Last Watch - By Sergey Lukyanenko

Part One



LERA LOOKED AT Victor and smiled. Inside every man, no matter how grown-up, there was still a little boy. Victor was twenty-five years old and of, course, he was grown-up. Valeria was prepared to insist on that with all the conviction of a nineteen-year-old woman in love.

'Dungeons,' she said straight into Victor's ear. 'Dungeons and dragons. Oo-oo-oo!'

Victor snorted. They were sitting in a room that would have been dirty if it wasn't so dark. Jostling all around them were excited children and adults with embarrassed smiles. On a stage decorated with mystical symbols a young man wearing white make-up and a long flowing black cloak was making frightening faces. He was lit up from below by a few crimson light bulbs.

'Now you are going to learn what real horror is like!' the young man drawled menacingly. 'Aagh! A-a-a-agh! Even I feel afraid at the thought of what you are going to see!'

He spoke with the precise articulation that only drama college students have. Even Lera, who didn't know much English, could understand every word.

'I like the dungeons in Budapest,' she whispered to Victor.

'They have real old dungeons there... it's very interesting. And all they have here is one big "room of horror".'

Victor nodded guiltily and said:

'But at least it's cool in here.'

September in Edinburgh had turned out hot. Victor and Lera had spent the morning in the royal castle, a centre of tourist pilgrimage. They had had a bite to eat and had drunk a pint of beer each in one of the countless pubs. And then they had found somewhere to take shelter from the midday sun...

'Sure you haven't changed your minds?' the actor in the black cloak asked.

Lera heard someone crying quietly behind her. She turned round and was surprised to discover that it was a grown girl, about sixteen years old. Standing there with her mother and little brother. Several attendants surfaced out of the darkness and quickly led the entire family away.

'There you have the other side of European prosperity, 'Victor said didactically. 'Would any grown girl in Russia be frightened by a "room of horror"? Westerner's lives are too calm and peaceful, it makes them afraid of all sorts of nonsense...'

Lera frowned. Victor's father was a politician. Not a very important one, but very patriotic, always taking every chance to demonstrate the shortcomings of Western civilisation. But that hadn't stopped him sending his son to study at Edinburgh University.

And Victor, who spent ten months of the year away from his homeland, stubbornly repeated his father's rhetoric. You would have to look very hard to find another patriot like him even inside Russia. Sometimes Lera thought it was funny, and sometimes it made her angry.

Fortunately the introduction was over now, and the slow procession through the 'Dungeons of Scotland' began. Under a bridge beside the railway station some enterprising people had partitioned off the bleak concrete premises into small cages. They had put in weak light bulbs and draped tattered rags and artificial cobwebs everywhere. On the walls they had hung portraits of the maniacs and murderers who had run riot in Edinburgh over its long history. And they had started entertaining children.

'This is the bootikin!' howled a girl dressed in rags - their guide for this room. 'A terrible instrument of torture!'

The children squealed in delight. The grown-ups exchanged embarrassed glances, as if they had been caught blowing soap bubbles or playing with dolls. To avoid getting bored, Lera and Victor stood at the back and kissed while the guides babbled. They had been together for six months already, and they were both haunted by a strange feeling that this romance would turn out to be something special.

'Now we'll go through the maze of mirrors!' the guide announced.

Strangely enough, this turned out to be really interesting. Lera had always thought that those descriptions of mirror mazes in which you could lose your way and run your forehead straight into the glass were exaggerated. How was it possible not to see where there was a mirror and where there was an empty space that you could walk into?

It turned out that it was possible. In fact, that it was very possible indeed. They laughed as they jostled against the cold mirror surfaces and waved their arms about as they wandered around in the noisy clamour of the group, which had suddenly been transformed from a handful of people into a crowd. At one point Victor waved in greeting to someone, and when