7th Ashan 717
The shout echoed along the corridors of bookshelves and out into the foyer of the University Library. Scholars paused in their research to gaze back toward the circulation desk and the offices beyond. Solemnity was rarely breached in a place as hallowed as this, stack upon stack of ancient scribbling waiting for another bright mind to draw them together. This was a place of discovery, not some open forum.
"Shit." The voice came again, quieter, almost apologetic. "Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit."
"Professor, please...we're in a library." came a softer reply. A blonde woman emerged from behind the circulation desk, hair pulled into a severe bun while her abdoman swelled almost painfully with child. Behind her, abashed, a middle-aged man with grey in his temples and copper wire glasses followed. He was a portly man, belted and swaddled with the clothes of his trade. Archeological tools hung from sown straps in his coat and festooned his belt, three long lacquered scroll cases bounced against his back. Adjusting the small frames he took the off and wiped them hastily, following the waddling woman to one of the side offices.
"Malena, you're jesting. You jest. You joke and although I've noted some improvement in your wit, this was a poor attempt indeed."
Malena leveled a long, withering look at the smaller man and sighed, closing her eyes as the ire melted away from the corners. "Thomas, I'm not joking. I'm clearly not joking. The midwife said only a matter of days now, and the rigors of your ruin hunts would be dangerous for the child." She laid her hands across the swell of her stomach protectively, but her eyes were not cruel. "Ask the board for another, surely you can get along without me."
"Without you?" Thomas reeled, as if struck, shoving the glasses against his face so hard it appeared he almost snapped the bridge, he winced "My Malena, my TA, my orderly, intuitive, perceptive Malena, my sun, my light, my-" Malena cleared her throat and Thomas scowled, "I'm lost without your organization, you know that. I simply cannot do it without you. Can't we just..." he leaned in close and mimed a knock above the swell of her abdoman, "Tell the bloke to wait several more trials? Surely nine would be plenty to conduct our research and..."
"The danger, Thomas, you forget. Besides, I can't go scaling ruins in this state," She indicated her stomach, "It's like carrying a pack from the front, but I can't simply remove it. Ask the board for another, my answer is a firm no." Thomas collapsed into one of the desk chairs, pressing his hand over his entire face and groaning into it.
"My ink will end up in my canteen again, I just know it will. Curse it all, Curse the ba-" he stopped, looking up at her sheepishly. "I didn't mean it, of course, I take it back my dear, my flower, my brilliant pupil. I'm just sunk, you know? Sunk without someone of your skill. Besides, a new student? Some stranger skulking about my research? I can't have that...you know the appetite of the academic rivals the great Cassion himself. Why, I'd wager eight of ten...no...NINE of ten discoveries in the last ten years alone were stolen from their rightful authors! Plagiary, Malena, We are besieged by cutthroat sycophants!" He thrust suddenly, out and to the side as if holding a cutlass, "Scalvoris would be proud of our high-seas banditry and, my dear, I am not cut out for daring-do of a corsair...certainly not in these unfriendly waters." Reaching up a hand she took it and ran her fingers along the back of his hand. Thomas seemed to calm and slumped, ruinous. "Malena, tell me what to do? A dig site or a classroom, give me that stage and I'll be your grand commander but in the intervening places...I won't survive."
Malena continued to rub his hand, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling. When she found no answers she closed her eyes and massaged a temple. "Thomas, a moment from your tragedy? Please? You want me to help and I'll help, but I cannot endure your melodrama today." He glanced up at her, burying a frown in an embarrassed flush. He held up his other hand and rotated his wrist, urging her to continue. She ground her teeth, only a moment, before finding her compassion. "There is a woman who works here, always punctual, exacting, organized. She's a bit of a sardonic and takes little patience with..." she searched for the word and shrugged, "Well, melodrama like this, but she'll keep your books and journals exactly as you need them. I can go and have my child in peace and you..." she dropped his hand and slapped it lightly, "Can stop this bellyaching and get back to your job. Every little setback is a cataclysm for you, isn't it Thomas?""
"I resent-" he started to reply, thought better of it and waved it off, "You're right my dear, of course. I lost my head, again. You know how I am." Her frown was not an indictment, but she nodded the smallest of forgiveness. Thomas was all smiles again, bounding to his feet so fast Malena almost stumbled backward. Quicker than a man of his girth should, Thomas caught the small of her back and guided her to balance, chuckling. "Yes, yes, well. Must be careful, yes? Must be whole and healthy to bring another scholar into our lovely world." He hopped away from her, giving Malena the time to regain her composure and waddle to the door. She leaned, slightly, pointing out at the long haired, thin woman who had taken her spot behind the desk.
"Her name is Edalene," she said, frowning, "And if you don't conduct yourself like a proper professor..." She let him fill in the threat but Thomas was already nodding.
"Of course, of course, Malena...I shall be the picture of the prim and proper university staff. See how I strut and preen, I can look the part of any headmaster, you just watch." Malena opted not to answer that, as any moderation to his usual eccentric behavior was preferable, regardless of how melodramatic he interpreted it. Thomas strutted from the room and across to the circulation desk. Other scholars watched him warily, prepared to stand and leave should the short man fly into hysterics. He did not mask his approach, heavy footfalls as he navigated around stacks of yet unsorted return books.
"Edalene, yes?" He asked, sidestepping into her periphery and affecting a short, bobbing bow, "My name is Professor Thomas Theodore Terrance, from the Archeology department." He brought both his hands together a moment and then extended one, "My assistant, Malena well, she's in a family sort of way you see and I need a scribe and aid for a short expedition-" He paused, waving his hands, "Two or three days at the most, I assure, to examine claims of some ancient ruins outside Andaris. Malena suggested I speak to you about possibly taking her place and I assure you I can speak to administration about perhaps..." he considered it, "A quarter of a credit hour for your participation?"