The Night Watch - By Sergey Lukyanenko

Story One Destiny Prologue
Story One



The escalator crept along slowly, straining upward. In an old station like this, what else could you expect? But the wind swirled like a wild thing inside the concrete pipe - ruffling his hair, tugging the hood off his head, sneaking under his scarf, pressing him downward.

The wind didn't want Egor to go up.

The wind was pushing him to go back.

Strange, but no one else seemed to notice the wind. There was hardly anyone around - by midnight the station was already emptying. Only a few people riding down toward Egor and hardly anyone on the escalator beside him either. One person ahead of him, two or three behind. That was it.

Except, of course, for that wind.

Egor stuck his hands in his pockets and turned to look back. For a couple of minutes already, from the moment he'd stepped out of the train, he'd had the feeling of being watched. It wasn't a frightening kind of feeling at all; it felt fascinating, a sudden, pricking sensation.

Down at the bottom of the escalator was a tall man in uniform. Not police, a soldier. Then there was a woman with a sleepy little child, clutching her hand. And another man, young, wearing a bright orange jacket, with a Walkman. He looked just about dead on his feet as well.

Nothing suspicious. Not even for a boy going home too late. Egor looked up again, to where a policeman was lounging against the gleaming handrails, dejectedly trying to spot some easy prey in this sparse stream of passengers.

Nothing to be afraid of.

The wind gave Egor one last nudge and suddenly dropped away, apparently resigned to the pointlessness of the struggle. The boy glanced back once more and started running up the moving steps as they flattened under his feet. He had to hurry. He didn't know why, but he had to. Again he felt that pricking sensation of senseless anxiety, and a cold shudder ran through his body.

It was the wind again.

Egor slipped out through the half-opened doors and the piercing cold attacked him with renewed fury. His hair, still wet from the pool - the dryer was broken again - was instantly stiff with ice. Egor pulled the hood farther forward over his head, darted past the vendor kiosks without stopping, and hurried into the underpass. Up on the surface there were far more people, but the feeling of alarm was still there. He glanced behind him now, without slowing down, but there was no one following him. The woman with the small child was walking toward a streetcar stop; the man with the Walkman had stopped in front of a kiosk, studying the bottles; the soldier still hadn't come out of the subway.

The boy walked faster and faster through the underpass. There was music coming from somewhere, so quiet he could hardly hear it, but incredibly soothing. The delicate trilling of a flute, the strumming of guitar strings, the chiming of a xylophone. The music was calling to him, telling him to hurry. Egor dodged past a group of people hurrying in the opposite direction, overtook a happy little drunk who was barely staggering. All his thoughts seemed to have been blown out of his head; he was almost running now.

The music was calling.

And now there were words weaving themselves into it... not clear yet, still too quiet to make out, but just as alluring. Egor bounded out of the underpass and stopped for a moment, gulping in the cold air. A trolley was just rolling up to the stop. He could ride just one stop, almost all the way to his house...

The boy set off toward the trolley, walking slowly, as if his legs had suddenly become numb. The trolley stood there for a few seconds with its doors open; then the hinged flaps swung together and it moved away from the stop. Egor watched it go with dull, glazed eyes; the music was getting louder all the time, filling the whole world, from the semi-circular lobby of the high-rise hotel to the "box on stilts" - his own house - that he could see not far away. The music was prompting him to walk along the wide, brightly lit avenue, where there were still plenty of people around at this hour. The entrance to his house was only five minutes away.

But the music was even closer...

When Egor had walked about a hundred meters, the hotel suddenly stopped sheltering him from the wind. The icy blast stung his