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her by the hand. “What’s with you, girl? Dreamt of Plague-del-Cake again?” he asked with uneasiness. In the entire Tibidox only two – Tanya and the academician – were not afraid to call the terrible sorceress, the lady of Chaos, by her name. The rest preferred to use the vague – She-Who-Is-No-More.

      “It’s t-true? True that tomorrow everyone will have to r-return to the moronoids?” Tanya uttered, stuttering.

      The moustaches of Sardanapal drooped despondently. “Alas,” he sighed. “Alas! The Ancient One sees I tried so that you would learn about this as late as possible, but there is simply no other way out… In a couple of months, it’ll be necessary to interrupt lessons. I know that you don’t want to go to Uncle Herman and Aunt Ninel, but only for a short period… Otherwise it’s simply impossible.”

      “But why?”

      The academician helplessly parted his hands as if attempting to cover at once the numerous cracks on the walls and the ceiling. “You can see for yourself! Tibidox, of which we were always so proud, resembles a sieve. One more corner tower collapsed the day before yesterday, and the rest are held together on a wing and a prayer. Magic no longer helps. And even what magic is here? Will you cast a spell between each brick? And to rebuild Tibidox in one night would even be beyond the power of the great Ancient One.”

      “But the cyclopes? And the heroes Usynya, Gorynya, and Dubynya? They’re working!” Tanya asked with distrust.

      Sardanapal made a contemptuous face. “Did you see how they work? These giants are amazingly confused. They put up one wall and bring down two. In Tibidox it’s cold, it’s uncomfortable. The Atlases no longer hold up the arches – what can they support when everything has crumbled? – and from idleness they’re loose along the corridors. Yesterday one of them accidentally stepped on Professor Stinktopp – a remarkable scholar and splendid magician. Just that in the darkness his bald spot resembles a mushroom so that the mistake of the Atlases can be understood in principle. The poor wretch has three hidden breaks. Certainly, Yagge will join his bones, but it’ll take time. Here I decided that it’s worthwhile to send you all away for a time and do major repairs. To drive away all evil spirits, all wood goblins, all giants, and to invite a few more genies on the side – and make everyone help build. Then it’ll make sense.”

      “But why send us away? We could live in the Big Tower! It’s solid, and even enough space for everybody!” Tanya proposed, clutching at a last straw.

      Sardanapal’s moustaches straightened and began to toss about like the wipers of a car. “No, no, and again no,” he said inflexibly. “No one will remain here. Yes, the Big Tower is solid, but… You see, there is one more reason, which you have no idea about…” The academician cautiously looked around at the sphinx, leaned over slightly, put a finger to his lips and whispered, “Only remember: what I’ll tell you is a secret! No one must know about this! You swear to keep the secret?”

      Tanya promised. Sardanapal leaned towards her ear and said quietly, “Three days ago Medusa, Slander Slanderych, and I went down to the basement and discovered that the foundation had fractured.”

      Tanya shrugged her shoulders. She saw nothing awful or at least interesting in this news. “Well, so?” she asked. “Everywhere is full of cracks now! There the corner tower collapsed, and nothing, no one was frightened. Seal them up, and that’s all there is!”

      Sardanapal looked at her reproachfully. “You don’t understand. The cracks are very near the Sinister Gates! And any second they can go deep down. Then Chaos will escape from the dungeon, the ancient gods will break loose and smash the island to pieces! This is the main reason why we insist that all students leave Tibidox. Only we, the instructors, will remain here, and we’ll make repairs in earnest. I hope we’ll be able to strengthen the basements and create a durable magic barrier. Just remember: not a word to anyone!”

      “Agreed,” nodded Tanya. Sardanapal had communicated his seriousness to her. Now she understood how dangerous the cracks in the foundation were. Indeed Tibidox was not only a school for difficult-to-raise young magicians from the “white” and “black” departments. Tibidox was also a fortress-prison: ancient spirits, heathen gods, and Chaos are confined in the basements.

      After Shurasik, enslaved by She-Who-Is-No-More, with the gold sword cut the Hair of The Ancient One into two, the balance of forces between good and evil, intact for millennia, was disrupted. And although she, Tanya Grotter, was able to prevent Plague-del-Cake from opening the Sinister Gates and setting Chaos free, this threat existed as before. The forces of evil are immortal. They are there in the basement – roaring and shaking the Gates. Now it is always necessary to be on the alert.

      “Can I stay? I’ll help. Please!” Tanya asked.

      Sardanapal shook his head. “Impossible. If you stay, others will want to stay, and you yourself understand what this can lead to… We’re also taking a risk – we’re releasing into the world of the moronoids a whole crowd of half-educated magicians! A nightmare! Slander Slanderych is horrified even now by what you’ll be up to there.”

      Tanya became ashamed that she could not keep herself in control and broke into the office of the academician. Now when she found out the truth, it became clear to her that Sardanapal’s solution was singularly valid and it would be impossible to change it.

      “By the way, Tanya, I have a commission for you…” the academician continued. “Not as a service, but for friendship. You’ll take something with you to the world of the moronoids. Medusa thought and… eh-eh… I decided that during repairs much can suffer or be lost. It’ll be better if we send them with those whom we trust.”

      “What shall I take with me?” Tanya was interested.

      Sardanapal knitted his brows. His moustaches began to jump with such animation and inspiration that they were actually conducting a symphony. “First, you’ll take with you Black Curtains…” he said.

      Tanya almost began to moan. Only not Black Curtains! Possible to think that here, in Tibidox, they have spoilt her blood a little. “Oh, not them please? Why do I need them? They’ll fly at night and peek at dreams. Or they’ll scare someone half to death,” she objected.

      “Now precisely for this very reason why someone must keep an eye on them,” Sardanapal retorted.

      Tanya nodded. She knew that it was useless to argue with the head of the white department of Tibidox. Especially when Medusa supported him, and he had decided…

      “And you’ll also take this with you!” Sardanapal clicked his fingers and a huge leather trunk crept out from under his table.

      The trunk took off and dashed towards Tanya at an enormous speed. The girl in fright shielded herself with her hands, certain that now she would be knocked from her feet. But the trunk turned out to be light. Likely, it was empty altogether. “But what’s inside?” Tanya asked, stretching to the gleaming locks.

      “STOP! Must not open it now!” the academician said quickly.


      “You see…” Sardanapal hesitated, looking sideways at Tanya. “Well, but you’ll find out all the same. There are ghosts in there.”

      “Ghosts?” Tanya asked again dejectedly. Next to the ghosts, Black Curtains, palmed off on her at first, immediately began to seem like a trifle. “And what ghosts are there? Not Eyeless Horror, I hope?”

      “What’s with you, what’s with you!” the academician smiled. “We’ll hand Horror to someone among the senior pupils. In this trunk are merely Lieutenant Rzhevskii and Unhealed Lady… Take them with you, they’ll only interfere with us. It’s clear that you must be very careful: the moronoids must on no account find out what you have in the trunk. They treat ghosts very incorrectly. Some, they say, even faint.”

      Tanya dejectedly sat on the trunk. Here is such an assignment – completely in the spirit of Academician Chernomorov. Rzhevskii will again tell his idiotic little jokes and show off the twelve knives in his back, and Unhealed Lady from morning till evening will moan and complain about her problems.

      “Trust me, there’s

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