Three years after the birth of Tanya Grotter and seven years before her appearance on Buyan Island.
The Midnight Wizard
Translated from Russian by
Jane H. Buckingham
Tibidox. Office of Sardanapal.
Three years after the birth of Tanya Grotter and seven years before her appearance on Buyan Island.
A fire was blazing in the fireplace of Sardanapal Chernomorov, the head of Tibidox. The pithecanthropus Tararakh was sitting by the fireplace and roasting shashlik threaded on a sword. The meat was sizzling tastily and intermittently shooting drops of fat.
“Of course, it’s not bad mutton, but no comparison to mammoth nevertheless, some tears!” Tararakh grumbled. “And what am I roasting with? Seven magicians in the school, all smart — horror, one is even an academician — and you’d think at least someone could find the time to conjure up a normal skewer. Thankfully, Two hundred years ago I took away Marshal Davout’s sword. A good sword — just right for twelve pieces.”
Tararakh did not exaggerate. In the office of the academician were actually all seven Tibidox instructors — Sardanapal himself, the Great Tooth, Yagge, Slander, Medusa, Nightingale O. Robber and Professor Stinktopp. Moreover, they were at an occasion, which could not be called pleasant in any way.
Sardanapal’s moustaches intermittently trembled hopelessly. A gold clip firmly kept their rebellious tips at the back of his head. This was a sure sign that the head of the Tibidox School was disposed to a serious manner.
“I have two pieces of news: poor and abysmal. Which one should I begin with?” The academician asked.
“Sardanapal, take pity on an old woman. Begin with the poor. I’m finishing knitting a cap for Yagunchik. If I make a mistake now, I’ll have to take apart a lot,” Yagge remarked carefully, raising her eyes from the knitting needles.
“No-no, don’t be over-modest! Don’t age the old folks, they’re younger than fine young folks! Has she forgotten how to charm knitting needles so that they knit by themselves?” The Great Tooth smiled.
“My Yagunchik doesn’t like conjured caps. He said that his ears cannot find room in them,” objected Yagge.
Little Yagun, lively like mercury, was the pet of granny and a big problem for the rest of Tibidox. He could not stay in one place at all. They had removed him several times from the vacuum half way to Bald Mountain, and once they found him by the Sinister Gates, which he was trying to open with a nail, using it like a master key. A minor detail prevented him: the nail turned out to be a centimetre short.
“Yes, Yagunchik’s ears are rare. I won’t be surprised if the boy plays dragonball well. They’ll allow him gradually and smoothly to decrease flying speed rather well and make sharp turns,” nodded Nightingale O. Robber.
Sardanapal reproachfully gave a cough.
“This morning I finished some calculations. In three days, at 5 p.m., there will be a total solar eclipse. It will last seven and a half minutes — the maximum astronomically possible duration for solar eclipse. Here, on Buyan, we will see nothing. But then Moscow will find itself to be completely in the dark shadow. From one outlying district to another. For seven and a half minutes the city will be submerged in darkness...”
Tararakh licked the fat off a finger and examined the meat.
“In my life I’ve seen a number of eclipses. And never anything... Except somehow during Palaeolithic times a brisk young fellow from a neighbouring tribe took advantage of the panic and robbed me of an outstanding rock axe.”
“Tararakh, the eclipse, which I’m talking about, is not ordinary. Even The Ancient One warned about it. And The Ancient One was not inclined to senseless panic,” said Sardanapal.
“As far as I understand, the eclipse — it’s also the promised bad news. And now I’m beginning to get a bad feel!” Medusa said.
“Really. He will be named Methodius Buslaev. He will appear on Earth two minutes after the sun is hidden. The Ancient One was convinced that the boy will have the gift.”
“Many babies will knock on the door of the world in those seven and a half minutes. It’s possible someone else will have the gift,” Medusa objected reasonably.
“No, Medi. I’m convinced that precisely he will have the gift. There are too many coincidences. The arrangement of the stars, place, and time of birth, the eclipse, and, most importantly, the blood. Among the boy’s kin were numerous magicians. In the Middle Ages they burned one of his great-great-great... at the stake. With a look she inflicted the plague on her neighbours and did this more often than normal courtesy required.”
“And is there any hope that Methodius Buslaev will not become aware of his gift?” Medusa carefully asked.
“Hope dies last. However, in the given situation it passed away even before the appearance of the boy in the world,” the academician joked darkly.
Sardanapal got up and, not looking at anyone, began to walk around the office.
“White magicians? Wonderful! Black magicians? Remarkable! But we have forgotten those, whose power exceeds our sorcery and incantations many times! Those more ancient than the Egyptian pyramids! The guards of Gloom! The guards of Light! Here are the ones who need his gift!” He said with conviction.
“But Sardanapal! You are probably exaggerating. It’s possible the guards of gloom and darkness know nothing about Methodius Buslaev,” the Great Tooth carefully said.
Slander Slanderych and Professor Stinktopp exchanged ironic glances.
“Zey know eferyzing about ze boy, if his gift is vorz at least one kopeck!” Stinktopp muttered.
The clip came off Sardanapal’s moustaches, and they began to jump, conducting an invisible orchestra.
“Yes, Professor, yes and again yes! In the last centuries, we were all criminally negligent! Magic books, incantations, dragonball, fights with ancient idols not wanting to calm down — it has become our world. But this...” here the academician lowered his voice to a whisper, “why deceive ourselves about this? On the day when the boy is born, the accursed spring again will begin to turn, so that in thirteen years... I don’t even want to think about this.”
“The guards of Gloom...” Medusa said thoughtfully. “Only imagine that there was a time when I didn’t see the difference between magicians and guards. But later I understood. Magicians — white or black — do not depend on moronoids. Their world exists separately from ours. We don’t interfere in its history and only strive to keep moronoids from finding out about us. The guards of Gloom are a totally different matter. They need the moronoids... Their thoughts, their feelings, especially their eide...”
Slander looked at her sombrely:
“Exactly, Medusa! There is a monstrous difference between simple magicians, such as us, and the guards of Gloom... Like between chickens and turkeys. Some fly, and others... others fly...”
“It’s because we, even the darks like Stinktopp and Deni, are not injected with the power of eide,” said Docent Gorgonova.
“If we put aside morals, the renunciation of the use of eide has its minuses. The gift of each magician — white or dark — is assigned primordially. It’s possible to learn to manage it, to learn several hundred incantations, but the gift itself will not become bigger with the years, just slightly more polished. Take at least our students. Among them are strong magicians, but also such, who only know how to force a stool to grow buds and to bloom. And we are also forced to take them!” Yagge beat around the bush.
“But a ring? An artefact? Really, don’t they intensify the gift?” Tararakh naively asked.
Nightingale O. Robber began to laugh:
“They strengthen. But only until you master them. An artefact is like a club for a pithecanthropus. Does it make him stronger?”
“You bet! Indeed, I know! Especially if a good one appears. Entirely smooth, even, and with a bulge at the end. With a twig or something there also,” Tararakh assured him. Nostalgia clouded his eyes. “In my opinion, if you strike a sharp blow with the club, it won’t seem like anything. But what’s with eide here? What is it in general?”
“Eide are what the guards of Gloom strive to keep in their darx in order to become stronger!” The Great Tooth explained.
Tararakh minced words:
“Great! I adore you, Deni! You have the ability to analyse and pigeonhole so understandably. Imagine, I don’t know what such a thing as a ‘mouse’ is and I ask you. You answer: ‘Dear Tararakh, they catch a mouse with a mousetrap.’ ‘And what is a mousetrap?’ I ask. ‘A mousetrap is what you use to catch a mouse.’ Now I understand why your students dread your lessons.”
“Eidos, which guards of Gloom hunt for, is this nucleus, the essence of spiritualization of material, the ticket to eternity, the key to immortality, the soul. The most essential and important thing there is in each moronoid, in you, and even in Yagge, although she’s also a goddess. Everyone only has one eidos. One that cannot be counterfeited or copied with the help of magic. A moronoid who has lost his life and body but preserved his eidos loses nothing. But a person who has lost his eidos loses everything even if his body, reason, and life are out of danger,” explained Sardanapal.
“Mmm... And how does it look?” Tararakh asked.
“Almost not at all. Eidos does not have a weight, a form. Or it has. Magicians have been arguing this already for several thousand years. Absalom the Flattened considered that eidos is an invisible precious stone thousands of times more valuable than any diamond, even the largest. Ekril the Wise was certain that it is the second, the main heart, which governs the beating of the first heart. Hugo the Sly foggily asserted that eidos is ‘that is, which is not.’ In other words, eidos does not exist until each concrete individual is aware of its existence. Only then will it appear. However, the majority of scientists, including your humble servant, concurs that everyone has an eidos, independent of whether he is aware of it or not. An eidos is like a small bluish spark or a grain of sand. This spark has enormous incomparable power, precisely attaches us to eternity, and does not leave after death of the flesh that rots. Eidos is the eternal element of existence, in a word, a part of The One who created us. It cannot be destroyed by either a division of gargoyles or nuclear explosion or loss of the Universe — nothing. And even one eidos has this power!
“Specifically, this is also how guards of Gloom earn their living. The more eide in a guard’s darx, the greater his ability and, therefore, the higher he stands in the hierarchy among his own. It troubles the guards not in the least that they take away eternity together with the eidos from the moronoid. To them it’s the object of the hunt, nothing more.”
“They take eide away by force?”
“Eidos cannot be taken away by force. But it can be voluntarily given away. It’s possible to present it as a gift, to sell or exchange it for a diamond, an empire, a bite of an apple — whatever one values it at. There is already nothing to be done about this. For hundreds of years millions of moronoids have already parted with their eide migrating to the darx of guards of Gloom,” said Sardanapal with sadness.
“And the guards of Light? They don’t need eide?” The pithecanthropus asked.
“Guards of Light are summoned to protect the eide of mortals and not to steal them! They don’t obliterate someone else’s eternity. The Ancient One, however great he was, never encroached upon a single eidos. Although now and then it seems to me that he was not simply a white magician. I do think that...”
“...he was one of the guards of Light?” Slander finished for him.
“Possible,” Sardanapal answered evasively. “Guards of Light rarely shout about themselves in everybody’s hearing. They respect the freedom of choice and prefer the role of observers.”
“But why is this boy so dangerous, Sardanapal? Why must we fear Methodius Buslaev?”
Sardanapal sat down at the table and, after dipping a goose feather into the ink, made an intricate flourish on the paper.
“What do you know about The Ancient One? Not as the wisest magician, the founder of Tibidox, but about the man of flesh and blood? Not much, right?”
“Very little. He didn’t like to mix business and private life. And generally, when I was acquainted with him, he behaved like he was out of the body. He could pass by a half metre from you and not even notice you. It seemed that all the time his thoughts were somewhere in astral,” said Medusa.
The academician nodded:
“Approximately how the matter stood. Especially in the last years, when The Ancient One reached such enlightenment, when he saw both the past and the future. And when you see both the past and the future at the same time, the present somehow comes up short. And you, of course, didn’t know that The Ancient One had a son?”
“I, no,” said Medusa.
“But I knew. However, what became of him is unknown to me. The Ancient One never mentioned it,” announced Yagge.
“It happened on a fall night in the last year of the magic wars,” remarked Sardanapal. “The world was so overcrowded with evil that it already began to tire. The Ancient One and his son were returning after some meeting. It so happened that the two of them found themselves in a remote forest. Suddenly they were attacked. Evil spirits and guards of Gloom surrounded them forming a continuous wall. They could not teleport or summon aid or use incantations — the attackers foresaw everything and provided themselves with strong artefacts. Then The Ancient One plunged his sword deep into the tree. The magic of his sword, the magic of the tree, and the magic of the earth, which the tree was connected to with roots, joined together, and a narrow ring of light was formed around the tree trunk. The Ancient One and his son stood in that shining circle, around which crowded the attackers. Evil spirits swarmed, climbed onto each other, crushed the ones in front, but could not force their way inside the circle. The guards of Gloom were smarter. They got up to a certain distance and, without attempting to force their way in, stood calmly, and awaited their hour. They knew that all the same, they could not force their way into the circle and the wisest thing was not to expend energy in vain. So passed two days and two nights. There were more and more evil spirits all the time. They covered the circle on all sides, even swarmed below, underground. All the time the guards of Gloom were still there. They quietly sat on the ground and waited. All their best soldiers were there — the hunchback Ligul, the swordsman Ares, Khoors, and others. They hoped that their time would come. The Ancient One and his son slept in turns, racking their brains over how to send a signal for help and call the remaining powers of Light. Then on the third night, already near dawn, when The Ancient One, on duty till then, fell asleep, the swordsman Ares insulted the son and challenged him. Ares swore the inviolable oath of Gloom that they would fight face to face and if the son won, then they would let him and his father go. The son of The Ancient One, very young and passionate, accepted the challenge. He pulled his father’s sword out of the tree, not noticing that the tip broke off and remained in the tree, and took a step from the circle...”
“And here the evil spirits attacked him?” Tararakh asked anxiously.
Forgetting about the shashlik, the passionate pithecanthropus waved Marshal Davout’s sword, splashing Professor Stinktopp with hot fat.
“You out of your mind! You zrow your bad shashlik at me!” Stinktopp began to squeal.
“No. I think that the battle was actually honestly fought. There was no sense for Ares to violate the oath, and it’s also not his principle,” continued Sardanapal. “While Ares and the son were fighting with cold steel, a tired Ancient One was sleeping inside the circle, seeing and hearing nothing. I think that his sleep was intensified by witchcraft of the Gloom magicians. The son of The Ancient One handled the blade well, but nevertheless not as good as the best sword of the guards of Gloom. A minute had not passed when Ares beheaded him and spilled his blood on the ground... The evil spirits, sensing blood, completely broke loose. They went for the sleeping Ancient One, but could not kill him because the magic circle though weakened, nevertheless sustained; indeed the tip of the sword had remained in the tree trunk... After a day, a detachment of white magicians, having gone through the whole neighbourhood, found The Ancient One. I was also there, in that detachment. The Ancient One was still under the power of the sleep spell. None of the serious guards of Gloom was there. Only the evil spirits, whom they drove away sufficiently quickly, and whom, rumbling, crawled away along the burrows and the ravines... The Ancient One buried what the evil spirits had left of his son. In complete solitude he dug out the grave with a dagger.”
“I knew nothing. Strange that it was never talked about,” said Medusa.
“Only the closest students and friends of The Ancient One knew this. He made us take an oath to keep silent about this. I would not have violated the oath even now, if I did not see an urgent need,” said Sardanapal.
“Indeed? What’s here with the son of The Ancient One and this boy Buslaev? What connects them?” Straightening her glasses, Dentistikha asked.
The academician looked at her with reproach:
“You’re rushing it, Deni. The ties of the magic world are too complex to be possible for understanding by a superficial look. The sword of The Ancient One was lost. The hunchback Ligul, who was there with Ares, picked it up from the ground and took it away. This Ligul, once a close friend of Ares, was already beginning to envy him then and little by little became his fierce enemy. But he also remained a friend to some degree. Man has this variation on a theme called ‘cursed friend’. Some time later Ligul found the means to turn the strongest artefact of Light into an artefact of Gloom. For this reason, he brought the sword of The Ancient One through many transformations, in each new transformation making it slightly worse and darker than it was before. However, this occurred so gradually that the sword itself did not notice the changes. It became a spear, a fiery whip, a stirrup, a ring, and a dark dagger. In its entire embodiment, it sowed death and took away many lives. But these transformations of the artefact were only partly the way. In the finale, it will again become the sword of The Ancient One, but a sword converted into its own opposite. As a sword of Gloom... I don’t know, has the sword passed all the transformation and who has it now? It’s possible that Ligul still has it. Indeed, does the hunchback not hope to go with its help into the Temple of Eternal Skip, located in Middle Earth, between Eden, where dwell the guards of Light, and Hades, where the Chancellery of the guards of Gloom is? But hardly this even with the power of the sword of The Ancient One.”
“The Temple of Eternal Skip... The temple, over which neither Light nor Gloom has any authority... The Temple is so ancient that all the civilizations of Earth are only sand at its foot,” dreamily repeated Yagge. “Indeed, indeed, I was there. Frightfully long ago. Then there wasn’t even a trace of Tibidox, and Buyan only just stuck its top out of the ocean... Middle Earth, somewhere between Eden and Hades! A foolish moronoid taking it into his head to find them on the globe would only spoil his eyesight, and meanwhile Middle Earth is much more real than all their continents. Imagine an enormous plain — sand bleached by the sun, greyish islets of soil with dozens of stunted trees, and rocks jutting from the ground at unthinkable angles. The rocks stand tight together, precisely forming a corridor. You go between them like in a spiral — there is no flight magic there — and suddenly your sight stumbles upon columns. And you understand that before you is something more ancient than magic, more ancient and wiser than even Light and Dark. Something such that no one among the living now has any authority over.”
“How about Egyptian pyramids?” Nightingale O. Robber asked. Although he played dragonball excellently, he travelled little, and in the previous years even stayed put completely in his native Mordovia, catching passers-by in the forests.
“Egyptian pyramids in comparison with the Temple of Eternal Skip — it’s such a sick fantasy along the theme of a vertical coffin... You go along for a few hours, and no time does the Temple get any nearer, or it approaches so gradually that you don’t notice it. Then suddenly — no less surprisingly — you find yourself beside it. The doors of the Temple are always open. You can approach very near and see the floor — black and white marble squares. Another door is visible in the distance, slightly opened but not so that it would be possible to see what’s behind it. But the temptation is great. Certainty it strikes you that there, on the other side, lies something awfully important, some such thing that all present and lost artefacts pale before it... Some such thing, for which those who lived before Gloom and Light, those for whom magic was as natural as breathing, even built this colossal Temple.”
“Can’t you simply approach and have a look? Or use remote sight?” Medusa asked.
The knitting needles in Yagge’s hands traced a reproachful semicircle.
“Medusa, dear, although this happened awfully long ago, I was already far from a naive girl and knew enough magic. What variations didn’t I try! Teleportation, flight, all forms of sight, remote intuition... Useless.”
“You vere unable to but Mezodius Buslaeff vill know how?” Inflating his cheeks, Professor Stinktopp asked.
Sardanapal compassionately looked at his rat waistcoat.
“It’s possible, Ziggy... Everything is possible. Methodius Buslaev, who will become aware of his dark gift. Who, after receiving a cloak, will go to the labyrinth of marble slabs on his thirteenth birthday, will go through the slightly opened door and, after taking what the ancients had left there, will give this to the guards of Gloom. The relative equilibrium between Light and Gloom will be disrupted. Gloom at once will cut its way through all cracks like water oozing through the bottom of a rotted ship. Thousands of eide, which Light is protecting now, will be stolen by Gloom. Everything depends on whether Methodius Buslaev will be able to control this darkness that is primordially placed in him.”
The fire in the fireplace blazed and went out. In complete calm, the heavy velvet curtains puffed up like the sails of a ship. Two ancient black magic books began to rush about in the cage and, having suddenly turned into ashes, crumbled through the bars onto the carpet.
Yagge raised her eyes from the knitting needles.
“Well now, I knew it! The loop was torn. And indeed I’m almost finished,” she said with regret.
“Methodius Buslaev! He hasn’t yet been born and Gloom is already in premonition of his birth!” Medusa said.
“Methodius Buslaev... We’ll try to influence him somehow? To get into contact with him? To bring him, eventually, into Tibidox?” The Great Tooth asked huskily.
Sardanapal’s beard did a wavy movement.
“What’s with you, Deni? This boy — into Tibidox? With his gift? No, the road to Tibidox is forever denied him. We won’t even be able to interfere, since the matters of Light and Gloom are not subject to us, elementary magicians. We’ll observe the boy from a distance — no more. In such matters there’ll be a little bit of caution... And remember: no one in Tibidox, besides us, must know anything about Methodius! NOT ONE STUDENT! In the next twelve years in any case! I demand, I insist, I, finally, order everyone to take an oath!”
“Sardanapal, what precisely is the boy’s gift? I know what a dark gift is, but how will it appear this time?” Tararakh asked. “We know that its forms are infinite!”
The head of Tibidox stared back at the pithecanthropus’ ardent Asia Minor gaze.
“I don’t know exactly, Tararakh! I can only surmise. And if it’s what I think, then it’s terrible. So terrible that I prefer to be silent. And now swear! Well! I want you all to utter May lightening strike me down!”
Several sparks blazed — red and green. Slander, Medusa, Yagge, the Great Tooth, Professor Stinktopp... Sardanapal, attentively following so that everyone without exception would make a vow, let out the last spark. Tararakh, not having a ring, did it without a spark, limiting it to a simple utterance of the oath.
The gold sphinx on the office door tucked its paws under and became like a wet unhappy kitten. So many May lightening strike me down in one office in something like a minute — this was a lot even for a sphinx that had seen sights.