The cat came back the very next day: it just couldn’t stay away. Bruce, that is. He may not be a normal feline, but since he looks and acts like a cat, I’m going to call him a cat. Even if he does have an extra effective knack for fading in and out and can talk.
Not that talking is all that unusual here. There was that toad. Even the cockatrice I killed early on complained about my methods. So I take a talking cat in stride.
Now that he’s let on that he talks, he talks constantly.
He still believes he is in charge, too. Which bugs Gwen to no end. But she can’t admit it because of some silly rule of dragon honor. Naturally we all find ourselves bound one way or another. I have no way home. Gwen doesn’t have a cat. And Bruce, he knows things and will occasionally share.
“I have a message for you, Sydney”
“I ran into an old friend of yours. Tricky fellow. Large. Black. Definitely not a bird one should chase, let alone catch.”
“Yep. He had some ideas for you to ponder.”
By now, Gwen was also paying attention. But Bruce is first and foremost a cat.
“I don’t know, I wasn’t listening by then. And then you left on this quest, and were going in the right direction. So I tagged along in case you ran into something you couldn’t handle.”
Perhaps that would be better said as Sydney fell, asleep.
He had just sat down under a tree to contemplate his circumstance when he dozed off. The next thing he knew, he was in a very lucid dream. The orchard was still around him, but the trees were more present than before. A frog ran past him muttering obscure theorems from set theory. A crow ran the other way muttering something about being afraid to fly. He took a step in the direction the frog had gone and stepped in a hole he hadn’t seen before and fell.
As he fell, he looked around. The sides of the hole were smooth. He couldn’t see the bottom, and looking up couldn’t see where he’d stepped in. He realized he was holding an axe. After wondering what strange message his subconscious was trying to send him, he took a wild swing at the passing wall. It popped, and he was back in the orchard, watching himself sleep.
He looked around. Everything was still in that hyperreal form that indicated he was dreaming.
The fruits of the trees were practically glowing. He picked an apple. It had a message written on its skin: “How boring. Try again.” He shrugged and went to look at the pears. He picked a particularly ripe yellow pear and ate it without triggering any strange additional loops.
He walked back to his campsite, stepping carefully around the large hole he’d missed earlier. He failed to see the large frog smirking from under a tree nearby, though. It didn’t seem concerned about him otherwise, though.
As he sat and watched himself sleep, he wondered why he hadn’t noticed the lack of music. Back in the real world, he had always been uninterested in music while everyone around him obsessed about it and its performance. Here, he hadn’t noticed any yet, nor had he noticed anyone obsessed about it. It struck him as important. But that still might have been the dream talking.
He also noticed that a certain dragon hadn’t appear yet. He decided that was probably just as well, for his continued health.
After seven tries, Sydney found the secret to opening the tower. But by that point, Raven had completely lost interest, and was busy arguing with herself from several openings in the parapet. Sydney was a tad nervous about actually entering the tower that seemed so willing to entrap people, so he finally gave up and picked a different path.
Back on the main road, he continued towards the distant town. Which, interestingly, didn’t seem any closer even after a day of walking towards it. That made him wonder just how far it was.
Right about then, he stubbed his toe on a rock at the side of the road. Looking closer, he realized it was a milestone, and that he’d seen more like them along the way. This one simply read “43”. No hint about units, or origin. He decided to look at the next one he encountered.
After nursing his stubbed toe, and a light snack while resting, he set off down the road.
He idly wondered as he walked what he would do if he encountered a fork in the road.