The Happy Yiffle
This is a bar much like any other on the fringes of civilization in the Nagai Empire. Being beneath the concerns of true Nagas, it is frequented mostly by Jingas, particularly of the Shiga variety. There are some Savanite slaves acting as servers, giving Shigas a reminder that, yes, there's someone who is still lower on the hierarchy than themselves "freeing" of the slaves or not. The decor is pretty much non-existent. Just old wood and stone. The purpose of being here is to get some drink and some minor socializing, not to wonder at the surroundings.
The midday sun drifts quietly through the tavern's windows, cool white light splashing in puddles across the hard packed floor. The commons is a quiet and slow bustle, the damp air seeping through even the warmest clothes and flavoring the day's activities. The other patrons are curled sluggishly about their warming stones, in groups of two or three, trading bits of quiet conversation over their noontime meal. At a single sharp sign from their googly eyed master, a pair of Savanite serving girls retrieve a set of platters from the wood plank bar. A Bromthen piglet upon a serving tray, replete with polished apple and a simple honey glaze, looks wide eyed as it is delivered to a central table, innocently watching its passage through the tavern. This so called fancy main course is followed by servings for two, the scent of roast bromthen banishing at least a little of the tavern's crisp atmosphere. A pot of tea, a tall mug of ale, and then Savanites politely scatter, leaving this meal to be partaken by three, a unusual collection of Naga, Lacinus and Skreek.
Lakshmi curls up a little more snugly on her heated rock, wishing it were just a tad larger, and pours tea, "Watch, Mandy, how to do this, so you can do it next time. See?"
Seated near Lakshmi is Mandara, who closely watches her master pour the tea. Her thin whip-like tail sways back and forth as she learns how to pour tea.
Leaning forward, Skye reaches out to snare a slice of bromthen, to slowly gnaw upon the hot meat. One elbow rests upon the table, as he quietly watches the tea service. Then, after a moment's pause, he asks, "Did yi 'ave a c'ance to look at t'e package I broug't back?"
Lakshmi sips some hot tea. "Not yet. Let's see… " She opens the package and, one-handed, pulls out some papers, which she starts reading as she sips her tea. She glances up and beams at Skye for a second, then goes back to reading… and a faint wrinkle of perplexity creases between her eyes. She glances thoughtfully at Mandara, then back to Skye, "So… what do you have to tell me of your journey, Skye?"
Mandara turns her head to meet Lakshmi's gaze. The girl tilts her ears a little before she turns back to look at Skye, and readjusts her sitting position from being on her knees to sitting cross-legged.
Skye dryly chitters, "T'at t'is little Skreek went to t'e Nagai market, and came back wit' a basket full o' questions." Trading bromthen for a sip of ale, he continues, taking a moment to straighten his whiskers, "It was actually very straig't forward. A visit to Master Dors'all took up all t'e time … w'ere we t'e w'ispa per'aps we saw and of 'is capture learn't. But w'ether it was truly a w'ispa?"
Lakshmi frowns thoughtfully. "I'd be quite surprised if someone of Master Dorshall's intellectual stature and prominence would knowingly conduct such a misleading. If it is not a whispa, it is a heretofore unknown species, from these notes… which has been accordingly named 'whispa'. So… I'm going to continue with the current agreement, which is that this new species is indeed a whispa." She takes another sip of tea, then smoothly swallows her Bromthen piglet… then sighs, looking as if she feels much better. "Mmm… anything else to report?"
Unable to stay still, the slave sits up again and moves back to her knees. Seemingly not satisfied with this, she reaches over to pick up a fork and twirls this idly with her hand.
Lakshmi glances at Mandy. "Don't you want your food, girl? Are you feeling all right?"
Mandara lifts her head and instead of looking at Lakshmi when she is addressed, she instead looks to Skye. The canine watches him for a moment, again laying her ears back as if bothered by something. She whines a little to him before putting her fork down again.
Skye tilts back the brim of his hat with one black paw. "Do yi really believe I would say something like t'at wit'out a reason, Boss'Laks'mi? Can I ask yi a question t'en?" Skye lets but a single heartbeat pass, before he asks his question any roads. "'Ave yi ever been in Master Dors'all's s'op?"
Lakshmi hisses softly, "No, although I've heard of him. He's quite respected… That's why I sent you to him." She glances at Mandy, then at Skye, her expression curious. "What's up here?"
The slave again turns to face Lakshmi but does so only for a brief moment before lowering her head. Her hands are neatly folded across her knees and a very faint whine issues forth from her.
Stealing a long sip of his ale, Skye dries his muzzle with a backpawed sleeve of his tunic. "It was a s'op ofcontradictions, Boss'Laks'mi. If I was 'ome in Rep'idim, I would 'ave t'oug't 'is place more fitting Darkside t'en a fine Temple Sc'ool. Crowded, dark, musty, a single quiet Savanite for 'is servants. Upstairs, 'is s'op, w'ere 'e did 'is work, I would 'ave expected it to be dry, scented of sawdust, professional, t'e air stained wit' strange taxidermy c'emicals. Instead it was dim, damp, musty and moldy."
Lakshmi raises a curious eyebrow. "The lower floor seems adequate enough, since I believe he's considered a bit of an eccentric for liking animals dead more than alive… but the upstairs… moldy? How… odd." Absently she picks up a piece of the Bromthen slice and offers it to Mandara as she speaks.
The girl glances at the piece of Bromthen for a moment before looking back down. She studies her hands for a moment before she glances back at the Bromthen slice. With a quick motion she leans over with her muzzle and takes the slice from Lakshmi's hand and goes back to studying her lap. During this time her tail seems to have stopped wagging all together.
Lakshmi puzzledly studies Mandy (and her hands) while she waits for Skye to reply.
Skye dryly chitters, "'Ow … odd. T'at about sums it up, yes? On one 'and, an eccentric sc'olar. On t'e ot'er 'and, 'e seemed to fall below 'is tales." He takes another taste of his drink. "And t'e w'ispa. Master Dors'all said 'e got it only after it died, and t'at as it died, its fur lost its glow. It was like no beast I 'ad ever seen, and did not match eit'er t'e tales, t'e k'ildrens plush beasties … or … Master Uriah's said. But w'at was left of 'is fur wassofter t'an a w'isper … even if t'ere was somet'ing … missing. Somet'ing I could not recognize. It could 'avebeen t'e w'ispa's magic … or somet'ing not right about t'e critter. I don't know.
"Mandy, tell me what is wrong, please." Lakshmi glances with a thoughtful frown at Skye, "How do you mean, 'fall below his tales?'" then looks back at Mandara inquiringly.
The slave's hands do nothing to warrant the attention Mandara is giving them. They are simply hands folded unusually neat in the girl's lap. Once addressed, Mandara looks up with her ears perked and eyes widened as if suddenly startled. She tilts her head to the side and averts her gaze before answering her master. "Stuffed. Not want to be stuffed," she says using better Standard than she usually does.
Lakshmi looks faintly surprised. "Why would you think you were going to be stuffed, Mandy?"
Further averting her gaze, the slave uneasily twiddles her thumbs. "Naga stuffed slave, in store." Another, louder whine comes from the canid and she tucks her tail around her.
Letting out a long breath, Skye just shakes his head. "'Is greatest work, Master Dors'all said. Needless to say, 'is Savanite was terrified of it, and it didn't do Mandy any good. A downcast slave named Needle, standing 'is post more t'an silent, forever."
"Ah." Lakshmi's small smile is dry. "Needle, yes… both Mandy and he were mentioned in the letter the master taxidermist sent, although not in this context. We can discuss this further later, but Mandy, you're not going to be stuffed, I assure you, so please feel free to relax and eat your dinner. Now, Skye… to continue, about the whispa and your concerns, please?"
Lakshmi absently rubs Mandy's ears reassuringly as she sips her tea and waits for Skye to go on.
Mandara looks up at Lakshmi as she rubs her ears. The slave stares at the Naga for a moment with careful, wide eyes the search the snake. Whatever she was thinking she seems to have decided Lakshmi is not going to hurt her, for she scoots over and leans against the Naga's side.
Lakshmi smiles quietly down at Mandy… then raises her gaze back to Skye, still gently scritching Mandy's fur.
Nodding, the sable Skreek relates more of his tale. "On one 'and, Master Dors'all seemed very earnest. Unless he is an amazing actor, I believe he believes he has a w'ispa. T'e creature was only about four of my paws long, quite a bit smaller t'an by Master Uriah's description. 'Owever, maybe t'at is w'y ta little one died. Per'aps t'ey captured a w'ispa kit, too young to be from its dam. And 'e was discovered drowning in a sea of quicksand … w'ich is odd, since Master Uriah said t'ey could walk across t'e mudflats and flood plains wit'out a trace."
Lakshmi nods thoughtfully. "Let me read some bits of this letter to you, Skye. It refers to the captured whispa." She sets down her teacup and, one-handed, sorts papers for a moment… then reads aloud, 'The creature was captured by mere chance and serpent's luck. A fisherman found it in a quicksand pit, its tail caught in the mouth of a large Bromthen hog who was mostly submerged in the mire. According to the fisherman's report, the hog had pieces of its face apparently gnawed upon by the little thing. We assume that it had thought the hog had exhausted itself and had begun to feed, when the Bromthen made one final lurch and trapped the whispa.'" She pauses for a moment, then continues…
From beside Lakshmi, Mandara lifts her head to contribute to the conversation. "Whispa little, but Naga odd," she comments quietly.
Lakshmi hisses softly, "'The fisherman managed to pull it free before it was completely pulled down with the Bromthen, using a clamp for pulling mudfish from the swamps, and then stored it in a crayfish box. The fisherman claims that the whispa seemed to go frothing mad the moment it was caged and violently attacked the bars until it fell with exhaustion. It was sold to a traveling professor, and through him reached the Empire's hands.'"
Lakshmi hisses softly, "'The whispa did not take well to captivity at all. The staff at the Anthropology school attempted larger cages, habitat reproductions, different foods… even Life Mages, but nothing seemed to help. After two weeks of captivity, the whispa died, and the body was turned over to Master Dorshall of the Guild of Taxidermists for preservation.'"
Lakshmi looks up. "That's all he has about its capture. Would you like to hear more about its physical characteristics?"
Skye nods, straightening his whiskers. "T'e master w'o took care of t'e w'ispa is a Master C'rillon. I tried to meetwit' 'im, but 'e was not available at least not to a Skreek for anot'er week. 'Owever, even more interesting, t'e fisherman's name was Trilling, so may'aps we should track 'im down?"
Lakshmi nods, "That would probably be wise, yes. Let's see, there's not a terrible lot more… ah, here we go. 'The whispa was a male, approximately one foot four inches from nose to tail, and before time of death its fur had an odd yellowish color that could glow with varying intensity. It weighed approximately 2.5 pounds. Its eyes were solid black and were rather large, hinting at some nightvision capabilities. The body was long and lean and its front feet were webbed, hinting that it might be comfortable in aquatic or semi-aquatic environments. This fact was enforced by the creature's fur being extremely waterproof and drying amazingly quickly.'"
Lakshmi hisses softly, "'It survived off of a diet of meat and preferred eating its prey while it was still alive. It appeared to have a high metabolism and could easily devour its weight in protein every day. It had rather sharp retractable claws and needle sharp teeth. It could also run startlingly fast, although we were unable to clock its exact speed. We believe that it might have had vocal capability, but during the entire period of its captivity it never uttered a sound.'"
Lakshmi hisses softly, "'At the time of the whispa's death, the fur took on a pallid gray color and the beast literally seemed as though all the energy were spent in its little body. Not even the great Dorshall's handiwork could make it seem alive again. Samples of the fur and the internal organs are being kept at the University for future study and preservation, but no immediate study is planned at this time.'" She looks up from the letter. "That's all there is."
Skye dryly chitters, "Yi know w'at I think, Laks'mi?"
Lakshmi smiles. "No, but I'm hoping you'll tell me?"
"We hunt whispa at night, by water?" asks Mandara. She lifts a hand and makes swimming motions. "Water, sand, oasis?"
Skye smiles a wry smile. "T'e more I 'ear of t'e w'ispa, t'e more I think t'at convincing it to visit wit' us might be more successful t'an catching it in a net."
Lakshmi nods. "I'd rather agree, Skye. I'm thinking we're going to have to be guileful with this one… Yes, Mandy, probably by night, perhaps by water, to catch a kit, and to see if we can make it imprint on us rather than its true parents… or perhaps to catch a weanling, and teach it that its territory extends as far as a leash allows it to go… so that it does not constantly fight bars and, finally, die of captivity."
The slave tilts her head to the side. "Oh." She flicks an ear. She pauses for a moment and fiddles with her fingers before continuing, "Like me?"
Skye continues quietly, "Or find a family t'at considers us more interesting companions t'an food on t'e hoof. W'at do yi think of t'e fact t'e t'ink t'ey might be capable of speech?"
Lakshmi smiles, "I'd be surprised if they really have a language, Skye. What do you mean, Mandy, 'like you?'"
Mandara points to herself with a finger. "I like that. Told that long time I get taken by ship when young and, now here."
Listening to Mandara's short phrases, the Skreek's whiskers twitch, his ears askance.
Lakshmi smiles a little confusedly, "Er… you like what, Mandy? You need to be a bit more clear in your speaking, I fear."
The slave looks between the others and twitches her tail nervously. "I… me… come from far away, when little, long time ago."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Yes?" Lakshmi sounds gently encouraging, "Go on?"
Skye nods, "Yi can speak, to us."
"Mmmmm, try to re… remember. Say I come from place, mmm, Labo. Called a… La… mmm… Not remember?" Mandara answers, her muzzle contorting in a small smile.
Lakshmi hisses softly, "What about that do you like, though? What were you referring to then?"
The girl reaches up to scratch her ear confusedly. "Not like, like same. Told I caught when little."
Lakshmi hisses softly, "Ah! I understand now… the whispa would be like you." She nods, mystery solved, and continues lazily scritching Mandy's fur as she turns to Skye, "So… our goals at this point seem to be to find this fisherman… Tilling, I think? and to change slightly our plan of capture to better accommodate a creature that should probably be more befriended than caged. Any idea on where this fellow might be?"
Skye dryly chitters, "It's Trilling, and I was told t'e region 'e was from …