by Charles Matthias

"So I want to get the solids into the pockets, and then the eight-ball before you get the stripes in, is that correct?" Oren asked as he overlooked the pool table.

"That's the idea," Copernicus replied as he rolled the pole cue back and forth in one claw.

"It doesn't look too difficult," the otter mused, idly scratching his furry chin with one paw.

"Don't be too confidant," Habakkuk called out from his usual table. "Cope hasn't lost yet."

"Charles almost won," Nahum reminded him.

"Yeah, almost."

Oren chittered softly under his breath as he surveyed the scene before him. The trio of Zhypar, Nahum, and Tallis watched them from the nearby table while Copernicus stood with his arms crossed over his scaly chest. Leaning across the wooded embrassure, the otter struck the white cue, and scattered the remaining balls. One of the solids even went down the corner pocket.

"Ah good, that means you get to go again," Cope grinned toothily.

"Tut tut!" Oren agreed. Yet his next shot missed by a wide margin.

"Now you get to see why he's unbeaten," Tallis remarked after taking a sip from his hearty mazer.

"Go easy on him, Cope!" the kangaroo advised, chortling slightly. Oren remained nonplussed though, he was just enjoying himself in his newfound home with his newfound friends. Of course, he was a bit surprised when the huge lizard managed to miss his first shot.

"I get to go again?" He asked enthusiastically.

Cope nodded. "Go for it."

Oren walked around to the other side of the large table. Then, giving himself some room, he took aim at the seven which was barely hanging on the edge of the middle pocket. With a resounding crack, it fell pleasantly into the hole.

"Feeling a little rusty there, lizard lips?" The fox belched out. Cope gently whacked Nahum on the head with his pole, and then took a bite of his fish as he watched the otter in action.

Slipping into his next position, Oren considered the layout. No matter which way he looked at it, nothing was open. So, he just hit the cue, and watched it knock into a small cluster of balls. Nothing came of the shot.

"All right, no more nice lizard," Copernicus chuckled, as he very calmly sent the eleven down the gullet of the far corner pocket. Oren watched in amazement as Cope did his magic, cleaning off the table with the practiced skill and grace of a master pool player. Before the otter had another chance to play, all of the striped balls had been sunk.

"Wow! You are good."

"That's what they tell me."

"He is just lucky if you ask me," added the voice of a familiar rat. Oren turned about and saw Charles standing there, with Gornul gazing up from behind the rat. "I thought I might find you all here. Your dragon friend was getting worried about you."

"Oh, Gornul!" Oren chirped in merriment at seeing his companion. "If you are going to fall asleep at Writer's Guild meetings, let me know in advance okay?" The dragon seemed to grin.

Charles then came over to the table, and gazed at the kangaroo. "Zhypar, do you mind if we talk privately for a moment?"

Zhypar shook his head, his floppy ears bouncing back and forth. "Of course not." The two then retired to a quiet corner of the Inn.

"What's that all about?" Nahum muttered as his vulpine snout traced their movements.

"I have no idea," Tallis stuck his nose back in his mazer, and took a big drink. The scent of alcohol in the building was almost too much for the otter, but he still had his wits about him.

"Well," Copernicus shrugged, "it is still your turn, Oren." Oren patted Gornul on the head, and showed his friend what he was doing. The small dragon seemed thoroughly entranced by the motions of the spheres, and the otter kept getting images of something large and blurry pushing stones around him. He did not inquire as to its meaning.

However, even with the extra turn, Oren was only able to sink one more solid. Copernicus quite effortlessly knocked the eight ball down a corner pocket, and the game was his. Oren sat back down in his chair, Gornul sitting next to him. "Well, you beat me."

Copernicus took his chair, his large tail slipping neatly through the back, in what must also have been a well-practiced move. "Well, it was only your first game. You did pretty well. Most can't even get one ball down, let alone three."

"Thanks," Oren grinned as he scanned the Deaf Mule. Along each wall were brightly burning lamps; the pleasant odor of the wax mixing with that of the ale and the various foodstuffs being served. A more pungeunt scent came from the various patrons of the bar itself. By that alone the otter could tell not only who had been working this day, but also what they were doing. The sheer variety in this place would never cease to amaze him.

"So, what have you all been up to lately?" Cope asked as he brought his fish to his teeth.

"Pretty much what we are always up to this time of year. Trying to get our stories finished, and preparing for next month's festival," Nahum replied as he scratched at a flea behind his ear.

"I'd heard the festival wasn't until the Solstice," Oren pointed out.

"Well, once you get use to the rhythm of the Keep, you will realize that a writer is always preparing for the next event."

"I haven't noticed much of that."

"Well, I think that has to do with the fact that Charles and Phil are so far behind on their work," Nahum glumly gazed over at the rat and roo.

"Do they usually get behind like that? They seem like industrious fellows to me."

Tallis shook his head, wiping a bit of foam from his whiskers with one paw. "No. April was just hectic, both of them were indisposed for weeks at a time."

Images flashed in the otter's head of a sick rabbit, and a rat at sea. He'd heard the stories himself already, but was glad to have a friend like Gornul there to remind him. "Ah yes, that's right. Do they do that often?"

"Well, Phil was feral for over a year, but Charles hadn't left the Keep since he arrived," Copernicus explained as he pulled a small bone from between his teeth. "Of course, around this place, the unusual is the usual."

"No question!" Nahum agreed. "Although, I am a bit surprised to see Charles here now. Yesterday, I asked him if he was going to take his ladyfriend to see the blossoms and he just gave me a very nasty look. I think he's being overworked right now."

"You try leaving for a month and see what happens!" Tallis countered. "He's doing his best."

Oren shuffled his webbed feet a bit, his whiskers wigglign in agitation. "Tut tut! Why not ask him if we could take some of the burden from his shoulders. Suerly between us we could help."

"Charles hates delegating anything. I bet if the Duke hadn't insisted, he never would have asked Channing and Phil to help him run the Writer's Guild," Nahum remarked caustically.

"He's not that bad," Copernicus interjected. "He's hard headed, but I think he'd be delighted if you all asked to help."

"I would like to know what they are talking about over there though." Nahum tyurned his ears to the rat and kangaroo's conversation, but of course could hear nothing.

However, Oren began to get strange images in his head. A bright blue glyph flared momentarily and was gone, followed by a brief image of a rat in a black robe with a strange heraldic marking. And then, almost imperceptibly, twin thrones with animals standing before them. The stunned otter just looked at the small blue dragon whose hearing was phenomenal, and then at the others.

"What is it?" Tallis asked, seeing the odd expression on the mustelid's muzzle.

"Chp! I'm not entirely tut tut sure." Even now, the images were already fading into the ethereal murk.

"Well, it looks like they are finished anyway," Copernicus pointed out, his scaly claw pointing at the two writers who were heading back towards the table.

Habakkuk and Charles took seats with the group, and each cast whimsical glances at the others. "Were you plotting against us again?" Zhypar remarked as he took a refreshingly long draught from his mazer.

"Actually, we wanted to ask you something, Charles," Tallis replied.

"What is it?"

"Well, you and Phil and Channing are awfully busy trying to catch up on all of your work. We were hoping that you would be willing to let us help you get caught up."

Charles looked across the faces of his fellow writers, and then shook his head, a grin spreading across the rodentil features. With his whiskers striaght and alert, he brought his chew stick to his teeth and nibbled a moment before answering. "I've been hoping somebody might ask me that! Of course I'd love to have your help! But you might regret it after you see what I'm going to have you do."

Copernicus grinned. "Well, I guess I won't be seeing any of you all for a week or so."

The fox wagged a paw at the lizard. "Just because you aren't in the guild doesn't mean you get to gloat."

Oren chirped mirthfully. It was surely nice to be among his newfound friends.