The young coyote, Pe'er is sent on a quest to find a squeep.
(College Esoterica) (Envoy) (Fenter) (Jaundice) (Rephidim) (Squeep Quest)
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Haskalah's Office
Unlike the offices of her fellow instructors, either cluttered with books and papers and stuffed with sorceress mementos and knickknacks, or else so Spartan as to appear totally unoccupied, just ready for a new professor to move in, Haskalah's office appears more like a Himaat desert trader's home with silks strewn all about, long gauzy cloths softening the white walls of the College Esoterica and turning sharp corners into mysteries. What can only be charitably described as eclectica lies strewn about much as toys, hidden beneath and behind pillows and cushions. The instructor herself is given to sitting behind a low round table at which an everpresent tea service grants refreshment, and consulting a scattering of books and scrolls piled behind her at times. This room is less an exercise in organization and more a celebration… Of the spontaneous.

The tortoise-shell Khatta, wearing her characteristic shawl and assorted jewelry over her silken clothes, looks up to the young coyote that has just stepped into her office. "On time, I see. Again." The Khatta flashes a quirky smile, black lips closed, whiskers prickling forward.

A familiar-looking piece of paper rests on the table in front of her.

Jaundice pads in slowly, nodding politely to Haskalah. "G'morn, ma'am." He crosses the room, oblivious to his advisor's apparent state of mind as he finds an open chair…

The paper appears to be Jaundice's report on the expedition to the City of Hands:

"Field Study Report: Eleven Candlemass, 137th year of Cerbancos the Third."

"P. Pelniel"

"It is not the place of the observer to pass judgment on the subject, but for the most part, the trip was a disappointment. I was present for what appeared to be an excavation of an ancient ruin, but what ultimately proved to be an elaborate hoax. As stated in my field notes, the site had been opened some time earlier, as testified by the lack of dust or stagnant air that should have been present."

"Nevertheless, the 'hand' artifact, the depiction of Sinai with sky islands in flight, and statues of Naga holding orbs detailing star constellations seemed important, but I can't say for certain how. As for the theories concerning which race originally built the ruins, I can't be certain of that either. Clearly more intense study is called for, hopefully without certain people interfering."

Jaundice raises his gaze to the paper, just to make sure it's what he thinks it is. He sits up, at attention.

"So ne, Jaundice? And your journals, they are a wealth of details." Haskalah smiles. "Rubbings of inscriptions, descriptions and sketches of the architecture, even a partial map. Many fine notes."

Jaundice nods. "Thank you, ma'am."

Haskalah tilts her head. "Enough to keep a fine scholar occupied for centuries," she continues. "Do you think you are a fine scholar?"

Jaundice blinks. "I'm not one to say, ma'am. I try."

Jaundice watches his advisor, lost in thought as his eyes focus and refocus on various sections of her odd jewelry and vague, swirly shawls. He tries to appear attentive.

The tortoiseshell Khatta nods, flicking her ears forward. "So ne? Is that what you want to be?" She gestures for Jaundice to sip at his tea before he replies, then blows steam curling off of her own cup.

The tea tastes like mint and chamomile, a little bitter, a little sweet.

Jaundice reaches for the teacup. "It's what I was sent here to become … " He takes a sip, sniffing quizzically at the odor. "… to study as much as I could."

"Well then, you may become a fine old scholar, all decked with nice robes of velvet, so soft it should feel like a Khatta purr, bent-backed from leaning over to look at cracks in the stone… " Haskalah teases. "That you may miss the pretty flower on the tree just overhead." She gives Jaundice a broader smile, then picks up the report and 'files' it somewhere in the pillows… Which is to say, promptly loses it.

Jaundice had, up until that point, managed a look that almost seemed to suggest he felt encouraged. His face falls, watching his report…

Jaundice looks back to Haskalah. "I tried not to miss anything, ma'am."

Another sip and then Haskalah sets her cup down. "So ne, ne sah, my fine young student, the yearling Dromodon always misses a step. Such a sad face she has then! But she will learn quickly, never fear." She pats Jaundice's hand.

Jaundice's eyes flit about the room, to where his report might have gone, back to Haskalah, then at his teacup. "Uhm… yes, ma'am."

She taptaptaps her chin with her finger, looking at Jaundice, then reaches into the pillows and comes up with another book. Where did that come from? Goodness gracious, the whole room could be three feet deep in books beneath the pillows… No, perhaps not, surely the 'yote would have noticed the rise in the floor.

Jaundice peers up, trying to read the spine of the book. "What's that?"

"Here. Good bedtime reading, it will put you to sleep very quickly," Haskalah says with a smile as she hands 'The Annotated Early History and Legends of the Naga, Vol. I, by Errata Flin' to Jaundice.

Jaundice takes the book gingerly, opening to the copyright page and thumbing the pages briefly.

Haskalah continues, "And I have another assignment for you. Think about it carefully! It will not be easy for you, my fine young Dromodon." She grins feyly, then calls out. "Feeenter!"

Jaundice looks up again, trying to look grateful. "Fe… enter?"

The book has been handwritten by some careful scribe long ago, and the pages rustle and crack with their age, yellowed. It includes sketches and architectural drawings, descriptions of legends of the old Naga and what they claim for their heritage…

Which is to say, if they could get away with it, they might claim the copyright on the wheel.

A masked raccoon face peeks around the corner (perhaps eavesdropping). He nimbly steps into the room, absently rubbing toothpaste from his chin. "Yes, your worship?"

Jaundice handles the book with the smallest amount of pressure. He doesn't want to be blamed if it comes back as a stack of unbound papers.

Jaundice swivels his ears, then his head towards the corner. . o O { Oh no, it IS him… }

Haskalah sips her tea, then nods. "Do join my young student at the table," she says with a pleasant smile. "Honorable Fenter, this is Pe'er Pelniel, one of my students. Pe'er, this is Fenter, an assistant. He'll be helping you with this work."

Jaundice's voice narrows to a squeak. "Ma'am? Assistant? Ah… are you sure this is wise?"

"Of course not," Haskalah replies with a smile.

Jaundice eyes the raccoon warily. "What's he supposed to… " He breaks off, as he realizes he probably doesn't want to hear the answer.

Fenter adjusts his hat as it tries to desperately snag itself on one of the streamers of zolk overhead. "I've met the lad before, your honerableness." He smiles warmly at Pe'er (just brushed those teeth you know, they deserve to be shown off a bit.).

"Wonderful!" Haskalah enthuses. "Then you'll be more than happy to guide Pe'er around the city. I want you to make sure he doesn't get in trouble."

Jaundice's expression towards Fenter is less genial, and more withering. . o O { These have not been my proudest days. }

Jaundice snaps his attention back to Haskalah. . o O { Guide? } He looks to Fenter again. . o O { … in trouble?! }

Fenter says, "That's it, your grace? Just show him around? Poke into a few shops, point out the landmarks, pet the zelaks?"

The tortoiseshell turns to Jaundice. "Now, as to your assignment: I'll need a left-handed red squeep for my work. You won't find one in the College, I'm afraid, but I'm sure that Fenter will be more than happy to help you." She lays down an iron coin on the table before the coyote. "This should be more than enough to cover any expenses you may incur." Her look toward the raccoon as she puts the money down suggests that she no more trusts him to hold it than she would give a bottle of wine to a drunkard to hold for a moment. It's a friendly version of distrust, though.

Jaundice considers the tea again. He tilts his head back, and gulps the rest down, choking slightly. *kaff*

Jaundice reaches across to pick up the iron. "Er… yes ma'am… but what's a… squeep?"

Fenter says, "I think I ate one once… on a dare I believe. Bony little things."

"Said the would-be scholar?" Haskalah grins. "That's your assignment. I don't care what you do to get your squeep, but I expect it here in three days and I will expect you to explain your method, my fine young Dromodon. Now go, shoo, shoo! The egg isn't going to hop back into the Rukh nest while you sit here."

Jaundice looks at Fenter, his normal stoicism beginning to show signs of wear.

Jaundice recoils, hopping away from his chair at Haskalah's waving, almost as though she were swinging a broom. "Yes… yes'm." Thoughts reeling, he scampers out of the office.

Fenter says, "Er… your eminence? Am I to… er… guide the lad to his prey?"

The Khatta makes gentle 'shoosh' motions with her hands, her gray eyes twinkling.

"Yes, of course. You're an assistant. Go assist," Haskalah bids Fenter.

Jaundice waits outside the office for Fenter to emerge, trying to collect his thoughts. He pockets the iron before the raccoon comes to see.

Fenter nods. "Assistant… yes… right." He spins around and scampers out the office, his long pointed hat manages to yank down one of the long bolts of zolk festooning the wall… which falls behind him like a closing curtain.

As Haskalah patiently puts the zolk cloth back up, she looks after the two students departing for the city proper, she picks the report out of the pillows again and then shelves it. "Statues of Nagas indeed… " She twizzles her ears, then pours herself some more tea before curling up with a romance novel about a liontaur on a strange world, and his affair with a winged felitaur…

Fenter bounces up and down on his heels. "So… where to first, my lad? The library? The bazaar? The cafeteria perhaps?"

Jaundice looks at Fenter as he pops out of the office, sizing him up and down, not saying a word. He turns on his heel and walks towards the exit.

Fenter follows briskly behind the coyote. "Ahh… the quiet type are you. Just as well. Now… where does one go to find a squeep… "

Jaundice in no time has bridged the gap between the office door and the building exit. He holds the door open, waiting for the raccoon to step outside onto the campus grounds.

"There's probably no such thing as a squeep shop. Perhaps we could inquire of the local taxidermist… or pickler." The raccoon mumbles to himself as he steps out the open door. "Ahh… thank you laddie, most kind."

Various other students, much older than Pe'er, wander past on the far side of the campus courtyard, whispering to each other. They gesture towards the coyote and the emerging raccoon, not making a very good attempt at subtlety.

Jaundice lets the door swing shut as Fenter exits, then pads over to face him. "Now then… do you know what a left-handed red squeep is?" His tone is rather matter-of-fact.

"Not in the slightest." responds Fenter.

Jaundice stares harder into the blackmasked eyes. "Then… do you know where to find one?"

Fenter scratches his neck. "Well… I know of places where we might look. Taxidermists… dealers in odd species… perhaps a circus. But a specific place… no."

One of the students, almost paralyzed by mindless giggling, calls out. "Hey, Jaundice!"

Jaundice furrows his brow. "Have you any idea why she sent you with me?" He turns to the other students, and nods politely, oblivious to what's probably a juvenile attempt just to get his attention.

Fenter's ears perk. "Jaundice? My liver's not in tip top shape… but that's a mite unfair."

"Of course!" The raccoon beams. "Her grace sent me with you to keep you out of trouble. Her own words, didn't you hear?"

The other students, amused by the reaction, slap themselves on the back. "Did you hear? He … he nodded… d… *kkmmmmfffft*"

Jaundice quirks his mouth, and sighs inwardly. "All right. Well, the only trouble I'll be in is if I don't get one … whatever it is. So come on." He heads towards the campus gates that lead into the city.

Fenter salutes! "Yes sir!" He keeps a quick pace at the coyote's heels, still grinning brightly.

Jaundice pads past the campus guards, nodding to each of them in turn.

Jaundice sighs, and tries to focus. . o O { He doesn't have any more idea of what we're supposed to be doing than I do. How will this work? Gah… } He feels seized by a longing to return to the library and let the yellowed pages hold his hands.

Fenter casually follows behind, quite oblivious to Jaundice's downcast mood. He seems to be whistling merrily to himself.

Jaundice slows his step, letting Fenter pass him, partly so he can watch. He shakes his head in dismay. "You know the city better than I do. I don't know of any other place on this island we can go to, so we may as well start here. So, where do we go?"

Fenter scratches his chin (partially to get the last bits of toothpaste off). "Well… I know of an exotic animal dealer or two in the bazaar. And also a person or two that seem to possess a bit of knowledge that might prove useful."

Jaundice looks to the side, weighing the options. "And these persons would be able to talk to us?" He stares back, expectantly. . o O { If we can talk to someone who's able to complete a thought, we'll be that much better off. }

The sound of a Creen chirruping can be heard in the distance…

"Of course. They love to talk actually." the racoon answers, clasping his hands together.

A rainbow-winged form zips by overhead… followed by a larger, white and gold winged flyer.

Jaundice crosses his arms, and nods to Fenter. "Lead the way then, please."

Fenter looks upwards, "Goodness. Large birds out tonight. I wonder if one of those happens to be a squeep."

Jaundice raises an eyebrow at Fenter, then looks up. "Hrm?" He squints at the larger gold/white flyer, trying to make it out. "Augh!" He grabs Fenter by the arm, and tries to drag him under tree cover, out of view of the flyers.

Fenter topples over. "Yaieee! Whatwhatwhat?!?! Is it a vulture or something?" The raccoon madly tries to keep his hat on his head, fearing that if there are large animals overhead… he might need to keep some proper cover on.

Envoy circles back, having lost the Creen. Her shadow passes beyond Jaundice and Fenter's cover…

"Hello there!" Fenter shouts up, keeping a tight grip upon his hat. "Are you a squeep?"

Jaundice grits his teeth and lets Fenter go, putting him out of mind for the moment. He gingerly peeks outside the tree cover… and aghs! "Quiet!" He pushes Fenter back under the tree.

Envoy has already vanished behind some tower.

Jaundice scampers back to look up again, scanning the immediate sky for the flyers… and seeing nothing.

Fenter YEOUCHES rather un-quietly as he slams into the tree.

Jaundice breathes a relieved sigh. "Gone." He returns to the raccoon. "My apologies." He walks back into the city proper, looking around.

Jaundice turns back to Fenter. "Are you coming?"

"Half a moment." the raccoon says. He begins dusting his robe off and picking out bits of treebark. "Well… that couldn't have been a squeep," He says with a grin and a wink. "It never answered my question."

Jaundice shakes his head. "Let's go find whoever you wanted to talk to." He manages a stage smile for a full second, which vanishes just as quickly. It's a very queer expression of politeness over subdued actual feelings.

Fenter shakes the last remnants of dust from his robe and peers around. "Let's see. I believe that Mort is the one we need to speak with, fine fellow. You'll like him a great deal." He begins to amble down a path that seems to be leading away from the college.

From behind the two comes a sudden *whoosh*, followed by a *thump*, followed by… "Hi guys! What're doing?"

Jaundice quirks his mouth and follows Fenter. "Who is he?" He blinks, startled by the thump.

Fenter JUMPS! "AHH! Muggers!" He quickly sticks his hands up in the air.

Envoy blinks at Fenter's reaction. "Is Fenter trying to catch something, Pe'er?" she asks the coyote.

Envoy takes the opportunity to examine Fenter's seldom-seen forearms.

Jaundice, having never experienced this before, looks at Fenter, just about to ask the same … question?! He whirls, coming face to face with… "You!"

Envoy says, "Why do you have a playing card tied to your wrist, Fenter?"

Jaundice trips backwards, and falls on his posterior. "Uff!"

Envoy smiles to Jaundice, "Yes, me."

Fenter peers over his shoulder as he hears a familiar voice. "Oh! It's you!" He exaggerates the gesture a bit so that he looks to be stretching.

Fenter glances at his wrist and quickly covers it back up with his sleeve. "The card?… oh… it's… er… so I don't lose it!"

Envoy offers her hand to help Jaundice back up, "You shouldn't spin around like that, you'll lose your balance."

Jaundice freezes briefly, then stands, brushing himself off little by little. "Um… right. Envoy. We were… " He glances at Fenter, as if looking for the words. Any words.

"We were just on our way to visit a comrade of mine, my lady." the raccoon says. "Care to join us?"

Envoy smiles and bounces on her heels, "Sure!"

The Hekoye's face falls again as Fenter makes the invitation. He shrugs, and submits once again. . o O { Just so we get that squeep. }

Fenter offers his arm to Envoy. "Then by all means. My friend will probably love making your acquaintance."

Envoy takes Fenter's arm. "I like meeting people. I'm sure you and Pe'er have lots of friends."

Jaundice crosses his arms, and follows behind, not accepting any offers to take hands. He stares forward and plods ahead, wondering if he can set some distance between himself and the other two without losing them…

Fenter pats Envoy's hand. "Pe'er and I are on a VERY important assignment… we're off to find the elusive left handed Squeep. (very dangerous creatures they are) My friend should be able to offer us a bit of advice on where to begin our quest."

Envoy talks over her shoulder to Jaundice. "How long have you lived in Rephidim, Pe'er? What do you do with a left-handed squeep? How many hands to they have?"

Fenter glances overhead, mindful of any low flying Creens.

Jaundice just lets Fenter talk, scanning the city here and there, answering Envoy half-heartedly, without bringing up eye contact again. "A year, at the campus. I don't know what you do with one, I just need one."

Envoy says, "A whole year? I'm about a year old now."

The path takes them away from the college, down several twisty streets, through alleyways strewn with garbage (and sometimes unconscious people), and finally towards a rather old looking brick building.

Envoy keeps up a steady stream of questions about the scenery, especially any interesting bits of garbage.

Jaundice looks as though nothing could surprise him further. "Really." No passion, no drama, just an acknowledgment of the statement. These sorts of replies recur throughout the trek.

Fenter's grip on Envoy's arm loosens bit by bit as be starts to question her sanity. He never quite lets go, and never drops his schmoozy dialogue… he *DID* get a free meal from this one, afterall.

---

GMed by Lynx & Zoltan

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