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Deal 1033: Much to learn.

“He was just going to lie to you, you know” explained Gwen after chasing the talking frog away.

“I know. He’s been popping up now and then. He told me he was lying. Which could have been a lie. But he’s just a frog, isn’t he?”

“Sydney, you have a lot to learn about this place.”

“I know.”

As we look away for a while, Gwen and Sydney chatted for about many things that Sydney would need to know. Gwen didn’t give him many direct answers, just told him things he should seek to learn more about. And suggested ways to do that. By this point, it was getting on towards sundown.

“You should camp in the orchard for the night” offered Gwen. “I need to change, and attend to a few things for a while. The orchard and this garden are under my protection, so you will be safe here tonight. We’ll talk more in the morning.” Gwen disappeared in a swirl of skirts, leaving Sydney somewhat overwhelmed.

He decided that his best course of action was to do as she suggested. She hadn’t quite come out and said that she was the dragon he met earlier, but he wasn’t stupid either. He was a guest in her domain, and she might very well be the most powerful entity he had met so far.

The orchard was just beyond the garden, with a clear space suitable for camping surrounded by fruit trees. It extended as far as he could see in this part of the valley. He made himself comfortable near a grand old apple tree and settled in to contemplate all he’d learned.

He really hoped that he’d wake up a little wiser.

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Deal 1020: Trading or recruiting?

I’m pretty sure the crew who came through my inn were involved in a cult. They all had glazed eyes and vacant stares as they methodically unloaded their goods. Their leader seemed more interested in keeping them out of sight than in exactly what deals were made. I did pick up some fine casks of brandy before he took notice.

When he did take notice it was only to prevent further trading or interaction. He didn’t seem concerned enough to try to reverse the trades just made even if I did make out like a bandit. Not that I felt all that guilty. They were going to stay here as they usually did when they made an appearance at market, and if past visits were any example, I could expect some broken furniture, annoyed barmaids, and generally bad manners out of the bunch.

There must be something mighty powerful about their beliefs. They shrugged off discomfort and pleasure alike, approaching everything with the same blank featured stare. Staring as if they could see into the very heart of creation. And they had no interest in explanations. I tried on several occasions to get them talking. They just ignored the questions. It wasn’t as if they were sworn to silence, they would speak readily enough about most things, but were silent on the nature of their order.

Then their leader would be by, and with significant looks and glares would separate his charges from us. He never actually brought out his big stick, but its presence was always assumed.

They’ve moved on since, but their absence is welcome. We are back to our usual load of local drovers and farmers. Handling them is as easy as apple pie, as they say.

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Deal 1000: Matchups

The “greatest contest of all time!!!!!” they billed it. With enough exclamation marks to fill the page, to boot. Enough to fill the arena in any case. Poor typography aside, people from all walks of life had realized that something unusual was up, and rationally or not decided to attend.

The warm up bouts were clearly designed to disguise the true purpose. Sure, they were amusing, but that was all they were.

Moose vs. Squirrel could only end one way, and the bout was indeed predictably short. Squirrel won it decisively and swiftly, flying in all directions at once, and leaving Moose in a confused heap at the center changing quietly “this time for sure…”

The Stooges needed no help at all to tie themselves in knots, and then end the bout in a draw. At least that one was fun. Nosed got painted. Sticks were used vigorously on everything except heads. At one point they were moving so fast and rhythmically it was almost a Morris dance of silliness.

Finally they could put it off no longer.

The main bout was all that was left, and the crowd was wild with anticipation.

After the spectacle so far, what could possibly be waiting in the wings for the top billing?

It was announced as Mac vs. PC.

The crowd was stunned. Even more so when the two beige boxes rolled into their corners. Sure the Mac had its following, and its crisp style spoke of decades of efforts to make its design fresh and appealing. And the PC, no amount of voodoo in the world could make its lumpy beige box become interesting. Then the transformation happened before our eyes, and it became clear that this was all a proxy war between Jobs and Gates, seeking to resolve some kind of personal vendetta. The crowd was on the edge of its seats. Not just with excitement, but also with some sort of let-down feelings. After the long build-up, there was no possible match that would have satisfied their blood lust.

Possibly save for Coyote vs. the Acme Company’s R&D department.

Oh, who one the big bout you ask?

Well I’m certainly not telling. You’ll have to buy the pay per view and watch it yourself to see the answer!

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Deal 998: Illusions

The audience quieted (aside from the inevitable heckler) as the curtains opened on a new setting. One thing they were sure of was that something amazing was going to happen. But they saw before them a fairly ordinary set familiar to just about any modern sitcom. The open plan ranch house was mostly represented in photographic drops, but the standard family sized sofa was front and center, complete with an abandoned letter jacket, some sports shoes dropped messily, and a pizza box tossed haphazardly on the coffee table.

But there were not actors to be seen, so they quieted down in anticipation.

Except for the heckler, again.

As the lights came up on this prosaic scene, they noticed that the pizza box was moving. It had started out tossed aside on the table, but turned towards the audience, then canted up a bit and the front row suddenly got nervous. It was looming at them. Then it opened and began to speak. It was using halves of an apple for eyes, and a stale pizza slice as a tongue.

It raised up further as it set out on a bit of classic oratory.

The scene was so outrageous that when discussing it later, people couldn’t agree on what the box had actually said. Everyone was sure it said something, and said it well.

As it spoke, the front row calmed. Not the heckler, though. He got louder, and revealed himself as definitely not the gentleman in the room as he taunted the box mercilessly. The box just turned and stared at him. Eventually he wound down and went silent, and finally sat back down. It was the most professional treatment of a heckler that most had seen.

Finally, some people joined the box on the stage. As they entered, the box seemed to suddenly realize it was an inanimate object, and dropped back down on the coffee table. It didn’t quite remember to pull its tongue back in though.

The couple had a fairly predictable sitcom argument about the mess in the room and junior’s grades. Then the man settled down on the couch, stretched out, and dozed off. That was the wife’s moment to exact her revenge. She pulled out a sheet, tossed it over the man’s legs. He didn’t stir. So she added the pizza box to his belly, then pulled the sheet all the way over him.

He mumbled something inarticulate, but didn’t stir.

Then the whole sheet shifted a little. Then a little more. Then we realized it was lifting up and off the couch.

It raised up to where it’s tails were just dragging on the furniture when the woman suddenly noticed it. She screamed.

The she grabbed at the sheet and just barely caught a corner as it flew up, yanking the sheet away to reveal nothing at all. No lay-about husband. No pizza box. The couch was empty. The sheet was just a sheet.

Finally she balled up the sheet and threw it at the sofa, where it lay still.

Perfectly still.

Everyone held the breath, sure that there was one more twist to come from somewhere.

She stepped back to the couch, picked up the sheet and wrapped it around herself as a cloak, flipping a corner up to hide her hair.

A sudden bright flash and cloud of smoke cleared to reveal the sheet falling to the stage and the woman gone completely.

Then the lights went out.