Day Watch Story One Chapter one


up at seven, or even at six, but I still need another five minutes.

Why is it always like that, I wonder?

I was standing in front of the mirror, hastily putting on my lipstick, and as always happens when you're in a hurry, the lipstick was going on unevenly, as if I were a schoolgirl who'd secretly borrowed her mother's for the first time. It would have been better not to bother at all and go out without any makeup on. I don't have any complexes about that¡ªI look good enough without it.


Here we go.

That just has to happen, doesn't it?

"What is it, Mom?" I shouted, fastening my sandals in a hurry.

"Come here, my little one."

"Mom, I've already got my shoes on!" I shouted, adjusting a twisted strap. "I'm late, Mom!"


It was pointless arguing.

Deliberately clattering my heels, although I wasn't really angry at all, I walked into the kitchen. Mom was sitting in front of the television, the way she always does, and drinking yet an-other cup of tea with yet another cake. What is it she likes so much about those repulsive Danish cakes? They're such terrible garbage! Not to mention how bad they are for the figure.

"Little one, are you going to be late again today?" Mom asked, without even turning her head in my direction.

"I don't know."

"Alisa, I don't think you ought to let it happen. Normal working hours are one thing, but keeping you there until one in the morning..." Mom shook her head.

"They pay for it," I said offhandedly.

And then Mom did look at me. And her lips began to tremble. "So you hold that against me, do you?"

My mother always did have an expressive voice, like an actress's. She should have worked in the theater.

"Yes, we live on your wages," my mom said bitterly. "The state robbed us and threw us out to die at the side of the road. Thank you, dear daughter, for not forgetting about us. Your father and I are very grateful to you. But there's no need to keep reminding us..."

"Mom, I didn't mean anything of the sort. You know I don't have a standard working day!"

"Working day!" My mom flung her arms in the air. She had a crumb of cake on her chin. "Working night, more like! And who knows what you get up to?"


Of course, she didn't really think anything of the kind. On the contrary, she was always proudly telling her friends what a fine, upstanding girl I was. It was just that in the morning she felt like arguing. Perhaps she'd been watching the news and she'd heard yet another disgusting story about our life here in Russia. Perhaps she and Dad had had a fight first thing in the morning¡ªthat would explain why he had left so early.

"And I've no intention of becoming a grandmother at forty!" my mom went on, without following any particular logic. What logic did she need, anyway? She'd been afraid for ages that I would get married and leave home and she'd be left living with just my father. Or maybe she wouldn't¡ªI'd taken a look at the reality lines, and it was very probable that my dad would leave her for another woman. He was three years younger than Mom, and unlike her, he took care of himself.

"You'll be fifty this year, Mom," I said. "Sorry, I'm really in a hurry."

When I was already in the hallway, I heard my mom's voice, full of righteous indignation: "You never did want to talk to your mother like a normal human being!"

"There was a time when I wanted to," I muttered to myself as I skipped out the door. "When I still was a human being I wanted to. But where were you then..."

I knew for sure that Mom was taking comfort in thinking about the argument she would have with me in the evening. And she was dreaming about involving Dad in it too. When I thought about that, it instantly put me in a foul mood.

What kind of way to behave is that¡ªdeliberately provoking a fight with someone you love? But Mom just loves to do it. And she doesn't understand it's her own character that killed my father's love for her.

I'll never do that to anyone.

And I won't let Mom do it either!

There was no one in the hallway, but even if there had been it wouldn't have stopped me. I turned back to face the door and looked at it in a special way, with my eyes slightly crossed... so that I could see my shadow.

My real shadow. The one that's cast by the Twilight.

It looks as if the gloom is condensing in front of you, until it becomes an absolutely black, intense darkness¡ªso black it would make a starless night look like day.

And against the background of that darkness you see a trembling, swirling, grayish silhouette, not quite three-dimensional but not flat either... As if it had been cut out of dirty cotton wool. Or maybe it's the other way around¡ªa hole has been cut through the great Darkness, leaving a doorway into the Twilight.

I took a step forward onto the shadow and it slid upward, enfolding my body, and the world changed.

The colors almost completely disappeared. Everything was frozen in a dark, gray blur, like what appears on a television screen if you turn the color and contrast all the way down. Sounds slowed down, leaving silence, with nothing but a barely audible background rumble, as faint as the murmur of a distant sea.

I was in the Twilight.

I could see Mom's resentment blazing in the apartment. A bitter, lemon-yellow color mixed with self-pity and her acid-green dislike of my dad, who had chosen the wrong time to go to the garage and tinker with his car.

And there was a black vortex slowly taking shape above Mom's head. A curse directed at someone specific, still weak, on the level of "I hope that job of yours drives you crazy, you ungrateful creature!" But it was a mother's curse, and they're especially powerful and tenacious.

Oh no, my dear mom!

Thanks to your efforts, Dad had a heart attack at thirty-seven and three years ago I barely managed to save him from another... at a cost that I don't even want to remember. And now you've set your sights on me?

I reached out through the Twilight as hard as I could, so hard I got a stabbing pain under my shoulder blades, and grabbed hold of Mom's mind¡ªit twitched and then froze.

Okay... now this is what we'll do...

I broke into a sweat, although it's always cool in the Twilight. I wasted energy that would have been useful at work. But a moment later Mom no longer remembered that she'd been speaking to me. And in general, she was really pleased that I was such a hard worker, that I was appreciated and liked at work, that I went out when it was barely light and didn't come back until after midnight.

That's done.

Probably the effect would only be temporary. After all, I didn't want to delve too deeply into Mom's mind. But at least I could count on a couple of months of peace and quiet. And so could my dad¡ªI'm my dad's daughter and I love him a lot more than my mom. It's only kids who can't tell you who they love more¡ª their mom or their dad¡ªgrown-ups have no problem answering the question...

When I was finished, I removed the half-formed black vortex, and it drifted out through the walls, looking for someone to attach itself to. I took a breath and cast a critical glance around the entrance.

Yes, it hadn't been cleaned for a long time. The blue moss had crept over everything again, and it was thickest around our door. That was only natural. With Mom's hysterical fits, there was always something for it to feed on. When I was little I used to think the Light Ones planted the moss to annoy us. Then it was explained to me that the blue moss is a native inhabitant of the Twilight, a parasite that consumes human emotions.

"Ice!" I commanded, flinging out my hand. The cold obediently gathered at my fingertips and ran across the walls like a stiff brush. The frozen needles of moss dropped to the floor, instantly decaying.

Take that!

That will teach you to go feeding on people's petty little thoughts!

That's real Power, the Power of an Other.

I emerged from the Twilight¡ªin the human world less than two seconds had passed¡ªand straightened my hair. My forehead was damp. I had to take out my handkerchief and blot off the sweat. And of course when I looked in my mirror I could see that my mascara had smudged.

I had no time to fuss over my appearance. I just threw on a light veil of attractiveness that would prevent any human being from noticing the faults in my makeup. We call it a "paranjah," and everybody likes to poke fun at Others who wear it, but we all use it anyway... When we're short of time or we need to be absolutely sure of making a good impression... or sometimes just for fun. One pretty young witch from Pskov¡ªwho doesn't really know how to do anything right except throw on a paranjah¡ªhas been working as a model for three years. She makes her living from it. The only trouble is that the spell doesn't work on photographs and videos, so she has to keep turning down all the offers she receives to work in advertising...

Nothing was going my way today. The elevator didn't come for ages, and the second one's been out of order for a long time now, and on my way out of the hallway I ran into Vitalik, the young guy who lives above us. When he saw me in my paranjah, he just froze with a stupid smile on his face. He has been in love with me since he was thirteen¡ªstupidly, hopelessly, silently in love. It's the result of my sloppy work, to be quite honest. I was learning the love spell and decided to practice on our neighbor's little boy, since he took every chance he could get to ogle me while I was sitting on the balcony, sunbathing in my bikini. Well... I practiced. And I misjudged the limiting factors. He fell in love forever. When he doesn't see me for a long time, it all seems to pass off, but it only takes a fleeting encounter, and everything starts up again. He'll never be happy in love.

"Vitalik, I'm in a hurry," I said, smiling at him.

But the young man just stood there, blocking the doorway. Then he decided to pay me a compliment.

"Alisa, you look really beautiful today..."

"Thanks." I gently moved him aside and felt him tremble when my hand touched his shoulder. He'll probably remember that touch for a week...

"I've passed the final exam, Alisa!" he said hastily, talking to my back. "That's it, I'm a college student now!"

I turned back and took a closer look at him.

Was this boy, who still used acne lotion, getting wild ideas into his head? Was he hoping that now he'd got into college and launched into "adult life" he could have a chance with me?

"Squirming out of the army?" I asked. "Men today have no balls. They're all wimps. They don't want to serve their time and get a bit of experience, and then go and study."

His smile was slowly fading away. It was a wonderful sight!

"Ciao, Vitalik," I said, and skipped out of the entrance into the sweltering heat of summer. But my mood was a bit better now.

These little pups in love are always fun to watch. They're boring to flirt with and having sex with them is repulsive, but just watching them is pure pleasure. I ought to give him a kiss sometime...

Anyway, a moment later I'd completely forgotten my lovesick neighbor. I stuck my hand out. The first car drove straight past¡ª the driver looked at me with greedy longing in his eyes, but his wife was sitting beside him. The next car stopped.

"I need to go to the center of town," I said, leaning down toward the window. "Manege Square."

"Get in," said the driver, reaching across and opening the door. He was a cultured-looking man with dark hair, about forty years old. "How could I refuse such a good-looking girl a lift?"

I slipped into the front seat of the old Zhiguli 9 and rolled the window all the way down. The wind hit me in the face¡ª that was some relief at least.

"You'd have got there quicker on the metro," the driver warned me honestly.

"I don't like the metro."

The driver nodded. I liked him¡ªhe wasn't staring too brazenly, even though I'd obviously overdone things with the paranjah¡ªand the car was well cared for. He also had very beautiful hands. They were strong, and their grip on the wheel was gentle but secure.

What a pity I was in a hurry.

"Are you late for work?" the driver asked. He spoke very politely, but in a manner that was somehow personal and intimate. Maybe I ought to give him my number? I'm a free girl now, I can do what I like.


"I wonder, what kind of jobs do such beautiful girls do?" It wasn't even an attempt to strike up an acquaintance or a compliment¡ªit was genuine curiosity.

"I don't know about all the rest, but I work as a witch."

He laughed.

"It's a job like any other..." I took out my cigarettes and my lighter. The driver gave me a fleeting glance of disapproval, so I didn't bother to ask permission. I just lit up.

"And what do a witch's duties consist of?"

We turned off onto Rusakov Street and the driver speeded up. Maybe I was going to get there in time after all.

"It varies," I replied evasively. "But basically we oppose the forces of Light."

The driver seemed to have accepted the rules of the game, though it wasn't really a game at all.

"So you're on the side of the shadow?"

"The Darkness."

"That's great. I know another witch, my mother-in-law," the driver said with a laugh. "But she's already retired, thank God. So why don't you like the forces of Light?"

I stealthily checked out his aura. No, everything was okay. He was a human being.

"They get in our way. Tell me, for instance¡ªwhat's the most important thing in life for you?"

The driver thought for a second.

"Just life itself. And for nobody to stop me living it."

"That's right," I agreed. "Everyone wants to be free, don't they?"

He nodded.

"Well, we witches fight for freedom too. For everyone's right to do what they want."

"And what if someone wants to do evil?"

"That's his right."

"But what if he infringes on other people's rights in the process? Say I stab someone and infringe on his rights?"

This was funny. We were conducting the classic dispute on the subject "What is the Light and what is the Darkness?" We Dark Ones and those who call themselves the Light Ones¡ªwe all brainwash our novices on this subject.

"If someone tries to infringe on your rights, then stop them from doing it. You have that right."

"I get it. The law of the jungle. Whoever's stronger is right."

"Stronger, cleverer, more farsighted. And it's not the law of the jungle. It's just the law of life. Is it ever any different?"

The driver thought about it and shook his head.

"No, it isn't. So I have the right to turn off the road somewhere, throw myself on you, and rape you?"

"But are you sure you're stronger than me?"

We'd just stopped at an intersection and the driver looked at me closely. He shook his head.

"No... I'm not sure. But the reason I don't attack girls isn't because they might fight back!"

He was beginning to get a bit nervous. The conversation seemed like a joke, but he could sense that something wasn't right.

"It's also because they might put you in jail," I said. "And that's all."

"No," he said firmly.

"Yes," I said with a smile. "That's exactly the reason. You're a normal, healthy man, with all the right reactions. But there's a law, so you prefer not to attack girls, but court them first."

"Witch..." the driver muttered with a crooked smile. He stepped hard on the gas.

"Witch," I confirmed. "Because I tell the truth and don't play the hypocrite. After all, everyone wants to be free to live his or her life. To do what they want. Not everything works out¡ªeveryone has their own desires¡ªbut everyone has the same aspirations. And it's the clash of these that gives rise to freedom! A harmonious society in which everybody wants to have everything, although they have to come to terms with other people's desires."

"But what about morality?"

"What morality?"

"Universal human morality."

"What's that?"

There's nothing better than forcing someone into a dead end and making him formulate his question properly. People don't usually think about the meaning of the words they say. It seems to them that words convey truth. That when someone hears the word "red" he will think of a ripe raspberry and not a pool of blood. That the word "love" will evoke Shakespeare's sonnets and not the erotic films of Playboy. And they find themselves baffled when the word they've spoken doesn't evoke the right response.

"There are basic principles," said the driver. "Dogmas. Taboos. Those... what do they caff them... commandments."

"Well?" I said encouragingly.

"Thou shalt not steal."

I laughed, and the driver smiled too.

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife." His smile was really broad now.

"And do you manage it?"


"And you even manage not to 'covet'? You control your instincts that well?"

"Witch!" the driver said with relish. "All right, I repent, I repent..."

"Don't repent!" I interrupted. "It's quite normal. It's freedom! Stealing... and coveting."

"Thou shalt not kill!" the driver declared. "Eh? What do you say to that? A universal commandment!"

"You might as well say 'don't boil a young goat in its mother's milk." Do you watch TV and read the newspapers?" I asked.

"Sometimes. But I don't enjoy it."

"Then why do you call 'Thou shalt not kill' a commandment? Thou shalt not kill... It was in the news this morning¡ªdown South they've taken another three people hostage and they're demanding a ransom. They've already cut a finger off each one of them to show their demands are serious. And one of the hostages, by the way, is a three-year-old girl. They cut her finger off too."

The driver's fingers tightened their grip on the wheel and turned pale.

"Bastards..." he hissed. "Monsters. I heard that all right. But they're scum, they're inhuman¡ªthey have to be to do something like that. I'd strangle them all with my bare hands..."

I kept quiet. The driver's aura was blazing bright scarlet. I didn't want him to crash; he was almost out of control. My thrust had been too accurate¡ªhe had a little daughter of his own...

"String them up on the telegraph poles!" he continued, still raging. "Burn them with napalm!"

I kept quiet and waited until the driver had gradually calmed down. Then I asked:

"Then what about those universal moral commandments? If they gave you a machine gun now, you'd press the trigger without even hesitating."

"There aren't any commandments that apply to monsters!" the driver snarled. His calm, cultured manner had disappeared without a trace now! There were streams of energy pouring out of him in all directions... and I soaked it up, quickly replenishing the Power that I'd spent earlier that morning.

"Not even terrorists are monsters," I said. "They're human beings. And so are you. And there are no commandments for human beings. That's a scientifically proven fact."

As I drew in the energy that was bursting out of him, the driver calmed down. It wouldn't last long, of course. That evening the pendulum would swing back, and he'd be overcome by rage again. It's like pumping all the water out of a well very quickly¡ªit comes rushing back in again.

"But even so, you're not right," he replied more calmly. "Logic does exist, of course, yes... But if you compare things with the Middle Ages, then morality has definitely advanced."

"Don't be ridiculous!" I said, shaking my head. "How has it advanced?... Even in the wars back then they had a strict code of honor. A war then was a real war, and kings fought with their armies, risking their thrones and their heads. And now? A big country wants to put pressure on a little one, so it bombs it for three months and gets rid of its outdated armaments at the same time. Not even the soldiers risk their lives! It's the same as if you drove up onto the sidewalk and started knocking down pedestrians like bowling pins."

"The code of honor was for the aristocrats," the driver objected sharply. "The simple people died in droves."

"And is it any different today?" I asked. "When one oligarch settles scores with another, there's a certain code of honor that's observed! Because both of them have goons to kill for them, compromising material about each other, certain interests in common, certain family ties. They're just like the old aristocracy! Kings sitting up to their ears in cabbage. And the simple people are trash. A herd of sheep that are good for shearing, but sometimes it's more profitable to slaughter them. Nothing's changed. There never were any commandments, and there aren't any now!"

The driver fell silent.

After that he didn't say another word all the way. We turned off Kamergerskaya Street onto Tverskaya Street and I told him where to stop. I paid, deliberately giving him more than I should have. It was only then that he spoke again.

"I'll never give a witch a lift again," he told me with a crooked grin. "It's too hard on the nerves. I never thought a conversation with a beautiful girl could spoil my mood so badly."

"I'm sorry," I said, and smiled sweetly.

"Have a good day at... work." He slammed the door and drove off abruptly.

Well, well. I'd never been taken for a prostitute before, but he seemed to think that was what I was. That was the effect of the paranjah... and the district we were in, of course.

But at least I'd more than made up for the Power I'd used up earlier. He'd turned out to be a magnificent donor, this intelligent, cultured, strong man. The only time I'd ever done better was... it was with the Prism of Power.

I shuddered at the memory.

It had all been so stupid... everything about it had been so monstrously stupid.

My entire life had gone downhill as a result. I'd lost everything in a single moment.

"You fool! You greedy fool!"

It was a good thing that none of the people could see my real face. It probably looked about as pitiful as my stupid young neighbor's.

Anyway, what was done was done. I couldn't turn back the clock, put things right and win back... his affection. It was my own fault, of course. And I ought to be glad that Zabulon hadn't handed me over to the Light Ones.

He used to love me. And I loved him... it would have been ridiculous for a young, inexperienced witch not to fall in love with the head of the Day Watch when he looked favorably on her...

My fists were clenched so tight that the nails were biting into the skin. I'd struggled through. I'd survived last summer. The Darkness only knew how, but I'd survived.

And now there was no point in remembering the past and sniveling and trying to catch Zabulon's eye again. He hadn't spoken to me since the hurricane last year¡ªthe one that had hit on the day when I was captured so shamefully. And he wouldn't speak to me for the next hundred years. I was sure of it.

A car moving slowly along the curb stopped with a quiet rustle of tires. It was a decent car, a Volvo, and it hadn't come from the junkyard. A jerk with a shaven head stuck his smug face out of the window, looked me up and down, and broke into a satisfied smile. Then he hissed.

"How much?"

I was dumbstruck.

"For two hours¡ªhow much?" the idiot with the shaved head asked more specifically.

I looked at the number plate¡ªit wasn't from Moscow. So that was it.

"The prostitutes are farther down, you halfwit," I said amiably. "Get lost."

"Anyone would think you didn't screw," the disappointed idiot said, trying to save face. "Think it over, I'm feeling generous today."

"You hold onto your capital," I advised him and clicked my fingers. "You'll need it to fix your car."

I turned my back to him and walked toward the building. My palm was aching slightly from the recoil. The "gremlin" isn't a very complicated spell, but I'd cast it in too much of a hurry. I'd left the Volvo with an incorporeal creature fiddling about under its hood¡ªnot even a creature really, but a bundle of energy with an obsessive passion for destroying technology.

If he was lucky, his engine was finished. If he was unlucky, then his fancy bourgeois electronics would blow¡ªthe carburetors, the ventilators, all those gearwheels and drive-belts that the car was crammed full of. I'd never taken any interest in the insides of an automobile except in the most general terms. But I had a very clear idea of the result of using the "gremlin."

The disappointed man drove off without wasting too much time arguing. I wondered if he'd remember what I'd said when his car started going haywire. He was bound to. He'd shout, "She hexed it, the witch!" And he wouldn't even know just how right he was.

The thought amused me, but nonetheless, the day had been hopelessly spoiled.

I was five minutes late for work, and there was that quarrel with my mother, and that idiot in the Volvo...

With these thoughts in my head I walked past the magnificent, gleaming shop windows, raised my shadow from the ground without even thinking about it, and entered the building through a door that ordinary people can't see.

The headquarters of the Light Ones, near the Sokol metro station, is disguised as an ordinary office. We have a more respectable location and our camouflage is a lot more fun. This building, with seven floors of apartments above shops that are luxurious even by Moscow standards, has three more floors than everyone thinks. It was specially built that way as the Day Watch residence, and the spells that disguise the building's true appearance are incorporated into the very bricks and stone of the walls. The people living in the building, who are mostly perfectly ordinary, probably feel a strange sensation whenever they ride the elevator up¡ªas if it takes too long to get from the first floor to the second...

The elevator does take longer than it should because the second floor is actually the third, and the real second floor is invisible¡ªit houses our duty offices, armaments room, and technical services. Our other two floors are on the top of the building, and not a single human being knows about them either. But any Other who is powerful enough can look through the Twilight and see the severe black granite walls and the window arches that are almost always covered with thick, heavy curtains. Ten years ago they installed air-conditioners¡ªthat's when the clumsy boxes of the split systems appeared on the walls. Before that the internal climate was regulated by magic¡ªbut why waste it like that, when electricity is far cheaper?

I once saw a photograph of our building taken through the Twilight by a skillful magician. It's an incredible sight! A crowded street with people walking all dressed up in their finest, cars driving along, shop windows and apartment windows... a pleasant old woman looking out of one window, and a cat sitting in another one, looking disgruntled and gloomy¡ªanimals can sense our presence very easily. And running parallel to all this: two entrances to the building from Tverskaya Street, with the doors swung open, and in one doorway there's a young vampire from security, polishing his nails with a file. Directly above the shops there's a strip of black stone with the crimson spots of windows in it... And the two top floors seem to weigh down on the building like a heavy stone cap.

If only I could show that photograph to the people who live there! But then, they'd all think the same thing¡ªa clumsy piece of photomontage! Clumsy, because the building really does look awkward... When everything was still all right between Zabulon and me, I asked him why our offices were located so strangely, mixed in with the humans' apartments. The boss laughed and explained that it made it more difficult for the Light Ones to try any kind of attack¡ªinnocent people might get killed in the fighting. Everybody knows that the Light Ones don't worry about people at all either, but they have to hedge around what they do with all sorts of hypocritical tricks¡ªso the seven floors of apartments make a very reliable shield.

The tiny duty office on the first floor, with the two elevators (the people living in the building don't know about them either) and the fire stairs, seemed to be empty. There was no one behind the desk or in the armchair in front of the television. It took me a moment to spot the two security guards who should have been there according to the staff list: a vampire¡ªI think his name is Kostya¡ªwho had only joined the Watch very recently, and the werewolf Vitaly from Kostroma, also a civilian employee, who'd been working for us as long as I could remember. Both guards were standing quite still, huddled over in the corner. Vitaly was giggling quietly. Just for an instant I had a quite crazy idea about the reason for such strange behavior.

"Boys, what's that you're doing over there?" I asked sharply. There's no point in being too polite with these vampires and shape-shifters. They're primitive beasts of labor¡ªnot to mention that the vampires are non-life¡ªbut they still claim to be no worse than magicians and witches!

"Come here, Aliska!" Vitaly said, beckoning to me without turning round. "This is a real gas."

But Kostya straightened up sharply and took a step backward, looking a bit embarrassed.

I walked over.

There was a little gray mouse dashing around Vitaly's feet. It stopped dead still, then jumped up in the air, then began squeaking and beating desperately at the air with its little paws. I didn't understand until I tried looking through the Twilight.

So that was it.

There was a huge, glossy cat jumping about beside the mouse. Sometimes it reached its paw out toward the tiny creature, sometimes it clattered its jaws together. Of course, it was only an illusion, and a primitive one at that, created exclusively for the small rodent.

"We're seeing how long it can hold out!" Vitaly said happily. "I bet it will die of fright in a minute."

"Now I understand," I said, beginning to see red. "Having fun, are we? Did your hunting instincts get the better of you?"

I reached down and picked up the mouse that had frozen still in fear. The tiny bundle of fur trembled on my hand. I blew on it gently and whispered the right word. The mouse stopped trembling, then it stretched out on my palm and went to sleep.

"What's it to you?" Vitaly asked in a slightly offended voice. "Aliska, in your line of work you're supposed to boil these creatures alive in your cauldron!"

"There are a few spells like that," I admitted. "And there are some that require the liver of a werewolf killed at midnight."

The werewolf's eyes glittered brightly with malice, but he didn't say anything. His rank wasn't high enough to try arguing with me. I might only be a simple patrol witch, but that was way above a mercenary werewolf.

"All right then, you guys, tell me the procedure to be followed after the discovery on the premises of rodents, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes..." I said in a slow, lazy voice.

"Activate the pest control amulet," Vitaly said reluctantly. "If any of the creatures should be observed not to be affected by the action of the amulet, then it should be captured, exercising great vigilance, and handed over to the duty magician for checking."

"You do know it... So we're not dealing with a case of forgetfulness here. Have you activated the amulet?" 1 asked.

The werewolf gave the vampire a sideways glance and then looked away.


"I see. Failure to carry out duty instructions. As the senior member of the duty detail, you will be penalized. You will inform the duty officer."

The werewolf said nothing.

"Repeat what I said, security guard."

He realized it was stupid to resist and repeated it.

"And now get back to serving your watch," I said and walked to the elevator, still carrying the sleeping mouse on my open palm.

"Bon appetit..." the werewolf muttered after me. Those creatures have no discipline¡ªthe animal half of them is just too strong.

"I hope that in a genuine battle you will be at least half as brave as this little mouse," I replied as I got into the elevator. I caught Kostya's eye¡ªit seemed to me that the young vampire was embarrassed, and even glad that the cruel amusement was at an end.

My appearance in the department with a mouse in my hand caused an uproar.

Anna Lemesheva, the senior witch on our shift, was about to launch into her usual tirade about young people who haven't been taught any discipline: "Under Stalin, for being five minutes late you'd have been packed off to a camp in Kolyma to brew potions..." When she saw the mouse she was struck dumb.

Lena Kireeva squealed and then howled: "Oh, how lovely." Zhanna Gromova giggled and asked if I was going to make the "thief's elixir"¡ªwhich includes a boiled mouse as an essential component¡ªand what I was planning to steal afterward. Olya Melnikova finished painting her nails and congratulated me on a successful hunt.

I put the little creature down on my desk, as if I never came to work without a fresh mouse, and told everyone how the security guards had been amusing themselves.

Anna shook her head. "Is that why you were late?"

"Partly," I said honestly. "Anna Tikhonovna, I was incredibly unlucky with the traffic. And then there were those nitwits playing their games."

Anna Tikhonovna Lemesheva is an old and experienced witch¡ªit's pointless trying to deceive her by putting on a brave front. She's about a hundred years old, and after all the things she'd seen, the game with the mouse was hardly going to seem cruel. But even so she pursed her lips and declared: "These werewolves have no respect for duty. When we were stationed at Revel, fighting the Swedes, we had a saying: 'If they send the watch a werewolf, detail a witch to watch him." What would have happened if an assault group of Light Ones had burst in while both guards were gawking at that rodent? They could have sent the mouse in deliberately. It's disgraceful. I think you should have demanded more serious punishment, Alisa."

"The lash," Lena Kireeva said in a quiet voice. She flicked her thick head of long red hair. Oh, that hair of Lena's, anyone would envy it. But the comforting thing is that nothing else is up to the same standard.

"Yes, it was a mistake to ban the practice of punishment with the lash," Anna replied coldly. "Throw that creature out of the window, Alisa."

"I feel sorry for it," I objected. "It's blockheads like those two who are responsible for the image of Dark Ones that exists in the mass consciousness, a caricature of vicious sadists and monsters... Why torment the poor mouse?"

"It does create a certain discharge of energy," said Olya, screwing the lid onto her nail polish. "But it's ve-ry ti-ny..." She shook her hands in the air.

Zhanna snorted derisively. "A discharge! They used up so much energy creating the illusory cat, they'd have to torture an entire kilogram of mice to make up for it."

"We could work it out," Olya suggested. "We torture this mouse to death and count the total amount of Power emitted... only we'd need a pair of scales as well."

"You're terrible..." Lena said angrily. "And you're quite right, Alisa! Can I take the mouse?"

"What for?" I asked jealously.

"I'll give it to my daughter. She's six years old. It's time she was caring for someone and looking after them. That's good for a girl."

There was an awkward silence for a moment. Of course, it's nothing unusual. It's rare for an Other to have a child who is also an Other... Very rare. It's simpler for vampires¡ªthey can initiate their own child. And it's simpler for shape-shifters¡ªtheir children almost always inherit the ability to change form. But the chances are not very good for us, or for the Light Ones either. Lena hadn't been lucky, even though her husband was a Dark magician and former staff member of the Day Watch who had retired after he was wounded and become a businessman.

"Mice don't live very long," Olya observed. "There'll be tears and tantrums..."

"That's all right. It'll live a long time with me," Lena laughed. "Ten years at least. Pavel and I will make sure of that."

"Then take it!" I said, pointing at the mouse with a magnanimous gesture. "I'll come round some time to visit."

"Did you put it in a deep sleep?" Lena asked, picking the mouse up by the tail.

"It will sleep until the evening for certain."


She carried the mouse to her desk, shook the floppy disks out of a cardboard box and put the little creature in it.

"Buy a cage," Olga advised as she admired her nails. "Or an aquarium. If it runs away it will gnaw everything and leave filthy droppings everywhere."

Anna Lemesheva thoughtfully observed everything that was going on and then clapped her hands.

"All right, girls. That's enough distraction. The unfortunate creature has been saved and it has found a new home. Things could hardly have been resolved more elegantly. Now let's begin our briefing."

She's a very strict boss, but not malicious. She doesn't make things hard for anyone without reason, and she'll let you fool about, or leave early, if necessary. But when it comes to work, it's best not to argue with her.

The girls all sat in their places. Our room is small¡ªafter all, the building wasn't intended for the present numbers of the Watch. All that could fit into the room were four small tables for us and one big desk, where Anna Lemesheva sat. The room reminded me a bit of a school classroom in some tiny village, with a class of four pupils and one teacher.

Lemesheva waited until we'd all switched on our computers and logged onto the network. Then she began in her resonant voice: "Today's assignment is the usual one: patrolling the southeast region of Moscow. You will choose your partners in the guardroom from the available operatives."

We always go on duty in pairs, usually one witch and one shape-shifter or vampire. If the level of patrols is raised, then instead of ordinary operatives they give us warlocks or some of the junior magicians for partners. But that doesn't happen very often.

"Lenochka, you're patrolling Vykhino and Liublino..."

Lena Kireeva, who had stealthily launched a game of solitaire on her computer, started, and prepared to argue. I could hardly blame her. Two huge districts and a long way off too. Nothing would come of it, of course. Anna Lemesheva would insist on having her own way as always, but Kireeva couldn't help feeling indignant.

But just at that moment, the phone on Lemesheva's desk rang. We exchanged glances, and even Lena's eyes became serious. That was the direct telephone link with the operations duty officer¡ª it didn't just ring for nothing.

"Yes," said Lemesheva. "Yes. Of course. I understand. I accept the detail..."

For a moment her expression went vague¡ªthe duty magician was sending her telepathic guidelines to the situation.

That meant it was serious. That meant there was work to do.

"To your brooms..." Lena whispered quietly. The brief phrase from a children's cartoon was a traditional saying with us. "I wonder who they'll send..." she said.

But when Anna Lemesheva put the receiver down, her expression was strict and tough.

"Into the bus, girls. Everyone. Look lively!"

This meant something very serious. This meant a fight.

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