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Deal 1102: Haiku

ribbit splash ripple
pick any pad for basking
the pond fly patrol

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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 1038: Exposition, and a Decision is Made

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?”

“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.”

“The dragon.”

“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.”

“My powers?”

“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?”

“Well, no”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Thank you.”

“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.”

Gwen smiled.

“So it begins. Again.”

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Deal 1023: Nightmare

Spiral on my Mind 31:
hobo, Free Will, Cat, Strength, Loyalty, stick, The Unknown, fowl, and Plurality

I woke suddenly in the night, drenched in sweat, shaking. At first, I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, or even quite where I was.

I looked around, and slowly realized that the room was familiar. The TV was still on, but the station had gone off-air, leaving just the test pattern showing. It flickered, then suddenly went to just snow and hissing sound. I was alone, but that wasn’t unusual as I lived alone. The window was open, the curtain pulled back to let the cool air move through the room.

Except it wasn’t. The night air was hotter than I remembered, and perhaps that woke me.

I settled back down, determined to go back to sleep.

Then I remembered something.

My room doesn’t have curtains. And TV stations don’t go off air and broadcast the Indian head test pattern. They haven’t done that regularly in at least fifty years.

I look closer. The bedspread is not mine. The lamp is not mine. The body I’m wearing is not mine.

Who am I?

What is going on here?

There are noises outside the window, and I sit up and peer out. In the yard beyond the bushes, I can just see a hobo picking through his bindle.

With some effort, I pull back from the window at look around at the room again. Elvis posters on the walls are definitely not mine. The cat sitting on the dresser glaring at me in reproach, well, actually that is mine. I’ve always known cats are a little out of phase with reality. Maybe I’m sharing a dream of hers?

If so, this might be a place where I’m going to need all my strength to stay alive, given the amount of disdain most cats have for people. A glance outside the window shows a number of cats gathering in the darkness, watching the hobo, waiting for their chance. I suddenly wonder what he had done to deserve his fate.

I was always good to my cats. None of mine would wish too much ill on me, even if I had done things they hadn’t liked for their own good.

I heard a muffled scream. I knew I didn’t want to look, but somehow I knew I had to.

Where the hobo had been, there was just a roiling carpet of strays, his stick cocked out with his bindle still tied on.

I tried not to scream when Snowflake jumped on to the bed. Surely she was not going to call them up here to feed on me?

She stared at me, then seemed to be saying “I think you have seen enough” and turned away. She picked a spot on the bed and curled up.

As usual, her motives were inscrutable. But she was the cat, and we were clearly on her turf for now.

I laid back down, and closed my eyes for only a moment. Then the scream shattered my peace. A sound like a thousand strangled cats rent the air. Then there was silence. Then wings, as a large bird came through the open window and landed on the bed and screamed again.

A peacock.

Then a second.

Then my cat sat up.

The birds froze. One of them put up his tale in an absurd mockery of a threat display. Of course, with his tail up he was hardly able to move. The tableaux froze for a long moment as everything living held their breath.

The cat turned back to me, and in a clear voice said “you don’t want to see this.”

I fell back to my pillow, suddenly asleep.

A moment of blackness passed, then I shivered and rolled over.

It was cold. So cold. I pulled my covers up, groped for the window and closed it. My cat was at my feet in her preferred spot, and I settled back in and drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Several hours later, I awoke in my own bed. In my own body. In my own room.

Snowflake was there, but there was no sign of birds. Outside my window was the usual 20 story drop to a concrete sidewalk, not a grassy yard where something had happened to a hobo. Or had it?

Snowflake turned to me and said “you dreamed the whole thing.”

Smartest thing that cat had ever said to me.

Then I woke up.