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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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