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©Jane H.

Buckingham 2018
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
Tanya Grotter
and
Noah’s Pince-Nez

Dmitrii Emets

Translated from Russian

by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by

Shona Brandt

Cover designed by

Eva Elfimova

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
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
Tanya Grotter and the Hammer of Perun
Tanya Grotter and Noah’s Pince-Nez

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
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http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
All this agitation and mental struggle of yours is nothing more than the work of our
common friend, well-known to everyone, namely – the devil. But you do not lose sight of
the fact that he is a scribbler and consists entirely of distention... You punch this beast in
the face and do not be embarrassed by anything. He is just a petty official, who made his
way into the city as if on an investigation. Dust will get onto everyone, they will chastise,
they will scream. It is worthwhile to only show a little fear and move back – then he will
become brave. But as soon as you step on him, he will tuck in his tail. We ourselves
make a giant out of him... A proverb does not exist for nothing, and the proverb says:
The devil boasted of taking control of the whole world, but God did not even give him
authority over a pig.

N.V. Gogol

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
1

Chapter 1
I DO NOT WANT TO BE MORONOID

The life of a happy man is a period of ultimate goals.

Rain drummed on the glass. The curtains were tightly drawn as a precaution.
Mama was sleeping in her room on the other side of the wall, but even in dreams she
managed to notice the light in a neighbour’s window, dimly spread out along the
building’s wall. Genka Bulonov, having patiently waited until she had fallen asleep, was
now rushing about in the cramped room. In the powerful chest of the almost two-metre
fifteen-year-old idler, resentment was seething like boiling mercury. On the next street,
Lenka Mumrikova was celebrating her birthday. Mumrikova, having made her way from
sideshow to bigwig after the unexplained disappearance of Pipa Durneva, was not petty.
Her parents were exiled to the country without the right to return. The whole class –
and Lenka had invited everyone, no more and no less – was going to party all night.
The whole class, minus Genka. Mama felt that it was beneficial for him to go to bed
at ten. “You’re so weak!” she repeated, although the last time Bouillon1 had the flu was
in third grade, and he knew about other diseases only from an encyclopedic dictionary.
And now it was already two in the morning. Mama had been sleeping for a long
time, but Genka, angry like a swamp bogey, was running around the room and suffering.
He could not even dream of disobeying Mama. At the slightest attempt at disobedience,
she first spoke in a critical voice, then swallowed heart medications, and finally started
crying – and Genka felt that he was being gutted alive.
Bouillon’s mama was an extraordinary person. It was absolutely possible to enter
her into the registry of unique, astrally patronized moronoids, carefully filled by the
white wizard Agrippa2 IV, 1094. Genka could lift a twenty-four kilogram weight, but she
smeared his every pimple with Brilliant Green,3 making him a cross between a toad and
a jaguar. Bouillon could dunk a ball across the basketball court, but she held his hand to
take him to school and demanded that he wear a hat with a pompom until mid-May.
Remembering this, Genka howled and kicked the table in feral anguish. A stack of
books on the occult collapsed onto the floor. Runes, winking slyly with alcoholic degrees
of astrological tables, made a colourful display. Bulonov leaned down. The book on top
was opened somewhere in the middle. Straightening out a page curled under, Genka
caught from the text the following phrase: Big trouble is waiting for you in the near
future.

1 The Russian word bulonov is a plural form of bulon – bouillon.


2 In Greco-Roman mythology, Agrippa is a descendant of Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of
love.
3 The dilute alcoholic solution of Brilliant Green is used instead of iodine in Eastern Europe as a topical

antiseptic.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2018
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
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2

Genka did not like it. At three in the morning, he always became overly susceptible.
More terrible for him than sudden death were only insulated insoles and a vest with red
horses, which Mama had given him for his birthday. He closed his eyes, a finger
wandered across the page, and, after stopping at random on one of the lines, again
read: ...a radical change in destiny and a long road...
The superstitious Genka started breathing through his nose. And then, as if
mocking him, someone pounded vigorously on the eighth floor window. The top vent
opened. The lace curtains shot up and fell down. Genka distinctly saw a long white hand,
which, appearing in the vent, pulled the window latch. Bouillon yelled in horror and
closed his eyes.
“What’s with you, off your rocker? Don’t recognize your own?” someone hissed.
Genka stopped yelling and opened one eye. Coffinia was sitting on the windowsill
and, chin resting on her hands, studying him with interest. A vacuum pipe was lying on
Cryptova’s lap. The vacuum was beside her.
“What a girl! To climb to the eighth floor, and even with a vacuum!” Genka thought,
stunned but at the same time with admiration.
“Bouillon, ah, Bouillon! Honey, give me a drink, but then so hungry, and no place
to spend the night!” Coffinia asked mockingly.
Genka started fussing. To get to the kitchen at night, he had to pass the room of the
alertly sleeping Mama, which was dangerous as front-line intelligence. A spy overtaken
by enemy at least has time to shoot himself.
Fortunately, Cryptova was joking: she did not want a drink. Unless it was a beer
with Glomov. “Why are you silent, like a carp? Who’ll say ‘hello’? A girl can be offended!”
Coffinia threatened.
“Hello!” Bulonov dutifully repeated.
“Well thanks, did a favour to the young and beautiful! And now say ‘goodbye’ right
away! Or at worst ‘ciao-cheerio’. Well, I’m waiting!” Cryptova ordered.
Genka was confused. He did not expect this. “Say goodbye? So soon? But how...”
“What were you hoping for, kitty? A romantic trio: you, me, and the moon?”
Coffinia cooed. “I flew in for this, to say goodbye. I’m returning to Tibi... Anyway, not
important for you to know where... If you have any other parting words, I’m listening
carefully! No words? Um... Well, then we’ll work on a short program. So be it, you can
kiss me!”
“Kiss?” Bulonov asked in surprise. So far, he had only kissed Mama and sometimes
Grandma. It was also rewarding in its own way, even though they did not fly on a
vacuum.
“Oh, no! He doesn’t know how!” Cryptova groaned. “Yes, kiss! Do you have paper?”
“W-why p-paper?” Genka did not understand.
“What do you mean why? I’ll draw a sketch!”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
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3

“You don’t have to!” Bulonov bravely refused. He awkwardly approached, hesitated,
and, after mustering courage, pecked Coffinia on the cheek. In the process, it was
discovered that he was two heads taller than she was.
“And this is all the southern passion? Aw, permafrost! A girl with you will be
covered in mould! You, Bouillon, are somewhat shy!” Cryptova grunted disappointedly.
“But you’re not?” Genka was offended.
Coffinia sighed. “Oh, Bouillon, I went through the harsh school of life! I had no life,
but the solid ABC of survival! One Grotty exhausted tonnes of my precious health.”
“Grotty?” Genka asked in surprise. Although many years had passed and his
memory was magically blocked, the word “Grotty” agitated him in a strange way,
awakening a storm of vague feelings.
However, Coffinia did not want to talk about Tanya. The upcoming flight to Tibidox
put her in a sentimental mood. “And not only Grotty... In essence, it’s even very possible
to tolerate Grotty, if you don’t touch her double bass or throw bricks at her relatives!”
she continued, gently hugging the vacuum pipe. “My school started with my cousin. I
was still living among moronoids, and I had a flamboyant cousin. Such a grown-up
bastard, three years older... Our parents were living together at that time, and forever
not at home. They were either ordering wreaths or arranging preventive debriefing for
gravediggers so that they didn’t become cheeky.”
“Become cheeky?”
“Well, such a considerable ritual freebie,” Coffinia explained impatiently and even
more incomprehensibly. “They left me with my cousin and he took off on all cylinders.
At best, he pinched me, at worst, kicked. My whole, excuse me, butt was covered in
bruises. I remember, I spent two hours locked in the bathroom, because his friends
came, they played cards, and I, you see, interfered. At first I cried, then pounded on the
door, and they just laughed... And then I heard them opening the closet and throwing
out my stuff, and then they began to break the lock with a screwdriver to get into my
desk. That was the last straw... I just snapped. I almost don’t remember what happened
next. I yelled, and suddenly the door flew out by itself, although I hadn’t touched it. It
even took off with no bang, with almost no noise – pop! – like a plug. Later, my parents
were surprised – the hinges were as if cut with a knife. I burst into the room. There were
four of them. They had already stopped playing cards and were all by my desk. ‘Is that
you, Coffinia? Come on, pup, on the spot! March to the bathroom!’ my cousin said to me.
And then...”
Cryptova clenched and unclenched her hands. Her cheeks were burning with
indignation. She was reliving that moment.
“It’s unimportant what happened next... You, Bouillon, are a sensitive person, I
won’t bore you. I’ll just say that by the time they took me away to the dark department,
my cousin and his buddies didn’t just respect me. They respected me terribly! Practically
brought slippers between their teeth, not to mention other things!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2018
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
4

Suddenly, a zoomer squealed in Cryptova’s backpack.


“What is it? Who’s hassling me?” Coffinia muttered.
As she opened her backpack and rummaged in it, the zoomer almost burst with
indignation. Bulonov looked with amazement at a flat dish, producing annoying sounds.
Coffinia pondered for a moment, wondering if she was doing something irreparable,
answering the zoomer in front of a moronoid. But her innate sloppiness won. Cryptova
waved her hand as if saying: okay, why not?! What secrets are there here?
“Coffinia? Where have you been?” Gottfried Bouillon, appearing on the dish, said
indignantly.
“Yes, here I am, here! Why are you ringing?” Cryptova said with displeasure. She
always treated the Sleeping Adonis a little coolly.
“Why are you talking to me this way? I’m calling at the request of Deni... Has your
magic returned?”
“Yes, sort of,” Coffinia muttered, cautiously looking askance at Genka.
“Sardanapal is waiting for you! Are you flying to Tibidox or not?”
“I am already! Can’t you see?” Cryptova said.
“You’re flying? Are you sure? Why do I see curtains?” Gottfried asked suspiciously.
“Curtains? What curtains? The clouds are so messed up!” Coffinia explained and,
maintaining an innocent expression on her face, began to shake the zoomer vigorously.
“What happened? Why are you rippling?” Gottfried was surprised.
“Hello, garage! Communications interference! I’ll be there soon!” Coffinia said and
after quickly disconnecting, frowned. “What a fool, that Gottfried! Downright
fundamental!” she thoughtfully informed Genka. “If I tried to play such a trick on his
wife, I’d have to spend all vacations studying the life of rats.”
“What is it like?” Bulonov did not understand.
“Like this. The inside of a pelt. Or even worse: all fingers would turn into
earthworms... Imagine, gross, huh? One joy: you’re not the one losing appetite.”
Genka Bulonov blinked in amazement. He looked at the dish with wide eyes. “What
is this, huh?” he asked excitedly.
“Oh, nothing! A nutty dish... Don’t pay it any attention. By the way, it just came to
my mind. You’re not his relative?”
“Who?”
“Gottfried! Stretch your smarts a little. Bulonov – Bouillon, Genka – Gottfried.
Similar, huh? If you look, the world is full of copies of the same. Sometimes it seems to
me that the world is living off the strength of about twenty people, but they’re all, for fun,
hiding in different bodies. I got the idea when I began to come across exactly identical
guys. And then I realized that it isn’t only guys. Downright a vicious circle of some kind.
Wherever you go, you meet one and the same. Sometimes I think that people in the
world are no more than cards in a deck.”
“No, Bouillon isn’t related to me!” Genka said, not liking this comparison much.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2018
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
5

Coffinia shook her head. “Too bad. Gottfried is like an aristocrat of some sort. He
probably stashed a treasure trove in his time – stunned. You could baffle him: like, I’m
your favourite grandson, come to plead for a bit of money. A truck with a trailer...”
Mademoiselle Cryptova paused and yawned, adding a little mystery in the yawn. Likely,
her thoughts were already in Tibidox.
“Well, that’s it, Bouillon, enough is enough! Talked with the girl and other things!”
she ordered, jumping from the windowsill. “You’ll kiss me again? Where are you kissing,
kitty? They kiss the dead on the forehead, but I’m still warm. Okay, be off with you,
goldfish, swim on! And now turn away! The girl needs to do something!”
Blushing like a crab, Genka obediently turned away. When he looked at the window
again a few seconds later, the windowsill was already empty. Leaping to the window, the
astounded Bulonov was in time to see the vacuum, ejecting an illuminated jet stream
from the pipe, quickly take off to distant buildings.
Coffinia turned and waved to him. “So long, kid! Obey mama!” reached him.
Genka dumbly stood by the window for a long time, unconsciously yanking the
curtain with his hand. He was not even surprised. He was crushed. Then he turned and
sat down on the floor. “Sardanapal worries: has your magic returned?” he repeated after
Gottfried. “Magic... Tibidox... Magic... When, where was it?”
Genka grasped his temples with his hands. He had a headache. The night visit of
“Mademoiselle Cryptoff” and the associated miracles alarmed him. The old block placed
by Medusa could not withstand the onslaught of new impressions and was cracking at
the seams. Erasing Bulonov’s memory after the incident with the wax figure, Professor
Gorgonova never assumed that he would again encounter something beyond the edge of
the ordinary, otherwise, she would have chosen another, more global spell.
“A flying vacuum... No, it wasn’t a vacuum then. A violin? A guitar? No, bigger!
Bass... a double bass... She called it just that: DOUBLE BASS! I remember... Tibidox! I
could also study there, but they didn’t take me! Cursed figure!” he shouted.
Slippers shuffled in the hallway. Realizing that he had woken up Mama, Genka
hastily turned off the lights and jumped into bed. “I don’t want to be a moronoid! I don’t!
It’s bad for me here!” he whispered, listening as the doorknob turned.
Light flared up again. Mama was standing in the doorway, diminutive but terribly
determined. “I know that you aren’t sleeping! Don’t pretend!”
“Huh... What? Where? I was sleeping!” Pretending to yawn, Genka replied with
displeasure.
“Don’t lie. You’re not even blinking from the light. Why is the window open? Who
were you talking to?” Mama demanded.
“A girl was here,” Genka said. Sometimes, the easiest way to deceive is to tell the
truth.
“Indeed? And where is she?”
“She went out the window.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2018
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
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6

Mama glanced sideways at the window and grunted. She looked at things
realistically. Girls going through an eighth floor window often leave a mark on the
pavement rather than in someone’s life. “Don’t you dare even open the vent! Vents,
incidentally, like girls, are created for healthy people, not sickly ones like you!” she said.
“Is that clear?”
“Yes,” Genka said in a monotone.
“Not ‘yes’, but ‘yes, Mama!’”
“Yes, Mama!”
“And don’t even think of turning on the computer at night anymore. I’m also taking
away your crazy books. You’ll get them after exams, if you pass all the tests. I don’t
expect more from you.”
Mama closed the window tightly, gathered Bouillon’s occult books from the floor,
and, dropping yet another inquiring glance at her son, went out. The room quickly
became stuffy and distasteful, like in a dungeon.
Genka lay and stared dully at the whitish ceiling above him. “I’m not moronoid...
Not moronoid! I don’t want to be here, I want to be in Tibidox!” he repeated with his lips.
Mama had long been sleeping with the righteous dream of an inquisitor, having
just burnt a dozen witches, but Bouillon was staring at the ceiling all the time and
repeating, repeating, repeating the same thing. Never before had he wanted anything
with such a tremendous force. He almost visibly perceived the stream of desire breaking
away from him and bombarding the universe, seeping into all the worlds.
And with each new repetition something changed in Bouillon independently of his
will. His magical abilities, blocked for so many years, awakened. The shell of his usual
way of life cracked, giving way to something new. In a state of lucid imagination, Genka
felt like a cocoon, from which extends dozens and hundreds of threads emitting pulsed
light. And each thread, everything that it pierced, was also him, Genka Bulonov. A
strange, conflicting feeling came over him. Genka felt that he grew to the size of the
universe and at the same time shrank and became as tiny as a mustard seed.
“I’m not moronoid... I want to be in Tibidox... When will it finally end?” he
muttered, tormented by contradictions.
And in the morning, when Genka, having already lost track of time, fell asleep,
something flashed suddenly. Bulonov vaguely imagined that it was Mama coming in and
turning on the light.
Next to the chair on the carpet, a book the size of a palm was shimmering green.
Mildew stains were dancing here and there on the binding of pale skin. A silver scorpion
was in the centre of the cover. The Tibidox library seal, which the genie Abdullah
stamped on all magic books in Buyan without exception, was absent. This did not alarm
Bulonov. He still had not had the happy opportunity to meet the kindest Abdullah and
his appealing habits.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
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7

Feeling a nervous trembling in his fingers, Genka reached for the book. However,
before he managed to touch it, the scorpion came alive and menacingly bent its tail. The
book swung open to the first page. Bulonov saw a fence of wooden stakes. A dried head
hung almost on each. On the head at the end, the freshest in appearance, with a long
white beard besides, even paraded a Magford hat.
We strove to know more than the Book of Fate intended on showing us, Bulonov
read. The inscription was done in runes, but slender rays of light rose from the runes
and intertwined into familiar characters in the air.
“I don’t want to know anything,” Bulonov quickly said.
The Book of Fate rustled its pages with disappointment. It struggled with itself for
some time, and then cursed in ancient Indic and informed with forcefulness. Yes, you do!
Do not hide, wizard! I saw: you reached out your hand! appeared on a stone, and the
empty stakes in the fence stopped bouncing.
Genka quickly backed away. He had already realized that the book was not all there
mentally. It was too partial to human blood.
You think you can get away from me, huh, wizard? The book was touched.
Genka suddenly realized that he was standing on a scaffold, and beside him, a large,
far from sterile axe was sticking out of an oak block. “Ahhh! No! I’m not a wizard!”
Genka yelled.
Not a wizard? The book did not believe him. If you were moronoid, you simply
would not see me... So... come on, dear, do not dawdle...
“I’m not a wizard! I have no ring, n-nothing!” Bulonov stammered, teeth chattering.
The Book of Fate was agitated. The animated scorpion from the cover appeared
goodness knows how on Genka’s neck and crawled efficiently to the vein. Here it froze,
listening to the pulsing blood. Genka waited hopelessly for the bite, but no... Suddenly
the scorpion once again became silvery and rolled off Bulonov’s neck. Now it was lying
on the floor with its legs up. The scaffold had vanished. The oak block with the axe again
disguised itself as an ordinary chair, on the back of which Genka had the idiotic habit of
hanging socks and house pants at night.
I am not fated to kill you! The book informed Genka sadly. The hour I meet a
wizard without a ring, who did not even utter a single spell, should be the last hour of
the Book of Fate! It so mentions on my last page. I have been lured into a trap and I
curse the one that did it! Now approach and no longer fear anything.
Genka approached cautiously. The pages of the Book of Fate began to turn quickly.
Runes and illustrations flashed by. Twice or thrice Genka accidentally noticed things on
the pages, from which his stomach nearly turned inside out. For example, a diagram of
the extraction of bile from a live moronoid or a table layout serving a marinated, slightly
worm-eaten corpse. An anatomical atlas in comparison would seem like just a book for
children.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
8

Suddenly, the Book of Fate stopped turning the pages and instantly increased to
three or four times. Now the rays of light no longer danced in the air. Runes hurriedly
changed into familiar characters.
ARTEFACTS OF THE MAGIC WORLD
Magic-legged chicken. Smoked chicken, from which one can endlessly break off
legs and wings – they immediately reappear. Serves as provisions of magic armies
along with magic tablecloths. At the accidental touch of a repentant vegetarian, it
immediately comes to life, loses its magical properties, and flies away. For this reason,
a magic-legged chicken is now a considerable rarity.
Galley of demons. A wooden bewitched galley, on which the rowers are spirit-
demons. The motto, Semper in motu! [Always in motion! (Lat.)] can be viewed on the
side of the galley. Allows one to move quickly and with relative comfort through air or
water for any distance. The main condition: one must never sleep on the galley,
although the monotonous creaking of the oars lulls strongly. Anyone who falls asleep
on the galley turns into a spirit-demon and becomes one of the rowers. Invoked by the
spell Deckhandius.
Multieloquent maglawyer. A maglawyer who is under the spell of verbosity,
Oratoris demagogis. The average speed of speech is up to one thousand six hundred
words per minute. The time of speech is not limited and can last from one month to
thirty-three years, during which the maglawyer never repeats himself. The creepiest is
that the spell of verbosity continues to act even after the onset of clinical death of the
maglawyer, resulting in the burial being carried out most often in a soundproof coffin.
The “Soul Taker” Wand. A short rod ending in a ball in the shape of an eyeball. On
touching the chest the wand takes the soul, leaving an intact body, into which any
other wizard, who is ready to leave or has already left his body, can settle. It received
notoriety during the war with evil spirits, when the centaur Teresii, an ally of The
Ancient One, was killed with its help and the spy Plague-del-Cake settled into his body.
As a result, the centaur entered the war on the side of the evil spirits, leading to dire
consequences. Two flying bastions of wizards were brought down, and the astral
defence of Tibidox was substantially damaged.
The magic of the wand is banned. The wand itself is outlawed and remains at
large. It was last seen in the early seventeenth century in Venice, in a shop of forbidden
magic items. Soon the shop was destroyed by Magciety agents, but the wand was gone.
Its further trace was lost.
Noah’s Ark. One of the most ancient artefacts. The stern is of Cedar of Lebanon.4
The rest of the ark is made of magical trees that existed on earth before the great flood
and were later not restored. According to legend, these trees, in turn descended from

4The Cedar of Lebanon is a species of cedar, the wood of which was prized by the Egyptians for
shipbuilding.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2018
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
9

trees of the Garden of Eden, were able to talk and move, and contain huge reserves of
magic.
During the construction of Noah’s Ark the effect of the fifth dimension was used.
The inside of the Ark is significantly larger than the outside. It presents a maze with
lots of separate rooms that can accommodate up to 100,000 different species of living
beings. After the great flood, it was used for a long time as a repository of magic items.
Later, a large part of the Ark was burned by lightning during the great thunderstorm,
which was unleashed by PdC and lasted a year and a half.
One of the most important artefacts in the Noah’s Ark collection, known as Noah’s
pince-nez, is endowed by a number of unique magical properties. On the last night of
the great thunderstorm the pince-nez disappeared without a trace. However, it is
known for certain that it did not fall into the hands of PdC.
Wizards of the Middle Ages made a number of magic items from those boards of
the Ark that survived the storm. One of them is Leopold Grotter’s double bass, a unique
item, but capricious and extremely reluctant to part with its secrets. Much of its
properties remained unknown even to its creator, LG.
Genka licked his lips. His temples were pounding. It seemed to him that he was
standing outside a wide-open door to a far and wonderful world. Intending on turning
the page, Bulonov was about to stretch out his hand, but hesitated, remembering the
disagreeable nature of the book.
Suddenly all the runes started to move at once. The former text talking about the
artefacts and magic items vanished. Now only a few phrases were left in the centre of the
page. The letters were sharp and slim, as if built of scythes and gallows. It seemed to
Bouillon that they were dancing maliciously and vilely.
YOU ARE WRETCHED AMONG THE MORONOIDS, RIGHT? DO YOU WANT
EVERYTHING TO CHANGE? SAY: HADUS LETHE CHARONUM TANTALUM!
Bulonov read.
Have to give Genka credit, he was still doubting if it was worthwhile for him to
utter this dark spell. Nevertheless, it was the only connection to that wonderful world.
The only thread and the only chance. Then Mama, behind the wall, moved again and
distinctly said in her dream, “Genka, don’t you dare take off the scarf!” And Genka
decided. Partly because of Mama, partly because what surrounded him – all these grey
blotches of reality, dull people, phrases of duty, and bothersome restrictions – had long
been unbearable for him.
“Hadus lethe charonum tantalum!” he said loudly and without hesitation.
Genka also did not suspect that he had in fact used the formidable ancient spell of
summoning from the Beyond World. A spell which can only have power if it becomes
the first spell a novice wizard utters.
Bulonov had no magic ring, but he had a magic gift. The Book of Fate itself released
a spark. Moreover, one such that its dilapidated pages could not withstand too bright a
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10

flash. The cover flared up and turned into ashes. Another moment and the pages
crumbled. The ancient black magic book ceased to exist, but nothing could change this
now. Crumbling, the ashes still managed to form the inscription:
Beware of the mistress of the scorpion!

***

While Genka was looking dully at the ashes, wondering who this mistress of the
scorpion was, the room was suddenly filled with restless orange flames. A dry heat
engulfed Genka. Bulonov looked around hastily.
Four flares of light – the reflections of the cracked frame of a streetlight – gathered
together. They acquired bulk and substance. Something tangible swept through the
room, inflated the curtains, and with a cold and simultaneously scorching whiff touched
Bulonov’s face. A terrifying old woman woven from flames appeared in the middle of the
room. Her body was of white fire, her face with delicate features was of yellowish fire,
and long hair flowed down her shoulders like sizzling tongues. Spiky diamond lights
flashed and faded in gaping black holes taking the place of the mouth and eyes.
“Fezik barnam infantile afoul!” she said, smiling, and stretched out a fiery hand.
The hand stretched out, crossed the room, and touched the hair of the recoiling
Bulonov. The next moment Genka imagined that the old woman blazed even brighter,
soared to the ceiling as a stream of sparks, and suddenly settled in his head through an
ear. Bulonov screamed and grasped his temples with his hands. He expected searing
pain, but there was no pain. Only a laugh, an unpleasant alien laugh, like the sound of
sandpaper, rustled.
Genka swayed and grabbed his head. He stayed this way for about a minute, and
then stared wildly at his hands as if he was seeing them for the first time. Now he only
remembered that he went to bed in the evening, Coffinia flew to him, and he read a few
pages from the Book of Fate. Everything that happened afterwards was completely
erased from his memory.
Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Bulonov discovered in amazement that the
ends of his hair were scorched. Something tinkled under his foot. On the carpet lay a
quite ordinary brooch in the form of a silver scorpion. Genka wanted to pick it up, but
the brooch suddenly turned scarlet, blinked, and disappeared. No longer surprised at
anything, Genka, barely undressed, collapsed onto the bed and immediately fell asleep.

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11

Chapter 2
SPARKIS FRONTIS FORTE

On the first Friday of May, Eyeless Horror stopped moaning and rattling his
shackles heartbreakingly in the basement. Deep into the floor up to his chest, the ghost
stared with interest at the stone wall, on which bloodstains appeared by themselves.
“This is the same wall... Soon something will...” he said with a nasty chuckle.
Almost at the same moment three floors above, the Great Tooth examined with
surprise the runes that had freshly left her feather. These terrible runes, as if woven
from flames, were completely unlike the mediocre runes of remorse that she intended
on shaming her husband Gottfried with for being much too transfixed by Medusa at
dinner. “Hmm... I would like to know what this means and how did I manage it?” she
thought. She tried to erase the runes, but they quickly fled from her palm. At this
moment, the first unpleasant premonition visited her.
Unhealed Lady languidly floated out onto the wall of Tibidox and looked at the
moon. The moon was red and flat. It seemed stuck to the horizon, colouring the ocean in
scarlet. Unhealed Lady’s gaze misted over dreamily. “There was such a moon on the day
when my heart stopped beating. Pity it’s impossible to relive that thrilling moment...”
she said.
Nearby someone chuckled. Turning her head a hundred and eighty degrees, which
would be quite extreme for mere mortals and even a live wizard, Lady saw Lieutenant
Rzhevskii.
“Bon soir, mumsy! Are you grieving again? I don’t even remember how I died.
There was the field camp of our hussar troops. So, the hussars, by the campfires, long
story short, porridge, potatoes, and we, the officers, in a tent near the troops, there was a
dashing swordsman. Just happened to be his name day.5 Well, we drank a bottle or two
for our victory... On the whole, we were just feeling good, and then the sentry fired. The
French! Well, I leaped out of the tent, jumped onto my horse, bared my sword, and went
into battle. I flew, striking left and right, chopping all like cabbage. Demon of darkness,
ruler of battle! The enemy was terrified! Rumours, mumsy, circulated about my courage!
The emperor himself paid special attention to me! And suddenly I saw a stout French
cavalryman in armour racing towards me. I ducked from his attack and thrust my blade
from below under his breastplate, but I suddenly saw: my sword passed through the
Frenchman and he didn’t even notice. I flew further, and the same story. The fight went
on, I fought like a lion, I showed the wonders of heroism – and nothing. Then I looked
back and, imagine, I discovered that I had been killed. I was lying all bloody on the grass
clutching a sword, and my trusty steed was standing beside me and nudging me in the
face so pitifully...”

5A name day is the feast day of the saint a person is named after. The custom originated with the
Christian calendar of saints and has particular significance in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
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Lieutenant sighed heartbreakingly and glanced sideways at Lady. Unhealed Lady,


never missing an opportunity to shed a few tears, sobbed sympathetically and was about
to wring out a handkerchief in a business-like manner before new, even more prolonged
weeping, but, on suddenly remembering, stared doubtfully at her husband. For some
reason she always thought that he had served in the infantry. True, sometimes her
imagination transferred him to the artillery. Now, new details suddenly surfaced.
“Wait, but the knives... You claimed that they stabbed you at a ball?” she said.
Rzhevskii coughed. “Ahem... Really? Uh... Alright, I confess. Only for you. After
that incident with the knives, I survived. The doctor of our regiment saved me. A genius,
mumsy, simply a genius. He drank vodka till he was senseless and spent all night fixing
me up. Just consider, what’s a dozen knives to a man in the prime of life, who drinks no
more than two bottles of wine and smokes only ten pipes a day?” Lieutenant quickly
glanced at his wife, checking what impression his story had produced. Did she believe it?
“Yes, dear. Of course, dear! Come into my arms!” Lady said, smiling artfully. She
already understood that she had won a victory. Now there would be something for her to
needle her husband with for a long time. “Five years is enough, and then I’ll come up
with something new,” she figured.
The ghosts kissed. In the process their noses went deep into each other, to which
neither Lady nor Lieutenant attached any special significance. Ghosts generally relate
leniently to minor details. Some of them are so lazy that they do not even try to move
their legs but simply float above the floor, as if pulled by the wind.
“Something should happen in the coming days. You’ll see, dear! I have an
uncommon instinct for death,” Unhealed Lady suddenly said pensively. She could not
get rid of that first impression, when she had just seen the moon that day.
Rzhevskii laughed his unique laugh that sounded like the neighing of an entire
cavalry troop. “More corpses, more ghosts!” he commented.

***

The forward of Team Tibidox, Seven-Stump-Holes, sat in his room, locked with
two basic and one extra spells. He was serious and focused, like a surgeon before surgery.
Before Seven-Stump-Holes was a small jewellery box, very similar to the one with which
the well-known intuitive magician-psychologist and scoundrel Chichikov 6 had once
traveled around Russia. Having pulled out a secret drawer from the box, Seven-Stump-
Holes licked his fingers and counted toad warts, green corns, and donut holes.
“Four hundred and ninety-two plus ten from Tuzikov... Total: five hundred and two
toad warts, three hundred and eighty green corns, two thousand seven hundred and five
donut holes... Why seven hundred and five? Yeah, Zhikin took thirty today... Probably

6Chichikov is the main character of the novel Dead Souls (1842) by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-52),
the famous Russian Realist writer.
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13

on gifts for his playmates again. Just let him try to delay, then immediately increase the
interest! He-he, our grievous sins!”
Stump sighed, closed the box, and, laying his chin on it, pondered. When he came
to Tibidox as an eleven-year-old boy, having short-temperedly turned his teacher into an
otter, he was also as poor as Tanya Grotter. Only Grotter just spent her small allowance,
which Sardanapal issued to the students each month. Seven-Stump-Holes, though,
started to save, denying himself everything, even the essentials, and then came up with
lending money to fellow students at exorbitant interest rates. For fear that the money
would not be returned and he would suffer loss, Stump cast all sorts of spells and triple
remorse on donut holes and green corns. On the day of allowance distribution, Holes
stood somewhere in a corner and, like a spider, collected debts, skilfully calculating
interest with mathematical precision.
“Of course, it’s awkward to rip money off pals... But I didn’t force them to take from
me! Anyway, one born as a wimp, he’ll miss out on everything nevertheless! Better me
than anyone else...” Stump smugly told himself.
Suddenly, when the pleasure of possession peaked and Stump’s soul was bathing in
magic banknotes, like an angel in the clouds, some unpleasant thought overtook him
and, after punching him in the gut, spoiled his mood.
“Here you slog and slog, but I still don’t have a thousandth of what’s in only a part
of Koshchei the Deathless’ basement. This is how much I still have to chase after! No,
some dirty trick will just happen in the near future. I have a nose for it!” Stump thought
and fell into profound melancholy.

***

Gorynya, Usynya and Dubynya bypassed the crossbows hidden in the woods
adjacent to the rocky shore. Everything was hopeless with prey. Those elks and deer that
had not yet become skewed meat had learned to be cautious. Stepping over a snag,
Dubyna inadvertently brushed against a rope outstretched over the path. The bowstring
popped. The heavy arrow struck the hero in the thigh: its jagged tip came out the other
side.
“Biddy-filly! Sneeze on your army!” Dubynya uttered with emotion and crashed
heavily onto the ground.
Gorynya and Usynya began cursing, arguing which one of them had placed the
crossbow here. It turned out either way. The truth slipped away like a wet soap. After
fighting for about ten minutes, the brothers remembered the wounded Dubynya and,
after heaving him up onto their shoulders, dragged him to magic station. Dubynya
groaned and tried to kill everyone.

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“You shut up when we enter Tibidox. Or else Medusa will hear. You know that
she’ll be after us for poaching. They’ll cast a spell and turn us into millet kasha, even if
you run to Magford!” Gorynya warned him apprehensively.
“Stinktopp and her, Medusa! Let them hear!” Dubynya said. Nevertheless, the
reminder of Professor Gorgonova made him pull himself together. He gritted his teeth
and only occasionally, when it became especially painful, turned to the mysterious
biddy-filly.
At the drawbridge, Usynya started to shake himself and stopped. His flat face
covered in ruts took on a thoughtful expression. “It’s been a long while since we had
such a nasty May. Mark my words, something will happen!” Usynya said.
“Don’t caw!” Gorynya growled and immediately got a club on the ear from his
touchy brother. Yagge’s number of patients instantly doubled.

***

After Tanya managed to triumph over Circe, her passion for Puper was on the wane.
No, for the time being, she had not managed to recover definitively from love. Voodoo
magic is not magic that can be curbed in a minute, an hour, or a day. It eats into the
flesh and blood like poison. It torments the soul. It needs many weeks of painful struggle
with oneself, many sleepless nights, and then it’s still unknown who will prevail.
Tanya continued to love Gury, but she also loved Vanka at the same time.
Sometimes she was surprised by her inconsistencies. Puper and Vanka completely
complemented each other. There were traits in Puper that were not in Vanka, but at the
same time the soft and mischievous Valyalkin was much superior than the straight
forward Puper, who had the habit of incidentally and inopportunely recounting his bank
account and moaning on her shoulder after each clash with his aunts. Sometimes Tanya
caught herself thinking that she more wanted to kiss Vanka, but go to restaurants with
Puper.
Sometimes, she plucked a daisy in a field and speculated, “Vanka... Puper... Vanka...
Puper.” Sometimes it turned out that she would remain with Vanka, but sometimes,
with Puper. Each time the result of divination seemed to Tanya final and irrevocable.
Coffinia also loved to speculate this way. True, if it was a daisy for Tanya, Mademoiselle
Coffinia tore off the legs of flies. Besides, her fortune-telling had the outlines of not even
a love triangle but much more complicated shapes.
“Puper... Zhikin... Gunya... Sheikh Spirya... Seven-Stump-Holes... Bouillon... Ugh,
ran out of legs again! What should I do, remain with Bouillon?” Coffinia said irritably
and, in order to rig the desired result, even tore the wings off the fly.
“Here I am. also like Cryptova! Can’t figure out myself in any way! And how could
they transfer one such as me to the white department? Vanka is a little sluggish, but
that’s because he’s my age. When he grows up, he’ll be quicker. But then his hands don’t
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crawl to where they shouldn’t. And he kisses well. Gury, of course, is more energetic, but
his chin is prickly, and filmmakers forbid him to shave!” Tanya thought. Sometimes
after such thoughts she began to fear that red sparks would again slip from her ring.

***

On a warm May evening, Nightingale O. Robber was in a good mood. After


conferring with Daedalus Cretan, he decided to vary the practice and, instead of
Goyaryn’s grown sons, which increasingly confused the players with bloody steaks,
released two dozen cupids onto the field. The chubby cupids frolicked under the dome,
turning somersaults and whistling through the air with golden wings.
“And what do we do with these blockheads?” Zhora Zhikin asked tartly.
“Catch at least a couple! Imagine that it’s a ball!” Nightingale suggested mockingly.
“Catch? It’s like doing nothing! Hey, kid in red shorts, be afraid!” Zhikin yelled.
He chased after the nearest cupid and already almost caught him, but the cupid
seized the right moment and dived down quickly. Zhora tarried, did not brake, and
slammed his forehead into the dome. The cupids flickered, giggled, and hid behind one
another. Their pink elusive heels darted here and there. Soon, the team had to
acknowledge that the cupids were much more manoeuvrable and cunning than magic
balls. Tanya was personally convinced of this, after almost smashing her double bass on
the dome. The cupid that had dodged aside burst into ringing laughter above her head.
Finally, Kuzya Tuzikov managed and, after catching a chubby baby who had just
now dodged Katya Lotkova, carelessly tucked him under his arm. The enraged cupid
squealed like a pig, pulled an arrow out of his quiver, and, not even bothering to place it
on the bowstring, shoved it into Tuzikov’s thigh. Kuzya screamed, let go of the cupid,
turned pink, green, and pink again, and, exactly like an overripe pear, tumbled off the jet
broom. Good that it was not too high.
Nightingale, limping, rushed to Tuzikov and began to shake him. Tuzikov remained
motionless for a moment. Then he languidly opened his eyes and stared thoughtfully at
the coach. “Do you have a captain’s hat?” he asked. “I like postmen, but you’re also nice!”
“Nooo! What have you done to him?” Rita On-The-Sly shouted angrily, shelling the
cupid with murderous evil eyes.
The furious Nightingale personally knocked the cupid down with a whistle and,
after dragging him by the ear to Kuzya, forced him to remove the love magic. “I’ll give
you some arrows to use! Well, treat him!” he shouted.
“Let go of the ear, hooligan!” the cupid squeaked.
“I won’t! So treat him!”
The cupid took another arrow and drew some sign with its feathers on Kuzya’s leg.
Tuzikov, again changing rainbow colours, toppled onto the sand. A minute later, he got
up and stiffly made his way to the jet broom.
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16

“Boy, are you okay?” Nightingale shouted to him.


“I don’t understand you! I want to paint with oil and ride elephants! I have no
other weakness!” Tuzikov said distinctly. The cupid, having made a blunder, quickly
bailed.
The practice continued. The team gradually got used to the bustling twinkle of pink
heels and golden wings. The players intercepted the cupids in flight, sometimes even a
couple.
The excited babies began to shower the Tibidox people with arrows. Fortunately,
after the incident with Tuzikov, Nightingale ordered them in advance to remove the
golden tips from their arrows. This greatly weakened the love magic, and love turned out
to be fleeting, at the level of flirting. The skilled philanderer Zhora Zhikin managed to
fall in love three times during practice. Panther girl Masha Feklischeva, five times. How
many times Bab-Yagun fell in love, he himself did not even know. Yagge’s talkative
grandson had a mutual misunderstanding with exact science.
After practice, Tanya came out of the locker room and discovered that Vanka was
waiting for her. This was always a pleasant surprise. Vanka rarely warned about his
appearance. His forte was his unpredictability. Moreover, in recent weeks, he and
Tararakh had had a lot of trouble with magical beasts. First, the dragons started to
become lethargic and they were given mercury, then the harpies began to die, having
picked up a magic virus from the phoenix, which simply recovered, using its signature
self-immolation and rising from the ashes.
“Hi! I was in the neighbourhood and decided to pop over,” said Vanka.
Tanya put the double bass away in its case and handed it to Vanka. Valyalkin
always carried her double bass willingly, in contrast, by the way, to Puper, who, burned
while still a teenager by feminist types like Goreanna, who preferred to do everything by
themselves, did not always dare to offer assistance.
They went to Tibidox, making a big circle so as not to turn up at school quickly.
Vanka told Tanya something funny, it seemed, about Tararakh, who had been chasing
after swamp bogies since morning for ransacking his den. When Tanya laughed, Vanka
hugged and kissed her.
At this most inopportune, or, on the contrary, extremely opportune, moment (a
matter of perspective), someone’s angry shriek interrupted them. Above on a broom,
Gury Puper, having an almost magical gift of appearing inopportunely, dived down.
Missing Tanya, he decided to visit her. Puper was in a new jersey, from which his aunt
was watching with kind eyes. Seeing Tanya, the aunt instantly turned the back of her
head to her.

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Puper jumped off the broom. As often happened with Gury, he lost a good third of
Russian words when angry. “Damn! Get away from her, Valyainok!” he yelled, bizarrely
crossing “Valyalkin” with “felt boot.”7
“You take a hike yourself, ruddy dork!” Vanka instantly retorted. It was easier for
him. After all, Russian was his native element. He guessed with the “ruddy dork”. Puper
indeed got flushed when angry.
“Do you understand me? Tanya is mine! I, not you, will be her husband!” Puper
exclaimed. “You, Russian liepod,8 aren’t worth a nail on her finger!”
Vanka pondered the word “liepod” for some time, but finally never quite
determined its meaning. “You finger yourself!” he said, having decided to find fault with
this, in his view, more offensive word.
“Liepod!!!” Gury screamed.
Without delving further into linguistic subtleties, Vanka carefully put the double
bass in its case down on the ground and stepped up to Gury. Puper waited mockingly.
Vanka flicked the glued glasses from Puper and with a precise blow to the chin forced
Gury to sit on the ground. Tanya could hardly believe her eyes – the seventeen-year-old
Puper was a good head taller and ten kilos heavier than Vanka.
The fallen Puper immediately jumped up like a spring. His first impulse was to
rush at Vanka with his fists, but he restrained himself. “Look at him!” he said,
addressing Tanya. “Really, this is a man? He will not be able to provide you any level of
life! You will live by the ocean and eat rotten fish, which the waves drop!”
“Why necessarily rotten?” Tanya was surprised. She became offended for Vanka.
Puper’s absoluteness irked her.
“Because he hasn’t earned bait. Ha-ha! This is a metaphor!” Gury stated
categorically, groping for his glasses on the ground. “Well, the temple has come off!” he
said reproachfully.
“Nothing to moan about! Wrap it with tape! I think they’ve already been broken a
couple of times,” Vanka gloomily advised him. From his point of view, Puper’s glasses
looked as if a car had run over them earlier.
“Stupid liepod! This is a model of the best magsigner9 Bucci! Specially broken and
glued! You, Valyainok, wouldn’t pay off these glasses your whole life, even if you sold
yourself into slavery!” Puper said negligently.
“Mm-hmm!” Vanka said and again flicked the glasses off Puper. Now they flew
twice as far as before. Moreover, they met a tree on the way. “Oh, how careless of me!
Now even tape won’t help. The magsigner will have to hang himself with his suspenders,”
Vanka said sadly.

7 A single felt boot is valenok in Russian.


8 Puper attempts to call Vanka a liar, but getting confused in Russian, combines part of “liar” with part of
gospodin – mister in Russian.
9 Magsigner – a designer in the magic world.

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Gury turned green with anger. His long face took on an unusually noble and
haughty expression. Well, exactly like Duke Magkinham, founder of Magford, in his
formal portrait. “My patience snaps! I’ll teach you a good lesson! Follow me, John
Valyalka, and don’t even think of falling behind! If you try to run away, I’ll spank you on
the back pocket of your trous!”10 he said grimly and, turning, quickly went to the grove.
The nice aunt, whose face now looked from Gury’s back, quickly turned away again.
But Tanya had no time for Puper’s relatives or their moods. She looked guiltily at Gury
and Vanka. After all, everything that happened, happened because of her. “Well, stop!
What am I to you, property? What right do you have to share me?” she shouted angrily.
Puper stopped abruptly and turned back to Tanya. The nicest aunt, again
appearing with her face towards Tanya, became confused and angrily spun like a
weathervane.
“Fine. Specify who, him or me? Do you have your opinion? Then tell us! And let the
other leave, once and for all! You agree, Vailyalka?”
Vanka nodded.
“Swear?”
“I swear!” Vanka said firmly.
“I also swear!” Gury repeated after him.
Now both Puper and Vanka looked expectantly at Tanya. She did not expect this
and, distraught, hesitated to answer. A strange indecision took hold of her. Her soul was
literally torn into two halves, one of them rushing to Puper, the other to Vanka. She
wanted to keep both. How many times she cursed herself for it afterwards!
The silence dragged on. Several times Tanya took in air in order to say one of the
names, but uttered nothing. But then a ferocious irritation at the person who tried to
back her into a corner suddenly awakened in her. “What blockheads you both are! Now I
can’t stand you!” she exclaimed, turning away.
“You can’t decide? Great! Then we’ll decide. Come on, Puper!” Vanka said, flaring
up.
Now Gury was forced to trail behind him, which was not very pleasant for his ego.
The roles were reversed. Tanya, whom both these roosters barely noticed, went behind
them.
“My dear, Tatiana! Please, don’t follow us. We’ll be having a conversation
exclusively for men! I’ll teach good manners to this suckling with a haircut à la peasant!”
Puper appealed to her.
“You’ll teach, you’ll teach... You’ll teach everything! Keep up, come on!” Vanka
promised in a voice not boding well.
“Vanka! Don’t!” Tanya asked plaintively. She knew perfectly well how Vanka’s
ostentatious humility would end for Puper.

10 Puper meant to say trousers – briuki – in Russian but only managed bruk.
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19

“Yes, I must! Wait for us here! I won’t do anything bad to him, simply explain that
he needs to look for a bride far away from Buyan,” Valyalkin said firmly.
Tanya was anxious for Puper. True, she also feared no less for Vanka. But Vanka
was more fit after all. Not a week passed that he did not get into a fight with Seven-
Stump-Holes, Yagun, or even Gunya Glomov. On the other hand, Puper played
dragonball, which was also not a sport for genteel maidens and should have taught him
some things. Still hoping to intervene, Tanya rushed after them, but the heavy double
bass case pulled her shoulder. She stopped, distraught and very unhappy with
everything happening.
Puper overtook Vanka at the grove and went first. Vanka did not like it, and he
pushed Gury aside with his shoulder. For a while they silently shoved each other on the
way. Branches that no one tried to hold back strove to lash their eyes.
Finally, Gury stopped, looked back and saw that the trees had securely hidden
Tanya from them, and she could neither see nor hear them. “I’ll ask for the last time, will
you surrender Tanya to me or not?” Puper asked.
“You’re dreaming. Not a chance!” Vanka said.
“But we have a great love!”
“Had you stolen fewer onesies and intrigued less with Circe, there wouldn’t be any
great love,” Vanka said sarcastically.
The whole school already knew the story of the onesies. Not so long ago, secretive
Pipa told Rita On-The-Sly everything in strict confidence, Rita also told Zalizina in strict
confidence, and Zalizina, to spite Tanya, Parroteva. Telling Verka anything was just the
same as making an announcement on the zoomer.
“As you wish, Vailyalka!” Gury muttered a spell. A glove appeared in his hand,
which he threw in Vanka’s face. “John Valyalka, you are an insolent knave! I challenge
you to a magic duel! One of us will die! There is no place for the two of us in this
cramped cruel world!” Puper said coldly.
Vanka caught the glove sliding down his cheek and, in turn, flung it in Puper’s face.
Two gazes met – Puper’s gaze glowing with rational courage and Vanka’s squinting,
searching look. Neither intended on backing down.
“You want a duel, we’ll duel. Came up with it yourself or read it in a book?”
Valyalkin asked.
“Do you have a broom?” Puper inquired in a business-like manner.
Vanka shook his head. “Neither broom nor bucket. Not even a kiddie scoop. I
thought they give all this work to yard keepers,” he grinned.
“What are you going to fly on without a broom?” Gury asked, not catching the
humour. “Magic duels take place in the air!”
“I’ll take Yagun’s vacuum,” Vanka said.

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20

“That suits me,” Puper nodded. “Tomorrow at dawn we will rise above the ocean,
and take turns attacking each other with an intensified combat spark. Until Tanya has
only one admirer left.”
“Or none,” said Vanka.
“Or none,” Gury confirmed seriously. “My second will be my bodyguard Prun.”
“And mine will be Bab-Yagun. I think he’ll agree... No, stop! Yagun can’t,” Vanka
caught himself. “Whom do I borrow a vacuum from then? Okay, I’ll find someone else.”
“Wonderful! See you tomorrow, then! We meet at four in the morning in this grove.
Try not to be late, John Valyalka. And another thing: when we go out now, do it so
Tanya doesn’t guess anything! She could interfere with our duel!” Gury said, rubbing
with his finger his famous scar in the shape of copyright. For all those who knew Puper,
it was a sure sign that he was simply in a rage.
“She won’t guess anything. I assure you,” Vanka promised.

***

Tanya, going crazy with anxiety at the edge of the grove, was amazed when Vanka
and Puper, chatting politely, appeared out of the trees. They not only did not intend on
beating up each other’s faces, but it also looked like they had become the best of friends.
Vanka said something. Puper laughed. Gury said something. Vanka approvingly patted
him on the shoulder. Friendship was in full swing.
“Somehow I don’t quite like how they’re hitting it off. Maybe I’m now the third
wheel?” Tanya thought indignantly, although a moment ago she had dreamed that
everything would end peacefully. At the same time, she looked with surprise at Puper’s
jersey. The nicest aunt, before pointedly turning the back of her head to her, was excited
in a strange and inexplicable manner. She goggled, stuck out her tongue, and made a
hand gesture as if tightening a noose around her neck.
“She wants to strangle me, perhaps? A very nice and natural desire!” Tanya
thought and, waiting until Gury turned to Vanka to tell him something friendly, stuck
her tongue out at the aunt. The aunt turned pink with indignation, blinked in offence,
and again turned her head.
Soon Puper bowed and flew away, dropping a mysterious phrase at parting, “Dear
Tanjusha! In any case, remember me like this! Soon we will be either very close or very
far...”
“What’s with him? What were you talking about?” Tanya asked, watching Gury’s
rapidly retreating back. Puper sat on the broom like a pro. He was at one with the broom
and relaxed at the same time. It seemed that there was no such force that would throw
him off his broom.
“Uhh... Different things,” Vanka replied vaguely.
“Meaning?”
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21

“Well, mostly about glasses. This guy is a walking encyclopaedia! My grandparents


still have funky glasses – rims from tin cans with two bottle bottoms inserted! I told
Puper this and he almost died from delight. He dreams of getting them for his collection,”
Vanka said, hastily inventing new details on the fly.
Tanya looked doubtfully at him. If it was noticeable when Yagun and Puper were
disingenuous, Vanka’s voice did not change. Only his eyes twinkled quizzically and
artfully. Now Tanya had a hunch that something was amiss but could not grasp what
had really happened between Vanka and Puper.
“And what was that little phrase about very close and very far? Do you know what
Puper wanted to say with that?” Tanya asked Vanka.
“I really don’t know,” Vanka replied. “England is a country of fog. Such fog fills it
that it clings. But, just in case, did you memorize Puper? Can you visualize him if you
close your eyes?”
“Yes,” Tanya said uncertainly.
“Wonderful. And me?” Vanka asked jealously.
“Now someone’s asking for a strong spell... I’m not going to visualize you!”
Snorting, Tanya pushed him below the knees with the double bass and, after
charging Vanka with the case, went to Tibidox. Later, she cursed herself a hundred
times that she had been so short-sighted at that moment. Not for nothing did Yagun,
repeatedly falling in love and just as many times suffering fiasco, claim that love makes
people blind and deaf. “Everyone in love is somewhat moronic, but still, it’s worth living
for this!” he usually added.

***

At half past three in the morning the wooden figurine of The Ancient One in
Shurasik’s room was suddenly wrapped up in a golden radiance and began to shell its
poor owner with spells of good spirits. Shurasik, as the only Tibidox honour student,
received this figurine, carved by Tibidox house-spirits from the Lukomore11 oak, from
Sardanapal’s hands last year.
Shurasik stubbornly resisted. He and good spirits were completely incompatible
concepts, especially at this hour. Sticking his hand with the ring out from under the
blanket, he launched Briskus-quickus at the wooden figurine, which it easily parried.
“Coffeemoustachedissolvus!” the smart figurine immediately responded.
“Walkos toficus!” Shurasik applied a neutralizing spell.
“Chifirius!”
“Leapus-stopus! Getlostus!”

In East Slavic mythology, Lukomore is a protected place at the edge of the Universe, where stands the
11

World Tree, a colossal tree connecting Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld.
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22

For some time Shurasik and the figurine of The Ancient One launched spells,
sparks, and evil eyes at each other, getting increasingly into a rage. As a result, cherry
blossoms bloomed on the dry wood of the figurine and Shurasik’s pillow was reduced to
down and feathers, as if by a close shot from a bazooka.
The angry Shurasik was ready to cleanly answer with a specific spell of the calibre
7.62, but remembered in time that he had told the figurine yesterday to wake him up at
this time. Besides, exchanging attack magic with the figurine finally woke him up, so the
goal was achieved after all.
“Thankus not gurglus changus bubblius!” Shurasik uttered the general formula of
gratitude, one of the seven universal formulae of Astrocactus the Paranoid. Astrocactus
was a prominent wizard: he began life as a genius, with the discovery of the magic spirit,
immersing in a state of perpetual pleasure, and ended up as a genius, in a mental
hospital with delirium tremens.
On hearing the general formula of gratitude, the wooden figurine of The Ancient
One squeaked contentedly and ceased wrapping itself in radiance. It was possible to set
off into the grove to look for the roots of invisible-grass, for which Shurasik, in fact, had
risen at dawn.
The majority of magical concoctions retain their quality only for a few moments.
For example, what has just been the elixir of attraction turns into a deadly poison
exactly one second after preparation, and a wizard, delayed in taking a drink, has more
chances of becoming a corpse, though, no one disputes, devilishly attractive. The same
or almost the same story is repeated with the infusion of eternal life, beauty rub, or balm
of omniscience. Invisible-grass – and this is its main attribute – makes the ties of other
magical components more durable. True, even this does not guarantee that the balms or
elixirs will keep forever, but it is possible to have time to raise the cup to the mouth.
No need to explain that in the world of wizards invisible-grass is valued much more
than gold, which any inattentive graduate student of the department of general magic,
mindful of the formula of universality and capable of tracing a couple of runes in the air
with his ring, is able to make from ordinary lead.
Invisible-grass is unknown to moronoids for two simple reasons: the first is that
the grass lives for only one day and it is useless to look for it where it was the day before.
The second is that the grass is invisible and a search for it turns into a ghost chase.
Previously, Shurasik bartered with the baby Stinktopp for invisible-grass, but now
that one had squandered the entire inventory and Shurasik had no choice but to look for
it himself. For a week already he had intended on searching, but he continuously
overslept, until he surmised to tell the figurine. Armed with a rusty Turkish dagger,
Shurasik took the wishbone from a frog skeleton and set off to the grove. Here he
stopped and pondered, wondering where to start looking.
“The main thing is not to mix up anything. Hold the knife in the left hand. Take the
root not with a hand but the wishbone from a frog skeleton buried in an anthill. Step
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23

over all obstacles with the left foot. Do not look at the sun. Do not look back along the
way,” Shurasik reminded himself.
The task before him was difficult. In the Handbook of Wizard-Herbalist
[Handbook of Wizard-Herbalist. 13th ed., truncated and augmented; ed. Prof. Stinktopp.
Bald Mountain 1894], it was written in black and white that invisible-grass loves the sun
but cannot tolerate light. It prefers valleys and ravines but grows exclusively on high
ground. It requires constant watering but hates humidity. In addition, invisible-grass
grows backwards – at dawn it is up to the knee, in the afternoon just above the foot, and
at sunset it stretches into the ground in order to appear the next day goodness knows
where.
Shurasik was digging the ground unsuccessfully with the dagger when suddenly a
flash of the Grail Gardarika seven rainbows forced him to get down hastily on all fours
and crawl briskly into the burdocks. He remembered well rule number five of a true
wizard-herbalist: when searching for invisible-grass, stay out of anyone’s sight or
nothing will be found that day.
Hiding in the burdocks, Shurasik watched as Gury Puper and Prun glided between
the trees and descended onto the clearing. Both were on brooms, both in dark cloaks.
Puper’s pale and noble nose was decorated with slender glasses in the Vamp Boy 12 style
(№ 45 of his unique collection). Incidentally, Gury’s glasses were fitted with special
lenses enabling the determination of the type of attack magic and its intensity. Possibly,
in regard to Vanka, who had no such glasses, it was not quite fair, but as Puper’s family
lawyer Hudson joked, “Justice is a notion of the unjust.”
Demonically crossing his arms in front of his chest, Gury sauntered through the
grove, ablaze with indignation. Occasionally he waved his hand, as if he had already
crushed John Valyalka with a combat spark.
But Prun was clearly not at ease. All night, he had been crying out in his sleep.
Nightmares about what Puper’s aunts would do to him if Gury died tormented him.
“They’ll throw me into quicksand and, while I sink, lecture me. Or even worse: turn me
into a stand for seven-league boots!” he speculated gloomily.
And he so thought, “I’m screwed! Why didn’t Gury choose Goreanna as a second? A
female second is so extraordinary! Besides, Goreanna has the evil-eye rifle. She would
fight off the aunts somehow!”
While Shurasik, looking out of the burdocks, was pondering what Puper and Prun
were doing there, he heard the roar of two vacuums approaching. Vanka jumped off one
vacuum and Gunya Glomov off the other. Gunya was the only one Vanka managed to
wake at this hour. After hearing about the duel, Gunya was pumped and stated that he
would fight Puper himself if Vanka was vanquished.
“How are you going to fight him? Your magic is indifferent!” Vanka smiled.

Vamp Boy – Mal'chik-vamp – is the title of a book by the current author on the theme of a young
12

Dracula.
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“I have a signature spell Glomus wallopus! The style of an iron fist! Just like the
truth. Chinese schools go on vacation, the Japanese go on break!” Gunya said and
looked tenderly at his huge paw that looked as if it was the fruit of the forbidden love of
an excavator bucket and a boxing glove.
Gunya’s former strength had completely returned. It was hard to believe that he
had recently been lying weak like a baby on a bed in magic station. However, the trauma
experienced had not gone without a trace. For example, the former Gunya would not
have given Puper such a complex characterisation: “I never liked him. The blatant scar
on his forehead, the glasses, the tie... Well, downright a networking vendor from Bald
Mountain. I wait all the time for him to offer me a flashlight-screwdriver with a built-in
sensor for voodoo magic or a set of pens at a donut hole each, two for a bunch.”
“Quiet!” Vanka said. “They’re here!”
Gunya and Vanka approached Puper.
Gury bowed dryly. “You’re late, liepod! John Valyalka!” he said reproachfully.
“It’s you who came early, Goosie Poffer!” Vanka said, squinting at the rising sun.
Ignoring him, Puper looked at Gunya. “You have a second? Very nice... Puper.
Puper Gury,” he introduced himself, bestowing his professional smile.
Gunya also smiled politely. Gunya’s smile, alas, was not Hollywood. At the most,
Mosfilm.13 “Guny, I mean... ahem... Superguny!” he imparted, shuffling a size forty-eight
foot.
Puper politely raised his eyebrows. “Really? Superguny?” he asked.
“What? Impossible, perhaps?” Glomov frowned.
“Why not? Of course!” Puper gave permission, adjusting his glasses.
“Pupergury” and “Superguny” bowed and mutually lost interest in each other.
The militant Prun, following Gury, also longed to say something biting directed at
the second, but looked at Gunya just in time. The blissful smile and powerful span of his
shoulders forced Prun to reconsider. “How do you do, Mr. Glomoff?” he inquired
politely.
“Thank you, Prun, getting by,” Gunya replied, after waiting for the translation from
Gury. He remembered only "What is your name?” from English phrases, and then more
at the level of genetic memory.
Meanwhile, the surprise of the spying Shurasik passed all possible and impossible
limits. Pushing away the burdocks with his nose, he tried not to miss a single sound.
“The first and... well... the last time I propose to you to give up the duel!” Glomov
said in a voice, which in itself excluded any reconciliation.
Puper shook his head. Vanka snorted. Prun sighed. The formidable aunts
continued to show up in his imagination. They danced in his eyes exactly like
bloodstained boys.

13 Mosfilm is the largest and oldest film studio in Russia and Europe.
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25

“Don’t want to make up? Then why are we standing counting harpies? What, did I
wake up in vain? Let’s fight!” Gunya declared.
Possibly, his bloodlust was due to his having a very approximate view of magic
duels. Most likely, Glomov considered that it was an ordinary scuffle, after which the
opponents differed by their broken noses and poetic shadows under their eyes.
“To reiterate the rules in the presence of the seconds!” Gury said. “We fly out of the
dome and climb high above the ocean. Combat sparks are delivered one at a time. A
spell of the enhanced form Sparkis frontis forte! In case of a miss everything is repeated,
and so, until... until it’s over. The number of sparks isn’t limited. I propose checking out
our rings.”
Vanka nodded. Puper breathed on his ring, rubbed it, and, after looking around,
chose a target. It was part of the old fortress wall, located about a hundred metres away,
where the grove was closest to the shore. Sometime during the war with the evil spirits
this was one of the outer bastions of defence, now already practically a ruin.
“Sparkis frontis forte!” Puper said firmly.
A very bright green spark broke away with a bang from his ring and quickly slid to
the wall. A rumbling was heard. Brick dust flew up. Half a dozen stones had been
dislodged. A respectable breach, which a person could squeeze through, formed in the
wall.
“Alright. Weak, but it’ll do,” Puper said, pleased, shaking his fingers slightly to cool
the ring. “Now you, John Valyalka!”
Mouth agape, Gunya Glomov stared at Vanka. “Sparkis frontis forte! Not even just
Sparkis frontis! Well, you’re in trouble now! It’s worse than a bazooka!” he said.
Vanka shrugged. Unlike Puper, he did not wipe his ring and take aim, but, slightly
bending at the elbow and pointing his knuckles at the wall, said simply, “Sparkis frontis
forte!”
A green spark, fairly bright but not the same as Puper’s, hit the wall just above the
breach. Although clay chips also sprinkled, all the bricks remained in place. Puper
smiled contentedly.
“I’m not mad enough,” Vanka uttered, justifying himself. “Doesn’t matter. There’s
still time.”
“Yeah! You put through such a spark and you have time,” Glomov chuckled,
looking at the breach Puper had left.
“Still not too late to back out, John Valyalka! Give me Tanya and don’t dare go near
her! Well? Swear!” Puper said haughtily.
Vanka narrowed his eyes. “Sit down on your broom and don’t lose your glasses!
You’ll never get Tanya!” he snapped.
Puper nodded dryly and was about to move to his broom, but he stopped. Prun
quietly suggested something to him in English.

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“He says we have to flip for who fires first. The seconds draw straws. The one
whose second draws short will fire second,” Gury translated.
Prun found two straws, broken the end off of one, and, hiding both in his palm,
reached them out to Gunya. The guileless Glomov’s hands got sweaty from the
responsibility.
“Lawus sleazus!” Prun whispered, discreetly releasing a spark. He wanted to give
Gury an extra chance.
For a long time Gunya wavered, doubted, and drew, naturally, the short one.
Realizing that Puper would make the first shot, Prun sighed with relief. Perhaps Gury
would not miss, and then he, Prun, would not have to face the music in front of the
aunts.
“And what do we do with the body? I mean, if someone dies?” Gunya asked
anxiously. He wanted to understand how far Puper was ready to go.
“The ocean is full of sharks. The funeral will be at their expense,” Gury said
ruthlessly.
He sat on his broom, hunched slightly – the very special spring-loaded stoop that
lends glamour to dragonball players and jockeys – and swiftly dashed skyward. Prun
hurried after him. Vanka and Gunya Glomov started their vacuums and took off without
such glamour. Soon Grail Gardarika, operating four times, confirmed that both
duellists and their seconds had left Buyan.
Shurasik, not having missed a word, ploughed last year’s foliage with his chin. “A
duel! I must warn Sardanapal! This is a bloodbath!” he mumbled and, stumbling,
rushed to Tibidox.
The Cyclops Dumpling Maker was dozing at the drawbridge, leaning on his poleaxe.
Beside him was a huge bottle of moonshine, on the mouth of which was a baby pacifier.
Occasionally, without opening his crazy eye, Dumpling Maker groped for the bottle,
sucked on it, and again plunged into a sweet morning sleep. He did not even notice
Shurasik.
Shurasik had barely run across the bridge and dived into the Tower, when someone
tenaciously caught his sleeve. He looked around fearfully. It was Pipa Durneva. “Stop,
hands behind your head!” she ordered.
Shurasik stopped. He liked the pushy and confident Pipa. Mild and intelligent
people often lack teeth. There was unfortunately more than enough in Pipa. She could
not only enter any door without knocking, but also take away the door with her as moral
compensation that it was not immediately opened for her.
That morning, Pipa also got up early. She and Katya Lotkova were fulfilling their
long-standing intention of arranging a good little race for Zhora Zhikin. Pipa had
scheduled a date with him at four in the morning at the drawbridge, and Katya at four
fifteen in the attic of the Big Tower. Both dates, of course, were the most important. Pipa
and Katya promised Zhora seven truckloads of tenderness, at the same time threatening
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to quarrel with him for life if he overslept or tried not to appear. And now Zhora, tongue
hanging out, was torn apart and rushing back and forth, driven like a marathon runner.
Five hundred steps down, five hundred up. Breaking off a kiss with Pipa, which the poor
fellow was absolutely not happy about, Zhora lied with muddled words about an elixir
bubbling in his room, trudged back to Lotkova, and then again from Lotkova to Pipa.
Pipa and Katya Lotkova, whose beauty had been restored and with it her
confidence in her irresistibility, were having good fun to the fullest. After dispatching
Zhikin, they phoned each other on their zoomers or, scheming, began phoning Zhora
and sympathetically asking whether his elixir had boiled dry.
Zhikin, stuck somewhere in the middle of a gigantic staircase, could only wheeze
into the zoomer. He wanted to once and for all drop all dates, place a bold cross on the
girls, and join jigsaw cut-outs in a circle. He once read somewhere that this calm and
soothing occupation protects excellently from shocks and is extremely useful for mental
health.
“I have good news for you, kitty! We’ll now meet every night. Will three in the
morning suit you?” Lotkova purred.
Zhora shuddered. Exactly one minute ago, he had heard the same phrase from Pipa,
almost word for word. She, for some reason, also wanted to see him precisely at three.
“Oh, girls, girls! How predictable they are!” Zhora thought smugly.
Remembering the duel, which may have already begun, Shurasik tried to tear away
to the office of the head of Tibidox, but the young Durneva tenaciously caught his back
pocket. “Well, where is the young talent running to?” she asked, fooling around.
“I need Sardanapal! Let go!” Shurasik demanded.
“I will not! You really like this old man more than me?” Pipa frowned petulantly.
Just now an amusing thought flashed in her: hold Shurasik till the return of the
breathless Zhikin and make him jealous.
“No, not that! They’ll kill Valyalkin!” Shurasik shouted.
“So what? Cheer up, boy! Every minute on Earth two murders, a thousand thefts,
and five armed robberies take place!” Pipa yawned.
“And Puper too! They’re having a duel!”
Pipa instantly became serious. If she did not care if Valyalkin was by and large
whole, then she related to Puper tenderly. “PUPER?” she gasped, seizing Shurasik in a
death grip. “Take me to him! I will follow my Gury... Why are you standing like a statue?
Find me a vacuum!”

***

The dawn sky was pale crimson. The wind blew in gusts and messed up the loose
flabby clouds.

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Puper, flying ahead, climbed higher and higher. Soon, they were so high that Vanka
was dizzy and did not get enough air. The ocean was not visible, only something silvery
and steel-coloured occasionally flickered between the breaks in the clouds. It flickered
and immediately faded away.
Gury climbed higher and higher, not looking back at all. He was obviously striving
such that whoever fell would not have the slightest chance. Gunya Glomov snorted
anxiously. In the end, even the faithful Prun began to show concern. Only Vanka alone
doggedly raced after Puper, forcing the vacuum engine to roar from being overworked.
Valyalkin’s face was pensive and aloof: he was thinking of Tanya and only of her.
Finally, Puper stopped, turned around, and flew to Vanka. “Great place to die, John
Vailyalka! No one will interfere with us here! Let spilled blood wash away our suffering
and the one who remains alive gets Tanya!” he said, glancing sideways at the ocean.
Vanka nodded. He was in a less pretentious mood than Puper, but all the same, his
thoughts were about the same thing.
Prun started bustling about. He and Gunya marked the borders with the help of
spells, after drawing crimson stripes in the air. Now, fifty steps, much closer than the
wall at the grove, separated Vanka and Puper. According to the rules of duelling, it could
not be closer. It was necessary to shoot not moving from the spot. Prun and Gunya
Glomov took up positions slightly to the side, where they could monitor the compliance
of rules. Prun took out a huge kerchief from his pocket, dabbed his forehead, and waved
it, giving the signal.
Puper breathed on his ring. “You wanted this, John! I can’t let you ruin my Tatiana
and suffocate her with a miserable life! I’m her benefactor and saviour in one person!”
he uttered in a low voice and, after inspiring himself, shouted: “Sparkis frontis forte!” A
green spark broke away from the ring with a bang and rushed towards Vanka.
Valyalkin looked at the bright spark rushing swiftly towards him. Thirty metres...
twenty... Now it would be here. Vanka saw that the spark was flying precisely to his
chest. No, Puper did not miss. The hand of the skilled dragonball player did not falter.
“Vanka, move! Dodge! Clear out! To hell with her, with Tanya! Girls are many, but
there’s only one of you!” the practical Gunya yelled, forgetting his duties as a second.
But Vanka hung motionless, making no attempt to escape. He knew it was his
death, but for some reason he was not afraid. Perhaps it was difficult for him to believe
that he would suddenly cease to exist from the touch of the bright green spark.
When very few metres separated Vanka and the combat spark, a sudden gust of
wind pushed the vacuum slightly to the side. It was pure coincidence, but it turned out
to be exactly lifesaving. The combat spark slid along Vanka’s thigh, singed him, and
went out after hitting the chrome rim of the vacuum.
The vacuum, after receiving more than a telling blow, stalled, fell into an air pocket,
but then roared again, spitting from the tube mayo vapours with glittering mermaid
scales. Vanka, after staying seated on it with difficulty, straightened up, and again
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29

gained altitude. The injured vacuum obeyed indifferently, but still obeyed for the time
being. The singed leg hurt. The thigh was all like pure fire; Valyalkin almost did not feel
his leg below the knee. His temples exploded with pain.
Realizing that his spark had only touched Vanka, Gury irritably shook his hand
with the ring and, bending down to his broom, rushed to him. “Plague-del-Cake!” he
swore.
“John Vailyalka wounded! The duel must stop!” Prun hurriedly shouted in English,
waving his arms, realizing that Puper would have to take a shot now.
“No, there’s still a spark for me!” Vanka said when Gury translated the words of his
second.
“But you’re hurt! The duel is postponed!” Prun argued.
“Return to your place, Gury! Or else don’t dare approach Tanya anymore!” Vanka
said, biting his lip in pain.
“It’s don’t you dare! Tanya is mine! I won’t surrender her to such a blockhead!”
Gury seethed.
“Back to the barrier!”
“You’re stupid, John! Stupid, dull, and absurd! You’re a spineless wimp! Soon
you’ll become an alcoholic like your parents! It would have to be your Russian girl to fall
in love with someone like you!” Puper declared. He shrugged and, having returned to his
previous place, waited for the shot.
Vanka raised his hand with the ring. Everything ceased to exist for him except the
small figure of Puper. The Magford forward, crisscrossed precisely by the long shaft of
his broom, became doubled in his eyes because of the pain. This interfered with aiming.
A strange indecision took possession of Vanka. He both despised and pitied Gury at the
same time.
“Shoot, John Vailyalka! Tanya is mine! If you miss, you’ll carry her veil at our
wedding!” Puper shouted insultingly, using the amplifying spell.
This was indeed too much. Vanka flared up like gunpowder. He could take a lot,
but not this! He would not surrender Tanya to anybody. “Sparkis frontis forte!”
The ring became red hot and spat out a spark. The throbbing pain in his leg and the
thought that Tanya could get Puper gave Vanka determination. The green spark
streaked across the sky like a swift dotted line. Puper could still duck, but, like his
opponent, chose to remain in place. However, it was possible that he was simply
confused, not expecting such magic power from Vanka.
The moment stretched into eternity, and then the spark pricked the broom. The
broom flared up like firewood. Terror flashed on Gury’s face. He waved his hands as if
trying to hold on to air and began to fall without a single outcry. The short stub of the
charred stick, which he continued to grip, could no longer in any way keep him in the air.
For a few moments Gury still somehow managed to slow down his fall, but only until the
fire completely engulfed the broom and spread to his cloak.
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“Nooo!” Vanka shouted, realizing what he had done. “Nooo! Hold on, Gury!”
All his anger, all his hatred towards Puper vanished as soon as he saw the broom
flare up. Now he had one thought and one desire: save Gury from imminent death.
Vanka rushed to him, but his wounded vacuum was not flying but trudging. By the time
he had covered a few metres, Puper had disappeared in the cottony rifts of the clouds.
His tumbling body, devoid of magic support, rapidly gained speed.
When the tarrying Prun and Gunya Glomov raced through the clouds, Puper had
already vanished. The ocean, covered by a milky morning haze, was calm. One only had
to throw it a glance to understand that it was useless to search for anyone there. It
seemed that these waters did not care about the fate of the unfortunate Gury. As if it was
saying, “One more Puper, one less Puper, what’s the difference? I live forever. What do
these wizards matter to me? How many of them are born every minute and how many
die in my abyss?”
But still, Gunya, Prun, and Vanka, arriving just in time, searched for Gury until the
mermaid scales in the vacuums were all gone. They searched until Prun fished out of the
waves the charred shaft of the broom. As is known, a broomstick, and even with the
hallmark of the Gury Puper fan club, did not belong to the common flora and fauna of
an ocean of the World.
There was no doubt: Puper had perished. Further searches became meaningless,
especially since a little to the side, where dawn had painted the ocean pink, Prun saw a
glimpse of a shark’s fin. Gury Puper was buried exactly as he wanted...
Taking the broom as evidence, a sobbing Prun rushed to surrender to the aunts.
During flight, he pinched and slapped his cheeks. “I’m a miserable pathetic pygmy! Why
didn’t I die instead of him! Madame, I beg for mercy! I’m a child of a large family,” he
rehearsed.
Gunya Glomov stared at Vanka and wiggled his fingers for a long time. “Dang!
Dang! Dang! Well, you’re in serious trouble! Do you at least realize whom you’ve wiped
out?” he finally said.
“I understand everything! And I feel sick enough without you!” Vanka snapped. But
one thing he knew for sure – he did not surrender Tanya to Puper, and that alone was
already worth all the sacrifice.

***

The news of Puper’s death spread through Tibidox with the speed of the flu. Gury’s
broom flared up at approximately half-past five, and Prun flew to the aunts no earlier
than nine, but the eleven o’clock magnews issue was already entirely dedicated to the
death of Magford’s former forward.
They called Gury Puper the untimely sunset and Vanka Valyalkin the cynical
murderer and psychopath. Nagiana, straining her brain a little and scraping off the
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31

remnants of education, equated Puper with Pushkin and Lermontov, and Vanka with
D’Anthès14 and Martynov.15
Crowds of fans mourned. Many strove to rush even to the ends of the earth and to
find Puper dead or alive, searching the ocean depths. Flashing on the screen were Prince
Omelet, Sheik Spirya, O-Phe-Li-A, Bad-Fat-Pet, and Carolyn Curlo, all dressed in
mourning. Aunt Nasturtia howled in such a loud voice that even those whose zoomers
never had the sound working heard her. The other aunt – the one whose kindness knew
no bounds – was not shown at all. Zoomer correspondents could not muster the courage
to approach her.
Several thousands of the most ardent fans made every effort to lynch John
Vailyalka and could not do so only because Sardanapal foresightedly blocked Grail
Gardarika.
Prun, aiming at justifying himself to the maximum, presented the duel in such a
way that everyone was completely confused. He claimed that Vanka blocked the combat
spark with a forbidden spell and immediately released his own after that, not giving
Puper time to prepare. “It was a cruel premeditated murder!” Prun said in a
simultaneous interview with PPC, QQN, and Vreuter.16
As for Gunya Glomov, to tell the truth, Vanka simply could not have chosen a less
suitable second. Not only did Glomov have a bad reputation, he also could not really
explain anything. “Wha? Well, he blasted Puper with a spark and he tumbled! Drowned,
in short. It’s your own fault that you have a broom burning like matches,” he replied to
all correspondents roughly.
“Mr Glomoff, one more question: is it true that John Vailyalka blocked the spark?”
“Plague knows! I personally didn’t see it. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. What,
must your Puper blow his head off with a spark? Now bug off before I slap you with a
punchus!” he said.
Not surprisingly, public opinion, guided by journalists, immediately turned away
from Vanka and started to make Puper into a hero and martyr. The publisher on Bald
Mountain made use of this incident and immediately dumped the entire stock of
calendars. Moreover, in addition to Puper, they sold the unsold calendars with Grafin
Cagliostrov, Florus the Blind, and even The Ancient One, who, for some reason, were
listed in the publishing price list as best friends of the deceased.
Tanya, who loved to sleep in on weekends, suspected nothing and was having
pleasant morning dreams when Coffinia shook her. Cryptova, after returning, had

14 Baron Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès (1812-95) was a French military officer and politician,
famous for killing in a duel the husband of his wife’s sister, the greatest Russian poet Alexander
Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837).
15 Niklolai Selomonovich Martynov (1815-75) was the army officer who fatally shot in a duel Mikhail

Yuryevich Lermontov (1814-41), the most important Russian poet after Pushkin.
16 Parody of BBC, CNN, and Reuters.

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already managed to settle into her old room. Page, on seeing her, jumped half a metre
and nearly shattered from happiness. True, Pipa also had not moved out of the room –
Medusa told her to wait until the end of the year, when the fifth-year students left
Tibidox and there would be spare rooms on the Residence Floor.
“In the meantime, I can only put you in the storage room of the Residence Floor.
But I want to warn you: Wheelchair often appears there and smells terribly of evil spirits.
In addition, three hundred years ago a voodoo wizard hung himself there, which
adversely affects the microclimate to the extreme,” Professor Gorgonova said.
It goes without saying, on hearing this, Pipa chose to stay with Tanya and Coffinia,
although she had to thoroughly make room with her suitcases. Banished to the closet
area, Pipa raged and attacked Black Curtains with intuitive magic. Verka Parroteva,
number one gossip of Tibidox, called their room the abode of a cobra, a wild boar, and a
puma. She likened Coffinia to a cobra, Grotty to a puma, and Pipa, obviously, was
assigned the third and not the most flattering role.
“Get up, Grotty!” Coffinia said, inconsiderately firing a spell at Tanya.
“Leave me alone! What do you want?”
“What do you mean, leave you alone? Are you saying this to me, your best friend?
We’ve been widowed. Looks like I now have to consider the candidacy of Sheik Spirya
more seriously... By the way, do you remember if they rent out mourning dress on Bald
Mountain, or do I have to steal someone’s wedding dress and dye it with ink?”
“Why are we widowed?” Tanya asked, yawning.
“Ah, girlfriend, but you know nothing! Your Vanka wiped out Puper,” Cryptova told
her.
“My Vanka? What do you mean, wiped out?” Tanya asked, not understanding. In
the morning, she had an indifferent sense of humour.
“Well, you, Grotty, are as simple as a wee one! What do guys find in you? Or is
defective now in vogue? Really wiped out!” Coffinia explained. “Snap – and no more!
You need to listen to magnews.”
“Are you serious? Vanka killed Puper? How is that?” Tanya asked, growing cold.
“In a duel, obviously. Imagine: those dolts fought with Sparkis frontis forte!
Luckily, they didn’t come up with Nohimus finitus. But that was enough for Gury. Strict
relatives, few vitamins... And Vanka’s also good, a goose... Hey, Grotty, what’s wrong?”
Tanya felt that her world, carefully assembled from hope and faith in miracles, split
like a Chinese vase. A long crack split it from the inside, dividing it into two unequal
parts. Too many losses. Too many... Everything swam before her eyes.
“Geez! She turned out to be so nervous! She must think I don’t suffer for Gury. I
wonder, where am I to find smelling salts now?” Coffinia said reproachfully, referring to
herself.
But smelling salts were not needed. When Tanya opened her eyes, her first
question was, “What about Vanka?”
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“Oh, nothing. True, Gunya said that Puper hit his vacuum. Barely flew back. And
his leg is singed.”
“It’s all because of me! I couldn’t decide. But why, why did they fight? Maybe
Gury’s alive? Could he swim?” Tanya asked.
Coffinia threw up her hands. “Grotty, puss, you touch me! If a person falls into the
ocean from such a height, then whether he knows how to swim is no longer important
somehow. Neither a whistle with a vest, a magic raft, nor the complete collection of
works of The Ancient One will save him. Even Uncle Chernomor’s thirty-three heroes
would sink in his place. Look at things realistically. Our sweet Puper has kicked the
bucket, according to purchased tickets. If he was rescued, we would’ve already known
about it.”
Conscience engulfed Tanya with a stranglehold. Puper dead, Vanka wounded. And
all because of her. How could she live on? How could she have been so short-sighted
yesterday? And now nothing would be set right. The wizard in glued glasses, the ardent
boyfriend, and the star of international dragonball forever perished in the depths of the
ocean, inviting local sharks to dinner. Tanya howled like a blizzard, like a wounded
animal. She rolled on the bed and gnawed her hands. She was indifferent to what they
thought of her and how she appeared.
Apart from the necessary need to console Tanya, Coffinia glanced at the empty
mattress by the closet. “And what about our Pipa! She went off somewhere during the
night. She bullied Zhikin. I saw him half an hour ago. Half-dead. His tongue hangs
sideways, he also doesn’t look at girls, at least give him Viagra... Wonder if Pipa knows
about Puper?” she chattered.
Tanya’s sobs grew quieter, more indistinct. She realized that she needed to see
Vanka and find out everything from him. Hastily pulling on a sweater and jeans (they
wore orange robes and generally a magic uniform in school and for all sorts of
celebrations except under threat of spells), she rushed out of the room. The door
slammed.
Coffinia watched Tanya thoughtfully. “Dang, what do all guys find in her! Well,
she’s bony, homely! Dresses any which way, doesn’t use makeup, that sweater is like a
dusty bag! Except that the legs are all right and the hair... And because of this treasure
Puper let himself be wiped out and Vanka’s leg was almost cooked! Well, I don’t
understand guys, even if you burst! What do they want?” she muttered.

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34

Chapter 3
FIRST MAGIC OF NOAH

The morning, when the spark of retaliation reached Gury Puper, stood out as
prolific in events. One of them, very important for the entire Tibidox though perhaps
outwardly unremarkable, happened to the sultry handsome man Zhora Zhikin. Torn
between Pipa and Katya, who were constantly ringing him on the zoomer, Zhora was
running up and down the long staircase, first ascending almost to the top where Katya
Lotkova was waiting for him, then hurried down to the depths to Pipa. However, the
dash down to the depths was much more pleasant, because Zhikin ran much faster down
the stairs.
“Need to ban girls like classes! They’re devious, flighty; they don’t know what they
want! First they mumble, which they expound between their fingers, then wedgies,
aiming to go past your head! Away with them, and that’s it... Shurasik is a hundred
times right: a woman will ruin a man!” Zhikin mumbled breathlessly, counting the steps.
The staircase, along which Zhora was already barely dragging his feet, was one of
the main landmarks of Tibidox. And, as a consequence, it shared the fate of all the
landmarks of the world: the old inhabitants had long been accustomed to it and did not
pay it any attention. The only exception was the agile freshmen who, eyes rounded,
informed each other about mysteriously incredible details.
For example, animated paintings that hung on the walls on both sides of the stairs
usually amazed them. Some were genially puffing on pipes, others, following the
example of Hugo the Sly, did not show themselves on the canvas and only occasionally
threw out some sapling or idyllic herd of sheep they were bored with. These portraits
were old misanthropes and grumblers, bored with everything in the world, including
their own longevity.
Figures from other paintings quickly popped out of their frames and grabbed this
tree or sheep. Often it turned out that the one acquired was not the one really needed,
and then tedious exchanges took place between the portraits. Grape clusters traded for
armour, armour for sashes, an equine rump for a couple of still-life apples, and so on
indefinitely until those most coveted sheep turned up at the end of the chain. Over many
centuries, as a result of hundreds of successful and unsuccessful exchanges, many
paintings had bartered literally down to the white canvas, while others were screwed up
to the extreme, and a butchered lamb carcass could easily coexist with a horse harness
and dreamy purple clouds, in which Cupid basked, having sneaked away from Psyche... 17
But enough about the portraits. Even without them, there were things to see on the
Main Staircase. Cursed swords of magic wars during medieval times, suffering without

17 Cupid and Psyche is a story from Metamorphoses, written in 2nd c AD by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis
(c. 124 – c. 170 AD), a Latin-language prose writer living under the Roman Empire. In the story, Cupid at
first only appears to spend the night in the dark with Psyche and sneaks away before the first light.
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35

fresh blood, were chained to tombs and magic stones. It was impossible to destroy them,
and, once taken out of the sheath, they refused to be put back until they had killed
someone.
Mysterious chest-gates to other worlds hid in the alcoves. They had a habit of not
returning anyone who was careless enough to take shelter in them. If someone, say,
simply peered into the chest, the unknown worlds, which even Sardanapal knew little
about, immediately replaced his soul. To get it back would only be possible if the victim
was very quickly washed with dew from three continents – life and dead water was
powerless here – and a cleansing spell was cast.
Worn flying carpets, with which the landings were covered, shook their tassels and,
releasing deceitful diamond dust into one’s eyes, forced one to see in life only the most
heinous of its manifestations, or inopportunely soared under one’s feet, trying to break
the neck of the one who paid attention to their dilapidated state. Besides, flying carpets
had a very strained relationship with magic vacuums; consequently they attacked
anyone who came near them with even just a vacuum pipe in his hand.
The wearied Zhora stopped to rest on a small landing between the two hundred
and seventieth and the two hundred and seventy-first steps. When, being summoned by
Lotkova once again, the poor guy dragged himself to the attic, he suddenly saw two
bogies bustling near a wall. After removing a portrait (they simply gnawed through the
cord on which it hung) from the wall, the bogies persistently pushed it into a narrow
crack in the stones, from which they themselves had most likely come. The portrait in a
heavy frame would not pass through and both bogies were puffing with annoyance. At
the moment Zhora appeared, they were planning on breaking the frame and pulling out
the canvas. The nearest bogy – with one straight horn and the second underdeveloped –
was Agukh, Plague-del-Cake’s personal bogy. The other, a chubby and moulted bogy,
similar to a cat dead for three days, Zhikin was seeing for the first time. On Zhora’s
approach, both bogies looked around uneasily. They obviously did not expect that they
would be caught off guard.
“Come on, march out of here! You stink up everything!” Zhora shouted angrily,
pinching his nose.
Usually cowardly bogies avoided contact with wizards, but now something had
changed. Agukh continued to push the portrait with double persistence into the crack.
The other bogy, baring his yellow teeth, lunged at Zhikin.
Medusa Gorgonova, professor of the department of Evil Spirit Studies, had many
shortcomings. It happened that she was impatient, irritable, and biased. But one thing
could not be taken away from her: she knew her subject very well and was able to hone
her students’ magic skills to autopilot.
“Ah, for you! Slopis-galoshis-idiotis!” Zhora shouted without hesitation, releasing a
red spark. On barely hearing the spell, the shabby bogy flipped in the air, squealed, and
darted into the crack. Agukh hissed with hatred at Zhikin and also darted off flat out.
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His wide backside got stuck in the crack and only forced its way through after the
dispatched spark in pursuit hit it. The smell of burning hair was added to the smell of
carrion.
Zhora chuckled and blew smugly on his ring. It was pleasant to perceive yourself as
a super wizard, even if you dealt with all of two bogies. The recaptured portrait
continued to lie on the steps. Zhikin picked it up and, after turning it over, looked at it.
He vaguely hoped that a naked Aphrodite or at the worst a bathing nymph would be
portrayed in the picture (Zhikin recognized only such pictures as art and would even be
ready to understand the bogies’ motives for being passionate about them), but
disappointment awaited him. On the darkened canvas was a swarthy wrinkled old man
in oriental garb, round glasses gleaming on his nose.
“Some grandpa! The bogies have gone completely crazy to drag anything!” Zhikin
thought in passing.
After repairing the gnawed through cord with the simple spell Likenewus, Zhora
returned the portrait to its original place and blocked the bogy crack with a reliable
Indo-European spell. Basta sliplos. It seemed to him that the sage looked at him with
gratitude.
“Come on, pop!” Zhikin said grumpily, slightly imitating Glomov. “Just a couple of
bogies! If there’re problems, whistle!”
The portrait, of course, kept silent, and Zhora forgot about it immediately. He sat
down on a step, propped his head with his hands, and began to ponder gloomily
whether he should leave for the magnastery. 18 He was dreaming of how he would
meditate and grasp the foundation of magic: meagre, pale, spiritual, but beautiful in its
own way, and young magcesses19 would fall in love with him to the highest degree and
cast passionate glances from under their veils.
“Dammit, Plague! Again, not thinking! I intended to abandon women as a class!”
Zhikin thought and, addressing the portrait, said aloud, “Puper threatened to and didn’t
go, but I will!”
The sage looked at Zhikin and seemed to shake his head very doubtfully.
“No need for mud here! You don’t know me! If I decide on something, I’ll do it for
sure! My word is granite! I do what I say!” Zhora said angrily.
The old man’s lips twitched mockingly. Or maybe it was the glare of the torch
sliding along his seemingly bulging face drawn in oil? Zhikin got up and walked to the
portrait. A brass plaque with the name of the painting had been polished to a shine by
Tibidox house-spirits. True, the same diligent house-spirits had erased all letters from
the plaque after many centuries.
“Who are you? The Ancient One? The Ancient One had another face, I’ve seen it in
books... Hugo the Sly? No, Hugo’s cheeks wouldn’t get into any frame. Well, doesn’t

18 Magnastery – a monastery for magicians.


19 Magcess – princess of magic.
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matter, and it’s so obvious that you’re an important magic bigwig. Maybe Tsar
Gorokh?20 Nah, he would probably be in bast shoes21 with diamonds and Monomakh’s
cap!”22 Zhora started to reason.
As if a nerve had been hit, the old man in the portrait stretched out a hand and
pointed firmly to the opposite wall. It could not be said that this greatly impressed
Zhikin. One got used to a lot in the world of wizards. If even a hastily-printed calendar of
Puper came to life, then one expected more from the works of great masters.
Nevertheless, intrigued, Zhora discovered a small niche where the portrait pointed, in
which hung another, no longer quite remarkable picture. It was a darkened still-life
covered with flies. On the heavy velvet tablecloth were fruits, the plaster mask of a satyr,
a pitcher, and a book. It seemed that the artist turned to random subjects and, arranging
them without any special sequence, painted them very carefully and diligently. On the
cracked cover of the book was FIRST MAGIC OF NOAH.
“Oh, so you... you are Noah!” Zhikin guessed. Now he was already becoming formal.
It was well-known to anyone who got to the history of magic that The Ancient One,
the greatest of the wizards, having gathered and compiled all scattered magic, did not
start from a clean slate. He had a teacher and great predecessor – Noah.
The portrait nodded absentmindedly and with a special, meaningful look
straightened his pince-nez with his finger. Zhora already wanted to ask whether there
were pince-nez during Noah’s time, and generally chitchat a bit with the great man, so
that he could casually mention it in conversation with the girls (in passing, in such a way
as if commonplace, “I recently saved Noah here. He indeed thanked me, appreciated.”),
but then Lotkova began to ring him persistently on the zoomer, wondering where he had
been trapped.
“Zhikin Zhora! It’s me, Katya! Can you hear me? Why are you being silent?”
“Yes, here I am, here! I’m not being silent!” Zhikin grumbled.
“That’s a good boy! I’ll give you two minutes, and then I’ll start to kiss everybody in
turn! The clock’s ticking! Boys, get ready!”
Of course, this was a bluff in the usual Lotkova spirit. At five o’clock in the morning
in the attic of the Big Tower, a distinct lack of boys was sensed. The most that could be
discovered there was a couple of ghosts, so dense that they could not even remember
what sex they had been in their past life.

20 Tsar Gorokh is a fictional character from Russian folklore. It is used in expressions as a reference to
time immemorial.
21 Bast shoes are made from bast – the fibre from the bark of linden or birch trees. They have been worn

since prehistoric times.


22 Monomakh’s Cap is an early 14th-century gold filigree skullcap ornamented with a scrolled gold overlay,

inlaid with precious stones and pearls, and trimmed with sable. It is the symbol crown of the Russian
autocracy.
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But the threat worked on Zhikin all the same. “I’m coming! And tell this ‘everybody
in turn’ that I’ll thrown them from the Tower without Bangus parachutis.” he shouted
jealously.
“I’ll be sure to tell them, Zhora... Gunya, hide! Go to Coffinia! You’ll now be beaten
and thrown off the Tower!” Lotkova mockingly said. She had no idea that at that
moment Glomov, together with Prun, were unsuccessfully searching for Puper shot
down by a spark.
“Jokes, all jokes!” Zhikin muttered not very confidently. He was afraid of Gunya,
very much so.
Noah in the portrait looked at him with some interest, perhaps even with sympathy.
“Well, this I... I’m going... Girls, you understand, they don’t wait, and so on...”
Zhora said.
Noah understood. Women in the East probably also caused many problems. It is all
fairy tales for the little ones that they sat humbly all day on the women’s side and wove
carpets.
Contemplating cautiously what would happen if Glomov really turned out to be in
the attic, Zhora stepped onto the next step without much enthusiasm, when he suddenly
heard the sound of something small falling.
“Dang and dang! I dropped something!” Zhikin decided. He bent down and, after a
brief search, found a small piece of glass with rounded edges, seemingly quite ordinary.
“Did I really have this? Hmm... Well, I didn’t, now I do!” he said to himself.
Automatically slipping the glass into his pocket, the philanderer of the Buyan flood plain
trudged to his amorous affairs.
After scolding him for about ten minutes and never kissing him, the treacherous
Lotkova arranged a scene with Zhora at the fountain and banished him to Pipa. When
Zhikin obediently went down, he also did not find Pipa. Mademoiselle Durneva had
departed in an unknown direction, leaving no perfumed lace hanky, note, or even a
modest crystal slipper of size forty-one.
Invigorating himself with the spells Coffeeus espresso and Hearteneus viagris, and
the absolutely lethal Gillclamps nocoffee, Zhikin somehow got to his room, from which
he had forced all roommates to leave quite a long time ago, and having barely undressed,
fell face down onto the pillow.
“Down with girls! To the magnastery! To Puper!” he thought grimly and instantly
fell asleep.

***

Zhikin did not manage to get enough sleep. Literally two hours later, something
exploded on the bookshelf. Purple smoke smelling of dragons, mountain trolls, and
suburban kikimoras from Taldomsky swamps tumbled down. As a result, Zhikin’s
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39

tongue became, in the most literal sense, entangled with the pillow. After sitting up on
the bed and somehow focusing his vision, the sleepy Zhora discovered that vipers and
scorpions were crawling around the room.
Leaping over scorpions and fending off vipers with his dive mop, Zhikin broke
through to the closet and discovered that the deadline for the book Theory of Spells
would expire in five and a half minutes. Howling in terror, the screaming Zhora rushed
to get dressed. His pants were moving suspiciously. Wielding his mop, Zhikin pulled two
vipers out of the pant legs and started looking for a shirt.
There was no way to get through the closet – all of the shelves were teeming with
scorpions. Zhora had to wear a stupid shirt with red poppies painted on it, which Verka
Parroteva had given him. But there was simply nothing else at hand. The remaining
three minutes were barely enough to run to the library.
Clutching the book under his arm, Zhora jogged to the genie Abdullah. After the
night’s exercises, he was barely dragging his feet.
The library genie was hovering over the desk and arranging the boxes of reader
data cards. There were four key boxes: Returned, Reading Room, Owing, and Curse.
Abdullah filled this last box with special enthusiasm. His disagreeable face became
almost pleasant in those seconds.
When Zhikin ran into the library, Abdullah was already holding his data card
gently in his hand and stroking its surface. Nearby lay a notebook with curses, open to
the right place.
“Managed after all? Ah-ah-ah! Why the rush? I would hold on for about five more
minutes. Am I really an animal, do I really have no soul?” Abdullah said reproachfully.
Here, the genie had clearly fallen under the power of oratorical means. Souls did not
exist in genies, otherwise they would not strive at obtaining those of other people.
Zhikin put the book in front of him. The genie took it in big plump hands, browsed
it, and said thoughtfully, “What did you bring, dearie?”
“What do you mean what? Theory of Spells!”
Abdullah chuckled, “My dear, you surely were in a hurry! Ah-ah-ah! And after this
they claim that absentmindedness isn’t a crime!” he remarked and, after looking at his
watch, reached for the notebook with curses.
Zhikin grew cold. His heart dropped and started to pump convulsively as if
strapped to an elastic band. He realized that in the rush he did not check what he had
grabbed off the shelf. “NOOOOO! I was unaware!” he yelled.
Abdullah smiled with his mouth crawling along his cheek and looked tenderly at
the shirt with poppies. “Yes, I was kidding, kidding! And why are you all so nervous?” he
said languidly. “Live on, Zhora! I’m kind of humane today! I don’t recognize myself.
Well, happy now?”
“Uh-huh,” Zhikin barely uttered.

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40

“Think about it, dearie. If I curse all the best people of Tibidox, then who will
remain? Some Grottys and Bab-Yaguns! Phooey, mon ami! There’s nothing to do with
these widows in poker.”23
The genie opened Zhikin’s card, pulled out a piece of paper and, directly with his
hand, without any tricks, slapped on the stamp DELIVERED ON TIME. Then Abdullah
took the Theory of Spells, put it on his palm and, after blowing gently, sent it to a place
on the shelf.
“You’re free, mon ami! Unless, of course, you want to take something else! Big
library, enough curses for all!” he suggested cordially.
“No, I don’t need anything!” Zhikin almost shouted, but instead, following an
unaccountable impulse, said, “Please wait! Please give me First Magic of Noah!”
Abdullah caught his drifting eyes at the back of his head and, putting them back in
place, looked keenly at Zhora. “What did you say, sweetie?” he asked.
“First Magic of Noah.”
The genie snorted. “First Magic of Noah? What a crazy name! Such a book doesn’t
exist! I can offer general dark magic in seventeen volumes. Introduction by Samson,
comments by Delilah.24 Only be careful, boy... The book is quite nice, but has its whims.
It’s bewitched such that the one who doesn’t read through at least a page is covered with
leprosy. Literary vanity, you know, is a dangerous thing.”
“That means, there’s no First Magic of Noah? Can you please look in the
catalogue?” Zhora was genuinely surprised.
“I don’t need to look anywhere! I know absolutely all the books in the library! The
most comprehensive catalogue is here!” Abdullah stated with aplomb, demonstrating to
Zhikin his smoothly clean-shaven bumpy head.
“Well, if there isn’t, I’ll have to do without,” Zhikin thought and asked, “Were you
personally acquainted with Noah?”
“Naturally, boy. I knew even those who didn’t deserve it. Noah was an exceptionally
considerable figure! I was even acquainted with his parents!” Abdullah said didactically.
“But there was a flood!” Zhikin was surprised.
“My friend! The flood wiped out people, but not genies! Although we don’t like
dampness, it doesn’t inflict harm on us... Brrr! I remember his ark! Every creature in
pairs! Cows mooing, tigers roaring, snakes hissing... And Noah with a blissful look sat in
all this bedlam and occasionally released pigeons to see if the land had dried! Great
person!” Abdullah recalled nostalgically.
“Perhaps he wrote the book and showed it to someone?” Zhora asked.

23In poker, a widow is an additional hand or part of a hand as the one dealt to the table.
24Samson and Delilah are Biblical figures. Samson had great strength but would lose it if his long hair was
cut. Delilah found out the secret and cut Samson’s hair, leading to the loss of his strength and his eventual
death.
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41

“Who wrote, Noah?” Abdullah laughed. “He wasn’t at all into these matters. I’d
more likely believe that old Socrates scribbled detective stories.”
“What about his pince-nez? How did he ruin his eyesight?” Zhikin asked.
Abdullah stared at him gloomily and suspiciously. “Noah never wore a pince-nez!
Understand this, young man! He had the vision of an Arab archer! And no miserable
pieces of glass existed in those centuries at all! People were powerful, healthy, lived for
nine hundred years and died in the full bloom of life!” he said edifyingly.
“But died from what, if in full bloom?” Zhikin asked desperately. He already
realized that Abdullah would not tell him anything extra.
The genie chuckled. “Died from anything, lad. From boredom, poison, a dagger... Is
it necessary to die from something? And now, be good, don’t bother me. Where was my
box with new data cards? The first-years still haven’t filled them in! Endless hassle with
these newbies and I really can’t curse them. Yesterday I was about to nail one and
Gorgonova almost scratched my eyes out... Just think, a handicapped kid! If you’re on
crutches and can’t get down the stairs, it's still no reason to delay the formulation of
runes for four and a half minutes! Isn’t it so? If I give some slack to the disabled today,
discipline will completely disappear tomorrow and these young rascals will burn my
library!”
Moving from foot to foot, Zhikin was convinced that Abdullah was definitely not
paying him any attention and was prepared to leave. At this point the genie looked up,
yawning, and asked, “By the way, why did you decide that a book with such a title exists?
And about this... what’s it called... pince-nez?”
Seeing no reason to hide anything, Zhora told him about the portrait. At the same
time he could not resist and embellished a little his battle with the bogies, tripling their
number. However, this, apparently, hardly interested Abdullah. He yawned again, so
much so that Zhikin even saw the bookshelves through his wide-open mouth.
“Ah, well! Okay, go, good boy! Wait! Didn’t I say that you have a very pretty shirt?”
the genie said and buried himself in his boxes.
Already heading for the library exit, Zhikin happened to remember the piece of
glass which he had picked up next to the portrait. If Noah did not have a pince-nez, from
where did he get the shard? Zhora reached into his pocket and extracted a piece of half
circular glass. He was about to hide it again when suddenly, having looked up by chance,
he was surprised to discover the genie Abdullah’s reflection in the glass. The genie
rushed to the racks with briskness amazing for his age, rounded the first row of shelves
and, after pulling out an old book, quickly shifted it higher, turning the spine around so
that it was impossible to read the title.
Zhora turned around in astonishment. The genie Abdullah continued to sit at his
desk as if nothing had happened and sorted the cards. He did not even think to move
from the spot. Meanwhile, his reflection in the glass, hobbling, had just returned from
the racks.
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42

“What happened, Zhikin?” Abdullah asked sharply, raising his head.


“Nothing!” Zhora blurted out.
“Really nothing? What did you just hide in your palm?” the genie asked
suspiciously.
Zhora quickly squeezed his hand. “An identifier charm of voodoo magic,” he lied
without hesitation and hastily popped out of the library. Here he dived behind the
indifferent Atlas serving as support of the Tibidox arches and again stared at the piece of
glass.
Now it was not reflecting anything, but Zhikin already realized what a treasure had
fallen into his hands. The glass clearly showed not what was but what should or could be.
It demonstrated to Zhikin that Abdullah was lying and even pointed out the place where
he had hidden the book. And this was a miserable shard! What would have happened if
Zhikin had the whole pince-nez! What new potential he had acquired!
Zhora rushed to the Main Staircase. After the morning workout his legs ached, but
he conquered the stairs fairly quickly. Noah’s portrait hung in the same place. Zhikin
eagerly stared at the bridge of his nose and found that in the picture, part of the glass on
the right was missing. He again pulled out the fragment and made sure that it fit the
shape perfectly.
“What is this? Noah, tell me, what is this?” Zhikin asked in a clear whisper.
The portrait was silent. Cracks appeared on the oil. Now, in the daylight, when the
reflections of the torch were not dancing on the portrait, it seemed flat and lifeless.
Remembering the other picture, Zhikin rushed to it. The pitcher and mask were
happily gathering dust in the same place. Live flies crawled disappointedly along the
painted fruits. Zhikin glanced at the book and froze. The name FIRST MAGIC OF NOAH
had disappeared from the cover. Instead, Spells on swamp sludge. Formulation guide
for sorcerers and healers. could be read.
Zhora spat. These “spells” were known in Tibidox as useless and very common
work. The picture was clearly mocking Zhikin.

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43

Chapter 4
THIS ROTTEN WORD “FAREWELL!”

Tanya rushed around Tibidox and still could not meet Vanka. It was as if mocking
spirits were separating their paths: Tanya ran into the Hall of Two Elements for Vanka
almost to the minute when he knocked on the door of her room.
Only Cryptova was in the room. She was lying on the bed and busy with her
favourite thing – doing her nails. The brush, which she followed with her eyes, fluttered
in the air and painted her toenails with a luminous polish in the colour sequence of the
rainbow: Richard of York gave battle in vain,25 the big toe of the right foot was covered
with red polish, the second orange, the third yellow, the fourth green, and the little
pinkie blue. The nails of the left foot started with indigo and violet. Then everything was
repeated.
Not so long ago it occurred to Coffinia that she had done nothing with herself for a
long time and her irresistibility had become stagnant. Mademoiselle Cryptova did not
like it. “Coffinia hasn’t had fun for a long time now! This is even dangerous for a cute girl
her age. The river of life turned into a blind stream and tries to merge with a swamp!”
she said of herself and swung into action.
Having decisively given away all her dresses (and those with which she associated
unpleasant memories, she simply cut up with scissors), Cryptova demanded that Sheikh
Spirya pay for her purchases from the Bald Mountain catalogue. The amount came out
to be so huge that even the eyes of the Sheik, accustomed to spending, climbed to his
forehead. However, as it turned out, one of the witch-cashiers indubitably inflated the
final bill by a couple of zeros. The Bald Mountain sharks had long ago altered the
proverb butter will not ruin kasha26 to zeros will not ruin accounts.
“What do you want, Spirya? A precious girl is expensive, even if you have no chance!
Besides, who knows, maybe in ten years my heart will melt when you stop being a
skinflint!” Coffinia stated to the suffering Sheikh.
At the same time with the help of the Great Tooth, whom Rita On-The-Sly had
asked, the legendary spell of seven Fridays was cast on Coffinia’s hair. The essence of
this spell, first discovered by the court alchemist of the Borgia family, 27 was that
Cryptova’s hairstyle and the length and colour of her hair changed unpredictably every
Friday regardless of the will and desires of its owner. Getting up on Friday mornings,

25 The colour sequence of the rainbow is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, resulting in
the acronym ROYGBIV, which expands into the phrase Richard of York gave battle in vain for easier
memorizing. The Russian equivalent phrase is Each hunter wishes to know where sits the pheasant –
Kazhdyi okhotnik zhelaet znat' gde sidit fazan – with krasnyi – red, oranzevyi – orange, zhetyi –
yellow, zelenyi – green, goluboi – blue, sinii – indigo, and fioletovyi – violet.
26 The Russian proverb butter will not ruin kasha means one can never have too much of a good thing.

27 The House of Borgia was a noble Italo-Spanish family that rose to prominence in ecclesiastical and

political affairs in 15th and 16th century Italy. The Borgias were power-hungry but also patrons of the arts.
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44

Coffinia immediately rushed to the mirror, after which Tanya usually woke up from her
shriek – delighted or not.
Noticing Valyalkin looking into the room, Coffinia squinted curiously at him. “Oh,
there he is! The dangerous knight in yellow armour! The prince of animal magic,
maddening old harpies! The king of the combat spark, about whom they broadcast in
Magnews every twenty minutes!” she said mockingly.
“Hi! How are you?” Vanka greeted her casually, looking for Tanya in the room.
“How am I? So-so! Everything sucks! Cows don’t rush, bagels made without holes.
Real men died out like mammoths!” Coffinia replied sadly.
“Ahh... Where’s Tanya?”
Coffinia laughed. “Phooey, how pathetic and prosaic! ‘Where’s Tanya?’ That’s all
you can say to a pretty girl? Yes, your Tanya is looking for you. If my sclerosis hasn’t
changed, she carried her decrepit jeans and their modest content to the Hall of Two
Elements.”
“Ahh, well, I’ll also go there then!” Vanka said.
He was about to turn, but Coffinia quickly jumped out of bed and caught him by
the sleeve. “No, tell me, don’t you feel sorry for Puper? If every Russian klutz ruins such
a world possession, then what will remain of poor, miserable mankind? Okay, okay, I’m
kidding!” Noticing that Vanka was starting to get angry, Coffinia ruffled his hair. “Better
tell me, you really like Grotty so much? Do you want me to be your girlfriend? Look at
my legs. If I were a man, I would fall in love with them! Aren’t they straighter than her
crooked ones?”
“She doesn’t have crooked legs! She has nice legs!” Vanka was outraged.
“Really? Did she tell you this? The ad is the engine of marketing!” Coffinia was
curious. “Okay, okay, don’t be mad! There’s no accounting for taste. Some like Grotty,
and some like Professor Stinktopp. By the way, a small question from a large group:
have you and Tanya ever kissed or are you gathering courage until Finist the Bright
Falcon28 tumbles down from the oak?”
Vanka pulled his sleeve away. “Cryptova, do me a favour: stop the circus! Even if
Tanya were as terrible as Plague-del-Cake, she would still be better than you. In any case,
in my eyes! She has inner content, some purpose in life, but you’re shallow like the
mermaid pond! Like a puddle with leeches!” he said.
Coffinia flared up with resentment. “Who’s shallow, me? You’re sick! Wacko!” she
said with conviction. “You’ll see, you’ll not be forgiven for Puper. I pity you in advance.
Get out!”
Not answering, Vanka left the room. At the door, he bumped into a tearful Pipa,
pointedly not paying him any attention.
“Heard the magnews? GP died!” Coffinia informed her.

28Finist the Bright Falcon is a character in Russian folktales. It is a handsome young man at night but
becomes a falcon during the day.
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“I heard. Shurasik told me already this morning,” Pipa grunted. She looked
depressed. She and Shurasik had not been able to find the duellists, aimlessly circling
just outside Grail Gardarika, and arrived when everything was already over.
Suddenly, Coffinia noticed that Pipa’s jeans were stuck to her legs, her sweater was
damp, and her head was somewhat dry. “Where did you manage that?”
“What business is it of yours? Annoyed water-sprites with Zhora...” Pipa, who had
actually fallen from the vacuum into the ocean and had barely gotten out, snapped and
suddenly asked, “Listen, have you ever seen a big wooden boat with a lot of oars?”
“A hundred times,” Cryptova said.
“Flying?”
“No.”
“Where does it fly to, don’t you know?”
“Nope. Why do you ask?”
“I so thought that Shurasik was feeding me a line,” Pipa nodded and went to
change. She looked dejected.

***

Tanya did not find Vanka in his room or the Hall of Two Elements, where a late
breakfast was gradually flowing into early lunch. On weekends all sorts of indulgences
were granted to Tibidox students. While Slander insisted on a strict regime: a spell for a
minute late and complete zombification for two minutes, it was still of little use
nevertheless. Sardanapal and the Great Tooth were rarely on time for breakfast even
when they were able to, especially on weekends, and this undermined the discipline.
Tararakh could easily turn up in the Hall of Two Elements with a talking wolf 29 busy
with supplying princesses at reasonable prices, a young mare with a golden mane,30 or
even a young, newly hatched dragon, which probably could not yet let out fire but bit
like a pack of a hundred dogs. Once the pithecanthropus even came in unexpectedly
with the legendary Silver Hoof,31 appearing from nowhere onto Buyan, and all lovers of
miserable logic and petty criticism were simply speechless.
As a result, the fellows from the casket spread out the magic tablecloths at eight in
the morning and kept them ready until lunch and sometimes even till dinner, as every
half hour someone late, overslept, jinxed, or inopportunely hungry would certainly
appear. It turned out to be a sort of round-the-clock local kitchen, where breakfast,

29 In the Russian fairy tale Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf, the talking wolf helps Prince Ivan acquire
Princess Elena the Beautiful.
30 A mare or steed with a golden mane is a magical character in Russian fairy tales.

31 The Silver Hoof is a story from the fairy-tale collection The Malachite Box (1939) by Russian writer

Pavel Petrovich Bazhov (1879-1950). Silver Hoof is a magical goat that rains precious stones wherever it
stomps.
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46

lunch, and dinner were not separately marked, but then a continuous “snack” with all
meals whimsically mixed together nevertheless found its parking space in a stomach.
But the most pleasant was that on weekends the magic tablecloths were not
distributed by lot but were open access. This certainly generated an incredible mess and
jostle, but it was very noisy and fun. Some were drinking morning tea with cheesecake,
while others were already shovelling in pasta and kebabs. There happened to be many
overage faces quite specifically smeared with chocolate. These were lovers of pancakes.
But now Tanya would not even have a pea in her throat. Along the way she
constantly caught curious glances at herself. She heard a wave of whispers rolling
behind her. “Just look at her... How she ever... Gury Puper... This morning...” she
detected.
Tanya forced herself to walk slowly and calmly, with a straight back. Her eyes were
dry. But it was only in appearance. It was not even a cat scratching in her soul, but as if
sulphuric acid was reacting with everything consecutively, eating away deep furrows.
Determined to find out if Vanka was in the Hall of Two Elements, she went to
Dusya Dollova. Dusya always treated her quite well. But now, as soon as she saw Tanya,
she recoiled from her as from a leper. “Go away! Go away!” she shouted, waving her
arms like a windmill. “I can’t see you!”
“But why?”
“It’s because of you! My Puper! Why didn’t Plague kill you when you were little?”
Dusya exclaimed and ran away, sobbing.
“Well, thank you... Really, why? Perhaps it would have been the best solution for
everyone,” Tanya muttered after her. At that moment she almost hated herself.
However, it was still not the finale. She was in a narrow corridor in the Hall of Two
Elements when nearby, blocking her path, rose Liza Zalizina. “My Vanka! You destroyed
his life! He’s injured, they want to kill him! Oh, if you knew how I hate you! I would cook
you alive in boiling water!” she hissed, clenching her fists.
“Liza, leave your emotions for drama school! Meanwhile, if it isn’t too difficult for
you, take two steps in any direction!” Tanya said.
“No, I’m not leaving! Die!” Liza shouted and, pale as a sheet, raised her hand with
the ring.
Tanya stood without moving and watched quite calmly as Poor Liza’s ring heated
up. Zalizina’s hand was shaking with hatred. Red and green sparks were slowly gliding
along the rim of her ring towards each other. To miss with a combat spark from two
steps was as hard as smearing a fence with a shotgun. True, it was still necessary to find
the courage to utter Kaput youfinitut or Sparkis frontis forte.
“Ladies, what’s with the scenes at the fountain? Zalizina, blow off steam, or else it’s
too hot beside you!” a familiar voice was heard. Bab-Yagun waddled towards them. In
his hand was a vacuum pipe, which he had taken with him to breakfast, obviously to
show someone. Tanya saw a dark sooty trail on the pipe – Puper’s spark must have left it.
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47

“Get away, Yagun! I’ll kill her! I must!” Zalizina yelled hysterically.
“The idea is fresh, only the place is inappropriate! We’re too close to the Hall of
Two Elements!” Yagun said peacefully. “Remind yourself. Last Wednesday, the Babai
delegation squabbled with the Bald Mountain witches. They arrived as guests, well, it
started. They wouldn’t share the Cutest Dragonball Team goblet being passed around.
What started, my granny mama! There weren’t enough stretchers to take out all the
wounded. Slander placed a block here. You release a fight spark, it’ll melt the ring. You’ll
lose your finger, and Tanya will never get it.”
Zalizina licked her lips. “Okay, Grotter! Consider yourself lucky. But you better
remember me! Don’t expect me to forgive you for Vanka!” Poor Liza exclaimed and,
turning abruptly, left.
“Phew! I was even scared!” Yagun said with relief.
“Is it true about the block?” Tanya asked.
“Well, how to tell you? Half and half! About the Babai and the witches was pure
truth, but I warped the ‘blow off a finger’. Zalizina would waste you anyway. Slander’s
notifier would kick into action. He would run here, declare a verbal reprimand to Liza,
and sweep up your ashes in a dustpan,” Yagun said, after ascertaining that Zalizina had
gone far enough.
“Have you seen Vanka?”
Yagun frowned. “Yeah, just now. On the Residence Floor. He was looking for you,
but the sphinx caught him and led him to Sardanapal... Well, that pussy had a malicious
look! I even wanted to call him a ‘piggy’, but remembered just in time that I’m not a
kamikaze!” the playing commentator said.
“But why to Sardanapal, for what?”
“Ah, you didn’t hear the magnews! Koshchei the Deathless and Tistrya demand
that Vanka be handed over! They want to try him for Puper! But meanwhile they’re
going to put him in the magic prison. Duncedam. You age a week for a day there, and a
year for a week... The jailers there drink a soul faster than a raw egg. On the whole, if the
trial lasts a long time, Vanka will become more decrepit than Sardanapal. Granny
already told me this. She knows a hundred times more than what they’ll say on any
zoomer,” Yagun imparted.
“But a duel isn’t murder!”
“My granny mama! You explain that to Magciety and the maglawyers of Puper’s
aunts! You explain that to me?” Yagun agreed meekly and suddenly hit his head with his
fist. “What an ass I am, ass, ass! Indeed I didn’t ask why Vanka took my vacuum! Better
if I rammed Puper at dragonball. He would accelerate and be smeared on the dome. You
never know what unfortunate accidents happen in sport. They would kick me out of the
team and all that. And I would tape Glomov’s mouth shut about this: take whatever!
After all, the fool is clear that Puper started this duel! Vanka only defended himself. Now

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they say that apparently Vanka should inform, report the duel. Indeed, civic stance!
Either jail or become an informer! Some Magciety indeed!” Yagge’s grandson flared up.
Tanya’s legs became cotton. She sobbed on Yagun’s shoulder. “I’ll set off to
Duncedam! It’s because of me Puper got into a fight with Vanka! If I had picked one!
Fool! Why did I keep quiet yesterday?”
“Now, now, don’t be like this! You didn’t know. It also took me a hundred years
before I realized I love Lotkova. Once I realized... Someday you’ll decide...” Yagun
comforted her.
“Yaguuuuun, don’t torment me! How will I decide? Puper’s at the bottom, Vanka’s
almost in jail... Everyone for some reason thinks that I’m awfully strong. An Amazon on
a double bass! A girl vampire! A stand for a shotgun!” Tanya said, wiping her tears on
Yagun’s shirt.
Yagge’s grandson moved his shoulder anxiously. “Tut, tut, looks like rain!” he said
in Piglet’s voice. “But, Tanya, don’t! At worst, you have me, and it’s already a lot. A good
friend is worth a dozen Pupers, and we’ll shield Vanka. Sardanapal won’t surrender his
own. I heard this from Granny a bunch of times. He’ll pull Vanka out somehow.”

***

At Sardanapal’s office the golden sphinx turned and growled. The door creaked
opened. Vanka walked in. He expected that a tribunal of Tibidox teachers would be
waiting for him inside, but no. Everything was different. Sardanapal was sitting at his
desk and gloomily examining a hefty pile of parchments. Slander stood behind the
academician’s chair. The bright notifier button on his collar was twirling and squealing,
not stopping for a moment.
“Here he is, the hero of the day! Appeared?” the principal asked sarcastically.
Vanka was silent. A sudden indifference took possession of him. He merely tried to
step carefully on his leg, the thigh of which had been burned by Gury’s spark.
“Wiped out Puper, handsome?” Slander continued. “Just think: incorrigible
troublemakers study in our white department! First Shurasik, then Grotty, and now,
Tanya barely returned, Valyalkin is eager to get into the dark!” the principal greeted him.
“Slander!” Sardanapal said reproachfully.
“I know my name. My papa didn’t think about my name for long: gave me his own.
The result exceeded all expectations: turned out nice and impressive... Well, Valyalkin,
glad that all this happened?”
“No, I’m not,” said Vanka.
“But you indeed wiped out Puper? Admit it, you wiped him out?”
Valyalkin nodded. It was not necessary to debate this.
Slander looked triumphantly at him as if he had obtained a confession at least.
“Hmm... Puper’s aunts argue that it was murder. You knocked Gury from the broom and
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49

allowed the boy-hero to drown in the ocean. And don’t argue, magxpertise 32 of the
broom stick has already proven that Gury was attacked precisely by your magic!”
Slander said caustically and, after toning down slightly, added more gently: “Perhaps
you can tell me how you came up with all this? Was it your idea, huh?”
Vanka wanted to say that the duel was actually Puper’s idea, but it would look like a
tattletale. “Yes, mine,” he said. “I didn’t want him to get Tanya. He wasn’t worthy of her.”
“And you are?” Sardanapal suddenly became interested.
“No, I’m not. No one is,” Vanka admitted.
The academician looked at Valyalkin and began to ask him about details of the duel.
Vanka spoke sparingly. For a moment it seemed to him that his head was being tickled.
He suspected that he was being mirrored, but it was almost blasphemy to think this of
Sardanapal. Slander puffed out his cheeks so sternly and rolled his eyes bulging like a
crab so violently that Vanka preferred to stand sideways to him so as not to be knocked
down.
“Hmm... That’s how... In my opinion, both are good: fighting like roosters!” the
academician mumbled when Vanka had finished. “And now the main thing: Magciety of
Jerky Magtion demands your extradition. Everyone is very serious. Every twenty
minutes a cupid in mourning pants surely flies over with the next dispatch. They’re
without exception ultimatums! It looks like Koshchei the Deathless and the other
eggheads are having an attack of bureaucratic inspiration.”
Slander looked displeasingly at Vanka. “Now do you understand what you’ve
dragged us into? They crave blood. If we don’t surrender you, they’ll threaten Tibidox
with all sorts of sanctions, starting with a ban on the import and export of magic rings
right down to boycotting the dragonball team at all competitions. Our school of magic
will become an outcast school. Its value will fall.”
Vanka listened to him despondently, knowing that Slander was right.
“Buyan will be in isolation. I don’t think that this is the price we should pay for an
ordinary boy who for his folly wiped out with a spark a global four-eyes! Do you at least
understand what awkward position you’ve put us in?” the principal continued severely.
“Well, what do you have to say?”
Vanka sighed. “I ... I can go to them myself,” he said. “Voluntarily. I’ll give myself
up to them and let them do what they want. I defended Tanya and what will happen to
me now doesn’t matter.”
“Are you really able to do that? Surrender to Magford and go to Duncedam? Even
knowing that you fought a duel honestly and risked a life no less appreciated than
Puper’s?” Sardanapal asked quietly.
Vanka hesitated and nodded.

32 Magxpertise – magic expertise, examination, assessment.


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“Perhaps, they’ll pull you out of Duncedam after some time, having already grown
thoroughly old. They’ll take away your magic, erase your memory, slip a collar with a
chain on you, and force you to drive away the flies from a bronze bust of Puper for the
rest of your life. And his kind aunt will certainly install such a bust on the main Magford
walk. And she will likely put a coin box near the bust, into which anyone who wants to
kick you must toss a coin. The queue to the coin box will be long!” Sardanapal continued,
testing him.
Vanka shuddered. “And it will save Tibidox?” he asked with effort.
The academician’s moustache twitched thoughtfully. “Most likely. Such a solution
will satisfy Deathless.”
“Then I agree. Either Duncedam, or anywhere...” Vanka nodded.
“And you don’t regret that you fought?” Sardanapal asked.
“No. I only regret that I didn’t perish in the depths of the ocean instead of Gury.
But then he wouldn’t leave Tanya alone,” Valyalkin said unhappily.
“Fine. Since you persist, go! Sit on the vacuum and present yourself to Magciety. I
think it’ll be enough for you to fly beyond the limits of Grail Gardarika,” the
academician ruthlessly nodded at the door. The golden sphinx instantly slid down from
there and growled near Vanka’s legs.
Valyalkin understood that the audience was over. His fate was sealed. He walked
slowly to the door. One step... Another... The golden sphinx spun like lightning near his
burnt thigh. Sardanapal studied the spines of magic books with interest. Slander snorted,
fingering the notifier button. “That’s it!” Vanka thought, opening the door.
But exactly at that moment Sardanapal imperiously stopped him, “Come back!”
Vanka turned around in surprise.
“I was testing you. If you were to grovel and humiliate yourself, I would be
disappointed in you,” the head of Tibidox said thoughtfully. “And now... It’s time to act.
Slander, your ears are plugged!”
“What?” the principal was surprised.
“Here’s exactly ‘what’! I said: your ears are plugged. You don’t hear anything.”
Slander grinned knowingly. “Huh? I hear nothing, see nothing, will tell nothing to
anyone!” The principal went to the leather couch on griffin legs, sat down, and leaned
back with obvious pleasure.
Sardanapal approached Vanka and put his hands on Vanka’s shoulders. “And now
I’ll give you some advice, which in any case the head of Tibidox shouldn’t give under any
circumstance. So I give it just as a wizard living in the world... uh... well, in any case, far
less than there is light. Any sacrifice on your part would be pointless, because it doesn’t
atone anything and doesn’t change the world for the better. There’s no need to flatter
the conceit of the parvenus of Magciety and humour somebody’s noble aunts... You’re
not the sacrificial lamb. You can do this world a lot of useful and good things, which the
world really needs. Do you understand?”
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“No,” Vanka said.


“Then to Plague with philosophy! One option still exists. You have to hide! Hide so
that no one will be able to find you. It’s hardly possible in Tibidox but quite another
matter among the moronoids. There are quite a lot of moronoids and finding you among
them will be difficult. Our enemies won’t employ in the moronoid world the same magic
they used in Magford. There are strict limitations on this. They’ll be forced to act
secretly and this will complicate their freedom of manoeuvre. Some people will be very
piqued.” Sardanapal’s moustache twitched.
Vanka understood that his exile to the moronoids was a done deal. It was useless to
argue. He did not feel joy that he did not have to go to Magciety. He did not know which
was better: the moronoids or Gury’s aunts. Both meant parting with Tanya. “So, it
means not to Duncedam but the moronoids?” he asked. “I’ll fly on a vacuum?”
“No. An hour ago cordons of Magford people were spotted near the dome. They’re
still searching for Gury’s body and will be only too happy to send you to the bottom...
Slander and I will teleport you... No, not to your relatives. They’ll definitely look for you
there... I have an idea, but more on that later. I’m still not certain that this is the best
way out. In the meantime, you have literally a couple of hours to pack and say goodbye
to all those you care for,” Sardanapal said.
Vanka looked wistfully out the window, where the Tower of Ghosts, standing out
against the background of the battlements, went in a sharp spike to the sky. In the
distance, a narrow strip of ocean was visible above the wall. “Will I ever be able to
return?” he asked.
Sardanapal shrugged. “I don’t want to deceive you. I don’t know that. But one thing
I can say for sure: it is unlikely this will happen soon... Your magic ring remains with
you. You never know what and how it’ll turn out. But remember, you mustn’t use magic,
not even the simplest spells. You’ll facilitate enemy search with this. Remember: you
have a lot of enemies – the kind aunts, their maglawyers, Puper’s fans, and a bunch of
careerists like Grafin or Tistrya. After the first spark they’ll suspect something. After the
second, they’ll start bustling about. After the third, I won’t bet a donut hole for your
head...”
“How will they know that it’s my spark?” Vanka was surprised.
“Remember the broomstick. They have a sample of your magic. Magic is unique. As
there are no two identical retinas of the eyes, so there are no two identical magic
signatures. It’s possible to learn more about a wizard from a single spark than read his
biography a hundred times! It goes without saying, if you have the relevant experience!”
Sardanapal said with authority.
On hearing about the “relevant experience”, Slander snorted maliciously from the
sofa but did not comment. The sofa on the griffin legs could kick strongly. Besides, it
was very attached to Sardanapal...
Vanka said goodbye and left the office.
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52

“Two hours! Remember!” the academician yelled after him.


The golden Sphinx growled at Vanka from behind, reminding him that there was
no turning back. But Valyalkin also did not intend on turning back. He already saw that
Tanya was standing by the high semicircular windows with stained glass.
Vanka took a step toward her, and she to him... Together they dove into the dimly
lit hallway, for the first time thanking The Ancient One for the senseless and cluttered
architecture of the school of magic with lots of corridors, passages, and galleries. Two
hours to bid farewell was so much and so little. Tanya remembered Vanka’s kisses for a
long time afterwards, and he, the salty taste of her tears.
And why is it so often the case that only in the moment of separation do you realize
how much you love?

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53

Chapter 5
A LETTER FROM DAUGHTER

In the moronoid world, Aunt Ninel was shaking the floor, engaging in a wushu33
tutorial. She was disappointed in aerobics and claimed that she only got fat from it.
“You’re the first person in the world who gets fat from aerobics!” her family doctor
objected feebly.
“Helmut, I beg you! I know my body! It costs nothing for an ordinary person to
stand on his toes or jump, but I need half a pack of chocolate biscuits or two chicken
Kievs. I know myself! Even if I just move my toes, I instantly have a ferocious hunger!”
Aunt Ninel declared with aplomb.
The family doctor did not argue. As he also treated many famous people, he was
ready to admit that each of his patients had a special body, totally unlike the bodies of all
other insignificant human beings. He only once made a gaffe, carelessly quipping, “The
bigger a good person, the better!”
“One more statement like that, Helmut, and you’ll take comfort in the proverb:
poverty is no crime!” Durneva had said, turning red, and the poor doctor bit his tongue.
Soon, the wife of the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. bought a TV wushu course and firmly
took on the lessons. And now on a warm May evening Aunt Ninel flowed smoothly from
the stance of the iron horse to that of the monkey, and from the monkey to the flaming
tiger. Her “boys”, as she called Uncle Herman and Gratis, were playing poker on the
couch.
“Where’s the joker? Where did he go? He was just lying there!” Durnev asked
suspiciously.
“How should I know where? What, now I have to follow every miserable card?”
Gratis replied with resentment.
Durnev squinted. “Come on, get up!” he demanded sweetly.
“I won’t! My leg hurts!” Gratis was uneasy.
“Now your nose will hurt! Hand over the joker, skunk!” Durnev flared up.
“Not before you hand over two kings, brother! They jumped into your breast
pocket!” Granny Ryukha’s grandson whined in reply.
Now Uncle Herman became embarrassed. The question of the joker and two kings
was automatically hushed up. Cards were slapped on the skin of the sofa.
“Ninel, shut the door! It’s not the month of May!” he yelled to his wife to change
the subject. So claiming, Durnev was not embarrassed at all that on the street it was just
languishing full of joyful summer hopes of May...
“All right, boys! Just don’t quarrel!” Aunt Ninel exclaimed conciliatory.

33 Wushu is a sport derived from Chinese martial arts.


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54

Both of her “boys” were out of sorts. After the princess frog, on which Uncle
Herman had placed such hopes, ditched him, Durnev was quite a mess. The first step
was to recoup somehow at least, and he pulled the plug on Gratis and firmly drove away
all his girls.
For a while the distressed fashion models besieged their apartment, wrote Gratis,
sweetie, I love you! with lipstick on the entrance door, and even rang the apartment,
taking advantage of the negligence of security. However, after Aunt Ninel, in a white
robe of unmarked size, came out to them a couple of times, the timid models flew off like
moths to new lights.
For a week, Gratis howled passionately and turned into a wolf, digging the parquet
with his claws. The Durnevs locked him in the back room and threatened to call the vet.
“Go ahead! Call at least three carloads of vets, I’ll tear them all to pieces!” Gratis
exclaimed, but wisely stopped howling. But then he got addicted to cards.
Considering that Durnev was also well-disposed to poker, they were playing
passionately all day, except Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when Uncle Herman,
wearing his vampire regalia, went to the bank to sow fear. Somehow General Cutletkin
tried to join their poker battles, but Gratis, cheating brazenly, won two anti-aircraft
systems from him.
The disappointed Cutletkin fizzled out, became gloomy, and went to seek solace
from his secretary. Recently the irrepressible general was often held up at work late,
explaining to Isadora that he was dictating project decrees with the formidable and
convoluted name of Voluntary-compulsory coverage of soldiers and warrant officers
from the fall of meteorites and crocodile bites with an annual fee in the amount of
monthly monetary allowance.
Isadora might or might not have believed her husband, but by and large she did not
really care what precisely the decrees were and where her husband wrote them. In the
evenings she took a course of treatment for cellulite from the athletically built masseur,
then went to the gym, and was also rarely home.
At the very moment when Uncle Herman, smiling, was ready to lay out three
sevens and a pair of jacks, not knowing that Gratis had already appropriated four aces
for himself, the window swung open. A shiny arrow hit the chandelier and scattered
glittering lightning.
Durneva stopped imagining herself as a lunar glare sliding along a water-lily leaf
and lumbered over to the window. Wings fluttering, a winged rosy-cheeked baby,
already dressed for summer and with a postman’s bag over his shoulder, was hovering
outside the window. Aunt Ninel did not scream and swoon but opened the window
quietly to let him in. A person gets used to everything. Even if the Four Horsemen of the

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Apocalypse 34 would now stir outside the window, Aunt Ninel would only have mild
surprise and a polite question about with what they feed their rather terrifying horses.
The little cupid flew in and began to cheep demandingly. Guessing what this could
mean, Aunt Ninel obediently went for cookies. The cupid poured the cookies into his bag,
but, to the surprise of Durneva, did not give her a letter but continued begging.
Durneva’s oxlike eyelids twitched. “Extortionist! No control over you!” she said
good-naturedly, and, jumping heavily, tried to catch the cupid by a pink heel. But he
flapped his golden wings and soared to the ceiling. Sighing, a defeated Aunt Ninel went
to the kitchen, where she, not without malice, opened a box of chocolates with rum.
Five minutes later, the baby, giggling for no reason, smeared with chocolate from
head to chubby thighs, presented an envelope to Aunt Ninel. He incidentally dropped
yet another envelope out of his bag and, not noticing it, flew out the window, twice
overshooting past the window and bumping his forehead against the glass before this.
His flight was uneven. The cupid continuously fell into air pockets and strove to
confront sometimes a streetlight, sometimes a billboard.
“Childhood alcoholism isn’t a vice but a crime!” Durneva commented, escorting the
cupid with a distracted glance.
The letter was from Pipa. Moreover, it seemed that she wrote it not quickly but in
stages, when she was in the mood. She wrote, forgot to send, and added something else
the next day.

Mama, Papa, hello! Haven’t written to you for a hundred years! How are you
there, no squabbles? How’s Gratis? Still howling at night and turning toilets into gold?
Twenty rabies shots in the stomach and he’ll be as good as new... He-he, no offence,
Gratis! You’re cool!
I’m fine, although I live in the same room with Grotty. Well, I’m used to it.
Did I tell that I have a beau? His name is Zhora, last name Zhikin. Cute, but dumb
as a turkey. Can only talk about himself, and so, all right, tolerable. Papa, I know
you’ll run him through the police system, except that it’s unlikely he’s there. Better run
him through the vampire system: I’ll at least know what he goes around kissing all the
time.

(Further, the ink was a different shade, obviously written the next day.)

About studies. I already know quite a lot of spells, but still not enough for my age,
so the teachers work with me separately. With me and the baby Stinktopp. This baby
Stinktopp was allegedly an old guy earlier, quite decrepit, but not long ago either

34The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible,
the Book of Revelation. The four beings riding on white, red, black, and pale horses are interpreted as
symbolizing Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death.
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56

Grotty spiked his tea or someone tossed him a rejuvenating apple. In short, now he
looks about seven or eight, has forgotten everything, and he and I go to the teachers
together. Stinktopp is okay, amusing, just don’t repeat all kinds of nonsense after him,
otherwise you get into a mess...
Of all the classes, I more like Evil Spirit Studies. Such a nice subject. They release
all kinds of freaks on you and you have to whack them with spells. If you don’t whack
them or you mix up the spell, the freaks instantly throw canned food at you. Medusa
Gorgonova teaches it. So tall, lips pursed, red hair, eccentric heels, nails like Isadora’s,
only not fake but her own. And such eyes – half the face and pupils of a cat’s. Here
everyone respects her, me too...
Well, that’s all, Mama, Papa, all of this was artistic blah-blah, but now comes the
harsh prose of life.
I need some stuff. You gather it, and I’ll ask Slandy to teleport. Slanda or Slandy
is Slander, who came for me. At first I was rather afraid of him, and then I made
friends with Milyulya, his mermaid girlfriend. Mama, I gave your deodorant to the
mermaid, because she really reeked of herring. In short, we’re now BFFs.
I need:
Woollen socks
My bikini
The lilac make-up bag and everything in it
The punk scimitar
P.S. Well, that’s all, Mama, Papa, bye! I want to hit the road for dragonball
practice. My boyfriend (he’s on the team) claims that he’s tough like a boiled egg, but
Coffinia says that the harpies simply keep scaring him. Best of all apparently Grotty
will play, and even then because of the double bass. She clings to it, screws up her eyes,
and it flies and does everything for her.
Your Penelope.

The letter kind of ended, but there was a short postscript below, blurred in two
places, as if water had dripped on it.

P.P.S. Mama, Papa, such a thing happened here! I can’t even write, the lines are
floating... I’m terribly depressed. Here they just summoned me to Sardanapal, and he
asked you something through me. At first I was against it, even cried, and then I
thought about it, why not, all the same you can’t bring back anything. In short, I’m all
“for” and support it fully. Just don’t be surprised by anything.

After reading the letter aloud, Aunt Ninel pressed the letter tenderly to her chest.
“What’s this with our Pipa? What’s this request? I don’t like all this...” Durnev said
suspiciously.
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“Oh, Herman, stop! Most likely some little thing... The girl is all me! Ask for
woollen socks, deliver a bikini! Daughter, I’m proud of you!” his wife said affectionately.
“Hmm... Socks... Socks are only half the trouble. But I feel sorry for the scimitar.
Okay, let her take it, I still have the sword... In fact, what’s this Sardanapal wants from
me? Does he intend to – ha-ha! – ask me for money? I won’t give it and will immediately
stop respecting him. Even if you ask me on the subway, I won’t give – I’m like that!”
Uncle Herman chuckled.
Getting up from the sofa, the best deputy accidentally discovered another envelope
that had fallen from the cupid. “Oh, another letter!” he said excitedly.
“Bro, it’s someone else’s! Don’t read it!” Gratis warned apprehensively.
“It’s even better that it’s someone else’s. The more you read, the more you know. I
grasped this before the election, when I gathered precious files on my enemies,” Durnev
said fondly.
“Bro, that’s among the moronoids! In the magic world never...” Gratis started but
did not finish.
After picking the dripping wax seal with a nail, Durnev glanced over the sheet.
Usually a magic letter could be read only by touching it with a ring, but the fact of the
matter was that this letter was not written for a wizard or for one not yet a wizard who
did not and could not even have a ring...

To Genka Bulonov
From the TIBIDOX school
NOTIFICATION
Dear Mr. Bulonov,
To my utter dismay, I once again have to contact you. It has become known to us
that you are using dark magic. A further blocking of your ability will lead to nothing.
You are enrolled in the dark compartment of the Tibidox school. Tonight at midnight,
Eyeless Horror and Lieutenant Rzhevskii will come for you to accompany you to the
magic school. Try to survive this exciting time.
On behalf of Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov,
Medusa Gorgonova, Associate Professor of the Department of Evil Spirit Studies.

“Bulonov... um... I’ve already heard this name somewhere! The former deputy
chairman of the Accounts Chamber? 35 No? Then, maybe, the minister of stocks and
forests? Also not?” Durnev wondered aloud.
But it was no longer worthwhile to do this. Magic parchments interpret speech
perfectly. At the same instant the text of the letter blurred.
You’re not Bulonov! Brazen fraud!!! Prepare to die! Red letters blazed.

35 The Accounts Chamber is the parliamentary body of the financial control in the Russian Federation.
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58

Uncle Herman was dumbfounded, staring blankly at the inscription.


“Bro, throw the letter!” Gratis yelled. “Throw it!”
“Throw it where?!”
“Out the window!!! Anywhere! Only away from me, my dear!”
Durnev tried to follow the advice but did not take into account that it was not so
easy to get the letter to the window. Especially in a panic. The insidious nature of things
accommodated the letter more for reading than throwing. Hitting the glass, it blazed
with a white flame and, turning into a harpy, rushed at Uncle Herman. The best deputy
did not hesitate and trotted at full tilt. The harpy pursued him. It was all ablaze, as if it
was cast from mercury.
“Nineeel!” Uncle Herman screamed pleadingly.
His wife rushed in a horizontal stance to the closet. And yanked the door.
Two lightning bolts flashed at the same time – the harpy and the sword of the
vampire sovereign rushing to intercept it. The director of the company Second-hand
Socks closed his eyes. Having opened his eyes again, he discovered to his surprise that
he still remained in this world. At his feet lay the ashes – all that remained of the
parchment – and the shaking sword embedded in the parquet.
“Ninel, you almost became a widow!” Uncle Herman said hoarsely.
“Bro, don’t worry about it! If the harpy had torn you to pieces, I would’ve married
your wife! I awfully want to get married! At least to someone! Even to the dachshund!”
Gratis declared dreamily. The continuous absence of the models set him in a gruff mood.
One-and-A-Half Kilometres whimpered alarmingly and crawled to hide.
“Nonsense!” Uncle Herman said woodenly. “Nonsense and folly! Here I’ll hand you
over to the pet store, marry anyone you want there!” He walked over and forcibly pulled
the sword from the parquet.
As a precaution, Gratis hastily dived under the table. “Herman, I immediately can’t,
you’re so predatory with that skewer! I’ve lost interest in getting married!” he squeaked
from there.

***

After about an hour and a half, which Uncle Herman and Gratis spent playing
cards, Aunt Ninel was disturbed by a noise. “Shh! Did you hear something?” she asked
with sudden alarm.
“I’ve heard voices all my life. And they’ve called me crazy my whole life! No,
Mumsy, I won’t confess, even if you crack!” Gratis replied in a whine.
“But I definitely hear something... And even see... Ahhh!” Aunt Ninel pointed to the
door in terror.
A silvery magical glow radiated in the hallway by Pipa’s room. Gratis, Aunt Ninel,
and Uncle Herman, brandishing the sword, rushed there. In the middle of their
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daughter’s room, a tall teenager in jeans and a jacket, from under which escaped a
yellow jersey, was standing and looking around in bewilderment. A backpack lay at his
feet.
“Hello!” he said affably. “You’re the Durnevs? The academician said that I’d be in
Tanya’s room... Is this it?”
Aunt Ninel shuddered. “Tanya’s room? Really, how shameless, demanding her
rights! No she has no room! Only the balcony, but we even washed it with bleach!” she
stated.
Uncle Herman turned blue with anger. TANYA! One sound of this terrible name
rattled the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. “Who are you? Another suitor of this shameless Grotty?
First the big-eared lout with a vacuum, then the Englishman with glasses who can’t
drink champagne, and now even this, in a T-shirt? Well, off you go, young convict!
Stomp, come on stomp!” Uncle Herman screamed, pointing the door to Vanka with the
tip of the sword.
Vanya, shrugging, was about to bend over his backpack, but Aunt Ninel, already
starting to surmise something, stopped him. “Wait! Hey, whatever your name is! Young
man, boy, child! Wait! Herman, he’s probably Sardanapal’s very request about which
Pipa wrote us!” she said to her husband.

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Chapter 6
“BE MY PIK!”

Gunya Glomov got up early, before dawn. Now, when it was barely beginning to
turn grey beyond the window, the idea of going fishing did not seem to him as pleasant
as yesterday. He wanted to bury his nose in the pillow and catch a couple of dreams by
the scruff of the neck. Nevertheless, Gunya took the fishing rod and a bucket and went
down the marble stairs to the drawbridge.
In fact, no one was supposed to leave Tibidox at night, but this rule was often
violated. Besides, Gunya befriended Dumpling Maker at one of the dragonball matches.
They even undertook some adventures together, for example, chasing cupids for beer
and cigarettes, which they had sneaked through Grail Gardarika in their postman’s
bags.
The Cyclops strolled moodily across the bridge, occasionally stopping and
scratching his back with his poleaxe. On beholding the emerging dark figure, he perked
up and, puffing up his chest sternly, roared, “Stop! Who goes there! I’ll hack you to
pieces! Password!”
“Troll rolled around under the bridge!” Gunya joked, emerging from the shadows.
Recognizing him, Dumpling Maker lowered his axe. “Ah, it’s you? Nah, the
password is ‘the sweetest neck’! There!” he said with laughter.
“Slander again?” Gunya asked.
“Who else? Not me!” Dumpling Maker’s only eye slid along Gunya’s bucket and
fishing rod. “Going fishing? Where will you fish?”
Knowing the Cyclops’ ability to jinx what he had to, Glomov tapped the fishing rod
imperceptibly on the stones of the bridge and whispered softly, “Keep away, keep away,
keep away...”
“I don’t know yet. Perhaps I’ll stay by the moat?” he said.
“Only frogs in the moat,” Dumpling Maker said. “You go further. There, the
Ancient One’s gatehouse, you know? You’ll pass a lake, and there’ll be another pond on
the right. So nondescript. Didn’t see it before, no? Try there!”
“What, they’ll nibble?”
“Nibble kadas,36 also kadas on the brain!” Dumpling Maker replied mysteriously.
The pond, which he pointed out, was really unremarkable. Small and overgrown
with slime. Air bubbles rose from the bottom here and there. Gunya spotted an oak
stump by the water. The thought flickered in him to go around the pond, in order not to
sit on the ground, but here the stump got up with a creak and trudged to the forest.
“Sheesh, really!” Glomov said quickly, realizing that he almost had sat on a wood
goblin.

36 Kada is a sweet roll made of puff pastry popular in the Caucasus.


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The green side of a mermaid appeared in the water. No, this was not Milyulya but
some utterly bloated mermaid of one recently drowned.37 Occasionally these appeared
on Buyan, moreover even in its sealed bodies of water. Yagge grumbled something about
the Ancient One’s whirlpools, which it was high time to be taken care of, but no one
except the militant Gottfried Bouillon wanted to do it. But Gottfried was no good for this.
He understood nothing about magic and did not even know how to swim. He only
wandered in the basement with a spear, frightening evil spirits. As a result, they
resigned themselves to a surplus of mermaids. Occasionally the well-known mermaid
fan Slander fed them fish and then walked around covered with scratches for three days.
Milyulya was as jealous as a cat; besides, she did not like sharing.
After digging for worms with a knife, Gunya checked the tackle and, having set the
depth, cast the fishing rod. Almost immediately, air bubbles drew near the bobber, after
which it abruptly went down. Gunya pulled and, not estimating the effort, sat down on
the grass. A dirty lump of seaweed, twisted quite successfully and not without
imagination into a fig sign,38 hung on the hook.
“Get out of here!” someone shouted, surfacing and immediately disappearing.
“Oh! Driving me out?! Stunnos dynamicos!” Glomov shouted resentfully and
simultaneously released a red spark into the water, uttering the spell to repel floating
evil spirits.
The water boiled. A large blue barrel slowly emerged to the surface of the pond like
the periscope of a submarine. On looking closer, Glomov realized that it was the belly of
a water-sprite. He had made a blunder! Sometime later, the water-sprite came to and,
cursing, swam away into the reeds.
Gunya cast the fishing rod again. The float rippled the water dejectedly. There was
no nibble. The vengeful water-sprite had scared away all the fish. A couple of times it
stealthily crept over and tossed an unhooked dead worm at Gunya, swimming away
before Glomov had time to utter the repelling spell.
In the end, Gunya was quite in despair. Forget about fish – the water-sprite did not
like him. Imagining that he would have to walk past Dumpling Maker with an empty
bucket, he shuddered. “Forget it, it’s a bucket! Better I sink it after all!” Gunya decided
and kicked the bucket so hard that he almost injured his toes.
The bucket was still in the air when Glomov realized that he had borrowed it from
Rita On-The-Sly, who did not like it much when things were not returned to her. She
would be so thoroughly displeased that she could easily pour into soup a potion of
remorse made on a base of arsenic with a little hemlock.
After stomping on the shore for some time, Gunya undressed and scratched his
bare chest adorned with an ingenious tattoo of an Asian dragon. One of the babais made

37 In Slavic folktales, a mermaid is the spirit of a young maiden meeting an untimely death, notably by
drowning.
38 This obscene hand sign involving the index and middle fingers and the thumb is used to deny a request.

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the tattoo on Gunya, and on his request Seven-Stump-Holes finished writing the
characters. Sardanapal nearly killed him for this tattoo, only it was no longer possible to
remove it. The babai, having a connection to the Japanese mafia, knew his craft very
well. The only thing he did not know was how to portray the name GUNYA. But then, as
it was written in Russian, which Seven-Stump-Holes knew, firm sprawling letters
decorated Gunya’s forearm with pleasure.
After lowering a big toe into the water, Glomov wiggled it thoughtfully for some
time, and then, with the suffering expression of a swimmer starting training, climbed
sideways into the pond. The bucket was lying in shallow water. Having found it, Gunya
dove, grabbed the handle, and pulled it ashore.
He was already dressed when a strange sound compelled him to glance around.
Putrid water splashed his face. Leaning its tail on the bottom of the bucket, an
impressive jittery pike with green stains on the sides looked out of it.
“Wow! Man, that’s some fish!” Glomov was surprised.
The pike stared intently at Gunya with watery eyes. Apparently Glomov had made a
good impression on it. “Young man, I beg you, be my pik!” it pleaded.
“I don’t understand!” Gunya said.
“I’m always drawn to goofs... We have this legacy! Take at least Emelya, 39 my
granny’s beau! He indeed also wasn’t a genius, but he made his way in the world!
Married a princess, sat on the throne! Oh, if you only knew how long I’ve been waiting
for you!”
“Well, you’re being absurd! What’s a pik?” Gunya asked agitatedly.
“A pik is this... eh-uh-eh... Well, in short, favourite pike! It’s a secret pike word! It’s
not even in the dictionary!”
“Wha?” Gunya asked again.
“Oh, how I love this ‘wha’! How I love it!” the pike was touched. “Now there are so
few ordinary guys left! Everyone pretends to be clever! Talks blah-blah about any
Nietzsche40 and Sartre,41 downright wasting the brain! What’s Sartre to him! Instead of
simply hugging a girl tightly, he causes her despair together with Bergman,42 and even

39 Emelya is the hero of the Russian fairy tale On the Pike’s Command. Emelya is a lazy fool who
accidentally caught a magic pike. In exchange for its freedom, the pike grants any of Emelya’s wishes
when he states his wish starting with the words “On the pike’s command, for my desire.” The story ends
with Emelya marrying a princess and taking over her father’s kingdom.
40 Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) was the German philosopher whose work exerted a profound

influence on Western philosophy.


41 Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (1905-80) was one of the leading figures of 20th-century French

philosophy and Marxism.


42 Ernest Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) was a Swedish filmmaker, recognized as one of the most

influential auteurs of all times. His works often dealt with death, illness, faith, betrayal, bleakness and
insanity.
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worse, with processors and fibre optics! A lad should be exclusively specific! No sooner
said than done! Must be a man first of all! Fershtein?”43
“Jawohl!”44 Glomov acknowledged.
The pike anxiously looked sideways at him. Obviously, a pike protégé was not
supposed to know foreign languages. But Gunya’s gaze was as direct as a sergeant’s, so
free from mental effort that the pike calmed down. “You’re indeed not kidding me? You
really are a fool?” it asked silkily.
“You’re this way! Caught, and still taunt!” Glomov was offended. “Now I’ll take the
tail and the head to a tree! Turn up such a herring!”45
The pike finally calmed down. “So, okay, pik, listen and remember!” it ordered
matter-of-factly. “Now release me back into the pond. Either with or without the
bucket... The choice is yours, I won’t be offended.”
“So, you can’t do it yourself?” Glomov prevailed.
“I can, Gunie, I can. I can do a lot of things. But then it’s unclear what you deserve.
We magic pike don’t work that way. After that, you return to Tibidox. Now, if you want
something, just say, ‘On the pike-granddaughter’s command, for my desire!’ Everything
will instantly come true. You won’t mix it up?”
“Nah,” Glomov said. “And this... needs a red spark?”
“Not necessarily. I work without sparks, on inspiration,” the pike-granddaughter
said casually. “Only one small detail. Keep in mind, my magic isn’t omnipotent.
Although I’m magical, but still not to the degree of the goldfish. 46 So if you want, for
example, to open the Sinister Gate or smash Magford with bricks, just forget about it.
But mediocre desires, perhaps, are possible...”
“I despise those Sinister Gates! I agree!” Gunya said.
He took the pike by its tail, spun heartily, and tossed it into the pond. He dropped
everything and was lost in thought. “What would I ask for? Aha, on the pike-
granddaughter’s command, for my desire I want a bucket of carp!” Glomov said as a test.
He barely managed to finish speaking when the bucket was filled with oily silvery
pond carps. The greedy water-sprite sighed indignantly from the reeds, but apparently
did not dare to mess with the pike-granddaughter. It was not of the magic calibre of the
pike.
“It worked! Hooray!” Gunya muttered. “And now I want... I want Coffinia to fall in
love with me! Kiss me every day, call me Gunie... I wonder how the pike... Wow!”

43 Fershtein is the corrupted form of verstehen – German for “to understand.” It was popularized by the
1969 Soviet comedy film The Diamond Arm.
44 Jawohl is a German interjection for an affirmative response to an order.

45 Herring here refers to pickled herrings.


46 The Russian fairy tale Goldfish is about a magic goldfish that grants an old fisherman any desires in

exchange for its freedom. It even turns the fisherman’s wife into a queen living in a palace. However,
when the old woman asks to become the sovereign of the sea to rule over all living beings under the sea,
the goldfish turns its back on them and the fisherman and his wife return to their previous life.
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On hearing the beating of many wings, Glomov raised his head. A dozen magfioso
cupids were flying over the pond with war cries, putting armour-piercing arrows on
their bows. Gunya shook his head. The pike clearly loved theatrical effects. Poor
Cryptova!
“Hey, no!” Gunya shouted. “I don’t agree with cupids! Cupids I could hire! I want
her to fall in love with me by herself! Truthfully, you know? Not because of cupids, but
the real way!”
The pike-granddaughter poked its slender nose out of the pond. “Uh-huh! That is,
we want love though magical but real... And passionate, and for free! As if for nothing
but at the same time for something, so that the conscience wouldn’t wallow! Forever,
but until you get bored! Oh, people, people! Or among us, fish! Throw yourself some
caviar and see, lest competitors wouldn’t gobble up... Okay, Gunya, you will have such a
love, only don’t regret it later!”
With a splash of the tail, the pike disappeared, but immediately surfaced again. “By
the way, I totally forgot!” she said insinuatingly. “Our contract terminates in two cases:
if you become smart or ask me something I can’t fulfil... And then – he-he! – you’ll have
to pay me a small... a very small penalty. Not money, of course. I don’t care about green
corns. The green on my tail is enough for me.”
“Aha,” Glomov said. “But don’t sweat it! I’m not about to get smarter! I have a lot of
smarts.” He picked up the fishing rod, took the bucket of carp, and waddled towards
Tibidox. The water-sprite leaned out of the reeds and, grinning, twirled a finger at its
temple. Apparently, it knew a little more than Gunya. It knew something but did not
intend on telling anyone yet.

***

A surprise was waiting for Gunya at the drawbridge. He noticed from a distance
that Dumpling Maker was waving his arms like a windmill, as if trying to warn him
about something. Almost immediately Gunya realized what the matter was.
Sardanapal and Medusa were standing in the shadow of the wall at the entrance to
Tibidox and looking down at the swampy moat. In the first second the thought flickered
in Glomov that they had found out about his absence at night and were now waiting
until he returned to give him a brainwashing. But no, hardly... The academician never
engaged in such trifles. Medusa was also above surveillance. Arranging a night ambush
was more in the spirit of Slander, but he was not even here.
Nevertheless, Gunya decided not to risk it. He carefully bypassed the bridge,
climbed under it, put the bucket of carp at his feet, and prepared to wait patiently until
the teachers left. It smelled like a swamp. Dismayed frogs croaked pertly. Sardanapal’s
voice resounded loudly above the old moat.

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“Medi, like you wouldn’t understand! Magic is like love, it’s the living thread of our
boring world. Magic is pure mood; sheer creative impulse. It’s full of inconsistencies and
logical mishaps. It’s one today, another tomorrow. Only a bore would search for logic
where it’s in disgrace. Logic is a nail mercilessly hammered into a beautiful and illogical
world. And I don’t care about inconsistencies! I hate sleek proper magic as much as the
mediocre haircuts of Bald Mountain barbers!”
Glomov sat quietly, waiting for what would come next. Medusa’s voice replied to
Sardanapal calmly but very firmly. If the passionate academician Chernomorov dropped
words out loudly and vividly as if shooting from a cannon, then Medusa was as if cutting
with a scalpel, just as guardedly and precisely.
“Logic is needed everywhere. First of all, I appreciate the magic system and
adherence to general rules. Practice and theory are the two wings of Pegasus... You know,
Sardanapal, and sometimes it doesn’t surprise me that Tibidox’ roof leaks! And not even
the astral but the ordinary one! And it’s this way in everything! Why imprison Chaos
behind the Sinister Gates when you, Sardanapal, bring it into everything you touch. In
any relationship. I hate that!”
“It loves carrots!” the academician said thoughtfully.
“Who? What do you mean?” Medusa asked angrily.
“I said, Pegasus loves carrots. By the way, I also like it very much.” Sardanapal
explained.
Medusa frowned. “Academician! What, are you mocking me? It seems to me you
are deliberately moving away from a serious discussion. Your flippant attitude to life,
and in general to all material things, induces misgivings in me! You hover in the clouds!”
“Hmm... There’s no new substance in nature. The substance that now makes up
our body was once someone’s or something else’s. Some other person, animal, plant,
earth. There’s water in the moat here, but it isn’t water but some dead body circulating
around in nature. Doesn’t it make you sick to live after that? And you say ‘material
things’!”
“And why was this said?”
“No reason. Medi, it seems to me that lately you’re getting a bit too proper, too
uncompromising. Remember how you were in the year when I revived you after the
incident with Perseus? Moving like quicksilver! Fiery like gunpowder! How you loved to
bang the dishes and how you laughed! It seems that it was exactly then that the walls of
Tibidox produced the first crack... And the roof, the roof also leaked then. Only it didn’t
matter to you.”
“It was a long time ago, Sardanapal! All that was long ago, and all this wasn’t true,”
Medusa said, and Glomov heard her departing footsteps.
Sardanapal was alone on the bridge. His annoyed voice resounded far above the
swampy moat. “The devil with these women... Well, I’m not made for married life! Darn,
darn, darn, darn!”
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“Rrri-bbit! Rrri-bbit!” the frogs responded sympathetically.

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Chapter 7
LIEUTENANT RZHEVSKII’S SECRET MISSILE

The invitation to Tibidox, which had been sent to Genka and turned up at Uncle
Herman’s, never got to its destination. The drunk cupid did not even remember about
the lost envelope. Bulonov also knew nothing at all. Contemplating his bitter fate, Genka
stirred the soup with his spoon, simulating lively intake of the soup. In their family one
was supposed to eat quickly, otherwise Mama would immediately rush to the phone to
call EMS,47 demanding that they feed Genka glucose intravenously.
The soup was barely finished; Mama went to the cupboard next to the range hood
and pulled open the door.
Alas, Genka knew too well what this could mean. “Mom, how many times have I
told you: I don’t like the syrup! And I also hate the tablet!” he said hopelessly.
“And I can’t stand it when you’re being stubborn! Look at the colour of your face:
you’re pale all the time! Even without tests I see that you have blood like a corpse!”
Mama seethed. The rosy-cheeked Bulonov, whose blood would summon sweet dreams
in any vampire, opened his mouth, allowing a spoonful of cough syrup to be poured into
it.
The doctor had prescribed the cough and cold medicine when Genka was in third
grade. Unfortunately, the doctor forgot to specify how long they should be taken, and
only said, “Until the child becomes better.” And now it had been almost five years, and
Mama Bulonov always considered that improvement had not yet come. Moreover, it did
not even occur to poor Mama that to survive medication for five years, one needs to have
the health of a horse.
Wincing, Bulonov reached for the pills, but suddenly yelled and fell off the stool.
What appeared to the poor fellow – what appeared there! Two wildly rotating eyeballs
torn out of their sockets were lying on the empty soup plate. Genka screamed.
“What’s with you?” Mama rushed to him.
“There, there! No, don’t look!” Bulonov gasped.
Holding her glasses, Mama looked at the plate. “I always said leaving the egg yolks
is a sign of illness.”
Bulonov looked at the plate with horror and made sure that Mama was right. Yes,
just the yolks. He wiped the sweat from his brow. Mistaking yolks for eyes, this already
needs a diagnosis. While Genka was distressed, Mama approached him and, with the
movement of a gladiator stabbing a short sword in the enemy carried to automaton, put
a glass thermometer under his arm.
“Awful! 36.9!” she said a few minutes later.
“It’s normal.”

47 EMS is the acronym for emergency medical services, also known as ambulance or paramedic services.
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“What do you know? Consumptives have such a temperature! A week ago you were
somehow coughing strangely in your sleep. I just thought you were choking. Now I see
that it isn’t so simple. Tomorrow we’ll take tests! Now go to your room and do your
homework! You won’t be taking a walk in the evening. And be in bed by nine.”
“NOOO!” Genka shouted.
“Not ‘no’ but ‘yes’. Nervous fits and stubbornness are the first signs of
schizophrenia. And schizophrenia aggravated by tuberculosis always leads to something
more severe,” a worried Mama said and sat leafing through a medical encyclopaedia
decorated with colour photos of various trophic ulcers and gangrene.
Genka rushed to his room and quickly slammed the door. Having gradually calmed
down, he sat at his desk and, intending on preparing for exams, opened the history
textbook. But before Bulonov managed to read ten lines, he heard a strange sound
behind him. Genka turned and froze.
A chair on human feet was making its way to him from the door. The feet were
masculine, scary, with yellow nails like convex tortoise shells. On seeing that Bulonov
was staring at it, the chair on human feet jumped up and playfully kicked him in the
shin. Bulonov fell to the floor and hastily crawled on his belly to the door. He did not
even cry out, knowing that it was useless. The four-legged chair ran bouncing sideways
and attempted to cut off the purposefully crawling Bulonov from the door.
Suddenly, a new obstacle barred Genka’s path. On the floor a pool of blood was
bubbling, in the midst of which a terrifying rusty dagger was lying and a scarlet heart
was beating. Genka got up slowly. His mouth instantly became drier than the Sahara
Desert and his own heart almost jumped out of his chest. Backing away, he grabbed the
doorknob, seeing it as his main salvation. But the door handle suddenly slipped away
from him and shook his hand. Genka felt a slight tingling and cold, realizing at the same
time that the handle was not a handle but a severed hand with cold wet fingers.
A narrow thin-lipped mouth appeared on the wall. “Bulonov?” it asked hoarsely.
“Y-yes.”
“Gennadii?”
“Ge-ge ...” a stuttering Bulonov also confirmed this.
“Mr. Ge-Ge? You’re what we need! I’ve a secret missile for you!” the mouth said
and suddenly burst out with an indescribable laugh resembling the neighing of a whole
herd of horses.
“Not missile, leaky noggin! Mission!” the chair on human feet prompted in
exasperation.
The hand sticking out of the door wagged its finger at the chair. The chair, the
mouth, and the hand quarrelled listlessly for some time, and the heart on the floor was
bouncing in the pool of blood like a stranded fish.
“Basically, pack up, Ge-Ge! We were ordered to deliver you somewhere!” the
mouth declared finally.
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“Where? I’m not walking anywhere!” Bulonov became stubborn, already imagining
the thorny path to the hereafter.
“And you won’t walk anywhere! You’ll fly!” the mouth on the wall assured him
smoothly.
“Where to?”
“What do you mean where to? To Tibidox! Didn’t you receive the letter?”
“No,” said Genka. He was trembling so much that it was hard not to believe him.
The chair with feet and the mouth got into some disarray. Before long the hand
also joined them. The room was shrouded in a milky fog with a silvery spark. When the
fog cleared, Lieutenant Rzhevskii and Eyeless Horror, their legs, hands, and mouths
having already returned, were in the middle of the room. Rzhevskii was in an infantry
gala uniform with a complete collection of knives in his back. Eyeless Horror was
covered in a dark field cloak. When the cloak swung open, a bloody shirt flashed under it.
The ghost first twirled his ghastly head in his hands, then put it in its place and began to
clank his shackles (a pair of number 4s, reserved only for special occasions).
“You really didn’t get a letter?” Horror asked. Genka shook his head.
“In that case, mille pardons,” the Lieutenant clicked his heels. “But then I also see
that you react somehow not quite right. You react stiffly, without a spark! I don’t like to
work on such a rotten audience.”
“Rzhevskii, enough chatter! You forgot your heart there... Clean up your garbage!”
Horror ordered him.
“Never! White officers don’t blindly follow orders!” the Lieutenant said proudly.
“Another such blatant order and we’ll shoot through a hanky! Where are my guns? Aha,
here!” There was a flash and a padded velvet box with a pair of antique duelling pistols
appeared in the Lieutenant’s hands. After seeing them, Rzhevskii was dissatisfied and,
having cast them aside, instantly extracted a couple of Mausers48 from the air. “To the
last shell! If no one gets hurt, we’ll proceed to howitzers! Not only for Valyalkin to bang
Pupers, but I also want to! Come on!” he announced and snapped his fingers.
In that instant, the air was filled with tiny boys on broomsticks. There were a few
dozen of them. They swooped down on Rzhevskii, showering him with dragonball
swords, and he was also enthusiastically firing at them from the two Mausers. The battle
lasted a minute and ended without much loss.
“RZHEVSKII, ENOUGH!” Horror raised his voice. “And you, young man, get your
things. I don’t advise taking more than one backpack. You won’t have porters. There are
many well-known cases in the history of Tibidox when a student departed to the bottom
under the weight of luggage. As recently as twenty years ago, a girl decided to take a
sewing machine with her and, as she had some packages in her arms, she had the
stupidity to tie it with a rope to her foot... The ending was tragic.”

48A Mauser is a type of automatic pistol named after its German designers the Mauser brothers, Peter
Paul (1838-1914) and Wilhelm (1834-82).
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70

“But what about Pipa? The entire Tibidox talks about her suitcases!” the Lieutenant
got involved.
“Well, that’s different! She did not fly alone... Besides, Slander is superbly savvy in
flight charms!” Horror declared with displeasure. “Rzhevskii, I think I clearly said: clean
up the garbage!”
“Is this really garbage? It’s just blatant vulgar rudeness to call my suffering heart
garbage!” the Lieutenant was offended. Nonetheless, he quickly mopped up his bloody
pool and, after casually blowing on the heart and wiping off the dust, put it in his chest.
“Apparently everything is accounted for. Or not?” he asked himself thoughtfully.
“Aha, one more little detail! Won’t you shove the dagger in my back? Everything has to
be proper!” he said, addressing Bulonov with a laugh.
This was Rzhevskii’s old, mouldy joke, which he regularly repeated to every new
kid in Tibidox. But it was all news to Genka, and he recoiled in horror from the dagger.
Rzhevskii roared in laughter again. The glass in the windows rattled obediently.
“Mama will hear,” Bulonov said automatically. In the last minute he was frantically
trying to figure out whom he feared even more: the Tibidox ghosts or Mama. It turned
out that it was Mama after all.
“She won’t! She didn’t hear the shots! Pointus harpoonus doesn’t fail! Nor does
Medusa’s ring. Your mama will sleep without nightmares or dreams till the morning,
and when she wakes up, a cupid will bring her a letter from Sardanapal. She’ll read it
and calm down,” Lieutenant Rzhevskii assured him.
“Aha! I don’t think so! She’ll immediately run with the letter to the police, the
FSB,49 everywhere. She’ll stir up everyone!” Genka stated. But, even assuming the worst,
he did not forget to quickly stuff the backpack with the most necessary things.
“I don’t think so,” Eyeless Horror said, rattling his shackles. “Trust me, you’re not
the first they’ve taken to Tibidox and the deal has always been managed without
scandals. Sardanapal’s letter is capable of calming even a swarm of wasps. Even a
Bengal tiger at the time of a leap. And not because such a wonderful style is in it. I doubt
there are even more than two or three lines. But the academician uses a special ink of
crocodile tears forced twice through the gnomes’ still. And they’re able to trigger a surge
of optimism even in the Dead Princess50 and the donkey Eeyore.”51
“But not my mama. When scientists made the atomic bomb, my mama arrived first.
I didn’t make this up. It’s her favourite joke,” Genka said despondently.

49 FSB is the acronym of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation and the successor to the
former KGB.
50 The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Warriors (1833) is a fairy tale poem by the greatest

Russian poet Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837). The story line is similar to Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs.
51 Eeyore is the gloomy donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh books by the English author Alan Alexander Milne

(1882-1956).
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71

Lieutenant Rzhevskii patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. Genka felt a tingle
at the touch of the ghost’s hand. “Relax, my child! Your mama forgot something. I
arrived first, so you can trust me... And now to business! Sardanapal ordered us to guide
you through Grail Gardarika and deliver you to the dark department of Tibidox. I
understand that you’re to move in with Zhora Zhikin.”
“Zhikin, who’s that?” Bulonov asked with dread. After the severed hands and the
heart in a pool of blood, he was expecting anything.
“Oh, Zhikin is our pretty boy! All those not in love with me are in love with him.
Don’t touch his mop, praise the classic shape of his nose, and you’ll get along!” the
Lieutenant declared.
Eyeless Horror grimly turned the fiery chasms of his eyes on him. Rzhevskii
instantly became quiet and adjusted to a serious mode.
“Ah, yes! What will he fly on? Sardanapal conceded this to our discretion...
Hmmm... Serious question!” the Lieutenant said, filled with responsibility. He did not
often get a chance to accompany students from the moronoid world to Buyan. To tell the
truth, it was the very first time. Rzhevskii’s dull gaze wandered around the room and
stopped at the couch.
“No, it’s too trite. Now everyone who feels like it flies on a sofa... A carpet? Again,
not that. Carpets are for genies. If you fly on a carpet, you’ll be taken as a person from
the East and suspected of magorism.52 Now is the time that anyone who flies on a carpet
is suspected of magorism... A wardrobe? Not bad. Handles air currents well, just that the
door will slam all the time.” Bulonov blinked uneasily. The prospect of flying in a
wardrobe seemed dreadful to him.
“Don’t take what this outrageous character mumbles seriously,” Eyeless Horror
said. “In fact, Rzhevskii knows that it’s not in our power to choose a flying object for you.
It must find you by itself. A flying object – I have in mind a real flying object – is always
unique. Every wizard has his own, and the relationship between them is as indissoluble
as between the wizard and his ring. It’s all simple with foreigners. Amass green corns,
buy a broom, and fly until you’re blue in the face. Tired of the broom, buy another. With
us, this focus is only with vacuums, and even then not always. No, you’ll feel adequately
free only on your own object!”
“And what flying object do I have?” Bulonov asked.
“We’ll find this out now. I admit, I’m very interested,” Horror said.
He rose above the floor and began to inflate. A scared Bulonov clung to the wall. It
seemed to him that Horror’s translucent body occupied the entire room. The fiery
chasms of his eyes were fixed on the ceiling. “Takeformsimmo!” he shouted in a terrible
voice. A green spark jumped out from Medusa’s ring, which miraculously stayed on the
ghost’s finger.

52 Magorism – terrorism in the magic world.


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72

All objects were in motion. Even the heavy armchair came off the floor. An
astounded Bulonov stood by the wall, shielding his head with his arms, and looked with
horror at the dance of things in the air. But it did not last long. Suddenly everything fell
down and disappeared somewhere, only a tennis racket alone – despondent as an
unfulfilled dream, with sagging strings – was left hanging in the middle of the room.
Bulonov looked at it in surprise. Several years ago, he began to play tennis and was even
making progress until Mama read somewhere that shaking and jumping would be
harmful to the growing brain. Genka suffered at first and then submitted, but now the
racket again reminded him of himself.
“A racket!” the Lieutenant snorted. “Well, not bad... They say a flying object is the
manifestation of the hidden essence of his master. Not without reason was it always a
sledgehammer with vertical takeoff for me. Anyway, before I died.”
“You’re lying!” Eyeless Horror said dryly. “Until death you were a normal moronoid.
You’re also a moronoid now. Confirmed. It’s worth looking at your face that all sorts of
doubts disappear.”
“Well, it isn’t!” Rzhevskii muttered, but not too confidently. He had long grasped
that one did not mess with Eyeless Horror. Even the King of Ghosts preferred not to
deal with this medieval gouty one suffering the blues, immured alive in the wall of his
own castle.
“Okay, so... You go up to the window, sit down on the racket, and fly with us.
Initially, over there between the houses, and then it’ll fall like cards! Maybe we’ll fly
through the Earth’s centre. There’s no difference to us ghosts at all,” the Lieutenant said,
plunging one hand into the other in a futile attempt to rub them.
Clutching the racket, Genka climbed onto the windowsill and opened the window.
The eighth floor was the eighth floor. The lights at the bottom of the car park seemed
quite dim.
“Okay, jump!” the Lieutenant ordered impatiently.
Genka shook his head. Even kamikaze terrorists do not jump out of an eighth-floor
window with a racket.
“Oh yeah, I forgot! You have to say vroom motor! And quickly jump! NOW!”
Rzhevskii yelled.
“Vroom motor!” Genka repeated obediently, but did not jump. He was scared.
Rzhevskii laughed. Even Eyeless Horror, grimacing, depicted the resemblance of a
smile on his face furrowed with scars.
“He believed, he believed! Here’s a dolt!” the Lieutenant roared. “Vroom motor! A
flight spell! Did you hear that? Everyone in Tibidox is dying of laughter! Even my
Unhealed Lady will forget her unhealedness for a while.”
“Listen less to this marmot! Repeat: Speedus envenomus and then Oyoyoys
smackis thumpis! Can be the other way around... Wait, you forgot the ring! Here, on the
middle finger! Soon you’ll have your own ring. Magic workshops rarely manage
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73

deadlines. On the other hand, perhaps only they know when a deadline actually comes,”
Eyeless Horror said sternly.
“Speedus envenomus!” Genka repeated. A green spark flashed dimly on Medusa’s
ring and immediately went out.
Horror shook his head. A few bloodstains blossomed on his shirt. “Bad!” Horror
said grimly. “You said this simply like a word, but it needs to be as a spell. You shouldn’t
doubt that a miracle will happen, that’s the whole point. One gram of doubt in the barrel
of faith will poison it as surely as a drop of poison will turn a barrel of wine into a deadly
potion. Try once more!”
Bulonov strained. He repeated the spell time after time, but the racket did not even
stir. Medusa’s ring, visibly disillusioned, no longer released sparks at all. Eyeless Horror
and Lieutenant Rzhevskii waited patiently.
“Well! And?” Horror said when Bulonov was covered with sweat from futile
repetitions.
Lieutenant Rzhevskii stood arms akimbo. “I told you that we flew to the wrong
place! This kid is a regular moronoid, namesake of the one we need! Let’s go look for the
other before Medusa releases a whole round of Briskus-quickus on us. I hate it when
they Briskus-quickus me!” he said.
“No!” Genka shouted fearfully. “No!”
“We’ll give you one last chance,” Horror said sternly. “The very last! Maybe your
magical gift is so insignificant that it isn’t enough even for the simplest spells. This also
happens. There’s nothing for half-wizards to do in Tibidox. In that case, we fly away
without you. But now, begin!”
Genka gripped the racket with both hands. He understood that another failure and
he would always remain among the moronoids. He would be trapped under Mama’s
wing for life and die prematurely in twenty years, with mustard plasters all over. Only
Tibidox could save him, only magic and nothing more. Genka realized this and the fear
that he would spend the rest of his life with moronoids gave him courage.
“Speedus envenomus!” he shouted in desperation. The ring ejected a bright spark,
and the next instant, Bulonov, senselessly clutching the racket with his hands and feet,
was already rushing between buildings in a crazy dancing of flickers around streetlights,
trees, and windows winking mockingly. All this changed endlessly in places and Genka
no longer knew where land or sky was, only feared letting go of the racket.
“That’s a different story! I bet my best dagger that we told him the excessively quick
spell! Pilotus kamikazis would be enough... And he forgot to insure with Oyoyoys,”
Lieutenant Rzhevskii pointed out.
“Never mind,” Eyeless Horror whispered contentedly. “The kid’s making progress.
He’ll turn out to be an excellent dark wizard. Did you see what spark he released? It
almost burned me. Fortunately, I am already dead, and have been for a long time. And
that incomparable pleasure, as your wife likes to reiterate, can only be experienced once.”
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74

“Of course!” Lieutenant puffed his cheeks importantly. “My wife is absolutely
unique in terms of citations. Therefore, she also tries to kill me morally three hundred
and sixty-five days a year and twenty-four hours a day. Fortunately, we Hussars are
resilient people.”
“Obviously, the Hussars! Just first learn to distinguish a horse from a giraffe,”
Eyeless Horror declared.
He seeped through the wall into the next room, where Genka’s mama, her head on
her chest, was sleeping on an armchair in front of a blinking TV screen. Horror stared at
her intently for some time, then blew on his finger and, having waited until it started to
redden, boldly printed right through the air: YOUR SON IS IN THE MAGIC SCHOOL
TIBIDOX. EXPECT A LETTER FROM A CUPID! The blazing letters, swaying, hovered
and firmly occupied a place above the armchair. Instead of an exclamation mark, Horror,
grinning sullenly, suspended in the air a broken thermometer with a ball of mercury
floating below it. After that, the specter again seeped through the wall and, together with
Lieutenant Rzhevskii, rushed after Genka.
By the time the ghosts caught up with him, Bulonov, having come to his senses,
was already able to straddle the tennis racket. Now Genka was flying, bending low over
it. Maybe it was a bit short for the very tall Genka, but he manoeuvred superbly and
made tight turns. He even managed to smartly avoid a collision with a billboard, on
which froze a short-haired girl having chewing gum after or even instead of lunch.
The irrepressible Lieutenant immediately flew off to the girl on the billboard and
began whispering passionately, declaring his love. “We’re so similar. I’m a ghost and
you’re only a shadow of someone who has forgotten about you! Two fates, two solitaries,
two ardent hearts! Why shouldn’t we be happy? True, I’m married, but I have this
constant...”
The girl on the billboard began to be thrilled and sighed languidly, but then
Bulonov, trying to master the racket in reverse, slammed at full speed and crashed into
the billboard. The billboard repelled him, but the edge of the racket tore up the paper. At
the spot where the head of the redhead was, a hole was formed.
“Oh no! You killed my love! I’ll never forgive you for this! Her blood is on you!”
Rzhevskii howled tragically.
“She has no blood! She was made of paper!” Genka retorted limply, glad that he
was holding onto the racket at all.
“Fool, what do you know?” Rzhevskii said bitterly. “If only those in whom about
five litres of blood flows and a litre of soup gurgles in the stomach are considered alive,
the world will soon become miserable and shrink to some moronoids! Paper or not, I
loved her. The moment that we were together is worth all the ages from the creation of
the world!”
“Nonsense!”

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The Lieutenant scowled, risking losing his eyebrows. “Bulonov! I’m a stupid ghost
with knives in my back, a conscience eaten by moths, and repetitive jokes! But I’ll tell
you one thing as banal as the truth and as genius as a thief’s skeleton key! People are
tightrope walkers. They walk along a rope and threaten to fall every instant. The rope is
their inner core. And when they fall, the flight isn’t always brief but always painful... So,
Bulonov, your rope is very, very slender! Understand? And now I’m becoming stupid
again! Away with extra brains! They’re the obstacle on the path to happiness!”
Genka felt a bit terrified. It was good that Eyeless Horror was not in the mood to
stay long at the scene. Grabbing Bulonov and the stray Lieutenant, he rushed above the
city. The headwind quickly blew all philosophy from Lieutenant Rzhevskii and returned
the ghost to his former frivolous state.
Having recovered from his century-old grief, the Lieutenant started looking around
with interest. “Whoa!” he yelled, pausing at a brick high-rise. “This building looks
familiar to me! My good friend Uncle Herman lives here, in a casement... nuts... in an
apartment where I spent a few unforgettable days. Shall we take a look?”
“We have little time. They’re waiting for us at Tibidox!” Eyeless Horror became
stubborn.
“But Uncle Herman is the vampire lord! And it’s even the home of Grotty and Pipa
Durneva!” Rzhevskii enticed him, adoring peeking into places with which he had
memories associated.
“I was received in all the best royal homes of Europe! I even wondered whether it
was worth bothering going to a duke’s palace. What is some formal chair of the vampires,
who never even finds time to fly to Transylvania, to me!” Horror said nonchalantly.
Lieutenant Rzhevskii looked longingly at the windows of the Durnevs’ apartment.
It seemed that it would not be so simple to persuade Horror. Then he unloaded the last
trump card. “But he has a very fat wife!” he announced.
Interest flashed on Horror’s hideous face. “Really?” he asked casually. “Really now,
in our slim time, there are truly big women? When my beloved Baroness Krampf,
frolicking, sat in the saddle of my charger, she broke its spine. Indeed, that horse easily
supported my weight and the weight of my battle armour!”
“And I always liked the slim ones! Being drunk it’s harder to reach them with a
pillow,” Rzhevskii said nostalgically.
Eyeless Horror shrugged. “Well, mon cher, does the vampire lord really have a fat
wife?” he asked again.
“More than that. She would not only break the back of your horse, but also press it
into the ground up to its eyes, mon cher!” the Lieutenant, adjusting to his tone, assured
him.
Horror thought for a bit. The terrifying chasms of his eyes flashed a special dreamy
fire. “You’re certainly lying, but why not take a look? I’m sure your fat woman will turn

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out to be bony like a herring skeleton, but I’m curious to see how much moronoids have
shrunk. So be it, let’s fly. Just for expansion of horizon,” he agreed.
The procession of the two ghosts, whom Bulonov followed on the tennis racket,
slowly approached the Durnevs’ windows.

***

The Durnevs were not sleeping. Aunt Ninel, in a white robe as huge as a snowy
mountain, was fluttering around the living room, recalling her ballet past. Recently, she
alternated Wushu and ballet classes. The Mafioso living below had already been praying
quietly, looking at the swinging chandelier. Once he sent his bodyguard to investigate,
but the bodyguard did not return, and after a while he phoned from Murmansk. He did
not remember how he had turned up there. Uncle Herman and Gratis had argued for a
long time about who first released the boots with spurs from the closet...
Settled in an armchair, Durnev was tapping the calculator wholeheartedly with his
index finger. He translated pounds to grams and roubles to euros. From all this it was
possible to conclude that he was intending on selling another gold fridge sawn apart in
advance. The fridge had turned to gold as recently as yesterday, when the russified King
Midas decided to drink a hundred grams and snack on a sausage. Needless to say, the
bottle and the sausage also turned to gold, but this parcel was too undignified for
Durnev and his new business partner, General Cutletkin.
Now, King Midas, a.k.a. the unpretentious werewolf Gratis, sat on the couch with
legs tucked under and, yearning for the fashion models, teased the dachshund, One-
And-A-Half Kilometres. For this purpose, he quickly took his heel off the couch and
twirled it in front of the dog’s nose, hurriedly yanking it back when the dachshund
rushed to attack.
Vanka Valyalkin, tired of looking at the walls of Pipa’s room, also went into the
living room to the Durnevs. He was lonely and, in order to unwind somehow, intended
on asking Uncle Herman to arrange for him to be a worker in the zoo. This, as Tararakh
had said to him at parting, would be invaluable experience for future work in veterinary
magic.
“Sometimes, before applying magical means, it doesn’t hurt to have a closer look at
how and what. Lately I have had Pegasus limping here. It’s beating in the stall, angry,
and can’t step on its hoof. Last week I treated it for kicker’s evil eye, until I figured out
that magic isn’t expected here. A normal ulcer. Someone bit its leg angrily. Exactly on
the hoof... Either he didn’t share something with the muses, or tried to gallop away from
some writer again, or Lucan’s book53 made a fuss again,” the pithecanthropus said.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (39-65), known as Lucan, was a Roman poet during the time of the Roman
53

Emperor Nero (37-68). Some of his later works are anti-Imperial and pro-Republic.
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77

In case Durnev was obstinate and did not want to settle him in the zoo, Vanka even
remembered the spell Indifferonic tophthator. This simple little spell was capable of
turning one as stubborn as Uncle Herman into a lamb.
However, at the very moment when Vanya decided to move to a serious
conversation, Aunt Ninel, breathless from the ballet pas, suddenly decided
inopportunely to turn on the zoomer, sent to her as a gift from Pipa. “What a daughter
we have! She wants us to be informed of all magical things!” Uncle Herman was touched.
“Hello, jerkies and cursers, also wizards, maggals, magcesses, maglawyers, and
other unworthy characters, who have the audacity to still not love me! Keep in mind that
you’ve already been jinxed, he-he! With you is your precious, your unforgettable,
meticulous, revolting, nasty, but at the same time very, very dear... Yes, yes, needless to
say: Nagiana Pripyatskaya and her Latest Magnews! One who guessed is smart, one
who didn’t guess, quickly perform hara-kiri!”54 the zoomer rattled glibly. “Today there’ll
be two kinds of magnews – sensational and over-sensational... What shall we start with?
Let’s do the sensational. Astrologers notice the unfavourable position of the planets in
the sky, which happens about once every century. All black magic artefacts, existing and
hidden, will acquire simply colossal power in the upcoming week... White artefacts will
be extremely difficult to withstand them.
“Possible earthquakes, sudden changes of fate, mysterious disappearances,
transformations of everything, anything in general! Not excluding letting me irreversibly
curse my dear boss, who still doesn’t appreciate the true worth of such a treasure... At
the same time I’ll also poison my latest hubby with some slow poison. Imagine,
yesterday he didn’t buy me the Queen of Sheba’s tiara! All that was required was to
pledge his soul to Koshchei the Deathless for four hundred thousand years and he would
have scraped the amount together! But no, sheesh! Well, I, needless to say, in secret...
Maybe my hubby will make amends yet...”
Suddenly Nagiana’s face contorted. An angry blaze flashed in her eye with leucoma.
“Hey, operator, why is the image twitching?” she hissed. “What, is it inconvenient
holding the zoomer with frog paws? You film me as I tell you! So that my heart sings and
warts don’t enter the picture! Understand? And don’t you dare think badly of me, or else
you’ll shuffle home on flippers and eat soup through your ears!
“Excuse me, jerkies! A small operational moment! Friendly remark of an older
colleague to the growing generation... And now attention! The promised over-
sensational! An exclusive interview with Prun – yes, yes, that same Prun, who was Gury
Puper’s second! Attention, nauseants! You miss at least a sound, then you’ll regret it
your whole life!”

54 Hara-kiri is the ceremonial Japanese suicide.


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Prun appeared at the bottom of the scratched dish. He denounced Valyalkin as


dishonourable and described new chilling details of the duel. A gnome interpreter in a
red cap sat, thick legs dangling, on Prun’s shoulder.
“John Vailyalka released one spark after another! His face was distorted like a
Russian Magfioso! He wanted to kill Gury, and not just to kill, but to tear him to pieces
with his own magic! Poor Gury didn’t even have time to defend himself. He never
expected such craftiness. I myself miraculously survived! Vailyalka also wanted to kill
me! I rushed into the waves, risking my life, but managed to grab only the broom! I
dived, shouted, cried, but around was only the ocean!” the gnome droned on.
“Sit down!” Nagiana offered Prun. The famous Magnews anchorperson looked
concerned. Not so much about Puper’s fate but that the surviving Prun had covered the
entire zoomer with his chest, not letting her into the frame.
“I better stand!” Prun was embarrassed.
“But why?” Nagiana asked with annoyance.
Prun flushed delicately. “I won’t tell. It’s personal,” the gnome translated.
The anchorperson chuckled knowingly. “The aunts again? Okay, stand, whatever...
Now, if convenient, one more question. As far as I know, Vanka Valyalkin is still at large.
What is being done for his capture?”
“Oh, all possible and impossible measures!” Prun said enthusiastically. “Magciety
of Jerky Magtion has provided a group of experienced detectives led personally by
Grafin Cagliostrov. In addition, a special unit of magnotists headed by the maglawyer
Hudson is operating. At the present time, they’re combing all the levels and floors of
Tibidox. Given the enormous size of the school, it’ll most likely take several days.
They’ve already prepared the tightest, dirtiest, most disgusting cell for Vanka Valyalkin
in Duncedam!”
“Sounds terrible... Is it true that Sardanapal has offered help to the investigation?”
Prun made a vague hand gesture that could be interpreted either way. “Yes, the
Tibidox authority has admitted the detectives onto Buyan Island, but something is
suspicious. Besides, the Cyclopes are stalking the investigation team all the time, which
extremely complicates the work. One of the detectives, a very experienced and
competent professional, has already gone to magic station with a serious form of evil eye.
He fancies himself an earthworm. I would even say, fully living the part... A horrible
sight!”
“Nightmare! Who attacked him? Really Valyalkin?” Nagiana asked.
“No, indeed! He... he... um... inadvertently stuck his nose into Professor
Gorgonova’s room while she was changing. It occurred to him that changing was only an
excuse, while in fact she was concealing evidence.”
Nagiana laughed. “Poor guy! What, did he find a lot of evidence? I find it difficult to
condemn Medusa. We women piously guard our little secrets... So, what about

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Sardanapal? Will he help Vanka or not? Valyalkin could hardly disappear if the
academician hasn’t operated a magic shield,” she said.
“No evidence for the time being. Both Academician Chernomorov and Slandub
Slanderoff deny everything. However, if such evidence appears, Academician
Chernomorov could easily lose his seat! Koshchei the Deathless already swore by his
armour.”
Nagiana smiled delicately and meaningfully winked her eye with leucoma at the
audience. “I see, a tremendous amount of work has been done. Are there any results yet?
Perhaps the first clues of the investigation?” she asked insinuatingly.
“Certainly, there are results. The investigation is moving forward. Already made
numerous important discoveries that shed light on this dark and intricate case!” Prun
confided importantly. The chubby gnome hastily translated.
“So, the investigation is progressing? Well, well... Are there results, is there a
camera in Duncedam, no Vanka?” Nagiana chuckled. “And what are these important
findings, if it’s not a secret? Did you dig up a collection of Mr. Valyalkin’s old yellow
shirts? It would be a sensation! Ha-ha!”
Prun was covered with splotches. “I don’t know all the details,” he said sullenly.
“That’s wonderful!” Nagiana Pripyatskaya nodded contentedly and with a snap of
her fingers teleported Prun out of the studio. Moreover, something clearly did not work
as it should with the spectacular spell. Prun’s sneakers remained under the chair. One of
the assistants could be seen crawling under the table on all fours to remove them from
the frame.
“That’s all, my dear jerkies! I remind you that our guest of today’s broadcast was
Prun, a personal friend and protector of Gury. Try to survive till the evening, jerkies!
We’ll keep you up to date, reporting the progress of the investigation. Now ciao, wizards,
maglawyers, maggals, magcesses, and magvixens! With you was Nagianie and her Latest
Magnews. Ciao!”
Uncle Herman put away the zoomer. “And you, it turns out, are a dangerous
character! You bumped off Puper!” he said thoughtfully, looking at Vanka.
“That’s right,” Aunt Ninel agreed. “We were forced to shelter a serial killer! I
outright shudder when I envision to what snake hatchery we surrendered Pipa!”
“I’m not a killer... And certainly not a serial one!” Vanka was upset.
“Fool someone else! Did you hear what Prun said? It’s impossible not to believe
this honest foreign boy! He couldn’t even sit down, he was so upset! The vein in his neck
was pulsing and throbbing so! I downright couldn’t keep my eyes off him!” Gratis
declared with feeling.
Aunt Ninel approached the werewolf and forcefully poked him in the shoulder.
“Hey, you!” she said. “I’m a full-blooded and nervous person. I won’t put up with
bloodsuckers here!”

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“That hurts, Mumsy! Why ready to use your fists so quickly? And he, your husband,
isn’t a bloodsucker?” Gratis whined pitifully, nodding at Uncle Herman.
“Bloodsucker? He’s a senior official of high rank! Is that clear?” Aunt Ninel raised
her voice. She could still doubt her husband, but she granted no one else such an option.
Realizing that he had gotten carried away and talked needless nonsense, Gratis bit his
tongue and pretended to be a harmless label machine.
While Aunt Ninel was putting the domestic werewolf in place and setting the
boundaries, Uncle Herman continued to examine Vanka closely. “Okay,” he said at last.
“You can stay. You’re lucky V.A.M.P.I.R. is on bad terms with Magciety. Only you have
to hand over your ring. It’ll be stored in the safe until you’re about to leave this home.
And only then will you get it back. I don’t like surprises.”
“I won’t hand over the ring! Don’t expect it!” Vanka said stubbornly.
“Hand it over!” Durnev assured him calmly. “Ninel and I won’t tolerate all this
magic in our home. Otherwise, take off and be on your way. Door’s down the hall,
directly and no detours.”
Vanka thought for a bit. He sensed that Durnev was not bluffing. Keeping the ring
would be perfect. But where would he go then? He could not go home. Spies from
Magciety would certainly visit there. And Vanka still remembered that Sardanapal
strictly ordered him to remain at the Durnevs’. If he turned up anywhere else, the last
link with Tibidox would be broken.
Vanka reluctantly took the ring off his finger and tossed it to Uncle Herman. “You
can’t use it nonetheless. You need to be a wizard to do that,” he said.
“You’re saying this to me? I’d sooner stop forging election ballots than put this ring
on my finger!” the former deputy exclaimed angrily.
“One more condition. I want to work in the zoo!” Vanka continued.
“In the zoo?” Durnev grimaced. “Is that where all those dirty elephants and wet
crocodiles are? What do you want to work there as? Not a director, I hope? The job of a
director, my dear, is to be busy everywhere and for a long time. Trust my life experience.”
“No, not a director. Just to clean cages,” Valyalkin said firmly.
Uncle Herman waved contemptuously. “Oh please. Be my guest! A single call from
me is enough! If you want to shovel manure, consider that they’ve already handed you a
shovel and a wheelbarrow!” he snorted.
Vanka turned and left the room. Gratis hooted mockingly behind him.
“Herman, why did you keep this boy here? We could get rid of him somewhere. Or
do you fear that troubles may start for Pipa?” Aunt Ninel asked.
Durnev rolled Vanka’s ring in his hand, examining it. “Cheap,” he remarked to
himself. “Copper and some silver patterns. They wouldn’t give ten bucks for it at the
jeweller’s. What’s ten! They wouldn’t even give three! And where do they, I wonder, stuff
the magic here? I personally don’t see it!”

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“Herman, you didn’t answer me. Why didn’t you get rid of this boy?” Aunt Ninel
repeated impatiently.
“Get rid of him?” Durnev was surprised, giving the door a sidelong glance. “Think
of what you’re saying, Mama! O-ho-ho, how I need this boy! I pried this ring from him
so that he doesn’t slip away!”
“But what is he to you, Herman?”
Durnev grinned. “Didn’t I say that I recently received a letter from Malyuta
Skuratoff?”
“Uh-huh... From that disgusting character? Did they leave an envelope under the
door again?”
“No, worse. A bat smashed into my car window. A note was tied to its foot. Malyuta
has repented, fawning, asked me to forget our differences and even suggested I take the
title of Father of All Vampires.”
Aunt Ninel screwed up her eyes. “Somehow he became too generous. This Malyuta
won’t even unselfishly bite his own mother. He obviously needs something from you...”
she said.
“It’s true. He clearly hinted that he needs a favour from me. He asked if I have a
person in Tibidox who would be able to acquire one little thing for him. It once belonged
to him, but about two hundred years ago it was taken by wizards as a trophy. Allegedly,
it isn’t worth anything, but it is dear to him as a souvenir, and he’s ready to give dearly
for it... Here I thought that, aside from Pipa, who I would like to keep out of trouble, we
still have this character in a soccer shirt. If you mess with his head properly...” Not
finishing, Uncle Herman wiggled his fingers expressively.
“And you trust Malyuta? Why does he want this thing if it isn’t worth anything?
How many years has he lived without it and then suddenly remembered it?” Aunt Ninel
asked suspiciously.
“I trust Malyuta? Me?” Durnev was appalled. “I trust no one! Even...” Here Uncle
Herman looked at his wife and hastily corrected himself, “Even our dachshund... But
Malyuta really needs this thing, and consequently, it may turn out to be useful to me.”
“He didn’t write what it is? In terms of precisely having to steal it?” Durneva
specified.
Uncle Herman shook his head. “No, not a word about that. I’m telling you, the bat
was dead. I wasn’t able to send Malyuta a reply.”
“What if you send a cupid?” Durneva suggested.
Gratis laughed so hard he almost turned into a wolf. “A cupid? Do you think,
Mumsy, that cupids are such fools to fly to Transylvania? Once they’re there, the carotid
artery will be bitten through in ten minutes. Neither arrows, suspenders, nor wings will
be able to save them, ha-ha! Understand, bro?”

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Uncle Herman suddenly started to listen and looked around anxiously. One-And-
A-Half-Kilometres, the first to suspect something, jumped up and began to howl terribly
at the window.
Into the room first rolled Eyeless Horror’s head, then, spiked with knives like a
hedgehog, Lieutenant Rzhevskii, then a body with shackles jangling, and, finally,
spraying glass, Bulonov burst in on a tennis racket. He simply did not have time to brake,
as none of the ghosts had bothered to teach him Bangus parachutis.
“Everyone tremble! Hands up, legs apart!” Rzhevskii, forgetting to open his mouth,
hollered loudly.
Gratis wailed wildly. Staring at the ghosts, he stepped on the tail of the howling
dachshund and immediately paid for it. It was some time before he was able to shake off
the raging pug with yellow teeth from his heel.
Uncle Herman rushed to the closet for his sword, but stopped midway, realizing
that it would be useless to attack ghosts, and a clip in the ear to the boy would be enough.
Bulonov stood up, examining himself anxiously. The touchdown (or, more precisely,
“touch glass”) came off quite successfully, if not considering a couple of minor cuts. Had
his mama been nearby, the deal would not have been managed without a dozen
ambulances and rescue helicopters. Now Genka simply licked the wound on his hand
without taking further action.
Eyeless Horror finally found his flown-away head on the floor, put it on, and stared
at Aunt Ninel. He looked at her attentively for a long time. His fiery eye sockets blazed
and the edge of his scarred narrow mouth crept up. Aunt Ninel, who was being so
unceremoniously examined, was embarrassed at first, then got angry and, straightening
with arms on her side, became even bigger, even grander.
“What are you looking at? What, you’re in a museum and don’t understand? I’ll
now arrange a cultural event in two acts without intermission! I’ll slap you and the head
will fly away!” she said in a deep voice, from which fell fragments of the frame that had
survived Bulonov.
“Oh, oh, oh!” Horror muttered, rattling the shackles. “Yes, yes, yes!”
“What do you mean ‘yes, yes, yes’? ‘Yes, yes, yes’ in the sense of ‘ew-ew-ew’?” the
ubiquitous Lieutenant asked.
“She’s exactly my bride! I recognize her in this woman! The same voice, the same
physique!” the knight uttered hoarsely, as if by force. “When the enemies rushed at me
at the wedding feast in the castle, my Adele strangled two with her bare hands. She
crushed one more with the table. No one dared to approach her anymore and they shot
her with a crossbow... I rushed to her, I also fought like a lion, but they hit me on the
head, disfigured me and immured me alive in the wall. I took a long time to die. I had a
lot of enviers... I didn’t go to the afterlife because I wanted revenge. And now, so many
years later, she has resurfaced again! I knew, I believed! Oh, Adele, my joy, my
happiness!” Eyeless Horror rumbled his shackles.
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“Adele, Ninel... Hmmm... Strange coincidence!”55 the Lieutenant admitted. “By the
way, speaking of coincidence, if we’re talking about them. Once a promotion should
have come forth for me. We were already waiting for the order. Then a new Colonel
came to inspect the troops. I went along the formation and suddenly saw that a button
had come off one soldier’s coat. I hollered in a fatherly manner, ‘Hey you, half-baked
pretzel! How dare you stand this way in front of his Honour, samovar face!? And in his
face?’ And then I saw that the Colonel had turned purple, and everyone somehow moved
away from me... What do you think, our new Colonel’s last name turned out to be Pretzel.
And I in all innocence of a pure soul! That’s it: there went my career! Time goes by,
everyone gets promoted, but I’m still a Lieutenant! Oh, my heart aches for the
Motherland!” The Lieutenant rattled on, but nobody listened to him, just like the
prophetess of Troy.56 Simply no one cared about him.
Eyeless Horror knelt down. There was suffering on his face. “Adele! Adele,
recognize me, I beg you! It’s me, your Henry!” he muttered, stretching out his hands to
Aunt Ninel. His knees glided over the floor without touching it.
Aunt Ninel, as if bewitched, looked at him and did not move from the spot. Yes, he
was hideous and all covered in scars. Yes, he was dead. Yes, he was a ghost in a blood-
stained shirt and with a head pulled off somehow... But, after all, is this important?
Finding fault with those who love us is a brutal and vain effort. Besides, deep down, it
had begun to seem to Aunt Ninel that she had already seen this man at one time. Once a
long time ago, in dream or reality.
Eyeless Horror approached Aunt Ninel and brushed her hands with his
disembodied hands. Durneva at once felt heat and cold. The ghost’s hands, touching
hers, simultaneously existed and did not exist. It was a strange, a very strange feeling.
Time passed for Aunt Ninel, ever-changing and absurdly repetitive flashes of minutes
and seconds. She was tumbling somewhere, as if falling from a great height, and... and
she liked it.
But then, as often happens in life, the husband cut in and ruined everything. “Hey,
you there! Garden scarecrow! Get away from my wife, or I will not be responsible for my
actions!” Uncle Herman flared up, brandishing his sword.
Eyeless Horror made a short, almost imperceptible movement with his hand, as if
pushing air in the direction of Uncle Herman. A mysterious force ripped Durnev off the
spot and cast him behind the sofa, at the back of which Gratis, bitten by the dachshund,
was already hiding.
“Hello, Diaghilev! With the beloved, even paradise in a tent! You sit here, and I’ll
dance for you! Why do you want some fatso, who doesn’t appreciate your inner beauty?

55The Russian form of Adele is spelled Adel.


56In Greek mythology, Cassandra, a princess of Troy, has the power of prophecy but no one believes her.
Instead she is considered insane and a liar by her family and the people of Troy.
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Look, what fingers you have! Fingers of an artist, a sculptor, a violinist!” the werewolf
said, lowering his head tenderly onto Durnev’s shoulder.
Durnev spat irritably, realizing that from the excessive mutual heat, Gratis was
imagining himself as Nijinsky, not waiting till noon.
Genka Bulonov picked up the tennis racket and slipped out into the hallway. He
had already long figured out that he was in Pipa’s parents’ apartment. He pushed open
the far door plastered with such a collection of GP posters that it could only belong to
Pipa. However, the one lying on the bed with his hands behind his head could not be
confused with Pipa. This was a tall, lanky boy of fourteen or fifteen. Bulonov even had
time to notice that a yellow soccer shirt was sticking out of his jacket.
For a few seconds Bulonov and Vanka Valyalkin looked perplexedly at each other.
Then, after muttering “hello, excuse me,” Genka quickly closed the door. He was not
among those who make friends quickly and right away. Even just to get acquainted with
a new classmate, he usually went around in circles for a solid hour, hiding his hand
behind his back to avoid being in the awkward situation of a person stretching a hand
out into the void. What is there to say about girls here? While Genka was getting up the
courage to ask a girl to the movies, she had already managed to turn up at the other end
of the street. Well, is this not sad? The only exception was Coffinia. She had treated
Genka almost like a person. True, not only Genka but also anyone that wore pants. But
Bulonov was pleased nonetheless. You do not look a gift horse in the mouth.
Bulonov had not yet had time to return to the living room when the ring, which
Horror had bestowed on him, started to glimmer. “Why did no one bring a zoomer?
When will you finally be at Tibidox?” the ring asked in a stern voice.
Bulonov was fearfully silent, trying hastily to twist the ring off his finger, but it,
unfortunately, was stuck. Genka already realized that the ring’s owner, Medusa
Gorgonova, a formidable lady from the Evil Spirit Studies department, was talking to
him.
“What’s this game in silence?” The ring menacingly fired a spark turning into a
swarm of silvery wasps.
“No, don’t! Please remove the bees!” Bulonov shrieked, confusing the names in
horror.
“WHO IS THIS? Is this Bulonov? Gennadii?” The voice became even more severe,
dryer. It seemed to poor Genka that he even heard snakes hissing.
“Ye-ye-yes...”
“An exhaustive response. I was also expecting precisely such a response. Where are
Horror and the Lieutenant? What are those bums doing?”
“We... we’re already leaving.”
“I hope it’s true. Flying at night is difficult and the ocean is stormy today... Well,
see you, if it happens!” the ring said grimly. Another spark broke out and the wasps,
almost having surrounded Genka, dribbled down onto the carpet like drops of silver.
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Bulonov rushed stumbling to the ghosts. Eyeless Horror was still muttering
something the whole time, stretching out his hands to Aunt Ninel. Madame Durneva,
not pampered by male attention, was quietly thrilled. Lieutenant Rzhevskii and the
reincarnated Nijinsky-Gratis were passionately performing an Oriental dance with
daggers. These kindred spirits had found each other. Uncle Herman, forgotten by
everyone, sat behind the couch and tragically wrung his slender artist fingers.
Noticing Bulonov’s wry face, Gratis stopped dancing and stamped his foot. “Why
are you so disgusting? Take away this sour specimen and don’t refund him for the
tickets. He ruined my spontaneity!” he said capriciously.
“Hold on!” Lieutenant Rzhevskii stopped him, flying up to Genka. “Where were
you?”
“I was talking... that is... with the ring,” Genka mumbled.
“With Medusa?” Rzhevskii chuckled. “What, was she angry? It’s all because of the
searches in Tibidox. She terribly dislikes these Magciety characters, they poke their
noses in everywhere. If not for the academician, she would’ve turned them to stone with
a gaze. Of course, Medusa is a white wizard, but sometimes it’s difficult to fight with the
past!”
Eyeless Horror turned irritably and, realizing that it was time to fly, rose from his
knees. “I’ll write you, Adele! I’ll visit you again soon!” he said hoarsely.
“Good! I’ll be waiting!” Aunt Ninel replied, blushing like a tomato.
Durnev snorted indignantly and repeatedly kicked the back of the couch with his
legs, strong like a rabbit’s.

***

The flight over the ocean remained like an endless nightmare in Genka Bulonov’s
memory. The racket maintained air flow poorly, so it was necessary to fly slightly
sideways. Besides, it was hellishly cold, so cold that Genka’s hands stiffened and there
was frost on his hair, which soon turned into a thin crust of ice. The figures of the ghosts
showing him the way were translucent and poorly visible in the dark. Many times Genka
lost them in the clouds and was outright panicky. The prospect of remaining alone above
the stormy ocean on a tennis racket, not knowing any spells except Speedus envenomus,
seemed to him a nightmare. Genka, in a panic, rushed from side to side and almost
screamed with delight every time Eyeless Horror’s spooky pupils lit up in front of him.
Genka was barely sitting on the racket when Lieutenant Rzhevskii waved,
attracting his attention. In the first minute Bulonov saw absolutely nothing. No island.
And only then he suddenly realized that the stormy waves were smashing against an
invisible barrier and soaring vertically for a good hundred metres. What power should
there be to keep an invisible wall to stop these heavy, continuously recurring blows?

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“That’s Grail Gardarika! Welcome to Buyan! Now climb higher, accelerate, and
forward! Somewhere here should be a transition period! Don’t forget to release a spark
and cast the spell!” Rzhevskii shouted.
At the thought that he would have to ram the wall, which the waves were beating
on, at full speed, Bulonov wanted to turn around and fly back to Mama. “I’ve changed
my mind about becoming a wizard... Call EMS and draw an iodine grid on my back!”57
he would say to her, and the world would be restored.
“Don’t doubt! Don’t you dare doubt! You should think that you’re here by all right
or you’ll shatter to pieces... You will no longer fly back, not enough strength, forward!”
Eyeless Horror, precisely reading his thoughts, shouted menacingly. Not letting Genka
hesitate, the ghost waved his hand and the racquet started to fall steeply into the void.
The night blue sucked out all his courage. The wind whistled in his ears. The ocean
waves droned on.
“Come on, why are you silent? You’ll crash!” Horror shouted even more terribly.
“Ahhhh! Grail Gardarikaaaaa!” Bulonov yelled, squinting and barely overcoming
the temptation to put out his hands.
The ring released a spark. Even, it seemed, two sparks. Something pushed him in
the chest. Although his eyelids were closed, seven rainbows flared up in front of his eyes.
Realizing that he was still alive, Genka stopped squinting.
The storm suddenly abated. Genka saw a wooded island. Distant trees by the cliff,
behind which the sun was rising, resembled sharp strokes on a blurred watercolour
background. But Bulonov was not looking there but at the huge castle-fortress, which
suddenly rose slightly to the left. Huge castle towers hid in the clouds.
“Say thank you to Medusa!” Eyeless Horror said grimly, appearing beside Genka.
“I’ve never seen a more incompetent Gardarika. If the ring hadn’t safeguarded you an
extra spark, it would have been necessary to summon the harpies to clean the outside of
the dome.”
“Moreover, the harpies would’ve managed without any equipment. They have
strange tastes, those harpies,” Rzhevskii chimed in.
“Okay, don’t shiver! Let’s fly. And don’t forget to thank Medusa,” Horror remarked
and, showing the way, flew ahead.
A small group of students had already gathered on the wall of Tibidox to meet the
new kid. Gottfried Bouillon, in a raincoat and anti-spell armour, was standing to the side
leaning on his spear, which never knew a miss. He had just returned from the cellars,
where, according to his own assertion, he had won a major victory over a detachment of

57In the beginning of the 20th century, Dr. I. Kobasenko of St. Petersburg proposed applying an iodine
grid as an inexpensive and relatively simple treatment for trauma, bruises, colds, and diseases of the
musculoskeletal system. A dilute iodine solution is applied to the back (for coughs and such) or other
affected areas using a cotton swab to make a grid with cells of about 1 cm. The idea is that iodine irritates
the receptors on the skin, thus stimulating blood flow in inflamed regions.
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evil spirits. Although there could be different opinions here, because Gottfried looked as
if they had played with him well like a football.
“Meeting on the Elbe!58 Two Bouillons, two unique persons! Only one is Gottfried
and a duke, and the second is so-so!” the handsome Zhora Zhikin said maliciously in an
undertone. He still did not know that Genka would live in the same room with him.
Slander and Medusa always left the most pleasant news for dessert. Sardanapal
generally preferred not to delve into such, in his opinion, nonsense.

58On April 25th, 1945, the Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany,
splitting the remnants of the German armed forces into two, thus making an important step towards
ending WWII in Europe.
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Chapter 8
A BATTLE OF FOLIOS

Evening had descended on Tibidox, a warm spring evening, smelling of the ocean
and pine needles. Mermaids splashing in the pond and rambunctious freshmen
shouting above the dragonball field were heard. Not long ago, Nightingale had
assembled a new youth team from the most promising kids. The old coach looked at
things sensibly. In a year, the main players in the team would complete their studies in
Tibidox and it was unclear what would happen next. More precisely, it was too clear.
It was highly unlikely that all ten players would tie their future fate with dragonball.
The majority would leave the sport forever. And if so, change would be needed, or else
you would be left with nothing and, for the rest of your life, looking at old cups, no
longer dreaming of new ones. Nightingale obviously would prefer to avoid such an old
age. Now he and Daedalus, kindly and not interfering, watched from the stands, as the
young people chased Goyaryn’s sons with long jets of fire blazing in blue.
“Eh-heh-heh!” Nightingale said to his friend. “No permanence! You barely have
time to teach anything and the kids are growing up and going. What a difference with
the others... The Muses last had a change one-and-a-half thousand years ago. I won’t
even talk about the Gandharvas! And the Babai! They generally train seven days in a row.
And then they still wonder why they play like this!”
“But didn’t we indeed beat them? We beat the Babai and overcame the Gandharvas!
It only turned out a mess with the Muses!” Daedalus protested, cautiously poking his
delicate Greek nose out of the book.
“Uh-huh! I would still like to overpower the Invisibles before the team has to be
disbanded... Yes, Magciety is spinning something just after Puper’s death. And it’s
understandable: without Gury the team is no longer the same... Who to play there, not
Carolyn Curlo? Pity all the same for the boy. Oh, Tanya, Tanya! All the troubles from
them, from women! I know indeed!” Nightingale O. Robber sighed, remembering that
he once had four wives in the Mordovian woods.
While the first-year students, hooting, spurring the vacuums and puffing scales,
chased after the dragons, the other Tibidox students killed time as they pleased,
according to their abilities, habits, and extent of overall naughtiness.
Shurasik was sitting in the reading room of the genie Abdullah’s library and was
feeling down. A whole mountain of books towered before him on three tables pushed
together. The most impatient books were rustling their pages and crawling from place to
place, some turned into snakes and hissed threateningly, demanding attention, but
Shurasik did not even remember the books, which he himself had gathered from the
shelves an hour ago. A dreamy element had taken possession of Shurasik. In his
imagination he fast forwarded many years ahead and rose to unimaginable heights.

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“Well, never mind! Now everyone laughs at me, they don’t understand me, let
them!” he thought “They laugh because they’re nobodies. What will they be in five years?
Maghomemakers, magsecurities, or magnagers in some magstore. We’ll hardly share
any interests. Our paths will never cross again, and great. In a year I’ll finish school with
such a high score, which even Professor Stinktopp didn’t finish with. Then
maggradschool in Magford and everything: all paths are open to me. I still don’t yet
clearly know how, but I’ll definitely be rich and famous! I’ll be a genius like The Ancient
One, rich like Koshchei the Deathless, and popular like Gury Puper... And all rolled into
one. With one movement of the eyebrows and a spoken word at the right time, I’ll break
women’s hearts with the ease with which a cat jumping onto the China shelf smashes
plates and cups. Coffinia, On-The-Sly, Grotter, and... and especially that nasty Lotkova
will regret a hundred times that they didn’t pay attention to me! But it’ll be too late, of
course! At my feet will already be the first beauties of the world! ‘That’s it, lassies!’ I’ll
say. ‘Too late! Your compartment is at the end of the car next to the toilet!’”
The daydreaming Shurasik smiled indulgently and made a careless hand
movement, meant to indicate to Grotter and Lotkova their true status, but inadvertently
pushed a few books onto the floor.
Poor, poor Shurasik! He had every reason to be angry with classmates and even
more with himself. Like many honour students and generally smart guys ahead in
development of their peers, he was as naive and inexperienced as a child in all other
respects not related to the assimilation of knowledge. It annoyed him that his classmates
looked at him mostly as a dweeb, not realizing that Shurasik, like everyone, wanted to
love and be loved, fool around, joke, and do stupid things. Another thing was that he
was completely not good at all this and was forever getting into trouble. Sometimes he
tried to make a joke – with necessary digression into history and background, as well as
an explanation of the humour – and no one even smiled, but all willingly guffawed over
some mediocre witticism of Bab-Yagun. But with the girls, it was quite a disappointment
with the girls...
Perhaps Shurasik’s mistake was that he was too proud and not always forgiving of
the weaknesses and mistakes of others. Instead he was always very tense and puffed out
his cheeks, and also, this was also extremely important, he took himself very seriously.
Although, who knows what is really the key to our success/failure?
Once, Shurasik almost got up the courage to invite Katya Lotkova to stroll along the
shore with him in the evening. While he was looking for words, Katya lifted her head
and beamed at him. “Oh, hi, Shura! Are you here for the notes?” she asked with such
guileless friendliness that Shurasik’s heart almost melted from grief. He suddenly
realized that he would always be a source of notes and finished homework for Lotkova.
Like this self-moving dweeb and spell in trousers and boots. Such people, of course,
respected him and sat closer to him in exams, but along the shore... they strolled alone
along the shore.
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“Uh, yes! For the notes,” Shurasik said hopelessly.


“Ugh, how nasty! But you’ll wait? You really don’t need the notebook today?”
“I’ll wait! I always put up with everything,” Shurasik grunted and, turning,
wandered aimlessly. He felt like such a highbrow freak, prematurely aged and ready
maybe only for the immediate assumption of the academic degree of “professor of sour
cabbage soup”.59
“What’s with you, Shura?” Lotkova was immensely surprised.
“I’m not Shura! Is that clear?! Not Shura! I’m a ‘he’, ‘him’! I’m a person!” Shurasik
shouted, voice breaking, and ran off at full speed. And only the covers of the magic folios
in the farthest corner of the book depository knew how he spent that night.
But this happened a long time ago already, when Katya even had not yet met Yagun.
Now Shurasik had fully restored his emotional balance and, relating to the present
indifferently, tied all his hopes to the future, which, because it was somewhere far away
and had no definite shape, seemed rosy.
Having finished daydreaming, Shurasik smiled, happily surveying the mountain of
books enraged by his inattention, and pulled out a colourful chubby magazine with a
pretty maggal on the cover from under The Anatomical Atlas of Evil Spirits, from anger
turning itself into a block of granite. This maggal had the habit of throwing herself
around the neck of those readers who took out an annual subscription. She even kissed
those who repeated a subscription. True, depending on her mood, she could also claw
the reader’s face.
Are you surprised? Why? Sometimes Shurasik loved to read for relaxation an
ordinary colourful magazine from Bald Mountain with animated images and blocks of
ads scattered at variance throughout the pages. Here on the back cover of this magazine
was a blank door with streaks of blood, as though appearing from the tale of Bluebeard.
The sign on the door stated: Theatre doors. Works around the clock, except for both
odd and even days of the month. Knock!
Shurasik grinned. He envisioned very well what this was. The main thing was not
to knock on the door and not to touch the handle, if you did not want to fall into the
Other World. Bored ghouls loved providing malicious ads, paying for it with cursed
treasures and other dubious currency. Quite often the money for such operations was
borrowed from the loan funds of the ferryman Charon, 60 having become wealthy in
those days of yore, when an obol61 was placed in the deceased's mouth.
Happily avoiding traps, Shurasik flipped through the magazine, bashfully closing
his eyes at the sight of ads of the Red Cap witches (Scorching evil eye via zoomer! You

59 A professor of sour cabbage soup is a euphemism for a self-assured, half-educated stupid person.
60 In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman who carries the souls of the newly dead across the rivers
Styx and Acheron, which divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.
61 An ancient Greek custom was to put an obol coin, a metallic form of ancient Greek currency, in the

mouth of the deceased as payment to Charon for crossing the rivers into the realm of the dead.
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pay only the magdistance calls!), read a couple of short articles of entertaining content,
and occupied himself with studying a new catalogue of magical prankfacts, 62 which
numerous Bald Mountain workshops specialized in manufacturing.

CATALOGUE OF MAD MAGMAKERS OF BALD MOUNTAIN


(Spring collection. Discounts to magcart owners and wizards over three hundred
years old.)
Skirt of irresistibility. Lovely ladies! We do not suggest anything. We simply
describe. Sewn in our magic factory Scribblewhatever, the skirt of irresistibility will
make curved legs straight. Well suited for a first date. Brings any gentleman to a state
of stupor.
Skirts of all colours and sizes, and also skirts made of real leather. Price – 270
bagel holes.
ATTENTION! Do not get caught in the rain. When wet, the skirt spell immediately
fades. It is forbidden to wear it after sunset – the legs transform irreversibly into those
of birds.
Dried-up Pharaoh. Have you lost sleep and appetite, and been having recent hair
loss? Have you become excessively nervous and irritable? Then you need a patient
friend and adviser! A dried-up Pharaoh is your friend every day. Always friendly and
in a good mood. An excellent listener for an elderly chatty wizard. Never the third
wheel in any company. A free bonus from the company on an order of more than 3
mummies – an inflatable pyramid.
Price per piece – from 3200 bagel holes.
Self-kicking boots. Alas, life in a large metropolis is becoming increasingly
dangerous. Returning home in the evening, it is easy to meet a gang of ghouls or
drunken Cyclopes in a dark alley. Nothing will save your life better than self-kicking
boots. They not only drive away thugs, but also repulse lifelong their kidneys, spleen,
and desire (need to underline the attached coupon).
The latest models are equipped with laser sights.
Price – 170 bagel holes for a pair with ordinary soles, and 310 bagel holes with
never-wear-out soles. All sizes, including for dwarfs and giants. Order today or we
will send you ghouls tomorrow!
Non-tie enigmatic laces. Delivered as a complete set with a non-fasten belt. Perfect
for distracting ghouls and Cyclopes when passing through their land.
Price – 20 bagel holes (a set of 2 laces). We recommend purchasing together with
a wooden box (24 bagel holes), otherwise the laces may strangle the owner.
Pouch for a practicing wizard. Do you boil and steam something, prepare potions
and poisons with something all the time? Then this is for you – a pouch that does not

62 A prankfact is a device for pranks, practical jokes.


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bruise herbs and preserves already prepared magic powders for a long time. Sewn
with the fifth dimension. The small pouch easily fits into any pocket and holds up to
five stacks (!!!) of herbs.
The complete set with the pouch supplies:
Cram-herb – a wonderful herb for exams or simply for fans of lifelong learning.
Scram-herb – works great on annoying suitors with duration of annoyance of not
more than three years.
Parasite-herb – a handful of seeds of parasite-herb. Capable of turning any open
area of land, including the Sahara Desert, into an impenetrable thorny wasteland in a
few minutes.
Note: it is better to use Tula samovars for storage of elixirs and tinctures.
Price – from 199 bagel holes, depending on the configuration.
Titan clubs. Have you been invited to the centenary of an old friend, but do not
know what to get him? Any gift seems to you either too ordinary or this friend already
has it? We offer you the perfect solution – a Titan club! Huge gnarled clubs, roughly
hewn from a whole oak (less often pine) trunk. Once served as weapons of the first
giants and titans with feet of clay, inhabiting the Earth and later annihilated during
the first battle.63 They contain huge reserves of magic. Often the material is used for
the manufacturing of wands for wizards who do not acknowledge magic rings.
Originally, the clubs were often used as battering rams in the storming of magic
castles.
Price – 3000 bagel holes. Attached to each club is an individual certificate of
authenticity that does not allow forgery. (Can be printed on a copier.)
Casacova64 cologne. Are you unpopular? Girls do not see you at close range? Only
your dog howls at your jokes? But you, like a true wizard, do not give up and dream
about success? Then this is for you – Casacova cologne! Just one spritz – and blondes,
brunettes, and redheads will die from love like flies. Especially irresistible to fair- and
brown-haired girls. A beautiful bottle in the shape of a male torso of shatterproof glass.
Price – 55 bagel holes for one vial and 100 bagel holes for two.
A trial batch! Order today and tomorrow you will chase away female admirers
with a broom!

63 In Greek mythology, the Titans were descendants of the primordial deities Gaia (Mother Earth) and
Uranus (Father Sky). The Giants, or Gigantes, were also offspring of Gaia and Uranus, but they were born
of the blood that fell onto Earth when Uranus was castrated by his Titan son Cronus. The name “Gigantes”
implies “earthborn”, thus the term “feet of clay”. The Titans, led by Cronus, fought the Olympians, led by
Zeus, for dominance over the Universe. The Titanomachy, the War of the Titans, lasted ten years with the
Titans being vanquished. After that event, the Giants also fought with the Olympians, in a war named
Gigantomachy, for supremacy of the cosmos. The Giants were also destroyed.
64 A parody of Casanova, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (1725 – 98), Italian adventurer and author, who

was so famous for his affairs with women that his name is synonymous with “womanizer”.
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“As far as I know Bald Mountain wizards, there is precisely some dirty trick here,
but I can’t figure out what!” Shurasik thought, carefully studying the last ad. “One of two
things: either the girls will literally die like flies, or the cologne attracts evil spirits
together with girls... However, still tempting. Maybe I should try it?”
Suddenly, Zhikin came into the reading room. Mysteriously turning his head,
elegant like the handle of a walking cane, he quickly pulled out a small piece of glass and
looked searchingly through it first at the genie Abdullah, and then at Shurasik.
Zhikin had already been living in a room with Genka Bulonov for several days and
he was terribly displeased.
“He doesn’t ask any girl out – nothing, some ass!” he complained to everyone he
met. “I said to him: put yourself in my position – you hang around somewhere in the
evening, well, at least from six to eleven, and there, all right, you drag yourself home, if
not spending the night at somebody’s. And he already starts banging on the door at half
past nine! You see, his mama has trained him to go to bed early, and his eyes stick
together! But then he gets up in the morning at the crack of dawn and begins to cram
spells! And so loudly! You see, he wants to make up four years of missed courses in a
year! Dang, he turned out to be Mikhail Lomonosov!65 And I, perhaps, get all of half an
hour sleep... And the nastiest thing is that my girls like him! ‘Ah, how tall he is, a real
basketball player! And what a shy smile! Ah, ah! Complexes would prevent him from
talking – there wouldn’t be a better boyfriend than him in Tibidox!’ Ugh! Fools!” At this
point in his story Zhikin always spat at his feet.
The genie Abdullah, seated behind the library desk, was captivated by the creation
of a new epic poem, where three thousand fell dead in thirty stanzas, and did not even
notice Zhikin. In such creative moments he became deaf like an old parrot spending the
last twenty years in the dining car of the Southern railway and knowing only bad words.
Shurasik glanced sideways at Zhikin, nodded at him, and immediately forgot about
him. He related to Zhikin neither poorly nor well. They generally had little contact, their
interests were too different. But now Zhora obviously needed something from Shurasik.
He approached and stopped with some hesitancy. Zhikin had not yet reached him, but
Shurasik had already closed the magazine and placed on top of it a thick volume with
formulations of spatial magic. A piece of paper glued to the cover warned that poison,
instantly killing any on inhaling, was scattered between the three hundred and second
and three hundred and third page, and a sucking hole was located on the next-to-last
page.
“Attracted to girls? Well, well! It’s pressing for you! Girls, brother, they’re
whimsical, southern66 fruit. They sometimes allow no one, sometimes fall into the hands

65 Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov (1711-65), a Russian polymath, scientist, and writer with important
contributions to literature, education, and science, finished in 5 years a twelve-year study course at the
Slavic Greek Latin Academy, the first higher education establishment in Moscow.
66 People of the South are alleged to be more passionate.

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of one... Hoo-hoo! Where exactly without cologne?” Zhikin said. “Hoo-hoo” was his
crowning laugh. Not “hee”, not “ha”, but precisely “hoo”. Zhora was sure that his “hoo”
hit the girls unfailingly, like a bullet with a displaced centre of gravity.
Shurasik turned slightly pink, wondering where Zhikin could have found out about
Casacova cologne and the temptation to buy it. He was quite sure that Zhora could not
have seen the magazine.
Zhikin reassuringly patted Shurasik on the shoulder, shaking book dust from the
number one student of Tibidox. “Well, brother, don’t be embarrassed! Not everyone can,
even if you hang yourself on laces! But then you’re some whiz! Downright a chimpanzee
in a motorcycle helmet! If you want, we’ll hit on girls together. If there are extras, I’ll
yield to you as a friend, sort of humanitarian assistance to underdeveloped countries!
Hoo-hoo! But first you have to help me with something!”
“Exams again? Zhik, you know my rates – a bagel hole for a right answer. Three
bagel holes for Evil Spirit Studies. If Medusa catches anyone, off with their heads!67 And
mine in particular,” Shurasik said, looking glumly at Zhikin. Lately, Shurasik only
helped girls free of charge. All others paid for their stupidity according to the price list.
Zhikin grunted and tossed a little piece of glass in his palm. “No, dear. I don’t need
you for exams. Now I know the right answers myself. Even before...” he wanted to add
“before they handed out the test” but did not say anything, deciding that Shurasik
should not know everything.
Not waiting until Zhikin had finished the sentence, Shurasik delved into the study
of formulae, but Zhora looming near was distracting him very much. “Zhik, aren’t you
late for somewhere? Don’t think that I’m showing you the door, but what if someone is
waiting for you somewhere?” he asked politely.
However, instead of leaving, Zhikin sat down beside Shurasik and, after taking his
famous Stinktopp’s pencil, quickly scribbled a few words on a sheet of paper. Abdullah’s
desk was quite far away from them, but all the same, Zhora hesitated to talk aloud.
I need your help. Pretend that you’re explaining a formula to me... Help me get a
book!
Shurasik read and wrote What book?
First Magic of Noah Zhikin wrote in very small letters and immediately, Shurasik
had barely finished reading, destroyed the writing with the erase spell.
Shurasik was curious. It was as if a bell rang in his head. Anyone who knows his
way around magic books is ready to give a year of his life in order to hold in his hands
the folio with that name. A book containing that title on the cover was simply incapable
of being mediocre. Why do you need it?
I need it... Unimportant why... You see, there are some spells or something there...
Zhikin wrote vaguely.

67A phrase best known from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll (1832 – 98), now
usually used humorously as a reproach.
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Shurasik gnawed on the pencil. You didn’t try asking Abdullah?


He wouldn’t give it, I checked already. He lied that there’s no such thing, Zhikin
wrote in response, looking without enthusiasm at the spat-on end of the pencil, having
just been in Shurasik’s mouth.
It’s in restricted access?
Worse. Abdullah claims that it doesn’t exist.
And if it really doesn’t exist?
How can it not? I even know where it is!
Why don’t you get it yourself?
Well, you get it! Abdullah will be suspicious if I appear next to the shelf. You’re a
different matter. He’s used to you going where you want! I’ll draw you the layout!
“Better give me an evil-eye rifle. If Abdullah expels me, only it will save us. Even
that’s unlikely,” Shurasik grumbled, no longer resorting to the pencil.
He stood up and began to busily arrange the books into two piles: one pile of books
on black magic and the other on white. They did not get along at all among themselves,
and this was well known to Shurasik. Half a minute later, loaded down with a huge
mountain of books separated into piles, Shurasik became like a camel, whose owners
decided to press down with an excessive load because of its cantankerous character and
a habit of sniper spittle. Balancing, he was about to move towards Abdullah but stopped
suddenly, miraculously freed his hand, and decidedly took the pencil from Zhikin.
“You’re rather toothy! I let no one nibble it, save it for myself,” Shurasik explained.
Shurasik’s plan was as simple as ABC. He was hoping that Abdullah would trust
him to replace the books, and he, seizing the moment, would pull First Magic off the
shelf. But no such luck. Just at that moment, Abdullah was experiencing writer’s block.
Poetic curses ceased to flow freely from his head, and the invisible muse inspiring him
had departed for the Crimean Black Doctor wine.68
Abdullah floated out from behind his desk and, now touching and now not
touching the floor with his feet, approached Shurasik. “You’re somewhat quick today!
Let me help you!” he offered kindly.
Shurasik felt a slight pang of conscience. Abdullah always treated him, if not like a
person (not surprisingly, since, no matter how proudly the word “person” sounded, the
genie began to spit at it), then quite decently. He moved to the shelves together with
Abdullah. Here he looked around at Zhora. Zhikin nodded, confirming that yes, that was
the shelf. Shurasik squinted and leaned slightly forward. The two stacks of books
crashed onto the floor, hopelessly mixed up. Dark books, coming into contact with the
white ones, scented an enemy and rushed at them. The white books defended
themselves desperately, constantly shifting to a counterattack.

68Black Doctor is a red dessert wine made from the Ekim Kara grapes native to the Crimea. The wine
takes the name from the grape, which is Turkic for “doctor” or “healer” – ekim and “black” or “great” –
kara.
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Buba Babbard’s Spirituality instantly gnawed the cover of Anatomical Atlas of Evil
Spirits, from under which climbed out bogies and kikimoras, hurriedly coming alive and
lining up in battle formation. Some of them, in view of the anatomical specification of
the volume, had a very, very eviscerated appearance. Surrounded on all sides,
Spirituality decided not to yield without a fight and, taking the paper enemies with it,
blew itself up with valuable opinions.
Practical Lessons in Theory of Irremovable Curses, busily rustling its pages and
after taking insidious runes at the ready, approached Aphorisms of a White Apathetic
Magician. It was as if Aphorisms did not care about anything. Nevertheless, it did not
forget to turn into a granite tombstone – the latest and most reliable bulwark of an
apathetic person.
The Theatre Doors on the cover of a Bald Mountain magazine got very excited. The
door trembled and changed colour. The handle turned like the hand of a frantic clock.
The miserable magazine shook and turned inside out together with all the photos.
Maggals fled in panic, chirping pitifully and losing individual toiletries. The bogies that
survived the explosion of Spirituality pursued them.
The book Tortures of Duncedam by the author-compilers Sadko, 69 Mazov, and
Anna Nimova 70 wrapped itself in greenish smoke, which quickly took the material
outlines of gallows and racks. In the background, a burly executioner with a red bumpy
nose timidly shifted from foot to foot near a large wooden executioner’s block.
Veterinary Magic, V Year and the two-volume History of Beyond Worlds stood
united against Tortures of Duncedam. Veterinary Magic threw rattlesnakes and
tarantulas at Tortures, and History of Beyond Worlds released restless souls by the
dozens from its pages.
The battle was torrid. A rare book lost more than a dozen pages and fifty runes. The
only one to get off lightly was the pamphlet How to Dodge the Magmy,71 Notes of a
Magpathetician,72 which, literally pretending to be a felt boot, promptly faded under the
shelf and sat out the battle there.
Abdullah screamed tragically, invoking all sorts of misfortunes on the book covers,
his own head, and Shurasik’s head. While the library genie was separating the fighting
books and arranging them on the shelves, Shurasik seized the moment and, creeping to
the secret bookcase, pulled out an old book. Finding it was quite easy, since only it had
turned its spine inward. Zhikin had described everything exactly. The half-blurred

69 Sadko is a principal character of a bylina, a traditional East Slavic epic poem loosely based on historical
facts. He is an adventurer, merchant, and gusli – an ancient Russian pluck-string instrument - musician
from Novgorod.
70 Anna Nimova is a Russian author of the historical thriller History of the Mirror, Two Manuscripts and

Two Letters (2013).


71 Magmy – army of the magic world.

72 Magpathetician – an apathetic magician.

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letters First Magic of Noah flickered. With his heart pounding, Shurasik slipped the
book under his shirt.
“Clumsy moronoid! One book in two weeks! No free access!” Abdullah yelled after
him, from which Shurasik concluded that the genie had noticed nothing.
Zhikin, languishing from worry, waited for Shurasik in the far corner of the reading
room. All the same they would not manage to take First Magic out of the library, it was
not worth trying. Abdullah’s security magic, placed on the door as a seal, would not let
out even an edge of a page without the genie’s permission.
Foreheads together, Zhikin and Shurasik hastily leafed through First Magic.
Abdullah’s screams were heard from the depths of the library. He could not extract from
under the shelf the pig-headed How to Dodge the Magmy or drive under the cover the
unruly executioner, who quickly glanced at him with bottle-like eyes and swung the ax.
The yellowish sheets of First Magic were disappointingly clean. Occasionally
between the pages they came across a caught grey hair from the beard of The Ancient
One, Sardanapal, or Abraham. From this unmistakable sign, Shurasik determined that
the one-reading spell had been put on the book. “Wait!” he whispered to Zhikin. “Stop
leafing! It’s all Humboldt III½! He invented the spell impeding reading one page twice. ”
“Humboldt III½?”
“Well, yes! There was this Magford figure in the Middle Ages. He came up with
book dust, the paper worm, the smile from which good mood turns sour, poisonous glue
for maglabels,73 and rune tattoos on the soles that kill anyone, except the owner, who
looks at them. That’s all that’s known about him. Furthermore, according to one source,
he’s Humboldt III, but according to another, Humboldt IV. We young talents call him
simply and tastefully – Humboldt III½,” Shurasik explained.
He looked quite satisfied. The spell of Humboldt III½ was prohibited and only
applied to the most valuable books. After examining the cover attentively, Shurasik saw
a small circular depression near the spine.
Put your ring here and the book itself will inform you of what you are destined to
know! Do not try to find out anything more. The punishment for any attempt at
deception is death.
“Come on, you first!” he instructed Zhikin.
After hesitating, Zhora twisted the ring off his finger and put it in the hole. He was
certain that the depression would turn out to be too wide, but it was a very snug fit and
encircled the ring tightly on all sides. The pages of First Magic of Noah began to turn
quickly. In an instant on the yellowish sheet among the runes, the significance of which
Zhikin did not know, flared up:
A dark soul is a bad lantern in the realm of the dead. The clue to Noah’s pince-nez
is in the double bass of old Theo... Only you are not fated to use it.

73 Maglabel – a label for magicians.


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“What did you see there?” Shurasik asked. To him, the sheet had remained clear as
before.
“N-nothing,” Zhora said. He put his finger to the cover and the ring, as if waiting
forever for this moment, slid into place as before.
First Magic of Noah slammed shut. Notably, it was already permanently for Zhikin.
Now it was Shurasik’s turn. Convinced that his large ring with a stone would not fit into
the narrow opening, he hesitantly turned it over in his hands, and then still put it into
the depression. Again, it turned out to be just right, as if specially created for his ring.
The book opened. Letters lit up. Shurasik hurriedly tried to remember the runes,
many of which he had never seen before. An inscription in the usual language was lost in
the patchwork of runes:
Knowing everything, you do not know yourself. The Soul Taker wand will soon
acquire a mistress!
Suddenly the library door swung open wide, issuing sparks with all its spells from
such impudence. Having barely managed to pull out his ring, Shurasik hurriedly shoved
First Magic under the table, and Zhikin shielded him. They did all this in an instant,
without conspiring.
Gunya Glomov waddled like a Turkish sultan into the library. Coffinia Cryptova,
Rita On-The-Sly, and Dusya Dollova were hovering around Gunya.
“Gunie, dear! Well, wait! Let me at least give you a kiss on the cheek!” a flushed
Dollova begged.
Glomov stopped and generously turned a cheek to Dollova. On-The-Sly and
Cryptova, who Gunya was leading by the hand, hissed jealously like a cobra, and then
also began to kiss him, one in the ear and one on the neck. Gunya tolerated their kisses
with a bored face, like a sated cat tolerating its mistress’ caresses.
“Oh, heavens! I’m going crazy! Everyone loves Glomov! Either I’m going crazy or
this is the greatest maghoax! They are not supposed to love Glomov but me! Everyone to
the guillotine! I want to be the only man in the world!” Zhikin moaned.
Shaking her hips, Coffinia approached them. “What, Zhika, upset that we’re with
Glomov and not with you? Anything can happen. And you, Shura, look at the little book,
puss! Or else you’ll miss some letters!” she purred tauntingly.
Shurasik flared up. It was impossible to insult him more than by calling him Shura.
“Pa-lease don’t talk to me this way!” he was mad. “Do you swap for 5-copeck copper
pieces? Swap yourself! Be my guest!”
“What 5-copeck pieces?” Cryptova did not understand. “You don’t have enough,
boy. Leave your 5-copeck pieces to Aunt Frosya. One look of a girl like me is worth your
annual stipend!”
“I’m not talking about that,” Shurasik said condescendingly. He did not like
Coffinia and he could talk to her much more freely than to Lotkova. “Let me explain
really openly. You won’t understand anyway, but purely for the needy... Let’s suppose at
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birth everyone gets some credit of more than a hundred coins. You can buy musical
talent for five coins, literary talent for five, happiness for five, beauty for five, longevity
for five, health for ten, and so on. But it’s possible to buy one thing with the whole
hundred, for example, one talent, and develop it even further. These, then, the last ones
also leave the most noticeable mark, although on the outside, their lives are unenviable.
After all, in fulfilling our missions, we deny ourselves happiness and love!”
Coffinia patted Shurasik’s cheek. “Smart boy!” she announced. “Eventually, a
fabulous, boring pappy will come out of you! I can see you with a paunch, lecturing!”
“Yes, we fanatics of one goal, we utterly burn up, but, burning, we heat the world.
And you can think anything you like. I don’t care!” Shurasik said.
Coffinia chuckled and walked away. “Ciao, Zhikin! How about we meet at four in
the morning behind the Sinister Gates, ha-ha!” she shouted, hanging onto Gunya’s neck.
“Hoo-hoo!” Zhikin said sourly and turned away. He was jealous of Glomov.

***

Obey, and all will be well! Obey, kid, or it will be painful for you. So painful that
you will forget everything except pain. You will chew dirt and gnaw on stones, but this
will not make it easier for you.
“No! No!”
Yes, my boy. Every day I will take control over your body. First for a few minutes,
it does not work for a longer period, but gradually, perhaps, for a few hours. You dare
say “no” to me, I will destroy you... What is your body? A pitiful sack, but I need your
hands, your feet, to do what I planned...
No! He does not want it to repeat itself! He does not want it to become painful
again. He will do anything... He hates himself, hates his cursed complexes, which
prevent him from relaxing internally and living a normal life like everyone else... He...
Consciousness returned with tremors, flashes of light, specific images...
Genka Bulonov stared with disgust at HIS OWN hands. They looked as if he had
recently been ripping up soil and casting off mossy stones. His palms were all covered in
dirt and even something green. Moss? Dirt was under his fingernails and the nail on the
middle finger was broken.
Yes, he had been digging something, there was no doubt. But where was this, when?
Genka could not concentrate or remember. His temples ached. Sweat poured down his
face. When it washed over him, it seems he had been in the room and studying spells. Or
just about to open a book? Now everything was already a blur, jumping, tangled up. He
had been searching for something there... Where he was... Searching for a long time...
But what? And, most importantly, did he find it? It was best not to think. Do not think,
do not think, do not think!

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Finally, Genka came to completely. Where was he? Water was running along wet
stone, soaked up by the white limestone cracks. A long corridor, a multitude of forks...
The cursed Tibidox maze! If only he would meet a ghost, perhaps, any. He would be
happy even if it was Eyeless Horror or that, Wheelchair, which creaked so terribly and
jingled its crumpled frame...
Genka ran, trying to stay in the central corridor. It became drier. Water was no
longer squelching underfoot. Aha, it meant he was on the right track... Something
rustled and slurped behind him. Many dark eyes and bloated hairy bodies. Naked tails
like rats, horns, a stench... Bogies, evil spirits? Why so many of them? They stood and
watched, only pus-filled, insatiable eyes were burning.
Looking back at the evil spirits, Genka kept running in panic. Suddenly he bumped
his nose on someone’s stone foot and cried out in pain, but even more in fear.
The stone foot moved. A heavy sigh. Aha, he was already at the stairs of the Atlases. He
got out! Here ended the dark world of the Tibidox cellars, the kingdom of half chaos and
disorderly sources, and something more or less organized began.
Genka stopped screaming. After all, he himself wanted to be in the world of magic.
What now?

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101

Chapter 9
THREE RINGS

“Ugh!” Coffinia said indignantly, bursting into the room where Pipa already was. “I
killed a whole evening with Glomov again! I’ve gone quite crazy in my old age! And here
these dumbelinas Dollova and On-The-Sly still stretch out their greedy hands! I was
touched! Did they look after him, nurture him, tolerate his antics, pull him to exams?
Heck, no! He should kiss my feet, the stupid Cyclops! It’s decided: I’ll poison myself with
phosphorus matches! Let the creep be disgusted with himself at my funeral!”
Mademoiselle Cryptova plopped down hard onto the bed. Her pillow for some
reason was not comfortable, and she threw it across the room at Pipa. But the pillow did
not reach Pipa. The skeleton Dear Tonianno instantly attacked it with its sword, and the
satin heart, pierced through, hung from the long blade. The pleased skeleton creaked its
bones and almost lost its hat with a plume.
“Wow, how brutal you are, Page!” Coffinia was surprised. “Jealousy will kill me
someday! We poor, poor girls! We’re all so messed up, so neglected!”
“How come you fell in love with Glomov? You had better options. And Glomov –
he’s so... Second reserve group, rear battalion!” Pipa was interested. She was sitting at
the rampart of her suitcases and lazily shifting things, looking for anything that she had
not worn for a long time or, at least, those that would not come together at her waist,
which had not been waspish for a long time.
“You don’t say...” Cryptova stretched. “Here’s something strange. When I see
Gunya, I fall in love with him like a kitty. I immediately so want to hang onto that
rascal’s neck and break all those affectionate Dollovas into pieces! I’d break them to
pieces for my Gunya! But then, as soon as I don’t see Gunya for an hour or two, it’s a
completely different story! Love instantly fades! I berate and criticize him, tear him to
shreds! He seems to me ridiculous, stupid, boorish... A bodyguard with crooked teeth! A
Cyclops! A beer keg! In general, that’s how things go!”
“Visual love magic? I see, I love, I don’t see, I don’t love?” Pipa asked
knowledgeably. If the daughter of the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. still understood little of
magic generally, then she had read to pieces the book on the magic of love. Indeed, not
only it. Those books were generally in wide circulation in Tibidox, where magical love
and real love had already intertwined into a single coil a long time ago, and even cupids
fell from the sky, being brought down from their wings by passionate vibes.
“The same...” Coffinia nodded. “I just don’t understand, how did he break all my
talismans and remove all the amulets? I’m a smart girl and protected myself as best I
could. Someone definitely helped him. A level of wizard not lower than the Great Tooth...
But I don’t think it was Tooth. She’s in a prolonged honeymoon. I’d even say: chronically
prolonged.”

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Mademoiselle Cryptova sighed and, having temporarily tossed Gunya out of her
head, where little lingered for long at all, looked around the room. “And where’s Grotty?
Where has our ace orphan disappeared to?” she asked in a quite different voice.
“At practice! Pretending to be indispensable and chasing after all the balls at once!
You chase after two hares, you’ll get it from both!” 74 Pipa said, rejoicing in the
opportunity to bitch about Tanya. Pipa liked altering proverbs and sayings. The most
successful of the newly created ones were: “Patience and hard work will grind the
brain,”75 “Even a fish from a pond dies from hard work!”76 and “Carry vodka on the
resentful.”77 However, the one Uncle Herman’s daughter liked most of all was: “The
word is not a sparrow, catch up and finish it!”78
“Still, Grotty hasn’t been herself lately...” Cryptova said. “To lose Puper first, then
Vanka. Letters from him don’t come. You know, sometimes I hear her crying at night. So
muffled, hysterical. It makes me sad; in grief, I gobble chocolate, which that fool Spirya
sends. And Page is beginning to feel sorry for her and creaks its bones terribly. Why are
you silent, Dear Tonianno? Are you saying I’m lying?” The skeleton lowered its hand in
distress and dropped the pillow from the sword.
“It’s kind of undetectable during the day,” Pipa was surprised.
“During the day, yes! She holds on. I even envy her endurance. After all, your
parents trained her very nicely. Morally she will make any superman. Tanya, when she
just appeared in Tibidox, was already so tough. So small, curly, perky, dropped quick
glances with her eyes, the birthmark on her nose – oh, mama dear, I almost cracked!”
Coffinia said.
Pipa and Coffinia got along well, but there was no particularly close friendship
between them. That brief period when they walked arm in arm had already long passed,
a casualty of living in the same room. And no wonder. If a drop of nicotine can kill a
horse, then cohabitation can kill even a mammoth. Similar in many ways, Uncle
Herman’s daughter and Cryptova were significantly different from each other after all.
Pipa was sentimental and sometimes tearful; to call Coffinia sentimental was the
hardest of all. It was impossible to tame Pipa in a rage, Coffinia, though, could retreat on
encountering resistance. Pipa’s attacks were more straightforward and powerful, but
Mademoiselle Cryptova was more sophisticated in revenge.

74 The original proverb says “you chase after two hares, you’ll catch neither.”
75 The original proverb says “patience and hard work will grind everything," meaning diligence is the
mother of success.
76 The original proverb says “you won’t even get a fish out of a pond without hard work," meaning no pain,

no gain.
77 The original proverb says “carry water on the resentful," meaning trouble to those angry at others.

78 The original proverb says “a word is not a sparrow, it flies off and you won’t catch it," meaning one

should be careful what one says.


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Coffinia fought only by means of language or magic, not moving to assault. An


enraged Pipa willingly bit and scratched, and on occasion could even throw a chair. On
target.
Pipa lived by instinct and Coffinia by intellect. Her head gave orders to her heart,
but she, as a wise commander, recalled the orders, skilfully pushing the responsibility
onto the sluggish subordinate. But then, sometimes Coffinia at least had some intrinsic
integrity. Pipa, though, did not know what this was at all. Yet, Pipa treated young people
very benevolently and leniently. Thus, she did not refuse to help Vanka hide at her
parents’, despite the role he had played in the fate of Puper.
Coffinia was conceited and, accustomed to scratching out for herself all the good
things of life, loved money, especially corns and warts. Pipa, though, did not know what
it was to need something. With her were enough of the V.A.M.P.I.R. Lord’s gold toilet
and his credit cards. True, here in Tibidox, the credit cards made no sense, but the habit
still remained.
Coffinia was able to lead men to large purchases and restaurants, deftly avoiding
unpleasant consequences. Pipa preferred to pay for everything herself, but nothing
prevented her from smacking a gone-too-far beau on the head with a pan or shoving his
nose into half-eaten meatballs.
Pipa dressed expensively and tastelessly. Coffinia dressed with taste, being able to
find the golden mean even in bright-as-parrot skirts and blouses.
Pipa was talkative but crafty at the same time and kept secrets like a safe deposit
box in a bank. Coffinia sometimes could spill the beans even to her own detriment. By
and large Pipa was more natural; naturalness was precisely lacking in Coffinia, although
a rare feel for other’s shortcomings and her sharp tongue bailed her out.
Pipa and Coffinia were still gossiping when the door opened and Tanya entered the
room. After clicking the lock and throwing back the lid, she placed the case with the
double bass on her bed, allowing the instrument to dry. Outside, a minor annoying rain
had been drizzling with raindrops on Tanya’s cloak and her hair.
“What, Grotti, did you cry throughout the double bass?” Coffinia asked.
“Don’t tease me! Bricks don’t fly. They ram,” Tanya muttered.
Coffinia prudently kept quiet. During the years of living together, she had already
managed to learn that there were times when it was better not to push Grotty.
Sometimes even a white wizard would become more dangerous than a harpy, from
which a dead kikimora had been taken.
Pipa and Coffinia watched as Tanya loosened the strings and rubbed the double
bass on the outside. The vintage wood covered with a thin layer of lacquer was unique. It
did not fear moisture, would not crack in the sun, was not afraid of frost, and always
remained warm even on the cold balcony of the Durnevs. Tanya also heard from
Tararakh that when the old grumbler Theophilus Grotter played, the double bass kept
the sound perfectly from the lowest to the highest notes, and each note created pure
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magic, merging into a unified harmony with the smooth, as the sound of the sea, breath
of life.
“Cupids didn’t come?” Tanya asked with concern. She was always afraid of missing
a letter from Vanka.
“Aha! A dozen!” Coffinia replied mockingly. “They hung around outside the
window, begging, and then slipped away somewhere.”
“I’m serious...” Tanya said.
“And I’m serious... And don’t you be angry there was no one. You know that there
are Magford cordons around the dome. It’s clear that they don’t intercept all cupids, but
it’s dangerous all the same.”
Tanya knew perfectly well that Coffinia was right, but not to think about Vanka and
not to write him was beyond her. Every day, she inevitably wrote him a letter and then
hid it in the double bass case, where a whole stack already piled up. It was risky to send
them. This morning, however, not restraining herself, Tanya sent him a whole stack of
accumulated letters at once after all – via a cupid, who was very active and even twirled
almost annoyingly outside the window, giving her signs. Perhaps the cupid just wanted
to get work to earn a cookie, and maybe... But Tanya did not even dare to think about
that, although suspicion also tormented her for the rest of the day... True, if you examine
it, are there really spy cupids? Cupids are so organized that they more willingly serve
magfia than the law.
“That’s it! I’m tired! It’s time for bye-bye!” Pipa said petulantly and, kicking a
suitcase nearby, began to assemble her bed.
Soon Tanya and Coffinia also lay down, but they could not sleep. Tanya thought
about Vanka and Gury. Cryptova complained that she was hot and hurled shoes at Black
Curtains. Even Pipa, who claimed she wanted to sleep most of all, tossed and turned
with such rage, as if she wanted to break the bed and end up on the floor.
“I hate spring... It’s kind of weird: first cold, then hot. And I hate summer. I burn in
the sun. It rains in the fall and, in general, there is this feeling that everything around is
quietly dying... Winter is still alright, but if you analyse it, also a bitch!” Uncle Herman’s
daughter swore.
Pipa barely stopped talking as the fly of oratory also bit the ring of Theophilus
Grotter. At practice, the fume of Sparkling’s flame touched Tanya’s hand, and the ring
usually got tipsy from dragon flame. “Quod cito fit, cito perit. Sensu stricto. [What is
done quickly, perishes quickly. Strictly speaking. (Lat.)]” it uttered vaguely.
“Grandpa, what are you raving about?” Tanya asked with displeasure.
“Be silent, unworthy daughter of the Grotters. Si tanta licet componere magnis [If
so little be allowed to compare with the great (Lat.)].” the ring snapped.
Suddenly Coffinia sat decidedly on the bed. “Get up people! Panidis scorchus!” she
said, lighting a light with a spell.
“What, are you overheated?” Pipa asked.
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“Don’t be rude to the minx, hussy!” Cryptova snapped merrily. “I have a little idea.
On the level of pure delirium. Don’t know if you dare...”
Pipa and Tanya looked quizzically at Coffinia. “What little idea?”
“This. Summon Puper’s spirit from the afterlife...” Cryptova dropped casually.
Tanya paled.
Pipa licked her lips. “How do you summon when...” she began. “Although, okay,
why not! I agree.”
“And you, Grotty?”
“Not me. I don’t agree” Tanya said quietly.
“Don’t you want to see Gury? Imagine this pale restless spirit with an astral broom,
staring at you through suffering eyes. Conscience took hold? Afraid that he will grab you
by the scruff of your neck and drag you off to that world?” Cryptova asked.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Tanya said.
“Really nothing? Oh yes, you’re our supergirl, who saved Tibidox two hundred and
eight thousand times! Bravo, young Grotti, bravo! Then what’s the problem? You really
don’t want to see Puper once more?” Coffinia tempted her.
Tanya yielded. She gave in, although she was sure that the ghost’s gaze would be
full of reproach. If Gury had not met her, his life would not have been cut short in his
prime. He would have married a modest Englishwoman and would have continued a
glorious dynasty of Pupers – nice guys, excellent dragonball players, and wearing round
glasses from a grandfatherly collection. Ah, Gury, Gury, why did you need Russian girls?
They got you into trouble, oh, they did!
“If I refuse, it will prove that I was afraid and I betrayed Puper... So I will see him
once more! Yes, have to summon after all, and come what may!” she thought. Tanya felt
very guilty about Gury and never tried to downplay her own guilt, even internally to
herself. The road of self-justification is the most tortuous path in the world. And it leads
to nowhere.
Coffinia turned over the coffin, which served as her bed, and pulled a notebook out
of the secret drawer. “Ah, it even bites, such trash! Myownis beaconis!” she grumbled,
shaking the book which had turned into a rat. “So, let’s see what we need! Aha, here! A
figure of white clay smeared with dragon blood. A flower, gift of the summoned. A
carnelian stone... Nice, I have precisely one lying around. Hair from the head of the one
whom the summoned loved – five hairs... When everything is ready, we should take
three magic rings and lay them out in an equilateral triangle. Place the figure in the
centre... After that, utter a couple of spells – I won’t read them now – and the spirit of
Puper will be in front of us! I ask everyone to groan and swoon in the order of a strict
queue!” Cryptova said.
Tanya, of course, had to mould the figure. Her fingers obligingly kneaded and
smoothed out the clay. She remembered Gury’s every feature – his slim mouth,

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roundish face, boyish curls, and the taped glasses. How he looks still! Gury, Gury! Tanya
blinked and decisively made the finishing touch.
“Why did you do this, the scar? Does Gury really have such a scar? What, they
chased after him with a sword? Such a dent would blow his brains out!” Pipa started to
be outraged. Her talent for moulding was only enough to provide valuable advice and
wrinkle her nose.
“Don’t trash it! The scar turned out awesome! Worse than the worst dancer can
only be the best critic,” Coffinia snubbed Pipa.
But Pipa would not let up. She wanted badly to be in command. “Fine, let the head
be similar! And then what? How will we mould Puper: in a cloak or with nothing?” she
asked eagerly. Tanya stopped moulding in surprise.
Coffinia giggled. Like Pipa, she was slightly fixated on certain things. “What, let it
be with nothing! For naturalness. Or not... in a gas mask and white socks!” she
suggested.
“I won’t let you make fun of Gury! That’s the way all jackasses say that I make fun
of him! But I don’t! I perceive him this way!” Tanya was indignant and stood up
decisively.
“No, no, Grotty, dear, don’t crush his head! I was joking! Mould him in a cloak!”
Pipa yelled in fear, hanging onto her arm.
When the figure was almost ready, Coffinia put her feet on the carnelian and
looked contentedly at the result. “Now a flower... Did Puper send you flowers?” she
asked.
“Hello, move over!” Tanya said. “When was that? They don’t last forever.”
“What, no flowers? Not one?” Coffinia was outraged. “Then why the fig am I not
sleeping at night, trying? Voodoo magic isn’t a salad, put onion wherever you want or
not when you don’t want. No flower – no Puper.”
“Wait,” Pipa suddenly said, blushing. “There’s a flower!” She opened the thick
volume of common spells, found a dried rose between the pages and quickly shoved it at
Cryptova.
“Puper’s?” Coffinia asked in disbelief.
“Puper’s.”
“Did he really give it to you?” Cryptova doubted.
“No, he gave it to Tanya, but I took one flower... She had a whole bunch! I
envisioned that... Leave me alone! It’s none of your business!”
“Already did!” Coffinia said happily. “Tra-la-la! Hello, true love, which saves not
only one’s own roses, but also other’s. But bear in mind, we have to crush the flower...
Now the hair... Well, young ladies, who will sacrifice? In my opinion, Gury loved all
three of us. Each in their own way, of course, but still...”
An indignant Pipa started to claim that Gury loved her more than the others, albeit
unconsciously, and only backed off when Coffinia clarified that the hair had to be ripped
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off from the root. Otherwise, it would not work. And since her, Coffinia’s, hair was dyed
and today she was not in the mood at all, then... “Well, Grotty, turn your bald spot to
me!” she finished predatorily.
“Get away, Crypt! I know you, you’ll take off my scalp. I’ll do it myself!” Tanya
refused. She wrapped a few hairs around a finger and, biting her lip, pulled hard. Tears
came into her eyes. The hairs had been pulled from the roots.
“Five... Wow, four more! Nine hairs! Grotty, you exceeded the plan! You can turn
the extra into a wig or fill a pillow! So... Ready!” Cryptova said, gently twisting the hair
around the waist of the figure. “Now, one more thing! Give me your rings!”
Pipa’s ring came off easily. Theophilus Grotter’s ring was stubborn and Tanya had
to twist it on the finger for a long time.
“Magni nominis umbra! Re, non verbis! [In the shadow of a great name! With deed,
not words! (Lat.)]” the ring said reproachfully when Tanya handed it over to Coffinia.
“What’s wrong with it? Swearing?” Cryptova asked.
“No, it’s speaking in Latin...”
“Just that! And I was hoping to raise the level of culture!” Coffinia was
disappointed, carefully arranging the rings around the white clay figure, which was
already placed in the centre of the table cleared of books and notes. “Now the dragon
blood... There was a vial somewhere... Aha, here! And you, white, stand back, stay out of
this! Serious magic here!”
Cryptova opened the vial gingerly, watching that nothing spilled on her skin.
Sardanapal had warned that anyone among the living, on whom fell a drop of dragon
blood, would forever be a slave to his base desires, and it was worse than death. The
dragon blood hissed and smoked when spilled on the clay. Tanya felt that Puper’s
features contorted and the mouth trembled, but perhaps the white smoke deceived her.
“Wonderful! Now the spell!” Coffinia set aside the vial and, like a real witch,
uttered in a hollow voice, “Ferossilum this pay in widths! Demetrius Lethe thrice
cerbius!”
Tanya squinted, expecting that blinding sparks would now crackle.
“Well, where is he? What’s this, I implore you?” she heard Coffinia’s disappointed
voice.
Opening her eyes, Tanya stepped to the table and, after looking closely, recoiled.
The rings were glowing and, becoming crimson, began to bounce on the table. They did
this simultaneously, connected by something intangible and invisible. It was felt that as
long as the spell was working, their link was indissoluble. Theophilus Grotter’s ring no
longer belonged to Tanya or itself but another, to which it surrendered its magic. Tanya
understood that there, in the dull-white, almost faded triangle formed by the rings, was
already a completely different world, supernatural and spooky, where shadows roamed
and the eternal river Lethe carried its waters.

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“Gury, can you hear us? This is us summoning you! Present yourself, wherever you
may be!” Coffinia uttered distinctly.
The white clay figure remained motionless. The dragon blood had already been
quite absorbed. Only a couple of drops, thick and shiny like mercury, still trembled on
the cloak.
“Doesn’t work!” Coffinia said irritably. “More precisely, it works but not as it
should.”
“How should it?”
“I don’t know, but not like that... Puper somehow isn’t a proper spirit. Any normal
dead would have appeared long ago, without delay, and this one is stubborn... No,
something isn’t right... Look, my ring has cooled! Gury doesn’t want to come to me! Now
you try, Pipa!”
Pipa’s cheeks, dense like gelatine, quivered. “GP! My dear! Appear! GP, please! Let
at least one eye glance at you!”
“Hey, hey, more careful with the promise here! The dead interpret too literally. You
say ‘one eye’, you can say goodbye to the other. Remember, Medusa described how one
spirit asked a girl for her hand and heart and she blurted out ‘yes’! He took what he
asked for: hand and heart...” Cryptova warned.
But the emotional Pipa had no time for petty considerations. Beds, chairs, and even
the skeleton Page – everything was rattling and bouncing from her intuitive magic.
Tanya and Coffinia also felt this vibration.
“GP, little one, why don’t you come? Why did you drag yourself to this duel? What
is Tanya to you? I would hide you in a safe and wouldn’t even let anyone look at you!”
Pipa pleaded.
Suddenly the young Durneva cried out resentfully. Her ring, crimson till now, was
fading like Coffinia’s ring earlier. All three rings still remained on the magical cord as
before, but only Tanya’s ring was glowing and flashing, moreover brighter with each
second. It could be assumed that the heat of the other two rings had passed over to it.
“No, something isn’t right! A spirit that refuses to appear on thrice cerbius...
There’s some kind of snow job here. For an otherworldly spirit, Gury is somewhat too
independent!” Coffinia declared. “Come on, Tanya, you try! He’ll certainly present
himself to you, whether from our world or the Other World – doesn’t matter.”
“I won’t!”
“Again, ‘I won’t’? I can’t stand ‘won’ters’!” Coffinia was outraged. “Then why did
you mould the figure? Come on, don’t shirk!”
Tanya wanted to flare up, but realized that Coffinia was right. It was foolish to back
out now. “Gury!” she hailed softly, walking to the figure. “Gury, it’s me, Tanya!”
The glow inside the triangle became brighter. Now it no longer looked so faded.
The figure twitched. No, it was clay, but simultaneously also not clay. A spirit had settled
in the clay body. The face of the figure wrinkled, several cracks split it. It was evident
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that the spirit of Puper was uncomfortable and could in no way adapt to the temporarily
disobedient body, which would cease to exist as soon as the dragon blood dried.
“Gury!” Tanya shouted, recognizing him by the almost imperceptible but very
Puper-like head movements.
The figure, staying in the triangle of rings, turned to her awkwardly and with great
effort. Hands that Tanya had not moulded but only outlined stirred agonizingly under
the cloak.
“I love you, Tanya!” the clay figure said. “I love you!”
“Ha-ha-ha!” Pipa uttered coldly and very distinctly.
Tanya felt that Pipa hated her fiercely. Because of Puper. Just as Liza Zalizina
hated her because of Vanka. But now she had no time for that. With a sinking heart, she
looked at the clay Puper.
The figure moved forward with great effort and tried to cross over the border
outlined by the rings. But it did not succeed. It pushed at the bottom place, at another...
It was useless. Gury could not break through the magic barrier. Tanya sensed the smell
of burnt clay... Puper’s face spread and hardened from the heat. Now he could barely
speak. His voice had become unintelligible, but still Tanya – and only she – was able to
make out, “Touch me, touch me, please! It doesn’t seem to me that I sleep and I won’t
wake up... I...”
Tanya rushed to the table. Coffinia hung onto her arm. “Have you gone nuts, Grotty!
Tired of living? You understand what kind of magic this is? You’ll kill us all!” she yelled.
But Tanya did not want to understand anything. Pushing Cryptova, she reached for
the figure.
“Don’t touch the ring!” Cryptova yelled again, but Tanya had already grabbed the
closest ring and moved it, disrupting the parity of the sides.
The brightest flash blinded her for a moment. A heat wave pulled Tanya, trying to
drag her into the magic triangle... She resisted, trying to cling to the table, but it was
useless. The force that pulled her was relentless and intangible. Tanya felt nothing but
heat. Suddenly, when the Other World had almost dragged her in, something pushed
her in the chest and face. She fell. Consciousness and vision began to return again only
after a few minutes. Tanya realized that she was lying on the floor and Coffinia was
leaning down and scrutinizing her. Her face was sympathetic and anxious. After
discovering that Tanya had come to, Coffinia smiled.
“Grotti, you’re like, okay? Cancel the obituary! The memorial magic tablecloth, too!
Well, that’s better! No one will stain the black ruffles with soft-boiled eggs,” she said
with relief.
Tanya got up with difficulty. Her whole body was wet with sweat, even her bangs
stuck to her forehead. The magic triangle was broken. The clay figure had melted. Where
it had recently been, only a hardened whitish-brown stain of clay remained. The
carnelian stone, its colour having changed slightly from the heat, was a little to the side.
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“You’re lucky you grabbed your own ring, not Pipa’s or mine... And in fact, the ring
and not the figure! Your great-grandpa was a strong wizard after all. He helped you get
off lightly!” Coffinia rattled.
Tanya brushed against something behind her with her foot. Her double bass case
was lying by the table with the cover thrown back. The bow was lying next to the case.
This was too much. Tanya did not doubt that while she was unconscious, her roommates
had make use of the opportunity to rummage in her things. “Why is my double bass here?
Who moved it? I warned you! Cryptova, was it you?!” she flared up.
Coffinia erupted resentfully. “Who do you take me for, girlfriend? I’m certainly no
angel, but I also have a heart! Here I fuss over her with Ammoniacus salammoniacys,
repeating like a parrot, and she... Ugh! Grotty, she’s an African Grotty! No wonder
Professor Stinktopp used to repeat in first year that ingratitude is a feature of white
wizards!”
Tanya was embarrassed. She did not expect such a rebuff. Apparently, she had
wrongly lashed out at Coffinia. “Then why is the case here? Or was it Pipa?” she asked.
Coffinia kept quiet, ignoring Tanya.
“Me?” Pipa was offended. “Thank you, sis! Downright a sledgehammer with a fuzzy
mug. When Gury’s figure melted, the Other World began to drag you in and almost did...
You should have seen your outline, almost became transparent! Well, I’m thinking –
Gotty’s a goner! I wanted to rush to you and hesitated – maybe it’ll pull me in. And then
your great-grandpa’s ring suddenly started muttering! The case moved forward and
popped open! Mama dear! The bow was on the strings by itself! It played something, the
double bass was shaking all the time, and, most importantly, nothing was heard... We
looked, it was as if you were no longer being drawn in. Then it rejected you unexpectedly
and you were on the floor pronto, lying arms spread out! And then the bow also settled
down...”
Tanya looked searchingly at Pipa. Yes, Uncle Herman’s daughter was telling the
truth. It was simply that the double bass and Theophilus Grotter’s ring really had saved
Tanya from death. Why did she rush to the figure after the spell? She knew well that she
should not, that inside there was another, remote and hostile world! But she could not,
simply could not refuse Puper’s request and lost her head, forgetting herself. If so, does
that mean that she loves Gury and not Vanka? Cursed magic!
Tanya slammed shut the case, pushed it under the bed with her foot, and leaped
out of the room. She could not look at Coffinia or Pipa now, could not talk to anyone.
She needed to be alone.
It was already very late. A magical bluish light was glowing only in the common
room. Not knowing if anyone was there, Tanya went around it through the boys’ hallway,
which also led to the staircase but bypassed the living room. Torches of eternal flame
blazed in the alcoves along the Main Staircase, promptly rescuing from darkness a part
of the stone walls with old portraits. Then, Tanya passed the Hall of Two Elements and
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dived into the confusing passages that immediately started under the stairs of the
Atlases. Some Atlases were dozing, others were playing, getting up on tiptoe and gently
lifting and lowering the Tibidox arches.
The third Atlas from the end sat down and, crossing his legs, anxiously examined a
crack in his marble foot. “Seven hundred years without leave! I’m exhausted! Maybe hit
the road to the moronoids and consider a restorer for the three of us, huh, guys? Or take
a caryatid79 there!” he was tempted.
The Atlases next to him kept quiet and, showering stone afterwards, took the rap
for their fainthearted comrade. On noticing Tanya, the fan of restorers and caryatids
hastily stood straight and propped up the arch. Tanya pretended that she had heard
nothing. It was foolish to embarrass an Atlas.
She ducked under the stairs, walked a little and immediately found herself in the
tangle of dark corridors. There was almost no light here, only a greenish dim glow
penetrated the cracks in the floor here and there.
“Cursed hoard,” Tanya thought, however, she had no wish to peek into the cracks.
She had once heard from Tararakh that here, under the stairs of Atlases, was hidden one
of Judas’ silver pieces80 and therefore this place literally attracted bloodstained hoards
from all the surrounding land. And not only treasures. These stone labyrinths located
directly above the Sinister Gates and damaged by evil spirits held many terrible artefacts
of all nations and ages.
After turning several times in the diverging web of corridors, Tanya sat down on
the rock next to the armour put on a wooden block. The ancient magic armour gave its
possessor three years of invulnerability in battle. In the fourth year at the first full moon,
the armour shrank to the size of a walnut and killed its owner. It was impossible to
remove it, those three years of success had spoiled the victor extremely. Having been
smeared with his blood, the armour ceased to rust, was covered with new designs, and,
jingling the chain mail shirt, patiently waited for someone to be interested in it again.
Now, sensing prey, it shone invitingly, rattled, and even tried to embrace Tanya's
shoulders with the sleeves of the chain mail shirt.
“Briskus-quickus!” Tanya grunted and quelled it with a green spark. During the
years of training in Tibidox until now, she had gotten so used to various simple vampires,
like energy- and haemoglobin-, that she almost no longer paid them any attention.
Theophilus Grotter’s ring fired a dim green spark, which was barely enough for a
spell. After animating the clay figure, the ring seemed darkened and tired. Cryptova’s
forbidden spell had deprived it of too much magic. Tanya knew that it would recover in a
few days, but until then, she would have to conserve magic.

79A caryatid is a sculpted female figure taking place of a support column or pillar.
80According to an account in the New Testament, Matthew 26:15, Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests
and agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver pieces.
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112

“Ilias malorum! Unam in armis salutem! [Iliad of woes! Deliverance in weaponry


alone! (Lat.)]” it said grumpily, as if warning about something.
“Grandpa, in Russian?”
But the ring was silent. Obviously, its conversational magic for the day had already
dried up. For a long time Tanya warmed it with her breath, rubbing it with her shirt
sleeve. She knew that the old grumbler loved this, although now the ring exhibited
nothing, being very offended at her for participating in a black magic ritual.
“Well, I’m sorry, forgive me... I’m such a baddie!” Tanya said. “But who knew?
Grandpa, I don’t understand what happened to me. Somehow everything was all mixed
up, all hazy. You don’t want to stumble and only believe that here you are, finally right,
and all is well, when bam – nose on a rock!”
An unexpected rustle forced Tanya to stop her outburst. In the faint glow of the
magic armour she saw Genka Bulonov, sneaking somewhere in wide noiseless steps. It
was him, Genka, but at the same time also not exactly him. A thick layer of cobwebs, dirt,
and brick dust covered all of Bulonov’s clothing, his face, and even his hair. He had
obviously returned from the basement by the Sinister Gates, where he had to wiggle for
a long time through a narrow, very narrow passage.
“Bouillon!” Unable to stand it, Tanya called out. “Why are you wandering here, so
restlessly? Are you lost?”
Genka winced, staggered, and shielded himself with his hands as if from a sudden
attack. “Oh, what?! Who’s there?” he asked hoarsely.
“Me, Tanya!”
“Y-you?! Grotter?”
Bulonov had the look of a person just waking up. He looked at Tanya, then at his
own hands, then down, at his dirty clothes. “Darn! I... Really again? When will it end?”
he said indistinctly and sat down heavily on the floor, his head in his hands.
Tanya wanted to approach him, but Genka suddenly jumped up and ran into the
darkness.
“Somehow I understand nothing! He frightened me even more than these
corridors... And why was he roaming down there?” Tanya said, addressing the armour-
vampire. The armour rattled the chest plate invitingly. It, as always, had one thing on its
mind.
“How concerned you are! All the blood, blood – no mental contact!” Tanya said and
walked away, thinking with sadness about Gury Puper, Vanka, and Bouillon’s strange
behaviour. When she returned to her room, Coffinia and Pipa were already asleep. The
clay spot still showed white on the table.

***

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113

In the morning a cupid began to knock on the glass. He shoved a rose at Tanya and
quickly flew away. For a long time, Tanya perplexedly watched him go. The cupid did
not even beg for cookies, which was amazing in itself.
“Well, let’s see! No note? No magic either? Strange, the usual rose! Who sent you
this, Grotty?” Coffinia asked suspiciously.
“Maybe Vanka?” Tanya asked with hope.
Coffinia snorted. “Your Vanka? A rose? It’s not his style! He would’ve sent you a
dead bird. Or a tailless rat covered in antiseptic... Or at worst he would clip something
from a tree... No, Vanka with a rose is like my Gunya without a bottle of beer... Doesn’t
work!” she stated.
“You don’t know Vanka, don’t get involved!” Tanya said.
“Yeah, yeah! I’m really stupid! It’s written on my face! And I don’t know men inside
out, and generally it’s unknown whom I take after...” Cryptova assured her mockingly.
Tanya said nothing. Deep down, she was somehow certain that Coffinia was right.
Vanka always considered roses too banal and boring a gift. “Roses say only two things: a
thick wallet and lack of imagination,” he claimed. But it was not even this mysterious
rose that alarmed Tanya. There had never been such an occasion that a cupid, just
returned from the moronoid world, refused a reward. But this one did.
Tanya barely had time to get dressed when the door to the room was beat down by
the combat spell swatus allliedownus. Pipa squealed and covered her head with the
blanket. Grafin Cagliostro and the maglawyer Hudson, arms folded, stood at the door of
the room! Behind them loomed the fleshy faces of magnotists.
“Stand, don’t move! Tatiana Grotter! You are suspected of complicity and the
cover-up of a crime! Where did you go tonight? Who was the cupid from? What did he
bring?” Grafin demanded.
Tanya tried to hide the rose behind her back. Cagliostro leaped, grabbed Tanya’s
wrist with one hand so she could not use her ring, and snatched the rose with the other.
“A flower? That’s all? Strange, very strange! We’ll have to search your room!
Magnotists, start with this cabinet!”
“That’s my cabinet!” Cryptova was indignant.
“Yes? How would I know that it’s yours? A search is a search!” Grafin said snidely.
“Maybe I love burrowing in shorts and T-shirts? It really isn’t written on my face, ha-ha?”
“It is, ha-ha!” Coffinia mimicked. “It’s written that you’re a perverted old goat with
wet palms and oily eyes! I see such goats from three hundred metres away without
optical sight! They sicken, nauseate me, and gross me out!”
Grafin Cagliostro flushed. The powerful good-fellow magnotists looked at each
other, hiding a smile.
“Even a moocher, bootlicker, and toady under Koshchei the Deathless! Now go
through my shorts and T-shirts, puss, and it’ll be pleasant for you! When we need to
turn away, you just whistle or blink!” Coffinia finished lethally.
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Cagliostro turned purple. It seemed that a little more and he would have a massive
heart attack. The thoughtless magnotists were already snickering in their throats, and
even the maglawyer Hudson smiled indulgently.
“What are you up to, dimwits? Maarch! Search the room! Ahhhh! What are you
doing?” he howled, pushing Tanya away.
“Is the gout attack really hurting? I thought you wouldn’t feel anything!” Tanya was
surprised.
“Take them! Take them all! Ugh! First, dig through everything here! Search for
letters, notes, diaries! Everything that has to do with Vanka and Puper! And together
with everything that proves the complicity of Sardanapal! It’s high time to expel that
Asia Minor upstart from here! Nasty broomstick!” Cagliostro screamed.
The magnotists stomped to the cabinets and, throwing open the door, began to toss
things onto the floor. Tanya touched Coffinia’s shoulder and nodded to her, hinting at
Page. Her quick movement was not lost on the maglawyer Hudson.
“Is sis se skeleton of our dear Guwy? No? Sen who else have you killed? I see sat
he’s weal!” Hudson asked suspiciously. “Guys, seize sis skeleton! We’re taking it wis us
until se circumstance is clawified!”
The magnotists abandoned rummaging through the cabinets and stepped towards
the skeleton. One roughly tore off the hat with a plume.
“Page! Musketus fenceus! Show them!” Coffinia shouted. She finally realized what
Tanya was seeking from her.
Yes, Dear Tonianno had not practiced for a long time. Yes, it was out of shape....
Yes, it was, after all, dead... But is this so important, especially when they are insulting
people dear to you? Skill is skill, it does not go to the dogs. You do not spend it on drinks,
do not lose it, do not exchange it for a copper penny... The sword in the skeleton’s
lowered hand shot up like a snake. The next moment the clothes on the nearest
magnotist were sliced into strips, exactly like with a razor. The second magnotist tarried
and the sword shaved off his ear lobe with a large gold earring.
The magnotists recoiled, raised their hands and attacked Page with combat magic,
however, the sparks flew between the skeleton’s ribs causing no harm. But then the
sword in Dear Tonianno’s reliable hand danced like a scalpel in the fingers of a mad
surgeon. It first chopped off their pant legs, then severed the belts of the pants, then
traced a zigzag scratch on their foreheads, triggering an allegiant trembling in the
maglawyer Hudson’s fingers.
“Ah, pity I didn’t also order the skeleton of Zorro from Bald Mountain! Together
they would’ve chopped them like cabbage. Just then I was out of bagel holes! And had to
take this!” Coffinia said to herself.
Finally, with joint efforts the magnotists chained Page with ring magic. Page
mournfully snapped its teeth and creaked its bones, saying goodbye to Coffinia.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out!” she shouted to it.
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The scratched magnotists, sighing, continued the search. Meanwhile, the


maglawyer Hudson’s rat eyes searched the room and stopped on one of the beds, the
blanket on which swelled up suspiciously with a bulge.
“Aha, who’s here hiding under se blanket! Maybe, John Vailyalka? Ooh-ooh-ooh
what a stupid, mindless place to hide! Attention, he’s here! SEIZE HIM!” he
commanded and, stepping over, yanked the blanket.
In the next second, the maglawyer Hudson’s face grimaced as if all his teeth were
aching at once. Under the blanket sat Pipa, poor Pipa, secretly ashamed of her own
figure and who disliked extremely when being caught in a nightgown...

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116

Chapter 10
GATE TO NOWHERE

Uncle Herman pinched his nose fastidiously. “Reeks of horses! What, did you rake
muck again?” he addressed Vanka glumly, when Vanka entered the apartment.
“First I cleaned up the bison, then fed the Przewalski horses,” Vanka replied,
considerably amazed by the sensitive nose of the chair of V.A.M.P.I.R. After work at the
zoo, he always showered for a long time and changed his clothes. He even washed his
head with shampoo. How indeed could he pick up a scent here?
“You’re turning the home on Rublev Road into a stable! Shocking! I’ll direct
security below to scrub you with bleach!” Durnev said.
“Yuck-yuck, precisely with bleach! Very wise, brother! I hate this smell! I’m
nauseous, I’m dying!” Gratis exclaimed peevishly and crashed picturesquely onto the
carpet, lifting his scrawny legs to the ceiling.
Aunt Ninel and Uncle Herman stared at him in surprise. Aunt Ninel even dropped
the entertaining book Pampers with Diamond, which she was reading to rest her brain,
fatigued by the exhausting twenty-minute fasting between meals. “One might think you
didn’t slaughter horses at your place in Transylvania at night!” she said.
“Blood, it ish almost odourless... Without smell, this blood! Only delivers iron!”
Gratis said delicately like a female and became sad.
A couple of days before he stole the gold lid of the breadbox and secretly ran off to
carouse with the fashion models for three nights. He only returned that morning with
huge bags under his eyes and greatly out of sorts. After filling the sink full of cold water,
he lapped it like a wolf for a long time with his tongue, and then went to explain to Uncle
Herman and Aunt Ninel.
The explanation turned stormy. Plates from the hand-painted service flew through
the air with alien howls and chairs were overturned. Finally, by the joint efforts of both
Durnevs, the man-wolf, not wishing to return to Transylvania, was subdued. He got a
good dressing down. He spent half a day locked in the bathroom and was now sucking
up as best he could.
Having dined hastily – Vanka could not be near the Durnevs for long – he slipped
into Pipa’s room. Everything was exactly the same as before the departure of Pipa to
Tibidox – computer, books, and the bed with huge pink pillows and heaps of stuffed toys,
among which were also gold ones. Vanka did not even touch anything here. Moronoid
things concerned him little. His own things he continued to keep in his backpack. Only
once, out of curiosity, he tried to turn on the computer, but it immediately began to
demand a password and Vanka turned it off.
Another day, about to go to the zoo, he accidentally saw a piece of paper under the
glass: Passwords: for Windows – grottyidiot, for access to Internet – pupersweetie...
Vanka shrugged. Pipa’s imagination went back and forth along a rail like a locomotive.
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Vanka liked the work at the zoo. He even accepted the work at which the rest of the
auxiliary workers turned up their noses. They observed him for the first few days, then
there was one incident, after which the whole zoo talked about Vanka.
The polar bear lived on a small concrete island surrounded by a moat, where he
swam. It was forbidden to throw food to the animals, but still there were wise guys who
violated this ban. Then one day someone threw an empty plastic bottle at the bear. For
awhile the bear wonderingly touched it with its paws and sniffed it, and then for some
reason took it into its head to swallow it and choked. The most absurd thing was that the
bottle was all of half a litre, but the massive bear was rolling on the concrete, wheezing
and gasping for breath. In the meantime, they noticed, came running, and realized what
was happening... The zoo employees were running aimlessly around the enclosure,
dispersing the visitors. Someone found the veterinarian, but he did not dare go to the
bear. He demanded that the animal be sedated by tranquilizing dart. He had a family
and children, and, in fact, a year ago he had been bitten by an otter, and since then he
would not even work on hamsters without a tranquilizer. A matter of principle. The
usual confusion started. They found the tranquilizing dart, but the only good gun was
locked in the safe, the key for which they could not find.
The bear, almost asphyxiated, was barely moving when Vanka Valyalkin ran into
the enclosure. He climbed over the fence and, having already jumped into the pit,
realized that he was without his magic ring, which he had left with Uncle Herman. “I’ve
also been here my whole life, without a ring, what’s a ring to a pithecanthropus, but I
manage! Beasts, brother, they sense your insides... So, magic to them is an indulgence!”
he remembered Tararakh’s words, slightly comforting him.
Focusing on the beast’s fading consciousness, Vanka slowly approached it, shoved
his hand into the half-open, strong-smelling mouth, found the slippery bottom of the
bottle and, rotating it gently, vigorously pulled it towards himself. At this moment there
was little risk for him. The bear could not close its jaws even if it wanted to. But the
bottle, wet with saliva, had barely come out when air burst into the throat with wheezing
and the beast got up. Vanka felt a powerful surge of rage. It was the most dangerous
moment. The frightened bear, not understanding what had happened and who had
attacked it, was ready to pounce on the teenager.
Vanka moved back. He heard behind his back a barred door, which it was possible
to have time to slip through, hastily open. After him, yellow fangs grinning, the bear was
moving right on his heels. It was impossible to turn – the bear would immediately knock
him with a paw. Vanka saw with peripheral vision that the door was nearby, but then a
dent in the concrete caught his foot. Vanka painfully hit his shoulder blades and right
elbow. He no longer had time to jump – the bear was hanging over him.
Wincing from the pain and not taking his eyes off the bear’s eyes, Vanka muttered
the ancient words of unity and peace, which Medusa had taught them. These words,
universal to all living beings, were deeply imprinted in the minds of everyone who
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walked the earth, breathed the air, and fed on mother’s milk. Even an animal raised in
captivity should respond to them.
“Coagchem mightcharlah laolfria norsum!”
The bear growled with bewilderment. It felt that its rage was disappearing and
something prevented it from pouncing on the boy.
“Leonaras farmfished gerfosimus prodex!”
Strange, very strange... Well, the boy, for some reason had shown up on its island...
And the others, non-bears, those that run like penguins, yell so loudly, so annoyingly up
there, outside the moat... In fact, the fish they throw every day are infinitely tastier. The
bear growled again, softly. It was not inclined to introspection. It relied only on
instantaneous desires, and somehow it had no desire to throw itself at the boy.
The bear’s wet nose brushed Vanka’s cheek familiarly. The bear turned heavily and
walked away. No longer afraid, Valyalkin got up and got out of the enclosure. He
certainly got severely reprimanded later, but only more for formality. He had saved the
bear, and it was obvious to everyone. Vanka’s credibility at the zoo, especially among his
peers, among whom were many cage cleaners and auxiliary workers, rose to
astronomical heights. Girls shoved at him so many papers with their phone numbers
that if Vanka had such a desire, he could go on four times as many dates as Zhikin, and
not a single of Uncle Herman’s acquaintances would be able to get through on the home
phone.

***

A plump cupid with rosy heels and the exact same rosy cheeks flew in the wide-
open spring window of the balcony. He shoved at Vanka a whole pile of letters from
Tanya. Vanka delightedly grabbed the letters and wanted to read, but remembered that
he had to pay up. Peering into his backpack, he found in there only a large Tula
gingerbread, hard as rock, and besides, with bites taken here and there.
The cupid, watching Vanka’s manoeuvres with anticipation, squeaked
disappointedly and, having descended onto the floor, set off in a businesslike manner to
the kitchen to rob the Durnevs. It turned out that he had something for them too.
Guiltily squeezing the gingerbread in his hand, Vanka watched as he waddled away. Yes,
a purposeful babe – with a bow, a quiver, golden wings bouncing on shoulder blades,
and a large postman’s bag dragging along the floor... He will go far!
Oohs and aahs immediately began to be heard from the kitchen. Aunt Ninel always
reacted exuberantly to letters from Pipa. But she could not scream and whine as loudly
as the toady Gratis. Uncle Herman even had to hush him. “Well, don’t! I ish happy for
you! You thankless pigs! No inner generosity!” the werewolf stated with tears welling up
and resentfully stole Aunt Ninel’s compact.

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Twenty minutes later, when Vanka had already read all of Tanya’s letters and was
now doing it a second time, the familiar cupid reappeared in the room, already overfed
and covered with large diathesis spots from the excessive consumption of brandy
chocolates. The winged baby looked blankly at Vanka with sleepy eyes and, evidently
remembering that he had not paid him, reached for an arrow. Fortunately for Vanka, the
baby was so sauced that, taking aim, he dropped his bow. With a gracious wave of his
hand (you know, live long, if such is your fate), the cupid scrambled up onto a stool, and
rolling over the edge of the balcony on his stomach, he slipped down. Fearing that he
would crash, Vanka rushed to look... But no, it was not easy to bring down a cupid with
wings. He had already sped off in a choppy passerine flight, constantly falling into
invisible air pockets. Arrows rained endlessly from the overturned quiver. Everyone and
everything fell in love – cats, pigeons, gloomy yard keepers, drunks together with
cologne absorbing the sun’s rays, preoccupied car owners, mothers with strollers, and
even old ladies walking their ancient overfed pugs. The overfed pugs also fell in love,
although it turned out poorly for them. Buds even germinated on the cracked wooden
bench.
It seemed that the building on Rublev Road and all the surrounding area would
soon be engulfed by an epidemic of weddings.

***

Vanka was lying on the bed, his hands behind his head, and thinking about Tanya.
He badly wanted to send her a letter via a cupid, but Sardanapal strictly forbade this.
They were also savvy about something there, in Magciety. They were almost certainly
watching Tanya, and now flying patrols were still encountered beyond Buyan’s dome.
Experiencing an irresistible desire to see Tanya, if not in person then at least her
portrait, Vanka sat down and started to rummage in his backpack. Aha, here! It was a
simple animated photo in a frame – one of those that a travelling wizard from Bald
Mountain made with his own magparatus.81 Tanya was twelve years old at the most in it.
In the photo she was perky, round-faced, and curly as a lamb. Even a slight, barely
noticeable trace of her birthmark-talisman, which later disappeared, was perceptible.
The photo did not take Vanka seriously: every now and then she stuck out her tongue,
and when Vanka tried to kiss her, she giggled and swan dived behind a section of the
frame.
Suddenly, someone coughed indistinctly in Vanka’s backpack. Vanka put his hand
into the backpack and found a small zoomer for the road, which Yagun had given him to
take with him. It was Yagge’s old family zoomer. On the reverse side was scratched with
a nail: Blong to Yagun. You steel, I kil.

81 Magparatus – a magic apparatus.


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“What’s this?” Vanka recalled asking then.


“I was little. I had only learned to write and started to inscribe everything. I
remember, even Grandma. Yagun Grany. She wiped it off and I was in tears. I yelled,
‘You don’t want to be my granny, just say so!’” the playing commentator reluctantly
explained.
The zoomer had been enchanted so that it worked only on reception, so it was the
safest of all. Sardanapal insisted on this, fearing that Magciety would scan the entire
magther.82
To Vanka’s surprise, instead of the inevitable Nagiana, Koshchei the Deathless in a
new ceremonial armour appeared on the zoomer screen. The breastplate was glowing so
much that it was painful to watch. Deathless’ silver skull shone with contentment.
“Oh, Koshchei the Deathless’ own corpse! Let’s listen to what clever things he’ll
say!” Vanka remarked, turning the frame with the portrait to the zoomer so Tanya could
also see.
“(Cough, cough)... Distinguished wizards! Representing Magciety of Jerky Magtion,
I am happy to inform you that the investigation into the murder of Gury Puper has made
significant progress. A few hours ago in Tibidox, Tatiana Grotter was arrested, a girl who
was not supposed to exist in nature but who in the meantime had the audacity to be
born.
“She was charged with complicity and instigation to murder and the harbouring of
Ivan Valyalkin, also known in the Magfia83 world as John Vailyalka. The girl, appearing
in the world as a vile mockery of universal value and which had the audacity to almost
reach legal age, has been transferred to Duncedam under heavy guard and will stay
there until Vanka Valyalkin voluntarily gives himself up to the hands of justice. He
doesn’t have much time, however, because people quickly grow old and die in
Duncedam... If Valyalkin appears, Tatiana Grotter will probably be released. However,
it’s possible that she will have to spend some time in Duncedam, and then the tightest
and darkest cells in different parts of the magic prison will be assigned to them so that
they will neither see nor hear each other.
“But this is yet a dream, (cough, cough)... Somehow I’m a bit dreamy today,
somewhat very creative... (Cough)... Please excuse my coughing. Counting money all
night. It’s awfully damp in my basement, although not as damp as in Duncedam.”
Vanka jumped up and, not holding back, punched a fist into the centre of the
zoomer. The crumpled dish buzzed resentfully. It was clearly the first time it had to take
the rap for others. But Vanka was already racing to the Durnevs, bumping into corners
and scaring the dachshund. Tanya’s photo, forgotten on a chair, waved her hands and
shook her head, as if trying to dissuade him. Then, realizing that it was useless, she
sobbed helplessly.

82 Magther – ether for the magic world.


83 Magfia – Mafia of the magic world.
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Aunt Ninel was just kissing Pipa’s letter and Gratis and Uncle Herman were
smacking cards with such passion and frenzy that one of them even pushed the Durnevs’
cell phone off the table with an elbow. They were playing twenty-one, and Uncle
Herman was constantly winning because Gratis could only count to ten, inclusive, and
trusted his brother to count his points. They did not hear Deathless’ communication
because Aunt Ninel’s zoomer, sent by their daughter, was lying in the cupboard in the
bedroom.
“The ring!” Vanka shouted. “Give me the ring!”
“What’s this? Found Puper, perhaps, or his aunt has decided to adopt you?”
Durnev asked sarcastically.
“I’m leaving! Tanya’s in Duncedam! Koshchei the Deathless threw her in jail!”
Uncle Herman triumphantly raised a skinny finger to the ceiling. “Oh! Oh! Oh!
What did I say! Ninel, did you hear? Grotty’s in jail! I predicted this when she was still a
baby! Children who begin potty-training so early and stare at superiors so brazenly
always end up in jail!”
“Um... Geez... When did they manage to do that? The cupid was just here. And Pipa
wrote nothing about this,” Aunt Ninel asked suspiciously.
“It only just happened. A few hours ago... If I surrender, they’ll let her go!”
“Ha, how quick! Taken to jail!” Madame Durneva shook her head. “Well, have to
look on the bright side. She’ll stop coming to us without warning. She has always turned
up like a bolt from the blue...”
Gratis also wanted to babble something in the same spirit as the Durnevs’, but
Vanka looked at him with such fury that the dwarf instantly faded. “What? I’m a small
being... Here I’m playing cards... Aces, kings, I don’t need anything else!” he muttered.
“The ring!” Vanka demanded. “Well! You promised!”
“My young friend!” Durnev started didactically. “If I had fulfilled my promises, I
would be sitting in a booth by the subway escalator 84 or shipping gravel for road
construction... The road to power is in the head, and it has fences of scores made of
bones! Adopt these rules, child, and don’t look at me with your naive little eyes! Hey,
hey! Don’t throw chairs out the window! European packaging after all, and the
neighbours won’t understand! Calm down, aspiring jailbird! If you so want to get into
Duncedam, don’t let me keep you!”
Vanka stared at him incredulously. “What, are you really going to return the ring?”
“Yes, gladly... I don’t need to be difficult here. I’m daring...” The chair of
V.A.M.P.I.R. reluctantly went into the bedroom, opened the safe, and tossed Vanka his
ring.

84The Moscow subway system, called the Metro, had escalator attendants at the bottom of escalators.
They sat in a glass booth and kept watch over escalator problems. They had the ability to stop an escalator
when there was trouble and contact the authorities responsible. As of April 2017, these escalator
attendants have been completely phased out.
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“Whew, whew! Happy jail time, Johnny! Learn Morse code, you will tap. Don’t
expect Ninel and me to visit you. Perhaps we’ll toss you a pack or two of cigarettes.”
“I don’t smoke,” Vanka said, putting on the magic ring.
“You’ll smoke, not going anywhere. There, you’ll stare and get drunk,” Durnev
reassured him sweetly.
Vanka did not answer. He suddenly realized that he did not have a vacuum. He
would not manage to fly. So, he would have to teleport. Vanka hastily recalled the spell.
Durnev and Gratis, running up to Aunt Ninel, watched him in astonishment as he, not
asking permission, pulled the bedspread off the bed, wrapped himself with it, and began
to spin rapidly. The magic ring crackled, issuing sparks. Sizzling green flames clung to
the bedspread.
Wary of white magic, Gratis yelped loudly and tried to shrink under the sofa. But
the place was already occupied: the dachshund was already sitting under it. One-And-A-
Half Kilometres was really out of sorts: it was holding in its teeth a sock recently stolen
from Uncle Herman and intended on defending its trophy to the last breath. Then Gratis
upended the armchair and swan dived behind it.
“Hey! Saying goodbye?” Durnev shouted sarcastically, but Vanka’s contours had
already become transparent. Another moment and he was gone.
Aunt Ninel sighed. “Why did you give him the ring, Herman? You had your plans
for the boy.”
“Useless,” Durnev said. “Not only is he a stubborn mule, he’s also in love with a
mule. I indeed understand something about people. Be thankful that we’ve gotten rid of
him at all.”
Aunt Ninel looked at her husband without much rejoicing. “Feel sorry for him! I
never had a son!”
“Good, good! You have me, Mumsy. And that says it all,” Gratis comforted her,
peeking out from behind the armchair. “Come on, brother, let’s play cards... Just tell me,
be so kind, why is it that when you have an ace and a ten, it’s twenty-one, but when I
have an ace and a ten, it’s too much? Or does it depend on the suit?”
A minute after Vanka teleported, Aunt Ninel’s personal zoomer came to life. It
produced such jangles that Durnev tossed his cards and rushed to it at the same time as
his wife.
On the screen was Pipa. “Mama, Papa, it’s me! Hello!” she hollered. “Did you get
my letter? How was the cupid to you? Really cheeky? I chose the friskiest, whom
Glomov sends for beer.”
Durneva stared at her daughter reproachfully. “Grotty is in Duncedam and you
wrote nothing to me! What do you call yourself?”
“Tanya? In Duncedam? What’s with you? What stupid joke is this? She’s at
dragonball practice! Left half an hour ago!” Pipa was surprised.

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“Ah, and you don’t know! They probably arrested her right there on the field,” Aunt
Ninel said leniently.
“You catch Grotty on the field, indeed! Goyaryn and Nightingale are there! She’s
like soap on her double bass! She’s on the field and they won’t dare barge in! They’ll be
fed pepper balls and they’ll wear pants on their heads!” Pipa chuckled.
“But how?” Aunt Ninel was confused.
“Like this. These jerks were here in our room this morning. They came, upended
everything, then they saw me and hightailed it... Some even through the window. There
was no need to enrage me. They indeed know that I still don’t know how to manage
intuitive magic. How I screamed boldly at them! Hudson, poor thing, got it again! Who
asked him to meddle? Buyan is in fact Buyan, in order to brawl.”85
“But here we have heard that Grotty’s in Duncedam! Vanka told us! Deathless
Koshchei, or whatever his name is, appeared on his zoomer!” the former deputy
informed triumphantly.
Pipa whistled. Despite her many flaws, she was quick on the uptake. “Whoa, dang!
No, Tanya’s at dragonball, I’m serious. I got it! This is provocation. Deathless made the
broadcast only to the moronoid world. They figured that Vanka’s not in Tibidox, so they
decided to lure him. Tell Vanka not to call anyone or send cupids... I’ll run to
Sardanapal!”
“Too late, puss! He can no longer send cupids! Or call anyone! What a smart one
this Koshchei is! Here’s a head! Tomorrow I’d even take him as my deputy in marketing
and strategic planning!” Durnev said mysteriously.

***

Vanka discarded the bedspread, charred during teleportation. He was standing in a


damp valley, among rock clusters. Huge boulders were piled up to the clouds in such
disorder, as if the pagan gods had once dropped them from the sky, burying rebellious
Titans under them. Vanka walked around the rock heap from the north and here, in the
valley, suddenly saw Duncedam.
Duncedam was not terrible. To be honest, Vanka was expecting more. The low
towers and grey walls of the magic prison looked bland and evoked melancholy. Blue-
grey clouds clung to the sky, like a cigarette butt to the upper lip. Most of all the term
“not at all” suited Duncedam. It could easily get the gold medal in a competition for the
most dismal prison. It was not even possible to compare it with anything; it was so
impersonal and elusively ordinary. Vanka’s heart sank. Would he have to spend the rest
of his life in this grey and dark place?

A play on words: the name of the island Buyan is the same as the Russian word for a brawler and the
85

Russian verb to brawl is buyanit'.


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There was not even a guard at the wooden gate. Only a heavy hammer was hanging.
Vanka reached for it to strike the gate, but could not even swing his arm. A strange
heaviness pinned his body down. Suddenly he became indifferent to everything. Vanka
stepped forward in a sleepy daze and leaned against the gate. “Damn hammer! It’s all
it...” the thought flickered.
The gates opened with the creaking of gallows. In a small square, beginning just
behind the gates, they had apparently been waiting for him already. Two jailers in dark
cloaks and hoods that hid their faces – only sharp hairless chins were visible –
tenaciously grabbed Vanka’s hands and pulled the magic ring off his finger.
At the same moment the brisk maglawyer Hudson emerged out of nowhere. Even
the proximity of the jailers could not spoil his good mood. “Oh, it is John, who killed our
Guwy! Nice to meet you! A nasty welcome to Duncedam, mon ami!” he exclaimed.
“Where’s Tanya? I’ve come! Let her go!” Vanka uttered with effort. His eyes were
closing. He could not even count to two now – the stones of Duncedam were drinking
his strength.
Magvokat Hudson rubbed his dry palms. “My fwiend! Have to disappoint you:
Gwotter isn’t here. Sooner or later – it’s not important... In order to get you out here, we
had to wesort to a little twick... I hope you’ll excuse us, but we so want to get better
acquainted wis you... Guys, take Mister Vailyalka to se cell! Give him evewysing he
wants. Water wis leeches, bread wis woaches – evewysing for our fwiend... In se
meantime I’ll call Magciety! Sis is a big twiumph!”
The jailers, holding Vanka tightly by the elbows, neither smiled nor squeaked.
Crimson dots lit up and instantly faded inside the hoods.

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Chapter 11
THE “SOUL TAKER” WAND

The news that Vanka was in Duncedam instantly travelled around Tibidox. In the
evening the Hall of Two Elements resembled a ruined anthill. There was not the usual
sharing of tablecloths, there were no jokes or laughter. Gunya Glomov, surrounded by a
full escort of fans, was spoiling to unscrew Koshchei’s skull in Magciety. Liza Zalizina
appeared for dinner in a dark mourning dress with a veil so that she was even taken as
Unhealed Lady at first. And this despite the fact that now Unhealed Lady more and
more wore dresses with roses and fluffy skirts.
Zalizina’s cuckoo was flying aimlessly around the room, not recognizing its
mistress in mourning. Finally it recognized her and sat down on her shoulder.
“Hey cuckoo, how long will Vanka live at the mercy of fools?” Liza asked it loudly.
The cuckoo was silent at first, and then beginning to doubt, nevertheless issued one half
“cuc,” holding back the second.
“Ah,” said Liza. “I thought so! It’s such a nightmare that there are simply no words!”
“Here’s definitely poor Liza!86 If she wasn’t so campy, maybe I’d feel sorry for her!”
Coffinia snorted under her breath.
But Liza, meanwhile, had already drifted over to Tanya’s table. Tanya did not even
look at her. What always happened had happened to her now: suffering, she drove her
pain deep into her soul and it was as if she had gone numb in public. To some, the
inattentive ones, this was enough for them to call Grotter heartless and callous.
“Tatiana, I curse you! Puper’s blood and Vanka’s misery are on you!” Liza said
spiritlessly, addressing her.
“And scrambled eggs with ketchup will be on you now!” Tanya announced grimly,
reaching for the plate. Zalizina withdrew hastily. She had learned at dragonball that
Grotter’s words did not differ from her deeds.
Around the middle of dinner, Grafin Cagliostro, who had still not left Tibidox,
poked his face into the Hall of Two Elements to irk Sardanapal a little. “Just think: one
of the students at the school has ended up in Duncedam! What a disgrace! Academician,
allow me to express to you my heartfelt sympathy!” he said, pressing his hand to his
chest.
“Go ahead, please do!” Sardanapal said glumly.
Grafin deftly extracted a long scroll of parchment out of thin air. “On behalf of the
General Council of Magciety, Koshchei the Deathless personally, and myself, allow me to
read out the condolences...”
“On whose behalf?” Sardanapal suddenly asked.

86Poor Liza (1792) is a short story by Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin (1766 – 1826), Russian writer, poet,
historian, and critic, about a village girl who commits suicide after a tragic love affair.
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“Excuse me?” Cagliostro was surprised. “I said, the General Council of Magciety
and myself...”
“No, there was another name. Koshchei the Deathless, did I not hear right? And
that... that worm even dares to mock me!” The academician started to boil.
“Please say no more! I beg you! Mr. Koshchei was very sorry that for the sake of re-
establishing justice...” Grafin fawned.
The academician’s moustache jumped angrily. His cheeks turned pink. “Please
allow me to bother you!” he said and ripped up the parchment after yanking it out of
Cagliostro’s hands.
“You will answer for this! That is an official document! An attempt to reconcile
between Tibidox and Magciety!” Grafin squeaked.
A nearby bench fell over. This was Tararakh getting up. He pushed back the
teachers’ table, sniffed, and began to approach Cagliostro sideways. “Now we’ll reconcile!
First we’ll have a fistfight, and then we’ll reconcile!” he said.
However, Medusa beat Tararakh to it. She did not even stand up. Only the hair on
her head hissed and her pupils dilated so that they occupied the entire iris. “I’m
counting to zero, and someone is setting off behind the Sinister Gates to show the
wonders of heroism! Zero!” Medusa uttered calmly and raised her ring.
“Nooo!” Grafin screamed, terrified to death. Jumping in zigzags and escaping from
imaginary sparks, he darted out the door, and a minute later a bright reddish flash
proved that he had teleported.
“No hero appeared. And this man was courteous. A knight, he kissed my hand...
Sometimes salivated over each finger and said something rather pleasant... There are
pistachio, chocolate, marmalade, sweet...” the Great Tooth said sadly.
Gottfried Bouillon jealously sneezed into the buckwheat kasha. The spear, not
knowing a miss, jumped by itself, banging the shaft on the floor.
“Be still, Gottfried! I love you! You’re my only one,” the Great Tooth reassured him
and, after pondering honestly, added, “Of a kind...”
“Yes, pity that Koshchei is deathless! I would...” Tararakh stretched out. “He hid
the needle so well that you won’t find it! When lightning hadn’t yet burned down the
Lukomore oak, our guys checked: there was no trunk. Neither under the oak, on the oak,
nor under the stone Alatyr, it wasn’t there.87 He started misinformation, the snake, in
order to leak into fairy tales. Fooled everyone!”
“Immortality is an excellent way to make a scoundrel out of a fool. There’s no time
limit, nothing... Year after year, month after month – improving himself until he
becomes mean!” Academician Chernomorov muttered.

87In Slavic mythology, the soul of Koshchei the Deathless is hidden inside a needle, inside an egg in a
duck in a hare in a chest buried under the Lukomore oak, the World Tree on the Island of Buyan, where
the sacred magical stone Alatyr is.
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127

***

After dinner, Tanya, Pipa, and Coffinia returned to their room together. The
misfortune that had befallen Vanka had if not reconciled them, then temporarily
smoothed out all the friction. Bab-Yagun even went with them.
“We must free Vanka, that’s for sure! If he ages a year in a week, then what will
happen? Six months later, he will already be like Uncle Herman! Dust will pour from
him!”
“Dust doesn’t pour from Papa!” Pipa said with displeasure.
“I’m doing this for visualization!” Yagun clarified and began to develop schemes on
how to free Vanka. His plans were as global as they were impractical. He first suggested
blowing up Duncedam, then razing Magford to the ground, and finally he demanded
Pipa to persuade her papa to declare war on Magciety and dispatch legions of vampires
at Koshchei the Deathless.
“Nah, what war!” Pipa dismissed it. “Papa says that the vampires have grown lazy.
They sit at home in Transylvania, drink canned blood, and scheme against mosquitoes.
These bloodsuckers, they say, lay claim on their food facility... It’s possible to gather a
hundred vampires, but they’ll surrender even before Koshchei has time to say
Boardingisex zaolis...”
Yagun rushed to cover up Pipa’s mouth. “What are you, sick? Why are you saying
this out loud? Good that you made a mess of the long vowels!”
“What is it?”
“This is the spell of global destruction! You are asking a nuclear warhead to play in
the sandbox!”
“Don’t worry, Yagun. Let her say what she wants. This spell is of a higher level of
initiation. She doesn’t have enough magic!” Coffinia casually dismissed it.
“I don’t? Ha! I have just enough if I’m thoroughly pissed! Anyone want to try?”
Pipa declared smugly.
It was unbearable for Tanya to listen to Pipa and Coffinia chattering as if nothing
had happened. How could they pretend that nothing was happening at all, when Vanka,
her Vanka, was there in Duncedam, where the walls of magic stone and the red eyes of
the jailers were sucking out his life and youth drop by drop?
She ran ahead of everybody and showed up at the door first. Even in the hallway
she heard an anxious commotion and panting inside. Something was clearly going on in
the room. Deciding that Hudson and the magnotists had suddenly appeared again for a
raid, Tanya energetically yanked open the door. Well, now she would show them!

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128

“Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi! [What is permissible for Jupiter is not permissible
for a bull! (Lat.)]”88 the ring of Theophilus Grotter started to mumble reassuringly. The
shrewd grandfather obviously knew something in advance.
Tanya burst into the room and froze in amazement on the threshold. Her double
bass case had been pulled out to the middle of the room. Near the case, lying on his belly,
someone lanky was kicking hopelessly, someone who could not free his head from the
case.
“Hudson?” Tanya asked doubtfully, raising her hand with the ring to issue a fight
spark.
The body stopped kicking. “What the Plague, Hudson? It’s me, Zhikin! Do
something with your bloody case: it won’t release me!” There was plaintive snorting
from the case.
“Zhikin? How did you end up here?”
“It pinched my head! Such a stinker, attacks people!”
“Eh, no! It’s people that attack it!” Tanya said. She was beginning to perceive the
absurdity of the situation. Zhikin not only could not free himself, but he also did not
even have the ability to inflict at least some damage on the case. The dragon leather of
the case absorbed any fight sparks. When Zhikin tried to use his fists and nails, the case
lightly pressed his neck with the cover, forcing Zhora to quiet down.
“Here it is – skill! It was necessary to do so! Oh, my, oh, a smart one!” the ring said
with enthusiasm. In moments of extreme smugness Grandpa always slipped from Latin.
Bab-Yagun, Coffinia, and Pipa entered the room.
“Wow, an outright case thief! Whose cute legs are these?” Bab-Yagun asked
mockingly. Zhikin kicked back spitefully, trying to hit Yagun in the nose with his heel.
Bab-Yagun leaned over and, taking Zhikin by the collar, dragged him out of the
case. The case was not against it. The local pretty boy had rather bored it. “It’s indeed
Uncle Zhora! What are you doing in the case, Uncle Zhora? Decided to learn to play the
double bass secretly? The mop with propeller has already gone out of fashion?” Bab-
Yagun asked.
“I won’t say anything! Leave me alone!” Zhikin snapped and immediately, glancing
anxiously at the irate Grotter and Yagun’s fists, divulged everything. He had a bad
feeling even without the partial piece of prophetic glass. He would be beaten, and
possibly even on the classic nose...
“So you thought that Noah’s pince-nez is in old Theo’s double bass? It isn’t. You
can be sure I’d know,” Tanya said when he finished.
“Correction – not the pince-nez itself but the clue! I don’t think First Magic of
Noah could be lying. More likely this little creep was!” Yagun corrected.

88The phrase essentially means “what is permitted to a person or group is not permitted to everyone,”
indicating a double standard.
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“I swear by my papa’s seventh wife that I told the truth! Can I go? I have a date
with Dollova! Ehh...strictly business!” Zhikin declared, looking anxiously at Pipa.
“Look at that one! A downright sneaky traitor! Go on, get out!” The younger
Durneva was outraged. Zhikin shrugged his shoulders uncertainly, showing that yes, he
is what he is and will unlikely be different.
“Well, get out!” Bab-Yagun gave him permission. Zhikin ran hastily, raising his
skinny knees high.
“Stop!” Tanya called after him. “You forgot something! Hand over the glass!”
Zhora stopped. “I won’t! Why do you need it?”
“On demand! He who asks, gets it in the nose!” Yagun said firmly.
Zhikin doubted, yet the word “nose” outweighed everything. “Here, here!” he
shouted, and Tanya, raising her hand, caught the gleaming glass. As a test, she looked
through it at Zhikin, but did not see anything interesting – just an inflated peacock on a
background of blurred grey spots.
“He’s a skunk, whaaat a skunk! And I, a fool, thought...” Pipa said in
disappointment, looking at the back of the escaping Zhikin.
“A skunk? Zhora! You didn’t go far enough, girlfriend. What kind of skunk is Zhora?
He’s simply a morally adjusted person,” Coffinia ironically corrected her.

***

Soon Pipa and Coffinia went somewhere, and Yagun, remaining in the room, began
to gush forth ideas. “Remember, Tararakh once said that in the Middle Ages there was
the Lord of Dead Legions’ horn. If only we could acquire it! Imagine, we blow this horn,
and Roman legions risen from the ashes immediately march to Duncedam. Trumpets
thunder, arrows fly, battle rams hit the wall... Imagine to yourself the sad jailors, baking
potatoes in the coals on the site of its main cell!” Yagun snorted happily.
“And Vanka?”
“We’ll take Vanka with us, of course. Just have to find out what tower he’s in!”
Yagun shouted and sped off to consult Tararakh.
Tanya only shook her head. She knew in advance that the plan was impractical.
Ancient artefacts are very wilful. No one had seen the famous horn in the last five
hundred years, and it was not a fact that someone would see it in the next five hundred.
And it certainly would not be found in Tararakh’s dusty den.
Suddenly, Tanya remembered the pince-nez and, with a vague hope that it would
somehow help Vanka, looked through it at the double bass case. And – a miracle... More
accurately, the miracle was precisely the absence of a miracle. If the rest of the items
seen through the glass transformed, spilled over from one to the other, the double bass
remained unchanged – as itself. But then the case... Tanya saw a curled dragon. It was
huge. Not as massive as Goyaryn, but very well-built and probably swift. It had a long
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130

neck with notches, and a narrow head protected by plates and outgrowths. The leathery
wings had a pinkish hue – nodes of ligaments were visible through them. A few short
whiskers branched out from the lower jaw. Amazed at how the dragon could fit in the
room, indeed it was the size of a decent tower, Tanya lowered her hand with the shard of
glass. Again, only a double bass case was lying on the floor.
“Here you rack your brain – whether this is the memory of the dragon skin or
Grandpa didn’t try to be too clever and simply conjured a dragon. His nature is
extensive, creative. Not tied up in small stuff. Need a case – gives a dragon. Need a
double bass – gives Noah’s Ark," she thought.
“Grandpa, why that? Where is Noah’s pince-nez? Where’s the clue? You indeed
know, don’t make me suffer!” Tanya asked with hope.
The ring kept quiet, only grunted. The old headstrong Theophilus clearly was not
going to reveal the secrets. Or could not. After all, the ring could hold only a very small
part of his multi-faceted personality. Tanya looked at the double bass through the piece
of glass for a long time, a very long time. And she still saw nothing. Suddenly, she felt
that the piece of glass began to darken and warm up in her hand. A thin, barely
perceptible crack ran from one end to the other and instantly closed up as soon as Tanya
stopped looking at the double bass. Magic items always relate to the conventions of life
daringly, significantly differing from all other objects.
Tanya jumped. She realized that she had made some mistake. The shard of Noah’s
pince-nez definitely did not want or could not show her the double bass, and the roots of
the cause of this strange obstinacy went deep into the centuries.

***

“What? We won’t do anything to save him? Nothing at all?” Bab-Yagun asked


indignantly. He had already been in Sardanapal’s office for almost half an hour and still
had not been able to achieve anything definite.
Sardanapal’s moustache bristled in annoyance. “Yagun, we are doing everything
possible. I said it to Yagge, and now to you! Medusa, Deni, Slander, and I will use all our
influence to get Vanka out. But either we have no real influence or Magciety prefers to
be blind and deaf... I even thought of resigning, but they will certainly accept it even
before the parchment with my statement gets onto the table of Koshchei the Deathless.
And if there will be a new chief at Tibidox, I’m afraid few would benefit from it.”
“But there must be a way!”
“There must. But I don’t see it,” the academician said sadly. “Magford, with its
eternal idiosyncrasies and concrete principles, I can understand! Forget it! But Magciety!
You know, sometimes I just can’t envision what it’s guided by! Or, more correctly, I do.
But then I start to feel very bad because I prefer not to think too badly of people.”

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131

“I don’t care about Magciety! We can simply kidnap Vanka! Break down all the
doors at night, chain the jailors with magic shackles!” Bab-Yagun shouted.
Sardanapal smiled. “You’re an idealist, my boy! Break down the doors! To a serious
wizard it’s no more difficult than cracking a nut. Well, there’re no locked doors inside
Duncedam. Only outer gates.”
“But if everything’s so easy...”
“Too easy, and therefore useless! You think that Duncedam is a prison for the body?
Duncedam is a prison primarily for the soul. With its magic, Duncedam chains the soul
to some place and keeps it there, torturing and making the soul suffer and the body age.
It’s no longer up to the prisoner to escape... If I really try and leaf through some books,
I’m sure I’d even manage to move Vanka to Tibidox. It would be difficult, but it could be
done. But only the body! His soul would remain in Duncedam and we could do nothing
about that, because we don’t know the spell of confinement. Duncedam was built during
the magic wars precisely as a prison for the soul, built when experienced battle wizards
could have three or four bodies, not counting the astral doubles... Only then could
Duncedam come into being; it’s the curse of the magic world!”
Soon after Yagun left, Slander peered into Sardanapal’s office. He was very out of
sorts, and, as always in such cases, he smelled of sulphur from his ears. Milyulya
threatened to leave for the water-sprite, whose belly was gurgling very loudly. He lacked
other virtues. However, women rarely choose worthy people. Slander also said so to the
academician.
“Nasty things are happening in our school!” Slander said. “Tonight Noah’s portrait
disappeared from the Main Staircase... Later I managed to discover the frame. Only the
frame. It was broken, and TG was laid out in the debris. If Grotter has stolen the portrait,
then this wicked girl should be transferred to the dark department again.”
“You yourself don’t believe this, Slander!” the academician calmly replied.
The principal glanced up nervously with a sharp, piercing look. “Maybe I don’t
believe it, but why then lay out her initials? Who doesn’t want to brag about a crime?”
Sardanapal tugged at his moustache. “This is a bad sign. I think something
threatens the girl, and Noah is trying to warn us. Indeed, the frame is part of his portrait,
over which he also has power. Wait, let’s have a look now... It’s strange that we didn’t do
this sooner. I confess, I’m always scared to look there.”
Sardanapal put on gloves of thick bovine leather, approached the cage with black
magic books, and opened the door. In an instant, lizards, tarantulas, and snakes rushed
out, but the academician obviously had great experience. Discarding all the unnecessary
books that had turned into snakes with the spell Get outus, he plucked from the pile of
book-werewolves a sluggish turtle, and, after tossing it on the table, he threw two green
sparks one after the other at it. After the first spark the turtle began to swell, and after
the second it turned into a thick, frayed volume with edges crumbling from age and
definitely moth-eaten.
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Slander blinked anxiously like an awakened owl. “The Book of the Dead. This I
don’t need to search – I’m superstitious!” he muttered.
The Book of the Dead reminded one of a phone book because, flipping the pages,
the academician muttered in a business-like manner, “Bach... Barbarossa... Brahms...
Where is it? Barnabas... 89 Humbolt...90 Guinness... 91 Grabar... Grotter! Strange... very
strange... Here are all the Grotters – Leopold, Theophilus, but not our Tanya.”
“Maybe she will get married? She will be some Tanya Valyalkina?” Slander
suggested.
“No,” Sardanapal shook his head. “The Book of the Dead doesn’t tolerate confusion.
It has everyone – absolutely everyone except the gods and the immortals. But our Tanya
isn’t immortal, and especially not a god.”
“But isn’t that good? It means nothing threatens her at all?” Slander asked
uncertainly.
The academician shook his head. “It’s nothing good, trust me! Besides Tanya,
there’s only one exception to the rule in this book. An unpleasant exception. I would
even say fatal.”
“And who else isn’t there?” the principal, hating long preambles, asked impatiently.
“Plague-del-Cake,” Sardanapal replied dryly.

***

Tanya was sitting at the desk and thinking about Vanka, unconsciously drawing his
profile in the notebook for Evil Spirit Studies. Vanka turned out painfully similar, but at
the same time, as if it was not him. Something was not captured in this picture, and that
something was the very essence of Vanka – his smile, the yellow soccer shirt, his casual
phrases – all that was absurd and dear in him.
Tanya could not get used to the idea that Vanka was in Duncedam, where he was
slowly dying, but life meanwhile continued as if nothing had happened. There were
classes. Students walked along the hallways of Tibidox; their laughter was even heard.
The young dragons still roared in the hangars and the mermaids splashed in the lakes.
Everything was the same, and yet not so. For some reason, Tanya did not have such a
feeling after Puper’s death. And indeed there was no feeling of doom but something else,
vague...
Someone suddenly knocked on the door.

89 The name Barnabas is Varnava in Russian, with the letter ‘v’ following directly after ‘b’ in the Cyrillic
alphabet.
90 The name Humbolt is Gumbolt in Russian since there is no equivalent of the letter ‘h’ in the Cyrillic

alphabet.
91 The name Guinness is Ginness in Russian.

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133

“Who’s there? Yagun, is that you? Come back later!” Tanya shouted. She did not
want to see anyone.
No one answered, but the knock was repeated. Shrugging, Tanya pulled the handle.
It occurred to her that this was another of Pipa’s tricks. The Durnevs’ daughter, while
still in Moscow, loved covering up the peephole with her hand and then shouting,
“Armed robbery!”
However, it was not Pipa. Genka Bulonov stumbled, staggering, into the room. He
was pale. His hair stuck to his sweaty forehead. His clothes were covered with a thick
layer of grime. He smelled of damp basement and hobgoblin filth. For some reason
Genka was keeping one hand under his clothes. “Help!” he croaked. “They’re chasing
me!”
Tanya rushed to Bulonov. She was already half a step from him when something –
later she could not even explain what exactly – forced her to draw back.
Genka slowly raised his head. Something new lit up in his eyes. Now it was no
longer suffering. Hatred. Fury. Suddenly Bulonov laughed. His body trembled and
gurgled – what little there was still of the old lanky and uncertain Genka. Now
something of an old woman appeared in his posture.
“Ah, you figured it out? Well, it’s even better this way! Take it!” Bulonov shouted.
He freed the hand hidden under his clothing and Tanya saw in it a short wand ending
with an eyeball.
Realizing that he would now stab her in the chest with the end of the wand, Tanya
darted back, leaping over Pipa’s stupidly piled-up suitcases. Every five minutes, Uncle
Herman’s daughter went through them in search of some top, the existence of which she
was not certain. A cupid had to be urgently summoned and sent to Moscow with a note
to Mama. Knowing how generously the Durnevs pay, half a dozen winged babies were
eternally hovering outside the window.
And now the suitcases were very helpful. Jumping over them, Tanya broke away
from Bulonov, who slipped and sprawled awkwardly on his belly, dropping the wand.
Taking advantage of his confusion, Tanya was about to rush to the door, but Bulonov
managed to grab her ankle. She fell, hitting her head painfully against the foot of her
own bed. Falling, Tanya saw that Genka was already on his feet and groping for the
wand.
Tanya hurriedly crawled to the door, knowing that she did not have time. When
Bulonov reached her, she did the only thing she could: she shielded herself with the
double bass case. The wand slammed hard against the case, forcing the strings of the
double bass hidden inside to drone lowly and indignantly.
Bulonov was already raising his hand for another strike, but here a blinding
greenish light filled the room. Genka screamed and raised his hand to his eyes.
When Tanya regained the ability to see, she realized that she was sitting on the
floor, still clutching the case. Bulonov tried to crawl on his stomach to her but could not.
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134

His fingers only scratched the linoleum. He could not even raise his hand gripping the
wand.
“Damnation! What a clumsy body! Accursed double bass! When will the Grotters
finally stop hindering me?” Bulonov croaked.
“Plague-del-Cake!” Tanya yelled. Although the voice was different, the tone and
shading altered, it was impossible not to recognize it.
“You guessed! I would’ve gotten to you long ago, but the boy resisted. I lost
authority over him before I managed to get the wand. It was here in a secret place under
the school, but it was necessary to dig the ground with hands, throw back the stones. I
hate these cowardly bodies, which fear pain! Bodies, whose survival instinct is stronger
than reason! As soon as the boy broke just a miserable nail, he came to! How many
times I wanted to trust all the bogies, but it was impossible – only I could pick up the
wand the first time... Protective magic – I once cast it myself.”
The captured body raised himself on his elbows with effort. He could barely look at
the greenish light pouring from the double bass. His eyes were watering. “Do you want a
deal?”
“I don’t make deals with you!”
Bulonov’s face became distorted, as if in a moment of agony. Saliva dripped from
the corner of his mouth. Plague-del-Cake probably intended on wincing but
miscalculated slightly with the facial muscles. “I’ll give you Valyalkin, that sluggish
nonentity that’s so dear you,” she croaked.
“You’re lying!” Tanya shouted. She hated no one else in life as much as this vile
murderer. But there was no one else she so needed...
“I’m not asking you to believe me! We’ll sign a contract and seal it with an
unbreakable oath. You and me. I’ll help you free Valyalkin from Duncedam, you’ll give
me your body. If you want to, I’ll even let you spend five minutes together. No more.”
“Why do you need my body? Settle in any bogie. You even captured Bulonov!”
“Bulonov?” Plague looked absentmindedly at her new hands and feet. “It’s only a
temporary, miserable shelter. The only thing that I could settle into from the world of
the dead. Soon I’ll have to leave it, granting the guy his own destiny. I need only your
body. No other will work. Something more than an old enmity connects you and me. We
are the sides of the same coin, light and darkness. While there’s me, there’s you. As long
as you exist, I exist. And there's something else about which it’s not worth for you to
know for the time being. Well... deal?”
“How will you return Vanka to me?” Tanya asked, biting her lips. She could think
only of Vanka and not of anyone else.
“Return?” the witch hissed. “You misunderstood me. I have no intention of
returning anyone. I’ll only teach you how to sneak into Duncedam and how to pull out
from there the fan of little animals needed by no one... Well? Yes or no? Why are you

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135

silent, are you scared? Or is the baby from the white department ready to sacrifice her
life in words only?”
Tanya looked at her with hatred. She decided. “Fine. I’ll give you my body, but only
when Vanka is alive, unharmed, and free, and I’ll have a whole hour, you hear, no less,
to look at him.”
“A whole hour, that’s a lot, but so be it... You can even stroke his head, kiss him, or
darn his shirt. Anything you like!” Plague chuckled.
Tanya yanked open the lid of the case. The blazing greenish glow forced Plague,
squinting, to crawl cowardly back into the shadows.
“Don’t you dare teach me, murderer! One more condition, or there’ll be nothing!”
Tanya said.
“Great! Let it be as you want, just close the case! Drop deadus! I swear! And now
you swear!” Plague said hastily.
“Drop deadus! I’ll give you my body if you lead me to Vanka in Duncedam!” Tanya
announced loudly. A green spark flashed.
“Vita brevis! [Life is short! (Lat.)]” Theophilus Grotter’s ring exclaimed in horror.
Plague-del-Cake grinned. “You swore! The deal was made, the oath sealed with a
spark... Backing out is impossible. Wear your body for the time being, girl! Not long left
now! And look: be more careful with the hands, gentler with the legs, so everything will
be like brand new – I don’t like used goods... And, naturally, don’t tell anyone about our
deal. Or there will be nothing. I don’t want Sardanapal or Deni to bother me.”
“Get to the point! How do I find Vanka and bring him back?”
“Take the wand and fly to Duncedam. The grid on top of one of the towers isn’t
protected by spells. You will recognize it by a special design. It’s like a spider web. Sneak
inside. Duncedam will seem to you empty, almost deserted, but remember, this is
deceptive. Don’t have contact with any item that you see there, and especially don’t try
to take anything away with you! No door knockers, books, rings, weapons, nothing.
Remember?”
“Yes!”
“Then remember more. There are things that are unfeasible in Duncedam. To
return from whence you came and to pick up what you dropped. What you pick up will
already be something else, it will change, and only Duncedam knows what it will become.
Don’t believe anything, and particularly your own eyes. When you go forward, don’t look
back, no matter how scared you may be. Remember, every step you take in Duncedam
creates a new reality, which exists only until your next step. Familiar laws don’t apply
inside the magic prison. The wizards who summoned Duncedam into our world didn’t
give much thought to the consequences. Fools! They let into the world something about
which they themselves only had a very rough idea.”
“Didn’t they fight with you?” Tanya asked. Plague-del-Cake shrugged. She did it
awkwardly, like a theater puppet.
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136

“Now it’s no longer important. I did not shed blood alone. Those who did that are
now trying to present themselves as holy. And this especially enrages me. When I get
your body, I will try to get even with them and I’ll do it, believe me... Now about the
jailors. You must know something about them. They’re part of Duncedam. They
appeared together with it, came from the other reality, about which even I know little.
They can exist only in Duncedam and nowhere else. If Duncedam ever disappears, they
will also disappear along with it. They aren’t people or wizards. Killed, they’ll regain life
after some time. They’re something akin to me. Their hearts don’t beat, but they aren’t
dead. They aren’t ghosts, but they’re everywhere. A combat spark will stop them only
once and for a short while. I doubt that someone’s courage can rattle them, but
remember: your fear will make them stronger.”
Bulonov’s voice had almost become unintelligible. Terror flashed for an instant in
Genka’s eyes and he jerked his hands up to his face. Tanya realized that it was difficult
for Plague to retain authority over the body; while Bulonov’s own mind was weak, it was
still fighting. Still, Plague was handling it.
Bulonov’s eyes dimmed, his hands lowered, and he continued in the same
measured voice, “I hope you’ll be able to find Vanka. Just don’t expect him to recognize
you. Now he barely even remembers his own name... You touch Vanka’s chest with the
wand, the wand will retract his soul. Then you leave Duncedam with the wand. The
jailors, after making sure that Vanka is dead, and it’ll look that way, I hope, will either
return his body to Tibidox or throw it into the ocean. They deal with death strangely.
We’ll be ready to retrieve it if the sharks don’t beat us to it.” Here Plague somehow
giggled strangely and extremely ambivalently. “Then you touch Vanka’s chest with the
other end of the wand. In the process you have to circle these three runes here with the
magic ring. The wand will return the soul – and forward, on the other side of the
nomadic gypsy star! I’ll teach you the spell to relinquish your body. Otherwise, the wand
will work too, although it’ll be slightly more painful.”
“How disgusting! Throw Vanka into the ocean!” Tanya muttered.
“Dark magic is dark magic,” Plague adamantly said. “I didn’t promise that
everything will be easy-peasy. That wasn’t in our deal... There is no other way that
Vanka could leave Duncedam. Only if Magciety provides the spell, which it certainly will
not. Well, do you agree?”
“Yes.”
“Wonderful! Then proceed! I’ll appear again when my hour strikes...” Plague-del-
Cake opened her hand. The wand dropped to the floor and rolled to Tanya’s feet. There
it lay, dull and indifferent to everything. Only the bulging eye at the end became silvery.
Tanya stared numbly at the wand and did not recognize herself. Did she really
make a deal with Plague, the one she hated so much? What happened to her? How could
she lose her head like this out of love, but, on the other hand, is there something else
besides love worth losing your head over?
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137

Bulonov dropped to his knees and squeezed his temples with his hands. “Where am
I? Where? Why does my head hurt so?” he asked piteously.
“Because you’re a chronic Bouillon. And this is already serious and for a long time!”
Tanya said gloomily.
She pulled a towel off her bed, wet it, and wrapped it around Genka’s sweaty
forehead. Even kneeling, Bulonov’s shoulder was almost to her head. My, he was big!
Taller than Puper! But if Puper’s stubble was stiff and dark, already like a grown man’s,
Bulonov’s cheeks had acquired soft brown hair unevenly. Moreover, Mama forbade him
to shave, claiming that children do not shave.
“Is that better?” Tanya asked.
“Uh-huh! Thank you!” Bulonov mumbled, looking at her with the round and
frightened eyes of a sheep.
Explaining nothing to him, Tanya firmly sent Genka to the door. He remained
standing in the hallway like a startled gopher, and it was difficult to understand what
thoughts were rushing through his head, with the large forehead still wrapped in a towel.
But Tanya had already forgotten about Bulonov. Now she was thinking of Plague-
del-Cake. Would she seriously have to fulfill the promise and hand over her body? Drop
deadus was an oath perfectly secured from oath-breaking. No wonder the wise ancient
wizards so trusted it and at the same time resorted to it with such prudence. Anyone
breaking it would burn alive, and, while burning, would acquire an amazing resistance
to fire at the same time. For long hours his skin and hair would be ablaze and he would
experience incredible pain before death would finally serve as his deliverance. Moreover,
this was a special kind of fire. Even if the oath-breaker decided to jump into the ocean
with a rock around his neck, the fire would continue to torment him there. It would be
impossible to break an oath. The only proviso would be if the oath-taker would
voluntarily take it back. But it would be absurd to expect magnanimity from Plague-del-
Cake.
Tanya walked around the room frantically searching for a way out. Finally she
found it, but it was scary in itself. Nevertheless, it was the only chance to save Tibidox
from the vile witch, simultaneously fulfilling the terms of the contract.
She rushed to the baby Stinktopp. The little one continued to live in the same room
where once lived the head of the dark department, Professor Stinktopp. Only now the
room was rather big for him; along the walls stretched numerous shelves, on which was
laid out Professor Stinktopp’s collection of magical curiosities. Despite the fact that
Stinktopp had already traded a good half of the collection for all kinds of trash, there
was still a surprising number.
At the moment the little one was busy swinging in a hammock and aiming at one or
the other corner with a combat crossbow. Besides Stinktopp, Shurasik was also in the
room.
“Hi, Stinktoppie! Hello, Shurasik!” Tanya greeted them.
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138

“’ello!” the little one said, immediately locking on her.


Tanya surmised that Stinktopp had gotten the crossbow recently. Most probably,
Shurasik dragged it over, having some sights of his own on something. Anyway,
Shurasik, for some reason, was twirling in his hands a gaudy Oriental skullcap, very
similar to one Eastern sultan’s favourite skullcap, known in the magic world as the
skullcap of courage. With this skullcap on his head, even the greatest coward would
attack a legion alone.
“Do you still have poison? You haven’t yet traded it to anyone?” Tanya asked
Stinktopp.
“Nah,” Stinktopp said. “Plenty more. Poof!”
“And where can I look?”
“Over there!” Stinktopp stopped aiming at Tanya and turned the crossbow to the
third shelf from the bottom, on which vials, jars, and boxes labelled in Latin were lined
up. Several rather harmless-looking bundles of herbs also hung there.
“And what’s here?” Tanya asked, looking at them carefully but touching nothing.
“But what’s not here!” the know-it-all Shurasik interjected. “Starting with the edge.
Cyanide... hemlock... arsenic... Vulgar poison! Strange that it’s still in fashion among the
moronoids.”
“And this?” Tanya nodded at a beautiful, tall flask.
Shurasik looked at the Latin label. “Oh, it’s the kiss of Tantalus! 92 Excellent
medieval poison! No taste, no smell! Can be added to food and drink, or can simply be
sprinkled on the walls in an office. There’s nothing in the first half hour, no heartburn,
no cramps, but then a spasm of the heart muscle, and done. You set off to the other
world with a smile on your face. Very expensive and complex poison. Mostly poison
kings and dukes with it. Usually poison mothers-in-law and wives with phosphorus
matches or strychnine... Cheaply and sullenly. But why do you want poison, huh? Spill!”
“Why do you want a skullcap, huh? Spill!” Tanya answered him in the same tone.
Shurasik turned purple and stopped asking stupid questions. With the flask in her
hands, Tanya approached Stinktopp, who was still happily messing around with the
crossbow. “Stinktopp, will you give me the poison? I... uh... well, just want to have it.”
“Yes, sure,” the little one said. “Only if you’re poisoning Koshchei, it won’t work.
He’s immortal. Better ask Talalakh to lough him up!”
“Okay, okay, I’ll ask. What do you want in return?” Tanya asked impatiently.
“Nothing. I’m nice!” Stinktopp chuckled, looking at her with sly eyes. “Just don’t
add it to my soup, and consider that we’ve agleed.”
“Here it is, a gift for Plague-del-Cake and... and for me!” Tanya thought, clutching
the cold flask.

92Tantalus is a figure in Greek mythology. He is eternally punished in Tartarus, the dungeon of the
Underworld, by standing in a pool of water that recedes before he can get a drink and beneath a fruit tree
with low branches but the fruits eluding his grasp.
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139

Chapter 12
THE GALLEY

“Herman, darling! Look what wonderful food I bought for our dachshie! She
simply adores it!” Aunt Ninel chirped happily, appearing in the former deputy’s office.
In her hands was a yellow package with the inscription:

FOOD AVVA
Your dog will simply glow with health!

“Why will it glow? What do they put in there?” Durnev asked bitingly.
A concerned Aunt Ninel switched off the light and looked anxiously at One-And-A-
Half Kilometres. It, fortunately, was not glowing. Madame Durneva calmed down and
set off to the kitchen to read a book about the trendy Atkins diet. In order to better grasp
the text, she accompanied each page with a good piece of ham and a hot pizza.
Uncle Herman once again buried himself in stock prices. The shares jumped down,
then up; there were few stable entries and Durnev could not figure out where to invest
the money raised from the sale of the gold toilet and washing machine. With the
washing machine the situation was in fact unique. When Gratis, or more precisely, King
Midas, touched it, not only the machine but also the linen in it became gold. Durnev was
emotional all evening, looking at his valuable socks. He decided to palm one sock off to
the Museum of Modern Art, but left the other home as a souvenir.
Durnev had not had time to decide on the shares when Gratis’ head, bumpy and
worn out by life and fate, appeared like a round Mexican cactus at the door. The
werewolf looked around busily. In his hand was a small saucepan, which he, exactly like
a waiter, was holding either with a napkin or a towel. “Your oatmeal, sir!” he said in a
high-pitched voice.
“I hate oatmeal! Better than porridge can only be its absence!” Uncle Herman said.
“Herman, but how so? You said yesterday that you love it!” Gratis was upset.
“I was joking. Only the British love oatmeal. All other love for oatmeal is pure
copycat!” Durnev said. “Besides, you most certainly didn’t wash the pan! You at most
licked it clean, isn’t that right?”
The werewolf’s cheeks turned pink. “You’re always finding fault, brother! I wanted,
that ish, better!”
“I know what you wanted! So be it: you can go to the models today, only don’t drag
them here. Ninel will be very much out of sorts. And when she’s out of sorts, those dolls
could easily have their legs broken.”
Gratis howled with delight. He jumped up, clicked his feet, and ran to kiss Uncle
Herman.
“Take the pan, jackass! What do you think you’re doing?” the former deputy yelled.
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140

The outraged grandson of Granny Ryukha threw the pan with a crash right at the
stock quotes. “I am not a jackass, Herman! I could demand a million toad warts from
you for moral damage! Such lawsuits are in vogue now.”
“You have too many morals!” Durnev snapped.
“Aye!” Gratis readily agreed. “A carload! If I were to get at least a bagel hole every
time I’m called an ass and a half-corn for ‘fool’! I would’ve become a millionaire long
ago.”
Suddenly, from the kitchen came Aunt Ninel’s panic shriek. Uncle Herman fetched
his ancestor’s sword from the closet and rushed to the rescue. Gratis, not noted for
heroic disposition, followed him at some distance.
What they saw in the kitchen could shake any unaccustomed moronoid. Next to the
table on the floor a medium-sized circle was ablaze, in which Boom and Malyuta
Skuratoff were materializing bone by bone and tendon by tendon. They appeared
gradually – this time the vampires were probably employing some new means of
travelling through space.
Finally, after a brief pause, brought on because the head appeared last of all,
Malyuta Skuratoff stepped out of the circle, pressing his hand to his heart. “Happy to
greet the greatest of the great and the most famous of the famous! Malyuta Skuratoff
bows to the Father of All Vampires Mr. Herman Durnev and his venerable household!”
Uncle Herman reluctantly put away his sword. “Mutually glad to see you!” he said
and touched Malyuta’s palm squeamishly, just like a cold cutlet.
Boom came out of the circle with a snuffle and stopped next to his boss, surveying
the kitchen. For some obscure reason Gratis did not like it. “Oho! Quiet Ukrainian night,
but better hide the fat!”93 he said to himself and sped away.
Durnev and Malyuta Skuratoff exchanged excessive compliments for some time,
then Uncle Herman articulated his thought more clearly, “To what do I owe this
immense happiness? For a Tibidox thing? The memory of ancestors and all that?”
Malyuta Skuratoff threw up his hands in surprise. His little nose began to shine.
“What thing is there now? Ha,” he said sadly. “You indeed know where Vanka is. He’s
gone. He started to waste Pupers, well, he’s gone. We won’t butt into Tibidox, and, my
apologies, no help from your little girl.”
Such knowledge of the vampires surprised Uncle Herman a little, but he did not
show it. After all, vampires could also listen to a zoomer. And they were in alliance with
the evil spirits.
“We have a little business of a different kind,” Malyuta continued. “If to speak quite
frankly, we came for the boots. Your ancestor’s. Borrow... Mustn’t steal. Your ancestor
was a strong-willed man, the kind they will remove from the Hereafter. And he had
strong-willed regalia. Against their will, a no-no.”

93 This is a joke that means one should remain vigilant, alert.


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141

“And why do you want my boots?” Durnev asked, remembering Count Dracula’s
high boots, which he personally oiled with a softening cream once a week. The boots
liked it – they bobbed and jingled their spurs.
Boom and Malyuta Skuratoff looked at each other.
“Tell him?” Boom asked.
“Sure, tell him,” Malyuta shrugged.
“This... flying there, nitwit, it creaks, lulls simple folk... It also seems to be nothing,
just haunts. It has left, and you again want to bite anyone, you won’t run into an aspen
stake anyway. Just that the blood becomes awfully unsavoury. No proper feeding,
nothing!” Boom growled.
“They lose haemoglobin from fear. They fall asleep and then don’t wake up. Such
unconscious folk,” Skuratoff explained. “So we decided to borrow your boots. Otherwise,
we can’t keep up with it without your boots. It’s painfully fast.”
“What’s fast?” the confused Durnev asked finally.
“The galley! And it’s unknown where it came from – it circles over Transylvania,
doesn’t even become invisible. First it drops quite low, then hovers, and then suddenly
soars under the sky and begins to circle, can’t follow with your eyes then! I confess, a
couple of times I sent servants to intercept it, but to no avail. Lost two of my best,”
Skuratoff confided.
“What galley?” Aunt Ninel asked. She had recovered so much that she opened the
fridge and began to devour chicken roulade.
Boom looked at her full-blooded artery with a hidden passion, but for now it was
quite predictable. Count Dracula’s sword and Aunt Ninel’s most ponderous fist helped
him control himself.
“There’s one such there...” Malyuta replied vaguely. “Only it’s unclear why it
became attached to Transylvania. Likely something we have holds it, but what, you go
figure. So, Father of All Vampires? Will you give us the boots?”
Durnev thought. He had been around a little and experience told him that giving
something on credit is worse than throwing it away. Especially to such a slippery
character as Malyuta. Besides, rescuing Transylvania from the galley all by himself, he
would greatly raise his prestige among the locals and would become not only the
nominal but also the actual chairman. True, how he, oh-oh-oh, did not want to go to
Transylvania. But a successful man is distinguished from a fool in that he does of his
own volition what he does not want to do. A fool patiently waits until he is forced to.
“No, I won’t give you the boots,” Durnev stated firmly. “I’ll go myself and see what
keeps the galley there. I... hmm... as an inquisitive person and partly an official, can’t
stay on the sidelines when the homeland is suffering.”
“You’re an inquisitive person?” clarified Malyuta, able to appreciate businesslike
inarticulateness.
“Who else? But more to the point. When will it be better to do this?”
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142

“In the evening. Two hours before midnight. Then it drops low and hovers. Above
the very grove. So we’ll really rely on you! And don’t you worry about how to get there.
We’ll help,” Skuratoff said. “Let’s go, Boom! See you, Father of All Vampires!”
Malyuta and his bodyguard stepped into the blazing circle and faded. Uncle
Herman looked thoughtfully at the sooty trail on the floor and wondered that Malyuta
did not look annoyed. He was even rather glad that he would not have to wear the boots
and get involved with the galley himself. Durnev somehow did not like it at all.
And right at that moment the zoomer suddenly came to life, came to life and said in
the very loud voice of Nagiana Pripyatskaya, “Well, jerkies, I personally marvel at
nothing. Magic without retribution, success without payback – you’re indeed dreaming!
Here you won’t confine yourself to money, but the entire soul, blood, and pure thoughts!
You yourselves know where free magic is – in magcrime! And now we go to magnews
from Bald Mountain...”
But Durnev was no longer listening to magnews from Bald Mountain. He decisively
turned the zoomer over, burying Nagiana’s indignant image with her nose in the
countertop, and declared, “Hmmm... Everything’s suspicious somehow! It’s clearly not
without tricks here. Perhaps, besides the boots, I’ll also take with me the crown and the
sword. The only pity is I don’t know Transylvania well. Would there be my own man or
at least a guide...”
Aunt Ninel looked meaningfully at Gratis, who had shown up in the kitchen again
by that moment.
“I’m with you in thoughts, Herman! If anything, I’ll take care of your wife!” the
werewolf promised ingratiatingly.
“I’ll take care of myself!” Aunt Ninel cut him off. “But you, my dear, you’ll go with
Herman to Transylvania today! And you just try to not protect him!”
Coercing Gratis to perform a heroic deed and return to the historical homeland was
not so easy. He avoided heroism in every way possible, declaring, “Brother, today you’ll
risk your life in your own way, and I in mine. The models, they indeed also aren’t
harmless to health.”
However, Aunt Ninel’s gaze was so determined and her shoulders so broad that the
werewolf allowed himself to be persuaded. “Fine, Herman, I’ll fly with you to
Transylvania! If Malyuta has devised some trap with this galley, I’ll ferret it out instantly.
Only I beg you, don’t leave me in Transylvania. I’ve hated those sly-faced bloodsuckers
since childhood. Such creepy snakes in the grass,” he said.

***

Durnev was preoccupied the whole rest of the day. He no longer studied the stock
quotes or even shouted at his deputy, who reported to him on the phone about the bags
of potting soil stuck at customs because dosimeters allegedly went off the scale on them.
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143

“A nightmare! They’re finding fault with flowers! It has become quite impossible to work
in Russia... Fine, we’ll sort it out on Monday,” Uncle Herman said and, opening the
closet, inspected his own vampire regalia. “Oh-oh!” he thought “Well, it’s time!” He first
put the hoop-crown on his head, then pulled on the high boots with some effort, and,
finally, tucked his ancestor’s sword into his belt.
Meanwhile, Aunt Ninel was packing for Uncle Herman as meticulously as packing
for war. Besides a whole bag of provisions, which would be enough for a whole army
unit, she handed him a framed photograph of herself, a sleeping bag, and a whole pile of
antibiotics.
“Antibiotics don’t work on a vampire bite anyway,” Uncle Herman remarked
sullenly.
“You’re wrong there! Ciprolet94 and nystatin 95 work on everything, especially in
massive doses,” Aunt Ninel reassured him.
Unlike Durnev, it did not take Gratis long to pack. He only sharpened his short
bandit knife with a wide blade and hid it in his sleeve, where two rawhide straps
fastened the scabbard to his wrist. “Ooh-aww, our heavy sins!” he said. “If I
inadvertently turn into a wolf in Transylvania, brother, don’t be frightened of me. Look
me steadily in the eye and I won’t pounce. Can’t run away from me, it’s dangerous,
brother. The place is dark, remote, anything can happen from our weaknesses.”
Uncle Herman became spooked. If Transylvania could transform even the peaceful
Gratis this way, then what was to be said about much more dangerous specimens? But
he had no choice.
Finally, at about eleven o’clock in the evening, a blazing circle appeared again in
the middle of the kitchen. The dachshund One-And-A-Half Kilometres, which hobbled
rheumatically to the water bowl precisely at that moment, whimpered resentfully. The
fact was that its bowl turned out to be in the centre of the circle and it vanished to God
knows where. The dachshund, that wise old sausage, having experienced a lot in its
lifetime, had enough intelligence not to go after the bowl. It crawled under the table,
rested its head on Uncle Herman’s sneaker, stolen long ago and slobbered all over, and
waited for what would happen next.
The director of the firm Second-hand Socks, Aunt Ninel, and Gratis approached the
circle. Uncle Herman was in boots, wearing the crown and the sword, even a backpack
on his shoulders. And the funniest thing was that if you looked into his breast pocket,
the old deputy identification could be found there. Uncle Herman loved to wave the
document on occasion and did not part from it even in the bathhouse.
“Wait, brother, don’t go there! Come here!” Gratis warned, holding Durnev’s elbow
and leading him away from the circle.
“Why?” Uncle Herman asked suspiciously.

94 Cuprolet is an antibiotic for treating bacterial infections.


95 Nystatin is an antifungal medication.
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144

“I don’t like it. Neither Boom nor Malyuta... As if they are waiting for something.
As if there wouldn’t be a set-up.”
“A set-up? There can be a set-up?” Durnev immediately tensed up.
“Anything can happen, brother! Indeed, it’s a glowing circle, even in Africa it’s a
glowing circle. Only what can show up on the other side, no one knows. Fine if
Transylvania, but if not? A displacement in space is a murky matter. You perish, and
good night!” Gratis said cautiously.
“Are you sure about this?” Aunt Ninel asked.
“I’m sure of nothing. But in our place, Mumsy, anything can happen... It corrupted
folks! Especially during the magic wars. You step in the circle, you think you’ll get to the
next town, but you find yourself inside a rock, or even a tub of molten copper.”
“Is it possible to check somehow?” Uncle Herman asked cowardly. After this
warning, he would not get into the circle for any amount of money.
“There are all kinds of ways, brother. Stick your sword in there and then pull it out.
Maybe we’ll learn something,” Gratis said.
Durnev knelt down and carefully, protecting his hand, plunged the sword into the
circle. Nothing happened in the first few seconds, except that almost half the sword
blade disappeared. In theory, it should stick into the floor, but Durnev did not feel the
slightest resistance.
Suddenly, the sword lunged strongly, jumped out of Uncle Herman’s hands, and
disappeared entirely inside the circle. Deciding that he had lost the sword forever, the
former deputy wailed pitifully and began to shower reproaches on Gratis in the
traditional bossy tone. However, he prudently did not poke inside the circle.
A minute later, Count Dracula’s sword returned. Blood and scraps of shrouds were
seen on its rusty blade.
“So it is a set-up!” Gratis said with conviction. “You owe me one, brother! I saved
your life!”
“Why is Malyuta doing harm to Herman?” Aunt Ninel asked suspiciously.
“What do you mean by why, Mumsy? Why do you think Malyuta invited him? It’s
very pleasant for him to see that your husband is the head of all vampires so that he
himself became number two? Just that he couldn’t not invite: all the bloodsucker folks
are very disturbed by this galley, they all demand a saviour. The saviour doesn’t appear,
they’re instantly disappointed in him. Vampires, they’re fickle creatures, forgive the
weaknesses of no one. As long as you’re successful and don’t respect them, they love you,
but you curry a little favour or your luck changes slightly, go to the grave... So Malyuta
decided: I’ll invite Durnev and do it quietly so that he disappears. The regalia then
passes to Malyuta, and the galley itself will fly away some day.”
“What do I do now? Not fly to Transylvania?” Durnev asked.

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145

“Why not? What are the boots for? The land isn’t small, they can’t set up an
ambush everywhere,” Gratis giggled. “Come on, brother, jump, click the heels, and
imagine where you’d like to be. And I’ll hang onto your neck.”
Uncle Herman did that. True, with one small difference. Unsure of his ability to
jump highly and with Gratis hanging onto him, he climbed onto a stool and, looking
sadly at Aunt Ninel, leaped from it, touched his heels, and gloomily thought of
Transylvania as a place not at all where he wanted to be but where it was necessary for
him to be.
There was no flash, no thunder, nothing at all. When something hit Durnev on the
palms and knees, he still remained firmly in the belief that nothing had worked out for
him and that he had not very successfully landed on the floor of his Moscow kitchen.
Not very because Gratis immediately crashed on top of Uncle Herman. But Durnev was
mistaken only until conifer needles almost pierced his nose.
“Hey, get off my head! It’s dear to me as a support for the crown!” he grumbled,
shaking Gratis off. The werewolf got off reluctantly.
They were standing in a sparse coniferous forest, quite brightly lit by a round moon
only slightly bitten. From upwind came the clang of a chain in a well and the splash of
water. Durnev even saw a windmill similar to a cross in the distance. Durnev looked
around suspiciously. There was no vampire nearby. No one chased after them, no one
growled, gritted his teeth, or got out from under the ground, pushing off a coffin lid. And
no coffin lid was discovered. That calmed him somewhat.
Gratis also looked and listened closely. He was transformed. Now he was in his
element, his nostrils sucked in the air and his ears caught the sounds. Finally, Granny
Ryukha’s grandson relaxed a little. “I recognize my dear homeland!” he remarked. “Here
in this little wood dogs almost ripped me up somehow! They don’t like, that ish,
werewolves. Callous beings, stupid, no finesse of treatment... Downright disgusting
remembering. And what did I do? Well, I killed a foal! Why quickly set the dogs on me
for that? Not only that, its mother almost kicked me.”
Uncle Herman was not too interested in Gratis’ revelation. “Where’s the galley?” he
asked. “What, I have to run around the country for it, huh?”
The werewolf listened again. “Better if you had kept quiet, brother!” he said with
concern.
“Why’s that?” the deputy asked.
“Because! Raise your eyes...” Gratis raised his head, as if he did not dare to indicate
with a finger what he saw and what was very close.
Now even Durnev had already heard the monotonous, lulling creak. Appearing
from behind the clouds, an elongated wooden ship with a row of long oars was fast
approaching them. A golden motto in Latin shone dimly on board the galley. Uncle
Herman yawned. For no apparent reason he suddenly wanted to curl up into a ball,
placing his hands under his cheek as he once did when he was still an exemplary boy.
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Then he wore stockings under his pants, which he did not like, but he loved lollipops
and ice cream in a waffle cone. But that was another long story.
The oarlocks continued to creak fascinatingly. Durnev’s cheeks caved in a yawn. He
rubbed his sleepy eyes and tried to lie down. “I’ll only close my eyes for a minute, and
then...” he thought, but instantly shrieked in a voice not his own.
Count Dracula’s crown seared his forehead and temples like a hot hoop. The dream
instantly vanished. Durnev jumped up and began to push Gratis, who was already
snoring and saw in a dream, if not the devil knows what, then something very similar.
“It’s lulling us especially! I, that ish, know, brother!” Gratis declared, threatening
the galley with a dry fist.
The magic ship approached and hovered about ten metres above their heads. The
oarlocks had stopped creaking; now only a massive wooden wheel creaked.
“It’s waiting for you, Herman! You’ll go, right?” Gratis asked in a thin voice.
“No, somehow I don’t feel like it! I just remembered an important phone call,”
Durnev said.
But the boots decided everything for him. The spurs jingled, the heels pushed off,
and the next instant Durnev realized that he was dangling at a decent height, clutching
the side of the galley with his hands. There was nothing else to do. The feat itself had
found its hero. Durnev caught a crack with the thin toe of a boot and, somehow pulling
himself up, rolled over the side. The Count’s sword clinked at his belt, and the chair of
V.A.M.P.I.R. hurriedly pulled it out, perceiving this as a prompt.
Uncle Herman looked around. The long rower benches before him were empty. Yet
the Count’s sword and the chiming spurs were clearly summoning him somewhere else.
Not experiencing any thirst for heroism, Durnev turned around and shouted. His fingers
dug themselves into the hilt.

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Chapter 13
AZDURAN

Tanya mentally said goodbye to Tibidox, the teachers, and the room. She said
goodbye to everything that was dear to her. She would not be returning here. Not too
large and unreasonable a price for love, but is payment for love really small? Where love
begins, there logic goes into hiding. If only it would get Vanka out of Duncedam, and is
everything else so important? How many times had Vanka risked his life for her, how
many times had he rushed headlong to save her, was she really chickening out now?
Tanya opened the case and pulled out the double bass. Besides the double bass,
there was something else in the case – a narrow and terrible bundle. Tanya felt the
deathly cold of the wand even through the fabric. She also did not dare touch its round
end.
Coffinia asked with curiosity, “Where are you going, my precious?”
“Nowhere.”
“Don’t lie, Grotty! Your eyes are too honest to fool me. With those eyes they won’t
even take you in trade.”
“Leave me alone!”
“I won’t until you tell me!”
“Okay... Ehh, to Bald Mountain. I want to find some witch there to help Vanka,”
Tanya said.
Coffinia believed or pretended to believe. In any case, she limited herself to a grunt.
Pipa stole up sideways to Tanya and whispered mysteriously, “To Bald Mountain?
Really? You’re dodging, Tanya, dodging! Well, it’s your fault! I warned you – if you want
to play blind, you will be blind.” Having calmed down, Pipa walked away from Tanya
and said loudly and didactically in quite a different voice, “Mark my words: this story
will have a stupid finale for sure!”
“Why?” Coffinia asked.
“Life stories always have stupid finales... Life is a trick with no plot,” Pipa remarked.
Cryptova raised her eyebrows. “Why are you so smart, Pipie? You’ve always been
slightly smarter than a stool,” she said.
“I’m raving...” Pipa said. She could not stand other forms of this verb.
Tanya finally completed her preparations. Things that she was taking with her were
indeed not too much. The case. The double bass. The wand. And the glass fragment in
her pocket.
“Who haven’t I said goodbye to? Tararakh? Yagge? Yagun? After all, it’s good that
Yagun is meeting Lotkova today! He would simply not let me go this way. He would tag
along for sure,” she thought and glanced at the clock. Half past eight. When she got to
Duncedam, it would already be late at night.

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Taking the handle of the heavy case, she moved to the door, figuring that the attic
of the Big Tower was probably locked. If Dumpling Maker on the drawbridge would
pester her with silly questions, she would take off from the wall, where a block would
also not work. However, these were already details...
Already at the door, Tanya stopped. “Coffinia!” She called.
“Hmm?” Cryptova replied thoughtfully.
“You and I didn’t always get along... You’re, of course, no angel, but maybe I was
also wrong. Forgive me!” Tanya said.
Coffinia looked suspiciously at her. “You’re somewhat strange, Grotty! I don’t much
like you. Oh, I don’t!” she muttered.
“One more thing. If Sardanapal asks... Then you tell, tell him that...” The double
bass case, in which the wand was trapped, jerked and hit Tanya’s knee hard, reminding
her of the deal.
“What?” Coffinia asked. “You wanted something else?”
“No, nothing... Bye to everyone! Don’t be bored!” Tanya said and quickly left.
“Our Grotty was planning something. She isn’t flying to Bald Mountain, for sure.
You don’t feel bad for her?” Coffinia asked, squinting at Pipa.
“I feel bad for Puper, my sweet. And for Vanka. Who messed up their lives, if not
she? You yourself know, I didn’t rat out Vanka while he lived at my parents’. Even stood
by him. Who is to blame that he turned out so stupid?” Pipa said.
“But you’re not sorry for Grotty? She’ll indeed perish in Duncedam!” Coffinia
exclaimed.
“Well, let her!” Pips said stubbornly. “She’s kind of nice, pure, but she has
devoured so many people’s lives. She even endangered her parents in infancy. Then
Plague, then Puper, later Vanka... Because of her, I have diathesis, diabetes, and
allergies at an early age. Maybe Mama also gets so horribly fat because of her. And you
feel sorry, why?”
“I feel sorry? And you decided that from what! I feel remorse on different days.
Today’s my day off,” Cryptova snapped and turned away.
But still, it was obvious that Tanya did not get out of her head. For the first time in
her life, perhaps, Coffinia felt sorry for someone, and this feeling was new to her. It was
new and disturbing because it did not settle into the familiar pattern.

***

Even from a distance Tanya heard voices from the direction of the drawbridge. It
seemed that Slander Slanderych was peppering Dumpling Maker for something, while
the Cyclops was justifying himself in a deep voice and angrily banging the rocks with the
handle of his axe. After deciding that it would be smarter to stay out of their sight, Tanya
turned to the stairs leading up to the wall.
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She climbed as if to the gallows and could not for a moment discard from her head
that she was saying goodbye to Tibidox forever. “Goodbye, steps! Goodbye, Big Tower!
Goodbye, dragonball field!” she thought and memories randomly whirled in her
memory, precisely like dry leaves picked up by wind.
And the scary thought that she would have to die, that she herself had made this
deal with Plague, only now fully reached her consciousness. But there was no turning
back, and if so, it was necessary to go to the end and go with dignity, believing that
everything she was doing made sense. “If you fall from an airplane without a parachute,
then fall with pleasure and acquire new impressions until the last minute,” Tanya
thought, and this simple little thought slightly comforted her.
She got up on the wall and, after taking out the double bass, prepared for flight.
She had never been to Duncedam before and only roughly imagined that she would fly
to the northwest along a curved star path, which was somewhat reminiscent of a well-
dried pumpkin rind from which all the flesh had been cleaned off.
Until that moment, Tanya reckoned that, except for her, no one else would be on
the wall. In any case, she assumed so until she heard voices. Turning around, she saw
Lieutenant Rzhevskii. The ghost, through whose chest the moon diffusely turned golden
like a copper penny, approached her not alone but with Unhealed Lady on his arm. Lady
was in a bad mood and was nagging the Lieutenant about something; however,
Rzhevskii deflected her attack with manly wisdom. Not listening to his wife, he
prudently agreed with everything.
“You should be thankful that I put up with all your antics.”
“Yes, dear... ”
“You’re a stinker with a nightmarish manner. I did you a good favour once and for
life. Stop neighing like a combat stallion for good, and pull these daggers out of your
back! They madden me.”
“Certainly, dear!”
“Someone definitely will die tonight. The wind smells of death.”
“Yes, dear.”
“Do you hear what the ocean waves are whispering to us?”
“Certainly, dear!”
Lady was greatly surprised. She did not expect such sensitivity from her husband.
“Hmm... Do you really hear? And what are they whispering?”
“Yes, dear.”
“What do you mean ‘yes’?” Lady snapped. “You’re killing me, horrible man! Do you
think I don’t have a brain?”
“Yes, dear... I mean, no, dear. You know best, dear!” Lieutenant corrected himself,
feeling in the terrible silence that he had said something wrong.
As soon as they were approaching Tanya, Lady stopped educating her spouse and
straightened her hat coquettishly. “Horrible night! This is precisely what I was just
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demonstrating to my husband, but he, imagine, still had some doubts,” she said. “How
are you with astrology? Just look at the sky! Mars in Scorpio, Saturn in Leo, Jupiter in
Virgo! And the moon, the moon, the moon... On such a night my spirit finds no rest!”
“And mine too, because it has to run away from her spirit,” Lieutenant commented
in an undertone.
Tanya, Speedus envenomus already having almost escaped from her lips, lowered
her bow.
“Where are you going at night? Can we come with you? Yes? No? Emphasize too
much! Why are you silent? Do you want a joke? Horror has gone completely crazy!”
Lieutenant continued, not waiting for an answer.
“How crazy?” Tanya did not understand.
“So crazy. You didn’t go to the basement under the Tower of Ghosts, no? He
ordered a house-spirit to put on the wall a mosaic portrait of your aunt, and now stays in
front of it on his knees all night without a break and looks, stares as if he wants to burn
right through it with his gaze. He has even stopped rattling his chains. By the way, he
described her orally to the house-spirit so that the poor guy had to work really hard on
it.”
“What aunt of mine? Aunt Ninel?” Tanya did not believe it.
“Her, her, darling... Surprised, yes? By the way, I introduced them. Almost dragged
him by force,” Rzhevskii bragged.
“People know how to love! Not some deadbeats, we won’t start to get personal!
They know their own shortcomings!” Unhealed Lady said very eloquently. She was able
to extract a didactic lesson for her flippant spouse from everything, even from a fallen
banana peel.
“Well, what shortcomings! We’re all so nice in our appealing imperfections!”
Rzhevskii said and, after sneezing emotionally, lost a table knife.
Tanya was at a loss. It was time to fly, but the ghosts distracted her with their
chitchat. Especially Rzhevskii. The ghost even sat down on her double bass twice and,
armed with a ghostly bow, posed as Tanya Grotter. Unhealed Lady was terribly
indignant. She exclaimed first “Shame on you, Basil!” then “Shame on you, Jean!” and
seemed not to remember her husband’s name at all. Well, Lieutenant, Lieutenant...
Rzhevskii, Rzhevskii. Oh, these women!
In the end, Tanya finally flew off the handle. “Well, get away! I have to go!” she
shouted, almost ready to launch a Briskus at them.
The ghosts prudently recoiled. Tanya went up to the edge of the wall and raised her
bow. It was black below and only stars sprinkled like gold sequins above. “Speedus
envenomus!” Tanya shouted. A green spark, like a cheerful dot, drew a line in the sky.
“Wait, where are you going?” Unhealed Lady shouted after her, but Tanya had
already rushed off.

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At Grail Gardarika, through the howling wind, she heard behind her the
increasing roar of a motor. Someone was catching up with her quickly. A little angry at
the moonlit night, which prevented her from remaining unnoticed, Tanya did one trick
after another, but the pursuer stayed on her tail precisely as if glued. Tanya could not
make a more drastic manoeuvre, such as an instant turnover, because behind her hung
the heavy double bass case, along the bottom of which rolled the wand of Plague-del-
Cake. The vial of poison, which she had put in her pocket, was cold against her leg.
Now the roar of a vacuum was no longer behind, but in front. The pursuer overtook
her and now expertly cut her at the bottom. A second later Yagun’s familiar face
emerged in front of her. He eased up on the gas and flew next to her.
“Where are you going, Odysseus, from wife, from children?”96 Yagun shouted, out
of breath. “Phew! Barely managed! Thankfully, Rzhevskii obliged while I ran for my
vacuum!” Yagge’s grandson turned around and waved to the ghosts, barely discernible
on the wall of Tibidox.
“So, the ghosts were distractiing me? So, that’s why they were so annoying!” Tanya
exclaimed.
“Sort of,” Bab-Yagun said. “Phew! Well, you had me worried this evening! Oh, my
granny mama! Flying to Duncedam yourself and don’t warn your best friends! I’m
thinking, if I poke into your room, then you’ll just get mad and fool me somehow. Had to
pretend that I have a date and follow you! You wouldn’t go past the Main Staircase
anyway. Here’s such a fool, forgot the vacuum. Good that Rzhevskii turned up.”
“How do you know that I’m flying to Duncedam?” Tanya asked.
“It was written on your forehead. Here in such block letters!” Yagun said haltingly
and blushed.
“Block letters, meaning? Well, well... You mirrored?” Tanya guessed.
“Who? Me? Your absurd suspicions insult me!” Yagge’s grandson became
indignant.
“YAGUN!”
“Well, a little bit... The smallest smidge. In fact, you’re glad to see me, only don’t lie.
I know!”
“How did you decide that? Did you mirror again?” Tanya was outraged again, but
more out of habit. She really was very pleased with Yagun.
“Grail Gardarika!” they uttered at once, and soon, gaining a decent height, the
vacuum and the double bass were already racing over the ocean in the roaring flows of
the tailwind.
Tanya wanted to ask Yagun if he had forgotten that once, it now seemed terribly
long ago although in reality it was all of four years, how the two of them had flown

96Odysseus was a legendry Greek king and hero during the decade-long Trojan War, after which he had a
10-year journey before he managed to return home to his wife and son.
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precisely this way to Tibidox from the moronoid world. It was her first flight in life, but
how well and how vividly she remembered it!
“Have you forgotten...” Tanya began but instantly stopped. It was impossible to ask
anything: the headwind pressed them to their flying equipment and took away the
words that barely had time to escape the lips.
They flew for a long time, a very long time, orienting by the stars and the guiding
beam of the double bass. Tanya was quite numb. She had never guessed that the May
night could be so cold. They must have climbed too high.
Finally, when she was already barely holding the bow with frozen fingers, the
guiding Ariadne’s thread 97 slid almost vertically down. Yagun lightly touched her
shoulder. But even without Yagun, Tanya already guessed everything. Duncedam itself
was still not visible, only below on the ocean surface, a circular dark spot spread out.
They descended and carefully settled amid huge black and white rocks. From there
among the rock chaos, Duncedam presented itself as something grey and smudged.
Around them was some sort of sucking, depersonalizing silence.
“Hello to everyone who hears me and double hello to those who don’t want to hear
about me! With you is the cheerful Bab-Yagun! What’s this Bab-Yagun, you ask? This is
a name, a diagnosis, and a lifestyle! This is all together and without bread!” Yagge’s
grandson whispered merrily.
“Stop! Someone else will hear!” Tanya grumbled, but it was impossible to stop the
carried-away commenter.
“Dear audience!” Yagun continued, as if the stands were watching them. “You’re
present at the historic match between Team Tibidox, in the persons of the brave Tatiana
Grotter and the no less famous Yagun, and Team Duncedam Jailors. Full-time count of
the latter isn’t specified, but according to rough estimates, there’re no less than fifty of
them here. Venue of the match is the Duncedam prison. The time is late at night. The
rules of the game are different from the traditional ones. Instead of two dragons and five
goals is a single copy of Vanka Valyalkin. The goal of Team Tibidox is to extract Vanka
from Duncedam, while Team Jailors’ is to prevent them from doing so. The strength, as
you see, isn’t equal. On the side of Team Duncedam is whatever you like, on the side of
Team Tibidox is surprise...”
“And Plague-del-Cake...” Tanya added softly, squeezing the cold vial in her pocket.
Why had the poison not warmed up? Her heart lost its rhythm, and then was pounding
like crazy. Oh, no, it was not going to stop, it wanted to beat for a long time, a very long
time... Tanya even doubted whether she would have enough will power when she had to
swallow the poison.
“Did you say something?” Yagun did not hear her.

97In Greek mythology, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, helped Theseus, the son of King
Aegeus, slay the half-bull-half-man Minotaur by giving Theseus a sword and a ball of thread so that he
could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth.
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“No, nothing.”
Moving with difficulty along a monstrous jumble of rocks, Tanya and Bab-Yagun
approached Duncedam and stopped at a dried moat, immediately behind which began
walls built of grey, almost perfectly shaped blocks. The blocks were fitted so tightly that
there was not even the slightest gap between them. It seemed that Duncedam had come
into being and established itself in this world quickly, instantaneously, in its entire
oppressive monolith.
At the four corners of the fortress were stubby towers, identical to being
impersonal. They were square rather than round, as in Tibidox. Tanya vaguely
remembered that the moronoids call them Genoese towers.98 However, she could not
relinquish the feeling that in front of her was not so much a tower but a model, although
also very well made. Something that had come from an alien and menacing world into
the magic world now masked its true nature lazily and clearly out of necessity.
The fortress walls were simultaneously the prison walls – a low and flat stone
structure with a yellowish roof, which gleamed dimly in the moonlight, as if it was
covered with mica. No matter how Tanya peered at the walls and the gates, she could
not see any security. Not a single guard, not one living soul at all. Only the wind whistled
lazily and cheerlessly in the narrow loopholes. If Plague-del-Cake had not described
Duncedam to Tanya earlier, she would now be very surprised. It seemed that Duncedam
was absolutely abandoned.
“You know, I get so depressed when I think that Vanka is somewhere there, inside...
I feel bad somehow,” Tanya said.
“Uh-huh, obviously! Who feels good? Honoured sightseers! Please pay attention to
this rotten place! On your right is a tower built fig knows when, by fig knows who, in fig
knows what style and architecture... On your left is another tower – an absolute double
of the one about which you’ve learned so many interesting things. There’s nothing more
to see here. Please board the bus and go for souvenirs!” Yagun rattled on.
Tanya turned to him and drew back in surprise. Where Yagun should be, now only
an empty dragonball jumpsuit was dangling, highlighted amusingly by a forelock
floating alone in the air. Tanya belatedly remembered that not so long ago Yagun had
uttered the more goofy than useful spell Shedus spectacus.
“Take off your jumpsuit, invisible!” Tanya advised him sarcastically, directing the
fragment of pince-nez at him.
“Oh, no! I won’t run around naked, so stupid!” the empty suit muttered. “And don’t
look at me through Noah’s lens, or whatever it calls itself there! Who knows what quirks
it has!”
“The pince-nez has no quirks!”
“Really? Oh, how sly! Better let me look at you!”

98The Genoese towers in Corsica are coastal defences built between 1530 and 1620 against pirate attacks.
A few of them are square instead of round.
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“It’s not something that shows what you think,” Tanya said.
“And how do you know what I think?” Yagun tensed up. “What do you see, huh?
Spit it out!”
“I don’t understand. Something bright. You’re blinding me!” Tanya said.
Instead of Yagge’s grandson, she saw in reality only a chaos of interwoven colourful
lines and dots in the glass. Joyful, shimmering, and senseless at the same time.
“Bright? He-he! Yes, I’m like that! I’m not some Dim Nate there!” Yagun said. The
playing commentator was very pleased with his own multi-faceted persona. At the same
time realizing that invisibility was of no use to him all the same, he uttered a spell and
again appeared in his previous form before Tanya.
“Now let me take a look too!” Yagun stretched out his hand decisively and took the
piece of glass. He wanted to direct it at Tanya, but instead was suddenly interested in
the prison gates. “Dang!” Yagun said with a shudder, hastily returning the pince-nez
fragment to her. “Did you see that? I’m simply out of my mind!”
That which Tanya still happily considered gates, in fact, turned out to be a huge
semi-decomposed head of a giant without a lower jaw. The hammer hanging by the gate
appeared as the corpse’s long tongue with whitish spots of decay. Looking away from the
gates, Tanya accidentally glanced at the wall and, turning pale, hastily clutched the glass
in her hand. Compared to what she saw, the half-decayed head, if not completely dulled,
then, in any case, had lost a lot.
“Better not look at the wall. After this, you won’t want to go to Duncedam,” she said,
climbing back onto the double bass.
Yagun started his vacuum, muffled the engine speed so it would not rattle, and they
slowly began to soar. All this time, the feeling that they were being watched did not leave
Tanya, but she forced herself not to think about it. After all, Plague-del-Cake would help
them, and that alone meant something.
Several times the sharp-eyed Yagun found loopholes that seemed quite suitable to
him and even offered to squeeze through the embrasure, but Tanya remembered
Plague-del-Cake’s warning. They needed the grate on one of the towers and that one
alone.
They flew around the towers one after another. Tanya looked at the plain stone
structures through the pince-nez fragment and saw... saw something quite different than
what they immediately appeared. In the first case it was a narrow chasm of a well, at the
bottom of which a flame was blazing. In the second it was a dead griffin with broken
wings. The third tower was dark, a creature almost grown into the ground, with an
enormous swollen body and holes for eyes, from which oozed something white... It was
not even a pagan god, but something else, infinitely ancient, dreadful, and forgotten.
Only the fourth tower remained a tower, though much reduced in size. Tanya
discovered precisely on its roof the grid with a pattern resembling a cobweb. A smashed
firebird with iridescent wings spread wide was discerned on the grid, although it was
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visible only through the fragment of glass. It must have been exactly this firebird,
accidentally flying to the remote island and meeting its death here, that had destroyed
the shielding magic of the grid with its blazing wings.
“Yagun, come on!” Tanya gave the command and, after whispering Bangus
parachutis, jumped down from the double bass. In order to have time to look around,
they flew on the slowest spell Pilotus kamikazis.
The playing commentator shook the grid. It held firmly. There was no way to yank
it off just with hands, unless the sweet couple – Gunya Glomov and Coffinia – showed
up on the roof and behind the grid were three cases of beer.
However, Yagun was not at a loss. “Dear ladies and gentlemen! In front of you is
the magician Yagun, unique among his own kind and others, the king of locks, the ruler
of chains, a duke of grids, and a master of obstructions! He never had to deal with such
obstacles! A minute of your precious attention! Ironizedis!” Releasing a spark, Yagun
rocked the grid. It, though changing color, continued to hold.
“Patience, ladies and gentlemen! As you can see, I’m not petty! Instead of paper,
the grid became platinum! And now the second part of the trick! Chancelsimmerius
transformation! And now here’s what we need!” Yagun said smugly, ripping the paper
grid.
Having squeezed inside, they found themselves on a wide platform with loopholes.
A narrow dirty staircase began there.
“Don’t pick up anything, even if you drop something! Don’t look back! Don’t be
surprised by anything! If you meet a jailor, don’t use sparks. It’ll only get worse,” Tanya
warned.
“Where does such accurate information come from? Don’t do this, don’t do that!
Can I breathe with my mouth, or only ears?” Yagun asked with irony.
He looked over the trapdoor and grabbed Tanya’s hand. “The grid!” he exclaimed.
The bluish square through which they had come now stretched on like a wound in
Duncedam. A minute later stones had completely closed in where it had been. Tanya
remembered Plague’s warning that it was not possible to leave Duncedam the same way.
“My granny mama! Careful, doors are closing, next station – ‘Next World’!” Yagun
said grimly. He had left his vacuum on the roof and was now wondering when he would
see it again. Or if he would see it at all.
Tanya was more prudent. The heavy case with the double bass and the wand pulled
at her shoulder. When the trapdoor was quite stretched out, blackness formed around.
It was good that Yagun had with him a large flat talisman, the so-called “traveler’s friend”
– not some Bald Mountain knockoff but a real old talisman, not so long ago pried from
Yagge. Its beating bluish beam was visible only to Yagun and Tanya. It did not seem to
exist for the others. If, needless to say, the jailors needed light at all. Apparently the
Duncedam jailers both existed and kept the inmates in total darkness.

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Following Yagun, Tanya crept forward. Not knowing whether Yagge’s grandson
heard it, she definitely heard the darkness thickening and closing behind her. This
sound was quite material. She heard rustling, muffled sounds, a low rumble. Duncedam
was rousing and, waking up, sullenly amused itself with them, altering the contours of
reality. Now Tanya understood Plague’s warning. There was nothing permanent in this
blurred reality. Whether it was worthwhile for them to stop or just turn around –
everything was completely mixed up. The only way to somehow save themselves was to
keep their direction and purpose – moving forward all the time. To step back meant
death.
Suddenly, Tanya realized that it was impossible to go unnoticed in Duncedam.
From the moment they squeezed through the hatch, and perhaps even when they had
just landed on the island, Duncedam knew about them. It probably wanted them to get
inside. Duncedam did not need the usual magic. It itself was magic, it was woven from it.
Magic was the flesh and blood of these solid walls, never having known the hands of a
builder.
“Hey! Team Jailors uses a forbidden technique! It’s trying to cut itself off from
Team Tibidox!” Yagun suddenly said.
They leaned against a dull, damp wall. Chains dangled from the wall in disarray.
They were of different lengths, but each of them ended with a steel ring, approximately
the size of a human neck.
A mound of greyish dust rose up under each chain. In total there were three such
mounds. Suddenly the dust came into motion, shot up, and brown soldiers froze in front
of Tanya and Yagun. There was not a single thought or at least the shadow of
compassion on their flat faces. Their eyes looked out of empty gaps, their noses were
sunken. Ribs peeped out here and there through parched skin. A short, very broad
sword was in the hand of each one. Not wasting time on empty threats, the soldiers
moved forward at once.
“Dead prisoners! Guards of Duncedam!” Tanya whispered.

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Chapter 14
LORDS OF DUST

There was a knock on the door, and the sphinx’ indignant growl woke Academician
Sardanapal. He sat down on the couch, groping with bare feet for his old-fashioned
slippers, which Johann Sebastian Bach99 had presented to him. Anyway, as the rights of
an old friend, Sardanapal simply called him Hans.
The knocking did not stop. The academician lit the lamp with a spell and, wrapped
in a robe (also a gift, but from Medusa), opened the door. He saw Coffinia Cryptova at
the threshold. The golden sphinx growled precisely at her.
“I need to talk to you!” Cryptova informed him.
“Right now? Maybe it’ll be better for you to pop in tomorrow?”
“No. Tomorrow I may no longer be able to drop in,” Coffinia said not without irony.
The academician lifted the lamp higher and stepped aside, letting in the student.
Cryptova entered his office, swaying her hips. She certainly had no designs on
Sardanapal, so she was flirting instinctively, precisely a wealthy bum who only continues
to polish off other people’s beers out of habit. The sphinx was about to tag along behind
them, but Sardanapal looked sternly at it, and it, after resigning itself, again sprang to
the door. Soon, the academician was sitting in a deep armchair at his desk and,
smoothing out his moustache, was ready to listen to Coffinia.
“Grotty’s in Duncedam!” Cryptova said without preamble.
The academician jumped, moreover so abruptly that his alarmed armchair ran off
on its lion feet. “WHERE? How do you know?”
“I know, I know... She left this evening, all so mysterious, pale, with the double
bass in the case and the ring on her finger. She looked as if she was going to her own
funeral. In short, if she isn’t in Duncedam, you can exile me to the moronoids or arrange
for me to work in a cafe for annoying geezers.”
“Coffinia!” Sardanapal said reproachfully.
Cryptova was slightly embarrassed. “What do you mean Coffinia? I didn’t have you
in mind! You’re at least s...” Coffinia broke off.
“What’s after ‘s’...?” Chernomorov frowned.
“S... Super!” Coffinia found the word. “In short, Grotty’s really in Duncedam. I
came to ask whether you are going to do anything to get her back.”
The academician looked searchingly at her. “Why did you tell me this? Do you
really love Grotty?”

99Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period.
Together with Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) and Johannes Brahms (1833 – 97), they are called
The Three Bs of classical music.
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Coffinia shrugged. “I really don’t know. Earlier I didn’t particularly like her, and
now I also can’t say that I’m crazy about her. But when she left today, I started to feel
lousy somehow. So I decided it would be better to tell.”
“So, you could also not tell! BUT WHY DID YOU EVEN LET HER GO? AND
WHERE TO?” Chernomorov roared.
She barely recognized him. The clumsy and absent-minded academician was
transformed. His voice boomed like a battle trumpet and his posture became truly regal.
The golden sphinx was sent for the teachers. Soon, Medusa, Nightingale O. Robber,
Yagge, Tararakh, the Great Tooth, and Slander gathered in the study. Slander was quite
out of sorts.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have brought you together to tell you the most unpleasant
news...” the academician began loudly.
“The inspector is coming?” Medusa asked ironically.
“No, worse: Grotter’s in Duncedam! I think she set off to rescue Vanka,” the
academician replied.
Something flickered on Medusa’s face; however, her face instantly acquired its
former expression. Despite the fact that the sphinx had woken her in the middle of the
night, Professor Gorgonova was dressed with the utmost care and was internally focused,
as, indeed, always. She differed significantly from Tararakh, who had rushed over in the
same skin, but with a heavy cudgel. According to rumors, it had once belonged to
Heracles. The sphinx did not like the club and growled from afar, but sensibly did not
meddle. He had already had an unfortunate experience of acquaintance with this rarity.
“She’ll not return again. Duncedam isn’t a Crimean resort and not even the island
of Capri,” Slander said sullenly.
The academician glanced at him. “And you, brother, do check a little thing... It
seems to me that...” he began. The phrase was never finished. Slander, having also
worked out everything himself, nodded and went out.
Soon he returned, troubled. “Not only is Grotter absent, but also Yagun. The
vacuum has also disappeared from his closet. The magic shielding dome recorded dual
use of Grail Gardarika...”
“Stupid boy! He wants to kill me! If only his mother were still alive! Thoroughly
takes after his father, the fool!” Yagge yelled angrily, dropping the shawl from her white
hair. Her small tawny face suddenly became very old. Even her gold gypsy earring
seemed to have lost its lustre.
Having leaned his club against the table, the pithecanthropus hastily embraced the
old woman’s shoulders. “Don’t lose heart, Yaggie! We’ll get them out, or I’m not
Tararakh!” he buzzed encouragingly.
“We must appeal to Magciety and demand, demand strongly!” the Great Tooth
started.
Medusa looked at her ironically. “And to Uncle Sam!” she added.
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“Why to Sam?” Deni was surprised.


“And pile up in order to demand something of him. We’ll have something to take
comfort in till the end of life. We’ll overwhelm Sam and Deathless with letters, and
they’ll set a couple of ghouls of former frauds to write us polite refusals. ‘To your letter
of such a date with such an incoming number we report that we do not possess enough
information on your request. At the same time, not so long ago in the corridors of
Duncedam during rounds a decrepit old man and a decrepit old woman were discovered;
however, it is not possible to determine whether they are Tatiana Grotter and Bab-
Yagun. Both were found in profound senility and dispatched for treatment in the main
cell of Duncedam. The funeral will be paid for by the appropriate budget clause of the
Magciety of Jerky Magtion.”
“Medi, stop!” Deni flared up.
“I haven’t even started,” Medusa said. Her hair sizzled, and the sight was so glaring
that no mortal would endure it for long. Even Slander, also not lacking in hypnotism,
preferred to move his gimlet eyes aside.
Academician Sardanapal picked up a marble ashtray in the form of a knight’s
helmet with a tilted visor – a gift from Koshchei the Deathless on the last anniversary,
when they were not exactly friends but could still be called associates. On the bottom of
the helmet was an engraved inscription in ancient Persian, an extremely ambiguous
inscription: The storm breaks the oaks, but spares the field grass. The academician
looked at it for some time with silent rage, then a spark slid along his ring and the
marble crumbled into powder.
“It’s decided,” he said indistinctly. “I will personally set off for Duncedam. Enough
– we’ve tolerated for too long the antics of these worthless lordships! And know this:
either I return with Tanya, Vanka, and Yagun, or a new chief will soon appear in Tibidox.
And I swear by The Ancient One, I’d like to see how comfortable Koshchei’s nominee
will feel in my chair!”
“This is madness, Sardanapal,” the Great Tooth said softly. “Simply insanity. No
matter how great your magic is, Duncedam is Duncedam. Moreover, it isn’t as
dangerous as the world order that holds it.”
“Duncedam is just a prison, though, perhaps, the worst of the existing ones. If I’m
scared of it so much that I’ll abandon my students, then I’ll forever stop respecting
myself.” Tears sparkled in Sardanapal’s eyes.
Medusa went up to him and with emotion touched his wrist. “I’m proud of you.
This is what I once...” she began quietly so that only he could hear, but, suddenly
realizing that she would regret her words later, added loudly, “I’ll fly with you,
Sardanapal! Duncedam will have two enemies!”

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“Three... Two plus one has always been three...” Nightingale O. Robber corrected
them. “Oh, long I haven’t whistled from the heart! Oh, Muromets,100 Muromets, why did
you do this to me!”
“I also won’t stay on the sidelines. I, of course, am not what I was in years gone by,
but while my little Yagun is there... Phew! All the time jumps so before my eyes! Well, let
me catch them!” Yagge said excitedly. The old woman had already recovered from the
shock.
“Uh-huh. While Yagun is there, I don’t envy the jailors. I indeed remember how
you fought...” Nightingale grinned. The old woman looked at him gratefully.
“Oh, you! Downright makes one sick listening to you!” Slander suddenly flew off
the handle. “This is Duncedam! Understand, Duncedam! You really don’t remember it
in the time of the magic wars? The outside is one thing, but the inside... Without the
spell, which is only known in Magciety, we can’t get Vanka out of there! You’ll only
perish.”
“What are you getting at, dear? Couldn’t you be more specific?” Medusa asked
dryly.
“Yes, Plaguedamnit, I could! I’ll fly with you! At least to not let you do something
stupid!” the principal cut her off.
“Thank you, friends, thank you!” the academician said emotionally. “I love you all
for that though we’re different, we’re in unison at crucial moments. Believe me, I’m
grateful to all of you, but is it worth the risk? What will happen to Tibidox if none of us
returns? This will only play into the hands of our enemies. They’ll put foreign teachers
here, and this will be another Magford with its gloomy Gothic, colourful heraldry, and a
bunch of mysterious departments, where they sort children once and for all according to
their abilities from ten years of age... I’d like to know in what Downpuff they’ll tuck our
Gunya!”
“Supergunya... He’s such a sweetie of ours! I’m simply bowled over!” Coffinia
corrected them in a whisper. She was standing behind the book cage. The teachers did
not notice her, or else they would probably have shown her the door.
However, once having decided, none of the teachers changed his decision.
Sardanapal had to yield. The only thing he managed was to discourage the Great Tooth
from the flight. He recalled that soon a morning would come when the students would
get up and, not finding a single teacher in Tibidox, could behave unpredictably. Deni,
despite her creative preoccupation, her nasal voice, and her love of sonnets, was well
able to maintain discipline.
The teachers moved to the door, but Tararakh blocked their path. The
pithecanthropus, being in great unease, was gnawing his thumb. “I... I have a little

100According to legend, Nightingale the Robber, a robber from Russian epic poetry, stunned his victims
with his powerful whistle. He was defeated by Ilya Muromets, a folk hero and character in Russian epic
poetry, who shot an arrow into his eye.
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thought...” Tararakh boomed. “I’m thinking that we should take Goyaryn with us.
Already approaching summer, it has warmed up a bit, has become more agile, can be of
great use. Pour a couple of buckets of mercury from werewolf tracks into it, it’ll be just
right.”
“It’s forbidden,” Medusa said.
“On the play field, yes, naturally, but that’s another matter...” Tararakh argued.
“Nonsense!” Slander stated. “What use can it be? An old dragon, suitable only for
dragonball.”
“Goyaryn is fit only for dragonball?” the pithecanthropus was offended. “I knew it
during the magic wars! It was this, oh, my goodness! Army or not, but regiments
certainly just hightailed from it!”
“Nonsense!” Slander stated again. “I’m against... taking this noisy freak with us on
this serious matter! No, no, and no. They’ll knock it down with one spark!”
“And you, my dear, meet it in the air, then we’ll talk. You want to release a battle
spark into it, do. Only don’t complain afterwards if it covers you with a little soot! Well,
agreed?” said Nightingale O. Robber, the first to appreciate the merit of Tararakh’s idea.
“Bull! I’m an official person! I won’t stoop to a fight with an ordinary lizard! No, no,
and no!” the principal uttered with some excitement and no longer engaged in further
discussions.
“But with Goyaryn we won’t be able to teleport!” Nightingale began to say.
However, the academician corrected him, “Teleport? To Duncedam? Of course that
is possible, but it’s difficult to go unnoticed with teleportation. It affects the magic field
and the general karma of the place too much. No, we have to get there by air. It’s
decided: meet at the drawbridge in ten minutes. Those who have magic armour, put it
on, or at worst a vest against evil eye, and grab a flight tool... Nightingale, will this be
enough time for you and Tararakh to bring Goyaryn?”
“Should be!” the old robber nodded. “Except if it’s been fed mercury, we won’t
manage in ten minutes.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll catch up with you on the way,” Tararakh reassured everyone.
The pithecanthropus had a low opinion of Sardanapal’s ability to fly, especially if he, as
before, set off on a magic carpet or a magic couch. He himself intended on flying on a
dragon, possible in principle, though rarely practised.
“Well, good luck! We won’t dawdle!”
Soon the office emptied, and it was as if nothing had happened. Only the bright,
not stopping for almost a minute, flashes of the seven rainbows of Grail Gardarika
showed that a large group of wizards had just left Tibidox.

***

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Only the Great Tooth remained in the academician’s office. She was about to lie
down in the armchair, but here the sphinx on the door issued a short menacing growl.
Understanding that it was communicating something to her, Deni looked out into the
hallway. Pipa Durneva was standing in the hallway, happy and radiant. A chubby cupid
was indignantly hopping up and down beside her. He clearly demanded a reward, but
now Pipa had no time for him. Uncle Herman’s daughter looked excited to the extreme.
Her fat cheeks were quivering.
“I need to tell the academician something... I’ve just received a letter from Papa...”
she blurted out.
The Great Tooth raised her eyebrows mockingly. “The academician isn’t here.”
“Where is he?”
“Honey, are you sure this is the time and place for this conversation? I’m very glad
that you received a letter from Papa, but maybe you’ll stop wandering around the school
for pleasure and go back to your room?”
Pipa flared up. Deni literally felt an elastic surge of intuitive magic push her in the
chest. Even the sphinx stopped growling and arched its back like a wheel.
“He... Papa just... Well, read for yourself!” And Pipa, very offended, shoved a long
envelope at Deni.
“Okay, let’s go into the office. Anyway, I see nothing without glasses,” Dentistikha
sighed, squinting. She already realized that Pipa was not far behind. Dawn was starting
to turn dimly blue outside the window.
When the door closed behind them, the cupid, not let in by the sphinx, remained in
the hallway and, squeaking in exasperation, began to release love arrows at the sphinx.
He sought to make the sphinx fall in love with a large Chinese vase standing in a wall
niche. The crafty babe succeeded in his plan. A minute later, the sphinx was already
purring languidly and rubbing its back against the vase, precisely like a kitty having
tasted valerian. The cupid grinned contentedly, hid his bow, and waddled away.

***

The brown fighters approached. They moved slowly and confidently.


“A curious passage, dear audience! No way will I believe that these rotten ones are
capable of doing us any harm! Hey, you, dust, listen here! Quick, stomp on all four sides
before I take you on in earnest! I’ll count to two! One...” Yagun was about to take a
chance.
A fighter with ribs peeping out from under broken skin lunged, ripping Yagun’s
jumpsuit on the left side of the chest. He was clearly aiming for the heart, but Yagun
managed to veer. Meanwhile, another fighter directed his sword towards Yagun’s neck.
Only the reaction of a skilled dragonball player saved Yagge’s grandson. He jumped back
and slightly to the left. The short sword whizzed by his face.
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“Oh, Plague! Not fair! I counted to two, but you started ahead of time!” Yagun
yelled.
Meanwhile, the third brown fighter advanced on Tanya. She was only trying not to
be pinned to the wall. The brown fighter was ignorant of fatigue, but his movements
were not distinguished by speed. While Tanya managed to dodge, this could unlikely go
on indefinitely.
“Sparkis frontis!” Tanya shouted, raising her ring. She remembered Plague’s
warning that magic would not be of particular use here, but she still decided to take a
chance.
The green spark struck the figure and burned in it a deep hole, which a hand could
easily go through. However, the brown fighter regarded the wound with total
indifference. It seemed that he did not notice it at all. Dodging a reversal, Tanya jumped
back unsuccessfully and, after hitting her back against the wall, slipped down. The
fighter raised his sword for the decisive blow. Tanya no longer had time to swerve, only
automatically screened herself with the double bass case, which she still hadn’t quite let
go of. The strings hummed alarmingly. The case opened. Plague-del-Cake’s wand
jumped into Tanya’s hand. The silver eyeball on its end became crimson and now
resembled more a huge ruby.
She was protected from the short sword – metal clanged on metal – and then,
barely understanding what she was doing, she jabbed the fighter in the chest with the
wand. It seemed that the wand itself was guiding her.
The blow came out weak, but this turned out to be enough. The fighter instantly
disintegrated into dust. His sword clanged on the flagstone floor. Tanya stared stupidly
at him. The short wand continued to glow and vibrate in her hand.
“Tanya, help! They’re chopping up number 8 as souvenirs!” yelled Yagun, on whom
two immediately pressed hard. The playing commentator’s overalls were already ripped
in several places. There was blood on his right wrist and cheek – he still now and then
let through glancing blows, each of which could be fatal.
Clutching the wand, Tanya jumped to Yagun. She barely gave any thought to what
she was doing. Her movements suddenly become fast and steady. A brown fighter had
already raised his sword over Yagge’s grandson, but did not have time to strike. The
wand, with a sucking sound, turned in Tanya’s wet palm. Dust showered Yagun. The
second fighter hesitated. Something like fear flashed on his flat face. He even took a step
back, as if he could understand something.
Finish him off, girl! You and I are a single whole! You don’t even know how close
you are to me! Go on...
The wand struck the sword, knocking it down. The brown fighter froze, blocking
with his arms. He no longer wanted to nor could fight. But the wand did not know mercy.
It again rushed forward and, after striking up its dreadful song, turned the brown figure

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into dust. Tanya froze above him. It seemed the entire Magford had jammed in her
throat.
Not bad, not bad at all. Three Duncedam inmates, three unwitting guards... They
were lifeless, but not to such an extent as you think...
“Oh, my granny mama!” Yagun began in surprise, squeamishly shaking off the dust.
“If not for you... How did you manage? Hey, what are you doing?”
Tanya turned sharply to him. The bloodthirsty eyeball lunged towards Yagun’s
chest. At the last moment Tanya hung onto the wand, trying to hold it. Or it only seemed
to her that she was trying? She suddenly felt a savage glee and the desire to kill. Perhaps
precisely this brought her to reason. Her whole body leaned back, resisting her own
hand. The wand very nearly reached Yagun’s chest. The eyeball throbbed indignantly
and extinguished. Tanya was able to lower her arm. She realized that she had restrained
the wand temporarily. But for how long?
What is it, girl? Not enough resolve? Bad, very bad... All the same, we have to get
rid of him. We don’t need unnecessary witnesses.
“Get out! Who are you? Plague-del-Cake?”
I’m you! Your alter ego, your shadow. I’m those desires that you fear...
“What’s the matter?” Yagun asked.
Tanya ran her hand along her face. It belatedly occurred to her that though the
brown fighters had fought decisively, they did so as if unwillingly. Was it not enough just
to knock their swords down? Why did she kill the third, when he gave up resistance?
Why did she not stop the wand?
“Hey, Tanya, don’t you hear me? I’m asking, are you all right? You aren’t hurt?”
She shook her head. “No... I don’t know... don’t bug me... and stay away from this
thing.”
“A funny mace. Or isn’t it a mace? Where did you get it?” Yagun was interested.
“It’s a wand. It takes souls from the living. What it does with the dead, you saw
yourself...” Tanya said. The question of “where”, she did not answer at all. It would mean
violating the oath given to Plague-del-Cake.
Yagun stepped to the wall with chains, wanting to see if there was a passage, when
the wall suddenly cracked like dry skin. After looking back at Tanya, Yagun hesitantly
stepped forward. They found themselves in a huge hall, the borders of which were
concealed by darkness. Still from a distance, dry heat hit their faces. A fiery half-circle
hung in the air in the middle of the hall. It seemed that nothing living could break
through inside. Its edges were blazing blindingly, but then something showed dimly and
reassuringly white on the other side.
“Oh, my granny mama!” Bab-Yagun perked up. “Dear viewers! Before you is the
goal of Team Duncedam. Strange that they didn’t think of sticking a sign above it:
Abandon all hope ye who enter here!”

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Peering into the pince-nez fragment, Tanya saw the severed head of an ancient
monster. Its mouth was open and the fangs were emitting radiance. “A necrophilic
place... It appears the entire Duncedam is moulded from body parts of some ancient
monsters,” Tanya said softly and hid the piece of glass. She preferred to continue to err
by thinking of this head as a fiery half-circle.
However, at the given moment she was more concerned with whether flight magic
operated inside Duncedam. The size of the hall allowed acceleration and the attempt to
race into the flame. She reached for the double bass and, having sat down on it, got the
bow ready. Grumbling that he would prefer a vacuum to a guitar and violin hybrid,
Yagun sat down behind her and grabbed Tanya firmly with his hands.
“Hastenus plodus!” Tanya shouted, releasing a spark.
It worked! The double bass took off, though not as fast as it would have done on
Speedus. But they perforce had to use the average flight spell – Yagun was no bit of fluff.
The double bass, as a high-speed tool, poorly carried an overload.
Testing how the instrument would obey her here inside Duncedam, Tanya made a
small circle around the room. The double bass roamed and lifted its neck up high, but
this was more because of Yagun, who leaned back too much. At the same time Tanya
studied the fiery passage carefully. Something existed that extremely troubled her. Why
was the arch only protected on both sides with no fire underneath it? Was it so that
someone starting to break through still had the opportunity to chicken out and veer off
at the last moment, avoiding contact with the flame? If so, then most likely there would
be one and only one attempt to break through, and if they veered off to the side the first
time, the arch would simply go out, and she and Yagun would forever be trapped here in
the darkness, no longer able to return by the same route nor go forward to Vanka. It
would take some time, and, besides the three piles of dust outside, two more would
emerge inside.
Tanya decided that it was necessary to fly precisely through the semicircle without
touching any part of it and do it at the right moment when the flame weakened. This
happened about once a minute and lasted for a few short seconds.
After getting ready, she began to wait for the moment. She tried not to think about
the fiery half-ring simply as an obstacle, not unlike those that Nightingale O. Robber
sometimes displayed on the dragonball field. “A trifle, just an arch!” she inspired herself,
deliberately downplaying the importance of her further actions. It was the only way to
not yield to panic.
“Come on!” Yagun suddenly shouted. “Come on!”
Tanya waved the bow and rushed toward the flame. The semicircle with
diminishing flame began to approach. But Tanya did not quite guess the time correctly.
The double bass had not yet made two thirds of the way to the arch when a tongue of
flame already shot up, closing up to the centre and leaving only a narrow loophole.

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Tanya acted on a whim. It was already too late to doubt or brake. “Speedus
envenomus!” she yelled.
The strings hummed hysterically and the speeding double bass lunged forward. It
could reasonably hold on for a few moments on the high-speed spell.
The flame blinded Tanya. It seemed that she was all on fire, her face and hands
changed into dry heat. In fact, the flames only licked the polished double bass. Tanya
closed her eyes to save them from the fire. Then the double bass suddenly dropped down,
unable to maintain Speedus.
When Tanya opened her eyes, the dark hall and the fiery hoop had vanished. The
double bass was lying beside her. Yagun, who was standing there and then with singed
eyebrows and a burnt red nose, must have grabbed it at the time of the fall. Tanya was
surprised to discover how Yagun looked like his own granny.
They were in a spacious and bright hall decorated not without splendour. Heavy
velvet curtains divided it into two parts. In front of the curtain, blocking their path, a
massive and very pudgy being of indeterminate sex fit on a mountain of bones. He had
two heads – a stone one and a clay one. The first was a head of an old man and the
second was that of a young woman. The fat, soft torso somewhat resembled the body of
Ancient Indian gods. Two of his four hands were on his hips and two were crossed in
front of his chest. In his whole figure was some kind of doughy immobility.
Yagun tried to go around the creature and look behind the curtain, but was never
able to get close. The distance between them had not reduced by a centimetre. And one
more oddity: in whatever direction Yagun rushed, the two-headed one always appeared
between him and the curtain.
Realizing that he could not go past this hall and for all eternity, Yagun stopped and
looked helplessly at Tanya. “Here’s some kind of spatial magic. Looks like we’re stuck,”
he said.
At that point, the old man’s head parted its lips. “I’m Itsatwa. Anyone who wants to
go further must answer questions. You don’t answer, you’ll stay here and die of hunger.
You gamble and answer incorrectly three times, your death will be quick... What
remains if I take away your breath, your footprint, and your shadow?”
“What remains is me!” Bab-Yagun said at random. Itsatwa did not reply. He was
obviously one of those who do not waste time and energy on unnecessary words.
However, Bab-Yagun was already up to his waist in the floor in that second. He felt no
pain, only saw that a solid rock had closed in around his legs. There was even nothing to
think about breaking free. Tanya saw that Bab-Yagun had turned pale.
Tanya tried to relax. For the first time in her life, she regretted that she had not
been born Shurasik. Philosophical riddles were generally popular in the wizard world.
Riddles of the type “two ends, two rings, nail in the middle” are exclusively a moronoid
invention. “Sincerity, my friends, only sincerity. Think with the heart, seek the universal

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fact that unites all. The head is a bad adviser here,” Sardanapal, a fan of such riddles,
often used to say.
On some vague hope, Tanya brought Noah’s glass to her eye and looked at Itsatwa
through it, but this did not bring her closer to a solution. Itsatwa remained Itsatwa – he
became neither better nor more hideous.
“Wisdom remains!” Tanya said cautiously and was in the floor, not up to the waist
like Yagun, but to her chest. This was understandable because the attempt left for them
– one for two people – was the last. With the next wrong answer, she and Yagun would
be entombed alive.
Itsatwa again did not stir, only lifted one eyebrow quizzically. He waited patiently
for the last answer...
“Remains... memory!” Tanya said, wishing only that everything would end quickly.
She was certain that was it, doom. But here the old man’s head flew off Itsatwa’s
shoulders and broke after hitting the floor. This little bothered Itsatwa. His second head
did not even look at the fragments. Tanya suddenly realized that she was bogged down
in granite only up to her waist.
Now the lips of the clay head, the young woman’s head, parted. Only the voice was
still the same. “What spoils the most beautiful face and can turn even the goddess
Fortuna101 into a loser?”
“Malice. Envy,” Yagun hastily blurted out, using two attempts at once. For a
moment, they again sank into the floor up to their chests, and then an invisible force
carelessly pushed them out of captivity. Tanya still had not had time to figure out which
of the two answers was correct. But all the same, she looked gratefully at Yagun.
The clay head rolled onto the floor and broke. But this was not yet the end. Now the
menacing voice sounded from Itsatwa’s womb. At the same time his two hands lying on
his hips stretched forward. “You answered wrong too often. In this hand I have your
heart. In the other, yours. One of the hearts I’ll return, the other I’ll crush. One of you
must stay here and die, the other will be able to continue the journey. Well, choose: who
will die?”
“Me!” Tanya quickly said, remembering the vial of poison. Does it really matter
when and how, if you still have to die?
“Oh, my granny mama! No, not you, me! I want to!” Bab-Yagun argued.
Itsatwa’s voice rose. Now he thundered like a trumpet. “This is the final decision?
I’ll give you one last chance. If you persist, both will die. Well, who’s willing to accept the
price and stay alive?”
“Not me,” said Tanya.
“Well, not me!” Yagun stated.

101 Fortuna was the goddess of fortune and fate in Roman religion.
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They had expected death, but instead Itsatwa said, “You made the right choice. I
would have crushed the heart of the one who showed cowardice, or two hearts if both
showed cowardice... Now it’s my turn to go, it’s so destined! Lick the bloody foam from
my neck and get all my magic! Touch the beads of sweat on my forehead with your lips
and gain wisdom. Inhale my last breath and my strength will be yours.”
Itsatwa’s heavy body swayed on the mountain of bones and, having split suddenly
into four parts, rolled down. Tanya and Bab-Yagun cautiously approached. Now nothing
restrained them anymore. Itsatwa smelled of earth, clay, and something else. It seemed
that he was once moulded from mud and clay, covered with stone and splashed with
blood.
“So what about his strength? Who first?” Yagun asked uncertainly.
“You know, there’s clearly some catch here,” Tanya said. “Perhaps we should refuse
his gifts. I doubt that Duncedam offered us anything selflessly.”
“Uh-huh... Lick the sweat off a corpse and bloody foam... I’m, of course, a
gourmand, but still not to such a degree. In the magic world only a complete dummy
accepts such gifts,” Yagun said.
Itsatwa’s body flared up. The flame darted to the wall and enveloped the curtain.
Behind it appeared a door of dark wood. Yagun pushed it hard and it opened with an
unpleasant creak. Immediately beyond the door a narrow corridor with dungeons
started. The doors shuddered. From behind some came indistinct nonhuman roars and
growls.
Yagun cautiously peered into a little barred window. There, a gaunt long-armed
man with a jaguar head was tossing in a stone sack. Having noticing Yagun, he leaped to
the door and, growling, began to shake it, demanding blood in all living and dead
languages.
Yagge’s grandson bounced back so quickly that he flew with his back to another
door located right behind him. At that moment someone’s cold fingers, after pushing
through the bars, grabbed him by the neck. Trying to turn his head, Yagun saw a blue
being with folded wings and a huge head, exactly like a cauldron. The teeth in its gaping
mouth slid towards each other like the two chains of a chainsaw.
The playing commentator screamed and, with a jerk, broke free. At the same time
he inadvertently pulled the door towards himself. It swung open. The fallen Yagun
started to crawl away quickly. He figured that the escaped monster would now lunge for
him. But no... The monster indeed was about to push forward but failed to cross the
threshold. It seemed the open door inflicted unbearable suffering on it. Falling to its
knees, the monster somehow fumbled for the handle and slammed shut the door to its
prison. Tanya saw in the little window how the winged half-beast rushed to the stone
floor and froze, only its back was shuddering and the tips of its leathery wings were
shaking.
“Yagun, did you see that?”
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“Yes, but I don’t understand why it...” Yagge’s grandson began hoarsely.
“But I do! Imagine what sorrow the prisoners experience outside, if the cell is the
only place where they can hide from it somehow!”
Tanya involuntarily thought about Vanka... So that was the reason Plague looked at
her so mockingly, claiming that it was impossible to escape from Duncedam. Here they
lost not only years, but also their will, memory, and life.
Breathless, Yagun rubbed his neck. “I’m downright mad! They tucked our Vanka in
a fine place! And he must listen to all these howls and growls day and night!” he
muttered.
“And where, by the way, did they get a hold of these?” Tanya did not know what to
call them properly.
“It seems to me half-human-half-beasts and immortal sorcerers stained with blood
are imprisoned here. Even Duncedam can’t take their life. It robs them of centuries and
millennia, but the strength and fury have been in them for billions of years. Someday,
believe me, and maybe even very soon, they’ll escape, unite with those behind the
Sinister Gates, and subject our world to a firestorm. And then we’ll all have to choose
which side to stand on, that’s for sure! The time of new magic wars will come!” Yagun
declared confidently. Tanya had rarely seen him so serious. Yagge’s grandson really
believed in what he said.
Now they were on the alert. They walked softly along the hallway and, trying not to
attract attention, looked into the little barred windows. Some chambers were empty.
Their doors were opened hospitably, but Tanya would sooner climb into a noose than go
in there.
They discovered Vanka by accident. Yagun, having looked through the window in
passing, proceeded further, apparently not noticing anything. It was as if something
pushed Tanya in the chest. She went up to the same door, took a look, froze, staggered,
and then suddenly darted forward. Only she alone in the whole world could recognize
Vanka in this person, with his back turned to her and knees pulled up, lying on a narrow
prison bed.
Yagun rushed after her. “Wait... Why are we...” he began and stopped short,
realizing that he was already inside.
Yagun was precisely the first to take Vanka by the shoulder and help him sit up.
Tanya for some reason did not dare. She was all in the grip of a strange weakness, and
even timidity.
Supported by Yagun, Vanka sat on the bed and stared at the floor indifferently. As
if he did not even notice them. Only once did he slip a detached gaze along Yagun and
instantly shift it to the floor again. But then Tanya was looking at Vanka with a greedy
wonder. It was him, but not him. Now it was difficult to say he was less than seventeen,
if not even eighteen. One or two years of his life had slipped by as if hurriedly leafing
through pages of a book.
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However, now in Vanka there was none of Puper’s maturity, his stiff stubble, or his
smug look from under convex glasses. Vanka still remained the same skinny, long-
armed, and awkward eternal teenager, except that the yellow soccer shirt, hanging in
shreds, was already hopelessly small for him. But Vanka did not see his shirt, his body,
or anything around him at all. He was even sitting somewhat unsteadily on the bed. It
was obvious that if Yagun were not supporting him, he would lie down again and turn to
the wall.
A wave of pity and love swept over Tanya. “Vanka, Vanka! It’s me, do you
understand, me! What’s wrong with you?” she shouted and, not restraining herself,
began to shake Vanka’s shoulders.
He raised his head. His face remained aloof, but deep in his eyes flashed for a
moment something as before, mischievous, that which once drove Tanya crazy. And not
just Tanya, probably Zalizina too. Otherwise, why had she staged that whole one-woman
show?
Crying, Tanya kissed his hair, cheeks, and hands. She was not even embarrassed by
the presence of Yagun, who, however, was very delicately, which was difficult to expect
of him, examining the wall.
“Vanka, Vanka, Vanka... Well, what’s with you? Get up! We’ll take you away, we’ll
hide, and Yagge will figure out how to help you... Come on!”
But Vanka again stared at the floor. His gaze faded again and, as before, became
blank and infinitely tired.
“Damn Duncedam! How I hate you!” Tanya shouted, raising her head to the blind
and deaf, but at the same time all-seeing and all-hearing ceiling...
There was a sound similar to the sound made by keys dropped into a tin cup. It was
the wand rolling in the case and hitting the wood of the double bass. It was insistently
reminding Tanya of its presence and her oath.

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171

Chapter 15
THE PRICE OF LOVE

Tanya was terrified. She remembered what awaited her. Touch Vanka’s chest with
the wand, remove his soul, and then leave Duncedam and wait until the jailors dispose
of the body. Disgusting! She needed to finish everything as soon as possible. She opened
the case and the wand itself jumped into her hand. The double bass was glad to get rid of
this neighbour – this Tanya sensed immediately, as its strings started to drone
indignantly one by one.
Tanya looked with uneasiness at the wand, rushing this way toward Vanka’s chest,
and suddenly suspicion pricked her. Was she acting correctly, trusting Plague-del-Cake?
But who else could she rely on, if no one else promised to help Vanka? After all, Plague
would receive for her help a high, very high payment...
All the same, it was worthwhile for Tanya to imagine Vanka’s body, whose chest
she would touch with the wand, sliding, already lifeless, as a shudder began to hammer
her. Deciding that the sooner everything ended, the better, she held out her hand.
“Vanka, just don’t be afraid! It won’t hurt, and later, when you’re no longer in
Duncedam...” she began, much more afraid herself than Vanka.
“Hey, what are you, crazy? You’ll kill him!” Yagun shouted fearfully. He
remembered very well what became of the brown fighters the wand had touched.
“No, you don’t understand... I... Go away, Yagun!” Tanya was about to step to
Vanka, trying to push away Yagge’s grandson blocking her path, but then the fragment
of Noah’s pince-nez suddenly slipped out of her pocket. Tanya tried to catch it in flight
with her free hand and even almost caught it, but again missed, only diverting its flight.
Instead of falling onto the floor and breaking, the glass fragment slipped into the open
case, under the strings, and fell through the figured cut-out into the double bass. It was
possible to leave it there, but now, Tanya, to tell the truth, was glad of any delay.
Crouching, she put the wand aside and tried to fish out the piece of glass from
inside the double bass. Her hand naturally could not go in, leaving the hope that the
glass fragment would slip out by itself through the same slit it got in. She flipped the
double bass over with the strings down and started to tilt it carefully to one side and
then the other. But the glass fragment was stubborn in not leaving its hideout. Tanya
only marvelled at such a small fragment producing quite a loud sound inside.
She was beginning to lose patience when suddenly something flashed in the bottom
of the case. Tanya gasped in surprise. What had quite recently been a fragment had now
become two round gleaming pieces of glass connected by a clamp. “There are things
impossible in Duncedam. Returning from where you came and picking up what you
dropped.” She remembered Plague-del-Cake’s warning. So it happened. The slipped out
fragment returned to her as the missing Noah’s pince-nez.

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Tanya held the pince-nez in her hand and, after pinching it on the bridge of her
nose, looked at the world for the first time not through a half-piece of glass but through
the whole pince-nez. For a second it seemed to her that she was blind, but no, this was
not blindness... It was just that her human vision was not capable of immediately
accommodating all that was revealed to her. Gone were the barriers, walls, and all
spatial boundaries, gone also was what divided people and made them strangers to one
another. She saw everything that is and everything that was. She only did not see what
will be, and it was because Noah’s pince-nez, sparing her, did not raise this last veil for
her. It showed each only what he should and, most importantly, what he was ready to
see...
What earlier persistently – even in the fragment – seemed to her a wand turned
out to be a dried arm severed up to the shoulder. The sphere similar to an eyeball was
actually a bony fist, clenching and unclenching in relentless greed. Traces of blood were
visible on gnarled yellow fingers with blue fingernails. Now these fingers were shaking
with greed and eagerly reaching for Vanka, as if hurrying to rip something out of his
chest. To pluck, take away, and never return...
After what she saw, Tanya could no longer bring herself to use the wand.
Experiencing infinite disgust, she unclenched her fingers. The fallen hand writhed on
the floor, bending and clinging with the fingers, stubbornly trying to crawl to Vanka. But
Tanya stepped and quickly kicked it away squeamishly.
The hand hit the wall. At the same moment, a dense shadow broke away from it
and, thickening, hung in the air. Plague must have been inside there all the time, as she
was able to pull a lot of vital energy out of Bulonov. Her ghost looked much more
substantial than Lieutenant Rzhevskii and his impressionable wife.
“Pick up the wand, girl! You have to fulfil our contract! Don’t you want to save your
young vet?” Plague asked hoarsely.
Tanya quickly turned to her and looked at Plague through the pince-nez. She
looked and barely refrained from screaming. Instead of a detestable dead old woman
whose body had decayed long ago, she saw a young pretty woman. This woman was dark,
eyes slightly squinty, with long curly hair; but the most unpleasant thing was that Tanya
felt in her a strong resemblance to herself. So close that no doubt remained... Yes, it was
herself. Instead of a soul in Plague-del-Cake’s chest – Noah’s pince-nez also showed her
– sat a dark shrunken bird with cut-off wings attached by bright threads in some way.
Tanya punched the wall with a fist, tearing her skin. The pain brought her reason;
otherwise she would have gone mad.
“Don’t you dare! What are you doing? You swore!” Plague was alarmed.
“I promised I’ll yield my body to you, but I didn’t promise that it’ll be brand new!”
Tanya said.

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“No,” Plague said hoarsely. “Don’t be silly, if you want to save your friend! Touch
Vanka with the wand and do everything as we agreed! And don’t dawdle, the clock is
ticking!”
The shrunken bird that Tanya saw in the pince-nez suddenly raised its head and
looked very carefully and piercingly at her. And then... it was difficult to say how, but
Tanya understood with extraordinary clarity that Plague had lied to her. No, she would
not revive Vanka, and the wand would not return his soul to him. All was deception,
deception from the outset.
“I don’t believe you! You want me to kill Vanka like those fighters made of dust,
and because I’d become a murderer, you’d collect my body as a reward! You think I
don’t understand why you’re so much like me? Now I’m standing at the crossroads of
two divergent realities – in one of them you’ll get my body!” Tanya shouted. “Our
contract is terminated! You better take back your oath.”
Plague’s eyes blazed furiously. The young dark woman disappeared, and Tanya
again saw the shrivelled skeleton of the old witch. “Ah, she guessed! It’s all the nasty
glasses of the pathetic Noah, truth-seeker and moralist! Not for nothing did I send the
bogeys to steal his portrait! Pity that it’s too late... All the same, you’ll utter the magic
formula of renunciation and give me your body. You’re a prisoner of Duncedam! You,
Yagun, and this miserable vegetable (she nodded at Vanka) will not get out of here again.
You’re trapped!”
“Trapped?” Yagun quickly asked. “Why?”
Plague nonchalantly nodded to the door, inviting him to ascertain for himself.
Yagun stepped over and threw open the door, but instantly recoiled in horror. There was
no longer anything beyond it except the sucking blackness. The playing commentator
shouted, but the sound of his voice immediately died and faded into the void. Not only
did Yagun’s eyes see this, but the same also appeared in Noah’s pince-nez. Just beyond
the threshold, the ordered world broke off to nowhere, dissolved, ended, vanished into
the darkness. There was no longer any time or space – nothing at all.
“Why is this so?” Yagge’s grandson asked perplexedly.
The phantom of Plague-del-Cake slowly floated to him. “This is Duncedam... The
core of the magnet, capturing the feeling of guilt and amplifying it. Guilt lives in
everyone and this feeling is deep-rooted... Even if you simply broke a cup in childhood,
to Duncedam you’re already guilty. You swatted a fly, meanwhile experiencing at least a
slight pleasure, you’re a murderer. You picked up on the street a small coin dropped by
someone and didn’t return it to the owner (even if he wasn’t nearby), you’re a thief. You
lied about something insignificant, even in jest, you’re a liar. Duncedam never releases
those who entered it without a special spell, which serves as a password. It isn’t
important whether you came here by accident or were imprisoned... The only place from
which it’s still possible to go out is a small area by the gate. All the Magciety bigwigs and
maglawyers, mind you, never risk going further, though somebody also knows this spell.”
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“This was well known to you, and you still sent us here?” Tanya asked.
Plague’s translucent body shook and trembled. “You’re even more worthless and
stupid than I thought. You shouldn’t have come, but now it’s too late...” she said.
“And how do you plan on leaving? You, drenched in someone else’s blood more
than that wand? Or do you know the spell?” Tanya asked, looking back at the wand,
which was stubbornly crawling to Vanka, blue nails scratching the floor. Tanya took a
step towards it and again kicked it with loathing.
“What’s it to me? I’ve been here dozens of times, even during the war with the evil
spirits. The magic of Duncedam doesn’t apply to me. It doesn’t need me. Duncedam
feeds off your suffering, and I cause it. If not for me, Duncedam’s many cells would be
empty, and that’s quite well known to it, Duncedam.”
“And the jailors?”
“Since when do the jailors exist independently from these walls? Bear in mind,
everything that’s inside, it’s a single whole: the corridors, walls, towers. Likewise, the
jailors... They’re part of Duncedam, its flesh and blood... Now, enough chatter! You
swore Drop deadus that you would surrender your body to me if I guided you to Vanka
in Duncedam. I did...” Plague impatiently moved her hand.
“But you also swore deadus that you’ll free Vanka!” Tanya reminded her.
“I’ll handle the oath myself. What can pathetic deadus do to me, who’s already
dead? Come on! Utter the formula of renunciation! For starters, you can take away
Vanka’s soul. Anyway, here in Duncedam, it’s of no use to him. You’ll only ease his
torment.”
Fury got hold of Tanya. She looked back at the helpless Vanka, at Yagun, at the
sucking blackness of the walls. Was everything really all in vain?
“I would fulfil my oath!” Tanya shouted. “But it’s you, not me, who broke it! I gave
it from my heart, intending on fulfilling it, but you lied from the very beginning! You
knew that once Yagun and I got in, we would never get out of here! You knew that the
wand will take Vanka’s soul never to return it... So take your wand!”
No longer able to hold her outrage, Tanya grabbed the wand, swung and hurled it
into Plague’s chest. The old witch looked at its flight without any particular fear and did
not even pull away. She must have believed that nothing could harm her, she who was
now a ghost. True, the wand flew freely through Plague’s chest and, on hitting the wall,
bounced.
“Well, you see, nothing to me...” Plague began, but then a blinding white flame,
emerging precisely out of nowhere, engulfed her from head to toe.
Plague looked at it with bewilderment and fear. And then pain came belatedly. It
mattered not whether Plague was material, the magic flame burned and tormented her
no less than the living. Plague writhed and stretched flaming arms to Tanya and Yagun,
precisely striving to take them with her to the underworld.

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“It’s all Drop deadus! The accursed oath! It turned out to be stronger... But why me?
Why not you?” she hissed, shrivelling up.
“Because I gave it from my heart,” Tanya said.
Plague’s contours melted away. Now she was all a dense mass of fire like the Fire
Witch, in the guise of which the naive Genka Bulonov had seen her. Only this fire was
alien to her and brought death.
Tanya and Yagun looked away. The magic heat, no weaker than that of the flaming
semicircle, burned their faces. Only Vanka continued to stare indifferently at the fire
reflected in his pupils. Tanya rushed to him and pressed his head to her tummy. She did
not want Vanka to see that. The ghoulish eerie sound made by Plague was enough.
She hissed in pain and spewed curses, cursing herself, Tanya, Vanka, and Yagun,
and generally everything that lived and breathed in this world. Her last words, which
Tanya made out, were, “You think you’ve won? But whom did you beat? Someday you’ll
understand that all the same...”
But she was not meant to finish. The witch shuddered and melted. Her contours
disappeared last, leaving neither fumes nor heat. Even the werewolf-wand had
disappeared, and it was unknown whether Drop deadus had claimed it or it had
hastened to escape.
“Phew! No more old woman... And how are we to get Vanka out of Azdura...” Yagun
began. He suddenly stopped short and, after staring at the door, began to push Tanya’s
shoulder intently.
“Well, what else is there?” Tanya did not want to let go of Vanka, who unknowingly
clung to her trustingly. But still, she looked back. Figures in dark cloaks froze at the door.
Before Tanya and Yagun were able to recover, the jailors had closed in around
them. Their eyes burned like coals. Tanya rushed and tried to raise her hand with the
ring, but she inadvertently looked at close range into the eyes of the nearest jailor.
Noah’s Pince-nez, which she had not removed, reflected something that had no name.
A strange weakness and indifference fell on her. She felt like a person after a few
sleepless nights. Her eyes were stuck together. She wanted to fall onto the floor, curl up
and sleep. Struggling with herself, Tanya did not even notice as a jailor deftly pulled off
her ring. Two others attacked Yagun, who fought them off with his elbows and knees.
The jailors talked to each other in high-pitch clicks like birds. However, they
understood human speech perfectly. One of the jailors turned to Vanka when Yagun
shouted, “Vanka, at least help!” Vanka with an effort of his awakening consciousness,
tried painfully to get up, but a Duncedam guard roughly shoved him in the chest and
burned him with his eyes.
When Tanya and Yagun were already barely standing on their feet, the jailors
clicked again, gathering in the centre of Vanka’s tight cell. Most likely they were
deliberating what to do with the prisoners. Finally one of them waved his hand, giving a
sign. They easily picked up Tanya and Yagun off the floor and carried them somewhere.
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The threshold, which had seemed to them an insurmountable obstacle, the jailors
crossed with ease, barely noticing it. After all, it was the will of Duncedam.
“Vanka!” Tanya yelled for the last time. “Vanka! I love you!” It seemed to her that
Vanka, her Vanka, lifted his head with effort and looked gratefully at her. Love also
showed in his gaze, a love which also prevented his identity from dissolving here in
Duncedam, in the soul-drinking walls.
The cell door slammed shut. Darkness fell upon them from all over, the sucking
darkness, in which the most important thing was to preserve one’s essence. When Tanya
and Yagun regained the ability to see and understand, they were standing in a small,
stone-paved square, protected by Duncedam walls. The prison magic was clearly weaker
here than inside. They were set on their feet and given a good shake, their arms
continuing to be held tenaciously.

***

Dawn came. Tanya saw the maglawyer Hudson, surrounded by a strike force of
Magford magnotists. Real proven fighters, not like those that had lost their jobs after the
mishap with Pipa. Hudson was conversing with Grafin Cagliostro and Koshchei the
Deathless. Grafin was constantly bouncing in a fawning manner (he was hoping to
receive an Order of Magic Gift of the first degree through Hudson and the good aunt);
Deathless, encased in armour, was importantly silent, arms crossed on his chest. At the
gate, the jailors – indistinguishable and faceless like mannequins – were standing in
neat rows.
Rubbing his chubby hands, Hudson approached Tanya and Yagun. “Here we meet,
my dear fwiends! How happy I was when sey woused me tonight and gave me sis news! I
asked not to awwest you until I awwive. We even allowed you to stay in se cell wis se
little sief! Genewous, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, how genewous!” Yagun mimicked, not being able to resist. Even in this
difficult moment he did not change and was in his element.
“Needless to say, you’re under awwest for intwusion! At noon I’ll weceive se court’s
judgement, and you’ll be pwisoners in Duncedam! Admit sat we won!” Small eyes dug
piercingly into Tanya’s face.
“Fat turkey!” Tanya said with her lips, without her voice. She suddenly became very
interested in whether Hudson understood or not.
He understood and flushed. The little maglawyer was extremely proud. “Wwetch!
I’ll wot you and your fwiends in pwison! I’ll make you knuckle under!” he squeaked,
turning to give a sign to the magnotists.
But then something suddenly forced the maglawyer Hudson to become uneasy and
bring his hand to his eyes as a visor. “How stwange! I’m weady to swear someone is
flying fwom above to us!” he said anxiously.
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Tanya also raised her head. She saw how, from behind the clouds, closing in on
Duncedam, a few small dots and one large one appeared. Although Tanya was sharp-
sighted, Yagun was the first to surmise what was in front of him. “Goyaryn!” he shouted.
“It’s Goyaryn!”
And sure enough, it was the dragon. Just behind the dragon on a broom, a magic
carpet, and even an old couch, the Tibidox teachers were racing over. Slander
stubbornly flew in his invariable crow’s nest. Before coming down, they made an
exploratory circle over Duncedam.
Goyaryn, on whose neck Tararakh was sitting, clasping it with arms and legs,
exhaled fire – real, combat flames, not weakened by dragonball spells. Even Tanya, used
to the dragons after plenty of practice sessions, experienced an involuntary shiver on
seeing this long fiery jet, which, fortunately, was not directed at them but at the tower,
the one that Noah’s pince-nez showed as a monster, swollen with anger, from another
world. The tower was shrouded in smoke.
“Come on, Goyaryn, come on! Show them Caucasian cuisine! Long live maglawyer
kebabs!” Tararakh shouted militantly. “Advance! Russians don’t surrender!”
“Do pithecanthropuses have a nationality? Indeed, I didn’t know,” Grafin
Cagliostro commented, smiling with the edge of his mouth.
But he laughed no longer than a mailman who, after stumbling, falls into an open
manhole. Only until Goyaryn’s long fiery jet, with each new bellow of Tararakh, started
to come down on the towers and walls of the magic prison. It immediately became stuffy
and smoky. It stunk intolerably of sulphur. Grafin Cagliostro crouched in terror and
covered himself with his arms. The maglawyer Hudson’s soft cheeks sagged like deflated
balloons. Only Koshchei the Deathless retained a resemblance of composure, although
his right knee somehow started to jerk strangely, either from rage or from something
else.
The Tibidox teachers were still in the air and threw sparks at the enemy from above,
but Goyaryn had already started to descend. The pithecanthropus deftly jumped from it
and was the first to rush to the small square. Goyaryn, after dropping just outside the
gates – it occupied more than half the area, directed its muzzle precisely at the cluster of
jailors. But before it breathed out fire, the jailors hastily regrouped and surrounded
Tanya and Yagun. Goyaryn hesitated: now it would unavoidably hurt its own.
“Don’t be afraid of the dragon! It won’t do anything to us while we have hostages!
Take them all into Duncedam – there are more of us! A great way to put an end to all at
once! Start with this cave freak!” Koshchei the Deathless shouted encouragingly.
The jailors and the magnotists – in total about three dozen – rushed to Tararakh,
while others hurriedly traced runes in the air and took up martial poses. Tararakh had a
hard time. Inadvertently ahead of the rest of the teachers, he was surrounded by
enemies. Magnotists and jailors moved in on him from all sides. The jailor closest to
Tararakh stared at him with his own soul-drinking eyes, but the pithecanthropus’ fist
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turned out to be much more effective and knew no miss. The jailor crashed like a tree
chopped at the base. One of his eyes immediately extinguished and a purple aura flared
up around the other.
“Hang on, Tanya! I’m coming!” the pithecanthropus yelled.
Surrounded on all sides, Tararakh fought desperately, like a bear attacked by a wolf
pack. Each of his blows removed an enemy, but another immediately sprung up in its
place. Finally someone’s spark treacherously fired from behind hit the pithecanthropus
in the back and he fell.
“Oh, Tararakh, Tararakh! What happened to you?!” Tanya yelled. She tried to
break away, but she was held tightly.
The jailors and magnotists closed in over the pithecanthropus, intending on
finishing him, but then Sardanapal’s sofa and a magic carpet came down in the midst of
enemies, scattering them.
“Seize them all! Those who won’t surrender, kill on the spot! Use any spells without
restriction!” Koshchei the Deathless ordered disjointedly.
The same order, only in a vague form, Hudson also gave his combat wizards. The
maglawyer, meek before this, started to behave unrestrainedly, waved one hand, and
said, “Fowward! Huwwah!”
Even Grafin Cagliostro could not resist and said, “We can’t let them go! They’re
rebels, magorists102 of Mag-Maeda!”
As an administrative individual, he had long been accustomed to blaming all
troubles on Mag-Maeda and did it automatically. The vacuum fell inadvertently, the
fault of Mag-Maeda; hemp did not ripen near Maglion,103 again Mag-Maeda...
“Take them!” Deathless shouted again, seeing that his army was wavering.
An entire firestorm of magic fell on the Tibidox people. But the strike force of
teachers from the island of Buyan was worth much more in battle than the combat
wizards of Magciety. If the latter surpassed them in anything, it was only their numbers.
Slander Slanderych was battling the enemy with vigorous spells. The jailors
especially got it from him, as here in front of Duncedam, they did not possess the magic
power within its walls. Small, strong, bald, waving his arms and tossing sparks, the
Tibidox principal could seem funny if he was not so formidable. His mouth spewed fire,
his ears, smoke, and his unpleasant gaze would even stump Wii. Besides, there was no
Milyulya nearby, and Slander could deploy all his power without fear of reproach for
excessive wickedness.
The three magnotists did not have it any easier, as they inconsiderately tried to
attack Professor Gorgonova with magic and simply with fists. To ripe old age, they were
sorry for their action, sang in a falsetto, and even began to tremble at the sight of an old

102 Magorist – magician terrorist.


103 Maglion: Heraklion, the administrative capital of the island of Crete, of the magic world.
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and helpless witch if she only had dishevelled hair remotely similar to Medusa’s hissing
curls.
The jailors that clashed with her had it even worse – they simply turned to stone
after barely meeting her furious gaze, the same one that only Perseus was able to
withstand, and even then having resorted to the help of a mirror shield.
Yagge had already found Yagun long ago and was now making her way to him with
the tenacity of a lumberjack. In combat Yagge employed ancient magic certainly not
white and forgotten by many. Her whole small body was wrapped in a crimson glow,
which, should some enemy attack her carelessly, would suddenly stretch out and stab
him with a spear of light. No matter how strong the enemy was and no matter what
defence was used, he would fall as if being knocked down. Furthermore, the crimson
glow reflected any spark directed against it. The magnotists looked at Yagge not without
fear and avoided getting close to her. They had figured out what was happening, and
would prefer to let through a dozen combat sparks than one touch of the light spear of
the irate old goddess. True, it was not easy for Yagge to sustain this magic. Her cheeks
were as white as chalk, and blueness became very noticeable around her eyes.
Sardanapal was not as successful in battle. At least in the beginning. He was in
front and was knocked down before he had time to discharge at least one spark. True,
then the academician’s beard intervened, wrapped around the enemy’s neck, and the
magnotist, about to sit on top of him, wheezed and fell off with his face turning blue.
“Yippee, friends! These jailers don’t know how to fight! They only know torture!
Crush them!” Sardanapal bellowed thunderously. Rosy-cheeked, panting, with
dishevelled beard and bouncing moustache, he looked imposing, although the coward
Grafin Cagliostro did not fail to point out in a trembling voice that he looked a little like
a samovar.
The genie Abdullah, joining the Tibidox expedition at the last minute, was floating
melancholically above the pavement. He languidly moved his eyebrows, which crawled
to wherever necessary, and, howling poetically, read long rhyming curses out of a
notebook, making sizable breaches in the enemy ranks. Admittedly, not only in the
enemy ranks. His curses, like missiles released at close range, had the property of not
examining whom they hit.
Goyaryn, not taking an active part in the battle and having a rest for some time,
now took off again and, circling above Duncedam, fired from the top of the tower. The
roof of one of the towers, the one that was the essence of the dead griffin, blazed, and a
bright flame flooded the area.
When the main forces of the Duncedam defenders were almost broken by the
efforts of the Tibidox teachers, about two dozen jailors suddenly jumped out of the two
towers already shrouded in smoke and attacked the Tibidox people from behind. But
then a whistle – a wild robber’s whistle, the likes of which the murky island of
Duncedam had never heard – hit them from the gate, on which Nightingale O. Robber
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sat solemnly. Few managed to stay on their feet. Like Abdullah’s curses, the whistle hit
everyone – friends and foes – but the Tibidox teachers were accustomed to it after all.
Besides, Nightingale, while still on the way, had instructed them to plug their ears with
wax.
Realizing that victory was about to go to the enemy, and that only Grafin and the
maglawyer Hudson remained with him, Koshchei the Deathless pulled out his sword,
grabbed Tanya and put the sword blade to her neck. “Hold it right there! One more step
and I’ll kill her!” he shouted boomingly.
Sardanapal stopped, but Professor Gorgonova continued to step forward calmly.
“Medusa, I’m not joking!” Koshchei shouted. “I’m really going to kill her! And then
this puppy! Don’t move!” he nodded at Yagun.
“Excellent idea!” Medusa said, looking him firmly in the eyes. “If we retreat, you’ll
rot her in Duncedam... So better kill now! And then your turn will come.”
“I can’t be killed. I’m immortal!”
“That may be so, but it’s even unpleasant for an immortal to boil a hundred
thousand years in hot lava at a depth of one-and-a-half thousand kilometres below sea
level. And precisely this awaits you, if even a hair falls from her head! And no one, mind
you, no one will find you there...” Medusa said coldly. She was not threatening, simply
informing.
The sword trembled in Koshchei’s hand, almost scratching Tanya’s neck. But
Deathless immediately pulled himself together. With his many shortcomings, he was not
a coward. “She will die, I swear, if you try to stop me! I’m not afraid of threats,” he said.
“My fwiend, don’t get cawwied away! You forgot sat you’re a gweat humanist! If
you kill Gwotter, it’ll be bad for us! Se expertly placed dwagon will turn us into kebabs!”
The maglawyer Hudson was uneasy.
“But they’re magorists!” Grafin objected timidly.
“Dear Gwafin! I beg you, no need for genewalizations! Sey will be magowists and
evewysing we declare sem to be, but only if we get to Magford alive! Today, sey’re our
fwiends, best fwiends!” Hudson hurriedly countered, adding more sugar to his smile.
Fearing, nevertheless, that Koshchei would keep his pledge and kill Tanya, Medusa
stopped three steps away from him. “So, what are we going to do? Not tired of the
circus?” she asked dryly.
“Well, we’ll have to negotiate,” Koshchei chuckled. “Remove your rings and throw
them in a pile! Or no, just an oath will be enough.”
But he never got the oath. At that moment Yagun, who, unlike Tanya, had not been
deprived of his ring (because he had cheated, hid it in his cheek, and the jailors, not
figuring it out, pulled off him a quite harmless ring, Lotkova’s gift), suddenly raised his
hand and launched a strengthened combat spark. The armour rattled and Deathless
rolled on the pavement together with his sword. He no longer had time to get up.

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Sardanapal attacked him with the entangling spell and Koshchei instantly acquired the
semblance of a victim wrapped in a giant spider’s web.
Grafin Cagliostro timidly pulled his head into his shoulders. Smart Hudson
realized that it was his hour. He pulled a white hanky and blew on it. The hanky
immediately grew to the size of a sheet, which the maglawyer started to wave briskly,
indicating that they were ready to negotiate. He had already realized for some time that
he had lost all the magnotists and therefore, like it or not, he would have to surrender.
Sardanapal, and the rest of the teachers behind him, approached Hudson. Tanya
hurried to meet them. Yagge immediately rushed to embrace her grandson. Yagun
looked a little hesitant – he knew very well that his granny’s joy would very soon give
way to a storm of rage...
“We need all our students! Everyone, including Vanka. I advise you not to obstruct
us,” Sardanapal said distinctly, looking at Hudson.
The maglawyer threw up his hands, demonstrating the deepest regret with his
whole appearance. “My fwiends! You demand se impossible! It’s not in our power to
deliver John Vailyalka! All wight, you score sese two! Let sem fly wis you, as we don’t
wegwet sese two!” Hudson nodded at Tanya and Yagun.
“We’ll leave here only with everyone!” Sardanapal announced firmly.
“I’m not omnipotent and far fwom deciding evewysing! A cwime is a cwime!
Azduwan won’t let him go!” Hudson guiltily informed them.
Medusa stretched out her hand. The maglawyer looked with horror at her long
fingernail, sketching circles in front of his nose. “Everything’s possible! It should be
well-known to you, dear, that there’s a spell of release from Duncedam! A spell which
isn’t even in the magic folio!”
“I personally don’t know it!” Hudson said hurriedly. “I’m a humble, vewy humble
maglawyer who works for dear Guwy’s aunt!”
“Then he knows!” Medusa’s slender finger pointed at Koshchei the Deathless, with
only his head protruding from the magic web.
Deathless stared sullenly at her. “I know, but I won’t say anything. It’s useless to
continue this conversation. Vanka will remain in Duncedam, and soon all of you, your
whole company, will go there! I promise you that. And now you can teleport me to
molten lava,” he said defiantly.
“He really won’t say. I know him. And what do we do now? It’s a dead end!”
Sardanapal remarked in an undertone.
Meanwhile, Tanya rushed to Tararakh, seeing that he was trying but could not get
up. The bodies of the jailors, lying in multitude around the pithecanthropus and
stretching out and growing into the cobblestones, suddenly became like the stones of an
unsteady swamp. At the same time, this did not apply to the magnotist and Tararakh.
Tanya was confused, but still, having accidentally discovered on the stones her own ring,

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which must have been in one of the jailor’s cloaks, put it back onto her finger. The ring
amicably screeched something in Latin for some time.
Tararakh finally got up. He was rather rumpled, but still, when he hugged Tanya,
she felt like an apple in a juicer. “Tanya, you... Don’t do that again! You scared us!” he
boomed.
“Duncedam takes back its own! Look, the area is almost deserted,” Slander, who
was instantly close by, said grimly.
“But they’re dead!” Tanya exclaimed.
Slander shook his head. “Not at all. We agreed not to use deadly spells. Strong –
yes, dangerous – yes, but not deadly. It is impossible to kill what never lived. They are
just part of the walls and towers. In a few minutes the jailors will reappear! We must
hurry.”
Slander Slanderych slid a glance along Tanya’s face, and suddenly his gaze stopped
short on the pince-nez, which it was not known how was still resting on the bridge of her
nose. His face immediately acquired the expression of a hound picking up a trail.
“Where did you get it, huh?” he asked suspiciously. “And I don’t advise you to distort the
truth!”
However, Tanya did not manage to answer. Suddenly, some new event alarmed
everyone. A rusty bicycle, on the seat of which sat the Great Tooth, descended onto the
area. She looked out of breath and was shaking a long envelope.
“Ah, thank The Ancient One, everyone’s whole! And where’s Vanka Valyalkin? Is he
still there? Oh heavens!” she exclaimed, rushing to Tanya and Yagun.
Sardanapal unhappily smoothed his beard, thinning in battle. “Deni, what wind
brought you here? Indeed, I asked you to stay in Tibidox! Just imagine what’s
happening there now!” he exclaimed.
Deni almost choked with indignation: “How could I stay after what I learned!
Puper... He’s alive! Almost...”
“Almost alive, excellently said! Very literary!” Grafin Cagliostro praised.
“Yes, he lives in our hearts! Dear Guwy, you know, we all wemember you!” the
maglawyer Hudson immediately responded with the greatest willingness, dutifully
dabbing his eyes with the same multi-functional hanky.
“No, Plague take you! He’s really not dead! And now it’s already clear that Vanka
didn’t violate the rules of dueling! His spark was perfectly normal, and most importantly,
there was only one!” Deni shouted so forcefully that it was impossible not to believe her,
and she angrily waved the envelope at Hudson. The maglawyer squinted uneasily.
“Deni, calm down! Are you sure? What happened to him?” the academician asked
with concern.
“He... I don’t know how to explain, but you can’t invent such a thing on purpose!”
the Great Tooth said. “Basically, after falling into the ocean, Gury summoned the galley
of demons. It was very prudent on the part of Mr. Student, because the insurance spell
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in case of a fall from such a height wouldn’t exactly help, while the galley always appears
instantly. He crashed onto the galley deck already unconscious. True, the deck has the
property of softening the blow and dressing wounds, but Gury still lost consciousness.
Then a magic mishap happened. The galley can’t take Gury anywhere because he’s
unconscious and hasn’t said where to deliver him. But it can’t take away his soul because
Puper didn’t fall asleep from the creaking of the oars but was simply unconscious –
consequently, he didn’t break the established rule. But Gury can’t wake up because he’s
on the galley and it isn’t the place to regain consciousness... As a result, time has
stopped for him. He doesn’t get old, doesn’t freeze, doesn’t feel hunger, but at the same
time... hmm-ah... doesn’t live. From time to time the galley is summoned, but it can’t
respond to the call because it has a passenger on board! A deadlock, a true standoff!
That’s why the galley started playing tricks and it was brought to Transylvania, where it
was discovered by the vampire lord Mr. Durnev... He left everything as is, but
immediately reported his discovery to Tibidox. Unfortunately, the letter was received
too late. Of course, I immediately flew here.” Deni paused, looking around in confusion.
The maglawyer Hudson started to putter about restlessly. “Let me have a look!” he
persistently asked, sliding his gaze along the lines. His pudgy face first flushed, and then
paled. It was obvious that the most conflicting emotions tormented him.
“Of course, if sis is a bald-faced lie, we’ll quickly find out... But assuming it isn’t a
lie but the twuth, sen we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation...” he muttered. “If
Guwy is alive, it turns out sat we wwongly impwisoned John Vailyalka! What a scandal!
Wis your permission, I’ll immediately fly to Magford and try to learn how to take Guwy
from se galley. If, of course, it’s still possible to save him... At se same time, I’ll twy to do
somesing for Vailyalka! Appawently, he didn’t bweak se duelling wules and sere was
only one spark...”
Sardanapal nodded. The maglawyer went up to the gate and, after picking up the
long hems of his robe, jumped on a broom with surprising agility. He prudently decided
not to teleport from Duncedam. Grafin Cagliostro, cowering with eagerness, ran after
him. No one detained him either. Everyone agreed that the air would be cleaner without
Grafin.
Yagun mockingly watched him go. Tanya was ready to swear that Yagge’s grandson
was mirroring.
“Do you think they flew to Magford?” Yagun whispered. “No way... This cross
between a peacock and a penguin set off to the nice aunt. I bet he’ll present the matter
such that he gets all the glory of Puper’s discovery. Laurels clearly won’t come the way of
the Great Tooth and Durnev...”
“Gury’s alive... Or not alive... Well, in any case, not dead... Something in between...
And if he fell asleep forever on the galley? Brr! It’s unlikely that Durnev had enough
imagination to come up with that!” Tanya said quietly.
“You’re not happy?” Yagun was surprised.
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“Why not happy? Glad, and very. What a stone has fallen from my soul!”
“But you only think about Vanka?”
Tanya nodded. “I think I’ve figured out something. Gury, he’s nice, very nice, but...”
“My granny mama!” Yagge’s grandson exclaimed. “Oh my, this ‘but’ of yours. How
I hate this ‘but’, I so hate it that I would in fact throw it out of the language!”
“Why’s that?”
“Because... I’m always afraid that Lotkova will one day say to me, ‘Yagun, you’re
wonderful, amazing, and absolutely super, but... the door opens on behalf of me...’”
“In short, let everything be fine for Gury!” Tanya concluded.
“Aye! Let him regain consciousness, live eight hundred and eighty-eight years,
grow a beard and moustache, and die without pain or convulsions in the arms of
weeping fans,” Yagun picked it up.
But it seemed wrong to Tanya. “No,” she said. “Let him not die at all but go further
on his own path. We’ll meet only for dragonball. I think it’ll be the right thing.”
Remembering that Vanka was still in prison, Tanya rushed to Deathless, with
whose stubbornness Medusa and Sardanapal were fighting unsuccessfully.
“No, no, and no!” Deathless stubbornly insisted. “If your student is really innocent,
then yes... We’ll consider all objections to a special appeals board, which we’ll appoint...
uh... let’s say, next year, to have time to prepare, and then release him on legal grounds
from Duncedam.”
“But next year Vanka will already be a decrepit old man, if he survives at all!”
Yagun shouted.
“So? But then the law will be respected. If you look at it, it’s not so sad. Old age is a
wonderful time of life. Passion no longer torments you, and you can digest the road
traversed philosophically!” Koshchei exclaimed demagogically. He was gloating,
knowing that the Tibidox people could not pull Vanka out of Duncedam on their own.
“Wonderful!” said Nightingale O. Robber. “Then we’ll give all your treasures to a
fund for the development of Third World magic schools, and you’ll get them back at a
bagel hole per year!”
Alarm flashed in Deathless’ eyes. But he immediately calmed down, realizing that
his hidden capital was cursed and protected so securely that not even a nimble bank
gnome could reach it. “Yes, easily! I agree! Take everything!” he said with a smile.
The teachers looked at each other helplessly. It was useless to mirror the stubborn
one – Deathless was too experienced and was able to place a thought block. Besides,
terrible jailors with flaming eyes again began to sprout from the stones in the square.
At that moment, Slander, who had been distracted from Tanya by the appearance
of the Great Tooth, again recalled the pince-nez. “It’s indeed Noah’s pince-nez, isn’t it?
The same that was in the missing portrait?” he asked grimly. “But we’ll sort out later
whom to turn into a zombie and for what... In the meantime, give it over! Hurry!”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/ https://smede.ru/eng
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
185

The principal was about to stretch out his hand to summarily pull the glasses off
Tanya’s nose, but suddenly pulled his hand back with a shriek and blew on his fingers.
“Ah, so!” he hissed. “Stubborn glasses! You never appreciated me! Well, then you do it!
Take them, turn to the other side – yes, yes, keep them this way – and concentrate on
what you would like to find out.”
Clutching the pince-nez, Tanya squatted in front of Koshchei, who stared at her
with hatred. “Do you think I’ll tell you something, girl? You’ll find out nothing. And
don’t hope,” he said sullenly.
But Tanya did not even hear his words. The pince-nez flashed, and she saw from
Koshchei’s mouth emerge against his will, “Geronissum airlikh ferrot liberus
Duncedamum!”
Tanya stood up to her full height and lifted her ring above her head.
“Geronissum airlikh ferrot liberus Duncedamum!” she shouted, hoping that she did not
mix anything up.
Koshchei’s silver skull clanged in amazement. The jailors’ eye sockets extinguished
at once, and their bodies, already appearimg almost to the chest, stopped growing out of
the cobblestones. The walls trembled.
Tanya was already rushing to the dark tower, above which Goyaryn was drawing
wide circles. She already saw Vanka appear from the tower. Thus far she had only seen
this in the pince-nez. But she knew that now this would actually happen...

©Jane H. Buckingham 2018


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