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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 986: Urrrp.

As the purple cone descended, the ambient noise subsided. It was a perfect cone of silence.

Once in place, the real work could begin.

Listening.

It has long been thought that even fish had language, but it had been missed in all the noise that surrounds us, and which is especially hard to eliminate in such an efficient transmitter of sound as water.

But the new cone of silence would change all that, and I would finally take my place among the great scientists of yore. An honor long expected and long overdue, of course.

And so, I listened.

I heard the fish fins pushing against the side of the tank. I heard a distant rumble, likely from the circulation of the water so that my subjects don’t die.

I heard some of the fish chewing.

I’m pretty sure I heard a fish fart.

Which could be a good sign, in fact. There is some indication that herring intentionally swallow air and pass it to create sounds. There isn’t any clear indication, however, that this is part of a language.

Then the cone of silence lifted and the sounds of my real world lab intruded.

What imbecile interrupted me?

Why can’t I work in peace?

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Deal 975: Not Tea

In this house, tea was all I could expect. But I craved something stronger.

Apples are available in abundance, as is fresh cider. So if I could just hold my cravings at bay, patience could be rewarded by hard cider.

The process isn’t hard, it just takes time, reasonably clean equipment, and a cool place to let it run.

And a chance to work unobserved, as the result will not be tea.

A long history of fishing has taught me patience, so all I really lacked was the needed quiet. I was able to buy a few buckets under the guise of improving the cheese room. My success there left me confident that the cheese room would also provide the quiet, cool, and dark space where the cider could be left to ferment.

So I worked into the cheese schedule a chance to clean and sanitize the fermenter.

Smuggling in a few gallons of cider was not as difficult as I feared. I stole some yeast from the kitchen. A brewer’s yeast would be superior, but baker’s yeast will do in a pinch. When I finally got to start it, I was shocked at how fast the yeast set to work. In the couple of hours I spent starting a new batch of cheese curd, it went from still to bubbling. Things were looking up.

I did mention patience, though. And patience was certainly needed. A week later, it was still bubbling like mad. We had finished putting up the season’s cheese, so excuses to go to the cheese room were running dry.

Two more weeks, and the bubbling was down. The cider was a little cloudy, so I reluctantly let it settle for another week.

Finally, I had some free time to work, and bottled up my batch. I took the chance to try some while washing up the fermenter and finding a corner among the cheesemaking gear to stow it for next time.

Definitely not tea.

Oh, my, that was not tea.

I had to go for a walk after finishing a pint. A raven caught me on my path, tried to convince me I was a Prince hidden in the country as some kind of absurd fairy tale backup should the kingdom to to hell in a handbasket. That was interesting enough until I sobered up enough to remember that we don’t live in or near a kingdom of any sort, and that talking ravens are not usually seen in these parts.

Nope. That is not tea.

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Deal 960: Path less travelled to fairy

I took the fabled path less travelled. This always works out well for the poet. But in the real world, the well trod path leads somewhere people want or need to be. The other path, not so much.

I had my reasons for travelling, and at the moment I made the turn, taking a path where I might not be followed or expected made a lot of sense. If I had just noticed the Fairy Ring it lead me through before it was too late, all this might be different.

Of course, if wishes were fishes, as they say.

Instead, my first clue something was no longer normal was stepping out of a muddy spring day into a crisp, cold winter’s night. The sky was clear, but it was well below freezing and there was a substantial amount of drifted snow. In the distance I could see a well appointed campsite with a large fire and figures dancing to tunes coming from a well cranked gramophone.

I looked behind me, just in time to see the window to that muddy spring day flicker and evaporate like a will-o-wisp.

I was committed to this path now.

I made my way down into the valley, where the snow drifts to either side of the narrow trail were often well over my head. The path crested enough small ridges on the way down to assure me it went somewhere. Whether that was somewhere I wanted to be remained to be seen.

Of course, before my unexpected change of seasons it was all out war from horizon to horizon, and that was no place for me to be.

I decided to simply embrace my fates, and put my best foot forward. With a new sense of resolve and hope for my future, I made my way down to the camp.

It was only much later that the nature of my mistake became clear.