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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"Come on Serto, you too!" barked Sam, pulling with a team of townspeople and builders on a large rope. The mouse gripped the tough fiber and leaned his slight weight against it, helping slowly move the large stone higher in its sling. It was the first of the two primary keystones. The load bearing arches of the bridge already extended up to the center to support them. His boots slipped on the packedl dirt of the fill, he scrambled to regain purchase.

"Easy now! A few more inches!" called Skylos, throwing his shoulder against the stone to swing it into place. "That's good! Back down!" he barked, grunting a bit as he dug his paws in to swing the rock a few more inches into allignment. "Let it go!"

With a resounding thunk, the keystone settled in place. The builders and townspeople let up a ragged cheer, slapping each other on their backs as the milestone was reached in the construction.

"One more like that, and we're done for the day!" barked Sam, who was answered with a more enthusiastic cheer. He marched back to the abuttment to inspect the ropes lashed around the second keystone. Upon ensuring they were good, the boom was swung over and they started the laborious process of dragging it across the half-finished bridge.

As they got closer to the center of the bridge, a simian builder, Louie, frowned, tilting his head. He abruptly dropped his rope, swinging over the side of the bridge. Sertofinus looked after him with some confusion.

"HALT!" barked Sam, bringing the grunting, straining team to a halt. They promptly sat down, enjoying a bit of a rest. In the relative quiet they heard a deep groan that reverberated through the whole structure. Louie flew up over the side of the bridge so fast he seemed to hover in the air a moment before landing.

"Gaa! Run! Its going down!" he shouted, already sprinting for the end of the span.

"Up! Move it!" Sam barked, "Off the bridge NOW!"

Everybody surged to their feet, slipping as the ground shuddered underfoot. The popping groan of wood splintering under pressure reverberated down the valley. Keepers scrambled over each other in a panic as the south side of the bridge started to roll away.

Sertofinus shrieked as the otter beside him dropped into space where the stones of the bridge were moments before, limbs flailing. He turned to run, but the keystone was looming. It tilted towards him as the ground loosened beneath it. He jumped sideways but it caught his shin, scraping down and landing on his foot. He screamed as the pain burned up his leg, panicing, shifting to his full animal form. As he grew smaller he was pulled into the boot, paw still pinned beneath the massive stone. He felt himself falling. There was an impact, then darkness. He could hear the sound of rumbling earth, increasingly muted. He trembled, huddling in the toe of the boot. It was very dark. His foot hurt. He licked at his foot.

Grumpy spread her paws wide as the structure shuddered under her. Stone bridges shouldn't do that. Louie shouted that the bridge was falling. She heard Sertofinus scream from the far side of the bridge as the keystone fell over, yanked by some of the ropes going down with the centering. The far side of the bridge was falling away, taking keystone and keepers with it. She lept over the heads of scrambling keepers, landing on the crumbling earth. It slid out under her weight and she fell down, about thirty feet, to land with a heavy whump in the fresh fallen earth. More dirt and stones tumbled down from the structure above her, bounding off her broad back. She ignored them, desperately digging through the rubble. Her massive claws yanked aside a boulder to find a screaming otter, her leg bent behind her at a sickening angle. She scooped her up and launched her slight weight upwards towards the keepers peering over the river bank. She didn't wait to see if they caught her, digging deeper in the pile, shaking dizziness out of her head as a particularly heavy rock bounced off her skull. The dirt and rocks were filling in around her torso, half-burying her.

"GRUMPY! Get out of there NOW! That's an ORDER!" barked Sam from the edge, his voice in a panic. "It's falling!"

Grumpy snarled as her claws raked through the earth, desperately searching. She heard him scream, he had to be here. She found his tunic, crushed under the edge of the keystone. He obviously wasn't in it. The earth was filling in around her, she didn't have any more time. She blinked tears from her eyes and yowled in fustration, the people watching recoiled. She dug both her powerful paws into the earth around the stone and lifted with all her heart. Serto was under there. The rock shifted a bit. Sam screamed from the bank above.


Grumy raised her muzzle and roared at the world, "SERTO!!"

She dug her paws underneath and lifted with more strength than she thought she had. The rock shifted, lifted, and rolled off. Beneath she briefly caught sight of several bodies, dirt sliding in to fill the hole. She scooped up the bodies before they were covered and powered out of the dirt, her massive body straining to pull out from beneath the weight. She stumbled free to the rocky beach along the river. She gently lay the bodies down. No Sertofinus. She slowly turned to look at the bridge.

With several rapidfire pops, the rest of the bridge centering collapsed under its load of earth and stone. The bridge crashed into the water below, sending a wave downstream. The structure seemed to stabilize momentarily, only a few rocks and lumps of dirt falling down. With a final snap, a wooden pole braced against the structure gave way, and the whole thing came down with a resounding thunder that echoed against the nearby mountains several seconds later, sealing the graves of those beneath it with finality. In less than a minute a month of work had been ruined, so much rubble in the riverbed.

Grumpy sat down on the edge of the river, the water calm now, the level rapidly dropping. Its flow was quenched by the makeshift dam of the collapsed bridge. Sam arrived panting from the path, several other keepers close behind. They hurriedly gathered the keepers she rescued from the collapse, glancing fearfully toward the mound of earth and stone.

"Grumpy, are you okay?" he barked, grabbing her elbow, "This is no time to be sitting around! The river is going to break through that earth any moment!

Grumpy shook off his grip. "No." she said.

Sam growled in fustration. "We've lost enough already! We can't move you, so you'll have to move yourself. We've got to get these people to saftey!" He turned and picked up the last of the rescued keepers, trotting urgently back up the path.

Grumpy felt an overwhelming sadness filling her, from the top of her ears to the bottom of her feet. It had only been a few weeks since she met the mouse, but now nothing was more important than him. Without him, nothing mattered any more. She could sit here and let the rush of the river take her away, and it wouldn't change a thing. Her eyes looked at the pile of earth and rock, only as tall as her at the center, searching for any movement. It wouldn't take long for the swift flowing river to overcome the impediment. Cool water. No more sadness.

"Grumpy! PLEASE! Come on!" barked Skylos from the path, panic in his voice.

She sighed and let them control her. She stood and turned, looking over the area. Sertofinus's breeches and one of his boots had come with the keepers she had rescued. They lay there, covered with dirt, abandoned in the rush. She picked up the breeches and boot gently and cradled them in her arms, shuffling morosely up the path behind Skylos. The sound of rushing water behind her was nothing to the roar of sadness in her head. The initial wave of the torrent swirled around her legs, muddy as it carried away their work.

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