You are on page 1of 315

Hour of the Wolf

A novel by Andrius B. Tapinas

Table of Contents
Chapter I ............................................................................................................................................. 4 Chapter II.......................................................................................................................................... 13 Chapter III ........................................................................................................................................ 25 Chapter IV ........................................................................................................................................ 35 Chapter V .......................................................................................................................................... 42 Chapter VI ........................................................................................................................................ 54 Chapter VII ....................................................................................................................................... 57 Chapter VIII ..................................................................................................................................... 61 Chapter IX ........................................................................................................................................ 73 Chapter X .......................................................................................................................................... 77 Chapter XI ........................................................................................................................................ 81 Chapter XII ....................................................................................................................................... 88 Chapter XIII ..................................................................................................................................... 90 Chapter XIV...................................................................................................................................... 96 Chapter XV .................................................................................................................................... 104 Chapter XVI................................................................................................................................... 110 Chapter XVII ................................................................................................................................. 115 Chapter XVIII................................................................................................................................ 121 Chapter XIX................................................................................................................................... 129 Chapter XX .................................................................................................................................... 137 Chapter XXI................................................................................................................................... 142 Chapter XXII ................................................................................................................................. 151 Chapter XXIII................................................................................................................................ 159 Chapter XXIV ................................................................................................................................ 162 Chapter XXV ................................................................................................................................. 166 Chapter XXVI ................................................................................................................................ 172 Chapter XXVII .............................................................................................................................. 178 Chapter XXVIII ............................................................................................................................. 187 Chapter XXIX ................................................................................................................................ 194 Chapter XXX ................................................................................................................................. 197 Chapter XXXI ................................................................................................................................ 201 Chapter XXXII .............................................................................................................................. 204 Chapter XXXIII ............................................................................................................................. 213

Chapter XXXIV ............................................................................................................................. 218 Chapter XXXV ............................................................................................................................... 224 Chapter XXXVI ............................................................................................................................. 230 Chapter XXXVII ............................................................................................................................ 239 Chapter XXXVIII .......................................................................................................................... 250 Chapter XXXIX ............................................................................................................................. 261 Chapter XL.................................................................................................................................... 272 Chapter XLI ................................................................................................................................... 277 Glossary ......................................................................................................................................... 307 About the author ........................................................................................................................ 312

Chapter I Saint Petersburg March, 1870 Chairman of the State Council of the Russian Empire Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich gave a deep sigh, removed his pince-nez and rubbed the spot where it had been pressing against his nose, then turned away from the window and glanced over at the men sitting in soft armchairs. Will there be anything else, Dmitriy Martynovich? he asked the long-bearded State Secretary Solskiy. I have to hurry to the Council meeting, they are getting impatient. The last question, your Imperial Highness, Solskiy replied quickly. The last but the most... The experienced diplomat stopped himself in time before he blurted out something he was not supposed to. His eyes flicked to Mikhail Kristoforovich Reitern, Imperial Minister of Finance, who was casually playing with a silver letter opener. Better to let him to speak. Minister Reitern raised his chin, put his silver plaything aside and adjusted the white bow tie that matched his snow white shirt. We still havent discussed the issue of city transfer, your Imperial Highness. he replied in a calm voice. It is important and cant be put off any longer. Is that right? replied the Grand Duke in a rumbling growl, placing himself down in the armchair heavily. Is there anything that we, as an Empire, are not capable of? Someone is holding us, the Empire, back? Holding back our hand? And who would that villain be? Konstantin Nikolajevichs manner conveyed his utter dissatisfaction. As if in support of his owner, the Dukes beloved spaniel, who had been stretched out on a Persian rug, lifted his head and barked. The men in the armchairs shifted uneasily. Only Minister Reitern remained calm. He had been one of the closest men to the Grand Duke for almost twenty years, and he knew when best to keep quiet and when to speak. Roubles, your Imperial Highness. Roubles, he said. And if you allow me to be more precise, its their deficit that interferes with our actions. Everyone here is well aware that the economic reforms of his Imperial Majesty Tsar Alexander, God bless him, have cost the country a small fortune. Our trade is in decline and unless we urgently demonstrate our support for the rouble, there will soon be nothing left. The State debt is unbearable. We are still borrowing from foreign banks but only half of the money finds its way into our hands, while interest is charged on the full amount. Manufacturing... Ahem... Minister of the Interior Alexander Yegorovich Timashev, also present in the room, cleared his throat, displaying his discontent. Unlike Reitern, this man was not known for his finesse or modesty. And now, in an attempt to copy the Grand Duke, he had had his chest decorated with glinting medals of honour. May I ask, your Imperial Highness, who is responsible for this? sneered Timashev. Isnt it the Minister of Finance? Isnt it his responsibility to ensure that the Treasury does not fall short of money? Minister of Finance Reitern ignored his remark.

Levels of output are going down, he replied calmly. And the railways that we are so proud of are wolfing down money like a starving peasant whose last meal was three days ago. How could they not, how could they not. Timashev interrupted him again, jumping off his seat and starting to pace around the room with long steps. Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich followed the marching man with his eyes, State Secretary Solskiy hid himself behind a sheaf of papers, and only Reitern expelled a delicate cough, pressing a napkin to his lips as if demonstrating that his discourse had been interrupted by a tickle in his throat, rather than a hotspur Minister of the Interior. How could they not, when every pencil pusher is a company shareholder and is sucking on the teat of the state coffers! bellowed Timashev. And not only pencil pushers! He briefly stopped in front of Reitern. Have you forgotten the Lamanskiy scam, Minister? The chairman of the state bank becomes a founder of several railway companies and starts allocating state bank credits to them. These are the actions of the head of the state bank! How is this possible? How many companies was he associated with? Five? Seven? Reitern stole a glance at Chairman of the State Economics Department Alexander Abaza, another participant in the discussion, who had not yet said a word. Both men, like many other officials, were wading deep in the glittering river of money. Thus hundreds of millions of roubles were leaving the State Treasury: to construct new railways, to buy grain from the plenteously fertile Krasnodar1 and God knows what else. Reitern and Abaza had set up a group which was swiftly handing out state concessions and looking after the construction of 18 new rail tracks. However, they were smart enough to act via henchmen. Lamanskiy had not felt like sharing the money, had decided to be greedy and keep everything to himself, and so had been caught. There is no question that thieves belong in prison. Reitern waited for the right moment to state this in a dignified voice. But whose responsibility is that? Isnt it yours, Min ister of the Interior? But lets not get distracted ... As I have already mentioned, the Treasury is empty. And what about the Alaskan money? snarled Timashev. You ripped off Mother Russias lands and sold them to the Yankees. What did you do with the dollars? All seven million of them! Reitern clenched his teeth and gave a half-smile. He had taken an active part in the Alaska deal, but what was the sense of dragging it up now? The dollars came in and they are now gone. His reply was cold. We shouldnt forget the state projects. The new residence for the Imperial family that is currently under construction, in this year alone cost the Treasury... The Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolajevich finally stirred in his armchair. Enough, enough, everything is clear as it is, he muttered. He wasnt averse to a little luxury himself and had been taking a personal interest in the construction of the residence. So what should I tell the Council? Minister of Finance Reitern got up. He was a second away from the greatest success of his life. Everything has already been discussed, decided and coordinated, but if the Grand Duke wished for some clarity...
1

Town in southern Russia, known for its agricultural production.

Reitern again coughed delicately and started talking. A few years ago, during discussions regarding new credit allocation to the Russian Empire, the Rothschild Corporation came up with an unusual method of financing. They considered our experience with... with... He eyed Minister of the Interior Timashev, then turned back to face the Grand Duke. ...with Alaska. The Rothschilds are promoting a peculiar idea: they want to unite several cities and form an Alliance, in which they could carry out scientific research, practise Alchemy and other mumbo-jumbo. In other words busy themselves with madness. So they are asking for Reval2 and Vilnius. In return they promise to write off each and every debt of the Empire and guarantee zero per cent interest on all credits for the following 30 years. The Rothschilds intention is for Krakw, which is already considered to be a free city, to annex Reval and Vilnius. They have already reached agreement with the Austrians regarding Prague and with the Ottoman Empire regarding the possibility of partial governance of Constantinople. Minister of the Interior Timashevs face tightened with anger. I have said it before, I am saying it now, and I will keep saying it: THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE! he yelled across the room. Letting these cities go will be the same as opening the gates to the imminent revolution. A few more years with no money and the revolution will start by itself, objected Reitern, and Abaza nodded in agreement. And what are the cities that you are trying to defend, Your Highness? Who needs Reval when we have St Petersburg by the sea? Why do we need Krakw when we have Warsaw? Who needs the shabby Vilnius with its moribund university and gentry in ramshackle cottages? We have sold Alaska to the Yankees and nothing untoward happened. It was Alaska, gentlemen! And what do we have here? Two miserable cities. He turned his head to Minister of the Interior. Or maybe you feel intimidated by the Jewish opus the Alliance? Indeed, they have promised to ward off any riots in Vilnius and Krakw. It hasnt been long since the last Polish rebellion. Have you forgotten that all the land surrounding the cities belongs to us? I shouldnt be preaching to you, Alexander Yegorovich, but if need be, you will gather the army and form an iron ring around the Alliance that will not let through so much as a squeak. You will cut off all the roads and railroads. Let me ask you, how will they then travel to other cities and countries? Maybe by air? Reitern laughed in a demonstrative way. Abaza indicated his support and the Grand Dukes moustache twitched slightly. All things considered, this idea did not seem so bad. Indeed, Russia desperately needed the money (as did the Grand Duke). Desperately indeed! Timashev gasped but then quickly closed his mouth, threw himself into the armchair and became preoccupied with polishing his medals with a handkerchief. He knew what decision to expect but had wanted to cause distress to his hated rival, Minister of Finance Reitern, and once again clearly demonstrate that he, Timashev, would always be against this creature and the deals that he was constantly trying to push through. If only Reitern would stumble, thought Timashev to himself. Then I would certainly make sure that he lost his stupid head. Let it be, pronounced the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevitch. We will first get it approved by the Council, then I will pass it over for the Tsar to sign. He has other things on his mind now anyway. State Secretary Solskiy, who had been quietly sitting behind his papers, perked up immediately.
2

Reval is an old name for the present capital of Estonia, Tallinn.

All the documents are ready, Your Imperial Highness, he sang in a thin voice. Rothschilds representative Chaim Rivkind is waiting downstairs. As soon as the Council approves Your Highness proposition, we can call the representative to collect it... And this will not be happening! roared the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolajevich and banged his fist on the table so hard that it made a massive granite ink pot move from its place. Maybe Rothschilds toadies think they have managed to drive Russia into a corner but Russia will never abase itself! He stood up and contemplated the portraits of the founding fathers of the state that were hanging on the walls framed in gold. No lowlife Jew will ever walk into the hall of the great Hermitage. The vestibule is all that he will ever see. He belongs in the stables! The Grand Duke turned toward the State Secretary. We shall approve the proposition but then ask someone to throw the papers straight in the Jews face! The normally serene Reitern felt exasperated he had not expected such an outburst from the Grand Duke, who was known for his diplomatic skills . For a moment the ministers forgot their disagreements and looked at one another, baffled. Quite unexpectedly, State Secretary Dmitriy Martynovich stepped in. If your Imperial Highness would allow, I know a perfect place where my clerks could hand the documents over to the Rothschilds messenger. Solskiy emphasised the word clerks and made a deliberate pause. I think Alexandrov Palace would be very suitable for this. For a few moments the Grand Duke scrutinised the State Secretary in an attempt to figure out what he had in mind, before bursting into thunderous laughter. Although you are only a scribe, Dmitriy Martynovich, you have a good head on your shoulders. As he praised the man, he gradually regained his cheerful disposition. Our beloved Tsar Alexander will find this thought very amusing, he giggled. Let the Rothschilds altar-boy taste the scent of money. Fine, tell him to get out and trudge off to Alexandrov Palace. Make sure some scrag gives him the documents. Secretary Solskiy bowed, indicating his clear understanding of the matter. The Grand Duke got up and straightened the medals on his chest. Well, gentlemen, its all for the good of Russia and his Imperial Majesty, he said. You are free to go, and I am expected at the Council. He looked at the Secretary. Solskiy, get the papers and lets be on our way! All the men quickly got to their feet and bowed, while the Grand Duke left for the White Hall, where the State Council members had been waiting for him impatiently. Secretary Dmitriy Martynovich followed the Duke with a pile of papers in his hands. When they were gone, Minister of the Interior Timashev continued to stare at Minister of Finance Reitern, who was admiring the portraits of the Grand Dukes forefathers with barely contained jubilation. Timashev broke the silence by clearing his throat: Well, Mikhail Kristoforovich, you have won the battle. Its not quite a victory, Alexander Yegorovich, replied Reitern. The situation forces us to choose the lesser of two evils. Like the Grand Duke said, its for the good of Russia and his Imperial Majesty. But to himself he thought, Oh how much you wanted to grease your own palms, dear fellow, its a shame you are such a scatterbrain. Shaking anarchists by their collars is about the limit of your abilities, not much else.

The ministers glanced sideways at each other and exchanged the slightest of nods, then simultaneously stepped towards the door, which was flung open, most obligingly, by Alexander Abaza, acting like a footman, but really a Moldovan landowner and Chairman of the State Economics Department, who had not uttered a single word throughout the discussion. A minute later only the Grand Dukes spaniel still remained in the room. He gave a lazy yawn, as if to demonstrate how totally oblivious he was to the great importance of this matter of state that he had just witnessed. Then he jumped on to an armchair, curled into a ball and fell into a deep and peaceful sleep. Outside the door, both ministers were eagerly met by their footmen, who had been waiting patiently in the spacious marble-floored hall of St Petersburgs Great Hermitage. Flanked by his two footmen, Minister of the Interior Alexander Timashev strode in the direction of the back door that lead into the courtyard, where he had left his carriage. On his journey through the corridors of the palace, the Minister was deep in thought. When he came out into the courtyard, he waved to one of his footmen and whispered something in his ear. The footman straightened his back and tapped his heels together. Yes, Your Lordship, I will do my best! St Petersburg is not very safe for travellers, added Timashev flatly. The agreement cannot be revoked but the world can be rid of one lowlife Jew. Make sure it looks like an accident. Yes, Your Lordship! Minister of the Interior nodded and clambered up into his carriage. Reitern and Abaza chose a different route and went down another flight of stairs on the side of the State Council. Congratulations, Mikhail Kristoforovich, murmured Abaza striding along. Thank you, dear, said Reitern and cast a sideways glance at Chairman of the State Economics Department. You could have offered a word or two yourself instead of acting out a character from the silent theatre. Noticing Abazas remorseful glance down at his shoes, which almost caused him to trip on the rug, he added more amiably, Let bygones be bygones. Hurry with the message to the Rothschilds. Tell them: everything is fine, the train has set off. Also, remind them that we want our share with no delay. And make sure you warn that poor creature, what was his name... Chaim. Tell him that Alexandrov Palace is... Suddenly Minister of Finance went quiet and waved him away. Never mind, dont burden yourself. The two most powerful pillars of the Russian economy went down the staircase, which was decorated with marble and flanked by columns, and left the Great Hermitage without even a glance at a lonely figure, lingering at the foot of the stairs. Messenger Chaim Rivkind was used to waiting. When the business of the Rothschild Corporation was being discussed and the mosaic of the Alliance was being assembled, he always had to wait: in Constantinoples Beylerbeyi Palace, in Viennas Ballhaus Palace, the residence of the Habsburgs, as well as in the reception rooms of the State Secretary Earl Granville in London. He was a quiet little man resembling a weary blackbird, dressed in an inconspicuous black surtout. He would sit there hunched and subdued, submissively waiting for a reply; on occasions it took hours, at other times, days. As was his habit, he had made himself comfortable in a corner of the Hermitage vestibule, with his black top hat placed next to him on a chair. With quiet content he admired the expansive white marble double staircase,

flanked by mighty red porphyry columns, and drank in the sight of the bright red rugs and banisters the work of some outstanding craftsmen and antique sculptures, adorning the head and sides of the stairs. Having spotted the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of the Department of Economics walking down the staircase, Chaim had raised his head in expectation. But he did not feel hurt in the slightest when the two rushed past him without even a glance in his direction. Chaim knew both Russian financiers inside out. He was now trying to recall how much money had been transferred to Minister Reiterns personal account in a Swiss bank and when, as well as what the size of the next transfer was to be. There had been quite a few payments, and while attempting to calculate them all, Chaim lost all sense of time. The amounts started lining up in the messengers head tens of thousands gradually becoming hundreds of thousands but Chaims memory exercise was suddenly interrupted by a dry cough. Chaim Rivkind shuddered and looked up. Right in front of him was State Secretary Solskiy. The State Office is happy to inform you that your request has been approved, intoned Solskiy. They also regret not being able to invite you to the Council Hall. The Council and the Chairman are extremely busy. Solskiy waved a piece of paper in front of Rivkinds face. Documents attesting to our decision will be handed over to you in a place which is particularly suitable for such highly honoured guests. Here is the address. Solskiys fingers released the paper, which fluttered down and landed on Rivkinds lap. The State Secretary deftly turned on his heel and rushed off without a goodbye. Chaim followed him with his eyes, lifted the paper and slowly read the address. He got up, straightened his sourtout and put on the tall hat. He took in the luxurious staircase for the last time, strolled into the Palace square past the guards and then suddenly giggled to himself. He found the Russians even more hilarious than the Turks or the Austrians. Chaim Rivkind looked around and turned decisively left. He had unique visual memory. If he spent half an hour studying the map of an unfamiliar town, he felt at home as soon as he arrived there. So now, shoulders hunched against the biting wind that was blowing from the Neva River, he strode along the Palace Embankment, in the direction of Troitsky Bridge. The messengers destination was the building at the junction of two avenues Kamenniy Ostrov and Kronverkskiy. In a short while Rivkind reached some public gardens, where he was expecting Alexandrov Palace to be, but what he saw instead left him dumbfounded. The Palace was indeed there, and it was rather elaborately decorated. But compared with other buildings it was more of a miniature, and had a sign above the door declaring it to be a Common Us e Villa. In other words, it was a public lavatory. When Chaim recovered from his shock, he did exactly what he had done at the Hermitage; he entered a tiny waiting room, looked around and sat in the corner on a hard chair. The smell there was not particularly pleasant, and some men in hats scurried back and forth, but the messenger ignored them. He had never been to this building, before but he thought he recalled some rumours that had swirled in the recent past. A few years ago, a love affair of Merchant of the First Guild Alexandrov, who was a very affluent man and the owner of joy houses, had become a widely discussed and ridiculed topic among the members of St Petersburgs high society. Alexandrov was head over heels in love with Baroness Goncharova and was spending money on her like water. The Baroness was very pleased when it came to receiving presents, but would only allow the love-stricken

merchant to kiss her hand in return. Alexandrov had been courting the lovely lady for a while, but when he eventually lost patience, he cornered the Baroness and demanded her undivided attention to his persona. Goncharova was abrupt in her reply, You are a peasant and I am a baroness. You can kiss my hand but thats as far as you go. The furious merchant Alexandrov promised to have his revenge on the capricious lady. Before long, a dainty castle with turrets and carved canopies was erected outside the windows of the Baroness palace. It was a perfect copy of Goncharovas villa, where she would welcome only the most noble of her guests. In this miniature palace, Alexandrov set up a public lavatory and called it Common Use Villa. The deeply scorned Baroness relocated to a different palace, but thanks to the merchants endeavours, an identical villa sprang up outside her new home. Goncharova moved for the third time but Alexandrov remained tenacious and built the third lavatory. Chaim didnt know how this story ended but he now realised that the title Alexandrov Palace in fact denoted one of St Petersburgs three public lavatories. The Secretary Solskiy had sent him, the Rothschilds messenger, to one of them. The wait was long. By the time a collegiate accessor (an official of the lowest rank in state office), accompanied by a gendarme, appeared in Alexandrovs villa, announced by the sound of his clicking heels, dusk was gathering outside. The accessor approached the Rothschilds messenger, but felt too superior to say hello. Chaim Rivkind was in no hurry to get up either. What a place youve chosen, Sir. Yuck, smirked the accessor, untying the ribbon on the thick bundle. He winked to the gendarme and both men laughed loudly. But the good squire is probably used to this, he added. As they say, the smell of home, isnt that right? Rivkind gave a half-smile. Pecunia non olet3, he said quietly. The accessor furrowed his brow. What? he extended the bundle with the documents to the messenger. Here you are. Sign and seal it, confirming receipt. Chaim took the papers and started to read them slowly, guiding himself with a finger; he checked every word, every line and, holding the papers very close to his eyes, scrutinised each signature and every seal. Maybe you could hurry up a bit, Sir? the registrar couldnt bear it any longer. It stinks in here. It seemed though that Chaim didnt hear the Russian. Only when he was satisfied that everything was recorded correctly and that all the signatures were in the right places, from inside of his sourtout he took a box containing a seal, blew on it and slowly affixed the Rothschilds coat of arms a fist with five arrows on a red shield. After completing his work, he hid the seal inside his sourtout, and only then got up and handed the agreements to the Russian, retaining copies for himself. Pecunia non olet, he repeated. Money has no smell. These are the words of the Roman Emperor Vespasian. The one who contrived a tax upon Roman public lavatories, added he with a smile, then turned away and walked out of Alexandrov Palace, leaving the baffled Russians behind.
3

Latin: Money has no smell.

Rivkind was staying at the Northern Lights Inn, which was on the small Nevka branch of the river and not far from here at all: all he had to do was cross Alexandrov Park. It was already night and the park looked deserted and unfriendly, but the messenger took the gravel path without giving it much thought, or looking around. As soon as he set foot in the park, four dark figures emerged from a black gateway. The gentleman is running late, whispered one of them. You should be happy that its dark, muttered the other. It will certainly help us. Look at the poor fool trudging peacefully in the park. Lets butcher him, then drop him in the canal and the job is done. Dont forget to get the papers, reminded the third one. And lets be quiet. Lets split up lads, said the first figure. And meet in the middle of the park. The figures exchanged meaningful looks, then charged in different directions and vanished into the tree shadows. The Russians are even more primitive than the Turks, thought Chaim to himself walking into the thick of the park. He stopped and bent down to pick a piece of clay from the ground and fidgeted with it. At least the latter showed some elegance: the luxurious ball, the poisoned wine, but these ones... Really primitive. Sending over some muggers with knives. The land of savages. What else can you expect from barbarians? Chaim Rivkind was an experienced messenger: on the one hand he had a very clear idea of what to expect; but on the other, he liked to orchestrate events himself. Therefore, upon arrival in St Petersburg, he had very willingly told everyone who was interested about his staying at the Northern Lights and his penchant for strolls in Alexandrov Park. The delay at the Common Use Villa had come in handy the attackers confidence would have grown even more with the dark. The messenger took a slight left turn and shortly found himself in an alley swooping down to the middle of the park, and overgrown with tall and dense shrubbery. Dimly flickering gas lamps were gently blanketed by the rising fog. Rivkind looked at them with interest and smiled. Suddenly, he heard rustling in the bushes and noticed two figures emerging. He turned his head a little and saw two more; had he tried to run away, they would have blocked his way. The forms started to advance towards him slowly. They thought that a lonely traveller in the park, surrounded by darkness, would be easy prey. Chaim Rivkind stopped and gave a deep sigh. He crumbled the piece of clay in his hand and quietly said, Im ba lhargekha, hashkem lhargo. Suddenly the bushes rustled again. The baffled attackers paused. The eyes of the four opened wide with bewilderment, while their jaws simultaneously dropped. Two gigantic creatures emerged from the bushes, walked to the messenger and stood either side of him. Both giants were completely naked with no indicators of sex, and their skin was the colour of ochre. Metal plates shimmered on each body, giving the impression that the giants had been repaired with patches. Their faces had no noses or lips, and only their eyes glowed in red flame. These were golems4 a gift of the Prague Vitamancers to the Rothschilds.
4

The Glossary is at the end of the book.

Im ba lhargekha, hashkem lhargo, repeated Chaim. If someone is coming to kill you, wake up early and kill them first. When one of the attackers eventually recovered, he ran up to the giant who was trying to protect Chaim, and stabbed him in the chest. The blade slipped in smoothly up to the handle, but the golem did not seem to mind it at all. He raised a massive fist, the knuckles bound in metal, and smashed the criminal on the head. It instantly turned into a mash of brain and crushed bones, soaked in blood. The golem turned his head to the other two creatures that were trying to sneak up on him from behind, and stretched out his arm. Something popped. A a miniature cannon attached to his arm released a small ball in a shower of sparks, and it hit one of the attackers. His astonished gaze slipped down to a hole the size of a fist that had opened in his chest; he didnt even have time to gasp, as in a split second he was lying collapsed on the ground. The golems turned to the two remaining men and stepped towards them. When they took a step, gravel sprayed to the side like water, but the criminals didnt linger long enough for the golems to come near them: they took to their heels and vanished in the dark, leaving only the crackling of branches for a while. The park became shrouded in silence again, and the golems went back to Rivkind. All they had to do now was see the messenger to the end of the park, and then freeze in the bushes. In the morning Rivkinds servants would come, pack them in large boxes, write Careful fragile on them in red ink, and send them back to Prague. Rivkind eyed the two mutilated corpses lying on the path. There you go, he murmured. St Petersburgs gendarmerie are getting an unsolvable riddle, I am getting a journey home and a short break, and the Rothschilds are getting the biggest adventure of the century. It has been the Rothschilds old dream to take Vilnius and Reval into their hands and form an Alliance from a great arc of cities: RevalVilniusKrakowPragueConstantinople. Abducet praedam, qui occurrit prior5, murmured Chaim Rivkind and strolled down to the Northern Lights Inn.

The early bird gets the worm (Latin).

Chapter II Vilnius, evening and night 21 04 1905 Vanechka Skorik desperately wanted to go home. By home he didnt mean that shack in Rabbit Hole belonging to the old hag Zofia, with its prevailing smells of cats urine, burned potatoes, sweat and, most of all, of steam. Yes, the smell of steam was the strongest of all. Generally Vanechka had nothing against steam at home he would frequently go to the banya6 and stretch out on the bench, enjoying its heat. The experienced banschik7 Matvey would scatter the floor with the finely chopped branches of pine trees and pour water over the heated rocks, which would immediately fill the air with fragrant swirls of steam. What a wonderful thing the Russian banya is! Foreigners felt mesmerised by it to such an extent that they would become seized by enthusiasm and even try to imitate it back home. However, Vanechka hated Vilnius steam. When the westerly wind became stronger, grey lumps saturated with the smell of metal, soot, oil and supervisors foul language swept above Steam City. Above the Blots fluttered a barely detectable scent of opium, and above University Dominium, that of sulphur. The steam clouds would roam above the city for a while and then finally settle in the Troubles, dragged down by all the added weight of various components. According to some jokers, the locals there would scoop them into pots and make soup. Hei, Russkiy, youve ruined half of the bolts again! You can wave goodbye to your wages at the end of the week, shouted one of the apprentices across the hall, trying to make himself heard above the growling machinery. Vanechka, however, pretended not to hear the joker. He also hated his job. If only apprentices knew who the self-taught 4th category metalworker Vanechka Skorik really was, they would shut their mouths in an instant. But for the time being, Vanechka was labouring at Zimmermanns cast iron foundry, which occupied the part of the central Vilnius industrial area called Steam City. He submissively endured the mockery his clumsily turned bolts attracted from the older apprentices. Suddenly the hall was filled with the wailing of a siren, which meant that the shift was over. The large iron pistons that had been ramming up and down all day started to slow, and finally reached a complete stop. That was what Vanechka had been waiting for he quickly dropped his tools, left the darkness of the production hall behind, and slipped into the street. He lingered there for a while with his eyes half closed, allowing them to adjust to the sunlight, then glanced up at the sky. There wasnt long left before the sunset, but he would probably have enough time to do what he had to. Vanechka Skorik moved through the strange city. With each step he looked around him and could hardly contain his disgust at the Lithuanians and Poles scurrying around and the Jews with payots parked in the doorways of their shops extolling their merchandise.

6 7

A Russian steam bath. Steam bath attendant.

Disgusting! grunted Vanechka and spat on the pavement. Just think of it! A free city of the Alliance. Its a joke, isnt it? There is nothing good in this world anymore if rich Jews, without any punishment, can tear two cities from the Tsar, clog them with factories, fill them with beasts of the air and be so forward as to call themselves free. Ah, no order, no brain. Skorik removed his dirty work apron and threw it under a bush. To hell with it, let them deduct it from his wages. Vanechka had been living in Vilnius for three months. This was the second time that he had done business in this city. The first time he had arrived as a young boy almost 40 years ago, when His Imperial Majesty Tsar of all Russia Alexander II had graced Vilnius with his presence as it was coming back to life following a revolt. Flags displaying the double-headed eagle fluttered all over the place, eyes rejoiced at congratulatory slogans in Cyrillic, and exceptionally well-trained city residents shouted Ura!8 in thunderous voices. If someone had dared to call Vanechka a Russkiy then, Skoriks colleagues would have swiftly organized a few years in a labour camp for the daredevil. These tramps would have lost all their courage in an instant, thought Vanechka and smiled contently. Skorik walked briskly along Eight Street as far as the river and took a look around. Slightly to the left, spitting pale clouds of steam, lay the great banyas of Steam City, where factory workers could get a wash for as little as three copecks, and for two more have their own bunch of birch twigs. Further down, behind the banyas, new arrivals and fugitives who were searching for work in free Vilnius hovered day and night. The official Steam City Labour Exchange was in a different place, but there they asked for documents and quizzed with unpleasant questions. Vanechka passed the turn for the banyas and proceeded down to the Neris River instead, where he thoroughly washed his greasy hands and joined the crowd of other workers who had finished their work in Steam City and were now striding in the direction of Green Bridge. It wasnt the three copecks that he wanted to save, it was the time. After a long working day, people plodded along with their heads down, and the only thing they could think about was a hot supper and a pint of thin beer in some local inn. But Skorik walked with a spring in his step, shoulders and head raised, all serving as evidence that his day was only just beginning. If a stranger had cast a quick glance at Vanechka, he wouldnt have given him more than 40 years, but a closer look would reveal the grey temples and deep wrinkles that betrayed Skorik as having lived through many more springs. The name Vanechka did not suit him at all but it was imposed on him by the old hag Zofia, and he didnt argue. Closer to the bridge, the crowd began to thin out. Those making more money or the most exhausted workers jumped onto the steam trolley, while others continued to tread wearily over Green Bridge; still others, Skorik among them, stepped into the puzzling little streets of Snipiskes. Of course, they looked puzzling only to newcomers; compared to the labyrinths of the Troubles quarter, they were wide avenues. Skorik did not feel a stranger here, so he briskly traversed a few dirty passages, turned left and, following a hasty look around to check no one was following, slipped inside a wooden building, above whose door swung a battered sign reading Enzelman. Tobacconist and Confectioner. A moment later he stepped inside a small room with fly-stained windows, a wooden counter, shelves along one of the walls and a pile of boxes along the other. There was no sign of cakes or sugar pastries. But the shelves contained a dazzling display of countless tobacco
8

Hooray.

packs and boxes. The room reeked of tobacco, the walls having absorbed the strong odour over the course of many years. A stout, hunch-backed old man sat behind the time-worn counter, carefully rolling a cigarette. Skorik silently nodded to the old man, who then swiftly placed a small key on the counter. Vanechka grabbed the key and proceeded to the stack of boxes. Behind the boxes there was a door, and behind the door, a staircase. Vanechka took the stairs to the first floor. Ahead of him opened up a long hallway lined with doors on both sides. It was dark, the only light coming through a small window at the end, but Vanechka did not hesitate in selecting the door he needed. He unlocked it and found himself in a windowless room infused with a smell of mould. Numerous large and small chests occupied the shelf space. They were used by Enzelmans clients for stowing away their treasures, which, as a rule, had been acquired illegally. The shopkeeper had three virtues: he accepted other peoples property for safe keeping, did not ask any questions and knew how to grease the palms of minor law enforcers. Besides, smugglers were of no interest to the Vilnius Legion, which was responsible for safety in the city. Among the countless crates that were being sheltered here, a few belonged to Vanechka Skorik. The rest of Vanechkas fortune was tucked away in similar little shops around the city, as Skorik believed that it is not wise to keep all your eggs in one basket you will sooner break them than make yourself an omelette. Vanechka took a small chest off the shelf, removed several keys from his pocket and quickly found the right one. He unlocked and opened the chest, took out some papers and faded photographs that had been pinned together, put them aside, then finally pulled out a stack of chervontsy9 (roubles were still in circulation in Vilnius). He licked his fingers, and started counting them in profound concentration: ten, twenty, fifty... Having counted one hundred red banknotes three years wages for a 4th category metalworker he pushed the money inside a fabric pouch, which he slipped under the front of his jacket. He concealed the remaining banknotes under the documents in the chest. A few minutes later Vanechka came down the stairs, stepped back into the shop and tossed the key on the counter. Old Enzelman was sitting there as before, only now he was blissfully puffing on his cigarette, grey stinking smoke coming from his mouth. Skorik glared at the old man and, without a word, left through the door. Once outside, Vanechka straightened up his battered jacket, which had been tailored out of fabric greatly resembling a grey mouse, and marched back in the direction of Green Bridge as if nothing had happened. His business in Snipiskes was over, and the next thing on his agenda was an expedition to an even uglier area. Vanechka was in no hurry. Having bought a hot sausage-meat bun for three copecks and a glass of sour kvass10 for two more outside St Raphaels Church, he stepped on to Green Bridge. With his arms propped on the railings, he ate his snack and watched some children and a few adults splash in the waters of the Neris, which was unusually warm for the end of April. A fair amount of intriguing substances would flow down from the pipes of Steam City into the Neris but Vilnius residents bathed in it with no reservations because of the mechanical net which had been installed next to Green Bridge by the University Dominium Alchemists and which had rid the Neris of all the undesirable gifts from Steam City.

10

Old Russian 10-rouble notes. Fermented bread drink

It grew dark slowly. The lights were lit in Navigators Tower on the Hill of Gediminas. With the help of multicoloured light signals the Airship Navigation Control Centre was guiding a clumsy cargo dirigible towards Viscigavas airship port. The dirigible cast its heavy shadow over the city, but not many residents bothered to raise their heads after several decades, the citizens had become used to machines that had once appeared to be the work of magic. Vanechka swallowed the last mouthful, wiped his greasy hands on his jacket and set off for the city centre. The annoying steam coach drivers did not bustle him a worker would never spend his money on such luxury. Gas lamps were lit along Vilnius Street. The shape of their blue flames looked like a robust fellow gulping down a pint of Szopen beer. There was a time when these lamps the invention of Vilnius Alchemists had attracted crowds of curious citizens, and taxes on the beer they drank were handsomely reflected in the citys budget but that was a long time ago and no one but travellers admired the lovely flames now. Vanechka trotted along Vilnius Street without looking around. Crossing St Georges Avenue, he swore under his breath after barely escaping being run over by a unicycle, which had appeared out of nowhere. Close to the Grand Theatre, which was currently hosting Baumans touring horse circus, Skorik came to a junction. Preobrazhenskaya Street on the left would have taken him to Palace Square, but Vanechka turned right into Pohulianka. It was jolly in Pohulianka the orchestra was playing outside the popular Harmonija restaurant and waiters were rushing about madly to serve the outdoor tables occupied by great numbers of hungry and thirsty guests. The weather was good and all the inns in Pohulianka were buzzing, including the pitifull Lower Inn, which served watery beer and food not worth more than a pittance a popular subject of Vilnius residents jokes. A mix of languages could be heard around the tables: Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, German and even English, but Lithuanian was still the predominant one. It was the main language of Vilnius by order of the Alliance, the execution of which was heartily supervised by Rector of the University Dominium Gimbutas. Former Vilnius Governor General Muravyov must have been turning in his grave. The bun had made Vanechka full so he did not stop at any of the inns and soon reached the very outskirts of Vilnius. Two men in blue Vilnius Legion uniforms were standing bored by the White Pillars of Pohulianka. The Legate of the city had stated more than once: we are only responsible for safety in Vilnius, and Vilnius ends with the White Pillars of Pohulianka. And beyond... beyond began the Troubles. According to the Legate, the Troubles were not part of Vilnius, so the two Legionnaires were there only to warn those approaching they were about to cross into the most perilous area of the city (stretching just outside Vilnius, to be more precise). However, the locals did not need any explanations of what the Troubles were, and the guards were simply loitering about, waiting for the end of their shift. Once you passed the Pillars, the scenery changed completely. The beginning of the Troubles was marked by the unpaved Wet Square, where large deep puddles festered all year round. Five streets, like sharp beams, dissected the Troubles right to the centre. A few taverns clung to the edge of the Square. There one could have a quick bite or a couple of 50g priests

shots 11 for courage. Also, Wet Square was renowned for its broceurs, who were always ready to serve you. The broceurs services were handy for someone looking for the nearest gambling house or those who desired to use a joy house but were afraid to catch syphilis, as they could suggest a more reputable place. Finally, if one wanted to let his hair down and overindulge in the Troubles, but was afraid to lose both his hair and his wallet, for a certain amount of money, a select few Herculean broceurs would look after him all night, and at the break of dawn, carry him to the White Pillars and make certain a steam carriage safely carried his numb body home. Not so long ago, several business-minded broceurs had established a company called Broceurs Street Trolley and had started taking visitors around the most remarkable places in the Troubles in an open steam carriage. However, Vilnius Council had soon put an end to this enterprise due to four cases of robbery of the passengers occuring in the first two weeks alone. Rumours abounded that the carriage owners themselves had something to do with the robberies. Broceurs were the citys headache. The Council had spent long hours racking their brains about how to make them acquire certificates of trustworthiness and pay taxes, but had eventually given up on the idea. So the citys population grew rapidly and the broceurssmall businesses flourished. Vanechka entered the Troubles with a thousand roubles in the pocket of his jacket, but he had no intention of using the services of the broceurs, as even the shrewdest know-it-all in the Troubles would never think of robbing such a tramp. Skorik crept into Gluttons Passage. There were numerous counters squashed one against the other. All day long their owners sizzled, boiled, sauteed and marinaded things and in shrill voices sang the praises of their concoctions. To strangers, broceurs could point out (for a fee, of course) a roast that had been made with real mutton, and the ones that had been made with rats caught that same morning by the nimble boys of the Troubles. However, one little rule of thumb was never to be forgotten no one should ever have too much faith in broceurs advice. There was one good thing about Gluttons Passage. The custom of pouring the contents of a chamber pot out of the window and down on someones head, following a cry of Hey, stinkpot!, which was strictly adhered to in the Troubles, was not practised here. On the other hand, pickpockets were especially fond of this little street, and Vanechka Skorik warily pressed his hand against his heart, where his money nestled under his jacket. The real Troubles began beyond Gluttons Passage dozens of intricately intertwined little streets, at times intersecting, at other times ending abruptly in strange courtyards or at a dead end. Vanechka was not an expert on the labyrinths of the Troubles but he had rather thoroughly investigated the meeting place. So without any hesitation he turned left, swiftly gave way to two boozed-up river transport workers, and glanced over at a respectable man who was being accompanied by a broceur into a non-alchemic opium house. The man had the top button of his shirt undone, which allowed Vanechka to see his gold chain. He bet that by the next morning the chain would have found its way into the broceurs hands; or into the hands of somebody else who appreciated such things. Finally Skorik realised that he was standing under a sign depicting a scraggly haired owl gulping down a pint of beer. The usual company was overindulging at the inn. So I am telling her: where do you keep your brain, bint? said Itska Lupet a habitual visitor to Iron Owl and owner of several joy houses in a big voice, enjoying the attention
11

Big measures of vodka or other spirits for an instant strong effect.

that he was getting. Why do you have to recruit whores right by the well, opposite the gendarmerie station? Isnt there another place where the hens congregate? The shriek of his audience was so loud that it made the beer glasses ring. Itska revealed his rotten teeth and kept on talking. Then, of course, this sad commissioner Smutkevicius appeares out of nowhere, and I can see that he is about to grab my Malka. He says: Mrs Knopp, you are being arrested for the attempted illegal recruitment of girls. Maybe its not such a bad idea for the scatterbrain Malka to spend a few days in the cell, I am thinking to myself. Maybe she would come out a bit smarter? Itska leaned back against the chair, took a sip of beer and opened up his arms. But you know me, you know what a softie I am. And its my own floozy that needs s aving after all. So I take out a knife, approach him from behind and say: You nit-picker, why are you bothering the ladies, are you tired of living? And what does he say? several voices asked in unison. What could he say... Lupetas shrugged his shoulders and grinned widely. What could a pitiful nit-picker say to a real man? He mumbled something and let my Malka go. I felt that I should demand an apology to the lady but I was running late. And now all of you are invited to try my new beauties out. Visitors of the Owl will get a discount any girl could be yours for only half a rouble. The drinking buddies banged their pints on the table in support, while Itska was quietly happy that none of them had been by the well at that hour and had no way of knowing why he suddenly felt short of time. The thing was that at the sight of a Vilnius Legionnaire, he and his Malka had swung round and ran for their lives through the gardens and the courtyards. Because no one messes with the Legionnaires. Without any warning the door of the inn was flung open and an unfamiliar man stepped inside. Lupet pierced him with his eyes and bared his teeth, adopting the appearance of a small-toothed rat. Strangers were not really welcome at Iron Owl. The man paused and glanced around as if looking for something. One of his hands was stuffed in a pocket, the other dangled by his side. Itska eyed the stranger starting at his worn thin jacket and down to the cheap boots, and then slid off his chair. Hey uncle, miserable dreg of the earth, are you lost? he sang out in a thin voice as he approached Vanechka Skorik for that is who the stranger was. Its a reputable inn and ditch-diggers are not welcome here, isnt that right, fellows? The fellows bellowed in unison, Yeah, yeah!. Inspired by their support, Itska stepped towards Vanechka and struck him in the chest with his palms, pushing him away. But an inexplicable grip of steel on his elbow made him just stop just short of squealing with pain. Before Itska could even swear, Skorik bent down and whispered something in his ear. Dealing with scum like this was something that he was very good at. Suddenly Lupets face changed; his bravado quickly dissipated and he fearfully stared at his squeezed elbow. Everyone in the inn sat dumbstruck. Vanechka bent down again and whispered into Lupets ear. And one more thing... Unless you want them to find out how cowardly you are and how disgracefully you took to your heels running away from the Legionnaires, you will now laugh, pat me on the shoulder, call me your friend and ask me to treat you to a pint. He then released his grip.

Itska obeyed in a blink of an eye. Subconsciously rubbing his elbow, he gave a coarse laugh, put his arm around Skoriks shoulders and cried out. Hey, my friend! I didnt recognise you at first. I wonder how this could happen... But its a sign of good luck. Buy me a beer, would you? Skorik turned his head to the inn keeper and stuck two of his fingers up, then both he and Lupet settled at one of the side tables. The other guests shrugged their shoulders and went back to their business. A few minutes later, the inn keeper brought two pints of beer and a bowl of salty pretzels which he placed in front of Vanechka. Itska wasnt sure what to do next, so he first squinted at the beer and then at Skorik. The latter drew nearer. Now finish off your beer in two gulps and get out of my sight, he hissed over to Itska. If I see you loitering at the Owl or in the vicinity tonight, I will kill you, he said in a tone that gave no doubt as to the sincerity of the warning. Two types of people visited the Troubles the pushers and the pushovers. Vanechka Skorik belonged to the first group, while Lupet belonged to the second. Therefore, he briskly emptied his glass, as if it contained plain water, and obediently scurried out of the inn. Vanechka instantaneously expunged the poor man his head and, lost in thought, took a sip of his beer and bit on a pretzel. He felt homesick again. When would he be able to go back to his hometown of Moscow and become his real self again? In reality, Vanechka Skorik was nothing at all like a miserable metalworker. He was a spy named Ivan Skorokhodov, an officer of the Tsars Army and an operative with Departm ent Three Intelligence Gathering, sent to Vilnius three months ago. To be honest, he was not too excited about his spying mission, but army officers are not supposed to challenge the orders of their superiors. Skorokhodov spoke passable Polish and had been to Vilnius before. On this occasion, he had arrived in the guise of a deserter from the Tsars Army (of which there were many), and would introduce himself as an amateur metalworker, Vanechka Skorik. They had promised that this would be his last posting. Having served the interests of the Tsar and the country with his whole heart and his soul, an officer became entitled to a welldeserved retirement and could spend the rest of his life doing whatever took his fancy. He could listen to a nightingale sing or linger under the birch trees in Zamoskvorechye, watching their branches swaying in the wind. Normally, intelligence officers were recalled only after accomplishing something important the kind of thing that usually resulted in them being withdrawn from a foreign land somewhat hastily. But if an operative was just killing time in their posting with no obvious results, they could be left to rot for years. So Vilnius was a place where Skorokhodov was trying to catch his luck by searching for something exceptionally compelling, and he was working up a sweat. Some of his contacts he had inherited from his predecessor (who had already been recalled), others he had recruited himself. He was smart enough not to get in the Legionnaires way although it must be said that once, even though very unwillingly, he had been unable to avoid getting his hands dirty. An anarchist who had been hoping to find refuge in the Alliance, but who had also been increasingly getting on the nerves of Department Three, was now crayfish food in Pavilniai Pond. However, he had recently run into some good fortune. Having dug up some information about one couples sinful affair, Ivan now had both lovebirds on a short leash, threatening to

make their relationship public. Generally speaking, free Vilnius was a tolerant city, but not when it came to Sodomites. So quite recently, one of them maybe it was the husband or maybe it was the wife (even just thinking about this aspect of the case made Ivan spit with disgust) told Ivan that he could obtain copies of some highly classified drawings. In return they were asking for some money and to be left alone. This made Ivan very happy he saw Lady Luck flying into his arms. And Department Three had become very curious about drawings from the city of Mechanics and Alchemists. Ivan Skorokhodov couldnt wait to go home and sensed that his goal was within his grasp. Now he was waiting anxiously and wondering: Will he come? Will he have the drawings? Everyone but the innkeeper had already forgotten about him at The Owl. Ivan got his beer and pretzels, walked to the furthest end of the room and sat down at a table. Two blackened wooden columns, decorated with carvings, not only concealed him from unwelcome curiosity, but also served as a shield from flying glasses and wild guests. The Owl was the scene of a fight every night, and this had already been recognized as a tradition among its raucously carousing guests. Ivan reflexively put his hand into the inside pocket of his jacket, where he kept a watch with a gold-plated face and an inscription of his name, but realised what he was about to do and stopped, giving himself a half smile. This watch could have been proudly flourished by the Russian agent Skorokhodov, a holder of a high military rank. But it would have looked distinctly odd in the hands of modest metalworker Vanechka Skorik, and would no doubt have immediately made him conspicuous. Skorik had arrived at The Owl much earlier than agreed. He sat slowly sipping his beer, deep in his thoughts. The inn was packed with people, and each and every of them was trying to outdo their neighbours when it came to the volume of their cries for beer, but there was no sign of fighting yet. At this favourable time, though a little late, the man Ivan had anxiously been waiting for appeared. Steam City accountant Felix Porcijanka stepped through the door of the Owl and hesitated. He looked from side to side, then set off through the crowd. Intent on seeking the person who had caused his visit, he several times collided with the waiters who were dashing around with beer glasses raised above their heads. However, no drink was spilled and no disasters occurred, so he pushed on through the crowd until he finally spotted Ivan. He nodded to him, and a second later made himself comfortable on the chair opposite Skorokhodov. God save us from places like these, the accountant panted gloomily. Couldnt we meet somewhere else? In a more decent quarter than the Troubles? But Ivan was not in the mood to listen to his whining. How about in the eatery of your guild? he snapped. You could have introduced me to your colleagues and we could have brought them into this affair. What do you think of such a plan, eh? He gave the man an unfriendly look. Someone who wants t o hide a tree grows a forest, and someone who wants to hide among people comes to the Troubles. Do you get it? No one cares about you here and no one knows you, he added, intentionally keeping the misunderstanding with Icka Lupet to himself. Eyes cast down, the newcomer clutched the jug that had been swiftly delivered by a waiter, filled his glass to the brim, and gulped the beer down.

Ivan surveyed his accomplice from head to toe: he was chubby and had a bushy black moustache; a pocket square was peeping out of his jacket this fellow was very much out of place at The Owl. Porcijanka came in heavily perfumed, while at the same time perspiring heavily (possibly out of fear), and the fragrance of his perfume blended with the sour stench of his sweat. Despite all this, to Skorokhodov, Porcijanka was manna from heaven: by day, he took care of the official accounts of the Mechanics Guild, and by night shared his bed with Tomas Ujeiskiy, a financier for the Vilnius Vitamancers. He couldnt say that finding this valuable person had been easy, but the matter had turned into childs play in the end. Ivan had deliberately chosen The Iron Owl the squeamish Felix would no doubt feel intimidated by this hole: the more sluggish his reasoning is and the more worried he is about himself, the fewer problems there will be, Ivan thought. Skorokhodov took the jug and filled Porcijankas glass, which had only been emptied a moment ago, to the brim. Dont worry, Felix, all is good, he comforted the fat man. Really? Felix asked wearily. Ivan nodded. Yes. I have the money here. Besides, I am leaving for Russia tomorrow and you will never see me again, and not a single person will be interested in your bedroom matters anymore. But, Felix... Skorokhodovs voice suddenly became cold as steel. On one condition. The fattys eyes bulged out. What is it? he breathed out. If you dont have the copies of the drawings with you, complications will be unavoidable Ivan spoke slowly for emphasis. I have them, I have, Porcijanka said nodding furiously. He put his glass down, and from under the front of his jacket pulled out a wad of papers that had been folded several times. His fingers trembled. Skorokhodov put his hand out. Give them to me, he urged. Dont worry, no one is looking at us here. Felix looked around and handed over the drawings. Skorokhodov unfolded them and scanned them with his eyes. Fortunately, the chubby accountant was not aware of this moment being the weakest link in Ivan Skorokhodovs plan. Felix could have offered the drawings of Zaks shoe polish boxes with the description of the manufacturing process, and the Russian would have never suspected that they were any different from the secret drawings that he had been expecting. He was barely literate but he would never admit it. And certainly not to this pushover scumbag, sitting opposite him. Carefully trying not give himself away, Ivan aplied his knowledge of psychology, as he usually did. He raised his eyes from the paper and inquired coldly. Can the Alliance really develop this? Porcijanka couldnt help chortling.

The Alliance? The Rotschilds only pay the bills but everything is developed by the Vitamancers. The Vitamancers... That was another reason why Vanechka Skorik, aka Ivan Skorokhodov, hated Vilnius. Like all free cities of the Alliance, Vilnius was a scheming wasps nest where everyone fought for influence and money. Vitamancers, Alchemists, Mechanics, Hypnomantics, Knights of the Cathedral, Vilnius Legion... One could drown in this multitude of parasites. Skorokhodov felt Felix look on him and realised he had been silent too long. How many copies are there? he asked. This is the third. The first is held at the headquarters of Vilnius Vitamancers Lodge; the second by the Vitamancers Grand Master in Prague. Oh is it? wondered Ivan to himself. The mysterious invention must be really substantial then. It will keep the Tsars engineers busy. He nodded. Fine. The deal is on. You get a thousand roubles and peace of mind. I will be departing tomorrow and no one else will be interested to know who you wiggle your arse at anymore, he assured with a wry smile. Any guarantees? A Tsarist military officers word of honour. It cant get any better than that. Skorokhodov took a fabric pouch out from under his jacket, placed it on the table and pushed it toward the accountant. He clutched the pouch and was about to count the money but the Russian stopped him. I wouldnt do it if I were you, he said. People at The Owl can smell a single rouble, never mind a whole pile of these red-cheeked beauties. Felix turned red and hurriedly shove the pouch under his jacket. He then reached for his glass. Another piece of advice, uttered Skorokhodov, casting a leisurely glance around th e room. Youd better leave with no delay: a fight is about to start. Porcijanka promptly forgot about his beer and jumped up from his chair so high that his head hit against the cast-iron candelabrum hanging above the table. He rushed over to the innkeeper, exchanged a few words, then bolted through the middle of the scrum and out of the Iron Owl. Skorokhodov smoothed the creased drawings out with his palm. Of course, it was possible to make sure Felix Porcijanka never left the Troubles. Accidents were part of the daily routine here, and the money would have gone back to the treasury of Intelligence Department Three. But the Department was not facing any financial shortages, and besides, it would be silly to butcher a goose which might still lay one or two golden eggs in future. Skorokhodov would obviously not use Porcijankas services ever again, but the porker might come in handy to the agent who would replace Ivan sooner or later. Ivan shoved the drawings into the inner pocket of his jacket and inspected the room around him. A petty local thug was amusing himself by pushing some unfortunate creature around and shouting, Hey, you know Finka, dontcha?

Skorokhodov fished a few grivnas 12out of his pocket and tossed them on the table to pay for his beer, and then marched decisively toward the door. He had chosen to leave at the right moment as soon as he closed the door behind him, the inn was engulfed by a veritable dogfight. Outside, night had already come. After walking for a while, Skorokhodov stopped and stood contemplating something. To get home he could take one of two routes: past the White Pillars, which would be the longer way, or the short cut through the Cemetery of Cholera Victims. Dear sir, would you be so kind and give a coin to a poor old lady? Skorokhodov was startled by the rasping voice. He hadnt even noticed the poor creature with a frayed white parasol in her hand approaching him. The old ladys bright skirts and red cheeks touched with cheap rouge shone through the dark. Ivan cast a hostile glance at the beggar, who was well known to the locals by the name of The Rose of the Troubles, and, without a word, set off toward the Cholera Cemetery. The thought that currently preoccupied him most was the need for the quick and safe concealment of the drawings, and for that reason he chose this particular route, which many thought to be rather disagreeable. Vilnius had been struck by epidemics more than once. In the 19th century alone the city was ravaged by three, each coming with its own cholera cemetery three abscesses on the citys body. The Grim Reaper harvested lives in the thousands, and a booklet published by Dr Stravinsky called How to protect yourself from cholera hadnt been of much use. Following Vilnius breakaway from Russias grip and entry into the Alliance, the new local government Vilnius Council had embarked on a serious fight against diseases; a fortune was allocated to works on the water supply system, the best foreign experts were called, and Vilnius residents hygiene habits were changed. When the epidemics had retreated, one cemetery was razed to the ground and its plot sold to developers, while the second was successfully reclaimed as the site for the Szopen brewery. But the third cemetery the Cemetery of Cholera Victims, which stretched from the Troubles up to the rough quarter of New World, which housed newcomers, deserters and those searching for a better life, remained. Rumours abounded that the cemetery was haunted, and even in broad daylight people would take a longer route just to avoid it, never mind at night. Skorokhodov was not concerned by rumours or tales. He was well familiar with the straightest route across the cemetery, leading from the Troubles to New World, and had even set up his own weapons cache in one of the small graves. Ten minutes later Ivan slipped like a ghost through the rusty iron gate of the cemetery and picked his way through the gravestones. Black sky hung above his head. On the mounds loomed rotting wooden crosses with carved numbers, attesting to the lives of the people who had been flung into the mass grave, which would only be revealed in daylight. There were no names or surnames, only numbers. Something shifted and rustled ahead but Skorokhodov didnt slow down. He knew that these were only willows stroking the taller crosses with their branches in the wind. The crucial thing now was not to lose his barely detectable path in the thick of waist-high stinging nettles, and to avoid falling into a ditch. During the onset of the last epidemics the Tsarist government had burned the dead, but the wind would spread the atrocious smoke over the city, and this way of dealing with the bodies had been challenged by the living. Therefore, they had to go back to the old custom of digging deep trenches and
12

A grivna is 100 copecks.

burying the dead in them. People would say that some of the trenches were not graves at all, but that they led to a labyrinth of underground tunnels that went all the way down to the Cathedral. When Skorokhodov was half way through to his destination, he saw the blinking lights of New World quarter in the distance. Suddenly Ivan stopped and became all ears. What he heard was not the rustling of tree branches. It appeared he was not the only one making his way around the gravestones. The Russian looked around trying to figure out who it might be, while his fingers impulsively clutched on a short but sharp blade that he had concealed at his waist under his jacket. Could it be some show-off from the Troubles, tempted by seemingly easy prey? Ivans walk turned into a brisk stride. A sixth sense was telling him that the Troubles had prepared him a little farewell present. Another sense was telling him that the little present would be disappointed when it encountered the sharp talons of its prey. Ivan was approaching the end of his sixth decade but his physical energy and dexterity were much superior to those of many youngsters. Skorokhodov knew that he would soon come to a ravine that was a perfect spot for setting up an ambush. He slipped through the last sand mounds bearing crosses, managed to avoid falling into a wide ditch, and silently slid down into the ravine, where he pressed his body against its wall. A few moments later he heard heavy footsteps above his head. The sound was somewhat odd but Ivan couldnt figure out what it reminded him of as it was dulled by the loud chirping of night cicadas. Something was not right. But the Russian had no time to think. He swiftly pulled out his blade and, resting his hand on the edge of the ravine for support, leaped out, hoping to take the enemy by surprise. What is this? he gaped in astonishment at the glinting eyes boring into his own. He staggered, was about to run or scream, to take some action to defend himself, but his legs felt as heavy as if they had been filled with lead. A blade as sharp as a scalpel slashed his neck. With his eyes bulging out at the attacker, Ivan grasped his throat with both hands, as if trying to stop his blood gushing out; blackness closed in around him and he collapsed to the ground. Vanechka Skorik had never wanted to go home as much as he did now, but his wish was never to come true. When a lonely creature with a wheelbarrow shuffled across the Cholera Cemetery half an hour later, the mystical attacker was gone. The creature cast a disdainful glance at the corpse and, although the sight was not particularly pleasant, relieved the body of its possessions with no further emotion. Later, two more creatures crept up to the dead body and, keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings, hastily patted the poor mans pockets, but they were too late.

Chapter III Vilnius, late afternoon 21 04 1905 The late afternoon in April happened to be especially bright and pleasant. The departments, lecture halls and workshops of Vilnius University Dominium had been abandoned a while ago as students rushed out to bathe in the warmth of the spring. In the noisy quarter of Mirth City, which was situated on the other bank of the Vilnele River, innkeepers were rolling beer barrels out of their cellars and hastily putting out tables, which were immediately surrounded by clusters of people. In the Jewish quarter of the Blots, children were hopping alongside the old, long-bearded Jew Efraim a Vilnius storyteller and a master of fables and mewling like kittens begging him to tell them a funny story. Efraim only smiled and shook his head. This respectable elder had a small hut in the Blots, where he mended shoes in the evenings. In the Old Town, in Cathedral Square, a circus tent had been erected. Vilnius residents stood crammed against one another in a long queue, waiting eagerly for tickets for the evening performance; they chatted among themselves, sharing the latest gossip about the Summit an Alliance event of the utmost importance. Someone from the crowd would occasionally wave to the nimble Jewish vendors manoeuvring around on unicycles with large baskets filled with boiled sweets, sausage sandwiches, fried potatoes and the favourite of Vilnius citizens coldcans; the same ones that the tabloid The Truth of Vilnius had once called The greatest invention of the Alliance and University Dominium Alchemists of all times. The cans were the size of a cup and contained steam-cooled beer. The owners of the kiosks at the edge of the square, offering kefir13 and fruit, had no reason to be too happy. Suddenly a flock of men dressed in black emerged from behind the Cathedral. The Cathedral Square crowd went quiet and their faces darkened as if the good mood had been swept away by a gust of wind. They were the Knights of the Cathedral religious fanatics and the heavy fist of the Church. Twelve men advanced in a formation of three files, their feet pounding the pavement in military style, while the wind flapped their long black robes, which almost touched the ground. The knights heads were bald and each had a large white cross hanging from his neck. The formation was headed by a stalwart knight with a large beak-like nose it was the austere prelate Masalskis, the Spiritual Councillor of Vilnius Council. His eyes scanned from side to side as if searching for his prey. The people in the square quickly lowered their eyes, pretending to be amused by the cobble stones. The Jews on unicycles dispersed immediately. Alcohol is a sin! the prelate yelled without breaking his stride. His sharp voice resonated across the square like a toll of a copper bell. And consuming alcohol in a sacred place is also a crime. Coldcans were promptly concealed in pockets. And only two men in blue uniforms standing close to the circus tent continued to stare at prelate Masalskis boldly. Hey, baldies, watch where you are going, dont step on the grass! shouted one of them. That will certainly be a crime and youll get arrested.
13

Fermented milk drink.

The discord between the Vilnius Legion and the Knights of the Cathedral was old and never-ending. The Prelate pretended not to have seen or heard the Legionnaires, so a clash was avoided. The White Crosses marched across the square and continued in the direction of St Anns Church. Nevertheless, it later became clear that the Legionnaires had enraged the leader of the Knights of the Cathedral after all, when the formation blocked the way for the Number 2 street trolley. The trolley driver in a leather helmet got very annoyed by the long wait and pulled the cord of the steam whistle so hard that its deep sound drowned out the Cathedral bell tower clock, which had just started chiming six. But the whistle soon ran out of steam and the tolls of the bells reigned over the streets of the Old Town again. The Head of the Department of Alchemy of University Dominium, Jonas Basanavicius, took a quick look at the face of his steam pocket watch and shook his head. He had received the watch as a present on one of his significant birthdays, and was very pleased with it; he never failed to stress that this was the only device that showed accurate time and that the bells were just a relic, good enough for the city residents in the times of Bthory Istvn, but certainly not now and not here in free Vilnius. The watch indicated that there were still a few minutes left until 6 oclock, but the bells were already losing their steam. For years on end Basanavicius has been trying to convince Vilnius Council to commission the Guild of Mechanics to build the largest steam clock in Europe and install it in the Cathedral Bell tower, but the idea was opposed by the Spiritual Councillor, venerable Prelate Masalskis. Science and oil-stained inventions are one thing, he declared, but eternal spiritual values are something completely different. Its not accurate, not accurate, mumbled Basanavicius and, having snapped the cover on, put the watch in a custom-made pocket of his surtout. The alchemist checked that he had properly locked the main door of his laboratory. The lock hissed and the red light flashed, which indicated that the alchemists sanctuary was safe. Basanavicius used the back door to get to a small hallway. The spiral wooden staircase there was so old and creaky that every time the alchemist went down he promised to pay respect to its old age by treating it to the highest quality Steam City grease. But he forgot his promise as soon as it was made. Or maybe he was simply fond of this creaking sound, which was so distinct and so unlike the ones that were produced by the latest mechanical and alchemical masterpieces. The staircase ended at an access hatch. Having climbed through it, Basanavicius found himself on a flat roof, in his private alchemist conservatory. As a result of his painstaking efforts, the conservatory was filled with verbenas, evening primroses, deadly nightshades, marigolds, wolfs aloe and even such exotic plants as mandragora. By all means, compared with the Great Garden of Vilnius University Alchemists, this conservatory was more like the one in a dolls house, but it was enough to make Basanavicius happy. However, this time his eyes wandered over to something else. The roof also accommodated his most recent creation a colossal glider, which he had affectionately dubbed Dragon Fly and which had a substantial B painted on its tail (vanity was a flaw that Basanavicius shared with many other alchemists). Vilnius residents had become accustomed to many strange things after the turbulence of recent decades, but they couldnt say they liked them all. When Dragon Fly, which slightly resembled a farm buggy, set off for its test flight above the city for the first time, the place

had been consumed by panic screaming women hid in gateways and men cried in exasperation: Where have the damn Legionnaires gone? The Devil knows what is happening in the city but they are nowhere to be seen! It seemed that children were the only ones who became jubilant at the sight of a dragonflylike machine gliding through the air, and their waving hands greeted the pilot happily. Older city residents, however, wrote an angry letter to Vilnius Council, requesting that madman Basanavicius and his Alchemists be disciplined. They claimed that these monsters had made their life unbearable. But the Council tended to ignore such complaints and, on the contrary, allocated rather handsome sums to University Dominium Alchemists and Mechanics, as the Alliance was anxiously awaiting the start of mass production of small aircraft that would be suitable for domestic flights. Besides, the Council was feeling pressure from the Vilnius Legate, who was urging them to expedite the completion of the work, because it had been a while since he had begun fantasizing about a mobile flying company of Legionnaires. Unfortunately, they still had nothing to boast about. Dragon Fly could only lift one single person into the air, and fly a mere 20 versts14 before landing. These restrictions were caused by the small capacity of the bottle steam batteries. Under pressure to work faster, the Mechanics would point their finger at the Alchemists, who just shrugged their shoulders and said that the magic gas promethelium the power source of the large dirigibles would be of great help here, but it was too expensive for small aircraft and its use was very complicated. Consequently, Dragon Fly was still the only glider that had so far been manufactured in Vilnius. Jonas Basanavicius flew it himself, claiming that he had an allergy to steam trolleys. Its fair to say that after Dragon Fly had been used to put out the fire in Pohulianka, the residents anger had subsided. But no one knew what the future held for Dragon Fly as it was a very low-flying machine. Ordinarily dirigibles flew very high, and could only be seen by the naked eye only when landing at Viscigavas airship port, while Dragon Fly was almost within arms reach. The glider had a fuselage made of wood, with two little wheels, and its two graceful wings were covered in tear-free Belgian canvas of the highest quality. The flywheels of Dragon Fly were turned by a small steam turbine, the funnel of which emerged behind the pilots chair. With the help of compressed steam and ropes the pilot controlled the wings: a similar ornithopter was once sketched by Leonardo da Vinci. The wings helped the apparatus get off the ground and stay in the air, but Dragon Fly could not fly for long as it didnt have enough steam. The Department of Alchemy, together with its leader Basanavicius, was constantly perfecting the drawings of the glider. The Alchemists had connected the turbine to the propeller at the front, and it helped the ornithopter to stay in the air. They had later added a control stick, a navigation magnifier on a pole and a small parasol to protect the pilot from the rain or the blinding sun. Basanavicius got into Dragon Fly and adjusted his position on the pilots chair, which was upholstered in felt and fabric. He pulled the ropes, moving the wings, then clutched the handle and sharply pushed the metal rods into the battery necks. The steam in the batteries hissed and filled the engine. The propeller grumbled and started to turn at first slowly, then faster and faster. At that moment the alchemist was expertly pulling and releasing the ropes, and a second later Dragon Fly flapped its wings and gently pulled off the University roof. Once in the air, Basanavicius swiftly wound the wing ropes onto special poles behind the control stick and, to stop them unwinding accidentally, secured them on metal hooks.
14

A Russian measure of length, about 0.66 mile (1.1 km).

The engine only had enough power for the start and a few manoeuvres during take-off, and all the rest had to be done by the wings, while the control stick was used to control the glider. Basanavicius was puzzling over how to increase the steam battery capacity or how to install more batteries to make the engine more powerful, but his efforts had born no fruit. It was obvious what the ornithopter needed was promethelium. The engine of the Alliance this was the sweet name given by the Alchemists to promethelium. Developed in the Alliances alchemy laboratories, promethelium (which was lighter than hydrogen and less flammable when combined with hot air and even hot steam) was one of the greatest discoveries of the last century. With its introduction, dirigibles became safe and fast and could carry heavy cargoes and fly long distances. The formula of promethelium was a jealously guarded secret, it was produced exclusively in the cities of the Alliance, and the price was set by the Rothschilds. Promethelium and the Alliance became inextricably connected and many people speculated whether at the time of the negotiations on free cities with the Russians, the Turks and the Austrians, the Rothschilds had already known about the gem that would be developed by the Alchemists of the Alliance. The large European nations were furious they felt deceived. And besides, their secret services had suffered a miserable failure in attempting to decipher the promethelium code. There were no suggestions of an alternative either. Neither recently discovered helium, nor attempts to power dirigibles with electricity or coal could even remotely be compared to the potential of promethelium. Nevertheless, promethelium was still insanely expensive and was only used for major giants of the air. Midgets like Basanavicius gli der had no choice but to be content with steam. Leaving behind a belt of white smoke that had been puffed out by its chimney, Dragon Fly made a circle around the tower of St Johns Church and charged ahead. Basanavicius eyes felt blinded by the evening sun, so he slipped on tinted goggles and adjusted the position of the parasol. As he had no other flights planned for tonight, he generously charged the engine with steam, trying to reach the maximum altitude as quickly as possible. The wind had caught the glider and swept it above the pre-determined maximum height. Upon detecting this, the navigation stick altimeter beeped a warning. Dragon Fly began to shake but Basanavicius ignored it; being well into his sixth decade, the alchemist had forgotten about his age and ailments and was admiring the scenery down below, which he had seen many times before but never got tired of the Neris flowing across the city, church spires gleaming with gold, red rooves and patches of greenery. Underneath the Town Hall dashed by, the cramped Blots were left behind to one side and New World opened up ahead. New World, flooded by newcomers, was expanding rapidly. They didnt seem to feel much affection for their new home, which was known as Vilnius underbelly among the commoners: the birds-eye view was blemished by mountains of rubbish. Basanavicius turned the navigation stick to the left and Dragon Fly changed direction towards the upmarket Antokolis. The Neris here wound around the hills, of which holiday makers and gouvernantes with their children were very fond, and its waters here were as pure as if the river itself had been cleaned. The alchemist turned the glider, positioned it over the bend of the river and followed it downstream. Steam City the citys biggest source of pride, as well as its worst polluter and headache sprawled to the right. Thirty years ago this area was embellished with the sleepy Snipiskes district and the green expanse of Tuskulenai Park nearby, but now it had been

overtaken by this bulging industrial monster discharging a constant stream of pollutants into the river and covering its waters with a thick veil of grease. The citizens were grateful to Basanavicius and his Alchemists for the mechanical nets that had been installed by Green Bridge and were destroying the pollutants and cleaning the river. The alchemist allowed Dragon Fly to rise higher. In the distance he saw several excavators glistening in the sun, reminding him of giant insects with one antenna. Vilnius had decided to revive its trade with the German town of Memel, and the Neris river bed had to be dredged to make it wider and deeper to allow the passage of large cargo ships. From the moment it began implementing the plan, the Alliance had not skimped on labour or money: hundreds of people and powerful machines had embarked on something that earlier generations could have only called madness they were transforming the bed of the river. Even if the Tsars officials were rolling their eyes, they did not interfere with the work. Basanavicius gaze roamed even further. With his eyes beginning to water, he pressed his lips tightly together. Beyond the perimeter of the city unfolded Lithuania his own country, occupied by the Russian Empire. The Empire had no choice but to put up with free Vilnius and the whole of the Alliance, but it kept this border under enhanced supervision. Armoured Russian trains ran along purpose-built tracks encircling Vilnius. The Governor-General had issued an order: illegal attempts to gain access to Vilnius and other cities of the Alliance would result in death by firing squad. Obviously there were legal ways to get into Vilnius, and one could travel in a scheduled dirigible or on a train. But such passengers were subject to thorough checks, and besides, few people were minded to spend their months wages on a seat in a dirigible, or part with a chervonets15 in return for a train ticket. One way or another, Vilnius population grew rapidly as people travelled here on foot, in farmers buggies, or some daredevils even by clinging to the metal underbellies of trains. Their desire to settle in Vilnius remained strong even in the face of frequent executions at the border. Youll see, it wont go on forever, said Jonas Basanavicius, possibly to the setting sun or possibly to himself. The altimeter beeped a warning again and the alchemist glanced at the equipment. After Dragon Fly had reached the maximum height, controlling it properly became of uttermost importance the pilot had to stop the wind from buffeting it around. Basanavicius started to reduce the amount of steam in both turbines. Dragon Fly stopped ascending and glided forward. Green Bridge emerged ahead. Before he reached it, as the pilot of a flying apparatus, he was obliged to make contact with the Navigators Tower on the Hill of Gediminas. (Duke Gediminas would probably turn in his grave knowing that his castle had become a flightcontrol centre). This requirement of the Navigators was sneered at by aces in high speed dirigibles and racing biplanes, who also called it the folly of the tower rats, but the majority of pilots, Basanavicius among them, diligently complied with the orders. With his right hand clutching the navigation stick, his left one started moving the magnifier, which was set towards the top part of the pole. He caught a ray of sunshine and placed a lens with the coordinates of the current flight on top of the glass, and then directed the tool to the left, towards the Navigators tower. The Navigators tower replied shortly, sending over three brief amber blinks. This signified that the coordinates had been approved and an air corridor granted. Basanavicius
15

A 10-rouble note in the Russian Empire.

was well aware that the next scheduled passenger dirigible from Krakow was to appear under the Vilnius sky at 9 oclock, and that it was his responsibility to do all he could to avoid getting in the giants way. Therefore, the signal from the tower was only a formality, a friendly wink to an old friend. There were occasions, however, when the tower put on a real festival of multicoloured lights. This happened when they greeted a private foreign aircraft or for the pilots of a scheduled dirigible arriving in Vilnius for the first time who did not display a good sense of direction under the Vilnius sky. Many residents still remembered vividly the coloured fireworks two years ago, when a gigantic zeppelin named Charlemagne, belonging to the Krupp AG Company, had paid a visit to Vilnius. Having established contact with the tower, the pilot of Dragon Fly tried to locate his destination. Different areas of Vilnius were like chalk and cheese. Well-off Antokolis was quietly dozing off, while the student favourite, Mirth City, was carousing madly; if Steam City was stern, New World was ruled by chaos. Foreign craftsmen and traders made themselves busy throughout the day in the Blots, while in the Troubles one could say the same about thieves and fraudsters. But each area had its own special place in the overall picture of Vilnius and the absence of any of them would have made the view incomplete. Yet there was a quarter Zverynas which didnt quite seem to belong in the collective picture. A loop of the Neris, like a wall, had enclosed it away from the other world of Vilnius, the world which was always rushing, creating, building, buying and selling, as if keeping Zverynas behind in the last century with the noblemen Radvilos and their guests hunting roe under the hundred-yearold linden trees. In Zverynas there were no workshops or factories, there were no noisy cafes, restaurants or hotels. Even the joy houses here were not open to the public and operated by invitation only, hidden from curious eyes behind tall fences and thick hedges, their windows disguised by heavy velvet curtains. The spirit of Zverynas (locals called it the raison dtre) revealed itself most gloriously on long and sultry summer evenings. Then it seemed that life had come to a standstill and no one wished for it to hasten its pace. Dogs, tired from the heat of the day, lazed about on gravel streets, gouvernantes and their children quietly strolled in little parks, while the parents, right from their little villas, waved to young Jewish boys cycling around on tricycles with canisters of beer, and before long were savouring the tiny hint of sweetness in a glass of Szopen. In the shade of Zverynas residences one could catch sight of old men intermittently arguing over matters of politics and playing cards, while the more observant could even spot lovers alternating between kissing and drinking cruchon. Major political news did travel as far as Zverynas, and the card players would occasionally have a heated argument about the decisions of the Alliance and the future of Vilnius, but most of the time locals here were as interested in city life as the stray dog Mitekas, sprawled on Slope Street, was in dirigibles. When the shadow of a giant airship floating through the sky draped itself over him, all he gave was a sluggish little woof. Zverynas lived a life of its own. The area was connected to the city by a bridge, which rested against St Georges Avenue on the city side, but the residents of Zverynas shared the view that it was more of a nuisance than a means of crossing the river. A while back the Vilnius Street Trolley Company had been toying with the idea of building trolley tracks to Zverynas, but, due to the clear indifference demonstrated by the locals, had abandoned the idea. As it happens, both sides were pleased with the outcome. Newcomers in Zverynas were usually met with distrust, so very few chose to settle there. But for Nikodemas Pranas Tvardauskis, on the contrary, this permanent apprehensiveness of the locals was a compelling factor. When this man, one of the greatest scientists in Vilnius

and Head of the Department of Mechanics at the University, suddenly gave up his promising career in University Dominium, busybodies were choking on their own words trying to convince everyone that Professor Tvardauskis had a plan for an even greater achievement. As a cosy place on the City Council was not likely to be of great interest to him, he probably intended to pursue a senior post in the Alliance Ministry of International Relations, which would give him an opportunity to descend on some exceptionally soft chair and remember Vilnius with a light tug of nostalgia. Tvardauskis surname was on everyones lips from Constantinople to Reval, and the Alliance was counting the millions that had been reaped from sales of the Professors patented mechanical inventions. The singing automaton with a modifiable song list alone was worth a fortune. The Krakow factories that produced the automatons did not have enough time to catch their breath, while the owners of inns and beer houses were at their wits end waiting for the much-desired machines on long waiting lists. Tvardauskis was a good-looking man tall, with greying temples and fashionable clothes. Women liked him, he was a desired guest in Vilnius elite salons, and tales of his travels and adventures were passed from one person to another. Many people thought that if only it was something that Tvardauskis himself wished for, before long the city could see him as its own Burgomaster. But events were destined to take a different course. By his own will Nikodemas Pranas Tvardauskis had settled down in Zverynas and started making toy soldiers. The academic community was flabbergasted. He is run down, exhausted, whispered somebody. It has something to do with being unhappy in love, or maybe a deception, angry tongues kept on wagging. Gutter press newspaper The Truth of Vilnius, which had dedicated its entire front page to the professors persona, called Tvardauskis resignation The Riddle of Nikodemas, but still couldnt work out why the distinguished man had forgone his brilliant career. The riddle remained unsolved. But Nikodemas Pranas Tvardauskis did not stay in the minds of Vilnius residents for too long, as they were much too preoccupied with other events that followed after the end of his life in the public eye: the party season began, the Krupp AG Company dirigible arrived, Count Drevinskis wife found him sharing a bed with another woman, St Petersburg gave the Alliance another ultimatum, following the Legionnaires attempts to introduce a curfew in Mirth City students went on a riot and the British Empire pledged military support to the cities of the Alliance. Only University big wigs and some old friends would occasionally remember the eminent man. The latter had believed they knew Nikodemas quite well; however, a strange flickering in the Professors eyes would cause anxiety to many of them. So the scientist had found a place for himself in Zverynas and was now pottering around a table, laid on the outside terrace, struggling to keep the sugar dish away from some curious ants. Zverynas residents soon realised that Tvardauskis was a recluse and accepted him as one of their own. The scientist would politely decline all invitations to a pint of beer, and never asked anyone over to his place. But the locals would not be too surprised to see his outdoor table laid for two, because they had seen the guest who would on occasion descend into Nikodemas garden straight from the sky. Following its cheerful wallow in the dust, the dog Mitekas was now comfortably sprawled out in the middle of the road. Hearing a buzzing sound, he opened one eye and was about to bark, but only gave a wide yawn before going back to his dogs dreams he was well acquainted with the source of this particular noise. As Dragon Flys fuel vessels were already empty, experienced pilot Jonas Basanavicius gracefully landed the glider in the usual spot a tiny clearing which was separated from

Nikodemas Pranas Tvardauskis house by flourishing shrubs of blooming wild roses with a swift wrangling of the ropes alone. With a gentle thud against the soft ground, Dragon Fly slid forward and was about to do a somersault, but the pilot jumped out of it like a flash, bore down on the tail of the apparatus with his whole weight, and calmed the machine. He pushed his goggles onto his forehead and started opening the vent valves in order to let the leftover steam out. Steam batteries for the journey back were prudently kept at Tvardauskis. You are late, Basanavicius heard a voice behind his back. You are not a bank, Nikodemas, to make me arrive exactly on the minute, the alchemist replied without bothering to turn around. I was held up at the Department. The Vice-Rector is demanding more detailed reports. And before I forget, he added, while trying to unhook his helmet strap. He wishes to know if you are not yet bored of this tires ome game, as well as your little toy construction job? The alchemist finally freed himself from his leather helmet, turned round and extended both hands to greet his old friend. And what did you tell him? grinned Nikodemas, shaking his confidants hands. I said that as soon as the doctors announce that the battle against your brain fever and aberration has been won, you would arrive back under the University flags to sing Vivat Academia. I dont like you when you are so serious, chuckled Tvardauskis. I neither have my portrait on a banknote , nor do I aspire to be liked by everyone, snapped Basanavicius. Then he smiled and stroked his bushy beard. You know, the University really cares about you, they miss you, he added sincerely. Its not me that they miss, they miss the foolish fame, retorted Nikodemas. And maybe they are just being polite, like someone who has finally ousted a nagging elder from their village, and is now enquiring about the date of his homecoming. Tell them not to bother. I have said my farewell to the Dominium for good and I am delighted with my wind-up soldiers. Which ones? Basanavicius asked in a hushed voice. The companions gave each other a meaningful glance. Nikodemas laughed. Lets not fuss about such petty things, he said. And even more so, with empty stomachs and dry throats. Lets go. Morta has done a great job in the kitchen today, I think you might be surprised. And you will have a chance to acquaint me with all the city gossip. Its like living in a foreign country here. Just... Nikodemas paused... make sure you watch under your feet, he warned. Basanavicius raised his eyebrows in surprise but followed his friend without a word. All of a sudden a small man emerged from the bushes and dashed in between the alchemists legs he was no more than 10 inches tall and lifted his legs in a peculiar way as he ran. What in Gods name! What was that? yelled Jonas Basanavicius. Nikodemas looked over his shoulder and chortled. Its Sauvaldas. Sauvaldas? repeated Basanavicius when the little dwarf had vanished in the wild rose bush again.

I have installed a solar battery on his shoulders and on account of that he can now run around all day long, explained Nikodemas. Compared to the power of the sun, everything else is a joke, including all the wrenches, clockwork, springs and even your steam. Sauvaldas is a child of the sun, do you understand? You have indeed gone mad, muttered Basanavicius, but his steps became more cautious and his eyes became riveted to the ground. The two friends stepped onto the outside terrace and made themselves comfortable at the table that had been laid earlier. A minute later, Nikodemas housekeeper Morta, a rounded middle-aged lady, carried in a few covered plates. A delicious smell wafted across immediately. Both men picked up their silverware and tucked into roast chicken with chanterelle sauce, carrots, broccoli and fried potatoes. Basanavicius had a feeling that Tvardauskis was about to tell him something important, but he didnt want to rush his friend. It started getting dark. Long shadows draped themselves over Tvardauskis garden. The headlights of a scheduled dirigible, travelling from Krakow and moving along the southwestern corridor, gleamed in the sky, and a ray sent from the navigation pole shot ahead to the Navigators Tower. The flying apparatus puttered away across the Neris River, in the direction of Viscigavas airship port. Then everything became still again. When the men were fully sated, the housekeeper cleared the table and brought in two oldfashioned gas lamps, which immediately became a magnet for night bugs. The woman fetched a teapot, a carafe with krupnikas16 and one shot glass for Nikodemas. She knew that to offer a stronger drink to the hosts friend would be futile, as he would decline it anyway. Nikodemas sat in silence for a while, contemplating the darkening sky. Basanavicius slowly stirred his tea with a teaspoon and waited. Finally, the recluse scientist drew the shot of krupnikas towards him, took a sip of his drink and looked at his guest. Mila is coming back to Vilnius, he murmured under his breath. The alchemist raised his head in surprise, stirred his tea for another minute, and raised the cup to his lips. Do you think that is wise, Nikodemas? Tvardauskis shrugged his shoulders. Of course not. But it is the fairest option. Why? queried Basanavicius. They promised that in Krakw she would be guarded from the Prague Vitamancers by the best of people and... They did guard her, but not enough, Tvardauskis interrupted. There was an accident, Jonas. One day the nuns travelled to the Church of St. Agnieszka in Miechw. Its about thirty versts away from Krakw. When they had gone into the church, a fire started. The door got stuck and five nuns burned alive, and although they managed to save the rest of them, the condition of several nuns remains serious. What about Mila? Mila... Tvardauskis gave a sad chuckle. Mila was her usual self. She wasnt in that church. She tricked the senior nuns and the guards, at the last minute sent another nun to cover for her and secretly took to the air and to Krakw looking for adventures. No one even
16

A traditional sweet alcoholic drink similar to a liqueur, based on grainspirit

noticed that she was gone. Mila is safe now under the protection of the Legionnaires. But it cant go on like this anymore. Basanavicius stared into the dark. In his minds eye he saw loops of fire, scurrying nuns and the door being battered by rescuers. Then an old painful memory flooded in Tvardauskis, Mila and he escaping to Constantinople and later to Varna, which then seemed to be such a safe haven, after killers acting on the orders of the Prague Vitamancers had carried out a night-time assault on them, causing a tragic fire. Those flames had robbed him of Gabriele Eleonora, and opened a wound in his heart that would never heal. You said the church door got stuck? I assume it wasnt an accident? he asked. Tvardauskis nodded his head. I see. We have kept her in hiding for a long time. But it seems that we are now dealing with a traitor who has been enticed by the promise of money, and possibly threatened. He waved his hand with an air of defeat. Theres nothing that we can do. While we try to get to the truth, the Vitamancers will come up with new ways to get Mila and find out her secret. Does that mean that we will hide her in Vilnius? Nikodemas Pranas Tvardauskis shook his head and gave a half smile. No. Enough hiding. Besides, you cant conceal her in Vilnius. The Vitamancers understand that the two of us are here and they might assume that Mila is with us. Let them think that. I will make the girl free. The Vilnius Vitamancers are weak, they are not even close to the Prague lodge with its new Master. Furthermore, we are not block-heads. This is our castle and the Vitamancers will have to work their fingers to the bone to get close to her. When is Mila arriving? On the next dirigible from Krakw. Tomorrow or the day after. The Legate of Vilnius Sidabras assured me that on the way to the airship port, Mila will be watched by Krakw Legionnaires, and on the dirigible, by one of our own. Sidabras will appoint the most trustworthy escort. Besides, what could happen in the air? Both men fell silent and sat for a long time, absorbed in their thoughts. All of a sudden a jarring noise startled them and made them jump in their seats. From the rose bush emerged Sauvaldas, who made a few clanking steps forward, then fell down onto his side with a dignified expression on his face.

Chapter IV Prague, five days earlier 16 04 1905 All of Prague was drowning. The rain torrented down on the city relentlessly, turning gravel into mud, dislodging cobblestones that counted hundreds of years behind them, and cascading down the streets in rapid streams. The citys sewer system had seen better times, so there were puddles everywhere. City residents circumvented them, too cautious to walk through they were afraid to get water in their galoshes, or even worse, to plunge in up to their waist. The elders of Prague watched the uniquely high waters of the Vltava with their eyes on stalks, and the city heads were engrossed in worried discussions on what should be saved first if the flood became as severe as the one that devastated Prague fifteen years ago. Only the golems guarding the city gate did not mind the rain at all. The giants held their impassive eyes to the horizon, and only when retiring from their post were they subjected to the hardship of pulling their feet out of the gooey mass of dirt. A black steam carriage with no signs of identification and tightly shut curtains barrelled through the cobble-stoned streets of Prague, splashing water everywhere and forcing the rare pedestrians to press themselves against the walls of buildings. An occasional bystander would throw an angry word after the carriage, but the driver, his head concealed beneath a leather helmet, was oblivious to anything but his task. Deep in concentration, he constantly adjusted the pressure in the steam boiler and watched the road ahead through goggles that covered the better half of his face; he steered mindfully, trying to avoid deep potholes, and would occasionally sound his horn at a silly dog or a pedestrian who had decided to cross the road at the wrong time. The passenger in the carriage was a youngish, lean and tall man with a sharp nose resembling a storks beak. He was half-lying on his seat, with his unusually long legs stretched out to make himself as comfortable as possible. It was Count Konrad von Wittgenstein, the Grand Master of the Prague Vitamancer Lodge and the master of the golems. He was also, according to vindictive, albeit cautious, wagging tongues, somewhat of a necromancer. He kept his eyes closed as he listened to the drumming of raindrops against the carriage roof and thought hard about whether he was doing the right thing. A long time ago, Vitamancers lodges were part of Alchemists guilds. The legendary XVI century magician Faustus, the prophet of the Middle Ages Nostradamus and even the Rabbi of Prague Loew ben Bezalel were creators of homunculi miniature fully-formed humans, and believed that Alchemy had the power to breathe life into them. In the eyes of their contemporaries these men were freaks, who lived alone, balancing on the brink of madness. Golems were also viewed with disapproval once. Those times were long gone, but the Vitamancers had not shut away in the dark corner of a cupboard the memories of their experience. After their separation from the Alchemists, and with a generous boost from the Rothschilds funds following the creation of the Alliance, the new Vitamancers became an immensely powerful organisation. They had lodges in all the free cities of the Alliance, as well as all major European cities, but their greatest influence and authority was felt in Prague the cradle of their existence. Here the Vitamancer Lodge was the de facto ruler of the city.

Since the Middle Ages, the Vitamancers had not only been wracking their brains about how to breathe life into their creations, but also how to instil in them the ability to think and make independent decisions. Following the creation of the Alliance with its free cities, Vitamancers all at once became extremely important. With the magic gas promethelium in its disposition, the Alliance was doing everything possible to make the Mechanics creations the automatons (the same artificial mechanisms that had been once created by God of metalwork Hephaestus) alive, bionic, sentient with even more extraordinary, purely breathtaking abilities. They could become soldiers swaying the outcome of the battle, workers inciting another industrial revolution, explorers not frightened of cold, darkness or hunger. Hence, the Vitamancers rolled up their sleeves and approached their pursuits with renewed vigour creating and experimenting, at times breaching the law, at times distancing themselves from their human nature, but always firmly believing that it would put the world at their feet. However, for reasons they could not comprehend, they never came close to the discoveries they craved, and failed experiments and monsters howling in savage voices were locked deep in the Prague Vitamancers cellars. The Grand Master of the Lodge found it hard to admit that the Vitamancers had arrived at a dead-end. Count Konrad von Wittgenstein gave out a wary laugh. Who could have thought that a sally would occur right in front of all of their noses, in the very heart of the Lodge? Here, in Prague. Five years ago, at a festive ball to mark the beginning of a New Year and a new century, he, then just an ordinary member of the Prague Vitamancer Lodge, by chance came across a young girl by the name of Mila, accompanied by several little toys automatons. They could think! They could behave any way they liked! It was so incredible that it knocked the Count off his feet. When he had finally come back to his senses, he relayed it all to the Grand Master, who began to act with no delay. Luring the girl into a trap with the help of some ridiculous promises seemed a simple task. But it later transpired that the girl was far from being a mooncalf. The Vitamancers were thrown off balance and in their confused state started making mistakes. The Count furrowed his eyebrows these were some unpleasant memories. The mistakes were grave and not to be forgiven. Firstly, the Vitamancers pursuing the girl had tried to kidnap her in Prague, but the girl managed to escape together with her two guardians who, as they found out later, were two of the Alliances leading scientists. A year later they found her in Constantinople and tried to snatch her from the carnival in the Sultans Palace, but yet again their efforts proved futile. Another year later she was spotted in Varna but the Vitamancers actions bore no fruit there either. The Vitamancers agents started a fire which had no purpose whatsoever, but took the life of the Alchemist Basanavicius wife, causing the Lodge to acquire a deadly enemy. And now again another pointless fire in the church near Krakw. As members of the Vitamancer Lodge still hadnt laid their hands on the girl, their patience started wearing thin. The Grand Master had to step down in fact, he disappeared without a trace and would never be found. When Konrad von Wittgenstein took over his predecessors chair, still warm from its last occupant, he felt baffled by his imbecility. And people say that only the most intelligent people can become Vitamancers. Coercion spawns coercion, action causes reaction. Count von Wittgenstein was able to read between the lines and had an ability to see through the most subtle of matters, therefore he promptly concluded that the girl must be under protection. Someone had blanketed her in an impassable protective shield which guarded her against any coercion. There is no such thing as chance. The Grand Master had no doubt that professional killers could competently corner the girl in some cul-de-sac, and suddenly lightning would strike, the earth would open

its mouth, a dirigible would crash or something else would happen and the girl would be able to flee once again. On the other hand, for the first time in many hundreds of years, the Vitamancers had seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and discovered the door that separated them from their dream. So Konrad von Wittgenstein swore to himself that he would find a way to get their hands on the girl. Even if he had to employ methods that other members of the Lodge were not very keen on. Even if he had to call for the assistance of his deadly enemies. The carriage stopped. The driver did not rush to open the door, but stayed on the box seat as he had been instructed. The Count smoothed down his plain black gown, the lower part of which was embellished with orange tongues of flame, put on a hood that both concealed his face and protected him from the rain, and got out of the carriage. He couldnt have wished for better weather it seemed that the rain had not only washed out the streets but also passersby and curious faces in the windows. Konrad frowned and pressed his nose with two fingers. The area that he stood in was far from the best in Prague and no one could have possibly dreamt of sewers here slops, the contents of chamber pots and rain water had all merged into a fast-flowing stream that was pouring down the street. The houses were not numbered but von Wittgenstein had had the address clearly described for him: it was between the butchers and a green house with boarded up windows. The Master strode across the puddles (his long legs came in very handy here). Next to the arch he noticed a wooden plate bearing an inscription Seamstress services. Sewing, mending, embroidering. He pulled a grim smile and walked through the arch, emerging into a large yard. Here he was met by a gang of famished and dripping cats there were tabby cats, black cats, piebald cats and even those who had once sported golden locks. The cats meowed in unison, welcoming the stranger. The thought crossed Konrad von Wittgensteins mind that the surrounding windows would soon be looming with the faces of snoopers, but the houses that encircled the yard on three sides remained silent. And the cats meowed only once, then all grouped into one pack and followed the intruder with their eyes, as he examined the house facades thoroughly. The Count stepped slowly towards one of the doors, or rather a black opening, and found himself in a hallway. The odour here was not much better than out on the street, the rotten stairs squeaked and openings in the walls on the first floor which had once contained windows were bricked up. As he climbed, he had no choice but to grope the walls for support. Anyone coming across this place unawares would have eyed him with disdain who on earth would come here to have their clothes made or mended or fitted in a place like this? But the Count knew what he was doing. As planned, the Grand Master climbed to the second floor, pulled the hood over his eyes, and gave a slight push at one of the doors. It wasnt locked. As soon as he stepped in, he was overwhelmed by a great urge to leave, as the most disgusting sweet stench inside coiled around his throat like a snake threatening to suffocate him; had he been outside, he could have run away but here he was trapped. The Count broke out in a sweat. Suddenly a light flashed and something moved in the corner. The Counts gaze fixed on a pile of rags. Look who the cat has just dragged in, a hoarse, senile voice sounded from underneath the rags. An unexpected guest, Id say! The Master blinked and his eyes immediately became used to the light coming from a large Crystal ball standing on the ground next to the bed. Yellowish tentacles of smoke laced

out from it like tendrils from a stick of incense, and began to advance towards Konrad von Wittgenstein. A Vitamancer? the voice croaked again. Say something, Vitamancer. How do you like my barrier, eh? A wrinkled hand slithered from under the rags and landed on top of the ball. It started to shine even brighter, and the smoke began to take on a tangible shape. The Master felt a lump in his throat. Well, there was no point in concealing himself any longer. The Count threw back his hood. The creature at the end of the room took a deep breath and sat on her bed. Well, well, the Grand Master himself? she sneered. I cant believe my eyes. The Master stared at the scraggy old woman with sunken cheeks and loose grey mousy hair. Her eyes reflected the light of the ball, which made them appear yellow and resemble the eyes of a cat. Several empty square and green absinthe bottles lay next to the bed. The room was half empty. Apart from the bed, there was also a small table, a chair and a sewing machine with rusty scissors placed on top of it. The old hag had never worked as a seamstress. She would have never told crinoline and crpe de chine apart, and ladies would have been scared stiff just at the thought of this creature touching them for a dress fitting. Despite all of this, all of Prague from noblewomen and affluent merchants to despicable disgraced drunkards flocked to the old hags place. The Black Seamstress was an ingenious fortune teller. And she hated the Vitamancers, who in the Middle Ages had drowned her associates in rivers and burned them on bonfires, called them frauds and lying oracles or, in other words, witches. With time, the persecuted oracles had perfected their skills, and it wasnt only the secrets of fortune telling that they would pass on to other generations: it was also the magical incantations that allowed them to build barriers, protecting them from undesirables. The Vitamancers knew about this, and none of them would have ever dared visit an oracle, and especially not to ask for help. But the Grand Master had been left with no option now. I havent done anything wicked, I havent broken any rules, hissed the old lady, ogling the intruder. Get out of here, Grand Master. And get your whole gang out unless you want to see what my barrier is capable of. Count stretched out his arms. I came alone, he murmured and a split second later croaked from the touch of invisible hands grasping at his throat. Oh thats fine then, the old lady said in a calm voice, and the invisible hands immediately retreated. A thought crossed the Masters mind that the ball was reacting to the old womans voice. She giggled. You want to hear your fortune? she asked, then rummaged through her rags and fished out a bottle that was half full. She threw back her head and took a large gulp. The Master gritted his teeth but kept quiet, and the ball flashed hesitantly. The old woman gave a loud burp, placed the bottle on the ground and pointed her finger at the visitor.

And what am I getting in return? The green sky, a rain of ale? I dont need anything, thank you very much, she went quiet. If you have come alone, Grand Master, alone you should leave, she added in a voice that had changed completely. It wasnt hoarse or croaking, but clear and ringing. I am the last of the oracles and I wont be easy pickings for you. Leave and do not come back. The glowing of the ball became sharper again, but the Master was not going to give up just like that. Take the gold and tell me the truth he pronounced the incantation dating back to the beginning of the world. He said it slowly but full of confidence. The old woman recoiled as if she had been struck with a whip and reached out for the bottle. You are shrewd, Grand Master, she said. You could have threatened me. Or taken me to your dungeons. You could have done many things. But you are shrewd, so you have not. She tilted her head and the bottle back and the green viscous liquid trickled down her chin. It was a strange kind of absinthe. The old hag thrust her trembling digit at the intruder again. Fine, Konrad von Wittgenstein, I will take your gold and tell you the truth. Without warning the ball stopped glowing, and the smoke dispersed. The Count cautiously inched forward, and took a purse containing money and a photo of a young girl from underneath his gown. He put everything on the little table next to the sewing machine. The Black Seamstress crawled languidly out of her bed, walked over to the machine with a bottle in her hand, and a sneer on her face for the visitor, and slumped down in the chair. She paid no heed to the purse. The Master backed towards the door. This is a Gritzner from Saxony, the old woman muttered to herself, strokin g the machine. Their logo is a spider on a web. A good, reliable company. As she talked, she pulled a knife with an intricately carved blade and an incredibly white kerchief from the drawer. She pushed the kerchief under the sewing needle and lifted Mila s photo to her eyes. Beautiful girl. But she is not for you, Vitamancer, concluded the Black Seamstress and chuckled at her own joke. She then set about her task. At first she guzzled down a swig of her potion, and then swiftly slashed at her raised wrist with the knife. Immediately, thick purple blood oozed out of the gash, large drops staining Milas photo, dripping over the edges and onto the white kerchief, soaking it all the way through. Konrad von Wittgenstein could swear he saw green dots sparkling in the blood. The seamstress licked the blood off her arm and poured some of the bottled green liquid over the wound; in front of his very eyes, the wound began to close up. She placed the photo on top of the kerchief, touched the balance wheel of the sewing machine with her fingers, closed her eyes and the machine came alive: the rattling needle jumped up and down crazily, and the white kerchief under it moved in all directions, as if alive. When the machine calmed down, the needle froze in one spot. The Black Seamstress still sat there for a while without a stir, then opened her eyes and rose unsteadily to her feet. She stared at the Master for a long time, eventually handing him the kerchief. Nothing much but a ball of perforated paper was left of the picture.

Search for the key to her heart, Vitamancer, said the old woman. Only with the key will you get the girl. She clutched the bottle, shuffled towards her bed, then turned to face the Count and added, I took your gold and told you the truth. So now you go away and never come back. Suddenly the ball was glowing brightly again and the snakes of smoke reached towards the Master. Clutching the kerchief in his hand, he started moving backwards towards the door. With the door open, he looked back at the old hag from the threshold. The protective barrier was now coming to full power, and the Master had to summon his entire reserves of strength, as if to lift a rock three times his weight. The old woman glared at him without blinking her yellow eyes. Konrad felt a tightness developing in his chest, and found himself short of breath. The air in the room was as poisonous as mercury vapour. With the help of his remaining powers, the Master pulled a long-barrelled pistol out from under his gown and aimed at the old woman. The snakes of smoke, like predators, coiled around his arm, but the man released a shot a second before he lost hold of the pistol. The old woman fell to her knees, the bottle slid out of her hand and rolled across the floor. The spell ended, the glow of the ball died, and the Master was able to take a deep breath. The oracle, gasping for air like a fish out of water, reached out for the bottle and tried to inundate her wound with the green liquid but a heavy boot kicked it out of her hand. The Master leaned over the old woman, cold-bloodedly fired another shot, then turned on his heel and, leaving the pouch of gold on the table, vanished from the Black Seamstress haunt. When out in the hallway he heard a strange lament, bursting with heartbreak, anger and rage. Anyone else would have run for their life, as the ghastly song could have torn any heart out, but the Grand Master of the Vitamancer Lodge Konrad von Wittgenstein strode outside calmly. From each and every crevice of the yard he was glared at by a multitude of cats. Their backs were arched, their fur was in disarray, their eyes gleamed with blood-thirsty flames and the odd lament-like caterwauling emanated from their mouths. As soon as the Master reached the yard, the lament turned into furious hissing, but cats did not dare to get closer to the man. It looked like the Master was surrounded by an invisible circle that was impenetrable for these creatures. Konrad von Wittgenstein concealed the pistol underneath his robe, pulled the hood over his eyes and, leaving the creatures to mourn their loss, slipped through the arch and into the street, where the carriage awaited him. To the Lodge! he ordered stepping into the carriage. Hurry. Immediately the driver increased the engine pressure, which was followed by a shrill hissing sound, and the carriage began to move. The carriage gradually gained speed and began to race through all the puddles, but the driver ignored this he was diligently carrying out his orders. The Masters eyes darted over the drawn curtains and then stopped on the kerchief. He felt lost he didnt know whether to be angry with himself or just laugh. By visiting the Black Seamstress he had not only risked his own life, but also his prestige. And the old hags prophecy appeared to be so banal. Two simple objects were embroidered on the blood-soaked kerchief a heart and a key. The key to the heart. Search for the key to the girls heart. Only with the key will you get the

girl. So she meant no coercion, no spells, no killings. Everything is as simple a s three hellers17 all they need to do is to win Milas heart. The Master threw the kerchief to the floor with disgust, made himself comfortable in his previous half-prone position and closed his eyes. He wasnt the type who tormented himself about the past or bemoaned previous mistakes. Whatever has been done cannot be changed, one needs to look ahead to the future. The time for a special web of intrigue had come. A short while later the carriage returned to the centre of Prague, drove round St Vitus Cathedral and rolled in through a vigilantly guarded gate set in a thick wall. Plastered in black and white, the walls looked as if they had been made out of tiny pyramids. This was the great Schwarzenberg Palace the headquarters of the Prague Vitamancers and a menacing place that local residents tried to avoid approaching at any cost. The symbol of the Vitamancers an orange phoenix with outstretched wings sat on the giant clock, while gargoyles perched on the surrounding roofs, spitting rain water from their distorted mouths. When Count Konrad got out of the carriage, he already had an idea of what to do. Get the opium-mirror den ready, he ordered his servants, who had humbly rushed to welcome him. I will need Vilnius Vitamancer Lodge... the Grand Master considered this for a moment. No, lets leave them in peace. I will need some help from our special friends the Fetches. Take care of the connection with London. The Count walked into the garderobe, removed his wet gown, undressed and wrapped himself in a soft Persian bathrobe. He then moved to the opium-mirror den, took a sip of the steaming hot bergamot tea that had been served for him a moment ago, and made himself comfortable on the soft bed. Thin threads of smoke started floating above his head. The last thought that crossed his mind before he drifted into alchemist opium dreams was, Love and intrigue. How romantic!

17

A term used for a coin valued at 1/100 of a koruna (crown).

Chapter V Sandhurst, England, three days previously 18 04 1905 Only outside of London was it possible to see signs that spring had finally sprung. The trees on the streets of the capital of the British Empire were always shrouded in the smoke coughed out by the sprawling East End factories, and one could hardly notice the leaf buds that had opened with considerable delay. Besides, living in a permanent rush, Londoners had no time to look at the trees, and they never stopped in Regents Park or St James Park trying to catch a whiff of hyacinths and anemones. Maybe only in summer, when the great city became exhausted from the heat, would it unbutton its white collars, remove its aprons, wipe away the sweat from foreheads with soot-stained hands, and finally allow itself to have a short break. Those who longed for the gifts of nature were carried by chugging trains to Kent, which was also known as the Garden of England; others took pleasure in the fresh sea breeze on the beaches of Brighton, while still others swarmed through the thick woods in the County of Surrey taking to the pleasure of hunting. Carriages travelling to the East (Oxford) and the North (Cambridge) were buzzing with students impatient to see the end of their exams, as well as romantic couples travelling to the Thames for punting. The great English river, still unblemished by the greasy touch of London, gently carried its waters through the picturesque little villages with their several-hundred-year-old pubs, tempting travellers in with the promise of dark ale and the shade of weeping willows. Even the hottest-tempered adventurer couldnt resist a leisurely stop here for one or two pints in beautiful surroundings. The Southeast Train Company service from London Charing Cross to Reading departed the station early in the morning. A group of young partygoers, travelling to their holiday destination, chattered boisterously in one of the carriages. They must have started their celebration as soon as they left London, as now their carousing was in full swing and they were roaring with laughter at jokes that they alone found funny. They were making so much noise that several couples and families with children could stand it no more and moved to a more peaceful carriage. But there was one passenger in the corner of the train who didnt seem bothered by this racket. He sat slouched in the corner with a black hat over his eyes, either trying to protect them from the morning sun glaring through the dirty window or possibly in an attempt to distance himself from the boisterous crowd. But in the varicoloured picture of spring the mans black hat and old fashioned black gown stood out like a sore thumb, and there was no chance that he would remain unnoticed for much longer. Hello Sir, you must be on your way to a funeral? enquired one of the pranksters with an expressive wink to his friends, after he had approached the man. And possibly to your own? interrupted the other youth. If so, then theres no need to hurry. The man with the hat slowly lifted his eyes. You may be right, replied the man under his breath, taking his hat off. His head was bald and smooth like a snooker ball.

The man sniffed at one of the jokers, and then at another. Their appetite for fooling around was gone as if with a wave of a hand. A boy who was about to open his mouth snapped it shut with such speed that his teeth clattered. And he suddenly felt dizzy as if falling from a great height. It seemed that the ground was soaring towards him at a terrible speed, and his neck appeared constrained as if wrapped in a thick hemp rope. The second clown grabbed his chest, where his heart was beating as fast as if it were about to leap up through his throat and out of his mouth. Both panic-stricken youths clutched their heads while their friends stared at them in disbelief, unable to comprehend what had happened to the two. The man in black clothes took a deep breath, contentedly reclined in the chair and shut his eyes yet again. He did not have a slightest interest in either the group of youths or the scenes flashing by outside his window; generally speaking, he did not care for the spring or the greenery, and would have dearly loved to stay in London, had the opium mirrors not delivered him the news about the disaster in Krakw and the new assignment he had to carry out. A person who has found himself in an unpleasant situation tends to go over the same things in his mind over and over again. He keeps asking himself, what would happen if?, what should I do next?, have I thought everything through?. However, the passenger on the train to Reading was not one of those people. He did admit, though, that the assignment was rather bizarre and the permitted means for carrying it out were rather unusual. But he had a purpose and an action plan and that was enough. He was calm. After puffing along for nearly forty miles outside London, the train pulled up at a plainlooking station. A smallish red-brick building bore the sign Blackwater. The man in black clothes stood up, walked along the carriage without even a glance at the subdued youngsters and got out of the train. A few dozen other people got out at the same time, making the smallish platform very crowded. People dragged boxes filled with tools, large hemp bags stuffed with God knows what and even cages filled with cackling geese. The town of Blackwater was unusually lively. Everyone in the area knew that Blackwater was getting ready for its annual fair, although visitors from outside might have not been expecting it. Poles were decorated with ribbons that fluttered in the wind, carpenters hammered away adding the finishing touches to the traders pavilions, cattle being led from place to place mooed loudly. Groups of children flocked around the steam merry-go-round gyrating in the central town square, the shooting range owner was checking his guns nearby, and a few steps beyond loitered the multicoloured tents of a travelling gypsy circus. The bald man scanned the amusements of the fair, showing no particular curiosity, for he was after something else. He spotted a green wooden two-storey building bearing the sign Pig & Whistle. Pub & Inn, and strolled over to it. He entered the pub, removed his hat and approached a long table, at which lazed a young serving girl, whose apron had seen better times. I need a room, he muttered and looked over his shoulder to inspect the half-empty hall. The great drinking hour had not started yet. The girl glanced at him with a clear lack of interest. You jest? she responded. Its the fair, the last room was booked a few weeks ago. She was about to turn her back on him, then suddenly almost screamed as a vice-like grip seized her elbow. The touch was cold and the fingers were like iron. I need a room, repeated the man in a calm voice.

His bald head shone in the light of a lantern, his eyes piercing the servant. Eh eh... yes, of course. The girl rummaged under the table and pulled out a small brass key for a room that had been saved for a well-known cattle buyer, arriving tomorrow. Here you go, she said, handing him the key. Third room on the first floor, Mr... Fetch18, the bald man snapped, following a moments deliberation. Here you are, Mr Fetch, repeated the servant like a parrot. Shall I prepare supper? The man shook his head. Dont bother. Past Blackwater the road became wider and meandered through a sea of heather, which looked somewhat threatening in the evening dusk; it resembled the grim Yorkshire Moors in the North more than the scenery of the South of England. In the distance, behind the fields of heather, loomed black woods. The road wound over the cheerfully babbling Blackwater river, where on a small bridge a surprise awaited travellers at the first sign of someone approaching, a hefty man clad in military uniform would pounce out of the booth and politely but sternly enquire about the travellers destination and the purpose of his travels, as strangers in these parts of the world were not welcome. And then the road plunged into a forest clearing and ended at a large gate where several guards were stationed. Beyond the gate opened a narrow gravel path lined with rhododendrons. It twisted towards a wooden bridge, which served as a link between two small lakes overgrown with trees the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake and then, after one or two more twists, finished up at a long and ugly twostorey stone house. The place was called Sandhurst. It was home to the Royal Military Academy, the alma mater of the British Empires Army officers. While a clear spring sky spanned above this unattractive building, the rays of the sun peeked curiously through a window into a smallish classroom, where Edward OBraitis, a cadet in his last term at the Academy, now stood to attention in front of the Examiners Committee. He was wearing full dress uniform with a white and blue epaulette the sign of a cadet his well-polished uniform buttons shining like diamonds. And I am genuinely convinced that such reforms are of utmost importance to His Majestys Army, Edward OBraitis said at the conclusion of his speech and, having straightened his shoulders, clicked his heels together. The grey-haired chairman of the Examination Committee, General Joseph Joffrey, narrowed his eyes as if blinded by the sun. Mh hmm, he cleared his throat and turned to the chief curator of studies, Major Stan McDermott, who sat next to him dressed in a perfectly fitting uniform. Some peculiar trends you have here at Sandhurst, he said with a wry smile. Genuinely convinced... reforms are of utmost importance. Where is this leading us? Next thing well see your caretaker lecturing royal engineers on the construction of military dirigibles. The chief curator pressed his lips tightly together and glowered at cadet OBraitis. General Joffrey was not finished yet.

In Irish folklore supernatural double or apparition of a living person. His sighting after sunset is a portent of looming death; before sunset, an omen of something unpleasant.
18

You cram all sorts of rubbish into their heads: geometry, topology, alchemy, the German language God forbid. And what about respect for authority? What about modesty? Discipline? Thats the way to breed all these reformers. The Generals ire grew, and the faces of the three Committee members turned more and more gloomy In my student days Sandhurst was nothing like this disgraceful muddle. He turned round to his adjutant, who standing behind him. Percy, he addressed the man, who immediately edged forward in expectation of a command. Do you know what I saw at the canteen today? A poster for a play! And the birdbrain cadets as well as their officers will be gurning and grimacing in the play! A circus at Sandhurst! How is that possible?! By now it had become unclear who was being examined OBraitis or his teachers, the Committee members. Eventually they were pulled out of this awkward situation by cadet Edward. Do the honourable sirs have any more questions for me? he enquired with a loud click of his heels. McDermott shook his head and waved his hand, as if to say, Stop bothering us, cadet. OBraitis saluted, turned on his heel and marched out of the classroom. When he reached a long hallway, he thrust his fingers inside his collar and yanked it roughly, nearly causing the metal buttons to fly out. He then breathed deeply and took his head in his hands. A gentle breeze wafted through the open windows, but Edward felt that he was not getting enough air. He almost ran to the stairs, hurried down and walked out into the Academys courtyard. From here you could proceed to the red brick Christ Church, surrounded by a leafy green garden, which was not only pleasing to the eye but also helped one to keep ones composure, as right behind it the stables and the riding field began, and further down the shooting range, where, accompanied by the yells of their anxious instructors, cadets sharpened their skills in the firing of rifles and revolvers. However, today, on the orders of the Academys head, tranquillity drifted over the whole area it was the day of final examinations and the last day of the academic year, and therefore no one had the right to break the calm. The younger cadets were scattered around their rooms, others were revising their notes in Sandhurst Park or, with their heads put together in an isolated corner, speculating as to how to trick the guards and sneak out to the annual Blackwater Fair, which was starting in the evening, while escaping punishment. The cadets were strictly banned from visiting the Fair, particularly following the scandal two years ago, when they had lost a game and accused the Wheel of Fortunes owner of cheating, thrown him in the river and instigated a brawl. Edward OBraitis was not interested in the Fair. He walked over to the church garden, found himself a lonely bench, sat down and lost himself in thought. On the outside this blueeyed cadet looked as if he was born to wear army uniform: he was tall, well-built, and looked people in the eye when addressing them. But at Sandhurst OBraitis was like a black sheep, as he didnt aspire to and didnt really know how to be a leader. Instead of giving orders, he tried to persuade people, and many of them found such behaviour odd. In three long years of studies instructors had failed to make him give up his stubborn inclination to fight for his opinion, instead of submitting to military discipline and strictly adhering to the hierarchy. Edward did not enjoy popularity among his fellow cadets either he studied too hard and took part in students festivities too rarely. Edward wasnt a whistleblower he never told on his fellow students who escaped for a cigarette to the Devils Pound Grotto on the outskirts of Sandhurst, or wandered around Blackwater Town at night but he himself would never get involved in anything like that. He spent his spare time at the stables chatting to the horses or

polishing his skills at the shooting range. But Edward fundamental fault in the eyes of his schoolmates was the fact that he wasnt English. Edward OBraitis parents were born in Lithuania. His father Petras Abraitis together with his wife Sofia moved to London when their son was barely three. Both parents found employment in an old peoples home an intermediate stop for humans on their way to the heavens. His mother cared for critical patients and his father, once an engine driver in Lithuania, found a job as a stoker. The boy grew up to be a handsome man, he was talented and fluent in English, but having been witness to the debilitating suffering of aging people, he was reserved and never took up with anyone. In an attempt to mix with strangers, he joined the Royal Military Academy. Prior to 1871, life at the Academy was no bed of roses. Fortunately for OBraitis, this year was a turning point for the British Army, as a ban was introduced on the purchasing of military ranks and positions. Had it not been banned, the best that OBraitis could have hoped for was the rank of corporal or sergeant and a job in some insignificant battalion of the ground forces. But being the Academys number one student, he dreamt of the Royal Air Force and dirigibles, biplanes, zeppelins, corvettes and raiders. He passed his theory examinations in Military Topography, Military Law, Administration, Foreign Languages and other subjects with flying colours, and his shooting and horse riding skills were superior to those of his fellow cadets. Besides, he was in great physical shape and a brilliant artilleryman. Nearly all the instructors were of the opinion that OBraitis was an obvious candidate for the Queen Victoria Medal, which was awarded to the most academically brilliant student, and could expect an appointment to the top air force position available for a newly graduated cadet of the Academy. I hope I havent blown it completely, Edward thought. I would not be at all surprised, a voice sounded somewhere very close, and Edward realised he had spoken the last thought aloud. Sandhurst cadets were well trained so when OBraitis was caught unawares, he didnt flinch and only turned his head to the speaker who, without any more talk, lowered himself on the bench next to him. Yes, William, rejoice, you are right again, mumbled Edward. Yes I am, replied William Dalvell, a short chubby cadet with incredibly white skin and an Adams apple of imposing proportions. Of course, I am right because you never listen to me. And you know the difference between the two of us? I am only right when its convenient for me. While you always want to be the cleverest of all and impose your opinion as if it were the most valuable one. You may be McDermotts favourite but you couldnt have hoped to impress the old fart General Joffrey with your brash speech? I am beginning to think that you, dear fellow, have a serious mental condition and will end your days at St Andrews Psychiatric Clinic. William picked a handful of prunes out of his pocket and started munching on them, spitting the stones out on the grass. Edward looked at the youth with no resentment. One could say that Dalvell was his only friend in Sandhurst. Besides, he was telling the truth, however unpleasant it was. Edward turned his eyes toward the church tower and scratched the back of his head. I didnt expect General Joffrey to be on the Committee, he said at last. William sneered.

So maybe he dropped down out of a clear blue sky? Or maybe he appeared in the classroom like HG Wells Invisible man in the middle of your speech? William chewed another prune, then turned his head to Edward and poked him in the chest. My dear friend, you saw him before the exam. And you were well aware who he was. All you had to do was answer your question and praise King Edward, the British Empire, her invincible army, fearless officers, and be on your way out with a round of applause. But Edward OBraitis cant keep things simple. He must voice his opinion. You see, the thing is he will personally reform the British Army and will win the lonely wars in Crimea, Zabulistan, Burma and anywhere else that he is sent to. I am telling you, St Andrews loony bin is looking forward to checking you in. Edward went quiet, narrowing his eyes slightly, which made William realise that he had gone overboard, causing his friend pain. Dont be cross, he murmured. Hopefully the old man will just stir the waters for a while and then relax. You have such high marks that you dont have to worry about your future. However, you would surely fail the keeping-your-mouth-shut exam. And you are an indisputable leader in the subject of comforting your friends, Edward said and then smiled. Whatever happens, we will find out about it at the ceremony tomorrow. William gave his buddy a playful punch and winked at him. And tonight Blackwater and Kapners plum pie the most scrumptious pie in England cant wait to meet us. The last examination is behind us and theoretically we are no longer cadets. We might not be in theory but in practice we still are until 11:00 am tomorrow, Edward remarked and got up. Of course, you are welcome to risk it, but I have enough trouble as it is. I will make my way to the shooting range, Captain Parker promised to show me a new three-barrelled Lee-Metford. Oh dear, Edward OBraitis is trying to avoid trouble? William sneered. You are on the road to improvement, chum. But William was wrong. Trouble was lying in wait for OBraitis just a few steps away. As soon as he was out of the garden, he was approached by a group of fellow cadets. Look whos here the great reformer, Englands hope and blabbermouth himself, chirped Charles Finley. Three of his friends, who were standing behind him, roared with laughter. Sandhurst was as leaky as a sieve, and gossip here spread faster than bullets from a triplebarrelled rifle, while snitching had become a trade, as retired officers working at the Academy added to their salary by allowing cadets in dire straits to pay their way out. Hence OBraitis wasnt surprised to hear that news about General Joffreys disapproval had now reached Finleys ears. Disagreement between the two cadets started in their first days at the Academy. Charles Finley, the offspring of well-off aristocrats, lacked talent but was not bothered about it all. Instead he teamed up with a gang of bullies like himself, and enjoyed his life while ruthlessly destroying the lives of other cadets. The Aces (thats what the pack called themselves) should have been kicked out of the Academy long time ago, but every time, Finley bought them out with little effort. Besides, his parents did all they could to make him stay and hoped for a very comfortable position in the future.

Edward could have also formed a group of his followers to carry out a counterattack but it wasnt for him. And in this case he just scowled at the pranksters and departed without a word. When evening came, Charles Finley and his Aces were gulping beer in Blackwaters Pig & Whistle. The seven men sat at a long wooden table in the dim hall, bellowing out a song. We are the great cadets, as strong as an old oak tree, I think everyone will agree. Hello, how is your day? And now please be so good As to get out of my way. The Aces yelled the last line at the top of their lungs, finished their pints bottoms up and started banging them on the table demanding more beer. Hot young blood craved adventure, so one of the men, Frank, leaned swayingly towards the gang leader with the proposal to race to the town square for some festive fun. Charles, isnt this the right time for mugging someone? he asked, turning his head towards his accomplice. Suddenly his mouth snapped shut with surprise. Hey, did anyone see Charles? Where has he gone? He must have chased off after some skirt, retorted another youth, who then gave out a boisterous laugh and yelled, Hell, is someone going to bring more beer! At that hour Charles Finley was sitting in the darkest corner of the pub at a wooden table for four people and glaring at a stranger in a black gown and a hat. You mean you are the person that my parents have told me about? asked Finley with a silly grin. Their telegram said that you could help me. That you do magic. The stranger tilted his head sideways. It depends on what type of magic you require, he said in a husky voice. Charles slammed his open palm on the table, making a loud noise. But you are fast. You raced here against time. How much have my old people promised you? The man in black did not bother to answer. He just glared at Charles with great intent as if wishing to memorise every tiny detail of his face. Have you got a name, Sir? he challenged him. I dont like dealing with people without names. You can call me Fetch, the man replied. Finley burst out laughing. Good one, Mr Ghost, he said. Fine, I will tell you what type of a miracle I would like. I want money and I want glory. I want an appointment at the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The man in black kept glaring at the cadet. Yes, he uttered at last. Out of nowhere, Charles Finley felt shivers down his spine.

But did my parents mention that at the Academy I am...err err... not really doing well, my marks are not... he hesitated, but was soon cut short by the man who had called himself Fetch. Lets go, I will walk you back, there was a cold tinge in his voice as he got up from the chair. We can talk on the way. No one knew how it happened that the discourteous bully Finley obeyed this man without a moments hesitation and followed him outside the pub without even a farewell to his associates. It seemed to him that someone was pulling him by a string and he was powerless. Before long, the lights of Blackwater had been left far behind, and darkness enfolded them. The wind grew stronger and a wet fog emerging from a little brook coiled around their legs. Finley, following Fetch across the moors, started to feel apprehensive. He slowed down and quickly scanned the area, trying to locate a stick; he regretted not taking a pistol with him, but Academy rules didnt allow it. Mr Fetch, you dont need to walk me any further, he stammered finally, trying to suppress a trembling in his voice. And as regards the money... Mr Finley, a voice whispered right next to the youths ear causing the cadet to shudder, as Fetch wasnt beside him, he was walking a few steps ahead. Dont worry about the price, dont worry about anything. Great, Finley mumbled and stopped. I am all yours then. The Fetch also stopped and turned around. He walked over to the cadet and extended both hands to say goodbye. Charles took them into his own cheerfully and... Charles worst childhood nightmare was an outing in the woods on a quiet summer day. While his Mama together with the governess and his younger sisters were laying out the picnic blanket and preparing snacks, Charles set off to explore the area. He sat down on the ground, rested his back against a large tree and dreamily watched the clouds float by. When he turned to one side and placed his hand on the ground for support, it touched something sickly warm and slimy. The shocked boy looked at his hand and started screaming. These were the rotten remains of a dead mole whose life had ended some time ago. Young Finley kept rubbing and washing his hands, but the sickly feeling just wouldnt go away. And now the same sensation was coming back to him. But the retching feeling was much more pronounced, as if he had thrust his head right in the middle of the moles decomposed body. Charles, overtaken by horror, wanted to tear himself away from the man but his hands were locked stiff as if in chains. The Fetch pulled him closer, whispering You are all ours now, and parted Finleys lips with a big wet kiss. Sandhurst had changed overnight. Stillness the dominant feature of the Academys yard yesterday was replaced this early morning with gardeners, florists, horse handlers, sweepers and cleaners running around. After breakfast, the younger cadets also turned to work some found their instruments and gathered for rehearsals, others made their way to Christ Church to offer assistance to the new chaplain, who had to deal with his first farewell banquet at the Academy. The freshers had to face the most unpleasant jobs cleaning the stables and

helping the cooks. But not a single cadet complained and there was a celebratory spirit in the air. Having finished his breakfast, Edward OBraitis went outside and took a deep breath. The air smelled of damp and rhododendrons. The lad stretched his limbs and, trying not to interfere with the orderlies and weaving his way around potted plants, trotted away along a gravel path. He had an exceptionally good sleep last night as his nerves had been successfully calmed by a book and linden tea with honey, and especially by Williams evening visit. William had brought a flask of good cognac and some brilliant news: the old Joffrey had softened up and the Queen Victoria Medal the honour for the best cadet would certainly go to him, Edward OBraitis. It was Edward last morning run and he picked the longest route, wishing to vi sit all the places that he had come to love in his three years of studies. He still had enough time until the trumpet announced the start of the celebration, so he wasnt in a rush. Todays daily routine was different. Honoured guests were expected to arrive by midday. The celebration was scheduled to commence with the decoration of the best cadet and a short concert, and was to be followed by the announcement of job appointments in the Great Hall. Then there was a gala dinner and the Royal Air Force Farnborough Wing show. Farnborough and Sandhurst were separated by a few miles, albeit united by a friendly relationship. On numerous occasions the commanders of other Army forces had voiced their discontent about the Royal Military Academys best cadets requesting the company of the Air Force hotspurs, rather than calling on the reliable artillery, land forces or military engineers, but the commanders of the Air Corps would just quietly smile to themselves and encourage the squadron aces to put together a truly astounding programme, thus embellishing the farewell banquet. That was the end of the celebrations. Having received their appointments, cadets had to report to their place of service as soon as possible, so by the end of the day, a file of hired horsedrawn carriages, filled with Academy graduates, would be leaving the yard and heading towards Blackwater or another nearby train station. When Edward came back, he headed for the showers. In the doorway he bumped into Charles Finley, which made him furrow his eyebrows he wasnt ready to be put in low spirits so early in the morning. Finley looked as if he had spent the whole night partying at Pig & Whistle: with dark circles under his eyes, a puffy face and drawn lips. He was obviously hungover. Edward was waiting for a stupid remark but all of a sudden Finley beamed a big smile and put out his hand. Good morning, Edward! he greeted. Have you heard the rumours about you and the great Queen Victoria Medal? he chirped as if he were talking to his best chum. Its a shame you couldnt make it to the pub yesterday you could have celebrated the medal with your friends and a few drinks. Although on the other hand, I feel as if theres a 21-gun salute going off in my head. He scrunched up his face and rubbed his forehead. OBraitis listened to Charles Finleys sweet talk in bewilderment, not understanding what was going on. The Aces leader patted his shoulder and added: Keep going, brother. Dont forget, we are your friends. He winked to Edward and scurried away, a faint smell of flat beer, dental powder and God knows what else trailing behind him.

Closer to midday Sandhurst became packed with carriages transferring guests from various train stations. Soon everyone gathered in the square across from the Royal Military Academy and sat around the tables, while the cadet choir stood in formation on the staircase. It was a sunny day with birds singing in the trees, and the guests, the Commander of the Royal Air Corps among them, were deep in lively conversation. Suddenly, the shrill sound of a trumpet announced the beginning of the farewell celebration, making everyone hush. A moment later, the cadet choir entertained the guests by singing two beautiful songs about the homeland and love. Then Major Stan McDermott, Senior Curator of Studies, gave a welcoming speech. When he had finished, the grey-haired General Joseph Joffrey, chairman of the Examinations Committee, stepped forward and formally announced that the best cadet would now be decorated with the Queen Victoria Medal. The Generals eyes swept the audience and he smiled. I invite... he made a deliberate pause ...Cadet Edward OBraitis to collect his wellearned prize! When the official part was over, Edward felt he was floating in the clouds, proudly showing off the Queen Victoria Medal sparkling on his chest, and gleefully accepting the congratulatory words of his friends, whose ranks had now significantly increased. Charles Finley was among the first to shake his hand. A few of his associates, even though somewhat unwillingly, followed suit. Edward friend William, who was walking beside him, was about to question him, but the best cadet of the Royal Military Academy OBraitis waved off the enquiry. He had no idea what was going on, but had no desire to investigate it. Now cadets filed into the Great Hall locked in heated discussion and speculation regarding their service appointments. The Royal Military Academy supplied officers to the whole of the British Army and Air Force, although not the Royal Navy. In three years of studies the staff would assess the students skills and talents and would match these with the academic subjects and practical training. Therefore, most cadets had a fairly clear idea whether they would eventually end up in either of the Land Forces, the Royal Engineers Fleet, the Royal Artillery or the Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, only a few lucky ones, those with good connections or influential parents, knew exactly where they were going. The purchasing of military ranks and positions had been banned but the habit of a few hundred years was tenacious and not so easy to root out. At the Academy the leader of the rascals Charles Finley was considered to be the biggest slacker of all, but his parents had money and connections. While Edward OBraitis, whose dream was the Royal Air Force, was the best Academys student with neither of these assets. The cadets couldnt wait to find out what life had in store for both of these youths. Cadets, stand! Attention! the voice of the lieutenant instructor resonated in the Great Hall, making one hundred and twenty seven cadets, who had been sitting on chairs, jump up, become statue still and pay their respects to the leaders, teachers and other guests of the Academy, who were entering the Hall at that moment, for the last time. Following a short pause, which gave time for the cadets to sit back on their chairs and those who had just entered to make themselves comfortable, Major McDermott stepped forward, took one of the folders from the desk, opened it and announced in a crisp voice: I call cadet Edward OBraitis. Edward got up and saluted. Cadet Edward OBraitis, Sir, he reported.

Cadet, you have applies for service in the Royal Air Force? McDermott asked. I certainly did, Sir. Major McDermott hesitated for a while. The hall went dead quiet. Very well, cadet, responded Major. Your request has been granted. You are being appointed to the position of an adjutant on the corvette-type dirigible The Star of St George. Its mission: the protection and maintenance of public order in the Alliance City of Vilnius. Your leave has been cancelled. You are to report to Farnborough airfield by tomorrow lunchtime. Any questions, cadet? Edward only gasped and shook his head, gave a salute and collapsed in his chair. He fought back a strong urge to take his head in his hands. He had been expecting a position in Britain or, even better, in some hot spot of the world but now he was being put in some hole to guard a Britain-friendly Alliance city. What was even worse, it was in the country that his parents had once fled. Some hapless good-for-nothing with nothing to recommend him was maybe worthy of such a fate, but not the best student of the Academy with the Queen Victoria Medal on his chest. General Joffrey nodded his head almost imperceptibly and gave a half smile. Edward sat aiming a sullen stare fixedly at the floor, while other cadets whose academic performance had been much inferior to his were reaping much superior jobs. I call cadet Charles Finley Junior, Major McDermott announced. Shaking his thoughts off, OBraitis looked up. He noticed his fellow students go very quiet. Everyone knew that Finley had been dreaming about the regiments of the Royal Cavalry. The lords at the top of it gave much more weight to the cadets origin and money than tactical skills. Hence the Cavalry was the ambition of all aristocratic offspring. Cadet Charles Finley Junior, reported the rascal leader. Since the morning his appearance has improved, but the circles under his eyes were still dark and his eyes were bleary. Major McDermott thrust his nose into the file and furrowed his eyebrows. He scanned the papers several times, as if trying to convince himself that he really had correctly understood what was in them, and then lifted his eyes and looked Finley, standing at attention, up and down. Cadet, you have applied for service in the Royal Air Force? I certainly did, Sir. A wave of whispers rolled across the hall, But wait a minute, what about the Cavalry? Cadet, your request... McDermott cast a glance at the paper again, ... has been granted. You are being appointed to a position of the second adjutant on corvette-type dirigible The Star of St George. Its mission: the protection and maintenance of public order in the Alliance City of Vilnius. Your leave has been cancelled. You are to report to Farnborough airfield by tomorrow lunchtime. Any questions, cadet? No, Sir, replied Finley in a happy voice, then saluted and sat down. McDermott frowned as if still finding it hard to believe what he had just read, then hesitantly picked up another folder.

As soon as the graduates the newly appointed servicemen and their belongings left the Academy yard, the men pulled out the fragrant cigars they had been saving for this special occasion, and smoked them, their eyes blinking slowly with delight. This type of pleasure was strictly prohibited in Sandhurst. The only place where cadets puffed on their cigars without risking being caught was the Devils Pound Grotto on the outskirts of Sandhurst. Supervisors were not frequent visitors to those parts, and even if they did wander as far as the Grotto, cadets had enough time to pull out their textbooks and pretend to be reading. Just like that, following the graduation ceremony, two second-year students showed up at one of the grottos to have a few smokes and share the news of the day. Many were surprised by Edward OBraitis ill fate, but the thing that surprised everyone most was Charles Finleys appointment to the Air Force, and especially the fact that he had been sent to the same dirigible where OBraitis was to serve. Had these second year students gone as far as the deep end of the grotto and for some reason decided to scatter the carefully piled up rocks, they would have been in for a shock, for the rocks hid a corpse. But even if they had found the body, they would have hardly recognised it as the remains of cadet Charles Finley Junior.

Chapter VI Someplace near Trakai 20 04 1905 A man lay on the ground, a pool of blood slowly spreading out around his head. Slimy louse! Hes knocked himself out. Stepas Rickus regarded the rather large rock that was lying beside the poor soul, spat and hitched up his trousers. He did not wear a belt, and the trousers that Rickus had appropriated from one unfortunate merchant and then decorated with metal skull-shaped brooches were way too large for him. He had to pull them up constantly to prevent them from slipping off. Hes knocked himself out, confirmed Zaremba, who was kneeling down with his ear against the prone mans chest, before getting up and rubbing his soiled knees. Preceding his addiction to opium, this man had worked as a paramedic in Kaunas, and it paved the way for his current important position as the Rickus gang medic. Hes knocked himself dead. Ahh you serpent, serpent, mumbled Rickus. Didnt I make it clear: one, two, three, then pull the rope and the wind-catcher folds out. Why on earth did this tramp hesitate? The dead body was now surrounded by other gang members. Some of them were limping as a result of the rough landing. He was from the Lowlands, interrupted Jokubas. Maybe his counting was too slow and he hadnt got to three by the time the sheet unfolded. Jokubas was a recent addition to the gang and spoke in a medley of several languages, at times making it difficult to follow his train of thought. Even Rickus would ask him to repeat what he meant. Nevertheless, Jokubas was a real crack shot and so everyone got used to this strange bird in no time at all. Maybe the wind-catcher was faulty? butted in Chechka, who was bald with the back of his head dotted with brown blotches, resembling a sweaty quails egg. Rickus gave his buddy a cross look. Chechka was always the first to crap his pants as soon as something happened and was always finding fault with everything. Keep your trap shut, Chechka, yelled Rickus, as he was the one taking care of wind catcher procurement. These are first class wind-catchers. Untulis, my dear friend since our days in the army, would never sell you rubbish. Kuzavas must have had issues with numeracy, so its his own tough luck. Rickus looked around and pointed his finger at several men. Now you, you, you and you get in the air basket for the second jump. And try not to knock yourself down like the other one did. He jerked his head at their former associate, now lying in a pool of blood. And you Chechka, take care of the corpse. And how do I take care of him? gaped Chechka. Whichever way you like, snapped Rickus. Put him in the ground, drown, burn, feed to the pigs. Or maybe you would prefer getting yourself in the basket, you slimy louse? Chechka had been preparing to object but his boss last words made him shut up so fast that it made his teeth rattle. He squinted at the dead body and shuffled to the village to look

for a spade. The foursome selected by Rickus trudged warily over to the air basket, which was swinging in the wind. Rickus looked around. The seven men had arrived in a large air basket, which had landed on a grassy hill near the village of Buda. The area was renowned for its natural beauty in the distance opened up the expansive Galve Lake with an island and old castle ruins; on the left, next to the stone building of an estate, cowered a few village huts; and beyond loomed a deep dark forest, gigantic cumulus clouds floating in the sky above it. But the beauty of nature was not enough to raise Rickus spirits. Things are not good, he thought, not letting the men out of his sight. If it goes on like this, we might be on the brink of a mutiny. Hed been unable to shake this apprehensive feeling since that unfortunate meeting in the Lowlands, in the old Uzventis town inn. Ive got some serious work, Veksleris, a slimy Jew who never refused to shelter stolen goods and always settled his accounts right away, had whispered to Rickus. You know me, I wouldnt talk about it if it was not serious, he assured. And the money is good. Stepas Rickus, captain of the dirigible The Broom, was proud of his robbers reputation and his nickname of air pirate, which had been assigned to him by the quill drivers. However, dropping bombs from the air on top of carriages moving below was one thing, but carrying through the request of a revolting man, who was introduced to him by the Jew Veksleris as Mr Fetch Senior, was a different kettle of fish altogether. Right from the start, Rickus hated the mans guts. He was bald, with eyes as black as marshwater, and was dressed in a black gown made from top quality drap. It was obvious that he wasnt local. That time in Uzventis Inn, Veksleris had barely had a moment to introduce the character, when he flashed his eyes at the Jew and made him disappear. Rickus felt like rejecting the deal and quickly slamming the inn door behind him, but then the stranger tossed a rather large pouch across the table, and it was full of gold roubles. This is the advance, he murmured. When you complete the job, youll get five times that. Rickus let out a whistle of surprise. Somewhere like Brazil, that much lucre would have paved the way to becoming a respectable public figure. Or would have paid for a decent, even if not brand new, dirigible and the chance to really make a name for himself. A stranger could have regarded Stepas Rickus as a clumsy and simpleminded character, but in reality this man was just the opposite a true Lowlandian with a gut feeling as strong as that of a wild animal. He held firm to his principle: a clear boundary between his and other peoples business. Among his clients, whom he would happily rip off for their belongings, he counted merchants, local shops, members of minor gentry lost in the woods or some well-off chump who had taken to the air at the wrong time. However, the colossal passenger dirigibles of the Alliance were forbidden territory for him and his accomplices. Its possible that there are rich passengers on board there, but let them go their way and well go ours, he would tell his partners. Besides, Stepas Rickus had more work than he could handle. He had never had any interest in politics but he did have a hunch about the place of work of the gentleman with slicked-back hair who had offered a very handsome reward in return for planting a bomb on the RevalVilnius train, or in fact, about any other client. Such matters reeked of the German Kaiser or the Tsar, the Father of Russia, and Rickus would never take on jobs like these. However, this case was different. A small fortune was being offered. Furthermore, the man in the black gown made sure Rickus understood that refusing the offer wasnt an option. No, the man didnt threaten him, but it was a feeling that Rickus had. So now he was facing a very unpleasant challenge: having taken to the air in The

Broom, they were to land on top of the Alliances dirigible with the help of wind -catchers, then eliminate the guards and kidnap a person. My people cant really jump with wind-catchers, Rickus made a feeble attempt to get out of the deal. Tell them to get in the air basket and practice, the bald man retorted dryly. He then sneered and added, The more of your helpers miss the dirigible, the fewer sharers of the reward there will be. Rickus sighed. He thought of Kuzavas, who didnt need gold roubles anymore. But if someone else fell to their death, he would not escape a mutiny and then nothing, not even roubles, would be able to help him. Rickus pulled up his trousers and went over to check if the second team had already got into the air basket. He hoped that every man would count to three and pull the wind-catcher out at the right time. They didnt have much time for practice the object of their assault, the passenger dirigible from Krakw, was scheduled to travel through these parts three days later.

Chapter VII Vilnius, morning 22 04 1905 Dont hurt me, honourable pirate, you can ask me anything you want, and my parents will fulfil your every wish, a young maiden begged him. But the vicious pirate only bellowed out an evil laugh. I dont need your parents fortune, young maiden, all I need is you! he yelled. Even before the girls brothers had time to lift their rifles, the horrid pirate grabbed the girl in his arms and jumped out of the flying machine, plummeting down, closer and closer to the hard surface of the earth. Three rows of children and a few adults gasped in unison. And what happened next? asked the youngest listener in a trembling voice, who had been sitting there with his mouth agape. Did the pirate and the young maiden get killed? Old Efraim gave a short hoarse laugh and stroked the little boys head. Patience, patience my little child, he remarked with a single wink. The sun is as hot as an oven, I am feeling weak and my throat is really dry, ahh how strong my thirst is. The regular listeners of Efraims stories took the hint right away and started patting their pockets with their little hands, even though they were fully aware that they were empty; then their eyes wondered over to the adults standing nearby. One of them rummaged in his pocket, drew out a five kopeck19 coin and handed it over to the boy. He jumped out of his seat and ran madly to search for a kvass seller. At the edge of City Hall Square, a fat tabby cat, a resident of Vilnius, lay comfortably spread out on the ground. At first his sleepy eyes followed a one-horse carriage receding into the distance, then focused on the sparrows pecking at a pat of manure. His feline nature and consciousness incited him to take action and punish the cheeky sparrows, but the touch of warm spring sunshine on his fur was so pleasing and sleep-evoking, that he merely swished his tail and purred quietly, Let them be... But hardly a few seconds later the cat was already frowning, as the blissful stillness around him had been cut short by the harsh whistle of a steam trolley and a barefoot boy who had dashed by right in front of his nose looking for a kvass seller. The frightened sparrows fluttered up into the air. One soared above the square, made a large circle and landed on City Halls first floor window ledge. It fluffed its feathers with its beak, turned its head to one side and then the other, and released a merry chirp, announcing that life wasnt so bad after all. The bird would have been astounded to learn that the eminent men and one lady who had gathered in City Hall on the other side of the window were in no way inferior to sparrows when it came to chirping. Quiet, quiet, Councillors! This is no farmers market, shouted the Burgomaster of Vilnius, Vytautas Venslauskis-Venskus. Then, reaching the end of his patience, he banged a thick book against the table.

19

A monetary unit of Russia and Belarus worth one hundredth of a rouble

The Councillors, who had allowed themselves to get carried away, hushed immediately, at which the Burgomaster felt better. Such impudence shown at home would have merited a slap on the wrist by Mrs Venskus, but she wasnt in the Town Hall. There is no doubt, Mr Buksa, our... erm... former colleagues... former colleagues actions were rather reckless but... continued the Burgomaster. At the beginning of his career this man had worked as a court herald and still couldnt get rid of his annoying habit of repeating the same words over and over again. Reckless? sniffed Councillor of Wanderers Faina Fryzel, who was the Council representative for Jews, Tatars, Karaites, Hungarians, French and other minorities, which made up a considerable part of free Vilnius population. You are reckless when you step on a nail with your bare foot, but Buksa has appropriated income from two estates that actually belonged to the city. By the way, the larger part of the money was collected by my people. So I would now like to see Buksa in front of the Cathedral with his chest decorated with a board saying Thief. Because thats what he is! The Councillors exchanged glances. It was customary in Vilnius for those who had overindulged in hard drink to spend a night repenting in custody, and in the morning, suffering from a murderous headache, have a long rope with a wooden drunkards plate tied around their neck and be taken to St Peter And Pauls Church for half a days kneeling. Needless to say, Vilnius residents loved going to this church. In fact Faina was a scandalmonger, who was described behind her back as all hat and no cattle, and minority problems were the least of the Councillors worries. Lets leave the Cathedral out of this, shall we? Prelate Masalskis, Spiritual Councillor and Leader of The Knights of the Cathedral, remarked with a chill in his voice. He was dressed in black, with a purple zuchetto covering his bald head and a heavy silver cross adorning his chest. This man radiated such a biting chill that Health Councillor Doctor Rimkevicius, who had been sitting beside him, moved his chair a few centimetres away, leaving the Prelate alone in his audacious solitude. I have told you more than once: its time we put an end to these barbarian methods of punishment in churchyards. If you want someones soul to squirm with pain, let my knights take care of them. They will hear the confession and assign penance. A thought passed through the minds of all the parties that the glum cellars of the Cathedral must have witnessed more than just fierce knights listening to confessions and assigning Hail Marys, but their respect for the Prelate made them refrain from putting it into words. Knowledge Councillor and Rector of University Dominium Stanislovas Gimbutas took a carafe and poured himself a glass of water. The hall where they all sat around a large round table was spacious and not cluttered with furniture, but the tension in the air was slowly becoming oppressive. Whatever happened with the money, Buksa was a Councillor, he was one of us, the Rector spoke after a sip of water. Do we want the Councillors name to be dragged through the citys mud, casting a very dark shadow on each and ever y one of us? Buksa paid back the money and resigned from service due to ... erm... ill health. He is prepared to leave Vilnius and never come back. Are public punishments, confessions and trials still necessary? We should let him go. Prelate Masalskis gave a disapproving sniff.

Well... you are right but... stammered Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus. And anyway we shouldnt forget... lets not forget that... He was about to dive into one of his long and elaborate narratives, labyrinths where he would often lose track himself and make others do the same, but suddenly someone cut him short. Dear Councillors, I realise that matters related to Mr Buksa are of great concern to you but today we were planning to discuss an even more serious issue, said a rather short man with uneven teeth who also sitting at the table. It was Gerhardt von Ott, the citys Money Councillor and the Rothschilds official envoy to Vilnius. His clothes were extremely elaborate, as if he had come prepared for a ball, and he spoke in an exceptionally soft voice, but as soon as he uttered his first words, the hall became permeated with the most respectful silence, the like of which Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus had never managed to achieve. This happened every time the man opened his mouth in Council meetings. He slowly studied the members of the Council the high-strung squabblers and the others who had chosen to remain in the shadows the Councillors of Health, Direction, Steam and Alchemy. It is only a few days until the Summit, Gerhardt von Ott continued. The majority of states have already announced their representatives. Some participants will be travelling a considerable distance. Gerhardt von Ott paused and gave his listeners a condescending smile. Some of them have already set out on their travels in order to arrive in good time. Therefore, I think its about time we forgot our little manipulations and local scandals and united our efforts in assuring a smooth welcome for our guests. The Alliances annual event attracted high-ranking envoys from various countries, who took part in presentations on the latest inventions, bought and sold technical discoveries and played an active role in talks and in a mixed bag of back-stage games. Entertainment consisted of masquerades and the legendary travelling harlequin parties. Great fairs were set up, processions paraded, musicians played on the streets, and people filled up the squares to watch free performances or the new invention the moving pictures; while the last night of the celebration was given over to the Alchemists and their festival of fire, which painted the sky with the manifold colours of fireworks. There were some highly esteemed men who came to the Summit for the entertainment alone. Every year the free city that would host this luminous event was selected amidst heated arguments. This year the honour had been granted to Vilnius. Everyone present was extremely pleased by the news, except for the Prelate Masalskis, Master of the Knights of the Cathedral. He frowned. If you must turn the city into Sodom and Gomorrah, you are welcome to do that, he said, thrusting his bony finger at the Burgomaster. But dont forget that the sins of infidels and all unbaptised people will backfire on you. At the time in question all the decent people will be praying in church and they would like to know if the city will be safe. This is something that we should discuss before anything else. But the Public Order Councillor does not seem interested in the subject at all. And neither he is here with us. Where is he, Mr Burgomaster? Burgomaster Vytautas Venslauskis-Venskus cast an embarrassed glance across the hall and shrugged his shoulders. When the meeting was over, the Councillors parted company. Gerhardt von Ott walked down the sweeping Town Hall staircase and, having made a circle around the building,

marched along the streets of Rudnicka, and then Spitalnia. When he caught sight of a sizeable crowd of people in a little park, he walked over to have a closer look. Old Efraim, completely oblivious to his audience getting more and more impatient, and exuding great pleasure even through his closed eyes, was gulping down his cold, sour kvass. Sensing an intent stare directed towards him, he opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on its origin city Councillor Gerhardt von Ott. This refined figure nodded slightly to the old man and rubbed his freshly shaved cheek with his fingers. Efraim, a shabby shoemaker, acknowledged the gesture with the slightest movement of his chin, after which the Councillor turned on his heel and walked away. The storyteller emptied his glass and rubbed his hands. So where was I? he asked. The pirate and the young maiden jumped out of the flying airship, several impatient voices immediately reminded him.

Chapter VIII Vilnius, afternoon 22 04 1905 During his long and successful time as a Legionnaire, Public Order Councillor and Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras had laid eyes on many corpses. He had seen them shot, stabbed, poisoned, chopped up, drowned, strangled sent to meet their maker in many different ways. In some cases he had also happened to be the Grim Reapers accomplice, and he felt no shame he was just doing his job. But the body on the edge of the ravine next to the Cemetery of Cholera Victims, which was now being tended to by the kneeling medical expert Dr Radzinskis in a filthy doctors coat, had rendered Sidabras speechless. With a few quiet grunts Radzinskis lifted himself up and started brushing the soil off his knees. An amateurs work, he sighed and turned to Sidabras. The wound isnt clean, the cut isnt straight, the edges are jagged. It seems that the killer didnt know how much pressure to apply. Although his instrument was outstanding, the blade sharpened like a dream! Possibly a scalpel, as that could explain the neat flow of blood. The experts narrative ended with a respectful note in his voice. If anyone was after my opinion, I would say its been done by one of us, a medic. A medic? Sidabras was clearly surprised. A scalpel isnt one of those things that you see lying around freely. Radzinskis scratched his forehead with a wrist. But I wouldnt bet on it, Your Honour. Only a really inferior medic would leave a wound like this. Shove your Your Honour' up your arse, muttered Sidabras in an annoyed voice. How many times have I told you to leave Your Honour for superintendents who have no chance of catching a glimpse of their feet over their protruding pot-bellies,? I will be fine without any titles. Sidabras did not give any weight to his words, as his mind was preoccupied with something else; his eyes darted around the crime scene, inspecting the crooked crosses, decaying right next to him. Theres almost no sign of fighting. A slit throat. A gruesome and unusual crime. Just as well the killer chose a remote spot, were the gloomy thoughts that dashed through his head. The number of public murders had gone down considerably after the protection of public order in the city had been delegated to the Vilnius Legion, and with a significant event of the Alliance the Summit being imminent, scandals were the last thing the Legate needed. A tough nut for you to crack, Sir. Youll have to get your brain in gear, spoke the Pohulianka Police Superintendent with open bitterness in his voice. He was the third person traipsing around the corpse. We certainly will, sir, theres no need for you to doubt us, retorted Sidabras coldly. Soon after the Alliance had been formed, the new heads of the free cities had concluded that the legacy of Tsarist Russia in the form of the obese, greedy police constables and

superintendents, who understood nothing but drill commands, was of remarkably little use. So several years later the streets were already being patrolled by Legionnaires. They were mercenaries trained to work on the streets by the best British and American army instructors. The Alliance paid the Legionnaires well and required of them little: a clear conscience and safe streets were all they asked for. Pushed out of their old positions, police constables and superintendents became ordinary supervisors who had to content themselves with minor, dusty jobs and, as they were not able to make any extra money, they constantly aired their grievances. They treated Legionnaires like some nasty rash on their skin, but could not change anything. Not being suitable for any other job, they had no other option but to endure the humiliation through gritted teeth. Consequently, any mishap suffered by the Legionnaires brought them much joy. Antanas Sidabras gave the Police Superintendent in his grease-stained jacket a disdainful look. But the fat man was right it was a tough nut indeed. Can we snare him? Dr Radzinskis asked. Yes, nodded the Legate, and watched the experts helpers wrap the corpse in a black cloth. Shortly after, the body was lifted into a two-horse-drawn ambulance carriage. Vilnius medics had yet to become acquainted with the new steam machines. After Radzinskis had slammed the carriage door and waved goodbye to Sidabras, the carriage set off for the city centre. The Pohulianka Police Superintendent had vanished without saying another word, and so Sidabras was left to his own devices. Standing right next to the place where the corpse had been lying a moment ago, he started looking around. The Legate was confident that nearer to the evening he would get a detailed report on the corpse, as Dr Radzinskis, who was a hired expert just like the Legionnaires, was diligent and responsible in his work. An unidentified corpse, no documents found in the pockets, nothing at all found, thought Sidabras to himself. Poor soul was on his way from the Troubles. Thats right, the less you carry on you there, the better your chances are. Antanas Sidabras fixed his gaze on the hill, overgrown with thick shrubbery. Ahem, ahem, let good fortune and health be with you, my silver master, croaked a voice behind his back. Legate was startled by this unexpected sound. Then smiled. Actually, he had been contemplating a visit to this ever-present, ever-watchful and ever-listening creature, but on this occasion she had exceeded herself by reporting to him first. Sidabras turned to face her and nodded in a reserved way. And good day to you too, Rose. Rose Blanik had once been the most stunning and desirable girl in Vilnius. She had been like a precious diamond, the dream of potential grooms not only in Vilnius, but also in the whole of the Northwest region. Rose thrived on fashionable balls, flirting, making eyes at men and listening to professions of love with a faint smile. However, in the end she always she made light of all this, and even the nephew of former Vilnius Burgomaster Martynas Strausas had to admit defeat. Until one day a young architect, Bernardas Sulcas, came to town. One meeting of their eyes was enough for Rose and Bernardas to know that they were meant for each other. A passionate love affair turned into marriage.

The architect Sulcas was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; he became one of the youngest professors at the University Dominium, his services were desired by the most affluent merchants and noblemen, and his beautiful wife Rose waited for him at home. Before Alexander II graced Vilnius with his visit, Bernardas Sulcas had been commissioned to design and build a dainty gazebo on the river bank in Lukiskes forest, beside the Palace of Vingis. It was to be designed as a lavish dining hall for the most distinguished city guests. The architect and his wife Rose were also among the guests. No one will ever know what the architects mistake was, but after the guests had congregated inside the gazebo, two support columns holding the tarpaulin roof suddenly collapsed, blanketing people in heavy fabric. Panic ensued and people began trampling one another in a bid to escape the suffocating tarpaulin. Rescuers found the beautiful Rose at deaths door, crushed in the corner of the gazebo, while Bernardas Sulcas vanished from the face of the earth. A thorough search for the man was carried out and it was not until a week later someone found his hat entangled in the mass of reeds in the Neris River. For days the best Vilnius doctors fought to save Roses life. While still in hospital the woman was told that her husband had vanished. Rose Sulcas was devastated; she left hospital with a wounded heart and a shattered mind. Ever since that day she had been searching for her Bernardas. No one had ever seen her walk the streets wearing anything but her best clothes and the brightest of make-up, evoking compassion even in the most vicious of villains. The king of the Vilnius criminal world, Motiejus Kairys, had personally forbidden anyone to lay a hand on Rose. So she wandered the Troubles, seeing and hearing everything, begging for a few kopecks and wishing people good fortune and health in return and, as the rumours said, casting an evil eye on those who had waved her away or insulted her, or who had been too thrifty to offer her a coin. Sidabras had heard about the Rose of the Troubles as soon as he arrived in Vilnius. He generously gave her three roubles on their first encounter, and never ignored her after that, which helped the Legate to win the lady over. She was known to have hated previous guardians of public order. With her eyes fixed on something in the distance, Rose of the Troubles came over to Sidabras. She was wearing a bright yellow dress with a slightly shorter, patterned red skirt over it, a green patched-up jacket covering the top part of her body, and a threadbare black hat adorned with a mass of beads. A thick layer of foundation covered the ladys face and her cheeks were generously touched up with blusher, making it impossible to guess her age. In her hand Rose held a battered parasol that had once been white, and was using it like a stick for support. What an unfortunate event, really, she croaked, pointing her parasol at the exact spot where the dead body had lain. He was so strong and so full of life. He could have gone on living forever. Why did he leave us? The lady lifted her head, her eyes piercing Sidabras right through. When their eyes met, the Legate doubted yet again if Rose of the Troubles mind really was that muddled. Sidabras could have sworn that he saw a spark of malignant joy flash in her eyes and felt that, deep down in her heart, Rose was smiling. Rose, he addressed the old lady, his eyes fixed on her face. Do you know what happened here? How would I know, my silver falcon? chirped Rose. Its a cemetery around here. Only skeletons know what happened.

Rose, I need a straight answer, the Legate interrupted. You know that a person has been killed here. You know everything, he added. Any idea who he could be? With Rose finally glancing away, Sidabras felt immediate relief even he found it hard to bear such a look. How would I know, my little birdie? What was that man to me? Neither family, nor friend. And he was too busy, too stingy to give a small coin to me an old woman. She went quiet and looked at Sidabras, cunningly this time. The Legate fished a metal half-rouble out of his pocket and silently proffered it to Rose. Thank you so much, my silver dove, my comfort and the light of my eyes, sang the lady again, the coin disappearing into the folds of her wide patterned skirt. All of a sudden Roses manner changed. She beckoned Sidabras to bend closer. I hadnt seen him before, she whispered. I dont think he was a frequent guest in the Troubles. Your people are not going to find anything. Yesterday he came to The Owl, gave a fright to Icka that bag of bones from the brothel on Totoriu Street then met a fat man. I saw him all sweating, reeking of something wicked. He rushed out of the inn and yelled for the broceurs to take him home. And this poor soul headed for the cemetery. And what happened next? Sidabras kept questioning. Rose of the Troubles only shrugged her shoulders. I dont know, my dear. The Cholera Cemetery scares me at night. Decent people do not walk around here. And I have only come in order to help you, silver master, carry your cross. I have helped you, havent I? The woman beamed a wide smile, displaying a few of her metal teeth and the wide gaps between them. You have, you have, murmured the Legate with no animosity in his voice, pulling another half-rouble out of his pocket. Tell me where to look for Icka. Try looking in the Totoriu Street joy houses, my angel. In the evening, said Rose of the Troubles in a voice full of spite, as Icka was her worst enemy. She snatched the coin greedily. Well, good luck and good health to you, silver falcon. Look after yourself, Rose, replied Sidabras. With the lady out of his view, Sidabras rubbed his hands with delight. Not a single informer painstakingly recruited in the Troubles would have told you half of what Rose had just said. And she did say a lot. So it seems that two people who are strangers to the Troubles decide to meet up here. I wonder why? Sidabras started putting the puzzle together in his head. They are unlikely to have come for the beer alone. Then the victim gives a fright to the local smart-arse. This is also odd. And finally he makes his way here, to the Cholera Cemetery. Someone slits his throat, rather amateurishly but with a tool belonging to a professional. Rather irregular to say the least. In his minds eye Sidabras saw a long, windin g tunnel of investigation with a lot of deadends. Had the investigation been transferred to the police constables, you could have bid farewell to the truth. They would drag over some sorry creature from the Blots, beat him unconscious and make him confess, I killed him. Why did you slit his throat? I was drunk. Why did you use a scalpel? Whats a scalpel? He had no choice but to investigate this himself. Even more so, because once the information about the corpse with the slit throat in the ravine spread, the Council would be

engulfed by a great racket. And what if a maniac killer had found his way into Vilnius? Then it will be best if a stop to his actions was put by Antanas Sidabras himself, rather than by some inexperienced whippersnapper. The Legate glanced at his pocket watch. It was past noon in Vilnius, which meant that it was still early morning in the Troubles. A suitable time for unexpected visits. The wisest thing to do was to go back to Pohulianka and the White Pillars and get some assistance from the Legionnaires on duty there. That was exactly what police superintendents, constables and former Vilnius Public Order Councillor would have done. They only entered the Troubles with a large entourage and when forced to by a matter of utmost importance. However, Sidabras was used to walking around the Troubles alone and decided to head there right through the middle of the Cholera Cemetery. He hoped to pick out some details on the way, which might come handy in the course of his investigation. When a few years back the hefty Legate had forced his way into their territory with no help from anyone, the Troubles old-timers had felt shocked. A few hot-headed fellows thought to teach him a lesson and concurrently rob him of his belongings. But the confrontation resulted in a truly humiliating defeat for the locals, who were left tending one broken arm, two broken noses and a multitude of differently shaded bruises. However, the Legate kept coming to the Troubles as if nothing had happened; he looked around and listened, but did not blow his whistle, did not regulate public order or arrest anyone. He simply walked around. And gradually, the Troubles got used to him the first guardian of public order in many years. Rumours circulated that someone had seen the Legate chatting to Motiejus Kairys the king of the criminals himself while they both enjoyed a pint together. But rumours come and go, and that was exactly what happened this time. The walk across the Cholera Cemetery was like pushing water uphill with a rake. If he wanted to search all the hills, graves and burrows, he would have needed a small army to assist him. Without knowing what to look for, it would have been easier to find a needle in a haystack than some tiny clue. But as the Legates hopes had not been high, he did not feel too disappointed, and turned on a brisk pace to reach the Troubles. He knew the route well, and came to The Iron Owl Inn in no time at all. In daylight, The Owl was not much to look at: a wooden building with disintegrating wooden walls covered in greenish mould, the windows stained with fly excrement, only becoming slightly clearer when washed by rain. And even the owl on the sign of the inn looked somewhat shabby and dishevelled. And, of course, the tenacious stench around it was unbearable. Traces of the beer consumed by the night-time clients could be detected at every corner of the inn. It meant that the task of finding The Owl for someone who was deaf, dumb and blind would have been a simple task. As long as they had a nose. The Owls owner, Marius, put a lot of effort into trying to educate his clients. He would explain that peeing next to the inn was not a good idea, and that instead they should relieve themselves in the nearest alleyway, but despite all this, the desperate rogues could not manage these dozen or so steps Sidabras pushed the inn door and stepped inside. Just as on any other ordinary day, The Owl was half-empty. Several exhausted drunks were dozing on wooden benches at the end of the large room. No one took any notice of them, since every day, as evening drew closer, they would wake up, come back to their senses, and continue toasting the never-ending celebration of life. In a sense, The Iron Owl was a refuge.

Two tables were surrounded by street vendors, waiting for the evening to come, as well as several workers who had cut their working hours short all belting down beer. The innkeeper, Marius, sat on the barrel behind the counter yawning and reading a creased copy of The Truth of Vilnius, casting an occasional glance at a boy who was zealously scrubbing the dirty floor. Having realised who the new client was, Marius frowned, but put his newspaper aside. The Legate sat at the bar. I can explain everything, Your Honour. The innkeeper turned up beside Sidabras instantly. Its their fault, they started the carnage. Everyone knows that only decent people gather here. But no one likes foreigners. They have to understand that if they come here, they are digging their own grave. What can I do? If... eh eh... Marius glanced over at Sidabras. But its not last nights fight you are here for, Your Honour. Am I right? Sidabras squinted at the boy scrubbing the floor. Even in the dim light traces of blood were still visible on the floor. A man came to your inn yesterday, Legate began to speak. He was older but well built. Dressed in shabby clothes. He met someone here. They talked. Tell me about him. Sidabras did not bother asking if Marius remembered anything. He was confident that the innkeeper hardly ever let things go unnoticed. Realising that the Legate had not come here to investigate the night-time brawl, the innkeeper breathed a sigh of relief. He even cheered up a little and bent over towards Sidabras. People say the stink of onions and pork crackling burst from his mouth that Legionnaires pay well for information. Sidabras felt annoyance creeping up. He constantly reiterated to Gerhardt von Ott, who was Money Councillor and allocator of the Rothschilds money in Vilnius, that there were two sides to the motto You cant buy us but we will buy you. He had spoken about it more than once but to no avail. So here we had it. Without any sign of warning, the Legates hand swung up into the air, took a grip of the innkeepers tousled hair and cruelly banged his head on the counter, pressing his cheek down. People say that when you bang your nose like this, it hurts even more, he spoke through gritted teeth. Do you think you should believe everything people say? I dont know, I dont know, Marius squealed. People just blabber, their tongues go wagging. I dont believe such nonsense. I will help you with whatever I can. A male. Elderly. Poor clothes, reminded him Sidabras, releasing his grip on the innkeeper. Start talking now. Marius swallowed and curtly nodded. A man was here yesterday. He came in the late afternoon. Icka Lupetas tried to pester him at first but then all of a sudden changed his mind and introduced him to everyone as his chum. The innkeepers tone conveyed that he himself hadnt quite believed this story. The man treated Icka to a pint, then sat at the far end of the room, over there... Marius waved his hand in the relevant direction. Some potbelly came in a short while later and they both prattled for a bit. The fatty passed over some papers, which the man shoved inside his jacket after having a look at them. Sidabras became all ears. What are you blabbering about, Marius? What papers?

I dont know, Your Honour, the innkeeper tried to get out of the situation. I couldnt see them. There were a hell of a lot of people at The Owl, I was pouring beer like mad. If not for Icka, I would have never noticed that poor soul as, you know, we get all sorts of strangers, here being so popular. Of course, he kept it to himself that The Owls regular drunkards normally got rid of these strangers in no time at all. And you should try to remember, Sidabras told him. What papers were they? Letters, documents, post cards? The innkeeper shook his head. No, they werent post cards. They were larger and folded up. I swear I didnt see them, he whimpered. The Legate nodded. Thats fine. And what happened then? Then... then that poor soul inspected the papers and gave the fatty a pouch. And no, I really didnt see the pouch up close, assured Marius, jumping ahead of the Legates next question. Then the potbelly rushed over to me, saying, I want a broceur to walk with me to the carriage driver and protect me help me to find someone, offering me a rouble. Sidabras finally understood why the innkeeper had such a good recollection of things. If you sent him over to your own thugs... he barked in a thunderous voice, but Marius vigorously shook his head. What are you... what are you saying, Your Honour? What thugs? It didnt even cross my mind to do that. Besides, the carnage had started here, it would have been too late... the innkeeper clamped his mouth shut. The Legate sneered but did not say anything, luckily for Marius. The Hungarian Brothers loiter around here all the time, and they are happy to take all the chicken hearts back home. They were the ones to see to the fatty getting home safely, the innkeeper finished his confession. Sidabras straightened his back, reclined against the back of his chair and started thinking. There were no documents with the body. That meant that someone had taken them. Could he have been killed for the papers alone? Possibly. But why kill him in such a bizarre way? The outlaws of the Troubles did not like looking their victim in the eye, and up till now they had tended to stab people in the back. And why was the corpse left lying for everyone to see, when there were so many open graves and other holes around? They could have hoisted him in and bid him farewell no one would have ever caught wind of it. And what type of papers were they for someone to brave a trip to the Troubles, risking their livelihood and their wallet? Forged papers? Letters exposing someone? Debt notes? Or maybe something more serious? And what if the murder had nothing to do with these papers? Then who took them? Sidabras had already managed to collect quite a bit of information in a short period of time but his investigation had not moved forward one single bit. Even the victims name remained unknown. Anything else, Your Honour? the innkeeper enquired cautiously. The Legate raised his hand, stood up and walked towards the door without saying goodbye or the traditional, If you remember anything else... People in the Troubles never remembered anything of their own volition.

The Legate walked a few dozen steps, then stopped. As usual, passers-by in the Troubles were scarce in the daylight hours, and the ones who were there made an effort to stay away from a stout man with a Legionnaires badge on his chest and a heavy truncheon at his side. Following a moments hesitation, Antanas Sidabras strode through the labyrinth of the Troubles streets. After he had left three different streets behind him, he heard a noise and changed course in its direction. His ears were filled with sounds that were rather unusual for the Troubles: the bouncing of a ball, childrens laughter and, when he had come closer, screams and yells He started it! Sidabras came to a brick house hidden behind a tall stone wall, sharp metal spikes adorning its top. There was only one door in the wall, which was made of hard wood bound in metal strong enough to withstand a confrontation with a bull charging at full speed. There was a door knocker on the side. Sidabras banged it vigorously a few times, hoping that someone would hear through the loud clamour of children from inside. The building was an orphanage in the hands of the Sisters of Charity Congregation. The Legate waited until someone opened a small window in the door. Behind it a face came into view and the window was shut again, but the cracking noise of bars being unbolted told him that the door was in the process of being opened. An old nun stood in the doorway, dressed in a brown habit with a white wimple. Her wrinkly face reminded him of a baked apple. Mr Antanas, its a pleasure to see you. A sincere smile lit the nuns face. You too, sister Magdalena, the Legate gave a polite nod. Can I come in? Is Margarita here? Yes, of course, replied the nun. She is in the garden. I shall walk you there. Thank you but there is no need for that, Sister, Sidabras stopped her. This is not my first time here, I wont get lost. The nun stepped aside to let the Legate through, as he entered a long dim corridor with a great number of doors lining it on both sides, and an arch standing out at its farthest end. The gate was slammed shut, as Sidabras strolled into the garden where the noise had been coming from. The arch was so low that the Legate couldnt help bending down. He was spotted as soon as he set foot in the spacious yard. Legate, Legate! a dozen or so little brats, who only a moment ago had been chasing each other round the yard or sitting on the swing, darted towards Sidabras at top speed. The street was the main carer for the children of the Troubles. Even before they had turned ten, many of them considered themselves to be the old dogs of the quarter, as they hustled passers-by, helped older criminals, and, when a bit older and if they were fortunate, became broceurs or joined one of the gangs. Being taken under the wing of Motiejus Kairys was everyones biggest dream. Education or honest work was not something the Troubles children much cared for. A few years ago Vilnius had been shocked by the horrific case of the angel -makers: in twelve months, twenty five newborn babies had been found frozen to death, strangled or killed by blows to head in the New World quarter and the outskirts of the Troubles. Following a lengthy investigation the Legionnaires had concluded the following: a number of single girls servants, loose women from joy houses and old-timers from the Troubles had

entrusted three particular apparently kind-hearted ladies with the care and possible adoption of their babies. They had paid the benefactors as much as they could afford. Unfortunately, the so-called benefactors had no intention of caring for the babies, never mind adopting them. They got rid of the newborns as soon as the money changed hands. A huge scandal ensued. An orphanage was promptly opened in the Troubles by the City Council, and the Sisters of Charity Congregation were put in charge. It became a shelter for all the street children and unwanted babies. Sadly, the goodwill of the City Council had ended at that; the money allocated to the orphanage was as generous as a tiny cloud of dust. Also the nuns that Prelate of the Knights of the Cathedral Masalskis had engaged to work in it were old and recruited from hospitals where they had been pottering around to little effect anyway. The residents of the Troubles were not too happy with this institution either, calling it the Almshouse and threatening to burn it down. It was a dark and gloomy place, more suitable as a nursing home than for bringing up children. It was a place where mercy was never practiced. The first person to become the orphanages guardian angel was Margarita Berg the single and youngish (she was still under 30 at the time) daughter of a rather prosperous merchant. Having visited the orphanage and discovered what a deplorable state it was in, the girl became consumed by the idea of making a better life for its tenants. She requested the City Councils permission to work at the orphanage free of charge, which Prelate Masalskis granted her with much delight. The girls next step was to convince her father to dole out some money as well. Merchant Bergas turned out to be generous, and Margarita set out about her work. Before long, the dark and damp cells to which the children had been banished for the slightest of transgressions were abolished and long hours of praying were abandoned, while their breakfast and supper of thin grey gruel and crusts of stale bread were swapped for soup, milk, grains, meat and buns. Margarita invited teachers to educate the street rascals and instil discipline in them. A child caught red-handed wasnt required to spend several hours kneeling down anymore, but had to throw thirty rocks into a potato basket, hanging high in the yard. The children now began to enjoy their life in the orphanage. During the day they would often make off to the Troubles, but in the evening they always returned, sometimes bringing a new tenant with them. This outraged the Troubles old lags even more as they were losing potential new recruits. Margarita had been repeatedly threatened, told to cease her activities or she would suffer, but the headstrong girl only shook her head and continued with her mission. As if this were not enough, at night she walked the streets of the Troubles searching for lost little souls. When the criminals were about to bring their words into action, the second guardian angel surfaced the new Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras. In his first days in his new position he visited the orphanage and met Margarita Berg, also ordering all the Legionnaires to dispense a rouble to the orphanage from their monthly wages. The Legionnaires found it quite acceptable as many of them had grown up in similar institutions. Moreover, the Legate managed to convince the Citys Money Councillor and the Rothschilds representative Gerhardt von Ott to impose a tax on public entertainment organisers and joy houses, using part of this money to support orphanages, Margaritas being one of them. The innkeepers and owners of joy houses began to ready themselves for a strike, but then, rather unexpectedly, the Legate received support from Spiritual Councillor Prelate Masalskis, who threatened to position a monk by every inn and joy house, writing down all the Catholic

visitors to those places, their names to be announced during mass. Prelate Masalskis solidarity with the Legionnaires came as a big surprise to the Burgomaster and the citizens, as the Knights of the Cathedral and the Legionnaires had always been in opposing camps, unable to agree on almost anything. The Legionnaires warned the old residents of Troubles, leaving no room for doubt: every time a thug threatens Margarita Berg, or tries to set the orphanage on fire, rob it or inflict any other type of damage on the Almshouse, he will be found and hung by a particular part of his body. Then, following a long silence, the boss of crime Motiejus Kairys himself added the finishing touch to this whole story by declaring the Almshouse and all of its children to be untouchable. Every time he passed the Troubles, Sidabras made an effort to stop by the orphanage he would ask about the children, bring little gifts and show the older boys a few hand-to-hand combat tricks. Needless to say, the children adored the Legate. But wicked tongues wagged that Sidabras was drawn here not by a kind heart alone but by Margarita Berg, an attractive single girl, not bound by a nuns vows. This occasion was no different, and Sidabras was immediately surrounded by the little boys. Look, look what Olmeris brought us! Olmeris was one of the youngest Legionnai res, also an orphan, not much older that the most senior tenants here. A ball, a ball! A real ball! Made out of leather! The Legate handled the leather pouch that had been thrust into his hands, then nodded in expert appraisal, before kicking the ball into the air. The ball flew high, almost as high as the roof of the Almshouse, and the boys darted to catch it, bouts of joyful laughter ringing in the air. Sidabras looked around the yard, searching for Margarita. She was sitting at a table strewn with books under a large apple tree, which had survived in the yard as if by a miracle, writing something in a notebook. She did not seem bothered by the pandemonium around her. The figures dont add up? asked Sidabras, approaching her. Margarita lifted her head, brushing long strands of blonde hair away from her large blue eyes, and stared at Sidabras. The Legates heart began to race. No, they do. The girl sighed, closed the book and got off her seat. But if it continues like this, I dont know how we will survive. She looked at the man again. Antanas, what is wrong with these people? No one wants to raise their children anymore. They keep bringing more and more newborn babies to us. Some say that they have lost their job, others that they have too many mouths to feed, others still that they have too much work and too little time to care for the children, or that they are setting off on their travels in search of the American dream. Besides, the boys keep finding crying infants on the streets and bringing them back in the evening. Margarita shook her head. It sometimes feels that things are going from bad to worse. Foreign people escape to our lands thinking that this is heaven, and what do they find here? Poverty, unemployment and disillusion. And machines, machines everywhere... Soon we will not need people anymore, as everything will be done by automatons, including bringing up children. Sidabras kept quiet. And what could he say? He knew that Vilnius was incapable of taking care of all the people flocking here to seek their dreams. Its unsettled everywhere. Russia is also starting to riot, he mumbled finally.

Russia is big and slow, Antanas. Margarita started pacing the yard. In Russia it will take ten years or more until the spark turns into a fire. And what about here? How much time is needed for a spark to fall into our barrel of gunpowder? A year? Six months? A month? I hear people talk. Not in Antokolis, in the vicinity of City Hall or in Steam City, where Vileisis is doing a really great job, but here in the Troubles, and also in Paplauja, the Blots and New World. Everyone is unhappy and complaining about their life. Are these not the people who live there? Are these not Vilnius residents? By joining the Alliance we were given freedom. But what is so good about this freedom when we dont have money to pay for the childrens milk? Margarita... murmured Sidabras. He felt as if he had been sucked into a vortex without knowing what to do. Vilnius is really not that bad, like... But the storm blew over as abruptly as it had started. Margarita regarded the embarrassed Legate and came over to stroke his hand. Please forgive me, I got carried away. Empty pockets make people angry. Without the help from your people we would be broke. She tossed her hair. Dropping by to say hello, or are you here on business? Come sit under the apple tree, this apple is on me, she added, then laughed and sat down. On business. Sidabras sat at the table opposite the girl. He politely declined the apple as he was aware of the nuns carefully watching every bite of food. I have a strange case, he admitted. I thought maybe you would know something. Legate gave her a gist of the story, including his meeting with the Rose of the Troubles and the innkeeper Marius. Margarita listened with interest. When he had finished speaking, the girl clasped her hands together, looking rather pensive. So you think the murder is not in any way related to the disappearance of the papers? she asked. Odd as it may sound, my sixth sense is telling me that. But where does it take me, anyway? Anyone could have robbed the corpse. Margarita shook her head. Maybe not anyone. But it could have been the Orderly. Sidabras bent forward, all ears. The Orderly? I havent heard of him. How could you hear, if all you do is loiter by the White Pillars killing time, teased Margarita. He lives in the Troubles, and is a bit of a looney. Everyone calls him the Orderly. No one knows how it happens, but he is always the first to get to the fallen people. Fallen people? Well yes, fallen people. The ones who fall over in a drunken state, hitting their head against a rock, or simply fall asleep somewhere in an abandoned nook. Or someone like your fellow, lying there with a slit throat. The Orderly appears in a flash and relieves the poor soul of all his belongings. So far no one has been able to beat him to it. It is as if he is able to sniff the improper ones out. Where does he live? Sidabras queried. Margarita made a helpless gesture with her arms.

Somewhere and nowhere. I will tell my people to ask about, she promised. But dont get your hopes up. And another thing... She deliberated. Maybe you should talk to the Hungarian brothers? The Legate stood up. Indeed, Margarita, thank you for reminding me. He turned to leave. Tell your footballers to take their training more seriously. Olmeris has promised to form a team and enter it into the City Football League. The governess of the Almshouse smiled, thanking him quietly, and watched him walk away across the yard and through the arch. She then tossed her head and went back to her papers. Although the earth was being scorched by the bright sun of spring, Wet Square, which the Legate had now reached, was still blemished with large puddles. Several gaunt dogs of unknown ancestry were drinking water out of one of them. Vilnius residents called them trouble dogs. The square looked deserted except for a few Jewish traders, pottering around their goods and getting ready for the evening. There were no broceurs in sight. But the Legate didnt expect to find them. If the night had been favourable and filled with work, the broceurs would spend the whole next day resting, only returning to the square with the first signs of dusk. The Legate walked past the While Pillars of Pohulianka. Both duty Legionnaires, who had been idling around until now, straightened up as soon as they saw their commander. Lazing the day away here? Sidabras asked in a friendly way. Yes we are, Legate!, reported the guards like soldiers. Sidabras smiled. Now listen, he waved the men over. When the broceurs return to the square, find me the two who go by the name of the Hungarian brothers. Tell them that the Legate of Vilnius wants to meet and have a chat. Dont scare them off and dont mention the certificates of trustworthiness. Just say that I need to speak to them, and that is all. Both Legionnaires nodded. Understood, Legate. Where will the meeting take place? Sidabras considered it for a minute. Tell them to come to Madam Khaya Feigelsons joy house in Totoriai. At 11. I think they will know where that is. He smiled a crooked smile.

Chapter IX Vilnius, late at night 22 04 1905 At around ten in the evening Sidabras stepped inside Madam Feigelsons joy house a most exquisite brothel, set up along Totoriu and Odminiu Streets, still called Tatarska and Garbarska by older citizens. The Tsars authorities had tried to eradicate brothels, but the fight was more of an attempt to maintain their own reputation than a genuine effort to do away with whorehouses. And the Alliance decided not to enter the fight at all and had left the problem for future rulers to solve. Madam Feigelsons joy house stood out among the others not only because of its more expensive girls and the slimmer chance of getting the French disease, but also for its interior design. The lobby was divided into several partitioned booths, each containing two armchairs upholstered in plush red fabric. After a client had made himself comfortable in an armchair, he was seen by an assistant of Madam Khayas, who enquired as to Sirs preferences. In a few moments, several girls were brought into the room. After the client had picked the one he fancied and paid the money, they climbed the stairs, covered with thick soft carpet, to the first floor. Sidabras sprawled in a comfortable chair, yawned and rang the copper bell he had found on the table. A young assistant came out immediately. She must have been new to this place, as she did not recognise the Legate. Good evening, sir, she chirped with a broad artificial smile on her face. Its a pleasure to see you at Madam Khaya Feigelsons home. Who are you after? A brunette or a blonde? Our Fania, with who you are no doubt familiar, is unfortunately busy at the moment, but if you care to wait... Today I am after boys, Sidabras interrupted. Two of them, he said cheerfully, eyeing the young mademoiselle, her gaudy clothes reminding him of a canary. The girls eyes sprang wide open. But we... we... she muttered. Maybe you have been misled?... Here... we dont have boys, she uttered awkwardly. Never mind, Sidabras reassured her. I will bring my own. The girls eyes became as large and round as saucers. She made several attempts to open her mouth but to no avail. The Legate watched her with a slight smile. Of course, of course, whatever you say, the sweet canary stammered at last. You will probably want a room as well? On the fourth floor we have a grand suite with a bath and... No, no, Legate shook his head. We will stay here. Even if someone decided to publish a textbook on running a whorehouse, it would never include a chapter on how to behave in a situation like this. The sweet canary felt that it was getting all too much for her. She turned round and was about to run for help, but Sidabras stopped her. Never mind, never mind, it was a joke, he said amiably. I would like a girl after all. For half an hour.

The young mademoiselles demeanour changed immediately and she now grinned from ear to ear. She must have thought that no two clients are the same, and that it might take some time for her to get used to certain peoples jokes. Yes, of course. A brunette or a blonde? She asked. And what about Fania? She charges three times more than the others, but, Sir, she is more than worth it... I will have her for half an hour, Sidabras cut her short. In that half an hour tell her to fry me some eggs in the kitchen. Three eggs, fried on both sides, together with some grilled bacon and a lot of onions. And a quarter of a loaf of bread. And also a large pint of Szopen beer. Talking about food made the Legates stomach rumble. He enjoyed eating and the several skewers of pork he had polished off in Gluttons Passage were but a distant memory. But the sweet canary was not listening to him any longer she fluttered away as if blown by the wind, and a minute later was back together with Madam Khaya Feigelson herself a plump, over-dressed lady with a heavily powdered face and a mass of curly hair, pulled up and pinned on the top of her head. They were accompanied by a beefy guard who had came to restrain the madman who had forced his way into the brothel. However, his first glimpse of the guest was enough to make the guards bravado disappear. Madam Khaya, on the contrary, gave the damsel a cross look and, swaying her entire body in one motion, gracefully placed her posterior on the second armchair. Is this proper, Master Legate? she said disapprovingly. You come here not for our services but to scare people. Why do you say that I dont use your services? The man retorted. I have just ordered some fried eggs. Three eggs, bacon and onions. When he saw that Madam Feigelson was about to say something, he quickly added, Two men will come here. I wish to speak to them with no disturbances. We will be fine where we are now, but there should not be anyone in the booth opposite. We will not take long and I promise not to interfere with your business. Madam Feigelsons facial expression changed into one of a hunting dog who had unexpectedly sniffed out its prey. She understood that she was doing a favour to Vilnius Legion, and however small it was, it was still a favour. As Master Legate wishes, she replied, bowing her head slightly, then stood up. Do not forget to serve a quarter of a loaf with the eggs, Sidabras shouted after her. The Hungarian brothers turned up at the joy house at the agreed time eleven on the dot. They waddled in through the door, looked around and flopped opposite the Legate on chairs that had been provided by Madam Khaya. It was clear from their expressions that they were expecting nothing favourable from this conversation. Sidabras slowly finished eating his eggs which, by the way, were delicious mopped the plate with a piece of bread, pushed it aside, and finally looked over at the Hungarians. If for some reason a description of these visitors were required, it would have been enough to describe only one of them: a rather short young man with black curly hair, narrow eyes and an exceptionally large nose, wearing black thick wool trousers and a worn-out dirty jacket. The reason why we would not need to describe the other brother is simple the Hungarians were twins, the spitting image of each other. They were proud of their resemblance (and they were also proud of their origin, as the Great Duke Algirdas himself had brought their

Hungarian ancestors to Lithuania as prisoners), and, even more importantly, they managed to use it expertly to fool unsuspecting individuals accidentally drifting through the Troubles. Their nickname was also used to their benefit (they could not remember their surname, or maybe didnt even know it), as they tried to convince their angry duped clients that they were not broceurs (vingriai), but Hungarians (vengrai), and that vengrai was not vingriai and not all vingriai were vengrai. Thank you for coming, said Legate. I apologise for my choice of venue but I had some business in the area. The Hungarian brothers nodded in unison, thus assuring him that they were quite happy to be in the joy house; to them the place was rather nice, or even excellent if compared to the interrogation cell in Sluskai Palace. Please answer the questions clearly and precisely, Sidabras spoke again. Dont neglect to mention anything and do not lie. The tone of his voice was now different. He was no longer the joker who had ordered eggs in the joy house, he was the Legate of Vilnius whose toughness and insight were discussed in the remotest parts of the city. W ere you working in the Troubles last night? Yes, replied the Hungarian Brothers in unison. In the vicinity of The Iron Owl? Yes. At night you were approached by a man, one of The Owls clients. Middle aged, not tall, on the fat side. The Hungarians exchanged glances. Yes. Fine, the Legates tone became more amicable. What did the man want, where did you take him and leave him, how much money did you get, and what do you remember? Tell me everything you know. So it was... I mean, this is what happened, spoke up one of the brothers on whose left cheek, just under the eye, Sidabras managed to detect a barely visible mole. His twin brother did not have one of those. I mean, we were hanging around The Owl, it wasnt a holy day and we didnt have much to do. We saw a fat fellow coming out. And he was walking straight at us. He said Marius told me to look for you. Help me. I am not familiar with the Troubles, show me where I can find a coachman to take me home. I will reward you generously. And he gave me a whole chervonets. My brother here, the lad nudged his twin without a mole, who still hadnt uttered a word, told him for this red-cheeked beauty we will carry you straight to your bed. But the man protested, no, no, I dont want to be carried. All I want is to be led to the coachman. And that was exactly what we did for the chervonets, and made certain that he got home safe and sound by putting him on the carriage. And we did work for the money. And that was all. The Legate bit his lip and regarded the brothers for a time. The silence became uncomfortable, and the Hungarian with the mole lost patience and jumped in to break it. If that Felix is some kind of villain, thief or swindler, Your Honour, we can give the chervonets back. We dont want somebody elses money and we dont need any problems.

There was a touch of pleading in his voice. It was not every day that their clients were throwing chervonets at them. Something gripped Sidabras attention. You said Felix? How do you know his name? He told us, Your Honour, the Hungarian blurted out. Well, actually, when he was clambering into the carriage, he was sort of muttering to himself. He said Thank your lucky stars, Felix. What a bounty! Do you remember the coachman? Realising that the Legate was not at all concerned about the chervonets, the Hungarian with the mole allowed himself to feel hurt. How could we forget him, Your Honour? It was Limping Jatsek. Many times we have taken our exhausted clients to him. He is a reliable man, would always take you where you need to go, and would never rob or kill anyone. Sidabras rubbed his temple. He had had a long day and was now feeling more like a short snooze rather than a hunt for Limping Jatsek in the city. The dilemma solved itself. Thats fine, he said dismissively. Keep the chervonets. Consider yourself lucky. The brothers started nodding their heads like spring-wound mechanical dogs a much-loved accessory of steam carriage men, kept on the shelf behind their rear seats while the Legate continued, But for this money today you will work for me. Find Limping Jacek and bring him over to Sluskai. Early in the morning tomorrow. Is that clear? It is clear, Your Honour, replied the Hungarian brothers in unison. Vilnius Legate Antanas Sidabras got to his feet. Fine then. I look forward to seeing all three of you in Sluskai, he said. Try Fainas eggs. They melt in your mouth, he added before he left.

Chapter X Farnborough, Royal Air force base, early morning 23 04 1905 It had been bucketing down with rain since early morning. The guards and watchmen were soaked through, as they had had to go round ripping yesterdays posters dedicated to the departure of the Invincible off the walls. They would throw an occasional glance at the sky and curse this miserable spring. But the sky was completely obscured by cloud, with not a single shaft of sunlight breaking through. Another English day. The last one for me... thought Adjutant Edward OBraitis to himself. He stood on a raised platform, leaning against the hand rail and looking at the Farnborough military airfield hangar, which currently sheltered his dirigible The Star of St George from the rain. Compared to the hangar from which The Invincible had rolled out yesterday, this one looked tiny but, as they say in the armed forces, everyone needs to know their place. Yesterday, the proud Invincible had been seen off with trumpet fanfares, loud cheering and flashing cameras. It had left on its noble mission to South Africa, where passions were still burning following the recently ended Second Boer War. The Brits had got seriously bogged down there, and messages on the wireless indicated a possible new war almost daily. Being the latest state-of-the-art air cruiser, The Invincible was expected to tip the scales in the British Empires favour. But that was yesterday. Today it was the turn of the old reconnaissance corvette The Star of St George to set off on its journey. It was leaving for its last mission, and would be seen off by a bored duty officer in the Navigators Tower, who would forget all about it as soon as it had disappeared out of sight, as he was much more interested in the latest horse-racing news. If they were really lucky, they would get a two-line mention in the local paper The Hampshire Chronicles. Did Edward want to serve on The Invincible? This was something all Sandhurst cadets dreamed of. , But now he would be happy to accept any posting at all, even to a lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides, rather than being stowed away on this flying crate. To compare The Star of St George to The Invincible was the same as comparing a farmers cart to a train it had no modern conveniences, no grace or beauty. It was one of the oldest dirigibles of the Royal Air Force, and had these been the times of peace, it would have been written off a long time ago. But because the British Empire was putting out fires in various remote parts of the world, every old airship still capable of flying was in great demand. OBraitis cast another glance at the leaden sky, turned on his heel, and strode to the barracks to wake up Milton Mabrey, The Star of St Georges captain. Around midday, the rain turned even worse it seemed that it had discovered a new object in desperate need of being washed. The Star of St George slowly rolled out of the hangar and in the direction of the airfield. Captain Milton Mabrey, an elderly Scotsman with weathered cheeks and bushy moustache, was standing in the exact spot where Edward had lingered earlier in the morning, cautiously sipping his scalding hot coffee, leather gloves jammed under his armpits. His long, knee-length leather coat and helmet with aviators goggles pushed down over his forehead

protected him from the rain. Mabreys neck was wrapped in a white scarf a fashion among pilots and adorned with a small metal medallion. At his belt he had a .45 Webley revolver. Long boots shined to perfection added the finishing touch to his ensemble. The Scotsman was dressed up for a reason. Only a month ago Mabrey had thought that his honourably earned pension was only a moment away, but as there was a great shortage of experienced pilots, the leaders of the Royal Air Force had decided to give Mabrey another chance to take a dirigibles control stick in his hands. Therefore, despite the annoying rain, the captain was in an ebullient mood, and stood there, his eyes darting between the slowly advancing dirigible and the young Adjutant OBraitis with his face like a wet flannel. Mabrey knew that Edward OBraitis had no desire to clamber into this crate, but in his thirty years of service he had seen many such youths. The Captains first priority was to figure out what type of bird this former cadet was, as Milton Mabreys airship was not going to put up with crybabies and other kinds of failures. Well, Edward, what do you think of it? he finally asked. It is rather beautiful, Sir, after a moments hesitation said OBraitis. Mabrey gave a thunderous laugh, nearly scalding himself with coffee. Beautiful? You cannot be serious! A rats arse is more beautiful than this derelict piece of rubbish! But the crate and I are a great match, and we both still have some gunpowder left for our last voyage. Edward noticed a cheeky glint in the Captains eyes and thought that this adventure, possibly the last one in his life, had made Mabrey at least two decades younger. This idea made him feel slightly better. When the dirigible had made its journey along the tracks and reached the boarding platform, a team of technicians swarmed over it, making the last checks before the flight. Mabrey swallowed the last drops of his coffee, twisted his moustache with his fingers and said: Lets go, Edward. The Captain and his adjutants have to board first. Following the captain down the stairs from the platform, Edward noticed the second adjutant, Charles Finley, who was waiting for them down below. OBraitis furrowed his eyebrows; he still had no idea what had caused such a mystical change in Finleys behaviour. Until only recently notorious as a bully and a rascal, this person was now demonstrating his friendship and even affection at any given opportunity. A cool good luck was all that Charles best mates got from him after the farewell banquet at the Academy. And he even pretended not to see their stunned faces. On the other hand, he arranged for the best carriage to take Edward and him to Farnborough. The highlight of the short journey was their jolly chat, and him talking about being really happy with his appointment to The Star of St George. He was also exceptionally pleasant during the induction training at Farnborough pure sweetness and light. Edward found this mystery impossible to crack. Generally speaking, he was good at reading people and he realised that Finley was not bluffing or running a foul plot in order to take advantage of him. The lad had really changed, becoming an entirely different person. Maybe what I saw at the Academy was a mask? thought OBraitis to himself. And now, when there is no need to put on a front for his aristocrat chums anymore, I can finally see his genuine face? To tell the truth, Edward was pleased with the change. Especially now,

starting this miserable service. The prospect of spending time with amicable Charles and Captain Mabrey made distant Vilnius look somewhat less disagreeable. They are waiting for us, gentlemen, reported Finley, shifting from one foot to another and trying to shake the rain drops off his water-repellent coat hood. The dirigible The Star of St George, or just The Star as it was called by many, did not stand out as beautiful. It was one of the first airships built in Newcastle, and had been expected to strengthen the military power of the British Empire. Milton Mabrey was the first and only captain of The Star, and could point to every patch or seam and tell you the story of their origin: this damage was caused by the cannons of the defenders at besieged Khartoum, this was left after a night-time storm when escaping from Suakin, while this patch came into being when a gas leak caused an explosion. In the past The Star had been powered by different types of fuel: coal, helium and, lately, by the magic promethelium of the Alchemists. Following the discovery of promethelium, airships had changed. New dirigibles were developed to be more graceful, agile and fast, and The Star stood no chance of competing with them in that respect. Besides, aviators spoke of corvettes with total contempt, as their firepower was so inferior to that of air cruisers or frigates. And when it came to speed and manoeuvrability, corvettes were not as good as air raiders, not to mention small reconnaissance airships. Theres just nothing a corvette wouldnt do it can easily sweep the enemy away with its machine guns or overtake you in a mad air race, old corvette captains would say, proudly puffing out chests adorned with medals awarded for their achievements in long-forgotten battles. And that is the reason why they are so pretty useless, rebuked their opponents. The three British army officers climbed onto a hydraulic platform mounted on top of a substantial metal arm. The platform screeched into motion and started to rise. Inside the ship, the men took off in different directions without a word Mabrey walking over to the captains bridge, Finley to the engine room to exchange a few words with the airships mechanic and to discuss the course with the navigator, while Edward stayed on the deck to wait for the other members of the crew. The official papers stated that The Star of St George was leaving on a military mission, and Mabrey had born this in mind when choosing his crew members. The airship did not only house the mandatory members of any dirigible team like navigators, engineers, mechanics, wireless operators, a cook and an alchemist, who had become indispensible since The Star had been put on promethelium, but also a newly formed assault platoon of Sky Soldiers (the pride of the Royal Air force), as well as Royal Artillery Engineers. The Star had been supplied with light Hotchkiss and a few heavier Vickers machine guns, and it also had two light siege howitzers on board. When the engineers had finally come up with a way to install light artillery pieces on dirigibles, it seemed that the outcome of the battle could be determined by one accurate shot at the enemys dirigible. But the reality was different. Light artillery was only suitable for hitting the target at short range, and making a hole in the envelope of a dirigible filled with gas from a short distance was clearly suicidal. Therefore dirigibles had to continue employing the old tactic of aiming exclusively at the gondolas with the aim of destroying the enemy crew. Precise and fast machine guns were well suited for this purpose, while artillery was more frequently used for warning shots balls containing an alchemic gas mixture would be fired and crackle in the sky with a bolt of lightning upon explosion.

Mabrey anxiously watched the Sky Soldiers in their sparkling red uniforms and shiny long boots march into The Star. His heart was beating as fast as the day of his first rendezvous with a young lady. And where is the Prince who can afford to so cover his country with troops for its defence, as that ten thousand men descending from the clouds, might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief? he mumbled. Burns? asked Edward, having turned up on the captains bridge. He had already noticed the captains soft spot for Scottish poetry. Charles Finley appeared out of nowhere behind OBraitis back. No, its Benjamin Franklin this time, laughed Mabrey and rubbed his hands. Well, lets get ready for take-off, gentlemen. Vilnius is waiting for us.

Chapter XI Krakw, early morning 23 04 1905 A golden figure appeared in a tower window of St Marys Basilica, and a melancholy tune, played on a trumpet, drifted over the Main Square of Krakw Old Town, announcing the end of the hour. The clear sound of the trumpet wafted up in the sky and then came to an abrupt end just like six hundred years ago, when the city had been besieged by the Tatars and the throat of the Krakw trumpeter had been pierced by an arrow. A moment later the tune tried to escape through another window, only to be sharply broken off again. It reminds me of my life, thought Mila, a brunette with a prett y face and ice-cold eyes. One moment it sounds like a most delightful melody, but then it goes quiet again. She was sitting in a carriage, watching servants stack cases on the roof though the seethrough curtains. Mila had inherited beauty from her mother. Her eyes had filled with ice later, following a number of ordeals she had had to face in the course of her life: The Day That Changed Everything, then the confrontation with the Prague Vitamancers, persecution in Constantinople, and the flames of Varna that she couldnt get out of her head. To her, Krakw had seemed like a peaceful haven, good enough to drop anchor and start a new life. But now the cases were being packed again and, accompanied by the trustworthy Legionnaires sent by the Alliance, she was setting off on yet another journey. Mila took a deep breath and turned her back to the window. She instantly felt the weight of three pairs of eyes. Sh-aaa-llll we-ee go-oo? one of the fellow travellers asked. Oh how miserable I am, sighed another one. The girl smiled, the ice in her eyes melting away. Lets go, my darlings, she stretched out her hand to stroke the three heads. She was immediately rewarded with a gentle cat-like purr. It sounds like the voice valves are not tight enough, a thought flashed through the girls head. I have to make sure that I check the oil level. Someone knocked on the door. Mila opened it a crack. The belongings have been packed, Madam, we can get on the move. We will take you to the airship port where we will hand you over to The Icarus crew. It should take us half an hour to reach the airfield, reported a stocky man in green uniform, with a metal badge depicting three towers against a red shield the symbol of the Krakow Legionnaires on his chest. The man spoke in Polish. Mila nodded absent-mindedly. She knew that uncle Nikodemas would take care of everything down to the smallest detail. The hired man carefully closed the door, sat on the box next to the coachman and yelled for him to pull off. As soon as the carriage started rolling, the coachman shouted at the top of his voice trying to separate the crowds, which even at this early hour packed the Great Square. Mila had

always been fascinated by the energy of Krakw, and even now, in such low spirits, she couldnt tear her eyes away from the window. The Great Square was enormous, with eleven streets converging on it. It had served as a market place ever since the 13th century, its main feature being a stunning brick building housing a number of little shops under one roof and decorated with grinning Sukiennice mascarons. All cities of the Alliance were different: if Vilnius was the city of Alchemists and engineers, everything in Prague was controlled by the Vitamancers; if Constantinople was in the hands of Mystics and Hypnomants, Reval was famous for fantastic marine constructs sliding off the slipways. But according to one joke doing the rounds of the inns, all of those things were paid for by Krakw the wallet of the free cities of the Alliance, which had been revelling in its free city status when the Alliance was nothing more than a charming idea floating in the salons of Europes bankers. The aristocratic Potockis family had come up with a set of very clear rules: no customs duties, low tax and a blind eye turned to smuggling. Its big neighbours, such as Austria, Prussia and Russia had severely disapproved of such policies, and free Krakw had found itself under the direct threat of being occupied. The Rothschilds found this obvious. But it was appreciated even more acutely by the aristocrats Potockis, who hadnt put up much of a fight before their three towers were placed on the coat of arms of the Alliance, next to the Rothschilds fist and five arrows. It had to be said that the Alliance had challenged the smugglers in Krakw in a serious way, but the taxes were reduced even more and so thousands of craftsmen, merchants and manufacturers had flooded the city, turning Krakw into a flourishing place and the financial centre of all the free cities. When the carriage was rolling past the row of wool sellers, the crowd had grown so thick that many people started bumping against the carriage. The cases on the roof began precariously swaying from side to side. The Legionnaire riding in the carriage with Mila swiftly jumped off the box, made his way to the front of the carriage and started to clear a path, separating the crowd with his elbows and sounding an occasional whistle. Many of those who had been pushed away turned round thinking to strike back, but changed their minds at the sight of the green uniform. When the carriage had freed itself from the grip of the Great Square at last, it rolled down St Florians Street in the direction of St Florians Gate, through which Old Krakw would finally release the travellers. The coachman pulled the reins to slow his horses, letting a modern electric street trolley rattle through, and then, with St Florians Gate behind it, the carriage raced along the wide alley leading to Rakovice and its docking port for dirigibles. The expansion of Krakw was so rapid that it could be compared to a monster, swallowing entire settlements and villages whole. Architects did not bother to design new areas without changing the layout, with a few brisk pencil strokes they marked places where everything had to be demolished and replaced with newly built roads. Consequently, the new Krakw could not boast of being beautiful, while the quarter of Nowa Huta the industrial heart of the city was actually rather ugly, with its hurriedly-built tiny workers houses, giant smoke-spewing factories, and never ending torrents of trains, street trolleys, carriages and other means of transport. Mila scrunched up her nose and sprayed some scented water around, hoping that it would kill the stench of leather, metal and soot-blackened steam. The scenery outside Nowa Huta was no different free Krakw grew without any restrictions, it lured people with mirages of a better life, and had to sacrifice something in return. The locals compared Krakw to an onion with layers. The heart of the city the Old

Town was enveloped by the green layer of Planty parks, then followed a layer of better-off citizens houses and beyond that, another one of the Nowa Huta factories. Last came a labyrinth of slums, shacks, derelict houses or simply boxes home to creatures who still kept their hopes alive, despite failing to find their luck in Krakw. A new construction wave would soon clear them out of the way, and these destitute humans with their meagre belongings would retreat and start building another, even more remote layer of Krakw. As in all cities of the Alliance, Legionnaires hardly ever found their way to the slums, and locals observed their own laws, which made robberies possible at any time of the day. But one rule was very strictly adhered to in Krakw: the roads were to be kept clear. They had to be clean, wide, free of obstacles and safe. Krakw painstakingly looked after the big arteries that transported its lifeblood; robberies on the road, even in the middle of the night, were extremely rare, and before gathering the courage to cross the big road, residents of the slums would take time to diligently inspect the view to both sides. After the Nowa Huta Junction, the road stretched ahead side-by-side with a pair of rail tracks connecting the factory quarter with Rakovice airship port and the salt mines, extending beyond it. Trains filled with enormous quantities of salt clattered along these tracks day and night, their dreary shrieks piercing the air. We will be there in no time, said Mila, recognising the towers of Rakovice airship port out of the window. The carriage passengers started bustling around. One of Milas fellow travellers jumped up and waved his metal sword. I am ready, Miss. Alll-reaaa-dyyy? asked another traveller, and Mila reminded herself again to check the oil level. Oh how miserable I am, sadly uttered the third passenger. Heee is miii-see-rab-lee agaiii-n. Noo-t agaaain! someone complained. The air rang with Milas laughter. Its just that Pierrot hasnt been warmed up today. You very well know it, Columbina, she said. It is Scaramuccias turn today. The one who had just been called Scaramuccia waved his sword. This is exactly true, I am ready for exploring and adventure, Miss, he assured her. At that moment the carriage jumped up and Scaramuccia flew down to the floor. Oh dear, Miss, it looks like we are being assaulted, he mumbled. Mila bent down, picked up Scaramuccia and put him back on the seat. It wasnt hard, as all three of Milas friends were no taller than dogs, and weighed a few pounds each. They were Milas toy automatons, developed and constructed by her for her own pleasure. Following the incident in Prague when they had been spotted by a Vitamancer at the New Years Ball, however, they had also become a source of trouble. The impression the automatons had left on the man was so strong that his people were now seeking to get hold of these toys at any cost, and even more so, to capture their creator. In her minds eye Mila saw the streamers of fire again, the memory causing her eyes to freeze over. Through a small gap in the curtains she stared at the airship port as they slowly approached.

The sight of any airship port was so mind blowing that it left no one cold. Even weathered travellers and explorers, adventurers and travelling scientists, who had flown dozens of times before, felt overwhelmed every time they set their eyes on something so outstanding. No one would have dared dispute this. And Rakovice was no exception to the rule. The port was set up next to abandoned salt mines, bound on two sides by gigantic grey and black rocks rearing up into the sky. The ports designers had thought they would do an excellent job of holding back the wind a considerable problem for airships during takeoff and landing. A large part of the port was dedicated to cargo dirigibles, making the site look even more impressive. Powerful cargo giants were not moored on the ground, but in the air. Cables tied them to four metal mooring masts, the largest supporting a metal platform. Packages were unloaded onto the platform, from where they would go into small wagons running straight down to the central package distribution point along metal railway tracks. Supported at a height of a few dozen metres the tracks twisted, crossed one another and changed direction, which made every passerby wonder at the excellence of engineering and mechanical work and feel bewildered at the thought of how this whole structure did not collapse to the ground and crush someone beneath its weight considering the hundreds of poods20 worth of cargo it carried. But Rakovice was also a place where passenger dirigibles felt like unloved children. Their captains spent a lot of time badmouthing Krakw and Rakovice due to the complexity of the tasks they faced at these airports. They not only had to manoeuvre their machines around the menacingly soaring rocks in the dark and pouring rain, doing all they could to avoid hitting the floating cargo monsters or the wagons rolling along the tracks, but also safely reach the ground, where they were moored in the traditional way with special guide ropes on a stub mast. Wisely, only the crme de la crme of navigators were appointed to work in Krakw Navigators Tower by the Department of Transport, and so far disasters had been avoided. The carriage came to a halt in a large open area. Workers ran up to it immediately and started taking the cases off the roof and stacking them on the ground under the strict supervision of the coachman. There was another knock on the door. With a wave of Milas hand all three toys obediently froze. We have arrived, Miss, said the accompanying Legionnaire, peeking inside the carriage. They have already started boarding The Icarus. The cases will be taken care of, while I will walk you to the dirigible along the blue corridor and hand you over to the guards, who are already expecting you at the dirigible. Although the Legionnaire spoke in an impeccably polite tone, a tiny note of incredulity had slipped through. Not knowing who the girl was, he was extremely baffled by the privileges and the escort that had been granted to her. Was she the daughter of some local man of wealth? She did not really look like one. Thank you, said Mila. She then apologised and closed the door, before packing her little toys in a large bag. Columbina and Pierrot slipped into the bag without much fuss, but Scaramuccia decided to be difficult. I will walk by myself, he declared waving his sword, his eyelids still half closed. Mila sighed but did not start arguing with him. With the handbag in one hand and Scaramuccia in the other, the girl got out of the carriage and put the toy on the ground. The morning sun had just cleared the rocks, and Mila,
20

A unit of mass equal to approximately 16.38 kg. It was used in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

shielding her eyes from its bright glare, scanned the surrounding area. The port was still halfempty, as large cargo airships arrived in the afternoon and departed in the evening. At this time of day, only two lonely giants were docked in the air. One of them was being unloaded and looked a hive of activity. Slightly lower, four smaller dirigibles were docked with strong ropes. One of them, The Julien, was about to take off, and port crew were slowly unwinding the ropes that had secured the airship in its mooring position from the large pulley blocks. The other two dirigibles were patrol airships and were used for area inspection flights by the Alliances security services. The fourth one had a long queue waiting at its side. This was The Icarus passenger airship. The blue corridor, the Legionnaire reminded Mila, who seemed to be lost in her thoughts. The girl smiled apologetically, then bent down to turn a little key sticking out of Scaramuccia back. The toy became alive and began to spin in all directions. The Legionnaire smiled and walked off, leading the file. He was soon followed by Mila, and finally by Scaramuccia, whose comical gait raised a few eyebrows among the passengers scurrying to their flight. An automaton? gasped a lady walking by with her husband. What a charmer. Katazhyna would love one of these toys. Scaramuccia was on the brink of turning back to snap at the lady but Mila gave him a warning look, reinforced by a finger over her mouth, which silenced the toy soldier but did not stop him from waving his sword angrily. They soon entered a spacious hall with several partitions. At each of them stood a controller and a military air safety officer, watching the travellers. When the queue stretching across the entire room finally reached the partitions, it divided into several smaller ones. Without a moments hesitation, Milas chaperone walked over to the last booth, where there was no queue. Special class, he stated. An elderly moustachioed controller inspected the girl closely. Can I see your documents, Miss? Mila rummaged through her bag until tiny porcelain fingers put a small ladys handbag in her hand. The girls heart filled with joy again, and with a smile on her face she extended a passport of the free Cities of the Alliance to the controller. The cover was embellished with the Rothschilds red coat of arms, surrounded by the coats of arms of Reval, Vilnius, Krakw, Prague and Constantinople. Together with the passport, Mila gave him a folded permit to travel and a ticket for The Icarus. After the controller had quickly scanned the papers, he took another glance at Mila and waved for her to go through. At that moment the girl was approached by another Legionnaire also tall, heavy set, and with cropped hair, but the uniform he wore was blue and the badge on his chest depicted silver wings against a red background. Miss, I am putting you in the hands of The Icarus Security Service, said the Legionnaire from Krakw. They will do their best to ensure that your journey to Vilniu s is safe and pleasant. The man gave a barely noticeable nod, turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowd.

The new chaperone was as reserved as his predecessor. He directed Mila with his hand and walked a short distance behind her, checking around them all the time. After going through, the people merged back into a single queue they were lining up by the two brand new electric Otis lifts, which ran up to the metal passenger embarkation platform, secured to the massive mast at a height of 30 metres. In groups of four, ladies and gentlemen, the lift can only take you in groups of four yelled a sweating lift supervisor, waving his arms vigorously. When Milas turn came, she took Scaramuccia in her hands and stepped into the cabin. The silent chaperone moved in after her. The girl greeted two other passengers with a polite nod, and they nodded back. The elderly man removed his hat and made a low bow to her, almost stumbling over the fleshy matron who had sadly not been subjected to his exuberant attention. The last to squeeze inside the cabin was the supervisor, who slammed the ironbarred door and span a large handle round a few times, before pushing it down. The lift squeaked and moved up, swaying from side to side. A few minutes into the journey the lift stopped, the iron-barred door slid to one side, and passengers were invited to step onto the platform, straight into the ministrations of expectant stewards, dressed in yellow and blue uniforms. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Icarus, one of them welcomed the passengers in Lithuanian. Let us go, Miss Mila, I will show you your cabin. It will be quicker this way, the accompanying Legionnaire spoke at last, stepping into the dirigible before her. He also spoke Lithuanian. Travelling by passenger dirigible was still a luxury that only a few could afford, and for that reason the carrier companies went out of their way to leave a lasting impression on their passengers. The Icarus had two decks: an open sundeck with its own separate pressurised smoking cabin a rare perk even when it came to dirigibles and a covered lower deck. The latter was used as a lounge, where passengers could gaze out through one of the many portholes while sitting in comfortable armchairs around redwood tables, enjoying hors doeuvres and non-alcoholic drinks. During evening and night flights, a pianist played the mechanically operated piano, and people got a chance to dance under the strict supervision of the stewards, who were worried that the passengers might lose their heads due to too much fun and frolics. On either side of the corridor, starting at the other end of the lounge, there were cabins where holders of more expensive tickets could store their luggage, take a rest or snatch a few hours of sleep at night. A fleeting glance into the cabin where her belongings had been stored was enough for Mila. She scooped up her three sweethearts and strode back to the lounge, taking a cosy position by a porthole. Her little toys were placed in such a way that they could watch The Icarus cast off its moorings and take off. Before long the airship gently soared above the rocks and, having hung in one spot to get adjusted to the upper level winds for a while, turned to the North West and headed for Vilnius. Down below, at the foot of the rocks and by the road, stood a bald man with a hat in his hand, wearing an understated but clearly expensive dark suit. With his head thrown back, he watched The Icarus take off. Having satisfied himself that the dirigible had flown off in the usual direction, he pulled an object that resembled a ladies powder compact out of his jacket

pocket, sprung the lid open and slowly drew his finger across it. The metal-like mirror became dull, before starting to ripple out in concentric circles. Madam has departed, said the man with his lips pressed against the lid. The ripples swallowed the sound, quivered, and no more than a second later the metal surface reflected nothing but the rocks of Rakovice. At that same moment Charles Finley, the second adjutant of The Star of St George the dirigible flying towards Vilnius flicked the lid of a similar powder compact closed, and gave a satisfied smile. He then set to carrying out his duties, but throughout the whole journey did not let the wireless apparatus out of his sight.

Chapter XII Vilnius, morning 23 04 1905 Since time immemorial, Sluskai Palace on the left bank of the Neris River had made the locals feel uneasy and even caused chills down the spines of some. The fate of this palace, built by Governor of Polotsk Dominykas Sluska in the 17th century, could not have been more mercurial. To build a palace in this chosen place required the forming of a square by clearing the area and covering it with soil, as well as changing the course of the Neris River by removing the hill that separated the City from Antokolis. The Palace was once surrounded by an attractive park with ponds, and it had the particularly mesmerising feature of a glass ceiling in one of its halls, which also served as the bottom of a huge fish tank. At the time of the Great Northern War, the Palace became a residence to Emperor of Russia Peter I. In the following years it had been handed over to the Clerks Regular of the Pious Schools, and still later became home to a brewery and a sawmill. After the revolt of 1831, the Tsars government turned it into the garrisons fortress, and later still, into a prison, with katorga21 being the only way out of there. The Alliance of the free cities did not waste time deliberating on how to use the empty building, and it soon became home to the Vilnius Legion. The Legion members found the menacing air of Sluskai quite useful. Thieves, murderers, revolutionaries and spies soon became the tenants of the cramped cells, and the most ghastly tales (quite unassumingly spread by Legionnaires themselves) about the interrogation dungeons in Sluskai were passed from one person to another, inducing the most terrible nightmares in those residents of Vilnius who had been treating the law frivolously. The night guards were always busy dealing with freshly delivered guests directing some of them to the cells, others to interrogation rooms, and yet others to Peter and Pauls church for a days kneeling. Although the cells and interrogation rooms were grim, the Palace was not completely deprived of conveniences. Being a hired military force, the Legionnaires felt that these perks were their well-deserved reward for conscientious service. Some parts of Sluskai Palace, which could not be accessed by everyone, had been fitted out luxuriously. The Legions men could not only enjoy the babbling fountains, but also ride horses, play rugby in smaller spaces separated from one another by hedges, fish in the ponds, perfect their shooting skills on a range or exercise in the gymnasium. A French cook was brought in to take care of their nutritional needs. Now it would be hard to say who out of all the architects of the Alliance was struck with the idea of getting rid of the old guardians of public order and creating the Alliances own legion, calling on the mercenaries of the French Legion for that. But this strategy proved to be a smart one. Mercenaries who were racked by malaria, dysentery or hunger upon their return from service in Gabon or Madagascar were desperate to get into the Legion of the Alliance, as if it were their last chance. For mercenaries who had been through hell and high water, service here was like a cosy home barracks posting, while the Alliance got the chance to use the services of the best.
21

The system of labour camps in Imperial Russia.

The private quarters of the Legate of Vilnius were as exquisite as the apartments at Vilnius Bristol hotel, but luxury was not one of the things that Antanas Sidabras could get excited about. In the course of his life, this former naval infantryman, who had fought in the Spanish and American wars, had learned to see the bright side of each and every day, even when he had only his trench coat for a pillow and the starry sky over Guantanamo Bay for a blanket. But this was something that Antanas Sidabras preferred not to discuss. Now he was gripped by a foul mood. Having paced up and down the room, he looked out of the window. It seemed that the bright and warm feel of yesterday had been smeared over with the wet swipe of a mop. The skies had opened at the break of dawn, and only an occasional individual on his way from the mass at St Peter and Pauls passed by with an apprehensive glimpse towards the gloomy silhouette of Sluskai Palace. One brief look at the front page of The Truth of Vilnius that morning almost made the Legate choke on his tea. The large headline in bold screamed Horrendous murder at Cholera Cemetery! Legate helpless! The corpse and his gruesomely slit throat were described by a journalist called Korsunas in the most graphic of detail. As he had never laid his eyes on the victim, he was stretching the truth considerably. This rather short piece of writing ended with a rhetorical question: Who protects us and how much does it cost? Antanas Sidabras felt a sudden urge to hurl his cup against the wall. The bloodsuckers and moronic quill drivers from The Truth of Vilnius were among those who Sidabras detested the most. On the one hand, Dr Radzinskis, who had the corpse in his disposition throughout the night, could be suspected of having leaked the story, but Sidabras thought it highly unlikely that the Doctor would do that risk falling out with the Legionnaires for a few damned roubles? A more believable storyline involved the police superintendant who had participated in the inspection of the corpse running over to an inn frequented by The Truth of Vilnius scribes and selling his story at a bargain price. So the day was off to a bad start, and it wasnt over yet. When the Hungarian brothers obediently turned up with Limping Jacek, it took a while before the coachman, his fingers frantically crumpling his hat, finally stammered that he had really taken some fat man to the common houses of Steam City. This admission was preceded by vigorous changes in his facial colour from white to red and then back again and a considerable amount of stuttering. He could not name the exact house as the passenger had alighted on the street and disappeared into a gateway. Yet he assured the Legate he could show them the gateway. Sidabras let out a deep breath. He thanked the broceurs and ordered two junior Legionnaires to accompany the coachman to the gateway and make enquiries locally about the pudgy Felix. After the Hungarians and the coachman were gone, a mail dirigible deposited an urgent diplomatic dispatch from the City Council in the Sluskai wind basket. The intimidated Burgomaster was demanding the Legates immediate explanation for the article in The Truth. But there was nothing he could explain. So the day was off to a bad start.

Chapter XIII Somewhere near Trakai, in the afternoon 23 04 1905 A Westerly wind tore in with a burst of rain. The rain lashed ruthlessly at Stepas Rickus head but, as both his hands were holding onto a battered wooden railing, he couldnt even wipe it off his face, and the only thing he could do was lick it off. Rickus inspected the sky apprehensively. Heavy clouds and rain served as excellent cover, but he was not sure if The Broom could withstand a raging storm. Once upon a time this dirigible was an engineering wonder; it was known by the name of No 6 and was used for secret cargo transportation. It was written off at the end of its service life, and later on lost in a game of cards by a quartermaster of the Tsars Army responsible for the management of its estate to experienced robber Stepas Rickus. At least that was what Rickus accomplices used to say. In Stepas Rickus opinion a dirigible, regardless of its age, was a much superior apparatus to a horse: shooting from high above was substantially more agreeable and there was no risk of acquiring saddle-sores on your backside. With the help of some ingenious workmen working according to Rickus instructions, the airship was patched up and had rifles installed (a gift from a military warehouse), and it so happened that No 6 was transformed into The Broom the terror of the Northern Lowlands gentry and passing merchants. Rickus proved to be a smart robber the role of The Broom was to intimidate, while men on horses carried out the robbery part. With a dirigible suspended above their heads and rifles directed right at them, no victim dared to cross swords with the attackers. The unfortunate prey would be so scared by the whole ordeal that they didnt notice the crumbling state of the airship, with its keel falling apart and secured with pieces of wire, or the severely patched up envelope. But today The Broom was to face a real challenge a confrontation with a new and modern dirigible, even if one slightly less well-armed. Rickus took it as a personal challenge. Every few minutes he cursed his life, complaining that there was always a first time for everything. However, the memory of the money was enough to make him decide there was no choice, so he clutched the railings with even more determination and continued to cast his troubled gaze at the sky. The downpour was to come in very handy for Rickus, who saw surprise as the crucial element of his plan of attack. It had been a while since his last assault on an Alliance passenger dirigible, and the pirates hoped to take the security detail on this one by surprise they should not be prepared for aggression from the sky. Obviously, if The Broom itself did not fall to pieces prior to that... Second level, yelled Jokubas, his head sticking out of the wooden cabin above the deck. He was The Brooms navigator. Isnt it time to go up, Steputis? We are almost there. Rickus ignored the Steputis part (it meant little Stepas). When it came to addressing his superiors with respect, Jokubas was so bull-headed that nothing could change his attitude. Rickus turned his head towards the nose of the dirigible and shouted: Chechka, time to ascend, you greasy louse

The bald man at the steering wheel raised his left hand in acknowledgement of the command, while his right hand opened the reservoir valve, causing white clouds of steam speckled with glittering green dots to gush through. Normally The Broom was run on the cheapest available helium, which someone would smuggle from Knigsberg, but on this occasion Rickus had decided not to be tight-fisted and had sought assistance from his old chum the quartermaster, who had helped him feed the dirigible with promethelium. The Broom shuddered so badly that Rickus barely managed to stay on his feet, but then the airship started to ascend through the lashing rain and gusts of wind right into the very middle of a dark cloud. It had been ages since the dirigible was last subjected to such a trial, so it shuddered and its floorboards screeched with the threat of disintegration. Nevertheless, The Broom inched upwards. When the robbers reached the storm cloud, they became enveloped in darkness, as if it were the middle of the night. Weve reached the height! yelled Jokubas from the top. Rickus nodded and gave a signal with his arms crossed in the air. Chechka, the pilot, understood the sign, closed the valves and sharply jerked the control stick. Unfortunately, The Broom could only dream of the air bubble ballcocks required to smooth out sharp movements when changing height, and now it dived at the first attempt to swerve its nose to one side. But Rickus crew were well trained and the assailants positioned at the back of the airship managed to get a good grip on the gondola holding ropes. The Broom was caught by the lower level wind and regained its balance. Seven, four, one, Jokubas yelled out the coordinates, with his head stuck out in the thrashing rain, which did not seem to bother him at all. Ten minutes past five, he added. Clutching the ropes with both hands, Rickus leaned forward as far as he could over the edge to see what was beneath them. The instructions of the mysterious albeit generous client had been followed precisely The Broom had arrived at the right place at the right time. The moment had come to find out if it was worth the effort. All they could see down below were some dark slivers of cloud, and the curtain of rain, with occasional slashes in it. The dirigible moaned another warning it was struggling to stay in this position. Rickus cursed, strained even further over the edge and stared at the ground. Seven four two, seven four three, Jokubas yelled. Three more marks and The Broom would move away from this spot, and it would mean that someone either the mysterious man himself, or The Brooms navigator had made a mistake. Seven four four, seven four five, seven four... At that point the wind, with freshly gained strength, ripped off a sheet of the cloud underneath revealing a Its here! Its here, you greasy lice! Rickus screamed at the top of his voice. Chechka, go! Men, get ready for the jump! The helmsman turned the control stick, tilting the dirigible to the side. Rickus right handman and the commander of this assault, Gastonas Tiskus, hesitated for a moment should he or should he not jump down into the storm cloud, relying solely on calculations (it clearly looked like suicide to him)... But then he grabbed the rope of the wind-catcher, which had been draped over his back, swore like a trooper and flung himself toward the edge of the gondola. He then leaned overboard and took a giant leap into the unknown, his last words, Give us gold, morons! trailing behind him through the air. Eight other robbers followed suit, clutching the ropes of their wind-catchers.

The terrible weather and heavy rain that defined the afternoon drew The Icarus passengers inside their cabins and into the lounge, where they sipped mulled wine, looking through the portholes. Chain smokers of cigars and cigarettes stayed in the pressurised smoking cabin at the back of the dirigible, while the open sun deck was left completely deserted, apart from a lonely steward who, clad in a waterproof tarpaulin coat and hood, was clearing away the dishes. It was his misfortune to become the first victim of the flying robbers. One of Rickus accomplices crashed on top of the unfortunate steward with a piercing scream of horror, after he had delayed releasing his wind-catcher and had not had sufficient time to reduce the speed of his fall. They both plummeted overboard swathed in the ropes of his wind-catcher. Two other robbers simply missed The Icarus and plummeted to the ground, their screams shaking the air. But the landings of Tiskus and five other men were a success. Just as they had been instructed, as soon as they got to their feet, all six crammed the wind-catchers into their rucksacks and dropped them on the floor by the edge of the gondola, before getting out their guns. Puzzled by strange noises, another steward poked his head through the door, but was immediately attacked with a blow to the nose, and collapsed to the floor. Gastonas Tiskus took a good look around to establish if they were safe, before sending the three men to the back of the sun deck. The remaining two raiders, rifles clutched in their hands, stood on either side of the door, ready to strike any foolish bunny peeking in. Standing by the airships edge and attempting to screen his eyes from the pouring rain, Tiskus stuck his head out from under the envelope to look up. At that very moment The Broom emerged from the cloud, water cascading down from its bottom. The dirigible manoeuvred to bring some thick hemp ropes, which had been thrown overboard and were now flapping in the storm, as near to the back of The Icarus deck as possible. Helmsman Chechka made The Broom descend even lower, allowing the robbers on The Icarus deck to catch the ropes and fix them securely to the railings. A gust of wind caused The Broom to shake and the ropes to strain, and Stepas Rickus was the first to slide down. Well done, Rickus praised his men the moment his feet touched The Icarus floor. He gestured to his band to follow him and ran towards the lounge himself, waving two pistols that had materialised from his belt only a moment ago. One kick of his foot opened the door, and he stepped inside. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, he spoke in a cheery voice, before adding with both guns directed at his audience, I hope we are not disturbing you? People started screaming bloody murder, stamping their feet and breaking carafes and glasses. Some passengers sought refuge under the tables, others made off through the other door. But Rickus could not be any more oblivious to any of their actions. His only concern at the time was a young girl with raven-black hair and her chaperone, an Alliance lLegionnaire in a blue uniform. Whatever the wishes of the mysterious client were, Rickus was prepared to go to great lengths in order to avoid deaths. It was silly, of course, to expect the Alliance to pat him on the back for the assault on a passenger dirigible, but if, God forbid, a Legionnaire was killed, they would hunt for the wrongdoer high and low, as if he were their worst enemy, leaving no stone unturned. Even as far away as Brazil he would not feel safe. Had Rickus pirates been more experienced, they would have given priority to clearing the place of wireless radio operators, as someone sending out an SOS signal was the last thing they needed. But the enigmatic client forgot to instruct him on that, and what Rickus was concerned about most was staying alive during the boarding assault on The Icarus. And so it happened that The Icarus distress signal took to the air in no time at all, Attention,

attention, attention, this is Icarus speaking, we have been assaulted by pirates, send help now. When Finley had finally heard the message on his wireless device, he allowed himself a sigh of relief and rushed to the captains bridge, outdoing the operator. The latter, a paper with the coordinates in his hand, stumbled in a second later. What is it now? Captain Mabrey swore and checked the paper. We are really close, he concluded and, clutching the speaking tube in his hand, ordered, Attention everyone! The passenger dirigible of the Alliance The Icarus has sent us a cry for help. We are changing course and preparing for an armed confrontation. He dictated the new coordinates to the navigator standing at the helm of the airship. The sound of thumping feet resonated along the corridors of the dirigible. The Soldiers of the Sky and artillerymen hurried to take their positions. The Star slowly turned back and changed its course. Finley rewarded himself with a contented smile. He had discreetly adjusted the course prior to take-off, which is why The Star had arrived at this location exactly on the dot. The armed accomplices tumbled into The Icarus lounge behind their leader. Like a bolt of lightning Gastonas Tiskus charged at the Legionnaire in blue uniform and twisted his arms behind his back. Generally speaking, Legionnaires were excellent soldiers but they were mercenaries nevertheless and were too worried about saving their own skins to resist in such a situation. Besides, the audaciousness of the attack had stunned the passengers and thrown them off balance. We will not keep you long, ladies and gentlemen, Gastonas announced in a solemn voice. Give us your wallets, jewellery and precious stones, and we promise to part with you amicably as soon as we have finished examining your cabins. The robbers hands were obediently filled with the airship passengers valuables, but Stepas Rickus had no time to collect any contributions. His eyes feverishly darted around trying to locate his real prey. If the girl were not there, they would have to check the cabins. But how does one make gold-greedy robbers drop everything and rush to search for some unknown girl? One little madam did attract Rickus attention, but when the muggers piercing stare caused her to faint gracefully, dropping to the floor, her face became covered with a stack of blonde dyed hair. No, this was not the right girl. Suddenly Rickus felt a sharp throb of pain go through his shin. It felt like he had been stabbed. Greasy louse! he howled and looked down. Right beside his leg stood a toy soldier, busy pulling his tiny metal sword out of Rickus shin. The furious robber aimed his pistol at the daring little automaton. No! No, Scaramuccia! someone shouted and a girl with black hair came running towards Rickus. Little lady, is that brave heart in blue uniform your chaperone? Rickus head worked fast. The girls eyes instinctively moved over to the Legionnaire, whose hands were being tied by Tiskus and Rickus, oblivious to Rickus conversation. The girl frowned. Rickus smiled like a Cheshire cat.

You see? Thats some lucky break, you feathery serpent he wasnt thinking about the toy soldier anymore. The pistol barrel went up and stopped at the level of Milas chest. It may come as a surprise to you, little girl, but you are the real reason why we are here. Really? the news did not seem to scare Mila at all. Completely ignoring the pistol pointing at her, she stepped forward and bent down to pick up Scaramuccia. Then she looked back at Rickus. So you have found me. And what are you going to do next, you smartyboots in puffy trousers? Rickus was confused. Neither the women in the little Lowlandian town of Uzventis nor the ladies in carriages raided by the robbers had never been so daring with him. He involuntarily looked down at his trousers. Mila laughed and he felt shame. His red cheeks betrayed the anger that started boiling inside. Holding the pistol by the barrel, he began to advance towards the girl, ready to hit her with the butt of the gun to teach her a lesson in polite conversation with men. However, he was too late. A severe voice, intensified even more by a mechanical amplifier, bellowed, This is Captain Milton Mabrey of Her Majestys corvette The Star of St Geor ge. The intruders on The Icarus have 10 seconds to lay down their arms and come out onto the sun deck with their hands up in the air. There will be no second warning. Dragging Mila by her elbow, Rickus dashed to the porthole and looked outside, where, having appeared from nowhere, a British military dirigible seemed to have played the trump card in this game. The Brooms paltry rifles had already been cowed by Vickers heavy machine guns. The riflemen had barely had a moment to fall over on the deck before getting back to their feet again, and were now swaying like reeds with their hands high up in the air, squinting from the dazzling flashes of magnesium fired by The Star. Having dealt with The Broom, the British military airship hovered above The Icarus, waiting for the Sky Soldiers to slide down the ropes and strike the deck with their feet. The artillerymen stood stock still by the machineguns and the howitzer, a sight which could not but scare the life out of the enemy. What are we doing, Steputis? asked Gastonas Tiskus. Lay your guns on the floor and put your hands up. They are not joking, Rickus shrugged his shoulders. What about you? I will find you when you come out, muttered Rickus and immediately washed his former allies out of his head. He was not going to prison for a third time. Jabbing the pistol into Milas neck, the robber extended his other arm back into his rucksack. Fortunately, he had flung it on together with the wind-catcher on his back just before descending from The Broom by rope. Just in case. He began to back out towards the side door with Mila, yanking her with him, as she curiously followed his actions, putting up no resistance whatsoever. Rickus sullen accomplices dropped their guns to the floor and obediently shuffled to The Icarus deck, accompanied by the passengers sneers. Rickus took full advantage of the commotion and slipped out through the side door. He understood that it would only be a few blinks of an eye before the passengers reported the girls kidnapping by an air pirate to the rescuers. Well, I hope you havent overdone it with your porridge, damsel, Rickus remarked to Mila. Otherwise well reach the ground sooner than we should.

Finally, Mila had comprehended his intentions and made an attempt to free herself from his grip, but his extraordinary strength surprised her. The clasp of his hand on her collar was so oppressive that she could hardly breathe. Helplessly dangling from her other hand, Scaramuccia was another factor hindering her chances of self-defence. Once outside, Rickus marched straight over to the side of the gondola. Pressing the struggling Mila like a doll hard against his own torso, he swiftly strapped her into a chest harness with a buckle, then turned sideways and climbed on to the handrail. Swaying with every gust of wind, he tried to grab the end of the cord hanging out of the rucksack, doing his best not to look down at the black ground. Finley, adjutant Edward OBraitis and another duty officer watched the assault on The Broom from the deck of The Star. After the Sky Soldiers armed with Lee Enfield rifles had descended from The Star to The Icarus, everyone had their eyes fixed on the deck, which was quickly filling with the robbers, their hands in the air. Only Finleys narrowed eyes gazed slightly further to the left, expecting to see two figures in whom he had a keen interest. He was right moments later he saw gang leader Stepas Rickus and Mila escape through the side door. Keeping his eyes fixed on the pair, the Englishman took hold of a rope secured to the side of the deck, estimating the distance. The real Finley would have never been brave enough for such madness but this new Finley took a few steps back, grasped the rope firmly, then sprinted and jumped overboard. What are you doing, Charles? yelled Edward, but Finley was already rushing through the air towards Rickus, who was about to leap overboard, taking Mila with him. A few moments later he landed beside Rickus, having landed a scissor kick on him from the air. His released the rope, and with nimble hands, swiftly undid the buckle and snatched Mila away. Then he turned his attentions to Rickus he lifted him in the air and propelled him overboard, as easily as a feather. The gang leader yelped and disappeared into the cloud, hands grasping desperately for the wind-catchers cord. My apologies, Miss, said Charles Finley, gazing back at the girl. I couldnt let you leave the dirigible before making sure you had a wind-catcher. The girl was soaked to the skin and frozen, her teeth chattering with fear, but the man s words summoned forth from her a spontaneous smile, and she gratefully shook her rescuers hand. After the robbers had been transferred to The Broom, tied up with rope, and crammed into the cabins, Finley retreated to a secluded area, pulled out his powder compact and, almost touching it with his lips, reported, The job has been completed. We have contact.

Chapter XIV Vilnius, late afternoon 23 04 1905 Legate Sidabras, cheek resting on his hand, gazed out of the carriage window at raindrenched Vilnius, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together in his head. His attention was drawn to yet another inscription smeared in paint on the wall. The fact that the rain had made the writing barely legible did not change the way Sidabras felt about it. For some time already the city had been ravaged by a gang of wall daubers, who decorated the main buildings of Vilnius with slogans of a revolutionary nature and calling for violence. The men of Steponas Malachovskis, who was responsible for the cleanliness of the city, were so busy painting over the defaced walls that they barely had time to catch their breath. The carriage stopped. Sidabras gave a deep sigh, got out and walked into the Town Hall, his brow furrowed with worry. Burgomaster of Vilnius Vytautas Venslauskis-Venskus awaited him eagerly. Sidabras, you must to put all other things aside and make solving the unfortunate strangers murder your first priority, the Burgomaster said, coming straight to the point, his pointy little beard wagging as he spoke. Do you understand the consequences if The Truth continues to rant about people getting their throats slit in broad daylight in a city that will soon play host to the most eminent of people? Sidabras refrained from pointing out that murder was not committed in broad daylight at all, and only nodded instead. And what about the wall scribblers? What can we do about them? Venslauskis-Venskus tapped his hands on his lap, indicating his frustration. Forget the defacers. Who cares about a few hooligans? Do you understand that Vilnius will soon welcome crown princes, ministers, lords and generals? And what do we have to show them? Corpses with their slit throats open! Sidabras was about to open his mouth to say something but the office door was suddenly flung open, revealing an out-of-breath Legion Junior Sergeant in the doorway. What is this...? Burgomaster couldnt conceal his indignation. The Junior Sergeant put his shoulders up and back and reported, Vilnius is being approached by three dirigibles! The passenger Icarus, the British Star of St George, and a third one carrying air pirates who have been captured! A few moments later the Burgomaster and the Legate of Vilnius had already darted down the Town Hall stairs, rapidly clambered into their carriages and set off in the direction of Viscigavas Airship Port. The three dirigibles slowly advanced towards Vilnius. The file was headed by The Icarus, with The Star of St George following behind, and The Broom trailing at the back. Since all of its crew were locked up in cabins, the control stick had been handed over to the second helmsman of The Star.

As soon as news of the pirates assault on The Icarus reached Vilnius, it spread like wildfire. Despite the pouring rain, people ran out into the streets and threw back their heads to watch the convoy of aircraft, which was now poised in the air above Green Bridge, awaiting directions from Navigators Tower. The moment it responded with a bouquet of multi-coloured rays, the three dirigibles moved in the direction of Viscigavas Airship Port. It had become a tradition for passengers of The Icarus to gather on the sun deck for the landing. This time was no different. The crowd was brightened by the red uniforms of the British, several of Captain Mabreys men having gained his permission to stay on The Icarus. Charles Finley was here, as was Edward OBraitis, who had been introduced to Mila by his fellow officer. She was now flanked by both men, as if they were ceremonial guards. Mila regarded the city below pensively. She was torn between a desire to call it home and a feeling that she was a stranger here. She had a clear recollection of her uncle Nikodemas Tvardauskis home, the laboratory in his cellar and the scent of wild roses drifting over the garden, but the rest of Vilnius, with its streets and courtyards, was no more than a pale shadow in her head. Edward OBraitis had only been to Vilnius once. Still a small child, he had been taken by his grandparents for a walk around the great Fair of St Casimier. His retained few memories; a sweet sugar-coated pretzel and people stepping on his feet was about all that he remembered. Charles Finley gazed down, but the cautious glances he kept stealing at Mila made it clear that he was preoccupied with something other than the panorama of the city. Every time their eyes met, the girl would please Charles with her lovely smile, despite her air of being lost in thought. Vilnius Viscigavas Airship Port was not as impressive as its Krakw cousin. It was an old re-organised hippodrome, with dirigibles landing on its main field. The surrounding seating area had been removed and replaced with customs and passport control, as well as a spacious waiting area with a cafe. A cargo monorail connected the port with Snipiskes and Steam City. Huge airship hangars were situated at the back of the site. This port accepted regular passenger dirigibles from Krakw, Prague, Reval, and less frequent ones from Kaunas, Knigsberg, Berlin and St Petersburg. Just outside the airship port gate, the city welcomed travellers with a gigantic iron sculpture of a wolf gazing into the sky a gift from the Guild of Mechanics. The wolf was also a clock, opening its muzzle to release an unholy howl at the start of every hour, which had scared the locals stiff and eventually made them write a letter to Spiritual Councillor Prelate Masalskis, asking him to force the evil Mechanics to silence the wolf. Once upon a time one of the most popular pastimes of Vilnius residents was watching dirigibles take off and land. Families with picnic baskets would travel here on a steam trolley. They disembarked at the penultimate stop and laid their picnic blankets on the grassy hill with a clear view of Viscigavas Airship Port. But eventually peoples fascination with the novelty had died out, and only one or two curious types would still come to admire the whales of the sky here. Today, however, the hill attracted a large crowd. Hundreds of people jostled through the congregation, filling all the spaces around the port, dying to see the pirate airship and the British military corvette that had captured it. In the waiting area and outside public order was maintained by a platoon of Legionnaires. They formed two corridors. One of them would lead the pirates to Sluskai prison, which eagerly awaited its new residents, while the other would welcome The Icarus passengers and the crew of The Star. They were greeted by

almost all of Vilnius Councillors, led by Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus. Front-row places in this flock were taken up by photographers, holding enormous flashes above their heads, and other journalists, then relatives and friends of the passengers. Nikodemas Tvardauskis lingered at the thin end of the crowd, squinting at The Icarus and waiting for it to touch the ground. Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras had picked a spot between the two corridors. He stood giving orders to two sergeants, casting an occasional disapproving glance at the flashing cameras of the photographers. The prisoners should be put onto carts and sent to Sluskai with no delay, he instructed. Do not let any of the hacks near them, not to mention the rats from The Truth. They can chat to the heroes in red jackets if they like. And then he spat on the ground, demonstrating his distaste for the British military. The Icarus touched the ground first. The dirigible was suspended between two enormously thick poles. The port workers standing on the platform caught the ropes that were flung to them, and as deftly as jugglers secured them to the bulky hooks. The Icarus passengers demonstrated their appreciation of these actions by loud applause. A wide platform was moved right next to the passenger gondola. When the gate in the side of the gondola opened, the anxious passengers threw themselves onto the platform, causing it to slip down the pole, screeching from the added weight. By the time the new arrivals were queuing at passport control and customs, The Star of St George and The Broom had landed on the edge of the port site. On the Legates instructions, the Legionnaires closed in on the pirates as soon as they had disembarked from The Broom, and swiftly shoved them in to barred carts, before sending them away to Sluskai Palace. With the first sighting of The Stars captain Milton Mabrey and his officers, Vilnius Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus thrust out his chest. Welcome to Vilnius, highly-respected officers! he greeted the British in English. He had been raring to deliver his whole speech in English but was fortunately convinced otherwise by the shrewd Councillors, who suspected his knowledge of the English language was rather limited. Therefore, Venslauskis-Venskus continued in Lithuanian, while Money Councillor Gerhardt von Ott stood next to him and interpreted. We are very grateful to you for being in the right place at the right time. Please allow us to extend our gratitude by presenting you with a symbolic gift the key to the city. This was another thing that Councillors had tried to persuade Burgomaster to forgo, but Venslauskis-Venskus had proved to be as stubborn as a mule and refused to listen. He knew that the key was his only chance of finding his way on to the front pages of the paper. So now the Burgomaster extended the giant key to Mabrey and turned back to face the photographers We are truly honoured, Mr Burgomaster. This British officer had been seen many things in his time, and managed to conceal his surprise well. The Star of St George is here to protect your beautiful city and I can assure you that no pirates will dare to approach Alliance dirigibles knowing that we are in the sky. When Gerhardt von Otts translation of Mabreys words reached the crowd, the air exploded with applause. Although Sidabras did take part in the ceremony, he restricted himself to a brief shake of Captain Mabreys hand, then made his excuses and hurried over to the carriages packed with robbers and their guards.

Mila, Charles Finley and Edward OBraitis were among the first to go through passport control the well-mannered passengers did not mind letting the British officers and the girl go ahead of them. Outside the waiting area she scanned the expectant and curious crowd, searching for any familiar face. As soon as she laid eyes on Tvardauskis, waiting for her away from the main crowd, she ran to him. Uncle Nikodemas! she cried, putting her arms around his neck. Calm down, calm down, lady. I am no longer thirty, and you are not six, Nikodemas laughed. Go easy or you may break my old bones. Mila kissed Nikodemas on both cheeks. Stop it, uncle, you havent changed one bit. But you have, replied Tvardauskis brightly. And I see you have company. The girl turned back to Charles Finley and Edward OBraitis, who had followed her over. Uncle, this is Charles, she said. He saved me from the pirates And this is Edward. He is a Lithuanian from Kaunas. They both are adjutants to the captain of The Star. Both men nodded politely. To be honest with you, I am in a bit of difficulty, OBraitis spoke in English. I cant speak Lithuanian. But I soon will. I can already say gud dey, he was interrupted by Charles with a wide grin on his face. Tvardauskis released Mila and walked over to the men. Milas friends are my friends, he stated in English, giving both youths a long handshake. With the parting of hands a mysterious smile broke out across his lips. Its time for us to go, OBraitis made a move. Officers are not supposed to leave their captain for long besides, your security services might have a few questions for us. And not just them the journalists too, Charles interjected again and laughed. Edward, you shouldnt forget that Captain Mabrey tends to avoid the press like the plague. Being Lithuanian, you will be the one to do the tongue wagging. Will I see you again? the possibility suddenly dawned on Mila. She looked at Tvardauskis. Uncle Nikodemas... Tvardauskis immediately realised what the girl was hinting at. Please come to dinner. Would the day after tomorrow be convenient? The men were delighted to accept the invitation. Once Tvardauskis had given them the address, they both said their goodbyes and hurried to where the cameras flashed and excited voices babbled. Nikodemas, his arm around Milas shoulders, led her to the carriage, where Jonas Basanavicius, having performed his Councillors duty by greeting the British captain, was already waiting for them. He was now watching the porters stack the girls cases on the roof. Mila, you light up my day, he spoke to her affectionately, embracing her. And your beard, Uncle Jonas, has grown even longer. Are there no more barbers in Vilnius? she started laughing. Basanavicius helped Mila clamber into the carriage and then looked over at Tvardauskis.

So? he asked quietly. Do we have him? Of course, the smile was wiped off Tvardauskis lips in an instant. We do. And can you imagine? He is Lithuanian and stuck to her like glue. Have you told Mila? Basanavicius asked. No. Not just yet. Not until I am absolutely certain that he is a Vitamancer agent. Basanavicius nodded in approval, giving his friends elbow a slight squeeze. After the robbers had been delivered to Sluskai for their lengthy and not particularly pleasant holiday, and after the British crew had arrived at the Bristol and the crowd dispersed, the Legate of Vilnius headed for his own carriage, parked beside a small hill away from the Airship Port and manned by a bored sergeant. The Legate was a moment away from clambering inside when he was dazzled by a magnesium flash. Journalist Petras Korsunas from The Truth of Vilnius, Legate, a young man with black tousled hair and an abnormally large Adams apple rattled out quick as a flash. How are you getting on with the investigation of the gruesome murder? We are conducting the investigation, Sidabras conveyed dryly. I have nothing to add. As the journalist barely came up to the Legates chest, he pulled himself up by standing on tiptoe and talked fast to him. According to information available to The Truth, the investigation has reached a dead end. You have no suspects, you dont know who the victim is. And youre not doing anything about it. I have done everything, said Sidabras through clenched teeth. So does it mean that at the time when the city is being ravaged by a maniac murderer, the Legionnaires have resigned themselves to feeling helpless? Korsunas fired words and spit out of his mouth. What? You have nothing to say? Not to your newspaper, I dont, retorted Legate. Does it mean that you are scared of The Truths free speech? Sidabras face darkened. Suddenly he could contain himself no longer. He roared I am not scared of the truth. But I use your Truth to wipe my arse, and was instantly dazzled by the magnesium flash once again. Why are you so angry, Legate? Korsunas grinned from ear to ear, winking to the photographer a thin and tall man with a face as pale as snow. Do you need help? the sergeant walked over to Sidabras and both men exchanged meaningful glances. For over a minute the Legate of Vilnius stared intently at The Truth of Vilnius journalist. Korsunas started feeling apprehensive, while the photographer was suddenly seized by a bad feeling and began to back off quietly, his flash extended in front of him. All of a sudden Sidabras leaped at the photographer and knocked the apparatus out of his hands, and it was swiftly caught by the sergeant. The Legate then grabbed and lifted the journalist by his collar like a kitten, and in three long hops reached the top of steep slope, at the bottom of which lurked a shallow pond overgrown with thick algae. A second later

Korsunas was suspended in the air, his legs dangling above the thick blanket of nettles and thistles covering the hill. Help! They are trying to kill free speech! Let me go! the terrified reporter squealed. As you wish... murmured Sidabras, releasing his grip. The herald of The Truth somersaulted down the slope and plopped into green water with a big splash. The picture box followed him down the slope and into the pond. Sidabras turned halfway back to look at the sergeant, who was grinning gleefully. The seeker of the truth got wet, he said. Next time he should bother someone at a different address. This is the only way to explain things to this pack of dogs, muttered Sidabras then suddenly knitted his brow. An idea had jumped into his mind: At a different address? But of course The address made them go to the dead-end road. What is the matter, Legate? The Legates changed face caused the sergeant to worry. Wrong address, muttered Sidabras to himself. No one but a big fool would give his real address to broceurs or a night coachman. Fatty Felix was not going home, and that is why our people could not find him, he said under his breath, gazing at the sergeant. Now listen... tell our officers to go to Steam City and visit all the old ladies sitting at their windows. Also question all the tenants about whether or not they had seen anyone looking like our fat shorty Felix. I bet he had a girl there, and he went hiding in her place. Yes Legate, the sergeant said crisply, indicating he understood clearly. It seemed that the day had never broken, and while everyone was waiting, it had moved straight into the evening. Vilnius residents scurrying home shook their wet umbrellas before boarding street trolleys. Gas lamps were lit along the streets, and were soon shrouded in transparent veils of rain. Legate Sidabras was in his office reading the initial interview records. It seemed that it had just now dawned on Stepas Rickus accomplices what the consequences of the assault on the Alliance dirigible could mean for them, as they promptly transformed themselves into windup canaries, filling the Sluskai cells with their sweet tweeting. Of course, their leader Rickus, who had been kicked out of The Broom by the British officer Charles Finley, was to blame for everything. The robbers claimed that because Rickus had fallen out with a wind-catcher on his back, he could easily have opened it and landed safely. Or which was a more credible storyline been crushed like a bug on the ground. But the truth was never to be found as The Icarus had been attacked near Trakai, in the territory of the Russian Empire, where the forces of the Alliance were not welcome. The Legates attention was drawn to one interesting detail, underlined in red by a diligent investigator: the prisoners claimed that the assault on The Icarus was not Rickus own idea, but had been commissioned by some client of his. A few men alleged to have seen the man leaving the inn together with Rickus, and described him as a tall bald man in a black suit. The investigator wrote, A quivering criminal, who had introduced himself as medic Zaremba, asked for a dose of opium, then fervently disclosed the whole truth. According to him, the bald man gave instructions to assault The Icarus in a particular spot near Trakai, and kidnap one particular person. Robber Zaremba confessed not to know who Rickus was supposed to kidnap (the investigator was inclined to believe him).

Sidabras got up, rubbed his aching head and poured some amber honey vodka into a tall glass his usual remedy for such ailments. He then wandered over to the window and looked out at Neris, shrouded in dusk. There was a knock at the door. Come in, called out the Legate, his back still turned to the door. Legate, you have a lady guest, the duty officer reported from the doorway. Sidabras turned round, clearly taken by surprise. Sluskai Palace was a place where people were brought by force or came in response to an order, but they almost never came here of their own free will and without being asked to do so. Shall I bring her in? the duty officer asked. No, I will go down to the reception hall. Finishing his drink in one gulp, the Legate left the office. The hall was busy with people. The usual types of pugilistic ruffians with their noses squashed and clothes torn to shreds were being brought in through the door by the Legionnaires. It took some time for Sidabras to make out the guest. All of a sudden a white parasol flittered before his eyes. Good evening, righteous soldier, screeched a familiar voice and the parasol went down. I hope you remain healthy and happy. The Rose of the Troubles entered Sluskai dressed for a ball: she wore a long black sequined skirt, a light-coloured flowery jacket that shined through the dark, and her head was adorned with a black wide-brimmed hat with a veil that concealed her face. You look exquisite, Rose the Legate complimented her. Do you have a rendezvous? Indeed, indeed I do, croaked Rose. My darling has been waiting for me, through ripples of dark water. The old lady leaned down on her parasol. But its you who is going on a rendezvous tonight, my silver falcon. The man wishes to see your bright face. What man? Sidabras appeared baffled. But you know, my falcon, you know. He will wait for you just before midnight in Smolianka inn. He told me, Apologise to the Legate for such an urgent call. But you must come alone, my falcon, in order to avoid anxiety. And please reward me, the old woman messenger, with a kopeck for bringing the news to you. As always, the Legate took half a rouble out of his pocket and handed it to Rose of the Troubles. Rose extended her heartfelt thanks and wishes for good health to him, then worked her way outside, aiding herself with her parasol. Sidabras scratched his chin pensively. Here we go A meeting with the king of the Vilnius criminal underworld, Motiejus Kairys, lay ahead of him tomorrow. He was about to return to his office when his eyes stopped on yet another familiar figure. On the bench in reception sat the old cobbler Efraim, slowly swaying back and forth, his fingers knitted together in his lap. A faint smile played on his lips. Why is Efraim here? Sidabras asked the duty officer. Has something happened? All of Vilnius knew that this old storyteller would never hurt a fly.

Oh no, nothing happened, the officer reassured him. He brought back some patched -up and metal-bound shoes that the men had left for him to mend. As its raining cats and dogs outside, he asked to wait here until it stops. Thats fine, let him sit here then, Sidabras said before walking off. Why dont you offer him some tea, he suggested over his shoulder. Maybe it will stop people from blabbering that we are lacking in the art of hospitality here in Sluskai. Lost in thought, old Efraim did not seem to hear the Legionnaires conversation. But his eyes started blinking more rapidly.

Chapter XV The lands of Tsarist Russia near Vilnius, evening 23 04 1905 Evening came, spreading twilight across the sky. A small two-seater biplane gathered speed and rolled along the field, then lifted off the ground and swooped into the sky. The pilot made a circle in the air and waved to the people in the field picking up the torches that had been used to light his way. Anyone with the slightest understanding of aviation would have been perplexed what business could a Russian Vityaz military biplane have next to Viscigavas airship port? The craft were suitable for short journeys only, Russian Vityaz biplanes did not ever set course to land in Viscigavas, and neither were they wanted there, and the nearest Russian airport was a considerable distance away. But the pilot seemed to know what he was doing and headed on up into the sky with clear determination. Occupying the passenger seat was Chief Editor and one of the owners of The Truth of Vilnius, Leib Volynskiy. He swallowed nervously, making every effort not to look down at the speedily receding land. He tried to think pleasant thoughts, like the contents of tomorrows issue of his paper. Since Lipskis purposeful men had visited the Editorial Office, the scandal regarding dead rats in his brewerys vats had been discreetly buried. Since the men came carrying several stacks of three-rouble banknotes, the matter was, so to speak, closed. The story of the former Vilnius Councillor Buksa and the lost money from the estates was still captivating, if a bit tired, but the Viscigavas scandal was, without any doubt, the most delectable morsel of all. From the moment reporter Korsunas came back into the office, he had welded himself to his typewriter, and didnt detach himself until he was triumphantly carrying his front -page story round the office. So tomorrow would be the day the story of the crazy Vilnius Legate and the mysterious murderer would be on everyones lips, and the sharp voices of Malachovskis newspaper boys would sing it through the air, making it the talk of the city. The thought of tomorrows commotion made the biplane passenger lick his lips in anticipation, although one reckless glimpse at the ground below nearly made him lose his recently gobbled dinner. Leib Volynskiy liked discussing things with his clients over a glass of wine in hotels, such as the Bristol or Geneva. But only when the bill was settled by the other party, of course. This client, however, was different. One beckoning gesture was enough to make Leib drop everything and, clutching a draft copy of tomorrows The Truth of Vilnius front page displaying the Legates enraged and distorted face, jump into his carriage and roll out of town in a blitz. Leib never tired of repeating: he who pays the piper calls the tune; and so he didnt shun secret night-time encounters in a roadside inn or in the shadows of a wood either. Despite all that, the evening flight severely discomforted him. With his eyes fixed on the pilots helmet, Volynskiy essayed again to lift his mood. Perhaps thinking of the size of the commission that he would earn this time would help... The biplane soared into the nebulous clouds, which by now had turned into threatening black smudges. A dozen or so seconds later, when the cloud blanket had been left behind and the little plane was still pursuing its ascent, the editors eyes bulged to the size of dinner plates.

Suspended in the sky in front of them hung the largest dirigible that he had ever seen. It was enormous, several times larger than the passenger airships of the Alliance, with a dozen or so propellers spinning like mad on either side, trying to keep the monster at a fixed altitude. Volynskiy was rather knowledgeable about dirigibles and knew that the consumption of promethelium sharply increased when the altitude went over a few hundred metres. One could only guess the insane amount of promethelium being fed to this monster, which could reach a height of several kilometres. And not just promethelium the steam that was turning the propellers was belching out on all sides, caressing the lower part of the dirigible in a white wave. But that was not all. The sides of the dirigible were tightly girdled with wide metal strips, which held the editor could not believe his eyes a torch-lit runway on the top of the dome. On one side of it several biplanes were parked. It had just dawned on Leib why the little Vityaz was not looking for a patch of ground to land it had its own airport in the sky. The pilot banked the biplane and started circling above the dirigible. In the shadow of the monster this little creature really looked like a toy. Leib drank in the sight of the long, open deck, designed for launching bombing raids, machinegun mounts pointing in all directions installed above the runway. The initial, somewhat romantic impression of this construction shrivelled without a trace. The little planes soaring last arc suddenly turned into a rapid descent towards the runway. Overcome by the fear that they would crash into the hangar at the end of the runway, or collide with the balloon and cause to it tear, the editor closed his eyes. But he didnt need to worry as the experienced pilot reduced speed in good time, and gently landed the biplane on the runway. Only when it stopped a few metres away from the hangar door did Volynskiy realise that all this time he had been holding his breath. Welcome to The Ilya Muromets, said the pilot without turning round. When Leib Volynskiy got out of the biplane, a bitterly cold wind swept through his frame as if through a sieve. He realised that he was standing on top of the balloon at an altitude of one kilometre and possibly even higher. His whole body quivering, it took all his strength to take his first step. While the pilot of Vityaz whistled as he prepared for his return journey, a flight officer in Russian Military Air Force uniform came out to greet the guest. Volynskiy followed the officer to step inside a low and dark hangar. Attached to the hangar wall and hanging outside the perimeter of the dirigible dome was a hydraulic lift with grille screens for walls, ceiling and floor. The officer ushered the guest inside the lift, then also entered and slammed the iron grille shut. As soon as Volynskiy comprehended the dark abyss of the sky from the cage-like lift, he had to struggle hard not to pass out. He squeezed himself into the corner, praying for this nightmare to end. The soldier sneered at the shivering man, muttered something in Russian and pulled the handle. The lift started to descend. Intense heat wafted off the surface of the balloon and their ears were filled with the hammering of the propellers, strips of steam winding around their legs. One last screech and the lift stopped. The soldier pushed the grille door to one side, and Volynskiy allowed himself a sigh of relief. Feeling the cold sweat on his body dry, he entered the innards of The Ilya Muromets. As open flames were not allowed in dirigibles, the long and narrow corridor was lit by a dim greenish light emanating from small glass containers salamanders tongues which were an invention of the Alchemists of the Alliance. On both sides the corridor was lined

with doors possibly cabins and storage rooms. At the end of the corridor there was a door, beams of bright light streaming through its chinks. The soldier opened the door and gesticulated for the guest to enter, but stayed outside himself. Volynskiy surveyed room, thinking it reminded him of a both a dining and a meeting room. It was now empty, except for a solitary figure standing with his back to him, gazing out through a large round porthole. Upon hearing someone enter, the figure turned round. Here you are! Alexander Ignatyavitch Golytsin, advisor to the Russian Empire, responsible for the ulcers in the Northwestern lands the free cities of the Alliance joyfully greeted his guest. I hope the journey has not tired you too much? Golytsin was a youngish man in his early thirties and upon their first encounter with him, people were often flabbergasted by the seniority of his position within the Russian Empire. Many of them could not help thinking, This lucky whippersnapper has to thank his connections for being where he is now. But they couldnt be more wrong. Golytsin was an astute man, full of energy, wholeheartedly devoted to the Machiavellian idea of The end justifies the means. A handsome brunet with a spark in his eyes, he could have been successfully climbing the career ladder in St Petersburg, breaking the hearts of high society ladies there. But not for Alexander the easy life: he couldnt wait to be in the crucible of great inventions, feeling the pulse of progress. A romantic patriot, Golytsin deeply believed that Great Russia was to take its place at the forefront of the new world. Despite it being his first face-to-face encounter with Golytsin, Volynskiy immediately felt the high rank of his host. He was used to receiving commissions or rewards from lower rank diplomats or even middlemen. The journey was rather unexpected, Your Honour. The editor of The Truth, who had learned all the right ways of addressing people of importance at school, kept his reply brief. This had a very positive effect on Golytsin, who tilted his head slightly to the side in a satisfied way. Obviously The Ilya Muromets does not often come to these parts. But as we are currently on manoeuvres, I thought that you, as a member of the press, might find it interesting to familiarise yourself with the new achievements of Russian aviation. Manoeuvres? Volynskiy was surprised. Yes, nodded Golytsin. Why not? This is Russian territory. Dont worry, we are not going to bomb your city of Vilnius, he laughed. And the free press, which we hold in high regard, should really find this visit appealing. Please, the smiling Golytsin waved over to the little table in the corner of the cabin. The table held an ice bucket containing a bottle of chilled vodka and a few plates of zakuski22 red and black caviar, deliciously smelling translucently thin slices of salo23 and a bowl of cornichons. Golytsin knew how to please his guests. Suddenly a shadow detached itself from the wall and stepped forward. It was a steward in dark uniform whom Volynskiy had not noticed before. What would you like, sir? Alexander Ignatyavitch enquired. Red caviar, or black? Both, the editor let slip heedlessly, which immediately threw him off balance. But Golytsin only laughed.
22 23

Russian hors doeuvres or appetizers, often set out to eat with vodka. Thinly sliced pork fat, traditionally eaten to follow a shot of vodka.

He clicked his fingers and the steward (who, as Volynskiy had just realised, was an automaton) set to work. An instant later, a shot glass brimming with ice cold vodka and a plate containing a few open sandwiches and a cornichon daintily perched on a fork appeared on the table in front of Volynskiy. He had barely had a moment to let his briefcase out of his hands. To progress! the Russian State Advisor said, raising his glass. The men clinked their glasses together and downed their vodka. The steward hurried to top them up. So, this is our Muromets, Golytsin stretched out his arms. This is the first plane carrier dirigible. It needs no airship port. It can take off and land anywhere distance is no longer an object, which means that from now on, aviation can develop in a completely new way. But that is not all. The young State Advisor beamed with enthusiasm. Our Ilya carries a plentiful supply of bombs, it can ascend to an altitude of four or five kilometres, and you have already seen the machinegun batteries on your way here. If, God forbid, there was a war, The Ilya Muromets would ensure that air battles would be fought differently. The editors jaw dropped in amazement, and his little eyes blinked. Of course, he had no idea that Golytsin was withholding part of the truth. The Muromets was enormous and clumsy, and it drank precious promethelium like a pig that had been kept starving for three days. Every attempt to ascend to the altitude of four kilometres resorted in the crew running for the first aid oxygen balloons, as they began to faint. The tiny Vityazes perched here were inferior to French and English biplanes in almost all of their technical specifications, while the Degtyaryov machine guns of the Tula gunmakers could hardly be compared to Maxims or Vickers weapons. On this point the Empire was strict everything on it had to be Russian. But journalists did not need to know all the details. I am thunderstruck, said Volynskiy, hurrying to swallow his mouthful, although his condition could possibly have been caused by the second shot of deliciously crisp vodka that had just journeyed to his stomach. You certainly are, acknowledged Golytsin with a happy nod. I am afraid I cannot give you permission to take photographs, but you can draw it. From memory. And when you write about it, make sure you mention that this is what the new Russian dirigible looks like, with all its biplanes and the rest of it, and that its imminent mass production is going to be the latest thing in the modern aeronautics. Well, but who I am to teach you? he added. And theres another thing, the Russian put his index finger in the air. Dont forget to mention that the dirigible will be primarily used for peaceful expeditions and scientific research. Both men chortled at the apt joke, before amicably finishing their third shot. But lets go back to our business, suggested Golytsin. I have heard about some fascinating things happening in Vilnius. Yes, Your Honour the editor recovered his composure, regretfully putting his halffinished plate on the table. He took a few pages out of his briefcase, and extended them to the Russian. This is tomorrows front page of The Truth. The photograph portrayed Vilnius Legate Sidabras as a crazy murderer about to slaughter the entire population of Vilnius. Mysterious murder! Disturbed Legate turns violent towards the press! screamed the headline. Below there was another professionally posed photograph of a soaking wet Korsunas (he had poured water over himself when back in the office).

Golytsin gracefully removed his pince-nez from his pocket. He only used it to add a certain flavour of importance to his image, as there was nothing wrong with his eyes. Hmm, not bad, not bad at all, he concluded. I just think that maybe, maybe... Say it, dont try to spare our feelings suddenly Volynskiy got excited. We can still change it, but please... What is it? Golytsins face communicated artistic torture and doubtfulness. In no way I am an expert on this, while you are a true professional in your field, he said reassuringly. But maybe it would make more sense if the headline emphasised the fact itself, rather than exposing a guard people are barely familiar with. Well, maybe you could mention that the murder remains unsolved, that its likely to be the work of a maniac and that Vilnius residents do not feel safe and fear becoming the next victim of the maniac. Maybe something along the lines of Before summit, city paralysed with fear etc. But I have no doubt you can come up with something even better. Yes, of course, of course, Volynskiy agreed with everything. What a brilliant idea, Your Honour. It will sound more captivating and will make us sell more copies, so it will be beneficial to us as well as... It will be beneficial to the people, Golytsin interrupted. They do have a right to know what is happening in their city, dont they? They certainly do This was obviously true and Volynskiy did not feel inclined to argue. He shoved his papers back in the briefcase. Mikhail Savelyevich, the Russian elegantly addressed the artificial steward. Please assist our guest. Take his briefcase. He then glanced over at the editor. My men will see to it that you, respectable sir, do not leave The Ilya Muromets empty handed. Well, as they say, one more for the saddle, he added. The shot glasses clinked one last time and a few moments later Volynskiy, feeling pleased with himself, said goodbye to Golytsin and, slightly unsteady on his feet, walked out into the corridor, where he was awaited by the soldier who had brought him here in the first place. Golytsin lingered for a moment waiting for the door to close, and then drew the fingers of both hands down his face as if removing a hated mask. Can you imagine what scum I have to work with! he muttered, adding some emphasis to his thought with a Russian word that would not be considered fit to be heard from the mouth of a State Advisor. He then filled his shot glass again his fifth today and finished it off, before undoing his collar and advancing towards the door that disguised a VIP cabin. The interior of this cabin was strikingly different from the rest of the generally spartan Muromets. Its floors were decorated with rugs; the air was permeated with the smell of exotic incense and soft gramophone music, while a tiny lamp filled the room with a pleasant dim light. However, the main adornment of the cabin was a woman, lying on a wide bed. She was nibbling on a bunch of grapes and gazing out of the port hole, lost in thought. Golytsins appearance in the room made the lady turn lazily towards him. Her movement caused the blanket to slip off her body, revealing a small but perfectly formed breast, a fact which did not appear to perturb her at all. So you have fed the free press? sneered the lady. More than enough, replied Golytsin, perched on the edge of the bed and detaching his cufflinks. Damn, how they sometimes make me sick, Emilia.

What? Cufflinks or reporters?, asked the lady. Even before he answered her, she was down on her knees. The blanket slipped off, exposing to Golytsin what an unmarried woman should not be demonstrating to a strange man. Let me help you, she purred. Golytsin spontaneously put his hands forward, his eyes fixed on the alabaster body, glowing dully in the half-light. Hey, hold your horses, Your Honour, Emilia gave a husky laugh. So the rats will do their job, wont they? Yes, the State Advisor nodded. The Truth will spark a panic th at will spread all over the place like wildfire. That boy with his anarchists, what was his name... well... yes, Solomon. So he and his gang are also tearing across the city like wildfire, defacing the walls with such speed that residents cannot keep up with painting over the damage. Besides, the Legionnaires have no time to spare for daubers. The murder has come in so handy that one might think we were the ones to commission it in the first place. Golytsin sighed. But the sigh was not for some poor soul who had been conveniently murdered in Cholera Cemetery, but rather for Emilia who, having dealt with the cufflinks and helped Golytsin wriggle out of his shirt, now had her slender hand tucked inside his trousers. A few more days, and by the start of the Summit this city will become a powder keg. And then, my darling, you will be a wick. And you will have to try really hard if you wish... mmmh... At the moment I will try really hard to take care of this little wick, murmured Emilia and then went quiet, as her pretty little mouth became occupied with something else. The young State Advisor closed his eyes, pushed his fingers through the cascade of her thick black hair and moaned with pleasure. After all, he had earned a little reward: so far everything was going better that expected. The thing that made him feel slightly uneasy though was that operative Skorokhodov not answering his calls. And the fact that the promised drawings had still not been delivered. Could he have run into problems? But why did he... Damn! Golytsin let out a yell and sat up swiftly, all his pleasures put aside. An operative with important drawings gone missing... Unsolved murder in Vilnius Cholera Cemetery... he mumbled. Damn! he yelled again and swore.

Chapter XVI Vilnius, before midnight 23 04 1905 There was one harsh reality of which frequent travellers of the Moletai Highway, especially traders or devout pilgrims walking to the Kalvarijos Way of the Cross, were well aware. Those who had encountered at the border with the Alliance a grumpy Russian customs officer, going over them with a fine-tooth comb and keeping them there until night came, were better off not rushing to Vilnius the same night. Moletai Highway was pitch dark and the steep slopes of the Neris River, with its surrounding gloomy pinewoods, were a convenient hideout for robbers. Travellers made a more prudent choice if, right after crossing the border, they stopped at The Slomianka Inn at the foot of Verkiai Hill and right below Verkiai Palace, where they could not only sleep but also have a filling supper, to be up with the lark and in Vilnius early the next morning. City residents were also fond of Slomianka. On warm evenings they were attracted by the idea of the inn garden, and as the innkeeper would occasionally take the benches out to the river bank, his clients sipping Lipskis or Szopen beer could even observe the boats and barges glide by. But tonight the inn the destination of Legate Antanas Sidabras appeared to have been abandoned by everyone there were no locals, no traders in need of temporary shelter, no pilgrims with rosaries swinging across their chests, and no light coming out of its windows. At first glance Slomianka gave the impression that it had not a living soul inside. The Legate did not drive up to the inn, but got out of the carriage a short distance away. He snapped off the neck of a portable lantern bottle, and the hissing steam flooded the lantern with yellow light. This did not cause night to turn into day but he could now see where he was going. The sergeants had tried to convince their commander to take a few men with him but Sidabras obstinately refused, maintaining that Rose of the Troubles had unequivocally told him to come by himself. Although, truth be told, a club hung at one of his sides, while his pride and joy a reliable American Bisley colt warmed the other. The Legate stopped outside the inn to cast a glance towards the river, trying to identify an obscure dark silhouette on the water. Accompanied by the sound of crunching gravel, two bludgers came out from behind the inn, the lower part of their faces concealed by scarves. The men stopped a few steps away from the Legate and put their arms in the air, signalling that they were not armed. You are expected, spoke one of them in a gravelly voice, gesturing in the direction of the river. Please follow us. The masked men were about to surround Sidabras on both sides, but the Legate gave a little smile and raised the lantern, indicating his intention to walk behind the two. A short pathway took them to the riverbank, where a rowing boat swayed on the little waves. The first man was soon in the boat grasping the oars, while the other remained on the riverbank. Please, he mumbled. He sounded like he was not used to such niceties. The Legate got into the boat and placed the lantern on his left, keeping his right hand free. The boat was pushed into the water by a kick of the second mans foot, allowing the oarsman

to row to the middle of the Neris with determination. Sidabras could now take a better look at the dark silhouette on the water, and realised it was a smallish barge, the type used for transporting sand, rocks or coal. The boat bumped gently against the low side of the barge, which had little metal steps attached to it. A moment later Sidabras was in the barge, while the man in the rowing boat had pushed himself away and disappeared into the dark. Left alone, Sidabras remained absolutely still and listened. All was silent but for the night birds tweeting along the riverbank and the gentle splashing of the oars of the retreating boat. The barge was covered with a blanket of darkness, and only a tiny slit in it a gap under the closed door let out a bleak sliver of light. Sidabras walked to the door and opened it. The cabin was lit by gas lamps, while all the windows were meticulously covered. A small table with appetizers and two crystal glasses stood in the middle of the room, while several long-necked bottles chilled in the ice bucket. Motiejus Kairys24 the host of the barge and the kingpin of the Vilnius underworld sat in a soft armchair, grinning from ear to ear. Kairys was a short balding man with a beer belly, who resembled a history or geography teacher a great deal more than a well-seasoned criminal. But the little crooked smile he always wore and his sneering, steely dark eyes stood testament to a different side of his nature. There was nothing in common between this man and school. He could kill anyone who dared to stand in his way. Besides, he was the owner of an awe-inspiring hand. Many souls, erroneously thinking that Kairys was Motiejus surname, had been taught a painful lesson. His left hand ended in a substantial hook, now resting peacefully on the arm of his chair. No one dared to ask where and under what circumstances the robber had lost his own hand, and he preferred to keep the old story to himself. Welcome to my modest floating shelter. Kairys did not get up but waved his hook towards the other armchair. Can I offer you some wine? White or red? Why all the cloak and dagger? Why all this melodrama? Sidabras smirked, lowering himself into the armchair and boldly filling his glass with white. And why the boat? Have all of your cellars in the Troubles been let out to birthday parties tonight? Motiejus rang the bell. A moment later the barge gave out a hoot, some invisible watermen began to weigh the creaking anchor and the barge slowly proceeded down the river. Perpetuum mobile, perpetual motion, muttered Kairys. A man has to move, he is nothing without movement. Just a tree overgrown with moss, sooner or later destroyed by bark beetles. Nearing the fag-end of your life has made you a philosopher, Motiejus? Sidabras remarked bitterly. What an unexpected turn of events. Yes, it is fine, he added ambiguously, not clear if approving of Kairys latest calling, or praising the white wine. With my four years worth of schooling I could hardly be called a philosopher. Kairys liked to stress his lack of education. Few people had heard about his Doctorate of Science from Erfurt University. Try the king scallops, Legate. Dont be shy, he encouraged. Fresh from Reval today. I bet with your salary you cant allow yourself to overindulge too frequently.
24

Kairys lefty in Lithuanian.

Sidabras ate the seafood nonchalantly. The men of the Legion were especially handsomely rewarded by the Alliance for their honesty and loyalty, so Kairys joke merely conjured the hint of a smile on the Legates face. Kairys popped a large olive in his mouth, deftly using his hook to grab a glass. I have heard Vilnius is expecting crowds of foreign guests, he said leaning over and refilling both glasses. Good time for brothels and inns. Only once in a blue moon you can earn money like that. We will not be restraining the frolics, Sidabras replied, his voice demonstrating a lack of interest. But for any attempted robbery or anything even more unpleasant, we will shoot the culprits without warning. Let your people know. And it will be the same in the Troubles this time. Without warning... violence... shootings... Motiejus Kairys looked sad. Ive heard that first thing they do in America is read you your rights, then put you in the softest of beds and if you give them some... what are they called... dollars, they let you go home straight away. And only then the decision about you being guilty or not is made. While here it is like we will catch you and then we will shoot you. Sidabras put his glass down and leaned back in the chair. Motiejus, your wine is exquisite and I can see that your olives and scallops have cost you a good fortune. I congratulate you on that. But now its time for you to reveal your reasons for wishing to see me. Legate, you want to make short work of me. Kairys was known for his ability to stay on top of things. I want to have a normal human conversation with you discuss the latest news, the weather, maybe even a lady or two, but no you are always in a mad rush. It doesnt look very Christian, does it? He shook his head sadly. But what can you do? These must be the times we live in. I only wanted to ask how things were with you. Are you on any new cases at the moment? Sidabras realised that the time for verbal foreplay was over and popped another olive in his mouth with a bored expression on his face. Thanks to you and the city, I will have enough cases till the day I die, he said. As soon as we are done with one, we get a cart-load of new ones. But why are you asking? If by any chance you want to confess, you have my full attention. That would be a pleasure, but you have forgotten your priests cassock, sniggered Kairys. He suddenly appeared to tire of this jousting, and so he added, Ive heard someone has lost their soul to God in Cholera Cemetery. To pretend he had no clue would have been stupid; to lay his cards on the table, unwise; so the Legate elected the third option and remained sitting without batting an eyelid. Victim unknown, cruel murder, Motiejus Kairys clicked his tongue. And one more thing people in the Troubles speak about some vanished papers the poor soul had on him. You should cross over to our side, Sidabras suggested with a smile. We worship the ground such geniuses walk on. You worship the ground, you were saying? the king of the Vilnius criminal world contemplated the Legates last sentence. Maybe its not such a bad idea after all. But what would you say if I gave you this? and from under the front of his jacket he pulled out a bundle of folded papers and placed them on the table.

Sidabras stayed calm, while Kairys indicated appreciation of his experienced opponents self-control skills with the slightest movement of his head. Yesterday morning the exhausted Orderly turns up. You have heard about him, havent you? Kairys spoke again. He is dead tired. He says this is the first time hes been confronted with this problem. He cannot get rid of it as no one wants to get their hands dirty with this crap. So he tells me, Ive brought it to you, although I am fully aware of you being decent traders, never dealing in stolen goods. Kairys little eyes stared piercingly at Sidabras. What could I do? I took it. I leafed through the papers, inspected the scribbles. But my brain is too weak to understand what they mean, I told myself. However, I did save the papers as a memory of Vanechka. Or, I thought, I might pass them over to my friends. On this occasion, Sidabras self-control skills suffered a defeat and he involuntarily raised his eyebrows. Kairys slapped his good hand on his knee and burst out laughing. Really? You didnt know the beggars name? I cant believe it Take it, Legate, you are welcome. Kairys pushed the papers over to Sidabras. It is Vanechka Skorik, 4th category metalworker from Zimmermans Cast Iron Foundry. This information you can have fr ee of charge, but I will ask you to pay for the Orderlys papers. Its not that I understand a lot about them, but they seem to be pretty important. Since when did you run short of funds, Motiejus? wondered Sidabras. And who is speaking about funds here? the amazement that lit up Motiejus Kairys face could almost be called sincere. Let us agree: I am giving you the papers while you the Legate of Vilnius owe me a favour. You will return it to me when the need arises. Previous police superintendants would have proudly rejected such an offer, or even taken the foolish step of arresting the arrogant thug. But no deal of this sort had been offered by the criminal world previously why ask for a favour when the entire city police force could be bought for money. All you needed was enough roubles. However, the Legionnaires were a different story they did not take bribes, so you had to negotiate with them. And the mercenaries had nothing against negotiating with the criminals. Fine. Sidabras wasted no time thinking. But only if it doesnt breach our agreement with the city. Obviously. Motiejus pushed the bundle over to Sidabras again. Take it. Sidabras scanned the documents here and there, then took another sip of his wine and looked at Kairys. Listen, Motiejus, maybe you also know who put Vanechka away? No, I dont, the king of criminals said, regaining a sombre expression. Nobody knows. It has nothing to do with the Troubles. And that is very strange. The Legate nodded pensively. Kairys rang the bell again, at which the barge turned round and started floundering up the stream. Both parties had had enough of each other by now and could not wait for the moment when they could go their separate ways. The barge hooted and came to a stop. Thank you for the treats and the entertaining conversation. The Legate got up and went over to the door without proffering his hand to Motiejus. He was almost outside when Kairys voice caught up with him.

You think all I care about is money? Oh how wrong you are. I also care about this city, which would have no chance of survival without the likes of you, and without the likes of me. While we would not survive without this city. The Legate hesitated for a moment, then walked out with a quiet slam of the door.

Chapter XVII Vilnius, 1:00 am 24 04 1905 Night-time Vilnius was very diverse. When Antokolis, Tuskulenai and Zverynas were putting out their lights, Steam City became witness to night-shift workers scurrying to work. Mirth City greeted the morning light with long screams and songs that had continued throughout the night, while the Troubles were swarming with invisible shadows working their way through their little dirty jobs. The night saw the usually bustling Town Square left abandoned, with its shops closed and their owners spending the night in Mirth City or the Blots. Locals in search of frolics would traverse the square before losing themselves in the generous embraces of the inns and beer houses there. The square was left to its own peaceful solitude, invaded only by the harsh steps of the night guards previously the Tsars police sergeants the ting-a-ling of the last street trolley and the melancholic toll of St Casimiers bells. With the bells tolling for one in the morning, the lantern at the end of the Town House Square briefly illuminated four figures in short jackets, who had emerged from a dark gateway. The creatures hastily slipped into Saviciaus Street, which many by force of habit still called Andrejevska, and, having scared a cat on its night prowl, pressed themselves into the wall, disappearing in the draping shadows of other buildings. A night guard, a lantern in his hand, came into view on the side of the Town Hall and with a bored expression on his face strode along his usual route along the Town Hall Square, then into Stikliu and Jewish Streets, and later into Coin Street, which was also known as German Street, leading him back to the Town Hall. The night guard was in no rush and would occasionally stop to pull on his cigarette. The first figure, its head cautiously poking from around the corner, followed the night guard turning into Stikliu Street with his eyes. He then beckoned to his companions, slipped out of the shadows and pulled the scarf from his face, letting the pale blue light of the moon reveal his young, almost child-like face. Solomon Klein was only fourteen. At twelve, he had run away from the orphanage and covertly travelled to Tsarist Kaunas, where he had found employment in Leibovics bakery. He worked hard washing the floors, cleaning the ovens and kneading dough. But the baker Leibovic was surprised when, a month later, the malnourished teenager demanded his pay, instead of showing gratitude for food and the roof above his head. Only after suffering a thrashing at the hands of the baker and being kicked out of the bakery did Solomon find out that it was Leibovics practise to take on beggars who were easy to get rid of and forget, as they had no one to turn to with their complaints. But complaining was not in this youngsters plans. From inside a little chest he pulled out a neatly wrapped self-made pistol, walked back to the baker and repeated his demand, emphasizing it with a shot at the ceiling. If it produced little smoke, it brought even less use. If truth be told, Leibovic did soil his pants, but Solomon never laid his hands on the money anyway, as he was swiftly dragged over to the police station by gendarmes, who were pretty quick to answer the call. The disinterested judge showed no mercy on the boy either, imposing on him three years of labour camp, away from

decent people. If not for his companions in trouble, Solomon would now be in charge of making thin soup for some woodcutters in Zarentuiskiy labour camp. Fortunately for him, two notorious anarchists, united with him in the punishment being sent to Siberia with the purpose of harnessing the virgin land, had something else up their sleeve. One muggy summer evening, when all three prisoners were being transferred from the Tower prison to Kaunas Railway Station and the supervisors, exhausted by the heat, let their vigilance slip, the anarchists, with Solomon in tow, took advantage of the situation and escaped. The boy liked being with the anarchists no one would harm a hair on his head or laugh at the pistol story. On the contrary, they taught him how to use real guns and make bombs. That was how Solomon Klein became a member of the Utopia anarchist group. These people did not only hate the Tsar, they also hated the rich in the free cities of the Alliance. After a while, Solomon earned the trust of the Utopians and was posted to free Vilnius. He settled down in the Blots, gathered a gang of adventure-hungry teenagers and started working for the good of Utopia. Absolute freedom, nightlife, other gang members respect and roubles falling into your lap from the sky what else could a fourteen-year-old boy want? It had been a few weeks since Solomon had started trying the night guards patience by defacing the walls of the most elegant buildings with his red scribbles, as he was about to do again now. He was illiterate, but that did not stop him. At the agreed place and time, he would collect the notes with the text, as well as the roubles, all wrapped up together in a small bundle. Due to the night guards being pea-brained and the Legionnaires never being there, the job was easy as pie, and Solomon could not help but wonder if the stories about the harshness of Sluskai Palace owners, widely shared in the Blots inns, were actually true. And his tasks were becoming more and more enthralling yesterday, he decorated the walls of Chodkeviciai Palace; today, he was about to do the same with the Town Hall; while the day after tomorrow, he would daub his paint on the grand Cathedral of Vilnius. Brush in hand, Solomon sprinted to the Town Hall. A moment later, he was joined by two other boys, one with a can of red paint, the other holding a little lantern and a note with the words. They were pressed for time. In a few minutes, the night guard would be back by the Town Hall, unless he stopped for a cigarette. Solomon was hastily drawing the familiar letters, not putting too much effort into writing neatly. He was tense, expecting the vigorous barking of a dog at any moment the agreed sign that the night guard was strolling back and it was time to leave urgently, which was to be given by the third accomplice. Lettering saying JOBB, FOOD, JUSTISS was slowly becoming apparent on the wall. A few more strokes and the job would be done. Somewhere a dog gave a yelp, but it all went quiet again. With their ears pricked up, the boys froze, waiting for the barking to start again. Suddenly the dull thud of running feet resounded across the square and the boys were blinded by the blazing yellow light of magnesium flashes. This is Vilnius Legion! Everyone hands on heads, face down on the ground! roared a voice amplified by a mechanical howler. Solomons buddies, who had been cowed into terror by the blaring announcement, squealed weakly, dropped to the floor and began to bawl. For these lads, an exciting night-time adventure had turned into a nightmare. However, Solomon was slightly more astute and had assumed that sooner or later this might happen, so before each and every night outing he would thoroughly survey his place of work. And today,

he had taken a mental note of a rusty iron grille covering the entrance to the cellars of the citys sewer system beside St Casimiers Church. Solomon had spent a few early morning hours stubbornly banging his chisel against the most corroded parts of the grille, until it finally gave way, and Solomon was able to push it back, making a small gap just enough for a skinny teenager to slip through. Blinded by the light, the youngster dropped his dripping brush and, relying solely on his instincts, threw himself in what he hoped was the direction of the grille. Stop! a command caught up with him and a mans gloved hands were about to grab him by the waist, but the small boy was as slippery as an eel. He swiftly slipped from the other persons grip and, having regained his sight, spotted the dark grille. By a stroke of luck it was as he had left it no yard keeper had pushed it back in place in the evening, as he had feared could happen. A few more steps and Solomon was sliding down the tunnel, taking no notice of his scraped and bleeding elbows and knees. A ray of light pursuing him down to the vaults, he picked up on his pursuers voices overhead. While the city guards tried to decide whether to pursue the boy, or not, Solomon ran a good race around the dark labyrinth of tunnels, only vaguely making out the thud of the grille being pushed in. The boy stopped to let his heart calm down. He was cut off from the rest of the world. Only now did it dawn on him that he had not thought of everything. Even if the grille had not been put back in place, the Legionnaires would wait and trap him as soon as he decided to climb out. He could not go back to his shelter in the Blots either, as his accomplices would not only spill the beans once the Legionnaires threatened them with Sluskai, but would spice up the story too. Solomon had no choice but to pay a visit to his cache of money and run away from the city, missing out on the opportunity to decorate the walls of the Cathedral. But before anything else, he had to figure out how to escape the reeking tunnels. The place indeed stank to high heaven. The ancient vaulted underground tunnels were made of stone and were once used as prison and crypts; now, however, they intertwined with the newly excavated sewage canals, carrying gushing slops all the way down to the Neris. In the narrowest parts the filth rose almost to the height of Solomons knees. Surrounded by pitch-black darkness, the boy was suddenly overpowered by a feeling of terror. Heedless of the putrid-smelling liquid splashing up on him, he ran for his life. At times barely visible moonlight or a glimmer from a city gas lantern would make its way into a steep sewer, diluting the darkness a little. Solomon attempted to climb up one of the sewers, but kept sliding backwards and at one point nearly plunged into the slops. Besides, he could see that the sewer was covered with a grille at the top. The distraught boy eventually paused, abandoned his search for the passage to freedom and broke down in tears. He had never been so terrified in his whole life, and now he was crying his eyes out. His sobs resonated along the tunnel walls, dying out in the dark. Suddenly Solomon felt that the surrounding darkness was not so thick anymore. The boy looked around. A cluster of dimly twinkling beads was floating in the air around his feet and body, rapidly increasing in numbers in front of his very eyes. They were eyes. The turbid liquid moved and something touched Solomons leg. At first the child gasped but then, eyes riveted on his feet, he screamed at the top of his voice. There was something odd about the rats. They were not the usual local creatures, whose bodies were sometimes turned into steaks by the nimble traders of the Troubles. And they

were not the overweight type that liked to nose about in the New World dumps either. The eyes of these rats hypnotised and blended into one glow the artificial light turning the creatures into supernatural monstrosities hostesses of the tunnels, lured here by the strange noises and curiosity to see who had dared to encroach upon their domain. The boys scream had obviously irritated the nasty beasts and their long sharp fangs sank into his cheap leather shoes. The seeping globules of blood trickled into the foul-smelling slops. The scent of blood drove the rats into a frenzy the whole pack lunged at their victim, latching onto Solomons body and cleaving to his legs with their steel-hard incisors. The boy became swamped with piercing pain, his eyes bulged out with horror, his mouth released a helpless scream. The child swayed and was about to plunge into the squelching slurry as an offering to the rats and their bloody feast, but suddenly something changed. Ahh-woooo, a bloodcurdling howl rumbled underneath the vaults of Vilnius underground tunnels. It exploded in deranged anger, fury and heartbreak, gradually rising to a crescendo, which would have undoubtedly sent shivers down any living creatures spine. Ahh-woooo. And the rats melted away as if blown by the wind. Ahh-woooooooo. The invisible beast seemed to be getting closer. The member of Utopia, his life scared out of him, raced like mad. Having ran along one tunnel, he turned left and lurched over to another branch. As the tunnel was a little wider here, the water was shallower only up to his ankles. A small hope of triumphing over this damn labyrinth stirred deep down in Solomons heart, but then an unexpected obstruction a stone ledge that had escaped his eyes until the last moment tripped him over. He bashed his head against the ledge, collapsing in a heap in the middle of a thin stream of slurry. Ahh-woooo, a minute later the howling returned, only much quieter this time. It seemed that the invisible ghost had retreated. The rats did not return. What remained was the darkness, the stench and the unconscious Solomon. Before long, there was a sound of paddling feet. Someone was cautiously wading through the water, and a candle, stuck to the walking mans hat, suddenly lit the tunnel. Solomon stirred and moaned quietly, this being enough to attract the mans attention. He walked closer. His candlelight revealed a little boy lying in the slops, his body covered in blood. Suddenly the stranger swayed as if under the influence of hard liquor. His shaking hands pulled a glass bottle out of his pocket and hastily poured its contents into his mouth. He then shuddered and squatted down beside the lying Solomon. After inspecting the gash, which was still bleeding, he checked for a pulse by pressing two fingers to the boys temple and lifting his eyelids. Then he started to drag the body backwards along the underground tunnels, which he clearly knew like the back of his hand. The journey did not take long. A few passages later, the tunnel became wider, while its stone vaults rose higher. The man stopped at a hole in the wall. The hole had been bricked up once, but later the bricks had fallen out or had possibly been knocked down, and only the few bottom rows still served as a kind of a doorstep. Straining with the load in his arms, the man stepped over the bricks and entered a narrow hallway, lined with alcoves on both sides. A few steps down the hallway, the man paused at an iron-clad door, looking new and strong and set in the wall of the tunnel. Placing the bundle on the ground, he fished a key out

of his inside pocket, unlocked the door and pulled Solomon in. Before closing the door and locking it from the inside, he pinched the candle out with two fingers. The spacious room was lit by the gas lantern that occupied one of its corners. Perhaps it had been a prison cell or a church burial chamber in the dim and distant past, but today it accommodated a quietly humming machine the size of a wardrobe. Aside from a few other pieces of machinery, the space contained an empty bed by the wall and yet another wardrobe with wires snaking out of it on to the floor beside it. The room could be left through two other doors; the first one new and iron clad like the entrance door, installed recently by the look of it; the other, a plain iron-barred sliding door. The man did not waste any time. He removed his jacket and swapped his heavy boots for a pair of soft shoes, then grabbed the still-unconscious Solomon and heaved him through the barred door, which led to yet another room. Several wide wooden benches positioned next to the iron bars were dimly illuminated by the light flooding in from the first room. The end of this room, bare of any lanterns or lamps, was shrouded in darkness. From the door to the darkest part of the room, many wires snaked across the floor. The man laid Solomon down on one of the benches and removed the boys shoes. He rolled up his trouser legs and inspected his limbs, still bleeding and smeared with the sticky slops and mud. Lost in thought, the man licked his lips. He walked back to the room with the quietly humming, outlandish machine, from where he headed for the other door, and yet another room. This room was lit by orange flames dancing inside glass lanterns standing in all corners of the space. The University Dominium scientists would have fallen straight into the grip of the green-eyed monster had they laid eyes on this incredibly spacious place filled from floor to ceiling with menacing machines. The light exposed the aspect of the man. He was quite short and, on first impression, fairly young, but with prematurely greying hair and a wrinkled face. His complexion was an unhealthy shade of grey, in some parts sagging, as if not properly supported by the underlying muscle, while in others, it was firmly stretched over the sharp bones of his face. With a large wooden box under his arm the man returned to the room where Solomon lay, taking care not to step on the trailing wires. The man sat on the chair beside Solomons bunk, pulled the little table closer, and placed his box there. The box disgorged a variety of items the table was soon cluttered with two small bottles (the first one contained some white liquid, while the other was stuffed with the leaves of some unknown plant), scissors, a few swabs of cotton wool, bandages and a pair of Goodyear rubber gloves. With the gloves pulled over his scrawny hands, their skin covered in brownish grey spots, the man unscrewed the bottle and shook out a pinch of the leaves in his palm, then tossed them in his mouth and began to chew. Still munching, he poured some of the white liquid over a small cotton wool swab, and thoroughly cleaned the bite marks on the boys legs and the gash on his forehead. A few moments later, he spat the leaves out onto the table and, deep in concentration, picked up the chewed mush with his forefinger and smeared it over the wounds. The boy moaned and stirred. Without lifting his gaze away from the object of his work, the man used his other hand to reach into the box and pull out a small, damp cloth, which he pressed against Solomons face. This calmed the child immediately. Finally, the providential healer bandaged the wounds. Mumbling under his breath, he carefully inspected the childs legs and forehead. Evidently satisfied with his work, he pulled off his gloves, moved the bottles, cotton wool and bandages back into the box, and closed the lid.

His gaze stopped on the leather handcuffs, dangling on both sides of the bunk, and then continued to the quietly lying boy. The man sighed, shoved the box under his arm and shuffled out of the room, leaving the boy alone.

Chapter XVIII Vilnius, morning 24 04 1905 A ray of morning sunlight slid down the window ledge and gently brushed the sleeping girls face. Mila opened her eyes. After staring at the white ceiling for a while, the girl tried to shake off the languor and remember where she was. Outside the window, the air was filled with the chirping of birds, followed by the loud but slightly hesitant crow of a rooster, apologetic for his late appearance. Where am I this time? Mila asked herself, her lips moving slowly. The answer hit her before she could finish her train of thought, as the smell of freshly made pancakes, so heavenly and reminiscent of childhood, wafted into the room. At home, the girl said to herself and smiled, but then suddenly gasped, racked with debilitating pain, brought on by her attempt to stretch. This happened every morning but the severity of the pain stunned her every time. Mila knew what to do in situations like these. She started to breathe deeply, trying to relax: panicked tossing about could end in her being paralysed. Despite the stabbing pain, the girl closed her eyes, slowly extended her arm toward the bedside table and felt about for a little mother-of-pearl chest. As soon as her index and middle fingers slithered into the appropriate holes, a hissing sound came emanated from the box, and its lower part released a tiny velvet-lined drawer. In the blink of an eye half of Milas tenacity was gone and the pain became unbearable. Teeth clenched, she took a metal object from the drawer and performed the daily procedure. In a flash the pain was gone, her strength gushed back like a tidal wave, and the light came back to her eyes. Waiting for her breathing to stabilise, Mila stayed in bed a little longer. Her attention was drawn to a tiny wound on her wrist. It was not there last night. However, the wound soon slipped the girls mind, and she was up and looking through the wardrobe for something to wear. Mila was fond of beautiful clothes, and could afford them, as her guardian Nikodemas Tvardauskis was not only exceptionally kind to his foster child but also very generous. Wherever she went, she would always stop by a konfektion25, where dexterous seamstresses offered their semi-tailored creations and were happy to finish them swiftly fitted to the slender figure of the girl. Mila was a fan of French silk, batiste and wool, and could be easily charmed by frills, long wide skirts and tight blouses, their sleeves decorated with intricate seams. The abundance of clothes in her wardrobe nearly caused it to burst at its seams, and picking one single ensemble was not an easy task. The girl finally decided on a long navy skirt, gathered at the waist and flared at the bottom, a light red silk blouse, which beautifully complemented her black hair, and a dark pink jacket with clusters of tiny buttons adorning its sleeves. The girl laid the clothes on the bed and looked around the room. It was not large. Apart from the bed, it also contained a wardrobe which was now surrounded by the cases that had arrived yesterday, and a dainty table by the open window, which framed the branches of an
25

Manufacturer of ready-to-wear clothing

abundant jasmine bush trying to grow its way into the room. One of the corners of the room was taken up by a substantial chest, brim-full with a multitude of cushions. On top of them, spread out in most irregular positions, lay Scaramuccia, Pierrot and Columbina. Mila walked over to the chest and hesitantly bit her lip, trying to decide which doll she felt like spending her day with. Scaramuccias behaviour in The Icarus had undoubtedly been heroic but she was feeling slightly fed up with his escapades. Since today she was planning a stroll around the city of her childhood, she picked her most suitable companion Columbina. Holding the doll in her hands, Mila applied gentle but firm pressure to the spot over the heart. Her fingertips began to throb as if she was touching a Voltaic pile. Gradually her entire body was overtaken by throbbing, while the hand clutching the doll grew very hot. Mila adored this feeling. From the old yellow-paged books that she had secretly read during her teenage years she was familiar with the subject of orgasm, but it was something that she had never experienced herself. In Krakw, she had had an admirer a son of a wealthy butcher shop owner, who would often take her out on secret nocturnal dates in Florien Gardens. And although, in the company of the moon and the canal frogs croaking around the embankment, her admirer would work up a sweat, what she felt then was nothing compared to this this was like giving away a small part of yourself and getting the entire world in return. The heat made her palm hurt but it warmed Columbina up, and she soon opened her large blue eyes and fluttered her eyelashes. Good morning, beautiful, Mila greeted her softly. Goood mooorning, Columbina replied, elongating her vowels slightly. Mila smiled back and quickly slipped into her clothes. The smell of pancakes was making her mouth water, urging her to hurry even more. Where are we? asked Columbina. In Vilnius, replied Mila. Mila often told her darlings stories about her childhood city, so this explanation was all that the doll needed. But she felt curious about something else. What will we do today? We will go out for a walk. I will show you the most enchanting places in Vilnius. Can I take pictures? the doll wondered. You must Mila laughed. Her mood was on the way to a speedy recovery. The morning pains seemed like a part of last nights nightmare. A walk without pictures isnt a real walk, is it? And what about them? the doll glanced sideways as she could not turn head. It was enough for Mila to know what she was talking about. Unfortunately they cant go, darling, she shook her head apologetically. I can only warm up one of you each day. But we have uncles Nikodemas and Jonas here and I am certain they will come up with something useful. And then all three of us can go on walks together? Even though the dolls slight voice expressed no emotion, Mila could feel it being filled with hope and joy. Of course, darling. But lets go and have breakfast now. There might be some strangers there, so be careful.

I will, Columbina promised obediently. After a quick wash, Mila slipped on her modest black shoes, with low and slightly curved heels, cast another fleeting glance at the mirror standing on the table, and delicately descended the stairs. The aroma drew her straight into the dining room, where the table was already laid, the kettle was whistling its usual tune, and housekeeper Morta was stacking steaming golden pancakes on a large platter. Mila sneaked up behind the housekeeper and placed her hands over her eyes. Lord Jesus! the pile of pancakes swayed, escaping by a split second a fate involving the floor and the stomach of the fat tabby cat who had been rubbing up against the housekeepers legs. Luckily, Mila removed her hands at the last minute, successfully saving the pancake tower of Babel. Deprived of his prey, the cat meowed angrily, while Mila was enveloped in Mortas floury embrace. Hello my darling beautiful girl, so many summers and winters since I saw yo u! Let me have a better look at you. Morta gently clapped her hands to Milas cheeks, then took her hands in hers and leaned back to examine the girl from head to toe. But you have changed, God is my witness! I wouldnt recognise you on the street. Livin g abroad has obviously turned out well for you. All the young men in Vilnius are bound to lose their heads for you. What would I need their heads for, Morta? Mila laughed in self-defence. I am happy with my own head. But the years havent changed you one bit, and you look exactly the same as I remember you. And Rolmops is just as he was before the only detectable change being his turn to the chubby side. When Mila bent down to stroke the cat, it hissed fiercely and backed away. He must have forgotten his old playmate, or was perhaps simply angry about suffering defeat in the battle for pancakes. Another minute and the girl was munching on the flat treats, dipping them in thick soured cream and homemade blackcurrant jam and maple syrup. Nikodemas was a great fan of the latter and his foster daughter had come to like it as well. Women in Vilnius were becoming obsessed with the slimming trend that had travelled here from London and Paris. The Truth of Vilnius had its own regular dieting advice column, and slimming palaces run by charlatans of all descriptions were springing up in Antokolis like mushrooms after the rain. This made Head of Alchemy Department Jonas Basanavicius foam at the mouth and, having reached the end of his patience, he issued a public declaration: Any Alchemist who concocts and start selling yet another potion for the ideal figure will be immediately excluded from the Guild, his Alliance Licence will be revoked and the selling of his brew will be limited to the Pivasiunai Church Festival. Meanwhile, Mila was gobbling down pancakes to her hearts content. She knew that obesity was not something that she would ever have to worry about. But it has to be said that she would have been glad to swap it for a few of her own problems. While housekeeper Morta was happily busy putting away crockery and Rolmops was nowhere to be seen, Mila, her hunger sated to her satisfaction, quietly wondered. Where is uncle Nikodemas? Where could he be? replied Morta. Same place as usual. Nothing has changed. He gets up before the rooster, then has breakfast and goes to his cave. I keep telling him that I can come earlier and cook for him, but he is not interested.

With half an ear on the housekeepers narration, Mila gobbled up the remaining pancakes, washing them down with a glass of milk, then picked up Columbina, kissed Morta on the cheek and set out along a long corridor, which she knew like the back of her hand. The corridor took her into the depths of the old house. Mila turned left and down the stairs, then reached the most sacred and mystical place: the laboratory of Nikodemas Tvardauskis. Entry was forbidden for most, but Mila was an exception, as this room did not only guard her most precious childhood memories, but also her heart. Wherever she went Prague, Varna or Krakw she was always drawn back here. For every Alchemist, Hypnomant or Mystic, his laboratory was his fortress, where he rarely and reluctantly welcomed strangers. Tvardauskis was no exception to this rule. Since resigning from University Dominium, he had spent a fair amount of time here, but even Morta was strictly forbidden to come close to the room or even descend the stairs. He did not need to warn her twice, Tvardauskis housekeeper was terrified of him, and anyway, one glance at the mysterious hieroglyphics carved on the door, protected by a special code, was enough to make her start crossing herself. The only person to whom the code had been disclosed was Mila, and she could visit the laboratory whenever she felt like it. Tvardauskis had full confidence in his foster daughter. The girl was now inspecting the imposing metal door with a smile, surveying its six bloodshot eyes, surrounded by mystical symbols, shimmering as if they were alive, and six magic, coloured squares flickering underneath them. Without a doubt, Tvardauskis would have been accused of conspiring with Satan and executed by burning at the stake a few hundred years ago, but nowadays only superstitious old ladies were still wary of such signs. And who knew maybe in a few years they would become regular protection for any city dwellers home. Nevertheless, in certain respects the scientist did go too far. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder 26, Mila smiled and, holding Columbina in her hands, punched in a certain colour combination. The eyes on the door closed, the light in the coloured squares extinguished, a hissing sound followed, then the clunk of bolts being pushed into the open position. With the door open, Mila stepped into the world of her childhood dreams. She looked around. Nothing seemed to have changed. Just like before, there was a large desk, a drawing board and shelves full of multi-coloured laboratory flasks. Miscellaneous tools were scattered over every unoccupied inch of surface, while the floor was strewn with drawings and documents, aged by time or careless handling. A massive chandelier from which dangled rubber bulbs cast light on this creative mess. One squeeze on a bulb and the laboratory was illuminated with blood red or pale blue ghostly light. A second, closer look at her surroundings, however, revealed something new. A machine containing bubbling water and emitting strange sounds had found its way into the corner between the impressive goggle collection and the Jacobs Ladder, connected to the Voltaic Pile, a genuine ray of bright sun, its origin a total mystery, flooded the desk, while the difference engine the latest invention of mathematician Charles Babbage occupied the best position of all. Punched cards scattered around bore testament to the fact that it had not been placed there as a mere adornment. The only thing missing from the lab was its owner. Can I take a picture? Recovering from the silence that had been forced on her, Columbina asked the question, rolling her eyes.
26

The person who is widely credited with coining the saying in its current form is XIX century Irish writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (ne Hamilton), who wrote many books, often under the pseudonym of 'The Duchess'.

Youd better not, replied Mila, still examining the room around her. Uncle Nikodemas might not like the idea of someone taking pictures in his office. Mila lingered, and memories flooded her mind: tinted glass baby goggles, adjusted especially for her by her uncle, the insatiable desire to construct something, and the first little automaton a clumsy creature resembling a rabbit, which she created all by herself. With its spring wound to its tightest, it could manage one jump before falling down on its head. Then more serious projects followed. After The Day that Changed Everything, she created her first real automaton Moonface, who could be wound up to play the violin. Unfortunately, as Mila was leaving Constantinople, Moonface had become lost. But then one especially lonely and sad day she created three little automatons her current friends Pierrot, Columbina and Scaramuccia. When warmed up, these toys could think and talk, which completely flabbergasted Tvardauskis. He knew very well what had happened on The Day that Changed Everything, and so he had spent a long time locked up in the laboratory with her, trying to throw some light upon the risks she could be facing as creator of these extraordinary toys if someone found out about them. Mila was no mooncalf and clearly understood his message, promising to be careful, but the task of resisting an urge to warm up one of these toys and take it along with her for fun was too much for her. Disaster ensued when she had drawn the omnipresent eyes of the Vitamancers at the New Years ball in Prague. Suddenly there was a flapping sound, and a winged creature blasted out of the other room. It flew frantically around the perimeter of the room, barely avoiding getting tangled in Milas hair, and disappeared behind the door again. Aah screamed Mila and Columbina, suddenly thrown into fright. The sound of someone clearing their throat announced Nikodemas Tvardauskis appearance in the doorway. He wore a fine silk dressing gown and had pushed thick-lensed goggles to the top of his forehead. The flying creature that had startled them was perched on his shoulder. A closer look at the bird made Mila realise that it was made of metal. The weird creature let out a chirp, turned its head to the side and gawped at Columbina, causing her eyes to pop out. My darling Mila, Tvardauskis was obviously happy to see her. Are you up already? I thought yesterdays adventure would have tired you out and you would be sleeping until noon. Thanks to this brute, I was a split second away from losing my head, Mila complained, regarding the birds wings, made of shiny steel. Yes yes, that could have been a possibility, the scientist nodded absent-mindedly. The Iron Nightingale has not yet learned to deal with unexpected obstacles. But I am not much smarter than he. How could I forget that you know the password? What else can he do? What do you use him for? the girl enquired, examining the bird. Tvardauskis extended his arm and the bird clambered over to his palm. A gentle shake of his hand made the Iron Nightingale fly and perch on Milas shoulder, from where he angled his head and redirected his glistening button-like eyes to his new owner. This is a joint creation, Tvardauskis explained. The Alchemists wanted to try out a new, strikingly light metal alloy. The Mechanics are struggling to design parts that could move like the wings of a bird for use in biplanes. And the Dominium is consumed by the idea of moving pictures, i.e. whether or not cameras obscuras could be installed in a flying object.

It could prove useful in many respects; in reconnaissance, in investigative actions as well, as in the protection of the city. And I have been told that you have forsaken your University matters, the tip of Milas index finger stroked the Iron Nightingales beak. The automatons eyes opened wide, their colour changing from green to blue. Hey, he likes it! she added happily. He reacts to touch, Nikodemas explained and nodded. Yes, it is true I have left the Dominium but its members can never find any common ground, so they still come to me for help. Only quietly, without their superiors knowing about it. You think I can refuse my old friends requests? Mila looked around the laboratory. I can see some new things in here, uncle, and some of them look quite enchanting. What is that? she inquired, pointing at the sunrays streaming over the desk. Oh its nothing special, Tvardauskis replied. As my neighbours in Zverynas say, its only a hobby. But little sparks in the eyes of the scientist spoke of this hobby meaning quite a lot to him. Tvardauskis took Mila over to the desk. I am playing games with the sun, he continued. If I could succeed in harnessing its energy, our famous promethelium would suddenly be no more than childs play. Labourers have made openings in the roof and the walls, into which I have placed little mirrors. Now I have the sunshine streaming right down into my cellar. You are planning to harness the sun, uncle? The scientist laughed. I admit it is no simple task. I even had the Babbage machine sent over to me from Krakw. I must admit, though, it is rather impressive. Just thinking of the endless possibilities of applying it makes my head spin factories, airships, universities. That is a future worth dreaming about... Uncle, we need to talk, Mila interrupted. She knew that the deeper the scientist went into his subject, the harder it would be to stop him. So she cut him short before his story started gathering momentum. In a wink of an eye Tvardauskis turned into a different person the self-absorbed scientist became a concerned guardian. Of course, my darling. Lets go to my room and sit down. We can have some hot tea. But you must have had your breakfast already. As far back as Mila could remember, amidst the abundant books in this tiny room, there was always a steaming teapot on a little table, squashed between two soft arm chairs. All the rare guests of the scientist knew that a cup of aromatic tea, which he would occasionally order from faraway Darjeeling in India, was the actual fuel of his life. Mila sank into the armchair, put Columbina beside her, and watched her uncle potter around the teapot, a blue flame slowly dancing underneath. She extended her arm and the Iron Nightingale lifted off from her shoulder and touched down on the back of the armchair. Pouring the tea, Tvardauskis glanced at Columbina from the corner of his eye. How are you, little one? he asked. I am fine, thank you, the doll replied politely, which made Nikodemas giggle under his breath.

With her lips on the brim of the cup and her eyes closed, Mila took a sip of her tea and, as if riding the waves of the magical ether, she was taken back to her childhood. She opened her eyes to find Nikodemas staring at her. The scientist nodded knowingly. The recipe has not changed. Life is what keeps changing. True. Tvardauskis stirred his tea, waiting for the girl to say something else. Mila collected her thoughts and decided to deal with the problem directly. Uncle, you told me to come back to Vilnius and I have. But I hope this is the last time. I dont wish to live like this any longer. I am neither safe if I require twenty-four hour protection, nor a badger constantly in hiding in its burrow. I... Mila, Nikodemas made an attempt to interrupt but the agitated girl kept on talking. I want to live like a normal person, she said. Even understanding that I am not normal at all, and a travesty of nature The girls eyes filled with tears. Sensing her ladys distraught mood, Columbina also began to sniff. But I cant anymore. Why cant we go to, lets say, Australia, settle down there and see what happens. Darling, darling... The bewildered Tvardauskis tried to stop the waterfall of words with his outstretched hand. He was not an expert in soothing young girls. All is good, we dont need any Australias. You will stay in Vilnius. And that is all. There will be no more running away. This is your home. And remember you are normal. And you should live any way you choose. You can study at the Dominium, you can find yourself a flat, or you can find a job, if you like, and you can look for friends. Vilnius is our city and here you will be safe. Nikodemas Tvardauskis heart nearly bled from all the lies coming out of his mouth for the benefit of his beloved foster daughter, but he had no choice. Just dont forget, Mila. You are normal, he repeated in a convincing voice. But what will happen if... well if... the girl hesitated. We will look for the bridge when we get to the river, Nikodemas said gently. You know, I have some friends already. Mila smiled, wiping away the tears and cheering Columbina up. Charles and Edward. Remember, uncle, tomorrow we are having them for dinner. How could I forget, my dear, replied Tvardauskis. Your friends are my friends, he added with a slight sneer which, or at least so it seemed, went unnoticed by Mila. She sprang out of her chair and lifted Columbina up in her arms. All the sadness was gone from her face. We shall be going then, uncle, she said. I want to check if Vilnius has changed at all, and show Columbina its most beautiful places. Having kissed Nikodemas on his clean-shaven cheek, Mila, the doll in her hand, scurried out of the laboratory. The sound of her steps soon faded away, the door slamming shut. Tvardauskis still sat there for some time thinking something through, then finished his tea in one gulp and refilled the teapot with water. He then stood up and one by one removed three books from the shelf. The shelf creaked and turned sideways on skilfully installed hinges. Another smaller room appeared like a dark hole behind it. As soon as Nikodemas set foot in the secret space, he

turned the shelf back, closing it. When his extended arm touched the lamp, the room was lit by a flickering smoke-grey light. This space also contained an array of books some of them bore signs of having been leafed through recently, others were covered with a thick layer of dust. Someone walking in off the street would have probably found the book titles unfamiliar, but certainly not the University Dominium librarian, who would have been no doubt taken aback. These were old and heavy books. Bad books. Prohibited books. Alongside a number of publications, some table space was occupied by another Babbage machine, only much smaller than the one in the laboratory. Punched cards were strewn around, while two thick wires connected the machine to an odd-looking piece of equipment two upside-down laboratory flasks in the strong grip of copper claws. This was an Elektrolab. While one of Tvardauskis hands gave a light push to the lever inside one of the flasks, the other switched the light off. The room went dark again, but not for long. Concentrated promethelium mesmerising greenish-grey strands of smoke wriggled and glowed inside the flasks. The scientist turned a handle beside the flasks, opening them to release the green smoke into thin tubes directed at one of the walls in the room. The wall began to glow with a green light. Tvardauskis selected several punched cards and inserted them into the Babbage machine, which stood on the table also facing the wall. A moment later he was looking at map of Vilnius with Antokolis, the Blots and Mirth City. Some awkward flickering was emitted in the Troubles, neatly flowing over into New World. While Steam City and Snipiskes were enveloped in the imaginary fog, the winding Neris was touched with a mercury-like glitter. After a few moments hesitation Nikodemas finally decided to open the drawer and take out a tiny bottle containing a few drops of blood. The memory of sneaking up to the sleeping Mila at night with a thin needle in his hand made him shudder with disgust at himself. But the message from Wilhelm Klokmacher a descendant of the famous Klokmacher watchmakers who had secretly and expensively produced the electrical lab for Tvardauskis in Berlin, was crystal clear: mechanical bugs are only capable of detecting the area, or a block, if you are very lucky. But if it is precision that you want, you will need blood. Not much, a few drops will be sufficient. Nikodemas put the flasks in the upright position, pulled out the copper-bound stoppers, and began to drip the blood in, drop by drop. The greyish green smoke became cloudy and began to hiss. The scientist swiftly placed the stoppers back in the Elektrolab and returned the flasks to their upside down position. The smoke raced into the tubes like a hound that had broken free of its chain, and a second later was already drifting over the map on the wall. Quivering with anticipation, Tvardauskis closely analysed the outline of the city. He noticed a little red dot, slowly moving along Zverynas Street in the direction of St Georges Avenue. Clearly pleased with the result, the scientist swapped the punched cards for empty ones, enabling the Babbage machine to make a record of Milas journey the places she went and the times. The task completed, he left the secret room, his mind preoccupied with the bleak question of whether the end always justifies the means.

Chapter XIX Vilnius, before midday 24 04 1905 People were flooding Vilnius like a stream floods the fields in spring. All tickets for trains and dirigibles had sold out weeks ago, and those who had waited too long could now only hope for the few that had been returned after the air pirate attack on The Icarus, the story of which by now was on everyones lips. The City Council was harassed with other cities requests for additional flights, but Direction Councillor Fiodor Scherbakov vehemently opposed this. He was worried about possible traffic congestion in the skies of Vilnius due to the increased number of large cargo dirigibles and private airships of individual guests. Besides, some crown prince shattering to pieces over the church spires due to a silly mistake was the last thing that the Guild of Navigators needed. However, with one matter fully under control, another wriggled free. The Russians, who had been shaking their iron-clad fist at the residents of the lands around Vilnius and beyond its walls that were occupied by the Russian Empire, suddenly decided to stop shaking it, and had called off their armoured train patrol. Sprawled on the rooves of railway cars, the Tsars soldiers lazily shelled sunflower seeds, dropping the husks down on the joyful crowds descending on the free city of Vilnius. The highways of Trakai and Vilkmerge were dotted with the dark silhouettes of pedestrians and their carriages, at times interspersed with one or two figures of brusque unicyclists. Some of them hoped to turn the Summit into the ball of their life, others wanted to make a years living, while still others felt obliged to leap at this golden opportunity and search for happiness in this city of the Alliance. Assisted by the constantly whining constables, Vilnius Security Services were working themselves ragged. The Legionnaires on duty at the checkpoints that had been set up along the border of the Alliance hardly had any time to catch their breath, although they knew very well that the worst was still to come. After passing through the Legionnaires checks, visitors would come face-to-face with stalls lining both sides of the highway. Their owners screamed, trying to entice potential clients with drinks or comestibles, or the chance to buy some knick-knack. This seasons most popular merchandise was a mechanical box with a figure of St Christopher under a glass dome. When the box was shaken, the saint began to move his metal legs up and down, before carrying the baby across the Neris River. The hubbub on the highway could not be complete without the Troubles broceurs, who had reported here at the double and were now shouting at the top of their voices, advancing their escort and guiding services. The owners of hotels and other joint lodgings also sent their callers here. Those who were replete with money found their offers attractive and travelled to their fancy hotels, while people of limited financial means wandered over to the Blots, New World or Paplauja, hoping to get if not a reasonably priced furnished room, then at least a simple bed. The clamour on the streets was so loud that it dulled peoples hearing. The smart traders did not waste any time and were soon selling earplugs by the name of The Peace of Vilnius. Legate Antanas Sidabras was standing by the first checkpoint on Vilkmerge Highway observing the stream of people and munching on a still-warm vanilla bagel, bought from a street vendor. His right-hand man First Lieutenant Michal Vielholskiy, a Pole of imposing

stature and few words from Lublin kept his hawk-like gaze fixed on the Legionnaires at work and did not interfere with Sidabras thinking. And Sidabras had a lot to think about. The threads of this odd case fluttered like the finest cobwebs, at times glittering in the sunshine, at times disappearing from view. The first thing the Legate had done that morning was visit Vanechka Skoriks room in Rabbit Hole and talk to the keeper of the joint lodgings, who was referred to by everyone as old hag Zofia. It all came to nothing. Zofia did not give a hoot about her tenants lives, and in fact she wasnt even sure what Vanechkas profession was possibly a carpenter, or maybe a welder. She did not seem too saddened by the news of her tenants death. Aimlessly pottering around the room, she wondered aloud about getting some extra beds and accommodating four or five new arrivals in Vanechkas old room God rest his soul during the Summit. An inspection of the room bore no fruit: a change of clothes, a bowl filled with water, shaving accoutrements, food leftovers. It was obvious that Skorik only used this place for sleeping and eating. It was a dead end. But the gift from Motiejus Kairys in the shape of the drawings was very interesting. Having pondered over them for the better part of the night and realised that he understood nothing, the Legate finally gave in. At the break of dawn he asked a duty officer to put him through to Councillor of Steam and Head of the Guild of Mechanics Petras Vileisis. The drawings intrigued the Councillor to such an extent that he was about to travel to Sluskai Palace on foot, but then accepted Sidabras offer to meet in Steam City. The Legate had in mind to kill two birds with one stone, as he also wished to be briefed on the situation in the industrial heart of Vilnius, having previously heard from Vileisis about unrest among its working class. Skoriks case hung like an albatross around the Legates neck and devoured his time. Even though his principal duty was ensuring security in the city, even more so at the time of the Summit, his sixth sense was telling him that this investigation was no less significant. And possibly even more important. Sidabras swallowed the last bite, wiped the crumbs off his hands, and turned to face Lieutenant Michal Vielholskiy. We will have a busy few days, my friend, he said. Michal nodded in agreement to his commander. You will be responsible for security in the city today, the Legate added. Get the constables and convene the night guards, but make sure that each platoon has at least one of our men, he ordered. If we allow the Tsars imbeciles to act on their own, disturbances will be inevitable. Try to disperse your people around different areas and post a considerable number of our men to the White Pillars of Pohulianka. Plenty of boneheads will be making their way into the Troubles tonight, and beyond a shadow of a doubt some blood will be spilt. I will be making my way to Steam City. All the news I get, I will send over to Sluskai. Yes, Legate. Suddenly Sidabras remembered something else. And another thing... if you hear an ything new about fatty Felix, let me know immediately. It could be of paramount importance. The men exchanged nods and parted company. Sidabras hurried over to the steam patrol carriage, which had been waiting for him already, while Vielholskiy headed for the command post. Engrossed in their thoughts, the men failed to notice they were being carefully observed by an attractive young lady in an inconspicuous grey suit a short jacket and a long straight

skirt and tall black lace-up boots. As soon as the men had departed in opposite directions, Emilia turned on her heel and continued on her way. Once Verkiai and its checkpoint, as well as the swarming flocks of traders, had been left behind, the Great Vilkmerge Highway dashed right into the middle of the nearest Vilnius suburb. Just outside of Snipiskes it forked. While the right fork curved alongside Snipiskes, ending at the iron Green Bridge, the left one was not only lengthier but also more engaging, with all the roadhouses and inn yards ready for their customers, travelling by in pursuit of work, or rolling along on carriages loaded with heavy goods. Behind their backs, occupying an area of several versts, stood bleak warehouse buildings. Some carriages would sneak in between the warehouses, others would turn left and continue onto Viscigavas airship port, with its red signalling balloons swaying in the air and visible from miles away. Viscigavas was famous for its elevated monorail an astonishing invention by the Alliance Mechanics. The trains blustered back and forth high above peoples heads, trails of white steam clumps hanging behind them, scaring the horses and causing observers seeing them for the first time to gawk in amazement. Steam City the citys steel heart was the final destination of the single track trains as well as of Vilkmerge Highway. Inside the perimeter of Steam City, Vilkmerge Highway became broader and bound by ranks of surly steam-spewing factories. Once in their trap, the Highway was robbed of its name and was now called First Street, with Second Street and Third Street slouching against its side, Fourth Street slicing it perpendicularly, and sharply branching off Fifth Street, which was eternally shrouded in a veil of steam clouds. This basic layout with simple street names proved to be very suitable for the residents of Steam City, locked in their infinitely repeating routine. Despite the fact that Steam City had no inhabitants of its own, it still teemed with life to the fullest degree twenty-four hours a day the Seventh Street gas plants fed fuel to cast iron and steel foundries and always under enhanced supervision to the promethelium factory. Their serpent-like pipes twined and curled above the streets. With the first light of day Fourth and Sixth Streets became draped in the stench of processed leathers coming from Rivkinds, Surovichius and Menkes factories. The reek sprawled as far as Eighth Street, where they mingled with the aromas from Edelshteins tobacco factory. Slightly further still, there opened up a square, which was used to unload the monorail trains carrying cargo from Viscigavas airship port. The horizon behind the square was accentuated by the booming chimneys of Steam Citys heavy industries. This area was home to the workshop of Petras Vileisis producing steam turbines and experimental mechanical elements Zimmermans cast iron foundry and a branch of the German industrial giant Allgemeine Elektrisitaets which, following some challenging negotiations, had sprung up here and was constructing dynamos. Smaller out-of-the-way corners were occupied by less imposing producers, also sucking gas from the same pipeline Paps envelope factory, Brother Rakovickis factory of mechanical scales and cigarette-tube filling machines, Zavadskis printing house, Livschits cork factory, and other smaller shops. Steam City was neighbours with the Foreign Quarter, with its recently opened Lloyds bureau, and the heavily-guarded ateliers of gun and pistol makers and armouries. Lighter clouds of steam hanging in the air by the river signalled the route to the Great Baths, where Steam City labourers who had been released from work washed the soot and stench off their bodies, also rewarding themselves with a pint of beer or two. There were two places that newcomers in pursuit of work always visited first the Official Steam City Labour Exchange, open seven days a week, and the other, unofficial one by the

river, which offered dirtier jobs and an opportunity to evade paying tax by roguish employers who preferred to remunerate their workforce in a covert way. Steam City was a crazy and complex creature with its pipelines like arteries delivering lifeblood, an occasional invention dazzling everyone with its firework-like brightness, but also saturated with a low greed for money, human hope and the omnipresent smell of sweat, steel and oils. All this chaos existed according to its own rhythm and its own rules and was orchestrated by the Guild of Mechanics Steam Citys heart from its headquarters in a tower with a green patina on its roof and a gigantic clock that could be seen from miles away. The leaders of University Dominium had wished for the Guild of Mechanics to become Steam Citys Alpha and Omega the first and foremost position in the peoples flight to excellence, and they had done just that. Now Steam City was also the final destination of Legate Antanas Sidabras journey. When he reached the main Steam City square, which spread out below the Tower of the Guild of Mechanics, the clock was chiming midday. Due to Sidabras reluctance to be noticed by any curious eyes, he ordered the lance-corporal in charge of the carriage to stop a small distance short of the tower. It will take me about an hour to get things sorted in the Guild, he said stepping outside. Meanwhile you go to the baths, have a wash and a pint of beer, and try to listen to what people have to say. I am afraid our uniforms will be the last thing to facilitate the gathering of more information. Walking across the Guild Square, the Legate noticed a group of tramps crowding around a large poster with a phrase daubed in red paint: JOBB, FOOD, JUSTISS. The tramps did not give him the impression of people who knew their spelling. They eyed the man in blue uniform but did not dare to approach him. Having arrived at the Tower, Sidabras ran up the stairs. Steam hissed and the door opened by itself. Welcome to the Guild of Mechanics, Legate of Vilnius, a metallic voice greeted the man as he stepped inside. An automaton the size of a human, dressed in a spotless Guild members uniform, bowed and waved his hand, showing Sidabras inside. Sidabras felt baffled he did not know how to take this new prank from the deranged gang of Mechanics. But the automaton marked only the first in a line of surprises that had been prepared for the guest. The main hall had been turned into a museum, with the latest inventions occupying its most prestigious spots, with clearly displayed functional as well as proof-of-principle prototypes: tiny wind-up hearing aids made to be inserted in the ear (looking so much better than the old large trumpets), electrotherapy machines and the latest generation of wireless devices. A few Oriental-looking men in crisp white kimonos were in the middle of a close inspection of one of the wireless devices. They looked like early guests of the Summit. They strained their ears to catch the words of a man of imposing proportions, with a black moustache and dressed in a bronze vest and an elongated jacket, and a top hat of the same colour adorned with tiny pinions. They were nodding their heads eagerly. This was Petras Vileisis Steam Councillor of Vilnius and head of the Guild of Mechanics. Completely engrossed in his own story, he was gesticulating wildly with his hands. Only a very close inspection of his right arm revealed it to be artificial a metal prosthesis attached to his shoulder, its elbow and fingers moved by special pistons (another outstanding creation of Vilnius Mechanics). Vileisis lost his arm in an accident fourteen years ago, during the construction of a railway bridge near Krakw.

Welcome to the Guild of Mechanics, the automaton greeted another guest behind Sidabras back. Not having a photographic image of the new guest, he had to limit himself to a generic greeting. Having spotted the Legate, Vileisis apologised to his guests and gesticulated with his metal arm for him to come closer, while also taking a few steps in Sidabras direction. These are the Japanese from Yokohama, he whispered to Sidabras. They have a keen interest in everything and wish to see the exhibition, but will not be staying for the Summit. You know, being at war with the Russians, and all. So we are doing our best to give them the red carpet treatment. I will shortly send them to the baths, so you go upstairs, he urged the Legate. You know your way. So this was why Vileisis had offered to meet at the Guild, the Legate thought to himself. The usual place for their meetings was a plain little room in his workshop. He paused to have a better look at the Japanese, who by now were completely entranced by Vileisis vest, chuckled quietly, and took the lift to the penultimate floor of the Tower and the Steam Councillors office. The next floor up was home to the gigantic clock and an observatory housing a very substantial telescope (its twin brother occupied a space in the observatory of the University Dominium). In the redwood-clad reception room outside Vileisis office, the Legate was met by the Councillors assistant who quickly jumped out of his seat to extend respectful greetings to Sidabras. Sidabras waved for him to sit down and made his way into Vileisis office. After a brief inspection of the room, he walked over to the antique secretaire, which, as far as he remembered, contained a secret alcohol depository. He opened the door and took out a bottle and two balloon glasses, which he swiftly filled with a quality French cognac. Leaving one glass on the table and carrying the other in his hand, he walked over to the window and took in the view of the city. Even on an overcast day the views of Vilnius were intoxicating. Only thin remnants of Steam Citys smog reached as high as the observatory and were too weak to spoil the view. On the contrary, the veil of pale greyish fog made the panorama look vibrant, as if created by the brush of an impressionist. Steam City resembled an ants nest. As far as the eye could see, the entire Vilkmerge Highway swarmed with travellers, the docks welcomed and moored barges after their long journeys along the Neris, the fish and firewood markets added clamour to the river banks as far as Green Bridge and Snipiskes, while in the distance, enormous mechanical moles, like mythological ocean monsters, cleaned the river bed of silt with their shiny metal snouts. The other side of the river shone with its University Dominium towers, owls and goblins perched on their spires. Huge crowds of people swarmed along Didzioji Street up to the Town Hall and back again. The Legate even thought that he saw two of the Legions duty officers patrolling outside the Town Hall. Over the horizon, in the Blots or maybe New World, black smoke rose into the air, and answering the call was a steam-powered fire engine, already speeding along Coin Street, its siren piercing the air. With a knowing smile, the Legate glanced over to the right, reddish brown roofs clambering over one another in the Troubles a frequent hide out for arsonists. Antokolis and Zverynas were the only ones to have kept their calm identity in this teeming heap; composed and proudly indifferent they had buried themselves in layers of greenery. Antanas Sidabras took a sip of cognac and pressed his head against the glass. Playing host, are we? someone laughed behind him.

Arigato gozaimasu.27 Sidabras turned back with his palms together in front of his chest, executing a ceremonious bow. Have you also travelled there? Petras Vileisis tossed his expensive helmet in the corner and slumped down in the armchair, picking up the balloon of cognac with his good hand. The Legate shrugged his shoulders, neither confirming not denying it, and sat down opposite the leader of Vilnius Mechanics. For a while, they chatted about Japanese industries and opportunities in technology, about the ongoing war with Russia and about what the Japanese were looking for at the fair in Vilnius, which would be set up in a pavilion in Lukiskes Square for the Summit. Then Vileisis topped up their glasses with another splash of cognac and both men became serious. In the square opposite I noticed some characters loitering about, the type preoccupied with the search for the truth. Do you get many of those here? enquired Sidabras. Quite a few, replied Vileisis. But this is to be expected. My people in Steam City cause me no trouble. They are well paid and work appropriate hours. We have even challenged the son-of-a-bitch Rakovickis brothers by telling them to stop employing children or slither off to Novovileysk together with all of their cigarette machines. We have also tried to observe the rules and officially employ all the newcomers, but it is like shouting against the wind. In no time at all five new relatives or friends follow them from the Russian Empire. They keep flocking and flocking here until we no longer have any space left. Vileisis shrugged his shoulders. But there is always a job waiting for you in the other office by the river. In Steam City, the Blots, New World, Paplauja or some other place. Of course, the job will be illegal, you will be paid peanuts, the working hours will be unlimited, and no job security will be offered, but many people will be happy to take it on anyway. Because you see, the job is in Vilnius the city of their dreams. And in a situation like this the likes of Rakovickis start thinking: why hire people officially when we can have them without any papers, and pay them from inside our jackets. As a result the locals are fired, their places taken over by someone from the expanses of the Russian Empire. And they are all easily replaced just like a pair of old gloves. And can you believe it the people moan that its the machines of the Mechanics that are taking the last morsel of food away from their mouths. In the heat of the moment, he struck the back of the chair with his mechanical hand, nearly causing it to split. It is not our machines but the greed of the bloody businessmen that is to be blamed. You can argue the toss but you wont get the beggars to believe you. Tonight, he gesticulated towards the window, it is the workers meeting in the square, and tomorrow they are planning a strike. While the Summit is imminent and Vilnius Council is putting a lot of pressure on us. He looked Sidabras in the eye. But what should we do? The Legate rubbed his nose. Should I send some of my men to the square? No, dont bother, Vileisis dismissively waved his good hand. A few wretched souls will gather together, make a racket and will eventually go home. But if they so much as catch a glimpse of your uniformed men, we would be in for real trouble. I think we will manage on our own.

27

Thank you very much (Japanese).

The protesters dont have a lot of support, especially now before the Summit, with plenty of jobs available for everyone. All right then... Vileisis made himself comfortable in his chair, before changing the subject. I am intrigued by these drawings of which you spoke. Show them to me, I beg you. Sidabras pulled the papers from under his jacket, unfolded them and placed them on the little table. The mechanic placed a large gold-plated monocle in the socket of his left eye and started poring over the pages. The Legates eyes locked on to the changing expressions on Vileisis face. When he eventually leaned back, he also undid the top button of his shirt and rubbed his chin with his palm. The mechanics demeanour conveyed great distress. Had I not heard your story, I would call it a forgery or lunacy and would push it out of my mind before too long but now... Vileisis paused, lost in thought. So what are these drawings? Legate asked at the end of his patience. A bionic creature, said Vileisis thoughtfully, and then added. It is something like an automaton or a golem. However, the automatons that the Mechanics create are only capable of one action, or several actions at best. The activity of golems is also rather limited. A golem can guard, carry loads or kill, if that is the order he had been given. But bionics are a completely different story. They can do almost anything. Are you trying to say that this thing... Sidabras pointed his finger at the drawings. ... That this thing can think? The leader of the Mechanics shook his head. No, no. Its not possible, he mumbled, his good hand scratching the forehead. This is mad. He looked the Legate in the face. You see, automatons cannot think. Its a fact. But bionics... bionics they are different. They are a kind of union between a machine and a living organism. They are something like extraordinary automatons, not only controlled by people but also able to behave like them. But they are much more powerful and able to do the same job better and faster than a man. For over a decade now bionics have been the subject of heated discussions among scientists, but nothing has evolved out of them yet. Why is that? Sidabras wondered. Vileisis shrugged. No one has yet come up with a solution for how to control a bionic. How to make him do everything that his owner can. It is not a singing bird who only needs his mainspring to be wound up... We are talking about the limits of our powers here... he lifted his right hand, metal fingers bending one by one. Consequently his hand formed a fist, leaving the index finger pointing, which he then used to tap the papers. I have seen dozens of these drawings, Vileisis admitted. But I have never seen... he shook his head. ... a functional prototype. Nor have I heard of anyone having the ingenious idea of how to make one. Nevertheless, someone has found these drawings to be particularly interesting, if they decided to copy and steal them. And then they somehow found their way into the hands of a mysteriously murdered metalworker, the Legate thought to himself, but aloud said the following. And if... Lets fantasize. If someone had the chance to create a bionic... as you call him... who would that be?

Not the Mechanics. Thats for certain, Vileisis voice sounded confident. We can create a brilliant machine. An automaton. But no more than that. Who then? Having removed his monocle from the eye socket, Vileisis gently blew on it and shone it with a handkerchief, before putting it away in his jacket pocket. Your question is poorly phrased, Legate, he replied. Who could create him? I have told you already no one. Who could dare attempt to create him? You know the answer yourself. The degenerates from Prague! Vitamancers. Sidabras voice sounded more assertive than inquiring. In spite of the Vilnius Vitamancer Lodge being rather weak, I would wager these drawings have been done by no one else but them. Sidabras got up, shoved the folded drawings under the front of his jacket and, declining the offer of another cognac, walked to the door. Remembering something in the doorway, he looked back at Vileisis. Petras, what do you think? What could be the possible use of the object depicted in the drawings? he asked. A seconds deliberation was all the leader of Mechanics and Vilnius Councillor of Steam needed. The drawings only show the main parts and the working principle. Only the author of the drawing can fully understand it all, he remarked. But in my opinion, it is a golem and he has been designed to kill. Look at his excessively sharp metal fingers. The Legate nodded and left the office.

Chapter XX Vilnius, afternoon 24 04 1905 In a little while, the carriage of the Legionnaires commander was on its way from Steam City. They were in for a long journey in order to get to their destination they had to drive across the whole city, keeping their course to the southeast, where the Kaukysa River flowed into the Vilnia. Any news? asked Sidabras, with a glance at the wet hair of the lance corporal in charge of the carriage. Did you go to the baths? Anything interesting there? Not much, reported the Legionnaire, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. Everyone is talking about the new machines the Mechanics are about to complete, which will apparently cause hundreds of people to lose their jobs. The workers are determined not to give up and are threatening strikes. So I see... muttered Legate, his thoughts going back to the destination of his journey. Compared to Prague, where the Vitamancer Lodge occupied the magnificent Schwarzenberg Palace, the manor of Vilnius Vitamancers in Markuciai was a modest little place: a two-storey wooden building, divided into three parts, with several auxiliary outbuildings. It did have an exceptionally attractive feature though a grand and beautiful oak tree park with a pond. The whole estate was enclosed by a four-meter tall brick wall. Yet no one was surprised by such humility by the local Vitamancers if in Prague they ruled the city, in Alchemist-dominated Vilnius, they had hardly any voice at all. In the complex game of the Alliances intrigues, the Vitamancers were at the opposite side of the board compared to the Mechanics and Alchemists. A hefty metal gate served as the entrance to the Vitamancers quarters. The top of the gate was decorated with the Vitamancers symbol a phoenix rising from the flames with a letter V coiling above its head V for Vitae, the universal symbol of life. Beside the gate was a tiny window for people who wished to get rid of their unwanted babies. Quite a few poor souls would come here cradling a live bundle in their arms, then push it through the window before scurrying away. The reason people brought newborns here instead of giving them to the Sisters of Charity was because no celebrations or parades would pass without the Vitamancers proudly showing off their foster children always clean, wellnourished and dressed in dainty jackets with a phoenix on the chest. Despite the hushed rumours that circulated the town about the Vitamancers experimenting on the children in their cellars, the number of orphans always remained about the same. With his carriage left in an alleyway next to Subacius Street, the Legate lightly exercised his legs before heading to the metal gate, carefully examining the Vitamancers estate wall as he walked. He was disappointed the wall was in perfect shape, possibly only recently replastered, so its smooth surface did not contain a single scratch or crack that would come in handy if someone decided to climb over it. A brass bell hung by the gate. A few minutes after the Legate had rung it, someone cracked opened a small barred window in the gate.

You you have meeting? Arranged? asked a strange hissing voice. No, Sidabras decided to be truthful and was about to introduce himself but the voice cut him short. Elder not meet no one, no. And the window closed with a bang. The Legate took a deep breath and reached in his pocket for a metal object, known among the hooligans in the Troubles by the awe-inspiring name of mug buster. With the weapon covering his knuckles and his fingers on both hands interlaced, he stretched back his arms and let fly a punch against the bars on the window with his protected hand as hard as he could. Once, twice... The bars began to lose their shape. This brought about a mad barking behind the wall. The Legate pulled back his arm ready for a third punch but the window opened up again. Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras, the words poured out of his mouth. Are you letting me in or shall I come back with my men? he added sourly. The man behind the window said nothing, but there was the clanking sound of the bolts being pushed open. The gate opened a crack, letting Sidabras through. He was met by two tall men in identical grey suits and with empty eyes. They were straining to hold back four barking mastiffs. They were insanely massive: Sidabras had never seen anything like them in Vilnius before. There also stood another man considerably shorter than the first two, and wearing the Vitamancers usual orange and black outfit, his long hair tied into a single plait. At the neck of each man there was a brooch depicting a rising phoenix. Beautiful puppies, Sidabras complimented the dogs. The mastiffs reacted by baring their sword-sharp teeth. This is a temple of life where guns are banned, but you are armed, said one of the grey suited men. Sidabras looked at him from head to toe and gave a slight smile. It was obvious that the laws of the temple were not applicable to the men themselves, as there were slight bulges under the jackets of both men, suggesting a pistol case attached to their belts underneath. You jest, surely, Sidabras said. The grey men simultaneously turned to the third man. It seemed that he was the one making the decisions. The man with a plait gave it a moments consideration, then gave them a slight nod. Take this path, then turn right and go over to the pond, he gestured, his eyes not leaving Sidabras face. But try not to lose your way. The meeting with the Elder of Vilnius Vitamancers was short. Sidabras found him sitting on the bench by the pond, feeding black swans. The elegantly greying man was wearing an orange robe, his eyes concealed under round-lensed glasses. The sight of the intruder neither surprised, nor angered him. On the contrary, he welcomed Sidabras by getting up and politely assuring him that the Vitamancer Lodge was always ready to co-operate with the guards of the city, day or night. Without wasting any more time, Sidabras immediately handed the mysterious drawings to the man.

Any idea what this is and who the author might be? he asked, watching the man carefully. The chief Vitamancer took the papers in his hands and stared at them with his spectacleclad eyes for a few moments, his facial expression revealing nothing. Eventually he shrugged his shoulders. I cannot help you with this in any way, he said. It is the first time I see these drawings. Maybe... he deliberated for a moment. Maybe they were made in another city of the Alliance? Or maybe not in the Alliance at all? Having promised Sidabras he would inform him if he came across any useful information, he bade him farewell and went back to the bench to continue feeding the swans. Outside the gate Sidabras chuckled quietly. Concealing ones eyes under spectacles might not be a bad idea, but not so much when dealing with someone who had interrogated hundreds of captives during the war, as he doesnt need to look into your eyes to tell when you are telling the truth, lying or concealing something. The Elder of Vilnius Vitamancers had lied, and it was obvious. Antanas Sidabras was not surprised, and so as soon as he was outside the gate, he slipped into the nearest gateway and waited. The wait was not short. An hour later Sidabras was on the brink of giving up what seemed to be a fruitless occupation and going back to Sluskai, when the gate to the Vitamancer estate was suddenly flung open to let through two Leon Serpolett gas tricycles. Although the machines did resemble a carriage, instead of reins and horses there were a control stick and a boiler and two-cylinder steam engine. A tarpaulin palanquin served as a rain shelter for the passengers while anyone who desired to hide away from the curious eyes of passers-by could conceal themselves behind a little curtain. Although not very fast, the petite serpoletts were highly manoeuvrable and were excellent for riding in the city streets. After leaving the gate, the two tricycles turned into Subacius Street and continued ahead. The Legate ran to his carriage. Follow them, he directed the corporal from inside the carriage. But keep your distance and make sure they do not notice us. The serpoletts slowly buzzed along Subacius, then Paplaujos Street, seemingly heading into the Old Town. The Legionnaires carriage rolled behind, keeping a safe distance. It seemed that the drivers of the serpoletts were not aware of the tail, so the Legate could relax, leaning back in his seat. Then came an unpleasant surprise. As soon as both the serpoletts and the carriage had driven past the Fish Market alongside Mirth City and turned into Safjanikai Street, the tricycles dashed off in opposite directions without any sign of warning one driving to the right and crossing the Vilnele into Mirth City, while the other rolled down in the direction of St Anns Church. Sidabras had not foreseen this happening. But he had no time to think as he was about to lose sight of the serpoletts. Keep with the one that went right Sidabras shouted to the corporal. Then go straight to Sluskai and report it. With the last words of his instructions Sidabras leaped out of the carriage. After a swift look around, he slipped inside a two-storey brick house and raced up the stairs. Finding a

small ladder on the first floor, he used it to climb on to the roof, from where he looked down. There were no serpoletts in the narrow streets below. The Legate cursed. Suddenly a shadow draped over the rooves. Caught unawares, Sidabras looked up. Suspended in the air above his head was a Mail Balloon. A long rope was swinging in the air beneath it. A postman would pull the rope inside the basket and use it to lower the packages, thus avoiding the need to go down to the Post Office himself. As the balloon was slowly ascending, Sidabras had no time to waste. He sprinted and jumped over the abyss, landing on the roof of the next two-storey building. Thanking the unknown architect for making the street so narrow, he was already standing right underneath the balloon, firmly clutching the rope with both hands. His weight caused the balloon to sway and the surprised pilot stuck his capped head out of the basket to look down. Vilnius Legion! Sidabras shouted at the top of his lungs, noticing the captain was wearing thick earmuffs to protect himself from the bitterly cold wind. Nonetheless, the captain must have heard his words, or maybe seen his blue uniform, because a moment later his head disappeared from view, while the rope, wound around a wheel, started to rise. Even though hemp ropes were generally strong, they were not meant to carry such weight, which meant that Sidabras journey up was extremely slow alternating between rising ten feet and slipping several feet down. When he eventually reached the gondola, he braced against its lower part with his feet and the upper edge with his hands, and then, breathing heavily, plunged down over the edge and on to the floor. With his eyes closed he tried to bring his breathing back to normal, and when he opened them at last, he saw the worried pilots face looming over him with goggles pushed up over his forehead. What is this? the postman spoke up, but Sidabras would not let him finish his sentence. He jumped up to his feet, leaned over the edge of the basket and feverishly searched the ground below. Of course, by now the tricycle could have hidden in any of the narrow little streets, but Sidabras was having an exceptionally good day. He saw the tricycle roll away along Uzupis Street. He looked the other way and spotted the second serpolett passing by St Anns Church. Right behind it was his own carriage, moving steadily under the guidance of his diligent corporal. I am Antanas Sidabras, the Legate of Vilnius, said the man sternly, his eyes fixed on the pilot. I am carrying out a task of the utmost importance. Follow that tricycle, he pointed his finger at his serpolett. You mustnt let it out of your sight. The stunned postman obeyed immediately. But it was easier said than done. So as not to be solely dependent on the wind, mail balloons also had a relatively weak coke engine and stabilisers installed on their sides. Thus, with the engine on, the balloon could fly as directed, rather than spin around its centre line. However, postmen tried to use the fuel sparingly and usually glided above the Old Town roofs, resorting to the engine only when required, to ascend or change direction. The postman rushed to switch the engine on, which made the balloon shudder before changing direction. But misfortunes never come alone. Light mail balloons were only intended for one single passenger, which meant that the weight of another rather bulky man made it start to drop. A strong gust of wind threw the balloon to the side above Mirth City, right into the menacingly rearing spires of St Anns Church.

Oh my God, we are going to crash, the postman squealed before desperately attacking the burner valve handle, frantically pumping heated air into the envelope. The balloon started to ascend again but not fast enough to avoid a collision with the church. What are these? keeping his eyes on the tricycle, Sidabras kicked some metal boxes lying on the gondola floor. Important letters. Over the edge! But its the shocked postman gaped. To him such sacrilege seemed more horrid than a collision itself. Over the edge!!! Now!!! Sidabras yelled. The sudden paper rain on the heads of people walking in St Anns Street rooted them to the spot. People began to gaze up and point at the balloon as it expelled white dove-like envelopes, which fluttered and spread in the air. The heavy box plummeted down and hit the bridge before plunging into the Vilnele. This frightened two horses, who had been pulling a carriage steadily just a moment ago, and they galloped away over the cobblestones covered in paper snow, making the women inside the carriage scream at the top of their voices. Isnt this a great sight? No doubt, The Truth of Vilnius would be pleased, Sidabras thought. But the pilot was a real expert at his job, and the balloon started to ascend even faster, and the sharp needles of the church only brushed lightly against the bottom of the gondola. The only thing to concern them now was to not lose the tricycle. Binoculars were a compulsory accessory in every mail balloon and Sidabras could now conveniently use them to observe the journey of the serpolett. The longer he looked, the more his face became shrouded in worry. At first he thought that it would take Olandu Street and go as far as peaceful Antokolis, but instead it unexpectedly turned right. Is he going back to the Vitamancers Headquarters? The Legate could not conceal his disappointment. But Sidabras was wrong, as the serpolett kept on rolling until Polotsko Street turned into Batoro Highway. This wrong-footed him, as it now looked as if the serpolett was about to leave the city. The postman seemed to think the same. With a puzzled look on his face he looked at the Legate. Follow him! Sidabras ordered flatly. The tricycle stopped at the Alliance border checkpoint. A few minutes later, however, it continued towards the horizon where it was grimy with dark clumps of smoke. It had now become obvious that its destination was Novovileysk a gloomy and malformed copy of Vilnius.

Chapter XXI Novovileysk, afternoon 24 04 1905 I hope they choke on their damned Vilnius. We will build a magnificent city outside its walls, a real city of the dreams, said head of Vilnius Province Jegor Steblin-Kamenskiy through gritted teeth at the sunset of his glory days, following the transfer of Vilnius to the Alliance. The Tsars bureaucrats were taken with the idea. Shortly afterwards the small village to the North of Vilnius chosen for this purpose started expanding quickly and furiously. New factories sprang up one after another, a train station was erected and freight carriages rolled back and forth along the newly built rail track between the new city and Minsk, Petersburg and even Kharkov. It became home to the largest scythe factory in the world and a monumental manufacturer of railway bearings. Novovileysk New Vilnius was the name given to the newborn city, and it took in workers who had moved in from the Russianoccupied remote corners of Lithuania, as well as other godforsaken provinces of the Russian Empire. Russian agents, disguised as traders, workers or city guests, travelled to Vilnius to snoop around the city, and later delivered the news on the latest creations in this part of the Alliance to their leaders in Novovileysk. The latter were devoted to one simple rule accomplish too many tasks in too short a time. Due to their constant attempts to bite off more than they could chew, the fire and soot-spewing Novovileysk factories ran into the ground and started to resemble the anteroom of hell, as the machines that they employed were dated and unsafe. Housed in barracks permeated by relentlessly blowing winds, workers found consolation in drinking vodka and cursing their fate to the noise of whistling trains. They dreamed of the inns, baths and parks of nearby Vilnius, the same as they dreamed of ascending to Heaven. When promethelium so useful to industry was created by the Alchemists of the Alliance a few years later, the queues of refugees in search of work and shelter extended from Novovileysk to Vilnius itself. As the Tsars authorities had expected an influx of Vilnius residents into their new city instead, it had not occurred to them that there was any need to guard the road between the old and new Vilnius. When they realised what had happened, the Russians promptly blocked all roads leading to Vilnius and set up a very close watch on them. Troops encircled Novovileysk, holding all its residents and workers hostage to the Russian Empire. However, due to a labour shortage, the Burgomaster of Novovileysk was struck with the brilliant idea of building a mental hospital in the only park that the city had managed to retain, where patients from all the neighbouring provinces could be prescribed the treatment of work therapy. These ambitions caused the city to suffer, and its streets to be impregnated with an unbearable stench; while in summer this malodour became even stronger, winters were marked with an insufficiency of firewood and warmth. Even the Tsars soldiers responsible for encompassing the city treated their posting to Novovileysk as an exile; and other, less malodorous towns were chosen for the manoeuvres of the Tsars troops. However, not everything was gloom and doom. There were things that made the authorities in Novovileysk happy, the East wind being one of them. As soon as it started

blowing towards Vilnius, Novovileysk factories opened all their steam control valves, allowing massive globs of stinking poisonous fumes to advance in the direction of the detested rival, which caused Vilnius residents take to their heels and desert the streets, and those at home to scrupulously shut their windows and doors. Before too long the Alliance retaliated the Alchemists of Vilnius came up with a shield against smog. The outlay was astronomical but the Alliance could not care less. There was a line Protection from outside threats in the budget of every free city, which was a good excuse to spend the money whichever way was deemed fit. And this city of dreams had now become the destination for the Vitamancers tricycle, pursued by Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras in an air balloon. Upon reaching the smoke-shrouded Novovileysk, the postman became alarmed. I have no right to fly there. They will shoot at us, he moaned trying to suppress a cough. No, they will not, Sidabras muttered back. He was watching the serpolett, which had just been approached by two Tsarist soldiers, with strained attention. Three more, their overcoats in shreds and mouths covered with scraps of muslin, sat on the rocks beside the wooden hut. The Vitamancers tricycle was checked with no delay. Soldiers inspected the visitors documents, saluted and let them through into the city. Sidabras shook his head in amazement. The serpolett continued along the road. After about a verst the road forked, the left branch leading to the train station, the right to the factories. Now Sidabras was coughing as well the screen of smoke being so thick that the rays of the sun had to force their way down through it, adding a dirty orange hue to the artificial looking ghostly clouds. The black factory chimneys pierced the clouds of smoke like the ugly talons of some cyclopean monster. The tricycle turned right, rolled past the factories and, one turning later, entered the park. Once upon a time this park might have been green and luscious, but now it was overgrown with shrubs and decaying trees with darkened leaves. In the middle of the park there loomed a large building. The baffled Sidabras scratched his chin. Erm... quite a strange building, he said quietly. What could it be? A mental hospital, the postman explained. A glimpse of surprise in the Legates eyes made him break out in a contented smile. Scaring some crows off the road, the tricycle approached the hospital and stopped. A Vitamancer in a grey suit clambered out and headed straight for the building. Sidabras had a good look at the sky. Fly the balloon behind these, he pointed at the trees. It will not be long before someone notices us. You go as low as possible, and I will slide down the rope. Then you go up again and hurry back to Vilnius. And send a wireless message to Sluskai palace, his order followed. Is everything clear? It is, it is, the pilot nodded. But what about you?

Dont worry about me, Sidabras reassured him. But... he looked at the small-framed postman from head to toe. You know what, friend? Maybe you could help me. The postman understood the Legates intent, and obligingly removed his jacket. The mail balloon had already disappeared from view when Sidabras came running beside the hospital and hid behind a bush. The postmans jacket, which he wore over his t -shirt, was unbuttoned, while its sleeves were scrunched up to his elbows. He hoped that no one would notice this garment was way too small for him. A postmans bag was hung over his shoulder. The three-storey red brick Novovileysk hospital was a rectangular brick box, resembling a prison, with its first and second floor windows protected with security bars. A discordant onion-shaped metal dome, adorned with the Orthodox cross, served as the only reminder that the people within these walls were protected by God. This must have been true as the patients of this institution were not blessed with mercy from humans. If truth be told, the first director of this hospital, a man called Krainskiy, was not really a ruthless creature; although he was aware of the true mission of his institution supplying the industrial dragons of Novovileysk with free labour. But as soon as he started to speculate that people with muddled minds were also worthy of respect, he was declared a madman and kicked out. His successor appeared to be more loyal to the Tsar. He especially detested those who came to hospital with papers marked Secret. He took great pleasure in sending these people mostly poor rebels against the regime to special window-free wards. Sidabras waited patiently behind the bush. Apart from the serpolett, which was now parked in front of the hospital door, there was not a living soul in sight. A few moments later the Vitamancer appeared in the doorway, meticulously shielding his face from the omnipresent poisonous fumes with the lower part of his robe. He walked briskly over to the tricycle, climbed inside and departed without a backward glance. The Legate took a deep breath and a minute later, determinedly strode in through the front door. On the other side of it, in a small lobby with dirty windows, sat two soldiers, absorbed in a game of cards at a little table. Sidabras carried his bag boldly, at the same time hoping that the soldiers would not notice the missing double headed eagle the coat of arms of the Russian Empire. But a brief unfriendly glance was all that the soldiers gave the poor civil servant, before going back to their game. Wasting no time to assess the situation, Sidabras walked over to the only open door, beyond which stretched a long straight hallway. With its low ceiling, crumbling tiles on the walls and on the floor and soot-stained curtains on the windows, he found the hospital dispiriting. A few steps further down the hallway he came to an alcove with a screen. Behind it and under a fly-excrement-stained portrait of perhaps the Governor or the Health Minister, sat a plump lady in a faded white smock, gazing out of a dirty barred window and munching on something. The sound of footsteps made her look over her shoulder. Post, reported Sidabras in perfect Russian. A dispatch, to be handed to the head physician in person. Continue straight ahead, the woman said, before taking another piggish bite of her sandwich and turning back to the window. Sidabras strode down the hallway trying not to make too much noise with his heels. He approached a number of doors. The last one, positioned at the very end of the hallway, displayed a sign written in Cyrillic script: Head Physician Vasilij Chardin. You are the one I need, brother, Sidabras muttered under his nose.

At the end of the hallway was a landing with metal stairs. Sidabras assumed it was the firefighters stairway connecting all three storeys and going all the way up to the roof. He remembered once seeing the same type of staircase in another old hospital. Having assured himself that it was the case, he came back and quietly knocked on the Head Physicians door. When no one answered, he cautiously opened the door and peeked inside. A chunky grey-haired man in a spotless white smock sat at a desk in a small office, his body thrust over a plate and chomping on a generous piece of meat. A half-empty carafe containing a whitish liquid stood on the desk beside him. The doctors cheeks were bright red, while the air in the office was permeated with the combined stench of pork and vodka. It was obvious that the Head Physicians lunch was as different from that of the nurse as day from night. Post, Sidabras said brightly. A special dispatch, Your Honour, he added the first title that went through his mind. Get out, beef head! hissed Chardin with his mouth full, his gaze remaining fixed on the food. Dont you know where you leave the letters, idiot? I am awfully sorry, Your Honour, Sidabras kept on nodding reverentially. He slipped into the office, closing the door behind him, and started creeping towards the physician. But I just thought that the dispatch... was supposed to be handed in person... he was purposely jabbering as if in a panic. It could be of the utmost importance, so I thought... I said that I should probably deliver it to your Highness by hand, in order to avoid... After this stream of words the physician had finally raised his head, gaping at the visitor. Fork suspended in the air, he fixed his gaze on the postmans jacket, which was clearly too tight. Suspicion flickered in the small eyes of the doctor. Chardin swallowed his last mouthful instantly and was about to open his now free mouth to yell out, but Sidabras leaped to the desk and lightly struck the doctors throat with side of his palm, as if locking the words inside on their way out. Meanwhile his other hand grabbed Chardin by the hair and jerked his head back. The Doctor gasped for air, like a fish thrown onto the shore. Another swift move and he had a knife at his throat. Hush, quiet! Sidabras said. Be quiet or I will slaughter you like a pig. Is that clear? He released the doctors hair, allowing him to nod fervently in agreement. Good, he looked pleased. And now lets have a chat, he suggested. You have just had a visitor. Who did he come to see? Who did he talk to? How would I know? Chardin hissed. We have hundreds of patients here who receive hundreds of visitors. Go to the duty nurse, she keeps a log. But I think this visitor came straight to see you the head physician, Sidabras crackled in Chardins ear. Or should I try to rekindle the masters memory? a touch of blade on the fat wobbly neck caused a thin pink line appear on the skin, which was as white as snow.

Ouch! No, no! the doctor squealed. The red tinge on his cheeks turned dark pink, resembling beetroot. Yes, yes... he came to see me. From Vilnius. From the Vitamancers Lodge. Who was he? I need the name, Sidabras pressed him further. He didnt introduce himself. Only showed a paper with a seal. Attesting to his right to visit his patients any time of the day. His patients? Sidabras wondered to himself. Does that mean that Vitamancers use the hospital to hide people away? I wonder who they are. But all he said aloud was: Who was he visiting? I dont know! Head Physician would not give in.eadHeahhhhhk I didnt ask him. As soon as I issued him a pass, he went to the duty doctor who was supposed to take him there. You should talk to him. Without warning the office door was flung open and in tumbled a man in a white smock. A small badge saying Duty Doctor dangled on his chest. Sidabras instantly removed the knife from Chardins neck, poking it into his back instead. He pretended to be looking through some papers. Sir, the patient who that visitor had come to... he started shouting from the doorway but immediately held his tongue after realising that Chardin was not alone. The hospital head felt a quiet sign of warning in the form of a knife pressing into his back. Its fine, Sidorov, he... he... erm... is one of us, stammered Chardin, his eyes bulging out. But Sir, Sidorov looked confused. You told me to relay information on these patients to no one else but yourself... Good day, dear fellow. You are the person we have been waiting for! Sidabras spoke in an inspectors tone, which did not sound too promising. He brazenly looked the doctor over from head to toe. Secret service, he introduced himself. Take no notice of my attire. Its camouflage, he added in a hushed voice. So... he turned towards the head physician. We have received information that you have quite a few slackers under your roof here, while the factories are faced with a catastrophic labour shortage! He cast a glance at the doctor shifting around by the door, his eyes blinking excessively. So, that patient... you were saying? reminded Sidabras. Start speaking, dear fellow, he urged. Unless you have swallowed your tongue. When the duty doctor, himself frightened out of his wits, noticed massive drops of sweat trickling down the temples of the almighty head of the hospital, he realised he had stumbled into a tricky predicament. He had to make the best of a bad situation, ensuing that whatever Chardin was tangled up in, he did not drag others down along with him. Yes, yes, Your... Your Honour, the doctor panted. Well, that patient... he is one of the special ones, admitted to hospital pursuant to a written instruction by the Head, Mr Chardin. Yes, Mr Chardin, so... His surname? Sidabras barked.

Pranciskus Baltrus... erm... son of Petras... from Vilnius. It was Mr Chardin who told me to take this visitor to his patient it seemed that Sidorov had become rather caught up in his role as a snitch. But, but... he stammered. Yes, continue, Sidabras encouraged him. But he didnt find his patient there, Sidorov mumbled. What? Chardin and Sidabras yelled in unison. The patient was gone, the doctors voice sounded remorseful. He was recently discharged, collected by family members and taken to Vilnius. I do not know who is responsible for his discharge. Sidorov fidgeted beside the door, while his eyes shifted across the floor, then dashed around the office before being involuntary drawn to the postmans bag, still hanging over Sidabras shoulder. The sight of the Vilnius Post Office emblem caused his facial expression to change from fear to curiosity. He did not find the camouflage very convincing. Fine, Sidorov, bellowed Sidabras. Come get the boss plates and be on your way. The Russian, who was used to obeying orders, reflexively stepped towards the desk. One long leap later Sidabras was standing next to him, punching him on the temple. With a slight groan, the doctor slumped to the floor like a sack of potatoes. There was a rattling noise and Sidabras saw a bulky key which had rolled across the floor. Sidorov must have been holding it in his hand. Sidabras picked up the key and slipped it into his pocket just in case, then went back to Chardin. Who is Pranciskus? he asked. Tell me loud and clear. The heavily breathing Chardin cast a disdainful glance at Sidorov, lying stupefied on the floor. One of the Vitamancers, well, of those madmen. The doctor realised that he was in danger of similar treatment to that of his colleague and did not feel like rolling about on the floor. A scientist, inventor. Quite a loony. He defaced all of our walls and tore the bed to shreds. We had to tie him down with belts and gag him because of his persistent bellowing. What did he draw? Sidabras wondered. Some sort of squiggles, head physician answered complaisantly. Eventually he calmed down and was forgotten by everyone. No one visited him. So who discharged him? I have no idea how it happened, the doctor was on the verge of tears. God is my witness. I was not aware of him having any family. And the Vitamancers had told us to keep a close eye on him, making sure he stayed here. It seemed that chaos in the hospital, which was losing its patients in inexplicable ways, worried him much less than the fury of the Vitamancers. Sidabras looked outside the window. Dragging this potbellied individual down to the mysterious patients ward would be quite advantageous but his sixth sense was telling him that it was high time he deserted this congenial clinic.

At that moment a tall old man with a stoop and a heavy rucksack walked in through the front door. Completely ignoring the soldiers on duty, as if not realising they were there, the elder trudged down the long hallway. Post! he said dryly upon reaching the screen and the plump lady behind it, now pondering over some papers, before removing his rucksack and putting it on the floor. The mans overcoat lapel was adorned with a shiny coat of arms a double headed eagle, with a post horn in each of its claws. The nurse of Novovileysk mental hospital lifted her eyes in bewilderment and stared at the newcomer. Weve already had our post today... a dispatch was delivered to the head... she mumbled scrunching her eyebrows together, trying to understand what was going on. Suddenly she stretched out her arm and began to turn a handle. The hallways of the hospital became drowned in the choking and wheezing sound of the siren. Instantly pandemonium ensued. The soldiers jumped to their feet, flinging their cards aside. With the first sounds of the siren, Sidabras picked Chardin up by his collar and hauled him to the door. It appeared that even though the Head Doctor was only up to Sidabras armpits and was far from being a heavyweight, his rounded body shape prevented him from being dragged along with ease. Sidabras pushed the door open, slipped into the hallway with the poor man by his side, and ran towards the metal stairway. As soon as he took the first step, the ground floor hallway shuddered from the running soldiers, thumping in their metal spurred boots. Their steps were getting closer very fast. Where does this staircase lead to? Sidabras thought it best to ask the man. Up to the second floor and onto the roof, the doctors voice screeched, as he was being dragged along. The Legate looked happy with the answer. After they had climbed up to the second floor, three armed men and the nurse appeared downstairs. There they are! squealed the lady in a voice of a slaughtered animal, pointing her finger upstairs. Halt! one of the soldiers bellowed. Rot in hell! grunted Sidabras, using his hostage as a shield. One of the soldiers had raised his gun but at the last minute the Legate and his hostage managed to conceal themselves in the second floor hallway. It was long and poorly lit. Sidabras thought that he made out about six doors, secured with massive bolts on the outside, and a metal ladder at the end of the hallway, its top ramming into the roof hatch. There was one problem though two steps ahead the walkway was blocked by a metal grille. Legate threw Chardin to the floor, gathered all his strength, and kicked the grille. It screeched but didnt give in. Sidabras bent over and put his fingers on the doctors throat. Where is the key? he hissed. Chardin babbled something incoherent and latched onto Legates overcoat. He thrashed his hand. Where is the key? he yelled. Tell me or I will drop you down the stairs. In your pocket, screeched the Head Physician, gasping for air.

Only now it dawned on him what the coward was trying to say. He pulled the key that had been dropped by the duty doctor out of his pocket and inserted it in the lock. It cracked and the grille opened. The Legate dragged Chardin inside, leaving the grille ajar. Then, hauling the doctor along, he walked from door to door, unbolting all of them. What are you doing? Head Physician hissed. His face turned pale as death. The loonies are in there. The siren wouldnt stop howling. Steps echoed on the stairs. By the time both men were a few feet away from the ladder, multiple creaks announced the opening of the doors. Creatures in battered grey pyjamas shuffled cautiously out into the hallway one by one. Their faces were dark in colour, hair dishevelled, eyes gleaming with a sickly light, odd sounds emanating from their half-open mouths. Some of these creatures were barefoot, and they were rapidly growing in numbers, a few psychopaths dangerously advancing towards Sidabras. By that time three soldiers had already reached the grille. Over there, over there! Sidabras yelled directing them in the direction of soldiers. They will free you. As if reacting to a command, the creatures, who had filled the whole hallway by now, turned to face the soldiers and staggered over to the grille. Sidabras breathed a sigh of relief. Even if not for long, the loonies had now become a barrier between the Tsars soldiers and him with his hostage. However, it did not take him long to realise that he was celebrating too soon. Not all the patients were really mad. Upon noticing the much-hated Chardin, their faces became distorted with ominous grimaces; having punched one another lightly for courage, they started to advance towards them. Realising that his day of reckoning had come, the doctor was now squeaking like a little mouse and clinging onto the Legate of Vilnius for his life. With a swift motion of his hand Sidabras pulled his revolver out and aimed it at the men. Go back! he yelled. Go back, what did I tell you! But the pistol made no impression on the men. With all his strength Sidabras flung Chardin into their arms and dashed to the ladder. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Head Physician, like a cannon ball, knock two of the patients down, and then, trying to save his skin, on all fours and wriggling his fat bottom, making a bid to slip to freedom through the madmens legs. Sidabras scrambled up the ladder, expecting to find the hatch locked but as a lock was nowhere to be seen, he gave a light push at the door and a moment later was walking on the roof. The mostly flat roof also accommodated the metal dome looming on one side of it, marked with the orthodox cross. Having concealed himself behind the dome, Sidabras squatted and inched towards the edge of the roof. One quick glance down was enough for him to realise why the hatch had been left unlocked. If a twist of fate had ever brought some ill-fated creature here, the only way open to them was to jump off the roof and crash onto the rocks. Meanwhile the yard became busy with the Tsars soldiers hastily loading their guns. Detecting a human shape on the roof, they began to yell and point their fingers at him.

Sidabras ran to the other side of the roof in a desperate attempt to find even the tiniest of ledges that he could hold onto. He found nothing. The roof was a trap. Suddenly something stroked the top of his head. Sidabras looked up. Against the background of coiling streams of smoke, suspended in the air above his head hung an air balloon with the Vilnius Post Office coat of arms on its gondola. Hurry!. The postman looking down on him from the basket waved him up. Sidabras wasted no time. He jumped up and clutched the rope, his ears immediately catching the creaking noise of the turning wheel and the rumbling engine. The postman manoeuvred the balloon so that it could escape this wicked place and the bullets as quickly as possible. The head of a Tsars soldier was sticking out of the hatch. But by the time the man had clambered onto the roof, the balloon with the Legate dangling down from its rope was already rising up and away from the hospital. The soldier fired a shot, but the bullet merely swished through the air. Having pulled himself up the rope, Sidabras fell into the basket and was seized by a severe coughing fit, caused by all the fumes. Are you all right? asked the worried pilot in Sidabras jacket, which was clearly too roomy for him. Sidabras nodded. Why didnt you obey my order? he roared. I told you to go back to Vilnius. It seemed that the postman had his answer ready. A Vilnius Post Officer never abandons his own people! Antanas Sidabras began to laugh but was immediately seized by a new bout of coughing, and kept wheezing until the ascending mail balloon had freed itself from the stinking clouds of Novovileysk, catching the light of the pleasant evening sun, with the roofs of Vilnius churches glowing in the distance.

Chapter XXII Vilnius, Afternoon 24 04 1905 The bright purple sky of Vilnius was slowly conquered by the spring dusk. For a while the sun refused to abandon its position in favour of the dull-edged moon, but eventually succumbed, casting a fan of red rays and slowly disappearing behind the horizon. But the city was in no rush to let the descending night in: the darkness was fought by the dancing flames of gas lanterns and ominous orange orifices of factory eyes, by the light flooding through the chinks of inn doors, and open windows of restaurants, beer houses, joy houses, billiard halls and magic lantern shows. The golden light of the new Volta lamps streamed over the gigantic dome of the Exhibition Pavilion in Lukiskes Square, where builders were hurriedly adding the final touches to their, as ever, delayed work. The Navigators Tower was doing overtime, as their duty was to direct, stall or hurry the dirigibles suspended in the Vilnius skies. Residents striding along the streets of the city would occasionally stop, throw their heads back and admire the array of dazzling lights in the sky. Quite a few of them could not help but wonder whether a recent rumour about the envoys of the German Kaiser travelling to the Summit in an ultra-modern dirigible a freshly built flying fortress was indeed true. While Viscigavas airship port looked like it was consumed by a huge conflagration, the Town Hall was sparing no effort to vie with the port in its decorating activities for the festive occasion. Tonight free Vilnius had no time for rest. Following a brief but rowdy day-time demonstration outside the Tower of the Guild of Mechanics, Steam City workers scattered to the local inns. With evening descending over the city, Steam Councillor and head of the Guild of Mechanics Petras Vileisis sat in his office biting his lip anxiously as he went through a manifesto, full of gross mistakes and demands, which he had received from the workers earlier on. Head of the Alchemy Department of University Dominium Jonas Basanavicius had just returned from a Dominium meeting, where he had introduced his audience to the Alchemists latest inventions, while Nikodemas Tvardauskis was pottering about in the secret room in his Zverynas house, casting an occasional worried glance at a moving red dot on the blinking map of Vilnius. (The dot his foster daughter Mila was now in Bernardine Gardens, where the charmer Columbina, her lashes constantly fluttering, was taking photographs of the moving picture show). Meanwhile, the apprehensive Vilnius Vitamancers were absorbed in a sombre discussion in the Tower of their Markuciai estate. And so it seemed that the only people in Vilnius putting pleasure before business that night were Edward OBraitis and Charles Finley the first and second adjutants of the corvette class dirigible The Star of St George. They sat in the half-empty restaurant of their hotel, drinking beer and playing cards. In a little Blots hut, cobbler Efraim, a few nails pressed between his lips, was contentedly hammering away, trying to attach the sole back to the shoe of The Truth of Vilnius editor Leib Volynskiy. There was another reason why Leib would turn to Efraim every time his shoes were in need of mending. The nave, loose-lipped Jew was not at all averse to indulging in leisurely chit-chat and revealing various spicy details, which would later find their way on to the front pages of The Truth, sometimes ruining someones life, and sometimes just making it bittersweet. Efraim had once confessed to Leib to being illiterate, and the editor felt

rather confident that the old cobbler would never find out about the actual application of his gossip. Nevertheless, he couldnt help laughing up his sleeve at the thought of what would happen if he did. Every now and then a barefoot boy ran up to Efraims hut, whispered something in the cobblers ear for a small reward of five kopecks and a few pretzels originally intended for Efraims tea but carelessly lying around for everyone to see and sprinted away again. Tonight free Vilnius really had no time to put its feet up. Two people were spending their evening in an unnamed Steam City inn a man with a beak of a nose and an attractive lady. Then we handed him that manu mani manifesto. And that was it, reported Misha Suslov, his hand unconsciously unbuttoning his shirt and sliding under it to scratch his hairy chest. Suslov felt awkward, not being used to receiving orders from a lass. And this was no ordinary lass either. Beautiful Russian agent Emilia, a slim cigarette holder between her lips the same one who had shared her bed with the Russian Actual State Councillor Alexander Golytsin gracefully uncrossed her legs and then re-crossed them in the opposite position, before blowing smoke right into her companions face. Very good, Mishanya, she purred with a hint of mockery in her voice. Where would we be without you? We need to strike while the iron is hot. So tomorrow The Truth of Vilnius... You read The Truth, dont you? It will contain an article on working peoples demands not being met and the protests that have already commenced. Make sure the message of the free press is not inaccurate. You will have to take care of this tonight. We have to get cracking with the first protest actions in the next couple of days, while on the main day of the Summit the factories will stop working and their workers will flood the streets. Emilia stared at Suslovs face. Who are they protesting against? Against capitalists, exploiters, automatons and industrial machines, Suslov fired the words back with little hesitation. With a nod of approval Emilia blew out another cloud of smoke. Well done. We will teach them not to wipe their feet on the maltreated working class. So we will, agreed Suslov, albeit not very confidently. But not because Emilia, dressed in an elegant suit, looked nothing like a representative of the maltreated working class, but because he had still not received the promised reward for his services. Misha Suslov was just doing his job having spent long years in various prisons across the Russian Empire for embezzlement and fraud, he had now become a professional instigator and rioter. Having finally realised that his true calling was sparking workers dissatisfaction to a degree where it became a blazing riot, this man, fluent in four languages, suddenly found himself in great demand. Although still new to Vilnius and taking great pains to avoid the Legionnaires attention, his efforts for the good of Russia were already worthy of applause. But of course, he did not work for free. Detecting the note of doubt in Suslovs voice, Emilia made endeavours not to lose his commitment to the cause. She swiftly pulled a thick envelope out of her dainty bag and shoved it into Suslovs hand under the table. The man lowered his eyes to look inside, and the change in their aspect signalled his satisfaction with the contents. Its not for you alone, warned Emilia, share it with... she smiled. With the most maltreated ones. Dont be greedy. Her last words sounded somewhat harsh, almost like a

threat, but before Mishanya could think of something to say, Emilia had gracefully raised herself from the chair and vanished from the inn. Outside, the lady ascended into a one-horse enclosed carriage and a moment later was rolling down the street. A quarter of an hour later, she slipped inside the Parish Hall adjacent to St Raphaels Church. The room was packed with tired-eyed women. Trying to remain unnoticed, Emilia took a seat in one of the last rows and stared at a middle aged woman in a long brown flared skirt and short, racing-green jacket, vehemently gesticulating on the raised platform. In Steam City she went by the name of Jadvyga Zaic. And what will happen next? the woman spoke passionately. You must have heard about our bread-winners the men getting ready to strike. But is this what we need? Do our children need this? How are we going to tell our hungry little ones that we have no bread because their dad is not working? Starving children are already filling the many corners of Vilnius. Would anyone like to see their own offspring walking around with his palm outstretched? Emilia pursed her lips in annoyance. The over-enthusiastic speaker seemed to be stretching the truth, as it had been years since Vilnius last saw a child who was famished or dying of starvation. Emilia made eye contact with the speaker and shook her head slightly. The speaker understood immediately, and decided to cut right to the real purpose of her speech: My answer to you is: no, we do not need our men to go on strike. But we, wives and mothers, can also do something to make the rich, stuffed to the gills, stop throwing our empty-pocketed men into the streets. You must have heard that people from all over Europe will be soon coming to Vilnius. We should come together, united in our pursuit of fairness, and march to the Town Hall to make it clear to them that this awful situation cannot continue. Our men must have work, while the least our children must have is bread. An uproar broke out immediately. Around a dozen women jumped out of their seats and began to talk over one another as if they were arguing. Silence, silence! the speaker waved her hand, her powerful voice effortlessly resonating over the other ladies noise. I know you are worried. I know you are afraid of the Vilnius Legionnaires the lapdogs for the foreign bankers and their Sluskai prison. But just listen to me! Yes, they are mercenaries and yes, they can be cruel, but they are no wild animals! And what will they do once they see the crowds of women pouring into the streets? We are brave and we are righteous. Mothers, lead your children by the hand and take your newborns into your arms, and dont forget your foster children! the speaker turned her eyes to the front row and gestured at the head of the orphanage, Margarita Berg, and several nuns and lets all advance together towards the Town Hall. Forward! Lets march! If free Vilnius is cruel enough to confront women and mothers down the barrel of a gun, when all they are doing is fighting for fairness, let all of Europe be witness to this. Lets march! Shouts of approval and cheers rippled through the audience. Emilia sent the speaker a nod of approval, and sneaked out of the hall. She would give the speaker her money later. The third item on the agenda of the Russian spy tonight was slightly further afield. After the carriage had left Steam City, it slowly made its way through the crowds of people strolling leisurely over Green Bridge, observing the workmen erecting tall platforms on either side of the river. They would later be used by the honourable guests of the Summit to watch the daredevil pilot Adam Gaber-Volynskiy fly under the bridge in his Forman IV biplane. Having reached the Old Town, the carriage rolled around Cathedral Square and continued in

the direction of St Anns Church, then through Mirth City, stretched out on the bank of the Vilnele River to the left. Beyond it loomed a different Vilnius. Oh its the Jewish quarter this is what someone without a clear idea of the layout of free Vilnius and their mind stuck in the middle of the last century would say about the Blots. But this person couldnt be more wrong. Indeed, there were plenty of Jews in the Blots, but they also lived in other parts of Vilnius. The cities of the Alliance, with their freedom and favourable trade conditions, zealously welcomed all newcomers, making them a promised land for Jews from all over Europe. But not just them. It was becoming home to Hungarians, Armenians, Karaites, Tatars, Turks and even Chinese. They arrived not directly from their respective faraway homelands, but from transit points in Tsarist Russia. With few exceptions they all settled down in the enclosed Blots quarter, where every building incorporated a small manufacturer, an inn or a shop selling all sorts of merchandise. In the narrow streets and alleyways of the Blots, with their multitude of courtyards and secret cellars, and with their wooden bridges swinging in the air and underground tunnels connecting the houses, one could also come across exotic entertainments. The Chinese crammed into stuffy halls to watch cockfights and bet on their favourites, cheering their wins with loud shrieks; the Karaite shops sold the renowned Vendace fish, caught in the lake of Galve; while the inns favoured by the Turks offered the sweet tobacco smoke of the shisha. For those who dared to venture even deeper into the urban labyrinth and managed to create a favourable impression on the suspicious eye regarding them from the other side of the door, there opened up the opportunity to taste opium. Few strangers had heard of the secret smoking dens adjacent to synagogues or mosques, hidden in the remotest parts of courtyards or forgotten corners, where clients stared into Alchemist opium mirrors and talked to distant lands enquiring about the health of their uncle Icchak or aunt Ming, or passing important messages to their commander from the intelligence service. The Blots was a distrustful quarter of modest financial means, living according to its own rules. Jews or Tatars who had put their foot on the first rung of the ladder that led to becoming rich tried to relocate to more prosperous areas of Vilnius, especially after the City Council had rescinded its order banning the Jews from the area between The Gates of Dawn and St Johns Church. The fact that they had allowed this inappropriate order to slip through the cracks was now causing them a great deal of shame. But even those Jews who had earned their place in the sun would not sever their ties with the Blots and continued to support its synagogues and yeshivas. It was not by chance that the famous Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem, who had visited Vilnius and the Blots on his way from the opening night of his play in Warsaw, laid his impressions out in one of his short stories called If only I were a Rothschild: In the first place, it'll be guaranteed that a wife always has a three-rouble note with her so she doesn't have to bother a man when Thursday rolls around As for my daughters, they'll all be married off, that's a load off my shoulders... I'll be able to teach my students with a clear head. No worries about a livelihood... I'll pledge a new roof for the old study house let it stop dripping on the heads of praying Jews... I'll tear down the poorhouse and establish a hospital and what a hospital!... with doctors... with chicken soup every day

for the sick people. And a chavurah28 called "Clothing the Poor," so poor children won't walk around with, I beg your pardon, their belly-buttons hanging out. And a chavurah "Charitable Loans" so any Jew, whether a melamed29, or an artisan, or even an ordinary tradesman, can borrow money and not have to pay a percentage and pawn the shirt off his body... And to ensure everything is done correctly, guess what I'll do? I'll establish one big chavurah, an Oversight Board, to take care of all the societies, to take care of all the Jews that is to say, all of Israel, and Jews everywhere will have a livelihood, and live in unity and sit in the yeshiva and study... and from all those schools I'll create one big academy, in Vilna of course.30 Rumour had it that taking care of the Blots became one of Vilnius Councils priorities only after Baron Nathan Rothschild, the unofficial head of the Alliance cities, had laid his hands on the short story. So it was into this bubbling melting pot that Emilias carriage rolled. After pushing its way through masses of people and other carriages, it stopped beside an ugly two-storey building. A moment later Emilia stepped through a scruffy wooden door, whose disagreeable creak sounded like an annoyed moan about each and every unwanted guest, and entered a small windowless room. More than a dozen pale women sat at their sewing machines, working the pedal with their foot without ever looking up. The room was packed with seamstresses, their elbows almost touching each other. A stifling stench of sweat lingered in the room, which was never aired. At her work station each worker had a bottle, filled with a cloudy liquid and a glass straw. Every now and then a seamstress would take the straw in her hand, pull it to her mouth and take a sip of the liquid, her eyes still fixed on the needlework. This had an immediate effect the womans eyes livened up, the shoulders went back and the hands started labouring even faster. When the contents of the bottle ran out or when a lady had to go to the bathroom, she pulled a cord hanging beside her, causing a bell in the adjacent room to ring. The workshop and the room were separated by a disintegrating kersey curtain, which opened up at the sound of the bell to reveal a grumpy fat dwarf with short, unnaturally pumped up arms. As well as serving the seamstresses, it was his task to guard them from prying eyes. He waited for Emilia by the door. Wordlessly, he took her hat and slipped through the kersey curtain. Emilia followed behind. First, the fat man took her along a narrow hallway, then down the stairs. Reaching a cellar, they stopped in front of a bulky door, and after three knocks on it, she heard the clank of the door bolts being pushed open. The dwarf waited for a moment, then opened the door and gesticulated for Emilia to go in. He, however, stayed in the hallway and sat on a little chair. The room had no windows and resembled a watchmakers shop. The innards of watches springs, hands, faces, various screws and other loose parts glittered in the dim light. At the desk, lit brightly by a lantern, sat a man. As there was no one else in the room, he must have unbolted the door himself before going back to his desk. Also a dwarf, but quite elderly and with a hump, he sported a short grey beard and his hair in a plait; fingerless leather gloves covered his hands and a watchmakers magnifying glass was stuck in his right eye socket.
28

Fellowship (Hebrew). A small group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purposes of facilitating Shabbat and holiday prayer services, sharing communal experiences such as lifecycle events, or Jewish learning. 29 A teacher in cheder a Jewish religious primary school. 30 If I were Rothschild by Sholom Aleichem, translated by Prattie Place

The lady guests appearance in the room made the man toss his head, and then swiftly catch the glass as it fell out of his eye socket. You are right on the dot as usual, madam, he said politely, pushing the object he had just been working on aside. And I hope you are too, Emilia retorted. The Russian agent did not take the trouble to appear polite but the man did not seem to be bothered. He slid off his chair, hobbled across the room and kneeled down on the floor to retrieve an oblong case from under the bed in the corner. He carefully picked it up, carried it to the desk and opened it. The faint light seemed to reveal the dull sheen of a dark metal, but a closer look confirmed the object to be made out of nearly black clinker. Emilia came nearer to the desk. Four clay balls, each the size of two fists, lay at the bottom of the case. A short thick glass tube, filled with wobbly purple jelly, was inserted in the top part of each ball. Come, admire this. Isnt it a magnificent job? the man asked, expecting to be praised. A faint smile appeared on Emilias lips. Yes, Kniaz31, was all she said. Mother Nature hadnt been too kind to the hunchback the woman had just addressed as Kniaz when doling out height and appearance. But talent was a completely different department, and she had bestowed it on him without reservation. Once upon a time this man had been an outstanding watchmaker the best horologist who had ever worked for the famous Klokmacher Company of Berlin. The Klokmachers were in no competition with the best in the world, the Junghanses, but they did make the most impressive timepieces, and Kniaz, who went by the name of Furst in Berlin, was more than happy with that. His clocks and watches were admired by the German aristocracy and well-off merchants; he created musical clocks, clocks with singing roosters and playing trumpeters, weight-driven clocks, spring-driven clocks and even clocks that told you the weather outside. He was always up to his elbows with orders from Russia, England, France and even faraway America. But eventually Furst became sick and tired of this job. He became drawn to Alchemy and began his search for a spark that would make his life more interesting. That was when he came across Johann Most the famous German anarchist. The German, busy publicly proclaiming his revolutionary ideas and advocating the use of violence and bombs in the fight for them at the time, viewed the golden hands of Furst as a heaven-sent treasure. The hunchback started making alchemic bombs for Most and in a short while, the streets of Berlin, chemical factories in Ludwigshafen and the port of Hamburg had all been shaken by consecutive explosions. Even though Furst thought he had finally found his calling, he was not able to enjoy it for very long: the Kaisers secret police started breathing down the anarchists neck and they had to flee. Most escaped to America, while Furst travelled to the free Alliance, adopted the name of Kniaz and settled down in Vilnius. He kept in touch with Most and they even jointly published a booklet Revolutionary War Science a manual on the subject of bomb-making, which raised hell in America, earning the author the moniker Dynamost. Kniazs home was becoming a frequent meeting place for anarchists, revolutionaries and members of the Russian SR Combat Organisation. Most of the bombs causing a headaches for the Tsars gendarmerie in Minsk, Warsaw or even St
31

A Slavic title found in most Slavic languages, denoting a royal nobility rank. It is usually translated into English either as Prince or less commonly as Duke.

Petersburg, had been born here, in the underground workshop of this peaceful watchmaker. The most prominent victim of Kniazs bombs had been the Russian Minister of the Interior and Commander of the Corps of Gendarmes, Pleve. SR member Sazonov threw a bomb, produced in a quiet Blots street in Vilnius, into his carriage as it was rolling down Izmailovsky Prospect in St Petersburg. But on this occasion, the Tsars Okhranka showed no mercy on SR and sniffed Kniaz out during the interrogations. The Russian Actual State Councillor Alexander Golytsin was about to issue an order to do away with the watchmaker when he was struck by a brilliant idea why kill Kniaz when his skills might come in useful? This task was conferred on his charming lover Emilia. Once she had been supplied with money and letters of recommendation from reliable revolutionary organisations, gaining the old watchmakers trust proved a simple task. Besides, the job she had commissioned the hunchback to carry out was anything but ordinary. So you mean you are going to blast our Father the Tsar, making the dust fly! giggled Kniaz, clambering back on to his chair. Emilia carefully ran her finger over one of the clinker bombs. She then took the ball in both hands, lifted it up and inspected it in front of the lantern, turning it around. The purple jelly became cloudy. Be careful, warned Kniaz. Keep it away from sources of heat. When you are ready to blow it up, bang the bottom of the ball. The lower part of the tube will break, allowing this precious purple commodity to mix with the explosives. Then you wait for five seconds, throw the bomb and run for your life. The blast will be so powerful, it will turn the sky and earth upside down. The cold green eyes pierced Kniaz right through. I think I clearly told you that I my friends wish to control the explosive from a distance, a rather great distance, the woman said. As if in self-defence, the old man raised his gloved hands. Of course, of course, the words rushed out of his mouth while he rolled off his chair again, took the ball from Emilia and placed it back in the case, before clicking the lock on. He then removed a suede pouch from another drawer and shook its contents out onto the desk. Emilia saw a small metal tuning fork and a silver stick. Here are your tools, madam, the old man poked his finger at them. Powerful vibration, caused by a single stroke of the stick against the tuning fork, will smash the tubes in all bombs within a radius of a hundred versts from you Kniaz smacked his lips in satisfaction. At all other times keep your bombs in the case. It is constructed from vibration-resistant material. It all works like a dream, he assured. If you dont believe me, talk to your comrades from the Nikolskaya Tower. Emilia recalled a powerful explosion by the Nikolskaya Tower in Moscow, when the governor-generals carriage had been torn to shreds and great damage was caused to the surrounding buildings. The old man continued with a few further instructions, and the lady committed them firmly to memory. You must be very quick. Exceptionally quick, Kniaz added before she started to depart.

But there was one more task from Golytsin that Emilia had to complete. A gun suddenly materialised in her hand. I promise, she said, before shooting the old man in the heart.

Chapter XXIII Vilnius, Late afternoon 24 04 1905 Vilnius Vitamancer financier Tomash Ujeiskiy was pacing the room and munching on a piece of bread and sausage, taking one last look around his dilapidated but cosy commonhouse room. The wait was making him restless. The suitcase was waiting by the door, while neatly placed in his jacket pocket were two tickets for the overnight dirigible The Moonlight Sonata. They would greet the morning in Berlin, from where the world would be their oyster from the land of promises, America, to the ever-sunny beaches of Rio. This thought was enough to put Tomash on cloud nine, and he happily closed his eyes. He was so thrilled that once in his life he had gathered his courage and allowed Felix to drag him into this reckless enterprise. A few days after that crucial evening when, sipping champagne in bed, he had confided to his lover Felix Porcijanka that he had seen some top-secret drawings at work, the accountant of the Guild of Mechanics Felix, amidst sighs and moans, had admitted to being blackmailed, and at the same time outlined a plan for how to get rid of his tormentor and even strike it rich. Tomash initially became apoplectic. However, the prospect of dropping everything and just the two of them living in some gorgeous little heavenly corner of the earth was impossible to resist, and he decided to take the risk. It later appeared that his worries had been unfounded copying the drawings was a simple matter and he managed to do it without being detected. By now they should be in St Petersburg, Kiev or Moscow. Actuall y, Ujeiskiy didnt care a fig about where they were, as he was much too preoccupied being happy about the two tickets warming his side and the thought that as soon as Felix came back, he would embark on an exhilarating new period of his life. There was a knock at the door. At last, Ujeiskiy gave a sigh of relief and made his way into the hall. How long is it taking you... he opened the door with mouth open ready to reproach his lover then he froze. It was not his companion Felix Porcijanka, but a tall man in a grey suit and a hat. Tomash was no doubt surprised but he wasnt scared, as the man was Gustav Schacht, or simply brother Schacht the always cheerful lawyer of the Vitamancer Lodge. His colleagues knew that Ujeiskiy was leaving on a well-deserved holiday, and pedantic Gustav must have felt the need to clarify something. I do apologise for my last-minute call, Gustav said jauntily. As I can see you are all ready for the journey. He stepped into the hall and, without any invitation, hung his hat on the intricate deer antler hanger on the wall. I noticed that I dont have copies of your travel documents, so here I am. Ujeiskiy, his mind more at ease than a moment ago, reached for the documents in his raincoat pocket. Meanwhile, Schacht wandered into the sitting room, then to the window, where he glanced outside through a chink in the curtains. The dark yard was empty. Having successfully lost his Legionnaire pursuers in the maze of little streets of Snipiskes, he waited for dusk to descend before deftly concealing his serpolett behind some luxuriant bushes in a street round the corner.

Ujeiskiy shuffled into the room. Here you are, he said placing on the table his Alliance citizens passport, bound in a cardboard cover, together with an unfolded permit to travel. Fine, said Brother Gustav cheerfully, shoving his hand in his pocket. If you could write your details down, I will be out of here in no time at all. For some reason his gesture made Ujeiskiy flinch, his eyes frettingly lingering over the guests pocket with the hand inside. A moment later, however, a simple mechanical fountainpen and a square piece of paper were all that materialised out of the visitors pocket, and Ujeiskiys tension burst with a nervous laugh. He lowered himself onto the chair, pulled the paper closer and, holding the guests fountain-pen with its wound up spring slowly pushing the ink to the nib, began to copy his travel documents, his eyes darting between the two pieces of paper. Casually whistling a tune, Gustav Schacht approached the flat owner from behind and took a curious glance over his shoulder. Your handwriting is truly beautiful, my friend, he complimented. And you are so fast. He patted Ujeiskiys shoulder. Tell me, did you copy the secret dr awings in fountain-pen? Or a plain pencil? Tomash Ujeiskiys hand froze in the air. What? that was all he managed to say in his thunderstruck state, as his throat was instantly girded with a silk cord. Few people knew that the cheerful brother Gustav was not only a lawyer, but also the principal executioner of Vilnius Vitamancer Lodge. Now was the moment when he put to use his second vocation he threw the cord around Ujeiskiys neck and forcefully pulled both its ends. Tomash gasped for air, reflexively tried to grab the cord and pull it from his throat, but the two men were separated by a large gulf in strength. For a while, Ujeiskiys nails pointlessly scratched at the skin of his throat, until the killer crossed his hands and further tightened the cord. You have betrayed the Lodge, you miserable lowlife, he said through clenched teeth. Because of you our property has found way into the paws of the Legions dogs. But you had no idea they would bring the drawings back and show them to our Elder. You had no idea, did you? You had no idea that all the Elder had to do to identify the person who had been handling them, was to trace his hand over the drawings. How much did you get paid, traitor? The answer never came. The victim rasped and wheezed, until after less than a minute his eyes bulged out and his body went limp. His gaping mouth released a trickle of blood, and then a lifeless tongue. But Schacht kept on pulling the silk cord. Only when truly confident that the bean-counter was dead did he finally release it, allowing Ujeiskiy to fall face down on the table. The fountain-pen flew into the air, splashing the worthless documents with blue ink tears. The cord folded neatly and returned to his pocket, Schacht walked over to the window for another glimpse of the yard outside. It hadnt changed much it was still dark and empty but for a resident at the front door, who had stopped to urinate on his way from a drinking spree at the inn. Without making any physical contact with the corpse, the killer collected his fountain-pen and the paper with the writing, then went back to the hallway, grabbed his hat off the hook and pulled it down low over his eyes. He left the room, closing the door behind him, then slipped down the stairs and quietly slipped out into the dark.

A late carriage drew the attention of two of the Legates men, who so far had been fruitlessly scrutinising the surrounding streets for any sight of Felix. Exchanging glances, the Legionnaires concealed themselves in the arch of a dark gateway. The carriage stopped right opposite them. Out scrambled a short fat man. He bent down, his bottom protruding into the air. Huffing and puffing, he lifted out a suitcase bursting at its seams, then another bag with something clinking inside of it. With the carriage out of sight, the fatty anxiously looked around. Not noticing anything suspicious, he crept through the gateway, his hands clutching the bags, and puffed over towards one of the common-use houses, situated a bit further away from the road. The Legionnaires crept after the man. Seconds later, when they were at the entrance to the stairway, a heart-breaking wail shattered the silence of the night. The detectives flew up the stairs to the first floor, where the wail was coming from the flat on the left. They found Felix Porcijanka tearing his hair in grief by the side of the dead body, while a puddle of bubbling liquid expanded under a bag in the corner, the broken necks of several champagne bottles protruding from it.

Chapter XXIV Vilnius, Evening 24 04 1905 The mail balloon the accessory to Antanas Sidabras escape from Novovileysk returned to Vilnius. Before flying off to tend to its own business, it hung briefly over the roof of Sluskai Palace, allowing its unusual passenger to alight. The pilot swore on his life to keep the Novovileysk adventure to himself, but Legate Sidabras was absolutely confident that as soon as the postman set his foot in one of the Mirth City inns, his tongue would flap loose, not just relaying the story truthfully but also spicing it up with a multitude of figments of his imagination. Following his descent, the Legate spent a good hour in a tub of the steaming Sluskai baths, trying to rub the soot and stench off his body. Hot water had a soothing effect on his bones, which were now aching from the gymnastics on the dirigible. Besides, it was a good oasis of calm to ponder over the recent developments. It doesnt matter, no one will ever believe it anyway, he said to himself as he went back to the past events in his thoughts. Of course, it is a shame we lost the second serpolett. As soon as the Legate was back in Sluskai, he heard this news from the corporal, who had reported to him sadly and sheepishly. It appeared that the confusing maze of Snipiskes was the place where he had finally lost sight of his prey. But the Novovileysk had been worth all the effort anyway, Sidabras thought to himself. They could go back to the people locked up in that loony house later. What mattered most was that he already had grabbed the end of the thread. The mysterious prisoner of Novovileysk hospital Pranciskus Baltrus... Initially looked after by Vitamancers, then locked up in a hospital forsaken by both God and men alike. So that no one would find him? But who would look for him? Who were the people who had discovered him and succeeded in releasing him from hospital? What was so important about him? And why had the Legates visit with the drawings on his person fired up the Vitamancers immediate search for him? The race a search for the needle in the human anthill of free Vilnius had begun, and its two competitors were the Vitamancers and the Legionnaires. Despite everything, the position of Vilnius Legionnaires was slightly more advantageous. They had the machine. And they had Aloysius Nunevicius. His bathing over, Sidabras climbed down to the Sluskai cellars the rooms that most people didnt even know existed, which were situated underneath the solitary confinement cells. He was met by an elderly man with straggling broom-like sideburns and thick-lensed glasses sitting on his nose. Insert them in your ears, Legate, he said handing him a small elongated box. Sidabras glanced at the box. An inscription on it read: Ear Plugs The Peace of Vilnius. Have you gone totally mad, Aloysius? he blurted crossly. I most certainly have not, Legate. But I would have, had I not used them myself, the owner of the sideburns retorted with no hesitation, immediately stuffing them in his own ears.

With a shrug Sidabras did the same. And once he was in that other room, he realized he had made the right decision. There was an obvious reason why the room the domain of the old Mechanic Aloysius was set in the lowest of all the Sluskai cellars. The roar and rumble of the massive machine, resembling the wails of a dying bison, was nothing but deafening. The floors and walls vibrated, while the ceiling rained tiny dust-like particles of plaster. The mechanism looked like a crazy collection of screws, pipes, bolts, dynamos and handles, rearing up through several floors and powered by a gigantic old steam boiler. The overall discord was complemented by the hissing steam escaping through the seams of the boiler. Remaining in the room without The Peace of Vilnius ear plugs would have been unbearable. This rumbling monster was the industrial Babbage analytical engine. Engine No 5. The eyes and ears of the free Vilnius intelligence forces. Yet another joint miracle of the Mechanics and Alchemists of the Alliance. Whenever Mechanic Aloysius allowed himself to enjoy a strong drink, he was overcome by a sudden urge to boast about not having to go into town for the news. All the significant events were reported to him in his tiny cellar, by the rumbling Engine No 5. Pursuant to the orders of the Council of Vilnius this little room was constantly flooded with a vast amount of personal information: on new arrivals from other cities of the Alliance, on changes of place of residence or workplace, on changes to marital status, on baptisms and religious conversions from one faith to another, on births and deaths, as well as acquisitions of valuable property. Every such event was to be marked on a punched card and sent to the cellar in Sluskai Palace, where Aloysius would feed the card into Engine No 5. All the Alliance cities, except for Constantinople (the Turks still felt they were unable to trust the mechanical inventions of the Alliance) had one of these improved versions of the engine. The Alliance city leaders treated every Summit as a good opportunity to show off their machines, while the London police were totally baffled by the fact that the Englishman Babbages invention had found a much better application in the hands of the free-city hotspurs than in the British Empire itself. On the other hand, the Alliance was in no rush to patent and sell the machines however, it did urge the Guild of Mechanics to perfect them as far as possible, eliminating all defects. It was true, Engines No 5, like the proverbial Cerberus, were overseeing an inconceivable amount of data, but to say that the Mechanics had managed to avoid all problems would be incorrect. The population of the Alliance cities grew rapidly, while the machines controllers felt overwhelmed in the face of the enormous stream of information. By the time they finally found their way into the machine, thousands of punched cards were out of date, and cases like the following story were not uncommon: by the time the machine heard about a certain Petras of Paplauja receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony, he had already been resting his soul in the Vingis Cemetery for some time, having suffered death by battery. None other than his own wife had raised an iron frying pan against him during an episode of domestic abuse. Another difficulty was that the engines could only trace the actions of Alliance passport holders (having a passport was a strict requirement of the cities security services), but for a considerable proportion of people ending up in the free cities while fleeing from the Tsar, Kaiser or Sultan, a passport was something that could make their life considerably more complicated. So Engine No 5, just like her sisters in Krakow, Reval and Prague, was an outdated, overloaded and imprecise machine. Besides, despite Aloysius heroic willpower, it was on its last legs.

Nevertheless, the Legate of Vilnius was hopeful of finding his needle in the haystack. And not only that he also hoped to find the relative of that needle. Aloysius had taken in the Legates instructions when his ears were still free from earplugs, so now he was happily jumping around his beloved machine, the orange light making him look like an oversized sideburned monkey. The mechanic swiftly inserted the card bearing the name of Pranciskus Baltrus into Engine No 5, then climbed the tall wheeled metal ladder that nearly reached the ceiling, before setting about turning the handles, pulling and pushing levers, his eyes darting from one oscillating indicator to another. The choking and moaning machine began to trawl through her vast and clumsy memory deposits, trying to locate the Legates man. The wisps of hot steam snaking from the gaps nearly burned the mechanics hands, but it didnt matter to him at all. He jumped down, pushed the ladder to a different position, fed an empty punched card into the machine, and increased the pressure in the steam boiler, before clambering back to the ceiling. Having cleared her throat, the machine roared one last time before spitting the card out. A brief moment later Aloysius was holding it against the light and examining the holes. Good girl! See, what a good girl she is! he shouted triumphantly, completely oblivious to the fact that the Legate could not hear a word he was saying. Pulling at the Mechanics sleeve, Sidabras signalled towards the door with his head. Having escaped from the Kingdom of Engine No 5, the Legate breathed a sigh of relief and removed the earplugs. Impatiently, Aloysius shuffled around, as if in the middle of some ritual dance. We did it! We did it! he sang waving the card in the air. Over here, Legate! Here, he poked his finger at the holes. Pranciskus Baltrus. Citizen of Vilnius. Scientist, zoologist. Worked at the University Dominium. Was head of the experimental laboratory. Several years ago started working for the Vitamancers. Nature of work unclear. Permanent place of residence unknown. Novovileysk Hospital, said Sidabras in his head. It now became absolutely clear to him why the Vitamancers had been hiding him there. With no exceptions, all official Vilnius hospitals were to supply Engine No 5 with information on all of their patients. But this requirement was obviously not applicable to Novovileysk. But how did the need to conceal him at the psychiatric hospital arise? And who got him out of there? But thats not all, Aloysius continued, pointing his finger at some other holes. We have also found information on Baltrus next of kin. An aunt on his fathers side Marina Baltrus. Lives in Vilnius, in Sharp End, not far from Rasos Cemetery. Clearly pleased with the news Sidabras turned on his heel and leaped up the stairs. Any time! Aloysius yelled into the space above him, before sticking the earplugs back in his ears and returning to Engine No 5, toolbox in hand. Sidabras had not yet left the cellars of Sluskai Palace, when his ears were subjected to a loud noise. As it was coming from reception, he decided to check. Surprised, he paused in the doorway. In the middle of the hall a fat man was down on his knees sobbing his heart out, large tears rolling down his plump cheeks. A duty officer and Lt. Michal Vielholskiy were awkwardly standing beside him.

His eyes alighted on the Legate, and he reached out to him and, shaking his head and releasing a quivering mumble: I meant no harm! The Russian said he would take the drawings away and no one would ever set eyes on them again. But now Tomash is gooone... gooone! Sidabras rubbed his temples, watching Felix drowning in his inconsolable grief. He then nodded over to Vielholskiy, turned round and strode towards the interrogation cells.

Chapter XXV Vilnius, Morning 25 04 1905 The church bells of Vilnius were ringing for nine in the morning. First came St Casimiers bells (slightly earlier than they should have), and then, a short while later, the tolls of Bernardines and the Holy Spirit joined in, with St Johns only waking at nine on the dot. But their eventual announcement of the time activated the peal of the Cathedral bells, followed by a bout of ringing from other bell towers in the Old Town, until, with the chorus of the tolls dying away, St Peter and Pauls burst in with their powerful chimes. There had been a time when the tolling bells were drowned by the hourly howl of the iron wolf of Viscigavas, but following Prelate Masalskis threat with Gods punishment, the Council of Vilnius had ordered the Mechanics to shut their statue up, only allowing it to be switched on days of rest. It looked like the start of a beautiful warm day. Even though the dawn had brought in some rain, an easterly wind soon blew the clouds away and the sun was now shining in the clear blue sky, amidst occasional benevolent shreds of white cloud. Seen from above, the eastern part of Vilnius resembled an anthill. Traders and their stalls of all shapes and forms had sprung up like mushrooms after rain along the entire length of St Georges Avenue, occupying a significant area of pavements wooden up until very recently, but now paved in stone. On the occasion of the Summit, the Council of Vilnius doubled the stall fee to two grivnas for a two-sagene-wide pavement table, but since the traders were extremely eager to get a spot on the Avenue, Didzioji Street or Pohulianka, they paid without arguing. It seemed that the crowds of people who had gushed out into the streets this early morning found it difficult to confine themselves to the pavements and would every now and then flood out into the street like a powerful wave, infuriating steam trolley operators, drivers of serpoletts and stage coaches, as well as the omnipresent unicyclists. A birds eye view clearly revealed the eventual goal of the city residents making their way along the Avenue. Long queues had already formed outside the gigantic white dome in Lukiskes Square, where the Summit exhibition was to open today. The birds eye view really opened the city up for you. Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras was sipping steaming hot tea from a large tin cup. It was made according to a special Brazilian jungle recipe, passed on by other Legionnaires. The tea did not only scald his palate, but also immediately cleared his head. Sidabras tossed his head back, flung the soggy tea leaves over the gondola edge, and had another look down. Vilnius Intelligence Forces owned two tiny surveillance dirigibles: The Vaiselga and The Svarnas. In observance of Legate Sidabras orders, at the first sign of dawn they were both suspended above the roofs of Vilnius. When this plan had reached the ears of the Navigators yesterday, with the full support of the Direction Councillor, they had done all they could to talk Sidabras out of it. They insisted that all the air routes above Vilnius would be crammed like a wise farmers larder prior to the onset of winter, but Sidabras had remained adamant. Vilnius was chock-a-block with people, and the air reconnaissance officers were to become the eyes and ears of the guards. They were already proving useful: protective barriers were being hurriedly built around the quarter of University Dominium, which was to be turned into

a stage for the main events of the Summit; encountering the barriers, the crowds blocked the surrounding streets, and the crew of the surveillance dirigible was already engaged in diverting people away by issuing commands over the wireless. Sidabras backed away from the railing of the gondola, handing over to his Lieutenants Michal Vielholskiy and Justas Vagneris. In the wake of a hard night spent interrogating Porcijanka, Sidabras had decided to kill three birds with one stone: to clear his head, to inspect the city from the sky and discuss further actions with his confidantes. The previous night had completely exhausted him. As Porcijanka was constantly overcome by hysteria, Sidabras had had no choice but to keep calling the duty doctor, thus extending the interview into the early hours. Besides, Sidabras was not made out of iron, and his entire body was acutely feeling the stress of recent days, including his outing to Novovileysk. Having squeezed out of Porcijanka all that he could have possibly given him, especially the element about the Russian agent going by the name of Skorik purchasing the secret drawings, he had left the weakling to recover in a cell. At the break of day he sent his patrols to Sharp End in search of Marina Baltrus, before finally collapsing into his bed, having imposed strictest instructions on the duty officer to wake him after two hours. Yet Sidabras didnt sleep a wink, as the elements of the mystery reverberated around his head: the Vitamancer scientist and his mysterious disappearance from hospital and then the metalworkers who were not metalworkers at all, but Russian agents, behaving as if they were the bosses of Vilnius. He tossed and turned for a long time, until, hearing the knock on the door, he jumped out of bed and was on his way to the office a moment later. The Legionnaires were back from Sharp End, but they had returned with bad news. We were welcomed by the locals. With sticks and axes, the sergeant in charge of the raid reported in concise sentences. We thought we had got into real trouble, but then locals calmed down once they realised who we were. It appeared that Sharp End had some visitors yesterday. They pulled the whole flat apart, broke things, turned furniture upside down, beat and scared to death... The sergeant paused, lowering his eyes to his notepad. They beat up resident Marina Baltrus, while they were grilling her as to the whereabouts of Pranciskus Baltrus. They would have killed the woman, had she not managed to free herself and run outside, the entire yard resounding with her screams. By the time the neighbours had gathered outside, the assailants had gone without a trace. The neighbours concluded that they must have been criminals and armed themselves in case they came back. Baltrus claims to have no knowledge of Pranciskus Baltrus, she is not in touch with him and cant remember the last time she saw him. She said the same to the attackers. Had we arrested the woman and tried to deliver her to Sluskai, this would have infuriated the locals even more, and bloodshed could have become a real possibility. Therefore I took the decision to let the woman stay at home, but posted two officers to watch over her. That was the right decision, Sidabras nodded. The less tension in the city, the better. Go and rest. With the sergeant out of the room, Sidabras got up and rubbed his temples. Although he had promised himself not to do it ever again, he opened the latest issue of The Truth of Vilnius, which was nothing short of screaming into his face about massive strikes, soon to spread all over Vilnius. Following a quick scan of the headlines, he banged his fist against the desk, sending a metal ink pot flying into the air, its lid falling off and rolling across the floor. Sidabras hated it when someone beat him to something. And this was the second time. He called the duty officer with a request to prepare a large hotjug of the special tea, and then summoned The Vaiselga pilot.

He was now inside the dirigible, getting ready to talk with Lieutenants Michal Vielholskiy and Justas Vagneris. Damn it all, he muttered under his breath, beckoning the two to approach. He suddenly felt like a juggler overcome with the realisation that there was no way he could catch all the balls hed thrown into the air, and that at least one of them would inevitably hit the ground. Vielholskiy and Vagneris came up to him. Their grim faces clearly conveyed their deep understanding of their boss state of mind. Vagneris was feeling especially uneasy, as the second Vitamancer serpolett had been lost by the corporal of his squad, resulting in Ujeiskiy being murdered. The mercenaries were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that his murder was a Vitamancer job, and that the same gang of phoenix worshippers had paid a visit to Marina Baltrus. Unfortunately, there was no evidence. The professional who had done the dirty job in the Steam City common house had left no trace. And trying to find something in Sharp End was an exercise in futility. The locals were of no use at all: not even that they were not going to help, they would actively interfere. The mindful pilot made the airship gain altitude. The view of Vilnius down below became clear and expansive, like a map spread out on a table. Weve got some very difficult days ahead, Sidabras said, scrutinising both his men. Reinforcements are on the way, but we will still be short of people. Other cities of the Alliance would send their own Legionnaires to help maintain public order in the host city, but they did it reluctantly and the numbers of allocated men were very small. They would justify their position by explaining that they could not be left without protection themselves. But the truth was that ones own shirt is closer to ones chest, and so they did not want to pay the Legionnaires to work in a foreign city. The main focus of attention will be University Dominium, instructed Sidabras. Michal, you will keep watch over the University and the Town Hall. Sidabras bent overboard to have a better look at the city stretching out below. Position the support squads here, here and there, he pointed at the Dominium streets and courtyards around St Johns bell tower and Town Hall Square. The assault squad will be deployed in the square, while the portable cannons will be positioned on the roofs over here and there, but we will only turn to them as a last resort. In the dirigible hanging aloft under the Vilnius sky, Sidabras finger drew invisible figures in the air, while his very composed Lieutenants followed his every gesture, signalling their understanding with nods of the head. And what about the protection of VIP guests? wondered Vagneris. Before the banquet tonight I am meeting the security chiefs of all the participating countries. We will meet the guests in Viscigavas and see them to their hotels. From then on their own security will take care of them. We will assist them in every way we can but our main duty is to patrol Vilnius and maintain order on the streets, Sidabras spoke in a confident voice. And another thing. Even though Baron Nathan Rothschild will be guarded by his personal security squad, our men will encircle them, forming an outer ring. Sidabras turned to look at Vagneris. You are responsible for security in the city during the holiday. Organise as many squads as possible, even if only small ones, making sure your presence is felt everywhere. Get constables involved, get mercenaries from other places of the Alliance involved, and see that each squad has no fewer than two of our men. Keep an eye on places that are bound to attract the largest crowds: outside the Exhibition Dome in Lukiskes, in the Avenue, in Mirth City and Pohulianka. Deploy mobile posts on all bridges, most importantly

on Green Bridge. Arrange it with the Mechanics to supply us with all the wireless that they currently have in their possession, and make sure each post has a signaller to relay messages with no delay. The Troubles? asked Vagneris. He, like all other Lieutenants of the Legion, was a man of few words. Sidabras cast another glance over the gondola edge, his eyes searching for the mishmash of brownish red roofs. Suddenly the words of Motiejus Kairys came back to him, You think all I care about is money? Oh how wrong you are. I also care about this city, which would have no chance of survival without the likes of you, and without the likes of me. Lets leave the Troubles alone. Deploy three patrolling officers and a steam carriage next to the Pillars. Ask a few broceurs to keep you informed of any developments in the Troubles. Regarding the Troubles and things happening there, our men will be responsible only for saving the most eminent heads, if they ever need saving, that is. Sidabras looked towards Steam City, with its usual greyish smog lingering above the factories. And another thing. If we were inclined to believe The Truths hacks, the city may be hit by strikes. In fact, they have possibly started already. With strikes comes unrest. Although the head of the Guild of Mechanics has reassured me that they will deal with the protests themselves, get your men ready in case there is a need to quell the riots. What I want to say is, have a reserve ready for that. Sidabras fell silent for a while, then took a deep breath. But thats not all. I am now leaving for the Council meeting, where I will address the Burgomaster, asking for his permission to storm our friends den the Markuciai Manor. They have been outshining us quite a lot lately. Its about time we had a chat with the Vitamancer brothers. Vielholskiy and Vagneris exchanged glances. They were both thinking the same thing. Legate, Vielholskiy spoke hesitantly. Even with all the reserve policemen, all the firemen and all the mercenaries from other cities, we wouldnt have enough people to cope with it all. We are not... You will cope with whatever you have, Sidabras cut him short. You will have to. Just think about it! Vilnius is now swarming with all sorts of people from Russians, Germans, Jews, and Turks to anarchists, revolutionaries, pirates and rioters not to speak about our own criminals. One little spark will be enough to ignite this city and turn it into a Midsummer bonfire. And if it burns down, we will end up looking after tuaregs in Sokoto Caliphate. We are the guards of the city and our duty is to appear beside anyone who decides to start a fire and trample the spark before it turns to flame. Both Lieutenants nodded in silence. The pilot changed course, making his small surveillance dirigible move in the direction of the Old Town. All of a sudden the Navigators Tower came alive, flashing multi-coloured signals of light, ready to welcome a dark spot which had just appeared over the Southern horizon. The Prague flight, The Vaiselga pilot explained. Sidabras racked his brain, trying to remember if any of the VIP guests were on this flight. He thought that one of its passengers might be Count Lszl Szgyny-Marich, Ambassador of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Alliance. He should not generate too much fuss, Sidabras thought to himself. But the gigantic dirigible from London, which was due to touch ground before noon, would be an entirely different kettle of fish. And how could it not, if it carried such passengers as Henry Petty-

Fitzmaurice, Foreign Minister of the British Empire; Hayashi Tadasu, Japanese Ambassador to the British Empire; as well as the highly honoured quest Baron Nathan von Rothschild, unofficial Governor of all the free cities of the Alliance. But still the greatest mayhem of all was to befall on Vilnius in the late afternoon, when the crowds would gather for a glimpse of the Kaisers flying fortress. Damn Prussians with their metal box, the mercenary swore in his head, before his thoughts were taken over by a completely different subject. The murder in Cholera Cemetery and the drawings were still a major headache for him. He was trying to figure out how the drawings had found way into the hands of poor metalworker Vanechka Skorik, aka Ivan Skorokhodov the Cholera Cemetery murder victim. Now Sidabras knew that this man was nothing like a common labourer, as he had pretended, but a Tsars officer. By force of habit Sidabras began to piece the puzzle together in his head. Number one, Skorik learns about the highly classified Vitamancer drawings from Porcijanka. The Russians show interest, Porcijankas companion copies the drawings before passing them over to Skorik. Number two, the Vitamancers are not aware of the theft of the drawings, but as soon as Sidabras pays a visit to their Manor, they begin to investigate the matter, dashing over to Steam City and Novovileysk. Sidabras has no idea how they found out about Ujeiskiys treachery, but he felt that he had also played a part in it by going there. War is war, he muttered to himself, feeling no remorse regarding the sad fate of the halfwit drawing thief. He had been experienced much more disturbing things in the past. Then... Number three, Pranciskus Baltrus supplies the Vitamancers with various drawings. Sidabras gut feeling told him that these secret drawings could have been the reason why the scientist ended up in Novovileysk Psychiatric Hospital. And Vileisis had already told him it is impossible to build the bionic man depicted in the drawings. Number four... There is still no Number four. Who pulls Pranciskus out of Novovileysk? Neither the Russians, nor the Vitamancer Lodge it is obvious. Could it be that this complex game had yet another player who had not revealed himself yet? Maybe he was the one who commissioned the murder of the Russian spy Skorokhodov? But why doesnt the murderer pick up the drawings then? Why does he leave them on the scene for the Orderly to find later? And would it be meaningful to pursue this other version which was looking more and more unlikely though that the murder of Skorik-Skorokhodov is only an unfortunate accident? Hardly. But why then... why were the drawings left on the corpse? Werent they the target? And yet another thing: where had the unfortunate Pranciskus Baltrus gone? The tightening grip of a headache made the Legate furrow his eyebrows. His initial reaction was to have a drink from the hotjug, but then he pulled his old soldiers flask from his inside pocket instead and took a good swig of a different type of drink. Although the pungent liquid burned his throat, the claws that had been gripping his head just a moment ago released their grip. Sidabras bent his head towards one shoulder and then the other, listening for the cracking sound in his neck, before approaching the airship pilot. Let us out at the third post and go up again, he ordered. Any problems should be immediately reported on the wireless. Make sure you watch out for the large dirigibles and navigators. They are foaming at the mouth as it is.

The Vaiselga gracefully suspended itself over the third surveillance post in Mirth City and dropped a rope ladder overboard. After climbing a few steps down the rungs, the three mercenaries seemingly effortlessly jumped down on to the roof of the building. You go back to your posts, while I am heading to the Town Hall, Sidabras instructed his Lieutenants Vielholskiy and Vagneris. Wait for news from me. I will come back to you as soon as I get permission to storm the manor of our friends in Markuciai.

Chapter XXVI Vilnius, Before noon 25 04 1905 Antanas Sidabras was used to people giving way to him on the streets, but today was different. Visitors to Vilnius had no idea what an awe-inspiring figure this man was to the locals, and Sidabras had to make his own way by pushing and elbowing through the crowd. A memory of the wall daubers flashed through his mind, but despite looking around intensely, he did not notice a single defaced wall. It seemed that the arrest of those kids beside the Town Hall had made the daubers lose their steam. A few minutes later Sidabras walked into the Town Hall. Instantly, things turned from bad to worse. The idea of an assault on the Vitamancer den sent Burgomaster Vytautas VenslauskisVenskus head shaking so badly that his double chin began to wobble. You are totally mad, Sidabras! he squealed. With the Summit guests airships touching down, with the Exhibition welcoming its visitors, with people looking forward to the celebration, and, mind you, all this happening in front of the very eyes of Europe, here the Burgomaster raised his finger as if pointing at Europes all-seeing eye. ...you are planning an assault on some manors? And its quite some manors you have chosen! The Manor of the Vitamancer Lodge! Can you at least imagine the scandal that would ensue? What would Baron Rothschild say if he found out about a feud sweeping over the cities of the Alliance? The agitated Burgomaster leaped out of his chair and made an attempt to tie a cravat around his neck. With his hands shaking like crazy, he only succeeded at the third attempt. He then flung himself towards the door and disappeared beyond it. Sidabras was left with no choice but to follow him. The Vitamancers are suspected of murder, assault and attempted kidnapping, he thrust the words at Venslauskis-Venskus back, not holding out too much hope that they would have an effect. As far as I am concerned they might be suspected of the rape of Krivis Krivaitis, 32 blurted out the head of the city. Not now! It will have to wait, it will all have to wait until the end of the Summit, and then you can do as you please. You can stand on your heads, if you like. Sidabras noticed Money Councillor Gerhardt von Ott turning out of the side corridor. This petite man was dressed up for a ball, holding to all the tendencies of the latest fashion: he wore a brand new black dinner jacket that fit like a glove, with a dazzling white bow tie at his neck, and carried a black bowler hat in one of his hands and a pile of papers in the other. There was a newspaper shoved under his arm. Sidabras knew that Money Councillor von Ott had the power to influence almost all of the Burgomasters decisions and was about to open his mouth, but then remembered that Ott had come to Vilnius from Prague the cradle of the Vitamancers and quickly changed his mind.

32

Chief pagan priest in Lithuania.

The Rothschild envoy acknowledged Sidabras with a nod, before walking up close to Venslauskis-Venskus. Have you read todays papers, Burgomaster? he asked in a high, almost woman-like voice, before taking The Truth of Vilnius from under his arm and offering it to VenslauskisVenskus. Sidabras did not need to strain his neck. He was well aware of what its front page scribbles were about. But the Burgomaster had not seen it before. One glimpse at it made him gasp and turn his head to Sidabras. Here, feast your eyes! he waved The Truth of Vilnius like a flag. Strikes in Vilnius! Strikes at the time of the Summit! Order, Mr Legate. Strict order. That is what the Legion of Vilnius should concern themselves with, and that is what we are paying them for. But no you wish to storm manors! Gerhardt von Ott now also turned to face the Legate. He looked Sidabras over with interest, but refrained from saying anything. Quite possibly he simply hadnt enough time, as the three men had already reached the Town Hall Meeting Room, the newspaper waving Venslauskis-Venskus marching ahead of the group. Current as well as imminent events were on the agenda of the Council members who were gathering in the room. The first humble one-storey steam bath was built by the old Samuel Fin in Piromontas a few decades ago. In those days the authorities had no issue with the dirty waste water being released into the Neris. If Fin were still alive, he would be stunned to see what his small business had turned into. The gigantic complex of Steam Citys baths spanned three buildings, while its waste water travelled to the Neris in thick pipes and was then released to flow as far as the Alchemists nets, which brought its journey to an end by trapping it. Just like the spacious inns with their cheap beer, the public baths had become an inseparable part of Steam City workers lives. At the end of their working day men would take their place in a long queue and patiently wait for a free locker to cram their rags into, looking forward to washing off the soot and oils that had permeated their skin in the course of the day. Bath cabins and changing rooms were simple but tidy. In no way did they resemble the old baths of Tsarist Vilnius with their filthy floors, cobwebbed windows and jugs brim-full with dirty water. Private bathing rooms were set up in a separate building for those with higher wages or working in supervisory positions. Drinks and hors doeuvres were on offer here, as well as the opportunity to have a private conversation with no one snooping around. Aahh! noisily exhaled the old bath attendant, his birch branches competently smacking the four naked men stretched out on long benches. The rods splashed hot water drops all around them, and the whole room smelled of mint and thyme. The attendant was indeed working up a sweat. Professional provocateur Misha Suslov blissfully closed his eyes. Isnt it great when work goes alongside pleasure, he thought to himself. He had good reason to rejoice, as everything was going more smoothly than he could have expected. Just like Emilia had promised, Suslovs people all experienced rioters like Suslov himself had not encountered any problems from either the Tsars border gu ards or the Intelligence services of the Alliance on their way to Vilnius.

These people wasted no time and set to work from the crack of dawn, running around preaching to people in Steam Citys factories, Snipiskes residential homes and markets as well as New World common houses. They explained, moralised, threatened and persuaded. And they paid, and paid and paid, banknotes falling into outstretched open palms like leaves in the autumn. Then incitements to give up work and stay at home followed. To join them. To say no to the rich masters. To stop bending their backs. To make the damn machines stop, because they will take away their work. In return for half a rouble, or sometimes even three. But these were only the small fry. What they needed to do was gain the support of the workers association leaders in as short a time as possible. It was not easy but the ground had already been broken. The Truth of Vilnius was going all out to menace people with the spectres of new machines and increased unemployment, and the top positions being filled with reliable workers. Their envelopes of money were, of course, considerably thicker. Suslov turned his head from side to side and squinted at his three accomplices, who were resting most blithely: Head of the Carpenters Association Anton Kolv and association activist from the soap factory Jonas Krazas lay spread out to the left, while the accountant from the same factory, Eustachijus Pugis, panted heavily to the right. Their birch-branch treatment and washing over, and a set of clean clothes on their backs, each man was to discover a very bulky envelope in the pocket of their jacket. And when tomorrow all the industry of the much-praised Steam City came to a halt, the most eminent of men the guests of the Summit would witness the streets being flooded by a mass of disgruntled workers. Thousands of angry faces. But that was not all. Suslov had another significant meeting in the evening, where roubles would prove to be too weak a currency, and would give way to chervonetses instead. The man, no doubt, was a true believer in the power of the red banknotes. The day when Vilnius and all its guests would finally understand the meaning of the word riot was drawing very close. Suslov closed his eyes. Everything was working out beautifully, as if proving the point that now, as in the past, everyone has their price. And who needs incorruptible people anyway. He thrust an extra three roubles into the bath attendants hands. Just in case. The old bath attendant drew back from the benches and placed the birch branches in buckets of warm soapy water. He opened a tiny window in the wall, and wiped the steam off the Brownie camera lens. What to do? Strikes at the time of the Summit! Its a tragedy, Venslauskis -Venskus could not let it go. Petras, say something, do something. The councillors eyes turned to the man in a bronze jacket, with a top hat of the same colour stuck on his head. Looking rather pensive, head of the Guild of Mechanics Petras Vileisis kept opening and closing the fingers of his metal hand for a while. Someone is bending over backwards to set the city ablaze, to arouse the workers fury and halt the Steam City machines, he spoke. And they are doing it now, at the Summit. Its not the first time weve been threatened with strikes, but I have not heard of massive ones such as The Truth is writing about. Where does that rag get all this information from? the fingers of Vileisis good hand tapped the table. I have been thinking for a while that a newspaper of our own would be a rather good idea. Something like The Truth? A mudslinging publication? Wanderers Councillor Faina Fryzel asked sourly. Or maybe something nice and fair, discussing new flower beds in the

parks? We had one of those before some of us may still remember it proved to be very unpopular among readers. I dont know yet, Vileisis replied thoughtfully, But you never learn if you dont try. How about we discuss the newspaper issue some other time? howled the Burgomaster, using a silk handkerchief to wipe droplets of sweat off his upper lip. Even on a warm day like this, the logs were still burning in the grand fireplace. Maybe we should discuss how to avoid strikes? Or maybe we should just give them all a raise? That is not a solution, Vileisis shook his head. Decent workers do not go on strike, they may complain but then they go back to work, because they know that the better they work, the more they will be paid. The workers are being incited by boorish thugs from the outside, who are ready to play their part for a bottle of vodka. But when these troublemakers work, their work needs to be redone by others. The protests, no doubt, will hit if we dont find ways to appease the decent locals. But please dont despair, Burgomaster, we shall come up with something. The Summit will see smoke coming out of Steam Citys chimneys in its usual full pomp. I declare myself personally responsible for that. All I will need is some help from the highly esteemed Councillors, his speech coming to an end, Vileisis turned to Sidabras, and then to University Rector Gimbutas. Sidabras acknowledged the message with a nod, while Gimbutas, seemingly taken aback, first cleared his throat and only then started to nod his head fervently. Very well, Mr Vileisis, we have confidence in you, the Burgomaster said finally, attempting to disguise under the veil of his dignified tone his satisfaction that Vileisis had accepted personal responsibility. Gerhardt von Ott gave the Burgomaster an unfavourable glance before bending over his papers. Not because he was particularly diligent but because he was trying to stifle giggles. Lets go over the other matters now, continued the Burgomaster. Tonight the city is hosting a banquet in the Town Hall in honour of our guests. I hope I dont need to remind you that I would like erm... to have all the Councillors in attendance. I hope it is clear. But I... Sidabras spoke quietly. No buts, Mr Legate, Burgomaster cut him off sharply. This was exactly what his wife used to tell him every time he started trying to find excuses to shun one of those tea parties. No buts, he repeated, knitting his eyebrows. The Summit is about to commence. Ministers and ambassadors have already arrived, and the Council of Vilnius must fulfil its duty. And I thought my duty was to safeguard the city, muttered the Legate, but his voice was so quiet that no one heard him, except for his neighbour, Alchemist Jonas Basanavicius. The banquet starts at 9:00 sharp. A significant number of our guests are already here, in Vilnius. What is the state of the sky? Venslauskis-Venskus turned to look at Direction Councillor Scherbakov. Busy, shrugged Scherbakov, a short and stocky Russian, who had spent the better part of his life in dirigibles, beginning his service as a Mechanics assistant and ending up as a Captain. Only recently had he swapped the airship deck for the chair of a city Councillor. The Navigators are burning the candle at both ends, but the congestion problem remains unsolved. Viscigavas has no capacity for landing and dispatching such a vast number of airships. Here, the Councillor took a sheet of paper out of his pocket. I have received a report on The Aurora and The Celsius a supplementary passenger dirigible from Warsaw which barely avoided a collision due to their poor understanding of the Navigators

commands. We were fortunate to prevent disaster from happening this time but I dread to think what will happen when we see The Parsifal approaching over the horizon. The members of the Council went quiet. The Parsifal was the flying fortress of the German Kaiser. Today Vilnius was the destination of its maiden flight. The message of the Germans was crystal clear: they were showing off their power and esprit de corps. And that was the reason why Prussian Minister of War Karl von Einem one of the hawks of the German Empire was to represent the Kaiser at the Summit today. As we have no clue how to moor The Parsifal, the Germans having not given us any hints, we decided to clear the entire Vilnius air space, ensuring that an hour before and an hour after The Parsifals arrival no other airships are travelling under the Vilnius sky. As soon as it releases its passengers, it will take off again, otherwise work at the airship port would inevitably come to a standstill, Scherbakov explained. Baron Rothschild has kindly agreed to arrive slightly earlier. But then again, the French threw a huge tantrum about their Foreign Minister being made to dance to the tune of the Germans. You must have seen the French letter of protest, Burgomaster? Venslauskis-Venskus stared at the table. He resembled a hungry dog who had bitten off a piece of bone too large for him, and was now struggling to swallow it. Leave Monsieur Delcass to me, Gerhardt von Ott swiftly took control of the conversation. I hope we can still smooth over this diplomatic misunderstanding. No-one wants The Parsifal to get into trouble. We should be happy that the Russians and the Turks decided to make use of over-land transport, rather than flying. Yes, glancing at his papers, agreed Scherbakov. The private train of Izzet Pasha el 'abed, Secretary to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, is expected to pull into the station in an hour and a half, while a special armoured train from St Petersburg, carrying Russian Foreign Minister Vladimir Nikolajavitch Lamsdorf, should arrive in three hours. Pasha is arriving by train because one of the things he will want to discuss with Baron Rothschild is the Hejaz Railway, Money Councillor Gerhardt von Ott pointed out. Fiodor Matvejevitch, he said, addressing Scherbakov. Baron Rothschild has expressed his desire to see you at the meeting. He thinks its a good idea to have a reliable person nearby, in case he needs some advice. Scherbakov was so pleased with the last remark, that his face turned red, while the Rothschilds envoy continued with his confident address. Now about Minister Lamsdorf ... his interests are erm... erm ... von Ott carefully searched for the right word, ...somewhat peculiar. And... Sodomite! Knight of the Cathedral Prelate Masalskis suddenly roared. A sodomite, thats what he is! the words stormed out of his mouth, his eyes glinting. He is an abscess to all people of faith! You think we never lay hands on St Petersburg newspapers? He is referred to as madam in the Tsars Palace and causes everyone to roll on the floor laughing when he attends the balls with a man-lover by his side. They are sending this sodomite here, and we are supposed to greet him and bow to him? Every single church in Vilnius shall hold prayer meetings for those possessed by Devil, and receive this one with holy water and rosaries. The Burgomaster closed his eyes. The Summit was to be the jewel in the crown of his career, but now it seemed that everything was rapidly going downhill. With the meeting over and each Councillor going back to his work, Petras Vileisis caught up with Sidabras, who was walking alongside University Rector Gimbutas along the corridor. We can deal with the protesters on our own, he told Sidabras. But tomorrow we could also use some help from your Legionnaires.

Sidabras nodded in acknowledgment. Of course, he didnt have enough men, but with such a serious problem as strikes looming over the city, Steam City could not be left to its own devices. Vileisis turned over to look at the Rector. I would also like a favour from you, venerable Master. Could you send me a few hardworking literature students, who wouldnt mind working through the night? Gimbutas raised his eyebrows. I will, he said with a note of surprise in his voice. Plenty of Dominium students are like that. Following a moments hesitation, he added, Before they get too drunk. I will send someone for a chat with you at the Guild. But why do you need them? he wondered. Read it and put it in the hands of every child, a Samogitian and a Prussian Lithuanian, Vileisis quoted Mazvydas33, with a smile and a wink. I shall see you at the banquet, he said, before scurrying away along the corridor.

Martynas Mavydas the author of The Catechism, the first printed book in the Lithuanian language. The above quote is the first authentic verse in Lithuanian and appears in the preface, called The Appeal of The Small Book Itself Unto Lithuanians and Samogitians.
33

Chapter XXVII Vilnius, Afternoon 25 04 1905 With the Summit sweeping across free Vilnius, Zverynas, as usual, responded to the overwhelming furore and madness in its own peculiar way. From the break of day people started gathering on Zverynas Bridge, from where some of them meandered along St Georges Avenue, aiming for the Exhibition Dome in Luskiskes Square; others tried to board a trolley for Viscigavas; while yet others chose a nice stroll along the Neris in the direction of Green Bridge. However, the majority of Zverynas residents decided to remain true to the traditions of their area by staying at home. Happy to see the first signs of a beautiful day, some people were filling their picnic baskets with snacks and setting off for the river. Their plan was to lie down on the grass of their home bank. Zverynas had no desire to intrude on the Summit. And neither did it feel like welcoming the Summit on its bank. And that was exactly the reason why two tents with a rope extended between them sprang up on Zverynas Bridge before noon. Whenever traders, fire-eaters, magicians or proclaimers of Gods word would come too close to those tents, they were politely turned back on their heel by volunteers with green ribbons. Had it been on a different occasion, the initiative would have been perhaps frowned upon by Vilnius Legionnaires, but on this day the news about the Zverynas barricades cheered Lt. Vagneris up no end at least one area would keep itself out of mischief. Walking briskly across the bridge, Doctor of Alchemy Jonas Basanavicius quietly smiled to himself at the sight of the barricade. He carried a compact briefcase and, seemingly in high spirits, greeted people he met with an energetic gesture of his head. With Basanavicius approaching the volunteers, they doffed their hats and greeted the man. Getting ready to ward off an assault, are we? the Alchemist chuckled, bending over to walk under the rope. Yes we are, Mr Councillor, faltered one of the volunteer guards, a grey-haired elder. Especially for the occasion he had pulled out his old uniform jacket dating back to the times of the Tsars conscript army. After all these years in an attic chest, it was still in decent shape. There are all sorts hanging about the place now. It wouldnt take them a minute to clean you out of all youve got, if you are not careful enough. I wish you every success in your service, said Basanavicius, hiding a smile in his bushy beard. Swinging the briefcase in his hand, he turned into the main gravel street of Zverynas. He ducked under the lush branches of trees, which seemed to have a desire to embrace every passer-by before releasing them for good, and left the street before turning up outside a very familiar yard, overgrown with wild rose bushes. Through the wooden gate he glimpsed a patch of well-tended lawn. In an armchair by its edge sat the host of the house, poring over a book. There was a tiny handle next to the gate and Basanavicius turned it a few times. This brought to life a petite metal man above, who raised his arm with a screech before starting to bang a tiny hammer against a miniature bronze gong. The powerful sound this miniscule gong made resounded over the entire Zverynas area.

It caused the man to get up from the chair and put his book aside. Another second, and Jonas Basanavicius was clasping Nikodemas Tvardauskis hand in a long handshake. I prefer you coming by Dragon Fly, mumbled Tvardauskis, going back for his book, before leading the guest inside the house. You make less noise then. The problem could be easily solved by you fine-tuning your little locksmith, Basanavicius chortled. Besides, I couldnt fly today. Had I told them about my intent to get Dragon Fly airborne, they would have all swooned. So I left it in Steam City Ive asked the engineers to tweak it up a bit. By the way, have you heard about the Germans prank? How could I not, Tvardauskis replied. People speak of nothing else in this area. Just think of it a flying fortress. You didnt have to resort to ammonia to bring the Burgomaster back to his senses, did you? Nearly, nearly, mumbled Basanavicius, putting his hat on a hook in the hallway. And not just him alone. The French and the Russians are screaming in demented voices, even though they havent had as much as a peek at The Parsifal yet. No one could have dreamed of such a start to the Summit. Yes you are right, nightmares are in abundance these days, Tvardauskis muttered thoughtfully, leading the way down into the laboratory. At the door the bloodshot eyes penetrated both men with their stare. The sci entists fingers deftly pushed a few buttons, causing the eyes to close and the door to open. Inside the laboratory, Tvardauskis pushed the papers off the desk with the back of his arm, making space for Basanavicius briefcase. There was a click of the locks and the daylight revealed some glittering glass (daylight was indeed streaming onto the scientists desk). It was a tiny bottle of dark matt glass with a stopper, held in place by metal grips. A small syringe was placed on the desk beside the bottle, its needle enclosed within an oval glass hood. I am still in two minds about whether it is a good idea, said Basanavicius. The truth serum is an exceptionally dangerous substance, he muttered. Tvardauskis shook the bottle in his hand and raised it to his eyes, as if trying to see the colour of its contents through the dark glass. Mind you, the times we live in are also dangerous, he noted dryly before putting the bottle in a pocket of his long robe. If OBraitis is indeed who I think he is, he must be neutralised as quickly as possible. Or at least observed closely. I am dead certain that the new Master of Prague Vitamancers has come up with something more elaborate than pulling a sack over Milas head and pushing her in a carriage. But before we do anything, we must convince ourselves that our suspicions are well founded. Dont worry about that, reassured Basanavicius. An hour after taking just five drops with his drink, the person will start feeling unwell, and the resilience of his body will diminish. What you need to do then is look for a secluded spot where you could inject him with the truth serum. The man will doze off, but you can question him without holding back you will hear the whole truth. But fifteen minutes is all that you will have. When the man wakes up, he wont remember anything. He will feel as if he has fallen into a light sleep. Most importantly, dont overdose with the drops because... Basanavicius paused. ... the side effects... I mean, they may be permanent. And what are they? asked Tvardauskis.

They vary, the alchemist shrugged. Someone may start seeing pink elephants, others may spend the whole day in the company of a chamber pot. This is the main reason why the Alliance keeps their invention under wraps. Of course, it is nothing like the American Dr Houses Scopolamine anymore, and we have indeed achieved great progress, but the preparation is still far from perfect. Very few people will be eventually allowed to use it anyway. My silvery head will unavoidably suffer if someone at the University Dominium finds out I have borrowed the preparation without the Rectors permission. But you do realise, we must be absolutely certain, Tvardauskis looked his friend in the eye. The Alchemist cleared his throat and nodded. Tvardauskis foster daughter Mila was at home throughout. At the first sound of the gate gong she rushed to the window and was relieved to see Basanavicius, rather than the guests she had been waiting for (because they would have been arriving terribly early). Forgetting both her uncles instantly, she went back to the vanity table. It was just her luck that her normally tidy locks had today decided to turn into the Gorgon Medusas snakes, and yet another curl slipped out of the hair pin, draping itself over her eyes. Several hair pins stuck in her teeth, Mila mumbled something rather unsuitable for a high-society lady. She was adamant not to admit to herself that she was sweating so hard for the guests who were about to arrive. Its nothing special just two British officers coming round, she explained to the curious housekeeper Morta. But she did get up earlier than usual and spent a long time painstakingly choosing her clothes before finally deciding on a light sky blue silk dcolletdress with a full skirt. Happy with the dress, which suitably revealed her slender neck, she was now fighting with her hair. The Lithuanian youth, who strangely enough doesnt speak the language, is rather cute, Mila thought. And I think, uncles Nikodemas and Jonas have really taken a shine to him. But the thing that she really could not get out of her head were Charles Finleys dark eyes. She felt attracted to them like magnet to metal. The girl remembered the fellows strong hands, holding her tightly when she was a moment away from plunging overboard The Icarus. The memory of his perfume made butterflies go wild in her stomach. A silver pin finally secured the lock where it belonged. Mila made faces in the mirror, finishing her session by sticking her tongue out at herself. She then turned to the box containing her three best friends. After a moments hesitation, she pulled out Pierrot. No one told me this trip was about a marriage proposal, Edward OBraitis said mockingly, inspecting Charles Finley who was sitting next to him in the carriage. Carefully wrapped in white see-through paper there was a large bouquet of white roses and a dainty wooden box with a bottle of cognac, lying on the seat opposite. A porter at The Bristol was happy to undertake the urgent task of providing Finley with a bottle. What? the Englishman appeared confused. There is this custom in Lithuania. A man, going to ask for a girls hand in marriage, also takes one of his friends along for courage, OBraitis explained brightly. Being called a friend, Finleys face was lit by a contented smile. The men, who not so long ago would have found the idea of sitting at one table impossible, following a few days in Farnborough Military Base, an air journey and a fight with The Broom, were now calling each other friends. Following his miraculous transformation, Finley, formerly the arrogant

aristocrat and villain of the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, was now a real partner, always ready to lend his hand in trouble and daring enough to take a huge leap into the dark in order to save a girl. OBraitis was still at his wits end trying to understand where Finley had found the courage for such madness. He tried asking a few careful questions but Charles was very elusive on the subject, so Edward, worried that he might appear jealous of the heros glory, decided not to press him too much. In Vilnius, Finley continued to act strangely. Last night he had disappeared, coming back at the break of dawn. And yet again, he had chosen not to answer the question about his night-time expedition. OBraitis thought to himself that the fellow must be taking advantage of his last free days prior to the commencement of the Summit, which had been allocated to the adjutants by Captain Mabrey. They all were to report to The Star of St George by tomorrow morning. You Lithuanians are peculiar people, and so are your customs, Finley mumbled absent mindedly, but with the mention of the girl a bright spark was lit in the dark depths of his eyes. All of last night had been spent wandering around the Blots, searching for a reliable alchemic opium house, as the London Fetches and Prague Vitamancers had been expecting an opium-mirror message about his safe arrival. The easiest thing to do would have been to knock on the local Vitamancers door and ask them for a live transmission, but the explicit message from the Grand Master of Prague Vitamancers had told him to keep the Vilnius Vitamancer Lodge at arms length. He understood that this operation was to be kept hidden from the locals. So far everything had been going according to plan and even better than Finley could have expected. The dimwit sitting by his side was serving as a brilliant cover, and the show of saving the girl from the hands of the pirates had been a great success. He found the memory of the dull sound of his shoe kicking robber Rickus overboard especially pleasant. In the eye of his mind he saw the unfortunate creature smash against the ground, instantly turning into a mush of blood and bones. Suddenly Finleys face became distorted. He must have let go of himself in savouring the blood-curdling sight and allowing the sensations to take over him, as the Fetch concealed under the mask of Finleys face eagerly decided to get out: his skin tensed up painfully; his gums became very sore as they prepared for extra teeth to come through. Finley pulled himself together and took a few deep breaths, his outstretched hand opening the little window to let in some fresh air. The clamour of the city directed his thoughts elsewhere, Finleys eyes came to rest on the flowers and cognac. The next stage of the game was about to commence. The carriage rolled up to Zverynas Bridge and stopped at the rope barrier. One glimpse at the shiny uniforms of the British officers through the open window was enough for the volunteer to straighten up his back in an awkward salute, before rushing to untie the rope at breakneck speed. The carriage passengers exchanged glances and shrugged, not really understanding what was going on. Shortly after the carriage reached its destination. The driver was rewarded with a handsome tip and instructed to be back in a few hours. The visitors were met by the host Nikodemas Tvardauskis, who visually appraised the gift in the wooden box, then ushered them inside. At that very moment Mila fluttered down the stairs in her dazzling sky blue silk dress. Her looks stunned them into silence but when they finally recovered, the girl was showered with compliments from both men. Mila greeted the men with her hand extended to be kissed, and while the officers lips were paying their respects, Mila flirtatiously smelled the roses, her face lit by a lovely smile.

Tvardauskis gesticulated towards his friend standing in the doorway Councillor of Vilnius and Alchemist Jonas Basanavicius thus introducing him to the officers, who clicked their heels together in reply to his greeting. Finley swiftly ducked his head, trying to conceal red sparks in the depth of his dark eyes. Fetches and Alchemists still had some unsettled scores dating back a long time. The official ceremony over, Mila scurried off to search for a suitable vase, while Tvardauskis invited everyone to his study for a glass of cognac, the suggestion pleasing the men a great deal. With his guests curiously nosing around the room, the walls of which were lined with shelves of impressive proportions and filled with books, an array of old-fashioned and modern equipment, boxes and statues, Tvardauskis, his back to the guests, was pouring out cognac. The drink in one of the glasses was improved by exactly five drops from the little bottle of the mysterious liquid, which had materialised from his pocket. He then made sure that the glass found its way into the hands of adjutant OBraitis, and started counting the time. What a wonderful item, Finley complimented a large hourglass in a green patina stand. A present from the Cairo Museum, Tvardauskis explained and turned the hourglass over. The grains of sand flowed down slowly. Mila joined the group a few minutes later, bringing Pierrot with her. As was always the case, the toy had been instructed to behave like a little automaton walk and waggle, and try to wipe away the tears drawn on his cheeks with his hands. However, as soon as he set his foot in the office, Pierrot forgot all about the instructions that had been ever given to him, and just stared at Finley, his body convulsing and screeching. With everyones astounded eyes fixed on the toy, he circled around the room waving his hands in the air, appearing completely out of control. His eyelids moved rapidly up and down and his mouth wheezed, as if on the brink of releasing a stream of words. What is this? asked OBraitis, unable to conceal his disbelief. Mila understood that a stream of words was becoming a real threat even though the toy had been warned not to open his mouth in front of strangers. So she grabbed the rocking and swaying Pierrot in her hands and ran to her room, mumbling something about detached springs under her breath. She put the automaton on the shelf, pressing her hand against his chest. Pierrot calmed, his head drooping down. What were you thinking? What was that? Did you decide to allow yourself to demonstrate your jealousy in front of other peoples eyes? Mila snapped, then turned on her heels and marched out of the room, slamming the door with a loud bang. The toys tricks were not something she could be bothered with at the moment. Morta, cooking quite a feast in the kitchen, looked around her quarters, and gave an approving nod before ringing the bell. As this bell was connected by tiny wires to its copper cousin in Tvardauskis office, the cousin immediately rang back. Dinner is ready, please follow me. Tvardauskis waved to his guests, taking the hourglass with him. Tvardauskis and Mila were absolutely fed up with the housekeepers complaints about the blooming Summit clearing all the markets and making them look like a poor mans larder. With no proper meat or vegetables available she had no idea what to treat their highly

esteemed guests to. Tvardauskis claimed full confidence in his housekeepers skills, and he was right. The sitting room table was now displaying a rather impressive spread of foods: ear and tongue savoury roll, chicken stuffed with nuts, gefilte fish, herring and mushrooms, cep and crayfish tail salad, cucumbers and marinated cornichons and apples. For the main course, which was still waiting its turn, the guests were in for hot bacon steaks with potatoes and carrots, served with chanterelle sauce. It was obvious that in the markets of Vilnius, Morta was a valued and desirable buyer. To make the guests feel more comfortable, English was the language at the table, but it did not slow the conversation, as Tvardauskis, Basanavicius and Mila all spoke the language fluently. The officers relayed the story of the assault on The Icarus and shared the details of the rescue operation, making everyone wonder at the unexpected and inexplicable impertinence of the air pirates. Basanavicius wanted to hear about the studies at Sandhurst Academy and final examinations, and about The Star and The British Air Force in general. Edward OBraitis answers were not only cheerful but also eager. Although Finley would also occasionally contribute to his replies, glancing at Mila absent-mindedly picking at her food was something that he found much more interesting. At times she would look up, and her cheeks would become tinged with a red hue if her eyes locked with Charles, but she held his gaze and was in no rush to look down. It was like Charles and Mila were playing a game of stares, which they both enjoyed. Tvardauskis also noticed the duel of the youngsters eyes, but tried to concentrate on Edward OBraitis answers instead. He was hoping to catch the end of the thread of doubts or lies, but the supposed agent of the Vitamancer Lodge had done his homework well. The sand grains in the hourglass seeped unremittingly through. The conversation turned to the Summit and the flying German fortress, The Parsifal. The young guests shrugged, unable to understand why the Germans had decided to demonstrate their new weapon, but they admitted they wanted to go and have a look at the giant suspended in the air. Mila, of course, expressed her wish to go with them. Afterwards, I will show you the Old Town and we can stop by some inn , she declared full of confidence, as if she wasnt a long-lost daughter who had finally come back to her native city, but some old weathered broceur. The streets are swarming with people, it will be fun. Uncle, you dont mind, do you? she addressed Tvardauskis. Tvardauskis did not mind indeed, and even went as far as to recommend an inn in Mirth City that was especially favoured by foreigners living and working in free Vilnius. Both youths assured Milas guardians that they would take good care of the girl and return her no later than midnight. They also had to report to their posts early in the morning. Tvardauskis smiled and kept nodding, his eyes intermittently checking the hourglass. With the last grain at the bottom, Tvardauskis stole a glance at Basanavicius. The alchemist replied with a barely perceptible nod. Tvardauskis rang a bell and Morta, who had stormed in a moment later, started to clear the table. After Mila had excused herself to change for the evening outing, Basanavicius took Finley to Tvardauskis office for a cup of coffee and a chat about the latest news from London. Tvardauskis remained in the sitting room alone with OBraitis. The host watched the guest closely as he poured tea. He did not have to wait long. OBraitis upper lip soon became covered with tiny drops of sweat, the man gasped for air, then undid his top button, sticking his two fingers inside the collar. Are you all right, Edward? the scientist asked with a concerned face.

Yes, thank you. I am only feeling short of breath, its stuffy in here, OBraitis replied. He was sweating more and more. Why dont we go outside? suggested Tvardauskis. We have a really nice gazebo in the garden. OBraitis got up to his feet but then suddenly swayed. He leaned against the wall to steady himself. What is it now? the youth mumbled, his eyes blinking fast. Its all right, you will soon feel better, Tvardauskis reassured him, before taking a firm grip of OBraitis elbow and leading him outside. Over the soft grass they walked to the back of the garden where there was a neat pond and a wooden gazebo, overgrown with thick ivy. Tvardauskis was very fond of this summer house. He would sit on the soft fabric-covered bench, his legs stretched out, and listen to the birds songs or become lost in thought searching for the solution to the most pertinent of problems. This time his problem came walking with him. It came with shivers and gasps for air, as if infected with yellow fever. The scientist made the guest sit on the bench, with his back leaning comfortably against the gazebo wall. I do apologize, he muttered before bending over the youth and gently lifting each of his eyelids with his two fingers. OBraitis pupils were greatly dilated, covering his irises almost entirely. According to Basanavicius, this was the sign that the serum was doing its work. The lad did not mind being checked, and closed his eyes whenever Tvardauskis stepped back. From inside his pocket the scientist pulled out a syringe, removed the glass cover and made the injection to the youths shoulder. After an initial flinch, the adjutant stopped shivering, his breathing steadied and the head drooped over his chest, as if in deep sleep. Edward, I have a few questions for you, Tvardauskis said quietly. I would be grateful if you could tell me the truth. Talking to a sleeping person made the scientist feel uneasy. Besides, he did not know if he would be getting any answers. But, as he saw a moment later, he had no reason to worry. Yes, the youth replied in a muffled voice, which seemed to be coming from somewhere down below. Fine, Tvardauskis glanced at the wind-up pocket watch he had taken with him for this particular purpose. (No longer than fifteen minutes, Basanavicius had warned him.) Fine, he repeated, baffled by himself for not feeling any sympathy towards the boy. Your name is Edward OBraitis, is that right? Yes. Are you Lithuanian? Yes. You are serving in the Royal Air Force of the British Army? Yes.

Are you familiar with the Vitamancers? No. Are you here on a special task? No. Are you here only as an Air Force officer? Yes. Have you heard about Mila before? No. Has anyone told you to follow Mila? No. Tvardauskis went quiet and scratched his neck. It appeared that this young man had nothing to do with Milas persecutors. The scientist felt an immediate pang of remorse. He bent over, took the youths hands in his, and gave them a hard rub. OBraitis stirred and took a deep breath. Tvardauskis looked down at his watch. The man was due to wake up in three minutes. The scientist jumped up and hurried to the house. When he came back with a tray containing a tea pot and two cups, he found OBraitis awake and rubbing his eyes. I am sorry, he sounded guilty. I feel strange. Tvardauskis placed the tray on the table. Here we go, some wonderfully cool jasmine tea for you, he said in an artificial light hearted tone. Have a sip, you will immediately feel as if freshly woken from a deep sleep. OBraitis smiled, reaching out for a cup of tea. Here you are! Mila said as she came round the corner. Charles Finley, like a loyal guard, was walking beside her, having finally escaped Jonas Basanavicius tight grip. Edward, lets hurry. We dont want to miss The Parsifal. I... I... OBraitis began to stammer but Tvardauskis stopped him by patting him on the shoulder. You should go, its all right. He laughed. His laugh did sound quite unnatural but neither Mila nor Finley seemed to take any notice of it. At that moment a carriage sounded its horn on the street. Her arms looped through both mens elbows, Mila, loquacious and happy as a lark, led them outside the gate. OBraitis was back to his usual self and feeling rather sprightly again; however, his gait remained unsteady, as if he had been startled from his sleep. For a little while Nikodemas Tvardauskis walked behind them, then raised his hand, about to say something, but Mila was faster. Midnight, uncle, midnight and not a minute later. With a slam of the door, the carriage spat out a cloud of white steam, then screeched, before rolling in the direction of Zverynas Bridge.

For a while Tvardauskis stared at the grass pensively. He then sank the fingers of both hands into the thick of his hair, tugging them so hard that several grey strands remained in his fingers. So? Basanavicius voice reached him. Tvardauskis came back to himself, raised his head and looked at his friend. It is one of the two: either you still need to work more on your truth serum, or this fellow really has nothing to do with the Vitamancers, he said, sounding disappointed. In which case we have no other choice but to keep glancing behind our shoulder, expecting some rather unpleasant surprises, His head went up and down. So it appears that the new Master of Prague Vitamancers is smarter than I thought. The men exchanged meaningful glances. Had one of them looked back at the house, they would have noticed Pierrot, his face stuck to the glass, eyes fixed on the receding at speed carriage. The faces of automatons are not known for reflecting their feelings, but if anyone had taken a closer look at Pierrot, they could have sworn that his face was distorted with horror.

Chapter XXVIII Vilnius, Late afternoon 24 04 1905 In the afternoon the skies of Vilnius became draped in pink mist. With Londons The Orion the carrier of the Head of the Alliance Baron Rothschild and the British and Japanese delegations on the ground, the Navigators could finally allow themselves to breathe with relief. Before departing for The Bristol in the company of the British and local officers, who had arrived to greet him, Foreign Minister of the British Empire Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice had proudly bestowed his full attention on The Star of St George. The Japanese had chosen The Sokolovskyi for their stay, while Baron Rothschild had decided to go for the Hotel Europa in the vicinity of the Town Hall. With everyone having deserted the Vilnius sky, the Navigators Tower and Viscigavas airship port fell silent as a grave in anticipation of The Parsifal. The rumour that The Parsifal was approaching spread around town quicker than a bolt of lightning. A light rain did nothing to scare the residents away. Crowds of people were eagerly awaiting the first sight of the airship, every so often searching the sky with their eyes; some mingling in the streets, others walking around the Exhibition Pavilion in Lukiskes Square or jostling about in the queues for snacks. The hill near Viscigavas airship port that was especially conducive to dirigible watching was teeming with spectators like an anthill, with no room to swing a cat, while the Legionnaires who had been prudently sent here by Vagneris were capably saving gawkers from being trampled or pushed into the roadside ditch. The signaller on duty by the wireless in the Navigators Tower rushed out of his office to deliver the latest message to his shift manager, Navigator Anatolij Kmit. Kmit, one of the most senior Vilnius Navigators, quickly scanned the piece of paper. Attention everyone, he commanded. We have received the coordinates of The Parsifal. It is coming into our field of view in five minutes. As it always, Kmit managed to remain calm, only the merest of a hint of a tremble in his voice betraying his inner tension. The signaller immediately transmitted the news to Viscigavas and then put his thumb up, signalling that his transmission had been acknowledged. The shift manager bent over the large adjustable binoculars, peeking out through a gap in the tower. Visibility seventy five, air passage clear, he turned back to inform his crew. I cant see what all this fuss is about, he muttered out before bending over the binoculars again. Big deal, yet another airship arriving... He never finished the sentence. With incredulity written all over his face and his eyebrows furrowed, he leaned back and then went straight for the binoculars again. When talking about air cruisers or frigates, balloonists are well aware that these air vessels look nothing like their namesakes in the sea. It was nothing more than a borrowed name. And so the flying fortress in the eye of Kmits mind was just a dirigible enhanced by German experts, now going by a different name. But he could not have been more wrong. The flying fortress was indeed a flying fortress.

Four giant funnels spat out white smoke and greenish sparks the remnants of promethelium. The massive hull, the size of a mountain ridge, covered with tiny port holes, was coated in black steel and dotted with cannons, like a hedgehog with needles. This giant was too heavy to be lifted by the power of the steam boilers alone; therefore propellers turned dementedly at its sides and rear. And above them there loomed... six... no, probably eight Kmit lost count large air floats. The jewel in this magnificent crown was the captains bridge protruding at the front, shaped like the beak of an eagle the coat of arms of the Kaisers Germany with a yellow breitwimpel flying proudly in the wind above, bearing a black cross and the inscription Gott mit uns God is with us. The gaping mouths of residents acquired the shape of the letter O, while the more superstitious ones began making the sign of the cross in order to ward off the evil spirit which was now landing on their heads. Message from Parsifal! yelled the signaller. Read, barked Kmit, still in a state of deep shock. The Parsifal, the flying fortress of the German Kaiser and King of Prussia Wilhelm II, extends its greetings to the free city of Vilnius, and requests permission to land, the signaller was talking nineteen to the dozen. How are they intending to land? asked Kmit, adding a stronger word for emphasis. They will tear all of Viscigavas down. This statement was accompanied by an additional word even stronger than the first. Your airship port is too small for us to land, and for that reason we shall not be landing here, The Parsifal reported. We shall allow our delegation to disembark for the Summit and shall get the ship airborne again. We request the Tower to provide us with an air corridor and the landing coordinates. The Navigators Tower soon lit the sky with multi-coloured command lights. Having dispatched its reply, the enormous flying fortress came to a stop hanging in the air above Viscigavas. In his thoughts, Kmit thanked the Direction Councillor for taking care of clearing the entire Vilnius air space. Strange things happened on the hill besides Viscigavas: children screamed and women gracefully fainted, while men, their fingers trembling with fright, rolled smokes. Everyone stared at the monster suspended above their heads, no one daring to leave. Their curiosity was stronger than their fright. With the hatches open in the lower part of Parsifal, two enclosed platforms, held by chains of impressive proportions, were pushed out by powerful mechanical screw pinions. Just above the ground the platforms paused and the doors opened, releasing stairs with a hissing sound. First to descend the steps were several uniformed men of Herculean build, followed by members of the German delegation for the Summit, and its main figure: Prussian Minister of War Karl von Einem. With both feet on the ground, the Minister paused and looked around slowly, as if drinking in the impression that The Parsifal had left on the people. The meeting officers and the squad of Legionnaires responsible for the safety of the guests were on their way to greet the new arrivals. The stairs were retracted inside the platforms, which were pulled back into the innards of the flying fortress. The Parsifal, exchanging volleys of light signals with The Navigators Tower, and puffing out clouds of smoke, ascended into the air and hung over the outskirts of Vilnius, away from Viscigavas Port.

The crowds on the hill and in the streets began to thin out. Some onlookers made their way to cafes and inns where they would continue to discuss the miracle they had just witnessed; others strolled to the Gardens of Bernardines; while yet others packed around traders, savouring spiced hot wine and snacks, while they waited for the evening fun and games to hit the city. Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras, an exasperated expression on his face, turned his head left and right, trying to loosen the tight grip of the collar on his neck, before pulling at the cuffs of the tuxedo forced on him by the Town Hall Master of Ceremonies. Having satisfied himself that the landing as well as the consequent take-off of The Parsifal had gone smoothly and without any damage to the city, and that the Legionnaires had successfully set up wireless-equipped mobile posts in the hottest spots of town, Sidabras made his way to the nearest one, situated in the Baltasis Stralis cafe on Pilies Street, adjacent to University Dominium. The owners of this place did not mind the presence of Legionnaires in the slightest: quite on the contrary they thought themselves quite fortunate to be afforded extra protection, as public merriment in the city would often end in fighting and the smashing of windows. The Truzzi Circus Company was giving a performance that evening, and the excited crowd poured to the tent to see fireeaters, horse riders, acrobats and even the halfnaked Signora Kezzi lifting weights and even men! Sidabras allowed himself to be carried by the crowd as it flowed towards Cathedral Square, where the show was soon to begin. Finally reached the Baltasis Stralis cafe, Sidabras managed to free himself from the claws of the crowd and stepped inside. He nodded in greeting to the cashier, his eyes inspecting the little tables behind the long counter, covered with a number of Stralis cakes. As soon as this posts duty sergeant and signaller, leaning over one of the out -of-the-way tables, set eyes on their commander, they jumped up to salute him. Sidabras waved them off dismissively and sat down beside them. A minute later a waiter appeared by his side. Would you like anything, sir? No, Im all right... Sidabras began but then changed his mind. Double whisky. Neat, he asked. He decided it would be a good idea to loosen up before the Summit banquet in the Town Hall, where he would inevitably have to listen to lifeless speeches given by boring men. A few moments later the waiter had his drink ready and served. There was a golden rule that cafe and inn owners always tried to observe: the quicker you serve the men of the Legion, the faster they will come to your help when the need arises. You look smashing, Legate, the duty sergeant complimented him on his attire. He was really trying hard not to smile. Another word and youll scrub the solitary confinement cells for three days, once the festivities are over, Sidabras snarled in a good-natured way and took a sip of his single malt. Any news? he added. Did I miss anything? The smile instantly disappeared from the sergeants face. There were no problems with The Parsifal landing and taking off again, he reported. The German delegation are getting settled in the hotel and the street trolleys are packed with people coming back from Viscigavas airship port. But it is all under control and in the hands of our men. The report from the post on Green Bridge says it is still quiet there.

I have just received a message from the post at Cathedral Square, the signaller interrupted, his eyes fixed on the wireless. The Knights of the Cathedral have gone wild. Sidabras frowned. What are they up to this time? he asked in grim voice. They have encircled the Italian circus tent in Cathedral Square, and are urging people to stay away from the infidels lair; also, they are praying aloud and burning candles. Are they obstructing peoples movement? The signaller shook his head. I dont think they are. People are going around them. When they are given the choice of a half-naked, men-lifting lady or praying, they obviously go for the former. No matter, then, lets leave them alone. Tell the Cathedral post to be vigilant but avoid interfering, unless the knights cause an obstruction and prevent people from entering the circus. Sidabras sighed. When will they realise that its been a while since the end of their beloved Middle Ages? Understood, replied the signaller, before concentrating on tapping the keys. Sidabras took another sip of whisky. If only he had a double who could go to the banquet dressed in his tuxedo, while he stayed here on duty with his men. And that is not all, Sidabras train of thought was cut short by the sergeant. Just before you came we received a message from the Town Hall. In the square opposite... What? Sidabras sounded baffled. I have just been there. Yes, what is it? his impatience was obvious. A few tramps have rolled resin-filled barrels into the square and set them on fire. Now they are threatening to have their own ball. People in the Town Hall are getting distressed as the guests will start gathering any moment now. They think trouble may ensue. Here we go, the thought dashed through Sidabras head. With his drink finished in one gulp, he banged the glass on the table and stormed out of the cafe, heading in the direction of Didzioji Street. In the vicinity of the Town Hall he was approached by Lt. Vielholskiy with a concerned expression on his face, and two Legionnaires. The Lieutenants face was glaring evidence that things were not going well at all. I have no idea where they have come from, he sounded really puzzled. Arms spread to the side in bafflement, he followed Sidabras, struggling to keep up with him. It was all quiet, and then they suddenly started crawling like cockroaches from all over the place. They are now shuffling around their barrels, the rattles on their bodies causing a real racket in the square. And theyve also brought half a pig along. Sidabras stopped. Half a pig? Yes. They are threatening to roast it, then dance, sing and have fun. And its a full house about fifty of those beggars. The guests are on their way. I was thinking, maybe we should form a safe corridor?

Just you wait, I shall form a corridor for them myself, Sidabras said through gritted teeth, surveying Town Hall Square, which had just opened up before his eyes. One corner of the square was taken up by four large metal barrels. Orange tongues of flames leapt from them, black smoke coiling around them. The spot next to the barrels had been taken up by an orchestra, its members swaying suspiciously from side to side: a porcine man pulling on a giant accordion, a skinny henchman accompanying him on the fiddle. Right next to them, dressed in rags, several dirty creatures pranced. Now and then they would pause to go to a small barrel the only one not seized by the flames and would take turns to use a single ladle to scoop up the liquid and pour it in their mouths. A safe distance from them stood a flock of city residents, warily ogling the strange lunatics. The bonfire in the middle of the square with half a pig on a spit hanging over it ready to be roasted was the thing that they found most amusing. Other guests of the ball were loitering around the bonfire. Sidabras recognized one of the mugs right away. Girsa Sibukas was a parasite, tramp and scandalist, of whom the Legionnaires were sick to death. But the men around him were not familiar to Sidabras at all, nor did they look like beggars. Tall and muscular, their eyes darted around alertly. The sight of Sidabras and the accompanying Legionnaires coming into view made a few men sneer. Boss! bellowed Sibukas, his arms wide open. His face and fingers were dirty and greasy. What brilliant timing! Look at us frying up some meat, dancing and making music, and not getting in any trouble whatsoever. The Summit is not an occasion exclusive to the rich. We paupers also want to have fun. With a brazen smile on his face, Sibukas shamelessly stuck out his tongue and licked his greasy fingers. He looked confident, knowing that the Legionnaires would do nothing to harm him. Possibly because the confrontation was being watched by a large group of spectators, and possibly because of the mysterious well-built men, standing behind the daredevils back. All the Legionnaires eyes were on Sidabras, expectant of his instructions, but he didnt say a word. He did not know how to act. Realising that made Sibukas fly even higher. Not causing any trouble, not breaching any laws, he went on. We will play and dance, take off our hats and bow to the guests, before each setting on our way. He turned away to face his accomplices, traipsing around the flaming barrels. Hey, Cipa! he yelled. Come over here, say hello to the boss. A pudgy lady, herself like a barrel, came floundering towards the Legionnaires, swaying from side to side. The fiddler and the accordionist strutted behind her, still playing along. Detecting the scent of a scandal in the air, the nosy spectators inched their way forward, and several photo picture cameras were raised above heads in the crowd. I would love to invite you over, dear bosses, for dinner. Sibukas just wouldnt let it go and was now pointing his finger at Sidabras tuxedo. But I am afraid you may find the paupers offerings slightly inferior. Just like our floozies not quite up to your standards, but good enough for us. He put his arm around Cipa and winked at Sidabras, simultaneously releasing a loud burp. We know, we know that the bosses hearts lean more towards the landed aristocrats. Or maybe merchants daughters, ha ha... from the almshouse. I wonder if the boss is aware that strange peckers have started to frequent her own cave. In fact, they have poked their little beaks in it so many times, that compared to them Cipas cave could be easily called unpopular, ha. But maybe the boss doesnt mind... Sibukas did not get a chance to finish his sentence.

Already later, thinking back to the incident Sidabras understood that he knew right away that Sibukas was pushing his buttons in order to spark a conflict. He knew it but lost control anyway. It all added up. The red mist thats what mercenaries, who had been through fire and water before, called this thing, unanimous in their claims that it had never yet ended well for anyone. To withstand the red mist was very hard. Almost impossible. The blow to Sibukas head made it snap to one side like a weathervane attacked by a sudden gust of wind. With his blood and saliva splashing around, the show-off looked unsteady on his feet, and then, following another blow, slumped down on the floor like a sack. Cipa screamed at the top of her voice and ran for her life, the accordionist ran behind, flinging his harmonica down to the ground as he ran. But the fiddler decided to put up a brave front: he turned his instrument upside down and swung it toward the Legate. Sidabras brushed off the attack, and tore the fiddle out of the brave hearts hands, before smashing it to smithereens against his back, causing the man to crash down alongside Sibukas. The latter made an attempt at getting up but the kick of a steel-capped boot to his mouth sent him back to the ground. It was the turn of the quiet fellows now, but one single glance from the furious Sidabras was enough for them to start backing off and soon disappear from the square altogether. Screams and yells rolled over the pack of onlookers, magnesium flashes dazzling everyones eyes. As if by command, the beggars who had been loitering around the barrels pulled out knifes and rocks from their inside pockets and lunged at the Legionnaires, who responded by thrusting their heavy clubs at them. Then, accompanied by the shrill of the Legionnaires whistles, reinforcements from the Town Hall began to stream into the square. The paupers scattered into the crowd like scared chickens, dropping their rocks along the way. All that was left of them were the smoking barrels, half-roast pig and Sibukas and the fiddler stretched out on the ground. Outraged at the Legionnaires cruelty, people shouted, but there wasnt a single loudmouth who dared come nearer, all of them choosing to remain in the safety of the crowd. A few quiet men mingling with the screamers did not go unnoticed by Sidabras. There came another bout of magnesium flashes and then somewhere in the distance resounded mechanical sirens, announcing the high officials journey to the Town Hall. Sidabras took a deep breath before turning back to face his men. After staring at the Legates face for a few seconds, Vielholskiys eyes indicated towards the cuffs of his tuxedo. Stains splashes of Sibukas blood were clearly visible on them. That was what happens when one crosses the line. Sidabras was fully aware of this. Take these two to Sluskai, Sidabras told his Legionnaires, while inspecting the organisers of the paupers ball now spread out on the cobblestones. Make them explain their cruelty to animals, he gesticulated over to the spit roast of half a pig. Looking at Michal Vielholskiy he then said, Lets go, Lieutenant. I hope my tuxedo fits you like a glove. He smiled, nodding his head towards the Town Hall. Encircled by his Councillors, the Burgomaster of Vilnius stood on the Town Hall stairs. Someone looking at him from a distance might have been reminded of a black raven, clutching at his heart. Concluding that the show was over, the crowd took to the Old Town streets in search of other fun and games. The most curious folks packed the space outside the Town Hall, hoping to get a good look at the guests arriving for the banquet. The fire in the neglected barrels gradually died away in the half-empty square.

A steam stagecoach waited in a little alleyway behind the Town Hall. As soon as its passenger, who had watched the whole thing from behind the corner, convinced himself that the hired men had escaped safely, he clambered inside, lowered the curtain and reclined in his seat. What a good-value operation only fifteen roubles the leader of the rioters Suslov could not contain his satisfaction. The mercenaries brains have obviously overheated. In the game of chess, Vilnius has lost its rook. This should really please Emilia. Suslov knocked on the screen separating him from the driver, and the stagecoach pulled off. There were still plenty of other things on his agenda.

Chapter XXIX The cellars of Vilnius, Evening 25 04 1905 Solomon stirred before cautiously opening his eyes. His eyelids were heavy as if made of steel, and his head was gripped by a splitting headache, just like the one he had after finishing off a bottle of herbal vodka, sold to them from under his jacket by a Jew from the Blots to celebrate a successful operation. The boy slowly opened his mouth. His swollen tongue, like some potato latke, felt out of place in his mouth, the sensation amplified even more by nearly unbearable thirst. He closed his eyes again, trying to recall where he had been and why. He remembered daubing the Town Hall walls with slogans, then some tunnels, an assault by rats... This thought sent shivers down his spine. And then the weird man in the cellars... and nothing more, just the fog. Solomon opened his eyes again and, although feeling very dizzy, tried to sit up. He looked around. He was lying on a wooden bench in a dimly lit room. Light came in through the closed iron-barred door. The other side of the room was buried in darkness. For a minute the boy stared at his legs. Just like his head, they were bandaged in a crude but careful manner. A few minutes later Solomon decided to start slithering off the bench, but the sound of voices behind the bars made him lie back down with his eyes closed. What sounded like some general muttering at first, later developed into two separate voices; the first sounding somewhat familiar, the second, never heard before. When can I go back to hospital? asked a thin squealing voice. Its nice and warm th ere and they give you soup, while here its cold and damp. When I was collected, you told me I would be able to go back as soon as the trial was over. I liked that place. Soon, it will be really soon, Pranciskus, replied the second, deep and gentle voic e. This pleasant sound helped to ease the headache gripping Solomons head. They are nearly finished setting up a laboratory for you. Just wait a little, and you can go back. Ive promised it to you, havent I? Yes, you have, an older mans voice agreed. And have you brought the drink, guardian? My supply is coming to an end, while I am completely helpless without it. I dont understand what is happening to me. Of course, I have. Here you go, said the man who had been referred to as the guardian. Then something tinkled. And here is some hot soup, sent to you by Aunt Marina together with her warmest wishes. She worries about you, keeps asking if you have everything you need. Yes, I am fine. The voice had become muffled, as if the man was speaking with his mouth full. But I want to go back to hospital now. When can I do that? Soon, soon, the guardian repeated patiently. But before you can do that, youll have to do something else.

Again? moaned the man with a swig of something in his mouth. I dont like it and it makes me feel poorly afterwards. It takes away all my energy and I become unsteady on my feet. I feel completely drained. Couldnt it be that we do it too often? And thats why you need the drink. When you have it, everything goes back to normal, right? Right, admitted the voice. But it gets scary anyway. In his head Solomon pictured a man who wasnt yet old but had already begun to shrivel. He was talking while eating at the same time. But his efforts to draw the second man in the eye of his mind were fruitless. Dont worry, reassured the deep voice. It will all be fine. Your piece is very near perfection indeed, all we need to do is a few more trial runs. Maybe even today. Have you thought of the ways to increase the section precision? The voices faded away, and the boy was no longer able to differentiate between the speakers or discern what was being said. Even more so because a barely-heard thrum began from another room. Something rustled and when Solomon turned his head, his eyes stopped on wires strewn across the floor, as thick as a hemp rope. He had a strong urge to jump and run away from this weird place but didnt dare. The metal bars obstructed his view of the inside of the other room. Could the people have become quiet on purpose and were now waiting for him to make an attempt at fleeing, when they could grab him and... The boy had no idea what harm they could possibly cause him but his imagination was running wild, painting pictures that ranged from awful to gruesome inside his head. And that strange thrum now as well. After waiting another minute, Solomon cautiously pulled himself up on to his elbows and examined his surroundings. He told himself that it was now that he had to do something to escape. He had almost convinced himself that the two people were really gone, when suddenly another sound reached him from the dark side of the room, knocking the wind out of him. It was the sound of clanking metal, as loud as a good dozen gigantic gears setting off to turn at the same time. Solomons eyes filled with shock and moved slowly to one side. There was a stir and two red flashes shone through the dark. Overwhelmed by this unearthly horror the child flung himself down on the bench and closed his eyes. The clanking did not subside, and now accompanied by a dull thud, as if someone was poking the floor with a metal-tipped stick. One more thud, and yet another, really close this time. It was steps. Someone was walking in the dark, and he was getting closer and closer to Solomon. Stiff with horror the boy began to pray, repeating in his head a little prayer that his now deceased grandmother taught him when he was a little boy. Angel of God, My guardian dear, Thud, thud... The heavy steps now came with a threatening growl. The creature was right beside the boy, within reach of his arm he could clearly feel it.

To whom His love entrusts me here, Solomon was affronted by the pungent smells of oils, metal and something else. Another thud and the walking ceased. The creature stood within striking distance of Solomon. Something creaked. The boy could swear the beast was staring at him. Ever this day, night Be at my side His eyelashes involuntarily twitching, Solomon was a second away from jumping off the bench and fleeing as far as his body would carry him. Thud. Thud. Thud. The creature moved toward the barred door. Surrendering himself to some inconceivable instinct the boy opened his eyes and looked up. To light and guard, To rule and guide. Amen. A monster stood in the doorway. It was massive and petrifying, from the world of the worst nightmares. As if it had sensed his stare, it slowly turned its head to face the child. Solomon now realised what the red lights actually were. They were its bloodshot eyes, burning in flames. The childs tormented mind could not bear it any longer, and the thin thread of consciousness snapped, releasing a wild vortex of demented thoughts. The monster turned away and made a clanking exit through the barred door. The youth once known as Solomon, looking now like a somnambulist, lifted himself up from the berth and, rather unsteady on his feet, followed behind the creature. He came into the room from which he had heard the voices earlier, but he staggered through it without stopping or noticing a berth with a man on it. Coiling from his head were multi-coloured snake-like wires, their free ends hanging in vessels brim-full with dark bubbling liquid, a quietly humming machine the size of a wardrobe, or reaching across the floor as far as Solomons room. His eyelids rapidly blinking and his body jerking, the mans raised arms moved back and forth through the air as if trying to catch or touch something invisible. But Solomon did not notice any of this he left the room to pursue the monster, sluggishly lumbering ahead, through the tunnels. The rats of Vilnius sewage, who had cleared the way for the metal beast before gathering back in one pack again, followed the shuffling little somnambulist with their flashing eyes. Several times he slipped and fell down in the stinking sludge, but the rats did not gather the courage to come near him.

Chapter XXX Vilnius, Evening 25 04 1905 The hall was permeated with heavy smoke. Clouds of inferior tobacco coiled under the ceiling and floated above the sweaty head of the inn-keeper, hastily pouring out beer and herbal vodka. The smoke also curled around the billiard balls strewn on the green baize. Young players saw it as an impediment, while the experienced aces couldnt care less, and were depositing balls in the pockets with their eyes closed, cigarettes dangling in the corners of their mouths. The third from the side to the fifth one, and number five is down, they would announce before the ivory balls hit one another, the fifth one ending up in a fabric pocket. The action was followed by thin applause and another dupe, lured into the trap by the billiard princes, was sighing deeply as he counted. In free Vilnius it was prohibited to play billiards for money, just as it was with roulette and dice. But in most peoples mind billiards was the most innocent of pastimes, and so consequently, Vilnius billiard halls were open to everyone, while roulette wheels span and dice rolled in halls only accessible to those who had proved their particular trustworthiness and reliability. A billiard hall with the pretentious name of Versailles and a petite joy house had become yet another symbol of the Troubles, with legends about it spreading around town. Here the ball pushers lingered around tables, waiting for the broceurs to lure yet another victim into their trap. There were always plenty of rams ready to get their fleece of gold sheared at any time, never mind during the blissful days of the Summit. The hall was packed with people as closely as herring in a barrel, leaving limited space for the players circling around the green baize upholstered tables, forcing them to be very careful with their cues. Just like that! Over here! a bearded man yelled triumphantly, banging his fist on the table. From tension or some other cause his cheeks flamed red. Nine to six! It is the game! Ha! Dont you dare stick your fingers in Vojciech Swaczyks mouth. Greater aces suffered defeat at my hands in Lublin! You couldnt be more right, Grigas Ceciotas the highest bidder and the number one billiard ace in Versailles and possibly all of Vilnius, politely agreed. He pulled out his wallet, gave a few exasperated sighs and counted out a pile of banknotes, before extending them to the bearded guy. We should really stay away from Lublin, if thats what the players there are like. I have a feeling its not going to end in anything good for me today. I think Ill call it a day. But why, why? bellowed some drinking buddy. Dont you dare give up, Grigas. You arent going to surrender to that Pole now, are you, man? The bearded Vojciech beamed from ear to ear. Its not my evening today. Ive already lost two games and I dont feel like losing my last shirt, Ceciotas mumbled sadly, his shoulders hunched forward. But I have a feeling it might be third time lucky, someone at the bar offered their point of view. Everyones eyes moved in that direction. Elbowing his way towards the players

there was a short blonde man with one of those instantly forgettable faces. Having reached the table, he threw a pile of folded banknotes on its green surface. I cant play myself, but I put my bet on Grigas. I have a good feeling about him. What do you think, Mr Vojciech? he addressed the Pole, whose cheeks were now flaming even more. Ho-ho-ho, pastwo34, the bearded man laughed. He had had no idea Vilnius was so much fun. I can see you are oblivious to the fact that brain, and not luck is the crucial factor in playing billiards. Fine! Challenge accepted. You go first, he urged Ceciotas before turning to the innkeeper and summoning him with a lively gesture. The innkeeper pulled a face and went to look for a clean glass. Watching this scene from a remote corner, the provocateur Suslov laughed out loud. He wasnt an expert in billiards himself but was very good at spotting con artists and so was absolutely confident that Ceciotas, the blonde with an instantly forgettable face and the innkeeper were actually co-conspirators putting on a show to clean out the cocky Mr Vojciech from Lublin. That night the man would be returning home incredulous of how he could have been so badly out of luck. But the Troubles old-timers pranks was the last thing on the Russians mind. Turning his back on the men, he advanced towards the stairs, at the foot of which men of Herculean build rested in armchairs either side. Suslov glowered at them and they squinted back at the visitor wordlessly. Suslov went up to the first floor. There was another bar there, conveniently located for talking and watching the men playing downstairs. A few bored joy house goddesses were slumped at the bar, in readiness for love games with anyone who would take them to a cosy little room. There was also a second floor, which, however, was out of bounds for any stranger. A heavy oak door, which was always kept shut, and two muscular, grim-faced men separated it from the rest of the building. I am expected, Suslov said politely, as he reached the second floor. One of the guards got up and stretched, revealing a pistol stuck inside his belt, then opened the oak door to peek inside. Turning his head back to Suslov, he gesticulated for him to go inside. The office was not large. On the contrary, it was rather small. And it was plain, with no sign of luxury no pictures on the walls or exquisite knick-knacks on the shelves. A modest wardrobe, two arm-chairs, several tiny windows opening out towards the shining Navigators Tower, and a small table with a spread of foods. And, the office host. Sit down... erm... dear Sir, spoke Motiejus Kairys, the king of Vilnius criminals. Please forgive me, I cant recall your name. Suslov, Mikhail Andreyevich, the Russian introduced himself solemnly before perching on the edge of the arm chair. Our mutual friend sends his regards. Yes, yes, of course, mumbled Kairys, preoccupied with something else. Ive heard that you are working up a sweat. I mean, feeling quite at home in Vilnius. Some steely overtones were obvious in his voice but even if they did reach Suslovs ears, they did not appear to strike him as worthy of concern. He had seen more than one of these self-important and puffed-up kings of local thugs, but he always managed to find some common ground with all of them. He complimented them, bribed them, made promises, but there was nothing more to it than that. It was pretty simple.
34

Ladies and gentlemen (Polish).

Great place, tweeted Suslov. Safe, stylish. If I were... I dont care, Kairys rudely cut him sho rt. This gave Suslov a start, as he did not expect this conversation to begin like that. Our mutual friend has mentioned that you wished to meet up and discuss something. Possibly something mutually beneficial. We have met. I am listening. So the little thug is pretending to be a tough nut, Suslov thought to himself, but out loud he said, Of course, of course, time is money, and even more so at the time of the Summit. I wont keep you long, only as much as it takes me to tell a story. Kairys nodded and poured himself a drink. He didnt offer one to his guest, though. The Russian narrowed his eyes. The rich and the poor live alongside in the city, he continued. Some of them are smart, others are stupid. The smart rich... he nodded his head towards Kairys, as if illustrating what he was trying to say. ...buy and sell things, keep abreast of the situation and reap the fruits of their labour. The stupid rich draw gold handful after handful, suck in money, run the poor dimwits ragged, thinking that the feast of life will never end. The stupid poor submit to being exploited as they think that this is Gods will and it is here to stay. But then there are also the smart poor who realise that the city is ruled by injustice and are not going to put up with it. As I have already mentioned, the smart rich are well aware of this situation and are racking their about brains how to turn it to their advantage. So thats what the people in the city are like. Kairys placed his glass on the table and used the metal hook of his left hand to scratch his chin. What a captivating story, Mr Suslov, he said in a voice devoid of emotion. So it appears you can see through people. Tell me, the criminal reclined in his arm-chair. Which group do you include me in? Suslov heaved a sigh of relief. Oh thats what it was. He was conscious of his status. These people, conceited as a barbers cat, were worse than children. Once youd stroked their hair and given them a sweetie, you could take them any place you like. Strange question, honourable Kairys, he smiled. Do you think I would be sitting here if I didnt think you could benefit from my story? The Russian paused for his message to reach the thug, before continuing. Vilnius is now in a state of discontent. And it will get worse. The poor are getting smarter, they do not want to bend their backs for a few copecks. They will soon start demanding what they are entitled to by law. Factories will stall and strikes will ensue. And where there are strikes, there is tension. And tension needs to be released. The wisest thing for them to do now would be to vent their fury on the stupid rich, who have been asking for a chastisement for long enough. Its about time they were pushed off their pedestal with a message: from now on the smart people will call the tune in the city. Isnt that right? When theres a fire, someone always gets burned. And he who remains untouched can buy out his neighbours house. Arent I right? Motiejus Kairys kept quiet. He got off his chair, walked over to the window and fixed his gaze on the wet roofs of the Troubles, glistening in the dim light. Suslov used this opportunity to remove another thick envelope from his pocket and place it on the table. He lost count of how many of these envelopes, thin and thick, he had handed out today. Kairys stayed quiet for a long time. Finally, he spoke, still looking outside.

Quite a captivating story, my dear. You are a crafty story-teller indeed. But please forgive me for not taking it in fully. You see, I only had four years at school. Could you maybe simplify it for me? Vilnius will burn, Suslov got right to the point this time. And smart people will get a chance to warm their hands on the flames. And maybe even throw one or two logs on the fire. Help the poor fight for what is right. There must be some people with whom you are fed up to the back teeth. They interfere with trading. They have no idea why they have come here in the first place. Lets visit them. You and I. And lets enlighten them as to what proper behaviour should look like. And what... Kairys opened his mouth but Suslov pitched in without waiting for him to finish. Vilnius Legion will be busy as a whore at Christmas looking after ambassadors and crown princes. Their minds will be preoccupied with other things. While you will get a good chance to teach someone a lesson. To explain how important it is for things to be right. To your own people as well as foreigners. Fires and bloodletting? stammered Kairys, still facing the window. Disciplinary measures, Suslov retorted. Bold and imperative. When everything calms down and the dust settles, everyone will know better than to get in the way of smart people. True, Kairys agreed. Your train of thought deserves a compliment. If I declined your offer, you would be telling this tale of the city to Gierke tonight, wouldnt you? Having mentioned his rivals name he turned away from the window and returned to the table. He took no notice of the envelope, as if it hadnt caught his eye. Possibly, Suslov didnt contradict his opponent. But I always turn to the smartest ones. And I very rarely go to those occupying a lower step. I hope we understand each other. Kairys closed his eyes. Yes, he understood him. But he also understood something else. By not baring his teeth in good time he was risking the cherished title of the king of criminals blowing up in his face like a bubble of soap. On the other hand, the abundance of deadwood in Vilnius was becoming a real problem, and Kairys very well knew that good opportunities only came once in a blue moon. It was probably a good idea to take advantage of them. We will start with the warehouses and shops in Paplauja, then move to the Blots, he stated, his eyes still closed. There well begin our fight for justice. Tell your men to be ready. I wont allocate great numbers, lets just have one of my men and two of yours. That should be enough. Everyone will know who is in charge of this operation. My people will point the spots out and... He made a deliberate pause, ... the most troublesome deadwood. And what did I say? Suslov tweeted happily. Smart people will always reach an accord, isnt that so? Kairys still sat there with his eyes closed, and only opened them after Suslov left with a bang of the door. He then picked up the envelope and stuffed it inside the front of his jacket.

Chapter XXXI Vilnius, Late evening 25 04 1905 Like any other place in Vilnius, The Ryks Inn, set up on the edge of Mirth City, abounded with people. It was a tight squeeze inside. Since time immemorial this inn had been favoured by visiting foreigners. Not Jews, Karaites or Chinese, Turks or Armenians, whose favourite hang-outs were in the Blots, but English, Russians, Germans, a few Dutch or French. A melting pot of businessmen, manufacturers, hired labour, educators, University Dominium lecturers, resident physicians, confectioners, mechanics and representatives from other fields and professions, who were away from home and had permanently or temporarily put down roots in the city of the Alliance Vilnius The Ryks Inn was their second home. The long and narrow bar was besieged by three rows of people, howling like a train engine at full speed, forcing the innkeeper and his assistants to thrust themselves over the bar and place their ears close to the clients lips, every time they wanted to take an order. The sweating waitresses swooped around the guests displaying skills in no way inferior to the Navigator aces, squeezing through the tiniest of gaps with their arms in the air, juggling the plates of stewed peas and pork knuckles the most popular dishes of the place. However, most clients did not come here for the peas or pork knuckles, and alongside their beer preferred to get some news and gossip, delivered to them in Lithuanian, German, English and a number of other languages. This place was never short of bigmouths: the impending strikes and the Summit, Adam Gaber-Volynskiys upcoming flight under Green Bridge and the fury of the Knights of the Cathedral at Truzzis fire eaters and half-naked women in Cathedral Square, then the flying fortress The Parsifal and, of course, the latest news from the gossipmongers the bloodshed outside the Town Hall. The innkeeper hunched, elderly German Hans Ryks had just rolled in a new barrel of wheat beer. While taking out the wooden bung, from the corner of his eye he curiously watched one of his guests in a remote corner of the inn the star of the latest Vilnius gossip. Standing next to his table was the only vacant chair in the inn that night, but no one dared to claim it and use it to stretch out their tired feet. The party at the next table did not have enough guts to borrow the chair either, although only two out of the five men were sitting comfortably, while the rest were on their feet around a table scattered with pints of beer, constantly bending like reeds, trying to make out what their drinking companions were saying. So the empty chair just stood there in the absence of bold enough candidates who could put it to a good use. Now and then someone would cast a glance in that direction either a longing one at the chair, or an inquisitive one at the gloomy, heavyset man. Legate Antanas Sidabras would have been really surprised to see that the vacant chair next to him was causing such a stir. But he sat there lost in thought, only looking up to wave to the waitress, requesting another shot of whiskey. The waitresses soon got the hang of his drinking rhythm and Sidabras would find a new glass filled with golden liquid arriving beside him just in time. Today Sidabras was determined to get as drunk as a lord, drowning the worries he had unsuccessfully been trying to get out of his head, even if only for a short while. Truth be told, he hardly had any official worries anymore as following the Red Mist Show in Town Hall Square, the Burgomaster had came down on him like a ton of bricks, telling him to surrender

the Legates badge and get out of his sight until the end of the Summit. In order words: until they decided what further action to take. Sidabras surrendered the badge to Lt. Vielholskiy in silence. As if this wasnt enough, on the Town Hall stairs he ran into the Elder of the Vilnius Vitamancers, who superciliously threw a stinging remark at him. The Lodge runs an anger management course for difficult children. Maybe the dear Legate should consider enrolling? The vigilant Vielholskiy rushed to press down on Sidabras shoulder with his heavy hand, but his anger was already gone. He looked the Elder over from head to toe, contempt oozing from his eyes, then shook off Vielholskiys hand, before making his way to his favourite place in Mirth City The Ryks Inn. Another shot of whiskey was placed on the table. Sidabras was about to take it in his hand, but the glass slid away from him across the table. Delicate feminine fingers had taken the glass and moved it away from the man. I thought I would find you here, said Margarita Berg and, forgoing all niceties, flung herself into the empty chair, as if she was the one Sidabras had been expecting. The clients of the inn, who a moment ago had held the attractive woman in a brazen stare as she walked through the door and across the hall, now knowingly nodded their heads and went back to their own business. Watch out. Today I am angry and up for a fight, warned Sidabras, reaching for his whiskey. Its all right, replied Margarita. I am used to it. Its your work, she smiled but released the glass nevertheless, allowing it to travel to the other side of the table. You must think I am an idiot, Sidabras remarked gloomily, trying to avoid the ladys eyes. My dear Antanas, what woman would call an idiot the man who rushes to defend her honour, even if he is failing to think or see himself falling headlong into a wicked trap. The guardian angel of the orphanage tossed her hair. Of course, he is a fool, but he is not an idiot. I dont see any difference between the two, Sidabras took another sip of his drink. He could never understand why speaking to Margarita always made him feel awkward. There is a difference, and quite a significant one. Margaritas intense gaze on Sidabras made him look up. He was not just feeling awkward anymore, he was drowning. The woman sensed this and, not wishing to cause him any more discomfort, turned her eyes away, pretending to be very interested in a group that had just tumbled into the inn. Still looking away she said: I will be on my way. I only wanted to see if you were all right. Dont take it to heart too much, she traced her finger over the glass. It will be a long day tomorrow. I was suspended. Did you forget about that? Sidabras mumbled. I doubt it will prevent you from protecting the city, retorted Margarita. However, I am pleased that the Legate of Vilnius, whose ferocity has become the stuff of legend, will not be taking a stand against women in tomorrows Mothers demonstration. Otherwise quite a few mothers would come up with some urgent matters to attend to. With a smile Margarita touched his hand and flew out of the Ryks Inn like a night bird. Sidabras swore under his breath. He nearly had his hand in the air waving to the waitress, but suddenly changed his mind. All of a sudden he did not feel like drinking anymore. He swore

again, got a few coins out of his pocket and tossed them on the table, before setting off for home. But fate had a different plan for that evening. Look at all the pox-faced lice, a husky voice bellowed out of a sudden. The city is bursting at its seams! Legate of Vilnius looked over at the loudmouth and took a deep breath: it seemed that wherever he went that night, he was to expect trouble.

Chapter XXXII Vilnius, late afternoon and evening 25 04 1905 Mila was rapturously happy. The dinner at her uncles house had been a success, and now both adjutants from The Star of St George were going out of their way trying to please her. They tried to outdo each other in wit and flattery and even made the steam trolley stop in the middle of the Avenue, as they had decided to buy Mila some treats from a street vendor, while the fuming driver cursed. The treats were sickly sweet and sticky but Mila felt really happy for the first time in many long months. A touch of Charles hand with a sweet startled her out of her deep thoughts. She caught herself thinking that she didnt miss her three best friends, Columbina, Pierrot and Scaramuccia, today at all, although it wasnt often that she left them alone. She also almost forgot about Pierrots strange escapade. A thin needle of anxiety touched her heart for a moment, but that was all. The first part of the three friends plan was to go to Viscigavas to have a look at the landing Parsifal. But as this was also the plan of several thousand Vilnius residents and its guests, the carriage got hopelessly stuck in gridlock on Vilkmerge Highway, together with masses of other people, heading towards Viscigavas. In street trolleys and in the single-track freight train, which was now also carrying people between Steam City and Viscigavas, passengers were packed like sardines. And then Mila, to whom a few days in Vilnius had brought back childhood memories, was struck with a brilliant idea. Bending over to the driver she whispered something in his ear. He swiftly turned the carriage round and sped towards Vilnele, then along the river and past Bernardine Gardens as far as Bekesas Hill. The carriage pulled over to release the three friends. Both adjutants, amazement reflected on their faces, began to inspect the steep slopes of the hill, overgrown with prickly shrubbery, before subconsciously diverting their eyes to their impeccably clean uniforms. Deciding that it wasnt that important after all, they both laughed and raced up the hill, each trying to beat the other to the top. Not scared of prickly burdock, Mila decided to climb the hill off the beaten path, taking the shortest way. Indeed, she was the first to reach the top. And the young men did not fall far behind either, Charles reaching the destination second after Mila. When only half way up, Edward realised he had no hope of outrunning his comrade anyway, so he decided to refreshed himself with a swig of cognac from his soldiers canteen instead. That was the moment when Charles gave a light squeeze to Milas hand and received one in return from her. Having reached the summit, Edward shared his drinking bottle with the others. A swig of cognac made Mila cough and the lads burst out laughing. Some other people had also chosen to climb Bekesas Hill, but there werent as many people there as near Viscigavas. Besides, the view that opened up from this place was no doubt superior. When Mila set her eyes on the mighty Parsifal, manoeuvring over Vilnius, she gasped and shouted in amazement, as did most other spectators standing nearby. Edward, however, eyed the German colossus tight-lipped and with distrust, thinking about the pathetic chances that The Star and even the air cruiser The Invincible would be left with in a sky fight against it, as well as about the gripping headache it must have caused all Europes military chiefs. Charles must have been the only one who couldnt have cared less about the flying fortress. After giving it a fleeting glance, he turned his undivided attention to Mila.

The daring little group spent some more time admiring the birds eye view of Vilnius, an experience aided by the expert Mila, who pointed out with her finger the most prominent sights: the pride and joy of Viscigavas: the sculpture of the Iron Wolf, switched on for the special occasion of the Summit, albeit with its volume turned slightly down in order to save the church bells from drowning in its howl; The Navigators Tower; The Lower Castle abode of the Knights of the Cathedral; the goblins guards of the Dominium, frozen on the University roofs; and the dome of the Guild of Mechanics Tower with its green patina in Steam City. With dusk slowly spreading its blanket over the city, people began to disperse. Mila and the young men went down the other, more forgiving slope, which lead them straight into Mirth City and the Ryks Inn favoured by foreigners and recommended by uncle Tvardauskis. It was packed full. Even the porch was filled with standing people with pints in their hands, loudly discussing the news of the day. Its like London in here! Feeling rather incredulous, Edward readied himself to storm the bar. But that wasnt necessary. The adjutants imposing red uniforms caused the crowd to separate and give way to the three friends, while the innkeeper set about chasing the waitresses, ordering them to find a free table for the highly esteemed guests in the cosiest part of the inn. Mila ordered a glass of white wine, while the men requested a jug of beer and a plate of the famous pork knuckles each. Vilnius is nothing like I imagined it to be, Edward said. And he wasnt lying one bit. Now he really thought that General Joffreys evil plan had failed. Who out of all the Sandhurst cadets could boast spending the third day of their service in a fight with air pirates, carrying out an assault on the dirigible and being among the first to set eyes on the flying German fortress? Vilnius isnt out of bounds for the living after all, Mila teased. The two adjutants laughed. Actually they would have laughed at anything at all, just to make this vivacious girl happy. The waitress brought in the knuckles. One look at his plate and Edward eyes widened with surprise. Now it was time for Mila to crack up. But Charles had no time to spare on thoughts about delicious food just like a seasoned chess player, was already planning his next moves. Again, as if by accident, he looked into Milas eyes but then quickly lowered them as if overcome by shyness. The key to the girls heart was falling into his hands. People kept flocking to the inn. The brutes around the bar feasted their eyes on an attractive lady who had just come in through the door. She quickly scanned the room and marched over to the table where sat a tall man clad in a Legionnaires uniform across from a lonely vacant chair. At first Edward followed the lady with his eyes but a moment later forgot all about her and was polishing off his knuckles against the background of Milas sweet chirping. Look at all the pox-faced lice! a husky voice bellowed all of a sudden. The city is bursting at its seams! Shit, the innkeeper Ryks swore under his breath. Trouble was on its way. The big-voiced man who had just tumbled in through the door was as long and thin as a piece of thread. Though still young, he had already lost the greater part of his hair. A vast

bald patch was scarcely covered with a few combed-back strands, while clumps of grey hair stuck out above his ears. On his narrow shoulders he wore a uniform-type jacket, adorned with homemade epaulettes. The lapels were decorated with a number of gaudy badges, while over his elbow the beanpole had a wide red armband bearing a picture of the sun rising over Jogailas35 double cross. He was Jonas Simaska the hotshot of The Radiant Association. Sporting accessories of the same type, his companions tumbled in behind him. Vilnius Legionnaires were well familiar with the Radiant ones. Over and over again the cells of Sluskai had served as their temporary accommodation, while every investigators request for information on them was executed in the form of thick files, their covers embellished with the photo pictures of their loutish faces. Despite being disbanded by the Tsars gendarmes nearly a hundred years ago, The Radiant Association had sprung back to life some years later with positive aspirations. It was to unite the students of University Dominium, as well as other individuals whose minds were focused on the national identity and Lithuanian patriotism. The Radiants idea was to direct their efforts at safeguarding and protecting Lithuanian language, culture and history. However, with free Vilnius becoming more and more cosmopolitan and its streets resounding with Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and even English, the founders of The Radiant Association had found themselves being ousted by a different kind of crowd. One faction radicals and nationalists objected to being a part of the multicultural stew which Vilnius was slowly turning into, and expressed their strong views with slogans, such as Lithuania for Lithuanians or Vilnius belongs to us! The other faction anarchists, provocateurs or simply hooligans found fault with Jogailas double cross, surrounded by the rays of the sun. The sight of it provoked their vocal disapproval, while every opportunity to let their fists fly, however small, was seized with vigour. On several occasions, the University Dominium had made attempts to dissociate themselves from the Radiant ones, claiming that the number of students this Association counted among its members was negligible. The biggest enemy of The Radiant Association were the Szubrawcy or The Rogues a rather colourful organisation, with foreign students from the Vilnius Branch of the University of Krakow at its core. On 12 April, when Vilnius residents celebrated their Freedom Day (on that day Vilnius came out of the grip of the Russian Empire and was taken under the wing of the Alliance) the Radiants usually went out of control. The Vilnius Legion prepared for this celebration thoroughly. Many a time Sidabras had tried to convince Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus to put his foot down and ban the Radiants demonstration along St Georges Avenue, as it always ended with a fight between The Radiants and Szubrawcy without exception. But the head of the city wouldnt listen. The Radiants had some influential figures at their side who knew how to intervene with the Burgomaster on their behalf. The multilingual guests of the Summit were like a red rag to a bull for the Radiants. While the colourful crowd of the Ryks Inn was their most detested target. What are you staring at, boss? yelled the leader of the Radiants Jonas Simaska. Just get us some beer, and get it fast! Or maybe you dont understand Lithuanian? Two long leaps later the beanstalk was standing at the bar, where the crowd had suddenly thinned out. The regulars were well familiar with this mob and decided that it would be a safer option to wait outside. The stunned foreigners did not move from their places and kept staring at the man and his gang.
35

Jogaila Grand Duke of Lithuania (13771434)

That was exactly what the Radiants were after. With his back against the bar Simaska started shooting glares around the inn, trying to locate his prey. While Sidabras went unnoticed, sitting tightly in the corner, the red uniforms of the Brits screamed for his attention. The gang, still awaiting their boss sign, but already quite fired up, gulped down the remnants of their beer and demanded more. Simaska set off toward the end of the room, making his way through the crowd, carrying a pint filled to the brim in each hand. What happened next might have given the impression of being an accident. While turning with his whole body towards his associates, the beanpole bumped into the waitress, causing her to trip and spill the beer, splashing it all over his uniform. A few drops landed on the red sash on his arm. Hey you rat! bellowed the leader of the Radiants. Are you blind? Why dont you strain your Jewish peepers! Look, what youve done to my jacket, you cow! Having realised that it was all coming to a bad end, the innkeeper went for his old but reliable double-barrelled shotgun, which he kept legally under the bar, and was planning to put out the fire with one shot to the ceiling. But on this occasion he was outplayed by one of the Radiants, who swiftly pressed the old man against the bar, twisting his arm behind his back, revealing his rotten teeth in a sneer. Cant you see what youve damaged, you Polish whore? the man kept on swearing, frantically rubbing his sash. A moment later he moved from words to deeds by throwing the better part of the pint in the waitress face. That was too much. A man standing next to them grabbed the lower part of Simaskas jacket, and was immediately rewarded with a crashing of an empty pint glass against his forehead with a torso twist from Simaska. Blood oozing from his cut, the waitress defender slumped to the ground. Suddenly they were surrounded by all the other men who had been sitting or standing prior to that. The defenders friend aimed his fist at the beanpoles face, his action immediately attracting two students with Szubrawcy badges in their lapels. The beanstalks gang near the bar howled with joy and threw themselves into fight. The air became filled with yells and swearwords, and while some clients chose to run for their lives, others rolled up their sleeves and dived into the thick mass of heads, arms and legs. A pint glass flew through the air, a table was turned upside down, and then some half eaten knuckles skated across the floor. Being a nimble man, Simaska successfully ducked to avoid the punch, and then threw one himself, before sliding across the floor to bring him exactly where he wanted to be beside the table with two British adjutants and the girl. Edward and Charles were about to jump out of their seats but Mila squeezed both of their hands. Hold on to them, hold on to your johnnies, love, Simaska sneered. God forbid they slope off without paying at the end, he added in English. Two chairs crashing to the floor with a loud bang, the pilots of His Majestys Air Force joined the ranks of the inns thugs. Edward grabbed Simaska by the lapels, yanking him up and making the seams of his jacket screech, before pressing him against a wooden beam. The leader of the Radiants was not cowed, but interlocked his hands above his head, intending to strike Edward on the back of the neck, but the Englishman quickly freed himself, grabbing the beanpoles hand and twisting it backwards, and then finally turning Simaska round like a spinning top and letting him loose to crash into a pole with his forehead. This whole sequence would have pleased Sandhursts combat unarmed combat instructor no end.

They are beating Lithuanians! Simaska howled. Brothers, they are beating Lithuanians up! A few more Radiants displaying the Pillars of Jogaila symbol stormed inside the inn. It seemed that they were attracted to the red British uniforms like moths to a flame. Two heavyset men lunged at Edward and pulled him off Simaska with great force. The leader of the Radiants used the back of his hand to wipe the blood, oozing out of gash in his forehead, before scrutinising the room for new prey. Charles looked like a bear being attacked by hounds, but all he had to do was give a good shake and several Radiants were sent flying through the air, landing a few metres away from him. Charles face was seized by uncontrollable spasms and his skin became as taught as a drum, multiple lumps sliding around underneath it. Something invisible was trying to get out. He clutched his cheeks as if trying to rip the skin off his face, or maybe on the contrary do everything possible to stop the Fetch lurking inside him, which had just detected the scent of blood, from bursting out. With his guard dropped, he received a punch on the back of the neck and another one on the back. The Radiants seized the opportunity and knocked Charles down, before letting their fists fly. With a scream Mila broke off a shard of the glass by banging it on the table. She was ready to go and fight for her friends when the innkeeper finally got hold of his gun and fired it at the ceiling. Enough! an imposing voice blasted across the room. Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras pushed off his chair and got up to his feet. I told you, enough! he roared at the top of his lungs. All eyes in the inn turned to him. When attempting to purge himself of the aftertaste of his humiliation with beer at the Radiants favourite inn The Bears Lair later that night, Jonas Simaska agonised over what on earth had come over him to make him go at that man with a pork knuckle. And why the hell he hadnt seen that it was the Legate of Vilnius himself before it was too late. The sight of the beanstalk the brawl instigator sprinting at him with the chunk of meat and bone swinging in his hand cheered Sidabras up. He grabbed the lad with both hands and thrust him high in the air like some sort of beetle, before hurling him at the window. A second later the knuckle flew out behind him. Strolling past the inn, two rather inebriated men, who only this morning had arrived from Pernarava village, were so astounded by their eventful day in Vilnius that they didnt even bat an eye when a man shot through the inn window together with all the glass, and landed right in front of their feet. See Simutis, folk dont use doors in Vilnius: if theyre minded to leave, they just go through the window, commented one of the men with his finger in the air. His companion nodded in agreement, before both of them stepped over the moaning Simaska and continued on their way. Their leader having deserted the battlefield, the other Radiants also lost interest in fighting. Edward and Sidabras rushed to Charles, helping him divest himself of the clinging louts, and assist him to his feet. Charles face was still twitching but the lumps, bound to raise someones suspicion, were gone. The Radiants hurriedly advanced towards the door but the innkeeper got there first, the double barrel clutched in his hands.

You will pay for the window, he said in a strict voice. And everything else that has been drunk or broken. The Radiants squinted at the gun, Sidabras steely eyes watching them from the other end of the room. They had no other choice but to start rummaging in their pockets for change. The inn keeper gave Sidabras a questioning look, which was immediately dismissed with a wave of his hand. He should know that Legionnaires had more work than they could handle, and that driving petty hooligans back and forth to Sluskai was a waste of time. The coins chinked against the table. The shotgun barrel stayed steady. Only with the contents of their wallets shaken out onto the table did Ryks lower his gun and let the brawlers leave. With his shotgun safely returned to its place, he began to tip the tables back into position. The window was going to be costly and he had lost a heap of crockery, but the night wasnt that bad after all, as eventually the Radiants had settled their bill handsomely. Good timing, Legate, he said cheerfully. Please allow me to treat you and your friends to drinks. And, most importantly, this brave girl. Sidabras and both adjutants turned their eyes to Mila, still clutching the broken glass in her hand. A serious weapon, Sidabras regarded the glass with a smile. If you ever decide to look for work, Vilnius Legion would be glad to take you on, Miss... Mila. Just Mila. And you must be the famous Legate of Vilnius? I have heard so much about you from my uncles. We would be honoured if you chose to join our group, Legate, Edward also put in a word. A shadow of doubt crossed his face as Sidabras glanced over the red uniforms. But he finally shrugged. Why not? he said simply. To Hell with that Legate, Simaska stuttered through his gritted teeth as a mix of spit and blood dribbled out of his mouth. His companions assisting him back to his feet, he felt his ribs with his hands. We were in for some frolics, but he spoiled it completely. Whats next? one of his companions asked. Lets go back to the Bears Lair, the beanpole suggested. I need a drink. I feel as if I have been run over by a street trolley. The Bears Lair inn, situated on the opposite side of Mirth City, was one of those where strangers were not welcome. Besides, finding it in a narrow alleyway, when it had no sign and its doors were always shut, was quite a challenge. It served exclusively regular clients: anarchists, nationalists and radicals of all shapes and forms, the dark waters beyond the bounds of free Vilnius being their abode. Packed around a massive table, the Radiants were emptying pints of dark, strong and cheap beer in quick succession. As the rumour about their defeat had spread far and wide all around Mirth City, other inn clients took great pains to stay away from the foul-tempered group with red sashes over their elbows.

Ill take a leak, announced Simaska, before gingerly probing his gash, now covered with a film of dried up blood. It took a great effort to pull himself up to his feet. The effects of the dive through the window and the strong beer made him unsteady on his feet. Leaning on the walls along the way for support, the man reached the door and stumbled outside into the back garden. It was dark and the moon was concealed behind a screen of clouds, and only the tiniest streak of thin light escaped through one small fly-stained window. The Radiant swaying from side to side as he struggled as far as the nearest alleyway, where he began to urinate in one of the gateways with a blissful sigh. There was not a living soul on the street, as all the cavorting was taking place elsewhere. All of a sudden Simaska heard a clattering sound behind his back, which he chose to ignore. The light of the moon, having penetrated the screen of clouds, exposed an odd lonely figure, eyes glistening in a blood-red hue. Overcome by a sense of something untoward Simaska turned round. As terror took hold of him, the man was about to open his mouth to scream, but it was too late. When you are in good company, time flows like water. The innkeeper Ryks was generous with his offerings of food and drink, while the adjutants had a great time both laughing at Sidabras stories about his soldier days and telling him about Sandhurst its odd customs and mean instructors. Both of them, however, never lost track of time and checked their watches nearly in unison. And nearly in unison, they sprang to their feet. This brought a protest from Mila. With her lips pouting, she tried to convince other parties that she was no longer a child and could decide for herself when it was time to go home. The officers, however, had decided not to bend at all, while Sidabras dryly remarked: if it was up to him, all citizens would have to be indoors at midnight, as this would bring peace and order to the city. Sidabras had taken a liking to both men, although he did have some reservations about Finley. The Legates sixth sense was telling him that something about this lad was not as simple as the impression he gave, and that he had things to hide. They said goodbye to the innkeeper, who assured them with several low bows that the door to the inn and the wine bar was always open to guests like them, before departing into the freshly cool Vilnius night. On the street the four went their separate ways. The young men hoped to find a carriage, while Sidabras decided to head for Sluskai Palace on foot. He wanted to get some fresh air and had a lot to think about. A few steps into his journey, he suddenly stopped. It is possible that on a different occasion he would have walked past such a thing without noticing. It is possible that he wouldnt have really noticed it and just walked by. It is possible that he would have only remembered it later and instructed the Legionnaires to leave no stone unturned when searching for daubers. It is possible... But on this occasion Sidabras stopped to have a good look at the freshly smeared wall. He found it odd that this time it wasnt a demand for work or bread, or an appeal to kick the thieves out of the Town Hall. What he saw was a strange drawing of a giant, monstrous face, with exposed teeth and dreadful eyes staring out. It came together with writing: I SAW it. Sidabras walked up to the wall and traced his finger over it. The paint was still wet.

The steam carriage pulled up at The Bristol, the temporary home of both adjutants, but only Edward alighted from it there. Charles had offered to see Mila home and Edward had agreed, even more so because tomorrow he had to report to The Star first. It was a good idea to get some sleep. The stagecoach pulled off and rolled down St Georges Avenue. It was nearly midnight but the Avenue was still teeming with people some were attached to the stalls of the night sellers, others were just loitering about and annoying the hurrying carriage drivers. The closer to Zverynas they drove, the thinner the crowds became. There wasnt a living soul on the bridge, which meant that the volunteer guards had already gone to the land of slumber. The driver stopped the carriage outside Tvardauskis house and began to roll a cigarette, waiting for his passengers to get out. The moment when Mila was about to get up and leave, Charles took a firm but gentle grip on her elbow. Before the girl even realised what was going on, he pulled her over and placed a firm kiss on her lips. At first Mila fluttered, trying to make him let go of her but the Englishman held her even tighter. Then the girls lips parted slightly and she kissed him back. Charles sunk his fingers in Milas hair and they both lost themselves in the sweet moment. Having reached the end of his tether, the carriage driver loudly cleared his throat. The signal, like a thunderbolt, woke Mila up from a dream, making her abruptly tear herself away from Charles. Her flaming cheeks shone through the dark. Till we meet again, she whispered. Till we meet again, said Charles sweetly, giving her a gallant bow. The coach door slammed and a moment later the girl slipped into her yard. Finley watched her until the door closed, then reclined in his seat and smugly ran his tongue over his upper teeth. Bending over towards the driver he knocked on the window. The Bristol, he instructed at first but then changed his mind. Wait. Go to the Blots first, and then to the hotel. The driver enthusiastically nodded. He was having a really great day. While Finley couldnt wait to share his good news with the Prague Vitamancers. Racing against each other as they did every night, the church bells of Vilnius began to toll midnight. This made the night guards stop in their tracks and check their watches. Mila was in bed staring at the ceiling, but what she actually saw was a tall youth in a red Air Force uniform. The longer Motiejus Kairys counted Suslovs roubles with the licked fingers of his healthy hand, the more he resembled a grinning Cheshire cat. It was touching to see how greatly appreciated he was. To gain entry to the alchemic opium smoking den, which only a few people in Vilnius knew existed, Charles Finley was asked for a special password. Still unable to get the ghastly, odd drawing out of his head, Sidabras walked through the door of Sluskai, when he bumped into the sergeant with a freshly received extraordinary distress signal. In the words of the Legions men it meant murder. Only the leader of the Radiants did not see any sights, hear any sounds or think any thoughts anymore. His unnaturally arched body was slumped on the ground, the blood oozing

out of his mouth already caked, the moment of inconceivable horror frozen in his glazed eyes. Having announced the beginning of a new day, the church tolls went back to sleep.

Chapter XXXIII Vilnius, Before dawn 26 04 1905 Marius Pelikanas, the old University Dominium weather forecaster, struggled up the spiral staircase of the Observatory tower. Something creaked. Pelikanas stopped and pricked up his ears. Damn bones, he whined in an annoyed voice. Every time he got out of bed with the bone-breaking or joint-twisting pain in his limbs, he thought that his daily mounting of the rotten tower was completely pointless, as he could forecast the weather there and then. But the Dominium was after scientifically-proven data, and so every morning Pelikanas would get up at an ungodly hour, don a thick fur lined robe, which was supposed to protect him from the whipping Easterly wind and, rubbing his eyes, bloodshot due to the lack of sleep, clamber up to check the three barometers, compare the figures and thoroughly write everything down. The main part over, he lingered at the top, his eyes gazing over the rooftops, before complimenting the record with something of his own. Pelikanas had been working in weather forecasting for fifteen years, even since he had lost his job at the Observatory of University Dominium. The reasons for his dismissal were never made public and so no one knew what exactly happened there. For thirteen whole years Pelikanas had felt that his efforts were not being valued enough. The daily reports, which he painstakingly filled out in barely legible letters, were turning into dust in the drawers of the Dominium clerks, while the University saw him as an odd but benevolent old man, who was at the end of his road and had been entrusted with the duty of squeezing water. Pelikanas knew that he had made mistakes along the way at the time when his forecasts were still being appreciated. The memory of Prelate Masalskis visit always brought a cold sweat to the old mans brow. Once, on the eve of some significant festival, which was to be celebrated with a procession by the knights, he gave the Prelate a promise of warm and clear weather. But quite unexpectedly the heavens had opened, turning the delicate Venetian silk gowns worn by the Knights of the Cathedral for the occasion into wet rags. The Prelate, foaming at the mouth, had threatened him with eternity in hell, making the distressed poor man pray for absolution, agonising over how he could swap it for a ticket to Purgatory. But certain small changes two years ago injected some excitement back into Marius Pelikanas life, and the old meteorologist had become slightly more inclined to climb the creaking stairs. Then he knew: there were still people around who appreciated his work. The Truth of Vilnius, alongside a cup of tea, had become his regular morning companion. With his paper spread out, he would go straight to the last page and the section Professor Pelikanas Forecast for the Day, taking pride in every word he read. What the elder was slightly baffled by was the fact that information of utmost importance, telling you about the wind, rain and clouds, was printed in miniscule letters at the very bottom of the page. On the other hand, these tiny letters came alongside his name Pelikanas and that was something that really mattered. Actually Pelikanas didnt even need to look at the old barometers. Spending a few minutes analysing the direction in which the wind was blowing the clouds was enough for him to tell

what weather to expect. If the smoke from the chimneys was coming straight up in the evening people were in for a beautiful tomorrow; if the smoke went down and draped over the ground they were to expect snow in winter and rain in summer. While smoke trailing in long sashes was a sign of damp and rainy weather, echoes resounding for long distances and the loud tolls of bells meant that the weather was about to deteriorate. Also, it would be a while before the first drops of rain if you could make out the faraway roofs and if they looked larger than usual. With the kettle on, Pelikanas sat down at his desk and readied a yellow sheet of paper. In the batting of an eyelid the paper was filled with the following: Today will be especially warm and humid, while closer to the evening the sky will become overcast. If matters continue thus, we might end the day with a blustering spring storm. Big and small well all need our parasols. To protect us from the rays of the sun and the drops of the rain. He then scanned his scrawl again and smugly giggled. There was a knock on the door. Even earlier than usual, the meteorologist mumbled, getting off his chair and glancing over at the massive cuckoo clock on the wall. The time was 3:30 a.m. At this time every night, except for Sunday, he was visited by The Truth of Vilnius courier, who came to collect the sheet with Professor Pelikanas Forecast for the Day. But when he opened his door today, he saw an unfamiliar young man in a long dark jacket. Erm... how can I help you, dear? puzzled Pelikanas narrowed his eyes. Are you Marijus Pelikanas, the Dominiums weather forecaster? the stranger enquired politely. Yes. And who are you? I was sent here by Rector Gimbutas. I must inform you that pursuing the Rectors order, the Dominium is severing all its ties with The Truth of Vilnius a loudspeaker for lies and fabrication. Your forecast column will also be closed. The expression on the old forecasters face suddenly changed as he felt a thump in his chest as if a worn out spring had finally come loose; he became unsteady on his feet and nearly fell the stranger managed to get his arm around him just in time. What about my predictions... Pelikanas breathed out. No one will need them anymore. Well, you should stop feeling sorry for yourself. the young man smiled and led the forecaster to the chair, before grabbing the sheet with predictions off the table. Ill take it. It will certainly come in handy to us, he said, stepping out through the door. It was getting close to five in the morning. Workers began to spill out of Steam Citys common-use houses. The yawning groups lumbered over to Green Bridge, where supervisors waited for them with milk churns filled with strong tea. A mug of tea and they all went back to assembling the audience stands for the VIP guests who would be coming here to watch the brave pilot Adam Gaber-Volynskiys flight. The street cleaners, torches in their hands, came out into the streets long before the first signs of dawn. Some cleaned the evidence of last nights entertainments in Mirth City; others tried to assist the night guards in waking up bacchanalians who had chosen the cobblestones

to be their bed for the night. The boozers were led or carried to small trolleys, which took them to a place next to the Mirth City pond especially arranged for that purpose. Hangover Ravine thats how it was appropriately known among the local wags. As soon as the city guests sobered up, they rushed to dip their pounding heads in the cloudy waters of the pond. Needless to say, no encouragement was needed. A Legionnaire was posted to Hangover Ravine to watch over the sleeping carousers, making sure one of their own kind or possibly a drifter wouldnt clear them of all of their belongings. This post, which few considered to be a desirable one, was usually allocated by Sidabras lieutenants in place of a punishment. You are getting the Ravine now, the mercenaries would joke among themselves. The night guard eyed two men stumbling from Mirth City in the direction of The Old Town, but then dismissed them with a wave of his hand. At this hour he considered those lying on the ground to be his priority, and those who could still walk were to take care of themselves. See Simutis, Vilnius is a real capital of trade and pleasure, observed one of the two Pernarava stars, slurring his words, before letting out a loud belch. I couldnt agree more, replied his intensely swaying companion. How far is it to our bed? I am knackered, Mikelis. I shall lie down. Dont do that. Just dont, Simutis, Mikelis friends intention caused him to frown. If they get you, youll end up in a place where they pick everyones pockets. I dont have much left in my pocket anyway, Simutis whined. I didnt think Vilnius would be so dear. The low-spirited fellows from Pernarava dragged themselves along, hoping they would soon reach the common-use houses of New World. Neither of them noticed a jacketless gentleman sitting on the pavement with the head in his hands, rocking from side to side. The Lublin born Vojciech Swaczyk was drowning in sorrow. The morning happened to be on the chilly side, and hunched Vojciech was racking his brain, trying to figure out what could have possibly caused him a brilliant billiard player to suffer such an excruciating defeat. His best jacket and a ticket for the dirigible back to Warsaw were also gone. A trolley rolled by. Swaczyk looked up and watched it retreat. The trolley continued on its way towards Hangover Ravine and soon passed a two-storey building. The driver could not believe his eyes at this ungodly hour every last window was ablaze with light. The second floor of this building was occupied by The Truth of Vilnius editorial office. Editor Leib Volynskiy was smugly rubbing his hands, as today was the day when the most scandalous of all its editions was about to greet the day. The screaming headlines leapt from the front page, scrambling over each other for attention: City Brought to Standstill by Strikes! Mad Legate Fired! Flying German Fortress: Confusion and Panic! And The Truth kept getting fresh news. The message delivered to him by courier a moment ago brought a leer to his face. He had yet another headline, which he could not possibly put anywhere except the front page: New Victim! Maniac Murderer Strikes Again! There was no doubt: it would be The Truths best edition of all time.

At 5.30 am, Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras was contemplating the corpse lying in the puddle of caked blood, whom he knew to be Jonas Simaska and who he also knew only a few hours ago had been roistering in a bar with his friends. A torn wound, like a second mouth, gaped from the poor creatures neck. His trousers were unbuttoned and drawn down: it appeared the wretch hadnt had enough time to answer the call of nature. Sad last moments of life. Compared to the corpse in the cemetery, this wound looks different, Dr Radzinskis, the medical expert, reported. It is deeper, wider... and cleaner, if we dare call it that. He straightened his back and stepped aside, allowing Sidabras to have a look as well. They are beating Lithuanians, muttered Sidabras with a sneer, casting a glance over his shoulder at a small group of Radiants standing nearby, their faces pale and sobered with fright. Antanas Sidabras already knew from his sergeant what had happened here. Fed up with waiting for their leader the Radiants had spilled out of the inn and begun the search. They soon found him slumped in one of the gateways. Fortunately, the inebriated men had quickly got their brains in gear and called the night guard. He immediately reported the incident to the duty Legionnaires, who had cordoned the murder scene off and were now interrogating Simaskas acolytes in deep concentration. News of the murder spread around Mirth City like wildfire and half an hour later The Truths vultures were already loitering about. But today, however, they were the last thing on Sidabras mind. Being officially suspended by the Burgomaster, he had no right to be present at the murder scene. The duty sergeant was nevertheless very pleased to see his boss here. Sidabras looked up from the corpse and fixed his gaze on medical expert Radzinskis. Are you confident this is the handiwork of the same perpetrator? he asked, touching the edge of the wound with his finger. In his head, he tried to count the time that had passed from the fight at The Ryks Inn to the moment when the corpse was discovered by the Radiants. It certainly is, Radzinskis reply was very firm. The wound maybe somewhat different but the resemblance to the murder in Cholera Cemetery is obvious. He went quiet and rubbed his forehead with his wrist. And the cut... Do you remember me speaking about a high quality instrument and a clumsy hand? But here... Radzinskis finger went up in the air and his tongue clucked. This cut is even and beautiful. Our murderer is improving? remarked the Legate, a crooked smile on his face. You could say that, the expert agreed. But there is also something odd about it. The wound could not have been inflicted with just one scalpel or knife it is too deep and wide. See what it looks like? As if someone had drawn across with two scalpels at the same time at the top and at the bottom, leaving behind a deep like a gaping mouth hole. As if bitten out with teeth. With incredible precision... Legate, are you all right? Sidabras closed his eyes. Suddenly his mind became filled with a strange picture, a collage made up of different faces. Two corpses: Skorokhodov and the Radiant Simaska; the murderer appears as if out of nowhere before disappearing again; the stolen bionic golem drawings; the mysterious disappearance of scientist Pranciskus Baltrus; a face of a monster with exposed teeth daubed on the wall. When Antanas Sidabras opened his eyes and cast a glance at his fingers with traces of the poor creatures blood, he remembered the wet paint on the wall. He turned towards the Legionnaires.

Give me the light! he waived to the group and the Legionnaire holding the torch for Radzinskis briskly handed it over. His long and treacherous years of service had taught Sidabras to rely on his intuition. He had a good look around, picked up the torch and stepped into the dark and narrow alleyway. It was not really a street, just a gap between two buildings, ending at a windowless wall with a pile of foul-smelling rubbish beside it. His sixth sense was right again. As the torch light slid down the wall, Sidabras was startled with the sight of another daubing: a face of a beast with bulging eyes and exposed teeth, large drops of blood dripping down from them. Underneath there was writing: I SAW him. Sidabras touched the drawing. The paint was still wet. The Legate went over to the pile of rubbish. Next to it there was a slop pit. Nearly every house had one of those, covered with rusty iron grilles. But this grille had been tossed aside, bent and broken in places, while the stench of the citys sewage poured out of the dark pit unimpeded. The sewers became a refuge for a dauber named Solomon two days ago, while on the run from Legionnaires, Sidabras recalled. Solomon one more face in the mysterious picture. Vileisis was wrong, he mumbled under his breath. Skorokhodovs drawings were not drawings of a golem. And they were not just a scheme. The murderer is not human but a mechanical beast. Its a bionic which has been produced and now occasionally ascends from under the Earth. Sidabras trotted back to the crime scene. With the Radiants already released, the Legionnaires, under the command of Radzinskis, were getting ready to transfer Simaskas body to a steam carriage waiting a little further down the road. As soon as the returning commander came into his view, the sergeant wanted to say something, but the Legate was quicker: he barked a few brief instructions, and the Legionnaires set off immediately to carry them out.

Chapter XXXIV Vilnius, Dawn 26 04 1905 At six in the morning, the black arch of the sky exuded the first traces of light gradually and with caution. Just like a Vilnius citizen would wade into the chilly waters of the Neris, fretting to freeze his feet off. The weather forecaster Marijus Pelikanas had been right not a sign of cloud in the sky, the day was breaking out beautifully. The old forecaster was now sleeping like a baby in his cosy bed. Having conferred the fruits of his night time work on a total stranger, he did not hear someone banging on the door a short while later. Having received no reply The Truth of Vilnius courier decided that the old man was out, and went back with nothing. The Truths editor Leib Volynskiy, however, could only dream of his cosy bed. He had just finished choosing the position for the latest news on the second murder and devastated Legionnaires, when the courier brought him a message that there would be no weather forecast today. It meant that instead of Professor Pelikanas prediction for the day, the last page would contain a gaping blank space. No one had any time to figure out what had happened, so Volynskiy decided to fill the space with a hastily sketched drawing of Simaskas body stretched out in the gateway, surrounded by a vast pool of blood. The artists attempts to dismiss the suggested quantity of blood as being unrealistic were futile, and Volynskiy left no room for ambiguity: there just cannot be too much blood. Volynskiy rushed out to the printers in Steam City with a good feeling that this issue of The Truth would shake the city up, the locals being really hungry for any type of gruesome stuff. Each issue meant a copeck in his pocket take care of the copecks and the roubles will take care of themselves, as people say... The money promised to him by Golytsin in the sky would also no doubt come in very handy. At the printers, Volynskiy took a freshly printed copy of his paper, his nose wrinkled at the smell of the ink. He had to admit though, the artist had done a great job Sidabras distorted face alongside the headline Mad Legate Fired! occupied the better part of the frontpage, while below it was a picture of the menacing Parsifal with the question Do We Need to Prepare for War? Well, and of course, last but not least poor Simaska in an ample pool of blood. Just like that! Truly satisfied with the result, Volynskiy licked his lips. The workers began to yank stacks of papers to the door where the boys of Steponas Malachovskis the caretaker of Vilnius streets were supposed to wait for them alertly. Malachovskiss business portfolio encompassed the dirtiest jobs of all: a good hundred of his boys mini Malachovskis carried rubbish, took care of the city parks and distributed The Truth of Vilnius. The childrens lean arms would extend in the most amazing ways to reach round bundles of papers so heavy that lifting them up became a real struggle, before all of Vilnius from Antokolis to Zverynas resounded with their shrill voices, Come and buy! Come and buy! The Latest Truth! Scandal at the Council! Confession of the Counts Lover! The paper sellers went everywhere, venturing even as far as the Troubles. Motiejus Kairys had once offered his opinion about the paper, calling The Truth a newspaper most suitable for wiping ones arse. But when it came to the boys earning one or two copecks for themselves, he did not mind at all. Having sold their bundle, the boys went back to the printers for another

and then another pile, running back and forth until the dusk. A good day saw them selling up to ten thousand copies, while today Volynskiy expected them to sell three times as much. In his keenness, it took some time for the editor to realise something was not quite right. He turned his head from side to side. Normally there would be pandemonium when the boys were picking up the newspapers outside despite being illiterate the little Malachovskis would leaf through the paper, rehearsing their yells for the day and rolling with laughter. Today it was oddly quiet. Volynskiy turned on his heel and marched out through the front door. Outside he stopped dead in his tracks. Piled up on the pavement there were stacks of papers. Several workers from the printers and Volynskiys assistant Grodek lingered about. Puzzled, their eye s darted around. The boys were nowhere to be seen. What is going on? hissed Volynskiy. I dont get it. Not a single little Malachovskis here. Have they overslept or something? Grodek stammered. Find Malachovskis! Volynskiy screamed. Now! Get him out of bed, dig him up from under the ground, do whatever you need to do but in half an hour from now we must start selling it. Every minute is now crucial. Do you get it? Grodek nodded before rushing to execute the editors instructions. But less than a minute later, the sound of the ringing boys voices reached his ears. At last! Damn rascals! muttered Volynskiy before starting to count the money this prank was going to cost Malachovskis. The voices were drawing nearer and nearer, the boys finally coming really close. The Truth of Vilnius editor pricked his ears, but still could not make out what they were shouting. He narrowed his eyes. When it finally dawned on him what was happening, he broke out in a cold sweat and began to feel short of breath. The boys were shouting the name of a newspaper that sounded nothing like The Truth of Vilnius at all. He did not even notice a young blonde man in a long dark jacket who had been standing in the nearby gateway, watching events outside the printers unfold. Watching Volynskiys face gradually distorting in dismay, the man smiled a satisfied smile and put his jacket collar up, fending off the Easterly wind. The start to every morning in the common-use houses of Steam City and Snipiskes was exactly the same. The yawning men rolled out of beds, splashed themselves with lukewarm water, then put on slightly damp clothes, which had been washed the night before, had some hot tea and home-cooked food and, having kissed their sleeping children, lumbered off to work at the first signs of dawn. Phalanxes of hunched up men in overcoats dyed the streets grey. They exchanged one or two words with their fellow walkers, and then divided into smaller groups, dragging their feet to different Steam City factories and aiming to reach their work stations with the first sounds of the siren. But todays morning wasnt any ordinary morning. If anyone listened to the bits of conversations in common kitchens, watched the eyes and tense hand movements of anxious wives, they could hear and feel the hanging in the air questions: Will it happen, or not? Will they dare, or not? If not now, then when? One word, as if transmitted on the wireless, was being passed around from one person to another: strike, strike, strike. Dont go to work, do not break the agreement, all stick together, the activists tirelessly repeated. Youll see, they

will get scared and will give in, especially now at the time of the Summit with all of Europe watching us. But the workers had doubts. Some of them had heard about the working conditions in Novovileysk or Kaunas, occupied by the Russians, where their brothers and sisters worked; others felt intimidated by the idea of the Sluskai cells and the stone-faced men from Vilnius Legion. These soldiers showed no mercy to their enemies, and that was what the workers would become to them once they went on strike. There were others who just wanted to spend their day working hard, then have a wash, get a change of clothes and take their families to see the outstanding spectacles promised for the occasion of the Summit. Despite all that, the word strike spread like plague, enticing workers with the promise of a more interesting life, if nothing else. So today after breakfast, the workers did not go to the factories, but gathered in Steam Citys Central Square, opposite the Guild of Mechanics Tower. From seven in the morning this place was already teeming with an impressive congregation. People were shifted from one foot to another, turning their heads from side to side and talking in low voices. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the word strike had also reached the Legionnaires ears, but the road leading to the Guild of Mechanics building today was clear as ever. There were no formations of Legionnaires armed to the teeth and shielding themselves, there were no shooters on the rooves, no artillery around water or steam cannons, ready to disperse the crowd swiftly and without too much strain. It did not look anything like that at all and a lot of people were puzzled. The Guild clock sighed before making three announcements that it was quarter to eight. The crowd was getting more and more restless. The most distrusting strikers voiced their demands for certainty, as they wanted to know what their next step would be and wished to hear from the leaders. At that moment three men emerged from the crowd two were thin and stooped, the third, chubby with particularly pale hands. Moving papers around a desk that is what a pair of hands like these were best at. These were the workers ass ociation activists Antonas Kolv, Jonas Krazas and Eustachijus Pugis. Having reached the centre of the square all three turned back to face the crowd. The uproar instantly died out. Brothers, soap factory worker Jonas Krazas began in a gruff voice, only t o be interrupted a moment later. With a sudden burst of stamping feet, two dozen children big and small, their feet dirty and noses running came dashing out of the surrounding streets before tearing into Steam City Square. Each with a small bag over their shoulder and a pile of newspapers in their hands. The childrens shrill screams were so loud that they would have easily drowned out the carriage drivers competing for their clients attention outside the station. New newspaper! The Vilnius News! Free! Take and read! Scandal! Corrupt leaders of strikers! Free! Kolv began to gesticulate to his men to intercept the bold rascals but no-one even stirred, as catching a fish with bare hands in the Vilnele would have been an easier task. The boys streamed through the crowd in all directions, handing out the papers and dashing into a remote alley to replenish their supplies when their stack was gone.

Pleased with their free gift, the workers even the illiterate ones eagerly clutched the paper and, furrow-browed, carried out a close inspection of the front page pictures. The first one depicted all three leaders Kolv, Krazas and Pugis, as well as a fourth man, getting dressed in one of the rooms at the baths, while another showed all of them enjoying drinks and the company of pretty girls, while the third had caught them counting roubles from envelopes. The headline above the pictures read Who Commissioned Strikes in Vilnius? Provocation! accountant Pugis roared, trying to grab one of the newspaper boys fleeting past by the collar, but he swiftly sidestepped and disappeared into the mass of people. Step by step, people began to close in on the three strike leaders, whose complexions grew increasingly paler with every move of the nearing crowd. Obnoxious lies! Pugys squeaked. Where did this paper come from? I know nothing about the pictures! No one took any photos of us! One of his allies dug him painfully in the ribs with his elbow, but it was too late. How much did they pay you, hypocrites? Thirty of the Tsars silver coins? someone in the crowd yelled. You wanted to reach Heaven on our backs, leaving us behind with nothing? No way! another voice erupted. Sensing something untoward, the hired agitators whod been mingling in the crowd disappeared instantly without trace, while the people encircled the three leaders in an even tighter ring, only leaving clear the passage to the Guild of Mechanics Tower. That was where the three accomplices tried to back off. Suddenly Pugis felt an iron hand press down on his shoulder. He turned back with a start to see a man in a bronze-coloured jacket. It was Petras Vileisis Leader of the Guild of Mechanics. All that glitters is not gold, he said scanning the crowd with his eyes. Not all friends have good intentions and not all attractive promises are always kept. Remember that, fellows. And allow the guests of the Vilnius Summit to see what Steam Citys men are really like hard working and united. Let all of Europe, not just other cities of the Alliance, become green with envy! And when the Summit comes to an end, lets all sit down and discuss the issues in a manly way. With no baths and no Russian roubles! He poked Pugis backside with his iron hand, making the crowd burst with laughter. But then he raised his hand and the workers went quiet again. And one more thing. I know that according to the rules of Steam City, those who are late for work face disciplinary action. I do approve of this policy myself. But the main Steam City clock... Vileisis pointed at the grand clock of the Guild, now showing one minute to eight, ...the main clock has been stalled and will not chime eight before all of you reach your workstations! Have a good day, everyone! A consenting murmur rolled over the crowd, before people began to scatter in different directions. Some of them set off running, with copies of The Vilnius News under their arms. A short minute later, the space outside the Guild building had emptied, with only Vileisis, three defeated strike leaders and a few dazed paper boys lingering about. The riot instigator Misha Suslov disappeared from the square as well, his face discreetly concealed behind The Vilnius News. Having assured himself that the other agitators had run off safe and sound, he considered his job done. Suslov had been around for too long to allow one little mishap make him feel downhearted. Even the most ingenious plans fall apart sometimes due to some unforeseen detail or an opponents move which would have been

impossible to predict. He had encountered similar situations before: in St Petersburg, Kiev and Orenburg. Besides, while in prison he had learned a useful lesson: a prerequisite for the game to be won is not the most powerful cards, but an extra ace up the players sleeve. And Suslov had at least three of those. And furthermore, he was yearning for revenge he would make people remember this day by provoking a burly fight outside the Steam City commonuse houses in the evening. The Russian slipped into another out-of-the-way back street. He had another meeting scheduled. The soap factory accountant Pugys and both of his accomplices went a few steps forward, thinking that it was time for them to leave the square, but the Guild of Mechanics Tower door opened up to release three Legionnaires. Where are you off to, gentlemen? Vileisis enquired pleasantly. Wait a moment. There is someone who would like to have a chat with you. About the baths and other delightful things. Kolv, Krazas and Pugis were instantly advanced on by the Legionnaires who, sparing all niceties, grabbed them by their collars and put them on a steam carriage, which had just trundled into the square. Encouraged by a shrill whistle, the gaping paperboys darted over to another group of their friends before all dissipating in various directions and into other streets, shouting along the way, Latest news! Latest news! Strike instigators arrested! The Vilnius News! Free, free of charge! Petras Vileisis in his bronze jacket was now the only figure still remaining in the square, which only a moment ago had been permeated with the real threat of a strike abscess exploding. A young blonde man in a long jacket, who had just appeared from round one of the corners, slowly strolled towards him. Are you pleased? he asked politely. The head of Mechanics cast a sideways glance at the man and gave him a half smile. Not bad, indeed. My favourite part was Pelikanas weather forecast. Nice detail. Please extend my gratitude to Rector Gimbutas and his students. The day will come when they all turn into great columnists. And say thank you to Mr Malachovskis and, of course... Money Councillor von Ott, his sentence was finished by the man the right hand of Gerhardt von Ott himself, simply known to others as Jan. The Councillor is happy... erm... to have won Mr Malachovskis over to his side and given him the opportunity to render some assistance to the Mechanics of free Vilnius. He hopes your successful cooperation will continue into the future. In other words we owe him a favour, muttered Vileisis. There is a wheel within a wheel, and there are tiny wheels inside them. Vilnius is just like my machines a fiendishly complex mechanism. Jan bowed silently. The Money Councillor is wondering about the future of The Vilnius News. Is this going to be its one and only issue or will the city now have its own regular newspaper? he asked. I will have a word with Rector Gimbutas, but if you would like my personal opinion, the city would benefit greatly from a truly free publication, Vileisis replied. With only one

truth around, Vilnius finds it difficult to breathe freely. And if we could also get our own printers... Zavadskis printing house could certainly do with some competition. Their high prices are a concern for many people. While we are on the subject what does our mutual friend from The Truth think of The Vilnius News? He is not too pleased. Not pleased at all, the blonde mans bow was an indication that the conversation had come to an end. A minute later he strolled out of the square. For a few moments Vileisis lingered and followed him with his eyes; then he scratched his cheek with his iron fingers, before turning on his heel and walking inside the Guild building. *** At eight in the morning, Steam Citys sirens woke Leib Volynskiy up from the trance in which he had been lost for the last half an hour. The editor sat amongst the stacks of The Truth of Vilnius, clutching the new The Vilnius News and staring at its front page. Printhouse workers, who happened to be on a break and were standing there pulling on cigarettes, observed the pensive editor curiously, before going back to their tasks. Grodek the assistant sent over to Malachovskis by Leib was back and reporting: the king of the streets had told him to shove The Truth up his backside, also reminding him that every stick had two ends. Malachovskiss assistance to Leib Volynskiy was free of charge, in return for keeping one rather awkward story under wraps, relating to a not so sparkling clean way of obtaining the right to collect the citys rubbish. Initially Volynskiys assistant tried to grab one or two boys by their lapels, using a few copecks as bait in return for distributing The Truth, but his efforts were as fruitless as carrying water to the sea. The little rascals shrieked with laughter, tormentingly waving The Vilnius News, with the University Dominium coat of arms glaring under its title, right in his face. It was a financial disaster. Even if the whole of loud-mouth Volynskiys editorial office decided to brave the streets, the best they could do would be to a few hundred copies. But who would buy them anyway? The residents were clearly leaning towards the free Vilnius News. Moreover... Volynskiy was dreading to think of what he would have to say when flown back to the menacing monstrosity The Ilya Muromets, concealed from human eyes high above the clouds. The rising sun cast its yellow glow over the citys streets and alley ways, a few of its rays brushing against the stacks of The Truth of Vilnius and its screaming headline City Brought to Standstill by Strikes!, before hurrying away to tend to its other business. What it left behind was dark shadows, a pile of unwanted papers and a shuffling, distraught editor.

Chapter XXXV Vilnius, morning 26 04 1905 Had old Marijus Pelikanas not had such an extended sojourn in bed, he would have been overjoyed to see his predictions come true. By nine in the morning, the sun had already chased away the morning mist, and was brightly illuminating the streets of festive Vilnius. The only dark thing in the sky was The Parsifal, sprawled like a giant toad. Regardless, both city residents and its guests unanimously agreed that the flying German fortress was the most impressive spectacle they had ever seen. St George Avenues luscious linden trees, the chestnuts in Bernardine Gardens, the lilacs in Piromotas, the silver poplars around the Navigators Tower and Cathedral Square all this abundant greenery was a feast for the eye, quietly suggesting that life is incredibly beautiful for those who feel eighteen years old in their heart. Outside the Exhibition Dome in Lukiskes Square, people had formed yet another queue, while workers by Green Bridge were putting the final touches to the spectator stands. The crowd here were cooling themselves with mugs of chilled gira 36 and observing the sweating Legionnaires, doing all that was humanly possible to control the ocean of heads, expanding every minute, who couldnt wait to see the legendary pilot Adam Gaber-Volynskiys flight. The city was bursting at its seams with people. Every hotel room, every bed in all the common-use houses was booked. Even though what irony! no one was going to sleep in them. The intention of all the inns, pubs, cafes and restaurants was to stay open for 24 hours, while the street traders were having a lie-in today, as they were expecting to work through the night and until dawn. They all dreamed of making sales that would allow them not to get out of bed for the whole of the next month. In his interview to the new publication The Vilnius News, Jonas Basanavicius and the alchemists promised a grand show of lights in the sky unparalleled in the world. The heat wave was expected to hit at midday, so the gira and beer sellers were working up a sweat. The Town Hall had also become an arena for heated discussions. Russian Foreign Minister Vladimir Lamsdorf was fighting like a lion on several fronts as the cities of the Alliance had declared neutrality in case of any military conflicts, he immediately reproached Baron Rothschild for extending his invitation to the reserved Japanese Ambassador Todasu. Another reason for his fury might have been the gross mistake the Japanese Ambassador allowed himself to make when addressing the Russian Minister as Madam. Everyone unanimously agreed, though, that the Ambassadors far from perfect English was to blame for this misunderstanding. Except for Prelate Masalskis, who spitefully sneered before mumbling under his breath, It serves this lover-hungry sodomite right. Russias relations with the Kaisers Germany also suffered a good shake. Prussian Minister of War Karl von Einem, rattling his medals and showing off his twisted waxed moustache, kept repeating the same thing over and over again: a united, peaceful and strong Europe is the one and only goal for Germany. Quite out of the blue, Lamsdorf received a lifeline from Foreign Minister of the British Empire Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, who dryly
36

A non alcoholic beverage made by the natural fermentation of wheat, rye, or barley bread, sometimes flavoured with fruit, berries, raisins or birch sap, similar to Russian or Ukrainian kvass.

noted that the flying German fortress suspended above Vilnius was a perfect symbol of sustainable peace in Europe. The French Foreign Minister, snorting throughout and occasionally poking his nose into a tiny vessel of smelling salts, also expressed his support for the idea. The chairman of the meeting, Governor of the Alliance cities Baron Nathan Rothschild, did all he possibly could to take control of the situation by urging other members to change the topic and engage in a discussion on new technologies, their distribution and sales to other European countries. This provoked an angry reaction from Lamsdorf, who was quick to accuse the dwarf-like Alliance of having pretensions to be the centre of Europe and not showing enough regard to the giant nations of the world. All the participants of the Summit, with the exception of Izzet Pasha El-'abed, Secretary to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, were drawn into the fierce discussion on what place the Alliance cities and the Rothschilds technologies had in the world. He was patiently waiting for the conversation to veer round to European railways and his dream: the Hejaz project. Burgomaster of Vilnius Vytautas Venslauskis-Venskus felt like a bream in a pond teeming with sharks, even worse than at home where he was bossed around by the high-powered Mrs Venskus. He quietly watched over his guests, taking care of their hors doeuvres and drinks, then sighed and exchanged glances with the Burgomasters of Prague, Reval and Krakow, his impatient glances at his watch expressing his overwhelming desire for it all to end. He hoped to get his share of fun in the evening, in a private Antokolis club, to which he had also invited his colleagues from the other cities of the Alliance. This was to be an exceptionally discreet party with exceptionally discreet girls and, of course, with no Mrs Venskus in sight. At ten in the morning Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras sat in a chair, a straight razor slowly sliding across his neck. As the sharp blade was working around his Adams apple, Sidabras closed his eyes and held his breath. Several more sweeps of the blade over his skin and the barber wiped the creamy lather off with a warm towel. He then had a close look at the Legates face before giving an approving nod. Sidabras opened his eyes. Following last nights events, he had had conversed with the medical expert Radzinskis, before going back to Sluskai Palace for a few hours sleep. By force of habit he had risen with the first signs of dawn, even though there was no reason for him to rush anywhere. The letter from the Council of Vilnius, which was handed to him yesterday by a duty officer, clearly stated that he Legate of Vilnius and Public Order Councillor Antanas Sidabras was officially prohibited from showing his face at any event of the Summit. The word officially was underlined twice. The letter made Sidabras laugh he knew who was behind this subtle hint. Nevertheless, he had more time on his hands than ever, and was determined to put it to good use. Dressed in gym shorts and a vest, he started with a run along the shady pathways of Sluskai forest, then took a dip in the waters of the Neris, using a long stroke to swim almost as far as the Lower Castle, before coming back. His well-trained body moved by itself, allowing Sidabras to think about his next ventures. He climbed out of the Neris with a draft of a further action plan in his head, which he later finalized at his breakfast table and in the barbers chair. He was not surprised at all to see the new Vilnius News in the barbers shop. It was a clear sign that Vileisis and Gimbutas joint plan had been a success and that the Vilnius Legion now had one less reason for concern, with Steam Citys strikers out of the picture.

Sidabras walked out of the barbers shop with a plan to pay a visit to Aloysius Nunevicius, the busy worker of the Sluskai cellars. Yet he found the old man sleeping like a log and had to give him a shake to wake him. Nevertheless, the realisation that the commander of the Legionnaires had yet again turned to him for help made the half-sleepy Aloysius happy as a child, and he hurried to turn on the infernal machine Engine No 5 dressed in nothing more than his nightgown. Bobbing up and down on the ladder he resembled a tousled sparrow who, having been treated to a handful of grains by some well-wisher, was flailing about unable to make up his mind where to begin his feast. At first sight Sidabras idea looked very simple his intention was to compare the Vilnius street map to the one of its underground sewers, trying to ascertain whether or not there was an opening to the underground somewhere near the Sharp End house of Marina Baltrus aunt of the man called Baltrus, the same person who had gone missing from Novovileysk Psychiatric Hospital. Having put all the known facts together, including last nights murder of Jonas Simaska and the daub on the wall, Sidabras was nearly certain that the Vitamancers handyman Baltrus was being kept away from prying eyes in the underground tunnels and, very likely, not entirely alone. Someone must be providing for him food, drink and possibly tools, and who else if not auntie Baltrus could be so caring. Since the underground opening was in the vicinity of her house, the number of potential suspects immediately decreased. Before tonight the Legates men had been ordered to arrest all daubers and take them to Sluskai with no delay, but Sidabras was not pinning his faith on this operation. The daubers only crept out into the streets at dusk, and to find the single one who was so proficient in drawing monsters was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The avenue of investigation involving the aunt sounded more promising. But the task proved to be more complicated than he initially thought. Due to rapid expansion and changes to Vilnius layout, the street maps were often outdated as soon as they were freshly out of the printers. Not to mention the underground tunnels and the sewers no one even bothered to depict these areas in any great detail. Aloysius fed Engine No 5 one punched card after another, making the machine rumble and thud, spit steam and smoke as if it were a Steam City factory, but it was all in vain the underground labyrinths were beyond its reach. The last thing Aloysius wanted was to disappoint the Legate, so he went out of his way trying out all possible options, sweating like mad and ripping his night shirt, before clambering down the ladder, switching the machine off and, with his eyes guiltily downcast, acknowledging defeat with a shrug and his palms outstretched. Sidabras did not chastise him but promised himself he would raise this issue in the Council of Vilnius as soon as he was officially back to his duties. He then removed his earplugs and abandoned Aloysius lair. At ten thirty in the morning someone opened the windows in Markuciai Manor it was getting stuffy inside. If an outsider had achieved the impossible and sneaked inside the Vitamancers grounds, separated from the rest of the world by a tall fence, disappointment would probably be their most likely reaction. It was an ordinary house made out of wood and not too large, with a porch embellished by wooden carvings. The meeting room floor was covered with carpets, and it was furnished with antique handmade furniture, a faint scent of incense lingering in the air. This hall was used for visitors. Important guests were welcomed by the Elder of Vilnius Vitamancers himself, while the common people were left to other members of the Lodge. This was the room where people brought children, with the intention

of leaving them in the Lodges care, as well as the place where clients collected previously ordered potions and paid for them. From here the guests were taken to the room of predictions. Vitamancers made sure that outsiders saw no more than they were supposed to see, as all the rest was not meant for the eyes of strangers. Very few people had access to Markuciai Manor Laboratory. It was now entered by the Elder of Vitamancer Lodge, with his floor-length gown rustling against the floor. When at home he had a habit of wearing archaic clothes, which served as testament to the age-old traditions and authority of the Lodge. He was now dressed in a floor length coat, made of clove-coloured twill of outstanding quality, its wide sleeves and hemline decorated with twisted silk rope piping, a sash embroidered with gold thread wrapped around his waist. Underneath he wore an orange silk shirt, while his eyes observed from behind round-framed spectacles. He paused on the doorstep and surveyed his space. By day and by night the laboratory, buried deep in the ground, was lit by flaming torches, while its guards were humans and ferocious mastiffs alike, and it was hidden behind a pair of secret doors that only a few members of the Lodge knew existed. The Elder always felt safe here. Not today though. It had been a while since he first felt the iron grip of the Prague Lodge around his throat, and he was aware of his every step, every decision, being furtively reported to the Grand Master. Therefore, immediately after Pranciskus Baltrus had disclosed his latest drawings and confirmed that he could execute them, the Elder had decided to endeavour to keep all the glory, money and influence in the hands of the Vilnius Lodge. At the beginning the idea of keeping Baltrus concealed in Novovileysk Psychiatric Hospital while the Lodge prepared to manufacture the bionic seemed very clever. But then and what were the chances the Legate of Vilnius, copies of the secret drawings under his arm, had knocked on the Manor gate. It soon became apparent that Pranciskus Baltrus had gone missing from Novovileysk, with no one having the faintest idea of his location. The torches cast their light over the main piece of furniture in here a massive steel table fixed to the floor with sizable screws. There was a corpse on the table, or rather what was left of him after the two men leaning over him had done their job. They both wore gloves and orange robes with an embroidered phoenix on their backs. In order to avoid being splashed by the remnants of bodily fluids, their eyes were concealed under large goggles. The laboratory carried on with its work with no interruptions. Thank God, they never ran out of corpses, as they were secretly and regularly supplied by caretakers from cemeteries in Vilnius and the surrounding towns. And now, with a disinterested glance at the two men, the Elder gave a faint cough. Both Vitamancers were startled and looked up. Realising it was the Elder, they lowered their protective mouth cloths and pushed their goggles up over their foreheads. Salve37, the Elder muttered. Salve, Master, the men bowed. Then one of them said, We are working on a very captivating experiment, maybe you would also like... Later, brother Urtas, later, the Elder shook his head. I have more urgent business to attend to now. I need Rattus. Is he ready?

37

Hello (Latin)

He is always ready, Master. Pulling off his gloves and throwing them on to the metal table, the man called Urtas walked over to the other, dimly lit end of the laboratory. I thought he would come in handy, he added. Really? the Elder raised his eyebrow. Urtas was one of the very few Vilnius Vitamancers who had been inducted into all the most secret plans, and the Elder trusted him completely. Yes, indeed, Urtas replied. We failed at Sharp End. We are searching for a needle in a stack of hay. Rattus is the only creature who could attempt to find it. But I still have my doubts. There followed some banging and clanking noises Urtas was unlocking something. The Elder became thoughtful. Why are you doubtful, brother Urtas? his voice was very soft, but Urtas heard him anyway. He carried a small metal cage into the light. Something was lying inside. Because Rattus is only capable of following someone whose etheric imprint he has and whose picture he has taken. He will not find Baltrus, as all we have is his imprint. We never took his picture as we never thought there might be a need for it, Urtas replied. But who said that Rattus was to look for Baltrus? the Elders voice was tinged with genuine surprise. The cage moved together with the creature inside it. It was a rat. Only a very close inspection would reveal it not to be real. Its tiny bristles were made of metal, although they could have been easily taken for the genuine rough strands of a rats fur. It all looked true to life the dully glistening claws, the long snout and the exposed teeth. But one close look at the rats eyes revealed its true nature. A laboratory project of the mad Vitamancers. A mech rat. Each of the creatures eyes were made of two metal tubes, one sliding into another like the parts of a closing telescope, which ended with glass eyes and working cameras obscura installed behind them. Extremely fine wires, hiding under the bristles, spread over the entire neck, back and paws of the creature. Mech rats the rattuses were invented in Prague and kept strictly under wraps. Their existence was known only to their creators the Vitamancers and a few other trustworthy people. Boasting about their achievements had never been part of any Vitamancer plan. What they really wanted was to use rattuses in the struggle against the current darlings of the Alliance the Alchemists and Mechanics. People would not pay close attention to rats since they were a very common sight in cities. This made the mech rats excellent spies. All they needed was a tiny etheric imprint and one glance of the eyes (the person was photographed by the minute cameras obscura installed in the glass eyes) of the person being followed. When the rattus was hot on the heels of his victim, the observers could use the Elektrolab to see the rats location; as the creature was constantly taking pictures of his prey, the observers knew what the object of their interest was up to. As the latest editions of the mech rat also carried an inclinometer, observers were able to tell where exactly the rattus was whether he was on the ground, underground or on an

ascending dirigible. Being the owner of one of these rats, the Vilnius Lodge called him by the simple name of Rattus. Who said that Rattus should follow Baltrus? the Elder asked again, before going over to the cage and taking a compact laboratory flask from the pocket of his gown. He will pursue the man who is searching for Baltrus. The man who has recently honoured us with a visit and who is very well known to us all. The Elder raised his hand with the flask. Stuck to it there was a hand-written note, which read: Antanas Sidabras. With an understanding nod Urtas placed the cage on the table and busied himself with the Babbage Engine and the Elektrolab, strikingly similar to the one in the secret room of Nikodemas Tvardauskis. He then removed Rattus from the cage and began to connect his wires to the Babbage Engine. Hurry up, the Elder muttered, his hand holding the laboratory flask extended. Our man in Sluskai has reported that the Legate is still there. Missing him would be disastrous. Besides, the phoenixes are getting impatient.

Chapter XXXVI Vilnius, Before noon 26 04 1905 It was eleven in the morning. Nu ty kur-r-rwa litewska, 38 swore Lt. Michal Vielholskiy, on duty with other Legionnaires outside the Town Hall, in reaction to a message that a gasping courier had just delivered to him. With his soldiers beret off, Vielholskiy wiped his sweating brow with the back of his hand and showed what a true Pole he was by swearing like a trooper one more time, making the air around him vibrate. It was hard to say whom the cursing was meant for spiteful fate, crazy Vilnius residents or the hot-headed commander Sidabras, who, following his suspension, was wandering God knows where instead of leading the Legionnaires in charge of Town Hall security and telling him, Michal, what to do in a situation like this. The Lieutenant scanned the note once again. Needless to say, he much preferred the previous message that had informed him the strikes had been called off, Steam Citys workers pacified and the strike leaders arrested. He cast a baffled glance over the three circles of his men closing in on the Town Hall, before clearing his throat and spitting. Having served in the most perilous places of the world, Michal Vielholskiy was a legend among the Legionnaires. While suffering from malaria among other things, he was one of the first to storm the capital of Madagascar Antananarivo and, as part of the Second Foreign Regiment, wading up to his knees in blood, took part in the Mandingo War and the destruction of the Wassoulou Empire. At night he was still haunted by nightmares from the Second Anglo-Boer War, which he fled alongside the General Cronj Army, with the elite British imperial forces breathing down their neck. But how Michal wished he could go back to any of these places now, because there everything was crystal clear, while here... Vielholskiy read the message for the third time, straining his eyes to look for, albeit unsuccessfully, a single comforting aspect... The crumpled paper flew to the ground, while he turned round to face his men and bellowed, Legionnaires! Get ready for confrontation! The Town Hall guards spread their legs apart, their glove-clad hands clutching heavy batons. Their pistols remained in their holsters. Michal Vielholskiy raised his fist in the air. All the surrounding roofs were taken by snipers and gunners ready to use the portable cannons that were the pride and joy of Steam Citys armoury, shooting streams of water and hot steam. The men acknowledged his command with their fists above their heads, signalling their readiness for battle. Vielholskiy lowered his face guard and froze in anticipation of collision, of which, as he had admitted to himself, he was terrified. With a feeling of heavy tension in the air, the dawdlers lingering about suddenly found it prudent to desert the Town Square. They did not go far though, only to the safe haven of the nearest alleyway, from which they strained their heads, eagerly waiting for events outside the Town Hall to unfold. All they wanted out of this spectacle was a chance to boast to their
38

Lithuanian slut (Polish).

friends and family: I saw everything with my own two eyes as I was there. And just by sheer luck I managed to escape unhurt. And Basilisk shuffled back down into the cellars in search of yet another victim, the look of his eyes so chilling that everyone who was touched by it was turned to stone. People attempted to fight him by hurling bunches of rue into his cellars and waving their stalwart swords at him, each being defeated like the one who came before him. Whenever a trooper looked him in the eye, he was left as nothing but a piece of rock, old Efraim rambled on, sitting comfortably at the foot of St Johns Church. Four rows of spectators were so entranced by his horribly mesmerising story that they all flinched each time a poor soul was turned to stone. But one day came a young lad, who climbed down into the underground without a sward or a halberd, nothing but a tiny mirror in his hand. And he marched down to meet the killer Basilisk... the shoesmith continued. And what next, what happened next? impetuous voices urged. Efraim gave a cough and was about to carry on with his story about the lad armed with a mirror, but was suddenly cut short. The pilot of the reconnaissance dirigible The Svarnas took another moment to check its intended course, before manoeuvring the little airship into a position suspended above Vilnius convenient for observing the flowing streams of people. One torrent was carrying people along St Georges Avenue, in the direction of Lukiskes and the exhibition, while in the vicinity of Green Bridge the street was consumed by a mad whirlpool. Not a single vacant space was left in the spectator stand or on the embankment. Several quickwits took a boat ride to the middle of the Neris, only to be caught and chased back to the bank by a patrol steamship. The Svarnas patrols also took care not to avert their eyes from another tributary of the river of people, flowing up along Pilies Street and into the Town Hall Square. There was no pushing and shoving in that flock, no stepping on the neighbours feet either. Passers-by walking in the opposite direction gave way to this crowd, hurriedly pressing their backs against the building walls or slipping into side streets, their curious eyes unable to leave the marching formation. No one could deny it was a special sight. The crowd was made up exclusively of women. Old and young. Pregnant and pulling one or two children behind them by the hand, some of them cradling a third infant in their arms. These were the daughters, wives and mothers of Vilnius, who had poured out into the streets to demand what they were entitled to. They were not going to back off. The flaming eyes and anxious gazes. Faces exhausted following a sleepless night and lips pressed tightly together. A perilous barrel of heated gunpowder. The front of the formation was marked with a large banner, demanding Work, Bread, Justice, while dotted throughout the crowd were other smaller placards, calling for an increase in wages, benefits and jobs, as well as white flags with St Christopher carrying baby Jesus across a river blowing in the wind. Dozens of babies in their mothers arms looked as if they had just stepped down from Holy paintings. Older children held their heads up high and carried red balloons bobbing in the air, given to them as presents. As the womens group was walking past St Johns bell tower, a better part of the children listening to the fable about Basilisk and the lad with the mirror were made to tear their eyes

away from the storyteller and, even if very reluctantly, join their marching mothers, who beckoned and even shook fingers in their faces. Efraim only shrugged his shoulders, considered for a moment, then followed behind the crowd, intending to see what it was all about. While the women continued marching uphill, straight into the Town Square. Over his shoulder The Svarnas pilot yelled a short command to the signaller, who immediately started tapping on the keys of the wireless, his action resulting in a courier delivering a second message to Michal Vielholskiy in the shortest time possible. But the Lieutenant no longer needed to be told what was going on. The Pole made a dismissive gesture with his hand and gave a heavy sigh. The instigator Misha Suslov was sitting on one of the window seats in Baltasis Stralis and, oblivious to the fussing Legionnaires at the other end of the cafe, was sipping strong Indian tea. When the marching women a crowd of tired faces came into his view, for a moment he sat there as before, waiting for the last demonstrator to march by the window. Then, a smug expression on his face, he stood up and tossed a 10-copeck coin on the table. He left the cafe and loped along, keeping a safe distance behind the demonstrators. Whatever money cant do, obscene money can, he mumbled under his breath with a faint smile. Jadvyga had done a brilliant job, no one could wish for more. The women had been brought from all over the place from Vilnius as well as the surrounding areas and they came with children; besides, Suslovs top men seasoned rioters, who had been assigned a special task for once they got to the Town Square had managed to immerse themselves in the crowd in a timely and opportune manner. Now they were preoccupied with chanting slogans and clutching the tiny hands of little beggars who, following a meticulous scrub, had been brought over from the Troubles, Paplauja and New World. Suslov smacked his lips at the thought of things going so well. He certainly would not wish to put himself in the shoes of the Vilnius Legion now. As far as he was concerned they could cover the rooves with all their armourys artillery, it wouldnt change a thing. If the Legionnaires decided to use violence against women at the time of the Summit, Vilnius would be darkened by a very ominous cloud so dark that it would make the skies of the entire Alliance leaden. And if they allowed the protesters inside the Town Hall and their petition got into the hands of the Summit leaders, Suslovs rioters would be there as well. Bloodshed would be inevitable, causing Vilnius much harm. The Legion had stumbled into a deadend situation. Even more so, because the only person who might be able to find a way out Legate of Vilnius Sidabras had been thrown out of the game. The front rows of protesters reached the area just outside the Town Hall Square and stopped. They were soon surrounded by a mob of other women, placards and flags in their hands. Every window in the facing the Square surrounding buildings was filled with curious faces, and all the back alleys and gateways teemed with nosy characters at full readiness to leave any minute but by no means willing to miss out on any entertaining scenes. The positions next to the line of Legionnaires drawn up abreast of each other were taken by the fearless newspaper and foreign news agency photo picture takers. The Truth of Vilnius photographer cast an unfavourable glance at his rival from The Vilnius News and, as if by accident, elbowed him in the side while turning.

With his eyes closed Michal Vielholskiy, summoned all his strength to imagine something pleasant something like the Wassoulou savages running at him with their poisoned hatchets swinging in the air. Inside the Town Hall, Russian Foreign Minister Vladimir Lamsdorf clicked up the lid of his pocket watch and glimpsed at its face, before getting up to stretch his legs. As if by accident he pulled back the curtain, which had been completely drawn to protect the VIP guests from the glaring sun, creating a small gap in it. But what is happening here, my dears? he gasped in a theatrical style, his eyes fixed on the Town Hall Square. It was already swarming with demonstrators in its entirety. The signaller of The Svarnas, now hanging suspended above the Square, was hurriedly relaying messages to other patrols in the city. Suddenly all became quiet one could have heard a pin drop. The tension in the air was so thick that even the whining children in the crowd hushed. The front rows of the womens flank began shuffling on their feet but had still not gathered enough courage for the advance toward the Town Hall. The majority of the women would occasionally cast a fearful glance at the cannons on the rooves and the Legionnaires drawn up abreast of each other. Concealed behind the womens backs Jadvyga bit her lip until it bled everything had been arranged, a gathering momentum had been gained, all that was left now was the final step. Were these proletarian hens going to run scared now? Like a shadow Suslov sneaked into the square. He froze in anticipation, feeling his heart go wild. Come on, Jadvyga bent over and whispered, before pushin g several women standing at the front. Come on, girls. Get your kids and lets go. They wont hurt us. Maybe her slight push, or maybe the word us that she had used, woke the protesters from their numbness. Work, bread, justice! quiet at first, voices gradually became stronger and louder. The formation advanced. It was headed by three protesters in shabby clothes, a young child next to each of their hearts. In fact, they had nothing to do with the workers, and the children they held were not their own, but no one but themselves and Jadvyga needed to know that. She would have never dared to expose genuine Vilnius residents in the lead. Work, bread, justice! chanted the crowd. When a few dozen steps was all that separated the marchers from the line of Legionnaires, the three leaders put their arms in the air to stop the formation, before advancing a few steps forward by themselves. In the name of all the Vilnius women and mothers, one of the leaders spoke in a shrill voice. We demand that you allow us inside the Town Hall to meet with members of the Summit. We wish to enlighten them as to instances of gross injustice in the city, tell them about the impoverished, unemployed and starving people. About the gentlemen who make their money at our expense and who dont give a damn about our children crying at night. About the rich who buy carriages and automatons, while our husbands are pushed out into the street. We want to look them in the eye and tell them the truth. Just that. Let us inside the Town Hall!

It was a brilliant speech. Well-rehearsed and delivered by a true professional. The crowd began to cheer for her, flying flags and swinging placards in the air, children shooting their balloons high up in the sky. A few passers-by could not resist being enticed into the game either. Lt. Vielholskiy knew he had lost the battle before he even spoke. He put a mechanical howler to his mouth. Citizens of Vilnius! Michals metal-tinged voice, amplified by the howler, resounded across the square. The Town Council has not issued a permit for a demonstration in the Town Hall Square. You have breached the rules of appropriate behaviour in the city streets, as set by the Public Order Councillor. I prohibit you from entering the Town Hall. I ask you to disperse and enjoy the celebrations in peace. How can we enjoy anything, you scum, when our children run around barefoot?! a person in the middle of the crowd bellowed. Jadvyga gave a smug nod. The women seemed to have warmed up. Agitators alone wont cause a revolution. Please disperse, panowie 39, or Vilnius Legion will have to use force, the distressed Michal would not let it go. We dont want to... Shame! Shame! Shame! the crowd exploded. A rock, flung by an invisible hand clinkered against the Legionnaires shield before dropping to the ground. Then another, and yet another again. Lets go! Jadvyga whispered to the back of someones head. Lets go! Suslov encouraged the women in his head. Lets go mothers! They must hear us out! the shrill voiced speaker at the front of the crowd yelled. To the Town Hall! To the Town Hall! the choir intoned in return, the crowd like a flood slowly and persistently forging its way ahead. Vielholskiy put his black-gloved fist in the air. The Legionnaires tensed, the gunmen on the roofs shuffled. The crowd paused, but only for a moment, no longer than a blink of an eye. Lets go! Jadvyga hissed. Lets go! Will you make a move, please? The women proceeded again with children by their side. Between them and the Legionnaires there were no more than five steps. Suslovs eyes darted around the crowd, trying to spot his men. They had been ordered to make their way into the Town Hall at the first sign of the collapse of the Legions steely screen. Vielholskiys glove clad fist froze in the air and then trembled, and... Much later, sitting in one of the Legionnaires favourite inns, Michal Vielholskiy would tell his brothers-in-arms that up until the very last second he still didnt know what he was going to do. But he did say a short prayer to Divine Providence. In a way it had helped. So the glove-clad fist froze in the air and then trembled, and...
39

Ladies and gentlemen (Polish).

The drone of a trumpet filled the air. Its crystal clear sound darted across the Town Hall Square like an arrow. The women stopped dead in their tracks. Michals fist stayed where it was. Everyones heads turned in the direction of the sound. The Svarnas pilot abruptly dashed to the other side of the dirigible, nearly falling over as the side of the gondola dipped. Suslovs mouth gaped he could not believe his eyes. A compact, orderly procession of men was moving from St Casimiers Church in the direction of the Town Hall. Oblivious to the heat they were dressed in long black gowns, their bald heads shining with sweat, their necks adorned with heavy white iron crosses, which could also be used as weapons if the need arose. Their gaze fixed straight ahead of them, the stony-faced men marched along, striking the ground with their feet. The Knights of the Cathedral. Prelate Masalskis was the first to step on to the cobblestones of the square. A few steps behind him followed two trumpeters, their instruments pressed to their lips, while the rest of the knights fanned out behind their leader, resembling the black wing of a crow. At the bottom of the Town Hall steps, Prelate Masalskis, eyebrows furrowed, slowly moved his head from one side to the other, scrutinising the crowd. He then swiftly moved to the centre of the square, flapped the sides of his black robe a few times and turned to face the leaders of the womens march. He suddenly raised his hand into the air and all thought they saw it burst into flames. The ladies at the front screamed and cowered back, the children began to squeal with fright. And only the gawkers standing nearest to him were able to see that he was holding a rosary wrapped around his fist with a Crucifix and a massive precious stone glinting in the sun. Go! the Prelate howled. Elbow your way inside the Town Hall. I am addressing those who do not trust in God. Elbow your way in, those who know better than Him for whom they are destined. Go like a herd, stomping on everything on your way. He paused to cast another glance over the crowd. Have you forgotten what the Gospel according to Matthew sa ys? Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Therefore do not agonise and do not ask: What are we going to eat? or What will we drink? or What will we wear? Pagans pray for these things. Doesnt your Heavenly Father know that you need all that? the Prelates voice grew stronger and stronger, until it reached a crescendo. He took a deep breath and pointed his finger at the children. Why did you bring them here? Why did you come here yourselves? The Lord will punish the guilty, and then they shall gnash their teeth! You belong in churches. Righteous in the eyes of God are not the instigators and breachers of the Law but its executors. So go with God. The heat and the Pharisees muddled your minds, so go to St Casimiers Church and quench your thirst with a drop of pure water, refresh your confused souls with a heart-felt prayer. With the last words of his speech, the Prelate slowly raised his hand in the air, and once again it sparked in the rays of light. For a moment the mob remained dumbfounded, gaping, faces frozen. Then a wave travelled through the crowd and all its members began to career out of the square. Women grabbed their childrens hands and pushed and shoved among themselves, before

disappearing into the surrounding streets. Some of them obediently hurried to St Casimiers, as they had been ordered. Before long, the square was again deserted but for some stupefied faces poking from around every corner. But soon they were also gone. The free spectacle was over. The Prelate turned on his heel and nearly crashed into Michal Vielholskiy, who had just become conscious that his fist was still raised in the air. So thank you for your help, Mr Councillor, the Lieutenant mumbled awkwardly. Prelate Masalskis brow furrowed. I didnt do it for you. My servitude is for Vilnius, he said through gritted teeth and set off in the direction of St Casimiers Church. The Knights of the Cathedral did the same. Nu ty kurwa litewska, Vielholskiy breathed a deep sigh of relief. Misha Suslov also cursed, but in his own language. He stood in a gateway, pressing his hand to his heart. Its been a while since he suffered two painful blows one after the other. He could have expected the industrialists of Vileisis to come up with something to ward off the strikes, but foreseeing such a tragic end to the mothers march fell outside his powers. It had been an incredible plan. But then the damn black-robed baldies had come along... infuriated, Suslov swung his arm in the air before landing a punch on the brick wall. Never mind, I will even the score during the evening carnage, he hissed through clenched teeth. But what should he tell Emilia? And where should he look for her? It was nearing midday. A young woman removed a doctors gown and hung it in the wardrobe. She then pulled up a chair for her large bag, and sat down on a different one herself. She gracefully accepted a cup of coffee and did her best not to make a sour face, when the liquid touched her tongue. It was egregiously bad. The Head Physician, sitting at the other side of the desk, shuffled uneasily. So what are your first impressions... erm... esteemed inspector? he asked, his face covered with worry. The inspectors visit was a bolt from the blue for the Head Physician. Usually they gave long notice ahead of such visits, allowing ample time for him to prepare. But today events had taken a different course: an inspector, whom he had never seen before, a bag over her shoulder, appeared in his doorway without warning. Having waved some stamped papers in the air, she immediately set to work. The doctor barely had enough time to scamper to the safe for the money that they kept for such occasions. The inspection was oddly brief. The lady rushed through several wards, peeked inside the kitchen and the canteen, in passing inventoried medical supplies her eyes constantly turning to her papers and then finally announced, Thats all. The bitch is after the money, the doctor fumed in his head, but also felt relieved. Some of the areas and objects in this hospital were so... had they been detected by inspectors, the entire contents of the safe would not be enough to get the doctor out of prison.

Erm... not too bad, the lady spoke, placing the cup on the desk. No, not too bad. I would need to carry out a more thorough examination, and also examine some papers but I wont waste any more of your time. Of course, of course, my dear lady, the Head Physician said, thinking her message was rather clear. With a sweet smile over his face he bent over, used an expert gesture to turn the protruding key and quietly opened the bottom drawer. Out of the drawer came a box with roses painted all over it, which found its way on to the desk. Time is very precious to all of us. With the word precious he pushed the box towards the lady. I have to excuse myself for a minute, theres something that cant wait. He got up and left with a smile and a series of rushed bows. As soon as the door was shut again, Emilia pulled the box closer and opened it, then inspected a tidy pile of bank notes inside. Nothing will ever change these racketeers, she muttered but took the money nevertheless. Having shoved the bank notes in her bag, she pulled out an oblong case and opened it. A single ball of black clay, the last of four, glittered dully in the daylight, sparkles bolting through the violet jelly here and there. Emilia walked around the desk and carefully placed the ball in the bottom drawer. Having locked the drawer, she tossed the key inside her bag. The empty case followed the key. A minute later the Head Physician peeked inside. I do apologise for taking so long. Are you all right? he asked, a beaming smile over his face. Yes, I am fine indeed, the lady assured him, tossing her hair in a coquettish way. I should thank you. I will be on my way. Emilia straightened up her skirt and took the bag in her hand. Ill find the door myself, dont bother seeing me out, she said stepping out into the corridor, flashing him a tantalising smile as she walked. Anyone who knew Emilia well would have told him that a smile of this nature from her was a bad omen, but the doctor was totally oblivious to that. He rushed to the wooden box. What a bitch, he hissed realising that its entire contents were gone. They have it too good, bastards. He looked outside the window then returned to his desk and began to look through some papers. A few minutes later the odd inspector was completely gone from his head. A perfumed silk handkerchief pressed to her nose, Emilia walked out of the hospital and stepped up into her carriage. A long happy sigh escaped her lips. The hospital was the last stop on the itinerary of her inspections. Prior to that she had also gone to the ammunition store, rail-track factory and a large common-use house. Each of these places was now in possession of her small gifts: a dark clay ball with a glass tube, violet jelly wobbling inside. What she had to do now was find a spot in the middle of all these four objects and wait for the fateful hour. A happy smile lit Emilias face. Her fire show would be by far more impressive than the one Vilnius Alchemists had been boasting about. Lets go, she ordered the driver a reliable and quiet agent, as silent as a fish. ***

The heated arguments in the Town Hall subsided even if only for a brief moment. The members of the Summit unanimously decided it being the right moment to retire for lunch. They got into their stagecoaches under the thorough supervision of the vigilant Legionnaires and trundled away towards Green Bridge to watch the fearless flight of daredevil Adam Gaber-Volynskiy. But Baron Nathan Rothschild chose a different route: past St Casimiers Church he dived left into the maze of narrow alleyways called the Blots, winding down the hill as far as the Vilnele and Mirth City. Here he came on a noble mission to inaugurate the opening of yet another yeshiva, funded from the Rothschilds fortune. This he carried out by cutting a ceremonial ribbon amidst the happy onlookers cheering mazel tov. Hit suddenly by an awareness that his shoe sole had become detached, he requested to be taken to a reputable shoe-mender. Efraim, back from the Town Square already, was pleased to serve a man of such high calibre, while Rothschild was kind enough to exchange a few words with the old man a true honour for the poor pauper.

Chapter XXXVII Vilnius, Before 11:00 am 26 04 1905

Since time immemorial a bad reputation had hung over the couriers of free Vilnius. They were lazy and unreliable, and enjoyed getting drawn into never-ending street brawls or loitering around in queues for beer. Mr Scherbakov had more than once called upon the good will of Jonas Basanavicius and Petras Vileisis to create postal automatons who wouldnt overindulge in drinking, fight or get lost, but their efforts had yielded little progress, and the city had to continue using the services of live couriers. During the most important occasions, such as the Summit, people tried to refrain from sending anything at all, as the letters would usually go missing. Or the courier would disappear off the face of the earth. But this courier, elbowing his way through the crowd now, was nothing like that. He did not stop for refreshments or to gape at the acrobats, and walked around the Exhibition Dome in Lukiskes Square in a large circle. A young stranger whom he had met in a Blots inn that morning had paid him so handsomely that the courier had decided to renounce all temptations at once. But the jingling coins were not the only thing that was pushing the lad ahead. The message in the young masters eyes was clear as day: if the note was not delivered at the exact time specified, he would be fishing in troubled waters. The courier nodded to the volunteers guarding the Zverynas Bridge and once on the other side of the river, began to search for the street and the house. The order was crystal clear Miss was the only person who could lay her hands on the note. He should not wait for a reply. The gate was opened by Morta. As soon as she realised he was a courier, she was about to grab the note and ask the stranger to leave, but the visitor proved to be stubborn and demanded to see Miss himself, even raising his voice. Worried that his yelling might cause the sleeping host to rise from his sleep, Morta gave in and bustled off to wake Mila. The courier followed behind her, and a few minutes later was already on his way out, munching on a steaming hot pancake, pinched from Mortas kitchen. Combing her hair, Mila pondered over the short message for the third time. Last night was incredible. I cannot wait to see you again. Come to the Hill of Tauras at twelve. It is very important. I beg you. Sincerely yours, Charles. The girl bit her lip as if re-enacting last nights sweet kiss. She cast a quick glimpse at her watch. It was approaching twelve and she had no time to waste. She only had a few minutes to decide what to wear on such a mysterious rendezvous. She picked a tailored beige skirt with pockets, the same colour blouse and a light jacket in dark cherry. Suddenly the yard drowned in the sound of the blacksmith pounding his hammer again the arrival of yet another guest was announced. Is that him? with the note quickly shoved in her pocket, the startled girl dashed out of the room and ran downstairs. But in the hall, just let in by Morta, was Edward OBraitis. Dressed in his adjutants uniform with a long-barrelled pistol attached to his belt, both his hands were awkwardly squeezing his hat, decorated with a red bow.

I am awfully sorry to bother you so early in the morning, he said, his voice sounding timid. But Charles did not report for duty today, and neither he is at the hotel, so I thought maybe... Am I right to assume the young master thinks that the other one could have spent a night here? Morta took up a defensive position with her hands on her hips. Have you no shame? Have you got no shame to come all the way down here to suggest such a horrible thing? It is just as well the host is asleep, otherwise... Morta, Morta, its all right, Mila comforted the lady before turning to the young man. No, I can assure you that Charles did not sleep here. He brought me back in a carriage before midnight and we... Milas face turned red. We said goodbye to each other. If you dont mind, however, I would like to have a word with you alone. Lets go to the garden. Clearly disapproving of the idea Morta cleared her throat, but otherwise kept quiet. A minute later Edward and Mila were sitting comfortably in the gazebo by the pond. But what could have happened to him, Edward? the girl said, sounding greatly worried. I dont understand. I have just received a note from Charles. OBraitis eyebrows shot up in surprise. A note? Would you... would you allow me to have a quick look at it? he asked. Mila produced the paper out of her pocket. Once OBraitis finished looking over the message, he extended it back to the girl. Strange, he muttered. Charles is fully aware that failure to report to The Star by midday spells serious trouble with the captain. Where could he possibly have spent last night? Another thing he asked you on a rendezvous to the Hill of Tauras. I had no idea he even knew it existed. There is only one way to find out, Mila took OBraitis arm. Would you be so kind and walk the girl to her meeting? You never know we might solve the riddle. Shortly after Mila and Edward were rolling in the direction of the Hill of Tauras in the same carriage that OBraitis had arrived in. Dressed in a dotted navy silk gown Tvardauskis appeared in the doorway of his bedroom and was about to go down to the laboratory, when he suddenly remembered that he had not had a chance to speak to Mila about yesterday. He glanced over at the wall clock and began to climb to the first floor. It was slightly after eleven. Tvardauskis had said a firm no to his friend Basanavicius, who tried to talk him into taking a promenade in the city. He had no desire to take any part in any celebratory events of that Summit of madness, and opted to do some quiet work in his underground temple instead. Tvardauskis raised his hand to tap on Milas door, but then observed that it was slightly ajar. He cautiously poked his head inside. Milas bed was empty, while her toys were lined up on the shelf. What is this? Tvardauskis was clearly taken unawares. According to the punched cards ejected by Elektrolab, Mila had kept her promise and was home before midnight. Besides, wherever the girl went, she nearly always carried one of her darlings with her. She would not be so stone-hearted as to abandon them two days in a row.

Morta! Tvardauskis shouted, looking out into the corridor. Have you seen Mila anywhere? Suddenly he heard a thud coming from Milas room. The scientist looked back to see that Pierrot had fallen off the shelf. Columbina and Scaramuccia stared at their friend in disbelief: what has come over you? Morta! Tvardauskis added more weight to his voice, before walking over to Pierrot and placing him back on the shelf. Did you hear my question? There was no reply. Tvardauskis shrugged and began to leave the room but was held up by Pierrot, who dropped down to the floor again. Tvardauskis stopped in his tracks. He was no ordinary wise man or conventional scientist, but a true genius with an astute sixth sense and the ability to notice the tiniest of details. And that was why he picked Pierrot up to question him with his eyes. The toy had not been warmed up and his energy was almost fully depleted, and so he summoned all his remaining dregs of strength to blink a few more times before freezing. Do you have something to tell me, dear boy? Tvardauskis looked at him closely. Mila should be warming you up. Although... he scratched his head. If the message has been saved in your memory, if we connected you... even for a brief moment... he mumbled under his breath before sticking Pierrot under his arm and striding over to the laboratory. Mila has just left. She didnt say where she was going, Mortas voice caught up with him as he was walking past the kitchen. But Tvardauskis didnt pause. There was something else on his mind now. In the lab he connected the automaton to the Babbage Engine, just as he used to with Sauvaldas and Lakstukas, filling him with some of the solar energy he constantly stored. The toy came to life. It was indeed nothing like Milas warmth, but it was enough to gain access to the information stored in Pierrots mind. The automatons large eyes began to blink rapidly, then darted around the room as if trying to figure out where he was. His little mouth gaped open, but didnt produce a single sound. Mila will kill me, Tvardauskis mumbled, causing the tension around him to rise even more. It was hellishly risky were he to overdo it, a pile of springs and metal bits and pieces could be all that was left of the automaton. But the scientist felt that Pierrot wanted to tell him something significant. And he was right. The toy shivered. Tvardauskis could swear he saw fear and terror in the depths of his eyes. Its him! Him! the doll wailed in a thin voice. Him! Danger! Help! Mama! Who is he? Who? Tvardauskis felt the first signs of nervous tingling in his hands and feet. Him! Danger! Protect her! He came here! He is not a man! But we have checked him, Pierrot. With the truth serum. It is all right. Edward does not mean to harm Mila, Tvardauskis tried to calm the raving doll.

Not him! Not him! Pierrot squealed. He is not a man! The other! Danger! Mama! Help! he screamed before helplessly collapsing in a heap, his little mouth agape, eyes closed. Tvardauskis swiftly disconnected the wires and, leaving the little toy behind, rushed outside. How could I be so foolish? he growled under the breath. We checked Edward but forgot about the other one. We were such fools. Of course, the Lithuanian had seemed suspicious. But we should have realised it was just a trap. We the stars of the Alliance with brains made out of cow dung. Morta, where did Mila go? he roared in the kitchen. I dont know, Master. Young Miss did not tell me, the trembling lady said, nearly dousing herself with boiling broth. Damn it! yelled Tvardauskis, turned on his heel and took four long leaps to arrive at his laboratory. The secret room was filled with a quiet droning of the Elektrolab. Tvardauskis darted towards it, riveting his eyes on the map. What Morta saw a few minutes later was respectable scientist Nikodemas Tvardauskis his feet slid into a pair of sandals and a long sturdy stick clutched in his hand dash out of the door, open the gate and run off along the street, his navy spotted silk gown flailing in the wind. If truth be told, the woman was used to her masters oddities, but today she did not conceal her shock very well alongside slices of carrots, her boiling broth became spiced with the whole knife as well. The carriage chugged up the Hill of Tauras. Having asked the driver to wait, OBraitis jumped out first before helping Mila to do the same. He looked around. A long time ago people had called this place the Hill of Bauffa, the name of the owner of a boisterous inn which once stood here. The inn went up in flames, but its name remained and was later translated into Lithuanian, thus becoming the Hill of Tauras40. The true story behind the origin of the name was soon forgotten, while the hill became associated with an enchanting legend about Duke Gediminas and a hunted buffalo. The view that opened up from the Hill of Tauras was breathtaking. Generally speaking, Vilnius was a rather clumsy spectacle, crammed with buildings each obstructing the view of the other, but the Hill of Tauras allowed one the opportunity to gaze above all the clutter, eyes alighting on the church spires, the Navigators Tower in the middle of a ring of multi coloured rays, the Town Hall columns and the dreamy goblins of University Dominium, and even the dome of the Guild of Mechanics Tower, its green glistening roof a playground for the rays of the sun. During periods of pleasant weather the Hill of Tauras and its grassy slopes swarmed with people and their picnics. People enjoyed their days out and did not care a whit about the prattling rumours that the hill had once been a notorious suicide spot, and the remnants of these days the poor souls still roamed the slopes without a moment of peace to the present day.

40

Both words mean buffalo - Bawo (Polish) and Tauras (Lithuanian).

Today, however, the hill had been deserted by everyone. On the last day of the Summit there were so many attractions on offer in the city that it didnt occur to anyone to climb the hill with the intention of staring at the rooves from high above. OBraitis pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face. A Royal Air Force adjutants uniform was not the best choice of clothing for such a sultry day. Where is he? OBraitis eyes searched the area. I hope this isnt a prank because... No, it isnt a prank, Edward, a voice spoke behind them. Mila and Edward turned towards it. Charles Finley looked as if he had just stepped out of a photo-picture: with pomade-styled hair and a thin line of moustache, dressed in a light linen summer suit of impeccable fit, a bag hung over his shoulder and a hat in his hand. He was no longer a junior adjutant of The Star but a confident young aristocrat. No one would have believed it if they had been told that Finley had spent the last night drinking, fighting, kissing, poisoning himself in the illegal alchemic opium den and then, before he had the chance to take his forty winks, receiving an urgent order: get Mila out of Vilnius the next day today! And do it at any cost. Following the moment of their separation the night before, he thought of giving it a romantic note, possibly with the help of light hypnosis Fetches, just like the old Hypnomants, were fully proficient in the art of Hypnosis. In the worst case he would have resorted to spiders drops a substance capable of making a person unconscious for a few hours and then, when he or she came back to their senses, rendering them unable to remember anything and believe everything that he or she was told for a time. Generally speaking, only a select few were familiar with the drops, which were very hard to find. The Prague Vitamancers and Fetches, however, moved in a different realm and could lay their hands on the drops without too much trouble. I was hoping to see Mila on her own, but it is also nice to see you, Edward, Finley smiled OBraitis took a step forward, crossing his arms over his chest. Where did you spend the entire night? You didnt come back to the hotel, you... erm... Miss... You didnt spend the night at Milas either, you didnt report to the dirigible. Mabrey is fuming mad. What is going on, Charles? What are you up to? Finleys complexion oddly moved as if someone was trying to get out. OBraitis was baffled by the sight his eyes involuntarily blinked and it was gone. I am imagining things, he thought to himself. Edward, my dear friend, I am so grateful to you for accompanying Mila here, Finleys smile was now even sweeter than before. And for running all around the city searching for me. But now I would be very grateful if you could leave Mila and myself alone so we can have a peaceful talk. Go and tell the captain that I apologise for everything. OBraitis stared at him dumbfounded. Charles, are you... What, are you going to desert? I am an adult, OBraitis, and you are not my nanny, came the gentle reproach from the second adjutants lips. So please, mind your own business. And leave us alone. Go to the airship port. Make sure you are not late.

Charles... Edward... please, while Finleys voice did not sound unpleasant, his request came across like an order, his face overtaken by severe muscle twitching. For a moment OBraitis kept staring at the youth, before his gaze slid over to Mila and then back to Finley. He heaved a deep sigh and nodded. Without another word he turned round, strode to the carriage and clambered inside. The machine puffed, made an about turn and rolled away. Finley looked away from Mila briefly, pretending to fan his face with his hat, but actually attempting to conceal the lumps that had come up all over under his skin. Having stayed out of the conversation up until now Mila raised her chin and approached Finley. Charles, I also find it confusing. What does your letter mean? And what is all the urgency about? What did Edward have in mind when he mentioned your deserting? The young Englishman turned to face her so fast that she had to step back. His face, however, was lit with a sincere smile. Mila, lets make ourselves comfortable and I will explain everything. His hand pointed to a bench that gave a spectacular view of Vilnius, where he led Mila by the hand. With the girl submissively sitting on the bench, Finley put down his bag and smoothly entered his role as a man confused and about to say something important, striding back and forth in front of Mila. Eventually he also took a seat next to the girl. Mila, I know it is likely to sound mad, possibly unconvincing, and you might say that it is way too fast, but I cant wait any longer. As soon as I set my eyes on you on The Icarus deck I knew we were meant for each other. I truly do not know if I would have dared to leap to help in a storm like that, had it been someone else, his love confession was swiftly embellished with a mention of his herosaviours accomplishments. We have only known each other for a few days, but I feel that I cant live without you anymore. And now I am looking into your eyes... the girl began to feel the hypnotic effect of Finleys gaze, ...I am looking into your eyes, hoping that I am right to think that you are feeling the same. He moved closer. Mila noticed a minty smell coming from his mouth. It was fresh but also somewhat peculiar. Darling, someone rich and noble like me does not have to serve in the British Army. I am, of course, grateful to them for a chance to come to Vilnius and meet you. But I wish to be free. And so do you. Lets run away from this village, you are like a little bird locked in a cage here, but you yearn for freedom. Lets explore faraway lands, lets go to America, Australia or Japan, lets take a voyage round the world in a dirigible or discover lands unknown. Lets do it together you and me. I love you. Who could resist such a speech, infused with passion itself? Even more so when spiced with a good dose of hypnosis? Certainly not a young girl with so few positive experiences in her life. The sweet words dripping like honey, the little key was reaching straight into her heart. Finley bending over, Mila opened her mouth waiting for a kiss. Meanwhile OBraitis was in the carriage on his way to the airship port, lost in thought and tapping his knee. Thoughts, like annoying flies, were buzzing in his head and wouldnt let go of him. Charles unexpected companionship. The mad leap into the darkness trying to save the girl. Night-time disappearances. And another thing a decision out of the blue to desert

the Force, as if three years of studies in Sandhurst did not mean a thing to him. Something here was not quite right. Turn the carriage round and go back to the Hill of Tauras, the adjutant ordered the driver, having finally made up his mind. And wait for me at the foot of the hill. Mila, my love, Finley whispered in the girls ear. Lets not delay, lets leave today, lets leave right now. Right now? Mila was taken aback. Yes, now. Lets board the first available dirigible and fly to the end of the world. Finley had information that a passenger dirigible was scheduled to depart for the Vitamancer capital Prague before dusk today. No, Charles, I cant... Mila spoke softly, her voice obviously lacking in determination. I would love to leave with you but not today... I need to get ready, I need... What will my uncle Nikodemas say about it? Finleys velvety eyes were stroking, fondling, swinging, drowning her. Today, Mila, today, lets leave today, today... Charles... Mila, today, today, a voice purred right beside her ear. Today, lets leave today, lets abandon this city, lets erase it from our minds, let it be eaten by flames... Mila leaned back as if from a slap in her face. Suddenly the scenes from The Day that Changed Everything came back to life in her minds eye. Screams. Bodies falling. Father yelling something. Mother. And the red tongues of flames. Impossible heat. The stench of burning human bodies. Flames in front of her eyes. No, Charles, no. Mila leaned back. No. But darling, why? Finley, concern all over his face, inched towards her. I cant. Neither today, nor tomorrow, nor... Sorry. It was love at the first sight for me as well, but I cant... you wont understand. Mila looked devastated. I cant, I am not like you imagine me to be, I... Mila, I dont care what your life has been like until now, who you were together with and which place you called home, Finley was doing all he could do to change Milas mind. Lets forget everything and leave. Just you and me. No, you dont understand, you dont understand, tears rolled down the girls cheeks. I cant run away from it, I am not like... I am not... and she burst into sobs. Enough games, Finley thought to himself, pulling out a small drinking bottle enclosed in a wicker case. Darling, you look shattered, he said in sweet voice. Its the damn humidity, isnt it? I have some chilled punch in here. Why dont you have a sip? It will calm you down and we can discuss it all in peace. He handed the bottle over to Mila. The first mouthful of the cold pungently sweet liquid burned the girls throat. Mila began to cough. How are you feeling? Finley was looking very concerned. But Mila did not get a chance to reply to that.

You! Get away from her now! came a quavering but still authoritative voice. Startled, both Finley and Mila looked up. The sight was rather hilarious: an elderly man, dressed in a silk robe and looking as if he had just gotten out of bed, was puffing and huffing on his journey up the hill, helping himself with a stick. His hair was in disarray, while his gaze was frenzied. Someone else might have burst out laughing but Finley knew better that do that. What are you doing here, uncle? Mila was obviously stunned to see him. Get away from her! I am telling you! Nikodemas Tvardauskis yelled, briskly walking towards the bench. Now. Uncle, stay out of it, the girl jumped off the bench. You promised you wouldnt interfere in my life! Mila... Tvardauskis cut her short. Mila, please allow me. I will deal with it, purred Finley again, his composure back where it was before. He jumped off the bench and, with his arms stretched out wide, began to walk towards Tvardauskis. He was confident that one touch of his finger would be enough to put this elder in his place. Dear uncle, if you allow me to address you in this way, of course, he chirped. No need to jump to conclusions, everything is fine here. Just allow me to explain. Holding Tvardauskis by his elbow Finley walked him as far away from Mila as he could. Tvardauskis, feeling somewhat confused, allowed him to do that. Finley looked at Mila, as if to reassure her there was no need to worry, then turned back to the scientist. In his eyes now there was a snake, trying to hypnotise its prey. Listen, you old man, he hissed, piercing Tvardauskis through with his eyes. I dont know what brought you here, but it doesnt matter. Walk over to Mila and tell her to do what I am asking of her. Tell her to leave with me today. It will be best for all of us this way. For me, for you and for her. Do you understand? Tvardauskis was quiet. Finley gritted his teeth. Move! he hissed in Tvardauskis ear. It will be best for all of us. Me, you and her, Tvardauskis babbled. And? And that you are on your way to all the circles of Hell, Tvardauskis said in a changed voice, the flicker of an odd flame darting in his eyes. Finley backed off, his face became distorted. The Fetch sensed an enemy close by and tried to get out. You think you are strong? he breathed in and hissed. You think you can resist me? But do you know what this hill was called before? You think I picked this place by a pure chance? This is the Hill of the Devil! There were peasants who swore to have observed evil spirits here. Dear scientist, would you like to see one as well? Would you like to see who you are trying to fight? Finleys complexion was convulsing, as if something was sliding underneath it. And how about you? Tvardauskis asked in a calm voice. Would you like to see who you are trying to fight?

What? Finley snarled. His black eyes grew bigger, now resembling those of a mad man. For a brief second Tvardauskis lowered his head. And then he flinched as if from a lash of a whip, before looking up again. When Finley looked in his eyes, he felt as if he had been struck, and started backing away. Tvardauskis raised his stick, hurling Finley away from him. Consumed by spasms, Finley fell down on all fours, then hunched up, and when he finally got back to his feet, he had become a completely different person. He was no longer the Royal Air Force second adjutant, no longer the young dapper man Charles Finley, but an old man with no eyebrows and a head slick like a billiard ball, with the deepest eye sockets, glaring straight at Tvardauskis. His eyes burned with hatred. His open mouth revealed sharp teeth. What is going on here? Mila was in shock. She wanted to run towards them but felt her strength ebbing away from her. You have disguised yourself well, my old friend, the Fetchs voice was cold, mocking and tired. How did I not recognize you? How could I not sense that this body could be hiding you inside? I would have acted differently. Possibly, Tvardauskis replied calmly. But you are no friend to me. Its strange, though , that you dared to show your face in Vilnius. They paid you well, didnt they? Oh yes, they did, sneered the Fetch, flashing his sharp teeth again. Trust me, well get the girl. The girl is under protection, reminded Tvardauskis. Did the Vitamancers not mention it to you? Fetch took a step forward, opening up his arms. The information that you have on us is out of date, my old friend. Dont you forget about the thing called progress. We no longer lurk in swamps, urge to set mages aflame or play havoc in the cities. We employ modern working methods now. In my hand I hold the key to your heart, my beloved... the Fetch sniggered. Poetry... ahh you flinched, my old friend, didnt you? Surprised? Yes, we do know about the key. And the charmer Charles Finley was the one to find it. There is no protection from love, it penetrates the thickest of barriers. Would you disagree? It would seem that Charles Finley is not around anymore, retorted Tvardauskis, his voice cold as ice. He is, he is, the baldy nodded, shrieking with laughter. He is alive in Milas memory it wont be hard to bring him back. And the spiders drop elixir will take care of todays scene, instantly wiping it from her memory. Look, whats happening to her now, he pointed at her with his hand. Tvardauskis instinctively turned his head towards Mila. And that was a mistake. The Fetch launched himself forward. Long steel nails sprang out from his finger tips, so sharp and sticky that they could easily pull the entire skin off someones face. Luckily for Tvardauskis, their tips only lightly scratched his face this time, as he leaned backwards and raised his stick to ward off the assault in good time. Both men wrestled each other to the ground, before starting to roll on the grass. Tvardauskis movements were greatly restricted by his silk robe besides, the Fetch was stronger, and Tvardauskis found himself lying underneath it, pushed down by his own stick. The Fetch moved close to Tvardauskis face.

You have no idea what we are capable of, he sniggered, placing his rounded lips together as if getting ready for a kiss. Farewell, my old friend, he said before leaning back like a venomous snake about to assault its prey. A dry phut resounded across the Hill of Tauras, and was immediately followed by another one. To hit one man but miss the other was an incredibly difficult task but there was a good reason why Edward OBraitis was known to be the best shot among the Sandhurst cadets. The Fetch groaned before collapsing to the ground, two patches of blood emerging below his neck like flowers . Having pushed him aside with one brisk movement of his arms, Tvardauskis jumped up to his feet. But the Fetch was not ready to admit defeat yet. He got up on all fours, wiped the streaming out blood with his hand, before staggering up onto his feet and slowly turning towards his opponent. Mother of God! the sight stunned OBraitis and made him forget to reload his guns. He covered his eyes with the palms of his hands as if smoke was making them water. At that point Tvardauskis leaped at the Fetch, his hand clutching the stick, its tip glowing like heated iron now, and he swung it through the air above his head. The Fetch gasped but did not get the opportunity to say a word. The stick, as if made out of razor sharp steel, was driven into his stomach, piercing him through to the very back. When the Fetch bent down to see the wound, he noted that its shape resembled the crater of a small volcano. Tvardauskis left the stick inside him for a moment, before pulling it out with a sudden jerk. The Fetch groped his stomach seemingly trying to gag the abyss of a wound but collapsed to the ground and lay prostrated on the grass. His face set out on a journey of transformations, acquiring dozens of previous guises: that of a gentleman, military officer, monk, beggar, mechanic, courtesan, and finally poor Charles Finley. In the last one he froze forever remaining a young man clad in a creased and blood-stained dandys frock. Tvardauskis leaned on his stick to ward off a bout of coughing. Would someone tell me what the hell is going on here? cried OBraitis, appearing suddenly by Tvardauskis side, cried. Where is the bald man I shot? How did he pull himself up to his feet with two fatal bullet wounds in his body? the adjutants eyes slid over Finleys collapsed body. Charles! he shouted kneeling down beside the corpse. Dont touch him! grunted Tvardauskis. Its not Charles, he hasnt been Charles for a long time. Leave him alone. The sun will take care of him. And indeed lying in the sunshine and stripped of its protective layer, the Fetchs body was turning into ash right in front of their eyes. The stunned OBraitis shook his head, then looked at Tvardauskis and shuddered. The scientists face had become as white as a piece of chalk, his eyes exuded an unnatural light, while the little scratches, which had turned into wounds, were seeping blood. You have been wounded, OBraitis mumbled. Its nothing to worry about, Tvardauskis dismissed the comment with his hand. But the marks of a Fetchs poison-filled nails were not to be dismissed lightly. He suddenly remembered something. Mila! Mila, where are you? Sitting on the bench as before, the girl stared into space in front of her. Both men rushed to her. Tvardauskis felt her pulse with his one hand, and lifted her eyelids with the other. Mila! Mila? Can you hear me? he cried, looking intently into her face. Did you drink anything? Did Charles give you something?

He gave me some punch, it was steaming hot, answered the girl in a weak voice. Damn it, Tvardauskis swore. The brute did it after all. Who did? What did they do? I dont understand, OBraitis moaned. Tvardauskis eyes pierced the adjutant. What did you arrive in? A carriage? Where is it? I left it at the foot of the hill, so that the driver... well, so that he wouldnt see it... Its fine, fine, the scientist nodded. Lets get Mila into the carriage and rush home. She must get the anti-venom medication. I could use some of it myself, he quietly added. Lets go, Ill explain everything on the way. A few minutes later the scorching sun and the light wind were once again the sole rulers of the Hill of Tauras or maybe Bauffa, or maybe the Devil as black ash was slowly lifted into the air. During his brief summary of all the events delivered to OBraitis in the carriage, Tvardauskis eyes did not leave Milas face even for a brief moment. She was very quiet and nearly slipping into unconsciousness. Tvardauskis was also feeling somewhat sluggish. The Fetchs poison and the spiders drops were travelling around their bodies through their veins. In Zverynas, Mila found her way into OBraitis arms, while Tvardauskis rushed down to his laboratory, yelling for Morta to get the blankets ready as he ran past. He returned with a tiny bottle and Pierrot in his hands to find Mila lying in bed with a pile of blankets on top of her. Morta, a preoccupied look on her face, was fussing about. She had stopped questioning her masters ways a long time ago, and got on with what she had been told to do. Tvardauskis perched on the edge of the bed, opened Milas mouth and doused it with the clear liquid from the bottle. Mila lay down on her side, immediately sinking into a deep sleep. She should sleep the entire day and night. I am going downstairs. Morta, make sure no one disturbs us. No one. Do you understand? Tvardauskis instructed before turning to the young man. Edward, I know there are still a lot of questions unanswered but please go back to the dirigible now. A bad storm is approaching and the captain should not think he has lost both his adjutants. If someone enquires about Charles, tell them he has deserted. You tried to stop him, but did not succeed. Is this clear? Shaken to the core, OBraitis nodded in silence. He felt like a strand of straw carried along by the racing waters of a river. Excellent, Tvardauskis said. Would you be so kind and help me down to the laboratory. I dont seem to have control of my legs anymore. Then you should go to Viscigavas. Come over tomorrow and I will explain everything. Can you at least tell me who he was? An enemy. An old, cunning and ruthless one. Tvardauskis frantically searched his secret room for a small bottle containing a black and thick resinous liquid, then lowered himself into an armchair, gulping the bottles entire contents down. The empty vessel clattered across the floor, while the unconscious Tvardauskis collapsed in the armchair.

Chapter XXXVIII Vilnius, Afternoon 26 04 1905 Marijus Pelikanas did not disappoint his new employer The Vilnius News. On the contrary he scored a bullseye. The muggy heat had blanketed Vilnius for a reason. In the afternoon the sky became overcast, while nearer to the evening it turned into a field of galloping black clouds, rolling thunder and bolts of lightning over the horizon. The flying German fortress The Parsifal increased altitude. Against the background of the lightning lashes the machine looked out of this world; a glimpse of it stopped people in their tracks, causing them to point and tilt their heads back to stare. Photo pictures were taken with the intention of sharing them with children and grandchildren. It was getting dark fast and the air became filled with moisture. Wary of the imminent downpour, Vilnius residents and guests filled the inns and city parks, looking for shelter underneath the thick of the trees. The daring ones stayed in the streets with their umbrellas out, reassuringly mumbling under their breath, We arent made of sugar, the rain wont melt us. The Italian acrobats in the Cathedral Square looked anxious, their eyes darting backwards and forwards between the sky and the long queue of people stretched outside the ticket booth. The Alchemists, pushing their trolleys filled with flame of the sky on Bekesas Hill, nervously bit their lips three months worth of preparation and is this how it would end? The rain could ruin everything for them. Two Legionnaires on duty on the border between Mirth City and the Blots were not concerned about the rain at all; on the contrary, they might have even be looking forward to it. The wetter it was, the quieter the streets became. The city was already deserted but for one or two residents still roaming about in search of an inn or a pub. It was getting dark so fast that the Legionnaires were left with no choice but to switch on their hissing Volta lanterns. Listen, my bowels have been totally messed up by the gira I deluged myself with beside the Green Bridge, one of them said. Stay here, I have to run round the corner. Go to the outside toilet at the inn, suggested the other guard. You dont want the wind to blow the stench here, he roared with laughter. The gira lover shook his head. No, its packed with people, therell be a queue. I wont be a minute. In one of the more secluded gateways he took a deep breath and pulled down his trousers, before starting to fertilise the Vilnius ground, amidst sounds of relief. But a few moments later, when he opened his eyes and tilted his head to the side, what he saw made his eyes pop out of his head. Slightly further down the street a was boy standing in the shadows. In deep concentration he was drawing something on the wall. A dauber! the mercenary gasped, Sidabras instructions immediately springing to mind: upon locating a dauber you must arrest him immediately. Mercenaries cant drop their guard even for a second even when answering the call of nature with their trousers down, they must be ready for anything. And so the Legionnaire,

driven entirely by reflex, pulled up his trousers, and three leaps later was standing next to the child. He blew on the whistle that had materialised out of his pocket, calling for his comrades assistance. Upon hearing the shrill sound, any dauber would have run for his life, but this one didnt. He didnt even flinch, but kept on painting. Deaf? the Legionnaire wondered. He span the boy round by the shoulder, and had to resist the urge to jump back. There was blood all over the boys mouth and his deep-set eyes were surrounded by dark circles, while one of his cheeks was commanded by a stubborn twitch. The Legionnaires eyes slid over the wall. The beast drawn on it was so true to life that it seemed to threaten to leap out and set everything ablaze with the flaming gaze of its eyes. What the Devil? swore the Legionnaire, his hand on the rascals shoulder. The boy was not going to run away or resist. I saw it, the boy mumbled and raised his bare-skinned arms in the air. They were smeared with blood below the elbows. It was five oclock in the evening. The Legate of Vilnius was on edge. Not in the direct sense of the word, of course, but that did not make the life of the Sluskai Palace guards any easier. Every quarter of an hour Sidabras would race down into the reception area and demand reports from the posts, which he then read with a clouded face. Not because the mercenaries were doing an inferior job. On the contrary, on the most demanding day of the Summit, they were working like machines. The strikes had been averted, the mothers march which had scared the devil out of Lt. Vielholskiy had collapsed, if not without some help from the chief Knight of the Cathedral (reading through this report made Sidabras bite his lip intensely), the flying ace Adam GaberVolynskiy had dived under Green Bridge without taking any lives with him, and the thousands of curious souls who had besieged the banks of the Neris had not fallen or drowned in the river. Even the small fry of the Troubles had behaved themselves. Of course, the last night of carousing without measure was still to come, with its inevitable broken noses and eyebrows burnt by the Alchemists flames of the sky. But Sidabras had every right to pat himself on the back for brilliantly-executed preparatory work and ask for a bonus to be paid from the citys budget. But a bonus and praise were not uppermost in his mind: he wanted action. And so he was now pacing the office and cursing the people who had temporarily relieved him of his duties but most of all, himself. Someone cautiously opened the door a crack. Everyone in Sluskai had been made aware of the commanders mood, and even the most ruthless interrogators would not come near his office in any other way but on tiptoe. What do you want, damn you? Sidabras bellowed. A moment later, however, he was already running downstairs like the wind, covering several steps in one leap. He stopped in the armoury to get a blunt hardwood baton, which he stuck in the loop of his belt. The holster attached to the belt also contained a pistol. He slipped into a water-proof patrolmans coat and dashed out into the street.

It was raining cats and dogs, and thunder rumbled somewhere close. In two steps Sidabras hopped inside the fast two-seat carriage that had been waiting for him outside the entrance to Sluskai. Go! he ordered the driver. Acknowledging the command with a nod of his head, the driver swiftly opened the boiler valves. With the hissing steam pouring out, the carriage darted out of the yard. With a few turns of the handle the driver released a high-pitched siren so that no one would be left doubting that this vehicle needed to travel fast. A creature appeared from under the foundations of a building and scampered after the stagecoach. Having gathered momentum, the mech rat hopped onto the vehicles running board. Seeing a blue dot move along the Vilnius streets at great speed, the heads bending over the Elektrolab in Markuciai Manor were finally able to breath a sigh of relief. The Legate is taking a ride somewhere, the Elder said. He could be just checking the posts or he could also be... In the last hours he had a message from his man in Sluskai, according to which Sidabras allegedly knew how to find the scientist Baltrus. The rain, which was rapidly gaining strength, had already chased people off the streets, leaving them clear of any obstacles for the howling carriage of the Legion. It drove around Cathedral Square and then past Bernardine Gardens. It did not brave Pilies Street though, as the locals and visitors who normally hung around that area were too headstrong to be scared off by something as simple as rain. They did come across an unexpected obstacle outside St Anns church though. The shafts of two horse drawn carriages had become so tangled up together that neither the two coachmen nor four of their helpers could separate them. The worried driver slowed down. Move over to the pavement! Sidabras yelled. And keep turning the siren handle, keep turning it! The carriage hooted and, splashing wet gravel around, climbed onto the wooden pavement. Its boards began to creak and the men working on the carriages started crossing themselves with fright. Having passed round the obstacle, the vehicle rolled back into the street. Good, Sidabras said dryly. The Legionnaire post was set up in The Red Rooster inn on the boundary between Mirth City and the Blots. The Rooster was a favourite of firefighters, constables, mercenaries as well as VIP security guards who were known among the city residents by the derogatory name of lickers. (One prankster, having suffered a severe beating at the hands of a bigwig, had paid him back with a little song: Those who lick toffs arses/Will end up with a scratched backside.) One glance around the inn made Sidabras realise it was teeming with vagrants. He did not like it. But what he disliked even more was the fact that all the drunks were staring at the two drenched patrolmen and a youth, or rather a child, sitting on a stool in one of the corners of the room. Sidabras conspicuously cleared his throat, making all heads turn to him.

Everyone out! Now! Sidabras roared. Those familiar with the Legate of Vilnius knew better than to argue, while those who had never seen him before decided against getting more closely acquainted with him, his baton or the pistol hanging by his side. Its raining outside, someone moaned, poking their head outside the door. It is dry in Sluskai, retorted Sidabras. Get your pints and get out. Well tell you when to come back. The Red Rooster emptied out immediately. Landlord Narimantas clicked his tongue it sounded like a reproach but didnt say anything. He knew there was no reason for him to despair: the rumour about the Legates odd visit would instantly spread around town, and the inn would be bursting at its seams tonight. Having convinced himself that there were no strangers left inside, Sidabras walked over to the dauber. He pulled a chair closer to the boy and just stared at him for a few minutes. The kids hands and mouth were stained with red paint. But his eyes...his eyes resembled those of a mad man. They were clouded, glaring straight ahead. Sidabras waved for the Legionnaires to step back. Dont fret, he spoke softly. No one will harm you. The boy remained silent. The Legate stirred on his chair before moving a little closer. What is your name? he asked. Silence. Sidabras gave the Legionnaires a questioning look. They shrugged. His lips are sealed, whispered one of them. All he said was, I saw it. Sidabras eyes went back to the dauber. What did you see, boy? Did you see the creature youve been drawing on the walls? Silence. Only the childs fingers trembled slightly. The tremor shifted first into the arms, then the boys shoulders shuddered, before eventually his entire body was consumed by an uncontrollable shaking. His feet slipped on the wooden floor and he went down, thrashing around on the floor like a fish out of water as his body touched the ground. Hold him! Sidabras cried. Three pairs of hands took a firm grip on the boy. This made the child stop tossing about. The backs of his hands helplessly clattered against the floor and his lips parted slightly. Angel of God, my guardian dear... he whispered. Kneeling on one knee, Sidabras bent over. What are you mumbling, little child? ...to whom his love entrusts me here... the child took a deep breath. Ever this day, night be at my side. His voice grew stronger and stronger before turning into wail. Oh be at my side, my guardian angel! I saw it! IT IS HERE!!!

With the last words out of his mouth, the boys eyes bulged, his entire body tensed, his head rose up. Sidabras hand, swiftly shoved under the boys head, was ready to catch it when the body collapsed a moment later. Red foam came out of his mouth. The alarmed Narimantas made the sign of cross, promising himself to light a load of candles as many as he could possibly carry in church on Sunday. What should we do? asked one of the Legionnaires, looking rather stunned. Ordinary people never became Legates, as truly extraordinary qualities were required to be selected. By that time Sidabras had not only asked himself the question, but also composed a further plan of action in his head. He cradled the boy in his arms, with his resting against his chest. The child was no heavier than a rag doll. Return to your post. It will be hot in town tonight, he spoke in a machine-like voice, not having the slightest inkling of how right he was. What about you, commander? I know someone who will help us, replied Sidabras, before rushing out of the inn with the child in his arms. Sidabras metal steed cleared the considerable distance to the Troubles in a flash. In fact, the journey was so quick that it would have easily impressed the famous racer Lon Serpollet the holder of the new Land Speed Record, only recently achieved by him on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The carriage spat out clouds of steam as it raced alongside the ponds, then made a circle around the Blots and Town Hall Square, before dashing across Pohulianka and ending up in the Blots Wet Square, splashing puddle water over everything as it rolled along. Sidabras realised it would be sheer madness to continue like this into the narrow slushy streets, and so he jumped out. Although God rarely crossed Sidabras mind, today he felt it appropriate to say a sincere prayer, asking for that person of utmost importance to be there. Ordering the driver to wait, he carried the boy into the depths of the Troubles, wading through mud and puddles. The mech rat leaped off the stagecoach ledge and followed them, carefully circumventing the larger puddles. A few minutes later Sidabras heavy fist was already pounding on the iron-bound wooden door. At first a tiny window opened, and then the door itself. Where is Margarita? Is she here? Sidabras panted heavily. On this occasion he had no time for niceties. Yes, she is, the nun at the door nodded, her dazed eyes moving over the unconscious boy in his arms. And what happened to this little child... Sidabras squeezed past the lady and ran along the corridor. Margarita! Margarita! A moment later he saw her running towards him, a wave of her hand directing him in the direction she wished him to go. She had of course noticed the bundle in his arms. Over here! ahead of him she rushed into a corridor that ended at the orphanages treatment rooms.

Despite being a frequent visitor to the almshouse, Sidabras had never been to the treatment rooms before. With the boy carefully laid on the bed, covered with a snow-white sheet, he looked around. The large square room only had two beds (each of them with its own bedside table) and four cabinets. They all held orderly rows of bottles and laboratory flasks of various sizes, boxes with labels in Latin, and some large herb-filled jars. One of the cabinets contained various medical instruments and containers, their surfaces exuding a silver sheen. In one of the corners, a large table covered with a cotton sheet was concealed behind a three part screen. The room did not reek of chlorine, as was customary in places of such description, but smelled of heather instead. This is in no way inferior to what Dembovskis has, Sidabras looked impressed. It is possibly even better. I dont know, Margarita replied. She was sitti ng on a stool, her eyes fixed on the childs face. I dont go to private doctors. If you had to tend to a number of children each day, you would not think of these supplies as being that great. But now tell me what this is all about. I will need some help! the last sentence was intended for two greyhabited nuns, who had just stepped inside the room: one of them young, while the other was quite elderly. The nuns nodded and left. You are my only hope, Sidabras uttered. While listening to the Legates story, Margarita set to work: she lifted the boys eyelids and inspected the eyes; holding his limp hand in hers she checked the pulse; then carefully parted his lips to see the tongue; before finally taking a close look at the nails. Her head moved up and down, a shadow of great concern over her face. Both nuns returned, each carrying a large copper bowl containing steaming hot water. Margarita beckoned them to place one bowl on the bedside table next to the boy and, aiding herself with scissors, began to free him from his dirty clothes, which were firmly stuck to his skin. What are these? she pointed at the soiled bandages. With them carefully removed, she inspected long bloody scratches on both arms and legs. Sidabras moved closer. I dont know, he shrugged. They look like bites. Margarita got off her stool and walked away from the bed. With fresh bandages soaking in hot water, the older nun began to wash the half naked child. He lay completely still, not even stirring when the bandages brushed over his still-raw wounds. Margarita and the nuns put their heads together and exchanged a few words, and a moment later the sisters were gone. Holding Sidabras by the elbow, Margarita took him to the window. It does not look good, she said quietly, as if worried that the child might hear. Of course, I am not a doctor, but life in the Troubles has taught me a lot. They need me here in a variety of shapes and forms as surgeon, Alchemist, dentist and psychiatrist. I think the boy has suffered a shock. Someone or something scared him. Terribly. His pulse is barely palpable. Is it possible to help him in any way? If you had taken him to Pilypas and Jokubas, they would have most likely told you no. They would have taken the boy over to the Bonifrati monks and waited for his own body to

decide. Whether to live or die. He could come back to life in a month or in a year. No one is too concerned about children like this one. He does not look like some rich merchants son. And you dont even know his name. Margarita went quiet, then looked Sidabras in the eye before continuing, Sister Liucia says that we could try to revive the child. But ... erm... how should I say it... in a rather unusual way. Sister Liucia? Sidabras knitted his brows. The name rang a bell . And then he remembered. A few years back, Pilypas and Jokubas hospital had been consumed by a scandal. People had turned against someone called Liucia who was said to have been making her critical patients drink some obscure elixir. The Truth of Vilnius got very carried away with the story, accusing the nun of making the potion out of deceased peoples body parts and practising black magic. The Health Councillor knew better than to believe such accusations, but the readers had demanded action. That was when Liucia vanished, everyone taking it as clear proof that she was a... Witch, Sidabras said out loud. And so what? with her hands on her hips and her head lowered, Margarita was looking back up at Sidabras. You want the boy dead? Stop paying too much attention to rumours! Sidabras touched her shoulder gently. Calm yourself. Ive told you you are my only hope. Help the child. Liucia is as much a witch as I am a juggler, Margarita blurted out. Then she looked Sidabras in the eye. By the way, it would be better if you kept your mouth shut. I know, Sidabras reply was curt. The old nun sister Liucia appeared in the doorway again. She looked different. Dark bags had appeared under her eyes, while her forehead was covered with tiny drops of sweat, which Liucia kept wiping off with the sleeve of her habit. Sidabras eye caught a glimpse of a bandage over the womans wrist. In one hand she held a laboratory flask containing garnet coloured liquid sloshing about; in the other, thick silver stick. Bring me the camphor spirit! The most potent one, she said, and Margarita obediently responded by removing a metal bottle with a stopper off the shelf. Hold his arms and legs. Hold them firmly, she ordered Sidabras, and he obeyed her command without question. Once again the nun wiped the sweat from her forehead, grabbed the boys chin and, with a swift movement of her both hands, opened the boys mouth. She rammed the silver stick between his upper and lower teeth in order to keep them separated. Margarita, a bottle of camphor spirit in her hands, positioned herself by the boys head, while Sidabras pressed down on the childs legs and arms, as thin as reeds. He was worried throughout that he might press too hard and break the childs fragile bones. Sister Liucia pulled out the flasks stopper. Contact with the air made the garnet coloured liquid bubble and fizz. Camphor spirit, please, Liucia ordered again. Margarita removed the stopper. The strong smell that coiled around the room made Sidabras eyes water. The woman put the bottle to the boys nose. At first all their efforts appeared futile; but after a while the childs nostrils flared. Margarita pushed the bottle even closer.

Suddenly the childs eyes opened wide. They were bleary and the pupils were dilated. The child strained to sit up, but Sidabras kept a firm grip on his arms and legs. The boy muttered something before trying to push the silver stick out of his mouth; failing to do so, he bit it in half. His eyes began to dart around, while his entire body was taken over by shaking thats how fast his heart was beating. Quick! yelled Margarita. Liucia tilted the flask and slowly poured the fizzy and gooey liquid, like tree sap, into the childs mouth. She took great care not to lose a single drop. The change was instantaneous. Sidabras could feel the childs tense body relax, his eyes stopped darting around and began to clear, the dilated pupils returning to their normal size. With the last drops of camphor in the boys mouth, the nun straightened up. Margarita put the stopper back in the bottle. Sidabras slowly released his grip. With his breathing evening out, the boy closed his eyes but only to open them again in a short while. He turned his head from side to side and then propped himself up on his elbows and looked about the room, before scrutinising each of the three other persons in the treatment room one by one. Surprise was pouring out of his bright blue eyes. Where... where... he rasped and then licked his chapped lips. Margarita rushed to his side with a glass of water. The boy emptied the glass thirstily and sighed. Where am I? he asked slightly louder this time. You are in safe hands, Margarita was quick to reassure him. Sidabras cleared his throat but, noticing the head of the orphanage looking daggers at him, decided to keep quiet. What is your name? Margarita asked. The boy looked puzzled. So... he rubbed his forehead with his fingers. Solomon. Solomon Klein. The Legates eyes narrowed. Here we go! Yet another piece of the puzzle falls into place. The same boy the Legionnaires had chased outside the Town Hall. The boys accomplices had revealed that he had burrowed himself out of trouble in the labyrinth of the sewers. How old are you? Margarita continued. Solomon shrugged. Where do you live? The child was quiet but his shoulders went up and down. Sidabras beckoned to Margarita to move away from the bed. What is wrong with him? he asked when the boy could no longer hear them. I would like to ask him a few questions. Would his condition allow him to answer me? Margarita gave Liucia a sideways look. She walked over. The nun was no longer sweating, but her hands were still shaking badly. This elix... erm... this drink helped to bring the child back to life, Liucia uttered softly. Besides, it acts as a sedative. You can question him, but dont push it. He might go back to where he was before. He had lost his sanity. Whether he has completely recovered and will tell you the truth I dont know, she added quietly.

Sidabras nodded, went back to the boy and sat on the stool. The kid looked up at him. There was an air about his eyes that of naivete, openness, without a hint of understanding what the world was about. The boy had babys eyes. Sidabras felt a tight squeeze on his heart. Listen to me, Solomon, he began. You are at an orphanage in the Troubles. No one is going to do you any harm while you are here. It is safe, Sidabras was trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly. And I need your help. You are the only person who could help me. This is very very important, Solomon. Will you help me? Silence. Silence. Silence. Sidabras sighed, turning his despondent gaze to the floor. He then got up and walked to the window. Margarita joined him there with her hand on his shoulder. He has recovered, and thats great news, she whispered. Suddenly Solomon turned his head to the window. Yes, he said clearly. I will help you. Sidabras was overcome with the desire to throw himself at the boy, but managed to compose himself. He walked unhurriedly back to the bed and plopped down on the stool. Were you in a group of boys daubing the Town Hall walls? his voice was very soft. Solomon quickly nodded he was obviously proud of it. And you concealed yourself in the sewer? Yes, the boy admitted. They did not catch... they did not catch me. Can you tell me what happened then? For a moment Solomon sat there, his eyes fixed to the floor. I ran... I was terribly scared as I was attacked by rats. Strange on es. I hit my forehead badly. Then... I woke up on a bench in a dark room. It had an iron-barred door. I wanted to escape but my fear was holding me up. And then I heard two people speaking in the other room. What did they talk about? Sidabras leaned forward for this answer. I didnt really understand. About a hospital, about a labu... labo... laburatory. Did they mention any names? Yes. One of them said, Soon, it will be really soon, Pranciskus. A loud sigh emerged from Sidabras mouth. And then? Then they left. The barred door was opened and I heard... the child exhaled but didnt pause. His voice became more alert. It came up to me. But it cant breathe, it only clanks. Who is it, Solomon? Sidabras felt bewildered.

The boy tilted the head sideways, his eyes staring at one spot before him. A monster. Enormous, it was. Clanking all over, like. It didnt touch me. It walked out through the metal-bound door and I followed it. I also saw... he scratched his cheek. I also saw a large room with some machines and a man in bed. And where did you go? The child shrugged. Down the tunnels. I saw it. But not all the time. It would sometimes disappear. But why did you follow behind the monster, Solomon? I dont know. Were you not scared? The boy looked at Sidabras. No... I was scared... I dont know... But it led me out of the tunnel. I came out into the street... He went quiet. The old nun walked up to the child and stroked his head. She then tucked him in and left the room. What happened next, Solomon? Sidabras enquired cautiously. The boy pulled the blanket up to his face. The street was dark. In the agreed place I found a bucket with paint. I was supposed to write words on the walls... Copy them from a piece of paper. I took the paint and was about to write... But the paper wasnt there... Then I... You drew a monster, Sidabras reminded him. He noded. Yes... no... I dont know. I wrote... and I drew it. Then I saw it again. It attacked a man. And then vanished. It must have gone back underground. But it will come again. It always comes back. The door opened, and in came sister Liucia with a cup in her hand. With a meaningful glance at Sidabras, she extended the cup to the boy. Here is some tea, she explained. Drink it, it will warm you up. You must be tired, she stroked the boys head again. You should have a nap. When you wake up, everything will be fine. Solomon nodded in agreement and put the cup to his lips. With his eye lids becoming heavier and heavier, he soon drifted off to sleep. Sidabras cupped his face between his hands. It was obvious the monster was a bionic. A union between a mechanical machine and a living organism, according to the head of the Mechanics, Petras Vileisis. The object of the dreams of so many creators throughout the centuries, it had never came to life. Until now. The author of the monster: scientist Pranciskus Baltrus. The same one who produced the mysterious drawings that ended up in the hands of Vanechka Skorik, who was later killed in the Cholera Cemetery. What happened next? It seemed that for some unknown reason the Vitamancers had decided to pause in their efforts and hide their genius in Novovileysk Psychiatric Hospital, away from prying eyes, where he

was of no interest to anyone. However, they were not the only party to the game anymore. Someone else had pulled Pranciskus out of hospital and hid him underground. It is quite possible that he had a laboratory set up for him there, where his bionic masterpiece was completed and released into the streets of night-time Vilnius. Many questions in this story still remained unanswered though: who was the secret player who helped Baltrus to construct a bionic in the short space of two weeks? What were the players goals? There was one thing, however, that Sidabras was absolutely confident about the killings had to be stopped. He breathed in and out and then looked at Margarita. Thank you, he said lightly squeezing her hand. But I have one more request. I would like the boy to take me underground. What? Margaritas hand flew to her mouth. Are you mad? she placed herself so that she screened Solomon away from him, as if Sidabras had decided to grab the sleeping child by his collar and drag him outside. He is the only one to know the way! Sidabras sounded adamant. Forever and a day thats how long I will wander around the underground tunnels without his help. This is impossible! Margarita shook her head. Do you have any idea what might happen to the child if he goes back to this horrific hole? Do you have any idea what might happen if I do not put an end to the killings? That creature could slaughter the better half of the city! Sidabras growled. What if its nothing more than a childs imagination? Margarita was unrelenting. Sidabras shook his head. No, Margarita. It has nothing to do with his imagination. Please believe me, Ive seen things before. They both fell silent and gazed at each other for a minute. Fine, Margarita gave in. But only on condition that the child is happy to go with you. And only after he has had a proper sleep. Sidabras smiled. Would you offer me some tea? I have the patience of a saint, Ill wait. *** It took two hours for Solomon to wake up. Had Sidabras known him before, he would have felt baffled the boy had gone back to the same boy that he was prior to the encounter with the monster cheerful and somewhat of a rascal. He heard out Sidabras request without batting an eye. I will walk with you. I will show you the opening into the underground tunnels. I wasnt attacked by the monster after all, was I? Sidabras scratched his head. Maybe it doesnt touch children, he wondered gloomily. Maybe it only goes for grown men. He didnt know whether to believe his own statement though.

Chapter XXXIX Vilnius, 7:00 pm 26 04 1905

At 7:00 in the evening it was raining pitchforks and hammer handles with bolts of lightning flowing across the sky. Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus squinted at the window. If I could only throw some cold water on these mens heads it would surely cool them down a bit, he glanced over the heads inside the Town Hall. Passions were flying high the room was boiling like the water in a Russian samovar. Following the break, during which the guests had watched Adam Gaber-Volynskiys flight under Green Bridge, the time had come for the key debates on how to resolve international disputes. The issues that the Alliance representatives were mostly concerned with were: number one convincing the greatest European powers that the Dispute Resolution Committee would be the best institution to carry out the task; two, persuading them that the Dispute Resolution Committee should be set up within the Alliance itself; and three, achieving the strict observance of The Dispute Resolution Committee by all the European countries who were parties to the dispute. By way of establishing such a committee in the Alliance, the Rothschilds and the cities of the Alliance would increase their political and economical influence, the free cities would be protected from the conflicts brewing in Europe, at the same time safeguarding their independence, not to mention gaining a convenient opportunity to position themselves firmly in the very centre of European intrigues (a dream of the leaders of the Alliance). However, this agreement was proving to be an elusive prize. Representatives of some European countries reprimanded the cities of the Alliance for being subservient and held on a short leash: Vilnius and Reval were being controlled by Russia; Prague, by the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Krakow, by Germany; while Constantinople was in the hands of the Turks. Moreover, a few countries, and most of all Germany, vehemently opposed the idea of a Dispute Resolution Committee whose decisions everyone was obliged to implement. They were not going to rest their case. I will repeat myself: any country has every right to employ all possible measures when it comes to the protection of its interests. No Dispute Resolution Committee with its judges pulled out from God knows where will make us implement its decisions if Germany does not approve of them, Prussian Minister of War Karl von Einem was cutting the air with the side of his hand. Baron Nathan Rothschild bit his lip. It wasnt by accident that Germany had sent The Parsifal and its most renowned war hawk von Einem they were to serve as a reminder to Rothschild that the German Kaiser had to be taken seriously. Von Einem was already putting obstacles in the way of suggestions by the British and the French regarding arms reduction in Europe. You, the French and the British are trying to convince Germany that you care for peace, but what you really are is a wolf in sheeps clothing, von Einem said bluntly. You want to

reduce the size of the navy? You think we dont know how many ships you get into the water in your great Plymouth and Brest factories? Peace has always been Germanys ambition. But we are not blind we see what is happening in other countries. The British and the French fell somewhat quiet, and the Austrians and the Turks chose the option of staying out of it, but Lamsdorf lunged at the Prussian, hurling harsh words. Just look at you discussing peace here with your monstrosity The Parsifal suspended above the city. What purpose does it serve? Why is it here? What is German Kaiser trying to prove? You want to intimidate us? Or are you after something else? he yelled, his double chin shaking with anger. And why is Vilnius surrounded by an iron ring of your armoured trains? Maybe honorable Baron Rothschild would tell us what a military dirigible of the British Empire is doing here? von Einem snapped. For peace and safety? Thats what we do look after peace and safety, especially during an event of such paramount importance. This being the only reason why The Parsifal is here for peace and safety. Gentlemen, gentlemen! Baron von Rothschild attempted to intervene. We have not gathered here to throw accusations at one another. Lets think clearly. The entire Alliance, and Vilnius in particular, is very pleased about your countries... the Baron motioned his head towards the representative of the Russian Empire Vladimir Lamsdorf, then Prussian War Minister von Einem and finally, towards Foreign Minister of the British Empire Lord Petty-Fitzmaurice ...looking after our city and making it a safe place to be. Isnt that right, Burgomaster? he turned to Venslauskis-Venskus. Woken from his day-dream, Venslauskis-Venskus acknowledged the comment with a sudden jerk of his head. The tension in the hall grew so thick you could have cut it with a knife. The rain on the other side of the window lashed even hard, and a bolt of lightning slashed and whipped the sky. Speeches were given by other participants of the event Austro-Hungarian envoy Count Lszl Szgyny-Marich, and Secretary to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Izzet Pasha El'Abed. The latter rambled on and on speaking about the common railway which would connect the European countries, the Alliance and the Ottoman Empire. The Russian Foreign Minister Lamsdorf did not seem to take the Turks monologue very seriously but carefully watched War Minister von Einem with a faint sneer on his face (twirling his mustache around his finger, von Einem pretended not to notice), before casting a quick glance at his gold watch. It was three minutes to eight in the evening. Three minutes to eight, announced the driver. The snake charmer Emilia acknowledged his message with a nod, before removing a silver stick and a tuning fork from her suede bag and clambering out of the steam carriage. She then stretched and looked around. The carriage was parked on top of a low hill with a good view of all four places in possession of her gifts. At that point Actual State Councillor Alexander Ignatyavich Golytsin was in the captains cabin at The Ilya Muromets. With arms crossed over his chest he was watching the hands of a substantial wall clock. The captain of the dirigible was poised. Another move of the minute hand brought it very close to the number eight.

Attention. Golytsin gave a quiet warning. The Muromets crew took position. The captain of The Star of St George Scotsman Milton Mabrey was in his cabin, reading his favourite Burns, sprawled across a bed with his booted feet on the chair. Poetry always helped him calm his nerves, and there had been a lot of stress in his life lately. If it was The Parsifal yesterday, today it was the second adjutant Finley. When OBraiti s had finally got back to the dirigible, he was so agitated and so incoherent in his story, that the only thing Mabrey managed to make out was the fact that Finley had deserted. OBraitis had tried stopping him but to no avail. He was not able to explain the reasons behind his friends decision, but kept mumbling something about freedom and travelling around the world. It must be said that at first the captain did not take the news well. Clutching his head in his hands, he had yelled some choice words at the first adjutant, and had even threatened him with a military tribunal by the close of his angry tirade. Having let the steam off though, he admitted that most likely OBraitis had nothing to do with it, and then apologised to him, before, still feeling rather distraught, sitting down to write a letter to Airforce Headquarters. A deserter British military officer was no joke, and even more so if he chose to act at the time of the Summit, when the city was teeming with Russian, German, Austrian and even Turkish agents. Adjutant OBraitis was prepared to swear on his life that it had nothing to do with politics, and kept babbling something about a confused mind and some femme fatale with whom Finley had fallen head over heels in love. He was so distraught and so muddled that Mabrey told him to take a rest, while he sent out his letter and went back to his Burns collection to contemplate the scolding he was to receive tomorrow. With a loud yawn the Scotsman lifted his eyes from the book to look at the wall clock a farewell present from his fellow servicemen. A minute was left to eight oclock. It was time for the evening inspection. Mabrey turned down the corner of his page and closed the book. He got up and started to look for his hat. Ding dong! Ding dong! sang St Casimiers bells in their copper voices, for a moment drowning those of the squabblers in the Town Hall. They were soon echoed by other churches, their waves of tolls drifting above the city as far as the hill where Emilia waited. She glanced over at the crying sky and turned to face her targets the gloomy buildings looking even more miserable against the background of pouring rain. Emilia knew the bombs were safe. Novovileysk would be soon blown up. The woman raised the U shaped tuning fork above her head and struck it with the silver stick. The deceased Kniazs instructions were clear as day: strike it twice and get out; dont wait to see the result youll get what you want. Emilia stroke the tuning fork for the second time. The invisible ripples of sound shot in all directions, also reaching their recipients. The bottom of the glass tubes shattered to pieces with a clink, allowing the violet jelly penetrate the insides of the clay balls. Emilia wasted no time and darted back to her carriage. Go! she yelled to the driver. The carriage roared before setting off along the road leading to Vilnius. The woman, seemingly not bothered by the rain, stuck her head through the window to look at the sky, where somewhere in the clouds above Vilnius The Parsifal floated. The woman pulled her head inside before turning back to have one last glimpse at Novovileysk,

now receding in the back window. It seemed that the time had stopped seconds turned to minutes. Inside the balls the jelly mixed with chemicals, produced by Kniaz according to his own secret recipe. The balls began to shake. The Head Physician of Novovileysk hospital for sickly factory workers, the same who had only recently been visited by an attractive inspector, was getting ready to leave for the day. For no particular reason he paused in the doorway and looked at his desk, before turning back and walking over. A split second later he was thrown up in the air. The blastwave ripped the building to shreds, shattering partitions as if they were made of matches, and throwing people out of their beds as if they were nothing more than dolls. The windows were broken and one of the walls shuddered, before turning into a pile of plaster and rubble, which was then instantly soaked by water from the torrenting skies. The four balls exploded in unison and the four blastwaves banged against one another like four glasses clinked together by drinkers. And star-bright rays spread in all directions, wiping everything in their path from the face of the earth. Glass shattered, factory chimneys split, bricks flew dementedly through the air, while moans and screams resounded. Novovileysk collapsed like a sand castle washed away by the sea. Despite Emilias carriage rushing as fast as its boiler allowed, the ruthless blastwave was hard on its heels. Faster! the woman screamed, Kniazs last words ringing in her head: you must be very quick. Exceptionally quick. I hope he counted his sagenes right, a thought flashed through Emilias head before a wave of hot air caught up with the carriage, flung it in the air and turned it upside down, before dropping it into the ditch by the road. Shards of glass slashed Emilias soft complexion, before especially cruel splinters faster than lightning cut through her throat. Suddenly an odd rumble rolled across Vilnius the Town Hall windows began to vibrate, while the grand chandelier swung underneath the ceiling. All participants in the Summit rushed to the windows. What is it now? Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus gasped. Far away in the distance, on the right, someone with sharper eyes could discern a strange black cloud its shape fluctuating due to the rain. The hall hummed and murmured. Everyone tried to outshout one another, people were jumping up in order to get a better view. What is that over there? one of the guests shouted. Mirth City, Venslauskis-Venskus muttered before spontaneously climbing on top of a chair. And... Markuciai... the Vitamancer manor... he lifted himself up on the tip -toes. What are they... Could it be a dirigible crash? someone gasped. Maybe The Parsifal? I cant see it in the sky. And that bang... Venslauskis-Venskus cupped his head in his hands, nearly falling off his chair.

Then came the sound of doors being slammed, and some guests hurried out into the corridor to give instructions to their waiting adjutants. By then the commotion had spilled out of the hall. Concern wrinkled Baron Rothschilds forehead, while his eyes gleamed a weary light. The greatly experienced governor of the Alliance could sense a nearing tragedy. Had he had a closer look at the guestss faces, he would have certainly noticed one person who did not seem to be touched by the odd occurrence at all. The Russian Foreign Minister Lamsdorf unassumingly snapped the lid of his watch closed before putting it away in the pocket. A sweating signaller, a piece of paper raised above his head, darted inside through the door. Urgent dispatch! For His Highness Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Lamsdorf. Here, the Russian spoke before stepping forward to collect the paper. His eyes scanning the letter, his brow gradually clouded with worry. Lamsdorf looked up from the paper and gazed over the people in the hall with a dramatic pause. He was once a popular actor in his local theatre. The hall fell deathly silent. Two minutes ago, an attack on Novovileysk a city of the Russian Empire was carried out without any warning and for no known reason. Four bombs exploded, great numbers of people have been killed and injured, a hospital, a military barracks and a few other buildings demolished. According to preliminary findings it was an air strike. What?! voices yelled. An air strike, Lamsdorf repeated slowly for emphasis. The only military dirigible, suspended above Vilnius and capable of reaching Novovileysk is The Parsifal. Every head in the room turned to the Prussian Minister of War von Einem. The man became red in the face. Have you gone totally mad, Lamsdorf! he yelled. Do you think that... You have gone mad yourself, you shabby German! howled the brightest star of Russian diplomacy. So thats why you needed the flying fortress! To show off your power! What is your rotten peace worth then? Gentlemen, gentlemen! Baron Rothschild tried to calm him, but the Russian wouldnt listen. For no reason and without the slightest warning you carried out an attack on an innocent town of the Russian Empire! he screamed. You bombed a hospital! Madman! von Einem barked. Lamsdorf threw himself at him, waving his clenched fists, but fortunately the fight was broken up before it even started, as the Burgomaster of Krakow and the Sultans Secretary squeezed themselves into the space between the two would-be duellers. Lamsdorf, however, was in no mood to give in. You are saying Germany wants peace? You liar! What do you need peace for when you have The Parsifal? You think the shadow of your fortress or a few bombs will frighten the devil out of us? You think Russia cant bare its teeth to you? Oh how wrong you are, you... you German! he spluttered madly. You dont believe me? having pushed Krakows

Burgomaster aside, he rushed to the window. Here! he pointed the finger at the sky. What will you say now? The sky was slashed by a bolt of lightning. Jesus Christ on a crutch! Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus heaved. Jesus Christ on a crutch! also heaved the controller of the Navigators Tower before starting to turn the alarm signal handle with all his might. A heartbreaking howl slit the city like a blade. Confused residents began to mill about, people left the inns and spilled into the streets, asking one another why the Navigators Tower had released the siren. But as soon as they raised their eyes skywards, none of them had any more questions. Russia always pays its debts in full! Vladimir Lamsdorf screamed triumphantly. A dirigible of unbelievable proportions ripped through a sheet of cloud and hung above Vilnius. Its enormous propellers sprayed fountains of steam. The duty officers in the Navigators Tower leaned over the binoculars. On top of the monster, on the oval, metal-bound dome, they saw a number of military biplanes with tiny dots moving about them. This is the end of the world! Venslauskis-Venskus clutched his chest. People on top of a dirigible balloon? the controllers mouth gaped. The Ilya Muromets had arrived in free Vilnius. The sirens continued to howl. The signals of bright light released by the controller in the Navigators Tower in an attempt to draw The Ilya Muromets attention served no purpose as the menacing giant of the skies and pride and joy of the Russian Empire was totally oblivious to them. At that point the captain of the The Parsifal appeared on its bridge. Following his orders, the cannon-armed German flying fortress, which had hung suspended above Vilnius up until then, set course in the direction of The Muromets. At that hour The Star of St George was still at Viscigavas. The workers hurried to unwind the mooring lines for the airship to take to the air, and the dirigibles Alchemist sitting in a chair turning handles, nimbly mixing promethelium and other important ingredients. Captain Mabrey was standing at the control stick, when adjutant OBraitis approached him from behind and froze. Just like all the others in the city, they were stunned by the sight of the Russian giant emerging from the dark skies, but their stupefaction only lasted a few heartbeats. Putting the Finley story behind him, Mabrey went back to giving commands, while The Stars men prepared for battle. This is the captain speaking, Mabrey said into the speaking tube. Lets take off and go, sirs. Lets show them whos in charge. *** The rumour that there could be combat over Vilnius spread like wildfire. Crowds flooded the streets, young and agile citizens climbing trees and clambering onto roof tops. Heads tilted backwards, people gazed at the sky where, in the middle of the pouring rain and slashing lightning, two air giants swung in a phantasmagorical dance.

A ray of white light the British dirigible The Star of St George was moving in the direction of the city, having taken off from Viscigavas airship port. Chaos reigned at the Town Hall. The delegations of Russian and German diplomats were surrounded by people, shouting over the top of one another and flailing their arms in the air. While Prussian War Minister von Einem was clearly confused, the face of Russian Foreign Minister Lamsdorf was embellished with a self-satisfied smirk. Baron Rothschild and the citys Money Councillor Gerhardt von Ott, their heads together, were deeply involved in a quiet private conversation. And although the Burgomaster of Vilnius felt he had to say or do something to stop this madness, he seemed to have lost control over his stiff and lifeless tongue and unresponsive arms and legs. Realising that the Burgomaster would be of little use, Steam Councillor Petras Vileisis and Direction Councillor Fiodor Scherbakov decided to take matters into their own hands. Sirs, do you even understand the implications of your actions? Flailing his metal arm in the air, Vileisis yelled at the top of his lungs, trying to rise above the clamour. You decided to go to war against each other above the heads of a hundred thousand people? Do you have any idea what would happen if one of your metal monsters crashed to the ground? Wake up! They were the ones who started the warfare. Now there are piles of victims strewn around Novovileysk, Lamsdorf bellowed, the second dispatch in his hand. Its you who is mad! von Einem retorted, waving a different dispatch in his hand. Heres the latest news from The Parsifal. They didnt drop the bombs! You are lying! the Russian screeched. The captain of the German Parsifal felt bewildered. Three times he had asked for the Prussian War Minister von Einems instructions, but still there was no reply. While the Russian Ilya Muromets was ready for action. Give them a warning shot! Golytsin calmly told the captain of The Muromets. Warning shot, square seven four four one! the captain yelled into the speaking tube. Within a second one of the Russian dirigibles cannons moved before firing a flame-licked shell. It flew towards the German fortress of The Parsifal before exploding in mid air, spraying the sky with the firework of smoke. The coordinates square at which they had aimed at was at a considerable distance from The Parsifal, but the force of the impact still reached the German flying fortress, making it sway to the side. The airship pilots, who had not managed to grab the railings, tumbled down and skidded sideways. The airships navigator yelling the degrees of compensation for the angle of inclination, the helmsman zealously handled the control stick. The street crowd gasped in unison. The shrewd ones began to visualise a possible end to all of this, and set out in search of a safer place. Donnerwetter!41 swore the captain of the German Parsifal. Damn! What happened to our instructions? Send another dispatch! he ordered the signaller. Do it now! If a minute later I still dont have the reply, I will act at my own discretion. Artillerymen, prepare for battle!
41

Damn (German).

Excellent shot, well done! the Russian Actual State Councillor Golytsin smacked his lips, patting The Muromets captain on the shoulder. And now over to the biplanes! Attention, Vitiazes! One, two, three, four get ready for take off! the captain commanded. A soldier wearing a protective face mask, on duty in the tower situated at the very back of The Muromets, immediately waved two red flags. Acknowledging the command with their fists in the air, the Vitiaz pilots pushed their goggles down over their eyes and started the engines. You are a war criminal! Lamsdorf poked von Einem in the chest. Strange to hear this from someone whos a criminal himself! the Prussian War Minister retorted. An adjutant who had swiftly emerged by his side extended the latest dispatch. The Parsifal is eagerly awaiting your instructions, he whispered in his ear. The German subconsciously reached for his moustache, nervously twirling its tips. The Russians are ready to fly their biplanes! yelled a panting messenger. It took a split second for von Einem to make up his mind. His eyes fixed on Lamsdorf, he began to dictate his order to the adjutant. Even though the Russian could not hear what the Prussian War Minister was dictating, he understood everything. He sneered at his opponent. The decisive factor in the finale of this intrigue was the move of the Prussian war hawk von Einem. Fully utilise capacity. Render the enemy incapable of resisting and, if need arises, shoot it down, he kept dictating to the adjutant. Then came a moment when Governor of the Alliance Baron Nathan Rothschild came back to his senses. He rushed to Lieutenant of Vilnius Legion Vielholskiy, who was pacing around the hall. Arrest those two, he pointed at Lamsdorf and von Einem. Immediately. The Legionnaire looked confused. The Ministers? You want them arrested? Obey the order!!! the Baron roared. Lt. Vielholskiy beckoned two of his Legionnaires, who had been standing by the door. Russian biplanes the miniature Vitiazes taxied along the runway of The Ilya Muromets before gracefully pulling off. The German Parsifals captain turned to his signaller. Do we have the order? The signaller shook his head. The biplanes are in the air, The Parsifals navigator reported in a steely voice. They are flying in our direction. The captain clenched his teeth.

Theyve asked for it, he muttered. Course two seven four, with this command sent to the navigator, he clutched the speaking tube in his hands. Engine department full speed ahead. Cannon section get ready for a coordinated volley. Listen for my commands. The Russian biplane pilots caressed their machinegun triggers. In the Town Hall Lt. Vielholskiys Legionnaires elbowed their way towards Prussian War Minister von Einem and Russian Foreign Minister Lamsdorf. Thousands of curious residents held their breath in the streets. The flying fortress The Parsifal started to turn, getting ready for the Russian Vitiazes, now drawing near at great speed. Attention! The Parsifals captain commanded. Engine department... Fire! calmly uttered captain of the British airship The Star of Sr George Milton Mabrey. Attention all shooters: fire! At that very moment both cannons of The Star fired volleys of signal shells loaded with alchemic mixture. The sky became brightly illuminated, the glare resembling a summer day. The British shooters poured with sweat, trying to ensure their cannons blasted the area between the Russian and German dirigibles without hitting them. One shell exploded in front of The Muromets captains bridge with a burst of dazzling flame, causing Golytsin and the dirigible captain to see multi-coloured lights inside their eyes. The Star of St George gracefully glided in between the tiny Vitiazes, which scattered in different directions like fretful sparrows at the appearance of a hawk. At the same time, next to the German flying fortress The Parsifal and the pride and joy of the Russian Empire The Ilya Muromets, the British star looked like no more than a little toy. Volleys blasted from German and Russian cannons would have easily turned it into a sieve. This is the Royal British Air Force corvette The Star of St George! rumbled the voice of captain Milton Mabrey, amplified by a powerful loudspeaker. The wireless simultaneously delivered this message to both airships, as well as to ground posts. This is a message to The Parsifal and The Ilya Muromets! You have entered the air space of free Vilnius which, under the general agreement with the cities of the Alliance, is protected and defended by the British Empire. Your appearance and actions have not been coordinated and are unlawful. Any partys aggression towards the other party or the city will be perceived as a direct assault on the British Empire. And what will happen next? asked OBraitis, standing next to his captain. Have some patience, boy, Mabrey muttered. They will soon lay w aste to us. You should now start praying, if you are religious, that is. Having plucked up their courage again, the Russian Vitiazes, like baby sharks, encircled The Parsifal in a large moving ring. The Parsifals captain was rubbing his forehead. He never gave the command to fire. While on The Muromets Golytsin smiled smugly, as if pondering a hilarious story he had just heard. Gentlemen, in the name of the Burgomaster of free Vilnius, you are under arrest, Michal Vielholskiy announced to ministers von Einem and Lamsdorf, standing to attention. What? neither of the men could believe their ears.

What? Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus gasped. Baron Nathan Rothschild appeared behind Lt. Vielholskiys back. You must immediately order your military machines to cease this circus. Otherwise you will be arrested and tried in accordance with the laws of the Alliance. Have you lost your mind, Baron? cried von Einem. You cant arrest us. What about our diplomatic immunity?! What about it? Rotshchild waved his hand dismissively. I am not going to let you start a war under the skies of Vilnius. Lieutenant, execute the order, he addressed Vielholskiy. Vielholskiys heavy hand landing on von Einems shoulder, the other two Legionnaires flanked Lamsdorf. Von Einem turned to his entourage three uniformed men. They, however, were also encircled by the Vilnius Legionnaires. A huge scandal was about to ensue. Von Einem snorted and, with gritted teeth, looked back at his adjutant, shuffling about nearby. Urgent message to The Parsifal it must leave the Vilnius air space immediately, he said huskily, with a provocative glance at Lamsdorf. The latter addressed his own adjutant, with a graceful tilt of the head, Would you be so kind and pass the message to The Muromets: all the biplanes must return to the deck and they must abandon Vilnius air space. The adjutants charged out of the hall to carry out their orders. Shaking Lt. Vielholskiys hand from his shoulder, von Einem cast a slow glance over everyone present before fixing his eyes on Nathan Rothschild. The Parsifal did not drop bombs on Novovileysk, he said through gritted teeth. But I have no doubt we will soon find out who is responsible. But you, Baron, have made a gross error of judgement by threatening me the Prussian War Minister. Germany will never forget that. Just dont pin your faith on some derelict British crate next time. I shall see you soon, he turned on his heel and marched out of the hall. His entourage followed behind. Lamsdorf stuck a dramatic pose, stretching out his hand. What? he snapped. And you, Baron Rothschild, will allow this person to depart just like that? But who will be held responsible for the Novovileysk explosions? For the blood and tears of innocent people? Besides, Your Excellency, Lamsdorf lowered his voice. You were planning on arresting me. Me! The Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire! Do you call such behaviour fair here in the Alliance? If that is the case, Russia refuses to play your games! We will identify and punish the culprits ourselves. Good bye! The Russian envoy and his entourage departed from the hall. Soon after, The Muromets deck was filled with Vitiazes, landing on it one by one. Wrapped in clouds of fog, the Russian behemoth began to ascend, gradually becoming smaller and smaller, until it blended completely with the sky and disappeared altogether. With its cannon hatches closed, the flying German fortress The Parsifal began its slow descent, aiming for Viscigavas. The last dispatch that Karl von Einem had sent to the airship instructed them not to leave Vilnius without collecting him first. Both things were to be done promptly.

A quarter of an hour later the only airship still suspended above Vilnius was the British Star of St George. People started to clear the streets, and began animated discussions on the incredible show that they had just witnessed as they walked. With the rain subsiding, the retreating thunder rumbled its farewell. Baron Nathan Rothschild gave a deep sigh. The Summit had never made any sense to him. Well, at least weve managed to prevent a war, he muttered. Today yes, Lord Petty-Fitzmaurice, Foreign Minister of the British Empire, remarked dryly. In which case could we continue with our discussion on the railway? Iz zet Pasha El'Abed, Secretary to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, suggested, rubbing his hands.

Chapter XL Vilnius, sunset 26 04 1905 The sun always comes out after a storm. Taking the thunder and lightning with it, the rain retreated to the South, leaving fresh air and puddles behind. A wind ripped in and tore up the sheet of cloud, granting the setting sun a last chance to bathe the bustling streets in its rays. The wet city roofs and church spires looked as if they had been inundated with liquid gold, while a dash of fake blood splashed the eyes of the University Dominium goblins and the Guild of Mechanics dome dazzled with a blinding light. This change of weather was a gift to the Alchemists who, amidst heated exchanges of their impressions on the recently witnessed battle over Vilnius, started bustling about on the Hill of Bekesas, unloading boxes with fireworks and getting ready for the parade of midnight lights a traditional ending to Summits. This brief interval revealed the city in a slightly different light making its image clearer, brighter and cleaner. But it did not last, and the sun, unable to resist the laws of nature, soon sprayed a final fan of rays before vanishing beyond the horizon. As if announcing the end of a performance, the curtain of clouds was drawn and the city welcomed dusk, descending on it from above. Vilnius, however, had not the slightest intention of drowning in darkness. Gas lights were swiftly lit by the lantern men, who spilled into the streets in dozens, and a brand new tobacco advertisement produced by the University Dominium Alchemists a dancing flame in the shape of a writhing beauty with a cigar in her mouth attracted a crowd of gawpers. Drivers of steam carriages, stagecoaches and street trolleys also took their lanterns out. The inns, pubs and restaurants exuded their own soft light, which served as bait for their potential clients; and so did the joy houses, with their dimmed, intimate, flickering illuminations squeezing through the chinks in heavy velvet curtains. St Georges Avenues hundred-yearold linden trees were adorned with artificial fireflies (another gift to the city from University Dominiums Alchemists). The Navigators Tower emitted a broad fan of yellow rays, announcing its readiness to accept the passenger airships from Prague and Reval that had been delayed by the storm. Tonight was the last night of the Truzzi Theatre Companys tour in the Cathedral Square, and people were scurrying back and forth along softly lit Pilies and Didzioji Streets. Lights also streamed out of all the Town Hall windows, where another meeting was being held at the end of the hard and exhausting day, following the Battle Over Vilnius which is how the confrontation between The Parsifal and The Ilya Muromets had already been dubbed. This meeting was more sedate. With absolutely no progress made in the negotiations, and no decisions reached even on the subject of Pasha El-'Abeds dream railway of Hejaz, the guests eventually found some common ground at the tables laid with an impressive feast. Neither Prussian War Minister von Einem, nor Russian Foreign Minister Lamsdorf took part in the banquet. Von Einem sulked in the flying fortress of The Parsifal, now heading out over the outskirts of Vilnius, staring out of the porthole, brow furrowed. No one knew where Lamsdorf was at that time. Some said he was assessing the damage on Novovileysk, others thought he was taking the train to St Petersburg.

The further from the main roads you went, the darker it became narrow streets lit by no more than an occasional gas lantern and faint streams of light coming through the fly-stained inn windows. Behind Mirth City, in the area nearest to Paplauja, it was pitch dark. This was home to a number of abandoned warehouses and long-forsaken derelict slums, with alleyways ending in a dead end. In its possession the neighbourhood had one single gas lantern, the light of which illuminated a swarm of tiny insects and part of a nameless square, encircled by abandoned buildings on all sides. For riot instigator Misha Suslov, however, this place was a real find. Sitting on the grass under the street light in one of the corners of the square, he was distractedly spitting out the shells of sunflower seeds. Two personal guards of Herculean build, both highly reliable men who had chaperoned Suslov through more than one riot, had made themselves comfortable behind him. Following todays failed opportunities, Suslov was very cross. He was like a bear with a sore head. All his hard work had been in vain instead of fighting for a copy of The Truth of Vilnius, people had wrestled for The Vilnius News; the strikes hadnt taken place, even though they had been planned brilliantly; and last but not least, three activists, who had cost him dearly, had been taken to Sluskai. As if that were not enough, the better part of the new newspapers front page was taken up by Suslovs mug. And Misha was a true hater of publicity. The Mothers March had suffered defeat as well. Damn those white crosses, Suslov fumed. Scaring those sheep to death cost them little effort. Next time he should put religion to use himself, but this engagement had already been lost. The battle over Vilnius was the only moment which he could have possibly called a success, but it wasnt his victory. So he was ready to begin night-time carousing of the sort that Vilnius hadnt encountered for a long time. His clients were unlikely to forgive him his failures, but at least he could take heart from his next trick. This was the reason why he had come to the nameless square and was now sitting under the lonely street light. He had obviously surveyed the surrounding area first and gathered his men, and was now waiting for his partner, whose experience he thought might come handy, to turn up. He is coming, one of the guards muttered in a low voice before waving his hand. Even in the dark Suslov immediately recognised the man sauntering towards them. It was the king of Vilnius criminals, Motiejus Kairys. Suslov got up, wiping his hands on his trousers. He couldnt help but wonder how it was possible that the entire city was bowing and scraping to this man short, fat, with thinning hair, and a cripple. A village gets the criminals it deserves, the Russian thought to himself but out loud said, Its nice to see you. A promise is dearer than money, Motiejus Kairys shrugged. Ive told you wed come, and so here we are. Six more men emerged from the same street that had brought Kairys here. They showed respect to their commander by stopping a dozen feet away from him. Knives shoved in belts and steel-capped clubs glistened in the dim light, while their fists boasted knuckledusters. I see you are taking the fight seriously, Suslov chuckled, slowly surveying the small group, before giving a long two-fingered whistle.

Something moved around the edges of the square, and the silhouettes of men emerged in the empty eye sockets of the surrounding buildings. They waved their guns in the air, before disappearing from sight again. Twelve of mine, and six of yours, the rioter confirmed. Just like we agreed. Like we agreed, nodded Motiejus Kairys, and then scratched his chin with his handhook. In the light of the derelict lantern even this simple gesture looked like a threat. Lets not waste our time, Suslov rubbed his hands. There are many of those deserving a flaming furnace tonight, while there arent too many hours in the night. Your men, Suslov tilted his head towards Kairys men, should aim at the idiots in the Blots who are worthy of a sizzle, and the ones who should also receive a thrashing or a scratch across their throats. Motiejus Kairys sighed heavily but kept quiet. The prolonged silence became awkward. Suslov thought he sensed something not quite right and was about to open his mouth but the king of criminals finally spoke himself, So these are your disciplinary measures? Bold and imperative I think, thats how you described them? Kairys looked down at his shoes. Its a good time to teach the foreigners a lesson. To give them a sizzling? Isnt that right? Exactly, Suslov nodded and beamed a smile. One or two fires will teach them more than all the sermons of the Cathedrals white crosses. That is fine, then, Motiejus finally looked up and raised his metal hand. Suddenly something beside the derelict houses thumped, banged and wheezed and bodies of Suslovs men, like potato sacks, came flying out of the windows before hitting the dirt. Then followed a few shots, then dead silence again. Standing under the lantern, Misha Suslov was struck dumb. When his senses had finally recovered, his eyes moved over to where Kairys men had been standing before, but they were no longer there. A brick flew above his head, and with the glass shards cascading, the single lantern breathed its last. Suslov groped hopelessly in the dark. He heard one of the guards gasp and the other rasp and choke. Then the grass rustled behind his back and a damp bag reeking of engine oil was pushed down over his head. A match was struck and the bag set ablaze. Suslov screamed in terror for his life, before tearing the bag off, falling down on all fours and thrashing his head against the ground. Luckily for him, the grass was wet after the rain. His face remained unscathed but his eyebrows and hair had not escaped the sizzling. When he had finally mustered up his courage to raise his head, looming over him he saw several men with torches, as well as the grinning Motiejus Kairys. In his good hand he held a thick envelope. So, Kairys said, a bit of a sizzling for you. More, or will that do? he said, flinging the envelope down at Suslov. Heres your masters money. Take it back together with a message: while in Vilnius, you must observe our rules. Its awfully bad manners to force your own upon us. And now get out of here before I change my mind. Regards to your masters. Without a word, Suslov got up, sneered at the envelope before picking it up and limping off into the darkness. When there was no glimpse of light around him anymore, he began to run. With a chin thrust Motiejus Kairys pointed at Suslovs two guards, sprawled out on the grass with no signs of life.

Deal with them, and leave no trace behind, he instructed his men. There is no need for the Legionnaires to find out about this minor misunderstanding. Suslov ran until he was completely out of breath. When he finally stopped, he bent over and rested, leaning his palms on his knees, cleared his throat and spat. He then felt his burnt hair, took a deep breath and waited for his heart to stop pounding out of his chest, thanking his lucky stars. He had already thought all hope was lost. A tough nut, he mumbled under his breath. I had no idea. Just you wait, I will make you pay, he said through clenched teeth. His priority now, however, was getting out of Vilnius and out of everyones sight away from the Legionnaires and the criminals, and really far away from that bitch Emilia. If only he could lay low somewhere for a while until everything calmed down, he would surely come up with something. Suslov looked around. He had made a run for it out of the square, completely oblivious of where he was racing to, paying no attention to the roads and turnings that he took. Now he realised that he had no clue as to his location. Being new to Vilnius, he still found the city quite confusing during the day, not to mention at night. He was surrounded by dark yards, gateways and quiet alley ways. Not a living soul around, but some faint music played in the distance. Suslov bit his lip. In his head he formed a simple plan: walk in the direction of the sound, and as soon as he reached a major road, hail a carriage with a driver and hurry to Viscigavas for the first available night-time flight. He had the documents and a stack of bank notes ready in his pocket. It was high time he waved goodbye to this damned city. All of a sudden he was startled by a loud clang, as if someone had dropped a chain on the cobblestones. Suslov froze and listened intently. With his eyes narrowed he looked towards the sound. There was another clang and he saw two red points of light flicker through the dark. They were getting closer. The Russian shuddered and began to back off. That very minute cannons fired, sending shells loaded with the Alchemists magic compounds into the Vilnius night sky. At the peak of the trajectory the shells exploded, spraying the entire city with a rain of coloured lights. People gazed skyward, gasping with amazement. Good job, fellows! the explosives experts cheerfully roared on the Hill of Bekesas. Lets entertain Vilnius with flames they never knew existed. Suslov screamed. He screamed in his thin, repulsive, breaking voice until he could scream no more. In a brief moment, with the darkness ousted by the lights of the sky, in front of his very eyes he saw a beast. A wolf... wolf... an iron wolf! he shrieked, backing away. Help! he screamed. Help! he rasped, flailing his arms about before tripping on a rock and bashing his head against the ground. He had no idea he was the one to name the underground beast. A few metres from the man sprawled on the ground, the metal monster paused with its head tilted down, contemplating him with its red eyes. With incredible dexterity the beast leaped beside him and lowered its steely paw on his chest, the pressure cracking and breaking the ribs. Its metal head looked to the side. No!!! Suslov screamed, his hands trying to shield the face. Like a pendulum the monsters head swung, before its jaws opened up to expose the scalpel-like upper and lower teeth, whose single synchronised move neatly slit Suslovs

throat from ear to ear. A fountain of the Russians blood spraying all over the monster, he gave out a gurgling sound, and then a shudder, before freezing stiff. Aooooo!!! wailed the Iron Wolf. There came the rain of multi-coloured dazzling flames again. The iron monster tossed its head, turned around and vanished in the dark, accompanied by its own clanking.

Chapter XLI Vilnius, Before midnight 27 04 1905

Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras missed out on the battle over Vilnius as he had spent these hours underground. He did look up though when a loud rumbling above his head made the clods of gravel separate from the tunnel ceiling. The fireworks started early, he muttered under his breath with a worried glance at his companion. The nuns had taken good care of Solomon: they bathed him and gave him a change of clothes (although Sidabras was of the opinion that it was pointless they were going back to the sewage tunnels), they fed him (although the child only pecked at his food a sparrow would have bested him), they made him drink hot tea and sister Liucias mysterious elixirs, meant to help the boy preserve his sanity, if they, God forbid, had to confront the horrendous monster. Sidabras had assured them repeatedly that this was not going to happen. He would only have Solomon walk him over to the opening in the ground which had released him from the vaulted tunnels, and then only for a little while along the tunnels in order to point him in the right direction. Following that Solomon would be heading back to safety. Sidabras would explore the cellars alone, without demonstrating any unnecessary heroism. In the pouring rain Sidabras and the boy closed the orphanage gate and made their way to the Wet Square, its name amply justified by its current condition. They clambered inside the patiently waiting carriage and rolled to Mirth City the exact spot where the monster had taken poor Simaskas life. The boy was quiet throughout the journey. Sidabras did not bother him with questions, his eyes fixed on the mud puddles in the streets outside the coach window. It wasnt hard to find the opening into the sewage vaults, as both remembered it rather well. Sidabras squatted to check the broken or possibly cut grille bars. I wonder, he thought to himself, was the grille pushed aside by someone unrelated a long time ago, or did someone make sure the beast had a hole to climb out. And how many holes like this are there around Vilnius? Then, clutching a mini Volta lantern in his hand, he patted the pocket holding a scotch-filled hip flask, checked if his heavy club with a spike at the end, intended to ward off the daring rats the boy had told him about, was by his side, as was his favourite heavy large-barrelled pistol, which he had borrowed from the Legions armoury. He also had something else up his sleeve for surprises beyond what he could prepare for. Sidabras glanced over at Solomon. The boy was leaning over the dark hole, trying to see down below. Not scared? Sidabras asked. The boy shrugged. Will you walk with me? Solomon replied with a bold nod.

Lets go then, said Sidabras. He lowered himself on to the edge of the hole, then slid into the damp and stinking darkness. The boy followed him down into the vaults. None of them had any idea that they were accompanied into the cellars by another creature. Its pointy metal snout flashed in the dark, and the mech rat Rattus scuffed behind the light, its claws scraping the ground. Attention! Inclinometer is showing a deviation from the true horizontal. Rattus is going underground. Look, he is there already! anxious Brother Urtas reported to the Elder. So I see... Going down into the tunnels, Legate? the Elder muttered, his eyes narrowing behind his round spectacles. But indeed! Where else could old Baltrus be hiding? We should have thought of it ourselves. Brother Urtas looked away from Elektrolab. I await your instructions, master, he said in a humble voice. We cant waste another minute, the Elder replied. Phoenixes should be sent out with no delay. We should get the prize, not Sidabras. His robe flapping around his legs, he marched out of the room. Sidabras had brought along a piece of limestone and started drawing lines on the walls as he walked along, marking his way back, but he soon gave up on this pursuit. The old tunnels, which had once served as prison cells, goods or grain warehouses, were confusing by themselves, but what complicated matters even more now were the sewage ditches, crisscrossing the vaults as they carried the filth. Some of the rooms had turned into slop pits. At one point Solomon took a wrong turn and barely avoided tumbling down into a pit. Luckily for him, Sidabras happened to be beside him at the right time and he grabbed the boy by his collar. While in some places the tunnel vaults were solid, in others the bricks were crumbling to pieces, requiring the two visitors dash under them quickly with their backs bent, as they risked brick fragments tumbling on to them. Sidabras suffered pangs of consciousness for dragging the boy along, instead of leaving him in a safe place, as he had promised Margarita. But if not for Solomon, he would have been instantly stranded. Besides, his sixth sense was telling him to hurry. There was a scraping sound in the slops under their feet, and then something clawed at Sidabras boots. He swung his spiked bat up in the air before thrusting it down. With the target seemingly successfully hit, he lifted the bat to inspect the spike. It dripped with a mixture of slop and blood. As the intruders appeared to be out of reach of the rats, they chose to attack a different target instead. One obese and experienced rat squeaked with joy, having sensed easy prey a much smaller and skinnier unfamiliar rodent was making its way towards them. The fat one lunged forward, intending to claw at the visitor with its claws and sharp teeth. The Vitamancers had carefully considered the issue of Rattus possible actions during an encounter with enemies like real rats or other rodents, and had equipped it with a means to survive. The nails of the underground rat scraped and slid over Rattus metal flank, which also proved to be impenetrable to its teeth. Facing its attacker, Rattus, like some Pied Piper of Hamelin, opened its jaws to release a sound only audible to the rats ears. Only it was not meant to lure the underground beasts, but to repel them. And so the squealing rats dashed off in all directions, while the mech rat continued its calm progress behind its target. Solomon realised he had lost his way and stopped. He must have taken a wrong turn, as they had now come to a pile of bricks and rocks blocking their way. Sidabras wondered how

much time had passed since they had descended into the cellars. An hour? Maybe two? Was the boy only leading him on a merry dance? They went back and turned right. Sidabras noticed the tunnel widen up. Soon after they stumbled across a hole, and an alcove-lined corridor beyond it. Sidabras paused, pulled out his flask and took a few good swigs. The liquid burned his throat and made him cough. That moment the boys hand grabbed one of his, and waved to the left with his finger pressed against his lips. The lantern in Sidabras hand revealed a metal-bound door. He bent over Solomon. Is this it? he asked. After Solomon had nodded in confirmation, he added, From here I will go alone. And you should hide... he looked around. Where the tunnels meet, he waved towards the hole. And dont move from there, do you understand? I wont take long. Ill only have a quick look around and be back with you. If, however, you dont see me soon enough, go back the same way, run to the nuns of the orphanage and tell them everything. Is that clear? Solomon nodded and shuffled to the alcove. With his lantern dimmed, Sidabras cracked open the door with an apprehensive push. Back pressed against the wall, he strained to listen. What he heard was an odd droning sound. Firmly clutching the club in his palm, he slowly opened the door. The door opened up into a room drowning in dusk. Sidabras crept inside. It was a laboratory, faintly lit by a lonely gas lantern standing on the corner table. Sidabras extinguished his light and surveyed the space around him. The room had two exits through a metal-bound door which was closed, and through a barred one, which was wide open. One part of the room was occupied by narrow cabinets, filled with small bottles, while next to them almost in the middle of the room there was a bed. A man was lying in it. Sidabras came closer. Multi-coloured wires were wrapped around the mans head and wrists. Some of them were connected to a large, quietly droning machine, positioned at the head of his bed, others were stuck in containers with bubbling dark liquid or trailed across the floor. The mans eyelids were shut but his eyes were visibly moving back and forth under them. Not only his fingers, but his entire body was twitching. The man was shaking all over. Sidabras took his pulse. The mans heart was racing. Pranciskus Baltrus, Sidabras murmured. He walked around the bed, trying to comprehend how the machine worked and what the readings meant. He could not understand a thing. The machine softly droned, its hands oscillating and pointing at the figures. What is it? Sidabras asked himself, examining the scientists face, which was white as a sheet. He crept up to the metal-bound door and slowly pushed it open. As soon as he poked his head inside the second room, his mouth gaped open. There was another laboratory. And what

a laboratory it was! Any University Dominium scientist would have been overjoyed to have one of these. Dusk reigned in this room too but there wasnt a living soul inside. Sidabras closed this door and walked over to the other, barred one. Here led the wires, coming all the way from the bed. What is this? An open house day? Sidabras wondered to himself. The barred door led into yet another room, which was completely dark, and so Sidabras got his lantern out again. The front part of this long room was taken up by broad wooden benches with leather handcuffs dangling off them. Solomon must have been speaking about this place. Holding the lantern up to light his way, Sidabras stepped inside the room. The back of the room was cut off by a double lattice, making it into a cage. But the cage was empty and the latticed door open. The wires trailed as far a box on the floor, before disappearing inside it. Sidabras stuck his head inside the cage-room. He did not notice anything worthy of his attention. He sniffed the air. It smelled of metal, engine oil and something else. Maybe blood? Whoever was kept in this cage was in no need of food or water. Hunting time, Sidabras muttered under his breath. After a moments consideration, he returned to the room where the scientist Baltrus lay. Sidabras eyes picked up on the little table with the lantern. There was a dirty dish, a bowl with soup leftovers and a crust of bread. A headscarf was lying nearby. Packed lunch, Sidabras mumbled. The kind auntie must be taking good care of her Pranciskus. The table also contained some other curious artefacts. A clear glass bottle with some leftover blue liquid at the bottom. Judging from the stack of papers on the side, Baltrus must have been making notes. Sidabras lifted the sheets to find a leather-bound note pad. With the note pad in his hands and the lantern placed on the table, he quickly scanned the pages, crammed with small letters. Some of the pages contained dates. Could it be Pranciskus diary? Sidabras shoved the notebook inside his jacket. He suddenly felt someone elses presence in the room. We would also like to have a look at what you just hid inside your jacket, a polite voice reached him from the doorway. Sidabras looked up. Without a sound, four shadows glided into the laboratory. Dressed in short gowns that wouldnt restrict movement, they had hoods pulled over their eyes. Pistols glistened in their glove-clad hands and their chests were adorned with orange amulets depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes. Phoenixes. Vitamancer assassins, led here by mech rat Rattus, appearing at the time when someone was about to turn to ashes. Would you be so kind and return to the table what you have just appropriated, one of the phoenixes asked. And throw your pistol over here. But no sudden movements, please. Sidabras pulled the notepad out from inside of his jacket, placing it over the table edge.

Do you know who I am? he asked calmly, dropping his pistol on the floor. The suspended commander of the Vilnius Legion, the same male replied. The man who accidentally fell in the Neris, having drowned his sorrows. He put his chin up. Put your hands up, please. Sidabras gave a deep sigh. Isnt it lovely the menacing Legate of Vilnius is so understanding, another man remarked. The hands, please! As you say, Sidabras replied, gently yanking his hands up. A click was heard, and the next thing they knew Sidabras was holding a tiny pistol in each of his hands, pushed out of his sleeves by cleverly installed springs. Quick as lightning Sidabras crossed his arms, the sound of both shots merging into one. Even before the phoenixes had the chance drop their jaws, two of them were stretched out on the ground. Leaping over Baltrus bed, Sidabras glided to the corner of the room with the metal cabinet and a number of chairs. Despite having been brutally deprived of two of their members, the remaining phoenixes did not lose their heads they fired a stream of bullets at him. One of them hit the target, causing a burning in Sidabras calf and a grimace on his face. Another bullet ricocheted from a metal cabinet and flew past his nose. Sidabras realised how precarious his situation was all he had left was a single bullet in each of his pistols. Both phoenixes gun barrels were turned at him. There was no time left, but the well-trained mercenary did not feel he needed any. He fired the pistol, held in his right hand, at the same time kicking the standing nearby chair. Another phoenix slumped to the ground killed by a bullet, while the chair crashed into the legs of the last living assassin, who was just about to squeeze the trigger. The phoenixs hand shook and the bullet became embedded in the wall next to Sidabras ear. The last bullet exited Sidabras left gun with a husky cough, and the fourth intruder collapsed to the ground. Sidabras exhaled, his face convulsing with pain. He felt blood trickling down his calf. There must have been some bandages in the laboratory but there was no time to think about himself. Stepping over the dead bodies, he ran into the tunnel to search for the boy. Solomon! he yelled. There was no reply. Solomon! Silence. Margarita will wring my neck, he muttered. Deep down in his heart he hoped the street-wise boy had managed to escape in time. He limped back to the laboratory. A strange rasping sound welcomed him into the room. He leapt to Baltrus bed and swore. The scientists chest was heaving up and down, while a red stain at his neck was expanding in front of Sidabras eyes. Another bullet ricochet had found itself an easy target. No, no, no! Sidabras shouted, pressing his ear against Baltrus chest. The scientists heart was still beating but it was weak. Sidabras leaned low over the old mans face. Suddenly Sidabras became aware that Baltrus eyes had opened wide. He flinched. I... I... wont be able to stop it, the old man rasped. Its unfortunate... unfortunate for everyone. I had, I ordered... it was to come back home. But now... I am very sorry... tell the guardian... I am... I am dying.

How can I stop it? How? Sidabras cried, his hands shaking the old mans shoulders. How can I switch the monster off? You cant, Baltrus rasped again, a final stream of blood gushing out of his mouth. Scientist Pranciskus Baltrus was dead. The machine at his head beeped one last sound as if in farewell before falling silent. That was also the moment when the metal monster drifting along the underground tunnels stopped dead in its tracks. The orders that had been resounding through its head were suddenly gone. The rats, which were now seeping out of every hole, eyed the intruder and its bloody jaws with their little curious eyes, not daring to approach it any closer. The iron monster slowly tilted its head to the side, raising its muzzle upwards like a hungry wolf, keenly sniffing at the air. The beast was awaiting its command. None being forthcoming, it headed towards a patch of blue sky quivering over a hole in the ground. The living part of its brain recalled its last action. It had been satisfying. By the end of the Summit, Vilnius lost itself in celebration, as if expecting the imminent end of the world. People, as if blown by invisible bellows, were drifting between the streets, where they admired the alchemic flames dancing against the night sky, and the inns, where they succumbed to other types of pleasures. Rivers of beer, wine and vodka were poured out, and the exhausted nymphs of the joy houses dabbed on fresh layers of blush, their gaudily dressed madams fussing about the clients and making sure no one remained unhappy and everyone got what they had come for. Street musicians, acrobats, fireeaters and magicians worked themselves ragged, a continuous stream of coins jingling into their considerably sized boxes. Pickpockets were attracted to the crowd like moths to a flame, their hands gracefully prodding the gawks purses, never forgetting how important it was to keep their distance from the patrolling Legionnaires. The watchmen of public order even the most slothful constables and sergeants were also working in the sweat of their brows. Steam coaches with barred windows would linger until packed with offenders like herring in a barrel and only then make a move from their posts in the Blots, Mirth City, Pohulianka or University Dominium, heading for Sluskai. With not even nearly enough capacity for all the pickpockets, robbers, fighters and those who had had one drink too many, Sluskais cells were bursting at the seams. Although swearing like sailors, the Legionnaires were quietly pleased that they were not having to deal with murder. Despite having more than enough wounded, thrashed or broken-boned clients on their plates, they managed to keep medical expert Radzinskis carriage in its yard. At least for now. Across the Cathedral Square dashed a tooting chartered steam trolley, the heads of its student passengers poking out of the windows. They were members of the University Dominiums riding association, and were blowing trumpets and French horns to celebrate their victory at the Pospieska Hippodrome. The broceurs in the Blots were also working through exhaustion, while the cleverer ones those who had once tried to run their own street trolley, were now running a human chain from Wet Square to The Iron Owl: every client was welcomed and either directed to the required place or to another broceur standing further along the chain. The church bells announced one, then two, then three oclock in the morning, but the passing of time did not occupy the minds of the celebrating crowds. The night was brim full of surprises and it seemed that the carousing would never end.

It was three thirty when a metal muzzle poked out of a hole behind a derelict house, and the red eyes pierced through the darkness. They were followed by a hefty head and a torso. The rusty grille had been pulled apart by The Iron Wolf before, and so there was nothing to stand in its way now. It moved its head from side to side and, without even casting a glance at Suslovs corpse, trotted ahead. In one of the lanes it stopped. Simutis and Mikelis the two fine fellows visiting Vilnius from Pernarava had been staying in one of the New World common use houses. For some unknown reason they had been kicked out the previous night, but did not allow this little mishap to spoil their fun. Having feasted their eyes on the Battle Over Vilnius and the Alchemists skies of flame, they spent the remaining time staggering about the streets. That was how they met a farmer they knew, who promised to take them back in his carriage, if only they waited for him on the Ukmerge Highway. Overjoyed with the news the pair decided to sell Simutis jacket in the Blots, as spending the last night partying in Vilnius now a suddenly came to seem like a very important obligation. Although the friends found the inns to be too costly, the streets teemed with traders offering bottles of vodka and a complimentary snack of a quarter of an onion on a slice of rye bread. We was clever to come to this Vilnius, right Simutis? the cheery Mikelis belched onion fumes. So many things to see, so many things to do. So much booze to glug, added the swaying Simutis with a hearty laugh. Today everything seemed hilarious to him. All of a sudden Mikelis grabbed his comrades shirttails, which had become untucked. He lurched to one side, nearly ending with his face flat against the cobble stones. Over there, over there, Simutis the excited Mikelis hand was eagerly pointing at something. Look you over there. Another wonder of the city! Simutis eyes followed in that direction. In an alleyway with no name, perpendicular to Perkasas Street, along which the two friends were making slow progress, there stood a metal creature. It had the appearance of a wolf but was much larger. Its enormous head turned slowly towards the men, the red eyes pierced them through. Oh my Gosh, Simutis, Mikelis couldnt believe his eyes. Do you see? Thats the automot... automut... well, one of those metal things we seed at the exhibition. Lets go have a closer look. Can you believe our fortune? Whod a thought wed ever get a chance to see it up right close? Not in a million years wed a elbowed our way through all the Exhibition crowds but here we can ogle it to our hearts content! The monster opened its jaws, flashing its sharp long teeth. The next thing he did was tilt its head backwards. Aooooooooooooo!!! a blood-curdling howl rolled over the streets of Vilnius, announcing the start of The Hour of the Wolf to all living creatures. Both jolly fellows from Pernarava felt weak at the knees and keeled over, their eyes glazing into fixed stares. Making a mighty leap over the bodies of the fainted men, the wolf charged along Perkasas street, in the direction of the city lights. It stopped in the square that marked the convergence of Perkasas, Laundry and Paplauja streets, the latter also crossing Vilnele Bridge. The gears installed in its head began to

crackle, but the command Go home was not there. All it could hear was Kill! played over and over again, like a vinyl record player with a stuck needle. The monster opened its jaws. The living part of its brain was vaguely conscious that there would be no other commands, and that from then on there was no one for it to obey. Sweeping it head from side to side, The Iron Wolf set off along Laundry Street, in the direction of the noise and aiming for hunting grounds as yet unexplored. Aoooooooooo! the ear-splitting howl rumbled over Vilnius. Aoooooooooo! What the hell was that? swore a Legionnaire on patrol in Mirth City. The students must be getting out of control, his partner replied. Well run ourselves ragged if we start arresting noise makers as well. The first Legionnaire dismissed his colleagues comment with a wave of the hand and became all ears. Aoooooooooo! the howling continued, slightly closer this time. I will investigate just in case, the Legionnaire decided and hurried towards the bridge along Uzupis street. Hey, just look at this gigantic dog, a fellow grinned, coming out of the inn with a group of friends. The inn from which he had just emerged occupied a space in the compact Fish Square, named after the crowd of fishermen who swarmed here together with their catch every morning. Come here, doggy, over here! he stretched out his arm. One leap of the open-jawed wolf and the arm was gone a fountain of blood squirted out of the shoulder stump. While the stupefied man dumbly stared at the puddle of his own blood, the iron claws drew across his neck, nearly tearing his head off. The unfortunate powerless body slumped to the ground with a thump. The group froze. The wolf lifted its chin. A girl let out a few hysterical screams and started to run across the Vilnele and into Safjaniki Street, towards the great Russian Orthodox Church. All of her companions tore after her in great haste. The wolf stood there but the gears in its head were turning, the eyes darting fast as they registered future victims. Shit! Who is that devil? seeing the horrific scene and people rooted to the spot, the jaw of the Legionnaire from Mirth City dropped. The screams alerted two Legionnaires on Boksto Street. They sprinted round the corner and dived into the winding Isganytojo Street, intent on discovering what was causing so much noise. As soon as they had given way to people running towards them from Fish Square, they were instantly confronted with the monster. Despite being utterly shocked, they somehow managed to preserve their composure and jointly fired in volleys. But not a single bullet penetrated the wolfs metal armour, while their ammunition belts lightened by the second. With its red eyes fixed on the two men, The Iron Wolf languorously advanced along Safjaniki Street. Run! Raise the alarm! To all posts over the wireless! one of the Legionnaires yelled to his colleague. Faster! I will try to distract its attention! Like a bolt of lightning the second patrolman dashed back into Isganytojo Street, and continued along Pilies, aiming for Baltasis Stralis and its Legionnaires post, his hand

frantically groping at his chest for the mechanical whistle on a cord. Each and every street patrol had one of these whistles tiny loudspeakers with a choice of three signals a harsh and loud warning for offenders, a melodious call for help intended for nearby Legionnaires, who were obliged to respond to it immediately, and a hellishly shrill one which was only used on extremely rare occasions, in the event of a catastrophe. This signal, which only members of Legionnaire circles were familiar with, meant that the entire city was facing a serious threat. Upon hearing this shrieking siren, all patrols had to abandon their current duties and run to the scene of the incident or the nearest mobile post. Moreover, they had a duty to pass the message to other patrols. His trembling hand finally locating the whistle, the patrolman took a deep breath and blew. The shrill siren slit the night. People in the surrounding streets tried to shut their ears, cursed and searched for the source of the noise. But the siren wouldnt stop, its echo bounced off the walls and glided over the streets. Attention everyone, attention! Danger, the city is in danger! Attention everyone, attention! Their heads raised in astonishment, the mercenaries on duty in the streets picked up their own whistles. Attention everyone, attention! Danger, the city is in danger! Attention everyone, attention! The panting Legionnaire stumbled inside Baltasis Stralis, where he was met by Lt. Justas Vagneris, a signaller, a few mercenaries and constables. The place began to fill with other Legionnaires, who were answering the alarm. A beast! A metal beast near the Orthodox church in Mirth City! the distraught Legionnaire yelled. A wolf made of metal! A monster! Kills people! Danger! Pass it on to anyone who can hear you! he told the signaller. The signaller of the wireless machine furrowed his brow. The constable, who was sitting beside him, sneered. I think sobering up wouldnt be such a bad idea, he suggested. The men from the Vilnius Legion, however, did not share his opinion. The things that they had come across in the jungles of Madagascar and the deserts of Mexico appeared so unreal, that they did not see any reason why they shouldnt believe their comrades. Lt. Justas Vagneris questioned the Legionnaire about the monsters whereabouts and its behaviour, before turning to face the signaller. Declare an immediate general alarm! Tell Sluskai to get The Vaiselga or The Svarnas into the air. A message to all patrols: there should not be a single civilian left on the streets. Prepare for an armed confrontation. Our guns cant penetrate the monster! The bullets bounce of it! the patrolman moaned. Dont speak too soon, Vagneris voice sounded chilly. He then turned back to the signaller. A message for Steam Citys armoury: we urgently need a portable cannon here. A message for the Knights of the Cathedral: all church bells must toll. People will know that something has happened. Everyone else follow me! The signaller started tapping the keys. His message began with two words: level three. Sirens ratcheted up in Sluskai. Dirigible pilots, forced out of their beds only a minute ago, were now running up the stairs and onto the palace roof, buttoning their uniforms and

pushing goggles down from their foreheads as they ran. The arsenal resounded with the sound of thumping feet, and another minute later the Lower Castle bells rang, immediately echoed by those in the Cathedrals Belltower. The reclusive scientist from Zverynas and his foster daughter were visited by entirely different dreams that night, evoked by different types of medication. The reasons for their waking were also as different as day and night. Mila opened her eyes and sat up in bed. The night outside her window was black as coal, and the shrubs swung longingly with the wind. Somewhere in the distance the citys night time frolics were in full swing, but the usual Zverynas peace remained intact. Nevertheless, something was going on. The girl listened up. Wailing. A barely-heard wailing. And not just one voice, but several voices wailing together. She looked up to the shelf. Her three little toys Pierrot, Scaramuccia and Columbina, who would have normally be calm and frozen, were now nodding with their eyes wide open, a sad soft squealing coming out of their open mouths. This is impossible, they havent been warmed up, Mila felt baffled. And then, for no palpable reason, she sensed some inexplicable threat. Something very bad was happening somewhere. The toys could feel it. Having slipped out of bed and deliberated for a moment, the girl put on a light summer dress and grabbed a pair of comfortable shoes. With Scaramuccia under her arm she tip-toed out of the room and went downstairs. In the garden outside a light night breeze brushed against her cheeks. Lost in thought she slipped on her shoes. The last thing she remembered was feeling impossibly hot. And the hill. And after that? After that everything vanished in a fog. Finally realising it was not the best moment to ponder over the past, she strolled in the direction of the city centre, with the squealing Scaramuccia in her arms. She felt as if she were being pulled by an invisible magnet and allowed herself to be guided by intuition alone. As she stepped into St Georges Avenue, the bells of Vilnius churches began to ring. Tvardauskis was also woken by the bells. He tried to free himself of the annoying tolls by shaking his head, and then looked around, not quite comprehending where he was. And then like a tidal wave the days events rushed at him. Still slightly unsteady on his feet, Tvardauskis got up and scratched his face. The Fetchs nail marks were still visible, but at least the medication had neutralised the venom. Steadying himself against the wall, the scientist left the secret room, closed the laboratory door and slowly climbed up the stairs. His plan was to reach the bedroom, collapse into bed and sleep like a log until midday. But before he could do that, he felt the need to check on Mila and see if the persistent bells were not disturbing her too much. When Tvardauskis cautiously opened the girls bedroom door, all he found was an empty tousled bed. The scientists eyes slid over the shelves. On one of them he saw Pierrot and Columbina. Scaramuccia was gone. The bells persisted in their ringing. The bell ringers must have gone mad, grumbled Tvardauskis. And then he heard the wailing. A quiet and ghastly wailing, loaded with fear and anxiety, emanating from the toys mouths.

He knit his eyebrows. Mila was not there. The church bells tolled for an extraordinary long time. The switched-off little automatons were wailing with fear. Tvardauskis dashed out of the room and into the laboratory. He leaned over the Elektrolab. Where was Mila? Something abominable was happening in Vilnius. With the Town Hall banquet over, the honoured guests dispersed. None of them, however, went back to their hotels. Determined to finally realise the dreams they had bottled up throughout the Summit of the intimate caresses of Vilnius top beauties, Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus and his colleagues from other cities rushed into the arms of the citys most expensive girls. Others chose to mark the end to the event in more modest ways. Among them was Vileisis, who had invited councillors from other cities, exhibition organisers, inventors and his colleagues to the Guild of Mechanics for a glass of wine. Only those whom he saw as captivating or useful interlocutors were among this evenings guests. Although normally favouring his bed in the evenings, tonight Jonas Basanavicius chose to spend his time here. Not being an imbiber of strong drink himself, the chief Vilnius Alchemist allowed himself to be intoxicated by captivating conversation, and didnt notice how the time flew before the clocks in his reception room struck four in the morning. At that time of night the subject of the heated conversation was the magic promethelium and its possible derivatives, which could be achieved by complementing it with various alchemical extracts. Suddenly there was the sound of tramping feet outside and the Guilds duty guard, who was also its wireless operator, stumbled in through the door. As soon as he caught his breath after delivering the terrifying news, the church tolls began to ring. The guests rushed to the windows. Two bright rays of light were slowly ascending from the yard of Sluskai Palace on the other side of the river the pilots of The Svarnas and The Vaiselga had turned the great Volta lanterns on. The guests faces clouded over, while that of Vileisis turned white as sheet. He was suddenly struck by the recollection of theVilnius Legates visit a few days ago, and the drawings that he had brought, which then seemed like a representation of someones madness or a forgery. Petras, what is the matter with you? enquired one of the leading German engineers from the Kaisers industrial monster Allgemeine Elektrisitats. Do you know who the monster is? I think I do, Vileisis replied, his good hand rubbing the forehead. A bionic. What? the engineer couldnt believe his ears. But that is impossible! Only yesterday I would have claimed so myself, Vileisis uttered before addressing the guests. Sirs, did you hear the Legionnaires request? We havent got much time, lets hurry. We would like to offer our assistance, a few people stepped forward. All help will be greatly appreciated, responded Vileisis. We need people at the armoury to load one or two cannons onto the Legions open carriages, which are currently on their way here from Sluskai.

With the streets still bursting with people, it might take a while, concluded Direction Councillor Scherbakov, gazing out of the window. If indeed it is a bionic, cannons wont be of much use, Vileisis muttered. A bionic is no doubt very fast. But still... he stepped into the elevator. Who is going to the armoury with me? Are you coming, Jonas? he asked. Basanavicius tore his eyes from the dark sky and the two rays of light emanating from the Legions reconnaisance dirigibles, which darted around like two swooping daggers, searching for the monster across the citys floor. I think I have a better idea, the Alchemist replied. *** The wolf lumbered along Isganytojo Street. The single remaining Legionnaire, whom the beast was now treating as its target, kept walking backwards away from it and paused. Although he fully comprehended that bullets were utterly ineffective against the monster, he hurriedly stuffed a new cartridge into his pistol. A student group tumbled out of the nearby Latako Street inn, with a song trailing behind them, and, turning carelessly into Boksto Street, immediately found themselves faced with the Iron Wolf. The initial horror froze them to the spot for a few moments. But as soon as it wore off, they began to push and shove each other frantically, before racing back to Latako street, their terrified screams filling the night time air. The gears in the Wolfs head began to turn. More than one with an instant assessment of the number of targets in its head, the monster loped after the group. Two leaps later it was already hard on the heels of the runners, the slowest one between its jaws, and its iron side pounding the others. The people were propelled like billiard balls through the air, filling it with the cracking sounds of breaking bones and moans. The limp body of a victim in its maw, the monster shook its head, setting the poor soul on a trajectory that took him several metres through the air and ended with a bang against the wall. He slid down the wall and never stirred again. The Wolf paused, its muzzle pointing down. Ahead it had nothing but easy prey injured and wailing people, paralyzed with terror, who only a minute ago thought they were having the best night of their life. Aooooooooooo! if only someone had cared to pay attention, they would have detected a malicious note in the metallic howl. The living part of the brain felt triumphant the Wolf was exterminating its natural enemies. The howl was interrupted by the jarring shriek of the mechanical whistle. The beast turned towards the sound. The Legionnaire directed his revolver and let it bark dully till he ran out of shots. As a special metal alloy had been used for the monsters body (Pranciskus Baltrus had been especially pleased to have laid his hands on it), the bullets bounced off, causing not even a scrape. When one of them opportunely hit the monsters red eye and pierced it, it sent shards flying and inspired a joyous yelp from the Legionnaire. It was cut short only a moment later, however, when he realised his celebration had been terribly premature. All he had done was break the protective glass: the red flame continued to burn. Now the daring patrolman had the Wolfs full attention. Remembering the helpless victims lying around Latako Street no more, it lowered his head and glared up at the shooter. This target was a direct threat to it, and it was certain it had to be annihilated with no delay.

Run! People, run! Hide in your homes! the Legionnaire shouted at the top of his lungs, before darting along Boksto Street himself. A few dozen metres was all that separated him from the beast now but he gained a few seconds on account of the gears turning in the Wolfs head. Despite everything he had a ghost of a chance of escape the patrolman had witnessed the speed at which the monster charged about and the brute force with which it tossed people. The Legionnaire threw himself at the first door on his way, trying to open it. It was locked. The one next to it was locked as well. It was obvious, no city dweller would dare to leave their door unlocked on such a heated night of carousing. The Wolf rushed headlong behind the patrolman. Every strike of its metal paws against the cobble stones sent sparks flying. Running at lung-bursting speed, the Legionnaire was aiming for the gateway two houses away, but the thumping behind his back was getting closer and closer. He had no doubt the monster would catch up with him before he could conceal himself in the gateway. The running Wolf its open jaws smeared with fresh and caked blood gained speed for a jump. Suddenly the Iron Wolf became shrouded in a stream of light beaming down from the dark depths of the sky. The beast stopped and lifted its muzzle only to be blinded by the blazing light. This prompted the immediate activation of the mechanical light-blocking filters inside its head. As one of its eyes was no longer protected by the glass, it was incapable of warding off the light and suffered the blinding effect. The beast began to thrash about, attempting to screen its eyes from the glare. Succeeding in reaching the gateway, the Legionnaire disappeared inside with a sigh of relief. Hold the light! yelled The Vaiselga pilot to the guard, shining the powerful Volta lantern over the Wolf. Send a wireless report to all posts the monster is in Boksto Street. *** What are you up to, Jonas? Vileisis yelled, struggling not to fall behind the Alchemist. It seemed the threat to the city had wiped ten years off Basanavicius life. Accompanied by several other guests he and Vileisis ran along the narrow gaps separating the lightless and mute warehouses of Steam City. Scherbakov and a few others rushed to the armoury, to offer their assistance to the gunners. But you have said before that cannons are powerless when it comes to stopping a bionic. And we are not going to bomb the streets, are we? Basanavicius panted but kept on talking, his eyes franticly checking the warehouse numbers, as if searching for something. But isnt it confusing here? In broad daylight it looks completely different, he mumbled. In broad daylight everything looks different, Vileisis remarked. It might be easier if you told me what you are looking for. But the Alchemist had already found his storage space. Having briskly unlocked the double door, he flung it wide open. Vileisis thrust his lantern inside. There stood Basanavicius glider the Dragon Fly, parked on top of a wheeled platform, four wide belts keeping it securely fastened on all four sides. The Alchemist made his way to the flying machine. The steam batteries were full and so were the spare ones, located behind the pilots seat.

I landed it on the platform yesterday for it to be pulled to the Mechanics by horses. I asked them to perform some minor repairs and fill the batteries, explained Basanavicius. I was planning to collect it in the next couple of days after the city had returned to normal. I obviously had no idea I would need it today. So what are you going to do now? one of the other men asked. And is it not obvious? Basanavicius said, showing disapproval by shaking his bushy beard. He hated the idea of wasting time on stupid questions. While the Legions carriages do not stand a chance to roll at the bionics speed, the Dragon Fly is fast and agile. All we need to do is pull it to the gunners really quick and have a heavy machinegun fixed to its nose. Do you think it will take off with a machinegun on board, Jonas? Vileisis sounded doubtful. Will it sustain flight? We wont know unless we give it a try, Basanavicius retort ed, grabbing the shafts. Lets not waste any time. I would be most appreciative of everybodys help. The six men city councillors, scientists and famous Mechanics of the Alliance pushed the Dragon Fly on the wheeled platform into the yard, before harnessing themselves up and pulling it along Steam Citys streets in the direction of the armoury. Having escaped the monster, the Legionnaire squeezed through the narrow gateway and only then, when the throbbing sound in his ears finally subsided, became aware of the awful clamour in which the streets were drowning. The demented tolls of church bells intermingled with frenzied amplified commands from the sky The Vaiselgas pilot was telling people to hide inside the buildings. Only someone completely deaf or totally stupid would have failed to understand that the city was hosting some truly abominable events and that they were better off staying inside. But it appeared that Vilnius had a plethora of idiots. Completely ignoring the warnings, sirens and the omnipresent ringing of the bells, or maybe on the contrary lured by them some people couldnt help going out. They had to see the monster wreak havoc on the city with their own eyes. The guards wasted no time trying to convince them otherwise. With clubs in their hands, they shoved people inside the inns and pubs, and even before they knew it, the streets were deserted. The flood of light caused the Wolf to lose its clear vision but once the filters began to work, the monster quickly adjusted. Slowly advancing along Boksto Street the beasts heavy head swayed from side to side, its iron claws clicking against the cobblestones. A littler further down the street the Wolf stopped and pricked up its metal ears. Its attention had been drawn by a sound to the right. When he saw nobody there, he turned into Saviciaus Street. At the end of one of the thoroughfares Augustijonu Street a group of curiously minded residents were jostling each other. They thought they couldnt wait to see the monster. The Wolf paused and turned towards them. With its head lowered it waited for the intermittently sounding command to attack, and leaped at its new victims. ***

Doctor, are you confident this thing will take off? the armourer asked with a note of doubt in his voice. He had just fitted the Vickers gun to the Dragon Flys nose and stepped a few steps back, like a real expert, in order to assess his work. There is only one way to find out, remarked Basanavicius, clambering into the pilots seat and pulling the goggles down over his eyes. Do you know how to shoot? Basanavicius turned the steam turbine on. Theres a first time for everything! he yelled. Accompanied by a whirring sound, the propeller turned once, then twice, before starting to turn faster and faster, until its blades blended into a uniform flicker. Basanavicius pushed down on the pedal, both hands clutching the wing ropes: drawing them tight, releasing them, then repeating the sequence again. A thick cloud of steam shot up into the sky and the Dragon Fly threw itself forward, its vast wings flapping once, two, three times. The flying machine tore itself off the ground, nearly hitting a lantern pole with its wheels, then soared up into the sky. The beat of the gliders wings carried it higher and higher. Basanavicius strained at the ropes, trying to reach the maximum altitude as fast as he possibly could, and then survey the scene thoroughly. Down below stretched the wakeful and shaken city. Basanavicius diverted the wing lift to circling the glider around the Navigators Tower, with its emergency distress signal streaming out in all directions. He could now lay eyes on his destination the dirigible suspended above the Old Town, the rays of light emanating from it signalling the monsters location. The Legionnaires waving their batons ousted a gang of drunken students from the Dominium courtyards, before shoving and bolting them inside the University buildings. The Dominium area was reported as safe. Lt. Michal Vielholskiy, firmly clutching a gun in his hands, spat angrily before glancing up in to the sky. The Vaiselga, which was moving slowly over the rooftops, was getting nearer. And so was the beast. Even though the news did not make the Pole jump for joy, if anyone ever suggested choosing between the Womens March and the beast, he would have chosen the duel with the Wolf without blinking an eye. The memory of recent events in the Town Hall Square sent shivers down the Poles spine. Lieutenant! he saw a panting courier running towards him with a dispatch in his hand. Lieutenant, Cathedral Square! the youth was completely out breath, and had to take a few deep breaths before he could continue. Cathedral Square is swarming with people! Their numbers are growing by the minute! What? Vielholskiy gaped. But our people have just cleared the square! The Knights of the Cathedral and the monks... the youth gasped for air. They led the people into the square, made them go down on their knees and pray out loud. They say the prayer will stop that spawn of Satan. Divine Providence wont allow it enter the church yard. How many of them there? Vielholskiy barked. Possibly a thousand. And the crowd keeps on growing. They are coming from the Avenue. The Knights are calling on everyone to make the prayer more powerful.

Vielholskiys swearing caused the young couriers to blush. Some of the words he had never heard before. The Pole looked up in the sky. The persecutor of the Wolf The Svarnas was shifting above in the vicinity of the Town Hall, right beside Didzioji Street. There was not a soul in the Town Hall Square though. The killing machine must be continuing in the direction of Pilies Street, from where it would... From where it would move over to the Cathedral Square, looking for sport. Vermin, the Lieutenant growled, before proceeding to give commands. Tell them: the Legionnaires are to barricade Pilies Street and stop the monster from getting into the Cathedral Square. Tell them to use everything that they can lay their hands on the barricades should be put up outside Kendzerskis pharmacy on Pilies Street. Is this clear? He waited for the courier to nod before adding, Quick, quick, hurry up! The courier ran to Pilies Street as fast as he could. Vielholskiy cast a glance over his men tired, gloomy, quiet. But none of them looked away from him. Go! he commanded. *** The bloody feast in the narrow alley over, the Iron Wolf turned around and trotted back, before turning left. Saviciaus Street looked deserted. The Wolf kept on trotting. A few minutes later it came out into Didzioji Street, leaving a bloody trail behind it. Its gait became languid and proud, making it look like the chief of Vilnius himself surveying his grounds. It could smell the scent of fear emanating from the poor creatures shivering on the other side of the walls and doors, and it revelled in it. The beast couldnt care less about the dirigible suspended above its head. By now the monsters eyes were well adjusted to the light, while the flying object was incapable of causing it any more damage. The Wolf took in the deserted Town Hall Square, and then lingered for a moment before turning right, where at the distant end of the street it could hear a commotion. In Liya Trockas joy house on the corner of Pilies and Latako Streets, some eight young and older heavily made up girls, who had nothing else to occupy them at the time, were pushing and shoving at one of the first floor windows. They were elbowing one another, jumping up and standing on tiptoes in order to get a glimpse of the monster trotting slowly by below, who was now moving along Pilies Street in the pool of the dirigibles light. The sight of the Wolf its heavy armour gleaming in the light, the powerful paws and terrifying gory face made some of them instantly cover their eyes. But there were others who only gave a crooked smile. They must have encountered even more hideous creatures in their lives. In a building owned by someone called Barscius and housing a hotel and shops, the windows were dotted with peoples faces white as sheets, their mouths agape. Delicious smells wafted out of Romeikas Restaurant in Viktoria House, the half-eaten dishes going cold on the tables. While the monster slowly advanced along Pilies Street, intent on making its own bloody feast. Suddenly the Wolf lowered its head and gave out a threatening growl it saw an obstacle in the distance. The Vilnius Legionnaires six men together with a few brave residents had already put up a barricade outside Kendzerskis house, right opposite Skapas Street. The makeshift barrier was constructed of tables and chairs dragged over from nearby houses, and a carriage, which was positioned across the street. Behind the barricade they lined up, clutching the

handles of their shields so hard their knuckles turned white. Lt. Vielholskiy and his men ran towards them along Skapo Street, while four riflemen together with Lt. Vagneris bolted over from the opposite direction. In order to build it as quickly as possible, the barrier had been put up in the narrowest part of the street, but it was flimsy and the numbers of Legionnaires were too scarce to stop the mechanical monster. The carriage with the cannon had not yet reached Pilies Street. It might have been caught up on Green Bridge together with all the other dumbstruck city residents and guests in a rush to escape the city centre. There were only a handful of Legionnaires. But they were everyones last hope. If they did not stop the beast, it would get into Cathedral Square and maul the defenceless prayer-givers. Aoooooooo! the Iron Wolfs howl pounded off the building walls. People on the other side of the windows squatted with fear. The monsters voice sounded different this time it struck like a command. There was a click, and metal scythes fixed to the front paws of the beast flicked out towards both sides, revealing shiny sharpened blades. If the monster gained enough speed, it could use the scythes to cut through a number of its enemies legs. Aooooooo! The Wolf paused. In the pool of dirigibles light streaming from above, the gory monster looked like a creature from someones worst nightmare. Mother of God, stammered a young Legionnaire, before beginning to back away. His hands trembled so much he had difficulty holding his gun. Another, and then another guard followed suit. Shields rattled on the cobble stones, guns slipped out of hands. Stop! Vielholskiy yelled to the retreating men. But that was what mercenaries were like. They did an honest job for a handsome reward: they guarded, defended, fought and even, if need be, shed blood. But as soon as they felt that they were the weaker of the two parties or that the enemy had the advantage over them, all they cared for was saving their skin and therefore they were the first to desert the battle field. They were prepared to sell their services but not their lives. The Legionnaire formation was disintegrating, and the mens eyes franticly searched for an alley to flee the bringer of certain death looming over them on the street. While the Wolf, or at least so it seemed, was enjoying the panic after waiting for a moment or two, it slowly advanced towards the barricade. More shields and guns clattered down to the ground, and it seemed only moments before the last remaining group of city defenders would collapse. Bells tolled dementedly all around. Legion of Vilnius! a sharp voice amplified by a howler sounded behind their backs. Both baffled lieutenants looked towards the sound. From the Cathedral side a hissing and tooting open-top carriage was rolling towards them. It carried a cannon mounted on a lafette with an artilleryman squatting behind, a substantial aviators hat pulled down over his eyes. Next to him, dirty and with a hat on his head and a gun in his hands, was Legate of Vilnius Antanas Sidabras.

Men of the Legion, over here! We are not withdrawing! he commanded, shouting over the hissing noise of the carriage. Dziki Najwitszej Maryi Panny, 42 Michal Vielholskiy mumbled under his breath, suddenly feeling somewhat religious. Petrified faces lit up, glove-clad hands swiftly picked shields and guns from the ground, and the men returned to their positions. The carriage propelled itself down the street, stopping right beside the barrier. The gunner came back to life and became one with the gunsight. At the ready! he bellowed. Listen to my command! Sidabras fist went up in the air while the earflaps of his aviator hat went down to protect his ears. Let it come closer! Gunners aim at the eyes, artilleryman at the body! And the beast was right in front of them. Looking straight down the gun tube, it lowered its head and lunged forward. A leap, another one... Not yet! Sidabras yelled. The Wolf took its speed into the take-off... Fire! roared Sidabras, instantly putting the gun to his cheek. A cannonball, shrouded in smoke, flew straight at the Iron Wolf, but the bionic twisted and arched its body in the air, its paws striking sparks from the cobble stones, as it landed. The ball whooshed past. Hells bells... the artilleryman gasped, while the cannonball ripped off part of Romeikas restaurant, sending bricks flailing about. The force of the Iron Wolf crashing into the barricade smashed it asunder, some of it clattering over the carriage. The Legionnaires fortunate enough to be at the sides managed to jump off and press their bodies against building walls, thrusting their shields forward to ward off the scythes, while the ones who were in the middle were crushed to death. The carriage broke in half, and the falling cannon crushed to pieces those lying on the ground. Sidabras and the artilleryman were tossed upwards, somersaulting in the air and plummeting down to the ground amidst the debris. The monster performed a soft landing on its feet on the other side of the barricade. One of its eyes shone a dim light, while the other, without its protective glass, had been extinguished; one of its scythes had broken off, but overall the beast remained unscathed. The monsters heavy head tilted sideways, and its only eye stared at Sidabras, lying on the ground. A heavy table bore down on Sidabras leg, the same one which had been injured during his shootout with the phoenixes. Sidabras tried to push it off with his other foot and get up, but realising it might be impossible, hurried to load the gun, which, by some lucky fate, he was still holding in his hand. The Wolf prowled closer.
42

Thank you blessed Virgin Mary (Polish).

In a further twist of fate, the rifle bolt wouldnt submit. Sidabras felt a nauseating whiff of blood, and the next thing he saw was the open-jawed monster towering above. For the last time he cocked the lever and the locked bolt clattered, but it was already too late. The jaws opened wide, exposing two rows of metal teeth, and the breath of death washed over Sidabras entire body. That same moment the Iron Wolf was suddenly blasted with dozens of bullets. Some of them ricocheted without causing any harm, others went through the metal and into the monsters body. The Iron Wolf staggered. One more volley, then another and yet another one, before the beast was hurled to the middle of Pilies Street. Jonas Basanavicius did not release the trigger before the monster was lying on its side. The Dragon Fly, swooping at vast speed around the buildings in Pilies Street, flew over the ruined barricade, over the overturned cannon and the monster stretched out on the cobblestones, before soaring up into the sky again. In truth, Basanavicius had already lost hope of making it on time. His little glider had never flown over the city at such mad speed. Initially he was aiming for Town Hall Square, and had barely missed the baroque dome of St Casimiers church. Finding the Town Hall Square empty, he soared down at a dangerously steep angle of descent, and then turned towards Didzioji Street, pulling frenziedly on the wing ropes. His flight path was just a narrow gap and he wondered to himself if the distances between the buildings had shrunk. At that point he heard shots being fired ahead. Brushing a protruding balcony with the end of his wing and knocking down flowerpots, he set his eyes on the ruined barricade and fastened the wing ropes with a few swift moves, before decisively grasping the machinegun trigger. Now into his view came the wrecked carriage and the iron monster in the middle of the street. Flying with its wings tied in the up position, the glider went into a dangerous nosedive. It was obvious: if Basanavicius made an error in calculating the distance to the target, the Dragon Fly would hit the ground before it could fire and pull back up into the air. Down below the cobblestones began to flicker, but the target the mechanical monster was right there. With a sigh of relief the highly respected Alchemist a music lover and butterfly collector, who in his whole life had not harmed a fly pulled the trigger and fired volley after volley of heavy bullets straight at the Iron Wolf. The barrel had overheated and the long feeding belt was empty when Basanavicius finally lifted his finger off the trigger and finally got a clear view of the monster, who was lying slumped on the ground. Then he glided away. Just like that!!! he shouted triumphantly. With a single tap of his feet pushing the rods into the spare batteries, he loosened the wing ropes and pulled them as hard as he could, before releasing them again. The propeller, which had almost come to a standstill, gave out a joyous buzz the wings moved and the glider soared into the air. Having ascended over the city roofs he turned the Dragon Fly over on its side and used the binoculars to look down. What he saw froze him stiff. The wounded Iron Wolf was slowly getting up to its feet. As if in a daze, it rose up and shook its head. It did not look well. Metal plates riddled with bulletholes dangled on all sides of its frame, sparks flew, indicating burning wires, its rear paw was nearly detached, so it had to support itself on its three remaining legs. Liquid was seeping through its perforated sides. This is not possible! This is simply not possible, Sidabras gasped. He was now back on his feet.

Nearly deafened by the gunfire, he shook his head and pulled the trigger of the gun. He had no doubt that his bullets stood no chance of causing any serious damage to the beast, but he had no choice. The beast opened its mouth, but only to release a drawling death rattle. The wolf tried to walk backwards in order to gain speed, but its metal paws were not willing to obey and it nearly collapsed. The Wolf turned round and faltered towards the Cathedral. Even with its body badly injured, it could not escape the command Kill! in its head. And with each step its gait was getting steadier and steadier. This is impossible! Dr Basanavicius muttered to himself. He turned the Dragon Fly around and flew over Pilies Street. The Alchemist took no notice of his empty ammunition belt or empty steam batteries. He flew as far as St Johns bell tower, then changed course 180 degrees and started chasing the beast along Pilies Street, with the Dragon Flys nose aimed directly at it. The steam turbine howled before it began to vibrate, indicating that it had not much left to give. Basanavicius held the ropes tightly stretched to the maximum to keep the wings immobile. The glider whooshed above the Legionnaires heads and above Sidabras, who had his head tilted backwards at the sky. Jonas Basanavicius felt the instinct to close his eyes before the imminent crash, but on the other hand he did not want to miss the monster. As if sensing something, the Iron Wolf paused, turned around, lifted its head and gave out a husky grunt. Basanavicius clenched his jaws. A girl in a long red summer dress suddenly appeared in Pilies Street. It was Mila. She was walking from the Cathedral side. Noooo!!!! Basanavicius screamed, pulling the ropes towards him so hard that it nearly made him fall backwards off the pilots seat. Aided by a few flaps of its wings the Dragon Fly pulled up and soared above the heads of the Iron Wolf and Mila, ruffling the girls hair. Gathering its last steam, it flew as far as the edges of Cathedral Square, before shattering on the cobble stones with a noisy bang. Still, it managed a few more jerks up and down, then became nothing more than a pile of scrap. The monster slowly turned its head back towards the noise. A few steps away from it stood Mila. The Iron Wolf tilted its head to the side, its good eye glaring at the girl. En garde! yelled Scaramuccia, jumping up and down by Milas side. Looking like a tiny ant next to this enormous beast, he lunged at the monster, waving his little sword about. Its eye not leaving the girl even for a second, The Wolf idly waved its front paw. It was enough to send Scaramuccia crashing against the building wall. Mila didnt seem to notice what misfortune had struck her beloved toy. She stared at the Wolf. Thats what you are like, she said quietly. I saw a different you in my dreams. I saw you as the guardian of the city, not the monster they have turned you into. The Wolf made a soft rumbling sound. Then the rumble became slightly bolder before turning into a full-blown howl. The terrifying sound sent shivers down the spines of those

who had become witnesses to the scene. As if hypnotised, Sidabras watched the phantasmagorical sight: a howling black iron wolf and a slim, beautiful girl standing opposite one another. Its still not too late to change everything, Mila spoke calmly, without any signs of worry. Can you feel me the Masters creation? The Masters daughter. You and I are very much alike. The Wolf bowed its head very low, causing its iron sagittal crest to rise. A wailing sound issued from its mouth, instantly transforming it from a terrifying monster into an unhappy dog, wailing over its lost owner or possibly mourning him. The red light in its only eye clouded over. Mila stretched out her hand. Come, she spoke softly. Come. The beasts body began to convulse, its iron head furiously shaking and swinging from side to side. It was the bionics living essence, fighting its mechanical side, trying to escape the trap in its head smash the stuck record playing over and over again, to stop the command Kill! But then the Wolfs body calmed, it lifted its head, and the eye glinted with a blood splattered hue. It growled a threat, opened its jaws and leapt at the girl. No! coming back to his senses, Sidabras screamed and began limping down the street. Faster than the eye could comprehend, Mila stretched her open palms before her. Two entire heads taller than the girl, the metal monster was about to squash her, but suddenly paused as if it had hit an invisible wall with its head. Milas outstretched arms began to tremble. The Wolf was also shaking as if suffering from the effects of Yellow Fever. Pushing the invisible wall with its head, sparks flew as it strained with its paws against the ground. You are not like this, you are no monster! screamed Mila, mustering all her strength, her hand pushing into the Wolfs steel chest like a knife into soft butter. A dazzling white light flashed, the monster barked and collapsed over the girl, its entire body weight pressing her down to the ground. The red light in its only eye flickered before slowly fading away. The first to rush to Milas side was Sidabras, dragging his injured leg. Vagneris, Vielholskiy and several other Legionnaires followed suit. Jonas Basanavicius came hobbling from over the Cathedral. Steam released through the crack in the turbine caused by the crash had burned half of his face and beard, while his arm dangled helplessly his side. But he was totally oblivious to all of this all his being was focused on the delicate figure of the girl with the body of the iron monster bearing down on her. Sidabras struggled to push the Wolf aside. When the stiff monster was finally moved with the help of Legionnaires, it fell backwards against the cobble stones, one of its sides touching the girl. Incredible! Vagneris gasped. Mila was lying on the ground without so much so a scratch, as if all that had fallen on her was a leaf, not a massive hunk of iron. The beasts claws had slashed her dress here and there, but there was not a single drop of blood to be seen. In the light of a lantern the girls face had acquired the quality of a wax model it was peaceful and clear.

Lt. Vagneris crouched with his ear against the girls chest to listen to her heart, but a second later furrowed his brow from a piercing pain in his temple. What the hell was that? he blurted out. Give way, give way, I am a doctor! shouted Basanavicius, squeezing through the crowd. Move, move, let me closer. Down on his knees beside Mila, he carefully examined her chest, trying to locate a wound, when his fingers felt a sharp object the cause of Vagneris distress. He swiftly unbuttoned the dress to reveal the chest and took a deep breath. The Legionnaires gathered round gasped in unison. A copper key protruded from Milas chest. It was twisted and bent, and protruded from a wide open wound with the metal edges melted from the heat. Distorted and broken gears were buried deep in the opening, as well as sheared wires leading into a metal, heart-shaped box, positioned where a human heart would normally be. Each of Milas mornings had begun with her winding it up with the key. Although the brass box was now covered in soot, it was obvious it had been born in the hands of an outstanding craftsman. It was a masterpiece. Sensing someones stare behind his back, Basanavicius strained to get up to his feet before looking back. At the end of the street there stood a dark silhouette, still as a statue. Walking slowly, as if lugging an enormous rock behind him, Nikodemas Pranas Tvardauskis advanced towards the girl lying in a red summer dress on the ground side by side with the iron monster. The Legionnaires made way for him. Tvardauskis went down on one knee to take Mila in his arms. When he lifted her up, she felt light as a feather. He stood and caught Basanavicius staring at him. With a barely perceptible nod in reply to his silent question about a long-kept secret, he hunched up and shuffled away with the girl in his arms. Dawn was slowly breaking. The church bells had broken off a while ago, and the city became shrouded in the stillness of dawn. Like a bolt out of the blue somewhere in the distance in New World or maybe Paplauja a cockerel greeted the new morning. The Hour of the Wolf had come to an end. The morning broke unusually clear and bright. Pilies Street was spotlessly clean all the debris was gone, as were the traces of blood that had marked the monsters route from Paplauja to the edges of Cathedral Square. On a day like this, even breathing is fun, isnt it? called the rejoicing residents who had escaped the nightmare unscathed, and were now rushing to get a free copy of The Vilnius News. Its front page featured an aerial photo picture of the monster, proudly marching along Didzioji Street, and Basanavicius Dragon Fly, dashing through the air the latter a close-up. Some were puzzled as to how and when the taking of such photo had even been possible, while those slightly more familiar with the process quietly smiled, pointing at St Johns Bell Tower. The Truth of Vilnius was never published again.

Citizens who had a face-to-face encounter with the beast behind them, escaping it by nothing but sheer luck, flooded the churches to show their gratitude by lighting candles and feeding the offering boxes with coins and paper roubles. Priests celebrated mass to commemorate the brave saviours of the city, in their sermons referring to St Christopher, St Casimier and other saints who had gathered to save the city of Gediminas in its darkest hour. From churches people wandered over to inns and pubs, where new versions of last nights events emerged or were retold by one person to another. They all went along the same lines more or less, but also had their differences, especially the happy ending, as no one was entirely certain who was the brave heart who had put to death the iron monster wreaking havoc on the city. As soon as Tvardauskis and Mila vanished out of sight, Sidabras made his men swear to silence until their deathbed. The identity of the saviour was also unknown to the governor of the Alliance Nathan Rothschild. But in his opinion, an official expression of gratitude to the Legion of Vilnius, represented at an urgently convened Town Hall meeting by Lieutenants Michal Vielholskiy and Justas Vagneris, was sufficient. The Legionnaires accepted the message and reported that Legate Sidabras was undergoing treatment for his injuries in Sluskai Palace, though the truth was they had not the faintest idea where their commander had vanished to. After parting with the Legionnaires, the Baron threw an openly contemptuous look at Burgomaster Venslauskis-Venskus. The Burgomaster the target for a search party for a good few hours prior to being eventually dragged out of an Antokolis joy house near dawn, had received the news about the nighttime ordeal in the city by fainting. Later, having been brought to the Town Hall and approached by the Baron himself, he couldnt stop shaking like a leaf. Isnt this an abuse of our trust, Burgomaster? Nathan Rothschild uttered through gritted teeth. While the city was under imminent threat, you were enjoying yourself in the company of sluts? You have disgraced the revered name of a Councillor, and in return for that... People in one of the Town Hall conference rooms never found out what Baron Rothschilds intentions were, as everyone was distracted by a confused noise coming from the corridor. Where is that old goat? Where is that lecher? a plump lady with pouting lips forced her way into the room. Her dyed blonde hair was tousled according to the latest fashion, while her emerald frilly blouse accentuated her more than impressive bosom. A long black skirt, flaring out sharply around the calves, made her look somewhat fish-like. The hostile look in this madams eyes moved the Town Hall guards out of her way. Where is he? And who are you? the Baron enquired slightly baffled. Mrs Venskus the animals wife! Mrs Burgomaster positioned herself with her hands firmly on her hips, before casting an ominous glance at her cringing husband. In that case he is all yours, the Baron smiled, quietly thinking that no one would surpass the wife in sentencing her own delinquent husband. Later the same day the Baron circulated an official Alliance statement with his condolences to the victims relatives and his regret regarding the unfortunate incident which will be investigated with no delay and assuring that those responsible will be punished most severely. The statement also said that Burgomaster of Vilnius Vytautas Venslauskis-

Venskus has accepted full responsibility for the nighttime tragedy and has resigned from his post. The Council shall elect the new head of the city in the nearest future. It hurts! wailed Antanas Sidabras, as stinking green ointment was smeared over his wound. You can handle it, you are no longer a child, replied Margarita Berg, who was putting a bandage over his leg. Mischievous sparks flickered in her eyes as she spoke. By the time you have your wedding, it will be good as new, she said, flashing a smile, then hurrying to wash her hands in order to conceal her embarrassment. Sidabras leaned back against a soft pillow and closed his eyes. The scenes from the crazy day and night flashed before his eyes. So many secrets remained unrevealed, so many things still undone: he hadnt paid a friendly visit to Markuciai Manor or inspected the tunnels. But these things could wait. Besides: the city was not going to reveal its secrets that easily. The Legate wished to stay within these silent walls for a while. He wished to rest. Margarita perched on the edge of the bed. With his eyes still closed, Sidabras carefully took her hand in his. I am so sorry for losing Solomon in the tunnels. I did look for him but... he muttered. I promised to bring him back safe and sound but I have no idea where to look for him now. Please forgive me. Margarita squeezed Sidabras hand lightly. I dont think he would have liked it here in the orphanage. This is not for him. I just hope he doesnt get hurt. You never know, the boy might feel much more comfortable where he is now. There followed a long silence from which they both drew comfort, feeling that they had finally sailed into a peaceful haven. Something rustled. It was Sister Liucia putting her ear to the door. When she didnt hear a sound, she quietly cracked the door open and peeked inside. A moment later she was already walking away along the corridor, leaving the door shut, as she had found it. Solomon was standing beside a pile of strange objects. His eye was caught by a smallish box. He picked it up and began to turn the key on the side, summoning the little figure of St Christopher on its lid back to life. With his entire body screeching, the metal legs went up and down in a funny way, and St Christopher waded in the waves of the Neris, rolling under his feet. But he no longer carried Baby Jesus in his hands all that was left of it was a little stick. This must have been the reason the mechanical toy ended up in a pile of rubbish. But Solomon found it amazing it was the greatest thing that he had ever seen. An amusing little thing, isnt it, my dear boy? a voice chortled nearby. You should see the treasures that people sometimes chuck out for someone like you and I to enjoy, th e creature chuckled again. The Rose of the Troubles got to her feet with a sideways glance at the boiling Russian samovar, then poked her parasol into a pile of goodies in the corner, through which the boy was rummaging, oblivious to everything around him. Who knows where they met. Possibly in the Vilnius underground vaults with their ceilings bleeding drops of water and rats scurrying around their feet, or maybe in some deserted cul-

de-sac, which had been turned into a tip by its lazy and filthy residents, and which had also become the place to receive Solomon Klein back from the dark underworld, after he had seen the Beast. But what does it matter, after all? They Rose of the Troubles and wall dauber Solomon were two lonely souls drifting around the big city who had eventually found each other. Wasnt that most amazing? The samovar whistled, spitting white steam all around the place. Rose began to fuss around the table, swiftly embellishing it with two fine china cups with broken handles and a plate of biscuits. A kind shopkeeper from Sodu Street would occasionally treat Rose to a plateful of those. The old womans quarters consisted of one single room with two fly-stained windows. The wind would find its way in through numerous gaps in the walls, which Solomon had promised to fill as soon as Rose and he found enough rags. They both sat at the little table. A blissful sigh issuing from his lips, the boy picked up the cup. The lovely smell of mint tea made him close his eyes. He felt good. He felt at home. Trailing clouds and steam, the grand Ilya Muromets was heading north. To St Petersburg. Home. No one with a rational mind could justify the quantities of promethelium that this airship was wolfing down, but its Mechanics and Alchemists couldnt care less. It was The Ilya Muromets! The shot glasses, brim-full with ice cold vodka, chinked. To Russia and to victory! toasted Vladimir Nikolajavitch Lamsdorf, Foreign Minister to the Empire, who had been flown to The Ilya Muromets on board a biplane and had only found out about the latest developments in Vilnius from the wireless. To Russia and to victory! echoed the Actual State Councillor Alexander Ignatyavich Golytsin. The men downed the liquor in one and each took a bite of a pickle, before placing the empty glasses on a silver tray. Your performance was fantastic, Lamsdorf was generous with praise, chewing on a crunchy pickle. As was Ilyushas. The Kaisers pigs will never forget that Russia needs to be treated with respect. Could you please remind me to submit a request to his Imperial Highness for the entire crew to be rewarded with medals? Golytsin was t