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Deal 1056: Enough already

Raven pondered for a moment, then turned to me. “Sydney, we think you are ready to move on to the real game. Do you feel ready?”

“Yes. Yes I do.” And oddly enough, I was not exaggerating. I really was ready.

All my fears about what had been going on had melted away when Raven turned up and revealed that it was all his show. I’ve never known why I trust the avatar of a trickster god, but I do. And that trust has washed my earlier fears away.

“This world has been serving as a training platform. Now, we need to move you to somewhere you can do some good. We’ll bring Gwen and Bruce along since the three of you clearly make a good team.”

At that news, Gwen looked startled for a moment. There was a subtle glitch in my perception, and she was back to normal. I might not have noticed the glitch if Bruce hadn’t picked that moment to appear. “Hear that Bruce, Raven has volunteered you for his little project.”

“Oh, not again!” we all stared at the cat. “I mean, wow, sounds like fun!”

So with that, we stepped through a doorway and found ourselves in a familiar looking city. It was dark and murky, but clearly not with a chance of storming. The city looked like murky was its normal state. Raven had shifted to his larger than usual bird form, Bruce was being quiet for a change, and Gwen was continuing to remain aloof.

Raven gestured at a three or four-story building nearby. “Go on, they’re waiting for you in the rehearsal space.”

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Deal 1025: Shiny but not real enough

The mirror had one job, and it cracked. Of course, showing a cockatrice its own reflection it a lot to ask of any mirror. And that leaves Sydney trapped in the maze with one more cockatrice running free, and without the tool he needs to make escape possible.

Syd arrived at this predicament in the usual way. He answered an ad.

“Explorers wanted. No pay. Some risk. Must provide own sword. Knock twice on the second door.”

In the modern world, what could that mean other than an offer to play a game? Or perhaps it was just a coded message drop and the phone number was not real. But the number was real, and the guy who answered sounded real enough too. Syd was heavily into gaming, and had a habit to feed, so he showed up at the virtually unmarked warehouse right on schedule, his trusty handmade longsword strapped to his back, where it had gathered stares all the way there on his bike.

He’d put a lot of work into that sword. It was made out of a stiff but lightweight thermoplastic, bonded to an aluminized mylar layer that let light from the internal ultrabright LED lights shine through the engraved scrollwork and runes that ran down the length of the blade. It could be turned up bright enough to appear to glow in daylight, and at night it could be blinding. The batteries and controls were in the handle for balance.

So when he stepped into the dimly lit, dusty warehouse, Syd was confident that his magical sword was interesting enough to protect him.

He didn’t expect to find a portal to another world waiting.

A world where magic worked.

A world where his pitiful imitation of enchantment was doomed to fail.

A world where the power of story forces the role of barbarian hero on even a nerdy weakling if he steps out in leathers and an apparently enchanted sword. Sydney quickly discovered his mistake.

And that brings us back to the maze. After the dust settled from his first encounter with a raiding party, they threw him into the catacombs under the town’s temple, and told him that he had to find an exit from the maze and return alive, or he might as well just let any of its many denizens kill and eat him. Worse, just returning alive was not going to be enough. He had to return the hero he appeared to be.

His only hope is that he can find a way to survive his fate while avoiding the remaining creatures. Actually enchanting his plastic sword to be sharp and deadly would be icing on a cake he knows he has no chance of seeing.

But he has hope.

And a shiny, glowing sword. Which might be enough to scare the next cockatrice.

So Syd abandoned the pieces of the useless broken mirror where he sat, finished off his last Snickers Bar, and bravely set off to see what lurked around the next corner.

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Deal 1021: Staged

The crowd has been well-behaved as dusk settles over the amphitheatre. The early warm up acts were fun for passing time until the main event, but may not be memorable. Except that one guy that… but I digress. Night arrives swiftly at this place, so it almost seems as if someone has simply thrown a switch and turned off the sky. Then, as our eyes adjust, we realize that he also turned on the stars.

Everyone quickly settles back into their seats as the amphitheatre plunges from navigable to one giant tripping hazard. We all quiet with anticipation.

The stage lights come up to reveal a contraption of some sort on an empty stage.

It fires bundles into the front three rows that turn out to be ponchos. Nervous laughter ensues, but the front three rows also don the ponchos.

The device spins around. As it turns, spotlights reflect off it and scan the crowd. It stops, with a pin spot reflected onto a single seat, near an aisle. The other spotlight operators turn their lights around and join in, The seat is empty. Which seems a little strange in an otherwise sold-out house. The lights go off for a moment, then on, as all the spot operators blink their shutters in unison. Now the seat is occupied.

The occupant is dressed a little more formally than the rest of the audience. After a moment, he stands, and the crowd begins to realize that this was his entrance. He makes his way to the stage.

From that beginning, the show got weird.

At one point, he was juggling kids borrowed from the audience.

He set up a series of gramophones, and attempted to identify which was producing live sound and not a recording with the help of a small dog.

He did a knife catching act with dull knives.

It was strange and wondrous. All the professional performers who saw him were green with envy at his management of the crowd’s attention.

He did things that every critic had panned with their typical poisoned pens. But it probably didn’t help that his final bit was designed to annoy critics. He even said so from the stage, pointing out that by and large most critics would have already filed their reviews of his show by that point, so it was perfectly safe to mock them.

When the house lights came up, the audience response was immense.