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

ru/

Tanya Grotter And The Golden Leech
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 Thunder shakes the magic school Tibidox. Lightning beat at exactly one point — the masonry on the roof of the Big Tower. And in the neglected gatehouse by the swamp Tanya Grotter discovers the forgotten prophecy of The Ancient One. If an ancient spirit is released, the Golden Leech will begin to crawl into the magic fire and the Rope in the fingerboard of the double bass will break, time will swing in the opposite direction, the revived pagan idols will go to war on the Tortoise of Eternity and the Sinister Gates will collapse! The forecasted events begin to happen one after another… And all this during the dragonball world championship, in which the composite Tibidox team must battle with the team of the Invisibles, in which the incomparable Gury Puper shines! Brief Reference of Magic Spells Printed with gracious permission of the for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox, laureate of the award of Magic Suspenders, Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov. Sparkis frontis — combat spark of white magic. Pointus harpoonus — sleep spell, lifts at dawn. Firstus drumus — drying of wet clothing. Trampli-kickli — “kicker” spell; cannot be reversed. Painus suppressus — spell against pain. Paranoius roofus blowout! Declinate culminate! — useless combination of spiritbanishing spells. Fillissimo moronissimo! Scleroticus marasmoticus! — spell for erasure of memory. Fogus sneakus — spell of burglary (black magic from the list of 100 forbidden spells). Briskus-quickus — spell against the simplest evil spirits, Black Curtains, poltergeists, and ghosts. Justislanderis theokssiris! — spell against the King of Ghosts (once a year). Grail Gardarika — spell of passage from the world of moronoids into the world of magicians; works only at one point above the island of Buyan. Liftis-cockus — removes the chicken evil eye. Shedus spectacus — spell of invisibility, weak and sufficiently confusing; does not apply to hair and clothing. Solidus royalismus — spell that sometimes blocks dark magic (not more than one spark in strength). Squeezus pullus — “embrace” spell, no need for comments. Panidis scorchus — is it always necessary to ignite fire with the help of matches? Trigus sputterus — puts out flame. Nab-grab — displacement of objects to small and average distances; do not use without special necessity, not inconceivable that the transferred object will show up broken into smithereens. Checkis trackis ransackis — search spell. Hungeronus hungerygus — causes a sharp feeling of hunger. Wiza cockwiza — “crammer” spell (black magic from the list of 100 forbidden spells); useful for the preparation of lessons, blocked by instructors during exams and tests.
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Bowus threebowus — simple spell for lazy people, ties laces. Attention! If no laces on footwear, will tie toes! Cleanus tubecleanus — another spell for lazy people, washes and cleans teeth; explosion possible in the presence of chewing gum in mouth. Paperykus creepoutus — for remote displacement of papers. Plugis cutdownis — “leaving, turn out lights.” Furyllis ebbus trufus paradisis appedicitus hellus — fatal curse (abbreviated form). Blowis nullis — counter-spell to imposition of fatal curse (only during the first five minutes after imposition of the curse). Thunderium grandium — spell of chaos (black magic from the list of 100 forbidden spells). Kaput youfinitut — spell to separate the soul from the body (black magic from the list of 100 forbidden spells). Whoopli woepli penalbowpli — casts evil eye (black magic of average power). Feverytb — “anti-hiccup” magic. Trickus runtus — lifts sharp pain in the stomach. Goatbumpy noisu — lifts “frog” evil eye (to be used no later than first turning green!) Slopis-galoshis-idiotis — against swamp bogeys; does not work on other forms of evil spirits. Flight Speedus envenomus — the swiftest and most dangerous. Hastenus plodus — average. Pilotus kamikazis — slow, but load-lifting; equally suitable for elephants and klutzes. Oyoyoys smackis thumpis — safety net. Bangus parachutis — braking. Bangus parachutis forte — accelerated braking for special landing. “Bewitched Pass” Gullis-dullis (the pass) — Tsap-tsaraps (the block). Trullis-zapullis (the pass) — Leos-zafindileos (the block). Figus-zatsapus (the pass) — Shchups-kuroshchups (the block). Scoring in Dragonball Stun — 1 Sneeze — 2 Flame-extinguisher ball — 3 Pepper —5 Immobilize — 10

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Chapter 1 The Durnevs and the Talking Fragments Best deputy Herman Durnev, director of the firm Second-Hand Socks and chairman of the committee “Loving Aid to Children, Pensioners, and the Handicapped,” stood before the large mirror in the lobby and fussily repaired the necktie on his emaciated neck with the protruding Adam’s apple. His long face with hollow cheeks smacked slightly of a ghastly green, and his eyeteeth jutted out slightly more than in ordinary respectable moronoids. This uncommon appearance fell to the lot of Uncle Herman by inheritance from his distant relative Count Dracula, a relationship that Durnev, however, did not even suspect. “Ninel! Are you here?” Uncle Herman shouted. No one answered. The best deputy restlessly began to turn his neck and yell even louder, “Ninel! Do you hear me? Ninel! Bring me another tie! This dark-blue one makes me look chubby!” Muffled, house-shaking steps were heard, as if a dray horse was driven along the corridor, and from the room, her massive body brushing against the wall, Aunt Ninel slowly appeared. The spouse of Uncle Herman was so stout that one could make three of her husband out of her and still mould a small swamp bogey from the leftover. “Sweetie, don’t make it up! The dark-blue tie suits you very well!” Aunt Ninel cooed soothingly, affectionately putting her hands on her husband’s shoulders. Uncle Herman staggered and sagged almost to the floor. “No, it doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t! I look completely bloated with it on!” The best deputy pouted and stomped his foot. Aunt Ninel wanted to sneer that her husband had less fat than a mummy, but she reconsidered. To argue with Uncle Herman was as useless as teaching a donkey the principles of versification or holding back by the exhaust pipe a bus already started. “Fine, dear, I’ll bring you your favourite lilac tie with the little reddish-brown flowers! Only, I beg you, calm down!” Aunt Ninel agreed and made her way into the bedroom. Underfoot near her, coughing maliciously and hanging onto the slippers, the dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres was turning round and round. Earlier the dachshund even bit Uncle Herman, but since he was Lisper the Rabbit, it stayed away from him, remembering his powerful “hind paws.” Aunt Ninel opened the wardrobe in the search for the necktie and in an instant, Uncle Herman nervously jumped on the spot, frightened by her amazed outcry. Running into the room, the best deputy saw that his wife, covering her mouth with her hand, was frozen at the door. “Ninelie, which happened?” “M-m-m! M-there!” Aunt Ninel mumbled in horror. Uncle Herman rather cowardly glanced into the wardrobe. Things were chewed up and soaked with sticky mucus. Mucus was dripping from both his new black coat and his spouse’s evening gown. The smell issuing from them was so loathsome that Uncle Herman instantly understood why his wife was holding a hand to her mouth. “I don’t understand... I took a shirt from here ten minutes ago and everything was in order! And the dog could not have done it, it can’t reach so high to nibble!” the deputy said, puckering. “Nothing is gone?”
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Aunt Ninel’s eyes glided along the shelves. She abhorred touching the things with her hands. “No, nothing. Everything’s in place... Although... yes, exactly, no sweater! It was here, underneath!” “What sweater?” “Tanya Grotter’s sweater, the one she wore at home! And who would hanker after such junk? It’s disgusting even to wash the floor with it! I’m a fool, why didn’t I immediately throw it out?” Aunt Ninel groaned. Uncle Herman’s knees buckled and he dejectedly collapsed onto the sofa. No, this in no way resembled an ordinary theft. Especially as even the most adroit pilferer would not know how to penetrate into the apartment through closed doors and the glassed-in balcony, on top of that in the presence of the owners! “Again this vile Grotter! It’s always her! Her! And why did we take her into the house then? Should have sent her to a settlement even in infancy! No, ship her directly to prison from the maternity ward!” the best deputy groaned. It did not even enter Durnev’s head that someone besides Tanya herself could steal the sweater, although even this, according to him, disgusting girl would hardly begin to chew on the things of her Uncle Herman at that. “Good that Pipa is now resting in camp by the sea! We could at least save her from this horror!” Aunt Ninel said, full of suffering. *** Soon, having dressed up in one of the suits miraculously left intact, one he had to fish out from the wardrobe with the aid of the mop, Uncle Herman left for the Duma. His clothing, hands, and hair gave off the sharp smell of cologne, which Durnev scented himself with in order to drown out the sickening stink of mucus. Aunt Ninel summoned the domestic help, who was having a day off, and decisively started cleaning up. After putting masks over their faces, the women extracted everything from the wardrobe and sent them away for dry-cleaning. This was that same dry-cleaner where the workers were still stuttering after the acquaintance with Black Curtains, which they attempted to free from centuries-old magic dust. The domestic help had hardly carried in the enormous bags with the malodorous things, when the receptionist immediately fainted, and the manager locked himself up in the office, weighing whether he should voluntarily turn himself in at the psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, Aunt Ninel set off for the glassed-in balcony, where Tanya once lived from spring to late autumn, and conducted a thorough search there. “It’s time to dispose of this girl’s trash! Everything to the last pin!” she muttered, throwing into the garbage can everything that could still remind her of the orphan. Into the garbage went Tanya’s broken pencil case (special thanks to Pipa), water colours, school notebooks, book stands, and all the other things discovered in the wooden locker on the balcony. Aunt Ninel got rid of them with methodical carefulness, at the same time without taking the thick rubber gloves off her hands. “Enough surprises for us! Everything into the dumpster! Everything!” she repeated, tearing up into shreds Tanya’s school diary and furiously ramming the crumpled papers into the can. When it was the turn of the school bag — a really nightmarish school bag, which you will rarely see even on a first-grader — a charred stump, on which the remains of varnish
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were still visible, suddenly dropped out of a side pocket. “And what else is this? Some vile stick! She dragged in all kinds of trash!” Aunt Ninel grimaced with disgust. She did not know that this fragment, the old bow of the double bass, flared up in Tanya’s hands during flight. Durneva decisively broke the charred stump with her knee and flung it into the can. She already aimed at sending off the worn boots next when suddenly the garbage can began to tremble, began to shake and... Aunt Ninel heard a ringing voice, which at once filled the entire balcony. “Oh, my granny mama! With you again I am the resilient, beloved by all and irritating to many commentator Bab-Yagun! The playing commentator, by the way, which is doubly critical! If someone intends to give me an evil eye — forget it at once: I’m secured by Yagge. Furthermore, I have elicited from Dentistikha her best reflecting amulet! “I am sitting on my dear vacuum, fuelled by splendid rubbish and mermaid scale, and I am prepared for takeoff. There still remains several minutes until the Tibidox — Gandharvas match begins. “On the Island Buyan — eh-eh... on which palm did I write the crib? — a remarkable July noon. The sun shines like a polished copper basin, and a refreshing breeze blows from the side of the ocean. The hangars shake from dragon roars. From the cracks pours thick black smoke, so familiar to all true fans of dragonball. Several times together with the smoke outside, the howling genies escaped, vanishing into thin air. Personally, I’m not surprised: the dragons have not been fed for a long time so that they will hunt the opposition’s forwards more actively. “The hero-bouncers Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya are sitting between the platforms and angrily mumbling, when someone accidentally steps on their feet. I will reveal the secret of this mumbling. Today a mute spell has been cast on the entire trinity so that it, as has already happened before, would not deafen spectators by its howls. True, pity that there are no spells against assault and battery, otherwise the pair of cyclopes, attempting to force their way to the match without a white ticket — I swear to you, all shielding tickets are white! — would not even run to magic station prior to the beginning of the game...” Aunt Ninel finally figured out where the voice was coming from. She stared wildly at the speaking rods, staggered, and sat down on the floor so heavily that she almost brought down the balcony. Unhappy daughter of Eve! How could she know that it is not possible to handle magic objects — even those broken and three quarters burnt — so unceremoniously? Now both fragments caught magic radio waves, and the walls of the garbage can served as an amplifier. With each minute the voice of the garbage can became increasingly louder, increasingly more distinct. It resounded no longer just through the balcony, but also through the entire apartment of the Durnevs, even penetrating through the wall to the neighbours. There behind the wall General Cutletkin was overbearingly tapping with a pencil on the table and studying the price of used toothbrushes. Uncle Herman presented this price to him yesterday with a secret intention. “The Indian gandharvas are considered some of the favourites of the dragonball world championship,” the brisk voice chattered. “They say, once they began as celestial musicians, playing at the feasts of ancient gods. However, after the ancient gods together with the spirits of chaos were imprisoned in the basements of Tibidox, the gandharvas
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remained out of work and took up dragonball professionally. It happened that they have defeated even the babai, the Invisibles, and the Bald Mountain witches. I personally am not surprised. Not without reason these half-magician half-birds spend a large part of their life in the air. They came down to earth only to harm people — so it was, in any case, until The Ancient One put prohibition on any magic interference in the life of the moronoids. “The gandharvas need no magic objects for flight, although for some reason each holds a rounded three-stringed lute. Many suspect, though true, it has not been proven, that they use the lutes for all kinds of forbidden tricks in the field. In any case, even my granny — a fan of five-hundred years! — has never seen the gandharvas part from their lutes. “The gandharvas are very well-fed. Few of them have less than three chins, and even the tummies are also o-ho-ho! It suggests the thought: have the gandharvas moved from nectar to beer? Short slow-moving wings grow directly from the shoulders. The feet resemble that of an eagle or a griffin. The powerful bent claws evoke respect, although, to tell the truth, the gandharvas rarely run on them. More often, they use a swift general pass in the middle zone with a subsequent breakthrough to the dragon of the opposition. “Attention! The for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov is getting up onto the judicial stand. The fans applaud. In the past month, Sardanapal has replaced the Persian magician Tistrya at the post of chief umpire. It is said, after the loss of the babai team, whom he clearly played up to, Tistrya went slightly crazy and ate his own ears. True, he soon grew new ones, but the sport board attached to the Magciety of Jerky Magtion did not revoke its decision. “Nightingale O. Robber and the gandharvas’ trainer Kashavara walk beside Sardanapal. Kashavara feels very confident. That the chief umpire is also the head of Tibidox does not disturb him at all. Sardanapal is noted among magicians for his adherence to principles. For sure, he will be even stricter with his own team than with our Indian guests. “And now I hurry to present to you the composite Tibidox team, if, of course, among the fans there are still those not familiar with it. Number one — Zhora Zhikin, half-back. Magic instrument — mop with a propeller. Handsome, don’t you think? Of course I’m not talking about the propeller... A good third of the female fans came to the match only just to take a look at our Zhora. Unfortunately — hee-hee! — it’s not possible to admire him for long. Zhikin usually retires in the first half-hour, since it is even more complex to control his mop than a broom. But then, if any of the opposition falls under the propeller, hungry Goyaryn will be able to refresh itself with outstanding stuffing! “Number two — Damien Goryanov, the dark department of Tibidox. His vacuum is a Storm-100U. I must admit, it is not a bad machine with the turbine supercharger and chrome-plated pipe; however, it is far from my vacuum. Moreover, Goryanov never cleans his ears, which extremely complicates his orientation in the air...” “YAGUN! Knock it off right now, or I...” someone began to yell in a terrible voice. Immediately after this a whistle and a deafening slap was heard. Aunt Ninel shuddered and just in case pulled her head into her shoulders, although clearly no one was advancing on her personally. “Just now you observed an attempt to ram the playing commentator with a Storm-100U vacuum. A pitiful, deceitful, and meaningless attempt, I hasten to add!” Bab-Yagun continued as if nothing had happened. “I, with the astuteness characteristic of me, always
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maintain: this powerful machine does not have sufficient manoeuvrability and it hinders disgustingly. They are carefully digging Damien out of the sand at present, and again put him back up on the vacuum. I’m certain this trivial incident will in no way affect his future play. In order to get a concussion, one must — hee-hee! — have something to shock. “Number three — Katya Lotkova, Defence. A Dirt vacuum, with likable talismans and little funky foxes dangling. Lotkova has finally gotten rid of her dark glasses, and Dentistikha also, by the way! Hurray! This means that Sardanapal and Medusa were able to remove the extremely unpleasant evil eye virus, which made their pupils glow! “Seven-Stump-Holes, number four, outstanding forward and outstanding comrade. True, he can change into an otter in the heat of the moment, but indeed it can’t be helped. “Number five. With pride, I present Rita On-The-Sly and her guitar with a trailer of the Dinghy-Reagent model. Yes, an uncommon instrument, I agree. I see, the fans of the gandharvas mockingly exchange glances, but here you’re wrong, respected half-turk... half-bird! By the way, our Rita is called the most unpredictable player of the Tibidox team. Even Nightingale O. Robber does not know what she will do in the next moment. “Number six — half-back Kuzya Tuzikov on his unfailing jet broom. See how he vibrates his broom — it also rushes into battle. They say foreign magicians recently proposed to give any three brooms for it, but we proudly refused them: indeed their brooms are of an industrial spell, and our broom — native stock! By the way, it began as the most common broom in the most common home of the moronoids. It swept simply awfully and irritated its masters greatly. Moreover, its exceptional capabilities for highspeed displacement were suddenly revealed. The frightened moronoids threw it into the dumpster, from where the broom, having attached itself to a flock of ducks, independently completed the flight to Tibidox. An outstanding example of how, having talent, it is possible to make a career! “And now attention! A replacement in the team of Tibidox. Instead of number seven, Yura Idiotsyudov, the team captain by the way, the new find of trainer Nightingale O. Robber, Coffinia Cryptova is playing! Idiotsyudov got a serious injury and is now in magic station. It is never worthwhile to tease a dragon, even if it is merely Mercury. Coffinia appears on a vacuum of the model Swine-Sportage. Automatic gearbox, sliding pipe, fuelled by mermaid scales, barabashka dandruff, or discarded snake skins. See how the Swine-Sportage is lovingly decorated with wreaths and shinbones! Interesting, why? Her usual black humour or does she intend to throw the bones at the players of the opposition? A fresh thought, only it’s unlikely you will frighten them with these. For Coffinia’s information, the gandharvas by no means live on dried apricots. “Number eight... khm... Bab-Yagun, the playing commentator. I would even add ‘the magnificently playing,’ but to praise oneself — it’s indeed petty. Should you be busy with something during the match? Only please do not forget to direct your binoculars at me. “Number nine — Liza Zalizina, the diving cuckoo clock. Most inexplicable that for some reason the clock just flies whereas the cuckoo only pecks, true, with aim...” Bab-Yagun caught his breath and, after a pause, roared doubly louder, “And finally, number ten! The queen of flight! The pride of Tibidox! The courageous champ over the babai and She-Who-Is-No-More! Mistress of the luxurious magic double bass of the
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work of her great-grandfather Theophilus! I’m shaking all over with excitement pronouncing this name! Tatiana Grotter!!!” The stadium exploded with applause. Aunt Ninel, greedily listening to the play-by-play flowing out of the garbage can, first turned grey, then grew red, and suddenly issued this deafening howl, which cracked the glass on the balcony. Staff General Cutletkin in the adjacent apartment fell off his chair and bruised his tailbone. “Grotter! Again Tanya Grotter! She’s everywhere, I beg you! Shoot me so that I’d not suffer!” Durneva began to wail. She jumped out onto the stairs and, having looked around in a cowardly manner, tipped the can into the rubbish chute. With the noise of the applause howling, “Hurray! Long live Grotter, number ten!” the bow fragments tore along down the pipe together with Tanya’s other things. Pressing the empty garbage can against her chest, Aunt Ninel returned to the apartment and, smiling crazily at some unknown and probably invisible person, she hurriedly locked all the locks and bolts. Only after putting the last chain into the groove did this responsible woman allow herself to slip into a deep faint... Chapter 2 A Crafty Lute and Dozens of Bonegrafts The for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox, Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov, finally knew how to catch his playful moustaches and tie them in a knot at the back of his head. He winked smartly at Medusa, got up, and raised his hand. Several thousand fans froze in expectation. Two orange signal sparks tore away from the ancient ring of the Sovereign of Spirits, buzzed over the main dragonball stadium of Buyan Island, and deafeningly exploded. The Gandharva-Tibidox match had begun. Tanya hurriedly uttered Speedus envenomus, waved her bow, and took off, as always with pleasure sensing the resilient air resistance. The strings of the double bass impatiently hummed. The warm wood of the instrument trembled, almost alive. Here it is, excitement, anticipation of a match not yet begun! To the right and left, on top and below, bending over their instruments, other players of the Tibidox team fuss. Here is Yagun, rattling something into the silver mouthpiece, deftly moving from hand to hand the pipe of his vacuum. Here is the beauty Katya Lotkova on the Dirt vacuum repairing talismans. Here is Zhora Zhikin trembling on the sneezing mop with a propeller, simultaneously showing off in front of female admirers. Here is Coffinia, clearly preoccupied with staying on the Swine-sportage. And who is there above? Aha, Liza Zalizina, with an offended look, blows on her finger and with a fist threatens her cuckoo for pecking her. But the gandharvas were already flickering in front, first gaining altitude, then swiftly diving downward, indistinguishable from each other for the unaccustomed eye. Some of them, clearly teasing the Tibidox players, with an air of detachment strummed on their three-stringed lutes; others soared, catching oncoming air streams with their wings. Their powerful sharp-clawed paws were decorated with long colourful ribbons. The gates of the Northern hangar were thrown open. Following puffs of smoke and long tongues of flames, a hostile dragon shot forward. Tanya looked narrowly at it and it
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made her ill at ease. Moreover, it immediately became understandable why the gandharvas hid it so thoroughly and allowed no one into the hangar. In looks this was a typical Eastern dragon — with golden scales, a lean body flexible like a snake, many bone plates and complex growths on the scales, long whiskers and somewhat dull teeth, among which perhaps only the four jutting out canine teeth were frightening. The claws were strong, the feet powerful, but no stronger nor more powerful than, say, those of Flying Meatball, the dragon of the babai. No, the advantage of the Indian dragon was not in this. Quick, invincible, it moved around above the field and fired long tongues of flame like daggers at the Tibidox players. And what a flame this was, Tanya realized when the scorching fiery jet, shot from the huge distance of the field, suddenly singed her hair and the dry heat burned her cheek. Ff-sh-sh-shuh! Yelling, the young Grotter waved her bow and threw her double bass to the side. Good that the flame was spent, and also the vampire bile, which she had the foresight to put on, saved her from serious burn. And this was at the very beginning of the match, when the balls were not even released! “Oh, my granny mama! What’s happening!” exclaimed a wonder-struck Bab-Yagun. “The gandharvas brought with them a true winged flamethrower! Likely, there remains not a single safe place in the field. Minutes have not yet passed since the beginning of the match and Tanya Grotter has already received an annoying burn! Seven-Stump-Holes has a melted pipe, and Kuzya Tuzikov was forced to resort to the aid of water-sprites in order to put out the flame on his jet broom! Now I understand why the gandharvas call their dragon Spitter! And I, a fool, even intended to look in the dictionary! But when are they finally releasing the balls? Does Sardanapal really want his team to become flying shashlik even before the match?” On hearing the challenge of Bab-Yagun, the academician stopped contemplating his beard and waved his hand. “Where are the balls? Really it’s impossible to figure things out without me?” he shouted angrily. Two genie-referees, looking askance with uneasiness at the hungry dragons, carried out the basket and, having pulled off the cover, rushed fleeing. Five magic balls of different weight and colour — flame-extinguisher, stun, pepper, sneeze, and immobilize — obeying the magic placed in them, soared into the sky and with the ballet grace of overfed bumblebees scattered along the entire field. Simultaneously twenty players — ten from Tibidox and ten gandharvas — rushed to the balls, hurrying to seize the initiative from the first minutes of the match. The dragons began to roar furiously and, whipping with their tails, advancing a smoke screen all around, ascended under the dome. Having served as “goals” in many matches, they had long since understood that the magic balls gave one trouble, especially when they appeared in one’s mouth. But to swallow a couple of the opposition’s forwards was an entirely different matter. The hungry dragons had nothing against this. “An outstanding start to the game!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed enthusiastically. “What a tight battle for the balls! Damien Goryanov is already pressing against his chest the stun ball, which he intercepted from under the nose of the gandharva forward Mamarama. Here he indeed did not expect such agility from anyone! Smart, Damien, I for some reason was confident that they wouldn’t let you keep the ball!
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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“But what’s that there? And this must be seen! Seven-Stump-Holes rushes after an escaping pepper ball. Immediately two gandharvas — Ramapapa and Jelly-Backbone — are at his heels! Oh, my granny mama, if you dreamt about this Backbone, you would fall off the bed! Broad as an ox, the crushed ears of a wrestler, and a broken nose! Two hundred dystrophic persons compressed into a single jock! Seven-Stump-Holes literally clings to the pepper ball, but Ramapapa roughly shoves him with his lute. That’s right, you saw it: using an ancient instrument like an ordinary club! A disgrace! Really, will Sardanapal not interfere? He did, the whistle blows! Hurray! A penalty! A outstanding possibility to open score!” Bab-Yagun triumphantly shot up on his turbo-vacuum of the seven-hundred series and, tilting the pipe, fixed himself at the centre of the fields, where he could see better. “Strange! Very strange!” his voice began to be heard from there. “I for some reason thought that the gandharvas would protest against the penalty! Nothing of the kind! Without getting involved in a debate, they somehow very willingly catch their dragon Spitter and by a special spell force it to open its mouth. “Seven-Stump-Holes prepares himself for the penalty throw from the eleven-metre line. Stump appears puzzled. Likely, he suspects that something is not kosher here! Nevertheless, he takes aim and... Outstanding hit! Launched by the steady hand of SevenStump-Holes, the ball flies exactly into the dragon’s mouth, but Spitter swiftly moves aside and gives it a push with its nose! The ball flies directly into the hands of half-back Lakshaman, who passes it to Mamarama... “The game continues! The gandharvas energetically attack Goyaryn, covering it from all sides! So here is what their crafty plan consists of! Having a dragon that knows how to return balls with its nose, they, not fearing penalties, can allow themselves a rough game! Goyaryn meets the gandharvas with solid fire and slams shut its mouth, not allowing them to throw in a ball. Zhora Zhikin and Katya Lotkova stand by Goyaryn on top, not letting the ‘birds’ enter the ‘dead zone’ where the eyes of the dragon cannot make them out.” While the gandharvas, distracting the defence, were circling around Goyaryn, a not less fierce fight was developing in the opposite part of the field. Tanya, whose cheek was still burning with pain, battled with the gandharva forward Grouser-Aga for the immobilize ball. In pursuit of the ball, Grouser-Aga traced magnificent barrels in the air. Simultaneously he purposefully tried, seemingly casually, to lash at Tanya’s eyes with his wings. Forcing herself not to answer this obvious provocation, Tanya pressed her chest against the double bass and, stretching out like an arrow, tried to pick the moment to seize the ball that was slipping away. “The young Grotter has good endurance!” Medusa Gorgonova, the docent of the department of evil spirits studies, said encouragingly, turning to Tararakh. The pithecanthropus angrily shook his enormous hand overgrown with thick reddish hair to the fingers. “Yes, she’s a smart one. Plays simply brilliant! But someone must put the gandharvas in an inconvenient position! They will maim all of ours! See, he lashes directly at the eyes!” he shouted. “How would you put them in an inconvenient position? It’s not even possible to call a penalty for this offence. Hitting with wings is not considered a rough play. Even Sardanapal can’t find fault with this — outwardly everything is according to the rules,” Medusa said despondently.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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The gandharva trainer Kashavara glanced sideways at Gorgonova and complacently slapped himself on the stomach. It seemed he understood Russian perfectly, although he also preferred to pretend to be a fool. Noticing that the immobilize ball had glided away in the air, Tanya swiftly swung about and rushed to head it off. She nearly succeeded in grabbing it, but here Grouser-Aga, swooping from above, struck her face with his wing. The girl blinked from surprise, saving her eyes, and when she opened them again, the gandharva already had the ball, hurrying with it to Goyaryn. An indignant Tanya waved her bow and, having gathered height, dashed to ram Grouser-Aga with the double bass, but here the match was suddenly stopped by the chief umpire. Someone from the opposition, it seemed, Lakshaman, was clutching the hair of Damien Goryanov, trying to take the stun ball away from him. “Again a penalty! Spitter unwillingly opens its mouth, and the gandharvas, sarcastically smirking, line up all around. It goes without saying, they again hope to catch the rebound!” Bab-Yagun chattered away. Damien Goryanov forced the vacuum to buzz in the air, screwed up his right eye, swung widely and put all his strength into the throw... The Tibidox trainer Nightingale O. Robber began to moan and held his head. The stands started to shout with laughter. Yes, you do not see that often! “What a hit!” the lop-eared grandson of Yagge exclaimed to the entire stadium. “I have in mind that only our adorable Goryanov could throw such a curve ball! Spitter perplexedly begins to slam shut its mouth, understanding that indeed somehow a ball won’t exactly turn up in it. The stun projectile describes an arc in the air and — falls directly onto the nose of the gandharva forward Mamarama. “TRA-TA-RA-TA-TA! “The magic enclosed in the ball is freed and for a moment wraps the forward in a lilac cloud! Mamarama begins to giggle foolishly and, accompanying himself on the lute, briskly strikes up the Indian folk song In the field a tea bush was standing! Say what you want, but stun magic, on top of that at the dose for a dragon, — not some cup of coffee on an empty stomach! “Joining their comrade in singing, Lakshaman and Jelly-Backbone carefully lead the cheered up Mamarama from the field. The gandharva clings to them and climbs to hug them. It’s clear he will not be playing in this match... Interesting, is this counted as a goal for us or not? After all, the throw was sufficiently effective, although the ball did not fall into the dragon... What? I can’t believe my eyes! Sardanapal has assigned a penalty to Tibidox! And now this is indeed an outrage! Indeed, it’s clear to everyone that Goryanov struck Mamarama not with any malicious intent, but only as a result of a congenital squint! And no need to look at me unfavourably, Damien, I speak the truth and only the truth!” Bab-Yagun shouted. Lakshaman got ready to break through to Goyaryn for the penalty. He floated with the sneeze ball out to the eleven-metre boundary and began to wait for Goyaryn to open its mouth. When this happened, Lakshaman made a quick false movement, waited till the Tibidox dragon tried to dodge, and swiftly threw the ball. The mouth of Goyaryn had not yet slammed shut and the ball flew into it already. A violet flash flared up. “Goal! The gandharvas get two points. Yielding to the action of magic, Goyaryn begins slowly to inflate as if it intends...” Bab-Yagun chattered on.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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It was not necessary to explain anything. The magic mouthpiece was filled with a terrible rumble. It seemed even the massive rock tortoise Tibidox trembled. Whirling up sand, a sandstorm swept over the field. “Oh, my granny mama! What an unbelievable sneeze! An instant ago something flew swiftly past me and cut into the magic dome separating the playing field from the spectator stands. Interesting, who is this picturesque pancake with feathers? Really, Lakshaman? Here it is — punishment for malicious joy! In Lakshaman’s place, I would not fly so close in order to admire the result of my throw! “Several genie medical orderlies strive as cautiously as possible to peel the gandharva from the dome. I’m not mistaken if I say that he’ll need a prolonged rest in magic station. If the gandharvas were not immortal, the result would be even sadder,” informed BabYagun. The game continued. The gandharvas were already deprived of a second player, but then they were leading in score. Seven-Stump-Holes and Rita On-The-Sly cut Grouser-Aga off from Goyaryn, but Grouser-Aga, deftly diving down, passed the immobilize ball to Jelly-Backbone. Tanya rushed after Backbone, at the same time having accidentally noticed that Ramapapa and half-back Lollifolly were not participating in the play but whispering something to their dragon. This seemed suspicious to her and she decided not to let the dragon out of her sight. Spitter climbed in circles under the dome itself and, stretching its leathery wings, began to pull in air, fanning to an incredible size in front of the eyes. The majority of the Tibidox team, involved in the fight for the remaining balls, did not notice this strange manoeuvre. Tanya yelled, trying to warn at least someone, but her voice was carried away by the wind. And a second later the Indian dragon began to belch out short jets of flame. These were not even jets but powerful and well-aimed fiery spittle. One of them almost licked the polish of her double bass, but Tanya was able to dodge. But then the others were much less lucky. “Did you see this mean surprise attack? Without warning, without any declaration of flame-throwing!” Bab-Yagun got roused. “Coffinia Cryptova gets a serious burn on her leg. Even vampire bile did not help. The tank of her vacuum is punched through and mermaid scale and barabashka dandruff are thrown out with the fumes. It’s not known how long the Swine-Sportage will be able to hold out without refuelling. “Even worse is the situation with Kuzya Tuzikov. His jet broom blazes, but Kuzya heroically rejects using the shawl-parachute. Courageous Tuzik-Kuzik — pth... KuzikTuzik... pth again... excuse me, Puzik-Kuzik... I am confused from indignation... hopes to put out the fire with a counter air stream. It’s useless! The flame only burns with air. Tuzikov already rolls off the broom to the ground and is lying on the sand face down. The medical orderlies rush to him, but Kuzya gets up by himself. It seems he succeeded in uttering the accelerated braking spell Bangus parachutis forte. Hey, hey, why is my vacuum braking! I didn’t intend to release a spark! I only reproduced how it sounds!” Fiery spittle, only very recently threading thick and fast the entire dragonball field of Tibidox, finally stopped. The Indian dragon itself blew them away. Falling, it was gathering strength for new flame throwing. Making use of this, Zhora Zhikin and Rita On-The-Sly attempted to fight their way to Spitter with the five-point pepper ball. Zhikin on his high-speed mop easily went around
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two gandharva defences and began to swing around not very confidently, getting away from a strike by the dragon’s tail. Tanya, protecting Zhikin from above, suddenly focused attention on Grouse-Aga, who had stopped in the air all of a sudden and, smirking, began to strum on his lute. The propeller on Zhora’s mop started to work with interruption, and then it suddenly died. It happened that it had also faded before, but not so suddenly. Zhikin perplexedly waved his hands and began to fall. Tanya rushed but Rita On-The-Sly beat her to him, and Zhora, hanging by the shawl-parachute, passed her the pepper ball. Without reducing speed, On-The-Sly chased with the guitar with trailer to head off Spitter. The mouth of the Indian dragon was tightly closed, and Rita began to drift tantalizingly before its nose, provoking Spitter to flame throwing. It was a risk, but a risk justified. Nevertheless, no other possibility to throw the ball existed. Considering that its tail could not reach such a fast target, Spitter threw open its mouth and began to angrily pull in air. Its small eyes calculated the distance to its mark, and meanwhile, it seemed, the dragon weighed which he loved more: shashlik grilled or beef steak with blood. “Come on, Rita, come on! Show them where dragons spend the night!” Bab-Yagun recklessly howled, staring at them. The stands began to rage. The gandharva-fans flapped their wings and produced a deafening hubbub like hundreds of quarrelsome seagulls. Vanka Valyalkin, barely chewing, hurriedly swallowed the cutlets and pickles provided by his magic tablecloth. Vanka always ate when he was upset and now he was simply monstrously upset. “And what’s this! Why doesn’t she throw! Throw!” A reckless Tararakh jumped up and down on the spot and shook his pood-sized fists, which did not greatly please the hissing snakes, into which the hair of Medusa had transformed without being noticed by the mistress. Nightingale O. Robber and the gandharva trainer Kashavara shouted something to the players of their own team, but their voices were lost in the general rumble. Then, losing patience, Nightingale whistled with two fingers like a robber. Along the field rushed a sandstorm in the shape of a snake. One of the genie-referees, playing up to the gandharvas, was literally swept away and was found only many days later — gone crazy and deaf in one ear. Even the stern dean of Tibidox Slander Slanderych, and that one clearly not aware what he was doing, clutched his mermaid by the tail, which the mermaid had the foresight to leave out of the barrel, and started to fan himself with it. The mermaid began to giggle and playfully splashed him with water. Dentistikha, with disgust, straightened her glasses and moved away: she felt sick from the smell of a damp fish. “What impudence! Since when do they allow evil spirits at matches?” she grumbled in an undertone. Having dodged the fiery jet, Rita On-The-Sly swung for a certain throw. Unexpectedly from below, from under the dragon belly, Lollifolly emerged and deftly pulled the ball out of her hands. The guitar with trailer started to twirl with the airflow from his wing. She lost control of the guitar and — turned up in Spitter’s mouth. “I’m going to fall from the vacuum!” Bab-Yagun began to moan. “The Tibidox team is deprived of another player! Escaping from the dragon’s teeth and the flame, On-The-Sly dives like a swallow into the dragon’s throat. I don’t think that it’s too comfortable in Spitter’s stomach, but it’s not necessary to haul her out... Hey, which donkey let the
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cupids out onto the field? Remove these nitwits immediately or at least put suspenders on them! Which way are the dragon handlers looking at altogether, I’m furious! They’ll be gorged!” The genie dragon handlers and both referees, fussing and interfering with each other, dashed to catch the cupids, slipping through a slot into the magic dome. To catch them all proved to be an extremely complex matter. The winged boys, and there were about two dozens of them, scattered in different directions, giggling and releasing gold arrows at random. One even managed to hit a dragon handler by the finger, and another almost became Spitter’s dinner, but just in time pricked its double tongue with an arrow and slipped away. A crafty Jelly-Backbone slyly threw the flame-extinguisher ball at Goyaryn, but in his haste, he missed. He did not succeed in picking up the ball a second time: it was necessary to escape from the red-hot jet of flame, which the Tibidox dragon breathed out. True, the flame of Goyaryn was not as long-range as those of the competing “goal,” but then the jet of fire shot from its mouth would burn anything to ashes straightaway. The bounced flame-extinguisher ball was intercepted by Katya Lotkova, who, getting away from Ramapapa, made a pass to Tanya. “A critical moment!” Bab-Yagun yelled. “Having gotten the flame-extinguisher ball, Tatiana Grotter, number ten, loops around, taking off from Jelly-Backbone and Ramapapa! She tries to force her way to Spitter, but the gandharva defence cuts her off from the dragon. Tanya decides not to gain altitude because of the short jets of fire, which the Indian dragon pours on her from above the heads of the defence. Instead, Tanya is fixed on the nearest gandharva half-back Lollifolly. Really an attempt at ramming? The gandharva is likely also considering it because he turns over on his back and puts his claws out in front. You mustn’t, Tanya, this is folly! “Surprisingly, she did not intend to ram! Not quite a metre away from Lollifolly, Grotter sharply leans forward and, directing the bow downward, dives under the dragon’s belly. Lollifolly, recollecting suddenly, and Ramapapa, arriving to his aid, rush after Tanya in order to prevent her from entering the dead zone. Brilliant manoeuvre! Well done, young Grotter! “Strange, I don’t understand what Jelly-Backbone is doing! He for some reason has lost all interest in Tanya and begins to strum on his lute. Indeed, he found the time! Perhaps he should also be given a little scoop in order to play in the warm sand on the shore? “NO! DID YOU SEE THAT? “What is happening? Why does Grotter’s double bass begin to knock about and twirl on the spot like some nutty cello? Tanya is hardly managing to keep it in place. One of two things: either the airflow from the dragon’s wing turned it, or dark magic has again come into play, like in the match with the babai! Perhaps my friend Vanka Valyalkin is right when he maintains that the higher a team is ranked in the world, the dirtier its game. And now, if you do not object, I will stop chattering for a while and play a little. Possibly, our trainer Nightingale O. Robber is precisely hinting at this, for some reason he has been persistently showing me his pumpkin-shaped fist for five minutes already.” Bab-Yagun deftly caught the pipe of his vacuum, stepped on the gas, letting out a small scattering of mermaid scales from the wide carpet nozzle, and swiftly raced to JellyBackbone. The cheating gandharva noticed the danger too late. He folded up his wings and was thrown downward, having stopped strumming on the lute. Tanya could finally
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level the double bass and, evading the sharp teeth on the back of the Indian dragon, made the pass to Bab-Yagun. Gaining altitude, she saw how Yagun rushed past on the vacuum cleaner quite close to Ramapapa, who began to twirl with the storm released from the pipe, as Yagun made his way to the dragon. Spitter breathed out flame, but Yagun skilfully passed over it, the way they had mastered in training. The right hand of the playing commentator tossed up for the throw, but suddenly the Indian dragon rushed forward. Not having time to reduce speed, Yagun disappeared into its mouth, but also not letting go of the flame-extinguisher ball. And after an instant a bright flash and the inoffensive puff of smoke coming out of the dragon’s throat let it be known that the magic had successfully snapped into action. Spitter roared hoarsely, not understanding why instead of flame only dove-coloured puffs of smoke took off from its mouth, accompanied by sounds resembling the morning cough of a smoker. The stands exploded with shouts. Many broke away from their places, worrying about the fate of the swallowed number eight. “What’s with Yagun? Why is he silent? Did the canines really get him? Academician, quick!” Tararakh shouted in uneasiness. Stepping on the feet of the fans, he raced to Sardanapal. The chief umpire had the right to stop a match if fatal danger threatened a player, but here from the dragon’s stomach came the cheerful voice, “Hurray! Tibidox pulls ahead! Hey, someone tell me: did they forget to count three points for us? Pu-f-f! Well, even heat in here! I haven’t steamed in a bath for a long time! Since they drove away Granny’s Hut on Chicken Feet, and in place of it they put up some flea-pit on broiler legs like ham! And the gloom — simply pitch-dark!” Pushing aside the genies trying to stop him, the gandharva trainer Kashavara climbed through under the guard dome and, turning to the players of his team, screamed out something for a while. The gandharvas stirred. Leaving several defenders by the flameless Spitter, Ramapapa and Jelly-Backbone rushed to Goyaryn with the pepper ball, simultaneously Lollifolly and Grouser-Aga were engaged in the fight for the immobilize ball, which Damien Goryanov on the roaring Storm-100U had already chased unsuccessfully for several minutes. Meanwhile the playing commentator was clearly languishing from curiosity, not having any idea what was taking place outside. “Hey, you there, above! What’s going on with you? Does no one intend to save us by throwing the pepper ball? I’m all sweaty here, on top of that On-The-Sly is cursing! Her hand was stepped on, you see! But I tell you, Rita, I didn’t see you! Stop twitching, or this imported lizard will overcook us, and that’s the end of it!” Bab-Yagun’s indignant voice, intensified by the magic mouthpiece, came out of the dragon’s stomach. Pretending that he intended to loop, Ramapapa fooled Katya Lotkova wonderfully and gathered height, finding himself right above Goyaryn’s head. Tanya guessed that Ramapapa was attempting to use the so called “sudden nose attack.” The essence of this manoeuvre consisted of striking off-hand the sensitive nose of a dragon and, waiting, while it angrily opens its mouth, to throw the ball. This trick usually would not work with young dragons — they were too swift, but here it could work with an ancient giant like Goyaryn. However, Ramapapa did not consider the firepower of the dragon. In that moment when the claws of the gandharva struck its nose, Goyaryn furiously breathed out
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flame. Ramapapa hardly had time to shield with the lute. Squeezing the charred frame of the lute in his hands, the smoking gandharva hid in the mouth of the Tibidox dragon. The pepper ball attempted to bolt to the dome, but was instantly caught by JellyBackbone. Backbone effectively beat Seven-Stump-Holes and with a powerful throw from the middle third completed the attack into Goyaryn’s mouth not yet slammed shut. The pepper ball flared up with a white flash in the throat of the Tibidox dragon, and in the next second, yielding to magic, the dragon with loathing spat out the not completely swallowed Ramapapa. Ramapapa’s hair was sticking out in different directions from the dragon saliva. A thick layer of cinder covered his skin. The gandharva fans greeted the appearance of Ramapapa with loud encouraging shouts. “The gandharvas earn five points! The score of the match is 7:3 in favour of our Indian guests!” Sardanapal gloomily declared. His playful moustaches managed to be untied. One of them, exactly like a woodpecker, in a business-like manner drummed the academician’s forehead as if explaining: I say, do you understand at all what is happening? We’re losing! Kashavara began to beam with pleasure and gave Nightingale O. Robber a triumphant look. Nightingale turned away and, calmly squinting one eye, began to follow the last remaining ball in the game — the immobilize. Now there was an intense fight precisely for this ball. Damien Goryanov was to take possession of the ball, but only for several seconds. Then Lollifolly and Grouser-Aga took his clumsy vacuum in their claws, and the Storm100U, thanks to them with a pipe broken off, cut into the magic barrier. Barely having time to mutter the accelerated braking spell, Goryanov’s head was buried in the warm sand. Grouser-Aga rushed with the intercepted ball to Goyaryn, but in the air encountered Liza Zalizina and her diving clock. While Grouser-Aga was investigating the cuckoo, Liza Zalizina recaptured the ball from him and made a pass to Seven-Stump-Holes. That one attempted to make his way to Spitter, but fell into the turbulence from a hit by the dragon’s tail. Seven-Stump-Holes began to twirl, made an unsuccessful throw, and the ball ended up with Lollifolly. The game again moved to that part of the field, where under the dome Goyaryn turned with a terrible roar. The pepper magic burnt the interior of the old dragon, it was enraged, and, knowing this, even its own defenders decided not to approach Goyaryn. Katya Lotkova (his favourite) alone circled above its head, from time to time daring to touch lightly the red-hot scale. But even she did not succeed in calming the huge pangolin. An infuriated dragon is an easy target. Goyaryn would now open its mouth and the gandharvas would throw the ball from a far distance. This Tanya understood immediately. She waved her bow and, clutching the fingerboard of the double bass, raced to head off Lollifolly. The rigid strings scratched her nose, grazed her scorched cheek. Tanya was already close by when her double bass suddenly reduced speed. Now it was moving with jolts, precisely as if it had to break through thick jelly. The girl noticed with peripheral vision that Grouser-Aga and Jelly-Backbone, as if completely not interested in the match, were resignedly strumming their lutes. “Solidus royalismus!” Tanya whispered, with all her strength packed into the spell blocking dark magic. Leopold Grotter’s ring, having inherited the troublesome nature of great-grandfather Theophilus, shot a green spark. Deftly getting away from dragon flame,
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Lollifolly already raised his hand for the throw when Tanya’s double bass overcame resistance and again rushed forward. The heavy immobilize ball, released accurately to Goyaryn’s mouth, having met an obstacle, struck the girl painfully on the leg. Not tarrying, Tanya caught the ball and fastened it to her forearm. Lollifolly was never able to understand how the quick-moving girl suddenly appeared in the path of the ball. The stout gandharva gaped and began to flutter his wings shallowly, watching as she swiftly moved away towards Spitter. Here the golden scales of the Indian dragon already flickered in front. Its narrow snake body with sharp bone plates coiled rapaciously, the leathery wings were cutting air rhythmically. Hardly noticing the yellow spot of the immobilize ball, which it hated with all the strength of its dragon soul, Spitter roared and attempted to shoot a jet of fire. However, the flame-extinguisher magic was working indeed. Only a foul black smoke came out of its mouth. Two defenders rushed to head off Tanya, but she skilfully went around them and made her way to Spitter. Teasing the dragon, the girl got ready for an instantaneous turn, but here Grouser-Aga, Jelly-Backbone, and Lollifolly joining them, started to strum their lutes intently. “How this orchestra of folk instruments bores me! Interesting, why doesn’t Sardanapal interfere?” Tanya thought with melancholy, again casting the magic block. The shield spell did not work this time. Either there were too many enemies or the counter magic proved to be excessively strong. Not obeying the bow, the double bass bucked and turned over sharply. Tanya could not hang on and was torn away, and in flight continued to press the immobilize ball against herself. She was just about to utter the accelerated braking spell when suddenly something flickered below. An amazed Tanya found herself on a vacuum behind Coffinia Cryptova. Moreover, Coffinia herself clearly did not arrange such proximity. “Hastenus plodus!” she growled out, passing onto the more load-lifting spell. The Swine-Sportage, smelling of mermaids from the pierced tank, levelled itself with difficulty. “Let go of my neck, cranky orphan! You’ll smother me! And roll off my vacuum altogether! It’s hardly flying like this way” Cryptova croaked. Not listening to her, Tanya searched with her eyes the unguided double bass, blindly roving inside the dome. The moment she found it, the double bass slapped down with its neck against the sand, turned over several times, and stood still. Tanya shrieked. She wanted to jump immediately like a swallow from Coffinia’s vacuum and, dashing to her instrument, to nurse it precisely like a sick child. Only the thought that the match was not yet over and that she had the immobilize ball stopped Tanya. “My double bass broke! Did you see it?” she sighed, clinging to Coffinia. “So what’s it to me? Examine your flying balalaika yourself! If only it would turn into matches altogether!” Cryptova snorted. Speaking maliciously, she casually raised her head and began to squeal. A dark shadow covered them. From above, wings folded, the enraged dragon of the gandharvas dived at the girls. “We’re dead meat! It’s all because of you!” Cryptova hurriedly swung the SwineSportage around and, not stopping to fill the field with shrill trills, rushed fleeing. The overloaded vacuum coughed hysterically, fell into air pockets, and definitely intended to die, emitting fumes with the remaining fuel and stinking of damp scales. Coffinia struck the vacuum with her heels, frantically shooting one red spark after another from her ring.
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“Don’t be nervous, Crypt! Let it get nearer!” Tanya shouted. She was irritated. Cowardly clutching the pipe and continually changing the direction of flight, Coffinia prevented her from taking aim and throwing the ball. “What, have you gone nuts? Better make a pass to someone! This psycho-tank pangolin will finish us off!” she squealed in panic. The raging dragon was almost hanging onto their tail. Turning around, Tanya already saw the pink depressions of its nostrils and the uneven, scaly outgrowths on the elongated predatory snout. “Increase speed, and then sharply apply the brakes!” Tanya ordered. “I can’t! The vacuum is dying! Ah, what was I saying! Jump off, cranky orphan, I want to live!” Coffinia began to wail. She settled herself on the edge, leaned back, and knocked Tanya off the vacuum. Falling, Tanya had time to grip Coffinia by a foot. The immobilize ball, already ready for the throw, slipped from her hand and by chance stuck to the fastening on Coffinia’s forearm. “Ah-ah! What did you do! Remove it now!” Cryptova, to her horror, realized that she had gotten the pass. Trying to kick Tanya with her free foot, she let go of the pipe and chaotically waved her hands, attempting to get rid of the ball. The immobilize ball, released with the only desire to drop it off faster somewhere, traced a semicircle in the air and — landed in the open mouth of Spitter! Dual yellow flash! The magic vapour, cloaking the dragon’s head, covered its malicious eyes with a sleepy veil. Spitter yawned and, forgetting about the Swine-Sportage vacuum and its tasty riders, set off for a long snooze on the warm sand. “And to hell with you all!” — As if its withdrawing shuddering tail was saying. “Hey, what’s happening? Why are we falling? Who won? Oh, my granny mama, and why is everything quiet? Hey, On-The-Sly, stop pinching me! What’s with you, worried?” Bab-Yagun howled from the dragon’s stomach. “A clean victory! We won!” Tararakh yelled, holding Dentistikha in powerful hugs. Something crunched inside the instructor of removal of evil eye. “Your enthusiasm is understandable, but my ribs!!!” she squeaked. Embarrassed, the pithecanthropus let out of Deni and moved aside. True, his repentance was sufficiently temporary. A minute later, he was already hugging Slander’s mermaid, to the terrible jealousy of the dean. The stands roared exultantly. The gandharvas fans with shrill cries rose into the air and hurried to fly further away from the disgrace. The hero-bouncers Gorynya, Usynya, and Dubynya, deprived of the possibility to express their enthusiasm with howls, expressed it by slapping each other, and generally indiscriminately, on the backs and shoulders of everybody. Three more cyclopes suffered injuries. “GOAL! On receiffing a pass from young Grotter, Coffinia Cryptoff zrows ze vinning ball! O, vhat a courageous champion Coffinia is! Vhat a brilliant technician! To zrow ze ball, vhen on her foot, like a bulldog, hangs the pushy Tatian! You all saw zat in zis match the star Tatian Grotter vaned and a new star blazed up — Coffinia Cryptoff!” Professor Stinktopp, taking on himself the responsibilities of commentator after Yagun’s disappearance into the dragon’s stomach, commented. Coffinia, still fleeing from a dragon already asleep, finally thought to turn around. She understood that she succeeded in throwing the winning goal. “It’s me! Me! You saw that! And well, let go of my foot, Grotter! Quick away from my glory, upstart!” Bowing and bathing in the rays of undeserved glory, Cryptova missed the moment when the Swine-Sportage finally died and plunged down. Tanya fell first on the sand and
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an instant later, Cryptova on her vacuum crashed down on her. Tanya heard something crunch and, would remembered later, had time still to wonder what this could be. And then suddenly a monstrous pain swept over her and forced her to bury her face in the sand. On the other hand, Coffinia, who landed directly on her, did not suffer a bit. Soon she was already on her feet, accepting congratulations, and blowing air kisses in different directions. “We won! What a miracle this Coffinia is! I’ve always adored her, even when she turned me into a rat! May I hug her? No, me first!” the admirers squealed. Bursting through the magic barrier, a whole crowd of fans rushed to Coffinia and began to toss her up, simultaneously almost trampling Tanya. In about five minutes, must give him credit, a fan, not managing to reach the body of the star Mademoiselle Cryptova, focused his attention also on Tanya. “And young Grotter! Where is she? What an outstanding pass she made!” this over-enthusiastic fan of dragonball screamed. Dusya Dollova, Verka Parroteva, and ten more such impressionable fools rushed to Tanya. Feeling the savage pain in her broken leg bent at a completely unthinkable angle, with the foot turned to the side like the neck of a broiler chicken, Tanya attempted to crawl away. “Oh, will you look at the poor thing! She’s all covered with blood! And the boot jumped off her foot! Let’s put it back on!” Dusya Dollova started to coo. “No, I’ll do it! Get away from here, fat face bitch!” Verka Parroteva demanded. “Go away yourself! Give the boot over here!” Dollova became furious. Both fans ran up to Tanya and, gripping her foot, each of them began to pull it to her own side. “Ah-ah-ah!” Young Grotter began to scream in an inhuman voice. It would not be more painful for her even if they simply chopped off her leg. “Oh, how nervous she is! Better let’s go to Coffinia!” the fans were annoyed. The impressionable persons rushed off, chased away by the scream. They dragged away the boot of the star. Then Yagge and the genie medical orderlies could finally make their way to Tanya. “It’ll be a little painful now. Can you bear it?” Yagge asked. Biting her lips, Tanya nodded. Yagge quickly examined her leg. She ordered the genies to move Tanya onto the stretcher with great care and convey her to magic station. “And now better for you to not look in a mirror!” she hesitated. “The least that you earned is the burn, dozens of abrasions, five bruises, and a complex fracture. Must put bonegrafts under the plaster, so mind you don’t whine! It’s not too pleasant, I’m warning you!” The panting Central-Asian genies, along whose uneven faces roaming eyes, mouths, and ears dreamily crawled from one place to another, picked up the stretcher. Understanding that now they were taking her away, Tanya raised and grabbed Yagge’s wrinkled hand. “Wait! What about my double bass?” Yagge turned to Nightingale O. Robber. “What about the double bass of our beauty? Else she’ll in no way lie quietly in magic station!” she asked grumpily. Nightingale was at a loss, “I tried to secure it with a spell while it somersaulted along the sand. Nevertheless only the neck was cracked. Please forgive me that it turned out so.” Tanya grimaced. She did not want to cry, turned away, but tears flowed nevertheless. And then she could not control herself and burst into tears. “Why mope, just think, a piece of wood! Better think about the leg. If it grows together crooked — to the end of your life you’ll waddle like a goose...” Yagge muttered unhappily, nodding to the medical orderlies.
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*** The rest of the day turned out to be not especially pleasant for Tanya in magic station. All her cuts and scratches were covered with the pungent and odorous ointment, which reeked awfully of harpies and frightened skunks. The broken leg was stretched out and placed in a cast, under which Yagge, whispering something, put a whole box of well-fed bonegrafts similar to flat coins with paws. The bonegrafts immediately crawled away along the leg. They were sticky, disgusting, and forced Tanya to experience itch and a continuous tingle. The only comfort was that behind the partition in magic station lay Bab-Yagun, getting a heatstroke in the white-hot stomach of the dragon and on top of that badly scratched by Rita On-The-Sly. Outside, enthusiastic fans greeted Coffinia. Their roar even penetrated through the double frames of magic station. The hero-bouncers Usynya, Dubynya, and Gorynya hammered together a kind of mobile wooden dais and, having loaded it on their shoulders, carried Coffinia in triumph through Tibidox. Carried past from time to time, Cryptova appeared in the windows of magic station and smiled caustically, waving the hand with long bright green nails at Tanya. “Everyone says that she scored, and you only interfered with her. Hampered her vacuum, hung onto her foot... Why were you so? Lost you head, huh?” Bab-Yagun asked, leaning over from behind the partition. Tanya silently flung a pillow at him. “Oh, my granny mama! Beating up the overheated!” Yagun shouted with laughter, pulling the pillow like a Napoleonic bicorne over his eyes. Tanya turned away from him and covered her head with the blanket. She wanted to bite, to kick someone with her healthy foot, and to howl like Pipa. Who would think that from the stands everything looked so idiotic? She, it appears, prevented Cryptova from scoring! If even Yagun thinks so, what would the rest say? Gradually her anger burnt out. She started to feel sorry for herself and even cried in the pillow, but very quietly so that Yagun would hear nothing. The broken leg under the cast stung and tingled. It seemed as if the bonegrafts enmeshed her in a sticky, hot cobweb. Rocking with waves of pain and taking pleasure in the least bit of calm, Tanya finally fell asleep. How long she slept, she did not know, but probably not for long, because in the middle of the night deafening crashes woke her. Peals of thunder shook Tibidox, forcing this structure squat like a rock tortoise to shudder all the way to the basement. The downpour lashed at the windows of magic station. It seemed a river was flowing outside along the glass. Raindrops seeped into the cracks badly calked by spells and accumulated into puddles on the floor and the wide windowsill. The sky was highlighted every second by fiery arrows of lightning — two and three simultaneously. It seemed to Tanya, whose bed stood very near the glass, as if all the lightning was beating exactly at one point — the garret of the Big Tower. Unexpectedly, Tanya recalled the words of Nightingale: “But nevertheless only the neck was cracked!” Tanya became terrified. Stretching with difficulty to the chair on which her clothing was, the girl reached the notebook and in a hurry began to turn its pages. Crib notes for studies of evil spirits, prescriptions on how to quiet a raging dragon... But where is it? Aha! Here it is — instruction on the use of the magic double bass! How nice that once she surmised to copy it from the white birch bark, and even
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more pleasant that these records had not disappeared, as it happened with the attempt to duplicate a forbidden spell! Bluish flashes of lightning snatched out scraps of phrases. The glass shuddered with each thunderclap, “This double bass… by magician Theophilus Grotter… for flights to Bald Mountain…. of fine magic… material…. deck boards from Noah’s Ark… inside the neck the Rope of the Seventeen Hanged Men, snapping…… to execute the innocent… “…avoid collision with solid objects! Violation of the rules……… liberation of the powerful curse contained in the Rope…” Tanya dropped the notebook. And what if the Rope of the Seventeen Hanged Men broke and this terrible thunderstorm — clearly magic in origin — was somehow connected with the liberation of the ancient curse? But now Tanya was too tired to ponder the vague hints of great-grandfather Theophilus. What could have appeared to the grumbling hypochondriac magician living several centuries ago? To the magician whose voice was living in her ring? The girl wrapped herself up in the blanket. It was damp. Behind the partition, BabYagun was sweetly smacking his lips. From time to time, he stopped smacking and angrily, clearly in a dream, told someone, “And quick away from here, else I’ll make you!” And again he smacked. Heavy jets of rain lashed the glass and the overhanging tiled canopy of magic station. It was not simply a downpour. It seemed the ocean itself, confined in an invisible cup, was hovering over the island, and made haste now to pour onto Tibidox. Tanya closed her eyes and fell asleep under the incessant noise of rain, wind gusts, and rolling thunder… Chapter 3 The Closet Which Was Not and Is Not There The Snake of Time is a strange essence. Having rolled up into a ring, it lies somewhere at infinity, and minutes, days, years, and centuries are trapped in a great majority of its scales. They whisper, true, that in the old days the strong black magician Ludwig SnotNose put a spell on the snake. The essence of this spell is that time always runs too fast in one’s happy moments, whereas during unpleasant ones it drags on, like cold pasta wound around a fork and will in no way end. During the first lesson of practical magic Tanya specifically pondered this and the vacations that flashed past imperceptibly, looking with loathing at her slippery cauldron, smelly after the summer, along the bottom of which crawled disgusting white maggots, having managed to appear not without the help of numerous Tibidox flies. But then Professor Stinktopp was extremely satisfied with this, asserting that filth gave additional magic abilities to the cauldrons. “Not a bad rest! Three weeks lying in magic station in order to discover later that one can’t bathe after bonegrafts! What’s the sense of being a magician if you’re allowed less than the most common moronoid?” Tanya reflected, simultaneously trying not to miss the explanations of Professor Stinktopp. The wrinkled professor of practical magic walked leisurely around the class and, dropping quick glances in all directions with his spiteful eyes the colour of dried orange peel, growled, “For ze preparation of elixir of foresight you take one large leaf of
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burdock and vrap up in it flovers of fern and finely ground agate. Copy? Zen you add a splinter of a coffin, dragon mucus, fur of a dead rat, stone from ze goitre of a chicken, and boil efferyzing in svamp vater. Ven it boil, you must not lover a spoon in zere, but stir it viz a cut off frog leg! If you do efferyzing sehr gut, zen ven ze slush begin to boil — somezing interesting vill happen! Copy efferyzing? But now schnell, schnell, young dumdums! Do efferyzing as I said! And I vill vatch you viz great pleasure!” In Professor Stinktopp’s voice was concealed malicious joy, so badly hidden that all the students noticed it. Even the professor’s favourite Rita On-The-Sly suspiciously raised her head. Coffinia Cryptova squinted, first trying to consider what filth would be prepared by Stinktopp. Spurred on by an impatient Stinktopp bobbing up and down, the second graders set about pounding agate and getting flowers of fern from a leather bag. Meanwhile Gunya Glomov, transferred into grade two only because in first grade he had mortally bored all instructors, was chasing a dead rat, which had shown extraordinary quickness and bolted, having bitten Gunya’s finger. Professor Stinktopp grumbled, claiming that one of the senior pupils had revived the rat and that he, Stinktopp, would definitely report this disgrace to Slander Slanderych. Finally, Stinktopp calmed down, drank two spoonfuls of cognac with bile, and even permitted Rite On-The-Sly to partially pluck his waistcoat, which he had already been wearing for many centuries in a row without taking it off. “Indeed I didn’t know it’s made of rat skin!” Bab-Yagun, making a face, whispered to Tanya. Tanya lit the fire under the cauldron and, stirring slowly with a frog leg, began to wait for the swamp water to boil. Occasionally either the boiled burdock or the flower of fern floated to the surface. The sliver of a coffin pensively turned like a compass needle in the smelly bubble coming up from the bottom. At the same time Tanya was curiously watching Vanka Valyalkin, who recently, after attempting to unnoticeably eat a cutlet, dropped it into the cauldron. Now a thick orange smoke was belching from the cauldron; Vanka tried to hide it from Stinktopp, covering the cauldron with the lid. But this did not help. The smoke nevertheless belched, and on top of that, squeaked with a rusty senile voice. Vanka probably had disturbed the rest of some ancient genie. Now the genie was rioting and breaking for freedom. As Vanka neither tried nor leaned on the cover, Professor Stinktopp discovered this disgrace. With a single red spark he forced the genie to evaporate, and gave Vanka a fat two in his mark book. Bab-Yagun and Zhora Zhikin, founders of the secret Order of Dumdums, immediately congratulated Vanka for initiative, and Gunya Glomov shook Vanka’s hand until he himself got a two. Only then would Glomov calm down and with satisfaction sank to his place. Suddenly Dusya Dollova almost soared to the ceiling and, miraculously not overturning the cauldron, joyfully began to yell, “Ah! All the same, they’ll give me the leather suit as a gift! How cute I’ll look in it!” Rushing to Dusya’s cauldron, the second graders saw that it was already boiling and it reeked of a marshy slush. The rest could only see Dollova herself, who continued to squeal raptly about a leather suit. “Sehr Gut! Dolloff did efferyzing correctly!” Stinktopp approved. A minute later, the slush boiled at Rita On-The-Sly’s. In contrast to Dollova, the reserved Rita kept secret what she saw. Only here eyes were glued to the seething cauldron and she was smiling mysteriously.
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And then… then everybody was spending their time rushing from one cauldron to another. In the air hung a smelly smoke, from which the eyes watered and the throat tickled. Only Professor Stinktopp alone, who adored awful odours, was pulling it with pleasure into his nose similar to a duck’s beak and was smirking mysteriously. Tanya was about to rush to Bab-Yagun, shouting that he saw the results of the semifinal of the world dragonball championship, when suddenly something started to seethe quite close by. She understood that her cauldron was boiling. Forgetting about everything, Tanya leaned over the cauldron and began to peer impatiently into the smoking slush. For a long time she saw nothing except the burdock already boiled quite soft and the shimmering oily stains of dragon mucus. Tanya thought that something had gone wrong with the preparation of the elixir. Having decided to hide this from Professor Stinktopp in order not to infuriate him and not be enrolled into the Order of Dumdums, the girl wanted to pretend that she saw something. She sank her head lower and suddenly understood that the cauldron had disappeared somewhere. The outlines of the classroom washed away. Someone was standing directly in front of Tanya. She darted, shrieked, and fell through somewhere… She came to from a sharp smell. Looking around, Tanya understood that she was sitting on a chair, the second graders were crowding all around, and Professor Stinktopp was holding in front of her nose a phial with smelling salt. Observing that the girl had come to, Stinktopp with explicit pleasure sniffed the smelling salt, squawked, and, winking his watery eyes alternately, asked, “Ah-ah-ah! Vat’s viz you? Perhaps, you see somezing special, huh?” “No... nothing... I simply felt sick... from the stink,” Tanya barely whispered. “Aha! You hear zis? Nerffous young Grotter fear green slime!” Professor Stinktopp drawled mockingly. Coffinia and Verka Parroteva began to neigh disgustingly. Tanya tried not to look at anyone. She had lied to Stinktopp just now, but did not feel repentance. The truth was too terrible and it was more than possible for her to recount to Stinktopp. Indeed could she utter in everybody’s hearing what she saw, how the academician Sardanapal was sitting in a tight cell, face hidden in a chipped bowl with swill, and beside him, hardly distinguishable in that seething swampy slush, stood a tall bony figure muffled in a raincoat? For a long time, for a very long time Tanya remembered to the smallest detail the image that flickered for an instant. How real was this foresight? Is it possible to trust it? And if possible, what to do about it now — run to Sardanapal and recount it to him? It is very doubtful that the academician would treat her warning seriously. Finally, the lesson ended. Professor Stinktopp, after stunning the class with completely insane homework, was pulled in the hammock to the hatch located in the ceiling. “Listen, Yagun, was I unconscious for long?” Tanya asked. Yagun shook his head. “Ne-a. At most — half a minute. I watched: any minute now you’re going to fall into the cauldron and I caught you. Vanka and I put you on the chair, and here Stinktopp was already mincing over with his little bottle. Well, and his face was malicious! I even thought: did he specially cook up all this? Perhaps, gave you some special sliver or whispered something to the slime?” Unceremoniously pushing Yagun aside, Coffinia walked past importantly, surrounded by a whole crowd of admirers, whom she now had even more of than Katya Lotkova. After that luckily thrown ball, allowing Tibidox to advance to the semi-final, Cryptova
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simply enjoyed unbelievable success. When she appeared at dinner in the Hall of Two Elements, the school became quiet for several moments, after which many burst into applause. One enamoured third grader — a very shy youth by the name of Shuonk Chpurikov — once spilled over himself a pot of soup just to draw Coffinia’s attention to himself. By the way, Chpurikov came into Tibidox because every time he blushed, he became invisible without any desire on his part. Indeed, he blushed constantly. Unexpectedly some kind of noise was heard in the corridor. Coffinia‘s admirers, crowding around her, quickly rushed back to the stairs. Towards them, catching the floor with the fingers of his long arms, leisurely walked Tararakh, the instructor of veterinary magic, behind whom Usynya and Gorynya were dragging the infuriated immortal wild boar. Steam poured from the nostrils of the wild boar and fragments of an ancient, seemingly Greek or Persian, spear protruded from its back. Noticing Tanya, Vanka Valyalkin, and Bab-Yagun, the pithecanthropus stopped and merrily turned to them, “Why are you so glum? Come from Stinktopp? What did you cook there? Temporary glue? Ointment from warts?” “As if! Elixir of foresight... Mix with frog leg, throw in coffin slivers, and wait till it boils!” Vanka Valyalkin explained. Tararakh’s eyebrows crawled to his forehead in amazement. “In second grade? Elixir of foresight? If I’m not entirely off my rocker, according to the program you now have yawning liqueur, decoction of malice, dense-bang mixture, and all kinds of nonsense in this vein. You muddled up something!” “We studied elixir!” Valyalkin began to argue heatedly. “But you couldn’t be!” Tararakh brushed it off. “Yes, we did, did, did!” Vanka was not a bit less excited than his favourite instructor was. The pithecanthropus wanted to object, but at this moment, Usynya let go of the hind legs of the wild boar and started to slap himself on the forehead, attempting to nail a persistent fly. The wild boar broke loose, knocked Tararakh off his feet, and swiftly dashed along the corridor in the direction of the office of Slander Slanderych. The students jumped in different directions, escaping from the wild boar. “What, have you gone nuts? And if Slander finds out that we drag a magic beast along the corridors! He precisely forbade it very strictly!” Tararakh began to yell at the heroes and dashed off in pursuit. Gorynya rushed after him, but Usynya, with his nails, picked up the murdered fly by a wing, brought it to his eyes, and contemplated his trophy with satisfaction for some time. Finally, he was wearied of it. He sighed, for some reason hid the fly in his breast pocket, and leisurely started awkwardly to follow his brother. After the last lesson — studies of evil spirits with Medusa Gorgonova, in which they studied talking bedbugs (Vanka and Tanya were chuckling the entire lesson, remembering Professor Stinktopp and in a whisper making all kinds of interesting assumptions on his account) — the friends set off for the Hall of Two Elements. The entire Tibidox had already assembled there for the holiday dinner. A beaming Professor Sardanapal — rosy, well-fed, with cheeks like a round loaf — in a smart red caftan with laces, with the downy beard combed, wound three times around his belt, stood up in the centre — in the enormous sun mosaic laid out on the marble floor. His luxurious moustaches — the right green and the left yellow — thoughtfully held the eyeglasses with the loose temples. Impressively puffing up his cheeks like a samovar, the
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for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox opened the small chest, from which two smart fellows immediately jumped out and began with astounding speed to spread the magic tablecloths. “Only look at Sardanapal! He’s a living Grandfather Frost!” Valyalkin started to whisper, imperceptibly nudging Tanya and Bab-Yagun. Tanya mistrustfully looked at the head of Tibidox and suddenly realized that Vanka was right. In the red caftan, with the beard, Sardanapal amazingly resembled Grandfather Frost. Perhaps, the academician only needed a fur trimmed hat and a voluminous bag. No, it cannot be that this greatest of the currently living magicians would find himself in a tight cell! Anything could be imagined in Stinktopp’s contaminated cauldron, where the swampy slush for sure was mixed with the white worms that do not form part of the elixir and spoiled it! Sensing that they were looking at him, Sardanapal turned to their table. And in the next minute the quick fine fellows from the chest, given a special sign by the academician, tossed a tablecloth into the air. “Oh, my granny mama, again this tablecloth with grated horseradish! I’ll hang myself to get away from these vitamins. Sardanapal really finished us off and we’re even ‘white!’ What a Grandpa Frost!” Bab-Yagun began to moan. It was not known whether the academician heard this or not, but he sternly threatened Yagun with a finger. The ears of Yagge’s grandson started to shimmer timidly and he stuck a fork into a big lump of horseradish. It was good then that the ‘wafer’ tablecloth fell on the neighbouring table, and Seven-Stump-Holes, taking pity, passed to them a very decent cake with chocolate and condensed milk. True, on moving the cake, Stump went a little too far and the cake left a stain on BabYagun’s overalls. “What, have you gone crazy? Not playing dragonball, you know!” Yagun began to yell. “Pardon me, I absentmindedly gave you a curve ball,” the Tibidox forward guiltily made a helpless gesture. At the end of the dinner Medusa Gorgonova loudly clapped her hands, attracting attention. “A minute! I want to make a small announcement! This morning a cupid came to us with a message from the world dragonball council! Whom the Tibidox team must meet in the semi-final has been determined. Our opponent will be...” Professor Gorgonova maintained the wearisome pause, “the Afghan Genies!” Dead silence hung for an instant above the Hall of Two Elements, and then all at once everybody broke away from their places and began to shout. Gunya Glomov, out of the fullness of his feelings, even overturned the table. Slander Slanderych sent a cyclops to carry Gunya by an ear out of the hall, and the cyclops did it with the greatest pleasure. In the centuries-old history of dragonball, the Afghan Genies became the world champion almost more often than the remaining teams. In overall rating, they were even ahead of the gandharvas and the babai and only marginally inferior to the Invisibles. Not without reason sports reviewers called them “the world bouncers.” Any team meeting the Genies on the play field suffered defeat with an immense score. “Well, that’s it! The end for us! Now we’re definitely not breaking through to the final!” the defeatist Damien Goryanov exclaimed. “The main thing, you don’t fall off the vacuum. You’re of no use all the same. In Nightingale’s place I would have replaced you with Dusya Dollova long ago,” Bab-Yagun stated. Dollova winked gratefully, but the tactless Yagun immediately added, “After seeing her in the air, all the Genies will
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immediately begin to die from laughter and will miss all the balls. But Dusya won’t waste time; she will fall onto the head of their captain and set about squeezing him…” A green spark, large as a chicken egg, was shot from the ring of Medusa and burst with a dry crack. “Attention please! On behalf of the instructors of the school of Tibidox I intend to give a pleasant surprise to the best player who presented herself magnificently in the match with the gandharvas!” Hardly having heard about a surprise, Coffinia immediately leaped up and with the most readiness advanced forward. It seemed she was disturbed by one thought only: did she have enough hands to take all the pleasant surprises and whether it was necessary to mobilize her boyfriends for this. However, Medusa did not even turn in her direction. Instead, she gave someone a sign. Four grave panting house-spirits in Russian caftans brought into the hall a large, magnificently polished instrument. The cap of one of the house-spirits walking behind it was always slipping down over its eyes. Inspecting with interest what the house-spirits were carrying, Tanya absentmindedly admired the new polish, giving the instrument, which — of this she was convinced — she had never seen before, a pleasant walnut nuance. “It was necessary for our masters to work for a while before they brought it back to the proper form. They had to replace the strings, cover it entirely with new varnish, and seriously restore the fingerboard. There was no special hurry, and for this very reason I asked them to do everything without hurry and thoroughly,” impatiently watching, as if expecting someone, Medusa continued. No one came out. Professor Stinktopp caustically giggled and looked sideways at Sardanapal. Vanka nudged Tanya with a shoulder. “Hey, what’s with you? Fallen asleep? Go quickly! It’s your double bass!” he was astonished. “Not mine!” she growled. “What do you mean not yours? Look carefully! What, can’t you recognize it?” Vanka was angry. Tanya did not move from her spot. The house-spirits approached her and started to chirp excitedly, clearly demanding that they be freed from their burden. Especially indignant was the one who could not fix the cap that kept slipping down, its hands were occupied. With no more doubts remaining, the girl took the double bass. The strings began to hum — softly and simultaneously, like an acquaintance. Tanya’s heart trembled. In the past month a day did not pass that she would not think about her instrument, but to the question of where it was and what had happened to it, all the instructors somehow kept significantly silent, and, in the end, Tanya stopped puzzling over it. And now suddenly this… Tanya even did not know whether she was glad or not — everything somehow was mixed up in her thoughts. Medusa approached her. “I hope you’re not offended that we returned the double bass to you only now and in general kept everything secret? To tell you the truth, everything was already ready a week ago, but Sardanapal waited until Yagge has given you permission to begin training. This morning we finally entreated her. Try to be in shape for the match with the Genies… Well, at least you’re glad?” “Don’t know... I’m... yes... glad...” Tanya answered incoherently. Medusa looked at her with understanding and smiled. Tanya guided her hand along the fingerboard, on which there was not one noticeable crack now. It could not be determined if the Rope had suffered or not, but she had decided not to ask Medusa directly about this. Indeed, it would be better to clarify this carefully later with the house-spirits, which, getting up on
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tiptoes, were standing beside her and trying to look into her face. They were also waiting for something, but what? Tanya smiled at them, but this clearly did not satisfy the housespirits. “And when’s the match?” Tanya asked. Medusa shrugged her shoulders. “The precise date has not been determined so far. There is complete confusion in the Sports Committee of the Magciety of Jerky Magtion. Likely, the poor devils got an evil eye again... In any event, first the Invisibles must meet with the Polar spirits. And only afterward will our match with the Afghan Genies take place. Certainly Nightingale will inform you in advance,” she said. A good half of Tibidox had already crowded around Tanya. Students literally climbed on each other’s shoulders in order to have a look at the restored double bass. Kuzya Tuzikov accidentally stepped on the beloved corn of Slander Slanderych, which he, experiencing solitude until the encounter with the mermaid, had cherished for the past two hundred years. The stern dean of Tibidox set up such a howl that the ancient spirits imprisoned behind the Sinister Gates immediately responded to it. “Everyone march to class, else I’ll cast an evil eye! Quick!” Slander began to yell, pouting and reddening to his bald spot. Red sparks began to leap from his ring, and several plates on the tables shattered. The fine fellows from the chest began to remove the tablecloths in a hurry. The students gushed out in different directions. Slander had a bad reputation in Tibidox. Even Dentistikha could not always remove his evil eye, especially cast in a fit of temper (or as Vanka joked, “under the hot bald patch”). Passing by Tanya while surrounded by her retinue, Coffinia stopped and provocatively stared at her. “How do you like that, ‘best player!’ Probably you arranged everything, huh? Will my glory not to be left in peace?” she was interested. “Come off it, Crypt!” Tanya snapped. But Coffinia did not lay off. “I don’t understand what these instructors find in you! With what happiness you walk around as their pet, Grotter? Not one ball you scored in the last match, and earlier the snake bow helped you — everyone knows this… Maybe you’ll tell tales on us about everything, huh?” she continued. Coffinia’s flunkies started to neigh. While Vanka Valyalkin and Bab-Yagun prepared to give a rebuff, although the scuffle would clearly be mismatched, Cryptova moved forward and, as if by chance, pushed Tanya’s shoulder. The strings of the double bass began to hum and — Coffinia began to squeal, a sticky slush smeared on her face. Well, in general, if we look at everything from a philosophical point of view, to have a ladle filled to the brim with pudding stuck to your head is not so unpleasant indeed. Besides, the pudding was fresh, tasty, and everything in this vein… However, Cryptova nevertheless for some reason was not pleased. There live in the world such girls, whom you cannot make happy with anything even if you try till you collapse! *** When everyone was already setting off to class, Sardanapal ran into the Hall of Two Elements. His untied moustaches — the right green and the left yellow — were pertly flicking on the glasses. “Quick! All students remain in Tibidox, and instructors come with me! Where’s Medusa? Where’s Tararakh?” he shouted. “What happened?” Rita On-The-Sly started to worry. “The water-sprites and the woodgoblins are again battling for the ruins!” Sardanapal answered absentmindedly, not even
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noticing that he had answered someone he should not. Rita On-The-Sly was eternally mistaken as someone else. Indeed such was her magic ability. Soon all the instructors dashed away somewhere, taking with them as heavy artillery Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya. The students, dying of curiosity, rushed to follow, but the cyclops at the gate had been given a strict order to let no one out. Rattling with the chain, Dumpling Maker partitioned off the drawbridge with a rail and, playing with the poleaxe, got up next to the wheel. Gunya Glomov, Damien Goryanov, Seven-Stump-Holes, and Kuzya Tuzikov began to tease him, but the cyclops only chuckled indulgently. Attempting to bring him to white heat, the pranksters did not forget to follow whether the eye of the cyclops had started to revolve in orbit or roll under. This meant the time to take to one’s heels promptly — even Dentistikha could not remove the evil eye of Dumpling Maker. Bab-Yagun pulled Tanya by the hand. “I know where we’ll be able to see everything! Come! Only quietly so that any Goryanov doesn’t stick to us!” he whispered, unnoticeably moving back. “And what are these ruins Sardanapal was talking about? Where do they come from at all? Tibidox has been rebuilt!” Tanya asked. Yagun looked at her with mockery. “What does it have to do with Tibidox? You must think there is nothing on Buyan besides Tibidox!” “But where?” “Well, you’re boring me with your questions! One might suppose that your last name is Pain-in-the-Neck... Later you’ll understand, run!” his ears impatiently shimmering, Yagun interrupted her. They ran past the inside courtyard of the Tower of Ghosts and found themselves on the tight, overgrown with hawthorn, little square between the desolate wall and the tower. Having scrambled onto the shoulders of Vanka, accusing him of the intention of crushing his head, Yagun slipped into a small niche and pulled his friends after himself. They found themselves on a narrow staircase covered with a red carpet. From time to time the carpet shuddered and inflated like a bubble — under it the sleeping poltergeist Mikheich was making a racket. Somewhere below in the basements, the mixed choir of ghosts were rehearsing, performing Kalinka-Malinka. The chorus sounded well, but the thin treble of Lieutenant Rzhevskii clearly interfered with it. The brash spectre sang not only past the notes but also, it seems, another song altogether. “Hey, what are you doing there, sleepyhead? Decided to sign up for the choir also?” Yagun shouted impatiently, lowering his head already from the next landing. Tanya, looking around, got up and in no way could get rid of the feeling that she had already been here once. This feeling only strengthened when on the way they came upon two black headstones. After noticing the friends, the headstones roused themselves. “Tanya Grotter. At long last! Uncle Herman,” was written on the headstone on the right. “Bab-Yagun and Vanka Valyalkin. To brothers from mourning Glomov,” Gothic letters mockingly began to jump on the adjacent one. Not able to control herself, Tanya launched a Briskus into the headstones and immediately felt sorry about this. “Tanya Valyalkina. From grandsons and greatgrandsons,” the right headstone angrily highlighted. “Tanya Yagunova, stupid orphan. From the moronoid house management,” the left one began to argue.
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“Here’s a dirty trick! I was wrong to get mixed up with them. Good that neither Vanka nor Yagun noticed anything,” Tanya thought and whisked upstairs in a hurry. Soon they were already standing on the little narrow viewing balcony, the jutting out canopy that hung exactly above the ditch. Tanya thought that earlier she was never in that part of the Island Buyan and completely did not know it. The windows of her room in the Big Tower looked out onto the internal courtyard and the play lawns. The Dragonball field was on the other side. “And there are the ruins... Where are you looking? More to the right... The-re, to where Usynya and Gorynya are running!” Bab-Yagun gesticulated. Having stared at it, Tanya saw that the ditch proceeded to the swampy bed of a brook, overgrown to a disgrace with prickly stubbles of reed, and that, in turn, ended at the lake. On the shore, half splashing in the water, half rotting on dry land, the ruins stretched, sullenly goggling at Tibidox with blind collapsed windows. Now a genuine battle was in full swing at the ruins. Transparent, elastic water-sprites, something similar to wineskins well-packed with slime, attacked squeaking, clumsy wood-goblins. On the side of the water-sprites appeared also a shock brigade of mermaids, of whom the famous chosen one of Slander was kicking up a bigger row than all. She howled, knocked down wood-goblins with powerful hits of her tail, and threw rotten fish, which some decrepit green duckweed helpfully brought to her, at them. “In no way will they share the ruins. One half is in the water — meaning, the kingdom of the water-sprites. But what offends the wood-goblins is that the second half joins the forest. A year hasn’t pass that they haven’t fought because of these ruins. Later they’ll reconcile, for a while they’ll live in peace, and again swing at each other’s noses. In a word, evil spirits, what will you do with them…,” explained Yagun. The instructors of Tibidox were trying to separate the fighters, but so far, the result had turned out to be the most lamentable. Medusa, forced to step back, fired sparks from the side of the wood-goblins. Professor Stinktopp already hung his head down from the nearest tree and in a thin voice squeaked the threat, “You don’t know viz whom you’re dealing! I’ll turn you into small okroshka! Ah, I fear height!” The academician Sardanapal, knocked off his feet, was already being tickled by two mermaids, and a third dragged over a pair of tremendous garden scissors with the explicit intention of cutting his beard. Dentistikha, attempting to pacify the water-sprites, was set down by them in a puddle and was now angrily jumping up and down, trying to concoct an evil eye in return. Tararakh was capitally hit on the ear by a club, and in the next second, he was literally swept away by a hailstorm of dry Caspian roach from the catapults of the watersprites. “But it’s merry there! We have some funky Teaches!” Vanka said approvingly. “You said it!” Bab-Yagun said proudly. “You should have seen how they battled with the wood-goblins the year before last! And the water-sprites almost carried Stinktopp off to the bottom! His pants were completely stuffed with duck-weed.” “Listen, Yagun, what was in these ruins earlier?” Tanya asked. Bab-Yagun frowned. “Well... Ruins — they’re ruins. On the whole, incomprehensible what to fight for here. All the same neither the wood-goblins nor the water-sprites live here. Never even visit, so my granny says.” “What, never visit?”
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“Never visit. They also disdain Tibidox, in general everything built by magicians, and here bang, how angry! One word — Buyan Island!” “But do they somehow explain this? Their hostility?” Tanya was interested. Yagun hesitated. “Ugh, fat chance! There’s never such a thing as evil spirits explaining anything to magicians. They’re by themselves, we’re by ourselves,” Yagun categorically stated. He rubbed his snub nose with a finger and pensively continued, “True, there are all kinds of rumours about these ruins. Seemingly, here was the gatehouse of The Ancient One, which he built even before Tibidox. But indeed why he abandoned this gatehouse later — I haven’t the faintest idea. Yes, supposedly, there were reasons… Look, look how incensed these evil spirits got!” The battle for the ruins was in full swing. Several times the water-sprites forced the wood-goblins back into the thick of the woods, but reinforcement came to them — and by then they forced the water-sprites into their lake. Professor Stinktopp was no longer hanging on a tree. His excitedly kicking legs protruded from some burrow. Finally, Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya, who were pelted by a hail of branches and slipping from the slime on the stones, got rather tired of being whipping boys. Their Herculean patience melted more swiftly than ice-cream on the tongue of eight graders dreaming of getting tonsillitis. “They’re beating...” shouted Usynya. “...us!” Gorynya finished. Dubynya wanted to add something more intellectual, but was not able to and, maliciously spitting out a lump that had flown into his mouth, shook his fists in silence. The raging hero-bouncers caught the water-sprites and began to pile them into the lake one by one. Having disposed of all the water-sprites, they started after the wood-goblins and soon finally pushed them back into the forest. The reasonable mermaids, seeing that the battle was nearly over, threw away the scissors and began thoughtfully to clean the algae and snails off Academician Sardanapal. The decrepit duckweed, sympathetically clicking its tongue, with great care extracted Professor Stinktopp from the burrow. A wood-goblin late to the battle came out of a wind-fallen tree, enormous and stooping. Standing for a while, leaning against a pine, it began to creak and again disappeared into the woods. “That’s it, back to class! No more to do here. The most interesting has ended,” said Yagun. *** Tanya was busy with lessons till the evening. It was necessary to learn dozens of spells for Dentistikha’s removal of evil eye the next day and on top of that, to prepare for the first class with Slander Slanderych, who would begin to teach the second grade protection from spirits — a subject that was not in the year before. There were the most unbelievable rumours in the school about protection from spirits. They asserted that Slander, as a former black magician, seemingly did not protect from spirits as much as set them on his students. Bab-Yagun, repeatedly making Slander hopping mad with his tricks, feared in advance tomorrow’s class. Afraid to be caught unawares, he got hold of a pile of talismans and now hung them unnoticeably under his clothing and concealed them in his sleeves. “As soon as Slander let loose the spirits on me — right away! — I’ll reach for a foolproof
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piece. He’ll get it hot! Oh, my granny mama, I’m uneasy about something...,” muttered Yagun. Having finished with the lessons, Tanya grabbed the case with the double bass and rushed to the dragonball field. She feared that the instrument would roam. Were the house-spirits, overhauling the instrument, able not to ruin the initial design of Theophilus Grotter? Having climbed onto the double bass, Tanya uttered Speedus envenomus! The double bass trembled, lifted slightly above the field, as if gathering its spirit, and then swiftly jerked forward. Tanya, after weeks spent in magic station, out of practice with this speed, barely knew how to keep her place on it. After two or three circles over the field Tanya was certain that the flight characteristics of the instrument had not deteriorated, though it manoeuvred a little not quite like before. Earlier it obeyed any, even the most insignificant movement, now it slowed somewhat. “Tighten the pins a little so that the strings stretch. Of course, the clever fellows were too clever by half with the polishing, well, no matter, it doesn’t affect the speed,” the ring grumbled jealously. Tanya calmed down. It meant that great-grandfather found nothing to worry about. “And the Rope of the Seventeen Hanged Men did not break?” Tanya hurried to ask; however, grandfather Theophilus did not give this question a definite answer. The ring mysteriously hesitated, irrelevantly shot a couple of sparks, and became silent. Having tightened the pins, Tanya got up high above the island, where constant airstreams began. One of them set off to the east, and another — into cold Antarctica, populated by mysterious spirits, which almost nothing was known about and which it was not possible to call either friends or enemies of magicians. Trying not to fall into these air streams in order not to be carried away, Tanya, keeping on the edge, flew over the shore. Long sandy stretches alternated with eroded cliffs. On one of the sandy stretches, the bearded sea king Neptune was bashfully soaping and cleaning some of his linen. Beside him in the shallow water lay his trident. For a second Tanya wanted to rush over his head and tease him a little, but she reconsidered. Being mixed up with Neptune was dangerous. He could unceremoniously summon a storm. Moreover, according to rumours, he was a good friend of Professor Stinktopp. A cold wind gusted from the ocean, sprays reached her, and Tanya turned the double bass around and directed it south of Tibidox — to the woods, which occupied a substantial part of the island. For some not entirely intelligible reason the students were forbidden to walk into this forest. True, the ban was extended only to strolling by foot. Along the majority of the paths were special guard spells — Slander and Dentistikha, rare masters of magical trickeries, had already worked on this for a while. If one of them was set off, Slander would immediately teleport himself to this place, and the consequences were sufficiently unpleasant for the offenders. The least it was possible to get away with was grinding earthworms in the meat grinder, preparing stuffing for the griffins, and enduring the mockery of the omnipresent ghosts all through the vacations. “A strange thing. Why are they so attached to these woods? It’s possible even to think that the Teaches fear something. One can’t get lost there — can always send a signal spark… No, there’s clearly something else here,” thought Tanya. Now, rushing over the forest on the double bass, Tanya attentively looked down. The further it was, the more impassable the wind-fallen trees. Moss-covered trunks piled up
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side by side along the paths. “Sardanapal could send cyclopes here to rake up everything, but for some reason he’s not doing it…” Tanya decided. Keeping above the tops of the trees, she crossed the forest in a slant and again found herself along the shore — true, from the other side of the island, where the powerful roots of pines courageously fought with the friable cliffs. It began to get dusky. Tanya had already intended to turn around when unexpectedly it seemed to her that she saw a rippling white haze. The girl guessed that, confusing directions in the darkness, she was again approaching Tibidox, but only from the other side. As for the white haze, it was rising... from the ruins. From those most uninhabited ruins of The Ancient One’s gatehouse, which were now directly underneath. Tanya replaced the high-speed spell with the slow — Pilotus kamikazis — and approached carefully, trying to hide behind the crowns of the trees. Smoke was pouring from the chimney, which was like a reproachful brick thumb jutting from the collapsed roof. The first two windows were half-flooded with water. Water beetles flickered flippantly among the emerald duckweed. The high stone porchgallery, like in the ancient buildings of Suzdal, went directly out to the lake and there suddenly broke off. “One of two things: either The Ancient One had an oddity and he adored bathing in slime, or the lake flooded the house considerably later,” Tanya said to herself. The meadow still bore the tracks of the recent battle. Here and there were grooves from the boots of the heroes. Mermaid scales gleamed. From a deep ditch poked out an arc of Sardanapal’s crushed glasses. On the side, next to a scrap of material from Medusa’s raincoat, was scattered Stinktopp’s absurd shoe with a bow like those of an old woman. Tanya picked it up and discovered inside the shoe the hidden lift, which made the short professor taller by five centimetres. “Well, Stinktoppik! A sheer cheat! I’ll not be surprised if he turns out to have a hat with springs and high-heel slippers!” she decided. The neglected gatehouse appeared not a bit better from the other side. Tanya thought that next to these ruins the Hut on Chicken Feet would simply seem like the tsar’s mansion. A large stove was visible through a crack in the wall. Tanya went past, but was suddenly stunned. In the stove, managing without firewood, a bluish magic fire was buzzing smoothly. The thought flickered in Tanya that the wood-goblins or the watersprites had started it, but then she understood that both groups abhorred fire and even in general, according to Yagun, had little interest in the structures of magicians. After weighing all the pros and cons, young Grotter felt inside that she was not in the least drawn. On the contrary — she was even pulled to get further away from here. Moreover, she accidentally discovered that one of the bushes was somehow twinkling strangely and seemingly spreading a bit. Furthermore, its leaves were not shaking from the wind. On close examination, Tanya understood that a dark magic guard spell was stretched on the bush. “Aha, Slander tried! Here’s indeed a workaholic pest!” Tanya thought, wisely keeping further away from the bush. After jumping onto the double bass, she dashed to Tibidox, deciding that she must attempt to clarify why a fire was burning here. But, only how to find this out? Tanya could well imagine what would happen if she turned to the dean himself with this question. Slander would drop a quick glance at her with his closely set eyes, and in the next minute, it would be necessary for her to take a bucket and with cheerful parade step, singing a song of the industrious evil spirits, to set off to gather stinkbugs. No indeed,
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better to find out everything carefully from Sardanapal. It goes without saying, if that one is in a good mood and near him does not loom the disgusting sphinx living on the doors of his office and letting no one in without an invitation. *** Late in the evening, having wiped the double bass with great care and stretched the strings, Tanya put the instrument away in the case. Just as she began to put it under the bed, a chuckle reached her from above. “Well, get away from here quick, blockhead! Or I’ll launch a Briskus!” Coffinia threatened someone. Cryptova had dragged herself to bed long ago and before going to sleep was turning over a thick comic book for dark magicians. Coffinia never read anything else except comics. “Indeed! I’m not about to stuff my head with such nonsense!” she snorted. Occasionally Coffinia, for amusement, shook the comic book. Little yellowish-green devils fell from its pages and chirping in panic, hurried to climb back in. Cryptova, giggling, tied together the tails of some of them and was delighted as, pulling each other in different directions, they fell and rolled behind the bed. “Well so, are you leaving or not?” Coffinia again shouted. Lifting her head, Tanya saw that Lieutenant Rzhevskii was strolling along the ceiling of their room. This time the brash spectre was dressed in a turban and a robe with tassels. For some reason he even had a beard attached onto himself. True, the red and dark-blue nose of an alcoholic nevertheless gave him away. “The floors are painted — can only walk on walls and ceilings!” Rzhevskii giggled. “I’ll walk you!” Coffinia continued to rumble. “I’m counting to three! One...” “Pointus harpoonus!” Lieutenant quickly shouted. Something sparkled. Tanya saw that the spectre, by some improbable means, was holding an ancient signet ring on his hand. Coffinia instantly collapsed with her nose in the pillow. The little devils from the comic book immediately started to run gloatingly along her clothing. “What, have you gone nuts? Why did you lull her to sleep?” Tanya was astonished. “There are types who need to sleep it off!” Rzhevskii said noncommittally. “And now keep quiet! Utter no names! I’m here incognito! If Eyeless Horror finds out that I was here, then that’s it — off with the head! I also have — hee-hee! — in my back twelve knives and one little dagger! Another nine and I’ll bust, as my friend the cornet Svintsov said.” “Why? Since when can you not wander anywhere you fancy?” Tanya was interested. “I can wander anywhere I want, day or night. I simply want no one to find out that I was here at yours. Just making sure that Coffinia will tattle to no one. After Pointus harpoonus it’s rarely possible to recall the circumstances with which you dropped of...” Lieutenant began to neigh and collapsed from the ceiling onto the floor. Cutting into the rug, he lost his shape, flickered, but was restored quickly. Perhaps only the beard was lost and the head flattened a little, which, however, little affected his cognitive abilities. “Brr! Some passage for evil spirits! I hate to suffer dampness! Like visiting your own grave… Nasty there, and I’m a complex and delicate person!” Lieutenant shivered, flowing between Black Curtains. The Curtains stirred predatorily, but, having sorted out whom they were dealing with, immediately subsided. They related indifferently to spectres. It was not possible to make
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a mess of ghosts by muffling up the head. Furthermore, it was not possible to peep into their dreams, which later, while flying, could be shown to the entire Tibidox. Tanya leaned over and picked up the ring, which had fallen from Lieutenant when he curiously rammed the floor with his head. “Where did you get this?” she was interested. “Ah-ha, this! Hugo the Sly lent it... possible to trust Hugo. After all, he’s also a spectre, although he prefers to live in his book and doesn’t show himself anywhere from it,” Rzhevskii informed her. “Why is it that Hugo gave you the ring? He’s indeed stingy,” Tanya doubted. She remembered very well the resilient roguish author of Tricks of White Magicians, with whom they slipped through to the Vanishing Floor at night. Lieutenant Rzhevskii delicately looked down. He was modesty itself. “Eh-ehh… You see, here’s the situation… Hugo accidentally lost his powdered wig and was suffering greatly. Even named a reward for the one who finds it…” “And here, of course, you made your appearance?” Tanya asked. Rzhevskii beamed with pleasure. “To snitch the wig was not quite as simple as you think. I had to take some pains!” he bragged. “And, have you considered why I dared all this? I awfully want to let you in on a secret.” “What secret?” “A terrible, fatal secret! A secret, next to which the Vanishing Floor and even the Sinister Gates are small fry… So, interested?” The Lieutenant stared wide-eyed for more mystery. However, “wide-eyed” was an understatement. No one asked him to pop his eyes out of orbit and puff them up like balls. Ghosts have their own ideas about humour. Tanya waited. She did not believe too much in the existence of a fatal secret. Lieutenant Rzhevskii could be lying completely and this should not be taken seriously. True, now and then he succeeded in smelling out something actually worthwhile. Rzhevskii listened suspiciously. Then, continuing to stand by the window, stretched out his neck a couple of metres — any giraffe would envy this telescopic neck-rod — and whispered heatedly in Tanya’s ear, “Imagine, these blockheads think that no one else knows about the closet of The Ancient One and about the box. But I was right next to them! I saw everything! Slander even launched a Briskus at me, and then cast a mute spell! But I dashed to Hugo, and that one found a way to remove the spell. And at the same time lent me the ring! True, for this he was being generous after he lost the wig…” The spectre stared narrowly at Tanya, checking how successful he was in intriguing her. Tanya forced herself to yawn. She knew that she only needed to show curiosity and the brash Rzhevskii would begin, teasing her, to filter news drop by drop. “Remember that terrible thunderstorm? All the time lightning was striking the Big Tower?” the spectre continued offended, not waiting for any question. “Towards the morning Slander, Medusa, and Sardanapal decided to check why it hit precisely this place and not another. They took torches and went along the stairs up to the garret. They hoped that no one would notice them, but I by chance turned up beside them…” “By chance?” Tanya doubted. The Lieutenant blushed complacently. “I was just hiding on the stairs. Thought, perhaps, I would frighten someone, and here suddenly were footsteps and all the trump cards of Tibidox appeared — ace, king, queen… Well, you understand, it would be foolish not to add the jack to this suit. I became invisible and floated after them. They climbed up to the garret, then went out onto the ledge outside — a sufficiently wide ledge
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there — and began to examine. But then Slander suddenly began to yell, ‘Look, here’s a crack!’ Sardanapal and Slander enlarged it with some spell and squeezed through inside. And then Medusa also after them…” “And you?” Rzhevskii stared at her indulgently. “Do you wish to laugh, young lady? I was there even earlier, nevertheless I’m not a joke, but a ghost! And an attic! A tight little closet, really a hole! Cobwebs in the corner. But most suitable as a hiding-place. Moreover, The Ancient One was clearly keenly aware of the fifth dimension. Sardanapal, that one said in general, ‘Strange room! I swear by my beard, it exists from within, but not from the outside!’ While he and Medusa discussed why The Ancient One needed all this, Slander noticed a box on the floor. He leaned over in order to take it, and — wham! bam! — he was pressed into the wall! What a show!!! Slander — and in the wall! Spread out like some dead toad! He in a rage shot several fight sparks at the box — but if only it would whimper, it didn’t even char! Imagine? I was downright thrilled! This powerful fight magic — and nothing.” Describing this scene, the spectre enthusiastically grunted. “And then Sardanapal undertook the matter,” he continued, “he squatted near the box and as if nothing were the matter took it in his hands. ‘You see what the problem is, Slander,’ he said. ‘Here is very interesting protection — only a white magician can take this box in hand. Only The Ancient One knew how to impose this protection.’” “But Slander is now white!” Tanya exclaimed. “Now white, but was originally black, and then later moved to white… In any case, the box in no way accepted him as white. Slander, it goes without saying, almost blew a gasket, but only what can you object to here? The magic of The Ancient One is magic of The Ancient One.” “And what was in the box?” “Wish I knew! Sardanapal opened it slightly all of a few moments, and then immediately slammed it shut and demanded Slander and Medusa to keep everything secret. ‘The most terrible thing,’ he stated, ‘I myself don’t know what can take place if what’s inside falls into the wrong hands. Even if this falls into the right hands, the consequences are unpredictable!’” “And you didn’t try to have a look in there? You’re a ghost! You could pass through the wall just like that!” Tanya was astonished. Rzhevskii winced. The question clearly did not please him. “Hm... Well, eh-eh... I tried to poke my nose, but nothing worked for me. The box didn’t let me through. Its walls are absolutely impenetrable. Moreover, I accidentally floated out of the shadows, and here Slander noticed me… I didn’t even have time to look around and they immediately put the mute spell on me and banished me with a Briskus. And even with what! How often they jerked me, but to do this! I was simply screwed into the floor like some shabby corkscrew. Trust me, it’s difficult for me to figure out where was my head and where were my legs... I don’t even know how everything ended: whether Sardanapal hid the box in a new place or left everything as it was,” Lieutenant acknowledged. Discussing the box, he did not forget to roam around the room and poke his nose in everywhere. He flew up to Coffinia’s bed, rumpled the sheets and, having looked into the powder-case, loudly snorted, “What a pity my girlfriend, Unhealed Lady, is not here! All these flasks and jars are right up her alley. By the way, you know, she recently found in herself 300 new sores and all night flew after Eyeless Horror, transferring them! That one
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almost hung himself again. And then — hee-hee! — only add this: Lady said to Horror that he needs to order glasses! To blurt that out to our Eyeless! Allegedly, he has such a foul nature because he doesn’t wear glasses. And he did nothing to her, only turned entirely green and evaporated.” Tanya got up. She believed that Lieutenant had already spilled everything known to him and would simply carry on with nonsense now. “Listen, one thing I don’t understand. If it’s such a secret, why did you prattle to me? What’s the point?” she asked, looking at the snoring Coffinia. The ones with tails from the comics, not losing time, painted green moustaches on her. Tanya attempted to drive them off, but they overturned the phial with the bright green polish onto Cryptova’s nose and with an excited chirp hid under the pillow. The girl thought that in the morning Coffinia would appear like a true hussar in profile and like a pig in full face. Her painted moustaches were clearly a match in size. Lieutenant Rzhevskii waved his hands and, after jumping, leaving dirty tracks, passed through the wall. “What do you mean why? You insult me, my dear! You want to ask someone, anyone will tell you. Where Baby Grotter is, instantly all kinds of nonsense will begin! Only don’t ask why it is so. I adore it when everything is interesting, when everything boils, goes from the feet to the head… Understand? Terribly boring to live hundreds of years continuously, when all around nothing interesting happens.” “Uh-huh,” nodded Tanya. “Only don’t think that I’ll get mixed up in anything again.” “You’ll get mixed up, and not by half!” Lieutenant assured her. “By the way, if you’re interested, we could set off for the garret and see if the box is in place. Only not today — Eyeless Horror is hanging around somewhere there today. How about going in three days, at full moon? Horror will leave for the basement to thunder with shackles, and we’ll rush by.” “I’m not going with you,” stated Tanya, but, likely, the spectre did not particularly believe her. Unexpectedly, uneasiness appeared on his face. He listened anxiously, growled something about nasty spies who would not stay away from him, the good-looking, began to make noise with the knives, and quickly began to thread into the ceiling. He definitely began a new attack of paranoia. “One head is better, but two make a pair! So, in three days! Ciao, baby!” he whispered mysteriously and disappeared. Chapter 4 The Latest Magic News and the Wax Figure Have you already forgotten Genka Bulonov, who made Tanya Grotter’s existence a misery when she was living at Uncle Herman’s and going to the same school with Pipa? In the body of the taciturn and sullen Bulonov, outwardly resembling more a barrel with legs or a safe with pedals, dwelled a vulnerable and dreamy soul. Fairly often, hiding in a corner, Bulonov sat down on a stool, hugged his knees, and began to dream. Dreams appeared like a pink sweet haze before his small, often blinking eyes. Sometimes Bulonov imagined that he would become a space pirate, sometimes the dictator of an entire planet, and sometimes clearly scaled down his little plan and dreamed of nothing but robbing a bank and fleeing in a car from pursuit.
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Bulonov began in earnest to prepare for the robbery of a bank and readied himself through the entire fourth grade, but this brilliant project was abolished because of the absence of a pistol and a cap with slits for the eyes. And stilts too. Without stilts, the bank guard would assume the rather short Bulonov to be a belligerent dwarf or a raging gnome. The life of our frustrated mini-Napoleon would flow so in its usual and dull riverbed, if once, by chance, he had not seen how Tanya swooped swiftly on her double bass. Then — in the very beginning — Tanya did not yet know that magicians must keep their flights in secret from the moronoids, and did not hide herself much. The wonder-struck Bulonov began to follow on Tanya’s heels, attempting to guess her secret, and hung around till that very day when she suddenly disappeared and Pipa stated in school that “stupid Grotter had fallen down somewhere, most likely left to gad about the stations. And wonderful that she did, less people — more oxygen.” But even then Bulonov could not calm down and continued regularly to putter near Tanya’s former entrance, hiding behind either the slide or the dumpster. Not without reason that they say: “If one suffers for a long time — something will happen.” And here Bulonov got lucky one day. He had already intended on leaving when the yard-keeper, occupied with cleaning the rubbish chute, flung two black bags into the dumpster. Genka did not pay this any special attention — well, garbage is garbage, but here suddenly an energetic female voice was heard from the outer bag: “Bad day, my non-dears! I, Nagiana Pripyatskaya, greet you from zoomer screens and on all magic radio waves! Kiss-kiss, my bowlegged old goats and dead poltergeists! The start of the broadcast, as always, is for you! In ether economic magnews. The recession in the world of magic markets continues. European toad warts rose a whole two-and-sevententh percentage last week. The exchange rate of overseas green corns continues to fall. The main reason for the recession is thought to be the numerous erasures and additions of black magicians, and bank goblins having access to the magledgers. According to our economic expert Charalampos the Absurd, the financial crisis will in no way affect the exchange rate of domestic bagel holes, which are strong as never before. ‘Our magicians can practice magic quietly! Their holes will stay as holes!’ Charalampos the Absurd assured us. “Scandalous magnews. Mandragora Orangeva, who easily became the 1400 Miss Candy Universe, having disappeared for two weeks, was discovered in Egypt, in the not unknown River Nile. As it has become known, Orangeva was changed into a crocodile as the result of jealousy experienced by the witch Semiramis, whose husband Orangeva recently took away. Now Madame Semiramis testifies at the office of the magsecutor. Furthermore, our correspondent has found out that at the catch the running wild Mandragora seriously bit one of the local sorcerers, who much too unceremoniously took her by the tail. At present, the sorcerer is going through a course of exorcism from love rabies. “Cultural magnews. Yesterday morning, the premier of the ballet Gargoyle Pond, which the well-known mageographer Caesar Javdetov places far beyond the bounds of Bald Mountain, took place in the concert cave near Devil Mountain. According to the critics, the first act passed normally and deserved ovations of the assembled. However, already in the second act a mass fight broke out in a scene. The gargoyles could in no way agree on which of them would be the first to kiss the handsome prince, and they
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started to kick him with their pointes so that he could reach no one. The handsome prince is hospitalized. Furthermore, the floor of the concert cave suffered tremendously from the acidic tears of the gifted dancers. Caesar Javdetov is convinced that the reason for the flop of Gargoyle Pond was an evil eye cast by malicious enviers. ‘Let them not rejoice. I inherited from my granddad a notebook with outstanding curses, many of which have no deflections!’ he informed our correspondent Chatterer Chatterskii in an exclusive interview. “Now magnews of sports! In Tibidox the quarter-final match between Tibidox and the gandharvas has concluded. The match was won by the composite team of Tibidox, throwing the immobilize ball into the mouth of the gandharva dragon. Especially notable in the game was the new forward of Tibidox – Coffinia Cryptova. The star Tatiana Grotter, showing so lustrously in the match with the babai, was likely on the wane. She threw not a single ball, got a serious injury, and was taken away from the field on a stretcher... With you was your Nagiana Pripyatskaya. Kiss-kiss, my multi-disordered! Till the evening broadcast of magnews!” Everything went silent. Bulonov’s mouth dropped open in amazement, but in a second, he jumped and, rolling his stomach over the edge of the dumpster, began hurriedly to dig in the bag of garbage. Potato peel, rumpled limp sheets of paper, even some other trash flew out. Not paying this any attention, Bulonov rummaged in the garbage exactly like a rat. Soon he already held in his hands two things, charred, somewhat similar to stumps. The sticks vibrated, shone, and occasionally began to mutter in different voices, “Transport division, come in! Which ass loaded my dragon? It took a breath — and all my packs caught fire! Promptly send me a shawl-parachute and safety braces!” Bulonov hardly touched it and the right stick began to creak unhappily. Genka began to yell, leaped, and knocked his head against the lid of the dumpster. It began to drone in his ears. At this moment, the shorter left fragment suddenly came alive and asked, “Listen, friend, don’t you remember the spell from the dead men?” Bulonov squeaked something fearfully. “Don’t remember, eh? I also don’t remember!” Bulonov scooped air with his mouth. “Listen, friend! I’m in That World, decided to search for treasure. Understand? Just came down and there’s this wimp. ‘Need help?’ he says. Well I, fool, didn’t have a good look at who this was and answered… He has trailed behind me for the fifth hour now! Well, shoo from here, red eyes, or I’ll hit the sword hard — there’ll be two less heads! Until new ones grow — you’re worn out!” the charred rod continued to reason. Someone began to roar, the stick twitched, and everything went silent. Genka hiccupped with relief and licked his lips. But he was not left in peace for long. “Blockus coachus wagonscrapus “Trivialnus aspirinus!” Unexpectedly the other rod began to sing in a thin voice. Something began to rattle, rolled with the sound of glass and… “Ah, Fedora, I didn’t want to change you into the lamp! Stop blinking, I’ll now call mom... Mom, she herself is guilty! She touched my ring again!” Someone’s rough hand decisively caught Bulonov by an ear. Genka squealed, imagining to himself heaven knows what, but almost immediately discovered that it was
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nothing but the yard-keeper. He dragged Bulonov out from the dumpster and in clear and simple words ordered him to take off. Bulonov quickly shoved the talking sticks into his jacket and dived under the arch. Despite his burning ear and his clothing smelling of all kinds of trash, Genka had not been in such an excellent mood for a long time. Intuition suggested that his life was beginning an extremely interesting period. And he was not mistaken… *** At home, Bulonov examined the fragments for a long time, trying to think what such a thing was at all. He even put both sticks together in the manner they originally were, and put Scotch tape around them. Now the two fragments became a sufficiently long one. Nevertheless, to examine it was complicated. Except that it became noticeable that it very conveniently lay in the hand and once — before it was charred — was covered with varnish. Genka took a rag, moistened it in the aquarium and cleaned off the cinders. Something dimly flashed. Armed with a magnifier, Bulonov managed to read, “…magic bow. Master T. Grotter, 1650” “Oho! Grotter! Again Grotter! Well, Tanya!” Bulonov exclaimed, without understanding the intricate family ties. He was so inspired that, having jumped up, he flew past the chair and greeted the carpet with his tailbone. Disappointment! And how could he not guess earlier that this quick-tongued girl with a birthmark like a lump of buckwheat porridge sticking on her nose, always dressed like a scarecrow, a girl, whom Pipa tormented and teachers did not like very much, was a sorceress? The next time the broken bow glued together by Scotch tape exerted itself was around midnight, when Bulonov had long since gone to sleep. He slept and had an incredible and captivating dream, as if in front of the entire class he flew on a mop out the window, shattering the glass. All this was so pleasant that throughout the dream Bulonov was squealing enthusiastically and biting his pillow. Unexpectedly the box in which the bow lay began to tremble and tap on the table. Genka spat out the corner of the pillowcase stuffed in his mouth and sat up on the bed with a jerk. A sharp bluish light shone through the slit. Having opened the box, Bulonov discovered that the bow had disappeared and a small woollen ball was rolling impatiently in its place. The ball jumped out from the box and froze in the middle of the room. Bulonov took a step towards it, but the ball, not to be caught, rolled away to the door. Genka did not like the bow’s transformation into a ball with little prior notice. Fearing that the ball would slip away and the only connection tying him to the mysterious world would be broken, he gripped the pillow and started to chase the ball, attempting to cover it. The ball seemingly also did not slip away, but every time Bulonov for some reason found himself on the floor in an embrace with the pillow. The ball was bouncing quite close, teasing him, as if inviting him to follow it. If inspected closely, it was possible to discern on the ball a small label with the inscription, “Ariadne’s guiding thread (to 12 versts in length). Fortune-teller workshops, City of Ivanov.” In the end, even the not too clever Genka understood that if he did not go after the ball now, it would simply roll away without him. Kicking the pillow as if it was guilty of everything, he hurriedly dived into his pants, put a sweater on his naked body, and shoved his bare feet into his sneakers.
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It was worthwhile to open the door as the ball, bouncing purposefully, rolled along the stairs. The never-ending luminous thread was pulled after it. On the street, the ball, for a while, absent-mindedly turned on the spot, as if sniffing, and then decisively bounced between the houses. A stumbling Genka hardly kept pace with it. Good though that the golden thread clearly showed the way. Soon Bulonov was loosing his breath. The sneakers squelched. He was especially irritated that the ball clearly did not examine the road. If there was a puddle on the way, it rolled through the puddle, a fence, it bounced through it, leaving the shining thread. “Ugh! These magicians are clearly somewhat skewed! Simply stop at nothing! No looking for a gate!” Genka muttered crossly, when for a second time he had to crawl under the high concrete enclosure around a building. When Bulonov, worn out, had already intended to flop to the ground on his stomach and catch the thread with both hands, the ball suddenly bounced several times and knocked demandingly on the cover of the sewerage hatch. After looking around, the awestruck Genka understood they had again returned to that arch of the Durnev place on Rublev Road, where he had already been the day before. “Well, you’re simply some snake! Here are only three stops on the trolley bus — why cut right through all those blocks?” Bulonov turned reproachfully to the ball. The ball continued to bounce by the hatch. The golden thread lay down as loops around the cover. Having found an iron rod near the dumpster, Genka returned and after several unsuccessful attempts got the hatch off. The ball immediately jumped inside, pulling the thread. Bulonov wavered for a while. Finally, he made up his mind and also began to climb down. The rungs joyfully shared their rust with him. It continued this way until one rung broke off. “Ma-a-a-a-a!” Genka only had time to shout. And then, not having had time to be frightened until the end, Genka understood that he was sitting on an old dead mattress, which someone had thrown into the hatch. The mattress crunched, taking into its somewhat icky but friendly embrace the roguish sullen person of eleven years. Bulonov got up. All his bones were intact. His teeth also. The abrasion on his forehead was not taken into account. Genka sighed and, puckering from the smell of the boards growing mouldy, he set off to follow the ball. He turned twice in a low tunnel, following a pipe with the constancy of a pestering admirer, and then Genka found himself suddenly in a small enclosure. The ball was already pinned there, spilling a bluish light. “Aha!” Genka thought, not knowing why. Looking around, he discovered that in the middle of the enclosure, a couple of metres from a warm water pipe, was an altar built of bricks. At its base, under the bricks, lay some mucus-covered crumpled rags, which Genka failed to identify as the sweater of his former classmate. But then a wax figure, lying on the very top of the brick, he recognized immediately — it was shaped with such skill. “And here’s Grotter!” Bulonov sighed. A thick needle protruded slightly higher than the knee of the right leg of the figure. Heated up by unknown means, the needle was melting the wax, which dripped onto the sweater. It seemed to Bulonov that the figure was puckering from the pain. Or, it was not inconceivable that this was simply a play of the shadows. Having some doubts, Genka stretched out his hand and took the figure. The warm wax warmed up his palm. Bulonov grabbed the needle and pulled it out. The wax on the edge of the wound instantly sealed up. The figure trembled gratefully.
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The guiding ball of the work of the Ivanov fortune-teller workshops bounced and rolled outside again making its way to the icky mattress. Without the ball in the stone, the enclosure immediately became dark. “Hey you, spool of threads, wait! Don’t mess around!” Genka shouted and, shoving the figure into a pocket, rushed after it. He was afraid that the ball would get out first and then bolt, but this did not take place. The shining ball patiently waited for him above, by the raised hatch cover. Here it began to twirl swiftly, flared up, and — disappeared. In its place was revealed again the broken bow of the double bass. Bulonov picked it up and, squelching in the sneakers, set out for home. Genka did not know that hardly had he left the hatch when, in a crack where the pipes went out, something rustled unpleasantly and out came from it a plump essence with a naked pink tail like that of a rat. The thin arms had no elbows and bent in all directions. The upper part of the head with the enormous mouth leaned back as on a hinge. The essence squeezed itself into the place where the wax figure was lying recently and burst out laughing revoltingly — like slime started to boil rapidly in a teapot. “H-ha! Cannot hhinder me, I’ll take vengeance! G-good that the boy took it! The main thing is that Lifeless Griffin will trail where he l-lives!” it creaked. The described events took place in the middle of August, exactly when Tanya, on whose leg Yagge unsuccessfully tried to join the break, setting loose under the plaster all new bonegrafts, was quickly on the mend. Chapter 5 The Sliver of Mirror “I want all of you to get something into your head! Protection from spirits is the most important subject, which guides contemporary magic! Next to protection from spirits, removal of evil eye — pooh, nothing! A waste of time!” Slander said contemptuously when the second grade gathered for his class the first time. The dean, as before, thoroughly smelled of fish, and duckweed stuck to his nose. It was obvious that he had spent the entire night again in the embraces of the mermaid, singing saucy songs with her on the shore of the pond. They gossiped that, using the patronage of Slander, the sly mermaid dragged from somewhere dozens of her relatives, and once and for all they bewildered the enamoured dean, from sunset till dawn singing and dancing in a ring with him. True, Slander’s nature did not improve a bit from this. His diminutive eyes, precisely gimlets, as before bored into the misbehaving, and he himself, as before, threatened to turn everyone into a zombie. “So, you say the most important subject is protection from spirits. And evil spirits study is also nothing?” Coffinia quickly asked, dreaming for a long time to set Slander on Medusa. “Well... eh-eh... studies of evil spirits... eh-eh... I would not rush to call it nothing... Evil spirits, also evil spirits in Africa, at least if examined... And in general, all stupid questions — after class!” Slander snapped. Cryptova smiled sarcastically. She knew that if Slander were afraid of anyone in Tibidox, then it would only be Medusa, especially when Docent Gorgonova’s hair started to hiss.
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Shurasik, according to his habit of writing everything to the last word of the instructors (including cough, slips of the tongue, and empty words like “that is to say” or “well this”), immediately began to scratch with his pen, putting all details into his notebook. After an entire year of solitude when Sardanapal and Medusa were separately busy with him, Shurasik was finally allowed to join the classes. True, now he was already in the “black” department — indeed it already cannot be helped here... “Ahem! Concentrate! Does everyone know the difference between evil eye and possession by spirits?” Slander asked. Shurasik began to moan from a burning desire to share his knowledge and immediately started to put his hand up, but the dean wisely pretended that he noticed nothing. “My point exactly, you don’t understand the simplest things!” Slander continued didactically. “Then memorize! Evil eye forces you to do specific things in a specific time and — nothing more. But here possession by spirits is much more serious. Spirits, deprived of bodies, malicious, persistent, tireless, attempt to install themselves in you and to completely bend you to their will. Yes, with this you’ll remain among the living, but even evil spirits have more freedom in their actions than one enslaved by spirits!” Tanya was distracted from her notebook. The dean’s balding head, covered with rare dark fluff, gleamed dully, reflecting the torches in the walls. The magic ring, which he out of habit was turning on his ring finger, constantly crackled, though Slander uttered no spell. Bab-Yagun, sitting next to Tanya, was quiet as a mouse since the morning. He had all reasons to fear Slander — too often he drove Slander hopping mad and then skilfully used the protection of his granny and the geniality of Sardanapal. Even the evening before, Yagun, convinced that Slander would set on him a whole pile of spirits, decided to secure himself, and now seemed twice as fat as usual. His leather jacket was bulging with talismans and amulets tied up inside. Furthermore, Yagun was clearly hiding in the inside pocket something sufficiently impressive and bulky, because of which he could not even move his arm. What precisely — Tanya did not know. And that Yagun’s fears were not groundless, Tanya was very soon convinced: the dean was continually addressing him. “Please notice, Yagun, I force nobody — I emphasize ‘no-bo-dy’ — to attend my classes. They are absolutely voluntary! You can roam along the corridors, fool around, or pick your nose. Even if everyone gets up and stomps away from here — I’ll not keep anybody and will even write nothing in the mark book!” Vanka in doubt cleared his throat and exchanged glances with Katya Lotkova. And even to the rest, to tell the truth, this assertion of the dean seemed suspicious. And meanwhile Slander continued insinuatingly, “Yes, yes! Do everything deemed necessary to you! But at the next test, I warn you, I’ll set loose on the class an entire jug of spirits famished for bodies, and then... then some of you will abruptly be deprived of your own personality... The least that awaits negligent students is to become zombies. I emphasize: the least... Do you understand me correctly, Yagun? And you, Grotter? And nothing to smile spitefully at, Cryptova! By the way, this also relates to you! I’ll laugh when it comes time to check your knowledge!” Slander complacently smirked and, reaching for a small comb, repaired the few little hairs on his head. Tanya observed, also from Uncle Herman, that the less hair a man has, the more often he is in the barbershop. Gunya Glomov, sitting at the furthest desk, was about to try to mimic the dean, but he had hardly made a face when Slander, without turning around, bellowed, “Glomov! Get
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up! March out of the class!” Gunya got up and, stepping on everybody’s feet, dejectedly began to stomp to the exit. He knew that it was useless to argue. “Till the exam, my sweet! With me and... with the spirits!” Slander bade him farewell, and with a spell slammed the door behind Gunya. “Till the exam...” his tongue sticking out with enthusiasm, Shurasik wrote down in his notebook. It was clear that it had nothing to do with the theme of the lesson, but Shurasik had a habit of learning by heart everything to the last letter. Simply just in case. Moreover, Shurasik had learnt long ago that Teaches at exams love to hear only their own words. Meanwhile, Slander moved on to the dictation, obviously having decided that he had already sufficiently intimidated everyone. He dictated quickly, jerkily, and sufficiently indistinctly. Furthermore, many spells that he uttered persistently did not want to be written on paper and immediately disappeared. “And it’s already your problem! Should have trained your memory instead of loafing on the beach the entire summer!” Slander stated with explicit pleasure, answering the timid peep of Shurasik, reporting that an entire page of his had faded. After approximately a quarter of an hour, Slander vigilantly looked at the class and ended the dictation. “I see, many are no longer writing... Perhaps, possibly, you have decided that you already know everything. I — hee-hee! — completely understand your impatience to move faster to practice. Better to see once than to hear a hundred times, isn’t that true, Yagun? And that suddenly someone, in sympathy with the moronoids, will decide that there are no spirits and everything that I describe to you is normal teacher’s nonsense?” he asked insinuatingly, turning to the class. And a second later a small clay vessel covered with ancient characters appeared in Slander’s hands by itself. The vessel looked as if it had spent a long time in the earth or at least in dampness. On the neck of the jug, a label stood out in splendour, “Depository of spirits of Tibidox. Date of imprisonment, see the seal. Alcohol 22%. Sugar 160g/dm5 Unnatural admixtures not more than 4.2%. Period of potency is unlimited.” “How interesting! Please tell us, what’s the date of imprisonment?” I-want-to-beexpert-on-everything Shurasik immediately came alive. Slander Slanderych unwillingly glanced at the seal. “Ah-ha, nonsense... Altogether only the first millennium before our era,” he growled and slowly lifted the vessel overhead. Grasping what would happen now, Dusya Dollova screeched shrilly and tried to become a gingerbread. Shurasik began to crawl quickly under the desk, continuing to scribble something in his notebook. Kuzya Tuzikov... though they say some dystrophic ones among the moronoids hide behind fishing rods… why is it surprising that the hereditary magician Tuzikov (his father, by the way, caught and revived the not unknown dog Mumu!) managed to disappear behind his jet broom? He dragged this broom everywhere with him and even, according to rumour, placed it under his blanket at night. “Murder! Someone, please raise a monument for me!” Cryptova wailed, looking from under the chair. “What’s the matter, second grade?” the dean bellowed. “What are these cheap emotions for? Of course, this is neither the strongest nor the most dangerous spirit in existence. After all, it’s the first class. True, no one seriously knows what these spirits have in mind. Not excluding that, freed, it’ll decide to install itself in someone, driving away the host,
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so please follow your own notes…” Slander smiled in explicit anticipation: obviously he considered that no one could have intelligent notes: everything had faded. “Well then, my dears... A spirit, which has been in imprisonment for several thousand years, will take anything into its head? Isn’t it true, Yagunchik?” the dean added quite insinuatingly and in a suspiciously affectionate voice. Bab-Yagun did not answer anything. Tanya heard how his knees were shaking under the desk. Meanwhile, taking pleasure in the universal horror, Slander unclenched his hands. The clay vessel struck against the stone floor and broke into smithereens. The mysterious signs on the fragments melted. Something invisible and simultaneously tangible appeared in the air. In a blink of an eye, the classroom was filled with a thousand voices. The voices sounded everywhere — loud, angry, in hundreds of different languages. Here were weeping, and shouts, and hysterical laughter. Yagun clutched at the desk. His talismans were cracking deafeningly, reacting to the presence of unnatural forces. It seemed as if firecrackers exploded in his pockets. After each explosion the grandson of Yagge shot up on the chair and unsuccessfully attempted to tear away his jacket, but he did not manage to because the next talisman on him had already burst. Slander Slanderych smirked gloatingly, watching his desperate attempts, “Please remember, second grade! Here is an obvious case of chronic stupid bungling for you! Certain types of shielding talismans do not protect from spirits as much as attract them. Moreover, the magic of one talisman frequently cancels the magic of the rest…” BANG! Yagun shot up to the ceiling. “And here’s what happens to those who are too overcautious to avoid responsibility. Don’t you want to share your sensations with the class, master grandson? Is it true they cannot be matched?” Slander reasoned. But BabYagun had no desire to share his sensations with anyone. He hurriedly stripped off his exploding, smoking jacket. The voices howled. The torches spat sparks. Some emitted fumes and died, proceeded by jealous streams of smoke. It seemed something invisible was floating along the wall, steadily approaching Yagun. Shurasik, sitting under the desk as in an entrenchment, hurriedly muttered incantations; however, he clearly did not have enough confidence, the sparks shooting out from his ring were quite weak. Finally, Yagun managed to deal with the “lightning.” After lowering the jacket a little from his shoulders, he quickly snatched something out of the inside pocket and tossed it up over his head. “Oh, my granny mama! Here’s to you! Take that!” he shouted. It seemed to Tanya that it was a sliver of a black mirror. Hundreds of shadows rushed to it as if an unknown force attracted them. And then, Yagun was seemingly pushed in the chest by a gust of wind. He took one half-step back but kept his balance. For a moment, something vague, vile, and faceless was reflected in the mirror — it was reflected, roared, and stepped back… “E-O-O-O-W!” A terrible, ever increasing roar filled the classroom. Glass shattered. It seemed the eardrums would break any minute now. “Paranoius roofus obliterates! Decrepitude culminates!” someone shouted in a thin, constrained voice. Tanya turned towards the shout and hardly recognized the stern dean. As if Slander Slanderych had been replaced. The crooked malicious smile had disappeared from his face, seemingly wiped off by a wet rag. Now his face was distorted by horror. Slander again screamed out incantations. His ring flashed a pair of red sparks,
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but they fused almost immediately, and the ring fell from his finger. The dean howled from the pain. But in the class a real storm was already raging. Desks shook and shook, exactly subjecting to a surprise attack of poltergeists. Notebooks were torn into shreds and students were showered by a snowstorm. Slander, left without his ring, undertook nothing. He only blew on his finger and maliciously flashed with his eyes. The door was torn away from the hinges. Something intangible, furious, powerful, passed along the corridor and became quiet, died down, and shattered in the labyrinths of Tibidox. Coming to, Slander Slanderych ran up to Bab-Yagun and, snatching away his mirror, broke it into smithereens. Then, crunching with his arthritic knees, he began to dance on the splinters. “Do you understand what a mess you have made, huh? Turning you into a zombie is not enough, huh! Be thankful that I don’t have a ring! I would change you into an earthworm for twenty years! But did you see this, huh?” he screamed, trampling down on the broken glass. “But why? What have I done?” Bab-Yagun whispered. He was standing lost and green, not understanding what had happened. “No, you heard, ‘What a mess I have made!’ I’ll explain to you! This spirit was not dangerous, but your idiotic glass spoiled everything! And don’t say that you didn’t know! The spirit, seeing itself in the mirror, becomes stronger by hundreds of times,” spattering saliva, the dean began to shout. “But I… read that a black mirror pacifies spirits…” Yagun attempted to object. “Must turn such readers into zombies! Here’s a moronoid! Either read attentively or don’t read at all! Yes, it pacifies, but not all spirits, only the weak and the fading! But in no way those recently from imprisonment! Could never touch them at all! I would have pacified it by other means! But now… now it’s not known what all this will lead to!” “Please allow me to ask, but what spirit is this?” Shurasik was interested, pulling his pale nose from under the desk. Slander dully stared at him. It seemed he understood the posted question altogether with difficulty. “The spirit of unfavourable chances!” he finally growled. Rita On-The-Sly raised her eyebrows. “The spirit of unfavourable chances? That’s all? Is it really so dangerous?” she asked with her usual haughtiness. Slander turned to her with his entire body. Rita squealed and screened herself with her hands. She felt like two small icy gimlets furiously drilled into the bridge of her nose. “‘Is it really so dangerous?’” Slander hissed. “No, you listen to what this ass is saying! The spirit of unfavourable chances is strong as never before…. There simply cannot be anything worse. Especially after Sardanapal and I… however, it’s not important… The last straw is to have rumours also crawling around about this! Morons!” The dean waved his hand, stooped, and went out into the corridor. He stumbled along the way against the knocked out door but even did not notice this. The corridor had already been filled with students and instructors — classes in the entire school were interrupted. And what classes could there be after what happened? “I hope, at least they’ll not cancel dragonball practice. After the break, I haven’t been practicing instantaneous turn. Besides, Nightingale promised to show the bewitched pass today,” Tanya thought. ***
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In the evening Vanka Valyalkin, Tanya, and Bab-Yagun sat near a zoomer, on which a juicy apple was rolling swiftly, and, experiencing the worst presentiments, they waited for Latest Magnews. In principle the zoomer, resembling a large tin dish, could also work without the apple, but the image was much clearer with it. Suddenly the zoomer emitted a high-pitched unpleasant sound, started to vibrate, the apple jumped up, and on the screen appeared a witch trying to make herself look younger. She looked well. At most it was possible to give her about three hundred — three hundred and thirty years, although, of course, everybody knew that she was way beyond six hundred years old. The witch’s right eye flaunted an opaque cornea, which she skilfully covered with long bangs, and the sharp-nosed face also sparkled with such malice. “Bad evening, my non-dear cursed ones!” she began. “With you is your Nagiana Pripyatskaya! Kiss-kiss to all who love me, and thousands of evil eyes to other musty enviers weaving intrigue in order to remove me from zoomer ether! You are watching Latest Magnews! In today’s edition: the thaw of Antarctica glaciers leads to a change in the magic fields of the planet. The commentaries of Doctor Felix Frigid… The war between the Bryansk werewolves and the Hungarian vampires has acquired the nature of a protracted military conflict. The werewolves stock silver bullets. The vampires, in response, threaten to use sneezing aerosols and magspray with conditioner in a magphone. Will Magciety of Jerky Magtion interfere?” “It’ll not interfere! For a long time the Magciety of Jerky Magtion have been totally indifferent! They became too fussy with food, won’t even meddle with the problems of the moronoids,” Vanka Valyalkin stated. Nagiana Pripyatskaya squinted with curiosity and winked the eye with the opaque cornea. It could even be possible to make up one’s mind that the witch had overheard, if she then did not hurry to rattle off the news. “And finally, the last sensational piece of news! In Tibidox during a normal class, a dangerous spirit has been set at liberty. What is this: annoying carelessness or an infamous plot? With this question we turned to the head of the black department of Tibidox, Professor Sigmund Stinktopp, with whom we succeeded in establishing a zoomer maglink… Please tell us, Professor, how will you comment on the latest events? I am certain that the hearts of all honest magicians are struggling now in anxiety: what indeed is happening with Tibidox? Is everything really so catastrophic?” A dumbfounded Tanya almost fell from her chair. She never suspected that Professor Stinktopp had a name! On top of that — Sigmund! The apple on the tin dish stopped and rolled to the other side. On the screen appeared Professor Stinktopp’s yellow face resembling a horseradish. “Oh yes! Zis is global katastroff! Especially now, ven ze Hair of Ze Ancient One is not protecting anyone anymore! Ve ze whole day vant to catch ze spirit, but couldn’t! I told Academician Sardanapal, many times repeated offer and offer again, but he didn’t take any measures. Ran past all ze ears! It’s a scandalous fact! Ze respected associate Chernomoroff is entirely cuckoo…” Stinktopp informed her, gloatingly inflating his cheeks. “What you do have in mind as ‘cuckoo?’ You assume that Sardanapal has gone out of his mind? You have serious bases for suspicion?” Nagiana was immediately interested. Her long nose stretched out with anticipation of the sensational.
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“No! It’s a descriptiff expression! I only haff in mind: Sardanapal lost control of ze situation…” Stinktopp corrected himself. “Soon ze whole Tibidox — BOOM! — vill blow up and ze academician vill only complain and heehaw in his office viz Medusa Gorgonoff, who looks at him viz adoring eyes like a stupid cat! Zere!” “Oh, you want to say: they have a romance?” Nagiana purred. “I vant to say nozing! I only perform my ciffic duty and report a naked fact! It’s my personal opinion, experience imposed by life!” Stinktopp started to become embarrassed. Nagiana Pripyatskaya nodded significantly. “I understand you, Professor... Another question. Last year in Tibidox all possible troubles took place continually. Many have living in their memory the moments when the hair of The Ancient One was cut in two and the Sinister Gates were almost opened. Later that blood-curdling account with the Vanishing Floor… And now a new extraordinary accident. Isn’t this too much for one little school?” she asked. “I already implied it’s all because of Sardanapal! He again clap-clap viz his ears! Vile such a head is in Tibidox, I’m not surprised zat efferyzing is an absolute nightmare! Kaput contemporary magic, kaput ancient traditions, kaput efferyzing! My heart pours blood effery time ven I get furious at vhat happens in ze school!” the professor imparted categorically. “A very daring statement! I’m astounded by your civic courage!” Nagiana encouragingly said. “And one more question, Professor, if you don’t mind. What do you think, if another magician became the head of Tibidox, would overcome this situation? And whom would you personally propose in place of Sardanapal?” Professor Stinktopp reddened and began to fidget with a leg. “Oh, you gaff me an indiscreet qvestion! Efferyone knows, I propose myself, I haff long proposed myself! I say: Sigmund Stinktopp has a firm hand! He vould bring discipline to Tibidox! I vould haff effery bum dancing attendance — no anarchy, no trick of young brats! I already sent a protest note to ze Magciety of Jerky Magtion! I am confident zat soon Sardanapal vill be remoff and a new experienced head appears in ze Tibidox School for difficult to raise magicians!” “But someone can object that Sardanapal has numerous merits notwithstanding Tibidox,” Nagiana observed carefully. “Oh yes, I vould not hasten to abuse Sardanapal as ze last vords,” Stinktopp corrected himself. “In ze old times of Tsar Gorokh Sardanapal had many merits! He is a great magician, but he needs a deserffed rest. To sit before ze fireplace, to drink varm vine, to quietly read a good book. But ze heaffy burden of management I’ll take upon myself.” “Magnificent, Professor! I was not mistaken in you!” Nagiana Pripyatskaya quickly moved her sharp nose and, with a light flick of her finger removing Stinktopp from ether, continued, “We will inform you of further course of events! I remind you that we had as guest the respected black magician, head of the black department of the school of Tibidox, Professor Sigmund Stinktopp...” Vanka Valyalkin jumped. He was literally seething with indignation. “No! Did you hear? Stinktopp intends to scheme against Sardanapal and become head of Tibidox! Interesting, how will Medusa treat Stinktopp’s statement? He called her a stupid cat! Personally I don’t envy him…” “No one envies Stinktopp. Indeed, there’s no doubt about that. He has never even had an evil eye put on him. His life has also been so smooth,” Tanya supported him. To her
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Stinktopp’s very statement seemed like the sheerest delirium. Can it really happen that Sardanapal, the most powerful magician of the present, the student of The Ancient One, would be removed from control of Tibidox? Nonsense! One cannot even imagine it! But immediately in her memory involuntarily floated up the tight cell presented to her in the seething cauldron in the class on practical magic. No, this is all nonsense! This cannot be because it can never be! And no more of this — it’s enough to hammer any delirium into the head!!! Unexpectedly the zoomer, which they had almost forgotten about, burst out with a crackling tirade, “The long-awaited magnews of sports. They just informed me that yesterday the Invisibles met with the Polar Spirits, as a result the Spirits lost with a crushing score of 5:16. The winning ball was thrown by Gury Puper, the fifteen-year-old star of the team of the Invisibles. Soon Tibidox and the Afghan Genies will meet in the semi-final. The team that comes out on top in this contest will battle in the final with the incomparable Invisibles… Personally, it seems to me that precisely the Genies will come through to the final. The victories of the Tibidox team appeared random and unconvincing. At least, so declares the acknowledged expert, the chairman of the board of referees Grafin Cagliostrov…” “I’m mad! Let me come across this Grafin! I’ll change him into a rotten stump!” BabYagun was angry. Despite his raging with righteous anger, Tanya treated his assertion without any special faith. It was too well known to her how poor Yagun was with general magic. Even the simplest transformations gave him enormous difficulty. Perhaps Yagun also recalled this, because a minute later he was already grousing about something else. “Gury Puper — star of the team of Invisibles! But did you hear this? Puper — practically Grotter! Such a coincidence! Simply some insolent plagiarism, I’m mad!” he exclaimed with indignation. Vanka Valyalkin hesitated. He was not so categorically antagonized. “And I agree with you! I heard about Gury Puper. They say this fellow also plays really marvellously. Despite flying on a broom even,” he said. “On a broom? My granny mama! Generally it’s not possible to fly on a broom! What aerodynamics can there be? It’s simply a stick with a bunch of branches, let’s be quite frank! The first air pocket, and that’s it — dead meat! I’m sure it turns even worse than Zhikin’s mop! And even then, does the broom really have a tank? And if there’s no tank, where are the mermaid scales kept?” Bab-Yagun began to argue. “You talk about scales once more, I’ll get cranky…” Vanka spoke noncommittally. An inflamed Yagun gripped him by the shoulders and started to shake. “But you tell me, tell me! Where are the scales loaded? And the hose, where is its hose? There is no hose! And since there’s no hose — I don’t want to see your Puper!” he exclaimed. “Leave him. I also don’t understand, what’s with the scales here? You know very well that I also don’t fuel up my double bass and it flies wonderfully!” Tanya objected conciliatory. At the same time, she kept slightly out of the way so that the indignant Yagun, swinging his arms like a mill, would not by chance hit her nose. In the heat of a discussion, he was capable of more than that. “Your double bass is a different matter. Theophilus Grotter made it nevertheless. And Theophilus Grotter was a great magician,” Yagun categorically stated. Tanya wanted to ask what he, in that case, thought about Kuzya Tuzikov’s jet broom, which also flies without fuel, and about Rita On-The-Sly’s guitar with a trailer, but Yagun was already
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sulking. The girl decided that it would be better to keep silent. After all, it is always easier to lose friends than to make them. Unexpectedly someone began to drum on the window. The window was thrown open. A cupid in red suspenders flew in. In a businesslike matter looking around in search of jam, he shoved Yagun a birch bark roll. Like the majority of magic rolls, the white birch bark seemed completely clean, but Yagun had to apply his ring to it before letters flared up demandingly on the white birch bark, “The recipient of this is to appear urgently in Sardanapal’s office!” “Oh, my granny mama!” Yagun was sad. “I don’t like all this! Appear when?” “Already five minutes ago!!! And no tricks! White birch bark is sent by registered cupid with a notice on receiving!!!” the document responded. Convinced that he would not manage to get out of it, Yagun sadly sighed. “I bet you anything this is Slander smearing me! Now wait for a dressing down,” he said. “And then some!” the white birch bark assured him. Soon Vanka Valyalkin, Tanya, and Yagun were already standing in front of the double doors. One of the sphinxes depicted on it opened its eyes. At the same time ruby-coloured letters flared up on the door, “Yagun, hurry! The laureate of the award of Magic Suspenders, the for-life and posthumous head of the school of Tibidox, the academician of white magic Sardanapal Chernomorov awaits you!” “Well, I’m going in! Keep your fingers crossed for me!” Yagun whispered. Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin tried to rush in behind Yagun in order to defend him together, but the sphinx jumped from the door. It blocked their way and began to growl quietly, baring small but very sharp teeth. The door was slammed shut. Tanya only had time to notice that in the office, besides Sardanapal, there were also Medusa, Yagge, Slander Slanderych with a bandaged hand and… Professor Stinktopp. “And where is this coming from?” Tanya was surprised. “Very interesting business! And Medusa doesn’t jump on him! I don’t understand these adults!” *** Bab-Yagun remained in Sardanapal’s office for not less than an hour. And, as it was possible to assume, this hour was not the best hour of his life. From time to time on the outside were heard excited voices and even some suspicious sounds — it seemed someone pounded a fist on the table. After each hit the sphinxes on the doors began to get agitated and lash with their tails. “Yes, I don’t envy Yagun!” Vanka sighed. “Uh-huh. And why did he do it? He only wanted to do his best. One would think he had taken the mirror out of malice!” Tanya nodded. Suddenly the door was thrown open and out jumped the grandmother of Bab-Yagun — Yagge. Tanya barely recognized the always even-tempered mistress of magic station. The colourful gipsy shawl was brought down onto her shoulders. The hair under the shawl was entirely grey. From the cherry pipe poured out such black and thick smoke it was as if a steam-locomotive furnace, at least, was hiding inside. “What a disgrace! You’re so pig-headed! Exactly like your papa, this wily upstart from the moronoids! What would your mother say if she were alive! Here it’s my fortune to have such a grandson!” Yagge screamed, turning to Bab-Yagun trudging behind.
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Yagun unnoticeably remained in the corridor and approached his friends. He looked depressed. As if they had put him through a meat grinder and then glued him back together in a hurry. The near-sighted Yagge, not noticing that her grandson was already not beside her, was hidden behind the turn. Her grumbling gradually faded in the distance. “Well, what happened? Spill!” Vanka impatiently asked. Yagun turned away. His protruding ears had ripened to a saturated raspberry colour. It even seemed to Tanya that heat was pouring out of them. “Well, I tell you… nothing,” he mumbled. “What nothing?” “But it’s like this, nothing… They were shooting the breeze. The spirit, they say, can in no way be caught. And all because of a stupid sliver, which I took from the Vanishing Floor. They were swearing and criticising the entire hour. Slander and Medusa, and Sardanapal… Granny defended me, only this is indeed already not the first time. Here she was also angry that they didn’t listen to her. They dredged up all sorts of old minor offences and decided that they must take me in hand seriously so that I don’t end up behind the Sinister Gates… Sardanapal also said, ‘You know we’re punishing you for your own good.’ Indeed he must blurt out such and still be an academician!” “And so, how did they punish you? Sent to gather stinkbugs? Or braid earthworms into a ten-metre rope?” Tanya guessed, recalling the most widespread disciplinary actions. The voice of Yagun trembled suspiciously, but immediately he took himself in hand and dropped offhandedly, “A trifle… They shot me to the black magicians and took away the silver mouthpiece. In a word, I’m no longer a white magician or a commentator. I’m no more anyone. There.” Tanya was stunned. She understood that it was necessary to say something, to comfort him somehow, but she suddenly lost all the words. Why such a severe punishment? Does the escaped spirit really present such a serious threat to Tibidox? And if yes, then who asked Slander to take it to the class at all? What, he could not find another jug? The doors of Sardanapal’s office were thrown open, and, whistling the fashionable little motif Seven Vampires and a White Lamb, Professor Stinktopp walked out from there. He was beaming with smugness. His yellow horseradish face bloomed like pink apple blossoms, creating an unthinkable natural paradox. Probably, the respected scholar Sigmund Stinktopp already saw himself in the armchair of the academician. Passing by, Stinktopp stopped and encouragingly petted Bab-Yagun on the cheek. “Oh, my dear little boy! I viz my entire soul congratulate you viz ze transfer to my vonderful department! You von’t be sorry! And you, Baby Grotter? Vhy are you not yet viz us? Black magic has long cried for you!” Professor Sigmund Stinktopp bloomed with a smile and made his way to the stairs, singing: “Zree red sparks! Zree red sparks! Ich liebe dich!” Chapter 6 Koshchei the Deathless and an Evening Stroll Under a Full Moon Two days later, already near morning, Tibidox was disturbed by a crash: someone was drumming the main gates with all his might. The guard cyclops Dumpling Maker got up
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on his bed made of planks covered with sheepskins and began to shake his cauldronshaped head. He was used to the normal zoomer thundering, reporting that the spell of passage was in action, before someone knocked on the gates. Now the zoomer held its tongue. The spell of passage was also clearly not uttered — whereas the crash did not cease but became increasingly more persistent. It seemed any minute now the massive gates would tear away from the hinges. After groping for the poleaxe in the corner, Dumpling Maker touched the point in a business-like manner with a calloused finger and, muttering under his breath the words of the song Our service was dangerous, and difficult…, widely popular among the magicians at the suggestion of the moronoids, he began to stomp to the shaken gates. “Well! Who’s there?” the cyclops bellowed. “Open up — you’ll find out! Move, lazy!” demanded from the other side. “I’ll open now! Only you’ll be sorry for this!” Dumpling Maker promised and leaned his weight on the wheel, setting the hoist in action. A thin figure in a dark raincoat decisively squeezed through the slightly opened gates. The cyclops let go of the wheel, gripped his poleaxe and was about to rush to him, but did not have time to take even three steps as a short, really abrupt spell was heard. Dual red flashes flared. Dumpling Maker was tossed and, after flipping over in the air, landed in the ditch. The frogs answered this unceremonious intrusion with excited croaking. Following the cyclops the poleaxe whistled in the air. Dumpling Maker attempted to get out, but the walls of the ditch were too slippery. Then he sat on the bottom burning with malice and stared at the frogs. His only eye was revolving in orbit and rolling behind. To those who knew Dumpling Maker, this was a sure sign that it was time to escape. However, to the frogs it would only be a whimper. They only stared at him from the water and croaked as if inviting the rest to take a look at the fool. Meanwhile, the stranger in the raincoat was already moving towards Professor Stinktopp, who had jumped out of his room in sky blue striped pyjamas with little yellow hearts. Even the best deputy Uncle Herman did not have such absurd pyjamas and he had already been collecting pyjamas for seven years. “Who are you? Okay, stop, and I’ll not shoot! Hands hoch! Zat is, hands upvard!” Stinktopp shouted, throwing up his hand with the ring. The unknown waved his hand expressing annoyance and shoved in front of Stinktopp’s nose a small piece of blue bark with a mouldy skull printed on it. “Magciety — Jerky Magtion. Inspector-consultant Koshchei the Deathless,” appeared on the cover. While Professor Stinktopp studied the bark, the newly arrived magician flung open his raincoat and dropped the hood. A stylish silver armour from Paco Grabanne and the handle of a two-handed sword flashed. The face of the magician was small, shrunken, exactly a skull stretched over with skin, with small roguish eyes. Having finally understood who was before him, Professor Stinktopp joyfully rubbed his rough paws. “Oh, ve vere acqvainted earlier! Ve met at ze conference on protection of rights of trolls and fampires! I vas vaiting for you only yesterday! Let’s go into my office! I’ll report to you efferyzing in detail!” he exclaimed happily and, curtsying from impatience, began to mince in front, showing the road. Beyond the forest, breaking through the fog reeking of iodine, dawn was already burning. However, the night had not yet hurried to surrender its position. The old man in
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the silver armour and Professor Stinktopp in pyjamas with little hearts were not the only ones roaming the gloomy corridors of Tibidox today. There were others… *** “Hey, baby without the birthmark, do you have the nerve? Indeed, you’ll not shriek? I’ve arrived, and, by the way, not alone!” someone whispered anxiously. Tanya, sleeping on her stomach, opened her eyes and raised herself on her elbows. In a lilac haze next to her bed swam Lieutenant Rzhevskii, resembling a cloudlet slightly gone haywire. Beside him, Unhealed Lady delicately looked out from behind the fanning Black Curtains. “I apologize very much... I have this migraine. Can you please find an aspirin or at least a phial with poison? I’m suffering terribly,” she said melodiously. “She lies all the time! Don’t give her poison! All the same, she won’t drink it. She overheard us last time and there and then made up her mind about the box of The Ancient One! Even threatened to tell tales to Horror if I go without her!” Lieutenant dismissed her. Unhealed Lady turned pink from indignation. “Jean, why so? Indeed I asked you to keep everything in secret! I entreated you!” she said, pursing her lips. Lieutenant yawned. “Well, so, shall we go?” he proposed. “Eyeless Horror is already shaking his rusty rattles in the basement. In such an hour, even the most terrible spectres become sentimental. They drop tears, cold and sticky like yesterday’s bouillon. The way is clear.” Tanya looked sideways at the adjacent bed, on which Coffinia was already snuffling without any Pointus harpoonus, and thought for a bit. She would forego this adventure only yesterday, but now, when an elusive spirit was hiding in the labyrinths of Tibidox and Bab-Yagun was transferred to the black magicians, there was nothing to lose at all. Tanya dressed quickly and slipped into the common room. The spectres sailed slightly in front showing the way, which even without them was known to her. But unexpectedly, to Tanya’s surprise, Rzhevskii turned into a side corridor clearly leading to the Hall of Two Elements. “Hey, where are we going? You said it’s in the attic of the Big Tower?” Tanya did not understand. “Uh-huh! But better if we slip up by the stairs of the Atlases, and then already on the gallery we’ll cross to the Main Staircase! Trust me, an old fox, this way will be more farsighted!” Rzhevskii whispered mysteriously. Tanya shrugged her shoulders. “As you wish. But, in my opinion, it’s foolish to make such a detour,” she said. “I indeed know all the tricks of Slander! He arranged a heap of spells between the habitable floor and the attic! But only very early on. Then everything is clear. And so, we have to search for roundabout corridors.” Rzhevskii, attracted by his new role of chief of expedition, in a warlike manner thundered with a dagger borrowed from the ghost of a mountain dweller respecting tradition. The dagger was simply of a staggering size. His only flaw was that he did not take it out of the scabbard.
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Screwing up her face from any sound, Unhealed Lady languidly slid along half a metre above the floor. If she chanced upon a wall along the way, Lady in her absentmindedness did not notice and passed through it. They had already passed the Hall of Two Elements divided by the line of fire when by the stairs of the Atlases Lady threw up a transparent hand. Tanya froze. “What’s with you?” “Sh-h! What, are you deaf? There’s somebody there!” Tanya distinctly distinguished dull sounds wafting from the top. Something was definitely happening on the marble staircase. The Atlas holding up the arch nearest to them turned away, pretending that it personally heard nothing. However, its rock face at the same time was suspiciously honest. “Wait here! We’ll find out what problem there is and we’ll return!” Lieutenant whispered and noiselessly evaporated following Lady. Fearing to be seen by Slander or one of the instructors, Tanya dived under the stairs. The stairs were lying on the shoulders of two powerful Atlases, but they, indeed clearly not pretending, were sleeping standing. An eagle owl was hooting in the ear of one of them. Confident that when necessary, the spectres nevertheless would find her, Tanya went deeper, keeping along the wall. The round hall here turned into a narrow corridor, where the arches were kept elevated at regular intervals. The ceiling between the arches was covered by stained glass with a complex pattern. The dim moonlight outside shone through the coloured glass. Whimsical reflections danced on the floor. The further in, the lower and narrower the corridor became. Soon Tanya could make her way along only by bending down, and then even on all fours, hitting the top of the arch. A little bit more — and it was necessary for her to crawl forward on her stomach. This discovery did not inspire the girl. “A so-so corridor! Interesting, whom is it built for at all? For dwarfs and Lilliputians? What if I crawl backwards and I get stuck!” she muttered. Intending to get to work on it, Tanya began to search for a wider area to turn around. Such an area was discovered behind one of the arches. Baby Grotter began to turn and… almost buried her nose into a low oak door. Someone was talking behind the door. Tanya involuntarily listened. “Give me the plane!” “Here!” something whistled in the air. “Hey, Scrap, why are you throwing planes? Grown stupid?” “Me stupid? Me? And how can you work after the way we’re treated? No, you think: she was not even warned! The girl did not pay off her debts to us as assumed! She gave neither three twigs from a broom or even a thread from the magic tablecloth!” someone squealed indignantly. Interested, Tanya moved an eye closer to the keyhole. Coffinia would call this “sneaking a peek.” In the keyhole, she saw a narrow room with several joiners’ benches. On the walls, on shelves, on the floor, and generally everywhere, where possible, tools were lying and hanging — chisels, saws of different sizes, hand drills, pliers, wrenches, fretsaws, and files. By the outer joiner’s bench two house-spirits were quarrelling. From one of them — red-nosed, cocky, with a dishevelled beard seemingly plucked — even the cap flew off.
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“No matter, worse for her! Let everything go as it should! We told no one that the Rope almost broke,” he giggled. “Well, and you’re mean, Scrap! You yourself mended it! Tried two evenings!” another house-spirit said conciliatory. “I did — yes, but it’s already not quite what it was at first… Moreover, I used a waxed thread for seven-league boots, but it’s not exactly quite the thread for magic ropes…” Red-nosed Scrap reached for a tobacco pouch with low-grade tobacco and conciliatorily offered it to his friend. The house-spirits started to smoke. “Here last night I dropped in on a wood-goblin… He said the fire now flares up every night and burns till dawn… They, the wood-goblins, indeed don’t even poke their noses near there. The water-sprites also don’t show their noses from the pond… Earlier they tried to pick fights, they bawled, and now they sit quietly. But here even all sorts of nonsense started. There, you see how the oil stove burns? Perhaps it blazed like that earlier? And in some forge? It’s impossible to shape a sensible nail. You only bring a rod to red heat and it has already cooled,” said Scrap. “So far you haven’t told the magicians?” “Ne-a, we never say anything to them. Magicians turn their nose from us. We’re evil spirits to them, but who would they be without us? Moronoids!” “And who built Tibidox for them? They probably never even cut a lock…” his friend supported him. The house-spirits did not say anything anymore. After smoking, they again took up the planes. Along the boards with cameo-shells spread fragrant curls of shavings. Trying not to draw attention to herself, Tanya carefully made her way from the tight corridor and was soon by the stairs again. “Well and I’m a thankless pig! I indeed truly gave them nothing. Even did not say thanks!” she thought. A delicate cough was heard, and Unhealed Lady rose up before her. Behind her shoulders loomed Rzhevskii. “Do you know what the noise there was? The Atlases set on one of their shady ones. It didn’t want to hold the ceiling. Contrived so that all the weight fell on its neighbours. Now they taught it,” Lieutenant said noncommittally. What happened put the spectre in a good mood, and he began to tell some intricate story about a cardsharp. Allegedly the cardsharp badly marked the deck, was suspected, and they chased him for a long time in order to put a bronze candlestick to him. As a result, they did not use the candlestick but hit his ear with a plaster bust of Ovid. Suddenly Tanya realized that the story clearly had autobiographical details. Although the Lieutenant narrated about the cardsharp in the third person, he continually slipped to “I” and began to complain on the reverse of fortune. “Well, so? Are we going or do I also have to chase after you with a candlestick?” Tanya impatiently asked. Rzhevskii sulkily turned towards her his back stuck with knives and floated like a haughty swan above the stairs. A quarter of an hour later, they were already in the attic. Tanya’s legs ached from the many high steps. In her eyes continued to flicker the fires of hundreds of torches. The attic of the Big Tower was sufficiently picturesque. Semicircular, with scaffolding along the walls up to the roof supported by oak buttresses. Window-loopholes went out to a wide ledge girding the tower.

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Unhealed Lady immediately began to whine that she was terribly afraid of heights. “Now, you watch, I’ll break apart! I’ll break into smithereens! I have nightmarish presentiment!” she reckoned. “Yes, but you… eh-eh… that…” Tanya began carefully. “Exactly, I’ve already died, you managed to hint on that with such moving sensitivity. However, there’s no need to constantly remind me of it! What savage, shocking tactlessness!” Lady was angry, and with an attacking reproach straightened the hat with faded roses. Tanya blushed. She understood that she blurted out something quite awkward, in the spirit of Bab-Yagun. Lieutenant Rzhevskii, who was already on the ledge, saved her from the awkwardness, waved his hands inviting her to follow him. The girl carefully squeezed through a loophole and looked down. The ground was not visible now: everything was lost in the fog. From there even the moon seemed like the yellow spot of a flabby omelette on a burning frying pan. With her shoulder blades pressed against the cold stones of the Tower, Tanya began to edge along the narrow ledge. “Interesting, will Oyoyoys smackis thumpis work if I tumble from this height?” she pondered, taking heart in order to go out onto the open area, where the wind was droning furiously. A step. The wind pushed at her shoulder and attempted to tear her away from the ledge. “No, the question, of course, is interesting, but better I won’t answer it for the time being,” she thought and took another step. The girl did not believe herself when her fingers finally caught hold of the edge of the crack knocked out by lightning, out of which Lieutenant Rzhevskii was already impatiently looking. “And the little box is here! And here is the same place, where they expelled me with a Briskus!” he informed her happily, hovering above one of the stones. In the next moment, he was drawn with a loud chomping into the flagstones, as if someone turned on a magic vacuum for a moment. “They’ve killed him! Yet another plot against us, helpless ghosts!” shaking a pale fist, Unhealed Lady started to wail. Suddenly she broke off and began to flicker. The luminous, recently disappeared spectre elbowed his way through the wall. “I apologize! Who would have guessed that one more spell was placed here? Indeed one cannot manage here without the vile insidiousness of the vilest villain and mean scoundrel Slander!” he stated. Continuing to stand in the crack, Tanya looked around. The reddish and greenish crackling curtains, normally accompanying any guard spell, were seemingly not noticeable. Not trusting herself very much, she released a green signal spark, but it flew around the entire closet, did not once blink or change colour. So, it was true there were no other spells besides the one which Rzhevskii ran into. “Well, what’s with you? Open quick! I once stored love letters in a similar box! I’m sure that The Ancient One did that too!” Unhealed Lady hurried Tanya. She had long ago been twisting as a dove-coloured column of smoke around the box and was clearly dissatisfied that she could not succeed in filtering inside. “Love letters? I don’t think that The Ancient One fell in love once. They talk about him as a dried-up old man,” doubted Tanya. Lady smiled thinly. “Everyone falls in love. Trust me. I know,” she said with incomprehensible confidence.
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Thinking that Verka Parroteva was not alone in her tendency to suspect love notes everywhere, Tanya approached the box. In appearance, the box was the most ordinary — wooden, without any carved patterns on the lid and even without a lock. It clearly did not smell of any magic here. Tanya stretched out her hand and… she herself did not understand what happened. Suddenly it seemed to her that she was standing on the spot, but the Tower floated away somewhere with short sirens of a steamer. Furthermore, from the direction of the ocean for some reason a sharp cry of seagulls began to reach her. And then Tanya suddenly understood that all this had been shown to her. She was lying with her cheek on the floor, and above her soared Lieutenant Rzhevskii and Unhealed Lady. “Useless for you to do this... Shouldn’t call The Ancient One a dried-up old man!” Lady said reproachfully. Rzhevskii winced. “What’s with The Ancient One here! The whole problem is her ring. I’m sure it had the occasion to shoot red sparks. Remove it and try again,” advised Lieutenant. Tanya sat down on the stone floor. The tower no longer floated away, and the floor did not move away from under her feet. The box of The Ancient One continued to stand in its previous place. “It took me for a black magician… And not only it. Professor Stinktopp also considers me black. And Dentistikha,” thought Tanya. She removed from her finger the ring of Theophilus Grotter and cautiously approached the box. For her to touch it a second time was even less desirable than to test with two wet fingers how many volts were in an outlet. “Box, I’m not black. I… I myself don’t know what I am. But I awfully don’t want to be black!” she said confusedly. Certain that the Tower would again set off floating, filling with the cries of seagulls, Tanya screwed up her eyes, stretched out her hand and unexpectedly felt a warm wooden surface with her fingers. The lid of the box was turned back. Looking inside, the girl discovered that on the dark velvet, in the hollow, which could perfectly be intended for a magic ring, was… And here more continuous questions began. What is it? A worm? A caterpillar? A baby snake? “Eek, it’s nothing but the Golden Leech! It’s a sucker there. Just as I thought!” Lieutenant Rzhevskii exclaimed with disappointment, having already managed to sneak a peek in the box. “Phew, Leech! How humdrum it is!” Unhealed Lady screwed up her face. It was evident that just now she was disappointed in The Ancient One and in the entire humanity. While Tanya was pondering why the Golden Leech could so worry Sardanapal, Lieutenant Rzhevskii listened. He flew up to the wall and pushed his head through the masonry. “Horror! Let the emperor again call me a slob in the parade!” he exclaimed. “You what?” Tanya did not understand. “Slander is running over here! I for some reason also thought that he would slip a notify spell somewhere!” he exclaimed and hurriedly vanished into thin air, escaping from an unavoidable Briskus. Unhealed Lady also hurried. “Oh, Tanya, you know, I wet my handkerchiefs with tears and now I fear that they have gotten quite soaked. You won’t object if I absent myself temporarily? And, by the way, if you are also running away, don’t forget your magic ring. You never know who might see it,” she advised, disappearing in the deep crack between the stones.
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“Traitors! They abandoned me here!” Tanya thought and muddle-headedly began to rush about the closet. Somewhere beside her, behind the wall, Slander was already hurrying to the loophole. Only one exit remained — to go around the Big Tower on the ledge and to slip away along the stairs while Slander was in the closet. Not giving much thought to why she did it, Tanya put on the ring, grabbed the Golden Leech and, after slamming shut the box, stepped onto the ledge. The stern dean of Tibidox was somewhere very near: the girl already heard his panting. Pressing her back against the wall, she rapidly slid to the opposite side. The void, beginning all of a halfmetre in front of her, beckoned. One would like to take a step forward and hence run away from Slander. Five steps, ten… Everything was decided in an instant. It seemed to Tanya that the caftan of Slander flickered with the rounding of the tower, but he could hardly see her because he immediately dived into the crack. And yet half a minute or fifteen steps later — depending on how to count time, swearing was heard from the crack. Tanya surmised that the dean again tried to open the box and paid for it. After diving into the first loophole that cropped up, the girl slid to the staircase and began to get down quickly. She was lucky that Slander was in too much of a hurry to place a cyclops here. After several flights, making sure that no one was racing after her, Tanya caught her breath, and stopped looking around every second. The danger had finally passed. The dean was left high and dry. Going down, the girl did not notice that the torches behind her alternately flared up, sparked, and went out, emitting pungent resinous smoke. It seemed that something invisible — something whose existence only the fire knew about — was noiselessly sneaking behind… *** “Bewitched pass — one of the most complex elements of dragonball!” Nightingale O. Robber began. “Complex because not so much adroitness and power but measured and wise application of magic are demanded here. In its simplified form, the essence of a bewitched pass consists of the following: the player catches the ball and, after putting a spell on it, passes it to another player of his team. Such an enchanted ball cannot be caught without utterance of the appropriate counter-spell. If earlier you could completely manage without bewitched pass, now you must master them before the match with the Afghan Genies. Especially as the Genies, in my opinion, don’t at all know what a normal pass is.” Seven-Stump-Holes straightened the carpet nozzle on the chrome-plated pipe of his vacuum. “Well, it’s all nonsense! Bewitched ball, not bewitched ball… All the same, it won’t get away from me! Here the main thing is not magic, but the grip!” he stated provocatively. Nightingale O. Robber stopped and rubbed the long scar cutting across his cheek to his eye. Possibly, the peasant son Ilya Muromets was not even a professional archer, but he knew how to stretch the bowstring. With all his heart. According to rumours, even an oak broke apart into woodchips. Some of these chips, until now, could be seen in the Museum of History of Tibidox, which was opened exclusively on Fridays, when they coincided with the 13th number, and the 13th number, in turn, befell a solar eclipse. At other times, the exhibits of the museum were invisible and simply dangerous to the health of the students as a result of some ancient curse. True, there were sceptics claiming that the
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pithecanthropus Tararakh, whom Sardanapal appointed as responsible for the museum, was simply unwilling to be occupied with this, here he even created all this nonsense about Fridays and solar eclipses. “So, Stump, you don’t believe in bewitched pass? You think that I’m simply putting myself out here this way before you? Well then, come here!” the trainer said slowly. Seven-Stump-Holes dropped the pipe. Long ago rumours had gone around in Tibidox that Nightingale changed players who angered him into horse saddles. And that saddles necessary to no one were lying around in disorder in the small shed near the dragon hangars, this everyone could confirm. Coffinia Cryptova nervously giggled. “What, are you deaf? Wax jammed up your ears? Get over here!” Nightingale impatiently repeated. The forward of the Tibidox team cautiously moved forward. He already felt sorry that he did not bite his tongue in time. The trainer clicked his fingers dryly. The pepper ball jumped by itself into his hand. “I’ll throw it to you, and you catch. Understand?” he asked. Seven-Stump-Holes licked his lips. Relief flooded his face. To catch the ball, on top of that also on the ground — really can anything be simpler? “Ready? Catch!” Nightingale whispered something with his lips and weakly, almost without a swing, threw the ball to Seven-Stump-Holes. Stump bent down slightly and arranged his hands, confident that to catch such a pass would be no trouble. Suddenly the pepper ball changed trajectory, began to twirl, with striking adroitness dodged from the hands of the forward, rushed by between his legs, soared up, and easily hit him on the top of the head. Seven-Stump-Holes dropped on the spot, and meanwhile the ball again jumped into Nightingale’s hand and settled in it, as if expecting praise for a good job. “Did you see or are there still those wanting to try?” Nightingale asked. “No takers? Then we’ll continue. It’s possible to bewitch a ball with different methods. There are three permitted spells and as many means of blocking. The most complex is to guess which spell has been uttered by the one who throws. Specifically to guess correctly. As you understand, to overhear him when the wind drones is unrealistic. Now and then confusion appears even with the delivery of one’s team-mates, to say nothing of adapting oneself to the enemy…” Limping, Nightingale approached and helped Seven-StumpHoles get up. “And now memorize. The spells of the bewitched pass — Gullis-dullis, Trullis-zapullis, and Figus-zatsapus, and the counter-spells — Tsap-tsaraps, Leos-zafindileos, and Shchups-kuroshchups. There are no universal blocks, therefore don’t mix them up. Today you will master them on the ground, and tomorrow by this time in the air.” “Well, no! I can’t learn this! Not for anything in the world! We have lessons so full to the brim, and here are yet all kinds of zatsapus,” Coffinia Cryptova said accusingly. “And no one forces you, Cryptova. Everything is strictly voluntary, you don’t want to cram — don’t cram. But only if you immediately arrange with someone to scrape you off the shielding barrier. I personally will not,” Nightingale nodded to Seven-Stump-Holes, who was still spitting out sand. Coffinia shook her violet mane, quickly considered everything and chickened out. “Okay. So it is. I’ll somehow cram the bewitched pass, though it’s also inhuman, and here are lessons… eh-eh… well I, in short, will say that you allowed us not to do them,” she said. True, about the lessons Coffinia added intentionally quietly so that the rather deaf Nightingale would not catch it.
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Soon the entire team of Tibidox, having been divided into pairs, were working through the action of the different spells. “Gullis-dullis! Tsap-tsaraps! Leos-zafindileos!” it was heard from different ends of the field. Magic sparks crackled dryly. The balls traced improbable curves in the air. Continually were heard deafening slaps, which meant that someone again blundered the counter-spells. Bab-Yagun, paired with Tanya, mastered the bewitched pass, mastered unwillingly, also, with a grouchy face. Even Damien Goryanov, several times whisking in front of his nose and allowing himself a couple of dubious little jokes, remained scot-free. The previous Yagun would not miss a chance to put him in his place, whereas the present one did not even notice his presence. The fact that he was now in the black department and in addition was deprived of the commentator’s mouthpiece did not permit Yagun to sleep quietly. The main thing which gave meaning to his life had disappeared, while what remained did not suit him. “Imagine, Stinktopp forces me to release red sparks! But I shoot green to spite him! Here to spite him!” he informed Tanya during break. “Green? With black magic spells?” Tanya with doubt asked him to repeat, convinced that it was impossible. “Exactly!” Yagun pronounced with satisfaction. “You can’t imagine what gets under way in case of a black spell with a green spark! Twice already water-sprites were summoned for the fire! And now I have to answer at my desk more and more else the board flares up again.” “And you aren’t afraid that Stinktopp will pay you back? He’s so terribly vindictive.” Yagun contemptuously snorted. “What can he do to me, your Stinktopp? All the same it’s impossible to devise anything worse than the black department. Sardanapal won’t allow my being turned into a zombie, he’s against that. Send me to the moronoids? Let them! I’ll only be glad — but only a minor detail, they won’t send me there. They know I’ll screw things up so much that they’ll have to come with all of Tibidox to take me away… With flowers and the combined orchestra of cyclopes.” Tanya very much doubted this; however, she did not start to argue. Especially as break was already over and Nightingale O. Robber again sent everybody off to master the bewitched pass. Nothing worked. To guess the spell placed on the ball was rarely successful. Much more often a blundering player betook himself to digging with his nose a burrow for gophers. Finally, convinced that all the same there was no way out, the team gathered together and began to develop universal secret signs. After long debates almost leading to a fight, they agreed that Gullis-dullis would be accompanied by a quick nod of the head, before Trullis-zapullis it was necessary to touch the chest with the ball, and before Figuszatsapus it was required to seemingly casually smooth one’s hair. Nightingale only chuckled and did not interfere with anything. He did not even recommend making the secret signals less noticeable, knowing full well that in flight, when everything all around was flickering and spreading, to figure out what was what would indeed not be so simple. But even with the secret signals nevertheless there was enough confusion. The children continually mixed up the signs, and the dragon handlers rushed with rakes to level out the sand.

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“Ugh! Again a full mouth of this trash! Yagun, how do you manage to guess! You alone never got knocked down! Have you really learnt all the signs?” Spitting, Tanya exclaimed, again mixing up Leos-zafindileos and Shchups-kuroshchups. “I mirror your mind,” the grandson of Yagge acknowledged. “Before you even whisper the spell, like it flares up in your consciousness. Easily — and everything is known to me! So you can leave your signs to yourself. And then all the same you become entangled in them…” “Here’s a cheat!” Tanya exclaimed. She recollected that now and then she felt in her head a suspicious tickling, but, absorbed by training, did not pay it any attention. Now, stung, Tanya decided to fling Yagun out of her consciousness. She began to wait for him to climb into her thoughts the next time, but Yagun nevertheless managed to slip out earlier. Then Tanya decided to go along another path. She smiled, she blew on the ball, tossed it up in plain view, and the ball, after tracing an intricate arc, hit Yagun on the crown. “It’s dishonest! You thought Gullis-dullis, and whispered Trullis-zapullis! How could this happen?” Yagun shouted indignantly, when his nose was again lifted a little above the sand. “Usual female logic! A woman thinks ‘yes’ but says ‘no.’ Or, on the contrary, thinks ‘no’ but says ‘yes.’ Here indeed no mirroring would help. Get used to it, Yagunchik!” Tanya explained. Training came to an end already in twilight. Before dismissing the players, Nightingale called everyone to him. The dragon hangars shuddered. From the cracks poured out smoke. Past the fireproof gates the dragon handlers roamed in alarm. “Goyaryn is roaring,” Katya Lotkova pensively said. “Yes, it’s roaring. I ordered not to feed it… You understand what this means?” Nightingale asked. “The match is soon? Really a day has been appointed?” Zhora Zhikin guessed. “To a T. In nine days you will meet the Genies… But now march to your rooms and try to get a good sleep. Who begins to goof-off at training — will watch the match from the guest stands. Understand?” the trainer bellowed. “What’s not to understand here? Understood!” Kuzya Tuzikov nodded, with the jet broom whisking away the sand from his knees. Tanya lifted the double bass and, heeling over to one side, overtook Bab-Yagun. Usually he helped her carry the case, but now he was too absorbed by some of his own thoughts to recall at all the existence of the double bass. “Protect yourself!!! Hey, young weight-lifter, out of the way! Don’t tangle under foot!” someone mockingly shouted. Looking around, Tanya saw Coffinia. Cryptova was walking easily, demonstratively waving her empty hands. Zhora Zhikin, Kuzya Tuzikov, and Seven-Stump-Holes, rubbing each other’s shoulders, dragged the vacuum after her. Tanya only sighed. For a moment, she experienced a light envy, but then, comforting herself, she thought, “Suppose they would propose to me to change bodies with Coffinia and get all her admirers. Would I agree? Not for anything in the world!” Vanka was waiting for them in the common room. He as always was hungry and as always was chewing. The maimed scrap of magic tablecloth lay before him. It only knew how to fry cutlets and, mysteriously snapping the edges, to extract pickles from some unknown. “You think I’m eating?” Vanka asked. “Nothing like it: I’m suppressing uneasiness!”
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“Of course. And I would say so at once! Let me also suppress it,” said Yagun, taking away his pickle. “It’s no joke. I have truly bad news!” Vanka said. “Sardanapal has been called to Magciety of Jerky Magtion. Allegedly to address a meeting. When he’ll return is unknown. And while he’s gone, Tibidox will be led by…” Yagun dropped the pickle. “Professor Stinktopp?” he guessed. “Uh-huh! Stinktopp. He and Koshchei the Deathless, one may say, a vile type… The blacks are now beside themselves with happiness. All evening they yell… Does no one want the cutlet? No? Well, then I…” Vanka sighed and moved the tablecloth to himself. Chapter 7 The Golden Leech Genka Bulonov stuck his head out into the corridor and listened. Everything was seemingly quiet. In the next room, the TV was raving on with the occasional squealing of tires and crackling of bursts of an automatic firing. His parents, crossing their hands on their stomachs, were sitting on the sofa and feasting their eyes on today’s events, which would be forgotten in two days. Grandma was washing dishes in the kitchen with the intention of dirtying them again for supper. The river of stupid daily activities so loved by moronoids carried its stagnant water all the time along the same riverbed… Nodding with satisfaction, Genka moved a chair to the door so that it could not be opened immediately and took out the bow fragments from under the carpet. It had already gradually become his habit. He thrust the bow in an empty three-litre jar, pressed an ear to it and… “In ether the latest magnews. With you is Nagiana Pripyatskaya…,” the jar reported. “The main events of this issue. The for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox, the academician Sardanapal Chernomorov has been summoned to report to Magciety of Jerky Magtion. According to rumours, he can be removed from the post in connection with a transfer to the vacant post of Delphic Oracle… The spirit, already holding the whole magic world in anxiety for a week, for the time being doesn’t reveal… The exchange rate of toad warts again rose with respect to the rate of overseas green corns. Experts believe that this is connected with an increase in quotes on echidna slobber, the world output of which is temporarily reduced. And at the conclusion of this issue the long-awaited surprise for all our listeners! The great Gury Puper will give an exclusive interview for our program…” Slippers began to shuffle in the corridor. Bulonov quickly pushed the jar under the bed. Looking into the room, mama threw a cursory glance at the notebooks spread out on the table and called him to supper. Knowing that he could not get out of his regular portion of macaroni with cheese, Genka despondently dragged himself into the kitchen. When he returned, Latest Magnews was already approaching the end. “I remind you, recently we had as guest Gury Puper, who arrived — you won’t believe this! — on a real rare broom! The champion turned out to be of few words. Well, modesty beautifies true heroes…” Nagiana Pripyatskaya declared with enthusiasm. She made a small pause, obviously searching for the necessary paper, and continued, “A word from our sponsor. The store of the magician Zina has opened on Bald Mountain. A wide
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assortment of magic cauldrons, magic tablecloth, and love potions. From imported goods — flying carpets, Baron von Münchhausen’s cannon balls, and exploding Iranian henna. Till October fifth a discount on seven-league boots of five bagel holes off one boot. At the same time you will be cheated in weights and measures completely free-of-charge, with increased malevolence! Entrance from the side of Stake Street. She works around the clock, except during new moon. With you was Nagiana, your sweet little witch! Kisskiss, my multi-disordered! Don’t frolic with red sparks!” The jar grunted, jumped, and became silent, clearly declaring a boycott to Genka. Bulonov took out the bow fragments and again safely hid them under the carpet. He already knew that no more magnews would be expected until tomorrow. The sticks would keep silent, no matter how one shook them. And if they were bothered too much, they would hit him with a green flash. This already happened once and now it was useless for Bulonov to tempt fate. “Well, this Grotter is lucky! She was always a quiet one, sat at a desk in the rear, and now — suddenly! — even in the magic world! She lives there and couldn’t care less! Probably doesn’t even remember me! And what in the world for?” Genka thought with offence. He opened the lower drawer of the table and, having taken out an iron box used to keep tea, he unscrewed the top. An outstanding place — mama would never guess to search here! At first, the narrow neck unwillingly spat out several soldiers, and then a wax figure tumbled to the table. “Hey, you hear me, Grotter!” Bulonov started to whisper heatedly. “I also want to be in the magic world! Get me over there, you hear — get me over! I’ll give you several days to think about it, and then… Remember, I’m not joking! I’m reminding you about the cap with the slits! There’s nothing for me to lose!” But nevertheless there was something to lose. The menacing slippers again began to shuffle in the corridor. Mama was going around the apartment on evening patrol. Shuddering, Bulonov hurriedly shoved the figure into the jar. “Gennadii, don’t you dare lock yourself in with a chair! Have you done your homework? And keep your back straight — do you want to become a hunchback?” an overbearing voice began to thunder. A shadow flickered beyond the window. An enormous bird with a plucked pink neck blocked the setting sun. But this lasted altogether only a moment. Then the wide wings with disorderly bristle-like feathers caught the wind and swiftly carried the bird away. *** “Hey, what’s with you? Were you hurt?” Vanka Valyalkin helped Tanya get up. The girl grasped him by the sleeve. She was trembling. Cold sweat poured down her face. Only a minute later the torch finally stopped becoming double and mockingly waved a crackling pink tongue at her. “Why did you fall? What happened?” Vanka did not leave her alone. The wretch was so perturbed that he swallowed a whole pickle without noticing and now felt how it efficiently forced its way down somewhere inside him. “And how would I know? Darn it! Only don’t tell anyone or they’ll start laughing at me!” Tanya snapped. She was completely unhappy with what had happened. To fall down from the chair for no rhyme or reason was not particularly pleasant. And rolling
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across the carpet about five times after this, almost sticking the head into the ash pit of the tiled stove, was all the more sufficiently strange. “It was like you were simply thrown... Somersaulted from the heights. It could not be done without evil eye here. If I were you I would go to Dentistikha and verify. She has these knitting needles, which in a flash can determine whether it was an evil eye or not,” advised Vanka. “I don’t want to go to Deni. I have a poor relation with her. I’ll look into it myself… Bye!” Tanya picked up the double bass case and set off for her room. An unpleasant surprise awaited Tanya in the room. Coffinia, left to her own devices and in addition bored to death from thirst of activity, did not waste time. Having fished out from the wardrobe Tanya’s sundress, which Yagge gave her in the beginning of summer, Cryptova stretched it on Page. The skeleton was standing, spreading its arms wide, and mockingly clicking its jaws. Noticing Tanya, Coffinia turned to her. “What, Grotter, drag your double bass back after all? Overstrained your navel? See what outstanding rag I found in the wardrobe! And indeed my skeleton’s figure is simply splendid, indeed almost better than yours!” she insolently stated. Flaring up with anger, Tanya threw up her hand. She wanted to shout Sparkis frontis, but decided that it would be too much. Moreover, in her memory flickered an amusing little spell recently found in the reference book of magic self-defence, which Shurasik gave her to read. “Squeezus pullus!” A green spark briskly slid to the skeleton. In the next instant Page quickly turned on the stand and imprisoned Coffinia in its bony embraces. In his empty eye sockets dreamy flames lit up. Page clicked its teeth and was thrilled from the knees to the skull. It was visited by a happiness known to all those hopelessly in love, on whom for a short moment success smiled. “Let me go, idiot! I’m not your skeleton girlfriend!” Coffinia howled, but Page, dressed in the sundress, was holding firmly. So firmly, that Cryptova could not even raise her hand with the ring in order to utter the counter-spell. But then, to tell the truth, she also did not know it… At first Coffinia swore, then begged, and finally began to threaten, “You’ll not get away with this, cranky orphan! I’ll complain to Stinktopp. Your Sardanapal can no longer protect you: they have almost chucked him out of here!” Coffinia did not consider that Tanya had too much rich experience of association with Pipa to yield to cheap blackmail. She approached the door and hospitably threw it open wide. “To Stinktopp? Let’s stomp over, complain! I’m simply shaking all over!” Coffinia began to jump to the door. “Only interesting, what will the entire school talk about tomorrow?” Tanya continued. “About the sorceress Cryptova jumping along the corridor in the embrace of the skeleton dressed in a woman’s dress! Oh, by the way, here come Dollova and Parroteva! Shall I call them? They’ll sympathize with you!” Coffinia got into a flap, “Ah-ah! Shut the door! If someone sees me — I’ll kill you!” She was thrown into a flutter, hiding with the skeleton in the wardrobe. Dollova and Parroteva went solemnly past the door, looking curiously at her. Both were gossipers even rare for Tibidox. To tell them some secret was all the same as making an international declaration on zoomers.
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“How are things, girls? How are things, beautiful? Evening stroll of the territory? Hunting for magnews?” Tanya greeted them. Dollova and Parroteva looked sideways at her with surprise and, whispering, moved on further. “What a pity! Eh, Crypt? It seems Verka didn’t adjust her x-ray vision! She again let slip the most interesting thing!” Tanya was distressed, shutting the door. The wardrobe began to moan angrily. “Perhaps I’ll let you go nevertheless! Simply from love of moronoids! But not before you repeat ten times in a row: ‘I’m a petty envier! I pester Tanya Grotter because I envy her — her excellent character, her remarkable figure, and phenomenal charm!’” Tanya continued. “Not in my lifetime!” “Then good night! Only, if you don’t object, I’ll lock the wardrobe with the key! Your Page chatters its teeth terribly disgustingly!” “Ah-ah! You’ll still pay! I’ll take vengeance!” Coffinia hissed. Tanya yawned and covered her head with the blanket. The wardrobe swore abominably for about a half hour, and then sorrowfully delivered, “I’m a petty envier… well you’re out of my sight… I pester Grotter because I cannot stand her… Simply I hate her nightmarish character, crooked figure, and generally all of her from top to bottom! I only have to see her and I simply begin to shake from fury!” “Each time you muddle the text, you’ll say it five more times!” Tanya said, yawning. The wardrobe made no more mistakes. *** The fewer the days left to the match with the Afghan Genies, the more intense the training became. Time after time mastering the bewitched pass, Tanya got so tired that she could hardly keep her place on the double bass. When it came to the instantaneous turn, she carried it out not without fear, involuntarily recalling the Rope. Outwardly it seemed durable, but in her memory involuntarily floated up the overheard conversation of the house-spirits. How durable will wax threads for seven-league boots turn out to be and will the Rope break directly in flight? “Try not to break! Please! Dear, dear Rope! Too many people will be pleased if this happens. Uncle Herman, Pipa, Stinktopp, Coffinia, and even, perhaps, Plague-del-Cake, if she miraculously succeeded in surviving…” she persuaded the Rope. Not wanting the house-spirits to continue considering her thankless, Tanya begged from Vanka a piece of the magic tablecloth, wrapped up in it four pairs of small gloves sent from the store of the magician Zina according to her order, and deposited the bundle at the door of their workshop. It was possible even to write a note, but Tanya did not do this, convinced that the masters themselves would figure out whom they were from. And, apparently, the house-spirits managed rather well with this repair, because the double bass for no rhyme or reason began to fly so fast that even her ring hesitated wonderstruck. On Thursday evening, Tanya lingered on the dragonball field in order to look in on Goyaryn in the hangar. The hungry dragon was not in spirit. Stretching out its neck, it was lying on the fireproof bedding and looked at her gloomily. From time to time Goyaryn sighed deeply, and then from its nostrils escaped white smoke. Tanya did not
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even know precisely whether Goyaryn recognized her or not. The girl stood at the entrance for a while and left, not wanting to be seen by the dragon handlers. She knew that those would immediately tattle to Slander, and indeed nothing good could be expected from that one. Now, when Stinktopp and Koshchei the Deathless were running everything, the rumour was that the stern dean of Tibidox, always gravitating towards black magic, was getting on excellently with this sweet pair, which Bab-Yagun just called “our nasties.” While Tanya was in the hangar, they had already stretched the magic dome above the dragonball field. Genies were rushing about quickly inside the dome, levelling out sand with rakes. Now, whether you want it or not, it was necessary to go around the field along the stands, slip through between the spectator benches. Catching them with the double bass case, the girl began to get up when suddenly something burnt her thigh. Crying out, she seized her pocket, convinced that something there had caught fire, — and near her feet, bustlingly revolving, exactly like the pointer of a compass escaped from the psychiatric hospital, something luminous fell out. The Golden Leech! It was lying quietly in her pocket for several days and was happily forgotten, but now suddenly it saw fit to come alive. The Leech twisted and turned. It writhed like an earthworm crawling out onto the asphalt, hurrying again to be on its way. However, this did not continue for long. Unexpectedly, the Leech raised its flat head with suckers and crawled in a business-like manner. Glowing weakly in the dark, it went around the magic dome. Finding itself on a footpath leading into the forest, the Leech bent into a ring, stuck to its tail, and rolled forward in a manner, which would force any specialist in leeches to eat his diploma following the doctoral dissertation. But Tanya had neither. Absolutely nothing threatened her stomach. She jumped onto the double bass, uttered Hastenus plodus and, trying not to accelerate too much, flew behind. The Leech, behind which she was hurrying, was either quite dim, merging with the path, or it mockingly flared up like the yellow eye of a light signal in the night. Then Tanya waved the bow and overtook it. It was difficult to fly. Wind-fallen wood piled up along the way. Branches invisible in the gloom tried to take down her head. It would be considerably safer to rise above the forest, but then Tanya would for sure lose the gold point dodging in the thicket. It was necessary to take a risk. When to the smell of conifers was added a moist ocean breeze reeking of fish and cockleshells, the Leech started to act strangely. Now it was dodging as if what it was searching for was located somewhere straight ahead and the Leech was trying to understand where precisely. Suddenly, in front, from the most unexpected direction, again arose the rock tortoise of Tibidox. Having barely seen the signal lights on the Big Tower and the enclosed outline of the walls, Tanya understood where they were heading and immediately wanted to return. The Leech turned around by the ruins of the gatehouse and quickly began to crawl into the first crack. Tanya leaped off the double bass, “I’m not going there! What am I, a mental case? There were no psychos in my family!” she said, turning to no one in particular. The hereditary ring of the Grotters coughed with doubt. Meanwhile the excited great-granddaughter circled around by the gatehouse and again said with conviction, “No, no, and no! These jokes won’t fly with me! My legs will not go there!” She climbed clumsily through the window.
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The magic flame crackled in the stove. A dazzling radiance shone through in the crack under the flaking plaster. It was terrible to imagine what would happen if the door was opened. Tanya carefully approached. In the iron door there was a narrow opening resembling a hole for the key. Something flashed in the hole. The plump tail of the Golden Leech speedily squeezed through inside. Involuntarily moving away from the heat beating from that side, Tanya deciphered obliterated letters on the door. Earlier they were almost imperceptible, but now, when the metal was red hot, they appeared one after another. Heaven trembles from tempestuous lightning — Into the wall’s thickness miracles will not go hiding. No one will trick the glass of gloom — A faceless evil will show in doom. The old stove is hotly ablaze — And into the crack crawls the Leech in haste. Tanya’s heart almost stopped. She shut her eyes tight for a moment, gathering courage in order to read further, but the letters were already fading. Many could not be made out. The villainous networks are set up so clever …… will collide… and … … … ... The curse of ancient graves will chance. And … to the head of dark forces will advance. Only he who will forget the pain will conquer — Will dare to step into … … ... Tanya’s normal composure finally returned. “There’s something about all this I don’t like. It smells a little like the recurrent rhythmic prophecy of The Ancient One. But recurrent prophecy — recurrent troubles,” she said anxiously. Baby Grotter took out a common ball-point pen — a better, in her mind, invention of moronoids, which was much more convenient than a magic goose feather — and patiently copied the prophecy onto her palm. The next morning she set off for magic station, asked Yagge for the little book Tricks of White Magicians in Hugo the Sly’s Retelling and knocked with a bent finger on the portrait on the cover. “Just a minute! I’m not quite dressed!” someone declared. Almost immediately on the portrait appeared the shining bald spot of Hugo, on which he hastily stretched the powdered wig. “Listen… When you said that you weren’t dressed, you had in mind a wig?” Tanya was interested. “Of course. If I had in mind something different, I would express otherwise. For example: ‘Pardon, mademoiselle! I’m in a negligee! Would it bother you to visit me later?’” Hugo confirmed with courteous politeness. Tanya hesitated. “Why indeed ask for pardon here? You’re always in a negligee. Better say that you’re thinking about this here?” she said and showed him her palm.
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“Well, well! Let’s have a look! What handwriting you have, you simply write like chicken scratches!” Hugo screwed up his face. For a time he read in concentration, and then anxiously asked, “Where did you get this from? I hope, you didn’t write it yourself?” “No. It was on the door of the stove in the gatehouse of The Ancient One.” Hugo the Sly began to nod. “Oh! This completely changes the matter. Yes, no one argues: The Ancient One was the greatest magician and the wisest prophet. I don’t remember a case that he made mistakes. However, between us, I would express his prophetic thoughts in prose. The wretch thoroughly lacks poetic gift. He’s m-de... — what’s it called, tone-deaf!” Hugo said. “But you’re not?” Tanya was offended for The Ancient One. Hugo puffed up. “What? You insult me with your absurd suspicions! Remember for a long time: I’m talented, inventive, crafty — and all in one bottle! In a very beautiful bottle. Here, in this!” he said, striking himself on the chest. “Wonderful. And are you clever?” Tanya was interested. “Why, of course! Even with the advances of genius,” Hugo modestly specified. “I respect geniuses! So few of us are left! And so, restore the prophecy to its whole. Decipher the missing words,” said Tanya. Hugo the Sly sighed. It was evident that he was unwilling to be strained, but, on the other hand, he was pinned down. After a short battle between laziness and megalomania, the mania gained the upper hand. “Okay,” muttered Hugo. “I hope this will be simple. Visit me in a few days. Only bear in mind: prophecies of The Ancient One are assigned an unpleasant special feature: they come true. Especially deciphered. Are you ready for this? Suddenly there turns out to be something, which we fear even to guess?” “It’s worth taking a risk. And then, better to know what to fear than to run blindly,” objected Tanya. “Obviously for you. I’m already a spectre, but here you… Okay, if you’re ready, let’s see the hand here!” the white magician decisively stated. Tanya stretched out her palm, and Hugo blew on it. The revived letters began to jump fussily, but quickly understood what was wanted of them and as a chain they flew over behind the frame of the portrait. Here Hugo caught them and thoroughly stuck them onto the last page of the book in the order as they were on the palm. “Well now, yet one chapter begins!” he said with satisfaction. Chapter 8 A Ball for Dinner The next morning, looking around the common room, the children discovered with surprise that posters were looking at them from all the walls. There were dozens and even hundreds of them. Many posters were stuck with the bottom on top, so that the letters turned out to be upside-down, and some — with the clean side to the spectator. Supermagic glue was smeared over all the walls without exception and even here and there on the floor. All this definitely proved that Slander Slanderych had again engaged the cyclopes as a free work force. On 30 September in the main dragonball stadium of Buyan
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TEAM TIBIDOX — AFGHAN GENIES IN ADDITION TO THE SPECIAL RULES of World Dragonball Championship Strictly forbidden: 1. To hoot, howl, bang, shout, jostle, to release magic sparks without the written permission of the watching referee. 2. To cast signs, fatal spell, curses, and evil eye. 3. To drink pop in wildly-destructive or inclined-to-flying glass containers. Allowed: 1. To watch the match from stands, blinking not more often than twice a minute. 2. To express pleasure with imperceptible internal smile. For all serious disturbances of order — IMMEDIATE ZOMBIFICATION and SPECIAL ENTRY AS DEGENERATES!!! Malicious offenders will be sent to the dragons as fodder. Acting For-life and Posthumous head of Tibidox Prof. Sigmund Stinktopp. Self-appointed chief of security service — S. Slanderych. Chief referee of the match b.m. Koshchei the Deathless. Vanka Valyalkin examined the poster for a long time, then asked, “B.m. — is it what I think? Correct me if I’m wrong.” “B.m. — it’s black magician,” wincing as from a toothache, Bab-Yagun said. “So, I thought incorrectly,” acknowledged Vanka. Someone began to yell sorrowfully. It turned out Shurasik had dropped one of his notebooks into a puddle of glue and was tearing it off until he found himself stretched out on the floor. “Ah, just help me please! Please free me!” he screamed indignantly. “Super-magic glue — nice joke! It was not created so that it would be possible to rip everything without effort. It would even be offensive… Yes, you got into a real mess! Not excluding that you have to spend several weeks here,” having looked Shurasik over in a business-like manner, Bab-Yagun said. “NO-O-O-O! And what about lessons? How will I study?” Shurasik began to yell. “We’ll bring you food. Tea. Sugar. Necessities. Besides — it’s an excellent view from here of the corridor and the nest with bats. Imagine what outstanding report can be written! ‘Bats after four weeks of constant observation!’” Yagun comforted him. Shurasik issued a really quite unbearable howl. He jerked himself free and, after leaving in the puddle of glue a substantial part of his jacket and essentially important detail of his pants, he rushed off. “Well now. Sometimes the description of the treatment helps more than the treatment itself. So, in any case, my granny claims,” rubbing his hands, Yagun said. Along the corridor, her heels rapping briskly, Medusa Gorgonova decisively walked past. Her cheeks were blazing, and the copper-red hair stirred threateningly. Likely, she was keeping her anger under control with difficulty. Behind her Koshchei the Deathless was mincing with a sweet little smile on his entire skull. From time to time, he leaned over and, giggling, started to whisper something. “Did you see that? What’s with them?” Vanka asked in amazement, when Gorgonova and the representative of Magciety were hidden behind the turn. “If this character doesn’t leave Medusa alone, I don’t envy him. I’ve never seen Gorgonova in such a rage before!” Tanya said. “Uh-huh! Now she’ll take off without a vacuum!” Vanka agreed.
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The children were not mistaken. Medusa and Koshchei, dangling near her, had barely turned to the stairs when Tibidox shuddered. Somewhere nearby flared up dual green sparks, and then almost without pause — dual red. Rumbling with his armour, Koshchei ran past them, evil like a swamp bogey. His raincoat was smoking, and his entire skull was in soot. Yagun did not have time to hide his smile. Noticing it, Koshchei the Deathless stopped and for a long time shook before his nose a hand in an iron glove. He was so enraged that he was stuttering. “W-want to b-beat the Genies? I’ll b-beat y-you! I’ll show you dragonball!” he finally spat out angrily. *** The last training sessions before a match were the most intense. Nightingale O. Robber released en masse into the field a half-dozen young dragons — sons of Goyaryn, the swiftest among them — and forced the players to throw balls into their mouths. It was impossible to follow at once all the dragons rushing like silvery lightning inside the dome. While a player was spinning his head, pondering how to dodge a dragon diving from above, three more flew from behind or from below. It happened continually that the young dragons pulled someone off a vacuum and, hurrying to divide the booty, pulled with concentration in different directions. They barely paid any attention to the howls of the player and the frightening-off sparks. Damien Goryanov especially was often in the role of such a mouse. However, BabYagun, Coffinia, and even Seven-Stump-Holes, fell into it intermittently. From the trainer’s bench Nightingale O. Robber imperturbably watched what was taking place. His bland face did not change, even when someone dived like a swallow with his nose into the sand. He only snapped his fingers, calling up dragon handlers with stretchers and smelling salt. “Is it really possible to drive the team so? It’s not possible to survive this way till the match!” the burnt Zhora Zhikin complained, and Kuzya Tuzikov sadly looked over his broom covered with soot. “These are still playthings! You’d think his, the dandy’s, ear, had been singed! I’ll watch how you begin to sing at the match with the Genies!” Nightingale invariably answered and again banished the team to the field, where the very young dragons flashed by with the speed of piranhas. The Afghan Genies flew in a day before the match. They — stern, bearded, in turbans and robes on which strips first appeared, then disappeared — approached in an extended formation. The Genies sat solemnly on small copper pitchers with jet streams gushing out of them, and with such seriousness that the fans and players of Tibidox somehow immediately became uneasy. But then the dragon of the Afghan Genies evoked only smiles from everybody. It was flabby, with a short bloated neck and pitiful little wings. It flew terribly clumsily, turned with difficulty and, approaching, almost knocked itself out on the wall of Tibidox. “Did you see this lump? It’s not a dragon but an overgrown chicken! I’ll catch it by the tail and feed it balls with a spoon. For me it’ll swallow everything like a dear!” Coffinia Cryptova snorted.
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Bab-Yagun also expressed himself in the same spirit; however, Tanya decided not to jump to any conclusions for the time being. “It can’t be all that simple here. If the dragon of the Genies is so useless indeed, they would not become world champion so many times!” she thought. Greeting the guests, the cupids flashed by with flower garlands above the Tibidox walls. To avoid misunderstanding and uncontrollable amorous epidemics, Professor Stinktopp ordered them to take all the arrows out of their quivers beforehand. Koshchei the Deathless stomped on the instructors’ balcony and shot at Medusa ardent glances of a womanizer slightly covered by mustiness. His stylish armour from Paco Grabanne glistened like silver in the sun, the breastplate riveted on it showed off a new motto: “Come back, I’ll forgive everything!” But, in spite of the firm intention to forget everything and to begin everything anew, Koshchei did not dare to approach Medusa. Slander Slanderych hurriedly looked over the seven rolls with speeches in order not to flounder at a critical moment. The genie Abdullah coiled up like a dove-coloured smoky stream above the dean’s shoulder and was secretly preparing a salutatory poem in seven hundred verses. His warts impatiently crawled from one cheek to another. Following the warts, like an Arctic ice floe, the bumpy nose drifted with complete self-importance. Waiting until the Genies appeared on the wall together with their trainer Ghoul-BullShah, Slander waved a hanky. The orchestra made up of cyclopes and heroes disjointedly struck up a fanfare. After rumbling for a minute, the fanfare withered away by itself. The powerful drummer, bored with tormenting the drum, dropped a drumstick onto the kettledrummer’s ear. That one turned around and, shedding a little tear of indignation, answered him with a double bang of crashing cymbals. After threatening the orchestra musicians with a fist, Slander began his speech, “Respected fellow citizens and foreign guests! In light of the forthcoming sporting event on the hospitable grounds of Tibidox, please allow me to mention some principle moments. I’ll try to be extremely brief and not to strain your attention,” the dean was speaking with a well-delivered voice, tenderly looking at his rolls. More accurately, it seemed to Slander that he was speaking, because, though his lips were moving, no sound escaped. No matter how the speaker opened his mouth or stared around maliciously, he was never able to force anything out except the wheeze of a gramophone. The genie Abdullah quickly hid a small amulet in his sleeve. Then he majestically floated forward, whimsically bending his torso, bowed to the spectators and guests and proclaimed: “Looking from the Olympic heights to the guilty earth, I’ll say, harking to the message of the dazzling Eos...” Unfortunately, no one succeeded in finding out for sure what the genie Abdullah was going to say from the Olympic heights. Something whizzed in the air and the library genie was literally swept away from the wall. In the same place where he had recently harked to the message of Eos, the mixed chorus of ghosts, having forced their way through, was already thundering. Eyeless Horror was conducting, and Lieutenant Rzhevskii, stepping forward, either trilled with feelings as a soprano or floundered as a
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baritone. Several times, he even pushed through to a bass but instantly he wilted. Saving the situation, Medusa hastily invited all the guests to a solemn supper. Soon after supper, Ghoul-Bull-Shah thanked Tibidox for the hospitality. The Genies bowed and in a single file set off to rest, entrusting their sluggish “goal” to the care of the dragon handlers they brought with them. Although the hangar with the dragon of the Genies was at the other end of the field, Goyaryn roared the entire night, sensing the opponent. *** Early in the morning, something started to mutter under Bulonov’s carpet. Springing off the bed, Genka in a hurry thrust the rods into the jar and, amplifying sound this way, nestled his ear close to it. “Must this be hitched on me? Can’t we manage without the mouthpiece altogether?” someone inquired dejectedly. Deciding that the voice was addressing him, Genka almost rolled from fright under the bed. However, the voice, clearly not noticing him, continued to mutter, “I’m Damien Goryanov, the new player commentator. Professor Stinktopp picked me himself. I’ll not flatter him, only mention that he’s the sensitive leader of the black department, a cult figure of magyouth of the terrestrial globe, and in general a deep and thoughtful character… And why are you all staring at me! Ah, to say something else! “The match between team Tibidox and the Afghan Genies has not yet started at all in the dragonball stadium. Somebody claims that the struggle of the century awaits us, whereas I consider all this an utmost farce, put on to strip a little more off you for tickets. Certainly, the Genies will spread us on the wall, but everyone will only be satisfied. Only give these dull fans a show.” Bulonov involuntarily yawned. “The chief referee of the match, Koshchei the Deathless, assigned to replace Sardanapal, releases a signal spark. It seems it’s called this when from the ring flies out a kind of cheap salute. The match begins. At first they let out the dragons from the hangars, then the Genies take off on their jet pitchers and finally, we…” the voice continued to fade. Unexpectedly everyone was stunned by a disgusting unsuccessful rattle. Fans, covering their ears with their hands, almost fell off the stands; however, it did not trouble Goryanov at all. “What you hear is how confidently and smoothly the motor of my powerful Storm100U rumbles...” he reported. “But we’ll not be distracted by details. Interesting, when are they releasing the balls? What are the referees for? Aha, my apologies, the balls, it seems, were already released while I was checking whether my shawl-parachute is in place! Both teams immediately join in the fight. The Genies are flying like one possessed. I can’t even manage to follow them with my eyes. But what’s it to me? What, I haven’t seen genies? But then I can make out very well how Bab-Yagun, this granny’s helper and all-out crude dog, is staring at me. He’s shaking his fists and yelling something clearly unfriendly, envious... Ugh, the referees intercepted him, and I was beginning to worry whether he’s sane. Ah, here’s why he’s enraged! They’re prompting to me that the immobilize ball was hanging directly above my head, but now the Genies already have it… Well, so? One more ball — one less ball. Big-time sport is fraught with accidents.”
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The jar howled. The rods began to shake. Bulonov collapsed onto the carpet, covering his head. This offensive commentator gained altitude in a hurry, rushing to find himself further from all the ups and downs of a great sport. For Tanya Grotter the match did not begin very successfully. She chased after the flame-extinguisher ball, but here something swept past directly in front of her nose. It threw the double bass off with an airwave. The girl only had time to notice a striped robe flashed by. The Genie cutting her off showed her a pink tongue like a bologna sausage. “Just now we could all observe how the captain of the Genie team Said-Wali-Sherbet intercepted the flame-extinguisher ball from under the nose of number ten… Yes, Tatiana Grotter already doesn’t fit anywhere, no matter how sad! She sits on her double bass like a hen on the fence!” Goryanov maliciously reported to all. The vacuum of Bab-Yagun discarded mermaid scales from the pipe and rushed forward. While the Genies, stunned by the roar of the vacuum, were considering what was what, Yagun took possession of the sneeze ball and gave a bewitched pass across the entire field to Seven-Stump-Holes. A Genie half-back attempted to intercept the ball but did not guess the spell, got one on the skullcap and lay down to rest on the sand, placing his pitcher under his cheek. Having skilfully reversed the spell of the pass, Seven-StumpHoles pressed the ball against his chest and went for a head-on attack on the hostile dragon. The dragon of the genies did not even breathe fire on him. It only sleepily fluttered its fat wings, more concerned in general about keeping itself in the air. Next to the flamethrowing Goyaryn it simply seemed like an overgrown gosling by chance, as a result of a black magician’s joke, changed into a dragon. Seven-Stump-Holes threw the ball. Having met no obstacles on its way, the sneeze charge got in the dragon’s mouth. A magic flash flared up. The fans of Tibidox roared enthusiastically. Satisfied that he earned two points for his team, Seven-Stump-Holes turned around and leisurely flew to his own. Something cracked softly behind his back. Seven-Stump-Holes puffed up his chest, thinking indulgently that this puny beast was clearly unable to sneeze. He braked and, hanging above the field, began to send air kisses in different directions. Suddenly the roaring stands became completely quiet. Not understanding what had happened with the fans, Seven-Stump-Holes turned around and… from his chest burst a wild cry like nothing on earth. The dragon of the genies was engulfed in flame. The flabby skin grew dark and curled up. The chicken wings shrivelled. The previously unprepossessing covering cracked like a shell, and from its depths escaped a crimson, terrible, angry monster. Yes, it was a dragon, but what a dragon! With sharp spikes on the snout, leathery wings, dazzling scales. Pulling in air, it was fanning. A minute — and it was already the size of Goyaryn. The Genie defence flew away in different directions, bending down to their jet pitchers. Only they, it seemed, understood what had taken place and sped to get further away. Seven-Stump-Holes, coming to his senses, clutching the pipe of his vacuum, began to gain altitude in a hurry. He hoped to be in the “dead zone” where the dragon would not see him, but he did not have time. The dragon pulled air into its nostrils and breathed out flame broken up only by the magic dome at the other end of the field. The vacuum of the Tibidox forward flamed up, and in the following moment, the open mouth swallowed Seven-Stump-Holes.
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“Professor Stinktopp, they tripped us up!!! It’s a dragon-phoenix! A dragon-werewolf! The Genies specially allowed us to drive in a ball so that the transformation would take place! Now I understand why they call their dragon Ass-ibn-Shaitan,” Damien Goryanov yelled in panic. Stinktopp on the platform only shrugged his shoulders. What could he do? In the rules of dragonball possible transformations of dragons was never specified. “Ass-ibn-Shaitan... I know such ibn-shaitans... Probably the dragons were given mercury from werewolf tracks to drink and bathed in lunar dust. I hate these unscrupulous inspectors, and, the important thing, you won’t catch them red-handed. Just try to prove that they did this,” Tararakh muttered, turning to Vanka Valyalkin. “And what will it be now?” Vanka asked. Tararakh waved a hand uncertainly. “What else? We’re in a terrible fix,” he said. Meanwhile, the Genies took possession of the majority of the balls and, exchanging bewitched passes, set on Goyaryn. Katya Lotkova and Kuzya Tuzikov barely kept their rush in check. Literally hanging onto Goyaryn’s neck, Katya entreated it not to be excited and let out fire in long jets. In the case of a slip, the Genies would for sure take advantage of the open mouth of the dragon to drop a couple of balls. Damien Goryanov, gingerly screwing up his eyes, flew under the dome itself. He intentionally kept up higher, avoiding troubles. “A Genie forward — don’t remember what he’s called — catches — don’t see exactly what — ball. A hit — go-al! They scored on us!” he began to yell. For some reason no one among the fans of the Genies responded and Rita On-The-Sly appearing next to him noticeably nudged Damien on the side. “Well, there’s no goal. Goyaryn slammed shut its mouth... But is it really so important? One more goal, one less goal. Nevertheless sooner or later they’ll slaughter us all the same,” the commentator began to justify himself. Diving from the top, Tanya pursued the flame-extinguisher ball bounced off the snout of Goyaryn and managed to fasten it to her forearm. Said-Wali-Sherbet and three more Genies closed in around her and, not allowing her to get away in any direction, chased her directly to their own dragon. Ass-ibn-Shaitan, for some reason coming down sharply, hiccupped fully satisfied, opened its mouth and provocatively spat out a mop with a propeller. “Ah, Zhora, Zhora! Who will do evil spirits studies for me?” Goryanov exclaimed. Understanding that they were forcing her directly into the open mouth of the dragonwerewolf, Tanya tried, braking, to move away to the left, but was thrown back by the jet stream of the Genie on the edge. The Genies crowded in even more. Squeezed in their air routes, the double bass was made almost uncontrollable. Said-Wali-Sherbet smirked and showed Ghoul-Bull-Shah thumbs down. He was convinced that he would be finished with Tanya Grotter now. Tanya thought feverishly. She had no chances, if only… Recalling one of the tricks she played on Bab-Yagun at training, Tanya loudly shouted, “Gullis-dullis!” and threw the pass… to Said-Wali-Sherbet. While Sherbet, bewildered by such impudence, was ready to utter the counter-spell, Tanya quickly whispered Trullis-zapullis, unnoticeably replacing the spell. “Tsap-tsaraps,” Said-Wali-Sherbet shouted, still assuming that he was dealing with Gullis-dullis. It must be said that magic spells treat each other with great jealousy. To reward them with a different counter-spell is as serious and unpardonable a misdeed as a moronoid muddling the first name and last name of his own papa. In the next moment, the flame©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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extinguisher ball cut into the ear of Said-Wali-Sherbet and threw him off his pitcher. Before Sherbet had time to realize it, his own jet stream caught him together with the bounced ball and delivered them into the open mouth of Ass-ibn-Shaitan. The hungry dragon with greediness swallowed him. The flame-extinguisher magic flared up with a white flash. Dense harmless smoke instead of fire poured out continuously from the mouth of the monster. The three other Genies, not expecting this sad finale, lingered. The jets of their pots rendered Tanya an involuntary service, pushing her double bass out through the breach generated. The double bass of Theophilus Grotter rushed past near the head of the crimson dragon and beautifully turned around by the rear wall of the magic dome. Koshchei the Deathless guiltily looked sideways at Ghoul-Bull-Shah and awarded the team of Tibidox three more points. Everything was so according to the rules that there was nothing to find faults with even to the most biased referee. “The score becomes 5:0 in favour of Tibidox. Grotter drove in a brilliant goal. Of course, she was simply lucky, but nevertheless…” Damien Goryanov unwillingly muttered. Genka Bulonov hit the carpet with his fist. The small cup of his patience overfilled and started to seethe with envy. “Grotter! Everywhere this Grotter! She would not take me with her! I warned her, I asked her!” he shouted and, jumping up, took out the tea jar from the table. The wax figure fell in an aggressive rain of soldiers onto the carpet. Bulonov grabbed it, took a needle and… “Here’s to you, Tanya! You asked for it! Either you take me away or I’ll ruin everything! I can!” he threatened. Tanya herself did not understand what happened with her right arm. Blood was suddenly gushing out of it. The arm was numb below the elbow. The bow slipped from the limp fingers. The double bass was tossed to the magic dome. The girl hardly had time to take the impact with her shoulder in order not to break the instrument. Then she suddenly found herself on the sand. Yagge and the medical orderlies rushed to her with a stretcher. Getting up on her elbows, she grasped that they were attempting to take her by force away from the field. To be taken away now — at a crucial point of the match! Dragging the double bass after herself, the girl hurriedly crawled to the bow. Her hand seemed frozen, the fingers were covered with blood, everything doubled before her eyes. The only thought hitting against her brain was: if she had time to take off, they would not take her away from the field. The medical orderlies would not keep up with her in the air. Gripping the bow with her working hand, she whispered a spell. When the double bass suddenly took off and rushed forward, Tanya almost lost consciousness from the pain. The medical orderlies dropped the stretcher and craned their necks. “Stop! Where are you going, foolish girl? How will you be able to play? You can’t even see where you’re flying!” Yagge yelled at her from behind. Climbing over the benches, Dentistikha hurried to Medusa Gorgonova. Her eyelids, swollen a little from reading sonnets at night, blinked indignantly. “Medi, did you see that?” she shouted, “there was no one next to her. She could not fall down by herself, she flies too well. For sure they attacked her with magic! I warned Stinktopp: it would be worthwhile to block all rings on the Genies!” Medusa shook her head. “Yes, Denti, it’s an evil eye, a very serious evil eye. I had time to locate it.”
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“There you see! What did I say!” “Wait. The Genies here have nothing to do with that. The magic attack was directed not from the stadium, but from the world of the moronoids.” “MORONOIDS?” Dentistikha repeated, very puzzled. “It’s impossible! How did they manage?” Medusa looked at her sternly. Her entire look said that emotions were inappropriate here. “I don’t know how, Denti! But a moronoid did this. And you must help me find him. I intend to teleport.” Denti threw up her hands in horror. “Teleport? You’ve gone nuts! Teleportation to this distance is too dangerous. Better indeed to fly on a flying carpet or, at the worst, a vacuum.” “No. It takes too long. We’ll lose this match without Grotter. I don’t want to be redfaced before Sardanapal when he returns.” “But this is folly!” “For one: yes. For this very reason, I’m asking you to send me off. Have you even forgotten how it’s done? I will begin!” Without waiting for agreement, Medusa wrapped herself up in the raincoat and began to twirl rapidly. Her ring, red hot, shot individual green sparks. They, not fading, hovered in the air and stuck the outside of her raincoat, forming a kind of dense magic cocoon. Dentistikha concentrated. She approached Medusa and, taking the outside of the cocoon, she began to roll it up. First, she folded it in half, then half again and again… Any moronoid, on top of that an impressionable one, would not be able to endure such a show. A living person, a venerable magician, the docent of the department — and even simply a very attractive woman! — folded up like a sheet of paper. Soon all of Medusa became no larger than a mustard seed. When this took place, Dentistikha carefully placed it on her palm, again reproachfully shook her head and… blew on it hard. The mustard seed trembled and disappeared… Genka Bulonov did not pull his ear away from the jar. The rods were silent. The playing commentator Damien Goryanov was concerned with not getting a ball under any circumstance. Only having bolted from all the players of his own team, who theoretically could give him a pass, he returned to fulfilling his responsibilities. “Oho, so much news! Number ten did not have time to retire from the game, as again she returns! But indeed from what height Grotter dropped with a crash, and her arm is entirely in blood! Well, downright disgusting to look at! Really, is it not a part of the responsibility of referees to guard the spectators from unpleasant sights?” “Aha! The arm! I knew that it would turn out this way! Now Tanya will show me some action! Let her suffer until she understands what the matter is and transport me over!” Bulonov was in triumph. He took out the needle and wanted to prick the figure in the other arm, when suddenly something dazzling flared up in the room. Having decided that the lamp had exploded, Genka raised his head and froze, exactly like a cockroach, above which a deadly slipper had shot up. A small tornado appeared under the chandelier. When it calmed down, Bulonov saw that in its place, arms across the chest, a tall lady was standing. “Drop the needle!” Medusa said in a voice not tolerating argument. “I won’t drop it!” Genka squeaked, panicking.
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The copper-red hair of the tall lady started to hiss. Two long strands hanging from the forehead were the first to change into snakes. “The needle!” the lady repeated in a voice cutting short all objections. Bulonov obediently unclenched his fingers. “And it’s not worthwhile to call for help here,” continued Medusa, guessing his thoughts. “I can’t stand howling boys. And better not hide under the table. You indeed don’t want hippos to suddenly turn up on top of the table. Do you want it so or not? Answer, quick!” Bulonov shook his head and got out in a hurry from under the table. He somehow immediately comprehended that it was not a bluff and hippos could actually appear on his head. “Bravo! You’re a reasonable youth! Now hand the figure over. With great care, don’t squeeze it, or there will be one more hamster in the moronoid world!” Genka timidly extended the wax Grotter to the lady. At the same time, he accidentally touched her fingers. The fingers were sizzling. “Strange, it’s made according to all the rules! No, a moronoid didn’t fashion it, actually! From where would a moronoid know about reviving runes on the feet? Here it smells a little like strong dark magic! “Where did you get this?” Having examined the figure, Medusa asked with suspicion. In a confused way, Bulonov recounted about the rods, the golden ball, and the altar. The reliable scent of an experienced three-point student prompted him to better not lie. Medusa nodded. “Well, everything is clear with the bow. Tanya should have been more careful. One ought not to leave a magic object with the moronoids, even a damaged one, but here we must still look into who sculpted the figure. Ah, well!” Docent Gorgonova brought the figure up to her face and smelled it. The nostrils of her classical nose trembled with disgust. “Phew, what a stink! No, it didn’t manage without a swamp bogey here. But a bogey would not know how to mould a figure, it was only carrying out someone’s order, sticking in the needle. It also stole the sweater! But who ordered it to? You, of course, don’t know?” Bulonov hurriedly shook his head. “Of course you don’t. And how would you, a moronoid, even know? Is that so or not?” Medusa hesitated. Genka ceased shaking his head and in a hurry began to nod. Darkening, Gorgonova began to walk along the room. “I think the matter here didn’t manage without some old allies of She-Who-Is-No-More. But who could it be? Unless... No, it would be too foul! He couldn’t! Though, no, impossible!” Medusa stopped and waved her hand, precisely chopping off undesirable thoughts. “Okay, I’ll investigate later with allies. But for the time being a block spell will be sufficient,” she decisively stated. Medusa wrapped herself in the raincoat and began to release green sparks in a businesslike manner. Genka, coming to his senses, threw himself towards her. He suddenly grasped that his last chance of going into the magic world would vanish together with the stern lady. “Please wait! Take me with you! I…. I also want to go!” Medusa stopped revolving. She looked narrowly at Bulonov, and her face softened slightly. “All you should have done was to destroy this figure. There!” Gorgonova decisively crushed the wax double, “If you had done this, for sure one of us — Sardanapal, Denti, or myself — would have valued your nobility. And, possibly, if you turned out to have a drop of magic talent — at least its echo! — you would end up in Tibidox and study there… And you have, by the way, minimum abilities — otherwise the
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bow would not become a ball for you!” Bulonov took one half-step forward. Hope started to glimmer in him. “However, you decided to keep the figure. Moreover, to use it in order to preserve authority over Tanya! And then you almost killed her during the match. Your own meanness prevented you from going into the magic world! Treachery never pays! You can trust me — never… Now you’ll never hear about the magic world anymore and even not remember about it! You’re unworthy of it!” Medusa said inflexibly. Docent Gorgonova snapped her fingers. The fragments of the magic bow flared up and turned into ashes. Rising into the air, the ashes assumed the shape of a green snake, which, flying out from the jar, slid into Bulonov’s nostril. “Fillissimo moronissimo!” Medusa pronounced firmly and melted away. Bulonov giggled foolishly and sat down on the floor. Looking around, he discovered that he was dressed in pyjamas, and dragging the blanket beside him. “Ah, understandable… Again I fell off the bed! I told mama that I need a new bed — a wide one!” he muttered. Genka shook his head exactly like a poodle in whose ear a flea began to crawl. He sat for a while longer on the floor, and then, muttering an appeal, “M-mamm, what do we have to eat?”” He left for the kitchen to gobble a sausage. The river of life carried the straw of moronoid fate further. *** Ass-ibn-Shaitan lashed out with its flexible leathery wings, in a flash raising it near the magic dome. It seemed that with each second the dragon-werewolf became increasingly more furious. Its folded skin turned crimson, as if inside blazed an inextinguishable flame. With its back touching the stretchy magic dome, Ass-ibn-Shaitan threw open its mouth to its entire width. Between its front teeth was stuck the jet broom of the recently swallowed Kuzya Tuzikov. On one of the sharp spikes adorning the snout of the monster was threaded the guitar of Rita On-The-Sly. Rita herself had already been jumping impatiently for ten minutes in the safety zone, vaguely hoping that someone’s vacuum, or at least a captured pitcher, would fall from the sky. The remaining players of team Tibidox were hardly parrying the attacks of the Genies on Goyaryn. Damien Goryanov, covered by commentator responsibilities, barely assumed participation in the match. He only circled on his Storm-100U around the perimeter of the field and thought up whatever causticity for him to address Bab-Yagun. A deafening roar was suddenly heard somewhere very near, and Damien saw Ass-ibnShaitan staring at him with the most gastronomic intentions. “DON’T TOUCH ME! YOU’LL POISON YOURSELF! HELP!!!” Goryanov in horror screwed up his eyes and jumped from the vacuum, hanging by the shawl-parachute. When, in his opinion, he should have already touched sand, something swooped down upon the playing commentator and tossed him up, and in the next moment Damien found himself already in the dragon’s stomach next to Seven-Stump-Holes, Zhora Zhikin, Kuzya Tuzikov, Said-Wali-Sherbet, and the trailer detached from Rita On-The-Sly’s guitar. It was a warm and moderately friendly company. “Well now, respected listeners, finally I’ve been swallowed! I warned that I’m unsavoury. Now you’ll see that this will all end with indigestion for the dragon,” Goryanov whined dejectedly, but no one heard him.
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The silver mouthpiece, having bounced off Damien’s overalls when he was tossed up by the dragon with its nose, was caught by Katya Lotkova. Katya threw it to Bab-Yagun. Yagun, not losing a second, instantly hitched it to his overalls and started to rumble, “Oh, my granny mama! Hello! Hello! Ass-ibn-Shaitan hasn’t managed to slam shut its mouth after swallowing the previous commentator, but with you already I am the dear to all and irritating to many Bab-Yagun! The match is in full swing! Team Tibidox is in a fine kettle of fish. Although we have outscored them, it is becoming increasingly worse for us! Playing at full potential are only Katya Lotkova on the Dirt vacuum, Liza Zalizina on the cuckoo clock, and the incomparable Tatiana Grotter, number ten. Happy to report to you that she has already completely recovered from the mysterious evil eye! Well and, of course, I — Bab-Yagun, as always am in the air! But here is Coffinia Cryptova, exaggerated by someone as a star of the first magnitude, has long since stopped catching balls! At present, our little star is only occupied with avoiding the dragon! Of course! The mouth of the dragon will prove to be disastrous for her hair-do!” Cryptova grunted resentfully, considering herself unjustly offended. She intended to fly up to Yagun to clarify the situation, but to the right again appeared Ass-ibn-Shaitan licking its lips. Coffinia was forced to bend down to the vacuum and drive it downward. “Stay away from me, strung-out lizard! You’re what, sick? You have something personal against me? Oh, someone get rid of this maniac!” she screamed. “Bravo, Cryptova, bravo! Pity you don’t have an umbrella, you could beat it!” Yagun approved. His ringing happy voice resounded along the entire field. Fans, lulled by the fading mumbling of Goryanov, finally came to life and began to smile. Koshchei the Deathless half rose from his arbitral place. “Tsk… But what’s this arbitrariness? Yagun isn’t the commentator anymore! I, as chief referee, didn’t give permission! Someone must urgently take away his mouthpiece!” he demanded. “Hey, referees!” Armour rumbling, the chief referee was about to move forward, but Medusa Gorgonova stopped him. The instructor of evil spirits studies was slightly tattered after teleportation. The long raincoat was darkened at places. If not for these signs really only noticeable to Denti, no one would have ever guessed that it was necessary for her to be in the world of the moronoids. “Wait!” she said. “Wait? You’re trying to hinder the chief referee?” Deathless vindictively answered. “Me? Not at all!” Medusa objected dryly. “You, as the chief referee, have the right to act as you please. Disqualify Yagun! Take away his mouthpiece! But I only want to remind you of the rules of dragonball. A match cannot continue without a commentator. You’ll have to set off yourself to the field and fly among the players.” Koshchei the Deathless was stunned. He looked sideways first at Goyaryn, having just swallowed one of the genies, then at the raging Ass-ibn-Shaitan, licking its chops at Coffinia, and grunted disconcertedly. His mouth, opened in order to give referees the order for Yagun’s removal, slammed shut. “Eh-eh... Okay... I think that in this case we can make an exception. We’ll not take the mouthpiece away from the boy. In any case for the time being…,” the representative of Magciety babbled, trying not to meet the eyes of Ghoul-Bull-Shah. “An intense moment!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed, not even suspecting what trouble he had escaped. “Goyaryn is being attacked immediately from all sides! It brings one Genie down from the jug and swallows him! Another — this is kamikaze! — falls directly into
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the jet of fire and acquires a deserved sunburn, but then the third… A throw! NO-O-O! They threw us the pepper ball! The score has become 5:5. From the mouth of Goyaryn the Genies previously fallen there depart with a somersault! In the game remain only two balls — the ten-point immobilize and the one-point stun! The outcome of the duel now depends on which team will throw them!” Noticing the stun ball flickering over her, Tanya chased after it. The ball departed by short jumps, always changing direction — it was likely bewitched. While the girl tried to guess the counter-spell in a hurry, a lanky Genie sped across towards her. In flight, he bent down low to the pitcher and clearly intended to blow her off with his exhaust jet. “Hey, you march off to bed, I’m furious! Get away from Tanya!” Yagun yelled to him and, spurring the vacuum on, raced before the lanky one himself. The Genie began to twirl. He began to yell indignantly, in a colourful eastern spirit calling for thunder and lightning onto Yagun’s head. Simultaneously on the stands where fans of the Genies sat, two benches collapsed. “Oho! In no way would they try to cast an evil eye on me again! Nice job, Granny! What would I do without you!” Bab-Yagun exclaimed encouragingly. “Yagun! Catch!” Forced by the Genies against the dome, Tanya threw him a bewitched pass. Yagun mirrored just in time and counter-spelled the ball and sped to Ass-ibnShaitan. The Afghan dragon was busy. Exactly like cat and mouse, it was shaking in its mouth Coffinia Cryptova, who with a screech struck it on the snout. Noticing the approaching Yagun, Ass-ibn-Shaitan spat out Coffinia, with distaste sneezed out her vacuum and stared at the grandson of Yagge. It could not stand to gather in its stomach a full collection of commentators. Two Genie defenders tried to put a screen in front of BabYagun, but they were swept away by their own dragon. “Probably, the fans will now ask themselves the question: what is he doing?” Yagun rattled on. “‘Oh, my granny mama!’ they say. ‘He won’t have time to apply the brakes and turn the vacuum around! Really must this strange youth turn up in the dragon’s stomach and spend the best minutes of his life there?’ But I also don’t intend to brake… I… IT’S TIME!” Waiting until the open mouth of the dragon was very near, Yagun fastened the stun ball to the vacuum and hurriedly left his flying machine. The driven vacuum, ejecting mermaid scales, barabashka dandruff, and small rubbish, ran into the dragon’s nose and was immediately gulped. “All the same it’s nice that I in my own time acquired a sticky hull for the vacuum! And indeed they said that it wouldn’t be useful! By the way, the score is 6:5 for us!” BabYagun, hanging by a shawl-parachute, verbosely reported. The stun magic snapped into action with a loud bang. The eyes of Ass-ibn-Shaitan became bulging and sweet like overripe dried apricot. Forgetting about Bab-Yagun, it started to rush confusedly along the field, running into the dome. The magic protection, not planned for repetitive hits by such a hulk, began to crackle and blink, ready to disappear right there. Slander Slanderych, Dentistikha, and Professor Stinktopp hastily muttered spells, but even their joint magic was not sufficiently quick enough to close up all the breaches in the dome. Spectators in horror overturned benches. The customary dragon handlers swiftly took to everywhere nets, fire extinguishers, and spare stretchers out of the hangars. The brigades of cyclopes and brother-heroes Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya hurriedly smeared themselves with vampire bile and were prepared to hang onto Ass-ibn-Shaitan if it cut its
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way through. Katya Lotkova calmed the excited Goyaryn, which, viewing the disorder, was striving to bite the “goal” of the opposition by the tail. “I swear by the hair of The Ancient One! Did you see that?” Bab-Yagun strained himself, dangling as before from his small parachute. “The Genies with the immobilize ball force their way through to Goyaryn! They understand very well that it’s their last chance! A dangerous moment! A throw from the centre! The Genie forward rushes too much! The ball hits the plates on the nose of Goyaryn! Now it cuts into the magic protection of the dome and bounces! But… the dome no longer exists there! The immobilize ball falls directly onto the spectators, it bounces once, again and… Oh, my granny mama! Who would think that it would explode, colliding with the armour of the chief referee! Koshchei the Deathless is wrapped in a light haze and topples over, hanging onto the arms of Ghoul-Bull-Shah. Interesting, do we have somewhere on Buyan that takes scrap metal?” “Yagun! Don’t push it! Isn’t it enough for you yet?” Yagge shouted a warning. “Okay, Granny, I won’t! Hur-ray! No more balls left, and it’s against the rules to release additional balls onto the field! We won! The team of Tibidox moves to the final!!! Soon a meeting with the Invisibles and the advertised young natural Gury Pupper awaits us all!” Yagun shouted something else still, but no one was listening to him any longer. The dragon handlers and the cyclopes sped to throw a net over Ass-ibn-Shaitan, having already swallowed a second referee. Tanya Grotter, Katya Lotkova, and Liza Zalizina, weeping from joy, attempted to take the excited Goyaryn away into the hangar. Finally, the dragons were put away. Tararakh was busy with liberating the swallowed players. And here the fans suddenly came to a full realization of what had happened. “Victory! We’re in the final!” Vanka yelled. Into the air, forgetting about the ban, flew caps, firecrackers, red and green sparks. Slander Slanderych jumped up and started to take down in his notebook the names of instigators. But the entire stadium roared and made noise and it was impossible to make out who the instigators were. Then the dean squeezed the feather tighter, licked his lips, and in the column for “Matters for Tuesday” wrote down, “Turn everyone into zombies.” Then he re-read his own note, looked at Medusa waving her hands, to Professor Stinktopp releasing sparks, to Great Denti tossing up her glasses, and, realizing the impossibility of the mentioned actions, ripped the page into shreds. Finishing with the sheet, Slander looked around cautiously, delicately taking air into his chest, and in a falsetto either shouted or quacked, “Hur-ray!” Chapter 9 An Illuminating Training Session and Half a Kilo of Romantic Appeal Sardanapal arrived at Tibidox on a luxurious Bokhara flying carpet several days after the victory over the Genies. The academician Chernomorov was in a splendid mood. He was whistling some catchy little motif, in which early Vivaldi was mysteriously set to the national rhythms of the peoples of the north. The cyclops Dumpling-maker, having stretched himself out into a cord, dashingly saluted him. After getting up into his office, the academician with surprise discovered Stinktopp at his table. The head of the black department was absent-mindedly shifting papers. Four
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long scratches stood out in beauty on his cheek — protest of the gold sphinx, objecting to the change of management. Sardanapal gave a cough. Stinktopp raised his head, saw him, and turned yellow as a lemon. “Ah, you’ff already returned... And how did the report go at the Magciety of Jerky Magtion?” he squeezed it out with an effort. “Oh, wonderfully, Sigmund, wonderfully! They gave me a standing ovation after the report. Somebody even beat time on his palms. And now please do me a favour: release my table to me.” Professor Stinktopp began to blink and hurled himself to the doors. The doors did not have time to slam shut when along the labyrinths of Tibidox at once a victorious roar and a sorrowful howl resounded. The gold sphinx could not stand someone darting out suddenly. Smiling, Sardanapal approached the cage and, invitingly clicking with a nail on the bars, began to feed the black magic books with pieces of meat. “Starved, poor little devils? Come to papa! Well, how goes your re-education?” he was interested. Suddenly the sphinx began to purr. Medusa slipped into the office. Docent Gorgonova was the only one the wilful sphinx loved not less than its owner. “I recently saw Stinktopp. He ran into magic station, but politely lingered in order to have a talk with me. It’s true that they applauded you?” she asked in disbelief. Sardanapal nodded. “Yes, Medi. They applauded. True, before this they kept me in suspense for more than a week. I understood that they were simply pulling a fast one on me in order to take Tibidox away, and decorated my own speech with some rhetorical figures.” “The spell of wooing the masses from the list of hundred forbidden ones?” Medusa guessed in a whisper. The academician smiled. “We’ll keep this between us, Medi. Hey, pity you didn’t see how they clapped! I was already flying away, but all the time they could not calm down and sent me great honorary titles one after another. I’m sure it’s necessary for everyone to lubricate their palms with badger grease… By the way, the chairman of Magciety kissed my tracks. The old man was unlucky: he was standing too close when I release a spark.” “And it won’t come to light?” Medusa asked anxiously. “Definitely not. However, only for a hundred years. I strengthened the spell with two charms of secrecy: each for fifty years. By then it’ll hardly be a sensation anymore.” “You’re sure?” “Absolutely!” Sardanapal assured her. “Every news has its period of limitation. Now, for example, did anyone ask the question why Napoleon always sneezed during Austerlitz?” Docent Gorgonova smiled. “And I remember how everything was! The poor fellow was sneezing so around the map that he erroneously arranged his armies. Yes, it was glorious work! Pleasant to recall even now how we scoffed at unhappy moronoids,” said Medusa and tenderly, not quite in a friendly way kissed Sardanapal on top. “What about Koshchei there? He was chasing after you?” the academician jealously asked. Medusa flinched with her shoulders. “Slightly. But, imagine, at the match the immobilize ball fell on him. The magic turned out to be unexpectedly strong: nevertheless a dragon dose. He’s already sleeping for almost a week. Recently I sent him on your Bokhara carpet back to Magciety. There they’ll reverse the spell.”
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The moustaches of Sardanapal straightened up slyly. “On no account I’ll believe that the immobilize ball got to him by chance. On the stands there were so many spectators and one chief referee! Well, admit it, Medi, that it’s you!” he showed his doubts. “At least — give me a break! He was so disgusting! And then his armour shone so temptingly! I’m certain it was difficult to maintain the ball,” somehow Medusa said in too much of a hurry and again kissed the academician on top. *** Tanya looked at the clock in the Hall of Two Elements. First period today was protection from spirits. The subject was sufficiently disgusting, and even Slander himself was teaching it, nevertheless Tanya was rather pleased. Protection from spirits was a combined white and black department, and so, today she would again sit next to BabYagun. Something had happened in recent days with the resilient playing commentator. He had become withdrawn, nervous, and often disappeared somewhere. There was even a case when for no rhyme or reason he fought with Vanka Valyalkin. The cause for the fight was unimportant and even quite trivial: as a joke, Vanka pulled Yagun’s hat to his eyes. Yagun flared up and poked with his fist into his face and, after shouting, “Why don’t you put yourself in my shoes!” and ran away. Must give Vanka credit, he kept himself in control and did not grapple with Yagun, but from this point on, he ceased to notice him. It was particularly hard for Tanya: both her friends were in a voiceless quarrel. Moreover, when one appeared, the other demonstratively disappeared or completely ignored his presence. Reflecting on the behaviour of Yagun, Tanya guessed that most likely he was suffering because of the black department, in which he was forced to study. Having taken their seats, the second-graders without any special impatience began to wait for Slander. The dean, despite his habit of being everywhere on time, was delayed somewhere. Tanya tried to make use of the fortunate moment and have a talk with Yagun, but that one first kept silent, and then abruptly got up and demonstratively moved over to Coffinia. “Oh, Yagunchik! What a surprise! What, this orphan bores you? That’s right: she probably only cries on someone’s shoulder all day! No daddy, no mummy, and the uncle a total dreg! Only happiness: to fly around a little on the double bass!” Cryptova was pleasantly surprised. After the last match clearly showing everybody who was best in the team, Coffinia used any occasion to sting Tanya, “To drive her back into the cesspool,” as Cryptova expressed it. Glomov, Zhikin, and other friends of Coffinia burst out laughing. But this was still nothing. Tolerable. The most terrible was that Yagun, who usually answered back when they insulted Tanya, now merely turned away and pretended that he heard nothing. The treachery of Yagun — and how else could this be called? — so offended Tanya that she for the first time in many days did not know how to put Cryptova in her place. Having made sure that her first onslaught did not meet with any rebuff, Coffinia became even more of a boor. “Soon the match with the Invisibles! Gury Puper will show her what real class is. They’ll not let Grotter hold the ball! It’s true: nothing with dirty hands touches the balls! Then even the dragons shun them!” she stated.
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Getting mad, Tanya jumped up. She herself did not yet know what she would do: hurl at Coffinia a Pointus harpoonus or something not so magical but so heavy — for example, the thousand-page Theory of Evil Eye edited by Abraham the Tedious. Theory of Evil Eye was a unique book. Abraham the Tedious felt sorry for the period and trembled over each paragraph, but then he threw commas around with maniacal generosity. For the most important places he even introduced a special sign — a period on top of a semicolon. Senior students adored to use Theory of Evil Eye in skirmishes between the white and black departments. As a projectile, it had not known a miss. However, the volume did not have time to whistle though the air when the door was suddenly thrown open, and Slander Slanderych entered the classroom in a cheerful paralytic gait. The class dazedly breathed out. The dean of Tibidox had on a light wire mesh with many intricate little knots over the ceremonial robe. “What’s this, armour? Really war has started?” not able to control herself, Rita On-TheSly asked. Slander Slanderych frowned and stared straight at her. It seemed to poor Rita that she was nailed to the back of the chair by two icicles. She gasped for air. “Are we joking?” the dean quietly asked. “No… I… only…” On-The-Sly uttered with horror, unsuccessfully trying not to look at Slander in the eyes. “It’s no use!” Slander was distressed. “What can be better than a joke, if, of course, it is approved by authorities! I hope, in the future you’ll master this well.” Rita nodded in haste. She wanted to breathe. Did not want to feel icicles inside. She felt very sorry that she was not born a deaf mute. The dean smiled and removed his glance. “If there are no objections, let us begin the lesson,” he continued in a voice like sugar. “What Mademoiselle On-The-Sly so ingeniously called armour is the universal cloak from spirits. The only one that ensures reliable magic protection. Today each one of you must braid the same. Tomorrow all Tibidox will walk around in cloaks! During the day and in the evening. And will even take showers in the cloak if anyone still preserved this harmful moronoid habit.” The children despondently exchanged glances. If even the little inclined to panic Slander began to talk about protective cloaks, the situation was actually so-so. Although all the instructors kept silent about it, it was clear that the released spirit not only was not caught, but also had become increasingly stronger with each hour. “I’ve already prepared the order and sent it to Sardanapal for his signature. I’m certain the academician realizes the need for such a step,” continued Slander Slanderych. “Sardanapal? He has already returned?” Vanka was pleased. The dean glanced at him disagreeably. Likely he was much less happy about the arrival of the academician. “This morning. They say his report at the Magciety of Jerky Magtion went brilliantly. Today there is a solemn dinner in his honour. The fine fellows from the chest have been ordered to prepare something special,” he informed them. The class joyfully made noise. This did not please Slander, and he immediately rushed to dampen enthusiasm. “In your place I would not beam too much. Only those who succeed in braiding a magic cloak will go to the dinner. And it’s not easy. The knots alone are more than a hundred, and the majority demands to be tied correctly the first time.” “And if not the first time?” Kuzya Tuzikov timidly asked.
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On Slander Slanderych’s tired face bloomed the sweetest smile. “Nothing terrible, Tuzikov! All will remain alive. The walls of Tibidox also won’t collapse. But must braid a cloak anew,” he informed him. Vanka Valyalkin, always experiencing sharper hunger than others, sighed. “All clear. Only Shurasik will go to the dinner,” he said. As if Valyalkin had a crystal ball. Everything turned out so. To be more exact, almost so. Even Shurasik did not make it to the solemn dinner in honour of the return of Sardanapal: he floundered on the ninety-ninth knot… After homework, Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin were sitting in the common room and preparing for tomorrow’s evil spirits studies. Vanka squabbled with the textbook, demanding that it would carry out all tasks or at least not block Wiza cockwiza. BabYagun was not with them. He had disappeared somewhere immediately after evening training. He simply jumped on the vacuum, stepped on the gas, and dashed off. It seemed to Tanya that he turned in the direction of the forest. Her first thought was to chase after him on the double bass, but Coffinia was staring at her with such malice that she reconsidered. It would only encourage Coffinia to tatter to the entire Tibidox as if she was running after the grandson of Yagge like a lost puppy. Unexpectedly the zoomer snapped into action. In the center of the tin bowl, the sharp nose of the famous presenter began to glow invitingly. “Kiss-kiss! With you is Nagiana Pripyatskaya. And now hold onto the back of your chairs, don’t fall down! You will be amazed, overwhelmed! Our zoomer group flew halfway around the world and almost collided with a moronoid aircraft in order to turn up as guests with… WITH THE TEAM OF THE INVISIBLES! Intrigued? But now something else still! Today you will be given the unique possibility to observe Gury Puper himself at training! Stunned?” Vanka wanted to state that he found nothing special in Puper, but here someone began triumphantly behind his back. Verka Parroteva, pale with enthusiasm, stared hard at the zoomer and yelled to the entire Tibidox, “Everybody comes here! They’re showing Puper!” In a far corridor already loomed the chubby face of Dysia Dollova, behind whom a whole crowd flocked. The common room was swiftly filled. The zoomer began to shake, bounced. The face of Nagiana disappeared, and on the screen appeared a stadium wet from the rain — a top view. The image zoomed in. A group of fans was seen on one of the benches. Hiding under umbrellas, the fans managed to hold onto a huge linen banner, on which were traced the words: Gury Puper — here is someone super! “Gury Puper rarely travels without a group of roadies!” Nagiana reported. “More accurately, it’s the group of roadies always following Gury, since he’s too modest to approve of the noise made around his name. ‘I’m not guilty in that they consider me the greatest youth on Earth!’ he usually tells journalists. ‘Trust me, at heart I’m a normal friendly fellow! Please leave me in peace!’ Look, look! Now Gury appears from the locker room! I’ll try to participate in a fight with the correspondents rushing to him and be the first to get an interview with him! Hey, blockhead, a close-up!” It became evident on the zoomer screen that Nagiana swiftly began to swirl on the spot, releasing several red sparks, and, muttering spells, rushed into the crowd of a good hundred of correspondents and photographers. And what was started here! The battle of water-sprites and wood-goblins, which Tanya chanced to observe, was simply the fuss of little-ones in a sandbox next to this struggle. Correspondents squealed, kicked, smashed
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each other’s jaws with microphones, and slashed with the cords like whips. About seven magicians were already rolling on the grass and hurriedly recalling spells of fatal damage. The clothing on twenty-thirty correspondents was blazing, and one was already running away from the field in a hurry, covered by burdock broken off in haste. Then he, graciously waving the empty sleeves of what was left of his jacket, flew away to warmer territories. Sadly quivering the legs, his pants rushed after him. Gury Puper, a not tall dark-haired adolescent in the dragonball uniform of the Invisibles, stood, sadly leaning on his broom, and waited for everything to end. After ten minutes of struggle, only three of the most persistent correspondents remained on their feet. One of them was the indomitable Nagiana Pripyatskaya. She set loose a spotty rash on one enemy, brought another down from his feet with triple evil eye, and, swinging the microphone exactly like a club of popular war, broke through to Gury Puper. Seeing that it was not so simple to get away from this little lady, Gury gave up. Nagiana bloomed with happiness and, sticking the microphone under his nose, started to rattle, “The main anchor of Bald Mountain zoomer. Will you agree to answer a few questions?” “No!” “Enormous thanks, Gury! How did you get the idea of flying on a broom?” “Well… eh-eh…” Puper was lost. “Much earlier they flew on brooms, here I thought that, if now, when all the magicians move to the vacuum…” “I thought so!” Nagiana broke in. “Gury, you create miracles on the field. Isn’t it terrifying for you? It’s known to all that a dragon can grind a player with its jaws or there are cases when it smashes player to death against the barrier.” “Yes, sometimes I begin to live in fear,” acknowledged Puper. “Especially in moist weather or with high wind. Trust me, at heart I’m the most ord…” Nagiana deftly moved the microphone aside. “Yes, yes… friendly fellow. And tell us, Gury, indeed your team began to be called the team of the Invisibles quite recently. Earlier it has a totally different name. How did it come about?” “Our trainer was dissatisfied with the results. It was at his proposal the team acquired a batch of invisible-raincoats. We don’t use them constantly, but only in the most critical minutes of a match. For example, when we break through to a hostile dragon or at change over.” “And it’s not forbidden? Indeed the opponent can’t see you?” Nagiana asked. “Each team has its strong and weak points. But then we don’t come running to evil eyes or talismans. And even our dragon, on the whole, is the most ordinary, everyone knows this,” explained Puper. Nagiana removed the microphone. “Excellent, Gury! Your arguments sound completely convincing. Now it’s already known to all that in the final will be the teams of Tibidox and the Invisibles. Even the date of the match has been set — in a week. What do you think, does the team of Tibidox have any chance?” Puper faltered. “Your team is a good team. Of course, it’s not worthwhile to underestimate the enemy. We’ll play at our full capacity. But, certainly we have a little more experience, so that Tibidox would have to play defensively.” “It means our team doesn’t have any chance? Many experts also think so,” Nagiana interrupted him. Unexpectedly her small face acquired a malicious expression. “And
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finally, a question in no way connected with the sport. Say, Gury, do you have a girl?” she asked in the sweetest voice. Gury turned red, dropped the broom and spent a suspiciously long time picking it up. Madame Pripyatskaya unnoticeably winked at the screen of the zoomer. Then she deftly wound the cord of the microphone around Puper and, exactly like a tendril, deftly pulled him into the frame. “Fine, Gury, I won’t insist on an answer. Finally, this is personal… Tell us, purely hypothetically, it goes without saying, is it possible for you to fall in love with any girl from the team of Tibidox? In our team there are many beauties — for example, Coffinia Cryptova or Katya Lotkova.” Gury Puper was weary, not knowing how to get himself out of this. Help arrived just in time from the most unexpected direction. A wind gust suddenly came up. The enormous banner in the hands of the group of roadies swelled up like a sail. Pitifully moving their feet, the fans were hanging above the field at a high altitude. “They’ll be smashed into a flat cake! What an outstanding shot!” The correspondents coming to began to wail and run along the field, hoping for sensation and dragging operators after themselves. Even the pantless correspondent participated in the bustling scurry, having managed to braid for himself a kind of short grass skirt like that of a savage. The fans of Puper whined sadly, patiently waiting for the moment when the wind would drop and they could smash into smithereens. But here Gury, the only one who was not at a loss, jumped onto his broom, muttered a spell, and dashed off to rescue his fans. Dozens of zoomers followed his broom furiously tearing along. Gripping the banner by the edge, Puper turned around spectacularly, with a whistle cut the air with a bunch of spelled branches and towed the fans away to their customary perch. “This Gury is simply a darling!” Verka Parroteva sighed, not tearing herself away from the screen of the zoomer. “‘Gury Puper — here is someone super!’ Not handsome, but he has something! A real man!” Dusya Dollova added. “Everyone keeps her grabby hands from my Puper! I warn you. You can consider that from this hour and even from this minute he has a girl!” Coffinia categorically stated. “Yes, Coffinia Puper sounds snobbish,” Shurasik barged in unsuccessful and immediately received a kick from Glomov. The jealous elephant was already ready now to tear Gury Puper into five smaller Pupers. “Puper is mine! Together with his broom and raincoat! So get away from here fast: I won’t even allow anyone to look at him!” Cryptova repeated covetously. Katya Lotkova smiled significantly; however, she did not begin to argue. Privately Katya had already decided that while she was in the field, Coffinia did not have the slightest chance of attracting Gury. “Did you see these fools from the alley? They intend to twirl their tails the entire match before Puper, then who will play?” Vanka Valyalkin indignantly whispered to Tanya. Tanya absent-mindedly nodded. Certainly, Vanka was right. If one plays, then at one’s full potential and not make eyes at the Invisibles. At the same time she not without melancholy thought that here, Puper would definitely not fall in love with her. Too many beauties would come across his path, not leaving her, outwardly completely ordinary, any chance. “Well, let him fall in love in whom he wants. For instant Cryptova, Lotkova, or
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Dollova, if he absolutely can’t help it. And I’ll try to fly faster and knock the arrogance out of him. We’ll see who doesn’t have experience,” she decided recklessly. Unexpectedly, against her will, Tanya recalled the prophecy on the red-hot door of the stove. A vague anxiety enveloped her — even not anxiety but an unpleasant, almost painful presentiment of something inevitable… What a pity that the last stanzas of the prophecy were indiscernible and it was not possible to foretell anything. Here she remembered Hugo the Sly. Interesting, did he succeed in deciphering the wiped out words? Tanya slipped unnoticeably from the common room, where heated debates seethed about who would catch Puper (now Verka Parroteva also laid claim to him already, fighting to the bitter end with Coffinia), and ran to magic station. “Yagge! Yagge!” she shouted. No one answered her. Tanya decided that Yagge had set off to Sardanapal in order to ask the academician again about her grandson. The girl carefully looked into the adjacent room, in which the old lady lived, and stopped at the threshold. Yagge’s trunk was overturned. Its entire contents were unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Tricks of White Magicians was lying in the middle of the room. The last page, on which Hugo wrote down the prophecy, was ripped into shreds. It was possible to make out with difficulty a few of the surviving words of the beginning of the prophecy already known to her. “Oh, oh, oh!” someone groaned. Tanya shuddered. A quivering white spectre floated out from the wall above the box with medicinal ointments. It was Unhealed Lady. “Hugo disappeared! Someone broke in here half an hour ago and tore up his book, and took away the portrait together with Hugo himself!” she sobbed. “Who was it? Who?” Tanya asked. Lady began to shake her head and forced out an entire waterfall of tears. In comparison, the banal crocodile tears of literature would simply seem like weak sun showers. “I myself didn’t understand. Everything happened so quickly. And then... the most disgusting, the kidnapper was invisible!” “Invisible?” Tanya did not believe her. “Absolutely,” Lady said dryly and, having effortlessly ended her hysterics, energetically squeezed the thoroughly wet handkerchief. Already intending to leave, Tanya saw on the carpet the torn binding of the book, on which the letters were jumping with indignation: Tricks of White Magicians narrated by Hugo the Impudently Stolen!!! *** The night, soon descending on Buyan, stood out as being restless. The spirit of unpleasant chances felt at home in its new kingdom. In the empty corridors of Tibidox drafts were singing softly. Torches went out by themselves, and ghosts behaved as if they were also not quite there. Everyone was immersed in dreams. Only the cyclopes posted on the stairs were taking everything in and hopelessly cramming frequently changing passwords from the life of a mermaid. In the passages twinkled the guard spells cast by Slander and Dentistikha. The next morning all of Tibidox appeared at breakfast already in magic cloaks. The cloaks looked terribly absurd, clanked, and were caught on all possible objects while walking. Moreover, one of their extremely unpleasant properties was soon revealed. It
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only took one of the hundred protective knots to be untied and the cloak would assume this to be the treacherous attack of an insidious spirit and let out an intolerable howl. But then now it became much easier to interrupt a class — you pull a knot and it would be ready. True, and here it was necessary to know when to stop. After a thrown-off-all-restraint Gunya Glomov consecutively disrupted evil spirits studies, protection from evil eye, and veterinary magic, a furious Slander dragged him somewhere by the ear. While everybody argued whether Glomov would be turned into a zombie or everything would turn out, Gunya again appeared in class, but already chained in deaf armour even with the visor pulled over the face. He waddled, rumbling with each step. Even forced through the door only on the third attempt. “They pegged me alive! Walled me up in the magic armour! Now even have to sleep standing!” Glomov panted unhappily. However, the drastic act of Slander had a positive effect. Knots somehow immediately stopped being untied, and the cloaks stopped howling. Gunya was consoled by the fact that he could crack nuts with the iron gloves and smacked with his finger anyone he wanted on the forehead. It turned out in equal measures painful and instructive for him. At evening training Nightingale O. Robber discussed with the players the tactics of the Invisibles. “Now remember this! The brooms allow them to move very fast — simply at jet speed. Moreover wrapped in the raincoats, they become invisible. This complicates our fight for the ball. How can you intercept a ball from someone the eyes don’t notice? True, if we can grasp this, there will be numerous favourable moments for us,” here Nightingale slyly squinted with his only eye. “Why favourable, Nightingale Odikhmantevich?” Kuzya Tuzikov asked. He was the only one in the team who addressed the trainer by the first name and patronymic. “Good at least he doesn’t add Robber to it!” Yagun sometimes snorted. “Think, Tuzikov, think! Everybody thinks! Wrapped in their raincoats, the Invisibles disappear not only for us. They also can’t see each other. This complicates passes and forces them to use standard combinations of tactics. To say it simpler, the Invisibles have to throw a ball blindly into a specific part of the field, knowing that some of their own must turn up there. If you can destroy their formation — it’s already half the success. Use unexpected movements, try so that your behaviour in the field cannot be foreseen. Then they’ll immediately forget about their raincoats.” “This we can do. We’ll tangle them up so that they’ll starve!” s smile spread out on Rita On-The-Sly. “With passes it’s understood. Here it’s possible to change them. But what is to be done with single breakaways? They can break through to the dragon alone, after hiding a ball under the raincoat,” said Tanya. Nightingale approvingly avoided giving a direct answer. “I was waiting for someone to ask this. The Invisibles also count on this if tactical formations fail. They have outstanding forwards, among them the best is undoubtedly Gury Puper. They say that he can even unnoticeably crawl into a dragon’s nostril. I hope that the group protecting Goyaryn will work cooperatively. Don’t let it open its mouth too often! Don’t fly far away from its head! Let it move more and shoot short jets at random.” Nightingale impressively lifted a shaggy eyebrow, stopped talking, and added already much softer, “My heart prompts me that the match is expected to be difficult. You have never had the like. Be ready for everything.” Later Tanya many times recalled these
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words. Suppose Nightingale knew everything beforehand? Though where could he know it from? Indeed, she even told no one about the theft of Hugo the Sly. *** Tanya entered the room and stopped dead on the threshold. Black Curtains, solidly tied into a knot, was shaking indignantly, grunting, but could not free themselves without help. The skeleton Page with a hat moved to its eyes, preventing it from spying, sat on a corner of the old trunk and resentfully clicked its teeth. “Page, don’t get on my nerves! I’m a sick old woman! I’ll drive you into the closet!” Without turning around, Coffinia shouted to it. The “sick old woman” was lying on her stomach on her annoying bed in the shape of an inverted coffin and, placing under her chin the heart-shaped pillow, was reading something with interest. At first Tanya was certain these were comics or magazines of extreme fashion, but, having stared at it, understood that it was a thick book bound in leather. From the pages of the book were smoked bats and jimsonweed in an improbable combination with forget-me-nots. On the back appeared in large letters: HOW TO BECOME IRRESISTIBLE: 500 POTIONS AND CHARMS FROM CLEOPATRA OF EGYPT. Judging by the antiqueness of the book, it was located in the locked reserves. For sure Coffinia had to wheedle it from the library genie. “What, problem with personal charm? Your own strength already no up to it?” Tanya mockingly asked. “Drop dead, orphan!” Coffinia snapped. She was busy. She did not want to fight right now. “And are these recipes approved by the ministry of sensible courtship? What about side effects there? Won’t grow moustaches? Donkey ears?” Tanya specified. “They didn’t grow on Cleopatra,” Coffinia muttered. “And you saw her ears?” Tanya asked. “And if you didn’t, go ask Yagge. They say she and Cleopatra were friends in youth. They were friends for long enough until they had a falling out because of one bright moronoid. They killed him quite quickly. Anthony, it seems he was called. So there, Yagge confirms that Cleopatra’s charms capitally caused her some unpleasant consequences.” Cryptova angrily flung a pillow at Tanya and again was buried in the book. “Merci for the advice, Grotter! I’m not such a fool to swallow any kind of filth. Better I work out how to bind Gury with it,” she stated. “Unlucky Puper! She’ll destroy him with her potions. At least test it out on Glomov first, perhaps,” thought Tanya, climbing under the blanket. *** She had long since fallen asleep, and Coffinia was also sleeping full of deadly plans, dreaming in a rascally sweet way about her 500 potions, when suddenly the candle forgotten on the table flared up and then went out. The timid skeleton began to shake from fright. Black Curtains reflected something quite improbable and subsided.
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Something invisible and intangible thrown itself first to Coffinia and then to Tanya, but, in both cases after stumbling upon the magic cloaks, was forced to step back. The spirit roared with powerless spite. Leaving the room, it touched Black Curtains. They swelled up and for a moment highlighted a single word, “SOON!” In the same night, Tanya had a nightmare, exceeding in horror the whole series of Vera Pavlovna’s prophetic dreams. Tanya dreamt that as if towards her along the dark corridor not walking but floating were Gury Puper, Givi Poffer, Maria Brotter, Alphonse Dotter, and even some energetic girl Olga Brodder with hair cut short like a boy. And each of them was shouting: “You’re not real! You don’t exist! You’re a pitiful copy! We’re real!” Behind them in the dark, controlling them exactly like marionettes, a figure cloaked in a raincoat was following watchfully. Tanya awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Lowering her legs, she sat on the bed and for a long time peered into the darkness. There was such gloom in the room that the girl pondered with fear for a while whether she had become blind. Finally, she brought a hand to her eyes and, making out a vague white spot of her palm, calmed down. Chapter 10 The Fatal Crack On the eve of the match with the Invisibles, all of Tibidox poured out onto the walls to meet the guests. The for-life and posthumous head of the school Academician Sardanapal smiled at everyone in a friendly way from the instructors’ little balcony and blinked in the sun like a contented cat. Beside him, clearly talking about something pleasant, were Tararakh, Dentistikha, and Medusa Gorgonova. Nightingale O. Robber continually dropped concerned glances at his team, desiring them to look as worthy as possible. Noticing this, Gorynya imperceptibly nudged Usynya with a shoulder, “Look at this trainer! He’s simply like a broody hen with his team! Look out he’s going to start clucking! Well, how like a nightingale he is! Maybe we’ll rename him Hen O. Robber?” The brother-bouncers began to neigh loudly. Nightingale, standing much higher on the wall than the heroes, clearly could not have caught anything. He did not even turn around, but suddenly under Gorynya’s right eye a splendid shiner appeared by itself. Cursing the omnipresent magicians, Gorynya put a hand up to his eye. Usynya and Dubynya again burst out laughing, this time already at their unlucky brother. On that day, it seemed, it was not possible to spoil anyone’s mood. Even the inconvenient magic cloaks did not particularly hamper anyone except Glomov, making noise with the rusty armour. Only Slander Slanderych was in a bad mood. A roll with his speech stuffed under his arm, the dean walked along the wall and threw jealous glances at the genie Abdullah. It especially annoyed Slander that from the library genie’s indistinct face, sneaking away in the most literal sense, it could not be determined if he had prepared a salutatory poem. The cunningly winking eyes of the rival crawled over to the chin, and the mouth merging with an ear smiled sarcastically. Unexpectedly, somewhere in the distance, above the bright bay inexplicably like a folded bed sheet, something flared up in lilac. “The spell of passage! They’re already here!” Sardanapal shouted. They began to stir on the walls.
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The composite chorus of ghosts began hurriedly to warm up for singing. Lieutenant Rzhevskii passionately bellowed, vocal chords heating up. Unhealed Lady, a woollen scarf wrapped around to her eyes, coquettishly complained about a toothache. The orchestra of cyclopes and heroes in haste furnished themselves with trumpets and drums. The kettledrummer held copper cymbals ready and with anticipation rubbed them against one another. On his sly face could be read a passionate desire to produce deafening sounds. Frequent wing strokes were heard, and a dragon emerged from the clouds. It was gigantic, with shimmering silver scales and bulging wide-open saffron eyes. Flying to Tibidox, the dragon began to roar like the siren on a steamer. Goyaryn responded with a challenge, shaking the hangar with powerful blows of its tail. After flying a circle above the school of magic, the dragon of the Invisibles began to descend. On the walls, they began to exchange surprised looks and to whisper among themselves. The orchestra about to strike up was taken aback and became quiet. Only the kettledrummer alone, blinking with pleasure and already thunderstruck, continued to bang the cymbals with feeling. THE DRAGON WAS COMPLETELY ALONE! No matter how hard the Tibidox people looked, they could not discern a single magician next to it. Afraid that the spell of passage did not let them through, Slander was about to rush somewhere to take appropriate measures, but here the spectators began to make noise joyfully. “They! Ahoo-ei-eh!” Verka Parroteva began to moan. She began to clamber to the battlement, clearly intending to break away because of happiness, but Seven-Stump-Holes caught her by a foot just in time. “Oh-oo-eh! Stop the panic!” he said firmly. Slander Slanderych threw himself to the nearest loophole. Out of nowhere, to the right and left of the dragon, appeared figures in blowing yellow raincoats. Each player was sitting on a long broom and waving a hat in salutation. While the Tibidox fans were whispering in amazement to each other trying to find Puper among them, in the air almost by the instructors’ little balcony two more were clearly seen. One was a strong young fellow, clearly the trainer or instructor, but everyone immediately forgot about him. Only the considerate Dentistikha gave him a smile. Then hundreds of eyes instantly turned to his fellow traveller — a not tall, brisk young fellow in the uniform and raincoat of the Invisibles. “Gury! Gury Puper!” the crowd howled. Puper only needed to descend to the wall and an entire crowd rushed to him for autographs. A true crush began. In a flash, they injured both of Shurasik’s feet, and they so crowded Goryanov to the teeth that they squeezed all the pessimism out of him. “Help please! Mama, I want to live!” he began to yell in a voice extremely interested in survival. Meanwhile the crowd of worshippers closed around Puper. He also turned out to be a friendly fellow indeed. He shook hands with every one of the two hundred fans, smiled pleasantly to each, and patiently introduced himself, “Puper. Gury Puper. Team of the Invisibles.” “A thrill!” Zhora Zhikin commented. “The great Puper himself shook my hand! Now I won’t wash it for years!” Either from distraction or even for some incomprehensible reason Puper shook both hands of Dusya Dollova and introduced himself a whole two times in a row. This was a fatal mistake on his part. The impressionable Dollova got goodness knows what an
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opinion of herself and with a scream, “Squeeze him! He’s such a darling!” threw herself around Gury’s neck. Following Dusya, not wanting to go to all the trouble for nothing, about fifty girls started with a jerk. Puper tried to retreat but it was already too late. The squealing worshippers closed in on the body of the star. Only after ten minutes was he extracted fairly dishevelled, with a flattened nose and a bright imprint of lipstick on the forehead, like a target. He now looked at Dusya Dollova with horror. Dusya smiled demonically and was clearly weighing whether or not to change her idol into gingerbread. In her hands, she passionately crumpled a splendid shred of Puper’s raincoat. It was finally possible for Sardanapal to restore order. The cyclopes, saving the situation, began in a hurry to play a flourish. Ghosts, muffled up in shawls and skipping like gypsies, began to sing To us came our favourite dear Gury Puper! Unhealed Lady kept time jingling a small tambourine decorated with ribbons. It was fascinating. But, alas, the efforts of the wretches were not rewarded by even listless applause. The ghosts did not have time to reach the words “The world has not yet seen such beauty!” when right through the spectral chorus Coffinia Cryptova unceremoniously forced her way with bread and salt. A secret smile played on her face. “Please try our round loaf, dear guest! Indeed please accept!” she asked affectionately, bowing to Puper. Gury was at a loss. Looking askance in surprise first at the girl with the violet hair, then at the tray in her hands, he timidly stretched his hands to the tray. Encouraging him, Coffinia smiled even wider, even more benevolently. Suddenly the round loaf flared up with a dark-blue flame and exploded. Gury Puper and Coffinia were instantly covered with soot. Gury’s clothing was smoking. Only the whites of his eyes shone on his face black as an African’s. However, it was necessary to give him credit: even in these difficult circumstances, Gury behaved like a true gentleman. “Puper, Gury Puper. The team of the Invisibles,” he introduced himself, slowly slipping down along the fortress battlement. The trainer, with uneasiness, joined his best player and carried him off the wall. Behind them, continually looking around, hurried the rest of the team. The solemn occasion was ruined. Dentistikha approached the still Coffinia. “Darling, listen to my advice! All the same, I have more experience than you and understand something about life. Next time when you intend to cook a charm potion, use saxifrage very carefully,” she said, pursing her lips. Nodding in a cowardly manner, Coffinia backed up and… bumped into an enraged Slander, rushing to her accompanied by the not less furious genie Abdullah. Both were waving their speeches, which they did not manage to give. “Because of you I again didn’t give my speech! Pity it’s not possible to transfer you to the black department a second time! Now march to dig earthworms for the griffins!” the dean hissed. “And try to ask me again for books from the locked reserve! I’ll lock you in the bookcase! For a thousand years!” the genie Abdullah screamed. Coffinia dejectedly meandered from the wall. “Rejoice early! The game has not yet been played. Nevertheless, Puper won’t get away from me,” she muttered ruefully to herself. ***
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In the morning before the match, Bab-Yagun in an elated mood burst into the Hall of Two Elements, where all of Tibidox were already having breakfast. “Hand over your grated horseradish here! I’ll gobble it up together with the tablecloth! I’ll only spit out the vitamins!” he shouted and, passing by, merrily slapped the forehead of the laid-back Shurasik. A puzzled Shurasik bristled up in extreme excitement, not knowing how to handle it now: to hit Yagun back or consider this slap a friendly gesture. He even extracted from a bag the worn out little brochure How to be One of the Boys: Rules of Social Conduct (ed. Master S.T. Smelly) and began to thumb through it in haste. However, by the time Shurasik finally affirmed that it was just a friendly gesture, Bab-Yagun was already long gone. The best student of Tibidox with a sigh hid the booklet and started responsibly to chew buckwheat kasha. “Hey, are you still sulking? Pardon me! I was a fool. Mad at the whole world and behaved like an ultimate pig altogether,” Bab-Yagun said guilty, flopping down on the bench next to Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin. Tanya, not having yet forgotten that mean incident when Yagun changed seat and moved beside Coffinia, looked interrogatively at Vanka. Vanka blinked distrustfully and clearly did not understand what whim had taken Yagun. It was indeed painfully strange that for no rhyme or reason Yagun suddenly realized that it was certainly not right to beam like a copper five-kopeck coin. The reason for Yagun’s outstanding mood was explained literally in a minute when he, as if casually, straightened his dragonball overalls. Near the pocket, the commentator mouthpiece sparkled with a silver speck of light. “Where did you get it from?” Tanya was astonished. “Sardanapal returned it. Already for keeps,” Yagun informed her. “That’s wonderful! Why?” “Why? It’s clear to everyone that Goryanov is no commentator. True, here so far they haven’t transferred me from the black department. Sardanapal says that everything is not so simple. I, he says, still have to change a lot, recognize my errors, well, and so on. The usual dusting of the brain. So, do you forgive me or what? Why are you so sulky?” BabYagun impatiently asked again. Vanka began to drum the table with his fingers. “And you believe we must throw our arms around your neck? What, so soon?” he asked. “But I indeed admit that I behaved like a fool! Well, if you want, hit me in the eye, if it makes you feel better!” Yagun was angry. “No, I don’t. It’ll not make me feel better. Now you have the mouthpiece and you’re best friend with everybody. But tomorrow, let’s suppose, they’ll again deprive you of the mouthpiece, and again you’ll become mean as a dog. Friends must always be friends, not venting all kinds of moods like a swamp bogey. I can’t forgive you,” Vanka said firmly. “Boo-hoo, how delicate we are! Simply made of sugar! Honestly speaking, from you, yellow soccer shirt, I didn’t expect anything else!” Yagun became testy and turned to Tanya: “Well, and you? Will you forgive me?” “Excuse me, for the time being I can’t. I need time to examine everything,” Tanya said, avoiding looking at him. In truth, she also felt that she was not yet ready to forget. Yagun inflicted too grave an insult on her.
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The proud grandson of Yagge flared up. His protruding ears began to turn crimson as before on the very first day when he turned up for Tanya at the Durnevs. “I don’t need you at all! I’ll manage without you!” Yagun shouted and ran out of the Hall of Two Elements. *** The dragonball stadium of Buyan was filled before ten o’clock. If some excessively dreamy harpy would take it into its head to drop a bone or dribble droppings from above, it for sure would hit someone on the head. Luckily, there were no harpies in the sky of Tibidox. They were mortally afraid of dragons and stayed in the forest. Even the hundreds of additional benches were not enough to hold all the spectators. The cyclopes, with foresight covered with talismans to ward off evil eye, barely managed to check the tickets, among which a good fourth were false. Black magicians did not like to spend money in vain. Moreover, many had adopted long ago from the moronoids such a fraudulent invention as a colour copier. The first four benches on all the stands were occupied by correspondents of many magic periodicals, magpapers, and TV station. Here were Voice from the Coffin, Bald Mountain Truth, Moronoid Times, Moonless Magyouths, Latest Magnews, Mag-TV, Shaman News, the radio station Witchcraft Granny, and many other information media not listed only because of the author’s carelessness. The zoomers of the correspondents crackled non-stop, producing such a nightmarish noise that it was impossible to hear not only one’s neighbour but also oneself. Slander Slanderych, appearing at the match with the mermaid, ultimately demanded everyone to turn off the zoomers. The incensed correspondents obeyed, but they rashly pelted Slander with evil eyes, jinxes, and fatal curses. Smirking, the dean of Tibidox unbuttoned his ceremonial robe and demonstrated his hairy chest chained in reflecting armour. Correspondents gritted their teeth and, seeing that nothing could be done by magic here, vindictively scribbled in their notebooks that the dean of Tibidox wore a woman’s corset. Because of the terrible fuss and the crush, the start of the match was delayed twice — each time by a quarter of an hour. The referees hurriedly checked the strength of the shielding dome, and the dragon handlers, clothespins clamping their noses in order not to breathe in the sulphuric gas, continually dived into the hangars to their charges. Gury Puper’s group of roadies, having arrived already at dawn, managed to recapture the best stand and, inconsiderately blocking the views of others, stretched out the banner: “Gury Puper — here is someone super!” TV cameramen from Latest Magnews and Mag-TV, still shooting nothing since the match had not yet begun, immediately fixed their cameras on this group. Vanka Valyalkin watched the Puper fans for some time, and then hung over Shurasik and started to enthusiastically persuade him to do something. It was amusing to watch them, Vanka fell on him like a gamecock, and Shurasik sighed and shook his head like a sad donkey. Finally, Shurasik yielded to the pressure and, looking for prompts in two or three notebooks, put together a complex spell. “Well so, will it work?” Vanka impatiently inquired. “Putting together complex spells — it’s not like you rushing to a Briskus! You want to rush — do it yourself!” Shurasik snapped.
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“I can’t. You indeed know that Medusa says I plod at lessons. And besides, Shurasik is the one and only in nature,” Valyalkin flattered him. Puffed up with pride, the one and only unique Shurasik re-read his spell, made a small correction in one place, and began to mutter, rocking in the manner of a Chukot shaman. His mumbling bore fruits. Not even a minute had passed before the fan’s banner, asserting that Gury Puper was super, insolently put their idol on the spot. Now the jumping red letters said: Gury Poop, do you not want it in your soup? For some time the fans of Gury Puper did not understand why everyone was pointing at them and laughing loudly, and then they began suspiciously to whisper to each other and to spit on their palms. Vanka was convinced that there would be a fight, but Puper’s fans had something else in mind. They let out several sparks and the inscription on their banner was replaced with the insulting Tanya Grotter is a blockhead! On the double bass and in a cradle! “And now it’s indeed uncouth — to run down ours! Shurasik, come on!” Vanka ordered. Shurasik again started to swing. The fans of Puper attempted to prevent him with sparks and magic blocks, but everything was useless. The Tibidox child prodigy triumphed over the competitors. The letters on the banner began to jump, wriggle, multiply, and finally they categorically demanded: Return the brooms to the yardkeepers! All sweepers clean up the leaves! The greatly offended fans tried to change the inscription, but it no longer changed, persistently summoning them to battle with the leaves. Seeing the futility of its intellectual efforts, the group of Puper’s supporters flung away the damaged banner and, flushing to the shade of a sickly tomato, rushed over for hand-to-hand combat. Vanka squeezed his fists and leaped to his feet on the bench. “Shurasik, come! We’ll show them!” he shouted in a warlike manner. Shurasik pensively turned green. “We’ll show them! But, you know, I remember one thing! You fight for the time being, and I’ll be back soon! Even if they’ll beat you, remember: moral victory is on our side!” he stated. The gifted youth turned on the spot, wrapped himself up in a raincoat and, with dozens of sparks stuck to it, in a hurry levitated to the adjacent stand. As a nervous and vulnerable creative person, Shurasik related doubly negatively to scuffles. “Tibidox, they’re fighting us!” Vanka shouted, fanning off the first of Puper’s fans — a broad-shouldered husky lad of about sixteen. Vanka was bashed on the cheekbone, and he fell down between the benches. The Puper fan did not have time to rush on top of him when someone slapped him on the shoulder. The Puper fan turned around. In front of him, picking his nose with a thick finger, towered Gunya Glomov. “You! You hit him splendidly! And you’ll teach me?” Glomov was interested and punched out a fist the size of a pumpkin, the Puper fan rolled along the steps, and Gunya, tumbling impatiently, already hurried towards the others. The cyclopes, swinging clubs and beating the innocent and the guilty, hurried to where the fight was. The fans jumped up. The fight was already seething on two stands. Someone already tore off long boards from the benches and turned over garbage cans. The correspondent of Moonless Magyouths had his nose bruised by the copper plaque “Trainer’s Locker.” Someone cast an evil eye on the mentioned plaque and now it, like a bumblebee gone mad, flew above the stands and rammed whoever came first.
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Sardanapal realized the need for urgent interference. Puffing up his cheek, he climbed onto a chair and, holding his hands at the tips of his scandalous moustaches, shouted loudly, “Stop immediately or I, as the chief referee, will cancel the match!” The amplifying spell spread the voice of the academician to the most distant corners of the stadium. The threat worked. The most furious enemies stopped sending blows to each other. Gunya Glomov picked up the Puper fan thrown down by him and began to shake him thoughtfully from behind. “Somehow you, brother, are careless. Soiled the whole sweater!” he sympathetically cackled. When the cyclopes finally reached those fighting, there was already nobody to pacify. All were sitting sedately on the benches, innocently showing the cyclopes small bags of potato chips. Only the violent plaque alone continued to rush, but Medusa Gorgonova incinerated it with a sniper spark. Sardanapal approached Tararakh, returning from the hangars, where he secretly peeped at the hostile dragon. The instructor of veterinary magic was sweaty, smoked, and in addition smelling a little sulphuric. “Well, and these Invisibles have some dragon! A true violent nut, and how it spits! I didn’t even have time to put my eye to the crack and it suddenly fired with direct aim! I swear by the cave bear, from which I once had to take to my heels, they poured into its swill about three buckets of mercury with red pepper,” panting, the pithecanthropus reported. “The Invisibles will not get away with this. It’s against the rules!” the academician objected with indignation. “Uh-huh. Against the rules. But everybody does it,” said Tararakh. “Everybody does but we’ll not! I won’t allow even the least infringement!” Sardanapal decisively stated. “Is everything clear to you, Tararakh? And there’s nothing here to glower at with your sly eyes!” “Uh-huh. Clear. We won’t, so we won’t. Why the noise?” the pithecanthropus was at a loss how to react soothingly. He already had time to order secretly that Goyaryn be given mercury with pepper, so that now his soul was at peace. Sardanapal listened to the impatient rumble of the stands and waved a hand. The doors of the change rooms were thrown open and discharged twenty players and one shortlegged referee of the Egyptian babai. The team of the Invisibles was in identical dark raincoats and tall hats. The wide brims of the hats hid the faces. It seemed it was not possible to distinguish the players at all. “They reckon that with this they can confuse us!” Tararakh said to Medusa. “Interesting, which of them is Puper? From here you can tell nothing.” Medusa frowned slightly. “That’s Puper there, at the edge. Don’t you see, he has a gilt broom and rangefinder glasses? And now, Tararakh, be nice, move aside. I can’t stand the smell of sulphur.” “Clear as day. I can’t stand it myself,” Tararakh said and, smiling cunningly, went away. Having ascertained that both teams were lined up facing one another, Sardanapal snapped his fingers, turning on Yagun’s magic mouthpiece. “Phew… I beg forgiveness… A gnat flew into my mouth… So, with you again I’m the resilient, dear to all and irritating to many Bab-Yagun!” the familiar voice began to chatter. “On this rainy and grey October day, when the firebirds have long since migrated to Africa, the water-sprites are soaking in their pond, and even the harpies have sensibly
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disappeared somewhere, we are all gathered here with the one and only great objective — to watch the final match of the world dragonball championship. This purpose unites us, so different and unlike, young and old, fat and thin, clever and dull, speaking different languages and wearing… eh-eh…. boots of different sizes. Among us there are “white” and “black” magicians, professors and students, respected correspondents and cheats from evil spirits, and finally beauties like Katya Lotkova and complete crocodiles like…” here Yagun with relish looked at Goryanov, but, obviously recalling Sardanapal’s warning, sadly added, “However we’ll not move on to the people. Especially as these petty, unworthy personalities have already paled from spite.” “Yagun, round it up! They’ve already jumped onto their brooms! You want to remain on the ground?” Seven-Stump-Holes whispered. Bab-Yagun recollected suddenly and began in a hurry to start his vacuum, straightening the amulets, and muttering the warm up spells. “Darn, stalled… Aha, mermaid scales in the injector. Now it’ll rumble… There, it started!” he muttered. “Yagun!” Seven-Stump-Holes again started to whisper. “Present the teams!” “Oh, my granny mama!” Yagun suddenly noticed the oversight. “The team Tibidox, I’m sure, needs no introduction. I’ll only point out the basic players, on whom the trainer Nightingale O. Robber lays special hopes today. Number four, Seven-Stump-Holes, who won’t leave me in peace… Yes, he plays not badly, sometimes even scores, but the majority of matches he spends time in a dragon’s stomach. By the way, Stump, wanted to ask you, bring your pillow with you? Okay, brother, don’t be offended: advertisements take different forms… Number five — Rita On-The-Sly. Her Jet-Dinghy guitar with a trailer suffered seriously in the last match. For this very reason, Rita was forced to move to a balalaika with pedals. Don’t know about others, but I like this instrument. Funky and fast, although, of course, you tire out turning the pedals… Number seven, Coffinia Cryptova, Swine-Sportage vacuum… Oh, I wanted to list only the best players! In that case — pardon me, Coffinia, they’ll read about you in the programme…” The just revived Coffinia turned green with rage. “Number eight — Bab-Yagun, the playing commentator. I’ll say nothing more about myself, but, trust me, I’m on the field not only to deafen you with the crackle of my vacuum and the cry ‘Go-al!’ And finally, the brightest star of the team of Tibidox TATIANA GROTTER! Number ten! Certainly, she’s mad at me, but I all the same will hide nothing about her! The goddess of flight, lady of the bewitched pass, the queen of stars!” Tanya twirled a finger by her temple. What is this “queen of stars?” Yagun was again carried away excessively. “By the way, the daughter of Leopold Grotter is noted not only for brilliant play in dragonball! She also triumphed over the dreaded sorceress She-Who-Is-No-More! That’s called tossing the troublesome old lady like a football to the stars!” Bab-Yagun continued to praise her. Tanya became uncomfortable. Hardly had Yagun mentioned She-Who-Is-No-More and she literally sensed the sets of eyes fastened on her. The stands were looking at her, dozens of cameras of Mag-TV and Latest Magnews were directed at her. The journalists, like frantic cockroaches, scribbled something in their notebooks. Even Gury Puper — also tensely examined her face. He for some reason even ran out of the formation of the Invisibles and now, animatedly waving his hands, hurriedly said something to the comrades of his team.
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“What’s he saying?” Tanya shyly whispered to Liza Zalizina. Liza was so astonished that she dropped the cuckoo clock. It was the first time for her. This so shook the cuckoo that instead of “cuckoo” it issued, “Help! Murder!” “What, don’t you know? Didn’t read the newspapers? Indeed the story of Puper is terribly similar to yours. He’s also an orphan and also lived with some relatives. Moreover, young Puper courageously fought a malicious black magician bogey persecuting him.” Tanya sympathetically sighed and sent Gury Puper an air kiss. “What a nightmare the wretch had to live through! Amazing that he survived. And you don’t wish such to an enemy,” she said to Liza. Zalizina nodded, filled her chest full of air, and hurried to lay out everything known to her about Puper and his history. By that time, Bab-Yagun had already exhausted all the stock of compliments meant for number ten, and transferred the fire of his verbal artillery to the team of the Invisibles, “In goal is the dragon Keng-King! A powerful and furious dragon with excellent reflexes — indeed Tararakh understands dragons! And this despite that the dragon Keng-King is sufficiently young — it’s altogether only a contemporary of the Egyptian pyramids.” Yagun licked his lips and quickly glanced at what was written on his palm serving as his crib sheet. “Now the very team of the Invisibles! I ask — ha! — to love and not to complain! Number one, captain of the team, Glint, handsome man, although his broom is clearly rather short for such a size. Certainly, I’m not pushing my opinion on anyone. He’s a forward. Number two, O-Phe-Li-A, dragon defence. Interesting, why a silver flute for her? Does she really intend to make music during the match? However, the rules don’t forbid this… Number three — Sheik Spirya, offensive halfback. Yes-yes, a real Arab sheik not finding it dishonourable, however, to play in the English team. By the way, the mama of our Sheik is a normal witch from Anapa, so he has full Slavic roots.” The Arab sheik with Slavic roots smiled and removed his peaked hat. Likely, mama taught him the Russian language. “So what if he’s from Anapa! Might as well be from Novorossisk! All the same probably won’t play up to us,” Coffinia Cryptova jealously muttered to herself under her breath. “Number four — Prince Omelet. Of course it’s a pseudonym, although who knows? He flies, very unusually, on a pair of brooms. A centre line defence who intercepts bewitched passes wonderfully. According to rumour, he has fallen in love with O-Phe-Li-A. Number five, Gulkind-Nose, dragon defence. Also, apparently, a legionary from the East. A good fellow, although his nose, of course, substantially cuts the airflow. Number seven — Schulson, nicknamed Admiral, forward. They say he disappears almost instantly and throws the balls with amazing accuracy. Number eight — Gury Puper. Jet broom with vertical takeoff! Here’s indeed someone, I think, who needs no introduction! Forward, defence, halfback — whatever you like! The dream of any girl under fourteen!” Tanya noticed that Gury Puper winced, and felt a slight sympathy for him. Likely Gury also did not like to attract attention to himself. Finally, Yagun left Puper at peace. “Number nine, Bad-Fat-Pet — offensive halfback. Quite a short broom — almost like the broom of our Kuzya Tuzikov. But then, if we believe sports periodicals, his broom flies both forward and backward with identical swiftness. Furthermore, a built-in bailout. And finally, number ten — Carolyn Curlo. Very likable girl, although I simply didn’t manage to find out what position she plays and what she does on the field in general. But then she has a very beautiful broom very nicely decorated with ribbons.”
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Carolyn Curlo raised her eyebrows and threw a quick sidelong glance at Yagun. Yagun’s protective vest immediately began to crackle like a Geiger counter. Yagun had a fit of coughing, flinched, and nearly swallowed his mouthpiece. “I beg forgiveness!” he corrected himself, fighting the cough. “I no longer have questions. Now I know what Carolyn Curlo does on the field and why they keep her on the team!” “Time to start! The children are already ready,” Medusa said, turning to Sardanapal. The academician nodded and pensively looked at the enormous trophy, something resembling a pot-bellied Tula samovar, which would be handed to the winner. “Medi, do you have any presentiment which team it will go to?” “No, not the least. I even tried to guess, but the cards keep silent, and the blade, instead of cracking, grows meat and changes into a sheep. Some nonsense. As if time goes backwards,” said docent Gorgonova. “And I don’t have presentiments either. Agreed, it’s strange. Indeed we’re both not bad prophets,” the academician said and lightly tapped the moustache attempting to wind around his risen forefinger. Having enriched the well of world wisdom with this statement, Sardanapal got up decisively. He exchanged glances with the referees, checked out the shielding dome, and let out two orange sparks, which, having inflated to the size of a ball for dragonball, buzzed above the field. Here they languidly froze as if testing the patience of the fans, and suddenly cracked with the sound of a birch log falling into a bonfire. The final match of “Invisibles — Tibidox” had begun. Decisively waving the bow, the Tibidox forward Tatiana Grotter, number ten, rushed to the dome. To the right, spurring his roaring vacuum and screaming out something warlike, flew Bab-Yagun. Slightly behind them rushed Seven-Stump-Holes and Rita OnThe-Sly. Defenders Katya Lotkova and Kuzya Tuzikov kept to the lower part of the field for the time being and attentively followed the hangars, near which the dragon handlers were fussing to the utmost extent. But here the heavy gates were thrown open and from them escaped the dragons. Silver scales shimmering, the dragon of the Invisibles provocatively roared. It took a brief run, stroked with the leathery wings, and took off. Not having had time to bounce away, the dragon handlers were toppled by the impact of air from its wings. “A not so bad ‘most normal dragon!’” Tanya thought, recalling the words of Gury Puper. “Hey, they made a fool of us with mercury! They probably also gave it nitro-glycerine to drink, and here I didn’t even guess! You know, such is our lot: cheat all you want, all the same you’ll die honest!” a depressed Tararakh, contemplating the dragon of the Invisibles, whispered into Vanka’s ear. Meanwhile Goyaryn also took off, although not so swiftly. It traced a semicircle above the field, several times, warmed up, flared up with long jets of fire, and calmed down, after allowing its favourite Katya Lotkova to approach. The referees dragged out the basket with the balls onto the field. They pulled the cover off it and, saving themselves from the dragons, hurriedly rushed into a narrow trapdoor under the magic dome. One referee succeeded in slipping away, but Keng-King caught the other by a leg and sucked him like a piece of spaghetti into its mouth. Must say that dragons, like the majority of the players, cannot stand referees. True, players do not have
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a right to gastronomic whims. But then such nice antics are willingly overlooked in dragons as in born eccentrics. “Did you see it? The balls have been released and are attempting to scatter along the field!” Bab-Yagun shouted. “The Invisibles rush to intercept! They already have the flame-extinguisher ball! Admiral Schulson played brilliantly! Sheik Spirya and Tatiana Grotter have fixed simultaneously upon the pepper ball! Tanya deftly goes on top around Spirya, skilfully pushing aside his broom using a head wind. Spirya turns, and he begins to curse, confusing Arabic words with Russian! Tanya already stretches out her hand to the ball, but what’s this? The ball suddenly disappears! I don’t understand! Where did it go?” Yagun shouted, turning his head. Suddenly Gury Puper appeared ten metres above and with explicit mockery threw open the invisible raincoat. He had the pepper ball under the raincoat. Mocking, Puper waved his hand at Tanya, wrapped himself in the raincoat, and disappeared. “It’s dishonest! Why don’t we have invisible raincoats or at least pants with a propeller? And on the whole, put yourself in the place of a spectator! Is it really interesting for him to watch an invisible idol?” The playing commentator howled with outrage, personally involved in a fight for the sneeze ball. Continually changing direction, the sneeze ball looped between the dragons, and after it, tongues hanging out from zeal, flew Bad-Fat-Pet and Seven-Stump-Holes. Bad-Fat-Pet strived to muffle himself in the invisible raincoat, but an edge of the raincoat was unfortunately tucked under the broom and now a head wind inflated it. Yagun succeeded first. After intercepting the sneeze ball, he sent a bewitched pass to Liza Zalizina. Someone from the Invisibles attempted to intercept the ball in flight, but did not guess the counter-spell. “How unfortunate! It seems it was Gulkind-Nose! In any case, they’re now carrying namely him off the field! Nose probably didn’t have a granny, who would have told him in childhood: ‘Think first, then grab!’” Yagun sympathized. His magic cloak again began to flicker. Carolyn Curlo threw her best sidelong glance at the animated commentator. And in the following moment Liza Zalizina, lengthening an arm for the ball and shouting Tsap-tsaraps, flew off her clock and was hanging by the shawl-parachute. “What, Liza, didn’t you see my sign? It had to be Leos-zafindileos!’” Yagun began to yell. “Eh, in vain I rejoiced maliciously! Bombed two with one stroke!” Trying not to listen to Yagun confusing her with his rattling, Tanya purposefully chased after the immobilize ball. So far, it was dodging successfully, leaving all pursuers emptyhanded. Looping, the girl almost seized the immobilize ball, but Bad-Fat-Pet deftly cut her off. While she was moving away from the collision, the ball slipped away. An instant — and now, tiny as a pea, it was already buzzing at the other end of the field. Bad-FatPet saluted mockingly, wrapped himself up in the raincoat, and disappeared. “Prince Omelet…. Again Schulson… A blind pass into the dead zone! The entire team works only on Gury! Yes, this fellow is a pro, although it’s also not particularly pleasant for me to acknowledge this!” Yagun shouted heatedly. Unnoticeably sneaking up to Goyaryn, Puper threw the pepper ball at its mouth. Chance saved it from a sure goal. Goyaryn had its head turned slightly, dreamily examining the plump, appetizing referee, flickering on his striped vacuum from the outer side of the dome. The pepper ball struck the dragon on the scaly lip and bounced. Spurring the jet broom, Kuzya Tuzikov caught the rebound and passed the ball to Seven-Stump-Holes.
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“Seven-Stump-Holes attacks Keng-King with the pepper ball! Outstanding breakthrough into the middle zone! Stump beats O-Phe-Li-A and deftly moves away from the glance of Carolyn Curlo! Keng-King lets out a jet of fire, but Stump dodges, diving under the vacuum by the basic dragonball manoeuvre of a riding trick! He swings and throws the ball accurately into the goal!!! Nothing can save the Invisibles from the goal! The mouth of the dragon — outstanding target! Go-oa… Oh no, I don’t believe it! Again Puper! By some mysterious means, he had time to cross the entire field and invisibly lurked directly before the nose of their dragon! It turned out that Stump involuntarily gave a pass to him! Gury has the pepper ball again! And Keng-King slammed shut its mouth and now furiously pursues Seven-Stump-Holes… Save yourself, Stump! This fire-spitting snake is already hanging by your tail! Dive down!” Tanya noticed that the captain Glint had become visible for a short time and gave OPhe-Li-A a sign. O-Phe-Li-A brought the silver flute up to her lips and began to play. Keng-King stopped chasing Seven-Stump-Holes skilfully moving away from its attacks, and, instantly reorganizing its tactics, fired at the tarrying Coffinia. The jet of flame passed more left than necessary, but the hose of the vacuum nevertheless flamed up. The fire leaped from the hose to the fuel tank, setting on fire the barabashka dandruff, mermaid scales, and small rubbish. Attempting to bring down the flame, Coffinia began to twitch and dropped the flask with the love potion made with Queen Cleopatra’s recipe. Since the beginning of the game, she had held this flask under her arm, waiting for an opportunity to pour it onto Puper. Hitting against the metallic side of the vacuum, the flask broke. The love potion was spilled like an invigorating shower onto Sheik Spirya, who, not suspecting anything, was flashing by several metres below. The passionate sheik with Slavic roots in amazement licked off several of the drops that had fallen onto his face and — was done for. In the next minute, he, slobbering, already rushed along the field and tried to capture Coffinia into his raincoat. Carolyn Curlo, dying of jealousy, pounded on everyone indiscriminately — her own teammates and the others. Brooms smoked. Vacuums shook like epileptics, ejecting alcoholic steam instead of fish scales. “Well, to hell with him, what a sheik! All the same a foreigner! Main thing for me is to go abroad and there I’ll pour at least a bucket of love potion onto Puper,” reflected Coffinia, smoothly swinging with the shawl-parachute. Solving vital global problems, Cryptova had slightly renounced reality. She remembered Keng-King only when an enormous shadow shielded her from the sun. “Ah-ah-ah!” Coffinia began to scream in a voice not her own. “Keng-King swallows Coffinia Cryptova with an appetite. The team of Tibidox is now represented by eight players against nine players of the Invisibles. But, a strange thing, Sheik Spirya for some reason is sobbing and hitting their dragon with the pointed hat!” Yagun reported. The match continued. The Invisibles crowded the Tibidox players along the entire field. And the most annoying thing was that the opposition players were almost not visible. Only now and then first here, then there flickered a ball, which the Invisibles pulled out from under their raincoats only for several seconds to make a pass. Then the ball was intercepted by a player turning up at the necessary place, and again the “goal” of Tibidox roared woefully, blindly shooting fire at the forwards of the opposition.
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Tanya could not get away from the sensation that they were making fools of Tibidox. They were jeering at Tibidox. They did not take Tobidox seriously. They were playing with Tibidox like a cat with a mouse. Twice Puper appeared in teasing proximity of her, threw open the raincoat and mockingly showed the ball. And every time Tanya was angry that there was nothing for her to fling at him. “Go-al! Scored into the ‘goal’ of Tibidox, I’m mad! Goyaryn swallows the sneeze ball!” Bab-Yagun began to moan, “I didn’t even notice the throw itself! For sure it wasn’t managed here without Puper! Yes, so it is! Just now Gury materialized under the dome and, smiling, bows in all directions. The group of support roars triumphantly and laughs at our sneezing dragon! 2:0! The Invisibles lead… And why is that so! When will we begin to play?” Sweeping by up high under the magic dome in a vain pursuit of a ball, Tanya by chance threw a glance at the judicial stand. Sardanapal was sitting with such a sad look that it seemed he would now hang himself with his own beard. Medusa Gorgonova was looking stern and severe, crossing her arms on her chest. Tararakh, in order to relieve stress, destroyed smoked pork ribs with his strong teeth and absent-mindedly flung the bones into the trophy. Dentistikha was holding two knitting needles. Now and then they began to shudder and turn swiftly. Whatever you may say, the moronoids did not at all invent the first scanner of evil eye! Nightingale O. Robber, having already quit the trainer’s bench long ago, ran limping along the dome. The son of Odikhmantev whistled with two fingers, attempting to attract the attention of Kuzya Tuzikov, who had flown too far away from Goyaryn. “Where to? Stand by it, guard it! Keep your head!” Nightingale shouted. On discovering that Tuzikov did not hear him, the trainer stopped restraining himself and whistled at full force. He whistled in such a way that a gust tore away the hats of a third of the spectators, and one fundamentally deaf magician from a remote place suddenly gained hearing. And did he ever! To hear the beating heart of a grasshopper at a distance of a thousand kilometres became a trifling matter for him! “Birdbrains! Have you forgotten what I taught you! Everything they do is tied to the tactics! Disrupt the formation!” Nightingale yelled. The suddenly thinking Tibidox team came to their senses and succeeded in overcoming confusion. This happened partly because of Tanya, managing to intercept the pepper ball, which O-Phe-Li-A passed to Prince Omelet, and partly by the efforts of Rita On-The-Sly, who did everything inappropriately. “No, did you see this! On-The-Sly turns the pedals of her balalaika! She flies wherever, bumps into anyone, and generally seems to realize with difficulty what she is creating. And all this — without violating the rules! From where does she know, after all, that in her path there happens to be some Invisibles!” a happy Bab-Yagun overstrained himself. “Katya Lotkova throws her the flame-extinguisher ball! What an absurd, unpredictable, long pass, nevertheless excellently caught, but… not by Rita, but by Zhora Zhikin! Must admit, today Zhikin manages his nervous mop very well. But what’s there at the other end of the field? My granny mama! Damien Goryanov attacks quite nicely the enemy’s dragon. True, he has no ball, but, you’ll agree, this nevertheless distracts! The behaviour of team Tibidox contradicts its usual logic! The usual tactics of the Invisibles begins to fail! The Invisibles are forced to drop the raincoats and play in the open! Not bad already!”
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Pressing the pepper ball tightly against her chest, Tanya rushed to Keng-King. The dragon of the Invisibles behaved suspiciously quietly, and suddenly Tanya understood the reason for this calmness! In front of the nose of Keng-King an invisible Gury Puper was for sure hanging and patiently waiting until a ball was presented to him. “Well okay, Puper! You want the ball — catch!” Tanya muttered. Pretending that any minute now she would make a throw, she left the “dead zone” and, falling into the field of Keng-King’s sight, she began to tease him with quick shifts. Losing patience, KengKing breathed fire. Something flared up in the air. Someone began to yell, and Tanya understood that she had guessed correctly. An Invisible was actual hanging in front of King’s nose. But… alas, it was not Puper but merely Prince Omelet, using the same tactics. “Smoking, Prince Omelet fell down onto the field, exactly like a shooting star! His broom blazes, set afire by their own dragon!” Bab-Yagun strained himself. “I hope Prince was smeared with vampire bile, otherwise he’ll become an omelette in the true sense of the word. Dropping turquoise tears, O-Phe-Li-A accompanies Omelet with a sad look. Two brigades of medical orderlies, interfering with each other and pushing stretchers, are already hurrying to Omelet. Oh, what do I see! Tatiana Grotter throws her double bass into an attack on the dragon and confidently throws the pepper ball into Keng-King’s mouth! Go-al! The stands are making noise! Our fans are shouting, firecrackers are exploding, and in general a full bedlam! Slander Slanderych doesn’t manage to write down the felons in his little notebook! 2:5! Now Tibidox is already leading! Keng-King begins to hiccup convulsively! At first from its mouth flies out the swallowed referee, immediately responsibly starting the performance of his duties, and Coffinia follows after him! Hardly finding herself on the sand, Cryptova roughly pushes the medical orderlies aside, reaches for a mirror, and begins to repair her make-up. Sheik Spirya is already there. He’s spinning nearby, very likely he’ll trip over his own tongue. Interesting, what does Gunya Glomov think about this?” While Bab-Yagun hurried to acquaint the entire magic world with the complex internal world of Gunya Glomov, Gury Puper did not lose time for nothing. Katya Lotkova only had time to yell, when he suddenly appeared beside her and threw open his raincoat. In the next second, the flame-extinguisher ball was already in the mouth of Goyaryn. FLASH! — Instead of terrible fire from the mouth of the Tibidox dragon inoffensive smoke poured out. And Gury already slid along the shielding dome and waved his hat at his worshippers. “5:5! The Invisibles tied the score!” Bab-Yagun reported without special enthusiasm. “And once again remaining in the game are the two briskest and most unpredictable balls — stun and immobilize.” Meanwhile the captain of the Invisibles Glint again appeared in the middle of the field and started to signal something quickly to O-Phe-Li-A. “How do you like that, here they’ve arranged Morse code!” Tanya thought indignantly, observing how he was waving his arms. O-Phe-Li-A squinted absent-mindedly. For a while, she clearly did not understand what was wanted from her, and then she nodded and started to play something softly on the flute. Keng-King first froze in the air like it was bewitched, and then started to shoot short fiery spittle at the Tibidox players. Kuzya Tuzikov’s broom flared up. Rita On-TheSly hastily turned the pedals of her balalaika, hurrying to leave the firing zone.
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“It’s against the rules to stir up dragons! Why doesn’t Sardanapal hand out a penalty?” Tanya shouted indignantly. “Here Medusa also said the same to him. And you know what Sardanapal answered, ‘And you try to prove that she stirs it up! Maybe she’s simply playing on the flute? The type: I cannot live without music?’ Here everything is cunningly thought out,” said someone. Turning to the voice, Tanya saw Lieutenant Rzhevskii. The spectre, dressed in the short uniform of the infantry, was hanging in the air, sitting on a hussar saddle with stirrups dangling. “Watch that Slander doesn’t hurl a Briskus at you!” Tanya said. “You hurt my feelings! He doesn’t see me! No one except you sees me! Do you think only the Invisibles are capable of playing all these tricks?” the brash spectre complacently smirked. A helpful thought flickered in Tanya, “Rzhevskii, would you be able to play a little on the flute?” she asked. The Lieutenant squinted. “In general, I respect the drum more! It has, you understand, a tender sound…” he began. “But drums aren’t needed here! Come here!” Tanya impatiently shouted, reckoning that now was not the time for delirious stories. She beckoned the spectre to her and started to whisper something quietly. Rzhevskii smiled in understanding and dissolved in the air. His empty saddle dangled in solitude for a while, with stirrups sadly tinkling, and then also disappeared somewhere. For a while nothing happened, only Puper, bending down to his broom, was chasing the immobilize ball, and Seven-Stump-Holes was tinkering with a fire extinguisher, helping Tuzikov to put out his broom. “My granny mama!” Bab-Yagun suddenly began to yell. “Did you see it? O-Phe-Li-A drops her flute! The flute begins to play by itself! What nightmarish sounds, I’ll go deaf! Even a bagpipe gone balmy sounds more pleasant than that! O-Phe-Li-A covers her ears. But what’s happening with Keng-King? It fussily twirled on the spot as if the stun ball is already in its throat! Fiery spittle flies away along the entire field! The Tibidox players rush in different directions, and here the Invisibles turned out to be unready for the attack of their dragon! “Admiral Schulson’s broom flares up like a match! Schulson screams out something, shaking his fist. Sure it’s an appeal to fans with the request to treat everything with humour… Still fierier spittle… Really? Yes, so it is! Gury Puper throws down the blazing raincoat. Without the raincoat, it won’t be so simple for Puper to accomplish his outstanding breakaways! Carolyn Curlo… Oh the poor wretch! When their dragon chased her, she in fright cut into the magic dome. “Unlucky medical orderlies! They’re carrying her off the field on stretchers, continually twitching from the powerful evil eye… Excellent! Now the Invisibles cannot deny that their flute was bewitched! Oh, what’s this? Again Puper! He intercepts the flute and returns it to a flustered O-Phe-Li-A. At the same time, he shouts Briskus-quickus and someone — I would like to know who! — with a loud slap is pulled into the sand! The match continues, but already without Schulson and Carolyn Curlo… By the way, Granny, be more cautious with this girl there in magic station! Or better put her next to Cryptova, interesting, who’ll gain the upper hand?”
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Tanya waved the bow and gained altitude sharply, attempting to intercept the stun ball from captain Glint. At the same time she not without admiration observed Gury Puper, who, already playing without the raincoat, went beautifully around from below SevenStump-Holes and Zhikin, trying to cut him off from the immobilize ball. Zhikin got too excited, almost falling under his propeller, but the vacuum of Seven-Stump-Holes, although he manoeuvred it skilfully, was clearly inferior to Puper in speed. Turning to Medusa in order to share with her his valuable observations about the match, Sardanapal by chance toppled the trophy over. Bones fell near his feet. The for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox stared dejectedly at them. “How to understand this? It’s indeed a real rotten trick!” turning red, he shouted. Tararakh drowsily began to blink and very quietly moved to the side, pretending that he was extremely interested in a nail crookedly driven into the wooden handrail of the stand. If one listened, it was possible to hear as the pithecanthropus growled, “You’d think, never this, never that! Downright not a school but some concentration camp!” Captain Glint reached the stun ball first. Seizing it, he rushed to Goyaryn, but fell under the oncoming attack of the Tibidox dragon’s wing. It spun Glint around and hurled him away to the other end of the field. The ball was intercepted by Tanya. Preparing it for a throw, she attacked Keng-King. Convinced that it would be impossible to fly around the defence of the Invisibles crowding in front of it, Tanya moved away from the flame and sent a quick bewitched pass to Bab-Yagun. And again Gury Puper appeared from who knows where between her and Yagun. Muttering the counter-spell, he intercepted the ball literally from under the nose of the playing commentator and rushed to Goyaryn. Katya Lotkova hung onto the dragon’s neck, entreating it not to open its mouth. But Puper was too experienced. As Goyaryn did not restrain itself, it was doomed. Moreover, Gury contrived in flight to unbutton his sports overalls and demonstrated the white soccer shirt in little red spots — the most inciting and enraging colour combination for dragons! Alas, dragons, even the wisest, are not known for patience. Hot temper has ruined them now for ten thousand years. Goyaryn began to roar from rage and threw open its mouth, convinced that the speeding Gury would turn up in its stomach. However, instead of Puper in the mouth, only a ball flew in it. Gury himself skilfully looped and dodged from the heavy notched tail, by which Goyaryn, already experiencing the action of stun magic, tried to nail him. “6:5! The Invisibles have pulled ahead! And I’m a complete moron… Good that I’m not a moronoid!” Bab-Yagun concluded despondently. Scolding herself for the awkward pass, Tanya soared above the field, where all the remaining Invisibles and the players of Tibidox were already roaming about. Now it had already almost become a tradition that when only the most elusive immobilize ball remained in the game, everything depended on who could catch it first… “Well! Well!” she whispered, continually changing the direction of flight and vigilantly looking all around. And… here something flickered to the left and slightly higher. The immobilize ball — the last ball of the game! Tanya turned the double bass around. The wind whined in her ears like a freezing puppy. It seemed to Tanya that her double bass had never advanced with such speed before. Extending like an arrow in order to grip the ball, she already stretched herself to it, when suddenly she understood that directly towards her — forehead to forehead — rushed Gury Puper, who was striving for the same ball.
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Neither one wanted to back off. Gury’s pupils were enlarged. He understood that the obstinate girl would not turn and his manoeuvre, calculated for the weak nerves of the enemy, failed, but it was already too late to do anything. The stands froze. Everyone jumped to their feet. Even the dragons, already almost grappling, at once turned their necks. When the double bass and the broom collided, the distinct sound of a broken rope resounded in the dead silence hanging over the stadium... Chapter 11 Rottenball and a Complete Mess Tanya did not remember the collision itself. Opening her eyes, she realized that she was lying with a cheek on the white sand of the dragonball stadium, and beside her ants were dragging a dead beetle somewhere. For a while, Tanya examined the ants without thinking. She did not remember who she was nor why she was here — and in general, even everything became suddenly somewhat unimportant and grey. And only after a while when the scratched cheek suddenly began to ache, the girl sat up with difficulty and began to moan. The medical orderlies and Yagge were already running to her with a stretcher. Attempting to rise and unable to, Tanya by chance saw some fragments on the sand. If they were still kept together by anything, then only by sagging strings. The rest could hardly be suitable even as kindling for a stove. Tanya, it seemed, still thought with sympathy how unlucky someone was. How to find out what this was? A violin? Bass guitar? Cello? And only after seeing the fingerboard broken in two and the tattered ends of a rope protruding from it, she understood everything and began to cry. Yagge ran up to her. Deciding that the girl was crying from the pain, she in a hurry reached for a phial with some malodorous green slush and began to smear it on her cheek. Tanya felt that it burnt the abrasion with a cold fire and then it suddenly stopped hurting. “Don’t try to get up yourself! We’ll carry you to magic station,” said Yagge, giving a sign to the medical orderlies. They began to bustle confusedly, laying out the stretcher. Tanya with difficulty took her eyes away from what was her double bass. “And where’s Puper? He also needs help. After such a collision he could not remain in the air,” she said. “What’s with you? What Puper?” Yagge was astonished. “Gury Puper! With whom I collided! Is he already in magic station? And where are the dragons?” Yagge began to blink. “There was and is no Puper. And no dragons. You hit your head very hard. Don’t cry, it’ll pass,” she said affectionately. “How can there be no Puper? And the dragons? And all the Invisibles? What’s happening at all?” Tanya did not understand. Now, when she lay with her back on the stretcher, it was very evident that inside the dome there was neither Goyaryn nor KengKing. Except that there were some absurd baskets in the shape of gigantic skulls, between which flickered the figures of the players, appearing so tiny from the ground. Yagge kept silent.
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“Ah... understandable... while I lost consciousness, the dragonball match ended and they took away the dragons. Yes? But who won?” Tanya asked, all the time getting more worried. The genie medical orderlies exchanged glances. Their little tidy ears suddenly increased two or three times and, precisely like radars, turned in her direction. “Dragons? Dragonball? What’s with you, girl? Today was the usual unfriendly match between the darks and the very darks,” said Yagge. It seemed to Tanya that the old lady was frightened. Yagge for some reason snapped her fingers and in the ears of both medical orderlies appeared solid plugs of yellowish cotton wool not too pleasant in looks. Yagge was in too much of a hurry to care about their cleanliness. Convinced that they would no longer manage to overhear anything, the genies picked up the stretcher. The old lady minced beside it, continually looking at Tanya’s face. “Poor girl! You were hit in the head so hard that the clouding of judgement has taken place in you! I entreat you, say nothing unnecessary. It can cost you dearly. You really don’t know that dragonball has already been forbidden for more than ten years, and in the world there is not a single dragon left anymore?” the old lady muttered anxiously. “No dragons left? Dragonball is forbidden? What nonsense! Then what were we playing?” Tanya asked distrustfully. She never suspected that Yagge had this sense of humour. Although, on the other hand, Yagun had to take after someone. “What? You’ve even forgotten this! You’re playing rottenball!” “Rottenball?” Tanya smiled. “What a crazy name! And how do we play this rottenball?” “Well, the rules are not very complex,” attentively watching the face of the girl, Yagge said. “Ten pieces of wormy beef serve as balls. A team wins when it manages to throw more balls into the skull-baskets without frightening the griffins, which attempt to peck out the players’ eyes. I’m sure soon you yourself will recall everything. Especially as you’re the best player of the team of the very dark! The mistress values you greatly. When you collided with the skull, she even wanted to stop the match…” “I collided with the skull?” Tanya was astonished. Of course, Puper was not a picture of beauty, but he definitely did not resemble a skull. Yagge began to nod anxiously, observing how the medical orderlies, interfering with each other, pushed the stretcher through the narrow passageway of the magic dome. “Be more careful! It’s not firewood you’re carrying, Sardanapal bless you!” she shouted. “Yes, you cut into the skull. Moreover, for no rhyme or reason. You didn’t even have a ball. All this, I acknowledge, is sufficiently strange. For sure, it wasn’t managed without an evil eye of these vile white magicians! Mistress del-Cake said absolutely! She even sent Slander to check the guard spells.” If Tanya did not fall, then only because it was indeed not so simple to fall out of the deep stretcher. “Mistress?” “Yes, the incomparable and most excellent mistress Plague-del-Cake, head of Tibidox! But now sleep! Sleep is a better treatment! You have a clear case of concussion,” Yagge extracted from a bag a bunch of grass wreathed into a small whisk, and, after whispering a spell, ran the whisk along Tanya’s face. “Good, at least not Pointus harpoonus,” the girl thought sleepily. She again became indifferent to everything. She was not even surprised when Lifeless Griffin with a piece of fetid meat in its claws dived from above with a guttural cry.
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Bab-Yagun on a roaring vacuum strove for the griffin. Overtaking the griffin, he dealt it a blow with his pipe and snatched away the piece of meat. “Hey, Baby Grotter, hold on! We’ll finish these darks or we’re not the very dark!” he shouted an encouragement and sped as fast as possible away from the skull-baskets. The griffin coming to its senses rushed behind, attempting to peck him in the face. “A normal unfriendly match between the dark and the very dark...” closing her eyes, Tanya muttered. Now she was even grateful to Yagge for lulling her to sleep. Otherwise, the girl would simply go mad. Already in magic station, Tanya came to. It was evening outside the window. Only the reddish flame of the night-light was shaking on the night table and flickering green fireflies were crawling along the ceiling. Emerging from the darkness, the portrait of an old woman with a dry yellow face hung above the bed. The skin covered it in such a way that it involuntarily reminded Tanya of the rottenball skull. Moreover, the girl in no way could get rid of the sensation that the blazing eye sockets of the portrait were continuously following her. Deciding to ascertain that this was really so, Tanya crossed her legs under, simultaneously moving away as close as possible to the back of the bed. Yes, she was not mistaken, the head on the portrait turned slightly and the eyes were fixed on her as before. Tanya licked her lips. Everything dried up in her mouth. Her tongue was like sandpaper. The girl wanted to howl louder than the daughter of Uncle Herman and, rolling on the bed, to hit the pillow. Where, after all, did she fall to? What happened with Tibidox? Why would Plague-del-Cake in a frame hang above each bed in the school of magic? What was it — insanity, a nightmare, or reality? The portrait followed her with the fiery eye sockets. It seemed the old woman strove to look into her soul. To burn out everything inside. Tanya could not control herself. She grabbed the blanket and hung it over She-Who-Is-No-More. “I’m a shy person. I cannot bear it when I’m stared at, especially at night,” she explained and jumped from the bed. Her bones were seemingly whole, although the entire right side of her body was burning unpleasantly. Looking under the nightshirt, Tanya saw a long clotted scratch, duplicating the shape of a string. Yagge already managed to treat her with the odorous ointment. The girl understood that, falling, she landed on the double bass, which took on itself the main impact. “Blunderer! What instrument she crushed! Even a cooked rooster flies better!” the magic ring creaked peevishly. From great-grandfather, as usual, it was not worthwhile to expect compassion. Tanya thought with annoyance that Theophilus Grotter probably had less sensitive lines on his palm than a stool had. “Grandpa, don’t squeak! Better tell me where I’ve gotten to. What’s with them here, have they all gone mad, or have I in truth bumped my head?” she turned to the ring. The ring thought and released a single spark. The spark fell onto the pillow. The feathers flared up with a flame. “Vampires fear bright light and aspen stakes. But then they don’t need the services of a stomatologist,” Great-grandfather Theophilus answered foggily, again immersed in the abyss of senility. Tanya sighed and carefully cooled the heated ring, lowering it into a bottle of some medicine of Yagge’s. “Some relative I have — a unique fruitcake. Take that Pipa or Aunt Ninel… Okay, I’ll find out everything myself! Only it’s necessary to consider, from whom,” she said to herself and carefully looked from behind the screen.
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The remaining beds were empty. It was very handy, especially as she had no intention of staying the entire night in magic station. Cautiously looking askance at the low door, behind which, as it was known to her, was Yagge’s bedroom, the girl began to dig in the wardrobe. She did not find her overalls, then after some search she discovered a long black raincoat with a hood and a pair of bast boots long gone out of style — a rustic, woven bast version of seven-league boots. True, it was necessary to reject the bast sandals after a short test. The right bast sandal ran in one direction, and the left, obviously to spite it, strictly in the opposite direction. Realizing that bast sandals set at loggerheads could simply tear her in two, Tanya drove them back into the wardrobe. Wrapped up in the raincoat, she again listened and, after whispering Fogus sneakus, not bothering with the handle, slid through the door with her back. With distaste, the ring of Theophilus Grotter shot a red spark. The spell from the list of one hundred forbidden ones, as always, worked without fail. Tanya looked around. Directly in front of her began a straight corridor with the high arches and the stained glass, into which the moonlight was shining through. She recognized it and at the same time did not. All the trunks, all the birch bark chests had disappeared from the niches and the ancient, moth-eaten flying carpets, normally with the approach of something, began to drum the floor with its soft tassels. Now everywhere were stone heathen idols. Their thin lips resembled long scars smeared with something dark and clotted. A stake was driven into the flagstone near each idol. White pigeon feathers adhered to some stakes. In front, beyond the turn of the corridor, someone began to squeal shrilly. Tanya pressed against the wall. Towards her Unhealed Lady swept pass like a ghostly vision. Always blooming and pink-cheeked, now Lady appeared emaciated. Four syringes stuck out of her back, and on her hand coiled the small tube of an IV. Lieutenant Rzhevskii and Eyeless Horror were pursuing Lady. One was dragging a monstrous dental drill, and the other was swinging a scalpel. Both spectres looked abnormal. “Wait! You’re going for surgery!” they howled. “I don’t need surgery! I’m healthy!” Lady squealed, pulling away from them into the wall. Before rushing into pursuit, Lieutenant Rzhevskii hung in the air and affably waved with the drill at Tanya. “Hello, Baby Grotter! You play rottenball excellently. If there’s a need to drill someone — just whistle!” he stated. “Aha, I will,” promised Tanya, looking at the drill with horror. Not meeting any more people, the girl went down into the Hall of Two Elements. The unicorns had disappeared. The shining firebirds had disappeared. The hall seemed dim and somewhat faded without the colourful chaos of their feathers. Protecting her eyes from the bats and stepping over the snakes, Tanya climbed to the residential floor. Everyone was already asleep. The Russian stove, which she so loved to toss birch firewood into, had disappeared without a trace. But then in the common room appeared a massive rock tomb, in which reddish rays were shooting out from narrow slits. Tanya by chance brought a hand up to one of them and sighed. The rays were warm. “Fogus sneakus.” Tanya said again and slipped into the room she shared with Coffinia. She immediately recognized Coffinia’s bed, similar to an inverted coffin. Cryptova was sleeping, covered by a duvet in a pattern of tiny little gallows. Black Curtains were puffing up gloatingly and reflected such nonsense, which would cause bewilderment even
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in a knowledgeable Freudian. The skeleton was also in place. True, if earlier Page’s teeth were completely normal, then now two main ones jutted out almost like fingers. “Vampires fear bright light and aspen stakes. But then they don’t need the services of a stomatologist,” Tanya recalled the delirious phrase of Theophilus Grotter. Or, possibly, there was some sense in it nevertheless? But the greatest surprise lay in wait for her when she shifted her gaze onto that half of the room, which she considered as hers earlier. Yes, now it was still hers, but how it had changed! On the night table, where earlier lay the magic felt-tip pens that animated drawings and the collection of self-recording goose feathers — gifts of Vanka and Yagun for her birthday, now a crooked black candle was burning mournfully and a small glass was standing with toothpicks of rat bones in it. “What filth! Could I really stick these into my mouth?” Tanya screwed up her face. Seeing the edge of the leather case looking out from under the bed, the girl sighed. She remembered about the double bass, which she did not have anymore. The lock with runes printed on it opened with its previous sound. The diary was snoring softly on the bottom of the case. Having mechanically clicked with a nail on the cover, Tanya saw the bright letters showing through it: TATIANA GROTTER Diary of progress. Very dark department School of fatal magic Tibidox Having turned to the last page of the diary, the girl became acquainted with her table of progress. With big enough surprise, it revealed that she was an almost perfect honour student. She got fives on such objects as Imposition of Curses, Poisoning, Magic Murder, Enslavement of Moronoids, and Theory of Zombification. Fours were on Rudiments of Ribaldry, Principles of Witchcraft, and Fortune-telling with Coffee Grounds. The only three was on the object with the vile name Worm Eating Studies. “Two would be better! Then I would know exactly that I ate no worms,” wincing, Tanya muttered. At the end of the table were three signatures, one under another. She recognized the first two. They were well known to her and belonged to Slander, the dean of the school, and Medusa Gorgonova. But then after seeing the third, Tanya felt that her heart was squeezed by an icy hand. This sharp, angular signature, similar to the leaps of a cardiogram, could belong only to the one vilest and most malicious being in the world — the black sorceress Plague-del-Cake. Having put away the diary, Tanya continued her search. Under a pile of notebooks, into which she preferred not to look, was a large photograph in a frame. In the photograph — a normal, inanimate moronoid photograph — was the entire Durnev family, including the nasty dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres. On the reverse side of the photo was glued a piece of glossy paper, on which in the round calligraphic handwriting of Aunt Ninel was written: To Tanya as a keepsake Adoring you Uncle Herman, Pipa, and Aunt Ninel. “Oho-ho! And now I’m their favourite! Simply bursting with happiness if nothing else!” Tanya exclaimed dejectedly.
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It seemed, from surprise, she had uttered this too loudly. Coffinia began to turn in her sleep and, yawning, sat up on the bed. “Hello, my dear! You’ve returned? Gunya and I were terribly worried when you fell! I can imagine what a misfortune it would be if the very dark did not win over the dark! You won’t object if I go back to sleep still?” Coffinia again yawned and buried her cheek into the pillow. “Oh no! Only don’t tell me that Coffinia is my best friend! One can go crazy!” Tanya groaned. This was the last drop. The bath of patience overfilled and flooded the neighbours. With a push of her foot, Tanya indignantly kicked under the bed the case that was beginning to creak, jumped out of the room, and decisively made her way to the library. “It’s necessary to understand eventually which one of us has gone crazy! Either I or all the rest of the world! Yagge said that everything began ten years ago. I’ll examine the magpaper files for the last eleven years!” Tanya decided. *** The genie Abdullah never slept and never ate. He was absolutely free from these harmful habits. But then Abdullah was suffering completely from a third, not less ruinous habit: day and night, during any free time he scribbled with a long feather from the tail of a harpy, continually dipping it into the poisonous saliva of the hellhound Cerberus. The fundamental labour, on which the ancient genie expended all his senile energy, was entitled very simply and unassumingly — Poem of a Thousand Curses. This poem, as already deduced from its name, consisted of a thousand of the most fatal, the most murderous curses written in verse, which only the jesuitical imagination of the ancient genie could give birth to. Getting stuck in the poetic quagmire comprised of names of ancient spirits and black magic reminiscences, Abdullah now and then was so carried away that he did not even notice what was taking place in front of his nose. The one who had the luck to come into the library at this hour could wander between the shelves as much as desired and even take books from the blocked access. Only it was not possible to carry them out: at the doors were the much too powerful identification spells. But then again, this blessed time came if and only if Abdullah was bitten by his scathing muse, which had a wasp sting in place of a tongue. But, alas, this time Tanya was not lucky. The muse of the genie Abdullah had clearly zoomed somewhere else. The girl, using Fogus sneakus, had only carefully seeped through the closed door, when the zoomer began to crack. A massive lamp under the ceiling flared up. At the same moment, appearing from who knows where, the genie Abdullah appeared before Tanya. On his plain face, woven as if from fog, appeared first a squinted eye, then a smiling mouth. The warts were completely absent — likely, the friendly little flock of them already had time to swim away under the turban. “Night guests?” he started to snigger, rubbing moist palms. “Perhaps you didn’t read the sign: Guarded by asps and basilisks? Pity I didn’t have time to let my little-ones out from the terrarium. Well, no matter, this is even better. I’ll immediately curse you with the most terrible curse! Glad to inform you that you’ll be the first on whom it’ll be placed. True, it’s necessary for you to suffer for about five minutes — my curse is very long! I’ll begin! By the way, I would advise you to enjoy its musicality, because afterwards you, naturally, will die… Here goes!”
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And Abdullah turned on the spot, muttering, “Erius findis kruntas trak demokritus areopag Klio sferus gurtus shmyakus kamatozus psikhotapus...” “Hey-hey! Wait!” Tanya shouted, but it was impossible to stop the obscure poet working in the rare genre of cemetery poem. “Shipus rhesus girkus rebus zhiromokrus eshbez-khlebus Trenti-brenti syrotryakhus seven pelmenus from sobakus” Abdullah moaned with enthusiasm. “What to do? Must escape somehow! But how? Run away? You can’t run away from a curse…” Tanya reflected anxiously. For some reason it was not too scary for her: indeed the situation was too absurd — the cranky genie swinging his short arms, and the hundreds of shelves of books. It was not possible to believe that here her life could suddenly be cut short. “Sclerobus... Phew, not that... What is it? Aha! Scleroticus marasmoticus!” she exclaimed, recalling one of Medusa’s lessons. The ring of Theophilus Grotter spat out a green spark that slid into the genie’s ear. Abdullah broke off suddenly and started to rub his forehead. The poor library genie! As always, the length of his curses ruined him. Simply no one had enough patience to listen to them till the end. “Eh-eh… Things aren’t going this way! Where did I stop? Gundobus stydobu from vonyuchkas bulonus? No?” he asked again in dismay. “Wait, I’ll now run for the book, from which I got the quotation! By the way, you don’t happen to remember where it is? Ah, it seems, somewhere on the shelves! Let’s do this! You stay here and I’ll go find it and curse you then! Okay? Only, mind you, don’t go away anywhere!” The library genie shaped himself into a question mark and, giggling idiotically, flowed to the shelves. Tanya followed him with a thoughtful look. Taking into account that there were two hundred thousand books in the library and Abdullah clearly already did not remember where anything was, the search threatened to stretch to infinity. Moreover, the spell Scleroticus marasmoticus only progressed with time. In other words, in approximately an hour Abdullah would forget altogether whom he intended to curse. Having found the pile of magpapers, Tanya began from the oldest file of eleven years ago. At first for a long time, the magpapers were made flashy with foolish titles like Astrocactus the Paranoid and the Formula of Absolute Magic, or: Whose moustaches are longer? Usynya and Academician Sardanapal, or: Nagiana Pripyatskaya and Bluebeard — New Pair of Stars. Who will be unlucky this time? Reckoning that not so long ago she saw and heard Nagiana Pripyatskaya on the zoomer, Tanya assumed that this time precisely Bluebeard was unlucky. Smiling involuntarily, she glanced at the title of the next magpaper, and — suddenly the letters began to jump before her eyes: Academician Sardanapal villainously kills Leopold Grotter and his wife Sophia. The baby will be brought to the sorceress Plague-del-Cake for education. ‘Leo Grotter was my best friend,’ she confirms.

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“This cannot be! What nonsense!” Tanya muttered. Having torn up the magpaper, she flung it away, but the following magpaper informed her: The world is saved from the villain Sardanapal! Plague-del-Cake has the Talisman of Four Elements. The letters in the titles jumped maliciously like on the black tombstones. It seemed that the magpapers, which no one had turned to for a long time, had time to become bored without readers and now in a hurry blurted out all kinds of new filth: White magicians undergo forced treatment from kindness virus. New rules of dragonball: without balls and without dragons. Professor Stinktopp: ‘To defile a neighbour is ze foundation of an outstanding mood. To not defile a neighbour is to spend a day in fain!’ The killer of the Grotters Academician Sardanapal is forever incarcerated in the basement of Tibidox. The white department of Tibidox is closed. White magic is forbidden. The students of the magic schools set off for voluntary zombification. At the numerous requests of the fans, dragonball is renamed rottenball. In the next magpaper Tanya saw a terrible animated photograph. A bony old woman in a raincoat, and in her arms a baby whom the old woman concealed in a double bass case. An inscription under the photo explained: Plague-del-Cake tearfully returns the orphan Grotter to the moronoids for education. Indeed, if anyone, the Durnevs will be able to give the girl a fitting education. After this, for a long time a lull was set in the magpapers. Only after nine years of filing, she stumbled upon a boldfaced title: Tanya Grotter returns to Tibidox. A touching farewell with the relatives (in the photo: Tanya kisses H. and N. Durnev). “Oh, no! And Pipa is also deeply affected! She’s giving me a box of candies as a present! But what’s this here? Mummy, shoot me so that I don’t suffer!” Tanya groaned, examining the following magpaper: The daughter of Grotter enters the very dark department (in the photo: She-Who-Is-No-More and Slander Slanderych take the oath of the new student on the skull). “What abomination! And where did they dig up this skull? However, better not ask,” said Tanya. Having looked over yet forty more magpapers, she discovered in the forty-first a small note: Tanya Grotter advances in dark magic (in the animated photo from left to right: Bab-Yagun, T.Grotter, C.Cryptova). “Brr!” Tanya shivered, “Coffinia and I hugged each other! What came over me? Perhaps I was overfed on rotten tomatoes?” Several months of magpapers kept silent, and then again began to flash with large-scale titles: Plague-del-Cake: this girl is born for rottenball. Victory in rottenball tournament. The griffins rest. Tatiana Grotter throws seven lumps of decaying meat into the skull of the darks. T.Grotter turns down additional lessons on Worm Eating Studies. ‘The sports loads are too great,’ she says. “Ugh, at least one piece of good news!” Tanya muttered, returning the magpapers to their place. She already understood that the magpapers, well packed with all kinds of nonsense and one-day sensations, did not intend to tell her the main thing: how did reality change. Moreover, it did not simply change but back over eleven years!
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Why was the academician Sardanapal accused of the murder of her parents? Why did Plague, who took possession of the talisman, not kill her, not even take possession of her body, but made her the favourite student? Why did the white magicians surrender almost without a fight? And finally, if Plague got her wish and obtained the talisman, why did she not open the Sinister Gates and let out the spirits of chaos? Senile giggling reached from behind the shelves. “Interesting, what he’s doing there?” Tanya thought and sneaked to the shelves. The genie Abdullah was sitting on the floor and with enthusiasm turning over moronic magazines for adolescents, cutting out with scissors photographs of winking half-dressed little witches. He clearly intended to put together a whole harem for himself. On noticing Tanya, Abdullah looked at her fearfully and pressed the magazines against his chest. “Leave or I’ll bite! I won’t give back my pictures!” he yelled. Tanya moved back, thinking that she had overdone it with the spell. “Well okay! It’s still possible to cure Scleroticus marasmoticus, indeed something precisely you can’t say about the curses of Abdullah,” calming herself, she decided and walked between the shelves. Thousands of book rootlets hung from all sides and attempted to weigh their multiplicity down onto the child’s unsettled psyche. Some books were riveted to the shelves by chains. Others clumsily stirred and rustled. A third puffed up to improbable sizes in front of her eyes. Something with a chirp jumped out near Tanya’s feet. It, jumping up highly and pushing off from the floor with worn pages, was a speeding slender booklet. On its cover appeared: Klavdia Yauznik and Count Fomanov. Theory of Snitching. “No, this way I’ll simply find nothing. But what if we try something different?” Tanya thought. Standing still, the girl concentrated, shot out a spark from her ring and loudly stated, “Checkis trackis ransackis. If nothing else I want to understand something!” The green spark did not have time to go out when a rustle was heard. Towards Tanya rolled a lump of rumpled paper — a page pulled out from some book. On the outside, the lump was covered with a thick layer of dust. Likely, it had been necessary for it to lie somewhere under the shelf for many years. Turning the paper, Tanya perceived something solid inside. Onto her palm fell an ancient ring with a small seal. It seemed to the girl that she had seen it once already, but where exactly and on whom? The ring of Theophilus Grotter jealously muttered something unintelligible. Tanya already wanted to throw the paper in which the ring was concealed, but by chance she glanced at it and recognized… her own handwriting. More precisely, her hand only traced out some lines here. Other lines and the absent words were clearly written by someone else, possessing an old-fashioned handwriting with many curls. Heaven trembles from tempestuous lightning — Into the wall’s thickness miracles will not go hiding. No one will trick the glass of gloom — A faceless evil will show in doom. The old stove is hotly ablaze — And into the crack crawls the Leech in haste. The villainous networks are set up so clever Two firsts will collide — and the Rope will sever. The curse of ancient graves will chance.
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And Plague to the head of dark forces will advance. Only he who will forget the pain will conquer… And it was all that could be deciphered. The bottom edge of the page — now Tanya had understood by this time that this was the last page from the book of the vanished Hugo the Sly — was missing. Probably, at the last moment, already understanding that he could not slip away, Hugo hurriedly pulled out the sheet and, hiding his ring in it, with his magic teleported the deciphered prophecy under the shelf in the library. He was sure that sooner or later it would be found there. “The spirit, the Leech, and the Rope. When the last event occurs, the ancient curse is freed. Not surprising that the world was turned upside down. I’m a friend of Pipa, a friend of Coffinia, and the favourite student of Plague-del-Cake... Simply insanity!” Tanya thought. She tried to remember the end of the prophecy, its most important line now torn away, but everything was already blurred in her memory. It seemed The Ancient One proposed to step somewhere, but where exactly? The only one who probably could still answer this question was Sardanapal, languishing in the basement of Tibidox. Here one also does not have faith after this prophetic hogwash of Professor Stinktopp! The stained glass window of the library was flooded with the tender bloom of a suckling pig. It was dawn. Baby Grotter, as many likely called her here, considered that it was time to return to magic station. Hiding in her pocket the ring of Hugo the Sly and the sheet with the prophecy, she slipped out of the library. The genie Abdullah was dying of happiness in the embrace of paper beauties and was filled with shrill laughter. The harem from magazines fearfully looked sideways at those shaking scissors in the senile hand. The previous world serenely flew into the nether world… Chapter 12 The Most Devoted Enemy After returning to magic station and looking behind her screen, Tanya froze like a pillar of salt. Someone, with the head covered by the blanket, was lying on her bed. After preparing the ring just in case to throw a fight spark if required, she pulled off the blanket with a jerk. Under the blanket was a beaming Bab-Yagun, in whose hands was a whole bunch of toadstools. “Aha, here you are!” he smiled. “Where are you roaming at night? I already fell asleep twice!” “Yagunchik! Marvellous that you came! You’re a true friend!” Tanya squealed happily. She had already forgotten all previous offences. She wanted to kiss Yagun on both cheeks — all the same a native person in this non-native, changed world! Just that Yagun was offended for some reason. “Why are you insulting me? What friend am I to you? I’m your enemy! Is there really any friend who would drag an entire bouquet of freshly cut toadstools into magic station in the middle of the night? On top of that what kind! With droplets of dew on the rotten stems! Only the most cursed, the most devoted enemy is capable of that!” he stated.
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“Well yes… Certainly, you’re my enemy… The most devoted enemy! I hit my head so hard that I confuse everything,” Tanya agreed in a hurry. She belatedly grasped that in the reversed reality all concepts were inverted: friendship is called enmity, kind — evil, and best friend — worst enemy. “Poor Yagun, indeed in this new world he together with all white magicians were turned into zombies, moreover still a child!” Tanya thought. Interesting, can she trust this Yagun as before? The girl hoped that at least nothing had changed in essence and the friend still remained a friend. “Where did you disappear to? Probably walked along the corridors and defiled everything?” the grandson of Yagge was interested. “Eh-eh... Kind of like that...” Tanya answered carefully. “I knew it! You were always a learned whiz. All normal magicians defile in the daytime, but the learned — not enough days for that. Not without reason that Plague points you out as an example to all. Even Shurasik envies you,” Yagun began to nod. Having leaped from the bed, he found a vase somewhere and placed in it his badly reeking bouquet. At the same time, Bab-Yagun’s look was so proud that Tanya, fearing to offend the most devoted enemy, did not begin to throw the bouquet down from the night table. “Did you hear the news?” Yagun asked. “Only — ssh! — don’t tell anyone! Granny secretly told me, and she herself found out from Medusa. You’ll recount it to no one? Not even the genie Abdullah?” “Since when do I report to him? And then it seems he also has other problems now,” Tanya shrugged her shoulders. “Okay, listen, Plague-del-Cake intends to revive the stone idols and send them to subjugate the Tortoise of Eternity. Whoever subdues the Tortoise will conquer the entire world. Indeed then the Sinister Gates will really begin to fail,” Yagun excitedly reported. “Whatever is the Tortoise of Eternity?” Tanya did not understand. She, remembering, was also astonished that Yagun was courageously calling Plague-del-Cake by name. Earlier Yagun, like everyone in Tibidox, would prefer the more vague — She-Who-IsNo-More. Yagun raised his eyebrows. “Oh, my granny mama! But you’ve truly forgotten everything. The magic world stands on three elephants, and the three elephants on the tortoise!” “Yes? But I for some reason thought that the earth is round,” Tanya hesitated. Nevertheless, whatever one may say, she was such a good student in school in Moscow that knowledge was firmly lodged in her, even if medicine from Yagge’s phials was regularly gulped down like booze. Yagun indignantly bounced on the stool with three legs. “Nonsense! Your moronoids don’t believe in the obvious things — for example, magic schools, and that it’s possible to fly on a vacuum! And if so, what is all their science worth? And then, only a moronoid doesn’t see the difference between a planet — perhaps Sardanapal knows it’s really round? — and the magic world. If they even intersect somewhere, then only at one absolutely trivial point in which we also live! Not unlike two straight lines! Once they met, then best of luck! Please write farewell letters!” Tanya was hardly listening to Yagun. She was pondering about something else. Tortoise... Three elephants... Stone idols... Are those not what she saw in the corridors of Tibidox? So, even having obtained the Talisman of Four Elements and authority over the
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magic world, Plague still could not open the Sinister Gates. Only now, many long years later, she is again stealing up to them already with the aid of the stone idols, which want to go to war on the tortoise! Only why has Plague waited all these years? The Rope had not been broken? Unlikely. She only had to take the double bass away from her favourite student Tanya Grotter and fling it, say, from the Big Tower. No, the answer has to be searched for somewhere else. Tanya understood that she must see Sardanapal and have a talk with him. Likely, in the inverted world only three figures knew how to keep the balance on the board and remained as before; Plague-del-Cake, the academician Sardanapal, and she, Tanya, who by the will of chance happened to be on the double bass at that moment when the Rope broke. Awakening from pensiveness, Tanya realized that Yagun was leaning over her and had been repeating something impatiently for a long time, “Hey, hey! What, you’re not listening to me? I’ve already asked five times, what’s the matter with you?” “Sorry, I was distracted. Listen, Yagun, help me, be a friend…” “What?” “That is, an enemy…” Tanya corrected herself. “I must slip through to Sardanapal!” The protruding ears of Yagun understandably flared up, “Ah, you want to do harm to him! And it’s correct, after what this good soul did to your parents!” “And it’s indeed known that it’s him?” Tanya could not control herself. The grandson blinked in amazement. “But who else? He, more than anyone. Would Plague-Del-Cake really begin to lie? You know she flew there immediately after Sardanapal and tied up this reptile with the help of the people’s volunteer corps of evil spirits! He didn’t even resist. He was standing like a fool and repeating, ‘Leopold, Sophia! How so? Who did this?’ In a word, he was mocking.” Tanya forced herself to be silent. It seemed the zombification of Yagun was stronger than she assumed. Otherwise, would he really not understand obvious things? “Okay, let’s go to Sardanapal! We’ll taunt him. There’s likely still time before breakfast. Only remember we’re taking a risk. We have to slip past the guardroom of the cyclopes, and then immediately downward — to the basement. If we’re caught — here indeed good awaits. To gather slugs and mouse dung — it’s the least that shines on us,” warned Yagun. “I already gathered worms. And stinkbugs also. Therefore, it’s not necessary to get into the habit particularly. And will your granny not be alarmed if in the morning she doesn’t find me in magic station?” Tanya asked. “Ne-a. You only have to leave her a note. Gone to, say, Supplementary Brutality and General Meanness. Or write that you’re preparing a report on Theories of Moral Tortures. Then Granny will quite understand that everything in your head is in order,” Yagun assured her. Clearly not listening, Tanya ripped out a sheet from the prescription pad and wrote in large letters: PLEASE DO NOT SEARCH FOR ME. GONE TO SUPPLEMENTARY BLACKGUARD. TANYA GROTTER. Yagun shook his head. “Not that again! What’s this Supplementary Blackguard? There is no such subject. Okay, leave it as is! Granny will figure it out. Let’s go!”
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The children slipped out of magic station and, turning immediately to the staircase of the Atlases, they made their way to the old part of the school. The Atlases were standing sullenly, supporting the massive arches of Tibidox on their shoulders. Some had time to grow long beards of stalactites. Others had broken off noses and ears. A third appeared flabby. Tanya noticed that the Atlases looked better in her reality. “Quiet! Really, don’t you hear it? Who else happens to be roaming about at dawn?” Yagun grabbed the girl by the hand and dragged her behind a marble leg of the nearest Atlas. The humpbacked horse, loaded down with enormous bags of brick rubble, was coming down the stairs. The horse was dragging its feet because of the excessive weight. The hooves were battered. The formerly resilient humpbacked horse strongly resembled a sad donkey in fairy tales from the East. Behind the horse, roughly urging it on, was the dean of Tibidox Slander Slanderych. The unshaven face of Slander, the deathly bluish radiance of his bald patch, and the new idiotic lustre appearing in the small eye-gimlets, clearly testified that in this reality Slander was one hundred percent black magician. “Well, let’s go! Move, lazy creature! If you don’t move, you’ll go into soup for the cyclopes!” Slander shouted. The humpbacked horse barely managed the enormous steps of the staircase. When it got to the level of the Atlas, behind whose foot the children were hiding, its front legs buckled and it fell on its knees. “Well, get up, bag of bones! You’d only gorge on hay! One would think I don’t feed you once a week!” Slander began to yell at it, with all his might kicking the horse on its emaciated side. Tanya saw the tears in the horse’s eyes. It attempted to get up, but it could not. “You don’t want to get up? You don’t want to? It’ll be worse! I’ll break your spine!” The dean again raised his foot, but he no longer had time to kick the horse a second time. “Sparkis frontis!” Without a moment’s hesitation about the consequences, Tanya quickly whispered. A fight spark took off with a crack from her ring and hit Slander between the shoulder blades. The dean’s caftan began to smoke. Dropping his raincoat, the black magician rolled downward, counting the steps with his nose. The eyes of the Atlases followed Slander with interest. Taking into account the colossal dimension, even for the magic world, of the staircase, a long and fascinating journey awaited the dean. But Tanya already hurriedly untied the bags, freeing the horse from the load. It gratefully moved its ears and poked its nose into her stomach. Yagun was stunned. He could not recover in any way at all. “Oh, my granny mama! You did this to Slander! You let out a green spark! Green! If Plague finds out, you’ll be turned into a zombie, your memory erased! White magic is forbidden! From where did you learn these spells at all? Who taught you?” Tanya straightened up and attentively looked Yagun in the eyes. There are moments when everything is determined. This was precisely one of them. “Someone taught — others learned. You won’t tell Plague? No?” Tanya asked. Bab-Yagun turned red. “Me? Tell? How could you think that? I’m your enemy! And besides, didn’t we release the sacrificial doves from the cage!” he exclaimed. Tanya looked gratefully at Yagun. It seemed to her that from her soul fell exactly the same bags of bricks as those, which she recently freed from the horse. “Sorry, Yagun. I myself don’t know what came over me. Perhaps, in truth I’ve also became somewhat crazy,” she said.
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“Forget it! Don’t get that idea into your head! But how you hit Slander with the spark! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not without reason that everyone is so afraid of this white magic!” Calmed down, Bab-Yagun repeated with admiration. Noticing the raincoat that Slander dropped on the stairs, Tanya picked it up, deciding that it could still turn out useful. Unexpectedly a howl reached them from below — a terrible, spiteful howl. Likely, Slander had only just completed his extreme descent and was now in a hurry to search for someone to thank for the unforgettable trip. He clearly used one of the high-speed spells of black magic, because he was ascending swiftly, jumping over several steps and leaving a fiery track in the grey predawn air. Tanya understood that if they did not leave, Slander would get there much too quickly. The girl threw up her hand with the ring, intending to shout Sparkis frontis, but here the humpbacked horse began to neigh and impatiently struck with a hoof. “Look! It’s inviting us to sit on it!” Bab-Yagun whispered. The grandson of Yagge was short of breath. He pushed the bags down, deciding to play with the dean the interesting popular game “run away from the bricks!” The enraged Slander solved the problem simply: he incinerated with a scorching glance the stones rolling from the top. “I’m already on the horse!” Tanya shouted, tearing Yagun away from his fascinating occupation. She climbed onto the horse and gripped it firmly by the long ears. Yagun jumped up from behind. But only where did the horse get its strength from! Beating out sparks with it hooves, it raced on the stone steps. The wind began to whistle in the girl’s ears. The sensation was the same as in a dragonball game. Just that in dragonball the double bass usually flew smoothly, whereas the horse first slipped downward then made the next dizzy leap. Yes, it was an unforgettable complex exercise on a skipping horse! “I’l-l s-oo-oo-n t-t-um-m-ble d-d-o-own!” Yagun was sitting on the rump of the horse; therefore shaking fell onto his lot a little more. If he could hold on for the time being, then it was only for the reason that he clung to Tanya’s belt like a tick. The prospect of passing as a brave dzhigit clearly did not seem attractive to the poor fellow. “Be a man!” “W-wh-a-at’s th-a-at f-f-o-or? P-per-haps y-y-o-ou’l-l ch-ch-a-an-ge s-se-at?” It reached her crossly from behind. The proposal was purely rhetorical. Yagun knew very well that to change seats at this speed was impossible. Suddenly the horse stopped as if rooted to the ground. In front, the crackle of black magic spells prevented it from skipping further. “Aha! The little cow is out of gas! It won’t go any further,” Yagun commented. Looking around, Tanya realized that they had managed to traverse the whole of Tibidox and now they were located in its oldest part, on the staircase leading into the basement. The close presence of the cyclopes gave out a sharp smell of sheep. Yagun, wobbling, climbed down from the horse. “My, oh my! As if they were grinding me up in a mixer!” he grumbled. “Neither speed nor comfort — only shaking! A pity flight spells are blocked in Tibidox. Otherwise I wouldn’t clamber up on this donkey for the world!” The humpbacked horse quickly turned to the impudent person behind it. Before the children had time to grasp what it was doing, Yagun went “oh” and doubled up. The horse looked around and started to neigh merrily. Then, beating out sparks on the stone, it pushed off with its hind hooves and skipped away. “Here’s one more point for
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you in favour of vacuums: vacuums don’t kick like that!” Yagun stated, apprehensively feeling the place of injury. Manoeuvring with difficulty between black magic spells, Tanya and Bab-Yagun made their way to the basement stairs. There was a guardroom right by the stairs. And near it, leaning on a poleaxe, a very strong cyclops in sheepskin was dozing. A knocked up shiner under his eye clearly testified that Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya also existed in this world. Unnoticeably slipping past the cyclops, the friends stepped onto the dark staircase — damp and narrow. White slugs crept along the moist walls, and stinkbugs swarmed in the deep crevices. Yagun lit a lamp, foresightedly taken from magic station. The ray snatched out a part of the wall, a white icicle of stalactite, or an islet of bluish moss, in which worms were stirring. “A well-known little place! In the previous reality Professor Stinktopp sent me here to gather worms and stinkbugs for griffins!” Tanya recalled. The lower they descended, the colder it became. Black magic barriers already could not be walked around as upstairs. They twinkled in front with non-fading curtains. Moreover, if the curtains by the guardroom were violet, then these were already pouring off a lilac colour. Yagun stopped. “I didn’t know that they extended them here. These are much nastier than the violet ones. Have to go back,” he said guiltily. “Go back? Why?” Tanya did not understand. Instead of an answer, Yagun removed a fatty worm from the wall and threw it through the curtain. Flying through the flaring up lilac barrier, the worm was wrapped in a dense radiance for a moment. When it fell onto the step on the other side, Tanya saw a large scorpion. “Did you see that?” Yagun asked. “Aha!” “My point exactly. It acts not only on worms. The same will happen to us. Even worse. One fourth-grade fellow had a date, lost his way, made a detour along the forbidden corridor at night and ran into such a spell,” explained Yagun. “And then?” “Nothing.” “Nothing happened?” Tanya did not understand. Yagun hesitated. “Nothing was left.” Suddenly Tanya discovered that she kept on carrying something in her hands. Slander’s raincoat. And what if? The solution was simple and soothingly customary. A minute later, muffled in the raincoat together with Yagun, she had already satisfactorily fooled all the spells. The lilac and violet barriers died out one after another and flared up again, only after letting them past. Bab-Yagun could not believe his eyes. “How did you think of it, Baby Grotter?” “It’s your trick. You once taught it to me. True, you usually let loose the raincoat to float ahead, but, in my opinion, it’s unimportant,” said Tanya. “I let loose the raincoat to float ahead?” Yagun asked again in distrust. Tanya understood that in this world he did not know about the book of Hugo the Sly or the most cheerfully adjusted magician. It only remained for the girl to feel sorry for Yagun. The stairs suddenly concluded at a low door, bound by a sheet of iron. From the narrow latticed window, through which nothing could be seen, vague sounds reached them. Here Fogus sneakus would not work and, using it, Tanya only painfully hit the back of her
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head and a shoulder against the door. “Strange trick! It usually worked for me,” she was astonished. Yagun with distrust nudged the door with a foot and suddenly smiled. “Aha, I understand! Here indeed is really infernal craftiness! Only Slander and Plague-del-Cake could hit upon this abomination.” “What?” Tanya asked with horror. “This! Here is established a universal exit from all magic. And it means, the door can only be opened with the most absurd and improbable of all methods,” Yagun said with indignation. “With what?” “What do you mean with what?” Yagun was astonished. “What, didn’t you live with the moronoids? With a key, of course! And I’m even thinking, what’s dangling on the side of the cyclops! Well, hand the raincoat over here!” Having taken Tanya’s raincoat, Yagun threw it on and rushed to the stairs. He took the lamp away with him. Tanya remained alone in the blind alley by the iron door. The fireflies maliciously blinked with their greenish backs. The last one decrepitated by the violet curtains. Heavy drops plopped down from the ceiling. Tanya carelessly took a step toward the stairs. A stinkbug crunched under her boots. Almost choking, the girl plugged up her nose her fingers. The minutes stretched on, thick like chewing gum sticking to the sole. It seemed to Tanya that it would be possible to get there and back ten times already in this time. Where is Yagun? And what if he gets caught or returns with cyclopes? When hasty steps were finally heard on the stairs and Yagun appeared, Tanya almost rushed to his neck. “Sorry for taking so long. The cyclopes had changed guard. Instead of that one another is already sitting with the key. Had to wait till the door of the guardroom was opened slightly, and only then use nab-grab,” the grandson of Yagge explained. The key turned in the lock with a grinding sound. The low door was opened. Stepping in, Tanya found herself in a tight prison cell. Hoar frost lay on the walls. It smelled of rotten wood. A rusty cage occupied approximately a fourth of the prison cell, and in the cage, stooping and holding his knees, sat a thin old man. Only by the moustaches and the beard, which had become even longer now, could Tanya recognize the academician Sardanapal. “Well, here he is, the murderer! You can taunt him,” said Bab-Yagun. However, confidence was not heard in his voice. And even on the whole, the grandson of Yagge tried to keep nearer to the doors. Touched by pity, Tanya took a step towards the cage. Ten years of imprisonment! How unlike this Sardanapal was to that robust, strong academician, whom she saw very recently — before the match with the Invisibles! Her eyes pinched suspiciously. Sardanapal made threatening gestures with a finger. “Only no need for tears! I knew that you’d come. Knew it all these years…” “How did you survive here?” “I survived because I’m immortal,” said the academician. “I’m even flattered that I’m the only one Plague did not know how to turn into a zombie and I remained myself. And indeed she tried — you can believe me. But nothing worked for her. I had time to think about a lot of things. We aspire to something, we gamble on magic, we reach the desired at the cost of inconceivable efforts — and suddenly we understand that what we have
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reached is no longer necessary and is actually attained by selling the soul. Any, even the most useless moronoid is a thousand times happier than a magician most successful in magic. And still… I waited!” “Waited? For what?” “For you. I waited for you to become the other one and come down here. I waited and hoped. I then lost hope, again found it, and again waited. But you were walking there, upstairs, running to lessons, cramming Dark Magic, Technique of Evil Eyes, General Theory of Curses... And it was most intolerable!” Tanya began to shake her head in distrust. The thought even flickered in her: has the academician gone crazy in imprisonment? She clearly remembered how recently Nightingale had instructed them before the match with the Invisibles, and Sardanapal on the judicial stand had tried to seem severe, but they knew exactly which team he rooted for! “You’re mixing up something. How could I be walking there, upstairs, while you were languishing here? I only showed up here last night!” Tanya said. The academician smiled sadly. At the same time Tanya recalled her diary with a three for worm eating studies, recalled the magpapers, and her confidence ran dry. But what if… what if everything is exactly so? What if she was spending all these years in Tibidox? “So I was here? Yes or no?” she asked. Sardanapal nodded. “Yes, girl, you have lived these ten years here, in the new reality. You lived them anew. I alone, besides you, it goes without saying, remember that moment when in the middle of the match you collided with Puper. The Rope broke — and everything began here... Indeed, I’ve warned your great-grandfather Theophilus so many times not to use mystical objects for his instruments, especially those that can break or crack! But did he really listen to me! The old man was obstinate, whimsical!” “Come! Come! I’ll ask you not to make personal remarks! It’s necessary to know how to fly!” the ring on Tanya’s finger creaked in the familiar voice. Sardanapal frowned; however, he did not begin to argue with the ring. Especially as it already struck up in an undertone, “There is a cliff on Volga...,” contriving simultaneously to translate it into Greek and ancient Norwegian. “And then the spirit received unlimited power,” the academician continued. “Even Slander’s cloaks already could not serve as protection. Everything was spinning just like in a tornado — players, balls, spectators. Believe it, huge dragons were flung and hit the sand like helpless lizards. And all this time I heard laughter — disgusting, hoarse laughter. It seemed the laughter and the tornado became a thing united. When the laughter calmed down, the tornado immediately began to weaken. I tried to stop all this, cast spells, but everything was in vain. My magic was powerless. A flying bench hit me. After coming to, I saw that I was standing in a demolished house, and in my arms was a tiny baby.” “A baby?” Tanya again asked. “What baby?” Sardanapal looked at her affectionately and flicked his moustaches. “And you still ask what baby? You!” “Me? Why me?” Tanya doubted. “Because ten years ago you were a baby... Remember, time turned backwards. What’s ten years for the Snake of Eternity? An insignificant, almost imperceptible scale somewhere by the tail. Specifically, it was also split by the turbulent spirit, to which the
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Leech and the broken Rope gave power. I also became ten years younger, though I hardly felt the change. The Ancient One always said, ‘When you’re past nine hundred, you have to forget about the cake with candles. Otherwise the water-sprites will decide that a fire has started.’” The academician gripped the bars. Tanya saw that the ring of the Sovereign of Spirits had disappeared from his finger. “Now Plague has it. Both the ring and the talisman. Plague has everything,” said Sardanapal, guessing her thoughts. “But listen, while they haven’t disturbed us. I stood with the child in my arms and could not be rid of the thought that all this had already taken place once. The baby, the demolished house… All around was the taiga wilderness. Outside evil spirits swarmed and hissed. They were scrambling over each other and looking at us. I clasped you to my chest and stepped into another room — into the laboratory of Leopold. More precisely, what was once the workshop. I already surmised what I’d see there and it was painful for me,” continued Sardanapal. Tanya’s throat seized up. “My parents were there?” she quietly asked. “Yes, Leopold and Sophia. It was already impossible to help them. I was late again, both in this and the other reality... And Plague was already standing by the empty case of your double bass. She was smirking. The Talisman of Four Elements lay on her palm. Plague demanded that I handed her my ring of the Sovereign of Spirits. ‘If you don’t — I’ll kill the girl!’ she threatened. I obeyed. I knew that as long as she had the talisman, none of my magic would be able to harm this reptile. I threw my ring to Plague, and she put it on her bony finger. Then she gave a sign, and I was attacked by the evil spirits. They pulled you out of my arms, and there you were already with Plague-del-Cake. How I remember this terrible moment now! She looked directly at you, but you for some reason didn’t even cry... I’ll memorize this moment for life: the evil spirits were carrying me off and you were in the arms of this monster, this decaying murderer... And later she accused me of the death of Leopold and Sophia and turned everyone, who didn’t want to believe this, into zombies.” Sardanapal turned away and struck the bars of the cage with his fist. A stream of water flowed from the ceiling directly onto the academician, but he did not even move. Then his moustaches sprung into action and, having dried the academician’s wet face, shook off the water droplets onto the beard. “Fortunately, Plague did not kill you. Didn’t even try. She probably remembered how she ended up in the other reality. Besides, she had the talisman and also all the power that it gave. Plague-del-Cake became the mistress of the situation. How could a girl not even a year old hinder her? No, her new plan was much meaner. She brought you up. You became her favourite student. The best of all. The only one who, besides Plague herself, could shoot out three red sparks and without fear use any of the hundred forbidden spells. Even the spell of chaos.” Tanya shuddered. “And I played rottenball? Threw rotten meat with worms into the skulls?” “And threw rather well. Better than the others. I didn’t see it myself, but the cyclops who brings food to me told me. He goes to all the matches. On those days I sit without dinner.” “And I actually fell because I collided with the skull? Not with Puper but with a skull?” Tanya was in doubt.
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“Yes. The world had become a different one, but the specific key events nevertheless remained unchanged. For example, your fall during the match and the Rope breaking. Everything happened precisely on that day and in that hour as in the primary reality! It happened as I had hoped. The Snake of Time cannot stand paradox! No more than on a tiny scale of its tail! The existence of two different Tanya Grotters was an absurdity. Two Tanyas — two reflections of the whole — entered the fight and — glory to The Ancient One! — the better one won! Falling on the sand next to the broken double bass, you were already the previous one! The other one disappeared, after leaving you her body. I hope at least that Plague-del-Cake hasn’t understood this yet.” Tanya and the academician Sardanapal involuntarily glanced at the door. “But why didn’t Plague open the Sinister Gates? Didn’t she become the lady of chaos?” Tanya asked. “I’m sure we must say thanks to Medusa and all the white magicians for this. Plague didn’t immediately succeed in overcoming them and turning them into zombies. For several days, they protected Tibidox from the monstrous army of evil spirits, which Plague gathered from all the lands. By joint efforts the white magicians had time to put on the Sinister Gates serious spells, which Plague, till now, hasn’t succeeded in dealing with,” Sardanapal said this and grew gloomy. “But there exist another threat. The cyclops said that bloody victims have been brought to the stone idols all these years. Pigeons, rabbits, cats… Plague knew, if this is done every day in a row for ten years, the idols would come alive.” “And Plague will send them to war on the tortoise, on which the magic world stands? Yes?” Tanya quickly asked. The academician was startled. “Where do you know it from?” “Yagun said that Plague intends to do this. Yagge told him.” Sardanapal kept silent for a long time. “Yes. Ten years have already passed. It means she began to bring victims immediately. It’s earlier than I thought. The truth is I suspected this, but didn’t think that everything would happen so soon.” “And if the idols kill the tortoise? What then?” Tanya asked. The academician sadly waved with a moustache. “It’s impossible. The tortoise is immortal. Moreover, it’s as enormous as hundreds of planets! But for Plague’s goal, it’ll suffice if the tortoise simply stirs, turns slightly, or crawls away a little.” “And then?” “Then everything will snap into action. The entire world order. The Sinister Gates will collapse. First of all Plague, it goes without saying, will destroy all the moronoids — giving them out as victims to the spirits famished for bodies. Then she’ll seize the magicians — leaving only those whom she trusts completely. It’ll be the end of everything… Only one way to stop Plague. You must not be frightened and crush…” The academician did not have time to finish. Yagun jumped into the prison cell. “I hear steps! Someone is coming down here!” he shouted, beginning to slam the door. Even without Yagun Tanya had already heard the footfall of many feet. It seemed the staircase was shaking. The guard veils crackled and burst with the ringing of glass. It was obvious that the one who broke them went right through them, not fearing the magic. The children began to rush around the narrow chamber. It was already clear to them that there was no other exit from here. Something pricked Tanya in the leg. It was Hugo the Sly’s ring, packaged in the prophecy of The Ancient One, releasing a spark.
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“Professor, you keep this!” Taking out the ring, Tanya transferred it to Sardanapal. He deftly caught the ring with his right moustache, looked around knowingly, and quickly hid it in the folds of his clothing. At the same moment, the door was torn from the hinges by a powerful impact and, miraculously not touching Tanya and Yagun, slammed into the wall. Two stone figures, roughly hewn into shape, stepped first into the jail and immediately froze on both sides of the entrance. And behind them, dried joints squeaking, a bent old woman in an orange raincoat took a step… Chapter 13 The Stone Idols “Oh, all familiar faces! Take them!” Plague-del-Cake hissed hoarsely. She made an imperceptible movement. Leopold Grotter’s ring slid down from Tanya’s finger. BabYagun was already helplessly fluttering in the hands of one of the stone idols. His ring was also transferred to Plague. Tanya jerked, but understood that she could not even stir. The light beating from the empty eye sockets riveted her to the floor. Plague-del-Cake appeared more disgusting than ever. Her skin had shrunk and cracked, in places baring the bones. The chopped off hands moved in the air. Each finger was studded with magic rings taken from the strongest magicians. Around her neck hung a gold chain with a crystal sphere. Inside the sphere Tanya made out the talisman already familiar to her. “Worthless girl! I already suspected something was wrong then when you broke your double bass. And when you threw the blanket over my portrait, I finally understood the truth! The Snake of Time is restoring the fabric of events, isn’t it so? Regrettable it won’t have time to do this!” Plague smirked. “You won’t be able to prevent it! I won’t allow it!” the academician shouted. Plague-del-Cake burst out laughing. The laughter of the dead old woman resembled rustling sandpaper. The beard of Sardanapal rushed forward, attempting to wind around Plague, but it did not have time. The nearest of the stone idols caught the beard, clutched and pulled it to itself. Sardanapal was hit hard in the face against the bars of the cage and fell to the bottom next to the bowl with leftovers. Starting to moan, the academician attempted to get up, but the idol, not releasing the beard, pulled again, and Sardanapal buried his face in the bowl. “Br-r! How it stinks! And only how can you eat this filth! However, there’s no account for taste! If you want, I’ll give order to bring you something indeed quite malodorous in the evening!” with a sneer, Plague was horrified. The idol let go of the beard and took a step to the side. Suddenly something flared up in Tanya’s memory. Two pictures were superimposed with surprising accuracy. So here is what she saw in the seething liquid, when Stinktopp forced them to cook the elixir of foresight! What a pity that she cannot return to that day! And is it possible to turn time backwards at all? To change something? Suddenly Tanya yelled. For a moment, it seemed to her that someone’s icy hand broke into her consciousness and roughly snatched the beam of thoughts out from it. “Change?” Plague-del-Cake asked again. “Only the one who sets the rules of the game can change
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everything! Now it’s me. The period of validity has long flown out of your good, and it has fallen who knows where. It’s in the world no more. And soon even the world itself will be no more… However, it’s time to begin! Let everything take place before your eyes!” Plague-del-Cake tossed up the hand with a ring, shooting out three red sparks. Hovering in the air, the sparks were connected up in a scorching hoop. It seemed to Tanya that she had been blinded. Only Plague did not shield the empty eye sockets with her hands. The hoop slowly descended to the stone floor and began to spin. Bluish tongues of flames crackled. “Don’t do this! It’s folly!” Sardanapal shouted. “Ah, you understand what it’s for, right? And how do you intend to stop me?” Plague spoke noncommittally. She clicked with the bare bones of her fingers and uttered a spell. In the circle appeared a depression similar to a bottomless well. She-Who-Is-No-More impatiently turned to the knocked out door, behind which stone idols were already crowding. Their granite heads passed onto massive bodies with many slipshod chippings. The roughly hewn faces expressed nothing. The eyes deprived of pupils did not blink. The narrow lips were tightly closed. “Forward, boys! Do anything with the tortoise, but you will move it! The Sinister Gates remained closed for too long. My malicious little spirits were yearning for a mommy, who, for a start, will present to them the set of bodies of useless moronoids and magicians!” Plague ordered. The floor shuddered. The first stone idol took a step into the well. Silvery dust covered it. The outline of the idol became vague. It disappeared. A second — and the next one, without thinking, stepped over the line. On the stairs crowded many hundreds of new ones waiting for their turn. “Well, how do you like it, Sardanapal?” Jeering, Plague asked. “The first are already by the tortoise, and soon there’ll be thousands of them… If the tortoise doesn’t move, I’ll be very surprised.” Talking with the academician, she removed her gaze from Tanya. The magic riveting the girl to one place slackened. All the time still feeling a weakness like cotton wool in her whole body, Tanya could turn to Sardanapal. She expected to see him in complete despair, but Sardanapal did not appear depressed at all. On the contrary, he had already been giving some signs for a long while and was terribly vexed that Tanya did not see them. Hardly had the girl looked at him when the academician immediately stared roundeyed. At the same time, his right moustache quickly pointed to Plague with its tip. Tanya understood that the academician was asking her to attract the attention of the old woman. Moreover, to do this without delay. Without considering whether this would help, Tanya threw Slander’s raincoat at Plague’s head. Good that Yagun had time to return it. The old woman yelled. Scorching rays struck from her empty eye sockets. The scorched fabric smelled stuffy. Simultaneously the dry hand of Plague-del-Cake slapped Tanya on the face. The girl fell. But, falling, she had time to see that Sardanapal had released several green sparks, which slid into the well after the idols. Attempting to get up, Tanya looked at the well. Outwardly as if nothing had changed. The idols continued to step over the fiery boundary and to disappear with the same dull immobility on the stone faces. Did it really not work for Sardanapal?
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Plague-del-Cake threw off the blazing raincoat and trampled it. “Delinquent!” she began to roar at Tanya. “Wanted to trick me? Your death will be very unpleasant. For example, burning you alive some time? I’ll arrange this for you! I’m sure it’ll be instructive for the rest!” The decaying hand, studded with rings, slowly rose. “Panidis scorchus.” A red spark slid from the ring of Plague. Tanya sensed how her clothing flared up. But, before she experienced pain, Sardanapal shouted, “Don’t you dare! Trigus sputterus!” Hugo the Sly’s ring flared up with a green spark. The fire died out. Without delay, the academician straightened up to his whole height in the cage. Another spark — and the rusty bars melted. Sardanapal stepped out and sprinkled Plague-del-Cake thick and fast with crackling sparks. “White magic!” Plague howled. “Ah you, pitiful follower of The Ancient One! From where did you get the ring? Ah, I understand: the girl! Pity, I preserved her life during the new setting-up of the well! Well, seize him!” Having let go of Bab-Yagun, the idol holding him took a step forward. And with granite shoulders colliding, the rest broke into the narrow door. Crowding Sardanapal in a stone formation, the idols drove him into the corner. Their huge paws were stretched out to break the academician’s neck. Sardanapal let out two sparks, muttered something, and became invisible. The mighty fingers scooped the void. And yet after that instant a fight spark emerging from who knows where struck the nearest idol in the chest. That one shook and, cracking, crumbled heavily onto the floor into a heap of stones. “Blockheads! Find him!” Plague bellowed. The idols rushed about confusedly around the jail, fumbling with their hands in front. But the clumsy louts only hindered each other. Sardanapal let out three more sparks and never missed. Stones were rolling under foot. At the same time several idols nearly crushed She-Who-Is-No-More herself, carelessly colliding some half a metre from her. The enraged lady of chaos with one stroke of her hand cleared a space next to herself. An unknown force caught the idols and flung them into the well. “Get out! You’re of no use!” Plague-del-Cake shouted in rage. “Go fight with the tortoise! I’ll deal with Sardanapal myself! Don’t hide, student of The Ancient One! You know very well that I see you all the same!” But the academician was also not thinking of hiding. He arose directly from the void a step from Plague-del-Cake and shot a spark, striking her in the shoulder. She staggered but kept her balance. The Talisman of Four Elements weakened the effects of magic. “Try something new, fool! I was never afraid of fight sparks! Do you really think that the white magicians whom I killed didn’t defend themselves? Take that Leo Grotter! He and his wife showered me with a full rain of sparks, but I nevertheless killed them!” SheWho-Is-No-More started to cackle. Bab-Yagun gripped Tanya by the hand. “Did you hear that? So, it’s she who killed your parents! But I thought…” he whispered. “I told you that it wasn’t Sardanapal! It was Plague! Cursed murderer!” Tanya shouted. The dead old woman grinned. “Oh, already flattering me? Yes, it’s me! But now it’s time to end our dragged on dispute!” Plague-del-Cake immediately threw up the two chopped off hands and showered Sardanapal with a hail of sparks from the many rings she had on her fingers. Hiding in a corner, Tanya and Bab-Yagun watched as Plague and Sardanapal competed in magic. This was currently the highest magic — magic hundreds of times more skilful
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than that which they desperately and frequently uselessly crammed for class. Green and red sparks collided in the air. They hissed, they emitted pungent, malodorous smoke, they exploded… In the tight prison cell appeared first spectral beasts with terrible canine teeth, then an entire army of fiery soldiers battling. And then turbulent oceanic waters filled everywhere. It seemed to Tanya and Bab-Yagun that they were choking, but the water suddenly fell, and the children understood that their clothing remained dry. It meant that everything only took place in their consciousness. And where recently water was seething, a hurricane was already raging, astounding the basement of Tibidox that had seen much during its century. Plague-del-Cake laughed aloud, screaming out spells. Sardanapal concentrated. Only his long moustaches were dancing and the beard was seething, becoming a stream of water in which hostile sparks died out. Soon Tanya began to notice that the academician was getting sluggish. The greatest of the now living magicians was originally on unequal terms. The magic of the many rings of Plague was much stronger. She-Who-Is-No-More managed to flare up ten times of sparks while he released one. Moreover, Plague had the Talisman of Four Elements, making her immune. Suddenly Bab-Yagun jumped. “Sardanapal, careful!” he shouted. “She intends to…” “Ah well, don’t you dare mirror my mind, puppy!” Plague bellowed. A casually released red spark flung Yagun like a rag doll towards the wall. Tanya, whose gaze was riveted to the bony hands of Plague, suddenly noticed how one more ring slowly ignited on the little finger of the old killer. It was a thin and unprepossessing black rim. Was this what Yagun was warning about? And then the rim suddenly flared up with a spark so crimson that the girl was almost blinded. On its way extinguishing all the shielding barriers of Sardanapal, the spark, hissing, seeped through his beard and struck the academician in the chest. The academician shook and fell on one knee. He tried to get up, but the black rim on the little finger of Plague-del-Cake again flared up with a crimson point. The hands of Sardanapal hung powerlessly. Hugo the Sly’s ring disappeared from his finger. And a second later Plague-del-Cake with interest examined the new ring that appeared on her. “Oh, I recognize the ringlet of the useless scribbler dwelling in his little book! Agreed, it’s not a bad example, Sardanapal! But can it really compete with your former ring of the Sovereign of Spirits? Or at least here with this black ringlet?” Plague looked tenderly at the unprepossessing rim on her little finger and let out yet another spark. Writhing with pain, Sardanapal collapsed to the floor. “Amusing what the black ring of Hades is capable of. They say the tsar of the underworld loaned it to Death himself, when that one handed over his scythe for sharpening. What won’t be blunted from the work, especially when it’s necessary to deal with these stale moronoids! Well, and then — I won’t tell how — this ringlet fell to my lot,” bragged Plague-del-Cake. “If you don’t want to, I’ll tell how it fell to your lot…” Sardanapal spoke hoarsely. “You treacherously killed your only friend. The only one who once trusted you. You were no one till him. They called him…” “Shut up! Don’t you dare utter his name!” She-Who-Is-No-More shouted. The veins on her yellow forehead swelled up. The skin cracked. She hurriedly waved a hand. Sardanapal began to mumble feebly. A steel hoop now bound his hands, and his mouth was gagged.
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Plague-del-Cake looked at the hoop cautiously and turned to Tanya and Yagun. “Now it’s your turn. I must decide how to deal with you,” she said pensively. “By the way, you acted very wisely, didn’t try to rip the talisman away from me while I battled with this moustached dabbler. Want to try now?” The old woman touched the chain, on which hung the sphere with the talisman. The chain flared up and, winding around her finger, attempted to prick it with a hundred poisoned needles. The witch calmed it with a brief nod. “Burn you? Ten minutes ago I would deal with you this way, but now I’ve reconsidered. Indeed better I turn you into zombies again. Only now it’ll be special, irreversible. Trust my experience, it’s a thousand times worse than death! True, Yagunchik, dearie? Why did you not report to me immediately that something was amiss here but instead dragged this girl along to Sardanapal? Ashamed to be an informer? No matter, soon it’ll be the normal state for you. After new zombification you’ll report everything to me: even that your grandmother kisses you on the forehead before bed and cries because you also don’t have a mommy. Interesting, does Yagge even guess who helped your mother to die?” “No! NO!” Yagun shouted. “I’ll kill you!” He rushed to Plague, but the old woman stared straight at him and Yagun froze. He could not move even a finger. Tanya saw only that he was blinking, and tears of powerless fury sparkled in his eyes. “Really, always! And why do they hate me? You’d think I left the poor wretch without a mommy, what nonsense!” Plague smirked. “And you, Baby Grotter? How to deal with you? Perhaps I’ll erase your present personality and you’ll again become an excellent student of the very dark department, playing rottenball excellently. And now there will be no more indulgence on worm eating studies. Dark magicians mustn’t shun anything! But this will be a little bit later. I’ll leave you for the time being! It’s interesting for me to see what’s with the tortoise there?” Plague-del-Cake looked around at the fiery well, into which the heathen idols continued to disappear one after another. However, their flow had already thinned. Likely, the corridors of Tibidox had gradually become empty. Only about a dozen more stone freaks crowded the lower part of the staircase. Remaining on the outer side of the ring, Plague leaned over it. A bluish flame was dancing all around. For a while, She-Who-Is-No-More looked into the void, puzzled. Suddenly she roared with fury, stopping the next idol trying to step into the circle. “Ah, go back! You’ll perish! The scoundrel Sardanapal!” she shouted, hanging over the bound magician. “And I was even wondering why my giants have been unable to move the tortoise for so long? You know what he did? Changed the route of my idols and sent them straight to Hades! He knows that I can no longer drag them out from there! No matter, it’s enough for me that those, the first ones, have already reached the tortoise! They’re already on its snout and tickling its nostrils!” Suddenly Tibidox trembled barely noticeably. Small stones fell from the ceiling. Plague-del-Cake straightened up in triumph. “Do you feel it, Sardanapal? The bug already begins to show impatience! Must be, one of my little ones surmised to get into its nostril or the ear! Soon! Several hours won’t pass before the tortoise will stir and throw from its armour the lazy elephants on which this crazy world is held! Idols, don’t let them out of your sight, I’ll soon return! I want to drop by the Sinister Gates!”
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Plague-del-Cake let out several sparks, turned on the spot and — disappeared, after using the spell of instantaneous displacement. Around the prisoners clustered the remaining idols, between whose legs darted in and out the swamp bogey Agukh, appearing from heaven knows where. “H-ho! Blood! S-soon blood will be s-spilled! Hho! Everything will collapse and bury you alive! It’ll s-smear!” he squealed, splashing stinky mucus. “And it’ll s-smear you!” Tanya mimicked. The swamp bogey fell perplexedly silent and touched his horns in turn. When he spoke or laughed, his bald head was thrown back as if on hinges. “I’m an evil s-spirit! It’ll not s-smear me!” he said not particularly confidently. “You know this for a fact?” Tanya asked. “For a fact,” Agukh said and climbed to hide near the legs of the idols. Tanya exchanged glances with Yagun. It was possible to try to run away, but at the door, blocking it with its wide back, towered one of the heathen idols, carved, it seemed, from an entire cliff. The walls of Tibidox continued to shake. Sand trickled into the smallest cracks in the ceiling. The stone idols remained motionless, but then Agukh with heart-rending howls rushed around the jail. Somewhere below, in the inconceivable distance, in the very centre of magic world, stone figures darted about on the snout of the gigantic tortoise, and it, likely, was beginning to lose patience. The bound Sardanapal moved slightly. He succeeded in winding the gag with his beard and pulling it out from his mouth. Noticing this, the swamp bogey immediately rushed to put the gag back. The academician bent over from the pungent stink. His moustaches, resisting, wound around Agukh by the horns and pulled strongly. The thin legs of the swamp bogey failed. He, like a fatty toad, flopped to the floor, and then ran away, wriggling, baring his teeth, but not daring to butt in anymore. Sitting up with difficulty, the academician stared at Bab-Yagun. “I hear his thoughts! He specially allows himself to be mirrored! Only quietly! If you answer, simply think: I hear,” the grandson of Yagge whispered. Although no, he did not whispered. He thought. His lips did not even move. “What is Sardanapal thinking of? What?” Tanya impatiently thought. “Wait… Now… Aha, here!” Yagun concentrated: “Sardanapal is transferring the last part of the prophecy: “Only he who will forget the pain will conquer — Will dare to step into the blistering fire.” Tanya shuddered. The well, surrounded by bluish flame, gave out an icy cold draught. “What does it mean? Does Sardanapal really want us to jump into the well?” Tanya thought. Immediately she felt like her head was being tickled, and the hair on her head stirred as if someone carefully blew on them. Yagun was reading her thought unceremoniously. “No, not into the well!” he transmitted the answer. “The academician had in mind something else. We must crush the Golden Leech… Then everything will resume its normal course: the raging spirit will be pacified and will find a new jug for itself, and
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even the curse of the broken Rope will be able to change nothing. Sardanapal says that you must step into the fire, but where exactly is this fire? Where?” Someone’s footsteps were heard from outside. “It’s the mis-stress! Well, s-step as-side, you! What’s up? Now the mis-stress will bring order here!” Agukh began to yell at the idol. The stone figure moved aside. The swamp bogey rushed to the door. Tanya felt that everything froze inside her. They were too late. But here the bogey, squeaking, rolled away into the corner. A large piece of damp meat with a bone hit him directly in the face. “It’s not the mis-stress! Kill! Kill him!” Agukh yelled to the idols. Chapter 14 The Fiery Crater Vanka Valyalkin entered the jail sitting on top of a stone idol. In this reality Vanka had barely changed. Still the same yellow soccer shirt with many patches, a mischievous face, and sharp, angular shoulders. The idol, on whose shoulders Vanka sat, continually stopped and turned its entire body. It vaguely sensed that something here was not as it should be. However, an idol’s neck was fixed and the giant could not imagine what was happening on its shoulders. Moreover, Vanka was too light for the giant to feel him. “Tanya, Yagun! I’m with you! Am I your enemy or not? Enemies become known in misfortune!” he shouted, holding on the giant’s head the basket with meat cuts for rottenball. At the sound of his voice those idols in the jail turned. One of them swung hard. It tried to knock Vanka down, but only put a fist into the forehead of its incoming colleague. Crumbs of stone fell. The newly appeared idol did not like this greeting, and, as a retaliatory attack, it broke off the nose of its enemy. Not waiting for the one without a nose to swing again, Vanka hurriedly jumped from the shoulders of the idol. The rottenball basket, having flown off from the cracked head of the giant, flopped down beside him. Tanya dodged the huge paw trying to nail her to the wall and rushed to the basket. Puckering from the loathsome smell, she began to fling the decaying cuts, screaming, “Gullis-dullis! Trullis-zapullis! Figus-zatsapus!” Most of all Tanya feared that the spells would not work without a magic ring, but residual magic likely remained in the rotten-sick balls. And — it turned out to be enough! Poor heathen idols! Bloody offerings came hurtling at them. Some, before finding themselves in Tibidox, had lain in the ground for a thousand years. They knew much, very much. But did not have any idea about one of these obsolete subjects: they did not know what a bewitched pass was and why it was necessary to fear it. The pieces of decaying meat flew around the jail with the speed of cannon balls, punishing anyone who attempted to catch them or at least to brush them off. All the faces of the clumsy fierce giants were immediately covered up, and they started, without investigating, hitting each other. The smell of decaying meat teased them. Noses and ears broke off, fingers flew away. Agukh squealed, greedily gripping with his sharp teeth a piece with bone. “What was that? What are these spell?” Yagun was surprised. “Normal bewitched passes. You mean to say that you play rottenball without bewitched passes?” Tanya could not believe it. She already had no time to explain in more detail.
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Good that Yagun caught everything at once. “What did you say there? Let’s try! Trulliszapullis!” he shouted, throwing the next piece. The bone in Agukh’s teeth soared up into the air and began to rush along the prison cell. The swamp bogey issued heart-rending cries and jerked its crooked legs. “I’ll curse everyone!” he howled. “You don’t know whom you’re dealing with! I’ll tear you…” The meat slammed into the brick wall. “…to pieces!” Agukh slipped down to the floor, smiled in uncertainty, and passed out. While Yagun satisfactorily contemplated his horned trophy, Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin rushed to Sardanapal and tried to free him from the fetters. But the hoop of Plague-del-Cake held firmly: it merely crackled from the black magic. Only Vanka’s ring alone in no way could manage it. The beard and both moustaches of Sardanapal decisively pointed to the door. “Run! Don’t worry about me. Remember what I told you! The Golden Leech! Crush it!” the academician demanded brokenly. The walls of Tibidox trembled again. From the bottomless well, a vague sigh reached them as if flying from an inconceivable distance. The tortoise was beginning to lose patience. A little more and it would try to shake off from its snout the idols bugging it, and then… Tanya rushed to the stairs. The idols, fighting among themselves so that stone foreheads were cracking, did not pursue them. They had enough work even without that. “Tanya, wait! Not so fast! Or you’ll have to drag all by yourself!” Bab-Yagun was puffing. “Drag whom?” “You’ll see! Move over, I say, else you’d get snagged!” Tanya stopped. The grandson of Yagge held the stunned Agukh by the feet and with effort twirled him overhead, using the swamp bogey to knock down the restored magic barriers. The crooked horns of Agukh crackled. Lightning flashed between them. Each barrier died out for several seconds and this was sufficient time for the children to rush through. “How do you like that! And my stone horsie and I also rammed all the lilac barriers! True, I hid behind the head of my little idol,” Vanka said jealously. “Listen, but why doesn’t anything happens to the bogey? Well, in terms of his breaking through the lilac curtains and remaining himself?” Tanya was astonished. Yagun smiled. “But what will it do to him? A swamp bogey is a swamp bogey. What else can he be changed into? To be a swamp bogey — it’s already whoa… terminal,” he said. Finally, the children got outside, again finding themselves at the guardroom of the cyclopes. The bearded guard on duty, robed in sheepskin, was dreaming away on an oak log. He was trembling in sleep and hugging the poleaxe exactly like a favourite cat. “Look at this lumbering nitwit! Snoring away! And how does he manage? The idols with their footfall and crash should wake him!” Tanya was amazed. “They should. If he were not a cyclops,” said Vanka. “What, cyclopes cannot be woken up?” Tanya could not believe it. “Cyclopes have iron nerves, outstanding sleep, and very compact brains with one turn, repeating the shape of Drowned Man Avenue. So says my granny, and indeed she knows! It amazes me how clever she is! Totally!” Yagun remarked.
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He quietly approached the snoring cyclops and unceremoniously shoved Agukh by the head into the empty bucket standing nearby. The cyclopes usually filled this bucket with water for themselves, but now it was empty. The swamp bogey, already beginning to come to, angrily began to jerk his feet. The bucket began to jump. “I’ll kill! H-ho! Get me out or you’ll die in horrible s-spas-sms! I’ll cut off your heads! I’ll boil you in oil!” the bogey started to hiss. His voice, intensified by the bucket, sounded like it came from a mouthpiece. “If I were you I would howl quieter!” Vanka advised him. “Aha, you’re afraid, you nobody! S-scared? I’ll yell until s-someone comes and helps me gut you!” Agukh cheered up, trying to aim at kicking Vanka in the bridge of the nose. “And you squeal as much as you want! Only, in my opinion, the cyclopes cannot stand evil spirits. If they see you here, they can drop the bucket from a very high altitude. Or, say, on a bet, to flatten it with poleaxes. Nevertheless, can’t drink out of it now: it’s already stinking up with your mucus!” Vanka said. “H-ho! These creeps won’t dare! I’m the favourite bogey of the mis-stress!” Agukh squealed. “It’s not written on your heels. Put yourself in the place of a cyclops, such a simple mythical fellow… You come out of the guardroom, a splitting headache from a hangover. You want some water to drink! And suddenly you see a bucket screaming here, from which stick out very suspicious legs. ‘Phew, what a stink!’ you think. ‘What’s that in the pail there? Looks like the crooked walkers of a swamp bogey! Should I push him into the stove! Indeed, it’s only a bucket. How would I know what filth lies in it?’” The bucket quieted down in fright. Agukh annoyed the cyclopes too frequently to count on their treating him well. “Well now: h-ho or not h-ho?” Vanka mimicked. The swamp bogey crossly moved his legs with dirty fingers; however, he restrained from further chatter. “I see, it’s h-ho! Likely, hysterics and beating of dishes are put aside till a better time… Okay, let’s get away from here, guys! I hate bogey odour!” Vanka said with disgust. The friends looked around, thinking it would be simpler to get out through the walls. “In my opinion this is the most unpleasant part in all of Tibidox. Continuous labyrinths all around. Interesting, what was The Ancient One thinking of when he planned the internal corridors of the school?” Yagun pensively said. “Why are you asking me? How would I know? The Ancient One, of course, was a genius, but his mind oscillates quite a bit. It’s always so with them, the geniuses. First, they sit quietly, little by little making themselves immortal, and then suddenly — bang! — they’ll bite off a piece of soap or rip open a pillow!” Vanka categorically stated. “I already heard something similar from someone. From Hugo, it seems. Or he laid the blame on prophecies in verse? Well, not important,” Tanya said. Bab-Yagun turned around and flinched. The guard cyclops smacked his lips in a sweet dream and tenderly embraced the poleaxe. Over his head slipped past a little cupid in dark-blue breeches with fringes. A full quiver of arrows hitched up by the cupid’s wellfed thighs. Baby Grotter looked around pensively. The lower levels of the school hardly inspired tours. The intricate corridors with many offshoots, blind alleys, and sinking ceilings now and then greatly resembled the labyrinths of the Minotaur. They said that The Ancient One, simply and unpretentiously transferred the labyrinth from Crete to Tibidox, having
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cunningly pasted it with the help of the fifth dimension. A detailed map of Tibidox never existed and could not exist anyway. At night, the restless evil spirits came out of the basements and laid new passageways, blocking up the old ones. “Aha! Let’s investigate!” Yagun said, examining the identical corridors. “From here we arrived on a kicking vacuum without vertical takeoff! That means we cannot poke our noses there. There for sure Slander Slanderych with such a nice sledgehammer is on the watch for us. Did I not tell you that he acquired for himself a flying sledgehammer? It was forged from a worthless treasure-sword and a club that knocks the brains out. He would even use this club on the humpbacked horse! How it would cry out!” “In your place I would say ‘thanks’ to the horse and not be rude!” Tanya muttered unhappily. Yagun behaved extremely foolishly with respect to the horse. It had to do with being a worshipper of flying machines and diving juicers! “Why are you swearing? How can you say ‘thanks!’” Vanka was shocked. “Girls don’t use this word!” “And what do they use?” “They say: ‘The most repulsive specimen, I express my black ingratitude to you!’ Or anything in this vein!” Valyalkin said didactically. “Leave it, Vanka, as if she had bumped into the tortoise, she confuses everything! Either she calls me a ‘friend’ or hurls ‘thanks’ like bricks. I thought she was going to sneer at Sardanapal, but there she tried to be something original! But let’s return to our corridor. Here this leads to the drawbridge. And this to the stairs and to the walls. Well, where are we setting off to?” Yagun asked. The grandson of Yagge darted with his nose and wiped it with such a devil-may-care movement of his hand that Tanya involuntarily began to worry: would he rub it off like a piece of modelling clay. The nose, however, survived. “Listen, Yagun, the guardhouse of The Ancient One is in place? Plague did nothing to it?” unexpectedly beginning to worry, Tanya asked. It suddenly came to her head that in this reality the Golden Leech could have hidden somewhere else. In this case, it would be impossible to find it altogether. “Aha, she did! She sliced the bread and ate… Hey, why are you frightened? Lost your sense of humour perhaps? Who needs them, your ruins?” Yagun said noncommittally. “Well, someone needs them! The water-sprites and the wood-goblins? Because of these ruins, they’re eternally displacing each other’s cheekbones! And what’s there for them to share? Then Tararakh drags from magic station two weeks of medicine for them! Plague forbids treating evil spirits,” objected Valyalkin. Tanya sighed with relief. Bab-Yagun listened, and then suddenly dived around the corner, beckoning the children behind him. The door of the guardroom slammed. The cauldron-shaped head of a cyclops stuck out. “Wow, fellows! Look what trash is sticking out of the bucket! Now why don’t we play a little soccer? Ei-eh!” A second later the crash of the bucket and the terrible howl of Agukh reported that the match had already begun. “A hit! GO-AL! Only where exactly is their goal? Pity it cannot be controlled!” Yagun sighed. The commentator again awoke in him. Avoiding meeting the cyclopes, the friends slid into the nearest corridor. “Yagun, is your vacuum far?” Tanya shouted on the run. “Far enough: in my room. Only what use is it? Flight blocks are everywhere in Tibidox. Slander and Dentistikha renew them every month,” said Yagun.
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“Uh-huh. And once Stinktopp even took up helping them. Imagine, I left my room in the morning and the cupids were walking on foot along the corridor. Sobbing, mad! Shooting arrows at whomever they came upon. Gorynya later almost fell in love with Plague-del-Cake. Good though it caught him at the end of flight. The flies, you imagine, couldn’t fly but crawled along the walls! It was necessary For Tararakh to interfere. Then it turned out that Stinktopp had cast spells that were too strong,” Vanka informed them. Imagining to herself the flies not being able to take off and only running along the walls, Tanya smiled. Professor Stinktopp, using dark magic, could never stop in time. “That’s nothing! Flight blocks are only inside Tibidox. They’re not outside the towers, nor even on the walls,” said Tanya. “Where do you know that from?” Yagun was astonished. “And as if you don’t know? You remember, once we flew on your vacuum along the main staircase in order to pass the cyclopes?” The grandson of Yagge was on guard. “What cyclopes? They were never on the main stairs. The heroes guard the stairs. Right, Vanka!” he stated. “Exactly. The heroes. Usynya below, Dubynya above, and Gorynya walks back and forth. In his annoyance he searches for someone’s foot to stomp on!” Valyalkin nodded. “Really? What, have you forgotten? We even wanted to turn up on the Vanishing Floor!” Tanya repeated already without any hope. She had already grasped that the Vanishing Floor did not appear in this timeline. And why would it even show itself if there was no need for Plague-del-Cake to hide from anyone? She was the mistress of the situation. The Vanishing Floor and the Black Cube remained in strategic reserve for the time being. Just in case. Vanka Valyalkin squinted. “In my opinion, Yagun, someone of the letter ‘T’ has too many secrets. I don’t like it! And I’m not moving from here till this someone explains everything to us,” he said. “Precisely, soccer shirt! Although you and I fight every week, now I agree with you. To have secrets from cursed enemies is thoroughly despicable! I’m also not moving from the spot!” Yagun supported him. Tanya looked seriously at the boys. She thought that her friends remained her friends even in this reality, although heaven knows how the violet sweetheart Coffinia Cryptova wormed her way in among them. Well, so they call themselves enemies, it is already at the expense of the pitiful fantasy of Plague-del-Cake. Plague changed the words, but still could not change the human heart! “Fine. Somebody of the letter ‘T’ won’t keep silent anymore. If it were not for the Rope inside the fingerboard of the double bass, the spirit and the Leech…” she began. The narration was conducted far from epic terms. Nestor the chronicler and the legendary Boyan created under more favourable conditions. Tanya was continually looking fearfully around and listening. One could even argue that brevity is the sister of talent, but indeed the fist of an idol is precisely its friend, comrade, and brother. And at the same time also a beloved mother-in-law. “So, it means that the Tanya Grotter, who plays rottenball excellently, was not you?” Vanka summed up in disappointment when she finished. “Yes, I’m Tanya… But not that one… Or the same one, but in other circumstances… The same body, but the soul…” she confusedly explained.
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Yagun stared at her mockingly. “Soul, you say? One must be a complete fruitcake to believe in your story! Well, totally!” he said. “But I believe it,” Vanka said, suffering for some reason. “And not surprising. You, soccer shirt, were always a clinical crackpot,” Yagun stated impressively. He paused and with melancholy added, “Another bad thing. Bad that I also believe it! Here we’re such a nutty pair of screwballs, who goes about their business being duped!” Vanka encouragingly slapped him on the shoulder. “Okay, my batty enemy! Forget we’re duped, and let’s go! You hear how the walls shake? The tortoise is pretty tired of everything! I understand it very well. Only it, poor thing, fell asleep, slept for some negligible million years, and now — suddenly! — they woke it! Well, how can you not be mad now?” Listening to the lively chatter of Vanka, Tanya felt happy. They were again together, again united. The children were about to set off for the bridge, but at this moment, beyond the turn, someone started to whine squeakily, “Ze new shoe is again pinching my foot! I vill puff-puff ze one who cursed me viz such a nightmarish corn!” Bab-Yagun sneaked up and fearfully looked out, trying to stay in the shadow. “You’ll never guess who’s walking here!” he whispered. “Professor Stinktopp?” Tanya smiled. Such asses like Professor Stinktopp remain constant in all realities. “The same! From where do you know who this is if you’re not our Baby Grotter?” Yagun asked with suspicion. “Yes, I am yours, yours! And by the way, if you call me ‘baby’ once more, I’ll rename you ‘mini Yagunchik!’ Got it?” Tanya threatened him. Nodding, Yagun looked around in a business-like manner and rushed to a narrow, curved corridor. “Here! We can’t cross the drawbridge! Stinktopp is there! So, we move out onto the wall!” he ordered and, taking away Vanka’s ring, muttered something in a hurry. “What are you doing?” Tanya asked. “Don’t interrupt! I’m trying to summon my vacuum with Nab-grab! I’ve always had difficulty with three-dimensional spells,” Bab-Yagun dismissed her. Damp corridors again stretched out. The infinite stairs of the Big Tower suddenly passed into Gothic galleries. Some went out to the walls, but the majority, by the efforts of Plague-del-Cake and the evil spirits, came abruptly to an end to nowhere and could only convey one to the cemetery. Tanya hardly recognized Tibidox. What did they do with all the pictures, Herculean chain mails, ancient chests, and Bokharan carpets? Squeaky gallows and executioner’s blocks decorated with dark velvet hardly made the school of magicians more attractive. However, the design fancy of Plague-del-Cake forever buzzed somewhere in the sector of attributes of death. When the labyrinths finally happily ended and in front, in the narrow bright opening of the exit, battlements and loopholes appeared, Tanya almost yelled with enthusiasm. Yagun’s vacuum was already waiting for them, finding room for itself in a deep pothole of the stone core and with the pipe gleaming invitingly. On seeing it, Bab-Yagun clutched his head and began to moan so agonizingly, as if all his teeth were aching at once. The numerous corridors and thousands of steps, through which his flying machine had to go for a ride, had quite an effect on it. The hull was on the point of collapse. The pipe nozzle
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had fallen off. A thin, rather muddy trace remained from the chrome-plated rim. The pipe sneezed mermaid scales. Only one of the three small wheels survived — but then it was possible to call it a wheel only in the presence of imagination. “I believe there were more talismans… Or it only seemed so to me?” Vanka was interested. Issuing a sad howl, Yagun rushed to check the flight talismans. “Oh, my granny mama! One would think that moronoids cleaned carpets with my vacuum for twenty years! There can’t be anything more insulting to the noble magic machine! Now the three of us really can’t fly away together. It can barely carry one… Tanya, let me fly instead of you?” “And you know where to search for the Golden Leech?” “Ne-a. I’ll not even be able to tell it from an earthworm.” “Here’s your answer! Bye, Yagunchik!” Tanya climbed onto the vacuum and took the pipe in hand. Earlier she had to fly on the vacuum all of a couple of times. The recollections were not pleasant. Right there and then the girl again felt herself astride a bucket, moreover with a broom in her hands. Yagun hurriedly checked the talismans and started the vacuum. The engine began to cough. Mermaid scales flew from the pipe. It smelled like fish. “Everything’s normal. Likely it’ll fly,” Yagun said without any special confidence. “Then I’ll not crash. Likely,” Tanya mimicked, approaching the edge of the wall and looking down. “What height! Not going to come out of this alive! Although why think about it? Indeed I don’t,” she thought. “Tanya, listen!” The voice of Yagun again came forward. “Yes?” “Well... Just for the sake of interest. What was I like in that reality of yours? Better than now?” Tanya thought for a bit. “How to tell you? You were often offensive in that reality. Such a narcissistic character, rather insolent, but nice and gentle. In any case, it wasn’t boring with you,” she acknowledged. Yagun snorted. “No one has been so rude to me for a long time! Simply berated from top to bottom: ‘nice, gentle!’ You’ll even tell me I’m clever! Okay, away from here quick, Baby Grotter! And try not to drop and break my vacuum once and for all. At least leave a pipe as souvenir!” Vanka handed Tanya his magic ring. “Take it! It’ll be useful for landing!” he said. His voice trembled. Tanya involuntarily recalled the lines deleted from his letter. But it was already in another reality. In a reality she still had to fight for. She sighed. To drag herself on a broken vacuum, moreover into a red-hot fire — it could hardly evoke healthy enthusiasm in anyone! The girl let out a spark. “Pilotus kamikazes!” The pipe began to move like a piston in her hands. The vacuum swiftly broke away from the place. Tanya was carried between the towers of Tibidox and looked around. Bab-Yagun and Vanka were waving at her from behind. “Good luck! Or what do you say here? Bad luck?” Tanya shouted. “Well now, she’s swearing again! Swearing the whole day today, I’m upset! And earlier she was so exemplary!” Yagun said to Vanka. The grandson of Yagge expected approval, but Valyalkin did not answer. He was looking at Tanya.
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Baby Grotter hung onto the pipe, dodging the awning over the drawbridge. When she turned again, Yagun was already indistinguishable. Only the yellow soccer shirt of Vanka flickered for a moment like a bright comma. Then it also disappeared. *** Tanya had the feeling from the very beginning that the clumsy machine of Bab-Yagun would play a dirty trick on her. And it did. The vacuum, pondering for a while where to stall, stalled when it was flying above the middle of the swampy lake. After cutting into the water, the vacuum burst open. Scales and small rubbish fell from the tank. “As if Yagun simply read my mind. The pipe survived. True, now I have to dive for it,” Tanya thought, succeeding in hanging by the shawl-parachute. Although not as swiftly as the vacuum, she also continued to fall. Thousands of icy sparks burnt her skin. The girl tried to stay afloat, confusedly splashing and frothing the water, but an unknown force pulled her down. The depth pressed on her ears. Occasionally some silvery little fish flashed by in front of her eyes. “Well, that’s it! I’m drowning! Pity Pipa won’t find out. At least someone would be pleased!” Tanya thought. Several moments later, her feet softly pressed against the slime. The rocks and the bottom, overgrown with algae like dirty washcloths, spilled a soft greenish radiance. A water-sprite and a mermaid were sitting on the stones and playing checkers. Live snails, crawling from square to square, served as checker pieces. “Oh, a new drowned woman! Shall we fish her out or leave her as is?” the water-sprite, similar to a semi-transparent wineskin filled with slime, wondered. The words jumped out of his mouth as multi-coloured bubbles. The bubbles formed into chains of letters, as normally depicted in caricatures. “Well! Why must evil spirits worry about magicians this time? They only harm us! Let’s finish playing first!” The mermaid brushed him off, moving a snail. “Hey, no! While we finish playing, she’ll choke! And all new drowned women become mermaids.” “So?” “What do you mean so? What do we need one more mermaid for? Here’s already enough of them,” the water-sprite stated, letting out a new group of bubbles. “You don’t want to play — so don’t play! All the same, my game!” the sly mermaid objected. “WHAT? For shame, the talking herring, again add surplus snails to the board!” The water-sprite became furious and grabbed the mermaid by the hair. “Don’t lie! They crawled by themselves!” the mermaid began to yell, hitting the watersprite with her tail. The board overturned. The water-sprite and the mermaid stopped fighting. “Well now! We didn’t finish playing checkers. At least let’s save the girl,” proposed the water-sprite. “Wait! We save her and then it turns out that she’s a spy of She-Who-Is-No-More. Better let her drown!” the mermaid proposed. “I’m not a spy! I don’t want to drown!” Tanya protested. The girl was certain that no one would hear her, but not so: her bubbles also piled up into words. “You’ll prove it? What’s your name?” the water-sprite asked.
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“Tanya Grotter.” “TANYA GROTTER! Favourite student of Plague-del-Cake? Well, what did I say: a spy! Let her drown!” the mermaid said. “I hate Plague! I’m the daughter of Leopold Grotter, whom she killed! A friend of Tararakh! Tararakh treats you! Drags medicine from magic station for you!” Tanya was indignant, looking at her magic ring. If thus far she had not choked, then only because of the ring. But how long would its magic last? The water-sprite pensively scratched his stomach with his short fingers. His belly filled with water and slime began to move like a piston. Inside, under the transparent skin, tadpoles began to toss about. “You heard, mermaid? She’s not a spy! Plague-del-Cake didn’t know about the medicine and about Tararakh. But what’s a magician doing under water? I don’t like it when they bathe in my lake.” “I wasn’t bathing! I flew and fell from the vacuum!” the girl was hardly talking. Everything darkened before her eyes. She was choking. “Very nice! So it’s your vacuum scaring all our frogs? It’s rudeness, darling, and nothing more! Rudeness à la naturel!” the mermaid stated. Likely, before she drowned, she spoke French. “Fell from the vacuum, you say? But where were you flying to? Only don’t lie that you were playing rottenball,” the water-sprite asked with suspicion. “I was flying to the guardhouse of The Ancient One! Is that clear, pain in the neck? To the guardhouse! I must crush the Leech!” Tanya shouted. The girl no longer thought it was worthwhile for her to hide the truth. She was choking. The shielding magic of the ring was running low. Tanya spent the last reserves of air on her shout. She swayed and fell, sensing the elastic pressure of water on her chest. “Well, this is it! How absurd!” was her last thought The ground trembled. Somewhere in the evil infinity the tortoise irritatingly moved its head with folds, brushing off several most impudent idols. Tanya opened her eyes. She was lying on the shore next to the guardhouse. Nearby the water-sprite sat picking his ear with a broken reed. “Recovered?” he asked. Coughing, Tanya turned over onto her stomach. The water-sprite spat into the pond. “Recovered. Again I lost to the mermaid,” he said affirmatively. “Why did you save me? Perhaps I’m a spy?” “You’re not a spy. A spy would not know about the Leech — it’s our main secret. But you knew and didn’t tell Plague. Possible to trust you,” explained the water-sprite, ripping a new reed. The old one had fallen into his ear and it was impossible to extract it. “But why is the Leech your secret? You protect it? Why?” “Order of The Ancient One… Once very long ago he ordered our ancestors to stand guard over the guardhouse and the stove. However, he ordered the wood-goblins the same. Therefore, we fight with them. It had to be: entrust a secret to such louts! And what can they do, these wood-goblins?” Tanya half rose on her elbows. The guardhouse of The Ancient One indifferently looked with its blind windows at the lake. Emerald lizards, sagging skin on the chin quivering, sat on the grass. A wood-goblin, like a squeaky fir log, came jiggling out to the edge of the forest. He also stood with the indifference of an essence born of thicket and wind-fallen wood and looked in their direction. The water-sprite did not like this. He got up and, slapping his
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fins, made his way to the pond. “Okay, I’m drifting off. Success to you, girl! Don’t stand upon ceremony with the Leech! And, also, be on guard! They tell us a phantom lives in the guardhouse,” he said and, tugging in his feet, dived in. Circles spread out in the water. Frogs began to croak. It was cold for Tanya to lie on the ground. She was shivering. She got up and, having gone around the guardhouse, approached the window. In spite of expectations, it was not difficult to get inside. The girl rolled on her stomach over the windowsill and slipped down to the floor already on the other side. Overhead, the frame of the roof showed through the ceiling. The stove was white like a rock face, powdered with plastering. The closed door was white hot from the heat. Tanya took a step. Then another step and another… But here was the stunner! She did not get closer to the stove. On the contrary, it was as if she was moving away with each new step. Becoming anxious, the girl ran to it at full speed. She did not even have time to come to her senses, when the stove already loomed like a tiny speck in the distance. The guardhouse of The Ancient One stepped aside from within, expanded, absorbing into itself the secret of the fifth dimension. Tanya stopped. “Stop! Last time it was not so… Although last time the Leech only just started to crawl into the fire,” she recalled. After thinking it over, Tanya made one more attempt. She turned and went back to the front. It was useless. For a good ten minutes Baby Grotter either moved back, rushed around the room in zigzags, tried to crawl, or, hoping to deceive the spell, stared in a direction opposite the stove. It was useless. No trick helped. As if teasing her, the stove first seemed quite close, then moved away in leaps, appearing in turn in all the corners of the room and smiling hotly with its blazing door. Tanya dropped onto the floor and propped her head up with her hands. She felt cold and poorly. She had never felt so weak, so useless before! Even when Pipa locked her on the balcony. Has she really lost? Was everything really useless? To try so hard, almost drowning in the pond — and all for what? In order, after finding herself in the guardhouse, to not even know how to approach the stove! Suddenly an abrupt gust burst through the knocked out frame of the guardhouse. The fire in the stove began to drone. The instant whirlwind flung sand and wet autumn leaves into Tanya’s face. Tanya jumped and wiped her eyes. A large table appeared not far from the stove. A bronze candlestick stood on the table: a swan holding three water lilies in its beak. An old man sat at the table and, leaning over a parchment, was writing something with a goose feather, occasionally dipping it into the inkpot. His yellowish beard — considerably longer than Academician Sardanapal’s — flowed down freely and wound loops around the legs of the chair. True, in contrast to Sardanapal’s, the beard was sluggish, lazy, and hardly stirred. The far wall with green scum on damp plaster could be seen vaguely through the old man. Tanya understood that this could only be The Ancient One. He was so old and wrinkled that Professor Stinktopp in comparison would pass for a desirable young adult male. Tanya hesitantly approached the spectre and gave a cough. The spectre raised his head. Now he was looking directly at the girl, but he was so laid-back that she considered: The Ancient One did not see her. Something more than space separated them, — there were centuries between them.
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Tanya leaned over the table. Now their faces — the transparent face of The Ancient One and the face of the girl — were almost touching. She sensed a current coming from the spectre. The hair on her head stirred as from an electrified comb. “Can you hear? I’m the daughter of Leopold Grotter! It’s I who let out the titans then! And now Tibidox is again on the verge of ruin. I must crush the Leech, do you understand? Or Plague-delCake will gain the upper hand and open the Sinister Gates! She’ll destroy Tibidox, Sardanapal — everything!” she persistently proclaimed. The face of The Ancient One remained evenly serene. As if he was standing on the edge of eternity, examining its whimsical spirals. The past, present, future — nothing was a secret to him. The spectre lowered his head and again began to scratch with the feather, filling line after line. Tanya was already thinking that he could not hear, when suddenly The Ancient One, not turning to anyone, mysteriously announced, “Only fire will help approach the fire!” The voice of the spectre was very quiet. It could easily be taken for the rustling of paper. “What fire? What must I do?” Tanya shouted. Not answering, the spectre smiled mysteriously and traced with his hand along the candlestick. The instant whirlwind again rushed through the guardhouse. The girl involuntarily shielded her face with her hand. When the wind stopped howling and the flame was dancing in the stove, she saw that the spectre had disappeared. Tanya looked around. She pictured approximately what she was about to find, only, had she made a mistake? Are there material doubles of spectral things? At that place where the spectre was recently, there was nothing and nobody. Finally Tanya discovered the rotted through tabletop covered by moist leaves on the outside. She raked aside the leaves and with effort turned the tabletop over. Something flashed dimly. A bronze candlestick! It had turned green and was bent, but the same! Even the stub of the candle was indeed preserved by some quite unimaginable miracle. Gripping the candlestick, Tanya again took a step to the stove. It mockingly trembled and moved aside. “Calmly, don’t get psyched out! Don’t make Pipa and Plague-del-Cake happy! Recall precisely what The Ancient One said. Fire will help approach the fire… He spoke precisely about the fire. But what if…” Noises reached from the direction of Tibidox. Tanya looked out the window and barely had time to bend down. A dazzling spark rushed over her head and, having cut into the wall, shattered several bricks into smithereens. “Mistress! She’s here!” someone shouted. A short-of-breath Slander Slanderych rushed beside Plague-del-Cake, and behind them, lagging by about twenty steps, the idols stomped heavily. Any minute they should be up here, and indeed clearly not to invite her to the birthday of the new world. “Panidis scorchus!” Tanya hurriedly whispered. The ring shot out a green spark. A timid bluish flame arose at the end of the candle stub. Raising the candlestick overhead, Tanya rushed to the stove. Every time it simply caustically slipped away, remaining unattainable. The floor shook from the footfall of the stone idols. The roof of the guardhouse of The Ancient One already blazed from Plague’s sparks. In annoyance, Tanya wanted to throw away the useless candlestick, but she suddenly saw the fine string. It was a barely noticeable fiery thread stretching from the candlestick to the stove. Putting the candlestick down on the floor, the girl touched the thread and, fingering it, walked to the stove. The floor flashed absurdly under her feet, turning like a mischievous
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carousel in a park. The stone squares jumped and, dancing, changed places. But with each step the stove without a doubt became closer. Finally Tanya could stretch out her hand and, getting burnt, seized the door. It would not yield. Several times the girl pushed with her foot — the door seemed stuck. “Well, all right? Come on!” Tanya was overcome with desperation. Not feeling the pain from the burns, she began to drum on the door with her hands, and then, jumping, also with her feet. Suddenly the guardhouse shook more than before. The Tortoise of Eternity was stirring impatiently. One of the idols slipped and with a splash fell into the lake. A deep crack ran along the bricks of the stove. Tanya with new hope set about showering the door with hits. The door finally yielded to strong pressure. It clanked and opened. The open wide stove was puffing out heat. Tongues of flames impatiently and greedily stretched to Tanya. The girl started back, covering her face. Almost becoming blind from the fire, she managed to examine in the depth of the stove the dish the Golden Leech was luxuriating on. Sensing that the door was open, the Leech stirred unhappily. Tanya was terrified. “Stop! You’ll burn to death! To step into the stove is certain death! It’s impossible to survive in this fire!” Plague-del-Cake roared. The old woman was already beside her. Her dry hand tossed up. A spark from the black ring slowly and unavoidably, like death itself, floated towards the girl. The faces of her parents flickered in Tanya’s memory. Again, as many years ago, she heard the disgusting gurgling laughter of Plague. “NO! I’m not afraid! Better to be burnt!” she shouted and dived into the flame head first. The girl expected to feel terrible pain, but for some reason she did not. The furious fire in an instant enveloped her entire body, and then it seemingly made room, moving the door aside and not letting the spark of Plague-del-Cake in. Squinting, Tanya crawled forward. “Stop! I’ll give you everything! Idols, destroy the stove!” she heard the howl of She-Who-Is-No-More. Tanya hurriedly stretched out her hand. The Golden Leech, having grown languid in the flame, turned out to be suddenly soft. Tanya precisely felt a plump slug as it burst in her fingers. The crushed Leech spread out on the dish like white hot gold and — Tanya was ready to vow — was baked into a tiny fish scale! The fish scale shuddered and disappeared. Inside the stove remained only the dish with a small indentation, as if intentionally pressed for this one fusion. Suddenly Tanya turned her head. All around everything was flashing. Her eyelids suddenly became intolerably heavy. Her hands already seemed as if they did not belong to her. She wanted to crawl back, but fell on her chest. The world floated away somewhere and cracked, indeed a shell. The girl still had time to hear how terribly and at the same time powerlessly Plague-del-Cake roared. “This fire! Cursed The Ancient One, he foresaw everything! In order for all of you to disappear together with me!” the old woman howled. Magic rings fell thick and fast from her fingers crumbling to smithereens… Somewhere at infinity, the Snake of Time leisurely rolled up into a ring, contemplating the gold fish-scale, having appeared on the spot where it was before being shaken off. The scale held firmly. Now it is already forever. ***
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Tanya Grotter, number ten, swiftly rushed on the double bass — whole and unharmed. She firmly pressed the immobilize ball against her chest. Making a loop, Tanya saw what was happening behind her back. Gury Puper, moving away from the collision at the last moment, turned in a hurry in order to rush after her. His broom shone with magic, as if it was not made of branches but of hundreds of Golden Leeches. Tanya reckoned that Puper would try to cut her off from the dragon and recapture the ball. O-Phe-Li-A and captain Glint already rushed to the aid of Puper. To protect Tanya from below was Bab-Yagun — happy lop-eared Yagun, clearly having no idea about rottenball. “Aha! So, I nevertheless crushed it! Well, the Invisibles, hold tight!” Tanya thought and, intercepting the ball, rushed to the dragon of the enemy. Keng-King was already lashing its tail, preparing to meet her… ***

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Glossary
Abdullah: Common Arabic male name, also the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s father. Aga: This is a Turkish title or honorific meaning “leader” or “ruler” and is usually placed after the name. 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. Anapa: A modest resort town on the coast of the Black Sea. Another nine and I’ll bust: This is a reference to the card game blackjack, also called twentyone, as the object of the game is to accumulate enough cards with a score higher than that of the dealer but not exceeding 21. In blackjack, to bust is to lose by exceeding a score of 21. Ariadne’s thread: In Greek mythology, Ariadne of Crete gave the Athenian hero Theseus a spool of thread to help him get out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. Asp: A poisonous snake like the Egyptian cobra. It is an emblem of supreme power in ancient Egypt, and depicted on the headdresses of pharaohs. Ass-ibn-Shaitan: Ass is a donkey, ibn means “son of,” and Shaitan is the Islamic equivalent of Satan, together the name is “Donkey, son of Satan.” In the Quran, Muhammad the Prophet is quoted to say that he who looks up during prayer will be turned into a donkey. 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. Austerlitz: The Battle of Austerlitz, Netherlands, fought on December 2, 1805, is often called Napoleon’s greatest victory, enabling him to establish his empire. It is portrayed as a major event, an early test for Russia, in War and Peace (1865-69) by L.N. Tolstoy (1828-1910). Baba Yaga: A Slavic folkloric character, an aged crone and a witch that lives in the forest in a hut with chicken feet. Bab-Yagun: A derivation of Baba Yaga. Babai: In old Slavic mythology, a mysterious essence in the image of a terrible lopsided old man, a malicious night spirit that takes away disobedient children. Bald Mountain: According to Slavic legends, a place where witches and other paranormal creatures gather for the Sabbath. Barabashka: In Slavic mythology, a misbehaving domestic spirit that fills an apartment with strange sounds, steals things, and gets a fire going while stopping matches from lighting up; similar to a poltergeist.

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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. Bast shoes: Sandals woven from bast, the skin fibre of linden or birch bark. They are the not very durable traditional footwear of Eastern European peasants. Bicorne: Headgear of European and American military in the late 18 th and early 19th century, mostly associated with Napoleon. It is black with a broad brim, the front and rear halves turned up and pinned together forming a semi-circular fan shape. Birch: In popular Slavic belief, the birch has both useful and harmful properties. It is a tree associated with witches and unclean forces or evil spirits. The soul of the dead is said to reside in a birch. Birch branches gathered or a birch broom in the house is considered a reliable means of protection against evil forces. The birch also has healing magic by “transferring” disease of the sick to it. Some Russian legends start with the line “On the ocean on the Island Buyan there stands a white birch …” and this birch represents the world tree, a symbol common in ancient societies, a tree that in Eastern mythology connects the three regions of man, heaven, and the underworld. Birch bark: In old Russia, birch bark was used for writing official documents as well as normal correspondence. Even ordinary people used it instead of paper, which was expensive and not widespread. Bluebeard, Raoul: The title character of a fairy tale (1698) by Charles Perrault (1628-1703), French author who laid the foundation of fairy tale as a literary genre. Bluebeard was a wealthy aristocrat who murdered his previous three wives but, when trying to killed his new wife, was instead killed by her brother. Bonegraft: An organism that heals broken bones, similar in appearance to a bright disk the size of a metallic 5-rouble coin, with 6 long fragile feet and a mouth with powerful jaws. A bonegraft larva resembles a tadpole and is fed meat in pitch. Boyan: The legendary poet-singer of Slavic mythology. He sang about gods, heroes, and Russian princes. As he was a descendent of the God of Wisdom, he was able to hear the voices of birds and animals and arranged them into human language. Bread and salt: A welcome greeting ceremony of the Slavs — a round loaf of bread on an embroidered towel with a holder with salt sitting on top of the bread is presented to important guests. It signifies hospitality and friendship of the host. Bryansk: A city southwest of Moscow, 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. Bukhara carpet: Also known as Bukhara, the famous “red rugs” of Central Asia. They are usually of red and red-brown hues with geometric designs, hand-woven by the people of Russian Turkistan. 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
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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. Cagliostrov, Grafin: The name is derived from Count — Graf in Russian — Cagliostro. Count Alessandro di Cagliostro (1743-95) is widely held to have been an alias for the charlatan Giuseppe Balsamo, a petty criminal whose most famous crime was to claim aptitude in alchemy to swindle a man out of his gold. 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. Charalampos: Bishop Charalampos of Magnesia, around the turn of the 3rd century, was a healer and a martyr for his faith, a saint of the Greek Orthodox Church. 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. Chukot shaman: Chukotka is the most north-eastern part of Russia with half of its territory behind the Arctic Circle. The Chukot natives believe in living in harmony with the numerous spirits inhabiting the world. A Chukot shaman has the ability to communicate with these spirits and ask for their assistance in treating the sick, predicting the future, and finding lost ones or things. Cleopatra: Queen Cleopatra VII (69-39 BC) of Egypt, the last pharaoh. Cornet: An officer that carried the colours of a cavalry troop. Crocodile tears: Crocodiles are able to subsist in salt water, and have developed salt-extracting tear glands, giving birth to the myth of “crocodile tears.” In Ancient Egypt the crocodile-headed god Sebek symbolizes vicious passions, deceit, treachery, and hypocrisy. “Having swallowed the moon he wept.” Hence the expression “crocodile tears” — a hypocritical show of sorrow; insincere tears. Cupid: Also called Amour, the god of love in Roman mythology (called Eros in Greek mythology), he is often depicted as a wilful and mischievous winged child carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. He has two kinds of arrows: one that causes instant love is golden with dove feathers; the other that causes indifference is lead with owl feathers. Cyclops: In Greek mythology, a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of its forehead.

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

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Dagger borrowed from the ghost of a mountain dweller respecting tradition: A dagger is the national weapon of mountain dwellers in the Caucasus. Delphic Oracle: The oracle at the ancient sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi, Greece. The priestess of the oracle gave prophecies and was consulted before all major undertakings in the Hellenic world. Devil Mountain: There are Devil Mountain in numerous countries in the world and different nation has different folklore or legend associated with Devil Mountain. Dracula: Count Dracula is the name of the world’s most famous vampire character from the book Dracula (1897) by Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912). The name “Dracula” is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by King Sigismund (1368-1437) of Hungary to uphold Christianity and defend the Holy Roman Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II (1390-1447) of Wallachia (Romania) was admitted to the order because of his bravery in fighting the Turks, and he was called Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon). His son Vlad III (1431-76) became known as Vlad Dracula (the son of Dracul). Dragon: In Slavic mythology, a dragon is an enormous serpent covered with skin like armour and can have one or several heads – 2, 3, 6, 7, 12 – and the same quantity of wings and claws. It shoots out flame from its mouth and its flights are accompanied by thunder and storm. Dragonball: The favourite sport of magicians, involving 2 teams of 10 players and a live “goal” – a dragon – for each team. These “goals” are capable of swallowing players. The aim is to throw the balls – flame-extinguisher, stun, pepper, sneeze, and immobilize – into the mouth of the opposition’s dragon. Dreams of Vera Pavlovna: Vera Pavlovna is the heroine of What is to be done? (1863) by N.G. Chernyshevsky (1828-89), 19th century Russian philosopher and writer. In the novel, Vera Pavlovna has a series of dreams about a future Socialist utopia. 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. Dzhigit: Originally from Kazak legend, a dzhigit is a man with skilful horsemanship, the strong silent type. Eos: The goddess of dawn in Greek mythology.

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

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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. 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. Fomanov: The original text in Russian for Count Fomanov is graf Fomanov, which came from the word grafoman, a scribbler, someone with a love of scribbling. Freudian: A follower of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), an Austrian neurologist and founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Gandharva: In Hinduism and Buddhism, gandharvas are minor deities or male natural spirits known for their musical skill and power to cast illusions. They serve as attendants to the gods and messengers between the gods and humans. Gardarika: The ancient Scandinavian name for Russia. Gargoyle: A gargoyle is a spout in the form of a grotesque carving on the outside of a building to direct water away from the roof. As an architectural feature, it has been known since before the times of the ancient Greeks, but became very popular in Medieval and Victorian ages and took on its role of a building’s protector to scare off evil spirits. In contemporary myth, a gargoyle is depicted as a winged creature with demonic features and only comes alive at night after everyone is asleep. Gargoyle Pond: This is a spoof of the ballet Swan Lake by P.I.Tchaikovsky (1840-93), originally choreographed by Julius Wentsel Reisinger (1828-92). 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. Geiger counter: A device used to measure radiation. Ghoul-Bull-Shah: A ghoul is a monster or demon from Arabian folklore. The word bull is from Middle English bul, which came from Old French boule, meaning a lie. Shah is Persian for king, a title for the hereditary monarch. 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.

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

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Gorgonova, Medusa Zeusovna: In Greek mythology Medusa is one of the gorgons – vicious female monsters with hair of living, venomous snakes, who turn to stone anyone who looks at their faces. Using his shield as a mirror, Perseus managed to chop off Medusa’s head. Medusa’s middle name here, Zeusovna, identifies her father as Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods. However, according to Greek mythology, the gorgons are children of Phorcys, a primordial sea god. Goyaryn: A derivation of Gorynitch, the most well-known dragon in Slavic folklore. 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. Gulkind-Nose: From the Russian phrase s gul’kin nos meaning “very little, less than nothing.” Hades: In Greek mythology, the name for both the abode of the dead and the god of the abode. 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. 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. Ich liebe dich: German for “I love you.” Jesuitical: Crafty, sly. Juicy apple rolling on a zoomer: In the Russian folktale The Silver Saucer and the Juicy Apple, when the juicy apple is told to roll in the silver saucer and show certain sights, the sights would be shown as very clear pictures on the saucer.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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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. Kalinka-Malinka: A very popular Russian folk song. Kasha: Porridge usually made of buckwheat but can also be of other grains. 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. Lakshaman: In the ancient Hindu epic tale Ramayana, this is the younger brother of Rama, the hero of the epic. In Hinduism, he is worshipped as the incarnation of Shesha, one of the primal beings or natural spirits of creation. The name can be written as Lakshman, Lakshmana, or Laxman. Lilliputian: The 15 cm tall people of the country Lilliput from Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a satire on human nature and parody of traveller’ tales, by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), an Anglo-Irish priest and writer, probably the most foremost prose satirist of the English language. Magciety: The society of magicians. Mageographer: Magician choreographer. 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. Magledger: Magic ledger. Magnews: Magic news. Magpaper: Magic newspaper. Magphone: Magic megaphone. Magsecutor: Magician prosecutor. Magspray: Magic spray. Magtion: Magic action. Magyouth: Young magician. Mamarama, Ramapapa: A play on Rama, the hero of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana. In the epic, Rama is king of ancient India and the personification of a perfect man. In Hinduism, he is considered as the most important incarnation of the deity Vishnu, the Protector of the world, also worshipped as God.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Mandragora: Also called mandrake, a Mediterranean herb once believed to have magical powers because its forked root resembles human form. Mermaid: A mermaid of Slavic mythology is called a rusalka, the spirit of a drowned maiden that lures travellers into the water to be drowned. Minotaur: In Greek mythology, it was a fierce man-eating creature with the body of a man but the head and tail of a bull. It was imprisoned by King Minos of Crete in a gigantic labyrinth located under Minos’ palace in Knossos. By the use of a ball of string to find his way around the maze, Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur. Motif: A recurring theme in a work of literature, music, or art. Mumu: The short story Mumu (1852) by I.S.Turgenev (1818-83) describes the relationship between a dumb and deaf peasant Gerasim and his dog Mumu, and how Gerasim, ordered by his mistress, drowned Mumu. 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. Muromets, Ilya: The greatest hero in Old Russian epic poetry. He got his strength from the dying giant hero Svyatogor, went to join Prince Vladimir in Kiev, defeated Nightingale the Robber in a forest near Bryansk, and performed many other feats. Neptune: Ancient Roman god of the sea. Nestor: In Greek mythology, a leader of the city of Pylos who led the Pylians in the Trojan War. He was a clear-voiced orator known for recalling past deeds and uttering wise words. Novorossisk: The main Russian port on the Black Sea. Okroshka: A spicy Russian cold soup made with kvass instead of meat broth. It contains raw vegetables, boiled potatoes, boiled eggs, and cooked ham, all chopped and mixed in kvass just before serving. O-Phe-Li-A: The name in Russian is O-Feya-Li-Ya. If all the characters are grouped together to form a word without hyphens, it can be loosely translated into Ophelia. If the hyphens are substituted by spaces, it becomes the phrase “whether I am about a fairy.” Ovid: Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-17AD), a Roman poet known simply as Ovid, wrote about love, abandoned women, and mythological transformations. One of the three canonical poets of Latin literature, he had decisive influence on European art and literature. Pangolin: A scaly anteater. Phoenix: The same as a firebird.

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

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Pillar of salt: In the Old Testament, when God rescued Lot and his family, they were told not to look back. Lot’s wife did not obey, and when she turned around, she turned into a pillar of salt. 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. 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.” 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. 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. Said-Wali-Sherbet: Said is an Arabic male name, Wali is Arabic for friend or protector, Sherbet is from the Arabic word sharab, meaning drink. Samovar: A Russian invention, a metal urn used for boiling water to make tea. A very strong tea concentrate is made in a teapot kept warm on the top of the samovar. A cup of tea is made by diluting some of the tea concentrate with hot water from the urn. “Sardanapal bless you!”: In an alternate reality where the black magicians rule, invoking the blessing of a powerful white magician becomes a curse. Saxifrage: A common low-growing and dense herb and wildflower found in cooler climates. (See Burnet saxifrage.) Schnell: German for “quick.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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Sehr gut: German for “very good” or “very well.” Semiramis: Legendary Assyrian queen (c. 800B.C.), also known as Semiramide or Semiramida. She was known for her beauty and bravery, and attributed as the builder of Babylon. In legends, she appears also as a goddess associated with fish and doves. Seven-league boots: A fictional element of European folklore. Appearing worn and old, they allow the protagonist to move at the speed of seven leagues per step. Shaitan: The Islamic equivalent of Satan. 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. Shashlik: Small pieces of meat marinated, skewered, and grilled. Snake of Eternity: Also called the serpent of time in space, it is a symbol in many ancient religions of the world. It is the emblem of divine celestial Wisdom, figured with its tail in its mouth representing the cyclic nature of time. Sphinx: This is an iconic image of a recumbent lion with the head of a ram, bird, or human. It was invented by the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, but a cultural import in archaic Greek mythology, where it received its name. There was only a single sphinx in Greek mythology, a unique demon of destruction and bad luck. Staff: In military terms, professional officers in an administrative role. Stinktopp: An archaic German word for bedbug. Stomatologist: A specialist in stomatology, the science dealing with the mouth and its diseases. Suzdal: An old town northeast of Moscow famous for its fine examples of old Russian architecture, mainly monasteries and churches. Talisman: An object marked with magic signs and confers on its bearer supernatural powers or protection. That world: In Russian folktales, the term “that world” refers to the world of spirits and demons. Theseus: A legendary king of Athens, a founder-hero who battled and overcame many foes and was credited with inventing many everyday Athenian traditions. In Greek mythology, he was the son of both Aegeus, a primordial king of Athens, and Poseidon, the god of sea. Theophilus: A name of Greek origin. In the Bible, it is the name to which the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are addressed. Tistrya: In Persian mythology, the god of rain and fertility, personification of Sirius the Dog Star.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2007 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca http://emets.olmer.ru/

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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). Tortoise of Eternity: Because of its longevity, the tortoise is a symbol of eternity in Eastern mythology. In Hindu cosmology, the world is supported by elephants on a tortoise. Treasure-sword: In Slavic folklore and medieval tradition, a poleaxe is called a treasure-sword and is considered a magical weapon that guarantees victory over the enemy. Trident: A three-pronged spear characteristic of the sea god Neptune in classical mythology. Tsar Gorokh: A Russian fairy-tale character designating time immemorial. The Russian proverb “during the time of Tsar Gorokh” means “in very remote times.” Tula samovar: Tula is the samovar capital of Russia. The first samovar factory was founded in Tula in 1778. Under the hot bald patch: A joke on the original Russian phrase “under a hot hand” translated as “in a fit of temper.” 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. 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. Verst: Russian linear measurement equivalent to about two-thirds of a mile. Vivaldi: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741), a Venetian priest and composer of baroque music, also a famous violinist. 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.

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

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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. 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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