©Jane H.

Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets

Tanya Grotter
and
The Staff of the Magi
Dmitrii Emets
Translated from Russian
by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by

Shona Brandt

Cover designed by

Eva Elfimova

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets

Titles in the Series
Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass
Tanya Grotter and the Vanishing Floor
Tanya Grotter and the Golden Leech
Tanya Grotter and the Throne of The Ancient One
Tanya Grotter and the Staff of the Magi

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets

1

Chapter 1
YOU CANNOT CHOOSE YOUR RELATIVES
...The soul is kindred – the nose is foreign...
Feelings are at odds within oneself...
E.A. Baratynskii1
The best deputy Herman Durnev raised to the ceiling his lacklustre eyes with sclera
the colour of stale soapsuds. “There are no bounds to human meanness and envy! Ninel,
my darling, they’ve stripped me of deputy immunity, stripped all of it! Who am I now?
Nothing but the honourable chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. and general manager of Second-Hand
Socks!” he declared distressingly.
“Herman, all the same you have to agree that you’re guilty. With a sword and in
leather boots with spurs, you dragged yourself to a meeting with the American
president! Certainly, they’re cowboys there, but not to the same degree. Only how did
they let you through? I personally am not surprised that it all ended this way!” Aunt
Ninel remarked carefully.
“Yes, yes, yes... It was probably a little careless on my part. But what’s so especial
about the boots? I already listened to you and didn’t wear the crown!” Durnev whined.
“HERMAN!”
“Herman what? I’ve already been Herman for donkey’s years! Actually, I swear, it
amused the American! He sat there, drawing tanks on a piece of paper to while away the
time, but when I shouted ‘Here it is, the bad tooth!’ and jiggled the spurs – then how he
leaped! But our President frowned and threatened me with a finger. You know, as if he
wanted to say, ‘This Durnev again! He really annoys me!’” the honourable chair
declared.
“Herman, you forget, that was later!” Aunt Ninel said.
The best deputy brushed off his wife like a persistent fly. “So what, who doesn’t
know this already? For a whole week, they only showed this on TV! The guards fell upon
me and started to twist my arms. Me, the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R., the deputy! I didn’t like
that, and I began to resist. Imagine, Ninel, I also didn’t suspect that I’m so strong. They
fell like bowling pins, and I really only pushed them with the hilt of the sword and
jingled the spurs. Imagine, one, very strong and red-cheeked like a tomato, began to
tremble and covered his neck with his hands. And I only looked at him a little
pensively.”
“Simply looked and that’s all? You’re sure you didn’t try to bite him?” Aunt Ninel
inquired with suspicion.

Evgenii Abramovich Baratynskii (1800-44) was a Russian poet, one of the most striking but underrated
figures in Russian literature.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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1

2

Durnev even flinched with indignation. “To bite some guard with an unwashed
neck, who only covers up the filth with vile cologne? Phew! Whom does my own wife
take me for? And I can’t stand the sight of blood at all! In childhood, I felt faint just
pricking a finger with a needle and seeing the red droplet… Now a slightly cooked steak
with blood, that’s a totally different matter. Indeed, they don’t walk on two legs!”
Aunt Ninel collapsed onto the sofa, the springs of which creaking hopelessly. Her
husband could not say more: she herself knew everything. In spite of Count Dracula’s
sword, quantity triumphed over quality. They tied up Uncle Herman and threw him out
of there. The next day Durnev’s numerous ill-wishers brought the issue up for a vote and
deprived him of deputy immunity, and also his mandate at the same time. Durnev
would possibly still manage to pressure someone and wiggle out of it, but his pass into
the Duma was also revoked, so that the descendant of Count Dracula could not freeze
anyone with his hypnotic gaze or jingle his spurs at anyone.
“Isadora Cutletkina didn’t even greet me today! She walked past me like it was an
empty place. She already knows that you’re in disgrace,” Aunt Ninel said sadly.
“I should think so. My political career has ended. Final and irreversible. And the
Cutletkins understand this. They have the nose,” the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. nodded. He
was stuck in a swamp of despondency.
“What will you do now, Herman?” Aunt Ninel said, trying to rouse him.
Her dejected husband-vampiroid pensively moved his legs in green socks. This was
not the most sensible action on his part. The dachshund One-and-A-Half Kilometres,
observing from under the sofa Durnev’s heels jumping in front of its nose, could not
resist the temptation. It leaned out, bit the former deputy with aged yellow teeth, and
again cleared off into its refuge.
Uncle Herman roared in a terrible voice. He leaped almost up to the ceiling and
attempted to move the sofa aside in order to avenge himself on the dog. However, the
sofa by itself was heavy enough. Now, when Aunt Ninel, massive like the anchor of the
Titanic, was also sitting on it, even a Tibidox Atlas would have a hernia.
Then Durnev resolved to take vengeance in a different way. Holding his bitten foot
suspended, he hopped on the remaining foot (alas, moronoids have sufficiently limited
choice of feet) to the telephone and quickly flipped through the yellow pages. “Is this the
pet store?” he yelled into the handset. “Please tell me, miss, do you have poison for
dogs? What did you say? Is the dog suffering? No, it’s me suffering! What do you mean
you don’t support it? Then why ask idiotic questions?”
An irritated Durnev slammed the phone down, kicked the sofa weakly and, after
hurting his toes, unexpectedly changed to a peaceful mood. “Ninel, you’re always… How
do I know what I’ll do?” he grumbled. “Well, I’ll probably bring in a couple of trainloads
of old stuff from Europe. Only do you know what these cheats, my suppliers, have begun
to do recently? They dampen the things slightly before a sale by weight! Only I was also

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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3

not born yesterday, you know. I settle accounts with them not with money, but with
nesting dolls and broadcloth helmets.”2
***
Unexpectedly – such things for some reason always take place precisely this way
and not otherwise – the bell in the hallway began to jingle maliciously. Aunt Ninel and
Uncle Herman shuddered at once.
“Pa, someone’s here!” Pipa shouted from her room.
“As if I didn’t hear it myself! Go open it!” Uncle Herman snapped.
“I can’t! I swear!” his daughter objected. She had already been on a Gury Puper fan
forum on the Internet for three hours trying to convince everyone that G.P. had fallen in
love with her and even sent her cupids with flowers. They did not particularly believe
her, though she, in her rage, struck the keyboard exactly like hammering in nails. True,
Pipa nevertheless agreed with the forum users on one thing. The majority of Puper’s
fans also considered that Tanya Grotter was a complete airhead, but G.P. was solid like a
hard-boiled egg.
“Okay, love, don’t be distracted! Swearing must be long and with taste, otherwise
you won’t get any pleasure. Papa will open it himself!” Uncle Herman said and moved to
the door.
His spouse hung onto his arm. “Herman, don’t! Don’t open it!” she begged.
“Why?”
“It always starts this way! With a strange ringing at the door. You really don’t hear
the melody? Either a funeral march or a jig! These sounds happen only in those cases!”
“You think it’s Grotter again?” Durnev asked with suspicion, turning his neck.
“I don’t know… Let’s at least look before opening! Stop! Where are you going?”
Aunt Ninel let go of her husband for a second, and he, making use of this, broke away to
the door.
“If it’s Tanya, she’ll be sorry! I’ll finish her off on the spot! Sword, come here!” the
descendant of Count Dracula snarled belligerently. The sword, ringing with impatience,
jumped out of the closet and leaped into his hand. It had wanted a long time to skewer
someone, and now it was only too glad that its owner had come to his senses.
Having jerked open the door, Durnev jumped out onto the landing and stopped in
astonishment. He saw no one. This probably happened because Uncle Herman was
looking too high. Finally, he surmised to shift his gaze lower and froze.
In front of him appeared a dwarf with a large bumpy head, half-covered with
lichens and half with birthmarks overgrown with red fur. His crown was somewhere
level with Uncle Herman’s navel. However, his small stature did not in the least deprive
A broadcloth helmet, called a budenovka, was an essential part of the Red Army uniform during the Civil
War, but was phased out by WWII. It is a soft, woollen hat covering the ears and the neck, and has
earflaps that can be buttoned under the chin.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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2

4

the dwarf of self-confidence. He was leaning, not without a certain grace, on a gnarled
mahogany staff with carved patterns, which was in his hands.
The dwarf was so glowing with self-esteem, which not at all diminished the fact
that a wolf skin served as his only clothing. He was barefooted, with his legs covered up
to his knees in mud – so thick and dense that from the side it could seem to a
nearsighted person that the dwarf had on foppish box-calf boots. It was clearly a bit too
much mud even for the end of October. However, the most unpleasant thing about the
stranger was not even the red birthmarks or the mud, but his nightmarish odour – more
pungent and more odious than from a derelict rummy. It was obvious that the dwarf
would take a shower only under some unhappy coincidence of circumstances – when he
got caught in the rain.
While Uncle Herman was bluntly examining the guest’s enormous, not right for his
size, feet with yellow nails strong as tortoise shell, the dwarf, not embarrassed at all,
uttered in a nasal voice, “The Durnev apartment? I’ve come to you! That ish, I’ll live with
you!”
Stupefied by such unprecedented impudence, Uncle Herman managed only to
open his mouth. His hand, squeezing the sword, lowered.
“What, bro, you’re not glad? Don’t you recognize your own? It’s me!” the dwarf was
offended. The director of the firm Second-Hand Socks shook his head, demonstrating by
his entire appearance that he did not know or did not want to know any self-styled “me,
you, it, they,” or any pronoun at all.
The tramp was sad. He familiarly called Uncle Herman brother a couple more
times but did not meet a cordial response. Then he sighed, scratched his chin, and began
to pile on the pity. “Sure! I’m from the Granny Ryukha and Scabby Bunyaka branch!
Can say, blood kin!” he informed, sniffing affectingly.
“I don’t know any Ryukha! Be off!” Uncle Herman ordered sternly. The dwarf did
not fill him with trust. Durnev, possessing a keen sense for people, became more
positively convinced with each moment that a crook was in front of him.
“You don’t look there, you look here!” The little man started to bustle, confusingly
but earnestly tracing something in the air with his finger. “Here it is, that ish, our family
tree: her-a Granny Ryukha and Scabby Bunyaka, her-a Aunt Khripusha, her-a her
sisters Triasea, Ognea, and Ledea, and her-a their nephew Prukha. And Prukha had a
son, Gratis! Remember? So, I was and am that Gratis!”
Uncle Herman swallowed. He was only hearing about Granny Ryukha and Scabby
Bunyaka for the first time, as well as Prukha’s son Gratis. On the other hand, something
suggested to the former deputy that it would not be easy to blow off the pushy relative.
While Durnev was at a loss, Gratis, not waiting for an invitation, quickly got down
on all fours, slipped between Uncle Herman’s legs, and started to curry favour with his
wife. “I’ve decided, mumsy, to live with you. You won’t chase me away, that ish. It has

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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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5

become quite bad with us. No blood for you to drink, nothing… Even lie down and die
right her-a!” he explained, blinking watery eyes.
However, in spite of his firm intention to take leave of life, the relative became less
and less restrained with each minute. He decisively shuffled his dirty soles on the oak
parquet, put his staff by the closet, and, after finding himself by the coat rack, following
along the course of events, wiped his nose with the sleeve of Aunt Ninel’s fur coat.
Durneva scrutinized the dwarf with a mixed feeling of horror and fastidiousness.
Meanwhile, Gratis sat on the floor and, after scratching his ear using a foot with
frightening dexterity, muttered incoherently, “This her-a, that ish, our life-a! And that
one still with a stake… an aspen stake across the back… I dodged the staff and his foot.
Now a second, like, bounces off the gun, a silver bullet! Here flew past the ear – swish…
But he already got ready again and aims! I barely had time, you know, to utter Tempora
morales.”
Unexpectedly Gratis stopped short, after getting up, stood at attention and, staring
with uneasiness at the monumental figure of Aunt Ninel, asked, “I chatter, but at the tip
of my tongue… You don’t happen to come from the Cyclopes, mumsy? No? But then in
our Transylvania such kooks roam the woods, they knock out teeth. Straight no-no –
just poke your nose in! Koshchei the Deathless flew by one day, fell from the horse
skeleton, almost carried away his armour.”
“Who’s a Cyclops? Me? You shrimp!” Aunt Ninel, losing any shyness in a flash,
roared in a terrible voice. She reacted extremely sensitively towards any hint to her
weight.
The frightened kin began to tremble and crawled to hide under the shoe rack. “Oh,
terrible, mumsy, terrible! Straight to our Transylvania tomorrow at once!” he whined
from there.
Uncle Herman dropped the sword. With the repeated reference to Transylvania,
something vaguely began to clarify in his thoughts. “Wait, so you’re a vampire?” he
asked, looking at Gratis’ developed canine teeth visible from under the shoe rack.
“I’m not a vampire! A werewolf! Bad, brother, not to recognize your own! Though
you’re both chair and kin of Dracula, all the same bad nonetheless!” Gratis uttered
reproachfully.
He continued to sit for a while under the rack and, having made sure that Aunt
Ninel was not going to throw herself at him, came out. After shaking himself, the relative
extracted right from the air a short knife with a wide blade and decisively plunged it into
the parquet. “Other riff-raff messes with lockets, just that I don’t acknowledge these
tricks! I’m indeed better this way, the old ways!” Gratis informed them and suddenly,
without any warning, somersaulted with extraordinary adroitness over the knife.
The mangy wolf skin, previously dangling freely on his shoulders, now seemingly
adhered to its owner. The rather scabby face stretched. The arms lengthened. The legs,
on the contrary, became much shorter and were covered with stiff silvery fur. The next
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6

minute, the shaken Durnevs suddenly realized that a large wolf, ears pulled back
slightly, was sitting on the parquet of their apartment and grinning.
Aunt Ninel was filled with such strong trembling that it seemed the entire colossal
government building began to shake and tremble together with her. The chair of
V.A.M.P.I.R. grabbed the sword from the floor and placed it in front of himself, in case
the wolf rushed at them. But the werewolf did not do so. It looked at the relatives with
yellow, asymmetrical, seemingly accidentally gashed eyes, as if wishing to determine
which of the two was more appetizing. Then it got up and, growling lowly, made its way
to Aunt Ninel. A transparent thread of saliva, thin as hair, flowed from its half-open
mouth. Aunt Ninel began to yell hysterically.
“Mum, how much more noise can you make? Who has appeared there? You’re
getting in the way of my chatting! I’ve almost convinced one girl here that G.P. is
marrying me!” Pipa shouted crossly from her room.
On hearing her voice, the wolf turned its head and froze. Something akin to tender
emotion flickered in its yellow pupils. Having forgotten about the appetizing Aunt Ninel,
the werewolf again rushed to the knife and rolled over it. Gratis, with the wolf skin on
his shoulders, appeared again on the floor. “Pardon me, almost bit you, mumsy!” he
apologized. “When I change, I’m somewhat not in my right mind. Likely me, but likely
also not me. Fog in the head. If not for my dear Pipa’s voice, I really don’t know what
would have happened.”
“How do you know Pipa?” Uncle Herman asked severely. The director of SecondHand Socks had almost just become a widower and was now pondering if he was lucky
or if everything had gone wrong.
Gratis shifted bashfully from one bare foot to the other. “Here’s what, that ish,
brother… In our Transylvania everyone knows Pipa! Such a personality!” he said.
“What kind of personality?” Durnev frowned.
“Why, of course! They say, in two hundred years granddaughter Pipa will become
the sovereign of evil spirits! Well, not long ago letters of fate appeared on a stone! A
great ship,3 as they say… And I’m so glad! My own blood kin! Her-a Granny Ryukha and
Scabby Bunyaka, her-a Aunt Khripusha. And her-a my Papa Prukha…” Gratis had
another go at it.
“Stop talking nonsense! I’ve already heard this!” Durnev cut him off.
“Herman, drive him away! Let me call the concierge!” Aunt Ninel said in a weak
voice.
“Won’t work, drive me away, that ish! There, my dears! I said: I’ll live with you, and
I will!” Gratis shook his head.
“Why is that?” Durneva was outraged.

“A great ship asks deep waters,” from Jacula Prudentum (1651) by the English poet and orator George
Herbert (1593-1633), means that a gifted person will have outstanding achievements.
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3

7

The werewolf stuck his tongue out at her. “Brother Herman and I are fated.
Everyone knows this in our magical world. We were already fated as we appeared in the
world. Someone from our ancient kin so divined; kin was clairvoyant, notable. Ask
Ryukha, Prukha, Khripusha, any one will tell you,” the werewolf explained. In his voice
was strange persuasiveness.
“What is this fated?” Aunt Ninel asked hopelessly.
“Fated, mumsy, is when two fates are connected by one little thread, one umbilical
cord. Where one fate goes, so does the other. He has a bad time, I have a bad time. I
have happiness, he has happiness. If, for example, I die, he also won’t last an hour
without me. That’s what, mumsy! Look here: they almost nailed me with stakes and
riddled me with bullets, and most likely your hubby had something bad the same day… I
don’t know what, but there was… Couldn’t not be!”
“The presidential body-guard… Took away the access to Duma! Oh, no,” Uncle
Herman groaned.
Something massive collapsed behind his back. Aunt Ninel slipped awkwardly down
the wall. The dachshund One-and-A-Half Kilometres howled sorrowfully, hysterically,
harrowingly. She was already sorry that they did not sell Uncle Herman any poison.
Poison, poison to all! Everything was mixed up in the house of the Oblonskys! 4
Everything was mixed up in the world of magic, in the world of moronoids, and in my
head! Oh, we happened, indeed, happened to be born on this swiftly revolving mad ball,
and on top of that at the most insane moment of its history! Simply my granny mama, as
Bab-Yagun would say!!!

4

From Anna Karenina (1873-77) by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910).
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8

Chapter 2
CAKE WITH PLAGUE AND THE JUMPING SAUCER
For some reason, it so frequently happens that we recall a person at the moment
when he himself recalls us. He either phones or visits. But here Bab-Yagun did not
remember us, did not call, and also did not invite himself over. He was standing in front
of the mirror in Tanya’s room and, after rolling up his sleeves, examining his biceps.
Yagun had fat cheeks, but his muscles were not too impressive. This had probably also
occurred to Yagun himself, because he asked dejectedly, “People, does anyone
remember how to conjure up a little more muscles?”
Tanya put aside the notebook with the assignment on theoretical magic. She was
completely confused. Sardanapal had ordered them to make a detailed horoscope of
Julius Caesar5 and explain all events in his life from the point of view of the arrangement
of the planets. Tanya made a complete mess with the planets. Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and
Venus were entangled both in her head and on paper. But the most disgusting of all was
the Moon. It continually mocked the girl, winking from the lined horoscope and
asserting that the most favourable day in Julius’ life was when they killed him. The ideal
match of Caesar’s character was only with a certain moronoid by the name of Brutus. 6
“Hey, why’s everyone quiet? I said: does anyone remember the inflating spell?”
Yagun repeated impatiently.
“Forget about that!” Tanya said. “Do you remember Zhikin using magic to make
himself muscles like those of an Atlas? He walked around dense as a boiled egg! His
shoulders couldn’t pass through the door, but in the week – poof! – he deflated himself
right in protection from spirits. What laughter!”
“It wasn’t Zhikin’s fault. It was Slander! He loves putting students in their place.
Especially us fourth-years! Just wait, chief, I’ll grow, become the greatest magician, and
then we’ll meet in a tight alley! ‘Greetings,’ I’ll say affectionately, ‘old toadstool! Who let
loose a biovampire on me in my youth? And a nutsy spirit? How about an excursion to
the world of poltergeists now?’” Yagun was lost in daydream.
However, thoughts about vengeance did not linger in his head for long. Instead, the
playing commentator unexpectedly demanded a second mirror.
“What, you can no longer find enough room in one?” Tanya asked maliciously.
“Are you putting me on?” Yagun was insulted. “I simply want to look at myself from
behind. I wonder if I’m as good-looking from behind as in front, or do my ears spoil it?”
“You are, you are…” Tanya said in a hurry. Acknowledging Yagun as good-looking
was simpler than running along the floor searching for another mirror.
Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC) was a Roman general, statesman, and a notable author of Latin
prose. The Julian calendar was created during his rule.
6
Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC – 42 BC) was a Roman politician best known for his leading role in the
assassination of Julius Caesar.
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5

9

“Really? But this pimple on my forehead? Of course, it’s only a pimple, but still,
does it spoil it or not?” Examining himself, Yagun clung quite close to the mirror.
JIAANGANNNG!
Suddenly a hand with gnarled fingers shot out from the mirror. It flew through
Yagun and pulled back. The grandson of Yagge paled and shrank back, feeling his head
all over. He could not understand at all if it was still whole or not.
“Did you see that? Did you?” he shouted.
The mirror reflected a terrifying distorted face with a swollen, bumpy nose, exactly
like from a chronic cold. A shrunken hunchback with glowing eyes sat on a three-legged
stool on the other side of the glass. Baring his teeth, he rolled up Yagun’s reflection and,
after offhandedly crumpling it as if it was a sheet of paper, threw it to Yagun’s feet. It
laughed again. A wave ran along the mirror. The hunchback disappeared.
“What was that?” Yagun wheezed with horror.
“Ah-h… Mad Glazier… Hunchback with Pimply Nose. He lives there, in the mirror.
Obviously, it bothered him that you were twirling there longer than Coffinia,” Tanya
explained.
“Where did he come from?” Yagun tried to find out.
The baby Grotter looked sadly at the completely entangled horoscope, pondering
whether to use Wiza cockwiza. “Uh-h-h… Glazier? As a matter of fact, I settled him
there. With the summoning spell,” she admitted.
“Why? You like this character?” Yagun asked with fear.
“What, have you got heatstroke? Who can like him? I wanted to punish Coffinia a
little. She’s forever hanging around in front of the mirror, doesn’t even allow one to
comb one’s hair,” Tanya acknowledged.
“You’re out of your mind, Grotter! He’s clearly a dark spirit! Even worse than…
Keep away from me, keep away!” Yagun looked with superstitious horror at his
crumpled reflection melting by his feet, exactly like an icicle thrown onto a hot pan. The
face disappeared last. Yagun’s new reflection, appearing in the glass immediately after
the loss of the first, shook like an aspen leaf.
“That’s it… You understand, when I uttered the spell, I didn’t grasp that it’s from
the forbidden ones. I barked it out in a hurry when I was mad at Crypt, and the spell
snapped into action right away… And not simply either: with three red sparks! Who
could imagine that the hunchback would turn out to be so annoying? He offered to be
summoned, but doesn’t intend on leaving. Besides, he prophesies at night…” Tanya
complained.
“But he… doesn’t climb out of the glass?” Yagun asked.
“Not likely. He probably also can’t. Only puts out a hand or a head sometimes. I
don’t like this at all…”

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10

“Well, alright then!” Yagun shook his head, driving off the delusion. “You know: I
usually don’t examine myself much. Today’s a special case. Should I remember myself
this way for my whole life or not?”
“What in the world for?” Tanya asked.
“What do you mean? I’m a fuull fifteen years! Sixteen in three days!” the playing
commentator proudly reported.
“Nightmare! I thought no one lives that long! You’re as decrepit as Gottfried
Bouillon!” Tanya said archly.
Pouting, Yagun looked sideways at Tanya. “What’s with your Gottfried here? I have
a birthday at hand, almost an anniversary, and everyone has forgotten. A crime!”
“You jump to conclusions too early! I think everything’s still to come,” the baby
Grotter said. The playing commentator broke into a wide smile, but, after remembering
suddenly, hurried to put on a displeased face. But he did not fool Tanya. She understood
that Yagun was specifically nosing out whether they had forgotten his birthday.
“Well, so be it… We’ll see. We at Tibidox are like: you don’t give yourself a gift, you
won’t be happy,” he stated.
“Yagun, don’t coddle yourself!” Vanka Valyalkin, silent till now, was exasperated.
Vanka was also here; he was feeding the firebird, blazing in all the colours of the
rainbow, with worms and beetles. The previous nestling had long become an adult bird,
and on top of that it was so scorching that it was only possible to take it with a thick
glove. True, brought up by people, the firebird still had not yet decided what it was and
avoided the company of other birds, preferring the company of Vanka or Tararakh. It
spent a large part of the day on Vanka’s shoulder, as if on a perch. In order that the bird
would not burn Vanka with its tail feather, Tanya placed on his soccer shirt a large patch
of basilisk skin, which was always cold.
Puper, pining for love at his own place on the misty island, sent her the skin
through a cupid, after he had finished off one of those rare reptiles. Until then, the
basilisk, not bothering anyone in particular, was peacefully dwelling in a dusty basement
room and only rarely dragged itself out in order to freeze a couple of cats so ancient that,
according to rumours, they even belonged to Jane Austen, and would nevertheless, soon
die on their own.
On finding out about the demise of the basilisk, the Magciety of Jerky Magtion’s
division for the protection of magical animals expressed Magciety censure on Puper and
fined him a half pood of toad warts. This event sparked a lot of responses in the press.
Nagiana Pripyatskaya was even at the place of the basilisk’s demise and did a special
report on zoomer. The publishing house specializing in calendars with Gury issued a
book in view of this.
After feeding the voracious firebird, Vanka transferred it onto Page’s shoulder and
flopped down onto Coffinia Cryptova’s bed.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
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11

Coffinia herself was not in the room. She had already been sucking up to the
librarian Abdullah for several days, making plans to fool Puper with his help. The old
genie knew a mass of forbidden spells. Furthermore, there had long been rumours in
Tibidox that somewhere in the depths of his library were hidden old books – so
dangerous that The Ancient One in his time had ordered them to be burned, but the
crafty genie providently hid them in a safe place, after converting them into something
insignificant.
***
After the match with the Invisibles, when Tanya, saving Gury, slammed the ball
into their own dragon, something changed in her life, as if someone decisively, without
asking permission, had turned over an already filled page. Tanya became distinctly
aware that something had happened to her, but could not understand the what, why,
and when this would end.
She had changed, spilled over from something or somewhere – that was precisely
her internal feeling – and she barely recognized herself. She was all fingers and thumbs.
She even got down to her studies out of grief, but this also did not muffle the terrible
internal dissatisfaction with herself. Not without reason did Yagge assert that a teen
doing excessive soul-searching is the same as an adult hitting the bottle.
Outwardly, global change consisted of Tanya leaving the dragonball team. She
understood that Nightingale could never completely forgive that because of her absurd,
unpredictable behaviour, the dream of his whole life had slipped away – the team did
not win the championship and did not get the cup… During those days when she tried to
resume training, O. Robber fairly often, not being able to control himself, blurted out
something in the spirit of, “Be more active, guys! Attack the dragon! No need to babysit
it, it isn’t Puper!” Moreover, the sharp-tongued Nightingale went even further, and it
was often possible to hear something like, “Seven-Stump-Holes! Why did you stare at
me like Tanya at Gury? Let’s play, get a move on!”
It goes without saying, Coffinia, Zhora Zhikin, Rita On-The-Sly, and any other
mockers immediately added dozens of their own to these little jokes. Tanya did not
answer. Everything somehow made no difference to her. She treated the jokes the same
way, shackled in the armour of her indifference.
Nevertheless, some of the nastiest jokes penetrated the moral armour, which only
seemed solid, and they ate away at her soul. Taking offence at the coach, Tanya left. She
left, not even having a talk with him but simply by sending a note through Yagun to
Robber. After this note, she twice caught Nightingale’s pensive and joyless gaze directed
at her from the teachers’ table after dinner. It seemed to her that Nightingale was
pondering whether to approach her. But he never did. Tanya also kept aloof.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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12

To spite Tanya, and perhaps also himself, the coach invited Verka Parroteva to the
team. Every time she took off, Verka squealed so loudly that the glass in Tibidox shook.
Parroteva was also not averse to squealing on her own – in the given situation, the
squeal was fully justified. Verka had gotten hold of a reactive vacuum – the most
powerful of all that one could order in Magician Zina’s store on Bald Mountain. One
only needed to step on the gas a little or else utter a spell and the vacuum would
immediately ram the magic dome. For this very reason, Verka flew in Achilles’ helmet
and Patroclus’ breastplate,7 and medical genies were on duty in the field. Waiting for
their hour, they yawned, spat into space, and drew all kinds of mystic signs on the sand
with their bare toes.
Training started each day at four, and Tanya then tried not to approach the window
or, knowing that this was nevertheless impossible, drove herself by force to the reading
hall. There were no windows there and generally little else except stuffy air, in which
floated dust from ancient books. The dust burned the throat and scratched the eyes.
Behind the wall, the genie Abdullah blew his nose suspiciously and, concocting curses,
muttered something to himself under his breath.
Not long before Yagun’s birthday, Tanya met Shurasik in the library. Tibidox’
number one student, in the eternal list of the fifty most significant botanists of the
universe, loved the silence and solitude of the reading hall, in which it was possible to
seldom meet anyone in the period between exams. However, if Tanya was hiding there
from herself, from her own feelings and thoughts, Abdullah’s library was simply a home
for Shurasik. He was the only one in the entire school that the mad genie permitted to
walk wherever he fancied between the shelves, and even to wander into the restricted
stock.
“All the same, you won’t hide anything from Shurasik! He’s meticulous, simply a
spitting image of me! I hate such vile meticulous characters and such awfully pushy
types!” Abdullah told everyone, secretly terribly contented that he had this successor.
Shurasik treated Tanya well. He always moved to a closer seat when she appeared
in the library and gallantly asked if she needed to write anything down with his pencil.
Shurasik’s pencil was special – with a lead woven from seven of the last rays of the sun
before a total eclipse, the same one mentioned in The Tale of Igor’s Campaign.8 Spells
recorded with this pencil did not disappear from the paper as when someone attempted
to do the same with a goose feather or a pen.
The mentioned pencil was from the secret black-magic reserves of Professor
Stinktopp, who had inopportunely fallen into infancy. A couple of weeks ago, the baby
Stinktopp discovered the pencil, together with other treasures of his precursor, and
In Greek mythology, Achilles, the famous Greek hero, was the greatest and central character of Iliad by
Homer, the legendary early Greek poet. Patroclus was Achilles’ best friend.
8
The Tale of Igor’s Campaign is an anonymous epic poem dated to the late 12 th century about Prince Igor
Svyatoslavich’s (1151-1202) failed raid against the Polotsvians of the Don River region.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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7

13

traded it with Shurasik for chewing gum with eternal taste, which he lost after only half
an hour later, trying to feed it to Sardanapal’s sphinx.
When Tanya turned down the pencil, Shurasik stared at her piercingly. “Grotter,
what’s with you?”
“Oh, no mood,” Tanya answered, thinking about dragonball.
“AHA! MOODS! This is because you’ve secretly fallen in love with Puper!” Shurasik
stated authoritatively. “If not, why did you save him during the match? Well, he would
have passed a couple of hours in Goyaryn’s belly – he would have been fine. Pupers,
they’re tough!”
“What? I’ve fallen in love with Puper? You’re sick! Sit and read, before the letters
run away from such a psycho!” Tanya was indignant.
Shurasik straightened his glasses with thick lens – only Dentistikha’s were thicker.
“You see, my dear girl, psychology of the unconscious mind isn’t quite the same as
psychology of the conscious mind,” he said, not a bit offended. “Professor Sigmund…”
“Stinktopp?” Tanya was surprised, forgiving Shurasik for the “my dear girl”
because of it. She did not suspect that the head of the dark department was even a man
of letters.
“What does it have to do with Stinktopp? Freud!” Shurasik frowned.
“Never heard of him. Is he a white or dark magician?”
“Really, Grotter, how ignorant you are! He isn’t from our gang at all… Even if he
used magic, then only a little so that the women wouldn’t disperse. So, Professor
Sigmund Freud convincingly demonstrated that we desire many things unbeknown to
our will. And, in particular, our desires are manifested in dreams…” Shurasik lowered
his voice to an intriguing whisper. “Don’t you dream of Puper at night?” he quickly
asked.
“Not likely… Well, perhaps, a couple of times!” Tanya admitted perplexedly. For
some reason she did not feel shy before Shurasik. In any case, less than before Vanka or
Yagun. Shurasik was somewhat neutral. Either a friend or simply an acquaintance –
hard for her to sort out. But it was possible to speak with him about whatever she
wanted.
“THERE YOU SEE!” Shurasik was pleased. “And what did he do in your sleep?”
“Nothing special. Simply stood and looked reproachfully…” Tanya said.
“THAT’S IT! And in the other dream? I believe you said ‘a couple of times’…” the Astudent meticulously reminded her.
“Hmm... Now I remember. In the other dream he flew on a broom above the
Tibidox ditch.”
“Oh, a broom! The ditch! This makes deep moral sense!” Shurasik came alive. “Do
you at least understand what you dreamt?”
“I don’t and don’t want to,” Tanya said severely.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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14

Shurasik chewed his lips for some time, but decided not to run off at the mouth and
backed off. “I don’t understand. So, a broom. Never know what nonsense people dream
about. Yesterday a kikimora9 appeared in mine… It was as if she was crunching the star
chart and loudly singing Scandinavian sagas. Here I think: what would this be? Uncle
Ziggy has nothing about kikimora and sagas. Unless this was some super-distortion,” he
grumbled.
For about ten minutes, Shurasik, having become sad, hovered silently around the
table, not responding to any questions, and then, when Tanya had almost forgotten
about him, he turned to her and uttered in embarrassment, “Listen… I want to tell you
something… Only swear that this will be between us. I’m so uneasy… You’re the first
person I’m telling this to…” Shurasik’s usually pale cheeks blazed up with a blush.
Avoiding looking at Tanya, he squeezed his little notebook in his hands.
“Only don’t tell me that he’s fallen in love with me! Although no, with him that’s
unlikely. How can he fall in love with me? I’m not an enCyclopaedia!” Tanya thought,
calming herself down.
“I’ll swear. But without Drop deadus,” she said carefully.
“The usual moronoid promise will be enough. Will you?”
“May I not leave this place!”
“Good,” Shurasik nodded. “I know I can trust you. You won’t spill the beans,
especially as I already put a special counter-babbling spell on you. The fact is that I ’m…a
writer. Unacknowledged, but this is temporary.”
“I’m jealous! Have you written anything already?” Tanya asked, experiencing relief.
Shurasik looked graciously at her. “Of course, my dear girl! I write articles and send
them by cupids to Gossips and Fantasies,” he remarked.
Tanya’s jaw simply dropped. Shurasik, and unexpectedly Gossips and Fantasies! It
would be much more logical to assume that he wrote an article with a title such as
Decoction of Pure Reason for the weekly Magical Bore. Shurasik writing for Gossips
was as absurd as a seventy-year-old professor doing an article for a women’s magazine.
“And how many have you sent already?” she asked.
“Not too many. Roughly thirty articles and eighty notes. True, they haven’t
answered me yet. And they even threatened to pop a spell at one of my cupids… But
yesterday I wrote something new, and this they’ll definitely take. You want to see it?”
Shurasik nervously thumbed through his notebook.
After finding the necessary page, he pushed the notebook to Tanya and was
petrified, waiting for the evaluation with visible indifference.
MY FAVOURITE SUBJECT

A kikimora is an evil spirit in Slavic mythology, usually depicted as a small ugly old woman dressed in
rags, whose appearance is considered a bad omen.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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9

15

My favourite subject is Protection from Spirits. It is my favourite because Slander
Slanderych teaches it. He is an attentive and sympathetic teacher, who takes to heart
the emotional experience of each student. I also like the reek of Eyeless Horror and his
History of Other Worlds. That is very interesting, especially when you understand that
all of those Horror describes already died long ago. The only thing I dislike very much
is Eyeless Horror’s habit of removing his head during class and pouring blood over the
entire class. Moreover, once he tossed to me his insides in a bag, and it was really not
funny.
Another one I like is Evil Spirit Studies, because Medusa Zeusovna directs it. She
teaches us the habits of evil spirits and the spells against them. There are 20 students
in Medusa Zeusovna’s class. Each morning 20 attentive eyes look at Medusa
Zeusovna…
“What, we’re CCyclopes? Somehow there aren’t enough eyes!” Tanya wondered.
“What do you mean, not enough? Not enough nothing!” Shurasik was offended.
“You have a look yourself!”
“Hm-m… Indeed. I made a little mistake… Don’t nitpick, Grotty! Writers don’t deal
with such nonsense; there are editors for that! Either read or don’t read!” Shurasik was
offended.
After deciding on no more criticism of the young talent, who could put an evil eye
on someone out of spite, Tanya read the article to the end – it concluded with excessive
praise of the genie Abdullah, who was referred to as the king of all genies and father of
humanity – and mechanically turned the page.
The page was blank when turned, but then on the next in calligraphic letters with
much flourish, little resembling Shurasik’s usual handwriting, appeared:
And they will come. And there will be four of them. The first – fierce and angry,
with three faces under a golden veil – will arrive on a black horse and bring with itself
fear. Another – reasonable, with a silver head and golden moustache – will be on a
blazing chariot. A hammer and an axe serve as his weapons. The third, benevolent, is
the guardian of herds, the lord of all domestic and forest beasts. And an ox in a
wheaten yoke will be with him. The fourth is a guard, with the body of a bird and a
stern face. No one will hide from him.
They will come for what belonged to them, and woe to all if they do not find what
they search for.
“Now this isn’t bad at all! Creates the mood. I even became ill at ease somehow!”
Tanya approved.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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16

“Really? Where?” Shurasik beamed. He glanced over Tanya’s shoulder and
suddenly it was as if he was frozen to the chair. “I didn’t write this!” he said, turning
pale.
“Perhaps this isn’t your notebook?”
“It’s mine. But I didn’t write… Where did this come from?”
“How would I know!”
Shurasik licked his lips. “Oh, I’ve got it: the dark magic pencil! Tonight it suddenly
seemed to me that I saw light and pages rustled. But I thought it was my fake twos
running from the diary! You know I give myself twos in order not to get a swelled head
because I’m a genius!” Shurasik said perplexedly.
He glued his eyes on the paper, but he had not even finished reading a line when
the letters began to turn pale and unravel. Then the separate fragments combined and
an ox, a hammer, and an axe became faintly visible. Aside from them, something similar
to the wing of a large bird flickered in the outlined branches of a thick tree. The bird,
which could not be examined, took off. Suddenly the sheet of paper blazed up with a
cold fire and turned to ashes. But only this one page; the rest of Shurasik’s little
notebook with the ingenious creation about twenty one-eyed students remained
untouched. He could now send it to Gossips and Fantasies if he wanted.
“It disappeared! It seemed to me Stinktopp’s pencil cannot be erased at all. Do you
at least remember what was there?” Shurasik asked in a weakened voice.
“Roughly,” Tanya said. She deceived him. She remembered everything to the last
word.
“And I didn’t even manage to read it through!” Shurasik uttered dejectedly. He was
about to start pestering Tanya with questions, but because of curiosity leaned too hard
on the table. The table collapsed, even without being overloaded with the volumes which
Shurasik had brought from the entire library. Fearing the wrath of the genie Abdullah,
Shurasik threw up his hands and, yelling, “A hammer! Half of Tibidox for a hammer!”
he dashed away after house spirits.
Tanya gathered her notebooks and hurried to leave before his return. “Another –
reasonable, with a silver head and golden moustache – will be on a blazing chariot. A
hammer and an axe serve as his weapons…” she recalled. The baby Grotter was
convinced that the letters had not disappeared by chance. Someone alone had to read
the inscription by the pencil of the seven last rays. It clearly was not intended for
repeated reading. And she was this one person.
***
On the eve of Yagun’s birthday, Tanya, as always dragging out till the last moment
for a gift, was pondering in haste what she could prepare for Yagge’s grandson. Her first
thought was to give him a dragonball ball lure ordered from the catalogue. This lure, if
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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17

one could believe the instructions, should beckon to balls in the air, even the smartest
and most elusive, such as the immobilize.
Fortunately, before presenting the lure, Tanya had the sense to test it. A
nightmarish, freezing-the-blood sound escaped from the lure. Black Curtains waved
their tassels in a panic. A sneeze ball lying in a corner, remaining from those times when
Tanya was on the team, awoke and darted away. Trying to bolt from the whistle, it
cracked the glass and flew off in an unknown direction.
“So-so for ‘beckoning balls’ to itself! It scares them away!” the baby Grotter
exclaimed.
However, if the lure scared balls, it attracted something else. Ghosts began to flow
from all over Tibidox into Tanya’s room. Soon, so many of them crowded in that they
were continually floating through one another.
“Where’s the corpse?” Lieutenant Rzhevskii asked, rotating his head as could never
be done by the living.
Despite that, according to rumours persistently spread by his wife, he had already
been promoted to captain, Rzhevskii stubbornly wore his previous uniform and did not
respond other than to lieutenant. But then there seemed to be fewer knives in his back.
And in general, the brash spectre’s looks were less unkempt than during his bachelor
life.
“The corpse, I say, where is it? You hid it in the closet, perhaps?” Rzhevskii
repeated, displeased.
“???” Tanya could not find the words.
“Perhaps you didn’t call us to a funeral? Well, we came, now what?” the spectre
continued to press.
“Are you in your right mind?” Tanya got angry.
“Really? But we heard a funeral call. Such is always heard when a soul has
separated from the body!” Unhealed Lady explained. She looked around and, after
ascertaining that there was definitely no corpse, sighed disappointedly. “But if no one
died, then we’ll fly off. We have little time… By the way, didn’t I say that I’m suing for
divorce?”
“From the Lieutenant?”
“FROM THE CAPTAIN! And by internal worth a COLONEL!” Lady said with
authority. “We’ll divorce, divide assets (this is the most interesting, because we have no
assets whatsoever), and then get married again.”
“Then what’s the point of divorcing?” Tanya did not understand.
“Emotions? You underestimate emotions, girl! Without them life would be dull,
especially for us, the deceased!” Lady stated reproachfully and slowly seeped through
the floor. The remaining ghosts flowed after her in a sad file.
Tanya looked pensively at the advertised lure and threw it under her bed. “The first
rule of life, Grotter: never order anything from a catalogue!” she said to herself.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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18

Half an hour later, having provided herself with everything necessary, Tanya was
already rolling out dough on the table in the common room to make a pie for BabYagun. The magic tablecloth could certainly prepare pies, but this would be nothing of
the kind. Moreover, the magic tablecloth did not know the recipe for apple pie with
chocolate glaze, and Yagun preferred precisely that.
Tanya was helping round-faced Dusya Dollova. She was the most domestic of all
the girls of the white department. Besides, she liked pushy Yagun. True, not as much as
Puper, but Gury was far away and Dusya would never have a chance with him, and she
was a practical girl. The baby Stinktopp (heaven knows from where he had got wind of
the pie) was in their way and, pulling Dollova’s skirt as a distraction, tried to swipe the
jar of jam.
Finally, the pie was decorated and put into the piping hot Russian stove. A hungry
Tanya, having missed supper because of the pie, found a plate with a cutlet on the
windowsill and stretched her hand out to it.
“Hey, why are you gobbling it up? In the first place, it’s yesterday’s, secondly, it’s
cold, and thirdly, I intended on eating it myself!” Vanka yelled merrily. He had only just
run into the common room in an outstanding mood and started to show a selfsharpening penknife, which the house-spirits had forged for Yagun on his request.
The baby Stinktopp ran up to the stove and quickly pulled the oven door open.
Making use of Vanka drawing away the attention of Tanya and Dusya Dollova, he
scooped apple filling with his hand, poked a hole in the chocolate glaze, and, giggling,
ran away in an unknown direction.
“Some nasty professor! I never expected anything good from Stinktopp, even when
he was head of the dark department!” Dollova uttered with indignation.
***
The next evening, when a dusty and exhausted Yagun, returning from practice,
entered the common room, they were already waiting for him. When the whole crowd
rushed towards him, the playing commentator was taken aback and shielded himself
with his vacuum. For some reason it seemed to him that they would hit him.
“Sixteen years! Hooray! Pull his ears sixteen times!” Kuzya Tuzikov yelled.
No matter how much Yagun refused and yelled that his ears had sentimental value
to him, he still did not succeed in wiggling out of the school custom. Soon his pulled ears
became even more crimson and protruding than in the previous fifteen years of his life.
Then they carried Yagun, having dropped his vacuum, by his arms and planted him on
the chair set up on the table. Here he sat on the chair, as on a throne, while they
presented gifts to him.
The gifts were the most diverse: a dragonball helmet with a visor, a new nozzle for
his vacuum pipe, the penknife, and a full jar of disgusting kikimora mucus – Verka
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
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19

Parroteva’s gift. According to her assertion, the smell of this mucus, applied in a thick
layer over vampire bile, scared away dragons. In reality, it was so disgusting that no one
decided to verify this. Moreover, Tanya and Dusya Dollova demanded taking this mucus
immediately far away from Yagun in order not to stink up the pie.
“Oho, what holes on the pie! Is this special?” Yagun was pleased.
“Yes, it is. This is so that the inside would be well baked through,” Tanya
confirmed, vindictively searching with her eyes for the baby Stinktopp, who clearly
managed to be here again.
However, Stinktopp did not think of running away from punishment. Twirling
under foot among the older ones, he loudly recited a children’s rhyme, pronouncing an
awful lot of sounds incorrectly, unexpectedly even ending with a newly invented and not
quite rhyming spell, Licentia poetica.
Something flared up and gave out sparks. Cold bright lightning rushed about in the
air. Everyone was blinded and they started to rub their eyes, which allowed the baby
Stinktopp to walk off with a pack of bagels – one of Yagun’s gifts – and disappear in an
unknown direction. The kid was clearly making progress, putting in every effort in order
to become the head of the dark department again in the course of time.
“I want to eat something!” Bab-Yagun stated despotically, playing with the
penknife.
He had already begun to cut the pie gnawed by the harmful baby, when a large
group of darks – Seven-Stump-Holes, Goryanov, Zhikin, Glomov, Rita On-The-Sly, and
others – unexpectedly barged into the common room. Tanya understood from the
expression on their faces and the badly concealed grins that the darks clearly intended
on making a fuss.
Coffinia, obviously prepared beforehand, stepped forward. “Well, Grotty, happy
birthday!” she stated defiantly.
“It’s not my birthday at all,” Tanya said.
“Really?” Cryptova was surprised, pretending that she had forgotten. “Whose?
Yaguny’s? Yaguny, honey, forgive me! May I kiss you?”
Gunya Glomov winced in jealousy. Swinging her hips, Coffinia approached Yagun
and kissed him on the cheek. Dusya Dollova blinked, staring at the wall with hatred. It
was likely she would burst into tears any minute now.
“And now gifts! You do love gifts, Yaguny? Gunya! Come here! Where’s that thing I
gave you?” Coffinia called.
Gunya Glomov, all the time looking so gloomily at Yagun, approached. In his hands
was a varnished wooden box with a silver monogram on the cover, something
resembling boxes in which duel pistols were stored two centuries ago. The box looked in
good shape, although it was likely that it had been lying in a damp place or underground
for more than a decade. In any case, the metal parts had turned green. The wood had
warped here and there from moisture.
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20

“What’s inside?” Yagun asked.
“A small gift… From the entire dark department,” Cryptova announced lazily.
Yagun took the box from Gunya’s hands and wanted to open it. But he had not
managed to get to the lock when Coffinia, smiling incomprehensibly, snatched the box
out of the birthday boy’s hands and shoved it into the pile of gifts.
“Don’t, honey! It’s for later! Note, you can only look inside in a year! Remember –
three hundred and sixty-five days – no sooner! This is very important!” she said and
returned to the darks. “Guny, follow me! Let’s eat pie! Let’s see how these whites will try
to poison us this time!” Cryptova ordered, occupying the best place on the sofa in the
common room. Gunya followed the one whom he allowed to push him around his whole
life, even without any hope of reciprocity. His mood, for some reason, improved
noticeably.
***
The friendly merry-making stretched far beyond midnight. Slander Slanderych, as
ominous as the Flying Dutchman, 10 twice emerged from the corridor and tried to drive
everyone away to their rooms. Knowing that it was useless to argue, everyone pretended
that the party had broken up, but they would gather again after only a few minutes. The
furious principal was about to remain in the common room in order to catch the
students, but recalled in time that he had left the mermaid to go to the pond alone, and
it is only one step from solitude to betrayal. Turning pale, he wrapped himself in a cloak,
spun around, and, surrounded by red sparks just like bees, immediately teleported.
“Love, it’s a white rose on the grey cloak of life! It’s ten minutes on foot, and a
hundred times more dangerous to teleport! This means true feelings!” Dusya Dollova
said passionately.
Now, when Slander was no longer on the watch, no one prevented the children
from doing everything they saw fit.
Rita On-The-Sly hid in her own room for a short while and brought out a black
china plate. The plate was covered with runes and mystic signs. The meanings of the
majority of them were unknown to Tanya, but even those that she knew were enough for
her to draw the conclusion: no self-respecting white magicians would even take this
plate in their hands. Black magicians – that was an entirely different matter. They had
their own notions about the legitimacy and illegitimacy of flirting with otherworldly
forces.
“How about a séance? Whites, we won’t run away into the bushes?” On-The-Sly
proposed, smiling unpleasantly.
“Whom are we summoning?” Dollova asked, shaking in equal measure of fear and
curiosity.
10

The Flying Dutchman is a legendary phantom ship, the sighting of which foreshadows doom.
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21

Before answering, On-The-Sly looked searchingly around at everyone. “Ah… SheWho-Is-No-More… Plague!” she dropped negligently.
Damien Goryanov’s mouth was agape. “She-Who-Is-No-More? But she’s dead!”
“Goryanov, you’re as stupid as your vacuum! A séance is for communicating with
spirits. You can chat with the living on a zoomer,” Rita cut him down. “Well, whites?
Shall we summon Plague, or aren’t you up to it?”
Everyone started to make a racket at once. Summon Plague! Such could only come
to the mind of the unpredictable On-The-Sly! However, none of those in the common
room refused. None had the desire to pass for a coward. Only Shurasik was about to try
wandering away, but after thinking it over, he stayed. Intellectual curiosity overpowered
fear.
After demanding them to extinguish all fires, Rita lit two candles and placed the
plate on the table in a circle of traced letters. “Now everyone sit around the table and
join hands… Ready? Excellent! Visualize Plague… And don’t let go of hands, or else we’ll
lose contact!” she ordered.
Ominous shadows played about On-The-Sly’s yellowish face. A big nose hung over
her lips, just like a witch. Hmm, yes, in the moronoid world she would indeed moonlight
as a psychic. What do moronoids print in their newspapers there?
Powerful love spells with blood. I will return the husband to the family, tie him to
home for life. I will make him stop loving the competitor completely, even as far as
hating her. All occult services. 300% guarantee. Discount on credit cards, on Mondays,
and for girls up to 25 years old without ID. Master of black magic Anastasia.
“Spirit of Plague-del-Cake! We summon you! Come to us!” Rita uttered in a voice
ringing with strain. Her ring let out a red spark.
Tanya sat between Vanka and Bab-Yagun. The playing commentator’s hand was
much larger than hers. Tanya’s small hand was literally buried in it. Vanka’s, not as
enormous as Yagun’s, was warm, almost hot to the touch. Next to Vanka and Yagun,
Tanya no longer feared Plague-del-Cake.
The girl tried with all her might not to visualize the dead old woman, but against
her will, the face with skin like rags hanging on it appeared in front of her. It seemed to
Tanya that her parents’ killer was smirking threateningly and significantly. Plague-delCake’s unsteady face hung above the flickering flame of the nearest candle. And the most
terrible thing was that it seemed she alone saw Plague.
The others only squinted at the fire without noticing the old woman’s face, which
had already become almost distinct. Horror tightened Tanya’s throat in a stranglehold.
The old woman’s tenacious and slimy look, as in life, held and froze her. Tanya squeezed
Vanka’s hand until it hurt. Valyalkin looked at her wonderingly. His thumb
questioningly and at the same time touched Tanya’s little finger reassuringly. The girl
felt a little better.
“Spirit of Plague-del-Cake! Are you already here?” Rita shouted again.
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22

The ghostly face, which Tanya alone saw, contorted into a grin. It seemed Plague
was amused that they were summoning her when she was already there. The round table
began to shake a little. The inverted plate began to bob up and down, touching the
letters written around it.
“She-Who-Is-No-More, are you ready to answer our questions?” Rita asked in a
voice trembling with excitement.
The plate pointed distinctly to one of the letters, froze for a second, and, making
little sounds, began to bob up and down again.
“‘Y’… ‘e’… Now ‘c’… No, ‘s’. Plague answered ‘yes’! She agreed!” Kuzya Tuzikov, as
short-sighted as he was chatty, whispered, squinting.
“Spirit of Plague, open for us slightly the curtain of time! Is anything unusual
happening soon?” On-The-Sly raised her voice.
The black plate began to bob up and down again.
“S… t… a… Is that an ‘i’? No, closer to an ‘f’. Something like ‘staf’…” Kuzya Tuzikov
said.
“The last is ‘f’. Staff!” Rita set him straight. The heavy eyelids on Plague’s face,
affected by decay, lowered and then immediately lifted. Tanya understood that On-TheSly had guessed correctly.
“‘Staff’? It’s some kind of stick, perhaps? What next? What’s with the stick?” BabYagun asked crossly. He did not see what Tanya saw, therefore the guessing seemed like
a bluff to him. A jumping saucer, think about it! A trick of the first-year level, when they
began to study spells of elementary telekinesis, such as Nab-grab.
“How would I know what she had in mind? Look, the plate is no longer shaking! It
means she has already given the answer!” Rita snapped.
“Ask again!”
“Don’t ask spirits a second time! Spirits fly into a rage very easily! Especially such
as her!” Shurasik said, turning pale from terror. If Seven-Stump-Holes and Gunya had
not held his hands firmly, preventing him from breaking the circle, the A-student would
already have escaped for sure, pleading paramount matters.
On-The-Sly was lost in thought, pondering what to ask She-Who-Is-No-More.
“What else will happen? Is it important for any of us?” she asked.
The table, after remaining motionless for a while, began to shake. It was as if Chaos
had again woken up under Tibidox behind the Sinister Gates. The plate, gradually
accelerating, began to jump around the circle of letters with great speed, as if Plague was
furious.
“‘T’… It’s precisely ‘t’… ‘h’… Now ‘a’… Tha… Again ‘t’, that… She said ‘that’!” Kuzya
started, stuttering.
“You’re a retard, Tuzikov! I’ll do it!” Rita interrupted him. On-The-Sly jumped up,
forcing those sitting next to her to get up, while not taking their eyes off the saucer.
“That… whom… truly loves by…” she read.
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23

“What’s this? Who loves?” Cryptova impatiently asked.
The plate was already bobbing up and down like mad. It was incomprehensible
how Rita managed to detect at all what letters the pointer touched.
“Tanya… Grotter…” Rita uttered in amazement, not taking her eyes off the saucer.
“Are you sure? Grotty? Who needs her? Whom does she love?” Coffinia,
remembering Puper, began to worry.
The plate suddenly stopped. The table, till then shaking like in a fever, stopped
shaking.
“What next? What will the one whom Grotty loves do?” Verka Parroteva asked, first
looking at Tanya with curiosity, then at the plate.
“How would I know? Shurasik let go of hands! I said, we need unbroken contact!
Glomov, grab him!” Rita got angry.
Gunya caught Shurasik’s wet palm and pinched it exactly like in a clamp. Shurasik
squeaked from the pain. The unsteady silhouette, woven from the flame and smoke of
the candles, began to assume outlines again. Plague-del-Cake’s empty eye sockets were
directed at Tanya. An unquenchable fire blazed in the depth of the dead sorceress’
empty skull.
“Will be… betray her!” Rita read.
The plate jumped for the last time – jumped very high – and, having fallen onto the
table, cracked. Such silence suddenly hung in the common room that one could hear a
bat hitting a window somewhere high, almost at the very top of the tower.
“Oho! Someone will betray Grotty! At least one pleasant piece of news. Life, if we
examine it, is full of little joys and equally little dirty tricks!” Cryptova, the first to
recover, commented.
“It’s a lie! It’s not true!” Tanya shouted. She struck a candle. The candle fell and
went out. The ghostly face, woven from fire and smoke, trembled and disappeared. The
dry and rustling laughter of the dead sorceress Plague-del-Cake swept across the
common room, exactly like peas falling.
“It’s not true! No one will betray me! Especially not the one with whom I will fall in
love!” Tanya shouted after her. Plague did not answer. Her laughter became increasingly
quieter, more distant all the time.
“I wonder, Grotter, what were you doing during Protection from Spirits?
Remember Slander Slanderych’s lecture from December 12th of last year. Spirits never
deceive! They cannot! The dead are more honest than the living! It’s a fact, which is
beyond doubt,” Shurasik said instructively, catching from the air a thick notebook of
summaries. He was no longer as green, obviously recovering gradually. “Pay attention:
page thirty-nine, the fifth paragraph from the top… But for some reason it seemed to me
it’s the sixth. That’s what sclerosis means!” Shurasik was upset, bringing the notebook to
Tanya’s nose.

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24

Vanka unceremoniously pushed Shurasik away. “Only you remember the lecture
from December 12th of last year! And remember at the same time, how painful it is to get
it in the nose at all hours of any month!” Vanka stated. Shurasik chewed his lips and did
not answer, but just in case wrote down this new-for-him thought in the little notebook
with the indelible dark-magic pencil.
Coffinia Cryptova picked up the candle and pensively picked at the wax with a nail.
“That means Gury will soon betray you … Ay-yay-yay, what a pity! Grotty, accept my
most sincere condolences. I hope that I’ll still have time to change my hair-do before
this awful event takes place!” she said. For some reason it did not even enter Coffinia’s
head that it was possible to love not only Puper.

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25

Chapter 3
MIDDAY DEMON AND BAD HEREDITY
Gratis stayed and lived with the Durnevs. At first, they tried to settle him on the
balcony where Tanya had lived earlier, but on the first night, the werewolf raised such a
howl and scratched the door in such a way that this experience was not repeated again.
An unhappy General Cutletkin, whom the nightmarish sounds clearly of otherworldly
origin did not let sleep until dawn, was almost unnerved the next morning and began to
think seriously about whether to drop all his clandestine dealings and join one of the
occult sects in the post of senior aide to a younger priest.
After this sad experiment, they no longer sent the werewolf packing to the balcony
but relocated him to one of the smaller spare rooms, which was easier to tidy up when
he transformed into a wolf. The room had a strong door and a foolproof lock, which was
important to the Durnevs. Pipa, who was still settling scores with her soft toys, once in a
while threw one or two into Gratis’ room for fun, finding them torn to pieces the next
morning, with cotton and foam all ripped out, and the kin of Granny Ryukha
despondently sitting on the floor, no longer as a wolf but in human form.
“Quite, that ish, sad… You grab hold – and disappointment!” the werewolf said,
cleaning cotton from his teeth.
Uncle Herman went to his firm Second-Hand Socks in the mornings, and in the
second-half of the day to a commercial bank, with which he had had tight business
dealings for a long time, even when he was a deputy. He served as something like a
calling card at the commercial bank. Part of his unofficial duties was to look into the
director’s office once or twice, as if by accident, when important clients happened to be
there.
Instilling superstitious horror into their hearts, the odious politician jiggled his
spurs and adjusted the crown on his balding top. Bank business swiftly went into
overdrive. The “cash cows” of the bank, even the mafia, became quiet and obedient.
Debts disappeared completely. The bank’s internal security department, earlier
occupied with defaulters, now only parked cars, and its head, a retired colonel of
agencies, glumly played solitaire on the computer.
On the first day or two, Aunt Ninel could not look calmly at Gratis. She just had to
see his dirty feet and nervous trembling would begin to hit her. But it was only so at
first. Then she nevertheless herded the dwarf into the bath, where she almost drowned
him in foam, but she got him to start smelling quite tolerably and she scraped off the
mud. However, while he was being washed, Gratis howled so distressingly that Isadora
summoned house security, stating that the Durnevs were torturing someone in their
apartment.
Gradually Aunt Ninel got used to the werewolf and even got attached to him in her
own way. A week had not even passed, but complete agreement, generated by deep
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26

internal kinship of their natures, already reigned between them. Uncle Herman began to
be vaguely jealous, especially as Gratis looked remotely like him in profile. Scabby
Bunyaka and Khripusha had done their bit in their common genes after all.
A normal morning in the Durnev apartment began this way. Uncle Herman took
Pipa to school and left himself, and Aunt Ninel sat in the kitchen and concocted
something in the way of a dietetic breakfast, which spilled over smoothly to a
conventionally dietetic lunch.
Gratis, pale after a sleepless night (he preferred to howl at night), dragged himself
over and took a seat beside her. “What should I do?” he asked, bored.
“Whatever you want!” Aunt Ninel allowed, glad for such company at least.
The werewolf scratched his chin overgrown with stubble and demanded
capriciously, “I need, that ish, some simple but soothing occupation.”
“Like what, Gratis?” Aunt Ninel asked affectionately.
“Well, I don’t know… Perhaps I’ll unwind a roll of toilet paper?” the werewolf asked
uncertainly.
Aunt Ninel, trained by her husband to not be surprised by such oddities, usually
agreed. She sat at the table and enjoyed turkey with pineapples, while Gratis, perched
nearby on a stool, amused himself with the toilet paper.
The werewolf’s appetite was poor. He could only eat in the evening; only raw meat
and in very small quantities.
“Well, exactly like my Herman!” Durneva was touched, finding increasingly more
pleasant similarities in her “fellas.”
Sometimes Aunt Ninel left for the supermarket to do her shopping, while Gratis
remained in the apartment. He stubbornly chose to not go out, and in general, the
Durnevs quite often had the impression that the werewolf was hiding from someone.
However, there came the day when Aunt Ninel ascertained that her husband,
although also having his own innocent oddities, like imagining himself a rabbit and
sleeping in his boots, nevertheless differed significantly from his Transylvanian relative.
Once around noon, when Aunt Ninel, having just returned from the supermarket,
turned the key in the lock, she heard a series of quiet pops. Not understanding what was
happening, she began to pull the door and managed to see a cold white fire shoot out of
the bedroom. When it subsided, a smoking Gratis took a step outside, holding in his
hand a charred pack of deodorant aerosol cans. Aunt Ninel, a woman big in every sense,
never bought a little of anything.
“I’m Herostratus! I burned the Temple of Artemis!”11 Gratis howled.
On noticing Madam Durneva, he carelessly threw a can to her and, wringing his
hands, began to yell, “Tie me up, people, and throw me down the Tarperian Rock! 12
Death isn’t terrifying to me! I, mad Herostratus, did this!”
Herostratus, who gave name to the term herostratus fame – seeking fame at any cost – was an Ancient
Greek who, seeking notoriety, burned the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus on July 21, 356 BC. The Temple,
dedicated to Artemis, the huntress goddess, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
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11

27

Not listening to him, Aunt Ninel dashed into the bedroom. The blanket was
smoking. A leg from the stool, converted into a torch, was lying on the floor. The leg was
already almost burnt. Mad Herostratus had probably had to grill the wrapping for a long
time before he achieved the desired result. The leather armchairs smelled of burnt
carrion. A dark-blue flame danced dreamily on the wallpapers.
Having averted a fire, Aunt Ninel jumped out of the bedroom in fury. Mad
Herostratus was standing in the large room, pensively looking around at the furniture. It
seemed as if he was considering whether it was worthwhile, as a precaution, to add a
couple of modest buildings to the Temple of Artemis.
Hearing footsteps behind his back, the werewolf turned around. “You’ve finally
come to Herostratus, messenger! Indeed, you’ve kept me waiting for a long time! You
know, I’m ready to accept any penalty except oblivion!” he proclaimed with a great
effort.
Durneva, with a distorted face, lifted a fist weighing a pood13 above his head.
“Oh, something new!” mad Herostratus was surprised. “I thought they’d drop me
from the Tarperian Rock! Well, it’s all the same to me! Dispose of your black deed,
hangman!”
The fist came down on top of the werewolf’s head. An enraged Durneva lifted her
hand a second time and… suddenly discovered that she was lying on the floor.
Someone’s strong hand took Aunt Ninel by the shoulder and helped her get up. Gratis
blew on his finger, on which bluish lightning was dancing.
“Merci, mumsy! That sobered me up!” he said. “But no need to hit me so hard next
time. Quite sufficient to slap me with a book or a hand. The main thing is to do it as
close as possible to the top of the head. That’s the principle! No need to hit other
places!”
“YOU ALMOST SET A FIRE!” Aunt Ninel roared.
“Pardon me! It wasn’t me, that ish!” Gratis objected.
“THEN WHO?”
“A midday demon, mumsy! Triasea, Granny’s sister, had a fiery tongue. She put an
evil eye on me while still a baby!” Gratis sobbed, feeling sorry for himself. “Like now,
noon, it installs itself in me. I plainly don’t know what I’m doing. Then, when I become
myself again, they’re already going after me with stakes and silver bullets! I had to, that
ish, say Tempora morales and come to you, kin, to move under your wing!” Gratis
explained, hiding his eyes guiltily.
“And this, your midday demon, it always sets fires?” Aunt Ninel inquired gloomily.

The Tarperian Rock is a steep cliff used by Ancient Romans as a site of execution. Legend has it that it
was named after the maiden Tarpeia, who betrayed Rome and was crushed to death, with her body either
thrown from the cliff or buried there. A criminal being thrown from the cliff to his death meant that he
was a notorious traitor.
13
A Russian weight equal to about 16kg.
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12

28

“As it sees fit, mumsy. The demon has many moods, and finds an identity for each
mood. Sometimes I’m Herostratus, sometimes Nijinsky,14 and sometimes still someone
else… I indeed don’t know,” Gratis said and shrugged his shoulders.
“Excellent! Since you don’t know, who does? And how many of all these identities
do you have?” Aunt Ninel exclaimed with bitterness. She collapsed onto the yellow sofa
with the “accordion” mechanism and, dejectedly propping up her head with pudgy
palms, stared at Gratis.
The werewolf hesitated like a pretty girl and poked the pile of the carpet with a big
toe. “Do you, that ish, mean when I go nuts?” he asked, tearing himself from his
occupation. “Oh, a lot! Approximately a dozen major ones and another three or four that
switch from time to time.”
The shaken Aunt Ninel began to mumble. She got up heavily, approached the bar,
and, after taking out the Homemaker’s Happiness infusion, gulped from the bottle.
“Hmm. And how many of them are violent?”
“Those, when I become dangerous? I have no idea, mumsy. Every time after my
personality split, I have a memory lapse… Well, just like you moronoids, with overdrinking.”
Aunt Ninel shook. The weakly alcoholic and fizzy Homemaker’s Happiness frothed
in her nose.
“Now there’s no need for hints! Why shouldn’t I drive you away? Why don’t I turn
you out the door?” she asked grievously.
“We are fated, mumsy, we are fated… They’re also not drilling bagels there in the
sky after all. We know nothing here, but they know everything there, they are in charge
of everything. That’s how it is, mumsy,” Gratis said, soothingly patting Aunt Ninel on
the knee.
***
Three days later in the morning, Aunt Ninel took Pipa to a movie studio for an
audition. The Point-and-Shoot company was going to make a series on Thumbelina and
selecting young actors for primary and secondary roles.
“They must take you, Pipa! You have such an expressive face, such a smart look. It’s
immediately obvious that you’re from a good family. Besides, you’ve already had time to
become known. Very recently Wanted! magazine came out with your photo on its
cover,” Aunt Ninel urged her daughter.
“I was then stopped twice on the street!” Pipa whined.
Vatslav Fomich Nijinsky (1889-1950), Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent. He
was the lead dancer and choreographer of the “Russian Seasons” – the performances of Russian opera
and ballet companies in 1907-14 in Paris and London, organized by Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev (18721929) and based on which the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev’s ballet company, was created – and of the Ballets
Russes.
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14

29

“But what do you want? Anti-advertisement is anti-advertisement. Fall from a
plane, learn to fly!” Aunt Ninel licked her lips, trying to recollect something important.
“Ah yes, Pipa! Here, I wanted to ask you something. I beg you, don’t chatter too much,
or else you’ll blurt out something that makes one sick!”
“Pronto! I’ll sit quietly just like that!” Pipa snapped. “Let them try not to take me
for the role, I’ll give them this Thumbelina with three thumbelinas! Pow-pow!”
Pipa and Aunt Ninel left. Approximately an hour later, Uncle Herman began to get
ready for business negotiations. He shaved, splashed on deodorant, put on a red jacket
and a yellow tie, and was already pulling on the Count Dracula boots, when suddenly a
noise distinctly reached him from the corridor.
Gratis, sitting quietly on the carpet till then, was suddenly on guard, made an
imploring face, and ran somewhere on all fours. Shrugging his shoulders, Durnev, with
one boot on, looked into the hallway and froze. Two men pushed their way through the
front door with their backs right before his eyes. They most probably used Fogus
sneakus, but Durnev did not know this.
The first of the two uninvited guests was already grey, with a bumpy nose and a
thin mouth exactly like a mailbox slot. Behind him, partitioning off the foyer with his
square shoulders, towered an athletic person almost two metres tall with powerful
eyebrows and an undeveloped chin. Red sparks were fading on both cloaks – a sure sign
that they had recently used a three-dimensional spell. On noticing Uncle Herman, the
guests grinned in greeting. Durnev involuntarily paid attention to their canine teeth,
which were protruding forward considerably.
“You’re Herman Dracula IV?” the grey one asked in a business-like manner. “Very
pleased to meet you! It’s essential that we talk with you. Please don’t try to run, it’s
useless!”
Making wild inarticulate sounds, Durnev wanted to slam shut the door to the room
and grab his sword, but it was too late. Thin-mouthed shoved a foot into the doorway in
an instant, and the thug threw his arms around the deputy and unceremoniously
dragged him into the drawing room. Here he planted Uncle Herman with a sweep onto
the sofa, then stepped back a couple of steps and looked at him.
There was no one else besides them in the drawing room. Gratis had disappeared.
Durnev happen to notice that several fallen newspapers were lying about on the carpet
next to the small commode, where Aunt Ninel stored fitness magazines and brochures
on how to lose weight. It was difficult to even assume that a grown person could hide in
this small commode. Unless the dwarf…
Thin-mouthed, eyes teary from flu gleaming reproachfully, sat in an armchair and
crossed his legs. “Let’s get right to business,” he said. “I’m Malyuta Skuratoff, supreme
judge of Transylvania and keeper of relics. And this is Boom. Boom…to express it
correctly…is my assistant. He helps me in delicate missions, which I myself, possessing

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30

weak health, cannot manage.” The big fellow grinned. It was read on his face that this
could be a delicate mission.
“It goes without saying. He tears wings off butterflies and carries an umbrella for
you,” mocked Uncle Herman, who was infuriated that the vampires treated him, the
chairman, so unceremoniously. Both vampires paid the former deputy no heed.
“Mr. Chairman, let’s immediately settle all misunderstandings! We’ve come for
Gratis. We’re aware that he’s hiding here,” Skuratoff continued aggressively.
“Really? But for some reason I’m not aware of this!” Uncle Herman stated. He
concluded correctly that if the vampires knew precisely that the werewolf was at his
place, they would be searching, not arguing.
Boom stood up. His stupid face expressed nothing good. “Don’t deny it, know-itall! Think, how did we end up here? We stood right in his footprints, uttered Tempora
morales, and transported. We were thrown onto your landing. What does this tell you,
huh?” he growled.
Uncle Herman moved uncomfortably on the sofa, after sensing dampness with that
very body part with which dinosaurs thought. Pipa had a bad habit of forgetting cups of
tea in the most inappropriate places. “Ah, so that’s what you’re talking about. Well, what
of it? Yes, some strange character came here a few days ago. He passed himself off as my
relative. But I drove him away,” Durnev said and shrugged. Years of a political career
had taught him a lot: he lied easily and convincingly on the fly.
“Is this the truth?” Malyuta Skuratoff asked with distrust. “If he’s here, you must
tell us. This is no simple werewolf, otherwise we’d just give up on him. He’s very
dangerous. A real psycho. He stole one very necessary thing from us and was sentenced
to death for this. Unfortunately, he managed to slip away. But this is temporary. We
have long arms. And not only arms!” After parting his lips, the supreme judge’s canine
teeth flashed.
“That’s right!” the heavyweight added. “If you think, moronoid, that he’ll help you
get fabulously rich, you hope in vain. Although his magic also allows this…”
“Boom! Do you think of what you’re saying and to whom?” his companion
bellowed.
“We’ll erase his memory. And maybe as it is, without magic. By auxiliary means,”
Boom rumbled guiltily, clenching and unclenching his monstrous fist.
Durnev, from whom this bickering did not escape, pricked up his ears with interest.
If a minute ago he had been estimating whether to hand over the kin to the vampires so
that they would happily make off together with him, then his plans had changed now.
He would give dearly to find out what opportunities Gratis’ magic would give. “How do I
know where your werewolf is? Are you crazy? You broke in and have been rude right
from the threshold!” he exclaimed in a whine, despondently casting looks at the closet,
in which the sword was hidden. Interesting, would he have time to run over there?

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31

Seething with rage, Boom seized Durnev by the collar and pulled him off the sofa.
The former deputy’s feet were dangling in the air. A sixth sense suggested to Uncle
Herman that they would shake the dust off him.
“Hey, heavyweight! Only not the nose! I have a weak nose!” the chair of
V.A.M.P.I.R. quickly declared.
“Thanks for the tip! I’ll start exactly with the nose!” Boom thanked him and swung
his arm. Durnev screwed up his eyes.
“Don’t you dare, Boom! This is our chairman, regardless! We have to respect
authority!” he heard Skuratoff’s shout.
“He’ll become a real chairman when he tears to pieces his first moronoid! But I’ll
teach him for now. I feel that he’ll lie. He has a sly mug. I hate sly mugs!” the
heavyweight growled.
“Boom! To whom am I talking? This is no simple moronoid! In his veins flows the
noble blood of Count Dracula! Either you let go of him, or…” There was an explicit
threat in Malyuta’s voice. The heavyweight unclenched his hands with regret.
Uncle Herman collapsed gratefully onto the carpet. After saying “Close your eyes,
lullaby!” to himself, Durnev stretched out on the floor, turned over onto his back, and
placed his hands picturesquely on his tummy. “I don’t see you face to face! You’re zero
squared if you deal with your chairman this way!” he said capriciously.
The supreme judge of Transylvania looked at the locket hanging on his chest. It
was different from that of the werewolves, with which the Tibodox team once battled on
the dragonball field. Malyuta’s locket resembled a crystal sphere with a purple heart
inside. But Durnev was ready to vouch that the tiny heart was alive. Dead hearts do not
beat. This one was not simply beating, it was rushing about inside the sphere, as if it
hoped to break the crystal walls of the talisman. Malyuta took the locket by the chain
and raised it to eye level. He did not like what he saw. He grimaced, as if from a
toothache.
“Boom! Do you see this? We have little time! Search everything here! Find Gratis,
but don’t kill him! We must find out where he’s hid…” Malyuta looked at Uncle Herman
with suspicion. “Why are you standing there, Boom? Gone deaf? Search!”
The heavyweight lifted the table with a jerk and looked under it. Not discovering
anything, he shrugged and made his way to Pipa’s room. Sequentially, room after room,
after searching the entire apartment, he again returned to Malyuta and Uncle Herman.
“No one, chief! Only some sort of screwy dachshund. I wanted to nail it, but
recalled that I’ve loved dogs since childhood. It ran away anyway,” Boom reported.
“Well, you see! I told you: no one’s hiding at my place! This is a lesson for you,
young people! Always trust a state official!” Uncle Herman declared happily.
Suddenly his pulse increased in frequency. He had noticed that Boom’s gaze slid
along the drapes and stopped thoughtfully at the commode. After assuming quite
logically precisely what must take place now, Uncle Herman quickly got up from the
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32

carpet, crossed the room, and as if by accident blocked the closet located in the opposite
part of the room.
This did not escape the sharp-eyed supreme judge. “AHA! Boom, look in the
closet!” he ordered.
“Hey you, heavyweight, don’t even think about it! There are only things there!”
Durnev yelled.
“Really?” Skuratoff nodded fawningly. “Of course we believe you, Mr. Chairman,
but still… Boom, my dear, do what I said!”
“Shoo, moronoid! Out of the way!” “dear” Boom croaked. The veins on his temples
swelled and his canine teeth stuck out so much that they became like small stilettos. In
the swamp of Uncle Herman’s memory, a half sabre-toothed tiger, half jungle cat floated
to the surface.
After pushing the best deputy aside, the giant threw open the door. “Well, let’s see
who’s there… Get out! Ah-h-h-h-h-h!”
White lightning flashed in the room. Thrown back by an unknown force, Boom
collapsed heavily to the floor. The former deputy let out a happy howl. His sword, his
powerful weapon, was set free! In an instant, it had already jumped into Uncle
Herman’s hands, pouring out dazzling light. Boom and Malyuta Skuratoff stared at it in
horror, shielding their eyes from its sharp light with their hands. Uncle Herman felt his
chicken chest fill with courage. Now he was confident that he could cope with ten
vampires. Why ten! With a hundred!
“Chief, I said there was no need to send it to the moronoid at all! Neither boots nor
crown – nothing!” Boom croaked, moving back.
“Do you understand what you’re saying? Violate the Count’s last will? Do you know
what the danger is? As it is, I’ve dragged out the delivery process as long as I could,”
Skuratoff snapped.
Uncle Herman waved the sword. The vampires recoiled. “Get out of here!” Durnev
ordered, adding to the voice of the noble metal.
“Okay, we’re leaving!”
The supreme judge removed the locket from his neck and with it outlined on the
carpet an instantly beaming circle. Having stepped into it, Boom and Skuratoff wrapped
themselves in their cloaks and began to rotate rapidly. Red sparks breaking away from
their lockets stuck to their cloaks.
“We’re connected by a chain! Remember forever: in the sacral world, someone who
cannot be perceived stands behind the essence of things and pulls invisible threads,”
Skuratoff said, stopping for an instant and staring at Durnev in an unfriendly way.
“What, what?” Uncle Herman asked perplexedly.
“The chief had in mind, fellow, that we’ll return again! I’ll personally rip off your
arms and legs! I’ll just pick the moment when you’ll be without the sword, moronoid!”
Boom explained very clearly.
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33

After uttering this well-defined threat, the heavyweight disappeared together with
the supreme judge. Uncle Herman squatted down and carefully touched with his hand
the nap of the carpet at the place where the vampires had just been standing. It was the
same as everywhere. The shimmering glow had disappeared.
The door of the commode opened. A doubled-up Gratis tumbled out from there in
an avalanche of old magazines. The poor devil, forced to fold up almost in four, could in
no way straighten himself now.
“Have those scoundrels left yet?” he exclaimed in an inarticulate baritone. “Not a
minute of rest! I cannot hold a single rehearsal without these troublesome fans coming
to stare at me! Disgusting! Diaghilev, Diaghilev my friend, how I missed your manly
shoulders!”
Uncle Herman began to blink bewilderedly. Not having had time to get up from the
carpet, he looked at his formerly inarticulate kin, who had suddenly gained an oratorical
gift. Only several seconds later, when the antique clock, an anniversary gift from the
Invest In Nothing But Gas-Forest-Oil Resources Bank, scratchily struck noon, did
Durnev understand that the midday demon was in reign.
“They figured me out after all,” Gratis continued briskly. “It certainly couldn’t have
been managed without journalists. They follow my every step. At first, I wanted to hide
in the closet, but decided that this was unsafe. Did you heard, Diaghilev, what nasty
things they said about me? They’re the consummate degenerates and enviers! They tell
everyone, ‘Nijinsky has no talent!’ They think I dance with my legs! Mediocrities dance
with their legs, geniuses dance with their hearts!”
“You think so?” Uncle Herman doubted. “It seemed to me they’re very nice people.
Especially Boom. It was immediately obvious that he’s a hereditary intellectual… Well
okay, joking aside. Confess, what did you steal from the vampires? Why are they looking
for you?”
“They’re simply sick. Pushy apprehensive evil spirits, not understanding good
music!” Gratis stated categorically.
“To heck with music! Let’s return to the theft!” Uncle Herman said dryly. In his
voice appeared something of a prosecutor.
“You don’t believe me, Diaghilev? Don’t believe me?! Your suspicion is offensive!
My decency is beyond doubt! I even paid my own mama for her milk!” Tears welled up
in Gratis’ eyes.
Uncle Herman stopped short. The last argument dealt him the finishing blow.
“Eh…okay. Let’s talk now about sparrows. What about getting fabulously rich? Can you
actually arrange this, or is this all artistic chatter?” he asked.
Gratis jumped onto the stool. Only this way could he lower his head onto Uncle
Herman’s shoulder. “You want to become rich, my friend Diaghilev?” he cooed tenderly.

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34

“Very much! One can say this is my quirk,” Durnev assured him. “An extra couple
of zeros in the account won’t hurt me. On condition that there are still figures in front of
the zeros.”
“Fine,” the werewolf announced meekly. “So it will be! I’ll help you become
fabulously rich. I’m actually able to do this.”
Durnev held his breath. Really?!
“Earlier I danced only for you, now I’ll dance for everyone! We’ll go with the
concerts throughout the world!” Nijinsky continued. “Trust me, this is a big sacrifice for
me! But look, look!” And the werewolf twirled enthusiastically around the room, doing
dreadful pas.15 Chairs toppled over. The chandelier was swaying.
“Hey, stop!” Uncle Herman yelled, running after him. “What else can you do? I
mean, is there anything else we can get rich on besides your concerts?”
The werewolf stopped with displeasure. “I’m a dancer!” he exclaimed with
indignation. “I have my heart, my love, my legs, and music! And conversations about all
other things are disgusting to me! To me, all the rest does not exist!”
“Everything’s clear. He remembers nothing. I’ll have to wait until it’s possible to
talk with his basic personality,” Durnev thought.
He approached the sofa and picked up the overturned cup. The former deputy was
already estimating how Nijinsky would react if he asked him to tidy up in the apartment,
and whether he would take offence at his friend Diaghilev for this, when suddenly a key
turned in the lock.
An excited Pipa burst into the room. “Papa, they took me!” she roared from the
threshold.
“Really? Oh, my Thumbelina!” the chair of the ungrateful society of V.A.M.P.I.R.
was touched. Pipa stared at her papa with such astonishment that he was instantly
sorry, understanding that he had blabbed something wrong.
“Really, did I say that they took me as Thumbelina? I’ll play the fifteenth toad in
the ensemble!”
“Oh!” Durnev was surprised.
“Yes, Papa! Mama and I studied the role in the car. I first have to say, ‘Ribbit,
ribbit!’ Then, already at the end of the film, so sadly, ‘Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit!’ And here the
director promised that they’ll do a close-up on me.”
“Oh, my friend Diaghilev! You didn’t say that you have a daughter! But I forgive
you: I like the girl… All great careers begin this way.” The inimitable Gratis, the greatgrandson of Granny Ryukha, approved, jumping on one leg in a vain attempt to simulate
a pas.

15

A pas – step – in ballet is a dance, a sequence of movements.
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35

Chapter 4
TERPSICHORE, POLYHYMNIA,17 AND A TORTOISESHELL LYRE
16

Tanya closed Black Curtains in order not to see that entire confused and joyful
bustle, which for some reason always preceded the start of a dragonball match. To go
now to the stadium and see again the dragons and players flashing by like speedy
comets inside the dome was intolerable for her. Tanya promised herself that she would
never watch dragonball again, not even from the stands. She lied to Vanka, Tararakh,
and Yagun that she had to write a report on the world tree 18 for tomorrow and that
Slander had long had something against her.
“That’s for sure. When they set all sorts of otherworldly things on you every class,
it’s better not to invoke protection. It’s not without reason that Slander boasts that no
one skips his classes. Even those with a fracture would hop on one leg out of magic
station to them – and where can you go? It’s all the same to a spirit, when it installs
itself, whether you’re excused from class or not!” Vanka Valyalkin said, reassuring her.
However, at the same time he for some reason was looking not at Tanya but slightly
above her head. Tanya, knowing Vanka very well, understood that he did not believe
her. Indeed, passing up a match for some report, which can even be written at night!
This is difficult to expect even from Shurasik.
Now, when everyone was at dragonball, Tanya remained alone – alone in the entire
enormous Tibidox, not counting the ghosts. In jail behind Sinister Gates, Chaos was
languishing, sighing. The walls of the school for difficult-to-raise young magicians were
trembling slightly intermittently, but non-stop.
Tanya energetically shook her head. “That’s it! Either write or don’t write the
report! Why are you sitting here, Grotty? Get to work!” Tanya ordered herself, imitating
the voice of her Moscow cousin Pipa.
She decisively sat down at the table and summoned the firebird feather by
snapping her fingers. In contrast to moronoid pens and the usual goose feathers, this
feather wrote by itself – a it was necessary only to dictate.
In the book on care of magic essences (volume III, Birds and Sea Reptiles), it was
clearly mentioned: The tailed feather of a firebird will faithfully serve the one who
saved the bird from death. Tanya did not save the bird from death; she only fed it for a
while when Vanka was lying in magic station. However, taking into account the gluttony
of the nestling, this obviously counted as saving its life.

Terpsichore is the goddess of dance and chorus in Greek mythology; she is one of the nine Muses, often
depicted as carrying a lyre.
17
Polyhymnia is the goddess of sacred poetry and hymns in Greek mythology; she is one of the nine
Muses, often depicted as serious and pensive, and dressed in a cloak and veil.
18
The world tree is a mythological archetype that connects all aspects of the universe: the branches match
up with heaven, the trunk with the earthly world, and the roots with the underworld.
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16

36

WORLD TREE
“The world tree is a universal mythological figure. The three parts of the world
tree are associated with all living things on earth: the branches and the top – with
birds (the falcon, the nightingale,19 and the bird Div),20 and also with the sun and the
moon; the trunk – with bees and beasts of the forest and the plains; the roots – with
snakes, lizards, and beavers. Nevertheless, the tree as a whole can be compared to a
person – his legs, body, arms, and head,” Tanya dictated, first looking into Mystical
History, edited by Count Manov, then into The Reference Book of a White Magician.
The sole existing copy of The Reference Book was lazy, continually converting into A
Thousand Tips for a Young Hostess. Every five minutes Tanya had to rouse it with a
spark and utter “Chilloutum!”
The bright firebird feather glided along the paper, occasionally squeamishly
dipping its tip into the inkpot. Suddenly, without any obvious reason, the feather froze
and impatiently began to dance above the parchment. Sparkling sprays, like those from
a noisily opened bottle of champagne, scattered in all directions from the feather. The
dim room with drawn curtains grew to the dimensions of a Roman circus. 21 Tanya’s
ascetically ordinary bed and the black-humour-loving Cryptova’s inverted coffin
imperceptibly assumed a shade of decadent luxury. A solid cream-coloured canopy, in
the folds of which loyal lady’s maids with affectionate lovers like Sheik Spirya could be
concealed, managed to appear above them.
Even the dull skeleton, Page, appeared as a young and lithe musketeer with green
eyes for a brief moment. Someone who had lived for a long time – and there were quite a
few of them in Tibidox – would possibly recognize the militant Dear Tonianno.
Tanya looked around perplexedly for a while, when a thought flickered in her that
this could turn out to be glitches – relatively harmless fussy spirits. Indeed – except,
probably, for her alone, the entire school was at dragonball. It would be surprising for
the glitches not to frolic, making use of the absence of instructors. “Briskus-quickus!”
Tanya uttered, recalling that if it were glitches, this simple spell would be quite
sufficient.
She guessed correctly. It was worthwhile to flash a green spark, as the little bignosed fellows scattered in all directions. Tanya had time to notice that there were by no
means less than a dozen glitches. Three jokers enlarged the space: one sat on Dear
In Slavic mythology, both the falcon and the nightingale are favourite personifications of the Thunderer
Perun, the supreme god of the Slavic pantheon, the god of thunder and lightning.
20
In Slavic mythology, the bird Div is a harbinger of trouble. It is not evil, it merely warns people of
impending trouble and misfortune, but has no power to change fate. Apparently, since anyone who sees
the bird Div dies, there is no possibility to know its appearance for sure, but it is believed to be similar to a
griffin.
21
A Roman circus was a large open-air venue for public events in the ancient Roman Empire. It hosted
chariot races and performances that commemorated important events of the empire. Basically, it was an
entertainment centre of the times.
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19

37

Tonianno’s head, and the rest were rushing around the room confusedly but joyfully,
chasing the sparks of light.
“The world tree simulates the triple vertical structure of the world – the three
kingdoms: the sky, the earth, and the netherworld. The wide spreading branches point
to the North, South, East, and West. To see the tree in a dream – green, blooming –
fortunately dry – is to approach illness or death…” after collecting her thoughts, the
baby Grotter continued to dictate.
The enthusiastic roar of fans flew through the tightly drawn curtains from outside.
Tanya, with her considerable dragonball experience, surmised that the referees had just
released the balls.
“I don’t understand, why rejoice here? You would think, what a brilliant discovery
– balls, live gates, players on vacuums! Pooh! If you drive in a ball, you score some
points. If you don’t manage to get away, you hang around in the dragon’s stomach until
they remember you (if they remember at all). And how am I to kill time?” she suggested
to herself, afraid to admit that now she wanted most of all to be on the field or at least on
the stands.
Tanya almost managed to convince herself that dragonball was nonsense and it
was not worthwhile to be upset about it, but then something knocked under the bed.
Leaning down, she saw that the case of dragon skin was jumping and understood that
this was the double bass, shaking with impatience. And again all her conviction vanished
like smoke. She wanted to throw open the window and, after jumping onto the double
bass, rush off to where the game was.
Quickly leafing through The Reference Book of a White Magician, Tanya
discovered the spell for the pacification of agitated musical instruments. It sounded like
Adjustus ineptus. It was worthwhile for Tanya to utter it, as the double bass calmed
down and Tanya could return to the, rather boring for her, world tree.
“Simorg22 guards the world tree. The material form of Simorg is a predatory
bird with a human face. In ancient times they worshipped Simorg as the guard of one
tree, which gives birth to seeds of all vegetation,” the feather recorded.
Tanya dropped The Reference Book of a White Magician. She suddenly realized
what she had just dictated – the guard with the body of a predatory bird and a human
face!
Someone burst out laughing behind Tanya’s back. The laughter was exactly the
sound of broken glass. The girl turned around. Hunchback with Pimply Nose again
loomed in the mirror, squinting his teary red eyes, from which shot a penetrating
unnatural light. Mad Glazier!
Continuing to shake with laughter, the hunchback beckoned Tanya to the mirror.
The girl involuntarily obeyed. Meanwhile, Hunchback with Pimply Nose turned around
Simorg, also spelled Simurgh, is a large winged hybrid creature in Persian mythology. It has close ties
with the Tree of Life. In Old Church Slavonic, its name is Simargl or Semargl.
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22

38

and, moving his thin arms with extraordinary adroitness, got to the right upper corner
of the mirror, where the glass was hazy and as if weeping from within.
Not understanding what Glazier wanted from her, Tanya approached cautiously.
The mirror flickered before her eyes, shattering the room and her own figure.
Hunchback, like a deformed spider, pulled towards him a web of the reflections of
separate objects, crumpled them, and carelessly pushed the web like a wrapper behind
the hazy edge of the glass. Finally, the glass was emptied of everything excessive. Now it
was lifeless and motionless, like the smoothness of a pond at night.
After ascertaining that the glass no longer reflected anything, Hunchback grinned
contentedly and waved a slim hand. Figures appeared at that very moment on the
surface of the mirror lake. It was as if they were moving along a shore, and this was not
taking place here in Tibidox but somewhere far away.
The first figure was on a black horse without a single white speck. The horse
snorted and stomped, and it seemed that it feared its rider. The three faces of the rider
were under a golden veil, glowing so dazzlingly that it was painful and terrifying for
Tanya to look at it. She was suddenly and keenly aware that if the veil fell, nothing
would save her from death. She would be burned by a fire much more furious than
dragon flame.
Behind the rider bearing death, another – fair-skinned, with a silver head and
golden moustache – was travelling on a fiery chariot. He controlled the white horses of
his chariot with his right hand. He held an axe in his left. Besides the axe, he also had a
hammer for throwing.
A third – not tall, broad-shouldered, a beard starting from the eyes and overgrown
almost like an animal – was unarmed and moving at a certain distance behind the fiery
chariot. In contrast to the first two, the third was on foot. His steps were measured and
leisurely. It seemed he should lag hopelessly behind the first two, but, on the contrary,
they were looking around as if they were anxiously afraid that he could outstrip them. A
white ox in a wheaten yoke, occasionally touching its owner with its side heaving with its
breath, was moving close to the third.
Tanya watched, shaken.
Suddenly something flickered in the glass, after stirring up the already reflected
figures. Above the mirror lake, traversing it with its own shadow, poised a dark bird with
out-stretched wings. At first glance it seemed to Tanya that this was Lifeless Griffin, but
Lifeless Griffin did not and could not have a human face and such a piercing gaze, as if
seeing everything in advance…
Wings folded, the bird dropped down. The bird’s human face was opposite Tanya’s
face. “Find and return what has been stolen from us! Or death to all, guilty or not! We
are already coming, and there will be misfortune if our path ends before we obtain what
belongs to us by right! This I, Simorg, say!” she heard the half-bird, half-human scream.

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39

The next minute, Hunchback with Pimply Nose was already crawling along the
glass, rubbing out reflections. Clinging exactly like a spider to the cracks of the glass, he
quickly slipped down almost to the edge of the mirror, and, looking out from behind it,
burst out laughing again. His glassy laugh scattered shards of glass, and everything
disappeared.
Coming to, Tanya realized that she was standing by the dresser and examining her
reflection in the mirror.
***
Tanya did not manage to return to the report when the zoomer in Cryptova’s
dresser came alive.
“My granny mama! It’s me – everyone’s favourite Bab-Yagun… The match has
already lasted almost a quarter of an hour and I have been holding my tongue! It’s naive
to think you’re through with my chatter! I simply fastened the mouthpiece badly, but
now the genies have finally discovered it in the sand. It even hit one – the wretch didn’t
suspect that there’s a block for bad words on the mouthpiece! But what else would you
want to whisper into the mouthpiece so grievously if you’re a hangar genie spending the
night in an empty vodka bottle? However, let’s return to our Muses23… Yes, yes, our
match today is precisely with them – with the Muses from team Greece! They were
never in the top five, but they have always played steadily, so it’s not necessary to hold
back. Besides, I beg to note that there are only nine Muses. The team persistently plays
short-handed. They say that last year, Professor Flank, because of career considerations,
tried to disguise himself as the tenth Muse –the Muse of Denunciation – and join the
female collective, but the donkey ears betrayed him. Besides, for some reason, he tied
wings to himself…”
Something rattled in the zoomer and a hissing was heard, as well as that special
sound, unlike anything else, which happened when a dragon breathed out flame. A
spectator shrieked loudly. Bab-Yagun was quiet for a while; only the engine of his
vacuum was heard roaring, and the playing commentator was rushing headlong
somewhere.
A considerable time past before Tanya heard his voice again, “I beg forgiveness, I
was forced to interfere. Goyaryn and the Muses’ dragon, Python,24 almost tore each
other into hundreds of little dragons. Apparently, in moronoid militia protocols, this is
called ‘reciprocal hostility’. Brr! Now I’ll dream about this Python at night! Who doesn’t
In Greek mythology, the Muses are the goddesses of inspiration of literature, science, and the arts. They
are the personification of knowledge and the arts, the nine daughters of Zeus, the ruler of the Olympians
of Mount Olympus.
24
Python was one of the dragons in Greek mythology. It was the earth-dragon of Delphi and represented
as a serpent. It met its death in the hands of Apollo, one of the most important deities of the Olympian
pantheon.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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see that the Muses’ dragon resembles most of all a monstrous boa constrictor with
wings, thorns on its snout, and four whiskers spreading out? Never met a dragon
looking so much like a winged snake! Do you see that its scales almost don’t sparkle but
shimmer? Even from here, it’s obvious that it’s saturated with poison! You touch this
scale, and that’s it, an obituary is guaranteed in Gossips and Fantasies. A black frame
and the funky smell of typographical ink on account of the editing… And the teeth
Python has, I’m mad! They’re hollow inside, like those of a viper, and also poisonous.
Rumour has it that if you sow a burrow with these teeth, fierce soldiers will grow. 25 If it
bites, throw the vacuum away immediately. Now I understand why Yagge gave the
entire team some stinky pitch last night! It was an antidote… Merci, Granny! Pity I
poured my cup out under the bed…”
“What are you doing, scamp?” A scared old woman was startled, trying to break
through the barrier of Cyclopes into the field.
“What, Granny, you believed me? Yes, I drank it, I did! What am I, a total fool?
This is my camouflage! Like – hee-hee – dragging Vanka Valyalkin along!” Yagun
remarked. The playing commentator spurred his vacuum, threw the pipe from one hand
to the other, and took off to the magic dome.
“I don’t envy anyone not present at the match today!” he started to chatter. “The
opponent has experienced quite a lot, which means the Russian action is daring… Next
on primary source. To say it quite simply, Python coiled in rings around Goyaryn and
almost strangled it. Good that Goyaryn has strong paws and poison doesn’t work on it.
Everyone, both the Muses and our team, pulled the dragons apart. And even a ref, it
seems, although they chomped him down almost immediately. Chancing upon a chubby
appetizing one, who would turn it down? I wonder whose lot he fell to – in my opinion,
Goyaryn, nevertheless. Our old man won’t let go of his share! From the Muses, the
defenders Polyhymnia and Terpsichore – numbers 1 and 4, one on a lute, the other on a
tortoiseshell lyre – distinguished themselves. Both dance splendidly and hypnotize
Python with their movements. But from our team, Katya Lotkova, who’s also pretty
among all her other virtues, showed her worth marvellously…”
Lotkova turned slightly pink. She adored compliments, especially when several
thousand spectators heard them.
However, Yagun always had a fly in the ointment ready at hand. “True, some claim
that Katya looks a bit like a duck in profile. But I think it’s all a lie… I, a modest and nice
youth, personally like her left eye more. It’s better than the right one and doesn’t look to
the side,” Yagge’s caustic grandson finished. He used the occasion to get even with
Lotkova, who yesterday went on a date with Seven-Stump-Holes to spite him. The
displeased Katya, of whom the entire stadium was now weary, whispered something to
Goyaryn, which shot a well-aimed fiery spittle at Yagun. The playing commentator had
to dive under his vacuum.
25

In Greek mythology, dragon’s teeth, once planted, would grow into fully armed warriors.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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41

“You saw, what stormy passion! I was ALMOST roasted! No vest against evil eyes
would help here! Be reasonable, people! It’s five minutes to November outside and
beastly cold!” he wailed. “Oho! I beg forgiveness! While I was chatting, a critical
situation arose in the field. The Muses have switched to a frontal attack. Now number 3,
Erato,26 patroness of love poetry and verses named after her, has the ball… Anyone
understand what I said? It was such a subtle hint! Erato spurs her cithara 27 – yes, yes,
she flies precisely on a seven-stringed cithara! – and intercepts the fire-extinguisher ball
from under Zhora Zhikin’s nose. Zhikin, it goes without saying, missed. Once again, he
wanted to adjust his bangs! What if no one will notice what a cutie he is and less than
half a ton of girls will fall in love with him? Come, come, no need for mud! Agreed, this
is constructive criticism!”
After fleeing from Zhikin, gathering speed excessively on a mop with a propeller,
Yagun returned to the performance of his demagogic responsibilities. “Erato breaks
away ahead… An outstanding pass to Euterpe, 28 number 5! Between us, how is it
possible to fly on such a tiny flute, especially for a lady with such classical forms! On top
of that, singing lyrical songs! But what to do: this is work! To work with a Muse – it’s not
teaching you protection from spirits! Euterpe catches the fire-extinguisher ball and goes
down on the flute, beating Rita On-The-Sly… Meanwhile, number 2, Urania 29 – an
outstanding diving telescope, and she’s also very tolerable! – swings around sharply and
approaches Goyaryn from above, entering the dead zone. Making use of the dragon’s
inability to see her, she hovers there and waits until they hand her the ball on a silver
platter… In order not to be bored waiting, Urania leans over and, after adjusting the
eyepiece, examines the distant corners of the field with the telescope… Convenient – you
fly and you look around! Downright full service! Perhaps I’ll also attach something
useful to the vacuum? Some sort of dental drill for the especially pushy ones like
Goryanov? Tuzikov, why did you clutch the broom? Swing Goyaryn around, shake her
off! Do you realize they’ve set up a planetarium on our dragon’s bald patch?!”
“YAGUN! IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN! LAST WARNING!” Academician Sardanapal,
sitting next to the Muses’ coach A. Polloni, nicknamed Musagetes,30 shouted angrily.
In contrast to the girls of his team, who preferred clothing in the antique style, the
Muses’ protector was dressed in the European manner and smoked a cigar. Next to Mr.
Erato is the Muse of lyric poetry, especially romantic and erotic poetry, in Greek mythology.
A cithara was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre family, the professional version of the
two-stringed lyre, which was a folk instrument. In modern Greek, the word has come to mean a guitar.
28
Euterpe is the Muse of music and elegiac poetry in Greek mythology. She is depicted with an aulos, a
double flute, an ancient Greek wind instrument.
29
Urania is the Muse of astronomy in Greek mythology. She is represented with a celestial globe to which
she points with a small staff.
30
Apollo, one of the most important Olympian deities of Greek mythology, has a number of epithets, one
being Musagetes, as he is also the god of music and arts, thus the leader of the Muses. Igor Fyodorovich
Stravinsky (1882-1971), one of the most important and influential Russian composers of the 20 th century,
composed the ballet Apollon Musagète (1928), centering on Apollo being visited by three Muses.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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26
27

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Polloni twirled a pythia,31 his secretary-translator, with a tripod under her arm, having
already had time to squabble with the Great Tooth because of some nonsense. In the
heat of the moment, both ladies almost put evil eyes on each other, and only Medusa
managed to reconcile them. The Olympian himself did not interfere in the fight,
preferring to stay on the side. Moreover, next to the Great Tooth, like a statue of a
commodore, solemnly sat sombre Gottfried Bouillon – the former Sleeping Adonis and
now a senior governor of Tibidox, whose responsibility was to watch that evil spirits did
not sneak into secret passages.
On the guest stand and growing numb in the wind were Muses’ fans, mostly
nymphs – dryads,32 nereids,33 naiads,34 and oreads35 – that had come to the match with
their team. The lake-dwelling naiads as well as the nereids of the sea, such as Slander’s
mermaid, were all in barrels with fresh or sea water, while the treetop-dwelling dryads
wrapped themselves in cloaks of fallen leaves. The noses of all the nymphs were red and
despondency showed through their eyes. Some clearly already regretted that they had
dragged themselves to this cold. Only the oreads – the mountain nymphs – did not
freeze. They were accustomed to any climate and were now having a blast to the fullest.
“YAGUN, if you do that AGAIN!” Sardanapal continued to rumble.
“Mille pardons, Academician!” Yagun suddenly remembered. “I forgot that the
playing commentator doesn’t have the right to prompt! This is specified as the fifth
point of the rules drawn up by you yesterday, which you for some reason wrote in
Slander’s handwriting on paper with his monogram… Do you think that Kuzya Tuzikov
heard me? Not likely. He cleans his ears only every third full moon, and if it’s a leap year
at that, and in a month that begins with the letter A. There’s April or August… But let’s
return to our sheep… To the players, that is. Time to shear words from them for my
reporting and weave a whimsical narrative fabric. Number 6, Calliope 36 on a salpinx37 –
it’s a kind of trumpet, if anyone is interested! – is trying to take possession of the sneeze
ball, but for the time being Liza Zalizina pushes her aside. Today Liza is at her finest.
Her clock is flashings in different parts of the field… Ah, they are suggesting to me that
the cuckoo simply flew away from her and she’s trying to catch it! But this doesn’t
change the essence of things! What an outstanding game today! Even the sharp wind
from the ocean isn’t hindering it!”
The Oracle of Delphi, the Pythia, was the name of any priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The
Pythia sat on top of a tall gilded tripod while uttering the oracle. The name Pythia was derived from Pytho,
the original name of Delphi, referring to the place where the dragon Python’s rotting corpse lay.
32
In Greek mythology, dryads are tree nymphs, female tree spirits, especially of oak trees.
33
In Greek mythology, nereids are sea nymphs, female spirits of sea water, specifically the Mediterranean.
34
In Greek mythology, naiads are water nymphs presiding over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks,
and other bodies of fresh water.
35
In Greek mythology, oreads are nymphs that live in mountains, valleys, and ravines.
36
Calliope is the Muse of epic poetry in Greek mythology. She is usually depicted with a writing tablet in
her hand.
37
A salpinx was a trumpet-like instrument of the ancient Greeks.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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43

Tanya feebly kicked the door of Cryptova’s dresser. She in no way managed to open
it and plug up the zoomer. Suspicious Coffinia had put on so many dark-magic locking
spells that there was no possibility whatsoever to take out the zoomer and deal with it.
She had to listen further. It was especially annoying that the match had already begun to
engross her. Tanya sat down on the floor next to the obstinate dresser, lowered her chin
onto her knees, and started listening.
“Euterpe makes a half loop! Pass to number 7, Thalia, 38 who deftly gains altitude
and, after beating Cryptova, intercepts the fire-extinguisher ball. You don’t see that
Thalia is always chuckling. She is the Muse of comedy after all. But then her dual aulos
simply gathers speed like my granny mama! And don’t you know what an aulos is? What
ignorance! Not to know such elementary things! An aulos is a drum, and you should be
ashamed for your lack of information!”
“Yagun, an aulos is a reed pipe!” Docent Gorgonova, using the spell for amplifying
voice, uttered didactically from the stand.
“A reed pipe?” Yagun thought suddenly. “Really? Wow, it’s really a pipe! I see that
she doesn’t look like she’s on a drum; I’m inwardly embarrassed! I simply looked at my
other hand. Mixed up my cribs. This happens to us, the great ones… But let’s return to
Thalia. Forgot to mention: Thalia is the Muses’ team captain. She is the youngest of all
the Muses. True, Polyhymnia and Erato aren’t bad either. Terpsichore is especially to
my taste – what do you expect, she dances from evening till morning! – how can she not
keep her figure? But here are Clio39 and Melpomene,40 numbers 8 and 9, one on a
tambourine, the other on a bugle – aunties wow! I don’t rule out that they’re kept for
ramming, especially as both play midfield. Of these two, I personally fear Melpomene
more. A stern lady! Her face is such that she recently returned from a wake and is now
quickly pondering whether someone else has died and where she will dine. Nevertheless,
she is the Muse of tragedy; my granny has already been acquainted with her for three
thousand years… Oho! Thalia beats Tuzikov, skilfully goes around Seven-Stump-Holes,
and looks at Katya Lotkova! Lotkova whispers something to Goyaryn and it lets out a
long jet of flame, trying not to let Thalia approach for a throw at a distance. But, in my
opinion, Thalia has other plans. She dodges and makes several teasing movements with
her hand, as if she’s going to throw the ball! It’s sneaky to not ply seriously, especially at
her age! What childish tricks!”
Thalia turned around and stuck her tongue out at Yagun. Before the stunned
commentator managed to digest that the Muse understood Russian, she gained altitude
and gave a pass to Urania. That one, not losing time, dived on her telescope to the very
Thalia is the Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry in Greek mythology. Her name means “the joyous, the
flourishing,” and she is portrayed as a young woman with a joyous air holding a comic mask.
39
Clio is the Muse of history in Greek mythology, often represented with an open scroll of parchment or a
set of tablets.
40
Melpomene is the Muse of tragedy in Greek mythology, often represented with a tragic mask and
wearing cothurnos, the high, thick-soled boots worn in Athenian tragedy.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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44

head of Goyaryn, which at that moment was getting ready for the next flame throwing,
and she deftly half threw, half simply shoved the ball into its mouth. The extinguished
Goyaryn was shrouded in clouds of smoke.
“3-0. The Muses are making us look like babies. One comfort – only twenty
minutes of the match have gone by!” Yagun said dejectedly.
Lotkova grabbed her head after blundering and yelled at Kuzya Tuzikov, who was
flying too far away from the dragon. The frozen nymphs shouted happily. A lot of naiads
and nereids especially kicked up a fuss, glad to get warm occasionally. They hit the water
with their palms and squealed, which infuriated Slander’s Milyulya, who was convinced
that she alone had the moral right to splash and squeal. The dryads and oreads kept up
with the nereids and naiads. Some even threw snacks and small bags of nuts at Tibidox
fans in celebration.
“The young nymphets are gobbling up cutlets!” the playing commentator, against
whose shielding vest a spell crashed with a crackle, started to tease angrily. “Come,
nymphets! You rejoice too early! Now I’ll call Uncle Crooked, he’ll fix you!”
The nymphs grew quiet. For some reason, all the nymphs were deathly afraid of
Uncle Crooked, although he was merely a wizard recluse living, on hearsay, somewhere
on the Big American Islands. However, it was said that Uncle Crooked used voodoo
magic, which was even more dangerous than dark magic, and also that it was precisely
he who villainously lulled the cloned sheep Dolly to sleep. However, up till now, that last
one had not been proven.
Unexpectedly, Yagun half-rose on his vacuum and, putting his hand up to his
forehead like a visor, looked narrowly at some point. “What’s that there? I beg
forgiveness, I’m taking a time-out!” he exclaimed.
Tanya, although unable to see anything, surmised that Yagun had located a ball not
far away and was trying to catch up with it. The engine roared, spitting out mermaid
scales, to which Yagun had recently begun to add saltpetre, from the pipe. He had
become disillusioned with mayonnaise. It gushed out of all the cracks and from the
nozzle of the chrome-plated pipe, and Yagge’s stylish grandson, who adored good
leather overalls, looked like an oven-baked turkey at the end of a game. The similarity
was especially amplified when the mayo-flavoured Yagun caught a spent jet of dragon
flame.
The zoomer was silent. Some time ago, Tanya had wanted precisely that, but now
she suddenly realized that she was dying of curiosity. “Well, Yagun! Well! Why are you
tormenting me, you darn fool? At least say something!” she shouted and, in a fit of
temper, not getting up from the floor, kicked the dresser.
Coffinia’s dresser, shining like the Holy Grail from dark-magic spells, creaked
dejectedly. It was insulted for its best intentions. They want to listen, they kick; they do
not want to listen, they also kick. What has it got to do with anything? For such a life one
will soon sing in a falsetto!
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45

“Oh! I lost the sneeze ball!” the zoomer complained. “The nymphs took it away
from under my nose! All the time this Calliope on the salpinx! And she still pretends to
be serious! An epic, any, I beg you! How to clip and knock down with airflow – that’s the
first! But I myself am guilty in general: I didn’t need to add so much saltpetre! You fly as
usual, but then it blazes up and you’re like Münchhausen41 on a cannon ball… Hurls
away to somewhere unknown! Indeed, better the old fashioned way – with scales and
any garbage. Slow and steady wins the race!”
A. Polloni smiled graciously, winked to the pythia, and rubbed his hands
unnoticeably. He had already long considered that his team had a serious tactical
advantage on the field.
“Calliope… Pass to Clio… Pass to Thalia – she’s already at centre line… Strange that
the pass is so long… Seven-Stump-Holes tries to intercept the ball, but runs up against a
bewitched pass… I’m sure that was Figus-zatsapus! Who would think that the nymphs
use such tricks! Pity! Although, between us, Stump’s a jerk, he plays splendidly… The
bored medical genies pull Stump in different directions, disputing on which stretcher to
place him. Stump howls from the pain, pushes them away, and claims that he can walk
by himself. All injured ones claim this for some reason, however, and healthy ones also…
Ooh! My granny finally establishes order! Extra genies are driven away, and they are
carrying Stump off the field. And just in time, because Python has already shown an
interest in him.”
Spurring his vacuum, Yagun rushed to save his own gates, yelling brokenly in
flight, “Thalia removes the spell on the ball and delivers a pass to Erato… Sham tactical
combinations… Flash… One more pass – to Euterpe… Zalizina decides not to intercept
the ball, suspecting that it’s bewitched… Nothing of the kind! She was overcautious!
Euterpe! Breakthrough to Goyaryn! Ah, if it wasn’t for the fire-extinguisher magic, it’d
show her! Euterpe draws back her arm – a throw! I must admit, I can’t see if it was a
goal, but judging by how the stands are roaring and the nymphets are raving… Yes, it
was a goal! The sneeze spell just kicked in. Against its will, Goyaryn opens its mouth, as
if inviting them to throw several more balls into it. 5-0… Yes, a brilliant play by team
Tibidox! Why are you spinning here, Goryanov? All the same, no sense from you! Better
go draw on the sand with a stick!”
Tararakh covered his face with his hands. The enormous pithecanthropus always
suffered greatly the misfortunes of his team. “Aww! At least earlier the referees were
against us! But now the referees are ours, all ours, but what’s the use? This is the worst!”
he growled dejectedly.
Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720-97), German officer and author, also
known as “the Baron of lies.” After his retirement from the military, he was famous for telling
extraordinary tales about his life as a soldier, hunter, and sportsman. His family friend, Rudolf Erich
Raspe (1737-94), was responsible for creating the Münchhausen myth by penning works based on the
tales.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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41

46

Nightingale O. Robber sat as dark as a cloud and only tried to understand why the
Tibidox team, playing so well during practice, and recently not defeating the Invisibles
only by accident, was now playing so questionably. Although, if pressed, he knew the
reason.
“Attention, the game continues! What’s this? The stands freeze in horror! Verka
Parroteva, number 10, on the reactive vacuum, rams Clio and Calliope! What courage! I
really didn’t think that the kamikaze spirit lives in Verka! The Muse aunties step aside in
surprise and Parroteva, squealing, flies into Python’s open mouth! It swallows her and
licks its chops, extremely contented! If Verka was at least with a ball, but she,
unfortunately, didn’t surmise to grab one… Ah, I understand! The poor wretch simply
stepped on the gas! Powerful vacuums require skilful handling. I wonder what
Nightingale was thinking when he sat Verka down on this chrome-plated beast. No
broom was found for her, perhaps? Puper recently sent Tanya a whole bunch as gifts!
And not a single dustpan. Ah, number 10, number 10! You let us all down! ”
Tanya shuddered. She understood that, talking about number 10, Yagun did not
have Parroteva in mind. She, Tanya, was always number 10 and she, not Parroteva, had
let the team down. Frankly, what demand could there be for Verka, who remembered all
the gossip in the last ten years and saw what hid inside a table, but at the same time was
unable to grasp that, besides accelerating, there existed also a braking spell!
Pulling open the thick curtains, Tanya heard the distant rumble of the stadium. She
felt that she was literally torn to pieces. Half of her longed to be there, on the field, the
other half persistently declared that she did not desire to even think about dragonball.
What can a player deserve, one who lulled his own dragon to sleep, and on top of that at
the final match?!
Meanwhile, Yagun, whose mood changed faster than clips in a Kalashnikov, yelled
enthusiastically, “Did you see that? Number 8 of team Tibidox intercepts the stun ball!
What technique! What brilliant and daring playing style! He goes around Clio on the
tambourine, beats Calliope, and skilfully dodges a collision with Melpomene, who,
sobbing in anticipation of the next wake, rushes to meet him on her bugle, clearly
intending on ramming him! Yes, number 8, this is top notch!”
Shurasik, noting down the course of the match in his little notebook, suddenly
stopped writing. “Wait a minute! But number 8 is Yagun himself! He’s talking about
himself!” he said perplexedly.
“Well, what of it? There is no other commentator! Yes, Yaguny with the stun ball,
he captures it. An infant with a grenade next to him is the second series of horror
movies,” Dusya Dollova said, pleasantly thrilled.
Since the beginning of the year, she had taken Shurasik under her patronage and
always sat down beside him. When Shurasik dropped an eraser or the reference book of
everyday evil eyes, Dusya immediately picked them up. In Dusya’s loving heart was a

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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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47

place for everyone – Yagun, Puper, Shurasik; for each there was his special corner. And
it was good and spacious for everyone there.
“Now in the way of heroic number 8 is Erato on the cithara!” Yagun exclaimed
selflessly. “Oho, my granny mama! Erato licks her lips passionately and calls to read
verses named after herself, but we good boys don’t understand such hints! Number 8
dives down sharply, then gains altitude again, and Erato remains behind… Now only the
guard is in his way! Look out, Python!”
The stately A. Polloni pensively raised an eyebrow, played with it a little, moving it
up and down, chewed on his cigar, and quietly ordered something to the pythia. The
secretary-tele-… (just wanted to say ‘psycho-’) …path concentrated, grabbed the tripod,
and mentally started to tell Polyhymnia and Terpsichore something. For a while, both
did not understand what was wanted of them, but suddenly their faces brightened up.
After spurring the lute and the tortoise lyre, numbers 1 and 4 rushed to Python.
Polyhymnia sang something, while Terpsichore quickly made some complex movements
with her hands. The huge snake ring came into motion. A few seconds later, it coiled up
into a tight spring, which seemed to consist of some oily gleaming rings.
“Oh, my granny mama! What’s this as a free composition on the theme of a
dragon? Where to throw the ball here, one may ask? Where’s the hole for the ball, huh?
Please clear up the bewilderment, citizen-comrades!” Bab-Yagun, hovering on the
vacuum above Python, was at a loss.
While the playing commentator looked around, trying to determine where the rings
ended and where the monster’s head was, the tight spring of Python suddenly uncoiled.
The dragon, like a sharp-toothed band shot from a catapult, rushed at Yagge’s grandson.
When Bab-Yagun realized this, it was already too late. The nightmarish mouth opened
right under the vacuum. The only thing that the commentator knew how to do heroically
was not to let go of the stun ball. He disappeared together with it in the dragon’s mouth.
The vacuum with the chrome-plated pipe, spat out by Python with little interest in
technology, fell to the sand…
Several seconds later, the magic encased in the ball kicked in. The Muses scattered
quickly in different directions, escaping from the dragon pursuing them. Erato lingered
slightly and was swallowed together with the cithara.
“5-1. Not particularly good, but not so bad after all! Well, it’s hot here! Trust my
experience, this is the most cramped dragon stomach of all that I’ve had the occasion to
be in!” Yagun complained.
The stands made merry noises. Hearing the voice of the commentator coming out
of the dragon’s mouth and intensified by the magic mouthpiece was amusing. It seemed
as if Python itself was broadcasting this.
“Hey, someone, throw the pepper ball! I’m not keen on sitting here! Hey, people,
too much for you?” Yagun asked.

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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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48

It goes without saying, no one responded to his call. Since reporting from a
dragon’s stomach while not seeing anything was silly at the least, the playing
commentator removed the mouthpiece, unbuttoned his collar and, sweating, sat right on
the hot bottom of the dragon’s stomach.
Suddenly, someone coughed in the darkness, clearly attracting his attention.
“Is that you, Parroteva?” Yagun was on guard.
“Yes, Yaguny,” Verka responded languidly.
“Ah, uh, and I scored here!” Yagun remarked, not knowing exactly what to talk to
Parroteva about. “So, they swallowed you too, poor thing? I told you during training:
don’t increase speed that way!”
“What, what?” Verka perplexedly asked him to repeat.
“That! You’re exactly like Tanya’s Aunt Ninel. Tanya told me how she took the
driving test. She drove into the inspector’s personal car, and then in fright went
backwards and cut into another car. They began to shout at her. Then Isadora Cutletkina
came in a tank to cheer for her friend, started to turn around, and broke the wall of that
very traffic control. They immediately delivered everything to Aunt Ninel, issued her a
driver’s license, and quickly showed her and all her friends the door… You also fly in the
same spirit.”
“Yagun, don’t be rude! I certainly am not super in the air, but, by the way, they also
swallowed you!” Parroteva objected.
“I’m a different matter. You might consider that I came to your assistance! So that
you wouldn’t be so lonely!” Yagun said didactically.
Parroteva came alive like a Roman legionary having heard the call of a bugle. It
even seemed to Yagun that he saw her eyes sparkle with passionate witch’s fire in the
darkness. “Really?” she asked in a throaty voice. “So you let them swallow you for me?
Really, Yaguny?”
“Of course! Simply my granny mama!” Yagun said, saving his own reputation. For
some reason, he suddenly became uncomfortable at the same time. Parroteva literally
bombarded him with her psychic energy.
“I don’t believe in chance meetings! Here are the two of us together, you and me,
and no one around! I’m scared!” Verka warbled, lowering her head onto Yagun’s
shoulder and literally pressing him into the tight wall of the dragon’s stomach.
“What do you mean no one’s around? The dragon’s around!” Yagge’s grandson
objected in a hurry.
“So? Move up to me! It doesn’t see us.”
“Uh… But I see it. And in general, it’s impossible to know anything definite with
these dragons… Especially with the Greek ones. They, the Greek ones, are the craftiest!”
Yagun remarked, wondering how to get rid of Parroteva without offending her.
“Yaguny, you’re so stressed! Simply a bundle of nerves! I don’t recognize you! Or
are you only bold on a vacuum?” Verka said reproachfully.
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49

“Uh… What’s with the vacuum here? It’s hot here. Sit sweating! Doesn’t seem like
they’re going to throw the pepper ball!” Yagun remarked sadly.
Parroteva leaned on him harder. “What would you like, Yaguny?” Verka asked even
more languidly.
“That someone else will fall in here!” Yagge’s grandson blurted out.
It would have been better if Yagun had kept quiet, because a moment later, Erato,
lost somewhere in the bends of Python’s oesophagus, dropped onto his head. Like all
Muses, she was of very classical shape. “Anyone here? Hello, guys! I’ve also been
swallowed – Python has gone quite crazy, grabbing its own.”
“Hello!” Yagun croaked, trying to feel if his neck was broken. Answering this
question was immediately very problematic.
“Oh, it’s our talkative commentator! Sorry, I didn’t see you, oh well. Shall I read a
little poetry?” Erato immediately proposed.
“Don’t! I’m modest! I don’t like poetry! I like folk songs!” Yagun turned her down
in a hurry.
“I can also do folk songs! True, they’re not quite for youngsters, but you won’t be
offended by an adult aunt?” Erato started to giggle, running her fingers along the strings
of the cithara.
Yagun tried to treat everything with humour. Aunt Erato, past her prime and crazy
about poetry named after herself, and Verka, the first taleteller of Tibidox… And he
himself... Well, not the worst company. Even pretty amusing. If only Parroteva would
not try to pinch him in the dark…
“What a pig this Python is! What, it couldn’t swallow Lotkova and no one else?
Only Katya and me. Pity that it’s not possible to order whom to swallow and whom not
to,” Yagun thought wistfully.
***
After the playing commentator temporarily suspended the execution of his duties
in connection with his disappearance into the dragon’s mouth, the instructors pondered
to whom to shift his duties. Sardanapal, as the chief judge, could not do the commenting
himself. Medusa refused. Slander Slanderych was given to both everyday and offbeat
forms of rudeness. Nightingale O. Robber, as the coach, was biased and, moreover, very
dissatisfied with his team. The Great Tooth understood little of dragonball and was
generally so nearsighted that she could mix up a dragon with the nearest Tibidox tower.
The baby Stinktopp…hmm…would possibly use his rather good judgement, but he
was not yet old enough for such responsible assignments. Besides, at the present
moment, Stinktopp was busy teaching the Cyclopes a spitting spell. After completing a
brief course, the Cyclopes hit the target at a distance of twenty metres, which hugely
amused those simple but trustworthy minds.
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50

“For you, an adolescent, to be the head of the dark department! You’re slowly but
surely moving towards your previous state!” Sardanapal said to him somewhat sadly.
The baby Stinktopp laughed. He remembered absolutely nothing from his past and
was even rather scared of his own portraits, which were still hanging somewhere on the
walls. The previous severe Professor Stinktopp, with a face similar to a yellow
horseradish, looked sternly from them at his successor, knitting his shaggy eyebrows.
“You’ll have to be the commentator, Tararakh! No one else! Don’t let us down!”
Medusa said, handing the pithecanthropus the spare mouthpiece.
“Testing… Testing, one, two, three… Can you hear me? This is me, Tararakh…” the
pithecanthropus said in embarrassment. “Yagun has been swallowed, so I must now
explain the how and what… I’m not trained to chat like that young man, but I’ll try. The
situation on the field is so-so. They’re squeezing us, what else can I say? Would that my
eyes simply not see this. Rita On-The-Sly tries to catch the pepper ball, but Euterpe and
Clio roughly cut her off. Melpomene, on the bugle, has long been chasing the immobilize
ball – only will you really keep up? It leaves, sharply changing direction. They put an evil
eye on it, perhaps? In dragonball all kinds of things happen… But what’s this? It’s not
getting into any gate! The immobilize ball flies directly to Coffinia Cryptova, she only has
to stretch out a hand, but Cryptova’s looking the other way. Coffinia wanted to clear up
relations with Zhora Zhikin. Of course, it can in no way be put off till the end of the
game. The pair goes down – no longer yelling so interestingly at each other… Only Liza
Zalizina and Katya Lotkova are still holding out somehow, but where are they? Yes, a
game is not a game without Tanya Grotter… She alone didn’t come to the match today.
The poor child can’t even watch the game! She’s writing a report on the world tree for
Slander. Or else Slander will know nothing about the tree without her, the unfortunate…
You’d think that if not for him, then the story with the tree wouldn’t have happened. He
didn’t keep watch, and now the kiddies are paying for it over there.”
On hearing his name, the Tibidox dean of studies stirred like an owl on which a
beam of light was directed. Some disgruntled fan cast a spell at him from a distance, but
immediately, after turning green, fell under the bench with the strongest itch.
“Strictness is above all! That’s my motto! I don’t spoil senior pupils! Today you give
them an easy time, and tomorrow they’ll eat you with soup!” Slander said to Milyulya,
justifying himself.
The Mermaid, striking with her tail, splashed him with foul water. “Slandy, pet,
don’t overload them, or else I’ll swim away from you!” she threatened, immediately
forcing the dean to become quiet.
The Great Tooth standing beside them turned away, hiding a smile. It amused her
that someone could call the terrible Slander “Slandy-pet,” on top of that treat him so
casually. Slandy and Milyulya – are they not a stellar couple? In their own way not a bit
worse than she and Gottfried Bouillon.

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51

Tanya, listening to Tararakh on the zoomer, called herself a hypocritical skunk. She
stood on much less ceremony with herself than even with Pipa or Coffinia. Kind, dear,
artless Tararakh! He, in contrast to Vanka and not excluding Yagun, believed that she
passed up the match because of the report. Perhaps now she should grab the double
bass and rush onto the field to save a game almost lost, but she could not. First, because
of the obstinate Nightingale, with whom she was at loggerheads. But not only because of
Nightingale. Inside her, squeezing her soul with thin legs, disgusting like the Hunchback
with Pimply Nose, sat a large, black, hairy spider, which she could not crush at all,
because this spider was part of her.
The girl remained sitting on the floor, clutching at her temples. Just now, it seemed
to her that the sound of the zoomer had drowned out other voices resonant inside her.
“You’re secretly in love with Puper!” she again heard Shurasik’s words. And immediately
another, terribly familiar, bodiless voice rustled, “The one whom Tanya Grotter really
loves will betray her!”
“I don’t love Puper! I love Vanka! Is that clear to you?” Tanya said loudly. It was
unclear whom she was trying to convince.
Mad Glazier sniggered in the mirror. Black Curtains stirred caustically, flashing
first Gunya Glomov in a bathing cap, then Gury hugging a basilisk. In this abnormal
magic school, there was nowhere to be alone!
Tararakh, not accustomed to rambling on for hours without a break, like the
playing commentator did with ease, soon grew hoarse. Moreover, he could not see from
the stands as well as Yagun, who was always in the thick of things.
“Terpsichore catches the pepper ball… A pass to Urania… Who spurs the diving
telescope and races to Goyaryn. It breathes out smoke and tries to gain altitude, but only
does this so terribly slowly. Over there, see, how it falls on its tail!” Tararakh spat
contemptuously into space, hardly disconcerted that directly under his stand sat A.
Polloni with the pythia and a dozen magnews correspondents. “Yes, a hundred, two
hundred years ago Goyaryn was a tad quicker. It’s also quite good now, only it’s not a
good idea when they forbid giving a dragon a stimulating mixture before a match. There
would be nitroglycerine, about three poods of mustard, mercury with a hot pepper, not
from a bucket but from the fresh tracks of the Strefil-bird… 42 Wow, how it would fly! But
now: what weather over there, dank, damp, and dragons are whimsical creatures.
Goyaryn will go into hibernation any day now, but now it has to fly. Indeed, please do
not be offended, Academician, that I speak the truth openly! Of course, it’s not fair to
drug dragons, but it’s also not a good idea when they fall asleep in the air.”
“YAGU… PHOOEY! TARARAKH! STOP IMMEDIATELY!” Academician
Sardanapal exclaimed. The chief judge was disastrously unlucky with commentators.
The first was a chatterer and the second happened to be a denouncer.
The Strefil, Stratim, or Nogai is a monstrous bird in Slavic mythology, the ancestor of all birds that nests
on the sea and can calm the waves.
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42

52

“Yes, I’ll keep quiet, I’ll keep quiet, if my truth grates on anyone! Then I’ll say in
advance what will happen now. Over there Urania will force Goyaryn to the dome.
Goyaryn will be infuriated and strike with its tail, but it’ll miss – like a lizard, it’s sleepy.
As it opens its mouth afterwards, Urania will either make a pass or attack… Our defence
will bustle there, but what’s the use? They will try to catch the ball, and the Muses will
probably send it bewitched… They only appear so poetic all the time, but are nimble in
reality… Well, what did I say? It’s simply possible not to watch – and everything is
clear!” Tararakh uttered with bitter satisfaction.
The nereids, naiads, dryads, and oreads, collectively christened nymphets by
Yagun, roared joyfully. As Tararakh predicted, Goyaryn tried to attack with its tail,
missed, opened its mouth – and got the pepper ball from a giggling Thalia. Urania was
at an angle unfavourable for a throw and preferred to make a pass to a friend. A blinding
white flash flared. Goyaryn, yielding to the magic, spat out two hangar genies and the
chubby referee. Moreover, the latter had on one boot and a torn sleeve.
“10-1! Marvellous score!” Tararakh remarked maliciously. “The only difference is in
the zero, and one can always say that it means nothing.”
“My granny mama! Do not tickle me, silly! Since childhood, I’d get silly from
tickling! Better sing folk songs again!” Yagun’s voice suddenly resounded loudly in the
entire stadium.
Tararakh fell silent in surprise. Even the rioting nymphets grew quiet in
amazement.
“The mouthpiece is on! The heat in the dragon’s belly, it locked the magic,”
Dentistikha explained to Gottfried.
“Exactly, diamond of my crown! Now we have two commentators – internal and
external,” Mr. Bouillon said with his usual floridity.
The “internal” commentator, meanwhile, was already persistently prevailing over
the “external.”
“Ah-h! Someone’s blowing in my ear! Hey, get away from me! I’m quite unstable!
Harpies stole me in childhood and dropped me from a tower!” Yagun howled.
Python was gradually flying into a rage. It would have been worthwhile for it to
open its mouth and shoot out, together with tongues of flame, first Yagun’s laughter,
then his heart-rending howls. This angered the dragon. Python, worried about what was
happening in its stomach, coiled and uncoiled several times, hoping to pacify the
obtrusive playing commentator with this manoeuvre. But it achieved the exact opposite.
Yagun, overheated, tortured by tickling, and, moreover, being rocked to sleep, got mad,
and began to fool around.
Taking advantage of Parroteva and the Muse being thrown to the side during one of
the dragon’s somersaults, he fastened the mouthpiece in its previous place and reported
in an announcer’s voice, “Adjust your zoomers, my cursers! With you is Nagianchik
Pripyatskii and his new broadcast The Voice Beyond… So, what do we have today? I’m
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53

opening the first letter. Verka Parroteva, recently devoured by a dragon, sends regards
to her friend Dusya Dollova, wishing her a sane mind and long life, and requests the
Muse Erato to perform for her the folk song Melanie Has a Beau… I’m joining in her
wishes and will carry out the request with pleasure! Eratochka, take it away please!”
Yagun and Erato were heard talking in a whisper, and then the Muse, strumming
the cithara, started:
Melanie has a beau,
Dull as a schmo.
Besides lame and humpbacked,
Also a lump of dough…
It was surprising that the refined Greek Muse could be so filled with the spirit of
Russian culture and shoot out folk songs like a Vyatka or Yaroslavl peasant woman.
However, not without reason is it said that Muses are international and that they
frequent equally both big cities and small villages forgotten on maps.
The unhappy Python howled, tied itself in a knot, and started to beat against the
magic barrier with its head. The barrier crackled, sparked, and came apart at the seams.
The magic forming it broke down in motion. The usual defects manifested themselves.
The magic patches did not hold up. Hangar genies began to bustle arond the field. The
Cyclopes grabbed their bludgeons and jogged to the sector, from where the spectators
were already escaping in panic.
“Here such things happen with dragons. What I’m saying is, dragons only appear to
be so terrible. In reality, they’re awfully vulnerable; we must protect and cherish them.
Not without reason did the moronoids, very likely, kill them all. There, you see, Python
has completely lost its head. Stun magic, you say? It already ended long ago! This is
from the singing!” Tararakh started to reason. The pithecanthropus never missed the
opportunity to mount his favourite horse and expound on the preservation of dragon
health.
“What’s that? Yagun! Stop singing immediately! Don’t torment the poor animal! I’ll
send you to the dark department! I’m telling you this as the chief judge!” Sardanapal
yelled. Of course, the playing commentator did not hear him. And how else could it be –
through the thick dragon skin and even at this distance!
“Academician, I don’t think the boy is to blame! He’s simply being rocked to sleep.
Put yourself in his place: dark, hot, tight! We must note, he’s behaving in a fitting
manner!” Medusa said.
Sardanapal’s frisky moustache restrained its zeal at first, and drooped peacefully
afterwards. He was quick-tempered but easily appeased. “You’re right, Medy. What can
we do? It’s against the rules to use any magic and interfere in what’s happening on the
field… Please be kind enough to ask Slander to patch up the dome!”
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54

The dragonball duel continued. The Muses were aiming for the immobilize ball,
driving it closer to the dome, where it would be simpler to intercept. Zhora Zhikin tried
to outdistance them on his high-speed mop but could not manage the speed, rushed past
the ball, and lost precious seconds.
Damien Goryanov collided with bulky Melpomene. She clearly positioned herself
near him, but very correctly and within the rules. Goryanov’s vacuum opened. Together
with a cascade of dust, Damien came down precisely on the medical genies’ stretcher.
They were very contented. This was almost the first time they succeeded in catching
someone. True, half a minute later they shook Damien out of the stretcher and rushed to
catch Calliope, carelessly turning up near Goyaryn’s tail.
“This is Nagianchik Pripyatskii again!” Bab-Yagun woke up. “One more letter, undear dummies! Wonder from whom this time? Oh, again from Verka Parroteva! Must be
the namesake of the first, hee-hee. She wishes happy birthday to her favourite teacher
Slander Slanderych and requests her favourite singer Erato to perform for him the folk
song The Mermaid Stole A Husband.”
“What?” Slander croaked, his eyes climbing to his forehead. “What? What
husband? I’ll send an evil eye right on the spot!”
But Erato had already grabbed her cithara:
The Mermaid stole a husband,
Thinks she is lucky.
Let her take for herself
The mug of a crocodile.
Milyulya burst out laughing, striking the water with her tail. The folk song agreed
exactly with her sense of humour. Slander, red as a crab, fired spells and evil eyes at the
dragon. They would have killed a horse on the spot, but they bounced like peas off
Python’s scales. The dragon, already tied into a knot even without this, was full of
suffering and butted the dome. From its mouth, instead of an angry growl, escaped,
“March along the dragon stomach! Change to a run on the spot! And one more folk
song! The music is free, the lyrics are traditional! Eratochka, keep time! Begin to sing on
my command! And a-one, and a-two! Also dedicated to Slander, by the way…”
Once during the wedding,
The groom was beaten up,
Because, to kiss,
On a mare he climbed up.

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55

“Force the dragon to shut up! Knock it down with the catapult! THIS IS AN
ORDER!” Slander began to squeal, addressing the Cyclops. The entire Tibidox half of
the stadium was already laughing boisterously at him.
“Calm down, pet! What catapult? This dragon will now fall by itself! See how it’s all
twisted!” Milyulya purred.
“That’s it! I can’t write more. We’re toast!” Shurasik said, turning away from the
little notebook.
Dollova, sitting beside him, nodded agreement. She always nodded agreement
when communicating with smart guys. However, if a man was foolish, Dollova again did
not change the rule but also nodded agreement just in case.
“What’s this ‘toast’?” The nearby A. Polloni asked perplexedly, turning to the pythia
for a translation. She was at a loss and rushed to find this out from Shurasik, who was
obviously gifted in the humanities.
“Better for you not to know this! I’m saying this as a linguist!” Shurasik said
authoritatively.
After folding his powerful arms, Tararakh watched the game gloomily. “I don’t
think that the match will last long,” he said, and the mouthpiece spread his verdict to the
entire stadium. “This isn’t a game but a circus! Terpsichore takes possession of the
immobilize ball. She forces her way to Goyaryn. I’ve never seen Goyaryn in such awful
shape! After beating Tuzikov, Terpsichore teases the dragon with quick shifts. Smart
Lotkova tries to distract it and urge it not to open its mouth, but in vain! Any minute
now, look, now it’ll try to attack, only far from it! Why is it so sleepy? What did I say?
The sly Muse speeds away on the tortoiseshell lyre, just before she hurls the ball into our
open gates. Flash! 20-1! Somehow, I don’t remember ever encountering such a
humiliating score! That’s it, I’m going to Goyaryn. Immobilize magic for an old dragon is
a ticket to that world.” He removed the mouthpiece and, stooping, set off to resuscitate
Goyaryn.
Tears glistened in Nightingale O. Robber’s only eye. No one dared to approach him.
In this state, he could cast such evil eyes that afterward he would not recall how to
remove them.
Tanya again kicked the dresser as if it was the main culprit of all her misfortunes,
and she lay on the bed, burying her face in the pillow. The match was lost, lost
humiliatingly and foolishly. If the loss to the Invisibles could still be explained by some
absurd accident, then here they were clearly crushed, squashed like kittens.
But then the naiads, dryads, oreads, and other nymph-nymphets howled joyfully.
Now for them fall was not fall and frost was not frost! Victory had warmed them with a
woollen blanket of glory. A. Polloni smiled graciously right and left, pretending that this
was just an ordinary victory for the team of Muses, and unnoticeably nudged the pythia
with an elbow so that she would not let the correspondents, already rushing like nimble
cockroaches to the free buffet, slip by.
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56

The baby Stinktopp hooted, got under foot, and asked everyone to repeat the
newly-invented spell Sniffus blowis, asserting that it strengthened the aura of luck. In
reality though, this was the spell of eternal head cold. The first to fall into the crafty
baby’s trap was A. Polloni, writing everything off on the effect of the terrible Tibidox
climate.
No one saw that a minute later, a completely exhausted Python, no longer
resembling a dragon but an effigy of a boa constrictor, collapsed next to Goyaryn. Heard
from its mouth was, “Hey, you there, haven’t forgotten about Nagianchik? Again, a folk
song requested by Verka Parroteva and performed by the singer Erata (please don’t get
excited, dear, this is your name Russified!)… Dedicated? Ah, yes, again to Slander
Slanderych! It’s simply a horror how many of these Slanders were bred! In unison!”
Don’t you pull, dear,
Over the eyes the visor,
You’re the most beautiful,
Like a scarlet flower.
My darling Slander
Goes smiling –
New teeth were set,
The mouth isn’t closing…
Yagge, taking half a dozen dragon handlers with her, decisively made her way to
Python to free her grandson and settle him down with the help of the universal folk
remedy – a dressing down.
Coffinia Cryptova descended carefully and, after picking a spot, landed between
Goyaryn and Python. One was sleeping and the other was hiccupping non-stop, still
spitting out new folk songs. Dragon handlers turned it from side to side and tried to
untie the knot into which Python was tied. Coffinia climbed with distaste over the
dragon and made her way to the locker room.
“Cryptova! What’s the matter? You could at least fly for the sake of appearance!”
Tararakh, after pouring elixir from a bronze teapot into the mouth of the sleeping
Goyaryn, could not help himself and shouted to her.
“Indeed! I’m the face of the team! I have to pose for photographers, not rush after
balls like a watchdog! Grotty rushed, and what’s the use? They tossed her out of the
team like a dirty rag and now Plague said that she’ll be betrayed!” Coffinia retorted; a
whole dozen of admirers, headed by Gunya Glomov, were already running to her in
order to take the vacuum from her hands.
Tararakh was taken aback. “Who will betray her?” he asked perplexedly.
“Whoever must, will betray her! It’s not enough that she was tossed out of the
team, now it’ll be even worse! After all, I’ll soon leave for Puper – only you kept me on
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57

your stinky island! Au revoir, Monsieur Phocas!43 Let not the sun go down on your
wrath!” Coffinia handed the vacuum to Gunya, who had just scattered the remaining
candidates with his fists, and made her way to the locker room.
Tararakh gasped in outrage and, not finding anything to say, threatened the space
with a fist for a long time. Goyaryn stirred and exhaled a cloudlet of steam with a
wheeze. It gradually came to its senses. The nymphets, making joyful noises, left for the
Hall of Two Elements to devour cutlets and other provisions.
“Night. Street. Lamp. Drugstore… Oh, copied from Uncle Blok, 44 a pity to cross out!
Day. Wind. Cold. Bully. We lost the dragonball game. Think in spare time, is there any
universal idea in this? If not, find it!” Shurasik wrote in his little notebook.
After placing an exclamation mark, he entrusted the notebook to his literary
secretary, Dusya Dollova, and, poetically crossing his arms on his chest, set off after the
nymphs. The baby Stinktopp tagged along behind them, teasing, “Hubba hubba, ding
ding!”45.

Flavius Phocas Augustus (547 – 610), a Byzantine emperor who was a junior officer in the Byzantine
army before he usurped the throne.
44
Night, street, lamp, drugstore, is the first line of a 1912 poem of Aleksandr Aleksadrovich Blok (18801921), Russian poet and dramatist, the greatest of Russian Symbolists.
45
The school playground expression goes: Hubba hubba, ding ding, don't forget the wedding ring!
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43

58

Chapter 5
LAY AN EGG FOR ME, CHICKEN…
Aunt Ninel, Uncle Herman, Pipa, and even the dachshund One-and-A-Half
Kilometres were sitting in the drawing room. They had gathered for a family council.
The agenda of the day was only one question, but extremely important. The former
deputy was pacing back and forth in agitation along the carpet, which made the
dachshund nervous.
“I have big financial problems. The taxmen are after me… They stated that I have a
pile of shell companies, and I pay taxes only for a shoe stall at the market. Obnoxious
fools! Even all sorts of old junk cropped up… For instance, they dug up that my
charitable foundation sold aluminium prostheses and soup tureens to China.”
“What nonsense! It’s impossible to sell prostheses anymore!” Aunt Ninel said in
indignation.
“It’s possible, only not in ingots… And as for the soup tureens, the fuses still aren’t
delivered. Cutletkin, the skunk, plays it safe to avoid responsibility!” Durnev sighed.
“I’m afraid, Ninel, that they’ll ruin me. The taxmen, the Mafia – everyone. Earlier they
wouldn’t dare poke their noses in, but now…”
“Herman! You have to be more careful!”
“WHO ISN’T CAREFUL? ME? Who’d have suspected that everything would turn
out this way? Yesterday I was everything, but who am I today? A big nothing! Cursed
enviers!” Uncle Herman roared with such a terrible voice that the dachshund began to
squeeze discreetly under the bed.
All the strength of the former deputy left on this roar. He collapsed onto the sofa
and pressed his temple with his hands. “We’ll lose everything: the apartment, money,
everything! And I’ll have to grow a beard and hide! I have fake documents and a fake
service record. It’s written in it that I’m head of a choral school for deaf-mute boys!” he
said gloomily.
Pipa began to cry with tears cold like yesterday’s broth. She was not sorry for her
papa. She was sorry for the soft toys, which she now would not be able to disembowel
with the yataghan, and for the computer, the laser disks, and the other knick-knacks
dear to her heart.
“Herman, is everything really so bad?” Aunt Ninel asked, wringing her chubby
hands.
“Even worse than you think. It’s not conceivable that I’ll soon have to change and,
possibly, hang around dumpsters and dig in the garbage with a ski pole. I’ll need to find
out, before it’s too late, what bottles they take and what they don’t,” Uncle Herman said.
“But, perhaps some of your previous friends will help us?” Durneva proposed in
fear.

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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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59

“My friends? Ha, ha, and again ha! Do you really think that someone in politics has
friends?” Uncle Herman said.
A bare foot appeared in the doorway, toes moving quickly. Then, already somewhat
higher, Gratis, with dishevelled hair, came into view. “Skr… skr... prchek… skr… skr…
Skr… chik-chik!” he said, moving his hands somewhat strangely…
Uncle Herman jerked up his head. Hope flared up in the wild-looking eyes of the
director of Second-Hand Socks. “Come here, Nijinsky! I want to have a talk with you!”
he said affectionately.
“Skr… skr... prchek… Umps!” Gratis shrieked. “I’m not Nijinsky anymore. It was a
fatal error. What are these dances? Meaningless movements of stupid flesh! I examined
my essence. I’m a machine for gluing labels. Small but very useful. Skr! Skr!” After
bending down, the werewolf picked up the phone book from the floor. Tearing pages out
of it, he began to spit on them and stick them on the walls. “Chik-chik… hrshshsh-zhzh…
skr… skr… Umps!” he repeated enthusiastically.
Durnev shifted his gaze to the clock. It was close to noon. Uncle Herman got up,
dragged out of the closet the weighty volume All works of Russian Literature Narrated
for New Russians, sneaked up to the machine for gluing labels, and gently touched its
top.
Gratis turned around. “Oh!” he said affably. “Some people! The serviceman has
come! My reel has jammed, would you have a look? Hrshshsh-zhzh… skr… chik-chik?”
“Certainly! Let’s fix it now!” Uncle Herman assured him, trying to adapt to the
volume more precisely. This time he struck with the force that was required. The
werewolf closed his eyes contentedly and opened them again.
“Just in time, that ish. The midday demon has skipped. He went searching for
others bewitched or teleporters! They, the teleporters, are the tastiest morsels, that ish,
for it!” he said.
“What was this skr-skr?” Pipa asked with suspicion.
“A labelling machine is quite an annoying character. Skr… skr… Phew, can’t shake
it off at all!” Gratis brushed it off.
Uncle Herman opened the closet and, after taking out the sword, pointed its tip
sternly at the sofa. “Sit down here, Gratis!”
“Why?” the dwarf was frightened.
“Sit down, I said!!!” the deputy roared.
Warily looking sideways at the sword, the dwarf sat on the sofa and folded his
hands on his tummy. “I’m all ears! No need for nerves, bro!” he said conciliatorily.
Durnev let out a breath. “Before you go off your rocker again, explain something.
Boom blurted about some magic of yours which will help me get rich! I want to know
what this magic is!” he recalled.
“I, that ish, remember zilch about this. But if you want, bro, I’ll think!” Gratis
promised.
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60

Sighing and scratching, the werewolf was lost in thought. He pondered for a long
time, so long that Uncle Herman began to worry if another split had happened to him.
For example, would he imagine himself a marble column or the equestrian statue of
Peter the Great? The Durnevs were languishing in the wait. Pipa cracked her knuckles.
Aunt Ninel nervously chewed the sausage casing.
Finally, the werewolf said piteously, “I remember nothing! Absolutely zilch! If
there’s some magic, then it’s not mine but that of some character installing himself in
me.”
“Which one?” Pipa asked impatiently. “Papa, he is keeping quiet especially! May I
tickle him with your sword?”
“Even if you do things to me. Even if you boil me in milk, cut me into pieces, drown
me in the river Puchai!46 I’m not master of my bewitched identities,” Gratis stated with
great effort.
Durnev almost howled from disappointment. The pyramid of banknotes, raised
already by his imagination, turned into a mocking pink haze in one fell swoop. “So,
that’s it? No hope of finding this out?” the former deputy asked, crushed.
“But why?” Gratis declared optimistically. “I’m sure one of my egos indeed knows.
If Boom, that ish, didn’t lie! It happens to them, the vampires. A pack of swindlers.
Sorry, Mr. Chairman, I didn’t hint at you personally.”
“Who knows? Herostratus? The labelling machine? Nijinsky?” Durnev asked with
emotion.
“I have no idea. You’ll have to ask them yourself, bro. If, of course, they’ll be in the
mood to answer,” the werewolf declared. Judging by everything, he decided that the
topic had already been exhausted. He jumped off the sofa and, after scratching with a
foot, began to pick out fleas.
Aunt Ninel looked at him, blazing with indignation. She had had quite enough with
the labelling machine spitting on the pages of the phonebook. Now Gratis made an
unpardonable error. A strategic and fateful error. Having caught the next flea, he did not
crush it but dropped it on the carpet near Durneva’s foot. Aunt Ninel’s fragile internal
world, already shaky anyway, could not stand the obvious manifestation of rudeness.
Aunt Ninel roared like a raging bear and moved towards the werewolf with the most
obvious intentions.
Gratis probably would not have been frightened in wolf form, but everything that
was human in him trembled before the large-scale woman. “Ouch, mumsy, you can’t hit
me! I’m the fated one!” Gratis squeaked and rushed on all fours to flee.
An irate Durneva pursued him, and her dachshund accomplice, for the sake of such
an occasion, got out from under the sofa. Pipa, grabbing a pillow from the armchair, also
participated in the pursuit, striking right and left with her weapon.
In Slavic mythology, the river Puchai is similar to the river Styx in Greek mythology. It separates the
world of the living from that of the dead, or the world of good from that of evil. It is the barrier for a
person or his soul to overcome on his way to the Underworld.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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46

61

For the following several minutes, they chased the unhappy fated one around the
entire apartment and shook the dust off him until Gratis, after ridding himself of the
dachshund clinging like a leech to his heel, surmised to hide in the bathroom. The latch
clicked.
“Open up! Or it’ll be worse! Open, I say!” Aunt Ninel howled, banging her fists on
the door.
Gratis did not open. He could be heard breathing convulsively and scraping the
glazed tiles in anguish. “Oh! What snakes, that ish, you all are!” he wailed.
Having vented her indignation on the innocent door, Aunt Ninel calmed down a
little and, turning, went back to the room, where an already inconsolable Durnev was
waiting for her. He stood at the bar and poured himself a cognac.
“Returning to the previous topic about new work... Do they take Napoleon cognac
bottles or not?” he asked, looking at the bottle with melancholy.
“Herman, what’s with you? Pull yourself together!”
“What, I really shouldn’t master the basics of being a tramp? In your opinion, this
bottle here is worse than a beer glass?” the former deputy said and was downcast. The
cognac had already begun to knock a tear out of him.
Suddenly there was a crash in the hallway. It seemed that low power ammunition
had exploded in the bathroom. Remembering Gratis with kindly calm words, the
Durnevs rushed together to the noise. Aunt Ninel raised her fist, intending on banging
again, but before she did this, the door opened. Gratis came out of the bathroom, serene
as a god. Aunt Ninel was taken aback by this impudence.
“Drop down, pitiful worms! I am King Midas!” Gratis said in a low voice, looking at
them from top to bottom with certain disgust.
Racing past King Midas, Uncle Herman slipped into the bathroom, intending on
evaluating the scale of the destruction. Meanwhile, Pipa and Aunt Ninel were already
almost attacking the autocrat, but their breadwinner yelled excitedly, “Ninel, Pipa, come
here! Quick! We have a gold toilet!”
“Herman, are you out of your mind?” Durneva was startled, deciding that her
husband had gone nuts. She threw open the door and froze on the threshold.
The director of Second-Hand Socks, and at the same time king of the vampires, was
standing on all fours, his nose almost buried in the tank, which, just as the toilet, was
now cast in a dull metal, very familiar and so very promising. “Pure gold! Gold! Ninel,
we’re saved!” Durnev exclaimed.
“And how do you know that? What if it’s fake?” Aunt Ninel asked distrustfully.
“Fake? You’re telling me this? I always recognize gold! And then, I tried the brush
on my tooth! It’s also gold!” Uncle Herman blurted out. He almost went crazy with
enthusiasm. Here it is, the very embodiment mentioned by Gratis!
Leaping, the director of Second-Hand Socks was about to rush to the werewolf to
hug him, but that one stopped him with an imperious movement of his hand. “Stop,
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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62

pitiful worm! I am King Midas! Why aren’t you cringing before me? Perhaps you don’t
know that everything I touch will turn to gold! Now get away from me, worthless, and
remove your pug! If it bites me, then it’ll also become gold!”
“Wow! One-and-A-Half Kilometres, fore! Sic ’em!” Uncle Herman yelled. He
figured that he immediately had two brilliant opportunities: to get rid of the
importunate dachshund and to receive a decadent, magnificent dog figurine of pure
gold. As a souvenir, so to speak, of the beloved creature. (A monument! Threefold sob
and constrained weeping.)
However, his insidious plan was not fated to come true. One-and-A-Half
Kilometres knew not one command except “Go eat!” It growled suspiciously at Uncle
Herman and, continually eyeing King Midas, dragged itself under the sofa. The spectre
of a decadent, magnificent statuette left together with it, and the former deputy at first
had to content himself with a gold toilet.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets

63

Chapter 6
SECRET NAME
The morning after the Tibidox team’s dragonball loss, at about seven thirty,
Coffinia Cryptova was sitting on her bed, legs dangling. She was in new pyjamas with
little skulls and buttons in the shape of shinbones.
On Cryptova’s knees lay a zoomer, on which she continually set a ripe apple in
motion. Tanya still wanted to sleep. The loud sounds of the zoomer prevented her, but to
drive into Cryptova’s head that there still lived someone else besides herself in the world
was only possible with a sledgehammer. Even then, only if that someone, in essence,
would want to ruin such a valuable tool.
“Kissy-huggy, my little shiverers! I kiss your ears, bald spots, and generally
anywhere! Sit tight on your little chairs and rejoice in life! With you is Nagiana
Pripyatskaya and her amazing broadcast The Latest Magnews. Today in magnews:
strange events in Transylvania. Magciety of Jerky Magtion is seriously concerned…
magic has been used even more often in the moronoid world. There are dangerous
consequences of this phenomenon. Commentaries of Koshchei the Deathless,
representative of Magciety… At Uncle Sam’s the crows pecked to pieces an antique
magic pipe – the same one with which Nils led the rats to drown themselves in the
lake.47 What tune will the rest of the nations dance to now? ... And finally, magnews of
sport: the Tibidox team lost to the Muses by a devastating score. An interview with the
Muses’ coach A. Polloni…”
“Cool! Hey, Grotty, open your eyes, they’re going to talk about us!” Coffinia started
yelling.
“Leave me alone!”
“More details about this and other news now. Sorcerers living in Transylvania
assert that the vampires have been behaving very strangely in recent weeks. They quite
often teleport in small groups to the moronoid world, violating the 1731 agreement
between sorcerers and vampires forbidding the intrusion of moronoid life. Magciety of
Jerky Magtion expresses its concern over this. For the time being, it is still premature to
speak of vampires’ immediate attacks on moronoids; however, very recently it has
become known to us through secret channels that the supreme judge of Transylvania,
Malyuta Skuratoff, returned from the moronoid world. It is rumoured that he met with
the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R., Mr. Herman Durnev. The meeting was conducted behind
closed doors. Unfortunately, we were unable to clarify anything about the meeting itself
or what was discussed,” Madame Pripyatskaya continued, winking cunningly from the
zoomer screen.

This is from the 1955 Russian animated film The Enchanted Boy based on the novel The Wonderful
Adventures of Nils by the Swedish author Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (1858-1940).
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47

64

At times, those who were not only listening to but also watching Nagiana got the
impression that she was eavesdropping and spying on what was taking place in the
rooms of her audience. However, it was impossible to confirm for sure. I admit, this was
simply a property of her eyes, one of which had a squint, looking in different directions,
and of her sharp, darting, omniscient sniffer.
“Oho, Tanya, what relatives you have! A real boss! And are you, by any chance, a
vampire yourself? Now then, show Auntie Cryptova your teeth!” Coffinia demanded.
“If I show my teeth, you won’t be happy, so better hold your tongue!” Tanya
grumbled. She was in that usual morning state, when she no longer wanted to sleep but
also had no special desire to get up. Interesting, is it true that the vampires teleport to
Uncle Herman? Wonder why they were there? And how do Pipa and Aunt Ninel view
this? Tanya caught herself thinking that she not so much missed her relatives but
thought of them regularly. If you look into it, the Durnev family was indeed not so
hopeless, although they also had their eccentricities.
Meanwhile, Nagiana listened to the commentaries of Koshchei the Deathless,
quickly raced through the remaining magnews, and moved onto the sports part of the
program.
“Here at Bald Mountain Studio we have A. Polloni, coach of the Muses team. Mr.
Polloni, first of all, please allow me to congratulate you on the victory. Tell us, please,
could you have predicted this outcome of the match?”
“Oh, it goes without saying,” A. Polloni answered offhandedly. “From the very first
minute. The Muses team is a good team, and yesterday it succeeded in demonstrating
this once again. 20-1! During the entire history of dragonball such a score has happened
only a few times.”
“Don’t you want to say that the Muses won thanks to your keen management?”
Nagiana asked.
“Indeed, you embarrass me,” A. Polloni blushed. “Certainly, it could not have been
without my modest participation… Ahem… I spend a lot of time with my athletes.
Daytime, evening, sometimes the training drags on past midnight… Ahem…”
“Thanks, that is a very valuable remark!” Nagiana hurriedly interrupted. She
preferred her interlocutors not saying more than she did. “It’s well-known to everyone
that the Tibidox team is going through a slump. Quite recently, it lost a match to the
Invisibles. Experts say the star of Tanya Grotter, a worthless girl whom they’ve helped
with all their might, waned in that match… Do you agree with this?”
“Well… Uh-h… I don’t know… Possibly,” A. Polloni was at a loss. “I wouldn’t want
to speak badly of Tanya, but, possibly, she’ll find herself something else.”
“Yes, yes. There’re a mass of strange occupations. For example, darning magic
tablecloths… I know for myself, it’s so soothing!” Nagiana said in a sweet voice.
“Rat!” Tanya thought.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
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65

“How she kicked you, eh, Grotty? Simply a real pleasure to hear!” Cryptova was
pleased. “Why did she go for you like that? Recall, did you do something to Nagiana at
some point?”
“Of course not, I think,” Tanya said.
“Then it’s innate dark-magic harm! I adore such people! I am such a one!” Coffinia
was moved, affectionately stroking herself on the sleeve of the pyjamas with little skulls.
Nagiana Pripyatskaya continued to wipe her feet on the Tibidox team for some
time, tarnishing its reputation once and for all, after which she said generously, “But
let’s try to find something positive. Are there any promising players now in the Buyan
team?”
“Why not? Of course there are, and even very many…” A. Polloni willingly
acknowledged. “For example, Coffinia Cryptova and Zhora Zhikin played very
effectively! By the way, according to rumours, although I also don’t gossip, especially in
a live broadcast, Coffinia is the girl of the very Gury Puper.”
“You don’t say!” Nagiana was touched. “But, you know, we won’t tell anyone, isn’t
that so? It’s silly to intrude upon the youthful secrets of these two doves…”
Tanya stared questioningly at Cryptova, who was sitting with an extremely satisfied
look. Okay, Puper’s girl, this is still fine, if she needs him, let her have him, but that she
played well yesterday! “Hey, how’s that? Why is it that he praised you?” she asked.
“This! Zhora and I twirled near this Polloni the entire evening yesterday. Gave him
dishes, smiled! Advertisement! Here’s how it works, Grotty! Learn, while I’m alive,”
Cryptova generously explained.
While Coffinia set herself up as an example, Nagiana politely but decisively took
leave of A. Polloni and began to wrap up the broadcast. “I thank you for your attention!
With you was your Nagiana! I beg you, do not miss the next issue of The Latest
Magnews! Or else – he-he! – I’ll give an evil eye on the spot! Kissy-huggy! It’s not
inconceivable that in the next broadcast there’ll even be something about you! I indeed
know everything about everyone!” she said and, after winking her weak squinty eye
suggestively, disappeared.
“That’s it, enough is as good as a feast, Grotty! Time to drag ourselves along to
Sardanapal’s lecture. Your white old man is talking about the mystical essence of names
today. You haven’t croaked from boredom yet? Really? I already have, fancy that!”
Coffinia said, getting up decisively.
***
Sardanapal waved his hand so everyone would sit down. He did not like lengthy
greetings and idiotic drills, differing significantly from Slander in this. He even dealt
with noise in class quite tolerantly, only occasionally giving an evil eye to those who
really did not understand the friendly way. But then the evil eye was quite something!
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66

Once, sharp Zhora Zhikin ran as a lizard under desks the entire class, and chatty
Parroteva’s mouth simply disappeared, so that she was sitting pale with terror until
dinner, afraid that it would never reappear.
The magic class register, which Sardanapal brought with him, quickly marked all
those present, casually whacked Seven-Stump-Holes and Glomov on the back of the
head, and settled down on the table.
“I already warned that today we will speak about names… The knowledge of
someone’s name is a huge responsibility. Especially if this is the name of a magical being
or an ancient god. A true name has sacral significance. Knowing it, it is possible to
strengthen the being, to save it from doom, but it is also possible to harm and destroy it.
A true name is the key to the life of one who bears it,” said Sardanapal, straightening his
moustache.
At another time, the moustache would make use of the situation for sure and
wound like the tendril of wild grapes around his finger, but now it was deprived of this
possibility. A small silver clip with a fastener, located just below his right ear restrained
it. This was a special patented fastener of Barabas Karabasov, 48 who kept the little shop
“Everything for magical moustache and beards (training, upkeep, intimidation)” on Bald
Mountain.
“For this very reason, ancient gods had so many obscuring names, the main use of
which was the concealment of the core name. For example, the god Dionysus, 49 alias
Bacchus,50 alias Lyaeus,51 alias Bassareus,52 alias Bromius,53 alias Euhius54… Of course,
among the conveyed names there isn’t a key one. In fact, even Dionysus isn’t a true
name... Shurasik, how much can one write? Is it really impossible to memorize? Take
Vanka Valyalkin’s example, he doesn’t even know where his pen is!”
“Why don’t I know? I simply put an invisible spell on it!” Vanka was indignant.
Sardanapal nodded pensively. “I would like to see how you’re going to prepare for
the exams with invisible notes. As that’s what you’ll have… But let’s continue. Earlier,
when a sensible magician prepared for battle with a stronger magician or dragon, he
tried to find out his true name. This, at least, would equalize their chances in the battle.
Both white and dark magicians employed the incantation of names; however, for the
most part it’s used by ‘very dark magicians’ or voodoo priests. Such as the known to all
of us Plague-del-Cake...”
Karabas Barabas is the chief antagonist in The Adventures of Buratino (1936) by Russian/Soviet writer
Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoy, based on The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881-83) by Italian author Carlo
Collodi.
49
In Greek mythology, Dionysus is the god of grape harvest, winemaking, wine, ritual madness, religious
ecstasy, and theatre.
50
Bacchus is the name adopted by the Romans for Dionysus.
51
Lyaeus the Liberator, an Ancient Greek epithet of Dionysus.
52
Bassareus the Fox-God, a Thracian allonym for Dionysus.
53
Bromius – He Who Rumbles, an Ancient Greek epithet of Dionysus.
54
Euhius the Reveller, an Ancient Greek epithet of Dionysus.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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48

67

The torches began to crackle. The flames turned white, lost colour, and stretched
out to the academician like snakes. Verka Parroteva began squealing in a bad voice. A
blinding light encircled Sardanapal from all sides. It seemed that the head of Tibidox
was in a ring of blazing fire, which was impossible to look at, it so irritated the eyes. The
sphere became increasingly more solid with each second. Soon, only the old-fashioned
shoes and the not less old-fashioned stockings protruded from it. The for-life and
posthumous head of Tibidox always lagged about two hundred years behind fashion.
“Call the water-sprites! Plague attacked Sardanapal! She kiii-lled him!” wailed
Parroteva.
“I implore you, no need to call anyone! I’ll manage myself! Trigus sputterus forte!”
A voice was heard from the fireball.
A green spark flashed and the magic flame was extinguished. The usual form of the
spell was Trigus sputterus, but Sardanapal preferred the intensive form in this
situation. The immortal academician came out of the fire unharmed. Perhaps his
moustache had darkened slightly, but now its colour was quickly restored.
“Here’s an illustrative example of uttering a true name for you… By the way,
Plague-del-Cake is precisely such a name. True names are virtually immortal and
survive their owners for a long time,” the academician coolly remarked.
Coffinia Cryptova screwed up her eyes. Her active brain quickly digested the
obtained information and considered how to adapt it to everyday life. “Are our names
true or not?” she asked as if by chance. “Grotty there, Vanka Valyalkin, Gunya Glomov?”
Sardanapal shook his head. “Tanya, Coffinia, Vanya, Gunya, these aren’t those
names. Too many people in the world have them and they’ve long since lost their
individual meaning. Your true names are quite different and sound different! Indeed,
you can trust me!” he said with authority.
“Really? And how do they sound? What do you properly call, for example, Gury
Puper? Simply by way of educational information.” Coffinia asked, her pen quickly at
the ready.
The for-life and posthumous head of Tibidox smiled. Cryptova’s simple trick did
not deceive him at all. “That I cannot say. For the time being I cannot, because I’m not
certain that you’ll use this information properly and for good. Some of you, possibly, will
come to this someday, whereas the rest can be limited entirely to common spells. Is that
clear, Cryptova?”
“Well, again I wasn’t allowed to enrich my knowledge. One might say that I’m only
filled with an interest in learning,” Coffinia stated in disappointment.
“Any other questions?” asked the academician.
“Yes.” Tanya suddenly heard her own voice.
Sardanapal looked at her in surprise. “Yes, Grotter! I’m listening!”

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68

Tanya was a little lost. She had blurted out “yes” without thinking, although, to tell
the truth, one question had already been on the tip of her tongue for a long time. “I
wanted to ask: is Simorg a true name or an alias?”
The head of Tibidox shuddered, and even his moustache, trying unsuccessfully for
a long time to be freed from the clip, stopped its dance of a frisking snake. “Simorg. Why
precisely Simorg?” he quickly asked.
It seemed to Tanya that the academician was playing for time, as if the question
had caught him by surprise. “I wrote about him in the report for Slander Slanderych…”
“In what report?”
“In a usual school report. About the world tree. Why?” Tanya naively asked.
Sardanapal definitely experienced relief. Anyway, his moustache started moving
again. “Uh-h... Slander gives you strange themes for reports, very strange… Yes, I recall
Tararakh talked about this at the game. Simorg is a true name. But I wouldn’t advise
anyone to use it to harm Simorg. Simorg, he’s not even Pla…” The academician looked
sideways at the torches and wisely corrected himself, “not even She-Who-Is-No-More.
He’s much more dangerous. Simorg is one of those god-guards, who once ruled the
world and afterwards were able to avoid imprisonment behind the Sinister Gates. Now
these gods are out of work, but they still retain sufficient power… More than enough to
make any flirting with them into fatal amusement… Even She-Who-Is-No-More never
appealed to the surviving gods for help, although I greatly doubt that they would join
forces with her. The ancient gods have their own code of honour; besides, for some, like
Triglav,55 the word ‘honour’ doesn’t exist at all. Simorg is another matter, he’s true to the
word, but the trouble is that the world tree is no more and there’s nothing for the birdgod to guard… The world is no longer tied to anything, it has lost an important, very
important core…”
Sardanapal looked at the clock. The only hand on the clock face had already gone
half way, heading towards a white spot of uncertain shape. This meant that the second
half – The Beyond or Ghost Studies – was approaching. Eyeless Horror delivered the
lecture on the history of the beyond in person. Horror’s concept of time, just like that of
all ghosts’, was very relative. He could be totally late for lecture for a month or even a
year, and it was possible to wait for him indefinitely. But, if by chance Horror was on
time, then woe to all latecomers – his wrath was terrible.
Sardanapal, familiar with the whims of ghost teachers, grinned into his beard.
“Now, taking into account that the immersion into the history of the beyond will be
waiting for you soon, let’s move to checking homework. As you remember, in the
previous classes we studied runes and the magic of numbers…”
“Me, me, me!” Shurasik shouted. “I want to! I want to!”

Triglav, which literally means three heads/chiefs, is a three-headed deity in Slavic mythology. The heads
were believed to represent sky, earth, and the underworld.
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69

The academician sighed, “Shurasik, why are you raising your hand? Have I even
asked anything? Maybe I want volunteers for the conservation of slugs.”
“Me, me! I want everything!” Shurasik jumped even higher.
“You’re insufferable, Shurasik. You know everything in the world. Now and then I
want to make you the head of Tibidox and retire myself… Okay, so be it, answer…”
Shurasik rushed up to the blackboard, and half a minute later it was entirely
covered with the pattern of runes and magic numbers. But there was not enough space
for Shurasik, so he continued to write on the wall. The class was quietly lost in the
embraces of Morpheus.56 The all-knowing Shurasik acted as a lull on everyone.
Suddenly Vanka Valyalkin touched Tanya’s elbow. “The moustache! Look at the
moustache!” he whispered.
Tanya saw that the tip of one side of Sardanapal’s moustache had wiggled out and
was now tinkering purposefully with the lock of the fastener, using the falling-off temple
of the glasses as a skeleton key. Snap! The lock opened, the fastener flew away, and the
moustache began to dance belligerently, doing the most improbable things. In an
instant, it brought the academician’s calm beard to a rage, and it, rushing into an attack,
coiled like a noose around the neck of its owner.
“Well, Barabas Karabasov!!! Well, BARABAS!!! You utterly provoke me!”
Sardanapal said significantly, shaking his fist.
***
After class, when Tanya, Vanka, and Bab-Yagun were in the reading-room getting
ready for Removal of Evil Eye, and Shurasik, perfectly quiet at a distant table, was
copying in minute handwriting The Most Terrible Spells or Two Hundred and One
Methods to Intimidate Moronoids, a dishevelled Dusya Dollova came into the readingroom in a great hurry. She looked as if fifty spirits had installed themselves in her and
each was pulling her in its direction.
“There, there, there!!!” she yelled from the threshold, waving her arms like a
switchman having lost his flag. Dusya was choked up with an abundance of feelings and
could in no way explain what, essentially, had happened.
“Easy, Dollova! Don’t panic! Just answer yes or no. Fire? No fire? Evil spirits
attacked? Evil spirits didn’t attack? Let’s assume the worst. The mermaid slipped away
from Slander?” Bab-Yagun tried to find out.
“No! Hugo the Sly has been found! He’s in the basement, by the Sinister Gates!”
Dollova, having found her voice, yelled and rushed on.
“What?! Hugo?” Yagun sighed.

In Greek mythology, Morpheus is the god of dreams. The name of the opiate drug Morphine is derived
from the name Morpheus.
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56

70

When Tanya, Vanka, and Yagun came tearing into the basement and forced their
way through the invisible arch, which seemed like an impassable wall from the outside,
there was already nowhere for an apple to fall near the Sinister Gates. The Cyclops
guards tried unsuccessfully to keep back the crowd. It was only when Eyeless Horror
flowed out from a crack in the floor and Slander Slanderych, Medusa, and the Great
Tooth descended from above along the spiral staircase that the students surged back.
Everyone saw that the torn cover of the book Tricks of White Magicians in
the Retelling by Hugo the Sly was lying in front of the gates. The frame of the
author’s portrait was empty for the time being; however, it was felt that Hugo was
somewhere nearby. Someone was fiddling about inside the portrait and sighing noisily.
“Who first found the cover?” Slander asked severely.
The Cyclopes began to bustle, looked around, and nudged each other with their
elbows.
“I’ll ask again: who found the cover?” the principal repeated.
“Come on, Liponya, own up! What could be here? The boss demands, so!” the
Cyclopes began to drone.
Picking at his nose embarrassingly, a very strong Cyclops with a knotty club pushed
his way in front. Shifting from foot to foot under Slander’s stare, Liponya muttered
confusingly that their bonfire had gone out and he was sent to search for kindling. He
went and saw a cardboard box lying around, and he grabbed the box…
“So that, you know, it isn’t just lying around this way!” he stated, turning to his
comrades in search of approval. The other Cyclopes nodded and made a noise,
confirming that it was not a good idea for cardboard boxes to just be lying around this
way. It was not good when cardboard boxes were lying around, disorderly, suspiciously
even… They, those serving, would never allow this.
“And so I carried it here, began to fan the coals,” Liponya continued, already
growing bolder. “Only, well, I put it towards the coal, and it started to yell… Well, right
away I didn’t like that! Then I put it to the fire again, and it started to scream bloody
murder! Then my friends came! I told them what happened and they didn’t like that
either… We started, well, to investigate, whether there was some change in the
cardboard box…”
“I’ll continue this myself…” Medusa, standing next to Slander, coldly cut him short.
“A whole bunch of stupid Cyclopes gathered here, and all were amused by sticking the
cover into the fire and listening to it scream. Isn’t that so?”
The Cyclopes again made a noise and reiterated that when a cardboard box
squealed, it was not a good thing. Today a cardboard box squealed, and then tomorrow
evil spirits would come and just try to give everything to the dogs… They, those serving,
would not allow this.
“Your conclusion doesn’t interest me! Facts interest me! What happened after you
shoved the cover into the fire?” Medusa asked.
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71

Looking sideways simultaneously fearfully and reproachfully at the hissing snakes
on her head, Liponya wiped his nose with a sleeve. “Then…” he said piteously, “we didn’t
have time, well, to investigate, when suddenly appears this little ghost in a wig – evil,
darn, just like evil spirits, and like it would hit us with a spell! We just scattered like
roaches! I don’t like this treatment, oh, not at all! What a lump under the eye! We
instantly sent upstairs… To report, well, to the boss!”
“Enough. Be so kind to leave all the remaining details of your story for retelling to
your descendants. One more question, this time the last. Where did you pick up the
cover?” Medusa asked severely.
“How should I remember... It just wasn’t here, not in Tibidox… In the nearest
thicket by the pond, I think…” Liponya said with relief, having decided that the
thunderstorm had passed. However, in reality it had only begun.
“IN A THICKET BY THE POND? Do you mean to say that you cut down firewood
for the bonfire in Forbidden Grove?” Slander instantly got mad.
Liponya got such a fright that he dropped his club on his toes. Although he was
thrice taller than the short principal, like the other Cyclopes, he feared him to death. It
was comical to watch as Slander advanced on the enormous Cyclops, who stepped back,
sweeping away everything in his path without even noticing.
“Do you have any idea what Forbidden Grove is and what happened the last time a
tree was cut down there? And what tree it was? What do you have in your head? Jelly?
Solid bone?” Slander was seething.
The Great Tooth looked around at the attentive ears of the students and, after
approaching Slander, softly touched his elbow. “Better not talk about Forbidden Grove
now. There are kids here. The less one knows – the better one sleeps,” she said quietly.
On recollecting himself, Slander stopped and waved his hand, showing that
Liponya was free to go and there were no more questions for him. The Cyclops, glad that
everything ended well, dived into the crowd of his friends.
“Well, how did I do? How did I nail these magicians?” he asked uncertainly.
“Great stuff! A smack slam! Let them know us!” the rest cheered him up. Liponya
beamed and, restoring emotional balance right before their eyes, went to pick up his
club.
Tanya saw the Great Tooth carefully squat down near the cover and tap on the edge
with a finger. “Hugo, are you here? Come on out!” she said.
Someone started to fiddle about inside. However, the offended Hugo flatly refused
to come out. After five minutes of begging, he condescended only to stick a hand out of
the frame and posted a sign: Do not disturb! I am in restoration!
The students started giggling, seeing that the Great Tooth had suffered a fiasco. But
she, as was evident, knew excellently how to appeal excessively to the presumptuous
spectre. “Wonderful! If you don’t have time, of course, we won’t begin to disturb you,”
Dentistikha announced calmly. “In that case, the genie Abdullah should be told that he
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72

can throw out the remaining part of the book… He has long maintained that it’s
gibberish.”
“GIBBERISH? HOW DARE THIS ABDULLAH! HE’S A HACK HIMSELF!
BOTCHES CURSES IN VERSE, THE INCOMPETENT!” someone yelled from inside the
cover.
Dentistikha smiled subtly. “Why leap so quickly before you look? Abdullah has
some quite good stanzas, everyone knows this. But he maintains that there isn't a single
true story in your book. He even proposes to rename it Artistic Delirium of White
Magicians in the Lies of Hugo the Sly.”
“DELIRIUM? I’LL SHOW HIM DELIRIUM! TAKE ME TO THIS ABDULLAH
IMMEEEDIATELY!” the ambitious author began to yell in a bad voice.
An instant later, Hugo the Sly jumped out of the cover. It cannot be said that his
appearance had changed a great deal in the time that he was stolen. He was still plump,
with a face round as a pancake and a pug nose. From indignation, his powdered wig was
crooked, revealing the shiniest bald spot in the world. In Hugo’s chubby hands was an
ancient halberd, which he was brandishing, presenting a threat not so much to those
around but to himself.
“WHERE’S THIS ABDULLAH? If he’s a man, let him defend himself! I’ll
demonstrate to him the difference between a hack and a heck!” he yelled.
“I was joking, Hugo! Forgive me! I only wanted to coax you into this world. It’s
excusable. We were so bored,” Dentistikha said softly.
“Joking? So you were joking?” The spectre was puzzled.
“Naturally… In actual fact, Abdullah said nothing bad about you. He even said that
he often reads your book in the evening. Nothing comforts him, a dark voodoo magician,
as much as white magicians also being capable of questionable things. Besides, the book
is written in excellent language, as he asserts.”
Hugo the Sly cooled down instantly and started to stuff the halberd back into the
frame. “He actually said that?” he relaxed. “Hmm… Well, his curses in verse aren’t too
bad generally… Some are even quite alright… Okay, I take back my words.”
“Let me through!” Medusa demanded, having stood on the side until now. The
children made room.
Docent Gorgonova squatted next to Hugo, patiently waiting until the ridiculous
spectre finished with his halberd. “Hugo, doesn’t it seem to you that you have something
to explain?” she asked.
“Oh, anything you like!” the spectre generously agreed.
“Who stole you?”
“The question, of course, is interesting. But in reality there isn’t one question here,
but a whole three! First: who? Second: why? Third: why did he return me? And I can
answer none of them. I can only assume that this wasn’t by accident! Possibly, there’s

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73

certain mystical, and I would even venture to say sacral, meaning hidden in this…” Hugo
the Sly informed her, inflating his cheeks importantly.
“But do you at least know something?” Medusa asked disappointedly.
“It goes without saying!” Hugo bragged. “I know all sorts of different things. Two
thousand seven hundred and two spells by heart and about ten thousand more with
prompts! Impressive, huh? I can also let out two green sparks in succession (but not
more than that), push a huge camel through the eye of a needle, drink up the sea, and
reach the centre of the earth on foot…”
“Hugo!!! We searched all over Buyan! Don’t make a fool of me! Where were you?”
Slander bellowed.
“I have no intention of doing that!” the spectre was offended. “They grabbed me
and insolently pulled me out of the book. But what happened later, I don’t remember. I
only know that the cover was lying in a dark place. But it wasn’t damp there, that was
certain… I was rather bored, I fooled around with puzzles and all kinds of logic riddles.
I’d make up a riddle, erase it from memory, and rack my brain over how and what… Not
a bad idea, is it? And then one fine morning I woke up and discovered light all around.
‘Oho, Hugo, they’ve abandoned you in Forbidden Grove! Wonder why?’ I said to myself.
I hung around there for a couple of days, until this dear one-eyed fellow with a club
discovered me and started to put me into the fire.”
And that was everything he managed to explain. Anything else Hugo either did not
know or for some reason did not want to pass on. The crowd assembled by Sinister
Gates began to disperse gradually. Everyone had his own business and, besides,
dragonball practice was about to start any minute now.
Medusa picked up the cover and went to the spiral staircase. Sinister Gates began
to shake. Blind and deaf, but all-seeing and all-hearing Chaos started to bang, groan,
laugh, and howl in thousands of different voices.
In the evening, already lying down to sleep, Tanya threw a casual glance at the
mirror. A long zigzag crack appeared on the glass. Thinking that perhaps Coffinia, easily
losing her temper when she did not like her hairstyle or a pimple had come up on her
cheek, had cracked it, Tanya took a step towards the glass. At that very moment, her
reflection broke into pieces, but on the other side of the mirror, as if cut by the crack into
two halves, appeared Mad Glazier.
The hunchback smiled disgustingly at Tanya, beckoned her to him, and then,
clutching with his hands, crawled along the crack into the upper corner and froze there
like a spider. Not turning away, Tanya looked into the glass. The mirror misted over
from within, as if someone breathed moistly and hotly on it. For a minute, something
sticky and vague passed over on that side, the swamp in the mirror bubbled, and then
suddenly, with frightening clarity, four figures showed through…

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74

Their earlier indistinct, blurred image now became considerably more distinct,
more defined. It seemed to Tanya that she was seeing dazzling points of eyes under the
golden veil of the three-faced one and hearing the terrible neigh of his horse…
“We are close… Very soon we’ll be there! We demand that which belongs to us, or…
death!” she heard three voices flowing together into one.

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75

Chapter 7
TRIGLAV, PERUN, VELES,57 AND SIMORG
At dawn, Tanya was woken up by indistinct, persistent muttering, sounding in her
ears for about half an hour already. At first – in her sleep – she thought that Mad
Glazier, often coming alive before dawn, was muttering, but she discerned that the voice
was female. However, what forced her to shake off the remnants of sleep was not even
this but the drop of hot wax, which fell from someone’s candle onto her neck.
“In the ocean-sea, on the island of Buyan, there is the white-fiery stone Alatyr, 58
controlled by no one; a powerful force is concealed under this stone, and there is no end
to the force. I set free that powerful force on the pretty maiden… phooey, I’m also a
pretty maiden… on Tatiana… since when do I call Grotty by name? I place the powerful
force in all the joints and half joints, in all the bones and half bones, veins and half veins,
in her clear eyes, in her rosy cheeks, in her lively legs… Powerful force, you burn her hot
blood, torment her white bosom, you turn her passionate heart to love for the most
handsome young man in the world, Gury Puper. My words are strong, like the whitefiery stone Alatyr. The one who will drink all the water from the sea, who will pick all the
grass from the field, let him not overcome my plot, not carry away the powerful force…”
Having carefully opened her eyes slightly, Tanya saw Coffinia, who, leaning over
her, was quickly reading an incantation from a very thick book. The candle she was
holding in her hand threw a sinister sheen on her swarthy face. Cryptova was so
absorbed with the reading that she did not notice that Tanya was awake. Tanya wanted
to snatch her book at first, but, after thinking it over, decided to act more wisely. She
closed her eyes again and, pretending to be asleep, set up a block Hoverus breakoffim,
overriding the action of any magic directed at her. Now Cryptova could bedevil her soul
as much as she wanted. She could even boil all the world’s oceans with sparks: all the
same, there would not be any use. True, it was necessary to let out a green spark under
the blanket so that Cryptova would not see the flash. It smelt of burning wool. Coffinia,
not understanding where this smell came from, frowned in disgust.
“Grotty always reeks of all kinds of magic canaries and humpbacks! 59 It’s simply
impossible to live with this dirty creature in one room!” she muttered. “Okay, sorted this
out… One dark spell is good, but two are better… Where did I jot it down?”

In ancient Slavic mythology, Veles, or Volos, is one of the major supernatural powers of earth and the
underworld. There is repeated enmity between Veles, the wise, old deity, and Perun, the warrior-ruler,
representing the opposition of nature on earth against that of heaven.
58
“In the ocean-sea ... stone Alatyr” is a very common beginning of a Russian incantation, Buyan being a
mythical island and the stone Alatyr being a magical stone in Slavic mythology.
59
Magical canaries have featured in fairy tales, e.g., The Canary Prince and The Enchanted Canary, and
magical humpbacks refer to The Little Humpback Horse (1834), a famous fairy tale in verse by Russian
poet Petr Pavlovich Yershov (1815-69).
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57

76

Coffinia turned over her bed and, after rummaging under it for some time,
extracted a fat biting rat.
“If you don’t recognize me again, I’ll knot your tail! Myownis beaconis!” she
whispered, with a red spark transforming the rat into a notebook. This was Coffinia’s
most secret book, where she noted down the most important spells from the forbidden
ones and learned them by heart. On principle, Cryptova copied no other spells,
considering that if they did not manage to ban them, there would be no point anyway.
“Seems that I pushed this to the end somewhere… Aha, here!”
Heindel, Greekus, and Senecus,
Johnson, Freudus, Ciceris,
Fichte, Leibnitz, and Baconis,
Krishnamurti, Lewes, Fromm,
Kant, Spinoza, and Plato.60
You riseupum, wakeupum,
Grotter for Puperos sufferum,
Shockus will teachus acheum,
Deceivis, persuadum,
Passion be her deathum!
Coffinia turned on her heels three times, each time releasing one red spark. Then
she looked searchingly at Tanya, hid the notebook, and, after blowing on the candle, said
quietly to herself, “Phew! Well, if Grotty doesn’t fall in love with Puper now, I don’t even
know what else to do! Except summon the Mafioso cupid. But what good is that, this
nitwit will muff a shot two steps away all the same!”
Cryptova lay down, tossed and turned in the darkness, yawned sweetly, and fell
asleep almost at once. Black Curtains immediately stretched with greediness to the
headboard of her bed and, lit up with a bluish otherworldly radiance, started to reflect
all kinds of nonsense. Puper, looking around fearfully, was bolting through the forest.
Behind him, on a gigantic parrot, flew Verka with a whole bag of dragonball balls.
Escaping from Verka, Puper, not noticing, approached a tree, on which sat Coffinia and
Gunya Glomov with a fishing rod prepared to hook Puper with a spoon lure…
“Come on, Guny, come on! Don’t miss him! I need Puper alive!” Coffinia ordered in
her dream, turning ardently and distinctly to the pillow.
These are all names of philosophers: Max Heindel (1865-1919), Danish-American; Lucius Annaeus
Seneca (4 BC-65), Roman; Mark Johnson (1949-), American; Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian;
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), Ancient Greek; Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), German;
Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716), German; Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English; Jiddu
Krishnamurti (1895-1986), Indian; George Henry Lewes (1817-78), English; Erich Seligmann Fromm
(1900-80), German; Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German; Baruch Spinoza (1632-77), Dutch; Plato
(428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC), Ancient Greek.
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77

Tanya was lying in bed, looking at the luminous Curtains and reflecting on how
lucky she was. Had she not awoken by chance and not managed to utter Hoverus
breakoffim, she would now be in love with Puper and beside herself with worry from the
love. Why did Coffinia need this? What was she striving for with this?
Suddenly a hunch flickered in her. The spiritistic séance! Plague-del-Cake said: the
one whom Tanya Grotter truly loves will betray her! Here Coffinia hit upon the idea that
she would fall in love with Gury and he would betray her! Such a simple plan, but it
made a lot of sense.
Having decided that it was not worthwhile to pardon Cryptova indiscriminately,
Tanya looked around the room. Page was languishing on its stand in the closet in the
predawn grey haze.
“Poor Dear Tonianno! Tired of being the stand? Probably want to lie down for a
while? Klapis-chapis-twirlpedalis!” Tanya chanted, letting out a green spark. This was
the motor spell, provided precisely for similar situations.
The skeleton started moving. Squeaking its bones, it jumped off the stand, got
under the blanket beside Coffinia, and settled down against her back, affectionately
placing its skull on her shoulder. Here the motor magic wore out and Page froze.
“Of course, I handled it badly! One can say, it’s simply unworthy of a white
magician… On the other hand, wouldn’t it be nice for Coffinia, waking up in the
morning, to discover her romantic friend beside her?” Tanya said.
“Puper, move away! Bank account first, then kiss!” Coffinia muttered in her dream,
moving the skeleton aside with her shoulder.
Before falling asleep, Tanya contemplated Black Curtains for a while. On them,
Gunya Glomov was a young Cossack dancing dashingly, but Zhora Zhikin and Gury,
hooked by a spoon lure, were performing operatic arias and fanning Coffinia with large
Turkish fans on long handles, clearly sawn-off broom handles.
***
The next morning, recalling the crack on the glass and the threat of Triglav, Tanya
realized that she definitely must consult someone. But whom? She decided not to go
immediately to Sardanapal or Medusa. The Great Tooth was so in love with her
Gottfried that, even in class, instead of the usual evil eyes she would end up with huge
bouquets of fresh-cut roses. Cupids flew around Deni as whole flocks of wings. The
chubby lads made use of the moment and kept asking the softened Deni for wafers,
candies, and pastries. Hmm, the Great Tooth was hardly in a state to grasp reality
distinctly.
Yagge? This idea was already better; nevertheless, before Yagge, Tanya thought of
Tararakh. She set off for him soon after lunch. Vanka was already at Tararakh’s. He was

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78

holding a large bright-winged bird with a human face while Tararakh was washing out
and dressing its wounds.
“Look, cursed harpies! I’m going to get you!” The pithecanthropus threatened the
harpies, which were flickering behind the stained glass with unpleasant cries.
“Good that you came! Shoo away the harpies, Vanka’s hands are occupied!”
Tararakh was pleased, after noticing Tanya.
Tanya threw open the window and released several green sparks. The harpies,
screaming disgustingly and dumping stinky blobs of droppings onto the lawn under the
tower, sped away to the forest. Tanya was ready to swear that they would find a
shrivelled tree in the forest, settle down on it, and quarrel cantankerously, if, of course,
they did not by chance discover good carrion that had been lying around for a while.
Then they would have a feast without fail, and Lifeless Griffin, with its remarkable
instinct for death, would attach itself to them. Lifeless Griffin had disappeared to heaven
knows where for a long time, but it had recently reappeared. Tararakh claimed that he
saw it on the shore.
The pithecanthropus finished dressing the bird’s wound and, after taking it from
Vanka, put it on the oak crossbar perch secured in one of the corners of his den. The
firebird, sitting on the same perch, blazed its plumage, greeting the guest.
“Have you seen this bird before?” Tararakh asked cheerfully. “This is Alkonost.61
It’s a rare guest in our neck of the woods, flew in from overseas, just as Sirin. 62 It lays
eggs on the shore and submerges them deep in the sea. It just submerges them, and
immediately the water becomes calm for seven days until the nestlings hatch. But the
harpies… they twirl nearby and wait when it begins to lay eggs, in order to peck the eggs
before it sinks them into the abyss… They’re terribly sly, these harpies, see everything.
Good that I turned up… We beat them off the eggs, it’s just that Alkonost, the poor
wretch, got pecked nevertheless.”
The bird with a human face looked gratefully at Tararakh. It seemed to Tanya that
it understood everything that the pithecanthropus was saying, to the last word. But then
Alkonost, covered with wounds, lifted its head high and prepared to sing. Its eyes were
enthusiastically half-closed. Tanya thought that she would be interested in hearing its
song, as she was curious to find out whether it would be a human song or a bird song,
but Tararakh suddenly threw his arms around her and dragged her away to the side.
“Ears!” he yelled. “Cover up your ears!”
Tanya covered up her ears but Vanka tarried. He was about to lift his hands, but
suddenly lowered them and stiffened, smiling blissfully. His face became aloof and
In Slavic mythology, Alkonost is a bird with the head and upper body of a woman. The image of
Alkonost dated from a Greek myth about the girl Alcyone, transformed by the gods into a kingfisher.
Alkonost’s singing is so beautiful that those hearing it forget everything else.
62
Sirin is another half-woman, half-bird mythological creature of ancient Russian legends. It is based on
Greek myths about sirens that lure sailors to their death with their beautiful songs. According to a popular
legend, Sirin is a bird of sorrow, while Alkonost is a bird of joy.
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happy, like a person who had just walked through a desert, was almost baked alive, and
finally acquired on his tongue a spoonful of cold ice cream.
Tararakh rushed to the box where he kept almost everything, and, grabbing some
beeswax, sealed up his ear cavities. Then he ran up to Alkonost and abruptly threw a bag
over the bird’s head. The bird took this philosophically.
After taking the wax out of his ears, Tararakh made sure that Alkonost was not
singing anymore and started to shake Vanka’s shoulders. The slender Valyalkin was
reeling from side to side in Tararakh’s huge hands. Gradually his eyes again became
intelligent. “Tararakh, what’s with you?” he asked.
“What’s your name? Answer immediately!” the pithecanthropus demanded.
“Me? Vanka!”
“Last name, what’s your last name?”
“Tararakh, you’re indeed overheated! Perhaps I should even show you my birth
certificate? VALYALKIN! Let me go!” Vanka was outraged and his teeth were knocking
from the energetic shaking.
The pithecanthropus unclenched his hands and wiped the sweat off his forehead in
relief. “Whew, lucky! Never listen to Alkonost’s song! Whoever listens will forget about
everything in the world!”
“But I didn’t forget!”
“Thank The Ancient One! Alkonost probably didn’t have time to bring its song to
that very place...”
“To what very place?” Tanya asked.
“I don’t know. And nobody knows, and whoever finds out, then can’t describe it
later. They only say that there’s such a place in its song. You forget everything in the
world — and there’s nothing else you can do but listen further to Alkonost. So I checked
if you remember your own name...”
The bag with the winged singer moved with displeasure. Alkonost was annoyed
that they had interrupted it. It still wanted to sing, it just had no enthusiasm in the bag.
“Sancta simplicitas! [Oh, holy simplicity! (Latin)]”63 Theophilus Grotter’s ring
squeaked. Like the majority of its statements, this was incomprehensible but extremely
didactic.
“What did you feel when Alkonost was singing? What was it like in general, its
song?” Tanya asked Vanka.
“I… I don’t even know. As if you also don’t hear as it sings and whether it sings at
all… But it was cool. It seemed to me that it picked me up and spun, turned… Carried me
somewhere. Your chest was filled with air and you almost took off. No need of legs, they
only hinder. I was both here and not here, and everywhere…” Valyalkin confessed,
smiling uncertainly.
This Latin phrase is often used ironically in reference to another’s naïveté. It is said to be the last words
of Jan Hus (1369-1415), the Czech religious reformer and martyr, as he saw an elderly peasant adding
wood to the fire that was burning Hus at the stake.
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Tararakh scratched his overgrown chest with his short fingers in a preoccupied
manner. “Oh, come, goose, the young man has quite lost his head! Must patch this bird
up soon and release it into the open! Or else the deuce knows what the singing can lead
to!” he stated. “And you, Vanka, next time listen to me. If I tell you to cover up your ears,
quit stalling, do as I say! Okay, let’s go have tea, and you, composer, sit in the bag, since
you don’t know how to behave!”
Drinking tea with Tararakh was fascinating, although also rather dangerous. In his
den, as always, it was not possible to find a clean cup. The pithecanthropus’ numerous
charges, and even he himself, managed to break everything within a few days. At the
same time, Tararakh refused to acknowledge that all his dishes were broken and claimed
that they were misplaced somewhere. Now, after a fruitless search, the pithecanthropus
got several poison jars and sent Tanya to wash them.
“Don’t be afraid that you’ll be poisoned… Baby Stinktopp and I have already drunk
out of them, and nothing… For the present we’re alive, although, of course, the poison
could also turn up slowly,” he calmed her.
“Stinktopp? He comes here?” Vanka asked jealously.
“What else! It seems he gets out everyday. Plays here with all the animals and quite
often brings someone with him… Yesterday he caught an adder somewhere there, and
recently brought tarantulas in a jar... He’ll grow up a smart one, only really a bit too
harmful. Now and then I can’t figure out what he has more: love for all kinds of living
creatures or a desire to harm…” Tararakh said placidly.
While talking, he did not sit doing nothing. He filled up the dented Tula samovar
with wood chips and, after putting a boot onto the pipe, 64 began to fan the fire. The
pithecanthropus in essence did not wear footwear, and the only boot he possessed – it
must be said, of colossal size – was used exclusively for starting the fire of the samovar.
Sometimes it happened that snakes crawled into the boot, but Tararakh did not notice
this, and then from the samovar pipe, a hissing ball, consumed with a thirst for
vengeance, would roll out.
Tanya was already quite ready to tell Tararakh about the Hunchback with Pimply
Nose and what she had seen in the mirror, but here an agitated Yagun rushed into the
pithecanthropus’ den.
“Imagine, I come here now and accidentally overhear how the house-spirit and his
wife frighten their kiddie! He was up to some mischief there! And whom do you think
they frighten him with? My granny! They say she isn’t Yagge but Baba Yaga and lives in
a hut on chicken legs; a fence of human bones around the hut, a skull on the fence, a
human leg instead of a bolt, hands instead of latches, and the lock is a mouth with sharp
teeth. She entices guests and cuts belts from the backs of those sleeping! What a mess! I
wanted to swing with my right; just that all three of them slipped off somewhere. I only
A traditional samovar has a large metal container and a metal pipe running vertically through its
middle. The pipe is filled with fuel for heating the water in the surrounding container. Usually a 6-8-inch
chimney is attached to the pipe to ensure a draft. This chimney is removed after the water boils.
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heard as the female house-spirit said to the kid, ‘See this youth? This is the grandson of
that nightmarish old woman! If you behave badly, you’ll become like Uncle Yagun!’ I’m
downright mad, how sharp-tongued the evil spirits have become.”
Tanya looked at the clock in amazement. The only hand pointed with confidence at
a fire-extinguisher ball. “Yagun, why aren’t you at dragonball? Perhaps there’s no
practice now?” she asked.
“Ha! Is it really possible to train normally now? Nightingale O. Robber is simply
like a crusher. The team in no way gel in the new composition, but he takes this to heart.
Just that he whistles and you’ll go deaf right away! Completely Daedalus 65 in a minor
key; he doesn’t come out of his book, only grumbles. Coffinia squabbles with everyone
indiscriminately. Lotkova puts on airs. She drops my notes into Goyaryn’s mouth and
asks it to breathe fire on them. She calls this ‘saving the planet from garbage.’”
“Why would that be?” Vanka was astonished.
Yagun winced. “As if it’s wrong that I looked at Zalizina… But how did I look at
her? Well, she’s a pretty girl… What, now I have to send for dark glasses if I want to look
around? Seven-Stump-Holes and Goryanov have simply gone off the deep end – stuffed
some rotten stuff into their vacuums; it’s dangerous to fly within a hundred metres of
them. And they still claim that they fly better than me! Tough like hard-boiled eggs! So I
decided to skip practice.”
“You do know that Nightingale can’t stand absence. A couple without valid reasons
– and whew!” Tanya made an expressive hand gesture.
“Who told you that I don’t have a valid reason? I wrote myself a release form!
Granny’s place is full of magic forms. She never recounts them,” Yagun said, looking
sideways at Tararakh, who just walked away to look to Alkonost.
“Forms, yes. But without The Ancient One’s seal they’re invalid,” Vanka reminded
him. The Ancient One’s seal was called the special seal of honesty in Tibidox. All the
teachers and Yagge had similar seals. To use a seal was easy, especially for Yagun.
However, for one presenting a fraud, instead of a seal, He is boldly lying! would flash
brightly.
“What are you talking about? You must think I don’t know about the seal! Look,
you better be quiet!” Yagun stated, proudly displaying the form. Release confirmed –
the seal approved.
“What if you’re really sick? You don’t know, but the seal does?” Vanka asked
anxiously.
“I’ve simply figured out how it works,” Yagun grunted. “It all depends on what
you’re thinking about when you stamp. If you’re afraid that the fraud will be discovered
or afraid about an inquiry, then it’s useless, nothing will turn out. But I started to think
about how I don’t want to be in the dark department again, how tough it is to be an
In Greek mythology, Daedalus is a skilful craftsman and classical artist. He has the reputation of being
an innovator in many arts.
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orphan, and how wonderful it is that I at least have Granny. In fact, I was downright
moved, even dropped a tear, no kidding… Here the seal confirmed that this is all true…”
Tanya looked attentively at Yagun. Now and then, she felt not simply a kindred
spirit but a super kindred spirit in him. If only Yagun were not so restless and frivolous.
“These magic objects are, between us, quite stupid. The main thing is to figure out
what is the essence of the magic and all that stuff,” Yagun continued.
“YAGUN! LOOK!” Tanya suddenly shouted.
The magic form suddenly flared up in his hands. The flame quickly engulfed it on
all sides. The practice-skipping commentator barely had time to let go of it and stared
gloomily at the white flakes of ash.
“Nasty!” Yagun said, blowing on his burned hand. “It seems I underestimated The
Ancient One… And who made me talk?”
Seeing that she could hardly pick a more suitable moment, Tanya described the
four to Tararakh. “One of them with three faces. The other, half-human half-bird, called
Simorg… They’ll come here, and death to all, guilty or not...” she finished.
The jar in Tararakh’s hands broke. He did not even drop it, he simply squeezed it
too hard. Good that the samovar did not yet have time to boil. Its copper sides had
barely begun to get hot. He forced Tanya to repeat her story several times in all details.
“When was this?” he asked sharply.
“When what? When did he threaten?” The girl did not understand.
“That’s not so important. When did you first see Simorg and the others?”
“The other week. Perhaps even a little earlier,” Tanya said uncertainly. “But later I
saw them again; they had gotten much closer. Hunchback with Pimply Nose showed
them to me. Well, Mad Glazier.”
“A vile character! I immediately didn’t like him! The feeling is mutual, it seems!”
Yagun stated authoritatively.
Tararakh shook the splinters of the jar from his knees and got up decisively. He set
Alkonost down in a large cage, so that the injured bird would not struggle in the bag,
and draped the outside of the cage.
“You tell such things immediately. Remember: IMMEDIATELY! If they happen in
the middle of the night, then go tell right away in the middle of the night. Come with
me… We must see Sardanapal!” he ordered Tanya.
“And us?” Vanka asked.
“You stay here… Seems to me that nothing good awaits us; if so, then it’s no good
for you to butt in,” Tararakh said sternly.
***
Academician Sardanapal was angry. His moustache was bouncing. His cheeks were
blazing like a traffic light. He could not stay still and was running around the office. The
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83

dark-magic books were fighting in the cage, transforming first into snakes, then into
toads. It had long been time to feed them, but the academician did not even glance in
the direction of the cage.
The golden sphinx, narrowing its eyes in an unfriendly manner at Tararakh, sat on
guard at the doors. It had attempted not to let the instructor of veterinary magic into the
office, and now its pelt had a dishevelled look. But then, it seemed it had clarified the
difference between a pithecanthropus and a normal magician. While a magician is
thinking, the pithecanthropus has already acted.
Besides Sardanapal, Tanya, and Tararakh, Yagge, Medusa, Slander Slanderych, and
the Great Tooth were also in the spacious office of the for-life-and-posthumous head of
Tibidox. Gottfried Bouillon was absent: armed with the spear that never missed [Do not
trust antique ads! It simply cut down very crudely.], he was roaming around the
basement in search of cracks, through which evil spirits would infiltrate. The evil spirits
made faces and taunted him, looking out from almost every corner and hiding
immediately when Gottfried had barely rushed at them.
The mirror from Tanya’s room, which Slander had recently transferred here with
observance of all precautionary measures, was next to the academician’s desk. The crack
in the mirror had become even deeper, even more noticeable. Now it was no longer
simply zigzag – thin threads scattered from it in different directions. It seemed the
smallest cobweb covered the mirror on the other side.
Hunchback with Pimply Nose did not appear. However, it was perceived that he
was somewhere close. From time to time, his giggling reached out from the glass or a
thin hand flickered for a moment. Hunchback got hold of some random reflection and,
like a spider, dragged it to a corner, where he started to rip it up and crumple it as if it
was old paper. The reflections opened their mouths in a soundless cry and in panic
shielded themselves with their hands like the living. It was sickening. But even more
sickening was that no one – neither Sardanapal, nor Medusa, nor Deni, nor Slander –
could do anything about this. They had no authority over the world in the mirror and
Mad Glazier knew this.
Academician Sardanapal ran up to Tanya, got up slightly on tiptoes (Tanya was
already a little taller) and exclaimed with bitterness, “How could you? Why, tell me, why
did you settle this spirit in the mirror at all? What if we already missed the moment and
have no time to prepare Tibidox for a siege? There’s nothing worse than receiving a
treacherous blow from one you trust! WHY DID YOU DO THIS?”
Tanya looked at the crimson cheeks of the head of Tibidox and at his bouncing
moustache, which was trying to flick her on the nose. She really did not understand
what was so terrible in her action, but just in case, she was obstinate. While still in
Moscow, she had developed a special habit of responding to Uncle Herman and Aunt
Ninel raising their voices. When they accused her of something, it was as if she hardened

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84

inside, shrunk, and imagined almost visibly how the strange words bounced off her and
fell at her feet. “Like peas off a wall! Cursed fool!” Durnev said.
“Well, so I installed Glazier! What now, are we yelling till the evening? Is it
necessary to eat me alive now?” Tanya blurted out. In reality, she was answering Uncle
Herman, whom she just imagined for a moment in place of Sardanapal.
The academician stopped short, as if Tanya had shoved him in the chest. He took a
step, got back down on his heels, immediately becoming shorter than Tanya, and stared
at the girl in astonishment, as if seeing her for the first time. His eyes behind the glasses
seemed bigger and more defenceless than they were in reality. Tanya became ashamed
and swore to herself that she could not begin to justify her action anymore.
Sardanapal snapped his fingers. The ancient armchair with a carved back ran up to
him on bent legs. “It seems you don’t understand at all why we’re railing at you...” the
academician said sadly, lowering himself into the armchair. “It’s bad that you didn’t
immediately tell us what you saw in the mirror. However, by all accounts, this isn ’t your
biggest mistake. Your main – even criminal – fault is that you cast the spell to summon
the spirit of the mirror. It didn’t bother you that this dark-magic spell is from the list of a
hundred forbidden ones. You didn’t even think for a moment why it’s in the list at all.”
Tanya despondently shook her head. She had wanted to frighten and annoy
Coffinia. But this would hardly be a substantial reason for the academician …
“What conversation can there be here! A girl from the white department scatters
red sparks right and left and casually casts dark-magic spells! On top of that, not simple
ones but forbidden magic from the list! No morals!” Slander was furious. “I propose
zombi…”
“Enough, Slander! We all valued the freshness and novelty of your thought,”
Sardanapal interrupted him.
“Yes, but…”
“I said, enough! We’ll return later to consider the fate of the student Grotter.”
Something appeared in the voice of the outwardly defenceless academician, which
compelled Slander to become silent immediately.
Sardanapal again turned to Tanya. “You young people, for some reason, consider
that these are random spells in the list. Or that they were entered there without proper
grounds. Isn’t that so?” Tanya did not answer.
“Some day you’ll understand that there isn’t one random spell there! Do you at
least imagine what is happening in the Beyond World? How many dissatisfied,
formidable forces are there, which managed to avoid imprisonment behind the Sinister
Gates? They would be happy to sow destruction and death here, but they need a
loophole in order to break through into our world. And this cursed mirror became this
loophole when you installed Hunchback in it!”
Hunchback with Pimply Nose again began to rattle the glass with laughter. He
caught the reflection of the Great Tooth and was now tearing it up into long strips right
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85

before the eyes of the one to whom it belonged. The reflection shrivelled and aged before
her eyes. Soon all that remained of the Great Tooth was the head – wrinkled like that of
an ancient old woman. Hunchback with Pimply Nose carelessly tossed the head on his
palm and flung it away into the enclosed depth of the mirror.
The Great Tooth turned and went further away from the glass. Now all the
instructors were standing so that nothing was reflected in the mirror except the walls of
the office and the spines of magic books from the academician’s personal library. It was
obvious that Hunchback had little interest in them. He tore up the reflections of a few
books, but quickly became bored and crawled away somewhere.
“What is most annoying is that there’s no magic to shut him down,” the
academician said despondently.
“What if we break the mirror?” Tararakh proposed.
The head of Tibidox hesitated. “Yes, we can break the glass. Such a trusty cave
method, old as the world,” he confirmed.
“And Mad Glazier will disappear?”
“Beyond doubt! It’s unlikely he’ll want to live in the slivers!” The academician
willingly agreed.
The pithecanthropus beamed. “Then, I swear by the hair of The Ancient One, why
are we philosophizing? Smash it, that’s all!” he droned and took a step to the glass,
lifting a fist.
“Wait, don’t rush!” Sardanapal stopped him. “Yes, there won’t be a mirror, and
Hunchback will disappear, but the entrance from the Beyond World, which this mad
glass spirit has opened, will remain… Only it will no longer be attached to a specific
place. When the hour strikes, it’ll open up in any other mirror of Tibidox, in the pond, a
puddle, a window. In any surface capable of catching reflections… even in the pupils of
dragons. Now we at least know the place of entry; it’s already a great deal.”
Tararakh froze with a raised hand. Then, after recollecting himself, he stepped back
from the mirror. His reflection got into a fight with Hunchback and lost an arm, but
broke free and, having finally given Glazier a good kick, escaped from him. After jingling
spitefully, Hunchback hid behind a cut section of the frame.
Tanya gradually began to understand what kind of mess she had sucked Tibidox
into. If it were not for this spell from the list of a hundred forbidden ones, the four
menaces could never have forced their way from the Beyond World! She waited for the
decision on her fate, morosely looking at the floor, through which she would fall with
pleasure if she could remember by heart the appropriate spell – seventy-two syllables
that had to be uttered in one breath; even Shurasik would flounder. She heard the Great
Tooth approach Medusa and talk with her in an undertone.
“If the girl described correctly, this is Perun, Veles, Triglav, and Simorg…” she said,
concerned.

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86

“Triglav… This is like him – Three-faced hates this world. But Veles and Simorg?
Even Perun is too wise… But since Tanya heard Simorg’s name, there’s no doubt, it’s
them,” Docent Gorgonova agreed.
“We must say a special thanks to Grotter. The girl tried her best. If they break
through, even two of these four have enough power to reduce Tibidox to ruins. Four
together, they won’t leave a stone standing in the entire magic world – or the moronoid
world,” Dentistikha said quietly.
“Wait, Deni… It’s not so simple. They must have a purpose. Simorg is the guard of
the world tree. Both Perun and Veles are as fair as ancient gods can be, and up till now
these gods have been certain that the world belongs to them…” Medusa uttered
thoughtfully.
“They claim that something was stolen from them. And they demand that we find
this and return it... Simorg said this. Later Three-faced also repeated the same!” Tanya
reported without turning around. Since no one specifically addressed her, she
announced this into space.
Understanding that they were not speaking quietly enough, Deni and Medusa
stared reproachfully at her. “Return what? What was stolen from them?” Deni asked.
“She doesn’t know. Ancient gods prefer to speak in riddles,” Tararakh answered for
Tanya. The artless pithecanthropus felt guilty: he indeed brought the girl to the
academician’s office, not fully realizing what a storm this would cause and what
consequences it would bring for her.
“Is this the truth, Grotter?” Slander asked, drilling her with icy eyes.
“Tibidox honour! I swear by Plague and Pipa’s pimples,” said Tanya. She would not
begin to be impertinent to Sardanapal, but Slander made her hopping mad. Tanya
plainly could not understand what was happening to her.
“But you didn’t ask?”
“No, somehow it wasn’t possible…” Tanya shook her head. She wanted to add that
to communicate with the enormous half-bird, which was everywhere at once and had a
voice similar to the trumpet of the Apocalypse, was no picnic, but decided to keep quiet.
Most likely, the teachers themselves guessed that Simorg was no chicken.
Slander and Dentistikha exchanged glances. “I think that everything is clear with
Grotter. Now we have to decide what to do with her. It would be wrong to leave her
unpunished. That will completely ruin discipline in the school. And this punishment
must be instructive!” the Great Tooth said firmly.
Slander grunted. “What’s to discuss here? You know my opinion. Our school isn’t a
spa. Either zombification or the dark department. I’m for zombification!” he remarked.
“I’m for the dark department. I completed it myself. I don’t think that it’s so
terrible. It was only for my good!” Dentistikha stated.
Medusa Gorgonova approached Tanya. The hair on her head hardly moved, but all
the same – and this instilled a timid hope – they did not change into snakes. However,
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87

once Gorgonova started talking, everything inside Tanya tightened. Medusa’s voice was
cold and cut like a scalpel.
“You know, Grotter, I’m Greek by birth. I want to tell you a story. Once, Theseus
sailed to Crete to battle with the Minotaur. Later, the ship in which he sailed was placed
in the acropolis of a Greek city in memory of this event. When a board of the ship rotted
or fell off, it was replaced. After several centuries not one of the old boards remained
from the ship; they were all new, but at the same time were like the old ones. Then
philosophers began to argue: is this that ship or no longer that one… Here it’s the same
with you – I look at you and can’t understand: is this you or no longer you?” Tanya
looked at the floor. Medusa turned away. “I propose to transfer the student Grotter to
the dark department!” she finished firmly.
Yagge puffed indignantly on her cherry pipe. The odorous smoke took the shape of
whimsical beasts, the majority of which even Tararakh had barely heard of. In a
colourful shawl tied at her chest and a long rustling skirt, Yagge was awfully like an old
gypsy woman. Now if someone would only dare to approach her and joke, “I need a
reading!”66 However, if anyone would dare, this would be the most one-time joke of all.
“I’m against! My Yagun was in the dark department and became terribly antsy… If
we had kept him there another year, he would have become like Gunya Glomov. Or like
On-The-Sly… Drops casual, sharp glances in all directions… I know everything about
everyone, I’ll tell no one about myself!” Yagge said.
Now, when everyone had already expressed themselves, Sardanapal would have
the last word. Academician Chernomorov kept silent for a long time, drumming his desk
with his fingers. He persistently did not look at Tanya. “I’m very sorry, Tanya… It’s a
shame to your father Leopold, a shame to your grandfather, but I simply don’t see
another way out...,” he finally said. “There are deeds which speak for themselves, and
even I’m unable to change something. From tomorrow you’ll study in the dark
department.”
Tanya wanted to say something, but suddenly felt her throat tightened. She could
not utter a sound. It was as if a stone had gotten stuck in her throat.
“And understand, we didn’t transfer you there, you did it yourself… Your actions
transferred you,” Sardanapal added.
“Incidis in Scyglam cupiens vitare Charybdim! [You meet Scylla wishing to avoid
Charybdis (Lat.)]67 It has come to this! A disgrace to my grey head!” Theophilus
A gypsy archetype in fiction portrays them as possessing archaic occult knowledge passed down through
the ages, thus they supposedly have the mystical power of reading people’s fortune.
67
The Latin phrase incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim (he runs on Scylla, wishing to avoid
Charybdis) is an idiom similar in meaning to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It was derived
from Greek mythology. The Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy is very narrow with a rock shoal,
Scylla, on the Italian side and the whirlpool, Charybdis, off the coast of Sicily. Sailors trying to avoid one
would pass too close to the other. In Greek mythology, Scylla is a six-headed monster, while Charybdis
drinks a huge quantity of seawater 3 times a day before belching it back out again, thus dragging ships
under water.
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88

Grotter’s ring squeaked. Here Great-grandfather Theophilus cheated slightly: he had
been bald like his knee since he was thirty.
“Tanya, do you have questions? Do you want to say anything?” the head of Tibidox
asked.
Tanya saw his eyes for the first time. They were – she was ready to swear – moist.
“We didn’t transfer you there, you did it yourself,” it was as if she heard his voice anew.
“N-no…” Tanya uttered through lips that were wooden, like after anaesthesia. This
is not happening! She did not intend to smear snot on her face or beg anyone. They say
to the dark, then she will go to the dark. Even to the voodoo department, if Sardanapal
so decided.
“Well, absolutely nothing! Please go, Student Grotter!” the academician raised his
voice.
Medusa looked at him with some doubt. Probably wanting to maintain sternness,
Sardanapal got up, walked to the window, and began to look at the dragonball stadium,
around which the genies were dejectedly walking with rakes. A disgusting fall rain was
drizzling. It was grey and overcast. The sky was like a blurred violet blot with damp
patches of clouds. Tanya turned and walked to the door.
“It’s high time! The dark department has long been crying for her!” She heard
Slander Slanderych’s voice as if through cotton.
And here… Tanya did not understand what was happening to her. “Just the dark?
Pah! By the way, I already studied in the dark department, even in the very dark! In
Tibidox, the school of fatal magic. And, let it be known, I had the highest marks in
Imposition of Curses, Poisoning, and Enslavement of Moronoids!” she said. Her own
voice flew to her mutedly, as through a pillow.
Tanya saw that Sardanapal and Yagge were staring at her with uneasiness and
experienced bitter, evil happiness. But what is the difference now? The dark department
student Tatiana Grotter can experience whichever feelings she wishes!
“What did I say?! This girl is genuine trash! We need to turn her into a zombie and,
after taking away the ring, exile her to the moronoids!” Slander said triumphantly.
“Anywhere you want! As long as I don’t have to see you all!!!” Tanya blurted out
and, darting off, jumped out of the academician’s office. The door slammed shut after
her. The golden sphinx stood on guard. It growled, showing its fangs, and by its
appearance gave to understand that it would no longer let her back in. But she also did
not aim to go back. She rushed along the corridors of Tibidox so quickly that the head
wind dried the furious tears on her face.

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89

Chapter 8
UNCLE HERMAN’S SACRED ANIMAL
Uncle Herman, Pipa, and Aunt Ninel were sitting in the big room and
affectionately watching Gratis plucking filth out of his ear with his toe. Certainly, this
would be difficult for a normal person to accomplish, but a werewolf possessed almost
phenomenal flexibility. Indeed, no one even tried to call him normal.
“Gratis, precious, don’t break your piggy! It’ll be a boo-boo!” Aunt Ninel cooed.
“Then, that ish… you do it! Only don’t forget to blow tenderly into my hair; I don’t
like it when fleas jump out! Leaped and slipped, downright worn out!” the werewolf
answered insolently and collapsed onto the sofa, putting his head on Aunt Ninel’s lap.
Durneva, cursing herself for offering, leaned over and started to blow on Gratis’
hair hanging out and pick at his ear at the same time. Uncle Herman and Pipa watched
the mother’s actions approvingly.
After the Durnevs had figured out that the midday demon now and then settled
King Midas in Gratis, in order that the ancient spirit would not badly miss not having a
body for a long time, their attitude towards the kin became more than anxious. Uncle
Herman sat at home all day, having given up work and dumping everything onto his
deputy – a small, timid fellow, pressing down once and for all old jeans with discounted
hard hats. When a reversing garbage truck flattened the Durnevs’ car in the courtyard
several days ago, Uncle Herman only giggled. Now he could buy dozens of such cars,
simply by breaking off the toilet seat.
The feeling of the Durnevs reached particular tension towards midday, when Gratis
began to rush around the room in agitation, plainly not knowing who would appear in
him this time. He was often Nijinsky, sometimes Herostratus (preparing in advance for
his appearance, the farsighted Durnevs purchased ten fire extinguishers wholesale), and
sometimes the machine for gluing labels. This was the quietest and most inoffensive
incarnation. The labelling machine sat peacefully in a corner, ground and ripped
wallpaper into strips. After tearing up the wallpaper, it licked the strips and glued them
on whatever it came across, sometimes even on Pipa. Gratis rarely reincarnated as
Midas, but when this took place nevertheless, the Durnevs led the grouchy petty
monarch with courtly ceremony around the apartment, entreating him to touch
anything that was not yet gold.
The dachshund One-and-A-Half Kilometres usually hid during such moments. The
chubby dog did not trust Uncle Herman but trusted Gratis even less, especially after the
time when the werewolf got the false idea that he was Alexander the Great and took it
for a Persian spy. On the whole, from the point of view of the vigilant dog, a man who
smelled of wolf could in no way be trustworthy.
“Blow harder, mumsy! Otherwise I’ll be offended and return to Transylvania right
now!” Gratis, yawning, ordered Aunt Ninel when she, getting a bit tired, was already
messing about in his ear and blowing into his hair with less eagerness.
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“They really need you there in Transylvania! Boom and Malyuta will immediately
prosecute and shoot you!” Uncle Herman could not contain himself.
“And you, bro, don’t strut, or else I’ll make you blow too!” Gratis threatened.
“Come on, mumsy, blow, don’t stop, or else my brain will overheat from very important
thoughts! If it totally overheats, the gold mines will instantly close for inventory.”
Aunt Ninel obediently blew, although her eyes were already bulging. Finally,
becoming lethargic from kindred affection, Gratis dozed off. A sly Durneva quickly
stopped working as a blower and carefully placed a pillow under his head.
“I have to recover and gain strength! Sometimes I want to nail this grandson of
Ryukha!” she said and, after threatening the sleeping werewolf with a fist, set off to the
kitchen, where a gold plate was waiting for her and, fortunately, not gold produce. Not
so long ago she got stuck in the service elevator and her personal doctor wisely advised
her to take a rest from her diet.
Uncle Herman stared at the clock. Nearly half an hour remained till noon.
Pondering how to spend the time, his gaze slid around the room and noticed on the
table a tattered book, which Gratis by chance turned out to have with him when he
arrived from Transylvania. “Well then, let’s see what’s going on there in the, so to speak,
historical native land! Pipa, hand the little book over here!” the former best deputy said,
rubbing his hands.
Pipa threw the book to her papa and set off to her room to sit in the chat room of
Puper fans. She had already not gone to school for four days, asserting that the new
boots had chafed her heels, and it was only a step from callus to blood poisoning.
Besides, her throat was persistently red, which alarmed her mama greatly. She did not
know that Pipa was simply fooling her, having discovered fruit drops that stained in the
neighbourhood candy store. Uncle Herman turned the book, printed on strange rough
paper, and stared at the cover. For a while the cover remained empty, but when Durnev
impatiently stomped a foot in a boot of his ancestor and jingled the spurs, everything
changed. On the binding, as if realizing that they did not recognize him immediately, tall
shaky letters, seemingly constructed of gallows, blazed up: MYTHOLOGICAL HISTORY
IN PICTURES FOR POORLY-READ WIZARDS WITH ANOMALOUS DEVELOPMENT,
EVIL SPIRITS, AND VAMPIRES. COMP. CH. BORGIA.
Glancing at the last page of the book out of habit, Uncle Herman understood that it
was printed by the publishing house of Count and Countess Formanov. Mystical
address: Estate 5, Drowned Man Ave, Bald Mountain. Retail price of 1 copy: 2 teeth of
a corpse subject to all taxes. Payment is made strictly through the cashier of the
executioner’s block.
“Still salary, rent, transportation, storage… Complicated… You won’t get anywhere
with this kind of profit!” Uncle Herman, according to his business habit, pondered an
estimate of the others’ income. He opened the book and was immersed in reading. The
book was simply put together without extravagance. Ch. Borgia likely had a low opinion
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91

of his employers or avoided overloading the readers. At the top of each page was a lively
picture, under which was a little explanatory text in large letters.
Svarog68
The god of fire
Colour: sky-blue.
Svarog is the creator of the world. In his heyday, he lit up the torch of the sun. He
defeated with ease the demons of darkness with a blazing sword. He has two sons:
Dazhbog69 and Svarozhich.70 On retiring, Svarog transferred the godly gift of fire to
the first and that of lightning to the second. However, Svarog did not count on Perun,
Sventovit,71 and Triglav – the other powerful gods of the pantheon – not wanting to
admit his sons to power.
Presently out of work.
Perun
The Thunderer, a charismatic character.
Sacred animal and plant: goat, oak.
Symbol, favourite weapon: axe and hammer.
Perun has silver hair and a golden moustache. He speeds along on a blazing
chariot and shoots a bow, piercing the clouds with lightning. The priests of Perun
gather in oak groves. They hew idols out of whole trunks and start bonfires with oak
branches, which must not go out. Despite the love of oak, thus far he has not supplied
it.
Possession of foreign languages: Old Slavonic, Sanskrit.
Marital status: polygamist.
Triglav
The god of plague (not to be confused with Plague-del-Cake) and war.
Symbol: a snake wound in the shape of a triangle.
Colour: green.
Nature: vindictive.
Triglav likes being embodied in a three-headed object or a three-faced man. A
golden veil covers his face. Anyone who sees one of his faces without a veil dies.
Triglav slandered Svarozhich, envies Sventovit, and sows conflicts in the pantheon.
Svarog is the god of celestial fire and blacksmithing in Slavic mythology. The name is very ancient and
he could possibly be the original sky god of the Slavic pantheon.
69
Dazhbog is a major god in the Slavic pantheon, the god of the sun and productivity, representing the fire
in the sky – the sun.
70
Svarozhich is a diminutive of Svarog. In Slavic mythology, he represents the fire on earth.
71
Sventovit, also called Sviatovit or Svetovid, is the god of war and victories in Slavic mythology. The
name evolves from the Russian word for holy – sviatoi.
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68

92

Marital status: repeated widower. Currently single.
Veles
The god of trade and forest beasts, the guardian of herds.
Symbol: a sheaf of grain.
Sacred animals: an ox in a wheaten yoke.
Sacred plants: wheat, corn.
Colour: brown-gold.
Nature: benevolent.
General information: Perun’s closest adviser. He keeps watch that promises are
not broken and punishes cheats and perjurers severely.
Marital status: everything under control.
Simorg
A bird of prey with a human face. The guard of the world tree.
Symbol: the world tree.
Nature: was even-tempered, until someone cut down the tree.
Colour: green.
Marital status: burnt-out at work.
Dazhbog
Son of Svarog. The god of the sun, summer, and happiness.
Symbol: the solar disk.
Colour: gold.
In the morning, Dazhbog is a handsome young man with golden hair and
moustache. He ages toward the evening but becomes young again after the night. He
flies in a golden chariot pulled by a team of twelve fire-breathing horses with golden
manes and tails flickering with sparks. He lives in a shining celestial palace, where he
sits solemnly on a throne of gold and purple. Not fearing cold or demons of darkness,
he banishes them with the shining sword of his father, Svarog. Four maidens of
exceptional beauty wait on Dazhbog. Dawn opens two gates in the morning. Dusk
shuts them in the evening. Evening Star and Morning Star (also known as Dennitsa) 72
guard Dazhbog’s horses.
Marital status: married to the maiden Mesiats. 73 When the couple quarrel
stormily, the moronoids (see the little brochure “Briefly on Moronoids”) get
earthquakes. The four mentioned maidens do not interfere in the quarrels. They blush
but do not leave.
The word dennitsa is Old Church Slavonic for dawn.
The Russian word mesiats means month, but in Old Church Slavonic, it is the word for moon. In Slavic
mythology, Mesiats is sometimes male, sometime female.
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72
73

93

Svarozhich
Son of Svarog. The god of force and honour. He is also the god of war of the
simple soldier. Protector of a peaceful home.
Symbol: the black head of an aurochs and an axe.
Sacred animals: aurochs, swan.
Nature: Nordic.
He received from his father the gift of lightning. For a while, he and his brother
Dazhbog ruled over the pantheon, until Perun, the Thunderer, the god of war of
chieftains and nobility, occupied the throne. This state of affairs does not suit
Svarozhich, but, valuing peace, he does not shake the existing peace for the time being.
Svarozhich sometimes personifies in the guise of a simple soldier, wearing a
helmet with swan wings. On the breastplate of his armour is the head of an aurochs. In
the soldier’s hand is a bilateral axe.
Marital status: single.
Uncle Herman was just about to turn the page, when Aunt Ninel entered the room
with a dish of chicken baked with cheese. As always in the anticipation of food, Aunt
Ninel’s mood was like that prior to a wedding. “What are you reading, Herman?” she
purred.
“This little book here. I must admit, I haven’t figured out what it is for the time
being… Likely comics about big shots of the magic world. The kind about who schemed
against whom and all that,” the former deputy mumbled.
“Really?” Durneva was surprised. “And here I thought that our Gratis really isn’t
andso educated. Let’s have a look for the sake of curiosity, huh!”
Aunt Ninel took the book from her husband, started to leaf through it. Suddenly
her jaw dropped, as if preparing to accept the largest piece of chicken meat. “What’s
this? Did you see this?” she moaned.
“Where?”
“Here! Just look!”
An amazed Durnev glanced over his wife’s shoulder and…beheld his own portrait
on the last page, which he had not yet read. It was sketched out in something comical
but having an exceptional similarity to the original. The illustrated Durnev winked at the
real Durnev and waved familiarly: ask what this bad Ch. Borgia writes about us.
Uncle Herman asked and learned the following about himself:
Herman Durnev
Sovereign of the living dead (chair of V.A.M.P.I.R.).
Symbol: an old stump.
Sacred animals: the dachshund One-and-A-Half Kilometres.
Colour: grey.
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Nature: lacking.
Marital status: chronically around Aunt Ninel, but will soon be married to
Nagiana Pripyatskaya.
Aunt Ninel’s arms hung weakly. The plate slid from her limp fingers. The cheesy
chicken sprawled helplessly on the carpet, mayo wings scattered. “What? What Nagiana
Chernobylskaya?” she exclaimed full of suffering. “Herman, own up, have you been
unfaithful to me?”
“What nonsense? Are you out of your mind?” The director of Second-Hand Socks
dismissed it. Durnev did not take into consideration that Aunt Ninel was jealous, like
Othello.74
“I don’t believe you, Herman! You’re lying! I see it in your shameless eyes!” she
exclaimed.
“NINEL!”
“Don’t Ninel me, you worthless man! We’re absolute strangers from this minute!
I’ll leave you, I’ll take nothing except the ballet slippers! You’ll be deprived of a wife, but
one more upright ballerina will appear in the Bolshoi Theatre!” Durneva announced in a
tragic voice.
The entire reserve of Aunt Ninel’s generosity ran dry with this. Infuriated by her
own story, she, grabbing a cushion from the sofa, rushed at her husband to carry out
reprisals. Uncle Herman zigzagged like a persecuted hare, shouting something about his
strong hind paws on the run. In times of danger, Lisper the Rabbit was again awakened
in him.
“Do you remember, crafty two-timer, how I trusted you?” a furious Durneva
shouted, unconsciously sinking to public sources. She was in such a rage that she did not
notice that the words in the book about Nagiana blinked and disappeared, and in their
place appeared: I was only kidding! Ch. Borgia.
However, the Durnevs were not up to the excuses of the ill-fated author-compiler.
Uncle Herman was just jumping over a saving chair, when an inquisitive voice reached
them from the sofa, “Oh, forest games of the Drevlians,75 that ish? Marriage dances of
the people of Siberia? African dance of fertility around the bread tree? You continue,
dears, continue! You can consider me simply a decorative attachment to the sofa!”
Aunt Ninel gave a start, dropped the pillow, and froze, exactly like a watchful
gopher in its burrow. Uncle Herman stumbled over the chair and sprawled on the floor.
“And why isn’t anyone blowing on my hair and picking at my ear, huh? What’s this,
that ish? So, is it worthwhile for me to fall asleep, and that’s it, no service? That’s it, my
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (c. 1603) is one of the works of William Shakespeare (15641616). Othello the Moorkills his beloved wife Desdemona out of jealousy, not realizing the evidence has
been fabricated.
75
The Drevlians were a tribe of early Slavs in the East between the 6 th and the 10th centuries. The name is
derived from the Slavic word drevo/derevo – wood/tree, so they were forest dwellers.
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95

dears, I’ll pick up my gold and go home to Transylvania!” Gratis continued to stand up
for his rights.
While the former deputy and his spouse were pondering how to mollify their
aggrieved kin, the doorbell began to jingle. All three, even four Durnevs (including the
lumpy kin and minus the dachshund, which, as a sacred animal, was deprived of the
happiness of having a surname) experienced different degrees of horror expressed in
their acquisition of different colour nuances. Uncle Herman turned green, Aunt Ninel
reddened, Gratis became grey, and Pipa, clutching a nine-and-a-half kilogram gold bear,
paled.
The bear had turn to gold thanks to Pipa’s foresight. When all sanitary apparatus,
the washing machine, and even the fridge were already gold and a crisis of genre began,
Pipa surmised to bring Midas to her room and show the conceited autocrat her
collection of soft toys. Midas liked the stuffed animals, even very much.
The doorbell continued to jingle.
“What if...?” Uncle Herman began.
“Keep quiet! I beg you: keep quiet! Utter nothing about T and G. No TG!!!” Aunt
Ninel implored, covering her husband’s mouth.
The Durnevs, taught by bitter experience, had long grasped one simple truth: when
someone rang at the door, there were three kinds of news: good news, bad news, and…
Tanya Grotter in person. There and then the Durnevs were disposed to the worst and
would not have been surprised if the terrible Tanya herself turned out to be on the
threshold – alone or in the company of a fat, lop-eared adolescent, whose pockets were
bulging with spare parts for a vacuum.
Gratis’ thoughts flowed in another direction. He did not fear Tanya Grotter; the
werewolf had his own bugbears: Malyuta Skuratoff and the grumbler Boom. “I’m gone! I
beg you, don’t disturb me!” he stated and, after hiding with effort in the commode,
carefully shut the door behind him.
“But what about to Transylvania? You’re really not flying away with the first
broom? Or have the plans been changed?” a vindictive Aunt Ninel asked.
“Don’t joke, mumsy! Not in this hour dangerous for the native land!” the commode
took fright.
Uncle Herman crossed himself extensively, which was difficult to expect from the
chair of V.A.M.P.I.R., and, after reaching the door, turned the lock. On the threshold,
looking him over intently, a figure very familiar to all the Durnevs stood motionless…
No, this was not Tanya and not even Malyuta Skuratoff, the supreme judge of
Transylvania and keeper of the vanished relic… This was merely their neighbour,
General Cutletkin – in a new military tunic with all the insignia and wearing house
slippers. The Durnevs stiffened slightly. Since the day when Uncle Herman was stripped
of his deputy cover, the Cutletkins paid their neighbours no more attention than to the

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96

trashcans in the park. But now, suddenly, this appearance… “Such moronoids, and
without a muzzle! I’m downright mad!” Bab -Yagun said in such cases.
General Cutletkin did not waste time and immediately went on the offensive. At the
same time, his puffy eyes dropped quick glances in all directions and scouted out the
land, according to his military habit. “Herman, old fellow!” he droned. “I come to you on
business! Isadora said to me that perhaps the Durnevs will sell us their apartment.”
“Our apartment? What in the world for?” The lord of the living dead, as was
recently revealed, listed side by side with ancient deities in mythological history, stared
dumbfounded at his neighbour. The spurs on his boots jingled by themselves.
In that same moment, the general-supplier experienced a strong confusion of
incomprehensible origin. However, this confusion was very short-term. The general’s
mental faculties ruled out the possibility of lingering psychological impact. “Why not,
Herman? Things aren’t going well with you, looks as if they’ll seize the property, and this
way my Isadora will at least have some place to put her Chinese vases. So you agree,
Herman? We’ll pay well. You won’t force an old soldier to be red-faced before his wife?”
Cutletkin had barely started to speak when from the adjacent door, exactly like a
jack-in-the-box, Isadora herself, brisk but like a wasp, jumped out. She whisked past
Uncle Herman, affectionately, just like Judas, kissed Aunt Ninel, and began to advance
her own ideas before her. “Ah, ah, ah, girlfriend, decide soon. I’ve already thought over
everything. We’ll take down this wall and make a little arch in its place. Rip off the
wallpaper, relay the parquet. This tacky thing,” a nod to Aunt Ninel’s favourite antique
hallstand, “away. And here will be the billiard room! I hate the sound of balls knocking,
here I at least won’t hear it.”
“Mum, but this is my room!” Pipa butted in, sticking her head out of the planned
billiard room.
“Ah, ah, ah, darling! Of course, you’ll have your own room, but another…” Isadora
bustled about, attempting to catch Pipa and root her to the spot with a kiss of control.
“Cutletkin and I have already decided everything for you. All the same, they won’t invite
you into good society – without admittance to the Duma and without money, I do
apologize for my frankness, who needs you? You’ll live in Novoperedelkino! An excellent
inexpensive place, sometimes you can even come to Moscow! It has its own air-raid
shelter! But the main thing, prose writers stroll with girlfriends, poets roam about for
beer – be involved in the culture if you want! Ah, ah, ah! I would live there myself, if this
general wouldn’t hang onto me all the time! Novoperedelkino is the one for you!”
Aunt Ninel’s patience cracked like brittle ice. Huge, strong as a porter, Durneva
threateningly took a step towards the nagging Isadora. Uncle Herman caught his spouse
by the elbow. A plan had matured in the cunning brain of the former deputy to put the
flipped-out neighbours in their place once and for all. “Will you also change the sanitary
apparatus?” he asked ingratiatingly.

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Isadora threw him an evaluating gaze. “You have been weighed in the balance and
been found wanting,” her gaze clearly said. “Oh, certainly!” she said.
“Come on, Isadora! Maybe, we’ll leave it alone, huh? Let’s at least have a look!”
General Cutletkin said magnanimously, as he, just as his wife, perceived in Durnev’s
question the manifestation of weakness and an almost agreement.
Marching in his slippers, the general set off to the bathroom, turned on the light,
and entered. Uncle Herman, rubbing his hands, waited with impatience. Everything was
quiet for approximately a minute. Cutletkin did not appear. Isadora began to lose
patience, but could not slip into the bathroom after her husband. A monumental Aunt
Ninel had partitioned off the hallway, and near her feet, insidiously baring yellow teeth,
the sacred animal of the lord of the vampires was running about.
Oops!
Suddenly something collapsed in the bathroom, and after some time, Cutletkin
looked out from there with a pale face and tracks of soap on his tunic. The general
looked dispirited and far from gallant. He was too well versed in precious metals to
stand his ground. It is not without reason that he and Uncle Herman once sold to
Europe platinum buckets and copper crutches for railway ties. Cutletkin, swaying, stood
on the threshold. The washer towered like a single ingot behind his back. Slightly to the
right, a gold tap was sputtering water into an already quite priceless jaccuzi, similar to
which even the king of Jordan did not have. “Isadora, a minute please?” the general
called limply.
Having stepped over the sacred animal fearfully, Cutletkina walked up to her
husband, and he muttered something quietly in her ear. The wife listened to him with
distrust, but, when she looked at Uncle Herman after this, there was already no
haughtiness on her face whatsoever. Likely, she had grasped that Uncle Herman would
not be walking along the streets of Novoperedelkino with an outstretched hand quite
yet.
***
At that moment, the clock in the drawing room rhythmically struck the longawaited noon. The midday demon casually assumed its possession. The door of the
newspaper commode opened with a creak. Isadora glanced into the drawing room and
squealed. Gratis appeared in all his pristine glory before the Cutletkins. Yes, no doubt,
all who knew him could confirm this was him, but at the same time also not him.
Something had imperceptibly changed in Gratis. The movements had become swift,
insinuatingly bewitching, like those of a cardsharp.
Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel exchanged glances. They had already figured out
that the midday demon was visiting them again. However, this time it clearly did not
bring King Midas on its wings. The cantankerous gold-bearing ruler did not move so
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swiftly and did not smile so uncertainly. Generally, nothing bothered him except his own
mercantile interests, to paltry rottenness.
The new Gratis, judging by all appearance, was an individual of a different breed.
Without experiencing the least embarrassment, he looked around at all those in the
room and, for some reason, was especially interested in Isadora. He began to walk
insinuatingly, shuffling precisely up to her.
“Who’s this?” Cutletkina asked in horror.
“Ah, mother-boyarynya!76 I’m a Kazan orphan!77 Everyone can insult me!” Gratis
responded in rapid speech.
“Insult?”
“Insult, mother-boyarynya… I knock about the world, catch a penny here, a piece of
bread there… Please allow me to humbly kiss your hand!” the orphan requested, his
speech hardly matching his confident movements.
“It’s already time for us to go,” Isadora said in horror, trying to pull her hand away
and doing so with extreme difficulty.
The Cutletkins, looking sideways at the aggressive Kazan orphan with distaste,
began to back away to the hallway. They did not take into account that it would be quite
difficult to shake off the orphan.
“Where are you going, Odysseus,78 from the wife, from the children? Jump, my
dear! I immediately liked you!” Gratis sobbed, embracing Cutletkin familiarly and
affectionately patting him on the back and shoulders.
It cost the general considerable effort to extricate himself from the embrace of the
dwarf sympathizing him. The distressed orphan, barely standing from his internal
sufferings, hung onto Isadora’s neck. Finally, with the active participation of the
Durnevs, Gratis was successfully removed from Isadora and locked in Pipa’s room.
However, the Cutletkins, overloaded with impressions like a donkey with bags, were
already hurrying to slip away.
Saying goodbye, the general shook Uncle Herman’s hand for a long time, doing so
with the energy with which a hungry savage shakes a coconut palm. “Old reserve?” he
whispered, winking. “Brother, you keep it in Switzerland, why at home? A quiet country,
the streets are picturesque… If necessary, I can arrange it. We’ll load it in a bomber,
quickly cross the border quietly, and throw it right to the bank with pinpoint bombing.
Let them know what our sanitation engineers in Russia cast with! For that, Herman…
come to me any time. Until then… we’ll grab some prices there… We’ll sit, drink, chat,
just like old times! Maybe we’ll think of something.”
A boyarynya is female member of the old nobility of Russia.
A Kazan orphan is an expression originating from the time of Ivan the Terrible (1530-84) and used to
describe someone who presents himself as destitute for personal gains.
78
Also known by the Latin name Ulysses, he was a legendary Greek king and the hero of the epic poem
Odyssey, which describes his 10-year journey trying to get home after the Trojan War.
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77

99

The door was barely shut behind the Cutletkins when the Kazan orphan instantly
stopped his suffering. Gratis got up from the floor, shook himself down like a dog, and
proudly showed Uncle Herman a watch, a wallet, and cuff links, suspiciously resembling
Cutletkin’s watch, wallet, and cuff links.
“Where are these from?” Uncle Herman asked with suspicion.
“My dear, if I only knew! Some thread from there probably got stuck…” the
werewolf answered casually. With a gesture full of haughty disdain, he waved his sleeve,
and Isadora’s rings, bracelets, and necklace fell from there like a rain of gold. “What do
you think? Pity, I had to leave the little ring on the middle finger, it was sitting tightly!
Would have had to grease the finger with soap, but I didn’t store up on soap!” Gratis
said with regret.
The Durnevs looked wildly at their kin, trying to figure out whom he was
transformed into. Nijinsky, Herostratus, the labelling machine? No, this was likely a
bird of a different feather.
“What are you looking at, or didn’t you recognize me? I’m Vanka-Cain!79 Never
heard of him? Can’t find a better thief than me in the whole world…” Gratis said with
pride.

Vanka-Cain, real name Ivan Osipov (1718-after 1756), was a well-known thief, robber, and Moscow
detective, a legendary hero of thievish adventures and boldness.
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Chapter 9
WELCOME TO EVIL, TANYA-DEL-CAKE!
Winter rolled into Tibidox with the inevitable clump of snow. This time the wait
was especially agonizing. Winter itself was not there yet, but the constant northerly wind
and night frost had already begun. Drafts roamed along the twisting hallways of the
school, interfering with the ghosts. Hoar frost, weaving patterned threads and sketching
complex figures, lay on the dragonball dome in the morning. Goyaryn had gone into
hibernation, and in its place, Nightingale let out Mercury and other young dragons.
Perhaps practice would have been put off completely, but a match with the Polar Spirits
lay ahead before the New Year, and Nightingale was doing everything possible not to
repeat the disgrace with the Muses. True, he did not invite Tanya into the team. Tanya,
in turn, was also obstinate and did not seek reconciliation with the coach.
Bab-Yagun called practices “short jerks” and claimed that the snake soup in his
vacuum froze in freezing weather. Yes, do not be surprised. Recently, Yagge’s grandson
filled up his vacuum with snake soup, adding there mermaid scales. Moreover, he
poured the scales so generously that Slander’s Milyulya complained that all the
mermaids on Buyan were now swimming tattered. But she exaggerated. The mermaids
shed their scales every full moon, moreover, doing so on the shore, where they were
easily taken as gold coins in the moonlight. Yagun also gathered them there, on the
shore. He alone knew the “mermaid” places in the quiet creeks behind the wall of reeds.
He even kept them secret from Tanya and Vanka.
It was not the best of times for the school of Tibidox and personally for Tatiana
Grotter, a fourth year student of the dark department. In connection with the danger,
which had already become quite real, the school was put under a state of siege.
Each new morning began with Sardanapal, having spent the night in his office,
approaching the mirror and looking at the cracks on the glass. Hunchback with Pimply
Nose jangled with terrible crystal laughter and from time to time showed Sardanapal
four figures. If something vague could be seen in their outlines earlier, now Perun,
Triglav, Veles, and Simorg were as real as never before. Perun’s fiery chariot rushed
through the fog, cutting the void with sizzling spokes. Triglav’s black horse looked
asquint with a fiery eye, and the headwind was blowing the veil on the terrible faces of
the god of war and pestilence such that it seemed it was just about to pluck it off. And
the wings of the world tree’s tireless guard, already many centuries knowing neither
sleep nor rest, stretched menacingly above them…
Slander walked around the school and hung everywhere moralizing
announcements like this: Lighting a fire is forbidden! Otherwise the ashes swept from
the room could turn out to be yours!
It was dangerous to rip off these silly announcements or revise them, assigning
other letters out of mischief: the unstuck papers knew how to tell tales and did this with
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great zeal. Slander only had to show up somewhere nearby when an announcement
would come alive and, in a squeaky voice, trembling from the desire to make mischief
for its fellow man, start to tell everything it knew. And even what it did not know but
could imagine on account of its roguishness…
After the fire ban in Tibidox, all torches were extinguished at once. Even the stove
in the drawing room went out, and it immediately became damp and cold. One had to
keep warm with blankets, winter clothing, and the simple spell Leapis-shakis, which
had an unpleasant property. It was necessary to manage uttering it at the time of a leap,
otherwise the unlucky spell caster would be transformed into an icicle for some time.
Many such icicles could be found in Tibidox, especially before the classes of the Great
Tooth or Eyeless Horror.
It was difficult to say what was connected to the fire ban. The instructors did not
particularly dwell on it; but Tanya suspected that, although Svarog was considered the
god of fire, Perun, as the Thunderer, also had authority over it, and fire could allow him
to pass through the glass barrier.
The study program was substantially changed. The number of hours for
Dentistikha and Protection From Spirits was doubled, and the less necessary classes
were removed altogether. The first- and second-year students were temporarily sent to
the moronoid world. This, fortunately, did not apply to the upper-year students.
However, this “fortunately” was not for everyone. Now and then, it seemed to
Tanya that she would fly away with great pleasure to Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel
rather than study in the dark department.
The only comfort to her was that things were also going no better in the white
department. Yagun complained that his granny forced them to drink rain water from an
inverted upside down bucket and not to step into the track of a deer or a wild boar, and
she would not allow them to stand on the threshold or to step over a pole, a horse collar,
a broom, an axe, a pitchfork, or a rake. Even combing their hair on Fridays was not
possible.
“True, I didn’t comb my hair very often before, but now I suddenly want to but
can’t… Understaeynd, shaeyme, yes?!” Yagun said, mimicking some moronoid. He, like
many in Tibidox, frequently caught their radio waves, tuning his zoomer in a special
way.
Slander, sarcasm seething and bubbling like lava in the crater of a volcano, in
search of anyone to vent on, found on his desk Tanya’s report on the world tree and took
it apart. The most amusing was that earlier he related to the report neutrally, but now it
belatedly dawned on him that the work did not meet the canons of an ideal dark-magic
composition, adopted on Bald Mountain in 1366.
“For the white department this, possibly, would pass, but for the dark… One, no
additional literature. Two, style is nightmarish. Three, as if written with a chicken claw.
Four, thought jumps around. Five, full of mistakes,” the principal listed, bending his
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102

fingers with pleasure. “And finally, the most ignorant omission – Alatyr! You have
nothing about Alatyr in the report!”
“Alatyr? This is the white-fiery stone?” Tanya asked him to repeat. She heard about
Alatyr from Coffinia that night when Cryptova attempted to make her fall in love with
Puper.
The principal smiled with his small, sharp teeth like that of a polecat. “Bad,
Grotter, bad! Superficial knowledge is the most dangerous! I see you didn’t get the
Pigeon Book80 at the genie Abdullah’s. In your opinion, what does the world tree grow
on? Humus? Mineral fertilizers? A compost pit? Huh, Grotter?”
“I don’t know,” Tanya grunted
“That’s it! It’s clearly stated in the Pigeon Book that in the middle of the ocean-sea,
on the island of Buyan, lies the hub of the universe, the father of all stones, the whitefiery stone Alatyr, and on it grows the world tree, and healing springs flow from under
it… So, Grotter! If I don’t give you a two, it’s only because the journal hasn’t yet
managed to cross out your name from the white lists and enter it into the dark lists. But
I will personally monitor it so that it doesn’t mess around...”
The dark magicians sniggered disgustingly. They adored it when one of the whites,
or especially one of the former whites, was given a dressing-down. Tanya felt herself
blushing, blushing somewhat quite stupidly, with spots. Even her vaunted sense of
humour, for some reason, no longer saved her.
She was ready to jump out of the class, when suddenly Vanka Valyalkin asked
loudly and defiantly, addressing Slander, “Reports, of course, are good. But simply for
truth… Is it true that there’s no more world tree? That it was cut down or had perished?
And that you’re somehow connected with this?”
The darks instantly stopped laughing. They understood that Valyalkin was drawing
the fire to himself, and they grew quiet in expectation of a much more interesting
spectacle. Unintentionally – or more likely intentionally, nevertheless – Valyalkin had
touched Slander’s sore spot.
“What did you say?” Slander looked sullenly at Vanka from under patchy eyebrows.
Vanka felt that a tiny icy ball swept over the inside of his spine. He caught his
breath. Black circles scattered before his eyes. “What happened to the world tree? Are
you guilty or not?” Vanka repeated after gathering all his courage.
The hand squeezing his heart unclenched. Slander Slanderych flinched. His
wrinkled face grimaced. The principal ran up to Vanka and threw up his ring as if he was
going to place an evil eye on Valyalkin, but remembered in time that the entire class was
looking at him with curiosity. Whether Vanka would be levelled or not, this would no
longer change anything. These vile polecats of the fourth year would hunt down the
truth themselves nevertheless. After understanding this, Slander lowered his hand.
The Pigeon Book is a collection of Eastern Slavic folk spiritual poems of the late 15 th – early 16th century.
It is written in the form of questions and answers providing information on the origin of the world,
people, the class structure, and information on geography, natural science, and other things.
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“I hate these mean rumours! They gossip in order not to think with the head...” he
muttered. “Who knows where Forbidden Grove is?”
“No one knows. Students are forbidden to go there,” Rita On-The-Sly said archly.
Now and then she loved to pretend to be a novice.
Slander ignored her commentary. “Forbidden Grove is in the southern part of
Buyan by the cliffs. In the centre of the grove is the stone Alatyr. Once, the world tree
grew on it. This is one of the miracles – the tree is one, but it is present in each of the
three worlds. Sardanapal sometimes compared it to the post of a stacking toy, on which
the worlds are threaded like rings. In the Beyond World its keeper was Simorg…”
“And on Buyan?” Vanka asked forcefully.
“On Buyan was me!” Slander snapped. “It was Sardanapal’s assignment. I was
young then… uh-h… sometimes I lacked foresight. Somehow, I was away – quite
temporarily – and did not even put a Cyclops in my place; but when I came back, I saw
that the tree was sawn down. The magic saw, with which this was done, was lying
around nearby. We suspected vampires, She-Who-Is-No-More, and many others, but
this no longer changed anything. The world tree had perished. Moreover, being one, the
tree ceased to exist in all the worlds at once… That which connected the worlds earlier
had vanished.”
The white and dark students kept silent. Little by little it came to them how serious
everything that had happened was and what feelings the ancient gods must experience
towards Tibidox and its instructors.
“So, that means it’s Slander who messed up the sapling. Simorg is probably now
ready to grind our Slandy into powder!” Liza Zalizina whispered barely audibly to
Tuzikov.
She would have been better keeping silent. The principal turned around and drilled
her with an icy gaze. It was strange that he had heard at all. “Very wise observation,
Zalizina! According to the degree of philosophical generalization, this thought could
belong to your cuckoo clock. I would only recommend you bite your tongue next time!
Or very soon, I guarantee, you’ll be left without thoughts at all…” Slander said
insinuatingly. Zalizina attempted to shout, to move, but it was impossible: eyes the
colour of the bottom of a bottle held her firmly, drinking up and scooping out of her all
desires and thoughts.
“Complete zombification with erasure of memory feels approximately like this.
More accurately, the initial stage of zombification… Unfortunately, Sardanapal rarely
lets me conduct this operation to the end. Absurd squeamishness, this would improve
discipline considerably!” Slander said with regret, removing his gaze. Liza almost
collapsed onto her desk.
“That’s it! Slandy uses voodoo magic for sure! And still pretends to be white!”
Cryptova thought with admiration. However, she wisely said nothing aloud and even
whispered the spell blocking mirroring just in case.
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104

***
After class, Tanya strolled in solitude along remote hallways of Residential Floor.
She had never wandered here before – this part of the tower was assigned to the dark
department, and white magicians preferred to keep far away from here.
Suddenly, from where a hallway was closed off with the blind semicircular wall of
the tower, Tanya heard the rumble of voices and realized that she had accidentally
turned up next to the drawing room of the dark…
Besides the general room for the students of the white and dark departments, the
darks had already chosen long ago – even several centuries ago – one of the corner halls
of Residential Floor for secret meetings. This was an asymmetric hall with a sloped
ceiling and a single narrow window loophole, through which light passed from outside.
Making its way through the glass, light split mysteriously into several different islets of
brightness, which in the first half of the day moved to the centre of the hall and toward
the evening to the carved benches with high backs, on which the darks usually sat.
It was impossible for a student of the white department to get into the drawing
room of the darks. Although the entrance was not protected by spells and violet curtains,
a huge jug with a daeva81 was tucked into one of the wall niches. It was not known from
where the darks had dragged in this jug, which had lain in the ground for a long time,
and how many decades ago this happened, but any white magician turning up at least
ten metres from it would instantly feel a nagging fear. His heart was wrung and he was
ready to run like the devil. Certainly, this was well known to the entire school, and not
one of the whites glanced in that territory. Students of the dark department, on the
contrary, showed off willingly and now and then demonstratively embraced the jug. For
a white magician, this was equivalent to a moronoid stealing into a nuclear reactor to
cook a kebab.
Tanya remembered about the jug too late, only when a cold, unyielding wave of
hatred shoved her in the chest. The jug was near – fatally near. A hundred pieces of coal
flared up in her brain, aiming at dissolving and obliterating her very essence. Tanya
attempted to resist and set up a magic block, but the force pressing down on her swept it
away with ease. It seemed to the girl that she was falling into a whirlpool, impetuous and
engulfing.
“Your death will be agonizing and long! I will kill you slowly!” she heard.
“I don’t want to die!”
“No one wants to die, but nevertheless it happens. Rich and poor, clever and
foolish, righteous and sinful! Why delay? Why would you not die now, foolish white
girl from the dark department? In your life will be numerous dark moments,
Daeva is an Old Iranian term for a villainous supernatural entity that promotes chaos and disorder, a
personification of everything evil. It applies to all demons, monsters, and such vile creatures.
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numerous temptations and sufferings, but this way you will be able to avoid them.
Now I, the daeva of death, will sing for you the so-o-ong of dea-a-a-ath… You will hear
its beginning, but you will not hear the end.”
Tanya fell. She could not stand. A sharp pain stabbed her head. She no longer saw
nor heard anything, only felt the cold clay of the jug with her hand. The daeva probably
forced her body through the waves to crawl up to it. Resisting the whirlpool of death
sucking her in, Tanya raised her ring.
The daeva drawled something low and monotonous. With each new sound, there
remained in Tanya one less breath of life. She felt like she was becoming insignificant,
empty, and was fading away.
“Don’t! I don’t want to! Away! NO-O-O-O-O!” Tanya shouted mentally, gathering
her last strength.
Suddenly, a dazzling beautiful world, as if woven from rainbows, firebird feathers,
and sunrays, a world that she did not know before and certainly was not death, was
revealed to her eyes. And in the next second she uttered the spell, which she never knew
before and could never recall later. These were somewhat guttural, sharp, quite tuneless
sounds, so unlike the usual classical magic, with which they were trained in Tibidox.
Something popped indistinctly. The wave of hatred rushed back. Tanya again
gained the ability to see and hear. The coals blazing in her brain were extinguished.
Tanya realized that she was standing on all fours, her head buried in the jug. The jug
had broken into pieces, and a narrow dark hole gaped in the floor under it, as if the
daeva had hurried in a cowardly manner to hide in the nether world.
Tanya jumped up, dashed somewhere at breakneck speed, and suddenly found
herself in the secret hall of the darks. Here she leaned against the wall and for a long
time could not recover her breath. Red dots were jumping in front of her eyes. The fear
from her experience arrived only now, like cold worms crawling in her arms and legs,
scampering about along all the veins and arteries.
Thus far, Tanya had not been noticed. She was standing in the shadow at the
entrance, and the darks – about thirty people – were gathered by the fireplace, in which,
despite Slander’s ban, they had lit a fire. The fireplace was roughly built of large stones.
It had no pipes. The smoke went out in the narrow opening in the ceiling, situated above
the fireplace. It goes without saying, the ceiling in the secret hall of the darks was
blackened with smoke with this chimney construction. Someone made use of this and
scratched on the soot something like a large-scale set of rules.
SET OF RULES OF THE DARK DEPARTMENT
1. Scorn white magic and all whites.
2. Worry only about yourself and kin, and spit on all others.

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3. Do not use voodoo magic without restraining blocks or against
your own.
4. Whenever possible, play dirty tricks on whites, instructors, and
moronoids.
5. Guard all secrets of the dark department.
Slightly below, clearly in Cryptova’s handwriting, was attached one additional rule:
Death to Grotty!
“I wonder, will Coffinia settle down sometime? This is already even boring!” Tanya
thought, when she had come to her senses so much that she could again experience
curiosity.
For a week already, in order to fool Coffinia, the baby Grotter had been pretending
to have fallen in love with Puper. She purchased for herself a Gury calendar, published
on Bald Mountain, and each evening looked at it for about ten minutes, occasionally
forcing passionate sighs and taking to showering it with kisses. Coffinia was very
satisfied with such results and attributed everything to the effect of her magic: how was
she to know that Tanya simply imagined herself as Pipa.
However, the news coming from England was distressing to Cryptova. Every day all
new cupids with flowers and candies came flying from Puper to Tanya. A furious
Coffinia flung pillows and curses at them, and set the skeleton Dear Tonianno on them,
but no good came of it nevertheless.
The cupids quickly got tired of Dear Tonianno busily swinging its arms and they
released their arrows at it, which, flying between the skeleton’s ribs, pierced the cabinet.
The charge of romance contained in the arrows was so significant that the buds on the
cabinet, in spite of autumn, swelled and, attempting to blossom, grew branches and
flower buds.
Furthermore, Puper had recently acquired a taste for writing letters. They were so
lengthy that Tanya sometimes doubted whether he wrote them on his own or cast a spell
on a pen so that it would write for him, and he then forgot to drag the pen away from the
paper in time. Letters, each longer than the other, could be discovered in almost every
bouquet. From time to time, Puper, suffering from love, even wrote two letters at one
sitting and then hid one without fail in a box of candies. Once, he was so worked up that
it seemed this was too little, and he burnt his initials GP with a red-hot tack on each
chocolate, which Tanya then revised in some places to GB, imagining… well, it goes
without saying, Genka Bulonov.
No, Puper clearly did not intend to forget Tanya and betray her, and this had
already begun to disturb Cryptova.
***

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Several minutes later, Tanya had recovered so much that the droning of voices had
ceased to be simply droning, similar to the surf of the sea, and, broken into separate
components, assumed some sense. Now she could hear what the darks were talking
about.
“These white magicians have quite an opinion of themselves! We should play some
mean tricks on them. All at once!” Tanya heard Damien Goryanov’s sad voice.
“Look who’s talking!” Tanya thought. As far as she could remember, Goryanov
always dreamed about one thing only – to play dirty tricks on white magicians. Only one
also needs some brains for this. He could not even ram Yagun without cutting into the
dome. Bad enough being dull, but even more ridiculous to be malevolent and play mean
tricks at the same time. Nothing emphasizes a worthless person as much as that.
“Come on, Damien! How many of these whites are there in general? One-and-ahalf times more than us darks… Besides, new students are added all the time!” SevenStump-Holes grumbled.
The Tibidox team forward was inclined to be very peaceable at present: he was
standing and trying to catch a sunray with his ring in order to braid an amulet of luck
with it. Such an amulet could turn out to be useful in the match with the Polar Spirits, he
only had to cut off the ray with special scissors forged from moonlight. There was only
one such pair of scissors in the entire Tibidox: Professor Stinktopp had them. He
guarded them like the apple of his eye… True, now the baby Stinktopp was squandering
his former reserves right and left. So, Seven-Stump-Holes now had the scissors.
“Where would you acquire more of us darks?” Damien asked.
“Think! Or simply strain your noggin slightly. To be a white magician and then
come crashing down into the dark – a cakewalk. Each year they transfer someone to us.
Take, for instance, Shurasik or Grotty. But they transfer almost none of us to the
white…” Seven-Stump-Holes stated.
After several unsuccessful attempts, he managed to get a ray to fall to the ring.
Retaining an end of the ray with his ring, Stump quickly snipped with the scissors. It
worked! The cut-off sunray, like a brilliant hair attached, drooped over the ring. SevenStump-Holes examined it, considering what to do next.
“But Yagun?” Goryanov kept it up. “He was dark and then returned to the whites
again! And you say no one.”
“Hopus-stopus!” Seven-Stump-Holes uttered the retaining spell and, helping
himself with the lunar scissors, started to carefully twist the ray into a spiral. “Well,
Yagun! Come off it! He has a granny here! You still recall Slander! He was also dark,
then suddenly turned white! I would like to know why. I get goose bumps from such
white magicians like him…” Stump grumbled after a while, not tearing himself away
from his work.
Shurasik, sitting by the fire so that reflections of the flame were jumping in his
glasses, took off his glasses and blinked tiredly. His eyesight deteriorated with each
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108

month, slipping down increasingly deeper into the minus, and even Yagge could do
nothing about it. “Of course, pet, I can change your eyes to those of a falcon, only a
falcon’s eyes are special… You, precious, will see prey everywhere, you won’t care at all
for your ABCs. You’ll cease to glance at your notebook, not up to it. Even the Ancient
One said, ‘With whose eyes you look at the world, that you will also be!’” she laid down
the law.
“I heard that Slander was a good dark magician… One of the best. He used not only
dark magic but also voodoo magic, and almost told fortunes by blood in general. In
short, a tougher unpleasant fellow than our Stinktopp… Don’t spit, Stinktopp, I’m
talking about another uncle!” Shurasik said, wincing.
The baby Stinktopp laughed happily, running away from the fireplace. He was
growing more slowly than Sardanapal had expected, and although he was still not
officially enrolled in a department, he already in advance more willingly passed the time
among the darks. So no one had any special doubt where he was in prospect of studying
when the time came.
“Well, then something happened to Slander… Something very terrible… They say
he had a vision or, perhaps, a prophetic dream. For several days, he couldn’t even talk,
only trembled and shied from everyone, and then he bolted to the whites. And
Sardanapal accepted him. Not because Slander suddenly became white, but because he
could in no way remain with the darks after that. I think that he stepped over the edge.
He had a look where one in no way can look! And, frightened, he changed his life,”
Shurasik finished instructively.
The darks – and also Tanya – listened to Shurasik with interest. Only Gunya
Glomov alone twisted his head perplexedly for a while, trying to digest what he had
heard, and then said, “Shur, but Shur! Have quite an opinion of yourself, know-it-all?
And in the head?!” This was the usual Glomov reaction to everything which did not fit
into his understanding and was deeper than a teaspoon in general.
Suddenly something touched Tanya’s shin. She leaned down and saw a large rat
with a naked pink tail jumping out from the crack between the stones. For some time,
Tanya and the rat looked at each other with roughly identical amazement. It was
possible that Tanya was also not the most pleasant surprise for the rat. Tanya shrieked
quietly. The rat came to its senses and unwillingly squeezed through into the crack. The
long naked tail slipped in last. It trembled and disappeared.
Zhora Zhikin, the only one among the darks who heard Tanya’s shriek, turned
around and saw her. For some reason, this so stunned Zhora that he was deprived of the
gift of speech and froze for some time. This puzzled Tanya. But Zhikin was already
shaking Coffinia Cryptova’s shoulder vigorously.
“What’s with you? A date again? Leave me alone, or else I’ll call Glomov!” Coffinia
snapped with displeasure. She was warming her hands at the fire and did not really want
to turn around.
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“There’s Grotty!” Zhikin whispered.
Coffinia turned around and, noticing Tanya, began to play with her eyebrows
perplexedly. “Oh, what moronoids are also at large! I beg you! Welcome to evil, Grotty!”
she said.
Now all the darks gathered in the hall, and there were so many of them, were
looking at Tanya. Thirty pairs of eyes. Tanya became slightly uneasy from this increased
attention. Yes, Sardanapal had transferred her to their department, but she was an
outsider for this world, and there was no need to explain this to the darks. However, it
seemed the darks were now struck, not even by the very fact that Tanya – a former white
– dared to turn up in their secret drawing room, but by something else. Even Coffinia,
greeting her straight off in her usual manner, was now clearly puzzled.
Rita On-The-Sly got up and carefully, as if a spectre could appear in Tanya’s place,
approached her. “Stop! Let’s investigate! How did you get in here, Grotty?” she asked
insinuatingly.
“I wandered and got in,” Tanya said.
“Uh-h... Well, it’s understandable… But how did you pass the jug?”
“Very simple,” Tanya answered and shrugged. Since living at the Durnevs’, she
could not stand interrogations.
Rita On-The-Sly looked around at the other darks. “Do you mean to say that you
didn’t even utter a spell when you were next to the jug?” she asked with distrust.
“Nope,” Tanya cut her off.
The idiotic questions were beginning to irritate her. Moreover, the unpredictable
On-The-Sly, when you get down to it, was sometimes more dreary and pushy than
Cryptova. Coffinia preferred sudden cavalry attacks. She swooped down, stung with her
tongue, and dashed off. On-The-Sly pressed down like a tank.
“You said Morlock mouldum grudgis, didn’t you? Well, own up. One of us spilled
the beans, right?” On-The-Sly tried to find out. Tanya shook her head.
On-The-Sly darted into the hallway and half a minute later returned white as a
sheet. “There are only fragments! Grotty broke the jug with the daeva!” she said loudly
to her people.
The darks surrounded Tanya with amazed exclamations. Now they were looking at
her with such surprise, as if she had just gotten a light from the infernal flame. No one
swore at her for the broken jug. They probably understood that such things do not
happen by accident.
“And this girl studied for four years in the white department! She broke the jug,
stayed alive, and didn’t even utter the spell!” Rita exclaimed. “But did you at least feel
something?”
“It’s a long story. But in general, the pleasure was way below average,” Tanya
unwillingly acknowledged. If On-The-Sly is so curious, let her read the enCyclopaedia.

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Tanya did not want, on recounting, to experience anew in memory that terrible minute
when pain blinded her and it was as if her head turned into a brazier with coals.
“What a mess!” Cryptova said, already having had time to visit the hallway. “The
daeva of death simply bolted from Grotty! It had probably had it with her. And I’m still
living in the same room with this one! Poor, miserable little Coffiny!”
Shurasik approached Tanya carefully. Holding his glasses, the know-it-all looked
her over from all sides and even touched her with a finger. “Indeed… It’s really you, but
then, you know, spectres are very credible. Simply credible beyond belief. By the way, I
recently read an amusing little book. There, uh-h, was mentioned the name of one
sorceress, who also wasn’t afraid of the daeva… Of course I have in mind She-Who-IsNo-More…” he said pensively.
“NO!” Tanya shouted. “NO! I’M NOT HER!”
Tanya started to feel dizzy. Horror and indignation swept over her. The forgotten
abrasive laughter again sounded in her ears. Fire flared up in the empty eye sockets of
the dead sorceress. A dry hand touched her cheek. “You are me! I am you! Admit it! I
only need your body. Let me in! Otherwise I will not be able to be incarnated.”
“NO! I’M NOT PLAGUE! Go away! Leave me!” Tanya shouted again.
An unexpected and inexplicable wind gust rushed around the hall. The flame in the
fireplace flickered. The hallucination disappeared. Tanya ran a hand along her face, as if
removing a sticky cobweb. The darks looked at her like an outcast. She squatted and
grabbed her head with her hands. Someone among the darks giggled.
“Oh, it goes without saying, you’re not her. Plague is much more likable… Poor
inexperienced Gury! Only he can be so cruelly deceived!” Coffinia squatted beside her
and remarked with feigned sympathy.
Tanya kept silent. Cryptova took her silence as weakness and began to follow up
the advantage. “Don’t touch Grotty! We have a special fellow in Grotty… One minute
she’s nice, and then in five minutes she plays such a dirty trick on the entire Tibidox that
you won’t disentangle in a year! But at the same time, she still wants to be white, I beg
you!” she said insinuatingly.
This was already going too far. But Coffinia loved to let herself go too far. Tanya
would probably have endured it at another time, but not now. “Sparkis frontis!” she
shouted and, beside herself, jerked up her ring. Horror flickered in Cryptova’s eyes.
At the last minute, Tanya suddenly thought that she was doing something not
right. But Great-grandfather Theophilus’ ring had already become red-hot. Realizing
that she would not manage to cancel the spark, Tanya hastily turned the ring towards
the heavy oak table, which the darks used for spiritualistic séances.
Flash… One… one more… another... Fragments of the split table, enveloped in
flames, flew about the hall. Dark magicians rushed to hide in the corners, escaping from
blazing firebrands.

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Tanya stared at her ring. She was no less scared than the others. She certainly knew
that a combat spark was not a toy, but it had never worked so powerfully before. Had
she not shifted the ring from Coffinia, Cryptova would have to have been swept off the
floor with a broom.
The darks gradually scrambled out from their hiding places. Shurasik’s hair was
smoking. Zhora Zhikin’s pants were burnt through; he had teleported the pants from a
fashion show in Paris, leaving the poor male moronoid model without pants right at the
time of the show. True, they say this helped the model to make himself conspicuous and
have a meteoric career. Only Seven-Stump-Holes, having managed after all to weave for
himself the amulet of luck, avoided unpleasant consequences.
“Well, Grotty! First time I’ve seen the combat spark of white magicians ejected…
triple red flash... This is... really your... end of the line!” Rita On-The-Sly, becoming
flushed like a grilled chicken, uttered in an undertone.
Tanya listened to her with distrust, belatedly recollecting that the sparks she just
shot were actually red. Even crimson, as if her ring had fired blazing coals. The combat
spark of white magicians with a triple red flash? This contradicted all logic. This, after
all, was simply impossible!
Tanya belatedly realized that recently it seldom turned out that she shot green
sparks. They were becoming more and more red, and against her will. This could mean
only one thing – the transformation had finally come about. She was already a dark
magician.
Tanya raised her hand with the ring, concentrated, and tried to release a green
spark, but Theophilus Grotter’s ring merely ejected a purple dot. “Understand: we didn’t
transfer you there, you did it yourself… Your actions transferred you…” Sardanapal’s
voice sounded in her ears.
“Tanya-del-Cake threw out a combat spark with a triple red flash! And the daeva
slipped away from Grotter before that!” the baby Stinktopp teased and, bouncing up and
down, dashed away along the hallway, hurrying to spread the news to the entire school.
“Tanya-del-Cake… Doesn’t sound bad!” Coffinia, becoming herself again, repeated
with a sneer, and Tanya understood that she had a new nickname. In any case, among
the dark magicians.

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112

Chapter 10
THE MADAME VAMP (FORMERLY FAVOURITE ARTERY)
VAMPIRE DINER
On one of the first days of December, after returning from dinner, Tanya was
sitting in Bab-Yagun’s room and, dictating to the firebird feather, writing a composition
on the apocrypha.
...
And God created Adam from eight parts: He took the body from earth, bones
from stones, blood from the sea, eyes from the sun, light from light, thoughts from
clouds, breath from the wind, and heat from fire… When He went to the sun for the
eyes and the wind for breath, the enemy riddled Adam’s body with a stick, after
installing in it seventy diseases, and smeared it with impurities...
“Now it’s as if they’ve smeared me with impurities. Worse: transferred me to the
dark department!” Tanya thought sadly. The feather, to which she had stopped
dictating, shook impatiently and made a blot.
Also in the room, besides Tanya and Bab-Yagun, was Hugo the Sly, who, legs
hanging down, was sitting on the cover of his book and trying on a new wig. The
abducted spectre looked quite cheerful. Only the wig did not cover up his entire bald
spot, and this thoroughly annoyed Hugo. He was going to a gala dinner for Unhealed
Lady and Lieutenant Rzhevskii, who had been given the Order of Noah of the II degree
through the efforts of his energetic wife.
The order affected the usually cheerful lieutenant in the most unpredictable ways.
He grew fat and flabby, and constantly complained, asserting that the order was to
blame for everything. “And why is this Noah of yours still necessary, only in order to
whine!” he reproached.
On the puckered dish of the zoomer appeared the fox face of a famous witch. She
winked her squinty eye, mysteriously made a threatening gesture in space with a skinny
finger, and began to coo, “Kiss-kiss, my little jerkies! With you is your tart-sweet
Nagiana and The Latest Magnews. Today’s edition. In the world, as always, complete
hodgepodge: someone is at war with someone, someone put an evil eye on someone,
someone stole something. A cupid with a suspicious pitcher was sent to Uncle Sam. Sam
decided that this was a Siberian ulcerous curse and put it under the press for removing
evil eye. Some scream there was! It turned out to be a genie auntie from Pakistan
coming to visit Sam. She hit upon saving on a flying carpet and sent herself by mail.
Besides giving the nephew a surprise. Official apologies were offered to the aunt, but the
blundering Sam now doesn’t show his nose outside the house. He has fallen into
depression, reads old postcards, and sadly ponders how to accuse Bam Khlaban, or at
the worst Vamdam Gussein of attempts on the scar of Gury Puper.” Nagiana smiled
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113

maliciously, as if the name of the real culprit of attempts on the scar was well known to
her.
“What else is new? Russian maglerinas 82 take all the stages by storm, being inferior
in popularity only to the Chetvergov chorus, which, besides singing, have even mastered
temporal magic tricks… Siberian magicians have learned to cultivate break-grass 83 in
greenhouses. They grew the grass, but yesterday at dawn, the green house was smashed
to smithereens. As experts suspect, the security guard absentmindedly locked the doors,
but the break-grass doesn’t like this.
“A large shipment of fern flowers was detained at moronoid customs through the
carelessness of local magicians. To resolve the situation, Koshchei the Deathless flew out
to customs on the skeleton of his own faithful horse. As a result, the fern flowers
proceeded to their destination, but the customs workers are still trying to recall what
they did the previous three days and why the van of contraband vodka is short seven
boxes.
“And finally, sensational news from Tibidox. This school of native magicians is
gaining an increasingly scandalous reputation. As has become known to us, Tibidox has
practically been living in a state of siege in recent days. Cyclopes are blocking all
entrances into and exits from the magic school. Magfioso cupids patrol the air. Usynya,
Gorynya, and Dubynya guard Forbidden Grove, and the thirty-three heroes under the
personal leadership of Uncle Chernomor – I beg Academician Chernomorov’s
forgiveness for the involuntary familiarity – patrol the coast. The reasons prompting the
Tibidox instructors to go to such measures are being carefully hidden from the press;
however, Magciety of Jerky Magtion has already expressed its concern.
“Hoping to clarify what’s happening on Buyan, according to established tradition,
we teleported Professor Stinktopp into our studio. Unfortunately, not so long ago this
eminent scientist tragically became a child; 84 therefore it’s not inconceivable that our
conversation will turn out a little muddled…” Nagiana twittered.
She smiled tensely for a while, simultaneously making terrible eyes, and then, after
apologizing to the audience for magical difficulties, launched a shoe at the operator. The
wretch had dozed off and forgotten to change the angle. The awakened operator began
to bustle, and almost immediately on the zoomer screen appeared a child’s chair, on
which, legs crossed under himself and flippantly picking his nose with a finger, sat the
baby Stinktopp.
“How do you do, Professor!” the witch turned affectionately to him.
Maglerina – a magic dancer.
Known by different names to different Slavic nations, the Russian break-grass is a magical herb in Slavic
mythology. It supposedly has the magical property of opening any lock and uncovering buried treasures.
It grows in meadows but is notoriously difficult to recognize by the uninitiated.
84
The original Russian phrase vpal v detstvo actually means that he has become senile; however,
following the story line in Tanya Grotter and the Throne of the Ancient One, Professor Stinktopp has
become a child again after taking a bite of a rejuvenating apple.
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82
83

114

“Ello!” Stinktopp answered. He pronounced certain letters as the mood took him.
He was not in the mood at the moment.
“The audience are extremely interested, Professor, please tell us, how is your longstanding conflict with Academician Sardanapal developing?” asked Nagiana.
“Saldanapalka bad! Nasty! Me seal up his lock with gum and he catch me and
attack my bum! Me could only stand for three days!” the baby complained, sniffing.
“A nightmare!” Nagiana was horrified. “To do that to a professor! And Docent
Gorgonova? She probably stood up for you?”
“Meduska also bad! She put me to bed at nine and twice launch evil eye with
Pointus if me run in hallway and chase ghosts!” Stinktopp whined.
“Monstrous! I hope these outrageous facts will interest Magciety of Jerky Magtion!
And now, Professor Stinktopp, could you explain what caused the increased security
measures in the school of Tibidox?” Nagiana asked insinuatingly.
Stinktopp started giggling thoughtlessly. “Me hear how Meduska talk with
Saldanapalka! They think me sleep, but me not sleep! They say some uncles come to
Tanka Grotter and demand she return what she shwipe from them! And if she not return
– they shmack all Tibidox! But Tanka return nothing to them!”
“Indeed? Grotter really took something from others?” Nagiana pricked up her ears.
“Aha! She sharp! Me recently drop candy, want to put in mouth second time, but
Tanka take it from me and throw out! Tell me tale about some microbes! She always lie!
Not for nothing Saldanapalka move her to dark department! She study there now!”
Stinktopp happily confirmed.
Nagiana stared meaningfully into the zoomer. “Grotter’s mixed up in a theft? She’s
in the dark department? Well, personally nothing surprises mean anymore! This girl
was already rolling downhill when she dared to become an orphan and almost Puper’s
namesake!” she said with authority. “Unfortunately, it’s time for us to end our
broadcast. However, we’ll definitely return to this topic at a later time… Professor
Stinktopp, why are you jumping here? Did some more facts really float up in your
brilliant memory?”
“Uncles and aunties, me have request for you!” the baby Stinktopp squealed. “Be so
kind! Say Kiakus kalakatis!”
“Why?” the witch did not understand.
“Well, please! Or else me cry!” the professor giggled touchingly.
“Kiakus kalakatis!”
“Not kiakus kalakatis, but kiakus kalakatis!”
“Ah… Well kiakus karakatis!” the witch automatically repeated, after figuring it
out.
The chair on which the squint-eyed witch was sitting suddenly reared up. Nagiana
disappeared off the screen; judging by the sound, she was most probably pressed into
the ceiling.
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“Ah-h-h-h-h-h!”
“Hee-hee! This was the skipping-chair spell from the baby Stinktopp!” the toddler
imparted merrily. He looked around, carefully checking where Nagiana landed, and
suddenly began to yell, “Ouch! Never slap me! Me small! Me complain to Magciety of
Jerky Magtion!”
The image in the zoomer began to jump. Instead of the witch there appeared
someone’s uninteresting boot. The enraged Nagiana, rushing in pursuit after the
brilliant baby, probably knocked the operator off his feet.
“Well now, end of broadcast! And, as always, at the most interesting place!” BabYagun said cheerfully, looking merrily at the depressed Tanya.
Suddenly the zoomer stopped bouncing, and Nagiana again appeared on the
screen. She looked fairly out of breath but contented. Obviously, she had succeeded after
all in catching the baby Stinktopp and, after boxing his ears, teleported him back to
Tibidox.
“Pardon, my jerkies! Magical difficulties! Phew! So, dragonball magnews. The time
for the match between team Tibidox and team Polar Spirits has been finalized. It will
take place on December 31st, exactly on New Year’s Eve, in the main dragonball field of
the island of Buyan. I’m certain this match won’t remain unnoticed and will attract the
attention of fans. According to rumours, the strength of the Polar Spirits grows
manyfold on New Year’s Eve, and the Spirits use secret magic to the utmost. All this
means that the match promises to be interesting. And now, my little tarts, hold onto you
chairs! Prick up your ears! Something special awaits you! The Tibidox coach,
Nightingale O. Robber, invited the incomparable Gury Puper into his team and Puper
unexpectedly agreed, which alarmed his English fans and almost gave his own coach a
heart attack! It’s not inconceivable that in team Tibidox, Puper will have the number 2,
replacing Damien Goryanov. True, Puper won’t stay long on Buyan. The replacement
will take place in all of one game. He’ll return to England shortly after the match and
resume practice with team Invisible.
“Well that’s all, cursers! Kiss-kiss! With you was your adoring Nagianie! Don’t miss
the next issue, or I’ll give you an evil eye!” The squinty-eyed witch sent several
remarkable kisses to the audience. The glass on Yagun’s windowsill thumped.
“I’m downright scared now!” Bab-Yagun said and, without waiting until Nagiana
finally disappeared, shoved the zoomer into the closet. This was not simple, since
Yagun’s closet was stuffed to the eyeballs with every possible dragonball harness.
In the catalogue, all of these harnesses seemed terribly necessary. Just think!
Something to pacify incensed dragons! A supersonic nozzle for the vacuum! A magic
divider producing a mirror double, which fooled the enemy! However, it came to
shelling out money for them, as everything turned out to be utter nonsense. Yes, the
super-ballcatcher actually caught balls, but at the same time, they somehow exploded in
the player’s hands, for some strange reason confusing him with a dragon. The
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supersonic nozzle… No one argues, the vacuum actually began to fly faster, but for all
that, the very lucky owner of the nozzle (and with him also part of the spectators) went
deaf for a good half of the day. The divider… But, it’s better not to remember about that.
What good is a mirror double constantly flickering in front of your nose, interfering with
the view of the field, and on top of that screaming all sorts of bad words at the referee!
Yagun got mad, cursed, swore that he would no longer be fooled, and threw the
absurd equipment into the closet, but in a week, having forgotten about everything, was
already begging his granny for bagel holes85 for the next thing in the same spirit.
It was simpler for Tanya. She never had money in her life – neither in the magic
nor the moronoid world. Whoever has no money is deprived of all temptations and
troubles connected with them. Otherwise, what would have prevented her from buying,
like Katya Lotkova, the “Cupid’s Rose” magic earrings, from which red dog hair started
to appear on her ears. It was necessary to seek Yagge’s help urgently. After uttering a
spell, the hair on Lotkova’s ears disappeared, and the ill-fated “Cupid’s Rose” turned
into chopped corn corpses.
“Never buy anything ‘Made in Bald Mountain’! And especially according to their
catalogues. There, on Bald Mountain, what you won’t meet…” Yagge said didactically.
Tanya, who was then lying in magic station after a fracture, became a little
terrified, but at the same time wanted more poignantly to go to Bald Mountain and at
least see with one eye how and what was there. From hearsay, an entire city populated
by wizards and evil spirits sprawled on Bald Mountain. Even vampires were also
permitted to be there. There was notoriety about what went on in that city, which,
naturally, only increased the interest in the place.
Sardanapal was rarely on Bald Mountain and only by necessity, Medusa somewhat
more frequently, and Tararakh from time to time, but the Great Tooth and Slander flew
there almost every week. It was more complicated for the students: they were forbidden
to leave Buyan before the completion of the full course of studies. True, now and then
someone found the means to dupe Grail Gardarika and then described such things that
it was almost impossible to believe.
“No way I’ll recover! Puper is playing instead of Goryanov! Of course, Damien only
interfered on the field, but I wonder, why did Gury agree? Playing with the Polar Spirits
is no laughing matter, and even on December 31 st! You won’t get the better of them even
at a normal time, but here such magic power comes to them that it’s scary to imagine.
And why was this Puper showing off?” Yagun asked. He could in no way stomach the
news.
Tanya kept quiet. She knew exactly why Gury had agreed. Most likely, everything
was as follows: Puper offered himself, after proposing to Nightingale to take him on the
team for a while, and Nightingale, it goes without saying, did not begin to refuse. And
The Russian phrase dyrka ot bublika literally means the space in the centre of a ring-shaped bread. It is
an idiom for “nothing”. It can also be used as a joke, denoting something that is devoid of all content.
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117

what coach would? Even the Muses – not a bad team, but far from brilliant – that
routed team Tibidox with a crushing score could not stand up to the Polar Spirits at all
without a replacement.
But why did Nightingale O. Robber not invite her, Tanya, to return? What, was she
worse than Puper? Or would Cryptova and Parroteva suit him more on the field? No, the
obstinate one-eyed coach simply did not intend on making the first step toward
reconciliation. And she, Tanya, was not about to either. Let everything go as it should!
Hugo the Sly finally pulled on his wig. “Now let Unhealed Lady try to suggest that I
have an unfashionable look! I’ll bite her! I’ll show her who doesn’t have enough culture
inside!” he stated categorically.
“Uh-huh,” said Yagun. He knew that it was useless to argue with Hugo. It was only
possible to praise him and take his advice.
“So, it means Gury will come flying into Tibidox to break maidenly hearts! Oh, I
foresee, our beauties will carry out military mobilization in order to get themselves this
visiting bird,” continued the spectre, getting excited.
“HUGO! Did you ever recall who stole you?” Tanya interrupted. She wanted to
change the subject.
Hugo shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone asks me one and the same thing, it’s even
downright boring! No, I don’t remember…” he said. “But lately I’ve been having strange
dreams. Very strange. I would even call them prophetic… I see a walking stick, which
grows roots, or possibly not a walking stick but something very similar. I wonder, how
would my friend Ziggy interpret this?”
The door flew open unexpectedly. Verka Parroteva looked into the room. Everyone
stared at her in surprise. “What, you don’t know yet?” she shouted. “They attacked
Zalizina! They found her in Sardanapal’s office by the mirror!” Tanya and Bab-Yagun
darted off.
“Hey, stop! You forgot an important thing! What, you don’t know that I can’t go
anywhere without this thing?” Hugo yelled, jumping impatiently on the cover, and
launched an old-fashioned shoe with a bow at Yagun.
***
When Tanya and Bab-Yagun ran up to the academician’s office, the entire school
was already crowding near it. No one was allowed into the office. The golden sphinx sat
on guard at the doors, and the Cyclopes, brought by Slander, attempted to drive the
crowd back from the doors. True, they were carrying this out without any special
eagerness. The reason was obvious. In their hurry, the Cyclopes forgot to put on the
vests to ward off evil eyes and were now rather unfoundedly scared of spells.
Vanka Valyalkin and Tararakh elbowed their way through to Tanya and Yagun. The
pithecanthropus had only just come out of the office.
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118

“Well, what’s there? Tell me, I’m dying from curiosity! Already died!” Brandishing
his wig, Hugo the Sly attacked Tararakh. The book spectre almost fell off the cover from
impatience.
Tararakh looked askance at Hugo sourly. The artless pithecanthropus did not much
like the roguish magician. To him, Hugo was…hmm...too versatile, perhaps? Tararakh
liked individuals, perhaps, not too complicated, but of integrity. Like Vanka Valyalkin.
“Not here! Too many ears here!” he said.
The pithecanthropus turned and, effortlessly, splitting the crowd like an
icebreaker, approached a semicircular window. The door into Sardanapal’s office was
well visible from here; however, there was no longer a crowd. The light passing through
the stained glass painted Tararakh’s face violet, pink, and yellow.
But it was also not entirely safe here. Many students, on seeing that Tararakh had
come out of the office, moved closer seemingly by accident. Others, looking completely
in the other direction and outwardly not a bit interested in Tararakh, hurriedly tuned
the eavesdropping spell. Noticing this, Vanka Valyalkin released a green spark. “Earus
onheadus!” he uttered. In that instant, no less than twenty or thirty students – and
among them those who no one would have ever suspected – started to rub their ears.
The anti-eavesdropping spell worked without a hitch. In the next ten minutes, all the
overly curious individuals were rendered harmless, enlarging the army of deaf people
and old gunners.
“Here’s what…” Tararakh said sadly. “I decided to show Sardanapal Alkonost – for
some reason its wounds aren’t healing at all. I’m very worried. You see, the harpies had
poison on their claws. The academician looked at Alkonost, advised something sensible,
and we went to his office for a reference on antidotes. We got here and couldn ’t believe
our eyes. Liza Zalizina was standing by the mirror and trying to break it. Both her hands
were already bloody, cut, but the mirror was still holding out, only the crack had become
deeper. I dragged her away, shook her, shouted, but she looked through me, as if she
didn’t see me but the wall behind me. She was pale, cheek-bones blazing...”
“And Sardanapal?”
“Well, he first guessed that Liza herself didn’t hit upon breaking the mirror…
Someone turned her into a zombie, or even worse – cast an ancient spell. Sardanapal
said that this curse is a thousand times worse than zombification. If we simply remove it
– Liza will die, and that’s it...”
“But who cast it?” Hugo asked.
Tararakh slowly turned to him. “How would I know: who? Why do you ask me?”
the pithecanthropus snapped. “Most likely either this mirror hunchback – here’s
someone whose arms and legs I’d rip off with pleasure! – or one of the four. Nobody
else.”
“I saw Zalizina at dinner today… She was so cheerful, smiled at me. Even let me
hold the cuckoo,” Vanka recalled.
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119

“That’s the thing. I also saw Liza at dinner and also noticed nothing. The cuckoo
was also in the office. It was flying like mad, striking the windows, the mirror. I barely
caught it,” Tararakh nodded. The pithecanthropus let them peek into his bosom, and
everyone saw the cuckoo sitting there with ruffled feathers and neck drawn in. “For
some reason I’ve rather too many birds making themselves comfortable in the den… The
firebirds, Alkonost, now the cuckoo here… I really don’t know what I am to do with this
whole chicken coop,” Tararakh said.
Bab-Yagun chuckled. He knew how to appreciate a good phrase, even one said
accidentally. “Something doesn’t jive here,” he remarked. “I don’t understand how
Zalizina turned up in the office at all. In my opinion, it’s not so simple to break into
Sardanapal’s. Of course, it can be assumed that the academician absent-mindedly
arranged an open…hee-hee…mouse,86 but where was the sphinx looking? Few can
escape from this pussycat! I don’t understand…”
Realizing that Bab-Yagun was right and it was not so simple to get into
Sardanapal’s office, Tanya and Vanka looked at Tararakh, but the pithecanthropus was
only at a loss. “Zalizina was in the office. Indeed, you can believe me. And don’t bug me
anymore!” he said.
Unexpectedly the crowd parted, and Tanya saw that the Great Tooth was making
her way to them. “Grotter!” she hailed. “The academician is calling you!”
Tanya noticed that Dentistikha avoided looking at her and only nervously played
with the tassels of her long scarf. “Why?” Tanya timidly asked.
“Don’t ask foolish questions!” Deni turned and quickly walked to the office.
There was nothing left for Tanya to do but follow her. She barely managed to touch
Vanka’s hand on the off chance like a talisman. The students – white and dark – looked
at them with equal curiosity, sensing that something extraordinary was taking place.
The sphinx was about to growl, blocking their way, but the Great Tooth looked at it
sternly through the thick lenses of her glasses. The guard, having grown quiet, sprang up
onto the door, instantly contracted, and became flat.
All the instructors had gathered in the office, like that time when they transferred
her to the dark department. A cloth was draped over the mirror. Occasionally, the cloth
puffed up and Tanya heard the glassy laughter of Hunchback on the other side of the
curtain. The laughter sounded much louder and more confident than last time. Mad
Glazier was clearly becoming stronger each day.
Zalizina, motionless like a wax figure, sat on Sardanapal’s armchair. Yagge and the
academician himself were bustling about near her. Yagge whispered something and
blew a ring of smoke out from her cherry pipe. It surrounded Zalizina and, having
frozen, melted, as if it attempted to remove part of the evil eye from her.
A burning pity for Liza seized Tanya. Without a moment’s hesitation, she rushed to
her and hunched down, so that their faces were now approximately level. When Tanya’s
86

The original Russian text is a play on words: den' otkrytykh zverei – the day of open beasts, a pun on the Russian
phrase for open house: den' otkrytykh dverei – the day of open doors.
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120

face turned up right beside Zalizina’s, something intelligent flickered for a brief moment
in Zalizina’s eyes, as if the previous Liza peeped out for a moment from behind steamy
glass.
“IT’S YOU WHO ARE GUILTY, GROTTY! WHY ME, BUT NOT YOU? WHY NOT
YOU?” Liza shouted and, stretching out her arms, rushed at Tanya.
Tanya recoiled in horror. The academician and Yagge tried to seat Liza into the
armchair again, but they succeeded in doing this only with Medusa’s help. Slander
Slanderych, arms akimbo, stared maliciously at Tanya. And she again – this had already
become almost customary – felt as if icicles were drilling into her body.
“Steamus releasus!” Sardanapal quickly uttered. A green spark slid along the hair
of the raging Zalizina, who was writhing in the arms of Medusa and Yagge as if she was
epileptic. Her body went limp. Her head dropped onto her chest, but when it lifted
again, the previous detachment appeared in her half-closed eyes.
“Today Grotter must fly to Bald Mountain! We must find what was taken away
from us! Otherwise, this occupied body will die first, and after it also others… This was
my last warning! Triglav’s warning!” Zalizina announced in a ghastly voice belonging to
someone else.
The cloth on the mirror inflated like a bubble and went down. Laughing loudly,
Mad Glazier ran along the cracks from the lower corner to the upper.
***
The dark-magic books in the cage transformed first into large black jackdaws, then
snakes, attempting to squeeze through the bars. Tanya looked at them and guessed what
Sardanapal would say to her now. But the academician said nothing. He kept silent,
pondering.
The two of them – Tanya and Sardanapal – remained in the office. Even Medusa,
who did not want to leave, withdrew, having correctly interpreted the steadfast gaze of
the head of Tibidox. When the door was shut after the last instructor and Yagge,
together with the medical genies, carefully led Zalizina, stepping like a zombie, to magic
station, Sardanapal looked long and searchingly at Tanya. In the way he looked, there
was no irritation or anger – rather, the look was sad, compassionate, and with infinite
understanding.
“You heard what Zalizina said, didn’t you?” the academician finally asked quietly.
“Yes.”
“And do you understand who in reality said this for her?” Tanya nodded. The
answer was too obvious.
“I spent several nights in the genie Abdullah’s library. Together we examined
hundreds of books and manuscripts… Useless. No magic will be able to close the mirror
passage from the Beyond World, opened through your carelessness. But now isn’t the
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121

time to assign blame.” The head of Tibidox shook his head, showing that he would not
return to this subject again.
“Between the worlds – Beyond and ours – there has always been a strict law of
equilibrium. Nothing can pass from world to world without destroying the delicate
balance. Now, when something has vanished from Simorg, Perun, Veles, and Triglav,
our world has become a debtor of their world… Until we return what was stolen from
them, the passage will remain open.”
Tanya heard a suspicious sound in the mirror. It seemed to her that a small black
dot had appeared on the cloth draped over the glass. But Sardanapal continued to speak,
and she turned away from the mirror.
“It’s a mistake to think that all heathen gods are incarcerated behind Sinister
Gates. Trust me, my girl, only a small part… Others preferred to leave for the Beyond
World. Simorg, Perun, Veles, and Triglav are only the first who strive to force their way
through to us. Even if we managed to stop them with a miracle, which is almost
impossible, others will follow them, and Tibidox will be destroyed sooner or later. We’re
the first because they blame us for the loss of the world tree. Then all the rest of the
magic world will fall under attack, and finally even the moronoid world will suffer… And
you, Tanya Grotter, are in the centre of all the events again. What do you think, why do
they demand that precisely you return what was stolen?”
“Perhaps because I summoned the spirit Mad Glazier?” Tanya suggested.
Sardanapal’s beard stirred doubtfully. “Possibly. But, possibly, there’s something
more. Trust me, ancient gods always have a very valid reason for choosing someone…
Once they demand that you find what was stolen, that means no one else: neither I nor
Medusa nor Slander will be able to do this for you. Although we can also do something. I
wouldn’t let you go to Bald Mountain, but there’s no way out… You haven’t been there
before?”
“No,” Tanya said. The academician’s moustache drooped sadly. Obviously, he
expected another answer.
“Oh, it goes without saying,” said Sardanapal. “I simply thought: maybe, you
managed to go there secretly. In our time…ahem...all sorts of things happened. We
encountered students who regularly broke school rules… Whom to recall? Leopold
Grotter, let’s say, was a clear example… Ahem… In any case Bald Mountain isn’t the
place for students of Tibidox. You’ll learn nothing good there, but then you can perish
pretty easily. I warned Leopold about this dozens of times in this very office.”
Tanya felt dizzy. It grew warm inside her, as if something familiar, forgotten for a
moment, touched her. This almost always happened when she heard about Father or
Mother or started to think about them herself. And then it seemed to her that Leopold
and Sophia were somewhere near and looking at her, invisible, supporting her and
warming her with love.

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122

“My father broke school rules?” Tanya asked as if by chance. She wanted to learn
more about this.
Sardanapal stroked his beard and coughed into his palm. It seemed to Tanya that
he did this to hide a smile. “Hmm… ‘Broke’ isn’t the word. Your father couldn’t stand
rules as such. The best way to force him to do something was to tell him that it’s
forbidden. Moreover, not simply forbidden, but very strictly. Once, I found him on the
roof with the double bass that is well known to you. Your father tried to fly off to Bald
Mountain, moreover, as discovered later, not for the first time. I remember there was a
huge scandal. Professor Stinktopp demanded that I transfer him to the dark
department. But, as you see, he remained in the white, but his daughter moved to the
dark… Ahem… Leopold and his double bass rumbled then at the whole school! It seems
he parted from the instrument neither day nor night. When we did our nightly rounds of
rooms, checking who had made off to war with evil spirits (it was war then and everyone
ran off to the front), I saw Leopold sleeping clasping the double bass. Even covering it
with the same blanket… Hmm…”
Tanya listened greedily to the academician. What was pleasant for her was not even
so much the confirmation that the double bass had belonged to her father (this she
already knew) but the new information that Leopold and the double bass were
inseparable. It meant that just as she did, Leopold examined all its cracks, stroked the
polish with his palm, and twisted the pegs, stretching the strings. She considered that
every time she touched the double bass, she was touching Father.
“Yes, this double bass is more than one hundred years old, and, by the way, flight is
only part of its magic. And not the most significant,” the academician said as if casually.
At the same instant, he looked significantly at Tanya. He would probably have said
something more about Leopold and the double bass, but suddenly the cloth covering the
mirror burst into flames. The fire, which had sprung up in its lower left corner, engulfed
the entire cloth in an instant and strove to reach the papers on the academician’s desk.
So that was the meaning of those sounds and the dark spot! Hunchback had managed to
set the cover on fire!
“Trigus sputterus!” Tanya shouted. The spell snapped into action, but too late –
the flame was too furious. Only charred rags, smoking with stifling fumes, remained of
the cloth.
Hunchback with Pimply Nose burst out with a rattling laughter and, having caught
Sardanapal’s reflection, attempted to rip off its head. However, before he succeeded in
doing this, the mirror academician released a spark, hurling Mad Glazier off behind a
cut-off section of the glass, where he started to gnash his teeth loathsomely and curse.
The academician’s reflection majestically wrapped itself up in the cloak and teleported,
probably intending on appearing in one of the other Tibidox mirrors.
The real Sardanapal threw open the window so that the smoke would dissipate
faster. “Well now… The third sheet of the day. And one more at night! If this goes on any
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123

longer, I’ll soon have to turn to the magic tablecloth. I no longer have a single sheet.
Medusa won’t lend me hers; I would have slept on a bare mattress long ago…” he said
sadly.
“You should try Black Curtains! In my opinion, when the mirror was in our room,
Curtains didn’t particularly like Hunchback…” Tanya proposed, the happy idea having
dawned on her. She was certain Black Curtains would not allow being mocked at. It is
suffice to ask the moronoids at the cleaners or Aunt Ninel about this. And, it seems, they
did not fear fire. Very recently, tidying up the room, she and Coffinia tried to shake the
dust off Curtains and noticed below, next to one of the tassels, a phrase woven with
silvery threads: To whomever is fated to hang these, these will not perish in a gulf of
fire and will not burn in the fire.
The academician hesitated. “You think so? Hmm… On the other hand, why not? No
harm in trying. But Cryptova won’t object?” he smiled.
“Coffinia? She’ll only be too glad, even if Curtains are chucked into the swamp!”
Tanya said with conviction. She felt an urge to add that the whole morning Curtains had
reflected Puper, who, in an orange motorcycle helmet and green with dark-blue striped
shorts, was chasing his broom with a chainsaw. Coffinia, red as a crab, flung whatever at
Curtains and maintained that this was not her dream but Tanya’s…
“Now listen!” Sardanapal said. “Listen and remember the first time. We have little
time. At about midnight tonight, you’ll take the double bass and go up to the roof of
Main Tower. Look attentively in all directions. On a merlon on the north-eastern side of
the roof you’ll discover a scratched arrow. I have a strong suspicion that it didn’t appear
without your father’s participation… The arrow shows the direction to Bald Mountain.
Precisely at midnight, I’ll remove the block on Grail Gardarika for a few minutes… It’ll
be enough for you to leave Buyan. It’s possible to fly to Bald Mountain in four to five , or
you could spend an entire night on the road. Everything will depend on the wind and
whether you’ll lose your way. Memorize the arrangement of the stars. Will you manage?
After all, you’ve studied four years of magic, and it’s certainly not so little.”
“I’ll try not to lose my way…” said Tanya.
“It’s good that you say ‘I’ll try’. It establishes some hope that you’re looking at
things realistically…” the academician smiled.
“And on Bald Mountain? What must I search for?” Tanya asked.
The academician stopped smiling. “That I don’t know. No one knows. I’m sure
everything will arrange itself as it should. You know, my girl, a whimsical individual by
the name of Fate rules these worlds. She’s good in that she deliberately recognizes no
rules. What’s more, she operates in spite of everything and everything is arranged in the
best way anyway. The only thing Fate doesn’t tolerate is passive, lazy, and lethargic
people who sit in one place and fear to make mistakes. Now go and get ready for the
flight! And remember that once, when Tibidox only began to be built, on its wall hung a
shield with the motto: Fear not to go to the wrong place, fear to not go anywhere!”
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124

“Fear to not go anywhere…” Tanya repeated like an echo.
“Precisely. Afterwards, I remember, evil spirits dragged the shield away and
wrecked it in the swamp. They roamed here for many centuries quite without fear, until
we cracked down on them. Now go and find a little more warm clothing. It’ll be frosty
tonight, especially in a draft,” said Sardanapal.
With that, the academician’s right moustache pointed to the door, the left to the
window, and the beard moved in undulation, demonstrating that it was all the same to it
which way the baby Grotter would choose to leave the office, provided it was the
shortest.
The golden sphinx accompanied Tanya to the doors. It did not growl but it had an
extremely hostile look. Tanya went and pondered if she would be able to take Yagun and
Vanka with her. They most likely would agree, but what would the heathen gods think of
that? Maybe it’s better to say nothing to her friends at all?
“Yes, I completely forgot!” Sardanapal suddenly hailed her. Tanya turned around.
The sphinx stopped by her feet, showing that although Sardanapal had hailed her, he
had not called her back into the office.
“In case it comes into your head to take someone with you... Ahem... I mean, what
if you happen to have this thought? Take notice, Perun, Veles, Triglav, and Simorg called
only one name – yours. They didn’t call other names.”
The girl froze, stunned. Again she was convinced that the academician read her
thoughts like an open book. “Fine. I’ll fly alone,” Tanya said sadly, not noticing that sly
wrinkles formed near the academician’s eyes.
“Wait! Now let’s examine the problem from the point of view of my friend
Socrates…” continued Sardanapal. “Simorg, Perun, Veles, and Triglav sent for you
precisely, but indeed they didn’t claim the reverse: i.e., that you must certainly fly alone.
If so, it’s hardly worth interpreting their words literally and refusing the help of those
who can offer it. I hope you understand me… And thanks for the idea of Black Curtains!
I’m very curious as to which of these two will win the day.”
***
Bab-Yagun finished filling the tank with small garbage and mixed it with mayo and
vegetable oil. To this he added a little werewolf fur, mermaid scales, and a rat skeleton.
Hugo the Sly advised him to put in the rat skeleton, after stating, foaming at the mouth,
that it would give the vacuum additional agility in flight. The resulting mixture most of
all resembled the contents of a slop bucket, which had not been taken out for about
three days but was regularly packed.
“Ah, my granny mama, how appetizingly it has turned out! Would eat it myself!”
Yagun said, grimacing, wiping his hands thoroughly, and screwing on the top part with
the motor to the tank of the vacuum.
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125

“So, what’s stopping you? Bon appétit!” Vanka Valyalkin proposed.
“You see, my friend soccer shirt, the whole problem is in my stomach… It’s
exceptionally old-fashioned and doesn’t share my enlightened views. Besides, if my
vacuum remains without fuel, we’ll have to swim to Bald Mountain, which, taking into
account the size and depth of the ocean, the irritability of my granny, and my unique
ability to catch a head cold, isn’t the best plan,” said Yagun. He wiped the vacuum with a
rag, checking if the knots of the talismans were well tied, and, after snapping onto the
pipe the highest-speed brush from his collection, added, “It’s December now after all.”
When Tanya found Vanka and Bab-Yagun after leaving Sardanapal’s office and
asked if they would agree to accompany her, both, it goes without saying, readily agreed,
but for a long time they could not recover their wits from amazement.
“Sardanapal really allowed the three of us to fly to Bald Mountain together?” Yagun
asked with distrust.
“Yes. Not directly, but he dropped very clear hints that he wouldn’t be against it.
I’m more interested in something else: how he guessed, as I didn’t even ask him,” Tanya
said.
Yagun cautiously looked sideways at the office door of the head of Tibidox. “Shish!
The academician, uh… mirrors… I’ve been told before that he can do this. You didn’t
sense tickling?”
“No.”
“That’s it! Now that’s the ultimate stunt! It still nags and nags me! Lucky I’ll
profess that! If I decided to mirror Sardanapal or even Slander, my ears would become
quite elephantine,” Yagun sighed with envy.
They did not argue for long about whether Sardanapal had mirrored or not, they
needed to get ready. The main complication was what Vanka would fly on. His own
vacuum had fallen to pieces long ago, and generally, speaking frankly, Valyalkin was not
a big fan of magic technology. His heart belonged to Tanya and magic essences. Possibly
even in the other order: magic essences and then Tanya.
Tararakh came to their aid, bringing Vanka Liza Zalizina’s clock. The cuckoo
warming in the pithecanthropus’ bosom agilely pecked Vanka’s finger and slid into its
place – the open door above the number XII. The door immediately slammed shut. The
clock struck several times. The heavy pendulum swung. The silver cone weight on a long
chain began to crawl down with a quiet grinding sound.
“You uh… give the cuckoo a bit to recover and, the main thing, don’t drag it out
with force. Otherwise, it’ll fear you. Let it come to its senses somewhat. And if you make
up your mind to fly somewhere, feed it millet or poppy seeds,” Tararakh advised him.
At approximately quarter to midnight Tanya, Yagun, and Vanka were finally ready
to set off and made their way to the stairs. They had to go through the common room.
Tanya noticed Coffinia in the common room. Sitting next to her was Katya Lotkova.
Both lazy-bones – one from the dark department, the other from the white – were
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126

amusing themselves with tickling Puper’s calendar portrait with a chicken feather. Poor
Gury was bobbing up and down and laughing loudly like crazy.
On noticing Tanya, Yagun, and Vanka, Cryptova and Lotkova stared at them.
Somehow, the news that they were flying to Bald Mountain had managed to spread
around the whole school already. It was not possible to tell who had made a slip of the
tongue in connection with that.
“Good luck!” Lotkova shouted.
Yagun puffed up his chest and, not even looking at Lotkova but somewhere in the
space between Katya and Cryptova, said without addressing anyone in particular, “My
granny mama! It’s possible we won’t return. Even most likely we won’t return. So, the
last time someone sees someone. Search for my insanely beautiful remains on Bald
Mountain or in the ocean abyss.”
Katya snorted; nevertheless, it seemed to Yagun that she looked sideways at him
with some anxiety. Yagun, possessing an almost phenomenal feeling for such things, to
his delight, felt that his actions immediately rose tens points. It was another matter that
their course was wretched from the beginning. Too many admirers twirled around
Katya. Lotkova, though, had not yet properly fallen in love with anyone.
“You really won’t return?” Coffinia asked languidly. “Grotty, sweetie, I beg you: try
to fall from the double bass over the ocean! I’ll try to survive this loss!”
But then the Puper depicted on the calendar, on hearing about the dangerous
flight, looked with suffering at Tanya and sent her an air kiss.
“Coffy, he betrayed us! Two such beautiful girls! Well, hold on, crafty traitor!”
Lotkova was indignant and again started to tickle Gury with the feather. Puper laughed
despondently. It was felt that both admirers were thoroughly getting to him.
Tanya looked around at her friends. Vanka and Yagun, dressed in sheepskin coats,
resembled Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky,87 such business-like clumsy fatsos. Tanya knew
that she herself looked not less amusing. Yagge, on learning that they were flying off,
appeared as if from under the ground at the last moment and greased the cheeks of all
three with bear fat. “You’ll find yourself in freezing weather at night, then you’ll say
thanks!” she said, applying the final, most energetic smear of fat to the nose of the
escaping Yagun.
“I’ll even say thanks now! You’ve plugged up my nostrils with fat, I can’t breathe…”
Yagun snapped.
Tanya felt that her friend was embarrassed. Sixteen-year-old Yagun had grown a
lot, almost twice the height of his diminutive granny and thrice as broad, but she treated
him as before, like a mother hen with its chick. For the time being, Yagun could in no
way get rid of Granny’s care, but it was awkward in front of outsiders. Now he had to
defend himself by firing jokes.
Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky are two characters from The Inspector General (1836, 1842), a satirical
play by Russian dramatist and novelist Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-52). These two town squires
mistook the con artist as the expected inspector, thus bringing disaster to the town.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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“What’s he ashamed of? Here I have no grandma or grandpa, but I would have no
objection if they would hop around me,” thought Tanya.
“Aha, right away! Not a chance! Here I’m already running to jump, I’ll just grow
legs now!” Theophilus Grotter’s ring squeaked. The grumbling great-grandfather also
knew very well how to mirror…
***
All good things must come to an end sooner or later. This is a fact. But all bad
things also end sooner or later. This is also a fact. When the Main Stairs, exhausting the
friends with the impossible number of steps, finally ended and rested against the garret,
the children were only pleased.
Neither Tanya, Vanka, nor Yagun had been on the roof of the Main Tower before. A
shimmering curtain usually protected the hatch to the roof. Now the curtain had
disappeared – someone, possibly Slander or the Great Tooth, had removed it on the
academician’s order. After pushing the heavy door, which turned out to be unlocked,
Yagun was the first to step out onto the roof. After him were Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin,
who, besides her double bass, was also dragging his cuckoo clock. Poor Vanka! One who
loves always has to huff and puff.
The roof turned out to be flat and round. Stone merlons jutted out along the edges.
They involuntarily reminded Tanya of chess. It seemed to her that she was standing on
top of an enormous rook, which pierced the sky with a wide pillar, parting the violet
night clouds.
“Where to now?” Vanka Valyalkin asked.
Suddenly the cuckoo clock began to grind. The pendulum, swinging slowly and
regularly till then, froze for several instants, and then the clock began to strike. With
each repeated strike, the door was thrown open, and the cuckoo, already wearied in
advance by chores, looked out, and uttered “cuc-koo” loudly and clearly.
“Midnight!” Tanya suddenly remembered.
She realized that they were late. Sardanapal had already removed the block on
Grail Gardarika. In a few minutes, Buyan would again become inaccessible. No one
would be able to penetrate into or leave the island of magicians.
Tanya hurriedly looked around, trying to figure out where northeast was. It was
possible to attempt to find one’s bearings by the stars, but the stars were barely visible.
They only peeped out occasionally with curious yellow pupils through the breaks of the
violet clouds, which were like large pieces of dyed cotton.
Tanya quickly went along the merlons, examining each attentively. Finally, she
caem to a large merlon ordinary in appearance. Having inspected it and discovered
nothing special, Tanya was about to proceed further, but here precisely a quick and light

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128

push in her chest forced her to return and look again. As if hurrying to help her, the
moon appeared from behind the clouds.
Tanya saw a long scratch on the stone with a barely noticeable arrow at the end.
Leopold Grotter, when he had carved this dent, was barely older than Tanya and did not
surmise that he would have a daughter. Most likely, Father pursued only one goal – to
show his friends the direction to Bald Mountain. Nothing more. He clearly had no farreaching goals.
Tanya removed a glove and ran her fingers along the scratch. A normal non-magic
stone, normal non-magic dent, but why did it warm her fingers, palm, and chest this
way? Tanya became stiff with cold. It was as if time had disappeared for her. She stood
and mechanically ran her fingers along the scratch repeatedly. Her eyes twitched
suspiciously.
“Hey, what’s with you? Wake up, Gardarika won’t snap into action!” Bab-Yagun
shouted, not having any idea about the scratch or who had carved it.
Tanya came to and looked at him without understanding. An astonished Yagun still
had to repeat twice before she finally understood what he was saying. Sitting on the
double bass, the girl looked around for the last time at the stone merlon, next to which a
young Leopold Grotter once – probably, repeatedly! – stood. “Papa, I’ll return! I’ll
definitely return!” she mentally promised and waved the bow.
The double bass, the reactive vacuum, and the cuckoo clock took off into the violet
sky. The walls of Tibidox, the pond like a flat reflecting field, Forbidden Grove where the
world tree once grew, and the forest with wind-fallen trees all flashed past. Cliffs
appeared in front, and immediately beyond them was the protective barrier, safely
hiding Buyan from outside eyes and uninvited intrusions.
“Grail Gardarika!” they all shouted together. Two green sparks and one red one
flared up.
Seven rainbows lined the sky, interwoven into one. The clouds tossed about like
sheets in the wind. Eternity winked with a violet eye. The Tibidox mass, until that time
hanging visibly behind their backs, quivered, dimmed by a fog, and disappeared…
They were already in the moronoid world.
Tanya chose in the sky several brighter stars, which she had noticed even from the
roof, and now, waiting until they peeped out from behind the clouds, determined the
direction with them. There was simply no other way. Pity that Medusa or Sardanapal
had not made for them a magic map like the one which they had once used to find
Buyan in the ocean when returning with Coffinia from the moronoids. As they
maintained, Bald Mountain was not a place one could reach with the aid of a map.
Tanya did not even ponder why that was so. After four years of studies in the school of
magic, she had become accustomed to every possible restrictions and bans, which could
in no way be explained at all.

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129

The ocean, over which the vacuum, the double bass, and the clock rushed, tiny like
specks of dust in comparison, was barely visible in the darkness. It was even difficult to
believe that something existed there below. Only the concealed power of something
enormous that spread under them, and with which they were like tiny grains of sand in
comparison, made itself felt in the air.
The cold was not so chilling, possibly because of the efforts of Yagge and her bear
fat, but the wind kept on knocking them off course. Tanya tried not to gather speed too
much so that Vanka would not lag behind on the cuckoo clock. But then Yagun on the
reactive vacuum continually stepped on the gas and shot forward. True, his vacuum was
behaving like a fidgety racer. It either bucked or meandered unpredictably.
“What, I’ll now fly zigzag this way? I chanced upon this Hugo with his rat skeleton!
Now I understand why he was giggling all the time when he was talking about agility!”
Yagun shouted, rushing past Tanya for the umpteenth time and disappearing again.
Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin were flying side by side. At one point, Vanka, for some
reason, wanted to touch Tanya’s shoulder. He carelessly leaned over from the clock and
almost fell, but the cuckoo, with an anxious scream, took to fussing over him, and
Tanya, having turned sharply on the double bass, managed to catch the carried-away
romantic in time.
“Such are the times! Now ladies save cavaliers! What a moon! Like an omelette!”
Vanka said dreamily.
Tanya smiled, realizing that Valyalkin had managed to get hungry again.
Interesting, did he bring along his crippled magic tablecloth? And if he did, how would
he unfold it in flight? The idea of bombing the ocean with cutlets and cucumbers was, of
course, amusing, only pity the cutlets. And the moronoids. Indeed, it was well-known to
everyone that whatever appeared on the magic tablecloth had vanished several moments
earlier from moronoid restaurants or markets.
They flew for a long time, but the ocean had not yet ended. Finally, when Tanya
already began to fear that they were off course and were now simply carving circles
above the ocean, a long strip of land appeared ahead on the horizon. Moronoid cities
soon flickered with illuminated threads of avenues, neon ads twinkling tearfully.
Tanya and Vanka looked down, spellbound. They had already had time to get out of
the habit of living like moronoids. Yagun alone was dissatisfied.
“That granny! She muffled me up like a pharaoh’s mummy! Well, where’s this Bald
Mountain of yours? Maybe it had gotten so bald that it fell through the ground?” he
muttered, appearing from behind a cloud. Here his excessively nimble vacuum again
bucked and carried Yagge’s grumbling grandson away somewhere beyond a violet cloud.
Tanya kept quiet, peering at the sky with uneasiness. The constellations, which she
focused on, were apparetnly where they should be; nevertheless, it seemed to the baby
Grotter that they had deviated from the correct course. The wind above the ocean was
too strong. And she wondered what she would say to Vanka and Yagun. “Excuse me,
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130

guys, but we flew back to refine the way.” And would Yagun have enough garbage in the
vacuum to reach Buyan?
The ring on her finger got hot. “Third string!” it unwilling squeaked.
“What third string?” Tanya asked, but the ring had seemingly already used up all
its conversational magic for the day. Or the old man was simply obstinate.
Hoping that this was a hint, Tanya touched the third string and plucked it a little.
The string began to hum – not low and not high, but exactly as a third string should.
Nothing happened. Then Tanya did the same with the bow, simultaneously giving the
peg a slight turn. Because she applied the bow sharply, the instrument fell into an air
pocket. The baby Grotter was distracted, grabbed the fingerboard, and forgot about the
string for a second.
“Look!” Vanka shouted unexpectedly.
After levelling the double bass, Tanya saw that a narrow beam of bluish light was
shooting from the peg of the third string. This beam similar to a thick strand pierced the
fog and did not shift even when the double bass began to swerve. Tanya was ready to
swear that it showed the direction to Bald Mountain.
Looking at the peg again, she discovered with surprise that hanging on it was a
small cardboard tag, on which was written in Old Slavonic:
Guiding thread. Air variety. First grade.
Ariadne88 Magic workshop. Crete.
Tanya looked at her instrument with pride. “Flight is only part of its magic. And
not the most significant.” Did Sardanapal not say that?
Following the direction indicated by the beam, the friends flew further for
approximately an hour. Gradually the sky brightened, but the stars, on the contrary,
faded and lost colour, as if someone had washed out the watercolours used to paint
them. Suddenly the clouds parted like theatre curtains. Sparks flashed all around. An
elastic force held them for a moment and then let go. Tanya was ready to vouch that they
had just flown through a protective magic barrier, not as strong as Grail Gardarika but
powerful enough to not let moronoids through.
Yagun, flying first, exclaimed in amazement, “It’s not bald at all! It’s balding!” And
several seconds later, Tanya saw what Yagun had already seen.
***
Bald Mountain was not actually bald. Enormous, covered with forest, it had at the
top a large clearing, bordered by a steep sandy slope on one side. Yagun had observed
correctly: the mountain resembled a man with a bald patch on top and a receding
hairline, but densely overgrown temples and even, perhaps, sideburns.
In Greek mythology, Ariadne is the daughter of Minos, king of the island of Crete. She gave the Athenian
hero Theseus a sword and a ball of thread, thus allowing Theseus to kill the half-man-half-bull monster
Minotaur in the centre of the labyrinth.
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131

The Guiding thread. Air variety. First grade waned and, in the most literal sense,
departed in haste in an unknown direction. And it was already clear that the children
had turned up where they had aimed for.
The lower they descended, the more detailed the picture became. Tanya noticed
that scattered in the middle of the forest were small log cabins and pagan temples, in
which they were probably still worshipping the ancient deities. These deities either
languished behind Sinister Gates or, like Perun, Veles, and Triglav, had left for the
Beyond World. On the same clearing, that from the height seemed uninhabited until
recently, now, like the city of Kitezh from the bottom of the lake, 89 appeared either a city
or a large settlement with winding streets, stone houses, and blind alleys resting against
the steep slope.
Suddenly, Bab-Yagun’s vacuum sneezed and stalled, going down like a rock.
Almost in the same second, a similar fate befell Tanya’s double bass. She miraculously
managed to mutter Oyoyoys smackis thumpis and fell after Yagun into mud that saved
them. Last, after shooting a small fountain of sticky slush, fell the cuckoo clock.
“Cuc-koo!” the cuckoo answered sadly.
“Cuc-koo, cuc-koo… Cuckoo to you too! Further on foot! Complete block of flight
spells!” Bab-Yagun stated knowledgably.
He got up, cleaned the mud off himself and anxiously started to examine the
talismans on his vacuum. Having satisfied herself that neither the double bass nor its
fingerboard had suffered, Tanya looked all around. They were standing on the edge of an
enormous clearing not far from the sandy slope. The city of magicians, shrouded in
morning mist, spread out before them. A dog was heard howling somewhere.
“Tanya, do you know where to go now?” Vanka asked.
“Well… Perun and Triglav didn’t specify at all. What was stolen from them coule
turn up somewhere here. Or perhaps not…” Tanya remarked.
“Among the ancients are born conspirators! My granny mama, I’m mad!” Yagun
mimicked with irony. “Something in the spirit of: go I don’t know where, fetch I don’t
know what, or else I… uh-h… I’ll give an obscure someone a thick heel in the neck!”
Tanya and Vanka Valyalkin started to laugh. Not because it was funny, but simply
the situation itself was absurd – standing in sticky mud, not frozen for some reason, and
not knowing where to go.
“Okay, why are we waiting, move! Only let’s hide the equipment. Otherwise, if we
have to carry it on foot, it’ll only hinder us. Anyway, flight block in the city,” said Vanka.
“Where do we hide it? And if someone finds it?” Tanya was uneasy. She did not
want to part from the double bass, although she understood that Vanka was right. They
must not attract attention. This was their only chance to clarify something. If they were
to walk around the city loaded down, then they would only do harm to themselves. Bald
Kitezh is a mythical city beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar in central Russia. Legend has it that it
submerged into the lake to be saved from invasion by the Golden Horde. It is said that only those who are
pure in their heart and soul will find their way to Kitezh.
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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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Mountain is, of course, Sodom and Gomorrah90 combined, a city where wizards from the
entire world (predominantly dark) have a good time; however, here they do not like
those who stick their noses into other people’s business.
“Well, who will look for it? Over there is a nice little place! Wonder what ’s under it?
” Vanka said, pointing to a mouldy oak log lying about ten steps towards a thicket.
After the joint efforts of Vanka and Yagun managed to move the log aside, they
discovered a dried well under it. Vanka jumped down to the bottom and, taking the
flying equipment transferred to him in turn, carefully placed the double bass, the
vacuum, and the cuckoo clock side by side. After ascertaining that they were not visible
from above, the friends moved the log to its previous place and entered the city.
The city had already begun to wake up. From the chimneys belched violet, orange,
and lilac smoke. Wizards, chilled after the night, hurried to light furnaces in their
houses. A weak breeze, smelling of fir wreaths, stretched from the cemetery.
Harpies, to which flight blocks obviously did not extend, continually rushed past
with unpleasant cries through the sky. The mermaid royalty frolicked in lakes covered
with thin ice. They jumped out onto the ice, travelled, laughing, on their scaly tails along
it, and hid in the next ice-hole.
Well-fed evil spirits, among which swamp bogeys fairly often gleamed, puttered
about in ditches and cesspool pits, grumbling. It seemed to Vanka that he even saw
Agukh, with its rare curved horns, among them. Agukh looked at them attentively and
rapidly disappeared in a narrow burrow. Besides, Vanka was not certain that this was
precisely Agukh. At the end of the day, all bogeys looked alike to a magician, and the
shape of horns could also repeat itself.
Independent spectres in shapeless garments strolled along the streets and pestered
everyone with the request: “Hold my head!” Occasionally, passers-by, obviously having
long gotten used to this, passed through the spectres indifferently, only now and then
driving them away with Briskus-quickus.
Immediately behind the square began a street, consisting, it seemed, of nothing but
bars, restaurants, and shady cafes. The walls of the buildings were spruced up with
signboards in the spirit of: Cannibal-Edible Cutlets, Super Trooper Tavern,
Twisted Bowels Pub, Blood Sausage Kiddie Cafe, Appendix Dumpling
Room, Potassium Cyanide Snack Bar, Freddy Krueger’s Business Lunch,
Little Vampire Blood Transfusion Station, and Your Last Breakfast Morgue
Lounge at First Cemetery Hospital. Fairly often it was possible to discover next to
the large signboards more precise notices like: Mug Check. Parking of coffins
strictly for visitors of the establishment. Trespassers are fined at the rate
of one capital punishment.

Sodom and Gomorrah are cities of vices and impertinent sin mentioned in the Bible, and through divine
judgement by God, they were completely consumed by fire and brimstone.
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133

A squeak was heard to the left – two gallows darkened from time were swinging.
The empty nooses were connected by a thin post, on which hung an ad banner: Aspen
stakes from Nick. Wholesale. Retail. Special offer once in a blue moon.
And below: Connect to Afterlife Voice Online! Access – 0.2 green corns
per minute. All incoming howls are free! Discount to ghouls, mermaids,
and witches older than 300 years.
One-eye, Two-eye, and Three-eye – Kroshechka-Khavroshechka’s91 three
stepsisters – drove the fawn-coloured cow with twigs to the butchery. Khavroshechka
herself, a sullen purposeful girl, about one-and-a-half times the height of the baby
Stinktopp, followed her sisters decisively, lighting a stick of dynamite on the way.
Behind her shoulders hung an evil-eye automatic with the muzzle pointing down.
“Hmm... If we believe my granny, it was high time to demolish the Bald Mountain
butchery,” Bab-Yagun stated pensively, following Khavroshechka with his eyes.
Yes, Bald Mountain was a unique and gloomy place. On the other hand, some
special scent of unpredictability, which always attracts a real magician, soared in the air
here.
Tanya turned the corner and… suddenly it was as if a little silver bell began to ring
in her head. She could not describe her sensation exactly, but something told her that
she had finally found what she was searching for.
In front of her was the overhang of a semi-basement with an unremarkable and
even somewhat commonplace signboard: Madame Vamp (formerly Favourite
Artery) Vampire Diner
A little aside written in coal on the stone wall was:
ATTENTION!
Vampire Diner guarded by voodoo magic! White magicians, spectres,
and ghouls of more than three days strictly forbidden.
“Why not spectres?” Vanka wondered. “Here I’ll let loose on them Eyeless Horror,
voodoo magic will find itself in flight…”
“And I’d let loose Unhealed Lady. I would tell her that the Lieutenant has a female
admirer. She would smash this establishment with bricks…” Bab-Yagun stated dreamily.
He looked around and impatiently pulled Tanya’s sleeve, “Well, shall we go?”
“I’m afraid, only I can go there,” Tanya said cheerlessly.
Vanka and Yagun stared at her with alarm. Their playful mood instantly vanished.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know how, but I know…”
Kroshechka-Khavroshechka is a Russian folktale about an orphan girl, Kroshechka-Khavroshechka,
taken in by a couple with three daughters named One-eye, Two-eye, and Three-eye. The orphan girl has to
toils all day while the three girls do nothing. A fawn-coloured cow helps the orphan finish her impossible
tasks. When the family finds out about the cow, they have it killed. Just like Cinderella, the story has a
similar happy ending.
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“Are you off your rocker? Didn’t you hear about the guarding voodoo magic? Death
will be terrible and not predicted. And nothing can be done,” Vanka began to worry.
“If I were a white magician, spectre, or ghoul, then yes, it’s certain death…” Tanya
specified. “But I’m not a spectre (you can feel me, for example) and not yet a ghoul…
Hey, Yagun, stop feeling me! I didn’t have that in mind at all!”
“But you are a white magician!” Bab-Yagun said, putting his hands behind his back.
“I was. Now I’m in the dark department.”
“That’s unimportant. You remained white! Voodoo magic will destroy you! It
doesn’t care about any department, the main thing is what’s in your soul. Your essence!”
Vanka shouted.
Tanya looked at Vanka crossly. Why say what was obvious? To frighten her even
more? It goes without saying, voodoo magic would kill her, but the little silver bell
continued to ring persistently. There was no doubt, they were calling her there. Nothing
happens by chance in the world of magic. It would be the simplest thing to turn and
leave, but Veles, Perun, Triglav, and Simorg had rushed here from the Beyond World.
One only had to close his eyes to see how the wind pressed the golden veil against the
three faces of the god of war and pestilence.
“I’m going! Wait for me here, okay?” she shouted and, stumbling on the jagged
steps, went hastily down to the door.
The door, enormous, black, gloomy, so not matching the overall miserable
impression of the establishment, awaited her. Tanya plucked up her spirit. “Alterus
nofoolus!” Tanya uttered, releasing a red spark. They very recently studied this spell in
the dark department. More accurately, Alterus nofoolus was not even a spell but a
reaction-verification to the presence of hidden magic.
“Ne nos inducas in tentationem [Lead us not into temptations (Lat.). The Lord’s
Prayer]” Theophilus Grotter proposed with disapproval when his ring released one
more red spark after an equal time interval.
The second red spark had barely gone out when Tanya saw a silvery wave
seemingly roll along the door. Here it was – voodoo magic. The signboard did not lie…
Madame Vamp was definitely carefully guarded.
Understanding that one more instant and she would simply chicken out and run
back, Tanya grabbed the handle and pulled it to herself. Suddenly she heard hissing and,
simultaneously feeling something alive in her hand, controlled herself with difficulty in
order not to start squealing. What was a door handle at first had become a disgusting
severed head of a snake.
The forked tongue of the dead head touched Tanya’s palm, slid along her fingers,
and felt the magic ring.
Deaaaaaththth to sssstraaangers!
The mouth was thrown open. Droplets of cloudy poison mixed with tiny streams of
saliva. A poisonous tooth pitilessly touched Tanya’s wrist…
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“This is death!” Tanya thought, knowing perfectly well that there was no counterspell against voodoo magic.
Paaaassss!
And here the snake head turned to dust… The door creaked and opened wide,
letting Tanya through. The girl stood on the spot, stunned. Despite the cold, she felt that
her back was covered with sweat. The door, at the last moment, recognized her as one of
theirs.
“No doubt. I’m dark. Voodoo magic doesn’t make mistakes,” Tanya thought and,
after looking back at Yagun and Vanka stiff as statues, stepped inside.
She found herself in a small sooty hall lit only by revolting yellow-blue candles cast
in the shape of fingers. Behind the counter was the most hideous bartender of all that
Tanya had ever seen: fat, flabby, with a triple chin and tiny eyes drowning in folds of fat.
The mouth was a somehow crooked slit. It gave the impression that the bartender had
been moulded in a hurry from a piece of fat and then sliced aslant along the fat with a
straight razor.
Hastily, trying not to fall into the spots of light, Tanya slid into the shadows and
dived under the nearest table. The bartender of the vampire diner did not notice her. He
dried the glasses, inserting little transparent dropper tubes in them. Having finished
with the glasses, he came out from behind the counter and made his way to the other
end of the establishment.
Tanya followed him with her eyes and suddenly discovered that the vampire diner
was not quite as empty as it had seemed to her at first. At one of the far tables, two men
were sitting facing Tanya, but they clearly had not noticed her for the time being. The
first was grey with a bumpy nose and a mouth so narrow that one wanted to use it as a
mail slot. A broad-shouldered athlete towered on a thin-legged chair next to him.
Leaning on the table, he propped up his fleshy face with his hands and was obviously
dreaming about dinner.
Tanya knew neither one of them; she was seeing them for the first time. She
certainly could not imagine that if the unforgettable chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. Herman
Durnev turned up here now, he would immediately recognize his own wilful
subordinates – Malyuta Skuratoff and his bodyguard, Boom. In front of them on the
table, a disgusting, greasy candle – the severed finger of a corpse, inserted into a bronze
candlestick – was dripping.
“Hey, barkeep! First!” Boom shouted, after snapping his fingers.
“Second!” Malyuta Skuratoff ordered briefly.
The bartender again appeared behind the counter. Tanya saw that he took out of
the fridge a large plastic packet with something blood red. A dropper stuck out of the
packet. The bartender deftly squeezed out exactly as much red liquid as was necessary
for one glass. Then he filled another glass from another packet. After finishing with the
preparatory part, he placed the glasses on a tray and ambled to the table.
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136

Malyuta Skuratoff stretched out a hand for the glass and tried it with disgust. The
bartender looked at him respectfully.
“What’s this? You want to poison me?” Skuratoff suddenly screamed and splashed
the bartender in the face with the contents of the glass.
In the same second, Boom scooped up the bartender with a huge hand and bent his
head down to the table so that his nose was literally resting on it. “What did you give the
chief?” he growled.
“The second group,” shaking, the bartender mumbled.
“What Rh factor?92 Positive?”
“P-p-p-p-positive.”
“Remember once and for all! The Chief hates positive Rh! Go and bring him
negative.” Boom unclenched his fist. The frightened bartender hurried to correct his
error.
“But I like any Rh. If only a little more,” already benevolent, almost as if nothing
had happened, Boom rasped after him, scooping up his glass with his palm in
enjoyment.
While the vampires were drinking, Tanya unnoticeably stole up closer. The floor
was filthy, covered with spit. Dirt, fallen from someone’s boots, and dried rat droppings
stuck to her palms. But then there were no scraps nor fish bones nor crumbs. Only old
clamps for droppers. Clearly there was something for rats to treat themselves.
The bartender returned with the tray and respectfully handed the glass to Malyuta,
who brought it to his lips and again grimaced… The bartender’s face expressed suffering.
Droplets of sweat came out on his temples. He sensed a new dressing down.
“What did you give me, my dear?” Skuratoff asked insinuatingly.
“B-b-blood.”
“Second group?”
“Y-yes.”
“Smart boy. Negative Rh?” Malyuta asked even more quietly.
“Y-y-y-yes,” the fat bartender mumbled.
“Yes, second, negative… Everything exactly!” Malyuta agreed, neatly pouring out
the contents of the glass onto the floor. The bartender looked at him with horror.
“But this is male blood, and I like female blood! Is it clear to you?” Skuratoff
finished after a pause.
Boom, having long sucked out his portion, looked at his chief with reproach. It was
obvious that he did not much like the squandering of precious produce. Without having
the possibility to express his displeasure to its destination, the thug limited himself to
pushing the bartender in the back and sending him for a new portion of blood. “And get
me another glass… Better a carafe right away!” he ordered from behind.
The Rh factor is a blood group system that helps to determine what type of blood to use in transfusion as
well as the risk of haemolytic disease of a newborn.
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137

Feeling sorry that she had not taken Puper’s invisible cloak, which Gury had
offered about two hundred times to send with a cupid, Tanya hid under the adjacent
table. She sat on the floor and, after drawing in her knees, hugged them with her arms,
trying to become as small as possible. During classes on Evil-Spirit Studies Medusa
repeatedly warned that vampires sense the warmth of the living and see excellently in
the dark. Fortunately, a candle was now emitting fumes on the table, and also issuing
warmth. Moreover, it slightly blinded the vampires.
Five, ten, fifteen minutes… Tanya’s legs began to fall asleep. The vampires silently
sat at the table, slurped down blood, and became rounded before the eyes. The slender
Skuratoff especially puffed up noticeably. He was so thin and shrivelled that even a pea
in him would be noticed.
Malyuta’s eyes shone in an oily way from the blood and his speech had become
unintelligible. He hiccupped continually and Tanya could only catch some of his
phrases, “Cursed magicians... put in place… because of this thief… Without him we
would already... In no way agrees... This idiot doesn’t even know what the authority
could…” Boom mumbled agreement. He already swelled from donor blood and clearly
did not understand the strategic intentions of his chief. But he had already pre-agreed
with everything.
The bartender approached with the next decanter for Boom, and Malyuta
immediately fell silent. Only when the bartender had moved off did Skuratoff strike the
table with his withered fist. The dripping candle, having already almost turned into a
stump, jumped, fell into a puddle of blood, and went out.
“Decided! The last possibility… On this day, when… This nice daft world needs to
know who’s boss!” Skuratoff shouted loudly but again indistinctly.
Boom started to mess around and, after rising with a puff, turned his heavy head.
He and Malyuta Skuratoff immediately stared at the table under which Tanya was
hiding. An instant later, Tanya realized that she had been given away: the candle had
gone out and now the living corpses sensed the warmth of her body and the throbbing of
her blood.
“Hey, barkeep! What do you have under the table? Fresh dessert? Give it here!”
Boom shouted.
The bartender was already hurrying to them from behind the counter. “There’s no
one there!”
“What? You’re lying, dimwit! I see it!” Malyuta roared.
Tanya understood that there was no sense in continuing to hide. She leaped up,
overturning the table. Vampires were already looming all around with unsteady
persistent shadows. Malyuta, Boom, and the bartender rushed to her.
“A girl magician in our splendid vampire diner! Exactly my Rh!” Malyuta hissed
passionately.

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138

Tanya attempted to fence herself from his table, but the emaciated, quite feeblelooking vampire hit it and the table, after flying away, cut into the wall. Dishes began to
crash down. Photo frames and peeled nickel-plated plates with the ambiguous content
Honourable donor for honest labour showered down.
Tanya dashed to the door, but near it, arms spread, the fat bartender was already
hopping. His bluish lips parted. From under them, like young bamboo, thin and sharp
vampire fangs broke through. His whole appearance definitely indicated that the
unassuming worker of the vampire diner preferred fresh to canned foods.
Tanya began to squeal. Thoughts jumped chaotically in her head. “Allhellus
breaksloosus!” she shouted, tossing up the ring.
“Oh, no! I can’t stand this spell! I’ll be tarnished by it!” Theophilus Grotter’s ring
squeaked.
“Grandpa, they’ll kill me!”
“Ah, so be it... For the last time,” the ring agreed.
A red spark flared up and nothing could be made out in the vampire diner in the
next moment. A thick, pungent, foul smoke, a hundred times more disgusting than the
smoke from a burnt omelette, filled the room. Here it was unknown who had it worse.
Living corpses do not breathe, but the same cannot be said about magicians. Covering
her mouth and nostrils with her hand, and with eyes watering, Tanya managed to rush
past the bartender nevertheless and, after pushing open the door, jumped outside. The
voodoo magic let her through, although for a moment it seemed to Tanya that she heard
the hissing of a snake.
It was already dawn. The advertising gallows were swinging sullenly. Evil spirits
crept into frosted pits and potholes, choosing a cosier spot in order to lie down to sleep.
From the cemetery flew a large flock of painted eagle owls, hurrying to the shoot of the
next film about Gury Puper, where they successfully pretended to be owls.
Vanka and Bab-Yagun rushed to Tanya.
“Hey, you’re overed in blood! Are you injured?” Vanka shouted in alarm.
Tanya ran a hand along her cheek. Indeed, blood! Her face, palms, and clothing
were saturated with something unpleasantly brown, which, being frozen, had rolled up
and darkened. She recalled that when she ran through the smoke, she hit against a wall,
and something tipped over her from above.
The door of Madame Vamp was thrown open, from there together with clouds of
foul smoke shot out Boom and Malyuta Skuratoff. Tanya quickly dragged Vanka and
Yagun away behind a corner. Dodging through alleys and under gates, they ran out of
the city and soon were already making their way through the bushes to the dry well,
where they had left their equipment.
“Who was that? Whom were we running away from?” Bab-Yagun asked, short of
breath.

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139

“Vampires… It seems all this is somehow connected with Simorg, Perun, and
Veles… I didn’t have time to find out.”
“They saw you? Remember you?” Vanka asked, worried.
“They saw… yes… Remember? I don’t know… I likely interested them from another
point of view,” Tanya said, after catching her breath. “Well, why stand there like pillars?
Does someone intend to heave this log or does the girl have to do all the hard work
herself? Move, cursers!”
Bab-Yagun and Vanka stared at her in amazement. It suddenly dawned on Tanya,
having caught herself thinking, that she had become more like Coffinia. More precisely,
something between Coffinia and Nagiana Pripyatskaya. This spoke of only one thing –
she was getting more accustomed to her role, becoming properly dark. Ah, if only to
catch the exact moment when you – for no reason at all – start to become worse. First
slowly, by jerks, barely, then accelerate, and finally with enthusiasm, with the whistle of
the wind in your ears, you rush down the icy hill of degradation.
“Fine goings-on, my granny mama! Vanka, take it from the side… And-a-one!
Push!” Yagun bustled about, running around the log and doing everything possible so
that just Vanka was pushing. Yagun himself preferred to remain the person in charge.
Suddenly a deep rumbling reached them from under the log. Vanka and Yagun
jumped back, throwing up their rings just in case. The log was pushed off, having
yielded to someone’s force, and an inflated violet ghoul, with a head as huge as a
cauldron and white, as if cooked, pupils, looked out from the well. He got out and sat
down heavily on the edge of the log. Green patterns of decay danced on his cheeks.
The children stepped back. While the ghoul was here, they could not go down for
their equipment, but the ghoul could sit on the log as long as it wanted. Ghouls have no
urgent business. They have already been everywhere.
The cooked eyes stared intently at them. “Confess, what are you? Vampires, wicked
creatures, imps, evil spirits? Or the living?” the ghoul demanded, after ungluing his
green lips with his fingers.
Tanya almost threw up. She turned away and covered her mouth with her hand.
Yagun wanted to growl out something, but Vanka jumped on him and knocked him
down. “What, have you forgotten what they taught us?” he whispered. “If stuck with a
ghoul, one – never use magic. Two – never answer his questions. Three – never take
objects from his hands…”
“So, are we playing the quiet game, bad eggs?” the ghoul asked good-naturedly, the
white pupils resting on them. “Came after your gear? The born-to-crawl cannot fly?
Hee-hee! Need double basses and vacuums, eh? But I’ll give nothing while you don’t talk
with me. Or else look, I’ll summon the hung, the drowned, or the half-wild. You’ll howl
then!”
The children kept silent. The ghoul unwillingly climbed down from the log and
started to walk around. Traces of dirt were visible on his skin and clothing. Vanka and
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140

Yagun exchanged glances, weighing whether it would be possible to somehow distract
him and make for the log.
“Indeed I know why you’re here… I know everything! You came for the staff!” the
ghoul suddenly stated.
Tanya quickly lifted her head and looked at him, listening involuntarily.
Understanding that his words were heard, the ghoul gurgled triumphantly. “What,
interested in the staff, bad eggs? At least say a word, or else I won’t tell more!” he
threatened, anxiously repairing his lips with a finger.
The children kept silent. The ghoul sat sullenly on the log for a while, demanding a
“ye” or “no” answer. Finally, convinced that no one intended on conversing with him,
the ghoul broke into philosophy.
“Oh, you the living! Afraid of one thing or another, look downright disgusting. You
intend on living in the world for a thousand years, perhaps? Sooner or later we’ll meet
nevertheless, if by then I haven’t entirely rotted away… I also lived for myself, didn’t
think about my soul, and now as my curse I can’t part from my body! The smarter ones
had already forsaken their bodies long ago and flown up, up, and away. What’s a body to
them? Trash! But I lived in the flesh, and I’ll rot in the flesh. I wanted to sneer at this
eternity of yours, at the sky! Why are you quiet, isn’t that so?” the ghoul suddenly
uttered rapidly, propping up his head, which was sitting precariously, with his hands.
He again did not received an answer, which angered him terribly. “Ah, so for you!
Clever steel! No so polite to chat with a senior, but later you’ll lie in one grave with him.
Of course, The Ancient One is with you, so I’ll say this... This staff your vampires stole
from the gods, they wanted to gain authority over the world, only it didn’t stay long with
the vampires… It was also stolen from them. Now the vampires themselves don’t know
where to search for it. But I do… You see a lot from under the ground. It’s only opaque in
look, the ground… But when you lie down, you see right through everything in a flash.”
Tanya, Vanka, and Yagun waited. The corpse still gurgled for a while. Then,
causally, he pulled an ear off and, after shouting, “Catch!” threw it at Tanya.
Tanya tarried. The ear bounced off her hand and turned into a crumpled sheet.
Tanya mechanically picked it up off the ground and unfolded it. It turned out to be a
photo ripped from a fashion magazine, in which was photographed… yes... the Durnev
family, captured in the living room of their apartment on Rublev Road. On seeing the
familiar faces, the baby Grotter grew numb. She had no idea that the tentacles of the
best deputy even reached Bald Mountain.
Suddenly, the paper began to shrink and Tanya realized that she was still holding a
cut-off ear. She yelled and hurled it back with loathing. The ghoul caught his ear, stuck it
in place, and, quivering like a wineskin, shuffled off in the direction of the cemetery. He
turned around about twenty steps away. His look was triumphant, as if he had already
gotten what he wanted. “Till we meet again!” he said and burst out laughing
disgustingly.
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141

Tanya suddenly started feeling ill at ease. Before her eyes jumped sepulchral
shovels and tacky fir garlands “From house management.” She knew that she had made
an unpardonable error.
“Tanya, never take anything from the hands of a corpse,” Bab-Yagun said,
depressed.
“But I didn’t! I picked it up off the ground!” Tanya objected in a hurry, knowing full
well that this was a weak objection.
“One more mistake. Never follow the advice of a corpse. But we did. Or, in any
case, we intend to,” Vanka Valyalkin said, concerned.
“What else can we do if no one advises us anymore? The others, in my opinion,
doesn’t care what will happen to this world,” Tanya snapped.
Vanka Valyalkin dived into the well, having ascertained beforehand that there was
no one in it anymore. Soon the double bass, the cuckoo clock, and the vacuum soared
into the cloudy sky and, after circling for some time above Bald Mountain, headed for
Tibidox.

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142

Chapter 11
GURY PUPER – ALONE AND… KIDNAPPED
Having returned to Tibidox before noon, Tanya, Vanka, and Bab-Yagun met a
terrible commotion on Buyan. Their first thought was that the most terrible thing had
happened. Simorg, Perun, Veles, and Triglav had forced their way through from the
Beyond World in their absence, but no… The mirror was standing as before in
Sardanapal’s office, and the passage itself was at the very least blocked by shielding
magic.
It turned out the reason for the commotion was certain news, which had already
been broadcasted by zoomers dozens of times since morning. Now, Tanya had barely
entered the room when the zoomer started crackling again, “Hello, cursers and jerkies!
And you, magicians, magcesses,93 maggals,94 and maggers!95 With you is your charming
Nagianie! I kiss your ears, bald spots, and the rest! And now, hang onto your chairs!
Today in Latest Magnews there’s only one news, but then what news! At dawn, Gury
Puper mysteriously disappeared from Magford! Details of the disappearance are the
most horrible! The window of Puper’s room was open wide. The floor was covered with
things and the invisible cloaks from the unique Puper collection. Gury himself has
vanished to somewhere unknown. His favourite broom was also not discovered in its
usual place.
“It’s suspected that Gury Puper was kidnapped before dawn by a group of unknown
magicians. Most probably, they tied up our precious, cast a zombie spell on him, and,
after putting him on his own broom, carried him away in an unknown direction. Gury
bodyguards Prun and Goreanna from the fan club were the first to discover the
disappearance, when they did the morning rounds of Magford. This happened at around
four in the morning. Now both are at the maglice, 96 where, sobbing, they are giving an
exhaustive testimony. The magician investigators are interested most of all in how a
group of kidnappers could penetrate the heavily guarded Magford. This could only
happen if someone told them the spell of passage, which in an effort of secrecy changes
every two or three days.
“It’s also unknown why Puper was kidnapped; however, American magician Uncle
Sam has already managed to accuse the world villain Bam Khlaban of everything,
though it’s really only known that no one has seen him in the last hundred years.
‘Khlaban kidnapped Puper in a powerless attempt to destroy world democracy and our
traditional system of values! Since it’s unknown to us for the time being where exactly
Gury has been taken, we’ll answer with a magic landing operation simultaneously in all
countries of the world! Our flying carpets are already prepared for carpet bombings!’
Magcess – princess of magic.
Maggal – girl magician.
95
Magger – anyone who practices magic.
96
Maglice – magic police.
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93
94

143

stated Uncle Sam, who for the first time appeared before the press after the story with
his aunt.
“Puper’s maglawyers have been trying their darnedest since morning to sue
anyone. Puper’s personal trainer and personal press agent propose the most improbable
versions. A triple ring of maglice combing every corner of this magic school surrounds
Magford. Professor Y.Y. Flang takes a pill for enlargement of the liver and gives an
interview, graphically describing his own experiences. It turns out he was sleeping badly
before dawn and his legs were awfully itchy. ‘I’m always like that in anticipation of
trouble!’ Flang remarks. The publishing house, busy with the release of calendars with
Gury, has already signed a contract with Mr. Flang on a series of novels with the
working title Gury Puper – Alone and Kidnapped. A block spell has been placed on
Gury Puper’s bank account in the goblin bank. Now it’s impossible to remove even one
green corn from it. This has been done in case the kidnappers abducted Gury in the
hope of receiving a ransom for him…”
Nagiana Pripyatskaya continued to rattle, amiably blinking her cataractal eye,
which did not prevent her from occasionally dropping a sidelong glance into the camera
shooting her, and for all those watching her on the screens of their zoomers, their
shielding vests began to crackle. Those whose vests were absent, say, in the wash, felt a
light dizziness and a strong, almost pathological liking for the lively witch.
Suddenly, someone’s hairy hand with rings and a gold watch appeared in the shot
for a moment and placed a piece of paper in front of Madame Pripyatskaya. Nagiana
looked at it and her face suddenly acquired the expression which hunting dogs sensing
game have. The witch’s long spry nose pulled in air.
“Well, steady, jerkies! Now your Nagianie will strike you dumb! Lift my eyelids, as
my first husband Vii said! A minute ago, we received a message from Tibidox! One of
our friends, whom we utterly and completely trust, sent it. Unfortunately, for privacy
protection, I can’t tell you the name of our informant, but only note in passing that his
undecipherable codename is DemGor. I don’t think that this will get you a millimetre
closer to the key to the mystery.” Nagiana brought the paper up to her eyes.
“So, the text of the message: Yesterday at midnight, three senior Tibidox students –
Tatiana Grotter, Ivan Valyalkin, and Bab-Yagun – flew from the roof of Main Tower in
an unknown direction. They were absent the whole night and returned only in the
morning. There were traces of blood on the hands and face of Tatiana Grotter. Tsk.”
Madame Pripyatskaya meaningfully coughed three times, as if placing an ellipsis.
“Of course, I don’t presume to draw any conclusions, especially free of charge, but
isn’t it logical to assume that Grotter, Valyalkin, and Yagun made their way to Magford,
slipped into Puper’s room, and vandalized it, after which they kidnapped Gury himself,
having tied him up with, let’s assume, sheets? Oh, these Russians with their horrible
laws and wild dispositions! Oh, mama, I’m Russian myself, but that doesn’t count…

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144

We’ll factor me out and consider that I’m civilizied… phooey… civilized, and my granddad is an Englishman.”
“Nonsense! Civilizised indeed!!!” Tanya said with irritation. She took the zoomer
and with a well-aimed motion trained by dragonball launched it under Coffinia’s bed.
The zoomer hit the wall.
Nagiana was first heard cursing, and then said maliciously, “And one more little
fact for thought. About the blood on Tatiana Grotter’s clothing. Was that the blood of
the poor English orphan, whom this horrible girl tortured to death? So long, jerkies!
Miss your Nagianie. And don’t forget to fear me.”
“Aha, already shaking all over!” Tanya muttered, quickly realizing that soon she
would have to give explanations.
Someone kicked open the door. A gloomy Coffinia barged into the room. Tanya was
quite certain that she would now spew accusations at her, but Cryptova was not in the
mooed to attack anyone. “Hello, Grotty! Have you heard, they stole my little Pupie?
Jealous rats!” she grumbled.
“Hmm...” Tanya muttered.
Coffinia did not listen to her. She was listening to herself. “The whole school is
buzzing like a hive. Puper-Puper-Puper… Wonder who needed my Gury, huh?”
Coffinia looked suspiciously at Tanya, but then, having given up, said, “Okay,
Grotty… For some reason Sardanapal is calling for you. He ordered me to tell you that
he’ll be in his office… So, move! I wish you bad luck and all other troubles!”
When Tanya, glancing sideways at the golden sphinx, entered the office of the head
of Tibidox, the academician was standing by the mirror and examining Black Curtains.
Curtains were fluttering gloatingly. Occasionally they inflated rapaciously, and then Mad
Glazier’s pathetic squeak was heard on the other side of the mirror.
“I want to thank you for the idea… The night went quite quietly. In any case, for
Tibidox. True, this can’t be said for all,” Sardanapal remarked, having turned to Tanya.
Mad Glazier issued a soul-chilling scream, in which panic was heard. Curtains
stirred and were shrouded in violet dark-magic radiance. The hunchback’s scream
immediately fell silent and changed into a hysterical, almost wolf-like howl, which was
more logical to expect from a werewolf than from a mirror spirit.
The academician lifted Curtains slightly. Hunchback with Pimply Nose was sitting
hidden in an upper corner. He was sullen and mad at the whole wide world. Another
glazier was reflected on the reverse side of Curtains, one with a monstrous hump and a
swollen crimson nose, resembling not even a nose but an enormous inflated luffa. And
this new glazier, as malicious as a swarm of wasps, was continually bobbing up and
down, swinging his skinny arms and raining a wave of magic down on the first
Hunchback.

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145

“You brought it upon yourself! All was quiet till around three, when you
unthinkingly set fire to Curtains. If you had sat quietly, you wouldn’t be sorry now!” the
academician addressed Hunchback didactically.
Mad Glazier glared at Sardanapal crossly; however, he did not even encroach on
his reflection. He was finally restrained. The academician lowered Black Curtains, again
forcing the two hunchbacks to be in contact, and led Tanya to the side. His long
moustache jumped merrily.
“You see, my girl,” he whispered mysteriously, “as I understand it, these curtains
have the property that they increase tenfold any magic directed against them and resend
it to the return address. I suspect it’s precisely this that can explain the appearance of
the second hunchback, who now dishes it out to the first. Indeed, if we look into it, then
Curtains are also some kind of magic mirrors, only they reflect not the external but the
internal essence… That which takes place in our soul: our fears, nightmares, secret
thoughts… And to wrestle with one’s secret thoughts using anger isn’t the most correct
tactic!”
The golden sphinx growled at the dark-magic books, striking the bars of the cage,
and as a burst of light jumped up onto the wall, it made itself flat like a picture.
Obvioualy, it was amusing itself with the third dimension again.
“Unfortunately, Black Curtains cannot stop Perun, Simorg, Veles, and Triglav
nevertheless… Their magic is clearly not enough to not let these four through to us,
especially as ancient gods rarely suffer internal inconsistency. They’re whole, fierce, and
they think extremely rarely. Or rather, they simultaneously think with action and elevate
all their actions to the absolute, passing them off as universal law. However, it’s possible
that we now have a chance,” the academician continued. “And now your turn. What’s
there on Bald Mountain?”
Tanya described in detail the overheard conversation and the ghoul, not skipping
anything. “The vampires are searching for a staff…” she finished. Sardanapal nodded
pensively. Tanya, looking at him attentively, felt that her words did not surprise the
academician too much, as if he had guessed this earlier.
“A staff… Yes, most likely, they need precisely it…” said Sardanapal. “And not only
the vampires. You probably don’t know, but the staff of the magi was cut from a branch
of the world tree many years ago. The magi, votaries, and first priests are already long
gone from the world, but that doesn’t change things. An enormous energy of worship to
ancient gods is concentrated in the staff. Faith, accumulated over the centuries. If we
examine it, then it’s precisely the staff that gave the gods the power now, in the
changeable world, when everyone has forgotten about them. The vampires stole this
staff from the heathen gods, hoping to harm us, magicians, with its help. However, then
someone stole it from the vampires themselves. Have you guessed where the staff can be
now?”

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“No. But all this is likely connected somehow with my relatives, the Durnevs. If, of
course, we can follow the advice of the ghoul,” Tanya said carefully. Sardanapal smiled.
His moustache took the shape of a didactic and simultaneously extremely ambiguous
figure.
“There are such enigmatic relatives with which everyone in the world is connected.
Such crossroads, to which all roads converge willy-nilly. From the point of view of the
moronoids, this is strange and illogical. From the point of view of true magic, as, let’s
say, The Ancient One understood it, there’s nothing more explicable. The last and only
chance of this world was the very origin of the world, as Professor Stinktopp once joked.
True, now Siegfried no longer jokes, only plugs up my lock with all sorts of trash.
Recently he even managed to tie a piece of tin to a hind paw of my sphinx,” he remarked.
“So, do I have to fly to the Durnevs?” asked Tanya.
“Possibly, and very soon… But… the hour hasn’t yet struck.”
“But when?” Tanya again asked in surprise. The academician shook his head. The
sphinx on the wall growled in warning. Both clearly did not intend to share their secrets.
“Now’s not the time to talk about this. There’s still a lot I don’t know myself,”
Sardanapal said evasively. “Don’t worry, Medusa and I will keep our eyes on the
Durnevs… And one more thing: don’t be upset about Puper. Don’t listen to this
gibberish on the zoomers. I know that you’re in no way connected with Gury’s
kidnapping… In fact, I have grounds to doubt that he was kidnapped.”
“HOW? So, it means, no one...” Tanya began.
After smiling, the academician waved his moustache at her, indicating that he was
busy and there would be no more explanations. “Go! You’ll find out everything yourself
in time. Not without reason does Medi say that too much impatience always spoils
pleasure,” he said cheerfully.
When Tanya left, Black Curtains moved their heavy tassels, saying goodbye to her.
Mad Glazier howled mournfully and heartbreakingly, scratching the inflated cloth. To
out it simply, he had finally done himself in.
***
Days stretched on – overcast, short days of December. Wind, snow, frost… Then
thaw, and again wind, snow, frost. There was absolutely nothing to look at. Except
freezing mermaids, which were on duty in turns by the ice hole, keeping watch so that it
would not ice over; and evil spirits, actively darting in and out of potholes and writing at
night on fallen snow all kinds of bad words for the enrichment of the baby Stinktopp’s
already phenomenal knowledge.
Yagge and Tararakh asked Vanka Valyalkin to help look after Zalizina. For a large
part of the day, Liza sat motionless on the edge of bed in magic station and looked at the
wall. However, now and then a malicious spirit moved into her. She leaped up, began to
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scream out something inarticulate, struck the walls, and even tried to throw herself out
the window. For this reason, someone had to be near her all the time. Tanya also offered
her help to Yagge, but Yagge stated that this was impossible. Zalizina only had to see
Tanya and attacks followed one after another. She rushed at Tanya, bit her, and
attempted to suffocate her…
“Don’t you think it’s her… It’s all this darn evil eye,” Tararakh then said, holding a
wriggling Zalizina with great care in a bear hug. In any event, it was clearly told to Tanya
so that she would keep far away from magic station.
Nightingale O. Robber, whose nature had gone completely out of whack, set the
team up for two practices a day – morning and evening. Tanya was not practising with
the team, although she flew on the double bass daily, as they say, for the soul.
Occasionally, in order not to lose her dragonball skills once and for all, she busied
herself with Daedalus Cretan’s system. Simply tossing up peas to get them was of little
interest to her, and she thought of putting a shooting evil eye on them. As a result, an
entire handful flew off with prodigious speed in different directions, and she had to rush
after them and catch them.
The exhausted Tibidox team, after “warming up” for several hours with five or six
young dragons, was like a barrel with powder. After practice, when Nightingale had
departed, there were enough sparks that a fight broke out between the players.
Somehow, the sharp-tongued Bab-Yagun said something biting to Seven-Stump-Holes,
who in turn behaved boorishly towards Katya Lotkova, almost ramming her in the air.
When Seven-Stump-Holes drew back his arm (he preferred the moronoid methods
of fighting), Yagun stepped forward in order to deal with him, but here Verka Parroteva
squealed, “Ah, boys, don’t fight!” and hung onto Yagun’s arm. Yagge’s grandson
hesitated involuntarily. Seven-Stump-Holes made use of the lucky moment and struck.
Yagun fell.
“Parroteva! Don’t protect me anymore!” he said sullenly, getting up. By that time,
Seven-Stump-Holes had already dashed away somewhere on his vacuum.
“But I just wanted the best!” Parroteva exclaimed.
“I understand. Next time when you want the best, simply move aside…” Yagun
advised her.
“But it’s detestable to fight! This contradicts school regulations! Dark and white
departments must exist in the world… I’ll tell Stinktopp!” Verka said, pursing her lips,.
“Uh-huh, go tell… There he is, your Stinktopp, no need to walk far… Hey,
Stinktoppie, stop picking at dragon poop with a stick, come here!”
“No, not Stinktopp! I’ll tell Sardanapal! Today! He must know about Seven-StumpHoles’ action!” Verka corrected herself.
“Oh, my granny mama!” begged Yagun. “PARROTEVA!!! What an essence you are!
No need to protect anyone! No need to tell anyone anything! Everything will be sorted

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out without you! I beg you: go away! Simply fall through the ground and all! You bother
me worse than bitter radish! You bother everyone!”
Verka flared up, offended, and went away. Yagun felt bad. He had clearly touched a
chord in Verka’s soul, which should not be touched at all. Yes, Parroteva is odd, but is
she really to blame for her oddness? Does a heart not beat in her chest that wants to love
and be loved?
Suddenly someone touched Yagun. He flinched and turned. In front of him stood
Katya Lotkova. She blotted the blood on his lips with her shawl. And on Lotkova’s face
was something such that Yagun felt his actions had sharply risen in value…
***
Before dinner the same day, Tanya looked for a short while in the common room of
Residential Floor. She recalled that yesterday, while getting ready for Removal of Evil
Eye, she had left her notebook on the windowsill. The notebook did not turn out to be
on the windowsill, but Tanya surmised to look behind the back of the sofa standing
beside it, which, according to rumours, was formerly used for flights. Tanya climbed
after the notebook. She was behind the sofa when she heard that someone had entered
the common room, and she determined from the voices that it was Zhora Zhikin and
Vanka Valyalkin. Both clearly did not suspect her presence.
At first, Tanya intended on picking a moment to jump out and frighten them, but
almost immediately thought better of it. That would be silly and too childish. She
wanted to see how Vanka behaved when he was not with her but with someone else.
Two third-year girls running past looked askance at Zhikin and, whispering to one
another, started giggling, hoping to catch his attention. Zhora awarded them with an
indulgent smile and waved.
“Zhikin, girls really like you!” said Vanka.
“Hmm-yes, some…” Zhora started to feign modesty.
“Never mind some! Half the school!”
“Come on! I have nothing to do with that!” Zhikin agreed, casually lounging on the
unfortunate sofa.
“Absolutely nothing? Really nothing at all?” Vanka doubted.
“How to tell you… Girls, they like spontaneity, confidence, but at the same time one
should now and then take their hand, and kiss, if necessary. And then, like the flu, it will
spread all by itself. It’s kind of a rule: if at least three girls fall in love with you, in a week
there will already be ten of them. Those ones will spill the beans to their friends, and so
on… Did you see the third-years that just went by? By the way, I really don’t even
remember their names…” the Tibidox lion stated smugly.
“It seemed to me you know them… You smiled at them just like that.”

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“Experience, my dear, experience…” Zhora languidly said. “Notice, there were two
girls, and I, finding a way out, smiled not even at anyone in particular, but looking
between them. Now each thinks that I was smiling at her. Tactics!”
Vanka looked calmly at him. It was hard to understand how he treated Zhikin’s
words. Tanya hoped without enthusiasm. Zhikin annoyed her personally. He was a
narcissistic pretty boy, completely artificial, petty not even to the bone but to the bone
marrow. Only this meanness alone was genuine in him, which Zhikin himself was
unlikely to suspect.
“Girls, my friend, they come in all shapes,” Zhora continued to talk profusely. “But
something exists in each, if we look into it. I have a hereditary flair for this… Not without
reason did my moronoid papa pay alimony even to a famous actress… I’m not talking
about his other wives. But this petty actress turned out to be heavy-footed…”
“Hmm… There you are! And Grotter, is she pretty?” Tanya unexpectedly heard
Vanka’s voice.
Tanya tensed up. The right thing was to leave her hiding place, but she did not do
this. Instead, she looked out carefully, trying not to miss not only a single word but also
the expression on Zhikin’s and Vanka’s faces. But here disappointment awaited her: she
saw only their backs.
“Well uh-h… If you want… I’ll say, okay.” The Don Juan of Tibidox hesitated a lot,
searching for the right epithet.
Zhora Zhikin had four boxes in which he sorted out girls. The first, most elite, was
called “high grade,” the second was “standard,” further was the box “she has beautiful
eyes,” and finally the largest and most spacious was named “she loves animals.”
Tanya felt that Vanka was waiting for an answer with impatience. She herself also
waited with impatience and fear.
“She has beautiful eyes. But… and she also loves animals,” Zhikin finally squeezed
out.
“That means she’s plain?” Vanka calmly specified.
“Hmm… Well, what does plain mean? Sure, she isn’t up to Lotkova or Cryptova
there. Nevertheless she’s better than Parroteva… On the whole, she’ll probably go for
you,” Zhikin said condescendingly.
Tanya was certain that Vanka would now hit Zhikin in the nose, aiming to give
Zhora’s classical nose a simpler form. But… Vanka did not do this. Instead, he took from
his pocket a small wooden box, in which obviously lay some grasses for magic station,
twisted it about, and closed the lid. Then he got up, gave Zhora a thoughtful look, and
quickly left. After some time, shrugging his shoulders, Zhikin also left.
Tanya continued to sit behind the sofa, burying her forehead in its wooden frame
destroyed by beetles. She saw and heard nothing. She was shaking with tears and
hopeless anger. Her soul was so vile, as if someone had spat there. The one who had spat

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was not a stranger whom she cared nothing for, but someone to whom she had long
revealed her soul trustingly.
Tanya felt betrayed. Betrayed and deceived…
***
Late at night, when Tanya, after a good cry, was already asleep, someone
persistently knocked on the window. Tanya opened her eyes and sat up on the pillow,
attempting to understand if she had imagined it. Coffinia was snuffling peacefully. In
sleep she little resembled the deadly girl from the dark department but was nice and
quiet, like a cherub. It was difficult to believe that evil plans could teem in that head
during the day. The skeleton Page, the very same Dear Tonianno, was creaking slightly
on its stand and, shaking the feathers on the hat, evidently, whispering a broad
spectrum of words to fate.
The knock was repeated. Tanya approached the window and, pressing her nose
against the glass, carefully looked out. In front of the window – not dressed for the
weather, chilled to the bone like a puppy, with frozen icicle of obscure origin on his nose
– hovered Gury Puper on a broom. He was alone and sad. It seemed another moment
and he would simply fall down, after becoming a block of ice.
“Oh, Tanya, Tanya! I ran away to Tibidox! I will live beside you! I hate Magford!”
he said, as if his heart was breaking.
“You’re out of your mind! They’re searching for you! Some here are nattering that I
tortured you to death,” Tanya only said.
“Tanya, please, open the window! Or I will fall into the snowdrift and die on a flat
place!” Puper said through lips growing numb. He was speaking Russian sufficiently
correctly for a foreigner but with amusing errors, occurring every time he got off the
beaten path of speech.
Tanya decisively pushed open the window. Puper squeezed with difficulty into the
room together with his broom, letting in the icy winter air…

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151

Chapter 12
THE POLAR SPIRITS
On the evening of December 30 th, Shurasik was sitting in the common room and,
taking refuge with his feet on the sofa, after playing such a nasty trick on Tanya, was
writing something in a rather thick notebook. Shurasik had an inconceivable quantity of
notebooks and writing pads and all were filled with very illegible handwriting, which
more resembled a cardiogram. If Shurasik, say, were a great writer, leaving his legacy to
posterity, his bibliographer would hang himself, after being stuck somewhere in the first
third of the endless literary path of deceased.
“How much does a kilogram of time cost? More than half a kilo of dreams?”
Shurasik scribbled, covering with saliva the bewitched dark-magic pencil with the lead
woven from sunbeams. The phrase was good, no one would argue, but at this place
Shurasik’s inspiration dried up. He put the pencil down and began to think what else to
write. Before Shurasik’s mind’s eye, the month of December rushed past in person,
frolicking and skipping.
The months are different. Each flaunts a sign, like a seal or a mark. There are
months under the sign of Pisces, Aries, and Taurus, under Leo, Virgo, and Libra…
However, that is if everything goes according to plan and nothing disrupts the usual
flow, as this was happening now. So, the month of December in Tibidox, contrary to any
expectation, for some reason passed by not under the sign of Sagittarius or at the worst
Capricorn, but under the sign of Puper…
Arriving somewhere on the tenth day, Puper was almost slammed down by Grail
Gardarika, but he managed to survive thanks to protection magic and the high speed
which his broom had gathered. Stiff from the frost, Gury came to after a couple of days
in magic station, and with his inherent modesty described very concisely the horrors
which he had happened to live through. Having escaped Magford from troublesome
maglawyers, his coach, and publishers issuing calendars with his portrait, Puper headed
for Buyan, but he got lost and roamed chaotically over the ocean for many weary hours,
until finally, half-dead from fatigue, he discovered the Russian island.
The news about Puper’s arrival spread all over Tibidox in a matter of minutes.
Verka Parroteva and Dusya Dollova rushed like lunatics along the hallways and shouted,
“Pupie’s here! He got away from Prun, got away from Goreanna! He won’t get away from
us!”
A huge crowd gathered at magic station. Only the superstitious terror, which Yagge
knew how to instil in them, prevented the crowd from bursting inside and tearing Puper
up into a hundred thousand autographs and memorabilia fragments. Puper was quietly
delirious in bed, repeating incoherently, “Russian Tanya… dragonball. Don’t send me
back to Magford, they tired me out all the time there!”

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Yagge energetically rubbed his back and chest with a camphor alcohol solution,
surprised at how thin Puper was. “Not like my Yaguny! Can make two Pupers from my
Yaguny!” she said.
Just the next day, the news that Puper had been discovered had barely spread
throughout the world when the magic shield of Buyan began to crackle. Hundreds of
journalists, all kinds of representatives of Magciety, and fans simply rushed to the
island. Sardanapal had to show great firmness; so great that his own firmness would
certainly not be enough if he did not have reliable support from Medusa and Slander
Slanderych. The latter one even proposed to let the hungry dragons loose upon the
journalists and was distressed when the academician refused. As a result, the majority of
journalists were sent packing. Only Latest Magnews, Mag-TV, and the radio station
Witchcraft Granny, chattering on their zoomers before losing momentum, passed
through to Buyan.
Coffinia Cryptova did immense PR for herself, after stating that Puper came flying
to her and knocked on the window of her room. “But I, of course, as a respectable girl,
would not have let him in, if not for this unbalanced Tanya, who bored everyone to
death with her passion for Puper!” she declared.
The next day in all the magzines appeared large portraits of Coffinia with boldfaced titles: PUPER LOVES HER, GURY’S GIRL and FUTURE MADAM PUPER. One
tabloid delivered a big article: GROTTER PESTERED PUPER WITH DECLARATIONS
OF LOVE.
Taking into account that the majority of magicians are not always capable of
forming their own opinion but willingly follow someone else’s, differing little from
moronoids in this regard, close to a thousand of Puper’s fans, immediately following
their idol, fell in love with Coffinia. Cupids, loaded with flowers and candies, reached the
exceptional and mysterious Mademoiselle Cryptova in Tibidox. Coffinia’s zoomer
crackled non-stop. The jealous sheik Spirya was rumoured to have gnawed through his
own broom.
Puper’s coach, after scandalously forcing his way into Tibidox, got down on his
knees before Gury, begging him to return, but Puper was unyielding. He stated that he
intended on remaining in Buyan for all of December and would only return to England
at the beginning of January in order to check the accuracy of the interest calculated in
his bank account. Puper was, to put it mildly, indifferent to international censure.
The coach had to give in, especially as Gury had a hacking cough and tried to grope
for his broom by the bed to dismiss the tactful manager. Finally, the coach left, shaking
his head; during farewell, just in case, he checked with special colour-changing
bewitched paper whether Puper had been turned into a zombie. There was no sign of
zombification, and the disappointed coach left Buyan on paired brooms, promising to
return with Uncle Sam’s landing troops.

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Puper’s condition was serious. He needed a nurse, but he did not agree on any
nurse except Tanya.
“So, got yourself a sweetheart? Now go nurse him! Foreigners are frail! Slightly
nipped by frost and they go to pieces right away,” Yagge was somehow being evasive.
Tanya nodded despondently. She already understood that she could not wiggle out of it.
Furthermore, Puper actually had gotten sick because of her.
“Perhaps… cure him quickly with magic, huh, Granny?” Bab-Yagun proposed.
Yagge dropped such a severe quick glance that her grandson instantly wilted.
“MAGIC? You do understand that he was entirely in shielding blocks? A Geiger counter
next to him will go off the scale! I only have to try applying a simple spell and everyone
will yell that we’ve turned him into a zombie and influenced his will… So, we have to
treat him in the old ways: steam him in a bath and treat him with raspberry cordial.”
A partition divided magic station into two parts. Liza Zalizina stayed in one, where
Tanya could not even allow herself to be seen, while in the other was the obstinate Gury,
not consenting to swallow even a spoonful of chicken broth if Tanya was not holding the
spoon.
All these days Vanka Valyalkin had been behaving extremely strangely. He avoided
meeting Tanya and even changed seats to another table in the Hall of Two Elements.
Moreover, jealousy towards Puper hardly explained this, since Vanka had changed seats
even the evening before Puper was somewhere over the ocean.
Tanya also did not approach Vanka. After what she had chanced to overhear, it was
physically painful even to look at him. “The one you truly love will betray you…” Plaguedel-Cake’s words rustled in her ears at night.
However, all the same, although it was already obvious that Vanka had betrayed
her, Tanya could in no way banish this from her thoughts. Her memory returned over
and over again to how it was before, and she did not notice when Gury, quickly on the
mend, took her hand and muttered something passionately, jumping from Russian to
English. “Well, let him! What’s the difference now?” Tanya thought, feeling Puper’s hot
fingers.
Once, when Gury again annoyed Tanya with his declarations, the door of magic
station was thrown open, and Bab-Yagun entered. Tanya attempted to shake off Puper’s
hand, which, who knows when, had time to crawl like a caterpillar onto her knee, but it
was too late.
“Oh, an intimate moment!” Yagun muttered, staring gloomily at Puper. “I really
came to see whether I left the darting nozzle for the pipe here. Ah, here it is,
incidentally! Well, I won’t be in the way, oy, my granny mama!” He took the nozzle and,
humming and hawing, left.
Tanya leaped up, intending on running after Yagun, but she suddenly realized that
she would not do this. Since when was she obligated to report to Yagge’s grandson?
What was he to her, a nanny? What right did he have to pry into her affairs at all and
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154

hammer into his own muttonhead all sorts of nonsense? After all, Puper had run away
from Magford for her and almost perished during the flyover, so that was that, enough
said.
“I you let your hands wander one more time, you won’t see me anymore!” she
attacked Puper.
Gury pouted resentfully. “But, Tanya, why are you so mean? I love you!” he said.
“THAT OLD THING AGAIN? One more word and I’ll send Coffinia to you! She’s
been dying to care for you for a long time!” Tanya cut him off. Maybe this was not
entirely polite, but Gury had managed to annoy her pretty well already.
“Okay, okay… I’ll reform!” Puper said in a hurry and, quietly folding his arms on
his stomach, demanded broth.
If Tanya had only been more attentive, she would have noticed a slight horror in
Gury’s eyes. Puper simply pathologically feared Coffinia, the Russian girl with bread and
salt. At the same time, outwardly Cryptova continued to attract him as before, striking
vague and scary desires into the timid Englishman’s soul.
Having had broth, Puper continued to bore Tanya for some time with a list of
guests he would invite to the betrothal. The list was sufficiently long – a hundred names
– and began with some Aunt Nasturtia. The last in the list were the publishers of the
calendars and representatives of Magciety of Jerky Magtion.
“Why did Gury decide that there will be a betrothal? Okay, let him get better, then
I’ll clear it up with him!” Tanya thought, generously allowing Gury to dream as much as
he liked.
The door of magic station opened again. Vanka Valyalkin came into magic station
and, clearly ignoring Tanya and Puper, made his way behind the screen to Liza Zalizina.
Tanya bit her lip. “Certainly, Gury, I can’t wait for our betrothal!” she said loudly.
Puper stared wonderingly at her, not daring to believe his happiness. However,
Tanya was not interested in him but in Vanka. It seemed to her that Valyalkin froze for a
second and even stumbled, but afterwards, without turning around, proceeded further.
“Ah, so! It’s all the same to you! Well, it’s all the same to me too!” Tanya decided
and started to intensely feed Puper the broth. “Eat, Gury, eat, my darling!”
“Tanya, I beg you! Don’t push the spoon in so deeply! I could choke and die!” Puper
gurgled in panic a minute later.
“You’re awfully talkative for someone dying! Eat when given!” Tanya growled. For a
moment, the baby Grotter wanted to make Puper wear the plate, but she kept herself in
control and began to feed Gury more carefully.
Days passed. Puper finally got well. For a while, Yagge still resisted, demanding he
stay in bed for another week, but then she gave up and permitted Gury to practise with
the Tibidox team. “Only don’t overstrain yourself particularly the first time! Slightly, not
at full strength!” she added.

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A good half of the school gathered to watch Puper’s first practice. Among the
instructors came Slander Slanderych, the Great Tooth, and Tararakh.
The pithecanthropus looked bad. On his forehead was the trace of a hoof kick and
his hand was thoroughly bitten. The day before the Cyclopes brought him an injured
chimera97 from the forest. Like all chimeras, the monster had the fire-spitting mouth of a
lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon. In essence, everything started with this
tail. The chimera had managed to get it caught in a cracked tree, was feeble from
hunger, and howled so dreadfully that the Cyclopes heard it. The howl of a chimera, also
of Greek roots, touched their calloused hearts. After tying ropes around the chimera,
they delivered it to Tararakh in Tibidox. Along the way, the clumsy Cyclopes
inadvertently squeezed and enraged their compatriot, so that in the end it was
downright furious. And the consequences of this rage became obvious just with a look at
the pithecanthropus. The only consolation for Tararakh was that his wounds healed
quickly, as those of a dog.
Sardanapal did not appear at the practice, although he was a besotted fan of
dragonball. Everyone knew that the academician was burying himself in his office. The
cracks on the mirror had become increasingly deeper, and the four terrible figures were
increasingly visibly distinct, and this despite the fact that Mad Glazier, badgered by his
own reflection, had quite subsided. At times, the head of Tibidox confessed that he
looked unhappy.
Nevertheless, although the danger had become more real each day and the harsh
god-avengers had gotten nearer, Sardanapal did not summon Tanya and did not send
her to the moronoid world. Something stopped him, as if the academician knew for
certain that the necessary moment had not yet arrived.
It was also good that Sardanapal made an exception at his own risk and, having
removed the block to Grail Gardarika, allowed the match with the Polar Spirits to take
place in Tibidox. Dragonball in the world of magicians is too important to be cancelled,
even for a valid reason.
Tibidox students and instructors sat in the stands and watched as Puper’s broom,
swift like a feather, glided through the lilac clouds with daring strokes. It goes without
saying, Puper did not follow Yagge’s advice and practised with full delivery, clearly
showing off in front of Tanya. He caught the bewitched passes, beautifully beat the
defence, and deftly eluded the very young dragons, which wanted very much to tear the
newcomer into hundreds of pieces and use his broom as a toothpick.
The only one whom Puper definitely avoided and was even rather afraid of was
Coffinia. Following her usual tactics, Cryptova did not interfere in the game, but only
jauntily glided on her vacuum in the middle of the field. Every time Puper’s gaze
accidentally fell on her, Gury stiffened for a few moments and could not even catch the
According to Greek mythology, a chimera is a fire-breathing hybrid animal composed of the parts of
several different animals.
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simplest pass. It was obvious that his body and soul pulled him in different directions:
the soul to Tanya but the body to both Tanya and Coffinia simultaneously. The old evil
eye on the dough figure probably affected him. What, in essence, is a body? What are
you thinking, stupid? Fortunately for Puper and the entire team, such periods of
confusion were momentary and barely influenced the quality of play.
Squinting his single eye, Nightingale O. Robber attentively followed the
movements of the new player. The coach’s broad face, as if hewn from a single block of
wood, did not show any emotions. It was difficult to say what he really thought of Gury
and whether he was glad for such an addition to the team.
Only much later, when Tararakh approached him and asked quietly, “Well, so?” did
Nightingale unwillingly mutter, “The main thing is that the fellow doesn’t get stuck up
and Goyaryn gets used to him. Otherwise, it’ll still swallow him unintentionally. Well,
Goyaryn doesn’t like one with a broom, what can you do?”
Tararakh nodded. He also knew the habits of the Tibidox dragon rather well. “Yes,
Gury’s good, what else is there to say… Only I also know someone who plays rather
better than Puper. And you, your robber soul, can argue, you know!” he boomed rather
roughly, as an old friend.
The long scar on Nightingale’s empty eye socket trembled. He did not answer and
darkened noticeably, as if the mention of this would cause him pain. But Tararakh
nevertheless noticed that the old coach involuntarily turned his head and glanced at the
bench, where Tanya was sitting among the spectators…
The practice that day ended an hour later than usual. So great was the enthusiasm
aroused by the brilliant performance of the team’s new member. Even Seven-StumpHoles and Zhora Zhikin, usually jealous of the successes of others, acknowledged
Puper’s skill. True, Seven-Stump-Holes had to plough the sand in the dragonball field
with his nose three times for this. This was payback for unsuccessful attempts at
ramming. But Zhikin’s nose came off unhurt. Zhora had enough smarts not to race the
mop with the propeller and not to compete with Puper in speed.
Returning in the evening to her own room, Tanya came across Vanka Valyalkin at
the door. She was about to take a step towards him, having decided that Vanka had
come to apologize for his stupid behaviour, but Valyalkin, after looking sideways at her,
slipped around the corner in a hurry. Tanya shrugged her shoulders, turned the
doorknob, and froze on the threshold. The case with the double bass was pulled out
from under the bed. Suspecting the worst, she threw herself to it and flicked the clasp.
Glory be to The Ancient One, the double bass turned out to be whole, but the
firebird’s tail feather lying on top, presented by Vanka to her for feeding the bird while
Vanka was sick, had disappeared. Tanya surmised that Valyalkin had taken away his
own gift. Moreover, he had not simply taken it but had done it secretly and without
asking, which was much worse.

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Tanya slammed the case shut and decisively began to move it under the bed. In
that moment, it seemed to her that she also moved Vanka together with the case. Once
and for all…
***
Bab-Yagun started his vacuum and was immediately shrouded in bluish-grey
smoke, in which silvery flashes of mermaid scales flickered occasionally. After
ascertaining that the engine was running smoothly and without interruption, Yagun
jumped on the vacuum, held the pipe atilt, and took off swiftly. Snow was falling in
flakes. The sky was white and colorless.
Frozen hangar genies, looking absurd in hats, caps with earflaps, and sheepskin
coats, hurriedly cleared the field with shovels, although, in the opinion of many, to fall
into snow banks would be much more pleasant. Rita On-The-Sly and Kuzya Tuzikov, in
anticipation of the match, had managed to build a snow woman, and now it stood in the
middle of the field with a carrot nose and one of Gury Puper’s old brooms in its hand. A
yellow waste bucket was pulled over the eyes of the snow woman. Occasionally, the
bucket bounced and the snow woman bounced merrily together with it. It seemed
someone had bewitched and brought it to life.
In the sector that the ghosts usually occupied, Unhealed Lady and Lieutenant
Rzhevskii sat among the rest of the spectres of Tibidox. Rzhevskii, dressed in a snowwhite uniform, slightly bulging at the back because of the knives, which he had refused
to take out for several weeks to spite his spouse, at times raised a monocle to his eye.
Playing the role of a social lion, he casually glanced around and showed signs of
attention to the ghost Eternal Housewife, who, according to rumours, had put an end to
herself after finding out that she had been using the wrong laundry detergent for many
years, as a result of which her husband’s shirts did not look sufficiently ideal. Imagine
how shattered this poor thing was on finding out that her husband, after suffering for
about two months, had married some student who could not even fry an egg but rode a
motorcycle excellently.
Nightingale O. Robber settled on the coach’s bench with a blank face. He seemed
imperturbably calm, and only Yagge, Sardanapal, and Tararakh, having known him for
more than a century, could surmise what was really taking place in his mind.
Tanya Grotter was sitting five rows up next to Shurasik and Gunya Glomov.
Shurasik, as usual, was writing something down in a notebook, only glancing around
from time to time to replenish impressions. Gunya Glomov sat with knit brows,
pondering with whom to fight. Unfortunately for Gunya, all Polar Spirits fans were
situated in another sector and, furthermore, were invisible. It was uninteresting for
Glomov to fight with Tanya or Shurasik, and poor Gunya suffered perceptibly.

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Vanka Valyalkin sat separately and alone. He did not even glance over at Tanya. It
was possible to think that Tanya simply did not exist to him, and this was the most
offensive. It was probably precisely for this reason that she could not properly forget
Valyalkin and put him out of her head. “He betrayed me! Cursed Plague! Your prophecy
came true!” Tanya thought almost with hatred.
“Oy-oy-oy, my granny mama! With you is the resilient playing commentator BabYagun, number eight of team Tibidox! Any minute now, the match with Polar Spirits will
begin! According to some signs – in particular, that it has become much colder – I can
assume that the Polar Spirits have arrived nevertheless! True, as hinted, they only
materialize during the presentation of the teams. There ’s some conspiracy here! Well,
for the time being I will introduce team Tibidox. As far as I can make out, the stands are
full of magjournalists, besides, there have been some changes in our team…”
Yagun swept a hypercritical glance over the first row of the stands, where, exactly
like hens on a perch, Latest Magnews, Mag-TV, and the radio station Witchcraft Granny
were huddling together in harmony. Nagiana Pripyatskaya was already dissatisfied
about something and punished her operator with the microphone stand.
Grafin Cagliostrov and the Persian magician Tistrya were the referees. Although
not too long ago Sardanapal was expected to become the chief referee, at the last minute
Cagliostrov and Tistrya changed everything and, having enlisted the support of the
sports committee of Magciety of Jerky Magtion, assumed the responsibility themselves.
As a slight comfort for the Tibidox people, last time Cagliostrov was not on good
terms with Grail Gardarika, and as a result, he had to spend some time in the ice-free
swamp in the company of brownies. They liked the charming Grafin so much that they
tickled him almost to death and covered everything with marshy slime. In the end,
Cagliostrov was fished out nevertheless and occupied the place of honour of chief
referee. Even now, he still smelled unpleasantly of swamp gases, and on his back,
unnoticed, an illiterate inscription in dried mud I adore cutie! stood out vividely
The Persian magician Tistrya darted his eyes around, pondering who could have set
up such a baddie for Cagliostrov and him. Although Tistrya himself did not fall into the
swamp, by a strange coincidence after uttering Grail, he turned up in one of the
basements of Tibidox, where Eyeless Horror groaned and rumbled with shackles,
remembering bygone years and ancient legends. On the whole, until Tistrya got out
from the basement, he also had to live through a couple of very memorable minutes.
The only one whom Tistrya tried not to look at was the pithecanthropus Tararakh,
who was squeezing something very gloomily and unclenching his huge hands. The
strongman evoked in Tistrya vague fears of a specific kind. “My good man, wouldn’t you
put two Cyclopes near us?” smiling politely, he addressed Slander Slanderych.
“Because of Tararakh?” the principal asked.
“Uh-eh… Not that… To some extent!” Tistrya evaded a direct answer.

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159

“Then I better put three! If it’s because of Tararakh, two won’t be enough!” Slander
said with understanding. He went away and soon returned with three Cyclopes, who got
between the referees’ stand and Tararakh.
Tistrya looked sideways at the Cyclopes searchingly and did not like how they were
playing with their clubs. “Why are they so… uh-ah… unfriendly?” he asked the principal
with unease.
“The Cyclopes are also fans of team Tibidox,” Slander remarked, shrugged his
shoulders, and returned to the teachers’ stand, where Milyulya was splashing in a barrel
warmed by spells.
Tistrya swallowed, just in case recollecting the spell for teleportation. He suddenly
wanted terribly to be in Persia with his harem. How were his poor younger wives there?
Was his older seven-hundred-year-old wife – a strong Bactrian witch, who turns into a
panther during a new moon but the rest of the month is simply a snake in the grass! –
treating them badly again? Why did he marry her then? He was young, foolish, and so
mistaken! When a little witch is eighteen, only The Ancient One alone knows what she
will turn into a couple of hundred years later.
Bab-Yagun flew around inside the shielding barrier, gathered his thoughts, and
decisively started the performance of his commentator responsibilities. “So, my granny
mama, the Tibidox team… Number one is Zhora Zhikin, defence. Magic equipment is a
mop with a propeller. Simply a beauty! What form, what power! Just look at it! True
perfection!” Zhora Zhikin stuck out his chest and threw victorious looks at the stands,
estimating how many hearts he broke at that moment. “Of course I have in mind the
propeller!” Yagun continued as if nothing was the matter. The stands burst out laughing.
An enraged Zhikin instantly deflated and hurried to hide behind a cloud.
“Number two is the vacuum Blizzard-100U. That is, I meant to say, Damien
Goryanov. However, there’s no difference whatsoever. From the point of view of the
game, of course. As far as I remember, Damien always wanted to be backup, but after
what happened to Liza Zalizina, she had to leave. Okay, let him fly, he personally won’t
interfere with me! Or the Polar Spirits.”
“YAGU-U-UN! I WILL KILL YOU!” Goryanov howled.
Without even turning around, Yagun gained altitude, having deftly dodged the
heavy Blizzard. “Pah, how boring! Always the same!” Yagge’s grandson remarked.
He glanced at the white clouds, searching for number three, and his voice grew
noticeably warmer. “Katya Lotkova, dragon guard. Her vacuum is just like its mistress!
Very likable, all covered in amulets, simply looks nice… Awdully want to kiss!” Katya
Lotkova blushed.
“COMMENTATOR! WHAT IS THIS?” bellowed Sardanapal, who was also at the
match, having temporarily left the mirror under surveillance by the sphinx.
“What did I say? Kiss? What, can’t kiss a vacuum anymore?” Yagun was sincerely
astonished. “But, let’s continue… Number four, Seven-Stump-Holes, forward! He plays
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160

dragonball well. I’ll be quiet about his remaining qualities, or else he’ll turn me into an
otter… Number five. Rita On-The-Sly. Glad that she succeeded in restoring the guitar
with a coupler. She looked absurd on a balalaika with pedals… Kuzya Tuzikov, midfield,
number six. The equipment, a broom. In general it’s reactive, but for some reason I
constantly want to call it long-suffering. Wonder what will happen to the broom this
time?” Kuzya Tuzikov looked sideways in alarm at his broom and, just in case, even
moved restlessly on it. For the time being everything seemed normal and Kuzya calmed
down.
“Number seven. Coffinia Cryptova. A Swine-Sportage vacuum. I always want to say
‘Swine on Swine’ but, you notice, I haven’t said this. I’m a young cultured man… Better if
I pose a purely rhetorical question: what exactly does Coffinia do in the field? The only
time in her life she scored was an obvious mistake. However, among the fans, as is
known, there are many who for the life of The Ancient One don’t understand the game
and come to dragonball exclusively to stare at the girls. That’s great tennis! True, it’s
winter now, and there’s nothing to see inparticular except frostbitten noses… So, I don’t
understand what Mademoiselle Cryptova is expecting!” Yagun stated.
Coffinia, once and for all putting on an armour of bullet-proof smugness, only
snorted contemptuously. But then Nagiana Pripyatskaya, having sensed long ago a
kindred spirit in Cryptova, immediately flicked her operator’s forehead, attracting his
attention, and informed all the viewers of Latest Magnews, “Do you hear me, jerkies?
The playing commentator Yagun, a rejected suitor of Cryptova, is clearly jealous of
Puper’s girl and Puper himself… Yes, it isn’t easy to be Puper’s girl! To have to stand the
envy and become a target of gossips. However, Coffinia is ready for any sacrifice in the
name of her love!”
Fortunately, Bab-Yagun did not hear this. He was occupied with the most
captivating and important thing in the world – presenting himself. For this very reason,
something remotely resembling embarrassment appeared in his voice. “Number eight…
uh-h…me, Bab-Yagun. Well, what more is there to say about myself? Really and truly,
modesty does not allow self-promotion… Forward, defence, midfield… A player of wide
range, and such were earlier encountered once in a hundred years. Besides, if someone
noticed, I’m even the commentator, which is much more difficult than simply flying
after balls. I’ll be candid, now and then I happened to turn up in the dragon’s stomach,
but even there I tried to behave well and make the dragon lose its appetite… Yes, even a
little nuance! Anyone who tries to put an evil eye on me, keep in mind: Granny guards
me! There she sits, by the way! I say, hello, Granny! Stand up, show yourself!”
Yagge got up willingly, and she and the playing commentator started waving to
each other and sending air kisses. The stadium roared. Sensing that the spectators were
already slightly bored of acquainting themselves with the worth of number eight and his
kin, Yagun proceeded further along the list.

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161

“Okay, so be it! You must think I don’t know what you’re all waiting for… Number
nine – Gury Puper! The new, although also temporary, acquisition of our team. Isn’t it
true that Puper looks grand in a cap with pompoms and a green scarf? Poor Gury is
clearly freezing. He refused to play in a sheepskin coat, since it curbs movement, but
then a cap goes well for him. He flies, it goes without saying, on a broom… What else?
Poor Russian yard-keepers will soon be left without stock at all. Instead of Magciety of
Jerky Magtion, I’d have established long ago an association for the support of yardkeepers and have full copyrights on brooms, scoops, and shovels, and at the same time
on scars, birthmarks, corns, and appendicitis! Hey, I didn’t mean to offend anyone!
Indeed, no one understands a joke!” Yagun corrected himself anxiously, after looking at
his vest,which was crackling from evil eyes. After ascertaining that his vest had stopped
crackling, the playing commentator sighed with relief.
“By the way, if you’re not too lazy to turn your head, you can see in the third sector
Gury Puper’s coach, his maglawyers, Prun with Goreanna, and several dozens of his
most ardent fans… Please wave to them! The fans look concerned and, apparently, aren’t
very happy with everything that is happening! It’s also good that Tanya Grotter is sitting
in another sector and, because of the dome, they cannot secretly pop the evil-eye gun at
her! Don’t worry about Gury, people! We also love him and we’ll return him to you safe
and sound when the time comes, but until then, please, let the guy fly a little on the
broom! Okay?” Yagun sent Puper’s fans air kisses and, after moving the pipe to the other
hand, gained altitude.
“And, finally, number ten! Once it was Tanya Grotter, but now it is Verka Parroteva
on her dreadful vacuum! I think the power of its engine isn’t measured by horsepower
but by elephant power. Here, this bulky and cumbersome object has no trace of
manoeuvrability. I’m always waiting for this vacuum to break through the magic shield
of the dome. In my opinion, you watch, Verka herself will leap with a shawl-parachute,
not waiting for the start of the match. Really and truly, if I were in Nightingale’s place, I
would give Verka something simpler, for instance, shorts with an airplane engine or
pants with a propeller. Then it’s possible that Verka’s game would be much more
effective, especially given her ability to squeal strikingly loudly…”
Yagun looked sideways at a downcast Parroteva, really drooping under the
pressure of his criticism, and, feeling the sharp prick of conscience, added, “In general,
Verka’s good, don’t you listen to me, a fool… I say this perhaps out of envy that I don’t
have such a vacuum or I’m always secretly in love. Just let someone try to ram Verka,
he’ll have to deal with me.”
Parroteva immediately recovered from dejection and started to circle on the
roaring vacuum around Yagun, forcing him to sneeze from the smoke. At the same time,
she threw looks full of coquetry at Yagun. The playing commentator was immediately
sorry that he had not hold his tongue or had not been born a deaf-mute in general.

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162

“And finally the goal of team Tibidox – Goyaryn. For the time being, it’s still in the
hangar, shaking and shrouded in dense smoke. Poor hangar genies, I wouldn’t want to
be in their place!” The hangar began to shake and drone. A terrible roar resounded along
the stands. The Cyclopes, assigned by Slander Slanderych to each sector, anxiously
turned their cauldron-shaped heads.
“December isn’t the best time for dragonball or dragons in general,” Yagun
continued to talk. “Goyaryn was in hibernation last month and was woken up only
yesterday. This didn’t add to its good mood, so you’re being kept further from the dome,
or you would have to wait for spring in a dragon’s belly. It’s probably dull and dark
there, but indeed definitely not cold. I, a wise old bird, can tell you this…”
Noticing that operators with zoomers began to bustle and Grafin Cagliostrov
braced himself, almost already letting out the signal spark, Bab-Yagun hurried. He
recollected suddenly that the match would start any minute now, but he still had not yet
presented the Polar Spirits team.
The playing commentator half-rose on the vacuum, glanced quickly at his palm
covered with the previously prepared crib, and rattled, “Well, let’s see whether the
Spirits will appear or no one will fly in at all. I have this slight suspicion. Iceman,
number one, dragon guard. And where, you ask, is this Iceman of yours? There is no
Iceman! Oh, my granny mama!” Yagun suddenly yelled.
Someone’s cold hand lay on his shoulder. Right beside him, sparkling and
beaming, appeared a small, brisk, brawny fellow. It seemed he was transparent, carved
from a single icy chunk, and blinded the eyes when light fell on him. Yagun swallowed.
“Uh-huh, thanks. Now I believe that the Polar Spirits have flown in. It was clear with nn-number one. Number two – Whirlo, forward…”
The playing commentator had not yet managed to finish talking when his vacuum
was thrown back several metres. And not only his vacuum. Zhora Zhikin, Rita On-TheSly, and Kuzya Tuzikov turned out to be exactly in the centre of a funnel and were now
doing everything possible to hold their ground. A small hurricane, twirling the snow,
came into existence in the middle of the dragonball field. Wherever it flashed by, players
scattered in different directions. Looking closely, it was possible to see an agile scrawny
person in the centre of the hurricane, not remaining stationary for a second, revolving
around its axis all the time...
“Very unusual technique. I wonder if there was a corkscrew among number two’s
relatives.” Bab-Yagun remarked, levelling his vacuum with difficulty. “Further! Number
three – Frozeno, attacking midfielder. I wonder what will happen now. Again a hand on
my shoulder or an introduction to a corkscrew person? I’ll understand nothing… For
some reason I’m sti-sti-sti…”
In Yagun’s field of vision appeared a chubby, very pink-cheeked little fellow. He
blew and white frost cracks ran along the magic shield of the dome. Hangar genies,
gaseous as they should be, instantly froze and fell onto the snow as icicles. Gury Puper
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163

grabbed his nose mournfully. “…sti-sti-stiffening…” Yagun finished with difficulty,
energetically rubbing his numbed lips with a mitten.
Academician Sardanapal turned sadly to Medusa. “Yes, today’s their day!” he said.
“What was I thinking, I wonder, when I agreed that our team would meet the Polar
Spirits on December 31st?”
“The Sports Committee of Magciety made the final decision. And even not having
you as a referee. I don’t think anything is up to you here. Magciety does everything to
disgrace Tibidox. I’m sure this wasn’t managed without Koshchei the Deathless,”
Medusa said.
“But I could say no. Simply not allow this match and that’s all,” Sardanapal
remarked.
“You could. But what would that give us? Tistrya and Grafin would state that we
were cowards, or in general refer to some amendment to the sports code from two
hundred and seven years before our era… There they are, by the way, chuckling. And
Koshchei the Deathless has shown up somewhere nearby. He teleported, perhaps? Shall
we put an evil eye on them, huh?” Medusa said dreamily, exchanging glances with the
Great Tooth.
Dentistikha smiled subtly and straightened her glasses. Her whole appearance said
that of course evil eyes were possible, but only carefully, and in general it’s better to wait
a little for the time being. “Dear, please, don’t swing the spear! It distracts me! And there
are no evil spirits here,” she addressed Gottfried Bouillon affectionately.
“Gr-gr-gr-gu-ga-gy… Oho! I’ve thawed! Number four – Grandfather Frost, captain
of the team,” Yagun continued cheerfully. “Oh, here he is, speak of the devil! I hope it
isn’t dynamite in that large bag he has on his shoulders. But if it isn’t dynamite, then
why is he holding it so suspiciously with caution? Three white mares – Blizzard,
Snowstorm, and Snowdrift – are harnessed to Grandfather Frost’s magic sleigh… A not
so bad bird-troika, stolen directly from Gogol!98 By the way, I could also come in a tank!
I would borrow from the moronoids and it’s as good as done. Just that I’m afraid there
would be problems with fuel. I would have to strip all the mermaids so it could take off.”
Grandfather Frost, pompous, bearded, ruddy-faced, rushed past Yagun, dousing
him with silvery snowy sparks. In his left hand he had a bag. The right hand of the Polar
Spirits’ team captain firmly held the reins of his snowy troika.
“Number five – Penguin-aha, defence. Well, what can you say here? Penguin is a
penguin, even if you aha a hundred times! Aha? Aha! Number six – Santa Claus and his
loyal reindeer. I’ll explain for the slow-witted: the reindeer is the one below with hooves,
Claus is the one on top of it and without hooves. Besides, the reindeer doesn’t have a
beard… Number seven – Snowman. He flies, it goes without saying, in a bucket.
In the novel Dead Souls (1842), the 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-52)
turned the image of the troika into Russia’s most revered national symbol. In it, he also compares the
troika to a bird.
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164

Somehow he is ingvery interested looks at our snow woman… Must be lonely in the
permafrost, eh?”
Yagun did not have time to make malicious comments when a snowball from out of
nowhere covered up his mouth. Since the snowball clearly had nothing in common with
an evil eye, Yagun’s magic vest turned out to be powerless.
“Phooey, my tongue is my enemy … Number eight – Frosty, forward. You have to
understand, he’s Frozeno’s relative. In any case, I’m numb again! Oh, what an
appropriate word, and indeed accidentally found! Number nine – Frigid! Brr… He has
such a look as if he overdid the ice cream. I only have to look at his sour expression with
braces on his teeth, I immediately have a head cold! And finally, number ten – Snow
Guria, not to be confused with the other Gury, who is a boy. As of yeesterday, that one
was Puper. Perhaps, to avoid confusion, it’ll be better to call Snow Guria just Snow
Maiden. What a nice, true beauty! And even a forward. Wonder what she’s flying on? In
appearance it resembles a decorated Christmas tree, but with the speed of a jet fighter…
I think we should expect surprises from number ten, as once we did from Tanya. I’ll try
to constantly keep an eye on Snow Maiden, especially as this is simply very pleasant…”
Snow Maiden, dressed in a snowy lightweight coat, threw a coquettish look at
Yagun. Katya Lotkova and Verka Parroteva were instantly filled with noble indignation.
Parroteva’s vacuum, as if reacting to its mistress’ mood, roared five times louder than
usual.
Cagliostrov got up. Two signal sparks soared above the dome and exploded with a
deafening bang. At the same time, the genies opened the hangar gates at once and
bounced to the sides, hurrying to hide behind their heavy doors. The last and possibly
the most difficult match of the departing year had begun.
“Oh, here’s our Goyaryn!” Bab-Yagun was filled with enthusiasm. “Look, it flashed
a long jet of fire, as if asking everyone to move a little, and only burst out of the hangar
after that. Yes, a heavy takeoff – our goal isn’t too agile, so to speak, on the ground – and
Goyaryn is in the air. I don’t envy anyone who falls under his wing! However, for those
who land under the hooves of Grandfather Frost’s Blizzard, life will also be no picnic!
Oh, my granny mama, they almost knocked me down! Perhaps it isn’t obvious that I’m
talking? No respect for us demagogues, people of verbal labour!”
After levelling his vacuum with difficulty, Yagun shook off the snow and returned
to fulfilling his commentator responsibilities. “But where’s the Polar Spirits team’s goal?
The hangar is open, but so far no one has appeared from it. What’s the trick? Or perhaps
the Polar Spirits have decided that if there’s no goal, there’s no scoring? Very
foresighted!”
Bab-Yagun was already turning away from the second hangar, on which the
majority of the fans had their sight, when something suddenly attracted his attention.
“Whoa, where did this gigantic snowy mountain come from? A colossal snowdrift has
suddenly emerged in place of the hangar! An entire division of yard-keepers won ’t be
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165

enough to shovel it, even if they hand out shovels to all of Puper’s maglawyers! And
what’s that sound? Santa Claus and his reindeer are chuckling gloatingly! The reindeer
is the one with horns, if anyone still hasn’t figured it out. Claus is without horns, but
then he has kind eyes…”
Suddenly, the enormous snowy mountain, which Yagun was talking about, shot up
into the air and screened the sky. “Oh no, not this! Now I understand what it is! SNOW
DRAGON!” Bab-Yagun shouted fearfully.
Snow Dragon breathed out an icy flame. All genies that were spared after the
presentation of Frozeno instantly stiffened and froze in the field as immobile blocks. But
not only did the heat-loving eastern genies ice up. The lower edge of the magic dome
next to the dragon cracked. The icy flame, having escaped outside, touched the first row
occupied by the correspondents of numerous magzines. And a moment later, all the
correspondents fell from their benches, miraculously not breaking. Medical orderlies
with stretchers rushed to them at once.
Slander Slanderych hurriedly shot green and red sparks, patching up the shielding
dome. Meanwhile, Snow Dragon was already circling above the field. It was enormous –
about twice as big as Goyaryn. Snow Dragon had neither fangs, claws, nor scales, and
even its contours seemed unstable. Snow Dragon resembled most of all a huge
mountain, from which a winged lizard had quickly been moulded.
“A snow dragon… I thought they had died out long ago,” Tararakh remarked. “The
last time I saw one was six or seven thousand years ago, and that encounter was not
among the pleasant ones. Of all who ran into it, I alone remained among the living…
These snow dragons are extremely devious creatures. They lie down in the middle of a
snow-covered plain, close their eyes, and wait until something comes closer. Then they
soar quickly, open their mouths – and that will be the last of it. And that’s that!”
“One good thing – with this dragon there’s no need to fear burns. It means we were
greased with vampire bile for nothing. This stinker clearly won’t help today!” BabYagun, whose usual sense of humour had thawed together with him, informed the entire
stadium.
In the field, cowering from fear, the chubby umpire jumped out and, looking
around, released five balls from a basket. The fire-extinguisher, stun, sneeze, immobilize
and pepper balls soared into the sky, hurriedly scattering inside the dome. The Tibidox
and Polar Spirits players immediately rushed after the balls.
“Iceman… Frozeno… Frigid catches the fire-extinguisher ball! You don’t say, this
fellow is quite good! If he overdid the ice cream, it doesn’t affect his game! Puper
straightens his cap and rushes into battle! Well done, Gury! He beats Penguin-aha and
beautifully goes around Snow Maiden! Oho! Puper intercepts the sneeze ball right in
front of Blizzard’s nose! What’s this? I thought he’d attack Snow Dragon with it, instead
Puper swiftly dives in pursuit of the most important ball – the immobilize! The logic is
clear – if Gury succeeds in delivering the immobilize ball, it’ll be a decisive victory…
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166

Puper has almost grabbed the ball already, but Santa Claus skilfully turns up under
Puper in the last second. A collision! The immobilize ball escapes! Gury falls into the
snowdrift. The height isn’t great – all of two or three metres, so I think Gury will return
to the game in a couple of minutes, especially as his broom clearly didn’t suffer. Puper’s
fans react violently, subjecting Santa to just criticism. In response, Claus’ reindeer
neighs in the most insolent manner… Oh, pardon me, not the reindeer but Claus
himself! Now even I’ve mixed them up.”
Tanya watched the game greedily, continually bringing the strong binoculars,
which Tararakh had given her, to her eyes. She could not restrain herself and had come
to the match after all, although she firmly promised herself only yesterday that she
would remain in Tibidox. For some reason, the baby Grotter even brought with her the
case with the double bass, although she was certain that she would not make use of it.
Nightingale O. Robber was standing firm. He obviously had decided that it would be
better to lose than to change his principles and ask Tanya to return!
Tanya hit her knee angrily, irritably turning away from the binoculars. Oh, how
many great opportunities they are passing up! There Cryptova sits on her vacuum like a
hen on a fence and does not even look around from time to time! If she would sharply
make a loop now, it would be possible to intercept the pepper ball! But Coffinia clearly
did not intend to exert herself. Instead, she preferred to be in the frame of all the
zoomers, which she, no doubt, succeeded.
“Penguin-aha accepts a bewitched pass from Frigid. A breakthrough to Goyaryn…
Goyaryn meets Penguin-aha with a jet of fire, and he wisely steps back. Good job,
Lotkova, you turned the dragon around just in time! Rita On-The-Sly chases the pepper
ball and intercepts it from under Whirlo’s nose… He, in annoyance, begins to twirl like a
gyroscope. Phew, what a hurricane! I see nothing through the snowstorm! It presses
Rita onto the magic dome, but she courageously doesn’t let go of the ball! Hey, is it
really fair to use magic, or is there nothing to be done with the Polar Spirits on
December 31st?”
“I fear that he’s right! Likely nothing!” the Great Tooth said quietly, addressing her
husband, Gottfried Bouillon. She had already tried for several minutes to block the
strong magic field of the Spirits, but was powerless in doing so.
“But why? Isn’t this just normal magic?” Gottfried was surprised.
Deni waved ambiguously. “This isn’t magic at all, it’s something entirely different.
Universal force, power… Some such thing, which simply spreads out in space.
Something that happens only once a year… I sense it, but I can’t explain it. This gives the
Polar Spirits simply monstrous possibilities.”
Gury Puper finally dug himself out of the snow bank, shook off the snow, and,
having sat down on his broom again, took off. The sneeze ball was, as before, fastened to
a strap on his shoulder.

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167

Yagun turned his head perplexedly. It seems he suddenly remembered that he
should also be playing, not just chatting. “Bab-Yagun, number eight, good-looking,
modest, and courageous, boldly shoots ahead! He clearly planned on screening Rita OnThe-Sly with his courageous chest as she cuts her way to Snow Dragon with the pepper
ball,” Yagge’s grandson commented, setting the vacuum full speed ahead. The stadium
grew quiet in wonder. Several thousand eyes stared at Yagun uncomprehendingly.
“It’s really impossible to promote oneself! Pah, what nasties you all are! Anyway,
must someone note my modest worth? Besides, you only have to imagine that ‘I’ isn’t ‘I’
but some other ‘you, they’… In other words, please stop nitpicking and simply listen as
number eight courageously goes on a ram attack!” Yagun stated, not forgetting to
manoeuvre skilfully on the vacuum.
“Perhaps we should change commentator?” Sardanapal proposed to Medusa. “But
who will we take instead of Yagun? Goryanov again? No, thanks! It’s rather early for
‘good night, little-ones!’ Besides, I didn’t sleep long enough to risk it now. Whether we
like it or not, Yagun is the best… And then, how do we take the silver mouthpiece away
from him? We’d have to catch this peppy lad first!” Sardanapal remarked, smiling.
Meanwhile, Bab-Yagun was already rushing side by side with Rita On-The-Sly.
Passing the pepper ball to each other, they beat Frigid and Frosty. Now only Snowman
was in their path. Understanding that if they were to go around him, they would have
given the guard time to be ready, Yagun drew back his arm and decisively sent Snowman
a bewitched pass…
“Leos-zafindileos!” Snowman shouted, and a second later, the ball knocked him
down from the bucket and broke him up into three snowballs. The path was free.
“He guessed wrong! It should have been Shchups-kuroshchups!” Yagun said
sympathetically, lifting the spell off the ball.
Many binoculars followed the snowballs, on one of which a carrot nose was clearly
visible. Yagun was about to try safeguarding the snowballs so that Snowman would not
break up, but it turned out he worried in vain. After falling onto the field, the three
snowballs making up Snowman were about to fall to pieces, but already reassembled
again after several seconds. The restored Snowman bounced resiliently to the snow
woman as if nothing had happened. The stunned medical genies stood still like gophers
and even dropped the stretchers. But Snowman, meanwhile, had already given the snow
woman his carrot nose. The entire female half on the stands gasped and shed a few
tears, deeply touched by such a sacrifice.
“It seems to me he won’t be flying back to the South Pole alone. True love knows no
bounds!” Docent Gorgonova said. Medusa did not notice that whenever she spoke
sincerely, she turned out to be too poignant.
“Really, love, two piles of snow, which become puddles in spring! How much better
you are, my dear Milyulya! How wonderfully you smell of fish oil!” Slander Slanderych

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168

stated passionately. The mermaid chuckled deeply and playfully splashed Slander with
water from the barrel, which instantly froze into a long icicle on the principal’s chin.
Bab-Yagun and Rita had already forced their way to the enemy’s goal. Iceman
hurriedly turned Snow Dragon around to meet them, and Whirlo was twirling like mad
around his axis, attempting to derail the vacuum and the guitar with a coupler.
Yagun’s heavy vacuum managed the hurricane rather well and held its direction
neatly, but Rita’s light guitar with coupler attached was instantly swept away. Yagun
attempted to catch Rita’s elbow and tow her away to a safe place, but it was already too
late. Snow Dragon breathed out a freezing flame, and a moment later, Rita and her
guitar were under a thick layer of ice.
When Yagun stretched a hand out to Rita, it was already too late. Fearing that the
icy figure would break falling from the height, Yagun accompanied it to the ground,
carefully supporting it. The orderlies were already running to them with stretchers. “Ah,
I didn’t protect her! What kind of skunk am I? There’s simply nothing under the hat!”
Yagun exclaimed.
He lowered Rita onto a stretcher and, having pulled the ball out of her benumbed
hands, he rushed on the roaring vacuum towards Snow Dragon. It had already drawn
breath and prepared to throw a new jet of flame. Penguin-aha and Iceman shielded the
dragon’s snout, whereas Whirlo continued his mean tricks with all his might.
VSHEEOOOOO!
An icy flame rushed past very closely. Yagun barely had time to dive under the
vacuum, at the same time feeling how frost burned his cheek and ear. It was even more
painful than being scalded by boiling water. Half of Yagun’s face instantly froze and
grew numb. His mouth slid down. It was good that it was the spent flame and not the
iciest part that had touched Yagun.
An instant later, the resilient number eight was again on top of the vacuum and
rushing towards the open mouth, where tonsils blazed with a reddish heart standing out
clearly against the general background… When the mouth was very near, Yagun stepped
on the gas and soared steeply upward, forcing his vacuum to roar laboriously and eject a
silver rain of mermaid scales from the pipe. Here he hung for a moment and decisively
threw the pepper ball.
SHHHHHHHHHHIIIKHH!
The ball, directed right at Snow Dragon’s mouth, had almost flown in there already,
but at the last moment for some reason made a loop in the air and turned up in the
hands of Grandfather Frost, who drove his snowstorm troika towards Goyaryn.
“No! Did you see that?!” Yagun, understanding nothing, began to yell with
disappointment. “It was a clear goal! Cheating!”
Sardanapal rushed to Tistrya and Grafin Cagliostrov. “This isn’t fair! Someone
bewitched the ball! It flew right into the goal!”

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169

Grafin Cagliostrov looked dully at the head of Tibidox. “Protest declined. I recorded
no outside magic,” he stated.
“And you, did you see it?” Sardanapal threw himself at Tistrya.
“I can’t say either yes or no. I blinked. And, in general, I have nearsighted
farsightedness due to viral conjunctivitis,” the Persian said evasively, having caught a
much too attentive look from Tararakh.
“Let me through to this hypocrite!” the pithecanthropus yelled, trying to push the
Cyclopes aside.
“Ee-ee-eek! Don’t let him through to me! I have a certificate that I’m thoroughly
sick!” Tistrya squealed. Tararakh was so startled that he stopped escaping from the
Cyclopes.
A minute later the match continued. Making use of the fact that his mouth had
completely thawed, the playing commentator started to rattle on with new strength.
“Frigid breaks through to Goyaryn with the fire-extinguisher ball… Oh, our defence has
failed again! Kuzya Tuzikov tries to stop Frigid, but only freezes to his broom! Forbidden
tricks again, my granny mama! I’m mad! Well done, Katka Lotkova, you swung the
dragon around in time! Goyaryn chose the correct tactic: instead of breathing out flame
from a medium range, it slashes with its tail. The blow doesn’t hit the target, but the gust
of wind blows Frigid off. Outstanding moment! Goyaryn, on Katya’s order, breathes out
flame in three small portions. Frigid dodges the first and second fiery discharge, but the
last volley hits the target. Frigid is instantly covered in soot and loses the fireextinguisher ball, which Seven-Stump-Holes captures. And in the next instant Frigid
turns up in Goyaryn’s mouth… Goyaryn, didn’t mama warn you never to swallow ice
cream in such morsels? It’ll end in a sore throat!”
However, Yagun did not have long to be rejoice. On hearing a whistle, he turned
around. Grandfather Frost, with the pepper ball, was rushing on his snowstorm troika
towards Goyaryn, which had not quite swallowed Frigid. Kuzya Tuzikov and Zhora
Zhikin, butting in to help, were swept away. Katya Lotkova, on her precise vacuum,
managed to dive behind Goyaryn’s head and was now trying to force it to close its
mouth. But Goyaryn did not obey. The three mares of Grandfather Frost instilled in the
dragon’s soul tangled but sweet gastronomic dreams.
Hoping to swallow the entire snowstorm troika quickly, and even Grandfather
Frost with his bag in addition, Goyaryn made the most common error of all dragons: it
stopped listening to its guard’s signals and opened its mouth wide. Frost was counting
on this. At the last moment, when Goyaryn closed its eyes in anticipation, hoping for a
tasty lunch, Grandfather Frost pulled on the reins decisively. The snowstorm troika
stood still as if rooted to the ground; only the sleigh bells tinkled and silver sparks fell
from the manes and tails. Grandfather Frost got up in the sleigh to his full considerable
height. The pepper ball, thrown by a decisive hand, flew like a fiery comet into the
dragon’s mouth. FLASH!
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170

The stands gasped when Goyaryn was shrouded by orange smoke. The next second
it opened its mouth miserably and spat out Frigid, who was thawed and sooty but full of
fight. Poler fans, materializing around the dome, yelled triumphantly. Tanya grabbed
the double bass case so hard that her knuckles turned white. How she wanted to be
there on the field, where the wind whistled and the players, appearing as tiny as dots,
swiftly cut through the air hunting for balls.
“Nice of Gramps Frost! Five points for the Polar Spirits!” Tararakh exclaimed with
involuntary admiration.
Bab-Yagun followed the withdrawing Grandfather Frost with a thoughtful gaze.
“Hmm, yes, he knows the ropes a little in dragonball, I won’t start to argue!” he
grumbled. “But indeed today is December 31 st and one can sympathize with the poor
gramps. After the match, he still has to fly around to several million moronoids. Gifts
under the fir tree, verses read on a toddler’s small chair, a little glass for the road and
more New Year blancmange,99 I beg you! It’ll be pretty rough for the poor horsies. They
have to work for all the annual hay in one night, if, of course, they don ’t feed on
snowdrifts.”
Someone swiftly flashed by Yagun, gaining altitude. The playing commentator
turned around. “Gury Puper again! Bravo, buddy! Puper, with the sneeze ball, goes for
the breakaway. Santa Claus tries to stop him. He spurs the reindeer and attacks Puper.
At the same time, Claus loudly sings, ‘Jingle bells, jingle bells!’ One must assume this is
a psychological attack! Someone is already beginning to feel sick! Gury makes a
beautiful half-loop in the air, then immediately a spin, and Santa remains far behind.
One down! Penguin-aha, Frozeno… Puper also gets away from them… Simply a round
roll! Well, my dear fans, who do we have there next? Ah, Snow Maiden in person! What
people are on Buyan! If I were in Puper’s place, I would spend more time on her, indeed
awfully pretty… Hey, Lotkova, no need to give me that look! I have the vest on, and, in
general, that’s my job – talking nonsense! Maybe I would like to blurt out something
clever, but the ether net doesn’t let me! Plague take it, this ether net!”
Not hearing Yagun, not seeing anything except his own target – Snow Dragon’s
mouth, Gury Puper rushed to meet it, his chest clinging to the broom. There he rushed
past the sector where his fans, coach, magnotists, and maglawyers sat. The maglawyers
were already shouting into their zoomers, trying to complain about something to
someone. His coach was as gloomy as a cloud. The magnotists hung on tight to mats,
just in case. Goreanna, after arguing with someone, had already fired from the evil eye
gun, barely managing to change cartridge clips. But then the loyal fans were, as always,
body and soul with Puper. On their banner blazed: Gury! We believe in you!
“And we do too!” Vanka Valyalkin remarked in an undertone, expressing the mood
of the entire Tibidox.

99

Russia celebrates New Year’s Eve the same as Christmas in the Western world.
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171

Now no one – not even cocky Gunya Glomov – saw Puper and his fans as enemies
any longer. If his fists still itched, then it was mainly against the maglawyers and
magnotists, who were forever hovering around Gury like wasps around jam. After
leaping up from his seat, Glomov was about to start forcing his way to the magnotists in
order to teach them a little, but the Cyclopes, whom the vigilant Slander had set up
everywhere, intercepted him.
“Hey, what are you, kids? Let’s beat up the magnotists together!” Gunya was
indignant when the Cyclopes dragged him by the arms.
“We’re on duty!” the Cyclopes mumbled, exchanging glances.
“Okay! Let me go, I’ll beat them up alone!” Gunya proposed hopefully.
“Not supposed to till the end of the match. Now, if a massive scuffle starts again
after the match, then that’s another matter… But not now!” the Cyclopes stated. They
put Gunya up between Shurasik and Tanya and moved away, holding him in their field
of vision.
“They didn’t even allow fighting! No happiness in personal life!” Gunya said, giving
Shurasik’s elbow a push.
“Glomov! You hit me again, I’ll turn you into a centipede! Besides Briskus-quickus,
you don’t even remember The Ancient One!” Shurasik squealed, staring at his notebook,
where, because of the push, the pencil had drawn a long curved flourish.
“Do it! Even better, I’ll kick with all the legs!” Gunya cackled.
Bab-Yagun rushed on the vacuum after Puper, deafening him with his
commentator noise. “Gury breaks away to Snow Dragon! What brilliant technique! The
dragon breathes out icy flame, but Puper deftly dives down. His broom has iced up, but
it doesn’t stop Puper. A throw! The sneeze ball cuts the air with a whistle! The ball flies
directly into Snow Dragon’s mouth! Go-o-oal… Hey, what’s with the ball again? It turns
around, describes an arc, and jumps into the hands of Santa Claus! Did someone’s magic
intervene again or… in general, it strongly looks like they simply intercepted the ball, but
who could have done it? I saw no defence nearby!”
Tanya did not take off the binoculars. After Gury for some incomprehensible
reason did not manage to score a sure goal, the play moved over to Goyaryn. Santa Claus
and Snow Maiden shelled it with balls – stun and sneeze, but Lotkova and Kuzya
Tuzikov turned the dragon away in time and prevented Goyaryn from opening its
mouth.
Seven-Stump-Holes took advantage of the mistake of Snow Dragon’s defence,
having flown too far away from its goal, and tried to break through with the fireextinguisher ball. Interfering with him, Whirlo rushed past next to Seven-Stump-Holes
and started twirling in a hurry, with snowstorm magic sweeping him off the vacuum.
Holes began to twirl, tossing from side to side.
“What’s the trick? These people without a muzzle! Stump, send him a bewitched
pass!” Yagun yelled, shouting above the developing blizzard.
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172

Stump probably heard him, because he waved and, after whispering something,
threw the fire-extinguisher ball to Whirlo. Whirlo, uncertain that he would be able to
guess the block, hurriedly darted to the side. The ball pursued him persistently.
“Oh, cool! Did you see that? Don’t miss the unforgettable spectacle! The Polar
Spirit flees from the ball in a cowardly manner, and it literally hangs onto his tail like an
annoying pug dog! Sic him, sic him!” Yagun chuckled.
“STOP! Stop the game! Flagrant violation of the rules! Penalty throw to the Tibidox
goal!” Grafin Cagliostrov yelled, releasing a signal spark.
“Where did you see a violation?” Sardanapal was indignant. “The use of bewitched
passes is completely legal!”
“Your commentator is prompting! This contradicts amendment №13 of the Sports
Code!” Cagliostrov stated.
“There are only 12 amendments to the Sports Code!” Nightingale argued.
“I protest: there are now 13! I have inserted the thirteenth!” Tistrya remarked,
hiding behind his ear a worn and dirty feather, with which he had just now scribbled
something quickly in the booklet.
“And where’s the voting? An amendment must still be accepted!” the academician
protested. Not having come to an agreement, Tistrya and Grafin threw up their hands at
once.
“Ahem… The Sports Committee voted with its full complement. Accepted
unanimously,” Cagliostrov said with an air of importance.
Meanwhile everything was already prepared for the penalty throw. With a special
spell, the referees forced Goyaryn to hover in the air and open its mouth wide. Whirlo,
after lifting the spell off the fire-extinguisher ball with difficulty, took off to eleven
metres and swiftly twirled around his axis. Tanya missed the instant the ball took off
from his hand. A bright flash, which blinded all the spectators for a moment, simply
flared up.
“Goooal! 8-0 in favour of the Polar Spirits! Furthermore, Goyaryn is deprived of
the possibility to breathe out flame till the end of the match,” Yagun reported sadly.
In the first seconds when the penal was called, Tararakh, rooted to the spot from
such impudence, was blocked by the Cyclopes while attempting to reach the judges.
“Guys! At least let me hit them once, I beg you! I can hardly bear to look at these mugs!”
he implored.
“Not supposed to! Now at the end of the match, we’ll close our eyes especially, then
it’ll be a different matter!” the Cyclopes stated.
The magician Tistrya, possessing a fine ear, twisted his neck nervously, pulling his
collar from it. “I protest! This is a conspiracy! Academician, please interfere! Please
forbid them from closing their eyes!” he yelled.
“I can’t forbid anyone from closing his eyes, or sneezing, yawning, or coughing! I
just now made an amendment to the Tibidox charter. Oddly enough, also accepted
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173

unanimously,” Sardanapal said, smiling, and went away, leaving Tistrya and Cagliostrov
disconcerted.
Koshchei the Deathless, on the adjacent stand, silver-plated armour shining, threw
triumphant glances at Dusya Dollova. Dusya giggled continuously and fired spells at
Koshchei, which crashed against his armour. On noticing Sardanapal, Deathless
instantly put on a respectable look and started to leaf through a thick book, suddenly
appearing in his hands. Zoomer Directory of Bald Mountain Magician
Department of Health. Zoomers of Witches Born 1000-1988. The cover said.
“Oho!” exclaimed Sardanapal. “Here they are, the fruits of education! I was told
about a moronoid who also memorized the phone book. They say he learned up to the
letter T and was in the loony bin. Please be careful, Mr. Koshchei! Take his experiment
into consideration!”
Deathless winced. “Always you and your jokes, Sardanapal! I’m looking for a young
secretary for myself. The majority of those who come to me claim that they were born
after 1988. On the other hand, I then find most names not even in this directory but in
the one from years 1 to 1000.”
“Even those are too young for you. Pick someone of the fourth or third millennium
before our era. Only such an experienced secretary will know how to appreciate the true
worth of your wrinkles and collect the sand that pours from you. And please consider,
the next time you pester my students, I’ll teleport you from here upside down!”
Sardanapal snapped at him.
“WHAT? HOW DARE YOU?” Koshchei the Deathless turned yellow and seized his
sword, but the sword was too rusted to be taken out of the scabbard easily.
Suddenly, Medusa hailed Sardanapal loudly and waved her hand from the
instructors’ stand, beckoning to him. The academician approached her. “What’s all the
hoopla about, Medi?”
“Look over there, in the field!”
“What’s there? Oh, looks like we’ve blown it on all counts! Soon Goyaryn will be
stuffed with balls like a duck with apples,” Sardanapal exclaimed with bitterness.
“Not there! Look at Snow Dragon! Well!”
The academician turned his head. “I see nothing. That is, I see nothing that would
be worth a special description,” he corrected himself.
“Now switch to magic view. Well!”
“Fine, Medi, only don’t get so excited! Hyperopis popeyedus!” Sardanapal uttered
obediently, releasing a spark.
Immediately a different world appeared before him. This was no longer the normal
world but a tangle of intertwined energies. It would be impossible for an uninitiated
magician to figure out what was in front of him. He would decide that this was simply a
chaotic flickering of paint. A moronoid, if only looking out of the corner of his eye at this
unfamiliar plane, would most likely go crazy. But the for-life-and-posthumous head of
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174

Tibidox was neither a beginner magician nor a moronoid. He understood that he was
looking at the inside of the world. Its inside seams are hidden from all the
unenlightened. Those driving forces that, in reality, alone control everything real.
Here the green spots pulsating brightly were white magicians. The red and claret
spots, occasionally flashing crimson like a lit cigarette, were dark magicians. The blurry
violet blobs were Polar Spirits, using both types of magic and even voodoo magic with
identical zeal. Here were two bright orange spots with a yellow centre. These, it goes
without saying, were the dragons: Goyaryn and Snow Dragon. Despite the significant
external differences, their internal essence was identical.
Staring at Snow Dragon, Sardanapal saw a large violet spot directly opposite its
mouth. However, in the mode of normal sight there was no one next to the dragon. The
defence, Penguin-aha and Frozeno, were circling at more than ten metres above the
dragon.
“Did you see now?” Medi asked nervously. “Do you understand what this means?”
The academician nodded. “An invisible spirit! It hasn’t been ten but eleven players
in the Polar Spirits team from the very beginning of the game! They tricked us! Someone
from the Spirits screens their dragon and deflects all our balls,” he stated and rushed to
the judges. “The Polar Spirits have a secret player! This is a brazen violation!” he yelled.
Tistrya and Grafin Cagliostrov exchanged glances and started to philosophize,
hurriedly making up new rules and amendments to them. Even when all of Puper’s
maglawyers, in this case willy-nilly taking Gury’s, and consequently Tibidox’s, side,
rushed in a single file to the judges, Tistrya and Cagliostrov continued to be obstinate.
“Extra player or not, this can only be established thorough a magquiry!” stated
Tistrya.
“And we’ll call a magquiry only after the end of the game. Of course, this will in no
way influence the results of the match; but justice will be restored. We promise to
announce the final results of the magquiry no later than ten months after the end of the
world!” Cagliostrov added impressively.
Sardanapal froze from such impudence. Tistrya giggled disgustingly and, finally
being a boor, patted the academician’s cheek. “Cheer up, old chap! Chin up! Perhaps you
haven’t heard the proverb: the main thing in dragonball is not winning but
participation?”
This was already too much. The head of Tibidox turned crimson. His moustache
bristled up and his beard tried to coil around Tistrya’s neck. “You will let go of Tararakh
and summon Gunya Glomov. I need their authoritative consultation on one question
connected with the restoration of justice!” he ordered the Cyclopes.
Tistrya and Grafin panicked. They hurriedly tried to teleport and began to twirl on
the spot, releasing sparks, but nothing came of this. Medusa, her hair hissing like
cobras, with a flick of her wrist placed a block on teleportation.

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175

“Help!” Tistrya squealed, grabbing the sleeves of the maglawyers. “Please
intervene! This is tyranny!”
“I would with pleasure, but no crime has been committed and no trial has been
scheduled. Consequently, I’m powerless. Now if, let’s assume, they wring your neck, I
can represent the interests of your widow in the question of obtaining compensation…”
one of Puper’s maglawyers rattled, shaking off his hand.
“And I have mud on my pant leg and I’m shaking it off! When I do so, I see and
hear nothing. I have a medical certificate signed by three professors and one
academician,” another added.
Tistrya and Grafin exchanged glances in a cowardly manner. Tararakh was already
approaching them, harsh like a cave bear. Gunya Glomov rushed with an impatient roar
from the adjacent sector, stepping on everybody’s toes.
“Okay, so be it! We’re revising our ban!” Grafin shouted quickly, licking his lips.
“Team Tibidox is allowed to bring out into the field one additional player, any of your
choosing! Just take into account that the score remains as before: 8-0 in favour of the
Polar Spirits…”
Sardanapal stopped Tararakh and Gunya with an imperative movement of his
hand. “On behalf of the Tibidox School of Magic, I thank you for the objective judging! I
never doubted your wisdom and high human qualities!” he bowed ceremoniously to the
judges.
“Come on, Academician! It’s our duty!” Tistrya said, wincing as if all his teeth were
aching at once.
Grafin Cagliostrov took out a hanky and dried his eyes. He already understood that
there would not be blows. “Thank you, Academician! We, modest toilers, are so rarely
appreciated for our true worth. If you don’t mind, please write me a certificate of
gratitude. I will hang it on the wall of my office and show the guests,” he stated.
“No problem, I’ll ask Eyeless Horror. He adores writing with blood on walls. Your
guests will be pleasantly surprised!” the head of Tibidox nodded and, not paying any
more attention to the judges, beckoned the pithecanthropus to himself. “Tararakh, did
you hear about the eleventh player? Run and set everything up! And I’ll go to
Nightingale!”
“Where?” the pithecanthropus did not understand.
“TARARAKH!” the academician shouted.
The pithecanthropus looked at him and, after slapping himself on the forehead,
dashed off in search of Tanya. Sardanapal and Medusa rushed to Nightingale. The coach
was sitting on the bench and looking sullenly at the field, where Frosty and Santa Claus
clipped Kuzya Tuzikov roughly, and Snow Maiden aimed at accidentally turning Gury
into a snow bank, but missed him with a violet spark. Puper’s iced-up broom traced
surprising figures in the air.

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176

The only one of the Polar Spirits who was not interested in the game was
Snowman. He was jumping on the field together with the Tibidox snow woman so that
their snowballs were bobbing up and down and switching places. Cupids dressed in fur
caps and felt boots swarmed around them like clouds and showered Snowman and the
snow woman with a golden rain of arrows.
“How amusing they are, these snow people! Slandy, pet, would you love me as
much?” Milyulya asked dreamily.
Slander Slanderych, next to whom were numerous curious ears, coughed in
embarrassment. “You see, dear, ahem… I think the main thing in relationships should
be a sense of duty. Instead of jumping on the field like young donkeys, they could, say,
put together a marriage contract or discuss family responsibilities,” he said.
The mermaid sighed and dived into the barrel. “Indeed, time to negotiate who will
defrost the fridge in the summer (it’s important for snow people), and certify this trash
at the notary’s… You’re boring, Slandy, rotten! I’ll swim away from you!” she gurgled.
The academician touched Nightingale’s shoulder. The coach woke from his reverie,
having just noticed Sardanapal. “I’ll send in my resignation… Tibidox needs a new
coach. Just look at us! One must think this is their first dragonball match!” he said with
bitterness.
The academician smiled in encouragement. “Don’t take it to heart, it’s not all so
dire! They’re doing everything they can, but today’s the thirty-first… Besides, the Polar
Spirits have turned out to have an extra player.”
“That’s what it is! It’s most likely Frostbite…” O. Robber nodded, not at all
surprised.
“Frostbite? How do you know?”
“I remember him from previous matches. A sharp guy, such are usually not
excluded from the core line-up. But for some reason he hasn’t been seen today. Frost
likely decided to hedge his bet. He’s indeed nobody’s fool, this gramps with rosy cheeks.”
“Nightingale! We must also produce an eleventh player!”
“Who?” O. Robber exclaimed caustically. “Perhaps we’ll sit Shurasik down on a
vacuum? Thanks, Parroteva and Cryptova are enough for me for now!”
“You know whom I’m talking about… We have the player who can help Puper!”
Sardanapal said.
Nightingale obstinately shook his head. “Grotter? Never! When Puper’s in the field,
she changes the game to The Ancient One knows what! She’ll protect him from dragons
and snowflakes again! Better put Glomov out there. I have an excellent jackhammer
with a jet engine in the locker room. I kept it especially for such mental cases. It doesn’t
turn well at all, but, for ramming, there’s nothing better.”
“NIGHTINGALE! Come to your senses! We need Tanya! Nobody can turn the tide
of the match with such a crushing score, and, I swear, you know this very well!”
Sardanapal said forcefully.
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177

The coach turned away. “I will not ask her! Dragonball is not an institute for young
ladies,” he muttered.
“What a pighead! What, you don’t understand that we’ll lose because of your
stubbornness? You won’t have to ask anyone! She’s already here!” Sardanapal glanced
back.
Tararakh was already very near. Tanya was thrown over his right shoulder, and he
was carrying the case with the double bass in his left hand. “Here she is, your parcel! She
didn’t want to come! This and that, all kinds of female tricks! Well, I don’t know how to
handle women… Rather than, I think, begging them, I deliver!” he said good-naturedly
in a deep voice, lowering Tanya to her feet next to the academician.
Nightingale and Tanya sullenly stared at each other.
“I didn’t want to come!” muttered Tanya.
“And I will not beg! Here’s another thing! Someone call Gunya!” the coach winced.
Sardanapal and Tararakh exchanged glances. Tararakh, grabbing Tanya and
Nightingale by their hands, pulled them to each other almost by force. “Why the idiocy?”
Tararakh shouted. “They’re routing us there in the field, and they’re here puffing up
their cheeks! I’ll show you Gunya! Make up!”
“No!” Tanya and Nightingale O. Robber exclaimed at once.
“Who am I speaking to, make up! Or else I’ll knock your heads together! What’s the
deal: the old, the young!” Tararakh shouted angrily, joining their hands by force.
They were obstinate, but to pull away from the pithecanthropus was as unrealistic
as restraining the tail of a flying dragon. Tanya felt Nightingale’s rough hand, and then
the coach’s outlines unexpectedly began to blur. The girl stopped pulling away, and in
order that no one would see her tears, did the only thing possible under these
circumstances – buried her face in Nightingale’s chest. How she missed this old robber
after all! “Girl, I swear by the hair of The Ancient One! On the verge of tears! Take the
double bass and march onto the field!” she heard the familiar, gravelly voice.
Tararakh put in one of Tanya’s hands the neck of the double bass, which he had
just carefully taken out of the case, and the bow in her other hand. “Well now, ready! I
hope you’ll manage somehow without music. Come on, girl, show these frosties who’s
the boss in the chicken coop!” he counselled her at parting.
After looking back at Nightingale, Tanya was about to take a step to the dome, but
here the old coach hailed her again, “Wait!” Tanya stopped.
“Where were you earlier? Perhaps you don’t understand that team Tibidox is
nowhere without you? No Puper will help us if we don’t help ourselves! I’m glad that
you’ve returned, Plague take me… And now march, march! Give it to these polar owls!”
Nightingale shouted, obviously angry at himself for his momentary outburst. An uneasy
tear escaped from the blind eye of Nightingale O. Robber and slid down the cheek
slashed by a long scar.

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178

However, Tanya did not see this. Clutching the double bass, she rushed to the
dome, stumbling on the steps. Tibidox fans crowding between the sectors parted
obligingly. Tanya ran and heard behind her back the rumble of applause, like waves
rolling along the Tibidox stands.
“Show them! Hurraaayy!” The baby Stinktopp, jumping on one spot, whistled into
two fingers and cast spells in all directions. The spells were of such terrible strength that
even the Cyclopes avoided approaching the gifted toddler, only intending on snitching to
Sardanapal or Dentistikha.
Two plump referees in striped robes and the genie Abdullah, spinning beside them,
obligingly moved aside, helping Tanya squeeze her way through with the instrument the
narrow passage in the shielding dome. “Good luck, girl! If we win, I’ll dedicate my best
curse to you!” Abdullah promised.
“Don’t. Better if you let me take books out of the locked reserve and not return
them on time,” Tanya turned him down.
After making a running approach, she uttered Speedus envenomus and deftly
jumped onto the double bass, taking off. The strings began to drone. Lifting her hand
with the bow, Tanya traced a semicircle with its tip. The double bass gathered altitude
and glided along the dome. Tanya stared at the game, trying to understand what had
changed during those several minutes she was next to Nightingale.
However, much had changed, and moreover, clearly not to their advantage. Snow
Maiden, Whirlo, and Frozeno were attacking Goyaryn. They had two of the three balls –
stun and sneeze – remaining in the game. Using the fact that Goyaryn could not breathe
out fire, the Polar Spirits stuck quite close to the Tibidox dragon, except that they tried
not to fall under the blows of its wings and tail.
Kuzya Tuzikov and Katya Lotkova were barely keeping Goyaryn from opening its
mouth, trying to swing it around to first one, then the other attack. But with each minute
it was getting harder and harder for them to keep Goyaryn in submission. The dragon
had clearly lost patience, and here was the chubby Penguin-aha, still flickering before its
eyes, whetting its appetite.
Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus were chasing Verka Parroteva and Coffinia
Cryptova with enthusiasm, intending on throwing them off their vacuums. In principle,
the Polar Spirits team foresaw no danger from Cryptova or Parroteva, but the old men
were having fun to the fullest nevertheless.
Santa Claus especially was having a particular blast, yelling non-stop, “Jingle bells,
jingle bells!” Around Claus swarmed annoying cupids; heaven knows how they forced
their way to the field. The referees had already tried several times to catch them, but
each time the sly cupids flew closer to the dragons, where the referees decided not to
follow them. Besides, in the rain of golden arrows, the down-on-their-luck referees in
striped robes fell in love with anyone or anything, some even with each other.

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179

Something flickered to the right of Tanya. Puper appeared on the broom beside
her. “Oh, Tanya! I’m glad that you’re here! We’ll give the Polar Spirits a good licking and
teach them a lesson!” he said, breaking into a smile.
“Uh-huh, we will!” Tanya agreed. “Only don’t touch my knee, please. Trust me, it
doesn’t need a lesson.” Puper was embarrassed and removed his hand.
Tanya waved the bow and her double bass dashed forward like an arrow to where
the immobilize ball gleamed like a dot at the opposite end of the field. Gury, not lagging
behind, rushed on the broom beside her. Whatever turn Tanya made, Gury did not fall
behind. It seemed the broom and the double bass were competing in speed and
manoeuvrability.
Santa Claus ceased going after Parroteva and, after stopping the reindeer, stared at
them with involuntary admiration. “Wow, darn, jingle bells!” he growled.
Nagiana Pripyatskaya whacked the operator with the microphone stand so hard
that he leaped up a metre. “Shoot, you worthless bum! Perhaps you don’t see Puper and
Grotter together!” she screamed. “It’ll be my best broadcast! Take that, and that!”
“Ouch! I can’t shoot when I’m being hit!” the operator snapped, shielding his head.
“But I can’t not hit you! You’ll spoil it all the same! Better I kill you quickly like
Smerdyakov of the old man Karamazov 100 or Taras Bulba’s own son!101 Come on, sonny!”
Pripyatskaya said with bitterness, leaving a well-aimed imprint of the stand on the
operator.
The correspondents of Voice from the Coffin, Bald Mountain Truth, Moronoid
Times, and Moonless Magyouths, without coming to an agreement, scribbled in their
notebooks: Puper and Grotter…Grotter and Puper! Parody, plagiarism, or love to the
grave?
Here, the correspondent of Bald Mountain Truth, a sad old witch from Vii’s inner
circle, wrote pirody and pligiarism, and the correspondent of Moonless Magyouths,
after tormenting himself with grammatical effort for some time, wrote plogiarism. The
publisher of Puper calendars giggled, rubbing his hands, but suddenly glanced at the
cart with calendars prepared for sale and jumped fearfully. It turned out that all the
Pupers had run from the calendars on the sly and were now rushing to Tanya to confess
their love to her.
Tanya flew next to Puper, beating all the Polar Spirits with ease. She did not even
think about what she was doing and what orders to give to the bow. It seemed her
double bass was in free flight. Its flat bottom, made of boards from Noah’s Ark, glided
along the air, guided by tight jets of cold wind. The pale winter sun first peeped out from
This is from The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by the famous Russian writer Fyodor Miklailovich
Dostoyevsky (1821-81). Smerdyakov is the illegitimate son of the old man Karamazov and he killed his
own father.
101
Taras Bulba (1835, 1842) is a historical novella by the famous Ukrainian writer Nikolai Vasilievich
Gogol (1809-52). Taras Bulba, a Cossack leader, kills his own son who forsakes his heritage for his love of
a Polish girl.
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100

180

behind the clouds with the bulging eye of an omelette, then hid coyly behind a pudgy,
spongy cloud.
She and Puper did not even have to make an arrangement on what they had to do,
did not choose any general tactics – it was not necessary. They understood each other
with a half word, a half glance, a half movement. No matter how boring and intolerable
Puper was in magic station, when he, hands folded on his chest, monotonously declared
his love or began to compose the guest list to the betrothal, he was so good in the air.
Tanya did not even have to glance at him and knew that Puper would do everything
correctly.
When Whirlo chanced upon them and began to twirl, causing a snowstorm, the
baby Grotter directed her double bass more to the right of the Polar Spirit, and Gury
more to the left. As a result, Whirlo, at a loss attempting to follow both quickly, collided
with Penguin-aha and both almost fell into the mouth of their own dragon.
The immobilize ball first flickered somewhere in the dome itself, then, beginning to
fly in zigzags, dived into a cloud. Tanya and Gury exchanged glances and split up. Now
they were after the ball like two hounds, trying to adjust to its chaotic movements. They
finally succeeded. Gury Puper offhandedly struck the ball with the end of his broom.
From the impact, the ball changed the direction of flight, did not enter into the next turn
and, after bouncing off the shielding dome, fell into Tanya’s hands...
She attached it to the Velcro at her shoulder and again flew side by side with Gury.
Suddenly, something flickered below, the roar of an engine was heard, and, exactly like a
fat buzzing bumblebee, Bab-Yagun approached them on his vacuum.
“Oh, here they are, my granny mama! The celebrity couple, our hope and support!
Please allow me to ask you: what are your impressions of the match? Don’t you want to
wish someone from the family a happy New Year? Hello to friends? I can lend you the
mouthpiece! Only I warn you at once, not for keeps! Please excuse me, state-owned
assets on the school’s balance sheet. It’s possible that Slander Slanderych has even
etched an inventory tag somewhere.”
Tanya glanced quickly at Yagun. She knew him well and was ready to swear that he
was picking a fight. Puper clearly evoked in him creative enthusiasm, of a particular
kind at that. Most likely, Yagge’s grandson was simply taking revenge on Puper for his
friend Vanka.
“Oho, Gury Puper’s doing well!” Yagun continued to speak maliciously. “Who
would have thought that his broom – this extended broom, this stick with a bundle of
twigs, this everyday tool of a yard-keeper – could move at such speed and have such
manoeuvrability? However, there’s no accounting for taste. I personally once meet an
old witch who flew on a rake, so? She was a very nice and worthy woman. Much more
pleasant than her friend, who flew in, please excuse me, a shower stall and in the
corresponding costume. So, how about the mouthpiece?”

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181

Tanya refused; however, Gury for some reason agreed. Possibly, he simply grasped
poorly the nuances of a language alien to him and did not understand that he was being
laughed at.
Puper caught the mouthpiece Yagun threw to him. “I want to make an official
statement! Can you hear me well?” he asked. His voice, intensified by magic, resounded
through the entire stadium. Puper’s fans pricked up their ears. Correspondents and TV
people immediately positioned their microphones and zoomers in order not to miss a
sound.
“I LOVE TANYA AND WILL LOVE HER ALWAYS! IT IS TO HER I RAN FROM
MAGFORD! I SPECIALLY LEARN RUSSIAN IN ORDER TO TELL HER HOW MUCH I
LONG FOR HER!” Puper continued. Puper’s coach grabbed his head. Goreanna,
jealously clenching her teeth, refuelled the evil eye gun with a new cartridge. Coffinia
Cryptova almost fell from her vacuum.
Tanya stared with horror at Puper. He, not paying any attention to anyone else and
looking only at her alone, continued, “I LOVE TANYA! TANYA, I BEG YOU, SAY ‘YES’
TO ME.”
Tanya felt a blush flooding her face. She wanted terribly to ram this obstinate
Puper and throw him from his broom. Simultaneously, almost against her will, she felt
for Gury something new, which had not been there before. Whether this was love or,
perhaps, only sympathy, the baby Grotter could not say, especially now, when her
thoughts were tangled.
“Perhaps that’s enough?” she whispered in annoyance to Puper. “Stop this circus!”
However, instead of ending the circus, Puper tugged at the shielding vest on his
chest. “Shoot Puper in the chest! Shoot or say ‘yes’! Do you love me?”
“NO!”
“If I score? If I win this match, then ‘yes’? Then you’ll agree?” Puper pressed her.
“I’ll score by myself! I don’t need you!” Tanya stated and, pressing her chest against
the double bass, waved the bow. The wind, throwing biting snow in her face, howled,
whistled, and groaned into her ears.
Tanya plucked the immobilize ball off the Velcro and held it in her free hand. She
already understood that while Puper was orating with animation, the Polar Spirits had
not wasted time. On discovering that Tanya and Puper had the immobilize ball, they
built a solid barrier around their dragon. In front of everyone was Grandfather Frost on
the snowstorm troika. His three white mares Blizzard, Snowstorm, and Snowdrift
snorted gently and beat the air with their hooves, from which icy sparks scattered in
different directions.
Santa Claus was circling slightly behind and to the side. Persistent cupids had
exhausted him so much that Claus’ eyes were bunched up, and the trim beard of a
philistine was somewhat asymmetrical on his face, forcing one to recall a cutlet for some
reason. Frosty and Frostbite flew behind Claus and Grandfather Frost. It was only
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182

possible to surmise about the existence of Frostbite from that icy, sharp, almost
crystalline clarity which the air before Snow Dragon’s snout acquired now and then.
This was not simply a reliable defence – this was the most impenetrable of all
dragonball defences, even if we forget about December 31 st.
Tanya and Gury, covering her, tried repeatedly to break through, but every time
Snow Dragon neatly breathed out icy flame. Tanya and Gury dodged and the flame only
caught them at the end. Nevertheless, the double bass was covered with hoar frost, and
icicles hung from Puper’s iced-up broom.
“We haven’t got a chance here. How annoying that I didn’t take my invisible cloak!”
Gury exclaimed finally, convinced that his broom was manoeuvring increasingly worse.
“Speak for yourself! I’ll break through all the same! A girl with the Grotter last
name cannot but force her way through, Plague-del-Cake take me! I’ll force Snow
Dragon to swallow the ball, even if I have to open this lizard’s mouth and put the staff of
the Magi in it!” Tanya stated decisively. She caught herself thinking that she was
reasoning in the best traditions of the dark department. So be it! Wonder what
department she is in?
Puper looked at Tanya with misgiving and blinked anxiously, straightening his
glasses, on which so much Scotch tape had been wound that they barely rested on the
bridge of his nose. “Ah, Tanya! Now and then you’re so much like Coffinia! I become
uneasy when I imagine our future family life,” he said sadly.
“Don’t imagine! We won’t have any family life. You’ll have a wife who flies for kefir
on double brooms and knows thirteen spells for soup!” Tanya cut him off.
The baby Grotter had already turned away from Puper. She started to move around
quickly, trying to tease Snow Dragon and force it to attack, but Snow Dragon possibly
possessed an excessively dispassionate temperament. Moreover, the Polar Spirits, barely
sensing that the dragon was beginning to lose patience, immediately hid it with their
backs.
Unexpectedly, Yagun, whistling, jumped out from behind a cloud. He had the stun
ball under his arm. “See?” he exclaimed. “So, will you accept me in your nice company? I
have my own dish!”
“How did you manage to intercept it?” Tanya was surprised. The wind had stopped
and they could communicate quietly without raising their voices.
“This?! A small New Year surprise from Frozeno… It was improper to refuse. A
foreigner nevertheless, came from the Pole,” Yagun explained.
“A surprise? Tanya doubted.
“Thereabouts. Frozeno decided to send Whirlo a bewitched pass. If this isn’t a
surprise, then I don’t know what to call it.”
“You mirrored again!” Tanya exclaimed.
“Uh-h… Slightly!” Yagun acknowledged.

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183

Puper frowned. “It’s against the rules! You must report this to the judges!” he
stated, bobbing up and down indignantly on the broom.
“The type who passes up a discount?” Yagun asked with irony.
“I don’t understand what ‘discount’ is.”
“But there’s nothing to understand here. Just don’t philosophize! The last good
philosopher was Erasmus of Rotterdam,102 and he died long ago. On the whole, give me
back my mouthpiece! As it is, you’ve already spread my little maidenly secrets to all the
stands!” Yagun snapped, decisively taking the mouthpiece from Puper.
“I beg forgiveness, ladies and gentlemen! A small technical difficulty! Cupids’
arrows, fated passions, New Year gifts from those from the Poles, and other unforeseen
accidents! Your favourite commentator is with you again, and moreover, not alone but
with a ball! You like us without a ball, and with a ball, everyone will love us… Oh, Tanya
Grotter decided to go for a breakaway! Puper covers her from above… What madness!
Grotter, okay, she’s nuts, but the smart Puper – here’s someone I don’t recognize!
Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus rush to head them off! What a storm! Loud the
snowstorm weeps and rages, the horses snort in fright, o’er the plain the demon
prances, in the murk his eyes glow bright! ... Skyward soar the whirling demons
shrouded by the falling snow, their plaintive, awful howling fills my heart with dread
and woe …103 By the way, merci to Pushkin for the quote! Why all this?”
Yagun hesitated slightly, scratched the back of his head, after moving the fur cap to
his forehead, and continued glibly, “Ah yes! I wanted to ask purely rhetorically, how is it
possible to see in this snowy kasha? ...The dragon is exhaling flame... Oh, no!!! Looks
like Grotter has been hit nevertheless… Phew, I was wrong! Tanya managed to dive
under the double bass, although it also reached her. I accurately see that the hat was
torn off her head and her hair has iced up! She turns on the double bass and passes to
Puper. She doesn’t even have time to bewitch it, but it doesn’t matter, there Gury is!
“He intercepts the ball and breaks through to Snow Dragon, whose mouth is still
open! But what’s this? Puper is hurled back a few dozen metres and only miraculously
doesn’t lose the ball. Another trick? I bet this was Frostbite, or do they have someone
there from the Invisibles, my granny mama? Hold on, you frozen chicken! I also have a
ball! Gullis-du… Pardon, I forgot that I have the mouthpiece. Please pretend that you
heard nothing!”
Yagun gathered speed, deftly avoided a collision with Snow Maiden, and, having
swept over Snow Dragon, threw the stun ball. The most observant fans saw something
transparent dart to intercept the ball, something whose existence could only be
surmised along the contours visible against the background of continuous snow. This
something, or more precisely someone, attempted to intercept the ball. The next
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466-1536), known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, or simply Erasmus,
was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, classical scholar, Catholic priest, social critic, and theologian.
103
From Demons (1830), a poem by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837), considered the greatest
Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.
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102

184

moment an exclamation of annoyance reached the stands and someone, remaining
invisible, tumbled heavily into the snowdrifts below. The medical genies and Yagge
rushed together to the fallen one. Meanwhile, the stun ball, meeting no obstacle,
satisfactorily flew into Snow Dragon’s mouth, which had not yet slammed completely
shut.
“Oh no, no! Of course it wasn’t Tsap-tsaraps and not even Shchups-kuroshchups!
It was the most commonplace Leos-zafindileos!” Yagun remarked. “8-1! The score is
unpleasant but inspires some hope! Forstbite tried to lift the spell on the ball but sat
down in a puddle in the most literal sense! More precisely, into a future puddle, which
bears the proud name of ‘snowdrift’ for the time being. Is it a boy or perhaps not a boy?
It’s a boy nevertheless… Phew, something mixed me up all of a sudden… My granny
carefully puts Frostbite on a stretcher and urges on the genies… Wonder where she will
give Frostbite an injection if he’s still invisible?”
“YAGUUUN!!!” A shout reached him from another part of the field.
Reluctantly interrupted, the playing commentator turned around. Seven-StumpHoles and Coffinia were waving. “What now?”
“YAGU-U-UN! They scored!”
Seeing Goyaryn shrouded in crimson smoke, Yagun understood everything and hit
himself on the forehead. “My granny mama! I’ve completely forgotten about the sneeze
ball! 10-1! Don’t mind the score, I beg you! The only difference is in the miserable zero!
Some round nothingness, but how much damage! Who scored, I wonder? WHAT?
Penguin-aha? I beg you! I clearly underestimated this fellow! Such a slug in appearance,
that downright deadbeat! And where’s that Gury with the immobilize ball? Is he
intending on working for our Tibidox buckwheat kasha?”
Meanwhile, it was going badly for Gury Puper. His iced-up broom, which had to be
turned properly, cracked and almost lost control. The wire binding the branches to the
broom weakened, and the magnificent tuft at the end had thinned substantially. At the
present moment, Puper’s expensive broom more resembled an old broom on its last legs
being tossed away in school hallways.
Grandfather Frost, Frozeno, and Santa Claus, seeing that Puper was completely
devoid of manoeuvrability and spinning confusedly in one spot, rushed to him with a
whistle to take away the ball.
“Save Puper! They’re after Gury!” Yagun yelled.
However, no one needed this prompt, which also violated the rules of the
commentator’s conduct. Coffinia Cryptova, Verka Parroteva, and Tanya Grotter were
already rushing from one side towards Gury, and Whirlo, Frozeno, and Santa Claus
from the other. All six were approximately at the identical distance from Puper. It was
difficult to predict who would snag Gury or his ball after all of a few seconds.
Yet, Gury Puper was the champion for a long time with good reason. He grasped
that Grandfather Frost and Santa Claus clearly would not have time to apply the brakes.
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185

The same could also be said about Parroteva. She flew with eyes closed, and,
encouraging herself with a squeal, cut into full throttle. Understanding what would
become of him and his broom when this whole gang collided, Puper came to the only
correct decision.
He unclenched the hand with which he was holding the broom, and, pressing the
ball against his chest, jumped down, after muttering a safety spell. Puper had barely
jumped off when “TRAMKKKSHHHVAAAAAAAAAA! JINGLE BELLS!”resounded at
the spot where his damaged broom still continued to hang.
“Oy, oy, oy! My granny mama! Long live a melee!” Bab-Yagun yelled. “Horses and
people were entangled in a pile, and volleys of thousands of devices merged into a
prolonged howl! I’ll decode! Grandfather Frost meets Verka Parroteva head-on. The
snowstorm mares, frightened by the roaring vacuum, bolt. Parroteva, after tracing an
arc in the air, falls right into Grandfather Frost’s sleigh. The bottom of the sleigh
collapses. Not letting go of his bag, Grandfather Frost falls down like a rock, but happily
hangs on the safety spell. I don’t think he needs any medical genie. An outstanding
snowdrift has piled up below, as if created for a special landing. It’s unclear how, but
Parroteva turns up on the neck of one of the outside horses and… squeals, squeals,
squeals. Poor horsies, I won’t presume to describe their psychological state, therefore I’ll
turn to a description of the next philosophical picture! Coffinia Cryptova and Santa
Claus! Please imagine: Claus is on the reindeer, in front of him on the same reindeer is
Cryptova, and the hose from her vacuum dangles from Claus’ neck. Before the collision
both must have tried to gather altitude, and the result is at hand… Wonder if Claus has a
bank account? Does he like restaurants? But if he has no account and doesn’t go for
restaurants, then he has no prospects. Cryptova won’t begin to talk to him…”
Yagun rattled on, having completely forgotten about Puper and not even looking in
his direction. Gury was already prepared to open the shawl-parachute, when suddenly
someone rather abruptly grabbed his arm. A second later Puper realized that he was
lying on his stomach on the fingerboard of a double bass. The double bass, taking on a
double load, fell into an air pocket. Tanya managed to change to the spell Hastenus
plodus only near the ground. The double bass straightened willy-nilly and agreed to
gather altitude with much less zeal already.
“Phew! My arm almost ripped off! You’re heavy!” Tanya muttered.
“Oh, Tanya! You saved me again! Doesn’t this mean that we’re together forever?”
Puper asked pathetically, deftly crawling along the fingerboard, and sitting down behind
Tanya.
“It doesn’t… You haven’t lost the ball? Hand it over!” Tanya ordered.
She had already realized that now she would have to endure Puper’s pestering for
quite a while. Curious chubby cupids in felt boots and fur hats were already twirling all
around. Some were already breathing on their chilled hands and pulling at their quivers,

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186

weighing whether to suggest to both of them with amorous arrows. Hope was only a vest
away from an evil eye, and weak at that. Vests are powerless against amorous arrows.
Meanwhile, something inconceivable was already taking place above their heads.
Goyaryn and Snow Dragon were just about ready to grapple. The snowstorm troika and
a squealing Parroteva, as a tasty four-course dinner chaotically rushing about inside the
dome, agitated them. The roar of dual dragons merged into one.
The stands froze. Vanka Valyalkin jumped from his feet onto the bench. Tistrya and
Grafin Cagliostrov first started to giggle nervously, then pulled their hair. Against a
background of total overload and wild desire, they had probably become mentally
unstable even to complain about anything.
“Kuzya Tuzikov and Katya Lotkova try to calm Goyaryn, but nothing works… The
dragons just about link together! Snow Dragon, substantially disoriented after the stun
ball (it was also no genius earlier), breathes out icy flame, but no ice can contain the firespitting Goyaryn! The defence hastily scatter to different sides! No one wants to be close
by when dragons begin to tear up each other for souvenirs! Hey, why are Puper’s fans
fussing so? Goreanna fires the evil-eye gun, and the magnotists leap onto their mats! Ah,
I understand! The double bass with Tanya and Gury turns out to be precisely between
the dragons. Tanya thinks it over and tries to gather altitude, but Hastenus plodus is too
slow a spell to do this quickly! And here Whirlo has also begun to rotate around his axis.
Grotter and Puper disappear in the icy vortex, towards which the dragons are
approaching menacingly from both sides!”
Spinning in the ice carousel, Tanya expended all her strength just to stay on the
double bass. She did not know where the ground, the dome, the stands, or an open
dragon’s mouth were. Everywhere was only snow. Somewhere very near, beyond the
vortex pocket, Whirlo’s laughter was audible.
Suddenly through the snowstorm, Tanya saw a greedy open mouth with the
crimson heart of the larynx. Knowing that this mouth would now swallow her and that
she would not manage to avoid this in any case, the baby Grotter drew back her arm and
threw the ball as hard as she could, losing her balance at the same time. The blizzard
caught her and pitilessly flung her into the mouth after the ball… The mouth slammed
shut.
The double bass was tossed up. Without the bow, which remained with Tanya, it
became unguided. Puper yelled. The next moment, Goyaryn, in its haste not figuring out
what team Puper was playing for, swallowed Gury. Goyaryn and Snow Dragon collided,
dealing blows to each other with their wings. The powerful jaws snapped like traps.
Blood spurted out, scales flew.
“Oh, heavens! What a bloodcurdling finale! No tale in the world is sadder than the
one about Romeo and Juliet!” the Great Tooth said emotionally. Gottfried Bouillon,
having known both personally, became sad.

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187

The fans moaned. Goreanna did not shoot herself, only because there were no more
shots in her evil-eye gun. Puper’s coach grew old by two hundred and thirty years in one
second. Maglawyers pulled out abaci and clicked the beads, checking the insurance
amount.
“NOOOO!” Prun yelled.
Suddenly the immobilize ball operated with a loud bang. A pinkish haze obscured
everything. Snow Dragon unclenched its jaws, which were almost closing down on
Goyaryn’s wing, and, after half closing its eyes, peacefully glided to the field. Goyaryn
roared victoriously for all Buyan, immodestly attributing success to its combat
performance.
“GOOAL! 11-10! We won!” Yagun yelled, catching and securing from a fall Tanya’s
double bass, which was miraculously not crushed by the colliding dragons.
The stands roared triumphantly. The baby Stinktopp hooted, throwing spells right
and left. Slander rushed to hug the mermaid. Tistrya and Grafin Cagliostrov were about
to yell that the goal did not count, but they looked at Tararakh in time and reconsidered.
“Okay, so be it… An absurd accident!” Tistrya grumbled.
“Uh-huh, the fools are lucky. So be it, you can rejoice! All the same, we’ll cook up
something nasty for you later!” Grafin added, trying to brighten up the defeat somehow.
Spinning on the spot, the judges wrapped themselves tightly in their cloaks and,
making use of Medusa’s lifting of the block on spells, teleported hastily to Magciety of
Jerky Magtion.
***
Cold. Blood ran cool in the veins, changing into cleavable crystals. Tanya slept and
dreamt that she had become an icicle. She looked at her transparent arms and legs and
feared breaking. Centuries passed this way. Time did not flow but tumbled over like a
block of ice.
Then something suddenly happened. Tanya realized that she was in Sardanapal’s
office. This was no longer a dream but reality. Yagge and the Great Tooth were leaning
over Tanya. The clock hand was pointing to the magic tablecloth. Tanya guessed that it
was now suppertime, which meant that the match had ended over an hour ago. Time
thawed and returned to the normal flow…
“Where’s Puper?” Tanya asked mechanically.
Yagge snorted and puffed on the cherry pipe. One of the clouds of fragrant smoke
formed into a swan. The swan turned its long neck, looked at Tanya, and, after waving
its wings, disappeared.
“We won, right? What’s with Puper?” Tanya asked again.
“Everything is okay with your Gury. Some scratches, but he will heal before the
wedding!”
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188

“He’s not my Puper! And there won’t be any wedding!” Tanya got angry.
“Of course, of course. Why are you trying to convince me? And don’t jump up. Lie
down!” Yagge peacefully agreed. “By the way, do you know what Puper asked when we
extracted him from Goyaryn?”
“What? Probably about his broom?”
“He asked, ‘Where’s Grotter?’”
Tanya bit her tongue. “No need to go by the last name. I have a first name,” she
grumbled, defending herself.
However, it was definitely not easy to trick Yagge and the Great Tooth. “Better
think about Vanka, how he exhausted himself at the door, the poor dear. Ate a dozen
pieces of cutlet, he suffered so! I’m not even counting the cucumbers! He sat, pale,
beside himself, looked straight ahead and ate cutlets… And the soccer shirt, so old, so
torn!” the Great Tooth said reproachfully. Yagge gave her a warning look and the Great
Tooth fell silent.
Tanya was pleased that Vanka had exhausted himself at the door, but she
stubbornly decided not to acknowledge this. “He’s not suffering! He doesn’t care about
me! He ate cutlets and you think he suffers!” Tanya stated.
“What would you understand! You think true love is flowers and cupids like your
Puper? Love, my dear, is precisely soccer shirt and cutlets!” Yagge unexpectedly
attacked her.
Tanya wanted to object, but she closed her eyes and began to fall somewhere
endlessly. She fell, fell, and yet could in no way fall. And again, it seemed to her that
centuries had passed.
When Tanya returned to reality, Yagge and the Great Tooth had already left. The
for-life-and-posthumous head of Tibidox, Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov, was
sitting in the deep armchair next to Tanya. Realizing this, Tanya sat up on the couch
with difficulty. She felt chilly.
Black Curtains, looking more like a rag, lay on the floor. There was a smell of
burning from Curtains, but it did not prevent them from being in an excellent mood and
reflecting whatever. For example, Dear Tonianno in an embrace with Cryptova or Aunt
Ninel grievously trying to get into size sixty jeans. Mad Glazier had disappeared.
Curtains had probably gained the upper hand over him, forcing the Hunchback to
vanish into the netherworld. The mirror was broken into smithereens. Only a few
slivers, more like teeth, stuck out in the frame.
“The sphinx could do nothing. This happened towards the end of the match… I
probably shouldn’t have watched dragonball. I think that there in the Beyond World,
they’ve long waited for the right occasion…” said Sardanapal.
“The gods haven’t forced their way through into our world, right?” Tanya asked.
The academician turned around and pensively glanced at the broken mirror. “Not
yet, but just about… They’ve given us a last chance. It will most likely happen tonight.
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189

The moment I’ve been so waiting for has arrived... There were reasons why you couldn’t
be sent for the staff before this glass was broken,” the academician said.
He approached the table and, after opening one of the heavy pedestals, took out a
large bottle. “Take a sip! This will give you strength! But no more than a mouthful!”
Tanya carefully took a sip. The liquid burned her throat. She coughed. Invigorating
warmth spread through her veins. The chill immediately stopped. Sardanapal himself
took a sip from the bottle – perhaps a little more than a mouthful – and plugged the
neck with a cork.
“Only don’t tell Yagge, agreed? It’s nothing but a weak liqueur of rejuvenating
apple and furthermore two-thirds diluted with water of life and mermaid tears… Indeed,
I don’t understand why it’s forbidden to operate means of transportation and vacuums
after drinking it!” the academician said, debating with himself. His nose twinkled
bashfully. The head of Tibidox collected his thoughts.
“An hour before midnight Medi and I will teleport you into the moronoid world. If
you have to fly on the double bass, then only at the very end, already before the house
itself. Agreed?” Sardanapal said encouragingly.
“And what do I do there? Will I remain at theirs long?” Tanya asked, visualizing
how happy the Durnevs will be to receive this New Year gift.
The academician glanced at her very seriously, even sternly. His colourful
moustache stretched out into two exclamation marks. “You need an honest answer?” he
asked.
“Yes,” Tanya was uneasy.
“And frank?”
“Yes,” Tanya said, even more uneasy.
“Then here it is: I don’t know.”
“How is it you don’t know?”
“I simply don’t know, and that’s all! You must find the staff and return it to Simorg.
But how, where, and under what circumstances this will happen, even The Ancient One
doesn’t know. If I knew everything in advance, trust me, I could easily fly to the
moronoids myself. But mistakes in the magic world are only rectified by the one who
makes them. You let Mad Glazier into the world, and you must eliminate all the
consequences. Another is simply not allowed! This here is the only thing that I can give
you!” Sardanapal announced sadly. He rummaged in his pockets. All kinds of trash,
more appropriate for the baby Stinktopp than the white-haired head of Tibidox, poured
down from there.
“Take this!” The academician handed Tanya a rolled parchment. “Don’t look at it
for the time being. You will read it at the Durnevs’. If the staff is near, it will answer!”
“How will it answer?” Tanya did not understand.
But Sardanapal either did not hear or pretended that he did not. He uncorked the
bottle and, after smelling it, kissed the neck. “Seems it didn’t become flat! Or evil spirits
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190

will suck it dry – on New Year’s Eve… Well, for the well-being of Tibidox! So there would
be more white than dark magicians!” he admonished himself.
Having filled her face with a little more indifference, Tanya left the office. The
indifference, it goes without saying, was intended for Vanka; however, Tanya saw only
the sphinx, which sniffed with some interest at the half cutlet lying on the floor.
Realizing that it was caught unaware at this matter-of-fact occupation more worthy of a
cat, the sphinx growled in an unfriendly manner at Tanya and jumped up onto the door.
“Happy New Year! I wish you a little less harm!” Tanya addressed it.

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191

Chapter Plague-del-Cake
“IN THE FOREST GROTTER WAS BORN, IN THE FOREST SHE GREW...”
Meanwhile, snow was piling up in Moscow, and the city was spiritually and morally
getting ready to meet the New Year. Glasses and plates of salads had not yet begun their
nightly dance; however, everything was already prepared for it. Muscovites, those
industrious people, bore gifts or strangely ringing bags. Men, even barely acquainted,
approached each other and, like members of the world brotherhood of conspirators,
exchanged mysterious phrases. “You what? Ready?” “And you?” “Been ready for a long
time.”
Only the Durnevs, selflessly labour loving, did not allow themselves to rest even on
this the best, the most festive night of the year…
Uncle Herman put down the hammer, dropped the chisel, and wiped the sweat off
his forehead. The chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. was barely alive from fatigue. He had already
been breaking off impressive pieces of gold from the bathtub for three hours. The former
deputy could trust nobody for this important task. At Papa’s side, like two beeassistants, Aunt Ninel and Pipa were flying but not buzzing. They packed gold into a
large bag and, taking the handle together, began dragging the bag along the floor to the
Cutletkins.
In a short time, the Cutletkins had again become the Durnevs’ closest friends.
Isadora, as before, started to make Pipa a photographers’ model and even got hold of a
tank to have something to transport Pipa to fashion shows and magazine editors. If an
editor-in-chief persisted and did not want to put Pipa’s photo on the cover, the tank
crew would start warming up the motor right under the windows.
General Cutletkin also made plans that Uncle Herman would soon take some
important civilian position in the army ministry, connected to either the supply of
provisions or the cementing of radioactive burial sites.
“Now they love civilians in the ministry. It was earlier that our guards did not allow
civilians to enter further,” the general declarred.
“Why civilians? I can also be a military man. I have a sword!” Uncle Herman
showed off. Cutletkin did not argue but only smiled. He was a slippery man. He
preferred to agree and really knew in advance what and how to do something.
The reason that the gold concerned the Cutletkins precisely was obvious. An
invited jeweller sat in their kitchen. After putting a magnifier to his eye, he studied each
piece attentively, weighed it thoroughly, and packed it into a special packet together
with a signed paper. The poor jeweller appeared as worn out as Uncle Herman.
The gold ingot count had already passed a hundred and the total weight was
impressive. For safety, a member of the Army Special Force, summoned by Cutletkin,
disguised in a ski jacket barely buttoned up over the bullet-proof vest, was smoking by
the entrance below. Two snipers sat on the roof and, for something to do, watched the
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192

tenants of the opposite building through the telescopic sight, being especially interested
in girls changing clothes for the New Year.
The only ones on site having no direct or indirect connection to the shady
transaction of gold were Gratis and the dachshund One-and-A-Half Kilometres. The
dachshund was burying a stolen piece of sausage under the carpet, and the relative of
Granny Ryukha and Scabby Bunyaka was running after it on all fours, howling and
playfully trying to bite the dachshund’s hind paw. When he was tired of chasing the
dachshund, he curled up on the bed and whined, “They wrecked the whole tub! What
will I take a bath in now?”
“You hate baths,” Aunt Ninel said.
“So? What if I suddenly would like to sometimes?” Gratis objected. It was all the
same to him what to pick on.
“Don’t worry, dear! Soon you’ll have a new tub! We’ve ordered a Jacuzzi twice as
big as the previos one!” Aunt Ninel reassured him.
“And considerably heavier. If you want to change it into something again, we’ll only
be happy!” Uncle Herman chuckled.
He had only just completely disposed of the tub, swept all the gold crumbs from the
floor, and, in an effort to lift the very heavy and embrace the huge, almost acquired a
hernia in the groin. The sum total, which he and the Cutletkins had recently added up on
the calculator, nicely warmed the former deputy’s cold blood. At the same time only a
small percentage for assistance and commission came Cutletkin’s way, while the
principal entered an account, specified by the Durnevs, in one of the quiet European
banks in a city that greatly loves tulips and bicycles.
“And indeed, we haven’t even gotten to the fridge yet!” Durnev mused sweetly.
Soon the Special Force, snipers, and the jeweller departed in a minibus in an
unknown direction, taking away with them a dozen identical tightly buckled bags. The
Cutletkins, after warmly taking leave of the Durnevs, left for a restaurant where all
bureaucrats gathered. The restaurant, according to rumours, was very intriguing and
even spirited. There they served French Napoleon cognac in curvy army flasks and a
cake in the shape of an enormous aircraft bomb. The waitresses, all being choice 35-2335, were in leather jackets, helmets with chin straps, and moved from table to table on
whirring motorcycles.
Uncle Herman looked at his watch. About quarter of an hour remained until
midnight. It was time to start celebrating. The Durnevs sat down at the table in an
outstanding mood and started rummaging delicately in the plates, like chickens. Gratis,
with a tied napkin, sat next to Pipa and sucked gloomily on a smoked turkey leg,
dripping fat on the tablecloth.
“I thirst for blood! I don’t want to eat a dead bird!” he said fretfully.
“It’s not dead!” Durneva was indignant.

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193

“And smoked is what, alive, perhaps? I thirst for blood!” Gratis made a fuss and
flung the turkey leg to the dachshund. One-and-A-Half Kilometres seized the leg with its
teeth and dragged it under the sofa.
“And you don’t thirst for this?” Aunt Ninel threatened the werewolf with a onepood fist and decisively moved up the glass with tomato juice. “Here, drink, it’s also red!
Or else it’ll be a hematogen104 bar in the teeth and beddy-bye!”
Uncle Herman turned on the TV and began to wait for the President’s New Year
speech. He always followed tradition and opened a bottle of champagne immediately
after the presidential speech, to the chimes of the clock. Finally, the President appeared,
and the hand, already almost stuck to XII, moved forward one increment. “Bo-ong… Boong… Bo-ong…” the Kremlin clock struck heavily, counting off the seconds to New Year.
“Well! It struck! How you celebrate New Year, so carry through!” Durnev said with
feeling. He raised a glass and tenderly patted his pocket, in which lay a cheque.
And here, precisely at this fate-determining moment, someone rang the doorbell.
The bell, with readiness changing its usual malicious beeping, joyfully drowned out the
chimes of the clock.
Aunt Ninel leaped up onto the stool. Its legs broke with a crack. “Herman!” Aunt
Ninel exclaimed reproachfully, finding herself on the floor together with the fragments.
“I’m not expecting anyone!” Count Dracula’s heir squeaked.
Pipa took off and hurriedly ran up to the peephole. “OH, NO! NO!!!” she bellowed
in a voice not her own.
“Who’s there, Pipa?”
“IT’S GROTTER! Mama, let’s barricade with Czech hedgehogs!105 Papa, bring the
yataghan!” Pipa started to give orders. She was close to madness.
Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel rushed to Pipa. The dachshund One-and-A-Half
Kilometres and Gratis followed their example. The room was deserted. The forgotten
bottle of champagne issued a fuzzy squelching sound. Foam, like dirty shaving cream,
climbed from the neck, flowing along the edges of the bottle to the tablecloth.
The Durnevs and their admirers, in the form of a bowlegged coughing sausage and
a werewolf, crowded at the door, conferring in a whisper whether or not to open the
door. One-and-A-Half Kilometres did not participate in the discussion but growled in
the most unpleasant way. Something gurgled indignantly in its chest. The dwarf Gratis
could not reach the peephole, although he jumped up constantly. Finally, he managed to
climb onto Pipa’s shoulder and, lowering his dirty feet, stuck to the peephole.
“Don’t let in Grotter, or I’ll jump from the balcony! I’ll drown in the toilet!” Pipa
squealed, brushing away Gratis’ far from sterile soles, which he poked in her nose in his
excitement.
Hematogen is a nutrition bar made of cow's milk. It is a preventive medicinal product for low blood
pressure and other deficiencies.
105
A Czech hedgehog is an anti-tank defence made of metal angle or I-beams to keep tanks from getting
through.
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104

194

“Keep away from me, keep away! Is it possible that Grotter will show up here for
the next twelve months? I’d have been better agreeing to go as ambassador to Iraq!”
Uncle Herman groaned superstitiously, opening the door hopelessly.
“Bo-ong!” the clock said for the last time. New Year had arrived.
***
“Gunnarobus fessit encrilit fermosum!”
The words of the forced teleportation spell sounded in Tanya’s ears for a long time,
while she pierced space in a ring of green sparks. It was not painful and not even
terrifying to be teleported, considering that it was not Gunya Glomov and Dusya
Dollova, but Sardanapal and Medusa – true pros foreseeing all incidents – that
teleported her. The most unusual was, perhaps, the separation of the soul from the
body. Tanya saw her body as if from the side and it was only at the very end, when
teleportation had completed, that she jumped into it, exactly like a hurrying student into
a subway car…
The cocoon of sparks protecting her waned. Tanya realized that she was sitting on
the double bass, clenching it tightly with her left hand, arm bent at the elbow. She was
squeezing the bow in her right hand. It was clam. Below in the lilac haze of the night,
illuminated only by the crimson abscesses of lamps and the burgundy bedsores of the
freeway, lay enormous Moscow…
In the moronoid world, as on Buyan, thick snow was falling. Visibility was bad.
Tanya had to wander about the city quite a bit before she discovered that very building
on Rublev Road. It stuck out in the heart of the block, exactly like a finger rising up to
the sky. Around the high-rise, concealing its outlines and coloured with electrical light
fallen from the windows, the snow was swarming like white flies…
After huge Tibidox, Uncle Herman’s high-rise suddenly seemed pitiful and small to
Tanya. However, one could not pick and choose. Leaning toward the double bass, Tanya
started to descend in circles, when suddenly something blocked her way.
The baby Grotter barely had time to utter Bangus parachutis forte to avoid
collision. Then she unexpectedly saw that Puper – covered with snow and stooping from
the cold – was hovering in front of her. Gury was sitting on a strange broom unfamiliar
to her, which he had clearly borrowed from one of the fans. That this was precisely a
fan’s broom could be judged at least by the inscription on the stick: Gury Puper –
here is someone super!
“Gury! Where did you come from?” Tanya shouted.
Puper coughed. He was either embarrassed or had caught a chill. “Prun told me.
He overheard at the doors of Sardanapal’s office… More precisely, it’s not that he
overheard, but… ahem… Goreanna sent him on a reconnaissance. Fortunately, Prun told
Goreanna nothing but immediately ran to me. I only just realized that you would be at
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195

the moronoids tonight, bolted from magic station, and dashed here right away.
Fortunately, Grail Gardarika was not blocked. Three hours on the road and here I am…
I had to swipe a broom from Goreanna.”
“I hope she didn’t plan on general cleaning tonight,” Tanya grumbled. But she did
it more out of habit. In reality, she was glad to see Puper. They again flew side by side.
The outline of the Durnevs’ building was increasingly nearer, increasingly more distinct.
“How did you find out the address?” Tanya asked.
“How? I sent cupids to you,” Gury was surprised. He was apparently extremely
pleased with himself.
“Ah yes! I’m somewhat quite overheated. Or too cold!” Tanya looked at Puper’s
shoulders, which the snow was covering like dandruff. “Today you’re kind of… uh-h…
worse off…” she remarked off the top of her head.
Gury took a dictionary from his pocket and leafed through it for a long time,
squinting short-sightedly in the darkness. “Thanks for the good word,” he said with such
grief that Tanya became sorry for him.
“Relax, Gury! Didn’t you perhaps want to marry me? Now you’ll be introduced to
my relatives!” she remarked.
“Oh yes!” Puper exclaimed with enthusiasm. “I am sure your aunt and uncle are
wonderful people! I shall ask them for your hand!”
“Ask for the foot if nothing else, the main thing is not in parts!” Tanya sidestepped
the subject, trying to imagine to herself the faces of Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel if
Puper indeed blurted out something of the sort. Good at least that there was no longer a
block on magic. Puper would always have manage to teleport in time.
Gury cheered up. His bearing became considerably better. It seemed the poor guy
really was filled with hopes. Tanya decided not to spoil his mood for the time being. It is
always better to leave dessert for the third course.
“You cannot imagine, Tanya, what is happening now in England! I quarrelled with
all my relatives because of you!” Gury said sadly.
“But you’re an orphan… Ah, you’re talking about Aunt Nasturtia!” Tanya guessed,
having already heard about Gury’s relatives.
“Ne-ah, Aunt Nasturtia, she is only half the trouble. She shouts and calms down. I
have another aunt, whom the children love a lot. But you must never say her name,
especially before sleep, or you will definitely dream of an entire division of maglawyers,”
Puper explained.
“Oho, she’s so evil?” Tanya was astonished.
“No, not evil, but very smart. She took out copyrights for all birthmarks, scars, and
pimples, as well as abscesses, hairy warts, and liver spots. No one except her has the
right to have them. So it is better not to utter her name at all, or it will end in nothing
good,” Puper said anxiously.

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196

***
The double bass and the broom descended. Now they were gliding past windows.
Not wanting to bump into the concierge, who for sure would begin to pester them with
idiotic questions, Tanya decided to break the glass on the balcony and fly there, but then
decided that this would be improper. Besides, if she broke the glass, Aunt Ninel would
foam at the mouth, and an enraged hippo, according to the descriptions of naturalists, is
much more dangerous than a lion.
“It’ll be more correct to prepare the Durnevs gradually. But this can be done only if
we arrive in the usual manner – through the door,” she decided.
She found an open common balcony several floors above the Durnevs and directed
the bow at it, simultaneously muttering the braking spell. After realzing where Tanya
was flying, Puper went ahead of her and, after jumping from the broom, courteously
helped her off the double bass.
“Yes, he’s a gentleman, can’t deny him that!” Tanya thought, giving him her hand.
Soon Tanya and Puper, loaded with the double bass as well as the broom, were
already standing near the door of the Durnevs.
“BRRIINNG!” the bell snapped loudly, when Tanya, summoning up her courage,
pressed the button with a finger.
“They are examining us through the peephole. What’s taking them so long to
open?” Gury said wonderingly after a certain time, shifting from one foot to the other
beside Tanya.
“Let the moronoids mentally prepare for this happiness awaiting them!” the baby
Grotter said.
The bolt finally clicked. The door swung open, and Tanya again confronted her
dear relatives face to face. The Durnevs stared at her sullenly and she immediately felt at
home. She wanted to howl at the moon. The pause that ensued was much longer than in
the finale of The Inspector General.106
“Well now, Grotter has arrived!” Uncle Herman finally said hoarsely like a vampire.
He had become even more emaciated than Tanya remembered from the last time. But
then Aunt Ninel had grown stout, going beyond the limits of not only logic but also
common sense. However, Pipa remained charming all the same, except that there were a
couple of dozen more pimples, which in the total volume of quality was barely
noticeable.
One good thing – Pipa had not lost her phenomenal benevolence. “Oh, Mama,
look: Grotter has a new guy! She has gotten rid of the vacuum collector!” she reported
knowledgeably.
The Inspector General (1836, 1842) is a satirical play by Russian-Ukrainian dramatist/novelist Nikolai
Vasilevich Gogol (1809-52). It has been translated into many other languages and widely adapted for both
theatre and film all over the world.
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106

197

The one from Magford, raising his eyebrows slightly as a sign of surprise, bowed
with English politeness. The hat with a pompom flew off his hair. His forehead was
revealed. Pipa looked at Tanya’s companion more attentively and…unexpectedly slipped
down along the wall. Aunt Ninel barely had time to catch her daughter under the arms.
“Look at his forehead. You really don’t see?” Pipa whispered.
“What don’t I see?” Aunt Ninel did not understand.
“You see nothing? This is GP! GP!”
“I am not GP… I am Gury. Gury Puper!” Tanya’s admirer said more precisely,
smiling nicely.
“Ah-h-h-h! It’s him! He’s different in the photo, and also an actor there, but this is
real… ” Pipa sighed and finally fainted.
Gratis rolled like a round loaf down from her shoulders. “Oh, The Ancient One!!!
It’s Puper himself! Such people and no bodyguards!” he was touched.
Realizing who was in front of them, Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel exchanged
thoughtful glances. Their faces instantly lost the previous grumbling expression with
which they had looked at Tanya, as if intending on putting her into the crazy house.
“So, GP… Um-uh… we recently spent money on a frame for your portrait. The
previous frame had been thoroughly kissed, and it was already even unhygienic,” the
former deputy coughed.
“Even the glass, already cracked… Obviously, Pipa didn’t turn her head quite well
on the pillow,” Aunt Ninel added.
Tanya recognized her relatives with difficulty – they were fawning so terribly.
Although not in love with Puper, in contrast to their daughter, the Durnevs, as
profoundly practical people, just in case counted the new possibilities opened to them.
For example, they were weighing whether they could borrow money from Puper and not
pay it back. The fact that Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel were now not a bit poorer than
Puper was not taken into consideration.
“Please come in, come in… And you, Tanya, put your drum somewhere in the
corner, or else water will flow from it. Take an example from the young man! The young
man has even come as guest with his own broom, this is what western culture means!
Not that we’re uncouth dolts!” Aunt Ninel ordered.
“Hee-hee! Perhaps he also has his own toilet paper?” Gratis could not control
himself and giggled.
Aunt Ninel, continuing to keep a benevolent expression on her face, pinched him.
The poor werewolf shot up almost to the ceiling. “I’ll leave you, you’re evil!” he howled.
Uncle Herman had already sat Puper down at the table. “Some salad? Champagne?
No? That’s right! A drinking adolescent – it’s worse than a female boss! Sometime in the
late eighties I started with a small night store, and trust me, I didn’t sell a drop of
alcohol to children! Nor cigarettes! No, no, even at a loss to myself! The children had to
transfer the money through the watchman! He’s now the Deputy General of Staffing.”
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198

Puper grabbed the glass of champagne and drank it up in gulps. He was clearly
about to ask for Tanya’s hand and was now summoning courage. Uncle Herman shoved
several spoonfuls of salad into Puper almost by force and patted him on the cheek.
“I love it! Love at first sight! A real native son! Remember your papa? An orphan?
And I’m an orphan, imagine! In seventy-three they took my father for currency
speculation, so I’m also an orphan… Later, Papa wrote to me from America! He was an
adviser there on the violation of human rights, until the green snake squeezed him
completely… He was an able bloke, just like me!” Blathering, Uncle Herman kept an
evaluating eye on Puper, weighing whether the moment had come to ask for a loan.
Gury drank another glass of champagne. Then he got up and drew a deep breath.
“Well, that’s it! He’ll now ask for my feet!” Tanya thought, attentively observing
them from the other end of the table.
“Respected relatives of Tanya…” Puper was about to start, but Uncle Herman deftly
stopped up his mouth with a salmon sandwich and almost forced him to sit down.
“You don’t want an anecdote?” he said. “So, the premise is this: a wolf rushes after
a hare! The hare runs into its home and is now barely breathing. The wolf breaks in the
door and shouts, ‘Hare, give me back my five roubles, or else I’ll devour you!’ The hare
slides along the door and says, ‘What four roubles, I don’t know any three roubles, wife,
you have two roubles, give him a rouble!’”
Gury Puper did not even smile, but Madame Durneva was downright scared.
“Herman, I beg you! Only not about hares! Don’t need any big-eared one! Do you want a
relapse?” she roared in a deep voice.
“What, not funny? Ah yes! You have another currency there!” the director of
Second-Hand Socks surmised, having waited unsuccessfully for some time for the
foreigner’s reaction. “By the way, I wanted to ask: is the bank cheating you? If so, we’ll
tame those goblins! Punish them with double accounting, punish them! In an instant,
they’ll need junior tellers at my district savings bank!”
Puper got up decisively, compelled to jump up onto the table. Red spots appeared
on his cheeks. A small piece of fish stuck to the corner of his mouth. “I! I want to get
married!” he blurted out.
The former deputy was not a bit surprised. “Well, get married, if there’s nothing
more to do. Only trust me, my boy, the presence of a wife still hasn ’t made anyone
happy!” he generously agreed.
“So you agree? Then I will marry Tanya! I ask you for her hand!” Puper uttered
even more decisively. The champagne had made him daring.
Aunt Ninel leaned against the wall. The wall withstood.
“Mama! Did you hear? This disgusting Grotter does everything to spite me!” A
heart-rending howl reached them from the hallway. Something collapsed onto the floor
with a crash. This was Pipa, who had just come to and fainted again.

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199

“I am only seventeen! In my country, one cannot get married before twenty-one
without the consent of guardians… But my guardians will never agree! Neither Aunt
Nasturtia nor the other aunt who appears in dreams with maglawyers… I have spoken
with them thousands of times, they say that Tanya is a vile creature… And all in all her
surname is suspicious,” Puper, suffering, continued to mutter selflessly. “I want Tanya
and me to have a betrothal! Then, when I turn twenty-one (she will then be eighteen),
the wedding will take place!”
“Then come when you turn twenty-one! Right that very day!” Aunt Ninel nodded
with relief, realizing that this would not be too soon yet. “But for the time being, don’t
you want to offer our Pipa work in the movies? The girl will be very happy. They say that
a very good film – GP and the Prisoner of Tarakan – has been released to the theatres…
Isadora Cutletkina already went and really liked it. She sobbed aloud when the prisoner
of Tarakan chased GP. True, then it turned out that it wasn’t whom they thought, but
they couldn’t return the tickets nevertheless…”
The felicitated Puper, exercising his rights as a future relative, drank another glass
of champagne. Tanya decided not to distress him with a rejection for the time being,
especially as this would only suit the Durnevs. “I’ll refuse him later,” she thought.
Half an hour had barely passed when the Durnevs sang inharmoniously but with
considerable feeling.
Grotter was born in the forest, in the forest she grew!
In winter and summer she was a slender green!
The heartened Puper could not sing in Russian, but joined in to his utmost. Pipa,
who had come to, looked at the baby Grotter with hatred.
“Oh, Tanya, what marvellous relatives you have!” Gury exclaimed enthusiastically,
running up to her. “How spontaneous, how natural! My Aunt Nasturtia and the other
aunt, whose name can never be uttered because of maglawyers, are a hundred times
drearier! They would now be sitting with such a sour expression as if they had
swallowed a lizard or a dead toad!”
“Really? But I for some reason am ready to swap relatives with you, in spite of
everything. On top of that, I’ll give Pipa into the bargain, simply as a souvenir!” Tanya
muttered.
***
From the moment Tanya and Puper appeared in the Durnevs’ apartment, Gratis
looked at them gloomily and with great suspicion. He even hid in the far corner and sat
on the carpet next to the cabinet. It seemed that his conscience was troubled.

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200

“Rings… that ish… they have on… I can’t stand it! Did you invite them? I didn’t!
And what did they come for?” he complained in a whisper to the dachshund One-and-AHalf Kilometres. The dachshund, already having had time to find a common language
with Gratis, yelped in agreement, demonstrating a complete unity of opinions.
Suddenly, Great-grandfather Theophilus’ ring on Tanya’s hand got really hot
without any visible reason. Tanya yelled, instantly remembering her assignment. The
staff! If she returned empty-handed, this New Year’s Eve would be the last night of
Tibidox. Tanya carefully unrolled the parchment which Sardanapal had given her. The
sheet of parchment was clean. She wonderingly looked at both sides of it and finally
surmised to release a spark. The spark came out red, which did not particularly
surprised Tanya. Lately she had almost exclusively been releasing red sparks. A bluish
flame ran along the parchment. It seemed it should burn, but instead the fire dispersed
to the corners, stretched out, and, joining into a thin stream, formed fiery letters.
Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel jumped.
“Grotter wants to set fire to the apartment! Papa, can I summon firemen on your
cell phone?” Pipa squeaked. The usual telephone in the Durnevs’ apartment had not
been working for two days now: Gratis had gnawed through the wires the last time he
imagined himself to be a labelling machine.
“Better use Mama’s. Mine is almost certainly bugged. Why do you think I always
store the battery separately and hide it in old slippers at night?” the best deputy said
mechanically.
“Mine’s not charged. Use your own! Where is yours?” Aunt Ninel snapped,
anticipating Pipa’s request. Pipa was embarrassed. She had not yet told her parents that
she had changed her cell phone into a gold ingot. Not without the participation of King
Midas, certainly.
Tanya did not pay attention to the clamour of the fussing Durnevs. It was as if
Uncle Herman, Pipa, and Aunt Ninel had ceased to exist. She riveted her eyes on the
fiery letters, knowing that she must on no account make any mistake in the spell. And it,
as ill luck would have it, was not in runes, nor in moronoid letters, but was written in
Latin. She would flounder for sure if Theophilus Grotter’s ring did not come to her aid.
“Flumina jam lactis, jam flumina nectaris ibant! [Rivers of milk flow, now rivers
of nectar flow (Lat.). Ovid on the Golden Age of humanity (Metamorphoses, I, III).]”107
the ring squeaked, beating her to it. It remained only for Tanya to repeat, after
strengthening the spell with dual sparks.
Gratis unexpectedly squealed. The carpet on which he sat reared up, and a long
mahogany cane flew out from under it.
“Holy cow! But you told me that you hide bones there!” the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R.
exclaimed, startled.
The Metamorphoses is a Latin narrative poem by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC – 17/18
AD), known as Ovid in the English-speaking world. It comprises of 15 books, chronicling the history of the
world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar.
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107

201

Gratis tried to grasp the cane in flight, but it was too late. But the dachshund Oneand-A-Half Kilometres seized the cane with its teeth and, hanging on it, came flying
through the air into Tanya’s hands.
“Oh, a doggie! My academic advisor adores doggies… for breakfast, dinner, and
supper!” the drunk Puper said tenderly.
The frightened dachshund unclenched its teeth, rolled on the carpet, and landed
under the sofa, where it began to wait for support from the air. Uncle Herman and Aunt
Ninel carried out the role of aviation in this instance.
“This was a kind of national humour… but does not matter really,” Gury remarked
in a conciliatory manner.
Tanya examined the mahogany cane with fancy designs on the handle. There was
nothing magic in it at first glance. Was it possible that Simorg, Triglav, Perun, and Veles
were ready to chop up their world like a head of cabbage because of this ordinary stick?
“Somehow too simple!” Tanya said with suspicion. “I got the staff and that’s it! No
one killed me… The chandelier didn’t fall on my head. Plague didn’t come out from
under the bed! Right now someone will start to stand up for his rights that such good
endings don’t happen!”
“And it won’t! Give the staff back, girl! I’ll tear you to shreds! I’ll bite!” Gratis,
coming to his senses, suddenly began to yell. He plunged a short knife into the floor,
rolled over it, and a wolf baring yellowish teeth was now in the room. Ears pressed
down, the wolf began to sneak up to Tanya.
Realizing that the matter reeked of bloodshed, Uncle Herman, Aunt Ninel, and
Pipa rushed in a single file to escape into the hallway. The dachshund hid even deeper
under the sofa. But Puper, resisting panic, sttod between Tanya and the werewolf.
Tanya looked calmly at the approaching werewolf. She would possibly have been
frightened a couple of years ago, but lately she had had to experience a lot in the lessons
on Evil Spirit Studies. “Werewolfus endus darkgoril!” she uttered distinctly, jerking up
her hand with the ring. In her time, Medusa spent a lot of effort on drumming the spell
against werewolves into students.
A spark flared up, and the riot was instantly suppressed. The wolf hid in his corner
and, gradually, without any magic evolution on agreement, changed into a person and
whined sadly, “You’re all scum! Thieves, that ish, stin-king! Stole a stick from the
orphan, boo-hoo!”
“And where did you take it from?” Tanya asked.
Gratis sniffed reproachfully. “Where I took it from, there is no more! The vampires,
that ish… And I didn’t steal it at all, but Vanka-Cain! That ish, of course, Vanka-Cain is
also me, but not the me, which I am, but the me that’s not quite me. Later I, which I am,
understood that the I that’s not me, pinched a very useful thing! This stick, it gives
authority over the world! Perhaps, hee-hee, we’ll divide the world into three, huh?”
“How do you intend to divide it?” Puper asked with interest.
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202

“Like this! The North Pole to you, young fellow. Also take Greenland, our little
smarty, you! To Tanya – the South Pole… Well, throw Australia into the pile with all the
kangaroos! And for me, that ish, everything in the middle!” the werewolf muttered,
raising his head with hope.
“Why didn’t you take the world earlier? You’ve already had the staff for a long
time!” Tanya said.
Gratis became sad. “I did swipe the staff… Ran out from the vampire world into the
moronoid world… But with the staff, that ish, a total washout. I swear by Granny
Ryukha! I twist it this way and that way but not a donut hole bit of use! I don’t know
what to do with it!”
“BUT WE DO!” someone announced distinctly and with authority. The glass
shattered into fragments. A huge black coffin flew into the room. The lid was thrown
back. Malyuta Skuratoff and Boom gurgling with laughter got out of the coffin.
“And here we are! Weren’t expecting us? In principle, teleportation was never the
best means of movement in space… Quick, yes, agreed, but then you don’t manage to
obtain pleasure from the flight itself!” Malyuta stated.
He approached Puper and slapped him on the shoulder. “Oh, the boy who survived
after yesterday’s soup! A lovely match for the girl who had a birthmark on her nose! But
where’s the happiness written on your faces? Where are the radiant smiles? No one
wants to give me back my little cane! I remember where I’ve seen you, girl. You followed
us on Bald Mountain!”
Before Tanya had time to recover her wits, Malyuta had pulled the staff out of her
hands. Meanwhile, Boom rushed to the closet and, with a brush he had with him,
quickly traced a complex runic symbol.
“This is in order that the sword of Count Dracula and the hereditary boots will not
be uneasy… Gee, why tempt our dear chairman?” he explained contentedly, negligently
flinging the brush away.
Malyuta waved the staff. “It seems someone was interested in what must be done
with this stick to acquire authority. Nothing that the average moronoid wouldn’t be able
to do. Just break it into pieces! Then the heathen gods will die, the world tree won’t
return to life, and we vampires will take the place of the ancient gods, after getting their
power. True, your stupid world of magicians will also suffer at the same time, which I
don’t feel sorry for at all! For too long we were weak and deprived of our rights, hidden
in pitiful Transylvania… Unfortunately, the staff could only be destroyed in the New
Year, that’s why we’ve waited so long. But, indeed, January has already arrived, or am I
mixing something up, my dear jerkies?” Malyuta Skuratoff grinned. His teeth were small
and poor, with the exception perhaps of two eyeteeth and the two below them – they
were sharp and thin as those of a tomcat.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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203

“So, we won’t put it off! Excessive talkiness always ruined villains, like Auntie
Plague, for example… That’s why she fell through into Tartarus 108 earlier than her frail
health could allow it. To business!”
The supreme judge raised his knee, intending on breaking the staff against it with
all his might, but Puper shouted “Sparkis frontis!” slightly before that.
The white magic combat spark dashed off towards Malyuta. Escaping from it,
Skuratoff dropped the staff and hurriedly wrapped himself up in a black cloak. The
green spark fell on it and went out with hissing and smoke, like a piece of coal falling
into oil. Malyuta staggered, but immediately waved his black cloak. Tanya and Puper,
hurled back by an unknown force, flew off into a corner of the room. They would have
cut into the wall if not for the sofa.
“My cloak has withstood more than this… Let’s continue!” Skuratoff muttered,
examining the trace left by the spark.
He leaned down for the staff, but suddenly Boom, standing by the closet, issued a
grunting sound. He stared in horror with enlarged pupils at the ceiling, where the
outline of the mirror from Sardanapal’s office appeared at that moment.
“What’s that?” Malyuta nervously asked.
“The gods! They’ve come!” Boom yelled.
At the same moment, as if woven from air and light, a bird with a human face
appeared in the room. It became increasingly more substantial, taking the form of flesh
and blood.
“Simorg, it be cursed! Keeper of the world tree!” Malyuta shouted.
Covering his head with his hands, Skuratoff cowardly recoiled from the staff, which
he did not have time to pick up. Simorg fell on the staff with a guttural screech and hid it
with its outstretched wings. Tanya saw that the bird looked bad, much worse than
formerly in the mirror. Its feathers had thinned out, its golden hair seemed grey.
“Ah, Plague!!! Simorg came alone. The rest haven’t yet broken through! We can
manage!!! Boom, kill it!” Malyuta shouted, after coming to his senses.
Boom jumped on top of the bird with a human face and, pressing it against the
carpet, started to dish out blows. Simorg, not ready for the attack, attempted to take off
or at least turn its claws upwards to defend itself, but the vampire, puffed up with blood
and a skilful soldier, did not give it this possibility. He was too massive and monstrously
strong. Yes, Malyuta Skuratoff knew whom to use for “delicate tasks.” Simorg lost
strength with each new blow. Aquiline feathers flew in different directions.
Nevertheless, the bird continued courageously to protect the staff, hiding it with its
body.
In Greek mythology, Tartarus is a deep abyss where the most wicked are sent after death. According to
Roman mythology, it is surrounded by a flaming river and guarded by a hydra, a serpentine water
monster, to prevent sinners from escaping. In Hellenistic Jewish literature, Tartarus is understood as the
place where fallen angels are imprisoned.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
108

204

“Come on, how weak! Come on, come on, Boom! Without the world tree the gods
will all soon die, and we, the vampires, will take their place! Of course I have in mind
real vampires, but not any hanger-on chiefs!” Skuratoff jeered, clearly having someone
in mind. Durnev, locked in the bathroom together with his family, emitted an indignant
howl; however, he wisely did not begin to join in further debates.
Fired up by success, Boom delivered blow after blow. His stupid face with a weak
chin contorted with anger. He had almost lost control already.
“Don’t lose time! Bite its head off!” Malyuta shouted, jumping with impatience.
Boom perplexedly looked back at his chief, and then, leaning down, tried to sink
his sharp vampire fangs into the neck of the bird with a human face. However, at that
moment Tanya and Puper together released combat sparks at the vampire. In spite of
the shielding cloak, the sparks nevertheless hit the target and hurled Boom back a half
step. Nevertheless, he immediately jumped up and again rushed to the bird. The injured
Simorg, getting a short respite, screamed gutturally and terribly, as if summoning
someone.
“Finish it off, only don’t drink the blood! The blood of gods is disastrous for
vampires! It attacks the inside. And I’ll take these puppies myself!” Malyuta Skuratoff
warned, slowly turning to Tanya and Puper. But he was too late.
The broken mirror blazed up three more times. Three in clothing dusty after a long
journey materialized beside the bird with a human face. The largest of the rooms in the
Durnev apartment barely accommodated them, even though Perun, Triglav, and Veles
broke through into the moronoid world after leaving the chariot, the black horse, and
the ox on the other side of the mirror passage.
“And they will come. There will be four of them. The first – furious and angry,
with three faces under a golden veil… Another – reasonable, with a silver head and
golden moustache... A hammer and an axe serve as his weapons… The third,
benevolent, the guardian of herds, lord of all beasts, domestic and forest… The fourth,
a guard, with the body of a bird and a stern face… They will come for what belonged
to them, and woe to all, if they do not find what they search for, ” surfaced in Tanya’s
memory.
It was barely possible to look at the ancient gods because of the dazzling radiance
emanating from them. This radiance was something akin to the cold fire of firebirds.
Everything in Tanya’s consciousness flickered and blurred. She could not keep the faces
in her memory. A blind, infinite, spellbound horror consumed her entire essence. She
perceived herself as small, weak, absurd, clumsy, and accidentally moulded from clay –
probably exactly how a mortal feels when he sees God. And probably how a pitiful
heathen idol perceives himself when he sees the true God.
Perhaps Tanya had gone mad. Paying for her curiosity, she would have dissolved in
the radiance had Gury not turned up beside her. The sensible Englishman pulled
Tanya’s hand, dragging her behind the overturned table. “Quiet, my dear, I beg you!
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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205

They must not see us! They say in our Magford: you want to live for long, do not draw
the attention of the gods. Do not even look at them!” he whispered.
The vampires became flustered. They were too cowardly to meet the ancient gods
in honest battle.
“YOU STOLE THE STAFF! BECAUSE OF YOU, THE WORLD HAS BEEN
DEPRIVED OF PEACE… YOU DESERVE A REWARD – A GREAT REWARD – DEATH
AND OBLIVION!” the three-faced god of war said with three mouths concealed behind
the veil. His voice sounded like the flick of a whip.
Malyuta Skuratoff and Boom turned on the spot and, having wrapped themselves
in their cloaks, prepared to teleport. “Hey you, this time you won, but we’ll meet aga…”
Boom was about to start, hurrying to utter the most commonplace of all phrases, which
only the stereotyped brain of a fictional villain could give birth to. It is interesting, did it
indeed seem highly original to him?
Not entering into an argument, Perun seriously turned and threw the hammer. The
ancient god’s dazzling hammer slid as a flash of light through the room. It would have
chopped off the vampire’s empty head, had Boom not managed to teleport an instant
earlier, following his more cautious chief.
Not expressing disappointment that the enemies had managed to escape, Perun
opened his hand and took the handle of the returning hammer, which was sliding into it.
Veles leaned over leisurely and calmly and picked up the staff. It seemed to Tanya that
buds swelled and shoots sprouted on the dead wood of the staff.
Still as leisurely, Veles raised the staff high above his head and plunged it with all
his might into the floor, as if into soft sand. Puper, putting his weight on top of Tanya,
pressed her against the floor and forcibly covered her eyes with his palms. Tanya never
suspected that this seventeen-year-old fellow was so strong. It would be impossible to
assume this based on Puper’s outward appearance.
“Tanya, I beg you, do not look, you must not! I know what happens to one who
looks at the gods,” he was almost begging.
But even with her nose pressed into the dusty nap of Aunt Ninel’s Persian carpet,
with Puper piggybacked on her, with her eyes covered by his moist palms, Tanya
nevertheless, by some unknown means, continued to see what was happening in the
room. The golden roots of the staff visibly grew into the carpet. The thin trunk, widening
before her eyes, soared to the ceiling. The trunk branched out. The leaves rustled.
***
At the home on Rublev Road – and simultaneously in all three worlds and at
infinity, in that part of existence at the seam, which the world also controls – an eternal
tree sprouted, again uniting and pulling together with invisible but durable threads of
the separate whole. The earth, the sky, and the other worlds again became a part of the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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206

united system. The trembling leaves reconciled and healed wounds, offering small
particles of hope in their green palms. In the tired, worn world bored with itself, peace
came drop after drop, sprout after sprout.
The injured Simorg roused itself. Strength had returned to it drop by drop. The
taller the tree became, the louder and more confident the bird-guardian screamed.
When the tree – tangible and incorporeal at the same time – had already occupied
the whole room, it suddenly trembled and disappeared. But it did not disappear and did
not perish – Tanya felt that it had to happen. The tree had taken up its place. Simorg, at
the last moment filling the room with a triumphant scream, disappeared together with
the tree.
Now there were only Tanya, Puper, and the three pagan gods in the room. The gods
stood in silence for some time, but then something changed, and all three turned to
Tanya and Gury at once.
“MAGICIANS, EXAGGERATED NONENTITIES! PITIFUL REFLECTIONS OF
DEGENERATED ANCIENT MAGIC… YOU ARE A PUFF OF WIND, WHICH NO
LONGER EXISTS… READ YOUR OWN DEATH IN MY EYES!” Triglav’s three mouths
said behind the golden veil.
“What a horrible lofty style… Hey, Puper, get off me!” Tanya grumbled, Gury still
on her back. It was silly to die in this absurd pose with her nose in Aunt Ninel’s carpet.
The murderous Triglav took a step towards them, reaching for the veil, but the
unhurried Veles touched his shoulder. The god-killer stopped. “DO NOT ANGER ME,
PROTECTOR OF HERDS! THE JOURNEY HERE WAS TOO LONG SO I GAVE UP
MURDER. ONLY BLOOD CAN WASH OFF MY ROAD DUST!” he hissed and, turning
away from Veles, took another step.
A heavy hand again lay on his shoulder. Triglav, growling, reached for his weapon.
“I WARNED YOU, PROTECTOR OF HERDS! DO NOT DARE INTERFERE WITH ME,
OR YOU WILL BE SORRY!” he shouted, turning around again.
Before him was no longer Veles but Perun. “RESIGN YOURSELF AND LEAVE,
GOD OF PESTILENCE AND WAR… NO REAPING FOR YOU HERE TODAY,” he
ordered quietly.
“MY REAPING EXISTS ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE! NO ONE DARES TO
GIVE ORDERS TO ME, EVEN THE ONE WHO BOASTS OF AUTHORITY OVER
THUNDER!” Triglav was obstinate.
“POSSIBLY, BUT NOW YOU WILL NOT TOUCH THEM! THESE MAGICIANS
SAVED SIMORG. WE MUST GIVE THEM LIFE IN EXCHANGE FOR A LIFE,” Perun
objected firmly.
“I CARE FOR NO LAWS! I WILL KILL THEM!”
Triglav’s hand lay on the sword handle. Perun’s hand – on the hammer. The gods
looked silently at each other for a minute. Then Veles stepped forward and stood next to

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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207

Perun. He was unarmed; in a battle of the gods, a weapon by no means decides
everything.
Triglav removed his hand from the sword handle. “I WILL NOT TOUCH THEM
NOW,” he said. The god of pestilence and war again looked at Tanya and Puper and
went away without remorse. Tanya heard his voice, sweeping over her consciousness
like a sea wave erasing tracks on the sand, “OUR PATHS WILL CROSS AGAIN. FOR
THE PRESENT YOUR LIFE WILL BE YOUR REWARD!”
Triglav chuckled, threw up his hands to the ceiling at once, and disappeared in grey
smoke. Veles and Perun disappeared a few seconds later – without noise, smoke, or
dust. Tanya only heard the neigh of restive horses and the languid lowing of an ox. The
gods had left.
“What, are you still on my back? Perhaps you’ll get off now at least?” Tanya asked.
Gury let go of her and got off. “Sorry, I was lost in thought,” he said.
“Next time you ponder and confuse me with a bench, you’ll get Pointus
harpoonus,” Tanya warned.
Everything in the room was turned upside down. The table was overturned, the
dishes in fragments. The closet door with a runic sign traced on it was fused at one edge,
where Perun’s hammer had brushed against it.
“Aunt Ninel has long wanted to change the decor in the apartment,” Tanya said. “In
any event we should fade away from here. I don’t want to spend New Year’s Eve at the
moronoids.”
“Oh, Tanya! Have you decided to fly away without saying goodbye to your
relatives? This is very English! We will send them a cupid with apologies afterwards!”
Puper said with approval.
Soon a double bass and a broom flew out of the broken window, heading for
Tibidox. While they flew above the city, Tanya was looking down the entire time. The
snowfall had already ended. The city gradually prepared to meet the first dawn of the
New Year. Only occasionally did firecrackers explode below and sparkling snakes of
salutes run past.
While the altercation of the gods and the vampires was going on in their
apartment, the Durnevs and Gratis, sticking to them, discreetly sat it out in the
bathroom, bolting the door. Only after much time did Uncle Herman dare to look in the
hallway and carefully stick his nose into the room.
“Well, how is it there?” Pipa shouted nervously from the bathroom. She was in such
a panic that she was ready to slam the door shut and throw Papa to the tyranny of fate.
“No one’s here – neither Puper nor Tanya, nor vampires, no one,” Uncle Herman
answered in a trembling voice.
“My Puper isn’t here? The rats, they stole Russian folk property!” Pipa was
distressed.

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208

Sh,e together with Mama, sneaked into the room, and the next moment a terrible
twin howl filled the home on Rublev Road.
“W-w-why did you tell us nothing?” they attacked Uncle Herman.
“I somehow didn’t think of it! I didn’t think that it would frighten you,” the former
deputy limply justified himself.
Finally, Pipa’s usual common sense returned. “So what, a coffin! But what NewYear gift would you even expect from Grotter? Be thankful that she shoved no one in
there,” she snorted.
***
It was already dawn when Puper and Tanya finally reached Buyan. “Grail
Gardarika!” Seven rainbows merged into one, letting them through.
They expected that everyone in Tibidox was sleeping, but it was far from it. An
enormous crowd had gathered in front of the gates. Ah, ah, oh and other feelings! Only
who was not there! Indeed, who? Everyone seemed to be. Gunya Glomov, Shurasik,
Seven-Stump-Holes, Verka Parroteva, Dusya Dollova, Rita On-The-Sly, Kuzya Tuzikov,
Coffinia Cryptova – and the rest of the letters of the alphabet.
The Polar Spirits were flying above the crowd with joyful cheers, showering
everyone with gifts and Danish pastries from the cornucopia. Snowman was dancing
with the snow woman. Snow Maiden was signing autographs for fans. Frosty was
chasing the baby Stinktopp, who had cast some odd spell on him. Santa Claus, having
worked through all New Year holidays and even on December 25 th, was dragging his
eternal Jingle Bells and kissing his reindeer.
There was such confusion and fuss that no one immediately noticed Tanya and
Puper. Only after a rumour about their arrival swept over the crowd, similar to circles
from a stone fallen into a river, did everyone rush to surround them.
“Judging from the fact that we’re all still alive, the ancient gods have recovered
their staff – and this brings joy!” the Great Tooth stated, straightening the glasses on her
nose.
“Did you see how many gifts there are? Grandfather Frost flew to us before dawn! I
so want to say: the old man, for shame, liked us here. The Polar Spirits adore those who
managed to thrash them…” Tararakh said, decorating the New Year fir with garlands. 109
“I teleported the mirror to the Durnevs’ when I realized that I was unable to
prevent them from breaking through… I hope the teleportation went cor-cor-cor-rrectly?” the academician Sardanapal, both hands on a goblet, elaborated.
Medusa’s hair hissed angrily when she, supporting the academician, tried to
encourage him into a strictly vertical position.
“More than that. Everything was wonderful!” Tanya assured him.
109

Russian celebrate New Year the same way the West celebrates Christmas. See footnote 99.
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209

Sardanapal was still saying something, but Tanya barely heard him. Another had
drawn away her attention. Vanka Valyalkin, smiling widely, forced his way through the
crowd to her. On his face was such idiotic happiness that it seemed to Tanya that she
had gone insane. What was with this Valyalkin, did he understand nothing? If only he
would not smile... It was his familiar, affable smile, on top of that as if nothing had
happened; now this was worse than a slap.
Vanka approached and stopped half a step away, looking at her. Tanya could not
control herself. “You get away from here, traitor!” she shouted at him.
Vanka’s lips trembled, as if she had hit him in the face. He wanted to say
something, but turned and ran away in a hurry. His yellow soccer shirt flickered as a
bright dot for a moment. Tanya followed it with her eyes. Anger passed, but resentment
remained.
“Stop insulting Vanka! I’ll rip your ears off for Vanka!” Yagge suddenly attacked
her.
Tanya stared at the old lady, startled. She had never seen Yagge in such genuine
anger. “Yagge, what’s with you? He really is a traitor!”
“Who’s a traitor? Vanka? Oh, now you’re a winner! Returned the crutch to the
gods! Calls herself Tanya Puper!” The old lady was worked up.
“YAGGE!”
“Gran, don’t!” Yagun tried to stop her, but his granny was downright enraged.
“You think about what you’re saying! Called someone a traitor! Triglav put an evil
eye on Zalizina because of you… He confused her with you when she snuck into
Sardanapal’s office.”
“So, what does it have to do with Vanka?” Tanya shrugged her shoulders.
“What do you mean, what? Here it turned out that Liza took on your lot in life.
What should’ve happened to you happened to her… All the books Medusa and I went
through, we can’t lift the spell, and that’s it… The girl is dying, the cursed Triglav is
pulling all the juices from her… We only see that an evil eye connects you and Zalizina
by a thread. But it’s as if this thread passes through the mirror. When it’s slightly better
or merrier for you, Zalizina immediately becomes worse. A little worse for you, Liza’s
immediately on the mend. But you’re strong, and she’s weak…”
“I’m strong?” Tanya doubted. “Well, let it be so… But what about Vanka?”
“This! Medusa and I had to demand that Vanka stop talking to you. He took an
oath that he wouldn’t even look at you by chance before New Year… Otherwise, you with
your love and happiness, poor Zalizina would surely die, although perhaps she wouldn’t
want that. The only chance we had was… You’ve probably heard, let not the sun go down
on your wrath? Then we also cooked up everything by the sofa on purpose in order to
give Liza a sip of life force at least. When the staff was returned, Triglav lifted the evil
eye, and now nothing threatens Liza, and then… Vanka ran out to you happily, but you
immediately called him a traitor!”
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210

“And the feather? Why did he steal the feather? ” Tanya grasped at it as if at a
straw.
“The feather – here it is, your feather! Zalizina asked him when she came to, so
Vanka brought it! Now she doesn’t need it anymore! ” Yagge snatched a firebird feather
out from the folds of her long gypsy skirt and angrily shoved it at Tanya.
Tanya stared at the feather. Now she almost hated it. “But why so severe with me?
But why, why? Why precisely Vanka?” she shouted.
“What do you mean, why Vanka? Are you listening to me at all, girl?” Yagge was
seething. “What, you didn’t know that Zalizina has been in love with Vanka all these
years?”
“Liza? With Vanka?”
“Who else, with me, an old woman? But Vanka didn’t even look at her. He puts you
on a pedestal, you fool! All of Tibidox knew this except you! To whom did Liza’s cuckoo
always fly, huh? Don’t remember? On what did Vanka fly to Bald Mountain? In a crow
nest? I think Liza went to this cursed mirror because of her love… She wanted to see her
own fate there!”
“Yagge…”
“Yagge what? Liza had to die so that you would feel happiness for an hour at least!
Do you understand this or not? If only you had known that Vanka had a crush on you
when you, insensitive dolt, were dancing around Puper! Only where were your eyes!”
Tanya gasped for breath. The world had turned over before her eyes, cracked and
was assembled again… “But Plague-del-Cake said that the one I love will betray me. And
here I…”
“PLAGUE? So that’s your authority? What, now you’ll always listen to that dead old
woman? Do you think she wishes good for you? How do you like that, found yourself a
counsellor – Plague-del-Cake! Always ask Plague for advice, she won’t tell you a bad
thing! Hey, stop, where are you going?”
Tanya no longer heard her. Having shoved the double bass at Yagun, she rushed
after Vanka. She ran fast, so fast that the wind whistled in her ears as during a
dragonball match.
Gury Puper dropped his broom and sunk onto the snow. His lips quivered. His
coach, Prun, Goreanna, and several magnotists rushed to him, consoling. Fans
expressed their sympathy in disorderly exclamations. Some even proposed to break the
insolent Tanya’s neck.
“This girl with her scabby birthmark isn’t worthy of you!” they hissed.
“She has no birthmark,” Gury said, crushed.
“Nevertheless, she’s a stinker! Don’t suffer so, Gury! We’ll find you another! You’ll
have wives like a Turkish sultan!” the magnotists exclaimed, quickly twirling glass beads
before Puper’s eyes.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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211

But Gury was inconsolable. “Oh Tanya, my love!” he shouted, kicking his coach and
knocking the beads from the magnotists. “Really the aunt who dreams with maglawyers
was right, and you will never be mine? I will always love you, Tanya! I will win your love,
I swear by Aunt Nasturtia!”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2016
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca
https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets

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