by David Ihnen

Skylos shifted mostly to dog form, shaking out his fur vigorously. Water sprayed over the tiles, running down the drain. Sam climbed out of the bathing pool into the steamy room close behind him, shielding his face from the spray.

"Geeze, quit it!" he exclaimed, playfully hitting Skylos' shoulder.

Skylos threw a towel at him, grabbing another to dry his fur further.

"ACK!" he exclaimed as Sam caught him unaware, spraying him with his own shorter fur. "Speak for yourself!"

The two shouldered each other playfully as they got dressed in their usual minimal attire, token loincloths and boots, before trotting out of the baths. It had been a long trip, and their early-afternoon return to the keep left them time to play. They bounded through the halls, going where the keep would take them, tagging each other, barking happily.

Sam tackled Skylos as he ran through a door. They went tumbling head over heels. As they sat up, shaking their heads to clear their vision and straighten their fur, they found themselves in a battle practice room. Sam tagged Skylos.

"You're it!" he grinned, whapping the hound with his skinny tail as he bounded away. He stopped and looked back when he realized Skylos wasn't following.

Skylos sat up and saw beauty. He leaned forward, chin on a spectator bench, watching her. Every movement was poetry, efficiently slashing and striking in furious assault. Her muscles flexed beneath soft black and white fur. Her muzzle wore an expression of concentration, the flews half drawn back in a snarl revealing pearly white teeth. A sturdy ferret was battling her, lithely dodging and whirling under her assault. The two separated after a sharp series of parries and thrusts. The ferret spun his staff slowly, bright eyes watching the canine. She stood firmly grasping her own staff, barely moving as she studied the ferret's movements. Her ears, short but half-erect, focused on him closely. Skylos admired her backside, her tail raised high in confidence, poking through some loose pants. He let out an involuntary whine of pleasure.

Arla was at the general practice rooms today. She'd left her quarters and her small true canine companion to go practice. She had found herself thinking of how she knew the long scouts so well already, she could beat them the same way every time. So, she went to the public practice arenas instead. Despite her reputation she had a solid stream of willing contenders. She was feeling pretty good about herself. Who wouldn't after beating twenty keepers in a row without a single hit on herself? She was currently fighting a ferret. He was fairly good, fast on his feet. She watched him carefully as he stood back, spinning his staff. His eyes flicked off her for a moment, focusing on something in the stands. Fatal mistake! she thought, and brought him down with two rapid strikes, disarming, knocking him down, and holding her staff tip over his throat.

The ferret glanced at Skylos as he whined. The canine tilted his head curiously, meeting the gaze. In a flash the match was over, too fast to even see what happened. The ferret's staff clanked woodenly to the ground across the arena. The ferret was flat on his back, the collie's staff at his throat.

"Yield!" he croaked, struggling to breath, "you win!"

The collie smiled easily and stepped back, bringing her staff upright.

"You're a fine opponent!" she said, offering him a hand up.

The ferret nodded as he took the assist, and limped off the arena, rubbing his shin and muttering.

Sam waved his paw in front of Skylos's muzzle. "Hey, wake up ya mutt. You're it!"

Skylos sighed. "She's beautiful!"

Sam looked up at the Collie. She had picked up the other staff and was spinning one in each hand, deftly maneuvering them to spin without striking each other. Her muzzle had a relaxed expression on it. He could see an almost familiar patch embroidered on her chest. He smiled, feeling his tongue slide out sideways as he admired her form. She was beautiful, for sure. He started as he realized Skylos was already halfway down to the arena. He chuckled and followed. He wasn't going to let Skylos be the only suitor here!

The hound trotted up to the collie, tail wagging, muzzle open in a friendly grin.

Arla picked up the other staff and spun them, one in each paw, interweaving their paths. She relaxed, letting the flow of the staff's weight govern where it went, guiding them gently with her hands. She probably had time for one more session before she had to report back at the long scout's headquarters. A voice interrupted her, echoing in the mostly empty chamber.

"Hi, I'm Skylos!" exclaimed a large, friendly looking hound, offering a paw to shake.

The collie nodded, holding both staffs in her left hand to shake his paw with her right.

"I'm Arla." she said shortly, sizing up the sturdy hound. He was about six feet tall, with the familiar markings of a beagle. His eyes were bright and eager, framed by two enormous floppy ears that actually brushed his shoulders. His fur was clean and slightly damp, his frame clad in only a brief loincloth and a pair of soft leather boots. She could smell the mild perfume of a common soap on him.

An older dalmation shouldered Skylos over, taking Arla's paw in his.

"They call me Sam," he said, "enchanted to meet you." He lifted her paw and licked it once.

Sam smelled of the same soap as Skylos. He appeared to be a dalmation, his stocky frame also clad in only a brief loincloth, boots, and lots of spots. He was obviously older, there was even some greying around his muzzle. His voice was lower and more gravelly than the hound's.

The collie smiled at the dalmation, who kissed her paw. She almost blushed before she yanked her paw back from Sam's grip, her ears pressed back. The dalmation blinked in surprize, his ears flicking forward in concern. He opened his muzzle to say something.

Skylos interrupted, shouldering Sam back, "Hey, wanna get something to eat with me?"

"I'd be honored if you'd join me for some repast," interrupted Sam, trying to outmatch Skylos.

Skylos glared at him, pushing him away playfully.

Arla was amused by the antics of the two canines, forgetting the paw kiss. She chuckled.

"No, I'm not hungry. I do need another sparring partner though." She tossed the second staff at the pair of canines.

Sam caught one end and Skylos caught the other. They each pulled on it, then Skylos tackled Sam into the dirt. They wrestled shortly, the staff clattering to the ground. Arla laughed as Skylos pinned the dalmation. Skylos came out on top, wielding the staff.

"You'll both get a chance!" she chuckled.

"Alright, lets see how you fare against a ferocious hound doggie!" he grinned, taking up a textbook stance.

Sam shook his head and sat down on the bench at the edge of the ring. He was sure he'd seen the symbol on Arla's vest somewhere before. But where? It displayed an ax and a bow on a green background.

Arla laughed again, the intended ferocity of Skylos' stance oddly offset by his eager grin. She readied her staff.

"Ferocious indeed!" she replied, spinning the staff, using its upswing to thrust towards the hound.

Skylos blocked the thrust and brought his staff around. They exchanged blows, the hound's heavy panting broken by the sharp whacks of staff on staff. They moved around the arena, the challenger dropping back quickly under the collie's assault.

Sam called from the sidelines, "Come on, Skylos! You can do better than that! She's not even breaking a sweat!"

Skylos grunted and shifted strategies, trying to overwhelm with a furious set of blows. His opponent almost lazily blocked his attacks, even leaning the staff on the ground at one point. He snarled in fustration and spun the staff, seeing an opening. Suddenly the staff fumbled in his fingers. He yelped as the staff struck him in the butt, before falling to the ground with a clatter. He overbalanced and landed flat on his ass a moment later.

Arla laughed, shaking her muzzle at the hound, leaning on her staff. She wiped tears from her eyes. "Oooh, that's priceless! The look on your muzzle!" she exclaimed, doubling over.

Sam joined her, whooping loudly from the edge of the ring. "Good one Skylos! Show her how to fight!" he teased

Skylos blushed, floppy ears flicking. "My weapon is a crossbow." he admitted, glancing down in embarassment."

Sam picked up the fallen staff, taking up the ready position, pushing the hound aside with his hip.

"Let an old pro show you how its done, mutt!" he growled, smiling toothily at the collie.

Arla chuckled, wiPINg her eyes with her arm. "Okay, Okay. If you're anything like you're friend, I have time for one more!" she allowed.

Sam started the match with a bark, even as Skylos scrambled out of the way. He took the offensive, but was unable to get the collie to fall back. She met every thrust with a block. Suddenly she wasn't there. Sam tried to tumble away and got a solid whack between the shoulder blades that sent him sprawling. He snorted the dust out of his nose, rising to his elbows and looking back over his shoulder at the smirking collie.

"I wasn't ready!" he protested, standing up again, spinning the staff once before holding it ready.

Arla rolled her eyes. Skylos called from the side.

"He's never ready!"

Arla began the attack this time, feinting several times, forcing Sam to block before attacking with a foot sweep. Sam nimbly hopped back, bringing his staff around towards her head. She blocked it upwards and he used the velocity to bring his staff up at her gut. She knocked it aside. He swung in sideways, releasing with one hand to catch it halfway around. She slid her staff slid down his, going for his remaining grip. Sam let go moments before his fingers got clipped, his other paw searching futilely for the free shaft. He threw his weight solidly up against his opponent, swinging his leg opposite her staff around behind her calf. The two tumbled over, Sam landing on top of Arla. Her staff slapped against the ground, caught beneath the pair. His staff was caught between them. A moment later the dalmation was underneath the collie, his own staff pressed against his throat.

Up close Arla was even more beautiful, thought Sam. Her green eyes glared into his with a ferocious intensity, her muzzle drawn back, revealing her lovely white teeth. Her sharp panting brought her sweet breath to his nose, her warm form pressed against his made his head throb. That wasn't all that was throbbing, either. He reached out with his tongue and kissed her black nose.

Skylos watched, amused, as Arla quickly bested Sam. The dalmation lost hold of his staff, and tried to knock her down, disarming her, but she reversed it, pinning him beneath his own staff. Arla's tail, raised in the excitement of the fight, suddenly dropped between her legs as she recoiled, sitting up. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at Sam, slapping him hard across the muzzle. She stood hurried off the court without another word. The hound trotted over to help Sam up.

The dalmation rubbed his neck, blinking to clear his head. "Wow." he said, staring up at the cieling.

"Wipe that grin off yer muzzle!" grumbled Skylos, "Just 'cause you got her on top of you. Besides, you're too old for her!"

Sam focused on Skylos, taking the offered paw and scrambling to his feet.

"Like she'd want a pup like you. She's far more sophisticated than that!" he responded, "A lady like that needs a GENTLEdog like me!"

Skylos snorted. "Some lady! She beat you in a fight without even trying!"

Sam ribbed Skylos "Yer the one who gets slippery paws the moment a girl looks at ya!"

The two bantered playfully as they brushed the dust out of their fur, in seek of something to eat.

The deaf mule was, well, deafening. The room was crowded to the extreme, packed to the gills with talking and singing patrons. Jammed snugly into a corner was a group of canines, presided over by a large beagle-marked hound, loudly describing his friend's travails to much laughter."

"So we run into the practice room, and there's this border collie, see? She's fighting a ferret of some kind."

Skylos pretended to strike with a staff.

"Left, right, smack whack!" he exclaimed. "The ferret was taking a beating, but he was faster than she. Suddenly, he just totally phases out and she disarms him and lays him out on the floor. The fur was on the ground before his staff was! Anyway, after that Me and Sam, here, walked over. She wanted to spar, gave me a staff. So we go at it. Whack! Smack!"

Skylos gestulates wildly again, simulating the fight. "I almost had her a dozen times, but I was holding my own! She was good, but not good as me! Then I looked up into those eyes, and, my heart just melted." Skylos looked down dramatically. "I let her knock the staff from my paws. I couldn't fight a lady like that."

Sam guffawed loudly.

"That's a good one, ya mutt! Looked at her eyes! Knocked it! Hah!" Sam stood, elbowing Skylos over half into Sertofinus's lap. "Let me tell you, it was the most mismatched fight I've ever seen! Skylos here goes at it, trying to take her down. She drives him back, hardly moving her staff, blocking every strike and doubling in between with her own. Pretty soon, Skylos got mad and went at her. She's just standing there, yawning almost, watching him wear himself out. Then, in the middle of it, he just drops it! Not only that, it hits him, and he yelps, falling flat on his butt!"

Sam whooped loudly, recovering after a ten seconds or so to continue,

"You shoulda seen the look on his face! Ooh, it was priceless!"

Skylos elbowed Sam back over. "Hey, hey, I tell it like it happened!"

Sam, chuckling helplessly, sat back down, burying his muzzle in his freshly refilled pint of ale.

"ANYWAY!" exclaimed the hound, glaring at the stocky dalmation, "Then, Sam here tries sparrin with her! He attacks, whackwhackwhack. She just spins that staff of hers, then dodges to the side. Sam here didn't even see it comin!"

Skylos thumped Sam on the back.

"Then she hits him, WHACK!, Right in the middle of the back. I swear he flew clear across the arena! She just watches. Sam says he wasn't ready! Hah! He was fightin with her!"

Sam protested, "Now, I wasn't ready for that phase of the fight."

Skylos snorted, pausing to take a big swallow of ale. "Yer never ready. Anyway, He gets back up and they go out it. Whack from above! The side! Up from below! Sam lets go of his staff, and then he jumps her! I swear it! He jumped right at her. She fell over backwards, on top of her staff, Sam on top. Next thing ya know, she's back on top of him, with HIS staff at his own throat!"

Skylos made a strangling face, motioning like he's holding a staff off his throat. "Then, she sits up, smacks him good, and just up and leaves, doesn't say a word.

Sam grinned, leaning over the table at their drinking companions. "I gave her a kiss!"

The hound hit Sam on the shoulder. "No way! You did not!"

Sam nodded vigorously, "Yup, she had me pinned there, and she was just so beautiful. I kissed her right on the nose."

Sam demonstrated with a lick on Skylos's nose. The hound quickly wiped it off.

A dingo seated across the table pointed through the crowded room. "Hey, is that her?"

Skylos and Sam looked over. There was a black and white border collie, wearing a vest, her back to them as she drank from a large mug. Her tail was wagging slowly. She appeared to be engaged in conversation with somebody across the table.

"Yup, that's her!" exclaimed Skylos. "I'll never forget that tail!"

Skylos and Sam quickly drained the rest of their tankards. Skylos jumped up, only to be pulled down by Sam, elbowing by. They both hurried over, pushing through the crowd. They pulled up short behind her, looking around the table.

She was eating with an impressive array of Keepers. Over by the wall was a rat, conversing busily with a large, strong looking fox. A ferret looked at the two hounds suspiciously, tilting his head a little as he worked on his own tankard. A large ugly looking bird was nodding to a huge bear, who was guestulating with his paws expressively. A woman was seated across from the border collie, also looking up at the arrivals. She smirked as Skylos spoke.

"Hi Arla! Mind if we sit with you?"

Arla started, and looked over her right shoulder at the canine.

"Oh, you." she said, turning back to her drink.

The woman smirked all the more.

"Collecting more puppies, Arla?" she teased, giggling.

Arla glared at her. "Laura, I..."

Sam was on one knee, pulling one of her paws from the table. He kissed it with his tongue.

"Oooh, beautiful Arla! How I long to have you in my bed!" He paused.

Arla blushed, yanking her paw away from him.

Sam brightened. "Oh, yeah, now I got it!"

The dalmation snatched her paw back, kissing it tenderly.

"Oh, beautiful Arla! How I long to have you in my arms! That we might dance under the moon until the..."

The dalmation looked up at the giggling hound. "How did that go?"

Skylos thumped Sam on the shoulder.

"Give it up, mister romance! Yer not her type! Let ME show you how its done!"

Arla was blushing hotly, the skin on her ears showing through the fur.

The rest of the table's attention was on the trio now. The other canines had crowded over to an adjacent vacant table and were watching with some interest.

Arla kicked at Sam, pushing him away. "Hey, beat it. Go home!" she growled through her teeth.

Skylos leaned over and whispered in Arla's ear for a moment.

If possible, Arla's ears turned even more red. She rotated quickly and kicked him solidly between the legs.

Skylos crumbled with a yelp, falling to the ground with a look of pain and dismay on his face.

Sam growled, his neck ruff bristling. "Hey, you can't do that to my friend!" he growled.

Arla growled right back, "Oh, yes I can! Watch me do it to you, too!" She balled her fists, matching Sam's. They circled in the quickly formed ring, tables cleared out of the way. Both were obviously inebriated, and the spectators cheered loudly.

Sam went after Arla with a series of uncoordinated swings, which the border collie blocked or avoided fairly easily. Sam charged her, fist swinging, and missed. His swing hit the big bear right in the side of the muzzle, hard enough to swing the massive head around. He looked up at the bear, whose eyes were narrowing.

"Don't mess with the long scouts!" rumbled the bear.

"Um, sorry?" ventured Sam, before a huge paw impacted his chest and he flew back across the ring, being caught by a group of his canine friends.

Skylos lept off the floor, growling, fists swinging as he tried to plow into the bear. His blows landed ineffectually in the thick fur and he was sent flying too.

Sam smacked his forehead, being set back upright by his friends. "That's what the symbol is! The Long Scouts!" But he was too late. The canines howled loudly as they all charged the bear, who was quickly covered and went down. The other Long Scouts came to his rescue, flipping canines over the tables and into the rest of the crowd.

It didn't take long before the whole deaf mule was involved, the air filled with grunts and howls, bellows and shrieks. Feathers flew from one area, while entire keepers flew overhead. Donnie caught a hurtling dingo in his arms, only to let out a bellow when the canine belted him on the nose. He threw him back into the crowd unceremoniously.

Matt watched the developing fight eagerly. The stack of glasses that had moments ago been stacked at his elbow was testament to his physical state. Things were just too boring lately. One of the long scouts went down under a pile of canines, and he lept into the action, shoving his shoulder in and heaving, tossing two canines to the side.

Four dingos came at him, and he was only able to hold them off for a few seconds before he went down, wrestling with a particularly wiry one that kept trying to bite his arm. He got his powerful hind legs planted on the canine and found enough sondike to launch him bodily over the heads of the crowd. He lept to his feet, spinning about, finding himself in a small clear area. Suddenly, the rat was brought down from behind by the same dingo, his limbs flaying wildly!

Arla grinned with a wide snarl, working her way through the brawl, searching for the insulting canine. Her training was working to little effect, the drinks she had dulling the effectiveness of her typical fast strikes. She found a more bodily approach worked better here, knocking keepers off balance. She ducked a flying dingo. Twice. Odd, she thought. She grabbed the shoulder of the stocky dalmation, who was busy fruitlessly pummeling the back of the bear. The canine whirled around, lashing out with a bark, catching her on the side of the head with a clenched fist. She staggered, stunned, but managed to block his next blow. She tried to punch him in the gut, but missed and hit his rib. He yelped. She smacked him across the muzzle, hard, and plowed into him with her shoulder, rolling him clean over the bear and out of her reach.

Sertofinus whistled happily to himself as he trotted down the hallway. He always felt good when he had finished something, and he had just finished his report on the building of the bridge. He leaned his slight mouse weight into the door of the deaf mule, already smacking his lips, thinking of some of the fine mead Donnie would have for him. The establishment was absolute chaos tonight, but he didn't let that dampen his spirits. He scrambled close along the wall, to where the bar met the wall at a corner. He climbed up on the stool, and peered down the bar. There was a fox and a hedghog type keeper doing something. Their backs were to him and he wasn't entirely sure what it was. He piped up down the bar, calling to Donnie, who had just launched a Dingo into the main room.

"Hey Donnie! Got some of that mead?" he called. This was no time for being meek, he figured. He could sit here all day if he didn't speak up.

Donnie walked down to the end of the bar, and pulled out a bottle and a tankard. He poured the mead into the glass, handing it to the mouse with a strange smile on his massive nose. Sertofinus was feeling too good to care. He lifted the tankard in his small hands and took a deep draught of the sweet mead. Feeling pleasantly buzzed, he looked over at the melee in the rest of the bar.

Matthias squirmed out from under the Dingo, elbowing him and scrambling up on top, punching at the dingo's oddly formed muzzle, avoiding the growls and barks, and most importantly the sharp teeth. He landed several satisfying strikes, probably hard enough that the canine would feel it tomorrow. Another dingo game to his victim's rescue, and he ducked and punched, trying to keep up with both, laughing in pure fun at it all.

Sam staggered up and grabbed a seat next to Sertofinus. There was some blood running down the side of his muzzle from a small cut.

"Heya Serto! Whatcha drinkin?" asked Sam.

Sertofinus smiled at the stocky Dalmation. "Mead." he answered shortly.

Sam nodded agreeably.

"Bring on the mead!" he called to Donnie.

The bull walked down the bar again, picking up a few stray keepers from the floor behind the bar and tossing them out to the crowd again. He poured Sam a tankard of mead, nodding at the pair. He pulled a cloth from under the bar and leaned forward, wiping the blood off Sam's muzzle.

Sam toasted the barkeeper. "To good mead and lotsa fun!" he announced, completely ignoring the wiping.

Just as the Dalmation raised the tankard, he was jostled from behind. Mead splashed over his muzzle and chest. He set down the tankard with a growl and spun around. The ferret with the Long Scout emblem on his shirt was staggering there, obviously a bit inebriated and stunned besides. Sam grabbed him and pushed him onto an adjoining stool.

"Hey, have some mead!" He suggested.

The ferret blinked blankly at the canine. Sam tilted back the keeper's head and poured some mead from his tankard into it to much sputtering.

"Thereya go!" he laughed, thumping the ferret on the back and taking another big drink.

Donnie wiped off the splatters of Mead from the bar top, and slid the ferret another tankard with a nod.

In the midst of the room, Arla located Skylos. Rather, he located her. In the midst of pummeling a snarling fox, she felt some paws grab her hips, pulling at her as something poked under her tail. She dropped the stunned fox as she spun about, backhanding the beagle-marked hound hard enough to throw him several feet from her bodily.

"You!" she snarled, advancing, flexing her fists. A lion staggered into her path and she elbowed him aside, helping him along with a shove from her shoulder. Skylos was scrambling to his feet as she arrived. The collie boxed his ears with her paws hard. He went back down down with a yelp. She kicked him in the side, rolling him over, before dropping atop him and pummeling his face.

She snarled at him through clenched teeth, punctuating her words with strikes, "Don't.. *whack* Ever... *whack* emabarrass... *whack* me... *whack* like... *whack* that... *whack* again! *whack*"

Skylos's head reeled, knocked from side to side by the attacking Collie.

"Okay! Okay!" he yelped, futilely trying to block the attack, her weight keeping him down. He pushed his ears back, cringing submissively.

"You win! You're the boss!" he whined loudly.

Arla nodded in satsifaction and jumped off him, kicking him in the leg for good measure and marching off through the crowd, her tail raised high in triumph. Skylos got a good eyeful, moaning as he pawed the bruises on his muzzle.

Matthias was singing a song with the two dingos he had been fighting earlier. After awhile he was bored with it, and so were they. They had some more mead, and they were trying to teach him a new song. It was very silly, and its lyrics would be enough to make his love blush brightly. He felt warm inside, the beer, the exertion of the fight, and the thoughts of his love. A good night, for sure.

By this time the chaos was calming down a bit, most of the keepers seemed to have gotten tired of beating each other up. The big fox was leading a group of bruised looking dingos and a rat in an enthusiastically, if not well, sung song. Sam had found Sertofinus at the bar and appeared to be getting somewhat more drunk. Skylos stood dizzily, and staggered backwards into the arms of a large bear when another keeper stumbled into him. He felt the powerful arms wrap around him, and he gasped a big breath of air, expecting a crushing bear hug.

"Oooh, a puppy. Does the puppy wanna hug?" mumbled the bear.

Skylos looked up at the ursine, who was obviously not completely with it. There was a glazed look to his eyes and his head was weaving noticably. Whether he was drunk or stunned or both, the canine couldn't tell.

"Uh, not now." he said, struggling a little in the firm grasp.

"No, the puppy can't run away." babbled the bear, "he's gonna stay and huggle and play."

Skylos gave up struggling for the moment, his mind racing.

"Ooh! I'm thirsty!" he told the bear, whose face lit up like morning.

"A drink for the puppy!" he exclaimed, heaving to his feet, tucking the hound bodily under an arm, staggering over to the bar.

"Donnie!" exclaimed the bear, attracting the attention of the barkeeper. "A drink for my puppy! And one for me!"

The big bull smirked as he saw the sorry canine trapped in the arms of the bear. He brought a couple tankards of mead, setting them on the bar. He patted Skylos's head, meeting his glare with a grin.

"" growled Skylos under his breath, wriggling a bit in the firm grasp of the bear.

Donnie looked amused and tended to other patrons without a word.

The bear took a drink from one of the tankards, then pushed open the canine's muzle. "Drink up, puppy!" he murmured, looking pleased with himself as he forced the mead down the dog's throat.

Skylos sputtered and gulped, getting far too much mead poured into his muzzle at once. "Ack! Stop!" he yelped, wriggling helplessly in the strong arms. The bear stopped for a moment. The hound caught sight of Sertofinus and Sam, further down the bar, pointing at him and laughing hysterically. He blushed and struggled all the more. Just as he was getting his breath back, the bear forced more mead on him.

"More drink for my puppy. Thirsty puppy." murmured the bear, a beatific smile on his face, alternating small drinks from the tankard with pouring it down the dog's throat.

Arla was enjoying this immensely. A bear had gotten ahold of Skylos and wouldn't let him go. He had been feeding him large amounts of mead for an hour now, making the canine thoroughly drunk. He had stopped struggling a while before, laying fairly passively on the bear's lap, trying mostly unsuccessfully to avoid drinking more of the mead. His fur and the bear's was absolutely soaked with the stuff, but Donnie kept supplying him with more. After the fight had calmed down, everybody was drinking allt he more. Donnie's supply was sure getting used tonight. She sipped her own mead some more, smiling at Sam without thinking. He really was a handsome fellow. She cut off the thoughts quickly, turning back and laughing with the other keepers as the bear put the Hound on his shoulder, burping him like a mother does her child. The hound looked so cute there, helpless in the big bear's arms like a baby.

Skylos lolled drunkenly on the bear's shoulder, his eyes unfocused, the deaf mule swimming around him. "llle mee goe." he slurred, "ah dun wan anny more meee." A giant paw thumped his back repeatedly, he hardly reacted, except to burp loudly to applaus. Everything swirled again and more of the cold sweet mead was pushed into his muzzle. He swallowed again and again, the sounds around him seeming to blur together, fade into unrecognizable sonics. Everything seemed so fuzzy, comfortable. He yawned only to meet more mead, which he swallowed.

Donnie stood in front of the bear, arms crossed firmly, refusing the request for more mead, pointing at Skylos and shaking his head.

The bear looked at Donnie, then at the hound. He put Skylos on a stool beside him, murmuring, "no more for the puppy. More for me!" The bear then seemed to forget the dog, busily slurping down more sweet drink.

Arla moved over and elbowed Skylos. "Careful of them bears!" she teased.

Skylos swayed dangerously near falling off the stool. He steadied himself on the bar and swiveled around to see the black and white patterns that his mind slowly triggured to meaning "Arla". He smiled and tried to put an arm around her, but missed. He swayed again, and was pushed upright by her.

"Arla, beetifull doggie" he said, looking at her with a silly grin, his tongue hanging out the side of his muzzle.

"Come on 'puppy'" she giggled, feeling lightheaded from her own drinks. "Its high time you got to bed."

"Oh, yeth." mumbled the hound, "Leth go ta bed Arlaa!", grinning all the more.

Sam joined her in supporting Skylos as they half dragged him down the hallways of the keep. Arla smirked, glancing over at the Dalmation.

"He's going to feel this tomorrow, eh?" she chuckled, pushing the staggering hound back upright.

Sam nodded, smiling back at the collie. "Every single swallow." he agreed. They arrived at a door marked with a rough carving of a hound and a dalmation on it.

"Your place?" asked Arla, leaving Skylos to lean against Sam while she swung open the door.

"Yup. Can usually find it sooner or later." he grinned, alluding to the Keep's variable geometry. "Just visualize this door and walk for a while."

Sam nudged Skylos towards the doorway. He staggered through it into the dark room, somewhat off balance. There was the loud clatter of something falling over, and a muffled "oof".

"Don't worry 'bout him. He isn't feeling a thing." grinned Sam, smiling at the Collie warmly, winking. "Its late, and I'm sure you're as tired as me. Care to sleep here tonight?"

Arla shifted, suddenly uncomfortable. "Uh, no thanks. Well, goodbye." she said shortly, and hurried off. Sam watched her leave thoughtfully before retiring to his room. The darkness soothed his mind compared to the guttering torchlight of the corridor.

He lit a candle briefly to find Skylos sleeping on the stone floor, half covered by a pile of bamboo fragments intended for building models with. He shook his head, sighing as he heaved his friend onto the large bed. He blew out the candle and joined him, his tiredness, the alcohol, and the warmth of his friend working together to bring sleep easily.