Image

Deal 1042: Gwen doesn’t have cats?

I’m hopeful for the first time in many years. Sydney is turning out to be an apt pupil, often needing little more than a hint that something might be possible for him to do for him to go off on his own and discover how to do it. This is much better than my last two pupils, both of which died messily after running off too soon.

He still needs to work on his focus. He is rather apt to be distracted by irrelevant details.

Of course, sometimes those details show him an unexpected solution to a problem. The unsolvable hedge maze he was in yesterday was supposed to teach him that humility is not always a weakness by forcing him to acknowledge that he had no solution and was actually trapped. Then he found a way out that wasn’t there.

He claimed he followed a cat that had wandered in for a drink. But as far as I know, there are no cats in my estate. The pesky things seem to find me hard to deal with. I may need to revise that, however, and wonder if there are cats that are simply better at avoiding me than I realized was possible.

That makes the third time that Sydney has found an impossible solution to a problem. He may simply be lucky beyond reason. Or maybe he really is smarter, and can see the weakness in situations that I had thought were unassailable. When prodded about that he tends to go off on long discussions of why you shouldn’t trust your own failure to break your own code or solve your own puzzles.

Raven has been by. We are running out of time. I hope Sydney will be ready in time. I didn’t let Sydney and Raven meet this time. There will be time enough for that after he’s done here. I can only tolerate the trickster in small doses as it is. I don’t need him poaching my student as an acolyte.

So, tomorrow we will see what he does with the golden apple, and then it is on to the real quest. If he lives, that is.

Advertisements
Image

Deal 1020: Trading or recruiting?

I’m pretty sure the crew who came through my inn were involved in a cult. They all had glazed eyes and vacant stares as they methodically unloaded their goods. Their leader seemed more interested in keeping them out of sight than in exactly what deals were made. I did pick up some fine casks of brandy before he took notice.

When he did take notice it was only to prevent further trading or interaction. He didn’t seem concerned enough to try to reverse the trades just made even if I did make out like a bandit. Not that I felt all that guilty. They were going to stay here as they usually did when they made an appearance at market, and if past visits were any example, I could expect some broken furniture, annoyed barmaids, and generally bad manners out of the bunch.

There must be something mighty powerful about their beliefs. They shrugged off discomfort and pleasure alike, approaching everything with the same blank featured stare. Staring as if they could see into the very heart of creation. And they had no interest in explanations. I tried on several occasions to get them talking. They just ignored the questions. It wasn’t as if they were sworn to silence, they would speak readily enough about most things, but were silent on the nature of their order.

Then their leader would be by, and with significant looks and glares would separate his charges from us. He never actually brought out his big stick, but its presence was always assumed.

They’ve moved on since, but their absence is welcome. We are back to our usual load of local drovers and farmers. Handling them is as easy as apple pie, as they say.

Image

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.

Image

Deal 998: Illusions

The audience quieted (aside from the inevitable heckler) as the curtains opened on a new setting. One thing they were sure of was that something amazing was going to happen. But they saw before them a fairly ordinary set familiar to just about any modern sitcom. The open plan ranch house was mostly represented in photographic drops, but the standard family sized sofa was front and center, complete with an abandoned letter jacket, some sports shoes dropped messily, and a pizza box tossed haphazardly on the coffee table.

But there were not actors to be seen, so they quieted down in anticipation.

Except for the heckler, again.

As the lights came up on this prosaic scene, they noticed that the pizza box was moving. It had started out tossed aside on the table, but turned towards the audience, then canted up a bit and the front row suddenly got nervous. It was looming at them. Then it opened and began to speak. It was using halves of an apple for eyes, and a stale pizza slice as a tongue.

It raised up further as it set out on a bit of classic oratory.

The scene was so outrageous that when discussing it later, people couldn’t agree on what the box had actually said. Everyone was sure it said something, and said it well.

As it spoke, the front row calmed. Not the heckler, though. He got louder, and revealed himself as definitely not the gentleman in the room as he taunted the box mercilessly. The box just turned and stared at him. Eventually he wound down and went silent, and finally sat back down. It was the most professional treatment of a heckler that most had seen.

Finally, some people joined the box on the stage. As they entered, the box seemed to suddenly realize it was an inanimate object, and dropped back down on the coffee table. It didn’t quite remember to pull its tongue back in though.

The couple had a fairly predictable sitcom argument about the mess in the room and junior’s grades. Then the man settled down on the couch, stretched out, and dozed off. That was the wife’s moment to exact her revenge. She pulled out a sheet, tossed it over the man’s legs. He didn’t stir. So she added the pizza box to his belly, then pulled the sheet all the way over him.

He mumbled something inarticulate, but didn’t stir.

Then the whole sheet shifted a little. Then a little more. Then we realized it was lifting up and off the couch.

It raised up to where it’s tails were just dragging on the furniture when the woman suddenly noticed it. She screamed.

The she grabbed at the sheet and just barely caught a corner as it flew up, yanking the sheet away to reveal nothing at all. No lay-about husband. No pizza box. The couch was empty. The sheet was just a sheet.

Finally she balled up the sheet and threw it at the sofa, where it lay still.

Perfectly still.

Everyone held the breath, sure that there was one more twist to come from somewhere.

She stepped back to the couch, picked up the sheet and wrapped it around herself as a cloak, flipping a corner up to hide her hair.

A sudden bright flash and cloud of smoke cleared to reveal the sheet falling to the stage and the woman gone completely.

Then the lights went out.