HALFWAY TO THE AIRPORT A HIGHWAY PATROL CAR PULLED OUT AND SAT on our tail. I put a spell that diverts people's attention on the Bora, and the patrolmen immediately fell back and disappeared. Others normally use that spell to protect their cars against being stolen, so I was delighted to have found a new use for it. But I soon removed it when a truck nearly flattened us a minute later.
"We'll be at the airport in fifteen or twenty minutes," Roman reported as he swung the wheel. "What will our instructions be, boss?"
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Las shake his head and take another swig. We were already out of town and hurtling along the road to the airport. A fairly decent road by Central Russian standards.
"Turn the radio on," I said. "This journey's getting a bit dreary."
Roman turned it on. He just caught the end of the news:
"... to the delight of millions of readers, whose three-year wait has finally come to an end," the presenter declared. "And in conclusion¡ªan announcement from the cosmodrome at Baikonur, where a joint Russian-American crew is already preparing for liftoff. The launch is planned for six-thirty this evening, Moscow time. And now we continue our musical..."
"Like some whisky?" Las asked.
"No, I've still got work to do."
"Alexander, pull yourself together, this is no time to be drinking," Roman barked briskly. "We've got work to do!"
This extremely amiable man, who probably couldn't even have slit a chicken's throat in real life, seemed to imagine that he was James Bond¡ªor at least his assistant.
We all have something we never got out of our systems when we were kids.
"You will guard the car," I told him. "This is a very responsible assignment. We are relying on you."
"I serve the Light!" Roman barked.
"I'd never have believed it..." Las groaned in the back seat. "Shall I guard the car too?"
"Yes." I nodded. "Only... please, please... don't try to run away."
I heard more liquid gurgling from the back seat. Maybe I ought to turn Las to the Light too? It would be more humane... the poor guy was suffering unnecessary torment.
But I had no time left to think about it¡ªthe car flew out onto the square in front of the terminal building and pulled up at the entrance with a squeal of brakes. Nobody took any notice of that¡ªsomeone was late for his flight, it happened all the time...
I took out Arina's note and looked at the compass.
The pointer was swaying, but it still indicated a definite direction.
Had Kostya sensed my approach? Gesar had been sure he would.
And what was in store for me?
Strangely enough, up until that moment, I hadn't felt any fear. In my heart of hearts I hadn't been prepared to see Kostya as an enemy¡ªand especially not the kind of enemy who might kill me. I was a second-level magician¡ªthat was already something not to be taken lightly. I had the entire might of the Night Watch behind me and now¡ªsomething quite unheard of¡ªthe might of the Day Watch as well. What could one solitary vampire possibly do to me, even if he was a Higher Vampire?
But just at that moment I recalled Witezslav's face with his fangs bared.
Kostya had killed him. Overwhelmed him.
"Las," I said curtly. "One small request... Walk behind me. At a distance. If anything happens... they'll find you afterward; tell them about it."
Las gulped, dropped the empty flask on the seat and said soberly, "I'll do it, why not? Forward, my pale-faced Blade!"
It seemed like he was past the point of worrying about anything. Getting drunk is a good way to give yourself partial protection against a vampire. They find the blood of someone who's drunk unpleasant¡ªand if he's really drunk it's toxic to them. Maybe that was why vampires had always preferred Europe to Russia?
But a vampire doesn't have to drink the blood of someone he's killed. Nourishment is one thing, but business is business.
"Don't come close," I repeated. "Keep your distance."
"Watch your back, boss," Roman told me. "Good luck! We're counting on you!"
I looked at him and remembered Zabulon's parting words.
How alike we are.
How alike all of us are¡ªOthers and people, Dark Ones and Light Ones.
"Keep it cool, no rush, no aggression," I said to myself, glancing at the men smoking at the entrance to the terminal building. Most of them were respectable types, wearing neckties. The cleaning lady in an orange jacket standing beside them and puffing away on a Prima looked absurd.
"Calmly and quietly..."
I walked toward the building. The smokers moved aside to make way¡ªthere was so much Power in me now that even ordinary people could sense it.
Sense it, and do the sensible thing¡ªmove aside.
I looked around as I went in. Las was shambling after me, smiling benignly.
Where are you, Kostya?
Where are you, Higher Vampire who has never killed anybody for the sake of Power?
Where are you, boy who dreams of becoming Lord of the World, like in some cheap Hollywood action movie?
In the same place as the vampire trying to cheat his own destiny...
I will kill you.
Not "I must kill you," not "I can kill you," not "I want to kill you." No more auxiliary verbs. I've already been through "I must"¡ªin tearful heart-searching and self-justification. I've already been through "I can"¡ªstruggling with the complexes of a third-level magician who has reached his ceiling. I've already been through "I want to"¡ªwith all those turbulent emotions: the passion, the fury, the pity.
Now I'm simply doing what I have to do.
I couldn't give a hoot for the false ideals and the fake goals, the hypocritical slogans and the two-faced principles. I don't believe in the Light or the Darkness any longer. Light is just a stream of photons. Darkness is just the absence of Light. People are our young brothers and sisters. The Others are the salt of the earth.
Where are you, Kostya Saushkin?
Whatever your goal is¡ªancient eastern artifacts or a million-strong army of Chinese magicians¡ªI won't let you win.
Where are you?
I stopped in the middle of the hall¡ªthe rather small hall of a provincial airport. I thought I could sense him...
A heavily perspiring man carrying suitcases bumped into me, apologized, and walked on. I noted his aura in passing¡ªan uninitiated Other, a Light One. He was afraid of flying but he'd arrived safely and now he'd relaxed¡ªwhich was what had made him noticeable.
I wasn't interested in that right now.
I swung around as if someone had called my name and stared at the door with a sign that said "Service Entrance" and a coded lock.
A melody that no one else could hear threaded itself through the hubbub of the airport.
Apparently he was calling me.
The buttons on the keypad lit up helpfully when I reached my hand out toward them. Four, three, two, one. A very cunning code...
I opened the door, looked around and nodded to Las, then closed the door behind me carefully, so that it wouldn't latch.
Empty corridors, painted a depressing green. I moved along one of them.
The melody grew stronger, swirling in the air, soaring upward and gliding back down. Like an intricate passage on a classical guitar, with the subtle notes of a violin.
This was it¡ªa genuine vampire's call, directed at me...
"I'm coming as fast as I can," I muttered, turning off toward another door with a code lock. A door banged behind me¡ªthat was Las following me in.
A new lock, a new code. Six, three, eight, one.
I opened the door, and found myself on the apron of the airport.
A round-bellied airbus was creeping slowly across the concrete. Further away a Tupolev was taxiing out to the runway, its turbines roaring.
Kostya was standing about fifteen feet away from the door, holding a neat little plastic briefcase¡ªI guessed that was where the Fuaran must be. Kostya's shirt was ripped¡ªas if at some moment it had suddenly become too small.
When he jumped off the train he must have started to transform straight away, without taking all his clothes off.
"Hi," said Kostya.
The music stopped, breaking off in mid-note.
"Hi. You flew here very quickly."
"Flew?" Kostya shook his head. "No... flying that kind of distance as a bat is too hard."
"Then what did you turn into? A wolf?"
This absurdly genteel conversation was summed up by a remark from Kostya. "A hare. A huge gray hare. I hopped all the way..."
I couldn't help giggling as I pictured the giant hare running through the truck gardens, forging streams in massive leaps and hopping over fences. Kostya shrugged. "Well... it really was funny. How are you feeling? I didn't hit you too hard, did I? Have you still got all your teeth?"
I tried to smile as broadly as I could.
"I'm sorry about that," said Kostya. He really did seem distressed. "That's because it was all so sudden. How did you realize I had the book? Because of the cocktail?"
"Yes. The spell requires the blood of twelve people."
"Now how did you know that?" Kostya mused. "There isn't any information available on the Fuaran... but that's not important. I have something to say to you, Anton."
"And I've got something to say to you," I said. "Turn yourself in. You can still save your own life."
"I haven't been alive for a long time," Kostya said with a smile. "I'm undead, or had you forgotten?"
"You know what I mean."
"Don't lie to me, Anton. You don't believe it yourself. I killed four Inquisitors!"
"Three," I corrected him. "Witezslav and two in the train. The third one survived."
"Big difference." Kostya frowned. "They've never forgiven anybody even for one."
"This is a special case," I said. "I'll give it to you straight. The Higher Ones are frightened. They can destroy you, but the victory will be too costly. So the Higher Ones will go for negotiations."
Kostya just stared hard at me without saying a word.
"If you give back the Fuaran and turn yourself in voluntarily, they won't touch you," I continued. "You're a law-abiding vampire. It's the book that's to blame. The balance of your mind was affected..."
Kostya shook his head. "There was nothing wrong with the balance of my mind. Edgar didn't take what Witezslav said seriously. But I believed him. I transformed and flew to the hut. Witezslav didn't suspect a trick... he started showing me the book and explaining. When I heard about the blood of twelve people, I realized this was my chance. He didn't even object to an experiment. He probably wanted to make sure the book was genuine as quickly as possible. It was only when he realized I'd become stronger than him that he dug his heels in. But by then it was too late."
"What's all this about?" I asked. "Kostya, this is insanity! Why do you want the power to rule the world?"
Kostya raised his eyebrows. He looked at me like that for a while and then laughed. "What are you talking about, Anton? What power? You don't understand a thing!"
"I understand everything," I insisted. "You're trying to get to China, right? A million magicians under your control?"
"You idiots," Kostya said in a quiet voice. "You're all idiots. There's only one thing you ever think about... Power... I don't want that kind of power! I'm a vampire! Do you understand? I'm an outcast! Worse than any of the Others! I don't want to be the most powerful outcast. I want to be ordinary! I want to be like everybody else!"
"But the Fuaran won't allow you to turn an Other into a human being..."I objected.
Kostya giggled. He shook his head. "Hello! Anton, switch your brain on. They've pumped you full of Power and sent you here to kill me, I know that. But think first, Anton! Understand what it is I want!"
The door squeaked behind me and Las came out. He gaped at me in embarrassment, then squinted at Kostya.
Kostya shook his head.
"Not a good time?" Las asked, taking in the situation. "Sorry. I'll be going..."
"Stop," Kostya said in a flat voice. "This is a very good time."
Las froze. I hadn't caught the note of command in Kostya's voice, but it must have been there.
"A natural experiment," said Kostya. "Watch how it's done..."
He shook the briefcase. The locks clicked, the briefcase opened and out flew a book, moving ponderously through the air.
The book really was bound in skin¡ªit was a grayish-yellow color, and the corners were bound in triangles of copper. In addition there was a cunning lock to prevent the book being opened.
Kostya caught the book in one hand and opened it with incredible agility¡ªas if he weren't manipulating a volume that weighed about five pounds, but simply opening a newspaper. He let go of the briefcase and it clattered against the concrete.
"Most of the stuff in here is just padding," Kostya laughed. "A record of unsuccessful experiments. The formula's at the end... it's really very simple."
With his free hand Kostya took a metal flask out of the back pocket of his jeans. He twisted off the top and poured a drop of liquid straight on to the open page.
What am I waiting for?
What is he going to do?
Everything inside me was crying out¡ªattack! While he's distracted¡ªstrike with all your Power!
But I waited, spellbound by the spectacle.
The drop of blood was disappearing from the page. Melting away, evaporating in a brown mist. And the book... the book began to sing. A strangled sound, like throat music¡ªit sounded like a human voice, but there was nothing intelligible in it.
"By the Darkness and the Light..." said Kostya, looking into the open pages. He could see something there that I couldn't.
"Om... Mrigankandata gauri... Auchitya dkhvani... By my will... Moksha gauri..."
The voice of the book¡ªI had no doubt that it was the book that was making that sound¡ªbecame louder. It drowned out Kostya's voice and the words of the spell¡ªboth the Russian ones and the other, ancient ones in which the Fuaran was written.
Kostya raised his voice¡ªas if he were trying to shout down the book.
I could only make out his last word¡ªom again.
The singing broke off on a sharp, dissonant note.
Behind me Las swore "What was that?" he asked."The sound of the ocean," Kostya chuckled. He bent down, picked up the briefcase and put the book and the flask in it. "An entire ocean of new possibilities."I swung around, already knowing what I would see. I half closed my eyes, catching the shadow of my own eyelashes with my pupils.I looked at Las through the Twilight.The aura of an uninitiated Other was quite distinct. Welcome to our happy family..."That's how it works on people," said Kostya. There were beads of sweat clinging to his forehead, but he looked very pleased. "So there you go.""Then what is it you do want?" I asked."I want to be an Other among Others," said Kostya. "I want all this to stop... Light Ones and Dark Ones, Others and people, magicians and vampires. They're all going to be Others, get it? Everyone in the world."I laughed. "Kostya... you just spent two or three minutes on one person. Just how good is your arithmetic?""There could have been two hundred people standing here," said Kostya, "and they would all have become Others. There could have been ten thousand. The spell works on everybody in my field of vision.""But even so...""In one and a half hours the next crew of the International Space Station takes off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome," said Kostya. "I think the space tourist from Germany will have to let me take his place."I said nothing for a second as I tried to make sense of what he had said."I'll sit quietly by the window and gaze at the Earth," said Kostya. "The way a space tourist is supposed to do. I'll look at the Earth, spread the blood from the flask on the paper and whisper the spells. And way down below the people will become Others. All the people¡ªdo you understand? From the little infants in their cradles to the old folks in their rocking chairs."He looked genuinely alive now. And absolutely sincere. His eyes were blazing¡ªnot with vampire Power, but with undiluted human passion."You used to dream about that yourself, didn't you, Anton? That there wouldn't be any more ordinary people. That everyone would be equal.""I used to dream that all the people would be Others," I said. "Not that there wouldn't be any more people."Kostya frowned. "Drop that! That's nothing but verbal gymnastics... Anton, we have a chance to make the world a better place. Fuaran couldn't have done it¡ªin her time there weren't any space ships. Gesar and Zabulon can't do it¡ªthey haven't got the book. But we can¡ªwe can! I don't want any Power, understand that. I want equality. Freedom!""Happiness for everyone, a free handout?" I asked. "With no one left shortchanged and resentful?"He didn't understand. He nodded."Yes, happiness for everyone! The earth for Others! And no more grievances and resentment. Anton, I want you to be with me. Join me!""What a wonderful idea," I exclaimed, looking into his eyes. "Brilliant, Kostya!"I'd never been good at lying. And deceiving a vampire is almost impossible. But Kostya evidently wanted me to agree very badly.He smiled. And relaxed.And at that instant I raised my hands and struck out at him with the Gray Prayer.It was nothing like the blow I had struck on the train. The Power was seething inside me, streaming from the tips of my fingers¡ªand it kept coming, on and on. How can you tell if you're a good conductor until they switch on the current?The spell was visible even in the human world. Looping gray coils sprang from my fingers, twining themselves around Kostya, clutching and wrenching at him, enveloping him in a writhing gray cocoon. What happened in the Twilight was absolutely incredible¡ªthe world was filled with a seething blizzard of gray that made the usual gray mist seem colorful. The thought came to me that if there were any ordinary registered vampires within a radius of several miles, they wouldn't be feeling too great either. They'd be swept away and dematerialize by the ricochet from the spells...Kostya went down on one knee. He shuddered, trying to break free, but the Gray Prayer was sucking Power out of him faster than he could work his spells."Unbelievable!" Las exclaimed in delight behind me.So much Power had never passed through me before.Something strange was happening to the world around me. The plane on the runway faded and became a colorless, gray stone monolith. The sky faded to a dull white shroud hanging low above the ground. My ears seemed to be blocked with cotton wool.The Twilight seemed to be breaking through into our world...But I couldn't stop. I could sense that if I eased up on the pressure for even a second, Kostya would break free and strike back. Strike so hard, there'd be no pieces left to pick up... it would be me, not Kostya, smeared across the concrete apron...He raised his head and looked at me. Not in fury, more in resentful bewilderment. He parted his hands very, very slowly...Could he really have any reserves of Power left?A transparent, bluish triangular prism took shape in the air around Kostya. It severed the gray threads of the spell, spun around and shrank to a tiny point. Then disappeared.Taking the vampire with it.Kostya had gotten away, through a portal.The Power was still raging inside me. The Power of a thousand Others, transmitted to me by Gesar and Zabulon, a boundless flood of Power, seeking a use, a point of application. Human Power that came to me at third hand...Enough...I brought my palms together, crumpling the gray threads into a heavy ball.Enough...There was no enemy here any more.Enough...A duel of magicians is fencing, not flailing with a clumsy club.Enough.Kostya had proved more skillful.I was trembling violently¡ªbut I stopped myself. The sky took on a blue color again, the plane on the runway picked up speed.Kostya had gone.Had he turned and run?No, simply gone. I'd never heard of vampires capable of creating a direct portal. And it looked like the Higher Ones hadn't expected Kostya to pull an incredible stunt like that either.He'd come to the airport, knowing that everyone would start thinking about planes and helicopters and relax, sure that there was still some time left. A vampire could be intercepted in midair, you could send up the jet fighters, you could zap him with a missile.But he'd had the direct portal ready in advance. An hour and a half before the launch¡ªhe wouldn't have had time to getthere by plane. And they wouldn't have let a plane anywhere near Baikonur¡ªwhatever they might be like now, the air defense forces still existed. That was why he'd been able to make the jump, even under pressure from the Gray Prayer¡ªthe spell for the portal had been hanging there, ready for use, like the combat spells of a field operations magician.That meant he hadn't believed I would go over to his side. Or at least he'd had serious doubts. But it had been important to him, very important, to defeat me, not by pure Power¡ªwhat could Power prove, when he was already a Higher Vampire, and I was still a second-level magician, even if I was pumped full of borrowed Power? The most complete and convincing victory is when your opponent admits that you're right. And surrenders without a fight. Accepts your banner as his own.I'd been really stupid. I'd thought of him as either a friend or an enemy. But he was neither. All he'd wanted to do was prove that he was right. And I just happened to be the target he'd chosen for proving that. No longer a friend, not yet an enemy. Simply the bearer of a different truth."Did he teleport?" Las asked."What?" I swung around and looked at him. "Well... something of the sort. He opened a portal and got away through it. How did you understand that?""I saw something that looked like that in this computer game..." Las said uncertainly. Then he added indignantly, "A lot like that, in fact!""People aren't the only ones who can design games..." I explained. "Yes, he got away. He's gone to Baikonur. He wants to take the space tourist's place...""I heard," said Las. "What a lamebrain.""Do you understand why he's a lamebrain?" I asked.Las snorted. "If all the people become magicians... Today they insult you in the trolley, tomorrow they'll incinerate you on the spot. Today they scratch their neighbor's door with a nail if they don't like him, or write an anonymous letter to the tax office, but tomorrow they'll hex him or suck all his blood out. A monkey on a motorbike is only good in a circus, not on the city streets... And especially if the monkey's got a machine gun.""You think the monkeys are in the majority?" I asked."We're all monkeys.""You're headed for the Watch," I muttered. "Hang on, I'll ask for advice.""What Watch?" Las asked cautiously. "Thanks a bunch, but I'm not a magician, thank God!"I closed my eyes and listened. Silence."Gesar!"Silence."Gesar! Teacher!""We were in conference, Anton."In mind conversations, there are no inflexions of the voice. But even so... even so I thought I caught a hint of weariness in Gesar's words."He went to Baikonur. The Fuaran really works. He wants to turn everybody on the planet into Others."I stopped, because I realized Gesar already knew. He'd seen and heard everything that happened¡ªthrough my eyes and ears, or by using some other magical method, it wasn't important how."You have to stop him, Anton. Go after him and stop him.""And you?""We're keeping the channel open, Anton. Supplying you with Power. Do you know how many Others provided Power for the Gray Prayer?""I can imagine.""Anton, I can't handle him. And Zabulon can't handle him. Or Svetlana. The only thing we can do now is feed Power to you. We're drawing Power from all the Others in Moscow. If necessary, we'll start taking it directly from people. There's no time to regroup and use different magicians as channels. You have to stop Kostya... with our help. The alternative is a nuclear strike at Baikonur.""I won't be able to open a direct portal, Gesar.""Yes you will. The portal still hasn't closed completely, you need to find the opening and reactivate it.""Gesar, don't overestimate me. Even with your Power, I'm still a second-level magician!""Anton, use your head. You were standing in front of Saushkin when he recited the spell. You're not second-level any longer.""Then what level am I?""There's only one level above first¡ªHigher Magician. Enough talking, get after him!""But how am I going to defeat him?""Any way you like."I opened my eyes.Las was standing in front of me and waving his hand in front of my face."Oh! Still alive!" he said, delighted. "So what is this Watch? And do you mean to say I'm a magician too now?""Almost." I took a step forward.This was where Kostya had been standing... he fell... parted his hands.. . the portal appeared.In the human world¡ªnothing.Just the wind blowing, the crumpled cellophane cover from a pack of cigarettes rustling over the concrete...In the Twilight¡ªnothing.Gray gloom, stone monoliths instead of buildings, the rustling tendrils of the blue moss...In the second layer of the Twilight.Dense, leaden mist... a dead, spectral light from behind heavy clouds... a small blue spark where the portal had been...I reached out my hand¡ª in the human world,in the first level of the Twilight,in the second level of the Twilight...And I caught the fading blue spark in my fingers.Wait. Don't go out. Here's Power for you¡ªa raging torrent of energy, rupturing the boundary between worlds. Streaming from my fingers in drops of fire¡ªonto the fading embers...Grow, unfold, creep out into the bright light of day¡ªthere's still work for you to do! I can sense the trace left by the one who opened the portal. I can see how he did it. I'll be able to follow his path.And I don't even need any incantations¡ªall those funny formulas in obscure ancient languages¡ªjust as the witch Arina didn't need them when she brewed her potions, just as Gesar and Svetlana don't need them.So this is what it's like to be a Higher Magician!Not to learn formulas by heart, but to feel the movement of Power!How incredible... and how simple.It wasn't just a matter of new abilities, of a fireball with increased casualty capability or a more powerful Freeze. If he's pumped full of Power from outside or has accumulated a large reserve of his own, any ordinary magician can lash out hard enough to make a Higher Magician feel it. It was a matter of freedom. Like the difference between even the most talented swimmer and the laziest dolphin.How difficult it must have been for Svetlana to live with me, forgetting about her Power, about her freedom. This wasn't just the difference between strength and weakness¡ªit was the difference between a healthy person and an invalid.But ordinary people managed to live, didn't they? And they lived with the blind and the paralyzed. Because, after all, freedom was not the most important thing. Freedom was the excuse used by scoundrels and fools. When they said "freedom," they weren't thinking about other people's freedom, only about their own bondage.And even Kostya, who was neither a fool nor a scoundrel, had been caught on the same hook that had torn the lips of revolutionaries of every breed¡ªfrom Spartacus to Trotsky, fromCitizen Robespierre to Comandante Che Guevara, from Emelyan Pugachev to the Unknown Soldier.Surely I would have been caught on it myself? Ten or even five years earlier?If someone had told me, "You can change everything at a single stroke¡ªand for the better?"Perhaps I'd been lucky.At least with the people I'd had around me, who had always shaken their heads in doubt at the words "freedom and equality."The portal opened up in front of me¡ªa blue prism with glowing filaments, a glittering, faceted membrane...I parted the filaments with my hands and entered.