Home > Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(11)

Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(11)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

"If I'd known how to make her an Other..." Semyon whispered, gazing off into the distance. "If I'd only known... I revealed myself to her. I did everything for her. She was never ill. At the age of seventy, she looked thirty at the most. Even in hungry St. Petersburg she never wanted for anything, the permits she had used to strike Red Army men dumb... I had her credentials signed by Lenin himself. But I couldn't give her my length of life. That's not in our power." He looked into my eyes somberly. "If I'd known how to initiate Lubov Petrovna, I wouldn't have asked anybody's permission. I'd have gone through anything. I'd have dematerialized myself - but I'd have made her into an Other..."

Semyon stood up and sighed. "But now, to be quite honest, it doesn't matter to me. Whether people can be transformed into Others or not simply doesn't concern me. And it shouldn't concern you either. Your wife's an Other. Your daughter's an Other. All that happiness for one person? Gesar himself can't even dream of anything like it."

He walked out, but I sat on at the table for a while, finishing up my beer. The owner of the cafe - who was also the waiter, and the chef, and the barman - never even looked in my direction. When Semyon came in, he had hung a magical screen around the table.

What had I been thinking of, really?

There were two Inquisitors beavering away. The talented vampire Kostya was circling the Assol complex in the form of a bat. They'd figure it out. They were bound to discover who had wanted to become an Other. And they'd either find the individual who had sent the letters, or they wouldn't.

What difference did that make to me?

The woman I loved was an Other. And more than that, she had voluntarily abandoned her work in the Watch, a brilliant career as a Great Enchantress. All for an idiot like me, so that I wouldn't get hung up about being stuck forever at my second level of Power...

And Nadiushka was an Other too. I'd never have to go through the horror of an Other whose child grows up, grows old, and dies. Sooner or later we would reveal Nadienka's true nature to her. She would want to be a Great One, no doubt about it. And she would be the very Greatest. Maybe she would even do something to make this imperfect world a bit better.

But here I was playing at spies, like a little kid. Worrying myself sick about succeeding in my mission, instead of dropping in on my jolly neighbor in the evening or relaxing - strictly for purposes of camouflage - in the casino.

I got up, put the money on the table, and walked out. In an hour or two the screen would disperse, the owner of the cafe would see the money and the empty glasses, and remember a couple of ordinary-looking guys drinking beer there.

Chapter 5

I SPENT HALF A DAY DOING THINGS THAT WERE STRICTLY OFF-LIMITS AND

no use to anyone. The vampire Kostya would probably have pulled a wry face and informed me what he thought of my naivete.

First I went back to the Assol complex to change into jeans and a simple shirt, and then I set off in the direction of the nearest normal courtyard - toward the dreary, nine-story prefabricated buildings. There, to my delight, I discovered a soccer field, with high-school-age loafers kicking a ball around on it. There were a few young men there as well, in fact. Even though the recently concluded world championship had been, to put it mildly, an inglorious one for our team, it still had a positive effect. In the few surviving courtyards, the competitive spirit that seemed to have been lost was reviving.

I was put on a team, the side that had only one adult - with an impressive paunch, but extremely agile and frisky. I'm not a very good player, but these guys weren't world championship material either.

For about an hour I ran around on the dusty, trampled earth, yelling and shooting at the goal made out of rotten wire mesh, even scoring a few times. Once a huge tenth-grade hulk deftly dumped me on the ground and gave me an amiable smile.

But I didn't take offense or get upset.

When the game tailed off - of its own accord, somehow - I went into the nearest shop, bought some mineral water and beer and, for the very youngest soccer players, Baikal soda pop. Of course, they would have preferred Coca-Cola, but it's time we stopped drinking that foreign poison.

The only thing bothering me was the realization that excessive generosity would arouse all kinds of suspicions, so I had to be moderate in my good deeds.

After saying goodbye to the players on "my" side and the other, I walked as far as the beach, and really enjoyed a swim in the water that was dirty, but cool. The pompous palace spires of the Assol complex towered up into the sky on one side.

Well let them... I didn't care.

The funniest thing of all, I realized, was that in my place any Dark Magician could have done exactly the same thing. Not one of the really young ones still into pleasures that had been out of reach before, like fresh oysters and expensive prostitutes. But a Dark One who had already lived a bit and come to understand that everything in the world was nothing but vanity, the vanity of vanities, in fact.

And he would have scampered around that little soccer field, yelling and kicking the ball, and hissing at the teenagers' clumsy attempts to swear: "Hey, watch your lip, kid!" Afterward he would have gone to the beach, and splashed about in the muddy water, and laid on the grass, looking up at the sky...

Where was it, that dividing line? Okay, with the lower Dark Ones, everything was clear. They were non-life. They had to kill in order to survive. And there was nothing any verbal gymnastics could do about that. They were evil.

But where was the real boundary?

And why was it sometimes ready to disappear? For instance, at a moment when the only problem was one single human being who wanted to become an Other? Just one, that was all! But just look at the resources that had been thrown into the search. Dark Ones, Light Ones, the Inquisition... And I wasn't the only one working on this business, I was just a pawn who had been advanced, carrying out local reconnaissance work. Gesar was wrinkling his forehead, Zabulon was knitting his brows, Witez-slav was scowling and baring those teeth. A human wanted to become an Other - hunt him down, get him!

But who wouldn't want it?

Not the eternal hunger of the vampires, not the insane fits of the werewolves, but the full, complete life of a magician. With everything that ordinary people had.

Only better.

You're not afraid anyone will steal the expensive music system out of your car when you leave it unwatched.

You don't get sick with flu, and if you come down with some vile incurable disease, the Dark Sorcerers or the Light Healers are at your service.

You don't wonder how you're going to survive until payday.

You don't feel afraid of dark streets at night or drunken bums.

You're not even afraid of the militia.

You're certain your child will get home safely from school and not run into some crazy maniac in the front hallway...

Yes, of course, that was where the real problem lay. Your nearest and dearest were safe, they were even excluded from the vampire lottery. Only you couldn't save them from old age and death.

But after all, that was still a long way off. Somewhere way off in the future, far ahead.

On the whole it was far more pleasant to be an Other.

And then again, you wouldn't gain anything if you refused initiation, even your human relatives would be right to call you a fool. After all, if you became an Other, you'd be able to help them out. Like that story of Semyon's... someone put a hex on a peasant's cows, and his Other son had an investigator sent in to help him. Blood was thicker than water, after all; your own flesh and blood was dearest. There was nothing to be done...

I jerked upright as if I'd been electrified. I jumped to my feet and stared up at the Assol complex.

What reason could a Light Magician have for making a rash promise to do absolutely anything?

There was only one reason!

That was it, the lead!

"Have you come up with something, Anton?" a voice asked behind my back.

I turned around and looked into the black lenses of Kostya's glasses. He was wearing just bathing trunks, the appropriate attire for the beach, apart from the child's white panama hat perched on the back of his head like a skullcap (no doubt he'd taken it away from some little toddler without any qualms of conscience) and the dark glasses.

"Finding the sun hot?" I asked spitefully.

"It's oppressive. Hanging up there in the sky like a flatiron... Why, aren't you feeling hot?"

"Sure," I admitted. "But it's a different kind of heat."

"Can we manage without the sarcasm?" Kostya asked. He sat down on the sand and fastidiously tossed aside a cigarette butt from near his feet. "I only go swimming at night now. But this time I came... to have a word with you."

I felt ashamed. The person sitting in front of me was a moody young man - it made no difference that he was undead. And I still remembered the gloomy teenager hovering uncertainly at the door of my apartment. "You shouldn't invite me in, I'm a vampire, I could come in the night and bite you..."

And that boy had held out for a pretty long time. He'd drunk pig's blood and donor's blood. He'd dreamed of becoming alive again. "Like Pinocchio," - he must have read Collodi or seen the movie AI, but anyway he'd found the right comparison.

If only Gesar hadn't detailed me to hunt vampires...

No, that was nonsense. Nature would have taken its course. And Kostya would have been given his license.

In any case I had no right to scoff at him. I had one huge advantage - I was alive.

I could approach old people without feeling ashamed. Yes, without any shame - because Witezslav hadn't been honest with me. It wasn't fear or revulsion that had made him avoid the old woman.

It was shame.

"Sorry, Kostya," I said and lay down on the sand beside him. "Let's talk."

"It seems to me that the permanent residents at Assol have nothing to do with it," Kostya began gloomily. "The client is one of those who are only there occasionally."

"We'll have to check them all," I said with a phony sigh.

"That's only the start. We have to look for the traitor."

"We are looking."

"I can see the way you're looking... Realized that he's one of yours, have you?"

"How do you make that out?" I protested indignantly. "Some Dark One could quite easily have blundered..."

We discussed the situation for a while. We seemed to have reached the same conclusions simultaneously.

Only now I was just half a step ahead. And I had no intention of helping Kostya out.

"The letter was posted in the heap of letters that builder brought to the post office," said Kostya, not suspecting how cunning I was being. "Nothing could be easier. All those Gas-tarbeiters live in an old school, they use it as a hostel. They put all their letters on the attendant's table on the first floor. In the morning someone goes to the post office and posts them. It would be no problem for an Other to get into the hostel and divert the attendant's attention... or simply wait for him to go to the john. Then drop the letter into the general pile. And there you go! No leads."

"Simple and effective," I agreed.

"In the Light Ones' style," Kostya said with a frown. "Get someone else to do the dirty work for you."

For some reason I didn't take offense. I just smiled mockingly and turned over on to my back, looking up at the sky and the lovely yellow sun.

"Okay, we do the same..." Kostya muttered.

I didn't say anything.

"Come on, tell me, haven't you ever used people for your operations?" Kostya protested indignantly.

"Sometimes. Used, but never put them in danger."

"And in this case the Other hasn't put anyone in danger, only used them," Kostya said off the point, completely forgetting his comment about the "dirty work."

"What I'm wondering is... does it make any sense to follow this trail any further? So far the traitor has covered all his tracks very thoroughly. We'll end up chasing a phantom..."

"They say a couple of days ago two security guards at the Assol complex thought they saw something ghastly in the bushes," I said. "They even opened fire."

Kostya's eyes blazed. "Have you already checked it out?"

"No," I said. "I'm shielded, undercover, there's no way I can."

"Is it okay if I check it out?" Kostya asked eagerly. "Listen, I'll mention that it was you..."

"Go ahead," I said magnanimously.

"Thanks, Anton," said Kostya, breaking into a broad smile and giving me a hefty punch to the shoulder. "You're a decent guy after all. Thanks."

"Do a good job," I couldn't resist saying, "and maybe you'll get another license ahead of the line."

Kostya fell silent and his face turned sour. He stared hard at the river.

"How many people did you kill to become a Higher Vampire?" I asked.

"What's that to you?"

"I'm just... curious."

"Check out your archives some time and take a look," Kostya said with a crooked smile. "Is it really that hard?"

Of course, it wasn't that hard. But I'd never looked at Kostya's file. I didn't want to know that...

"Uncle Kostya, give me my hat!" a demanding voice squeaked nearby.

I glanced sideways at the little girl, about four years old, who had come running up to Kostya. So he really had been teasing a child, and he'd stolen her hat...

Kostya obediently removed the panama hat from his head and gave it to the little girl.

"Will you come again tonight?" the little girl asked, glancing at me and pouting. "Will you tell me a story?"

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