GESER WAS STANDING at the window, watching the city deck itself out in its evening lights. Standing there silently, with only his hands, which were clasped behind his back, moving ?as if he were weaving some kind of cunning spell.
Olga and I didn't say anything either. Anyone might have thought that it was all our fault...
Garik came in and lingered just inside the door.
'Well?' Geser asked without turning round.
'Fifty-two,' Garik said.
'What do the specialists say?'
'They've examined three. They all have the same injuries. The throat has been bitten and the blood has been drunk. Boris Ignatievich, can we carry on with this somewhere else? The stench is so terrible that the spells can't handle it... And it's all around the house already ... as if a sewer had burst... '
'Have you called a truck?'
'All right, take them away,' said Geser. 'To some waste ground, well away from the city. Let them be inspected there.'
'And then...' Geser said pensively. 'Then bury them.'
'Are we not going to send them back to their families?'
Geser thought it over. Then suddenly he turned to me.
'Anton, what do you think?'
'I don't know,' I replied honestly. 'Disappeared without trace or killed ... I don't know which is better for the families.'
'Bury them,' Geser ordered. 'When the time comes we'll think about it. Perhaps we'll start quietly exhuming them and sending them back to their families. Invent a story for each one. Do they all have documents?'
'Yes, they were lying in a separate pile. All neat and tidy, the work of a perfectionist.'
Yes, Gennady had always been neat and tidy. He used to lay down polythene sheeting when he drilled holes in the wall, and then carefully cleaned the floor after himself...
'How could we have failed to notice him?' Geser asked in a voice filled with pain. 'How did we fluff it? A vampire killed more than fifty people right under our very noses!'
'Well, none of them are Moscow locals,' Garik said. 'They're from Tajikistan, Moldova, Ukraine...' He sighed. 'Working men who came to Moscow looking for a job. Not registered in Moscow, of course. They lived here illegally. They have places along the main roads, where they stand for a day or two, waiting to be hired. And he's a builder, right? He knew everyone and they knew him. He just drove up and said he needed five men for a job. And he chose them himself, too, the bastard. Then he drove them away. And a week later he came back for some more...'
'Are people really still so sloppy?' Geser asked. 'Even now? Fifty men died, and nobody missed them?'
'Nobody,' Garik said, with a sigh. 'That dead piece of filth... he probably didn't kill them all straight away ... he killed one and the others waited for their turn ?for a day, two, three. In this room. And he put the ones he'd drunk in two polythene bags so they wouldn't stink and stacked them in the corner. The radiators on that side are even switched off. He must have started in the winter...'
'I really feel like killing someone,' Geser hissed through his teeth. 'Preferably a vampire. But any Dark One would do.'
'Then try me,' said Zabulon, casually moving Garik aside as he entered the Saushkin family's sitting room. He yawned and sat down on the divan.
'Don't provoke me,' Geser said quietly. 'I might just take it as an official challenge to a duel.'
A deadly silence fell in the apartment. Zabulon screwed up his eyes and gathered himself. As usual, he was wearing a suit, but without a tie. And for some reason I got the idea that he had chosen the black suit and white shirt deliberately, as a sign of mourning.
Olga and I waited, watching these two Others who were respon sible for what happened on a sixth of the world's land surface.
'Geser, it was a figure of speech,' Zabulon said in a conciliatory tone of voice. He leaned back on the divan. 'You don't think I was aware of this... excess, do you?'
'I don't know,' Geser snapped. But from the tone of his voice it was clear that he knew perfectly well that Zabulon had nothing to do with this business.
'Well, let me tell you,' Zabulon said just as peaceably, 'that I am every bit as outraged as you are, or perhaps even more so. And the entire community of Moscow vampires is outraged and demands the execution of this criminal.'
Geser snorted. And Zabulon finally couldn't resist making a jibe.
'You know, they don't like the idea of their food base being undermined
'I'll give them a food base,' Geser declared in a low, grave voice. 'I'll keep a lid on the conserved blood for five years.'
'Do you think the Inquisition will support you?' Zabulon asked.
'1 think so,' said Geser, finally turning round and looking him in the eye. 'I think so. And you will support my request.'
Zabulon lost the game of stare-me-down. The Dark One sighed, turned away, looked at me and shrugged, as if to say: 'What am I to do with him, eh?' He took out a long, frivolous pink cigarette and lit it. Then he said:
'They've gone completely wild...'
'Then you make sure they don't go wild.'
'Their children can't grow up without this, you know that. Without fresh blood they never reach sexual maturity'
Naturally, Zabulon was not in the least concerned for the fate of vampire children. He just wanted to make fun of Geser. As far as that was at all possible.
'Children? We'll allow the children fresh blood,' Geser said after thinking for a moment. 'We wouldn't want thirty ... er ... Anton?'
'We wouldn't want thirty-two bloodsucking teenagers. Fresh blood. But donor blood! We are suspending the issue of licences for five years.'
Zabulon sighed and said, 'All right. I've been thinking it was time to tighten their rein myself. I asked the secretary of the community to keep an eye on the Saushkins... they proved to be a rotten little family'
'I ought to have insisted on seven years,' said Geser. 'You agreed to five too easily'
'But what's to be done now? We've already agreed,' said Zabulon, puffing out a cloud of smoke. He turned to me. 'Anton, did you come to see Gennady after Kostya was killed?'
'No,' I answered.
'But why didn't you? As an old friend and neighbour... ai-ai-ai...'
I didn't answer. Eight years earlier I would have blown my top.
'We've decided this matter,' said Geser. He frowned as he looked out into the corridor, where they had started carrying out the bodies. The whole entrance and stairway had been put under a light spell that completely removed any desire the inhabitants of the building might have had to glance out of their doors or look out of their windows. But then, in view of the fact that no one had come to see what the woman from my old apartment had been screeching about, people around here must all have been exceptionally incurious anyway.
It kept getting harder and harder for me to love them. I had to do something about that.
'What else?' Zabulon asked. 'As far as help in catching Saushkin is concerned, there's no problem. My watchmen are already out hunting for him. Only I'm afraid they might not deliver him in one piece...'
'You're not looking too good, Zabulon,' Geser suddenly said. 'Why don't you go to the bathroom and wash your hands and face?'
'Really?' Zabulon asked curiously. 'Well, since you ask...'
He got up and then halted in the doorway for a moment to make way for two watchmen who were carrying a half-decomposed corpse in a plastic sack. Apart from blood, there's a lot of water in a human body. If you leave a bloodless body to rot inside a plastic cocoon, the result is extremely unpleasant.
Zabulon, however, was not appalled by the sight.
'I beg your pardon, madam,' he said, letting the remains past. Then he strode cheerfully off to the bathroom.
'Were there women as well?' Geser asked.
'Yes,' Olga replied briefly.
Geser didn't ask any more questions. Apparently even our iron boss's nerves had given way.
That night the lads who were carrying out the bodies would get totally juiced. And although it was a breach of the rules, I wouldn't try to stop them. I'd sooner go out on patrol duty myself.
Zabulon came back a minute later. His face was wet.
?The towel's dirty, I'll dry off like this,' he said, with a smile. 'Well?'
'Your opinion?' Geser asked.
'I had this friend once, she liked to draw a New Year's tree on the mirror with toothpaste for the festive season. And the words "Happy New Year", and little numbers.'
'Very funny,' Geser said fastidiously. 'Have you heard anything about such an organisation?'
'About a "Last Watch"?' Zabulon asked, clearly emphasising the capital letters in his intonation. 'My dear enemy, even among the I )ark Ones there are any number of sects, groups and mere clubs that I have never even heard of. But there are some that I have heard of. And the names that you come across! "Children of the Night!", "Watchmen of the Full Moon","Sons of the Wind". And, by the way, I recall one group of children ?human children, not Others ?who love to play at vampires. Perhaps we ought to bring them here? To make them realise that a vampire is not really an imposing gentleman in a black cloak who lures maidens into an ancient castle? It's not that Gothic at all... '
'Zabulon, have you heard anything about the "Last Watch"?'
'Gorodetsky has suggested' ?Geser paused and looked at me ?'that it's what the three Others who tried to get their hands on the artefact in Edinburgh call themselves. The Dark One, the Inquisitor and the Light One.'
'The Dark One is Saushkin, the Inquisitor is Edgar,' Zabulon said, nodding. 'But who is the Light One?'
'I don't know. We've checked all the Higher Ones, they're clean.'
'Well, Saushkin wasn't a Higher One...' Zabulon said with a shrug. 'Although... it's easier for vampires. And then, what about Edgar? Gorodetsky?'
'I didn't have time to study his aura thoroughly,' I replied. 'There was a battle going on ... and he was also hung with amulets from head to toe. Give me five minutes in a quiet situation, and I'll know everything there is to know about him...'
'Nonetheless,' Zabulon insisted, 'I know what happened on the Plateau of Demons. In general terms. So tell us about it.'
'In battle he behaved like a Higher One,' I stated after seeing Geser nod reluctantly in consent. 'There were three of us ... well, two, if you don't count Afandi, although he tried his best too. We had a set of protective amulets from Geser, all very well chosen. But he was almost a match for us. I even think that he might have been able to continue the fight and have a chance of winning. But when Rustam left, Edgar had no reason to carry on fighting.'
'And so we have an Other who has managed to raise his level,' said Zabulon. 'My dear Geser, don't you think that the Inquisition did get hold of the Fuaran after all?'
'No,' Geser said firmly.
'If Kostya had survived,' Zabulon said, thinking out loud, 'then we might have hypothesised that he had memorised the formulas in the Fuaran. And managed to create some ?er ?copy of the book. Perhaps not as powerful, but still capable of raising Edgar to the Higher level. And then a Light One could have been subjected to the same procedure.'
'And then we could suspect any Light One,' Geser summed up. 'But fortunately for us, Kostya is dead and he wasn't able to reveal the secret of the Fuaran to anyone.'
'Did he not have time to share the contents of the book with his father?'
'No,' Geser replied firmly. 'It's a book of enchantment. You can't retell it over the phone, you can't photograph it.'
'What a shame, that would be such a good idea,' Zabulon said, clicking his fingers. 'A little witch showed me just recently that there's this thing in cellphones, it's called MMS messaging! You can send a photograph over the phone.'
At first I thought Zabulon was being witty again. Talking with a straight face about the MMS messages that little kids cheerfully send each other in class, he looked very comical.
And then I realised he was being serious. Sometimes I forget just how old they are. To Zabulon a cellphone is like magic.
'Fortunately it's not possible,' said Geser. 'He could have mem orised something and reproduced it... but no, that's nonsense. Even that's impossible. The nature of a vampire is different from the nature of a witch. Only an experienced witch could recreate the Fuaran, even in a weaker form...'
I looked at Geser and asked:
'Tell me, Boris Ignatievich... can a witch become a Light One?'
The happiest moments in the life of the parents of a small child are from a quarter to nine until nine o'clock in the evening. Fifteen minutes of happiness while the child joyfully watches adverts for yogurt and chocolate (even though that is a bad thing) and then his or her eyes are glued to Piggy, Crow, Stepashka and the other characters in the programme Good Night, Kiddies.
If only the people who allocate time for children's programmes on TV sat with their own children in the evening, instead of dumping them on highly trained nannies, then Good Night would last half an hour. Or an hour.
And by the way, that would be great for improving the birth rate. Fifteen minutes is not very long, whichever way you look at it. At least there would be time to drink a cup of tea in peace.
I didn't tell Svetlana the details of what we had seen in Saushkin's flat. But she understood everything perfectly well, even from a very brief account. No, it didn't spoil her appetite, she carried on drinking tea. We had seen plenty of worse things in the Watch. But, of course, she turned a bit gloomy.
'We have a theory about the Light One,' I said, trying to lead the conversation on to a different subject. 'Geser checked out all the Higher Ones, no one's under suspicion there. Well, Edgar had a lot of charms on him. That's the work of a witch. So I thought...'
'That Arina had changed colour?' Svetlana asked, looking at me. 'Maybe.'
'You squeezed her pretty hard that time,' I said. 'You must have felt her mind. Do you think she could have become a Light One?'
'For an ordinary Other, it's impossible,' Svetlana said. 'Or almost impossible... For a Higher One... for Arina...'
She paused, remembering. I waited, glancing now and then at the TV screen, where a sad little girl was dragging a mitten along on a string and imagining that it was a puppy. How terrible! That would be the end of all our mittens and gloves. Nadya wouldn't actually turn them into dogs, of course - any magic has its limits. But there would be more toy dogs in the apartment from now on.
It was time to buy her a puppy, before life became unbearable.
'She could,' Svetlana said. 'She could have become a Light One. Her soul is very strange, everything's mixed up together inside it... there weren't any particular atrocities, though. But Arina swore an oath to me that she would live for a hundred years without killing a single human being or Other. She can't go against that.'
'And she hasn't killed anyone,' I observed. 'But as for supplying Edgar with amulets and raising his level of Power... nothing was said about that. Arina has enough wisdom to interpret your prohi bition like that.'
'Anton, we're talking about the wrong thing,' Svetlana said, putting down her cup. 'Arina, who has become a Light One, or some other enchantress ?that's not the point at all. The import ant question to ask is: What are they trying to achieve? What has united them? The ambition to destroy the entire world? Nonsense! You only find people who want to destroy the world just for the sake of it in stupid films. Power? But that's stupid too, Anton! They have enough Power already. No artefact, not even one made by a crazy magician fifteen hundred years ago, will allow them to achieve absolute Power. Until we understand what they are trying to achieve, what they want to find at the bottom of the Twilight, then it's completely irrelevant whether it is Arina or not, if she has become a Light One, or disguised herself so that Thomas couldn't recognise her.'
'Sveta, do you have any hunches?' I pretended not to notice that she had said 'we'. It's true what they say - you never really leave the Watch completely.
'The Crown of All Things erases the barriers between the levels of the Twilight... ' Svetlana said and paused.
'Mama, the cartoon's over!' Nadya shouted.
'Try comparing it with the White Mist. The spells obviously have a single root... ' Svetlana said, getting up and walking towards Nadya. 'Time for bed.'
'A story!' Nadya demanded.
'Not today. Daddy and I have to talk.'
Nadya looked at me resentfully, fiddling with the thin string of turquoise beads round her neck. She muttered:
'You're always talking... And Daddy's always going away'
'That's Daddy's job,' Svetlana explained calmly, grabbing hold of her daughter's hand. 'You know he fights against the forces of darkness.'
'Like Harry Potter,' Nadya said rather doubtfully, looking at me. I suppose I didn't have the spectacles or the scar on my forehead that were needed to match up to the image.
'Yes, like Harry Potter, Fat Frumos and Luke Skywalker.'
'Like Luke Skywalker,' Nadya decided and gave me a smile. Obviously that was the character she thought I resembled most of all. Well, that was better than nothing.
'I'll be straight back...' said Svetlana, and the two of them went to the nursery. I sat there, looking at a chocolate sweet with a bite taken out of it. It had alternate layers of dark choc olate and white chocolate. When I counted seven layers, I laughed. It was a graphic illustration of the structure of the Twilight. The White Mist folded all the layers together, turning any Others who got in the way into stone. Okay, let's sidestep the effect of the spell in battle. What happened afterwards? I closed my eyes, trying to remember.
Afterwards the Twilight straightened out again. The levels of the Twilight returned to their old places.
Why had we decided that the Crown of All Things would join the Twilight and the real world together for ever? Simply because we believed what Rustam had said? But how did he know... The Twilight would fold up - and then expand again. As it left our world the Twilight would spread out its layers again. It was like a stiff spring ?you could compress it, but it would straighten back out.
And that was interesting. I didn't believe in a Merlin who had created a magical bomb to destroy the entire world simply for the fun of it. He wasn't that kind of Other. But I could easily believe in Merlin as an experimenter who had invented a new amuse ment but had decided not to try it out.
What might happen if all the levels of the Twilight were united with the real world for a short time?
Would all Others die out?
In that case Merlin would surely have boasted of his power.
But he had thought up a kind of allegorical riddle for his message...
I recited the verse in a low voice as I watched Svetlana walking back quietly into the kitchen.
'The Crown of All Things is here concealed.
Only one step is left. But this is a legacy for the strong or the wise ?
You shall receive all and nothing, when you are able to take it.
Proceed, if you are as strong as I;
Or go back, if you are as wise as I.
Beginning and end, head and tail,
all is fused in one,
In the Crown of All Things.
Thus are life and death inseparable.'
'Trying to understand it?' Svetlana asked as she sat down beside me. 'You know what I was thinking ?why did we decide that the Twilight would come together with the world for ever? Most probably it would move back out again.'
'That's what I was thinking too,' I agreed. 'Like with the White Mist. But what would that lead to? Blue moss starting to grow in our world?'
'Wouldn't the botanists have a field day! A new form of plant life, and one that reacts to human emotions. They'd write millions of doctoral theses
'They'd open factories for processing blue moss,' I added. 'Start spinning threads out of it, making blue jeans...'
Svetlana suddenly turned serious.
'And what would happen to those who live in the Twilight?'
'The disembodied Others?' I asked.
'Life and death,' I said, and nodded too. 'I don't know. Do you suppose they might be ... resurrected? Come to life again in our world?'
'Why not? We know they live there. I even saw one on the fifth level, when I was fighting Arina...'
'And you didn't tell me,' I commented.
'You know it's best not to talk about these things. It's best not to know about it if you can't get there yourself. I'm not at all sure that everybody ends up there, perhaps it's only the most powerful. The Higher Ones, for example. Why should all the rest know that they won't have any existence after death?'
'Thomas the Rhymer said that down there on the lower levels of the Twilight there are magical cities, dragons and unicorns ?all the things that don't exist in our world, but could have done.'
Svetlana shook her head
'Thomas seems like a very good man to me. But he's a bard. A poet. You can't cure that, Anton. You talked to him when he was in his Twilight Form, dreaming about unicorns and fairies, and magical cities, Others who have built a world of their own and don't live as parasites on the human world. I wouldn't count too much on all that being true. Perhaps there are only little huts and wooden houses there. And no fairies and unicorns.'
'That's still not too bad,' I said. 'Very many people would gladly swap the heaven they desperately hope to get to some day for eternal life in a hut out in the countryside. There are certainly trees there.'
'The Other I saw didn't look very happy' Svetlana said. 'Of course, he was... well, kind of blurred, not very clear. But that's only natural, if his usual habitat is the seventh level of the Twilight. But he looked so ... creased and rumpled. And he ran towards me, as if he wanted to tell me something. But I had other things on my mind at the time, you understand.'
'And I saw a former Other on the first level,' I recalled. 'When I was hunting that wild White One, Maxim.* ( * This story is told in the second part of the book The Night Watch.)
He even gave me a bit of help, told me which way I should go.'
'It happens sometimes,' Svetlana agreed. 'Not often, but I've heard a few stories. And you already told me...'
Neither of us said anything for a while.
'Maybe they really would be brought back into our world,' Svetlana said. 'And that might be enough to make Edgar, Gennady and Arina work together. They must all have lost loved ones, not just Saushkin. And probably anyone who has lost loved ones would be thrown off balance by an opportunity like this.'
'It would throw anyone at all off balance,' I said.
We looked at each in alarm. It was good that now we were guarded round the clock. It was bad that our potential enemies were three Higher Ones.
'I'll put up a few more protective spells for the night,' said Svetlana. 'Don't think me a coward.'
'The Crown of All Things can be reached by force,' I said. 'By breaking through to the seventh level of the Twilight. But I couldn't do it. Probably Nadya could. If only I knew how to get through by using my wits ... by cunning. I'd use that artefact myself. There'd be about the same number of Light and Dark magicians down there ?we'd manage.'
'And what if we're wrong, and it's nothing but a bomb that will destroy the world?'
'That's why I prefer not even to think about how to reach the artefact. I'll leave that headache to Geser and Zabulon.'
'Let's go to bed and sleep on it,' Svetlana said. 'Tomorrow's a new day.'
But we didn't go to bed straight away. First Svetlana put up several new protective spells around the apartment, and then I did the same.