A COMMON DESTINY
THE TUTOR LOOKED round intently at the trainees. He was young himself: not so long ago he had been standing in their place, and now he was desperately lacking in respectability. Or at least, that was what he thought.
'We're about to make our first field trip,' the tutor said. His hand automatically reached up for the bridge of his nose ?he was always trying to adjust his spectacles. Why on earth had he cured own his short-sightedness? Spectacles would have added to his respectability! 'Andrei, repeat the assignment.'
A skinny teenage boy took a step forward and recited in a breaking voice:
'We walk along the street. We examine passers-by through the Twilight. If we see any Dark Ones or Light Ones we inform you. But we pay most attention to finding uninitiated Others.'
'What do we do if we discover an uninitiated Other?'
'Nothing,' the boy said firmly. 'We inform you, and then act according to the circumstances. An Other should be initiated at an appropriate moment, when he is most inclined towards the Light.'
'What do we do if we notice a criminal act committed by Dark Ones?'
'Nothing,' the boy replied, with obvious annoyance. 'We inform you and then contact the Watch...'
'While maintaining a safe distance,' the tutor added. 'And what if we discover a crime being committed by human beings?'
'Again, we do nothing,' the boy replied, this time in a really sombre voice. 'All we do is watch!'
The other trainees smiled. In addition to the boy there were two adult men and a young woman standing in the line. In the tutor's opinion, they were all destined for the fourth or fifth level. But the boy might possibly get as far as the second, or even the first. He was an excellent prospect for a battle magician.
'Thank you, Andrei. You put everything quite correctly. We watch. We are only learning. Is that clear? Do not enter the Twilight, do not cast any spells. Our basic task is to search for uninitiated Others. And don't go thinking that it's easy. Sometimes a person has to be studied for several minutes to determine if he or she is a potential Other. By the way, Anton Gorodetsky was discovered during a study assignment like this one. Geser himself discovered him.'
The tutor paused for a few seconds and then joked:
'Well, I'm not Geser, but I am planning to become a Higher Other.'
He had absolutely no chance of reaching the Higher level. As a matter of fact, he had less than half an hour left to live. But the tutor couldn't sense that. In the bundle of probability lines that he could have examined, there was only one inconspicuous little line that led to death.
But at that precise moment dozens of coincidences were coming together and that slim thread was swelling up with blood. Unfortunately, the tutor was too busy to study his own destiny every hour.
'We walk along Chistoprudny Boulevard,' he said. 'We don't do anything, we just watch.'
One kilometre away, at the very centre of the city, on Lubyanskaya Square, a car was stuck solid in a traffic jam. The Caucasian driver shrugged and glanced guiltily at his passenger, who thrust several banknotes into his hand and climbed out of the car. The driver put the money in his pocket and frowned as he watched his passenger walk away. The man was not very likeable, somehow. He had paid well enough, but... The driver looked at the little icon glued to the dashboard of the old Zhiguli, then at the copper plaque with a sura from the Koran. He mentally thanked both the Christian and Muslim gods that the journey had been short. He really hadn't liked that passenger!
The driver was an uninitiated Other, but he didn't know it. Today his destiny could have taken an entirely new direction.
But it hadn't happened. He turned along a side street, where he was almost immediately flagged down by a pushy young woman. They agreed a price and set off to the south-west district.
The tutor halted opposite the Rolan movie theatre and lit a ciga rette. He looked at Andrei, the trainee he felt the greatest liking for, and asked:
'Have you read Denis's Stories?
'Uh-huh,' the boy murmured. He was a well-read, bookish boy from a good family.
'What can we say when we recall the story 'The Grand Master's Hat'?'
'That little Denis Korablyov lived in a very prestigious neigh bourhood,' the boy replied.
The young female trainee laughed. She hadn't read Denis's Stories, she had only seen the TV film a long time ago and then forgotten it, but she understood the irony.
'And what else?' the tutor asked, with a smile. He never smoked as he walked along, because he had read in a fashionable magazine that it wasn't a respectable thing to do. And now every time he inhaled he brought his death closer ?but it wasn't the nicotine that was to blame.
The boy thought about the question. He liked the young woman magician, and he also liked the semi-conscious awareness that he was cleverer than she was.
'We can also say that chess grand masters are very careless people. His hat was carried away by the wind and he didn't notice.'
'I suppose so,' the tutor agreed. 'But for us Others, the main moral of this story is not to get involved in petty human problems. You are likely to be misunderstood or even become an object of aggression.'
'But Denis made up with the grand master. When he offered to play him at chess.'
'And another wise thought!' the tutor continued. 'You don't need any magic to order to establish relations with a human being. You don't even need to try to help him or her. The important thing is to share the other individual's interests.'
They listened to the tutor attentively. He liked to take some fairy tale or children's book as an example and draw lots of inter esting comparisons. The trainees always found that amusing.
Half a kilometre away from them the former taxi passenger was walking along Myasnitskaya Street. He stopped at a kiosk, found some change in his pocket and bought the Komsomolskaya news paper.
The tutor looked around for the nearest rubbish bin. It was a long way away. He was about to throw his cigarette butt in the pond, to delight the swans, but he caught Andrei's eye and changed his mind. This was terrible ?three whole years as a Light Other and his nasty little human habits were still as strong as ever... The tutor walked briskly over to the bin, dropped his butt into it and came back to the trainees.
'Lets move on now. And watch, watch, watch!' By now his death was almost inevitable.
A middle-aged man holding a newspaper approached the Chistoprudnoe metro station. He hesitated before walking down the steps. On the one hand, he was in a hurry. On the other, the day was much too fine. A clear sky, a warm breeze... the borderline between summer and autumn, that season of romantics and poets.
The man strolled as far as the pond, sat on a bench and opened his newspaper. He took a small flask out of the pocket of his jacket and sipped from it. A hobo carrying a plastic bag full of empty bottles stared at the man and licked his lips at the sight of that gulp. Not expecting anything, but unable to overcome his habit of begging, he asked in a hoarse voice:
'Will you give me a drop, brother?'
'You wouldn't like it,' the man replied calmly, without the slightest sign of malice or irritation. It was simply a statement.
The homeless man hobbled on. Three more empty bottles, and he would be able to buy a full one. Number Nine. Strong, sweet, tasty 'Number Nine'... damn all these bourgeois types with their newspapers, there were people here suffering from hangovers...
That was the very day when the hobo's cirrhosis of the liver would develop into cancer. He had less than three months left to live. But that had nothing to do with what was happening on the boulevard.
'A man with a plastic bag, an ordinary human being,' said the woman trainee. 'Andriusha, you have the keenest eyes here, can you see anyone?'
'I see a hobo ... A Light Other by the metro!' the boy cried, with a start. 'Vadim Dmitrievich! A Light Other by the metro! A magician!'
'I see him,' the tutor said. 'Initiated ten years ago. A magician. Fifth level. Not an active member of the Watch.'
The trainees looked at their tutor admiringly. Then Andrei turned his head back and blurted out gleefully:
'Oh! On the bench! A Dark Other! Undead! A vampire! A Higher Vampire! Not registered
The boy had begun lowering his voice at the word 'undead', and he had pronounced the words 'not registered' almost in a whisper.
But the vampire had heard. He folded his newspaper and stood up. He looked at the boy and shook his head.
'Go,' said the tutor, tugging Andrei by the sleeve and dragging him behind himself. 'Everybody go, quickly!'
The vampire walked towards him, taking long steps, reaching out his right hand as if in greeting.
One of the male trainees took out a phone and pressed the emergency contact button. The vampire growled and started walking faster.
'Halt! Night Watch!' said Vadim Dmitrievich, raising his hand and creating the Magician's Shield. 'Stop ?you are under arrest!'
The vampire's silhouette blurred as if from rapid movement. The young woman trainee screamed as she tried to erect her Shield but couldn't manage it. The tutor turned to look at her, and at that instant something struck him in the chest, tightened in a hot, prickly fist ?and ripped out his heart. The useless Shield fizzled out, dissipating into space. The tutor swayed, not falling yet, staring helplessly at the bloody, beating lump of flesh lying at his feet. Then he started leaning down, as if to pick up his heart and stuff it back into the ragged, gaping hole in his chest. The world around him turned dark, the asphalt leapt up towards him, and he fell, clutching his own heart in his hand. His teaching career had not been a very long one.
The young woman squealed when the blow descended on her and she was tossed between the trees to the very edge of the roadway. She lay there across the kerb, still squealing and watching a car the same colour as the dirty asphalt driving straight at her.
The car managed to brake in time
The young woman squealed again as she tried to get up, and only then felt the terrible pain at her waist. She lost consciousness.
Andrei was suddenly jerked up into the air, as if someone wanted to look him in the eyes or sink their teeth into his throat. A voice whispered:
'Why did you have to see me, A-student?'
The boy screamed and began struggling in those invisible hands. He could feel a shameful damp patch spreading across his jeans.
'Have you been taught to record auras?' the voice asked out of thin air. 'Remember, I can sense a lie.'
'No!' Andrei shouted, squirming. The invisible vampire's grip slackened slightly.
And just at that moment the boy's eyes were blinded by a bright flash. One of the male trainees had managed to gather enough Power for a battle spell after all. Well, of course, it wasn't only young kids who liked to peep into the next sections of the textbook...
Andrei was jerked through the air, the world spun round him ?and he landed with a splash right in the middle of the pond, frightening the fat, lazy swans and the sly, brazen ducks. From there he saw the male trainee who had thrown the Shock spell fall, and the other trainee, who was making a phone call, take to his heels.
Andrei swam to the structure meant for the swans and scram bled up onto the wooden platform. The little house smelled of bird droppings. But the boy still preferred to sit there in the middle of the pond until the operations group arrived. The following day his action was described by Geser as the only correct thing that he could have done in the given situation, and the boy was un officially requested to think about working in the Watch. As Vadim Dmitrievich had used to say when he was alive: 'Dead heroes serve in a different place.'
Considering the nature of the situation, there weren't many casu alties. Only the tutor and one of the trainees, a mathematician by education. Perhaps he hadn't had enough time to calculate what kind of opposition an untrained fifth-level magician could offer a Higher Vampire.
Or perhaps he simply hadn't bothered to calculate anything.