There, in the heart of the city, a hospital stood. Thousands of beds, hundreds of doctors.
But one surgeon stood out among the rest of the faculty.
At just 26, he boasted a doctorate, three years of surgical experience, and dozens of published papers.
His past was shrouded in mystery. Some said he was a nature spirit who had disguised himself as a sape.
Others said he had studied under Gondwana's finest shamans and used magic to aid his surgical prowess.
Some few even said he was born and raised in the heart of a desert, and had found his way to Aden after being smuggled away.
When confronted with these rumors, he would laugh them off, and claim he had simply arrived in Aden at 18 and enrolled in school here.
To the dismay of those who prefer taller tales, his credentials back up this story.
In some ways, this was harder to believe than those who said he was a nature spirit or shaman. He was that good.

Jutse the calico and Julio the cockatiel chatting in a hospital hallway as Julio hands a hand towel to Jutse.

That went well, I'd say!
After you sign off for the treatments, I can drop this off and we can get out of here.

Julio Carmichael, RNFA, handed Dr. Aldwyn a clipboard.

But for real, inspiring work today, Doc! Thought for sure she was a goner.
Then you come in and just... Phew! How do you even come up with this stuff, man?

How could he tell you? He doesn't even know.
Ah, you see, I simply black out and allow the spirits of medicine to overtake me.
Why, if you look closely, you can even see the spirits for yourself as I work.

You're so close! You're so close to the truth! But you can't even see me! I bet you forgot about me.
In some ways, today's surgery was par for the course.
And yet, watching the Jutse Aldwyn work was never dull.
Julio relished the opportunity to watch a master work from such proximity and with such regularity.

Pfft! Your delivery is too deadpan, I swear!
If you go telling everybody that kinda story, no wonder you got all these rumors about you!

Jutse smiles.
Ah, I don't mind the rumors much, some of them are pretty creative!

Jutse and Julio had been working together for about a year.
During that time, they'd grown used to each others' sense of humor.
Despite how well Jutse felt like he'd gotten to know Julio, though, he'd never actually seen him outside of work.
Today, Jutse had decided, he would change that.
Unrelated, but are you doing anything after work? I was thinking coffee, or maybe-

Since when are you social??
Wait, you're making after-work plans, and inviting me?
Don't take this the wrong way or anything, I just... You know, I'm a little surprised!

Is that so? And... does that mean you're free?

Jutse and Julio walk down the hall, Julio's hand on Jutse's shoulder.
Julio sighed, putting a hand on Jutse's shoulder.
Today's the one day I had plans!
Plans I absolutely can't move, anyway.

... Oh.
I... Uh. Hm! Okay.


Look, I'd love to get coffee with you! I would. Just... not today, alright?
Next time for sure, though!

Jutse only barely hid his shock.
He had spent all day working up the nerve to ask. He hadn't considered Julio would say no.
There was nothing romantic about the invitation, of course.
Jutse simply has trouble reaching out to people.

Yeah... Heh. Next time, then!

Julio handed his paperwork to Bertha, the receptionist, and turned away, waving good bye to Jutse.

Jutse leans on the receptionists' counter with a sour expression as Bertha, the receptionist for internals, looks on with concern.
Jutse watched as Julio walked away, no longer bothering to hide his disappointment.
Bertha ignored the paperwork in her hand, and instead turned her attention to the disgruntled doctor before her.
Damn, you two just broke up or somethin'?

... Good afternoon to you, too, Bertha.
Why exactly does everyone assume I'm gay?

You axin' because you want the truth or you just axin' to ax?

I don't know if my pride can take whatever you're about to tell me, so let's say I was just thinking out loud.
And, no, I was never dating Julio. I just asked him to get a coffee with me after work and he had plans.
... It's truly nothing serious, I tell you.

Hah, yeah, nothin serious and you look like you was about to pounce on 'im. HAH!

What, because I'm a cat?
That's kind of racist, actually.

Oh, don't you try that on me! You know I like to tease.
It's a gorgeous day out, look at that sunshine. You been workin' too hard! Just go enjoy yourself for once.

Jutse sighed. Bertha had a point.
He really shouldn't be taking this so hard.

You're right. I'll be off, then.
Don't work too hard!

Oooh, you know you don't gotta worry about that!
Take care now, honey.

The hospital where Jutse works, viewed from far away, with Jutse standing in front of it, looking very small in front of the building.
Jutse stepped outside of the hospital and took a deep breath of the early spring air.
It was a gorgeous day. He wouldn't waste it.
Eavesdropping on people, maybe I'll even hold the door open for a cute girl or something.
I will have a fine time, on my own. Right. Doing this. Cafe, by myself.

Hey! Excuse me! I'm right here!!

Jutse's ears, visible from behind, against a blue sky.
... Again.

And so, Jutse made his way to the Cafe.
But today would turn out to be a day he would remember for the rest of his life.
As for where this tale will turn next, I believe I have held off on introducing these two for long enough.
A certain wolf and skunk with whom you may already be quite familiar, if you have already read the prologue to this tale.
That wolf, and that skunk were in fact at the very Cafe to which Jutse was now headed!