Home > Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(9)

Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(9)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

"We'll deal with the men," Witezslav decided. "For a start. You check the old woman, Gorodetsky. All right?"

I shrugged. Collaboration was all very well, but I wasn't going to let anyone order me about.

Especially not a Dark One. And a vampire.

"It's easier for you," Witezslav explained. "It's... hard for me to approach old people."

The admission was frank and unexpected. I mumbled something in reply and didn't press him for any further explanations.

"I sense in them something that I don't have," the vampire went on to explain anyway. "Mortality."

"You envy them that?" I couldn't resist asking.

"It frightens me." Witezslav leaned down over the security chief and said, "We're going to go now. You will sleep for five minutes and have beautiful dreams. When you wake up, you will forget our visit. You will only remember Anton... you will feel very friendly toward him. If Anton needs anything, you will give him any help you can."

"There's no need..." I protested weakly.

"We are all working for the same cause," the vampire reminded me. "I know how hard it is to work undercover. Good-bye."

And instantly he disappeared. Edgar gave a guilty smile and walked out the door.

I left the office too, without waiting for the security boss to wake up.

Chapter 4

FATE, WHICH OUR MAGICIANS CLAIM DOES NOT EXIST, WAS KIND TO ME.

In the Assol's vestibule (well, you couldn't call that spacious hall an entrance) I saw the old woman that the vampire had been afraid to approach. She was standing by the elevator, gazing pensively at the buttons.

I glanced at the old woman through the Twilight and realized that she was totally confused, almost in a panic. The well-trained security guards were no help here - on the outside the old woman seemed entirely calm and collected. I realized she was an "elderly lady" - not an ordinary old Russian woman at all. I set off decisively toward her.

"Excuse me, can I be of any help?" I asked.

The elderly lady cast me a sideways glance. Not a glance of senile suspicion, more of embarrassment.

"I've forgotten where I live," she confessed. "Do you happen to know?"

"The eleventh floor," I said. "Allow me to show you the way."

The gray curls with the delicate pink skin showing through them swayed ever so slightly.

"Eighty years old," said the old woman. "I remember that... it's painful to remember it. But I do."

I took the lady by the arm and led her toward the elevator. One of the security men started walking toward us, but my aged

companion shook her head. "The gentleman's showing me the way..."

The gentleman did show her the way. The elderly lady recognized her own door and even quickened her step in delight. The apartment was not locked. It had been magnificently refurbished and furnished, and there was a lively girl about twenty years old striding to and fro in the hallway and complaining into a phone. "Yes, I've looked downstairs! She slipped out again..."

The girl was absolutely delighted when we showed up. Only I'm afraid the sweet smile and the touching concern were mostly meant for me.

Good-looking young women don't take servants' jobs in homes like that because the money's good.

"Mashenka, bring us some tea," said the old woman, interrupting the girl's cackling. She probably had no illusions either. "In the large room."

The girl went dashing obediently to the kitchen, but not before she had smiled once more and deliberately brushed her pert br**sts against me as she said in my ear, "She's gotten really bad... My name's Tamara."

Somehow I didn't feel like introducing myself. I followed the old woman into the "large room." Well, it was very large. With old furniture from Stalin's time and clear traces of an expensive designer's work. The walls were covered with black-and-white photographs - at first I even took them for elements of the design. But then I realized that the blindingly beautiful young woman with white teeth, wearing a flying helmet, was my elderly lady.

"I bombed the Fritzes," the lady said modestly as she sat down at a round table covered with a maroon velvet tablecloth with tassels. "Look, Kalinin himself presented me with that medal..."

Absolutely dumbfounded, I took a seat facing the former flyer.

Even in the best cases people like that live out their final days in old state dachas or in monolithic, dilapidated Stalinist buildings. But in an elite residential complex - no way! She had dropped bombs on the fascists, not ferried the Reichstag's gold reserves back home to Russia.

"My grandson bought the apartment for me," the old woman said, as if she had read my thoughts. "A big apartment. I don't remember anything here... it all seems familiar, like it's mine, but I don't remember..."

I nodded. She had a good grandson, what could I say? Of course, transferring an expensive apartment to your war-heroine grandmother's name and then inheriting it later was a very clever way to do things. But in any case it was a good deed. Only the servant should have been chosen with more care. Not a twenty-year-old girl obsessed with the profitable capital investment of her pretty young face and good figure, but rather an elderly, reliable nurse...

The old woman looked pensively out the window. "I'd be better off in those houses, the little ones... I'm more used to that..."

But I wasn't listening any more. I was looking at the table, heaped high with letters bearing the eye-catching stamp "no longer at this address." It was hardly surprising. The addressees included such figures as the old Soviet Union figurehead Kalinin, and Generalissimus Joseph Stalin, and Comrade Khrushchev, and even "Dear Leonid Ilich Brezhnev."

Our more recent national leaders had clearly not been retained in the old woman's memory.

I didn't need any Other abilities to guess what kind of letter the old woman had posted three days earlier.

"I can't bear having nothing to do," the old woman complained, catching my glance. "I keep asking to be assigned to the schools, the flying colleges... so I could tell the young people what our life was like..."

I took a look at her through the Twilight anyway, and I almost exclaimed out loud.

The old flyer was a potential Other - maybe not a very powerful one, but it was absolutely clear.

Only, to initiate her at that age... I couldn't imagine it. At sixty, at seventy... but at eighty? The stress of it would kill her. She'd just fade away into the Twilight, an insane, insubstantial shadow...

You can't check everyone. Not even in Moscow, where there are so many watchmen.

And sometimes we recognize our brothers and sisters too late...

The girl Tamara appeared carrying a tray set with dishes of biscuits and candy, a teapot, and beautiful old cups. She set the dishes down on the table without making a sound.

But the old woman was already dozing, still perched on her chair as firm and upright as ever.

I got up carefully and nodded to Tamara. "I'll be going. You keep a closer watch on her - you know she forgets where she lives."

"But I never take my eyes off her!" Tamara replied, fluttering her eyelids. "I'd never..."

I checked her too. No Other abilities at all.

An ordinary young woman. Even quite kind in her own fashion.

"Does she often write letters?" I asked with the faintest of smiles.

Taking the smile as a sign of absolution, Tamara began smiling too. "All the time! To Stalin, and Brezhnev... Isn't that hilarious?"

I didn't argue with her.

Of all the cafes and restaurants that Assol was crammed with, the only one working was the cafe in the supermarket. A very nice cafe, on the second-floor mezzanine above the checkouts, with an excellent view of the entire hall of the supermarket. It had to be a good place to drink a nice cup of coffee, mapping

out your route for a pleasant stroll as you bought the groceries -  doing your "shopping": that terrible word, that monstrous Anglicism that has eaten its way into the Russian language, like a tick boring into its helpless prey.

That was where I had my lunch, trying not to feel horrified by the prices. Then I bought a double espresso and a pack of cigarettes - which I only smoke very rarely - and tried to imagine I was a detective.

Who had sent the letter?

The renegade Other or the Other's human client?

It didn't look like there was any advantage in it for either of them. And the scenario with another individual attempting to forestall the initiation was just too melodramatic altogether.

Think, head, think! You've come across more confused situations than this before. We have a renegade Other. We have his client. The letter was sent to the Watches and to the Inquisition. So the letter was most likely sent by an Other. A powerful, intelligent, well-informed Other.

Then the question was: What for?

And I already had the answer: In order not to go through with this initiation. In order to deliver the client into our hands and not go through with the promise.

That meant it wasn't a matter of money. In some incomprehensible fashion the unknown client had acquired a hold over the Other. A hold so terrible and absolute that he could demand anything he wanted. An Other could never admit that a human being held that kind of power over him. So he was making a cunning knight's move...

Yes yes yes!

I lit a cigarette, took a sip of coffee, and slumped back grandly in the soft chair like I belonged there.

It was beginning to come together. How could an Other end up in bondage to a human being? An ordinary human being, even if he was rich, influential, intelligent...

There was only one possibility, and I didn't like it one little bit. Our mysterious renegade Other could have found himself in the position of the golden fish in the fairytale. He could have given a human being his word of honor to grant him or her any wish at all. After all, the fish in the story hadn't expected the crazy old woman - that reminded me, about the old woman: I had to inform Gesar that I had discovered a potential Other - that the crazy old woman would want to become the Empress of the Sea.

And that brought me to the really upsetting part...

A vampire, or a werewolf, or a Dark Magician couldn't give a damn for any promise.

They would give their word and then take it back again. And they'd tear the human's throat out if he tried to stand up for his rights.

So it was a Light Magician who had made the rash promise.

Could that really happen?

It could.

Easily. We were all a bit naive - Kostya had been right about that. Our human weaknesses made us vulnerable - we could be trapped by our sense of guilt, all sorts of romantic notions...

So the traitor was in our ranks. He had given his word - I wouldn't try to figure out why just yet. He was caught in a trap. If a Light Magician refused to carry out his promise, he would dematerialize...

Stop! There was another curious point here. I could promise a human being to do "anything he wanted." But if I was asked to do the impossible... well, I didn't know what exactly, not something that was merely difficult, or repugnant, or forbidden, but precisely impossible - extinguish the sun, for instance, or turn a human being into an Other - what answer would I give? That it was impossible. No way. And I'd be right, and there wouldn't be any reason for me to dematerialize. And my human master would have to accept that. Ask for something else... money, health, incredible sex appeal, good luck playing the stock market, and a keen nose for danger. In general - the usual human pleasures that a powerful Other can provide.

But the renegade Other had panicked. He'd panicked badly enough to set both Watches and the Inquisition on his "master" at the same time. He was backed into a corner, he was afraid of disappearing into the Twilight forever.

That meant that he really could turn a human being into an Other.

That meant the impossible was possible. The means existed. Not known to many, but they did exist...

I suddenly felt uneasy.

The traitor was one of our oldest and most knowledgeable magicians. Not necessarily a magician beyond classification, not necessarily someone who held a really important position. But an old hand with access to the greatest secrets...

For some reason I immediately thought of Semyon.

Semyon, the Light Magician who sometimes knew things that meant the sign of the Avenging Fire was applied to his body.

"I'm well into my second century..."

Maybe.

He knew a lot of things.

Who else did?

There was a whole bunch of old, experienced magicians who didn't work in the Watch. Just got on with living in Moscow, watched TV, drank beer, went to soccer matches...

I didn't know them, that was the problem. Those wise old birds who had quit working didn't want to get involved in the endless war between the Watches.

And who could I turn to for advice? Who could I expound my terrifying conjectures to? Gesar? Olga? But potentially they were on the list of suspects themselves.

No, I didn't believe they could have blundered. After the rough deal she'd had from life, Olga - not to mention the arch-cunning Gesar - would never make a gaffe like that. They wouldn't make impossible promises to a human being. And Semyon couldn't do it either. Semyon was wise, in the primordial, folk meaning of the word. I couldn't believe he would slip up like this...

That meant it was another of our senior colleagues who had blundered.

Anyway, how would I look putting forward an accusation like that? "I think the guilty party is one of us. A Light One. Most likely Semyon. Or Olga. Or even you, Gesar..."

How could I carry on going to work after that? How would I be able to look my comrades in the face?

No, I couldn't come out with suspicions like that. I had to know for sure.

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