by Nutsy

October 1, 1995

Lan stared at the unblinking figures on his data pad. He knew was doing something wrong, and the pad had confirmed it with an unpleasant buzz. Still, the young Velan couldn't see anything wrong with his figures no matter how many times he reviewed them. When he realized that his agitation wasn't getting him anywhere, he set the pad down on the grass and closed his eyes.

"Relax," Lan thought to himself. "Concentrate. I can do this. How can I hope to be a Mage if I can't even conquer long division?"

The little fox morph smiled to himself as he sat in the grass in the shade of a big tree. "I bet Da could figure this out in a snap." Unfortunately, Lythandi and his mother had trapped his father and taken him into town for another of their shopping sprees. Lan had managed to use his homework as a pretense to escape.

He sighed. Long division wasn't fun, but it usually didn't give him this much trouble.

Smaug chirped at him from his perch on a branch overhead. Since Naldantis was making a house call to one of their neighbors, his Da had left the faithful little dragon to watch over his son. If anything happened, the ArchMage would know instantly. Now, however, the dragon seemed to be scolding him to get back to work.

"Pfsa! All right, all right. I'm getting back to work," the three foot Velan called up at his taskmaster. Allowing his dreams of Magehood to lend him determination, he rolled onto his stomach on the grass and stared at the figures on the pad again.

|       113
|     -----
|   34)3614
|      34||
|      --v|
|       21|
|       34|
|       --v
|       134
|       124
|       ---
|        10

He had followed all the steps, brought everything down properly and in the right columns. Still, none of the other problem in this set had had remainders, so he was pretty sure this one shouldn't either. The program in the pad had confirmed that at least something was wrong, but what?

Lan closed his eyes and sighed again.

"I think I see your problem," came a squeaky voice from beside his elbow.

The young Velan's eyes flew open and he turned with a start, ready to bolt. The peculiar little creature resting only inches from his elbow didn't move though. Lan watched it carefully. Whatever it was, it didn't appear threatening. Still, Lan Louis was wary. He'd never heard of a creature that looked like this one, and just because it was small didn't mean it wasn't dangerous.

Lan continued to study the creature carefully. It was truly peculiar. It had the general shape of a Velan, with fur, four limbs, and a tail. From there the features diverged. It was only about a foot long, maybe less. Its fur was shorter than a Velan's, and was a reddish brown. It didn't have a large fluffy tail like Lan's either. The creature's tail was flat, which made it appear rather sparse, and it never seemed to hold still for very long. The animal's muzzle was much more rounded than a Velan's and its ears weren't as pointed. The strangest thing about the creature was that it looked as if its skin was about three sizes too big. It was all bunched up in folds at the creature's sides.

The creature was sitting up on its hind legs and examining Lan's figures glowing on the data pad with interest. After a moment, it raised a paw and pointed. "Yup! That's definitely it," the creature chittered.

Lan blinked in surprise. It had spoken! His ears hadn't been mistaken. He knew that some wild animals had a low level telepathic ability; Smaug was a prime example. Yet, he had never heard of any that could talk!

Lan's natural curiosity was taking over, and he had a difficult time turning back to the pad so he could see what the creature was trying to show him.

"You can't subtract three four from two one. It's a bigger number, see?" the creature chittered excitedly.

Lan looked at the numbers. Of course! He had accidentally reversed them in his head to perform the subtraction that otherwise wasn't possible. A silly mistake -- Lan knew exactly what to do. With a toothy grin, he erased the erroneous numbers with the flick of a claw and redid the problem. The numbers fell into place like magic!

|       105
|     -----
|   34)3614
|      34||
|      --vv
|       214
|       214
|       ---
|         0

Satisfied, he tapped the `finished' button.

|  Correct.
|     Problem set complete.

Laying the pad down in the grass, Lan Louis rolled over onto his side. He leaned on one elbow and confronted the strange creature. "Thanks," he said simply. "I don't know why I didn't see that."

The creature turned to Lan and bowed. "It was my pleasure!" it chirped in its high tenor voice. "I was glad to be able to help. I just love lending a helping paw to a fellow furry." It smiled happily.

Lan's curiosity finally got the better of him, and he finally asked the question that had been in his mind from the start. "What type of creature are you?"

It laughed. "Hee hee! Why, I'm a flying squirrel of course!"

"What's a `squirrel'?" asked Lan as he carefully pronounced the strange word.

The creature pondered this for a moment, and then its visage brightened again. "Why, it's what I am!" it replied happily, as if that explained everything. The creature bowed again. "Nutsy the flying squirrel, at your service!"

"I've never seen a creature like you before," commented Lan Louis.

"Hmm. Well, its true I'm not from around here," said the squirrel. "But the question becomes, what manner of creature are you?"

Lan grinned, and mimicking his new acquaintance replied, "Why, I'm a Velan of course!"

All the laughter coming from below attracted Smaug's attention. Studying his charge carefully, he decided nothing was amiss. Then the dragon's sharp eyes spotted the small furry body beside Lan. His eyes glittered as he licked his beak. Screeching his war cry, he dove for the tender morsel below.

Both Lan and the squirrel looked up, one in surprise and the other in terror. The squirrel dove under the Velan's arm and sprinted for his life towards a nearby bush. Smaug collided with a startled Lan Louis as he tried to snatch the squirrel. The Velan batted the hungry dragon away from his face as the dragon tried to follow the squirrel's path under Lan's arm. Extricating himself, Smaug winged his way into the air again and began to dive into the bush where the squirrel was ostensibly hiding. Not wishing to snag his wings, the dragon was not able to penetrate the bush far enough to reach the frightened squirrel. After a few passes, Smaug gave up and settled back down on his branch, trying to appear nonchalant about the loss of his snack.

The whole escapade was over in moments. Lan rushed over and poked his head under the bush, trying to see if the `squirrel' or whatever it had called itself was all right. Yet, no matter how hard he looked, the young Velan couldn't find any sign of it. The squirrel was gone just as mysteriously as it had appeared.