'You KNOW, THAT'S a really bad sign, to tell someone you fought side by side with that you'll meet again later,' Semyon declared sombrely. 'He hasn't got a single free moment to see me. And we're flying back home, like real ninnies. If we had just a week... we could have gone to the lochs, done a bit of fishing...'
'Semyon, the Inquisition will arrive any minute ?we'd be stuck here for a month.'
'So what's wrong with that?'
'I'm a family man.'
'Oh, that's right... ' Semyon said with a sigh. 'With a little daughter ... Is she walking yet?'
'Semyon, stop playing the fool!'
We stopped in front of the hotel entrance. Semyon chuckled and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
'Er... how much time have we got?'
'Five or six hours. If there are tickets for the evening flight.'
'I'll just drop into a shop and buy a few souvenirs. Shall I get some for you?'
'What sort of question's that? Whisky and scarves. Whisky for the men and scarves for the women. I usually get five of each.'
'Go on, then,' I said, waving him away. 'Only get me a child's scarf too, if you see one. Something bright and cheerful.'
I walked into the vestibule. The receptionist was not at his desk, but there was an envelope lying there with the name 'Anton Gorodetsky' written on it in large letters. Inside there were three first-class tickets ?for me, Semyon and Galya Dobronravova. Foma had acted with incredible efficiency, and he hadn't even forgotten about the wolf-girl.
I knocked on the door of the Dark suite on the fourth floor. No response. I listened, and heard the sound of water flowing somewhere inside. I took Galya's ticket out of the envelope and pushed it under the door.
I found the key in my pocket went into my own suite.
' Slowly-slowly-go-over- to-the-armchair-and-sit-down,' gabbled the young red-haired guy who had introduced himself to me as Jean in the Dungeons of Scotland.
He had positioned himself perfectly. At the window, with the blinding sunlight pouring in through it. My shadow was behind me - there was no way I could plunge into it.
'Start-moving-towards-the-armchair-slowly-slowly,' the young guy rattled off.
He was accelerated, enveloped in the green glow emanating from the amulet on his arm: it looked like an ordinary woven bead trinket, the kind that hippies make. His reflexes now were many times faster than those of a normal human being. And since he was holding an Uzi automatic rifle and its magazine of charmed bullets was glowing bright red, it would have been unwise to object.
'Speak more clearly,' I said, walking to the chair and sitting in it. 'Since you didn't kill me straight away, there must be some thing to talk about.'
'You're-wrong-wizard,' the young guy said, and I noted that funny, childish 'wizard'. 'I-was-ordered-to-kill-you-but-there's-something-I-want-to-ask-you.'
I needed my shadow. I needed to turn my head, see my shadow and dive into the Twilight. I would be faster than him there.
'Don't-turn-your-head! If-you-look-at-your-shadow-I'U-shoot-straight-away. How-many-of-you-are-there?'
'Well...' I thought for a moment. 'Do you mean Light Ones or Dark Ones?'
'Approx... imate ... ly ... one ... in ... every... ten... thousand...' I drawled slowly. Not to be smart, but to try to convince this young guy that he was speeded up too far. But then, was he able to control the effect of the charm?
'Bastards-I-hate-them,' he said. 'I-was-told-to-say-you-betrayed-a-friend-and-deserve-to-die
There was a knock at the door. The young guy's glance darted to the door and then back to me. In a single movement he pulled the tablecloth off the table and covered his automatic rifle, which was still trained on me. He said:
'Who's there? It's open!' I shouted.
If it was Semyon, we'd have a chance.
The door opened and Galya walked in. The way she looked simply took my breath away. A short little black skirt, an almost transparent pink top ?she had Lolita smoking nervously in the corner.
Jean was dumbstruck too.
'Hi' The girl was chewing something. She concentrated and blew out a huge bubble of gum. The bubble burst and Jean started. I was afraid he would start blasting away, but the moment passed safely. 'And who are you?' she asked.
She gave Jean a look that made him blush bright red. He managed to jabber and mumble at the same time:
'Well, friends of Anthony's get a discount,' Galya said, and winked at the young guy. She walked up to me, swaying her hips, and said, 'I left my knickers in your place ?did you find them?'
All I could do was just shake my head.
'Ah, screw them anyway,' Galya declared. And she began slowly leaning down, reaching out for my lips with her own, giving Jean a chance to stare ... I dared not even think at what!
But he stared.
'Get ready,' Galya whispered. The girl's stare was serious and tense. But she still touched my lips ?and sparks of mischief glinted in her eyes.
She transformed herself instantly into a she-wolf. Crudely, horribly, scattering drops of blood and scraps of skin around her, wasting no time on morphing properly. And she flung herself round and leapt at the killer like a shaggy black shadow.
He started to shoot at the same moment that I flung two Triple Blades, one after another.
The first cut off the hand holding the gun and gouged out a chunk of his body. I didn't realise where the second one had gone at first. I leapt to my feet and jumped towards the she-wolf writhing on the floor. Her body had taken all the bullets intended for me. Not very many ?only five or six. If only they hadn't been charmed.
Jean stood up, swaying on his feet. He looked at me with wild, insane eyes.
'Who sent you?' I shouted, hitting him with a Domination, the spell of absolute obedience.
Jean shuddered and tried to open his mouth ?and his head flew apart into three pieces. My second shot had hit him in the head.
The body swayed and slumped to the floor beside the wolf-girl. Blood pulsed out of its arteries.
If she had been a vampire, and not a werewolf...
I leaned down over her, and saw that she was transforming back into a human being.
'Don't you dare! You'll die!'
'I'll die anyway,' she said in a clear voice. 'I don't want to die as an animal...'
'You're not... '
Instantly there was note of irony in her voice.
'Silly... Light One...'
I stood up. My hands were covered in blood and there was blood squelching under my feet. The killer's headless body was shuddering convulsively.
'What's happening here?' Semyon froze in the doorway. He ran his hand over his face and swore.
His other hand was holding two plastic bags. One had bottles in it. The other probably had scarves
'What's happening? Nothing,' I said, looking at the dead girl. 'It's all over.'
I bought the magnet for Zabulon in Edinburgh airport, while Lermont and Semyon were rebooking the tickets. We now only needed two seats in the cabin of the plane and one ticket for an item of non-standard freight ?a long wooden box that had been treated with spells. One of them was to protect the contents against decomposition. Another was to persuade the customs men that there was no need to check the box, since it was being used to transport harmless skis.
The magnet was banal but beautiful: a Scotsman in a kilt, with bagpipes. I put it in my pocket, then stood in front of the display of postcards for a while. I chose one with a photograph of the castle and put it in my guidebook to Great Britain. I didn't have any reason to send it to the girl Lera as yet. But I hoped very much that sooner or later I would be able to keep the promise I had made to Victor's girlfriend.
Semyon was unusually quiet. He didn't reminisce about the way aeroplanes used to look at the dawn of the aviation industry, he didn't crack any jokes. We walked through the customs and pass port checks, and took our seats in the plane. Semyon took out a flask of whisky and glanced at me enquiringly. I nodded. We each took a mouthful straight from the flask, earning ourselves a dis approving glance from the flight attendant. She immediately went off to her little cubbyhole and came back with glasses and a few little bottles, which she handed to Semyon without saying a word.
'Don't feel sorry for her,' Semyon said gently. 'Dark Ones will always be Dark Ones. She would have grown up into a monster. Most likely'
I nodded. He was right, of course. Even a silly Light One like me had to understand that...
I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes. I realised that I'd even forgotten to check the probabilities to see if the plane was in any danger of crashing. Ah... what difference did it make? People flew all the time without worrying if anything bad was going to happen. I could try that too...
'I checked the reality lines,' Semyon said. 'We leave ten minutes late, but we arrive on time. There's a tail wind. Lucky, that, isn't it?'
I opened the little plastic bag, put the disposable earphones in my ears and stuck the jack into the socket hidden in the arm of my seat. I pressed the buttons to select a channel and stopped when I heard a familiar song:
Do not lose what has been given,
Do not regret what has been lost.
This boy at the doorway to heaven
Is weary of sighing and tears.
But he can see straight through you,
And he won't sing us any psalms.
He will ask us only one question ?
Did we live and did we love...
Did we live and did we love...
Did we live and did we love ...