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Deal 1141: Ritual witness

For the hundredth time, I wondered why I had agreed to this. But it was far too late to back out now.

In the darkness, I could just barely see the old woman working her rituals. Her circle, however, was positively glowing with an eldritch light that somehow managed to attract attention without also illuminating anything around it.

Behind her, the rest of her shop was indistinct but looming with a presence that kept raising the hairs on the back of my neck.

Outside the window it was full daylight. And yet none of the sunlight on the streets managed to find its way inside despite the generous, and surprisingly clean, shop windows. The darkness was simply unwilling to be overpowered by something as ordinary as daylight. It couldn’t prevent the daylight from falling outside, but inside. Inside was its domain.

Why had I agreed? I was no longer sure.

I already had seen more than enough to convince me that her place as village witch was well and truly earned.

Now I remained caught as a fly on flypaper. Caught and hoping very much that I was not more akin to a moth and a flame.

Next to the circle, a cauldron bubbled with something simmering away. Its fumes were cloying. Each time they died down to an almost bearable level, she gave it another stir with the large ladle. I think it was the fumes that kept me still.

It certainly wasn’t loyalty to her, the town council, or my agency.

I was well past ready to flee into the daylight and attempt to erase the memories of what I had witnessed flickering in the unlight above circle. At times, it seemed as if the very fabric of reality had become worn thin and something was trying to reach through.

Reach through and steal my soul.

I could wish it luck then. Even I wasn’t so sure if I had one or not. As I stirred, I could hear my mechanisms humming with power, and ready to turn and run, carrying my metal limbs and body back to my maker. And yet. There was something fascinating about this whole situation that kept my attention and refused to allow me to leave.

Why was I here again?

I suppose that is the one hundred second time I’ve asked myself that question.

And it was clear that I was not going to answer.

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Deal 1139: Couplets

Beware unknown unknowns, because they are
lurking unseen unheard unfelt yet there
Sunlight illuminating the shadows
repeatedly sustained will help them go
what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
the shadow knows, tells all, again, again.
Fear not, be not yellow, nor fowl, chicken
awareness now fends off chance of victim
as a window into darkest corners
reveals lurking dangers, evil doers.

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Deal 1136: Wings by night

Approach the ritual in the right frame of mind or not at all. I was warned. I probably should have listened.

Candles set the atmosphere, along with interesting art on the walls and beads hanging everywhere. Once inside, it seemed as if I had been transported somewhere very different from my mundane world. The altar with a fetish and mask may have been a clue about what was to come, but I had no idea. Then she stepped into the room.

Long hair in dreads, more beads than ought to be possible, layers of clothing that moved almost as if they had a mind of their own. There was no mistaking that this was her domain. Even if the motifs of the altar and art weren’t repeated in both her clothing and her tattoos, it would be clear. She asked me no questions, and I offered no information. Perhaps in a different world I would have and things would be different. She gestured to the pile of pillows and bade me be comfortable. I did.

From that point, things get a little hazy.

At first, literally hazy from the incense set alight around the room, then from the smoke of the herbs set alight in a bowl. Even if I hadn’t held the bowl up and inhaled deeply, I would have been affected. Should I have asked what was in the bowl?

In the moment, that seemed a rude thing to do, and I refrained. But then, if I had been the least bit prudent, I wouldn’t have been seeking out practitioners of the mystical arts, and letting them practice upon me unquestioned. No, prudence was far from my mind that night.

And that was about the last thing my conscious mind can recall.

My next memory begins a few moments ago, when I opened my eyes to find myself miles above the landscape, watching the twinkling lights as if they were constellations that are approaching. Approaching while the wind picks up, whistling past my body in a way that makes no sense at all if I am laying in a field watching the stars go by. Because I’m not, after all. I’m falling, constantly falling, towards a landscape of twinkling stars, but never reaching the ground, the wind buoying me up as it whistles over my wings, tickling each feather individually, caressing me as it carries me away.

Wings?

What have I done?

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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.