exactly that he had not been mistaken. “You’re Daph, don’t argue! How about a service for a service? You save me from these two stupid bunglers, I… well will also do something for you.” “Somehow it sounds destructive. I need full specific service. You will lead me to Ares. I’m in hiding, and I need help,” said Daph. Depressiac heart-wrenchingly meowed three times on the landing above. It seems the guards had caught him nevertheless. Hearing the name of his chief, Tukhlomon inquisitively and suspiciously stared at Daph. “Why did you say ‘to Ares,’ girl? First time I hear this name! How can poor little Tukhlomon lead you to one he doesn’t know?” he whined. “Fine. Now they’ll dispatch you to Hades for a thousand years — you’ll find out,” Daph comforted him. Tukhlomon was alarmed. They would not pet his head for giving out to a guard of Light, even a fugitive, the address of the secret residence of Gloom, where they were holding the very Methodius Buslaev. Ares and Julitta could be mighty angry with him. On the other hand, a thousand years in Gloom, without the possibility of roaming freely in the moronoid world — oh, no! Only not this! “Fine, I agree,” he said, hoping to dodge her somehow. “And now quick, rub out that blocking rune there on the wall. I need my magic.” Daph smiled, “First you take an oath. You really think that I’ll believe you without an oath!”
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Tukhlomon listened. His sensitive hearing had already distinguished the voices of guards. They were returning. Depressiac, deprived of its “bird,” was hissing angrily following them. “Okay, okay! I swear, a hundred times I swear. Lux ex tenebris! (Light from Gloom (Lat.))” Tukhlomon blurted out. Daphne shook her head, “You’re boring me, dimwit! You’re still saying lux in tenebris. It’s not an oath. It’s a motto! First yours, then ours… I know your oath for agents!” “Really? Oh, oh, my leaky head! What oath do we have? I forgot!” “Tobne ginus ittsa oteste!” Daph said. “Tobne ginus ittsa oteste! I will guide you anywhere! But now rub off the rune faster: these freaks are upon us!” Tukhlomon squeaked, something sparkled strangely in his eyes. “Marvellous,” said Daph. “Now the oath is correct, you’ll not break it. Only you were playing with the words of your oath! I don’t need to be guided anywhere! I’ll guide myself anywhere! Swear to lead me to Ares, moreover precisely to the swordsman. Distinctly and clearly!” Tukhlomon began to grit his teeth. Cursed girl. It seems, indeed cannot fool her! “Tobne ginus ittsa oteste! I promise to lead you to the swordsman Ares, the Baron! Satisfied, nasty girl? Got everything you wanted, petty nasty girl? And now rub off the rune! Awful for Tukhlomon! He doesn’t want to be in Hades!” “Very well,” said Daph, leaning down. Three events took place almost simultaneously. First: Daph blew into the flute, nullifying the action of the capture magic, and with a nail drew a short line across, cancelling the ideal balance of the rune. Second: Populus and Rufinus appeared nearby, bearing on their faces explicit marks of acquaintance with Depressiac’s claws. And the third: the old fox Tukhlomon disappeared in an unknown direction and could now be anywhere, even on Everest. Now, to find him would require the power of an entire regiment of golden-wings, even then the result would be the most uncertain. The guards froze. They did not immediately manage to understand what was happening here. “What are we doing, guys? Torturing agents? Teasing a little cat? The society of veterinary surgeons conducting a travelling conference?” mustering impudence, Daph asked. Here she, must confess, applied the brakes. She should disappear together with Tukhlomon, but in the depth of her soul, she still did not believe that she was banished from the Garden of Eden forever. Populus took a good look at the girl’s face. His face grew red. “Rufinus! I swear by Light, it’s Daphne! The fugitive assistant to junior guard! Here’s where you are!” “And here’s where I am?” Daph mechanically paraphrased. Lately she had begun to notice that she talked before she thought. She first started talking, and only then gradually began to think. Or not think at all. Depending on the situation. “Daphne, guard of Light, now a guard of Gloom! You are under arrest on charges of theft of an artefact, aid to servants of Gloom, and attempted murder!” Populus said distinctly. “What, are you crazy? What murder?” Daph could not believe it. It seemed to her that she misheard. Populus took a determined step towards her. Rufinus was standing beside him, holding his flute to his lips. Daphne knew that one light puff was enough to spread her on the wall. It was well known to all in Eden that golden-wings were taught secret maglodies.
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“Hand over your flute and your wings, assistant to junior guard! Don’t make us use force!” Populus began to roar. Daph moved back. No way could she be deprived of the flute and wings now. It would mean failing the mission right at the very beginning. What kind of secret service agent of Light in Gloom will she be after this! What, have they gone out of their minds? Attempted murder? And who is the victim? Perhaps the very healthy Populus on whom she set Depressiac? “Hey! You didn’t answer! Who is it I tried to kill?” she asked. “They will explain this to you in Eden. Don’t move! Don’t make us use force!” Rufinus said. The guards’ faces were stern. Daphne realized that it was time to skip away. But, before Daph could strengthen in her consciousness the visual means necessary for teleportation — it was one of the dangerous methods, not using any incantation or maglody — Rufinus, no change in the magic field could escape him, quietly began to play on the flute. It was not yet an attack: he only deprived Daph of the possibility of instantaneous teleportation. “No nonsense, Daph! You are not to slip away! Populus! Take away her flute!” he ordered. Rufinus’ face, which seemed nice to Daphne earlier, now frightened her. She clearly read in the eyes of the golden-wings that to all respectable guards of Light she was now a traitor, for whom there was no forgiveness. Daph began to squeal in a most natural manner — like a normal thirteen-year-old moronoid girl would — and, panicking on the double, rushed to the stairs — where she was hiding not long before and now Depressiac was meowing somewhere above. Rufinus again began to play the flute. Sounds that were pleasant and quite rounded before now became prickly and sharp. Incidentally, Daph knew this form of attack of the goldenwings. Sniffka, having violated all bans in her love of the art, sometimes loved to show her students one or two secret magic techniques. Knowing that there was no way to run from this magic at all and that after a series of short sounds the entire magic would be concentrated in one long shrill note, which would put her in a long sleep, Daph did the only thing that could save her. At the moment when there were some portions of the bar left till the long note, she suddenly changed the direction of her run and jumped from the upper rung onto Populus, hanging onto the neck of the golden-wings. Populus tried to get her off himself, but Daph attached herself like a cat. Rufinus, understanding what she was planning, pulled back the flute from his lips, but it was already too late. The long note had already begun to sound. The attack magic passed through Daphne, but, since her feet were off the ground, could not lock on her, got confused, and pounced on Populus. The powerful hands of the golden-wings relaxed. The serenely snuffling guard froze on the spat-upon entrance floor, sweetly turning in his sleep and smacking his lips. Minimum two hours of health-improving sleep were guaranteed to him. Now of Daphne’s enemies there remained only Rufinus. The powerful guard shrugged his shoulders, “Do you think you have outwitted us? Child’s play! I don’t even need the flute to catch you!” he said. Daph in a hurry snatched out her own flute and rained down on the guard a couple of attack maglodies, but Rufinus took them on his armour, even without blocking them. He was clearly amused. “Not bad, little one! A good thing, this chain mail! Well, yet another pair of maglodies! You show that you know how!” Rufinus took a big step towards her. Now only about two metres separated him from Daph.
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Suddenly Daphne felt something burning her thigh, as if someone slipped a red-hot iron bar under the belt of her jeans. She shrieked; without turning it over in her mind, pulled this disgusting something out from under her belt and, hands scorched, flung it away from herself. She did not aim it at Rufinus, had forgotten about him altogether, she was in such pain. Likely, Rufinus himself made a mistake, taking a step towards her precisely at this moment. The tossed object hit the golden-wings on the knee. Dual flash blinded Daph. The shielding magic of the golden-wings’ armour entered into a dual with the magic of the unknown and… lost. The chain mail grew dim. The icy armour implacably collapsed along the legs of Rufinus, forging his body. The flute slipped from his stiff fingers and jumped twice, hitting the steps. Swaying on legs suddenly becoming strange, Rufinus preserved equilibrium with difficulty and, leaning his head down, looked at the white elongated object lying at his feet. “The horn of the Minotaur! So that’s how you vanished, traitor!” he said with effort. “I’m not a traitor!” Daph was agitated. “You’re even a killer! On that night when you stole the horn, someone stealthily placed a box with the teeth and scales of Typhon in the office of Guard General Troil. Troil opened it… It was stored in the same cabinet as the hor… horn…” Rufinus coughed. Ice already rose to his chest. His cheeks and hair were already covered with hoarfrost. “How cold! They only found Troil in the morning. His life… no one knows when it will end.” Daph shuddered. She heard that any part of the ancient monster, mate of Echidna and parent of Chimera, was mortally dangerous for a guard of Light. “It’s not me!” she shouted. “They found a feather from your wing in Troil’s office… Better surrender, all the guards are searching for you! Lux in tenebris!” Rufinus said. Ice forged his lips. His eyes became glassy. And then the ice suddenly became marble… The magic cycle was complete. In front of Daph was a statue. Populus continued to snuffle on the landing, turning from side to side. Perhaps he was uncomfortable on the tile. However, Daph knew that he would soon come to. But here Rufinus… Rufinus would not come to in a hurry. Daph leaned down and mechanically picked up the marble horn of the Minotaur. She felt sick. Spasms gripped her stomach. It was good that she plainly had not eaten yesterday or today, otherwise she would throw up. She recalled suddenly how she had penetrated into the depository of artefacts, sneaked past the granite walls with a small pattern of runes drawn on them and the bronze hoops around the columns. In the centre of the depository were two large mahogany cabinets with a set of boxes of different sizes. Daph stopped in confusion, not knowing which box to begin with and fearing to produce excess noise. “Second from lower left!” an unknown voice whispered to her. Daph opened the box. In the darkness, something similar to a bull’s horn was twinkling threateningly and coldly. The tip of the horn had been chopped off. Small defects and bulges were visible. Twice Daph stretched her hand to it, and twice the horn flared up with an icy light tearing away from it. Daphne indecisively took her fingers away, understanding that the artefact did not tolerate her. This was the first and only warning. Touching the horn, she would first become an icy chunk, and then marble. Her eyes, brain, body, and heart would become marble.
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Suddenly, when Daph was already weighing whether it would be right to take the horn together with the box, not touching it with her hands, letters flared up on the marble: Einaros kuollis gunnorbian veddos “Do you want me to read aloud? What does it mean?” Daph asked. The horn lay motionlessly in the box, only the letter glittered in the darkness. “Well, okay, you persuaded me. Einaros kuollis gunnorbian veddos!” with a sigh, Daph read and at the same moment understood that the horn was already in her hand. She did not remember the instant when she took it. She only felt how the freezing cold ran along all her veins and then changed suddenly into heat. The horn had accepted her, had become her artefact, but in the end there was nothing good in this. Not without reason experienced guards always said that the horn of the Minotaur was a trophy artefact of Gloom. “I hate you! I don’t need you! What have you done?” Daph said to the horn, examining the marble body of Rufinus. She wanted to draw her arm back and throw the horn far away to the side, but she suddenly perceived that she would never do this. They were in the same boat. Their fates were connected, and the stream would carry them somewhere. *** Tukhlomon poked his curious nose out from the wall. With the needle-like hair crawling across the forehead, his crimson face was flat as if after an encounter with a frying pan. It seemed that the agent, whose magic had returned in full after the destruction of the rune, had made a slight blunder with the materialization. On seeing the two guards — one turned into stone and the other sleeping, Tukhlomon squatted down and stretched out his hands in surprise. However, he quickly came to and even unceremoniously slapped Populus on the cheek. “Oho, little one Daph!” he exclaimed. “To kill two golden-winged immediately! At the same time! I thought, my dear, only Ares and Ligul are capable of such a trick. But what a little one!” Daph angrily took a step towards the agent, squeezing the horn of the Minotaur. The horn began to trumpet invitingly by itself, as if confirming that to change Tukhlomon into marble would be a mere trifle. From horror, the agent’s soft legs were put back together with knees backwards. “Don’t, mistress! Little Tukhlomon will take back his words and be ready to voluntarily be choked by them!” he stated and, pretending he caught something in the air, began amusingly to shove it into his mouth. Daphne lowered her hand. She suddenly understood that she could not even be angry with this nitwit. “Tukhlomon, do you know the ancient language of Chaos? Such as: einaros kuollis gunnorbian veddos?” Daph asked. She was sure that the answer would be “no,” but the agent suddenly nodded. “Tukhlomon knows everything. All languages. Once he was a spirit, and this is innate in us. What did you say, ‘gunnorbian veddos’? It means: ‘I came to return you to Gloom.’” “Thanks!” Daph thanked him. Tukhlomon twitched. His face fearfully pressed in like a punctured ball. “And now forget this word! Any ‘thank…’ and so on! Such are slanders for us… Although what is to be expected from you, a former guard of Light?”
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“Don’t chatter, let’s go!” Daph said. “You will lead me to Ares!” “Naturally, mother-commander! I’ll shut up! But, a second! Nearly forgot! Such things shouldn’t be thrown about!” Tukhlomon said abruptly. He approached the guards in a waddle and pulled the gold wings off their necks. Even on the marble Rufinus the wings did not harden. Hoar frost also did not affect the lace. Tukhlomon did not dare touch the wings themselves; therefore he held them by the chains. “Oh, that! As presents for each chief!” he explained to Daph, swinging the trophy wings. “Ares and Ligul will be satisfied. And when the authorities is satisfied, Tukhlomon is satisfied! And now, Daph, take your cat, and let’s go… And you, little tailed protagonist, no hissing at papa! Trust me, in comparison with creatures from Hades, which papa had to see, you’re still a nice pussy!” Daphne thought that she could not even interfere with him in order not to raise suspicion. Simultaneously she terribly wanted to rip Tukhlomon’s plasticine ear off. However, staring at his ears sitting crooked, she understood that she was far from the first who had this idea in mind. Chapter 8 Instruction — A Corpse of Doubt Methodius opened his eyes. He looked with surprise at the unknown ceiling and walls, not understanding why he did not hear the morning snore of Eddy. And only then he comprehended the reason. On the adjacent bed, casting fearful looks at Met with round owlish eyes, lay the already awake Vovva Skunso. “Hello, skull! Are you not bored with kissing boots?” Methodius greeted him. Skunso with a jerk turned to the wall and covered himself with the blanket. “Glad to see you too!” Methodius added and hung his legs down from the bed, considering what to do with himself. He really did not know whether he was to go to classes in the high school and become acquainted with the new people, or… What did Ares say there the day before? “If I don’t call you, then you have a normal school day. If I call, you set off for the residence.” Unexpectedly something knocked. The book in the soft binding fell from the chair. Classics and contemporaries, N.V.Gogol, Dead Souls, Methodius read on the cover. Having picked up the book, he opened it to the thirty-first page and found the thirteenth line ‘What is the price?’ Manilov again said and stopped… For some time Methodius was searching for a deep meaning to this phrase and then, recollecting, provoked tear and blinked. Come immediately! Ares, he read. Methodius quickly got dressed and went down. It was half past seven on the clock. The guard in the booth by the school gates looked at him with surprise and said something interrogatively into the communicator. Looking around, Methodius noticed how Glumovich, pale from lack of sleep, was looking at him from the window of the annex on
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the first floor. When their eyes met, Glumovich hastily moved back into the shadows. Methodius thought that he already knew what had taken place at night in one of the common rooms. The guard opened the gates. Soon Methodius was already on Bolshaya Dmitrovka and diving under the scaffolding of the residence of Gloom. A couple of early pedestrians glanced at him with curiosity. Methodius, having already grasped the situation, did not hide from them. He already understood that, if some outsider took it into his head to stick to him, he would find himself in an empty house with collapsing floor and broken steps. The fountain was murmuring. Having settled in the armchair, Julitta placed a box of candy on her knees and was turning the rotary dialler of a telephone. Traditional guards of Gloom treated all moronoid inventions with disgust, including the telephone. Ares was no exception; however, Julitta contrived to dig up the decrepit apparatus in one of the rooms of house № 13 and at the same time devised this absurd game for herself. The rules of the game were simple. Julitta arbitrarily picked a phone number, not even bothering with memorizing the sequence of numbers, and, when someone answered the call, she said in her silky, well-delivered voice, “Hello! It’s me!” “Who’s me?” The one at that end of the wires was surprised. Anybody could answer — a man, a woman, a child. It was all the same to Julitta whom she made a fool of. “Yes, me!” the witch impatiently repeated. “Don’t recognize me?” “No.” “How about that! Good heavens, not recognizing your own! Getting stuck up? Found treasure?” Julitta said with conviction. This was the most critical moment: whether the fish would bite or not. And the fish usually did. “Valya perhaps? Olya? Anna Valerevna?” the voice irresolutely asked. “Think, think! Still cold!” Julitta encouraged. “Rita! Rita, it’s you?” “Really cold,” Julitta was offended. “Well, I’ll give a hint! I was even at your place!” “Ah, you’re Tolik’s sister! Galya!” the voice squealed. “Well, and didn’t that take a hundred years!” Julitta evaded. “I forgot something at your place!” “Serious? Likely forgot nothing…” “Please recall! Decided to play, eh?” Julitta merrily asked. “At least you’ll tell me: what?” “Think for yourself!” The collocutor began to have his doubts. “Not an umbrella, no? But it likely has been hanging here for a long time!” “The same! And you only try to lose it! I’ll soon be in a tank accompanied by the Special Force!” Julitta said and hung up for effect. Sometimes Julitta creatively changed the end piece. After she was recognized, instead of a banal move she added intrigue into her voice and said, “Listen, only don’t you be surprised. I buried my gold ring in your sugar bowl.” “A ring in the sugar bowl? Why?” the person was frightened. “The deuce knows why. I was tipsy, and it jumped off my finger. Will you look?” Approximately, in a third of the cases the collocutor actually agreed to look in the sugar bowl. And here was already triumph. At this moment when Methodius dropped in on her, Julitta was experiencing the next triumph. She shot up on the armchair, dropping the
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candy, and roared, “Dig deeper, deeper! Scoop with a spoon, and now pour through the fingers! What do you mean no? Listen, you didn’t swallow it?” Noticing Methodius, Julitta hung up. The game had begun to annoy her. “Strange essences, these moronoids! They don’t need the gist of the matter but only your confidence that you know the gist. A firm voice, a little secret — and that’s it, they’re yours. And notice — no magic, not even the least bit, pure technology. If I dropped by to gather all the umbrellas, bags, and cosmetics that they promised me, I would earn a hernia! True, there would emerge complications with the recognition. After all, I have less ability than any ordinary werewolf for a change of guise… Do you remember, we ordered silver collars for them? Otherwise they’ll come the following Friday — pulverize everything here,” she stated to Methodius. “Don’t remember… Listen, why do you do this? In the sense, why do you tease the poor suckers?” Methodius asked. Julitta thought for a bit. She sadly picked up a dropped candy from the carpet, removed a hair stuck to it, blew on it, and ate it. “I’ll not die from microbes. I’ll die of hunger,” she drawled pensively. “You ask: why? Hmm… well, on the whole, it’s amusing. And one more reason. Intrigue… I’m indeed dreadful like mortal sin! Normal fellows don’t fall in love with me. But on the telephone my voice is an outright hit… You realize that?” “And you didn’t try magic to make them fall in love?” Methodius asked. “Boring with magic. Easily possible, but boring… But then, so far I still haven’t met the one at whom I want to swoon at any cost and at any price… Here it’s a sacred matter for the nose to move,” Julitta assured him. *** With a sign, Ares ordered Methodius to approach. A mysterious smile roamed on his cut face. The lock of hair like a pointer ominously crawled on his forehead. “How did you sleep?” he asked. “Okay.” “New friends?” “First class kids, with imagination. I think we’ll become friends,” Methodius said after a delay. He surmised that Ares, even without his narrative, knew what had happened at night in the school. In general, hardly anything could be kept from the Baron of Gloom. Ares looked at him not without approval. “Excellent. I don’t like people who complain, with the inclination to reduce the collocutor to an emotional wreck. With such a wuss it would be worthwhile to sear the tongue already after the first warning… Now, here’s what. A package for you was delivered from the Chancellery tonight. Didn’t think that this would take place so soon. Usually they wait till the last possible… Look!” On the alarmingly black table of Ares, into which a glare would sink as in a bog, lay a long wooden case. Ares, with a push, moved the case up to Methodius. “Open it!” he ordered. Methodius raised the lid. A sword with a narrow blade was laying on velvet the colour of dried blood. The handle, modest and plain, was approximately twice the length of Methodius’ hand. Buslaev stared. The sword was dull and had about a dozen shallow notches and one deep one. The end of the sword was broken slantwise. This reminded Methodius somewhat of his front tooth and he smiled.
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“Take it!” Ares demanded. Methodius stretched out his hand and touched the handle of the sword. The Baron of Gloom looked searchingly at him. “Do you feel anything?” he asked. “Don’t know… Nothing, probably.” “Neither pain nor rejection?” “No.” “And what do you think of the sword itself?” “Not bad. But I understand nothing at all about this.” “Not bad,” said Ares. “It would be worse if you started to babble about the balance, attempted to twirl the blade like a samurai, or discussed the sharpening job. Then I would understand absolutely that you would never become an intelligent swordsman. Now wave the sword! Hit the table, the case, the armchair a few times… The hell with the furniture! So!” Methodius unskilfully lifted his hand with the sword. Rather heavy. It required getting accustomed to chopping with it. In a real struggle he, most likely, would choose a battleaxe. “Hit!” Ares ordered. “So!” Methodius uncertainly chopped the chair. The chair swayed but remained standing. A long crack appeared on the back, but it could also be caused by an impact with any pointed piece of iron. “Well! Hit again!” Ares shouted dangerously. He continued to look intently at Methodius. He was clearly interested not in the power of the hits, not the technique, not the feeling of the blade, but in something else. Something only he, the Baron of Gloom, knew. Methodius struck the chair with the sword two or three times, treating this slaughter indifferently. Then, gradually getting into a rage, he dented the wall and broke the frame of the hunchback Ligul’s ceremonial portrait. Ligul, depicted in oil, with disgust shook the splinters of glass from his armour and, grumbling, like a vampire threatened with an aspen stake, slowly set off to the edge of the portrait. Ares laughed out loud. Ligul, exactly as alive, straightened the head crookedly set, looked askance at the swordsman, and disappeared behind the broken frame. “Bravo, my young friend! One less spy, and only a good dozen of them here,” approved Ares. Methodius was distracted listening to him, forgot about the sword he was carrying, and already wanted to mechanically lower the blade when suddenly the sword, not exactly against the will of his arm but as if in conspiracy with it, traced an arc and easily, almost playing, split the rather thick tabletop. The table swayed on its curved legs and fell down into two pieces. Methodius unclenched his hand, leaving the sword in the table, and stared with apprehension at his own fingers. Did they really split the table? Or did they not? Ares calmly looked at his split table. When the blade, striking the table, passed his head in dangerous proximity, only his nostrils flared. And that was it. He showed nothing more of his own excitement. “So that’s how it is,” said Ares quietly. “I surmised that it doesn’t like me. But why! It remembers! How do you like that, a clever piece of iron… Even now, after so many centuries.” “Remembers what?” Methodius asked.
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“Unimportant. Once we were acquainted with its previous owner… Then the acquaintance ended. But now something else is more important,” mysteriously said Ares. “What is important?” “The sword recognized not only me, but also you. It saw in you the new owner; otherwise it would never have obeyed. I’m satisfied. Return it to the case. Let us continue the training later,” said Ares. “What do you mean?! But I’m only beginning to enjoy it! What, the sword could disown me?” Methodius asked. The Baron of Gloom nodded, “Completely. The weapon is wilful. As far as I know, it cut off the leg of a previous owner, one of the toadies of Ligul. Personally, I’m not surprised by it. After all, this is the former sword of The Ancient One. Does this name not tell you anything?” “Ne-a.” “Once this sword served Light and even now, having gone the long road of transformations, it doesn’t love the absolute dark. Even battling on the side of Gloom, it doesn’t overdo low acts. Strange but frequently common duality…” Ares tapped with a nail on the case. As before, he avoided touching the blade. “We’ll discuss the sword later. A sword is nothing but a weapon. If we liken everything to the human body, then a weapon is the hand, and intuition — the eye. A guard without intuition is a creation on the verge of an incident and doesn’t have the right to life. All the same, he will be killed sooner or later. You understand what I’m talking about?” “Vaguely,” said Methodius. “Now you will understand,” Ares remarked softly. Methodius had time neither to jump nor to take a step sideways. He simply heard a crash. Something stung him along the cheek, and then he understood that he was standing inside a heavy hoop. The chain of the enormous lamp, earlier hanging quietly in the Baron’s office, fell onto the floor and locked Methodius in a moulded ring. Only more to the right or more to the left and it would have crushed his head. Now the lamp contented itself with crumbling the parquet floor by his feet. “Wipe the blood, Signor Tomato! Julitta will dress the wound later… As you see, the blade solves nothing. You could be a thousand times greater master but you would not have time even to reach the sword. The fate of a battle is more often decided before the battle. For this, there is intuition!” Ares said, leniently observing how Methodius managed to get out of the moulded ring. Buslaev cautiously checked by sight what was still around and from where something could fall down on him. It turned out that much could fall down and from different places. “And how will we train intuition?” he asked not without fear. Ares cast a sharp look at him, “You’re indeed not a telepath, no? Well! I thought so: you don’t mirror, then it seems you see auras and energy fluxes. Furthermore, you have special connection with the surrounding world: elements, objects… Wonderful, we will develop this gift. Close your eyes! No, not enough: tie them so there will be no temptation to open them! Take that black ribbon there! Lively!” Methodius did not even have time to feel the ribbon and it was already over his eyes, unceremoniously pressed into a narrow strip by a knot at the back of his head. The ribbon was not simply opaque. It literally obliterated the concept of light. Methodius even did
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not know where the window was located. He understood suddenly that he would not be able to tear it off until Ares wished it. “Bravo, Signor Tomato! Glad that the ribbon likes you. And even better that you don’t know its history. Trust me, it, that is to say the history, oppresses any yesterday’s moronoid. But, ‘the less you know, the better you work with a spoon,’ as one poison handler of my acquaintance loved to say now and then,” he heard the voice of Ares. Methodius touched the ribbon with his fingers. It was slippery like snakeskin. He tried to pull it off, he tugged: it was useless. “Don’t panic!” Ares ordered. “In any case, now the eyes will not confuse you. In such things they, trust me, are superfluous. And now do what I tell you. Let your consciousness become empty. Imagine that you’re standing before a calm, mirror-like pond and see all the things reflected.” Methodius honestly attempted to visualize the pond. Dark water, water lilies, frogs in the reeds. “Now, I didn’t ask for frogs! It’s pure amateurish performance. Well, yes okay, if it’s simpler for you this way. And now tell me: what am I holding now in my hand?” “Don’t know!” Methodius said. “Think!” “A pencil, no? Then, a leather folder? Ash tray?” Methodius asked hopelessly. “You’re trying to recall what’s lying on my table. That’s not the way. Look at the water! Concentrate! Well! It’s in you, or I wouldn’t demand the impossible! And don’t try to peek. Trust me, it’s useless.” Methodius looked closely into the dark water of the imaginary pond. He was looking hard but saw nothing. Only the ribbon sunk its teeth into his eyes. “Don’t strain yourself! No excess efforts. Simply look, and that’s all! Do you see?” Ares asked angrily. “No.” “Ares, you’re intimidating him. As perhaps our little one was weakened when you almost nailed him with your stupid lamp? May I propose? Met, how many fingers do I show?” Julitta shouted, looking in from reception. “One, the middle,” even without turning around, Met despondently said. “Here you see! Correct, one. But how did you guess?” the little witch was triumphant. “You only show it. Not difficult to guess. Go to your mail genies!” Methodius growled. Ares cleared his throat. “Oho, the process began! The boy is already rude to other’s secretaries! Base magic like in a dead horse, but how much assurance! Now think, Met, or for variety, I’ll begin to shoot at you from a crossbow! Trust me, it clears the brain of weakened guards splendidly,” he threatened. “No need. I’m fine. I’m allergic to crossbow arrows,” said Methodius. “Then answer!” “Ash tray… oh… I said… Inkpot? Dagger? Seal?” “Julitta, crossbow!” Ares coldly ordered. “And stretch the bowstring tighter… If Signor Tomato doesn’t want to train his intuition, we’ll train his skill to fight fire with fire.” “Darn… Not enough to stun me with the fixture…,” said Methodius. He suddenly saw very clearly how the short crossbow arrow-bolt was going for him from the back. “I’m waiting!” Ares hurried him. Methodius already did not try to see the pond. He suddenly began to turn his back on the water lilies and black water. Then unexpectedly he realized that the ribbon tightened
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over his eyes had its flaws. Exactly in the region of Methodius’ right eye the tightly woven cloth parted, and light broke through there. He tried to focus on this tiny speck of light. For a long time he got nothing, and then he nevertheless understood that with a large effort he could see something. Indistinct, vague, but he could… “You have nothing in your hands. You’re simply stroking your scar with your fingers,” Methodius said, not too confidently. Ares quickly looked up, “And now it’s already to a T! What am I doing now?” “You touched your moustache… Now the fingers touch the forehead… And now you precisely have a dagger in your hand… No, its scabbard…” “How did you guess?” “Well… I don’t know…” “Tell the truth!” “I spied. The ribbon has a hole,” confessed Methodius. “Really? But where?” Ares asked with sudden curiosity. “By the right eye, only from below! Replace it so it would not be visible?” “Not worth it. The ribbon is ideal. Trust me, not one needle in this world can pierce it and no scissors can cut it. Simply your consciousness has made a breach precisely there, and your right intuitive eye broke the shell sooner than the left. Of course, I would prefer the left, but this is also not bad. Let’s continue! What am I doing now?” “You’re twirling on your finger the clasp of a raincoat.” “And what does it look like? Describe it in more detail, in the smallest details! What’s the pattern on it?” “I can’t see… too small.” “Try! Size has a value only with choosing watermelons.” “Similar to a cockleshell… A small band…” said Methodius and suddenly perceived that a tiny opening had also appeared in the ribbon by the left eye. Now he was seeing with both eyes, moreover better with one than the other. Little by little, Methodius was distinguishing Ares increasingly distinctly. It seemed the holes in the bandage gradually widened, and the bandage itself was coming apart at the seams. Now Methodius saw not only that which was taking place before him, but also that which was behind the wall. He even knew how to distinguish Julitta, who was sitting at the secretarial desk and popping chocolates from the box like shells from a cartridge clip. “Don’t be distracted! What am I doing now?” Ares said sternly, for some reason knowing everything that was going on. “You touched your darc!” “I touched it? You’re sure?” “Ah, no! You’re playing with it… Now you’re swinging the chain.” “Excellent, Met, excellent! But, only you were mistaken!” “How’s that? Yes, you’re playing with your darc! Really!” Methodius was even offended. “And I tell you that you were mistaken! You see everything now in a bluish haze, is that not so?” “Eh-eh, well, yes!” “So here it is: I did not touch my darc. I was only intending on doing this. Now something in you actually begins to break out of the shell here. This is foresight! At first, it was only intuitive sight… One more try?”
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The voice of Ares did not change, but Methodius suddenly perceived how a bent blade of the two-handed sword was rushing towards his neck. Cold — and here his cut-off head was already rolling along the parquet. Methodius yelled and quickly squatted, with his hands grabbing his head from behind. And… understood that it was in place. The bandage fell from his eyes. He saw Ares, who was pensively smoothing out the black ribbon — absolutely whole. There was no sword whatever in his hands. “Bravo, Signor Tomato! I’m almost satisfied. It can’t be said that you’re taking sevenmile steps, but nevertheless dragging little by little…” he said. Outside a door creaked uncertainly, the one leading from house № 13 outside, under the scaffolding covered by dusty netting. “Who is this? Answer without turning around,” ordered Ares. “Eh-eh… Tukhlomon. Someone else with him… A girl!” Methodius said not without pride. Between him and the agent, there were all of two continuous walls. “Describe her!” “About my age. Bright downy hair, tied into two braids on her head — sticking out at unthinkable angles. Jeans. On the neck a lace with small wings. A ring in her lower lip. Knapsack with something like a pipe.” “And you lumped together the ring and the knapsack… A likable girl?” suddenly Ares interrupted him. “Well… yes! Awfully,” said Methodius, feeling himself blushing slightly. “So you’re saying, likable?” Ares squinted. “I didn’t say ‘likable’! You said it!” Methodius was agitated. Ares beat around the bush. “But then you said, ‘Aw-fully!’ And between ‘aw-fully likable’ and simply likable there’s a monstrous gap. Be careful, boy. Don’t trust daughters of Eve too much. Possible that we’ll have to blow off the head of this girl in the nearest future.” “Why?” Methodius tensed up. “Because three trills of her flute can make a colander out of you and free all eide from my darc. Have in mind that according to all the signs this girl is a guard of Light.” Chapter 9 A Guard Seven Times Removed “Tsk-tsk! May I?” in a voice gurgling so with syrup, Tukhlomon asked, pushing his soft head into Ares’ office. “Try, but generally the days for agents are Monday and Friday!” Ares said dryly. “Ah, father, I have seven Fridays in a week! I’m so all… so all…” And, not finding the words, Tukhlomon only deftly expressed with one convulsive movement of his shoulders what he all was. Having slipped into the office after all, the agent began to run around it, throwing up his hands and babbling. Despite that, he was ill at ease. Tukhlomon’s face did not stay still for a second. It bent, it shuddered, the eyebrows jumped, the nose sniffed — all the time like a plasticine rat. For the time being Daphne did not drop in. Evidently, the careful agent, thinking that Ares knew nothing so far and must prepare him, ordered her to remain in reception by Julitta’s desk.
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Methodius stared dourly at Tukhlomon. After that incident with the eidos, which Tukhlomon nearly took from him, now he could not stand the agent. On the other hand, Tukhlomon demonstrated to Methodius his utmost liking for him. After deftly running up, he kissed him on a shoulder, and when Methodius pushed him away, still contrived in passing to catch and kiss his hand. “Ah, young sir, right! You don’t like me — bear me a huge grudge!” Tukhlomon reproachfully said. “How do the wise men in our Hades say? Who brings up the past, out with his… he-he… eidos. If it upset you then, it’s solely a misunderstanding. I see a good person sitting there — let’s, I think, take charge of his eidos before someone else beats me to it! If you want — you can twist my nose or break my cheek with a fist… With no restraint. It’s only for my benefit.” Giving Methodius full opportunity to take a swipe at his face, Tukhlomon, leaning forward, puffed up his cheek and closed his eyes. “I better use the sword!” Methodius said, not having any special desire to beat down on his sticky cheeks. Tukhlomon opened his eyes in a hurry. After noticing Ares’ table chopped up, he blinked in amazement and with uneasiness stared at the case of the sword, which was delivered from the Chancellery to Methodius. “Aha, he’s frightened! He understood what this is!” Methodius was triumphant, but the agent had already hastily minced towards Ares, after thrusting a moist hand into a rear pocket. “I have a little trophy for you, chief! An expression of my gratitude for the wise management and other lofty vices! You’re truly like my own father, benefactor! Let me not see eide for a century if I lied on a kopeck!” Tukhlomon was so deeply moved that he even shed a tear and loudly blew his nose into a red hanky suddenly appearing in his hands. “Some fine muttering!” Ares said. Tukhlomon took his hand out from behind his back. “Here. Right from the heart. You’re our eagle, and these are your wings-s!” he said. Something sparkled in his hand. Methodius saw that the agent was holding a chain in his hands. On Ares’ face appeared something predatory. Not accepting Tukhlomon’s gift for the time being, he narrowly looked it over. “The regiment of golden-wings?” Ares asked. “Removed it with my own hands-s! Defeated in honest battle-eh! They asked-eh for mercy-eh, but I was not persuaded-eh and fierce-eh!” Tukhlomon bragged. Ares glanced at him with doubt and accepted the wings. Methodius mechanically noticed that he, just like Tukhlomon, was holding the wings strictly by the chain, without touching them as if they were something foreign and dangerous. “They are strange, these guards. Don’t touch someone’s darc, or wings…” Methodius thought. He himself felt that he could take the gold wings without any fear. So far, he could, while his eidos was whole and he had not quite become a guard of Gloom… “The girl did this, isn’t it so?” Ares said. This was even not a question but an assertion. “Well, on the whole, yes. Only I removed-eh them-eh!” Tukhlomon said with offence. “How many of them?” “The guards of Light? Two.” “So, ingratiated yourself using the second set of wings? With whom? Not our hunchback in charge, perhaps?” Ares asked with contempt. Having overheard this
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flattering characteristic, Ligul the hunchback looked out momentarily from the broken portrait, dropped a quick glance with attentive evil eyes, and disappeared. “Ah, chief… I have such weak health. Legs hurt, the hands, they fall off. No one loves poor sick Tukhlomon. Only poor sick Tukhlomon alone loves everybody!” justifying himself, Tukhlomon said and again tried to shed a tear. “Fix the leak and get out!” Methodius advised him. The agent changed his mind about crying and in a hurry seized his own stomach. “Ah, young person! Must not joke this way with old people! Old people believe in everything and cry over everything. And I get a hernia now and then-eh. Once I was nearly lost,” he said sadly. Ares looked sideways at the door to reception. “Two golden-wings against one girlguard… Not bad! So good it’s hard to believe. I would even say that everything is cooked up if the wings weren’t real. It’s difficult to believe that Light would decide to give us this gift… But you are guilty all the same, Tukhlomon. You showed the girl-guard our secret residence. You brought her here!” “She glued herself to me! She forced me… Maybe, we’ll chop off her head? Snip — and that’s all. No head — no question!” Tukhlomon started to whine. “I have a counteroffer. Better we cut off your tongue!” Methodius proposed. He in no way could manage his hatred for Tukhlomon. “Phew, what wretched fantasy! I laugh and cry from the banality! Cut off my tongue! You think you’re the first to come to that conclusion?” the agent giggled. “What?” “Nothing… A new one would grow, even more venomous than the previous. And generally, don’t be rude to me, young man! I’m turning white because of you!” Tukhlomon stated. He jumped on the spot, and then suddenly proposed in a conspiratorial whisper, “If you want, I’ll go out and call the girl and stick a dagger into her side? I have an outstanding dagger — simply a sweetie and not a dagger. The girl would experience continuous pleasure! Huh? I promised to bring her here, but now to guide her out… hehe… there was no such oath.” After glancing at Tukhlomon’s face, sincere in his own meanness, Methodius experienced a blind anger, and then suddenly realized that the case was open wide and the sword of The Ancient One was in his hands. At the same time he knew exactly that he had not reached for it, but simply very clearly imagined how to do this. Did Ares not use this method, instantly materializing his bent blade in his hand? Tukhlomon squealed like a hare, and rushed to hide behind Ares’ back. Methodius caught the energy of his fear, mechanically wanted to draw it in, but immediately rejected it. The agent’s energy had a disgusting, musty taste, as if through all the centuries he lived on carrion alone. Hiding behind Ares’ back, the agent instantly regained his spirit and even grew bolder. “A mad man!” he squeaked. “He thinks he frightened me! But I simply get mixed up with unwillingness! You’ll think: a girl! And I’m with the best motives! The most sensitive humanism-eh!” Ares looked at Methodius. This look was long and very hard. Methodius suddenly understood that the true owner of the girl’s fate was not Tukhlomon. But him, Ares, his chief. And precisely at this minute he had decided her fate. And that all the words and
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admonitions were useless here. “If necessary, I’ll do battle for her! Although I also know that this is death for me…” Methodius thought, after squeezing the handle of the sword. A minute, two… Silence was hanging heavily in the office, like the blade of the guillotine. Ares passed his hand over his face, as if removing a cobweb. “Relax, Signor Tomato! And you, Tukhlomon, stop! Let the girl enter!” he ordered tonelessly. Tukhlomon, looking at Methodius with alarm, slipped into the corridor and immediately returned, obligingly letting a light-haired girl pass in front. “Don’t stumble! Here’s the threshold-eh! Please guard your imprudence from further sin-eh! It’s not blowing from the window, no? Otherwise I’ll shut it-eh!” he babbled. Daphne entered and stopped in the middle of the office. She held herself sufficiently calmly, but Methodius felt nevertheless that she was excited. Her aura — golden with a narrow pink rim — shimmered, first turning pale, then flaring up. A bald, very terrible cat was sitting on her shoulder and licking… a wing. Daph, until now looking only at Ares, sensed that besides him there was still someone else in the office, and turned to Methodius. Their eyes met and Buslaev experienced a strange wrenching feeling. As if he entered Daph’s pupils and lost his way there. He even would not know how to describe clearly, what this feeling was. Sympathy? Curiosity? Love? When a splinter pierces the foot, everything is immediately understood. But here when the splinter of a new feeling falls into the heart… Just try to take out that, which is impossible to grasp with fingers. Tukhlomon, wriggling, jumped out from behind. Methodius again wanted to kick him. “Leave!” Ares ordered Tukhlomon. “With the greatest pleasure-eh! I was just about to take leave of the matter-eh!” the agent assured him and, after taking a step to the door, melted away, leaving a cloud of stink in the air. Methodius saw that Tukhlomon was extremely satisfied. Must be, for his misdeed — leading a guard of Light into the residence of Gloom — he expected serious punishment, and was glad that he got off cheaply. Ares sank heavily down into the armchair. “Well, speak!” he ordered tiredly. “What to say?” Daphne asked. “You were dying to be here, and now you’re here — in the residence of Gloom… What’s next? Who are you exactly?” “I’m Daphne, assistant to junior guard.” “They really let assistants to junior guard out of Eden? The moronoid world is not the most suitable place for a little one with downy hair, who someone considers ‘aw-fully’ likable…” Ares said with a sneer. Methodius wanted to drop the fixture onto his head. Unfortunately, it had already been dropped. To bring down the ceiling for the same purpose, he did not have sufficient magic technology for the time being. “Who considers me likable?” Daph was interested. Certainly, she was not a complete fool and knew the correct answer, but it is better to hear once than to assume two hundred times. “Yes, there’s a versatile individual here, having learned to look through walls recently… So, what indeed forced a girl-guard to run off to the moronoids? I don’t like this deviation from the rules… I lean more and more to the thought that a good guard of Light is a dead guard of Light.” Ares was talking as if with irony, but Methodius did not like his irony. With his new sight, linking up with foresight, he almost saw how Ares’ bent blade, appearing from anywhere, chopped Daph at an angle. True, he saw this
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somewhat vaguely, dimly. This could indicate only one thing. Ares’ decision had not yet taken shape. “Please stop thinking about this! Pease!” Methodius heard his own agitated voice. “About what?” “You know what about!” Methodius shouted. “And you’re not hopeless, my friend! I would say that I trained you to your own misfortune,” smiled Ares. “So, why must I stop thinking about what I’m thinking? Not because she’s pretty?” “She was running. She stole the horn and ran away from Eden!” “Where did you get such details, Signor Tomato? Lively youthful fantasy?” Ares was interested. “No. Vii said it.” Ares frowned, “How? Are you acquainted with Venya Vii?” “Not personally, but I saw his broadcast…” “Ah, the Putrid Eye! The Book of Chameleons! It seems I asked you to limit yourself to the thirty-first page…” Ares said with annoyance. Julitta came into the office and sat on the windowsill. She was already without candies, which probably indicated an extreme degree of selflessness and even asceticism. Methodius noticed that Julitta did not like Daphne at all. When did they have time to bicker? Was Daphne not in reception for only a few minutes? “I hope Vii at least didn’t ask to raise his eyelids? The old goat adores doing this. Must be, someone once told him that he has beautiful eyes,” stated Julitta. “Julitta, stop the gossip! And what’s this about a stolen horn? The Minotaur?” Ares continued. Daph nodded. “Then I understand how you could manage those two golden-wings. Although unclear why the deuce you meddled with them at all? Not for helping Tukhlomon?” “He’s a very nice and pleasant old man,” shaking her bangs, Daph said. “Aha. About as nice and pleasant as your cat… An intermediate link of evolution between a small hamster grown bald from radiation and a Nile crocodile!” Julitta said maliciously. Depressiac only sneered, showing its fangs, arched its back, and started to hiss. “Oho, but it’s offended!” Julitta was surprised, stretching out a hand to it. “Aww, what a pussy! Come to mama!” “Careful, it bites. And generally it’s poisonous,” warned Daph. “Such a strange coincidence! I’m also poisonous and I also bite,” said Julitta, but removed her hand nevertheless. “Please stop, girls! Shake hands, kiss-kiss,” added Methodius, remembering Eddy Khavron. Now and then, he was surprised how such a dubious character could influence him so strongly. “Stop? We haven’t even started!” Julitta said; however, she stopped provoking Daph. In any case, for a while. The Baron of Gloom lazily stretched out his hand with the palm up. Ares’ aura did not change; Methodius noticed no magic effort on his part, only a wide brown parchment suddenly materialized on his palm. Ares unrolled it and glanced along it. Daphne, not without surprise, observed a severed lace dangling from the parchment. Two guarding runes of Light were still discernable on its once authenticating sealing wax. She understood that before her was one of the daily secret information rolls, a limited number
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of copies sent to all the directorates of the House of Highest Light. Once, Daph saw the same on the table of her chief of senior guard Theocritus. Strange that such a list could appear at the swordsman’s. Although why not? Ares clearly was not so simple. “Well now, let’s look at the latest news! What are our Light-winged sparrows twittering there?” the Baron of Gloom glanced at Daph. “Oho, Guard General Troil still hasn’t yet regained consciousness! Light fears for his life. His secretary Berenarii is temporarily assigned as acting guard general… Hmm, smart boy… Not a bad opportunity to add also the gold wings of guard general to his bronze wings.” “No need! He’s very good,” said Daph, recalling the dreamy lanky person with scissors. “I don’t doubt it. But here’s something in fine print? Oh, they suspect that the box with the teeth and scale of Typhon was placed stealthily for Troil by the fugitive guard Daphne, having broken into the depository of artefacts. They have sent twelve pairs of the best golden-wings to search for you. Not bad! For our dear Ligul they put up not more than ten pairs! However, how they underestimated our hunchback! What outrageous injustice!” Ligul angrily grunted in the corner and began to creak with the frame. “Julitta, be so kind, turn the picture to the wall. With the swine snout touching it!” Ares requested. Julitta with pleasure carried out the request and turned the portrait to the wall. Moreover, she did not simply turn, but even with her entire soul pressed it into the wallpaper. Ligul started to grumble with hatred. “What, did you actually stealthily place the teeth and scale of Typhon for Troil?” Ares continued, quickly looking inquisitively at Daph. “I was in the depository, but placed nothing stealthily,” said Daph. She understood that it was not worthwhile to lie. Ares would see through a lie. “But why did they find your feather in the office?” “Don’t know. I passed by the office but did not go in.” “Interesting, very interesting. Either someone very cunningly impersonated you, or… Recall, when you opened the drawer, was there a box yet?” the Baron of Gloom drawled thoughtfully. “I don’t remember. The drawer was deep, and the horn was lying on the edge. I…I don’t remember, that’s the truth. I was frightened and wanted to get away faster. I also wouldn’t have taken the horn, but without it I couldn’t have left the Garden of Eden unnoticed,” acknowledged Daph. Ares was silent for a long time. “Hmm… Pity I can’t just get into your consciousness. After all, you’re not a moronoid. However, I’ll try to believe you. Absurd explanations are now and then the most plausible. How did you break into the depository? Do you really have access to Third Heaven?” “No, I didn’t. I used Hrunelon’s rune.” “Amusing rune… Once I was even slightly acquainted with this magician. He wasn’t even scum, for this audience that’s a huge rarity. You’re well aware that the rune has side effects? It can erase consciousness, change memory, and cause unpredictable behaviour?” “Eh… Well I read about this… Only…” “Didn’t really believe it?” “No.”
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“Wrong. With contracts and magic books, one should read with special attention precisely what is put down in fine print. And indeed completely attentively what’s not put down but hidden between the lines,” Ares remarked with a smile. It seemed to Daph as if a cold sticky mouse was running along her back. What if, when she passed by his office, she had really placed the box for Troil? Everything simply contradicts, but it agrees monstrously! Cursed Hrunelon’s rune! Daphne was disgusted. She perceived herself as not simply sordid, but terribly vile. Two golden-wings, now Troil — is she always such an essence that brings danger and grief to all? Not thinking why she did it, Daphne pulled the flute out of her knapsack. This happened by itself. She wanted suddenly to play something sad. The Baron of Gloom made a subtle movement with his hand. The flute rolled onto the floor. “What’s with you? What are you thinking of doing?” Ares asked grimly. “Nothing… I simply wanted to play a little!” Daphne said fearfully. “Not worth it. Be comforted by some other means,” proposed Ares. “Taking out the flute in the presence of guards of Gloom is as dangerous as playing with a pistol-lighter in the presence of drunk officers of the Special Force. Another time, I could simply take down you head and only then would understand that it wasn’t right. But my pangs of conscience already couldn’t help you. Do you understand?” “Aha,” nodded Daphne, with a look asking Ares whether she could pick up the flute. The Baron of Gloom, having thought for a bit, nodded. Daphne picked up the flute, ran her hand along the holes, and again hid it in her knapsack. Ares chewed his lips. “Time to decide what to do with you. One who has entered the secret residence of Gloom can’t simply leave. He must either become one of us, or… or vanish.” The Baron got up decisively. In his hand materialized the blade already known to Methodius. Daphne turned pale. She understood that the moment had arrived when everything would be decided. “So? Julitta, what do you think of our guest? Leave her alive or not?” Ares asked. Julitta looked appraisingly at Daph. “Not. Couldn’t be better. She’s too pretty. Her figure will always remind me that it’s time to go on a diet.” “Hmm… Well, clear with you. Methodius? Your opinion!” “If she’s beheaded now — I’ll drop the training,” said Methodius and, trying not to appear too interested, looked sideways at the case with the sword of The Ancient One. Ares shrugged his shoulders, “Only try. You drop the training and I’ll throw you into the pit… But let’s sum up. One voice ‘for’! One ‘against’! I abstain for the time being. So, the standing is even… Hmm-yes, a complex situation… Okay, Daph, you can remain. You’re accepted into our team, but accepted conditionally. If I notice anything dishonest with you, or you are playing on the side of Light as before, your height will decrease by exactly a head. And consider that you’re obliged to Mr. Buslaev for your life… And you, Signor Tomato, stop staring at your sword all the time. First of all, you wouldn’t have enough determination to cut me down. Secondly, you broadcast your intentions too clearly. Learn from Daph’s darling cat! It was also ready to protect its mistress, but did this without any stress. See how relaxed it is! I’m beginning to like this little beast…” Ares stretched and again settled back onto the back of the armchair. The blade had disappeared from his hand. Daph looked with warmth at Methodius. She understood that she would stay alive, and understood that someone was to be thanked for this. And although she continued to see
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Methodius as a threat for guards of Light, she was filled with sincere liking for him. “And he’s not bad… Not a bore… And on the whole there’s something in him,” thought she. Methodius shrugged his shoulders and put under his arm the case with his sword. “Have in mind, little one, you will not remain in the residence of Gloom itself. This isn’t a hostel for fugitive guards of Light. Glumovich will have to take in one more free student into his high school. Next time he’ll handle his eidos more carefully! Only I very much fear that there’ll be no next time. The sale and guarantee of eidos is a phenomenon valid for one occasion only.” “I’ll be studying in a moronoid school?” “Precisely. Not only to study but also to hide! What will you be there? Daphne? Too bright. Now you’ll be… hmm… Dasha. Choose a simpler last name for yourself. Any Eden, Paradise, Lightguard, to be sure! Julitta will write documents for you. She’ll do it now, right away!” Ares, knowing his secretary well, especially emphasized the last phrase. Julitta sighed and extracted from the air a very large dusty trunk. She clicked the locks, and Methodius saw hundreds of different forms inside — IDs, passports, testimonies, certificates, student tickets, driver’s licenses, airline tickets, and so on. “Where do we have birth certificates here? Aha, here! Well-eh, please step to my desk, as the warriors have chopped up all the furniture here!” Julitta ordered and, dragging the trunk behind her, went into reception. After sitting down at her desk, she extracted from behind her ear a black griffin feather suddenly appearing there. “What should I write?” she hastened. “Thought up a last name yet? Think fast, before I get mad and put you down as some Flydump or Schmuck!” “I want to be Patroclus!” after thinking, Daph said. “Patroclus! Well, indeed no! Too loud! Better you be Pimenova! Modest and — he-he! — plain! No one envies, no one teases, no one makes mistakes in writing and… no one remembers. I adore simple last names. They rush past the ears like a piece of wet soap. It’s excellent for our work. So, we’ll put down: Darya Afanasevna Pimenova. Okey?” And, without waiting for an answer, Julitta began to scribble quickly with the feather, even without dipping it into the inkpot. Methodius was stupefied. Julitta wrote… in a computer typeface, undistinguishable from that of an average laser printer. Columns filled up one after another. Daph got parents, place of birth, and registration number of birth. “One more question! Date of birth! How old are you, puss?” “Thirteen t…” Daph started, but stopped short, noticing that Julitta was already writing. “I thought so. No one will give you more than thirteen. There, all ready. Darya Afanasevna Pimenova. City of Moscow. Citizenship is Russian. Nationality is specified as according to the wishes of the parents. Registration number: 4543. Signed: head of Registration of Civil Status O.A. Sushnyak. Citizen Sushnyak has not specified her gender, but it’s her problem. Done!” Julitta put away the feather, looked over the document with satisfaction and insidiously shouted to Ares, “What stamp to slap on? Gloom or Savelovo Civil Registry Office of the city of Moscow? Or, perhaps, our little agent stamp?” “Don’t play the fool!” a bass answered from the office.
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“Well, so be it!” Julitta stated and with feeling pressed a round seal on the certificate. “Administration of Registration of Civil Status of the city of Moscow. Savelovo Division of Civil Registry Office,” read Methodius. “That’s it, Citizen Pimenova! Take your document! No need for me to fill up the desk here with scrap paper!” Julitta ordered. Daphne wanted to state that Julitta’s desk was already so covered, but decided not to get tangled with the angry secretary. Especially as Methodius had already managed to wink encouragement at her, showing that it was possible to deal with Julitta. Simply she was in a bad mood now. “Is it at least authentic?” Daphne asked, looking over the greenish form. “Of course! Do you think moronoids invented documents? They can’t even come up with clothespins for laundry!” Julitta snorted. Having taken the document, Daph again dropped into Ares’ office. “Done? Well, let’s have a look! Excellent! Now you exist in the moronoid world fully legally. Remember, minimal magic, no excessive splashing about, no new use of the horn of Minotaur — you’ll immediately blow your cover! — and… the main thing… no photographs and videos! Even by chance! Also, resort to the wings as little as possible… This also applies to your cat! But now all freedom!” Ares ordered. Chapter 10 Lend Me Your Body in the Evening Vovva Skunso was standing on the sports area in the school courtyard and lazily throwing a ball through the basketball hoop. Chubby Pasha Sushkin squatted down a couple of metres from him and was intently jabbing ants with a penknife. “Darn… No way! Little stinkers! A dozen jabs and only two dead bodies!” he complained. “You’re simply a squinter. Got a cigarette lighter? Try a lighter! Works like a flamethrower, only you must move it quickly from side to side until it goes out,” advised Skunso. He wanted to throw the ball through the basket, but suddenly something attracted his attention. The ball hit the hoop. “Look who’s there! Our confused Methodius Buslaev, the son of a cosmonaut, and some girl together with him! Interesting, why does Glumovich allow him to gad about all day to unknown places?” Skunso said. From the little area, Methodius and the girl were very visible by the gates explaining something to the guard. Then the gates opened and they passed through onto the school grounds. “The girl’s not bad… I like her. And where did he hook her? In any event, let him take leave of her. Methodius needs something simpler. The type: dot, dot, comma, turned out a crooked kisser!” Skunso stated. “You be more careful with him. Don’t run up against him! Have you forgotten yesterday?” Pasha Sushkin cautiously said. “Well. Those were cheap tricks. And later, if he won’t be with this girl… Let’s approach them!” Skunso decisively made his way to cut off Methodius. Sushkin hurried after him.
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“Hello! I’m Skunso, son of the very Skunso. Very well, simply Vova to you. Don’t feel inferior — I’m great, but modest,” said Skunso, smiling at Daph. Daphne interrogatively glanced at Methodius, as if asking who this was. “My roommate,” explained Methodius. He was astonished how soon Skunso restored selfconfidence after the night before. They are correct when they say cheekiness is the second happiness. However, for Skunso cheekiness was clearly not only the second but also the first. “And you’re not bad! In the sense of the legs and all the rest! The face is also natural! So what’s your name? Forgot your own name?” Skunso continued. “I’m flattered. Let’s assume I’m Dasha. Anything else?” “You’re indeed going to study here?” Skunso continued, a little confused by the cold reception. “How did you guess?” “Intuition, friend. Otherwise, they wouldn’t let you onto the school grounds. We’re strict with that here. They unscrew strange heads and throw them there. What drum do you have sticking out of the backpack there? A grand piano in the bushes, an upright among the palms?” Skunso motioned to the fence. “It’s a flute!” “Oh, the type, even a musical instrument! I envy you! There is a flutist here! Pash, drag yourself over here!” Skunso hailed. Pasha Sushkin, standing slightly to the side, approached, and gave a respectable little cough. “Get acquainted! Our culture and gymnastics!” Skunso presented. “Isn’t it true he’s like papa? The same chubby cheeks, curly hair! I would kiss him, but nowhere to wash the lips with soap!” “Do you know how to play the flute?” Daph asked, turning to Pasha. Everything about Skunso was already clear to her. He clearly expected that after the first doubtful compliment she would faint from happiness and steam with love. This did not happen and Skunso began to get angry. He loved instantaneous confirmation of his irresistibility. “I know how to do everything. I’m gifted,” said Sushkin and, raising his head towards the basketball basket, recited plaintively: In the taverns, in the alleys, in the river bends, In an electrical dream in reality I searched for infinite beauty And undying devotion to volubility... (Poem of A. Blok) “What’s this?” Daph asked. “Probably something from the beginning of the twentieth century?” “Yes, it’s Blok. How do you know?” Pasha Sushkin was astonished. “Then all poets went insane over light bulbs and airplanes and gave the scent of gasoline as presents to girls!” Daph remarked. She could not say to Sushkin that this was like yesterday to her. “Give me your flute, eh! I once began to learn!” Sushkin demanded. “I can’t. I’m not sure that you can manage it,” said Daphne with doubt.
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“And why do you ask her? Give it to him!” Skunso unceremoniously went to the side, pulled out the flute from Daph’s knapsack and threw it to Sushkin. Daph was about to try to get back the flute, but Vovva blocked her path. “Don’t be bitchy! Give culture and gymnastics something to play! Otherwise he’ll wither!” he said. Daphne, understanding that without the flute she could use the horn of Minotaur but could not do this anyhow, helplessly looked around. Methodius took a step forward, forming a fist. This time he decided even not to run to magic. Traces from a fist take longer to come off. “Eh, well…” he began, but now Daphne already stopped him. “Don’t interfere! He wants to play — the cards are in his hands!” having suddenly decided, she told Methodius. Pasha twisted Daph’s flute in his fingers, and then brought it up to his lips and rather competently played a short study melody. Daphne supervised him with secret triumph. A heavy bin with construction rubbish, located immediately beyond the fence, rose into the air, flew over the fence in a beautiful arc, and crashed directly into a teacher’s window. Pasha Sushkin was stunned and, forgetting to pull the flute away from his lips, stared at a corner of the dumpster sticking out of the window. “It came out rather well with you. It’s impressive. And now be nice, return the flute! Another couple of the same nightmarish sounds and a crater will appear on the spot of your school,” said Daph, coolly pulling the flute out of his fingers. Having left Skunso and Sushkin feeling crushed under the basketball hoop, Methodius and Daph made their way to the entrance of the school. “Why did the magic work? Did the moronoid play?” Methodius asked quietly. “So? You and I were beside him. Too high a combined concentration of magic,” explained Daph. “But the maglody?” “What maglody? He played something similar, that’s all it was. But then, among the composers who wrote for the flute, do you think all were moronoids? Ha, ha and again he! The last talented moronoid fell under a streetcar thirty years before the invention of the wheel!” Daphne stated. “You’re sure that you’re a real guard of Light? Flying dumpsters ramming whatever, it’s pettiness…” Methodius became silent, searching for words. “…unusual for a normal guard of Light?” Daph finished with satisfaction and tenderly scratched the neck of her skinny cat with a nail. “Like that. Dangerous…” “Well, and you’re an untypical guard of Gloom! Interfered with Ares about beheading me. What’s that from?” Daphne asked mockingly. Methodius looked away. “Well, that… A whim!” he growled. *** Around midnight, when the moist twilight shrouded Moscow, a short flash lit up the empty alley by house № 13 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Ligul the hunchback materialized on the asphalt. This time he was without armour, in an amusing colourful robe. Two of his personal guards, armed, accompanied Ligul. These were not rather stupid gorillas but compact, quick soldiers with cat-like movements and empty eyes of a killer. Both were in black raincoats hiding their armour.
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As the first order of business, they sketched a shielding rune around Ligul. The prudent hunchback remained in it, safely protected from any attack magic. “Make sure everything is clean,” he ordered, nodding to house № 13. Reaching for short swords, the guards slid towards the entrance into the residence of Gloom. After exchanging glances, the first guard let the second pass in front. Everything happened quickly and well coordinated. Must be, the manoeuvre was agreed upon earlier. With three quick strokes of his sword sparkling in the moonlight, the second guard cut the construction netting and jerked its edge sharply to the side. The dim light of a lamp caught a narrow door with coloured glass — that same one already familiar to Methodius. Now came the turn of the first guard. Keeping his weapon in readiness, he pushed the door and, after bending down, hid behind it. The second waited tensely, listening attentively for the slightest rustle. After a certain time the first guard looked out and gave a sign that everything was in order. Now both had already slid inside the building. The door shut noiselessly. Ligul patiently waited in the rune, moving from foot to foot. Finally, the door creaked. The hunchback saw the flicker of a black raincoat. “Shin, is it you? Why so long?” the hunchback shouted from the rune. “The house is big! Everything checked out so far!” he was answered in a rather muffled voice. “Did you find him?” “Yes, sleeping… Everything is in order, boss. He wasn’t even armed.” “I’m not afraid at all. Still, just in case,” said Ligul and, negligently shaking from the robe a speck invisible to the world, he left the shielding rune. “At least they held the door. Have to teach them everything!” he muttered and, leaning, took a step under the scaffolding. After stepping over the threshold, he found himself in pitch dark. “Where’s the light?” Ligul shouted angrily. “Here!” Something cold lightly touched his shoulder and neck. The hunchback froze. A long twisted candle flared up. Ares was standing in front of Ligul and in the raincoat of one of his guards. There was a blade in the Baron’s outstretched hand. The laces with the darc of Ligul’s guards were swinging at the base of the blade. The hunchback’s jaw slowly hung down. “A-a-ah… where?” he slowly began. “In my bedroom, on the second floor…” Ares said softly. “Don’t be foolish! I only wanted them to make you motionless. They were to tie you up so that I would be in no risk talking to you! The discussion didn’t deal with murder,” Ligul began to babble rapidly. “You’re certain?” Ares asked softly. “Yes. I entreat you, Ares! You know this. I don’t need your death. Don’t need it for the time being,” said the hunchback firmly, turning pale but not looking away. The Baron of Gloom, hesitated, nodded, and took away the blade. “You know why I spare you? Because you have enough smarts to say ‘for the time being’. For this very reason, your guards are alive. However, I’ll take their eide. They’re of no use to the unlucky wretches… Pass, Ligul! Make yourself at home!” He clicked his fingers, and immediately in the spacious hall flared up hundreds of candles. It became light as day. The fountain murmured, the mirrors shone, the marble shimmered lifelessly. “And you have settled in not badly!” Ligul approved.
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Ares smiled, casting a glance at the pictures hanging on the wall. “Possible to think you don’t know how I was settling in… Don’t make me laugh!” he said and, with the blade of the sword not yet vanished, sketched some sign in the air. In the same second, in the end picture, depicting the execution of a sailor on an English royal frigate, the rope broke. The fallen hanged man tumbled from the mast like an overripe pear, and he hurriedly crawled behind the frame. Ligul timidly shuffled his feet. “It’s not me! Not my spy! These are the mean intrigues of our ancient enemies — white magicians! It would only sow dissension among our harmonious ranks! I swear, the guilty ones will be severely punished! Long live the rightmost party of the left-most unity! It will not deprive us of freedom of choice!” he stated, importantly lifting a finger to the ceiling. Someone sobbed behind the frame. This was the false hanged man crying, grasping that the switchman is always guilty for any distribution and the train of just punishment would sweep precisely over him. “End the circus, Ligul! There are no moronoids here, and no front row tickets sold. Tell me why you came,” Ares said tiredly. However, the hunchback did not hurry. He sat down in the soft armchair and crossed his legs. In his colourful garment he very much resembled a ruffled up bright parrot. A parrot, which quickly grew bolder and even seemed as if beginning to despise Ares for allowing him to live. “Is your secretary here? No one will hear us?” Ligul specified. “Julitta is in a disco with some genie. They’re so hot that last time they burned… hmmm-m… what was it? Either a night club or a casino.” “Ares, indeed I requested not to draw excessive attention!” Ligul reproachfully said. “What does my Julitta have to do with it here? This fancy man of hers, by the way, is from your Chancellery. The genies called him a dork and he was offended.” “Yes, they’re too hot, these southern fellows. But what can I do with insufficient fish? I can do nothing… Ah, Ares, personnel decide all our matters,” sighed Ligul. “And everything that personnel don’t decide, you do. But ‘closer to the body!’ as my secretary loves to say!” yawning, the Baron remarked. Ligul became serious. “We thought that Methodius must step over the threshold of the black and white labyrinth on his thirteenth birthday. Then the stars will occupy the necessary position — isn’t that so?” “So,” said Ares. “But at the same time we haven’t considered that Middle Earth is in motion by itself.” “Middle Earth is fixed. Don’t make me laugh, Ligul,” said Ares. “It was considered so earlier. Perhaps it was so earlier. But now Middle Earth has decided to go into motion, especially as the laws of Light and Gloom don’t work there all the same… An astrologist, whom I prudently left there to control the constellations, delivered this information to me two hours ago. I verified everything. There’s no error.” “And when must Methodius pass through the labyrinth?” Ares interrupted him. “Tomorrow,” said Ligul quickly. “Everything changes extremely swiftly. Middle Earth has simply gone mad. It warps space as it wants and in countable seconds passed through the path, on which earlier it took centuries to leave. Methodius Buslaev must be there tomorrow evening… The position of the stars will remain the same for twenty-four hours. Everything will already end the day after tomorrow, towards the evening.” “It’s impossible. The boy is not yet ready. I didn’t have time to teach him anything!” Ares refused.
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The hunchback jerked his shoulders. “There’s no way out. Either tomorrow evening or in a hundred thousand years. So said my astrologist. However, I fear that in a hundred thousand years Methodius Buslaev will already have become dust,” he said severely. Ares thought for a long time. “So, tomorrow?” he repeated sullenly. “Yes. But he’s not to go alone. We have to send someone with him. Even if the boy’s intuition will break through, something else can emerge which he’s not ready for,” said Ligul. “I’ll go with him myself,” Ares decisively stated. The hunchback smirked, “No. You’re not going.” “Why? Indeed, you’ll forbid me?” Ares threateningly asked. The face of Ligul instantly became fawning. “Me? And who am I? Altogether only the pitiful head of the Chancellery, who sits with papers from agents all day… Well, perhaps, now and then gladden myself with a couple of fresh eide. No, the labyrinth won’t let you pass through. Neither you nor your wonderful secretary nor the genies nor me — no one… The devil of a labyrinth loves youth and impudence. Everything else, including wise men and soldiers, is only pitiful ashes to it. Recall the voodoo magicians… Perhaps it didn’t show this?” “What are you driving at?” “The Temple of Eternal Skip is woven from Light and Gloom approximately in equal proportions. Here I thought that, in order to pass through the labyrinth, both are needed. Gloom with its resourcefulness, pressure, ambition, and energy — this, it goes without saying, is Methodius. And Light — with its optimism, idealism, good mood, capacity for love and self-sacrifice…” “You’re talking about Daphne?” Ares asked. “Yes. About the girl, the fugitive guard of Light… Her coming to us is more than incidental.” “How do you know about the girl? Tukhlomon made a slip of the tongue? Or again this?” Ares hostilely nodded at the hanged man whimpering behind the frame. Ligul rubbed his dry palms. “You will laugh, but neither Tukhlomon, nor the hanged man here, nor anything. You underestimate me, Ares! You’ve always underestimated me… I consider not simply the move ahead, I see the whole game…,” he whispered. ‘What’s this you’re talking about?” “All about…” giggled the hunchback. “Don’t forget to remind Daph to take the stolen horn with her! It seems to me that it’ll be of use to her! Till we meet again, Ares! When my blockheads come to, tell them that they’re fired! And don’t forget to break their darc! I would handle them exactly the same way myself. Good-bye!” The hunchback suddenly jerked his long thin arms up and abruptly, like a bird taking off, waved the loose-fitting sleeves of the colourful robe. Ares involuntarily blinked, blinded by an irritating bluish radiance. When objects again assumed clearness, he discovered that the armchair was deserted. The hunchback had disappeared. “Be that as it may, but he prepared for his disappearance beautifully! Cowards always think through the details!” Ares remarked. The swordsman approached the black mirror and, crossing his arms at his chest, he examined his reflection for a long time. “I would like to know why Ligul is so confident that the girl can be trusted. That after turning up in the far room of the Temple, she would not first obtain what Gloom must get and hand it over to Light? A hyena will sooner
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become a vegetarian than Ligul will do something without an incentive…,” he muttered, looking intently at his own scarred face, which now seemed to him three times uglier. Ares turned and walked away, but the reflection still remained in the glass, looking at his back. Then it turned and also walked off — no one knows where to, no one knows why. *** That evening Methodius no longer saw Daph. Glumovich, frightened and broody more than usual, took her away to another wing, where girls lived. Then Glumovich again flickered in the far end of the corridor, but Daphne did not appear. Must be she was settling in at the new place, getting acquainted with her roommate, and generally becoming familiar with the moronoid world. Methodius experienced disappointment. “But what do I want? That she not take a step away from me? That she sticks around here in the room and admires the striped socks of Vovva Skunso?” he thought, feeling angry with himself. And then he recalled that he had already not been to Irka’s for several days and had not even phoned her, although from time to time he almost felt bursts of offence, uneasiness, and surprise from Irka. “Should phone her!” he told himself and did not phone precisely because he should. All evening Vovva bothered Methodius with questions about magic. In the end Methodius, understanding very well that sincerity was inappropriate here, both the wrong situation and the wrong person, was even getting angry, “What magic here? Magic is for lunatics! I’m busy with energy yoga!” “Yoga? Either you’ll teach me or I’ll rat to you! All of us will endorse it. Zaplevaev, Andrukha Bortov, Drell…” Skunso began to list them. His eyes assumed a shifty expression like a cockroach. “Okay,” Methodius sighed. “Then, first lesson! Sit down in the lotus pose, place the index finger of the right hand just below the diaphragm and massage it for four hours clockwise and then four hours counter clockwise. And do so each day for a period of three years.” “And what, I’ll be like you?” Methodius flinched with his shoulders, “Only an insurance company gives guarantees.” Skunso, after thinking for a bit, touched his stomach with a finger and sighed. He obviously understood that he would never do yoga. “Hmm… And what do you have in the case?” “In what case?” “You hid the case under the bed when I walked in. Don’t pretend! All the same, I’ll indeed look when you aren’t here! Or at night!” Skunso squinted. “Look!” Methodius gave him permission. “Why put it off? We’ll all be there at Mamzelkina’s!” He was not afraid for the sword. It is not easy to steal magic swords if they do not want to be stolen. He turned off the light and turned towards the wall. He was finally tired of Skunso. From this point on, he was tired of him till death. For a while, some faces were still flickering before Buslaev’s eyes: Julitta, Tukhlomon, and then all of them were ousted by the smiling face of Daph with merry white tails protruding so softly and unpredictably. At some moment, Methodius experienced sharp anxiety as if someone very bad remembered him and stretched out a claw-shaped paw at him. This was approximately
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the same time that the leg of the hunchback stepped onto the asphalt by house № 13. And then… then Methodius simply fell asleep, knocked out by fatigue, already without nightmares or visions. Before dawn, the cell phone near Skunso suddenly began to ring. Skunso groped for it with difficulty and brought it to his ear. “Who’s there? Gone completely nuts?” he asked. Half awake, his “gone nuts” turned out as “goon nods.” They answered him. Judging by everything, for about three consecutive times. Skunso listened for several seconds and then, clicking his teeth in fear, stared at Methodius. “This, it s-seems, is f-for y-you.” he said. Julitta was on the phone. As soon as the sound flying out of the dynamic chord cut into his eardrums, Met immediately grasped that this was precisely Julitta. “Hello, Met! How do you hear me, over?” “Already poorly… I urgently need to go to the ear-throat-nose doctor,” said Methodius, with difficulty controlling himself not to advise her to hang up and simply yell so, after opening a window. You would think, no problem for them to drown out such a voice in some half a kilometre. “Don’t make things up! Lively get your legs in line and run into the office!” she bellowed to him in answer. Methodius carefully shifted the phone to the other ear. “And for what?” he asked. “You get here — you’ll find out!” “Oh, indeed these are our secrets!” Buslaev thought with melancholy and asked, “Julitta, can’t over the phone?” “If it were ‘can’, I would have said so. End connection!” “But it was not possible to call? And from where did you find out the number of Vo… vvvvvva!” Methodius added the last, after glancing at the owner of the cell phone. Julitta ignored the question of where she found the number. Evidently, for a serious guard of Gloom it sounded idiotic. “I indeed wanted to teleport to you, only I don’t want to burn my dress! But then, I have little interest for your hormonally-running Skunso… How long ago did you glance at the book? You forget the instructions, ya-ung feller! Shaame!” softening, Julitta said wickedly. Methodius stared at the night table, where the Book of Chameleons showed red and flared up. It was so agitated, blazing so, that Methodius was not too astonished to discover that it was now Two Hundred Pea Dishes by the author Mr. Urukin, who was well known in a narrow grassroots circle. “And Da… take Dasha with me?” Methodius asked, remembering Skunso, who, even yawning, was all ears. Julitta smiled, “I already summoned her! Indeed, she gurgles in magic only slightly higher than the water line! Are you still there? Told you, hop to it!” Methodius quickly got dressed and, after throwing the cell phone to the wonder-struck Vovva, began to get out through the window. Then he returned and took with him the case with the sword. It was not high to jump — from the second floor onto the lilac. He felt that it was not worthwhile to go now through the school. “And if someone asks?” Skunso asked wickedly. Looking around, Buslaev with significance ran his thumb along his own throat. He did not understand what indeed appeared there in his eyes, but Vovva hurriedly moved aside. “Understood! Anyone who asks!” he said briskly.
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Methodius jumped, and the lilac accepted him in an elastic embrace, in indignation lashing his cheek with a branch. Rubbing his cheek, he got out of the bushes. Skunso above slammed the window shut, Methodius involuntarily appreciated, without particular noise. Methodius slid along the school to the girls’ wing, not knowing where Daphne had disappeared to. Everything was quiet — the night was splashing at all the windows. “Where did she disappear to? Should I shout?” Methodius thought. Suddenly one of the windows on the third floor opened, and from there someone deftly and noiselessly slipped down headfirst. Methodius yelled, certain that falling this way could break a neck. However, close to the ground, something splashed over the shoulder of the figure, and Daph calmly came down on the asphalt beside him. She had time to change into a turtleneck instead of the jean jacket. The flute, as before, stuck out of her knapsack. “Why are we standing? Whom are we waiting for? Going?” she proposed, negligently touching her bronze adornment on the lace. The large white wings, which recently rose over her shoulders, had disappeared. “What was that? Methodius asked. “Really visible?” Daphne unwillingly said. “Tell no one that I flew. Okay? Likely, I’m not supposed to. Indeed you saw that I literally materialized them for a second? Hardly anyone found out about them.” “They’re yours?” “Clear as a bell, mine. From where would I have dragged them? The poultry processing facility?” Daph assured him. Methodius went around Daphne. From behind, the turtleneck appeared ordinary. Nothing protruded, cuts were absent. And even the back was like a back. No hint of the wings. “Listen… this, of course, is foolish to ask… but how is all this arranged there?” he asked. “Not so bad a question, I’m frankly embarrassed! I have a normal back, if only about this. Not like Depressiac, its wings are the continuation of the shoulder blades… When necessary, I materialize them, and they appear. I remember, earlier they were quite small, I even could not take off, later I could only glide, but when the wings became firmly established, I began to get used to them little by little. But it’s a long story! Do you know what Ares wants from us?” “Don’t know,” said Methodius. He already several times attempted to link up his intuitive sight to see the near future clearly, but saw exactly nothing. Probably, Ares was skilfully blocking his gift as a seer. When Daph and Methodius approached house № 13 on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, a little old woman with an encased long object in her hands sneaked out towards them. “Methodius, laddie! The little heart, perhaps, goes cheep-cheep-cheep? Ah, you are my one and only love!” she sang, patting Methodius on the cheek. “And who is there with you? Oh, indeed not Daphne! Wonderful! Where is your cat-fool? Oh, sly face, craftiness is your name! Slipped away from Grandma to two… hic… crafty geese!” “I do not know you! Who are you that…” Daphne was about to start, but Methodius pulled her sleeve in warning. “Don’t be impertinent, my dove!” Aida Plakhovna frowned. “Not at your age to dare to be rude so swiftly! Oh, what am I! My talent simply drenches, simply steamrolls! If not for the cursed work, I, perhaps, would write poetry for a newspaper! I… would go somewhere even… Get married, to some insufferable, maybe, maybe not, blockhead!”
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Aida Plakhovna giggled. Methodius noticed that the old woman was not entirely sober. “Well, that’s it, I would fly on the wings of love and work! And you, my lad, don’t fail! Smash all the labyrinths there so that it would know our brother the Varangian! To teach Middle Earth, that is, to construct any kind of hell!” Mamzelkina stated. She had started to disappear, but, recalling something, beckoned Methodius to her. “With a pencil, my dear, a pencil! They said to me alone that it will be only for them. Whether you want to or not — do it! And I would do it with a pencil! Not a feather but a pencil! Not to help a good person… I’ll be a snake! Let me not see a corpse for a century!” “What?” Methodius did not understand. “So long, my dove! Take care of yourself, grey-wings!” Mamzelkina mysteriously shouted and was off, on farewell clanking the scythe slightly more forcefully than necessary. From somewhere above a dead crow fell down onto the bridge. “It was indeed death?” Daph was interested. “Something like that. Only she doesn’t like being called such. She’s Mamzelkina, senior manager of the necro-department. Did you understand what she was talking about? With what pencil here?” Methodius asked perturbed. *** Ares was in his office. He, as Methodius already noticed, was always in the office and came out from it extremely unwillingly like a mollusc from the shell. Julitta was sitting in reception. Only not at the desk but on the sofa, dressed in a black dress with glitters, very low-cut: she was at the disco in the evening. Having thrown one very plump white leg over the other, Julitta was writing on it with a lipstick: Cannotlookatcrookedfaceswithoutdistastecannotlookatcrookedfaceswithoutdistastecan notlookatrottenmugswithoutdistaste... She was in a very poor mood. Methodius, recently speaking with her on the phone, even wondered. Julitta’s mood changed like the weather in the Urals: instantly. “Be gone! I’m depressed!” Julitta said instead of the greeting. “What would this be from?” “I broke up with Ali… No, with Omar… Or was it Yusuf? I eternally get them confused!” “And how did this happen?” “Stupid story! I danced twice with Abdullah. Such a cute moronoid, very young. Nonstop bragging! Either his uncle controls the market or he himself controls the uncle — something incoherent there. My Ali began to be jealous. A fight broke out. They tore off one of my heels, a top rate heel, not magical, I got mad and smashed the entire bar with it… Both Ali and Abdullah got it, even the uncle. Then we took off, and already on the street, Ali stated that supposedly I’m not the answer to his concept of the ideal girl! Here’s a bastard, eh? I’m not this ideal!” “Julitta! Have Daph and Methodius arrived? I requested to send them to me immediately!” an imperious voice reached them from the office. “Immediately-y? But then whom will I complain to?” the secretary was annoyed.
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Leaving Julitta to suffer more, they went to the call. Stretching his hand out to the door, Methodius froze on the threshold. Ares was in a simple soldier breastplate dented in several places, Roman in look but clearly not forged in Rome. A helmet was lying on the table together with the blade. “I hope you have nothing against Middle Earth? We leave for there after noon. Toward the evening, we’ll be in the Temple of Eternal Skip. I’m also going with you. True, I’ll be able to lead only to a specific line. Further road lies already only for you,” said Ares instead of greeting. “When after noon? So soon already?” Methodius was astonished. He experienced neither fear nor happiness… Although he nevertheless felt something. Something quick and elusive. Some such thing that flickered and immediately faded. “Yes.” “But you said that this will be on my thirteenth birthday?” Ares insinuatingly nodded at the sky, “Upper sharashka changed the plans. Everything will happen in the next twenty-four hours. As a result, if you live, you’ll meet your thirteenth birthday in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere.” “Aha!” Julitta added, it seemed, she had already stopped suffering and overheard. “Agents will sing: ‘Our dearly beloved Met Buslaev came to us!’ And the succubae — those will swell up altogether with champagne and will jump onto his knees and climb to kiss him, after changing… and for example even to Daph!” Daph folded her arms. “Not funny!” she said. Julitta shrugged her shoulders, “I know that it’s not funny. But all corporate bashes go like that. And sometimes even Vii and Nagianka Pripyatskaya drag themselves along, it goes without saying, without invitation, and then, my dear mama! Tukhlomon dances on the table, Nagianka and the succubae present little swans! Simply don’t touch the uncle’s nose and in general go away from the coffin! My evening flings pale in comparison! And you, Met, cheer up! If something doesn’t work out, be comforted by the words of the classicist that each person must blow up the home, fell the tree, and beat the son!” Ares looked displeased at his secretary, “Julitta, where is your pause button? Press it and hold it with both hands! Daph, are you ready? The labyrinth of the Temple of Eternal Skip doesn’t frighten you?” Daphne sighed, “Naturally it frightens me. I would prefer an excursion to some quiet and calm place. For example, to jump from Niagara Falls and fly in its jet streams.” “I thought so too. If you need someone to push you in, just call me,” gallantly proposed Julitta. Ares furiously turned to her. The deep scar on his face turned crimson. “I asked: be quiet!” “I’m already silent! I’ve hit ‘Backspace’ and erased the entire last phrase!” the secretary hastily said and slipped out of the office to avoid more sin. “I’m not too worried about you. You indeed are able to handle with the flute? They teach you this almost from birth!” Ares continued, turning to Daph. “I can slightly,” modestly said Daph, stroking her flute. After all, in the Garden of Eden there were specialists and those a little better. “But here I’m worried about Methodius. I didn’t have time to train him seriously to handle the blade. He knows neither parry nor retreat — nothing. Not even the basics. One hope: that the matter doesn’t get to a sword fight at all, although no one knows what
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awaits you in the labyrinth. In a real battle it’s possible to kill Signor Tomato with a toothpick.” “Well indeed with a toothpick,” grumbled Methodius. “Trust me that it’s so. For the several hours we have left, you’ll not become a good soldier, and this is extremely essential.” “And how will we get out of it?” Methodius asked. Ares pensively looked at his own palm, big as if cut out of a tree, and almost deprived of lines. Only one deep lifeline furrowed it from the wrist to the index finger. “It’s necessary to go to extreme measures. If not a soldier — must let him in. To install a good soldier into your consciousness…” “Who? You?” “No, my friend. Don’t be offended, but for the time being I still need my consciousness. You’ll have to be content with… hmm… Horse. He’s quite good… Horse was the second soldier of Gloom and perished in a skirmish several centuries ago.” Methodius turned over in his head what was recently said. “And what was this skirmish, in which Horse perished?” he asked. Ares traced with his index finger along his long scar. “I expressed myself inaccurately. It was not so much a skirmish as a duel.” “And who killed the second soldier of Gloom?” Ares raised his eyes to him. They were calm, but such gravity came out of them that Met felt the almost material pressure of his look. “I, Ares, Baron, swordsman of Gloom, killed him. Cut off his darc together with the head in combat, this lasted about a half hour… In some ways, he himself got up under the blade. Could not face the humiliation, stripped of his darc. Duels among ourselves by that time were already forbidden. They sent me into exile to the Lighthouse. Some even proposed execution, but I was necessary to Ligul. Now I understand why… there were reasons for the duel, but I haven’t the slightest desire to share them.” “And now you want to install Horse in me?” Methodius asked. “I want nothing, Signor Tomato! My ‘want’ lies in the cemetery. I only try to make sure you survive if the matter reaches a skirmish. And remember: must not install Horse in oneself for a long time. Only for brief instants of battle. No more. Believe me, your body will be much calmer when the sword will be in Horse’s hand…” “And how do I install him?” Methodius asked with doubt. The idea did not seem brilliant to him. Quite the opposite. “You see, to admit Horse is not too complicated. I think, deprived of body, he’ll willingly go for it, and to wield a sword — this for him is as natural as breathing.” “But then how to expel him?” Daphne asked. “Well done, girl! You correctly understood the problem. To invite guests — it’s not so serious, but then to hint to them that it’s time to go home… Certainly, to expel Horse won’t be simple. He’ll want to exist further in your body, having politely asked the owner — i.e. you — to leave it. If he knows how to quell your resistance — the end for you. But if you prove to be stronger morally — he’ll yield and leave.” “But how will I drive him away?” “Shame on you, Signor Tomato! Who are you — Methodius Buslaev, the hope of Gloom, or a pitiful wimp? If the second — the labyrinth won’t let you through… We begin training right now!”
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Methodius nostalgically recalled the one-eyed omelette — the only breakfast Zozo was able to prepare. “Well now, again without breakfast. Do guards of Gloom feed their colleagues sometimes?” he sadly asked. “Once in a while… you’ll eat later. Life, in the big picture, is not a battle of muscles, but the collision of your will with the will of others. A body fell, but the will caught it and led it into battle. A weak will — it’s a rotten egg with a weak shell. The shell cracks with any hit on the outside. A strong will — it’s a diamond egg. It cannot crack, even if the whole world around breaks up. And it’s unimportant what body it’s in — adult or child.” Methodius hesitated with doubt. He never perceived himself as such determined brawn. In the morning, he even dragged himself out of bed with great difficulty, battling for each square centimetre of blanket. “What’s the spiritless mood for, Mr. Buslaev?” Ares was angry. “It’s not the one with stronger muscles that wins, but the one who doesn’t value himself and his muscles too highly. They will yield the path to the strong, even if he’s on crutches and without a head.” Daphne giggled, appreciating the hidden meaning of this phrase. “And now let’s begin!” Ares pressed. “Close your eyes… so… link up to the inner sight… now imagine to yourself a jug filled with water to the brim. Got it?” “Yes.” “This is your consciousness. And now imagine that somewhere inside the jug, in the thickness of the liquid a large air bubble was formed… Well, more definite! A free space! Make the consciousness empty. Not all, only a part! And now imagine that another substance fills this bubble. Let’s say, essential oil… Don’t let it crawl around and be mixed up with your water! Not for a moment! Hold the boundary! Got it?” “Well… I’m trying to imagine! But it’ll spread!” “Hold the boundary, I say! Don’t allow it to spread, if you don’t want the strange consciousness to mix with yours! Enclose it with a mental cocoon, well! Ready?” “More or less,” nodded Methodius, attempting to erect an invisible obstacle between the liquids. The oil strained to blend, but the water pressed on it. Suddenly Methodius grasped why this imaginary battle took away so much of his strength. He originally visualized too large an air bubble — and admitted too much oil. He imagined all anew, but now already decreased the size of the bubble. To retain the oil in the mental boundaries became considerably simpler. “Excellent!” Ares approved. “Remember the size of the bubble and never admit more strange consciousness than you are able to control! This is your standard! Anything beyond is dangerous! Get accustomed to retaining the boundary! It’s working out?” “Yes,” nodded Methodius. “Bravo, Signor Tomato! And now concentrate and say to yourself: I admit into myself the spirit of Horse, but only for sword fight!” “And he will hear?” “All mental essences react to such calls. Space doesn’t exist for them. They’re nowhere and everywhere — the gist of both sides of the same coin… But now admit Horse! The sooner you do this the better.” “I admit the spirit of Horse for sword fight,” thought Methodius and immediately understood that he was not fully ready for this thought. It should not be so limp.
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Methodius perceived how SOMETHING DANGEROUS appeared in his consciousness. He felt it but could not steer it, did not have control over it. At first — in some infinitely short moment the something was in confusion. Methodius strained his consciousness, checking it. The something obediently — even too obediently — shrunk and yielded. Methodius stopped sensing it and slackened, thinking that the something had gone away, vanished. Frightened that it had completely disappeared and Ares would be dissatisfied, he removed the internal boundary, that same barrier, which earlier like armour-plate glass separated him from danger. And here the insidious it, biding its time, absolutely exploded… Many long feelers rushed in different directions, filling the consciousness, striving to engulf his entire “I”, to obtain control over the body. And they almost made it, seizing one centre of the brain after another. Methodius yelled. He put all his strength into a retaliatory attack and… realized that he did not have time. His consciousness was already filled with something confident, mocking, and foreign. It gradually grew. And then Methodius suddenly understood that the body was no longer his. He, as before, was living in it, but only with the rights of a guest. He attempted to raise his right hand but the left rose instead. It clenched and unclenched. Eyes — either his or already the stranger’s — examined it with interest and slight contempt. Horse, who when killed was obviously not a boy, was clearly amused, finding himself now in the body of an adolescent. Daph understood nothing. She saw only that Methodius was sitting, clutching his head with his hands, and his hands were shaking as if he was afraid that his head could explode like a balloon. “You missed the moment! Resist! Either you or him!” Ares shouted. Methodius — more precisely, already Horse — slowly raised his head to the sound of the voice. He dully looked at the Baron of Gloom, and suddenly in his eyes flickered something predatory, like that of a jaguar noticing prey. Horse recognized him. No, this was not fury — absurd, ridiculous, and rapidly fading. Something different, calm, concentrated. Aged secret pain, hatred, which knows neither cooling nor passage of time nor oblivion. For several long seconds Ares and Horse looked at each other. Neither one nor the other lowered their eyes. Then Horse got up and looked around Ares’ office. Still a little unsure, as if getting accustomed to the body, he took a step to the table, where Methodius left the case with the sword. Ares did not interfere with him. He even did not stretch his hand out to his own sword, although that one was lying beside it and Horse could quietly take it. However, Ares’ sword apparently would only obey him alone and would not go near Horse. Horse opened the case and looked at the sword of The Ancient One. Then he touched the handle with his fingers and kept them so for a little, as if waiting for some kind of recall. Methodius sensed the sword’s slight bewilderment. As if the blade was pondering, weighing spirit and body, hand and reason. Its simple reliable essence was determining a choice. Horse did not hurry it. He was ingratiating, softly and persistently like an experienced trainer. And… the blade yielded. Having sensed this at the same moment, Horse firmly held the handle and, as before, making no sharp movements, fell back five steps. Then he looked at Ares again and slowly raised the blade to the level of his neck. Now Horse’s look slid explicitly along the blade and rested on Ares.

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Methodius’ consciousness observed everything as if through a thick glass partition. Either Horse could not obliterate him once and for all, or he had forgotten about him, or this did not enter into his plans at all. Ares approached the table and leisurely took his own blade. His view, bypassing the eyes of Horse, seemingly enveloped him from head to toe. Ares and Horse began to come together slowly. Without any threat, but in the insinuating manner of a cat. The tight office enlarged, grew to the size of a large hall. The table and excess furniture disappeared. Everything as before took place in complete silence. Not a word was said. Daph — standing in their path — felt a resilient, strong nudge in her chest. She understood that this was a demand to go away and not interfere. Barely keeping herself on her feet, she reached for her flute. “Don’t think about it! You can no longer help now!” Ares imperiously shouted a warning. “But Methodius…” Daph started. “Too late! Move away! And keep further away from my enemy!” “Why?” Daphne asked. Horse quickly glanced at her and smiled evilly, after making a quick motion with the sword in the air, as if chopping off her hand together with the flute. Daph understood everything and, realizing the truth of Ares’ words, took the flute away from her lips but continued to hold it ready. Moving in a tapered spiral, they got close together to approximately two steps away. And then suddenly, without any warning, Horse’s sword, like a snake, rushed to Ares’ throat. Ares deflected it with a short motion of the blade and answered with a long chopping stroke. The stroke, should it find its target, would slash Horse from his shoulder to his waist, but the sword met empty space. Horse, having slipped away, instantly moved his centre of gravity, turned up behind Ares’ back and again attacked. Methodius sensed ease and ardour, although he understood that he was not fighting but altogether only his body. But what the body was doing now seemed miraculous. The hand was the sword, the sword had become a hand — the boundary had disappeared. He had even stopped feeling the weight of the blade. The sword had recognized the master in Horse, and they both — Horse and the sword — had merged together, forming one entity. There was also something that bound this strange union, a common enemy. The memory of the former sword of The Ancient One and the aged hatred of Horse united against Ares, and it was impossible to know whether Horse’s hand or the magic sword’s own will sent the blade forward. Horse charged with short sharp attacks, predominantly stabs, after several quick feints. Must be, he understood that in a teenage body there was little power for chopping strokes. Ares, on the contrary, attacked boldly, forcing Horse to step back and not allowing him to get close to where the light Horse would clearly have an advantage over the less mobile and heavy enemy. Daphne perceived in Ares’ motions not so much constraint but a fear of causing Methodius’ body real harm. This prevented him from hitting with full power. However, Horse had no such reserve. Once having sharply twirled Ares, he quickly but sufficiently deeply scratched his thigh. Another time the tip of his sword almost hooked the darc of the Baron of Gloom.
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“Resist! Or I’ll have to hit you!” Ares again shouted to Methodius. Methodius undertook an attempt at an uprising, but his mutiny was crushed quickly and painfully. In the fever of battle, Horse pitilessly drove Methodius into the depths of consciousness and attacked Ares with the teasing snake sting of his magic sword. Now Ares already stepped back before the instantaneous incessant attacks. Suddenly Daph, the whole time still standing in torpor, caught his view sliding to her flute. At the same moment, Methodius, floundering in the quagmire of his own consciousness, heard his order. “Do it! Begin, Light!” Ares shouted. Daph brought the flute up to her lips and began to play. Quiet, barely audible sounds, similar to the babble of a mountain stream, poured out, and almost instantly three instantaneous attack trills followed. An outstanding attack combination, devised specially for black magicians. At this moment, Daph was grateful to Sniffka, forcing her to master this maglody to the vibration in the fingers. Even Ares, standing facing her and ready to attack, was thrown back a step. His swarthy face became crimson from the effort, when he nevertheless with difficulty kept himself on his feet. Horse in Methodius’ light body was tossed forward with the mercilessness of a hurricane. Horse swept across the floor. His consciousness almost faded, only a tiny spark glimmered. In several short instants, he came to and roused, but it was already too late. Ares’ heavy boot descended onto his hand, avoiding direct contact with the blade. By an effort of will, Methodius tried to chase the alien essence into the boundary outlined for it. The alien SOMETHING rushed and again overcame, restrained him. But this fight was not useless. When Horse again obtained control over the body, the sword of The Ancient One was already knocked off and thrown far away, his arm was twisted, and the bent blade almost touched his neck. This was the end of the struggle. Daph finally tore the flute away from her lips. It was no longer needed. “Horse! You know that you’ve lost! Leave him, I order you!” Ares exclaimed. “Not yet! This body is mine! I’ve waited so long for this hour! And no one, not a single pitiful dog would let me in! But here… here is even eidos!” a voice unknown to Daph said hoarsely. It belonged to Methodius, since his vocal chords were being used, but something in it had changed, making it almost unrecognizable. “It’s not your body!” “Mine. And try to do something! Banish me, if you know how! Well? How will you drag me out of here? Well? I’m waiting! What will you do to a spirit, swordsman?” Horse mocked. “I can do this! If I now chop off the boy’s head — you’ll lose this body.” “Do it! Why do you linger? Surrender to me why the boy is so necessary to you!” Horse hissed, desperately trying to break loose. However, Methodius’ body was clearly inferior to Ares’ power. “I will, if I understand that you won’t leave at your own free will,” Ares said calmly, without threat. However, something sounded in his voice that even Daph understood: he would chop off the head without any hesitation. And Horse understood this too. In his eyes flickered not so much fear as doubt. “Why do you need this boy, Ares? Let’s do this: I’ll swear that I’ll remain in his body and perform everything for the boy. And later we’ll fight again. And you will no longer spare me like you didn’t feel sorry in our previous encounter. And you’ll not seek the
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help of the girl with the flute, whose hand I’ll simply chop off next time,” Horse proposed bloodthirstily. Ares shook his head, “Perhaps your experience would prove useful to me. But even you won’t be able to replace the boy.” Horse burst out laughing, “Why? I can do everything! You know me! Where is this scar on your face from? Really, didn’t I leave it? I can replace everyone, even Ligul!” “But not Methodius Buslaev!” Ares said tonelessly. Horse’s head was thrown back as if by a punch. “What? So this…” he began. “Yes, it’s him — Methodius. Methodius Buslaev — the boy, whom Gloom called upon.” Horse recovered from the surprise. “I don’t believe you.” “Believe and think, why did we summon you? Methodius sets off for the labyrinth of the Temple, and your skill, possibly, will prove useful to him. He’ll let you into himself if he needs the sword.” “And your skill? What, have you already lost your ability to handle a blade?” Horse asked in mockery. “No, as you can see. So far I’m alive.” “A wise accurate definition! However much sense it holds!” Horse said with a challenge, but already as if giving in. His view slid along Ares’ dark blade, along his hand, looked into his eyes — calm, cold eyes under half-closed eyelids — and decided… “Okay, I’ll leave,” he said with an effort. “But only because I know what Methodius Buslaev means to Gloom. I have a request for you, Ares… A request of an old enemy. Will you grant it?” “If it’s reasonable.” “Find my blade… that stinging blade, with which I perished once. It’s not enough for me. I’m bored… I… I remember it there, in the void. Do you know where it is now? Who has it?” “I’ll try to find out where it is… I promise you, Horse!” Ares said. Horse’s voice, which was trembling, again became haughty. “Excellent, Ares, I’m leaving. But don’t think that I’ve left forever. Now I know the way here… Till the next meeting!” Daphne sensed a light puff cooling her warm forehead. Methodius, blocked up somewhere in the rear of the consciousness, suddenly felt that the steel will of Horse had let go of him. Ares met his look and, after understanding that Horse had left, removed the hand with the blade. “You’re waiting for sympathy, Signor Tomato! There will be no sympathy. There was no need to remove the barrier! I warned you: hold the boundary!” he sternly said to Methodius. “But I thought…” “You’ll be smarter next time. Now pick up your nail file and put it in the case. We have another pile of business. And you hide the flute, girl! Must admit, it makes me nervous. Now you see why it’s a weapon?” “Yes,” said Daph. “Did you indeed use it for the first time? On guards of Gloom, I mean?”

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Daph looked with curiosity at her flute. “Aha. Earlier I worked on this maglody, especially the final passage, tonnes of times, but never suspected that this piece can strike so powerfully.” Ares nodded, “Exactly so, word for word, spoke the eighty-year-old old lady, who decided to scare the drunkard neighbour with a shotgun and accidentally pulled the trigger… But now go! A couple of hours rest here, in the residence, will do you good. We set forth after noon!” Methodius, still not standing firmly on his feet, and Daphne directed their steps to the door. The boundaries of the office concealed themselves to the eyes, as if shadows licked and ate them. Ares placed a bent leg on the chair and anxiously examined the wound inflicted by Horse. Suddenly Daphne turned around, “I have a question. I just remembered… What’s this about a record with a pencil?” “With what pencil?” “With a normal pencil. The record referring to Met and me,” confidently repeated Daph. Ares’ face remained impassive; however, uneasiness definitely flickered in his eyes. “What, did you meet Aida?” he was casually interested. “Yes. Mamzelkina.” Ares frowned. “You see…” he answered evasively. “In those lists that they give to Mamzelkina in the Chancellery of Fate, there is the concept of a ‘spare column’. It’s the practice, when clearly someone must perish, that the future would still not be determined once and for all. In this case, they usually enter two or three names with a pencil in this column, and then… On the whole, then they erase the excess names and one remains and becomes apparent finally. Aida, as soon as she receives the lists, will race over here. She’s a loyal old dame, although mercenary… And knows her own duties… But if it will be necessary, indeed she won’t tremble here, don’t doubt… For her any Met, any Julitta, any Daph… is work! True, the ‘free column’ fills up occasionally after many years. So it’s still early to panic for the time being.” “I know,” said Daphne, recalling the indifferent ringing of the scythe and the dead crow. “But whose names are in the list? Daph’s and mine, yes?” Methodius asked. “Unimportant,” Ares quickly said, and it seemed to Methodius that he knew the answer. Or at least he surmised, which in certain cases was almost one and the same. Chapter 11 Children of Light and Gloom “Julitta, haven’t you finished?” Ares impatiently asked. “Almost. Last stroke remains.” Julitta moved aside. The white bird feather in her hands was smeared with the bile of a wild boar. “In your opinion, does it look like something?” Methodius asked Julitta, contemplating the complex figure on the floor. “Don’t barge in! When there aren’t enough rats, they use critics in experiments!” Julitta snapped.
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Daph stepped into the rune first, after her Methodius with the sword of The Ancient One hanging from his belt, and finally Ares in a breastplate and helmet. He nodded to Julitta, and his secretary, squatting down, traced the last line with the feather, completing the rune. The edges of the rune flared up. The outlines of Julitta, standing outside, gradually became transparent. “Success!” she shouted. Methodius also wanted to shout something for farewell, but Julitta clearly could not hear him. All around everything had suddenly changed. He understood that he was standing on white sand. Directly in front of him spread an enormous plain. It was so flat that it seemed convex. The sloping horizon especially emphasized this. The sun stuck precisely to the thoroughly roasted sky. A little further ledges and cliffs, resembling the ridges on a dragon’s back, jutted out in the body of the plains. “Further on foot. It doesn’t make sense to start with this place from our rune. Artefacts only protect small magic. Do you see those cliffs? There Middle Earth begins,” said Ares. “And where is this geographically?” Methodius asked. “Geographically? Forget this word. This place is not on moronoid maps. Besides, the Garden of Eden and Hades are also not marked on the globe. Which in no way prevents them from existing,” Ares said and, not looking at Methodius and Daph, quickly went ahead. For long, for very long they went along a rock spiral between the cliffs. In a few places were islets of brownish earth with stunted saplings. The sun recklessly burned the sand. The sky seemed inverted and wrong. Something in the place was such that it gave birth in Methodius the sensation of falsity, which happens from time to time when you look at a bad film or wander among movie sets. Instead of a house, there is only the front wall, and the door of the saloon leads nowhere. These sets were completely natural — live trees, crumbled cliffs… However, the sensation of unreality, irregularity now overtook Methodius nevertheless. It swept over him, it flooded him. He perceived himself as a spider running on the bottom of a jar, and someone powerful and unrecognizable was looking at him from above. They were exactly on an enormous surveying area, perfect, carried out to the last detail, that it appeared too real, and therefore was only false… Here is a small dried up little lake, and here nearby — is it not true, very appropriate? — is an old tree with a crooked stem. In a desert wilted and scanty owing to scorching heat… Well, simply in the best traditions! Everything was to the point, very to the point, so to the point that Methodius finally understood: Middle Earth was a creation as ancient as the Temple of Eternal Skip. “Yes,” said Ares, reading his thoughts. “Middle Earth — it’s a part of the Temple. They don’t exist separately.” The Baron of Gloom was going at a huge pace, vigilantly looking around along the sides and as if having forgotten his satellites. He did not even remove the helmet or the red-hot breastplate. The blazing sun seemingly did not exist for him. Daph also appeared fresh and trained. Methodius managed with difficulty behind her swift light step and now and then changed to a ridiculous jog trot. Once after this jog trot, allowing him not to lag behind, he noticed how Ares and Daph exchanged understanding, mocking glances, and, getting angry at himself, he overtook Ares. In a few places, small pangolins were caught in stone cracks. By the cliff, Methodius saw a dragon skeleton whitened by centuries. A large vulture with a naked neck was resting on the skull. Depressiac jumped off Daph’s shoulder and, arching its back, decisively made its way to the vulture. The vulture waited quietly. After closing in by
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about seven steps, Depressiac turned sideways, screwed up its eyes, and began to approach slowly. At the same time, he persistently looked not at the vulture but only to the side, as if thinking of making a fool of the stupid bird. The vulture straightened its wings and with its heavy beak made a quick fencing movement in space, as if also in no way connected with the approaching Depressiac. Both were playing the same game: the cat — that it was simply passing by, the vulture — that it did not notice the cat. “I place a gold ingot on the vulture,” said Ares. “And I on Depressiac… I place Eddy Khavron’s weights and seven forks from his restaurant!” Methodius said, after deciding to support Daph. “Don’t hope that I’ll let my cat be mauled! He’s already all covered in scars at home! Everyone beats him up, only he, poor baby, offends no one!” Daph declared unhappily. She reached for the flute — Methodius hardly had time to notice this quick motion — and drove off the vulture with an aimed maglody. The vulture unwillingly jumped off the dragon skull, took a running start and took off with difficulty. “Strange… I thought flight magic is blocked here,” Ares mumbled, squinting without enthusiasm at Daph’s flute and rubbing his ear with a finger. “Possibly the vulture, like my cat, flies without magic…” remarked Daph. Ares nodded, agreeing with her assumption. Depressiac was going to stick with the vulture, but it remained and, after flying around the nearest cliff, returned to Daph’s shoulder. “Again the poor little devil was allowed to kill no one, and happiness was so possible!” Methodius beat around the bush. “You understand nothing! My cat is very vulnerable!” Daph was offended. “Yes indeed, vulnerable… Face-to-face with a machine gun…” Methodius was more specific. And again the cliffs stretched on. An hour passed, another, a third… Time was compressed into oily formless clumps. Methodius could no longer look at the blazing breastplate of Ares without getting a sharp pain in the eyes. He hardly felt the steps, but each step gave out a low disgusting rumble to his ears. When everything had already quite merged before his eyes and he was ready to collapse onto the sand, something changed. The cliffs gave way. The rabid sun at once weakened its heat, as if an unknown director had given a sign to the illuminator. Immense marble columns shot up to the sky. They were so enormous, as if they were propping up the dome of the sky. Ares, seeing the columns several instants earlier, abruptly stopped, as if his chest met an invisible obstacle. Daphne, following behind Ares, missed the moment to stop and poked her nose into his back. Depressiac fell down from her shoulder and coolly started to lick a hind paw. It alone remained indifferent to what was now before them. Ares carefully, as if listening to his feelings, took several steps forward. Then a couple of steps back. He stopped and sat down heavily on a rock, placing the helmet beside him. “Further you will go alone. Something told me to stay. Must admit, earlier I also suspected something similar,” he said. “It’s an order? Are they ordering you to stay?” Daphne asked. Ares smiled, “No. It’s only a wish. Such a small, modest wish of the ancients. But it’s a wish with more power than any order. Alas… no choice!” “And us?” “I’ll wait for you here. You must approach the Temple, pass through the labyrinth, and bring what you will find in the far room… Methodius, remember, you only step on the
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first stone if and only if you feel that you can and should do it. Not earlier and not later. Wait for your insight. The labyrinth itself will prompt you, if… if you’re fated to…” *** They again went on — now already two without Ares. They walked silently. The columns slowly got nearer, they were almost crawling. Now and then it began to seem to Methodius that they were not crawling towards but away, obeying not the laws of physics but internal inspiration. It was almost entirely dark when they finally found themselves next to the columns. Daphne touched the outer column with a palm. “Strange… It’s not cold, not warm, but like it’s pulsating,” she said. “Don’t! Touch nothing!” Methodius exclaimed. He approached the high marble threshold and stopped. Depressiac made several stealthy steps and stopped beside Methodius’ leg. Its nostrils greedily pulled in air. Daphne began to worry that the cat would jump over the threshold and find itself inside the labyrinth, but no… Depressiac clearly sensed something. Something that was hidden for the time being from Daph and even Methodius. Daph also approached the threshold. She saw many identical flagstones — black and white, beaming weakly in the dusk and alternating as in chess. The size of each stone was approximately two-three steps. Some were trembling slightly, others were immobile. The carpet of stones was shimmering, flowing — it seemed unsteady and not too real. It reminded Daph of something like a quagmire, on top of which someone had cautiously placed thin sheets of paper or fragile black and white ice floes. On the other side of the labyrinth — Daph would have difficulty determining the exact distance — a slightly open door was visible. There was no one and nothing. Silence. “I don’t like all this. Ah, don’t like it!” Daph inhaled. Methodius kept silent, casting glances along the sides with a vacant look. Daphne even did not know whether he was thinking about the labyrinth or something else. “Time yet?” she asked in a little while. “No,” said Methodius. He looked at the shimmering, trembling stones. They were shuddering, reshuffling like cards in front of his eyes, and all the time it seemed to him that there was some system in their instantaneous flashing. Yet he recalled what Ares had told him about intuition — which should suddenly awake in him. However, intuition so far had not. There was no inspiration. He experienced only fatigue. He could not imagine to himself what could turn out to be there behind the door, and why it was so important for both Light and Gloom to get it. He looked at the sun — or what substituted for the sun in this strange, simultaneously real and invented world. It was already almost set. Now in its place there was only a reddish sphere falling beyond the horizon. From the other direction — a little obliquely — a pale and languid moon crept out. Methodius unconsciously attempted to move it with his eyes as he once moved the lunar reflection, but the moon mockingly remained on the spot. He again got up to the threshold, on which Depressiac was already lying. The cat’s tail only noticeably trembled. An attentive eye was looking in the direction of the labyrinth. Daphne, bored, took out the flute and tried to play something on it — something completely inoffensive. However, here — in the labyrinth itself — maglody did not sound. Not a single note could be wrenched out of the flute. Moreover, Daph perceived a
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weak smell of heated metal. The copper strip encircling the flute suddenly became redhot and attempted to burn the wood. It was a delicate hint that it was not worthwhile to use magic here or the consequences could be painful. “Well, no need!” Daphne said and indignantly hid the flute in the knapsack. Recalling about intuitive sight, Methodius shut his eyes tight, visualized the bandage and attempted to open in the gloom that tiniest bit of light on purpose. Internal sight obeyed easily and willingly. With such readiness that Methodius perceived also falsity. However, nothing changed in the labyrinth nevertheless. With closed eyes, he saw the same as with open. “Certainly, and what did I expect? As if everything would be so simple… Intuitive sight exists in each guard,” he thought. The Moon rose higher. Methodius involuntarily glanced at it and… discovered suddenly that the moon had become brighter, whiter, filled with blinding light… Next to the moon, three stars were arranged in a zigzag — one large and two on the sides like guards. Again, Methodius understood that he was absorbing this light, drinking it greedily like fresh milk. Daph, accidentally glancing at Methodius, simply froze. She clearly saw two pulsating threads connecting his pupils with the disk of the moon. And also three delicate threads — threads of the stars — sliding towards his temples. Daph hid, afraid to frighten off the lunar magic. A minute or two passed this way. Then something happened in the sky. The distance between the stars changed, the moon passed the critical point and… everything faded, perished, disappeared… But even before the lunar paths grew dim, Methodius felt such fullness of power, which he never had. He was gorged, sated, literally hiccupped with the energy satiety. The bio-vampire cat Depressiac rushed over intending to rub against his leg, but immediately began to spark and flopped onto the stones in a state of extreme ecstasy, resembling an overdose of valerian drops. Still not quite understanding what was happening to them, Methodius took a step to the threshold and glanced at the flagstones. Something had changed. The majority of the stones had dimmed; at the same time, the remaining ones formed a path. What was a chaos of flickering spots earlier now had become a trail. Whimsical, illuminated, continually turning back and again courageously and obstinately rushing forward. Sometimes on the trail something changed, something flared up brighter, something went out, something paled. Where the trail lay earlier suddenly a black seething nothing appeared, the way to the distant door began to lie in a totally different place. The labyrinth was unpredictable and constantly changing. It was hastily sewn together. It was, after all, a living thread. Space expanded upward, broadened. Buslaev suddenly saw the past, the present, and what could happen in the near future. Hundreds of different fates, hundred of ways — very short, simply short, or even long, in each of which was its finale… The possibilities branched out and Methodius thought that to know everything — this was all the same as knowing nothing. The absolute truth in the arbitrariness of everything and of every kinds of truth. “Do you see anything?” controlling himself, Methodius asked Daph. “Why yes,” answered Daph, surprised. “What do you see? A path?” “Of course not… Simply flagstones…” She said. “The same as before?” “Hmm… Well, yes…”
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Methodius again turned to the threshold. “You will take a step only if you will be able to,” he again heard the voice of Ares and understood that he already could. There was no time to lose. Who knew how long this strange lunar gift would remain in him, whether it would… “Let’s go!” he said to Daph. “Only take steps after me… On the same stone. No deviation — even the slightest. And one more thing… Don’t linger! If a stone suddenly goes out when you’re on one and I’m on another…” “Then we’ll never meet?” Daph quickly asked. “Exactly,” said Methodius. He did not want to say that Daphne would simply cease to exist. Daph touched the nose of Depressiac with a finger. “You are to remain here!” she ordered. Depressiac meowed and turned its back. Methodius stepped on the threshold, again glanced at the silvered stones, tried just in case to memorize at least a dozen of the first — further everything had already become entangled and was bouncing — and… took the first step… It seemed to him that he was torn away from a tower into an icy sea and was now flying down. The instant that his foot passed in the air descending onto the stone seemed infinite, and extended to centuries and centuries. The stone made a deep champing sound, went down and… stopped. Methodius felt how a wave swept over his body, from the brain to the sole. The labyrinth studied him, and in any instant was ready to close the file titled “Methodius Buslaev” calmly and without any emotions. And — it did not close it. Daph took a step after him. The return path was cut off. Depressiac saw them off without any special regret. *** Step… Step… Step… And each was seemingly the last. The stones shuddered under their feet and imperceptibly sunk into nothing. Methodius clearly sensed the vague push repeated twice. When he stepped and when Daph stepped. Her steps were lighter, more subtle. She moved lightly and gracefully, exactly like a cat. Not surprising that Depressiac, now purring outside, willingly acknowledged her as mistress. Methodius’ heart sank before each new step… Is he correct, is he making a mistake… The sensation was like that of a person going through a minefield. A stone, a stone, another stone. Methodius simply did not understand whether there existed a system in the interchange of the stones or whether it was worthwhile to search for a system precisely in the unsystematic whimsicality in which the flagstones were arranged. Sometimes they were joined in a straight line, sometimes diagonally, sometimes — fortunately infrequently — it was necessary to make a risky leap, which was especially complicated. Not even the leap itself, but that Daph immediately jumped after him, which could accidentally throw him off the marble square or she herself could fly off. But somewhere inside, passion was living in his heart… He liked the labyrinth, the risk, the feeling of how the next stone shuddered, obediently accepting his foot. His confidence in himself was growing little by little. Met no longer bit his lip nor involuntarily closed his eyes when stepping onto a new stone. His feeling of the labyrinth grew with each instant. He and the labyrinth gradually became a single entity, they merged, fused together. They had the same eyes, same ears, united circulatory system and flesh. Methodius saw and knew everything that the labyrinth knew. The labyrinth saw and knew everything that was known to Methodius. Good or bad — it was so. The secrets and the obstacles that existed between them had disappeared.
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Methodius looked intently at the adjacent dark slab and saw on it a small rune. Its meaning was unclear to him, but at that moment, he suddenly grasped that the rune was not simply a picture. The rune was an image, an idea, the impression of a dream. There was no need to look at the rune — like the need to look inside a well. “It’s a flagstone of fire! Here are quite a few of them…” he said. “Why is it a flagstone of fire?” Daph thought. She thought, but did not say it aloud. Something alien persistently and momentarily flickered in her consciousness. Brown, supple… A short cry — and a bog, which accepted something that became nothing. A freed eidos swiftly launched itself as a bluish spark high into the air. “Yes, ashes… Ashes and dust!” Methodius said, turning away. “What, did you read my thought? Stop!” Daph was annoyed. Methodius shrugged his shoulders, “Excuse me… Later perhaps I won’t, but now…” “Now it comes by itself?” “Something like that…” “And that one, another normal flagstone?” Methodius again glanced into the abyss opened before him. “No. This is the stone of old mistakes… It’s worse than the fiery one. You recall at once all your mistakes, the most bitter, the most humiliating moments of your life, amplified a hundred times… and you die from the pain, which can’t be removed… and here this stone, across from the slightly dented one, is the stone of transformation… You change into the animal closest to you in spirit, rapture grips you, you forget about everything, you rush about without thinking, and… your life comes to an abrupt end on some other stone. The magic action of the stone of transformation does not weaken a bit.” “And that, the adjacent one?” Methodius squatted down, looking intently. “Hmm… Honestly speaking, I didn’t understand what this sign means… Something indistinct. This slab… likely… is the stone of insane sluggishness, cowardice… You hesitate, you procrastinate, afraid to make decisions, you miss opportunities, sluggishness simply paralyses you… You stand still on the spot, and after a certain time the stone collapses… Together with you. And even in the collapse you doubt whether you have stepped correctly or not.” “Something painfully philosophical!” Daph said, examining the carpet of flagstones, which seemed to her, in contrast to Methodius, quite monotonous. For him each stone was special. “Aha… Then over there — ah yes, you can’t see the mark! — the stone of nice surprises. It eternally begins to creates something for whoever steps on it: hatchways without covers, pickpockets, falling down on a level place, burning a hand, squeezing a finger, not sitting in the right railroad car, breaking a leg, drinking vinegar… Here, of course, everything accelerates and there is no vinegar, but the finale is clear…” Methodius looked around in the other direction, “And here is another stone of fire… here are a heap of them… A stone of hunger… Frost… Diseases… Laziness…” “Why this laziness? Is it really dangerous?” “Regarding laziness… In the case of this laziness, we would simply crawl on the stone like amoebae. Sluggish, flabby, going to seed. We would talk lazily, look to the sides, think… But the third stone, if we count from this here, is the stone of treachery! You almost pushed me onto it!” “And what would happen?”
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Methodius squinted, “Really not clear? Last time on this stone two brothers stuck daggers into each other, but earlier they were like hand and glove. They never parted for a minute.” “But what if one steps on it? In the sense, if someone went alone?” “Don’t know… Not visible… although… It was also this way… once… then the person simply betrayed himself, his hopes and aspirations, and it was even worse. Vile and repulsive like nothing else. He became so sick that he took a step onto the adjacent stone of fire and ceased to exist… Only the ashes remained. But it was also better this way, because at least the pain disappeared.” “Well, let’s go… Where did you want to begin? Here?” Daph hurried. She did not like the laid-back and perceptive state of Methodius at all. “Stop!” Methodius suddenly shouted. Her raised foot froze above the stone that she was going to step onto and she brought it back. This stone definitely emitted the silvery safe radiance, but… simultaneously there was something not quite right. Some dirty trick, glitch of the rhythm… “Yes, I’m stopping, I’m stopping… Already no one is hurrying anywhere!” Daphne muttered, not understanding a single thing. Methodius waited, staring intently at the stone. He himself did not know what made him do this. Five minutes, ten… Daph moved from foot to foot, feeling like a standing donkey. “Are you saying that this is that stone! Or you’re already having doubts?” “No, I don’t doubt. That is it.” “So what are you waiting for?” “Don’t interfere!!!” Daph stared at Methodius with alarm. She had not yet heard this intonation in him. “Well now! Already ordering me! And who? Almost a moronoid! True, not entirely, but nevertheless!” she thought. Methodius continued to wait, not understanding what for. Suddenly the solid and definite outlines of the stone trembled and floated somewhere. “And what if I was mistaken?” Methodius said to himself and immediately, not turning it over in his mind, took the step. The stone trembled, went down and… held. Existence was not shattered. Methodius felt nothing except a light tingling. Daph hurried after him. “The stone of patience. It kills the hasty,” explained Methodius. And again they went along the lit up path, trying not to look at how many still remained. Suddenly Methodius understood that the flickering trail came to an abrupt end a step before the slightly open door. In front there was only one flagstone — one step, one white square, but could this step be taken? Where neither time nor space existed, a stone could turn out to be deeper than the entire universe. And to become the last, as if the entire way before never was. Methodius looked narrowly at the stone. With both external and internal sight. It was useless. The stone remained impenetrable. But it was obviously the one — only this wide stone exactly joining the threshold could lead to the door. His unity with the labyrinth had not disappeared, no, but the labyrinth was definitely hiding something from him. It was insidious and sly. “You see nothing?” Daphne asked with uneasiness. “No, nothing…”
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“Do you think it’s a trap?” “How would I know?” “But if it’s not a trap, then why hide it from you?” “They can have their reasons,” remarked Methodius. “But we can stand here infinitely. Until the remaining way fades. And we’ll remain here — one step from success, on the threshold of success.” “Or failure.” “But indeed we cannot go around the stone? Or jump? See, there simply can’t be another step… The door is exactly the width of this one step!” “I know…” Methodius cut her short. Daph capriciously looked sideways at him. “Do you know everything or are you only arguing with me?” she insinuatingly asked. “I’m only arguing with you,” said Methodius and understood that this was almost the truth. He took a deep breath and… made the step. He was not confident that it was wise, and… so it turned out to be. Although that notion about wisdom is relative, you rarely think at the moment when it fails. Methodius saw how, when his foot just touched the stone, a person took a step from it towards him. This was a longhaired boy — agile, quick, with rather insolent eyes. In the short instant before the truth dawned on him who this could be, the boy sharply slapped him in the face with one hand, and stretched the other to the handle of the sword. Everything became double in Methodius’ eyes, sparks began to jump. He understood that he was fighting with himself. With this second terrible “I”, with this part of him, which was absolutely real as it also appeared to him. Defending himself, Methodius gripped his enemy by the hand and pushed him away. The boy again briefly slapped him without swinging and, insolently looking at him with his terrible bulging eyes, seized the hilt. Met understood excellently what he wanted — to take possession of the sword of The Ancient One and drive it into his chest. If their physical strength were nearly equal, then by force of spirit and fury the enemy exceeded the real Methodius considerably. “Strength is nothing, spirit is everything,” flickered in some stale memory, but a very wise slogan… Methodius made up his mind and, recalling the lessons of Eddy Khavron, attempted to land a fist onto the jaw of this second “I”. But the longhair managed to duck and, grabbing hold of Methodius, brought him down off his feet. Methodius already remembered nothing more. Everything was as in a fog. It seemed they rolled somewhere and then everything suddenly darkened before his eyes. Daph, stepping onto the stone after Methodius, understood nothing. She did not see the double, but only saw that Methodius, having strangely turned pale, moved back. One of his hands tried to pull out the sword and the other — the left, weaker, tried to prevent it, clinging to the right with nails. Yet after a moment, Met fell onto the stone and started to roll along it, dangerously approaching the edge of the stone. Twice he nearly rolled into nothing, and twice he succeeded in rolling away. It seemed to Daphne that a strange madness had taken possession of Methodius. His teeth bit his lips with hatred, as if the lips belonged to someone else. Daph attempted to hold him, but Methodius was much stronger. Hardly realizing what he was doing, he brought Daph down off her feet and together with her rolled to the edge of the stone. Daph yelled. Now there was no way out left for her. Afraid there was no time, with strange internal clarity and knowledge of what she was doing, she tore the lace with the wings off herself and threw it around the neck of
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Methodius. The bronze wings shook. The flute compassionately and sadly jumped in the knapsack. Methodius came to, with a short push he swam out of non-existence. He was lying on the edge of the stone, touching its edge clearly outlined. The hand, with which he was clutching the hilt of the sword, unclenched. It was slippery with sweat. Daph, managing to get up, looked at him with horror. Methodius discovered around his neck the lace with the wings. “Why is this?” he asked mechanically. At the given moment, he was unable to be surprised — too tired. “The wings possess sobering and damping magic… Are you okay? Give them back!” Daph said, decisively taking her own talisman from Methodius. Methodius noticed that she was in a very bad mood. “What’s with you?” “Nothing! Leave me alone!” Daph growled. “Kiddo, be more careful with the wings! A guard of Light who puts the lace with her wings around the neck of a mortal will fall in love with this person and will love him eternally,” Daphne recalled the words of Retired Fairy. Certainly, they said that the old woman had outlived her mind, but… “Brrr!” Daph calmed herself. “Let’s examine this! Will I really fall in love with him now? With this smug, cheeky individual with a chipped tooth? Ha and again ha! Stupid prophecy!” But in her soul there was alarm nevertheless. “This was the last stone! We have arrived!” she suddenly heard the voice of Methodius. He pushed the door with his hand. The door, creaking, opened. Methodius entered the far room of the Temple. It turned out to be unexpectedly small, tight, in no way tallied with the immensity of the labyrinth. The ceiling was so low that, it seemed, he could touch it with his hand. Methodius stopped. In him emerged the sensation that he would never leave here at all. That this place was already well known to him till pain, till bedsores, as if he only did things his entire life so that he would enter this room and would not rush out of it. He stood before the lead sarcophagus with ancient signs imprinted on it — the sarcophagus from his old nightmare. He looked at the sarcophagus and felt how there, inside, in the sarcophagus, something had woken up, obeying his look. Something having neither form nor essence nor its own will, but not knowing barriers of force. *** The lead of the sarcophagus was tarnished, with small impregnations of something foreign. Where his look rested, Methodius noticed drips of lead. The sarcophagus was melting. “What’s inside there?” Daph asked in a whisper. The strange and casual expression of Methodius’ face disturbed her not a bit less than the sarcophagus itself. It was as if he was no longer with her. His consciousness, freed from the labyrinth, now almost merged with what was inside the sarcophagus. With what had been waiting for him for long millennia. “What’s there, Met?” “Don’t know,” Methodius responded as in a dream. “You know! You must know, otherwise the sarcophagus wouldn’t call you!” Daph confidently said. “There… there’s something… I know nothing about it, I only feel it!” “What, you don’t even know if it’s alive or not?”
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“No. It’s neither a corpse nor alive… Neither good nor evil, neither curious nor indifferent. It’s not even from another world or another dimension. It was always here on Middle Earth, and now and then — very long ago — it even came down into our world.” “Why did the ancients imprison it here?” “They… they were afraid.” “Afraid of it?” “Afraid of it and for it. They wanted it to be found and feared this… Everything is complicated, undefined. They worshipped it for long millennia and — never once used it. They were very wise and were afraid to come running to it, because it’s particularly dangerous in combination with wisdom.” “So tell me about this something! WHAT IS THIS?” Methodius answered after a long pause. It was complicated for him to clarify himself but he understood the end. “It’s… omnipotence, equal to gods. Something, not having a shape or its own will. A single omnipotence, almightiness, deprived of all other shades and unadulterated… I don’t know how to explain plainly. It can be everything but it wants nothing.” “How can this be? How can it not have a will? This is omnipotence?” Daph doubted. Buslaev shrugged his shoulders, “If we think about it, it can only be so. Omnipotence is precisely omnipotence because it can be everything but wants nothing. It’s formless, like an ocean. It has only one desire — to become a part of someone and serve him, amusing itself with the idea that it, omnipotence, would finally obtain its ‘I’. And then, possibly after long years, to leave him and again return here, to the Temple. But if and only if the host himself wants this, because it has no will of its own.” “And now it wants to become a part of you?” Daphne asked. “Yes… Or no. But, more ‘yes’ nevertheless. Such a weak ‘yes’,” after thinking, Methodius said. “Weak? You don’t understand that for someone not having a will at all and unable to say ‘yes’, such a weak ‘yes’ is a monstrously strong ‘yes’,” muttered Daph. Now lead tears no longer simply ran down along the sarcophagus. They were flowing like a stream. But strangely — the sarcophagus did not melt, although under it on the stones a whole puddle of lead had already accumulated. Only in one place, on the side along its centre, an opening of an exact circular shape, something similar to a hole for an ancient key, suddenly came to light in the sarcophagus. Daphne became uneasy. She suddenly recalled her mission. She must not allow Methodius to obtain what could serve Gloom. “And what if…” the thought flickered in her. “And would it come to me?” Daph asked, after deciding to make use of that same strange, keen-casual state of Methodius. The boy turned to her. His pupils emitted deathly moonlight. “No. It doesn’t need you. And it would not go to you. It needs something else from you. Your horn. The horn of cold. Only it will be able to cool the sarcophagus,” he said tonelessly, as if someone else was speaking in his voice. “I won’t give it the horn!” “Nothing depends on you any longer. The road of the horn ends here. This artefact will never leave here…” said Methodius and imperiously stretched out his hand with palm up, as Ares did sometimes.
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Daph sensed how the horn of the Minotaur was rushing forward against her will. She tried to hold on to it, but it only burned her with the cold. Daph understood that if she did not let go of the horn, she would be pulled into the incandescent womb of the sarcophagus after it. No, the horn of the Minotaur was not an artefact of Light. It had been using her from the very first moment when she saw it in the depository of the House of the Highest Light. The horn needed her only to deliver it here, into the far room of the Temple. Daph unclenched her hand, having yielded. The horn slid into the circular opening on the side of the sarcophagus, scorching and weeping lead, and entered there almost completely. No, it did not turn — this was a key of a different kind. Cold waves went in different directions from the horn. It melted like an icicle, and, melting, returned its cold to the sarcophagus. “Now… do it now!” Daphne said, not understanding why she said this and whether it was her voice. Methodius stretched out his hand and touched the sarcophagus. Only a short, almost elusive contact was required of him. The cold and the heat burnt his fingers, and then the omnipotence living in the sarcophagus simply entered him. Daph, tensely looking at Methodius, discovered no special changes in him. It was entirely the same Methodius… or was it? “Do you feel anything? Anything special?” she asked. Methodius kept silent for a long time, listening to himself, groping for words. “No. Not so far. It would be keeping a low profile and watching. Or the time for its complete awakening simply hasn’t arrived yet. But I know that we must get out of here. Nothing more for us to do here.” Methodius walked calmly back through the labyrinth, with wide steps, not thinking about the stones and not looking narrowly at the lunar path. He perceived suddenly that the labyrinth, having given up its secret, was no longer fearful to him. *** When they went outside, the Temple of Eternal Skip no longer seemed so enormous to them. True, they also almost did not look around. Soon the sharp-sighted Daphne saw someone’s silhouette in front. They walked closer and recognized Ares. Blood caked on his cheek. Next to Ares, Ligul the hunchback was sitting on the ground and shaking his head. On Ligul’s forehead was the noticeable trace of a hit by the flat of a sword. The hunchback’s armour appeared pretty beaten up. Ares looked with a sombre smile at the approaching Daph. “Certainly now they’ll try to ask me, ‘What happened here?’ This rather stupid little question is literally printed on the forehead of our Light mademoiselle with black feathers on her wings. Isn’t it so?” the swordsman asked. “Yes,” nodded Daphne. To deny was obviously more foolish than admitting it. “So, I’ll explain,” Ares said mockingly. “It turns out we were not alone here. To keep me company nicely are my friend Ligul and… the friend of my friend Yaraat. As real friends, they decided to give me a surprise and did not warn me about their arrival. They sneaked up. In order to scratch my back with a dagger. However, my aunt Intuition called me in time on the internal telephone. After a brief exchange of opinions, Yaraat prudently concealed himself. I would like to know which of the artefacts he used. As souvenirs,
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Yaraat left the tiger-bite sabre and his friend Ligul, who fell in celebration and gave himself a bump. Isn’t it so, friend Ligul?” The hunchback, sitting with arms across his chest, sniffed angrily. “Your irony is incomprehensible to me, Ares. To kill you was not in our plans. It was necessary for us only to ensure that what Methodius brought out would reach Gloom,” he said. “I understood it too, when you both jumped me and started tenderly, as in the first meeting, to probe my breastplate and darc cord with your irons. As for Yaraat — I hope the paths of our life will still cross. And it will be the last crossing of one of the paths,” politely said Ares. “So, that means Ligul let Yaraat out?” Methodius asked. “Yes. As I understand it, he needed Yaraat to influence Troil remotely. He possesses some kind of capability for remote zombification,” remarked Ares. “He turned Troil into a zombie?” Daph asked with suspicion. “No. Troil was way over his head. But they got the better of his secretary Berenarii’s defence and turned the poor wretch into a zombie. And Berenarii, in turn, delivered to Troil a little ring, known in tight circles of the very broad magical community as the ring of suppression of will. For sure, talking with you, Troil was looking continually at the ring. Such indeed is the characteristics of this artefact — it suppresses the will of whoever looks at it. No one is able to look away for long.” “But what did they do all this for?” “These cheaters, I must assume, needed the horn of the Minotaur. And a messenger, who would deliver it. The messenger, it goes without saying, was you, Daph. However, Berenarii and Yaraat had not considered that Troil is not a fool. In spite of the ring, he preserved enough common sense to understand that there was an attempt to manipulate him. True, excessive gentleness ruined him. He did not immediately undertake any measures but waited. And then nothing was left for Berenarii except delivering to him that box with Typhon’s scales. And at the same time also your feather, Daph… I hope that Troil will survive nevertheless, although I’m not sentimental by a wide margin. Simply the poor wretch Troil is not the worst that Gloom can wish for itself.” “But how about Mamzelkina? Well, that someone must perish and she would record with a pencil?” “As I understand it, there was no record at all. The old lady attempted to help us, but very originally, in her own touching manner. To warn us about Ligul and Yaraat, while at the same time remaining within the framework… hmm… of professional ethics, perhaps…” said Ares. Methodius felt that Ligul the hunchback had already been looking at him with greediness for several minutes, as if striving to grasp something but could not. Ligul examined the face, the eyes, the empty hands. He examined and did not understand. “What did the boy carry out from the labyrinth? Take me, Light, but where is it — what I’ve lived for all these years?” he asked finally. Daphne squatted down near the hunchback. He was not even offensive to her. She did not feel hatred for him. To her he was… like a large black shiny beetle, which crawled along drying manure. “Methodius obtained omnipotence there. Absolute force, not having any shade. A force, deprived of its own will, form, desire. A force — complicated to take away and even more complicated to subordinate. Now everything will depend on
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what road he’ll choose. Will it be the path of Gloom or the path of Light…” she said to Ligul. The hunchback licked his lips, thinking it over in a hurry. “I can make to the young person a very interesting and advantageous proposal! A proposal that cannot be refused!” he briskly said. Ares burst out laughing with his terrible resonant laughter, “Take a good look at him, hunchback! I know you, you’re not a fool, though you play the role now and then. Took a good attentive look at the boy… And now take it away if you are able to. Be more bold: neither I nor Daph will interfere with you. Take it away, what are you waiting for?” The hunchback’s furious eyes drilled into Methodius. This lasted a long time, a very long time. Finally, Ligul looked away. “No, you cannot take this away. This has already become a part of him. Cannot steal this, or lure this away. Even finishing him off, we’ll win nothing,” he hissed unhappily. “Certainly. Interesting that you understood this only now,” said Ares. “And you know that it enrages me! That this entire force depends on one tiny, negligible eidos!” Ligul said quietly but with threat. The swordsman Ares took a step towards Methodius and suddenly, obeying an internal impulse, got down on one knee. “Remember what I’ll say to you, boy-moronoid. Yesterday’s moronoid, but nevertheless… You have not yet mastered this force living in you, have not yet tamed it… There is still much in prospect for you to understand and much to live through before the force that came to you will actually become your force. But this will happen sooner or later, I know. A long winding road is in front of you, but you will come to us, sovereign of Gloom, and you will place the last dot in the existence of this reckless world!” he said. “Or you will open a new page, sovereign of Light!” Daphne said in a whisper to Methodius. ***

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Glossary
Absalom: In the Bible, he is the third and favourite son of David, but he revolted and was killed in battle. Achilles: The most handsome and the quickest of the Greek heroes assembled for the Trojan War. Legend states that the only vulnerable part of his body was his heel, and an arrow shot to this heel killed him. The term “Achilles’ heel” or “Achilles tendon” has come to mean the point of a person’s weakness. Aleutian god: The Aleuts are the native inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands and West Alaska. Before the arrival of Russian explorers in 1741 and the subsequent introduction of Christianity, the traditional Aleutian beliefs were animism and shamanism, the entire environment was alive with deities demanding appeasement. Apollo Belvedere: This is a marble sculpture of Apollo, in Greek mythology the god of the sun, the arts, and manly beauty. It was installed in 1511 in the Cortile del Belvedere in Rome, hence the name Apollo Belvedere. It was considered the greatest ancient sculpture and for centuries epitomized Western ideals of aesthetic perfection. Ares: In Greek mythology, the Olympian god of savage war, bloodlust and slaughter personified. Artefactology: The study of artefacts. Aryan: Originally, the word originally referred to ancient peoples that inhabited parts of modernday Iran, Afghanistan, and India, but its meaning started to change in the 18 th century, and nowadays it refers to the blond-haired blue-eyed physical ideal of Nazi Germany. Astral: Astral can mean something related to stars; or the astral body, a second body that accompanies an individual through life, able to leave the physical body at will, and survives the individual after death of the physical body. Bald Mountain: According to Slavic legends, a place where witches and other paranormal creatures gather for the Sabbath. Bast sandals: Sandals woven from bast, the inner fibrous bark of linden or birch tree, they are the not very durable traditional footwear of Eastern European peasants. Belladonna: A poisonous herb, also called deadly nightshade. Blok: Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok (1880-1921), Symbolist poet, considered the greatest Russian poet that came after Pushkin (see Pushkin). Bolkonsky, Andrei: Prince Andrei Bolkonsky from War and Peace (1865-69) by Count L.N. Tolstoy (1828-1910). Bread and salt: A welcome greeting ceremony of the Slavs — a round loaf of bread on an embroidered towel with a holder with salt sitting on top of the bread is presented to important guests. It signifies hospitality and friendship of the host.

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Buslaev: In the Novgorod cycle of byliny — heroic poems, epics — Vasilii (Vaska) Buslaev was a brave young folk hero of unlimited boldness. Buyan: In Slavic mythology, Buyan is an island far away at the end of the world. Concentrated on the island are all the might of spring thunderstorms, all the mythological personifications of thunder, wind, and storm. The stone Alatyr, the centre of magical coordinates of the world, can be found here. On this island are also the Dawn maiden and the thunder god Perun. This island appears in The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831), a fairy-tale poem by Pushkin. (See Pushkin.) The merchants have to pass this island to get to the realm of Tsar Saltan. Candidate of science: The equivalent of PhD. Cerberus: The three-headed hellhound in Greek mythology, an offspring of Echidna (see Echidna) and Typhon (see Typhon), guarded the gates of Hades and ensured that the spirits of the dead could enter but not leave. Cedars of Lebanon: A species of cedar native to the mountains of the Mediterranean regions, the tree is important to various civilizations for both religious and civil uses. Chakra: In Hinduism, a spiritual energy centre of the human body; there are seven of them. Cherchez La Femme: A French phrase, literally translates as “look for the woman” expressing the idea that behind a problem there is a woman. It simply means to look for the root of a problem. Chernomorov, Sardanapal: The wicked sorcerer in Ruslan and Ludmilla (1820), a fairy-tale poem by Pushkin (see Pushkin), is named Chernomor. In The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831), another of Pushkin’s fairy-tale poems, Chernomor is the leader of thirty-three knights from the sea. Chernomorov can mean “of the Chernomors.” Sardanapal is the Greek name for Assurbanipal, the last great king of ancient Assyria. During his reign, 668-627 BC, Assyria was known for both military power and cultural splendour. Chimera: In Greek mythology, a fire-breathing female monster made up of parts of multiple animals, an offspring of Echidna (see Echidna) and Typhon (see Typhon). The sighting of Chimera was an omen of natural disaster. Chocolate “Downty”: A chocolate that can fry one’s brain, jokingly called the “sweets of paradise.” The name “Downty” is a reference to Down syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by mild to severe mental retardation. Crimean Bridge: One of the bridges over the Moscow River. Dali, Salvador: Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech (1904-89), Spanish surrealist painter best known for striking and bizarre images in his works. Danish kingdom: A reference to the Shakespearean play Hamlet. Darc: A small silvery icicle-like personal ornament for keeping captured eide (see Eide). Each guard of Gloom has his own darc, which he guards with his life.

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Davout: Louis-Nicolas d’Aout (1770-1823), Marshal of France during the Napoleonic era; known as the “Iron Marshal” for being a stern disciplinarian, and the only Napoleonic Marshal to be undefeated in battle. Demosthenes: (384-322 BC), prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens, acclaimed as “the perfect orator, the standard of oratory.” Descartes: René mathematician. Descartes (1596-1650), highly influential French philosopher and

Desdemon: A reference to Desdemona, a tragic character in the Shakespearean play Othello. Diathetic: A predisposition of the body to disease. Doctor Ziggy: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Ziggy is an affectionate term for Sigmund. Dot, dot, comma, turned out a crooked kisser: The first two lines of a popular children song by Yu.Ch. Kim (1936-), Russian bard and playwright. Dragonball: The favourite sport of magicians, involving 2 teams of 10 players and a live “goal” — a dragon — for each team. These “goals” are capable of swallowing players. The aim is to throw the balls — flame-extinguisher, stun, pepper, sneeze, and immobilize — into the mouth of the opposition’s dragon. Echidna: The mother of all monsters in Greek mythology, an offspring of Gaia — Mother Earth — and Tartarus (see Tartarus), mate of Typhon (see Typhon), it has with the face and torso of a beautiful woman and the body of a serpent. Eide: Plural of eidos. Eidos: In Greek philosophy, an eidos is the immutable genuine nature of a thing, an abstract universe, the essence. In anthropology, it is the distinctive expression of the intellectual character of a culture. In the current story, it is what is generally termed the soul. Ekril: A-krill; krill is the collection of shrimp-like planktonic crustaceans, from the Norwegian word for small fry. Etna: Mount Etna in Italy, the largest active volcano in Europe. Everything was in disorder in the Oblonsky home: A line from Anna Karenina (1873-77) by Count L.N. Tolstoy (1828-1910). Evil spirits: Slavic mythology is full of evil or unclean spirits, or petty demons, presiding over different things, e.g., domovoi — male house-spirit, kikimora — female hobgoblin, also female house-spirit, leshii — wood-goblin, ovinnik — barn-spirit, vodonoi — male water sprite, rusalka — mermaid or female water sprite, to name a few. They often play tricks on humans. Fifth dimension: A hypothetical dimension beyond the three spatial dimensions and the fourth temporal one.
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Finist the Brave Falcon: This is a Russian fairytale character, a falcon by day and a handsome youth by night. Gargoyle: A gargoyle is a spout in the form of a grotesque carving on the outside of a building to direct water away from the roof. As an architectural feature, it has been known since before the times of the ancient Greeks, but became very popular in Medieval and Victorian ages and took on its role of a building’s protector to scare off evil spirits. In contemporary myth, a gargoyle is depicted as a winged creature with demonic features and only comes alive at night after everyone is asleep. Gehenna: From Hebrew ge bene Hinnom — the valley of the sons of Hinnom, where, according to the Bible, children were sacrificed to the deity Moloch. The word represents a place of torment and suffering — hell. Genie: In Middle Eastern mythology, a genie is any spirit less than a god. It is a creature with free will, made of smokeless fire. Genies are invisible to humans but they can see humans, are beings much like humans possessing the ability to be good or evil, and have communities much like human societies. They are controllable by magically binding them to objects. Gerasim: See Mumu. Gnome: Technically, there is no such thing as British gnomes, only elves or fairies – supernatural and invisible magical folks, usually in human form. Golden mean: In philosophy, this is the desirable middle ground between two extremes. Gorgonova, Medusa: In Greek mythology Medusa is one of the gorgons — vicious female monsters with hair of living, venomous snakes, who turn to stone anyone who looks at their faces. Using his shield as a mirror, Perseus managed to chop off Medusa’s head. Great Tooth: A play on word on the name Dentistikha — Zuboderikha in the original Russian text, zuboder being the Russian word for dentist. Her nickname is “the Great Zubi,” zub being the Russian for tooth. Griffin: A mythical beast found depicted in ancient Babylonian, Assyrian, and Persian paintings and sculptures, having the head and wings of an eagle and the lower body of a lion. Griffins were supposedly guardians of the gold mines of ancient Scythia. Their eyesight was clear and sharp and they were also known for their swiftness. Hades: In Greek mythology, this is the name for both the abode of the dead and the god of the abode. Heracles: In Greek mythology, Heracles is the greatest of heroes, a paragon of masculinity, and the ancestor of royal clans; also known as Hercules in Rome and the modern West. Herostratus: According to legend, in 356 B.C. Herostratus (also Erostratus, Herostartos, or Erostratos) burned down the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus in order to get his 15 minutes of fame in history. The Ephesians forbad his name to be mentioned, but the law defeated its own purpose. House of fashion named after me: In Russia, institutions bearing the name of famous people usually have the format “…named after…” For example, the “Moscow Tchaikovsky
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Conservatory” has the full name “Moscow State Conservatory named after P.I. Tchaikovsky” in Russian. House-spirit: In Slavic mythology, a house-spirit is closely connected to the well-being of the house he resides in. The health of the residents and livestock depends on his relation with the people. He either looks like the master of the house or a little old man with a white beard. A house-spirit can also take the form of a cat, dog, cow, snake, rat, or frog. There are two kinds of house-spirits: the house-spirit that lives in the corner behind the stove, and the yard-spirit that frequently torments animals. Ich sterbe: German for “I am dying.” “If the knife, …, breaks against my stone heart”: This reference comes from the popular Odessa gangster song Hop-Stop by the Russian bard A.Ya. Rosenbaum (1951-). Judas tree: A small deciduous tree from Southern Europe and Western Asia, noted for its prolific display of deep-pink flowers in the spring. Julitta: St. Julitta was a Christian martyr under the reign of Diocletian (244-311), Roman emperor (284-305). The name is a diminutive of Julia; in Russian it is Ulita, with a possible diminutive of Ulitka — snail. Kerkinitida: An ancient small Greek outpost on the northwest plains of the Crimea, the modern city of Eupatoria, a major Ukrainian Black Sea port. Khavron: From Russian khavron’ia — pig. Kingston valve: A valve installed at the bottom of a ship’s fuel, water, and ballast tank; when open, it allows seawater in to clean the tanks, and admits water ballast into the ballast tank. Kislyandii Anufrievich: Whiny ass. Krovozhilin: From Russian krovozhadnyi — bloodthirsty. Kvodnon: “kvd” is a Yiddish root meaning heavy. “Let me not see eide/a corpse for a century!”: This is an adaptation of the gangster oath “let me not see freedom for a century.” Ligul: From Latin ligula, diminutive of lingua — tongue. Magciety: The society of magicians. Magford: The Oxford equivalent of magic schools. Maglody: Magic melody. Makarenko: Anton Semenovich Makarenko (1888-1939), Soviet educator and writer.

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Mamzelkina, Aida Plakhovna: Mamzelkina is from Russian mamzel’ka — mademoiselle, Aida is from Russian Aid — Hades (see Hades), and Plakhovna is from Russian plakha — executioner’s block. Matador tires: Originally started in Slovakia, the Matador Company has since expanded internationally. Of its thirteen enterprises, one is a joint venture in Moscow. Matisse: Henri Matisse (1869-1954), one of the best-known French artists of the 20 th century, famous for his use of colour and brilliant draughtsmanship. Mebelprom: In reality the name of a company supplying furniture — mebel’ — and other things. Memento mori: A genre of artistic creations to remind people of their mortality. Mephistopheles: This is the name given to one representation of Satan. In a 16 th century German legend, Dr. Faust made a pact with Mephistopheles: in exchange for knowledge, Faust sold his soul to the Devil. Methodius: Saint Methodius, 9th century Byzantine Greek archbishop, and his brother Saint Cyril are credited with devising the Glagolitic alphabet, from which evolved the Cyrillic alphabet. Middle Earth: In ancient German and Norse myths, Middle Earth was the world of Men, the centre of the universe that included the world of the Gods and the world of the Dead, among others. These physical worlds all linked together. Minotaur: In Greek mythology, it was a fierce man-eating creature with the body of a man but the head and tail of a bull. King Minos of Crete imprisoned it in a gigantic labyrinth located under his own palace in Knossos. Using a ball of string to find his way around the maze, Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur. Mordovia: The Republic of Mordovia in the central part of European Russia, in the Volga River basin, is part of the Russian Federation. It has a vast forest area. Moronoid: How the immortals — magicians, guards — refer to a mortal. Moscow Ring Highway: The highway in the shape of a ring encircling the city of Moscow. Motherwort: Among other things, this herb is also a mild relaxing agent and is often used to calm the nerves. Mumu: The short story Mumu (1852) by I.S.Turgenev (1818-83) describes the relationship between a dumb and deaf peasant Gerasim and his dog Mumu, and how Gerasim, ordered by his mistress, drowned Mumu. Murka: A very popular Russian song about criminals. “Murka” is also another form of the name Maria. Musmagic: Music of magic. Necro-department: The department of death.
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Notre Dame de Paris: Notre Dame is the world famous Gothic Cathedral in Paris and it inspired the novel of the same name (1831, English title The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo (1802-85). There are numerous movie and theatre adaptations of the novel, and a FrenchCanadian musical debuted in Paris in 1998. This production, according to the Guinness Book of Records, had the most successful first year of any musical ever. Palaeolithic times: Stone Age, c 2,000,000 – c 10,000 BC. Patrick, Euphrosynus, Dius, Bithonius, Galycus, Illyricus, Aniketos, Conan, Onisius: Names of saints of the Russian Orthodox Church. Patroclus: Greek warrior, Achilles’ friend and companion in the Trojan War, the name means “glory of the father.” Paul I: (1754-1801), emperor of Russia (1796-1801), son of Peter III and Catherine II, though his mother misleadingly implied that his real father was her lover Count Sergei Vasilievich Saltykov (1726-65). Paul was eccentric and neurotic, with high chivalric ideals, suspicious of democracy and anything Western European. His policies were ill received by the Russian nobility and led to his assassination. Pegasus: The winged horse from Greek mythology. Petrosyan Khazanovich Zadornov: Evgenii Varanovich Petrosyan (1945-) humorist; Gennadii Viktorovich Khazanov (1945-), satirist; Mikhail Nikolaevich Zadornov (1948-), satirist. Philaretos: The Orthodox saint Philaretos the Merciful/Almsgiver (702-792) was a wealthy man who distributed his wealth away to the poor and in his old age was saved from poverty by the marriage of his granddaughter Maria to Constantine Porphyrogenitos (780-797), the Byzantine emperor. Phoenix: This is the same as a firebird, which, in Russian folklore, is the embodiment of the sun god and thunderstorm god, the celestial fire. When it sings, large round pearls drop from its beak. When it flies, its feathers shimmer gold and silver as if a fire is burning, illuminating the night. Pithecanthropus: An extinct primate postulated from bones found in Java in 1891 and originally designated Pithecanthropus erectus because it was thought to represent a species evolutionarily between apes and humans. The word was derived from Greek roots meaning ape man. Polycandelon: Early chandelier used in the Byzantine Empire in the 6th to 7th century, a hanging lamp holder for multiple oil lamps made of glass. Populus: Latin — the people. Prometheus: In Greek mythology, a titan who moulded humankind from clay and stole fire from Zeus (see Zeus) to give to the mortals for their use, for which act he was chained to a rock and had his regenerated liver eaten daily by a vulture until Heracles (see Heracles) killed the vulture and freed him. Prutkov: Kozma Petrovich Prutkov, a fictitious author invented by Russian author A.K. Tolstoy (1817-75), and his cousins the Zhemchuzhnikov brothers: Aleksei (1821-1908), Aleksandr (182696), and Vladimir (1830-84). They used the pseudonym to publish literary works and even
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created a portrait. The whole Prutkov legend was a biting satire on arrogant and bombastic imperial bureaucrats. Pushkin: Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837), considered the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature. Radiculitis: Inflammation of a spinal nerve root. Robber, Nightingale O.: Nightingale Odikhmantevich Robber. Nightingale the Robber is a robber from Russian epic poetry. He lived in a forest near Bryansk, sat in a tree by the road to Kiev, and stunned strangers with his powerful whistle before robbing them. Some sources say he was also known as Nightingale Odikhmantevich. Rufinus: Tyrannius Rufinus of Aquileia (340/345 – 410), monk, historian, theologian, best known as a translator of Greek patristic material into Latin, thus exerted huge influence on Western theologians. Russian school system: The Russian school year runs from September 1st to the end of May with June being the exam month. It is divided into 4 terms with vacations in between: a week at the start of November, 2 weeks for Christmas and New Year, and a week at the end of March. A fivepoint grading system is used where “5” is the highest mark, “3” is average, and “2” is unsatisfactory. “1” is uncommon and rarely given for academic reasons. Seneca: Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – 65 AD), famous Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist. Sharashka: Hell on Earth, from The First Circle (1968) by A.I. Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008). Shashlik: Small pieces of meat marinated, skewered, and grilled. Signor Tomato: A character from the children books by Italian author Gianni Rodari (1920-80). “Sisters, to Moscow!”: This alludes to the play Three Sisters (1901) by famous Russian playwright A.P. Chekhov (1860-1904). Skomorokhi: Plural of Russian skomorokh. They were professional wandering minstrels in Russia till the middle of the 17th century, often simultaneously singers, musicians, mimes, dancers, clowns, and improvisators. Skomoroshya Settlement: The settlement of skomorokhi. Smenki: From Russian smennaya obuv’ — a second pair of shoes to change into when going indoors. They are absolutely necessary for school children so as not to bring outside dirt into the school. Solovyov: Vladimir Sergeevich Solovyov (1853-1900), Russian philosopher, poet, literary critic, had a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry in the 19 th century, and in the Russian spiritual renaissance in the beginning of the 20th century. Sphinx: This is an iconic image of a recumbent lion with the head of a ram, bird, or human. The Egyptians of the Old Kingdom invented it, but it received its name as a cultural import in archaic
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Greek mythology. There was only a single sphinx in Greek mythology, a unique demon of destruction and bad luck. Stinktopp: An archaic German word for bedbug. Succubae: Plural of succubus — a demon taking the female form to have sex with sleeping men. Taras Bulba: A historical novelette by N.V. Gogol (1809-52). In the story, Bulba, a Cossack, killed his own son Andriy for forsaking the Cossacks and joining the Poles. Tartarus: In Greek mythology, both a deity and a place in the underworld even deeper than Hades (see Hades). Theocritus: Greek poet and creator of a pastoral poetry that flourished in 3rd century BC. Titan: In Greek mythology, any of the primordial giant gods who ruled the Earth until overthrown by Zeus (see Zeus); the titans were offspring of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). Tukhlomon: The Russian word tykhlo means rotten, as in something has gone bad; the name can be loosely translated as a rotten man. Tuk-Tuk: This is actually the name of a very popular song composed and performed by the wellknown Verka Serduchka — a stage character created and played by Andrei Mikhailovich Danilko (1973-), Ukrainian comedian. Typhon: In Greek mythology, the last son of Gaia — Mother Earth — and Tartarus (see Tartarus), Typhon was a sworn enemy of the Olympian gods, presented as a storm demon and personification of the earth’s volcanic forces. Validol: A sedative commonly used in Eastern Europe to treat nervousness and mild heart disorders. Valocordin: A German-made heart medicine and mild tranquilizer popular and off the counter in Eastern Europe. Vampire: In old Slavic belief, an unnatural or premature death turns a person into a vampire. That is, death by suicide, from wounds or epidemic diseases, not having made a confession before death, or not having a funeral service read over the dead. A vampire can become a sorcerer. Van Gogh’s ear: Vincent Willem Van Gogh (1853-90), famous Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, cut off the lower part of his left ear after the breakdown of his friendship with French painter Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) in December 1888. Varangian: The Northmen that founded the Russian dynasty in the 9th century. Veni, Vidi, Vici: The famous Latin sentence “I came, I saw, I conquered” spoken by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) in 47 BC to the Roman senate describing his victory in the Battle of Zela.

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Vii: In Slavic mythology, this character’s glance can kill as well as turn cities into ashes. Fortunately, his eyelids are so heavy and his eyebrows so long that his eyes are covered, and require several strongmen with iron tongs to open the eyes. Water measurer: A slow-moving semi-aquatic bug. Werewolf: A werewolf is a person who shape-shifts into a wolf, either voluntarily by using magic, or after being placed under a curse. Such shape-shifting myths are found in nearly all the cultures of the world. One of the simplest ways of turning into a werewolf is to put on a whole wolf skin or a belt made of wolf skin, and the removal of the skin changes the wolf back into a person. White slip: The certificate of discharge from Russian military services. “Who brings up the past, out with his...eidos.”: This is from the Russian proverb “who brings up the past, out with his eyes” meaning “let bygones be bygones.” Yagge: A derivation of Baba Yaga, a Slavic folkloric character, an aged crone and a witch that lives in the forest in a hut with chicken feet. Yagunchik: An affectionate form of Yagun, a derivation of Yaga. Yaroslav the Wise: Yaroslav (978-1054), Grand Prince of Kiev (1019-54), whose rule represented the political and cultural apex of Kievan Rus. Zabodallo, Psoi: Zabodallo is from Russian zabodat’ — to gore; Psoi is from Russian pec — cur, an unfriendly mongrel or a cowardly despicable person. Zaches: One of the famous works of German writer Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann (17761822) is Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober (1819) — Little Zaches called Cinnabar. Zepter: Zepter International, founded by Philip Zepter (1950-), is a global enterprise that produces, sells, and distributes high-quality consumer goods. Zeus: In Greek mythology, the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and the god of sky and thunder. He was an offspring of the first generation of titans (see Titan). Zombification: The process of turning someone into a zombie. Zoomer: A communicator in the shape of a tin dish; it has visuals and notifies with a loud jingling sound.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2008 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/