"It'll never stand." said Achin.
"Sure it will." replied Shamgar.
"Not a chance." said the dog as he adjusted his glasses. "With nothing but rocks, timber and mud mortar? There's just no way."
"I'll bet you two gold it will." replied the rhino.
Shamgar smiled as he shifted into his fully rhino form. He pawed the ground once, then charged forward with all the speed he could muster. He hit the stone wall like a ball of clay, flattening out sideways with the impact.
"HEY!" shouted Oren from the third story. "GreeeEEE! Who's smashing into the wall?"
"It's me, Shamgar! I was just showing Achin how strong your tower was! The thing didn't budge an inch and now he owes me two gold pieces!"
Oren wiped his face. "You'd better be glad it didn't budge!" he shouted down. "I'm three stories up wut wut and headed higher! If this thing had come down on top of me, I would have been quite upset!"
Oren climbed the stairs to the fourth and top story of the tower. Bradfox was there, staring into the sky.
"Find anything new, old lady?"
Brad stroked hir beard thoughtfully. "There's going to be a meteor shower tonight." s'he said. "Up here should be an excellent place to view the phenomenon.
Oren nodded absently as he pulled on a rope. Using an intricate system of pulleys, he slowly hoisted a small boulder up to the topmost story. With the arm of the crane, he swung the rock around and snugged it into a perfectly shaped gap in the wall.
"That's it!" he announced. "The fourth ppprrrr story is finished! Tomorrow, I can begin the floor of the fifth."
"If you don't mind me asking," said Brad. "What exactly IS this tower going to be, anyway?"
"I have no idea." Oren responded.
"So why are you building it?"
"It's something to do with all the rocks and unwanted timber I haul off for the chup local farmers."
"And you do that why?"
"Because it's a way to make a decent income until I can make my skills as a tut tut warrior or a storyteller pay off."
"Or a builder."
Oren snorted. "Right. Achin just bet Shamgar two gold that my walls were going to fall."
"And they stood firm after being rammed by a rhino."
"That kind of scrutiny I can do without!" the otter said as he sat down on a stack of rough-hewn planks.
Brad played with the folds in hir kilt for a second before saying "I think there's more getting to you than Achin and Shamgar."
"Want to talk?"
Oren took a deep breath. "I feel like I've been under a microscope since I moved in at the keep. Everyone wants to know what I'm doing. What am I building? Hng hng hng What am I eating? Where am I going? Why don't I wear pants?"
"They ask me that one, too."
"I feel more like a zoo animal than a man, Bradfox."
The astronomer stood up and strode over to the otter. "As it just so happens, you are more like a zoo animal than a man."
"Very funny, Brad."
"I'm serious. You're very different from everyone else here. Yours is, I think, the longest stay at Metamor Keep anyone has ever managed without being changed."
"That's one of the things that bothers me." Oren said. "I want to hurry up and change so that I can get on with my new life."
"I understand." said Bradfox as s'he climbed up the steps with a couple of planks. "Everybody is the same way when they come here. If they know that they're going to change, they want to hurry up and get it over with. You should have seen Charles when he came in. Didn't care what he was going to be. He just wanted to change."
"Wft! I heard about that." said Oren, shifting uncomfortably. He couldn't help feeling just a little bit guilty about knowing what he did. Being insatiably curious, he'd done a little bit more information gathering on some people than was legally allowed.
"We don't even know that much about the curse over the keep." said Bradfox as s'he put the boards down, forming a small perch where s'he could better watch the stars come out. "It may be that you're not human enough to be affected."
"You really think so?" asked Oren as he idly tossed a piece of loose stone over the wall.
"No. Not really."
Four stories below, the man in black looked up the tower and smiled, revealing several missing teeth. The otter was alone in the top of the tower, save for the weirdo in the skirt. Now was his chance to destroy the childlike warrior.
He took one last look up the side before heading toward the door. That was when the loose piece of stone got him in the eye. The man in black fell to the ground, very much unconscious.
"Did you hear something?" asked Oren.
"Hmm?" was Bradfox's response. "What? I'm sorry. I was busy looking at the... what the?"
"What the what?"
"I pray that I'm simply turned around... there's a new star in the constellation of Aquarius."
"How chp! can that be?"
"You're asking me?"
"You're the astronomer."
Brad's lips moved as s'he counted off unspoken items on hir fingers. At last, s'he shouted a euphemism for manure and ran down the stairs.
"What is it?" demanded the otter, following after.
"I don't know for sure. I'm an astronomer, not an astrologer."
"But you do know something!"
The man paused for a moment. Oren nearly ran into him. "I don't want to start a panic, but if I were you, Oren, I wouldn't worry about changing."
"What do you mean?"
"You've got bigger troubles ahead." S'he looked for a moment as if s'he was going to explain, but didn't. Instead, s'he ran off shouting "I need to speak to the Duke!"
Oren stood in front of the tower, looking frightened and confused.