Image

Deal 1045: Cats and Dogs Living Together

Well I’ve found one subject not to bring up to a cat.

I wonder when I’ll see him again. The look he gave me when I wondered if I’d ever see my dog again was priceless. I mean, I know the answer is never, but apparently just the idea that I willingly associated with canines was more than enough. I should probably try to apologize to the annoying creature, though. The dog in question was a childhood pet, and died at least a decade before I got sucked into this insane place.

If he comes around again, I might mention that. Or I might let him stew some more. The cat clearly is one of the many parties that want to manipulate me into doing something. Some of them seem to even want the same things. I haven’t worked out what the cat wants, but I strongly suspect he’s somehow using Gwen to get his way without being obviously involved. But what sort of hold he has on a dragon is something I can only speculate about. I promised Gwen that I would ask no personal questions. I came close to the line by asking her about the cat at all, judging from her reaction. I don’t want to find out what might happen if I crossed that line.

I had thought we were getting closer, but it might all have been my imagination. She still has not offered to show me her real form since that first encounter on the trail. Nor has she openly acknowledged what she is, just hints here and there.

I have had free run of the residence, the human-scaled parts at least. I still haven’t quite worked out how the servants come and go. I assume it is something mundane like an ample supply of service passages, dumbwaiters, and the occasional discretely placed doorway. Somehow my room does get made up when I’m out and about, and I’ve never spotted the staff at work. Even if it were Gwen doing it all when I’m not looking, I’d still expect to find some evidence of that. Nope. My room is always neat, clothes cleaned, bed made. Meals turn up on the patio, in the dining room, or occasionally in my suite. They usually turn up where I expect to find them, but again without any overt service staff.

Not that this minor mystery bothers me. I’m sure it is something no stranger than an elderly caretaker who simply does not want to be seen. I’m pretty sure it is not the cat, though.

But all of this is procrastination.

I am supposed to be spending this hour contemplating the question of the chicken.

I was given no further hints. I’m not sure if she was referring to the chicken and egg question, the road question, or the karmic question of what did the largest and meanest dinosaurs do exactly to survive primarily into our time primarily in the form of a chicken?

Image

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.

Image

Deal 1029: Trapped in a loop

No matter how far he walked, Sydney did not seem to be getting closer to the distant town. As the road wandered around hills and small woodlots he lost sight of it, but always recovered it eventually. But it was no closer.

This went on for at least nine hours before he also noticed that the sun was still in the same place in the sky. It was as if time was not passing outside of the road he was on.

Then he stubbed his toe on a milestone and realized it was still marked “43”.

Something was definitely strange.

He was on a closed loop of road that was also a closed loop of time. He needed to find the way out.

Since he was at mile “43”, he had a brief snack and a little to drink. Oddly enough, but also handily enough, he still had food to snack on and weak tea to drink.

Beside the road ran a trickle of water, hardly enough to call a creek. The ground was soft and boggy close by, and sitting on a rock in the sun was a large frog. He contemplated the frog, clearly picked out by a sunbeam on a throne-like rock for a bit. Suddenly, he realized why his attention was drawn to the frog. He had to deal with it somehow to break free of his looped path.

“Ribbit”, croaked the frog. But Sydney also heard it saying “It’s about time you noticed me. Sit down. You have a lot to learn.”

By this point, Sydney had given up on his sanity, and was willing to learn from a large sunlit talking frog if that was what it took to get home again.

“The first lesson is that you can’t trust anything I say. Also, trust nothing anyone or anything says. Pretty much, trust no one. Oh, and you might want to take notes. There’s more to tell you, and I don’t want to repeat myself.”

One thing that Syd knew he lacked was a notebook. Or a pen. So he just nodded sheepishly, and listened.

“Have it your way then. Remember, I’m not to be trusted. At all. Except that everything I say was true once. Might still be true. You might even decide to trust me. But don’t. I’m not on your side.”

“The second lesson is that everything is out to get you. There is only you on your side.”

“The third lesson is important. Your goal. Don’t ask why, I’m just the messenger. To get out of this land, you must—”

At that point a giant Raven swooped down from the clear blue sky and snatched the frog, tossing it in the air and eating it as it flew away into the sunset. Perhaps it was the frog that had distorted time and space? Perhaps talking to the frog had been the key to unlock the loop?

He had no real information, but he knew he still needed to find the way out, redemption, revenge, or rebirth. Or perhaps all of those.

Sydney looked around, and saw the fork in the road. There were three paths. One was clearly the loop he had been trapped on. One was very nicely paved and clearly well traveled. The third was barely a cow track.

Sydney took the third path.