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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 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 1054: Riding along

The cat came back the very next day: it just couldn’t stay away. Bruce, that is. He may not be a normal feline, but since he looks and acts like a cat, I’m going to call him a cat. Even if he does have an extra effective knack for fading in and out and can talk.

Not that talking is all that unusual here. There was that toad. Even the cockatrice I killed early on complained about my methods. So I take a talking cat in stride.

Now that he’s let on that he talks, he talks constantly.

He still believes he is in charge, too. Which bugs Gwen to no end. But she can’t admit it because of some silly rule of dragon honor. Naturally we all find ourselves bound one way or another. I have no way home. Gwen doesn’t have a cat. And Bruce, he knows things and will occasionally share.

“I have a message for you, Sydney”

“Really? How?”

“I ran into an old friend of yours. Tricky fellow. Large. Black. Definitely not a bird one should chase, let alone catch.”

“Raven.”

“Yep. He had some ideas for you to ponder.”

By now, Gwen was also paying attention. But Bruce is first and foremost a cat.

“I don’t know, I wasn’t listening by then. And then you left on this quest, and were going in the right direction. So I tagged along in case you ran into something you couldn’t handle.”

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Deal 1053: Caught one

Time to check my traps. Not necessarily for dinner, but you never know.

“Hey! Get me out of this cage, and we’ll talk.”

Great. I’ve caught something, and it is chatty. I did not see that coming. “I think we’ll talk for a minute just like this first, thanks.”

“But you must let me out?”

“Why?”

The trap is indeed sprung, and there is something fluffy in the cage. It turns slowly. It is the cat that has been fading in and out around our campsites and generally acting smug. “Not so smug now, eh, wise guy?”

“Call me Bruce. And let me out!”

“Ok, Bruce. You know I’m Sydney and she’s Gwen. Time for a little cooperation.”

After pumping him for all he was worth, we agreed he was acting independently, and was likely not connected to any of the mysteries. So we did let him out.

But did that ungrateful monster thank us?

Nope.

He faded out practically in my arms as I opened the cage!

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Deal 1051: Answers lead to more questions.

Yes dragons do dream, no I don’t have a cat, and yes I’m terrified by what happened the other day. Something caught us, entrapped us, and then left us to wonder what it might have done to us. That is hardly something I should allow to happen to me or to my pupil. I have my ways of knowing that nothing happened directly to either my or Sydney during those missing hours, except for the fact that the hours are missing. And of course, I am reasonably sure that what did happen in that interval is not something I would want to have happened.

I detest alarms, necessary though they are, and that may have been a weakness that was exploitable. My habits are reasonably well known, and in the past have not proved to be a problem.

That sword of Syd’s bothers me some too. I’ve asked him about it. “Where did that sword come from?”

He simply said “I made it.”

Which puzzles me greatly because I can tell that he is telling the truth as he knows it to be true, and without any hints or colors of subterfuge. And yet, that sword is much more powerful than any magic he overtly knows how to wield. It positively reeks of magic.

“We have to explore what your sword can do. I don’t understand what happened, and you don’t understand its full power. Tell me again about how it came to be in your possession?”

He studied me for a minute, then spoke at some length. “I said before that I made it. That is true. But I didn’t make it here, I made it before. I put a lot of effort into its making, but almost none of that effort was devoted to making it good at the things a sword is supposed to actually do. In most senses it is not a real sword, but rather a prop or a toy. I formed all of it from lightweight materials that I could work in my apartment, at my kitchen table. The handle is the most real, as it needed to hold up to actual handling. I made it from a carved block of wood, into which I cut channels to inset buttons and wires to control its showier functions. The buttons form a kind of keyboard concealed under the leather wrapping that can be actuated while the sword is in a natural grip. The pommel conceals a power switch for the whole thing, and a battery compartment.”

This was more than he’d said previously, and hinted at powers he hadn’t acknowledged before. But I let him continue before asking about some of the words that had no meaning here, or meanings that did not fit his usage. One wouldn’t expect to fit a ship’s battery into a “compartment” in the handle of a sword, so “battery” had to mean something different to him.

He continued “The blade was the most work. It is made mostly from plastic that I cut to shape, bent with a torch, and formed into the shape of a blade. I concealed lights and wiring along its length, and a processor to control the lights, a haptic feedback motor, some other sensors, and similar features. When requested by my fingering on the grip, it runs several pre-programmed sequences of lights and sounds. One of the programs paints images in the air when the sword is waved. Flashy effects that in my home would have no real or lasting effect. One thing I did not do was make the blade sharp. I suppose it could leave a bruise if deliberately struck, but it cannot cut.”

Now I had to ask. “If it isn’t useful, what was it for?”

“I play games where we dress up and act out fantasy. That is what I expected to go do when I fell into this world, which is why I had the sword and my other toys with me that morning.”

“You put a lot of effort into making a toy.”

“Well, yes, I suppose I did. Many a bottle of fine beer was consumed while I formed it and designed its flashier effects. But that is what I do as a hobby. I make things like this, and use them in the games. I am notorious for making things that look like they could be magical, without magic wield. We don’t have magic where I come from. But we do have technology, and that is what I used.”

“What other bits of your technology came with you?”

“A communications device that is mostly useless here, as nearly everything it does requires other things that are commonplace at home, but entirely missing here. Even its basic ability to carry my voice a great distance and hold a conversation with someone far away cannot work without a network of supporting equipment. About the only functions that could work here are its camera and media players, but then only if I can restore its battery’s charge. At home, I would just plug it into an electric outlet. I haven’t seen anything like that here.”

ALmost none of that made sense to me. “I don’t understand most of those words, I’m hearing that you have a difficult to build shiny block, but not that it is useful.”

“That seems fair. Without electricity, it is just a poor quality mirror. Of course…”

“What?”

“Well, the sword shouldn’t be able to do much here without electricity. And yet, it still flashes lights, emits smoke, makes noises, and more. I should have needed to charge it or replace the batteries by now.”

This was leading only to more questions. “So you brought toys not weapons, and the knowledge to make more like them. But although here they appear to be magical, you insist they are only technology. And not even dangerous aside from their flash and distraction.”

“That about sums it up, yes.”

“Show me something the sword does. We have a practice dummy. Do something to it.”

“All right, let’s see what I can do.”

He stretched then drew the sword and made a few flourishes. The blade flashed, then left a trail of lights in the air behind it as he brought it down in a sharp motion pointing at the dummy across the field.

The dummy exploded.

Sydney stood, dumbfounded.

“Well, my pupil, you have indeed brought a tool of power with you.”

“But it can’t do anything remotely like that at home!”

“What did you expect to happen?”

“Just a projected light. If the dummy had been wearing the usual game equipment, it would have felt a shock, and known I had scored a hit. It would have reacted appropriately to that, perhaps no longer using one arm, or if hit as strongly as I did today, falling over as if dead. But it is only a game, nothing about it could have blown the other player to bits.”

“This is not your home.” He had said that, of course. But it had never been so obviously true. “Things may work differently here. You need to try everything you built the sword to do and find out how it acts here. But safely, please.”

“No, I am not in Kansas anymore. I was pretty sure of that when I first heard a cat muttering at me.”

In the bushes, I failed to notice the annoying cat watching and thinking.

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Deal 1050: Poof

In search of fish, indeed. Well that turned out to be something of a wild goose chase. We even found a wild goose. She didn’t know anything helpful, and declined to come along, possibly out of fear that she might end up gracing our dining table. I have to admit that fear might not have been without grounds.

I know things happened the rest of the afternoon. I have the sunburn, scratches, aches, and pains to confirm it. But I don’t know what happened. And that worries me more than a little. The faint smell of perfume worries me even more. Also, we were found tied up and to each other around the base of a tree. That isn’t the kind of thing that happens normally without remembering it.

Gwen seems even more disturbed than I am. I suspect it takes strong magic to mess with a dragon, the old stories all claim that dragons are almost immune to magical attacks. Waking up to find you are literally tied up in evidence of such an attack has to be rather disorienting. Then there’s the fact that she seems to believe she has failed in her duty to protect me. It is true that she did not protect either of us. But I’m not entirely convinced that she should take the blame alone. After all, I bear an apparently powerful magical tool and did not protect us either.

Regardless of assigning the blame, nearly seven hours are completely unaccounted for, vanished into a void.

I can assure Gwen that nothing untoward happened, but the very need for that assurance is untoward. Unexpected even. And worrying.

And Dragons like to worry.

I think the event has suggested to her that we are on the wrong path as well.

My worry is that the chicken will cross us, cross the path, and get in the way of the cat. The cat who has yet to offer me a name, or any reason at all to trust him. The cat that acts like Gwen is his pet dragon. He’s been along on this ride too, and he’s not saying whether whatever happened happened to him too. Cats being 99% dignity, after all. Admitting it did happen would be nearly as hard on him as answering the question.

Cats.