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11

The cliffs are really out of place in this valley. The glacier might bring boulders, but not such a huge lumps.

Looks like it's really an exit to the different space, agrees Vika turning back to me, Are you tired?

I shake my head. To be honest, my hands are tired to hold Unfortunate but there's no time for such trinkets now.

If the program had really broken through to some foreign server, reasons Vika, then the channel will be one directional. We sure will be able to exit but if we need to flee

As a last resort, we have 'Warlock', I say but without much confidence. I'm not too eager to fall into blue tunnels anymore: too weird pictures did I see on my way.

Okay, let's go. Maybe there's nothing at all over there. Vika sighs and steps forward. I lag after her. Unfortunate is silent, either feeling himself guilty (which is right) or doesn't want to hinder. And this is a right behavior too.

We move along the narrowing canyon. At some point I look up estimating the height of cliffs. They are obviously higher than it seemed back in the valley. Very encouraging sight indeed

The pass becomes narrower and narrower, we can't walk side by side anymore. I start to move my side forward, this way the risk to hit Unfortunate's injured leg against the cliff is less. Maybe it would be a good idea to put the winged slippers on, but this idea came to me a bit too late, now I won't be able to turn and bend over. Vika swears quietly in front of me having problems too, I gloatingly think that Madam with her dimensions would be stuck long time ago.

It gradually becomes colder, an icy wind breaks into the slit from somewhere. This is good, very good!

Lenchik! says Vika in a muffled voice, Yes!

I see the light in front of me, blocked by her silhouette. Vika shifts somewhere to the side and I step into her place. I hit the Unfortunate's leg against the wall on my last steps anyway and he moans quietly.

The canyon brings us to a weird place.

There are mountains but different ones. They are not just uninhabited

they're wild, as if the life was here some time ago but then something killed it. A twilight. Maybe it's day anyway but the sky is blocked by dense lead colored clouds. Everything is enveloped in desolation and dull melancholy. A path winds down the slope among black fangs of the cliffs.

What is this? asks Vika quietly, Lenia?

I gaze around. No, this is a different space for sure, and I think a familiar one.

The Elves, I say, This is some role-playing server. They play here.

Like in "Labyrinth"? speaks Unfortunate out.

No, in a different way.

We won't go far here, says Vika gloomily, Either we'll freeze or the Elves will shoot us incidentally.

We'll freeze first, I say. My shirt was used for tourniquets and I carelessly disposed of my jacket.

That's okay, at least your exposed torso looks way too impressive, says Vika ironically. Good for her to talk, she has a jersey and Unfortunate has masking overalls from "Labyrinth", it's quite warm.

If we just had somebody to impress, I stretch my hand, Vika, there's a path in front of us, we should get there and search for people.

For the Elves.

People, Elves, Dwarves, whoever.

The snow is almost knee-deep, we slowly lag along. Unfortunate whispers guiltily:

I don't understand anyway

Do you know who Tolkien is?

He's an author

Just please don't recite "The Lord of the Rings" by heart, okay? So, this is a virtual space created by his fans, role-players. They congregate here, put on the bodies of his characters and play various plots, either Tolkien's or other authors'.

A theater, decides Unfortunate.

Well sort of.

Unfortunate silences, completely satisfied by explanation while I'm still quite far from complete clarity.

What server is it? What are the laws of this particular world? Where are allowed exits located through which we could get Unfortunate out?

I even fear to think about what to do next.

The path is well treaded down as if a whole army marched here not long ago. The snow melts as soon as it touches the path, maybe due to the magic. Role-playing world lives according to its own laws, the magic exists here.

Where should we go now? with this phrase Vika sets the command upon me. It's so fluttering to be trusted I wish I could justify this trust. I try to remember role-playing spaces' maps but abandon this idea immediately, these are drawn by whoever wants to.

And at this moment I hear a quiet drumming from behind the nearest cliff, either a mad horse with castanets on its legs or a giant with jaws clattering of cold.

There's no time to think.

Here, quick! I whisper and dive into wilted fir grove, put Unfortunate on the snow and press a finger to my lips, Tsssss

Vika and Unfortunate can't be seen from the path. I stand on it, outstretching my legs widely and pull off the belt. 'Warlock' unwraps into the fiery lash with a rumble.

I must look pretty scary, a gloomy male naked down to his belt, with the shoulders powdered with snow. I ve modeled Gunslinger's body sinewy and strong, it's immediately seen that he's a mighty fighter and this glowing lash in his hand too any troll would be scared.

The clatter comes closer.

I make a bloodthirsty grimace and wait.

A little figure, hardly as high as my chest comes out from behind the cliff.

A giant with clattering jaws indeed

The face and build of the traveler is like the child's but something is definitely wrong with his hormones: his legs, bare up to his knees, are covered with thick fur. Oh yeah, with such paws it's cozy even in the snow. A little drum hangs on traveler's chest and he beats on it with sticks as he walks.

A hobbit.

That's good.

Noticing me, the hobbit stops dead on his tracks, even one drumstick falls in the snow.

Hee-hee I say evilly.

The hobbit doesn't drum anymore but his jaws really start to chatter.

Who? I demand, stretching 'Warlock' towards the hobbit. The lash starts to lengthen excitedly and I have to pull it back quickly.

Harding, ssir! whispers hobbit.

Who? I ask again in a normal voice this time. But poor hobbit is in utter panic now, he even doesn't try to grab a small dagger carelessly stuck behind his belt.

H-harding, kind sir. S-sam sired Frodo, Frodo sired Holfast, Holfast sired Harding

You, huh?

Me, kind sir!

Quite in vain!

Yes, kind sir, agrees Harding obediently.

Don't 'sir' me! I bellow, And even more I'm not kind at all! I'm the sudden inspiration strikes me, Conan! Brave Conan the Kimmerian!

Hobbit definitely have heard of Conan, he starts to nod frequently, not asking how the hell had Howard's character got into Tolkien's world. Though, role-players are the folks that are easily carried away and such trinkets don't limit them. I could even call myself Koschej The Immortal { a Russian folklore evil character } if my build would allow me to.

Where are you going? I go on with questioning circling around the hobbit. He turns around trying not to lose me from his sight.

Catching up with the a-army

What the hell army?

The Elvish one We go to beat the Orcs and the Dwarves!

Why?

Because they are bad!

I start to be more and more sure that it's a little kid in the hobbit's body. An adult would find more serious arguments and of course would try to fight.

Army I say thoughtfully, Ah, yes! I remember, there was one

The dread is in hobbit's eyes. He squints at the fiery lash, not doubting the sad fate of the Elvish army anymore.

I've heard that you hobbits are marsupial, I inform, Huh?

The hobbit shakes his head in shock and presses his hands against his stomach.

Any grub?

Brave Harding gives me his rucksack, where I find a couple of cookies, a chunk of smoked meat, a flask; I soften.

Provident you are, hobbit And what is this?!

I hook out 'Snickers' from the sack's bottom.

The hobbit bursts into tears immediately. Yeah, the kid alright.

I tear the wrapping from the candy with teeth, bite off a half, the rest of it I return to the hobbit. He stops crying at once.

How do you think, will you beat the Dwarves? I inquire. One can't just rob the guy and let him go. What about to chat?

We will! nods the hobbit, They make arrows from yew-tree, and these are bad! And also they fight in 'hird', and this formation is bad { Hird a native Dwarvish battle formation, a kind of phalanx, described by Nick Perumov in his book "The Ring of Darkness" } I don't have even a bit of eager to get into details of the quarrel between the Elves and the Dwarves.

Is a city far from here?

Lorien is 5 miles away

Something is wrong with geography here oh well, never mind. If I also could find out the server name

Who is ruling this land?

Fair Legolas the Elf!

Alrighty, this information is enough.

Go, I say hanging the hobbit's sack on my shoulder.

Harding doesn't protest against the robbery. Even more, he shyly asks:

Can I go with you Conan? They'll beat the Dwarves without me, I guess.

Yeah right I do really need that I make an evil grimace again and whisper:

Don't you know that the hobbit is not only costly fur? Also it is 30-40 kilos of tasty, easily digested meat!

Books don't lie, hobbits really can run fast: just furry heels blink away in the snow dust.

I return to Vika and Unfortunate in the best mood. They heard the talk, so I don't have to repeat it for them.

Here's the food, I hand the sack to Unfortunate, Now we'll make a bed for you and will exit the Deep. We'll return openly, through Lorien, with normal gear and will get you out of here. Okay?

Unfortunate nods.

You'll have to wait for three-four hours I say thoughtfully, Is it okay?

Though we don't have any other choice anyway. I won't be able to drag him under the snow, half naked, for five miles. Together with Vika we make a bed from twigs under the old fir tree, put Unfortunate on it and hand the sack with trophies to him. A light alcoholic beverage is in the flask, one better not use it to warm up in the real frost but why not in virtuality?

Let's surface? I ask Vika, We'll meet in three hours say, at the entrance into Legolas' server.

She nods, a moment and her form dissolves in the air.

Take care Unfortunate, I say.

Abyss-abyss, I'm not yours


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