by Pascal Q. Porcupine

Fox was busying himself tidying up the library and sorting books when he heard someone enter, quietly closing the door. Interested, he pushed his glasses up the length of his muzzle and hopped over to his little greeting-desk at the front. He was surprised to see a vividly-colored porcupine of some sort wearing a red robe looking around nervously.

He cleared his throat. The porcupine nervously turned her head directly towards him.

"I don't believe I've seen you in here before, er..." he said, trailing off, hoping to elicit a response from the unusually-colored stranger.

"Oh, yes. Never had a need to... come in before, really..." She continued to glance around nervously.

Fox smiled, and cleared his throat. "Are you new around here?"

The porcupine placed one of her multi-colored paws on her chest. "Me? No," she replied, with a nervous chuckle. "I've been here since the start of it all..."

"I see. It's just that I've never seen you in here, or in the Mule before, er..." He trailed off, again trying to elicit a name.

"Oh, I don't go there much. Too noisy, too distracting from my experiments..." replied the rodent.

Fox cleared his throat, and smiled. "What's your name, oh prickly one?"

"Pascal," she said, "court alchemist. And you?"

"Ah. I'm Fox Cutter, court librarian. I've heard about you... Is it true that you turned that new person, Michael, into a--"

"YES, it is. Please, I'd rather not discuss that," she said, sighing.

Fox raised his eyebrows quizzically. "Well, okay... Most of us seem to think it's rather funny, though."

Pascal laughed nervously. "No, I-- I know it's not such a big deal, and it'll wear off in a few days, but..." She sighed. "Please, can I get what I came in for?"

Fox simply nodded. "What can I help you with?"

"I was wondering if you had any..." She coughed a bit, and cleared her throat. "Sheet music."

"Sheet music?"

"Yes, for the forte-piano. I fear that I've gotten rather out of practice, and--"

"Ah, a pianist, are you?"

She chuckled nervously. "Used to be. Again, haven't played in years, or so it seems when I try to play... Don't think I've even ever played with eight fingers."

Fox once again raised his eyebrow quizzically. "That long, huh?"

Pascal simply nodded.

"Well, let's see what we can find you, shall we?"

Fox started walking towards one particularly-distant section of the library. Pascal followed, in an unusual way; she would allow herself to fall behind about ten feet, and then would rush to catch up. She repeated this constantly, until Fox suddenly stopped.

"Am I going too fast for you?"

Pascal merely shrugged. Fox shrugged to himself, and started back towards the music section of the library, a bit slower this time. Pascal seemed to be able to keep up at the slower pace.

"I'm afraid we don't have much in the way of music here--" Fox started, and then realized that the odd porcupine was already rummaging through the collection, pulling out dusty books which seemed to tickle her fancy. Fox only stood back and watched, while the court alchemist proceeded to methodically pull out a dozen or so volumes of music for the forte-piano.

She then pulled the volumes close to her chest, and hugged them tight, breathing in the dust with a deep smile of contentment on her face. "Mmm... these will do very nicely. Thank you."

Fox gave a short bow. "Any time. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

She gently put the tip of her index digit claw into her mouth and contemplated for a few seconds.

"Hmm, yes. Do you have any detailed annals of the Keep?"

Fox considered her request for a few moments. "Yes, why?"

"Oh, I need to do a little... well, research, on one of the inhabitants. Are you familiar with the 'court mystic?'"

"IWP? Sure. Can't say I've talked to him much, though, and when I have it hasn't made much sense."

She nodded. "That's why he's the court mystic. Well, I've been trying to figure out why, and how, he still appears as a human."

"Perhaps he was originally a she?"

She shook her head. "No, I already considered that. I figured that he'd act a bit more, well, tame, if that were the case."

Fox sighed. "I've heard about all those 'friendly' pranks he's pulled on you. What did he do to you this time?"

"He stepped over the line this time. He somehow procured a spell or artifact of some sort which turned everything touching me -- dust, my robe, everything -- into itching powder! Not only did I have the indignity to have to run through the court naked and itchy in places I needed three mirrors to see, but I nearly lost two of my morph rings -- one of which was my personal one -- as well as many of my little trinkets and devices!" She sighed, the hint of a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

Fox sighed, and gently put his paw under Pascal's chin. "Why don't you go to King Hassan and ask that he be removed from the court?"

She sighed deeply. "That's not my nature... I'm rather non-confrontational, you see. But I refuse to get retribution, as that's not my nature either. All I can seem to do is sit back and study him..."

Fox nodded, and crouched down to the porcupine's relatively short level of four feet.

"I'm sure you'll work it out. But in the meantime... Weren't you taller when you came in?"

Pascal sniffed, smiled, chuckled. "Heh. When you were showing me to the music, I felt like a pup in a candy store, and I guess my ring here made me a bit smaller in response." She pointed to her ring, made of zebra-bands of gold and silver with a ruby stone. "Hehe... Let me take care of that..."

She took a few steps back, closed her eyes, and glowed amber. She rose up nearly to Fox's level, allowed her amber halo to die down, and opened her eyes. "Nifty things, these morph rings. But sometimes a bit of a nuisance," she said.

Fox nodded, and smiled. "So it would seem. Where did you get the knowledge to make these, if you mind my asking?"

Pascal merely shrugged. "I've always been a bit of an eccentric creator, if I don't say so myself. These ideas just... come to me." She chuckled, slipped the ring off her finger, and stashed it in the folds of her crimson robe. "I'll just put that out of my way now that I'm five foot six again," she giggled.

"It is amazing," said Fox, "that your robe changed size to fit you. How did you manage that?"

"One size fits all. Amazing concept, don't you think? It's also how it drapes over my quills so nicely. I'm an alchemist, not a seamstress, and it seems that the tailors around here don't know how to sew for quills. So I just came up with this fabric and had one of them make the robe for me..."

"I see. How interesting..."

"Not really. What's interesting is what I had to do to change my colors. But that's a story for another day."

"You mean that's not just part of your morph ring?"

She shook her head. "Nope... This is my 'natural' form now. Though you can see what I looked like before, if you like."

Fox grinned. "I think I'd like that."

Pascal nodded, and put her ring back on. She closed her eyes, glowed for a few seconds, and returned from the glowing state with mundane brown fur, mundane blonde quills, and mundane tan skin.

"Rather boring, don't you think?"

"Hm, I dunno, I rather like you as a blonde."

She giggle-cooed. "I admit, sometimes when I'm feeling ordinary I'll revert to this form, just for simplicity's sake."

Fox grinned. "So far, I hadn't even considered that you can feel ordinary."

Pascal smiled, and closed her eyes, glowed once again and returned to her now-natural "splotchypine" form.

"Ya know something?" she asked.


"I need to come here more often," she smiled.

"Yes, you do," he replied.

"And I need to take the implicit size-change feature out of this ring. It'll probably get me into trouble someday."

Fox merely smiled.

Pascal smiled in return, and picked up the sheet music. "Thank you. It was nice meeting you, Fox."

Fox nodded. "Likewise."

Pascal struggled with the volumes of music, eventually tucking them under her left arm. She stuck out her multicolored right paw, and Fox took it in his. They shook hands.

"You realize, of course," she said, "that I have no idea how to get out of here. I have an absolutely horrid sense of direction."

Fox smiled, and with a flaring turn reversed his direction and in one deft maneuver, released his right paw's grip and took Pascal's in his left. "Shall I walk you to the door, then, milady?" he asked with a flourish.

She smiled. "Certainly, milord." And together they walked towards the library exit.

Two weeks later, Fox listened as Pascal made her first major performance at the Mule.