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Chapter 6 -- The Museum
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

I awoke in a pool of blood. Someone was screaming; after a moment I realized it was me. My entire body seemed on fire.

I stopped screaming by sheer act of will, and tried to stand. That's when I realized my right arm was missing, from just above the elbow, and that's where the pool of blood had come from.

The Ring of Regeneration was still on my left hand, and I knew it would heal me... so why was it taking so long?

The flow of blood from my arm stopped just in time to prevent me from falling down. The pain receded and I looked around.

The extravagant glass cases, apparently held together with silver, contained all manner of old artifacts. I didn't need to be told to realize it was a museum. I also discovered I couldn't read any of the signs.

In the world I had left, all civilized people wrote in the same script, and spoke the same language. Some other time I will explain how this was so, but for now accept that writing I could not read alarmed me.

I realized it must be late at night, and just as I wondered about guards I heard footsteps. They sounded distant, but just the same...

All my remaining prepared spells were gone; I didn't have time to wonder why. I decided to become invisible, and began the spell.

There seemed to be no power available; the spell failed.

The footsteps were closer, now. I had been screaming, after all... I tried again, focusing all my will on gathering the power, and I was rewarded with success.

Just in time, too. His uniform and weapon may have been unfamiliar but a guard is a guard, and the man who entered the room was one. He gasped at the pool of blood, then took a box from his belt and spoke to it. His language was as unfamiliar as the writing on the signs.

I quietly moved around him, and out the door. The museum was like a maze, in the dim after-hours lighting, but I managed to find the front entrance. Just then a police car pulled up. Naturally I did not recognize the machine, but the policemen who emerged were as recognizable as the guard.

When they entered, I slipped out the door before it closed. It was cold in the night, but the lighting of the streets at least made my way clearly visible.

I came to a row of storefronts just as my invisibility wore off, and regarded my reflection. I looked like death itself, my shirt drenched in blood, tattered and worn through in many places. I was wearing short sleeves and had no cloak, as I had last been in an equatorial region. At least my leather pants and boots remained serviceable, although the pants were worn almost through at the knees.

The worst part to the onlooker had to be my face; my eyebrows and eyelashes were gone, and the tip of my nose was missing. The Ring had managed to grow a thin layer of skin over it, and I was sure it would eventually regrow it entirely, but for now I was a monster.

How long had I been a statue? I imagined a thousand years; it turned out to have been much longer.

I found a litter-strewn alleyway in which to hide, stepping over other men who had come for the same reason as I: it was cold. Several of them spoke to me, but I couldn't understand them. Eventually they decided I was harmless and left me alone. I covered myself in cardboard and newspaper, frowning in frustration at all the strange writing, and went to sleep.

I wish I could say I awakened at dawn, but it was more like noon. I felt much better, though I was ravenously hungry and thirsty and really badly needed to relieve myself. I felt of my nose with my left hand, and found the tip still missing; I would ordinarily have expected such an injury to have healed by now with my ring, but obviously the shortage of magical energy affected it also. I wondered how long it would take me to regrow my missing parts, and for the first time since my awakening was truly worried.

I stood up, shaking off the papers that had protected me. The day was warm, though not hot, which was a relief after my cold night outdoors. I noticed a rank smell that told me that others had used a spot behind some garbage cans as a latrine. After checking for onlookers, I did so myself.

One down, two to go. I was worried that my strange clothing and maimed visage might draw unwanted attention in this huge city. I resolved to pretend I was a native, not looking too much in awe of this place or craning my neck to look about like a tourist. Of course that is how I felt, but I didn't want to show it.

I needn't have worried. When I came out of the alley onto the street, I saw people in all manner of strange dress; not just different from mine, but from each other. There were bald men in red robes singing a high-pitched song, women in shoes with such high heels that I could not see how they could stand, men in dark suits that, even to a stranger such as I, almost smelled of gold... I could go on and on, but if you are at all familiar with the city of San Fransisco you know what I am speaking of.

More importantly, no one paid me any attention; in fact, they actively looked away from me. I realized that, in my worn clothing, I appeared to be a beggar. This could work to my advantage in the short term, if charity worked the same here as it had in my own time. I hated the thought of depending on the kindness of strangers, but survival comes first.

At that moment I remembered my beltpouch. It was still there, tied to my belt! I ducked back into the alley and felt it, and found that it was intact; and I was glad I had invested in a leather pouch instead of cloth.

The pouch, you see, was about half full of "ringlets," the currency of my time, and most of them were gold. I didn't know if gold had any value, but it always had before. I removed the pouch from my belt with some difficulty one-handed, and then slipped the long loops of cord over the stub of my right arm and up to my shoulder. In this way, my otherwise useless arm could at least protect my only valuables.

Thus prepared, I ventured onto the street again, and began to wander. I found a small park nearby, and observed young people using a water fountain; it was a simple enough to do, and so I waited until the fountain was free, and quenched my thirst. I also wet my face and wiped it with my shirttail; it felt good to be even a bit cleaner.

I wandered the streets until nightfall, still hungry but not desperate enough to steal yet, when I heard noises down an alleyway. I looked, and saw two scruffy men menacing a smaller man with a paper sack of groceries in his hands. One of the men had a knife.

At any other time in my adult life I would have jumped into action, swinging my staff or casting Paralysis spells; but I had neither, nor did I even have my good right fist.

Then I remembered how I looked. In the twilight they would not be able to see me clearly, but perhaps well enough. I ran into the alley, screaming like the Madman and flailing my left arm.

The unarmed assailant took one look at me and fled, but the knife-wielder turned and stood his ground. The victim seemed stunned. I raised my left arm in the guard position, but of course he had a knife; I took a nasty cut to the outer side of my forearm. His strike had left him open, though, and I smashed my left hand into his throat.

He wasn't dead, I soon discovered. I debated taking the knife, but it's never safe to make assumptions about an alien culture, so I left it.

The victim was speaking to me. I shook my head slowly; he seemed to grasp that I couldn't understand. I took his tone for gratitude, as he motioned me to follow him.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005