Unlike the offices of her fellow instructors, either cluttered with books and papers and stuffed with sorcerous mementos and knicknacks, 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.
Envoy guides Chiaroscuro through the labyrinth of halls to the door of Haskalah's office. "This is it."
Haskalah sips tea contentedly. "Do come in, dearies," she calls to the visitors that she hears through the slightly ajar door.
Envoy holds the door open for Chia and smiles to Haskalah.
Chiaroscuro nods to Envoy. "Thanks for helping me find it again, Lady Envoy." He slowly enters the room with a medium-sized, flat item, apparently wrapped in a cloak for safe carrying.
"Ah! Chiaroscuro, wasn't it?" Haskalah looks up from her tea. "Do come in and have some tea. I hope catterbite isn't anything you're allergic to."
"And you as well, Envoy," the Khatta adds with a pleasant smile.
Chiaroscuro smiles at Haskalah. "Why thank you, Lady Haskalah." He sets down the package… somewhere… and sits on the nearest free space of floor to the tea table.
The tortoise-shell Khatta pours cups of tea for Chiaroscuro and Envoy.
Envoy sits down on one of the scattered pillows.
Chiaroscuro gently reaches for the cup, and sips carefully, tasting.
Envoy downs her tea in one gulp.
Envoy says, "Thank you."
Haskalah looks back down to the paper that she's grading. "Mm. No, no. An improbability is an impossibility." She marks off something with a red stylus, then sets the paper down with the stylus over the point she left off.
She looks surprised that Envoy has finished her tea already. "All done already? Well, would you like some more?"
Chiaroscuro sips a little more of the tea, then sets the cup down on the table. "I've managed to find one thing I consider an oddity, Lady Haskalah, as you have asked."
Haskalah pours another cup of tea for Envoy, then beams to Chiaroscuro. "Indeed? And what is it?"
Chiaroscuro smiles. "Well, It may take a bit of explanation as to why I find this odd… " He reaches down to the wrapped package, unfolding a cloak from around it, and placing it on the table.
It's a K'Trinzhai board, of fairly good craftsmanship. The triangles are apparently made of polished chitin, bonded over wood, with a dark wood frame. A small pouch, probably containing the game pieces, is there as well.
Envoy holds her cup out for a refill.
Haskalah raises an eyebrow. "You find this game odd?" She takes a moment to pour tea for Envoy, instructing the Aeolun to savor it slowly this time, it's not just water after all, then takes the board and runs her fingertips over the smooth board.
Envoy takes tiny sips.
Chiaroscuro nods. "And interesting. I believe those were the two requirements you set forth." He takes another sip of tea before continuing, smiling. "I imagine you'd like to hear why."
Haskalah nods, setting the board down and undoing the bag. She pours forth the pieces, then begins to set them in place.
Envoy watches closely. She likes games.
Chiaroscuro nods. "Well, as I have told you… despite my appearance, I am not a Kavi. I am an Exile from another world, sent here through an accident of magic." He finishes off his cup of tea before continuing. "The board itself I find interesting. This substance it is made of… ", he emphasizes with the *click* of a claw on the chitin surface, "… I have not known before this world. If this game had been made in my homeland, it would have been wholly of wood, or of stone."
Chiaroscuro says, "And these pieces… of the same material. But that is of mild oddity to me."
"Chitin you find interesting then," Haskalah comments. She nods cheerfully. Pieces go *tak* on the surface of the board, a small bit of felt on the bottom of each absorbing the impact.
Chiaroscuro nods. "Rather so. Also… this board, made of triangles. Now… I have played many games of the board in my homeworld. Run Through The Garden. All The Walls. Shat'ranj, Reverse Shat'ranj, Random Shat'ranj… even ones as simple as Heads and Tails. On all of them… you advance on a path, or have hexagons or squares. This is the first time I have seen triangles to compose a board… and that I find very intriguing indeed."
Envoy thinks of the biological predilections for shape recognition in different species, and wonders which one came up with the game.
"Indeed? What does that suggest to you?" Haskalah inquires.
Haskalah looks Chiaroscuro over curiously as she drops the last pieces into place, wondering what kind of games he speaks of for that matter. The names don't sound conflictive, and that suggests interesting things.
Chiaroscuro mmms. "Mostly… that this game is not a simple one of logic and simple competition between two, but one of attitude and… " he struggles for a the right word.
"Politics?" Haskalah suggests.
Chiaroscuro nods… "Yes, Lady Haskalah. Among games of three players, you know not who your opponent is, and who is your friend… and they are likely to change."
Haskalah wiggles her ears. "I do not need K'trinzhai to see that politics is a familiar face at the College Esoterica and out of it, Chiaroscuro. But is it familiar to your people under other guises than games, then?"
Envoy quietly asks, "Do children play this game?"
"Among ours, yes," Haskalah says to Envoy. "If they have the patience to master it! We have several K'trinzhai teams among our students and faculty here. I play it now and then." Her ears twitch as she puts on a look of modesty.
Chiaroscuro nods… "Indeed. Though it is… looked upon poorly. Politics and tricks are not the way of one who runs in Rik'Tik'Tav's path, except against a foe for whom it is needed."
Chiaroscuro says, "But it does yet happen, especially in the courts of the king, and amongst the mages."
Haskalah tilts her head to one side. "Indeed? You must have come from a very nice society indeed, if tools of politics are so rusty there." This admission brings a knowing nod, "Ah, the whole world isn't crazy after all." She winks.
Envoy says, "Are you sure, Haskalah?"
Haskalah looks askance to Envoy. "That the whole world isn't crazy?"
Chiaroscuro smiles. "It was home. And there was more joy, more life, than I seem to see here." He chuckles at Envoy.
Envoy nods to the teacher.
Chiaroscuro picks up one of the smaller pieces idly and toys with it, before placing it back on the board.
"Ah, the sane man amongst the insane, is he sane or insane?" Haskalah asks of Envoy. She gestures to the board to Chiaroscuro. "Do you know how to play this, then?"
Chiaroscuro shakes his head. "Indeed not… and that is what I have found most curious. In the bazaar, i found the merchant selling these, and was most curious… I asked about it, and he simply said "K'trinzhai boards are forty shekels, pieces another ten." I purchased it, since it has been the first Game of the Board I have seen here… and I do enjoy games greatly. But when I asked him for the rules, he said "I just sell the game, I don't give lessons."
Chiaroscuro says, "This… stunned me. How can one be a merchant of games, and not play them? On my world… the merchant would have told me how to play, and likely played a game with me to make sure I knew how it went."
Haskalah wiggles her ears. "Business in the Bazaar is quite fast-paced, so the unwary are often sheared of shekels. Perhaps I should teach you K'trinzhai lessons, in exchange for more information about your world." Reminded of the agreed-upon exchange, she continues, "Ah, but I digress. You spoke of a problem, did you not?"
Chiaroscuro smiles. "I would be glad to tell you more of my homeworld, especially of the magic practiced there… which has given rise to my problem here." He picks up his cup… and notes it empty. "Another cup of tea, if it would not impose greatly? I tend to grow long-winded and could use liquid to keep my throat smooth."
Haskalah beams. "Ah! Appreciation for my catterbite tea." She pours more tea, and freshens Envoy's cup as well.
Envoy sips, examining the tea service.
Today's tea service (for Haskalah has several) looks to be made out of the same smooth, plastic-like material that forms the K'Trinzhai board that Chiaroscuro brought in. It is comprised of tall, fluted curves and the apparently hot liquid makes little impression on the insulative material.
Chiaroscuro takes a fresh sip, and begins. "On my world, I was a mage, studying in the field of Retcotheric magic. I would sense particles known as retcons in the aether of particles, and pull them into myself. There, I would store them until I wished to release them through a katara, a focus… in my case, simple pebbles. Being able to sense this ether required great training of the mind."
Haskalah listens curiously. Evidence that magic can be worked differently, to be sure but only on Chiaroscuro's world, or might it have application here as well?
Chiaroscuro says, "The difficulty is that on this world, the aether is thick with other particles, ones of no use… It is the difference between finding and catching a bee, and finding that bee in the midst of a swarm. And my sensing of these particles is not one I can turn off. They fill my senses to distraction, try as I may to ignore them. I cannot dream, for the distraction in my mind even as I sleep."
Haskalah nods, making encouraging 'I'm listening' noises. ;>
Chiaroscuro says, "Lady Envoy recommended I seek a chaos mage, as she thought your magic closest to mine. I am searching a way to reduce this buzzing of particles in my senses… "
Envoy says, "He can't afford a lead helmet."
Chiaroscuro lets his words drift off, and sips his tea. He appears to be finished talking for now.
"That is not surprising," Haskalah says with an ear wiggle toward Envoy. "And indeed, it is not certain that lead makes an effective deterrent to the forces of magic. Such materials as we have found influencing or shielding of occult forces are rare, found only in ruins of the First Ones… " She sips her cup, looking at Chiaroscuro thoughtfully. "Will you consent to be examined then, Chiaroscuro?"
Chiaroscuro BLINKS at Envoy, and only his mouthful of tea prevents him from blurting something out.
Chiaroscuro swallows the tea, and nods. "I certainly will, Lady Haskalah."
Haskalah nods. "Well then! Shall we repair to my workroom?" She stands and offers a hand to Chiaroscuro and to Envoy.
Chiaroscuro nods, rising to follow Haskalah. "I am afraid that I will be unable to pay you, in any manner other than that of information of the magic of my world… " he glances down. "And of course, the board."
"Does the village healer ask for gold? I knew that you were not rich when I agreed to see you," the Khatta assures Chiaroscuro with a smile. "But information is valuable in its own way."
Haskalah's workroom turns out to be only slightly less eccentric than her office… That's because there's actually a visible floor. The tortoise-shell Khatta begins setting up the workings for a ritual, placing quartz crystals in wrought metal holders (which must be quite expensive) around a circle that seems to be inlaid into the stone floor; she gestures for Chiaroscuro to stand within.
Chiaroscuro smiles at Haskalah. "That it is. I am just ensuring that any deception of mine will be on the K'trinzhai board."
Chiaroscuro steps into the circle, hands resting at his sides, and waits.
"K'trinzhai is a useful game," Haskalah agrees. "In my line of work, however, it is far better to observe from the fact than from what one imagines to be the fact." She smiles and starts chalking off auxiliary diagrams from the circle, then lays out an array of phials of finely powdered substances. "If you feel an urge to sneeze… Don't worry about it, go ahead."
Envoy pokes her nose into every nook and cranny she can…
Chiaroscuro nods to Haskalah, and simply waits.
"Envoy! Behave, if you knock that over, I'll have to clean up the mess, and considering the one already here, that could take forever," Haskalah scolds.
Envoy blinks. "I'm sorry. I was only looking."
Envoy looks at the crystals, from a distance…
Haskalah's features soften. "Well, that's all right. But please try and be careful." She turns to Chiaroscuro. "Now, I am going to try and waken several kinds of magic, to see which sort you are most responsive to. Please tel me what you feel if you can quantize it in any way, that will be most useful."
Envoy says, "Do you use polarized light to isolate specific worldlines?"
The Khatta looks at Envoy askance. "Worldlines?"
Chiaroscuro nods to Haskalah. "All right."
Envoy says, "Probabilities. Phase-space topographies?"
"Chaos and probability are my work," the Khatta replies briskly. "I don't recognize the last word you used however. It sounds like… " She waves her hand airily. "Oh, something that Professor Savida would go on and on in one of his lectures about mathemagics." She smiles innocently.
Envoy smiles and nods, not having her question answered at all.
Haskalah turns back to Chiaroscuro, then begins her ritual, chanting and scattering the collected flower pollens. They seem to drop straight down at first, forming lines upon the stone floor, then slowly drift out of alignment as a strange wind gathers. The thin line of pollen grains forms intricate patterns…
Envoy tries to see as much as she can without getting in the mage's way.
Chiaroscuro rubs his nose a bit with his paw, then lowers it back to his side, and tries to focus beyond his skullbuzz.
Envoy had felt sure that chaos magic would require drops of water. Perhaps the pollen is symbolic of casting one's future to the winds? Perhaps it's just more convenient. Perhaps Haskalah has a garden.
After four repetitions, the flower dust forms a nearly even pattern upon the floor. "Do you feel anything?" Haskalah asks, setting the phial down.
Chiaroscuro shakes his head… "No. No difference i could sense."
Chiaroscuro says, "Except the buzzing perhaps a little stronger during the spell."
Haskalah nods. "Ah, so. In that case, let's move on." She smiles and then takes a tuning fork… Also metal, this one looking to be made of pure silver. She begins chanting again, touching the fork to each of the three crystals in turn.
Chiaroscuro listens carefully to the tone…
Now Haskalah touches the vibrating fork's stem to Chiaroscuro's forehead. "Focus on the buzzing you feel," she says quietly. "Feel it… here. Do you have it?"
Envoy hmms. Vibrations at least make more sense to her for this type of work.
Chiaroscuro focuses… concentrating on seeing the swarm, not pushing it back… "Feeling it… hurts… but… "
Chiaroscuro's tail stats to shiver a bit, and he shifts his stance wider to stay upright. "Feeling dizzy, too, when I see it all." He keeps focusing on the tuning fork.
"You have to swim to catch the flitterfish," Haskalah says with a reassuring smile. "So neh? Let's see what we have." She takes the tuning fork, which has altered the pitch of its vibrations, and touches it to each of the quartz crystals again… They shift shades slightly, the first becoming a pale red, the second a sea-colored translucent green, the third a dark blue. "Ah! Interesting."
Envoy blinks at the changes. Interesting indeed!
The crystals have begun to vibrate as well, and even Envoy can feel the small hairs on her arm stirring to the sound they make. Could there still be magic at work here?
Envoy eeps, and wraps her hands around her horn to muffle the sympathetic vibrations.
Haskalah rubs her forehead. "So, the principle of similarity works. What about counterbeating… "
Chiaroscuro starts to relax again, focus shifting away from the aether… and noticing the crystals.
The tortoiseshell Khatta looks about at her tools. "If I can just find the right timing, maybe I can use two tuning forks to counter each other," she murmurs as if turning over thoughts. She sets the tuning fork down in a holder and starts rummaging around in a pile of papers and tools.
Envoy says, "I've never seen optical resonance paired with sonic resonance before."
"You've seen… magical sympathy at work before?" Haskalah asks, turning to Envoy from where she's fingering a triangle with a socket at the top.
Envoy says, "I have a crystal in my brain that operates on a principle of quantum resonance, and I've seen how gravitational resonance can be used to warp spacetime."
Envoy says, "I have never seen it done with magic before though."
Chiaroscuro looks to Envoy. "That's… just how particles are with me. I half hear them in colors, half see them in sounds. Sometimes I can taste them. It is a sense different than other senses, but alike." he starts getting lost as Envoy gets technical.
Haskalah seems somewhat confused. "You must have been trained by very different sorts of magicians than those that inhabit the College Esoterica, Envoy. But the principle I am employing here is very simple; because Chiaroscuro focused on his headache when I tapped the tuning fork to his forehead, and because the tuning fork is linked with these four crystals, the qualities of this 'magical interference' are manifested within. Now, if I am able to draw the link one way, then it may be possible to force magic the other way, cancelling out the pain… "
Haskalah wiggles her ears. "Therefore all crickhens go barefeet, and the Creens wear little red shoes," she jokes. "But so far the logic seems to hold up remarkably well."
Envoy smiles, "Wave cancellation! I see." She swishes her tail.
"Now if I could just find my other tuning fork, I'd be in business," Haskalah says. "I need to… As you say, smooth the wave so that the sound that his pain makes is no longer so urgent."
Envoy says, "Does it need to be a magical tuning fork?"
Chiaroscuro hmms at Haskalah… "Interesting. So you're going to try to create a buffer, somehow, between my sensing and the incoming particles?"
The Khatta looks up to Envoy curiously. "By no means, it's the crystals that now resonate with the sound, and those we must silence. But I need two tuning forks to capture the sound and invert it… " She nods to Chiaroscuro. "Your pain seemed to increase when I began my spell, did it not? Then it might be related to how much magic is present where you are."
Envoy says, "I think she's going to inundate you with more particles instead, Chipper. But these will resonate destructively with the normal ones and cancel out. Is that correct, Haskalah?"
Haskalah raises an eyebrow at the nickname 'Chipper', but nods. "I think… That is one way of putting it. Our choice of words do seem to vary." She flicks her tail good-naturedly.
Chiaroscuro nods. "It has related to magic levels, apparently… much less strength in Rephidim."
"Ah! Good, that is a stroke of luck then. Magic is much weaker in Rephidim; that is why we like to bring students up here, because their mistakes in spell-casting will simply mean their spells won't work, rather than causing, oh… All sorts of accidents! Especially where students of chaos magic are concerned." Haskalah grins.
Envoy says, "Do you only need the crystals stilled, Haskalah, or do you need to know the proper pitch to do so?"
Chiaroscuro grins, being not that far from studenthood himself. "I know about accidents, indeed. As do many scorched trees in the Rivertown forest." He blushes a bit sheepishly.
"I need to charge a tuning fork with the proper sound," Haskalah says. "Once that's done, I can magically apply it… And we can see if my theory can carry water." She looks over at the tuning fork in its holder, which has stilled itself.
Envoy looks at the fork as well. "What sound do you need?"
Haskalah grins at Chiaroscuro wickedly. "There aren't enough trees in Rephidim proper for us to go wasting them on apprentices."
The Khatta looks over at the crystals. "I need it exactly opposite to the sound that these are now making."
"Have you an idea of some kind?" Haskalah looks at Envoy curiously, as if now expecting her to produce a tuning fork or similar thing.
Envoy turns off her hearing, so she can 'listen' to the vibration with her horn. Although the mechanisms for interpreting sonar images no longer exist in her, the level is low enough for her to figure out. She just keeps humming through her frequency range until her horn stops vibrating.
Envoy says, "Try touching the fork to my horn now. I think I have the proper counterfrequency."
Haskalah listens to Envoy curiously. She gives Chiaroscuro a sideways look, "So how long have you known your enigmatic friend here, the half-Aeonian?"
The Khatta cheerfully picks up her tuning fork. "Now, I am not proposing marriage by some odd cultural custom of yours, am I?" she teases Envoy as she holds the tines of the fork to her horn.
Chiaroscuro says, "About… a month and a half or so, now. And she's not Aeonian. She simply is that which she is."
Envoy smiles, "I have no culture or customs."
"None at all?" Haskalah looks startled.
Envoy says, "None that would apply to this sort of existence, no."
The fork begins to vibrate. It sounds much like the sound coming from the crystals… Except that oddly, the sounds in the room begin to alter as if they were changing volume with the moving of the fork, counteracted in some places, strengthened in others. "Ah!" Haskalah says, pleasedly. "Yes, this is very good. And I am beginning to think, Chiaroscuro, that you could have simply brought Envoy in as your oddity." She wiggles her ears.
Chiaroscuro grins. "The thought crossed my mind, but it would have been harder for you too keep her."
Envoy stops her own humming, so as not to add more variables to the resonance.
"True," Haskalah agrees. "I think that the Council would object to raising my budget for another mouth to feed. Well, now to put this to the test… " She begins chanting again, moving around the circle in careful steps, gesturing with the fork and with her off-hand.
Chiaroscuro raises a paw to his forehead… "Rik's Teeth, the noise… "
After lengthy chanting, apparently even longer than the last time, Haskalah touches the fork to the crystals one at a time… And they change in color to a pale smoky gray, ringing with the same noise that Envoy made, a high E. Once… Twice… Thrice and the workshop is again filled with a pure note.
Chiaroscuro blinks… "It's softer… the buzz is softer… "
"Is it?" Haskalah looks pleased. "But not gone. That must be the optical resonance that you spoke of," she says to Envoy, her eyes flicking to the colorless crystals.
"So neh, that is the good news. But the bad news is that this effect will not last," the Khatta says to Chiaroscuro. "Only as long as the quartz crystals stay linked and hold their note, and that won't be more than a few hours. Still, it could be worse; it might have made it worse." Her ears wiggle.
Chiaroscuro nods to Haskalah… "I see. So we will either have to find a way to extend the life of the crystal's sound, or… find another way."
Haskalah taps her chin, then nods. "Here, hold onto this. Listen to it carefully," she says, handing the tuning fork to him. "Maybe if you remember that tone, you will be able to bring it to mind again, and then the pain will be less. It is not much to go on, but it is something very like some of the exercises we practice, when we want to bring our mind to order so that we can work magic." She gives Chiaroscuro a 'Why not?' look.
Chiaroscuro nods, grasping the tuning fork, ears straining to lock the tone into his mind.
Envoy almost offers to hum into Chia's ears… but she couldn't do that forever.
Chiaroscuro hands the tuning fork back to Haskalah…
The Khatta continues, "Now, you don't tell the Council and I don't, or they will want a tithe or worse, student tuition, which I don't think you have to give… " She grins. "We'll talk about where you came from, bring your friend, I bet she has a lot of stories to tell, neh, Envoy? And we can look at your problem and see what helps make it go away. Gehnoh?"
Chiaroscuro nods to Haskalah. "Gehnoh, indeed." He smiles warmly.
Haskalah leans over and licks Chiaroscuro's cheek. "There! That's how we seal an agreement between friends, we Khattas." She turns her cheek for a reciprocal.
Chiaroscuro gives Haskalah a lick in return. "A nice custom. My people generally shake paws, or tap our tails together."
Haskalah beams and then looks over to Envoy. "And thank you for your help as well, Envoy! I hope you'll be back as well."
Envoy says, "I would like to find out where you got all of the toys in your office sometime."
"Oh, well, an oddity here, an oddity there, sooner or later you have a museum!" Haskalah leads the mongoose and the Aeolun to the door. "So, you're not half-Aeonian then, as Chiaroscuro says?… "
Envoy says, "No, I am an Exile."
Chiaroscuro grins, heading out towards the door.
"Another Exile! And in a time when we've gone centuries without seeing a new one. I've heard that there have been quite a few seen at the Temple lately." Haskalah chats curiously with Envoy, until the door pops open with a disheveled raccoon behind it.
Fenter says, "Um… um… mistress? You remember that chemistry experiment you assigned me to do… it's um… er… "
"Ah! Fenter," Haskalah says cheerfully. "What's on fire now?"
Chiaroscuro blinks, looking at the raccoon.
The Khatta's ears perk up. "Your experiment is?"
Fenter says, "Nonono… not on fire… just… er… it just ate my second favorite hat."
Envoy says, "Hello Fenter."
Fenter jumps at Envoy's voice! "Oh… hello missus Envoy. Mind you avoid the east hall for a bit, unless you have a hat to offer… well… whatever climbed out of my test tube.
"Indeed?" Haskalah raises her eyebrows, then turns to Envoy and Chiaroscuro. "I'll see you next week then? I'm certain you two don't wish to be de-hatted." ;>
Fenter fidgets nervously, "Is it… supposed to do that? I mean… I've never in my life heard a liquid growl at me before.
Chiaroscuro nods, bowing to Haskalah. "Until next week, Lady Haskalah. Same time of day, same day of the week?"
Envoy says, "I left my hat at the Bard's Guild."
"Ordinarily, no," Haskalah says cheerfully. "In your case however, it evidently decided to make an exception. This should be most unique indeed. Why else do you think I keep you around?" She winks at her Rath'ani assistant.
Fenter mumbles sidelong to Envoy, "It might mistake that little pokey thing on your head for a hat. I hear liquids aren't very bright."
Fenter tries to smile at Haskalah… although it's more of an optimistic grimace.
Haskalah nods. "Just so. Or a reasonable approximation thereof. Leave a note with the secretary if you need to see me at another time."
Envoy nods to Fenter, "I defer to your superior experience with strange liquids."
Haskalah takes Fenter's hand and nods farewell to the others. "Fair weather!" Then begins chatting in a low tone with Fenter about the need to avoid showing open fear before a chemistry experiment when one is working with magical volatile substances.