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Deal 1027: The Tower

Distraction is always lying in wait around the next bend.

Sydney set out for the town clearly visible in the distance. His old life was seeming less real by the hour, and a chance of meeting something not out to kill him seemed like a good idea. The road was paved, and must go somewhere to be worth the effort. So that much of the plan seemed reasonable.

A few miles later, Sydney was no longer quite so sure. He hadn’t walked that far in a long time. Sure, he used to get around LA on his bike, but that was really just his immediate neighborhood. Real travel in LA required borrowing a car, or taking the metro, and both options had costs attached. So he usually just stayed near home.

About four miles, when his feet were going to give out, he noticed a narrow track leading off the main road, through a pleasant glade and around behind a hill.

He took it.

It led to the base of a four story tower, atop of where there was a woman leaning on a parapet, and bemoaning her fate.

Her name, it developed, was Raven, clearly for her long black hair. She had wandered into the tower, then found her way to the top, after which the stairs vanished.

Sydney circled the tower. There was no door, and no exterior stairs. Something was definitely amiss here.

What he was facing was yet another manifestation of the “magic” of this place, and it made him uncomfortable. As far as he knew, he had no magic of his own. He might as well wish for an infinite number of saws…

Oh. Wait.

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Deal 1018: Strung Imaginings

I have a piece of string and an imagination.

The string could be used to sketch many things. The light color stands out on this black cloth, and easily forms words and figures. Their clarity depends on my artistic skill, of course, as much or more than imagination. Skill or not, string is forgiving. I can lay it down as a rabbit, and then as a carrot, and with a little practice and better vision, a rabbit again that we all agree is probably representative of a rabbit.

But a carrot is easier. And before griping about the color, there are heirloom carrots that are nearly as dark as this black cloth, or nearly as white as this string. And of course there are always parsnips, which I personally like more than carrots.

In fact, I will bravely state that there is little better in the root vegetable space than a pile of buttered roasted parsnips and carrots. Add a little salt and freshly cracked pepper, and you have a thing of beauty that is unsurpassed.

Of course, parsnips are completely out of fashion, and as a result are often only found in the sort of market that you have to save up for before you risk opening their doors.

Out of fashion or not, the parsnip stands the test of time. So this figure is a parsnip, and it is proud.

Imagine if you will the noble root standing proud in the soil, broad leafy greens standing up in the sun, driving sugars into the root as it sinks deeply into the soil, seeking water and other nourishment.

Close your eyes, and paint that picture on the inside of your eyelids. You can feel the coarse soil. You can smell it as you break the root free. You can vividly remember the first time you pulled a root from the soil. So vividly that you wish that root was here in your hands, to wash, peel, roast and eat.

That would be something, of course. But there are always obstacles. Tangles in the memories. Scent is an especially powerful window into your past. You imagined a vivid memory and could almost smell it. Close your eyes again, and do the same with a different memory. Some of you might imagine your first kitten. You can hear it’s plaintive “mew” as chases a string. You can smell its fur. It is that vivid.

Others might have chased frogs into a swamp and can remember the sounds of the birds crying out warnings, the feeling of nearly losing that new boot in unexpectedly calf-deep muck, the smells of the standing water and the swamp plants, the splash that a frog makes as it escapes your grasp, the larger splash that you made when you over-committed to catching the frog. I’ve been in swamps where absent a near perfect sense of direction your best hope for being home for dinner would be to unwind a ball of string behind you.

So from our tangled paths and memories, we come full circle. We have a circle of white string. And with a little imagination it can become anything at all.

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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.