Once upon a time, there lived a second-guild merchant in the city of Moscow, named Yegor Kirillovich. He had four sons, named Mikhail, Ivan, Konstantin, and Boris. Mikhail was the strongest of the four, and became a well-known soldier in the armies of the Tsar. Ivan was the most virtuous of the four, and decided from a young age that he would spend his days in contemplation of God. Of the four, Konstantin was the most charming, and it was correctly said that he would make his way quickly through the Table of Ranks.
Boris was the youngest of the four, and he was neither strong nor virtuous, and certainly not charming. But he had smarts to spare and excelled in all of his studies. Although he was mostly interested in medicine, it was decided that he would take on his father's business. However, even as he learned more of the ways of the world, Boris feared his death. He knew the inevitability with which his work and profit would be washed away. And so Boris was very unhappy.
While Boris' brothers were just as much his father's sons as he, Boris was known as Boris the Merchant's Son.
However, one day Boris the Merchant's Son was looking in a market at the base of a tower when he came upon a thick, blue book with inlays like fine flaxen hair. He opened the book and found that it was full of diagrams of rituals and tables of pronunciations. The rituals were for impossible things, like speaking to the dead or walking through walls. As he read, Boris' lips bent into a crooked smile. He bought the book and read it at home, hoping to find a way to avoid death. There he found many wondrous things, but he did not find how to avoid death. Although filled with wonder and hope, Boris was still unhappy.
This was how Boris the Merchant's Son became Boris the Sorcerer.
One day, Boris the Sorcerer was practicing a particularly difficult spell from a particularly difficult book. Since he had found the book, Boris had immersed himself in magic. He had torn at it with ravenous hunger, stuffing into his mouth with both hands. He had learned many wondrous things, and had learned them not by days but by hours. But still he sought to save himself from death, and still he could not. And still he was unhappy.
The spell he was practicing involved the speaking of words in a language that had been dead since the reign of thrice nine tsars, and would end with a pound of wheat transforming into a pound of grasshoppers. The gnarled stump of a man who had sold it to him had assured Boris that the book had been torn from the walls of Jacob Bruce's own home. Boris doubted it, but the spells seemed straightforward enough.
Upon hearing that his son was destroying a pound of flour, Boris' father, Yegor, who had always hoped that Boris the Merchant's Son would someday become Boris the Merchant, was furious. His face became red like a hot iron.
"My son!" he bellowed as he burst into the room, "What are you doing!? That's perfectly good grain you're wasting! And what is that infernal chattering you're engaged in!? Why are you not at you studies? Why do you waste your time with this nonsense!?"
Boris was startled when his father burst in, and fumbled the words to the spell. The grain turned into a pound of ladybugs, which dispersed and skittered away into the cracks in the floor. Boris spun around and shouted at his father "You blockhead! You dundering oaf! How dare you interrupt me like that! Do you know what might have happened had I been working on a serious spell!?" Boris lept forward in rage, and struck his father. For a moment, Yegor the Merchant was frozen with shock.
But after a moment, the shock in Yegor the Merchant's eyes vanished, replaced by fiery anger. "GET OUT!" he bellowed, "I HAVE ONLY THREE SONS! I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!" He grabbed a large copper samovar from the table and hurled it at Boris' head. For a second, Boris believed that this would be his end, laid low by a tea heater. At the last moment, the samovar went wide, smashing into the wall next to him.
"OUT!" Boris didn't need to be told twice. He rushed to his room and gathered whatever books of magic he could carry. A lamp crashed into the wall next to his head. Boris lept out the window, his father's curses and missiles flying after him.
When he had run far enough, Boris stopped. His heart beat like a hammer, and his lungs breathed fire. "Now I must work for my living," he thought to himself, "But how…?" Then Boris the Sorcerer hit upon an idea, one which made the ends of his mouth curl up with joy.
This was how Boris the Sorcerer became Boris the Worker of Small Wonders.
Boris the Worker of Small Wonders had a shop in Khitrovka, where he worked his small wonders. Even with the location, Boris' reputation for small miracles was such that drew the rich and powerful, as well as the poor and seedy. The money made little difference to him; it was just a means to more learning. He brewed potions of love and success, read palms, and communicated with the dead. However, unlike most of his fellow workers of small wonders, Boris actually did work the wonders he claimed to. It was simple work, and he saw it as good practice.
Boris' father's word was truly a merchant's word. One year and one day after he had disowned Boris, he died in quite curious circumstances. When Boris heard the news, he gave a grin so wide you could count his yellow teeth.
Three days before the funeral, Boris' eldest brother, Mikhail, came to the shop, covered in so many medals it looked as though he wore the night sky on his chest.
"Come to father's funeral, Boris," he harrumphed from behind a luxuriant mustache, "That's an order! I know you and he never got along, but you're his son! It's only proper!" Boris said nothing, and only smiled. Mikhail the Soldier left burning with frustration.
Two days before the funeral, Boris' second eldest brother, Ivan, came to the shop, so covered in gold and white thread, it was as if he wore the sun.
"Come to father's funeral, Boris," he intoned behind a thick beard, "I know you and father had your differences, but it's what God would want." Boris didn't say a word, and flinched slightly at the word "God." Ivan the Priest left uttering prayers for his brother's soul.
On the day before the funeral, Boris was visited by his third-eldest brother, Konstantin, who wore such fine clothes it was as though the angels of heaven had sewn them.
"Boris, go to father's funeral," he said with a voice like velvet, "I didn't like him either. If you ask me, he could have stood to be slapped around a bit more. But it looks bad if one of my brothers misses his own father's funeral." Boris laughed in Konstanin's face. Konstantin the Politician left Boris' shop, unable to reach a compromise.
The day his father was put into the ground, Boris slept in, picked his nose, studied a book bound with human flesh, read a palm, farted, and went to sleep.
This was how Boris the Worker of Small Wonders became Boris the Bastard.
Boris the Bastard had a prosperous business, for despite his name, he still worked wonders, both small and large. He had attracted the interest of several young ladies of good reputation, and many more of lesser reputation. His magical studies came along steadily. His father was dead, having been eaten by something from the inside out. And yet, Boris was still uneasy. The magical books of Moscow were only so many, and he felt he was no closer to saving himself from death. He felt the rumblings in the streets, and knew that it was only a matter of time before something bad would break out. And bad things that broke out tended to break seedy, unpleasant lechs who worked as workers of wonders.
Then, on the last page of the last book in Boris' collection, he read about a place called the Library, where the books of all of all the worlds were held. It would be there that he would find his cure. There was a ritual for finding passage in Moscow, but the book warned that it involved A Grave And Terrible Sin, Unforgivable By God. Boris' lips twisted into a queer little smile as he read, his teeth yellow and crooked.
And that was how Boris the Worker of Small Wonders became Boris the Wanderer.
Boris spent many long months and years in the Library. Some of the other patrons were from Moscow, and knew what he had done to get there. They hissed at him and called him a miserable wretch. But Boris made sure to never break any of the rules of the Library, and so everyone had to leave him alone. Boris studied and studied alone, leafing through book after book in search of a cure for his death.
But he found none. Boris wailed and gnashed his teeth as he thought about how unfair it was that the same fate awaited him, Boris Yegorovich, Boris the Wanderer as awaited his father and his father's father and so on from the dawn of time. A creature with a body like a spider, but the face of a man, told him to be quiet in a voice that sounded like rustling papers. Boris obeyed, and continued to read.
He found that he could not disappear his death, but he could take it out of himself. Several wizards had done it in the past, but their death had always been found somewhere. No matter how well it was hidden, some wandering young third son would come along and grab it, rendering the poor wizard helpless. Boris pondered what to do, knowing he didn't want to remove his death until he knew where to put it.
When Boris found himself back in Moscow, he saw that something had indeed broken. The tides changed and things were turned upside-down minute by minute. The old Tsar of All of Russia had been laid low. Now some man who looked like his brother Konstantin declared himself Tsar of the People. Then just a few months later, he too had been overthrown by a man claiming to be Tsar of the Workers. Now the lands were divided between many Tsars - White Tsars, Red Tsars, Tsars of the Peasants, Tsars of the Mountains, Tsars of the Desert, Tsars of the Anarchists. As Tsar fought Tsar, and their armies clashed across the land, Boris knew that this was his time. But he puzzled and puzzled on what to do with it.
Then, one day, he learned that the Red Tsar would wipe away thirteen days from the calendar. Boris' thin lips curled into a terrible smile. He knew when his death would be. But to make his way to the Moscow-That-Wasn't, the Moscow of the first day of February, Boris knew he needed ingredients. He had them all, from amethyst to witch's eye. He had them all but three.
"What is it, brother?" Mikhail asked as he made his way into Boris' shop. His uniform was thread-bare and splattered with mud. The medals were all tarnished. "What was so important I was called away from fighting the bloodthirsty menace?" Boris smiled, and bade Mikhail the Soldier to come closer.
And that was the last anyone heard of Mikhail the Soldier.
"What is it, brother?" Ivan asked as he entered the shop. His robes were torn, and he had received brutal slashings on both cheeks. "What is so important that I have been called away from praying for the soul of this nation?" Boris grinned and beckoned for Ivan the Priest to come nearer.
And that was the last anyone heard of Ivan the Priest.
"What is it, brother?" Konstantin asked as he came into the shop. His clothes were severe, because the clothes of a representative of the workers, particularly one who had until recently been a Kadet, had to be acceptably worn. "What is so important you have dragged me away from penning polemics on behalf of the masses?" Boris giggled and asked Konstantin the Politician to come towards him.
And that was the last anyone heard of Konstantin the Poltician.
Boris whistled to himself as he painted the bloody sigils in preparation for midnight. And that was how Boris the Wanderer became Boris the Three-Times-Damned.
At midnight, Boris the Three-Times-Damned walked through the sigils painted in the blood of three brothers. Outside, there was the sound of a bustling city. Then, as he stepped into the city of Moscow-That-Wasn't, all was silent as a forest in winter. He made his way from the back of his shop-that-wasn't, walking onto the streets of Moscow-That-Wasn't, on February 1st, 1918. The streets were empty. Not even a fly buzzed in the still city. Boris smiled.
Returning to his shop-that-wasn't, Boris prepared the ritual for removing his death. After several hours of frenzied work, plucked his death from his bare chest. He felt a sudden coolness in his arms and legs as he looked at the pale, slimy thing in his hand.
He took his death and stuffed it into an instant. With some difficulty, he threaded the instant through a moment. He rolled the moment into a split second; then doubled the split second into a whole second. The second was devoured by a minute, which was then stuffed inside of an hour. Finally, the hour containing his death became a day, a giant puffy thing. Boris' dry lips twisted into a smile. Even if someone could find the day of Boris' death in all of the thirteen days that weren't, and in all of Russia-That-Wasn't, the day would spit forth the hour of his death. If caught and cut open, the hour would release the minute of his death, which would be over in sixty seconds. Even if they caught the minute, they'd have to capture the second. And that's when the real challenge would begin for any would-be Boris-slayer. The second would yield a split-second, then a moment, and only then the instant. And only once they had caught the instant of his death, would Boris be vulnerable.
He took his death, wrapped up in a day, and made his way to the tallest church in all of Moscow-That-Wasn't. There he hung his death from the highest cross of the highest tower. Let some snot-nosed princeling try and get at that, he sniffed as he climbed down.
Boris wiped his brow and made his way to the portal, looking neither right nor left to the city of Moscow-That-Wasn't. This was how Boris the Three-Times-Damned became Boris the Undying.
One night, after my seventh drink, I told this very tale. An old man with a face like a coffin said to me "You know, even now, you may find Moscow-That-Wasn't. And if you determine the day, and find the hour, divine the minute, split the second, capture the moment, and snatch the instant, you may find the death of Boris Yegorovich."
He smiled "To go to that place, you must spill the blood of three brothers." He leaned in close, and his teeth were like stones and his breath was like death. "But don't fret. They needn't be yours. Any three will do." And I ran from that place, and spun on my head like a top three times.