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Deal 1055: And here’s Raven

Raven was going to be trouble. I knew that, he’s bothered me for years. This is just a bit more extreme. While Bruce expounding on the details that did not matter, I sensed a presence looming. I turned, and there he was, strolling into our camp like he belonged all along.

He was a tall as usual, but wearing a different face today. “I see you’ve met my cat,” he chuckled.

I glared at Bruce, who glared back. Then looked away. Interesting.

“I knew that cat was sneaky.”

“And you couldn’t have found a better teacher than this young dragon. Good job.”

I looked at Gwen, she just shrugged.

“Is he ready?” he asked Gwen.

“I believe he is, sir,” she replied. “I’ve taught him all I can in the short time we’ve had available. I did everything short of hitting him with a bat.”

Hmm. She isn’t as surprised as she should be.

“I suspect that the bat might have been satisfying,” chucked the old bird.

“There were times I imagined it might be,” she noted, “but was concerned that once I started, I might not stop.”

They went on from there. Clearly they were old friends, a fact I might have guessed.

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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.

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Deal 1031: Meeting Gwen

He didn’t wish for a hobo. Not exactly, at least. Sydney didn’t consciously wish for anything. But deep down, he wanted what anyone wants: Love. Back in his old life, just wanting something was normally not enough. You had to work for it, hunt it down, convince it to want you too. But here, things were different. Things were guided more by the necessity of the journey than the destination. So Sydney floated on down the path without realizing what he had set himself up for.

He’d made it only about 25 yards before the first consequence showed up.

Something large and scaley blocked the path.

There seemed to be no other way around. And looking back, Sydney discovered that there was no path back, the copse of trees had closed over it and erased all traces.

He had no choice but to confront the thing that blocked his path.

He bravely walked up to it, and realized it was a head.

“Excuse me?”

It just blinked at him, slowly.

“What are you and why are you here?”

“I should ask you the same question.” It’s voice was deep and resonant, with a hint of smokiness. Or perhaps more than just a hint, as a wisp of smoke escaped from a nostril.

“I was walking to the town, but this path was more interesting. Also, there was a frog that gave bad advice.” Sydney wondered why he was taking this so calmly. The head blocking the path was enormous, and there were fangs nearly as long as he was tall. And yet, he was just standing here, close. Too close.

“Don’t worry little morsel. I’ve already eaten this week. I’m happy to chat and not eat you. Today, at least.”

“I wasn’t worried.” He was. “I’ll stay and chat.” Like he had a choice. “Do you eat people often?”

“No, not really. Honestly, you would be my first, if I ate you.” Its head moved a little and Sydney got a look down its throat as it yawned. “But I don’t want to eat you. Is that why you sought me out? To be eaten?”

“No! I had no idea you were here. The path just seemed more interesting.”

“The interesting thing is that you saw my path at all. Most just walk past it without noticing.”

“Oh. There was that frog…”

“Ah, yes. You mentioned it. You’ve been marked by a Trickster. That never ends quite as anyone expects.”

“Perhaps introductions are a good idea. I’m Sydney. I’m from Los Angeles and I have no idea how I got here or where I am.”

“Nice to meet you Sydney. You couldn’t pronounce my name, but you can call me Gwen. You’ve walked directly to my front porch, and ignored all of the little tricks that should have discouraged you or distracted you. You reek of Trickster influence, so I suspect we will become friends in time.”

Sydney looked around, but didn’t see anything that resembled a porch. Unless it was under that hillside just beyond Gwen’s head. A hillside that he suddenly realized was breathing. He reassessed his sense of scale.

“You. You’re a dragon!”

“Well, yes. I suppose I am. And you are not precisely the barbarian you appear to be. Wherever this Los Angeles place is, it must be far away as I’ve never heard the name before, so you are likely the victim of a Trickster’s trap. My advice, which is likely better than that of a frog, is to accept what you can’t change. You are here. I am here. So please join me in my garden for tea.”

“I would be pleased, but where…”

“Just along the path and around the mound. I will join you there presently.”

With that, Gwen drew her head back and vanished into an opening that he hadn’t seen before. With her out of the way, the path was clear and led around to a pleasant formal garden with orderly plantings and a table set for two.

Sydney had no wish to offend anything that much bigger, so he picked a seat with a nice view of the countryside spread out beyond the hedge maze. He wondered how Gwen would fit along the garden paths, which were too narrow for her dragon, and he contemplated how little he knew about this world. Back home he would have been terrified at finding a dragon in an alley. But here, it seemed to be normal, but he didn’t know if his experiences so far were even close to normal either.

With a sound almost exactly like a large bird landing and folding its wings, he realized he was no longer alone in the garden. The young woman let her skirts swish (perhaps that was what he’d heard) as she walked past him and settled down in the other chair. They sat in silence, enjoying the view.

Just then Sydney realized that he’d seen her eyes only a few minutes earlier. And they were a lot bigger then.

Gwen smiled at him, and lit a cigar just by blowing on the end.

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Deal 1029: Trapped in a loop

No matter how far he walked, Sydney did not seem to be getting closer to the distant town. As the road wandered around hills and small woodlots he lost sight of it, but always recovered it eventually. But it was no closer.

This went on for at least nine hours before he also noticed that the sun was still in the same place in the sky. It was as if time was not passing outside of the road he was on.

Then he stubbed his toe on a milestone and realized it was still marked “43”.

Something was definitely strange.

He was on a closed loop of road that was also a closed loop of time. He needed to find the way out.

Since he was at mile “43”, he had a brief snack and a little to drink. Oddly enough, but also handily enough, he still had food to snack on and weak tea to drink.

Beside the road ran a trickle of water, hardly enough to call a creek. The ground was soft and boggy close by, and sitting on a rock in the sun was a large frog. He contemplated the frog, clearly picked out by a sunbeam on a throne-like rock for a bit. Suddenly, he realized why his attention was drawn to the frog. He had to deal with it somehow to break free of his looped path.

“Ribbit”, croaked the frog. But Sydney also heard it saying “It’s about time you noticed me. Sit down. You have a lot to learn.”

By this point, Sydney had given up on his sanity, and was willing to learn from a large sunlit talking frog if that was what it took to get home again.

“The first lesson is that you can’t trust anything I say. Also, trust nothing anyone or anything says. Pretty much, trust no one. Oh, and you might want to take notes. There’s more to tell you, and I don’t want to repeat myself.”

One thing that Syd knew he lacked was a notebook. Or a pen. So he just nodded sheepishly, and listened.

“Have it your way then. Remember, I’m not to be trusted. At all. Except that everything I say was true once. Might still be true. You might even decide to trust me. But don’t. I’m not on your side.”

“The second lesson is that everything is out to get you. There is only you on your side.”

“The third lesson is important. Your goal. Don’t ask why, I’m just the messenger. To get out of this land, you must—”

At that point a giant Raven swooped down from the clear blue sky and snatched the frog, tossing it in the air and eating it as it flew away into the sunset. Perhaps it was the frog that had distorted time and space? Perhaps talking to the frog had been the key to unlock the loop?

He had no real information, but he knew he still needed to find the way out, redemption, revenge, or rebirth. Or perhaps all of those.

Sydney looked around, and saw the fork in the road. There were three paths. One was clearly the loop he had been trapped on. One was very nicely paved and clearly well traveled. The third was barely a cow track.

Sydney took the third path.

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Deal 1027: The Tower

Distraction is always lying in wait around the next bend.

Sydney set out for the town clearly visible in the distance. His old life was seeming less real by the hour, and a chance of meeting something not out to kill him seemed like a good idea. The road was paved, and must go somewhere to be worth the effort. So that much of the plan seemed reasonable.

A few miles later, Sydney was no longer quite so sure. He hadn’t walked that far in a long time. Sure, he used to get around LA on his bike, but that was really just his immediate neighborhood. Real travel in LA required borrowing a car, or taking the metro, and both options had costs attached. So he usually just stayed near home.

About four miles, when his feet were going to give out, he noticed a narrow track leading off the main road, through a pleasant glade and around behind a hill.

He took it.

It led to the base of a four story tower, atop of where there was a woman leaning on a parapet, and bemoaning her fate.

Her name, it developed, was Raven, clearly for her long black hair. She had wandered into the tower, then found her way to the top, after which the stairs vanished.

Sydney circled the tower. There was no door, and no exterior stairs. Something was definitely amiss here.

What he was facing was yet another manifestation of the “magic” of this place, and it made him uncomfortable. As far as he knew, he had no magic of his own. He might as well wish for an infinite number of saws…

Oh. Wait.