tempted by wisdom
hated costume worn once more
pray envy’s demise
tempted by wisdom
tempted by wisdom
hated costume worn once more
pray envy’s demise
Dice roll: 5, 1, total 6
Grim Reality: Prudence Carrot
Present Day: Abhor Disguise
Hopes and Dreams: Envy sunk
The next day, Sydney realized he was just as stuck in place as if he had succumbed to the trap set by the orchard. He awoke in a bed in a guest room. Gwen’s cave was far more luxurious than he had expected, and the guest wing for humanoids was very well appointed. It was certainly more comfortable than camping rough in the orchard.
The fishing at the lake had been marginally successful. He still had no clue what Gwen was up to, or what she wanted from him. He was no closer to finding a way home, either. They did catch something that looked a lot like a catfish, and it made a decent dinner later breaded and pan fried, and served with fried pickles.
After dinner he was left to entertain himself for the rest of the evening. He explored the guest wing, finding a library, a parlor, and several more guest rooms. None were occupied, and he never encountered any staff. The space was much too large for one person to maintain alone, so there must be some staff out of sight.
After a comfortable, if fitful, sleep Sydney knew he had to assert himself at least a little.
After breakfast (soft boiled eggs, ham, toast) he made an attempt.
“I appreciate the hospitality, but I must continue on my quest,” he began. Gwen just listened. “It has been weeks since I disappeared from my home, I must find my way back. Or at least find a way to communicate.”
Gwen nodded. “Your journey continues, now that you know you need to go. In truth, you have seen several opportunities already to learn what you need, but you turned away from each. I saw your plight, and offered to guide and mentor you. I have done this before.”
Sydney looked startled. “You arranged to meet me?”
“Yes. It was easy enough to bribe the frog to disturb you at the right moments. If I hadn’t bribed him, others might have and you would not like what happened then. There are many forces at play here. I don’t know who is capturing outlanders and dropping them without skills or knowledge, or perhaps more importantly, why they do it. I don’t know if any of us know for sure. Of course, we all have our suspicions, and we all have our own motives for getting involved.”
“Why am I involved? or why did I seek you specifically?”
“Both, actually. But let’s start with why you are involved.”
Gwen sighed. This was the most human she’d appeared to Sydney, her usual aura of aloof perfection broken to reveal she wasn’t entirely sure of something important. “I’m not human. And you know that, and have been polite enough not to press me about it. My people share this world with many other peoples. I suppose that none of us are really human as you understand the word. But some are more so than others. My kind can resemble yours and interact, even passing as human for long periods. But this is not the form I was born to.”
“Well yes, that too, but that also isn’t truly the form I was born to. The wings come in handy, as do the nigh invulnerability and the fire. But the dragon is hardly stealthy, and subtlety is difficult in a 100 yard long body.”
“I am human,” began Sydney, but Gwen interrupted. “You were human. Now, we aren’t so sure. The same magic that brought you here changed you so that you would fit it’s intended tale. We aren’t clear on what that tale is supposed to become, your role, your powers, or exactly what sort of near human you currently are.”
“Surely summoning the archetype of all roosters to wake you conveniently is something you were not able to do wherever it is you come from?”
“Then there’s one point of interest. You manipulated the Dreamlands and summoned a Power. Even more surprising, he did what you bid. You have powers. They are dangerous to you and to us until you understand their limits and gain at least some control over their use. What if instead of the Rooster you had summoned a Salamander and set the area on fire?”
“I imagine you have some powers in that department.”
“Well, yes I do, and that is really the answer to your question.”
“No, why. You asked why I became involved. And that is the answer. You are safe here with me, but more importantly the world is safe from you because it is unlikely you can do something that I can’t control, guide, or contain.”
Sydney sat in thought for a bit, then sat up straighter and spoke more formally. “If I may, my lady Dragon, I would like to continue to impose on your hospitality for a while longer.”
Gwen smiled, in a way that was somehow both predatory and comforting. “It is no imposition, Questor. You are welcome in this place until all agree it is time for you to move onwards.”
“There are some rules. You have already recognized one. It is not usually polite to point out another being’s nature so bluntly. I first openly encountered you in another form, then this one. As a stranger, you seemed to already know that asking about my true form was not polite. As your host, I will tell you now that was the right assumption. Many peoples will be able to take forms that nearly pass as human. Even if you recognize this, it is never polite to point it out publicly.
“Also, many conventions of my world will be strange to you. In this place, any who enter to interact with you will know at least that you are not from here and will readily forgive minor transgressions. They may choose to inform you of your errors, and if they do, you should take the caution seriously and seek to not repeat the error.
“While you are my guest, you may not lie to me. You may, however, choose to withhold what you will. While I hope you will feel free to speak, you need not feel obliged.
“Those are the ground rules. Can you abide them, or should I return you to the main road with only a limited recollection of our encounter?”
Sydney considered. It was clear that Gwen was asking for a firm commitment, not just a casual assurance. By committing to her rules, he was choosing to accept her help. She hadn’t spoken of consequences to him should he break the rules, but whatever powers he did have were telling him that he did not want to be her enemy. A the same time, his powers felt sure that should he decide against commitment, she would not treat him ill.
All in all, though, there was only one correct answer.
“Yes. Yes I will abide by the rules as I accept your hospitality, and any guidance you might choose to offer.”
“So it begins. Again.”
Dice roll: 3, 4, total 7
Grim Reality: Stagnation alarm
Present Day: Past experience Disguise
Hopes and Dreams: Free Will sunk
Despite the narrative complexity, Sydney was resting rather comfortably. He was getting enough dreaming done to last him a month.
seven worried thoughts calm costumed clumsy chicken left alone to dream
But he had the nagging feeling that waking would be wise before he got too comfortable. Lacking formal training in walking among the dreamlands, he had to improvise. He needed a way to disrupt the calm, but not so much that it would cause him trouble later.
Then it hit him. The perfect solution.
He imagined he’d find it just behind the next tree. Concentrating, he moved cautiously around the large trunk under the branches laden with fragrant apple blossoms.
And there it was.
A magnificent rooster, sound asleep in a sunbeam.
He snuck up on the rooster, and picked it up. To his surprise, it just snorted a little in its sleep, and ignored him as he carried it off.
Back at his campsite, he set the rooster down near his sleeping form.
Then he prodded it awake, hoping it would crow loudly in surprise.
“Arwwk?” it grumbled. “Why am I under the wrong tree?”
Sydney stepped back. The rooster was talking. “I’m sorry. I was hoping you would be startled enough to wake me from several layers of dream.”
“I suppose. What is in it for me?”
“Satisfaction? I don’t really have anything to offer you, other than this pocket I suddenly notice is full of corn.”
“One pocket of well dreamt corn sounds fair enough. You can leave the corn here. One never knows for sure which of you will wake up or what will happen next. I imagine I’ll enjoy my snack and return to my slumber, though.”
“Certainly.” Sydney emptied his pockets of corn, and even found a pocket full or worms. The dreamlands are an uncertain place, and not for the squeamish.
The rooster nodded in satisfaction, then stretched himself out, ruffled his magnificent plumage, and took a deep breath.
It was just about the quietest noise Sydney had ever heard come out of a rooster that large. The rooster looked chagrined, shook himself, and tried again.
This time the noise shook the trees, the ground, and the very sky.
Sydney felt a lurch as his point of view suddenly snapped to his sleeping form. Then it lurched again. And again.
In time, he settled down and found the orchard looking much like it had when he had settled down to rest after tea with Gwen. Looking around, the formal garden was a few hundred feet away, with its roses in neat rows and the little table groaning under a breakfast spread. There was no sign of the rooster other than a faint echo and one large tailfeather falling slowly to the ground.
Sydney pocketed the feather and wandered back into the garden to see what had become of Gwen.
Dice roll: 3, 4, total 7
Grim Reality: Peace Disguise
Present Day: Clumsiness chicken
Hopes and Dreams: Neglect fowl
The mirror had one job, and it cracked. Of course, showing a cockatrice its own reflection it a lot to ask of any mirror. And that leaves Sydney trapped in the maze with one more cockatrice running free, and without the tool he needs to make escape possible.
Syd arrived at this predicament in the usual way. He answered an ad.
“Explorers wanted. No pay. Some risk. Must provide own sword. Knock twice on the second door.”
In the modern world, what could that mean other than an offer to play a game? Or perhaps it was just a coded message drop and the phone number was not real. But the number was real, and the guy who answered sounded real enough too. Syd was heavily into gaming, and had a habit to feed, so he showed up at the virtually unmarked warehouse right on schedule, his trusty handmade longsword strapped to his back, where it had gathered stares all the way there on his bike.
He’d put a lot of work into that sword. It was made out of a stiff but lightweight thermoplastic, bonded to an aluminized mylar layer that let light from the internal ultrabright LED lights shine through the engraved scrollwork and runes that ran down the length of the blade. It could be turned up bright enough to appear to glow in daylight, and at night it could be blinding. The batteries and controls were in the handle for balance.
So when he stepped into the dimly lit, dusty warehouse, Syd was confident that his magical sword was interesting enough to protect him.
He didn’t expect to find a portal to another world waiting.
A world where magic worked.
A world where his pitiful imitation of enchantment was doomed to fail.
A world where the power of story forces the role of barbarian hero on even a nerdy weakling if he steps out in leathers and an apparently enchanted sword. Sydney quickly discovered his mistake.
And that brings us back to the maze. After the dust settled from his first encounter with a raiding party, they threw him into the catacombs under the town’s temple, and told him that he had to find an exit from the maze and return alive, or he might as well just let any of its many denizens kill and eat him. Worse, just returning alive was not going to be enough. He had to return the hero he appeared to be.
His only hope is that he can find a way to survive his fate while avoiding the remaining creatures. Actually enchanting his plastic sword to be sharp and deadly would be icing on a cake he knows he has no chance of seeing.
But he has hope.
And a shiny, glowing sword. Which might be enough to scare the next cockatrice.
So Syd abandoned the pieces of the useless broken mirror where he sat, finished off his last Snickers Bar, and bravely set off to see what lurked around the next corner.