Pete Harrison was an ordinary student. One day he was walking in the park, not looking for trouble.
He saw a strange phenomenon. There was a strange spot on the trunk of a large tree in the park. The spot was shimmering with dim light. The thought of a magical portal to an alien world crossed the student's mind. Pete looked around. People were pa.s.sing by and weren't paying attention to the phenomenon. Pete blinked and shook his head. He walked over to the tree and held out his hand. His hand went through the trunk of the tree and met no obstacle!
Pete Harrison froze. He didn't understand reality. The young man looked ahead and saw that his arm up to his elbow had disappeared into a strange blur.
"What is this? Is this a portal? Is it a miracle? Or is it my insanity?"
The next act changed Pete Harrison's life forever.
He didn't realize what he was doing. He didn't think. He just took a step forward.
For a moment he blinked.
He found himself in a strange place.
It was a city. But city was completely strange and unfamiliar to the senses.
The young man froze in place. He could not take his eyes off the unusual sight. He was standing on the edge of the roof. The view of the city made him doubt his reality. On all sides rose towers and tall, large buildings. It was an unimaginable mixture of architectural styles. Light-colored walls and multicolored roofs prevailed. The mesmerizing medieval towers of the castles caught the eye. Nearby the towers, buildings of gla.s.s and metal tower. In some places, he could see the greenery of parks. And a few bridges hinted at the presence of a river at the edge of the city.
Pete turned his head to his left and froze. In the distance, he saw a wall. It was something incredible and impossible. He had not been to China. He had not seen the Great Wall. Now he saw a wall that towered over all the buildings in the city!
He looked down and quickly closed his eyes. He had never been afraid of heights. But the height made him wary. Pete cautiously took a step away from the edge. He noticed a delirious and abnormal moment. There was a carpet laid in the middle of the street! He could see that it was a carpeted path of green. And it seemed to him that the streets were laid with stone, as in ancient cities.
The young man turned around and immediately noticed the familiar stain. A clear understanding of the situation appeared in his mind. He could go back! Pete didn't doubt it for a moment.
Of course, he didn't go back. His heart was pounding in his chest. He was sweating with excitement. Pete did the most basic of things. He stuck his head into that portal. A smile appeared on his face. He whispered a few words about the wonderful world. Of course, he decided to continue his adventure.
There was an attic window on the roof. Pete cautiously approached and saw that the window was open. He climbed into the attic room. This world respect cleanliness and order. There was no garbage in the attic. The stairs to the building were closed with a door. Pete took hold of the door handle and pulled it toward him. The door opened. He felt like the discoverer of a mysterious world.
Pete Harrison walked down the stairs and listened carefully. It was quiet in this house. He found himself in a large hall. There were shelves and pictures on all sides. He saw many different things. The thought crossed his mind that he was in a museum. It was the last quiet thought of a man who found himself in a strange place at a strange time.
A loud voice made Pete flinch in surprise,
"What are you doing in a Museum of the Disabled? Who are you?"
"My name is Harrison. Pete Harrison."
"How did you get in here?"
"I don't know. I saw a shiny spot on the wall and stepped into it."
Suddenly Pete felt a punch in his side. He cried out and bounced away. The young man froze and eyed the unfamiliar old man warily. The old man also kept his eyes on the young man. The old man had s.h.a.ggy gray short hair and a s.h.a.ggy little gray beard. His forehead was covered with large wrinkles. Pete immediately noticed the unusual shape of his large ears. It seemed to him that his ears were drawn up to the top and had pointed ends.
The old man pointed his cane at the young man and said softly,
"You are not a Nomage. I know who you are. You are a wanderer. Go back to your world without magic and die!"
"Why should I die?" the young man asked quietly.
"Because you are a wanderer. When you came to Ark you ignited your core of magic. In your homeworld, the magic is different, weak magic. There your core will fade quickly. You are already full of the magic of great Ark. You will die soon."
Pete knew at once that the old man was not joking.
"I don't want to die. Sir, help me. I can learn. I can be useful."
"You're useless. And you are weak. A strong mage can fight the call of the magic of our world. You are a savage and a wanderer. I am an old soldier. I do not like to see you. Wanderers are nothing but trouble and problems. Be thankful I'm not the Ripper. Parts of your corpse can be sold. Valuable ingredients."
Pete felt insignificant and weak. He had already forgotten that feeling.
"I'm new to this place. But I'm not stupid. I'm young. Am I that useless? "
The old man grinned and tossed the young man his walking cane.
"Show me what you can do."
Pete managed to catch the cane. He froze in confusion. What should he show? Hit the old man? That's crazy and abnormal.
In the next moment, the old man jumped up to the young man and threw two swift blows. Pete felt a pain in his chest. He flew backward and fell to the ground.
"You're useless. And you're a coward. You have the heart of a slave."
In response, the young man jumped sharply to his feet and tried to strike the old man with his cane. Pete threw several blows. The old man almost didn't budge. He dodged with the grace and skill of an experienced fighter. The young man stopped his futile attempts to hit the master. And the old man made a few moves. He deftly withdrew his cane and laid the boy on the ground with a strong blow.
"Pathetic savage!" The old man spat into his fist and wiped his palm on the fabric of his jacket.
Suddenly their familiarity was interrupted. They heard a door slam and a loud voice,
"Grandpa! I brought your lunch. Why did you leave your post, you old jerk?"
The old man's reaction was quick and simple. He quietly whispered an order,
"Stay where you are. Be quiet."
The old man walked quickly away down the stairs.
Pete heard a conversation. It was the voice of a young woman, rich in emotion, combining sa.s.s and caring. The grandfather grumbled softly in response.
Pete Harrison did not possess many virtues. He was an ordinary guy, no genius at all. An orphan. He grew up in his uncle's house. He knew he didn't have the best character. But he did have one bright feature. Not to say it was a great advantage or virtue. Pete had a handsome face. Girls at school liked him. He attracted the attention of girls at university. Women in the street and public places paid attention to him. And often it didn't end well. Pete didn't know how to use his beauty. He didn't grow up to be a reserved, but shy man. One fact he knew for sure. He always made a great impression when he started meeting girls!
Pete decided to improve his chances. He cautiously and slowly began to descend the stairs.
In the lower room, the old guard began to eat. His granddaughter was telling her news. The young man went down the stairs and began to approach the door to the office.
Pete could hear the girl making remarks about her acquaintances. ''Some compet.i.tors in the business… Greedy booty grabbers... Stupid guardsman demanding an extra tax..,'' The girl had a wicked tongue and a harsh temper. From the conversation, he recognized her bright and beautiful name. Her name was Shine. Pete walked to the open door to the study and froze in place. He was beginning to worry. Maybe he was making a mistake.
It's too late to worry when you're caught!
A dagger plunged into the wall near the entrance. Following the weapon came the girl's harsh voice,
"Stay where you are, thief! You'd better not move."
Pete froze in fright and surprise attack. Suddenly a girl appeared in front of him.
And Pete realized that this was exactly a world of wonders.
She was standing too close. She was filled with bright emotions. And she was very beautiful! Blonde. Her blond, straight hair carried strands of platinum and gold. Her gray eyes now looked with coldness and calculation at the stranger. Her nose was straight and flawlessly shaped. Her neat, not very large lips curved in an unkind grin. The beauty's face was elongated, cheekbones and with a beautifully extended chin.
An athletic figure. High b.r.e.a.s.t.s. An Amazon. A Warrior Woman. Valkyrie!
Pete swallowed and slowly raised his hands in front of him.
"I'm not a thief. I'm Pete Garrison. I'm a guest. I come in peace."
The girl hissed back through her teeth,
"Don't look at me like that! If you want a hole, find a wh.o.r.e. Don't you dare look at me like that!"
The old man laughed,
"This savage has no use for wh.o.r.es. My dear Shine. You see before you a wanderer. This savage has come to the Ark from his world and straight to the roof of the Museum of the Disabled."
The girl reached for the dagger in the wall and grasped the hilt. She pulled the dagger out and looked intently at the young man. There was something she did not like about the young man's behavior. She looked again carefully at the stranger. He had no weapons! Is he a strong mage? No! Strong mages are dignified and decent-looking. And this... is a dumb and weak savage.
Pete smelled the delicious smell of roast meat and his stomach rumbled. The girl squinted her eyes,
"You want to eat? Pay for your food. No money? Give blood. Grandpa, you gave blood again. I know you're helping that one-legged weakling! Why doesn't that cripple give blood? Bring me one vial."
The old man frowned, pushed back his plate of food, and got up from the table. He left the room and soon returned. The girl took the small vial from his hand. She walked over to the young man and held the vial out to him.
"Fill it with your blood. I'll take it to the master."
Pete didn't understand the sternness of his new acquaintances. No welcome. No condescension or friendliness. The young man froze and didn't know what to do. He couldn't take a knife from the table and cut himself. It was wrong. It was savage and uncivil!
Shine grinned and moved the knife toward Pete. He took the knife and gently pressed the point on the base of his thumb in his left palm. The knife was so sharp that it immediately cut the skin. Pete placed the knife on the table and began to fill the vial with blood. A completely abnormal world!
He handed the full vial to the girl. She closed the vial with the cork and explained,
"This is for making scrolls. The mage's blood is the ingredient for magical ink."
Pete nodded his head. He was still worried that his blood would be misused. After all, there were curses and other nasty things. His attention was diverted by Shine. The girl pulled a small, flat box from her jacket pocket. She opened the box and showed him several items. They resembled cigarettes.
"Magic scrolls. Any moron can activate a scroll. Even someone like you."
Pete was no longer paying attention to the girl's rudeness.
He got the food! The old man walked over to the table with a plate. On the plate, he placed a piece of roast meat and a large piece of bread. The old man put the plate in front of the young man and said one word,
The roast smelled great. The young man's mouth sputtered and he sat down in his chair. But how could he eat? The old man didn't bring a fork. Pete looked at the magicians and saw the look in their eyes. They looked at him like he was an interesting animal, like a stupid insignificant creature. Shine shook her head and spoke sharply,
"What hole did you come out of? Don't know how to use a knife? Use your hands!"
Pete Harrison didn't humiliate himself. He took the knife and stuck it into a piece of meat. He took a piece of bread in his other hand. And these people call him a savage?
The old man and the girl were discussing the fate of their guest and paid no attention to the young man. Elder made a suggestion,
"A useless and foolish savage. He can guard the house and give blood."
"He is a barbarian. He doesn't understand the meaning of orders. You didn't want me to see him. You ordered him to stand still and keep quiet. This fool showed curiosity. He will show his wild temper again. He's bound to go outside. And that's where the Rippers will meet him!"
Shine looked at Pete and her eyes narrowed with antic.i.p.ation,
"Hear that, dummy? Rippers are waiting for you outside! Do you know who the Rippers are?"
Pete wanted to jab the b.i.t.c.h and said in a calm expert tone,
"Rippers catch all kinds of knuckleheads and losers. The bodies go for ingredients. Different masters need different ingredients."
After this phrase, everyone fell silent. The old man laughed,
"Not stupid, but wild. He can give blood."
"Oh, screw the blood! He could be useful to me. Strong and dumb. He can carry a load. He can disarm traps."
Pete tried to object and clarify,
"I don't deal with traps."
"They'll deal with you!" grinned Shine.
The old man didn't support the plan.
"That's the mistreatment of a stranger. He's of little use. But don't be quick to destroy him. Think hard. He will carry the load into the dungeon. He will run into a trap and die. You will be left alone in the dungeon with a mountain of cargo. That's irrational use of his miserable abilities."
Shine nodded her head. She bit her lip and admitted her grandfather was right.
"You wanted to go to the dungeon tomorrow?"
"Yes. I have one request. This is the crypt. You know I have a talent for working against the undead."
Shine swung her hand so hard that drops flew from the knife's tip.
"Going alone against vampires? I'm brilliant and lucky, but not crazy."
The men ate and Shine gathered the dirty dishes into a basket.
"I have a lot to do. I need to buy special supplies for the mission. Savage, your clothes are disgusting. Grandfather, give him your old robe. He shouldn't be out on the street looking like that. See you tonight."
The girl looked once more at the wretched wanderer and laughed. Then she walked out of the museum at a brisk pace. The old man squared his shoulders, his beard and hair seeming to come alive and thicker as the girl walked out. He winked at the young man,
"What do you say?"
Pete answered without hesitation,
"Your world is very cruel. My civilization has long forgotten the days of such cruelty."
The old soldier shook his head,
"You're not just a savage. You're a dumba.s.s! I asked your opinion of my granddaughter."
Pete got up and wanted to leave. To go high and far away. To go up on the roof and return to his world. There is no magic at all in the normal world! And why should he die? There was no place for him in this society. He was not ready to accept that reality. He could not survive in this world. He met a girl and an older man. They were supposed to be nice, supposed to be condescending. But these people reeked of power and harsh cruelty. Is the world of magic that cruel? How could he survive? What was he thinking? He wanted to go back! But why would he come back? There is no telling how he got to this place. But he's here. There is no way back. He doesn't want to die!
Pete asked the guard for permission to see the museum,
"Can I see the exhibits? It's a museum. I know how to behave in museums."
The old man nodded his head,
"This is a Museum of the Disabled. Our city has been at constant war with other mage cities since ancient times. I've been in hundreds of battles! All the old men give us some souvenirs and valuables to our museum. Look with your eyes, but not with your hands! Don't touch anything."
Pete began to examine the exhibits. It was amazing to him to feel like a visitor to another world. He immediately understood the speech of the locals! How and why had this happened? Magic? Perhaps. But literacy is a more complicated case. The young man was surprised to find that the symbols of the letters were similar to those of the Earth alphabet and runes. He thought he could quickly learn to read and write. His lack of literacy did not stop him from marveling at the history of this city. Exhibits were kept on shelves. Above most of the exhibits were paintings. These paintings added to the information about the exhibit, its owner, and the history of the exhibit.
Pete saw a black piece of bone on the shelf and knew it was a dragon's claw. Above the claw was a painting depicting a battle with a dragon.
He walked around and watched. He became more and more immersed in the history of this city. It was a history of wars and fighting and cruelty. The defenders of the city and the enemies of the city were different races and were different creatures. The young man was no longer surprised by the images of members of the fantasy world, elves, dwarves, orcs, and various magical creatures. And all of them shed blood, all killed each other. The city was constantly fighting for its existence.
Pete Harrison was not a proponent of an active lifestyle. He didn't go to sports clubs, and he didn't know hand-to-hand combat. Naturally, he did not know how to use daggers and swords. The young man was sad because he realized his unenviable future. "Loader and decoy for traps!" It was a miserable future.
He walked over to a shelf on which various arrows, crossbow bolts, and stones lay in the mess. In the picture, a company of three townsfolk was shooting back at their enemies. An elf drew the bowstring of a large bow. A bearded, s.h.a.ggy-haired man was aiming a crossbow at the enemy. A short little fellow with s.h.a.ggy hands was spinning a sling.
"There are even hobbits here! Why haven't I met a hobbit? Hobbits have a kind character. Hobbits have a developed sense of hospitality!"
Pete Harrison didn't want to act cavalier and brash. He didn't want to disrupt order. He didn't touch weapons and armor. He didn't touch artifacts or unknown objects. He reached out and took a stone from the shelf. An ordinary stone that had served the unknown hobbit as a projectile for his sling.
Further events proved once again to the young man that the world of magic is full of surprises and mysteries.
Suddenly the boy's hand cramped. His fingers clutched the stone and he realized he could not unclench his hand. His chest felt hot. He felt a pain in his heart and felt sick. Pete crouched on the floor and tried to unclench his fingers. He didn't understand what had happened. He knew he had gotten himself into trouble again.
The fire in his chest was flaring up and Pete felt the fire begin to move inside his hand.
"I've picked up a magical curse! I'm infected and I'm about to die! I've got to get help."
He didn't have time to scream.
Suddenly the stone in his hand cracked and seemed to lose its hardness. Pete felt his fingers clutching something soft and wet. He was surprised to see a black lump in his hand. The lump was moving and trying to squeeze his fingers apart.
Pete felt dizzy. He felt as if his brain was about to leak out of his ears.
Panic and an explosion of discomfort were abruptly replaced by feelings of hunger and joy. He was glad to be at peace and he wanted to eat.
Pete unclenched his fingers and brought his palm to his face. In his palm lay a small black-winged kitten with big ears.