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Deal 1043: Sydney, just Sydney

The illusion was very good this time, I could easily forget it was all a sham. Table games, the distant calls of slot machines, the steady sound of the house draining wallets over thousands of square feet, with me at a table near the center. I’m dressed to at least an eight, in a properly tailored suit. One hint at the illusion is that the actual game I’m playing seems to change every time I let my attention wander, but not the depth of the pile of chips before me. It continues to dwindle steadily, no matter what scheme I try.

But my winning streak hasn’t changed. I continue to win exactly often enough to keep me seated at the table. No win is large enough to be memorable to anyone. To a third party, like that indescribable lady at the next table, I must appear to be part of the scenery. She is definitely not part of the scenery. She is the reason I’m here tonight at all.

At first I thought my mission was to overhear the critical bit of information that would cause the downfall of a kingdom. Then I realized that was silly, no one was going to reveal anything that critical in a casino and even if they did, there would be no attribution attached that could be used to verify the story.

Then I came to realize the truth. No single fact will do. But the mystery and shuffle brought on by a kidnapping would be another thing entirely.

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Deal 1041: Cat knows a way

Sydney’s frustration was mounting. The exercise was described as simple. All he really had to do was get from one side of the garden to the other. But the garden kept changing shape, and occasionally he’d turn a corner and find himself in another part entirely. Solving a maze without a view from the outside is hard enough. But solving it when the maze is constantly changing and is not simply connected is even harder. He knew that if he could only calm down and focus, his growing ability to draw on his sword’s powers would assist. But that is always easier to say than to do. And his score on the exercise will include the time spent as well, so he needed to hurry up and solve the maze. The more he stews about his dilemma, the worse it gets, of course.

He’s currently in a spot with a politely bubbling fountain at the center, and a continuous ring of hedge around the edge. There’s no sign of where he stepped in, and the dry flagstones are not showing any footprints. There are stone benches on four sides of the fountain, each offering a similar view of the fountain and the hedge beyond.

He drops onto one of the benches, and considers his next move. He forces himself to close his eyes and clear his mind, then draws the sword and lays it across his lap where he can see reflections in its blade.

The reflection of the fountain is subtly wrong. He shifts a little, and realizes that the reflection of the far wall is also wrong. Wrong in the sense that it differs from the reality he perceives with his eyes. Which may not be a surprise, lots of things he’s meeting now that Gwen is training him hide differences between perception and reality.

In the reflection he sees a cat walk nonchalantly into the fountain area, take a drink, and walk out again.

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Deal 1035: Meta dream worlds

In his dream, Sydney watched himself dream.

The dream of the orchard where he lay was clear and intense. The trees were inviting, one in particular seemed to positively glow. On that tree, one apple was glowing. After considering it for five minutes, he picked it, took two bites, and fell into a deep sleep.

He dreamed a dream of dreaming.

He dreamed he was standing in a magical orchard, holding a glowing axe. The head seemed eager for him to walk amongst the trees, and pulled him towards a particularly old tree that glowed faintly like all the rest of the trees. Except for a single limb that was black at its tip, with some sort of creeping sickness working its way up the branch toward the trunk. He understood that chopping off the dying branch to save the healthy tree was necessary.

He swung the axe with all his strength, removing a small chip from the bark at the base of the branch. The blackness moved a little closer. He swung again, the black moved again. He settled into a rhythm, taking chips out of the branch on both sides and from below with each blow. Finally after he had weakened it enough, he began to cut into the top side of the branch. It began to feel like it was going to be a close thing. Could he sever the branch before the black reached where he was cutting?

A final blow brought the now nearly completely blackened branch down.

He knew it needed to be burned to prevent the infection from spreading to the other trees. He also knew he shouldn’t handle the blackened areas himself, and that cutting into the black area with the axe might spread contaminated chips and make containment even more difficult. He surveyed the area and spotted a fire pit nearby with a fire set and ready to light. He lit it with a thought and gesture, and let the blaze become established as he worked out how to drag the branch to the fire without touching the black areas.

Finally, he fed the blackened branch into the fire.

As it burned, the flames changed colors wildly. He could almost see the disease burning up, and fighting for its survival the whole time.

Watching the flames was somewhat hypnotic, and he drifted off into a trance.

He dreamed a dream of dreaming a dream.

He was dressed in typical business day casual, and sitting in a large office, at the desk. In the distance, an old fashioned crank wound gramophone was sitting, and playing The Liberty Bell in vibrant but scratchy tones.

The music was soothing, and soon he drifted off into a nap.

He dreamed a dream of dreaming of dreaming of dreaming….

Sydney is caught in a different and more insidious loop.

Will he escape?

Will he be sane?

Is he actually dreaming the whole thing from an old warehouse in LA?

He has no idea.