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Tanya Grotter And The Vanishing Floor
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 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

Titles in the Series
Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass Tanya Grotter and the Vanishing Floor Tanya Grotter and the Golden Leech Tanya Grotter and the Throne of The Ancient One Tanya Grotter and the Staff of the Magi Tanya Grotter and the Hammer of Perun Tanya Grotter and Noah’s Pince-nez Tanya Grotter and the Centaur’s Boots Tanya Grotter and the Well of Poseidon Tanya Grotter and a lock of Aphrodite’s Hair Tanya Grotter and the Pearl Ring Tanya Grotter and the Curse of the Necromancer Tanya Grotter and the Babbling Sphinx

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Prologue Tanya Grotter has no luck. When Sardanapal, Medusa Gorgonova, and other instructors rebuild anew the destroyed school of magic Tibidox, they send the students home. Here Tanya is also forced to return to Moscow to the Durnev family. On top of that, as an obligation, she has to take with her a full trunk of troublesome ghosts. Well, not too bad! During training in Tibidox Tanya had time to master something, so that Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel will have to be unhappy. And here finally the time comes to return to Tibidox. It has been rebuilt anew and is even better than before, but the Vanishing Floor... Something incredible has happened to it. Nobody who dared to venture there had returned. Or nevertheless some did? Chapter 1 The Trunk with Ghosts Something flew by with a whistle, someone began to yell, somewhere glass showered down. A normal morning of a normal day in the normal school for difficult-to-raise magicians, Tibidox, located on the Buyan Island in the ocean-sea. Black Curtains sniggered maliciously. Tanya Grotter tore herself away from the rather thick reference book Dragons: Breeding, Training, Treatment and ran to the window. Something interesting was happening in the small clearing in front of Tibidox. Two very strong cyclopes, who were assigned the job of carrying boulders for construction, were arguing and now, with knotty clubs, were enthusiastically beating the daylight out of each other. One of the clubs shattered, and a fragment, having traced a beautiful arc in the air, fell down precisely on the nose of the hero Usynya, who, having placed a stretcher under his cheek, was peacefully dozing in the shadow of the Cove Oak. A minute later Tanya watched as Usynya, catching hold of one of the cyclopes by the legs, was spinning him with a whistling sound. The other hero-bouncers Dubynya and Gorynya, appearing at the howls, started to laugh aloud, having discovered that their brother’s nose had swollen up and acquired the colour of beet. They gesticulated, nudged each other, and finally demolished the section of a wall miraculously surviving till now. And here Usynya already let go of the legs of the cyclops and that one, like a candle soaring into the sky, crashed with his head into the Big Tower. Bricks rained down. The cyclops, as if nothing had happened, got up and touched his forehead. “Thimply knowth a hundred thuch clown! Again will be penalty!” he lisped unhappily. Drawn by the noise, Medusa Gorgonova, associate professor of the department of evil spirits studies, jumped out onto the small balcony of the Big Tower. She was holding a kicking swamp bogey by the collar. She had recently caught it on the tabletop in her office, where it was scratching with its nail all kinds of filth. Noticing the crumbled wall, Medusa from indignation unclenched her hand. The swamp bogey, exactly like a toad, flopped to the floor and rapidly bolted somewhere, swearing bad words and threatening troubles to Tibidox. But Docent Gorgonova had already forgotten about it. She had to investigate the brother-heroes and the cyclopes that cast off all restraint. Medusa’s cheeks were burning and her hair started to hiss like snakes. Though, why like? Only — shh! — what woman likes it when her little secrets are revealed?
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“Sparkis frontis!” Medusa shouted. A dazzling fight spark flew off her magic ring and several huge boulders immediately crumbled into powder. The enormous cyclopes fell onto the ground and unsuccessfully attempted to hide behind blades of grass covered with white hoar frost. It was well known to them that an angry Medusa was not one to be trifled with. “Fillissimo-moronissimo! What is this?” Docent Gorgonova shouted. “Two weeks of work and no result! Even wrecked what the titans didn’t touch! Do you imbeciles understand that the children have nowhere to live? That the roof leaks? That the arches of Tibidox will collapse any minute now?” The cyclopes began to tremble slightly, and the hero-bouncers guiltily dropped their eyes. “We what? We did nothing... The cyclopes... s-s... they started first,” Usynya began to mutter, despondently sniffing his beet-red nose. “They? Well, march back to work, or you’ll be left without dinner!” Medusa frowned and tossed up her ring, a new spark flared up. The spark, as this happens with magicians, gave the necessary strength to the spell: Hungeronus hungerygus! Tanya was hearing this spell for the first time. “Interesting, what is it for?” she started to think, but immediately felt such wolfish hunger that she almost sank her teeth into Black Curtains. At this moment, she could eat absolutely anything, even Aunt Ninel’s day-before-yesterday oat kasha with a crust, which Pipa called bullet-proof. Tanya believed that Medusa’s magic also accidentally snagged her: indeed, she also saw the spark. The cyclopes and the brother-heroes at once stirred and started in a hurry to rake up the stones into a pile. Hunger drove them on. “No dinner until you finish tidying up! Clear? Deadbeats!” Medusa shouted. She turned sharply and, swift as always, left the small balcony. Chewing on a sandwich by chance left over from breakfast, Tanya moved away from the window and again took the book in her hands. Will she not always be looking at cyclopes? Moreover, from the huge crack in the ceiling a stream of water had been flowing down for a long time behind the girl’s collar. “And indeed it’s because of me that everyone is suffering!” Tanya thought guiltily. After that incident when she carelessly let out the titans from the cave and they, battling Plague-del-Cake, smashed half of Tibidox, it became impossible to live here. If one was looking into this, from the entire enormous school of difficult-to-raise magicians there remained only the basement, the Hall of Two Elements, and the Big Tower with the Main Staircase. But even they had suffered a great deal. The drafts roamed along the corridors, in the middle of the night they began to slam windows, and whipped rain into the numerous cracks. It was also uncomfortable even for the ghosts, a quantity of them populating Tibidox. Deprived of their beloved Tower of Ghosts, where they knew every little corner, the phantoms wandered in groups along the corridors at night, moaned, rattled their chains, and spoiled everyone’s mood. Moreover, the time was a long way from summer. December. And really how is it possible to keep busy when the entire floor ices up in the class on practical magic? And in removal of evil eye all students are forced to sit in fur coats, and teeth nevertheless clatter so that you cannot utter a single spell? Tanya got up in order to slam shut the door thrown open by the draft. Shutting it, she casually saw how Slander Slanderych — a lopsided little fellow with tiny gimlet-eyes, a
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former black magician who moved over to the white — sneaked along the corridor on tiptoes. He pressed against his chest a very healthy live little fish, which was hitting him on the nose with its tail. Tanya surmised that the stern dean of Tibidox was running to the pond to feed the mermaid. Everyone was surprised that, till now, the pond with the mermaid had not yet frozen, and they said that it simply did not manage without powerful magic here. The mermaid had grown terribly stout from constant overeating, and its nature had become extremely quarrelsome. All day it rolled in the slime, devoured fish, and flung algae and snails at the enamoured Slander. An offended cupid happened to be on the watch for the dean and released an arrow into him! Academician Sardanapal had already tried several times to remove the spell from Slander, but he was unsuccessful. Love magic is the most delicate and the most complex of all magic. Only the one who cast it can remove it. But the cupid just flatly refused — he was still mad at Slander for breaking his favourite bow. “Oh, indeed these mermaids! Simply: an evil spirit! It recently doused him entirely with leeches — just from mischief. You love me, it says, so prove it. So the poor wretch was walking around entirely covered with leeches. One is even directly on his nose,” grumbled Yagge. Earlier she was not particularly sorry for Slander, but now she even started to pity him once in a while. Yagge was the old sorceress running the magic station. Furthermore, she was also the grandmother of Bab-Yagun, a good friend of Tanya. Tanya concentrated and, forcing the escaping thoughts to flow again in one direction, sat down to her task. She had to do this because the reference book Dragons: Breeding, Training, Treatment had already started to snort unhappily and release sparks. A little more and it would singe the blanket on the bed. It was better not to toy with dragons, even if these were not dragons themselves but merely a book about them. Recently, not without the influence of her friend Vanka Valyalkin, Tanya had firmly decided that she would dedicate her life to veterinary magic. Perhaps this is not remarkable — to treat sphinxes, harpies, mermaids, centaurs, dragons, which become fewer and fewer from year to year in the magic world? And this is in the magic one! In the world of the moronoids they have almost completely ceased to encounter these strange half-magical creatures. Not without reason the moronoids — normal people — have already almost stopped believing in them. Moreover, Tanya hoped that the skill to get along with dragons would help her show good results in the favourite game of all magicians — dragonball. The rules of the game are simple: two teams of ten players each, two dragons, and five balls: sneeze, flameextinguisher, stun, pepper, and immobilize. The mouth of the hostile dragon serves as goal. Not everyone has the power to throw a ball there, especially since the battle is fought in the air. Moreover, the dragon of the opposition does not in the least sit on the spot, obediently opening its mouth. Nothing of the kind! On the contrary, it moves swiftly, shoots out a flame, and with all its might tries to swallow tarrying players. Therefore, it frequently turns out that a good half of the forwards languish in the tight stomach of a dragon and hope that someone would throw into its mouth a pepper ball, which will force the dragon to spit them out. For this very reason, Tanya dreamed now to learn everything about dragons and be on good terms with them. Quick tempered, swift, furious, dragons yielded to no one nor put up with any training. They even got accustomed to the players of their own team with
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enormous difficulty and frequently, confused, swallowed them instead of players of the opposition. Tanya sighed and turned the page. How dreary to sit and cram one paragraph after another. Especially since it was not homework but her own whim. THE RIDDLE OF FLAME THROWING If your dragon ceased to breathe out fire, it is evidence of its internal weakening. In this situation, a usual tincture of red pepper, mustard, and sulphur should help, in a proportion of 3:4:2 diluted with nitro-glycerine half-and-half with mercury. Give eight buckets to drink three times a day. The mixture is dangerously explosive! Do not shake and carefully adhere to the proportion. “Eight buckets!” Tanya repeated, pondering how to pour these buckets into a dragon if it, for example, does not want to open its mouth? Squeeze its nostrils? Or perhaps appear with a ladle and say, “Koochi-koo! Open the little mouthie, my little one! A spoon for mummy, a spoon for daddy! Mind you don’t push the bucket or it will jerk so that not a lace from mummy will remain!” Tanya was annoyed. They always write a lot in these reference books, and later you rack your brain trying to figure things out! “Will have to ask Tararakh tomorrow. Indeed he knows exactly how to dose dragons,” she thought. The immortal pithecanthropus Tararakh — instructor of veterinary magic — was her favourite teacher. Perhaps she also went with similar pleasure to Medusa Gorgonova’s studies of evil spirits. But this was not too surprising, since the subjects in many respects intersected. Among the magical and half-magical essences encountered was a great deal of dangerous evil spirits, which, before being treated, still needed to be tamed as well. Precisely this — taming of evil spirits and studying their habits — also occupied Medusa. Unexpectedly someone violently pushed open the door, and Coffinia Cryptova, Tanya’s roommate, barged in. Coffinia, a girl with a very special sense of humour, was from the black magicians. It was her bed in the shape of a gigantic coffin occupying almost the entire space by the window. And a skeleton by the nickname of Page served as her hanger. Several times a month it came alive and began to wander around the room, clicking its teeth. Once it even devoured Tanya’s boots. In a word, Coffinia Cryptova was quite a character. A worse roommate could not be imagined even in a nightmare. However, Tanya did not complain. Uncle Herman’s daughter Pipa, with whom she grew up before coming to Tibidox, was not a bit better. Having looking askance at Tanya, Coffinia, without taking off her shoes, flopped onto the bed. “Hello, stupid orphan! I have excellent news for you. You’ll become bald from this news, and on your nose will appear a new birthmark, even uglier than the one you lost thanks to She-Who-Is-No-More!” she stated. Tanya looked at Coffinia, calculating whether to launch a fight spark at her. Okay, let her live. If Coffinia was guilty of anything, it was only that her home had a slippery windowsill, and the bassinet, into which she was placed for the first time, turned out not to have a bottom. “Well, and what’s the news?” she asked. Coffinia folded her hand around the telescope and, deliberately stretching out a pause, began to examine Tanya with interest through the hole. “What, you don’t know? You haven’t been informed that tomorrow they’re pushing you out of here? Only imagine:
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you’re returning to your green uncle-vampire and his fat wife, where you lived on the balcony! How do you do, here I am, give me the bagel hole for dinner and candy wrapper for dessert!” “For what reason? Drop the joke, Cryptova!” Tanya said. Simultaneously she was recalling whether she had done anything recently. Of course not, everything was like normal. Coffinia snorted. “What jokes are here indeed? They’re pushing all of us out. Pity not you alone. Sending us home until Tibidox is rebuilt anew. All the same not possible to stay here now that Sardanapal has decided to send all the students home. Our dean, Professor Stinktopp, agreed with him, so that we, black magicians, are also off... Toodleoo, on a quiet boat! Cheerio, Tibidox!” Coffinia got up and, throwing open the cabinet, began to toss things onto the bed, clearly deciding what to take with her and what to leave behind. “Not to forget the bat miniskirt, the gloves with claws, and the stockings on heels! Must make the eyes of the moronoids immediately pop out of their heads,” she mumbled to herself. “It’s the truth! Everything is true!” Tanya suddenly realized. Her eyes darkened. The reference book slipped from her hands and crossly started to fly around the room, breathing out a tongue of flame exactly like a true dragon. Tanya did not even notice this. Is it really necessary to forsake this dear, this beloved Tibidox and return to Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel, who cannot stand her, dress her in cast-offs, and force her to eat vermicelli so slippery that they hang on the fork like dead worms, then stick excellently on the glazed tiles in the kitchen? Tears choked Tanya’s throat. She could not remain in the room anymore and ran out into the corridor. In the common room, she saw Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin, who, moving away to the window, were quietly deliberating something. Hardly glancing at their depressed faces, Tanya surmised that everything already was known to them. So that is why they have not visited her the whole day today! “Why? Why didn’t you tell me? Even call yourselves my friends! Really honestly, I had to find out everything from Coffinia!” she shouted and, noticing that both boys at once hung their heads, she rushed down along the stairs. “Wait! No one understands why Sardanapal so decided! No one! Here the matter is clearly bad!” shouted Vanka Valyalkin, the slender mop-headed boy in the long yellow soccer shirt, which his father once gave him as a present. Tanya’s best friend, he alone of all the students persistently refused to change into the cape and robe of Tibidox. A boy who for two weeks hid a harpy under his bed and treated its wing. And this despite that the claws of a harpy are impregnated with fatal poison and legends circulate about their bad nature. Now Vanka was about to rush after Tanya, but soon stopped and helplessly sat on a step. Tanya herself did not remember how she rushed through the Hall of Two Elements, turned into the wide corridor of the teachers, and turned up by Sardanapal’s new office, where he moved to when the Tower of Ghosts collapsed. She pushed the door and, swallowing her tears, ran in. ***

©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Tanya found Sardanapal during a moment of extreme busyness. The academician of white magic, laureate of the Award of Magic Suspenders, head of the legendary Tibidox, Sardanapal Chernomorov was chasing his gold sphinx around the table. The hungry books on black magic, which he sometimes used for removing spells, were bobbing up and down excitedly and beating on the bars of a large cage. “Now, did you see this impudent one? Carried off my meat. And it’s for feeding the books!” the academician complained on noticing Tanya. Sardanapal’s luxurious moustaches were angrily waving in ringlets, and the terribly long beard first became invisible, then appeared again. Tanya wanted to say something, but she was not able to. She only sobbed and, turning, attempted to run out of the office. Sardanapal caught her by the hand. “What’s with you, girl? Dreamt of Plague-del-Cake again?” he asked with uneasiness. In the entire Tibidox only two — Tanya and the academician — were not afraid to call the terrible sorceress, the lady of Chaos, by her name. The rest preferred to use the vague — She-Who-Is-NoMore. “It’s t-true? True that tomorrow everyone will have to r-return to the moronoids?” Tanya uttered, stuttering. The moustaches of Sardanapal drooped despondently. “Alas,” he sighed. “Alas! The Ancient One sees I tried so that you would learn about this as late as possible, but there is simply no other way out... In a couple of months, it’ll be necessary to interrupt lessons. I know that you don’t want to go to Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel, but only for a short period... Otherwise it’s simply impossible.” “But why?” The academician helplessly parted his hands as if attempting to cover at once the numerous cracks on the walls and the ceiling. “You can see for yourself! Tibidox, of which we were always so proud, resembles a sieve. One more corner tower collapsed the day before yesterday, and the rest are held together on a wing and a prayer. Magic no longer helps. And even what magic is here? Will you cast a spell between each brick? And to rebuild Tibidox in one night would even be beyond the power of the great Ancient One.” “But the cyclopes? And the heroes Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya? They’re working!” Tanya asked with distrust. Sardanapal made a contemptuous face. “Did you see how they work? These giants are amazingly confused. They put up one wall and bring down two. In Tibidox it’s cold, it’s uncomfortable. The Atlases no longer hold up the arches — what can they support when everything has crumbled? — and from idleness they’re loose along the corridors. Yesterday one of them accidentally stepped on Professor Stinktopp — a remarkable scholar and splendid magician. Just that in the darkness his bald spot resembles a mushroom so that the mistake of the Atlases can be understood in principle. The poor wretch has three hidden breaks. Certainly, Yagge will join his bones, but it’ll take time. Here I decided that it’s worthwhile to send you all away for a time and do major repairs. To drive away all evil spirits, all wood goblins, all giants, and to invite a few more genies on the side — and make everyone help build. Then it’ll make sense.” “But why send us away? We could live in the Big Tower! It’s solid, and even enough space for everybody!” Tanya proposed, clutching at a last straw. Sardanapal’s moustaches straightened and began to toss about like the wipers of a car. “No, no, and again no,” he said inflexibly. “No one will remain here. Yes, the Big Tower
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is solid, but... You see, there is one more reason, which you have no idea about...” The academician cautiously looked around at the sphinx, leaned over slightly, put a finger to his lips and whispered, “Only remember: what I’ll tell you is a secret! No one must know about this! You swear to keep the secret?” Tanya promised. Sardanapal leaned towards her ear and said quietly, “Three days ago Medusa, Slander Slanderych, and I went down to the basement and discovered that the foundation had fractured.” Tanya shrugged her shoulders. She saw nothing awful or at least interesting in this news. “Well, so?” she asked. “Everywhere is full of cracks now! There the corner tower collapsed, and nothing, no one was frightened. Seal them up, and that’s all there is!” Sardanapal looked at her reproachfully. “You don’t understand. The cracks are very near the Sinister Gates! And any second they can go deep down. Then Chaos will escape from the dungeon, the ancient gods will break loose and smash the island to pieces! This is the main reason why we insist that all students leave Tibidox. Only we, the instructors, will remain here, and we’ll make repairs in earnest. I hope we’ll be able to strengthen the basements and create a durable magic barrier. Just remember: not a word to anyone!” “Agreed,” nodded Tanya. Sardanapal had communicated his seriousness to her. Now she understood how dangerous the cracks in the foundation were. Indeed Tibidox was not only a school for difficult-to-raise young magicians from the “white” and “black” departments. Tibidox was also a fortress-prison: ancient spirits, heathen gods, and Chaos are confined in the basements. After Shurasik, enslaved by She-Who-Is-No-More, with the gold sword cut the Hair of The Ancient One into two, the balance of forces between good and evil, intact for millennia, was disrupted. And although she, Tanya Grotter, was able to prevent Plaguedel-Cake from opening the Sinister Gates and setting Chaos free, this threat existed as before. The forces of evil are immortal. They are there in the basement — roaring and shaking the Gates. Now it is always necessary to be on the alert. “Can I stay? I’ll help. Please!” Tanya asked. Sardanapal shook his head. “Impossible. If you stay, others will want to stay, and you yourself understand what this can lead to... We’re also taking a risk — we’re releasing into the world of the moronoids a whole crowd of half-educated magicians! A nightmare! Slander Slanderych is horrified even now by what you’ll be up to there.” Tanya became ashamed that she could not keep herself in control and broke into the office of the academician. Now when she found out the truth, it became clear to her that Sardanapal’s solution was singularly valid and it would be impossible to change it. “By the way, Tanya, I have a commission for you...” the academician continued. “Not as a service, but for friendship. You’ll take something with you to the world of the moronoids. Medusa thought and... eh-eh... I decided that during repairs much can suffer or be lost. It’ll be better if we send them with those whom we trust.” “What shall I take with me?” Tanya was interested. Sardanapal knitted his brows. His moustaches began to jump with such animation and inspiration that they were actually conducting a symphony. “First, you’ll take with you Black Curtains...” he said. Tanya almost began to moan. Only not Black Curtains! Possible to think that here, in Tibidox, they have spoilt her blood a little. “Oh, not them please? Why do I need them?
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They’ll fly at night and peek at dreams. Or they’ll scare someone half to death,” she objected. “Now precisely for this very reason why someone must keep an eye on them,” Sardanapal retorted. Tanya nodded. She knew that it was useless to argue with the head of the white department of Tibidox. Especially when Medusa supported him, and he had decided... “And you’ll also take this with you!” Sardanapal clicked his fingers and a huge leather trunk crept out from under his table. The trunk took off and dashed towards Tanya at an enormous speed. The girl in fright shielded herself with her hands, certain that now she would be knocked from her feet. But the trunk turned out to be light. Likely, it was empty altogether. “But what’s inside?” Tanya asked, stretching to the gleaming locks. “STOP! Must not open it now!” the academician said quickly. “Why?” “You see...” Sardanapal hesitated, looking sideways at Tanya. “Well, but you’ll find out all the same. There are ghosts in there.” “Ghosts?” Tanya asked again dejectedly. Next to the ghosts, Black Curtains, palmed off on her at first, immediately began to seem like a trifle. “And what ghosts are there? Not Eyeless Horror, I hope?” “What’s with you, what’s with you!” the academician smiled. “We’ll hand Horror to someone among the senior pupils. In this trunk are merely Lieutenant Rzhevskii and Unhealed Lady... Take them with you, they’ll only interfere with us. It’s clear that you must be very careful: the moronoids must on no account find out what you have in the trunk. They treat ghosts very incorrectly. Some, they say, even faint.” Tanya dejectedly sat on the trunk. Here is such an assignment — completely in the spirit of Academician Chernomorov. Rzhevskii will again tell his idiotic little jokes and show off the twelve knives in his back, and Unhealed Lady from morning till evening will moan and complain about her problems. “Trust me, there’s nothing for you to worry about!” the academician continued briskly, with each second becoming more animated. “You see the seal on the handle? On the sealing wax is the impression of my ring. Ghosts fear it with dread. Not for nothing the ring once belonged to the Soverign of Spirits! But even if there is no seal, all the same they wouldn’t rush out.” “Why? Don’t ghosts pass through masonry, penetrate through walls? But here’s nothing but a trunk,” Tanya said with distrust. “This is a special trunk. You see, it’s made from the skin of Minotaur, a terrible halfbull, which was once conquered by Theseus. Ghosts can’t pass through it... Here look!” Sardanapal picked up the trunk and energetically shook it. It was true that no one tumbled out of the trunk, but then the ghosts confined in it came alive. “Hurray! Long live the swing! I want more!” Lieutenant Rzhevskii yelled with laughter, and Unhealed Lady began to moan that she was dying and demanded that they immediately summoned a doctor for her. “I cannot be in the society of this cad anymore! He doesn’t change his socks and always tells the same anecdotes! He smokes stinky cigarettes! He steps on my hat with roses!” she complained.
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“She lies all the time!” Lieutenant yelled indignantly. “It’s me who must be saved from her! She drinks iodine the whole day and passes on her sores! And this hat of hers with the roses! Might as well be cacti pin on! To hell with it!” Tanya and the academician exchanged understanding glances. Unhealed Lady again started to keen, threatening that now she would nail this dork with her umbrella. “Don’t wail! What do you want?” Sardanapal asked her. “Supply me with a thermometer! Give me medicine! Drink bruderschaft with me with a wineglass of ethyl! Or I’ll kill everyone! I’ll add rat poison into the tea! I’ll fling my appendix at everyone!” Unhealed Lady threatened. Academician Chernomorov smiled and twirled a finger by his temple. Likely, the threats of the spectre amused him. “They’ll arrange these free concerts at Uncle Herman’s? The entire building will come running to us!” Tanya was concerned. “What’s the seal for? Here look! You take this here and you pull slightly this way... Especially slightly in order not to break the wire!” Sardanapal pressed the seal with two fingers, turned it slightly, and the voices of the ghosts at once fell silent as if the sound had been turned off. “Here’s the whole deal! This I call ‘to put in one’s place’ and ‘to tighten the screws.’ While the seal is intact and the trunk is closed, you won’t have any trouble with the ghosts. Now and then, you can even let them get some fresh air so that they don’t whither away from melancholy. I don’t see any great harm in this,” said the academician. Unexpectedly his gold sphinx pricked up its ears and began to growl quietly. Hasty steps were heard in the corridor, and Dentistikha ran, stumbling, into the office. She was tiny, round, young, with bangs like a pony’s over her eyes. She taught removal of evil eye to white magicians and imposition of evil eye to the black. She adored reading abstruse verses and smelling flowers. True, this did not interfere with her putting strong curses on the students for training purposes, so that sometimes for half an hour they rolled on the floor with a sharp pain in their stomachs, attempting to recall the neutralizing spell. “It was your homework! Next time you’ll be more responsible for your lessons!” Dentistikha said in such cases, pensively turning in her fingers a cornflower or a camomile. Now the instructor for removal of evil eye was behaving as if she was beside herself with terror. “Professor!” she shouted, choking. “Quick! The Vanishing Floor... it appeared again... I just climbed up along the stairs and saw how someone’s shadow slid there, and then... It’s simply a nightmare! I’m barely alive!” Tanya was startled. Until now, she would swear that the instructor for removal of evil eye simply could not be frightened in the least. Once during a class Eyeless Horror (the most terrible ghost in the entire Tibidox) stole up to her and with a terrible howl rushed at her from behind. Most likely Horror reckoned that she would begin to squeal and disgrace herself before the entire class, only that he picked the wrong victim. Turning slightly, Dentistikha with a shield spell nailed him to the wall and, as if nothing had happened, continued to explain the theme. After this incident, the children gave her the nickname the Great Tooth, which she knew about and was proud of. However, now it was difficult to recognize the Great Tooth. Is this really her, barely alive with fear, hanging onto Sardanapal’s sleeve? “Professor, do something! I beg you!” she exclaimed, continually looking around fearfully. “Why are you silent? You know that once the Floor appeared, then... Must do
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something immediately! Indeed someone can go on the stairs, and then... True, I met Slander, but if he won’t have time...” “Quiet, Deni! Later we’ll have a talk! We’re not alone!” Sardanapal severely pulled her up sharp, nodding towards Tanya. Suddenly recollecting, Dentistikha covered her mouth with her hand. “Time for you to go!” the academician turned to Tanya. “Pass the word that tomorrow after dinner everyone must be in the Hall of Two Elements. Absolutely everybody! Yes, and take the trunk!” Looking sideways with curiosity at Dentistikha, Tanya said goodbye and left. For a second the thought flickered in her to linger slightly at the doors, but the gold sphinx slipped from the office after her and set up guard. Academician Sardanapal knew how to guard his secrets. “And I don’t greatly want to know anyway!” Tanya muttered and went to her room. “Two months... Two months with Uncle Herman, Pipa, and Aunt Ninel, when the most interesting thing is happening here! I could howl! Indeed better Plaguedel-Cake than Uncle Herman!” she grumbled, kicking before her the trunk with ghosts. She was already approaching the Main Staircase when Slander Slanderych jumped out to meet her. Now the dean was without the little fish, but was smudged with slime up to his eyes. Likely his rendezvous was again unsuccessful. Noticing Tanya, the dean decisively barred her way. His small colorless eyes, bunched up above the bridge of his nose, were glued to the girl’s forehead. As it happened, it seemed to Tanya that everything froze inside her. His terrible imperious glance worked this way. “Where are you going?” Slander bellowed. “Ah well, go back! Can’t go along the Main Staircase!” “Why not? It was always possible!” Tanya was surprised. “Not your business why not! I’m closing off this Staircase from this minute! Forever!” Slander Slanderych shouted and, turning away, hurriedly began to cast shield spells. Red and green sparks flew alternately from his ring. When it was necessary to place a defence, the dean of Tibidox always came running willingly to black magic. And the cyclopes were already stomping along the corridor to them. An instant and they were already standing still along both sides to the entrance. “Stand here and let no one through!” Slander ordered them. “And you, Grotter, go! Can’t stand here!” “For sure this also has to do with the Vanishing Floor... Well, is it really fair that they hide everything from us?” Tanya thought with sadness. Chapter 2 The Cupid in the Cupboard In all of Moscow, there was not a family drearier, more troublesome, and more insufferable than the Durnevs. It consisted of Uncle Herman, Aunt Ninel, and their daughter Pipa (short for Penelope). It was even hard to believe that the Durnevs were relatives of the Grotters. True, this relationship was distant: Uncle Herman was the second cousin once removed of the grandmother of Leopold Grotter, Tanya’s father. The Grotters had no other relatives among the moronoids. Specifically for this reason, when Tanya’s parents perished in the struggle with Plague-del-Cake, Sardanapal and Medusa stealthily brought the one-year-old girl to Uncle Herman, placing her in a double bass case on his threshold.
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Tanya was now standing with this case made of dragon skin at the doors of the Durnevs’ apartment. Only this time she had the flying double bass in the case, and in her left hand, she was holding the bundle with Black Curtains tied up with a special restraining magic lace. While the lace was whole, Black Curtains would not be in the position to play any of their tricks. Near Tanya’s foot was the trunk, in which the ghosts were quarrelling in an undertone. Lady was pestering Lieutenant with stories about her sores, of which she had more than were mentioned in the medical encyclopaedia. In any case, during those long hours that Tanya was flying over the ocean, gripping with her knees the varnished sides of the double bass, Lady had time to list only those of her ailments beginning with the letter A. It somehow reminded Tanya of Uncle Herman with his outrageous hypochondria. Durnev only needed to sneeze casually and would immediately go to consult his doctor. If even a head cold was added to the sneeze, Uncle Herman would lie in bed, cross his arms on his chest, and start to say goodbye verbosely to Aunt Ninel and Pipa. “Two months! I must live here for a whole two months!” Tanya repeated, looking at the door with melancholy and not deciding to ring the doorbell. “Quiet! I’ll ring now!” she said to the disagreeing ghosts. “Holy moly, how terrible! I’ve already fainted!” Lieutenant Rzhevskii, laughing aloud, began to yell. “What did you say your relatives are called? Uncle Pullman and Aunt Flannel? I’ll show them my tonsils and describe the hepatic colic! I’m sure it’ll be instructive for them!” Unhealed Lady said with enthusiasm. “Oh yes! Oh yes! Indeed most interesting!” Lieutenant mimicked. “My head simply slips off from interest! Ah, you hold it! Shmak!” Unhealed Lady squealed loudly. “And you, army wit, put the head back on! Discovered how to waste your energy with your head! Brr, what abomination! It’s blinking at me so disgustingly on his knees!” she shouted angrily. Lieutenant again burst out with the idiotic laughter. “I warned you! Either you sit quietly or... In short, you forced me!” Tanya adjusted the seal on the trunk and both ghosts in a flash became quiet. Gathering her courage, Tanya rang the doorbell. “Interesting, how will the Durnevs react to my return? Most likely not very pleased!” she thought. The sound of the doorbell had not yet died down but the dachshund already began to bark in the apartment. The dachshund was called One-And-A-Half Kilometres. Fat and troublesome, it was a worthy member of the Durnev family. Its favourite occupation was to nip at the heels of guests. If it was chased into the corridor, then from malice OneAnd-A-Half Kilometres would drool into the boots there. In half a minute, a door was already thrown open in the depth of the apartment, and thick heels started to thump resonantly on the linoleum. Tanya shivered. Aunt Ninel! Her steps could be recognized out of a thousand. “Why are you barking, my young rat? Come to mommy!” Aunt Ninel started to lisp like a child. Her thick heels finally stopped thumping, and Tanya understood that she was being narrowly examined through the peephole. “Oh, no!” Aunt Ninel howled in an ugly voice. “Oh, no! Herman! Herman! It’s your niece! Not without reason some skeleton was choking me all night tonight!” Someone else’s footsteps were heard. This time they were quiet and sounded approximately like this: “juk-juk-juk.” Uncle Herman was three times lighter than his
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spouse. Emaciated, with a green face, he strongly resembled a vampire. And even, it seems, he was related to Count Dracula. However, not along Tanya’s line but along some entirely different one. In any case, Yagge so asserted. Only, in contrast to his relative with big fangs, Uncle Herman was not a magician. And he did not believe in magic at all. Here he would be astonished if he were to find out that Tanya had not been living in the railway station these several months but studying in a real school for magicians. “Yes, it’s her! I said: frost hits, and she’ll drag herself along without a peep!” Tanya heard the venomous voice of Uncle Herman. “Pipa, Pipa, come here! You also take a look!” Guessing that now a maliciously rejoicing Pipa would look into the peephole, Tanya as a preventive measure stuck out her tongue. It was well known that the Durnev’s daughter could not stand her. During her entire early childhood, Tanya was poisoned by contact with Pipa. How often she insulted Tanya, locked her on the balcony, told tales, and played dirty tricks! During the time that Tanya was in Tibidox, the school of magic, Pipa could hardly have changed for the better. “Tanya Grotter! Oh no! It’s really too much that she’s here! I so hoped that something had happened to her! That a brick had fallen on her head or they had put her in prison!” Pipa began to yell, turning away from the eyehole. “Pipa, what are you saying? Never say that. We must pity a poor orphan. She’s not guilty that she has good-for-nothing parents and she herself is useless just like them,” Aunt Ninel said in an affected voice. “No-o! Mama, papa, don’t open! Let’s barricade it and not let her in! Let her roll back to where she came from!” Pipa began to squeal, hanging onto her mama’s leg. “Calm down, Pipa! Not possible not to let her in. The journalists find out and they’ll spoil your papa’s career. Better we quietly get rid of her later to the boot camp for children with criminal inclinations,” Aunt Ninel whispered. “Why later, why not right now?” Pipa yelled. “If you let her in, I’ll leave home! It’s because of her I’m bald! And she also scalded me with tea! Give her a rug and let her spend the night on the stairs! Is that clear?” However, Aunt Ninel and Uncle Herman decided otherwise. The lock clicked, the door was thrown open, and Tanya found herself face to face with the Durnevs. Aunt Ninel towered in front of everybody like an unapproachable bastion, like a hippopotamus in a house robe and soft slippers. The dachshund was seething in her arms. Uncle Herman was standing slightly to the side, and Pipa was looking out from behind his back. The hair, which Pipa had lost, attempting to flood the magic book with glue, had time to grow slightly and now stuck out like a short prickly hedgehog. But Pipa had four times more pimples. And she was even in pyjamas. “So, it’s night time at the moronoids now! Oh, I saw that it’s night! Why did I not consider it immediately? I roused them!” Tanya recollected suddenly. However, in this case the circumstance played into her hands. “Do you know what time it is? Almost three o’clock!” Aunt Ninel said grumpily. “Already late tonight, I’ll have a talk with you tomorrow!” Thus far, Uncle Herman had kept silent; however, his small eyes maliciously drilled into the unknown leather trunk and the bundle with Black Curtains. Tanya surmised that now without fail Durnev would be interested in what these things were and where she took them from.
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“Uncle Herman, and how are your rabbits getting on?” she asked, hoping to soften him up. “Already asleep?” Her question — the most innocent, it would seem — forced all the Durnevs to turn blue with rage. They could not stand to recall this episode in their life. About how Uncle Herman, trying to box Tanya’s ear, hit the magic double bass. And magical instruments do not like it when they are so treated. As a result Uncle Herman thought of himself as Lisper the Rabbit, brought into the apartment a whole one hundred big-eared fellows and even gave an interview on TV, stating that he was giving up a political career because he adored animals... “I don’t want to hear about the rabbits anymore! We sent them away to the zoo! Understand? Predators must also be fed,” Aunt Ninel said gloatingly. “By the way, papa was again elected deputy! Voters almost unanimously voted for him after that interview... Papa is now terribly popular! He even signs autographs!” Pipa added. “But indeed Uncle Herman... You also truly loved them! You yourself were the very rabbit Lisp...” Tanya was surprised. Uncle Herman began to stomp his feet. Since he was very emaciated, in order to stomp louder, it was necessary for him to jump up high. “NO! Keep quiet! I was not anyone! I’m Herman Durnev — deputy! Head of the best faction and chairman of the most humane committee! Is that clear?” he roared, sputtering. He turned so green that Tanya was afraid that he would hit her, and moved aside just in case. “Clear, clear. In fact, I’m going to bed...,” she said, sadly thinking that Uncle Herman was much more likable as a rabbit. Although Uncle Herman almost choked her, the recollection about the “carrot-cabbage” period of his life forced the best deputy to forget about the suspicious trunk. He pressed his temples with his hands and, swinging like a pendulum, left for the bedroom. Behind him, mincing with short legs, Pipa ran away. Only Aunt Ninel was left with Tanya. “It’s now winter, cold on the balcony, you’ll sleep in the big room! And only try to roam at night along the apartment — I’ll skin you! No switching on the lights! Don’t touch the TV!” she said, looking somewhere at the wall above Tanya’s head. Aunt Ninel locked all the locks of the entrance door, slid in the chain, and withdrew, following Uncle Herman. “Welcome! Now I’m home!” Tanya thought sadly. Having climbed onto the sofa, she hugged her knees with her arms. She recalled the farewell with Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin. Parting, they exchanged addresses. Will they write? She left Tibidox only six hours ago, but now solitude was already gnawing her like a worm. She terribly needed someone close and loving, with whom she could talk about everything. She moved the trunk with ghosts under the sofa, placed the bundle with Black Curtains on the armchair, and lay down, pressing the double bass against herself. “Only you are left with me! Don’t even know if we’ll be able to fly around here.” sobbing, she said to the double bass. The strings of the double bass began to hum sadly. *** The dreariest days stretched on. As if the Durnevs had agreed to poison Tanya’s life, to make it as unbearable as possible. Pipa spied on her all day and rushed to tell tales at the slightest excuse. Aunt Ninel harassed her with endless faultfinding, but Uncle Herman did not generally notice her, as if there was an empty place instead of Tanya. He even
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hardly addressed her by name, and once when Tanya sat in his chair in the kitchen, Uncle Herman demanded with disgust, “Get it away from here! It doesn’t fit here!” Then when the journalists came to them, Uncle Herman transformed unrecognizably. He forced Tanya to sit down next to him, embraced her around the shoulders, and said, “I’m awfully glad that she was found! She’s like my own! Although, you know, there are so many problems with this girl. My wife and I took her from a difficult family...” “Practically from the dumpster!” Pipa immediately chimed in. “Daughter! It’s impolite!” Aunt Ninel was falsely horrified, but immediately she began to whisper loudly, “Although, speaking in strict confidence, so it was... What work it was for us to clean her and teach her the basics of using a knife and a fork!” Tanya patiently endured all this, although she was a hundred times cleaner than Pipa, and indeed used the fork better than Aunt Ninel herself, who cleaned her nails with it. The Durnevs simply adored telling filth about Leopold Grotter and his wife Sophia. Until she was ten, Tanya did not know that her parents had perished. She thought that her papa was in prison and mama begged in the station. In any case, the Durnevs lied to her this way. She only learned the truth in Tibidox that Leopold and Sophia Grotter were the greatest magicians and they perished protecting her, when Tanya was not even a year old. In school — in her old moronoid school — everything was generally awful. Tanya did not assume that she had time to be so estranged from it. All the subjects seemed terribly confusing to her. There was neither flying journals nor smoking cauldrons nor instructors coming down from the ceiling like Professor Stinktopp in a hammock. No one treated griffins in class like Tararakh nor cast evil eye like Dentistikha so that it would be merrier to teach the spells. Everything was boring and ordinary. But the worst was that there was no magic piloting — Tanya’s favourite subject. The classmates, incited by Pipa, looked at Tanya suspiciously and all the time tried to find out where the birthmark on the tip of her nose had disappeared to. Did she have plastic surgery? How could they know that what they assumed as an ugly birthmark was in reality the Talisman of Four Elements, lost during Tanya’s struggle with Plague-delCake? Then Genka Bulonov — a confused dolt who once by chance spied Tanya as she was flying on the double bass — was at her heels and badgered her with stupid questions. Soon this tired Tanya, and she in earnest began to consider putting a small curse on him so that he would leave her alone. *** Returning from school on Friday, Tanya discovered that Aunt Ninel was standing by the armchair and holding in her hands the bundle with Black Curtains. “Here’s a forgetful person! And why didn’t I hide them?” the girl remembered suddenly. Shouting “Don’t open it! Mustn’t!” Tanya rushed to the bundle, but Aunt Ninel had already clicked the scissors. The severed magic lace slid to the floor and, after becoming a quick-moving snake, briskly crept away behind the radiator. “What heavy tassels! But you know, it doesn’t matter! Old-fashioned, but stylish! Where did you take them from?” Durneva asked suspiciously, examining the curtains in the light. “They were given to me...”
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“Ah yes, I know... that most cranky old man!” Aunt Ninel exclaimed contemptuously. Knowing that the Durnevs would not believe her all the same, Tanya did not tell them anything about Tibidox. They for some reason decided that the girl lived an entire month with some old man and his wife, the address of whom she refused to tell, and this mobile old man allegedly gave Tanya the curtains and the trunk as gifts. “Know what I’ve decided? I’ll hang them in my bedroom! It’ll be stylish!” Aunt Ninel stated. “Only they must go first to the dry-cleaner! Must be three kilograms of mud on them!” “Never dry-clean them! Under no circumstances!” Tanya was frightened, noticing that the edge of the curtains began to quiver angrily. As any self-respecting magic object, the curtains were terribly proud that they had not been cleaned since the time of The Ancient One. “Possible — never... Forgot to ask you! March to do your lessons!” Aunt Ninel snorted and left, after throwing Black Curtains over her shoulders. It was clear she could not have noticed what was perfectly evident to Tanya standing behind her. Namely, that Black Curtains vindictively depicted the skull and crossbones. The skull for some reason subtly resembled the face of Aunt Ninel. Tanya sighed, understanding that it was not possible for her to change the mind of Aunt Ninel. She was thick-skinned like a hippopotamus and obstinate like an entire herd of donkeys. “Well, okay! I warned her. Then she’ll not complain of insomnia now!” Tanya mumbled and glanced under the sofa, checking if the trunk with ghosts was intact. The trunk was in place and Tanya calmed down. So, Pipa had not yet gotten here, although she was also always hanging around somewhere nearby. *** That night Tanya could not fall asleep for a long time. She lay on the sofa, looked overhead at the off-white ceiling with the very large crystal chandelier similar to a wasps’ nest, and thought about Tibidox. A blizzard was howling beyond the window. It caught the dry biting snow, whirled it, and threw it at the window. It constantly seemed to Tanya that someone was drumming on the glass, therefore, when there was knocking on the window for real, she did not immediately pay any attention. Only when the knock indeed became quite loud, Tanya turned and... almost yelled from rapture! Incredible! On the outside was a cupid in red suspenders and chilled to the bone. Cupids, or amours, were the postmen of the magic world. With a bag over their shoulder, they rushed around all day from one magician to another and handed out to them letters, messages, and telegrams. Tanya threw open the window. The cupid flew into the room and, cheeping angrily, started to shake out the snow from the quiver with the arrows. Then he began to shake his mailbag in exactly the same manner, and two envelopes slightly soggy from the snow fell out of it. One letter was from Bab-Yagun and the other from Vanka Valyalkin. “Hurray! Mail!” Tanya was pleased, pressing the letters to her chest. Not being able to decide which of the two to read first, she shuffled the envelopes with her eyes closed and opened the one that turned up on top. It was the message from Vanka Valyalkin.
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“Hello!” Vanka wrote. “Everything is like normal with me. I did not go to my parents, you know how they are at home. They simply drink terribly. If I turned up, they would begin to take up the belt — no doubt about it. “Now I’m living with grandmother, missing Tibidox... Remember how wonderful it was to treat firebirds and unicorns? But here it’s better not to deal with harpies: they stink terribly and their claws are sharp. “Now recently in school one fellow, older than me, already thirteen, started to pick a fight, got into my knapsack, and drank the tincture for mermaids. The misfortune of fish scales terrifies him, indeed, he has them on his hands, his cheeks, and on his neck, and I do not know what to do to make them go away. I wrote Tararakh, but so far, he has not answered. I even do not know whether he will answer, because pithecanthropus is not the best with reading and writing. But indeed Tararakh can also ask someone if he wants to... Either Stinktopp, Yagge, or Dentistikha. On the other hand, this fellow had it coming, because he was simply making my life miserable. There are those sorts of things here! And you also write me, do not disappear. “I frequently remember you. Indeed you know that I... (several more words were crossed out many, many times). In short, so long! Write! “By the way, completely forgot to tell you. Recently I saw an enormous bird. Well, terribly similar to Lifeless Griffin! True, I just did not grasp whether that was it or not. If it was, it is impossible to understand what is it doing in the world of the moronoids? Well that is all, so long once again, be careful just in case. “Your friend Vanka.” Having attentively examined the deleted words in the light, Tanya smiled and opened the envelope from Bab-Yagun. If Vanka wrote his letter on a normal sheet crookedly torn out of a school notebook, then Bab-Yagun used a large piece of birch bark. On the reverse side of the birch bark, there was one of his granny Yagge’s prescriptions, in which she prescribed to someone crocodile tears and stonecrop seedpods. The letter of Bab-Yagun was completely in his spirit, that is, without “hello,” without “good-bye,” and even without punctuation marks. A continuous flow of the consciousness: what I see, so I write. But at the same time it came not from anywhere but from Tibidox itself. Bab-Yagun was the only student, whom they allowed to remain in the school during repairs. Sardanapal simply could not send him off anywhere because Bab-Yagun had no relatives in the world of the moronoids. There was no one at all except Yagge. “Here I recently disassembled the vacuum put a new nozzle on the pipe now it will not sneeze on me during takeoff True grandmother says whenever I repair the vacuum she then joins my bones because something slips out of position inside if my hands grow as they normally grow in others Interesting but you sometimes examined your double bass although there is surely nothing worth doing inside Tanya you play dragonball excellently well my granny and I always recall how you then marvellously threw the flame-extinguisher ball into the mouth of the dragon of the werewolves then we were all simply stunned that on the whole somebody almost tumbled down from the bench Pity only the match did not finish because the dragons fought and this pig Shurasik cut the Hair of The Ancient One into two and cooked up all this mess of course maybe we will
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still play Recently I was in the hangars of the dragons Goyaryn is now in hibernation and Mercury’s wound from the spear has already healed although each day Tararakh goes to it as before “Here something strange is going on in Tibidox they tell me nothing but only Slander as you remember shut down the Main Staircase and they are all afraid of something cast a heap of spells everywhere Simply it became impossible to walk each second something snaps into action And yet now such a construction is going on here that wow from everywhere gathered house-spirits and wood-goblins and giants and all kinds of evil spirits well you really will not believe how many They build day and night Usynya and Gorynya barely manage to bring stones to them and Dubynya cannot work because the suspension bridge fell on his head He wanted to explain how the bridge works and poked with his crown Granny says another would be beaten down he got nothing except a brain concussion and since then is giggling all the time but will soon be fine “How is it with you there Uncle Herman not very irritating if he is you tell me I will sort it out with him He is indeed as harmful as She-Who-Is-No-More And here yet one more piece of news When they investigated the blockages in the basement they did not find She-Who-Is-No-More Sardanapal says nothing dreadful but indeed at least a small speck should remain “Recently I heard how Dentistikha talked about this with Tararakh only they immediately stopped talking when they saw me and ordered me to go where I was going but I was not going anywhere I was simply going for a walk because I am bored here alone Granny says study your lessons but I am sick of studying when there is no one to study with and there is nothing to do “Maybe soon I will attempt to make my way to that Staircase which Slander blocked up because it is terribly inconvenient all the time to go on the far Staircase how can there be something terrible on the Staircase there “Well that is all I am going because the cupid got tired of waiting while I finish the letter and here he searched for Granny’s candy and spilled all her tinctures well I am in a fix because he can then fly away but I have a strong-willed granny She will definitely let someone have it” Tanya reread Bab-Yagun’s letter two or three times before she understood his scribbling. “Again disassembled his vacuum!” she thought merrily, deciding that BabYagun had not changed a bit. He always so loved to tinker with magic technology. True, it would be better he stopped his restless hands, because a vacuum with vertical takeoff is a delicate piece and requires special handling. At the same time, Tanya wanted to re-read the letter from Vanka, but here someone started to chirp indignantly and the cupid began to pull her by the nightshirt! She had completely forgotten about him! Tanya became conscientious that she did not concern herself with the postman. “Are you frozen? Do you want to warm up by the radiator?” she asked. The cupid shook his head and pointed with a finger first to his mouth, and then to his stomach. He was clearly demanding that he should be fed. Chubby cupids had a terrible sweet tooth. Not without reason they were usually paid with pastries or candies for the delivery of mail. They recognized no other forms of payment. “Fine. Let’s go to the kitchen. Only be
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quiet... Otherwise we’ll even wake someone up,” Tanya whispered and slipped into the corridor first. The apartment of the best deputy Herman Durnev, a relative of Count Dracula, was not small at all. Of washrooms alone there were three complete ones, and in the corridor even a place for washing hands. Only Tanya was uncomfortable here. She liked much more the intricate labyrinths of Tibidox — with drafts buzzing, with mysterious chests in the niches, with moth-eaten Turkish flying carpets, which the feet sank softly into. The cupid, not falling behind, flew after Tanya, flicking his suspenders in anticipation of sweets. In the darkness, he did not make out the turn and hit his forehead against the door of Pipa’s room. Bang! “Who’s there? What do you want?” the daughter of Uncle Herman shouted with a sleepy voice from behind the door. The cupid, massaging the lump on his forehead, started to squeak indignantly, voicing everything he was thinking about this door. Tanya grabbed him and covered his mouth. “I ask: who’s there?” Pipa repeated nervously from behind the door. Tanya understood that another second — and she would begin to squeal. It was necessary to think of something urgently. “Arf-arf!” Tanya growled quietly, scratching the door with her nails. Indeed if anything, she simply knew how to mimic the dachshund excellently. Hearing the familiar bark, Pipa was calmed in a flash. “Get away from here, One-And-A-Half Kilometres! I’m not letting you in! You’ll slobber over my slippers!” she yawned, dropping her nose into the pillow. In the kitchen, Tanya disconcertedly stopped by the cabinet, in which Aunt Ninel stored sweets. She was certain that in the evening Pipa even glued secret threads and hairs around the cabinet. If one of them was torn, tomorrow a terrible screech would rise. But how was Pipa to know about the existence of the outstanding spell Fogus sneakus, which Tanya learnt from Coffinia? For one who used this black magic spell, it was possible not to fear locks and bolts. True, it was necessary to enter all closed doors only backwards. After whispering “Fogus sneakus!” Tanya turned and, pushing a hand through the door of the cabinet, started to fumble inside. Numerous packets rustled. Although Aunt Ninel was eternally on a diet, it did not prevent her from regularly replenishing the stock. “Aha, here... What do you want: cookies, wafers, candy, cakes, chocolate, or fruit drops?” Tanya asked, by feel determining which was what. The cupid began to bounce excitedly and pat himself on the stomach, showing that he wanted absolutely everything. “And you’ll not burst?” Tanya was amazed. “Well okay, you wanted it!” When in half an hour she laid out the last cake on the table, the cupid could not even push it into his mouth, although he tried to do this with both hands. His stomach was extended like a rubber pear, and the suspenders, it seemed, were ready to break. Gratefully squeaking, the cupid flapped his wings and attempted to take off. However, the best he could manage was to fly half a metre. Here strength finally left the overfed postman. He blinked drowsily, smiled blissfully, folded up his wings and collapsed with a dreadful crash onto the table. Tanya rushed to him. She was convinced that the cupid had broken his neck, but someone with a wrung neck would not be breathing heavily and so sweetly in dreams or put under the cheek a wafer wrapper. Tanya belatedly recalled that Medusa in homework on evil spirits studies advised them on no account to overfeed cupids, because they do not have a sense of proportion. But he asked so sweetly that she could not refuse.
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“What am I to do with him now?” Tanya thought. Scolding herself, she began to sweep up crumbs from the table, but here someone’s hasty footsteps were heard in the depth of the apartment. There was already no time to ponder. Grabbing the cupid by the hands, Tanya managed to shove him into the dish cupboard. She had hardly slammed the door shut when someone broke into the kitchen. Light flared up. A blinded Tanya closed her eyes. When she again assumed the ability to see, she discovered that before her emerged an infuriated Uncle Herman. By his feet, the traitor-dachshund burst into barking. “What are you doing here? Who permits you to come at night into the kitchen? You know how sensitively I sleep!” Uncle Herman roared. “Rice porridge for supper was too little for you?” “No, not too little. I adore it when porridge sticks to the plate,” said Tanya, attempting to push unnoticeably with a foot a chocolate foil under the table. Of course, this was not hidden from the penetrating eyes of the best deputy. “You’re lying! You’re a spoilt insolent liar! Exactly like your own father!” he hissed. “Go lively to your room and don’t dare go anywhere! I’ll speak with you in the morning!” Tanya turned and, having shrugged her shoulders, left for her room. Uncle Herman, wheezing angrily, dragged himself behind her. The dachshund remained alone in the kitchen. It looked around suspiciously, sniffed, and started to growl at the dish cupboard. After some time the door of the cupboard was thrown open. An angry cupid looked out from there, on his head was Aunt Ninel’s favourite dark-blue cup pulled down over the eyes. On seeing the cupid, One-And-A-Half Kilometres began to sneeze with malice. The cupid could not stand everyday rudeness. Not thinking for long, he brought down onto the dachshund a large saucepan, which covered its head. Yelping in fear, the saucepan began to crawl under the chair. Yawning, the cupid carefully shut the doors, placed the quiver under his head, and again fell asleep. *** In the morning, Tanya waited for a dressing down and even severe punishment from the Durnevs, but Uncle Herman had left early for work, and Aunt Ninel was in a completely complacent mood. When Tanya came into the kitchen, she was sitting at the table and eating a lemon. Tanya only needed to glance at this and her jaws immediately closed. Aunt Ninel herself did not even pucker. “Every self-respecting person should compulsorily eat a whole lemon in the morning!” she briskly informed the girl. “It’s extremely useful! It restores acidity and cleanses superfluous information from the brain! Please pass me a saucer! Nowhere to spit out the pits!” Tanya was about to move to the dish cupboard, but suddenly remembered that the overfed postman was sleeping there. “Why are you dawdling? You want me to get up myself?” Aunt Ninel impatiently shouted. “No need, I’ll do it!” Trying to obstruct the door with her back, Tanya carefully opened the cupboard slightly and with relief took a deep breath. The cupid had disappeared. Likely, he woke up early in the morning and flew away. Tanya handed the Aunt the saucer and sat beside her. “Ah yes! This morning they brought your curtains back from the dry cleaner...,” said Durneva. “Already?” Tanya asked fearfully. She did not think that they would manage so quickly at the dry cleaner’s. Aunt Ninel raised her eyebrows. “It was unexpected for me
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too. By the way, earlier for some reason I didn’t notice that some stutterer works at our dry cleaner’s,” she said. “Soon some stutterers will also live here,” Tanya thought, but she did not begin to spread this. Why load superfluous information into Aunt Ninel’s brain purified by a lemon? A yelp reached them from under the table. One-And-A-Half Kilometres, relaxed and absent-minded, was lying on the rug and tenderly looking at Uncle Herman’s old cap, which the best deputy usually pulled all the way down to his eyes in the warm season, protecting his crown from the impact of the sun. On the dachshund’s forehead was a lump, and the inverted saucepan lay beside the cap. On Sunday, Aunt Ninel and Pipa left immediately after breakfast for the club to go bowling. They did not take Tanya, but she also did not long for it. After dragonball all other games seem uninteresting. And really can anything be compared to the wind whistling all around, and you, gripping the double bass with your knees, speeding away from the dragon overtaking you, and then, sharply swooping down, throw into its mouth a flame-extinguisher or pepper ball? Seizing the opportunity that no one would interfere with her, Tanya wrote letters to Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun. “I’ll hide them under the carpet, and at night I’ll send them out!” she decided. It was dangerous to summon a cupid in the daytime. A chubby tot with wings, flaunting red suspenders, would for sure catch the eyes of moronoids. Tanya pulled out from under the sofa the leather case, wiped the dust off it and clicked the ancient clasp. The lid was thrown open, and the girl saw the magic double bass of Master Theophilus Grotter — a great inventor and even greater grumbler, whose voice now lived in her ring. In Tibidox Tanya trained every day, and now, she only needed to glance at the instrument and the irrepressible desire appeared in her to experience again the thrill of flight. “Certainly, Medusa and Sardanapal warned us. Moronoids, they say, will see you, and all such things... But indeed I must practice, otherwise how am I to play dragonball in the spring? And in order that the moronoids would not notice, I’ll simply get to a necessary height and that’s all. Will they begin to examine a tiny speck, on top of that even against the sun?” Tanya thought, easily finding justification for herself. She got dressed and, taking the double bass, slipped to the balcony. It was a sunny frosty midday. The snow that had fallen in the night sparkled so that it was painful for the eyes to look at. Tanya climbed onto the double bass, comfortably holding the bow and, whispering, “Speedus envenomus,” let out a green spark from the ring. Oh-oh-oh! At the same moment, the double bass tore away from the place and like a bullet soared into the sky. Not without reason Tanya used the highest speed of all existing flight spells. An instant — and she was already flying, deftly manoeuvring between the multi-storied houses. When it was necessary for her to make a turn, she leaned forward, folded an elbow firmly around the fingerboard, and with the bow indicated the direction to the double bass. Imagining that the dragon of the enemy was striving for her, Tanya first soared steeply up, then dropped down like a stone, getting away from its attacks. For a long time she had wanted to work out the method, which Nightingale O. Robber, a black magician and their trainer of magic piloting, called “instantaneous turn.” The essence of “instantaneous turn” consisted of: fleeing from the dragon, deftly turning around on one’s instrument and, continuing to fly backwards, throwing the ball straight into the open mouth. After this, it
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was necessary to lean back sharply and direct the flying instrument in a perpendicular dive. It would sound simple, but everything is simple in words, in actual fact to turn around on the swiftly rushing instrument, managing not to lose the bow at the same time, was almost impractical. And indeed immediately after the throw it was still necessary to avoid the dragon’s flame, which it for sure would breathe out, and to sweep over the same ground without crashing into it. “Here Bab-Yagun would be amazed if it works for me! Especially during a match! He would simply faint! And Coffinia? She in vexation would gnaw off all her nails together with the fingers!” Tanya dreamt. Over and over again she worked on “instantaneous turn” and persistently faced the fact that during a turn it was not possible to hold the bow precisely. The double bass began to stagger and stalled, and so, if the dragon were close by, she would already turn up exactly in its mouth. “And if they would give me the pass now? The ball would fall onto the head of the chief referee! And referees can’t stand it when balls fall down on them from above, especially a pepper ball...” Tanya reflected unhappily. After twenty minutes of practice she was finally certain that to fly far on the double bass backwards with all one’s might is not for everyone. Here is one of two things: must be a born dragonball player or a complete lunatic! It is not surprising after all, who would even dare to fly blindly, not seeing but rather guessing what is happening behind one’s back? The flow of frosty air will literally knock one down from the instrument, and meanwhile behind the back who knows from where the shaft of a crane or the narrow tower of a high-rise will emerge. Tanya deftly slipped near the fingerboard of the double bass and was already sitting normally, facing forward. In front of her were four identical grey nine-storey buildings, which closed around the soccer area in the courtyard. The girl leaned slightly forward and, stretching out the arm with the bow, went into a dive, after deciding to slip through between the buildings. The double bass obediently swooped down. She had already made up her mind to gain altitude again when suddenly a figure in an orange raincoat flickered on one of the roofs. Tanya was just feeling surprised that a moronoid would be wearing the same raincoat as a magician, when suddenly the figure threw up his hand, and in the next moment, the bow in the girl’s hand flared up. The flame only engulfed its tip at first, but the whole thing was already blazing after a second, and the fire stole up to her hand. Tanya began to yell and from the suddenness almost unclenched her hand. Only at the last moment did she recall that she must never drop the bow. The double bass would be out of control without it and would smash itself up. Wincing from the pain, Tanya held the blazing bow even more firmly and, having screamed out the safety net spell: Oyoyoys smackis thumpis, began to descend. Here it was already not a question of landing beautifully. The main thing was not to break her neck and to try not to break the instrument. Thirty metres, twenty... The snowdrifts became white between the buildings. The ground swiftly approached. The double bass almost no longer obeyed the bow. Tanya saw that she was falling straight for an electric cable. If she ran into the wire at this speed, it would simply cut her in half or cut off her feet. Instantaneous turn! There was no other way out. Tanya quickly bent over and with her whole weight leaned back as in the most complex, the final element of “instantaneous turn.” And the “turn” worked! It worked in the most improbable circumstances! Forcing
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her back against the double bass and merging with it as one, the girl slipped between the cables, managing to not catch a single one! “Bangus parachutis!” she screamed out the braking spell. The ring of Grandpa Theophilus in a hurry shot out a green spark. Thankfully, this time at least it dispensed with the tiresome lectures. And — the spell worked, snapped into action at the very last moment!!! The double bass was again on the ground, having obeyed the bow, which was now a fused stump, already for the last time. It reduced speed, hung in the air and sufficiently inoffensively collapsed into a large snowdrift. Rolling off the instrument, Tanya dropped the bow and hurriedly thrust her burned palm into the snow. Icy needles pleasantly stabbed the reddened skin. Blisters already began to swell up on three fingers of her right hand. Suddenly Tanya turned her head. Some recent recollection pierced her, struck her like a slap. The figure on the roof! Continuing to keep her hand in the snow, Tanya tossed up her head, examining the nearest buildings. No, not this, again not this... Here is that fourth grey building! The ominous figure in the orange raincoat was still on the roof. Holding onto the rails, he attentively peered down. Likely, the man in the raincoat wanted very much to determine whether Tanya managed to survive. Ascertaining that the girl was on her feet, the silhouette in the raincoat angrily waved his hand, turned quickly on the spot about three times, the raincoat flared up, and he disappeared. Tanya was sorry that she could not make out the face: the distance was too great. She could not even tell roughly what was on the roof: a man, a woman, or an adolescent. But one thing was certain. Recently there was a strong magician on the roof and this magician attempted to kill her. To kill prudently. If she had been at a loss and let go of the bow, there would not have been time left for her already to utter the braking spell. Tanya recalled that in the second before her bow caught fire, from the finger of the unknown person a purple point precisely jumped! A red spark, which could only be released from the ring of a black magician! Tanya became terrified. Downright terrified. Really, was all this real? To whom is her death necessary, especially now when Plaguedel-Cake is no more? Or the fears of Medusa are true and she is alive? Was it Plague herself or one of her assistants? There were clearly more questions than answers. Recalling that Sardanapal permitted writing him whenever she wanted, Tanya thought that she would send a letter today. Once she is facing imminent danger here in the world of the moronoids, then perhaps they will allow her to return to Tibidox before the appointed time? Tanya loaded the double bass onto her shoulder and meandered home. Now when she did not have the bow anymore, the magic instrument became a heavy burden. After a while, tired, Tanya stopped to take a breath and leaned it against a bench by some entrance. Her palm was hurting terribly, and the girl tried feverishly to remember whether she had a suitable prescription or spell somewhere in the notebooks secretly brought from Tibidox. At dragonball trainings and especially during matches she frequently got burns. But then Yagge was always nearby with the outstanding remedy — vampire bile. This universal remedy against burns, if one does not consider the nightmarish smell, had only one unpleasant special feature — one only needed to lick it accidentally or simply touch it with the tongue and one would immediately be transformed into a vampire. It
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transformed instantly and irrevocably. For this very reason, the vampire team was never lacking in good players. Now only where to get vampire bile here in the world of the moronoids? Interesting, what kind of face would Uncle Herman have, if she, as a joke, ask him to run to the drugstore for it? The iron door of the entrance clanked. From there, a lady in a fur cap came out, decisively dragging behind herself a round-shouldered young oaf with a bandage on his forehead. Noticing Tanya, the lady stopped and said sweetly, “Misha, look, what a good girl! She plays on the double bass even on the street, in freezing weather! Yet even with a stick you can’t be forced to walk into a music school!” “To hell with her! She’s simply a crammer! A geek who memorizes!” the young oaf hissed, looking sideways with annoyance at Tanya. And in spite of the absurdity of her situation, despite that someone recently attempted to kill her, that her palm was scorched, and water was squelching in her boots, Tanya burst out laughing in spite of all these developments. Chapter 3 The Tracks on the Ceiling When Tanya finally dragged the double bass to the apartment of Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel, her knees were already shaking from fatigue. In order to ascertain that no one was at home, she energetically rang several times. No one answered, and the girl decided to use magic. Having cautiously looked sideways at the door of their neighbour, Staff General Cutletkin, responsible for toothbrushes in the army and who adored peeking through the eyehole, Tanya whispered “Fogus sneakus!” and with her back pushed her way into the apartment. Turning up on this side, she already wanted to open the door and drag the double bass in behind her, but here something dropped onto her nose. Tanya mechanically wiped the drop, glanced at her palm, and suddenly her throat tightened. On her palm was something sticky and red. Looking up, she saw on the ceiling large red tracks leading in the direction of the bedroom of Aunt Ninel and Uncle Herman. The girl became terrified. She carefully sneaked into the bedroom and... saw Lieutenant Rzhevskii, who was strolling along the ceiling upside down. The soles of the ghost were smeared with ketchup, the very large bottle of which was retained by some miracle in the hands of the spectre. When Tanya ran into the room, he released the bottle, and it, with a loud smack, crashed onto the carpet by the very feet of the girl. “Missed! Give me the ketchup, I’ll throw again! But you stand right there!” Lieutenant ordered. Tanya flew into a rage. What will the Durnevs say when they return and casually look at the ceiling? Whom will they consider guilty? Pipa? Of course not! Even if their Pipa blew up the Kremlin, the Durnevs would only be touched! “Where are you standing?” Lieutenant again began to yell. “I told you to stand there, foolish girl! Company, aim! At Tanya Grotter in volleys — fire!” “Now there will be volleys at you! Sparkis frontis!” Tanya shouted, throwing up her hand. A green fight spark left the ring and struck the ghost. Beginning to moan, Lieutenant collapsed from the ceiling onto the bed of Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel. “Oh, no, only not this... What have you done? I’m mortally wounded! I’m dying!” he sobbed, pressing with his hand a wound on his stomach, from where a thin stream of bluish smoke was floating out. “What will Sardanapal say, what
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will Medusa say? I’ll now disappear! The end for me! Another minute — and I’ll be no more!” He became more and more transparent, shrivelling in front of her eyes. “I... I didn’t mean to...” Tanya was at a loss. “Ah-ah, you didn’t mean to...” the ghost groaned, fading in plain view. “Didn’t mean to, but killed me, a foolish but inoffensive ghost, who wished harm to no one... Really I’ll never see beloved Tibidox, I’ll not hear the sound of ocean surf?” Lieutenant Rzhevskii looked up at Tanya reproachfully. His incorporeal hand, light as a puff of wind, touched her hand imperceptibly. Tears welled up in Tanya’s eyes. “Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to... What should I do now?” she shouted. “What should you do now?” Lieutenant wheezed. “I want you to know one thing: it was a dishonourable duel! But remember, I don’t agree to die alone! Still a last shot for me!” With these words, Lieutenant Rzhevskii extracted from the air a very large machine gun and, rising slightly on his elbow, started to pour long bursts onto Tanya. Spectral cases flew around the room. This firing did not cause any more harm. “Rat-a-tat-tat! A last shot... one more... The last dozen cartridge clips! Pushkin smears d'Anthès on the wall!” Lieutenant howled, coming alive right before her. General Cutletkin living on the other side of the wall got woken up by the clatter, fell from the sofa, and dove under the table. Half awake, it seemed to him that a war had begun and hostile parachutists were stealing the boxes of toothbrushes and toothpastes from his balcony. Meanwhile behind the wall the finally revived spectre discarded the machine gun and started to jump on the bedspread, spilling feathers from a pillow. Tanya, still in tears, looked at him spellbound. “Well, you look at this little fool: she thought that it’s possible to kill a ghost! Really possible to kill a ghost! And she believed it!” Lieutenant Rzhevskii laughed loudly. Tanya with relief understood that the fight spark caused no harm to the spectre. To frighten off ghosts there is another reliable spell Briskus-quickus. Tanya already intended to utter it, but first she decided to clarify by what means the ghosts managed to get out. “Why are you not in the trunk?” Tanya asked. “Because we were thrown out of the trunk! Thrown out insolently and inconsiderately!” a sad voice from the cabinet complained, and Unhealed Lady floated out through the door. By some mysterious means, Aunt Ninel’s lilac scarf was retained on her neck, and the nose, powdered by something, turned red from tears. Likely, the suffering Lady poked her nose into moth-eaten small packets. “Who threw you out of the trunk?” Tanya asked quickly. She tried to talk as little as possible with Unhealed Lady, because that one could chatter anyone to death. Unhealed Lady winced, “And it’s interesting to you? Really? It was an unpleasant girl with a fat face. She didn’t want to hear about my ulcer. And she squeals simply abominably. If I were alive, I would have had a cardiac arrest on the spot. But, fortunately I’m already dead...” “Pipa! So that’s who let you out!” Tanya exclaimed. Suddenly everything became clear. For some reason Pipa returned home alone without Aunt Ninel, and got to her trunk after all. “Excellent! Well, you did me an ill turn!” Tanya said bitterly. “And now Pipa most likely is already rushing to bowling in order to broadcast everything to Aunt Ninel!”
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“Not likely! She isn’t rushing anywhere! She’s frightened and sitting in our trunk! It’s the only place we can’t penetrate into because of the Minotaur skin!” Unhealed Lady stated. “What? Pipa’s in the trunk?” Tanya did not believe it. She rushed to the sofa. The seal with Sardanapal’s personal stamp was dangling on one wire. However, the stamp itself, fortunately, was whole. Someone was wheezing quietly in the leather trunk. “Now you believe that she’s there?” Lieutenant Rzhevskii was interested. “She hid there when I — hee-hee — asked her to repair a little knife in my back. We occasionally moan so that she doesn’t get bored there. Here watch!” Issuing blood-curdling moans, the spectre started to fly above the trunk. The trunk began to shake a little and bob up and down. The daughter of Uncle Herman began to squeal. “Rzhevskii! Leave her alone, I say!” Tanya ordered, after considering that Pipa could go completely crazy from terror. Moronoids are quite unfit for such encounters. But Lieutenant was not thinking of stopping. The more violently the trunk bobbed, the more worked up he got. He even started to pour ketchup onto the trunk, groaning, “Blood! Blood everywhere!” “Well, stop! Briskus-quickus!” Tanya shouted angrily. The spectre was pulled with a loud chomping sound into the floor, and Unhealed Lady, becoming a grey fog, quickly darted into a vase. “Never handle ghosts this way. Terribly dusty in here! I have choo... aller... choo! gy!” the vase immediately began to moan. The trunk stopped shuddering. The one sitting in it was clearly listening. “Come out, Pipa! Otherwise you’ll suffocate,” ordered Tanya. “I’ll not come out! It’s you, guilty of everything! Cursed witch! Must burn you on the stake!” Pipa answered from the trunk, managing to sob and hiss at the same time. Tanya was angry. The daughter of the Durnevs, as always, stuck to her own repertoire. “Come out, I say! Who asked you to look in there anyway? Did I ever ransack your things?” “So what? This is my apartment, my parents’. And all the things here are mine, nothing here is yours... Oh-oh-oh! I’m scared! Fo-o-ol!” Suddenly Pipa’s voice trembled, and she burst into tears. Tanya almost went deaf. Lieutenant Rzhevskii with his frightening howl was simply an amateur compared to Pipa. Unhealed Lady, hiding in the vase, had just been describing some of her regular sores. On hearing Pipa’s sobbing, Lady decided that Pipa was crying from sympathy and also burst into tears herself. “How touching! Didn’t think that the history of the corn on my heel would upset you so. Not exactly like all these insensible donkeys!” she said, sobbing. Lieutenant Rzhevskii, already recovered from the action of the restrain spell, carefully floated out from the corridor. This time the restless spectre was in a dark-blue work robe, with a mop in his hands. He had clearly borrowed both from the cabinet of the maid who came to the Durnevs three times a week. “Little lady, I very much apologize! A cleaning woman was called? I’m here!” Lieutenant asked and, without waiting for an answer, started to fly around the room, grinding red tracks onto the ceiling. Tanya understood that if Pipa was not immediately driven out of the trunk and the ghost returned there, this could end with anything. Once and for all, the ghost completely letting himself go would destroy everything in the apartment and start to fly through the
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entire building frightening the neighbours, and Pipa would sob and squeal until someone called the police. “That’s it, Pipa, come out! Out of there quick! I need the trunk!” Tanya ordered. She tried to open the lid but Pipa clutched with a death grip and held it from within. “Wait! Now I’ll drive her out!” Lieutenant Rzhevskii made use of the fact that the lid of the trunk was slightly raised during the fight, and, holding the mop atilt, infiltrated through the slit. “And here’s also the brigade of maid-psychopaths with new rags for the nose! Need to wipe your tears?” he cooed. From the trunk was heard no longer a screech but a howl. The lid was thrown open, and Pipa jumped out like she was scalded, pursued at her heels by the off-his-rocker spectre and by Unhealed Lady. Moreover, Lady got the idea into her head to tell Pipa how once during an operation the surgeon left his glasses in her stomach. Pipa howled non-stop, arbitrarily rushing along the room and trying to force her way through into the corridor. But every time Lieutenant Rzhevskii appeared in her way, with a straight face juggling his own ears and nose. Pipa waved her hands at him and jumped back. Tanya sat on the bed and, having propped up her head with her arms, was observing all these disgraceful goings-on. Then she recalled that she had left the double bass on the stairs, and went out for it. The double bass was in the same place where she had left it. Staff General Cutletkin was too frightened to stretch his greedy paws out to it. “Enough is enough! Must also go insane gradually!” she thought, returning. “By the name of the Sovereign of Spirits go back!” Tanya pronounced and, sitting down, touched the warm seal with the stamp. Something flared up dazzlingly. A whirling tornado stirred the curtains. An unknown force pulled the ghosts into the trunk. The lid was slammed shut. Sighing with relief, Tanya carefully repaired the stamp and began to move the trunk under the sofa. By inertia, Pipa still ran around the room several times, and then she jumped out into the corridor and from there began to threaten Tanya with all kinds of trouble. “Now you wait! Papa will see the ceiling, and then they will precisely send you to the colony for minors!” she squealed. “But I didn’t smear the ceiling!” Tanya objected. “But I’ll say that you did! You, you! Nevertheless, no one will believe in ghosts! I’ll say that you took a boot, put it on the mop and made prints on the ceiling!” Pipa started to giggle disgustingly. She recovered amazingly quickly after the shock. This threat was the last straw. Tanya flared up. She pressed Pipa into a corner, took aim at her with the middle finger, released a pair of green sparks as a warning, and pronounced with utmost seriousness, “Fucusdruidis pipus beyond max-convertus!” After this, Tanya turned and quietly walked to her room. As she also expected, a worried Pipa rushed behind at a trot. She was terribly suspicious — well, simply a spitting image of Uncle Herman. “Wait! What did you just say?” she muttered. “What did I say?” Tanya did not understand. “Well this... pipus boaris... fucus.... something there...” Tanya turned and, squinting, looked at Pipa. “Ah, that’s what you’re talking about! It’s a delayed spell of transformation!” she explained significantly. “Whose transformation? And why delayed?”
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“Because it doesn’t act immediately! And it’s even a trivial spell in general, don’t pay any attention.” “Trivial?” Pipa asked again distrustfully. “Uh-huh. Simply if this evening I have any trouble or you blather anything unnecessary at all, you will grow pig ears, and bristle will appear on your face! You will go to school in a gas mask... Hey, Pipa, what’s with you?” Pipa began to tremble. She remembered very well the fur, which grew on the hand of her chief toady Lenka Mumrikova, when they attempted to flood with glue the teach yourself book of magic. Not without reason Pipa was the daughter of the deputy. In a flash she considered everything and horror appeared in her eyes. “But if you have no trouble?” she quickly asked. “If there isn’t any?” “Hmm... Then, possibly, the spell won’t snap into action,” said Tanya, looking at Pipa attentively. She already understood that she had won. The senseless spell composed in a hurry proved to be right on target. How would Pipe know that delayed magic comes only in third or fourth year instruction? Nevertheless, moronoids are moronoids. They believe any fortune-teller advertising in the newspaper! *** Tanya also never found out what Pipa made up precisely and how she explained to her parents the mess in the apartment, but there was no trouble for Tanya. Most likely, Pipa simply slandered someone among her friends, because she also was sensible enough not to mention the ghosts. The Durnevs only undertook this — they called in a team of plasterers in order to repair the ceiling urgently. Now and then Uncle Herman was sufficiently indecisive and was generally softer than usual. In a week, a TV crew would come in order to film the best deputy in the bosom of his family. Durnev was already prepared beforehand: he mastered an affectionate smile in front of the mirror and, thinking that no one would hear him, rehearsed solemn speeches in the washroom. Tanya distinctly made out, when the water was draining, how he was repeating, “Herman Nikitich Durnev... And this is my family! Welcome to our hospitable home!” Durnev said to Tanya, “We’ll have Nikolai Shmyglikov as a guest, he hosts Meet the Family! Think of it, because you’ll also be in the shoot! I already warned the TV cameramen that we have adopted a poorly brought up orphan. They are interested in you. Try not to show your worst side. And in order that you won’t stir too much, you will also hold the dachshund in yours hands.” “And if nothing else the rab... reptile,” Tanya corrected herself on noticing how Uncle Herman immediately turned red. Tanya especially did not listen to Durnev’s instructions because she was certain that in a week she would already not be here. Today she will send the letter, and tomorrow or the day after Sardanapal will allow her to return to Tibidox. And how can it be otherwise? In the evening, when the Durnevs had settled down to sleep, Tanya carefully switched on a lamp and sat down to write a letter to the academician. “Must not disturb him too much,” she thought, with a swish pulling out a double-sided sheet from a notebook. “I’ll begin seemingly casually...”
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“How do you do, dear Sardanapal! You asked me to write how things are with me, how I am studying, and about my spirits in general. I am studying indifferently, because you know what textbooks the moronoids have. Unbearable boredom, but they are not textbooks. They do not fly around the classroom, and the pictures in them do not come alive... “And now I have some insignificant matter, because today someone tried to kill me. Someone with a fight spark set fire to the bow when I was working on the ‘turn.’ Only please do not be disturbed, because my spirits are fine. The Durnevs do not bother me much. That is, they do, of course, but it is possible to live with. “The ghosts are behaving well. Recently they chased Pipa into the trunk. Pipa herself was guilty, because no one asked her to poke her nose where she should not. Aunt Ninel cleaned Black Curtains (well and were they in a rage!) and hung them in her own bedroom... “Certainly you will allow me to return to Tibidox. But for the flight I need a new bow. “Hope to see you soon “Respectfully yours Tanya Grotter.” Tanya finished and applied her ring to the letter. She repeatedly saw how adult magicians signed this way. The ring of Theophilus Grotter hesitated sufficiently and with explicit enjoyment made a beautiful imprint. It did not even need an inkpad for this. Having summoned a cupid with the special whistle, Tanya entrusted the envelope to him. The cupid poured alphabet cookies into his mailbag and pushed off, hurriedly flapping his wings and breaking through into air pockets. Tanya collapsed onto the sofa. Her burnt palm was hurting, and little sparks of fuzzy recollections jumped before her eyes. The double bass... the bow... the figure in the orange raincoat... knives in Lieutenant’s back... the violet pimples of her dear cousin... ugh... possible to go crazy. “But soon all this will end!” she thought. It cannot be that after this letter Sardanapal would not allow her to return to Tibidox. And once that is the case — goodbye, Durnevs! Hello, the school of magic! Chapter 4 Thirty-Four Firemen Sometimes it is pleasant to wake up at night. Lying there, looking at the ceiling, thinking about anything. Or even to sit in the kitchen and secretly drink a cup of cocoa. But with one exception... If you are not woken up by Aunt Ninel’s terrible howl, as happened to Tanya towards morning. Tanya, with a jerk, sat up on the sofa, half-awake and not understanding who was howling and why. Then she jumped and darted into Aunt Ninel’s bedroom. Aunt Ninel, with her head covered by Black Curtains, was squealing and floundering in horror. Uncle Herman was jumping beside her like a confused billy goat, not knowing from what direction to approach and in general only having a vague idea of what was happening. Not a minute had passed but Aunt Ninel already resembled the cocoon of a rare butterfly. “Herman! Do something! Cut them, I’m suffocating! Quickly!” Aunt Ninel shouted.
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Finally, the bewildered deputy began to yank down from the wall the sharp yataghan, which had been presented to him at a reception in the Turkish embassy. His hands were not only trembling but shaking. Tanya understood that one more second — and instead of one quarrelsome aunt, she would have two. The Curtains in anticipation of this sniggered sarcastically. “HERMAN!!! Cut!” Aunt Ninel again began to yell, rolling on the bed like a black cocoon. It seemed she could not imagine what was threatening her. She was afraid of the curtains but should fear Uncle Herman instead. The bug-eyed best deputy with a reckless look raised the yataghan. It was necessary to interfere promptly. “Briskus-quickus!” Tanya muttered in an undertone, unnoticeably letting out a green spark. This plain, frequently used spell worked excellently against both ghosts and simple bio-vampires like the curtains. Not without reason Medusa taught it in the first lesson on evil spirits studies. The Curtains instantly went limp and Aunt Ninel could get out. “Ugh! I can breathe again!” she was pleased, but suddenly began to squeal, seeing above her Uncle Herman with the raised yataghan and his eyes screwed up. Durnev was pale and determined. True, such trembling struck him that the bright blade jumped in his hands, presenting explicit danger to both Uncle Herman himself and those around him. The following five minutes was spent disarming the best deputy and sheathing the yataghan. “What was it? Ah, understandable... I hung the curtains poorly. They fell from the ledge, I got tangled and almost choked... But only how could they fly so far away from the window?” Aunt Ninel groaned, opening the medicine drawer. Tanya sensed that it was awkward for her aunt that she appeared before the girl looking so foolish. Tanya wanted to explain that Black Curtains would suffocate no one. They would only spy into dreams in order to show them later all day. But Uncle Herman did not allow her to open her mouth. Coming to and discovering that Tanya was in their bedroom, he began to jump on the spot and howl, “And what did you get here for? Well, march to bed, until I hand you over to the orphanage! Why kind of habit did you pick up roaming around the apartment at night?” “Please look over there!” Tanya said, nodding to Aunt Ninel. Uncle Herman turned around. “Wait, Ninelie, you’re already drinking a third phial of valerian! You’ll calm down so much like you’re dead!” he began to worry. “I’m shaking all over!” Aunt Ninel said in an icy voice. Uncle Herman decisively took Tanya by the shoulder and pushed her to the door. But still, before the door was slammed shut, the girl saw that Black Curtains was already mirroring with all its might some dark-blue cutlets with paws, doing a round-dance around a huge fir tree with a sausage for a trunk and sausages as branches... So here is what Aunt Ninel was dreaming about, the third week she tried unsuccessfully to get into the new dress! Tanya knocked herself on the forehead with a bent finger and returned to the sofa. Thinking to herself what oafs the Durnevs were all the same, she again intended to lie down to sleep when suddenly someone began to drum persistently on the window. Outside the window was the same cupid, managing to get around here and there amazingly quickly: all in one night.
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This time the cupid had equipped himself much more industriously. He was without the suspenders, and a dark-blue scarf was wound around his neck. The cupid exchanged Sardanapal’s letter for three gingerbreads and a jar of jam, loudly took a deep breath, and flew away in an extremely business-like manner. Tanya unsealed the envelope. “Dear Tanya!” Sardanapal wrote. “I am answering you immediately, while this winged old fox is gnawing pastry and leaving an awful lot of crumbs on the floor... I, of course, understand that you want to return sooner to Tibidox, but repair is not yet finished. All the cracks in the basement are by no means sealed, and of the five collapsed towers only three are restored thus far... There are also many problems with the heroes. Yesterday Usynya on a bet ate a bag of cement and now lies in magic station with terrible constipation. Yagge cannot think of a way to help him. By the way, recently Medusa also spent a whole day in magic station because of a terrible headache. She was talking about dismal assignments, and also the huge quantity of trouble with evil spirits. “Here is another piece of news, which will interest you for sure. Last night your friend Bab-Yagun attempted to sneak onto the blocked off Staircase. He succeeded in slipping past the cyclopes, but he completely forgot about the guard spells of Slander Slanderych... “Now Bab-Yagun sits by himself in his room, because it is possible only to jump with frog feet. I hope this example also teaches you something. Slander, whose spell he ran up against, claims that the frog feet will remain with Bab-Yagun for about a week or two, but if there is an attempt to neutralize the magic sooner, then they can remain even for life. “Tanya! Now about the main thing! “Each day many letters from Tibidox students come to me! It would be pleasant if all as one did not invent different nonsense in order to return before the appointed time. Gunya Glomov writes that he accidentally bit the dog and the dog went mad. Rita On-The-Sly allegedly transforms into a vampire at night and chases her parents, and Dusya Dollova maintains that terrorists took her as hostage and are demanding ransom: a box of chocolate, but if there is no chocolate, then they will also settle for fruit drops... “You say that someone tried to kill you, but Medusa and I do not particularly believe this. Most likely, the bow in your hand caught fire for some other reason. Maybe you accidentally uttered the ignite spell? Remember, the ignite spell is not a toy! “You will be able to return to Tibidox, but not earlier than a couple of weeks, together with the rest of the children. Repair is taking place at full speed so that we hope to be in time, if not completely, then at least partially. “I am still sending the cupid with the letter to you. But in any case do not attempt to set out for Tibidox yourself! You can perish! The spell of passage is blocked for all except the postmen! To get from the magic world to the world of the moronoids is practically impossible now. Except for a very strong and experienced magician. For the rest it is almost certain death. “Now about something pleasant: “Medusa sends you a new bow as a gift. Only she demands a promise that you will not begin to fly anymore in the world of the moronoids and in particular, to perfect any
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‘turn’ there. The bow is enchanted in such a way that we will immediately be notified about any illegal use and we will draw the appropriate conclusions. “With respect, “Laureate of Award of Magic Suspenders, Academician, “Sardanapal Chernomorov.” Tanya read Sardanapal’s answer three times before its meaning reached her. A refusal! They forbid her to return to Tibidox! Sardanapal did not believe her! And he even wrote: Maybe you accidentally uttered the ignite spell? Remember, the ignite spell is not a toy! “Yes, you heard it! What do they take me for? Is there generally such an idiot, who will begin to utter the ignite spell when his instrument is coming out of a dive?” Tanya thought indignantly. Two weeks! A whole two weeks! And indeed New Year is already almost at hand! It turns out that on the night of the holiday, when in Tibidox, according to rumour, many joyful miracles always happen, but she has to spend it with the Durnevs! Every avenue of approach to the fir tree, as always, would be barricaded by gifts for Pipa, and only in the most distant corner would be scattered a packet for Tanya. In it would turn out to be old ski boots of Aunt Ninel, some vest without buttons from Uncle Herman, a bottle of shampoo or anything in this vein. That depended on what fantasy got hold of the Durnevs. Tanya’s eyes started to smart from this explicit injustice. Although the academician and Medusa could also be understood. So many stupid letters came to them that they no longer knew what and whom to believe. The girl thought for a bit and recalled that the letter nevertheless contained something pleasant. A bow! Remembering Medusa’s gift, she attentively looked over the envelope. The bow was clearly absent, and moreover it could not be here: there was simply no room. Tanya already wanted to call back the cupid, who had clearly forgotten to deliver a parcel to her, when suddenly a low whistle was heard. Into the window swiftly flew something thin and sufficiently long, resembling an arrow. It flew and froze directly under the chandelier reminding one of a wasps’ nest. Tanya apprehensively stretched out her hand, but the bow already jumped by itself into her hand. Tanya was stupefied. Her previous bow did not fly by itself and it was more of a burden in flight. The new one, it seemed, imagined excellently that it should do so. Made of magnificently polished dark wood, it was elastic and light. It seemed that it was impatient to race through clouds, steering an unrestrained speeding instrument. “Obstinate with character, but at the same time sensitive and obedient. A bow not for an amateur but for a true pro. And the most valuable — it can’t be lost. It finds the hand by itself!” Tanya immediately determined, filled with appreciation for Medusa. If Medusa had not extracted a promise from her that she would not fly in the moronoid world, Tanya would instantly test the bow. But now regardless of what she wanted, it was necessary to keep her oath. You will not cheat Medusa: not without reason the evil spirits whisper that she sees to three metres underground. And then there are also these notify spells, which it is better not to get mixed up with... Tanya opened the case and with great care placed the bow next to the double bass. Then she ran her hand along the warm dragon skin and closed the ancient copper clasp with the mysterious runes. Must wait.
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The days before holidays always seem long and the lessons infinite. The second hand seemingly sticks to the dial, and it is better not to look at the minute hand, because soon the feeling emerges that it is moving backwards. The deep fallen snow has turned into slush, then snow falls again, and again becomes slush. In short, melancholy. Melancholy outside and inside. Tanya let the spectres out of the trunk several times. However, the ghosts were also somewhat sad. Lieutenant dispiritedly made noises with his knives, and Unhealed Lady complained about her health almost half as usual, which was already suspicious in itself. “Hey, what’s with you? Offended perhaps? I’ll let you loose!” once Tanya asked them. “She calls this loose — to poke the nose into your aunt’s powder-case or to tie Uncle Herman’s necktie into a knot! Ha, ha, and again ha! What, don’t you know that it’s New Year soon?” Lieutenant growled unwillingly. “Now it’s excellent! Be glad! A holiday!” Tanya said. As if hearing obvious nonsense, the spectre indignantly flickered before her eyes. “What’s to be glad about? The King of Ghosts always comes on New Year and kills one of us... Wonderful occasion for happiness! I’m simply touched, what ignorant people one has to deal with!” “The King of Ghosts?” Tanya perplexedly asked him to repeat. “But indeed ghosts are immortal, how is it possible to kill them?” “Not on your life!” Lieutenant cleared his throat. “Immortal! And why then forget the knives in my back? You’re joking unsuccessfully and — wow! — twelve spoons and one dagger... Really, it couldn’t be explained in an amicable way? Well, so it’s not possible to put feet on the table and to rush to the ball with cutlets? True, then I was still alive, but what’s the difference?” Tanya was interested. She heard for the first time the tragic circumstances, with which Rzhevskii became a ghost. Unhealed Lady also wanted to have a say, and she interrupted Lieutenant. “He’s right...” picking at her ear with a thermometer, she barged in. “Immortal is only the one who was never born. Yes, in contrast to the so-called living, we cannot be pierced with a sword or killed with a brick! We’re not afraid of head colds and we pass through the majority of obstacles. But the King of Ghosts has been given unlimited authority over us. Once a year one of us spectres compulsorily disappears and a new one appears. Of course, no one wants to vanish. Even I, in spite of all my ailments... a-choo! still want to live...” Lady looked around at everything with a distressed gaze. “And besides, although alone, if you could call it that, even a pig could feel!” she declared. “At least someone asked me in the morning, ‘How are you feeling, my dear? Is your back aching? Blood hammering in your temples?’ But no — everyone only runs away even before I have time to appear! They screwed up their faces as if I am a leper!” Observing that his companion again started whining, Lieutenant with a loud chomping made his way into the floor. A whole minute passed before his head, carefully looking around, appeared in the flowerpot. “Well then... the King of Ghosts. In Tibidox before New Year, we always hid, but someone disappeared nevertheless. Last year Crackpot Grandpa vanished... He was such a strange spectre, clearly not in his right mind. All the time running and searching for something. Didn’t want to hear about my migraines and the polyps in my nose!”
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Unhealed Lady continued with such a reproach as if this was also the reason why he disappeared. “And what was he searching for?” Tanya asked with sudden interest. “Crackpot Grandpa?” Lieutenant responded. “Either treasure or something... He was generally terribly tight-lipped. Only walked through walls and forever disappeared somewhere. No one ever heard his voice in 300 years. True, they said that he alone knew the way to the Vanishing Floor, a way along which it’s possible to return.” Tanya moved forward. It was the second time she heard about the Vanishing Floor. So it means there is a safe passage! “What’s with you, Rzhevskii?” Lady suddenly exclaimed fearfully. “Why are you telling her this? It’s a secret.... A secret of all the ghosts! If the King finds out, he’ll send you a marker, and then...” “Don’t barge in, pain in the neck! I told her nothing! How can I describe to her the way when I myself don’t know where it is?” Lieutenant growled. Rzhevskii pretended to be brave, but it was noticed that he was pretty disheartened. Soon Lieutenant became a wave of smoke and dived into the trunk. Unhealed Lady, continuing the non-stop whining, rushed after him. After understanding that they would tell her nothing more, Tanya slammed the cover shut after them. In the week before winter vacation, two teachers — for Russian and for geography — in one stroke came down with the flu. The principal put in as replacement so much mathematics that numbers and fractions, Xs and Ys were literally dancing before everyone’s eyes. The mathematician in the school where Tanya and Pipa studied was simply a nightmarish type. His name was Igor Valentinovich. A huge person with a dove-coloured nose and hair straight up like a hedgehog, he resembled Lifeless Griffin. Perhaps he did not smell like rotten stuff but merely earwax. Tanya was almost certain that Professor Stinktopp, the head of the “black” department of Tibidox, would like him. Most of all Igor Valentinovich hated jokes and approximate answers. He would give “twos” for the slightest deviation from rules. And he set many rules. Margins in notebooks must be exactly four squares. The compass must be to the right of the ruler. In the pencil case there must be two ordinary pencils; moreover each sharpened at both ends. The textbook must be propped up on the bookstand. The mark book must lie immediately behind the textbook, opened onto the page where observations were usually written. A hand raised was strictly perpendicular to the desk — and so on without end. And finally the last, the most impossible rule consisted of knowing all these rules by heart... But then at the same time there was simply deathly silence in Igor Valentinovich’s class. Any student coughing by accident instantly pulled his head in his shoulders. On that day, the mathematician for some reason was especially out of humour. Having sullenly greeted them, he wrote on the board a problem and ordered everyone to solve it. The problem read as follows: At a contest, 34 firefighters put out 75 bonfires in 3 minutes. How much time will 3 firemen need in order to put out 109 bonfires? Tanya despondently stared at the board. Well, the moronoids know how to invent problems for themselves! Any, even the dullest, student of the school of Tibidox, even that Gunya Glomov, would make short work of these bonfires in a second! In order to
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extinguish a fire, one must say Trigus sputterus and release a magic spark, and all fires would go out, no matter how many are nearby. Five or a hundred and five if you want. And all firemen, if they are not magicians, have no choice but only to sigh, to water the flowers with the hoses, and to exchange helmets for something to do. Reflecting on this, Tanya mechanically began to sketch firefighters and bonfires in her notebook and she was so absorbed that she shuddered when above her head she suddenly heard a furious howl, “GROTTER!” Lifting her head, Tanya with horror discovered that Igor Valentinovich was leaning over her notebook and enraged like hundreds of swamp bogeys. In Tibidox no one was forbidden to sketch during lessons. Well, you say, is this really bad if you have in a notebook thirty-four firemen running with their ladders and axes, from time to time vaulting over from page to page? And they will certainly rush, because all figures drawn by a magician immediately come alive. Sometimes even before there is time to draw ears, hair, and feet on them. And it is most inconvenient. Try drawing a helmet on a firefighter who rushes along the page like one possessed. “Grotter, what are you doing? I’m asking you!” Igor Valentinovich repeated with fury. “Nothing,” Tanya answered fearfully, quickly covering with her hand the scattering firefighters, who were threatening the mathematician with their hoses and crowbars. “I also see for myself that it’s nothing! But you must solve the problem!” Igor Valentinovich grew red. “Hand over the mark book!” Tanya tarried, afraid to remove her hand, under which the little fellows bustled, quickly dragging away their ladders. The mathematician grabbed the bookstand, but there was no mark book in place. As ill luck would have it, Tanya had forgotten it at home, because all night she was writing letters to Vanka and Bab-Yagun. The ruler, which Igor Valentinovich was holding in his hands, broke with a crack. “And no mark book? Parents to the school!” he ordered. “Immediately! March at a trot! One foot here — the other there!” “My papa won’t come. And mama also won’t come. They don’t intend to turn red for this fool. We’re already keeping her out of charity! She’s not pla... m-m-mne-mne... Phew!” Pipa wanted still to blurt out something, but suddenly she was choked by her own eraser, which somehow turned up in her mouth for some unknown reason. “There are no parents, there is no mark book, doing nothing for the lessons... Excellent, simply excellent,” the mathematician said darkly. “Then I’m forced to take drastic measures. I’ll not endure this person in my class. Someone call the principal here... no, better the director!” “Let me!” Lenka Mumrikova gladly volunteered. Having loudly whispered to Pipa, “Well, that’s it, the end of Grotter!” she swiftly got out of her seat and ran out of the classroom. Meanwhile, Igor Valentinovich noticed the ring on Tanya’s hand. “And what’s this even? How often have I asked you not to wear jewellery to school! Here hand it over, I’ll deliver it to your guardians! You’re still too young to wear such things!” Tanya made a tight fist. It was not only that her magic ring would end up with the mathematician, but also later with Uncle Herman. Without the ring, she would not be able to do anything, not even to summon a cupid to send news to Tibidox. “I’m not handing it over!” she said quietly but distinctly. Tears welled up in her eyes. Even when she was suspected of the theft of the gold sword, she did not feel so bad.
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“NOT HANDING IT OVER? Then I’ll take it!” Igor Valentinovich finally went crazy, roared, and started to tear the ring forcefully off her finger. Magic rings do not like such treatment. If someone were capable of removing them, then it would only be a strong magician knowing the special spells, and indeed not a moronoid. Moreover, Tanya’s ring was special, with the dreadful nature and squeaky voice of Grandpa Theophilus Grotter. True, it could only talk for five minutes a day, but then the quarrelsome nature constantly remained in it. “Don’t!” Tanya shouted, but it was already too late. Hissing, “Here’s to you!” the irritated ring released two green sparks. The sparks slid along the mathematician’s nose, then spilt up, one dived into his right ear, and the other — into the left. At the same moment, Igor Valentinovich’s hair stood up on end. His pupils enlarged, started to rush about in orbit in confusion, and crossed at the bridge of the nose. Tanya was frightened. Exactly the same thing happened to Uncle Herman’s pupils before he changed to Lisper the Rabbit. Really a rabbit again? But no, this time it was clearly something new. Instantly forgetting about Tanya, Igor Valentinovich released her hand and ran up to the board. “We’re continuing the lesson! Sit quietly everyone!” he began in a stern voice. “I’ll show you how to solve such problems... I crack them like nuts... It’ll require three firemen... eh-eh... By the way, why are the names of the firefighters not written in the textbook? It’s a disgrace! Let’s assume one... m-m... Vasya, the other Peter, and the third... third... m-m...” The class came to life. “Sergey!” Genka Bulonov proposed. “Right, Sergey... Where do you know that from? And likely such a fool judging by appearance!” The mathematician was pleased. “Vasya and Peter put out the fires, but Sergey...” “Frolics with a cigarette lighter...” Pipa prompted, with difficulty spitting out the eraser. “With A CIGARETTE LIGHTER?” Igor Valentinovich shuddered. If earlier his imagination did not go beyond decimal fractions, then now it seethed and gushed. “Exactly, with a cigarette lighter!” he quickly continued. “Other firemen put them out, and he, the vermin, would flick the little wheel — and again a fire! They put out, and again he — flicks! A nightmare! The problem is deadlocked! Stupid endlessness!” In extreme uneasiness, Igor Valentinovich started to run around the classroom. He even lost one boot but did not notice it. “Oh-oh! What a disaster! Give me this Sergey! I’ll show him what to set on fire! And if a paper plant is close by there? And if it has dynamite in storage?” he yelled. There was a short knock on the door. The director looked into the classroom. He was small and round, awfully similar to the letter “O” trimmed with a crew-cut. Lenka Mumrikova was bouncing gloatingly behind his back. “Well? I was in a conference. What’s this again about Grotter?” the director asked unhappily. Hearing a new voice, Igor Valentinovich stood still. His crossed eyes began to blink suspiciously. “We’ll look into Grotter later... Who are you? Why are you late? Mark book on the table!” he bellowed to the director. “Who, me? Me?” the director did not understand. “Yes, you! What are you, new? What is your name?” the mathematician continued to rumble. “What’s this, a joke? I’m Sergey Andreich...,” the director said mechanically. The mathematician twitched as if he was stung. His eyes darted in different directions and again came together at the bridge of the nose. “Aha! Sergey! You’re incredible!” he
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said in a sweet voice. “We frolic with the cigarette lighter? We interrupt solving the problem? We want to set the school on fire?” The director stepped back. “I don’t understand you,” he said perplexedly. Better if he was silent. The mathematician immediately leaned over him threateningly and gripped him by the collar. “You don’t understand?” Igor Valentinovich began to bawl. “Of course you understand! Well, hand over the cigarette lighter here! You started a hundred and nine bonfires, drunk! They wrote about it in the textbook! And what if the cask has gasoline?” The director escaped, stepped on the foot of Lenka Mumrikova, and jumped out of the classroom, muttering something about the psychiatric hospital. “Stop! And they still take in such firemen! Parents to the school urgently! And grandma and grandpa also to the school! And let everyone come with a belt!” the mathematician shouted, pursuing him. Tanya ran out after them. And not because of this! In Tibidox they were very strictly forbidden to use magic in the world of the moronoids, but she has been doing that almost every day. She will get it good from Sardanapal and Slander Slanderych! “Lift the spell immediately!” she whispered to her ring. “In no way possible!” the ring creaked in the voice of Grandpa Theophilus. “It’s a three-day spell. And, besides, I already don’t remember what spell I cast. I have — hee-hee! — total sclerosis.” “A pretty kettle of fish! But is there anything you can do?” Tanya was angry, watching how the gym teacher Prikhodkin, running up, tied up the kicking and spitting Igor Valentinovich. “What can I do? I can sing!” the ring, on thinking it over, said and struck up tediously, “Two merry geese were living at grandma’s!” Knowing that now the ring would not stop until five minutes were up, Tanya quickly thrust her hand into her pocket and ran off to the end of the corridor. But for a long time the squeaky voice was still heard from her pocket: One grey, another white – Two merry geese! *** Late in the evening, having already lain down to sleep, Tanya heard sobbing from the trunk with the ghosts. Unhealed Lady was sobbing. Moreover, she was sobbing somehow in a special way — bitterly and mutedly. How unlike the demonstrative whining, by which she usually accompanied her complaints on health! Tanya opened the trunk slightly. A spectre floated out and, sorrowful, bent, sat down on the edge of the sofa, not touching it. The roses on the straw hat drooped sadly. “What? What’s with you?” Tanya asked. Lady unclenched her hand. On it laid a flickering silver plate — narrow and long, something similar to a key. “It’s the marker. I received it from the King of Ghosts. And it means that he will come after me... I’ll vanish...,” she announced sorrowfully. Chapter 5 The King of Ghosts
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A couple of days before New Year a cupid brought Tanya a new letter from BabYagun. Begging for candies, the chubby tot in red suspenders was twisting so much that a gold arrow fell out of his quiver. Tanya discovered it after he had already flown away. “What a goof!” She hid the arrow between two large pillows on the sofa and almost immediately forgot about it. She could not wait to find out what Bab-Yagun had written. “You certainly guessed who this is from,” as always no greeting and not troubling himself with punctuation marks, the grandson of Yagge began. “Please excuse the illegibility of this all because of Slander that is because of the frog feet Terribly inconvenient to write with them surely why till now not one professor has appeared among the frogs Pity I was not able to find out what they are hiding on the Main Staircase Fly back soon without fail we will again take them by surprise there Now I have thought out how to go around all the guard spells of Slander “You had a note delivered here and asked to find out about the King of Ghosts He bothered you so you say I got some books from the genie Abdullah So as follows: The King of Ghosts — it is this spectral fellow with a toothless mouth on the entire head Some says that he is the first the most important genie some that he is a poltergeist but everyone agrees that he can pull spirits into himself and dissolve them They even say that he invokes very strong curses and that all his prophecies come true But in general veryvery little is known about him So little that they do not even study him in evil spirits studies “The King of Ghosts can only be seen on New Year’s eve and if nearby there is a spectre whom he is going to take away Briskus-quickus will not get the better of this fellow this is a fact — so do not even try Only one spell can drive him away — Justislanderis theokssiris “That’s all Hope you made out my scribbles How is your double bass there? Nightingale O. Robber ordered me to send you his regards He said that dragonball matches this year will be very serious All the same no joke — first place in the world Our ‘goal’ as last year will be the same Goyaryn The genies already received the order to scrub its scales to a dazzling lustre and generally to prepare Goyaryn so that it would be in the best form “Well that’s all for the time being! By the way did I tell you the news? Nightingale took me instead of one of the senior pupils into the composite team Well all the same I jumped I want to grease my vacuum again” Noticing a very large grease spot below the letter, Tanya smiled. She could imagine very well how Bab-Yagun lubricated his vacuum. He literally floods it with oil until everything inside begins to gurgle. Once Yagun overdid it to the point that he could not even sit down on the vacuum: he was always sliding off. “If he does not give up his habits, then the opposition’s dragon will not remain hungry for long,” thought Tanya. Unexpectedly in the corridor voices were heard, and Uncle Herman, gesticulating, ran into the room. Behind him, a concerned Aunt Ninel rolled in like a rosy round loaf. Tanya quickly hid the letter. “And what’s this? You want to give me a stroke?” the best deputy shouted in a whine. “Have you really forgotten that in twenty minutes the TV people are arriving?”
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Aunt Ninel looked at Tanya critically. “You better change. You will take some of Pipa’s things,” she ordered. The Durnevs stinted on nothing for Pipa, but always dressed Tanya simply awfully — in worn out junk, which Herman Durnev’s firm Second-Hand Socks dealt in. Therefore, for some reason Tanya always got things either not possible for her to get into or things clearly intended for a hippopotamus. In the first case, Aunt Ninel said, “Don’t talk nonsense, it’s not small on you!” and in the second case, “Always buy for children to grow into!” Tanya had barely finished changing when two short rings at the door informed them of the arrival of the TV people. Having stopped pushing one another, Tanya and Pipa carefully opened the door slightly and looked into the corridor. Uncle Herman quickly stretched on his face the most affectionate expression and shook hands with the commentator — a small, robust little fellow in round glasses and long hair down to his shoulders. It was Nikolai Shmyglikov — the popular host of Meet the Family. Behind the back of the interviewer loomed his retinue: the bearded camera operator, the sound technician, and the makeup artist. “Gu-d day!” coquettishly smacking his lips, Shmyglikov greeted Uncle Herman. “I hupe, we’re not late? Such a traf-fic jam on your Rublevka!” “No harm done... You’re almost on time!” Uncle Herman said. The TV people efficiently entered the apartment. “We’ll shoot here... Everybody, find room, and natural light!” The bearded camera operator decided, nodding to the large sofa, on which Tanya recently read the letter of Bab-Yagun. “Gu-d, I agree. Only we ne-ed to bring a table in he-re. And even some fla-wers in a little po-ot. I need somewhere to hi-de the paper with my que-stions,” the anchor said languidly. Uncle Herman began to nod hastily. “Ninelie, please, bring two flowers! I’ll also hide my paper with the answers!” he said. “We don’t need this here! Everything must be na-tural! You’re at hu-me!” Shmyglikov protested. While the camera operator, directing Aunt Ninel, dragged over a table and brought the flowers, the famous host flopped into the armchair and puffed up his cheeks. The makeup artist immediately started to flutter about with the brushes and the powder-case. Meanwhile Uncle Herman extracted from somewhere a small bowl of toffee and placed it on the table next to Tanya. “Only try to make a slip of the tongue of something silly! Sit and eat candy! And don’t take it into your head to let go of the dachshund!” he hissed in an undertone. “And they’re not poisoned?” Tanya could not control herself. “I’ll have a talk with you afterwards,” Uncle Herman turned slightly green and started to smile so affectionately that Tanya simply became terrified. The shooting soon began. Tanya sat with the dachshund on her knees and chewed toffee as she was ordered. The toffees were not poisoned but so sticky that she could not open her mouth: her teeth were cemented to death. So, how crafty of Uncle Herman! “Hul-lo, de-ar view-ers!” smiling dazzlingly, Shmyglikov began to chatter. “We are here as guests in the hu-me of the distinguished politician, the pres-peres bi-snisman deputy Herman Nikitich Durnev and his re-merkable family. Herman Nikitich, will you not present to us your family mem-bers?”
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Uncle Herman began chattily to present Pipa and Aunt Ninel. Tanya was not particularly paying attention to his words, but she shuddered when he unexpectedly pronounced her name. “And this is Tanya Grotter! The orphan who has been living with us here for ten years already... A very complex child! She was abandoned to us, ha-ha, in a double bass case...” Uncle Herman said. The bearded camera operator instantly directed the lens of his camera toward Tanya. “This? Her pe-rents were musi-cians?” Shmyglikov came alive. “And where they got it! They for sure found the case in a dumpster!” Aunt Ninel snorted, but right away remembering, quickly added, “But nevertheless we love this girl like our own. And in general she’s best friends with our daughter Pipa.” On hearing this, Pipa furiously sneezed. Tanya, whose teeth were still glued together by the treacherous toffee, could only mumble in protest. The interviewer carefully moved the paper behind the flowers. “What’s this wun-derful dou-g in the hands of your war-d?” he asked, wisely not attempting to pet the dachshund. “This is One-And-A-Half Kilometres!” Uncle Herman said. “What an original name!” Shmyglikov was enraptured. “I paid close attention to your pre-election cum-panions. It was so unu-sual. And where are your rabbits now?” Uncle Herman hesitated. “They’re outside the city... We frequently visit them! It’s very hard for Herman without his fluffy friends, but he tries,” Aunt Ninel came to his rescue. Suddenly the dachshund, waiting for a long time for a suitable moment, deftly jumped from Tanya’s knees to the table and gripped with its teeth the anchor’s papers with questions. This was its favourite game: to hold something in its teeth and not return it. “My text! It took my text!” Shmyglikov exclaimed plaintively. “It’s someone else’s paper! Can’t take! Give it to papa!” Uncle Herman ordered, energetically trying to recapture the pages from the dachshund. This was already a serious error. If Uncle Herman had pretended that the papers were necessary to no one, in a minute the dachshund would let go of them by itself. Now One-And-A-Half Kilometres closed its jaws tightly. It intended to fight to the end, and Aunt Ninel correctly grasped this. “Herman! We’d better take the dog out!” she cooed with a warning, but the best deputy had already gotten into a rage. “Give it over!” he hissed. “You, long wiener! I’m saying it for the last time! Whom are you really turning up the heat on?” But it was a failure. Growling, the dachshund rested its feet on the table and did not let go. Pulling at the pages, the enraged Durnev jumped up and began forcefully to spin the dog over his head. “Don’t!” Pipa screamed, but it was already too late. The pages tore with a crack, and One-And-A-Half Kilometres, gathering its feet, tumbled exactly onto the head of the interviewer. “My wig! Turn off the camera! It’ll tear off my wig!” Shmyglikov was frightened and, confusedly gesticulating, accidentally pushed the table. The heavy table struck Uncle Herman under the knees. The best deputy lost his balance and flopped down together with everything onto the sofa, which sagged almost to the floor. But a second later Uncle Herman set up a howl in a superhuman voice and hit the ceiling. “I’m injured! Terrible pain! Snipers shot at me! Worse, I sat on a needle!” he began to moan. Aunt Ninel and Pipa rushed to Uncle Herman. “Herman, don’t get excited! You don’t even have a droplet of blood!” Having examined him, Aunt Ninel calmed her husband.
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“Indeed! But what pricked me then?” Uncle Herman asked disbelievingly. But even before he uttered this, Tanya recalled about the cupid’s gold arrow hidden between the cushions of the sofa. If Uncle Herman was pricked by this arrow, he without fail will fall in love with someone, but with whom here? Meanwhile something was definitely happening to Durnev. He first turned blue, then grew red, then before his eyes chubby little red hearts began to jump, and something sweet stabbed him in the chest. “I’m dying! It’s the end for me!” he groaned, slipping down to the floor. “Shoot, shoot everything except me! It’s sensational!” covering his bald spot with his hand, Nikolai Shmyglikov shouted to the bearded camera operator. The dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres showed itself from under the chair and, after spitting out the soiled wig of the anchor, began to drag the sneakers off Uncle Herman. It decided that once the owner had died, he would not need the sneakers, and it was now possible to slobber over them. However, Uncle Herman suddenly opened one eye and neatly kicked the dachshund with a foot. “Hey, someone help get me up!” he demanded of Aunt Ninel. “Somehow I haven’t died!” Leaning on his wife’s arm, Uncle Herman got up and began to look around perplexedly. On noticing his own reflection on the sideboard, the best deputy first recoiled, and then started to smile in embarrassment, “Ugh you! Who’s this one so goodlooking? There!” he turned to Aunt Ninel. “Herman, what’s with you? It’s you!” she was astonished. “Me? Really?” Durnev was pleased. “How glad I am! What fine eyes I have, what a well-formed nose... And a determined chin? And indeed I am even clever for sure!” “Eh-eh... Well, yes...” the amazed Aunt Ninel mumbled. Uncle Herman indulgently patted her cheek. “I also thought so. Poor little fatty, I’m sure you’ll fall head over heels in love with me! Simply one can’t fail to fall in love with me! If you want, I’ll move away a little and you can admire me from a distance! Is there a large mirror here somewhere?” Uncle Herman exclaimed and, swinging his arms exactly like butterfly wings, flitted away into the corridor. “Interesting, will someone be able to love me as much as I love myself?” he howled along the way. After him hurriedly dashed the camera operator, Shmyglikov with the entire retinue, and Pipa with Aunt Ninel. Tanya remained alone in the room. She was rolling on the sofa with laughter, hearing how they tried to tear Uncle Herman away from the mirror, but he exclaimed, “Tra-la-la! Please go see how handsome I am! And the eyebrows? You have not yet seen the eyebrows! Hey, get this bald one away! Why is he running after me with a microphone? Someone, give me the fly swatter! This type admires me inadequately!” A loud slap was heard following this. Likely, with his hand Uncle Herman slapped the bald spot of the interviewer. Nikolai Shmyglikov squealed plaintively. The sound technician and the makeup artist rushed to protect him. In the corridor a brawl started. Aunt Ninel and the dachshund battled on Uncle Herman’s side. Pipa in a panic hid in the cabinet and squealed. A minute had not passed and, as the loud footfall of feet on the stairs and the triumphant hooting of Uncle Herman communicated, the best deputy and his powerful spouse won a difficult victory.
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“Hey, girl!” Uncle Herman shouted to the daughter. “Come out from the cabinet! You saw how strong I am? How courageously I fought? And they’ll show all this on TV! The entire country will see me! By the way, where’s that frightful fatty, who sent everyone flying here? Oh well, let her admire me, though she’s not my type.” “I’m here, Herman!” a low voice was heard, and Aunt Ninel loomed at the doors — red as red calico and enraged like a bull. Moving her arms apart, she slowly advanced on her husband. Uncle Herman instantly evaluated the threat and with a jog-trot dashed to hide under the bed. “Don’t break my nose! With a broken nose they’ll not take me into modelling!” he cheeped in terror. Laughing out loud, Tanya slipped down from the sofa onto the floor. The former Lisper the Rabbit again broke all the records! The interview with him will be totally unforgettable! *** The remaining days before New Year passed rather boringly — without any interesting occurrences. Uncle Herman seemed completely normal, in any case, until they began to take away his mirror. Several times, he even went to the Duma and was terribly indignant that the people there admired him unsatisfactorily. The scandalous broadcast went on TV, but, in spite of expectations, it did not make much noise and did not ruin his career — Durnev was already considered such a joke. Moreover, everyone’s thoughts were occupied with the forthcoming festivities. Soon after midnight, having sat for a couple of hours at the table and then by the TV, the Durnevs went off to bed, having told Pipa significantly that her gifts would be waiting under the fir tree tomorrow. “Excellent! Perhaps, Grandfather Frost will break through on a cart with square wheels!” Pipa hemmed. Pipa believed in Grandfather Frost even less than African tribes not acquainted with winter, but then she did believe in the power of whining. Moreover, she had time to peep where Aunt Ninel hid all the rolls and packets, when she had only just brought them in from the car. Tanya was also soon lying down and she began to think about Tibidox. She tried to imagine what gifts she would give Bab-Yagun and Vanka and what they would give her. Her daydreaming was already beginning to change into pleasant and light New-Year dreams gradually, when suddenly some unpleasant hissing sound woke her. Opening her eyes, Tanya sat up with a jerk. A greyish fog was swirling and thickening in the middle of the room. Then it suddenly turned into a mad howling vortex — and it was even much more terrible that this vortex did not stir the sheets of paper on the table. “Who’s there?” Tanya asked in agitation. The fog finally thickened, and suddenly in the middle of the room was clearly traced the contour of a short hunchback with an enormous knobbly head and the narrow mouth of a toad. The windowsill was seen vaguely through his body. The eyes of the hunchback indifferently slid around the room and stopped at Tanya. “Where is she?” the hunchback asked in a squeaky voice. “Who?” “The spectre, to which I sent the marker! Unhealed Lady... The time has come for her to disappear! Aha, I already sense her...” The hunchback turned his ugly head. The
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sobbing, unsuccessfully held in control, clearly reached them from under the sofa. The King of Ghosts snapped his fingers, and the lid of the trunk was thrown open. Unhealed Lady, moaning, flew out. Trying to hide, she rushed to the nearest wall, but the wall did not let her through. The King of Ghosts started to laugh. His pupils flamed up like two red coals. He opened his mouth wide, and Tanya was terrified. The monstrous mouth split the head of the hunchback like a sabre scar and was similar to a black bottomless well. Unhealed Lady began to squeal, rushed one last time, and then submissively floated towards her own destruction. The hypnotic look of the King of Ghosts towed her as if with a lasso. “Don’t interfere with me! Don’t interfere! In order for a new spectre to appear, one of the old must vanish! I selected her!” The mouth of the King of Ghosts was opened even wider. Coming to her senses, Tanya hastily grabbed Bab-Yagun’s letter from the table. Where is this spell? Aha, here! “Justislanderis theokssiris!” she shouted. A green spark slid along the ring and immediately died out... “I said, do not interfere!” The hunchback contemptuously waved Tanya away with a dry hand. At the same moment, something seemingly pushed the girl in the chest. She swayed and fell on the floor near the sofa, feeling the soft nap of the carpet under her cheek. Unhealed Lady continued to move submissively to the disgusting mouth sucking her in like a bog. “Why didn’t the spell work?” Tanya thought as if through a fog, trying to raise her hand. Her eyelids were filled with heaviness. The spectral hunchback diffused, merging with the chandelier. Unexpectedly she vaguely recalled what Sardanapal told them in class. Magic is not in the words, words only help to free it. Magic is also not in the spark. It is in the consciousness, in the skill, in a determined effort. Without this — neither the most powerful ring nor the thickest reference book of spells from the library of the genie Abdullah would help. Must hate this vile devouring monster whole-heartedly, to want to help whole-heartedly — and then... “You can’t!” suddenly the hunchback began to roar, in a strange manner penetrating her thought. “You can’t! You’ll be sorry for this!” “Aha, so, everything is correct! Just as I thought!” Tanya thought, perceiving suddenly how confidence was becoming stronger inside her. “Justislanderis theokssiris!” she pronounced distinctly. The ring of Theophilus Grotter instantly warmed up and shot a spark. The spark, tiny like the head of a match, bulged and became the size of a ball for dragonball. Flying up to the King of Ghosts, it was pulled swiftly into his wide-open mouth and it exploded without a sound. The outlines of the spectre began to fall swiftly and curl up. “You cannot imagine what you have done... You prevented someone’s spectre from appearing,” the King said hoarsely with hatred. “I can see the future: the greatest tests await you. You will hardly survive... And I’ll indeed try so that you’ll become a ghost and find yourself in servitude to me... You’ll be sorry a thousand times!” He was already barely visible. An instant — and he completely disappeared. In the middle of the room, quivering, Unhealed Lady now floated alone, and a contented Lieutenant Rzhevskii looked out of the trunk. “Revive me!” he exclaimed. “Never heard someone preventing the King of Ghosts from taking away the selected
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victim! Interesting, whose spectre did he have to release into the world in place of our Lady? Obviously some important bigwig, since he was fussing so.” Tanya sank down onto the sofa. The red-hot ring was still smoking. “You’ll be sorry a thousand times!” she recalled the threat of the King of Ghosts. No, this was not simply a threat. “But what if he appears again?” she asked. Lieutenant Rzhevskii shook his head so energetically that it rotated a good ten times around him in one direction. When the head finally stopped spinning, the nose was revealed to be at the back of the head. “He’ll not appear,” the spectre stated confidently, putting himself back in place. “The King of Ghosts has only one night in the year. And much can change in a year. But all the same, if I were in your shoes I would treat his warning very seriously. If he says that serious tests await you, it means, there will be...” “Very nice. Earlier I at least had the Talisman of Four Elements, but now, interesting, whom did I do an ill turn to?” Tanya thought, recalling the figure in the orange raincoat, who, leaning over, looked from the roof to see whether she had been killed. Unhealed Lady finally came to and coquettishly repaired her hat with roses. “Now it’s funny...” she said languidly. “Since I’m alive, it means, I’ll be able to describe how once I was choked by a bone. I’m certain this will be an instructive story. I could neither inhale nor exhale. In addition, I was covered all over by a rash the size of a fist. The doctor, when he saw me, died of horror. Later I was at his funeral...” Tanya quickly plugged up her ears with her fingers, and Lieutenant Rzhevskii, with a heart-rending howl, again made his way into the trunk. Chapter 6 A Passenger for the Double Bass In the morning of January 11, on the first day of the third term when Tanya was hurrying to assemble her bag, a cupid numb from the frost flew into the open window. A letter fell onto Tanya’s knees. She carefully unsealed the envelope. Inside was a dense rough sheet covered in letters sharp as mountain peaks. The letters first flared up, then died out, and then began to move restlessly from place to place. It was not possible to decipher anything. Tanya thought that these energetic zigzags resembled very little Sardanapal’s handwriting, round with many coquettish curls. “Can’t understand anything. Who’s this from?” She was at a loss. At that moment, the letters stopped jumping, and in the middle of the sheet was distinctly visible, “Attention! The letter is encoded in magic cipher. If you are Tanya Grotter, apply your ring to it! If not, better not touch it! There will be trouble!” “Tanya Grotter — it seems to be for me. So, possible to risk it,” the girl thought with certain doubt and carefully applied to the letter the ring of Grandpa Theophilus. The letters again began to move, shuffled, and were formed into the sentences: How do you do, Tanya! Professor Sardanapal is very busy; hence, I am writing to you. Repair is not yet completely finished. Only three of the five towers are built, but we decided that the students could return already to Tibidox. In recent days in the world of
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the moronoids magic has been used too frequently, and this is scandalous. Penalties await the guilty ones; consequently, they can draw the appropriate conclusions even now... You are requested to bring Coffinia with you. She has some trouble with her vacuum and cannot get here by herself. Coffinia’s Address: Zvenigorod City, Lilac Street, Building #5. This is a personal request of Professor Stinktopp. It is better for her to fly out with you instead of postponing. I have removed the spell from your new bow. All students must be in Tibidox no later than this evening. Classes start tomorrow, and we will not allow any indulgence. Please observe caution in flight. Docent of the department of evil spirits studies, instructor of the school Tibidox, MEDUSA GORGONOVA. When Tanya finished reading the letter, Medusa’s signature suddenly stretched out and acquired the outlines of her stern Greek profile. Tanya quickly got up. She simply could not sit anymore. It seemed to her that in her chest, the enormous town-meeting bell, swinging its massive tongue, was hammering invitingly. To Tibidox! To Tibidox! At long last! Even having to convey the offensive Coffinia with her could not spoil her mood. She jumped out into the corridor. Pipa, already finished getting ready, was squeezing pimples in front of the mirror. Uncle Herman, gurgling musically, was gargling in the bathroom. Aunt Ninel, preparing to accompany them to school, noisily finished drinking tea in the kitchen. Grabbing her jacket and boots, Tanya threw herself back into the room. Here in a minute she got dressed and moved the double bass case and the trunk with the spectres out from under the sofa. Was she forgetting anything? Ah yes! She hurriedly rushed into the bedroom and pulled off Black Curtains from the window. There was no longer time to roll them up, so the girl simply threw them over the double bass. Having jumped up onto the windowsill, Tanya pulled the latch, which clicked like the lock of a rifle, and tugged at the heavy window. Into the room burst the fresh frosty wind, overturning flowerpots and swinging Aunt Ninel’s Hawaiian mat hanging on the wall. Tanya was already sitting on the double bass when the door was thrown open. Pipa pushed her head through from the corridor and began to squeal. “Papa, mama, she’s at the window! She’s flying away on the black curtains!” Pipa gave a heart-rending yell, without noticing the double bass under the curtains. Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel ran into the room. “Well stop, nasty girl! Herman, she wants to throw herself out the window so that you’ll have trouble at work!” Aunt Ninel yelled. Overturning chairs, the best deputy threw himself at Tanya. Tanya waved her hand. The bow obediently jumped into it. “Speedus envenomus!” The ring released a green spark, and already the double bass rushed forward in the next moment. Uncle Herman had time to grasp the puffed up Black Curtains with his hand and began to pull Tanya towards himself. “Quick, Ninel, help me!” he shouted. Aunt Ninel rushed to help, but here the free end of Curtains lifted a little and smacked the best deputy on the
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nose. Uncle Herman fearfully expressed surprise and jumped back, holding his nose. The double bass escaped out to the street. The Durnevs froze thunderstruck at the window, accompanying the tiny point with their gazes. “There she is — base ingratitude! I so knew that there’s nothing good worth waiting for from this girl!” Aunt Ninel said with feeling. “I said that glue poured itself on my head because of her, but you didn’t believe me!” Pipa squeaked. Uncle Herman also wanted to say something profound, but all majestic thoughts suitable for the situation were somehow lost to him. Durnev sighed, slammed the window shut and stated rather dully, “Well okay... Better for us! Ninelie, please find my beautiful dark-blue tie. I want to be well dressed. Today I’m speaking before the ballerinas in the Bolshoi Theatre.” *** Bending down on the double bass, Tanya rushed over the city. Black Curtains, thanks to which she was almost caught by Uncle Herman, now turned out to be even useful: they held the trunk with the ghosts and the double bass case. Sometimes Tanya took out of her pocket Medusa’s letter, which had become a detailed map. On this map, Moscow was the size of a large apple, and the double bass was identified as a tiny pointer. This pointer confidently moved along the map to its lower left corner, where purple crossbones twinkled. It was not difficult to surmise that Medusa marked Coffinia by this sign. Likely, the stern instructor of evil spirits studies also had a sense of humour. Building number five on Lilac Street was low, squat, but very long. A set of TV antennas stuck out of its roof. Now Coffinia, in an orange jacket, was strolling between the antennas and gobbling chocolate “magnetized” from the nearest store. Many wrappers were already rustling by her feet. Coffinia’s vacuum with vertical takeoff and a knapsack with things were lying there, on the roof. “Hello, unlucky orphan!” she shouted. “Why so long? Walking on the clouds? I’m frozen stiff.” “And you could jump on the spot. It’s very useful,” advised Tanya, thinking to herself that Coffinia was simply a thankless pig. “I already jumped, now I’m gobbling chocolate here...” Coffinia imparted. “Well so, you’re taking me?” Tanya sighed. “Jump on, what should I do with you? Don’t let moronoids see you,” she said. Cryptova attempted to get onto the double bass from behind, but it turned out that she took with her so many things that in no way could she settle together with the knapsack. Moreover, Black Curtains, not liking Coffinia much, were always caustically grunting and aiming at throwing her off. Even the spell Briskus-quickus did not work on them because it was too cold and the spark, which the ring released, did not get sufficiently hot. “Bad business,” Coffinia finally acknowledged. “It’s necessary for you to drag me in tow. I’ll sit on my vacuum, and tie the end of the pipe to your double bass.” “But can we do it?” Tanya doubted.
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“Easily,” Coffinia assured her. “My vacuum is not broken. Only the guiding talisman in it is always untied. It can take off, but here in air it begins to wander.” If soon after this a pedestrian were to accidentally raise his head and look at the sky, he would be deprived of the gift of speech for a long time. Above Zvenigorod leisurely flew a double bass, which was controlled by a small dark-haired girl of about ten, holding near her elbow a very large trunk. Behind the double bass on a long hose was dragged a vacuum, on which a tall girl with tousled violet hair sat in glory in an orange jacket. Approximately once every five minutes the damaged vacuum would start to become obstinate and jerk exactly like a bucking bronco. Then the girl with the violet hair clung to it with both hands and began to howl, “Stop, Grotter! Stop! My talisman is untied again!” or “Where are you flying to? Fly there!” “My map shows the other direction!” Tanya objected. “Spit on the map! And I tell you that it’s this way!” Coffinia declared. No need to explain that the flight to Tibidox delivered no pleasure to Tanya. Instead of the usual several hours, they dragged out to almost noon. Moreover, all this time Coffinia grumbled and swore non-stop. This began when in flight she attempted to redo her nails from poisonous-green to violet and the wind knocked the brush off her. When they were carried in a buzzing air stream above the continent, all reference points below disappeared at once. Tanya was already looking at the map non-stop. A thin dotted line and a red pointer confidently guided them over the ocean. The spell of passage could work only at one point of the terrestrial globe, where, invisible to simple mortals, in the ocean there was the famous Buyan Island of magicians. Finally began the moment when the ring on the girl’s finger grew warm and suddenly on the map flared up a large island resembling the head of a giraffe. “Get ready! It’s time!” Tanya shouted, turning around. The most critical moment had arrived — the moment of utterance of the spell of passage. It was necessary to direct the flying instrument downward decisively and, not fearing a split, releasing a spark, shout “Grail Gardarika.” A moment’s doubt or delay, and death would await them. The body would turn up in one world, and the consciousness — in the other. Not without reason the spell of passage was considered almost the same as the most dangerous spell of the highest magic. “Hey-hey, Grotter! Wait!” Coffinia began to bustle. “I’ve not yet made up my mind. Let me at least finish counting to three!” “Well, count!” Tanya agreed. Coffinia took a deep breath, “One... two... eh-eh... four... five...” “But where’s three?” “Really I skipped it?” Coffinia was astonished. “Then let’s start again... Two... two and a half... two and three-quarters... Quick, before I change my mind! Hurry up! Oh, mama!!! THREE!” Tanya pressed her chest against the double bass and directed the bow downward. The wind struck them in the face, the torn shroud of clouds moved aside and immediately crumpled like wet cotton, rolled up into hundreds of balls. The seething ocean became more distinct, more discernible. Already it was possible to make out the separate waves, and the wind was already hurling moist drops into their faces. It was not possible to believe that there was an island below. It seemed, a little more and they would run into the seething water at an enormous speed.
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“Grail Gardarika!” Tanya shouted, not making out her own voice in the roar of the ocean. The ring of Grandpa Theophilus shot a green spark. The world began to twirl... started to shimmer... broke up into two... The ocean and the sky merged into a single whole and again separated... It seemed to Tanya that something powerful caught and forced her through the infinitesimally narrow funnel of the sandy hourglass. Suddenly their swift drop slowed down. A large island emerged from the foam of the ocean. Grey angry waves, seething and gradually softening, rolled on the long sand spit like a narrow wedge jutting into the ocean. Immediately beyond the sand spit began the cracked cliffs, here and there overgrown with red pine trees with uneven roots similar to the tentacles of an octopus. The double bass was no longer falling but descending in wide circles. Tanya shifted her gaze higher and her heart ached joyfully. She saw a colossal tortoise with a growth on its shell. So enormous and so dear. It was not possible for her to confuse it with someone or something, because exactly such a tortoise was seen from the heights of Tibidox! Where there were folds in the shell of the tortoise, in Tibidox stretched the long and short galleries that connected its many parts. A gigantic tower was raised at the top of the cliff. This was the famous Big Tower — the main one of the five towers of Tibidox. More accurately, earlier there were five towers. Now there remained only three — the Big Tower and two corner ones. The other two were only beginning to be constructed anew. Evil spirits were swarming on the wooden scaffolds enclosing the bottom of the construction. As one got used to it, it was possible even to distinguish the reddish fur on the backs of the wood-goblins and the small orange helmets on the heads of the house-spirits. For sure, they were made to wear these helmets by Slander Slanderych, adoring order in everything. The double bass made another half circle and Tibidox became visible from the side of the main gates — the only passage through its unassailable walls protected by many spells. As before, the inscription shone above the main gates of the fortress. The letters of the inscription shimmered, woven precisely from live fire. TIBIDOX — SCHOOL OF MAGIC FOR DIFFICULT-TO-RAISE YOUNG MAGICIANS. WHITE AND BLACK DEPARTMENTS. Only now to this inscription was added one more, smaller but distinct: ENTRANCE TO THE MAIN STAIRCASE IS PROHIBITED! By the gates walked a gloomy cyclops dressed in sheepskins and holding a poleaxe. Under his single eye was a large shiner. The brother-heroes Usynya, Dubynya, and Gorynya must have been too lazy again to learn the password. Tanya wanted to get inside faster to see Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun. She wanted to see how Tibidox had changed in those wearisome weeks when she was living with Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel. She directed the bow downward and began to descend rapidly. “Hey, hey, be more careful! Not moving firewood, you know! I’m not yet tired of my bones. They are as dear as memory to me!” A familiar howl was heard. Turning around, Tanya saw Coffinia. The girl from the black magicians was hanging from the hose, dangling her legs in the air. Her pinging vacuum had disappeared somewhere. Coffinia reported that the talisman became untied at the most inappropriate moment and with the utterance of Grail Gardarika the vacuum was simply cut off.
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Toying with the poleaxe, the cyclops barred the girls’ path. “Password!” he bellowed. “Sailboat!” Tanya said. “That’s the old password,” the cyclops became obstinate. “Need the new one!” “Easy! Hit the eye!” Coffinia barged in mockingly. Lieutenant Rzhevskii began to neigh happily in the trunk and the cyclops turned red with malice. His single eye, surrounded by the violet radiance of the shiner, swiftly began to revolve in orbit and was covered with dozens of bluish veins. “What? What did you say? Here, you want a bump on your head with this?” the cyclops roared loudly, lifting the poleaxe over his head. Coffinia began to squeal. “Cannot hit girls,” Tanya said quickly. The cyclops thought for a bit. “Even with a poleaxe?” he wanted to be precise. “Especially with a poleaxe. You’ll get it from Medusa.” The cyclops still thought for a minute and sadly lowered the poleaxe. “But without the password I’ll not let you pass nevertheless!” he said gloatingly. “Then call Sardanapal. Or some of the instructors,” proposed Tanya. “Ne-a,” the cyclops shook his head. “I’m not going to.” “Why not?” “Because you say the incorrect passwords. Humiliating,” the cyclops stated and insultingly turned his back. Unexpectedly Tanya started to laugh and nudged Coffinia with an elbow. “What’s with you?” Coffinia frowned. “Look over there!” Tanya whispered. Cryptova looked and also began to laugh aloud. On the back of the cyclops was traced with chalk a large: Mermaid tail. It seemed to Tanya that she recognized the handwriting of Vanka Valyalkin. “Hey, I remember! The password is ‘mermaid tail!’” she said loudly. The cyclops was so astonished that he even sat down on the ground. “You too... Everyone for some reason doesn’t know, and then guesses,” he complained, crushed. “Yes, exactly, ‘mermaid tail.’ You know who thought of it?” “Slander Slanderych?” Tanya guessed easily. “Uh-huh, the same. Now all the passwords are mermaid. The day before yesterday was ‘silver scale,’ three days ago was ‘sweetootsiepapoosie’... My tongue was simply tied in a knot from this ‘sweetootsiepapoosie!’ Okay, the heck with you, stomp.” The cyclops got up clumsily and opened the heavy gates. Only now, having stepped on the first of the many rock steps leading to the Big Tower, Tanya was finally convinced that she was in Tibidox, in her Tibidox... She climbed a dozens steps, saw the rope hanging on top, the heavy wheel of the suspension bridge, the familiar chip on the oak doors of the small pantry, and her eyes started to hurt. The sensation appeared in Tanya that she was finally home, in the only home that could be for her. “My granny mama!” Someone very familiar began to yell enthusiastically. Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin were already running to her. Chapter 7 The Magic Tablecloth and the Chicken Spell

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The following morning, as Medusa had promised, classes began in Tibidox. The students were not given a day of rest. Before classes, Sardanapal and Medusa gathered the entire school in the Hall of Two Elements. The round Sardanapal was dressed in a new robe. Next to Academician Chernomorov, Medusa stood tall and stern. Slander Slanderych, like a sullen crow, sat on the side on a small chair. On his knees lay a thick bundle of parchments. A shabby goose feather was fluttering by itself above the parchments and rapidly writing something. The look of this goose feather was the most faultfinding and sneaky imaginable. Occasionally Slander Slanderych would cast looks to the parchment and somehow would smile not too nicely. “I don’t like that look. What do you think he’s writing there?” Vanka whispered. “Don’t know,” Tanya said honestly. “I think those are our misdeeds, which we completed in the world of the moronoids,” Valyalkin surmised. At this moment, Slander Slanderych with some special gloating expression raised his eyes and glanced at Tanya, which helped her finally to be convinced of the truth of Vanka’s words. The shabby feather deftly dived into the inkpot and dashed to the next parchment. Tanya sensed in her heart that this was the parchment. Her parchment with her misdeeds! But here, as if coming to her aid, the invisible orchestra of spirits began to play the solemn hymn of Tibidox. The dean’s little chair began to bob up and down impatiently. Slander Slanderych hurriedly rose and straightened to attention. “Dear children! Glad to greet everyone in Tibidox!” Sardanapal said. Students began unnoticeably to nudge each other with their elbows, barely controlling their laughter. While the academician turned to them with the speech, his moustaches were still continuing to conduct the invisible orchestra. And Sardanapal himself clearly did not have any idea of this. “I know that it was not easy for many of you in the world of the moronoids. Please believe that it was also not easy for us to decide on this step. In any event, now you are in Tibidox again and can proceed to your studies... And I’m very happy about this... We did everything in order that you could return here as soon as possible. Even despite that construction has not yet come to an end...” the voice of Sardanapal trembled slightly. The moustaches of the academician were about to start bouncing archly, but the now-appearing now-disappearing long beard stirred threateningly, and they immediately quieted down. After Sardanapal, Slander Slanderych took to the floor. “Young half-educated magicians, finding themselves in the world of the moronoids without supervision, completed many grave misdeeds!” the dean began shrilly, shaking the pile of parchments. “Some... I’ll not name names for the time being... allowed themselves to fly, others used spells left and right, a third attempted to use the highest magic of transformations. As a result several of the very respectable moronoids, till now... eh-eh... manifest some strangeness in their behaviour. Is that not so, respected Seven-Stump-Holes? Maybe, you will prevail them to stop barking and biting the legs of passers-by. For some reason Dentistikha has not been able to get it to work. Somebody enchanted the paternal belt so that a respected, pedagogically competent, politically well-heeled moronoid was whipped by his own belt!”

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“Slander! No argument: the misdeeds are actually scandalous. However, this fellow was punished for a good reason! I already told you: no one made him beat children with a belt! Let him be in their place for once!” Sardanapal interrupted him. Slander Slanderych winced. “Well fine, we’ll cross this out...” he grumbled unwilling. “By the way, now and then simply scandalous facts were found! Somebody among the local favourites, for example, released ghosts from a trunk and scattered cupid’s arrows left and right...” Tanya shivered, immediately understanding whom this referred to. “I consider that any of these misdeeds is sufficient to subject the guilty ones to zombification and, having taken away all magic abilities, to send them forever into the world of the moronoids... I personally would so act!” Slander angrily continued. Several hundred students froze. Silence was hanging such that it seemed even the fly running along the nose of Gunya Glomov was audible. Then it took off and flew over to the ear of Rita On-The-Sly. “However, unfortunately, if we use zombification, this hall will become completely deserted, since among you there is not one who did not complete at least one serious misdeed,” the dean unwillingly continued. “For this very reason we will temporarily put off this punishment. I emphasize — TEMPORARILY. Till the first significant breach of discipline!” Slander Slanderych threateningly shook the parchments and stepped back. A sigh of relief rushed along the hall. All knew Slander too well and did not misinterpret his reckoning. If he had his way, he would turn students into zombies even for a five-minute delay. However, fortunately, Sardanapal was still in Tibidox. He must have interceded for them this time also. Not without reason his moustaches now shook so slyly, although the face as before remained haughty and condemning. Medusa took a step forward. As always, she was very brief and specific. “I’m certain you’ll take the words of Slander Slanderych seriously. And now all classes adjourn to work. Taking into account that two months have passed, the timetable is very packed. It’s necessary for you to be busy from morning till late at night. Hardly will anyone have strength left for mischief. Furthermore, our librarian the genie Abdullah requested to relay that triple curses will be superimposed on those who don’t return books on time or, worse still, who begin to pull out pages. So that you will pay attention. This is all that I want to say. Till we meet for evil spirits studies!” Directly from the Hall of Two Elements the classes began to disperse to lessons. The mood of everyone was poor. “Likely, the Teaches have decided to take us in hand in earnest,” said Rita On-The-Sly. “Uh-huh,” confirmed Coffinia. “Beat into submission! If we don’t think of something interesting, it’ll be as rotten here as at the moronoids.” “Geez! Interesting, how will they force me to be busy if I don’t want to?” Gunya Glomov roared with laughter. This round-shouldered fellow, similar to a gorilla, already sat in first year several years in a row and, till now, could not satisfactorily convert a stool into a goose. Instead of this, he got some deformity every time: a live stool or a goose with four legs. Tanya in no way could clarify how Glomov was able to turn up in Tibidox at all. “Yes, bad business. They’ll push us to cramming,” Vanka Valyalkin said sadly. Bab-Yagun began to smile and beckoned Tanya and Vanka to the side. Bab-Yagun’s feet only recently ceased to be frog feet; therefore Bab-Yagun, until now, strove not to walk but to jump. However, neither Tanya nor Vanka Valyalkin laughed at him. To fall
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under the spell of Slander was a serious matter. Especially under a spell he was guarding the Vanishing Floor with. “What’s so rotten? In your place I wouldn’t lose heart too much!” Bab-Yagun said merrily. “Why’s that? Busy from morning to evening. No brain will be able to keep up,” objected Vanka. “Medusa didn’t say everything. She kept quiet about the dragonball championship. When it begins, you’ll simply not be able to sit anyone down to books. That’s why Slander is so angry. Only mind you don’t give me away! Granny told me in secret,” BabYagun whispered with a conspiratorial look. Tanya’s mood brightened sharply. How could she have forgotten: Bab-Yagun warned her about the championship! And once the championship is at hand, then it is necessary to train a lot. For sure Nightingale O. Robber will not want their team to lose face! Someone gave a cough beside them, attracting their attention. Dentistikha always appeared soundlessly. “Young people! Why are you not in class? What do you have now? Well, march or I’ll cast an evil eye!” she merrily raised her voice at them. The first-year students looked at the clock. Even in the first half-year, they had time to learn that the clocks in Tibidox are special — magic, without numbers, but with small animated pictures. Now the hand was pointing at a smoky cauldron, a malodorous stream of smoke snaking. Tanya shivered. She knew excellently what this cauldron meant: they must set off for Professor Stinktopp’s practical magic. “Oh, my granny mama! If you knew how I hate this old man! Simply sickens me!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed with feeling. “And you, Vanka?” Vanka answered nothing, then smiled mysteriously. Tanya looked at him very attentively. This smile was very familiar to her. When Vanka smiled this way, it was necessary to expect something interesting in the near future. Tanya noticed moreover that Valyalkin alone did not look at the clock. Likely, even without it he knew to whom they would now be directed. The auditorium in which Professor Stinktopp always conducted his classes was located under the very roof of the narrow round tower. On the walls hung bunches of magic grasses, snakeskins, sacks of poisonous things and ligaments of dried bats. All this was necessary to Professor Stinktopp for preparation of his awful elixirs and drugs. The smoky cauldrons, which were forbidden to be washed, stood on the desks. Stinktopp maintained that their main magic was precisely in this soot accumulated over the centuries. A rustle was heard. A rope hammock came down from the narrow hatchway in the ceiling above. On the hammock reclined Professor Stinktopp, dean of the “black” department of Tibidox. His head resembled a horseradish, and on his face were so many wrinkles that it was amazing how they all found room there. He was dressed in a woollen waistcoat, from which on a long chain hung a bronze spoon. “Greetings, kinders!” he said with his usual accent. “I see you are all aliff and vell for ze time being! But zis is temporary. I am confident, at ze end of class many of you vill be in magic station! Hee-hee!” “Why’s that?” Gunya Glomov asked in a deep bass. Professor Stinktopp began to play with the bronze spoon, twirling it by the chain. “Ah, Glomoff, Glomoff! You are so dim zat effery time you forget about zat! You vill be in magic station because our zeme today is ‘Jumper’s elixir.’ Ze one who drinks ze
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elixir vill be able to soar aboff ze ceiling! But zis is not efen ze most pleasant information! Ze most pleasant information is zat ze elixir makes strong rum cakes, vhen it is incorrectly prepared. Fery strong rum cakes! After such rum cakes ze student immediately sets off for magic station viz a broken head! Zerefore I so adore zis zeme!” “Ai!” Verka Parroteva, the biggest coward in the class, squeaked loudly. Her nose was slightly bent to the right side. This happened when still among the moronoids, she peeped at her older sister, who was kissing a boy. Exactly then the ability to see through objects appeared in Verka. Professor Stinktopp impatiently waved his hand. “And now efferyone pay attention! I vill not repeat! You must take a bunch of burnet saxifrage... zree scales of a boa... four hairs of a fampire... seven tails from dead rats... and tvelff large spoons of gunpowder! Mix vell ze powder in fish mucus and set efferyzing on fire... Zen vait till ze elixir smell of rotten eggs... Zen it is ready and possible to lubricate bare feet viz it! If it makes rum cakes or does not smell of rotten eggs — you do efferyzing anew! Anyone has a stupid qvestion? No stupid qvestions! Zen begin!!!” Tanya moved to her cauldron and, trying not to get too soiled by its edge, did everything in the manner Professor Stinktopp had ordered. To mix powder in fish mucus and on top of that to add rat tails to it was not particularly pleasant, but indeed to set all this on fire... On the other hand, to learn to get jumper’s elixir was tempting. It could turn out to be useful sometime. Professor Stinktopp according to his habit walked around the class and observed the work, giving out caustic observations. If these observations are to be believed, the entire class without exception consisted of some dimwits. “Cryptoff, don’t sving ze spoon! Falyalkin, don’t splash ze fish mucus! Grotter, don’t you know how to count? How many rat tails vill you take?” “But this is a very long tail. I thought, it’ll count as two,” Tanya timidly objected. The tail, which chanced upon her, was precisely simply of a striking size. “I said sefen tails and four hairs. Short tail, long tail — it’s unimportant. You are a stupid dumb-dumb...” Professor Stinktopp frowned. When he turned away, Tanya could not control herself and stuck out her tongue at him but was immediately sorry about this, recalling that Professor Stinktopp, according to rumours, had an eye also on the back of his head. And as if to spite her precisely at this moment it turned out to be open. An instant — and Stinktopp furiously turned, “Grotter, how dare you! Vhy do you stick your tongue out at me?” “Eh-eh... I was given the evil eye... It stuck out of me by itself... Here please look!” Tanya quickly blurted out. Stinktopp smiled maliciously. His small eyes acquired the sweetest expression. “Don’t be distressed, Grotter. Such a thing freqvently happens,” he cooed. “And my pen freqvently put twos in the diary. Bye-bye, such bad pen!” The black magician had already snapped his fingers, summoning the diary, but here something exploded deafeningly. Splinters and red-hot drops splashed in different directions. Liza Zalizina with a howl dived under the desk. Fortunately, she got off only with a scare. But then the cauldron was split in two. Professor Stinktopp ran up to her. “Vhy did you coffer ze cauldron?” he yelled. “And how much powder did you put in? Vould be better your empty head exploded! I giff you all bad efaluation! Ze entire class! Zis is my fafourite cauldron! It has been here two hundred years!”
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An enraged Stinktopp snatched a hanky out of his pocket and wanted to wipe his sweaty forehead. But the unforeseen happened — unexpectedly the hanky broke loose and gripped Stinktopp by the nose. It was gripping so tightly that it could not be removed. The enraged Stinktopp threw up a hand in order to strike the hanky with a red spark, but considered just in time that it would burn his own nose. Correctly estimating the difficulty of the situation in which the instructor found himself, the class started to guffaw. Almost no one could control himself, indeed it was painfully amusing to watch as the dean of the “black” department jumped around the class on his crooked thin legs and in no way could be disentangled from the pushy hanky. Finally, it was possible for Stinktopp to take it off his nose and throw it onto the floor. Screaming out threats, he jumped out of the classroom and soon returned with Slander Slanderych. Without touching the hanky lying on the table, the dean looked at it attentively. Then he stretched out a finger and slightly picked at it with a yellow nail. In that same moment, all four corners of the hanky lifted and tried to coil around the finger of Slander Slanderych. Slander Slanderych muttered something through his teeth. His heavy ring shot out a dual green-red spark. The class started whispering. To use simultaneously white and black magic was strictly forbidden; however, the dean freely used both. Not without reason till his transfer to the “white” department he was considered one of the strongest black magicians. For many it remained a riddle why Sardanapal took to Slander and even made him the dean. Most likely there was some secret here. “Self-defence tablecloth!” Slander hissed, blowing away the ashes, very recently the hanky, from the table. “Self-defence? Really, not magic?” Dusya Dollova, a chubby fat-cheeked girl, suggested. She loved sweets so much that once she changed her friend into gingerbread, the reason why she had come to Tibidox. “Who said that?” Slander Slanderych bellowed, furiously blinking the closely set eyes. Dusya fearfully pulled her head into her shoulders. “I know what I’m talking about!” Slander continued to rumble. “There is magic tablecloth, but this is self-defence tablecloth, the gone mad variety! More precisely, a corner cut off in the shape of a hanky. And the one who tossed it up to the Professor has to answer for it!!! I, and not only me, I’m sure, want very much to know how the tablecloth from the Vanishing Floor got here!” Tanya carefully looked sideways at Vanka. It seemed to her that he turned slightly pale. The icy glance of Slander slid along in turn, stopping on each student for several seconds. Then Slander abruptly turned and left. Tanya understood that he was hurrying to verify his spells on the Main Staircase. Moreover, the dean obviously recollected that he mentioned the Vanishing Floor to no purpose with such a collection of students. They clearly would not pay any attention and any rumours would spread around the school. “Don’t think that you can get away with this! We’ll return to this conversation — and very soon!” he said, again pushing his head through the door. Hissing with malice, Professor Stinktopp began to continue the lesson. Twos and observations fell like hail. In the end, only the jumper’s elixir of Verka Parroteva, who did everything correctly from fright, turned out right. Stinktopp praised Verka, grumbled that even idiots have flashes of brilliance, and gave her a four.
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A curious Gunya Glomov, for the sake of experiment scooped a handful of ointment and, having taken off his shoes, greased his own enormous soles. “Well so? Where’s the magic here?” he hooted with disappointment. “And you jump, Gunya! Jump, my dear!” Professor Stinktopp advised in a sweet voice. Glomov cautiously looked askance at his own bare feet and jumped slightly. More accurately, he attempted to jump slightly. Something entirely different happened. As if tossed up by a powerful spring, Glomov flew to the ceiling and, having hit the back of his head hard, stretched out unconscious on the floor. Professor Stinktopp smiled with satisfaction. “Someone take zis simpleton avay to magic station! Class ofer,” he said. “Next lesson ve vill cook and bottle a mixture of cunning, so efferyone bring a glass container in order to make blub-blub.” *** Tanya could hardly wait while Professor Stinktopp sat down on his hammock with thousands of knots and was pulled into the upper hatch. Then she grabbed Vanka Valyalkin by the sleeve and dragged him behind the enormous cabinet for poisons. “Indeed it’s you? Tell me, you?” she asked impatiently. Vanka attentively looked at his yellow soccer shirt, then hands. “Yes, me — it’s me.” “Stop joking! I’m on about the other thing! Indeed it was you who slipped the magic tablecloth on Stinktopp, well own up!” Vanka slyly smiled. “What gave you that idea?” “I suspected. So it was you?” “Yes, me,” Vanka acknowledged. “And how did you make your way through the Main Staircase? Really you were on the Vanishing Floor?” Vanka shook his head. “Ne-a, I was not on the Vanishing Floor. Here Slander got something all wrong. I found the tablecloth behind the statue of the stone fish. Well, did you know a stream of water still runs from its mouth?” Tanya was hearing about this small fountain for the first time. “Where’s this?” she asked. “Immediately behind the workshop of magic objects. It’s in the old part of Tibidox. Almost no one is there, and even the workshop has long been neglected. It was closed up even during the time of The Ancient One, because black magicians were making all kinds of dangerous things there. I decided to slip through there.” “Why’s that?” “Well, I don’t exactly remember why... Aha! I wanted to drag a little flying scrap in order to tease Stinktopp. You know how much fun that is? They fly around the class, turn like flies under the ceiling, but you’ll not be able to catch them anyhow.” Vanka for some reason sighed despondently. “Only I also didn’t get to the workshop then,” he added. “Why?” “Because someone was already there. I stole up and saw: a light shone through from that side. Bluish, this light, strange. I just about wanted to leave when suddenly the door began to open. Slowly so, with a squeak. I was frightened and took to my heels. It must have been back along the corridor when I ran into a blind alley. And here was this fish, just in the nick of time. Well I rushed behind it and hid.”
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“And did you see who left the workshop?” Tanya asked. “Ne-a,” said Vanka. “How could I when I had my nose resting on this stupid fish? On the tail itself! And when I came out, the workshop was already shut again and no more blue glow. Nothing at all. But then I saw something clenching my foot, and so tightly. I looked — a tablecloth. I disengaged myself from it with difficulty, and then decided to place it stealthily instead of a hanky on Professor Stinktopp. I cut out a piece and substituted it. Only I didn’t know then that it’s self-defence, and also had no idea about the Vanishing Floor. I thought it was simply a pugnacious tablecloth. All kinds of amusing jokes here!” Tanya thought for a bit. The bluish glow for some reason disturbed her much more than the tablecloth. Who was hiding in the workshop? Why? For some reason with the thought of this, a bad presentiment seized Tanya. Her head began to spin as in that moment when the figure in the raincoat appeared on the roof and a spark set her bow afire. “Perhaps it’s a ghost shining?” she asked with doubt. “What, I’ve never seen ghosts?” Vanka objected. “Yes, some of them shine, but not like this at all. With ghosts, the light is soft, so pinkish-diffuse, but here it was so sharp, strong, really hurt the eyes... There’re no such ghosts. And then, I even heard footsteps...” Suddenly someone cleared his throat triumphantly. Coffinia crawled out on all fours from under the cabinet. She was endowed with the staggering ability to show up at inappropriate time in the inappropriate place. “Hello, whisperers! Terribly useful sometimes to drop a small notebook and crawl under the cabinet after it! I’m certain Slander Slanderych will be very interested to learn about the hanky!” she declared mockingly. Tanya rushed to Coffinia, but that one deftly jumped behind the desk, and then immediately vanished behind the door. Tanya and Vanka exchanged glances. They were certain that Coffinia had rushed out to tell tales, but here Cryptova again pushed her nose through the door. “Frightened, cockroaches? And rightly so that you’re frightened... But still, perhaps I’ll not immediately tell. What sense does it make if your friend immediately turns into a zombie and is sent to the moronoids? Better I thoroughly torment you first. Consequently you’ll live for the time being!” Coffinia added. Tanya shot a fight spark at her, but Coffinia had already left. Her laughter was audible from the spiral staircase for a long time. *** In the evening Bab-Yagun approached Tanya and with a mysterious look whispered that Nightingale O. Robber had called the entire composite team of Tibidox for the first briefing. Bab-Yagun’s hands tremblingly held a new vacuum, from the pipe of which dripped something thick. The drops only had to appear on the floor and the numerous beetles and ants living in the cracks of the masonry immediately began to run to them. “What’s this, some oil, perhaps?” Tanya was interested. “Oil yourself! It’s genuine moronoid mayo!” Bab-Yagun explained with pride. “Now I don’t lubricate with oil anymore. It turns out to be more useful to lubricate with mayo. Acceleration is better. Here look!” He thrust his hand under his jacket and extracted a worn-out catalogue 10,000 Novelties for Super Dragonball Players. “Now day and night I read only this... See, all kinds of useful adaptations! Holder for the ball. Twinkling soccer shirt, scaring off dragons. Goggles with distance determiner. Anti-burn cream.
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Mirror to direct sunbeam reflections into the eyes of dragons... Exploding candies... Rubber glue for pants...” “What, what?” Tanya asked again in amazement. “Well, it... You grease the back of your pants in order to not fall from the vacuum on sharp turns. You simply stick to it capitally. Very useful invention. Hands are free for the ball,” Bab-Yagun explained seriously. “True, there’s one minus.” “What?” “The pants don’t come off the vacuum then. And to get out of the pants in front of a thousand fans is somehow inconvenient... That’s why I haven’t bought it so far... But you know what this piece here is for?” Yagun showed the picture in the catalogue. “A fan?” Tanya guessed carefully. Bab-Yagun glanced at her with light contempt. “A fan? Oh you, your granny mama! It’s a tickler! You start to tickle the stomach of the dragon with it, and it spits you out. Wonderful, isn’t it?” “Wonderful. I always dreamt that they would swallow me and then spit me out,” Tanya growled, pondering whether to take the double bass with her. It was not particularly desirable to drag it along the corridors, especially as all flight spells were blocked inside the walls of Tibidox. Finally, Tanya decided not to take the double bass. They would hardly fly in the first briefing, and on top of that also in twilight. Most likely, Nightingale simply wanted to see what state the team was in, having returned from the world of the moronoids. The team of Tibidox was assembled in the playing field by the dragon hangars. When Bab-Yagun and Tanya got there, everyone else was already on the spot. Nightingale O. Robber was small, high-cheeked, and one-eyed. His left leg did not bend at the knee while walking, and his nose was flattened. They whispered that these were battle mementos left by Ilya Muromets. Not without reason the moronoids have this account of the corresponding epic. However, no one dared ask. The black magician and trainer of magic piloting was not one with whom one wanted to simply chat in this way. Here and now, he gloomily looked at all the children and ordered those with their instruments to make a circle above the field. The other half, whose instruments were left in the school, waited below. When everyone again gathered around him, Nightingale spat near his feet and said, “Nothing can be worse. Even the old witch flying into the store for kefir stays in the air better. And the championship starts in spring. You do understand what this means?” “We do,” Bab-Yagun said resentfully. He flew his circle entirely not badly, and a comparison with the old witch seemed to him unfair. “You understand like a donkey!” Nightingale bellowed. “In spring the best will set out to us at Tibidox! The best! The pride of the world of dragonball! They’ll simply smear you on the playing field. And what will be on the field there! You’ll all be sitting in the stomach of their dragon and blushing for your own clumsiness!” The protruding ears of Bab-Yagun turned ruby crimson. In Tibidox they made up legends about these ears. For example, Coffinia assured that if Bab-Yagun flapped his ears very quickly, then he would even be able to take off. It was nonsense of course. But the ears were precisely phenomenal. “We will be coached...,” promised Seven-Stump-Holes, an outstanding forward with excellent reflex. When he was twelve, he accidentally changed his teacher into an otter,
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after this he turned up in Tibidox. Now Seven-Stump-Holes was already in the fifth and final year. He would turn seventeen in the summer. This promise did not impress Nightingale too much. “Fly, they will!” he snorted. “A green fly flies! Must work, work, and again work hard! No truancies! Training every day from six to eight in the morning. Then after lessons from eight to ten in the evening. Our first match, so that you know, is with the African babai, and they were third in the last world championship! Third!” The children became depressed. Every one of them had heard of the African babai, and repeatedly. The babai were innate dragonball players. They said that many of them did not even need the magic rug for flying and sat on it purely for formality. To suffer a defeat to the babai in the first round meant being eliminated from the championship at the beginning. Moreover, to be eliminated with disgrace. And all because the rules for dragonball match were very strict. Any team who lost could not participate anymore in the championship and had to wait till the following year. “Eh, we flew with the casting of lots! Most probably someone gave us the evil eye!” Yura Idiotsyudov grumbled despondently. “Exactly! Dentistikha must seize the casting of lots!” Rita On-The-Sly, a sharp-faced girl flying on a guitar with a trailer, agreed with him. This outwardly absurd instrument allowed her to move above the field with monstrous speed. Now, true, it eternally skidded on turns so that frequently it was necessary for Rita to be alone a good half of the match inside the opposition’s dragon. “Nonsense! Magic lot-castings cannot be cursed and cannot be tampered with!” BabYagun objected. “Do you know from what the papers are pulled out? From the skull of the father of Hamlet! It doesn’t let magic through.” “Aha. Only it’s possible to peep into the eye sockets. Indeed better if they are simply put in a bag,” Rita On-The-Sly chimed in. The trainer waved a hand angrily. “Enough! Whether they cast an evil eye or not — we’re playing with the babai, period! But now I want Bab-Yagun to present all members of our team again! We have changes.” Bab-Yagun jumped onto the vacuum. He had to be the commentator repeatedly, therefore he knew absolutely everybody. Tanya pensively looked at her friend, who motionlessly hung above the field at the height of approximately two metres. Her double bass could not stay in the air like that. It had to be in motion all the time. Nevertheless, she would not exchange her ancient instrument even for ten vacuums. “So, dear fans, before you the composite team of Tibidox!” turning to the absent spectators, Bab-Yagun merrily shouted. “The best of the best! Please give them a warm welcome! Number one, Zhora Zhikin. Instrument — mop with propeller. Winger. And plays rather well. Only it’s inconvenient to pass to him — the ball always falls into the propeller... Number two. Damien Goryanov, from the black magicians. Forward. Vacuum of model Storm-100U, roams in the air and in general behaves like a refrigerator. Usually the opposition’s dragon swallows our Damien in the first five minutes of the match. Immediately the dragon begins to feel sick from this small present, and flies like a dead chicken by the end of the match. Therefore Goryanov is also kept on the team...” Tanya laughed. It was well known to her that Bab-Yagun and Goryanov simply hated each other’s guts, much like Coffinia and herself.
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“Yagun! Just you come down! I’ll kill you!” an enraged Goryanov began to roar, jumping and attempting to catch Bab-Yagun by the foot. “Threats — weapon of fools!” Yagun declared, rising slightly higher on the vacuum. “Number three. Katya Lotkova. Defence. Dirt vacuum. The dragons love Katya very much and not only dragons... I also, for example, always love to watch her play. And how she smiles!” “Yagun, something dropped onto my forehead!” Lotkova laughed. “Don’t pay any attention! It’s mayo I dispense to everyone for supper...” Bab-Yagun explained, preventively moving the pipe to the side. He flew around in a small circle above the field, teasing, flying past over Goryanov’s head and froze three metres from the stands. “Number four, Seven-Stump-Holes. Outstanding forward with surprising reflex. Only, till now I still don’t understand, why did he turn his teacher into an otter? Number five, Rita On-The-Sly. Who doesn’t know Rita and her guitar with a trailer? Number six, Kuzya Tuzikov. Winger. If he would not fall often from his jet broom, he would be invaluable... Number seven Yura Idiotsyudov, captain of the team. Possesses a very loud voice and yells at everyone. Nothing more is remarkable.” “YAGUN!!!!!!” number seven bellowed indignantly. “Well, what did I say? All heard the voice of our captain?” Yagun was pleased. “I specially led you to it, don’t be offended... Number eight... Well, what can you say here? Earlier number eight was Roma Kislyakov. However, he left the team. Now instead of him I am Bab-Yagun, the one and only.” “And what’s so unique about you? The ears?” Damien Goryanov began to neigh. “Foolish, dull, and absurd! While I have a sense of humour, you have complete zero!” Bab-Yagun retorted, dripping mayo onto his nose. “Number nine, Liza Zalizina,” he continued. “Flies on a cuckoo clock. Everything is fine, only the cuckoo pecks like it’s cranky. Moreover, for some reason it only pecks its own... And finally number ten, Tanya Grotter. The queen of flight. Her ancient double bass is simply super!” Sincere admiration emerged in Yagun’s voice. “And same to you,” Tanya cleared her throat. However, in the depth of the soul it was pleasant for her to hear such words about herself. Now if only she would not let the team down at a decisive moment, not miss a ball, and not be scared of the fiery mouth of a dragon! “Now what a team we have here! With this team it’s foolish to fear the babai!” BabYagun exclaimed with enthusiasm. Unexpectedly the extreme left hangar began to shake. A thick white smoke came down from the openings in its roof. Immediately genies, performing the role of dragon caretakers in Tibidox, rushed from all directions to the hangar. “It’s Goyaryn. It’s flying into a rage again,” Katya Lotkova said with concern. Many called her the most beautiful girl in all of Tibidox. And not without reason. When she lived in the world of the moronoids, all the asphalt near her building, all the elevators, and the entire entrance were used up by acknowledgements of love. In the evenings, admirers would sit on every step. This would still be tolerated if you were not in a building of nine floors... Finally, even magicians sounded the alarm, and Sardanapal ordered to transfer Katya to Tibidox. And quite rightly — the whole business turned out
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to be an innate love-potion magic, which Katya inherited from her great-grandmotherwitch. Goyaryn again struck with its tail. The armoured hangar began to drone like an empty can. The stunned genies, covering their ears with their hands, began to jump out. And Goyaryn was roaring and roaring the whole time. The children ran up to the hangar. No one made up his mind to look in, since real flame was raging there. Its white-hot jets incessantly forced their way outside. And it was heard in intervals as Goyaryn, with wheezing, drew air in and immediately began to breathe flame again, chasing away those genies still remaining. When the last smoking genie jumped out from the hangar and, after yelling something, indignantly evaporated, Nightingale approached the hangar, limping. “I don’t like this... Something is happening with Goyaryn. It’s now January, and it should be in hibernation. But it woke up. Three days already they have not been able to calm it down,” he said. “Did it get sick?” Tanya asked. Nightingale pensively looked first at her, then at the white-hot door of the hangar and shrugged his shoulders. “I hope not... I’ll wait for you tomorrow exactly at six! No one is to be late!” he ordered. *** Next day at removal of evil eye, Dentistikha decided to work with the students on the chicken spell. “Consider this a verifying task. You have twenty minutes to remove it! Ready? Begin!” she announced and, negligently snapping her fingers, mumbled something quietly under her breath. A red spark jumped out from her ring. Immediately a pinkish smoke clouded up the class. In several seconds, everything was hidden out of sight. When the smoke cleared, Tanya saw how Rita On-The-Sly, flapping her arms like wings, jumped with her legs on the desk, and, stretching out her neck, started to crow loudly. Coffinia Cryptova and Liza Zalizina immediately answered her from their places. Dusya Dollova was bouncing around the class on her haunches and constantly looking around, clucking excitedly. Behind her hurriedly jumped the chickens: Verka Parroteva and Bab-Yagun. At the same time Verka Parroteva held in her mouth some thread, clearly assuming it to be a worm. But the most amusing to watch was Gunya Glomov. A very strong nitwit with the look of a gorilla, clearly considering himself a laying hen, clucking with concerned, was sitting on... a pencil case. Tanya, but here part of the pinkish cloud also crept to her. And then, in several seconds, Tanya with consternation discovered that she was sitting on the floor and trying with her nose to peck grains. This was a strange, a very strange sensation... She was a chicken and simultaneously not a chicken. And her thoughts were also somehow halved — partially her own, partially that of a chicken. Tanya did not understand what compelled her to pull out her own feathers with her beak or to chase Rita On-The-Sly, already becoming hoarse from crowing. Not without reason the evil eyes of Dentistikha were always simply slaughters. Such slaughters that even Slander Slanderych preferred not to mess with the wilful instructor.

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Dentistikha viewed with satisfaction the consequences of her magic and, having opened the upper drawer of the table, pulled out a volume of Russian poets of the Silver Age. “Beautiful! At long last there is time to read a little verse!” she said melodiously. Continuing to scratch her nose against the floor in search of grains, Tanya hurriedly tried to recall the spells she had studied last night. How to remove this chicken evil eye? Corojoglo boglo? Nastyus cabbagis? No, again not that... It was terribly difficult to concentrate. Try gathering your thoughts when you have to jump and cluck all the time. Only at five minutes before the bell was Tanya able to recall the counter spell. Not really recalled, but by chance peeked into someone’s notebook, which Verka Parroteva and Gunya Glomov pecked into shreds. “Liftis cockus!” Tanya shouted and, having been freed, carefully got up. She was covered entirely with dust. The tip of her nose ached annoyingly. Besides her, only Vanka Valyalkin, Coffinia, and Liza Zalizina were freed from the evil eye. The rest still continued to sit alongside on an imaginary perch, once in a while for some reason nibbling buttons off themselves. Dentistikha with a sigh looked askance at the clock and slammed shut the volume of verses. “Bad!” she said, healing the entire class with one spark. “Very bad! And indeed the chicken spell is quite weak!” “Nothing weak to me!” Coffinia snorted angrily. “And I’m barely alive!” Dentistikha glanced at her with an evaluating look. “Bad, Cryptova, bad! You were busy for almost half an hour and barely managed the chicken spell. But now imagine what it would be if I put on you a fatal curse, which is hundred times more difficult to remove?” “And how would it be?” Liza Zalizina asked fearfully. “You would have only five minutes all in all. And not one second more,” Dentistikha explained. “And then?” Tanya heard her own voice. “What, you’re totally dumb? It would be one less confused orphan!” Coffinia barged in. “Pity, Grotter, that no one has set it on you yet. Long I’ve dreamt of living in the room alone.” “You’re afraid that someone will find out how you snore and call for mommy in your dream?” Tanya was interested. The class started to snicker, and Coffinia bit her tongue. Tanya understood that she had succeeded in putting Cryptova in her place. She would not barge in anymore. In any case, not in the near future. Tanya looked interrogatively at Dentistikha. The instructor of evil eye alone did not laugh and looked very seriously at her. Serious and concerned. “Coffinia, unfortunately, is right. I repeat: the discussion deals with fatal curses. The strongest and most fatal of all in existence. True, only a very strong magician has the power to place them,” she said. It seemed to Tanya that Dentistikha uttered these words with some special expression. Now only what? What did she want to say with these words? “And how to guard against a fatal curse?” Tanya asked. “That’s what we’ll study in a few lessons, Grotter. But just in case remember: the accurate sign of a fatal curse — a wild sharp pain in the stomach. As if your interior is twisting in a tight knot,” said Dentistikha. Unexpectedly Dusya Dollova moaned loudly and clutched her stomach. “As I have! I’m sick! I have a sharp pain!” she complained.
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“Do you want to say that a fatal curse has been put on you?” Dentistikha frowned. “I cannot stand stupid jokes!” “It’s not a joke... It seems I pecked up my own ring when I was a chicken... And now I have a sharp pain. What am I to do?” Dusya groaned. Chapter 8 The Most Furious Dragon Tanya searched for Vanka Valyalkin before evening training. She found him in the office of Tararakh, the best (and some spiteful critics added, “and only”) veterinary magic instructor in the world. Tararakh and Vanka Valyalkin were busy with a task far from the most pleasant: taking out a splinter from the foot of a satyr. The satyr, one of the Tibidox builders and who had the legs of a goat, first bleated sorrowfully, then began to scream out something in Ancient Greek. He was likely cursing. When he was particularly pained, he tried to kick Vanka Valyalkin with the healthy hoof. However, Tararakh held him firmly, and the satyr in no way pulled away from his very strong arms. Finally, the splinter was extracted and the foot was treated. The satyr, limping, took off, and instead of appreciation violently butted the door with his horns. Vanka Valyalkin and Tararakh took a breath with relief. “Well, and that was an unpleasant one! Nervous. Almost smashed everything here. You only just started on the splinter, and he immediately began to kick,” said Vanka. “Really, veterinary magic gets busy with a satyr?” Tanya asked. Tararakh scratched his hairy chest. “And the deuce knows busy or not. Here’s a knotty problem. He, of course, is reasonable, but all the same, if we consider it, a goat,” he said. “Exactly! Here’s what was the matter: the satyr first went to Yagge at magic station, and she told him: if the splinter were in your hand, I would take it out. But you have the legs of a goat, so you take yourself off, my dear, to Tararakh... In reality, she probably considered that it’s not for her to hold back such a leggy fellow. But then Tararakh can hold anyone he likes, even a horse,” Vanka added. Tararakh cleared his throat with pleasure. He, true, was so broad-shouldered that it seemed he was wider than tall. He had a rather heavy lower jaw as all pithecanthropus, a low forehead, and long hair so tousled as if it had not been combed for a hundred years already. His favourite story was the one about how he became immortal. He repeated it so often that all of Tibidox knew it by heart already. “Well, likely we closed in on a white dragon...” Tararakh related willingly, “of course, we didn’t know it was a dragon. Simply, a cave, people were ignorant... Cooked over a bonfire and started to gobble it up... Except that one cannot eat dragons, especially a white one. Well, I watched as all our hunters began to swell up and burst exactly like balloons... Incredibly terrible. I thought I’d now blow up... Yet not only did I not blow up, but even became immortal, because it was my lot to get the special piece, near the tail. A hundred years passed, then a thousand, but I don’t die and don’t even grow old. Like this. And later I lost count altogether: all the time I live and live, couldn’t give a damn. And it was so, until Sardanapal found me.” “Who wants tea? With bagels!” Vanka proposed in a hurry. He knew that Tanya heard this story already two hundred times, and decided to move the conversation carefully along another channel.
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“Everyone wants tea!” Tararakh came alive. “There’s hot water, there’s only the matter of what to brew it in? This horned half-goat broke my teapot... Please bring that jar over there!” The children brought the jar. The jar was the most ordinary, glass. Only here on the side was drawn a skull and bones, under which was labelled: Potassium Cyanide. “What was in it, poison?” Tanya asked fearfully. “Yes, like this... Stinktopp somehow gave it to me,” Tararakh confirmed. “And you don’t think that I’m such a fool. I rinsed it. Fill, Vanka!” “Eh-eh... Thanks. I no longer want anything,” Tanya said quickly. “And me neither. Better we just have some bagels. Thanks, Tararakh,” Vanka thanked him. He imagined very well how Tararakh washed jars. He would not even squeeze his hand into the jar. And to say nothing also that the pithecanthropus would not consider hot water in principle. “Well, as you please!” Tararakh was upset, but very quickly sat up, returning to the familiar theme: “So here, when Sardanapal found me, he even said, ‘Why don’t you study veterinary magic? Of course, you’re not a magician, but you have all the time...’” Tanya chatted with Tararakh and Vanka for a while until she remembered suddenly that she had to go to training. She got up and began to say goodbye. “Listen, Tararakh,” she said finally. “Will you not take a look at Goyaryn? They say there’s been something wrong with it recently.” Tararakh ran his huge hand along his hair, wiping off the crumbs sticking to the palm. “I already looked at it. I’m there every day,” he said. “And why is it sick?” Tanya asked. “The whole point is that it’s not sick. And the temperature in its mouth is normal: a thousand degrees. And the flame is of normal colour. Appetite is also good,” Tararakh said, as if convincing himself. “But something bothers it, that’s clear. Otherwise, it would not be awake. They, the dragons, should be in deep hibernation now. And you can’t wake them with cannon. And Mercury is sleeping, and Dazzling... All sleeping like logs.” “But why isn’t Goyaryn sleeping?” Vanka Valyalkin asked. He had already been looking reproachfully for a whole minute at Tanya. He was offended that she had not told him about Goyaryn sooner. “If I only knew why...” Tararakh drawled. “And only now so much is going on in Tibidox, which is not surprising... Like we’re simply living on a volcano, but everyone pretends that nothing is happening. Sardanapal already hasn’t slept for so many nights, and not only him even. Slander hasn’t slept, Medusa, Dentistikha, in addition... Dragons, they’re not stupid, they sense everything: when it’s okay and when it’s not... They have a good nose about oho-ho something, especially the old ones like Goyaryn.” “Tararakh!” she hailed in an undertone. “You tell me, is it indeed connected with the basement? With the cracks?” Tararakh blinked in amazement. “You even know about the basement? Well, bright girl! No, I’ll not lie, not with the basement. Everything there likely has been sealed, all the cracks... For a whole week, Slander was crawling on all fours with a trowel and all the time Dentistikha communicated something to him on sand. Now Chaos won’t break loose if, of course, no one will open the Sinister Gates.”

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“So, the Staircase? Or what’s on the Staircase? You indeed don’t think that someone can hide there? Anyone, someone who’s no more?” Tanya asked, carefully but hinting very clearly at She-Who-Is-No-More, Plague-del-Cake. However, Tararakh already recollected suddenly that he had said too much. “You do this, Tanya, stop thinking all kinds of nonsense. She-Who-Is-No-More — and in truth she already doesn’t exist. Not without reason the academician says that the titans slammed her. And generally, it will be, so he tells you all the time. Or Slander Slanderych. But I’ll not start,” he decisively said. “Again the Vanishing Floor... Or not only the Floor? What are they hiding there?” Tanya thought once again. *** The weather was bad, a real winter. A sharp penetrating wind blew from the ocean. The magic barrier did not quite detain it. The whistle of the oil tanker Papa Carlo hoarsely reached them from the coast. This passing of the tanker along the usual route was excellently visible from Buyan. Even the name on the side and the three-coloured Russian flag, but then from the tanker it was not possible to make out the island, even if they decided to look with strong binoculars. For the crew of the tanker there were only oceanic swells here. The powerful magic of The Ancient One worked this way and only becoming stronger with the years. For this very reason, there was no island of magicians on even one of the maps. It did not have to fear either radars of the moronoids or their satellites in space — all the same, they would not reveal it. “And they can’t ram into us by accident?” Tanya asked, nodding to the tanker. “Ne-a,” Bab-Yagun assured her, when they went to training together. “It’ll simply pass through the island and that’s all... You understand, we’re like phantoms...” “But we’re not phantoms,” Tanya with some caution glanced at her hand, pink, warm, and completely material. “Ne-a, not phantoms. We’re us, and the spectres are something else. But the spell of passage protects us. Here’s all magic, and there’s entirely moronoid... In short, these two worlds cannot meet. Once Granny and I were sitting in her magic station, a sporting airplane flew through us this way. Literally right through... The pilot didn’t even notice anything. I almost crashed down the chair from surprise, but my granny didn’t even stop knitting. Only grumbled that in bygone times only magicians flew, but now even moronoids get down to strange business. But only how indeed are they a match for flying instruments? Now if only they would be with this!” Here Bab-Yagun with pride looked at his vacuum and even stroked it along the pipe. At evening training Nightingale made them split into two teams and play against each other. As goals were two very young dragons, sons of Goyaryn and which the genies specially woke for today’s training. The dragons were sufficiently small — each the size of a car. They still could not swallow anyone, but then they flew so swiftly that it was hardly possible to follow them with one’s eyes. At the same time, the dragons even contrived to pour flame on the players. Not too hot but enough for anyone heedless to become a browned cutlet. Good though that all players in advance applied vampire bile to skin and even to hair.
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The match came out bustling and was conducted at such speed that the head of an unaccustomed spectator would get dizzy. Almost all the throws flew wide off the mark — the young dragons were too fast. Only at the end of the second hour that SevenStump-Holes triumphantly threw a sneeze ball into the mouth of the dragon. This match was the very first for the young dragon, it sneezed repeatedly, turned a somersault in the air, cut into the magic barrier, and in fright tried to flee into the hangar. Bab-Yagun, the temporary captain of the opposing team, was about to become depressed, but then, having examined the dragon left on the field, at this moment enthusiastically striving for Rita On-The-Sly, suddenly began to roar happily. “What are you howling for? You lost! We roasted you like piglets!” Damien Goryanov shouted mockingly. “Eh, my granny mama! It’s us who roasted you like piglets!” Bab-Yagun objected. “Why is this?” “Because you mixed up the dragons! You threw the ball into the mouth of your dragon! And ours is there!” Yagun said. Seven-Stump-Holes and Goryanov did not believe this, dashed to ask the genies, and exactly, it turned out that in confusion they did mix up the dragons. This was not hard because both were the same size and colouring. Even the genies distinguished them with difficulty, by some scales on the bridge of the nose and some insignificant folds on the wings. “This is dishonest! All the same we won!” an enraged Goryanov began to yell and chased after Bab-Yagun, attempting to throw him off his vacuum. “Take this indeed, sicko, ha-ha! Don’t forget to fasten a parachute!” Yagun laughed loudly. He deftly got away from the chase, moving the pipe from one hand to the other and changing height. Then he picked a suitable moment and tried to ram Goryanov from below. Yura Idiotsyudov interceded for Damien. He suddenly flew to the side and almost knocked Bab-Yagun off the vacuum. The friendly match changed gradually into a not quite friendly brawl. A deafening whistle was heard suddenly. Sand shot up with a vortex from the field. Magic instruments began to toss precisely like chips in the air. Zhora Zhikin did not keep his place on his shaky mop with propellers and was hanging from it, having seized it with one hand. With difficulty holding onto the double bass, Tanya looked down and saw Nightingale O. Robber. He, with a cold-blooded look, took two fingers out of his mouth. “End the bazaar!” he shouted. “Pampered preppies! If you are to play like this, the babai will smear you like oil on a plate! Why bother with oil? You yourself can throw open the mouth of your own dragon and throw all the balls there!” The children became depressed. Really, is everyone really so bad? Or is Nightingale saying this so that they do not weaken? “Tomorrow morning, everyone to the field! We’ll master the elements of magic piloting. And now march to bed!” Nightingale ordered. He turned and, limping, left the field. The tired team dragged along behind. Tanya was about to leave with everybody, but then she recalled that today she did not once had the time to practise “instantaneous turn.” For the time being, she was keeping her training a secret. Even Bab-Yagun did not
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suspect anything. Tanya dreamt of mastering this skill in order that her turn would come out in the most decisive minute. For example, during the match with the babai. “Hey, what are you doing? Wait for you?” Bab-Yagun shouted with surprise. “No need. I’ll come soon!” Tanya impatiently waved her hand, vexed that she had not managed to remain behind without being noticed. Waiting until the field became deserted, she ascertained that no one was spying on her, and gathered height. Finding herself under the very top of the invisible dome, she swiftly turned around on the double bass, and then rushed down with her back forward. After repeating this manoeuvre three or four times, Tanya jumped from the double bass and, putting it in the case, set off for the locker room. The double bass, as always when it was necessary to drag it, weighted down her shoulder, and Tanya stopped to look at Tibidox. It was already almost twilight. In the spreading dark-blue one could see well, as semicircular window-loopholes were illuminated from within by reddish magic fires. It was particularly interesting to watch the windows of the recently restored Tower of Ghosts. White semi-transparent shadows continually broke away from the garret window and, having circumscribed another circle around the tower, leisurely floated into one of the gun ports. The ghosts were finishing their usual evening promenade. It even seemed to the girl that she saw Unhealed Lady and Lieutenant among them. Although, possibly, it was also not them. From this distance, it was difficult to say for sure. Having rested, Tanya lifted the double bass, but here the hangar at the edge began to shake from a roar. From all the slots thick smoke belched out. An instant — and everything fell silent again. This time the dragon raged not for very long, but nevertheless something was clearly bothering it. “Again Goyaryn! Must see what’s there!” Tanya decided. She waited for genies to appear but they didn’t, and then she placed the double bass case on the grass and ran up to the hangar. It was clear to her that she did not have the strength to open the heavy gates; therefore she simply lay on the sand and deftly, indeed precisely, slipped through the space under the gates. If the girl were fatter, this trick would not have worked. It was dark and smoky in the hangar. She heard how the dragon was breathing hoarsely in the dusk. A special smell struck the nostrils — sharp, stupefying. It smelt approximately like when a stone covered with algae is taken from the river and suddenly thrown into a bonfire or onto white-hot coals. Tanya froze, timidly feeling the wall. Earlier it was never necessary for her to be in a dragon’s hangar. She could not even imagine approximately where the dragon was now, far or near. How many steps to count? Five steps? Ten? Nothing could be understood because of its noisy breathing — there was such a feeling that it was sounded immediately from everywhere. Tanya took a step, then another, carefully fumbling with her hands before her. Something tinkled resonantly and struck her sole. The girl almost yelled, but suddenly grasped that this was the bucket, in which they carry mercury to Goyaryn. Dragons drink nothing except mercury. Water is not necessary to them and in large quantities is even harmful. Interesting, did Goyaryn hear how she dropped the bucket? Does it know about her presence at all? And what if the dragon swallows her or strikes with its tail? Here, in the close hangar, where there was no double bass or sky, she was totally defenceless. Will someone think to search for her in a dragon stomach?
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Tanya took yet several more steps and turned, trying to recall in what direction the hangar gates were. There? Or perhaps there? Now outside it was already so dark that the light under the gates in no way shone through. “At least the moon would look out, otherwise they simply crunch in the darkness...” Tanya thought sadly. Suddenly, directly before her two green flames flared up at once. Tanya was drawn mechanically to them, but immediately it seemed her heart was broken... It fell and broke into smithereens. She understood that these emeralds sparkling in the darkness were the eyes of Goyaryn. The enormous dragon was very near. Looking intently, Tanya was even able to distinguish its outlines. She stood, afraid to move. Never before had Tanya dared to approach a dragon so closely. Perhaps during a match, but there it happened all of countable seconds, when necessary, she had made up her mind right away to throw the ball. Here Goyaryn was right beside her. Now it only needed to breathe out flame and that would be it, the end... Even vampire bile, wiped off when she squeezed into the narrow slot under the gates, would not help now. The green emeralds blinked. Tanya from surprise screeched and recoiled. Immediately a scorching cloud wrapped around her. She covered her face, but immediately understood that it was nothing but smoke. Yes, hot, but smoke nevertheless and not flame. Goyaryn impatiently moved its neck. It was an explicit order for her to stay. Tanya understood that one step back to the gates of the hangar and she would simply be carried out from these gates in a jet of flame. Jokes were a bad thing with Goyaryn, the oldest and strongest dragon of Tibidox. Not without reason even the genies were afraid to glance at it more than once and, besides, never alone. “You want me to sit here with you?” Tanya asked in a trembling voice. Instead of an answer, Goyaryn descended heavily onto the flagstones of the hangar. It was so enormous that as if an entire mountain grew before Tanya. The spicy smell of the dragon — white-hot from within and moist outside — pinched her nostrils. The girl carefully squatted next to the edge of the deep drinking fountain. Her eyes gradually began to get accustomed to the darkness. She could already work out the outlines where the long neck of the dragon passed to the body and that this strange tapering bend here, along the wall, was its tail. The dragon screwed up its eyes like a big cat. The sparkling emeralds of its eyes became narrow burning fissures. “Something hurts in you? Why don’t you sleep, it’s indeed January now?” Tanya asked. She was not sure that the dragon understood her, dragons are not particularly intelligent, but the intonations of her voice clearly calmed Goyaryn. Tanya only had to stop talking and its neck would begin to move impatiently and the narrow fissures would grow wider. Goyaryn clearly demanded that Tanya talk more. “So, you’re not sleeping, yes? You’re thinking, you got hold of me to chat with you? Though, of course, it’s boring to sit always in this hangar. Probably you want to fly, yes? No, you don’t? Well, what should I tell you?” Tanya began to talk absent-mindedly. She talked and talked, afraid to stop, and the dragon was listening all the time. Very soon, Tanya already exhausted all the themes. She even retold the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It was all the same to the dragon. It listened attentively even when Tanya began to flounder.
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After a certain time the girl grew so much bolder that she stretched out her hand and touched the scales on the nose of Goyaryn. The scales were warm. The same as on her double bass case. Tanya recalled how in childhood she loved to lie in the case as if hiding from the whole world, to stroke it and listen to the quiet squeak similar to a grumble. The quiet stroking apparently calmed Goyaryn. The hoarse breathing became hardly distinguishable, and the eye-fissures — quite narrow. It fell asleep. Its head sank so low that it was inconvenient for Tanya to stroke its nose, and she guided her hand along the folded neck of the dragon. Unexpectedly Goyaryn began to roar hoarsely and jumped. Afraid to be crushed, Tanya jumped onto its neck and wrapped her arms around it. “Calm down! Calm down! What’s with you? Everything’s fine!” she started to calm the dragon softly. The furious bubbling in the incandescent depths of the monster had already begun to grow silent when unexpectedly Tanya fingers brushed against a short spike. It was driven into the folds of the scales on Goyaryn’s neck. She only had to touch the spike and Goyaryn again began to roar and lashed with its tail. The hangar began to drone. And Goyaryn was beating and beating all the time. As if it had lost its senses. If it could reach Tanya, it would definitely kill her. Understanding this, the girl hung on with all her strength. Short tongues of flames escaped from its mouth, snatching out from the gloom either the trench of the feeding trough, an arch of the gate, or the large transparency stretched above the stand with the red fire axes and the crowbars: Flammable! No smoking in the hangar and no releasing magic sparks! “So you fly into a rage because of this spike? Yes? You’ll bear it if I take it out?” Tanya shouted. Knowing that there would not be an answer all the same, she firmly grabbed the head of the spike and pulled it with all her might. Goyaryn hissed from the pain and again breathed out flame. But the spike was already in Tanya’s hands. It was the size of a small dagger and very cold to touch. Its external edge ended with a rounded cap, something similar to the head of a nail. It was not possible to examine anything more in the darkness, and Tanya carefully thrust the spike into the ball holder still attached to her forearm. Now, when the spike no longer caused it pain, Goyaryn quickly calmed down. Soon it stopped beating its tail and again sank to the flagstones. Tanya carefully slipped down from its neck. “I’m going, okay?” she asked Goyaryn. “Already time for me to go or they’ll worry in Tibidox.” Tanya carefully took a step, another... Goyaryn was calm. Moreover, it had clearly fallen asleep. Earlier it must have only been the treacherously driven-in spike preventing it from hibernation. “I’ll still visit you, okay? But so long for now!” Tanya quickly got ready to whisk into the space already familiar to her, when suddenly the gates of the hangar, clanking, were thrown open. The girl was blinded by the rays of a set of lamps, at once directed at her face. She hurriedly shielded her eyes with a hand and bounced back to Goyaryn. The dozing off dragon again opened its eyes and started to bubble discontentedly. It also did not like it when they blinded it. “Ah, here’s where she is!” the triumphant howl of Slander Slanderych was heard. “And we’ve been searching the entire Tibidox for her! Both ‘black’ and ‘white’ departments on foot! But she’s well and alive here! You will answer me for the disturbance of the regime!”
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Shielding her eyes with her hand like a visor, Tanya made out four hangar genies reproachfully curled up in the air next to the stern dean. Two genies had hooks in their hands, and another one held a kind of clamp for unlocking a dragon mouth. However, in spite of all their weapons, the genies preferred to hide behind Slander’s back. “Why are you standing next to this freak? You want it to devour you? But you’re well and alive here! You are setting off to the moronoids in two days! I’m turning you into a zombie!” Slander again began to roar, shaking his fists. Tanya lingered. She completely did not want Slander to clutch her in his short fingers and drag her roughly like a bag to Tibidox for punishment. “Ah-ha, you don’t want to go! So I’ll make you! Why are you all just standing there? Well, march! Get the girl!” Slander yelled to the genies. The genies started to flicker timidly, but for some reason they did not hurry to enter the gates. Two with the hooks tried to let the one with the clamp pass forward, but he with all his might made it look like that the clamp had jammed. “I’ll run for oil now, for oil... Would need it to work!” he growled, making awkward attempts to evaporate. “You what, afraid of this green lizard? This winged crocodile? I’ll drag it by its tail out into the open!” Slander became furious. It would have been much more useful for the dean simply to keep mum. Goyaryn did not like insults. Dragons have lived for too long among magicians not to have learned at least to make out their intonation. It began to pull air slowly into its nostrils, fanning the flame inside. The folded sides of the dragon swelled, all the time becoming bigger, wider... The skin was stretching. Behind Tanya’s back seemingly grew a gigantic hill, there was already hardly any room in the hangar. Possibly, someone else would not attach any significance to this, but Tanya had already been playing dragonball for half a year nevertheless. She could imagine very well why dragons fanned. “So will you remove this freak or not? Or is it for me to fling it out of here with a kick?” Slander again began to bawl. Goyaryn stopped fanning. Both of its emerald eyes precisely pointed at Slander’s chest. The dragon was clearly estimating the distance. The experienced hangar genies dropped the hooks and clamp, fell onto the ground, and covered their heads with their hands. Now only a squealing Slander Slanderych alone stood at the hangar gates. Another instant and... “Only not with flame! Better with smoke!” Tanya quickly shouted, at the very last moment jumping to the side. Goyaryn breathed out. The gates broke away and flew to the middle of the field, but if it were only the gates... Tanya remembered for the rest of her life how the terrified dean of the school of magicians, somersaulting, sped away in the air to the darkened wall of distant Tibidox. Even if someone loaded him into a cannon, his flight would hardly be so impressive. “Good it’s only smoke!” she thought, getting up on her feet and shaking off the sand. The hangar genies, left without their gone-crazy general, already fled along the field, dodging like hares. They clearly did not intend to return with or without reinforcement. Goyaryn murmured with satisfaction and closed its eyes. Now already no one prevented it from sleeping...
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*** The next morning the entire school knew about the “exploit” of Tanya. Both departments — “white” and “black” — in a whisper passed on the news to one another and showed how Slander flew in the air. “Now no one will forget this even in a hundred years! Just think: Slander like a pingpong ball!” Bab-Yagun was enraptured. “And I, you can imagine, was looking out the window, and there suddenly something dark whined — and into the glass! Well, I was thinking, did they shoot from a catapult perhaps?” “What do you expect, it’s Grotter herself! Indeed, she even got the better of Plague-delCake! And she let out the titans!” Dusya Dollova sighed with envy. “Grotter! Grotter! Tanya Grotter!” it was heard from everywhere. Even the senior pupils, who usually despised small fries, looked at Tanya with adoration. Gunya Glomov, taking into his head to call Tanya “stupid orphan,” an hour and a half later was taken down from the spire of the Big Tower, on which he was hung hooked by his pants. Vanka Valyalkin asserted that it could not be managed without the complex levitation spell, which was usually taught not earlier than fourth year. Tanya alone was not too happy. She knew very well that a trial was still waiting for her. So it proved to be. Immediately after her third lesson, they summoned her to Sardanapal’s office. “They’ll send you to the moronoids! Pack your things!” Coffinia hissed in an undertone, when Tanya went past. “Good luck!” Vanka shouted. “We’ll stand up for you! Keep it up!” Tanya despondently nodded. How will they, interestingly, stand up for her if Sardanapal and Medusa decide to send her from Tibidox? When Tanya, hanging her head, entered the office, everyone was already gathered there. Sardanapal was sitting sternly at the table and drumming on it with his fingers. Beside him, crossing her arms on her chest, stood Medusa. Slander Slanderych, recently returned from magic station, where Yagge was busy with him all night and all morning, was entirely in bandages. His right arm hung on a sling. But then the small closely planted eyes simply blazed with fury. It was even terrible for Tanya to look at them — two icy gimlets instantly began to bore into her. “We gathered here in order to discuss your behaviour,” Sardanapal began. “I don’t remember that we encountered anything similar in the last fifty years... I’m certain that it is necessary for us to take the most serious measures; otherwise discipline in Tibidox will be undermined once and for all.” The academician paused. Tanya did not remember when she had ever seen him so angry before. His long moustaches straightaway jumped with agitation. “The saddest thing is that you study in the ‘white’ department. The department, which must serve as an example for the entire Tibidox. If you study in the ‘black,’ I wouldn’t be so disappointed. But now it turns out that I was let down by the one I especially trusted. Literally knifed me in the heart,” Sardanapal continued sadly. “Recently I spoke to Professor Stinktopp. He is very contented. He is extremely contented, although also hides it. He says that for a long time he has expected something in this spirit from the white magicians. ‘Earlier you were white, but now you have become filthy,’ he declares. I can imagine yet how many more similar wisecracks are in store for me to hear.”
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Medusa nodded in agreement. Tanya stared at her feet. She felt that her cheeks were burning. To let down the “white” department so. A disgrace! Sardanapal searchingly looked at her. “Now I want Slander Slanderych to briefly bring us up to date,” he asked. “Please, Slander! Begin!” Slander Slanderych, limping, came forward. “Last night they reported to me that the student Grotter had disappeared. She was not in her room at eleven or half past eleven. Her roommate Cryptova knew nothing. Moreover, she was already asleep and hurled a pillow at me. I don’t blame her: all black magicians have a bad nature, especially half asleep. I roused everybody and organized a search. We combed all the floors, towers, and basements. The students of the school, even those already sleeping, were woken up and all participated in combing the territory.” “Horror! And this in this difficult time!” Medusa said with reproach. Slander nodded indignantly. “Then someone recalled that she was at dragonball training in the evening. I summoned several genies, armed them, and set off together with them for the field. Soon we succeeded in discovering the double bass case lying not far from Goyaryn’s hangar. We opened the hangar and saw the student Grotter there. I proposed to her to leave, but she instead darted to the dragon and began to set it on me. And — here’s the result! I miraculously remained alive! This young lady almost became a killer! Here, look at this!” The dean theatrically showed his bandages. Tanya wanted a flagstone to fall from the ceiling and crush her. Then at least it would not be so shameful. Sardanapal again began to drum his fingers on the table. His gold sphinx began to roar and stared in an unfriendly manner at the girl. “So, you’re convinced that it’s she who made Goyaryn attack you?” the academician specified. “She, she! She shouted at it to kill me! She ordered it! I barely remained alive! Must turn her into a zombie, deprive of all magic abilities, take away the ring, and send her into the world of the moronoids! This is what I propose!” Slander hissed. Tanya trembled. If beside her there was not the cage with books, which she managed to cling to, she would fall. Really again to Uncle Herman? Oh, no! Better she live in the station! Sardanapal turned to Medusa. “We heard the opinion of the dean. But what does our instructor of evil spirits studies think about this?” “The instructor of evil spirits studies considers that first we must establish the truth. To turn into a zombie is a matter of five minutes,” Medusa said, after a delay. Her copper hair, like snakes, was hissing slightly. Tanya became more terrified yet. More terrified than even in the hangar of Goyaryn. That one could scorch her, but did not threaten to send her to Aunt Ninel. “If the student Grotter breathed fire on the respected Slander Slanderych, I, without any doubt, would agree with turning her into a zombie and sending her away,” Medusa continued. “Now it is worthwhile to look into the situation in more detail. So, we’ll repeat once more. What exactly did the girl shout, when you, Slander Slanderych, broke into the dragon’s hangar?” “She... eh-eh... I don’t exactly remember what she said... the sense was that it would breathe on me! She set it! It’s clear!” Slander screamed out. He fixed a furious look at Medusa, but she was not too frightened of his icy gimlets.
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“That is, you assert that Tatiana Grotter shouted approximately this, ‘Goyaryn, breathe on Slander Slanderych so that he, like a bowling ball, would fly three hundred metres in the air, knock down all the scaffolds and press his nose into the window of Sardanapal’s office,’” Medusa refined. Sardanapal involuntarily smiled. “And indeed true, everything was so,” he said. “Slander, after breaking the glass, flew directly into my office, and on his neck was hanging the window frame. And he, on the move, right away started to roar, ‘I’ll grind this Grotter into powder! She nearly finished me off!’” Medusa approached very close to Tanya and squatted on her haunches next to her. “Now we’ll listen to you,” she continued. “What can you say in your own justification? Note that the discussion now deals with your future fate. Whether you’ll remain among us or... you yourself know what this ‘or’ can be...” Tanya had a tickle in her throat. “I... I didn’t want...,” she muttered. “I only remember that they blinded me with a lamp. Then I was afraid that Goyaryn would incinerate Slander Slanderych. Goyaryn began to fan, became enormous as a mountain... And I shouted something, but what it was, I no longer remember...” Her voice broke off. She became silent, understanding that now she would burst into tears. Medusa encouragingly placed a hand on Tanya’s shoulder. “Dear girl! You don’t remember, but then one of the genies does,” she said. “You shouted, ‘Only not with flame! Better with smoke!’ In other words, you understood that the dragon could no longer not breathe out, otherwise it would simply explode. Flame or smoke — one or the other... Slander, would you rather flame be breathed out on you?” The dean was sullenly silent. “So, you wouldn’t?” Medusa was more specific. “Taking into account that you were not protected by vampire bile, you would have become ashes immediately — here’s all there is. In this case the smoke was much more preferable, even despite that the frame in the office of the honourable academician, until now, has not been fixed...” “And I fear drafts!” Sardanapal added. The enraged Slander perceived that they had taken away his victim right from under his nose. “But she left in the night for the hangar! She did not have a right to go there at all!” Slander shouted. “We searched the entire Tibidox for her! We woke the entire school for the search!” “And here is already a serious misdeed,” agreed Sardanapal. “And for that Tanya Grotter undoubtedly will receive punishment. Docent Gorgonova and I will consider what precisely. But she will not be exiled to the world of the moronoids, this is already clear...” The disappointed Slander Slanderych even jumped on the spot. His small eyes opened wide with malice and they became quite like that of a fish. Likely, he had expected an entirely different decision. “You’re making a big mistake, Sardanapal! This Grotter... does it mean nothing to you that she already let out the titans? She disrupts all school rules, she’s wilful... If we don’t punish her, soon here in the school everyone will walk on the ceiling, not just the ghosts!” “And not surprising! Indeed even the honourable dean sets them such an example, knocking out a window with his head!” Medusa said softly. “WHAT? I SET AN EXAMPLE?” For a moment, it seemed to Tanya that Slander would now rush to Medusa, but this did not take place. The dean turned sharply and went
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away to the window, having threateningly hissed, “Okay! I’ll still investigate this Grotter! I’ll not take my eyes off her! You’ll understand how foolish it is to trust this girl...” Tanya looked at Sardanapal perplexedly, and it seemed to her that the academician winked at her encouragingly, as if urging her especially not to be disturbed. However, when he started to talk, his voice was stricter than normal, “Get to work! We’ll inform you what penalty will be given. Henceforth try to treat school rules with greater respect!” The gold sphinx, stepping softly, went along the carpet, accompanying the girl to the doors. Medusa left following her. “Wait! Is my bow still with you?” she asked. “Yes,” confirmed Tanya, afraid that Medusa would take it away as punishment for the misdeed. “Don’t be frightened. I’m not taking away your bow, although, possibly, it would also be worthwhile to deprive you of flights. But we, nevertheless, will pick for you another, more acceptable punishment,” associate professor Gorgonova calmed her. “I wanted to ask you about another thing. How does the bow behave in the air?” Tanya tried to recall her sensations. “It’s outstanding, better than the previous one, but I’m still not entirely used to it. It’s very wilful... Sometimes it seems to me that it makes decisions by itself, where to fly and what to do. As if I’m not controlling it, but it me,” said Tanya. Medusa pensively licked her lips. “But, when you concentrate, you nevertheless take precedence over it?” she made it more specific. “When I concentrate, yes.” “Clearly,” nodded Gorgonova. “For some reason it also seemed so to me, when I recently by chance saw your training... Nothing more you want to say?” “No, nothing.” “Then, good luck. And try to be more disciplined. If you actually complete a serious misdeed, Sardanapal and I won’t be able to shield you, keep that in mind!” The instructor of evil spirits studies, squinting, looked at Tanya and returned to the office. But Tanya suddenly grasped that she had said nothing to Medusa about the spike, which she discovered in the neck of Goyaryn. The spike, which, hidden, was now lying under her mattress. The girl wanted to return to the academician’s office, but the gold sphinx, having had time already to jump up onto the door, sneered slightly, showing by all its looks that it would not let her through. Tanya shrugged her shoulders and, calling the sphinx a foolish cat under her breath, dashed to removal of evil eye. Dentistikha could not stand the late ones. She even used the bustler curse against the most persistent. All those cursed till the end of the day could move only by running, moreover in such a hurry that they rammed their noses into door posts and overturned chairs. There was even a case when one somewhat dense secondyear boy, an admirer of Coffinia, almost choked on soup, hastily attempting to eat it quickly with two spoons. On the other hand, Cryptova’s admirers always had a few screws loose. Some of them did not even need to be cursed. Chapter 9 The Riddle of the Copper Spike “Not a bad spike at all! Not surprising that Goyaryn was awake during January,” BabYagun gave a whistle.
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All three — Tanya, Vanka, and Bab-Yagun — sat in the room and examined the copper spike lying before them. Its end was very thin and widened only to the opposite edge. The point of the spike was so sharp that when Vanka touched it, a droplet of blood promptly appeared on his finger. Vanka winced and licked it away. “What scum! I don’t understand, who needed to harm Goyaryn? Why did he do it a bad turn?” he said. “Perhaps, this is somehow connected with the dragonball championship?” Tanya suggested. “Someone wants very much that we lose. Here he also decided to be safe. If Goyaryn is not allowed to sleep, it’ll become exhausted and not be able to play...” Bab-Yagun shrugged his shoulders. “That may very well be true, but for the time being lots were only drawn for the first round. Still unclear which teams will meet later on. That means, only the babai could have done this. But the babai, even without it, are convinced that they will win. Everyone bets on them, and their dragon, according to rumours, is not a bit worse than Goyaryn. And that being so, why risk it then?” Tanya thought that Yagun, most likely, was right. And even then, how would the babai be able to slip through into Tibidox, protected by the spell of passage? If someone tries to do this, it would immediately be known to Sardanapal and Slander. No, not possible to drop into Tibidox unnoticed, that’s for sure. “Another thing is interesting to me,” added Bab-Yagun. “Who could drive a spike into the neck of Goyaryn and, most importantly, how did he manage it?” “How did he manage? Very simple. He waved the spike and — there! Only let this character fall into my hands! He would be counting with his nose all the steps in the Big Tower!” Vanka asserted with indignation. “I’m not on about that...” Bab-Yagun interrupted him. “Imagine: you steal up to Goyaryn and stick this thorn into it. What will Goyaryn do, having felt pain?” “It’ll burn with flame,” prompted Tanya. “Exactly, my granny mama... Moreover, it’ll burn immediately. Even if you smear on vampire bile, nevertheless you’ll fry. But here it fried no one. Meaning, one of two things: Goyaryn knew well the person who drove this spike into him or it was a powerful magician — such a magician who can move swiftly in space.” “Like Plague-del-Cake?” Tanya asked. She for some reason again recalled the figure in the orange raincoat, standing still on the edge of the roof. Now it seemed to her that these events were somehow connected. They cannot be unconnected. “You can’t imagine whose spectre you’ve prevented from appearing... You’ll be a thousand times sorry!” the King of Ghosts hissed, vanishing. Whose spectre was it? And indeed can a spectre, furthermore not appearing, stick a spike into the dragon? “Could it be Plague-del-Cake?” Tanya repeated. Bab-Yagun shivered and fearfully pulled his head into his shoulders. No one in Tibidox dared to call the terrible sorceress by her name. “Could be... Indeed, they simply did not find her bones! She simply evaporated and that’s all. And no one, even now, knows whether she’s alive or dead,” he unwillingly confirmed. “But could be someone else. In Tibidox there are many powerful magicians.” Tanya again took the copper spike in her hands and started to examine it closely, attempting to find any catch. She examined a small imprint on its convex cap — a tiny sign, similar to a spider. A deep impression in the center and four short strips along the sides. They exactly imparted a mark similar to a spider. “Have you ever seen such a mark?” she asked Vanka.
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Valyalkin shook his head. “Ne-a, never. Let’s run to the library and ask Abdullah...,” he proposed. Recalling that the stern library genie was fond of putting curses on all debtors, Tanya shivered. Lieutenant Rzhevskii, grunting with laughter, filtered through the ceiling into the room. The absurd spectre eternally sat around idle and adored to be loose on Tibidox in searches of company. Or, if company could not be found, simply to make someone hopping mad. This was not a bit less pleasant. “Hello, young ignorance! Want an anecdote?” he proposed and, without waiting for an agreement, continued: “One moronoid tells another, ‘You know, I’m learning to play the drum!’ ‘Yes? And any success?’ ‘Outstanding success! The neighbour already hung himself!’” No one smiled. If, of course, not counting the teller himself. Lieutenant himself literally began to shake with laughter and flowed along the wall onto the floor, becoming a large puddle. The puddle seethed. Then on it two curious eyes opened by turns and stared at the spike, which Tanya held in her hands. “Oho, what a little knife!” he said. “Glorious piece! I already saw one exactly like that at someone’s. Anyone want to stick it in my back? I wouldn’t mind supplementing my collection of fine knives. So, no one?” If earlier Tanya half listened to Lieutenant, patiently waiting until he sailed away, then now something compelled her to rouse herself. Just now, the spectre had said something interesting. “Where did you see it? Where?” they pounced on him. The puddle, already beginning to gurgle out the next anecdote, was at a loss. “See what?” “The spike! You just said that you saw the spike at someone’s!” “Ah yes, the spike... I even remember asking, ‘And what is it to you?’ But they didn’t answer me. And even, it seems, they threw a Briskus-quickus at me such that it was necessary for me to urgently get down.” “But who was holding it? Who? Who threw a Briskus at you?” Resuming his usual form, the spectre pulled off his own head and began to fumble in it. Not finding anything worthwhile, he gripped it by both ears and shook it, as if he wanted something to fall out from there. “Forgot!” he said despondently. “Well, simply packed too tightly! But some such person, sufficiently unexpected! Here indeed didn’t think that such an honourable person would throw a Briskus at me.” Rzhevskii, after whining, started to fly around the room. Then he pushed his head through the door and, cackling, whispered, “By the way, they’re eavesdropping on you...” Bab-Yagun stole up to the door and pushed it hard. The door struck something solid. Someone yelped loudly, fell, but immediately jumped up and rushed fleeing. Tanya, jumping out into the corridor after Bab-Yagun, saw only a back disappearing behind the turn. “Who was it?” she asked Bab-Yagun. “Don’t know. I didn’t have time to find out: he covered his face with his hands. But I think that we can easily identify him at supper,” said Bab-Yagun. “How do we identify him?” “By the shiner. You saw how I smacked him with the door? It’ll show up not small,” Bab-Yagun declared with satisfaction. When they again recalled Lieutenant Rzhevskii, that one was not around. The brash spectre filtered through the wall and disappeared in an unknown direction.
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The genie Abdullah coiled above the desk as a dove-coloured fog. An enormous turban slipped down to his forehead. The face itself was white, flat as a pancake. With seven huge warts. In contrast to the usual moronoid warts, those of the genie Abdullah were not at rest, but leisurely crawled either to the forehead, to the nose, or to the chin. Noticing Tanya, Vanka Valyalkin, and Bab-Yagun, the genie unwillingly tore himself away from a parchment that had turned yellow. “What do you need?” he sullenly asked. “Only don’t say that you forgot to return the books. I’ll curse you on the spot! Yesterday I just thought up dozens of outstanding curses and one scathing poem... Anyone stiffing the library, having listened to the end, immediately dies in terrible spasms. Here listen...” Abdullah flowed out from the desk and, turning into a spiral, howled with feeling in a well delivered bass, “Rolepassis grouchum Pressoutus billum...” “No need for any pressoutus! We returned everything!” Tanya shouted in a hurry. The genie Abdullah stopped muttering and looked into the thick notebook, where was recorded all who had not returned books to the library. “Annoying, extremely annoying,” he grumbled as if to himself. “No matter, I’ll curse you another time, nearer to exams... So what do you need?” The children exchanged glances. “We... eh-eh... want to find some book...” Vanka started hesitantly. “Really? There are two hundred thousand books here...” the genie smiled contemptuously. His smile was repulsive. The shelf with the service records shone through him. “Vanka wanted to say that we need not just any book. We need a book, which can tell us about this mark,” added Tanya, handing the spike to the genie. Abdullah with distaste took the spike with two fingers, turned it in his hand, and began to examine the mark. His eyebrows crawled to his forehead, crowding the warts. “Where did you get it from?” the genie asked. “F... found it,” said Tanya, plainly not knowing what forced her to lie. The genie looked at her suspiciously. “Found it? Such things simply are not found this way. Perhaps...” here Abdullah significantly winked, “in some very ancient and forgotten corridor... Isn’t that so?” “Eh-eh. Well, yes... Precisely there…” The genie smiled. It was evident that he did not believe them for a minute. However, the lie for some reason suited him. “Contemporary magicians have long ago forgotten what a really powerful spell is,” he squeaked. “They are afraid; they dread to summon truly powerful spirits. Must pay such spirits for their services... Pay a high price... A very high price...” Abdullah became sad. He collapsed onto the desk and covered his face with chubby hands. Memories came flooding back to him. “These lily-livered white magicians spoiled everything...” he started to hiss with indignation. “And everything began with The Ancient One. He, you see, wanted to regulate everything. He forbade summoning powerful spirits, forbade human sacrifice. Present day black magic is not even fit to hold
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a candle to what it was. Earlier such marks were encountered at every turn, not so in our time...” “But what is this mark? What does it mean?” Tanya asked. Abdullah took his hands away from his face and drew himself up to his full considerable height. All seven warts on his face lit up victoriously. “It’s an invocation mark,” he said. “Once black magicians used it with pleasure. Here look, here’s the groove along which blood enters the mark. The blood must always be fresh. The weakest — in moronoids. The strongest — in harpies, unicorns, dragons. You stick this spike into the victim and wait. Sometimes it is necessary to wait for a long time, a very long time. All depends on the strength of the blood and many other reasons.” Bab-Yagun unnoticeably pushed Tanya with a foot. “And whom did this mark call? What spirit exactly?” he asked. Abdullah in annoyance threw up his hands. “Oh, the most naive! Why don’t you understand! Can be any spirit. Depending on who is needed to be summoned. And now get out of here! Take your spike and shoo! I don’t have time to talk with such fools! I want to finish writing my Poem of a Thousand Curses...” The children had already made their way to the exit when Abdullah hailed them again. “Hee-hee! Don’t let the spike rust! Remember, it loves fresh blood!” he said with a conspiratorial look. The children jumped out from the library. After what they recently heard, it was not simple to gather one’s senses. Even the genie Abdullah, who was clearly sympathetic to black magic and nostalgic about the time when blood sacrifices were made, did not strike them as someone from whom they could manage to find out anything more. “Ancient magic! There is an instructor or student in Tibidox attempting to summon one of the terrible spirits...” Vanka Valyalkin said pensively. “Or already has summoned,” Bab-Yagun was more precise. “Indeed the spike was in the neck of the dragon for more than a day. Interesting, to whom was it necessary and why? If Tanya had not discovered it by accident...” Yagun made a terrible face, representing probably the summoned spirit appearing — lop-eared, with tongue sticking out, and squinting eyes. To mimic was his element. If at the given moment the summoned spirit would turn up nearby, it indeed would not be able to refrain and would pound Yagun into powder. Vanka was not listening attentively to the lively chatter of Bab-Yagun. He continued to think about something of his own. “Such spikes were even forbidden by The Ancient One. Remember how Abdullah smirked when we said how we found it? He didn’t believe us a bit. That means, he was absolutely certain that it’s not possible to discover such a thing in Tibidox. Perhaps in the one and only place,” Vanka remarked. “Where?” Tanya asked. She surmised approximately what the answer could be, but she wanted to ascertain again that she was not mistaken. “Think for yourself. Where is such a place where no one ever goes to? A place where magicians disappear? A place, which exists, then doesn’t?” Vanka said. “The Vanishing Floor!” Tanya and Bab-Yagun exclaimed at once. “Exactly,” confirmed Vanka. “Someone happens to be on the Vanishing Floor and even contrives to return from there. I would like to know, how does he manage it?” At supper the entire school of magic, as happened already many centuries in a row, assembled in the Hall of Two Elements. The long tables were still empty. It would
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require the moronoids many hours of work in order to prepare and cover everything, but in Tibidox such emptiness bothered no one. Academician Sardanapal carried out a small box and, opening it, loudly called, “Two from the chest, identical in person!” Two swift whirlwinds flew out of the chest the same moment the lid was thrown open. An instant — and the broad-shouldered fine fellows in red shirts had already placed magic tablecloths over the tables. For several seconds silence hung in the Hall of Two Elements, a silence that did not happen even in Medusa’s class. Everyone was interested in what tablecloth fell on his table. This always turned out randomly as in a lottery. But it was important, because each tablecloth prepared only its own. After a certain time all the tablecloths at once stirred gently and full plates began to appear on them to the edge. “Well now, pancakes again! Third supper in a row the pancake tablecloth turns up! I’m already tired of this caviar!” Vanka Valyalkin sighed and shouted, “Hey people, who wants to make an exchange for the pancake tablecloth?” “This fourth table is eternally showing off! Whatever they gave you, eat up! For the second week now we can’t get rid of the semolina-kasha tablecloth!” the eleventh table unhappily answered. “Here, gurgle with your kasha! Hey, neighbours! Want to change to cutlets?” they answered from the third table. “To fries!” they shouted from the fifth. “To salad and wafers!” the first table proposed. “No, there were fries for dinner! Wafers, well it... Eternally too much onion in the salad, and the wafers always get soaked in condensed milk... Really, magic has gotten wry,” Vanka refused, having excellently studied all tablecloths. “Better give us donuts or chocolate!” The possessors of the chocolate tablecloth started to laugh loudly in a scoffing way. Indeed, they were not such fools to change. Especially as, besides chocolate, the tablecloth could even offer seven kinds of ice cream. “But not with grated radish?” a voice from the seventh table dropped hopelessly. No one ever traded with the grated radish tablecloth. Even those with semolina kasha did not hurry. Especially as the radish for some reason always turned out to be bitter. Either the tablecloth was once cursed or the entire matter was in an unsuccessful patch, because of which all the delicate magic got messed up. Finally, they managed to exchange the pancake tablecloth for one that prepared outstanding okroshka with kvass. The fifth table swapped their fries tablecloth for cutlets, and a disappointed Gunya Glomov launched a bowl with grated radish at Zhora Zhikin. Zhikin bent down and the grated radish, flying wide of the mark, landed on Sardanapal’s new robe. The angry academician called a cyclops, who took Glomov by the ear out of the Hall of Two Elements. Meanwhile Bab-Yagun quickly put an end to his okroshka and began to turn his head animatedly, clearly looking out for something. Tanya did not have time to ask why he was twisting when Yagun pushed her hard with a foot under the table. “Why are you kicking?” she was angry. “Shh! Look at Rita On-The-Sly! Only carefully!”
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Making like she dropped the fork, Tanya glanced as if by chance at Rita On-The-Sly, the sharp-faced, taciturn girl from the “black” department, about whom they said that even she herself does not know what she would do in the next minute. A large violet shiner spread under her eye. “It’s her! I knocked her with the door!” Bab-Yagun whispered. “No one else... Although... Oh! Look at Yurka Idiotsyudov! He’s right behind your back!” “How clever! I can’t drop a fork all the time...” Tanya muttered, but nevertheless she looked around. The nose of the captain of the Tibidox team was so swollen that both his eyes were also swollen. Meeting Tanya’s gaze, he for some reason quickly turned away and buried himself in his plate. “I understand nothing,” Bab-Yagun discussed in a whisper. “They didn’t eavesdrop together? Something here doesn’t tally up. Most likely, Idiotsyudov fought with someone. He fights every day. Not his habit to eavesdrop. I trust this quiet one much less... And what’s more, she has such a last name. Have you ever seen an honest magician with the last name On-The-Sly?” Tanya wanted to answer that Rita On-The-Sly could also have been in a fight or simply cut into someone on morning training, but here her gaze accidentally fell onto Katya Lotkova, the first beauty of Tibidox. Despite that it was gloomy like evening in the Hall of Two Elements, Lotkova for some reason was wearing dark glasses... After dinner, the gold sphinx of Academician Sardanapal brought a note to Tanya. The head of Tibidox reported that, as punishment, she was at the disposal of Professor Stinktopp for the entire evening. “I do not know exactly why he needs you. He only hinted that your task will be connected with small likable insects,” the academician informed her. Tanya shivered. She expected nothing good from Professor Stinktopp. He was a master in devising nightmarish commissions. So it turned out. The head of all the “black” handed her a large dirty jar and sent her into the basement to gather stinkbugs, which he needed for some potion. “Grotter, remember: vhile you haffn’t filled the jar, no stompstomp back!” Stinktopp said, smiling maliciously with the yellow stumps of his teeth. To gather stinkbugs proved to be real torture. They crawled in different directions and on top of everything else ejected pungent white clouds, from which the eyes began to water wildly and the stomach contracted. Good that Vanka Valyalkin helped her, discovering the slot literally full to the brim with stinkbugs, otherwise the task could not be fulfilled. Squeezing the neck of the jar with a hand and trying not to breathe deeply, Tanya brought it to Stinktopp. “Vhy are you so green, Grotter? You’re about to zrow up?” the professor asked. Afraid to open her mouth so that she would not truly throw up, Tanya shook her head. If Stinktopp had not taken the jar away from her, it would be necessary for him to run for a rag. “Now tell me, did I really trick Sardanapal? Really did you not gather small likable insects?” Stinktopp smirked maliciously. Chapter 10 Wiza Cockwiza and Hugo the Sly

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Tanya put down the pen and flexed her fingers. It seemed to her that any minute now her hand would fall off from fatigue. She had just now finished writing a five-page report on evil spirits studies: Methods of domestication of water-sprites: experiment, facts, commentary. And it was still necessary to prepare for Dentistikha’s lesson tomorrow. Yes, not without reason the instructors said that the children would not have time for mischief. With such a load! And here you almost limp to bed in the evening! Tanya snapped her fingers and the textbook on removal of evil eye, having put down short legs exactly like a spider’s, crawled to her along the table. The pages rustled and the book was opened at the necessary place. Tanya scanned the exercises, and she wanted to howl very quietly. Two were still okay, tackling themes already studied, but here the third... EXERCISE ON REMOVAL OF EVIL EYE The black magician Boyagun put a mute curse on the white magician Chikhun. The white magician Chikhun thought it through and removed it. How did he do it? Here, rack your brain. In the top secret, with transparent pages, Encyclopaedia of Magic Prompts, given to her as a New Year present by Bab-Yagun, Tanya read the remove spell — Jabberus rotus, but how to utter it if the curse is indeed mute? And with such a curse the tongue also would not move. Tap out the alphabets in Morse code? Having slaved over the problem for a quarter of an hour, Tanya turned for help to Coffinia, who had already finished all her lessons and was now trying to force her skeleton to dance. But the skeleton only clicked its teeth and, like an epileptic, was shaking on the support. “Nasty Page! You do everything to spite me! But still you pretend that you love me!” Coffinia became furious when the skeleton, not having even started to dance once, fell to pieces. The bone hand lying on the floor stirred, as if Page was trying to say, don’t you know I can? We already finished dancing! “Crypt, did you do evil eye?” Tanya asked. Coffinia stared at her with an appraising look. “Naturally!” she confirmed. “And solved the one with Boyagun and Chikhun?” Cryptova nodded complacently. “What, you don’t have enough brain, unhappy orphan?” she was interested. “Oh well, must help the stupid. Here watch!” Coffinia waddled to Tanya’s textbook, released a red spark from her ring and loudly pronounced, “Wiza cockwiza, show the answer!” In that same second the book slammed shut, began to spin on the table, and then again opened at the same place. Where an exercise was recently now appeared clumsy letters clearly written by hand: The white magician bathed in the first dew of the morning, which removes all forms of evil eyes except the fatal curse. “Wiza cockwiza, hide the answer!” again Coffinia ordered. The clumsy letters began to twirl, started to jump, and disappeared. “Live and learn!” Cryptova said contentedly. Tanya thought that when it was necessary to make life easier, black magicians beat the whites hands down. Those cheats! “And you do all your lessons this way?” she asked. Cryptova tenderly petted herself on the head. “Naturally... Poor little Coffinia can’t be overstrained! She’s so beautiful that it’s detrimental to her! You know what this spell
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with cockwiza is called? Cram spell. It’s not in the reference books, and it’s also not studied in classes. It’s in the list of a hundred forbidden spells, which The Ancient One compiled. It’s the type of spells, which can’t be used.” “Why not?” Tanya pricked up her ears. She never heard of the list of forbidden spells before. “And from where am I to know why? Can’t, and that’s all there is. Maybe, so the students wouldn’t copy,” Coffinia shrugged her shoulders. “And where do you know this spell from, if it’s forbidden?” Tanya doubted. Coffinia puffed up her cheek and rolled her eyes significantly, she adored putting on airs. “Me? A fellow in fourth year taught me,” she dropped negligently. “I also tried to teach it to Glomov, simply from boredom, but only Gunya’s head is completely full of holes. He, even when he copies, bungles with ten mistakes. No, can’t get anywhere with him.” Coffinia started to yawn. “A-e-e-h! Pity, this spell doesn’t work in exams,” she complained. “The Teaches eternally put a block on wiza cockwiza. They’re also not quite fools, especially our ‘black.’ Your ‘white’ — idiots. To cheat them — as easy as pie! They block wiza cockwiza, but what is written by hand on the palm — they don’t see.” “Even Sardanapal is easy to cheat?” Tanya was interested. This strange conversation with Coffinia occupied her. For some reason it seemed to her that any minute now she would find out something important. “Sardanapal? Yes, he’s simply a bearded babe!” Coffinia answered contemptuously. “Now Medusa — that one you simply can’t fool this way. She sees right through everything. Sharp lady. Tricks also don’t get by Slander, indeed he’s formerly one of us, ‘black.’ Even now, all of a sudden he drops a quick glance — simply death! Everything freezes from within! And why he moved over to the ‘white,’ with an ulterior motive here somehow. Anyone can see that he’s not ‘white’ in any way. And all the same most of all I only love our Stinktopp, this old rascal! Here your watch, some say he’ll scheme against Sardanapal and become the most important in Tibidox...” Here Coffinia again yawned, and in such a way that she almost dislocated her jaw. “But now to sleep! You do what you want, but I, bye-bye! And don’t think about making noise! Don’t forget that you’re in my hands: any second I can tell Stinktopp who slipped him the magic tablecloth hanky!” “Very terrified!” Tanya snorted. “And I’ll tell everyone that you dreamt of Gunya Glomov in pink pyjamas and with a butterfly net.” Coffinia turned pink and, turning away, growled that this was all nonsense, but for some reason she was not too confident. Clearly wanting to put an end to this theme soon, Cryptova jumped onto the bed and, curling up into a ball, muttered the wash spell “Cleanus tubecleanus.” The toothbrush and a wet towel flew up to her and began their customary work. And within a minute even pyjamas appeared on Coffinia. This did not surprise Tanya. She had long gotten used to her roommate not even tying a string in the usual way but using the spell Bowus threebowus. “But the one I recently can’t figure out is this Dentistikha!” Coffinia said sleepily, climbing under the blanket. “She has become a totally different person. Even her eyes have changed colour. Sick, huh?” “How did they change color? What kind of nonsense?” Tanya did not understand.
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“Of course not, they’re normal in class. And later, she hides them behind glasses! But when yesterday at twilight I met her in the corridor next to the workshop of magic objects, her eyes were so blue. Can you imagine?” “So what, many people have blue eyes. It’s pretty!” Tanya said. “You understand nothing, Grotter! They were not simply blue! They were like searchlights! And the light from them was such — blue and very bright. And no glasses, as if she doesn’t need them at all! I almost became blind right away. Good though she didn’t notice me.” “You’re sure this was next to the workshop?” Tanya asked quickly. Already the second time she had heard about this place. The first time was from Vanka, who discovered the magic tablecloth behind the statue of a fish. “Leave me alone, orphan! I’m already in a coma!” Cryptova answered sluggishly. She turned to the other side and was soon wheezing sweetly. Black Curtains gloatingly trembled. They carefully stretched over to Coffinia and, covering her head, started with all their might to spy on her dreams. Today Coffinia dreamt of the forward Seven-StumpHoles fighting a duel with the skeleton. Seven-Stump-Holes and the skeleton enthusiastically fired at one another with ancient flint pistols, moreover, for some reason instead of bullets, from the pistols flew out little hearts, which immediately transformed into soap bubbles. Gunya Glomov, in the red suspenders of the cupids and with wings like an elf, caught the bubbles with a butterfly net. “Well now, again Gunya! And already even in suspenders! No, now Coffinia will definitely say nothing about Vanka to Stinktopp,” muttered Tanya. She decided to watch till the end of the dream, but here someone lightly knocked on the window. Tanya looked and saw Bab-Yagun. He was not alone. Behind him on the same vacuum, holding firmly onto the belt of the grandson of Yagge, sat Vanka. Black Curtains, chocking in impressions, almost tumbled down from the ledge. One curtain started to reflect the vacuum, another remained faithful to Coffinia’s dream, so that as a result some kind of jumble turned up: Gunya Glomov playing on the pipe of a vacuum as on a reed pipe. “Hey! Do you hear?” Yagun began to whisper loudly. “We thought of a way to penetrate the Main Staircase! An outstanding method! Only why didn’t we think of this earlier?” “Don’t fidget!” Vanka Valyalkin pushed Yagun with a fist. He was concerned about falling from the vacuum. Especially as the restless grandson of Yagge started to bob up and down every second. But it also seemed to Tanya that Vanka was hiding something under his soccer shirt, something sufficiently restless, such that he had to constantly hold it back with his hand. “What method? Through the cyclopes?” Tanya was interested. Yagun hesitated mysteriously. “No, through a loophole,” he said. “In the tower there is an outstanding small loophole. It leads directly to the staircase. Very high. Certain: Slander forgot about it when he was placing his spells. So, you’re with us?” Tanya nodded, glad that she hadn’t had time to undress. “Then jump onto my vacuum! The loophole is too narrow: your double bass won’t pass through! And later, it doesn’t have the ability to hover motionlessly,” Bab-Yagun started to give orders. He adored emphasizing the advantages of his vacuum over the double bass.
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After ascertaining that Coffinia was sleeping soundly, Tanya carefully opened the window slightly and began to balance on the wide iced-up windowsill. The internal courtyard of Tibidox below together with the snow-covered square had become white. Tanya’s head got slightly dizzy. She was not afraid of heights only when she felt under herself the saddle-shaped, always warm side of her double bass. As it turned out, she was justifiably uneasy. She had barely jumped onto the vacuum behind Vanka and firmly grabbed his belt when the overloaded machine slipped into an air pocket. Windows flashed by. The snow-covered square of the courtyard steadily moved towards them from below. Tanya had time to think that a little closer — and Lieutenant Rzhevskii would be telling everyone an anecdote about three flat cakes! “Pilotus kamikazes!” Finally Bab-Yagun recollected suddenly, switching to the slower but more reliable spell. The vacuum began to drone in an overstrained way and, on leaving the air pocket, began to gain altitude gradually. While this was happening, the paved cobblestone courtyard was all but several metres away. “What, you were on Speedus envenomus?” Vanka attacked Yagun. He could not believe that Yagun would think of uttering the high-speed spell, knowing that his vacuum would be overloaded. “I somehow wasn’t thinking,” Bab-Yagun was embarrassed. “And generally, you stick with something, you don’t change!” “I could smack you over the head!” Valyalkin said dreamily. “Don’t even think about it! First, you’d get it yourself. And secondly, the vacuum would get out of control!” Yagun warned in a hurry. They went around the Big Tower from the north, flew under several small arches, and then Bab-Yagun directed the pipe upward. The vacuum leisurely crawled along the voiceless wall assembled from enormous stones. “We’re now going up along the Main Staircase, but only on the outside...” explained Yagun. “Well, and this Slander is an ass! Really, he thinks that all flight spells are blocked in Tibidox. But it’s earlier they were blocked, till the repair. And now there are already no old ones, but they have not yet extended the new ones.” “And how did you find out about the loophole?” Tanya asked. “Took a telescope with me to training... But here it is, see! I indeed thought we would slip through.” The vacuum froze. Tanya saw directly in front of her in the continuous stone a narrow loophole with a rounded niche on top, excellently fitted out for shooting from a crossbow or releasing fight sparks. Bab-Yagun carefully directed the vacuum there and set it on a wide landing, where the reddish reflections of torches, flaring up with their appearance, danced on the moist stones to the left and right. Bad presentiment got hold of Tanya. She for some reason doubted greatly that Slander Slanderych had forgotten about this loophole. Rather, it smelled like a trap. If they catch them, she would get it most of all. After the incident with the dragon, Slander would seize on any transgression in order to take away her magic ring, turn her into a zombie, and return her to the world of the moronoids. Gruff voices reached them from below. Tanya carefully leaned over the rails. Three cyclopes were playing self-shuffling cards in the area below. One of them cheated. From the top, Tanya could see very well how he, pretending to scratch his neck, unnoticeably took down excess cards from behind his collar. The other two cyclopes were constantly
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losing and obediently offered their foreheads to him for knuckles. The winner bent an enormous finger and snapped with enjoyment, knocking out his friends’ last bit of wit. Their foreheads droned exactly like copper cauldrons. Vanka Valyalkin took down a torch from the wall and lit up the marble steps going up. Two crackling curtains clearly of magic origin became distinctly visible. “Even shielding magic here!” Vanka said. “Uh-huh. Last time I also ran up against such a thing. Jumped back with frog feet... Ribbit, ribbit, pooh, disgusting to recall,” Bab-Yagun frowned. “Okay, now we’ll verify whether I can make a fool of Slander.” He took a small knapsack off his back and took out of it an orange robe. Dropping it onto the steps, the grandson of Yagge started to mutter something, once in a while glancing into a small book, which, cheeping, began to prompt him with a high-pitched voice. Finally, he shot out a green spark and took a step back. The orange robe slowly pulled away from the floor as if a restless spectre had settled inside it. Having inflated from within, it leisurely floated along the stairs. Everything contracted inside Tanya. After the incident when her bow flared up, she could not look calmly at anything orange. But there were many orange raincoats and robes in Tibidox — all the instructors and many students wore them. “Let’s go! Cannot lag behind!” Bab-Yagun rushed ahead. The orange robe slowly floated halfway up the stairs and softly encountered the first magic obstacle. A greenish curtain dazzlingly flared up, changed colour, and faded. The same also happened with the next. “How did you manage to remove Slander’s spells?” Vanka was surprised. Bab-Yagun’s ears started to turn crimson, which was visible even in semi-darkness. “It was necessary to rack my brain,” he said contentedly. “For two weeks while I had frog feet, I only thought about this. I jumped around the room and thought. And then it dawned on me: the spells of Slander work on everyone except him, right? Because if they work on Slander himself, he would not be able to walk here and check everything. But once he walks and pokes his nose everywhere, it means this magic is not dangerous to him. Right?” “Likely logical. Not without reason they say that only Slander himself can remove the spells of Slander,” confirmed Tanya. For the time being she still did not understand what Yagun was driving at. “And it’s simpler after that! I found his old robe in my granny’s cabinet. Once he was treated in magic station and left it by accident. Well, and then remained the trifle: to animate it... Now this booklet helped me greatly here!” Bab-Yagun with pride showed the small shabby booklet, which recently prompted spells to him. The book cunningly winked with the eye depicted on the cover, and red letters lit up continually: Tricks of White Magicians in the Retelling by Hugo the Sly. “What, he was actually sly?” Tanya thought. And even handsome! Letters immediately assured her. And in an instant even the name of the book changed. Now the inscription on the cover said: Tricks of White Magicians in the Retelling by Hugo the Handsome and Smart. Grasping that the book was reading her thoughts, the girl rapidly blocked her consciousness. Yes, this Hugo really was nobody’s fool. “Where did you get this book? In the library?” she asked.
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“Ne-a,” Bab-Yagun said. “Abdullah would not give it to me. It’s in locked access. Fortunately, this Hugo was once treated by my granny and presented to her an autographed copy. This huge flourish there on the first page.” “And what did this Hugo have? What was he treated for? Not from craftiness?” Vanka was archly interested. “Uh-uh, Granny no longer remembers,” Bab-Yagun absent-mindedly drawled. “Some nonsense. Either dandruff or a wisdom tooth... Or perhaps, simply pushed a pencil into his own nostril and could not get it out. Now and then such things happen with them, the writers, especially when inspiration strikes suddenly.” The booklet started to grumble unhappily. Hugo the Sly clearly was dissatisfied by such an opinion of him. Following the robe slowly floating in the air and in a mysterious manner repeating all of Slander’s movements, even exactly the same way he twitched his shoulders, the children climbed up along the marble stairs. Every so often spectres floated out from the knightly armours and the walls, but they were increasingly somewhat unfamiliar and wild. One had jutting out from its chest a terribly long spear, on which other spectres hung their old-fashioned stockings and caftans to be dried. Among these spectres, there was neither the Lieutenant nor Unhealed Lady nor even Eyeless Horror. The spectres looked sullenly at the three friends and, not answering questions, made their way into their refuges. Three times greenish flashes flared up around the robe, and once even red. Likely, Slander was not stingy on guard spells. Moreover, some of them were so well disguised that the already customary semi-transparent curtain was not even noticeable. A long tongue of flames continually touched Slander’s old robe and instantly pulled away guiltily as if believing that they mistook it for somebody else. By now, the spells let pass quite freely the children following behind. Probably, they considered that those following were together with Slander and could not be detained. Hugo the Sly’s booklet was giggling non-stop. Its deceased author was extremely satisfied with the adventure at hand. Even his portrait passed through from the back cover to the front: the face round as a pancake, a short pulled up nose, and a magnificently powdered wig. From time to time the portrait of Hugo began to gesticulate animatedly and even stuck his tongue out at Tanya. They climbed up this way for a sufficiently long time. When Tanya had already lost count of the steps, Vanka Valyalkin suddenly stopped, grabbing onto the rails. Tanya, not expecting this, flew against him and struck her nose against his shoulder. She wanted to be indignant but suddenly saw what Vanka and Yagun had already seen, and stopped abruptly. The Main Staircase had broken off. Directly before them, separated only by a small landing, stretched a silvery white suspension bridge. It passed right through the rock wall as if the wall did not exist, and came to an end in an enormous hall with narrow columns, which first disappeared, then again were depicted by sharp white lines. It was still difficult to examine anything, without getting onto the bridge anyway. Hugo the Sly threw up both hands in panic and, horror depicting on his face, vanished behind a small window. Several seconds later, he again showed himself but already without the wig. He was looking extremely depressed. He continually plucked at his bald spot with his hands, pretending he was pulling his hair out. “The Vanishing Floor!” Bab-Yagun whispered.
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Vanka Valyalkin squinted mischievously. “Let’s run to the hall and back! Dare?” he proposed. He was about to take a step onto the bridge, but Bab-Yagun dragged him by force away from the edge. “Gone nuts?” he demanded. “Tired of living? Here look!” Yagun pointed at Hugo the Sly. That one was already tired of plucking fuzz from his bald spot. He leaned up to his waist out of the window and, propping up his head with his hands, contemplated the Vanishing Floor. When his glance reached the columns, Hugo the Sly began to tremble and with dexterity that in no way could be expected from someone this fat, hotfooted back into the window. His well-fed thighs in stockings and the old-fashioned shoes with bows flickered for a moment. Slander’s orange robe hung motionless above the landing. Its empty hood first shuddered, swelled up like a bubble, then again deflated. Unexpectedly it started to move, blindly hit against the walls several times and, swinging, floated to the suspension bridge. The children tensely followed it with their eyes. The robe reached approximately half of the bridge without any interference. It seemed that, a little more, and it would find itself between the columns, but here the silvery bridge suddenly became a vivid scarlet. It whirled, began to move like a piston as if an invisible wave swept under it, and touched the robe. The robe flared up, shook restlessly like a frivolous skirt and — disappeared. And in an instant the suspension bridge calmed down and, creaking from time to time, began to sway like nothing had happened. The children exchanged glances. “Oh, my granny mama! Let’s go back... Indeed cannot make our way to the Vanishing Floor here,” Bab-Yagun said hoarsely. Tanya recalled that Lieutenant Rzhevskii told her about Crackpot Grandpa. This mad spectre for many centuries searched for treasure in Tibidox. Whether he found it was unknown, but he succeeded in discovering the secret path to the Vanishing Floor. A way not only was it possible to get there, but also to return. “Slander guards the Main Staircase in vain. All the same the true path to the Vanishing Floor is not here,” she said. “But where?” Vanka quickly asked. “Don’t know. But somewhere. Someone knew how to bring the spike and the magic tablecloth from the Vanishing Floor,” said Tanya. For some reason the recollection of this sufficiently inoffensive tablecloth, which also only knew how to grab a lingering poor fellow by the nose, did not give her rest. Why did the thief of the spike hide it behind the statue next to the workshop? Why was the tablecloth necessary to him at all? But indeed it was necessary! And what was Dentistikha doing near the workshop, if Coffinia was not lying? Then Tanya even shuddered, startled that she had not thought of this earlier: what had Coffinia herself forgotten near the workshop? *** They had already made up their minds to go back when suddenly from the gnawed hole of Vanka Valyalkin’s yellow soccer shirt fell out a fat guinea pig that, squealing, rushed to the suspension bridge. “Where are you going?” Vanka shouted. “Not there!” But the guinea pig was already on the bridge and purposefully stomped forward, to that place where the robe had recently disappeared. “Come back!” Vanka again shouted and rushed after it. Before Tanya and Bab-Yagun had time to stop him, Valyalkin in two leaps reached the middle of the bridge and, having caught the guinea pig, darted back.
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Tanya ran up to the edge of the landing. She saw how the bridge behind Vanka’s back became crimson and swiftly strove for him, rolling like a wave. But he, it seemed, even did not suspect anything. Another instant — and the same fate as Slander’s orange robe awaited him. “Jump!” Tanya yelled. “Jump quickly!” Vanka looked around, losing a precious second, and, seeing the whirling mound of the bridge, he jumped. It was not his best leap, but it was indeed necessary for Vanka to jump, pressing the guinea pig against his chest, and the support already went out from under his feet. If Tanya and Bab-Yagun had not caught him under his arms and dragged him onto the landing, he would really have fallen down. Vanka was lying on his stomach and catching his breath, and behind his back, the suspension bridge swung in unrestrained but already useless anger. “Huff-huff-huff!” Someone’s angry snuffling was heard. The rescued guinea pig shook itself as if nothing was the matter and unhappily began to sniff its dark side covered in red spots. “Hey you, though a guinea pig, still a pig!” Tanya said to it reproachfully. She could not control herself and, stretching out her hand, affectionately tousled Vanka’s hair. Hugo the Sly carefully poked his nose out from the window, looked around, and with admiration gave Valyalkin thumbs up. He then extracted from behind his ear a long goose feather, anxiously touched it to see if it was sharpened, and vanished into thin air to somewhere. “Here’s the unlucky scribbler! Dashed off to write down your feat!” BabYagun said not without envy. Tanya had long noticed that Yagun and Vanka had a kind of friendship-rivalry. On one hand, inseparable, but on the other — a month did not pass that they would not fight. Especially when Bab-Yagun began to joke about the beasts and Vanka in revenge kicked his new vacuum, asking if he had forgotten to fill this junk with rotten tomatoes. “Yes well, never mind... Don’t drop it!” Vanka unhappily growled, hiding the guinea pig under his soccer shirt. Finding itself in darkness, the guinea pig with satisfaction discovered that night had come and dropped off. Illuminating the way with a torch, the children went down along the marble stairs. Although there was no longer Slander’s robe with them, the spells let them pass with ease. Probably, they remembered that they went up with the owner. Only one black magic spell flared up and shrouded them in pungent smoke. Fortunately, from the booklet Hugo the Sly quickly showed his face and growled out something. The smoke immediately dispersed. Reaching the vacuum that had been left behind, Bab-Yagun diligently tried to start it, but the vacuum only sneezed. On Bab-Yagun, on the spell Pilotus kamikazis, and on the green sparks. “But why is it so!” A distressed Bab-Yagun stomped his foot. Immediately from under the vacuum, a concealed rat with frog feet (another victim of Slander’s tyranny!) jumped out and leaped into the slot. In its teeth was the nibbled rope from the magic talisman responsible for vertical takeoff of the air car. The loud slaps of cards and the dissatisfied puffing of the losers were still heard from below. Bab-Yagun despondently scratched his forehead. “Here’s a rotten trick! And what are we to do now? Cannot go through the loophole, and cyclopes below! Indeed simply sit and wait till Slander makes his rounds and discovers us! Listen, Tanya, perhaps we’ll summon a cupid and send him for your double bass? It’ll not climb through the loophole, but we can leave it outside.”
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This proposal did not attract Tanya. She knew the cupids too well to be sure: they would drop and break the double bass in five minutes. “One cupid can’t drag it,” she said. “But to summon two or three — they’ll make such noise that they’ll rouse the entire school. And on top of that they’ll begin to tickle Coffinia and wrap Black Curtains around her... Think of something else!” She carefully leaned over the rails and looked down. All the time the same roguish cyclops was winning. The other two obediently offered their foreheads, on which lumps already had time to swell up. Tanya exerted herself to recall the necessary spell, which Medusa had taught them not so long ago in class. “Paperykus creepoutus!” she whispered. The roguish cyclops moved his shoulders, puzzled, feeling a light tickling between them. At first from under the collar crept out the queen of clubs, after the queen a ten, and then also the ace of diamonds. The cards slid along the shaved back of the cyclops’ head and, like having made excessive use of butterfly nectar, recklessly began to flutter before his nose. The friends of the cyclops stared dully at them, not immediately understanding where this addition to the deck was taken from. The cheat himself spoiled everything, darting with his nose, he began to bashfully brush off the cards and even tried to rip the queen of clubs into small pieces. “Guard! Murder!” The queen of clubs began to squeal, beating the cyclops on the fingers with a fan. “Beat him up, guys! He’s a cardsharp!” The other two cyclopes exchanged glances. On their flat faces at once reflected one and the same deep thought. They slowly got up. “Ah-ah! Don’t approach, I’ll hit!” The misbehaving cyclops uneasily seized a club. In the next moment, a ball of three entwined cyclopes rolled downward, on its way colliding into all of Slander’s spells, and after it hurriedly ran Tanya, Vanka, and BabYagun, panting under the weight of the vacuum knocking against his knees. “And why did I buy a vacuum without small wheels? What an ass!” Bab-Yagun scolded himself. Stepping over three sorrowfully croaking frogs, one of which held in its mouth the queen of clubs, the friends returned via familiar corridors to the residence floor. There everything was quiet. Their night journey had passed unnoticed. Chapter 11 Thunderium Grandium and “Young Stinktoppy” In the morning, Tanya was woken up by a wild howl from Coffinia. Jammed into a corner of the bed, her roommate was pointing with a trembling hand at Black Curtains. “What’s the matter, Crypt? Dreamt again of Glomov in suspenders?” Tanya yawned. Her head was heavy after the night journey. Her eyelids were as if filled with lead. “It’s not Glomov! I didn’t dream this!” Coffinia shouted. Tanya shot a glance at the window and was stunned. A yellow old woman with a dried face and empty eye sockets motionlessly froze on Black Curtains. Her chopped off hands stretched out to Tanya. Black Curtains giggled, contented that they could catch this rare dream. “Briskus-quickus!” Tanya shouted, shooting a green spark. Black Curtains trembled. The old woman disappeared from them. However, for a long time Tanya still could not quite be herself. The chopped-off hands and empty eye sockets of Plague-del-Cake
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appeared to her all the time... WHY DID SHE SEE THIS DREAM? Tanya in no way could understand this. The next lesson on removal of evil eye, the first on that day, Friday the 13th of February, began somehow unusually. In the hands of Dentistikha was not the customary book of verse, and even she herself appeared quite different — indifferent and preoccupied. Her glasses seemed thicker than normal. Is that for hiding her eyes? Tanya immediately drove away this thought, although an unpleasant aftertaste nevertheless remained. Dentistikha held the black class diary under her arm. The diary muttered something softly — it was generally slightly silly. In any case, Bab-Yagun so asserted. “We begin, as always, with checking homework!” Dentistikha said. She offhandedly tossed the diary and it swiftly began to fly over the class, hovering for several seconds above the head of each student. Its pages rustled. A long goose feather wrote something quickly, continually diving into the inkwell. The children involuntarily drew their heads into their shoulders. “Now it’ll deal a blow on Glomov’s head!” Dusya Dollova giggled. Everybody was already so accustomed to the diary always punishing Gunya that Glomov himself was more puzzled than all when, passing over his head, the diary with feeling slapped the forehead of Coffinia. “Why me? I did everything!” Cryptova was indignant. “Wiza cockwiza?” the journal squealed quietly and returned to Dentistikha. She glanced in passing at the marks put forward and nodded. “As you remember, I promised that we’ll get to fatal curse,” she announced affirmatively. “So here, today is the day. And in order that you’ll treat the theme more seriously, I borrowed something from Slander Slanderych’s props...” Dentistikha snapped her fingers. The door was thrown open, and a large oak coffin rolled into the class. The lid was turned down, and it became evident that the coffin was empty. “Ooh you’re so... This I would lie down in!” Cryptova enthusiastically breathed out and stopped rubbing her forehead. She was a good judge of coffins, not without reason her moronoid parents worked in the office of Ritual Services. Possibly, Coffinia inherited her dark humour and collection of idiotic small jokes from them. Somebody started to laugh. Dentistikha frowned, “In your place I would refrain from laughter. It’s entirely possible that toward the end of the class one of you will turn up in this coffin. Most likely the one who won’t obey my recommendations or won’t listen to the end of the explanations. Trust me, it’s fatal curse — not simply an ordinary evil eye, which everyone except Glomov can manage... Glomov, what, don’t you understand? Stop igniting the desk with fight sparks!!! You’ll remain after class and paint it! If, of course, you’ll live!” Gunya squeaked and dropped his ring. “Fatal curse — it’s the most terrible that exists in contemporary black magic,” Dentistikha continued quietly. “It goes into the list of a hundred forbidden spells of The Ancient One. To train for these spells is forbidden, however, unfortunately, many magicians still know how to cast it. For this very reason we teach fatal curse in removal of evil eye.” “Right in first year?” Rita On-The-Sly carefully asked. Dentistikha, squinting, looked at her and straightened her glasses. It was likely that she doubted it was worthwhile to answer her. But sharp-faced Rita was one of her favourite
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students, and Dentistikha softened, “A good observation, On-The-Sly! Usually fatal curse is taught in fifth year when the students have already mastered the majority of skills. However, now, in connection with some circumstances, Sardanapal advised me to conduct lessons on fatal curse in all classes.” Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin exchanged glances. “In connection with some circumstances” sounded threatening and vague. And therefore terrible. “But why this hurry? What, someone can cast it, this curse?” Vanka was interested. Dentistikha crossed her hands on her chest. It was likely that the question took her unawares. “What silliness, Valyalkin? Where did you get this from?” she nervously answered. “No more questions! Clear to everyone? And now please memorize. The fatal curse acts as follows: first, a strong sharp pain in the stomach, then the cursed one shrinks and becomes like a mummy. The curse can only be removed in the first five minutes. If let slipped these five minutes, even Sardanapal won’t be able to help you. Possible to wrap you up immediately in a white sheet and set off for the cemetery! Everything understood, Cryptova?” “Indeed what’s not to understand here?” Coffinia unwillingly growled. “Excellent! Memorize further! To remove fatal curse there is only one spell: Blowis nullis. The first syllable is long, in the last word the stress is on ‘i’. The spell must be accompanied by dual green or red sparks. Furthermore, extreme effort of will is necessary. If you delay or are frightened — that’s it, the end...” Dentistikha made an imposing pause and repeated the removal spell several times. “And now we move to practical training. Is there anyone desiring to experience the action of fatal curse?” There did not turn out to be anyone desiring. Everyone on whom Dentistikha by chance stopped her gaze tried to slip down unnoticeably under the desk. Rita On-The-Sly even managed to become invisible somehow. True, only partially, because her clothing was visible nevertheless. “A great pity that you’re all such cowards!” Dentistikha said despondently. “Then it’s necessary to pick someone myself.” She passed along the class, fixedly looking intently at each of the children. Coffinia trembled. Huge Gunya Glomov unsuccessfully tried to hide behind his pencil case. The lower jaw of Bab-Yagun clattered loudly. Suddenly Dentistikha stopped, pointed a finger at Verka Parroteva and said softly, “Plugis cutdownis!” “A-a-a!” Verka began to squeal and collapsed from her chair. The coffin on little wheels impatiently slapped its cover. “She died! She died! She’s been killed!” Dusya Dollova yelled, with horror staring at her friend stretched out motionlessly on the floor. The class froze. On Parroteva’s face spread a mortal pallor, her arms were stretched out. Only the red nose once pinched by a door became crimson. Dentistikha leisurely approached Verka and squatted down next to her. “She died, she died!” Dollova continued to keen. “She died, you say? I don’t think so! And not from that!” Dentistikha said mockingly. “I only wanted to ask Verka to help me. And it should be well-known to you that Plugis cutdownis is a simple spell to turn off the lights. We studied this in one of the first lessons. It offends me that Parroteva listens to explanations so inattentively and has this memory with holes!” A little later Verka carefully opened her eyes and sat up, clearly in doubt which world she was in — that or this. Everything assured her that she was actually alive and well,
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and even if she had fainted, then only from fear. She could even let out a green spark and extinguish all the lights in the classroom. The class was immersed in semi-darkness, only several weak rays broke through the loosely drawn curtains. “Wonderful, simply wonderful,” said Dentistikha. “Fatal curse is usually cast at night, so it’s also necessary for you to remove it in the dark.” In the instructor’s voice was heard well concealed malicious joy. It seemed to Tanya, who at this moment was looking at her, that a bright bluish light shone through the thick glasses of Dentistikha. But this lasted only a moment altogether... “Grotter!” Tanya suddenly heard. “I’ll ask you to go to the middle of the class and stand near my table!” Tanya shuddered and got up. Her knees grew weak and buckled under. Until now, Dentistikha never looked at her, so this call turned out to be totally unexpected. Grabbing hold of desks, Tanya went to the teacher’s table. Her thoughts became tangled. In the half-darkness she saw how Dentistikha aimed a long finger at her and drew in the thickened lilac air a terrible sign from several intersecting lines. “Furyllis ebbus trufus paradisis appedicitus hellus!” she uttered softly. The terrible hieroglyph stirred into action and began to creep to Tanya, leisurely revolving and slicing through the darkness with sharp edges. The girl yelled and attempted to beat back the sign with her palm, but it had already melted. And then Tanya suddenly perceived how her stomach was pressed by a monstrous lump. Not being able to keep her balance, she fell. Her temples ached, her head pulsated with pain. The coffin on little wheels began to creak and began to tap the funeral march with its brushes. Tanya felt a gnawing void inside. As if life was being sucked out of her bit by bit, drop after drop. She tried, but in no way could recall the counter-spell... Not one spell at all, not even the simplest, the flight spell, which she uttered ten times a day. “I’m dying? Or am I already dead? But, what’s the difference!” Some strange thought flickered indifferently. Indifference enveloped her, everything else she remembered was indeed already in drowsiness. “Fight!” Dentistikha shouted to her. “Fight! Recall! You only have two minutes left!” Tanya attempted to get up but the floor pulled at her. Straining, she managed only to sit up. Her head turned. All the time inside there was the same gloom and void, void, void. She followed indifferently, barely distinguishing words, as the lips of Dentistikha rounded in a cry, as Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun tore away from their places and ran to her. “Blowis nullis!” Bab-Yagun shouted. “Blowis nullis, say blowis nullis!” Vanka shook her shoulder. Tanya heard and did not hear them. Her head was splitting with a dull pain. Now she already knew what she must say in order to remove the curse, but for some reason she lingered. She lingered because it seemed to her that bright ruby letters were floating out of the darkness. They were floating out and piling up into a short and terrible phrase. “Thunderium grandium!” Tanya blurted out without a moment’s hesitation. The ring of Theophilus Grotter, becoming red hot, shot triple red sparks. In the dark classroom, a dazzling flash flared up. Bab-Yagun and Vanka, like cardboard figures, flew asunder, overturning desks. Even Dentistikha barely stayed on her feet. The cover tore off from the coffin on little wheels. The ancient windows preserved from the times of The Ancient One were deprived of all the glass at once.
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Tanya, swaying, got up. Her temples were still aching, but the pain had already passed. For some reason she was certain that the fatal curse no longer hung over her like the Damocles sword. She had managed to recover, but how? This she herself also did not understand. Moreover, the spell which she screamed out recently, she remembered already only somewhat vaguely. “Triple red sparks! Well, Grotter’ll do it! And this in the ‘white’ department! Even Stinktopp never shot out more than two red sparks at once!” she heard the thunderstruck exclamation of Coffinia. The “black” magicians looked at her with respect, the “white” — with fear and incomprehension. Vanka and Bab-Yagun, wincing, got to their feet. On their faces were offence and incomprehension. They no longer approached Tanya. She was about to rush to them to ask for forgiveness, but Yagun and Vanka moved out of the way, and she froze. It was clear to everyone that something terrible had taken place, something not expected, something, which should not have happened... Dentistikha groped blindly on the floor for her cracked glasses. Finally, someone gave them to her, and she managed to put them on. “Everyone leave the classroom! Grotter, stay! Someone call Sardanapal,” Dentistikha shouted in a broken voice. Tanya did not remember when the last student slipped from the classroom and Academician Chernomorov entered. She came to her senses only when the lights flared up. It turned out that she was standing in the middle of the class next to an overturned desk, and Sardanapal and Dentistikha were looking at her uninterruptedly as if they were trying to see something deeply concealed. “I don’t know how such a thing could happen...” Dentistikha spoke hurriedly, justifying herself. “I summoned Grotter because I was sure that she would manage. She wasn’t threatened with anything serious. The avert spell was quite simple, and then, I was beside her... But Grotter... You yourself see, Academician, she lifted the fatal curse herself, moreover by very strange means. Even I don’t know whether she’ll be able to remain in Tibidox now. She uttered...” here Dentistikha, timidly shielding her eyes and firmly clasping her ring with her palm, whispered something into Sardanapal’s ear. She whispered quite quietly but Tanya nevertheless made out part of the phrase. Dentistikha said, “Three red sparks.” The academician despondently shook his head, and then he turned and, beckoning Tanya to follow him, left the classroom. To the stairs leading to his office, he kept silent. Both his moustaches pensively trembled, and the beard wound around his neck like an old-fashioned scarf and flowed along his arm. The white magician appeared properly puzzled and even lost. By the stairs he turned to Tanya and, without looking her in the eye, said, “I, of course, understand everything: you were frightened, you were in pain. This fatal curse is an extremely unpleasant thing... But from where, I swear by the Hair of The Ancient One, is known to you the forbidden spell of the highest magic, which even Medusa and I don’t dare to use? The spell, which Plague-del-Cake so loved to use?” *** Difficult days began for Tanya. The children from the “white” department avoided her or fearfully looked sideways, but the “black,” on the contrary, fawned excitedly, which
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was no less unpleasant. Coffinia grew quiet, and Gunya Glomov, generally with mouth open, hounded her like Genka Bulonov in the old days among the moronoids. It was an amusing spectacle — the short girl and the huge long-armed blockhead, who, gaping, was always close on her heels. “What, Glom, you also dream of robbing a bank? But do you have a cap with slits?” Sometimes Tanya attacked him with annoyance. “You what?” Glomov said, at a loss. There were no banks in Tibidox and Gunya did not understand the joke. But then someone told Tanya that Glomov actually prepared for himself a cap with slits and, with it on, wandered along the Hall of Two Elements in the evening, trying with all his might to jump to the chandelier and unscrew the gold cones from it. So Glomov was jumping until one of the Atlases caught him by the ear. Professor Stinktopp, who earlier could not stand Tanya, also changed abruptly. He smiled with all sugar and honey, and in class approached and stroked her on the head with his sweaty palm. Moreover, twice in a row he put all fives for her in the diary, although Tanya could never weld the elixir of indiscretion from fermented toadstools, earwax of cyclopes, and wings of dead flies. But another time, when everyone had already left, Professor Stinktopp asked Tanya to stay behind and show him her ring. It was awkward for Tanya to say “no” and she was forced to hand Stinktopp her ring. With his red eyes, the head of the “black” department examined it for a long time. His swollen eyelids, eyelashes falling out, blinked in a puzzled way. “I am out of my mind!” Stinktopp muttered. “Zis is a ring for vhite magic! Vhy did it not fuse after zree red sparks?” The ring of great-grandpa Theophilus unexpectedly came alive. “Who’s this still chattering there?” it asked, grumbling. On hearing this voice, the stern Professor Stinktopp unexpectedly shuddered and pulled his head into his shoulders. “I’m asking, who’s chattering there?” the ring repeated with irritation. “Is it you, Master Zeophilus?” Stinktopp asked fearfully. “Who’s this calling me by name?” the ring was suspiciously interested. “Ah yes, young Stinktoppy? Well march into the corner, worthless boy, and don’t dare leave till the end of class!” “I... How dare you?” Stinktopp was about to be outraged, but the ring did not pay his peep the least attention, “If I again see you gnaw your toes, drink anti-callus decoction, and hide under a skunk blanket, it’ll be known throughout the entire Tibidox!” it interrupted. Professor Stinktopp recoiled, dropped the ring and, looking around incessantly, began to stumble to his hammock. He appeared crushed. Tanya picked up the ring and put it on her finger. “Well, I’ll be! So, here are the pranks Stinktopp was up to once! Gnawed his toes and drank anti-callus decoction!” she thought in amazement. It was hard for her to believe that the professor was once a difficult adolescent and on top of that also studied magic with her great-grandfather Theophilus Grotter. “Young Stinktoppy!” Tanya repeated and started to laugh, deciding that she would relate this nickname without fail to Vanka and Bab-Yagun. Pity only that Vanka and
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Bab-Yagun not so much quarrelled with her — after that incident they soon reconciled sufficiently, but Tanya frequently sensed their guarded gaze on herself. Both her friends wanted to but could not treat her the same way as before... That day when everything took place and she screamed out Plague-del-Cake’s favourite spell, Tanya reflected for a long time with whom she could confer. She had not made up her mind to approach Medusa or Sardanapal, who had become dry and strict with her. Tanya was even afraid that he would transfer her to Stinktopp, to the “black” department, as this happened once with that misbehaving Shurasik. Finally, Tanya decided and went to Yagge. She always treated Tanya rather well. The withered old lady, muffled in a motley gipsy shawl, had only just removed a small pot from the fire. In contrast to the nightmarishly reeking potions of Professor Stinktopp, the slippery floors of his classroom, and the ancient cauldrons covered with a thick layer of mould, it was always clean in Yagge’s magic station. It smelled of mint, wild marjoram, tattered birch brooms lying under wooden benches. And even the liqueurs, with which Yagge treated her patients, were mostly fragrant and pleasant tasting. Not without reason Sardanapal Chernomorov, the permanent head of Tibidox, loved to be treated to her liqueurs. Frequently it happened that after this treatment he improved so much that he marched along the corridors with the magic wand of The Ancient One and, the moustaches conducting, sang Sanskrit incantations with obscure meaning. “Help me! Pour this out over there!” Yagge ordered, transferring to Tanya the small pot of pitch. On the table the girl saw a glass bottle with a wide neck, in which swam tiny larvae resembling tadpoles. She had hardly poured out the pitch into the water when the larvae began to snatch out greedily pieces of meat from it, swelling up in front of the eyes. “I don’t advise you to lower a finger there. If, of course, you’re not at odds with it,” advised Yagge. “And what are these tadpoles?” Tanya was interested. “These aren’t tadpoles, but bonegrafts,” Yagge explained irritably. “Have to grow them a little more. Dragonball championship soon. And that means there’ll be more than enough fractured skulls, broken arms and legs.” Tanya shivered, thinking that she could also turn out to be one of those injured. She recalled that once she had already seen an adult bonegraft in Bab-Yagun. It was a large flat insect, more like a five-rouble coin with paws. The insect could seem unpleasant, if not for its surprising ability to join broken bones. True, for this they should be placed in a cast. And also the tickle, if Bab-Yagun was to be believed, was simply terrible. Having finished with the feeding of bonegrafts, Yagge sat down to rest. In her hand appeared a small tube with a short cherry chibouk. The fragrant puffs of smoke formed into strange beasts coming to life. Tanya stood beside her confused, not making up her mind to begin. Yagge affectionately squinted at her, then asked in a friendly way, “Well, what have you done there? Uttered a forbidden spell?” “A spell of Plague-del-Cake. So Sardanapal said,” Tanya sadly repeated. “Yes, I know. The Ancient One called it Chaos spell. Simply amazing that everyone remained alive. You knew it earlier?” “No,” Tanya shook her head. “From where? I was frightened that I would not know how to remove the fatal curse, and then... then everything happened.”
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“Really strange,” nodded Yagge. “But it seems Sardanapal is more on guard not because you know the spell — you indeed could have heard or read it somewhere by accident, but because of the three red sparks. To shoot out so many sparks is only within the power of a very strong black magician. A magician of the level of She-Who-Is-NoMore.” Tanya felt that her hands were shaking. “And really not the ring shooting out the sparks?” she asked with doubt. “A ring,” Yagge assured her. “But a ring by itself is not capable of it. It only gathers the energy of the magician. Hand it to a moronoid, and it’ll not release a single one, not even the weakest spark.” They stopped talking. Tanya looked at the wrinkled hands of Yagge, at the patterns of her motley shawl, heard how the birch logs crackled in the furnace. “I don’t want... I don’t want to hear this name anymore. I’m not Plague-del-Cake. I’m not her,” she thought. “Did you have incomprehensible dreams? Dreams that frighten you?” Yagge suddenly presented the question. “No,” answered Tanya and she immediately understood that she lied. From where then did Black Curtains get the yellow dead old woman with empty eye sockets blazing with ruby fire? An old woman whose chopped-off hands were stretched out to her? “Time for me to go to training. The match with the babai is in two weeks, and Nightingale says that we aren’t ready yet,” Tanya growled, getting up. Yagge glanced at her penetratingly. In the corners of her eyes sad wrinkles gathered. “Good luck! I hope you won’t need bonegrafts. Watch over my Yagun so that he doesn’t fly into too much of a passion. The last season I used up a large part of bonegrafts precisely on him,” she said. “Okay, I’ll try,” nodded Tanya. She was already at the doors of magic station when the old lady again hailed her, “Wait! I want you to remember something and... fear nothing. Magic power — precisely a power and not a skill — cannot disappear when a magician vanishes. It searches for a new owner for itself and finds it. But how to use this power is up to the new owner to decide. No one can force him to do evil if he himself doesn’t want to...” Chapter 12 About Buka, Byaka and... Babai This was her first spring on the island. Tanya was amazed how swiftly it arrived. It seemed there were slush and puddles everywhere just several days ago, and then a green wave ran along the hills, the ravines, and the weathered slopes of the mountains. It was strange to look at the gnarled trees in the forest with tender-green, timid, and seemingly even indistinct foliage suddenly twitching. The cupids all dropped their postal responsibilities and rushed above the flowerbeds all day merrily cheeping, laughing loudly, and shooting golden arrows into people. The mermaid lay on the sand bar all day and was warmed by the sun. When she was approached, she hurled and splashed fish skeletons. Most of them, it goes without saying, fell to the lot of Slander, because the others bypassed the side of the pond.
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The dean, a former black magician, was eternally running around wet, antsy, and angry. Even Sardanapal did not dare to address him. Slander had a lot of work: it was necessary to prepare Tibidox for a meeting of fans and participants in the world cup of dragonball, which was to begin in only several days. But now Slander already stuck on a dragon hangar an enormous poster with animated letters: March 27 in the main dragonball stadium of Buyan COMPOSITE TEAM OF TIBIDOX VS BABAI SPECIAL RULES of dragonball world championship Forbidden: 1. To get on the stands without tickets. 2. To occupy someone else’s seat. 3. To tease the dragons or to get onto the field during a match. 4. To cast fatal curses on umpires and referees, or even on players of either teams. 5. To fight, using fight sparks, spells, evil eyes, trickery, or even umbrellas, clubs, and bricks. “Wonderful!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed mockingly. “I adore Slander! You want to fight — fight! Only don’t use umbrellas and trickery! Come, let’s see what he allows.” Permitted: 1. To use talismans of happiness and amulets of success. 2. To start fireworks, salutes, yells, and other magic and non-magic means of expression of enthusiasm. “And they allow yells in vain!” Vanka commented. “Here you watch, before the second match they’ll already be forbidden. The same was at the last championship. Who wants to become deaf at the very beginning? What do you think, Tanya?” “Uh-huh. No one,” Tanya agreed with him, contented that Bab-Yagun and Vanka had finally thawed. The unpleasant case with the Chaos spell was forgotten for the time being, even Plague-del-Cake did not appear anymore on Black Curtains. But for how long? Now Curtains day and night showed the halfback Zhora Zhikin — a darkcomplexioned young fellow of thirteen. It was likely that Coffinia had fallen in love again. Seven-Stump-Holes and Gunya Glomov had been sent off to the retirement list. Each morning Coffinia, with indignant howls, tried to shake off the image of Zhikin from Curtains, but every time the image stuck out its tongue and flew away on the mop with propellers. Curtains started to giggle nastily and giggled until briskus-quickus was hurled at them. All this frankly amused Tanya. She frequently saw Zhikin at training so she knew about him. His mop with propellers even accelerated quite dashingly, but only while no obstacle appeared in its path. Then the mop turned out to be even more useless than a broom, and it was necessary to literally dig Zhikin out of the sand, a thick layer of which covered the stadium. “Tomorrow the babai will fly in,” reported Yagun. “You know where they’ll be staying? In the Tower of Ghosts. Lieutenant Rzhevskii is prepared even now. He promises that he’ll howl and frighten the babai all night so that they’ll play badly. And Eyeless Horror has ordered Wheelchair to squeak in the room of their trainer till dawn.” “That’s dishonest!” Vanka was indignant. “Must tell Medusa.”
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“And okay to you. It’s known to all that the babai use forbidden means. Why do you think they have such a pile of talismans? And when they begin to lose, they even throw spell-traps about. Try proving something then,” said Yagun. “Where do you know that from?” Vanka did not believe him. “My granny has been watching all the championships for 300 years. Indeed all their tricks are known to her. She also knows the trainer of the babai — Amat. She says, put him somewhere in the middle between Slander and Stinktopp and multiply all this by Tararakh.” Tanya honestly tried to visualize the result, but she was not able to do so. The middle between Slander and Stinktopp was easily found, but here it could not be multiplied by Tararakh somehow. Something got stuck in the imagination. They had recently returned from morning training. Tanya did not have time even to grease the strings with wax and put the double bass away in the case. Her head was still slightly spinning from the set of barrels and loops, which it was necessary for her to carry out. On her cheek was an abrasion — Seven-Stump-Holes was not quite accurate in a pass to her. It was difficult to catch the ball released with such power. True, it would hardly be easier in the match with the babai. Tanya felt that Nightingale O. Robber was satisfied with her, although more frequently he grumbled but almost never praised. Unless he muttered “not bad” under his breath. Here only the new bow — the gift of Medusa — that Tanya had difficulty getting accustomed to. No argument, it was much better than the previous one, but now and then, it seemed to Tanya that it behaved too wilfully. Goyaryn, already awake, with scales polished to a blinding lustre by the genies, trained together with the entire team. It grew heavy in the winter and this disturbed Nightingale, who already had time to make inquiries about the dragon of the babai. Bab-Yagun, squinting, took a good look at the green strip in the horizon. “We’ll slip to the woods?” he proposed. “It’s marvellous there now!” Thinking that she had not yet thoroughly seen Buyan, and Tibidox — it was by no means the whole island — Tanya readily leaped onto the double bass. Waiting till Vanka climbed up behind her, she allowed the bow to jump into her hand and uttered the spell. Bab-Yagun, bending down to the pipe of the vacuum, had already rushed forward. They flew over a barely looping narrow path stretched between the hills, keeping somewhere level with the peak. They passed over the sternly growing dark firs, the frivolous reddish pines, and the gnarled oaks, which were only slightly inferior in antiquity to the famous Cove oak. Tanya would not be surprised that on each of them turned out to be a gold chain with an enormous black cat wandering around. Far away, barely distinguishable beyond the cracked mountain, a narrow strip of ocean turned blue. Bab-Yagun likely knew the way well. Soon he turned around and briefly waved his hand, showing that it was necessary to land. “Bangus parachutis!” Tanya uttered the braking spell and descended to a small clearing tightly surrounded by the forest. On the clearing grew one lonely tree — a slight steeple-crowned birch, similar to a lit candle. “Aha, I guessed right! Now’s the right time!” Bab-Yagun said contentedly. “See what happens now and make a wish! Only don’t miss the moment!” He picked from the ground a weighty twig and, having swung it around, threw it into the crown of the birch. The impact on the stem was brief, the leaves only rustled and froze, there was also precisely nothing. But then something suddenly flared up. From the
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small birch was detached a transparent ghost, powdered by gold dust, exactly the shape of the crown. The golden cloud of pollen froze in the air, and then slowly, almost elusively crawled to the grove. Having reached the green edge of the forest, the ghost disappeared. “Did you have time to make a wish?” Bab-Yagun asked Tanya. The girl shook her head. Everything had happened too fast. “No?” Bab-Yagun was distressed. “I warned you! Here I cast a spell so that we would triumph over the babai. And you, Vanka?” Vanka smiled mysteriously. “I’ll not tell,” he said. “Yes, there’s one dream... Whether it’ll come true, that’s another matter.” They had already made up their minds to fly away when Tanya noticed that to the right of the birch closer to the grove there was a strange little cloud, something reminding her of a human silhouette. It was Unhealed Lady. She was despondently floating along the meadow, occasionally dipping her neck near the ground in order to touch with her nose the flowers in the field and to inhale their fragrance. “Yes, I know that to us ghosts the sun is mortally dangerous. But no, you don’t have to chase me into the damp and dark of this nightmarish tower! Better I perish here! I’ll wear myself out to death!” Unhealed Lady groaned like her heart was breaking, hardly noticing the children. “Why did you decide that you’ll perish?” Bab-Yagun hesitated. “You were recently at my granny’s. Yagge said that for a spectre you simply have the health of a bull and you’re blooming.” “Don’t you dare talk so to a woman!” Lady was insulted. “Your granny understands nothing about noble ailments! Let her treat head colds and corns! I know death threatens me, and I’ll accept it with di... with dignity!” Unhealed Lady dropped her head to her chest and began to sob bitterly. The children exchanged glances. Certainly, Lady was a known alarmist to the entire Tibidox, but indeed even an alarmist must have some reason. “Last night I again met the King of Ghosts...,” she said through tears. “It’s impossible! He appears only on New Year’s Eve!” Bab-Yagun began to argue. “But it was definitely him... He looked at me and loathsomely smiled with that toad mouth. And who else can have such a hump? And then, then he disappeared into the wall...” swallowing her tears, Lady said. “Where was this?” “In the old part of Tibidox, by the workshop of magic objects. I loved to cry there in solitude, but I’ll not go there anymore for any price... now someone is always roaming there, especially at night. He stomps, interferes with crying, and this fish statue grinds so loudly...” “The fish statue grinds?” Tanya could not believe it. “Well yes, he is always moving it aside!” Lady exclaimed crossly. She was annoyed that they were questioning her about this nonsense instead of feeling sorry for her. “Who moves it aside? The King of Ghosts?” “OF COURSE NOT, NOT THE KING!” Lady began to yell, finally driven out of her wits. “Oh pitiful dimwits, you’re spoiling my last moments! Why would the King move anything when he can pass through the walls? I tell you that the King was not alone there! There was even some character in an orange raincoat with him!” Tanya sensed how her hand clutched the bow by itself. “In an orange raincoat? Who is he, did you recognize him?”
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Unhealed Lady indignantly stared at her, “I was in shock! And also I don’t stare in general! I by default despise everyone who is indifferent to my health! But now, I beg forgiveness: at this time of the day according to my schedule, I have a twenty-minute faint. Must always treat ones responsibilities seriously!” Lady flickered, moved the straw hat with roses to her eyes and, having languidly rolled her eyes, slipped down into a faint. But even in a faint she did not forget to cast looks at the clock. “The fish statue and the workshop... Again they... It’s indeed there that I found the magic tablecloth. Will have to visit there again...,” said Vanka. “Only after the match!” Bab-Yagun stated obstinately. “Now Tanya and I must sleep well at night so that the babai won’t give us a disgraceful thrashing. Clear to you?” “Clear,” nodded Vanka. He broke off a blade of grass and began to pensively chew it, casting looks in the direction of the huge rock tortoise Tibidox, resting against the sky with sharp scale-towers. This humbleness seemed suspicious to Tanya. *** The babai flew in the day before the match. The whole Tibidox poured out onto the walls to meet them. There was not a single loophole without a curious face looking out. Gunya Glomov in his joy even managed to fall down from a battlement of the fortress and now his neck was in a cast, under which bonegrafts crawled. All the instructors except Tararakh, whom Nightingale had asked to look at Goyaryn again, crowded on the upper gallery of the Big Tower. Sardanapal, with the moustaches smelling sweet, with the beard combed, was discussing something quietly with Medusa. Professor Stinktopp impatiently minced along the gallery on his thin curved legs, continually repairing the enormous foreign medal hanging on his waistcoat. According to rumour, the medal was awarded to him by the great Merlin. According to other rumours, Stinktopp simply found this medal somewhere and forgot to return it to its owner. Dentistikha smiled dreamily, looking either to the distance from where the babai should appear, or into her book of the dialogues of Plato, whom she once knew personally. Slander Slanderych, dressed in a new Schutzstaffel uniform (a war trophy of 1945, in memory of the taking of Reichstag by Soviet troops), was magnificently shaved. A tight roll of white birch bark with the salutatory speech protruded from his unbuttoned holster. The dean continually cleared his throat significantly and adjusted the monocle in his eye. Next to him, the head of a mermaid stuck out from an enormous barrel, which he somehow managed to drag over to the Tower. So that the mermaid would not splash, there was water only at the very bottom of the barrel. Even Eyeless Horror, the most terrible spectre of Tibidox, floated out to the wall in Wheelchair, which he used when he wanted to inspire special fear in someone. Horror smirked nastily. He had on a shirt smudged with blood, a medicine dropper sticking out of each vein, and a rubber tube dived into his mouth. Never before was the spectre dressed up so nightmarishly. Tanya thought that an unforgettable night was waiting for the babai. Lieutenant Rzhevskii was also rather well prepared. All the knives and daggers protruding from his back were polished and sharpened. From time to time the brash spectre, as if accidentally, opened slightly the bag he had brought with him, a bag filled to the brim with dynamite.
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Close at hand with the Lieutenant, languidly straightening her hat, walked Unhealed Lady. It was likely that she recovered satisfactorily from the previous fainting spell, but it was not yet time to drop into a new one. However, just in case Lady was constantly looking at the clock so as not to miss the moment. “Attention, school! The spell of passage has snapped into action! They’re flying in!” The loud cry of Sardanapal reached the top. Tanya got up on her toes, impatiently examining the white fluffy clouds, which indeed covered Tibidox like downy pillows. When those standing on the walls had already completely lost patience, something resembling part of a crane emerged from the cloud nearest to them. The babai flew in a strict order: the trainer in front, the dragon in the center, and ten players at perfectly equal intervals on both sides of it. Hairy and broad-shouldered, these ancient Egyptian demigods awfully resembled monkey-baboons, except that they were of taller build and had a more intelligent look. With their legs gathered under them, they sat on small woven rugs with tassels, gliding in the air with striking and even partly suspicious swiftness. The team probably controlled the rugs mentally or by voice, since the hands of the babai remained free. A sad sigh rolled along the wall. All the players and fans of Tibidox in a flash grasped that the free hands gave the babai unquestionable advantage. Try to catch a ball when the second hand is busy with the bow or the pipe of a vacuum, but here with two hands — like doing nothing! “Ah!” Yura Idiotsyudov sighed despondently. “Now it’s understood why almost no one has succeeded in beating them!” Having flown up to the wall of Tibidox, the babai trainer Amat — undersized, very thickset, with cheeks hanging down exactly like a bulldog — looked around and shouted something to his team. All the babai at once, like at a parade, turned in the same moment and began to fly around Tibidox in a lap of honour. They deliberately flew slowly. Motionless, still as idols, they literally adhered to the rugs each with ten small amulets hanging. “We know these honour laps! They’re intimidating!” Spitting out to the side, the forward Seven-Stump-Holes said softly. Having approached the Big Tower, the babai already without any kind of command soared sharply upward and froze, allowing the spectators covering the walls to examine their dragon. Dusya Dollova began to squeal in horror. Not only Dusya Dollova — even Tanya felt treacherous trembling in her knees. The Egyptian dragon was brownish with a small snout. Where it proceeded to the neck, it was protected by jointed-to-the-head bone breastplates with sharp outgrowth. The lower jaw was considerably larger than the upper. Two sharp and thin canine teeth came out upward almost vertically, a little fold of skin lifting a bit on the upper lip also preventing it from lowering. Therefore the mouth of the Egyptian monster seemed halfopen, but not so that a ball could be thrown there. The dragon’s green eyes deprived of pupils resembled two gigantic emeralds, which first grew dim then flared up dazzlingly. It was dangerous to look into them: the head would begin to spin and the will would start to weaken. The slimy scales clearly impregnated with poison grew lighter towards the belly, becoming dirty yellow. The enormous leathery wings, easily keeping the dragon in the air, ended with several sharp spikes, one of which — the upper — was like the tip of a spear. The long and flexible tail crowned with a bone sphere the size of a small
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sledgehammer, which undoubtedly would be extremely unpleasant to get hit by it on the head. But this was not the most annoying discovery. Normal dragons get by only with a pair of hind legs. Their front legs change into wings. This Egyptian theromorpha had four legs. Long and strong, they concluded with powerful claws — three in front and one bending from behind. Tanya tried not to look at them, but they nevertheless involuntarily attracted her gaze. “Interesting, did the babai explain to their dragon that it must swallow the players of the enemy but not kill them?” Bab-Yagun drawled with doubt. “Somehow I doubt this very much. Please look only at their fat trainer. I’ve never seen such a malicious face on anyone!” Verka Parroteva butted in. She adored answering all questions, especially those not addressed to her. Having completed the lap of honour, all the babai descended in such perfect order to the drawbridge. The one-eyed cyclops, patrolling with a poleaxe by the gate, according to habit was about to ask for the password, but only until his pupil, roaming in orbit, met the emerald eyes of the dragon. Then the cyclops threw open the gates with such zeal that he even dropped the poleaxe. A minute had not even passed when the babai, leaving the dragon below, got up to the wall. These were serious and stern guys. Each held a rolled up flying rug under an arm. The arms of the babai were very long and strong, but their legs were short, so that on walking they continually leaned their fingers against the ground. “Ah, I’m dying! What magnificent men!” Unhealed Lady sighed, beautifully slipping down along the wall. She clearly hoped to draw attention to herself, but, unfortunately, her hopes were not realized. All gazes were riveted to Lieutenant Rzhevskii, who threw at the babai sticks of dynamite, from which there was much noise and — no harm. “Hurray! Take that, fascist, a grenade! Be afraid! Counter-terrorists offence!” he howled. The babai looked at Lieutenant with bewilderment. Some looked with amazement and even twirled a finger at the temple. “This be also your ceremonial welcome?” the babai trainer Amat inquired with a noticeable accent. From the Big Tower, panting from a quick run, Slander Slanderych literally rolled down. He hurriedly snapped his fingers and, with a chomp, Lieutenant Rzhevskii was pulled into the wall, having time on farewell to squeak in a thin voice, “Treason!” The dean of Tibidox cleared his throat, caught his breath, and, pulling his lengthy speech out from the holster, began to read it out. “Hee-hee... On this festive day preceding the opening of the world championship... we of all the white and black magicians are glad to greet the respected Egyptian guests to Buyan land...” he briskly began. The trainer Amat vigilantly evaluated the size of the birch bark roll and impolitely interrupted Slander, “We almost fly past your island... Good my dragon Flying Meatball have a good feel. We especially for long not feed it in order it be mean. Old chap, you ask your fan not to approach it, it tear them up to small shred.” The Tibidox players, exchanging challenging glances with the babai, involuntarily shuddered. Their worst assumptions were confirmed. Before them was a dragon-cannibal, a dragon-killer, capable in its fury of anything. Slander, whipped by his own oratorical impulse, straightened his monocle and again stared at the white birch bark, but Amat had already rushed to embrace Sardanapal, who
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had time to come down from the Tower. “Oh, old prankster! Glad that you be still alive! I hope your team be as good as your beard!” the Egyptian exclaimed. The academician smiled, showing that the joke was appreciated. “Tomorrow we’ll find out,” he said. “But where’re your fans? Or have you already run out of little babaichiki in Egypt?” The eyes of the stout person narrowed slightly; however, the smile became even wider. “Oh, no question! Our fan come flying here tomorrow! In the morning be many-many fan here! On the stadium leave no empty place!” he certified. “But where be your composite team? Or you — Ha-ha! — hide your player from me?” “Why hide? Here they are!” Sardanapal pointed to the children standing in a semicircle. The small eyes of the chief babai for a moment thoughtfully stopped at Seven-StumpHoles and already quite without interest glided along the rest. Tanya with shame perceived that they were not even taken seriously. The babai looked on them as cannon fodder, which they would turn into minced meat tomorrow. Amat leisurely removed from his neck a leather strap, on which was hung a transparent stone similar to a large drop of amber. “Old chap, let bet that my team win! I bet my Amulet of Truth! It turn red when someone around it lie! If I lose, I turn it over to you. If your team lose, you turn over to me your Ring of the Sovereign of Spirits!” he proposed. Tanya felt that Sardanapal was at a loss for a moment. His ring was the property of the entire Tibidox. Without it the school of magic would lose a substantial part of its guard magic. However, to forego the bet meant to show that he did not believe in his own team. How could the children play after this? “Done,” nodded the academician. “My ring against the Amulet of Truth.” The babai swelled up with pleasure. It was possible to think that the magic ring was already on his finger. “Tomorrow we crush you in the dust!” he exclaimed with conviction. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, the moustaches of Sardanapal began to bounce mockingly. “That’s the thing, who’s in the dust!” he commented. The head of Tibidox did not make any more predictions concerning tomorrow’s match. *** Amat did not let them down. When the next morning the chief umpire of the match, the Persian magician Tistrya, prepared to blow the whistle and to let out into the sky two signal sparks for the start of the game, there was not one vacant spot in the enormous stadium. The first fans began to arrive even in the evening and then they arrived the whole night and the entire morning. Some, not calculating, flew past the island, and it was necessary for the heroes Usynya, Dubynya, and Gorynya to fish them urgently out of the ocean. Usynya even got his socks wet at the same time and was very distressed. The socks were a gift to Usynya from Tsar Gorokh seven hundred years ago. The brother-bouncer treated the tsar’s gift so tremulously that it was never washed. At night, he timorously placed the socks by his pillow and set them beside his Herculean club. Now Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya sat in the passage and, putting their hands up as visors in order not to be blinded by the sun, examined the sky. The heroes also would not
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mind moving to the stands, driving off or even squeezing part of the fans, but they feared Medusa, occasionally sternly threatening them with a finger. Slander Slanderych, trying to personally verify all tickets and expose forgeries before the match, almost went crazy, began to snap, and was taken away to magic station. His post was replaced by two cyclopes. First they zealously started to check tickets, to jostle and be rude, but soon they lost their ground and were embezzling, accepting from those without tickets bright buttons, foreign coins, and bottles of liqueur. As a result, the stadium was packed with one-and-a-half times more spectators than it was meant to accommodate. Many had to stand and some even had to hover in mid-air. Fights continually broke out. Order was not restored even when Slander, having run away from magic station, returned. As it was explained, his reason was in order, simply the dean in the heat of the moment had put an evil eye on some eastern deva, who used a terrible five-letter curse. The composite team of Tibidox gathered around Nightingale O. Robber. The trainer of magic piloting used this moment for last minute instructions. “Everyone gathers around!” he bellowed. “I believe in you! We’re indeed not such stooges! Zhikin, Lotkova, don’t fly far from Goyaryn! Don’t let it get down to the ground: the babai love to attack on top! Their forward at first will try to lure it after himself, and then to force it to the ground and pelt it with balls! All clear?” “Clear, clear,” confirmed Zhikin, starting the motor on his mop. The beauty Katya Lotkova with foresight moved away from Zhora in order not to fall under his propeller. She was again in dark glasses. In recent months, Lotkova had been wearing them and not taking them off. In any case, Tanya never saw her without the glasses. “Tuzikov, be more confident in the centre line! Participate more actively in a pass!” the trainer continued to give orders. “Seven-Stump-Holes, be more careful with their dragon! Don’t fly to it from below: remember the claws... Better from the side of a wing, there it won’t be able to wave its tail... On-The-Sly, a little more movement along the field! No straight attacks! Spoil the game of the babai! Grotter...” Tanya raised her eyes to the trainer. The black magician emotionally limped to her, dragging the leg that would not bend at the knee. His terrible voice, shrill like a trumpet, sounded unusually soft. “I... I rely on you... Be careful, girl! Not too much risk! The babai for sure will try to bring you down from the double bass. Don’t waste energy on secondary balls. Remember, your ball is the immobilize. At the worst, a pepper or a stun! Okay?” “Okay,” nodded Tanya. “Questions? No? Then everyone get up on your instruments!!!” Nightingale again flew into a rage. He turned and began to hobble from the field to the bench where the babai trainer Amat was already sitting, complacently stroking himself on the stomach. “Eh, are there instructions for me?” Bab-Yagun recollected suddenly, overtaking Nightingale. “Only one. Don’t fall from the vacuum onto my head!” the trainer growled. Bab-Yagun froze offended for an instant, and then, again filled with self-confidence, returned to the team. “Well, what did he say to you?” Damien Goryanov asked maliciously. “And you didn’t hear, you deaf? He said: follow after Goryanov so that he doesn’t cry for mommy!” Bab-Yagun retorted.
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“What? What nonsense did you say?” Goryanov was about to punch him, but Idiotsyudov, the captain of the team, caught him by the collar and shook him. “After the match, is that clear to you? And now march to the vacuum and give your best! If Sardanapal loses his ring because of us, I’ll simply burn with shame!” he said. Having waved to Vanka sitting in the stand, Tanya sat down on the double bass and carefully tightened the pins. “You’ll indeed try, okay? Don’t let them throw mud in our face!” Tanya said to the double bass. The strings began to hum quietly. Before settling on the vacuum, Bab-Yagun fastened a small magic mouthpiece to his collar. Sardanapal again entrusted him to be the commentator — moreover not a simple commentator but a playing one. Possibly, this was not the most correct step, nevertheless no one managed this better than Yagun, so there was no need to choose. *** “Ready!” The chief umpire of dragonball, the squint-eyed and cheerful magician Tistrya, threw up his right hand. Two orange signal sparks tore away from his ring and exploded with a deafening crack. Immediately twenty players — ten babai and ten from Tibidox — soared into the sky. The babai immediately lined up in their usual battle formation — a wedge, only now in front was not the trainer but the captain of the team. This was a serious broad-shouldered babai with a fur-covered forehead and small eyes battered into a heap. His flying carpet glided in the air with such speed that following it, Coffinia’s head started to spin and she fell down like a log. “Oh, my granny mama! What a glorious sunny day!” a little short of breath after a swift takeoff, Bab-Yagun began. “We are in the main dragonball stadium of Tibidox. A signal was just now given for the start of the match between Tibidox and the babai — the first match of this season! With you, I am the always cheerful and loved by all Bab-Yagun on an outstanding new vacuum. I hope, by the end of the match at least a pipe will survive, and at least my sense of humour. Ha-ha! This, it goes without saying, is a joke!” However, Tanya for some reason keenly felt that it was indeed not such a joke. Especially when the babai exchanged glances with some special expression. Bab-Yagun dropped slightly and extracted from his robe powerful binoculars. “What’s the noise there below? It’s the people in the stands roaring! The moment everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived. The gates of the North and South hangars are thrown open simultaneously. The genies fearfully rush to the sides and — the dragons fly out! Our Goyaryn is still accelerating for takeoff, but the Egyptian Flying Meatball is already swiftly gaining altitude! Brr! I don’t feel well... I haven’t seen such a monster for a long time. Belching out tongues of flames, Flying Meatball hovers under the magic dome, looking out for prey. I, of course, understand that they don’t feed dragons before matches, but did the babai at least feed their dragon sometimes? In any case, this cranky bird clearly intends to snatch a mouthful in the field today. Its green eyes examine chubby Damien Goryanov with curiosity. I would even say, ‘devour.’ I suppose, it’s difficult to condemn it for this choice...” “YAGUN! I WARNED YOU!!!” Damien Goryanov howled at the top of his voice, spurring his Storm-100U vacuum.
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“Boys! Boys!” Rita On-The-Sly shouted, and the captain Idiotsyudov showed Goryanov a fist. “Oh, my granny mama! Why are the referees lingering?” Bab-Yagun continued. “The dragons are already in the air. It’s time to release the balls! Here they are... Chief umpire Tistrya gives a signal, and the referees will carry out the basket with the balls! I remind you that there are five: flame-extinguisher, stun, pepper, sneeze, and immobilize. The balls are thrown into the mouth of the ‘goal,’ that is, the dragon of the opponent’s team, and they explode, freeing the magic charge concealed in them.” Tanya frowned. “Why is he explaining? Can someone really not know the rules of dragonball? Perhaps a moronoid would by some chance worm his way in among the spectators,” she thought. A junior referee pulled the cover off the basket and jumped away, covering his head. Immediately the five balls — each a different colour — rose up swiftly. The Tibidox and babai players rushed to them at once. The balls looped in the air, getting away from pursuit. Remembering the advice of Nightingale, Tanya kept to the side for the time being, not participating in the struggle. She was only vigilantly taking a good look, attempting to understand where the dark-blue stun ball and the yellow immobilize ball could be found at any given moment. From her position of observation in the centre of the field, both dragons were well visible to Tanya. So far, Goyaryn was still calm: it attacked no one and only rarely breathed out short tongues of flames mixed with smoke. It always flew into a rage slowly and thus far was sufficiently peacefully disposed. But then the Egyptian dragon Flying Meatball behaved splendidly purposefully. It had already chased Liza Zalizina for a minute and a half, attempting with long jets of flame to knock her off the clock. While Liza succeeded in slipping away, always changing the direction of flight, her cuckoo was already in a panic. Moreover, the most striking thing was that Lisa did not even have a ball. The dragon attacked her clearly out of gastronomic interest. “What a swift start to the game! Staggering battle tension!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed. “The babai succeeded in seizing the balls. They took possession of three balls, and the team of Tibidox only one! The fifth ball has not yet been caught by anyone; however, the forwards of the babai are already courageously attacking Goyaryn. Katya Lotkova and Zhora Zhikin try to interfere with them. Zhikin quickly accelerates on his mop... Now there will be a collision of Zhikin with number three of the babai team, Appendicitisa! Flying carpet and mop are quickly closing in...” The stands began to drone alarmingly. “A collision is already almost unavoidable! And... it happens! Zhora Zhikin at full speed cuts into the magic dome. The propeller flies off, Zhikin himself, not having time to take out the shawl-parachute, flies to the sand. Medical orderlies are already hurrying to him. But Appendicitisa, at the last moment deftly sways from the collision and, as if nothing is the matter, continues to attack Goyaryn. He hasn’t even lost the ball. What outstanding manoeuvrability!” Tanya frowned, looking with pity at the tiny figure of Zhikin, whom the medical orderlies were already carrying off the field on a stretcher. His mop, not having any equal in straight line flight but useless in turns, remained to be dragged along on the sand. Why didn’t Zhikin listen? Nightingale clearly said that he should not be lured by pursuits and
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should not fly far from the dragon! Now the team of Tibidox has lost a defender at the very beginning of the match. But here Katya Lotkova on her frisky little Dirt vacuum did not yield to the tricks of the babai. Instead of this, she flew up to the very snout of Goyaryn and started to calm it down, preventing it from pursuing the babai, intending on forcing the dragon of Tibidox against the ground. “A dangerous moment!” again Bab-Yagun shouted. “Number five, Ptah, will attack Goyaryn from below with the sneeze ball. He would have made a throw long ago, but the mouth of Goyaryn was closed. Ptah teases it with his rapid movements, trying to provoke the dragon to flame-throwing... Yes, so it is! Goyaryn breathes out flame, but the babai forward easily got away from it with a dive downward. Ptah is satisfied! He clearly calculates that now Goyaryn will open its mouth in order to pull air in for the new fiery volley, and together with air will pull in the ball. Number three, Appendicitisa, is already stealing up to Goyaryn from the side. I cannot discern what colour ball he has... There it is — flame-extinguisher! The moment is no longer dangerous, it’s critical! If Goyaryn opens its mouth now, two balls will be dropped in it immediately! Idiotsyudov and OnThe-Sly rush to the goal, but will they have time?” Extending the hand with the bow forward, Tanya also dashed to Goyaryn. She saw that Appendicitisa and Ptah were already hanging above its snout and ready for the lunge. Katya Lotkova rushed from one to the other, but clearly could not immediately prevent both. Tanya involuntarily felt admiration. How excellently the babai calculated everything! How well they know the habits of dragons and their anatomy! After a fiery exhale, a dragon compulsorily must inhale, otherwise it will simply collapse downward, since all the air inside it has already burnt out. To make a new fiery volley and to drive off the enemy is already nothing to it. It is most vulnerable precisely at this moment. The babai trainer Amat rose and looked around with mockery, searching for Sardanapal with his gaze. But the babai had not considered something nevertheless. It was difficult to call Goyaryn an inoffensive dragon. It was the oldest and the most experienced dragon of Tibidox. Not without reason more than a hundred opposition players and careless fans visited the stomach of Goyaryn. “Unbelievable!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed an instant after. “What a staggering hit by the tail! Number five, Ptah, was knocked down from the rug and sped off exactly like a rock from a catapult. If he doesn’t have dozens of broken bones, I understand nothing in dragonball! Granny, prepare bonegrafts! Appendicitisa hasn’t decided on a lunge and gains altitude in a hurry. The sneeze ball is lost. Katya Lotkova intercepts it and intends to pass... Interesting, whom will she give it to? Really? She gave it to ME! Yes, I caught it!” Bab-Yagun interrupted his reporting and in a sharp turn avoided a collision with one of the babai, clearly going for a ram attack. “Just now I almost slammed down number seven, Khepri. This pushy baboon, I apologize, babai, and now he’s still hanging onto my tail. Just a minute!” Bab-Yagun gathered height and, turning around the pipe of the vacuum, neatly glued shut with mayo the eyes of the babai pursuing him. “Artillery, fire! How nice that I surmised to grease my vacuum!” he exclaimed contentedly. “True, only pour a little bit, but doesn’t it happen with anyone?”
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While the babai, muttering different bad words, with disgust wiped his eyes with the tassels of the rug, the playing commentator courageously dived down and directed his vacuum to intercept Flying Meatball. The Egyptian dragon was already waiting for him. Two strong babai on rugs were circling around the head of Flying Meatball, provocatively looking at Yagun. When Yagun was already at a distance for a fiery volley, Flying Meatball lazily opened its mouth and spat out — no, not flame, but the cuckoo clock of Liza Zalizina. “Unbelievable! We’re deprived of one more player! Hold on, Liza! The main thing is that you didn’t fall into the claws, and we’ll rescue you from the dragon’s stomach!” Bab-Yagun shouted. He waited until Flying Meatball opened its mouth again and threw the ball with force. In the following moment, the Egyptian dragon breathed out flame and Yagun had to escape urgently. He waited for the sneeze magic to snap into action but for some reason this did not take place. A surprised Yagun looked around and, noticing not far from the dragon mouth a cloudlet of vapour near which the sentry babai bustled, shouted, “No! It can’t be! Flying Meatball burnt the sneeze ball! Interesting, how will the umpire treat this, or is it time to send it to the showers?” And on the stands an indignant Sardanapal was already running up to Tistrya. “Hand out a penalty! Just now there was a powerful discharge of dark energy! I’m almost certain that the defenders used magic!” The sly Persian, holding in one hand a hookah and in the other a cup of coffee, sighed hopelessly. “The rules of dragonball do not forbid burning balls in the air,” he complacently said. “And it must still be proven that the babai defenders delayed the ball. Please trust my three-hundred-year experience of judging, nevertheless we find nothing guilty. In the place of your players I would throw the ball only if I were sure.” The moustaches of Sardanapal indignantly straightened up. “It’s dishonest! You’re playing up to the babai!” Tistrya with affected indignation rolled his eyes. “Get away from me, troublesome person! You’re distracting me from important thoughts!” he languidly asked. “From what thoughts?” The Persian magician delicately smiled and began to smoke the hookah. “From the thoughts: with what words I’ll congratulate the dear babai Amat if it happens that his team dominates.” “WHAT?!” Sardanapal flared up. “What did you say?” In the next moment the cup of coffee was pulled from the hands of Tistrya and poured onto the bald spot of the Persian magician, however, as far as the hookah was concerned, it simply disappeared and only after much time was found in the snows of Antarctica, where penguins were strolling around it with bewilderment. Medusa and Slander Slanderych literally dragged a furious Sardanapal away from the umpire. They had never seen the complacent academician in such anger. “Why did you do it? Now he’ll indeed play up to the babai!” Slander said anxiously, looking around at the magician Tistrya, whose bald spot was being helpfully soaked by the babai trainer with his hanky. “He’s already on their side, isn’t it obvious?” Sardanapal huffed, allowing Medusa and Slander to take him away. ***
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Meanwhile the battle on the field acquired an even more bitter nature. The babai swooped down on Goyaryn several times but it scattered them with strikes of its leathery wing. True, the strikes went more and more casually so that thus far the babai did not suffer any new loss. Katya Lotkova, literally hanging near the dragon’s neck, entreated Goyaryn not to open its mouth. This did not suit the babai. Picking a moment when Katya on her Dirt vacuum began to fly around Goyaryn from the other side, one of the babai seemingly accidentally cut into her. “Scandalous!” Bab-Yagun yelled. “Disgusting means! Number nine, Sveuclid, insolently rammed the defender Lotkova of the Tibidox team! Katya manages to keep her place but the vacuum has acquired serious damages. She’s retaining it in the air with difficulty and... really it has to land? Yes, so it is! Her Dirt vacuum literally breaks apart in the air. The defender Ekaterina Lotkova is hanging by a shawl-parachute! The Egyptian dragon Flying Meatball directs its open mouth at her, but Tibidox forwards Tatiana Grotter and Seven-Stump-Holes manage to deliver Katya to the safety zone. She has survived, but without a vacuum, she already won’t be able to assume further participation in the match! Where is the umpire looking? Really he won’t give Sveuclid a severe punish... red card! Yes, hurray, he hands it, but... Hey-hey-hey! To whom? I can’t believe my eyes! To the forward Seven-Stump-Holes of Tibidox!!! Allegedly SevenStump-Holes clipped one of the babai in the air! And one must not cut them! They must be from a deck of cards...” “YAGUN!” Medusa shouted. “I meant to say that this is simply a disgrace!” Bab-Yagun corrected himself. “A penalty has been handed out to team Tibidox! To break through will be number six, HereHe-Ham-He... Here indeed precisely a name for the speaker! This Ham-He... I mean Here-He... leisurely sails on the rug to the eleven-metre zone. By a special spell, Goyaryn is forced to open its mouth slightly and... the flame-extinguisher ball flies accurately into the goal. The magic snaps into action with a loud plop! Three points!!! Team babai opens the score, and Goyaryn till the end of the match is deprived of the possibility to breathe flame! Just a minute... I’m interrupting my reporting!” Noticing that the stun ball, by chance missed by one of the babai, was flickering in front of him, Yagun pursued it, but Seven-Stump-Holes beat him to it. Having caught the ball, he courageously attacked Flying Meatball. Slightly behind, ready if necessary to accept a pass, Rita On-The-Sly raced along on the guitar with a trailer. In a short cut to them already hurried four babai — Appendicitisa, Here-He-Ham-He, Sveuclid, and Nauseati. Having caught up with the forwards of Tibidox, the babai did not begin a ram but used a strange and well thought-out manoeuvre. Appendicitisa, Sveuclid, and HereHe-Ham-He surrounded them, and Nauseati flew from behind... “What insolent ways!” The voice of Bab-Yagun, who first grasped what was the matter, resounded through the entire stadium. “As if there are no abnormalities, but please think for yourself! The babai chase the forwards of Tibidox towards the flame of their dragon. Seven-Stump-Holes and On-The-Sly are in a blind alley! Surrounded by a dense ring of babai, they cannot gather height or dive. But if they turn back, a head-on collision with Nauseati threatens them! There is no doubt that if such a thing happens, the littlerespected and not adored by anyone umpire Tistrya will immediately seize this opportunity and call the next penalty throw. Seven-Stump-Holes and On-The-Sly behave
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worthily in the toughest position. Gaining speed, they are rushing to a head-on attack on Flying Meatball. Their courage borders on folly! Oh, my granny mama! Flying Meatball opens its mouth and breathes out flame! Can’t miss from this distance! Seven-StumpHoles meets the flame with his chest, shielding On-The-Sly. Vampire bile allows him to survive, but his vacuum has melted and his hair is smoking. What courage! Falling down like a rock, he manages nevertheless to pass to Rita On-The-Sly... Flying Meatball turns over in the air and attempts to meet Rita with its nightmarish claws...” The stands froze with horror. Many thousands of eyes were riveted to the sky, where at this moment something unforeseen happened. One cyclops even flopped down in a faint, breaking the trainer’s bench with the back of his head. Nightingale managed to jump away, but Amat received a violet shiner near the eye, lighting his swollen face from within and giving him an unexpected expression of inspired folly. “Rita urges her guitar with a trailer directly towards the claws,” Bab-Yagun rattled on in alarm. “She already has no possibility to turn... No-o!!! It will finish her off! Staggering! Not without reason Rita is called the most unpredictable player of Tibidox! She gains altitude and, avoiding a collision with the claws, flies into the mouth of Flying Meatball, without losing the ball! So here’s her plan! The trailer of her guitar stands erect, literally plugging the dragon’s mouth! Before Flying Meatball manages to melt her with flame, Rita, pressing the ball against her chest, like a swallow jumps into its throat, hiding in the dragon’s stomach from its claws and teeth! Well, taking into account that Liza Zalizina is already there, Rita will have company, waiting till the end of the match! The stun ball snaps into action with a plop, bringing a point to Tibidox. Flying Meatball is in a fury. It begins to rush about confusedly on the field, chasing whoever is around, including players of its own team! The babai in a cowardly manner fly off in different directions! To turn up in the terrible claws of their own dragon is no laughing matter to them at all.” After the feat of Rita On-The-Sly the fans of Tibidox cheered up, but not for long. In spite of the lost ball, the babai nevertheless continued to lead in points. Moreover, there were only five players left in the Tibidox team against nine players of the babai. Using quantitative advantage, the babai were constantly playing more persistently. Two babai — Nauseati and Sveuclid — skilfully provoked a scuffle. One of them deftly placed himself near Yura Idiotsyudov, and the other, swiftly flying from behind, knocked the Tibidox team captain from his flying instrument. Kuzya Tuzikov’s jet broom died almost simultaneously and he was forced to use the shawl-parachute. The umpire Tistrya scratched his nose and did not begin to hand out penalties. “Your player is guilty. No one asked him to ram Nauseati. And I ask you not to whistle above my ear. I don’t want to become deaf,” he said to the indignant Nightingale. Avoiding direct collisions with the babai, Tanya attempted in the air to find the immobilize ball — the only ball, which could still save the game. However, it, not letting itself be caught in anyone’s hand, first disappeared entirely, then suddenly appeared in the most unpredictable places. In five more minutes of play Damien Goryanov, absorbed in pursuit of the pepper ball, flew too closely up to Flying Meatball and fell under the impact of its wing. Medical orderlies dug Damien Goryanov up from the sand and efficiently carried him off from the field. The pepper ball was intercepted by Sveuclid, who attempted to throw it into
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Goyaryn’s mouth. However, the ball flew wide off the mark, and Sveuclid himself ended up in the dragon’s mouth. “The situation becomes increasingly more desperate!” Bab-Yagun commented. “Only two players left in our team — Tanya Grotter and me. But for the babai all eight monk... I mean magicians! After the failure of Sveuclid they temporarily forego the attacks on Goyaryn and try by any means to take Tanya and me out of the game, and then already leisurely to shoot our dragon with balls.” Yagun looked around in a business-like manner. “As you can see, at least four babai are hanging onto my tail. Unfortunately, not all the numbers are visible to me, but I’ll nevertheless try to guess who they can be... Nauseati, Here-He-Ham-He... But who’s the third one here? Nasal or Foolzes?” “Careful!” Tanya yelled. “YAGUN!!!” She was the first to grasp that Yagun’s commentating would ruin him. Absorbed in counting the babai, he barely looked forward, and when he turned, it was too late. The terrible claws of Flying Meatball were already very near. Closing, they scratched Yagun’s shoulder. Another claw would have stuck in his heart, but fortunately, it collided with the vacuum and slid on it. Yagun had time to jump and now he fell downward, continuing to squeeze in his hand the already unnecessary pipe. An enraged Flying Meatball folded its wings and pursued him, advancing all four feet with claws. Several more seconds — and immediately sixteen terrible claws would pierce Yagun. His burning vacuum was already falling like a howling fiery comet. The stands began to moan. Without prior arrangement, the fans of Tibidox began to fire fight sparks at Flying Meatball. But the sparks bounced off the magic dome, intended to protect spectators from dragon flame. “Oh, my granny mama! It’ll finish me off now! I want a monument with wings!” Bab-Yagun began to yell, miraculously not losing his sense of humour. “Hang tight! Don’t open the shawl-parachute!” Tanya shouted. Without a moment’s hesitation of what to do, she pressed her chest against the double bass and rushed straight for the dragon. At that moment when the black shadow of Flying Meatball almost covered her already, she gripped Bab-Yagun by the shoulder and dragged him to the safety zone. Falling on all fours, Yagun quickly darted under the small protective hood, similar to an inverted basin, — a dome specially created so that players knocked down from their instruments could hide under it from the dragons, for which they would be really easy prey. Having ascertained that danger no longer threatened him, Tanya sharply threw the double bass to the side, and then upward. The leathery wing of Flying Meatball cut the air very close by. It gave the double bass a shove with a wind gust. The babai, the back of their dragon having shielded Tanya for several seconds, were startled when she suddenly slid past its side and rose under the dome. Flying Meatball tried to scratch Yagun out from under the protective hood, but it was not able to and again took off. Making sure that the dragon was off, Bab-Yagun carefully put his nose out of the shelter. “Ugh! We continue our report from the place of events! With you, still not eaten but already deprived of a vacuum, I’m Bab-Yagun!” recovering his breath, he continued. “Now of the entire team of Tibidox remaining in the game are only the forward Tatiana
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Grotter and our dragon Goyaryn. Against them are eight babai and the flame-spitting gone-mad mountain of flesh, which almost sent me off to that world...” The Egyptian dragon, as if understanding whom the speech was about, let out a long jet of flame, hammering in the unlucky commentator under the protective hood. The babai started to guffaw. “Ah, you don’t like criticism, parasite! Oh, that you would become canned stew! Half a kingdom for a flame-extinguisher!” shaking his fist, Bab-Yagun shouted indignantly. He no longer risked showing himself and conducted the commentating within the shelter. “Tatiana Grotter actively takes part in the fight for the remaining balls. Immediately several babai are rushing to her from all directions. Nauseati cuts across, Appendicitisa attacks from below, Here-He-Ham-He on top. “Hang on, Tanya! Oh, what an outstanding barrel! In the last second, Tatiana Grotter beautifully disengages from the enemy. Here-He-Ham-He and Appendicitisa do not manage to apply the brakes and collide at the same place where the double bass was an instant ago! Appendicitisa flies off his carpet from the impact and falls. Shlep! Only his heels are sticking out from the sand... Here-He-Ham-He manages to grab a tassel of his rug and tries to pull himself up. He almost manages, but... from below Goyaryn and Flying Meatball are already approaching. Interesting, which of them will reach this tasty meatball, pardon my pun! O, my granny mama! Each dragon is pulling Here-He-Ham-He to its own side. Hey-hey, guys, no fighting! Possible also to share! One can take Here-He, and the other Ham-He... No, Goyaryn generously concedes, and the entire Here-He and Ham-He in a complete set of arms and legs falls into the possession of Flying Meatball... I hope, Rita On-The-Sly and Liza Zalizina will show the babai magic first aid and indeed in any case not tickle him to death...” Coffinia, in the guest stand, brought binoculars to her eyes. For several seconds in the binoculars appeared the sour face of chief umpire Tistrya and the round fleshy face of Amat, who, howling indignantly, swung his arms with such fury that the fans beside him flew away precisely like pins. “Well, I’ll be! And that Grotter is in truth also not bad! Nevertheless three red sparks are three red sparks!” Cryptova thought not without envy. Meanwhile, after coming out from the next loop, Tanya suddenly noticed both balls. Nauseati on the rug was pursuing after one of them — the pepper — and did not see that not quite far, almost under him, the immobilize ball was hanging above the sand of the arena. “Don’t let us down! Let’s go!” Tanya shouted to the double bass as if it was alive and, extending the arm with the bow, she rushed forward. Everything was blurred before her eyes: faces of spectators, the gleaming rugs of the babai, the bright scales on the belly of the dragon turning above her. The double bass rushed like an arrow, like a solar speck of light. Tanya saw and noticed nothing besides the cherished yellow point in front. When she was half way from it, the babai also noticed the ball. Immediately five rugs, cutting through air, dashed in her tracks. “Unbelievable! A crazy, mad race! What speed!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed, staggered. “Tatiana Grotter confidently approaches the ball! But the babai do not lag behind. They part in the air and surround Tanya. Will she be able to take possession of the ball and break away from this dense ring? The immobilize ball is hanging quite close to the transparent magic wall. Even under normal conditions it’s almost impossible to reduce speed and turn in such a short segment...”
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Tanya herself also already saw the magic wall. It, though transparent, was of a slight silver colour. The clouds beyond it shrunk, resembling wet fluff. The immobilize ball — the most important ball of the game — was indeed hanging in mockery right next to it, almost touching the wall. Acting subconsciously, Tanya swiftly leaned to the left and turned the double bass sideways. Now she was flying — more precisely braking — in an inclined position, extending her legs forward and balancing with the bow. The speedy flight slowed down, the dark points of those babai pursuing her became all the more distinct. It was already possible to make out the fur on their flat faces and the tassels of their carpets with many amulets. Impact! Both her soles felt resistance from something elastic like a floor mat. For a moment, it darkened in her eyes, but in the next second, the flowing sphere knocked on her palm. It worked! She has the immobilize ball! “Oh, my granny mama!” Bab-Yagun almost began to moan. “Tatiana Grotter brakes, flips the double bass onto its side, and pushes off from the magic barrier with her feet. Excellent! The last time this dangerous method succeeded was in 1567 for legendary Plowum the Flattened! True, Plowum pressed his own nose against the magic barrier, also the reason he acquired the glorious nickname Flattened... Tanya like an adroit diving duck gets away from Foolzes and flies towards Nasal. Really an attempt at a ram attack? I already see the foulest grin on the vilest face of the most villainous Nasal, but... what an ingenious duck under the bottom of the double bass! Nasal helplessly sweeps past over her head. It seems he even screwed up his eyes, expecting a collision! Great job, Tanya! Stupendous fancy riding — and this with a ball in her hands, when it is necessary still to hold the bow! No, I was mistaken, Tanya managed to fasten the ball onto her forearm... Now she tries to determine, in what part of the field Flying Meatball is in order to attack it courageously.” A shadow slid along the sand. The whistle of the deserted ball and a short dragon roar attracted the attention of the commentator. Yagun turned. “Wait, I let something slip by!” he shouted. “A sharp moment at the other end of the field! Nauseati with the pepper ball is attacking Goyaryn. Outstanding throw and... did you see it? Goyaryn catches the ball with its lips! Magic doesn’t snap into action since a substantial part of the ball remains outside! Now in order to take possession of the ball, Nauseati must literally fly to Goyaryn’s mouth, but I don’t think that he’ll dare do this. Yes, so it is! The babai only circles beside it, trying not to get hit by the wing. Goyaryn again issue a short roar. It feels like it’s hailing someone, but here only who?” Tanya also heard the roar of Goyaryn. And — in contrast to Bab-Yagun — she understood whom it was calling. Turning the double bass around, she rushed to her own dragon. Nauseati, grinning, moved slightly aside and made an inviting gesture with his hand. Probably he decided that Tanya, overheating in the spring sun, had mixed up the dragons and would now fly directly into Goyaryn’s throat with the immobilize ball. But even before that, Goyaryn, recognizing her, shook its head with force. The pepper ball traced a wide arc in the air, and Tanya, making an abrupt turn, was able to intercept it. The smile was wiped instantly off the face of Nauseati, and he swiftly took off after Tanya, literally sitting on her tail. Even without turning around, Tanya sensed the terribly
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long arms stretched out to her. She tried to ditch Nauseati with sharp turns and sudden jerks, but the babai hung on like he was stuck to her. From the north approached Nasal and Foolzes, persistently blocking her from Flying Meatball. Now in order to force her way to the opponent’s dragon, Tanya would have to ram them, such heavy babai, and hope for the best. “No, did you see that? Tatiana Grotter, the only surviving player of the Tibidox team, takes possession of the most important balls of the match — pepper and immobilize! If she’ll be able to throw at least one — victory is guaranteed! True, this will not be simple: one delicate girl and six embittered baboo... babai!” Bab-Yagun overstrained himself. Finally, with a false turn Tanya managed to outsmart Nauseati, who was stuck to her. At that moment when he, trusting her manoeuvre, threw his carpet to the right, Tanya abruptly soared upward. Eyes watered. The bow impatiently shook in her hand. Never before had Tanya felt this unity with it. Now and then, it even began to seem to her that it was anticipating her thoughts and governing all her actions in the air. If she was terribly afraid and did not trust the bow entirely in the first minutes of the match, now she suddenly felt a strange ease. Even the terrible babai, grinding their teeth with hatred, and their gone-crazy dragon-killer ceased to frighten her. Unexpectedly, almost in that moment when Tanya believed there was nothing impossible, her double bass suddenly fell into an air pocket. Waving the bow, she somehow levelled it, but a vortex blowing from who knows where whirled her like a chip. “It’ll knock me off. I’ll now fall down!” Tanya thought with horror. Puzzled at what had happened to her instrument, she tried to hang on with all her might. The strings howled sorrowfully, the nose of the double bass first plunged downward, then immediately upward. During one of the reckless dives, Tanya by chance saw the face of the babai nearest to her. He was motionlessly hanging on his rug and, holding in his hand a tassel with a talisman, he was rapidly beat it on his own palm, whispering something. At that moment, he was not looking at Tanya: his entire attention was riveted to the talisman. “Cheat!” Bab-Yagun yelled at the same time. “Where is justice? The babai use evil eye! I see very well what their half-back Foolzes is doing with his talisman! Really the umpire won’t interfere? Get rid of this umpire, turn him into sausage meat, to hotdogs for students! Any minute now, Tatiana Grotter’s double bass will cut into the sand... But what’s this? What an outstanding manoeuvre! Rushing past Foolzes, Tanya with all her might throws the pepper ball at him! Outstanding hit! Foolzes from surprise swallows his own talisman, which, whispering, he held too close to his mouth!” The stands with the Tibidox fans began to roar triumphantly. “You just look: now Foolzes himself is tossed from side to side!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed in delight. “He’s attempting to spit out the talisman, but it’s useless. Vortices escape from his ears, and steam from his nose! The other babai fly away in horror! What a nightmarish spectacle! Foolzes is torn from his rug and falls from an enormous height, on top of that onto the head of chief umpire Tistrya, who ran out onto the field! At least now Tistrya will not be able to assert that it has been managed without evil eye. For the time being they’re trying to dig the chief umpire from the sand, into which Foolzes drove him up to his ears...”
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Tanya — later she was asked about this many times — also plainly could not explain why she threw the pepper ball at the half-back of the babai. Indeed his prick-eared head with hair falling down the back was a painfully alluring target. That he was choked by the talisman was possible to attribute to an unexpected but pleasant chance. “Pity that it’s not Uncle Herman! And not Plague-del-Cake!” Tanya growled, running her gaze over Foolzes. Her double bass obediently emerged from the last pit and, almost brushing against the sand with its varnished bottom, soared under the dome, where before the nose of Flying Meatball already swarmed the remaining five babai. There was not the slightest possibility to bypass them and force her way to the dragon. Noticing that the pepper ball, bouncing off the head of Foolzes, was still hanging in the air, Tanya caught and fastened it to her forearm. The babai, moving slowly, kept an eye on her in an unfriendly manner. Likely, despairing to manage a one on one encounter with her, they decided to take Tanya with a methodical siege, using Flying Meatball as a mobile flame-throwing gun. Tanya was at a loss, but immediately in her memory obediently floated up a paragraph from the reference book Dragons: Breeding, Training, Treatment. That ravenous reference book, which once almost bit off her finger and then bolted for a long time from the genie Abdullah, refusing to get up to the library shelf. The paragraph appearing in Tanya’s memory said: It is easy to drive a dragon crazy. Be careful. Remember that they always rush after fast-moving objects! “And what if?” Not having had time even to think through to the end this tempting thought, Tanya was already looping with all her might in front of Flying Meatball’s nose, teasing it with fast movements and the bright balls. “Excellent, excellent! Tatiana Grotter is skilfully driving the Egyptian dragon out of its mind! Flying Meatball roars threateningly. Likely, putting its patience to the test, Tanya is too absorbed. The sudden jet of flame almost changes her into browned toast. Be careful, Tanya! Now the smoke will scatter and... Yes, so it is! The enraged dragon and five babai seething with malice, changing their tactics of gradual offensive, pursue Tanya on full steam... What will she do? No, it simply can’t be! This is folly! At full speed Tatiana Grotter turns around on the double bass and is now flying with her back forward...” Not only Yagun was startled. Coffinia dropped the binoculars onto the head of Gunya Glomov sitting in front. Nightingale O. Robber jumped, forgetting about his inflexible leg. Slander Slanderych gripped his heart and slipped down under the bench. The mermaid, leaning out from the barrel, was hurriedly fanning him with its tail. The Egyptian trainer Amat plucked at his amulets in turn and muttered something. His bald spot was even sweating from the effort. He did not notice the lenient smile of Medusa, placing a block on all his black magic. Docent Gorgonova behaved more steadily than all the fans. Shielding her eyes with a visor so that the sun would not dazzle her, she never for a moment tore her attentive gaze away from the bow in Tanya’s hands. Not long before Tanya fell into the air pocket, Medusa was temporarily distracted in order to drop a stern glance quickly at the hero-bouncers Dubynya, Gorynya, and Usynya. The mighty brothers, indignant with the cheating, clearly came to an agreement to beat up umpire Tistrya and Amat, and grew quiet only after Medusa’s glance.
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Bab-Yagun was jumping up and down with impatience, continually knocking his forehead against the protective hood, and shouting into his tiny mouthpiece, “I don’t believe my eyes! What courage! Well done, Tanya! Here’s what my school means! The babai look around apprehensively. They are forced to break off at a distance from fear of coming under fire of their dragon, which after the stun ball cannot think straight! Flying Meatball is getting closer! A most dangerous manoeuvre! Tanya allows it to approach her, and then abruptly leans down on her back and... almost falls downward. A scorching tongue of flame sweeps some half a metre over her face. No doubt — we are witnessing an ‘instantaneous turn!’ Tanya straightens at enormous speed, and here two balls already fly into the mouth of Flying Meatball, not having time to slam it shut! Dual flash! Flying Meatball spits out the previously swallowed players, sinks, and... here it’s already lying on the sand, powerless to move! What a loud snore! In the umpire’s place I would rename the immobilize ball as the snore ball! Ha-ha! We won! VICTORY!!! ‘Instantaneous turn’ and victory!!! Hur-ray!” “Hur-ray!” The numerous fans of Tibidox rapturously roared. It seemed their joyful howl was carried far beyond the boundaries of Buyan and it rolled along the entire terrestrial globe, where thousands of magicians, not being able to attend the match personally, froze near receivers and zoomers. Already near the sand, turning around in a hurry, Tanya directed the bow upward and compelled the instrument to soar into the sky again. The strings began to hum in a heartrending manner but managed the overload. Tanya wanted to kiss her double bass and not only it. Not paying any attention to the disconcerted babai throwing at her suspicious but already powerless glances, she flew up to Goyaryn and embraced its sparkling neck. “We beat them! You understand, Goyaryn, we beat them! What a fine fellow you are all the same!” Tanya yelled. Tears were flowing down her face. The terrible dragon wheezed contentedly. Inside it something grumbled, but Tanya for some reason could not recall whether it had swallowed someone or not today. But this was already unimportant. So they descended onto the field together: Tanya and Goyaryn. Limping towards her, Nightingale O. Robber was already hobbling raptly, and behind him flocked the fans like a dense crowd, breaking through any magic barrier, which could no longer stop them. Hardly waiting for the genies to take Goyaryn away, they caught Tanya and in enthusiasm began to toss her up together with the instrument. “Hey, people! The double bass! Don’t break the double bass!” Tanya exclaimed in alarm, trying not to let it out of her hands. “Ah, how wonderful you are! Ah, how persistent you are! Ah, what a daredevil you are! Can I touch you?” Dusya Dollova enthusiastically squeaked, breaking forward through the crowd of fans, and suddenly: “Oh, don’t drop her on my head! Oh, I’m afraid! Oh, I didn’t have time to catch her!” They helped Tanya up and shook off the sand. “Well, Dollova, touched me? Satisfied?” Tanya growled, taking the double bass away from someone and checking whether there were any cracks on it. “But I really didn’t have time! You fell so fast, and I have such weak hands!” Dusya justified herself. “Indeed you’re not hurt, no?” And on the stands Sardanapal, smiling, approached Amat. The babai trainer gloomily thrust the Amulet of Truth at him. The transparent stone was now black as jet, which is
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not surprising: Amat was ashen like a dog. It only again acquired its previous form in the hands of the academician. “Well, Amat, who won?” Sardanapal asked. “If it not for your brilliant girl, all turn out differently! She break our entire game! Why her last name Grotter? She a relative of Leopold?” the Egyptian asked crossly. “And a very close one. It’s his daughter,” explained the academician. A surprised babai threw up his hands, accidentally coming into contact with the nose of one of the referees. “What?” he exclaimed. “I know nothing about this! So this be that Tanya, who triumph over She-Who-Is-No-More! Then I understand why she beat my boys! Only not long for her to remain to play dragonball! Death stand behind her shoulder and say ha-ha!” The moustaches of Sardanapal straightened up hostilely. “What’s this, a threat?” the academician coldly asked. In his voice appeared something that for some reason made Amat lower his eyes in alarm. Simultaneously he, just in case, moved aside from Sardanapal’s beard, clearly with the intention of smothering him. “Oh no, Professor! It not a threat!” the babai trainer said in a hurry. “My boys and I not do her any harm. We capable of losing with dignity. But before the championship we always prophesy with a sheep’s shoulder blade! The sheep blade report that someone beat us in an honest battle — one against many. If I know that this to take place in the first game, I never bet on your ring! Another blade say that the one who beat my boys must then fear glass! To greatly fear glass! If you not believe me, look at my... already your... Amulet of Truth.” Sardanapal pensively glanced at the amulet he had just won. The stone, similar to an amber tear, also did not think of turning red. The Egyptian spoke the truth. Chapter 13 Raincoat, Spike, and Dagger Bab-Yagun dropped his head onto the evil spirit studies textbook, which immediately started to fan him sympathetically with the pages. “Enough! I can’t take it any longer! Better let them turn me into a zombie!” he groaned. “We’re the heroes of the match with the babai, the pride of Tibidox! We helped Sardanapal preserve his ring and won for him the Amulet of Truth! Well, tell me: is it really possible to assign us so many lessons?” “Why are you nagging me? I assign them to you perhaps? Complain to Medusa!” Vanka Valyalkin snapped. In recent days, he had become somewhat nervous, antsy. Likely, he overdid it, trying to carry out all the tasks. And indeed it was still necessary to help Tararakh. “Aha, you complain to her!” Bab-Yagun snorted. “She’ll only reiterate something about exams! She becomes quite brutal. I would exile such instructors straight to the basement, on that side of the Sinister Gates. There she would sweep away all Chaos and build ancient gods according to size.” “And I agree with you...” Tanya said conciliatorily, tearing herself away from writing a report on practical magic. The report was called Marshy Leeches in a System of Contemporary Universe and it had to contain only her own thoughts. Professor Stinktopp, who would seize any excuse after the incident with the ring of Grandpa Theophilus, gave her the theme for the report.
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“Precisely on that side of the Gates! And so that she would sit there and not croak!” Bab-Yagun continued to be indignant. He was looking in the other direction and did not see that the thick Vampire-Lamia Dictionary (the third expanded edition edited by Docent Medusa Zeusovna Gorgonova) carefully took off from the desk. “Look out! From behind!” Tanya shouted. Bab-Yagun turned around, jumped, and took to his heels. The Vampire-Lamia Dictionary rushed after him, continually diving like a bomber. “Oh, my granny mama! I’ll not do it anymore! Medusa is good! The best! BANG! Only not on the head! She also thinks so badly of me!” the grandson of Yagge howled. Tanya smiled. Bab-Yagun acted carelessly berating Medusa. The instructor of evil spirits studies knew how to stand up for herself, even in absence. After some time Yagun returned disconcerted. “I also bungled it, don’t you think! It’ll remember me for a long time!” he growled and silently sat down for the lessons. In approximately an hour the little round table, at which they were doing homework, became bored and began to dance on bent legs. The pen slid and Tanya put a blot on the white birch bark with the report. The blot immediately crawled away and developed into a malicious smiley. “Briskus-quickus!” Tanya shouted, forcing the table to calm down. All the furniture in Tibidox was alive, and this generated many difficulties. For example, chairs had a habit of jumping at that very moment when they were already almost being sat on. And desks began treacherously to squeal, “Help! He’s copying!” when during exams a despairing student tried to take out a textbook. Tanya examined the blot angrily. And it had managed to be placed at the very end when the report was already almost finished! And why goose feathers for magicians, really not possible to use ball-point pens, pencils, or felt-tip pens? No, say what you want, but it is much simpler at the moronoids... Tanya attempted to dry the blot but it deftly fled from her along the entire sheet, smearing the surviving letters. At the same time, the blot contrived to take the form of gallows, a skull, or a small Professor Stinktopp with his head in the form of a horseradish. “Yagun, what to do? It won’t wipe off!” Tanya complained. Bab-Yagun hesitated, “And it’ll never be erased. Better not chase it. You need a special blotter.” “Do you have one?” “Ne-a, not now,” Yagun shook his head. “My granny has. You want me to run to magic station?” Tanya turned down his aid and left for magic station herself. She was tired. It seemed to her that her brain was hard-boiled like an egg. Summer vacations would soon begin! As the senior pupils asserted, vacations in Tibidox were always spent very interestingly. The entire three months on the ocean coast, in the forest, and in the mountains! No lessons, no work, only dragonball training. Not so in foreign magic schools where the students are always kicked to the moronoids for vacations. ***

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The Main Staircase was still guarded by cyclopes, and in order to get to magic station, it was necessary for Tanya first to traverse the Hall of Two Elements, and then along the old stairs of the Atlases with the enormous steps. The stern Atlases stood on marble pedestals and held on their shoulders the stone arches of Tibidox. Occasionally either one or the other began to show off its strength and tried to raise the ceiling higher than the others. The remaining Atlases became offended. They angrily roared, started to shake the arches, and the Big Tower began to move like a piston. Usually Sardanapal sent his gold sphinx down to calm them. Now however, the majority of the Atlases were dozing standing up, the rest were sullenly looking ahead, not paying her any attention so that Tanya rushed by this dangerous section without any adventure. Short of breath, she was almost already scrambling to the last step when suddenly loud voices were heard in front. This was so unexpected that the girl instantly whisked behind the foot of the Atlas last in line and, squatting to her haunches, lurked there. Tararakh and Slander Slanderych appeared from a side corridor leading to the drawbridge. Both were smudged with duckweed and slime and smelling like a swamp. They stopped in front of the stairs in order to tidy themselves. “True that everything’s in order with her? She’s not sick?” Slander asked anxiously. “Normal. Only stop her from drinking fish oil. She yells out songs the entire night — not possible to sleep!” Tararakh muttered, picking algae off his chest. “But she asks for fish oil!” Slander was astonished. “Who cares who asks for what. Didn’t they teach you in school that evil spirits cannot be overfed? And indeed all the more for one accustomed to hard drinking. You’re what, a kid? They don’t even pour coffee for such a hysterical woman.” The stern dean sighed. “Love is love... But why did her scales turn green? It isn’t dangerous?” he again began to worry. “Summer is coming, the pond is blooming, therefore she turns green. What will become of her, this big fish? And you won’t kill her with a spear!” Tararakh answered in cold blood. “No, don’t you call her that!” Slander was insulted. His voice trembled. “She... she’s not that! She’s not a big fish! She has, you know, a soul! An enormous soul! Vulnerable! She struck me with her tail, and yesterday, imagine, she smiled so affectionately and kissed me on the cheek!” Tararakh sympathetically cleared his throat. “Would tear off the cupid’s ear for such business! What they do to guys!” he growled. Having said good-bye to Slander, the pithecanthropus was about to go down the stairs, but suddenly he returned. “Wait! Do the children already know that dragonball matches here in Tibidox are postponed for an indeterminate period?” he asked anxiously. “No, they don’t,” answered Slander. “That’s mean! They’ve been waiting for so long! Why won’t you tell them the truth?” Tararakh was indignant. “What truth?” Slander Slanderych immediately changed. His tiny eyes again became piercing and his movement abrupt. “The truth about what’s happening in Tibidox. And about what happened last night,” said Tararakh.
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“No! They mustn’t know! I convinced Sardanapal to keep everything a secret. It can breed panic. Possibly, in several days it’ll be necessary to shut not only the Staircase but also the entire Tower. I can’t even begin to imagine where we’ll put the students. Possibly, it’ll be necessary to send them away again to the moronoids.” “So, it has not yet stopped pulsating?” Tararakh asked with uneasiness. The dean darkened. “Not only has it not stopped. Each hour the radiance becomes increasingly brighter. The magic passage widens. My spells already almost can’t keep it under control. It seems that an enormous funnel, which draws everything in itself, has opened there. Even the cyclopes make up their minds not to go up higher than the second landing now — and I can understand them.” “This after that terrible case?” Tararakh asked. “Yes, after that. It indeed went mad.” “But such... such happens only when it seizes a catch!” “Likely that this time it also got it. Don’t know how, but it did. And the worst, we, till now, don’t know who penetrated there and how it was done. Like everything else in this place,” Slander unwillingly answered. Tararakh went down the steps sadly. Now he was very close to Tanya, so close that he could touch the foot of the Atlas behind which she was hiding. The girl tried not to breathe with any noise in order not to give herself up. It was also already clear to her that she heard what she should not have heard. “Just look at that business! The funnel has already opened three times,” the pithecanthropus said pensively. “The first time the day before we sent the children to the moronoids. The second time — not long before their return. And now... And every time we didn’t manage to find out whom precisely became its victim. All students and instructors are in place, evil spirits can’t become a catch at all, therefore are not taken into account. The head just about cracks from all these thoughts!” “Tibidox always knows how to keep its secrets,” Slander said sullenly. Dragging out the algae sticking to an ear, the dean dully examined it for a while. Then he threw it onto the floor, trampled it and, waving a hand at Tararakh, disappeared into one of the corridors. *** After some time Tararakh also left and Tanya, stupefied, forgotten about setting off for Yagge, and sat motionless for a long time. Dragonball matches postponed! And possibly cancelled altogether! And this when the Tibidox team for the first time after many years finally has not bad chances! And now even the mysterious flickering of the Vanishing Floor! Tanya tore away from the place, rushed to Bab-Yagun and Vanka and recounted to them the overheard conversation. Vanka frowned: the news clearly did not please him. Bab-Yagun behaved even stranger. He was not a bit astonished and even did not show disappointment. Instead, he complacently stated this, “You see how wisely I acted, sending you to my granny! Live and appreciate me! By the way, you’re certain that they were talking about the Vanishing Floor?” “But what else? Where is there still a magic passage and which Slander protects with spells?” Tanya was surprised.
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Bab-Yagun licked his lips. “Well, if it’s about the Floor, then it’s about the Floor. Really I’m arguing?” he said. “Something else I don’t understand,” Tanya continued thoughtfully. “Tararakh was surprised that the Floor already has three victims but all students and instructors are accounted for. Also no one could appear from the other side: the spell of passage would not let them past. How do you explain this? How could three disappear there but no one missed them?” Bab-Yagun hesitated. “What’s incomprehensible here? Can only be one explanation. Sufficiently bad.” “What?” Yagun lowered his voice and beckoned them to himself. “Imagine that everyone who visited the Floor the last time — and such curious sharp lads for some reason can always be found, and not only among the ‘black,’ — by some miracle knew how to return now among us. Will we notice that they disappeared? No, of course not! Anyone not in place for an hour or two? And no one will miss him in this short time.” “Nonsense!” Vanka cut him short. “If someone would visit the Floor, he would indeed recount it. Would not be able to keep it to himself! Though secretly, but would blab. It’s such glory! He would forever be in the history of Tibidox! Only think — return alive from the Vanishing Floor!” “Perhaps also would blab...” Bab-Yagun agreed, squinting. “But would blab only if he remains as before. And suppose these three returned, but returned already as someone enslaved by powerful magic. As pitiful zombies, slaves of the King of Ghosts and SheWho-Is-No-More...” Yagun had hardly uttered the terrible name when Tanya experienced dizziness, recalling the yellow old woman from her dreams. Yesterday Coffinia assured her that she again saw her on the Curtains. “You think Plague-del-Cake is there on the Floor? Hiding there and turning anyone who penetrates to the Floor into a zombie?” she asked in horror. “I don’t know whether she’s there or not but such can never be excluded,” Bab-Yagun shrugged his shoulders. “I simply assume that these three that returned — three spies — are now hiding somewhere among us. They are lurking and waiting for something... Then it becomes understandable who stuck the spike into the neck of Goyaryn and who attempted to kill you when your bow caught fire.” “Who?” Vanka thoughtfully looked at Yagun. “Someone from this trinity. Recall what Tararakh said. First, the magic passage opened when they were still only making up their minds to send everyone to the moronoids. Then — when everyone was at the moronoids. And the third time very recently. So, only the very first zombie could attempt to kill Tanya. The second most likely took the spike with him and stuck it into Goyaryn, and here the third... what the third will do, I still don’t know... but also sure it’s some filth... Hey, what are you doing?” Yagun stared at Tanya in surprise. “I’m sketching. Easier to think,” she said. Having moved a clean sheet of white birch bark to herself, Tanya quickly drafted three figures, which immediately with villainous purposefulness dispersed to the corners. The first figure was muffled up in a long raincoat, the second swung a long spike similar to a dagger; and the third... the third seemed lost, as if it did not yet grasp what role was assigned to it in this mysterious play.
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“Here look!” Tanya said, pointing to the first figure. “This zombie appeared when we were still in Tibidox. It means, logically speaking, this can turn out to be either a student or an instructor. Right?” “Careful! The pen!” Vanka exclaimed. Tanya carelessly presented the feather too close to a drawn figure and it contrived to singe it with a tiny spark. True, the flame turned out to be weak, but it was still worthwhile for the girl to blow it out. Vanka attempted to give the figure a flick, but it started to laugh aloud, turned on the spot, and disappeared. “A nightmare! And it’s nothing but an unhappy figure! Well, and they’re created in Tibidox!” The grandson of Yagge sighed and stared with some special expression at the second figure, which threateningly swung the spike as if forbidding to be approached. “But-but, my granny mama, without hysterics! We don’t much fear your spike!” Yagun said negligently. “Ready to argue that this second zombie is an instructor. But who? There were no students in Tibidox. Agreed?” “Not exactly? Not one?” Vanka was interested, looking in his direction. “Not one,” confirmed Yagun. “Fine,” nodded Vanka. “So, everything is clear with the second. But here who’s the third?” “Again incomprehensible with the third. Everyone’s under suspicion — students and instructors,” Tanya nodded to the last, the most mysterious figure. Grasping that the discussion was about it, the figure quickly crossed to the centre of the sheet and started to wave its hands and jump as if trying to draw attention to itself. Tanya began tensely to examine its gestures, but here Yagun suddenly crumpled the white birch bark decisively and, having tossed it up into the air, burnt it with a fight spark. “Sparkis frontis! So it’ll be with all spies and traitors! And no use messing around with them!” he said and, gathering the notebooks, set off for his own room to lubricate the vacuum. The forgotten Vampire-Lamia Dictionary flew after its owner. Vanka Valyalkin took in Yagun with a joyless glance and lowered his head into his hands. “Why are you so sour?” Tanya asked him. “No reason.” “Really, tell me! I see that you’re hiding something! Indeed I know you!” “Okay,” Valyalkin unwillingly agreed. “Yagun’s information did not startle you? Well, that he figured out so quickly that the zombies of She-Who-Is-No-More are hiding among us and therefore it’s impossible to determine who was on the Floor and who was not?” “On the whole yes. He cracked it in a jiffy. Simply like a detective,” agreed Tanya. Vanka nodded. “That’s just the point. I also didn’t pay attention at first, and then understood that Yagun didn’t tell the whole truth. Remember his reasoning about the second figure? He stated that only instructors and no students remained in the school.” “And indeed it wasn’t so? Really, we didn’t stick around for two months among the moronoids?” Tanya was indignant. “All but not all... Yagun himself was in Tibidox. Moreover, he tried to penetrate to the Floor... He even wrote us about it, remember?” Vanka announced with unwillingness. “So what, he tried. It didn’t work out for him. He ran up against the guard spell. Remember his frog feet?” Tanya stood up for Yagun.
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“Be that as it may... But where did he jump to on them, on his feet? It’s all strange, very strange...” Vanka said. “No, Bab-Yagun can’t turn out to be a zombie! He’s... he’s Bab-Yagun! Our BabYagun! You understand?” Tanya protested. “I’m also not convinced that he’s a zombie. I simply point out that there are too many coincidences,” Vanka said unwillingly. In his tremendous oversize yellow soccer shirt, he seemed slender and dishevelled like a sparrow. And so worried. Tanya’s mood was ruined. She did not want to suspect Bab-Yagun, but at the same time caught herself at the thought that there was a portion of truth in Vanka’s words. It suddenly came to her mind that indeed today he was also the first to utter the name of She-Who-Is-No-More — Plague-del-Cake. Why did Yagun so confidently declare that Plague was on the Floor? Valyalkin, all this time attentively observing her, smiled in encouragement. “And I agree with you! Maybe everything is normal with Yagun. I myself also don’t particularly believe that he can turn out to be a zombie. He’s indeed too slick! But then for the other zombie I calculated completely accurately.” “Who is he?” Tanya was tense. “Not he, but she. Destistikha! Remember you said that Coffinia saw her near the magic workshop? And later this bluish glow from her eyes... Have you ever seen that in normal magicians? No, she’s really the zombie. I think it’s worthwhile for us to follow her. Agree?” “Agree...” nodded Tanya. Now, when they at least had some plan of actions, she no longer felt so helpless. *** Next day, having waited till the end of the class on removal of evil eye, Tanya approached the tattered stuffed bear, on the neck of which has hung a silver tablet “I love Greenpeace!” According to some information, this bear died of fatal curse, which the same Great Tooth put on it, while according to others — it was the hunting trophy of Lieutenant Rzhevskii, which he, after becoming a ghost, somehow contrived to drag into Tibidox, making a fool of the spell of passage. When necessary, the spectre could become very aggressive. Looking around and discovering that no one was looking at her, Tanya quickly dived behind the stuffed animal and lurked there. Having placed a small pocket mirror facing out, she began to observe carefully what was going on in the class. Leaving the room, Vanka turned around and, as they agreed upon, unnoticeably gave her thumbs up. This meant that the place was good and Tanya could not be seen. Gradually the spacious accommodation was deserted. Dentistikha sat at the teacher’s table and leafed through the diary. It seemed nothing was of interest to her anymore. But it was only so until the last student had left. Then the Great Tooth quickly got up and tightly shut the classroom door, turning the key twice in the lock. Tanya for some reason recalled the day when everything began. Was Dentistikha not the first to discover the Vanishing Floor and sound the alarm? She was unusually frightened by something when she broke into the office of the academician. Could it be that at that moment she was already under the action of the magic that turned her into a
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zombie? Then she still resisted but soon the magic sucked her in totally, made her an obedient slave. If that was so, then Dentistikha also stood in the orange raincoat on the roof. Tanya’s head started to spin. The fear, which she experienced in the air squeezing the blazing bow, returned. And here the Great Tooth turned to the stuffed animals and hailed softly, “Don’t hide! I see you!” Tanya almost dropped the mirror. “Have you been waiting for long? Come out! Or you want me to approach? Really you thought it possible to hide from me?” Dentistikha impatiently repeated. With a doomed sigh, Tanya already wanted to get out, but here a distinct rustle was heard somewhere right next to her. Someone moved out from behind the stuffed snow leopard adjacent to the bear and isolated from her refuge only by a thin partition. Tanya carefully shifted the mirror. At first, she saw someone’s legs, then the back, and finally bright hair. “Why the foolish tricks?” Dentistikha was angry. “I asked you not to come to me any more! This is dangerous! When necessarily, I myself will summon you.” The instructor crossly pulled off the thick glasses. A deathly-bluish light spurted from her eyes. The girl standing with her back to Tanya, now made a half-turn to her and also removed her dark glasses. Tanya almost yelled. She recognized Katya Lotkova. The eyes of the first beauty of Tibidox shone exactly like Dentistikha’s. The burning looks of the teacher and the student met. It seemed that a duel took place between Dentistikha and Lotkova. A duel of looks. Afraid of becoming blind, Tanya quickly took away the mirror. And just in time. One of the desks flared up. The massive lamp began to swing with a clang on the chains. However, it was possible not to worry anymore because the duel ended as swiftly as it began. “Okay, enough... Your foolish jokes bore me!” Dentistikha growled, removing her look. “What do you need?” “I can no longer be like this. I can’t hide, I can’t walk around in these glasses. Have you already figured out how to get rid of it?” Katya Lotkova asked. Negligently snapping her fingers, Dentistikha extinguished the blazing desk. “I tried. So far nothing,” she said. “But it must be urgently removed! Urgently! Cannot imagine a more apt situation.” The instructor nodded. “I know, I already thought about this. We will remove it tomorrow night. Full moon is the most suitable time. But for this it’s necessary to break into his office... Take a dagger with you!” Katya Lotkova shuddered. “You want me to do it?” she asked. “Unimportant who will do it. The main thing is to put an end to it. Agree?” Hesitating a little, Katya nodded. “Fine. I’ll try to get a dagger.” “So, agreed. We’ll meet at three in Sardanapal’s office,” repeated Dentistikha. Showing that the conversation was over, she put on the glasses. Katya followed her example. The Great Tooth approached the door and opened it, letting Lotkova out into the corridor. The instructor looked at her from behind for a while, and then she muttered, “The girl begins to tire me. Possibly, I made an error when I trusted her... Well, no matter. Soon everything will end.” Dentistikha smiled and, taking the journal from the table, left the classroom.
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Tanya with difficulty got out from behind the stuffed bear. She was trembling. She did not doubt that she became a witness to a terrible plot. “Yes, you heard! Dentistikha and Lotkova want to kill Sardanapal. To stab him at night with a dagger! Good though, here Bab-Yagun had nothing to do with it!” she turned in horror to the bear. Chapter 14 What Are the Fishes Keeping Silent About? Having overheard the conversation, Tanya understood that in no way could she keep it secret. She decided to immediately find Sardanapal and describe to him the danger threatening him. However, the academician turned out not to be in his office and his gold sphinx began to roar at the girl so threateningly that she was forced to leave. Sardanapal was also not in the teachers’ lounge, but then Tanya stumbled upon Professor Stinktopp and Medusa there. The chief black magician of Tibidox and the instructor of evil spirits studies were sitting on the low black sofa and anxiously discussing something. At the same time Professor Stinktopp, as was his habit, was playing with the large spoon hanging from the chain near his stomach. It seemed to Tanya that Medusa and Stinktopp were discussing the dragonball world championship. In any case, when she entered, the Professor was saying something like, “Zis dragon nefferzeless vas no good!” Noticing Tanya, Stinktopp and Medusa stopped talking and at once turned to her. “Ahah, Baby Grotter, our glorious champion!” the Professor grinned. “Vhy are you here? You came to find out your annual efaluation for practical magic?” “Yes... That is, no,” Tanya was at a loss, sorry that she set off for the teachers’ lounge instead of searching for Sardanapal elsewhere. But now it was already too late. The associate professor Gorgonova looked at her with a searching look. “Permit me to ask why you’re not at veterinary magic now? I believe your class today is on asps. A very important and critical theme,” she coldly stated. “I didn’t go to Tararakh. I’ll study everything later,” acknowledged Tanya. Honestly speaking, after what she had just learnt, veterinary magic simply flew out of her head. “When later? Have you already arranged for the final?” Medusa frowned. “No, I haven’t,” said Tanya, sensing that with each minute she got more stuck in the mess. “I didn’t assume that Tararakh allows you to skip his class. It’s scandalous. I’ll definitely find out from him how he treats your truancy,” Medusa continued, displeased. “And now, perhaps you’ll tell us why you came into the teachers’ lounge?” “I... eh-eh... need Sardanapal.” “You missed work in order to find Sardanapal? This is already interesting. You have anything urgent for him?” “Yes, very. A matter of life and death,” answered Tanya. She wanted to startle Medusa so that she would finally stop talking to her in this tone. Docent Gorgonova raised her eyebrows. “So, a matter of life or death? But you don’t want to share it with us?” she asked not without mockery. Tanya hesitated and muttered something. She became offended that Medusa clearly did not take her seriously; however, nevertheless she had no intention of telling Stinktopp. Guessing what was troubling her, Medusa turned to Stinktopp and, smiling, asked,
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“Professor, I can’t wait to read that book on slow poison which I’ve heard so much about from you. Couldn’t you bring it please?” “Viz huge pleasure! Zis book about poison is fery interesting! I alvays read it at night! Zere are ten dead men on each page!” Stinktopp agreed. He impatiently leaped up from the sofa and briskly began to hop on his gouty legs to the door. “Zree red sparks! Zree red sparks! Sehr gut, ha-ha!” he sang in conclusion, disgustingly winking his oily eyes at Tanya. When Stinktopp left, Medusa indicated to her to sit down on the sofa beside her. “Sit down and tell me. What’s this matter of life and death that you run around Tibidox searching for Sardanapal?” she asked already considerably softly. Wavering for a while, Tanya decided not to hide anything from her. After all, Medusa was third in importance in Tibidox after Sardanapal and Slander, and in some ways even first. She described in detail, beginning from that day when a figure in an orange raincoat appeared on the roof. The only things that Tanya kept quiet about were the stonefish and the workshop. To mention them would make it necessary to involve Yagun and Vanka — indeed it was their shared secret. If she made a slip of the tongue about the fish — they would not forgive her. Medusa listened to her attentively, without interrupting and only rarely posing questions. She was especially interested in Plague-del-Cake on Black Curtains and the spike discovered in the neck of Goyaryn. The attempt on Tanya she likely, so far, did not particularly believe in. Or, which was also possible, she was simply not interested in anything taking place in the world of the moronoids. “What striking ability to show up in the most improbable places at the most improbable time! You astonish me, Grotter!” Medusa pensively said when the girl stopped talking. “It simply just happened by chance,” Tanya was embarrassed. “It happened by chance that you violated all existing rules of Tibidox? And one tenth of your misdeeds would be enough for Slander to turn you into a complete zombie,” Medusa said sharply. Her stern Greek profile became even more distinct, and the hair started hissing. “You slipped through into the dragon hangar, wandered at night along the Main Staircase, spied on the teachers! Your father would blush a hundred times for such a daughter, even though he himself, believe me, was not a good child. When they delivered him to Tibidox, he was just twelve years old then, he prepared dynamite and attempted to blow up a goldfish.” “Why?” Tanya was surprised. Docent Gorgonova Smiled. “Don’t you see, he wanted to clarify how it fulfills desires and how its anatomy differs from the anatomy of a normal fish. Allegedly, in order to do everything without ruling out fish magic... If the goldfish didn’t float belly up, then only because not a single weapon of the moronoids operates here. ‘You could at least catch it with a fishing rod! Why immediately with explosives?’ Sardanapal said to him then. ‘It wouldn’t take the bait!’ your father answered.” Tanya smiled. Medusa, noticing this, despondently shook her head. “Well now, and you’re indeed like that! Then Slander constantly demanded that they transfer your father to the black department, but the academician and I interceded for him. We saw that with Leopold the motives were not spite and not self-interest. He was more a scientist... Of
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course, we’ll have a talk afterwards about your father and about your disgusting behaviour... Did you see any image on the spike?” “Yes, there was a sign of the summon spell. Someone summoned dead people. Or perhaps, terrible spirits,” nodded Tanya. Medusa winced. “What abomination! But from where do you know about the summon spell? Indeed you asked the genie Abdullah?” Once again, Tanya thought that it was impossible to deceive or to conceal anything from docent Gorgonova. “So from Abdullah?” Medusa repeated. “Aha.” “Very nice. I always told Sardanapal that it’s foolish to keep in the library this crazy old man who sympathizes with black magicians. Indeed Abdullah is even a poet, did you know? In his youth, he wrote ten volumes of rhymed curses of deadly power. The Ancient One had to get an oath from him that he wouldn’t use them. But, unfortunately, the oath concerned only old curses, and he writes new ones almost everyday... Where did you hide the spike?” “In the room under my mattress!” Tanya answered, embarrassed. Docent Gorgonova burst out laughing. “Brilliantly devised! Who has enough imagination to search for it there? To say nothing of the fact that at night the mattress can move and the spike would pierce you!” she exclaimed with irony. “Yes, but I...” “No need to justify!” Medusa cut her off. “Today you’ll bring this spike to me. Trust me, I have the ability to keep it safe. And for the time being tell no one about Dentistikha and Lotkova. Better if they suspect nothing. Don’t be disturbed: I’ll describe everything to Sardanapal, and we’ll take the necessary measures. It’s clear that no one will detain them or lock them up.” “Yes, but they... What if they kill the academician?” Tanya was frightened, but she immediately understood from Medusa’s stern face that she blurted out stupidity. “To kill Aacademician Chernomorov with a pitiful dagger? He’s immortal! It’s possible to bind him, to lull him to sleep, to grind him in a rock bag, but not to kill him!” Gorgonova cut in. “If Lotkova and Deni were actually on the Vanishing Floor and returned — and this is almost impossible! — then they for sure underwent the action of zombie magic — the most disgusting magic of all that exist, since it takes away the magician’s personality. It sucks one dry like a lemon segment, transforms one into a shell. Can you visualize how such magic works?” “Well, not really.” “I also didn’t expect to hear anything different. Need to study for many years in order to understand its finesse. Don’t think about Dentistikha and Lotkova anymore. Trust me, nothing for you to worry about.” Medusa energetically got up from the sofa and looked at the clock searchingly. “You’ll no longer manage to make it to veterinary magic. Arrange with Tararakh about the final. Furthermore, try to give more time to studies. Your father would be dissatisfied by your progress. He was always an excellent student!” she said. Tanya had already walked out of the teachers’ lounge when Medusa stopped her. “Wait, Grotter! Remember something else! No more night excursions! No transgressions! Must sleep at night and not wander along the back alleys of Tibidox. Clear?”
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“Clear,” sighed Tanya. Noticing her disappointment, Medusa looked above her head and as if incidentally mentioned, “And if all the same you intend on a hike — will there be any need? — don’t forget to take my bow with you. The bow alone, without the double bass. It’ll allow you to avoid many troubles. And indeed, in any case, to not lose your way. That’s all, go!” Already in the corridor, Tanya belatedly realized that she had recently gotten some not bad advice about breaking school discipline. Moreover, she got it from one whom she always considered as one of the main adherents of this discipline... Tanya met Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun for dinner. Both were in a poor mood. On their table fell the magic tablecloth with grated radish, and this in no way suited the eternally hungry Vanka, and not even Yagun. But no one wanted to change with them. “Stupidity! Worse than radish can only be rice kasha, and worse than rice kasha only baked pudding...” Vanka grumbled. “And what’s worse than baked pudding?” Tanya was interested. “Grated radish,” Valyalkin confidently stated. The circle was completed. Searching for a theme of conversation, Tanya asked about veterinary magic, whether Tararakh was angry that she missed class. “Ne-a, certainly not angry. He didn’t even notice,” Bab-Yagun calmed her. “Why didn’t he notice?” “He didn’t get to that. The bag with the asps tore and they all crawled away. The girls screeched so that you would hear...” “And Coffinia too?” Tanya asked, feeling sorry that she wasn’t there. “But why, of course! Louder than everyone! I almost became deaf. And she was hopping on the tables — exactly like a mountain goat...” Bab-Yagun said. While Yagun described the asps, Tanya unnoticeably looked intently at him. The grandson of Yagge was exactly the same as always — complacent, boastful, and noisy, with the same protruding ruby ears. “No, can’t be him. Zombies don’t behave this way,” Tanya thought, calmed down. All the fears of Vanka suddenly seemed complete nonsense to her. “We wanted to help Tararakh gather the asps, but he drove us away. He said, ‘If something happens, I’ll never forgive myself. I’m immortal, their poison is not deadly for me.’ So he discharged us. Then Yagun and I estimated that we still had time and set off for the fish... To the stone fish!” Vanka Valyalkin mysterious lowered his voice. Although he spoke quite quietly, Tanya cautiously looked around at the teachers’ table, at which at this moment Dentistikha, tucking up her long skirt, was precisely sitting down. It seemed to her that the Great Tooth’s attentive and alert glance slid along their trinity. “Tooth is looking at us! Quiet!” Tanya whispered, but it was already too late. Dentistikha had clearly heard something. “What are the conversations during food? What secrets do our freshmen have?” she turned to them with suspicion. The children were at a loss. It seemed to them that the entire school was staring at their table at once. “No secrets. We simply said that we love it when we get this tablecloth!” Bab-Yagun was first to recover. “What?” Dentistikha did not believe him. “You want to say that you love grated radish? Is it true, Grotter?”
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“Simply festival for the soul!” Tanya confirmed and with exaggerated enthusiasm started to chew the radish loudly. Bab-Yagun and Vanka followed her example. Diffusing Dentistikha’s suspicions, they showed so much heroic zeal that Yura Idiotsyudov began to yell loudly, “Will you look at these three loons! Never saw anyone gobble up rotten radish like that!” “Idiotsyudov, from the table over there! Not rotten radish, but grated! This is what healthy children’s appetite means! Once I had the same! And I also adored radish! Possibly not the tastiest but the most nutritious!” Sardanapal was touched, dropping into the onion soup the rare tear of a man. After recollecting that they were attracting too much attention, Tanya detracted from the heat, especially as her jaws were already feeling irritated from the radish. As far as Bab-Yagun was concerned, this fan of nutritious food was sitting looking suspiciously green altogether and for some reason covering his mouth with a hand. “Ay-ay-ay, how awful! The boy ate so willingly! Someone just put an evil eye on him!” the academician was distressed. The friends gathered after dinner in the old gym locker room. Here, among the rusty iron lockers with the doors ajar, in the reign of long wooden barriers, it was possible to have a talk without interference. Vanka and Bab-Yagun recounted that though they were busy with the fish for a whole half-hour, they just could not move the stone block from its place. Most likely, they simply did not find the secret mechanism setting it into motion. “Possible to kill two weeks there. We also already felt all over the surrounding stones. Need someone who has a flair for these matters,” said Vanka. “Perhaps we could ask Lieutenant Rzhevskii?” Bab-Yagun proposed uncertainly. “Aha, so that in five minutes the entire Tibidox would learn about this! Better indeed simply to write a declaration and post it in the Hall of Two Elements! You know, you’ll attract to the Vanishing Floor anyone who isn’t lazy...” Valyalkin commented with mockery. “So, drop the ghost. But who then can see through objects?” Yagun asked. “VERKA PARROTEVA!” Tanya exclaimed, recalling this emaciated thirteen-year-old with her nose turned to one side, even a thick door could not save anyone from her penetrating glance. Vanka distrustfully hesitated. “How are we to persuade her? She’s a terrible coward. On no account will she go anywhere at night, and indeed all the more to the Vanishing Floor.” “Not necessary to inform her about the Vanishing Floor. We’ll simply devise something about the stone fish. For example — ha-ha! — that Professor Stinktopp stores his love letters to Dentistikha there. Parroteva will simply die of curiosity. She loves to smell out who meets with whom and who has fallen in love with whom!” Bab-Yagun smiled. *** Soon after midnight, Tanya, yawning, unnoticeably slipped from the room. Bab-Yagun and Vanka were already waiting for her in the dark corner of the common room. “Why did you take the bow? What, are you intending on flying? Then why without the double bass?” Yagun was astonished.
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“You’ll find out later,” Tanya growled. How could she explain this to Bab-Yagun, when even she herself did not plainly understand why she had the bow? Merely that Medusa was clearly not among those who would give rash advice. After some time Verka Parroteva appeared. She turned her head with curiosity, rubbed her nose with her hand, which was her sign of extreme uneasiness, and was constantly repeating, “But it’s indeed known to you that Stinktopp is in love with Dentistikha? Really?” “Not really. We only know about the letters. Completely possible that he’s in love with you. And the letters are also for you,” Bab-Yagun said significantly. “Oh! He’s so terrible! And old!” Verka reddened like a bud and began to giggle foolishly. But then she wanted to secure the letters with triple the strength. All the time along the way into the old part of Tibidox Parroteva stumbled, stepped on everyone’s feet, and asked stupid questions. “Oh, where are we going?” “Into the old part of Tibidox,” Yagun patiently answered. “Oh, and why at night?” “Because they go there precisely at night.” “Oh, how dark!” “Always dark at night.” Verka nodded like a Chinese dummy. “I understand. I’m no fool!” she declared indignantly and immediately began on a new one, “Oh, but how did you find out that Stinktopp hides the letters there?” Soon everyone was so tired of Parroteva that Tanya wanted to change her into a monkey. And not only Tanya. Bab-Yagun and Vanka clearly experienced the same desire. Here, true, such spells were not studied before third year. Not far from the guardhouse where off-duty cyclopes slept, Verka froze for an instant and suddenly began to howl, pointing to a white shadow floating out from the wall, “AH! GHOST!” With her howl, the white shadow was pulled into the wall. In the guardroom footfall was heard. One of the cyclopes was clearly running to the door in order to clarify who had shouted. “Ah, cyclopes! It’s all because of you! I surrender!” Verka Parroteva again yelled. She was already in complete panic. Bab-Yagun and Vanka began to confusedly rush along the straight and long corridor, not knowing where to conceal themselves. Indeed it was a very unfortunate place! Unexpectedly Tanya felt like something stirred in her hands. The bow bent, lengthened, and its end pointed to an unobtrusive niche in the wall. More precisely, this was even not a niche but a narrow slot in a strange shape, the upper edge barely reaching the girl’s waist. This opening would generally seem like a rat burrow to a huge cyclops. “There!” Tanya whispered, rushing inside on her haunches. After her, covering the mouth of the wailing Verka, Bab-Yagun and Vanka pushed their way in. They succeeded just in time. A very big cyclops already perplexedly turned his head, having pushed it through the door. Discovering no one, he was already about to leave when he suddenly grinned satisfactorily and picked something up from the floor. After which he calmly turned and disappeared into the guardroom. “What did he take?” Vanka asked.
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“My sneaker! The laces were untied again. Tomorrow the cyclops will deliver it to Slander, and he’ll know in no time at all whose!” Bab-Yagun informed despondently, examining his own shoeless foot. “Why did you howl? What, you’ve never seen ghosts?” Vanka attacked Parroteva. “I’m afraid of them! They’re so damp! So disgusting! So slippery!” Parroteva started to keen. “You yourself are slippery and disgusting! Now go out of my tomb! There, I say!” someone creaked ruefully. Out of the narrow manhole, threatening with a bony finger, a pale long-nosed ghost in a powdered wig looked out. “Mama!” Parroteva groaned and, rolling her eyes, was out cold. Then it was necessary for Vanka Valyalkin and Yagun to carry her. Good indeed that the long-nosed spectre, turning out to be some countess’s lover forgotten in a closet, agreed to show them a short cut to the old part of Tibidox. It was not simple to find one’s bearings at night. Gloom crept from the twisting passages and magic lamps were far from being everywhere. While they were walking, Tanya attentively watched her bow. Continuing to be bent, it showed the way exactly like a compass needle, moreover it frequently determined the position in the intricate corridors considerably faster than the ghost itself. Having led them to the workshop of magic objects, the spectre gallantly took leave and melted. Verka Parroteva crawled down from the back of Bab-Yagun. As it was explained, she had already come to long ago but did not give the appearance: not often that she got carried so it was worthwhile not to refuse the pleasure. “Stinktopp has found a good hiding-place!” she said to Tanya and began efficiently to inspect the statue of a fish. Tanya looked at Verka in amazement and hardly recognized her. Parroteva changed. Her crooked nose, as if becoming accustomed to the smell, drew in air, her eyes literally pierced stone, and the thin fingers efficiently tapped the fish from all sides. Verka even thrust her hand into the jet stream from the mouth of the fish and thoroughly rummaged inside. “Strange... I see no mechanism! Maybe Stinktopp moves it aside by magic?” Verka pronounced finally. “And you see right through the fish?” Bab-Yagun asked disappointedly. “To me it’s simply transparent!” Verka said with pride. “But only nothing interesting there. No letters. Only some well with water directly under the fish. Maybe the letters fell into the hole?” The meaning of the aforesaid did not immediately reach Tanya. But when it did, she gripped Parroteva by the shoulder. “What? There’s water? You’re sure?” Verka went “Ah!” “Have you gone crazy to squeeze so? I’ll have a bruise! Well, water, water... In your opinion, where does it come from to flow out of the fish’s mouth?” Parroteva went away from the big fish, turned and... suddenly her jaw dropped. “What’s that there? Over there?!” she asked with uneasiness. “Where there?” “There, I’m telling you... Some flasks, tools, and something else... Where are they from?” Tracing the direction of Verka’s gaze, Tanya understood that she was discerning the continuous wall. More precisely, to her this was a wall. To Parroteva though the wall seemingly did not exist at all.
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“How about that! All these things are like directly embedded into the wall!” Verka continued to be surprised. Being the first to grasp what the matter was here, Bab-Yagun rushed to the low door. “It’s a workshop of magic objects! Someone help me open it!” he shouted. Tanya ran up to it. The heavy oak door was boarded up, but for some reason it seemed to the girl that it had been opened very recently. She could even make out several deep fresh scratches. “It’s from behind it then that the bluish glow shone through! You remember, when I hid behind the fish and found the magic tablecloth!” Vanka whispered. Tanya wanted to use the known spell Fogus sneakus, but she pressed by accident on the door with her shoulder. The thick board, seemingly still nailed perfectly, leaned back by itself. “Look: someone took out all the nails! Left only the caps!” Vanka said, pressing the handle in the form of a tiger paw. The door creaked and was opened. It was worthwhile for the children to take a step inward, as in the workshop of magic objects all lamps flared up at once. “Wow! I swear by G-Granny! And here’s an entire alchemic l-laboratory!” Bab-Yagun even began to stutter from enthusiasm, peering into the whimsically interlacing tubes and copper arcs. Smoky cauldrons stood on tables. Multicoloured liquids were flowing and seething in glass bulbs and vessels. Under some of the flasks, crackling, danced dark-blue tongues of magic flame. “Somehow I don’t believe that no one has been here since the time of The Ancient One!” Tanya said with doubt. Not paying attention to the cauldrons and test tubes, Verka Parroteva decisively directed her steps to the ancient cabinet and pulled the door towards herself. A heap of papers and parchments fell on her. “One hundred forbidden spells. To read you immerse the roll in mouse blood...” Verka read. “Phew, what filth... But where are the love letters of my Stinktoppy?” “They’re not here,” agreed Tanya. “Probably, Stinktopp concealed them. He’s sly!” Verka was distressed, but unexpectedly started to giggle. “Oh, I recalled how he looked at me in class the day before yesterday! Simply ate me with his eyes.” “Say thanks that only with his eyes. You smashed half of his loft...” Vanka reminded her. “Think about it! Anyone can confuse saltpetre with ground dinosaur bones!” Verka Parroteva was offended and slammed shut the door with such vexation that a bottle of acid flew off the cabinet. The bottle broke and acid flowed along the floor, corroding stones and parchments. Tanya, standing closest than everybody, in order to escape from the burn, jumped and hung onto the massive bronze lamp hanging on chains from the ceiling. The chain, clanking, stretched. Simultaneously a loud gnashing was heard outside. Bab-Yagun jumped out into the corridor and a second later Tanya heard his excited cry, “Come quick! You found out how to move the fish aside!” The well that had opened under the fish was not very wide. Turbid water with pinkish nuance swiftly revolved in it like a funnel. Tanya carefully lowered her hand there. Her hand was pricked, and then with a force it was drawn to the centre of the funnel. The girl
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barely had time to pull it out, and here was a miracle — the hand was not even moist. “Dry water! It simply can’t be! Here’s clearly some magic,” she said, watching the sparking haze coiling above the well. “Well so, we’ll dive into it?” Vanka proposed without any special enthusiasm. “Possible to dive in, but here to emerge... You’re sure that we won’t choke? Hey, pity they don’t teach growing gills in first year! And plainly cannot live till second year!” Bab-Yagun was feeling sorry. Tanya pensively looked at the bow. Its bent end decisively pointed at the well. “The bow wants us to jump in there!” she said. “Many want — few get! I perhaps want it to be tied into a knot,” muttered Bab-Yagun. Suddenly Verka Parroteva began to squeal shrilly and pressed herself against the wall. An enormous flickering sphere like a cluster of violet flame was slowly moving towards them from the dark end of the corridor. Dentistikha and Katya Lotkova were walking immediately behind the sphere shielding them like a panel. Both were without their glasses. From their eyes gushed out cold bluish rays... “Surrender! You’ll not get away from retribution! Immediately drop your magic rings!” the Great Tooth shouted. Tanya never assumed that her round face with bangs like that of a pony could inspire such fear. Losing her head from fear, Parroteva rushed along the corridor. “Ah-ah, I’m afraid! Here I have nothing to do with it!” she shouted, not noticing that Lotkova and Dentistikha were already quite close. When the flickering sphere rolled up to her, Verka, jumping up like a hare, tried to squeeze through between it and the wall, but the sphere, changing shape, easily stretched a long violet tongue to her. An instant — and Verka was frozen like a statue. Her clothing, skin, and even her hair were covered with a thin crust of ice. On stopping, Katya Lotkova in a business-like manner pulled the magic ring off Verka’s finger and hid it in her own pocket. “Freeze magic!” Vanka Valyalkin muttered in an undertone. His thin face became fierce, intense, and focused. Chapter 15 The Vanishing Floor Soon the freezing sphere was already pressing them against the solid wall by the workshop. It seemed, another half a minute — and they would be fated to become the same icy figures as Verka Parroteva. “Wait for me here! I’ll try to melt it!” Bab-Yagun shouted. “I’m with you!” Tanya volunteered. “No need, I go alone!” Yagun rushed to the stone fish, climbed up on it and, waiting till the sphere approached, shouted, “Sparkis frontis!” A green fight spark struck the top of the sphere. In the first second it shrivelled, but then began to grow swiftly, filling the entire corridor. Escaping from it, Bab-Yagun jumped from the fish and began to step back. “I’m warning you for the last time! Drop your magic rings! It can’t be destroyed!” Dentistikha shouted. Her usually quiet voice was now split by an echo resounding throughout the entire corridor. Tanya thought that here indeed, it managed without the loudspeaker spell.
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Seeing that Yagun did not surrender but continued to run, Dentistikha waved her hand. From her hand came off something similar to a luminous gold net, which, rapidly revolving, dashed to the grandson of Yagge. “YAGUN!” Tanya yelled. “FROM BEHIND!” Bab-Yagun, on the run, turned around and fired fight sparks at the net, but they flew through the holes, not doing any harm to the net. The net fell onto Yagun, ensnaring him. And in the next moment the flickering sphere already covered him. When the sphere swept past, it became evident that one more icy figure had doubled up on the floor in the middle of the corridor. Dentistikha squatted before it, removing the ring from Yagun’s finger. “Do you understand? Do you understand? He was not a zombie!” Tanya shouted. “No, he wasn’t! He wasn’t a zombie!” Vanka answered hoarsely. His gaze tensely fumbled along the walls in search of shelter. Suddenly something was scorching Tanya’s palm. The bow in her hand again blazed, but, also blazing, continued to point to the well. Tanya yelled. So, she was not mistaken! It was Dentistikha who tried to kill her on the roof! The Great Tooth quietly gave an order. The magic sphere bulged even bigger and suddenly broke, splitting up into hundreds of tiny flames. The flames flowed along the walls and the ceiling, surrounding Tanya and Vanka. Grasping that Dentistikha controlled the sphere’s movements, Tanya threw up her hand with the ring and pronounced the sleep spell, “Pointus harpoonus!” A green spark swiftly dashed to Dentistikha, but that one had time to wrap herself up in the orange raincoat. Sliding along the raincoat, the spark got to Katya Lotkova. Lotkova yawned and, sleepily smacking her lips, slipped down along the wall. Dentistikha leaned anxiously over her. The instructor looked wonderstruck, perhaps even stupefied, but here only by what? Indeed not by the plain sleep spell, the action would hardly be enough for a few hours? There was no time to investigate. The blazing bow increasingly more persistently pointed at the well. “Quick, there!” Tanya shouted. The fiery cocoon, clamping around them, became even tighter. It had almost already enveloped the fish when the children — first Vanka and after him also Tanya — jumped into the well. They did not see how the stone fish with a gnash returned to its previous place, firmly cutting them off from Dentistikha and her freezing sphere. Turning up in the well, Tanya felt how the prickly vortex spun her. She tried to push aside with her arms and swim, but this was impossible. The flow dragged her first downward, then sharply to the side, then for some reason upward, where silvery phials danced and jumped like fishes. In her consciousness everything got mixed up, someone’s mocking face flickered. It seemed to Tanya that she was carried along the narrow, continually dividing channel, unpredictably looping somewhere inside the thick walls of Tibidox. She had never experienced anything similar even with instantaneous turn. The air in her lungs came to an end. In order not to panic, Tanya tried to count, but she already floundered after eight. She had almost lost consciousness already when suddenly she was thrown out abruptly upward. Coughing, the girl moved on her stomach to a cold stone plate. To her right and left stretched two even rows of white columns. The suspension bridge was swinging beyond the column at the edge. In its squeak was heard a powerless fury: indeed Tanya was already on the other side. “The Vanishing Floor! I’m on the Vanishing Floor!” she understood.
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Swaying, Tanya got to her feet. She was trembling, although her clothing as before remained dry. “Vanka! Vanka!” She called. Only a weak echo answered her. The slender young fellow in the yellow soccer shirt had disappeared. Recalling the complex interlacing of channels, Tanya understood that Vanka, jumping in first, could be pulled by the flow along one of the lateral offshoots. But then strangely enough, Tanya still had in her palm the bow, the flame from which brought them down into the well. Here is what the experience of dragonball games means! Even somersaulting in the well, she did not let got of it. Now the bent end of the bow decisively pointed to the side, across from the bridge. Keeping her ring in readiness, Tanya moved along the columns. She already saw that in the very end of the long narrow hall something was darkening, sharply distinguishing itself in colour from the white plates. Unexpectedly a gurgling laughter was heard beside her, and directly from the floor slowly rose up an ugly hunchback with a knobbly head. “The King of Ghosts!” Tanya exclaimed, unsuccessfully trying to recall the drive-off spell. And why is it in critical moments everything always flies out of her head? The narrow toad mouth was bent in a smile. “Ah-ha! She recognized me! What, forgot the necessary words? Don’t worry: I won’t kill you, today’s not my day! Others will do it. I’ll just take your soul when it parts from the body.” “It won’t part from it!” Tanya said. “And here you’re mistaken! It will part, and very soon! Till we meet, my future slave!” The outlines of the hunchback became blurred. A thin stream of rather muddy fog crept away into the crack on the floor. “What a dear old man! You’ll always hear something pleasant from him!” Tanya muttered, kicking with the tip of a boot a nearby stone into the crack. “Here’s a gift from the slave to you!” she shouted, sending a pair of sparks following the stone. In the crack something started to chomp disgustingly. It was likely something her future owner recently caught with his spectral head. Stretching out like an arrow so that the strings on it were strained to a light hum, the bow, blackened from fire, drove Tanya forward. It was pointing exactly at the dark spot, which on approach turned out to be a large, perfectly even cube with six mirrors. Tanya involuntarily glanced into the nearest mirror, but instead of her reflection, she saw only a sucking blackness. Then a tiny flame began to appear in the mirror, and the girl saw that from the depth sailing towards her was a boat with a yellow old woman sitting in it. The chopped off hands of the old woman was holding a thin brown candle. The empty eye sockets looked directly at Tanya’s face. “Well, here we meet again! I had to wait for long for you!” a familiar voice whispered. Tanya recoiled. She became terrified. “Plague-del-Cake! But you’re dead!” The old woman began to gnash her teeth. “Unfortunately, yes. The titans, which you let loose, crushed me. Nothing remained of my body, and the swamp bogeys took the bones away and buried them. What you see now is only a measly reflection. But I did not perish. My loyal servant the King of Ghosts transferred my soul here into the Black Cube, into the intersection of the Six Mirrors of Void. This isn’t simply the Vanishing Floor as you all think. It’s a place of absolute magic, the last islet of Chaos on Tibidox, where no one is imperious except me. How often The Ancient One tried to destroy it — it
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was all in vain. And now The Ancient One is long gone but I’m still here! I exist! I, Plague-del-Cake, the mistress of Chaos!” Tanya inhaled deeply. The initial fear, which she experienced after seeing Plague, had already passed. The hatred for the vile old woman, the killer of her parents, was slowly awakening in her. “Don’t be so pleased! You’re not the mistress of Chaos, but zero, an empty spot! Your Chaos is confined in the basements of Tibidox and will never escape from there. You yourself exist only inside this Cube. Yes, you’re nothing, you’re no more!” she shouted. The old woman grinned loathsomely. “Yes, I live only in this Cube! I don’t have my former magic power, not even the possibility to break loose from here! I could have become a spectre like what the King of Ghosts wanted, but you prevented me. However, even this is good. As a spectre it wouldn’t be so simple to carry out what I intend to do...” “Ah, so it’s you who was to appear on New Year’s night! Here he spoke of someone’s spectre!” Tanya exclaimed, recalling the words of the disgusting hunchback, when, by a spell, she forced him to leave. “Yes, it was me. But you didn’t allow this nonentity, Unhealed Lady, to disappear, and I couldn’t take her place. You began to tread into my path, and then you crossed it again when my spirit was summoned by the dragon’s blood and strength already began to grow in me...” Plague-del-Cake said with hatred. “The spike in Goyaryn’s neck!” “Yes, it was me again, and again you got in my way... How I hated you, only what curses did I not send, but they were all useless, because my former power has also passed onto you. Until now, I still don’t understand how such could have happened. Usually the force picks an equal, and perhaps you, a worthless girl, are my equal? Most likely you simply happened to be around.” The eye sockets furiously flamed up in the skull. The dry hands stretched out to Tanya and powerlessly rested on the surface of the glass. “Well no matter, all for the best!” Plague-del-Cake said hoarsely. “You can congratulate me! Soon I’ll have a body! An outstanding young body, very strong and adroit! I’ll move with its arms, walk with its legs, see with its eyes, breathe with its lungs. It only remains to shake out from it the previous soul and throw it like a bone to my faithful dog, the King of Ghosts! Lately the wretch has been feeling miserable without new victims.” “And where will you get this body?” Tanya exclaimed with distrust. Plague burst out laughing, clearly amused by her slowness. “Don’t be concerned! I don’t even need to go for it. My new glorious body has come to me by itself. You want to take a look at it? Suppose you’ve already seen it somewhere?” Plague snapped her fingers. The blackness of the mirror parted, and Tanya saw in it her own pale distorted face and dark hair. “Well, how is my new body to you? Not bad?” Plague was interested, appearing in the adjacent glass. “But it’s my body!” Tanya hardly recognized her own hoarse voice. “Temporarily,” Plague calmed her. “No need to be nervous! I don’t want my future body to fall down with a heart attack. Must treat it with great care. You understand, foolish daughter of a naive magician? Why are you breathing like a frightened puppy? Perhaps you still don’t understand that your game is up?” She did something, and Tanya’s reflection, with a malicious look, waved a hand at her. “I’ll not hand you my body! You’ll not take it away from me!”
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“I? Calm down, Baby Grotter! I have no intention of taking anything away from you,” Plague said huskily. “My servants will do it, my glorious zombies. I have three of them — each better than the other. If I order any of them to gnaw through you throat or even to chop off his own foot, he’ll do this without a moment’s hesitation. There remains not more than a teaspoon of their own will in each of them. And all three at different times made one and the same mistake: they tried to destroy my mirrored Cube... Pitiful fools, how could they understand that I enticed them to the Floor, that without me they would never find their way here. Only that crackpot spectre knew it, but the King of Ghosts also took it away... Isn’t it true he’s very nice, my hunchback with the toad mouth, with which he sucks in souls?” Plague-del-Cake fixedly looked at Tanya. “And now, if you want, I can present them to you. Although, I’m sure, they need no introduction! Hey, you there! Please approach one by one!” Plague-del-Cake invitingly clicked her dry bones. From behind a white column stepped out... Yes, it was Docent Gorgonova, dressed in the long orange raincoat. Her loose hair, hissing like snakes, also stretched out to Tanya. “MEDUSA!” Tanya exclaimed, startled. “The same!” the yellow old woman confirmed. “The second-in-command of Tibidox, the terror of all evil spirits, Docent Medusa Gorgonova. It was important to me to secure precisely her, and I did it... When she was in the library with the genie Abdullah, the King of Ghosts unnoticeably tossed up to her a parchment with an ancient map. I myself sketched it when I was still alive. And on the map... it goes without saying, there was the way to here, to the Vanishing Floor. But even on the map, having guessed that it’s necessary to move the fish aside, Medusa could not get to me if I did not direct the magic stream along the necessary branch of the well. Otherwise, any who pokes his nose in by chance would turn up in a blind alley and perish.” “But Medusa... Why could she not take the upper hand? Indeed she’s such a strong sorceress...” Tanya muttered dejectedly, trying to discern at least a drop of sympathy in the motionless face of Gorgonova seemingly precisely forged by ice. “Yes, I took a risk. Medusa almost burned my Cube. She so wanted to destroy me. But, as you see, nothing turned out for her. I took the upper hand, placed zombie magic, and gained a very useful ally. Isn’t it true, Medi, you’re indeed my ally?” Plague-del-Cake affectionately said. “Yes, mistress. If necessary, I’ll die for you!” Medusa answered like an echo. Her enormous eyes seemed totally empty now. Suddenly something started to hiss in Tanya’s hand. The bow, turning into a snake, attempted to wind around her wrist. The girl cast it off with a cry. The viper quickly slid along the floor to its mistress. Medusa squatted and offered it a palm, allowing the viper to slide into her sleeve. Docent Gorgonova looked slightly more animated than in the previous minute when she appeared from behind the column. It seemed Plague-del-Cake deigned to give her zombie a little bit of freedom, however, without releasing her from the grip of her will. “Very nice that you brought with you my dear snake! I can’t be without it. Of all my snakes, this is the cleverest. By the way, for that I even burned your previous bow in order to send this spy to you,” Medusa said with mockery. Tanya shuddered. Her palm again was burnt by that old pain. “So it means... on the roof at the moronoids! But I thought that was Dentistikha...”
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Medusa began to laugh. “What, Deni on the roof? I can imagine how extremely funny she would look... And this broody hen would simply fall down from the roof because she’s terribly afraid of heights. No, it was I on the roof. It was necessary for me to leave Tibidox for a whole day. I said to Sardanapal that I had a terrible headache. I lay in the magic station, blocked the doors, and used the window. It was quite complex to twice deceive the spell of passage, but I managed. Even Slander suspected nothing. He was only surprised that the cupids were flying more often than usual that day. Lifeless Griffin constantly followed you; therefore it was indeed not so difficult to be on the wait for you when you flew past the roof.” Gorgonova squinted. “And no need to tremble so! Trust me, nothing would threaten you. If I had wanted to kill you in earnest, I would have done it with ease, casting a more serious spell. But I simply had to leave you without a bow. You were glad of the gift, right?” “But I almost crashed!” Tanya shouted. “You would not have crashed even if you did drop the bow. Believe me, I wouldn’t allow it!” Medusa said confidently. “We didn’t need your death. Think for yourself. I only had to wish and the snake would bite you at night, and you would die in terrible agony, swelling up like this column. But your body was necessary to the mistress, your living body. You can’t imagine how much effort I put in so as not to allow this very young body to suffer in the match with the babai!” Tanya shuddered from loathing and shame. She suddenly recalled how several times during the match she had the sensation that the bow seemingly delivered orders by itself to the double bass. So, it meant Medusa controlled the bow, the loyal snake. “So it means then that I played so well...” Docent Gorgonova nodded. “For this you can thank me. I used very delicate amplify magic, which even Sardanapal did not notice. What indeed is this idiot Amat with his primitive talismans? But you yourself did something nevertheless. For example, the instantaneous turn in the finale! And you also threw both balls, so don’t consider that I guided the whole match entirely. You’re also capable of something, must realize that...” “And the spike in Goyaryn’s neck? You also did that?” Tanya asked. Medusa shook her head. “No. I only wrapped it in the magic tablecloth in order to not be pricked by accident, and carried it out of the Vanishing Floor. By the way, your friend then found this tablecloth and began to suspect something. Roamed at night around the fish.” “And the spike?” “The spike I delivered to someone else — to the second zombie, which I enticed here at the mistress’s order. Enticed at night with all the help of the same map, which the mistress gave me. How everyone bites this, the simplest fishing rod, so boring! The two of us quickly gained an understanding. He didn’t even have time to put forward a magic block. He, this second zombie, also stuck the spike in later,” explained Medusa. She hid nothing, and what sense was there for her to hide anything when one tenth of her magic power would be enough to separate the soul of Tanya Grotter from her body? “But Goyaryn... why did it not tear him to pieces?” Tanya shouted. “Oh, this is a separate conversation! I calculated everything excellently!” Plague-delCake interrupted. “Imagine, my second slave has the innate gift of handling animals. Once he was even busy with veterinary magic... Firebirds, centaurs, mermaid — any
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trash... Goyaryn, that one simply adored him when it was a little dragon. And indeed could in no way guess that he would stick a spike in its neck. A friend!” “Tararakh?” Tanya could not believe it. “Really Tararakh! I don’t believe it!” “Oh no! Not Tararakh! Indeed I plunged ze spike!” a familiar guttural voice was heard, and Tanya saw Professor Stinktopp. She plainly did not even understand where he turned up from. He must have been hiding behind the Cube. “I treated you vell, Grotter! I efen giff you a good mark for my subject! But vhat ingratitude did you do? You pulled out my spike from Goyaryn, vhen I vanted to summon ze spirit of my mistress from zis huge glass!” the Professor announced reproachfully, on his crooked legs approaching Tanya. His ancient ring crackled ominously, releasing single and twin red sparks, burning the floor near the girl’s feet. Tanya stepped back and came to rest her back on the cold marble of a column. “So that’s why the Atlas treaded on you then!” she recalled suddenly. “From vhere you know about zis? Ah yes, I understand: you haff not yet flown avay to ze moronoids... No, zen I vas not a serfant of ze mistress! I only vandered at night along Tibidox and searched how to get to ze Fanishing Floor. Zen Medusa had not yet found me and had not led me here. I did not vant to turn on ze lamp, and ze stupid Atlas did not see me...” Professor Stinktopp pulled a face as with a toothache. “Vell, zat’s enough, girl, now to you end! I’ll make puff-puff!” he stated. Stinktopp began to raise his ring. Trying to forestall him, Tanya released a spark, but the zombie easily repelled it with his raincoat. Then Stinktopp took aim and shot. A fiery spark swept very close to her cheek and she felt a wave of heat. The column cracked. Pieces of marble fell down. Tanya barely had time to jump. “You nearly crushed her, fool! Don’t you dare spoil my new body! I need the girl unharmed! Get away from her!” the dried old woman in the Black Cube became furious. Professor Stinktopp shrivelled and stepped back like a beaten dog. It was evident that he terribly wanted to make puff-puff, but could not disobey the mistress. The dead voice of Plague-del-Cake filled, it seemed, the entire Vanishing Floor. “Daughter Grotter, approach me! Don’t be afraid! You will live five or ten more minutes. My zombies won’t touch you until I order them.” Tanya irresolutely approached the Cube. She tried to delay with all her might and gather her thoughts. And what if, evading and dodging the sparks, she darts to the bridge, and then down along the steps of the Big Tower to the cyclopes? No, Tanya remembered too well what became of Slander’s robe. Not for her to run along the bridge. Moreover, there remained one more question to which Tanya in no way could get an answer. The question had long made her uneasy. “Indeed you have been waiting for me here, on the Floor? But how did Medusa and Stinktopp find out that I’d be here tonight? All the time it was the bow, yes?” she asked. Plague-del-Cake shook a finger at her. “No, the bow was only necessary like a conductor, in order that you — hee-hee! — didn’t stray and brought me my nice body in time. My last servant enticed you to the Floor. Didn’t even have to throw him the map, he’s always roaming hereabouts. All that was necessary — to force the fish to move from its place in time, which Professor Stinktopp did, when at the necessary moment he set the mechanism in action. By the way, this third one became a zombie all of a few days ago, literally on the eve of this idiotic match with the dragons and the flying balls. What do the local blockheads see in dragonball? When I become the lady of Tibidox, I’ll open the
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Sinister Gates and fling Sardanapal to Chaos, there won’t be any dragonball, I promise,” said Plague-del-Cake. “And now, while you still haven’t set off for servitude to the King of Ghosts, take a look at my third ‘son.’ Hey, servant, show yourself!” Tanya heard someone come out from behind the column directly behind her back. The girl turned and screamed. Even the appearance of Stinktopp, whom she in no way suspected, did not stagger her so. The familiar yellow soccer shirt hanging like a bag on the scrawny body, and the eyes — eyes of a zombie — looked as if through her. How did she not notice anything before! She could have surmised even when he slandered BabYagun. So, it means, Vanka already visited the Vanishing Floor, could not control himself and came here on the night before the match! He came and returned as an obedient zombie devoted to Plague-del-Cake! “How could you, how?” Tanya shouted with tears. “I’m a servant of my lady,” Valyalkin announced in a dead voice. “You always hated Plague!” “I made a mistake. Now I’m a servant of my lady!” Vanka repeated. “Right you are. My servant and nothing more. Don’t judge him too harshly! Zombies are zombies. He paid for his curiosity. Believe me, your friend resisted my magic much more resolutely than Stinktopp or even Medusa. He wanted terribly not to betray you. But ancient magic is ancient magic,” Plague-del-Cake cleared her throat. “But what about Dentistikha? And Lotkova?” Tanya shouted, clutching this as the last straw. “If these three are zombies, then what are they? We recently battled with them! And their eyes shone!” “Regular stupidity! Plain virus magic and nothing more!” Plague-del-Cake contemptuously answered. “These two fools performed an experiment in the neglected workshop. They used one forbidden spell, and as a result, this entire nonsense began to take place with their eyes. If they turned to Sardanapal for help — he would heal them in five minutes, but these cowards wouldn’t dare.” “But I heard how they wanted to slip into the office of the academician tomorrow night! With the dagger!” Tanya did not believe her. “To slip in, yes. But they intended to kill no one. In the office of Sardanapal is an ancient talisman, which removes all evil eyes. They haven’t decided to ask the academician because he would learn about the workshop, and indeed The Ancient One even forbade being there! Here Deni also planned to break into the office of Sardanapal at night when no one was there. They intended to take the dagger just in case if they bumped into the gold sphinx. Oh well, I’ll reveal its secret, only specks of light on steel lulls it to sleep...” “But why did Dentistikha and Lotkova attack us today?” “And indeed must ask me!” Medusa cut in. “I surmised that you would set off at night to the fish, — and told them that you’re a zombie. Hoping to catch you, Deni devised this absurd trick with the freezing sphere. It even came in handy. We at once got rid of excess witnesses — Yagun and Verka Parroteva. But you still managed to lull Lotkova to sleep. How surprised Dentistikha probably was. Indeed the spark, striking her raincoat should have gone out, but it bounced and furthermore exactly on target...” Plague-del-Cake impatiently got up, at once appearing in all the mirrors. “Enough chats! I need her body!” she ordered. Before Tanya had time to do anything, Professor Stinktopp, Medusa, and Vanka closed in on her and tossed up their rings. Tanya tried to
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dart away, but she understood that there was no strength even to move. Her body was like wooden. The motionless eyes of the zombies and the magic of their rings riveted her to the spot. “Now that’s all,” said Plague. “Now one spark precisely to the forehead, a rather short evict spell, and your soul will leave the body, freeing it for me... Ah yes, forgot to ask, how frequently do you brush your teeth? Don’t want to answer? Okay, I’ll look into it myself! Zombies, approach!” Smirking disgustingly, Professor Stinktopp wanted to shoot a spark. Tanya screwed up her eyes in order not to see the flash, but here Plague-del-Cake shouted, “Stop, I thought it over! Let the boy do this! Not possible for everyone to perish at the hands of a best friend!” Stinktopp unwillingly stood aside, yielding the place to Vanka. The young zombie raised his hand. Now his ring almost touched Tanya’s forehead. Under Vanka’s eyes were dark-blue circles and his cheekbones became more acute. “You’ll kill me, yes? You? And remember your own letter, where you scratched out a whole line? Remember? You think I didn’t know how to read it?” Tanya asked. Vanka’s hand trembled in an instant. “I’m a servant of my lady!” he said. For some reason it was not terrible to Tanya. Soon indeed, indifference suddenly crept over her. “Indeed better Vanka than ‘young Stinktoppy’ with his habit of gnawing his toes. Interesting, does he still gnaw them now?” she thought. A tear rolled down along Vanka’s dirty cheek, drawing a groove. So, somewhere inside there remained nevertheless a part of her previous friend. But the ring was still so solidly looking at her forehead. “Ready?” Plague-del-Cake was interested. “You’ll finish her off at the count of three. All clear? One... two... Kaput youfinitut!!!” “Sparkis frontis!” the ringing boyish voice shouted. A dazzling fight spark tore away from Vanka’s ring and struck Professor Stinktopp’s nose. The head of the “black” confusedly waved his hands, began to squeal, and toppled over on his back. At this moment, he resembled terribly a wrinkled toad. Rushing to Tanya, Vanka hugged her. “I remember everything, everything! I’ll not deliver you to these reptiles!” “Cursed feelings! He got away from my hook!” Plague-del-Cake hissed and, turning aside, looked at Medusa: “Zombie, do you hear me?” “Yes, mistress!” Docent Gorgonova responded. “Kill the boy! Lively! Don’t touch the girl! Need her alive!” Medusa moved to the children. “Run! I’ll detain them!” Vanka pushed a stupefied Tanya behind the column and, bending down, threw himself behind the adjacent one. In an instant several fight sparks released by Medusa hit the column. Stones fell. Vanka attempted to fire back, but how was he to cope with a powerful magician of such calibre. He succeeded in toppling Professor Stinktopp only because that one in no way expected an attack. Docent Gorgonova deflected Vanka’s spark with ease with her raincoat and shot it own so powerfully that the marble crumbled like pastry. Her ring continuously crackled, releasing newer and newer magic discharges of enormous force. Vanka was saved only by managing to run across and hide behind the columns. “Run! Why are you standing, run to the bridge!” he shouted. “And why are you missing the mark, crocodile? Forgot the telescope at home? Let’s fire!”
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Flushing angrily, Medusa muttered something. From her ring immediately shot out two sparks. One dashed to Vanka, distracting his attention, and the other meanwhile unnoticeably went around the column from behind and struck him in the back. Vanka cried out, fell, and tried to crawl away. “Excellent! You felled him! Now finish him off!” Plague-del-Cake ordered. Medusa leisurely approached Vanka and raised her ring. “The end for you, suckling! There is no opposition against my spells. I’ll try so that you’ll die quickly...,” she said. Grasping what was to take place now, Tanya finally came to her senses. “Stop! Don’t you dare touch him, or I’ll scatter your mistress!” she shouted and, jumping out from behind the column, raised the ring of Theophilus Grotter. Now it was aimed accurately at the Black Cube, where Plague-del-Cake was alternately reflected in six mirrors. Medusa froze in confusion. “What do I do, mistress?” She asked. “I said: finish off the boy!” Plague ordered. “Or no, wait, let her shoot first! It’ll be even better still!” Tanya already wanted to shoot a spark, but suddenly an interrogative suspicion pierced her. Why was Plague waiting for her shot? Ah yes, the mirror! The Cube is mirrored! Does this not indicate that any magic shot at it will be reflected and will return to the shooter? Yes, so it will be. The magic will strike with all its power all six mirrors and will yield to Plague. Did this not happen with Medusa and Stinktopp? These experienced magicians, reaching the Floor for the first time, for sure tried to destroy the Cube, but only turned themselves into zombies, putting too much destructive force in their hit. Is that why Plague-del-Cake was so calm? Medusa laughed aloud in a firm voice. Professor Stinktopp, recovering from the fight spark, rose on his elbows. A bruise reddened on his bald head similar to a horseradish. Continuing to keep the Black Cube in sight, Tanya quickly slid her glance along the foot of the nearest column, where not so long ago Medusa’s spark fell. “Well now, why don’t you shoot?” Plague jeered. “Well! Give me a couple of little sparks! You don’t want to? Hey, zombies, I’m tired of waiting! Kill the boy!” “Wait! You wanted a spark? Take it!” Tanya threw herself to the crumbled column and grabbed a piece of marble. The stone immediately weighed down her arms. Good still that she did not pick the largest but took one that she could raise! Tossing it up overhead, Tanya took a step to the Cube. It seemed to her that she was throwing a pepper ball into the scorching mouth of the dragon. “No-o-o! Stop her! She has a stone!” Plague-del-Cake yelled wildly, appearing immediately in all the mirrors. Instantly several sparks, simultaneously released by Medusa and Stinktopp, dashed to Tanya and burned her. None flew wide off the mark. A terrible pain pierced the girl, burnt her right through as if with a white-hot rod. But it was already impossible to stop the stone. Tracing an arc in the air, the marble fragment already flew to the Black Cube. Away with magic! Why not use the old method known to all moronoids! “A brick is more reliable than the pistol. It doesn’t misfire!” Uncle Herman, the best deputy of the best party, loved to joke sometimes. Already falling, Tanya heard the ringing of broken glass and the terrible scream of Plague-del-Cake. And then an impenetrable lake of gloom closed above her. ***
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Tanya came to. All around there was darkness. She was lying down and did not understand where she was. What if this is death? Really, she is already a slave of the King of Ghosts, and he chose for her this torment — eternal darkness? Tanya was afraid even to turn her head. What if she attempts to do this and discovers that she has no head? And no body? But in a minute she gathered courage and turned. It worked! To her left was a pillow vaguely white. This calmed Tanya. Now she already knew that she was lying on a bed. Passing her hands over, the girl could even feel the soft fabric of pyjamas. No doubt: she is alive. Rising with difficulty, Tanya reached the lamp. Light flared up. The room was unfamiliar. On a low sofa next to her bed dozed Bab-Yagun and Vanka. The light, which struck them in the face, woke them. The boys woke up and began to blink madly. “Shh! Why did you turn on the light? You’ll give us away!” Bab-Yagun began to worry, rushing to the lamp. “Give you away?” “Well yes! You’re in magic station. Sardanapal very strictly forbade visiting you. But I know what spell my granny usually locks the doors with! Now we also make our way here!” Tanya gratefully looked to him. How nice nevertheless to have friends! “And I’ve been here long?” “Already the third night. You came to earlier also but not for long. Yagge barely managed to get you to drink herb broths. You were on the mend already the second day, if anything a couple of sparks and everything, after all... You’re lucky that the Cube broke immediately!” Vanka said, smiling shyly. “It was an outstanding shot! I saw later!” Bab-Yagun praised her. “Instantly broke six mirrors with one stone — not everyone can manage that! Here’s what I call: my school.” “Don’t brag! Braggart!” Tanya smiled with difficulty. She still had a splitting headache, and her lips were exactly like rubber. “And how did I turn up in magic station? Who found me on the Vanishing Floor?” she asked. “Medusa and Stinktopp carried you out. And they also carried me out, though I was not as seriously injured. I completely recovered after only a couple of hours, although Yagge nevertheless forced me to stay in bed the whole day. What a drag! Good though that Yagun was defrosting on the adjacent cot! And how the water flowed from him! Dentistikha also knows something about magic!” Vanka smiled. “And why did Medusa and Stinktopp save us? Didn’t they want to finish us off?” Tanya shivered from the unpleasant recollection. “Well yes, they did... Only it’s indeed not them who wanted to, but Plague forced them. They were prisoners same as I was. Only I knew how to break away from her hook but they didn’t. When the Black Cube was no more, the zombie magic also failed together with it. Imagine, how surprised they were when they found themselves on the Vanishing Floor next to splinters of mirrors. Medusa realized quite quickly, but Stinktopp... I was even afraid that he would go crazy.” “And here’s why! Today at dinner, you know what happened?” Bab-Yagun cut Vanka off. “Verka Parroteva in her best blouse, painted like a hundred and five thousand Indians, in heels, pursued Stinktopp, and he hid from her in the corners... She nevertheless found his love letters.” “Letters? Really they exist?” Tanya could not believe it.
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Bab-Yagun’s ears started to shimmer mockingly. “Of course not... Coffinia wrote them and stealthily placed them for Verka. You know how Cryptova loves such jokes.” Tanya smiled weakly. “By the way, how’s my double bass there? Coffinia didn’t throw it out as firewood? She had been threatening for a long time,” she asked. “Let her only try!” Bab-Yagun got indignant. “She’s indeed not such a fool! By the way, I’ll tell you a secret — Nightingale O. Robber acquired for you an outstanding bow. Actually outstanding — and indeed completely without black magic. Sardanapal and my granny personally checked it.” “Really?” Tanya was pleased. “Would we begin to lie to you! Do you want me to run off for it now? Here only a minute along the Main Staircase,” Vanka offered. “Along the Main Staircase? You what? There...” Vanka started to smile. “You’re thinking about the Vanishing Floor? Don’t worry: Slander Slanderych already removed all the spells and returned the cyclopes to the guardroom... Now it’s simply another floor of Tibidox. That’s all. All the magic was in the Black Cube. True, it was still possible to fall from the bridge as before if one were to make a great effort. Although it already doesn’t shake like mad.” Hurrying for the bow, Vanka was about to run out into the corridor, but immediately Tanya heard his astonished cry. Moving back, Valyalkin jumped backwards and tried to lock the door, but he did not have time. Already into magic station entered Slander Slanderych, Sardanapal, Medusa, and Dentistikha, and behind their backs loomed Professor Stinktopp, Tararakh, and Yagge. Vanka and Yagun attempted to dive under the bed, but it was no longer possible for them to hide. Light flared up, and immediately a number of reproachful eyes stared at them. “So now who is here! Valyalkin, Yagun! So I thought! Slipping into magic station to the student Grotter, on top of that even at night, you seriously disrupted the regime! I don’t doubt that you’ll be severely punished! You’ll be deprived of summer vacations, and Professor Stinktopp will personally hand you jars for collecting stinkbugs bred in our basements. Or even better a bucket!” frowning, the dean began. “Slander!” Sardanapal addressed him quietly. “Slander what?” that one snarled. “At the slightest provocation, then Slander! I should at least deprive someone of vacations or should I send them away to the moronoids? After all, am I dean or not? Already the freshmen don’t fear me!” “Another time, Slander. But not today... Today is a happy day! In the morning they informed us that dragonball matches nevertheless will take place, and they’ll take place in Tibidox!” Sardanapal said. “Hurray!” Bab-Yagun began to yell so loudly that Medusa even had to cover up her ears, and Yagge threatened her grandson with a fist. “And now... now here’s one more joy! Tanya has come to!” Academician Sardanapal emotionally blew his nose and gave a sign to Dentistikha. She came forward, coughed, and solemnly began, “Grotter, representing all the instructors present here I, with pleasure, inform you of pleasant news! You showed so much bravery and did so much for Tibidox that Academician Sardanapal decided to give you a gift and allow certain deviation from existing rules...”

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Tanya raised herself on the pillows. Here’s something! Interesting, what kind of deviation will this be? Maybe, they will allow her not to do lessons or permit her to sleep till noon? It would be excellent! “At the personal order of the academician the tablecloth with grated radish from today on will be permanently allotted to your table!” Dentistikha said. Vanka Valyalkin collapsed onto the floor with a crash. Academician Sardanapal, perceiving this as manifestation of enthusiastic feelings, started to smile unpretentiously. “No need for thanks, children! So many vitamins in radish!” He exclaimed. ***

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Glossary
Abdullah: Common Arabic male name, also the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s father. Amat: In Egyptian mythology, Amat (Ammit, Ammut) is a creature with the head of a crocodile, the front part of the body of a lion, the back part of a hippopotamus, a combination of the animals considered most dangerous in ancient Egypt. It eats the heart of those dead who do not measure up to the principle of truth and justice, and embodies everything most feared by the Egyptians. Atlas: In Greek mythology, one of the titans who fought against the gods and as punishment was condemned to hold up the heavens on his shoulders. Baba Yaga: A Slavic folkloric character, an aged crone and a witch that lives in the forest in a hut with chicken feet. Bab-Yagun: A derivation of Baba Yaga. Babai: In old Slavic mythology, a mysterious essence in the image of a terrible lopsided old man, a malicious night spirit that takes away disobedient children. Birch: In popular Slavic belief, the birch has both useful and harmful properties. It is a tree associated with witches and unclean forces or evil spirits. The soul of the dead is said to reside in a birch. Birch branches gathered or a birch broom in the house is considered a reliable means of protection against evil forces. The birch also has healing magic by “transferring” disease of the sick to it. Some Russian legends start with the line “On the ocean on the Island Buyan there stands a white birch …” and this birch represents the world tree, a symbol common in ancient societies, a tree that in Eastern mythology connects the three regions of man, heaven, and the underworld. Birch bark: In old Russia, birch bark was used for writing official documents as well as normal correspondence. Even ordinary people used it instead of paper, which was expensive and not widespread. Bolshoi Theatre: Both the “Grand” — bolshoi — theatre and the company in Moscow that stages performances of ballet, opera, and plays. Bonegraft: An organism that heals broken bones, similar in appearance to a bright disk the size of a metallic 5-rouble coin, with 6 long fragile feet and a mouth with powerful jaws. A bonegraft larva resembles a tadpole and is fed meat in pitch. Bruderschaft: In Germany, an old but by no means extinct custom (called Bruderschaft trinken, "drinking brotherhood") involves two male friends formally splitting a bottle of wine to celebrate their deciding (mostly proposed by the elder or socially higher-standing of the two) to address one another with the informal “you” rather than the formal one. Buka: A bugaboo, bugbear, something to frighten children. Burnet saxifrage: In old Slavic language, the name of this herb is literally “break-grass” because it is believed that a touch of this herb can break metal. It is also called “jumper” and “racer” and only sorcerers can find it.
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Buyan: In Slavic mythology, the island 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. Byaka: In children speech, a bad person or thing. Centaur: In Greek mythology, a being with the head, arms, and trunk of a man and the body and legs of a horse. Chaos: In the ancient Greek myth of creation, the dark, silent abyss from which all things came into existence. 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 heroes 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. Chibouk: A Turkish tobacco pipe with a long stem and a red clay bowl. Cove oak: This is from the prologue of the fairy-tale poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820) by Pushkin: (see Pushkin) On distant shore a green oak towers; And to it by a gold chain bound: A learned cat spins out the hours By walking slowly round and round; To right he walks and sings a song, To left he walks, and tells a tale. Crocodile tears: Crocodiles are able to subsist in salt water, and have developed salt-extracting tear glands, giving birth to the myth of “crocodile tears.” In Ancient Egypt the crocodile-headed god Sebek symbolizes vicious passions, deceit, treachery, and hypocrisy. “Having swallowed the moon he wept.” Hence the expression “crocodile tears” — a hypocritical show of sorrow; insincere tears. Cupid: Also called Amour, the god of love in Roman mythology (called Eros in Greek mythology), he is often depicted as a wilful and mischievous winged child carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. He has two kinds of arrows: one that causes instant love is golden with dove feathers; the other that causes indifference is lead with owl feathers. Cyclops: In Greek mythology, a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of its forehead. Damocles: The Greek courtier to Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse. According to legend, Damocles was forced to sit at a banquet table under a sword suspended by a single hair to demonstrate the precariousness of a king's fortunes.
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d’Anthès: Baron Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès (1812-95), a French cavalry officer and later senator under the French Second Empire, he was most famous for mortally wounding Pushkin (see Pushkin) in a duel. Demigod: In mythology, it can be either the offspring of a god and a mortal thus with some but not all the powers of a god, a minor deity, or a deified mortal. Deva: A god or deity. In Hinduism, devas are celestial beings that control forces of nature or represent moral values. They are functionally equivalent to angels who serve God in JudaeoChristian tradition. Dracula: Count Dracula is the name of the world’s most famous vampire character from the book Dracula (1897) by Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912). The name “Dracula” is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by King Sigismund (1368-1437) of Hungary to uphold Christianity and defend the Holy Roman Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II (1390-1447) of Wallachia (Romania) was admitted to the order because of his bravery in fighting the Turks, and he was called Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon). His son Vlad III (1431-76) became known as Vlad Dracula (the son of Dracul). Dragon: In Slavic mythology, a dragon is an enormous serpent covered with skin like armour and can have one or several heads – 2, 3, 6, 7, 12 – and the same quantity of wings and claws. It shoots out flame from its mouth and its flights are accompanied by thunder and storm. 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. Dubynya, Gorynya, Usynya: Hero-giants of Russian folklore. They are embodiments of the three elements: Gorynya – fire, Dubynya – earth, Usynya – water. As a rule, they appear as positive characters that help the main hero. Duma: Any of the various representative assemblies in modern Russia. The State Duma is equivalent to the lower house of parliament. Durnev, Herman Nikitich: A Russian name is made up of three parts: in this case the first name “Herman,” the patronymic “Nikitich,” and the last name “Durnev.” To show respect to a Russian, address him or her by the first name and patronymic. Therefore, in the text we have Herman Nikitich and Irina Vladimirovna. Durneva: The female form of the name Durnev, which came from the Russian word duren’ – a fool. Ethyl green: Viride nitens – a topical antiseptic solution for abrasions and minor skin problems, also known as brilliant green, it is a green dye toxic to most animals. 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.
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Firebird: In Russian folklore, the firebird 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. Gardarika: The ancient Scandinavian name for Russia. 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. Giant: The English word commonly used to denote mythical beings of human appearance but prodigious size and strength. Many different cultures have such beings in their myths and legends. They are usually featured as primeval races associated with chaos and wild nature, are attributed superhuman strength and physical proportions, a long lifespan, and thus a great deal of knowledge as well, yet weak in both morals and imagination. Our modern perception of giants came from fairy tales, portraying them as stupid and violent monsters, frequently said to eat humans, especially children. Gorgonova, Medusa Zeusovna: 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. Medusa’s middle name here, Zeusovna, identifies her father as Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods. However, according to Greek mythology, the gorgons are children of Phorcys, a primordial sea god. Goyaryn: A derivation of Gorynitch, the most well-known dragon in Slavic folklore. Grandfather Frost: This is the Slavic equivalent of Santa but he brings gifts to children on New Year. His appearance resembles Santa, with a long white beard, coat and boots. However, his coat is a fur coat down to his heels and his hat is semi-round fur hat. He wears either white traditional Russian felt boots or high boots, silver or red with silver ornament. He walks with a magical staff and rides a troika (a three-horse sled) without reindeers. 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. Greenpeace: An independently funded international organization that works to protect the environment by challenging governments and industries to halt harmful practices. 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 known as well for their swiftness. Hamlet: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is one of William Shakespeare’s bestknown and quoted plays. The play tells the story of Hamlet’s revenge of his father who died mysteriously while the prince was away in university. In the original story the skull is not that of
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Hamlet’s father but of Yorick, an old jester of the court who carried the young child Prince Hamlet on his back. Harpy: In original Greek mythology, a harpy (snatcher) is a beautiful winged female. In later tradition it has been transformed into a bird monster with a human head. Here-He-Ham-He: This name is a play on words. “Ham” is different by one letter from “tam” meaning “there” in Russian. And “Ham” is the ancient Egyptian word for Africans. In the Bible, Africans are referred to as “the children of Ham,” who is one of the mythical sons of Noah. Hieroglyph: A figure or symbol with hidden meaning. Ancient Egyptian is the best known example of hieroglyphic system, a writing system using picture symbols. Hookah: An oriental tobacco pipe with the smoke cooled by passing through a water urn before being inhaled via a long pipe. 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. Kasha: Porridge usually made of buckwheat but can also be of other grains. Kefir: A yoghurt drink or buttermilk. Khepri: In Egyptian mythology, a minor deity associated with the dawning sun, also rebirth. Kislyakov, Roma: P.S.Romanov (1884-1938), Soviet writer of satirical works dedicated to contemporary way of life and morals, wrote the novel Comrade Kislyakov (1930, English translation Three Pairs of Silk Stockings) about the life of the educated class in urban Russia in the late 1920s. “Roma” is the diminutive form of “Roman,” which on becoming a patronymic can take the form “Romanov.” Kvass: A Russian fermented beverage resembling beer but made from rye or barley. Lamia: In Greek mythology, a monster, represented by a serpent with the head and breasts of a woman, who eats children and sucks the blood from men; basically a female vampire. Magic tablecloth: It features in numerous Russian folklores. When it is laid on a table and the necessary words are pronounced, a feast appears. After the meal is finished, some other necessary words will make the remains of the meal disappear and the tablecloth clean again. Mermaid: A mermaid of Slavic mythology is called a rusalka, the spirit of a drowned maiden that lures travellers into the water to be drowned. 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. It was imprisoned by King Minos of Crete in a gigantic labyrinth
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located under Minos’ palace in Knossos. By the use of a ball of string to find his way around the maze, Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur. Muromets, Ilya: The greatest hero in Old Russian epic poetry. He got his strength from the dying giant hero Svyatogor, went to join Prince Vladimir in Kiev, defeated Nightingale the Robber in a forest near Bryansk, and performed many other feats. New Year tree: Peter I (1672-1725) of Russia introduced the tradition of celebrating New Year with a decorated tree, usually a fir, and with presents. Nymph: In Greek mythology, these are very popular female spirits associated with nature, targets of satyrs (see Satyr), and loves of gods and heroes. Appearing as lovely and eternally young women, they are the personification of natural features such as mountains, rivers, trees, and others. As such, they are invaluably bound to the locality with which they are associated. Okroshka: A spicy Russian cold soup made with kvass instead of meat broth. It contains raw vegetables, boiled potatoes, boiled eggs, and cooked ham, all chopped and mixed in kvass just before serving. Papa Carlo: This is the name of a poor street-organ player in The Golden Key (1936) by A.N. Tolstoy, a story based on the Pinocchio motif. Papa Carlo carves out of a wooden log a puppet, which miraculously springs to life and has an adventure. 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. Poltergeist: A term for a supposed spirit or ghost that manifests itself by moving and influencing inanimate objects rather than through visible presence or vocalization. The word is German for “rumbling ghost.” Ptah: In Egyptian mythology, the primordial mound that called the creation of the world into being, the god of craftsmen, and also the lord of the underworld. Pushkin: Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837), considered the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature. Reichstag: The seat of the German parliament in Berlin. The picture of a Red Army soldier raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag was one of the most famous images that symbolise the defeat of Germany in WWII. Ritual Services: Funeral services from coffins and monuments to the funeral, including registration of necessary documents. 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. 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
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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. Rzhevskii: Lieutenant Rzhevskii, the hussar hero of the very popular play Long, Long Time Ago (1940) by A.K.Gladkov (1912-76) about the war of 1812. In 1962, the play was turned into a very popular movie. After that, Lieutenant Rzhevskii became the hero of anecdotes, usually banal and which should not be told in decent company. Sanskrit: An ancient Indo-European religious and literary language, the classical literary language of India. Satyr: In Greek mythology, satyrs are two-legged being with the upper half of a man and the lower half of a goat with a long thick tail. Mature satyrs also have goat’s horns. They reside in woodlands and forests and as a group are lovers of physical pleasures. Satyrs are passionately fond of female companionship and the most common object of their desire is nymphs (see Nymph). Schutzstaffel (SS): A special police force in Nazi Germany founded as a personal bodyguard for Adolf Hitler in 1925; the SS administered the concentration camps. Sclerosis: The thickening or hardening of body tissues. Sehr gut: German for “very good” or “very well.” Semolina: A granular, milled product of wheat, mainly used for making pasta. Silver Age: The first 2 decades of the 20th century is termed the Silver Age of Russian culture, as opposed to the Golden Age, the 19th century. It was a very creative period that ended after the Russian Revolution. Sphinx: This is an iconic image of a recumbent lion with the head of a ram, bird, or human. It was invented by the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, but a cultural import in archaic Greek mythology, where it received its name. There was only a single sphinx in Greek mythology, a unique demon of destruction and bad luck. Staff: In military terms, professional officers in an administrative role. Stinktopp: An archaic German word for bedbug. Stonecrop: Also called goldmoss sedum, an evergreen trailing perennial that creeps to form a spreading mat, edible but considered very mildly toxic. Talisman: An object marked with magic signs and confers on its bearer supernatural powers or protection. That world: In Russian folktales, the term “that world” refers to the world of spirits and demons. Theromorpha: An extinct order of reptiles found in the Permian and Triassic formations in South Africa. They had biconcave vertebrae, ambulatory limbs, and a well-developed pelvis and shoulder girdle. Some of the species had large maxillary teeth. The head somewhat resembled
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that of a turtle. The Dicynodont is one of the best-known examples, with their remains found in the Triassic strata of South Africa and India. Theseus: A legendary king of Athens, a founder-hero who battled and overcame many foes and was credited with inventing many everyday Athenian traditions. In Greek mythology, he was the son of both Aegeus, a primordial king of Athens, and Poseidon, the god of sea. Theophilus: A name of Greek origin. In the Bible, it is the name to which the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are addressed. Tistrya: In Persian mythology, the god of rain and fertility, personification of Sirius the Dog Star. Titan: In Greek mythology, any of the primordial giant gods who ruled the Earth until overthrown by Zeus; the titans were offspring of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). Tsar Gorokh: A Russian fairy-tale character designating time immemorial. The Russian proverb “during the time of Tsar Gorokh” means “in very remote times.” Unicorn: This is a legendary white horse-like creature with a slender, usually spiral horn growing out of its forehead. Traditionally it has a billy-goat beard, a lion’s tail, and cloven hoofs. Ancient Greeks believed unicorns were real and nasty, easily provoked creatures, not the familiar gentle image that came from the Germans in the Middle Ages. Valerian: A hardy perennial flowering plant with the roots most commonly used for its sedative and hypnotic properties in patients with insomnia. It is also mildly addictive. 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. Water sprite: A Slavic mythological character that lives in a body of water and drowns people. As he is the master of the body of water he lives in, he is also the master of all living things in the water. Water sprites are evil/unclean spirits and come from the souls of drowned men or children, or unborn children of drowned pregnant women. According to another legend, they are fallen angels that landed in water. In appearance a water sprite can be an old man, an adult man, a child, or even invisible. In general, it is believed that he is shaggy with green hair, from which water is constantly dripping, and he is overgrown with slime, algae, and moss. He can also change into any living thing and any inanimate object. 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. Wood goblin: In Slavic mythology, a wood goblin is the embodiment of the forest as a space hostile to humans. He is the master of the woods and the animals and birds in the woods. He has the appearance of a peasant with a white beard, dressed like a normal peasant with the exception of the shoes: left shoe on the right foot and right shoe on the left foot. He can change his size at will or even change into a plant, an animal, or a bird. Wood goblins belong to evil/unclean spirits,
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come from “damned” non-Christians and children stolen before christening, although according to a legend, they are fallen angels that landed in the woods. Yaga: Baba Yaga. Yagge: A derivation of Baba Yaga. Yataghan: A long Turkish knife with a curved blade having a single edge. 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 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/