Civil Engineering

By: David Ihnen

SERIESCivil Engineering
UNIVERSEMetamor Keep
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This story is Copyright by David Ihnen. Please do not distribute without permission.

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Sertofinus climbed the stairs to his little room. It wasn't far out of the way on his way to the supply house. He sat at his little desk and reread the message he found tucked under his door when he got home this morning. He could still smell D'art on it. He rolled out the little scroll.


To: Sertofinus, apprentice Scribe
From: The office of Thomas Hassan

Report to Sam the Builder in the Keep courtyard at sunrise tomorrow. Accompany his group and document their activities.


He rolled it back up, placing the two halves of the broken Duke's seal together. It slipped neatly into one of the cubbyholes beneath his desk surface. He sighed and looked out his little window. Most of the view was taken up by the wall of one of the towers and an outer wall, the rest showed little of the morning sky. Leaving the keep for the first time was a big event. He would have to write it in his journal so he'll never forget the adventure. He sighed once again, and looked about at his few possesions. They were neatly arranged on a small bookshelf. That dog Skylos could use some shelves. Alot of shelves, come to think. He smiled a bit, remembering the piles of stuff as he placed his leather bound journal book in his pack with the box that firmly held his inkwell, and pens. It was a gift from a good but short-lived friend. The patrols weren't always bloodless. He added a clean tunic and his warm cloak. He sat still for long moments, staring into nothing, his mouse whiskers quivering still. Suddenly, he started from his reverie.

"I've spent too long!" he muttered, hurrying out the door. He arrived at the supply house in short order. A greyhound morph was helping one of the horses of Sam's party strap on a pack harness. He looked up at the mouse as he cinched down a strap.

"Can I help ya, son?" he asked.

"I'm going with Sam," explained Sertofinus, "I need a pack."

The greyhound grinned in typical canine fashion and scratched an ear, looking Sertofinus up and down.

"Yeah, well, it looks like you already have one." he pointed out.

"huh?" startled Sertofinus. He blinked and blushed, ears pinker.

"No. No, I mean, boots. I need some boots." he looked down at his bare paws.

The supply man nodded. "We'll see if we can't find you a more spacious pack too."

The greyhound patted the equine on the rump.

"All set!" he announced, and dissappeared into the supply rooms. The horse smiled at the mouse.

"Ever left the keep before?" he asked conversationally.

Sertofinus smiled nervously and looked down. "Not like this. I went out to the altar before. Picnics. Stuff like that."

"Well kid," neighed the horse, "Its gonna be quite an adventure for you!"

The horse clopped off, the sound echoing off the stone walls of the keep. The supply master emerged carrying a medium sized pack, a pair of boots, and a basket of paper wrapped blocks. He crouched down by the mouse.

"Okay, lets see what we can do." he announced, and helped Sertofinus out of his small pack. He efficiently filled the larger one with the book, pen box, clothing, and all the paper wrapped blocks in the basket. Sertofinus was struggling with the boots.

"They're too small!" he said, "I can't get them on my feet."

The greyhound chuckled. "Naw, they're just right. There's just a trick to putting them on. You ever practice shifting just part of you? or just a little bit?"

The mouse tilted his head, whiskers quivering thoughtfully. "I should shift into them!" he exclaimed.

The supply man laughed! "Right on, mousey! Easier said than done though."

The mouse sat on a bench and concentrated for a moment. He placed his paws in the tops of the boots gently, and closed his eyes. He started shrinking rapidly, his paws sinking into the boots. He caught himself and went back to his full morphic form. He opened his eyes and grinned at the boots snug around his hind paws.

"Wow, that's great!" he grinned widely.

"You'll reconsider that at the end of the day, I bet!" chuckled the greyound. He thumped the loaded pack down next to Sertofinus. "There, nobody can say you're not carrying your share!" The mouse heaved it up and struggled to get his arms into the straps.

"Waitta sec, mouse." murmured the greyhound. He reached over and adjusted the straps. Like magic to the mouse, the pack settled comfortably on his back. He smiled at the supply manager.

"Thanks! The boots fit good too." He bounced tentatively, testing the feel of the boots and the weight on his back.

"Better hurry. All the rest of Sam's builder group have picked up their packs. Don't let'm leave withoutcha!" He patted Sertofinus on the shoulder as the mouse took off.

He shook his head as the mouse dissappeared in the crowd. "Wonder if he'll come back."

* * *

Sertofinus found the group just inside the outer gate of the keep. They were loosely lined up, Sam looking them over. He caught sight of the mouse and guestured him over.

"Okay, keepers! Now that we're ALL here, lets get a move on! No dallyin around, the faster we get there the faster we get home. Move OUT!"

Sam turned smartly and marched out the gate. The group fell into a loose line behind him. Each had their own stride, but all moved quickly. The horses walked behind Sam, their long legs keeping easy pace. The simians had more of a rolling gait. Grumpy ambled along, her black and white fur a mountain in the center of the procession. The dingos kept up a gentle trot. Skylos strode with the same long strides Sam carried. After some trial and error, Sertofinus found a gentle trot like the dingo's worked fairly well for his short legs.

The well traveled road wound down the hill and through the town. They didn't even pause, marching straight out of town and across the valley. Sam was pressing a relentless pace, calling back encouragement intermittently. When conversation denegrated to murmured complaints about Sam's speed, Skylos started a song.

"Spotted leader, name is Sam!" he barked, and about half the troops responded.

"Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!" They were slower to respond at first, but quickly realized what Skylos was doing.

"Loud he barks with each command!"

The rest came in on the answer, "Axe Saw Hammer til we're done!"

They all sang together on the chorus,

We're the builders, fast and true,
stone and wood o'er water blue,
roads we build of stone and sand,
pro-vid-ers for keepers land!

Skylos continued the song, choruses between the verses.

Dream and Louie keep the faith!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
climbing high each peg in place!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

Hoss the stallion tall and strong,
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
Likes the grass they call Shoo-song!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

Gerty mare can haul the load!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
Stan the stallion's 'fraid of toads!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

Dingos four Jert Jake Job Jed!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
Build with stones or wood instead!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

Suez cooks each meal good!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
Tired workers eat his food!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

Grumpy, mighty, strong and fast!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
Excavates, claws unsurpassed!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

Skylos sings, and plans, and builds!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!
bridges his to floods won't yield!
Axe Saw Hammer till we're done!

We're the builders, fast and true,
stone and wood o'er water blue,
roads we build of stone and sand,
pro-vid-ers for keepers land!

The group laughed and cheered as they finished the song, falling back into a more regular chat volume shortly. Skylos dropped back to walk along with Sertofinus.

"Don't worry." he said.

Sertofinus blinked, and looked up at the hound.

"About what?" he asked.

"The song. You'll be in it when we think of a good verse for you." he smiled.

Sertofinus blushed a little, ears hot.

"Uh, th-th-thanks, I think." he stuttered.

Skylos nodded. "You're welcome. Hey, you see this section ahead, where the road is smoother?"

Sertofinus looked. "Yeah. A repair or something?"

Skylos nodded again. "It was... oh two years ago now. That stream down there flooded and washed out the original road across here. We fixed it in about a week. A whole lotta stonework along that side, as you can see. It took a long time to get all the stones here. We had to haul them from the fields all around here."

Sertofinus looked about at the rolling fields. "I don't see any rocks around here." he stated.

Skylos nodded. "We cleaned them out pretty good. Just ask the farmers, though. They know where all the rocks are. They swear they actually come up out of the ground, year after year."

The mouse smiled. "Growing rocks?"

"Yeah, sounds pretty silly!" agreed Skylos, "but you don't want your plow to catch on one." Silence fell for a few beats before he carried the converstaion further. "Been out of the Keep before?"

"Not like this." answered Sertofinus, "I never spent the night outside the Keep."

Skylos nodded. "You're a scribe, huh?"

"Apprentice." he corrected, "I'm still learning."

"How old're you?" asked the hound.

"Sixteen in a couple months." said Sertofinus.

"Didn't you say you lived alone last night?" questioned Skylos.

The mouse nodded, frowning a bit. "Yeah. Ever since my parents died."

Skylos glanced over at the mouse. Sertofinus was looking at the rutted road surface dissappearing under his feet, a sad look on his muzzle.

"What happened?" he asked.

The mouse sighed. "They were both in the guard. Lutins killed them." He looked suddenly afraid. "You don't suppose there are Lutins out here!"

Skylos chuckled. "Nawww. They don't dare come around here. Besides, if they do, I've got a knife with their name on it." He pulled a rather large knife from a sheath at his belt, and showed it to his companion. Carved into the side of the blade was "Lutin". The hound laughed, resheathing the weapon.

"I just put it where it belongs, and they keep falling over dead!"

Sertofinus didn't respond. He frowned as he walked along, eyes on the ground before him.

Skylos patted him on the shoulder. "Lighten up, Serto!" he murmured, "nobody's gonna die."

The mouse shook his head, whiskers quivering violently. "I... I'm fine. Lets think about something else." He glanced up at the sun. "Its almost noon, and I'm really hungry. For instance."

They were interrupted by Sam barking from the front of the line.

"LUNCH BREAK!" he yelled. He led the party into a level area just off the road. A donkey morph merchant was enjoying a bag of grain there, leaning against the side of his cart which was conspicuously missing its steed. He waved cheerfully to the builders, the buckles on the harness around his back clanking.

"Hey, Sam and crew! Off to fix that Drake bridge, I bet!" he called.

"I think you got it, Don Keys!" responded Sam, carelessly dropping his pack and snuffling about in the cart.

"Here, have some candy!" offered the merchant, opening a sack in the back of his cart. "Fresh from the western mountains! You're lucky I got them across the river without them all melting!" He chuckled happily, portioning out handfuls to the various crew members as they shed their packs. "Good thing ole bessy here is still watertight!" He thumped the side of his cart affectionately. "But hey, nothin's too good for the Keep's builders! Thanks from me and my cart, straight to your tummies!"

The crew patted the donkey's back and ruffled his ears in a friendly way as they exchanged the latest news. The merchant soon hooked his harness back up and shifted to full donkey, pulling his loaded cart back onto the road. "I gotta get to the town by evening! Keep the faith, crew!" he hollered back, "And remember old Don Keys, willya?"

They waved to the departing merchant, spirits good from the visit and treats. Suez, the cook, handed out some paper wrapped blocks. Sertofinus followed the lead of the others and ripped it open. He tentatively nibbled on one. It was pretty good. It was crispy on the outside and a bit chewy in the middle. It was sweetened heavily with honey and seemed to have oats and nuts in it. He glanced at Skylos who was eating his, tearing chunks off with his teeth and swallowing them mostly whole. He smiled at the hound.

"Pretty good, huh?" he asked.

Skylos nodded, head bobbing vigorously. "Yah, suez makes great trail bars!"

The Dingos had left their clothes and boots in a heap by their packs. They were splashing about in a nearby stream in full animal form. Their yips and barks made a happy background noise to the luncheoning keepers. Skylos shed his pack and stretched as he finished the first trail bar, changing to his own non-morphic form as he did so.

"That water looks pretty good!" he barked roughly, trotting towards the dingos. The mouse grinned at his skinny hound tail up and wagging.

The wet canines were joined by Sam, his skinny dalmation body a stark contrast to his stocky morphic form. The canines all splashed about in the stream, growling and barkin, rolling over each other in mock fights. Suez sat cross legged on the ground and ate some stewlike substance from a wooden container. His whiskers twitched as he quietly watched the canines splash around. The equines, having shifted to morphic form, munched on piles of trail bars, reclining amongst their massive packs under a nearby tree. Dream and Louie were up in the tree. Their balance looked precarious but they seemed relaxed as on a couch in the keep. One munched on a bar held in a hind hand while he helped the other get some tangles out of her fur.

The log Sertofinus was seated on shifted as Grumpy sat down. He turned his head to see a wall of black fur. He looked up at the giant badger.

"Hi." he said softly.

Grumpy turned her head a bit and looked at him. She nodded silently, and went back to eating the last of several trail bars in a basket. She skewered the bars easily with one of her claws, placing the whole thing in her mouth. A few chews and it was gone. The mouse looked at the half a bar left in his paws. He was already feeling fairly full. He shivered. The badger could easily eat him whole in his animal form. He tried to make conversation with the giant.

"I'm Sertofinus." he offered, smiling nervously up at her.

The badger rumbled, "They call me Grumpy."

The mouse tilted his head thoughtfully, "But what do you call yourself?"

Grumpy skewered three bars on three different claws, and put them in her mouth at once. She looked at the mouse while chewing, and stood up. She walked away silently, slouching as usual. Even bent over, she was almost twice the mouse's height.

Sertofinus turned to see a damp Skylos pulling his boots back on. The mouse stretched, noticing the others getting their packs back on too. He joined them, voice raised querously.

"Skylos, what is Grumpy's real name?"

The hound shrugged, his ears flopping, "Beats me, Serto. She never told none of us."

Sam was barking at the dingos, who were still dunking each other in the stream.

"Get a move on, mutts! Get on yer packs its time to hit the road!"

By the time Skylos and Sertofinus joined the horses, the dingos were ready to go. They moved out at the same relentless pace, eating up the miles.

* * *

The small band of builders cheered in relief when Sam gave the direction to make camp. He had chosen a well-used clearing in the forest just off the road, a long days walk from Metamor Keep. Sertofinus collapsed by a tree, removing his back as they entered the clearing, watching in bewilderment as the group pitched camp. Sam stood on a stump directing them.

"Okay, you know the drill!" he barked, hands on his hips. "Hoss, Gerty, Stan, tents over there. Jed, Jake, Job, Jert! Get yer tails in gear, we need some firewood!"

The dingos dissappeared into the trees, barking to each other to cover different parts of the surrounding woods. The three horses were spreading the tents, which they had carried on their strong backs. The simians were already headed over by the tents. "Louie, Dream, good work, get those pegs in! Skylos, help them!"

The dalmation's gaze focused on the badger, who was leaning on a tree, picking her teeth with a one giant claw. He frowned.

"Hey, Grumpy! Take them claws and dig us a latrine trench! Whadaya think this is, freeloader central?" Sam glared at the Badger, who grumbled and ambled off behind a thicket, where she started digging furrows in the ground with her strong paws.

Sam took ahold of one of the tent ropes, hooking it over one of the freshly installed pegs. He nodded approvingly over the work being done. Suez the cat was unpacking a large pot and assembling various food ingredients. The leader noticed Sertofinus watching in fascination, standing by a large tree.

"Serto!" he barked.

The mouse yiped! He dodged behind a tree reflexively.

"Uh, yessir?" he almost whispered, peaking out, a blush brightening his already pink ears.

"Quit sittin on that tail and help Suez with the cookin!" He frowned and looked around into the woods. "Where're those dingos!? They better not be screwin around out there."

Sertofinus tentatively walked up to the cat.

"Hi, sir." he said softly, looking down.

Suez looked the rodent over, and handed him a bucket. "Go get some water. The stream is a bit down that way." He pointed to the north until he was sure the mouse saw, and went back to setting up the cooking tripod over the fire pit.

Sertofinus carried the clumbsy bucket down the slope. The worn trail wound its way over the thick tree roots and the gathering dusk made it difficult to see the obstructions. He soon came to a swiftly flowing stream. With a scoop the bucket was full. He frowned at the weight, but lifted it firmly and started back up the hill with determination. Nobody would say he's freeloading if he can carry the whole bucket, he thought. It was really too heavy for him. On his way up the slope, the water kept sloshing onto his legs, making him shiver with each cold wave. About halfway back to the camp, he set the bucket down amidst the roots of a tree. He leaned against the sturdy trunk, panting from the exertion. He absently gnawed chewed on a chewstick from his belt. He looked up through the dark tree branches to the brighter sky, the clouds pink from the last rays of sunset.

Suddenly, he smelt something nasty. He crouched in the roots of the tree, hackled up as he tried to make himself invisible. An ugly lutin face leered at him, mere paces away, spear raised threateningly. Sertofinus let out a terrified squeak and kicked the bucket at the lutin. The creature was drenched in an instant, the bucket knocking the spear to the side. The mouse started running back towards camp, shifting as he went. Before he'd gone two steps, already dropping to all fours, he stumbled on his loosening boots and went sprawling. The world swam around him as his inertia layed him on this back. His eyes widened at the sight of the spear pointed at him again. Suddenly, there was a sharp clang noise as a crossbow dart pierced the lutin's shoulder armor. The ugly creature yelped, turned and ran into the underbrush at a startling speed.

Skylos ran up and knelt beside the fallen mouse.

"Serto! You okay?" he said as he helped the mouse sit up, stroking his head.

Serto chittered as the hound morph tried to calm him. "I was resting and there was a lutin I kicked the bueket I ran my head he was gonna kill me!" he cried.

Skylos gently pressed his paw to Serto's muzzle.

"Shh, you're safe. Lets get back to camp and you can tell us about it." he said gently.

Grumpy arrived a bit after Skylos. She picked up the mouse in her arms and carried him gently back to the camp. The hound went back with the bucket for water and returned to the camp. The mouse lay limp in the giant's arms, trembling in fear.

Sertofinus was petrified, his mind seeing the lutin again and again, every instint in his body screaming run run run! The strong arms around him seemed strangely calming, the fur so much warmer and thicker than his own. It was like being surrounded by firm furry pillows.

When they got back, everybody had settled about the fire, drawn by the scent of the cookpot. Suez was warming up some trail stew. Grumpy gently sat the now only slightly trembling mouse down next to Sam.

The leader patted Sertofinus' shoulder.

"are you okay now, Serto?" he asked.

Serto nodded, shaking a little.

"Not really. I'm okay."

Suez picked up a stick from the firewood pile and bit into it savagely with his large front teeth. It helped, calming his nerves.

"Tell us what you saw, okay?" Sam encouraged.

Serto looked up at the dalmation. "I was carrying the water. I stopped to rest a little. I smelled something bad, and there was a lutin!"

There was a stir in the group, murmurs of astonishment and concern. One of the dingos growled.

Serto took a breath. "I yelled, and kicked the bucket. I tried to run, but I fell. He was going to spear me! He was hit with a crossbow! Then he just ran off. And Skylos was there. And Grumpy."

Skylos nodded, a well chewed piece of wood in his muzzle. "I hate it when I loose bolts."

Sam grunted and patted Serto.

"Everything'll be okay Serto." The dog addressed the group, "Okay, listen up. We'll put out an extra guard tonight. Everybody takes their turn. Skylos, Serto, first watch. Gerty and Jed, second. Stan, Jake, you take third, and Jert and Suez here can finish up the morning." Sam spoke with a confidence that relaxed the group.

"Hey Cat!" called Jed, one of the dingos. "Grub ready yet?"

Suez shrugged. "Like you'd care if it was ready or not. Food's up! Get your bowls!"

Sertofinus tentatively joined the others around the cooking pot, filling his wooden bowl with the thick stew. His heart was still beating kind of fast but he felt much better. He sat on a log drawn near the fire, tail curled close. He watched his companions as he slowly ate.

The horses mostly got broth, which they used to put small block shaped chunks of food in. The smell reminded the mouse of grasses. Probably biscuits special for the horses, he thought.

The log he was sitting on shifted as the badger sat down heavily on it. The mouse looked up timidly at the badger. Her face was buried in her bowl, efficiently slurping down the stew. She noticed the mouse watching her, and her eyes narrowed. She lowered her bowl and wiped her mouth.

"You saw the Lutin?" she asked, her voice husky and low like a growl.

Sertofinus nodded, "Yes." he said, tail twitching a bit nervously.

Grumpy grunted softly. "What was he wearing?"

Sertofinus' whiskers twitched violently. "I... I don't know... Some armor, I guess."

The badger nodded and patted his shoulder with a huge clawed paw.

"They won't bother us" she growled, "He saw me." She went back to finishing her bowl of food.

Sertofinus nodded, smiling a little, and finished off his bowl too. He felt safe near the mountain of fur. He remembered being carried, the warmth and closeness. He smiled a bit more. The badger sat silent, looking into the coals of the fire as the flames died down. The mouse carefully unpacked his journal book and pen box, and began to carefully write about the days events. He became aware of Grumpy watching him. He looked up, smiling a bit.

She met his gaze.

"What are you doing?" she growled gently.

"Um, I'm writing. About everybody here. That's what I'm supposed to do." he explained.

The mouse tilted the book towards her. "See, here I'm making a list of all the people and what sort of animals they're like."

Grumpy nodded again, and pointed at the bottom of the list with a claw. "Why aren't you on the list, Sertofinus?"

The mouse shrugged. "Oh, I dunno. I hadn't thought about it." The badger put a large paw around his diminutive shoulder.

"You're here, aren't you?" she growled gently.

Sertofinus smiled. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He turned and wrote his name at the bottom of the list. "Hows that?" He tilted the page so she could see it in the twilight.


Sertofinus' List

Name Gender Height Animal type
Sam Male 6' Dalmation
Skylos Male 6' Hound
Louie Male 4'6" Orangutan
Dream Female 6'6" Great Ape
Hoss Male 6'6" Horse
Gerty Female 6' Horse
Stan Male 6' Horse
Jed Male 5' Dingo
Job Male 5' Dingo
Jake Male 5'6" Dingo
Jert Male 5' Dingo
Suez Male 5' Cat
Grumpy Female 9' Badger
Sertofinus Male 4' Mouse


The badger smiled and nodded agreeably.

"Very good. But what does it say?

Sertofinus tilted his head. "You can't read?"

Grumpy tensed, her bulk magnified as she did so. She looked down at her powerful claws and sighed.

Sam interrupted as he stood and stretched.

"Time to go to sleep, peoples!" he hollered, heading for the low tent.

Sertofinus watched nervously as everybody went into the tent, which seemed far to small for all of them. Most shed the majority of their clothing outside, leaving it on top of their packs. The badger stood and moved towards the tent. She paused and looked back at the mouse.

"You can sleep with me tonight, after your watch. If you want." she rumbled, dissapearing into the tent with surprizing silence.

The mouse blinked, looking over at Skylos. Skylos was chewing on his stick again, his back to the fire, eyes watching the forest. Sertofinus rubbed his paws together and pulled his cloak around him tighter. The hound spoke around his stick.

"She must like you"

"Who?" responded the startled mouse.

"Grumpy. I never heard her be so friendly before." he murmured.

"That's friendly?" wondered the mouse. He looked over at the hound again. "How long is our watch?" he asked.

"Just a couple hours." he said.

The hound glanced over at the mouse.

"Don't stare into the fire. It ruins your night vision." he told him.

Sertofinus looked up, and frowned. He walked over and sat next to Skylos on the log, back to the fire.

He took his own chewstick and worked on it thoughtfully, looking into the woods. The darkness seemed to vanish as he looked, his eyes adjusting to the low light. He could see ferns and brush quite far into the forest. He spotted a small woodland mouse creeping along, only to get scooped up by an owl. Sertofinus winced at the sight. As the night became uneventful, time seemed to slow down. The mouse yawned at the lateness of the hour.

Skylos nudged him. "You're falling asleep."

"Its late." explained Sertofinus. "I always go to bed early. Is our shift over yet?"

The hound pointed up at the sky. "When the leg of Stanton is overhead, our shift will be over."

The mouse looked up at the stars. The indicated constellation was high in the eastern sky, just visible over the trees. He sighed and leaned against Skylos sleepily. The hound stood up.

"Eh, now. No fallin asleep on me. Come on, walk." he commanded.

Skylos pulled Serto to his feet, and propelled him along.

"The trick to staying awake is to not let your body go to sleep." he spoke softly in the cool air. "Your body is used to slowing down and going to sleep at night. If you keep it going, you won't fall asleep."

Sertofinus yawned and followed Skylos. He found the hound was right, too. The more he walked the more awake he felt. They walked an elliptical circuit around the tent and fire, watching the dark woods all around. Eventually, the mouse looked up and pointed.

"Skylos, our watch is up." he whispered into the quiet.

"Go ahead and wake up Gerty and Jed." directed Skylos, "and go to sleep. I'll be in shortly."

Sertofinus crept into the tent. The floor was covered with a thick blanket, and everybody was sleeping together on top of it. It was hard to see in the darkness of the tent, but with a little searching he found Gerty and Jed sleeping near the door. He gently shook them awake.

"Its your watch" he whispered.

The two stretched and crept out of the tent. He looked around, his eyes more adjusted to the dim light now. The only open spot was next to Grumpy, who was sleeping against one wall. He crawled over and lay down there, wiggling to find a comfortable spot on the blanket over rough ground. He lay there awake for a long while, listening to the night insects and the deep breathing of his bedmates. His mind kept going over the lutin, every detail seeming to stand out in his mind's eye. The warmth and close atmosphere in the tent amplified his exhaustion and soon overcame his nervousness.

The mouse shivered awake, the air cold in the tent. He sat up to find nobody there. There was a hole in the side of the tent, ripped crudely with a knife. Acrid blood soaked a part of the blanket floor, trailing out the makeshift doorway. Sounds from outside set his heart thumping. Muffled thuds and gurgles entered his twitching ears, amidst the occaisonal twang of crossbows being fired. He shrank into the corner of the tent, trying not to pant as his ears followed the sounds outside. There was a startled yelp, followed by another thump and a gurgle. His heart seemed to beat out of his chest. He could smell the badger's musk still on the blanket beneath his nose, almost overwhelmed the stink of lutin in the air.

Suddenly, he the door of the tent opened. It was the lutin, carrying his spear, now dripping with blood to match a wicked looking knife. The mouse quivered in terror, shrinking into the corner, unable to move. The spear rose in slow motion, the lutin sneering as he launched the shaft at him.

Sertofinus squeaked in terror, sitting bolt upright. The tent was dark and quiet, no lutins or spears in sight. He could hear the watch speaking softly outside. Jed stuck his head in and saw Serto upright.

"Hey, everything okay, Mouse?" he barked softly.

Sertofinus nodded, shivering a bit in the draft from the door. "Y..Yes. I'm fine. Just a bad dream."

The dingo nodded, and the tent door fell closed again.

Sertofinus started as Grumpy's cool nose touched his muzzle. A huge warm paw gently pulled the shivering mouse into the thick warm fur.

"Its okay Sertofinus." rumbled the badger, "I'll keep you safe. Sleep now."

The mouse found it easier to relax, eventually falling asleep. He was surrounded by warmth and strength. He was so close he could feel the slow beating of the badger's heart. He quickly slept again, really feeling safe for the first time he left the Keep.

--- End Civil Engineering Part 2 ---

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