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The Last Watch (Watch 4) - Page 6

FIRST I UNLOCKED the wolf's door, and then mine. The wolf darted into the dark room, turned round and slammed the door shut with his muzzle. Immediately I heard a damp tearing sound, as if someone was ripping wet foam rubber into pieces. The werewolf had begun transforming back into a human.

I walked into my suite, switched on the light and closed the door. I put Shooter I, still smelling of gunpowder smoke, in the corner. I pulled off my bloody T-shirt and threw it in the rubbish bin. I took a look at myself in the mirror.

A handsome devil. One shoulder caked with blood and a terrible crimson scar where the bullets had entered.

But never mind. The important thing now was to patch up the wound. I'd apply an Avicenna spell now, and by morning there wouldn't be a single trace left. What was a bullet wound to us magicians? Pah! A mere trifle. But I closed the curtains across the windows anyway and switched off the ceiling light. If I got another bullet in the head, no magic would save me.

I stood under the shower, washing away the sweat and blood, and simply luxuriating in the warm streams of water, trying to fit all the pieces together.

The Dungeons of Scotland was an anomalous zone through which Power drained out of our world ... to where? To the lower levels of the Twilight, obviously. That was clear enough.

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Egor had been invited to Edinburgh as a potential Mirror Magician. That is, as a magician who would take the side of the Night Watch ?Foma wouldn't work against his own interests! And so Foma was afraid of a serious battle in which the Dark Ones would get the upper hand. He was so afraid that he was trying to cover himself in every possible way. And Geser had apparently sent me to Scotland at his request. That was clear enough too.

But after that, things were a bit less clear!

Victor's blood had been sucked out ?only a vampire, with his throat built like a vacuum pump, could drain a man dry like that in three or four minutes. But the vampire had immediately puked the blood into the trough. Why? Was he not hungry? But a vampire is never well enough fed to turn down another helping. Blood is not so much food as energy in the only form that vampires can absorb. A vampire can digest the blood he has drunk in fifteen minutes. Why pour it away? So they wouldn't think it was a vampire? But people don't believe in vampires anyway, and the form of the wound would make everything clear to the Watch.

Why had the watchman been killed? And in such a cruel manner? Was he getting under somebody's feet in the Dungeons? But there were plenty of ways to put a man out of action without doing him any harm. That Morpheus spell, for instance. The vampire Call. If it came to it, a blow across the head with a club ?cruel, but not fatal! An incomprehensible, unnecessary murder...

And then everything really got tied into knots with the robot shooter! Sometimes we and the Dark Ones do use firearms. It's particularly common among young Others ?a serious faith in heavy pistols, machine guns loaded with silver bullets, powerful grenades. But who could have brought a remote-controlled robot shooter to peaceful Edinburgh? I hadn't even known that such devices had already got past the prototype stage and been put into mass production in China. There was nothing complicated about them, of course ?a rotating turret, a TV camera and a night-vision device. Whoever had set up the robot on my route had been hiding somewhere far away, staring into the screen of a control panel, twirling a joystick, pressing the 'fire' button. Any magician ?or any vampire ?could do it. Or any human being, come to that.

What was going on? Why was there so much aggression directed against me? Attacking a Higher Light One, and a member of the Night Watch, was a very serious step to take. Whoever had taken it must have nothing to lose...

As if someone had read my thoughts there was a knock at the door. I groaned, closed my dressing gown and went to open up.

Standing outside on the doorstep was a girl, or a very young woman ?she was about fifteen, the age that can be interpreted in different ways. The girl was barefoot, her short black hair glis tened and the black-and-red dressing gown seemed to be the only thing that she was wearing.

'May I come in?' she asked in the voice of an exemplary schoolgirl.

'I ought to have guessed straight away,' I said. 'Yes, come in.'

'And how ought you to have guessed?' the girl asked, lowering her eyes. 'By taking a better look at the figurine?'

'I didn't have a microscope with me. But a male wolf would certainly have pissed on the gun.'

'Oh, how crude you are ?and a Light One, too!' the girl said with a frown.She walked over to an armchair, sat down and crossed her legs. 'Not pissed on it, marked it! You don't mind me coming in? I won't compromise you?'

'Unfortunately no, my child, you won't compromise me,' I said, opening the mini-bar. 'Would you like something?'

'Warm milk with honey'

I nodded.

'All right, I'll just call the restaurant.'

'There isn't any room service here.'

'They'll make an exception for me,' I said confidently.

'Don't worry, pour me some wine. Red.'

I poured myself a whisky with ice. Then I spotted a fifty-gram bottle of Drambuie and poured that into the whisky. Just what I needed for a sound night's sleep - a large serving of 'rusty nail'. If the girl could do without her milk and honey, that was no reason for me to do without my honeyed whisky ...

'So whose tail have you stepped on so hard?' the girl asked. 'That's the first time I've seen a robot rod blazing away like that... '

'It isn't a rod...'

'What's the difference?' My guest snorted. 'I'm a girl, I'm allowed to get it wrong.'

'You're not a girl, you're a werewolf I looked closely at her face. 'And I remember you.'

'You do? 'All her bravado suddenly evaporated. 'You remember?'

'Of course. Your name's Galya. You were the one who noticed the witch Arina when she kidnapped my daughter*

(*This story is told in the second part of the book The Twilight Watch.)

'You do remember,' the girl said, with a smile. 'And I thought you must have forgotten a long time ago.'

'No.' I handed her the glass of wine. 'Thank you. You really helped a lot that time.'

'You have a fine daughter.' She took a bold gulp of wine and frowned slightly. 'And your wife is very beautiful.'

I nodded and asked:

'What are you going to do now?'

'I don't know. Zabulon told me this is a very important assignment. He said I have to help you, even though you're a Light One. Protect you against everything.'

'But why you?' I asked. 'Pardon me for saying so, but you are very young. And you're only fifth level.'

'Because I...' Galya hesitated. 'Was I some help? Even though I am only fifth level?'

'Yes, you were.' I downed my cocktail in a single gulp. 'I'm sorry, I'm terribly sleepy'

'So am I. But I feel so afraid in there. It's all red and black. Can I stay with you?' She looked at me and lowered her gaze in embarrassment.

I put down my glass and nodded.

'Of course. Will the sofa be all right for you? I'll give you a pillow and a blanket.'

'Light One...' the girl said slowly in an offended voice. 'All right, I'll leave these heavenly halls and go back to my anteroom in hell. It will probably feel more cheerful in any case!'

She walked proudly out of the room, clutching the glass of wine in her hand. I glanced into her doorway - her suite really was decorated in crimson and black. On the floor I saw scraps of black wool ?the girl had transformed so quickly that she hadn't given her skin time to change completely.

As she closed her door, Galya stuck her tongue out at me.

And after I closed mine, I started laughing quietly.

Acceleration, emancipation and the sexual revolution! No, I won't lie, I liked the idea that this girl had fallen for me four years earlier. Or maybe not four years earlier, maybe she had fallen in love afterwards. Retrospectively, so to speak. When the flood of hormones brought the time for romantic emotions and vague desires.

And how hard she'd tried to seduce me! Crossing her legs like that, allowing her dressing gown to slip, making those eyes at me.

Yes, sometimes I felt it was a great shame that I was a Light One...

But I wanted to sleep so badly that I felt absolutely no desire to indulge in exciting fantasies about sex with a young female werewolf. I posted a few guardian and defence spells entirely auto matically ?it was the same kind of ritual as cleaning my teeth. Then I climbed into bed and listened to the sounds outside the windows ?the city was still enjoying itself, the city was in no hurry to get to sleep. I took my cellphone, switched it to the music function and closed my eyes. The age of cassette players had gone the same way as gramophone records, the age of minidiscs had never happened, and now the age of CDs was on the way out. Now there was just the cold code name MP3. But we'd got used to that. It didn't bother us any more.

This how the light begins

A dark night with no special signs.

But someone has entered into that gloom.

You still don't realise it will be the same way for you.

Yes, this sounds crazy, yes, it sounds like a pipe dream.

But this is exactly how the light begins, how the fear ends,

How the sound is born.

This is how the fear ends.

And you have drunk the potion of poisoned herbs

From the carefully hidden books.

Now each shout you make is also a clue.

So much unhappiness and misfortune.

So much meaningless suffering.

But this is the only way the light begins, the only way the fear ends,

The way the sound is born.

Soon is the day of funerals,

So dig that trench to the roaring of thieves and cawing of ravens.

Bury your own death,

Tell yourself a fortune of life and of light.

The first trace left.

The last friend lost.

This is how the light begins,

how the fear ends,

How the sound is born...*

(*Kirill Komarov, 'This is how the sound is born'.)

I fell asleep. And in my dreams there was no one shooting. There was no one cutting off heads with a blunt guillotine. And there was no one chasing anyone else.

There wasn't a young girl in a silk dressing gown, either. There wasn't even any room for Sveta. Just someone's curious, hostile gaze that was fixed on me and never moved.

It's never nice to be woken by a phone call. Not even if it's the woman you love or an old friend who's calling.

It was already light outside. I lifted my head up off the pillow and looked round the bedroom ?everything was fine, except that I'd kicked the blanket off onto the floor during the night. I reached out for my phone and looked at the number.

Instead of a number, the screen on the phone simply said 'Zabulon', even though the Dark One's number was not in my address book, of course.

'Hello, Dark One.'

'How's your health, Anton?' Zabulon enquired sympathetically. 'Has the shoulder healed up?'

'Everything's fine, thank you.' I touched the place where there had been a wound the day before. The skin there was pink and it itched.

'I'm glad my gift was of some use,' Zabulon continued in the same polite tone. 'I'd like to share a bit of information with you. There are no candidates for the role of Mirror in Great Britain. There is one in France, one in Poland, two in Italy ... I can't imagine why Thomas chose to drag Egor all the way to Edinburgh.'

Clear enough. My naive attempt at cunning had failed. Zabulon had dug up the truth after all.

'I hope that he won't be required,' I said.

'Of course, of course,' Zabulon agreed. 'It really is quite disgraceful to exploit the poor boy again in the interests of the Light... Anton, my dear fellow, what is actually going on there? I heard there was another murder yesterday. Has someone else has his blood drained?'

'Yes,' I said, sitting up in bed. 'Another one. He was beheaded with a model guillotine.'

'And what did they do with the blood?' Zabulon enquired.

'Drained it into the bucket used for washing the floor.'

'I see.'

'I'm glad you understand something at least,' I said.

'Don't be so modest, Anton...' Zabulon said and paused. 'Ask Foma how long it is since he visited his neighbour in the grave.'

'What's that?' I said, thinking that I must have misheard. 'His neighbour's grave?'

'How long is it since he visited his neighbour in the grave?' Zabulon said with a chuckle and cut the connection.

Swearing under my breath, I got up and set out for the bath room. I tidied myself up and took a cold shower, then put on a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. Somehow I wasn't in the mood any more for frivolous shorts and a T-shirt ?if the weather had allowed, I would have put on a sweater or a jacket.

My phone rang again.

'Hello, Geser,' I said after glancing at the display.

'How are you getting on?'

The shoulder's healed,' I said, absolutely certain that Geser knew everything.

'Which shoulders that?'

'Yesterday someone shot at me.' I told him in brief what had happened. And there was such a deadly silence that I blew into the microphone, as if it was an old-style telephone.

'I'm thinking,' Geser said drily. 'Thinking...'

'Maybe I should go and get some breakfast first?'

'Yes, do,' said the boss. 'And then find Foma. Tell him there's no time left for half-truths and dissembling. He has to check the Rune.'

'Which one exactly?' I asked in the tone of someone who checks Runes every day of the week.

'Merlin's Rune.'

'Ah...' I said, slowly beginning to understand something. 'Merlin's Rune... isn't that in the grave?'

It was a shot in the dark, but from Geser's silence I realised that I'd hit the bull's eye.

'Anton, how do you...' He swore briefly. 'Find Foma and have a completely frank talk with him! I'll get in touch with him too.'

'Yessir!' I rapped and put the phone away my pocket.

Well, how about that!

So there was a Rune. A Rune in a grave. The grave of Merlin.

But Merlin was a mythological character, wasn't he? King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin... None of them had ever existed!

Aha. But the Great Geser and Thomas the Rhymer didn't exist, either. Neither did crazed vampires and young girl werewolves, Light Healers and obstinate young magicians who had acquired the Higher level of Power by some oversight...

Strangely enough, my mood was rapidly improving. Maybe because things had finally started moving? I ran down the stairs, said good morning to the previous day's receptionist and opened the door of the restaurant.

There wasn't a single human being in there. Only two young vampires and a girl werewolf.

The vampires were eating carpaccio. Galya was eating an omelette. That was surprising ?usually after two consecutive transformations werewolves eat meat by the kilogram.

'Good morning,' I greeted my fellow guests.

The vampires smiled crookedly and nodded. Galya began prod ding at the omelette with her fork. It was obvious why: the hormonal rush had receded, and now she was feeling embarrassed. She'd managed to get some clothes from somewhere - black trousers, a white blouse, a little jacket with short sleeves. Something like the things that schoolgirls wear in Japanese cartoons.

'Hi,' I said, sitting down beside her. 'Had a good rest?'

'Uh-huh.'

'Not bothered by any nightmares? That's a frightening kind of room you've got ?I'm not surprised you didn't want to stay in it. The designer tried a bit too hard, don't you think?'

Galya gave me a thoughtful look. She put a piece of omelette in her mouth, chewed it and said:

'Thank you, Light One. But I don't really fancy you, honestly. Would you like me to bring you some food? Look after you a bit?'

'Yes, do,' I agreed.

The girl went over to the smorgasbord ?omelettes and fried eggs in heated containers, bread, salami, cheese, meat, a bunch of green herbs. In the corner by the door into the kitchen there was a small refrigerator. I wondered if the vampire's blood was kept in there? Or did the barman pour it for them in the evening? The bar counter was empty now: even the beer pumps were draped with colourful coverings.

My phone rang again.

'Oh, let me get something to eat,' I groaned, taking the phone out of my pocket.

'Anton?'

'Hello, Foma.'

'Are you up already, Anton?'

'Yes, I'm just having breakfast.'

'I'll send a car round for you. Can you be outside your hotel in about five minutes?'

'Er...' I said, gaping at Semyon, who had appeared in the doorway. He looked radiant and he waved to me gleefully. 'All right if I bring a friend?'

'That Dark One? The girl werewolf? Better not.'

'No. A friend of mine has just arrived from Moscow. A Light Magician.'

Foma sighed.

'All right. Both of you come. The driver knows where to go.'

'There's something I have to ask you,' I warned him.

Lermont sighed again.

'I'm afraid there's also something that I have to tell you. Get a move on, I'm waiting.'

I put the phone away and smiled at Galya, who had just reached me with the plates and the coffee pot. At the same time Semyon started moving towards me from the door.

'Oh! Galya Dobronravova!' Semyon exclaimed, breaking into a broad smile. 'I remember, I do ... How's school going? How's Marina Petrovna?'

The little girl's face came out in red blotches. She put the dishes down on the table.

'Can you imagine?' Semyon told me in a confidential voice. 'Galya took a dislike to her chemistry teacher and started harassing her. She would transform and then wait for her outside the house in the evenings, snarling and showing her teeth. Can you believe it? But the husband of this modest teacher of chemistry turned out to be a modest police patrol officer. And on the third evening, the way it always happens in fairy tales, he came out, rather concerned about aggressive dogs, to meet his wife on her way home from work. Me saw our little Galya snarling in the bushes, realised that she wasn't a dog but a wolf, grabbed his pistol and fired at her, emptying the entire clip. Two bullets, by the way, got Galya in her little backside as she was hightailing it away from the infuriated guardian of law and order. There a was great fuss, we worked out what was going on, paid Galya a visit at home and had a little chat... It was okay, though, we managed without the Inquisition. The whole business was played down.'

The girl turned and ran out of the dining room. The vampires watched her go, with thoughtful expressions on their faces.



'You shouldn't be so hard on her,' I said. 'Yesterday she faced bullets to save my life.'

Semyon grabbed a piece of salami and chewed it. He sighed.

'Pure soya... It's good that she faced up to the bullets. But what about persecuting her teacher?'

'That's bad,' I said gloomily

We piled into the taxi that was waiting for us, taking the robot shooter wrapped up in a dressing gown. The metal tripod stuck out, but that didn't concern us too much.

The driver was a human being. It looked as if the Edinburgh Watch made much greater use of paid human staff than we did.

We drove quickly out of the tourist centre and set off in the general direction of the bay.

'Thanks for calling me over,' said Semyon, gazing out of the window with undisguised delight. 'I'd been stuck in Moscow too long ... So tell me, what's going on?'

I started telling him. At first Semyon listened with the conde scending interest of an experienced old soldier listening to a raw recruit's horror stories. But then he turned serious.

'Anton, are you sure? I mean that Power flows down there?'

'Shall I ask the driver to turn back and drive past the Dungeons?'

Semyon sighed and shook his head. He said just two words:

'A vault.'

'Meaning?'

'A hiding place. Where something very important is hidden.'

'Semyon, I don't really understand...'

'Anton, imagine that you are a very, very powerful magician. And, for instance, you can stroll around on the fifth level of the Twilight.'

'I can't.'

'Imagine it?'

'Stroll around down there. I can imagine it easily enough.'

'Then imagine it. You can go deeper than any of the Others that you know. You suddenly need to hide something that's very valuable. A magical artefact, a powerful spell ?even a sack of gold, if you like. So what do you do? Bury it in the ground? It will be found. Especially if you're hiding a magical object: it would create a disturbance in the Power around itself, no matter how you covered it up. Then you take this thing and go down deep into the Twilight... '

'And I leave it there, say on the fifth level,' I said and nodded. 'But an object from our world would be pushed back up...'

'That's why you need a constant stream of Power. Well... it s like putting an object that floats on the bottom of a bath of water. Left on its own, it will surface. But of you keep it pressed down with a stream of water...'

'I understand, Semyon.'

'Do you have any ideas about who hid what down there?'

'Yes,' I said. 'Only first I'll ask Foma about it.'

The phone in my pocket rang again. Would it never give me any peace...

'Yes?' I said, without looking at the screen.

'Anton, this is Geser.'

The boss's voice sounded strange somehow. As if he was bewildered.

'Hello?

'I've had a word with Foma, and he's promised to be frank with you. And with Semyon, now it's come to that... '

'Thank you, Boris Ignatievich.'

'Anton...' Geser began and paused. 'There's another thing... We've dug back into Victor Prokhorov's past. And we've found something.'

'Well?' I asked, already sure that I shouldn't expect anything good.

'Did his photo look familiar to you?'

'An ordinary-looking young guy. A statistically average Moscow face.' I caught myself starting to get rude, the way I always do when I get agitated. 'Every second guy in every college looks like that.'

'Try to picture Victor a bit younger. As a teenager.'

I made an honest effort. And answered;

'You get a statistically average Moscow schoolboy. In every school... '

'But you've almost certainly seen him, Anton. And not just once.

He was in the same class at school as your neighbour Kostya Saushkin. He knew him very well ?you could say they were friends. He probably dropped in to see him at home quite often. I think sometimes he must have run into you, waving his brief case about and laughing for no reason at all.'

'It's not possible,' I whispered. Geser's story had flabbergasted me so completely that I wasn't even amazed by the untypically colourful way he'd told it. Waving his briefcase about and laughing? Yes, more than likely. If there are children living on your stairwell in the apartment building you're bound to stumble over their briefcases, hear them laughing and step in little patches of chewing gum. But who remembers the faces... ?

'Anton, it's true. The only vampire Victor ever knew was Kostya Saushkin.'

'But Geser, Kostya was killed.'*

(* This story is told in the third part of the book The Twilight Watch.)

'Yes, I know,' said Geser. 'At least, that's what we all thought.'

'He couldn't have survived,' I said. 'There's no way he could have. Three hundred kilometres above the Earth. There isn't any Power there. He burned up in the atmosphere. He burned up, you understand, Geser? Burned up!'

'Stop shouting,' Geser told me calmly. 'Yes, he burned up. We watched his spacesuit on radar right to the very end. But what we don't know, Anton, is if Kostya Saushkin was still in that space-suit. The altitude was quite different by then. We have to think. We have to calculate.'

He cut off the call. I looked at Semyon, who shook his head sadly.

'I heard, Anton.'

'Well?'

'If you haven't seen the body, don't be in a hurry to bury it.'

Foma Lermont lived in the suburbs. In a quiet, wealthy district of cosy cottages and well-tended gardens. The head of the Edinburgh Night Watch met us in his own garden. He was sitting in a wooden arbour entwined with ivy, setting out a game of patience on a coffee table. In his crumpled grey trousers and polo shirt he looked like a typically placid gentleman of pre-pension age. Surround him with a crowd of grandsons and granddaughters and he would have been the elderly head of a large family. When Semyon and I arrived, Lermont politely got to his feet and greeted us. Then he swept the cards up into a heap and muttered:

'Its not working out...'

'Foma, I think the time has come for straight talking,' I said, and glanced at Semyon. 'You don't object if my friend is present?'

'Not at all. Geser has vouched for him.'

'Foma, today I got a call from Zabulon of the Moscow Day Watch.'

'I know who Zabulon is.'

'He told me ... he asked me to ask you when was the last time you visited your neighbour in the grave.'

'Last night,' Lermont replied in a low voice.

'And Geser ... he asked about the Rune. Merlin's Rune.'

'The Rune's not in the grave,' Lermont said. He looked across at Semyon and asked, 'What do you know about Merlin?'

'There was a magician of that name,' said Semyon, scratching the back of his head. 'A Great Light Magician. A long time ago.'

Lermont looked at me and asked:

'How about you?'

'I always thought Merlin was a mythological character,' I replied honestly.

'You're both half right,' Lermont said, smiling. 'The Great Light Magician Merlin really is a mythological character. The real Merlin was... not so nice. Yes, of course, he did help the young Arthur to draw the sword out of the stone and become king. Although Arthur had no right to the throne at all... that's just between you and me. Merlin was not a thoroughly black-hearted villain. He simply used any means available to achieve his ends. If he needed to put a king who would listen to him on the throne, then he did. If the king had to inspire respect and love in his subjects ?and of course he had to, why suffer unnecessary complications? - then he educated the king to be noble and high-minded. And the king could have his own royal toys to play with: a beautiful round table and brave knights. And did you know that Arthur's ruin at the hands of a child born on a certain day was predicted even before Mordred was born? And do you know what the noble Arthur did?'

I'm afraid to imagine.'

Lermont laughed. And then he recited off by heart:

'"Meanwhile did King Arthur order to be brought to him all the infants born to noble ladies and noble lords on the first day of May, for Merlin had revealed to King Arthur that the one who would destroy him and all his lands had been born into the world on the first day of May. And therefore did he order them all to be sent to him on pain of death, and many sons of lords and knights were sent to the king. Mordred was also sent to him by the wife of King Lot. He did put them all in a ship and launched it to sea, and some were four weeks from birth, and some younger still. And by the will of fate the ship was driven ashore where a castle stood, and shattered, and they were almost all killed, only Mordred was cast up by a wave and picked up by a good man and raised until he did reach the age of fourteen years from birth, and then he brought him to the court, as is told hereafter, at the end of the book Morte d'Arthur.

'"And many lords and barons of Arthur's kingdom were outraged that their children had been taken away and killed, but they laid the blame for this more on Merlin than on Arthur. And either out of fear or out of love, they did keep the peace.'"

'A worthy successor to the good King Herod,' Semyon murmured.

I didn't say anything. I was remembering a cartoon film that my little Nadya was very fond of. About the young King Arthur. About the funny, forgetful magician Merlin. I imagined the sequel, about how Arthur, egged on by Merlin, orders wailing, screaming infants who can't understand what's going on to be loaded into an old, useless ship...

So this was the symbol of purity and nobility? The much-vaunted King Arthur of glorious legend?

'Not much like that fine young boy in the warm-hearted Disney cartoon, is it?' Lermont asked, as if he had read my thoughts. 'Or like that eccentric magician who took him under his wing? But you mustn't blame Arthur. It was his destiny. That was the kind of teacher he had.'

'How did Mordred survive?' I asked.

Lermont's eyes glinted ironically.

'That's hard to say. How did the boy Arthur become heir to the throne? Perhaps Mordred didn't survive. But there were people who told some boy that he was Arthur's son and his father had tried to kill him when he was a baby. What does it matter who he really was by birth? The important thing was who he thought he was.'

'Is he still alive?'

'Mordred? Of course not. He was only a human being. And so was Arthur. He departed this world a long time ago.'

'And Merlin?'

'He withdrew into the Twilight for ever...' Lermont said, with a nod. 'But Merlin was a genuinely great magician. I think he was the greatest magician of all time. I think,' he said with a sideways glance at Semyon, 'that Merlin was a zero-point magician.'

I nodded. I understood that. A magical 'temperature' of zero. Merlin didn't contribute a single drop to the streams of Power that permeate the world, he had absolutely none of it. And that was precisely why he was a great magician. He absorbed the Power of others, the Power that was diffused in space - and used it to work miracles.

No other magician so powerful had been born in the world since then.

But one such enchantress had been born. My daughter, Nadya.

'Merlin didn't leave many artefacts,' Lermont continued. 'He created them playfully, as if it cost him no effort at all. Excalibur, of course. Merlin's cloak. Merlin's chalice. Merlin's crystal. Merlin's staff.'

'He didn't bother himself too much about finding names for them, then?' Semyon said, with a laugh. Then he suddenly fell silent.

'Merlin's Rune?' I asked.

Lermont shook his head.

'Merlin's Rune is only a key, kept in Merlin's grave, twenty-two miles from... from what is believed to be the grave of Thomas the Rhymer. Naturally, Merlin himself is not in the grave, but some traces of the great magician are preserved there. You may think me sentimental, but I often visit my own grave. Although I have never liked going to Merlin's. I simply relied on the protective spells. But that was a mistake. The grave has been robbed.'

'I thought Merlin's grave was in Brittany,' said Semyon.

'No, it lies to the south of Edinburgh. Near the little town of Peebles, at the confluence of the Tweed and the Powsel. It's not very far from here.'

'And what does this Rune consist of?' I asked.

'A stone. Charged to the hilt with magic and scratched all over with almost illegible signs. Merlin's Rune...' Lermont hesitated and looked round us all, but continued nonetheless ' . . is the key, or rather, the main part of the key that allows access to a hiding place that Merlin once set up on the bottom of a lake. The lake has vanished long ago, but the hiding place, of course, is still there.'

'A hiding place in the Twilight?' I asked.

'Yes.'

'Fifth level?'

Lermont sighed.

'I could get down to the fifth level myself, my young friend. Or I could call in Geser. Or Andrew. Higher Ones can be found who arc capable of reaching the fifth level. But this hiding place was made by Merlin. Its right down at the very bottom. Which means its on the seventh level.'

'Oh, my sainted aunt!' Semyon exclaimed in delight. 'The seventh! So the seventh level does exist! It's not a fairy tale, then?'

'It exists all right. Only I don't know anybody alive on this planet who is capable of getting there...' Lermont shrugged and spread his hands wide.

'What about the key? And the Rune?'

'As for the Rune ... I've read the inscription ?it gives instruc tions on how to get past a sentinel on the fifth level. But after that you have to go further. I can't do that.'

'Have you at least tried?' I asked.

'What for?' Lermont asked, throwing his hands up. 'Why go down into the Twilight for Merlin's heritage? Anton, you must have some idea now of what he was like ... do you think there's anything good down there?'

I shrugged.

'The hiding place is believed to contain the Crown of All Things,' said Lermont. 'Sounds tempting, doesn't it? But somehow I think that the Crown of All Things is really the End of All Things.'

Semyon opened his mouth to say something, but then changed his mind.

'And what are the other parts of the key?' I asked. 'Merlin's Crystal Mace? Or perhaps Merlins Old Shoe?'

Lermont shook his head.

That's the most unpleasant part of the story. You've already realised that Power goes pouring down out of our world to the lowest level of the Twilight from the spot above the hiding place, haven't you?'

'Yes.'

'Well then, if you try to enter the Twilight when you're inside the Dungeons you can only get as far as the third level. After that there's a barrier, a whirlpool of Power. It's simultaneously a load that holds the hiding place down at the bottom of creation and a defence against the curious.'

'Not too many of the curious would even be able to get down to the third level... ' Semyon mumbled, scratching the back of his head. 'Sorry, I'll keep quiet!'

'Well, Merlin's Rune won't help you get past the third level,' Foma went on. 'I was certain that no one, apart from me, knew the secret, and I only discovered it by chance when there was an accident beside the bridge: a young woman fell and ruptured an artery on a sharp metal rod...'

'Blood,' I said.

'Yes,' Foma said. 'If someone dies from loss of blood, then the Twilight is temporarily saturated with energy. The whirlpool on the third level calms down and you can get past it and go on deeper.'

'Does the person have to die?' I asked.

'I don't know. I haven't checked, as you can understand. Preserved blood is no use, we know that for certain. That's why the killing in the Dungeons put me on my guard. But the protective spells on Merlin's grave hadn't been touched. No one had approached the grave, no one had tried to open it. And I relaxed, I put it all down to coincidence. But last night I decided to go to the grave.'

'And you found it had been opened using a remote-controlled device?' I said. 'Right? Something like those robots they use at nuclear power stations.'

'How did you know?' Lermont asked.

'Yesterday someone shot at me with that,' I said, nodding towards the tripod with the rifle, which Semyon had leaned against the outside of the arbour. 'An automatic radio-controlled shooting device.'

Lermont glanced at the weapon without the slightest interest. He smiled bitterly.

'We've got old, Anton. We pride ourselves on having got old... Geser, Al-Ashaf, Rustam, Giovanni, me ?all the other ancient ones who remember the world without electricity, steam trains and gunpowder. The oldest magicians who know the most and are almost the most powerful. We have underestimated the new generation. Rockets, robots, telephones...' He chewed on his lips and looked at his neat little house, with the same melancholy expression that I had sometimes seen in Geser's eyes.

It's probably that melancholy look that allows me to forgive Geser for everything he does in his job as head of the Night Watch.

'One of the young generation,' Foma went on. 'One of the young generation, who know how to use technology and are not afraid of it.'

'I think I know who it is,' I whispered. 'Kostya Saushkin.'

'The Higher Vampire who took the Fuaran?' Lermont asked with a frown. 'I know that story. But he was destroyed!'

'Nobody saw the body,' I said. 'In any case, he wouldn't be afraid to go down after Merlin's legacy. And he'd use technology without the slightest hesitation. And as well as that, he must hate me. Enough to try to shoot me. It was my fault! I sent him off to die. He survived ?and decided to take his revenge.'

'Anton, don't be in such a hurry,' Semyon said reasonably. He explained apologetically to Foma: 'Please don't be angry, Mr Lermont! Anton is still young and hot-headed. Yesterday he thought that Kostya was dead. Now all of a sudden he's changed his mind. But what we have to worry about is something else. What do you think, Mr Lermont? Has the villain of the piece already found Merlin's hiding place?'

'Merlin was a magician of the old school,' Lermont answered after a moment's thought. 'A key has to have three elements. Three is a magic number, a number of Power. Three, seven and eleven.'

'Yes, prime numbers,' Semyon agreed, 'That's clear enough. But what about the third part of the key?'

'I discovered the second part by accident,' Lermont said. 'I don't know anything about the third. I can only assume that it must exist. I don't even know what it is ?an object, an incantation, a sacrifice, a time of day. Perhaps you have to enter the Twilight naked on the night of the full moon, holding a thistle flower between your teeth. Merlin was a great joker.'

We said nothing for a while. Then Lermont gave a forced smile.

'All right, my friends. I have revealed all the secrets that I had. I can't see any point in panicking ahead of time. Merlin's hiding place will surrender its secret to a Higher Other of immense power who spills someone else's blood in the Dungeons and gets his hands on the third part of the key. But what that third part is, no one knows. Let's all calm down, go inside and have a cup of tea.'

'The English tradition of tea-drinking!' Semyon said respectfully.

Foma gave him a mocking glance and corrected him.

'Not English. Don't forget that you're in Scotland now. You are welcome guests in my home?

'I have just one more question,' I said, interrupting Lermont. 'Why did you invite Egor to Edinburgh?'

'You mean the young illusionist?' Lermont asked, with a sigh. 'I decided to take out an insurance policy. If there's a serious conflict, then the first to suffer will be our Night Watch. I don't have that many battle magicians. A Mirror is the best thing that can be used to oppose?

'Oppose whom?' I asked, when Lermont broke off in mid-phrase

The distant forefather of the Russian poet Lermontov gave me a look of annoyance so intense that I felt the full force of the same hot temper that brought a premature end to the Russian poet's life.

'Merlin! Now are you satisfied?'

'You believe that he...'

'The one thing that Merlin always valued above all others was himself. And he could have given the name of the Crown of All Things to the means for bringing him back from oblivion. It would be his kind of joke.'

'Nothing of the sort has ever happened,' said Semyon, shaking his head.

'No, it hasn't. But there have never been any other magicians like Merlin. His essence ?his soul, if you like ?could be slum bering somewhere down there, on the seventh level... until a sufficiently powerful magician can reach it. To put it crudely, until a stupid body arrives to provide Merlin's black soul with a new receptacle! Would you be glad to see the Great Merlin back in the world? I certainly wouldn't! And that's the reason I need a potential Mirror Magician close at hand. Perhaps that might do the trick. He might possibly become a Mirror and destroy Merlin. What don't you like about that, Gorodetsky?'

'But you can't do that!' I exclaimed with a feeling of anguish that surprised even me. Everything was muddled together in my head ?Kostya, whom I had killed and who might still be alive; the Dark Magician Merlin, thirsting for resurrection, the totally unsuspecting Egor... 'Ever since he was a child we've exploited him for our operations! And now are we going to throw him into hell, use the lad to protect ourselves against Merlin? He's nothing but a boy!'

'All right!' said Lermont, also raising his voice. 'You've advanced a convincing argument! Now let me lay out in front of you the personal files of all the potential Mirror Magicians. Will you point the finger? Choose a different candidate? There's a girl of nine, a boy of fifteen, a young husband and father, a pregnant woman... they never live to old age in an indeterminate state, sooner or later they choose the Light or the Dark! They're all young, all of them almost children! Will you take the choice on yourself and relieve me of this appalling responsibility?'

'Yes!' I shouted, leaping to my feet. 'Yes, I will! I'll relieve you. Bring out your files, Mr Foma Lermont!'

'I'll bring them this very moment!' he said, also getting to his feet. 'You choose, you choose!'

We stood there, glaring angrily at each other, and it was a while before we realised that both of us had tears running down our faces.

Source: www.NovelCorner.com
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