by Hallan Mirayas

Drift stalked the hallways of Metamor as the voice taunted and laughed at him. "Stupid boy," it said. "You'll never catch me." Then came the sword through the chest, and he snapped awake.

Confusion reigned for a moment, and then the librarian tweaked his fur with her beak again. "Wake up, Mr. Snow," she said, fixing him with an appropriately owlish stare while he sorted nightmare from reality. Seeing he was awake now, she said, "The library is closing for the evening." After a moment's pause, she asked a little more kindly, "Are you all right? You looked like you were having a nasty dream." Once he assured her that he was okay, she nodded, turned, and winged soundlessly away.

Books on engineering and siege mechanics lay spread out on the table before him, and a slate and chalk with half-finished notes lay smudged under his right arm. He swore and reached for the chalk, hoping to salvage four hours of frustrating work. Instead, his reaching fingers managed to bump the chalk off the edge of the table, and he ducked under the table to search for it. To his complete non-surprise, it had rolled under the edge of a bookshelf, against the back of which the table rested.

Wolfram found him there a minute later, just starting to back out after successfully retrieving the chalk. The ram, never one to pass up an opportunity, picked up the largest book Drift had been working with, closed it, and dropped it on the table directly above the canine Keeper's head. The thwack of skull hitting table followed closely on the heels of the thud of the book, and a long string of curses followed immediately after.

"Dammit, Wolfram!" Drift yelled, rolling over so he could see his tormentor, who promptly held a finger to his playfully smirking lips in a 'shh!' gesture. The samoyed replied with a single-finger gesture of his own and a kick that Wolfram deftly sidestepped. "Damn it, Wolfram!" Drift repeated more quietly, holding one hand to the back of his head. He shuffled out from under the table and got to his feet. "That hurt!"

Wolfram smiled wider, moving one measured pace back to stand just out of range of Drift's strong right arm. "Your fault for doing so much heavy reading," he replied sweetly. Reaching out to flip through another book almost as thick as the one he'd dropped, he asked, "What in the world are you working on, anyway?"

Drift yelped as if Wolfram had cut him and lunged for the book as the pages turned. "Don't lose my place!" Elbowing Wolfram aside, he flipped back to the proper page and tucked in a ribbon for a bookmark. "The librarian won't let me take these books home, so knowing where I left off is critical. Just… sit down for a minute and wait, would you? I need to try and finish this before she kicks me out." Without waiting for a reply, he started looking between the books and his smudged slate, rubbing out the smudges with the side of his right thumb. Tracing his way through a paragraph of text and its accompanying illustration with his left forefinger and reading it aloud under his breath, he rewrote his notations on the slate. When Wolfram asked him what he was doing, Drift silenced him with an impatient wave of his hand while he checked what he had written for accuracy. Finally, he replied, without looking up, "I'm trying to teach myself engineering. Some of the things I'm working on right now would be a lot easier if I knew this stuff. Right now, I'm usually stuck with trial and error when I'm working on an idea, and that could get a lot more painful than I feel like enduring."

The chalk clicked on the slate as Drift tried to solve the problem he'd written, and the samoyed's brow furrowed in frustration as the equation rapidly fell apart into error. "This should have worked," he grumbled under his breath as he looked back over what he'd done. His ears twitched in annoyance as he found a mistake and scrubbed it out to try again. "I just wish the math wasn't so hard," he growled, rubbing weary eyes with the back of his wrist so he wouldn't get chalk dust in them.

"You know," Wolfram said, resting his crossed arms on the table and leaning forward to look at one of the other books Drift had left open, "you could always ask Misha for help." His voice carried a hint of envy at his friend's relationship with the leader of the Long Scouts. "I heard he was a siege engineer once."

Drift shook his head sharply, just once, his focus still on the equation that was obstinately refusing to be solved. His whiskers and ears twitched back in an angry canine frown. "Misha is a busy man," he replied. "He's got more important things to do than help me figure out why two and two isn't adding up to four." The chalk screeched a protest on the slate as he tried again. "I just need to work harder. Hey!"

Wolfram finished the modified disarming move he'd just used on Drift, and tucked the samoyed's chalk into his pocket. Ignoring his friend's protests, the ram flipped closed each of Drift's books and stacked them on the far side of the table. "I know," he said as the books thumped into a tall pile, "that Alexis has been out of town these past few days. Xavier's out of town visiting family, so—" Blocking a grab, he picked up Drift's slateboard and pushed it firmly into the samoyed's hands. "Hold that. Without those two to distract you and rein you in, I guess it's up to me." Leaning forward on the stacked books, he declared, "You are done working for the day. I am imposing a sanity break."


"Now, come on. It's time for dinner. You do remember what dinner is, don't you?" He walked past Drift as he spoke, heading for the door. When Drift didn't follow, Wolfram reached back, grabbed, and pulled the samoyed along. "Come on!"

"Dinner can wait. I have too much to— Ow! Wolfram, let go of my tail! This isn't funny!"

Wolfram waved goodnight to the owl librarian, who had (in between gales of laughter) thoughtfully opened the double doors too wide for Drift to grab. Ducking a wild claw swipe from his dog-in-tow, he grinned and walked a little faster. "Yes, it is."