Lesson Three - Procurement
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"I am Cary, Chef of the Cosmos, Pursuer of Spices, Butcher of All, They/Them… Just for the few new members of the class."

Cary laughs, the classroom now completely full of students. When word got around the library that a cosmic cook was giving lessons, and handing out samples, Wanderers were hard-pressed to say no to such an experience. No admissions process, just need to get there first to find a seat. You've been there all morning- life in the library isn't exactly busy with chores, so you have time to reserve your seat. You're excited, of course. Cary is an excellent teacher, and so far your cooking has improved. You understand the mixing of elements of a meal, and the history that goes into each piece. You understand that food isn't just food- it is a religion, a connection to a realm most can never touch. Thus you are here, a dedicated fan, holding onto every word that Cary will speak and has spoken, along with two dozen other students. Your pencil sits haltingly above your writing pad, excited.

Cary walks into the classroom wearing their usual outfit- pristine white chef's jacket, houndstooth skirt, aviator shades and rubberized shoes. The shades hide the eyes, which sit on a classically handsome face, sharp chin below a pouty mouth curved in a delicate smile whenever possible, the feminine cheekbones complimented by a high forehead and sloping hairline rimmed by bright dirty blonde hair pulled into a loose bun at the top. You can't help but admire their sense of style and the ease at which they carry themselves. They turn to the class, gesturing to the butcher's table in front of them.

"Here we have the tool of any meat-obsessed chef, a butcher's table. This is a high-grade model, one of my favorites- built-in drainage holes, tubes that carry the blood to replaceable and washable jugs for ease of collection, cutting material that's resilient to most blades. Overall it's perfect for anyone looking to use every part of the buffalo, as the Native Americans said. Fun story, back when the Americas were called the Americas, on Earth, I ran into a tribe- I was in disguise- and they taught me their hunting techniques once I learned to speak their language. They were some of the most instructive moments of my long existence, and I utilize them in my hunting and butchering. Today I will be showing how to hunt a Terran species, deer- hosted on a planet I obtained the deed to many centuries ago, and slowly began terraforming into an earth-like environment. Many species run wild there. I stock an initial herd or group, test their ecological impacts and ability to adapt to the new environment, then let them run wild once I'm satisfied. Now I will show you all what hunting in the wild is like- and even take the students who pass a few basic skills tests, in one of my future outtings. I will be donning transmitters that work through Ways- I'll be speaking to the class through them. Thankfully there's a Way to my bioplanet so I won't need to reroute it myself."

Cary grins, tapping their forehead.

"Please be sure to take notes- my lesson may save you in an emergency situation."

Cary's form seems to blur. The edges become shadowy, disappearing for a second. They become a human-shaped blob of life, fading into a dark gray. You have seen this before- a kind of reality-bending magic centered around the caster or bender. You would have never guessed Cary could do this, but it seems obvious in retrospect. As the grayness fades away their form returns. They are dressed completely in camoflouge, from head to toe, splintering green and brack and yellow patterns flitting across their body in a miasma of plant-like appearances, along with a simple black cloth mask. Cary looks like an entirely different person, but as they pull a simple pose, elliciting a smattering of appreciative applause, you notice their stride is still the exact same.

A screen slowly drifts down from a panel in the ceiling, the cream-colored surface blank for a second. Cary presses a button, and the class appears on the screen. Cary grins at the surprised faces on a few of the students, their mouth curling. It disappears quickly, but you notice the action before it returns to a more kind curve. The science of smiles isn’t something you’ve studied, but it’s obvious. Cary clears their throat, waving their hand across their chest in order to show where the camera is. It’s a small, disc-shaped object, some kind of pin/disguised camera that’s too far away to read any of the smaller wording- but it looks like it reads “Gore ‘44.” You have no idea what it’s referencing.

“Please watch the screen. It’s not exactly a movie day, so I still expect all of you to pay attention. Take notes. Etcetera.”

Cary walks out. The outside hallway is bustling with people, many of which were unable to get entry to the class- it seems the disguise was meant to work twice, once in order to help Cary extricate themselves from the crowd. The variety of species outside the door is always shocking- you sometimes forget how many beings share similar tasting structures across their various parts. Cary leaves the crowd, walking through the richly decorated hallways of the Library, each wooden door with frosted glass containing a small removable name plate depending on who's holding court at the time. The hallways eventually end, a moldy section of the library that has fallen into disrepair taking its place.

You’re surprised- you thought you’d seen everything the Library has to offer, or at least a decent selection, but apparently not. Plant growth crawls along the walls, water drips from somewhere into a puddle on the floor, rotted books lie bulging from water and mycobacteria. You can almost smell the hexanal from the disintegrating lignin and cellulose. What diseases lie in wait in these decrepit halls? What cosmic beings might find something that could be their end in these falling-apart apartments? That brings you to another question you can't help but let your mind wander to: What are the books in the Library composed of? You always thought it was simply paper, and the Pages stocked the shelves with real books- but come to think of it, you never really smelled lignin in any other book you've picked up. Nor have you seen Pages replace with a fresh copy- the multiple editions of single books are simply stocked togehter. Whatever the reason, you know you'll be heading to this area in the future.

No matter. Cary moves past all of it. "Now, in order to keep my privacy, I will be turning off the footage until I arrive at the way. Please be calm- nothing here is dangerous to me."

Its a calming five minutes. You let your mind wander until the footage returns, a deep red door taking up most of the visible area of the screen. Cary slowly opens the door with the broken glass, successfully attempting not to break the glass any further. The room beyond is surprisingly clean- swept, dusted, the busted chairs and desks piled in one corner of the room. In the center, in a place of worship, above an alpaca-fur rug with geometric designs, is a Way- a portal between worlds that the Library spawns itself. Much research has been done into these mysterious and wondrous pieces of magical expansion. Most of it resulting in utter failure. The irony of the Library, a place full of knowledge, is that it refuses to cough up anything on itself.

Cary steps forward, the camera bowing down slightly. The class can’t hear, but they mumble a few words of prayer- the microphone is off.

“O Library, I beseech thee- let this vessel touch your powers. Let me enter your innards, and besiege your mind. Allow this whelp access to your great intelligence, your store of power, O Library.”

In answer, the Way shimmers, opening for Cary. They enter, the camera slowly warping, a burst of static obscuring anything that the camera may have transmitted. What is transmitted is a long and low roar, the roar of time, the roar of space, the roar of change. The Way ends, or begins, and Cary exits it gracefully. Their feet meet the ground and tap assuredly, the leather hunting boots gently brushing the ground.

“A reminder that, even though we will be hunting deer, there are other creatures without the black and white vision that deer possess. There are more than deer in these woods, many beautiful creatures besides those antlered folk. Thus, I will be going slowly and carefully- if you are not enthused about that, you may leave now."

An electric current of fear and excitement runs through the class, worried for their teacher. While hundreds of various classes are conducted within the Library, very few present any real danger to any faculty or students. Besides the combat magic classes, not much violence touches the scenic literary wonderland. On the rare occasion that conflict does occur, it is handled in house- Pages are, in fact excellent investigators. So when the potential of seeing a teacher die entered their minds, it was impossible for most of the class to disguise their mixed emotions. Of course, none of them actually leave. You sit forward in your chair, teeth grinding, a bead of sweat dripping down your forehead, fists clenched in stress. Is the danger real? Is your teacher really about to enter into a place with vicious creatures? Only watching the screen will tell.

“And yes, I am going hunting. I will be killing a creature today. Humanely, of course, I’m not a monster. I will be using this.”

They walk to a copse of bushes, deep-green beautiful leaves shimmering in a light breeze, and gently move the bushes apart, revealing a mesh bag of hunting equipment, including simple butchery gear, weapons, and ammunition. The "bullets,” as they are, are transparent needled barbs, shot out of the hi-tech air rifle sitting next to it. With a rich wooden stock composed of a beautiful grain, a barrel almost as long as Cary is tall, and a metallic trigger mechanism accented by a slight neon sheen, it’s clear Cary takes pride in all of their tools. They retrieve the gun and several darts, then shoulder the pack, sitting crisscross on a nearby stump and begin to clean and care for their weapon. Cary’s fingers expertly glide along it, slicking it apart dexterously and slipping an oil-covered rag into every nook and cranny. Above the camera, reptilian eyes glitter with joy. In the classroom, appreciative murmurs cross the room.

“Now, some of you may be asking why I, someone who you’ve most likely seen butchering an animal, would use a gun. Well, it’s quite simple- I do not trust deadly weapons to kill humanely. This is just a stunning mechanism, allowing me to get close to the animal and kill them as such, while they have no conscious thoughts at the time of death.”

They sigh heavily, loading several darts into the breech, pumping the rifle quickly, checking the safety, and leaving their well-manicured fingers, covered in dark green gloves, outside of the trigger guard.

“Quick gun safety lesson, everyone. When shooting anything, it is important to follow three rules- point it downrange at all times when firing, point it either downwards or up in the air when not firing, and have good trigger discipline. See my pointer finger? It will not go inside the trigger guard until I am certain I will be shooting. Now, a quote-unquote normal gun would of course be far more deadly. But still, don’t ever let your companions be shot. Or winged. Or hurt in general.”

Cary stands up, clothes rustling softly. Avian creatures chirp, cluck, and chitter in the under- and overbrush. Wings flap and leaves rustle, and Cary begins to walk softly through the overgrown flora. Sitting on a branch captured by the camera, a four-winged bird with black feathers squawks, beak splitting into three, lines of saw-teeth holding in a wurm-tongue, flicking back and forth. Cary waves and gives a greeting in a nearly incomprehensible language, the bird falling gently off of the branch, wings flitting out quickly and catching the air with the expertise of a beast born to do so. It flaps gently, landing on Cary’s outstretched forearm. They reach into their pocket, taking out a small pile of bird seed. The crow-thing squeals, pecking at their hand.

“Everyone, say hello to Mr. Mastodon.”

At the name, the beak clicks together, Mastodon cuddling against Cary’s hand as they pet petting the beast gently.

“Remember, it pays to have friends.”

The bird-thing squawks and flies away, its wings flapping in unison as it seeks its way through the trees. You hear a mutter from one of your fellow students, something about “tree-hugging,” which causes a slight pang of annoyance.

“Now, we will be hunting deer, and in my experience the best way to do this is to track. See here?”

They point down, to the wet mud, deep-turquoise grass waving in the light breeze, at several prints emblazoned in the mud. They squat down, letting the camera take it in. You can see the tell-tale imprints of deer hooves, fresh in the newly created mud. Dewdrops flicker on the tips of stems, and you can almost smell the grass. Cary points to the marks, pointing out the tips of the hooves, the ungulates distinctive stride leaving deep grooves in the mud.

“We’ll follow these for a while. Be sure to take notes on my technique.”

It is indeed a while. For almost forty-five minutes Cary silently moves through the brilliant plant life, tracking the trail of their quarry like a bloodhound with a scent. Not even once does their weapon raise above waist level- it is charged, kept silent, but at the ready. Eventually Cary reaches the borders of a clearing and squats down, pointing out in the middle of the shimmering, natural field. There, standing alone, a deer, an eight-point buck. He is wild, beastly, scars across his chest and shanks, the antlers showing evidence of healing and breakages.

“A majestic find, with a wonderful amount of fresh meat. Watch closely.” Cary whispers to the class.

The rifle is shouldered, aimed. All you can hear is the leaves, breathing, and wind. A slight inhalation, a focusing of the body. The pointer finger curls delicately around the trigger, low weight pull allowing for precision. Eyes open, head clear, and pull. A slight “fwap,” and without a moment in between, the buck crumples, knocked out completely. Cary approaches the fallen beast, shouldering the rifle. They scan the horizon and tree line, attempting to ensure that there is nothing else within sight. Above the camera, two more pairs of deep crimson eyes open across their face, scanning and sweeping across the verdant setting.

They approach, legs sweeping across the field, walking over the tracks the deer left.

“Now, I understand the apprehensiveness some of you may possess when thinking about hunting- that’s normal. It isn’t for everyone, but I will require something from each of you. If you plan on ever including meat in your dishes when in my presence, you must prove to me your willingness to take a life. As I said in my first lesson, every ingredient of a dish makes the meal. When using meat, vegetables, anything, it is important to understand that you are using a living creature for their sustenance. For their life essence. For their vitamins and minera-”

The monologue is cut off, the screech of some kind of ancient beast rocking through the field. The camera whips around, and for a split second, you see, captured in high-definition, a sleek black cat, its claws running up to strike at Cary. You see its fangs dripping with spittle. You see three eyes staring hatefully, piercing your soul. The camera footage clicks out.

The class waits in angst, the static lighting their faces. It’s clear the beast's swipe slammed the camera away, breaking the connection. The tension is high, everyone looking at one another dolefully. Eventually, people begin leaving, giving a prayer to whatever gods they worship. But not you. You know Cary would never leave a class untaught, leave a lesson unfinished. You sit, squeezing a pencil hard enough for cracks to slowly appear in the wood, the graphite within shattering, ensuring it will sprinkle to bits the next time you sharpen it. You hear footsteps outside.

You stand up, nervous energy propelling you to your feet, and there they are. Cary steps through the classroom door, holding two corpses. With several deep slashes through their clothing, blood spatter across their face, and the two bodies of the corpses they slew, Cary looks like a warrior of an ancient tribe. They grin sardonically, placing the bodies on the butcher table.

“Well. Seems like the menu has been expanded.”

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