AFTER EDINBURGH I ought to have been expecting something like this.
But instead I had relaxed. The streets smothered in greenery, the splashing of the water in the irrigation ditches, the noisy eastern market and the severe outlines of the domes of the mosque, the Dark Ones on the other side of the wall and the overwhelming hospitality of the Light Ones ?it was all so completely different from Scotland. I thought the only problem I'd have to deal with would be finding the old magician - I wasn't expecting any more cunning tricks involving human beings. The building was surrounded by about a hundred men. I could see militiamen among them, and well-equipped soldiers from the Special Forces, and young soldiers - skinny, pimply kids, awkwardly clutching automatic weapons. All sorts of forces had been brought together to capture us. Everything that had been close at hand.
That wasn't a problem. Even without my help, Alisher could brainwash a hundred or two hundred attackers. Unfortunately, every man in the cordon was protected by magic spells.
Every Other is capable of shielding himself against the influence of magic and of shielding others. He doesn't even have to be at a very high level in order to apply protective spells to a hundred people. To put it simply: magic that is controlled by reason is more like a knife than a grenade launcher. And what you need to protect yourself against is not the heavy armour plate of a tank, but a light bulletproof vest made of Kevlar. By striking with raw Power in the form of a Fireball, a White Lance or a Wall of Flame, I could burn out an entire city block. And equally powerful amulets and spells would have been required to protect anyone against the strike. But in order to subordinate the attackers to my will and scatter them, first I would have to strip each one of them of his protection. And that was far from simple. There are dozens of different kinds of mental Shields, and I didn't know which kind had been used. Most likely (at least, this was what I would have done) each individual Shield was made up of two or three spells chosen at random. One soldier, for instance, has the Shield of Magic and the Sphere of Calm. Another has the Sphere of Denial, the Crust of Ice and the Barrier of Will.
Just try finding the right approach for each one! And from a distance!
'They followed me,' Alisher explained while I, protected by my own Sphere of Denial, stood at the window and studied the warriors who had surrounded us. 'I don't know how, but they followed me all the way from the airport. I always had the feeling I was being followed, but I couldn't spot anything. And then, when I was leaving my acquaintances' house... they tried to arrest me. About twenty men. Not a single Other. I tried to shield myself from them, but they could see me!'
They could see me too. Not all of them, but a few soldiers had clearly spotted me despite the magic. That meant that they had been charged with search spells as well as protective spells. Glance of the Heart, Clear Gaze, True Vision - the magical arsenal is quite extensive. Light Ones and Dark Ones have been thinking up ways to deceive each other for thousands of years.
And now it had all been turned against us.
'How did you get away from them?' I asked, moving away from the window.
'Through the Twilight. Only...' Alisher hesitated. 'They were waiting for me there, too. There was someone keeping watch on the second level... I got out as fast as I could.'
'Who was it on watch? A Light One? A Dark One?'
Alisher gulped and smiled awkwardly.
'I think it was a deva.'
'Nonsense,' I exclaimed, suppressing the urge to swear. 'Devas don't exist.'
'They don't exist in Moscow, but we have them here,' Timur stated with absolute certainty. He caught my gaze where it focused on the door leading to the Dark Ones. 'Anton, believe me. It's not them! They have no reason to attack us, and to involve people as well! The Inquisition would have their heads!'
I nodded. I wasn't even thinking of suspecting the Samarkand Day Watch.
'Get in touch with the top management in Tashkent. Tell them to stop these men!'
'How?' asked Timur, puzzled.
'By human methods! Phone calls to the ministers of defence and internal affairs! And get on to the Inquisition, quick!'
'What shall I say? 'Valentina Ilinichna asked, taking out an old mobile phone.
'Tell them we have a critical situation here. An alpha-prime viola tion of the Great Treaty. The provision of information concerning Others to human beings, the involvement of human beings in confrontation between the Watches, the illegal use of magic, the illegal dissemination of magic, violation of the agreement on the separation of powers... in brief, violations of clauses one, six, eight, eleven and fourteen of the Basic Appendix to the Treaty. I think that will be enough.'
Valentina Ilinihcna was already making the call. I looked out of the window again. The soldiers were waiting, sitting on the picket fence. What were the walls made of here? If they really were compressed reeds, bullets would go straight through them...
'Ah, what beautiful words!' Afandi suddenly exclaimed. He was still sitting at the table and chewing with relish on a piece of sausage. His glass was full, and the cognac bottle on the table was empty. 'A violation of the Basic Appendix! That makes everything clear all right, clear as day. Keep giving the orders, Commander!'
I turned away from Afandi. It was just my luck - the person all my hopes rested on was as half-witted as the devona before he met Geser...
'Time to be going, lads,' I said. 'I'm sorry things turned out this way'
'Anton, can you disperse them?' Nodir asked, with timid hope in his voice.
'I can kill them, no problem. But not disperse them.'
Someone began hammering on the door that led to the Dark Ones' office. Timur walked over, asked something and opened it. The two Dark Ones who were on duty there came running in. Judging from their bewildered expressions, they had only just discovered the cordon and were desperate for explanations.
'What are you doing, Light One?' howled the one who was a bit older. 'Why did you bring these men here?'
'Quiet,' I said, raising my hand. 'Shut up!'
He had enough wits to do as I said.
'This situation comes under point one of the Appendix to the Great Treaty,' I said and Afandi grunted loudly. I gave him an angry sideways glance, but the old man had just swallowed an entire glass of cognac, and now he was breathing rapidly and pressing his hand to his mouth. I continued: 'In this situation, under the terms of the Convention of Prague, as the most powerful magician here, I assume general command of all Others here present. All Others here present!9
The young Dark One looked at his elder, who frowned, nodded and said:
'We await your orders, Higher One.'
'Total evacuation of the Watches,' I said. 'All documents and artefacts to be destroyed. Get to it.'
'How are we going to get out?' the young Dark One asked. 'Put up shields?'
I shook my head.
'I'm afraid they have charmed bullets. We have to leave via the Twilight.'
'Oh, Afandi has been in the Twilight!' the old man declared loudly. 'Afandi can walk in the Twilight!'
'Afandi, you will go with me and Alisher,' I ordered. 'The others...'
Alisher looked at me in alarm and moved his lips soundlessly.
'The others will cover us,' I ordered.
'Why should we?' the young Dark One protested. 'We?
I waved my hand, and the Dark One squirmed and squealed in agony, pressing his hands against his stomach.
'Because I order it,' I explained, removing the pain. 'Because I am a Higher Magician and you are fifth level. Do you understand?'
'Yes.' Appallingly enough, there wasn't even a hint of indigna tion in the Dark One's voice. He had tried to throw his weight about, been punished and accepted my right to command because I was more powerful. Later, of course, he would write a whole bunch of complaints to the Inquisition. But for now he would obey.
Meanwhile the other Watch members were destroying their offices. The older Dark One was working alone, but he seemed to have everything under control. The destruction spells had been applied to the safe in advance ?there was smoke pouring out of the keyhole ?and they had been applied to all the documents too: the ones on the desk were curling up, turning yellow and crumbling to pieces. The Light Ones were burning everything by hand, and they were doing it with real enthusiasm: I watched as Timur drove a deftly rolled fireball straight through the metal wall of the safe and it exploded inside.
'They've gone very quiet,' Alisher said anxiously, glancing out of the window. 'They'll see the smoke any minute...'
They saw it all right. A voice with a strong accent addressed us in Russian through a megaphone:
'Terrorists! Lay down your weapons and leave the building one at a time! You are surrounded! If you do not comply, we will storm the building!'
'What crazy nonsense...'Valentina Ilinichna exclaimed indig nantly. 'Terrorists ?would you believe it!'
A second later Alisher leapt back from the window and the glass shattered with a tinkling sound. A small metal cylinder fell to the floor, spinning around its axis.
'Let's leave!' I shouted, diving into the Twilight. After the heat of Samarkand, the coolness of the first level was actually quite pleasant.
That very moment the grey gloom around me was lit up brightly. I didn't even want to think about how blinding the flash must have been in the human world. Fortunately, from down there in the Twilight I couldn't hear the ear-splitting screech.
I'd never thought that the Special Services' light-and-sound grenades could be so devastating against Others. Only Valentina Ilinichna had managed to withdraw into the Twilight with me -in here she looked like a slim young woman no more than thirty years old.
The other Watch members were blundering helplessly around the room. Some were rubbing at their eyes, some were holding their ears. A light-and-sound grenade blinds you for ten to twenty seconds, so they couldn't withdraw into the Twilight.
'Help the boys!' I shouted to Valentina and rushed to the doors. I flung them open in the Twilight, not the ordinary world, and looked outside.
Yes, of course, they were already storming us. Clumsily and stupidly, en masse - there were dozens of Special Services men running towards the entrance, and the soldiers on the other side of the fence had started firing at the windows. The assault was uncoordinated, as it always is whenever somebody gets the clever idea of creating a joint unit of militiamen, common soldiers and Special Services. I saw one of the Special Services men throw his hands up and fall ?he had taken a bullet in the back. But he probably wouldn't have anything worse than bruising ?the troops in the assault wave were wearing bulletproof vests.
But the fact that several marksmen started aiming their shots at me was very bad news. That was either Clear Gaze or True Vision. Which was very, very serious indeed. And the bullets really were charmed up to the hilt. Not only did they exist in the real world and the first level of the Twilight at the same time, they were packed with deadly magic!
I ducked - fortunately, our enemies had not been accelerated and the advantage of speed remained with me. I waved my hand, allowing the Power to flow from my fingertips. A rain of fire fell on the earth and a wall of smoke and flame sprang up in front of the attackers. Bight - now, lads, are you ready to jump into the fire?
They weren't. They stopped (one was moving too fast and he stuck his face into the flames and jumped back with a howl), then they drew back and started raising their automatic rifles.
Naturally, I didn't wait for them to fire. I burst back into the house, on the way reducing the dubious Night Watch sign to cinders with a fireball. The adrenalin was coursing through my veins.
War games? All right, then, let's play war games!
Hang the Absolute Lock spell on the door (actually there are two of these spells, but the other one wouldn't have had any effect if it was applied to an inanimate object). Hang a Light Shield right across the walls, one that would hold against automatic fire for about five minutes. Of course, the attackers would notice that something was wrong. But there was no way that we could leave secretly now.
The two Dark Ones entered the Twilight one after the other ?they had been standing with their backs to the grenade when it exploded. The older one was about to strike the window with something, but I caught hold of his arm.
'What have you got there?'
He bared his long, crooked teeth in a grin. Well, well, an ordin ary weak Dark Magician, but what a jaw he had sprouted now!
'They'll shit themselves. Just a little bit.'
'Go ahead,' I agreed. 'Only not here. Cover your side!'
Timur entered the Twilight, followed by Alisher, who was drag ging Murat after him. Only Nodir was still rubbing his eyes, unable to recover his senses: he had been blinded worst of all.
'Alisher, let's get Afandi!' I shouted.
We walked over to the old man who was still sitting at the table, trying to suck on the mouth of a fresh bottle of cognac.
'On the count of two,' I said. 'One, two...'
We leapt out of the Twilight, grabbed Afandi under the arms and lifted him off his chair. With my free hand I managed to grab the bag with all my bits and pieces and throw the strap across my shoulder. The bursts of automatic fire thundered in my ears and the bullets jangled as they ricocheted off the Shield. The crimson flames flickered outside the windows. With a deft movement, the old man managed to get one suck at the bottle ?just at the moment when we dragged him into the Twilight.
'Ai!' he exclaimed in disappointment. The bottle had been left behind in the normal world, and Afandi's hand closed on empti ness. 'Ai, the drinks disappearing!'
'Grandad, we haven't got any time for drink,' Alisher told him with quite incredible patience. 'Enemies have attacked us ?we're leaving!'
'No surrender to the enemies!'Afandi exclaimed gleefully. 'Into battle!'
At long last Nodir too entered the Twilight. I looked round at my improvised army: four weak Light Ones, two weak Dark Ones, Alisher, who had been tested on the streets of Moscow, and Afandi as ballast. Well, if could have been worse. Even if those Higher Ones who had been in Scotland were hiding somewhere around here, we could give them a fight for their money.
'Let's leave!' I commanded. 'Alisher, you take Afandi! Valentina, Timur - you go first! Everybody erect the Magician's Shield!'
We left straight through the wall. On the second level of the Twilight it wouldn't have existed at all. On the first level it did exist, and it even seemed to slow down our movements. But if you took a run, it was possible to pass through almost any mater ial object down here.
And we did pass through it. Only Afandi got one leg stuck, and he jerked it about in the Avail for a long time before he broke free, leaving one trainer behind. It would stay hanging there on the first level of the Twilight, slowly fading away over a period of several months. A few particularly sensitive people would even notice it out of the corner of their eye ?provided, of course, that the building survived
On the side we broke out through, the cordon was thinner, live men with sub-machine guns were staring at the blank wall, obviously puzzled about why they had been stationed there. But two of them turned out to be charmed and they saw us. I don't know what we looked like ?ordinary people who leapt out through the wall or spectral shadows. In any case, there was no goodwill evident in the soldiers' faces, only fear and the readiness to shoot. Valentina did the right thing ?her spell had no visible effect, but the foolproof Kalashnikov in one soldier's hands refused to fire. And then Timur hurled a fireball through the Twilight and burned off the barrel of the other soldier's automatic rifle.
That was a mistake!
Sure, those two couldn't shoot any more. But their comrades, who couldn't locate us themselves, saw the ball of flame come flying out of nowhere ?and they started firing. Either out of sheer fright or because they had been trained to do it.
At first I thought Timur hadn't put up a Shield. The burst of fire literally cut straight through him - I saw the bullets leave holes in his back, one after another. He fell over on to his back, and then I saw that he did have a Shield after all. A weak one, only at the front, but it was there.
The enchanted bullets had pierced straight through his magical armour. It was the very same technique as in Edinburgh!
'Tim!' Nodir shouted, bending down over his friend.
That was what saved him ?several bursts of fire from the soldiers blazing away erratically with their automatic weapons went right over his head.
The next moment, before I could do anything to stop him, Murat struck back.
They didn't have a very wide choice of spells. As provincial magicians unused to combat and not naturally very powerful, they were quite unprepared for this skirmish with human beings who could kill Others.
Murat used some version of the White Sword that I didn't know. In theory this spell should only kill Dark Others and people who are totally given over to evil. In practice, you have to be a monk who spends his days in prayer and self-mortification for the remorse less blow not to cause you any harm. Any trace of aggression or fear makes a man vulnerable to the blade of pure Light.
Those young Uzbek lads in military uniform had any amount of fear and aggression in them.
The white blade cut straight through four soldiers like a sharp scythe mowing down wheat. It literally sliced them in half. With fountains of blood and other unmentionable sights. The fifth soldier dropped his automatic weapon and took to his heels, screaming wildly. Even seen from the Twilight he seemed to be moving fast, he put on such a burst of speed!
Murat was frozen to the spot. I walked round in front of him. The white blade was still fading away in his hand and he looked very calm, almost sleepy. I looked into his eyes and found the answer to my question.
It was over. He was already withdrawing.
I squatted down beside Nodir and shook him by the shoulder:
He turned his face towards me and said in a surprised voice:
'They killed Timur. They shot him!'
'I can see. Let's go.'
Nodir started shaking his head.
'No! We can't leave him here...'
'We can and we will! Our enemies won't get their hands on the body; it will dissolve in the Twilight. We'll all go that way sooner or later. Get up.'
He shook his head again.
'Get up. The Light needs you.'
Nodir groaned, but he got up. And then his gaze fell on Murat. He shook his head again, as if he was trying to shake out the sudden overload of dark impressions. He dashed over to Murat and tried to grab hold of his arm.
His fingers clutched nothing but air. Murat was melting away, dissolving into the Twilight. Far more quickly than Timur's dead body would disappear. A Light Magician has to have a lot of experience of life in order to convince himself that he has the right to kill four people. I could probably have held out. Murat couldn't.
'Let's go!' I ordered, giving Nodir a slap across the face. 'Let's go!'
Somehow he managed to pull himself together and plod along behind me - away from the office, which was still being stormed, away from two comrades, one dead and one dying. Valentina walked in front, with the Dark Ones beside her. Alisher was drag ging along Afandi, who had sobered up and calmed down. Nodir and I brought up the rear of the procession.
They started firing after us again ?the screams of the soldier who had survived had attracted attention. I raised another Wall of Flame and, unable to resist, flung a small fireball at the old Peugeot by the fence. The car flared up in a jolly blaze, adding a little French charm to the Central Asian landscape.
The confusion that had set in made it easier for us to retreat. Moreover, in the Twilight there were gaping holes in the low fence, and the next building didn't exist at all. We ran down the deserted street as far as the crossroads and turned on to another narrow street that led to the market. It seemed that sooner or later every street here led to the market... Nodir was sobbing and swearing by turns. Afandi kept looking back, gazing in amazement at the battle raging around the empty building. It looked as if the attackers had started firing at each other in their confusion.
The Dark Ones were holding up better. Valentina Ilinichna was walking in the centre, and they were providing perfectly compe tent lateral protection. I actually thought that we had already escaped pursuit. And that was an unforgivable mistake for a Higher Magician to make. Or almost unforgivable.
After all, I had never really believed that devas existed.
The European tradition is golems ?creatures created out of clay, wood, or even metal. In Russia the wooden ones are known affectionately as pinocchios, although the last actual operational pinocchio rotted away sometime in the eighteenth century. We don't know what their contemporaries used to call them. We were taught to create pinocchios in our classes and that was both amusing and instructive - the wooden doll that came to life could walk, perform simple work, even talk... and it crumbled into dust after only a few minutes. For a wooden golem to last even a few days, the magician has to be very powerful and very skilful, and experienced magicians don't really have much use for dim-witted pinocchios. Bringing metal to life, making a crea ture of metal, is even harder: I remember that Sveta once made a walking doll out of paper clips for little Nadya, but it took exactly three steps and then froze for ever. Clay is remarkably malleable and amenable to animation ?it holds the magic for a long time ?but even clay golems are only made very rarely nowadays.
In the East, though, there were devas. Or rather, it was believed that there were. Essentially, they're golems too, only without any material basis - animated clumps of the Twilight, intertwined vortexes of Power. According to legend, creating such a deva (the Arabs usually called them genies) was regarded as an examin ation that a magician had to pass to be acknowledged as higher level. First you had to create the golem, then you had to subordinate it to your will. Some were eliminated at the first stage, but a far sadder fate awaited those who screwed things up at the second.
I thought devas were creatures of legend. Or, at the very most, an extremely rare experiment that one of the greatest magicians of antiquity had managed to pull off once or twice. And even less did I imagine that devas still existed in our own times. However, the members of the local Watches seemed to believe in them
Only they didn't have the Power to spot a deva approaching.
The young Dark One ?I never did learn his name ?screamed and started flailing his arms about, as if he was trying to fight off something invisible. He was lifted up off the ground and carried through the air until he stopped, shouting and squirming, at the height of a two-storey house. I shuddered as I watched the Dark One's sides collapse as if from the pressure of a gigantic hand, and his clothes start to char. His scream became a feeble wheeze.
And then a bloody streak appeared on the Dark One's body in the form of an arc. A moment later the dead body fell to the ground, cut ?or rather bitten ?right through.
I didn't increase the strength of my own shield. In the first place, I didn't know if it would be any use to me against the deva. And in the second ?I was the only one who could stand up to the creature.
I instantly sank down to the second level of the Twilight.
And immediately I saw the deva.
The flexible body woven out of plumes of fire and smoke really did resemble a mythical genie. The predominant colour was grey ?even the petals of flame were blackish-grey, with just the faintest hint of crimson. The deva didn't have any legs: its torso narrowed and became a snake's body that writhed as the deva moved along. The ground underneath it steamed, like damp laundry under an iron. The head, the arms and even the genitals that protruded absurdly from the serpentine half appeared completely human. But they were huge ?the deva stood five or five and a half metres tall - and they were made of smoke and flame. The eyes blazed with a scarlet fire - the only bright detail on the deva's body, and in the entire second level of the Twilight.
The deva saw me too ?just at the moment when it was reaching its hand out for Valentina. The monster howled in glee and came skidding towards me with surprising agility. What was this crazy fashion for reptiles? A two-headed snake in Scotland, and now a half snake, half man in Uzbekistan...
Just as a test, I threw a fireball at the deva ?it had absolutely no effect: the bundle of flames simply dissolved in the monster's body. Then I tried a Triple Blade - the deva winced, but it didn't slow down.
All right, then...
I allowed the Power to flow through my arm and created a White Sword. I was probably influenced by Murat's final action, but it was a mistake to follow the Uzbek magician's example ?the white blade easily sliced through the deva's body, but without causing it any harm. There was no time to ponder the reasons for this failure. The deva swung its arm back and struck out with its hand. I managed to jump back, but a cunning thrust with the tail caught me by surprise and I was sent tumbling across the ground. The deva advanced on me, laughing triumphantly, but I couldn't get up. Strangely enough, I didn't even feel afraid ?all I felt was revulsion at the sight of the monster's penis rising into an erection. The deva clutched his penis in one hand and began waggling it about, either mastur bating or preparing to use it as a club of fire to splat me with.
What was this? Was I supposed to die of a blow from some brainless monster's dick? I didn't try to create another white blade. I gathered Power into the palm of my hand and struck out at the deva with the sign of Thanatos.
The deva flinched and, with his free hand, scratched his chest where the blow had landed. Thin streams of smoke curled and twisted like hairs behind his open palm. Then the deva started roaring with laughter, still clutching his male member, which had grown to the size of a baseball bat by now. The deva radiated heat - not living warmth, but hot air, the same as a blazing bonfire gives off.
He wasn't so brainless after all. I was far more stupid, striking with the sign of death at a being that wasn't even alive.
'Ai, you Satan, you mangy dog, vicious offspring of a sick tape worm!' I heard someone shout from behind the deva. Old man Afandi had somehow managed to enter the second level of the Twilight! And not only that - he had taken a firm grip of the deva's tail and was trying to drag it away from me!
The monster turned round slowly, as if it couldn't believe that anyone would dare to treat it with such contempt. It stopped scratching, and raised its massive hand above the old man's head in a clenched fist. It would drive him into the ground up to his ears!
I sifted frantically through the clutter that had accumulated in my head. Everything to do with golems, from the first classes to the tall stories I'd heard from Semyon. The deva was just another golem. Golems could be destroyed! Golems... golems... cabbal istic golems, golems with goals and free will, golems for fun and amusement, wooden golems... the impossibility of creating a plastic golem... Olga had once told me ... a skill that no one needed any more... the spell wasn't that difficult in principle, but it took a lot of Power...
'Dust and Ashes' I shouted, throwing out one hand towards the deva.
Now everything depended on whether I'd made the sign correctly. The standard position widely used in magical passes, with the thumb gripped between the next two fingers, but with the little finger extended forward, parallel to the thumb. That month of training in stretching our fingers had certainly been well spent. We would be the envy of any pianist...
The monster froze and then slowly turned round to face me. The red light in its eyes went out and the deva began whining shrilly, like a puppy dog when someone steps on its paw. It opened its hand and the penis fell off and shattered in a heap of sparks, like a firebrand that had flown out of a bonfire. Then the fingers on its hands started crumbling away. The deva had stopped whining now: it was sobbing, reaching its fingerless hands out towards me and shaking its blind-eyed head.
That was how the great magicians of the East used to subdue them...
I held the position with the sign of Dust and Ashes, allowing the Power to flow through me, on and on, for about three minutes in second-level Twilight time, until the deva was finally reduced to a handful of ash.
'Cold, isn't it?' said Afandi, hopping up and down. He walked up to the remains of the deva, held out his hands and rubbed them together as he warmed them. Then he spat on the ash and muttered, 'Ugh, you son of evil and father of abomination...'
'Thank you, Afandi,' I said as I got up off the frosty ground. It really was terribly cold on the second level. At least by some miracle I'd managed not to lose the bag with my things ?it was still hanging on my shoulder. Although... perhaps the miracle in question was an affinity spell cast by Svetlana? 'Thank you, Grandad. Let's get you of this place. It's hard for you to stay down here for very long.'
'Ai, thanks, O mighty warrior,' said Afandi, beaming. 'You thanked me? I shall take pride in that for the rest of my pointless life! The vanquisher of a deva has praised me!'
I took him by the elbow without saying a word and dragged him up to the first level. I'd put so much Power into destroying the deva that even I was finding it hard to stay in the Twilight.