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ru/

Tanya Grotter And The Magic Double Bass
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 The black sorceress Plague-del-Cake, whose name they dread even to utter aloud, climbing to power, destroys the brilliant magicians one by one. Among her victims is the remarkable white magician Leopold Grotter. His daughter Tanya, by some unknown means, manages to avoid death, but on the tip of her nose, a mysterious birthmark remains for life... Plague-del-Cake mysteriously disappears, and Tanya Grotter turns out to be abandoned to the family of businessman Durnev, her distant relative... She lives with this extremely unpleasant family until the age of ten, and then finds herself in the unique world of the Tibidox School of Magic... Chapter 1 A Baby in a Case On a bright autumnal morning when everything in the world appeared harshly vivid and disgracefully happy and the foliage on the trees shone as if it was doused with golden tinsel, a stooping tall person in a grey coat came out of the entrance of a multi-storey building on Rublev Road. His name was Herman Durnev, the director of the firm Second-Hand Socks and the father of a year-old daughter Pipa (short for Penelope). Stopping under the eaves of the entrance, Durnev looked around disapprovingly. The sun, whose roundish face was as flat as a pancake, indulged itself on the neighbouring roof as if being lazy and considering whether it would be worthwhile for it to rise further or to come down as is. On a pile of leaves not far from the entrance a woman in an orange overall was half lying and looking into an open hatch. Her profile was regular, Greek outlines, and the copper-red hair puffed out so that they made one involuntarily think of snakes. In the hatch someone was rumbling and messing around boisterously. The haughty sparrows were pecking something on the asphalt, briskly, like rubber balls, jumping away from passers-by. From the windows and cellars, from squares and empty parks, from the crowns of trees and the sky with wisps of clouds hanging, from cats’ eyes and ladies’ handbags, from the exhaust pipes of automobiles, from price lists at the stores, and the still sunburnt noses of summer residents — from everywhere, rubbing carrot yellow palms, the quite young, recently born October looked out. But all this beauty was of no concern whatever to Herman Durnev. Weather, and in general nature, only interested him enough for determining whether or not to take an umbrella with him or whether it was time to put snow tires with spikes on the car. He looked at his watch and reached for a small box with homeopathic medicine. “What a cad this sun is! One, two... And you can’t even spit on it... At least it generally dies out... Really, on such a day who can be in the mood for work? Five, six... Sooner or later I’ll really have an ulcer... Or already have... Seven...” he muttered, counting off little beads and placing them under his tongue. When the little beads had dissolved, Durnev started to think better and said to himself, “Well now, now I’ll indeed live until dinner if I don’t get blood poisoning from the new corn plaster.”
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Certainly, Durnev also did not suspect that he was being observed. A large disgustinglooking bird: gloomy, dishevelled, with a long scruffy neck on which there were almost no feathers, was observing him from the eaves of the entrance. The bird held in its beak a photograph cut out from a magazine and was looking at it... yes, it was the same — Herman Durnev, taken together with his wife Ninel and daughter Pipa at the International Suspenders Exhibition in the All-Russia Exhibition Centre. Occasionally the bird lowered the photograph onto a metal sheet and started to compare meticulously the present Durnev with the photograph. At the same time, disgusting greenish lumps of mucus dripped from the beak onto the photograph. It is possible to imagine how surprised Durnev would be if he were to casually raise his head and take a look at who was sitting on the eaves of the entrance. However, Herman Nikitich was not among those who pay attention to birds, if, it goes without saying, it was not a cooked chicken lying before him on a plate. Moreover, at the given moment the dodgy mind of the head of the firm Second-Hand Socks was occupied with the solution of a question: how to get custom clearance for two railroad cars of used handkerchiefs under the guise of goods for children. Durnev walked down from the porch and, with obvious pleasure stepping several times on the charmingly bright yellow leaves, turned on his heel. Having done this, already completely indifferently he passed many other leaves and sat down in the new black car. The car started to purr and was off. The bird with the naked neck gravely broke away from the eaves and flew after the car, clearly not intending to lose sight of it. *** The woman sitting on the lawn, whom Durnev in passing thought of as a repair person, followed the bird with a penetrating glance and muttered to herself under her breath, “I would like to know what Lifeless Griffin is doing here. The last time I met him was when they got the Titanic down into the water. Don’t remember what happened with the steamship there but for sure there was some trouble.” She threw up her hand, on her middle finger was a sparkling ring, and she whispered quietly, “Sparkis frontis!” At the same moment, a green spark escaped from the ring and singed one of the bird’s wings. Losing feathers, Lifeless Griffin collapsed onto the asphalt like a rock, crowed something hoarsely and, taking off again, threw itself behind the nearest house. The mysterious person blew on the glowing ring. “I hate these living corpses. They cannot be killed a second time. Indeed better to deal simply with evil spirits,” she muttered. Meanwhile, in the hatch, something came down with a terrible crash. Water splashed. “A-a-choo!” it was heard from the hatch so deafeningly that the cover even jumped up. Having forgotten about the bird, the repair person — if, of course, this was a repair person — leaned anxiously over the hatch, “Professor, you will catch cold! I beg you, at least put on a scarf!” “Medusa, don’t be ridiculous! A scarf won’t help divers!” a voice immediately responded. But this did not calm the woman a bit.
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“I swear by the Hair of The Ancient One, it’s really too much! Only imagine, the very academician of White magic, the head of the Tibidox School of Magic, Sardanapal Chernomorov is forced to remove the simplest spells of the evil spirits! Where, please permit me to ask, are our junior magicians, where are the assistants?” she asked, pressing her lips tightly. The rumbling in the hatch stopped. To the surface rose a small rosy chubby person dressed in an orange overall, from which water was trickling down... No, please excuse me, not an overall but a robe. It could seem like an overall only to a not very keen observer and even then only at first glance. Precisely the same orange robe was also on his companion. “A-a-choo! Medusa! All this, right, this nonsense, is not worthwhile to trouble anyone! A-a-choo! Without practice, in two years I would become a helpless office magician. Are there any among us lazy people who can even turn into a pig without the ring? To say nothing of the highest disciplines, such as theoretical magic, levitation, protection from hexes, or the production of talismans.” Having cited this, in his opinion, deadly reason, the academician Sardanapal stood on tiptoes and cheerfully looked around. His right moustache was green and the left yellow. But the strangest thing was that the moustaches were never in a state of rest for a second. They either coiled like two live ropes, or were interlaced, or aimed to entwine the temples of the eyeglasses and pull them off from the chubby person’s nose. True, it was not so simple to do this, since the glasses were kept on clearly not so much by the temples, having come loose a long time ago, as by a special spell. As far as the beard of the academician was concerned, its colour was generally not determined, since it first appeared then disappeared. For sure, it was possible to say only one thing — the beard was phenomenally long, so long that it was necessary to wind it repeatedly around the body and to hide the ends in a pocket. Noticing finally that his robe was soaked, the head of the school of magic muttered, “Firstus drumus!” Steam came off the clothing and a few minutes later, it was completely dry again. “Ah, what a wonderful fall day!” Sardanapal exclaimed, turning to his companion. “It’s like that day they chopped off my head for the first time! Don’t you agree, Medusa?” The instructor of studies of evil spirits, the associate professor Medusa Gorgonova, grimaced and ran her fingers along her neck. “Ugh! It’s only possible to wait for dirty tricks from moronoids... They also chopped off my head. Unrestrained type in winged sandals, staring into his own shield. Then I was a badly brought up witch with nightmarish habits, and only you, Professor, would reeducate me,” she said. The moustaches of Sardanapal trembled with pleasure. “Do stop, how many times can one be thanked! A real trifle it was to stick on your head! For that, it wasn’t even necessary to resort to serious magic, a simple and plain spinning spell was quite sufficient. Well, and that you renounced your previous habits — honour and praise to you! My credit was... ahem... of the minimum... ahem...” “How can you say so?!” Medusa exclaimed. “I changed travellers into sculptures! Anyone who looked at me instantly became stone!” “Nonsense, don’t think of that! You were a very young girl, having complexes because of pimples, and here you bewitched those poor devils who saw you by chance. Frankly
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speaking, I understand you very well: these ancient Greeks poked their noses into everywhere. You even took yourself out of their sight further to the island, and they nevertheless gadded about close by, swinging their swords. All that was demanded of me was to cure you of pimples. And what a beauty you have become! Even Koshchei the Deathless constantly blushes when he comes flying into Tibidox on the skeleton of his faithful horse...” “Bad old man! Forty kilograms of silver-plated bones, gold crock, amber teeth — and all this in armour from Paco Grabanne!” Medusa frowned. “But you’ll not argue that he has fallen in love with you!” Associate professor Gorgonova blushed embarrassingly. The red spots flaring up suddenly in different places on her cheeks resembled something like cherries. “Sardanapal! I beg you!” she exclaimed reproachfully. The moustaches of the academician of white magic trembled guiltily. “Cursed malice! After I accidentally drank an infusion with harpy venom, in no way can I get rid of it. I’ve tried the liver of dragon, and half a glass of green spirit with a drop of basilisk bile in the morning and before bed — nothing helps!” he complained. “Don’t apologize, I’m not offended. I simply don’t like it when they utter that name around me...” Medusa softened. “Better tell me this: did you really drag me here from Tibidox itself only to remove the spell of this utterly useless hatch, which pulls in keys and coins of passers-by? Only don’t be sly. We’ve already known each other for three thousand years...” Sardanapal reproachfully looked at his companion and blew his nose into a gigantic star-covered hanky, which had suddenly appeared mysteriously in his hand. The stars on the hanky winked and formed themselves into whimsical constellations; moreover, the constellation Ara attempted with meteorites to get rid of the constellation Sagittarius. “Medusa, you’re arguing like a sorceress. Put yourself in the place of a normal person. Keys aren’t trash. A person deprived of keys has a real chance of spending the night on a bench and catching a head cold... Like me, for example.” “Your head cold is from your not putting on a scarf when we flew over the ocean... And the needs of moronoids disturb me very little. In their world, there are fully enchanted hatches, turnstiles gone hog wild, and cellars slamming shut by itself. Evil spirits don’t sit on their hands. We’ll hardly leave and they’ll again put a spell on this hatch. And we’ll not be able to do anything about it.” Seeing that his companion was starting to get angry, Academician Sardanapal lightly blew on the hanky, and it melted in his palm, having changed into a dark-blue washcloth beforehand. “Excuse me, Medusa. Recently I suspect that someone has also put a spell on my sense of humour. Not excluding that the Tadzhik genies put an evil eye on it, I forbade them to arrange dust storms... Mm... Did you see the man, who recently came out of the entrance?” “I did. But how did you manage? I must say that you were underground!” Sardanapal smiled mysteriously, “Oh, if I want to see something, a few metres of asphalt cannot hinder me. What do you think of him?” “Extremely unpleasant character... Br-r... Even among moronoids you usually expect better.”
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“Now, now, Medusa, don’t be so harsh. At least out of respect for the memory of Leopold Grotter.” “LEOPOLD GROTTER? He knew him?” Medusa exclaimed dumbfounded. Sardanapal nodded. “More than that. He’s his relative. And even sufficiently close — in all the nephew of his grandmother’s second cousin. Of course, for moronoids this type is related only through Adam, but you and I know the formula of magic-kinship of Astrocactus the Paranoid!” “He is a relative of Grotter! So this is why we...” “Shh!” the academician suddenly brought a finger to his lips, ordering Medusa to keep quiet. Both his moustaches at once sprang up and pointed at the sewage hatch. Nodding, Medusa noiselessly stole up to the hatch and, squatting down, abruptly pushed her hand through it. At the same second, a nasty screech was heard from the well. “There it is! I got it! Hey, stop!” the instructor of studies of evil spirits shouted. When the hand of Medusa again showed itself on the surface, her fingers firmly clutched the ear of a little lady with a bumpy violet nose and green hair. The feet of the hissing lady were very curious — flat and rather resembling flippers. The prisoner hissed, spat, clicked her triangular teeth, and attempted to kick Gorgonova first with the right flipper, then with the left, and then with both alternately. “Killga for revenga! And tellgi someone to let gogi! Setgi upon bitingi! Fiegi on yougi! And fiegi on yougi!” she screamed furiously. “How do you like that — a kikimora! Curious little example, sufficiently large...” Chernomorov commented, examining with interest the game caught by Medusa. “Again an evil spirit!” Medusa winced with disgust. “Now and then I begin to doubt that She-Who-Is-No-More actually disappeared. That someone sent Lifeless Griffin, and now here is this fright... Hey, don’t you twitch!” “A-a-a! She scarega! Scumgi let gogi! Gogi my own businessgi! You needgi ripgi megi pantgi! Fiegi on yougi!” the kikimora squealed, not giving up the attempts to kick Medusa with her flippers. It was necessary for Medusa to hold her at a distance with an outstretched arm, which was not simple since the kikimora was sufficiently well fed. “Stop wailing! Who sent you? Speak!” Medusa demanded severely. “No saygi nothingi! Stupidga witchga! Now peckgu you throughgu! Playgu in your coffingu!” the kikimora squealed angrily, trying to accompany her words with aimed spittle. Gorgonova gave the kikimora a quick glance with her penetrating eyes. “Try!” she said threateningly. “You veryga need mega!” the sly kikimora instantly changed her mind and mournfully started to whisper that she was an unlucky orphan and that everyone could insult her, an orphan. “Aha, you insult yourself, orphan!” Sardanapal hummed and hawed. The academician pretended that he wanted to bring a finger to the mouth of the kikimora, and her sharp triangular teeth clicked right away, exactly like a trap. If Sardanapal did not jerk back his hand, he would have one finger less. “She’ll not tell anything. I know this kind. And it’s clear that she didn’t roam here going about her own business. Maybe we’ll preserve her in alcohol for the museum so
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that no one would make a slip of the tongue?” the instructor of studies of evil spirits proposed, energetically shaking the kikimora by the ear. “A-a-a-a-a! Don’t wantga be in alcoholga! Will keepga quietga! Will be the quietest hushga!” the kikimora began to bawl shrilly. “Not worth it, Medusa. It’s completely not necessary to put her in a jar. I’ll make it so that she’ll forget everything.” With a dexterity difficult to expect from a clumsy phlegmatic person with a round belly, Sardanapal seized the kikimora by a flipper and, blowing into her ear, uttered in an undertone, “Scleroticus marasmoticus! Fillissimo moronissimo!” After this, he cold-bloodedly unclenched his fingers, dropping the spy onto the grass. For a while, the green lady crazily shook her head, clearly in great confusion. She looked at Sardanapal and Medusa dully and without curiosity. Making several staggering steps on the lawn, the kikimora gathered her senses slightly, snorted contemptuously and, having reached the hatch in a waddle, jumped in there like a toy soldier. From the hatch a small fountain of water splashed out, several bad words were heard, and everything quieted down. “She swam away,” said Sardanapal, indicating the direction with his green moustache. “All these evil spirits are terribly boring. It’s about time to put a spell on them so that they wouldn’t butt in on the moronoids. One day they’ll upset the balance of power and then it’ll be bad for us all.” Medusa anxiously clicked her tongue. Sardanapal dismissed it lightly, “Nonsense, Medusa. You exaggerate, as always. The evil spirits are a confused force, sprung from chaos and partially preserved from the times of paganism. Yes, there are many evil spirits, dozens of times more than us magicians — white and black, but they were never in a state of agreement among themselves. How often I remember, the evil spirits were always defying bans, playing dirty tricks on the moronoids, and upsetting the balance. But as long as the Hair of The Ancient One is whole and the Gates are standing, our world is in danger from nothing. Even from the direction of the black magicians, whom we’ll in no way smoke out of Tibidox.” “And what about She-Who-Is-No-More?” “I agree, she was unique, who knew how to organize the evil spirits and to set them on us. Moreover, she almost managed to force us magicians to hand over our positions to her. If not for Leopold Grotter and his newborn daughter...” “Not only Grotter. You never feared her, Professor! Even when she was in power!” Sardanapal bashfully turned pink, “Oh, certainly! I’m always ready to utter in everybody’s hearing her true name — Plague-del-Cake! You see? Plague-del-Cake! And nothing terrible happens!” The loud voice of the academician did not yet have time to stand still in the shifting labyrinth of high-rises when the glass of the terrace on the third floor spurted out splinters and a gleaming iron, whipping with the cord, flew out from there. Cutting the air with a whistle, it rushed along precisely to Sardanapal’s head. Picking up the hems of his robe, the academician quickly jumped aside and muttered something. In that same moment the iron turned into vapour. “Did you see that? She-Who-Is-No-More wanted to kill you!” Medusa exclaimed fearfully.

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“Nonsense. There is already no Auntie Plague... Simply one of the old spells snapping into action. She scattered thousands of them everywhere.” Sardanapal smiled and stepped on the escaped plug trying to coil around his leg with its cord. Medusa flinched from loathing. In her thin hand by some mysterious means appeared a lorgnette, with which she examine parts of the destroyed iron. “What an abomination! The next nasty invention of the moronoids... We’re leaving! There’s nothing more for us to do here.” Chernomorov shook his head, “And here’s where you’re mistaken. The time has come to carry out the most unpleasant and difficult part of our mission. I started to talk about this but we were interrupted. We must... however painful this is for us... leave Tanya to the man whom you just saw.” Medusa Gorgonova recoiled. Her copper-red hair, even without being tousled, rose suddenly on end and started to hiss. A casual person not knowing what Medusa was connected with long ago in her past would swear that he just saw a ball of entwined snakes. “WHAT?! Did I hear right? You want to give the daughter of Leopold Grotter to this pitiful moronoid? The girl who, in some unknown manner, survived a struggle with SheWho-Is-No-More? The girl, after a meeting with whom She-Who-Is-No-More vanished?” Detecting the angry notes in Medusa’s voice, the academician hurriedly turned away in order not to look her in the eyes by accident. To remove ancient magic is possible, but it has side effects. “Medusa, we don’t have another way out,” he said softly. “We simply cannot act otherwise. I swear by the Hair of The Ancient One, I would sooner let my moustaches be shaved off and my beard be cut than to give the daughter of Grotter to this moronoid, but... we must, we are simply obligated to do this for the good of the entire Tibidox.” “But why?” Medusa exclaimed. “Why?” The greatest of the magicians sunk down to the pile of leaves and stretched out his legs, which were in faded old-fashioned stockings. The last time he was in the human world was during the time of Catherine II and now, trying to dress fashionably, he missed the minor details. “I’ll describe to you how everything was that night. You remember three days ago when everything happened, a terrible thunderstorm broke out...” “…clearly of magical origin. We don’t even know exactly who sent it,” added Medusa. “Precisely. On that night through the window of the main tower of Tibidox, where, as you know, my alchemic laboratory is, a wet trembling little cupid in red suspenders flew directly to me...,” reported Sardanapal. His moustaches immediately formed into two hearts. They liked to slightly spite their host. Hiding a smile, the associate professor Gorgonova licked her lips. “A cupid? To you? But indeed a cupid is amour, and amour...” The moustaches rose up in offence. The right one even attempted to smack Medusa on the nose but could not reach her. “I don’t need to explain who these cupids are,” Sardanapal pronounced dryly. “I’ll not confuse them with harpies or house spirits or members of the dragonball team of Tibidox. And it’ll be known to you, the purpose of his visit was far from romantic. In our dull century, they more often declare their love by telephone. The arrows of amour already
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break through to no one anymore — the skin has become painfully thick, now the wretched cupids have to be occupied with mail delivery. And shouldn’t they earn nectar and ambrosia for themselves somehow? So here, the little cupid squeezed his wet suspenders off and handed me a letter from Leopold Grotter.” “The last letter of Grotter!” Medusa exclaimed. Her irony instantly evaporated. “But you never told anyone...” The moustaches of Sardanapal swept with the speed of windshield wipers, showing that this was top secret. “Certainly no one. And you’ll soon understand why. Only those I absolutely trust should know the truth. I sent the little cupid to warm up in a Russian bath — I confess, I’m even glad that the cyclopes built it in our basement (although sometimes the steam undoubtedly starts with a jerk), and I immediately began to read the letter. It was very laconic: Grotter informed that after many failures he had succeeded in finally obtaining the Talisman of Four Elements.” Medusa’s pupils narrowed. She looked uneasily around the hatch, checking whether a curious bumpy face climbed out of it. “Most likely I’ve lost my mind,” she muttered dizzily. “The Talisman of Four Elements, comprising the forces of fire, air, earth, and water! A Talisman giving enormous power to whoever wears it... Perhaps, the one who wields the Talisman could defy the very... She-Who...” “Yes, Plague-del-Cake,” Sardanapal courageously specified, involuntarily glancing upward: whether an iron would yet whistle. “Grotter wrote: in order to get the Talisman, he used one hundred forty-seven different components, among which, as I assume, carnelian and mouse tears absolutely had to be present... Well, but the secret of all the rest he took with himself to the grave...” “And his Talisman? You have it?” Medusa asked excitedly. “The Talisman had vanished. It disappeared in the most improbable way. But you have not listened to the end... Hardly waiting for the end of the thunderstorm, I sat on the jet sofa and flew to Leopold Grotter.” “You flew on the jet sofa?” Chernomorov was embarrassed. Nevertheless, one can hardly say very. “Yes, I understand what you want to say: someone among the students, especially from the “black,” could see and make a laughing stock of me. I’ll say: academician, laureate of the award of Magic Suspenders, head of the legendary Tibidox flying on a tattered sofa with plucked chicken wings... A sofa, from which copper springs stick out... It was already late, and no one saw me... And how? Would someone really look out the window, having heard nothing but a little rumble... Mm... I even almost ran into the stained-glass panel of the Hall of Two Elements, but if the glass also crumbled, then through the course of time... Nevertheless it was seven hundred years old...” “A nightmare! And I thought that the stained-glass panel was fractured by lightning!” Medusa thought. “At first I wanted to use a flying carpet, but to set out on a carpet in this dampness would be a waste: moth would damage it. Besides, the jet sofa is almost one-and-a-half times faster... Well, and I don’t speak of boot-runners at all. Since, as they were hexed, their accuracy of landing is almost twenty versts... Oh, of course, I could take a mop with propeller or a flying vacuum, but you know full well that they are uncomfortable. One’s
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back becomes numb during long flights on them, and the absence of baggage carrier interferes with taking even the smallest load with you.” The instructor of studies of evil spirits sighed very quietly. For a long time, those in Tibidox were already used to Academician Sardanapal’s eccentricities. He could very well, mixing up the epochs, appear at work in a Roman toga or set someone’s ear wax on fire by mistake, after confusing it with a grey chemical. And what about that case with the guest from Bald Mountain, when the academician sent him on a three-month sleep, having accidentally read to him the hibernation spell for gophers instead of the salutatory speech? But whatever you may say, nevertheless he was the greatest magician since The Ancient One. “Are you listening to me, Medusa? In my opinion you were distracted!” The academician reproachfully glanced at his companion, and she, worrying, understood too late that she forgot to protect her thoughts with a guard spell. When you deal with a powerful magician, never overlook any small detail. “So, I flew to Leopold,” continued Sardanapal. “The wind was favourable, so that I was on the road for no more than three hours. Before reaching the place, I detected a great number of evil spirits swarming around his house. They were behaving very strangely — muttering something, panting, walking in circles, and were generally somewhat dejected. Noticing me, the evil spirits dispersed in countable minutes. You know these essences: first many of them, then suddenly, at one go, none...” “And no one even attempted an attack?” Medusa was astonished. “Absolutely not. I did not believe my own eyes. Only Plague-del-Cake could assemble so many evil spirits in one place, and she would indeed not miss a chance to settle a score with me. Here’s the riddle — only very recently the evil spirits were ready to tear us into shreds, but now it’s as if we don’t exist for them... Busy with their own little squabbles.” “And then you surmised that She-Who-Is-No-More vanished?” “Well, I haven’t quite surmised yet, but I’m already pondering. I approached the house of Leopold, knocked — no sound in answer. Then I pushed the door, and it opened. It didn’t even open but simply fell from a single touch. In the house everything was turned upside down. Internal walls had collapsed, handrails were charred, only chips left from the furniture. Likely someone endowed with immense magical power uttered a spell of total annihilation. I rushed into the laboratory. It suffered most of all. Even the granite boulder that served Leopold as a table for experiments crumbled into powder, I hardly touched it...” the voice of Sardanapal trembled. “Grotter and his wife Sophia... there was already no help for them. Even I could not help, although, as you know, Medusa, I slightly understand magic. But here’s a miracle — in the middle of the laboratory, on the floor dented by the spell, among the crumbled plaster lay a case for a double bass, and in it — a tiny little girl, their daughter... We knew the Grotters well, Medusa, they were people of skill, magicians of superior material. Magic and music were what they lived for. They didn’t even have a baby carriage for the child, managed entirely with a case for the double bass. Afraid that the girl was also dead, I leaned over the case, and — oh, a miracle! — she was sleeping serenely, and gripped in her palm was a silver scorpion of Plague-del-Cake...” Medusa straightened abruptly. Her copper-red hair again hissed like snakes. “How? That same scorpion-killer which She-Who-Is-No-More sent to sting her victims when she wanted to take pleasure in their tortures?”
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“Yes. But it couldn’t injure the girl, although on the tip of her nose I noticed two red spots. Likely, the scorpion stung her directly on the birthmark. Even a light bite was usually sufficient to kill an adult magician... But she, this baby, simply crushed it. A yearold girl, not even awake, dealt with the silver scorpion.” “However, it’s incredible that she survived. But if the scorpion got rid of its venom? Or was it used earlier?” Gorgonova asked with distrust. “No, there was enough venom. And Plague-del-Cake didn’t keep old scorpions. But even if we forget about the scorpion, another thing remains: the spell of complete annihilation — this terrible white flash which burns out everything all around — also couldn’t harm Tanya. Indeed this form of magic is not among those directed selectively. It destroys everyone and everything that happened to be close by, with the exception of the one who cast it.” Tears rolled down Medusa’s cheeks and fell onto the pile of maple leaves. The leaves began to smoke. The first unknown folk narrator calling female tears hot was likely acquainted with a sorceress. “The unlucky Grotters! But what about the Talisman of Four Elements?” Medusa sobbed. “I was never able to find it,” said Sardanapal. “It was not near Leopold nor his wife Sophia nor the child... It was nowhere in the house. Most likely, it was destroyed by the spell together with all the rest of Grotter’s inventions. True, at first I suspected that Plague-del-Cake took it, but, if this were so, we would already have known about it. No, it actually disappeared, and the strange behaviour of the evil spirits — a better confirmation of that. I don’t know what happened in the house of the Grotters, but this tiny little girl did what no single magician could... She stopped She-Who-Is-No-More...” Only now detecting the burning leaves under her feet, Medusa uttered a short spell accompanied by a sign, which her magic ring traced directly in the air. The fire went out. For a little while, the sign traced by Medusa hung in the air, weakly wavering. Gorgonova angrily wiped it off with her palm. “But why do you want to give the girl up to Durnev? Why send her to the moronoid world? Why can’t we bring her up in Tibidox?” she asked with vexation. “Medusa, have you forgotten what place Tibidox is? You should indeed know, but there’s absolutely nothing for a child to do there. Only imagine to yourself, Tibidox — and suddenly a child? “And if Eyeless Horror comes to the surface? Or, let us say, Dumpling Maker let go of his Coffin Lid, and it, like last time, lying in wait for students lingering on the dark stairs? And the cyclopes, getting violent each full moon? And Ripper, whom, by the way, you wrongfully dragged out of the scorching cave in the Earth’s core, where he was incarcerated.” “He promised that he would drop all his habits and would be our porter. You yourself know that it’s complicated to rely on the cyclopes. These dimwits have heads like sieves,” Medusa said, justifying herself. “And later... well, you yourself know what happened later...” “Precisely... The invisible Ripper walks along the corridors of Tibidox, howls, croaks, and does what suits him, and even we cannot catch him because he can be reflected only in the Mirror of Fate, but he doesn’t show his nose there!” Sardanapal shouted angrily. “And you want me to let the daughter of Grotter into Tibidox?”
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“But I can cast guard spells! The most powerful guard spells, which neither Ripper nor Death nor Wooden Hag nor Eyeless Horror will trespass. And the empty Wheelchair and the flying Coffin Lid — they are indeed a trifle altogether. They are only capable of causing harm to a novice not knowing the rebuff spell...” Medusa said with contempt. “And a newborn girl, in your opinion, is capable of uttering it?” “No, she isn’t capable. But, Sardanapal, we can, after all, bathe her in the Deflecting Bath, and then...” The academician of white magic interrupted her: “Yes, I agree. We can. Coffin Lid — it’s nothing. Wheelchair — also nothing. Freezing Traps and Statue-Crushers also, perhaps, nonsense. But Nameless Cellar? And is the Vanishing Floor also a trifle? We, up to now, still don’t know what became of those two bums who managed to make their way there. And in conclusion, what will you say about the Sinister Gates?” Medusa shuddered. “You’re right, Sardanapal,” she said, crushed. “I forgot about Nameless Cellar and Sinister Gates... But she’s the daughter of Grotter! A girl who managed to survive a meeting with She-Who-Is-No-More and to endure...” The academician interrupted her, “We don’t know how she managed it, but we know what this cost Leopold and Sophia. And to subject the girl to danger again... Besides this...” here Sardanapal made a long pause, “there is still one more reason... Extremely important, for which Tanya in no way can be found in Tibidox. In any case, she must not appear there for as long as possible...” “What reason?!” Medusa exclaimed hotly. Sardanapal looked at her reproachfully. “For the time being I cannot tell you, although I trust you more than anybody. It’s that same reason why Grotter didn’t remain to live in Tibidox, but took Sophia and the child away into such wilderness, where, besides swamp brownies, werewolves, and evil spirits, you’ll meet no one else. And it’s Grotter — with his capital education, excellent manners, and habit of making music daily. Understand, Medusa?” The associate professor Gorgonova nodded despondently, realizing that the reason that drove Grotter into the wilderness and forced him to forsake Tibidox in the bloom of his career had to be very weighty. “So, it’s decided... Tonight we’ll return here with the child and abandon her to Herman Durnev and his wife. The sight of a poor orphan cannot but touch their hearts... Let them bring her up together with their own daughter. Girls of the same age will be merrier together. We’re going, Medusa. It’s time! A-a-a-a-choo!” The academician suddenly sneezed so deafeningly that all the constellations were blown off his hanky at once, and the phone booth standing by the house tumbled with a crash to one side. “I said you’d catch a cold!” Medusa said reproachfully. “Nonsense!” Sardanapal was angry. “Stop keeping an eye on my health! He who had his head chopped off three times cannot be afraid of a common head cold... Choo!” The academician of white magic wrapped himself tighter in his orange robe and, decisively treading on his beard, made his way past the houses to the small square. His restless moustaches were making a signal in time to the steps: one-two, one-two. Medusa picked her way after him. Many passers-by filling the street in that hour and hurrying on their own affairs paid them very little attention. And what should even draw their curiosity when they only saw
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a shaggy mongrel and barely at a distance a thin elegant borzoi with a long snout? For the experienced magicians it constituted no difficulty to cook up a couple of deflecting spells. Having taken about thirty steps, the academician Sardanapal awkwardly jumped up, clicked his knees in the air and, growling out a spell, dissolved in the air. Medusa in contrast to her teacher did not possess the ability of instantaneous disappearances from the human world. She reached the square and extracted from the bushes a kid’s rocking horse painted with Khokhloma designs. Having checked that all twelve talismans, without which the rocking horse simply would not take off, were in place, she clambered up onto it with difficulty and, soaring up steeply, disappeared among the clouds. It was curious that even on the ridiculous kiddie rocker the associate professor Gorgonova contrived to appear majestic and to look ahead like a hawk. Somewhere along the way she ran into Lifeless Griffin; the wretch would have to pay. However, it was already dead, so there was nothing for it to lose. The sun started to yawn lazily and climbed up from the roof. The unusual day continued. *** Herman Durnev had one hundred and seventeen bad moods. If it is possible to describe the first mood as slightly bad, then the last, the hundred-and-seventeenth, amounted to a good force-eight storm. The head of the firm Second-Hand Socks returned home that day precisely in this hundred-and-seventeenth bad mood. On the road it constantly seemed to him that other cars were moving too slowly, and he began to hit the horn continually with his palm. At the same time it twice seemed to him that the sound of the horn was too quiet, and then, sticking his head out the window of the car, he roared, “Hey, what are you dragging? Move it, move! You want me to come out and beat you up? You want to give a sick person a stroke?” Durnev, it goes without saying, considered himself the sick person. The basic reason Herman Nikitich’s mood was so abruptly spoilt was the sensation that some strange and mysterious forces were pursuing him and making fun of him. Everything began from that same morning when he just set off for work. Even along the way something started to rumble violently in the baggage carrier of the car, rumbling so that the car even jumped, but when he went out to look, it turned out there was nothing in there. When Durnev got back behind the wheel, he discovered that his own portrait from a magazine was stuck to the windshield of the automobile. Moreover, it appeared as if the wind dropped onto the glass a page soaked in a puddle... The director was so anxious that when he ripped off his picture, his fingers were shaking and he accidentally tore part of his head, together with the ear, from the photograph. Seeing in this a bad omen for himself, Herman Nikitich immediately swallowed thirty Relief tablets and washed them down with a bottle of valerian tincture. When he nevertheless got to the office, he discovered that the wastebasket in his office was turned upside down, and all the garbage from it was unceremoniously shaken out onto the carpet. And not simply shaken out but also steeped in something stinky. The furious Durnev immediately fired the cleaning woman, though she swore that she did not even drop into his office.
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Having opened the safe in order to get the press, he beheld there a pale fungus on a thin leg, which, when Herman Nikitich stretched out his hand to it, spread on the papers a sticky slime that could not be wiped off. After this incident, Durnev collapsed into the armchair and sat in it for a long time, sweating and counting off small fractions with his teeth. “Twenty five... twenty six... I’m not nervous at all... Why are you staring at me? Get back to work! Really, didn’t I ask you to get for me the price on old toothbrushes?” he began to yell at an employee timidly looking in. The unlucky employee slid into his own tiny little office, which smelled of moth-eaten sweaters and worn jeans, and, collapsing onto the chair, nearly died of fright. No need to explain that toward the evening Durnev had had quite a drop too much. “Pour me anything to drink... Now you’ll see, soon something bad will happen!” he groaned as soon as he found himself at home. In contrast to the office literally choked up from floor to ceiling with cut-price junk and worn out things, everything was completely new in Durnev’s home. Herman Nikitich’s wife — Ninel — was as fat as her husband was thin. When she slept, her wrinkled cheeks spread all over the pillow, and her body, covered with a blanket, resembled a snowy mountain from which it was possible to ski down. “Ah, Hermanchik, you imagine all sorts of things! Don’t be so upset! You’re completely green like the fir on New Year! Let me kiss you on the cheek!” Ninel cooed with a juicy bass, reassuringly patting her husband on the frail back with a hand adorned with rings. “Phew! Drop this tenderness!” Herman Nikitich growled. However, his bad mood dispersed a little, jumping from hundred-and-seventeenth to sixty-sixth, and later even to fiftieth. After supper, Durnev cheered up so much that he had the desire to spend time with his year-old daughter Penelope, or Pipa as she was tenderly called by her parents, who inherited from mama the moving eyebrows and figure of a porter, and from papa eyes bunched together, protruding ears, and sparse whitish hair. Of course, the Durnevs doted on her and considered their Pipa the first beauty in the world. The heiress of the Durnev family was sitting in the playpen and concentrating on breaking a doll. Three beheaded dolls were already scattered about on the floor, and their heads were mounted on parts of rattles decorating the playpen. “What a smart little girl! She will be a director like her papa!” Durnev was touched. He leaned over the playpen and made an attempt to kiss Pipa on the top of her head. The daughter grasped papa by the hair with her right hand, and with the plastic shovel clutched in her left hand she started to saw papa’s neck, clearly intending to do with him the same as she had done with the dolls. “Darling! Wonderful child!” Papa panted. He freed his hair with difficulty and, just in case, moved further away from the playpen where he could not be reached or spat on. Pipa forcefully threw the shovel after him, but it only fell into the vase on the TV, and immediately, with the greatest readiness, scattered splinters. “Oh, what a strong girlie we have! What good aim!” Ninel squealed enthusiastically. “Careful... She’s taking off her boots!” Durnev warned, covering his head with his hands, just in case, to dodge these sufficiently heavy projectiles.
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At this moment, there was suddenly a ringing in the apartment. The bell, usually squeaking spitefully, now issued a loud, almost triumphant trill. Durnev and his spouse shuddered at once. “Are you expecting someone, mousie?” Ninel asked. “No, no one. You?” “Me neither...” Ninel answered and, following Herman, made her way to the door. Pipa threw her boots after them, but the laces got tied up around her hand, and the boots, recoiling, struck her on the nose. Pipa began to wail like a steamer siren. Meanwhile, Herman looked into the peephole. No one was visible, although the bell, not stopping for a second, continued to demand persistently that they open the door. “Hey, who’s there? I warn you: I don’t like these jokes!” Durnev bellowed and, armed with a hammer, looked onto the landing. Suddenly his face became like that of an old lady who, by mistake, instead of a poodle stroked a crocodile from the Nile. In front of the door, barely finding room in the narrow landing, lay an enormous case for a double bass. The case was exceptionally old, trimmed on the outside with very thick rough leather, something simultaneously resembling scales. If Herman Nikitich were a little more learned or had the habit, for example, of leafing through books, he would easily understand that artists always depict such things as dragon skin. Furthermore, to the bulging handle of the double bass case was riveted a small copper tag; half-obliterated letters on it read: ...ilver ...truments wizard Theo...: drums, ...ble basses etc. But Durnev had not the least desire to examine either the case or especially the tag on it. He only saw that a large and extremely suspicious object was tossed up to him on the threshold and the one who tossed it up most likely was running away now. Shedding his sneakers, Herman Nikitich clumsily jumped over the case and, darting out to the stairs, began to yell into the resonant void: “Hey you there! Hey! Take away your suspicious thingamajig, or I’ll call the police! No good throwing me a bomb!” No one answered his cry. Only for a moment, it seemed to Durnev, pushing his head through between the rails, that a shadow flickered several floors below. Then the external door slammed and everything was quiet. The director of the firm Second-Hand Socks considered that the old foxes, having tossed the mysterious thingamajig up to him, had run out. Screaming out yet a couple more threats, Herman Nikitich dragged his feet back. The case was in its previous place. Walking a few steps toward it, Durnev squatted down and propped up his head with his palms. “Ninel, Ninel, come here — see what was tossed up to us!” he called mournfully. From the apartment the fat-cheeked head of his spouse looked around. Ninel clutched a T-Fal frying pan in her hand, grabbed for the same purpose as her husband arming himself with a hammer. “Look, a case!” she was astonished. “Don’t take it into your head to touch it! For sure it’s a bomb!” Herman Nikitich yelped. At that moment, a strange sound came from the case. The Durnevs decided that it was the ticking of a clock mechanism.
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“Now it’ll go off with a jerk! Down!” the head of the firm Second-Hand Socks started to shout and quickly began to crawl away. His spouse flopped onto the linoleum, covering her head with the T-Fal frying pan. But the expected explosion did not follow. Instead, the weeping of a demanding child was heard from the case. Exchanging dumbfounded glances, Durnev and his spouse crawled up to the case. The old lock clicked, the cover was thrown back... “Ah-ha! Do you see? It’s a child!” Ninel exclaimed, her forehead bumping into her husband. “A bomb would be better!” Herman Nikitich groaned. In the case, on a carefully stretched out red blanket, lay a little girl with curly hair. On the tip of her nose was a small buckwheat grain, the birthmark. The baby just woke up and now she was crying loudly from hunger, energetically drumming on the double bass case with her hands and feet. Ninel winced with disgust, “No, I’ll not take her into our home! What if she has some infection? Even infectious for sure! Look at this suspicious spot on the nose! And I’ll be shaking with loathing if she turns up in the same bed with Pipa. But we also can’t abandon her here. The neighbours will gather...” “Oh, it goes without saying, we won’t abandon her! We’re humane people! We’ll turn the girl in to the orphanage! There she’ll learn to paint fences, sweep the streets, and a hundred other remarkable professions!” Durnev said cheerfully. Having gathered the sneakers scattered on the landing, he already started to drag his feet to the telephone when suddenly his wife exclaimed, “Look, mousie, here’s a letter! Here it is, attached to the child’s wrist! And don’t you swing your hands, little frog, all the same I’ll take it away!” Leaning down, Ninel freed the envelope with disgust. In it was inserted a photograph, after glancing at which Herman Nikitich was covered with beads of sweat. In the photograph were two boys — one whitish, emaciated, with a sour and evil face, and the other pensive and sad, with a large nose and red ringlets of hair. “Oh, no!” Durnev groaned. “It’s Lenchik Grotter, my grandmother’s second cousin’s nephew. Here, look: I’m trying to whack him on the forehead with a truck, and he’s staring into his own devil’s telescope! It was not without reason that today presented itself as such a bad day. Is this little girl really his daughter? If so, we’ll have to take her in or my political career will come to an end. You know, Ninel, I want to be a candidate for deputy...” Hearing that the girl would remain with them, his wife swelled up with anger so that she was hardly accommodated on the landing. “You NEVER told me about LENCHIK GROTTER!” she yelped angrily. Durnev started to cough in embarrassment. “Well, he’s not Lenchik at all but Leopold... My grandmother called him Lenchik... Oh, that one was a real rogue, not grandmother of course, but this Grotter! We fiercely hated each other in childhood. Fought every time we met. More precisely, it’s I who beat him up, and he stayed more in the corners or turned the pages of his idiotic books. He was eternally busy with some nonsense: either puttering around with hedgehogs or learning to talk in cat’s language, and they held him up to me as an example! And what do you think? At ten, he drove his first motorcycle, and at twelve, robbed a bank! Here, trust a goody-goody after this!” “A twelve-year-old boy robbed the bank?” his spouse could not believe her ears.
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“Without efforts. He carried this out with the help of a computer, not even leaving the house, but they traced him. When the police arrived, he simply disappeared. Everyone thought that he was in the room, forced open the door, but no one was there. They searched for him, but also didn’t find him. Even thought that he had perished. I of all people was most pleased, because you know where this idiot transferred all the stolen money? To a fund for helping stray dogs!!! Not to me, his second cousin, but to some mongrels...” Durnev flushed with indignation. It seemed that steam just about came out of his nostrils and ears. “Well, okay, he disappeared and vanished,” he continued, calming down somewhat. “And now listen further. Fifteen years passed, and I received from this character a New Year postcard with an idiotic stamp depicting a winged monster. I read it, flung it onto a chair, and it immediately got lost somewhere before I had time to look at the return address. And now here’s this baby! Interesting, but for what reason did Grotter abandon his own offspring to me?” “Look, there’s even a newspaper clipping!” Ninel exclaimed, guessing again to glance into the envelope. TRAGEDY IN THE MOUNTAINS A year does not pass that avalanches would not take away new lives. This time their victims were the archaeologists Sophia and Leopold Grotter, exploring the tombs of prehistoric animals in the Tien Shan Mountains. An enormous snow avalanche literally headed right for their tent, which they had the imprudence to pitch on the dangerous part of the slope. The bodies of the courageous archaeologists were never discovered. Sophia and Leopold left a daughter, Tatiana, whom now, apparently, will be handed over to relatives. It is known that not long before the tragedy the Grotters succeeded in finding the excellently preserved remains of a sabre-tooth tiger. “Unlucky tiger! Found to be connected with them! Had no luck even after death!” Durnev exclaimed with feeling. It was the only regret that Herman Nikitich expressed, learning about the demise of his second cousin. The girl lying in the double bass case piped down while they were reading the note, but afterward began to cry twice as loudly. “You see how she spills as if she understands something!” Durnev hesitated. “I bet when she grows up they’ll put her in prison! Only for the sake of admiring this spectacle, we’ll register ourselves officially as her guardians! Feed her, Ninel! There’s an expired kefir left in the refrigerator. It’s just the same as throwing it out.” So Herman Durnev and his wife Ninel became Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel. Under these pompous names, they, in their time, went into the reference publication A Thousand of the Most Unpleasant Moronoids. Chapter 2 The Gold Sword

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Tanya Grotter awoke at dawn from the cold. There was ice on her thin blanket, and the same icy crust, only slightly thinner, stiffened on the pillow. For a while, Tanya was still lying, hoping to hide under the damp blanket, but it was useless — it became even colder and more disgusting. Then Tanya threw off the blanket and hurriedly leaped up, dreaming of diving quickly into the apartment, into warmth. She pulled the door once, twice, a third time, but it did not yield. Getting up on tiptoes, Tanya discovered that the lower latch was pushed shut. Pipa was up to her old tricks again. The last time she locked Tanya on the sunroom-balcony in the beginning of spring, Tanya caught a cold and spent a month and a half in the hospital with pneumonia. However, the time in the hospital was indeed not so bad, though they gave her a needle daily and even put her on an IV. There, in any case, she was in a warm place and no one nagged her thirty times a day. And now here again... Tanya started to knock on the glass, but the Durnevs were sleeping soundly in the next room. Only a barrel of gunpowder exploding in the kitchen could wake them. As far as Pipa was concerned, although her bed was right next to it, she only giggled and made disgusting faces at Tanya. However, no faces, even the most disgusting, were as repulsive as her own horse face (inheritance from papa Herman) with round fish eyes (gift from mama Ninel) blinking on it. “Hey you, fright, open now!” Tanya shouted to Pipa. “Dream on! Sit there and freeze. All the same some day they’ll put you in prison, just like your daddy... And it’s disgusting to me: I don’t want you wandering around the apartment. You will steal anything,” snorted Pipa. She reached from the drawer of the table a photograph in a frame and, flopping back down onto the bed, began to study it. Tanya did not know who was in this photograph because Pipa always locked it and never even casually turned the frame around. For sure Tanya knew only that Pipa was in love to distraction with whoever was in this photograph, moreover she was so in love that she stared at him no less than an hour a day. “Come on, come! Show him your pimples!” Tanya shouted to her. Pipa started to breathe heavily and furiously. “Come on, come on! Only make sure you don’t stop breathing!” shivering from cold, Tanya again shouted. Having given this advice, she fumbled around the balcony with her eyes, estimating whether there was anything to hurl at Pipa. And if there was nothing to throw, then perhaps at least a suitable rope in order, after making a loop, to lower it from the window and hook the latch. The Durnevs never told Tanya the truth about her parents. It gave them pleasure to incite the girl with stories about her papa being in prison, and her mama, begging at a station, dead. Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel allegedly took in the same Tanya from pity. “And it’s clear that we made a mistake! You turned out to be as big a rascal as your daddy was!” Uncle Herman added obligingly. And it was a blatant lie — Tanya was not a rascal, although she knew how to stand up for herself. Small, quick, smart, with tiny curls, she managed to be everywhere at once. Her sharp tongue cut like a razor. “You have to be on your guard with this one!” Ninel sometimes declared, being the kind who could easily bite off someone’s hand to the elbow and still say that it is not
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tasty. In reality, Tanya was completely harmless, simply with the Durnevs humiliating her every second, there was no other way to survive. From the middle of spring to the middle of fall, the Durnevs forced Tanya to sleep on the glazed sunroom-balcony, and only when it became quite cold would she be allowed to lie down in the furthest and darkest room of the Durnev apartment. In that room were normally the vacuum, a stepladder, and a malicious dachshund by the name of One-AndA-Half Kilometres. This old bowlegged sausage hated the girl as much as the Durnevs did, and, fawning before its masters, was eternally hanging at her heels. Ten years had gone by from that day when Herman and his spouse discovered the double bass case on their landing. It was again fall, but no longer bright and cheerful as then, but gloomy and rainy. There was night frost, and in the mornings icicles hung on the glazed balcony. Exactly the same ice was formed on both the girl’s thin mattress and her blanket. Possibly, the Durnevs would allow Tanya again to lie down in the room if it was not being redecorated recently. “Just imagining this slovenly creature lying on the new bed and touching our new wallpaper with her fingers simply fills me with annoyance,” Aunt Ninel declared. “Yes, pity that we threw out the old sofa... But, she’ll probably be able to sleep on the floor, on her mattress,” Uncle Herman said generously when he happened to be in a good mood. However, this occurred extremely rarely, because he had only one good mood and, as is known, one hundred and seventeen bad ones... That Uncle Herman had become deputy several years ago and even headed the committee “Loving Aid to Children and Invalids” changed him very little. He, perhaps, became even nastier. Moreover, here were new elections at hand! Uncle Herman was walking around all the time gloomy and anxious and, only when going out onto the street, would he with loathing, like pulling on old and not very clean socks, stretch on himself a smile. From constant preoccupation, he was more wizened. Even stray dogs tucked in their tails and wailed mournfully when Uncle Herman passed by. And having failed to find anything on the balcony that would allow her to reach up to the latch, Tanya became slightly melancholy. She did not intend to beg Pipa to open it in order not to give her additional pleasure. “Well, no matter, chuchundra! You’ll again discover five redundant mistakes in your next homework assignments!” she thought vindictively. Tanya wrapped herself in the blanket, pressed her forehead against the glass, and began to look at the courtyard. Below, cars, small like beetles, were parked. The roofs of the garage-cockleshell glistened like silver. The sleepy yard-keeper, to spite everyone still sleeping, was rattling the cover of the waste bin. “If only I could fly! I would open the window, spread my arms, and fly far, far away from here, hundreds, thousands of kilometres, to where my papa is! And if I would have wings, well, like that sheet, for example...” Tanya thought sadly. Under her eyes the big red sheet, trembling on a broken branch of the maple, unexpectedly tore away, soared up the entire three floors, and was pasted to the glass directly opposite her face. While the girl was pondering how it could happen that the sheet flew up instead of down, the latch loudly clanged like the lock of a rifle. Turning around, Tanya saw Aunt Ninel in a nightgown. Wiping her eyes, Aunt looked at her with disgust. In the past ten years, she had grown three times as stout and could
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now travel only in the service elevator. In order that she could squeeze into the kitchen, it was necessary to enlarge the door. “Why are you hanging around here?” Aunt Ninel asked with suspicion. “And why not? Your Pipa locked me in,” Tanya was bewildered. With the Durnevs she eternally felt guilty. Probably, they were aiming at this, day after day, year after year, poisoning her existence. “Don’t you dare lie, thankless trash!” Aunt Ninel snapped, as if she did not just open the latch. “What’s this with ‘your Pipa’? And this after the cousin gave you her beloved pencil case as a birthday present?” Tanya wanted to say that the pencil case was old, and all the pens either smeared or did not write at all, but she decided that it would be better to keep quiet. Especially as Pipa purposely cut the pencil case up with a blade the next day. “Why do you keep quiet? You think it’s pleasant for me to talk with you? March into the kitchen to sort out the buckwheat! You love to eat — love also to prepare!” Aunt was angry. Slipping past her, Tanya went to the Durnev’s kitchen with gleaming tiles glazed skyblue and, having poured buckwheat out onto the table, began to sift the dark grains. To tell the truth, the buckwheat was sufficiently clean, but Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel were crazy about ecologically clean food, extra-pure water, and other similar whims. Of filters alone, they had a whole seven pieces in the kitchen. True, the Durnevs nevertheless forced Tanya to drink from under the faucet in order not to pay for filter cartridges for her. However, Tanya also returned the favour, periodically pouring water from the toilet tank into the teapot for them. Unwillingly sorting the buckwheat, the girl occasionally raised her head and looked sideways at her reflection in the large nickel-plated extension above the stove. The extension was new like the kitchen, and everything was reflected in it as in a mirror, only not flat but convex. Either the extension flattered or Tanya actually looked considerably better than Pipa. Well-built, mischievous, sharp-eyed... Here only the small birthmark on the tip of the nose gave her either a mysterious or devil-may-care look. How many long minutes, especially in first and second grade when they teased her terribly and hurt her feelings because of this birthmark, the girl examined it in the mirror! And the longer she examined it, the more often it came to her head that she never saw similar birthmarks on anyone. Her birthmark sometimes changed colour, becoming either pink and imperceptible or almost black. It could decrease and increase in size. Every time that Tanya got sick or not long before some big trouble the birthmark began to pulsate and would even be very hot as if it were being seared with a hot nail. And finally, right beside the birthmark it was possible to make out a scar consisting of two tiny dots. And are these not bites perhaps, and if so, from what? Maybe even the birthmark itself sprung from a bite? Aunt Ninel looked into the kitchen. Her unwieldy hulk hung above the girl like a reinforced concrete plate. “Why are you dawdling? Have you sorted out the buckwheat? Cook for us from this pile, and you can prepare for yourself something from these little black dots. And don’t be embarrassed. If you need bread, take the leftover from guests. The mould on it can be cut off easily.”
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For breakfast, besides kasha, the Durnevs ate red caviar and sandwiches with sturgeon. Tanya despondently sat on a stool next to the dog dish and chewed dry bread almost like rock. Moreover, when she started to move, the dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres growled and hung onto her sneakers with its teeth. “Don’t you dare tease the dog!” Aunt Ninel screamed, and a contented Pipa unnoticeably stirred with her feet under the table, trying to anger the dachshund still more. Unexpectedly from the frail chest of Uncle Herman, stirring the tea with a spoon, a heart-rending sigh was forced out. “Please, don’t shout! My head aches terribly. I had an awful dream,” he asked pleadingly. He had hardly uttered this when Aunt Ninel and Pipa instantly became quiet, and even One-And-A-Half Kilometres, this evil rheumatic pug stopped growling. The fact is that Uncle Herman NEVER IN HIS LIFE dreamt. In any case, in the past he did not talk about them. “What did you see, pampushka?” Aunt Ninel sometimes called her husband pampushka, though it would be more correct to call him “skeletoshka.” There and then, having altered “pampushka” into “skeletoshka” for herself, Tanya began to smile quietly and immediately looked around in fear. No, no one noticed, everyone was staring in amazement at the dreamer Uncle Herman. Durnev looked fearfully sideways at the window. “I dreamt of an old woman,” he said in a half whisper. “A terrible old woman who was sent to us in a cardboard box. An old woman with red eyes and disgusting slobbery jaw. She stretched out her arms... her arms were SEPARATE, not attached to the body... she gripped me by the neck with her bony fingers and demanded...” “Mommy! What?” Pipa gave a squeak, dropping from her mouth the piece of sturgeon falling precisely onto the dachshund’s nose. “She said: ‘Give me what she’s hiding!’” “Give what?” “Where am I to know that from? I don’t even know who this ‘she’ is!” Uncle Herman snapped. He wanted to add something else, but suddenly Pipa screamed deafeningly, “Eek! This fool nearly toppled the table! I’m scalded by tea!!!” Both the older Durnevs at once turned and stared at Tanya. Pipa continued to squeal detestably, wailing that she must urgently be in the hospital and that she could not feel her legs. Tanya sat as in a fog, not understanding what happened and why everyone was looking at her. And then she suddenly perceived that she was squeezing the table-top with her hands. So this is why Pipa was squealing — she, Tanya, for some reason gripped the table and, abruptly pulling it, scalded her with tea! Aunt Ninel turned around furiously. The stool under her — one of the new, recently purchased stools — cracked deafeningly. “Don’t you infuriate me, I wouldn’t want to break it! Now march to get dressed and get to school!!” she yelled at Tanya. The girl got up and, not understanding why her head was spinning, went into the room. She just now understood that everything happened at that moment when Uncle Herman mentioned the yellow old woman and her words, “Give me what she’s hiding!”
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*** Tanya was sent off to school alone. Pipa was making use of the situation in order to dump everything on the burn and remained at home to watch TV. “Mama! Papa! Because of this painful attack, I can’t go to the test! Now I’ll have precisely a three for this term! It’s thanks to her, this idiot! I get bad marks because of her!” she howled, although Tanya knew perfectly well that Pipa viewed tests as death in white slippers. Moreover the tea was indeed not quite so hot, and if the puffed up daughter of Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel got burned, then only in her imagination. But the most annoying thing was that both Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel believed every word of their girlie. “Oh, Pipa, well what can I do with this criminal? You know meanwhile we cannot send her to the orphanage, and they don’t take anyone into the colony until they are fourteen!” Aunt Ninel lamented, when Tanya, dressed in an absurd crimson-grey jacket, on which instead of buttons there was some eyesore — either rosettes or bulbs, stood in the corridor. “Nonsense,” Tanya could not contain herself. “If she’ll have a three, then only because she has more twos than pimples in her diary. Have you ever seen a person who wrote ‘vegetable’ not only with a soft sign but also in two words?” “Don’t you dare speak out! And how, in your opinion, is it written, without a soft sign perhaps? That’s it, I have no more strength! Either some dirty deadbeat made an appointment with me, pretending to be invalids only on the grounds that they have no arms and legs, or this little monster... I can’t take anymore, I’m leaving...” Uncle Herman groaned and, pressing his temples with his hands, set off for the office. Aunt Ninel moved up to Tanya, leaned toward her and, with hatred burning in her small eyes sunk into thick cheeks, started to hiss like a snake, “You’ll pay for this! You’ll pay! Now I’ll definitely chuck your idiotic double bass case from the house!” It seemed to Tanya that they precisely jabbed her with a red-hot knitting needle. Aunt Ninel knew how to find her weakest point. Indeed it would be better she called her a dimwit or a degenerate a hundred times — she was already used to this, but to throw out the case... “Just try to touch it!” Tanya shouted. The old double bass case, lying in a cabinet on the glazed balcony, was the only thing in the house of the Durnevs that utterly and completely belonged to her. It is complicated to say why Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel did not chuck it before now. And another strange thing — why they never told Tanya about how this case turned up in their apartment and who, crying from hunger, lay in it. “Indeed I’ll decide this, my dear! Have no doubt: today your case will be in the gutter! And now march to school!” Aunt Ninel snorted with satisfaction. Pipa, looming behind mama’s back, triumphantly stuck out her long tongue the colour of undercooked liver sausage. Multicoloured spots began to jump before Tanya’s eyes. In order not to fall, she leaned against the lintel. The face of Aunt Ninel seemed to her sculpted from fat. “If... if you throw it out, I’ll leave home! I’ll live where it’s convenient, at the station, in the woods! You hear? You hear?” she yelled. Aunt Ninel was lost for an instant. She did not suspect that Tanya could fly into such a rage. Usually the girl suffered everything silently. Moreover, it came to the mind of
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Uncle Herman’s wife that if the girl would live at the station, the reporters would sniff this out and it would prevent further advancement of her spouse as deputy of the committee “Loving Aid to Children and Invalids.” And if one considers the elections in two months, a scandal is especially not needed. “I’m very frightened... And you’ll live in the gutter if nothing else! Nevertheless, I’ll chuck the case, if not today, then tomorrow. There’s no need for such a fright to be in our apartment,” Aunt Ninel barked already not so furiously, more simply not to surrender immediately her position, and, turning heavily on her thick heels, made her way to the kitchen. Tanya picked up her bag with textbooks — a nightmarishly tight bag on which was depicted a goggle-eyed doll and which more suited first grade, and went out onto the landing. Waiting for the elevator, she heard how Pipa was squealing hysterically and Aunt Ninel, making excuses, prattled to her, “Well what can I do? Now we definitely mustn’t have a scandal. You know papa will have elections soon! He’s so worried, so nervous, and here these petitioners still constantly drag themselves along to him on appointment! Indeed isn’t it enough for them that yearly papa sacrifices two tons of expired canned food in favour of the poor, not counting old clothing? Well no matter, very soon we’ll discard all the dirty rubbish of this beggar, you’ll see!” On the way and even afterwards, in the school itself, Tanya was constantly wondering whether she would see her case again. Aunt Ninel found an excellent way to spoil her entire day. And even a set of other days too. *** Arriving at school, Tanya soon realized that Pipa was absent from the test for nothing. For nothing because they cancelled the test, and instead of it arranged an excursion to the Armoury, which should have been on the following Thursday. After the first class, a terrible bustle broke out. A red bus with the sign “EXCURSION” drove into the schoolyard and began to signal. The class teacher Irina Vladimirovna was frantically swinging her arms — if these were not arms but wings, she would certainly take off — and shouting, “Children, are you listening to me? The test has been cancelled! Everyone who has paid get into the bus! The rest go to help the cleaning woman wash the stairs from the first to the fifth floor!” Tanya sighed, sensing that this applied to her. The Durnevs paid only for Pipa. They never paid anything for Tanya — neither gifts for New Year, nor theatres, nothing. Even for school breakfasts or tickets, Uncle Herman always handed out the money with the greatest reluctance, and that was only because if he refused, it would immediately attract someone’s attention. As far as pocket money was concerned, it was not even worth mentioning. The only money that Tanya held in her hands in her entire life was a fiverouble coin she somehow found in winter, frozen in a puddle. She was so bewildered that she did not know how to spend it. The coin lay in her pocket for a long time, but later Aunt Ninel found it and stated that Tanya stole it from Pipa. By the way, for each five they paid Pipa fifty roubles, and forty for a four. However, more often Pipa got by with thirty roubles.
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While her classmates got into the bus, Tanya continued to stand beside in embarrassment, estimating, whether she would be made to carry a rag along the steps or it would be possible to at least ask to bring water. She had already turned around in order to leave, but Irina Vladimirovna overtook her and, anxiously bobbing on the spot — she generally behaved exactly like a hen, clucked, “Grotter! Tatiana! Why are you not on the bus? You need a special invitation?” “I don’t particularly want to... I can’t stand these museums,” Tanya said, trying not to look at her. Irina Vladimirovna again bounced. “Untrue, Grotter! You simply know that they didn’t pay for you! But they paid for Penelope. All the same, money will be wasted. March into the bus and don’t make me nervous!” Not believing in such luck, Tanya quickly got into the bus. Of course, in three years the Durnevs will reproach her that the unfortunate Pipa, scalded by boiling water, was lying almost in a coma and not taken to the Armoury because of her, and so they will find something to sting her. But for the time being it is possible to sit in the bus, look out the window at the houses floating past, and be glad. And later there will still be the excursion and the same long road back to the school. A whole day of happiness! And everything that will happen later, and all matters, is possible to discard simply from the head. Tanya found for herself a pretty good place by the window, where next to her sat sullen and silent Genka Bulonov, from whom it was not worthwhile to wait for any dirty tricks, and nestled her forehead close to the glass. Swaying with difficulty, the bus left the schoolyard. Grey damp houses gleamed. The signboards of stores began to sparkle. Trees dazzling with vividness spread like multicoloured card packs. Traffic lights winked. Dirty puddles scattered merry drops in the air. Passers-by looked around at the bus, and it seemed to Tanya that each was looking precisely at her and thinking, “It’s carrying her, here she’ll go to the Armoury, but I have all kinds of boring business!” When they passed along their district, several times large advertising panels flashed. Uncle Herman looked pink and merry from the billboards. The best deputy — your deputy! The inscription under his photograph said. Uncle Herman really looked quite good on the billboards. Only Tanya alone, perhaps Pipa and Aunt Ninel as well, knew how many hours the photographer wasted with Uncle Herman and how much cotton wool he told him to put under his cheeks so that Uncle Herman would look a little less like a vampire. But now even the physiognomy of “the best deputy” seen everywhere could not poison Tanya’s happiness. She is going to the museum! For the first time in her life, something pleasant has come her way! It is indeed as if they have muddled up something in the sky and the horn of abundance, always spilling on Pipa, has spilled on her by mistake. “You... this...” someone’s hoarse voice was heard beside her. Tanya turned around in wonder. Likely Bulonov uttered it, and she had completely forgotten about his existence. And that he generally knows how to talk. “What’s with you, Bouillon?” “Nothing...” Bulonov growled and again was immersed in silence. He had such a contented look as if he already knew the future of ten days ahead.
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“If nothing, then hold your tongue! Got carried away here!” Tanya snorted and, instantly forgetting her neighbour, was again occupied with what was happening beyond the window. And something interesting was actually taking place there. Suddenly a large Russian borzoi insisted on accompanying the bus and for a long time was running next to it. Still it startled the girl why this nice dog went for a walk without its owner. It was also strange that this borzoi was tearing along not in the manner of a normal dog, with confused barking attempting to grab hold of a wheel with its teeth. It was speeding along intelligently, all this time without turning its watchful eyes away from Tanya. It was even possible to think that the borzoi was perturbed by something and was attempting to communicate something to her. Suddenly Genka Bulonov yawned with such a dreadful click of his jaws that half the bus turned to him. Tanya was also distracted for an instant, and when she again looked out the window, the Russian borzoi had already disappeared. There, where the bus had recently pulled up to the traffic light, stood a skinny red-haired woman with the dishevelled red hair moving so threateningly, as if... no, certainly these were not snakes. The skinny woman, it seemed, without special interest looked sideways at the bus and, turning, walked away. Her strange long raincoat was bespattered by mud in the same places as the fur of the borzoi rushing along the puddles. Tanya even leaped up, but the bus was already moving. An instant, and in the glass again flickered only grey houses, telephone booths, and transparent bus stops. Several minutes passed before Tanya finally discarded this story from her head. Yes, today was definitely a special day, resembling very little the previous three thousand two hundred and eighty-five days past since that evening when a worn double bass case appeared on the landing of a multi-storey house on Rublev Road... The children were arranged in pairs in front of the entrance into the Armoury. Doing a recount of everyone, Irina Vladimirovna almost fainted from the responsibility. The potbellied gym teacher Prikhodkin, sent on the excursion as a second escort, behaved in a more even-tempered way: counted no one and only blinked despondently. Likely, he would doze with great pleasure in the bus. “We’re visiting the museum in pairs! All exhibits we touch only with our eyes! With eyes, I said! Remember, everything is under surveillance! Just try to break a display case or stick chewing gum onto the tsar’s throne!” Irina Vladimirovna squeaked threateningly. Genka Bulonov immediately came to life. It was evident that the idea of using chewing gum attracted him by its novelty. When her turn arrived to hand over her jacket to the cloakroom, Tanya, as always, sensed awkwardness. Under the jacket, she had a dreadful jean shirt with a frayed collar, which was befitting perhaps to be tossed thievishly into the garbage bin at three in the morning. Although the Durnevs were rich, they always dressed the girl very badly — in the most worn and dirty junk, which Uncle Herman’s firm dealt in. And Aunt Ninel always picked such footwear, either too small for Tanya or big to such an extent that she had to shuffle with the soles on the floor so that her feet would not slip. Not surprising then that, seeing Tanya in these rags, even Aunt Ninel, as dry and tactless as an African rhino, now and then experienced some kind of pang of conscience and began to tell all the teachers indiscriminately, “Yes, I agree, we don’t dress her very well. However, she’ll rip everything all the same! But what do you want from the
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daughter of a thief and an alcoholic? My husband and I accomplished unpardonable stupidity taking her in, and now we bear the cross.” The classmates, dressed much better, contemptuously looked askance at Grotter. “Here’s an eyesore... She dressed herself up so that now they’ll give her a kopeck... Disgraces everyone!” they grimaced. Tanya had not one friend among them, and if one even appeared temporarily, Pipa and all her toadies began to ridicule her right away. Therefore not one friend remained next to Tanya for a long time. A week would not pass when she would side with Tanya’s persecutors and gloatingly ridiculed her birthmark from the opposite corner of the class. And Tanya understood her perfectly: it was necessary to curry favours with Pipa, making amends for her friendship... Accompanied by the small round-shouldered guide, who looked so decrepit as if he was much older than all local exhibits, they passed several halls. Tanya listened at first with interest, but gradually her interest disappeared because the guide was speaking approximately one and the same words, “Eh-eh-eh... Before you a signet r-ing, presented by Catherine II to Count Orlov... Selling this ring, it was possible to purchase 10,000 peasa-nts... And this is the diadem, presented to the tsarina by Prince Potemkin... It would be possible to ac-qu-ire 15,000 pea-sa-nts with it.” The guide uttered all these numbers so indulgently and ordinarily as if off-duty, he was only occupied with trading peasants, on the sly bartering them with exhibits from his museum. They were already in the sixth or seventh hall when suddenly something compelled Tanya to stop. At the same time, it was as if something light and weightless stirred in her chest. Under the convex armoured glass, a gold sword lay on a high pedestal illuminated by several high-power lights. Its wide blade serrated a little along the edges was covered with intricate characters. All around there were so many pleasing priceless weapons, but for some reason they did not stick in her mind, yet here was this sword... It was possible to think that once she already held it... Some delirium... Uncle Herman never even bought her a plastic sabre, but here a gold sword... And he would sooner eat his necktie than imagine such a thing to himself. Nevertheless, it stubbornly continued to seem to Tanya that this sword was known to her. A little more and Tanya would find the answer, in her consciousness a tiny little gold spark already began to appear, but here someone carelessly removed it from the display case. Beside it loomed the guide, automatically repeating like an old record some text cut into the memory. “Before us a sword found in the tomb of a Scythian leader. You will focus your attention on the signs covering its blade. They are interesting in that they have no analogy to any written languages known to us... They defy deciphering, so that most likely it is simply a design with which the master decorated the sword during its casting.” “And how many peasants can be bought with it?” Pavlik Yazvochkin, the chief wit of the class, interrupted. The guide looked sideways first at the sword, and then at the wit. It seemed he was evaluating them with his eyes, precisely an old man and a loan shark.
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“How many pea-sa-nts, I don’t know. But a couple thousand of such as you, it is indeed possible...” he said sadly. “Now let us move on to the next exhibit... You see the twopood ring from the golden gates, which, according to the legend, fell down on the crown of Julius Caesar the minute he triumphantly entered Rome as the head of his legions...” The entire class following the guide spilled over to the adjacent display case. Only Tanya remained near the sword. Involuntarily, not realizing what she was doing, the girl stretched out her hand in order to touch the sword. Of course, her fingers hit on the armoured glass. Immediately a bell began to jingle, and in only a second the huge supervisor, resembling a gorilla rented from the zoo and on which were stretched haphazardly a skirt and a tight wig, clutched Tanya by the sleeve. “Didn’t they tell you: don’t touch anything! Here I’ll call security now... Where’s the teacher?” she yelled louder than the siren. “Please don’t pay any attention! She’s with us, a character, a fool! Her papa is a convict,” Lena Mumrikova barged in, emaciated, a girl cast in unhealthy green, the chief among Pipa’s toadies. “Shut up, green toad!” Tanya exclaimed, not recognizing her own voice. She terribly wanted to attach Mumrikova’s nose to the glass so that the surveillance would snap to action once more, but it was not possible to do this because the supervisor continued to hold her tight. Fortunately, instead of Irina Vladimirovna, who for sure would tell tales to the Durnevs, gym teacher Prikhodkin, falling over, approached them. “You’re what? Her teacher?” the supervisor asked mistrustfully. “Aha! It’s my teacher! Beloved, from the very first class,” Tanya immediately confirmed. “And you keep quiet!” the supervisor bellowed. “I’m asking the man: are you the teacher?” “Yes...” confirmed Prikhodkin. “Eh-eh, if so...” the supervisor stupidly fixed her eyes on the stomach of the gym teacher. It was enormous, as if Prikhodkin swallowed a ball, and involuntarily inspired respect. “Then here’s what we’ll do: please hold this, your teenybopper, and don’t let go! Don’t dare let her touch anything!” she decided. “I’m already taking her away.” The huge fingers of Prikhodkin closed like a steel handcuff on the wrist of the girl. He dragged her like a kid after himself along the halls for a while, but then for some reason he needed his hand. He unclenched his fingers and released Tanya. She hurriedly ran off several steps and turned, checking whether he would remember about her. But the gym teacher only absent-mindedly fumbled with his fingers somewhere below as if vaguely recollecting that he was holding something, and began to stomp after the class. Then he paused for a moment and — possibly, it only seemed to Tanya — in a friendly way winked at her. Tanya was grateful to this scattered-brained stout person. Furthermore, she recalled that in his classes Prikhodkin always treated her rather well and called her “Baby Grotter” as a joke: “If you would all run the hundred-metre like Baby Grotter!” Or: “Today we have the long jump. Baby Grotter will show us how it should be done...”

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They passed more halls and, according to the internal placement of the museum having traced a semicircle, they again found themselves not far from the exit. Here the guide whispered something to the teacher, looked sourly at the children, and left. “Attention! Everyone look at me! Now you can wander along the halls independently. We’re meeting here in ten minutes! And remember what I said: don’t touch anything, don’t grab, and don’t mark! Mumrikova, don’t you dare throw candy wrappers into the Chinese vase! It was not made for that five hundred years ago!” Irina Vladimirovna shouted. The classmates wandered off in the Armoury, but the majority dashed into the gift shop to buy souvenirs and postcards. Tanya, willingly separating from the class, again set off for the hall where the sword was. After all, she wanted to look at it again, if the supervisor would not drive her away. Unexpectedly, the birthmark on Tanya’s nose started to hurt, as if someone was scorching it with a match. Such a thing had never happened before. Grimacing, Tanya rushed to the nearest mirror in a heavy ancient frame. The birthmark seemed to her especially ugly at this moment, like a lump of buckwheat porridge sticking to the tip of her nose. How she hated it at this moment! “Get off from my nose! I tell you — there!” she shouted to the birthmark. Suddenly a terrible howl was heard, eardrums could burst from it. It seemed all the sirens in the Armoury simultaneously snapped into action. Lights began to blink. Running into the hall, Tanya saw that there was an enormous gap in the glass of the display case, the sword had disappeared, and the supervisor so like a gorilla was lying in a formless heap on the floor. At that moment when Tanya entered, the narrow little pane on the lattice window of the museum slammed shut. However, the hall, even without that, was full of noise. Tanya froze fearfully. The stamping of many feet was already heard in the corridors. Remembering that they would find her here, the girl wanted to run out fast but she was too late. Into the hall ran the guards, the guide, workers of the museum, Prikhodkin and Irina Vladimirovna, and a good half of the class. Rushing to the broken display case, they froze wonder-struck. Others attempted to switch off the siren and bring the supervisor round. “Stolen! What was in this case?” someone shouted. “The gold sword!” the round-shouldered guide said with infinite despondency in his voice. “And what do you think: for forty years already I’ve been tormented by the prremonition that this would happen one day. About seventeen years ago I even shared my considerations with the now deceased director.” “It’s that same sword that Grotter touched! She was the very first here!” Lena Mumrikova began to bawl suddenly. “It wasn’t me!” Tanya shouted, but almost no one was listening to her. And even if they did, they did not believe her. A ring of people surrounded Tanya, staring at her. No one walked up close to her, as if she was a leper. At this moment, the supervisor opened her eyes slightly. On seeing Tanya, she groaned, “Again this girl!” and fainted again. Tanya sensed that she was blushing, moreover she was not simply blushing but had become crimson, exactly like a tomato. She attempted to justify herself, but no one was listening to her.
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“Excellent! I don’t believe my eyes! Grotter swiped the gold sword!” Genka Bulonov exclaimed, almost choking from such enthusiasm and sticking chewing gum on the throne. “It wasn’t me!” Tanya shouted. “Shut up! There was no one else in the hall! Search her!” Lena Mumrikova shouted. Tanya, sweaty and bewildered, moved back, flying with her back against Irina Vladimirovna. “Grotter! Tatiana! What horror! What disgrace! How could you?” she clucked. “Really, will no one stand up for me?” Tanya thought with horror, but then as if through a fog she heard the voice of the gym teacher Prikhodkin, “I’ll not allow her to be searched! She was with me all the time! And how could she knock down this hippo?” he said in a bass voice, nodding at the supervisor lying on the floor, who again began to raise her head. “Oh-oh-oh... The hippo himself... I’m dying...” she groaned and carefully, in order not to hurt the back of her head, fainted anew. Squeezing through the crowd, a mean confident person approached Tanya. “Lieutenant Colonel Chuchundrikov. Security service,” he introduced himself. “Come with me!” Tanya dejectedly trudged right behind, sensing how behind her the amazed and simultaneously enraptured classmates were dragging themselves along like a split herd. How do you like that — a demure Grotter and suddenly she did such a thing! They turned to the right, once again to the right, and descended the short stairs going down. The mean person brought Tanya to the high plastic arch. “Go through the detector!” he ordered. Tanya, shrugging her shoulders, took a step through the arch. She knew that she had nothing. An instant — and the detector literally began to shake from ringing. The eyebrows of the mean little fellow predatorily went up. “Take out keys and all metallic objects,” he ordered. Tanya fearfully took out keys and again took a step into the arch. The detector again began to shake. “Well, that’s it, Grotter, the end for you! The sky in a cell, friends in stripes! You will run errands for someone for apple cores and toothpaste tubes!” Mumrikova shouted. “Quiet!” Prikhodkin ordered her. “This machine is most likely defective... Here I’ll go through now... There, it’s quiet! What a skunk! Really she could... no, I don’t believe it!” “So... now we’ll find out... Come here! Not to me! To this screen!” The mean person dragged Tanya to the low screen, and he went up to the monitor. The girl heard as he muttered, “Hm... as if there is no sword... There is nothing... But why then does it ring? Some stupidity... Well and she didn’t swallow the sword...” “May I leave?” Tanya asked. “Yes,” Lieutenant Colonel Chuchundrikov allowed. Picking up the handset of the internal telephone, he shouted into it, “Did they rewind the film? Well who’s there? The girl?” They answered him something. “You’re sure? Absolutely?” Continuing to hold the handset in his hand, the mean person looked darkly at Tanya, then at the teacher.
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It seemed to Tanya that her heart fell from a high, very high altitude. And it broke into smithereens. Her back got soaked, her palm were covered with sweat. Lieutenant Colonel stubbornly kept quiet. The girl blinked and, already standing with tightly closed eyes, heard the words. “It means this. Your student here has nothing to do with it. You can take her away. At the moment of the theft the tracking camera did not lock in on her.” Lena Mumrikova squealed from disappointment. “Well, here you see! But what was on the film?” Prikhodkin exclaimed. The nose of the tiny Lieutenant Colonel hardly reached the button on his stomach. “None of your business,” the Lieutenant Colonel answered. “How is it not my business? She’s my student!” Prikhodkin was angry. “I don’t have the right to reveal anything. The investigation isn’t finished. I’ll ask you to clear the museum!” However, when they left the hall a minute later, it seemed to Tanya, slightly delayed because her legs felt like cotton wool, that he said to his assistant in an undertone, “Either you’ll explain to me what it was on the film or I won’t envy you. And I won’t envy myself.” Chapter 3 The Mysterious Double Bass and Lisper the Rabbit “You eat the noodles from the day before yesterday. They’re sticking together a little, but you can warm them up. Only don’t take it into your head to set fire to the apartment — it’ll happen with you,” Aunt Ninel said sullenly. “Thankie!” Tanya blurted out mockingly. “Interesting, why doesn’t Pipa eat them? Afraid the noodles will wind around her teeth? Or crawl from her ears? It would be quite lovely with her hairdo.” “Hold your tongue! Or you’ll be left without breakfast!” Aunt Ninel bellowed. Considering that even day-before-yesterday noodles were better than nothing, Tanya grabbed a fork. Three and half days had passed since the incident in the museum. The first day was altogether a nightmare, because, when Tanya returned home, they already knew everything there. It turned out that Irina Vladimirovna and Lenka Mumrikova phoned almost simultaneously and, chattering, each excitedly reported her own version. What these versions were, Tanya did not know exactly, but the Durnevs went completely berserk. Likely, they decided that she stole the sword, and even if she did not, then it did not happen without her participation. “I said that you’d end up in prison!” Uncle Herman, stomping his feet, began to yell. Then he gripped his side and collapsed onto the chair. “My heart is breaking! When I found out about this, I ate nine instead of seven balls of homeopathic medicine!” he squealed. “If I die now, it’ll be on your conscience! What a stain on my deputy career!” “Herman! The heart’s not there!” Aunt Ninel whispered. Pipa poked her head into the kitchen. “She specially plotted everything! She scalded me, and went on the excursion...” she squeaked.

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For someone scalded to death by tea she was looking pretty good, except that she was covered with humongous pimples the size of half a fist. But it was due to her gorging on too many sweets... “Shut your mouth!” not being able to control herself, Tanya shouted at Pipa. Her nerves were on edge, she had lived through too much today. It seemed to her that a fine string was stretched inside her and any minute now it would break. “Why do you talk to your cousin like that? And you, Pipa, go! What else can you pick up from this criminal!” Aunt Ninel said, pursing her lips. “Fleas! Let her roll to her daddy!” Pipa quickly added. Tanya jumped. Suddenly the door of the refrigerator, next to which Pipa was standing, flung open and hit her nose, and it was so swift that she did not have time to avoid it. The daughter of Uncle Herman squealed and grabbed her nose, instantly swelling to the size of a large plum. Tanya stared at her own hands in amazement. How strange! She indeed only thought about this as the door instantly opened itself. Unbelievable! Aunt Ninel and Uncle Herman stared fixedly at Tanya, but she was standing too far from the door to be accused of anything. Pipa, wailing unpleasantly, was rolling on the floor. “My nose is broken! Call emergency! I need plastic surgery urgently!” she howled, panicking. Aunt Ninel by force removed the palms with which the daughter blocked up her face, and looked at her nose. “Calm down! The bones are intact, but here you definitely need lotion... And you, trash, march lively to your balcony and stay out of my sight!” Tanya left for the balcony and there, on the wide windowsill, wrapping herself up in the blanket, began to solve math problems. Everything that took place today seemed to her absolutely unreal. For this very reason, Tanya decided not to think about this now but to put off the thoughts for later, as late as possible. After some time Pipa entered the room and, having stuck her tongue out at Tanya behind the glass, sat at her own desk. Tanya, with regret, discovered that the nose survived. It was covered with a bandage. “My compliments! Plaster suits you very well. You became more attractive exactly with three pimples, which it hides!” Tanya said loudly. Pipa pretended that she heard nothing. To pretend to be a deaf mute was quite her habit. Moreover, whatever you may say, she was in her room and Tanya out on the balcony! Not paying Tanya any attention, Pipa took from her neck the lace with the key, opened the box and, reaching for the photograph, stared at it with melting eyes. Listening, Tanya distinguished the words the daughter of Uncle Herman muttered, “Oh! If you knew how hard it is for me to stand this fool! Pity that they cannot take her into a colony until she’s fourteen. Imagine how she managed to be original in the museum... She scalded me with boiling hot water, and herself...” “Ha! Telling the portrait about me! It seems the hit from the door proved to be too strong for our brain even limping slightly without that,” Tanya thought and began to solve the examples. In about five minutes, Pipa stopped talking as to a child and, pressing the portrait to her chest, loudly exclaimed, “Oh G.P.! Oh dear G.P.!”
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Tanya even dropped the pen. This was the first occasion with her around that Pipa named the mysterious dandy depicted in the portrait. Who is this G.P.? There was definitely no one with such initials among her acquaintances and classmates. There was, true, Genka Bulonov, but he was G.B., not G.P. Moreover, to fall in love with Bulonov... Even such a thing could not be expected of Pipa. So, it was necessary to search for someone else. “What does G.P. stand for? Goga Pupsikov? Gunya Pepets?” Tanya began to guess, but immediately recalled suddenly that she had more important matters than to think about this nonsense. What matters to her about some Grisha Ponchikov, with whom the best deputy’s muddle-headed daughter has fallen in love? Were there not enough strange events in recent days for which there is no explanation? Durnev’s dream... The refrigerator door... The sheet stuck to the glass... The Russian borzoi... The vanished gold sword... The longer Tanya reflected on all this, the tighter the knot of questions. Well fine, the sheet was brought by the wind and stuck to the glass because it was wet. The refrigerator door could open itself, or, say, Uncle Herman brushed against it with his elbow when in terror he clutched at his heart, estimating whether to feign a heart attack. The borzoi... hm... the borzoi... Well, let us say, it was tagging along the bus because it was lost and Tanya looked like its mistress. Why think about the dog? Well, and how about the sword? Why did it disappear several minutes after the girl looked at it and what were the words of the security chief referring to: “Either you’ll explain to me what was on the film or I won’t envy you.” What was captured on the film? Is it this disgusting monster that appeared to Uncle Herman in a dream? For some reason each time Tanya thought about the old woman, her head began to spin in a terrifying way. *** Tanya returned from school earlier than usual on Thursday during the day. Senior students moving the new piano accidentally lowered it onto the foot of the fussing music teacher. They cancelled music and let the entire class go immediately after the third period. Opening the door with the key, Tanya understood suddenly that she was completely alone. Uncle Herman was in session in his committee, where the extremely important question was being discussed, about the delivery of all kinds of marked down downhill skis (Uncle Herman just acquired a batch with plenty of them) to all pensioners older than a hundred. Aunt Ninel went out in the car to the supermarket, and Pipa together with Lenka Mumrikova and half a dozen of the other leeches set off for Russian Bistro. Tanya knew that Pipa, as usual, would start by buying everyone ice cream and crepes with chocolate, and for these the clingfishes would fawningly look her in the mouth and laugh at each of her jokes. After that incident in the museum many classmates ceased to notice Tanya altogether or whispered behind her back, only Genka Bulonov alone continuously stared at her in all the classes, and during recesses constantly loomed before her eyes, emitting dreadful sounds — either yawns or sighs. It was likely that the poor fellow, how to call it, had
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fallen head over heels in love. In any case, Tanya thought so for the time being. Once when there was no one else near, Bulonov approached her from the side, coughed, and shyly hailed her, “Grotter!” “What’s with you, Bouillon?” Genka looked around timidly, and then mysteriously whispered in her ear, “Let’s rob a bank! I’ve dreamt about this for a long time!” “What?” Not believing her own ears, Tanya stared at Bouillon. So here, it appears that this silent lump nurtured some kind of plan, he could not even throw a ball in gym such that, bouncing off anything, it would not deal a blow to his forehead. Bouillon impatiently waited for an answer. “We’ll rob, we’ll rob! The main thing, you don’t be nervous. Eat your soup well. Gather strength,” Tanya calmed him. Genka swallowed nervously, continuing to devour her humbly with his eyes. He had the look of a hungry mongrel waiting for a slice of meat to be thrown to it. “And what’s there for me to do?” he asked. “Fall on deaf ears! Do you have a cap with slits for eyes?” Bouillon shook his head. “No cap?” Tanya pressed. “Too bad! And no pistol?” “I-e-a-e... Not at present.” “With what do you intend to rob the bank, a teapot? Go there quick, Bouillon. Now when you’ve acquired it — then come!” Recalling now what a stupid face Bulonov had, Tanya smiled and quickly threw down her jacket. Who knows how long she will be alone, without the Durnevs. Not a minute to lose if she wants to replenish her stock. She took out of the refrigerator a couple of yogurts, sawed off with a knife a decent piece of sausage, and slipped an orange into her pocket. Interesting, will Aunt Ninel notice? Hardly. The refrigerator has so much produce in it that it is bursting at the seams, and today she will bring more in the car. Besides produce, Aunt Ninel for sure will purchase two dozen magazines on fitness and aerobics, and also any thick book like How to drop forty kilograms in ten days. As far back as Tanya remembered, Aunt Ninel dreamt her entire life about losing weight, but for some reason only Uncle Herman grew thin. Nothing helped Aunt Ninel, although twice a week she arranged for herself halfhour starvations. One-And-A-Half Kilometres from under the table grumbled with hatred at Tanya. If it would be able to, it would certainly rat on her. Not able to control herself, the girl stomped it with her foot and shouted, “Ho-o!” The old pepper-shaker almost choked from indignation on its own bark, but growling, it went to the dish to lap up water. “Drink and don’t gurgle, or that tail will fall off!” Tanya advised it. Having destroyed in the kitchen all traces of her stay, she, chewing a piece of red fish on the way, left for Pipa’s room, from the floor to ceiling crammed with soft toys. Just lions alone Pipa had seven, not counting bears, cats, gnomes, and giraffes. The soft toys were given to her by Uncle Herman’s numerous business partners, who did not have enough imagination to present as gifts something more worthwhile. If they only knew that Pipa kicked their toys with her feet, ran over them with a bicycle, and occasionally even gutted them with a penknife. It would seem with such an attitude she could give something to Tanya as presents, but that would never even enter Pipa’s head.
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Carefully stepping over the photo albums (fifty pimpled faces of Pipa in each) and the computer game disks scattered on the floor, Tanya picked her way to the balcony. She knew perfectly well that were she to move any disk a centimetre or to flip a page of one of Pipa’s magazines, that one would go into terrible hysterics and, rolling on the floor, would yell that Tanya ransacked her things. And indeed Pipa had a practised eye — each evening she spent an hour measuring with a thread the distance from one toy to another or sticking secret hairsprings in the table drawers. Tanya opened the door of the wooden cabinet on the balcony and took out the double bass case. The girl always liked this moment: the case slid out with a low creak, as if it grumbled good-naturedly, greeting her. “Hello, old creak!” Tanya said to it. It was very pleasant to touch — warm, leathery, rough. It was never cold even in winter and Tanya always warmed her hands against it. Earlier, when Pipa mortally insulted her, or Aunt Ninel, not thinking twice, gave her a box on the ear, Tanya would hide inside the case, lay curled up there, swallowing her tears. And the case protected her. Or only it seemed to her that it did. When Tanya was five, Aunt Ninel attempted to drag her out from the case in order to punish her for an accidentally broken cup. Unexpectedly the cover suddenly without rhyme or reason slammed shut and pinched her hand so that Aunt Ninel for two weeks had it in a sling. Yet she never decided to throw the case out, although she threatened to hundreds of times. Tanya opened the small ancient lock and, lifting the cover, slipped her hand into the case. Her fingers usually glided behind the facing into that small and only hiding-place where she hid her diary — not the one for school, accessible to all the teachers and Uncle Herman, poking his nose everywhere, but the personal one to which she entrusted all secrets and sorrows. Suddenly the girl yelled and jerked back her hand. Instead of the diary, her palm stumbled onto something sticky and slimy. Tanya, with difficulty, found in this filth her notebook, looking like as if someone chewed it up. The entire satin support for the double bass was damaged in exactly the same manner. Throwing open the other half of the cabinet, Tanya saw that her entire meagre possession appeared no better at all — slippery and slobbery, they were not hanging but literally flowing from the hangers. Tanya’s stomach tightened. Fearing that she would throw up, she slammed the cabinet shut. In the first instant, she decided that Pipa played this dirty trick on her, but even the pimpled daughter of Uncle Herman, with all her hatred for Tanya, would not begin to chew up her things. At the most, she would cut them with a razor, squeeze out half a tube of toothpaste into a pocket, or smear ketchup on the clothing. Her resourcefulness was on no account sufficient for anything more. Most likely, her pitiful brain would tie itself up in a wet knot. “Who did this? Who?” Tanya groaned. Her eyes pinched. A lump rose in her throat. It was her dear diary, to which she confided the deepest of her secrets, the only thing, not counting the double bass case, which belonged to her personally! “If I find the one who did this, I’ll hit him!” Tanya shouted in fury. Suddenly someone in the cabinet started to snigger nastily. Here the sound was as if someone was scraping one sheet of sandpaper on another. The girl jerked her head up,
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and immediately an icky stinky lump of paper fell down onto her forehead, she vaguely guessed it to be the last pages of her diary. “H-ho! She’ll hit me, h-ho! Hit me, hit, h-ho! No one yet never hit Agukh!” Onto Tanya’s shoulder jumped a small gross creature with a fat body covered with stiff greasy hair. It had a tiny head with a wrinkled forehead, short curved legs with strong toes, a long, naked, pinkish tail like a rat’s, and long arms deprived of elbows bending in all directions. When the creature, sniggering abominably, threw open its enormous mouth full of small teeth, the lower part of its head remained on the spot, the upper part — with the nose, the forehead, up to the crown covered with mould — settled back as on a hinge. There were disgusting yellowish horns on the creature’s crown: the right one growing straight, and the left, small and undeveloped, bent slightly forward and to the side. Seizing Tanya’s shoulder, it forcefully pushed itself away from her and, with its head shattering a window into smithereens, was thrown into Pipa’s room. Leaving on the parquet slippery and dirty tracks, the creature scrambled onto the Durnevs’ daughter’s desk and in the blink of an eye drooled all over the entire mountain of magazines and textbooks, simultaneously biting off the heads of dolls in the expensive collection. “It’ll be ba-ad for you, ba-ad!” it hissed, insolently looking at Tanya with eyes discharging pus. “Better give me what you’re hiding, or you’ll di-e in terrible cramps! You’ll become a dead Lifeless Griffin!” “I don’t understand what you want!” “Don’t want to give it? H-ho!” The vile mouth opened with a crack like a dry nut, biting the phone receiver. “Don’t wa-nt to? Go figure!” “Give what?” the girl shouted, almost crying from loathing and horror. “You li-e that you don’t kno-ow! You know everything, Grotter!” Agukh became furious. Its thin hand stretched to the monitor of Pipa’s computer on which she put all of her 300 game disks. The monitor was thin, liquid-crystal — a gift from Aunt Ninel to Pipa for managing to get a four in botany for the year. Pipa presented this as her greatest achievement, although in reality the botany teacher placed the marks by posing the question: starfish — is this a plant? Those who answered “no” got a “five” and everyone else — a “four.” “Don’t! Don’t touch the monitor!” Tanya shouted in horror, imagining what Pipa would do if it were broken. “Afra-id? So there you go! H-ho! Let them hang or quarter you for this! They’ll peel off the skin, cook you in red-hot lead!” the freak sniggered vilely. Grabbing the monitor by the cord, it dragged it to the edge of the table and pushed it downward. Something inside the monitor exploded faintly. “H-ho! Agukh punished you! So it will be with all Grotters! If you knew how Leopold implored the mistress not to kill you! Pitiful cow-ward!” Immediately on hearing the name of her father, Tanya recoiled in amazement. “Not true, my papa is alive!” she shouted. “Cow-ward! Cow-ward! Cow-ward! He and his wife Sophia, stupid hen, all feared the mistress!” A red veil of anger obscured Tanya’s eyes. She could not endure when someone spoke thus about her parents — especially this vile, slippery creature with a rat-tail and puny horns.
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“Well, get away from here, runt!” she shouted and, grabbing the pot of cactus from the windowsill, threw it with all her might at the disgusting creation. The pot got it right in the stomach, knocking it off the table, and in the next moment, the needles of the upset cactus stuck directly to its soft face. Squealing hideously, the squirt threw himself under the bed and, leaning out from there, yelled angrily, “Nightmares ravings ex! I curse you! No one treated Agukh this way! You don’t know what disaster you’ve brought on yourself! Remember: you don’t gi-ve — you di-e! You’ll di-e in ter-rible pain! Mistress said so!” Threatening Tanya with a fist, the horned object slipped into the corridor and disappeared. Tanya got hold of a rag. The tracks left by the creature did not rub off, and with the attempt to clean them they only ate even deeper into the parquet and the polishing. Imagining how the Durnevs would behave when they returned, Tanya dejectedly lowered herself onto Pipa’s bed. Pipa, it goes without saying, will kick up a fuss if she sees her here, and... and she will simply do it, with barely a glance into the room. There is nothing to lose. Tanya’s cheeks were burning. Who was that vile runt? What did he know about her parents, and he knew something — there is no doubt about it. To what mistress was he referring? What was he searching for in the empty apartment? Why did he nibble the diary? One thing could be said precisely — the freak appeared not of his own free will. Someone who was very definitely incited, someone thinking that Tanya could be hiding something in her case, sent him. Moreover, what he was searching for was a hundred times more valuable than the contents of Uncle Herman’s safe, the antique porcelain of Aunt Ninel, and all the junk of Pipa, together. Despite that everything was extremely dirty and nothing good to be expected, Tanya involuntarily smiled and knocked with a bent finger on her forehead. “Beep-beep, roof, beep-beep!” she said. What, have they all gone crazy? And who is she, after all, such that around her all this devilry is created? Does she really have any belongings besides what is hidden in the double bass case and some filthy rags? True, this case is clearly very ancient, perhaps a little less ancient than the gold sword from the museum, which disappeared soon after she pressed against the glass with admiration, discerning the mysterious signs on the blade. Especially memorized by her was the seemingly imprint of a bird foot on wet sand. It still seemed to her that she saw something similar once before... And even not only saw it, but also... touched it. Tanya hardly thought about this “touched” when in a flash before her eyes arose the small tarnished plate which she had always squeezed with two fingers — the thumb and the forefinger — and afterward pulled to herself. She remembered! It is the clasp of her case! Tanya dashed to the balcony and, getting down on her knees, turned the double bass case onto the side toward her. Here are the deep folds of the warm leather, and here is the clasp with exactly the same symbol — three fine lines taking off upwards and one down. And then — Tanya herself did not know what compelled her to act so, she carefully traced with the little finger all four lines and, placing the finger in the small hollow in the centre, turned it exactly a half-turn. She waited a minute, two... Nothing happened. The same dull fall day, the same roofs of neighbouring houses. Sensing terrible disappointment, Tanya made these movements again — only now, tracing the outlines of
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the bird track, she began from the centre claw... Again nothing... But what if we first touch lightly the hollow, and then move a finger lightly along all four lines of the track? No, it is useless. With each minute, Tanya was seized by stronger despondency. Why did she decide that something unusual must take place? Well, a plate is a plate. Must imagine less and know her place. After all, it is time to think about what she will say to Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel when they discover the chaos in the apartment. “Ah you! I don’t want you, and don’t need you!” Tanya exclaimed and, with disappointment, slammed shut the cover of the case, smacking a nail on the lock. She did not have time to sense the light pain in her nail and even hardly heard the sound of a smack as something elusive flashed by in the air. Most of all it resembled a gold vortex suddenly bursting into the open window of the balcony. Irrepressible and swift, the vortex playfully tore away all the papers from the place, overturned flower pots, tore up notebooks, and then, after descending directly to the centre of the case, assumed the form of an ancient double bass with four strings — gold, silver, copper, and iron. The case fitted the instrument so ideally that it left no doubts — this was its case. Next to the double bass lay a small bow that was almost two times shorter than the instrument. Tanya’s heart was beating four times quicker. Not daring to touch the instrument, she stared at it wildly. Then, gathering her courage, Tanya carefully stretched out her hand in order to take the bow, but it, not waiting, jumped by itself into her palm. A small birch bark certificate was stuffed between the bow and its strings. Unrolling it, Tanya with difficulty deciphered the ancient letters with flourish: The magic double bass of Theophilus Grotter REMINDER TO USER This magic double bass was created by the famous magician Theophilus Grotter in the middle of the XVII century and was used by him both for flights to the Bald Mountain and for fine magic. Deck boards from Noah’s Ark are used as material, and inside the hollow of the neck is accommodated the Rope of the Seventeen Hanged Men, snapping every time it had to execute an innocent man. The double bass makes it possible to accomplish practically all magic actions connected with transformation, telepathy, levitation, telekinesis, invocation, banishment of evil spirits, and removal of curses. However, its main function is high-speed flight. WARNING 1. Do not sit on the double bass until you have mastered all of its magic functions and learned the flight incantations in the one hundred and twelve volumes of White Magic edited by Cain Frogman and Judah Toadstoolenko (published by Tower, Babylon, 7000 B.C.). 2. For repairs of the double bass on no account use spare parts from diving vacuums, mops with vertical takeoff, teeth-shattering helicopters, vanishing mortars, or juicervampires.
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3. In the case of transportation of the double bass on a dragon, it is necessary to take all measures of fire-prevention: in particular, transport the instrument strictly in the fireproof case, protected by not less than a dozen fire-quenching spells. During the time of transportation, the said dragon should have on a flame-extinguishing muzzle. 4. Do not lose the bow! Without it, you will lose the ability to control the double bass. 5. Do not allow overstretching or breaking of strings — this can lead to unpredictable consequences. 6. We remind you that this double bass is an instrument of exceptional White magic! In the case of its use for purposes and needs of Black magic, the instrument can lose magic powers. 7. Do not fight with the double bass, do not hit evil spirits with the bow, avoid collisions with solid objects! Violation of the given rules can lead to cracks in the instrument and liberation of the powerful curse contained in the Rope of the Seventeen Hanged Men. 8. Maintain special caution during flights. Do not accelerate above the speed of sound! Do not rise to heights of more than ten thousand metres. This can lead to icing of the strings and fall of the instrument, as happened with the magician Lycurgus Behind-TheNavelenn and his flying guitar. 9. Leaving the double bass in suspicious places, especially in places of mass inhabiting of evil spirits (neglected cemeteries, swamps, forests hit by storms, deserts), do not forget to protect it with the antitheft spell. These instructions are printed in the printing house of Koshchei the Immortal. Address: Bald Mountain, Drowned Man Avenue, Grave 7. To enter pull the tail of the dead cat. Tanya dropped the birch bark. In her eyes brown and red spots were spinning in a mad waltz — leaves, pens, sarcastic faces of evil spirits. Afraid of falling, she gripped the cabinet with her hand, and it answered her with an unfriendly squeak. She was stupefied, frightened, enraptured all at the same time. Now she was absolutely certain that somewhere nearby, separated from her only by a thin wall, existed another world — a world full of riddles and secrets, the world of magic. And she, Tanya Grotter, orphan, in some manner was connected intimately to this world. The strings of the magic double bass began to hum conciliatorily. “Oh, mama! Someone from my ancestors was a magician who made this instrument! And I, then, also... No, it can’t be,” thought Tanya. She caught her breath, tears rolled down her cheeks. Swallowing them, Tanya stroked the resonant side of the double bass with a hand. She could hardly believe that it existed in reality, and was afraid that it would now take off and disappear just as the gifts dreamt by her on New Year’s Eve always disappeared. The Durnevs never gave her anything, except that Uncle Herman once gave her half a kilo of rock toffee reeking of fish, and Pipa added an old broom from herself, which, however, she very soon got solidly on the nose. Well, and it was some screech then! They locked Tanya in the bathroom for the whole day with the light off. But now it was not for Tanya to remember old insults. There were really magicians among her ancestors! Indeed, until now, a day did not pass that the Durnevs would not call her the daughter of a criminal! It turns out it was all a lie
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to the last word! Tanya did not have time to take all this in when suddenly a frail voice squeaky with malice was heard beside her, “Ah-ha! Here’s where you are, trash! And what does all this mean?!” Tanya turned around in fright. For a moment, it seemed to her that she would now see that same short-legged dwarf who spoiled everything. But this turned out to be not the dwarf but something much worse... *** By the doors, pale blue from fury, resembling a vampire recently out of a grave, stood Uncle Herman. Tanya missed the moment when he entered the room. If his voters would see Uncle Herman now, they would indeed not assume that this face distorted with malice belonged to the best deputy, the friend of children and invalids, the unselfish donor of old socks and expired canned food only just this year. “Who arranged this pogrom? I ask!” Uncle Herman spoke hoarsely. “What happened in our apartment? I ask! Either you, vile girl, will describe everything, or I don’t know what I don’t ask... That is, what I’ll do! I’ll count to five...” “I don’t know. There was some sticky dwarf here... By the way, his name is Agukh, if you’re interested,” Tanya exclaimed fearfully. She had never seen Uncle Herman in this enraged state before. Steam almost came out of his ears. It even seemed to Tanya that she noticed the not very pleasant odour of melting earwax. “Two...” Durnev said in an icy voice, according to his trouble-making nature skipping the “one.” “It’s true, I’m not playing tricks... I returned from school, and this dwarf... That is, I want to say, this freak...” “Three... Don’t you dare lie to me! From where did you take this enormous guitar or what’s this disgrace? Whom did you steal it from?” “It’s not a guitar, it...” “I’m not going to stand these tricks! Even my angelic patience would come to an end! Tomorrow you’ll find yourself in the orphanage, and then in the juvenile offenders’ camp... Four...” Tanya pressed the double bass to herself. She was horrified, but, even in spite of the terror, for some reason she giggled foolishly. She suddenly thought how amusing it would be if Uncle Herman said, “Four by a string... Four by a thread.” This smile completely drove Durnev out of his wits. “AH, SO! Five!” Uncle Herman began to roar and took a step forward. Before Tanya had time to consider what he intended to do, a slap burnt her cheek. Tanya yelled not so much from pain as from humiliation. Earlier Uncle Herman never hit her, only hissed, insulted, and locked her in the bathroom or on the balcony. It was as if a rotten egg emptied out inside her. And Uncle Herman, having gone completely mad, already brought a hand up for a new blow. Dodging him, Tanya protected herself with the double bass. Durnev’s blow arrived on the instrument. Apparently, the magic double bass was not accustomed to this treatment. The strings began to drone indignantly, softly, as if they were warning Uncle Herman not to do anything stupid. Not paying it any attention, Durnev with fury caught hold of the neck and began to pull the double bass away from Tanya.
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“Well, hand it over lively! I’ll tell someone! I’ll give it to the police — let you explain whom you stole it from, thief! Where’s the phone? But, you even broke the phone!!” Tanya clutched the double bass with all her strength and did not let go, although Uncle Herman was considerably stronger and jerked her together with the instrument from side to side, hitting her back against the cabinet and the frame of the balcony. Accidentally the girl’s hand found itself on one of the pins regulating the tension of the strings. At this instant, Durnev abruptly pulled the double bass to himself, and Tanya turned the pin. The stretched string began to drone softly and in a bass. For a moment, it seemed to Tanya that she went deaf. The glass in the frames began to tremble in a threatening way. Losing her balance, Tanya and the instrument fell together on her back. Suddenly Uncle Herman, who was hanging over her, froze. The features of his face somehow softened, became kinder, and acquired an idiotic expression. His pupils for a while confusedly turned in their eye-sockets, and then purposefully settled down crosswise on the bridge of the nose. The upper lip curled upward, baring the sufficiently long front teeth. Finally, being bored of roaming wildly along the sides, Uncle Herman’s eyes stared fixedly on Tanya — first the right and then the left. Uncle Herman bounced on the spot with wonder and giggled foolishly. “Hee-hee! What a thmooth day!” he said in a thin squeaky voice. Tanya went “oh” in fright. She said “oh” again in a second, because Uncle Herman suddenly leaned over and sniffed the double bass, and even, it seemed, tried it lightly with his teeth. “Girlie, what are you doing here? Gathewing flowerth? Let’th get acquainted: I’m Lithper the Wabbit!” he squeaked. Tanya muttered something, but Uncle Herman did not listen to her. He was already jumping around the room, his hand drawn in, exactly like the paws of a rabbit. Deftly jumping directly from the carpet onto Pipa’s desk, Uncle Herman brought it down. From the desk he somersaulted onto the bed, overturned bookshelves, tore off the door of the dresser, and then, getting down on all fours, started to gnaw the legs of the chairs. After swallowing several pieces of polishing, Uncle Herman capriciously grimaced. The dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres, bursting into seething senile barking, hung onto his pant leg. At another time Durnev would shed tears of tender emotion that the dog was playing with him, now he kicked the dachshund with his foot so that One-And-A-Half Kilometres rolled with a howl into the corridor. “We, wabbitth, have terwibly thtwong hind pawth! We can kick marvellouthly with them!” he bragged to Tanya, gnawing the broken off leg of a chair. “Phew, thith unthavouwy thtump! I can’t thtand thith plathtic bark! My teeth will ache from it! Don’t you have carwotth or cabbage?” Not answering, Tanya continued to stare at him in amazement. The rabbit obviously did not like it. His whitish eyebrows gathered on his narrow forehead. “What, can’t you hear, girlie? Don’t underthtand wabbit thpeech? Carwotth, I thay, no?” he lisped. “Yes... In the kitchen... In the vegetable box...” Tanya muttered. “Thankth, girlie! You think I’m thtupid, think I didn’t know you? I know much!” Uncle Herman said with a conspiratorial look and skipped off, shaking the floor with his very
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strong size forty-seven soles. “Hey, deviouth! Don’t detheive me! You’re Little Wed Widing Hood!” he shouted, threatening her with a finger as he left. Not a minute had passed as the characteristic sound came from the kitchen: Durnev, the very same self-styled Lisper the Rabbit, likely discovered “carrotth” and now hurried to gobble them together with the bag. In any case, to the crunch of chewing carrot was added periodically the rustling of packaging. Tanya carefully got out from under the double bass, examining it with a mixture of horror and admiration. She never doubted for a minute that precisely it was mixed up in the sudden temporary insanity of Uncle Herman. Indeed, at that moment when she turned the pin for tuning the strings, Durnev also imagined himself as Lisper the Rabbit. Recalling the warning on the birch bark, Tanya in a hurry weakened the tension of the string and checked whether cracks appeared in the neck. No, the double bass, fortunately, did not suffer, if one doesn’t count the small scratch left by Uncle Herman’s nails. A key began to grind in the doors. Considering that this could be either Pipa or Aunt Ninel, Tanya quickly hid the double bass in the case and started to move it into the cabinet. Booming leaps already rolled along the apartment — it was Lisper the Rabbit jumping to meet his relatives. And when, a minute later, the terrible dual howl of Aunt Ninel and Pipa was heard in the corridor, Tanya surmised that he met them. “You’re not Little Wed Widing Hood! You’re the Fat Bwoad, and you’re her daughter! Don’t touth me! I’ll kick! I have thtwong hind pawth!” Uncle Herman squealed deafeningly, fleeing from them around the entire apartment... Chapter 4 Forgeli Botchli? “Twang!” Tanya pressed the third string from the edge closer against the middle of the neck and it hummed. The sound hardly dissipated as a round thick-necked head in a copper helmet appeared on the balcony. It was the size of a considerable cauldron and it rotated its pupils menacingly. The look on the head was openly predatory. The bent nose was once dented by someone’s fist, and a long scar stood out on the cheek... “Forgeli botchli?” it growled, when its pupils, having stopped revolving, settled on the girl. “Not forgeli not botchli... A mistake...” Tanya muttered, attempting to hide behind the double bass. The head smirked, baring ground-off yellow teeth, each of which was the size of a good fist. Furthermore, it became noticeable that something terribly similar to the sole of boots got stuck between the two front teeth. “What is ‘not forgeli,’ specifically?” the head asked hoarsely. “Where’s the magic response? What, did they not warn you that I could tear apart whoever uses magic objects illegally? Beatings in alleyways, and all such.” “No, they didn’t,” Tanya quickly blurted out, considering that this was her only justification. “And I’ll not believe it for life! And if they didn’t warn you, it means you’re not a witch but one of the moronoids!” “Yes, I’m a witch... That is, I... Please wait, I’ll explain everything...”
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Tanya moved back in fright and, hoping that the head would disappear, in a hurry passed the bow along the adjacent string. “T-wang!” the string hummed intensely. No, the head did not disappear, instead beside it immediately appeared another, even more murderous than the first, decorated with a downy sergeant-major moustaches. “Where are the evil spirits? Blabbli gabbli intertwineli?” it asked with a voice that grated on the hearing like sandpaper. Tanya went “Oh,” experiencing a burning desire to show up a hundred kilometres away from here or, at the worst, to simply fall under the floor. “Blabbli gabbli intertwineli?” the head repeated impatiently. “Hello, Usynya!” the head that appeared on the balcony earlier barked. “I think the time has come to gobble up someone. Someone who summons us without knowing the simplest magic response...” “Exactly, Dubynya... Time to punish these little green witches! They’ll know when to get mixed up with spells!” “And most likely she’s not even a little witch but one of the moronoids... I hate it when these nothings imagine themselves magicians. I would rip off the hands that give them magic tools...” Tanya in fear gripped the bow. She wanted to wave it at them, knowing that now and then they disappear with this, but by chance brushed against yet another string. “Gad, again! What now!” she thought, experiencing bad presentiment. And the presentiment did not deceive her. “T-w-angg!” the string clanged spitefully, and instantly a third head, bald like a billiard ball, rolled out next to the first two. Its face was flat as a pancake, with the same set of small porous grooves as in a pancake, eyes exactly narrow slits, but then the enormous mouth stretched from ear to ear. It was clearly felt that even if this head was not entirely slow-witted, then a bit crazy. “Mountainsani raisurus?” the head asked darkly. Tanya kept quiet dejectedly. “I can’t stand it when they move the head from me. Is my body, it turns out, hanging about alone there now? Whoever wants can approach it and give it a kick? And if I, for example, were in battle, then what, strike at random?” “Uh-huh, Gorynya! You said it exactly. The joker didn’t hide, I’m not guilty...” said Dubynya. “I want to say that, joker. Five minutes before this I, out of boredom, got tied up with two cyclopes: I said, why are you pushing, one-eyed, long time no one bust you up, and all that... One only started to swing, and my head — well, I never! — and here! How he probably just blinks... Either he blew off my head or something. In short, baffling like swapping with the headless.” “No, definitely must gobble her up!” Usynya decided for everyone. “Say the response! Well? You don’t know? Well, you’ve gotten yourself in a mess!” “Forgeli? Entwinum? Gor’yani? Boozeli Joyjuiceli?” Tanya fired at random. “Aha, likely that... Right smack!” Gorynya said knowingly. His voice sounded sufficiently affectionate; however, the girl did not quite like how it smacked its lips. It licked its chops nastily.

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The heads exchanged glances significantly. A moustache clicked like a whip and, wound around Tanya’s ankle, began to pull her towards itself. The girl darted and began to squeal, but it was as thick as a ship’s rope. “Pity, a hand remained there... Can’t be helped... Well, no matter, we get her this way...” aiming, Usynya muttered. Dubynya began to worry: “Listen, dude, you... Don’t forget us. You’ll leave us some to nibble?” he asked hoarsely. “We treated you...” “When is it you treated me?” Usynya was indignant. “Why? The German knights...” “Phew... Such canned foods! As soon as you open them, you even start to sweat!” “And you would with a can-opener. Afterwards it’s very handy to pick the teeth with their spears.” Defending herself, Tanya waved the bow, but it frightened Usynya no more than trying to poke it with a match. The mouth with the huge dull teeth was already very near. Some of Usynya’s teeth were missing, and the rest did not appear to be in better shape. “Ah-ah-ah! Don’t touch me! You need a stomatologist!” Tanya shouted, desperately pushing the monstrous forehead with her hand so that it would not be easy to swallow her. “What’s this? Eat him with what?” Usynya was interested. “With a dental drill... Goes well with mayo, particularly if together with the gloves and all the tweezers!” Dubynya prompted. Likely, he was the most knowledgeable of all three heads. And in addition with more practical experience. Having managed, Tanya tried to poke the giant with an elbow in the nose. That one blinked with wonder. “For a moronoid you’re pretty brave. Usually they immediately flop down in a faint,” he said encouragingly. “I’m not of the moronoids, I’m telling you! And the double bass isn’t someone else’s! My papa is Leopold Grotter!” Suddenly the moustache wound around her ankle slackened. “WHAT? You’re the daughter of GROTTER? You’re TANYA Grotter?” All three heads stared at her distrustfully. “Something you’ll be able to prove? Can it really be that a Grotter doesn’t know the simplest spell? And the Grot-ters, oho-ho, they were all so large-headed! Indeed real terrific scholars!” Usynya doubted. “And it’s her, she... And the birthmark on the nose, and the curls... Her entire personality, not lying...” Gorynya started to whisper. “Oh, my giant mama! Oh, my titan papa! Oh, my cyclops grandma! In order for me to gobble crosswise and grow lengthwise! My eyes couldn’t see!” Dubynya began to keen. “It’s indeed Grotter’s daughter, having seen She-Who-Is-No-More and remaining among the living! The only one that saw her!” “Unbelievable, we nearly gobbled her up! That would be a nightmare!” turning crimson, Usynya buzzed. “Well, and we’ll get it if she tells Sardanapal!” “Or Yagge! Or Slander! But she won’t tell... Won’t tell tales on three good souls, who joked with her like a scare-scare-scarecrow?” Dubynya began to suck up.
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“Gee whiz, you joked! Do you know what happens to the teeth for such jokes? However, it no longer threatens you,” muttered Tanya, surprised at herself for such impudence. “We wildly apologize. Turned out a blunder!” Usynya said. “A little hitch...” Gorynya darted with the nose. “A discrepancy... You should have said gadaboutun, then everything would be in order,” Dubynya blurted out guiltily. “And now time for us to bid you farewell! It’s harmful for us to remain too long in the world of the moronoids.” “Aha, and still the body is lost somewhere and committing follies. Catch this headless fool later. Oh, what a miracle, to tell whom we saw, they’ll so not believe it!” Usynya finished. Hurrying to slip away, the three heads began to whirl swiftly on the spot. The ears flashed crimson from remorse. “Wait... Please stop!” Tanya shouted, but the balcony was already deserted. The girl was so thunder-struck and did not know how to pose to them the question twirling on her tongue. Who is this Sardanapal? And Yagge? And She-Who-Is-No-More? Tanya only needed to utter the third name to herself when her head again began to spin... For some reason in the girl’s memory sprung up emaciated green hands, affected by decay... Loathsome chopped off hands, stretching out to her throat... “Give me what you’re hiding! I’m dead, you’re alive... You’re guilty in that I died... Ten long years after your birth and ten centuries before it I awaited this hour,” the voice rustled in a silent whisper. An icy dead hand touched her face and, jerking back, melted away... “It’s indeed Grotter’s daughter, having seen She-Who-Is-No-More and remaining among the living! The only one that saw her!” Tanya recalled the words of the talking head. Likely, the enormous head also feared this She and therefore treated the girl with a mixture of fear and admiration. “Whom did I see? Whom? What is it with my parents? Are they alive or did they perish? If I would at least learn to use this magic thingamajig! Maybe, then something would be clarified!” Tanya thought despondently. Beginning to worry that the three enormous heads could catch the eyes of the Durnevs and alarm them, Tanya hurriedly looked into the room. No, everything was quiet in Pipa’s, and even Pipa herself, it seemed, had disappeared to one of her girlfriend-toadies’. Uncle Herman, after swallowing all the necessary vitamins, left for the Duma in order to catch sight of a maximum quantity of influential figures and to extend before each his mouth in the affable grin of a self re-educated vampire. As far as Aunt Ninel was concerned, from her room came a terrible crash as if someone on equal intervals struck the floor with a sledgehammer. It was likely that Madame Durnev again decided to be busy with aerobics, and in such moments, she would not even notice anything taking place in front of her nose. *** The week that passed from the day of the discovery of the double bass turned out to be uncommonly good for Tanya. No one touched her or harassed her, and even her presence
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in the apartment they recalled if and only if she appeared in the kitchen. Now and then, it seemed to the girl that she had become absolutely invisible. At least to the Durnevs. Everything was explained extremely simply in fact. The entire family did not have time to poison her life: everyone was concerned with what happened to Uncle Herman. The dreadful pogrom was attributed to the sudden temporary insanity of Durnev, beginning from the excessively stressful pre-election campaign. Bouncing around in the apartment all evening, he tore off wallpaper everywhere and nibbled on sneakers, but afterwards he calmed down and fell asleep in the hallway on the floor, hiding his head under the rug. Aunt Ninel and Pipa nearly fainted with a crash. Tanya was completely not surprised, understanding that Lisper the Rabbit simply climbed into his hole. The following morning Uncle Herman awoke already in full possession of his faculties and was terribly astonished, to put it mildly, to discover himself in the unusual place. He hurled the rug to a far corner of the hallway, tenderly kissed the dachshund starting to bark at him and again became as before — green, biting, and ill-humoured. All Tanya could do was to sigh: she liked Uncle Herman much more as a rabbit. He even had a certain charm. “Some people were clearly born by mistake. That’s probably why they are so disgusting,” she reflected. Uncle Herman himself remembered nothing about his insanity or about all of yesterday’s events. True, he became strangely pensive now and then and, gathering his hands like paws, he began to bounce slightly in one place. Usually this took place at moments when he caught sight of a carrot or cabbage. Precisely for this reason, Aunt Ninel decisively threw out all carrots and cabbages from the apartment, completely excluding them from the menu. Pipa and Tanya were strictly forbidden to even accidentally mention these words together with the words “forest,” “bunnies,” “jumpgallop” and in general everything that could direct Uncle Herman’s thoughts to forbidden grounds. Tanya used every free minute to hasten to the magic double bass. As before with the case, she now timidly studied the instrument on all sides, feeling each of its smallest tiny cracks, any insignificant roughness. Soon she already could, with closed eyes and barely touching the instrument with her fingers, guess without mistake what place of the neck or what part of the string she was now touching. “Ah, pity I don’t know how to play the double bass... On the other hand, perhaps they also don’t play it. In the magic instructions there is not a word about playing but only about enchantment and magic,” Tanya thought. Occasionally she took the bow in her hand and decided to guide it along the strings. The sounds which the instrument issued were always unexpected and with unpredictable consequences. The first time a flock of wasps appeared on the balcony. The second time — terribly stinky rotten stuff appeared and from somewhere above her head a monstrous size leg bone fell down. The third time Tanya managed to summon from emptiness a jar with jam imparting the taste of frog roe. Still it was possible somehow to resign herself to this if there were no eyes opening periodically in the jar. Tanya pushed it further into the cabinet, hiding it among old books. But after the stupid incident with the three heads, nearly costing her her life, the girl decided that it was necessary to dampen her ardour. In any case, to be more careful from now on.
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One question still existed, extremely occupying Tanya. Judging from the instructions on the birch bark, besides magic the double bass could be used for flights, but only how? So many times the girl tried to jump together with it, to sit carefully on top, and even to wave the bow precisely like a sabre, but it did not rise even five centimetres above the floor. Once in the evening, when Pipa, after giving herself thirteen kilograms of candies and things with her sweating palms, was already sleeping soundly in her room and for sure saw the mysterious G.P. in her dream, Tanya carefully spent time with the double bass. She already intended to take it out of the case, but at this moment noticed that one of the strings was sagging quite a bit. Deciding to stretch it, the girl began to turn the lower pin carefully. She had hardly made half a rotation when the double bass suddenly began to tremble and the low voice of an announcer burst through from the narrow figured slits, “Until now, the secret of the theft of the gold sword has not been revealed. Who among the moronoids needed to steal it? This is already not the first day the best sleuths of Tibidox ask this question. As you certainly know, here the gold sword has already caused serious differences between the “white” and “black” magicians for one-and-a-half thousand years. Each side attempted to use it in their magic rituals, supplementing already available arsenal of magic objects with it. Let us remember that a definite balance of power is created with ten of such objects for the white and ten for the black magicians. Adding the twenty-first object could give an advantage to one of the sides. Because of this about a thousand years ago a strict ban was imposed on the use of the gold sword, and the sword itself, in order not to stir up temptation in anyone, was transferred into the world of the moronoids. Now this taboo is disrupted. The strongest magic object, perhaps equal to the Hair of The Ancient One or the rarest instruments of Theophilus Grotter, is in the hands of an unknown thief. Who is this thief? What camp is he connected to? And the main, the most important question — is he somehow connected with She-Who-Is-NoMore? As yet there is no answer to this question, since the magic of the sword, until now, has not been freed...” Tanya’s hand trembled slightly. The pin turned. The voice of the announcer disappeared, and instead of this, a strange jingling melody burst out of the narrow slots of the double bass. It was as if someone was banging a large spoon on a cracked cauldron, and somewhere in the distance, a sandstorm was howling... “Aurelis fifas geras shibarshitus parallelis Gruntis Brunti Truntis Frat Guaerobus Rodopat Filostesis Grupus Byakis Mikronimos Zapulyatos Sheburshun and Sheropat Zakolyanus Arapat,” someone pronounced distinctly. Shrugging her shoulders, Tanya again turned the pin and heard a brisk female voice, “To us daily at radio station Witchcraft Granny, hundreds of cupids with full bags of letters fly in and thousands of heartgrams from very young witches creep in with one and the same question: ‘How to find a husband?’ There is nothing simpler, my dear. Please write down the recipe, known even in the times of the legendary Tsar Gorokh and told to him personally by the famous Tsarina Savochkina, bewitching her twelfth husband this way. Take ninety grams of ground dinosaur bones, added a little mermaid scale, three
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nails of a kikimora, seven feathers of a white crow, and dissolve all this in dragon blood. Thoroughly mix the obtained solution with a sliver of a coffin and drink it on a night with a new moon. Done that? And now rejoice! Till the following moon you are completely enticing and irresistible. Make full use of this time to find yourself a husband. True, this method has one side effect. After only one moon, you will begin to grow thick whiskers, and your weight will increase by forty kilograms. However, if one considers that in the magic world marriages are not annulled, you can take the full risk. With you was the well-known healer Nagiana Pripyatskaya...” “Oho-ho,” thought Tanya. “The magicians have the same problem as Aunt Ninel... If only I can find out whether someone in her time sold her such a potion when she was chasing after Uncle Herman. Very likely so!” She stretched the string a little more. A squeak was heard, a noise, the hissing of radio waves, and then the double bass suddenly squeaked with a child’s voice, “You will drink bitter pesticide — you will get hit by a brick in the nose! Conjure, wood-goblin, concoct, grandpa, — there are no spare machine guns! Oh, mama, they’ve located me... Where are my invisible running shoes and the flying cap with ears?” Tanya did not have time to switch over when the double bass unexpectedly began to shake in her hands, bounced, started to vibrate with unusual energy, and confidently addressed in a ringing voice, “Everybody-everybody-everybody! You’re listening to reporting from a dragonball match between the vampire team and the composite team of Bald Mountain witches... With you I’m the resilient and loved by all Bab-Yagun... The match today is proceeding with difficulty — a gusty wind from the direction of the ocean is interfering, regularly hurling players off their vacuums. Likely, someone ill-wishers of our form of sport directed a magic formula, which they are trying unsuccessfully to remove here for the third hour already. “I’m standing on the guest stand of the central stadium. To the right is the central Tower of Tibidox. Next to it, the Tower of Ghosts is smoking — not long ago the dragon of the vampire team ran into it and grazed it with its tongue of flames. At the present moment the water crew is dousing the Tower of Ghosts, but this match, it goes without saying, cannot be called off... “If you saw what’s been created on the stands! The vampires have completely broken loose from all restraints! I’m sure you hear in the microphone their raving cries and the howls that freeze the soul. On the part of Professor Sardanapal and the Magic Federation of Tibidox on dragonball, it was extremely cautious to order all vampires to put on muzzles. Otherwise undoubtedly blood would spill. Taking into account that the nature of the Bald Mountain witches is also far from perfect, this could provoke a terrible brawl, similar to the one at the match between the Tadzhik genies and the ‘black’ magicians, when, as a result of collisions, twelve spectators were exposed to the irreversible curse, and eight more vanished to who knows where... “I don’t much like today’s match: both the witches and the vampires are playing poorly. A few sharp moments, the forwards, it seems, are afraid to fly close to the hostile dragons and are throwing the balls from a distance, where they in no way can drop into the goal... Oh, it seems I spoke too soon! The Bald Mountain witches defence is malfunctioning. The vampire forward Mourner is breaking open ahead with an immobilize ball, the most dangerous of all balls in a match! If he throws it into the mouth of the dragon, the Bald Mountain witches will not be able to lay claim to a victory...
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“He is going around one defender, another... If you could have seen the courageous gesture, with which he shifted from one hand to the other the pipe of the diving vacuum! His engine roars with strain, spewing from the nozzle small debris and kikimora scales. Oh-oh-oh!!!!!!!! “Here Mourner swings... You hear the roar of the stands... No goal! Oh no, what’s this? A moan rolls over the stands, the characteristic, bloodcurdling moan of the vampires. They say moronoids immediately faint from this moan... The Bald Mountain dragon slams shut its mouth, thus making the goal inaccessible... The ball hits it directly in the eye and explodes! The dragon is in a fury! It’s flapping its wings, lashing with its flexible tail, and breaking away from the place. Longing to get even, it rushes after the forward of the vampire team... What will it be? Clutching at the pipe and almost sprawling vertically in the air, Mourner deftly turns and tries to hide in his model Turnon-2003 jet vacuum. “The wind whistles... Unbelievable speed... Must admit, I didn’t expect this from the Turnon... It seems to me, though it has sufficient manoeuvrability, this model is not capable of sudden acceleration. Most likely, the grandmasters of the vampire team strengthened Mourner’s Turnon with a dozen speed-up spells. In general, this violates the rules, but, taking into account that the witches also cheated somewhere for sure, they can get away with something... “No, this dragon is zealously evil! It seriously intended to overtake Mourner. They don’t feed the dragons a year and a half before the match so that they would be livelier, but this one, in my opinion, has not been fed for no less than three years. Or, I also don’t exclude that when the witches gave the dragon red-hot mercury to drink, they added into it several drops of bile of an old skinflint. Similar doping is in no way diagnosed, but then it makes dragons one and a half times more evil. “The dragon, pursuing, fires a flame at Mourner, and that one, avoiding, is forced to sharply gain altitude... It contradicts the laws of gravity, it contradicts everything that I know! “I swear by the Hair of The Ancient One, here it is — the gripping moment of the match! Its climax! Its turning point! “Two other vampires on brightly dyed vacuums try to distract the dragon from its prey. They almost succeeded, but that it... Oh no! One of the tongues of flames casually catches Mourner’s vacuum... The pipe has melted, the motor conks out. A miracle that the vacuum is still hanging in the air. Must be the protecting talismans helping. The dragon is getting nearer... Here it already opens its terrible mouth... Mourner shouts and dives like a swallow from the vacuum, hoping to use the nose scarf-parachute. Too late — the dragon catches him right in its mouth... Swallows... Nightmare! The vampire team is left without its best player... “A dangerous moment! GO-O-AL! One more! I don’t believe my eyes! Making use of the situation, the Bald Mountain witches break open to the vampire dragon and throw into its mouth a flame-extinguisher, and after it also a pepper ball... “The vampire team dragon, as we know, having received a wing injury after the collision with the tower, has not managed to slam shut its mouth... The balls explode at once, freeing bewitching charges... The flame goes out... The dragon begins to sneeze, and from its throat, three previously swallowed forwards and a referee of the match, Nightingale O. Robber, fly out by somersault. They don’t look well: three hours in the mouth of a dragon — grave experience! Wait, and who’s this still flying out from the
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dragon’s mouth? Really spectators? Yes, so they are! Must be, these are those poor wretches who risked getting into a match without protector tickets... Well, once again one remains to be startled by the overwhelming scent of dragons... “The umpire blows the magic whistle! Really? Yes, so it is — a complete victory for the Bald Mountain team! Collars are put on the dragons and, gradually calmed, they are led away into the fireproof hangars, where the genies will be busy with them... Interesting, will we see Mourner again or will the fate of the magician Abbakum Violet befall him, swallowed three years ago and simply forgotten in the dragon’s mouth? For the vampires it would be extremely lamentable to be deprived of this outstanding forward... On this note, my dear listeners, I conclude my reporting. With you was the dear to all and irritating to many Bab-Yagun... “Wait... What’s that noise in the third hangar? A half-dozen genie-umpires jump out from there, cowardly covering their heads... And behind them, in the sky... Which idiot forgot to put a spell on extra hangar gates? I swear by my grandma, it’s Goyaryn itself, the terrible fighting dragon, with hardly any balls thrown into its mouth! We all thought that it’s in hibernation, but, obviously the noise of the stadium woke it up. A terrible, terrible roar... The magic wall separating the spectators from the playing field is cracked... Goyaryn is breathing out puffs of sulphur — must be it’s still insufficiently heated for flame throwing... What is this? It’s trying to take off! Run for your life! It’s flying over here! Why is it without an anti-swallow muzzle? Ah-ah-ah!” A terrible sound was heard, similar to “Hrum-hrum.” The wild howl made the double bass jump a metre, its strings began to hum, and everything fell silent. Tanya rushed to the double bass, pressed it against her ear, but it no longer issued a single sound, no matter how much she turned the pin. The mysterious broadcast was broken. “Dragonball!” Tanya exclaimed. “Unbelievable, magicians flying in the air and throwing balls into a dragon’s mouth! The one without luck, then hrum-hrum... Not so bad entertainment! Nanaian jokes in the spirit of Pipa!” At the same time, she could not but admit that although the rules of the game were not quite clear to her for the time being, she would not be opposed to attending such a match. Where else can raging live goal swallow dozens of spectators, not counting the players themselves? It is not your dull human soccer match, which Uncle Herman watches on TV, where there is only a pair of motionlessly fixed goal. Reflecting on her luck in discovering one of the wonderful special features of the double bass — namely its ability to receive magic radio waves, Tanya was about to settle down on her damp squeaky cot, when suddenly from outside, where there was nothing besides the oppressive and unfriendly cold autumnal sky and several creaking trees, a deafening “pchxi!” was heard. The girl jumped and pressed her nose against the glass. At first she saw absolutely nothing, but here again “pchxi!” was repeated, and such that even the glass began to rattle. Tanya shifted her gaze slightly more to the right and below and... it seemed to her that she was delirious... In any case, if something similar appeared in Pipa’s dream, she would immediately begin to roll on the floor, howling: “I’m off my rocker! I can’t think straight! Treat me, twenty doctors!” Directly across from the window, a bed with a spring mattress was hovering in the grey evening sky. On the bed, a huge mummy lay full-length, wrapped up to its eyes in
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bandages or tarred burial cloth. The left plastered foot of the mummy was suspended on an extension... As for the right... Everything was as if in order with the right foot... Here it only had on a sufficiently strange shoe — an enormous army boot with a gold spur. Chapter 5 Bab-Yagun After sneezing two or three times — with each sneeze the bed was thrown to one or the other side, exactly like a frightened racer, the mummy energetically swung the foot with the spur, lightly jabbing one of the legs of the bed. The bed obediently reduced altitude. The latch locking the frame jumped aside with a light click. Unceremoniously crushing the cot, the bed lowered directly onto it. Not losing time, the mummy, stretching out as much as possible, sat up and fixed small curious eyes on Tanya. More precisely, with one eye, since its other one was firmly hidden under the bandages. Tucked into the belt above the bandages of the mummy was a marvellous Turkish dagger, according to its size resembled more a small yataghan. “Turn... So... Now the other side... Well, excellent! No more doubts... Oh, my granny mama! It’s her,” the mummy muttered in an undertone, hurriedly repairing the tousled bandages and, as much as possible, assumed a dignified air. “Gadaboutun!” Tanya, mastering this lesson after meeting the talking heads, screamed out loudly just in case. “Daboutun? What daboutun?” the mummy wondered. Its voice, resonant, high, seemed to Tanya strangely familiar. She was suddenly sure that she had already heard it once... Now only where and when? There were no flying mummies among her earlier acquaintances. Or even non-flying mummies, if we do not count, of course, green Uncle Herman. And even he resembled more the usual corpse than a mummy. “Gadaboutun!” Tanya again repeated. If they were going to devour her, then this word should work. The bandaged one — now the girl was already certain that this was not a mummy nevertheless — began to worry. “Wait... What’s still with gadaboutun? Were these grumps — Usynya, Dubynya, and Gorynya — really here?” he was interested. “Uh-huh, they were,” Tanya acknowledged, not too surprised that it was known to the mummy. Recently she, in general, was already surprised by little. The bandaged one hit his own knee with his fist, “Oh, my granny mama! Lucky you! Rumour has it that now and then they don’t shun moronity... oh, excuse me... I have in mind that it’s better not to have anything to do with them, especially if you don’t know all these silly notions, which they change all the time!” “But on the whole who are they exactly?” Tanya carefully asked. “Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya?” The bandaged one scratched the back of his head. “Well, they are that... how to explain them to you... not unlike heroes-bouncers, not bad, but with nonsense in the head. Of course, it is possible to summon them, but only as a last resort... When, for example, the evil spirits indeed become quite a bother. But even then it’s undesirable, because who knows what they’ll come up with. It’s better indeed to sort things out yourself, while there’s still strength.”
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“It seems somebody already did,” thought Tanya, already looking at his bandages without the earlier horror. It was awfully unusual for her to talk with a mummy. On the other hand, she gradually began to enjoy it. Fear disintegrated. “So it’s the evil spirits for you?” Tanya wanted to ask. More precisely, she only just opened her mouth in order to ask when she was already answered. “Nothing of the sort!” The mummy indignantly waved his hands in casts. “It has nothing to do with evil spirits. It’s my having been swallowed by a dragon. Otherwise, would I really fly on this nightmarish bed? Not for all the tea in China — so that all the guys would take me for a joke? Normally I have an outstanding vacuum of the sevenhundredth series — simply a beaut! Turbine supercharger, two safety shawls, chromeplated pipe, conditioner with apricot infusion aroma, and other frills.” It was worthwhile for him to mention the dragon and to speak of the vacuum with admiration, Tanya immediately recalled where she had heard this voice before! And recently — on the magic double bass! “Listen... But you’re not... not Bab-Yagun? The resilient and loved by all? But indeed the dragon ate you! I heard, as you were shouting, — and hrum-hrum... And it was... well quite recently... How did you manage to get out of the dragon’s stomach?” Bab-Yagun looked at her merrily with the unbandaged eye. His cheekbones — those parts of them, in any case, that were visible — reddened from pleasure. “It’s very... But how did you find out? They haven’t yet removed the healing spells from me and even wrapped me all up so that the bonegrafts wouldn’t scamper about. They really shouldn’t do that to a healthy person — nothing good will come of it. My granny would hardly know me in these bandages and in a cast.” Tanya wanted to ask what such bonegrafts were but did not. It was unlikely to be something very nice. “That is to say I am Yagun! Only look here... how do you know who I am? Was I introduced to you? The magic tattoo on the heel is also likely not visible...” Bab-Yagun continued. Unexpectedly, he squinted for a moment and looked askance at Tanya. Suddenly she somehow had a strange tickling in her hair, and not only in the hair, but also under the hair, in the head itself. “No, the match was a week ago,” Bab-Yagun continued as if nothing was the matter. “You listened not to the direct transmission itself, but its repeat... Besides a wave flies for a long time to reach the moronoid world, until they pass seven rainbows, well, and other jokes along the same line... Exactly, a dragon devoured me. On top of that which one! Goyaryn itself! Good though that they, the dragons, still have the habit of swallowing without chewing. “I was packed in its stomach with twenty magicians — black and white... And vampires also, and heels of witches. Dark, jolting, terrible heat, simply like in the bath of the cyclopes. Bones scattered all over, skulls, apparently left from some ancient times. Still, it would have been tolerable if the vampires didn’t pick a fight with the witches. These bite, those kick, scratch — gloom. I started to separate them, and here’s the result — not a bone left whole. Mere amateurs... they don’t much love commentators, and here darkness all around, afterwards you won’t figure out anything. It’s like I fought a lion! Where is the lion there! Like a Central-Asian genie gone mad because they recently broke his favourite pitcher...”
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Bab-Yagun courageously slashed the air with a hand in a cast and began to groan from the pain. “And how did they reach you?” Tanya asked. “You yourself said that Goyaryn... that it almost releases no one from its mouth... And there are bones all around.” “Oh, a whole pile of skeletons! In the dark, of course, you can’t count, but by feel... you can imagine to yourself how pleasant it is to grope someone’s skull in the dark,” said Bab-Yagun. “Oh, my granny mama! Simply a miracle that we got out. I’ll tell you in secret, they, the dragons, on the whole, spit on magic. You’ll not break through them with any spells, perhaps with the strongest, even then very temporarily. Then the immunity against this spell will remain in them for life, and the second time it’ll no longer work on any account. And Goyaryn... it’s like a five-storey building, only with wings. And the mouth... each tooth is like this flying bed here. There are only five or six magicians in the whole world that the dragons obey somehow. Nevertheless, Goyaryn had to spit us out... Indeed its guts got it bad from the testy witches. How they began to pelt each other with curses and swear among themselves, someone there made off with someone’s almost new shroud, here its entire belly began to shake, and it got rid of us. Also, by the way, it helped that one vampire, who pounded me more than the others, had rockfoil with him. Such a little plant, but dragons dislike them terribly. They begin to swell from it.” “And for you... was it not frightening for you?” Tanya asked, imagining to herself the stomach of the dragon as an enormous black impenetrable bag with red-hot coals packed tight against the outside on all sides. Bab-Yagun gave it some thought. “No need to use the formal ‘you’ with me. I’m, by a negligible margin, one of those... Although it’s unimportant. I simply start to itch from a formal ‘you’ and it’s awfully inconvenient under the bandages... Have to scratch with the Turkish dagger and it’s detrimental for my health!” he said. “Was it frightening for me? Not a bit. You see, this feeling is generally unknown to me. I also play dragonball, you know. I’m certain that at some point they’ll take me into the composite team of Tibidox... Whom did our composite team not beat! The water-sprites, the house-spirits, once even the devils and those were inflated! Nowhere is there a stricter trainer — Nightingale O. Robber from the ‘black’ magicians! No one misses practices with him, he freezes with a look... Yes, do you know the rules of dragonball?” he recollected suddenly. Bab-Yagun looked sideways at Tanya, and again for an instant she felt as if someone lightly tickled her brain with the tip of a feather. Yelling, the girl clasped her temples with her hands, and it seemed to her as if something like a plug flew away from her consciousness. “Ah, it’s painful! Never blocked so abruptly! You nearly pinched me!” Bab-Yagun sighed and began to shake his head so that part of the bandages was even unwound. “What, are you reading my thoughts? Stop!” Tanya shouted, easily passing to the informal “you” from indignation. Bab-Yagun guilty and simultaneously looked around fearfully, as if checking whether anyone overheard them. “Shh! How do you know? Even among the great magicians and then from that distance not all perceive when they are being mirrored...” he started to whisper. “‘Mirrored?’”
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“‘To mirror, to approach with a mirror’... That is, to look into the head. The moronoids call this telepathy. Well they, the moronoids, generally love to invent any clever words. To slip into someone mentally with a glass... well, in the heat of the moment, that is.... and they say ‘telekinesis, telekinesis!’ Or, here you fly slightly from time to time, when you stop walking all together, and they call it ‘levitation’... Well, so you tell no one that I... well, mirrored, in a sense. I’m always awfully unaware I’m doing it, almost no one among us even notices! But you did!” “Simply something tickled in my head,” Tanya was embarrassed. “I see! It’s the same! High innate foresight! And what a block! Simply like hitting me with a sledgehammer!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed enthusiastically and, as if struck by some idea, suddenly slapped himself strongly on the forehead: “Ah, I understand — you’re from the Grotter family, and they have all these doodads in the blood... Nevertheless, whatever you may say, the Grotters are almost the most ancient magic clan. Perhaps Sardanapal has kin a little more ancient, and Medusa, and Grandpa Mazai.” “What grandpa?” Tanya again asked in amazement. “Oh, this was a powerful magician! True, he died long ago already. Once he somehow turned by irreversible spell a hundred black magicians into hares, but then he became conscientious, and his entire life he gathered these hares...” Bab-Yagun explained and continued: “As for myself, I also have an ancient family, although I never brag about this. Perhaps I occasionally mention it to put some upstarts in their place... Promise you’ll tell no one, or there’ll be trouble for me. We, white magicians, are forbidden to crawl into each other’s thoughts. But the black magicians — with them everything is simple. For instance, you hobnob with evil spirits, you throw incinerating lightning — complete freedom. Really just one constraint — you don’t do good deeds, that won’t be bad. Only they also fear She-Who-Is-No-More terribly.” Suddenly something began to rattle under Bab-Yagun’s bandages, and it was so deafening that the iron bed jumped and began to creak with all its rusty couplings. Dozens of windows immediately lit up in the building across. Sleepy faces pressing against the glass looked out into the courtyard, not understanding what was happening. “What’s that?” Tanya was frightened. “Ah, don’t pay any attention! It’s my zoomer flying into a rage! Now, until you look at the screen, it’ll not pipe down for anything. Now I...” Bab-Yagun muttered, trying to untangle the bandages in a hurry. “Carefully, Pipa will wake! And Uncle Herman!” Covering up her ears, Tanya hurriedly clung to the glass. So it was: the blanket on Pipa’s bed swelled up like a mound. A round face showed itself from under the blanket. “She’ll wake up! Now she’ll start to wail!” Tanya shouted with desperation. “Don’t worry!” Bab-Yagun, with a creak jumped from the bed, hopped on one leg to the door of the balcony, and muttered, “Wheezeus! Shoot, mixed up again... Wheezeis... Wheezeium Relaxium!” However, either something did not go well with the spell or Uncle Herman’s daughter was immune to magic, but Pipa continued to turn her head as if nothing had happened, suspiciously looking in the direction of the balcony.
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“Again it didn’t work! But what is it!” Bab-Yagun hissed angrily. “It’s necessary, obviously, to affix a seal on her, although it’s not desired!” Before Tanya had time to clarify what Bab-Yagun had in mind for “affixing a seal,” he decisively took aim at Pipa with a bent ring finger hampered by a cast and hoarsely growled, “Pointus harpoonus!” A green spark flew out from under the cast and struck Pipa accurately in the left eye. Tanya yelled. The daughter of Uncle Herman blinked crazily several times in the dark, and then heavily, precisely like a killed mammoth, collapsed onto the pillow. A toneless bass snore was heard. Judging only by this snore, it was possible to conclude that on the bed lay not a ten-year-old girl but at least a very big male gorilla, in addition suffering chronic head cold. “I cannot stand this spell. Indeed it... eh-eh... strikes the ears painfully. But, for some reason only it works for me. The rest jams up something there.” Bab-Yagun looked a little embarrassed. “Uh-huh,” Tanya growled. It was the only thing she could find to say. Meanwhile Bab-Yagun’s zoomer, getting more incensed by the minute, continued to produce deafening sounds, which sounded increasingly more nightmarish with each minute. “Well, do something!” she shouted. “One minute! Here’s the pest, not pulled out! Hooked onto the bandages! Well I!” BabYagun in the heat of the moment pulled out the Turkish dagger and, with an energetic stroke cut the bandages, and extracted something similar to a tin dish. It was worthwhile for him to pass a hand along its bottom, as the jingling sound instantly stopped, although it still rang in Tanya’s ears for a ling time and she heard everything as if through a pillow. When Bab-Yagun cut the bandages, something similar to a bright disk approximately the size of a metallic 5-rouble coin rolled out simultaneously with the zoomer. Tanya wanted to pick it up, but Bab-Yagun shouted, “Don’t! Don’t touch it! It’s a bonegraft! Anyone who has whole bones must not touch it!” In fact, the coin suddenly released six long fragile legs and quickly whisked into a slot between the wall of the balcony and the cabinet. Tanya noticed for a moment that on its back a cut opened up, which could perfectly well be jaws, and sufficiently powerful besides. Meanwhile, on the dim bottom of the zoomer a rosy moustached face flared up. The right moustache curled by itself into ringlets, and the left persistently tried to reach into a nostril, forcing the owner to smack it exasperatedly with a finger. This obviously amused the moustache, and it, choosing a moment, again began to steal up to the nostril. “Bab-Yagun, can you hear me?” the possessor of the moustaches panted loudly. “This is Professor Sardanapal! I want to remind you to behave as cautiously as possible! On no account attract the attention of the moronoids! It’s extremely undesirable for us now. You’re not making any noise there?” “Oh, my granny mama! No, I’m not making noise,” Bab-Yagun answered in a whisper, and uneasily looked askance at the illuminated windows. Although the zoomer had already ceased wailing, so far the windows did not hurry to dim. “What? Why are you muttering there? Up to mischief, I suppose? I know you! Remember — silence, silence, and again silence! You should at least have learned something from me? Recall my lessons of conspiracy!” Sardanapal said sternly.
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Tanya looked thunder-struck at Sardanapal, whom she heard about from the speaking heads. Judging by the fact that even the impetuous bouncers inclined to cannibalism feared him, he possessed enormous magic power. But here he clearly was not solemn enough. While Sardanapal himself in a loud bass urged Bab-Yagun to silence, his right moustache launched a fight with the left. Both moustaches were swaying like cobras, and they delivered quick blows to each other with their tips. This was clearly not the first time the moustaches fought and soon enough, coming to an agreement, they began together to tease the academician’s magnificent beard, which was calmly resting on his chest. They were leading it this way: the right moustache snapped it a little from its side, and when the angered beard pursued it, from the other side flew the second moustache, and the game began anew. This did not please the beard terribly. It got into a rage and shuddered more violently with each minute, something the moustaches were striving for. “Bab-Yagun, grave times are coming,” continued Sardanapal. “The evil spirits are behaving extremely suspiciously. There’s evidence that they’re again gathering in crowds, which hadn’t taken place for ten years until now. Individual groups have reached the lower levels of Tibidox, although, it goes without saying, they don’t yet dare to communicate with the cyclopes... You do understand what this implies? Especially now when the gold sword is stolen?” “Ay-ay-ay! Gloom,” Bab-Yagun uttered, but it seemed to Tanya that he was not too frightened. “On the other hand, why is he disturbed? What worse can happen to him when he already hasn’t a single whole bone?” the girl thought, just in case placing a block so that she could not be mirrored. But Bab-Yagun likely was too occupied by the conversation with Sardanapal. “Now precisely: gloom!” the academician continued without sensing the irony. “Hm... Well, okay. This isn’t a zoomer kind of conversation... Did you find Tanya? Is she alive? Everything’s in order with her?” he asked with uneasiness. Bab-Yagun looked over at the girl. “Are you alive?” Tanya nodded. “She says that she is. In my opinion it’s possible to believe her,” confirmed Bab-Yagun. “Strange. That is, I wanted to say: remarkable,” Sardanapal corrected himself. “Although, of course, these living corpses now and then so deftly disguise themselves that you’ll not guess for the entire world... While you haven’t driven in the stake, never...” thinking for a bit, Bab-Yagun added. But the academician was no longer listening. He looked at the place where, as he assumed, Tanya must be standing. “How do you do, my girl! How have you been living all these years? I’m sure it has been sufficiently foul for you after all, but it can’t be helped — all of us have to sacrifice something. You’re not offended that we wrapped you in a bubble in the world of the moronoids?” he asked affectionately. “I... all this is so... I even didn’t know... Please excuse me, indeed I even...” Tanya caught her breath from excitement. Only yesterday she was — oppressed, a degraded orphan, now they informed her that she belonged to one of the most ancient magic families.
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“Unfortunately, I neither see nor hear you — this zoomer only works with Bab-Yagun,” continued Sardanapal, when the girl was completely entangled in her feelings. “Listen to everything he’ll tell you. You must be in Tibidox in no later than a week. In this week you should learn the necessary spells for the passage into the magic world, learn to use the double bass and the magic ring! Without this, you won’t be able to get into Tibidox: the transitional gates won’t let you through. Do everything that Bab-Yagun will tell you! We’ll also try to remove the curse here. But then, possibly, you’ll not... what should take place won’t happen.” Tanya was on guard. It seemed to her that Sardanapal almost told her something actually important. Although it is possible that he purposely let the cat out of the bag. He wanted to prepare her for some such thing which she had yet to find out in due time. If it will come. “But what should take place?” she asked, forgetting that the zoomer nevertheless would not transmit her voice. Suddenly, the rosy face of Sardanapal grew brown, filled with blood. “And what is this! Leave me alone!” he bellowed. At first, Tanya was frightened that she enraged the white magician with something, but understood almost immediately that she was not the reason. The academician started to wheeze. His beard, once and for all driven out of its wits by the tricks of the moustaches, went after one of them and repeatedly wound around the neck of Sardanapal. Making sure that the beard in the heat of the moment twined itself around full length, the moustaches at once pounced on its edge and twice passed it under the base, thus tying the beard into a knot and immobilizing it. Convinced that their enemy had been made a fool of, the moustaches, satisfied by the success of their trick, stretched out into two exclamation marks. “Enough! End connection!” the academician shouted and, grabbing the beard, started to pull it off his neck. The last thing that Tanya heard before the zoomer finally went out was his yell, “It was the last warning! Where are my scissors?” “How strange he is!” Tanya was surprised. Bab-Yagun hesitated. “But what do you expect? All geniuses are strange. And this is Academician Sardanapal himself! The head of Tibidox! Chairman of the guild of white magicians, author of works on alchemy, removal of curses, restraining the evil spirits, and dragon authority. Laureate of the Award of the Magic Suspenders, which is presented once a century! True, recently he has become very absent-minded. Forgets everything in succession. Sometimes even confuses names. Maybe, someone worked a deferred curse or there is a chronic wasting disease... It can’t be cured.” “Listen... Will they take me into Tibidox forever? I mean, will they toss me back to Uncle Herman again in a couple of months?” “Impossible,” Bab-Yagun twisted his head around. “Whoever gets into Tibidox never returns to the moronoids. At any rate, only if the person doesn’t like it at all. But usually there is no such person.” “And Tibidox — what is it? Not unlike a boarding school? Or an institute of magic?” “Tibidox... eh-eh... It’s a school. A completely special school,” Bab-Yagun explained. For some reason, she could not clearly understand why, it seemed to Tanya that he was evading the question. Or, in any case, said anything but what he could say.
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Suddenly Tanya distinctly heard a noise in the hallway. Granite heels thudded on the linoleum. The steps were so booming that it was possible to decide that the Stone Guest was stomping here. “Aunt Ninel! She’ll now come in and notice you!” Tanya sighed, at the same time thinking that there was nothing surprising that Aunt Ninel woke up. One zoomer was enough, but here still more deafening were Pipa’s snore and the embedded ear of “conspiracy” of the academician Sardanapal. “Notice me? Impossible!” Bab-Yagun stated. “Why impossible? She almost always approaches the balcony. At least to check whether I’ve decided to open the window into Pipa’s room in order to warm up slightly.” “Relax! I said: she’ll not notice me, and she’ll not notice me. It’s not even necessary for me to purge her memory,” Bab-Yagun smiled mysteriously. The moment before the door finally opened, he poked himself in the chest with a finger and quickly pronounced, “Shedus spectacus!” A magic ring sparkled with a green flash and Bab-Yagun dissolved. In the air remained only the floating bandage, inside which — now this especially caught the eye — was empty. And in several seconds even the bandage disappeared — probably the invisible spell worked gradually. Tanya rushed to the cot, pressing her cheek against the sheet damp for the day, and pretended to be sleeping. She heard how Aunt Ninel entered the room and on tiptoes approached Pipa. Not knowing that her mother loomed, Pipa loudly and distinctly said in her sleep, “Oh, G.P.! Oh dear G.P.! I also want to be like you!” Aunt Ninel shook her head and carefully woke her daughter. “Pipa, my poor dear, you’re talking in your sleep. Were you crying? It seemed to me there were some sounds...” “Huh-huh? What? Leave me alone,” Pipa answered in drowsiness, trying, not opening her eyes, to kick her dear mama. “Strange,” Aunt Ninel wondered. “Well, sleep, little daughter... All the time that sound was like: vbdzz-vbzz... Even papa heard it, though he also slips on the night headphones. Let me kiss you!” Extending her lips, Aunt Ninel leaned over Pipa and loudly gave her a smacking kiss on the cheek. A sound was heard immediately, as if someone with all his might punched a fist into dough. The golden dream of an idiot was realized. Pipa nevertheless kick mama with a foot. “Oho-ho! How this girl cries if her crying can be confused with the sound of my zoomer?” Bab-Yagun whispered in amazement after Aunt Ninel withdrew in a waddle. First appeared his bandages, then the Turkish dagger, and then gradually he himself also. “Better you don’t hear it, trust me,” Tanya wished. “All who heard her have become stutterers.” “And why are you not?” “It no longer works on me. I got used to it from childhood. Now when she starts to spit — here’s indeed a full finish. All camels scatter.” “Oh, my granny mama! You’re lucky with the relatives. The aunt alone is worth something,” Bab-Yagun sympathized. “You haven’t seen Uncle Herman yet,” Tanya dodged the subject.
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“Why haven’t I? When Sardanapal sent me here, he ordered Medusa to show me you and all your relatives in the white mirror... Well, so that I wouldn’t mix up anything. Your Uncle Herman, of course, is a picturesque character. How green he is. Nevertheless the blood has its effect. He would be extremely surprised, but the famous vampire Count Dracula is his own great-great-grandfather.” It seemed to Tanya that she had misheard. “Dracula is Uncle Herman’s great-great-grandfather?” “Well, yes... Or something like that. I heard this from my own granny, and she knows everything about kinship. She isn’t clever, but what a true chest of knowledge!” BabYagun said. Suddenly he sniffed tactfully and snapped his fingers. In a second — and in his hand appeared a long loaf with smoked sausage, clearly borrowed from the refrigerator of Aunt Ninel. “This I call to take with nab-grab, a quick grab. By the way, the spell sounds like that. True, some clever fellows call it teleportation,” Bab-Yagun explained, predatorily taking a bite directly off the stick of sausage. “So, Uncle Herman is also... well, a magician? Since Dracula is his granddad?” Tanya was more specific. Bab-Yagun twisted his head, showing that his mouth was full. As soon as he swallowed, he was able to answer, “Kinship with vampire and magic abilities are absolutely different things. One has to be born a magician, but anyone can easily become a vampire. And what’s so good about being a living corpse? Nothing good in it — indeed you can believe me. I know a whole pile of them.” “Stop for a bit,” Tanya was suddenly out of countenance, “it turns out Dracula is also my great-great? Indeed I’m a relative of Uncle Herman.” “Nothing of the sort!” Bab-Yagun was indignant. “Uncle Herman and Dracula are entirely along another line in the kinship, on the maternal side. And you, the Grotters, have nothing of the sort as kin! You have as kinsfolk Queen Cleopatra, Ali Baba, the pharaoh Tutankhamen, the old genie Hottabych, and Snow White with the seven dwarfs. Well and even Count Cagliostro. Indeed my granny knows!” Unexpectedly Bab-Yagun recalled something and mercilessly slapped himself on the forehead with a hand. “Well, and I’m a lamebrain! Completely forgotten about my errand... Here, keep this! Sardanapal ordered to transfer it to you so that you would prepare for the flight to Tibidox. I’ll fly in for you in exactly a week, but you still have to learn a lot of things.” Turning back the edge of the mattress on the flying bed, he pulled out a very thick book. Wheezing from the effort, Bab-Yagun wiped its dusty cover with a sleeve and handed it to Tanya. “Watch and guard it! It’s an exceptionally rare book! It was extremely difficult to acquire it from the Tibidox library. The library genie even tried to take my soul as guarantee, but I lied to him that my soul howls at night, and then he gave it to me without any guarantee. You should see our genie Abdullah! Even Eyeless Horror doesn’t risk appearing in his presence after the time he obliterated the thirteenth letter on the thirteenth page of the thirteenth volume of Secrets of Fatal Curses. By the way, it’s possible that he became eyeless precisely after this incident. However, it’s not acceptable to ask about this.”

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Listening to the brisk chatter of Bab-Yagun, Tanya, trembling, took the book from his hands and, looking at the cover, discovered that she was holding in her hands nothing but A Thousand Tips for a Young Hostess. “Strange,” she wondered and, opening the book at random, read: Tip 8. Linen will not soil so fast if you add to the washing powder several drops of lemon juice. “Perhaps he mixed something up?” she thought, getting acquainted with Tip 24: For the preparation of small loaves, you will need: 150 g of butter or margarine, 250 g of powdered sugar, 6 eggs, dried lemon peel, 70 g of raisins, 70 g of sugared or preserved fruits, 400 g of flour (desirably the best kind), a pinch of baking soda... But Bab-Yagun was beaming so that it was clear: no, the book is precisely what is needed. Hiding disappointment, Tanya opened it nearer the middle: Tip 567. If in a restaurant or cafe a stranger persistently pesters you, do not panic. Place on his clothing a perceptible spot of sour cream or ketchup, after which immediately phone 01-02-03-04. “Some nonsense. And where’s the magic here? What, are they bringing me to Tibidox as a cook?” Tanya thought unhappily. Deciding that it would be more proper not to read everything indiscriminately but examine the index, she looked at it and read: Secrets of darning with small crosses.............5 New life for an old teapot..........12 Washing of woollen articles.............75 “Well, how’s the book to you?” Bab-Yagun happily asked her, interrupting her acquaintance with chapter eighteen about exterminating moths. “Eh-eh... Very cognitive. It teaches... eh-eh... all sorts of useful things,” afraid of offending him, Tanya muttered, thinking to herself that Aunt Ninel bought similar books by the dozen in a week, at the same time not getting mixed up with a troublesome genie. “Well, what are you reading there?” Bab-Yagun, catching the note of disappointment in her voice, looked at it over her shoulders and burst out laughing: “So here’s what the matter is! All this hogwash confused you! It’s for masking in case the book falls into the hands of moronoids or evil spirits! But now watch and memorize!” Bab-Yagun quickly flicked to a page with his forefinger and whispered, “Chilloutum!” The exterior of the book changed in an instant. In Tanya’s hands appeared a chubby shabby volume in a binding of dragon skin, on which was printed in gold decorative letters: The Reference Book of White Magician Sole existing copy “In general all magic books exist in a sole copy. It’s only the moronoids who have fully identical books. True, in some of our publications magic doubles can exist, like a mirror reflection, which is also possible to use,” Bab-Yagun explained. “But this isn’t a reflection?” “No, it also never had one. Look, there must be a stamp... Aha, here it is!” On the title page of the book, Tanya saw a flickering stamp: Tibidox Library. Return on the second new moon to avoid imposition of curse.
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“What, they’ll actually curse you if you don’t return it?” Tanya asked with doubt. She hardly uttered this when the stamp blinked and assumed the form of a gallows. The inscription under the loop said: Believe! “I don’t advise you to check. Strict customs in the library. You can’t even imagine what the genie does with those who pull out pages. Better you never find out,” Bab-Yagun hesitated. Carefully opening the book to that page where earlier there was the recipe for preparation of loaves, Tanya read: Tip 24. For fattening domestic harpies, take twelve rotten eggs. Beat them up thoroughly with the tail of a frightened young skunk. Add into the soup freshly chopped rat meat and season to taste with dry gadflies and bumblebees... Serve chilled in swamp sauce. “Oho-ho! It’s no longer about loaves!” Tanya thought. Curious about what happened to Tip 567, Tanya learned the following: If in the other world a dead man, Digest-Pester or Blue Uncle, attached itself to you, follow the following rules: on no account use magic against them, answer not a single question they put to you, take nothing from their hands. In case they give you advice, avoid following them. Violating any of these rules can cost you your life. “Well!” Bab-Yagun said. “You read the book and bring yourself up to date. Without this, you won’t get to us. True, we also transported other students without knowledge of any spells, but you are a special case! With you this trick for some reason doesn’t work.” “Why?” Tanya was astonished. Bab-Yagun shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t know. Everyone tried. Sardanapal, Medusa, and even Professor Stinktopp: something keeps you out. Either guard magic or because you’re Grotter’s daughter. You have to pass through the gates yourself, and that means cramming the spells by yourself. So they sent me with this book.” Bab-Yagun slapped the cover with his hand. “You’ll not learn all the spells, it’s a fact. An awful lot of them,” he continued. “So, don’t study so hard that your head swells up: learn by heart only the ones to do with flight, spells for passage, and how to use the ring. The rest all the same you won’t understand — teachers are needed here. And here always remember one other thing... not unlike rule number one of magic. Never and on no account reveal the secret of magic to moronoids! Don’t take it into your head to relate to them a single spell.” “So that they wouldn’t master magic?” Tanya asked. Bab-Yagun wanted to shake his bandaged head, but had obviously forgotten about the cast on his neck. “Ne-a, all the same they’ll not master magic. One must be born a magician. Here indeed the main thing is not the words but who utters these words, that at the same time he presents them and, most necessary, whether he believes in what he’s saying. So, although you shout ‘Hocus Pocus!’ the whole day, not one object will jump into your hand if you were not born with abilities. The moronoids will only damage spells, will callous them by incoherent repetition, and everything. But the main thing, the magician who reveals the secret to the uninitiated will forever become an outcast. They’ll take away his magic ring, remove his practice, he immediately becomes nobody.” Bab-Yagun stopped talking, still recollecting something. “It seems I still have something to transfer to you... Aha, your magic ring! Good that I was talking about this!”
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He untangled the bandages completely satisfactorily this time, managed at the same time not to let out a single bonegraft, and extracted a small wooden box with the letters “LeoGr.” Inside in the pressed down hollow Tanya saw a man’s signet ring with the impression in the form of a small bird. “Don’t lose it... A magic ring is for life. It’s not possible to use other people’s rings, just as it’s not possible to order a new one. Possibly, it’ll come off, but magic rings can’t be tightened. It’s... hmm... the ring of Leopold, your father.” Tanya with great care took the ring in her hand, deciding not to put it on for the time being. The ring was cool and heavy. It seemed considerably lighter in looks. “And where’s my papa? Why did he not fly to me? Uncle Herman always told me that he’s in prison. And a disgusting sticky little fellow with horns said that my parents perished. But indeed he lied, right?” she asked with agitation. This question had long been twirling on her tongue. Bab-Yagun started to cough and, turning away, began to check whether the talismans on the flying bed were untangled. “Eh-eh, my granny mama... You see, your parents... They’re no more... She-Who-IsNo-More killed them. Therefore, you turned up at Uncle Herman’s. Otherwise they, by themselves, would not abandon you,” he growled. It seemed to Tanya that someone struck the back of her head with something heavy and elastic. If Bab-Yagun did not support her, she would fall. “No. Not true...” she said quietly. “Didn’t want to tell you, but you would find out all the same... And on the whole it’s time for me to go. Must be in Tibidox before dawn. Don’t want my bed to be an eyesore to the moronoids. And then, you know, they sleep badly after this... Well that’s it, bye, I’ll come for you in exactly a week!” “You’re flying away already?” Tanya flinched. Most of all she wanted now to grab hold of Bab-Yagun and not let him go. “And here’s another thing: you study your spells, but don’t take it into your head to fly by yourself!” Bab-Yagun continued anxiously. “You hear? Don’t do it at any price! Somebody will be pleased if you smash yourself up, so we’ll not give him this pleasure.” Clearly rushing to take leave, Bab-Yagun hurriedly sat on the bed and quietly pronounced, “Pilotus kamikazis!” From under the cast where the ring was, a delicate green flash flew out. The bed began to creak, clumsily squeezed through the window of the balcony, and slid along the house, gradually gaining altitude. Bab-Yagun waved to Tanya. “Success! I hope the spells will work for you! They don’t work for many, but there’s nothing to be done here. It either is or isn’t!” he shouted. When the bed flew past the next-to-last floor, Bab-Yagun mischievously knocked on the glass. A high female screech was heard in a second from the window. Likely, the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre Katerina Kolodkina disapproved of flying mummies peeking into her windows. “Bab-Yagun is right. Hardly possible to lie down to sleep after this. Though all the same it’s already morning soon,” thought Tanya, tightly clutching in her hand the ring of her father, Leopold Grotter. Her parents may not be among the living, but she loves them and always will... Father and mama.
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Chapter 6 The Dead Eye The week stretched out — happy, full of anticipations, and at the same time the most endless week in Tanya’s life. Only that she was a little confused — how will the Durnevs take her disappearance? Is it worthwhile to warn them or even better to say goodbye? And then the following evening when Aunt Ninel, in a good mood, was reading a magazine, and Pipa beside her was writing a letter to her mysterious G.P, Tanya could not hold back and asked, “If I were to disappear suddenly, how would you take it?” Aunt Ninel stopped reading and with curiosity looked sideways at her over the magazine. “Disappear to where? And who needs you?” she snorted contemptuously. “Most likely she’s talking about the colony. But then it would not be unexpected, but completely expected,” added Pipa and, judging by the venomous expression of her face, immediately began to bring this detail into the letter to her mysterious G.P. At the same time, Tanya noticed that Pipa and Aunt Ninel exchanged quick glances as if they were keeping a shared secret from her. A very nasty little secret, as far as it was possible to judge by their faces. “Very lovely! Others may not, but the Durnevs will only be glad if once I’m found missing!” Tanya decided, instantly calmed. Returning from school, she no longer spent time on lessons but immediately armed with the magic book and, snapping her finger at it, uttered, “Chilloutum!” In that moment the very thick book A Thousand Tips for a Young Hostess, containing the secrets of darning by small cross, transformed into the priceless The Reference Book of White Magician. Here indeed, it was actually possible to learn about everything in the world! Not without reason the library genie so unwillingly handed this book over, knowing that it, though not for long, would be in the world of the moronoids. But the magicians from Tibidox knew excellently how to protect their secrets in whatever world — human or magic — they were found. And Tanya was soon convinced of this. On Wednesday returning from school later than usual — she was forced to be on duty in the biology lab, Tanya heard two voices from Pipa’s room. The first, capricious and screechy, clearly belonged to Pipa herself, and the other, unpleasant and harsh, to her best girlfriend Lenka Mumrikova. “And it’s here she lives, at yours? Phew, how hideous!” Lenka said. Tanya quickly pressed her ear against the door slot in order not to miss a sound. “Uh-huh. On the balcony. I don’t let her into my room. I don’t want to sleep together with this fool,” she heard the grumbling of Pipa. “And in winter?” “In winter she sleeps in the dark room. Well, I always persuade my parents to get rid of her somewhere... To the orphanage or somewhere else.” “And will they?” “Mama is for, but father says: not now, must wait until after the elections, then it’s possible to send her packing. He said that he knows of an outstanding boot camp for children with criminal inclinations, where all the beds stand in a line, you get up at five in the morning, and have a compulsory hardening by icy water before bedtime. Those who
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seriously disrupt the discipline, for example unevenly placing boots in front of the bed or not saying ‘Yes!’ when the diary is called for, are forced to polish with a toothbrush the floor in the sports hall.” Tanya shuddered. Here is what kind of “surprise,” it appears, Aunt Ninel and Pipa have prepared for her. Well no matter, in several days she would already not be here. If only everything would turn out with the spells of passage and flight! Tanya already mastered how to pronounce a few words simply, but she still had to tune her thoughts by definite means and force the magic ring, which had been behaving extremely wilfully so far, to obey. “That she needs, this Grotter! Will have to phone that boot camp so that they’ll handle her stricter there,” said Mumrikova. Knowing that if she entered the room now, Pipa and Lenka would guess that she was eavesdropping, Tanya remained in the hallway. Meanwhile the voices moved to the window. A door slammed and Tanya surmised that the classmates were already on the balcony. “This is her cot?” Lenka asked with disgust. “Uh-huh,” confirmed Pipa. “You want to look at her case, which she trembles over so? I recently had a look at what she had in there, only imagine, a huge double bass! I have no idea where she took it from.” “Found in the dumpster,” said Mumrikova, and both girls laughed disgustingly like horses. “Let’s do something with her double bass! I must get even with her for scalding me,” proposed Pipa. “What, badly?” “I felt nothing at all. The tea was almost cold and I was even in pants. Only must get even all the same,” said Pipa, and the idiotic neighing laugh was heard again. The cabinet began to creak and Tanya understood that they were trying to open the door. But it was precisely impossible. After the incident with the disgusting dwarf chewing up her diary, Tanya cunningly adjusted one of the nails so that it began to serve as a bolt, and, not knowing the secret, it was impossible to open the cabinet. “Doesn’t work! She locked it! Here’s a scoundrel, treats the balcony as in her own home! Well, doesn’t matter, in the boot camp she’ll have only one night table!” Pipa puffed with irritation. A sound was heard as if someone was kicking the cot with all his strength. Something heavy fell on the floor. While Tanya attempted to think what it could be, Mumrikova exclaimed, “Look, a book! Interesting, what’s she reading? Oh, A Thousand Tips for a Young Hostess! Most likely it describes how to polish floor with a brush, spool spaghetti, or nail a torn slipper.” “A book? Where? Aha!” Pipa triumphed. “Let’s ruin it! If someone lent it to her, he’ll know about getting mixed up with this slob. How would we do it? Rip it — too boring, cross out the pages with a pen — too long. Aha! Better smear it with glue!” “Better let me,” Mumrikova proposed ingratiatingly. “Grotter nevertheless won’t know that I was here, and you’ll seemingly have nothing to do with it. You didn’t do it!” “Exactly! So let’s do it!” Pipa agreed. “Take the glue from my table! Outstanding glue — Super-cement, grips instantly and forever... Quick! Got it? And now drip right here and...”
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Tanya came to, suddenly understood that they had found her Reference Book of White Magician, which she, instead of hiding in the cabinet, left under the pillow. Here is a fool! Left without the book, she would not know how to prepare for the passage, and then... On top of that, the genie would go nuts — she remembered perfectly what BabYagun told her about the damaged pages. Afraid she was too late, she rushed into the room, but, not yet reaching the doorknob, heard a wild, almost superhuman howl. More precisely, two wild superhuman howls merging into one. The tube with the Super-cement glue flew swiftly over Pipa’s head, generously spilling on her hair. The book, exactly like the jaw of a bulldog, closed on Lenka Mumrikova’s hand. Mumrikova howled and swung her hand, but the grasp of The Reference Book did not slacken. Pipa, on whose head the glue was flowing, had time already to grow hoarse and only squeaked faintly when it dripped onto her nose. Pushing each other, the friends rushed about in the room and on the balcony: Mumrikova tried to free herself from the book, and Pipa was dodging from the tube of glue, which, like a dive-bomber, already went on the third round and clearly did not intend to stop. “Chilloutum!” Tanya whispered softly. Having grown heated the book did not hear or pretended that it did not hear. Only when Tanya repeated the spell a third time then the reference book unwillingly relaxed the pages and jumped by itself into her hand, far-sightedly remaining for the time Tips for a Young Hostess. At the same time, the tube of glue dripped the last drop onto Pipa’s head and fell onto Pipa’s desk, innocently lowering itself onto its previous place next to the container filled with felt-tip pens. Pipa, deep purple from horror, slowly settled on the carpet next to the enormous pink dinosaur, a gift from the famous TV personality Prushkin, who needed something from Uncle Herman. With hatred staring at Tanya, she obviously wanted to say something, but could not decide because she saw that book in her hands. Finally, remembering about the glue flooding her entire head, Pipa quickly crawled away on all fours into the hallway. The tap began to drone in the bathroom. Meanwhile Mumrikova decided to look at her freed hand. It would have been better if she did not do this, because immediately a new howl, not a bit quieter but even louder than before, resounded along the balcony and the entire apartment of the Durnevs. Along the back and the outside of Lenka’s hand, with the only exception of the cushions of her fingers and the nails, thick reddish fur curled. “I-it-is all you! You!” Mumrikova showed Tanya the overgrown fingers, the fur growing longer with each second, and, again squealing, threw herself into the hallway after Pipa. *** “And now it’s possible to do some work. I think they’ll not bother us anymore,” said Tanya, turning to the book. It accordingly flew over to the windowsill and opened to the chapter Flight spells and spells of passage.
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For flights on accessory flying instruments, please obey the following rules. Sit down on top of the instrument and firmly clasp it with your legs. Take in your hands the controlling object (the handle of a vacuum, a bow, etc.). Should hold it firmly and lightly at the same time, closer to the middle. Avoid abrupt movements, but simultaneously block constraints. Remember, the instrument is capable of throwing you off if you behave apprehensively or in a cowardly manner. Check the correctness of the binding of the talismans. Remember that an untied talisman can lead to a drop. Thoroughly calculate the spells from the weight and speed of transportation. The fastest spell “Speedus envenomus” is suitable for swift displacement of magicians and lightweight objects to great distances. This super-high-speed spell demands considerable skills of control of the flying objects; therefore novices are prohibited to use it to avoid a more than probable fatal outcome! The medium in speed and safety spell “Hastenus plodus” is suitable for adult magicians and objects of average weight. If you need to transfer, for example, an elephant, you are afraid of heights, or your flight means is badly fitted out for high-speed accelerations, you should use the spell “Pilotus kamikazis.” To avoid sudden drop in the case of bucking of the instrument or going against a strong wind do not forget to utter the safety net spell “Oyoyoys smackis thumpis.” A safety net spell will not be able to prevent a drop, but it will soften its consequences. Green flashes of the magic ring should accompany all spells on one to a spell. Avoid both redundant number of green flashes and occurrence of red flashes. Red flashes — a ritual of black magic — can distort spells and lead to unpredictable consequences. Before proceeding to practice, it is obligatory to become acquainted with the chapter “Safe landing or braking spells.” “A nightmare, how much studying is necessary! Of course, later I’ll learn them by heart, but better write a crib sheet for the time being!” Tanya thought, just impatient to proceed faster to practice. Grabbing a pen, Tanya was about to start writing the spells on her palm, but suddenly sensed the smell of burnt plastic. A second later, she went “Aw!” and dropped the pen. Not having yet flown as far as the floor, the pen became a dark smoking piece of plastic. To the smoke snaking from it rising into the air was added the words: Magic secret! Strictly forbidden to copy spells! Bending maliciously, the exclamation mark glided to the side and stole up Tanya’s nostril, after forcing her to sneeze. The inscription melted away. “Also what regular things for me to find... It can’t be helped, I have to learn them by heart,” Tanya muttered, puckering from the unpleasant smell of cinder. Cramming the spells, Tanya took the double bass from the case, sat down on it and took the bow in hand. Moreover, she did not take it on the edge as she did before but in the middle. It made not the slightest impression on grandpa Grotter’s instrument. Tanya took a deep breath and, estimating which of the three spells would be most suitable, decided to choose the medium Hastenus plodus. Just she herself, of course, was light, but on the other hand, the instrument was heavy. And later, if the double bass jerked too abruptly out of place, would she be able to hold onto it?
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Almost ready to blurt out the spell, Tanya recalled that she forgot to check whether all the talismans were in place and to pronounce the safety net spell. “Here’s a blockhead!” she scolded herself, got down from the double bass and started to inspect it attentively. But, in spite of all searches, it was impossible for her to discover a single talisman like those on the bed of Bab-Yagun. Again re-reading the chapter in the magic book, Tanya discovered a postscript at the end: Talismans can be absent in some of the most perfect models of flying objects, see list on page 1092. The girl was ready to swear that earlier there was also no mention of this postscript. The book was clearly playing tricks, being too lazy to highlight the entire text immediately. Opening to page 1092, Tanya discovered her instrument — double bass mast. Th. Grotter, 1654 — in the list of flying instruments without talismans. There it was placed in the eighth place after the manned dish of D.Ogg, the dental armchair of S.T.Utter, and the Trojan horse of Ch.E.At. Clarifying that talismans were not needed, Tanya again occupied the place on the double bass and, carefully waving the bow, pronounced, “Oyoyoys smackis thumpis.” After waiting several seconds to find out whether anything took place confirming that her spell included insurance and ended with nothing, she decided and shouted, “Hastenus plodus!” Immediately after uttering the spell, Tanya closed her eyes tight for a moment but opened them right away, realizing that the double bass did not even tremble, remaining in its earlier position. If it rose at least a centimetre, it would already be a success. But no, it clearly did not intend to set off anywhere. Tanya felt that her hands were shaking and even her chin was trembling. This second failure discouraged much more than the first. “They don’t work for many, but there’s nothing to be done here. It either is or isn’t!” she recalled the words of Bab-Yagun. But what if... what if she doesn’t have it? What if she had not inherited the gift from the Grotters? “Perhaps I’m completely not of the magicians? Perhaps I’m quite ordinary, without any abilities?” Tanya thought with horror. Now for some reason she was definitely certain that the double bass would not fly anywhere, but if so, then she would remain in the human world forever and would soon be polishing with a toothbrush the floor of a sports hall. “Interesting, there at least they hand out toothbrushes or must I stock them myself while I’m still here?” a panic thought flickered in her. Feeling that her forehead was damp, Tanya raised her hand in order to wipe it, and — she suddenly noticed that she did not have the magic ring on her hand. So here is the problem! How could she expect to fly without a magic green flash! Clearly, without the ring the spell did not have the equal amount of power. Dashing to the cabinet, she moved aside the secret nail and extracted from the pocket of her oldest jeans, which even Pipa would be squeamish to take in her hands, the wooden box with the letters “LeoGr” hidden in there. Having put on the ring, Tanya immediately bent her finger, afraid that it would jump off, and, getting ready to pronounce “Hastenus plodus,” energetically waved her hand. Green sparks flew out from the ring. Not one as required, but at least a hundred. Two or three of them burnt Tanya’s nose, several dozen singed the double bass, and the rest with a loud crackle scattered in the air.
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“Hey! What’s with you, gone completely nuts, shaking me so? What am I to you, a rattle?” suddenly someone’s squeaky voice muttered. Even Tanya understood after a moment that it came from the ring. “You... eh... it... can talk?” She could not believe it. “And it’ll be known to you I’m the ring of Theophilus Grotter. He presented to me his voice, his character, and the ability to speak for five minutes a day. Precisely five minutes and not a second more,” the ring answered with the tunefulness of a lock that had not been greased for a long time and, not answering a single question anymore, with the squeaky voice struck up an ancient song in an incomprehensible language. “Well, grandpa Theophilus had quite a voice! Indeed a character!” Tanya said to herself with relief, when five minutes finally elapsed and the ring became silent, after growling finally in Russian, “No more nonsense! Else you’ll crash and then find out the price of white slippers nowadays!” “Well, that’s it! Now or never!” Tanya said, mad at herself. Firmly taking the bow, she was already prepared to blurt out “Hastenus plodus,” but here a strange thing happened. The medium safety spell “Hastenus plodus” by some strange means suddenly tumbled out from her memory. “Do you intend to fly or plod?” as if she heard someone’s mocking whisper. “It’ll be faster on crutches! Want to fly, so fly!” Tanya yielded, and immediately from her tongue, another got out completely unexpectedly, the extremely dangerous and unpredictable spell — “Speedus envenomus.” *** Almost instantly, the magic ring spat out a green spark, and in the next moment, Tanya perceived that the double bass had broken loose from its place and was rushing outside through the window opened wide. Immediately the wind by short furious gusts-slaps attempted to throw her off, but she held on firmly. Branches, windows, roofs, piles of leaves on the lawn, wet cars, birds, and antennas flashed by. Orange and dark-blue strips launched from heaven knows where were in a swirl. The sky and the earth suddenly changed places, and where, according to Tanya’s assumption, asphalt should be, cloud suddenly floated out. Ah, it is simply her turned upside down in the air! Tanya managed with great difficulty to return to the normal position. Although was it possible to consider what was taking place normal? With amazing speed, each minute risking running into a high-rise or getting entangled in an electrical wire, she rushed over the city. The double bass, sensing an inexperienced rider on itself, as if wanting to throw her off, either fell into an air pocket or rocketed upwards so steeply that Tanya’s back was literally hanging above the ground and she again began to see houses turned upside down. Attempting to cling to the double bass and at least somehow to hold on to it, she nearly dropped the bow, but right away remembered that she must not do this. Without the bow, she would instantly lose control of the double bass, and then it would be even worse... Although is it possible to say that she was mastering it? It was flying more to wherever it wanted...
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Feeling herself on top of a missile — to where Baron von Münchhausen was on his slow shot! — Tanya suddenly recalled that she did not say “Oyoyoys smackis thumpis” and because of her own stupidity she remained without insurance. She tried to utter “Oyoyoys smackis thumpis” right there, but gusts of wind beat into her face, into her mouth, and blew the words away. Moreover, she was clutching the double bass by the hand with the magic ring, holding the bow in the other. If she now unclenched her hand to shoot out a green spark, it would simply be carried away. Tanya was in a flap. Here indeed was exactly the very time to find out the price of white slippers. Galloping headlong, the double bass was clearly not under control, so far miraculously avoiding collisions, nevertheless sooner or later it would run into something. Or she herself, getting tired, would unclench her hand. “Perhaps it’s not so bad in the boot camp for children with criminal inclinations!” the thought flickered in her. “But only I doubt Uncle Herman will begin to jump onto the roof now with a net in order to catch me and send me to the boot camp.” Unexpectedly the double bass abruptly nodded off downward and then quickly sideways. Trying to hold onto it, Tanya suddenly grasped that she recently made exactly the same movement with the end of the bow downward and to the side. Desiring to verify her own guess, she again carefully guided the bow a little upward, and... the double bass, immediately ceasing to lose altitude, started to climb. So it is! The double bass obeyed the bow, repeated all its movements! Especially if it was accompanied by the leaning of the entire body to the same side. So, it means all the absurd figures traced by the double bass in the air, all these “barrels” and failures were explained by her trying not to fall, confusedly swinging the hand with the bow. And she... she even wanted to drop the bow. With the thought of what would happen if she had done that, Tanya shuddered. The unguided double bass would begin to somersault exactly as the falling bow, and then... Then in exactly the same manner, it would ram into the ground. For some reason fear had already retreated. Looking beneath her, an enormous widespread city and white clouds flowing around pierced by long, whimsical brokenthrough rays of a sun suddenly peeping out, Tanya at once experienced the delight of swift flight. It was a new, unknown feeling — the intoxicating rapture of speed, complete merging with the clouds, the sky, the powerful airstreams which either shot up from the ground or, on the contrary, started out softly but firmly forcing her to the ground. It seemed to Tanya that once she had already experienced this feeling and she had only forgotten as a result of strange coincidences. Easily and confidently tracing out figures with the edge of the bow as if she had always done this, Tanya bathed in the airflow. The double bass, becoming suddenly amazingly obedient and had seemingly grown quiet, obligingly fulfilled her smallest desire. It either traced a loop in the air, or came down with a whistle, or, like a flying carpet, began to gain altitude gently. It seemed to Tanya that she and the double bass had become one. It was as if a part of her, like the body of a stallion for the centaur or the fish tail for the mermaid. “Really can anything compare with the beauty and the power of flight on the double bass?” Tanya thought. With a narrow, slightly hooked nose like that of a hawk, gradually widening behind, it literally pierced the air. Its wide base reliably and tightly caught the airflows and slid on them, it was sliding along the waves like a light boat. A smooth
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narrow spot in the center was seemingly created for sitting on top. In many respects, it was not inferior to a saddle. Only there was no stirrup here, well, stirrups on the double bass would look silly, on top of that for sure it would thunder at high speed. Tanya thought with sympathy about those old-fashioned sorcerers flying on brooms. What, in essence, is such a broom? A stick with a bunch of twigs attached to it, which for sure begins to shake and dangle, this bunch will hardly catch an air pocket or meet a lateral gust. Even the icy wind, earlier blowing right through her and penetrating to the last vein so that it seemed she would suddenly become a piece of ice frozen to the double bass, now already for some reason bothered her little. When she, venturing a risky experiment, rushed past with the speed of a rocket above the ground, she nearly flew into Genka Bulonov, who had just walked out of the entrance. Only miraculously, directing the double bass sharply to the side was it possible for Tanya to avoid a collision. Bulonov was knocked down by the gust of air. Opening and closing his mouth like a fish thrown onto sand, he sat on the asphalt and looked thunderstruck at the small point disappearing in the sky. But what was Bulonov to Tanya! She already did not feel sorry that she chose the fastest spell. To drag along on Pilotus kamikazis... Well indeed not! If Bab-Yagun used it, then, most likely because the iron bed nevertheless could not develop a decent speed, and even the commentator of dragonball matches had not yet restored his form after the encounter with angry witches and vampires dissatisfied with him. She was not an elephant and not Aunt Ninel heavily flying into the supermarket... Imagining in the air Aunt Ninel, who with a face twisted from horror, crushing the dachshund to herself with one hand, and holding her skirt with the other, Tanya laughed and began to trace a beautiful eight. She already almost saw how she would do it. A takeoff, then a loop with a short turn of the head downward, again a loop, already down with the head, and then exit to the usual position at the same place. Suddenly, when Tanya had already straightened out the double bass, a dark shadow flickered over her head, and in the next moment, something forcefully hit her face and the hand griping the bow. Something sharp ripped her jean jacket on the chest and slid along her cheek. Instinctively shrinking back to protect her eyes, Tanya in an instant saw a nonblinking yellow, maliciously looking eye. A disgusting, sickening smell struck her nostrils. Pain pierced her hand and she almost dropped the bow. Acting intuitively faster, Tanya bent down to the double bass and attempted to speed it up in order to break away from the dark shadow. But the double bass had not yet come out of the eight. Its reserve of speed was clearly not enough. Again the dark shadow flickered... Tanya, like the last time, did not understand how she would have time to swing around and how she would manage to develop this speed. This time the sharp blow was inflicted from below and fell on her leg in passing. The blow was so powerful that the strings of the double bass began to hum. The double bass tilted from this blow, and immediately again the immobile yellow eye emerged from somewhere. The hand with the bow suddenly became terribly heavy and somewhat disobedient. Before Tanya was able to become aware or at least to be frightened, the double bass somersaulted twice in the air and rushed to the ground. The yellow eye lit up with
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triumph and disappeared. With a loud howl falling downward, Tanya already saw the dark asphalt square between two houses rushing up to her at breakneck speed. But, when there remained not more than ten metres to the ground, the double bass suddenly slowed down the drop. One more stunning loop, so abrupt that her brain nearly overturned in her head — in any case, it was precisely such a feeling, the magic instrument of Theophilus Grotter, ceasing to lose altitude, soared up into the sky. Strings buzzed in an overstrained way, furiously... It seemed they would now break from indignation. Obviously, it was necessary for the instrument to invest all its magic power to get out from the dive. Tanya decided that by some miracle, even, probably, by chance, she pointed the end of the bow upward and did this sufficiently smoothly and confidently that the double bass obeyed it. “Well, why did I begin to fall... Ah yes, the shadow,” Tanya muttered. And only now, when it became clear what she had escaped from, an icy wave of horror swept over her. Tanya began to turn her head, peering into the sky with fright. The clouds were like cotton wool whimsically painted with violet, pink, and blue watercolours. Solar rays made their way through confusedly. No, the dark shadow was nowhere — it sprung up from who knows where and disappeared so mysteriously and without a trace. Her hand had become more benumbed. It obeyed so badly that it was possible to decide that it did not exist at all, and in its place was attached something foreign and hindering. Tanya lowered her eyes and saw blood oozing out of three deep cuts on her wrist. There was even a scratch on her face: over the cheek spread a strange coolness, seemingly stretching out into a thread. Something sticky persistently dripped onto her collar. Looking intently at the scratches on her hand, Tanya understood suddenly what they had meant to do. They wanted to knock the bow off her, and so, to kill her cold-bloodedly and prudently. Moreover, someone who knew the secrets of magic flights clearly attempted to destroy her. The plan almost succeeded. If Tanya had not swerved abruptly and had not tugged at the bow completely by accident, then, most likely she would have already been a stain on the asphalt. The one who decided to kill her had thought over the smallest details. By some means he even knew how to temporarily penetrate her consciousness and compel her to say “Speedus envenomus” when she was going to utter the safer “Hastenus plodus.” “You study your spells, but don’t take it into your head to fly by yourself! You hear? Don’t do it at any price! Somebody will be pleased if you smash yourself up,” she distinctly recalled the words of Bab-Yagun. He warned her, so why did she not listen?! After what happened, Tanya did not have any desire to continue the flight. Discovering that she had managed to remain among the living, the dark shadow could again return any minute and finish what it started. Estimating in what direction the house of Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel stood, she swung the double bass around and, attentively peering at the clouds to see if a terrible dark spot would appear among them, she flew in the return direction. Her hand throbbed with continuous pain, changing in time to total numbness. Just before the landing itself, one more surprise still awaited Tanya. She suddenly remembered that she never learnt the braking spells. That is, she did take off, but how to come down now — unknown. It seemed that the spell “Speedus envenomus” was too
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swift for the double bass to stop itself. More likely she would simply be flattened against the asphalt or greet the wall of the house at a mad speed. Aiming as if she was contriving to land more successfully, she twice flew around the block. The asphalt courtyards were badly suited for landing, just as the small park enmeshed with electrical wires. The prospect of hanging from a high-voltage line attracted her even less than the possibility of breaking into smithereens. “Likely today I’m nevertheless fated to become a flat cake or at the worst be charred! And Pipa will have an excellent excuse to miss school, setting off for my burial. She’ll bring along Lenka Mumrikova. They’ll both gobble up potato chips and throw candy wrappers into my grave,” Tanya thought gloomily. Not wanting to give such pleasure to Pipa, she decided to fight for her life with all her might and suddenly recalled the safety net spell, which she had not used so far. Picking the moment when it was safe to unclench her hand with the ring, Tanya let out a green spark and exclaimed, “Oyoyoys smackis thumpis!” The double bass confusedly started to swerve in the air, and in a second, an unknown force decisively pulled her off it. The wind began to whistle. Windows of the multi-storey building, lit up by the fragmented sunset, flashed by. The asphalt of Rublev Road relentlessly moved up to the girl. “Ah-ah-ah!” Tanya yelled, dropping the already useless bow and covering her face with her hands. Before her internal eyes already loomed the caustic face of Pipa, who, unnoticeably sticking out a tongue the colour of liver sausage, was placing two carnations on her coffin. Suddenly, already close by the ground itself, Tanya’s drop slowed down, and she, almost not experiencing pain, pounced with her side upon something soft, having come down deeply in it. Next to her, the double bass had fallen, discontentedly humming with the strings, and the bow floated like a flickering thin line. Irresolutely looking around, Tanya saw that she was sitting in the body of a truck standing by a traffic light. It was filled to the edge with black bags of fallen leaves, which they were transporting for the city... She was being transported. Although was it possible to call this luck? “A safety net spell will not be able to prevent a drop, but it will soften its consequences,” she recalled the line from the magic book. *** The incident of the dark shadow attempting to kill her spoilt Tanya’s mood for a long time. There was no doubt — she had an enemy in the magic world and the enemy was powerful. She immediately recollected the dream of Uncle Herman, the theft of the gold sword, and the evasive words of the academician warning her about danger. Everything took place so swiftly in the air that Tanya was never able to understand to whom the furious yellow eye belonged. A bird? Well, was it a bird? Tanya no longer dared to fly, although the air beckoned her. Now and then, she wanted terribly to sit down again on the double bass and cry “Speedus envenomus!” but the recollection was still too fresh. It is not worthwhile to tempt fate a second time. The most that Tanya would allow herself was, in the middle of the night to take off above the balcony and fly several times around the house at a low altitude, using the slowest and
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safest spell “Pilotus kamikazis.” The magic double bass barely dragged along on this spell. It was not necessary to speak of any acrobatic manoeuvres at all: the strings of the double bass would immediately begin to hum indignantly. Tanya so felt an urge to accelerate, but... she did not permit herself. Instead, she repeatedly practiced the braking spell “Bangus parachutis.” Right after her utterance, it was necessary to point with the bow to where she wanted to land. The instrument first hovered motionlessly above this place, and then slowly and reliably it began to descend until the feet touched the ground. True, there was an even speedier braking spell “Bangus parachutis forte,” but it was extremely inconvenient, since the double bass immediately broke through into an air pocket, fell down like a rock, and just as abruptly froze a several centimetres from the ground. At the same time, Tanya had the sensation every time that her interior remained somewhere in the air and now would tumble directly onto her head. The Durnevs no longer caused Tanya any trouble — they now had their own problems piling up. After that incident with the Reference Book of White Magician Pipa’s hair was glued together so hard that there was no possibility whatever to comb it out. The head was as if frozen in a glass helmet, which, when they tapped on it with a pencil, emitted a “tum-tum” sound. There was nothing to be done, it was necessary to take Pipa to the hairdresser and, in spite of all protests, to give her head a close shave. With the shaved head, with the multicoloured pimples of different sizes shining like lamps on the New Year tree, the daughter of Uncle Herman looked so hideous that Tanya even began to pity her occasionally. However, Lenka Mumrikova had considerably less luck. For two days, she did not go to school at all, and then she appeared in a glove and did not take it off during all her classes. Tanya could conclude from this that Mumrikova could do nothing with the fur on her hand. For whatever reason not entirely clear to Tanya neither Pipa nor Lenka told anyone about the mysterious reference book. Both looked askance at Tanya from a distance with hatred; however, they were afraid to approach her. At night Pipa sneaked towards the balcony and, trembling from fear, shut all the latches, and placed a hammer near her bed. As far as Genka Bulonov was concerned, now the only thing he did was to be under foot near Tanya. Good though that he kept silent at the same time, only winked mysteriously as if hinting at a common secret. Moreover, sometimes for a bigger mystery he winked both eyes quickly. But really, what was Bulonov to Tanya now? Finally came the morning of the day when Bab-Yagun was to come flying. The longawaited morning of the long-awaited day. For breakfast, Aunt Ninel was so not herself that she did not even begin to feed Tanya the day-before-yesterday semolina kasha, which the dachshund refused, but gave her the same omelette as Pipa’s. Already at the end of breakfast, a greenish-yellow Uncle Herman appeared in the kitchen, silently drank tea and, not looking at anyone, went out. When he left the kitchen, Tanya accidentally noticed that his right pocket was bulging slightly and there stuck out the top of a carrot, which Uncle Herman embarrassingly tried to cover with a hand. “And why is Uncle Herman not in the Duma today? He has elections soon!” Tanya wondered. Aunt Ninel grew red and set on her with fury. “WHAT? What did you say?” she growled.
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“I simply asked why he’s not at work. But you don’t have to answer if you don’t know,” Tanya was confused. But Aunt Ninel obviously already considered that nevertheless the truth could not be hidden. She took herself in hand and even smiled timidly, apologizing with the smile of a lion that had recently bitten off the head of its trainer. “Eh-eh... why not? Yesterday at the council session Uncle Herman... eh-eh... accidentally broke the microphone. They sent him... eh-eh... to the hospital.” “They sent him to the hospital because he broke a microphone?” Tanya was astonished. Aunt Ninel was clearly holding something back. “What, don’t you understand Russian? Well, march to do your lessons! And you only try to talk about this in school!” finally losing patience, Aunt Ninel began to yell. “To talk about what? That he’s in the hospital? Or that he broke the microphone?” Tanya did not understand. “O-U-T!” Aunt Ninel shouted. Tanya flew out like a cork into the room and bumped into Pipa there. Pipa quickly darted with horror away behind the armchair. “What’s with Uncle Herman there? Crack, or I’ll cast a spell!” Tanya asked severely and, using Pipa’s fright, took aim at her with a finger. Pipa squealed, not taking her eyes off the finger. Now it was possible to frighten her with any nonsense. And yet Tanya so far knew not a single spell except those connected with flight. “Ah-ah! Don’t, I’ll talk...” the daughter of Uncle Herman squeaked. “You really don’t know that papa, during the pre-election appearance, gnawed through the cord of the microphone, and then snacked on a folder for papers? And all this was within sight of hundreds of people... And later... he ran up to and jumped over the old man to whom he intended to present an almost new sweater. And it’s all because some idiot in the hall accidentally took a carrot from his pocket... Such people should be shot. And now mama fears that he’ll lose the election.” “Here’s to you and Lisper the Rabbit!” Tanya thought with admiration. Yes, she definitely began to like Uncle Herman. For this, pity even flew out to Uncle Herman. Now Tanya knew an outstanding method on how to twist his brain and win his confidence. It sufficed only to treat him with carrots. Chapter 7 Tibidox It seemed to Tanya that this evening Pipa would never lie down. She walked along the room and pensively kicked the toys, occasionally throwing dissatisfied glances at the balcony. On Pipa’s head was a stupid pink plastic cap with flowers, which she wore without taking off since that well-known time. When Tanya finally lost patience and was already pondering whether to fling at Pipa a drowsy spell or simply anything heavy, Pipa settled herself down and soon, turning to the wall, started to wheeze through both holes. The night crept little by little into the city. The windows went out like candles shot by a keen sharpshooter at a shooting-range and late dogcatchers disappeared in the entrances. And here, when everything had already quieted down and the city was under a black veil of gloom, Tanya heard some rustling outside. Throwing open the window, she saw how on the lawn under the balcony two red pieces of coal suddenly caught fire, and in several
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seconds quickly six more of them. The pieces of coal flared up one after another. Obscure muttering, puffing, wheezing was heard. Something rustled, something barely distinguishable moved rapidly along the flowerbed. When Tanya’s eyes got used to the darkness, she understood that many creatures of the most varied sizes were swarming below. Some were quite small, others large, about the size of a dog. The dark spots appeared from everywhere, climbed from all slots, from all hatchways. Red malicious pieces of coal lit up in the most unpredictable places. So far, their placements were chaotic, but with each minute, everything became more definite. They were definitely moving towards the balcony. Soon the entire lawn had already become a dark swarming carpet. Tanya started to feel uneasy. She was almost certain that these unknown beings appeared here with a well-defined purpose, somehow connected with her. And, judging by the look of them, there was clearly no need to wait for anything good from them. “If they start to climb, I’ll still have time to jump on the double bass,” she calmed herself. Suddenly the door creaked. Aunt Ninel entered the room, fixed the blanket on Pipa, and then, glancing at the balcony, suspiciously asked, “Who are you spying on there?” At a loss, Tanya muttered something. But Aunt Ninel obviously posed the question without any desire to receive an answer. She clearly did not intend to look out the window. Instead, she stared attentively at the sweater which Tanya had time to put on already, getting ready for the night flight. “Are you cold, perhaps?” as if deciding on something, she asked. “Okay, let’s take the blanket and march into the living room!” It hit the back of Tanya’s head like a thunderbolt. Aunt Ninel managed to show generosity precisely now when she was already almost flying away to Tibidox! One more night on the balcony! But there was no changing the mind of Aunt Ninel — she pressed like a bulldozer. Grabbing Tanya by the hand, Aunt Ninel dragged her into the living room, where a tiny sofa, under which the dachshund usually slept, stood next to the enormous television set occupying a third of the wall. “And don’t take it upon yourself to return to the balcony! Now you’ll sleep here till the bo... For the time being Uncle Herman and I haven’t yet decided what to do with you,” Aunt Ninel corrected herself, probably remembering the boot camp for children with criminal inclinations. Aunt Ninel left. A key clicked in the door of Pipa’s room. Obviously, Pipa, woken up by the bass of her mama, decided to be safe and now on no account would open it. Tanya understood that she was fated to spend the night in the living room. The flying double bass and the book of spells remained on the balcony. And Bab-Yagun would soon come flying there. Tanya jumped from the sofa in order to run up to the window and, when he appeared, to draw his attention, but the dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres began to roar blindly from under the sofa. “What are you doing there? Lie down quickly! Remember, I’ll not sleep tonight! I’ll be placing compresses on Uncle Herman’s forehead! Tomorrow he has an important interview on TV, and he has to get rid of all the gibberish from his head!” Aunt Ninel shouted sternly from behind the door. Her bedroom was right beside and she could hear any rustle.
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Tanya sat down on the sofa. Her heart was pounding in her. How would she be able to get up when under the sofa she had a sensitive dachshund and behind the wall an evil aunt? What could be worse than her present situation when freedom was so near and yet so far? Still, twice Tanya attempted to sneak to the window, but each time the dachshund began to growl maliciously and Aunt Ninel hailed her sternly from behind the wall. Likely, she actually did not sleep: from time to time was heard the sound of gauze being wrung out for a compress. The rustling became quite discernible. Now the source of the sound was not only beyond the window but also everywhere. Something was scraping behind the wall, scratching behind the cabinet. Even the pipes in the bathroom were humming unusually somehow, as if someone was making his way up in them. It seemed to Tanya that thousands of hardly audible voices in various ways were repeating one and the same phrase: “Grotter’s daughter! Grotter’s daughter! Death to her!” Strange that Aunt Ninel with her sensitive hearing heard nothing. “Why are you playing over there? Well, lie down quietly! Uncle Herman can’t fall asleep!” she bellowed from behind the wall. In her voice was definite malicious joy. Did she really know? No, she could not have. Tanya found herself in a trap. Everyone had taken up arms against her. Unexpectedly, somewhere beyond the window, from the side of the balcony, a familiar semi-cough was heard. Tanya shuddered. Someone weakly but distinctly knocked on the frame. Was it really Bab-Yagun? What if, not finding her on the balcony, he decided that Tanya thought it over or, on the contrary, had already flown away? The girl wanted to dash to the window, but she remembered suddenly that the dachshund would give her away before she could jump up, and Aunt Ninel would immediately appear from the adjacent room. The pipes began to drone and suddenly they stopped. Almost immediately, the door in the hallway from the direction of the bathroom began to shake lightly as if someone was pushing and scratching it from below. The dachshund began to growl. It also heard. So, it did not just seem to her, and it was all true. “Are you tossing and turning again? What’s this? Thankless trash... What, do you want to sleep on the staircase?” Aunt Ninel snarled from the bedroom. Tanya felt — one more second and she would put her hands up to her ears and begin to scream, “Ah-ah-ah-ah!” Her nerves were already at the breaking point. Suddenly something cool slid down from her finger. The ring! All this time she had on the magic ring! Tanya began hurriedly to feel the fold of the blanket, searching for it. The door shook slightly, someone was wheezing behind it. The dachshund maliciously seethed from under the bed. But here her fingers groped something... The ring... Tanya in a hurry put it on and began to recall the drowsy spell that Bab-Yagun used. Why did she not repeat it? “Harpus? Wheezus? Dotus snorus? Pillowis sleepus?” Not that! Again not that! “A disgrace! I literally blush! I was never in the possession of such a blockhead before!” the ring said loudly. “Is it really impossible to memorize two of the simplest words? Pointus harpoonus!” “Hey! I’m coming out! You hear? Who allowed you to turn on the TV!” Aunt Ninel began to roar from the bedroom. Her rock heels began to thud furiously along the carpet, making their way to the door.
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Without a moment’s hesitation, Tanya hurriedly waved her hand and, directing the finger with the ring in the direction from where the steps were approaching, she whispered, “Pointus harpoonus!” A green spark slid through the keyhole. Behind the door, the dull sound of a falling body was heard. Simultaneously the rustling in the hallway seemingly quieted down. The footfall of many small feet running away was heard. “It seems they’re afraid of magic. They understood that I have a ring,” thought Tanya. Boldly throwing open the door into the bedroom, she saw that Aunt Ninel, childishly smacking her lips as if in search of nipples, deafeningly snoring directly on the floor, and on the bed with a compress on his forehead Uncle Herman was tracing high roulades. The loud barking of the dachshund already could not wake them. Catching the dachshund, Tanya decisively shoved the dog that had completely lost its head into the wardrobe of Aunt Ninel and, taking a lipstick from the dresser, wrote in large-scale on the mirror: Stay happy! My old tights and jeans you can give to whom you like! Regards to Lisper the Rabbit! P.S. Dachshund is in the wardrobe. Dropping the lipstick, Tanya ran up to the window and threw it open. Exactly, someone was waiting in the air in her balcony, but was it Bab-Yagun? The cast disappeared, the bandages disappeared, the clumsy bed disappeared. On a merrily purring orange vacuum, clutching in his hands a bright pipe with a wide brush usually used for cleaning carpets, sat a stocky boy of about twelve, dressed in leather overalls. His short bright hair stuck out like a disobedient hedgehog, cheeks beamed with a bloom, and the nose outlined like a potato was so upturned that it seemed its holes were looking in the same direction as the eyes. The moon, emerging from under the neighbouring roof, was shining through his protruding ears, ruby, like bits of glass in a stained-glass panel. Where did the boy come from and why did he come flying instead of Bab-Yagun? Or... or is this him? Tanya suddenly thought that while the face was hidden under the bandages, she had not the slightest idea about the true age of Bab-Yagun. But then why did Sardanapal send a boy almost her contemporary for her? Noticing Tanya, the boy, clearly showing off, deftly moved the pipe from one hand to the other and directed it downward. Immediately the vacuum darted away from the place so swiftly that it was hardly possible to keep track of it. An instant, and now he was already hanging in the air directly opposite the window. In the same second, something small and malicious with a shrill chirp flew over the windowsill. A leathery wing flickered. Something prompted Tanya that this was not a bat. Bab-Yagun followed with lightning from the ring, but the essence deftly dodged and answered with a short jet of luminous lilac liquid. Several drops fell on the windowsill and it began to smoke. “Oh, my granny mama! I thought they had already devoured you!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed with relief, nodding to the lawn, where dark shadows and silhouettes were still swarming constantly. Now there were so many of them that it seemed as if an enormous anthill piled up under the balcony. Figures were crawling, wheezing, pushing, stepping on one another’s head. Their pupils flared up like red coals. “What are they?” Tanya asked with horror. “Evil spirits,” Bab-Yagun dropped carelessly. “Someone put an attraction spell on the hatchways here in the neighbourhood. I immediately understood this when I saw how many are browsing here. The evil spirits from all over the city are gathering here! Now they’re simply crowding, but when there are more, you can expect something
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interesting... I’ve already summoned Slander Slanderych and his guys. Soon they will clear everything here.” “How will they clear it?” “Easily. They’ll lift the spell and round up Devour or Blue Uncle. For support. The evil spirits, on seeing them, will immediately scatter. By the way, we had better also fly away. Not sure that you’ll be happy if you catch sight of Devour or Blue Uncle. Took me about three months to get used to them. And even now and then meeting them somewhere, especially at night... Brr!” “Why, are they so?” Tanya started to ask. “Exactly. They’re so. Simply my granny says in reality Devour and Blue Uncle are still nothing, but here it’s definitely better not to have anything to do with Eyeless Horror. Only that Horror is on the side of the ‘black’ magicians, so they don’t normally take him with them,” Bab-Yagun broke off decisively and, catching Tanya, transferred her to the balcony. “Well, how’re things? Learned the spells?” he asked indulgently, watching as Tanya got the double bass and got up on its case. “And what will you fly on? Certainly, Pilotus kamikazis! Well, it’s correct. Girls rarely venture on anything faster, especially in the beginning. A woman in the air is like a cow on ice. Fly right behind me and, the most important thing, don’t look down. If it’s quite terrible, I can also take you in tow. I have some oho-ho vacuum! A beast!” Bab-Yagun lovingly slapped his hand on the pipe. It seems he was crazy about his new flying machine. Tanya squinted slightly. So, to fly behind him, on top of that, also, on Pilotus kamikazis? She is this cow on ice? Without answering, the girl checked whether the case was well shut, earlier she even placed the Reference Book of White Magician in it. “And don’t forget to be insured...” Bab-Yagun, puffed up with responsibility, laid down the law. “Speedus envenomus,” whispered Tanya, tapping the bow and with light movement twirling it between her fingers. The ring shot out a green spark. The double bass, exactly like a fast comet, darted away from the place. The wind howled and began to whistle in her ears. In the blink of an eye, the dormant instrument had gained altitude. The outlines of houses blurred, only the illuminated highway looped below like a golden snake. When Tanya finally looked around, the house of Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel was already barely visible. From this point of view, it resembled a low night table pressed to the ground. She would always remember it as such. On the madly roaring vacuum, a reddened Bab-Yagun overtook Tanya. “You... what are you thinking?” he shouted, watching how Tanya came out of a steep turn with a half-roll. “You... either you’ve gone nuts or... What spell did you use? I said to you in Russian: keep behind me. Or should I tweak you ears?” “You? Me? First you have to catch me!” Tanya proposed. Bab-Yagun stared at her with the look of a boxer to whom a three-year-old girl approached with the question: “Unk, you want it in the nose?” “You don’t know whom you’re dealing with,” he said haughtily with clenched teeth. “Do you really think you can pass me on this ancient couch? On this puffed up overgrown violin?” “According to me, better an overgrown violin than a flying broom,” Tanya retorted.
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Turning purple from the insult to his vacuum, Bab-Yagun hissed, “A flying broom? Is that so?” And, firmly pressing the hose with his feet, he let out a green spark from his ring. The blizzard shot out from the pipe flung the double bass together with Tanya far away to the side and Bab-Yagun himself almost immediately became a tiny, almost indistinguishable speck. “Well let’s! Prove that you’re not an overgrown violin!” Tanya said to the double bass and, aiming the bow after Bab-Yagun, she rushed to catch up. The head wind strove to pluck her from the instrument. The strings hummed lowly, but she, bending down to the double bass, persistently raced right after. For a while, it seemed to her that she had lost Bab-Yagun, but then the distance gradually began to shorten. Five minutes of the mad race had not even passed when she already came up to him. He turned his head and, seeing Tanya beside him, from amazement ran through a sharp side gust. The double bass, which also fell into it, was blown upon and twice turned on the spot, but Tanya knew how to hold it with the help of the bow. Then Bab-Yagun, who was not ready for this, had the last elbow with the brush, where basic magic was apparently also concentrated, tore away from his pipe. The vacuum, losing control, rushed down with the roar of a bomber having been hit. Bab-Yagun, doing somersaults, fell together with it, attempting in flight to mutter the safety spell, which he was too lazy or simply did not consider it necessary to utter before. But in the drop his ring for some reason did not operate as it should, and red instead of green sparks poured from the ring. These red “black magic” sparks distorted the spell and led to the most unpredictable results. First, the bulb on the vacuum exploded, and instead of them the ears of the same Bab-Yagun began to twinkle in the darkness, then from somewhere poured thick and fast frog feet with cigars clutched in them and jaws with dentures. Tanya, speeding up to Bab-Yagun, wanted him to grab hold of her double bass, but the stocky boy, having escaped, bellowed out something. “My seven-hundredth series vacuum! I saved up for three years! Catch the pipe!” Tanya tried to make it out and, directing the bow downward, gave chase to the falling pipe elbow. The wind beat her in the face, blinded her, her eyes watered, darkness interfered with correctly estimating the distance to the ground, and the double bass sped up so much that it could no longer get out from the dive at all. Overtaking the elbow, Tanya caught it in the second attempt — more precisely, the elbow, turning, first dealt her a blow on the forehead, and then jumped by itself into her hand — and, with difficulty straightening the instrument, sent it upward like a candle. Gripping Bab-Yagun’s shoulder, Tanya slowed down his fall, until finally some dozen metres from the ground, he was able to repair the pipe. Starting to drone, the vacuum shot upward into the sky. Both of them could not recover their breath for a long time. Finally, Bab-Yagun glanced at her already without any disdain and shouted rapturously, “I was sure: not one girl is capable of the like! Hey, admit it, indeed you could do this earlier?” Tanya shyly shrugged her shoulders. She herself plainly did not know this. Although she only sat down on the double bass for the first time five days ago, now and then it seemed to her that she had flown long ago, very long ago. From somewhere it was known to her what needed to be done.
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“If Nightingale doesn’t take you into the team, he indeed plays up to the blacks as he has been accused of. You’re simply born for dragonball... If, of course, at the sight of a dragon your knees don’t begin to shake. Such happens with some, especially when they will be swallowed several times,” Bab-Yagun reasoned. Then he again thoughtfully looked sideways at Tanya and, fighting with the wind, shouted, “Here’s what... From now on, I’ll be your friend forever, if you, of course, want me. If someone there in Tibidox dares to call your double bass ‘an overgrown violin’ or insult you in general, I’ll force him to chew up all the servicing rubbish from his vacuum!” And Bab-Yagun stretched a hand out to her. “No, it’s not Genka Bulonov! And not Pipa’s mysterious G.P.!” Tanya thought and she stretched hers out to him — the one which was holding the neck. At the same time, a gust of wind almost knocked her from the double bass, but Tanya did not pay this any special attention. True friendship, like true love, always demands sacrifice. Soon the double bass and the jet vacuum rose high into the sky and, merging with a dense high-speed airflow, were carried to the southwest. There were already no conversations now — the slow and regular ceaseless rumble solidly blocked up the ears. It was necessary to fly almost on her stomach, clutching the double bass with her hands because the wind was such that, it seemed, if her head was sufficiently carelessly raised and torn off by the wind, it would be carried away, the ears sadly flapping. Tanya did not grasp at what moment the ocean showed itself below. Its lead surface, flickering in the breaks between the bluish-violet clouds, resembled fragments of a geographical map cut out by scissors. And they were flying and flying all the time, and, it seemed there would be no end to this. It was already dawn when Bab-Yagun suddenly shot a green spark from his ring and directed the vacuum downward, leaving the airflow. “Tibidox there below, but you’ll not get there without the spell of passage. You haven’t forgotten it?” Bab-Yagun shouted when they slowed down so that it was easy to distinguish the separate swells boiling up on the agitated body of the ocean. Tanya recalled the lines of the Reference Book: The spell of passage with its entire simplicity is a spell of the highest magic. With the utterance of the spell, it is necessary to be absolutely confident that the passage comes to be by full right. Otherwise, the consciousness and the body can separate: the body will be transferred, the consciousness will remain in the previous world. In the language of the moronoids this state is usually called death. “Well, indeed it’ll really be the end for me!” Tanya thought. Her skin was covered with goose bumps from fear. If she continued to slow down, then it was only for the reason that she did not want to return to Uncle Herman for anything in the world. “Ready? Time!” suddenly Bab-Yagun screamed out, and, not allowing herself to be frightened even more, Tanya quickly raised her hand with the ring and exclaimed, “Grail Gardarika!” She was shaken, had started turning, was pricked by millions of small sparks. She was smashed into pieces and gathered up again. For a moment, it seemed to Tanya that she was galloping through the endlessly narrow middle of an hourglass. And then, below in the rays of the ascending sun a large island appeared from oceanic foam painted with pink arrows. A swamp occupied a fourth of the island, another third — a forest. Along the narrow sand spit towered split cliffs, against which, likely, broke not less than a thousand gale swells.
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“Holy, I’m alive! It’s, of course, by mistake. But there’s no Uncle Herman here, it’s true,” Tanya decided. In the middle of the island, extraordinarily squat and flat, something like an inverted greyish basin with towers, galleries, and passages stuck in the most unexpected places, surrounded by a ditch with boiling lava, spanned the largest fortress of all those which Tanya sometimes had the occasion to see even in movies. Even the Moscow Kremlin was clearly smaller. Here, before them, stretched an entire city under one roof. Along the wall with a gloomy look strolled a three-metre cyclops, red fur grew on its chest and even its back. In the middle of the forehead, the cyclops had an enormous golden eye turning in orbit, and a wart the size of a soup plate decorated the nose. He gloomily yawned and occasionally, in order to not fall asleep, tapped on the ground with the pole of a serrated poleaxe. A fiery inscription vividly burnt above the main gates of the fortress: TIBIDOX — SCHOOL OF MAGIC FOR DIFFICULT-TO-RAISE YOUNG MAGICIANS. WHITE AND BLACK DEPARTMENTS. It was necessary for Tanya to re-read this inscription three times before the meaning reached her. Well, she did it! “Oh, Pipa would be glad! I got to precisely where she wanted. Only with a small difference,” she said to herself. But there was already no turning back nevertheless, and she decided not to rush with conclusions. Bab-Yagun touched her hand and by a gesture showed that they should fly around Tibidox from the other side, not catching the eyes (more precisely, eye) of the cyclops. They noiselessly slid in the air along the embrasures and dived for the turn of the wall. “Ooh, slipped through!” Bab-Yagun let out a breath. “We call him Dumpling Maker. Good that he did not see us... It’s that same one Odysseus blinded.” “But he sees!” “Uh-huh! Sardanapal put on him an eye from a witch who was so full of them she even didn’t know what to do with them, and placed him here to guard. Only the eye turned out to be bad. If he blinks so, the colour will change and around him everything will turn, then that’s it — a curse has been placed, and such that immediately you put on white slippers. Even my granny can’t remove it. Dumpling Maker even has Coffin Lid, like a hanky for him, but for us downright a whole sheet... As it’ll sneak off, it starts to fly along the fortress. Also a nasty piece to stumble across. It’ll go for the head and smother.” “And how will we get inside if not through the gates? Perhaps through an embrasure?” Tanya proposed. “Two black magic spells have been put on the embrasures. They work better than white. Slander Slanderych did it himself. Also on the garrets. So that it’s useless to butt in — even a fly can’t slip in. It could, of course, be through the gates, they for sure warned Dumpling Maker, and indeed I don’t much like him. And he can’t stand me after the incident — he’ll still drop quick glances and give the evil eye,” Bab-Yagun said cautiously. “So what do we do?” Tanya asked, pondering what the incident was. Bab-Yagun started to wheeze with the most mysterious look. His protruding ears began to shine victoriously.
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“Yes, so... There’s an ancient hole... My granny showed it to me secretly when Dumpling Maker was going for me. Only let’s agree quickly, not a word to Slander! Or to Sardanapal, and generally to no one, or they’ll shield it, you swear?” “I swear,” said Tanya. “Well, look... You swore, and it’s not a joke with magic oaths! Else it can be oho-ho!” Bab-Yagun said mysteriously. The enormous wall along which they were flying was built of crumbled, colossal size boulders, it was even terrifying to look at them. It all produced an oppressive impression on Tanya. Bab-Yagun flew up to a place in the wall where it closed in on a massive black tower, and, finding a small, hardly perceptible crack, he whispered into it, “Openus!” The huge boulder twitched with a light haze. It became dark-blue, then brown, and finally pale yellow. At this moment Bab-Yagun decisively flew straight through the stone, turning up on the other side. Tanya was going to poke in immediately, but the boulder already darkened again, and she only bumped her forehead painfully against it. Biding her time for a bit and making sure that the stone did not intend to let her past, she recalled the magic word and whispered, “Openus!” The stone again began to turn blue, and here it was already pale yellow. Hurrying before it faded, Tanya, with her eyes closed, again directed the double bass toward it. She expected a blow, but, as also with the passage earlier, only tiny sparks like the wind pricked her, and here she was already standing in a dark passage next to Bab-Yagun. “Why so long?” Bab-Yagun asked, taking away her double bass. “You’ll not fly in Tibidox. Here all flight spells are blocked, and even some others. For the time being I’ll hide this piece, and you go up and look for the office of Sardanapal. He’s waiting for you. I would go with you, but someone will see our instruments and will ponder how we got here. Now they must sooner be stored out of sight.” “And I’ll find the office?” Tanya was at a loss. “You’ll find it... And another thing — don’t be afraid of ghosts. Full of them here — indeed you’re in their tower,” Bab-Yagun said mysteriously and darted downward along the stairs, bent under the weight of the vacuum and the case with the double bass. Chapter 8 Tower of Ghosts Left alone, Tanya carefully looked around. She was standing on a narrow landing between two stairways: one of them, covered with a red strip of carpet, rose upward, the other, along which Bab-Yagun ran, went downward. Behind her back from the direction of the blind wall through which they came, something clanked unpleasantly. Abruptly turning around, Tanya saw a rusty two-handed sword riveted to the wall by a chain from which it was now swinging, and next to it, a round shield polished to lustre. Glancing into it, Tanya almost yelled. In the shield she spotted her reflection, only without the head, which, clearly in a chopped off form, was lying at her feet. The shield began to ring scornfully, and the sword rushed at her neck, but, hanging by the chain and not being ale to reach her, was maliciously swinging and rusting from vexation before her eyes. “Well, stay!” Tanya said in a trembling voice and began to climb up the stairs. The red strip of carpet runner slightly shook intermittently under her feet. Moans, an idiotic neigh, slapping of cards, a cat’s meow reached her from below. However, this was
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still bearable, but on the other hand the trick of two black headstones adorning the next landing was quite insufferable, on the approach of the girl both at once reflected Tanya Grotter in a shaky Gothic type. Tanya felt dryness in her mouth. For the second time already, they heralded death to her. “Well okay! Two headstones are too many for one person,” she said and, energetically shaking her hand, shot a shower of green sparks at the headstones. The letters started to ripple from annoyance and began to jump, shifting places. Hey, what’s with you? the first headstone reflected. We’re always so firmly attached! the second explained. “For such jokes there’ll be gaps in the stones!” Tanya muttered. “Better tell me please, where’s the office of Sardanapal?” Ahead, was written on the first headstone. If you don’t die along the way, added the second. Tanya twirled a finger at her temple. The headstones lay on the landing of the middle storey of the tower. A long corridor, straight like an arrow, supported by high arches, stretched into the depth of the fortress. The sunlight broke through semicircular stained-glass windows and split up into bright spots. Tanya took several undecided steps. Unexpectedly a strange champing sound was heard under her feet. On the floor appeared first a head, then a chest, and then from there emerged a dark-complexioned young person with a dove-coloured nose and in an unbuttoned infantry tunic. Cold and dampness blew from the ghost. The opposite wall vaguely showed through his chest. Tanya jumped aside. If she did not do this, the phantom would pass right through her. He intended to do this, but, becoming interested, stopped and began to examine the girl. “Oh, a charmer! A newbie in Tibidox!” he exclaimed in a crackling voice. “And why, interestingly, did they put you here? Let me guess. Probably magnetized a purse with a glance like those gypsy sisters? Or are you that person who froze her math teacher? Serves her right, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Let her stay as Snow Maiden for a bit! Again no? Then accidentally with a look burned the class diary for company together with the teacher? Turned grandpa into a zombie for not buying you a bike? Changed candy wrappers into money? Pushed alcoholic papa into the vodka bottle? No?” Unexpectedly the dull gaze of the spectre stopped at the tip of Tanya’s nose. His face stretched and rippled. “Hullo! What do I see? Are you really that one herself?” he exclaimed. “What ‘that one herself’? I’m me. Tanya Grotter. Daughter of Leopold Grotter.” The ghost grunted with laughter. He quickly stretched out his hand and before the girl had time to move away, flicked her nose with a finger. It seemed to Tanya that a jet of musty icy air was directed toward her birthmark. “Mille pardon, poor lamb. I simply confirmed whether your birthmark is real. Yes, you’re really Grotter... I don’t believe my eyes! It was extremely foolish on the part of Sardanapal to bring you here precisely now... Only if he — ha-ha! — doesn’t want to enlarge his collection of poltergeists...” “What are you talking about?” Tanya did not understand. But the spectre did not begin to explain. He suddenly burst out laughing, and in such a way that his face floated somewhere.
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“I’ll go tell everyone that I saw the very Tanya Grotter. I’ll make my friends happy,” he stated, deftly catching the nose slipping away. “By the way, I have a little request, mille pardon. Will you scratch my back?” The ghost turned his back. Tanya covered her mouth with a hand in order not to scream. Not less than twelve knives stuck out from his back. “So, you’ll not scratch it? And you won’t adjust a dagger either?” the phantom asked, turning his head at an angle unthinkable for a living person. Not waiting for an answer, he began to neigh foolishly and quickly floated away into one of the offshoots of the hallway, loudly calling, “Hey everybody! Want a joke? You know whom Sardanapal dragged in? Here’s Tanya Grotter!” Deciding that she had had enough contact with ghosts for the time being, Tanya rushed off running. Marble statues began to jump into niches, the carpet started to go under her feet. In the central corridor there appeared a set of side stairs, paths, tight holes, and iron lattices, beyond which were clearly secret passages or, at the worst, deserted dungeons. A hard frost blew from one passage, damp fall leaves were flung from another into her face, intense desert heat emitted from a third. From somewhere vague shadows floated out — first a sad lady in an impossible violet hat, then an unpleasant old man with a wrinkled and flabby face, similar to a balloon losing air. Already convinced that she had strayed from the path for a long time, Tanya rushed along the corridor, dreaming only about one thing — to find a quiet place. She was about to poke into some passage, but in the darkness tires rustled, and a Wheelchair was rolling out towards her. Over the Wheelchair was thrown a dark-blue plaid rug, which stirred in a way as if someone was hiding under it. Having jumped again into the main corridor, Tanya rushed to run past the cacti sadly blinking human eyes and an enormous crystal coffin quietly swinging on silver chains stretched between two attractive overhangs. The coffin was empty inside, and only directly along the centre laid a long broom with a label attached: “Broom G.P. full size.” Tanya had neither the time nor the possibility to examine the broom. The Wheelchair with the hooting invisible being was maliciously dogging her steps. It already literally ran into Tanya’s heels and for sure would run her down if the hallway did not suddenly begin to turn sharply, following the whimsical architecture of Tibidox. Here the Wheelchair started to swerve and fell slightly behind. Having jumping behind the turn, Tanya found herself by an enormous double door, on which were traced two gold sphinxes sleeping. The girl’s thought did not have time to flicker whether this was the door which she was searching for, when above the entrance immediately started to shimmer dazzling fiery letters: Oh yes! You’re not mistaken! Before you is the small modest office of the laureate of the Magic Suspenders Award, life-posthumous head of the school of Tibidox, academician of white magic Sardanapal Chernomorov. Fearfully listening to the hooting of the phantom and the rustle of the Wheelchair, Tanya began to drum on the door. Both sphinxes at once awoke and started to prepare for a leap. But here the door was thrown open, and the life-posthumous head of Tibidox appeared like a plump duck to meet her. The fragrant beard, first appearing then disappearing, majestically lay on his chest. Both whisker-insurgents were firmly tucked behind the ears and tied in a knot at the back of the head. “It’s chasing me! Wheelchair!” Tanya shouted.
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Academician smiled soothingly and, getting up to the middle of the hallway, began to wait for the approach of Wheelchair. Several seconds later, it darted out from behind the turn and was going to rush forward, but, noticing the stern academician in its way, shied in a cowardly manner to the side. The invisible being grunted fearfully and, like a bag it collapsed onto the floor, covered by the rug. Meanwhile Wheelchair hurried to filter through the wall. A second later, shyly bent, the rug crawled there too. Sardanapal embraced Tanya around the shoulders like a friend and led her into the office. “When you next see Wheelchair, Coffin Lid, or Eyeless Horror, don’t take it into your head to run away from them. They’re energy-vampires, only gorge on fear. Enough simply to look at them and say: Briskus-quickus!” He advised. Hearing the spell, the invisible being, still not quite hidden, squeaked in horror, and a moment later, he was pulled with loud chomping into the granite flagstones of the floor. “Now he won’t leap out soon,” Sardanapal smiled into the beard. “Pity I didn’t know about Briskus-quickus earlier. There was such a disgusting... with knives in the back...” Tanya felt sorry, answering his questioning look. “With knives? So, it was Lieutenant Rzhevskii. Not many like his little jokes,” smiled the academician. The inscription did not deceive her. The office of academician Sardanapal was in truth modest. In any case, it was not exactly a sports hall. Along the walls strange palm trees grew in mahogany tubs decorated with small diamonds. Bright tropical fishes swam in transparent glass columns. Near Sardanapal’s table, representing a much-reduced copy of a soccer field, was a cage full of magic books, which, indignantly fluttering the pages, continually started to knock against the bars, trying to escape. One thick book with yellow parchment sheets was striving at the same time to become a lizard, but the bars, clamping down, did not let it through. “Books on black magic. Sometimes needed for removing spells. Could also return them to the library, but, I fear, they won’t get on with the genie Abdullah. Either he will incinerate them or they’ll re-educate him. The genies, they’re nervous, unstable people,” explained Sardanapal. “By the way, how’s the Reference Book of White Magician? Came in handy?” “Yes, I learned the flight spells and spells of passage. True, once Pipa found this book and there was even one...” Tanya blurted out and, not being able to maintain, told Sardanapal about Pipa and Lenka Mumrikova. “Will it be possible somehow to get rid of the fur on her hand?” she asked. Sardanapal despondently began to click his tongue. “I’m afraid we won’t be able to help. A guard spell can’t be annulled. Any moronoid attacking a magic book grows fur. The hand is still okay. Imagine what it would have been if she touched the book, say, with her nose?” Unexpectedly it seemed to Tanya that two icy drills bored right through her. Turning around, she saw in a deep armchair a short balding little fellow with closely planted eyes, maliciously sparkling from under patchy grey eyebrows. He was looking at her intently, with almost unconcealed hatred. “Let me introduce. This is Slander Slanderych. Dean of studies at Tibidox. And this...” Sardanapal started.
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“I surmise who this is,” Slander Slanderych broke in. “Let her tell us how she got here?” “Eh-eh, as usual... By foot, along the hallway,” Tanya was at a loss. “I know perfectly well not on a vacuum! All flight spells are blocked here... I ask, how did you get into Tibidox? Through the gates?” The piercing look of the dean stuck Tanya on the bridge of her nose. She hesitated, but, considering that otherwise she would let Bab-Yagun down, answered “yes.” Hearing her “yes,” Slander Slanderych soared up. “Not true, you didn’t pass through the gates! The cyclops would have announced it to me!” he squealed hysterically. “Either you’ll immediately tell me the truth, or...” Considering that it was necessary to extricate herself urgently somehow, Tanya looked sorrowfully at Sardanapal and, forcing her gaze to be moistened, she sobbed. She knew well how to solicit pity: life had taught her. Chernomorov, feeding the books on black magic with pieces of damp meat, sympathetically roused himself and immediately came to her aid. “Slander, stop shouting at our guest! Perhaps she truly passed through the gates to here?” he said. “You know very well, Professor, that it’s impossible!” The dean was seething. “Besides cyclops, there is the notify spell! We would find out about this!” “What, a spell can’t fail?” “Once in a million years!” Slander Slanderych shouted. “Here you see, failure nevertheless could happen! In other words, the next million years we’ll be able to sleep peacefully... However, pull yourself together now, see how the booklets have become nervous,” Sardanapal uttered softly, nodding to the cage. The books on black magic threw open the pages and, pressed against the bars, they greedily caught each angry howl of Slander Slanderych, clearly gorging on the negative energy from him. Seeing that Sardanapal was not on his side, the dean of Tibidox threw another icy gaze at Tanya. “As if I don’t know: it’s all Bab-Yagun and the hole of his cranky granny! I’ll get to them!” he hissed and turned away. Sardanapal affectionately tousled Tanya’s hair. At the same time the beard, until now lying quietly on his chest, made use of the situation and quietly flicked on her nose. “Well now, my girl, you’re in Tibidox. How’s the first impression? Nice here, true? You’re attached to this place once and for life.” the voice of the academician trembled. Tanya carefully glanced at his face, checking whether he was joking. To her Tibidox indeed did not quite seem such a strange place. “Is it true that this is a school for difficult-to-raise magicians?” she asked. The academician hesitated slightly. “Yes... But only you don’t think that this is a colony or penitentiary. Nothing like it. Our task is to help...” he began. “To help what?” Noticing that one of his strings was untied, the academician tied it with a look and whistled for himself an armchair, which ran up to him on short curved legs. “To find oneself to develop correctly. You see, capabilities for magic shows differently in different people, but most often unexpectedly. Any boy or girl can live ten or twelve years in the world, born of the most normal parents, and not suspecting this. And then
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with the coincidence of specific circumstances magic bursts through outward, and they accomplish some such things that a normal moronoid would never do. Well, for example, they transform a pestering neighbour into a parrot or make off with roller-skates through a showcase, moreover the showcase itself, surprisingly, remains whole. They don’t even want to steal, but simply the roller-skates — somehow! — jump into their hands from the power of desire... At the same time, it’s in no way necessary that those boys or girls who accomplish this be from decent families. More often, it’s the opposite. Magic abilities apparently come to whomever you want — tramps, a young pickpocket, the worst student in a class. Here we work with such children in Tibidox so that subsequently they would not use their skills for harm...” “Only they do nevertheless! For this very reason, we have a department of black magic here! There we send those who will in no way be kept by the white department,” Slander added gloomily. “And the children like to learn?” Tanya asked with curiosity. “In various ways! Here everyone has his own talent. Someone can move excellently in space, another passes through walls, a third reads minds or possesses talent for levitation. There are some that for three years cannot master the simplest spells, then without any training cast such a curse that we then struggle for two weeks to remove it. We have, after all, one little glutton who came to us after devouring the produce in a supermarket.” “It happens,” Tanya said sympathetically, recalling the day-before-yesterday vermicelli of Aunt Ninel. “You don’t understand,” Sardanapal became more specific. “He gobbled up ALL the produce in ALL the supermarkets. Furthermore, he devoured the batons of the two guards who tried to stop him. Of course, the poor wretch can be excused that until then he was extremely famished — mother and father generally barely fed him, only beat him and forced him to beg, but he should still control himself. Now he’s here, you’ll yet to be introduced... Furthermore, we have here orphans who find this their native home. We try to seek out a small key to each heart. Indeed magic is extremely dangerous if we use it without control.” Slander Slanderych snorted mockingly. “A small key to each heart, quack-quack!” he mimicked. “There’s no need to fuss with them, with these little old foxes! Roller-skates, you see, jump into their hands. Wings grow on purses! At first, it’s nothing, and then — somehow! — from nothing turns out She-Who-Is-No-More! I would handle them differently. Once and for all! I see right through them!” The cold drill-like eyes of the dean were fixedly set on Tanya, and it seemed to her that in each of his pupils a small skeleton was reflected. Sardanapal grew red. Hissing, whizzing was heard — and, suddenly taking off, the short-legged armchair together with the academician hovered in the air directly above her head. Tanya understood that the head of Tibidox was letting out steam this way. “Nonsense, Slander!” he shouted. “Three hundred times I argued with you and three hundred more times I’ll argue! Do you think I don’t know what you’re driving at? It’s not possible to turn children to complete zombies, whatever they’ve been up to! While I’m chief here, I’ll not allow zombies with tin buttons as eyes strolling sedately along the hallways! Or have you forgotten how you came here in childhood and what you were busy with when I found you?”
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“Don’t, Sardanapal! We came to an agreement!” the dean, turning pale, shouted, fearfully looking sideways at Tanya. Obviously he was terribly afraid that his secret — interesting, what? — would come out. The academician did not have time to answer when their conversation was interrupted by a terrible roar. The walls began to tremble slightly from the blows, which reached them from under the ground. Tanya from surprise shot up on the spot, noticing at the same time that neither Sardanapal nor Slander Slanderych even raised an eyebrow. “It’s the titans. Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes. Each has a hundred hands, fifty heads, and a huge amount of nonsense. Soon you’ll become accustomed to them. They’re imprisoned deeply underground in a dark, tight, and stuffy cave,” Slander Slanderych said with a nasty smile. “And why not let them out?” Tanya asked. Slander Slanderych biliously glanced at her as if she blurted out the sheerest stupidity. “Let out the titans? Did you hear, Sardanapal, what thoughts she has? It’s impossible. They were imprisoned since the time of the universe by ancient gods. If they’re released, they’ll destroy everything here. Even black magicians understand this and don’t risk poking their noses in there. Number one monsters — these are not dragons or evil spirits for you.” “But where did the titans come from?” Just in case, Tanya went away from the shuddering wall. Sardanapal in some confusion scratched his nose. “You see, Tibidox isn’t just a school for difficult-to-raise magicians, but also a place of exile of all possible ancient... eh-eh... relics, differently disposed to man, and even to the magicians also. Since these monsters are immortal, then it’s not possible to do anything to them — only possible to imprison them... But don’t you be disturbed. All coins... eheh... all these essences are found on the lower levels of Tibidox. They are absolutely not dangerous, but just in case they’re guarded by cyclops and the hero-brothers. Furthermore, we have outstanding magic defence. I developed it myself. It provides for all situations.” Slander Slanderych coughed with malice. “Almost all situations,” Sardanapal corrected himself, noticing that the dean was prepared to object again. “Many years ago, true, there was an episode when they broke through the defence, but they caught all who escaped then. At least, we think everyone, since, it goes without saying, we could not count precisely how many of them escaped... It’s known to us for certain that until now only one essence is still on the loose, one that presents big... we’ll say frankly, enormous danger... to us all. This essence... I’ll not hide this... it’s Plague-delCake-She-Who-Is-No-More.” Unexpectedly a low whistle was heard. The button on the dean’s collar began to twirl swiftly and started to blink red. “Slander, your notifier snapped into action again! You turn it off!” Sardanapal winced. “I’ll not turn it off! Some of the evil spirits are again hanging about in the Hidden Basement! And, Grotter, I’ll still settle with you! We’ll return to this conversation!” the dean promised darkly, looking around at Tanya. He jumped up and rushed out, slamming the door with such force that one of the halfasleep gold sphinxes fell from it and was forced to clamber back up. Academician Chernomorov was helplessly at a loss.
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“Serious character... But an outstanding man! And what a specialist!” he said, as if apologizing. “So, Tanya, from now on you’ll study in Tibidox. It’s already unimportant what class you were in among the moronoids. Here you have to start everything from the beginning. We have five basic classes, or steps. Strict exams at the end of each year. Then those desiring can enter either Medusa’s department of evil spirits studies, the removal of evil eye, practical magic with Professor Stinktopp, or come to me in the department of the beyond. Even possible to be trained in veterinary magic, that is, to treat unicorns, firebirds, dragons, harpies, Cerberus, mermaids. One boy, Vanka Valyalkin, they say, is doing well here. He even managed to take a splinter out of the nose of my sphinx, something I myself, must admit, would not dare to do...” Sardanapal was still saying something for a long time, but Tanya for some reason did not remember his words. Lulled by the monotonic babble of his voice, she felt how her eyelids, growing heavy, closed. The sleepless night, carried astride on the double bass in the icy airflow, had an effect on her. “Yes, you go and sleep!” Sardanapal recollected suddenly. “Wait, I’ll now find out where we’ll put you. Today you have work in the second half of the day, but you’ll still have time to have a good sleep.” Taking a zoomer from the table, he wiped it with his sleeve, and immediately on the bottom of the sheet metal basin flared up the face of Medusa Gorgonova, the associate professor of the department of evil spirits studies. Medusa overslept, and all the snakes on her head, not having time yet to turn into hair, were firmly gathered in a bun at the back of the head. Noticing the academician, Medusa hurriedly threw a kerchief over her head. “Excuse me, Medusa... I only wanted to ask you where are we placing Tanya Grotter?” Medusa answered something, but Tanya could not hear. She could only hear the head of Tibidox. Probably, the sound of his zoomer was tuned to the telepathic channel. “And there’s no other place? Are you sure? There were still two reserve bedrooms... How were they flooded? Again your experiments on domestication of mermaids? Everywhere will again smell of fish... Good, I’ll tell her. Bye!” Sardanapal wiped the image of Medusa off the zoomer and turned to Tanya. He was slightly embarrassed. “Medusa said that all the bedrooms are occupied. You... eh-eh... it is necessary for you to share a room with Black Curtains. If Curtains begin to behave strangely, suffice to say: Briskus-quickus! You’ll manage?” “I’ll try,” promised Tanya, estimating how she would say Briskus-quickus, if Curtains should attack her in her sleep. “Wait, I’m not yet finished. Possibly, you don’t know, but Tibidox consists of two completely equal parts. We — white magicians occupy one part, and the other... the other, alas, is occupied by black magicians. Usually we don’t interfere in the affairs of each other. We have, to express more clearly, neutrality... So here, to room with Black Curtains is unique in the entire Tibidox, which belongs simultaneously to both the black magicians and us. Therefore, your roommate will be a girl from the black. Her name is Coffinia Cryptova. She’s... m-m... a little strange, however, black magicians are all like that... You agree? Then I’m sending sphinx to direct you...” “Well, if there’s nothing else...” Tanya shrugged her shoulders. She wanted one thing: sleep.
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“After Pipa I’ll be surprised by nothing,” yawning, Tanya thought, but this time she was mistaken. Soon she would be surprised. And not only surprised. Chapter 9 The Scroll of Predictions The gold sphinx confidently led Tanya along the passageways of Tibidox. Several times spectres, who wanted to take a look at the newbie, emerged to meet them, and once from a dark niche in the wall, issuing wearisome sighs, flowed out something dark and vague, more like a dense fog with two circular, closely spaced openings resembling eyes. Assuming the form of a monstrous hand, the fog quickly flowed to Tanya, but it only needed to notice Academician Sardanapal’s sphinx, the gold fangs lazily sneering, then it, with an anxious gurgle, hurriedly pulled itself into its barred hole. Tanya could not cease to be surprised at how narrow passages combined with wide corridors and immense halls in the architecture of Tibidox. But they harmonized. Unexpectedly a sequence of little corridors led them out to a set of enormous stairs, built on — or more precisely, knocked out of — an entire cliff. Each of its steps was more than waist height and of such width that a sofa would easily fit on it. Along the stairs stretched stone figures of Atlas, supporting massive arches on their shoulders. “Sheer show-off! Would be better if they made the steps lower instead of erecting these uncles!” Tanya muttered, trying to keep pace with the sphinx. Hearing her, one of the Atlases clicked its stone teeth, and Tanya decided to restrain from further criticism. “They’ll even drop the ceiling onto my head — with them, it’s possible,” she decided. The stairs led into a huge hall. However, Tanya, already accustomed to the splendour of Tibidox, was not too surprised. Another thing was startling — along the centre of the hall, dividing it into two equal parts, ran a bluish stream of fire. The part of the hall to the left was bright, as if flooded by invisible sunlight. Firebirds, flapping their wings, swiftly flew over, dropping diamond sparks from their tails onto the flagstones, and behind them in playful pursuit were little robust cupids, dressed in red suspenders by the efforts of Sardanapal. A blindingly white unicorn was angrily kicking, trying with a finely moulded diamond hoof to hit the big-eared humpbacked horse, which was teasing him. In any case, when the horse, in a linen horsecloth clearly altered from an old magic tablecloth, deftly jumped away from the unicorn, plates, pies with cranberries, and smoked hams fell like rain from its horsecloth. But such bright but also wild merriment was only from one side of the hall. To the right of the line, the stream of fire dividing the hall, there was impenetrable night. Bats flashed by in the high arches of the hall, snakes were hissing on the floor, while some dark silhouette gloomily towered in a distant corner where it smelled of sulphur and mould. The gold sphinx decisively made its way along the fiery line, keeping to the bright side and contemptuously snorting to the snakes hissing at it. Tanya hurriedly rushed right after the sphinx, fearing to lag behind. The little cupids were merrily fluttering about. The Humpbacked Horse on his short legs shaggy like a pony’s playfully skipped beside her, pouring danishes and crepes with red caviar from the
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magic tablecloth. Now and then, the tablecloth fell, and then saucepans began to pour from it. The nervous unicorn quivered its ears from this crash and again started to kick. When the hall was behind her, Tanya for some reason turned around and looked to the dark side. It seemed to her that someone was continuously following her from that far corner... Right by the fiery line began yet another set of stairs, going upward in a spiral, this time already normal and not of colossal size. The higher they climbed, the more distinct the voices reaching from above became. Tanya surmised that they were approaching student quarters and that now she would see the children with whom she would expect to be studying all the following years. Her heart was pounding uneasily, and she, barely slowing down her steps, began to listen. “You saw: someone bewitched my boots. What will I wear to go to practical magic? Today is the most interesting theme: Preparation of elixir of courage from stinkbugs!” some boy complained in a whine. “Probably someone thrust papers with spells into the inner soles there, you take them out, and it’s done,” someone, seemingly a girl, advised him. “I know that there are papers, but I can’t take them out! The boots bolt, and when I catch up with them— they kick! It’ll be a nightmare if I miss class! My average annual mark will then be 4.9 instead of 5.0!” A door slammed. Someone looked into the corridor. “You’ve already gotten everything with your Stinktopp, Shurasik! My average mark for the past quarter is 2.9, but I’m not passing out because of it. Or do you want your name embroidered with gold threads on the trousers of honour?” a resonant boyish voice said mockingly. “VALYALKIN! It’s you who BEWITCHED them! Return the boots, or I’ll turn the curse on you!” with suspicion passing into certainty, the complaining one yelled. Deciding that there was no more sense in hiding, Tanya got up onto the landing. She saw a large round living room to where a set of bedroom doors opened out. In the living room were no less than about twenty children, all approximately her age, who, noticing the gold sphinx of Academician Sardanapal, stared at it first, and then also at the one it brought. Near the bedroom closest to the stairs, a lanky teenager was jumping in barefoot, the learned kind — probably Shurasik — and, letting out a spark from his ring, was seriously intending on directing a curse at a small slender young fellow of about ten, dressed in an absurdly long yellow soccer shirt reaching down to his knees. A toothbrush, obviously attached with reminders to the young fellow, was flying in the air near him. “Spoilus pimplus greenus!” Shurasik yelled at the moment when Tanya appeared on the landing. After waving the hand on which he had his magic ring, Shurasik threw a green spark at the slender young fellow, and the spark swiftly dashed to his face. However, just before it touched him, he deftly shrunk back and substituted his face with a mirror, which till then he had hidden behind his back and now moved up so that the face of Shurasik himself was reflected in it. When the spark struck the reflection, Shurasik suddenly squealed and covered his face with a sweater. But Tanya had time to notice that his face was covered
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with a huge pimple almost the size of a five-kopeck coin, moreover, not a plain one but even smeared with brilliant green. Shurasik darted into his bedroom. His bewitched boots, after lingering, flew on his tracks in order to continue to tease him even there. Everyone burst out laughing. “The curse for sure will last a week. Good that I caught it on the glass,” the young fellow in the soccer shirt said thoughtfully and, merrily looking at Tanya, presented himself, “Vanka Valyalkin. You know what I got here for? I ate the entire store.” “And the guards’ batons,” added Tanya. The young fellow stopped smiling “Sardanapal told you? But he didn’t say why I ate them? That they were trying to beat me with these batons? On the whole, good that after this incident they immediately took me away to Tibidox, otherwise the moronoids would really send me to the correctional school...” “Then we would indeed have met there! If Uncle Herman could keep his promise,” said Tanya. The eyes of the young fellow stopped at her birthmark. For the first time they looked at her without loathing, without the desire to insult, but, on the contrary, with understanding. “But you’re not... not Tanya Grotter?” he suddenly blurted out. The girl was slightly embarrassed. She was still not used to the surprise, which her name evoked in magicians. “Yes, I am,” she nodded and for some reason added, “In person.” Vanka Valyalkin very quietly gave a whistle, restraining from more “oh!” and Tanya was grateful for this. Then the others, beginning to be surprised, in no way could stop. “The same! Tanya Grotter herself. The only one who saw She-Who-Is-No-More,” emerging from somewhere, Dusya Dollova whispered, a round-faced girl of eleven, who accidentally transformed her girlfriend into gingerbread. “Her parents perished! But she crushed the scorpion of She-Who-Is-No-More! Stunning! This nightmarish birthmark is in reality the burn of a magic spark — trace of that night!” Verka Parroteva began to sigh, a super-curious person of thirteen, whose nose preserved the clear imprint of a door. This took place still in the human world when she spied on her older sister kissing a boy. Precisely then emerged in Verka the ability to see through objects. Tanya smiled uncomfortably. Indeed, she herself remembered not a single thing from what they were telling her now. The whole crowd gradually surrounded her. Each strove to touch her or at least to wave to her from a distance. She had never felt so popular before. Earlier in the world of the moronoids she was absolutely not needed by anyone. And here when she was already ready to disappear through the ground from her popularity and dreamed only about becoming invisible, everybody around heard a displeased growl. The sphinx of the academician growled, decisively forced its way through the crowd, and made a path for her to one of the bedrooms. “Well, bye! Rest! We’ll meet again!” Vanka Valyalkin snapped his fingers, beckoning to the toothbrush. “Ooh-oh-eh-ah-uh! She’s now with us!” Dusya Dollova and Verka Parroteva said like a choir. Tanya had hardly entered when the sphinx, starting to spin like a top, became a gold dust and swiftly sped away. The door closed behind Tanya’s back with a faint plop.
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Looking around, the girl understood that she was in a small room divided in the middle by a line — the same as in the Hall of Two Elements, with the only difference that this line was not fiery. Black Curtains, lazily moving with her nearness, hung long on the window going out into the garden. The bed to the right of the window was wooden, covered by a red downy blanket, but, on the whole, sufficiently normal. Then the bed on the opposite side... Tanya even cringed from astonishment... Yes, exactly, this was not a bed but a very solid coffin, placed with the bottom up, with figured wooden legs nailed to it. The mattress on this “bed” was enormous, satin, in the shape of a heart. On the mattress with legs crossed lay a beautiful girl of about twelve with violet hair and she was following with her gaze the brush, which, flying, was painting her nails in a poisonousgreen colour. Tanya surmised that this was her roommate — the girl studying black magic in the “black” department of Tibidox, about whom Academician Sardanapal spoke with this sigh. And a second later Tanya understood that the girl, lowering her eyes, was attentively examining her. Moreover, she had already been examining for a long time. “Hello!” Tanya said. “So long!” the girl said in a deep voice, something similar to the voice of Aunt Ninel. She sat up with a jerk and, lowering her legs from the bed, was already staring openly at Tanya. Her eyes were of different sizes and colours. The right one narrow, sly, a slanting Mongolian slit, clearly disposed to evil eye, and the left large, dark-blue, with long, naively fluttering eyelashes. Depending on which side you look from, the girl could be taken for either an obvious old fox or a fool-simpleton. “You’re Coffinia Cryptova,” said Tanya. “I know what my name is without you. But you’re Grotter. Tanka Grotter — the stupid orphan who defeated She-Who-Is-No-More. Can this be the absurd birthmark she still has on the nose? You want to say that you’ll be living here?” “Yes, I will be. And don’t think that I’ll start to ask for your permission,” Tanya announced, deciding that one ought not to stand on ceremony with this girl. “Well-well, live.” Coffinia contemptuously nodded to the other bed. “Only have in mind that you’re not the first. All three roommates who lodged here flew out like corks. Two of them stutter till now, and the other one though not stuttering, always shakes her head. We, black magicians, don’t love the white...” “Okay, lie in your coffin, wheeze in the two holes, and don’t come out!” Tanya dismissed her, thinking that fate slipped to her another Pipa. But no matter how it was, here she had her own bed, a table, a wardrobe, and an entire half of a room. At Uncle Herman’s she had to be satisfied with the balcony. “Yes, she’s even rude to me! Keep in mind, you’ll fall asleep, then I’ll set this on you! Hey, Page!” Coffinia poked with a finger into a corner of the room. There on a stand was a very excellent skeleton in a large hat, with a dark raincoat thrown over its shoulders. Two lipsticks jutted out from its eye sockets, and it held a compact in its teeth. Likely, Coffinia, endowed with a unique sense of humour, used it as a hanger for her finery. Tanya approached her bed and, quickly undressing, slid under the blanket. “Don’t wake me, don’t put me in storage, and handle me with care!” she yawned and, at once discarding from her head Coffinia, Black Curtains, a stupid skeleton in a hat, and
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spectres languishing, doing nothing, and with knives sticking out the back, plunged into sleep. Coffinia looked searchingly at her for a long time, and then, hesitating, informed the skeleton, “You know, Page, likely they didn’t dare tell this fool the prophecy. That’s worse for her.” *** Plainly, Tanya did not succeed in sleeping her fill. Soon a terrible ringing issuing from the large clock hanging on the wall woke her. The clock was sufficiently strange, without numbers and only with one hand, but then small pictures were placed in the circle of the dial. On one was depicted a pile of jumping textbooks, on another a bed, on the third a spoon, on the fourth a small vacuum, on the fifth, which the hand was pointing at now, a thin stream of malodorous smoke snaking out of a large cauldron. This cauldron was also precisely jingling now, and the yellow, unpleasantly reeking smoke, flowing into the room and tickling Tanya’s nose, formed into letters crawling away: The student Grotter! Immediately shake the lazy spell off yourself and step to practical magic! Prof. Stinktopp. Finally awake, Tanya leaped up. She discovered the case with the double bass under her bed — it seemed Bab-Yagun contrived to be here while she was sleeping. Having dressed quickly, Tanya jumped out into the corridor. The smoke from the clock, changing into a forefinger, guided her along the corridors of Tibidox. Having climbed up under the very roof of a high tower narrow as a pencil, Tanya found herself in a low hall, on all the walls of which, beginning from the ceiling, were hung bunches of grasses, snake tails, and dry eagle feet. The students — among whom Tanya recognized Bab-Yagun nodding hello to her, the frankly bored Vanka Valyalkin, fat-cheeked Dusya Dollova, and Shurasik surrounded by a mountain of books and notebooks, scribbling with a goose feather at the speed of a rushing electric train — were sitting on low desks covered with soot, arranged around the small area. In the centre of this area, at a decent distance from the floor, in a rope hammock of heaps of knots, sat a diminutive, wrinkled old man. His bald head with a single strand of yellowish hair was like an overgrown horseradish. The face seemed to consist of wrinkles alone. He was dressed in violet tricot, over which was a badly put on tattered woollen waistcoat. “Ah, here’s also Tanya Grotter! Outstanding beginning: first day in Tibidox and already late!” he said with an obvious accent, acidly smiling with empty gums with a unique curved tooth jutting out on top. “I’m Professor Stinktopp! Ve’re on ze important zeme: Preparations of elixir of courage from stinkbugs. Before continuing, I’ll varn zat because of you I’ll detain ze class for exactly one minute after ze lesson!” Professor Stinktopp jabbed with a finger at the clock dial, which, like his face, was similar to a horseradish. “Don’t pay any attention! He’s crazy about punctuality,” Bab-Yagun whispered encouragingly. However, though his whisper was quite soft, Professor Stinktopp mysteriously heard it. “Anozer fiff penalty minutes to ze entire class! And triple homevork! Zis time zanks to Bab-Yagun talking,” he squeaked and, swinging in the hammock, continued the dictation,
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“... viz a silfer mixer. Stop. Capital letter. In ze case zat no stinkbugs are nearby, for ze preparation of ze elixir dry dung-beetles are also suitable. Stop. Capital letter.” “And it’s called practical magic... I can’t stand writing,” sighed Vanka Valyalkin, moving and giving Tanya room on the bench next to him. It seemed that of the entire class only Shurasik was contented, smartly using up a third sheet already. Glancing carefully at his feet, Tanya observed that he was barefooted in overshoes. “So, the boots still get violent,” she surmised with a smile. Time for practice was only at the end of the lesson. Professor Stinktopp released from his ring an entire shower of red sparks — from which Tanya concluded that before her was a magician from the “black,” — and all the desks, lowering short curved legs, began to crawl together to the centre of the hall. Before each appeared a small copper pot that had turned green and with slippery slimy edges. Tanya wanted terribly to wash and clean it to lustre, but Bab-Yagun whispered that magic cauldrons are never to be washed or cleaned under any circumstances. Seeing as the others were doing it, Tanya started to prepare the elixir. She did not want mud on her face, especially as Professor Stinktopp from the very beginning for some reason started to pick on her. Shurasik was more zealous than everyone in the preparation of the elixir of courage, slowly stirring the cauldron first with a spoon, then with an overshoe, and simultaneously contriving not to allow the beetles to crawl. Outwardly simple, the recipe for the preparation of elixir had one intricacy — it was necessary to take a long time to warm up the water in the cauldron, at the same time without allowing it to boil, and this with the fact that magic cauldrons heated up almost instantly. The mixture first boiled in Vanka Valyalkin’s, then in Verka Parroteva’s, and in the end BabYagun’s beetle flew into Dusya Dollova’s ear, and she raised a terrible screech, overturning her own cauldron. “I can’t stand all these potions. Not without reason they always write on all the magic infusions: side effects — the growth of fur on the forehead and the nose,” grumbled Vanka, who was trying to set his beetle so that it would crawl behind Shurasik’s collar. Professor Stinktopp strolled inside the circle and indulgently tried the elixirs. For this, he even had a special bronze spoon on a long chain hanging on his belt. Having taken a sip from half a spoonful of each of the cauldrons, Professor Stinktopp remained extremely dissatisfied. “Neffer in Tibidox vas collected such dolts! Two monz of lessons and no result! And you call zis elixir of courage? Efen Shurasik’s, zis dear boy...” here Stinktopp’s voice grew warm to a hundredth of a degree, “instead of an elixir it turned out to be a harmful decoction for growing calluses!” “You haven’t yet tried Tanya’s!” Verka Parroteva clicked her tongue. Professor Stinktopp leniently made a face. “Vell-a, vell-a... I’m sure nozing has turned out viz our newbie, since she mixed viz ze spoon clockvise, but I dictated: must stir counter-clockvise. And zen, vhat foot from ze stinkbug did she bring? Certain zat it’s ze front, but one is neffer to use zem!” he said mockingly, scooping elixir from her cauldron. Tanya wanted to object that she did everything correctly, but Stinktopp, not listening, already sent the contents of the spoon into his mouth. According to the expression on his face it was obvious that he was prepared to utter something extremely sarcastic, but here dense vapour unexpectedly belched from his ears, his face reddened, and, jumping up and down on the spot, he began
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to roar, “Vhy are you all settled here, dawdlers!! Driff ze mammoz here! A hundred mammoz, two hundred! And also dragons here! I’ll zrash zem viz my bare hands! And not only dragons! I’ll give two black eyes to all ze titans!” Stinktopp brandished his thin hands and dashed away somewhere, clearly to investigate the titans. The whole class stared at Tanya in amazement. “Likely he swallowed too much. Well, the titans will beat him up!” Bab-Yagun giggled. “Listen, how come yours turned out? Why did the cauldron not boil?” Vanka Valyalkin was wonderstruck. Tanya smiled shyly. “Nothing... I followed the recipe, that’s all,” she growled. “Now brewing Aunt Ninels diet tea is actually a task. Twenty-three seconds to steam at a temperature of seventythree degrees, simultaneously stirring slowly with a thermometer... Stop a second — Aunt Ninel goes into hysterics. I’d like to see Professor Stinktopp manage that...” After practical magic the hand of the clock, same as in the room with Black Curtains, pointed first to a spoon, and then to a huge, constantly winking eye. “They’re saying that it’s dinner now, and later we must go to removal of evil eye,” Vanka Valyalkin hesitated. “And who’s teaching it? Professor Stinktopp again?” Tanya asked. “Ne-a, not Stinktopp. Now it’ll be Dentistikha... She’s both ours and with the black. So it’s a joint one. Only she teaches how to cast an evil eye to the black but how to remove to us.” If practical magic was conducted in the tower, then for the removal of evil eye it was necessary to go down to the basement, along the long stairs with smoky steps illuminated by magic torches. The vibration of the walls here felt much stronger than in the rest of Tibidox. If an ear was cocked, then it was possible to make out even the hoarse breath of the titans. Furthermore, several times it seemed to Tanya that in the dark corners where the light of the torches did not reach, concealed hairy essences quickly gleamed for a moment. Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun walked beside Tanya. Several times, she already noticed that Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun were inconspicuously nudging each other with their shoulders, competing to walk closer to her. It did not please Verka Parroteva and Dusya Dollova that the newbie was enjoying such success and they snorted, turning aside their noses. “And how do the evil spirits worm themselves in here?” Vanka Valyalkin reasoned. “Preventive spells everywhere here. Slander put them on each crack, not even mentioning the corridors.” “Evil spirits will always find a way. Or will open a new one. They soundly consider where to open what and how to climb through. Well, and not a week that they avoid the cave of Tibidox,” Bab-Yagun said. Tanya recalled how the evil spirits swarmed the house of Uncle Herman and climbed along the pipes, and agreed with Bab-Yagun. Now only why are the evil spirits here? What do they want? The room for removal of evil eye was crowded and tight. Besides thirty freshmen of the “white” department, here were even thirty freshmen of the “black.”
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“And Grotter also dragged herself here! Do you see this girl?” Coffinia said loudly, turning to her neighbour, a gloomy fellow with a low forehead, resembling a gorilla. The “black” stared darkly at Tanya. “Gunya, bet you can’t touch her birth mark? Perhaps it’s pasted on her?” Coffinia continued to egg him on. The low forehead moved heavily forward, towering above the tallest of the “black” by two heads. “Who can’t? Good. I’ll touch...,” he said through his nose, smiling and stretching a thick finger in motion. His teeth were not clean, with a nasty yellowish-green tint. At the same time, two fangs stuck out forward considerably. Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun advanced forward together, up between the thug and Tanya. “Get acquainted, this is Gunya Glomov — our Tibidox wonder. He’s fourteen. He already sat in the first grade for three years, and the only thing he’s learned is to change himself into a stool!” Bab-Yagun said provocatively. “You want trouble, Yagun? Know it all! You’re already in trouble,” Gunya Glomov said and began to swing heavily. But here for no rhyme or reason Shurasik jumped forward. “And I also know how to fight!” he began to squeak. “Yesterday I read Self-teach Manual of Young Fighters and I even know how to correctly make a fist! So: I’ll take off my glasses, and we’ll negotiate the rules. No hitting the face, no kicking one lying down, no cursing with bad words, with the words ‘Time out’ the fight sto...” Not listening to the rules, Gunya smirked and hit Shurasik in the ear. Shurasik rolled head over heels on the floor. Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun jumped on Gunya, and all three were rolling on the floor. “Fight!” someone from the “black” yelled and everybody rushed forward. Soon the fight was already universal. The “white” and the “black” acted wellorganized. It seemed to Tanya that it was not the first time they fought this way. Even the girls. Coffinia Cryptova, scrambling onto the desk, led the brawl. Shurasik sat down on the floor and, shaking his head, began to turn a small dark-blue writing pad. “Not let me take off my glasses, well I’ll show you!” he started to mutter vindictively. “Trampli-kickli!” With these words, the overshoes tore themselves off his feet and, kicking everyone indiscriminately, threw themselves into the midst of things. One of the overshoes kicked Coffinia and she flew off the table like a swallow. But the overshoes, after sowing panic among the “black,” were also already attacking the “white.” “Shurasik, what, have you gone nuts? What are you hitting us for?” Dusya Dollova shouted fearfully. “I can do nothing. It’s such a general all-kicking spell. Not possible to tune it exactly,” Shurasik muttered and immediately dropped on all fours to escape from an overshoe overtaking him. Unexpectedly the door of the class slammed. Into the classroom, either walked or rolled a small round lady with bangs like a pony’s over her eyes. On her nose were thick glasses, and in her hands she was holding a maliciously giggling diary. “Watch out! Dentistikha!” Coffinia hissed and crawled from the desk, at the same time smiling at the teacher with a most innocent look.
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The overshoes, passing each other, rushed into an attack on the newly entered one, but Dentistikha let fly two red sparks from her ring, changing them into fused pieces of rubber. Considering that he was left barefooted, Shurasik despondently sniffed. The fight stopped in a flash, and all rushed to their places. Tanya noticed that Bab-Yagun had a swollen nose, and Vanka a split lip. But at the same time, Gunya Glomov, adorned by a pair of black eyes, was clearly also not suitable for the cover of a magazine. However, even before the fight he was unsuitable, unless, of course, it was the special periodical for vampires. “Charming! Charming!” the lady said resoundingly. “Fighting again? What is it this time?” “Because of her, because of the newbie! She said that you’re silly, and your lessons are awful!” Coffinia Cryptova told tales, pointing a finger at Tanya. Tanya wanted to object, but decided that it would be more proper to keep quiet. Dentistikha turned and vigilantly looked at the new one through her glasses. It was difficult to determine whether she believed Coffinia. “Strange,” she said. “Strange. But now let us begin. Not worth losing a minute... To start, as always, a small check.” Dentistikha tossed the diary up in the air, and it noted all those present. Tanya hardly managed to follow as the pen flickered. Then the book began to fly successively all over the students, hovering motionlessly for several seconds over each. “Checking homework,” whispered Vanka Valyalkin. His voice sounded alarmed, it was likely that not everything was satisfactory with his homework. Probably, nothing could be hidden from the diary. It punched Bab-Yagun lightly, also cuffed Valyalkin, harder, affectionately stroked Dusya Dollova’s hair, slid past Coffinia without any interest, then gave Gunya Glomov such a sharp blow to the back of the head that his eyes bunched up. Evidently, the third-year student had already bothered the book a great deal by his stupidity. When it was Tanya’s turn, it lingered over her head for a particularly long time as if it was confused. Tanya was frightened that it would also knock her on the crown — indeed she knew exactly nothing, and, after all, it was her first time in the class. But the book did not begin to do this. Instead, the pen quickly scratched several lines, and the diary flew into the hands of Dentistikha. She read the report and, as it seemed to Tanya, glanced at her again with special interest. The girl would give dearly to read what was written about her, but the book had already slammed shut, and moreover was even closed with two copper clasps. “And now practice! Whoopli woepli penalbowpli!” Dentistikha said briskly and, decisively taking off the thick glasses, sternly dropped quick glances at the class. Immediately a third of the students fell onto the floor with a terrible sharp pain in the stomach, others, including Tanya, turned green like frogs and swelled up, and the remaining took to hiccupping with such terrifying frequency that their heads simply managed to jump. “Excellent,” nodded Dentistikha. “As you see, I used plain but effective evil eyes, with which you still expect to meet in life, and so it’s time you search for a method to beat them now... And I for the time being will read a little Horace in the original... Last night I completely could not rest. Slander was arranging in the cave of the cyclopes, and they were stamping so terribly...” And, reaching for a small booklet, Dentistikha became absorbed in reading.
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Trying not to look at her nightmarishly green, itchy hands, Tanya looked around. BabYagun, holding his stomach, hurriedly whispered incomprehensible words. Shurasik, jumping with hiccups, unsuccessfully turned the pages of his small notebook. Coffinia Cryptova, the same green as Tanya, issued from the ring one red spark after another. However, the colour of Coffinia herself did not change at all. After an hour Dentistikha with regret bookmarked the book with a dry bat wing and slammed it shut. “Well, how are we doing? Oh, I see that in no way... Bad, dears, bad. Here you,” Dentistikha pointed to those rolling on the floor with a sharp pain in the stomach, “had to say: Trickus runtus. Did it help? Must think by yourself! You, turned green, had to utter: Goatbumpy noisu. And you, hiccupping, must, picking up your head, shout Feverytb! loudly. I’m sure you’ll remember this in the future. Meet again in three days... I’m certain, Shurasik, you’ll not begin to use more freeze spells against hiccups... You see what it led to? Someone please take this block to magic station. I’ll ask Yagge to defrost it.” *** “Poor Shurasik!” Tanya said, watching as Bab-Yagun, Vanka, and two more kids from the “white” hauled the icy block to magic station. It was written precisely so and not “first aid station” in the directory. “He’s not only poor, he’s also awfully heavy,” puffed slender Valyalkin. “You know how Shurasik turned up in Tibidox? He was getting fives in school, simply a compulsive A student, and then a teacher gave him a two. Because of some nonsense: either did not bring a notebook or failed to hear some question. This first two in his life so shook Shurasik that his mark book suddenly flared up by itself, and immediately on this teacher’s head grew seventeen mushroom-toadstools... Until now, by the way, they have remained. Neither Medusa nor Sardanapal could remove them. She plucks off the toadstools and new ones grow from the mushroom spawns.” “Serves her right: she’ll know how to give twos for no good reason,” said Tanya. Conversing, they gradually reached the magic station. “Now you’ll see my granny. She’s boss here,” Bab-Yagun said with pride. “Only, here’s the deal: remember quickly she’s Yagge. Don’t call her Yaga, she dislikes this terribly. And her feet are definitely not bony.” In the small magic station partitioned by screens, on a three-legged stool sat a withered old lady, dressed like a gypsy with a red kerchief on her head and wrapped in a bright shawl. The old lady was smoking a cherry pipe and breathing out fragrant puffs of smoke, forming whimsical animals. “Well, grandson, what have you done this time? Today Slander ran to me. He was seething so that his brain almost hard-boiled,” squinting piercingly, she turned to BabYagun. “We? But we did nothing...” Bab-Yagun was embarrassed. Both of his fat cheeks reddened like washed apples. Yagge threatened her grandson with a dry finger, “Oh look, Yagun, don’t make Slander angry! He’s a dangerous magician. The last time he was so angry when you let out the
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dragons... Well, now what? Used that passageway again? And I happened to make a slip of the tongue then!” “So it turned out,” Bab-Yagun was embarrassed. “But why did Slander come? Only to swear?” “Of course not. Today he has been in the caves all day. Forced the auxiliary shamans to wall up the Nameless Basement, and one of them had his hand crushed by a stone. He brought him in to be treated...” “By the way, about ‘to be treated’... We brought someone here,” Bab-Yagun recalled suddenly. Yagge stared at the stiffened Shurasik, “Ah yes, indeed I see, cast an outstanding freeze spell, on top of that from a very close distance. Okay, please unload him on the couch and spread, perhaps, an oilcloth underneath. When I defrost him, it’ll be really full of water here... And you, children, leave here quick! Nothing to crowd here for — never saw someone sensitive to cold, perhaps?” Tanya was about to make her way to the door together with everyone, but the sharpeyed old lady noticed her and, tenaciously holding her sleeve, looked at her face. “Ah, mother! You’re indeed Tanya, Tanya Grotter... I knew Leopold, he was such an excellent man and outstanding magician. To think only that now... now he’s no more.” Yagge sobbed, however, that did not prevent her from nudging the back of the lingering Vanka Valyalkin. “You know, little daughter: Plague-Del-Cake, whom all these cowards call She-Who-Is-No-More, seriously feared only your father, and, perhaps, even Sardanapal... Exactly why she attacked Leopold, fearing that he had already finished his experiments... Yes, your father perished, but she also did not reach her goal...” Yagge again sobbed. “And as soon as I think that any minute now...” “Granny!” Bab-Yagun whispered warningly. “Oh, I’ll be quiet-quiet!” the old lady recollected suddenly and covered her mouth with a withered hand. Soon after this Yagge escorted Tanya and Bab-Yagun from magic station and got busy with Shurasik. On the whole return trip to the bedrooms Tanya tried to persuade Bab-Yagun to tell her the truth, but he only reddened uncomfortably and muttered: “I can’t, gave my word... If it were not for the word...” “Word to whom?” Tanya tried to find out. “To Sardanapal?” But Bab-Yagun clearly also could not answer this question, but only frowned. For this very reason, Tanya was awfully offended by him. What are they all here in Tibidox, lost their minds? They make a big deal out of everything for nothing and yet also looked askance at her somehow incomprehensibly: either as a saviour or as a leper. “Why did you let the dragons out?” she asked Bab-Yagun, in order at least to tease him a little somehow. “Ah, I was young. It seemed to me they were tightly locked up,” he growled unwillingly. *** In the evening, when Tanya attempted to prepare for the next day’s lesson on evil spirits studies in order not to get hit with mud in the face in front of Medusa Gorgonova,
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whom Vanka Valyalkin said was awfully strict, the Reference Book of White Magician lying before her suddenly soared into the air and with enormous speed began to twirl above the desk. Coffinia Cryptova joyfully bobbed up and down on the bed, brushing aside the tube of cream with which she was smearing her nose and cheeks. “Excellent! You forgot to return the book to the library, and time is up! Abdullah will curse you!” she began to yell. Tanya caught the escaping, kicking book with difficulty, ran out into the living room, and only then grasped that she did not know where the library was. It was useless to ask Coffinia, and Tanya jumped into Vanka Valyalkin’s room. Vanka, pushing out his sharp thin elbows, was sitting at the table and greedily devouring cutlets and pickles appearing in the centre of a small piece of cloth with uneven corners. Noticing Tanya, Vanka jumped in embarrassment, chewing on a cutlet. At this moment, it was particularly evident how absurd he was, with sharp shoulders, hair sticking out, but eyes amazingly kind and simultaneously mischievous. Even his soccer shirt was special — yellow, long, torn in two places, clearly brought with him from the world of the moronoids. “Oh, magic tablecloth... cut with scissors in the dining room... And I always want to eat. Only tell no one... Nevertheless, the edge of the tablecloth caught something stupid: besides pickles and cutlets — nothing...” he embarrassingly acknowledged, hiding the linen under the pillow. “Hey, what’s with you?” he was surprised, accidentally seeing the fright on Tanya’s face. Tanya waved the kicking Reference Book. “I haven’t returned this! The genie!” “Ah, well let’s...” Vanka Valyalkin snatched the book from her and, opening the first page, glanced at the terrible press. All previous inscriptions disappeared, and instead appeared a quite small: I WARNED YOU... in flowing letters black like squid. “Got yourself in a mess! Run!” Vanka shouted and, thrusting the book under his arm, dashed along the corridor. Tanya barely managed to keep up with him. They flew past magic torches and pictures, and dodged the whimsical labyrinths of corridors. “Guard!” the magic ring on Tanya’s finger squeaked in the voice of great-grandfather Theophilus. “Bear in mind that I’ll not be able to remove this strong magic! Run quicker! Plop-plop-plop! Where are you turning, the other side!” “Hush, you!” Vanka snapped to the ring. “I know better than you where the library is!” “And I’ll ask strangers not to interfere! All sorts turn up here!” The ring got offended, but stopped talking, especially as the children had already run into the library. The library was located in the base of the Big Tower, where it occupied several huge halls, not counting the infinite number of basements. And the books, what books were here! Some were riveted by chains. Others, exactly like battleships, crept on the floor. A third set like swift little flocks fluttered under the ceiling. Two thick dictionaries with leather bindings, clearly “black,” struck and tore to pieces a sorrowfully cheeping little magazine. The appearance of the children scared off the dictionaries, and they hurriedly took off under the shelves. The miraculously rescued little magazine jumped into Tanya’s hands. On its cover, an inscription stood out in splendour: Gossips and Nonsense №10.
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Catching one of the slightly torn pages, she casually slid her eyes down it, and it seemed to her as if an ancient candelabrum, swinging on chains, dealt a blow to the back of her head. What will bring Tanya Grotter to Tibidox? Will she not accomplish that terrible act shown by the prophecy of The Ancient One? It is known that She-Who-Is-NoMore already victimized the girl soon after her birth, now, when... Tanya wanted to read more, but there was nothing more — the dictionaries ate everything. And right here someone coughed hoarsely behind her back. Tanya turned around abruptly and... saw the genie. It was not possible to mix him up with someone else. Abdullah resembled a dense veil of fog. There were seven warts on his cheeks and an enormous turban on his forehead. His face itself was white, flat as a pancake. The features appeared on it suddenly — first an eye surfaced, then the mouth... Noticing neither Tanya nor Vanka Valyalkin, the genie quickly whispered something, holding his hands like a ladle. Several wearisome seconds passed before Tanya guessed what the genie was doing precisely: he was invoking the irreversible curse. “Stop!” she yelled. “We brought the book!” The genie greedily grabbed the Reference Book and quickly and subtly leafed through it. Tanya was certain that neither a torn page nor even a pencil mark escaped him. “Oh, the luckiest of the stupidest! Everything is in order!” Abdullah said, bending as from a toothache. “You’re lucky, since I didn’t have time to finish the outstanding curse specially composed for this occasion... But tremble: next time I’ll be merciless and... brief.” And, carefully pressing the book against his fragile chest, the genie leisurely floated between the shelves, muttering to himself under his breath: “Oh, the most annoying of all of today’s annoyances! The day has passed, but I have yet to curse anyone.” “He’s not afraid to leave us here alone?” Tanya wondered. Vanka expressively drew air into his nose. His nose, though not as picturesque as BabYagun’s, drew air in not a bit quieter. “Somehow one of the ‘black’ attempted to pinch The Black-book Manual on Falling in Love. He probably fell in love with Coffinia and this book was in locked access. And he chose a suitable time — at night, and sneaked around unnoticeably. In short, no one really found out what happened to him... They say, Medusa and Sardanapal hardly left him, and arranged a dressing down to the genie, and nevertheless he almost threw in his towel. You’ll still see him, this fellow: such long hair, always shuddering... Hey, where are you going?” Vanka shouted suddenly, discovering that Tanya had dived into the book depository. “I want to find something here... Prophecy of The Ancient One. What do you know about The Ancient One?” Tanya asked when Vanka caught up with her and they quickly went between the shelves, with thousands of whimsical check stubs looking at them. “The Ancient One? Well, he’s like the greatest magician. Tibidox stands on his Hair. We studied him in history of magic,” Vanka said not too confidently. “And everyone believes his prophecies? He never makes mistakes?” “Never... Indeed it’s he who devised everything — all the magic. Assembled by grains from the earliest times: something from the titans, something from the evil spirits, and something from the heathen gods. He immediately separated the most harmful spells and forbade using them. Nevertheless only certain people use them — that is, the black
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magicians. And he also established Tibidox. All magicians after The Ancient One are his students and students of his students.” “And are they all difficult to raise?” Tanya was interested, recalling the name of the school. “And Sardanapal?” “Don’t know. Perhaps he was also. Though it’s hard to imagine: Sardanapal — supposedly difficult to raise,” Vanka honestly acknowledged. “But in general how a person will turn out depends all on that person. It happens that someone from the ‘black’ magicians passes to the ‘white.’ Bad for him among the ‘black.’ But this happens only rarely. More often, it’s the other way around. Someone from the ‘white’ will start by allowing himself indulgences: utter one, another, a third ‘black’ spell, and gets sucked in... Good though that here in Tibidox there’s such a rule: a ‘black’ instructor cannot teach ‘white’ students black magic, and vice versa, they never reveal all shielding secrets of ‘white’ magic to a ‘black’ student.” Observing a shelf with ancient books and leafing through a good hundred squeaking, grunting, scorching, or freezing cold volumes, Tanya became melancholy. Could she really actually find here what she needs? And here another kikimora from one of the covers suddenly came to life and splashed the girl’s face with musty slime. “Gotchaga, naughtyga? Don’t poke your nose herega!” it squeaked. Tanya flicked the kikimora on the nose and returned the book to the shelf. “No, we’ll never find it here...” she said dejectedly, but instantly she took heart, since the following book extracted from the cabinet was called: Prompter for Incorrigible Lazy People. A small opening was cut out of the cover and the inscription above it said: Whisper a question — you’ll get the answer. “How to find what you cannot find?” Tanya whispered. “Say: Checkis trackis ransackis — and then the name of the necessary object!” the Prompter shrilly and very loudly shouted. “Oh come on, what trash!” Vanka said indignantly. “I also thought that here it couldn’t manage without a dirty trick. Imagine: you carry it to class for a test, whisper a question, and it’ll prompt so loudly that even the dead will come running...” “Now we’ll verify! Checkis trackis ransackis the prophecy of The Ancient One.” Shaking up the ring, Tanya released a green spark. A minute passed agonizingly, one more — nothing happened. Resolving not to be stressed there, Tanya decided to repeat again, but here a rustle was heard from the direction of the spiral staircase leading from the basements. Along the steps rolled a tight scroll bound by a red ribbon. Finding itself at Tanya’s feet, the scroll soared into the air and unrolled before her eyes. I, The Ancient One, the First and the Last, the founder of Tibidox, open slightly the curtain of the future... When I glided up high on a tapestry, Appeared to me visions of prophecy. A girl’s lusty cry spread in the stillness – A child was born in the taiga wilderness. Drive-one-crazy laughter squeaks –
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To the child the killer Plague sneaks. Like a flame will flare up a fiery gaze – Like a miracle will save the girl the double bass. For cowardice, this earth is no place – In the shadows two loving hearts blaze. By parental death a vow is broken – Ten serene years a gift bestowen. She-Who-Is-No-More runs away crestfallen – In a child’s hand death is beaten. By a fiery storm dark forces will be awoken – The magic sword is suddenly stolen. The sword will sparkle brightly, my voice will answer, And the magic Hair will sever. The guile of immortals is not possible to reckon – Even the one who cannot will commit treason. The ancient promise of Chaos will realize, And She-Who-Is-No-More from the coffin will arise... And a terrible battle in that hour is beginning – Death will close the eyes of the deserving. In the finale of all waits a very curious paradox: Grotter Tatiana will obliterate Tibidox. It seemed to Tanya as if a cold invisible hand pierced her chest and squeezed her heart. So this is why Slander ordered to brick up basements and placed cyclopes everywhere. He feared the fulfilment of the scheduled prophecy and with all his might tried to take care of the Hair. Unexpectedly the genie Abdullah emerged beside her. Throwing a sizzling glance at Tanya, he hissed something, grabbed the scroll, and disappeared together with it, and yet a moment later a powerful spell caught and unceremoniously tossed them out of the library. “Did you read it?” she asked Vanka guardedly, when the spell finally stopped somersaulting them along the corridor. “It seemed to me that the scroll is completely blank. Still I think: why were you staring at it?” shaking himself, Valyalkin wondered. Chapter 10 Veterinary Magic The first lesson the next day was evil spirits studies. Medusa Gorgonova entered the classroom and, having nodded dryly to everyone, directed her steps to her table. Two beefy guards, re-educated shamans, wheeled in a cage, in which raged a small disgusting creature overgrown with rigid fur, yellow horns, and an unpleasant tail like a rat’s.
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Tanya shuddered. She was convinced that she had met him before, saw these horns — one long and the other small and curved. Exactly, this was Agukh! “Before you is one of the typical representatives of evil spirits — a swamp bogey,” Medusa said in a teacher’s voice, extracting a pointer from the air. “An unpleasant, evil creature, fed by the energy of those whom it made to suffer. It possesses primitive speech skills and weak telepathic abilities. Individual unscrupulous magicians use the bogeys as messengers or accomplices in crimes... This example I caught today in my office. It was poking its nose into my papers, not grasping that I lock up boxes not merely with a key.” Explaining, Medusa carelessly pushed the pointer through the bars of the cage. Agukh instantly clicked its teeth and gnawed through the pointer in the middle. “I hate! I hate you, Gorgonova, and Tanka Grotter! Blood will soon be spilled! Much blood! I’ll gut!” the bogey began to yell. Medusa with disgust extracted from the cage a fragment of the pointer and threw it into the wastebasket. “You see what type this is,” as if nothing had happened, she continued. “Fortunately, swamp bogeys are very afraid of specific spells. This here brings them special dread: slopis-galoshis-idiotis.” Agukh, as if doused by cold water, stopped screaming out threats and hid in a corner of the cage. “Ah, no need to say this filth to me!” it began to squeak in panic. “I’ll be good! I’ll saw off no one’s head! I’ll plant flowers and shuffle my feet!” “Wonderful,” said Medusa. “You may begin.” She opened the cage and allowed Agukh to get out. The children exchanged surprised glances. Did Medusa really believe it? Meanwhile the swamp bogey unhappily looked around, but its small eyes had already lit up with hatred in a second. “I’ll kill! I’ll gut! For everyone to tremble!” it began to yell and rushed at Medusa. “Sparkis frontis!” associate Professor Gorgonova pronounced softly but distinctly. The green spark bursting from her ring struck the swamp bogey in the chest and flung it back into the cage. The door slammed shut. Medusa blew on the ring. “One more lesson. Sparkis frontis, as you know, is the main shielding spell of white magic. We call it the spell of battle spark. I sincerely recommend ‘black’ magicians not to use it. This weapon can turn against them. Any questions? Then take it away!” The two guards grabbed the cage and carried it out of the class. “Please remember well what you just saw. I strongly advise you,” Medusa said, especially emphasizing the word “strongly.” At the same time, she looked significantly at Tanya, as if what she said and showed mainly concerned her. *** After evil spirits studies, everyone set off for dinner, which was usually in the Hall of Two Elements — the sole quarters of Tibidox capable of accommodating several hundred people simultaneously. The black department of Tibidox was assembled on its half while the white was on its. The instructors, both white and black magicians, came down from above along the staircase of Atlases, and then each joined his own department. With the white students sat the academician Chernomorov, Medusa, and Yagge; and with the black
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— Dentistikha, Professor Stinktopp, and the trainer of magic piloting Nightingale O. Robber. The dean Slander Slanderych, as a magician-specialist using both white and black spells, walked hither and thither, not fearing the flame. The ancient oak tables, preserving on themselves random scratches and inscriptions of various centuries, occasionally very amusing, were still completely empty. While Tanya was estimating how they would have time to lay all the tables quickly simultaneously, Sardanapal walked out to the middle of the hall and threw open a small wooden chest, which was in his hands. “Two from the chest, identical in person, come quickly to feed us!” Sardanapal shouted. In that same moment the cover of the chest was thrown open, and from it flew out two swift whirlwinds. Squinting, Tanya made out that it was two rosy broad-shouldered fine fellows in red shirts, moving with incredible speed. In all of several seconds magic tablecloths unrolled along all the tables, and on them appeared round loaves, small white loaves, pretzels, meat dumplings, cheese dumplings, fruit-filled dumplings, pies, danishes, nut cakes, rolls, raisin cakes, and crepes with salmon or caviar. All this was in such quantity that it could sate any appetite. Seeing that Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin attacked the food as if nothing was the matter, Tanya followed their example. It seemed to her that after Aunt Ninel’s sticky vermicelli and stewed radish she would be in a state to lay waste the entire table by herself. But it was impossible, since the more they took, the more appeared. Twenty minutes had not even gone by but it already seemed to Tanya that one more little piece and she would simply burst. Bab-Yagun, also had time to eat his fill, had a drowsy blank look, only Vanka Valyalkin alone looked like he was still ready for another mouthful, but he was a special case... Sardanapal clapped his hands: “Thank you, two from the chest! Perhaps, that’s enough!” The fine fellows in red shirts bowed to the waist and dived back into the small chest. Before the cover slammed shut, Gunya Glomov and his friend Yura Idiotsyudov quickly threw several bones in there. They thought that this trick would go unnoticed and they could mock at Sardanapal, but in the same second, the fine fellows with the speed of lightning again fluttered from the chest. One plugged up the noses of Glomov and his friend, and the other in the same moment tipped into the opened mouths half a jar of horseradish sauce. With loud howls, with tears streaming from their eyes, almost breathing out flame, Glomov and Idiotsyudov jumped up and hurled themselves to the exit, while the fine fellows, extremely pleased with themselves, again dived into the chest. Sardanapal smiled delicately, pretending that he noticed nothing. “Finished? Now again to work!” he gave the order. “Uh-huh! And now my favourite subject — veterinary magic!” Vanka Valyalkin said happily, pulling off from the benches the friends grown heavy from satiety. “Oh yes! Treat teeth in harpies — always dreamed about such work. With the thumb, with the little finger — why waste time on trifles?” the passing Coffinia Cryptova snorted. “She somehow can’t forget the last project,” explained Vanka. “And the matter is really simple, must get the beast to trust you, suggest to it that you won’t harm but want to help it. Here Tararakh, our instructor, turns out first-rate...”
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This Tararakh actually turned out to be marvellous, so marvellous that Tanya totally shared the enthusiasm of Vanka Valyalkin. True, the first minute she did not greatly like Tararakh — she was even frightened, when into the large hall with barred windows, where it smelled strongly of dragon dung, at first was rolled in a large barrel, and then someone, nudging this barrel from behind, started to yell directly from the threshold, “Look out or you’ll get run over!” Having rolled the barrel to the middle of the class, the possessor of the loud voice with Herculean panting guided it into a vertical position and came out from behind it. Tanya stared at him thunderstruck. Tararakh was short, bowlegged, but so broad-shouldered that it seemed he was wider than tall. His hair was long, never combed, eyes black like two olives, and the lower jaw seemed simply enormous. “Hello, newbie!” Tararakh said cheerfully, waving a hand in welcome at her. “Today we’re treating mermaids. Carp louse nibbles them to death, the poor wretch; therefore they’re all terribly mean. So, it means, when I open the barrel, don’t poke your nose close. They’re reasonable, but only not quite. Must be careful! And don’t let a mermaid tickle you, or then it will tickle you to death! Clear?” “Clear!” Vanka answered for everyone. “Excellent! Let’s go!” Tararakh decisively pulled the cover off the barrel, and instantly a pale girl with loose green hair showed herself. “Phew, how she reeks of fish! Now it’ll make me puke!” Coffinia said with disgust, pinching her nose. The mermaid started to laugh unpleasantly and, splashing with her tail, neatly splashed Coffinia with water from the barrel. Moreover, it also reached Rite On-The-Sly, one of Coffinia’s friends looming close-by. “Ah-ah! What has she done!” Coffinia began to yell, jumping aside to a far corner of the hall. “Doesn’t matter, you’ll dry! Shouldn’t you be pleasant to her? We have such a beauty and you say: she smells of fish!” Tararakh said. It was worthwhile for the mermaid to hear a compliment, as she instantly stopped hitting on the water with her tail and began to spruce herself up, giggling in embarrassment and repairing her hair. Tararakh demonstrated how to prepare a solution for killing carp louse from fir cones, dandelion roots, and poisonous buttercup flowers, and deftly cleansed the mermaid’s tail with it. “You saw?” he asked. “And now your turn. Whom have I not summoned for a long time? Dollova!” Unwillingly dragging herself to the board, Dusya tried to do the same as Tararakh, but the mermaid suddenly gripped her hand and started to tickle her, and in such a way that Dusya’s eyes stuck out of her forehead. “Well-well, calm down!” Tararakh ordered, sending Dusya to her place. “It’s because you took her by the fin! Don’t touch mermaids by the fins, they don’t like it! But here by the scales as much as you like! Who’s next?” The lesson flew unnoticeably. In any case, for Tanya. Although many blacks and even some of the whites, she felt, were not too pleased.
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“Well that’s it for now! I hope you understand everything about mermaids,” Tararakh said, after glancing at the clock. “For next class I’ll ask everyone to appear in helmets. We’ll change Pegasus’ shoes, and it, the old fox, kicks wonderfully with its rear left...” The children began to disperse. Tanya together with Vanka approached Tararakh, who was nudging the mermaid into the barrel. “Ugh, help, children! Will have to release her into the pond!” he puffed, trying to close the cover on the cackling mermaid. This he finally succeeded, and, having deftly jumped up, sat on the barrel. “Tararakh, this is Tanya Grotter!” Vanka Valyalkin said. “Uh-huh, thought so! Won’t confuse you with anyone else,” he nodded. Understanding that he had her birthmark in mind, Tanya wanted to feel offended, but for some reason she could not. It was not possible for Tararakh to conceal malice — he was so cheerful. “Probably you want to find out why I’m so strange?” the instructor of veterinary magic continued. “The jaw is heavy and all that? Indeed, I’m not a magician at all — neither white nor black. I’m a pithecanthropus.” “A pithecanthropus? But they lived awfully long ago!” Tararakh smiled. His teeth were very large and powerful, although uneven. “Do you see what kind of story it is… Well, we likely brought down somebody, and it turned out to be a white dragon — very rare. Even among the dragons, such is one in a million. Well I found this out later, probably after several thousand years. But at the time we simply wanted to gorge... And the rest who ate the dragon with me, in short, were less lucky. First, they swelled up like balloons, and then — bang! Good that the pithecanthropus is not nervous in general or somebody would definitely faint... Indeed I was later told that white dragons couldn’t exist in any case. Only eat one piece near the tail and you get immortality. So I toiled until finally Sardanapal picked me and I learn to care for magic creatures. I like this work very much.” Unexpectedly Tararakh, as if recalling something, grew gloomy. “Here’s another thing, children. Don’t poke your nose into the basements and tell others not to either.” “You’re talking about the Walled-up Basement, where the Hair is?” Vanka asked. Tararakh shook his head: “No... there you’ll not go either: all the passages are blocked there. I’m talking about the lower basements, where the Sinister Gates are... Something has begun to shake lately: as if someone is forcing his way through from that side. I told Sardanapal and he says: indeed, don’t be alarmed. But I know that you don’t trifle with the Sinister Gates! Well I’m going...” Tararakh energetically tipped the barrel and rolled it to the exit. The mermaid inside was laughing loudly: she probably liked to tumble. Returning from lessons, Vanka and Tanya discussed what they heard recently. “And what are these Sinister Gates?” Tanya asked. “Enormous copper gates. Beyond them, precisely the jails begin... Well, where they imprison spirits of Chaos and ancient gods. If they escaped, what nightmare would there be. Everything would turn upside down, and how much blood would spill — rivers. Only don’t be alarmed: the Sinister Gates will never be opened. The cyclopes guard them, and generally Sardanapal also keeps an eye on them.” “And if someone nevertheless contrives to open them?” Tanya asked.
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“But they tell you it’s impossible!” Vanka repeated. “While the Hair still exists! In reality, everything is supported by it, and the Gates only ensure. But, if something happens to the Hair, then only the Gates will save everything from Chaos. Shh, you hear? Someone’s coming!” Behind the turn of the corridor someone was shuffling. “I’ll show you about shooting at the ceremonial portrait of The Ancient One! I’ll have you know, piglet!” a raspy voice was heard. Along the corridor, dragging the ear of a leaning little cupid, stomped Slander Slanderych. Having almost flown into Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin, the dean very sternly looked at them and released the little cupid, breaking his bow beforehand. Picking up the fragments from the floor, the little one began to roar and took off, fluttering his little white wings and rubbing that ear crushed like a dumpling. “I’ll show you! You’ll know about breaking bows!” he threatened Slander and, straightening the red suspenders, darted away into the window. “Interesting, what was Slander doing here? Did he come to admire the portrait of The Ancient One?” Tanya wondered after the dean disappeared. “Of course not. He was probably on the Vanishing Floor and on his way back there,” assumed Vanka. “The Vanishing Floor?” Tanya again asked. Vanka hesitated mysteriously. “It’s one of the riddles of Tibidox. The whole day it’s a floor like any floor, and then suddenly it disappears heaven knows where. Snap — it’s gone. The stairs abruptly come to an end, and further is white fog and void. Imagine? Then after some time the Floor again appears, and everything is likely in place: statues, pictures, but if someone was there or even some of the magicians, then that’s it. Those who disappeared together with the floor never returned.” “But Sardanapal? He also can’t retrieve them?” Tanya was astonished. For some reason it seemed to her that Sardanapal was all-powerful. Not without reason everybody said that he was the greatest magician since The Ancient One. Vanka shook his head, “Neither Sardanapal nor Medusa, no one... They say here’s some special form of magic. Not even magic but something incomprehensible altogether. They did the only thing — blocked up the Floor with this spell that not a single student could penetrate there... Nevertheless, there was the case when two idlers from third year found their way there... True, this was already ten years ago.” “And then what?” “And then nothing. No one has seen them since although there are various rumours, especially among the ghosts...” Tanya shivered. “And Slander is not afraid to go there?” “Don’t know. Maybe he knows the precise time when the Floor disappears next, and perhaps hides something there... With Slander, you understand nothing at all. Like he’s black but sometimes uses white magic. All of Tibidox knows like their own five fingers that he wanders along the basements at night. Slippery character... And what kind of gaze he has — exactly like a drill,” Vanka said, shuddering. Recalling Slander’s icy glance literally freezing her at their first meeting, Tanya could not but agree with him.
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*** In the evening when the clock hanging in the drawing room was persistently pointing to the pillow and emitting unpleasant squeaky sounds, thus shaking from the disturbance, Shurasik suddenly went out to the middle of the room and in a trembling voice asked everyone not to break up. “Oho-ho! Now it’ll be something!” Coffinia snorted. “I bet they’re reading us a threehour lecture About the benefit of washing feet before bed. Or Theory and practice of cleaning teeth in light of recent discoveries of magic medicine.” “Or arranging a dressing-down for me on the story with the boots,” added Vanka. On the pale cheeks of Shurasik appeared red spots. “Please be quiet, please all be quiet... Don’t!” he exclaimed imploringly. “I want to do nothing of the kind! I want to ask forgiveness. To ask forgiveness of all of you — white and black.” “For what? What are you up to now?” Bab-Yagun tensed up. “I hope it’s nothing to do with my vacuum?” But Shurasik did not even hear him. “I want to ask forgiveness for myself, for the fact that I am what I am... I... it hurts me that everything turns out so. I without fail will try to turn over a new leaf and no longer be such... a boring, haughty know-it-all,” making an effort, he announced. Bab-Yagun’s jaw even dropped: not too bad, to say such a thing about oneself! “And nevertheless Shurasik’s a fine fellow! I really wouldn’t be able to do this, and indeed I’m no gift either!” he whispered to Tanya. Meanwhile Shurasik extracted from somewhere a large box filled with clear red cardboard little hearts. “Here...” Shurasik said in embarrassment. “I made these as gifts. If someone considers that he or she can be my friend and takes me as I am, please take a little heart and wear it on your chest... If not, then don’t. Simply I’ll know that you don’t like me and... and... you don’t want to have anything to do with me.” With downcast eyes, he muttered some spell, and immediately the little hearts, jumping out of the box, began to fly over to everyone, one to each who was in the drawing room. Tanya attentively examined her little heart. On it with the smallest pebbles, selected with a rare skill, was traced “WF.” It was terrible even to imagine how long it took Shurasik to prepare a whole box of them! “And what’s this ‘WF’? Wacky freak? Witless fool?” Coffinia was interested, the only one, it seemed, on whom Shurasik’s speech did not produce an impression. However, it seemed that Coffinia could not be touched at all. Unless you tell her how stunning she is. “WF — ‘We be friends!’” Shurasik exclaimed almost with tears. “It means that the one, who wears this little heart of friendship, doesn’t hurt my feelings and doesn’t laugh at me! What, am I guilty that I am what I am? Why I always have little homework?” “It goes without saying that you’re not guilty,” Vanka encouraged him and was the first to pin the little badge to his soccer shirt. After this Bab-Yagun, Rita On-The-Sly, Dusya Dollova, and also all the others did the same. Tanya sighed and followed the general example. True, to wear on one’s chest a red little heart with the inscription “WF” is indeed awfully absurd. On the other hand, if you
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do not pin it on — you will inflict terrible insult on Shurasik. Just think: the wretch did not sleep for several nights: cutting out and gluing these little badges! “I’ll wear it for about two days, and then I’ll lose it the first chance,” she thought. Of all who were in the drawing room, only Coffinia and Gunya Glomov did not pin on the little hearts; however, they also did not intend to return them to Shurasik. “I, perhaps, will pin mine on Black Curtains! They’ll be extremely pleased to receive this small present!” Coffinia stated. On hearing this, Shurasik flared up from the insult. He was about to rush to Coffinia in order to take away her badge, but suddenly his eyes started to roll, and he collapsed in a faint. Coffinia twirled a finger by her temple and, shoving the little heart into her pocket, left. Gunya Glomov reached out for her. Soon the rest dispersed, including Shurasik, coming to, madly batting his eyelashes, repeating: “Where am I?” “You know,” Vanka said pensively, accompanying Tanya to her room, “I’ll not tease Shurasik anymore. I didn’t suspect that he suffers so deeply.” Chapter 11 The Magic Hair “Brought along the double bass? Great sport! I adore magic piloting! By the way, in a week our composite team has a match with the werewolves,” Bab-Yagun informed her, when, leaving for Tanya’s first magic piloting, they passed by a cyclops. The one-eyed giant was gloomily sharpening his poleaxe, once in a while distracted from his work to pick his nose. His mad eye was barely visible under the half-lowered eyelid. Bab-Yagun was dragging his vacuum, shinning with polished chrome-plated rim and a new lengthened nozzle on a pipe, and the grandson of Yagge bragged that the vacuum was super-high-speed. Coffinia also had an outstanding vacuum: small, compact, but perceived to be very powerful. Then the vacuum of Vanka Valyalkin was quite old: with a dangling cord, a pipe wound with duct tape, and a motor, which Vanka said would clonk out at the most inappropriate moment. Dusya Dollova and Verka Parroteva: one carried a violin, and the other an odd-shaped object with a mass of all sorts of sticks and projections, clearly of shaman origin. The lightest burden was Shurasik’s: over his shoulder was a long mop with propellers. Half a kilometre from the gloomy huge mass of Tibidox was a large stadium, along the edges of which were fireproof hangars with dragons. Occasionally a deep roar from one or the other hangar would hit the eardrums, and suffocating sulphuric smoke would begin to pour out of the openings. The group of children had hardly stopped in the middle of the field when approaching them limped a small lopsided fellow, high-cheeked, blind in one eye, the left leg not bending at the knee while walking. On his neck hung a gold locket with the inscription: Nightingale O. Robber. Trainer of magic piloting. “What does the ‘O’ stand for?” Tanya whispered. “Odikhmantevich...” Bab-Yagun answered in a whisper. Nightingale O. Robber sullenly looked at Tanya, and then, already with a certain respect — at her double bass: evidently, he was an expert in flying instruments. “Sardanapal told me about you. You are Grotter,” he said slowly through clenched teeth. “I’m sure you don’t know how to fly and you don’t know the rules...”
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Coffinia contemptuously giggled. Gunya Glomov began to neigh disgustingly. And even many of the whites could not keep a smile in control. Offended, Tanya wanted to say that she knew how to fly a little though indeed, she did not know the rules, but she kept quiet, deciding that Nightingale nevertheless would not believe her. Moreover, she was already used to all the blacks treating her badly. Nightingale O. Robber frowned, and all the smiles disappeared at once. “Keep quiet everyone and listen! Or does someone already consider himself a pro? Now about the rules. The rules are simple: one field, ten players and one dragon to a team, five balls: sneeze, fire-extinguisher, stun, pepper, and immobilize. Fireextinguisher ball douses the flame for the entire game — three points. Pepper makes it necessary to spit out previously swallowed players — five points. After the sneeze, the dragon opens its mouth wide, which gives the possibility to throw in new balls. Two points. The dragon temporarily understands nothing after a stun ball and it can swallow players of both teams, and even spectators. One point. And the most important ball — the fifth: immobilize. It lulls the dragon to sleep. Ten points. The team that throws the immobilize ball almost wins for sure... But this ball is the most difficult to throw since it’s the heaviest and must be thrown nearly right up to the dragon. Well and in other respects, the matter is simple. Five players on attack, three cover the dragon, and the remaining two prevent the dragon from swallowing team players... Game concludes in two cases: when all the balls are thrown or when all players are swallowed. Understand?” “Eh-eh, understand,” confirmed Tanya. “What do you understand, fool from a small alley? You mean: dragon — um! — and you’re in the belly! Together with your wart! Or what’s that you have on your nose?” Gunya Glomov shouted, baring his yellow teeth. Tanya, reddening, flicked her ring finger and neatly flung a green spark into Gunya’s mouth. Usually a spark barely burned, but the tongue is a very vulnerable place. Glomov swayed and, opening his mouth like a fish, began to bounce up and down from the pain. “A sneeze ball! Two points to the white team!” Vanka laughed. Nightingale sternly gave a cough and laughter immediately stopped. “Quiet everyone, or I’ll cast a mute spell!” he raised his voice. “In a week the decisive match between composite of Tibidox and composite of werewolves. Here, in our field. The dragons at this time of the year are preparing for hibernation and therefore more evil and more dangerous than normal.” At this moment, as if in confirmation of his words, two hangars immediately began to shake from a hoarse roar and were enveloped by black smoke. Dusya Dollova sighed, and Shurasik turned white as a sheet. Nightingale smirked sarcastically. He had terrible news in store, “And finally, one more thing. Since it’s a serious meeting, all dragons will be hungry, without fire-extinguishing muzzles and anti-swallow guards. Our ‘goal’ will be Goyaryn itself, if this name tells you anything...” Even Gunya Glomov turned grey after such tidings. “But what do you want? Anyone scared — play in the sandbox!” Nightingale O. Robber, becoming glassy eyed, shouted. “Dragonball — it’s not simply the most ancient sport in the world played by the most courageous and strongest magicians! It’s life itself! Today we’ll master dodging technique... Hey, there, bring out Mercury!” The gates of the hangar nearest to them lifted up with a terrible squeak. Nine genies with difficulty held onto the chains of a straining dragon. Its golden scales sparkled in the
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sun, and smoke escaped from its nostrils — a sure sign that the dragon was out of sorts. In size, it thrice exceeded a large horse. A whirlwind arose from the strokes of its leathery wings, and sand flew into the eyes of the children. One could read in the red hungry eyes of the dragon the desire to turn everyone into a well-fried cutlet of its own preparation. Nightingale leaned over and, reaching for a small red ball from a bag, tossed it on his hands. On the side of the ball was a clasp, which made it possible to attach it to the forearm so as not to lose the ball on turns. “Outstanding pepper charge!” Nightingale shouted. “As is known, dragons always get furious after it. Who will risk flying up very near and throw it into Mercury’s mouth? I immediately warn that it won’t like it. Then you will need time to cross the field and dive into the players’ dugout: over there at that end of the field — the red circle outlined by magic. Well?” “Is there no calmer dragon? This one is some psycho-tank: it even strikes with its tail and completely finishes one off.” Gunya Glomov asked uncertainly. From the fact that none of the children even smiled, Tanya understood that everyone agreed with him. Even Bab-Yagun’s lips paled noticeably, but his ears, on the contrary, became crimson. Evidently, he still had not yet blotted out from memory the several hours spent inside the dragon’s mouth. But even then, can such a thing be forgotten really? “Possible to pose a question? Professor Stinktopp talked about this dragon, that it brought down two American destroyers when the shielding magic over the island failed?” As always, Shurasik got in inopportunely. Bab-Yagun poked him with a fist, “Shh! It’s nauseating enough without you! You know, dragons don’t love being fired at by rockets.” Nightingale O. Robber, listening to this skirmish, smirked, “Well, you cowards! Yes, this is it, Mercury... But I was still thinking of finding among you a player for the composite team of Tibidox. After how my best forward bumped into Eyeless Horror at midnight last month, indeed a place freed up.” Tanya noticed how, with the reference of the team of Tibidox, Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin instantly shuddered and moved forward. Another second — and words would fly out of their lips, but here... here Tanya suddenly heard someone’s loud voice. “Let me!” this someone said, and when at once two-dozen eyes were set on her, Tanya understood that this voice was her own. “WHAT! You?! You’re joking, Grotter?” Nightingale pierced her with an exasperated look. Yet, a second later, the cold in his surviving pupil already changed into malice. “Certainly, I won’t dissuade you! Hey, let go of the dragon!” The genies deftly pulled the muzzle off the dragon, and then, having simultaneously unfastened the chains, they jumped away. One delayed slightly and the dragon, with a stroke of a leathery wing, knocked him down like a bowling pin. The overturned genie was still somersaulting and the dragon had already taken off and was drifting above their heads, detained only by the magic barrier preventing it from leaving the bounds of the play field. Only now, from the ground, it became properly obvious that it was enormous. Its wingspan was large and intimidating, and the long flexible tail ending with the resemblance of an arrow lashed with prodigious speed. Not without reason the nickname of the dragon was Mercury — for such an impetuous young dragon with sparkling scales there was not a better thought out nickname.
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Tanya lowered her eyes, but involuntarily followed, nevertheless, its shadow sliding along the sand. Do not be afraid. She will not perish. Nightingale will not allow this, although... Here she suddenly recalled that he was looking at her somehow strangely — in the way all the blacks would — with concealed hostility. “No need for Tanya! I instead of her!” Vanka volunteered, rushing to his vacuum. But, as if to spite him, his decrepit vacuum, instead of taking off, jumped about three metres and the pipe fell off. Falling onto the ground, Vanka injured his leg and bit his lip in order not to cry out from pain and vexation. “Valyalkin, where did you dig up this trash? It’ll not even fly as far as the dump!” Coffinia said with a sneer. “Well, Grotter? Forward! The dragon’s already in the sky!” Nightingale rushed. “Yes... I’m already going...” Tanya looked around in search of her double bass. “Don’t look at the dragon! Don’t look!” a voice said to her, and another jeered, “How will you throw the ball into its mouth with your eyes closed?” “Wait!” Bab-Yagun overtook her. “Remember: a young dragon’s flame is not so hot, but they’re much friskier... And remember, it flies along a straight line...” Suddenly BabYagun lips went numb, and, in spite of all attempts, no sound was coming out of them now. Nightingale O. Robber blew on his ring, from which a red spark recently left. “No prompting! Let her figure it out! I warned that I’d cast a mute spell!” he bellowed. On legs like cotton, Tanya made her way to the double bass. No one laughed: even Coffinia and Gunya Glomov for some reason subsided. Evidently then, what she was doing also in truth verged on madness. “Put on the fireproof ointment... And also on your hair! Smells nasty, but must be so.” Having slipped his hand into his pocket, Nightingale threw to her a flask with yellow ointment which made the eyes water. “Vampire bile! Outstanding anti-burn! But remember: if it gets onto your tongue, you yourself will become a vampire!” Vanka shouted. “I said: no prompting!” Nightingale exclaimed, also casting the mute spell on him. “Aha! So he reckoned that I’ll nevertheless take the bile on my tongue!” Tanya surmised, in a hurry rubbing herself with the foul smelling ointment. “Phew, how you reek!” Cryptova did not fail to wince. “Look, I’ll put it on your nose!” Tanya threatened, but unwillingly: she was not up to it. Here finally came the moment when it already became impossible to delay any longer. Tanya sat on the double bass and, whispering the spell, soared into the sky, holding the bow in one hand. “Oh, Uncle Herman! Oh, Pipa! How glad you would be!” she muttered and, having made several trial turns, began to fly carefully to the dragon from behind. First descending to the ground, then soaring, Mercury glided above the field, occasionally cutting into the magic barrier. Its long neck turned to the genies distracting it with colourful shawls from the ground. Thus far, the dragon did not notice Tanya. Deciding to make use of this, the girl swiftly swept over the back of Mercury and slid along its neck. The wind gusts from the dragon’s wings flung the double bass to either one or the other side, and Tanya had to balance with her whole body so that she would not lose control of the instrument. She already saw the two closely set eyes, the short snout, and the mouth with the lower lip jutting out. She perceived as her only chance that
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the dragon would not notice her for as long as possible. If she could manage to throw the ball and then abruptly race to the dugout, Mercury would not have time to singe her. “One... two...” Tanya began to count and, leaning over from the double bass, she already took aim in order to throw the ball into the dragon’s mouth, but here Mercury suddenly tossed up its snout. The small eyes blazing up with irritation were set on the double bass, and a second later, the open mouth was directed at Tanya. The girl understood that she had flown carelessly up too closely and the dragon had noticed her. At the last moment leaning to the right, Tanya made an improbable turn and, aiming the bow, she dashed to the dugout. A jet of dragon flame flashed by quite closely. The strokes of the wings increased in frequency: Mercury caught up, in flight firing its flame at her. Just a little more to the dugout remained when something flashed before Tanya’s eyes. Blinded, she moved the bow too abruptly, and the next instant, tossed up by a sliding stroke of the dragon’s wing, she flew off the double bass. The instrument flew downward with the bow, Tanya herself, capsized, fell onto the dragon’s neck and mechanically — fearing only one thing: to fall — clung to it. When a second later sight returned to her and she understood what she was sitting on, she began to yell from horror and almost let go, but considered in time that to let go of the neck would be even more dangerous than remaining on it. Here, in any case, flame could not reach her. Making turns, Mercury rushed over the field and, feeling something foreign on its neck, grew more and more furious. Intercepting with her right hand, Tanya suddenly discovered that the ball was still attached to her forearm. Here, attempting to shake her off, the dragon shook its head violently, and Tanya with a deafening screech rolled down straight to its head, grabbing hold with her hands the protrusions of scales above its eyes and embracing with her legs the upper part of Mercury’s neck. Time after time Mercury shook its head hard, but Tanya held on tightly. Desperation gave her strength and furthermore she understood soon enough that the dragon, no matter how ridiculous, could not throw her off, in any case, while it was in the air. The mouth of Mercury was tightly closed, but even were it open, Tanya nevertheless would not be able to reach it. The mouth was located much lower, but the wide nostrils ejecting sulphuric puffs were quite close. Not thinking what would result from this but wanting only to get rid of the ball interfering with her, Tanya waited until the nostrils again began to pull in air, and, having unfastened the ball, shoved the peppery round object into the dragon’s nostril. Dragon pulled it in together with air, and several seconds later a faint plop was heard: the pepper ball snapped into action. Suddenly the dragon threw its mouth open the whole width and sneezed so, as if a grenade exploded in its head. Tanya was literally swept off its snout, and, somersaulting, she tumbled onto the sand, having slowed down already near the ground on a safety spell. All the whites and blacks that were on the field ran to her, and behind them, with her double bass in his hands, the lopsided trainer of magic piloting limped angrily. Meanwhile the genies caught the deafeningly sneezing Mercury, which, from its own sneezes becoming louder all the time, was turning over and bumping into first one then the other magic barrier. But how could it even be otherwise when its entire body was shaking from the sneezes?
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“How you flew! And how you dodged! It was... was... Never saw the like!” Dusya Dollova and Verka Parroteva were gushing with enthusiasm. “You were marvellous on it! I thought it burnedt you, and when your double bass fell, I decided that’s it, you’re finished! Here Shurasik suddenly began to scream, even louder than a girl... But what scum nevertheless! I precisely saw that someone threw a red spark at you. Only I couldn’t make out who. Someone wanted very much that you turned up in the dragon’s mouth!” Vanka Valyalkin heatedly exclaimed. It seems that he and BabYagun somehow managed to remove the mute spell. “A spark?” Tanya vaguely recollected the red flash blinding her for an instant before Mercury rushed at her. Pushing Vanka aside, Bab-Yagun ran up to her. “Why did you not dodge? I tried to say: it’s quicker on a straight line, you dodge! But marvellous all the same! Never saw someone stop a dragon this way!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed. The children made room. Nightingale, short of breath, forced his way forward. He first opened then shut his mouth, obviously not finding what to say. “Well G-g-g-Grotter!” he finally puffed. “I’ve played dragonball for four hundred years and that was the first time I’ve seen a pepper ball thrown into the dragon’s nostril! Four hundred years! Though it’s not against the rules, but... Ugh! Take your double bass and march from here!” Nightingale jabbed with a finger in the direction of the locker room. Someone from the blacks started to neigh. Tanya did not even turn in order to find out who did it. She got up dejectedly and, embracing her instrument, she meandered from the field. She was certain that everything was done for. Ten steps, twenty... The load of disappointment became completely unbearable, but here the voice of Nightingale overtook her, “Hey, Grotter! Rest now, but tomorrow you’ll be at training! I’m taking you into the team!” Behind Tanya’s back someone yelled disappointingly and collapsed heavily onto the sand. Coffinia Cryptova could not stand it when someone was lucky. *** The whole evening the freshmen buzzed in the common room. They could not come to their senses, time after time reliving the events of the day. “You know how alarmed Nightingale was when your double bass began to fall! He caught it with some spell and didn’t allow it to break! He was even less shaken, in my opinion, about you than about your double bass,” said Vanka Valyalkin. “The match with the werewolves is a serious matter. Twice they have beaten Tibidox. And what a dragon the werewolves have! Horror! Dodges balls then swallows forwards like candies. Not without reason Nightingale put as ‘goal’ Goyaryn itself,” Bab-Yagun said thoughtfully. “And if you get bitten by a werewolf, you’ll indeed become a werewolf? Right?” Dusya Dollova, treating Tanya to chocolates, was interested. Dusya had a terrible sweet tooth, in contrast to Vanka, who, though eternally hungry, did not like sweets. “What, such a thing happens?” Tanya was tense. “No,” said Bab-Yagun.
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“But I read that in History of Dragonball,” Shurasik barged in. “When the werewolves like some player of a different team, they think: ‘Aha! Why not entice him to us?’ they only bite for business.” Shurasik appeared contented and pacified. To be sure: now everyone was indeed his friend! His little red hearts were pinned on the chests of almost everyone in Tibidox, with the exception perhaps of Coffinia. *** The entire week before the match Tanya was training together with the composite team, where she was the youngest. Besides her, there were four “black” and five “white” students in the team. Moreover, they did not carry out training haphazardly but with Goyaryn. It more or less recognized the other members of the team, but here it could still fire quite a flame at Tanya, although she also tried to flicker in its eyes more often than Goyaryn was accustomed to. Furthermore, based on the example of Goyaryn and Mercury, Tanya had learned that dragons could not stand it when someone flew on top or on the side of them, while a player approaching from below would not provoke such irritation in them. True, from below it would be easier to get hit by the tail, and this was even more dangerous than being swallowed. The trainer of magic piloting behaved sufficiently strangely with respect to Tanya. It seemed that Nightingale stared at her from a distance, stared hostilely but at the same time seemingly with a certain respect. He gave her the most difficult tasks at training, forcing her to fly on the double bass, even when the rest of the team was no longer training. As a result, Tanya found herself totally exhausted by evening and fell asleep over the notebooks on evil spirits studies or exercises on theoretical magic. However, she definitely would not allow herself to do that for removal of evil eye. Although Dentistikha treated her seemingly with sympathy, it did not prevent her at all from casting the same spells on Tanya as on the rest of the class. This intense rhythm of life temporarily forced Tanya to forget about the prophecy of The Ancient One, the mysterious proximity of Plague-del-Cake either dead or alive, and the mysterious appearance of Agukh in Medusa’s office. Only once in the evening a strange incident resurrected all these unpleasant moments in her memory. It happened when, returning from a late training, she strayed in the intricate corridors of Tibidox and again turned up in the Tower of Ghosts. Unexpectedly muffled voices were heard somewhere in front on the corridor. Not wanting to face the local inhabitants, Tanya in a hurry dived behind a large plaster vase and lurked there. The voices approached. Carefully looking out, Tanya saw that along the corridor, not touching the floor with his feet, went Lieutenant Rzhevskii, and next to him slowly flowed a disgusting essence with a small bald head and in a blood-splashed white shirt. The eyes looked like black holes, and Tanya surmised that this was Eyeless Horror, the ghost of the “black” part of Tibidox, about whom she had heard so much. “Did you notice nothing strange in recent days?” Eyeless Horror spoke hoarsely. “Uh-huh, I do! My jokes with the noses amuse no one! And no one fixes the knives for me! Also, when at Yagge’s I spilled a cauldron with some potion, she hurled a ladle at me! Imagine, at a ghost!” Lieutenant answered with a crazy chuckle.
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Eyeless Horror winced with annoyance. His words were already almost indiscernible and reached her in fragments. “Blockhead! He wasn’t in the caves? Now it’s clear to all that she has an ally here. He opened the way... Nameless Basement... Soon the evil spirits will finish the work, and then...” Unexpectedly Horror broke off and stared at the vase behind which Tanya hid. “Wait, I heard a rustle. Someone’s eavesdropping!” he said hoarsely and, puffed up, with which he made himself still more disgusting, began to flow to the vase. Tanya was prepared to shout the scare away spell Briskus-quickus! But here Slander Slanderych emerged from a little narrow corridor leading from the basements. Noticing him, both ghosts retreated in a cowardly manner. The balding dean of Tibidox, dressed in a dark raincoat, stopped across from the vase and suspiciously looked around. Tanya perceived that something sharp smelling was coming from him and her eyes started to water as then in the field. Afraid that he would notice her, Tanya even stopped breathing, but Slander seemed to have already noticed her because he suddenly asked, “Are you here? The ghosts didn’t frighten you?” His voice sounded affectionate. Deciding that it was senseless to hide any longer, Tanya looked out from her refuge. On seeing her, Slander Slanderych for some reason shuddered, and then began to yell already in a quite different voice, “And what are you doing here, Grotter? Well, march to your room! Your marks will be lowered according to your behaviour!” Tanya, struck by this change, pulled her head into her shoulders and whisked to the stairs. Already along the way, it suddenly came to her that Slander was behaving strangely. Very strangely. Moreover, he was definitely frightened of her. And did he even expect to meet her here at all? Shurasik was sitting in the common drawing room and managing to read quickly four dictionaries and two reference books. Furthermore, next to him was even a very thick book, on the cover of which appeared: Professor Z.A. Dullin. Additional exercises for those with little homework. “Shurasik, if a magician sprinkled or rubbed on himself something reeking amazingly, what does it mean?” Tanya asked, seizing the opportunity. Shurasik detached his sharp nose away from the textbooks and thoughtfully stared at her. “Well... first, from fire, if it’s vampire bile... Well, and finally, strong smells lure the evil spirits,” he answered. “Lure? You wanted to say ‘frighten away’?” Tanya was astonished. “I said what I wanted to say! The evil spirits adores any stink,” Shurasik was offended and, plugging his ears with his fingers, again was buried in the books. *** The werewolves arrived in the evening on the eve of the match. These were strong stocky guys, something like the adult friends of Pipa, with the only difference that their cheeks and all the hands, with the exception perhaps of the palms, were covered with silvery fur. The names of the werewolves were all in the same manner: Grush, Tush,
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Frush, Dush, and more of the same. Their captain was called Tobush. He differed from his friends with double the overall dimensions and several scars on his gloomy face. Even Gunya Glomov thought that he would not wish to meet him in human guise and especially not as a wolf. As far as the trainer was concerned, he was very abnormally strange among the werewolves. Dwarfish in built, hardly reaching the waist of his players, but very stocky and terribly quarrelsome. It seemed that the only thing he did was to shout at his players. At the same time, a black locket on his neck dangled from side to side. The werewolves spent the night in one of the guest rooms in the Tower of Ghosts. Next morning Lieutenant Rzhevskii, inclined to gossip, rushed along the entire Tibidox and swore to everyone that at night he heard wolf howls from the room they occupied. Lieutenant was so fascinated that he lost two knives and fell into a deep depression, not knowing where to find them. Vanka Valyalkin also did not sleep this night. He always woke up at midnight with an indefatigable appetite, which the monotonous cutlets and pickles of his maimed tablecloth could no longer satisfy. Then Vanka set off for the kitchen, where an acquainted poltergeist Lomunkin with pleasure threw to him hams and cakes. But that night the customary flow of the trip to the kitchen was broken. Vanka, deftly dodging the hailstorm of grocery rained down on him by the captivated poltergeist cheeping in ardour, was just roasting wieners on a frying pan when someone’s footsteps were heard in the corridor. Dropping everything as it was, Vanka reached the large copper cauldron and lurked there. After several seconds, Medusa entered the kitchen and suspiciously looked around. The poltergeist threw an onion onto her head and cowardly hid in the cabinet. “Ah, so who was making noise here... Look, quiet here!” Medusa grumbled, lowering onto a stool. Soon, carefully looking out from the cauldron, Vanka ascertained that Medusa appeared at night in the kitchen not for pies or pancakes. She was clearly waiting for someone, but whom? It became clear when Dentistikha slipped into the kitchen, on the way reading a Greek book in her hand, the pages illuminated by a light flying in front of her. “You’re already here?” Vanka heard the voice of Dentistikha. “Yes,” answered Medusa. “We need to talk. Lately strange things are taking place in our school. The evil spirits in the basement, strange voices, the theft of the sword from the world of the moronoids. Finally, the girl is already here... I think all this is connected with the prophecy. More precisely, with its last part.” “You’re talking about The guile of immortals is not possible to reckon – Even the one who cannot will commit treason?” Dentistikha asked with understanding. “Yes. The Ancient One warns: must wait for the blow from that one whom it’s not possible to suspect in any way...” “And whom do you suspect?” Dentistikha asked. Medusa lowered her voice, “Doesn’t it seem to you that Slander is behaving very strangely?” “Slander Slanderych?” Dentistikha was astonished. “You think, him?” “I think nothing,” Medusa said coldly. “I bring only facts. He sighs all the time, disappears somewhere. Twice I saw how he was talking to himself. Now and then I think: is someone in charge of his will?”
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“Nonsense! Slander was always somewhat strange! You don’t have any proof. And why, for example, not Sardanapal? Here’s indeed someone completely not possible to think of,” smiled Dentistikha. “Recently I saw how he for some reason stole into the basement along that ancient stairway which leads to the Sinister Gates.” “Nonsense!” Medusa interrupted her indignantly. “Sardanapal will not steal anywhere! He is the head of Tibidox. He doesn’t have to hide from anyone... I thought you’d give me advice, Deni, but you flog nonsense! If something happens soon to the Hair, you know what it can lead to. The Gates will be under threat, and also the whole existence of our world! She-Who-Is-No-More is dangerous for you, the blacks, not a bit less than for us, the whites.” Medusa turned energetically and left, slamming the door. “Wait! I know what he did for you, but I wanted to say nothing of the kind! Let’s discuss this!” Dentistikha shouted. Grabbing hold of whatever came near her hand, she hurriedly piled the book with the wieners hissing on the frying pan and rushed after Medusa. Vanka rushed out from the cauldron. “Well, and actions are going on here in Tibidox! They’re wandering everywhere. Swiped my sausages!” he thought dejectedly. *** The fog finally dissipated at ten in the morning. It was due partly to the sun hanging over the stadium and partly to Professor Stinktopp’s efforts, with whom Slander Slanderych, chosen as the senior referee, was whispering about something for a long time. Nightingale and the werewolf trainer Shush were appointed as arbiters. Both teams came out onto the field and formed two lines beside the referee. For the time being, the dragons were not led out: they were locked up in opposite hangars shuddering from their roars. Bab-Yagun, distressed that he was not chosen for the team, again offered himself to Sardanapal as commentator. “Taking a risk. Only see that they wouldn’t arrange the dark for you again. Not tired of walking in a cast?” The academician gave permission and ordered Medusa to bring BabYagun the magic mouthpiece. Sardanapal appeared tired. In his hands, Bab-Yagun noticed a slender little brochure The Magician Chernomor. Training and Suppression of Beards. Preparation of Subordinating Tincture for Animated Moustaches. The head of Tibidox was constantly looking into it as if searching for something, and following inattentively the match under way. “And here, dear friends, we live to see a new match between the composite team of Tibidox and the composite team of werewolves, coming to us from a distance — from the Bryansk woods. It goes without saying: the meeting is expected to be rough. The werewolves — a very strong team, solidly occupying a place in the top three. The sun vividly sparkles in the rims of their new powerful vacuums.” Envy was heard in BabYagun’s voice resounding over the field. “The Eight-hundred model Turbo, two waste bins, chrome-plated pipes, and a built-in device for vertical takeoff! And this is only the basic model, I’m even not talking about the designer gadgets and many forbidden
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talismans, which they for sure have hidden somewhere inside the vacuums. It’s not surprising that with this technology they sometimes succeed in winning...” Bab-Yagun coughed, but Yagge quickly waved her sleeve and the cough stopped. At the same time in one of the sectors, the third bench together with everyone sitting on it collapsed with a crash. “Gotten into a mess? If someone from the fans of werewolves wants to give me the evil eye again, don’t bother. I’m protected by my granny...” Bab-Yagun warned. “And here it is — my favourite composite team! Team Tibidox! Number one Zhora Zhilkin, the unsurpassed master of levitation and three-dimensional displacement, managing with strong desire alone to move into the radio studio of a popular TV show, from where they took him away to Tibidox. Unfortunately, Zhora doesn’t like vacuums, preferring a mop with propellers. ‘Thanks, at least it’s not a broom,’ my friend Vanka prompts me... Number two Damien Goryanov from the black magicians, outstanding player and a favourite student of Professor Stinktopp. There is only one ‘but.’ Even tea turns sour from his glance, in consequence of which he always eats separate from the others. Vacuum of model Storm-100U. Very fast, but, unfortunately, a hard to control machine... Number three, Katya Lotkova, a member of the group for protection of dragons. A likable Dirt vacuum, hanging with inoffensive amulets. In the world of the moronoids all the boys without exception fell in love with Katya, until finally her entire house and the asphalt next to it became used up by painted declarations. When it became clear that it couldn’t be done without magic, they brought Katya to Tibidox. The dragons simply adore her, and even not only the dragons...” Bab-Yagun’s ears reddened slightly. “Eh-eh... I was distracted... I continue... Number four, Seven-Stump-Holes, outstanding forward with surprising reaction. He got to Tibidox after he solved in six and a half minutes all the problems in the city test for mathematics, after which from boredom he transformed his teacher into an otter. Number six, Rita On-The-Sly, guitar with a trailer of the model Dinghy-Reagent. No one knows what she will do in the next minute, including on the field... Number seven — captain of the team Yura Idiotsyudov. Excellent organizer, great authority. One weakness — extremely quick-tempered. He came to Tibidox after fighting a hundred and seventeen times in a week with the entire class because he too zealously checked everyone’s changed footwear, the teacher didn’t even ask him to do it. The gift of regeneration. His scratches and abrasions heal in countable minutes. Number eight, Roma Kislyakov, the group for protection of dragons. A Burdock-Diesel wet-dry vacuum, an enormous and clumsy machine, which, however, is better not to collide with in the air — will take one down on the spot. Only, the dragons never swallow him. The reasons are obvious: indeed must take a shower sometimes... Number nine, Liza Zalizina. Not afraid of fire. In the moronoid world, she managed not to be burnt in a terrible fire, which, by the way, she set. Forward. A flying cuckoo clock. The cuckoo, by the way, pecks very painfully... Finally number ten — forward Tatiana Grotter, trainer’s recent find. A real queen of flight, best of all I’ve seen! Her ancient double bass is the work of Theophilus Grotter — exceptionally fast and manoeuvrable at the same time...” The voice of Bab-Yagun was lost in the noise of the spectators. The stadium began to drone. Thousands of people turned to Tanya. It was no longer necessary to present her: the name spoke for itself. All the werewolves at once fixed their eyes on her, and their
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trainer Shush began to whisper something rapidly to captain Tobush, who, in order to reach the trainer’s ear, had to lean almost to the ground. “Yagun had better shut up! Here’s a yapper! Now wait for malice from the werewolves. Doesn’t matter, any werewolf hits me, I’ll also bite Yagun later: he’ll chatter less next time!” Tanya thought with annoyance. She was ready to fall through the earth from the universal attention to her. Fortunately, this did not continue for long. Both hangars were opened at once at a sign from the referee, and the genies led out the dragons, which instantly switched the attention of the spectators. Huge Goyaryn, with a wingspan so wide that it was prevented from manoeuvring even inside the shielding dome, came out, barely noticing the fifty genies hanging onto it. The dragon of the werewolves was a little smaller but not a bit less dangerous. Fast, very solidly built, with a wide mouth and greenish scales, it immediately angrily stared at Goyaryn with the closely planted yellow eyes and began to roar provocatively. Goyaryn did not like this at all and breathed out flame. Now, when two large dragons showed themselves in the field together, it suddenly seemed tight and uncomfortable to Tanya. She wanted to jump on the double bass sooner and to soar upward where it was much more spacious. Moreover, she felt much more confident in the air. “In vain! Here you’ll see: we’ll crash for sure! Or, if we don’t crash, the dragon will devour us!” Tanya heard the squeaking voice of her magic ring. “Argue what you want, what if something bad happens? My gilding itches, and it’s not a good sign! Get this straight!” “Keep quiet!” “I’ll not keep quiet! I’ll croak! We’ll crash, will crash, will crash!” The ring began to shake in senile obstinacy. Fortunately, it grumbled so that it wasted its conversational magic in less than five minutes and was soon quiet. However, it succeeded in spoiling her mood. “The match will begin any minute now,” Bab-Yagun continued to rattle merrily. “Almost all the preparations are completed. Slander Slanderych, the most impartial and simultaneously most good-natured referee in the world, prepares to give the signal to the genies so that they will let go of the dragons. The arbiters have carried out five flying balls — sneeze, fire-extinguisher, stun, pepper, and immobilize. Now it’ll only depend on the players, who will seize the first initiative...” Slander Slanderych, clearly agitated by the words of Bab-Yagun about his geniality, with a sour face waved to the genies, and they at once unfastened all the chains. The dragon of the werewolves took off first, and behind it also Goyaryn. In the same moment, the twenty players broke away from the ground and dashed to the balls escaping from them. Tanya, having had time already to acquire some experience, immediately separated from the base group and soared upward — right underneath the magic dome, and from there, having seen where a stun ball nearest to her was located, rushed to it. The rumble of the werewolves’ vacuums was heard somewhere below and the werewolves’ dragon already strove for Rita On-The-Sly craftily dodging on her guitar with a trailer. “Oh, my granny mama!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed. “What a sharp start! Someone of the werewolves — Grush, Tush, or Dush, — I can’t make out more precisely, is rushing to Goyaryn with a sneeze ball. Roma Kislyakov intercepts the ball and passes to his captain Idiotsyudov... Oh, how careless! Rita On-The-Sly cut into one of the werewolves’
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defensive players. I bet on a new nozzle for the vacuum, he was left especially vulnerable. The werewolves’ dragon makes use of this and... nightmare! Rita On-The-Sly is swallowed at the very beginning of the match! We hope that nothing will happen to her, but there remain only nine players in team Tibidox... Immediately three werewolves with captain Tobush in lead break through to Goyaryn with the immobilize ball... Will they really throw it? Dangerous moment! Defence is late, but... what a blow with the tail! Well-done Goyaryn! The vacuum fell apart in the air. A werewolf is hanging by the shawl-parachute, and captain Tobush hurriedly drags him away to the dugout, where, most probably, he’ll change to the captured guitar of Rita On-The-Sly... The immobilize ball bounces off Goyaryn’s teeth, never falling into its mouth... Seven-Stump-Holes breaks away forward... Outstanding, outstanding! Tanya Grotter goes around two werewolves and passes him the stun ball. Plunk! The werewolves’ dragon swallows the ball and immediately begins to turn confusedly on the spot, shooting flame at its own defence! Slander... excuse me, Slander Slanderych... raises the tablet with one point. By the way, could also give a two, but what can be expected from such a si... Granny, don’t nudge me! I wanted to say ‘sincere referee.’ What do I see! The werewolves with their famous wedge attacks Goyaryn, literally sweeping Katya Lotkova aside. Really a ram attack again? When will they finally put an end to this rough play? Where are the arbiters looking? Katya Lotkova lands. Her vacuum is damaged. She can’t continue with the game. It seems I see tears in her eyes. Do something, Professor! Must stop the possibility of rough play at the very beginning!” Bab-Yagun leaped up from indignation and was about to turn to Sardanapal, but saw only his back. Chernomorov quickly went off somewhere, accompanied by the astonished look of Medusa. But Bab-Yagun did not have time to think where Sardanapal disappeared to. The match continued. “Attention! Dangerous moment! A werewolf forward — it seems, it’s Grush — throws a ball — I did not have time to notice which — to Goyaryn’s throat, but he also doesn’t manage to slip away! Goyaryn swallows him too. The ball explodes in its throat and the recently swallowed werewolf shoots out like a bullet. The dragon’s sneeze properly stunned him. Anyway you slice it, the goal was hammered in! The werewolves gets five points — they’re pulling ahead! But team Tibidox will not surrender! Zhora Zhilkin intercepts the fire-extinguisher ball and passes it to Tanya Grotter. Three werewolves tightly surround Tanya, and one, it seems, captain Tobush himself, switching on the jet acceleration, approaches from below. This is undoubtedly an attempt at a ram attack, but... What a dive! The werewolves didn’t even expect that such a thing is possible. Tanya tries to slip away from the trap. One of the werewolves almost cuts her off, but his locket is caught on a pin of the double bass. The chain broke and the locket falls! Incredible! Without the locket, the werewolf immediately changes into a wolf. Now it’s understood why they need the lockets. The wolf attempts to hold onto the vacuum, but the paws slide down, and it falls. Excellent punishment for the rough play! Now quite a few medics have to bustle: I’m sure in life they haven’t met another such biting flat cake!” Again a bench cracked somewhere and someone howled resentfully. “Well done, Granny! The commentator must be protected... What do I see! Tanya Grotter beats the defence, dives under the snout of the dragon, avoids the clanking teeth and — throws the ball! The spell works! Instead of flame the werewolves’ dragon now breathes out only inoffensive smoke.”
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Having thrown the ball, Tanya again soared to the very top of the magic dome and began to wait while the next ball — and they had only two left — flew up closer. She sensed this unity with the double bass, which she had never experienced before. It obeyed any movement of the bow, and even the werewolves on their vacuums no longer dared to aim for her. Having demonstrated this, Tanya could not hold back and rushed past in front of the very nose of their captain, but he, seeing already that she could not be caught, only maliciously clicked his teeth. The battle was in full swing. The benches roared. Liza Zalizina and Damien Goryanov, pursuing the immobilize ball, bumped their foreheads. Sneezing to get rid of an unpleasant sensation, the gone mad Goyaryn swallowed at once two werewolves and, the saddest, together with them the captain of team Tibidox Yura Idiotsyudov. A moment later Goyaryn negligently spit out his vacuum exactly like the husk of seeds... Seven-Stump-Holes waved his hand, attracting Tanya’s attention... Indeed: to the right flickered the immobilize ball which the werewolves were already rushing towards. Pressing her chest against the double bass, Tanya extended in front the hand with the bow and rushed forward, courageously rushing into the tiny space between the werewolves. She caught the immobilize ball which hit her palm painfully, and at the last moment dived sharply downward, getting away from pursuit. Tobush angrily yelled something at her, clearly threatening, but the girl was already fixed on the green dragon. However, when she flew up to it, it turned out that the ball was no longer necessary. The defence did not take sufficient care and both dragons — Goyaryn and the green — were grappling with each other in the air, with strokes of the wings tossing all the players accidentally finding themselves beside them. It would be folly to butt in now — Tanya would simply be crushed between the dragon bodies. “Did you see that?” Bab-Yagun overstrained himself. “What a scuffle in the air! What a stunning battle! The enraged ‘goals’ are exchanging blows with their tails, in the course go the teeth, wings... I wouldn’t want to turn up again in Goyaryn’s stomach this time, though, possibly, now it is the safest place, if, of course, the trouble-maker Idiotsyudov didn’t start a brawl with the werewolves inside. What do the arbiters decide? Where is the referee? Where, finally, are the on-duty magicians? Never before has a skirmish of the teams passed into a fight of the ‘goals’...” Suddenly Bab-Yagun broke off. The platform on which he was standing shot up abruptly. Along the ground ran a deep crack, into which both arbiters miraculously did not fall. The benches fell, many spectators fell on one another. Something began to drone underground and broke with a dry crack as if a tightly stretched thick rope was broken. The main tower of Tibidox shuddered. It seemed that even it would collapse any minute now, but the tower resisted. An indistinct male voice thrice exclaiming “Fear Chaos!” burst from the basements of Tibidox and swept across the field. Both dragons unexpectedly released each other and despondently pressed against the ground, just like frightened dogs. The match was interrupted by itself, even despite the fact that no one stopped it: the main referee Slander had disappeared somewhere not long before these strange events. The instructors whispered among themselves, jumped up from their places, and rushed to Tibidox alone or in twos. The genies in a hurry forced the dragons into the hangars. They for some reason did not resist, and even returned the swallowed players without any objection. There was a good shine under the eyes of both werewolves: it was obvious that
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Yura Idiotsyudov gave them a proper beating, getting off himself with only a torn sleeve and several scratches. No one understood anything. Dusya Dollova shouted that an earthquake had started, and Coffinia asserted that the titans had escaped. Everything was explained only when Sardanapal mounted the swaying platform. He was pale, tattered, his moustaches drooping weakly, and the beard was wound around his neck three times. The academician snatched the mike from Bab-Yagun. His voice shook, “I ask everyone to remain calm. While the match was going on, someone stole into the Nameless Basement and cut the magic Hair, freeing the voice of The Ancient One located in it, and disappeared after that in the path dug by the evil spirits! The cyclops was not able to hinder him. The end has arrived for peaceful life. I’m certain soon we’ll hear about Plague-del-Cake...” Chapter 12 Gyes, Cottus, and Briareus The next morning at practical magic Professor Stinktopp appeared extremely contented. He rocked in the hammock, dangling the slightly bent thin legs, and happily explained how to prepare a blend for invisibility from fern flowers and shark oil. When it came time for practice, nothing turned out even for Shurasik, and for Vanka Valyalkin only the head became invisible. Lieutenant Rzhevskii, seeping through the wall into the class, seeing the headless body stirring the cauldron with a spoon, howled from horror and rolled out on the empty Wheelchair, wailing that a new ghost had appeared in Tibidox. “Now! And now I vant to make note of somezing else!” Professor Stinktopp said, as always with an accent, with a flick of the finger returning Vanka’s head to being visible. “I’m certain zat all of you are disturbed by yesterday’s incident and you ask yourselff vhy someone needed to snip-snip ze magic Hair? Vhat in general is zis Hair of Ze Ancient One and how does it differ from a feazer of ze vhite crow, hoofs of a centaur, scales of a dragon, and ozer magic object? Ze Hair of Ze Ancient One is not a magic object — it is ze boundaries! Vhen Ze Ancient One founded Tibidox, he had need for borders betveen light and darkness, betveen good and evil, betveen order and chaos. You understand ze depz of his zought? I myself did not grasp its depz! He took his own hair and installed zis hair as boundaries. Vhile ze Hair vas whole, nozing zreatens! You see ze border in ze big hall vhere ze fire separates ze light and ze dark? Exactly under zat hall in ze great depz of ze Valled-up Basement ze Hair was stored! Only one gold sword could cut it, and zerefore they hid it in ze vorld of ze moronoids. Someone stole ze sword almost before Grotter’s eyes, and she flop-flop! — did nozing!” Here Professor Stinktopp poked a finger at Tanya and, gathering his wrinkled face in his fist, demonstrated how precisely she did “flop-flop.” Coffinia burst out laughing, and together with her almost all the blacks burst out laughing. Tanya did not doubt that the whole day today they would tease with her “flopflop.” “Now! And now, vhen zere is no more Hair, Tibidox does not haff on hand reliable magic protection and anyzing zat you like can happen. Now guarding us only ze Sinister Gates, zus far no one had opened zem!” Professor Stinktopp concluded his story, shooting a glance at the clock. The eye already lit up on it, reminding that the lesson of Dentistikha was to start soon. “Class ofer! You may go!” Professor Stinktopp decided.
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His hammock was pulled to the ceiling, where on the floor above Professor Stinktopp had his office, which he preferred to pass through a hatch in the floor to get to. “‘Anyzing zat you like can happen!’” Bab-Yagun mimicked. “Old felt boot! Pity that he didn’t reach the titans that time! Granny said that he was already in the basement attacking with his fists a cyclops who accidentally came across him. The cyclops first decided that it was a evil spirit and almost beat him up, but then recognized him, caught him, wrapped him up in a hanky, and brought him to magic station where my granny quickly cured him of surplus of courage.” Tanya snorted, imagining how absurdly a combative Professor Stinktopp would look, moving about in the not very clean hanky of the cyclops. Continuing to discuss the news, the friends left for removal of evil eye. To their surprise, Medusa Gorgonova instead of Dentistikha appeared in class. She looked gloomy and concerned. “Don’t be surprised! I’m taking her place today,” she said dryly. “Dentistikha is helping Slander Slanderych install additional bolts on the Sinister Gates. After what happened yesterday, it seems entirely essential. The cyclopes assert that all lower levels of Tibidox are literally filled with evil spirits. True, for the time being we’ve managed to hold them in check... I’m sure now you’ll treat my subject much more seriously.” “Ah! But if the Sinister Gates are opened!” Verka Parroteva exclaimed in panic. “It’s impossible,” Medusa coldly broke her off. “And now all get out your notebooks!” Tanya unnoticeably nudged Vanka Valyalkin, sitting next to her, with an elbow. “Listen, but Slander and Dentistikha are indeed ‘black’? Really possible to entrust them to cast spells and place bolts? What if they play on the side of Plague-Del-Cake?” she whispered. Vanka pressed his head into his shoulders and fearfully glanced up. Long ago Tanya had noticed that all magicians avoided uttering the name “Plague-Del-Cake” but said “She-Who-Is-No-More.” It is also understandable: who wants something bad to happen to you in the next minute? “Black magicians fear Her not a bit less than we do,” whispered Vanka. “She-Who-IsNo-More is for Chaos. Do you know what she wanted? To free all ancient dark gods imprisoned in Tibidox, to release the spirits of destruction and to absorb their strength into herself. Indeed even she herself was once under Tibidox, but contrived to escape, long ago already, when the shielding magic failed. And where Chaos is, there is already no place for good and evil, there is already nothing, no boundaries. And it’s understandable why Sardanapal allows the ‘black’ to cast the spells: it turns out better with them. The strong spells, they are almost all black magic...” “Silence! You’ll have the recess to talk!” Medusa said sternly. She dryly clicked her fingers, and her assistants brought into the class a wooden box in which something was stirring indignantly. A dark-blue cover was thrown on the box. “Attention, class! The theme of our lesson today: kikimora and shishiga. First about the shishiga. They are known to moronoids from the earliest times and a lot of blood was harmed by them... Glomov, I wouldn’t advise you to pluck at the cover, not having learned the necessary protection spells! Have you forgotten what happened to you last year? If you again grow a second nose on your forehead, I’ll not spend anymore time on it! Let’s continue...” After the bell when all began to disperse, Medusa called Tanya to herself.
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“There is an unpleasant piece of news,” she said. “Only one? In my opinion there are lots of them,” Tanya carefully objected. Medusa smiled slightly. “I didn’t begin to talk about this to the rest in order not to cause panic, but I’ll tell you since I’m sure that you know how to guard secrets... This morning I discovered that the swamp bogey had escaped from my office. It couldn’t run out by itself, someone opened its cage and let it go. All this can mean only one thing — somewhere here in Tibidox, She-Who-Is-No-More has an ally. Someone who wants very much that she would again assume power. It’s he who cut the Hair and let out the swamp bogey... You be careful!” Tanya nodded. She already set off toward the door when she again heard the voice of Medusa: “The ancient promise of Chaos will realize, And She-Who-Is-No-More from the coffin will arise...” Tanya turned around sharply. Now she was convinced that Medusa knew that she read the prophecy. But how? Did the genie really tell? “Take care of yourself!” softly, entirely not in the manner that she conducted classes, Medusa said. “I knew your father well and was convinced that in his last minutes he did everything in order to protect you, and to protect for a long time. For this very reason, She-Who-Is-No-More had retreated for ten whole years. Even now, I know her strength is far from being as strong as before. Only don’t lose what Leopold gave you.” Medusa pronounced the last words especially distinctly. Tanya tensed up, understanding that with these words Medusa wanted to communicate to her something important. Was she talking about the disgusting old woman who whispered to Uncle Herman in his dream being the one who attempted to take Agukh away from her place? “But what did he give me? What?” she asked. “You don’t know?” Medusa uttered with some special expression. “No. And you? Do you know?” Medusa squinted. “I surmise what it can be, but I don’t know what it can look like,” she said and, not adding any more, left the classroom, into which Bab-Yagun just looked, giving Tanya mysterious signs. *** Jumping out into the corridor, Tanya discovered that Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin were very disturbed by something. “You know what Shurasik just told us? He was in Professor Stinktopp’s office — he wanted to ask whether he could do seven exercises instead of one. And you know what he saw in Stinktopp’s office? An enormous carrion vulture with a naked neck! Stinktopp called it Lifeless Griffin! When Shurasik saw it, he almost fainted. You know his blackouts. After these little hearts he was so deeply moved that he fainted three times in one day...”
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They had hardly mentioned the bird when Tanya immediately recalled the fright, which, having suddenly attacked her in the air, attempted to throw her off the double bass. And what if it was also Lifeless Griffin? If it is living in Stinktopp’s, it means, it also received that order from him. In this case, there is no doubt: Stinktopp is the accomplice of Plague-del-Cake. “A strange one!” Vanka continued to discuss. “Stinktopp! We totally forgot about him! Indeed, in that conversation I overheard, Medusa and Dentistikha mentioned only Slander and... Sardanapal. But you know, Stinktopp can also be the accomplice of She-Who-IsNo-More!” “Listen, was he at the match?” Tanya asked. “Ne-a, he wasn’t. I know exactly. His place was empty, later Glomov even made his way to it so that he could see better,” stated Vanka Valyalkin. Bab-Yagun and Tanya exchanged glances significantly. “And indeed the office of Stinktopp is very near the office of Medusa. Along the same corridor,” Bab-Yagun dropped seemingly by chance. He said nothing more, but it was also very clear what he had in mind. It would be no trouble at all for Stinktopp to penetrate into the office of Medusa when she was busy and released his own henchman Agukh. “Yes, Stinktopp is very suspicious. And besides, he’s from the ‘black.’ Today he said with such pleasure that Tibidox doesn’t have reliable magic protection anymore. I think if we make our way into his office at night, we would learn a lot,” said Vanka. “So what’s the hitch? We’ll visit Stinktopp, or we can’t do it? But consider, if they catch us, there will be trouble for sure. They can chase us out of ‘white’ and kick us like a soccer ball to the blacks, or deprive us of magic abilities and banish us from Tibidox altogether. Well, yellow soccer shirt?” Bab-Yagun asked, looking provocatively at Vanka. “Good! We’ll meet at one in the morning in the living room and go to Stinktopp. But until then, don’t let me see you, granny’s grandson,” said Vanka and, turning, left — slender and decisive, in his patched and re-patched soccer shirt, which he nevertheless persistently preferred to all local robes. Interesting, why? Returning to her room, Tanya met Tararakh half way there. The pithecanthropus who taught veterinary magic was walking with a small cage in which sat a homely moulting squirrel holding a golden nut in its paws. “Woe...” Tararakh said. “Broke its tooth. Gnaws on anything. And indeed a poet even wrote about it… so merry, how like his moor...” “Pushkin,” prompted Tanya. “Hear-hear... The same,” Tararakh was pleased. “You didn’t know him personally? By the way, he also came to Tibidox as our guest. No, not as a student, but simply... Sardanapal flew on the carpet for him. Usually they don’t invite moronoids here, but likely made an exception for him... Afterwards, it seems, he composed something about Buyan there...” From time to time Tararakh looked at Tanya’s face and energetically rubbed his forehead with his hand. “Hey, why such a sour look? Spill!” Tanya, not able to control herself, described to him the bird with the naked neck in the office of Stinktopp and that it attacked her, attempting to throw her off the double bass.

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“No, Stinktopp can’t be the traitor! You rid this from your head immediately! I’ve known him indeed awfully long. And Sardanapal treats him normally...” Tararakh stated categorically. “Well, and that Lifeless Griffin at his place, this has yet to be proven.” The squirrel began to rush about in the cage. Tararakh pushed a thick finger between the bars and stroke it encouragingly. “What’s with it? Always so calm. It seems the tooth hurts... Well, I’m going...” And the pithecanthropus left, cuddling the cage to himself. “He doesn’t believe that Lifeless Griffin is in Stinktopp’s... Well fine, but what bird did Shurasik see then? No, must have a look in Stinktopp’s,” decided Tanya. Entering her own room, she discovered that Coffinia, according to her habit, was lying on the bed. Her mouth was open, and chocolates, gliding in the air, were bouncing directly from the window. Coffinia clearly stole them from someone by means of telekinesis. She, by the way, also fell into the “black” department of Tibidox for doing the same thing. True, they called Coffinia by a different name in the world of the moronoids, and she pinched not candies but watches and wallets in the metro, though with the help of the same trick. When Tanya entered, one of the chocolates suddenly changed direction and tried to go for her forehead, but, trained by dragonball, Tanya deftly caught it and shoved it into her own mouth. “Thanks, Coffinia! Maybe you’ll slip another one?” Tanya mockingly asked. Cryptova did not change position but was clearly agitated. Having made her way to her bed, Tanya discovered that although the double bass case was standing where it was before, it had been moved to the right approximately the distance of a matchbox. Tanya had a practised eye: not for nothing had she lived for a long time beside Pipa. Tanya opened the case, and her guess was confirmed: someone had been searching her things. It was obvious, although the one who did it tried to hide this as best he could. But some things nevertheless casually changed places. “Answer me! Did you rummage in my things?” Tanya asked sternly, leaning over Coffinia. “Ne-a, there’s nothing for me. I don’t gather rubbish,” Cryptova declared, wiping her chocolate covered lips with the pillow. “If not you, then who? You yourself know that no one besides us could get into the room. Here is the boundary spell!” Tanya did not believe her. Coffinia burst out laughing, “And what they only teach you in your white department! Boundary spell — it’s all in a teapot! It suffices to say Fogus sneakus and go in the door back first. The spell will decide that you’re a ghost and let you pass. Decent spells don’t get mixed up with ghosts. There’s only one trick: when you leave afterwards, on no account touch the handle.” “So it’s definitely not you?” “Bug off!” Cryptova snapped. Tanya sighed. Even if Coffinia had done this, it would be impossible to prove anything now. Interesting, why are they searching her things so persistently? Is it that object, which Medusa talked about with such mystery? Meanwhile Coffinia opened her own wardrobe and took out a transparent box. A multicoloured fog was gliding inside the box and a large pink ear was revolving above the box on a short pin.
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“What’s that?” Tanya asked suspiciously. Her roommate stared at her as at a fool. “It’s a listener,” she indulgently explained. “It eavesdrops on what’s happening in the world of the moronoids and informs me, my dear... In essence this gadget, of course, catches signals.” Coffinia flicked on the large ear with a finger, and the ear began to revolve twice as fast. Simultaneously from the box began to pour out a voice, which Tanya recognized to be the voice of a popular announcer, “Now heading the Scandals of the Week. Wellknown businessman and politician Herman Durnev completed a very extravagant act. After foregoing the fight on the last stage of the elections, he established the Society of Fans of Rabbit Breeding and took in ninety-two rabbits in his own apartment on Rublev Road. On the screen, you see how the rabbits, which Herman Nikitich on principle does not keep in cages, run around the apartment and even drive the whimpering dachshund under the sofa... And here is one more shot: Herman Nikitich drinking water out of one basin with the rabbits while his daughter Penelope puts her feet onto the table in order that the rabbits won’t chew on her slippers...” Tanya even ran up to the spot, she so wanted to see this, but, alas, she could only hear sound. The listener did not catch images. “I’m awfully happy. Earlier I was evil and loved no one, but now I’m good: all the wabbits are my fwiends! Each day we go for a walk in the glade! I click my tongue like this: ‘juk-juk,’ and they quickly wun after me! I’m their big boss wabbit!” Tanya heard Uncle Herman’s voice sprinkled with happiness and contentment interrupted by the characteristic crunch: obviously, Uncle Herman was gnawing on a head of cabbage. The crunch, in turn, was drowned out by something similar to a lion’s roar — it was Aunt Ninel sobbing. “I would grind these rabbits up in the mixer! They tore off all my wallpaper! They don’t like Pipa and me, but walk with their tails behind them like they’re cranky! And look into the bathtub: there they have a bath!” she began to wail, apparently snatching away the correspondent’s microphone. “My husband went crazy after the disappearance of our foster daughter Tanya Grotter! I was attached to her like a mother... We blew dust off her, and this thankless trash ran off! The political competitors of my husband instigated her!” “And my G.P. doesn’t help!” Pipa sobbed. “I asked him to smash all the rabbits with his broom! Ah, don’t slobber on my foot, ugly big-ears!” Interrupting the broadcast at the most interesting place, Coffinia stopped the revolving ear and shoved the listener into the wardrobe. “And you, it turns out, are thankless trash! Did they blow the dust off you? Geez, take note of yourself!” Coffinia said with a sneer. But Tanya almost did not hear her. She was thinking about something else: it seems, Uncle Herman is finally happy. How important it is nevertheless — to find one’s true destiny! And if he needs money, he can easily be installed in the circus: the rabbits will do anything for him and without any training. The show can be called, for example, The Big Boss Wabbit. ***

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Coffinia finally deigned to fall asleep close to midnight. Waiting until she had fallen asleep, Tanya carefully got up. Black Curtains were about to reach out for her, but, whispering the shielding spell, the girl released a green spark to them and left the room. Soon Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin appeared in the drawing room. The grandson of Yagge had pulled on himself an odd overall of the most villainous cut with such a hood that it was possible to hide in it not only his head with full round cheeks and hair sticking up like a hedgehog, but if necessary even a knightly helmet with a plume. As far as Vanka was concerned, he did not change clothes at all, remaining all the time in the same customary soccer shirt. On the way, Valyalkin finished chewing a cutlet — the only thing, not counting the pickles, that his maimed magic tablecloth knew how to prepare. Having gone down the stairs, they slipped past the strip of fire in the Hall of Two Elements. Now, when the Hair had been cut, light and dark were not divided as clearly as before: the fire seemingly faded and weakened in many places. Where this happened, obscure dark shadows tried to force their way from the dark side. Bats bumped against the invisible barrier with a sharp squeak, and along the corners ominous yellow eyes twinkled, fading in one place but immediately flaring up in another. The beaming firebirds on the bright side flapped their wings and fluffed up their tails in agitation, splashing rainbow sparks in different directions. Sensitively listening to every rustle, the friends reached the teacher’s floor, where their way was barred by the ghost, suddenly floating out of the wall, of a moaning lady in a hat with roses. “Excellent evening, my dears. How’s your health?” she asked hysterically, wringing her hands. Tanya wanted to answer, but Bab-Yagun pulled her by the hand, “Shh! Don’t take it into your head to talk to her! It’s the Unhealed Lady! If you say a word to her, she will pester you the whole night!” “Why do you keep quiet? I asked: how’s your health? Is it really so hard to answer?” Lady asked again reproachfully. Her pale, half-transparent face expressed noble bewilderment. Tanya became uncomfortable, and, despite the warning of Bab-Yagun, growled: “Normal.” In the same moment, Lady’s face changed. It swelled up to the dimensions of a good watermelon, the mouth became as wide as the slot of a mailbox, and words fell from her as from a machine gun, “Normal? And you’re not ashamed! Oh, and here, you know... my health is terrible... Today my blood pressure is jumping the entire day, and after dinner the legs began to go numb. So, I think, it’s not good. Someone must necessarily die in the near future. You’ll see! When my legs become numb, without fail someone dies. For the time being do you want to look at my throat? I’m sure you’ll be deeply affected, how red it...” “Run!” Vanka began to yell, and they broke off along the corridor. The Unhealed Lady, not lagging behind, flew right behind and mournfully complained about her ailments, entreating them first to feel her pulse, then to take a look at how limp her tongue was. Finally, already almost at the very office of Professor Stinktopp, Unhealed Lady detached herself and was drawn into the wall, on farewell calling them hard-hearted fools. “Why did you start talking to her?” Bab-Yagun attacked Tanya. “I told you in Russian: don’t answer her!”
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“I thought she would be offended!” Tanya was embarrassed. Bab-Yagun again began to puff up, clearly intending to have his say, but Vanka Valyalkin decisively broke him off, “Okay, Yagun, stopped wailing! Must quickly look into Stinktopp’s and get away from here while Unhealed Lady before brought in anyone. And in general, even Lady is still not the worst choice. She doesn’t completely remember faces, and moreover she has kasha in her head... If we bumped into the Lieutenant, it would be five times worse.” To get into Stinktopp’s office turned out to be not quite simple. Although the door was not locked, the handle with staggering adroitness slipped away from the hands, and the door itself, as if from laughter, was shaking with small trembling. “What a beastly trick! Here’s the shielding spell, on top of that how powerful! Not for us to slip in there!” Bab-Yagun hissed in disappointment. “Wait, let me!” Tanya pushed him aside and, whispering Fogus sneakus, pushed the door with her back. A spark flew out from her ring, and the next minute she understood that she was already inside. “A nightmare! The spark was red! I implemented a spell of black magic! That’s it! I’m going to faint!” the ring exclaimed in horror. “You want to faint, so faint! Only keep quiet!” Tanya snapped. “Don’t you hurry me! See what kind of hasty person has turned up! When I want, then I’ll faint!” the ring declared resentfully and in truth either fainted or looked to be so. Professor Stinktopp’s office was dark and gloomy without a single window. It resembled much more an ordinary pantry. In the stale air spread a musty smell. To the right was a cabinet with journals of progress of the “black” department, in which Stinktopp fulfilled the functions of a dean. Despite the fact that the cabinet was locked by several strong spells, the journals in it were jumping, and, the ink spots, oozing between pages, floated outside, forming words in the air. Behaviour for the quarter: Rita On-The-Sly. A lot of harm, not enough malice! Damien Goryanov. Excellent vile nature! Roma Kislyakov. Insufficient vindictiveness! Seven-Stump-Holes. Pugnacious, but lies do not gush out! Additional exercises on foul acts. Coffinia Cryptova. Remarkable grimness, wonderful falsity! Smart girl! Tanya attentively looked over all the corners in search of the griffin, but the bird with a naked neck was nowhere. True, behind the cabinet she discovered a perch, under which were scattered several dark feathers smeared with sickeningly reeking droppings. Not daring to approach the table around which powerful black magic spells crackled with small little sparks, Tanya wanted to slip carefully from the office, but here an enormous mirror curtained by a greenish cover caught her eye. The girl approached and wanted to raise it, but she did not have time. The cover slid down by itself. Simultaneously on the right and left flared up long yellow candles. Tanya glanced into the mirror, expecting to see her own reflection there, but the lustreless surface of the mirror reflected nothing. It remained empty like the smoothness of a lake at night. Only a vague white fog swirled occasionally in the depth. Tanya already wanted to go away, but here several flames flared up simultaneously from inside the mirror. Someone was approaching from the gloom; cracked grey walls emerged. Not those that
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were in the office of Stinktopp, but entirely different ones — confining, damp, obviously located somewhere very deep underground, even not in the basements of Tibidox. Resonant steps resounded a long way off along empty corridors. Tanya saw a long procession of evil spirits. The small hairy creatures were carrying a massive rock coffin in which lay a disgusting old woman with a bony face. Under the weight of the coffin, the evil spirits could make only several dozen steps, then fell without strength and died as semi-dark formless lumps, but immediately new porters came in their stead and persistently dragged it further. Tanya’s heart was squeezed. The birthmark on the tip of her nose — the trace of an old bite — started to throb with a fiery pain. It seemed to the girl that it first shrunk to the dimensions of a grain, then became large and swollen like a bean. Unexpectedly the procession stopped. The evil spirits launched the coffin at Tanya. The disgusting old woman sat up in the coffin, and her gaze, burning with hatred, was rested directly on the girl’s face. Tanya sensed that she could not even turn away. Without blinking, she watched as the old woman took from the coffin a large hourglass, within which black sand was running down in a thin stream. Already quite a little bit of sand was left, less than half. “Soon!” the old woman said, smiling with dead lips. “Wait for me, Baby Grotter! Soon I’ll get that which belongs to me!” The procession slowly and grandly went solemnly past the mirror and was hidden in a distant corridor. The candles in the hands of the evil spirits faded out, and, where the coffin was, letters woven from bluish fire flared up: Give me what you’re hiding! When the letters melted away, Tanya sensed that she could move again. Without throwing the cover over the mirror, she darted to the door and, forgetting about Coffinia’s warning, grabbed the handle. The door opened, but a deafening ringing immediately spread along the entire teachers’ floor. In the air hung hundreds of red exclamation marks, which, bending down, formed into the words: Alert! Disturbance of magic protection in Professor Stinktopp’s office! There was no doubt that this ringing was heard in the farthest ends of Tibidox and that soon all the instructors would gather here. Tanya jumped out into the corridor. Bab-Yagun was somehow staring at her strangely and even suspiciously. “You know what spark came out of your ring when you went in: red! You used a black magic spell!” he shouted. His voice was lost in the howling of sirens. “What matters what she used? Run!” Gripping Tanya by the sleeve, Vanka Valyalkin pulled her to the stairs leading into the Hall of Two Elements. But they were too late. From that direction was already heard the footfall of feet and the voice, full of zeal, of Slander Slanderych, “Quick, call the cyclopes! Whoever it was, they’re not leaving! I’ll fix them! I’ll put on them such a subordination spell that they’ll even wipe their nose on command to the end of their life!” The way was cut off. Now they, even with the best wishes in the world, could not return to their bedrooms. The only possible way of retreat was the far stairs leading to the basements of Tibidox. The friends stopped in confusion. They did not know which was better or, more precisely, worse: to fall into the hands of the enraged Slander, for long dreaming in opposition to Sardanapal to catch red-handed someone from the white, or to risk and poke their noses into the basements, the entrance into which was strictly forbidden.
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But the incensed Slander, sneezing from malice, was already very near, and his proximity forced them to take the desperate step. “Well, what’s with you?” Tanya shouted and was the first to rush to the steps of the basement stairs. They had hardly gone down ten flights when gloom closed in from all sides. The voice of Slander Slanderych, calling onto their heads misfortunes of every kind, melted far away. Finally, they heard how he, running as far as the stairs, shouted down, “Hey, whoever you might be, you can no longer get back up! I’ll put on the stairs a triple identify spell that Sardanapal himself won’t be able to remove! If you poke your nose out, you’ll immediately be sorry! Let the evil spirits devour you or the cyclopes will catch you!” They continued to go downward in the desperate darkness until finally the stairs ended. Tanya had never penetrated so deeply under Tibidox. Diverging in different directions were dozens of straight corridors illuminated only by torches flaring up on their approach and immediately growing dim. “You heard what Slander said? This way has been cut off. We must find the other staircase, which leads to the Big Tower. I indeed know it must be somewhere... It seems, over there,” Bab-Yagun said. He decisively directed his steps along one of the corridors, but on their path suddenly grew a crackling obstacle from which sizzling red sparks fell in all directions. Vanka Valyalkin as an experiment thrust a torch, which he removed from the wall, through it, but something sparkled in that same moment, and the part of the torch that had gotten into contact with the obstacle turned into ashes. “May Slander crack with his own spells! We can’t pass here!” Bab-Yagun was distressed. “It’s necessary to dodge along the labyrinths, to search whether it’s possible to bypass somewhere.” The way along the labyrinth could not end with anything good. This was clear from the very beginning, but Tanya held her tongue, in any case, until they finally understood that they were lost. All the corridors were absolutely similar, and in the offshoots, which could lead to the necessary stairs, magic obstacles compulsorily appeared in their path. Likely, Slander and Dentistikha did a first-rate job. In the end, finally realizing that they were lost, Tanya, and behind her also Vanka and Bab-Yagun, stopped and they began to hold council. “Certainly, we can utter the calling spell and then they’ll find us, but I just don’t want to tell him anything... I hate to have to wipe my nose on command, and Slander will precisely subject us to subordination, if he reaches us first,” said Vanka Valyalkin. “And on the whole, the basements here are strange: suspiciously quiet.” “Uh-huh,” agreed Tanya. “We were told that the place is full of evil spirits, but for some reason I don’t see any at all.” “Shh! They see us,” Bab-Yagun said in a strained manner, suddenly gripping Tanya by the hand and pointing at something behind her back. Tanya turned around. From the nearest dark corridor, eyes burning with hatred were looking at them. “Lightis!” Vanka Valyalkin shouted and, releasing a spark from his ring, illuminated the corridor.

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Tanya made out the rigid fur and familiar yellow horns. Agukh! In his hands, the swamp bogey was holding a short tube into which he hurriedly put a needle with a dark drop at the end. “You di-e! You di-e! In hor-ri-ble tor-ment!” he hissed. “Careful!” Tanya shouted, abruptly darting to the side. Immediately the needle struck the stone where her face had been and broke. Agukh, muttering curses, was already hurriedly charging the tube with a new needle. “Slopis-galoshis-idiotis!” Tanya exclaimed in a hurry. Here is when the lessons of Medusa and the exhausting cramming prove useful! Not without reason Medusa said that a real magician must not simply know a spell but to perfect it till automatic. Dropping the tube, the swamp bogey collapsed full-length, and then jumped up and quickly dashed off somewhere into the interlacing dark corridors. “Quick! He’ll lead us out! Stop!” Bab-Yagun shouted and rushed after Agukh. The frightened creature, leaping on the run and clicking with his curved legs, deftly dodged along the labyrinth, choosing at times the most improbable holes. Running this way as far as the magic barrier, he did not rush up to it, which threatened instantaneous death, but abruptly darted straight to the wall and, passing through it, disappeared. This was more striking as swamp bogeys did not possess the ability to pass through solid objects. The speeding Bab-Yagun, understanding that he would not manage to stop, extended his hands in front, hoping at least to somehow soften the impact, but there was none whatsoever. A second, and he found himself on that side of the wall in a short corridor, which ended in a large hall from where wafted someone’s laughter and the slapping of cards. Agukh disappeared somewhere, only Bab-Yagun did not need him any more. He carefully turned and saw, where he recently passed through, a semicircular small arch seemingly covered by a golden curtain. Immediately behind the arch stood Vanka Valyalkin and Tanya who, definitely not seeing him, were looking around. Bab-Yagun smiled. He already grasped that the golden arch was a concealed passage, which they would never have discovered if not for the bolting bogey, knowing very well all the trapdoors here. Not denying himself the pleasure, Bab-Yagun pushed a hand through the arch and suddenly gripped Vanka by the shoulder. Vanka tensely wheezed from horror when someone’s hand passing through the continuous wall seized him by the collar, and he stopped struggling to break loose only when from the wall leaned out yet the head of his friend. “Quiet!” Bab-Yagun whispered. “Make your way to me!” “Through the wall? I’m not a ghost, you know!” Tanya was indignant, suspiciously examining the fat-cheeked head of her friend and his snub nose with holes as nostrils all sticking out from stones. “And what am I, a ghost? It’s some magic!” Bab-Yagun was angry. First Tanya and then Vanka passed through the wall and, stealing along the corridor, they carefully put their heads out. They were standing at an entrance to a large hall with a sooty arched ceiling. The entire distant wall was occupied by enormous copper gates with handles in the form of lion heads holding a ring in their teeth. Not far from the gates in front of a burning bonfire sat the hero-bouncers Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya and they were playing self-shuffling cards. Usynya just lost, and the cards, bobbing up and down, beat him on the nose under the laughter of his contented
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brothers. Meanwhile an entire bull threaded on a spit was roasting over the bonfire. Occasionally from the wide side gallery cyclopes showed up marching with poleaxes and bludgeons and, hungry saliva flowing out, threw greedy glances at the bull. Then one of the hero-bouncers would get up and threaten the cyclopes with a huge fist the size of a good hammer. After this international gesture, even the somewhat dull cyclopes started to understand that the heroes were not inclined to share dinner with them. It was known to Tanya, like to the cyclopes, that it was better not to get mixed up with Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya without any great need, and she hid her head in a hurry. Bab-Yagun and Vanka did the same. “Did you see?” Vanka whispered. “They have little hearts on their chests! Shurasik with his ‘friends’ badges reached here! Here’s a sharp lad! Interesting, how did he manage to do so without them flattening him? Probably he learned all their absurd passwords and replies.” “And what are they doing here in the basement?” Tanya asked. “Really incomprehensible?” Bab-Yagun was astonished. “You saw what they sit near. Guarding the Sinister Gates!” He had hardly uttered “Sinister Gates” when a chill ran down Tanya’s back, and she stared with new eyes already at the lions with the rings in their teeth and at the heavy copper panels. The gates about as high as three men were locked with a huge bolt the size of the trunk of an oak. At this moment, the gates suddenly began to shake so that even the walls of the basement began to tremble. Then without any preheating the copper became red-hot, the Gates were pressed in by a powerful force, and from the reverse side distinctly printed in molten copper was a terrible face — no nose, eyeless, with only an open mouth. Simultaneously thousands of furious voices from that side began to howl, to moan. Chaos, cloistered in the underground jail, once again tried to break out. “Well-well! Quiet there! Don’t indulge!” without turning around, Usynya bellowed. Evidently, the brother-heroes long ago got used to the uproar of heathen gods and the tricks of the spirits of Chaos howling and beating against the magic barrier. “There, the second stairs into the Big Tower! Only how will we rush over there? These blockheads will immediately notice us!” Bab-Yagun poked his finger at the crumbled ancient steps. They began there on the floor where Dubynya was yawning, handing out cards. Vanka smiled. What a good smile this young fellow has! Tanya literally felt how everything warmed up inside her. “There’s a trick! I do this trick with Idiotsyudov in order to break his habit of rushing with his fists every five minutes,” he said quietly. “When I finish counting to three, close your eyes tight and don’t open them until I let you! One... two...” “Oh, my granny mama!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed, covering his eyes with his hands. Tanya closed her eyes. She heard with closed eyes how Vanka said “three” then something cracked loudly and flared up brightly — it was even noticeable through closed eyelids. “I see nothing!” suddenly Usynya began to bawl. “And now run! We only have all of a minute,” Vanka whispered. Opening her eyes, Tanya saw Usynya, Dubynya, and Gorynya, leaping up, rubbing their eyes with their fists, and waning, pinkish smoke rising up above the bonfire. Not waiting until the hero-bouncers could see again, the children swiftly ran between them
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and rushed upstairs. Soon cries and dull sounds of blows were heard from below. It was likely that the cyclopes tried to drag away the brothers’ dinner, and the hero-bouncers, regaining vision, comprehensibly made it clear why it should not be done. “How did you manage it?” Tanya was enraptured, understanding that until Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya came to an understanding with the cyclopes, there would be no pursuit after them. “Simple. Root of sundew, a piece of amber, and several sphinx wool strands! Works without a hitch if we throw this into a bonfire,” explained Vanka Valyalkin. “Again showing off? From where do you get sphinx fur? It allows no one to approach it!” Bab-Yagun asked; he could not stand it when Vanka surpassed him in something. “It’s you it would not allow to approach because it doesn’t like a hotshot. Who removed its splinter?” Valyalkin answered. Bab-Yagun’s ears turned crimson from anger. The stairs with the crumbled steps along which they went up was cut in the thick granite. It looked so old that it was completely obvious that the stairs was here even when there was no Tibidox or when it only began to be constructed. While Tanya was calculating how many millennia for it, the magic ring unexpectedly hopped off her finger and began to jump downward. “Stop please! I dropped my ring!” Tanya shouted, dashing after it. Slipping about ten steps, the ring froze and, suddenly hanging in the air, it released a spark. Tanya leaned over in haste, hurrying to lift it, but here a heavy plate suddenly turned under her feet. Belatedly she noticed a greenish glow above the plate! Again magic! Unsuccessfully grabbing at the air with her hands, Tanya tumbled downward and, gaining speed, dashed into the void, feverishly trying in flight to put on the ring, which she was squeezing in her fist, and to shout Oyoyoys smackis thumpis. For several long seconds she flew in a narrow tunnel, until suddenly she realized that the drop had already ended. Someone caught her in mid air, and the following instant, Tanya understood that she was lying on an enormous calloused palm, and above her hung a monstrous size bearded head. “Mama! I got to the titans! Must urgently faint!” Tanya said to herself, but for some reason she did not faint. How annoying! Looking around, she understood that she was in a tight cave cut out of solid rock, in which three titans were standing shoulder to shoulder — Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes. One hundred arms, fifty heads with matted hair growing for many millennia, the titans were so enormous that the hero-bouncers, if they turned up beside the titans now, would look like one-year-old children in comparison. It seemed that the narrow cave was holding such power with difficulty. The eyes of the titans, sharp-sighted, accustomed to the darkness, examined Tanya narrowly. And then the titan holding her, the oldest of the three, suddenly stretched out to her a finger, thick as a telephone pole. Tanya shielded herself with her arms, ready to be crushed by them. The titan merrily laughed and, having unskilfully stroked her hair, removed the finger. “Wh-o a-re y-ou? I am Briareus, th-is is Cot-tus and Gy-es,” with enormous labour delivering human sounds, he said. “Tanya... Tanya Grotter... I accidentally fell down here, don’t kill me!” “Tan-ya GRO...” all fifty throats of Briareus shouted loudly and deafeningly.
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Tanya staggered, hardly remaining on her feet from the terrible rumble. “Leo... Gro... So... Gro... yo-ur par..? Th-ey mad-... this en-tra,” answered Cottus and Gyes. In their roar was heard tenderness, although they articulated the words with much more difficulty than Briareus. “Sophia and Leopold Grotter? It’s my mom and dad. So it’s them who dug this entrance?” Tanya was amazed, experiencing quite out-of-place comparable relief. If her parents were friends with the titans, it means, nothing would threaten her. Attempting to distinguish words, the titans turned the overgrown ears to her and began to nod. Now it became clear to Tanya why the ring tore away from her finger and released a spark. It responded to its own magic, which it produced many years ago when it was on the finger of her father — Leopold. “Wh-o wi-th y-ou? Wh-y th-ey n-ot co-me?” Briareus enunciated indistinctly. “They are dead... Plague-del-Cake killed them,” Tanya said with difficulty. “Pla-e-Ca... Pla-e-Ca!” Gyes and Cottus repeated, and hatred distorted their faces. With terrible force, they began to beat the walls with their fists. Granite bits fell. It seemed the entire Tibidox above was trembling. Tanya fell and plugged up her ears with her hands. Noticing this, the titans, recollecting, stopped. Tanya saw that many heads were crying, and large tears became tangled in their tousled beards. “Yo-ur par-ents wer-e go-od peo-ple!” the main head of Briareus, sobbing, droned. “Th-ey pi-ied us and wan-ed to hel-p us. Ther-fore a-so ma-de this en-trance. You wer-e a-so qui-te lit-le. Leo-ld tri-ed to gi-ve you sa-fe de-fence in or-der you fear not-hing, and he suc-cee-ded this. You rob-bed Pla-gue all her po-er. But you be car-ful: Plague can reover it. We all ha-te her. We fe-el: no mor-e cha-os, but Pla-gue some-ere be-side...” Suddenly some thought came to an outer head of Briareus, it whispered it to the head beside it, that one whispered to the next, and finally the wave reached the main talking head of the titan. Following this several dozen hands began in a hurry to dig in the pockets, until in Tanya’s hands lay an average size clay jug sealed up by sealing wax. The huge palm held it with great care, afraid to crush it. “Her-e bre-ath of Ear-th, whi-ch gives po-er. Use it wh-en you ha-ve the ne-ed. We wan-ed to gi-ve su-ch phi-al to Leo-pold, but he re-fu-sed. And now go! Far-ell and don’t for-get us!” Tanya mechanically pressed the jug to herself. Briareus raised his hand and with effort pushed the hand into the narrow slot through which Tanya came here. Grabbing the plate, the girl with difficulty got outside, and immediately the step with a quiet click got back in the previous place. When Tanya straightened up and Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin saw her, they were staring at her in such a way as if she had risen from the world of corpses. “Where were you? We saw how you slipped down, and then suddenly at once! — disappeared somewhere, and then somewhere below began to roar!” Vanka exclaimed, rushing to her. “I fell through... fell through there, under the stairs,” Tanya breathed out, experiencing relief that she had escaped from the tight cave. “You fell through? There? But please, there... Only don’t lie, that you were at the titans’!” Bab-Yagun demanded, but, looking intently at Tanya’s face, literally slipped down onto the floor. “Oh, no! It’s unbelievable! No one was ever there!” he groaned.
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Tanya understood her friend’s disappointment. Earlier in the whole of Tibidox BabYagun was the only one managing to get caught in an unthinkable quantity of situations. Now she outdid him, on top of that how! Naturally, the proud grandson of Yagge was depressed. But then Vanka, it seemed, was sincerely proud of her success. A happy smile spread widely across his dirty face. “What are you doing here? Were you at the Sinister Gates? And Sardanapal knows about this?” An unpleasant laughter was heard next to them, and Lieutenant Rzhevskii looked out from the wall. Tanya turned to him and almost screamed. The knives from the back of Lieutenant had disappeared somewhere, and instead of his head, he was flaunting a large cast iron cannon ball. “A small injury. Flew very close by here! Practically a millimetre!” a very contented Rzhevskiy explained and, neighing at his own joke, flew to demonstrate the shot to Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya. “You think he’ll tell Sardanapal where he saw us?” Vanka asked. “Don’t know. Maybe he’ll forget. You see how contented he is that he changed his head to a shot somewhere,” Vanka shrugged his shoulders. He again looked at Tanya and added merrily: “You, by the way, lost your pin. I imagine how distressed Shurasik will be, if tomorrow he doesn’t see his little friendship heart on you.” “Yes, a pity... But to crawl to the titans after it?” Tanya said and suddenly burst out laughing. “Why are you trilling? Must be me, perhaps?” Bab-Yagun asked suspiciously, straightening his villainous overalls. The grandson of Yagge already felt sorry that he wore it. It, of course, was good for disguise, but indeed awfully absurd. “What’s with you here? I was imagining the titans with Shurasik’s friendship pin on their chests...” Tanya had barely said it and now everybody already started laughing, including Bab-Yagun. Getting up along the stairs leading from the basement, they again came to rest against solid walls. “Did Slander really block up this passage?” Vanka muttered distrustfully, feeling the massive boulders laid together. “It can’t be that he wouldn’t at least leave an invisible arch.” After a ten-minute search, the invisible arch was found nevertheless, and they went out directly between two marble Atlases, standing at the entrance to the Big Tower. Both marble Atlases were snoring quietly, continuing to hold the arch on their powerful shoulders. “And I was thinking: why are they hanging around here, likely to keep themselves busy? Turns out, here’s the hidden arch!” Bab-Yagun whispered and, rushing on tiptoes past them, dived into the Hall of Two Elements. Tanya and Vanka followed him. Soon they satisfactorily got to the residential floor, contriving not to catch the eye of the enraged Slander, who was persistently lying in wait for them by the other stairs. Coffinia was sound asleep on her own bed, her head covered by Black Curtains, which managed after all to slip down from the cornice. The harmful Curtains giggled disgustingly. Must be, they peeked into Coffinia’s dreams in order to, flying around the school the whole day tomorrow, show them to the entire Tibidox.
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Tanya wanted to drive them away with the spell Briskus-quickus, but discovered that she was mortally tired. She placed the clay pitcher under the bed, hiding it in the double bass case, collapsed on top of the blanket, and fell asleep... Chapter 13 The Protection Potion The next day before dinner Slander Slanderych assembled everyone in the Hall of Two Elements. His puffy face was shaking with anger, and bags were under his eyes. Tanya surmised that he did not sleep all night, watching the stairs leading from the teachers’ floor to the basement. Next to the dean stood Academician Chernomorov and Medusa, looking not a bit less stern. However, the severe look did not prevent Medusa from puckering and moving away from Slander, exuding a sharp and unpleasant smell. It was likely that again as on that night when Tanya saw him in the Tower of Ghosts, he had rubbed himself with something stinky. “Last night something scandalous took place!” Slander Slanderych announced, looking around at everybody with an intent gaze of his gimlet eyes. “Some student penetrated to the teachers’ floor, into the office of our most respectable associate the dearest Professor Stinktopp. No one wants to come forward? Well? I’m counting to three... One... two...” Tanya fearfully shrank. It seemed to her that the gaze of the dean sliding onto her pierced her right through. Does he really know? But how? Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin were also clearly worried. Tanya did not see Vanka, but the ears of BabYagun, sitting in front, were blinking like semaphores. “Three... It means no one wants to come forward?” Slander hissed threateningly. “Okay, you can keep quiet longer. Fortunately for the burglars, they stole nothing. If they had tried this, then they would have instantly perished. So, in any case, Professor, confirm for us. Is that so?” Stinktopp giggled maliciously. “Vell, yes, I protect my properties. Vhat’s zis here? Efferyvhere in my office vas taut viz outstanding black spells... Anyone vho penetrates into ze office in my absences in ze middle of ze night vould immediately become ashes. I can’t imagine at all how he escaped. Eizer it’s a fery powerful magician, or I don’t know at all vhat ze trick is here. Perhaps, he’s all incinerated and ve simply don’t notice ze ashes on ze floor?” Sardanapal looked reproachfully at Stinktopp. “I didn’t know about your spells! Doesn’t it seem to you that it’s excessive?” he shouted with indignation. “I want to remind you that Tibidox is a school! Anyone and for any reason should be able to get to you! I order you to immediately remove all fatal traps and replace them with weaker and safer ones, or I’ll do it for you!” Stinktopp sourly looked sideways at Sarnanapal; however, he did not begin to argue. In any case, not in front of everybody. Tanya heard only how he grumbled unhappily, “Nefferzeless incomprehensible vhy they failed to function? Someone fery deftly neutralized all ze black magic.” “In that case it couldn’t be the children! No child has such power, especially since you yourself made sure that no one got up from the basement, and all the students, as you see, are present,” raising her voice and turning immediately to Stinktopp and Slander, Medusa asserted.
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Those two wanted to object, but the hair on the head of the senior lecturer Gorgonova had raisen so threateningly upright that Stinktopp and Slander preferred to be silent. That Sardanapal was on the side of Medusa also held them back from the dispute. “Okay, you can have dinner! But we’ll still return to this conversation!” the dean bellowed and, having abruptly turned on his heels, ran out of the hall. For the first time dinner took place sombrely, in funeral silence. Even the two fine fellows from the casket did not know how to cheer up anyone in spite of all efforts. Then after dinner, Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun literally attacked Tanya with questions. “How did you manage to survive? You heard what Stinktopp said? Everywhere there was black magic! How did you lift it?” “But I lifted nothing!” Tanya shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps, it was at the table? I did not approach the table.” “No, Stinktopp definitely indicated that magic was everywhere. You should have perished but didn’t. It means, you defused all the spells, besides white, but how’s this? You won’t tell us?” Bab-Yagun drawled thoughtfully. “But I don’t know! I DO NOT KNOW!” Tanya shouted. Vanka and Bab-Yagun began to blink. “Okay, you don’t want to tell — don’t,” Bab-Yagun said resentfully and, turning away, left. Vanka looked sadly at Tanya for a while and then growled, “Bye! Got to go!” And raced to Tararakh. Tanya recalled that after dinner they intended to treat the firebirds, whose plumage began to grow dim drastically in recent days. Tanya dejectedly sunk directly onto the floor. Even close friends do not believe her. They think that she wants to conceal an important secret from them. Would it be more pleasant for them if the spell of Slander had worked and turned her into ashes? Fortunately, soon Bab-Yagun and Vanka thawed and came first to her to be reconciled. Vanka’s forefinger was wound in a thick layer of bandage. He described with laughter how the firebird, which did not like the treatment prescribed by Tararakh, pecked him. “To be sure! Who likes it when they rub you with saliva of kikimora! But then how they began to shine! Simply like New Year trees!” he exclaimed. Bab-Yagun looked at Vanka and shook his head, “Well! Possible to think you treated not firebirds but harpies! They indeed tore your soccer shirt again! There from behind and here...” Vanka stared at his own yellow soccer shirt, obviously had only now noticed that it was literally cut to shreds by the claws of the firebirds. “It’s when I held them and Tararakh smeared them. And I didn’t even notice...” he said dejectedly. “What’s with you? It’s simply a soccer shirt... Such are sold in bulk!” Tanya tried to calm him. Vanka raised his eyes to her and then immediately turned away. “You don’t understand... This soccer shirt... Papa gave it to me as a present when he was still almost sober. I remember, it was an outstanding day. We went to the circus, ate a load of ice cream, and then in the circus there was this soccer shirt...” Vanka growled. His lips trembled suspiciously.

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Even tactless Bab-Yagun, who in another time would definitely call Vanka a whining girl, held his tongue. Tanya looked at the soccer shirt. Although the claws of the firebirds had quite a day, it was still possible to save it. “I’ll patch it up. Take it off and bring it to me,” she ordered, sending Vanka off to change clothes. *** Evening approached imperceptibly. The clock in the drawing room already began to creak disgustingly, which was usually before they gathered in earnest to give the command “Break up!” when suddenly from the street was heard the flapping of wings. Two little cupids, sagging in the air from the weight, dragged into the window a tremendous box covered with dark-blue paper. “Look! A message has arrived for someone! What if it’s for me?” Dusya Dollova yelled enthusiastically. However, the little cupids, looking around in a business-like manner, decisively made their way to Tanya and dropped the box directly on her knees. “Well, of course, always Grotter! She walks around here as the favourite, the unlucky orphan! Auntie, give me a kopeck!” Coffinia snorted with envy. Tanya with difficulty held herself in control in order not to present her with a kick. She was stopped only by the little cupids, who, not letting her open the box, sweetly somersaulted in the air and begged for candy for the work. “Better pay them off or they’ll make you fall in love with someone. At least it happens to Shurasik. Just let them release an arrow into someone,” advised the long-nosed Verka Parroteva, nodding to the little cupids’ small bows hanging on the side. Looking around at Shurasik, Tanya with surprise noticed that he reddened like a tomato. Borrowing candies from Dusya Dollova, Tanya gave them to the messengers, and they, dividing them up in flight, flew out the window. Only then could Tanya finally unwrap the paper quietly. Inside it turned out to be a long cardboard box. Trying to guess what could be lying there, Tanya opened it and... screamed. The pleasure was instantly spoilt. An hourglass glided into her hands — the same one she saw in the mirror in Stinktopp’s office. Only a little bit of sand remained. And that was steadily dwindling, although it was running down as a thin stream not thicker than a hair. No one among those crowding around Tanya glancing with curiosity under her hand had time yet to grasp what happened, but she already gripped the box and, after making a sign to Bab-Yagun and Vanka, whispered to them, “We must go somewhere... Fast... Only not to my room, there Coffinia will butt in.” “Then here!” In a flash Bab-Yagun found his bearings, his room was right next door, and he dashed to open the door. Tanya turned up in Bab-Yagun’s for the first time. Nightmarish disorder reigned in his room. Clothing, notebooks, and textbooks were lying around on the floor. But then the vacuum — new and sparkling — completely occupied the entire table. “Hey, but you have a mess here! Was someone here?” Tanya was frightened, deciding that the harmful swamp bogey also came unexpectedly to Bab-Yagun.
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“No...” the grandson of Yagge dismissed it. “I was simply searching for something to clean the vacuum with, then I wiped it with the ceremonial robe there, all the same the end of the year isn’t here yet... Oho, what a clock! Who sent it to you?” “It’s the same one I saw with Plague-del-Cake! I’m sure it’s her last warning! Did the cupids really see her?” Tanya barely uttered. Bab-Yagun, shivering when she uttered the hateful name, shook his head, “No, cupids aren’t evil spirits. They don’t like She-Who-Is-No-More and would have nothing to do with her. Most likely someone simply summoned them — there is this special whistle — and they found this box, and on it... now let us look...” Vanka unrolled the dark-blue paper with a rustle. “Aha! I thought so! It reads: Deliver to Tanya Grotter. Residence floor, room with Black Curtains. The cupids obviously flew there also, but saw you in the drawing room and immediately returned.” “What am I to do with it now?” Tanya asked perplexedly. “For sure there’s some magic in it. Perhaps, break it?” “Don’t take it into your head, it can be even worse!” Bab-Yagun was frightened. “Better leave it here, I’ll then take it to Granny. She’ll look into what it’s for... Hey, you hear? What’s happening there?” Unexpectedly someone lightly knocked on the door, and then it was opened, and in glanced... Yes, it was Sardanapal himself. Both his moustaches puffed out sternly and significantly. The friends stiffened. The appearance of the academician on the residential floor in the children’s bedrooms could mean only one thing: something extraordinary had happened. Sardanapal glanced for a moment at the hourglass, which was still in the hands of Tanya, and slightly raised his eyebrows. “I’m waiting for you in the drawing room! Quick!” he said, disappearing, and in several seconds the children heard that he was knocking on the next door. It meant Sardanapal was assembling everyone and not only the three of them. Understanding this, the friends experienced relief. Gathered in the drawing room, the children saw that directly on the carpet was a large cauldron, in which some viscous, unpleasantly reeking liquid was boiling. “If I have to drink it, I’ll immediately faint with a crash!” Coffinia warned. “I’ll even try to beat Shurasik to it, although it wouldn’t be easy.” “Everyone will drink this without exception! Including you, Cryptova,” Sardanapal broke her off. His voice sounded so inflexible that no one argued. It seemed before them now was a totally different Sardanapal — not the calm and all-forgiving head of Tibidox that they all knew. Even his bearing had changed. “So that’s what he is, the greatest magician!” Tanya thought, not without admiration. Meanwhile Sardanapal gave everyone a spoon. “Tastes awful, I immediately warn you! I won’t tell what it’s prepared from, you’ll drink more comfortably!” he informed them. “But at least what would it be for?” Verka Parroteva asked timidly. Almost simultaneously with her posing this question, the walls of the Big Tower trembled. It was heard how the cyclopes rushed stomping along the first floor, setting off for the basement. The academician merely winced, but, likely he was completely not surprised.
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“In this cauldron is a protection potion, very strong. After that story with the Hair and many other events about which you don’t even know, I want to be certain that nothing bad will happen to you. And now drink!” Pinching their noses, everybody began to scoop out the potion and swallow it. “Bl-ah! It’s even worse than I thought!” Coffinia flinched, and Gunya Glomov in confirmation of her words made a dismal face. At that moment when Tanya had already brought the spoon to her mouth, her hand suddenly trembled and she spilled everything onto her chest. In this instant, practically everybody grimaced, having already swallowed the malodorous tincture, and no one noticed this. Tanya wanted to scoop from the cauldron again, but Sardanapal already whispered something, releasing a spark. The cauldron disappeared. “Did you drink?” he asked Tanya. “Aha,” she answered before she had time to grasp that she had lied. But having lied, it was already awkward to correct herself. “Well, good. And now to sleep...” the academician said, somehow smiling mysteriously. “This night will be long, very long...” *** Soon after Sardanapal left, Bab-Yagun slipped right behind him and, by a sign showed Tanya that he was taking her hourglass to Yagge. Tanya wanted to break into a run after Bab-Yagun, but Shurasik, embarrassed, already approached her. “And where’s your pin? Why aren’t you wearing it?” he asked. “Eh-eh... It seems, I lost it somewhere,” Tanya impatiently answered, looking sideways after the moving away Bab-Yagun. “But indeed you’re also not wearing yours.” Shurasik frowned. “I’m a different matter... Then they’ll say that I make friends with myself. Wait, I’ll bring you a new one!” “No need!” unable to control herself, Tanya began to yell, but, after glancing at Shurasik, she recollected suddenly and affectionately slapped him on the shoulder. “You didn’t understand me. This means nothing. You are very nice, and I’m totally not laughing at you. And without this idio... very nice little heart. But now I have to run. Good night! Hop-hop!” Waving her hand at Shurasik and forgetting about him immiediately, she rushed along the corridor after Bab-Yagun, but he had already disappeared somewhere, and Tanya did not yet know Tibidox so well as to find the magic station on her own. Heaving a sigh, she set off for her room in order to finish her lessons. According to the timetable, there was another dragonball training tomorrow; therefore, it was necessary to cram everything also for the day after tomorrow. Especially as Dentistikha, as if having gone crazy, assigned to them four chapters each time, not counting the number of spells, which must be learnt by heart. Shurasik, still like a dummy, knocked on her door, and Tanya pretended that she did not notice it. “It must be that he’s fallen in love with me! Why am I always so lucky with these Genka Bulonovs!” she thought.

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Coffinia, yawning, had already lain down to sleep. Discovering that Tanya intended to be occupied, she kicked up a row and calmed down only when Tanya promised to guard her from Black Curtains. “And what kind of nonsense will you be dreaming today? Likely Yurka Idiotsyudov with a bouquet of burdock, galloping astride on Gunya Glomov to make a declaration of love to you,” Tanya minced her words, and Coffinia in a hurry held her tongue. “Only don’t tell anyone anymore, or I’ll put an evil eye on you...” she growled, dived under the blanket, and soon, judging by the happy expression of her face, started to dream the same dream. Black Curtains started to snigger nastily and even got tied up in a bundle because of their own malice. Tanya finished evil spirits studies, copied several recipes for practical magic and already undertook to sew Vanka’s soccer shirt, when suddenly she sensed... Even she herself could not clearly describe what precisely... A vague anxiety suddenly poured out from the tip of her nose and along her entire body... Tanya could not stay in one place and leaped up. Coffinia as if nothing had happened was breathing heavily on the bed, Black Curtains limply stirred, evidently calculating how to play planks on them. Everything was seemingly calm, but here the anxiety would not go away and only increased in strength. Suddenly there was a short knock on the door and Tanya heard the agitated voice of Bab-Yagun asking her to open it. Tanya opened. Bab-Yagun, pale as a corpse, leaned against the wall. “Listen! I asked Granny about the protection potion. She says that such actually exists, but sweet to taste. And from the fact that Sardanapal gave it to us, it almost shook me to the core!” he said with difficulty. “So, it means, the potion was not...” “Right, not protection... Sardanapal under the guise gave us something different... And you know, I’m feeling strange somehow...” Bab-Yagun shook and slipped down along the wall to the floor. The hourglass, which he was holding in his hand, fell and broke with a faint plop. However, even without that it was already clear that all the sand had dripped down... Time had run out... Tanya rushed to Bab-Yagun and began to pull at him, but the body of Bab-Yagun, lying on the carpet, precisely hardened. It was hard and stiff. Tanya carefully knocked on his hand, and the hand of Bab-Yagun answered with a knock like a wooden door or a tabletop. Pressing her ear against his chest, Tanya heard that the heart of Bab-Yagun was ticking, but it was beating sparsely and indistinctly. “Hey, get up! Run to the magic station! You wake up! Trouble!” Tanya yelled, rushing to the bed and beginning to shake Coffinia. But her roommate stubbornly did not open her eyes, and in a minute Tanya suddenly understood that even Coffinia’s hand, which she was shaking, was as heavy and stiff as Bab-Yagun’s. Seized by a terrible suspicion, she rushed into the adjacent bedroom, to Dusya Dollova and Verka Parroteva, and, whispering the break-in spell Fogus sneakus, dived in there. Dusya Dollova and Verka Parroteva were lying on their beds motionless like statues.

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“This night will be long, very long!” Tanya recalled the words of Sardanapal and his incomprehensible chuckle. Why did he say so? Did his words have some hidden meaning? Now the answer to these questions was already clear. Tanya ran by several more rooms, but it was the same everywhere. Everyone who had drunk Sardanapal’s potion in the evening became stiff and barely gave any signs of life, if we do not consider the weak palpitation. Could Sardanapal really have gone to the side of Plague-del-Cake, he, the founder of Tibidox? And they, fools, still suspected Slander Slanderych and Professor Stinktopp. As if the prophecy did not clearly warn: The guile of immortals is not possible to reckon – Even the one who cannot will commit treason. “Could Sardanapal really betray? Certainly not... Now the prophecy would also come true,” Tanya thought. She did not notice how she turned up in her own room again. Her legs brought her. From the broken hourglass emerged a bluish fog, forming into shaky, unpleasant outlines of letters: I hope you already saw what the Wooden Fiend is capable of. Now no one will interfere with me. I will open the Sinister Gates tonight after midnight. Plague-delCake. Tanya involuntarily glanced at the clock. The only hand already approached the highest line. No more than ten minutes left till midnight. Plague-del-Cake, vile monster escaped from the jails of Tibidox, the killer of her parents, was already below. Soon she would open the gates, and then Chaos would gush out in a wide stream into the world. Suddenly Tanya shivered. It seemed as if the book of her memory, closed from infancy, was thrown open to the first pages of life. Voices persistently began to sound in the girl’s ears, “Oh, what a dark-complexioned baby! Come to the hands of Auntie Plague! And you, Grotter, stop, if you want to live!” someone said in a grating voice. “Get away! Don’t touch the girl!” a male voice shouted. Disgusting squeaky laughter, and almost immediately a high female screech, after which Tanya heard a child’s cry — her own cry. “Here to you! Take this!” the man shouted. A faint crackle was heard, the kind when you release sparks. A whole shower of sparks. The ring on Tanya’s finger was red-hot. “Sparks? Do you really think that this green shower and sickly white spells will hurt me? Crawl, my little scorpion! Kill her before their eyes! “And later... later you will give me what I need!” someone hissed. Earlier Tanya had never experienced hatred for anyone. Even Aunt Ninel and Pipa, frequently insulting her, did not provoke in her this feeling. She did not love them, but no more than that. No, she will not forgive Plague-del-Cake for the death of her parents, she will not let her open the Sinister Gates. Afraid that she might not have time, Tanya rushed to the magic double bass. She took it, but she suddenly recalled that all flight spells are blocked in the corridors of Tibidox. The girl already began to put the case back when her hand stumbled upon the clay jug. She grabbed it and jumped out of the room. “Hey, where are you going? I heard how you slammed the doors... What, elephants chasing you?” someone hailed her.
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Vanka Valyalkin looked sleepily out from his room. Without his yellow soccer shirt, he looked somehow different in the usual training robe of white magicians. “It’s all Sardanapal! You’re really not stiff? He put everyone to sleep with his potion! You remember his words about the ‘long night’?” Tanya shouted. “Yes? Well, so... You know me. I can gobble up anything I want. Potions also don’t act on me. I was indeed born so,” said Vanka, not without pride looking sideways at his hollow stomach. The clock started to buzz, preparing to strike midnight. “Quick, to the basement! Plague’s there! She wants to open the gates!” Tanya darted from the place. “Wait, it’s impossible! There are the heroes and the cyclopes... Wait, at least I’ll put shoes on... Well okay, barefeet!” And Vanka Valyalkin dashed after Tanya. His pink heels thumped resonantly on the carpet. Chapter 14 The Sinister Gates Running down the stairs, Tanya hardly recognized the Hall of Two Elements. The strip of fire dividing it before... no, not died out or disappeared, but what happened to it was improbable. Indeed Tanya had never seen frozen fire. The bluish tongue of flames froze whimsically, motionless, gripped by dense ice. Certainly, this fire could no longer serve as a barrier. Creatures of light and creatures of dark intermingled. Firebirds, blazing, fought off the bats, and the Humpbacked Horse, jumping up high, trampled tarantulas with its hoofs. With dozens of cobras, hissing, turning to them, the children bounced in a hurry, but the cobras were stretched out at the foot of the stairs, barring the way and not letting them into the hall. However, the snakes were not the only obstacle. The marble Atlases, seen in the distant corner where there was the invisible arch, which leads to the basement stairs, were also not sleeping. They deliberately moved close to one another, getting up so that their powerful rock bodies effectively blocked the arch. “Well now! Here the snakes, and there the Atlases! Interesting, how will we get into the basement?” Tanya asked. Vanka looked around in a business-like manner. “Wait,” he said. “With the snakes, perhaps, it’ll work out, but here with the Atlases... Okay, for the time being, I’ll get busy with the snakes, and you think about how to convince them to move. Have in mind that these are extremely obstinate objects.” “Interesting, how will he manage the snakes?” Tanya thought. Meanwhile Vanka reached from his pocket the scrap of magic tablecloth and started to shake it energetically. Cutlets and pickles fell thick and fast from the tablecloth. “What, you want to pelt the snakes with cutlets? A first-rate plan!” Tanya snorted mockingly, but Valyalkin did not even glance in her direction. “Well, stub! How often I had a hard time with you! At least once produce something worthwhile! Well, at least a carrot or a piece of sugar!” he begged. Finally, the tablecloth heeded his entreaties and on the steps rolled down a carrot. Vanka, bending down in a hurry, caught it and started to whistle to lure the Humpbacked Horse. First, it only looked askance unwillingly and moved its long ears, but then, drawn
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by the appetizing sight of the carrot, in two leaps flew half the hall, swept over the heads of the cobras, and here it was already beside them, eating from Vanka’s palm. “Climb onto its back!” Vanka ordered. “And we’ll not crush it?” “And I tell you: no. Quick!” Tanya climbed onto the horse, holding onto its ears with her hands, and Vanka jumped from behind, onto the rump, arms around Tanya. The Humpbacked Horse, almost completely hidden under its riders, pushed off from the stairs with its hoofs and, trampling the snakes and the tarantulas, flew across the Hall of Two Elements. Here it, playing a naughty trick, abruptly tucked in its front legs. The friends flew over its head, rolling directly to the feet of the Atlases. “Why have you come? We’ll let no one pass! Such is the order!” the Atlases said hoarsely. Tanya shrugged her shoulders, “But I also don’t want to go anywhere! As if I need this basement with the dead rats very much. Hey, weaklings! You’ll not catch me! Stone dimwits! Anti-tank hedgehogs! Blockheads!” The Atlases began to grit their teeth so that marble crumbs fell from them. “Don’t think that we’re such fools... We’ll chase after you, and you’ll rush through the arch. No indeed...” the right Atlas said with a grinding sound. “What’s your arch to us?” Tanya said indifferently, thinking to herself that the Atlases were not quite such simple nuts. “I saw it in a coffin in white slippers... Vanka, you need it?” “The arch? Why, I haven’t seen invisible arches? Such a poor arch. Not without reason such weaklings were placed here to guard it. The rest of the Atlases, more powerful, stand on the stairs, prop up the arch, and these, the puniest, spend time here yakking,” Vanka played up to her. Here, for the first and only time in history, the marble Atlases grew red. Vanka had revealed their most vulnerable spot. “You lie!” the Atlases simmered. “Come closer so that I could crush you like pitiful insects! We’re the strongest of all, my brother and I! Those on the stairs hold only the arch, but we hold the stairs, and the other Atlases, and the arch... The entire Tibidox stands on us!” Tanya with affected indifference sat on the floor. “Well, so you two hold it together, not alone! One probably will be too weak. The nose will slip down to the heels, and the ears will entangle... Here you, Right-hander,” here she poked the right Atlas with a finger, “probably indeed punier than Left-hander. How strong he is over there!” The right Atlas got so mad that even the ceiling began to shake, then the left swelled up from pride. Noticing this, Right-hander got even more infuriated. “Ah well, go away!” he began to roar at his brother. “I’ll show them who’s a weakling! Let go of the ceiling, I’ll support everything alone! The entire castle!” Left-hander shrugged his shoulders, let go of the arches of Tibidox and clumsily took a step from the pedestal. Now the entire monstrous weight of Tibidox turned out to be on the shoulders of his brother. That one sagged, strained, but maintained. The rock spheres of his muscles swelled. “Well now, I showed you? Showed you?” Right-hander wheezed.
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“Smart fellow! Now I see that you have earned your kasha!” Tanya shouted and, slapping the Atlas on the leg, rushed after Vanka into the invisible arch. The deceived Atlases began to roar, but it was too late. The children began to go down. In the gloom of the basement red pupils flared up here and there. “Oho! How many evil spirits here! And from where did they crawl out one after another?” Vanka whispered. “Go quietly, don’t make abrupt movements and confidently look along the sides! Then the evil spirits won’t attack!” Tanya recalled one of the lessons of Medusa. She took a deep breath and took the first step towards the red pupils. After the first step, it was the second, the third... “Only don’t be frightened! I’m not afraid... I’m... I’m not...” Tanya repeated to herself, trying to look above the red pupils. That Vanka was beside her gave her courage. When they were a step or two from the evil spirits, those suddenly rushed with a peep to the sides and yielded the way. “It worked!” Tanya exclaimed, unable to control herself. “Don’t be too happy,” Vanka said softly. “Look around!” Tanya looked around. Behind them along the corridor crawled hundreds, thousands of red flames. It seemed that the evil spirits were driving them on, and, if they plan on turning back now, the vile creatures would not let them. “Yes, Plague-Del-Cake made an excellent effort... First they wouldn’t let us into the basement, and now they won’t let us,” Tanya said apprehensively, pulling the magic ring on her finger — the only thing that could at least somehow protect them from the evil spirits. They turned the corner, made their way to the second invisible arch discovered by BabYagun earlier. Suddenly someone moved in the gloom, and a scorching fiery tongue was directed towards them. “Duck!” Tanya dropped to the floor, pulling Vanka with her. Their hair almost got singed, a jet of fire swept over them. The friends raised themselves on their knees. An enormous dragon barred the corridor. Golden scales were gleaming dimly. “Mercury!” Tanya recognized. “It’s Mercury!” Hearing its name, the dragon raised half-closed eyelids, and a new jet of fire forced them against the floor. The evil spirits around the corner squealed in alarm, not daring to appear. “How did it turn up here?” Tanya whispered, estimating that they in no way would manage to go around Mercury. The dragon stopped up the passage exactly like a plug. “Someone let it out of the hangar... Or even burrowed a way through from there... Look, a spear is sticking out of its nose. Someone aspired very much to anger it...” Tanya stared. So it was: in the nose, next to the nostril, in one of the most vulnerable places of a dragon, the shaft of a spear was sticking out. The dragon was breathing hoarsely, occasionally breathing out jets of flame. “It’s in pain! Here’s a wretch!” Vanka continued. “Must pull the spear out of it. Then it, possibly, will agree to let us pass... I’ll go for it!” “Don’t even think about it! It’ll incinerate you!” Tanya was frightened. “I hope not. How lucky that Tararakh recently taught me how to calm dragons,” said Vanka.
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However, there was no confidence in his voice. No one knew how Mercury would behave; dragons are not predictable. Especially injured and frightened, and stuck in a tight basement. “Well, let’s... Wish me luck... If something happens to me, you can keep my soccer shirt,” Vanka said quietly and got up. Mercury followed him intently with its non-blinking yellow eyes, ready to breathe out flame as soon as Vanka would take a step. The spear trembled in its nose. “Valerianus psychopathus!” Vanka uttered. “Valerianus psychopathus!” The heavy eyelids of the dragon lowered. It was breathing out puffs of smoke instead of flame. Vanka sighed and in a hurry screened himself with his hand. Tanya saw that his hand was covered with burns. “Calm... calm... I will not harm you... I know you scorched me by accident...” Vanka said with a faltering voice. “Valerianus psychopathus!” He approached Mercury and, looking firmly into its eyes, seized the shaft. The dragon guardedly waited. “Now it’ll be painful, but not for very long. You’ll endure it? Only don’t take it into your head to breathe fire... I’m not smeared with vampire bile, I’ll quickly perish... Clear?” Dragon raised its scaly head, opened the mouth slightly. Its double tongue touched the shaft slightly and immediately hid. “Good now! I count to three and pull... One... Two...” Tanya closed her eyes tightly. She heard how Vanka shouted “three” and how the dragon began to roar. And then a long, scorching jet of flame swept over her head. Mercury could not stand the pain. Opening her eyes, she saw that Vanka was lying on the ground, covering his face with his hands, next to him the spear was rolling around, and the dragon, soiling its leathery wings, crawled away in the passage opened by the evil spirits leading into the hangar. Not waiting till its tail had disappeared, Tanya rushed to Vanka. He was alive, although his whole face was covered with blisters, and the charred robe was hanging by shreds. “I’m lucky that I fell when I pulled the spear. It only barely saved me,” bending over from the pain, Vanka whispered. “What a fool, I should have said Painus suppressus, then Mercury would feel nothing. Why did I forget?” Tanya helped him sit up. Vanka groaned when she touched his hands. “Wait, I’ll take you to magic station...” “Don’t. I myself... Go, the way is free. Don’t let She-Who-Is-No-More open the gate,” Vanka whispered, pressing his back against the wall and releasing a green spark onto the evil spirits showing themselves from the corner. They hid themselves with an unpleasant chirp. “Sparkis frontis!” Vanka whispered, throwing several sparks after them. Tanya tarried. It was necessary to choose. If Plague opens the Sinister Gates, then there will be nothing already. Neither Tibidox nor Vanka nor Bab-Yagun. Then the magic station also would not help. “Fine. Wait for me. I won’t be long!” she decided and, looking around at Vanka, quickly went forward.

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Soon she was already by the second invisible arch discovered by Bab-Yagun. Squeezing her fist tightly so that the magic ring would not jump off, Tanya took a step through the spectral stone. A familiar short corridor led her into the smoky hall. Usynya, Dubynya, and Gorynya were lying side by side next to the bonfire, and the enormous gouty soles of one of the cyclopes protruded from a distant corridor. Likely, the guards fell where Wooden Fiend overpowered them. The flame of the bonfire appeared frozen same as in the Hall of Two Elements. It seemed this fate befell all the fires in Tibidox, only not spreading to the dragons. “Probably Sardanapal was also here with his potion!” Tanya thought. She irresolutely entered the hall and looked around. The Sinister Gates were still closed, although the terrible gnash and roar from the other side shook them incessantly. An open rock coffin stood near the gates themselves. Tanya’s heart became clogged with uneasiness. How she wanted now to turn and run away! But it was not possible to do so. The fate of too many depended now on what would be her next step. Putting forward her hand with the ring, Tanya began to steal carefully up to the coffin. She expected to see there the disgusting old woman and to throw a fight spark quickly at her. “Sparkis frontis!” unable to control herself, she shouted, several steps away from the coffin. The green spark, into which Tanya put all her pain, all the love for her parents, all her hatred for Plague, broke away from the ring and struck the coffin. The rock coffin turned over and split. It was revealed that it was empty. Inside there was nothing except a black cover. A disgusting gurgling laughter was heard, nothing more loathsome could be imagined. On the first step leading to the Sinister Gates, a tall old woman in a long violet robe appeared. Her dry chopped off arms were thrown across her shoulders like ropes. One of the hands gripped the gold sword. Red light streamed from the eye sockets of the dried face more like a skull. “Plague-del-Cake!” Tanya exclaimed. She-Who-Is-No-More stopped laughing. “Oh, you’re not afraid to say my name!” she hissed in amazement. Her voice was similar to the grinding of sandpaper. “Your parents were also not afraid. And look what became of them...” The bony face of Plague was distorted, smeared, and for a second other features passed through it. Tanya saw the face of a man with a small beard and the dark-complexioned face of a young woman, something like her own. “No, don’t touch the child! You’ll not laugh! She’s so small!” “TANYA! No! Don’t you dare!” again their voices sounded. “Worthless people! You hear how they degraded themselves, only to preserve your life! They thought to arouse my pity with their moans!” Plague said, assuming her previous appearance. “I hate you! Sparkis frontis!” Tanya shouted with her entire strength, tossing up her hand. The departed spark slid along the sword and, flying away from it, again dashed to the one who released it. Only now the spark was red...
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The girl felt a strong blow, which knocked her down. In the next instant, the ring broke loose from her finger and, after flickering in the air, stuck to the blade of the gold sword. Plague-del-Cake removed it and tossed it on her palm. “A nightmare!” the ring squeaked. “I’m in a trap! I’m going to faint! Boom-s! I already fainted, if anyone is interested...” Plague-del-Cake shook it slightly and the voice immediately became quiet. “I’ve waited that so you’ll do this, little one...” she minced words. “Leopold Grotter’s ring! Unfortunately, it isn’t suitable for real magic supporting death, and I don’t use other’s... Well, doesn’t matter, it’ll fill my collection... Perhaps you didn’t know that the one who wields the gold sword doesn’t fear fight spells? But even when I didn’t have the sword, I didn’t greatly fear them. You think your father and mother didn’t shower me with sparks? A whole torrent, but I only sneered at them. No, not sparks that drove me into the rock coffin, not sparks that took away my power...” The face of She-Who-Is-No-More flinched. It literally breathed hatred. Tanya saw how her dry skin swelled up like a bubble and subsided. Something formed a lump under it, seethed... Red fire poured from the empty eye sockets. “Ten years in the coffin, ten long years — in complete consciousness but without power!” Plague-del-Cake croaked. “I was always asking myself the question, what destroyed me then, trampled, crushed... Your parents didn’t do it, no... Finally, I understood what it was. The Talisman! The Talisman of Four Elements, which your father contrived somehow to transfer onto you! That Talisman, which, at the time, I also went to you for! You have it, I know! Give it to me!” Plague-del-Cake took a step to Tanya. Her bones rattled dryly under the robe. The girl crawled away in a hurry, but her back was resting against the cold copper of the Sinister Gates. The gates shuddered, began to drone. Behind them something powerful, terrible was hitting against them and could not break loose... “You see the small hollow under the lion head on the right? If you want to live, give the Talisman to me: I’ll put it there!” She-Who-Is-No-More said hoarsely. “You’re simply a silly old woman with earthworms in the head!” Tanya flew into a rage. “Return to the coffin! You’ll never open the Gates because I don’t have any talisman.” Plague-del-Cake began to hiss and threw up her dry hands. “You lie, there is! Look around: there, beyond the gates, Chaos! Chaos — it’s monstrous power! I’ll inhale it into myself, I’ll command them as I rule over the evil spirits now! Limitless authority! If you would know what it is, girl! Once I was already there, behind these Gates, and I waited, until the magic of The Ancient One and his student Sardanapal fails... And this happened a long thousand years ago. Sardanapal and Slander did not immediately miss my disappearance — pitiful blunderers! Barely meeting with resistance, with the power accumulated over the centuries I began to destroy magicians one after another — white and black, made no difference. I only needed one thing — to force them to open the gates! All magicians feared me terribly, feared even to pronounce my name, inventing this amusing nickname She-Who-Is-NoMore... And here, when I was almost on target, I understood that I need the Talisman! Without it, the Gates will forever remain closed, even if I cut into two the Hair of this decrepit charlatan The Ancient One, who arranged good and evil on shelves like flasks in a pantry! I needed that very Talisman which your father struggled with over long years...
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He, a fool, did it in order to protect you from me, not knowing that it’s even the key to the Sinister Gates! Here are these Gates!” With a running start, Plague-del-Cake pushed the gates with her shoulder. They began to drone. As if knowing who was knocking, Chaos answered in a thousand voices — squealing, squeaking, howling. Tanya was thrown to the side, but Plague made an imperceptible movement, and the girl felt that her body barely obeyed her. The arms and legs were filled with lead weights. She took one half-step with the greatest difficulty and fell at first to her knees, and then tumbled down sideways. The clay pitcher rolled from her hands and stood still beside her on the floor. Plague glanced at it without interest, obviously deciding that inside was some protection potion. “Probably the Talisman she searches for doesn’t look like this. Here she also doesn’t need a jug,” Tanya thought. “Listen. I want you to know everything before I kill you!” She-Who-Is-No-More continued to speak hoarsely. “I followed your father... All the evil spirits were spying for me. Leopold Grotter could not take cover from me even in the densest forest. Once they reported to me that one of his experiments was crowned by success. He obtained the Talisman of Four Elements. Immediately, while your father did not guess what was precisely in his hands, I flew there... The house was already surrounded by my servants — the evil spirits. They mobbed, they tried to attack, but he fired back with sparks, sufficiently successfully. This cowardly carrion did not dare to approach and only hooted from a distance... I tore away the door and entered... There were three in the room: Leopold, his wife your mother, and you, a pitiful girl in a double bass case. Leopold and your mother were frightened when they saw me, but you only smiled and stretched your arms out to me... To me, to Plague-del-Cake, to the killer of magicians! It seemed amusing to me. I began to demand the Talisman from your parents, threatening to kill you, but these brave fools scorched me with sparks! Then I killed them, like this!” Plague closed her fist and turned it. Immediately Tanya felt as if her heart had stopped. Before her eyes, red circles began to disperse, precisely like water with a stone dropped into it. The world began to grow dim and fade. But this lasted only an instant. Plague unclenched her fist. “Exactly how they died,” she said with a chuckle, similar to the grinding of sandpaper. “Don’t be afraid! You’ll die differently, and still not time yet...” “What was it then?” Tanya said. Sweat was running thick and fast along her face. How to battle with Plague there: she did not even feel any strength in her simply to get up on her feet. “I released a scorpion on you. I like to watch how it stings magicians and they die in front of my eyes in terrible pain. The scorpion crept along your clothing, then along the face, and bit you on the nose. I expected to see your agony, but you only went ‘oh’ and crushed my scorpion! I thought that it was rid of its poison, though it was impossible... Then I decided to kill you myself and get busy with the search for the Talisman. I breathed death on you and...” Plague winced, “my breath for some reason returned to me, on top of that became a flame... It charred me, tore off my arms, and I fell on the same place where I was standing. I saw everything, heard everything, but could not even move... I was alive and dead at the same time, worse than dead... All my power flowed out of me like yolk from a cracked egg... The evil spirits arrived a short while later. They
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decided that I had perished, carried me away to some of their distant passages and placed me in a rock coffin.” Plague-del-Cake fixed on Tanya her red eyes without pupils. “Ten whole years, as prophesied by this old fogy The Ancient One who had lost his mind, I spent in the coffin at your mercy!” she hissed. “Ten whole years! Only when these ten years had elapsed, my power again began to appear. At first it was enough only for several minutes a day, then I again had to return...” Plague with hatred kicked the cracked coffin. “Finally after some time I was able to trace you to the world of the moronoids. Lifeless Griffin helped me. The bird followed to where Medusa and Sardanapal took you. And then I arrived just in time on the day when you would be in the museum and stole the sword from the moronoids. I could do this even earlier, but I wanted to make fun of you. You were a mouse, and I the cat... I lingered before delivering the decisive attack. I wanted to prolong your torment. Later, it was necessary to clarify whether you have the Talisman. Anything could happen in ten years. You could lose it, or the moronoids took it away from you, deciding that it’s a trinket.” “Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel took nothing away from me because I had nothing. Don’t you understand this? You killed my parents for nothing!” Tanya shouted with hatred. Tears flowed from her eyes. She did not want to howl in order not to give Plague the pleasure, but she did nevertheless... “Really for nothing? Meaning, they nevertheless had to be killed for something?” Plague was surprised. “And I confirm that you have the Talisman... Why do you think I set Lifeless Griffin on you? I only wanted to verify what would be... You again survived! Your father, this pitiful clever fellow, must admit he was a good alchemist! He gave you outstanding protection. Yes, you have the Talisman... But where is it? Where are you hiding it? What does it look like?” “So here’s where Griffin’s from... But he was in the office of Stinktopp! We even suspected Stinktopp...” Tanya muttered. What fools they were! How deftly they were being led by the nose! Plague-del-Cake sneered. Her dead jaws with the bluish teeth cracked disgustingly. “It’s I who ordered Griffin to search Stinktopp’s sanctuary! I knew that this old blockhead adores any poultry, moreover the more deformed it is, the more he trembles over it. Once he even studied veterinary magic with Tararakh. Had to ask him...” “But why was Griffin hiding in Stinktopp’s?” “What do you mean why? I surmised that you would steal into his office. I wanted to verify whether you had lost your talisman of power. Will it be able to deal with black magic? And it did, and dealt with so easily that you even felt nothing. True, the magic was stronger by the table, but you didn’t poke your nose there: the Talisman warned you, made magic visible... No, Stinktopp didn’t cut the Hair in two. I had another assistant in Tibidox.” “Who? Who?” Tanya shouted. It was extremely important for her to know this, even if Plague would kill her in several minutes. The thought that she could suspect someone in vain was agonizing for her. “I’ll not tell. Guess it yourself!” “I know! Sardanapal!” The evil spirits, crowding in the corners, began to cough from enthusiasm. She-Who-IsNo-More glanced at Tanya with interest.
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“Oh, but you’re an amusing girl! Did you really that the head of Tibidox, the favourite student of The Ancient One, could be a traitor? The one who did so much for you! He protected you in the moronoid world and then, disregarding the prophecy, brought you to Tibidox! When the time comes to kill Sardanapal, I’ll make him happy with this news.” Tanya became ashamed. “So, it means, it’s not his potion that lulled everyone to sleep? But I thought...” Plague impatiently interrupted her. “No, I summoned the Fiend with the help of the one who serves me... But the potion which Sardanapal gave you was the restorative pitch from hydra poison... This pitch weakens the action of killing magic. I must say that the academician succeeded in time. If he were late, tonight everyone would become the deceased. Now they only sleep... Think further, I’m beginning to lose patience. Soon I’ll have to kill you.” “Really Slander? Yes, exactly him! He hid someone in the vase,” Tanya groaned, berating herself for slow wits. She recalled in the smallest detail that evening when she met Eyeless Horror with Lieutenant Rzhevskii, and then almost immediately Slander prowling to the vase from a dark corridor. “You think he hid me in a vase?” The disgusting old woman burst out laughing in such a way that she nearly lost her head. “No, Slander isn’t my ally, though he’s also an outand-out old fox... Possibly, he’ll still come over to my side, but as yet no... You again didn’t guess right...” Tanya did not believe her, “But who was in the vase?” Plague-del-Cake looked around, throwing an interrogative look to the evil spirits crowding in the corner. The evil spirits prompted something squeakily. “Ah-ha, understood,” She-Who-Is-No-More drawled. “There was a mermaid in the vase. The same one that you treated in veterinary magic. Likely Slander stole her from the pond.” “But why did he steal an evil spirits from the pond? Slander can’t stand the evil spirits!” Plague flinched with disgust. “The moronoids call this feeling ‘love at first sight.’ In reality these are all tricks of the cupids — vile tots with bows! He annoyed them with something for sure, and they, as an answer, lay in wait for him somewhere and released a love arrow. But a repugnant arrow into the mermaid such that she doesn’t want to even look at him. They always amuse themselves so.” Tanya recalled the little cupid, whom the dean dragged by the ear and everything became clear. So that is why Slander Slanderych rubbed himself with something stinky! He wanted to please the mermaid, knowing that she, an evil spirit, must be drawn by sharp odours! For sure that day when Tararakh rolled the keg with the mermaid, the offended little cupid in red suspenders was hiding somewhere beside him, searching for someone for the menacing dean to fall in love with. The whimsical mermaid, recently cured of carp louse, seemed to him the most suitable candidate. “I don’t believe that it’s not Slander! But who is the traitor then? There’s simply no one else! Medusa? Dentistikha? Who?” Tanya shouted with conviction. The lead weakness pressing her into the flagstones gradually let off. Tanya felt that, if required, she would be able to jump up quickly and run. But only to where? The evil
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spirits were crowding in all the passages. Now, when she did not have her magic ring, she would not even be able to frighten them with a fight spark. So, for the time being the girl remained on the floor, pretending that she could hardly stir as before. Unexpectedly, the evil spirits made room, freeing a path, and Tanya saw Shurasik running into the hall. The all A student looked around unhappily. Likely that here, in the basement, he was unsure of himself. “He also didn’t fall asleep like Vanka and me! The magic didn’t act on him. He got up and set off to search for me! What a fine fellow!” Tanya thought, deeply touched. Fearing for Shurasik, she jumped and darted to him, “Shurasik! Careful, Plague is here! Drive away the evil spirits with a fight spark! Call Sardanapal, Medusa!” But Shurasik evidently did not understand what was shouted to him. He stood on the spot and stupidly blinked his watery eyes, continuously looking at Tanya and as if surprised at something. Deciding that he was lost, Tanya gripped him by the hand and wanted to pull him after herself, but here Shurasik suddenly deftly tripped her. It was so unexpected that the girl went sprawling, her forehead bleeding. Tanya sat down on the floor. There was a ringing in her head. “What are you doing? What, have you lost your mind?” she yelled. “It’s you who has lost your mind. I’m not going anywhere from the Gates, which my lady will now open!” Shurasik announced dully, not tearing his devoted gaze off Plaguedel-Cake. He was like a dog waiting for a treat to be thrown to him. A terrible suspicion, already not even a suspicion but a certainty crept over Tanya. “It’s true? Shurasik, the truth? Really it’s you who was Plague’s assistant?” Shurasik leaned towards her and grabbed her by the hair. His pale face with transparent skin became even paler. The colourless eyes blinked with hatred. “No one liked me...” he sobbed furiously. “No one! Neither here, nor there in the world of the moronoids! I crammed lessons day and night, and everyone only called me a bore, a nerd, a know-it-all! No one wanted to understand what I feel, that I cry at night in my pillow, because I want to be the best of all! They kicked me, bewitched my boots... And the moronoids, when I was still studying among them, spat on me and beat me when once I told the teacher that they copied the test! And then somehow I got a two! Not for anything, although I knew everything best of all! Suddenly something boiled up in my chest and the mark book caught fire. The diary flared up after it, and fungi grew on the teacher’s head. I sensed a power in me and decided to take vengeance on all of them, but didn’t have time. They took me away to Tibidox! Here Sardanapal felt sorry for me and put me among the white magicians, although I wanted terribly to be among the black. But I kept quiet, although I harboured spite. Here at first it was even pleasant for me, but after that, the same began. Again they didn’t like me, and then I planned this: to pay everyone back at once — both the moronoids and the magicians! To pay back the entire world that has been so unfair to me! I read close to hundreds of books, thinking how to do this, until I read in one that underground in a coffin lies Plague-del-Cake — She-Who-Is-No-More. ‘Here,’ I thought, ‘is the one I’ll serve! She’ll give me power! She’ll help me take vengeance!’ And I began to bring victims to her — insects, birds, mice, uttering special spells at the same time. And I returned power to her,” Shurasik spasmodically breathed in.

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“Yes, so it was all the time... He regenerated me and returned power to me! He who everyone considered the best in the white department! And not a single black magician is even fit to hold a candle to him!” Plague said encouragingly. Her right hand slid down from her shoulder and flew up to Shurasik. He fell onto his knees and put his lips to this dead hand with dry yellow skin. Tanya was staggered by loathing, but Shurasik, it seemed, noticed nothing. He was indeed mad. “I began to hear in dreams the voice of my mistress! She ordered me on what to do...,” continued Shurasik. “I hid the gold sword in a hiding-place in my room, and then, when everybody was watching this idiotic dragonball, sneaked into the Walled-up Basement along the path dug by the evil spirits and cut the Hair in two. Then I handed the sword to Agukh, and returned to the stadium myself. Agukh said that soon after me Sardanapal ran into the Basement and braced his head. Indeed, besides me, only Sardanapal knew that only a white magician could have cut the Hair.” “So here’s why all the following days Sardanapal was so depressed! It was hard for him to believe that among us whites can turn out this scoundrel!” Tanya thought. At the same time, she understood why the academician just as unconditionally trusted the black magicians. None of the blacks could cut the Hair in two, so, among them there could not even be a traitor. “And how marvellously I contrived with the little hearts!” Shurasik continued. “All of you pinned them on your chests...” “In order to support you! You understand — support!” “No, it’s a lie!” Shurasik began to squeal. “You only pretended, and in reality mocked me! You think I didn’t see how you secretly exchanged glances and twirled your fingers by the temple?” Here something came to Shurasik’s mind, and he chuckled. ”But no one, none surmised what the letters ‘WF’ mean and why they’re outlined with stones! This is the invite spell for the Wooden Fiend! It’s I who lulled everyone to sleep this night! I summoned Fiend and handed over to it those who had the little heart! I only had to lull to sleep Coffinia and Glomov! I moulded figures of them from wax and addressed them! But I was mistaken about Vanka Valyalkin! I didn’t know that he had taken off the soccer shirt and indeed the little heart was on it!” “So this is why you yourself didn’t wear your little heart!” Tanya shouted. Shurasik bounced on the spot. “Yes, yes, precisely why! But you also did not wear it! You lost it somewhere! Or discarded it! Especially! But I spent most of the time on your little heart! Picked the stones almost the whole night! YOU even didn’t notice that yours were completely not like the rest! Wooden Fiend had to fly to you last and destroy, incinerate you so that from you would remain the Talisman!” “Mr. know-it-all, Shurasik! Terribly touching! I always knew that you’re a good boy! And indeed not indifferent to me, so it’s really...” Tanya paused, pulling herself together. Indeed if she was to die, then at least tease him a little after all. The evil spirits along the corner started to snigger disgustingly and this finally enraged Shurasik. “Shut up! Sparkis frontis maximus!” he yelled and, tossing up the hand with the ring, he fired a fight spark into Tanya’s face. This was not simply a fight spark, but a substantial one — a dense cluster of hatred the size of a ball of lightning. Such a spark could easily kill or blind.
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Tanya threw herself to the side, but the spark flew so swiftly that she did not manage to avoid it. The spark struck her in the cheek, and then... then suddenly took place what Shurasik in no way could expect. Tanya felt that a resilient heat rolled along beginning from the tip of her nose through her entire body, and in the next moment the spark, flying away, was already rushing to Shurasik himself. “Puffel-duffel!” a stupefied Shurasik began to yell, attempting to extinguish it. But the abolish spell did not work. Increasing in size, the ball of lightning continued to approach him steadily. Shurasik turned and broke into a run. The spark overtook him and struck him in the back so that the robe on Shurasik was instantly charred. He himself, somersaulting twice in the air, fell into the very centre of the swarming evil spirits, pressing under himself at one stroke a swamp bogey and two kikimoras. “Hurtga! Your stupid backga landga on my whole headga! Here I sendgu you from heregu!” one of the kikimora started to hiss, opened wide the mouth full of triangular teeth. “Fightga! I killga himga!” the swamp bogey shouted. “Ah-ah!” Shurasik howled, appearing at the very bottom of the pyramid of evil spirits attacking him. “Well, enough! Stop!” Plague-del-Cake roared in a terrible voice, with the swiftness of a bat turning on the spot. From her violet robe short white lightning spurted in all directions. It smelled of cinder. The stones on which the lightning fell split with a dry crack. The scorched evil spirits began to squeal and darted in all directions. Shurasik rose on all fours, crazily shaking his head. The hand of Plague flew up to Tanya, who was taking cover behind the coffin, and, seizing her, dragged her to its mistress. “Away with jokes! Did you see it, stupid daughter of Grotter? You deflected the spark of my servant! Deflected it exactly like my fatal breath once... Just as Professor Stinktopp’s spell. You didn’t simply deflect them: you even returned them to those who sent them! And after this you’ll still assert that the Talisman is not helping you? But now I know where it is! I saw how it flickered, deflecting the spark! And I know how to take it away! This can be done, not even using magic!” Tanya did not have time to understand anything as the dry hand of Plague abruptly struck her on the cheek. Tanya’s head began to ring. She fell, hearing at the same time something rolling on the floor. The sound resembled a barely distinguishable silvery ring. “It came out! I see it!” suddenly Shurasik began to yell. He jumped and, crawling on his stomach, started to grope for something on the floor. When he got up, it became evident that Shurasik was holding something between his thumb and his forefinger. Something small and dark, no larger than a grain of rice. Tanya traced with her hand along her nose. The birthmark, which she cursed so many times, because of which she was teased so many times, the birthmark answering with pain with each touch was no more! It disappeared, and now Shurasik was precisely holding it in his clammy hand. “So it is!” Plague-del-Cake creaked. “The Talisman of Four Elements — it’s the microscopic grit to which Leopold with a spell of camouflage magic gave the form of a birthmark... So here’s why I couldn’t find it! Sly fox! He made it so that all these years you wore the key to the Sinister Gates on your nose! In plain sight of everyone! Hey, why did I not immediately poke your nose into the keyhole? Bring it here!”
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Plague took a step to the Sinister Gates, simultaneously stretching out her hand in order to take the Talisman. But here Tanya with a shrill screech jumped onto Shurasik and hung onto his shoulders. He began to twirl, trying to shake her off, but it was not simple. Tanya even contrived to hold onto the double bass, and it was a little more complicated than on the back of a lanky lout. Managing, she struck Shurasik on the hand. “I dropped it! Mistress, it flew off somewhere! I didn’t see where!” Shurasik squealed in panic. “YOU ASKED FOR IT! I wanted Chaos to kill you, but I’ll do this myself!” Plaguedel-Cake roared, turned threateningly. Her bony hands rushed to Tanya and, pulling her off the back of Shurasik, flung her onto the floor. Then the hands dashed for the gold sword and snatched it out of the mistress’s belt. “Kill her! Send her to her papa! Now, without the Talisman, she’s not dangerous!” Plague shouted. Understanding that this was the end, Tanya began to crawl away quickly, hearing how the gold sword, cutting the air, rushed to her. Suddenly her hands stumbled upon something on the floor. Some clay vessel... Not even recalling that it was the jug of the titans, Tanya shielded herself from the sword with it... But could clay really stop the sword, which already flew up to her head? Was this really the end? The last thing that Tanya heard was the triumphant howl of Shurasik. A faint plop was heard and darkness swallowed everything... For a moment, it seemed to Tanya that she, swiftly revolving, was falling down a well, on the very bottom of which stars were twinkling... *** Squeak... A ring clanked... The Sinister Gates were thrown open. And from there rushed out something terrible, formless, faceless... No... It was simply the door of the magic station opening. Tanya with difficulty unglued her eyelids. Leaning over her was the sympathetic face of Medusa. Academician Sardanapal’s moustaches stirred good-naturedly beside her. Yagge, knitting her brows anxiously, whispered something over a large cup. Slander Slanderych, sternly folding his arms on his chest, was rushing about like a pendulum up and down by the window. “Quick... There’s Plague... In the basement...” Tanya whispered. The voice sounded weak. The dried up lips clotted. Hearing her whisper, all four magicians turned to her. Tanya noticed explicit relief on their faces. “Don’t worry! Everything is fine. Plague-del-Cake no longer exists... Now she really is She-Who-Is-No-More,” Sardanapal announced soothingly. Tanya did not believe him. The disgusting face of Plague was still in her memory. “Why not? She has the Talisman of Four Elements... She took it away from me, and then...” The girl attempted to get up, but without strength, she fell back onto the pillow. The moustaches of Sardanapal drooped guiltily, but they almost immediately soared upward.

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“There is no more Talisman of Four Elements... Remember, it was your birthmark. Unfortunately, talismans, even the best of them, are very brittle. Plague didn’t reach it, nor did we. Who knows, perhaps it’s even for the best?” Yagge approached the rolling over Tanya and, having sternly looked at Sardanapal, forced her to drink something minty and tasty from the cup. “How do you like that trick! All day the girl lay unconscious, and you just pounced on her! Now everyone step out of the chamber here!” While Yagge was wiping her lips, Tanya continued to look interrogatively at the academician. He, as if surrendering, gave up and turned to associate professor Gorgonova. “I think, Medusa, we must explain it to her... She’ll exhaust herself with worry...” Medusa smiled with her eyes. “When Plague split the jug with the sword, she let out the force of the Earth, and the force of the Earth, in turn, liberated the titans from imprisonment. I think the titans gave you this pot counting on something similar. They needed someone to open it, but not in their jail, only outside... Then Cottus, Gyes, and Briareus broke into the basement and avenged themselves on She-Who-Is-No-More... They crushed her like a small bug... Plague could do nothing: no one is more terrible than the immortal titans... But, battling with Plague, these hundred-armed warriors smashed a good half of Tibidox. Only the Sinister Gates and the Big Tower, where, fortunately, all the students were, didn’t suffer. Then the titans transferred you from the ruins to the surviving half, and they themselves left... After they dealt with Plague, we, it goes without saying, already couldn’t return them to imprisonment. This wouldn’t be right. Moreover, even without that we have our work cut out for us. We still had to remove the sleep magic from everyone... And here these ghosts also get tangled under foot. Lieutenant Rzhevskii howls that he’ll not live in the basement and will leave for the world of the moronoids.” “And he’ll be going nowhere, the garden scarecrow! They really need him there with his jokes...” Yagge could not maintain. Sardanapal and Medusa smiled. Likely they were in complete agreement with her. “So this is what the last part of the prophecy meant, that I’d obliterate Tibidox. I in truth obliterated it, letting out the titans,” Tanya said guiltily. Sardanapal nodded, “No one blames you. But then, you had no way out. Otherwise, Plague-Del-Cake was not to be dealt with. We still got off lightly. Even Slander Slanderych acknowledges this! Right?” he asked persistently. The dean of Tibidox stopped walking here and there; he winced as if all his teeth ached at once. “I blame no one... After all, I, perhaps, will go. I want to take a walk along the banks of the pond... I have there a... m-m... job,” Slander Slanderych growled and quickly withdrew. Tanya smiled, understanding that the prankish tot-cupid did not think to pull out his love arrow from the heart of Slander. Well, it is useful for this dried-up man to love someone. Let it even be a mermaid. “And the Wooden Fiend, which Shurasik let loose? Caught it?” Tanya asked. Yagge laughed into her fist. Now Tanya understood whom Bab-Yagun took after to be so easily amused.
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“Fiend? It so foolishly butted into the titans. Decided that you were there because there was your little heart...,” she explained. “The titans rolled it up like dough, and tied it into a knot, and even pinned the little badge on top. For decoration.” “And where’s Shurasik?” “In the next chamber, in the stinging nettle bath... It re-educates... After he saw the titans, he’s somewhat not himself. Only hides under the bed...” said Yagge. Tanya looked at Medusa in alarm. “And you don’t think: he became so by himself,” Medusa calmed her. “Plague turned him into a zombie, took away his will. That’s why he was always fainting. Doesn’t matter, Yagge will cure him. True, now we indeed won’t leave him in the white department... Hey, who’s there?” Medusa turned around sternly. By the door, panting under the weight of an enormous, almost gigantic tray with chocolate cakes, salads, mineral water, pastries of a hundred and thirty varieties, Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun had already squeezed through. The latter, furthermore, haughtily displayed to Tanya her ring, which he clearly intended to return. “Stop! Well, where to! It’s been said — bed rest!” Yagge was about to rush to turn them out, but, looking at her grandson, she gave up. “Okay, only not long! And for the time being, a little liqueur for us, eh, Professor?” “Well, perhaps a thimble!” Sardanapal sneezed thoughtfully. The tip of his nose twinkled timidly. And Bab-Yagun had already put down his gigantic tray on Tanya’s blanket. Tanya thought that an excellent evening was waiting for her. And hundreds and thousands more excellent days... ***

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

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Glossary
Abbakum: The same as Avvakum. Archpriest Avvakum Petrovich (1621-1682) was a leader of the Old Believers and was burned at the stake for his faith. The Old Believers separated from the Russian Orthodox Church after 1666-1667 as a protest against church reforms. Abdullah: A common Arabic male name, it is also the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s father. Agukh: The Agudas Chasidei Chabad uses the name AGUKH in Russia. This is the umbrella organization of the Chabad-Lubavich movement, also known as Chabad, Habad, or Lubavitch, one of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism and one of the largest Jewish Orthodox movements worldwide. 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: This Slavic folkloric character is an aged crone and a witch that lives in the forest in a hut with chicken feet. Bab-Yagun: A derivation of Baba Yaga. Bald Mountain: According to Slavic legends, a place where witches and other paranormal creatures gather for the Sabbath. Basilisk: In Medieval European legends, the basilisk is the king of serpents, usually described as a crested snake of cock with a snake tail. Its odour can kill snakes, the fire from its mouth can kill birds, and its glance can kill a man. It can also kill by hissing. Only a weasel can kill a basilisk. 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 Rus, 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” theatre and the company in Moscow that gives performances of ballet, opera, and plays. Bonegraft: An organism that heals broken bones, it is 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. Borzoi: Russian wolfhound.

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

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Briareus, Cottus, Gyes: These are the three Hecatoncheires (“hundred-handed”) in Greek mythology: Briareus the strong, Cottus the furious, and Gyes the crippler. They are enormous both in size and in might, and each of them has one hundred hands and fifty heads. Bryansk: A city southwest of Moscow, it is on a strategic point near the junction of the rivers Desna and Bolva. It was an ancient fortress made invisible from the outside by the forest wilderness. The legendary Nightingale the Robber supposedly lived in a Bryansk forest. 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. Carnelian: A form of quartz, long associated with the beliefs and customs of ancient civilizations, supposedly has the power of protection against evil. Catherine II: Catherine the Great (1729-96) of Russia, born Sophie Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst, wife of Peter III of Russia, reigned as Empress of Russia from 1762 after the death of her husband, also known as the epitome of an enlightened despot, a patron of arts, literature, and education. Centaur: In Greek mythology, this is a being with the head, arms, and trunk of a man and the body and legs of a horse. Cerberus: In Greek mythology, this is the hound of the underworld. He has 3 heads and guards the gate of the underworld to ensure the dead cannot leave and the living cannot enter. 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. Chuchundra: The heroine of a Russian dramatized game-quiz on fairy-tales for early school children, she is the granddaughter of Koshchei the Deathless and Baba Yaga and is distinguished by an ambitious and harmful nature. On finding out about her namesake Chuchundra, the cowardly muskrat in the short story Rikki-Tikki-Tavi of The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), she wants fairy-tales written about her. Cleopatra: Queen Cleopatra VII (69-39 BC) of Egypt, the last pharaoh. Constellation Ara: Ara — Latin for altar — is a southern constellation. In Greek mythology, it is identified as either the altar of the king of Arcadia Lycaon, who sacrificed a child to the ruler of the Greek gods Zeus on the altar, the altar of the god of wine Dionysus, or with that of the superlative centaur (see Centaur) Chiron, it’s original Latin name being Ara Centauri.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Constellation Sagittarius: Sagittarius — Latin for archer — is one of the constellation of the zodiac. In Greek mythology, it is identified as a centaur (see Centaur). The Babylonians identified it as the god Pabilsag, with wings and a lion’s head. 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, this is a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of its forehead. 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, it involves 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. 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.

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

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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. Force-eight storm: Severity of a storm defined by wind velocity using a scale based on the Beauford Wind Force Scale that goes from 0 to 12. Force-eight is a gale of 51 to 102 km per hour. Frogman, Cain: Frogman is the name of a man-size talking frog in the Oz series by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). In the Old Testament, Cain is the older son of Adam and Eve, and Cain murdered his brother Abel. 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: 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. Goyaryn: A derivation of Gorynitch, the most well known dragon in Slavic folklore. Grabanne, Paco: A derivation of Paco Rabanne (born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo of Spain, 1934-), known as the enfant terrible of the French fashion world in the 1960s. He started his career as a jewellery designer, and later used metal in his fashion designs. He has an interest in the paranormal and in 1999, made the notorious prediction of the fall of the Russian space station Mir onto Paris. 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. 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.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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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. Horace: Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), known in English as Horace, Roman philosopher and lyric poet. Hottabych: From the story Old Man Hottabych (1956) by L.I.Lagin (1903-79), a fairy-tale about a genie freed from captivity by a Soviet schoolboy and tried to adapt to modern life and the communist lifestyle. 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. Humpbacked Horse: From the masterpiece fairy-tale poem The Little Humpbacked Horse (1834) of P.P.Ershov (1815-69). This magical pony with two humps on its back can fly and talk and helps its master Ivan to achieve all the impossible tasks given to him by the Tsar. Hydra: In Greek mythology, a many-headed water serpent, which, when one of its heads was cut off, two new ones appeared. It was killed by Hercules who burned the neck after cutting off each head. Judah: In the Old Testament, he is the fourth son of Jacob and Leah and the eponymous ancestor of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. In Hebrew-Aramaic, the name “Jew” comes from the word “Judah,” namely “Yehuda” and “Yehudai,” or Jew and Jews. Therefore, the tribe of Judah is the ancestral tribe of the modern day Jews. Julius Caesar: Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), Roman military and political leader who played an important part in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Kasha: Porridge usually made of buckwheat but can also be of other grains. Kefir: A yoghurt drink or buttermilk. Khokhloma designs: Khokhloma is a Russian wood painting technique named after the trade settlement Khokhloma. It is typically a combination of red, black, and gold colour. Kikimora: An evil spirit in Slavic mythology, usually depicted as a small ugly old woman dressed in rags, whose appearance is considered a bad omen. However, it can also take many other forms. 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.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Koshchei the Deathless/Immortal: He is a Russian folkloric character, nearly immortal; a captor of beautiful damsels to be rescued by their suitors. He is called the Deathless because his death is hidden in an egg in a duck in a hare in a coffer buried under an oak on an island in the sea. If one finds the egg and hit him over the head, he will finally die. Lycurgus: In Greek mythology, this was the king of Thrace who opposed the cult of Dionysus and as punishment was driven mad by the gods. 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. Münchhausen: Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-97), German officer and author, also known as “the Baron of lies.” After his retirement from the military, he was famous for telling extraordinary tales about his life as a soldier, hunter, and sportsman. His family friend Rudolf Erich Raspe (1737-94) was responsible for creating the Münchhausen myth by penning works based on the tales. Nanaian jokes: The Nanai people traditionally live along the Amur River. They are used as the butt of jokes. 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. Odysseus: The Greek mythic hero of The Odyssey, Homer’s epic story of Odysseus’s wanderings after the Trojan War. One of his adventures involved blinding the Cyclops Polyphemus. Orlov: Count Grigorii Grigorevich Orlov (1734-83), statesman and lover of Catherine II. Pampushka: A rich soft sweet roll, also the nickname for a pudgy girl. Pegasus: The winged horse from Greek mythology. 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. Pogrom: Originally an organized, often officially encouraged persecution of an ethnic group, it came from the Russian verb “to wreck havoc.” In everyday speech, it is used simply to mean a mess, that everything has been smashed, without any ethnic connotation. Pood: Russian weight measure equivalent to about 16 kg. 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.”

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

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Potemkin: Prince Grigorii Aleksandrovich Potemkin (1739-91), statesman and lover of Catherine II. Pushkin: Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837), considered the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature. 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. Rockfoil: A small often mat-forming alpine plant having small star-like white flowers. Russian bath: A sweat bath where the bather goes between the steam room where he lashes himself with a bunch of birch twigs and outside where he drenches himself with cold water. Russian school system: The Russian school year runs from September 1st to the end of May with June being the exam month. It is divided into 4 terms with vacations in between: a week at the start of November, 2 weeks for Christmas and New Year, and a week at the end of March. A fivepoint grading system is used where “5” is the highest mark, “3” is average, and “2” is unsatisfactory. “1” is uncommon and rarely given for academic reasons. Russian stove: A Russian stove is a huge masonry structure with shelves and ledges and reaches up to the ceiling. It can take up a quarter of a peasant hut and is used for both cooking and the heating of the hut. The residents even sleep on the ledges and shelves during cold months. 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. Scythians: A group of barbaric nomadic tribes that occupied the Caucasus, the Altai Mountains, and southern Ukraine from around 700 BC to 200 AD. They are known for their taste for elaborate gold ornaments, and their warrior-women inspired the Greek myth of the Amazons. Semolina: A granular, milled product of wheat, mainly used for making pasta. Shaman: Shamanism is a range of traditional beliefs and practices based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. A shaman is an intermediary between the natural and the spiritual world, travelling between the worlds in a trance state. Once in the spirit world, the shaman would commune with the spirits for assistance in healing, hunting or weather management. Shishiga: An evil spirit in Slavic mythology, usually in the form of a timid unassuming woman associated with either water or dwellings, therefore it is said to live in a swamp, a forest, a bathhouse, a barn, or the basement of a home. Snow Maiden: An old Russian fairy-tale of a girl made of snow and who came alive, but when she tried to jump over the fire as the other girls did, she melted. Nowadays she is known as the granddaughter and helper of Grandfather Frost (see Grandfather Frost).
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Soft sign: The Cyrillic alphabet used for Russian has two characters that have no sound of their own: soft sign and hard sign. Their purpose in a word is to soften or harden the sound of the consonant before them. As they have no significance in English pronunciation, it has been decided to not show them in the present translations; but for formal translation into English, the soft and hard signs are usually denoted by the single quote ’ and the double quote ” respectively. In one of the text there is the sentence: Have you ever seen a person who wrote ‘vegetable’ not only with a soft sign but also in two words? In Russian, the word for vegetable is ovoshch, it is a single word with no soft sign. 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 also 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. Squirrel with a golden nut: One of the wondrous sights in Prince Guidon’s domain in The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831), a fairy-tale poem by Pushkin. (See Pushkin.) Stinktopp: An archaic German word for bedbug. Stomatologist: A specialist in stomatology, the science dealing with the mouth and its diseases. Stone Guest: The Stone Guest (1830) is a poetic drama by Pushkin (see Pushkin) based on the Spanish legend of Don Juan. It was adapted into an opera of the same name (1872) by Russian composer Alexander Sergeyevich Dargomyzhsky (1813-69). Sundew: A carnivorous plant that captures and digests insects, its roots, flowers, and fruit-like capsules have been used in medicinal preparations since the 12th century. Talisman: An object marked with magic signs and confers on its bearer supernatural powers or protection. 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. Tien Shan Mountains: One of the longest mountain ranges in Central Asia, an endless region that lies between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyistan and China, a boundless expanse of peaks, many of which have never been explored. 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.” Tutankhamen: Egyptian pharaoh (ruled 1333-1323 BC) who began his reign at age 9. He was the famous “King Tut” whose nearly intact tomb was discovered in 1922. 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.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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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. White crow: In nearly all cultures of the world, the crow was originally white and there are different legends of why the crow turned black. In Greek mythology, a white crow is a messenger of the gods. White slippers: Part of the Russian funeral ritual. 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, 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/

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