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Deal 1155: Pandora’s mine?

A diamond mine is in many ways just an industrialized version of hope. Workers sweat in the darkness for the chance at surviving another day or two with a few spare dollars in their pockets. From their toil, the reward is the occasional sparkly prize. But even that doesn’t look like much more than occasionally shiny gravel until it has been cleaned, graded, cut, and polished.

At the end of the day, the product has value because it is rare and hard to find.

A value that the cartels reinforce through campaigns of intimidation against any who would find markets for the stones outside of their control.

The mine might as well be Pandora’s box. Wars break out over it. Men fight tooth and nail to control it. Lives are spent with abandon in its depths.

And yet, there is always hope.

At least until the mine is worked out.

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Deal 1069: Squeezing Oranges.

Beware the temptation to walk the long path that leads off from mere ire to outrage and thence into court. Advice that Gregory could have used, as unlikely as it is that he would have heeded it.

After all, the family orchards were at stake, and with them, the family’s honor.

The first blow had been the roadway that cut through the orchard. Over the century the family had owned these trees, they had seen the road grow from a rarely used cattle-trail to a country lane, and lately to a fully paved highway with several lanes in each direction occupied by travelers.

Along with the highway came the city. It was just a farming village when they first arrived in this valley. Time had seen the village grow with every decade. In the beginning they welcomed this growth as it increased the local market for their fruit. But at some point, as the town first became a city, its population had turned away from the local crop and used their newly completed highway to bring tanker-trucks of juice into town. Juice didn’t require peeling.

A span of time that long had seen fads and fashions come and go, usually without impact on their crop.

But now.

Now, their very existence was threatened.

Gregory signed the first demands himself, but they went unheeded. So along came the first lawyers. At first, the lawyer’s demands were more effective because of the implied threat. But once the threat moved from theory to practice, the legal costs had escalated madly.

At the beginning, Gregory was the wealthy and successful descendent of a century of farming, with hundreds of acres of trees in his care.

As he won his final victory in court, he was reduced to caring for the ten trees that surrounded his home. All the rest of the land having been sold to pay the legal fees.

Gregory was victorious.

And yet had also lost the very thing he sought so hard to guard.

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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.