AS THE HERO OF A CERTAIN HOARY OLD JOKE PUT IT, "BUT NOW LIFE IS

returning to normal!"

The passengers in the captain's car were sitting in their compartments and staring vacantly out the windows. For some reason people walking through the car lengthened their stride and only looked straight ahead. In one closed compartment there were two bodies packed in black plastic sacks and the wounded Inquisitor, who was lying down after a colleague had treated him with healing spells for about fifteen minutes. Another two Inquisitors were standing on guard at the door of our compartment.

"How did you guess?" Edgar asked.

He'd fixed my jaw in about three minutes, after he'd helped his wounded comrade. I hadn't asked what the problem was¡ª simple bruising, a crack or a break. He'd fixed it, and that was all I cared about. But my two front teeth were still missing, and it felt weird to feel the place with my tongue.

"I remembered something about the Fuaran..." I said. In the commotion of the first few minutes after Kostya bolted, I'd had time to think of what to tell him. "The witch... you know, Arina... said that according to the legends, for the spells in the Fuaran to work, you had to have the blood of twelve people. Just a drop from each one would do."

"Why didn't you tell me earlier?" Edgar asked sharply.

"I didn't figure it was important. At the time I thought the whole story of the Fuaran was pure fantasy... And then Kostya mentioned that his cocktail was made from the blood of twelve people, and it clicked."

"I see. Witezslav didn't have twelve people handy," Edgar said with a nod. "If only you'd told me right away... if only you'd told me..."

"You knew about the formula of the cocktail?"

"Yes, of course. The Inquisition has discussed Saushkin's cocktail. The stuff doesn't work any miracles, it won't increase a vampire's strength beyond the natural limits. But it does allow a vampire to rise to his maximum potential without killing anyone..."

"Rise or sink?" I asked.

"If there's no killing involved, then rise," Edgar replied coolly. "And you didn't know... would you believe it..."

I said nothing.

Yes, I hadn't known. I hadn't wanted to know. What a hero. And now two Inquisitors were wearing black polyethylene and no one could do anything to help them...

"Let's drop it." Edgar decided. "What point is there now... He's flying after us, do you see?"

I glanced at the compass. Yes, it looked that way. The distance between us and Kostya, or rather, the book, hadn't changed, although the train was hurtling along at forty or fifty miles an hour. He had to be flying after us. He wasn't making a run for it after all.

"There has to be something he wants in Central Asia..." said Edgar, perplexed. "The only thing is..."

"We should summon the Great Ones," I said.

"They'll come," Edgar said casually. "I've informed them of everything, put up a portal... they're deciding what to do."

"I know what they're deciding," I muttered. "Zabulon's demanding that Kostya be handed over to him. And, of course, together with the Fuaran."

"No one's going to get their hands on the book, don't you worry."

"Apart from the Inquisition?"

Edgar didn't answer that.

I made myself more comfortable. Felt my jaw.

It didn't hurt.

But I was upset about the teeth. I'd have to go to a dentist or a healer. The trouble was that even the very best Light healers couldn't fix your teeth without any pain. They simply couldn't do it...

The pointer of the compass quivered, but maintained its direction. The distance hadn't changed¡ªsix or seven miles. So Kostya must have undressed and transformed into a bat... or maybe some other creature? A gigantic rat, a wolf... That wasn't important. He'd transformed, probably into a bat, and he was flying after the train, clutching a bundle containing his clothes and the book in his paws. Where had he been hiding it, the son of a bitch? On his body? In a secret pocket in his clothes?

He was a son of a bitch all right... but he had some nerve! The sheer insolence of it¡ªto join in the hunt for himself, to come up with theories, give advice...

He'd duped everyone.

But in the name of what? The desire for absolute power? The chances of victory weren't all that good, and Kostya had never been particularly ambitious. Well, he was ambitious, of course, but without any manic ideas about ruling the world.

And why wasn't he making a run for it now? He had the blood of three Inquisitors on his hands. That was something that would never be forgiven, even if he gave himself up and confessed, even if he gave back the book. He ought to run, after first destroying the book that the tracking spell was linked to. But no, he was still carrying the book and following the train. That was just plain crazy... Or was he hoping for negotiations?

"How were you expecting to identify Witezslav among the passengers?" I asked Edgar.

"What?" The Inquisitor, lost in thought, answered after a pause. "A simple trick, the same thing you used: alcohol intolerance. We were going to get dressed up in white coats and carry out a medical inspection of the entire train. Supposedly looking for people with atypical pneumonia. We would have given everyone a thermometer well soaked in medical spirit. Anyone who couldn't take it in his hands or was burned would have been a suspect."

I nodded. It might have worked. Of course, we'd have been taking a risk, but taking risks was our job. And the Great Ones would have been somewhere close at hand, on call, ready to strike with all their might if necessary.

"The portal's opening..." Edgar grabbed hold of my hand and pulled me down onto the bunk. We sat beside each other, with our legs pulled in. A trembling white radiance filled in the compartment. There was a low exclamation¡ªGesar had banged his head against a bunk as he emerged from the portal.

Then Zabulon appeared¡ªin contrast with my boss, he had a mellow smile on his face.

Gesar rubbed the top of his head, looked at me dourly and barked, "You might as well have put up a portal in a Za-porozhets automobile... What's the situation?"

"The passengers have been pacified, we've washed away the blood, the wounded agent is receiving treatment," Edgar reported. "The suspect, Konstantin Saushkin, is moving parallel with the train at a speed of forty miles an hour."

"No point in calling him a suspect any more..." Zabulon said caustically. "Ah, what a talented boy he was... what promise he had."

"You don't seem to have much luck with promising young colleagues, Zabulon," Edgar said in a quiet voice. "Somehow they don't stay around for very long."

The two Dark Magicians glared hostilely at each other. Edgar had old scores to settle with Zabulon¡ªever since that business with Fafnir and the Finnish sect. No one likes to be used as a pawn.

"Please refrain from sarcasm, gentlemen," said Gesar. "I could say a few things on my own account... to you, Zabulon, and to you, Edgar... How powerful is he?"

"Very powerful," said Edgar, still looking at Zabulon. "The guy was already a Higher..."

"Vampire," Zabulon said with a contemptuous laugh.

"Higher Vampire. Without much experience, of course... far less than you. But then he used the book, and became stronger than Witezslav. And that's already serious. I'm inclined to believe that Witezslav was on the same level as you are, Great Ones."

"How did he finish Witezslav off?" Zabulon asked. "Do you have any theories?"

"I do now," Edgar said with a nod. "Vampires have a hierarchy of their own. The boy challenged him to a duel for preeminence. It's not very... spectacular. A battle of minds, a duel of wills. Rather like a crude stare-down. After a few seconds one backs down and submits totally to the other's will. Whenever the Inquisition came up against vampires, Witezslav always subdued them easily. But this time he lost."

"And was killed," said Zabulon, nodding.

"That's not necessarily the outcome," Edgar observed. "Kostya could have made him his slave. But either he was afraid of losing control or he decided to see it through to the end. Basically, he ordered Witezslav to dematerialize. And Witezslav had no choice but to obey."

"A talented boy," Gesar said ironically. "I won't lie, Witezslav's final destruction doesn't exactly upset me... Okay, Konstantin has become more powerful than Witezslav. Just how powerful, what's your evaluation?"

Edgar shrugged.

"How can I evaluate that? He's more powerful than I am. I assume he's more powerful than either of you. Maybe more powerful than all of us taken together."

"Don't start a panic," Zabulon muttered. "He's inexperienced. Magic isn't arm-wrestling, magic's an art. When you have a sword in your hand, the important thing is to strike a precise blow, not just swing wildly with all your might..."

"I'm not panicking," Edgar said in a gentle voice. "It's just hard to assess his level of power. It's very high. I used the Crystal Shield¡ªKostya very nearly broke through it."

The Great Ones exchanged glances.

"The Crystal Shield can't be broken," Gesar observed. "And anyway, how could you... all right, I understand. More artifacts from the special vault."

"He very nearly broke through the shield," Edgar repeated.

"And how did you manage to survive?" Gesar asked me. Maybe I imagined it, but I thought I heard a note of sympathy in his voice.

"Kostya didn't want to kill me," I said simply. "He went for Edgar... at first I hit him with the Gray Prayer,"¡ªGesar nodded in approval¡ª"... and then I found some vodka and I splashed it in his face. Kostya went wild. But he still didn't want to kill me. Then the Inquisitors distracted him, he tore them to shreds and left."

"A purely Russian approach¡ªsolving a problem with a glass of vodka," Gesar said morosely. "What for? Why did you provoke him? He's not a novice. It must have been obvious you couldn't handle him. Was I supposed to present Svetlana with your remains afterward?"

"I got carried away myself," I admitted. "It was all just too unexpected. And then when Kostya started saying 'Come with me, I don't want to hurt anyone'..."

"He doesn't want to hurt anyone," Gesar said bitterly. "A vampire reformer. A progressive lord of the world..."

"Gesar, we have to decide what to do," Zabulon said quietly. "I can have the fighters from the military airport scrambled."

Neither magician spoke for a while.

I imagined jet fighters screeching through the sky in pursuit of a bat, blazing away at it with their cannons and firing their rockets...

A phantasmagorical vision.

"Helicopters then..." Gesar said thoughtfully. "No. That's nonsense, Zabulon. He'll just brush any humans aside."

"A bomb after all, then?" Zabulon asked curiously.

"No!" Gesar shook his head. "No. Not here. And it's too late for that... he's on the alert. We have to strike at him with magic."

Zabulon nodded. Then he suddenly started giggling quietly.

"What's this?" Gesar asked.

"All my life..." said Zabulon. "Would you believe it, my old enemy? All my life I've dreamed of working in harness with you! Well now I really am... from hatred to love..."

"You really are an absolute goon," Gesar said in a quiet voice.

"We're all a bit touched in the head," Zabulon giggled. "Well then? You and me? Or shall we bring in our colleagues? They can pump in Power, and we can be the spearhead, striking the blow."

Gesar shook his head. "No, Zabulon. We shouldn't go near Konstantin. I have a different suggestion..."

He looked at me.

I felt at the broken stump of a tooth with my tongue. That was a real drag...

"I'm ready, Gesar."

"Yes, there's a chance," Zabulon said, with a nod of approval. "Since Kostya still allows sentimental considerations to influence him... the only thing is, will you be able to strike at him, Anton?"

I didn't answer immediately. I had to think about it seriously.

There was no question of an arrest. I'd have to strike swiftly and surely and kill him. Become the spearhead, the focus of the Power that would be pumped into me by Gesar, Zabulon, Edgar... and maybe other magicians as well. Sure, I was less experienced than the Great Ones. But there was a chance I could get close to Kostya without a fight

On account of those "sentimental considerations."

The alternative was simple¡ªthe Great Ones would gather all their Power into a single fist. Even Nadya's Power would be required¡ªand Gesar would demand that Svetlana initiate our daughter...

There was no alternative.

"I'll kill Kostya," I said.

"Wrong," Gesar said in a low voice. "Say it right, watchman!"

"I'll subdue the vampire," I whispered.

Gesar nodded.

"And don't get all introspective about it, Gorodetsky," Zab-ulon added. "None of your intellectual sniveling. That nice boy Kostya doesn't exist any more. And he never did. Maybe he hasn't killed anybody for blood, but he's still a vampire. Non-life."

Gesar nodded in support.

I closed my eyes for a moment.

Non-life.

He was lacking that thing that we simply call a soul.

A certain vital component that even we Others can't define. From early in his childhood¡ªthanks to his parents. As the boy grew up, the doctor in the local clinic had listened to his heart and admired his robust health. He had turned from a boy into a man, and no girl had ever said his lips were cold when she kissed them. He could have had children¡ªperfectly ordinary children with a perfectly ordinary human woman.

But it was all non-life. It was all borrowed and stolen¡ªand when Kostya died, his body would instantly crumble to dust... because it had already been dead for a long, long time.

We're all condemned to death from the moment we're born.

But at least we can live until we die.

"Leave me alone with Anton," Gesar said. "I'll try to prepare him."

I heard Zabulon and Edgar stand up. They went out into the corridor. There was a rustling sound¡ªGesar had evidently shielded us against observation. And then he asked, "Are you suffering?"

"No." I shook my head without opening my eyes. "I'm thinking. Kostya tried not to behave like a vampire, after all..."

"And what conclusions have you reached?"

"He won't be able to hold on." I opened my eyes and looked at Gesar. "He won't be able to hold on, he'll lose control. He's managed to subdue the physiological need for living blood, but as for all the rest... he's non-life among the living and that's a torment to him. Sooner or later Kostya will lose control."

Gesar waited.

"He's already lost control," I said. "When he killed Witezslav and the Inquisitors... one of the Inquisitors was a Light One, right?"

Gesar nodded.

"I'll do the right thing," I promised. "I feel sorry for Kostya, but there's nothing to be done."

"I have faith in you, Anton," Gesar said. "And now tell me what you really wanted to ask."

"What keeps you in the Night Watch, boss?" I asked.

Gesar smiled.

"When you get right down to it, we're all tarred with the same brush," I said. "We don't fight the Dark Ones, we fight the ones that even the Dark Ones reject¡ªthe psychopaths, the maniacs, the lawless ones. For obvious reasons there are more of them among the vampires and the werewolves. The Dark Ones do the same... the Day Watch hunts the Light Ones who want to do good to everyone all at once... basically the ones who might reveal our existence to human beings. The Inquisition supposedly stands above the fray, but what it actually does is make sure the Watches don't take their functions seriously. Make sure the Dark Ones don't attempt to gain formal control over the human world and the Light Ones don't try to wipe out the Dark Ones completely... Gesar, the Night Watch and the Day Watch are just two halves of a single whole."

Gesar just looked at me for a while without saying anything.

"Were things... deliberately arranged that way?" I asked. Then I answered my own question. "Yes, probably. The young ones, the newly initiated Others, might not have accepted a single Watch for Light Ones and Dark Ones: I can't do that¡ªgo out on patrol with a vampire! I would have been outraged myself... And so two Watches were set up, the lower ranks hunt each other fervently, the leaders plot and scheme¡ªout of sheer boredom¡ªjust to keep up appearances. But it's a joint leadership."

Gesar sighed and took out a cigar. He cut its tip off and lit it.

"And like a fool," I muttered, keeping my eyes on Gesar, "I always used to wonder how we managed to survive at all. The watches of Samara, of Novogorod Veliky, of little Kireevsky village in the Tomsk region. All supposedly independent. But basically, when there's any kind of problem, they come running to us, to Moscow... Okay, so the arrangement's not de jure, it's all de facto¡ªbut the Moscow Watch runs all the Watches in Russia."

"And in three of the newly independent states..." Gesar muttered. He blew out a stream of smoke and the smoke gathered together into a dense cloud in midair, instead of dispersing throughout the compartment.

"All right, what comes next?" I asked. "How do the independent Watches of Russia and, say, Lithuania, interact? Or Russia, Lithuania, the USA, and Uganda? In the human world what happens is clear enough: whoever has the biggest stick and the thickest purse calls the tune. But the Russian Watches are stronger than the American ones! I even think..."

"The strongest Watch is the French one," Gesar said in a bored voice. "Strong, but extremely lazy. An amazing phenomenon. We can't understand what the reason is¡ªit can't just be a matter of consuming massive quantities of dry wine and oysters..."

"The Watches are run by the Inquisition," I said. "It doesn't settle disputes, it doesn't punish renegades, it runs things. It gives permission for one social experiment or another, it appoints and removes the leaders... it transfers them from Uzbekistan to Moscow... There's one Inquisition, with two operational agencies. The Night Watch and the Day Watch. And the Inquisition's only goal is to maintain the existing status quo. Because victory for the Dark Ones or the Light Ones means defeat for the Others in general."

"And what else, Anton?" Gesar asked.

I shrugged.

"What else? Nothing else. People get on with their little human lives and enjoy their little human joys. They feed us with their bodies... and provide new Others. The Others who are less ambitious live almost ordinary lives. Only their lives are more prosperous, more healthier, and longer than ordinary people's. Those who just can't live without excitement, who long for battles and adventures, a struggle for exalted ideals¡ªthey join the Watches. The ones who are disillusioned with the Watches join the Inquisition.""And... ?" Gesar asked, encouraging me to continue."What are you doing in the Night Watch, boss?" I asked. "Aren't you sick of it yet... after thousands of years?""Let's just say that after all this time I still enjoy battles and adventures," Gesar said. "Eh?"I shook my head. "No, Boris Ignatievich, I don't believe you. I've seen you when you're... different. Too weary. Too disillusioned.""Then let's assume that I'd really like to finish off Zabulon," Gesar said calmly.I thought for a second. "That's not it, either. In hundreds of years one of you would have finished off the other already. Zabulon said that fighting with magic is like swordplay. Well, you're not fighting with swords, you're fencing with sports rapiers. You claim a hit, but you don't make a hole in your opponent."Gesar nodded and paused before speaking. Another dense stream of tobacco smoke joined the blue-gray cloud. "What do you think, Anton, is it possible to live for thousands of years and still feel the same pity for people?""Pity?" I queried.Gesar nodded."Precisely pity. Not love¡ªit's beyond our power to love the entire world. And not admiration¡ªwe know only too well what human beings are like.""It probably is possible to pity them," I said and nodded. "But what good is your pity, boss? It's pointless, barren. Others don't make the human world any better.""We do, Anton. We do, no matter how bad things still are. Trust an old man who's seen a lot.""But even so...""I'm waiting for a miracle, Anton."I looked at Gesar quizzically."I don't know exactly what kind of miracle. For all people to acquire the abilities of Others. For all Others to become human again. For a day when the dividing line won't run between Other and human being, but between good and bad." Gesar smiled gently. "I have absolutely no idea how anything of the sort could ever happen and if it ever will. But if it ever does... I prefer to be on the side of the Night Watch. And not the Inquisition¡ªthe mighty, clever, correct, all-powerful Inquisition.""Maybe Zabulon's waiting for the same thing?"Gesar nodded. "Maybe. I don't know. But better an old enemy you know than a young, unpredictable freak. You can call me a conservative, but I prefer rapiers with Zabulon to baseball bats with a progressive Dark Magician.""And what would you advise me to do?"Gesar shrugged and spread his hands. "What advice would I give you? Make up your own mind. You can get out and lead an ordinary life. You can join the Inquisition... I won't object if you do. Or you can stay in the Night Watch.""And wait?""And wait. Preserve the part of you that's still human. Avoid falling into ecstatic raptures and trying to impose the Light on people when they don't want it. Avoid relapsing into contemptuous cynicism and imagining that you are pure and perfect. That's the hardest thing of all¡ªnever to become cynical, never to lose faith, never to become indifferent.""Not a huge choice..." I said."Ha!" Gesar said, smiling. "Just be glad that there's any choice at all."The suburbs of Saratov flitted by outside the windows. The train was slowing down.I was sitting in an empty compartment and watching the spinning pointer.Kostya was still following us.What was he expecting?Arbenin's voice sang in the earphones:From deception to deceptionOnly manna pours down from the sky.From siesta to siestaThey feed us only manifestoes.Some have gone, some have left.I have only made a choice.And I sense it with my back:We are different, we are other.I shook my head. It should be "We are Others." But even if we were to disappear, people would still be divided into people and Others. No matter how those Others were different.People can't get by without Others. Put two people on an uninhabited island, and you'll have a human being and an Other. And the difference is that an Other is always tormented by his differentness. It's easier for people. They know they're people, and that's what they ought to be. And they all have no choice but to be that way. All of them, forever.We stand in the center, We blaze like a fire on an ice-floe And try to warm ourselves, Disguising the means with the goal. Burning through to our souls In meditative solitude.The door opened and Gesar came into the compartment. I pulled the earphones out of my ears."Look." Gesar put his palm-held computer on the table. There was a dot crawling across the map on the screen¡ªour train. Gesar glanced at the compass, nodded, and confidently marked a thick line on the screen with his stylus."What's that?" I asked, looking at the square that Kostya's trajectory was heading for. I guessed the answer myself: "An airport?""Precisely. He's not hoping for negotiations." Gesar laughed. "He's making a dash straight for the airport.""Is it military?""No, civilian. But what's the difference? He has the piloting templates."I nodded. For "backup" all operational agents carried a collection of useful skills¡ªdriving a car, flying a plane or a helicopter, emergency medical assistance, martial arts... Of course the template didn't provide perfect skills; an experienced driver would overtake an Other with a driving template, a good doctor would operate far more skillfully. But Kostya could get any kind of aircraft into the air."Surely that's a good thing," I said. "We'll scramble the jet fighters and...""What if there are passengers?" Gesar asked sharply."It's still better than the train," I said in a quiet voice. "Fewer casualties."And that very moment I felt an odd twinge of pain somewhere deep inside. It was the first time I'd ever weighed human casualties on the invisible scales of expediency and decided one pan was lighter than the other."That's no good..." said Gesar, and then added, "Fortunately. What does he care if the plane's destroyed? He'll just transform into a bat and fly down."The station platform appeared outside the window. The locomotive blew its whistle as it slowed to a halt at the station."Ground-to-air nuclear missiles," I said stubbornly.Gesar looked at me in amazement. "Where from? The nuclear warheads were all removed ages ago. Except for the air defense units around Moscow... but he won't go to Moscow.""Where will he go?" I asked expectantly."How should I know? It's your job to make sure he doesn't get anywhere," Gesar snapped. "That's it! He's stopped!"I looked at the compass. The distance between us and Kostya had started to increase. He'd been flying in the form of a bat, or running along in the form of the Gray Wolf from the fairytale, but now he'd stopped.The interesting thing was that Gesar hadn't even looked at the compass."The airport," Gesar said, sounding pleased. "Okay, no more talk. Go. Requisition someone with a good car and get to that airport pronto.""But..." I began."No artifacts, he'll sense them," Gesar retorted calmly. "And no one else goes with you. He can sense all of us now, you understand? All of us! So move it!"The brakes hissed and the train came to a halt. I paused for a moment in the doorway and heard him say, "Yes, stick to the Gray Prayer. Don't make things complicated. We'll pump you so full of Power he'll be splattered across the apron."That was all. Apparently the boss was so fired up I didn't even have to say anything to him¡ªhe could hear my thoughts before they were formulated in words.In the corridor I walked past Zabulon, and couldn't help shuddering when he gave me an encouraging slap on the shoulder.Zabulon didn't take offense. He just said, "Good luck, Anton! We're counting on you!"The passengers were sitting quietly in their compartments. The captain of the train was the only one who watched me go with a glassy stare as he made some announcement into a microphone.I opened the door into the lobby at the end of the car, lowered the step and jumped down onto the platform. Everything was moving fast somehow. Too fast...There was the usual bustle in the station. A noisy group turnbled out of the next car, and one of them bellowed, "Now, where are all those grannies with our favorite stuff?"The "grannies"¡ªaged from twenty to seventy¡ªwere already hurrying to answer the call. Now there'd be vodka, and beer, and roast chicken legs, and pies with dubious fillings."Anton!"I swung around. Las was standing beside me with his bag thrown over his shoulder. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth and an expression of blissful relief on his face."Are you getting off too?" Las asked. "Maybe I can give you a lift somewhere? I've got a car waiting.""A good car?" I asked."I think it's a Volkswagen." Las frowned. "Is that good enough? Or do you insist on a Cadillac?"I turned my head to look at the windows of the captain's car. Gesar, Zabulon, and Edgar were watching me."That's fine," I said glumly. "Right... I'm sorry. I'm really in a great hurry and I need a car. I turn you toward...""Well, let's get going, why are we standing here, if you're in such a hurry?" Las asked, interrupting the standard formula for recruiting volunteers.And he slipped into the crowd so smartly that I had no choice but to follow him.We forced our way through the mindless, jostling crowd in the station and out onto the square in front of it. I caught up with Las and tapped him on the shoulder:"I turn you...""I see it, I see it!" Las said, totally ignoring me. "Hi, Roman!"The man who came up to us was quite tall, with a well-fed look, almost like a child¡ªso sleek and well-rounded, with the folds of skin around the wrists and ankles you find on a plump baby. A small mouth with tight little lips and small, inexpressive eyes that looked bored behind his spectacles."Hello, Alexander," this gentleman said in a way that was somehow very formal, holding his hand out smoothly to Las."This is Anton, my friend, can we give him a lift?""Why shouldn't we give him a lift?" Roman agreed sadly. "The wheels go around, it's a smooth road." Then he turned and walked toward a brand-new Volkswagen Bora.We followed him and got into the car. I impudently slipped into the front passenger seat. Las cleared his throat loudly, but climbed meekly into the back. Roman switched on the ignition and asked: "Where do you want to go, Anton?"His speech was as smooth and streamlined as if he wasn't speaking, but writing the words in the air."The airport, it's urgent," I said somberly."Where?" Roman asked in genuine amazement. He looked at Las. "Perhaps your friend ought to find a taxi?"Las gave me an embarrassed look. Then he gave Roman an equally embarrassed one."All right," I said. "I turn you toward the Light. Reject the Darkness, defend the Light. I grant you the vision to distinguish Good from Evil. I grant you the faith to follow the Light. I grant you the courage to battle the Darkness."Las giggled. And then immediately fell silent.It's not a matter of words, of course. Words can't change anything, not even if you emphasize every last one of them with a capital letter. It's like the witches' spells¡ªa mnemonic formula, a template implanted in my memory. I can simply compel someone to obey me, but this way... this way's more correct. It brings an old, tried, and tested mechanism into play.Roman straightened up and his cheeks even seemed to lose some of their plumpness. A moment ago the person beside me had been an overgrown, capricious infant, but now he was a man. A warrior!"The Light be with you!" I concluded."To the airport!" Roman declared in delight.The engine roared and we went tearing off, squeezing every last ounce of power out of the small German car. I'm sure that sports sedan had never really shown what it could do before.I closed my eyes and looked through the Twilight¡ªat a pattern of branching colored lines against a background of darkness. Like a crumpled bundle of optical fibers¡ªsome green, some yellow, some red. I'm not the best at reading the lines of probability, but this time I found it surprisingly easy. I was feeling in better shape than I ever had before.That meant there was already Power flowing into me. Power from Gesar and Zabulon, Edgar and the Inquisitors. And maybe right now Others were transfixed across Moscow, Light Ones and Dark Ones¡ªthe ones Gesar and Zabulon had the right to draw Power from.I'd only ever felt anything like this once before. That time when I drew Power directly out of people."We go left at the third turn, there's a traffic jam ahead," I said. "Then we turn right into the yard and out through the archway... into the side street there..."I'd never been in Saratov before, but that didn't make any difference right now."Yes sir," Roman replied briskly."Faster!""Very well!"I looked at Las. He took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. The car hurtled through the crowded streets. Roman drove with the wild fury of a tram driver who's been given a chance to lap Schumacher in a Formula-1 grand prix.Las sighed and asked, "Now what's going to happen to me? Are you going to take a little flashlight out of your pocket and tell me 'it was a marsh gas explosion?'""You can see for yourself¡ªno flashlight's required," I said."But will I stay alive?" Las persisted."You will," I reassured him. "Only you won't remember anything. I'm sorry, but that's standard procedure.""I get it," Las said sadly. "Shit... Why is that always the way? Tell me, since it makes no difference..."The car tore along the side street, bouncing over the potholes. Las stubbed his cigarette out and went on. "Tell me, who are you?""An Other.""What sort of other exactly?""A magician. Don't worry¡ªI'm a Light Magician.""My, but you've grown, Harry Potter..." Las said. "What a crazy business. Maybe I've just lost my mind?""No chance..." I said, pushing my hands hard against the ceiling. Roman was really going for it, driving straight across some flowerbeds to cut a corner. "Careful, Roman! We need to move fast, but safely.""Then tell me," Las persisted. "Does this car race have anything to do with that abnormally large bat we saw yesterday night?""Believe it or not, it does," I confirmed. The Power was seething inside me, as intoxicating as champagne. It made me feel like clowning. "Are you afraid of vampires?"Las took a flask of whisky out of his bag, tore the top off it and took a long swig. Then he said cheerfully, "Not a bit!"