'How! LOVELY! IT is! Here!' Nadya exclaimed.
I picked her up in my arms. We were standing on a cobbled street in Edinburgh, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of sleeping people. The sirens were drawing closer and closer as the time of the Others was coming to an end.
'Yes,' I agreed. 'Everything here is real.'
'Only everyone's sleeping,' Nadya observed sadly. 'Like in the fairy story about the sleeping princess. Can I wake them up?'
She could... She could do anything at all now ?if she was taught.
'But aren't you tired?' I asked. My legs were buckling under me and I was feeling a bit dizzy.
'What from?' Nadya asked in surprise
'In a little while,' I said. 'Just a little while, we'll wake everyone up ... all those we can. Daddy just has to do one thing that's very important first. Will you help me?'
'Just hold onto me,' I said. I closed my eyes and flung out my arms. I held my breath.
I had to feel this city. The stones and the walls that remembered Merlin and Arthur. People might have forgotten, but the stones remembered. The ancient fortress, set above the city like a crown, remembered too, and it was waiting.
Why were we so stupid sometimes? Why did we expect magic to be hidden in something we could hold in our hands, when it could be everywhere all around us?
Of course, Merlin hadn't hidden his most important creation in the Twilight, he hadn't put his trust in the strength of the golem, but he hadn't put it in the strength of oak chests either. This ancient fortress had stood on the cliff for fifteen hundred years, it had been defended and captured, it had been destroyed and rebuilt, the proud kings of Scotland had kept their treasures in it ?and the stones covered with runes that Merlin had laid in the deepest foundations had been waiting for their time to come.
I only had to reach out to them. Touch them. Feel them...
'Light One!' someone roared behind me. I looked round, emerging from my trance.
Edgar and Arina were standing there, just looking at me ?and I was astonished to realise that their eyes were full of fear. Gennady was running at me. Running and shouting. Surely he didn't think that the power of magic depended on how loud you shouted? He came rushing towards me, taking immense bounds, transforming as he advanced, looking less and less like a human being. His fangs were growing, his skin was turning the colour of death, the hair on his head was falling out in tangled grey skeins.
I raised my hand, gathering Power for the Grey Prayer.
But just then Nadya stepped forward and shrieked in the vampire's face:
'Don't shout at my daddy!'
Gennady staggered. What had struck him was more powerful than hate. But he couldn't stop, he kept moving forward, as if he was running against a hurricane. And he collapsed at our feet. Nadya squealed and hid behind me.
I squatted down and looked into Gennady Saushkin's eyes. He looked at me and asked:
'Can't they come?'
'No, they can't come. And they would never have been able to. But I will do what they asked me to. Go, while there is still time.'
'Help me, Anton,' he said in an almost normal voice.
'Nadya, look the other way!' I ordered.
'I'm not looking, I'm not!' my daughter mumbled, turning away and putting her hands over her eyes to make quite sure.
I raised my hand, with Gennady watching my movements as if he were already spellbound. And the Grey Prayer dispatched the vampire to the sixth level of the Twilight.
I got up and looked at Edgar and Arina. 'A zero-point Other,' Arina said in delight. 'An Absolute Enchantress...'
'For five minutes I'll be much too busy too be concerned with you,' I said, looking at them. 'But afterwards... '
'We have the Minoan Sphere,' Edgar said pleadingly. 'Can we?'
'They'll search for you,' I said. 'And so will I, remember that. But just now you have five minutes. And only because they asked me to forgive.'
'What are you going to do?' Arina asked.
'What those who have withdrawn have been dreaming of. Grant them death. Because without death resurrection is impossible.'
Edgar narrowed his eyes. He opened a bag hanging at his waist, took out a small ivory sphere and handed it to Arina. She took it without saying a word.
'Help me too, Light One,' Edgar said. 'What's it to you?'
'You've got protective charms draped all over you like garlands on a New Year's tree. How can I help you?'
'I'll help him,' Arina suddenly said. 'Don't you get sidetracked. Do what you've got to do.'
I didn't understand exactly what it was that she did. She seemed just to move her lips. Edgar smiled, and for an instant his face was handsome and almost young. Then his legs buckled and he collapsed onto the cobblestones of the street.
'But you're not planning to dematerialise,' I remarked. 'What kind of a Light One are you?'
'Well, one way or another the goal has been achieved now,' Arina declared. 'The withdrawn will get what they were longing for!'
I shook my head. Then I looked at the castle and closed my eyes again.
'I'm returning your phone...'Arina said. 'I don't want anybody else's things.'
I heard the Minoan Sphere burst quietly behind my back, opening up a portal for Arina, one that would be impossible to trace. Oh, she had been a strange Dark One, and she had turned into a strange Light One.
Suddenly I heard the faint sound of music. Arina had switched on the player built into the phone. By chance?
Or to show that her grasp of technology was a lot better than I thought?
They seem to have left the nigredo like you and I And they walk in the light, knowing nothing. They spit in the mirror and laugh at themselves - yes, They have left the nigredo, knowing nothing.
The dark one will be punished, his brow smeared with chalk, The light one will be caught and rolled in soot, But what can you do?
Like you and 1 they seem to have left the nigredo, Knowing nothing.
On the capricious hand there are eight lifelines, And so when they meet they maul each other, But what can you do?
Like you and I they seem to have left the nigredo, Knowing nothing.*
(* Translator's note: Nigredo and Albedo are alchemical terms for 'Blackness' and 'Whiteness')
Well now, that's already a blessing. When you manage to get out of the nigredo, whether you're a Dark One or a Light One, you have a chance to continue your journey. You can only move on via the nigredo, decay and dissolution. Move on to synthesis. To the creation of the new. To albedo.
The ancient stones on the top of the cliff were waiting.
I reached out to them. No spells, words or rituals were required here. I only had to know what to reach out towards and what to ask for.
Merlin had always left himself a loophole. Even as he was about to set out for the Others' heaven he had suspected that this stolen heaven might turn out to be hell.
'Release them,' I pleaded, without even knowing whom I meant. 'Release them, please. They have done evil that was evil, and good that turned into evil. But for all things the time comes for forgive ness. Release them...'
The fortress towering over the city seemed to sigh. The birds circling in the sky started moving lower. The dense gloom in the air began to dissipate. The final ray of the setting sun fell on the city in a promise to return with the dawn.
And I felt all the levels of creation shrink together and tremble.
I saw the stone idols on the Plateau of Demons in Uzbekistan collapse and crumble, as if it were happening in front of my very eyes. I saw the Others who had withdrawn into the Twilight after dematerialising dissolve into it ?with a feeling of relief and tremu lous hope.
It became easier to breathe.
'Daddy, can I look now?' Nadya asked. 'Just peep with one eye?'
'Yes,' I answered. I squatted down ?my legs wouldn't hold me up any longer. 'Daddy's just going to have a little rest, and then we'll go home... will you take me the short way?'
'All right,' Nadya agreed.
'No, you know what, let's not take the short road,' I said, changing my mind abruptly. 'I don't really like short roads. Why don't we fly in an aeroplane?'
'Hooray!' Nadya shrieked. 'In an aeroplane! And will we come back here sometime?'
I looked at her and smiled. Maybe I'd manage to teach her always to be wary of simple answers and short roads.
'Definitely,' I said. 'You didn't think this was the Last Watch, did you?'