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Deal 1002: Bears, Armed, Right.

The army was on the march again, kicking up clouds of dust as they moved. They made a flowing brown and black river across the landscape, with occasional glints of copper seen in the bright sun. And, of course, occasional flashes of tooth and claw as well. The eerie thing was that they were very nearly silent as they moved. The did not march in step, or engage in fancy pageantry. And yet, it was clear to any observer that they were highly disciplined and efficient.

Efficient killers too, when it came to that.

But no one who saw the army wanted it to come to that.

They were fully armed and armored, of course. But even if your stripped them of their armor, their natural weapons would overmatch many foes. Add to that layered copper and leather scale vests to protect their just barely more vulnerable areas, and there were few weapons in the five countries that could put a bear in danger.

Count their spear throwers, and there were few armies that would dare face them across a battlefield. Their skilled casters, standing on their hind legs for freedom of motion and using a thrower for leverage could accurately place a spear in a gourd at nearly a half mile’s distance, or with less accuracy but more terror, drop spears indiscriminately well over a mile away. A spear falling silently out of a clear blue sky doesn’t have to be aimed to cause terror, after all.

Their new trick is the work of alchemists. Some of their spears would explode beyond all reason when struck against a hard surface. Only rumors of this had been heard so far, no one outside of their secretive research clan had seen one in action. The rumors themselves could have been the work of a propaganda team, certainly. But true or not, their effect was the same.

Oddly, the Armed Bears did not seem inclined to conquer territory as they moved. And they weren’t foraging as widely as some other armies had either, so the local villagers were swift to recover from their shock and simply watch the wave after wave of bears move by. When they did camp, advance scouts arranged for the use of fallow fields and haybarns, paying in generously in copper, silver, and a little gold as warranted.

But even those who dealt with the scouts were unable to learn where the bears marched towards.

The easy assumption was that they were heading straight to their target, but beyond this land lay a vast desert, and then, or so it was said, the very edge of the world. Surely they weren’t marching off the edge. It was also said that at the far side of the desert was an endless sea, but that reaching it would involve dealing with creatures of dark magic and formidable will. The tales get more strange from there, with most claiming that the sea itself is inhabited by beautiful mermaids who lure any adventurers to their deaths, and by fish larger than any known to exist. But surely those are just stories.

The truth may not be heard until the bears reach their goal, unless their leaders choose to speak.

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Deal 962: A new hope

Of course she’s a beut now all right. Wasn’t always the case though.

Back in the day, she had a mean selfish streak. Wouldn’t share nothing. Had to be first in line, and had to have the best, or often enough, had to try the best then spit it out in favor of something not right at hand. Always had to be the center of attention, in any case.

All that changed when she found it.

We’re not really sure what it is, but she found it alright, and has been like new since.

I know all y’all were getting tired of her antics. I suspect some of y’all were considering drastic measures.

She set out that day like every day. Sassy, with an attitude dripping from every gesture. Tripping as usual on shadows, but woe to you if you ever noticed that out loud!

She came home changed.

Did she knock herself silly and see the light?

Did she pick up something she now regrets?

Did she find a small bottle labeled “Drink Me” and foolishly do so?

We may never know.

But she came back with poise, humbled, and a newly quiet confidence that let her step aside while others had a chance. The difference was immediately evident that night. No one dared speak.

The next day, it was even more pronounced.

A month later, she is welcome everywhere and beloved by all.

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Deal 935: Cage crash.

To my nose, the truth was everywhere. But no one else seemed aware. Of course, no one else has my nose, and they are all unaware. I like it like that.

I can tell that others have been here before us, muddling the already faint trail.

This isn’t a surprise, of course. I was nearly the last to the scene, being not entirely official. I also don’t have full access to the case. But I can see that the official side has become desperate so it is high time to provide some of that insight that apparently only I can provide tonight.

I pulled out my paraphernalia: dowsing rods, and such. I waved them over the mangled wreck, then around the room. It was a bit of a grisly scene, as one of those ornate birdcage elevators had come loose from everything at the uppermost balcony and plummeted to the death of the rider. There was plenty of material to draw upon, I just needed some cover for moving around the space.

“There was a beauty queen here. She’s not in the cage, so she came and went.”

The officer guarding me nodded and dutifully took notes. They can be so earnestly gullible at times, these young officers.

“She, of course, was here for tea.”

More wandering around pretending to follow the rods.

“There were three other guests, notice the place settings for four, but all untouched so either the party hadn’t started yet or the hostess was late. The hostess is there.” I pointed at the pile of twisted metal. More notes.

“There had been a feud, and this was a chance to attempt to find common ground. The hostess was providing neutral territory, and may even have been expected to decide something. The beauty queen was one side. The other two guests are more mysterious, but look for at least one more her early twenties, and perhaps a second matron.”

That should satisfy my need to meddle. For now, at least.