With a well planned if unpracticed maneuver, Moric ran down the Titan’s face, choosing a moment where the great lizard paused with head near the cavern roof to chew his latest mouthful. The sheriff leapt from the long nose and swung under the great belly. He gave the rope the special shake and tug which undid his clever knot and quickly crammed the rest of it into his pocket even as he ran under the long body and out past the blackened tail, heading for the frantically waving, oddly distorted furry face in a relatively small dark gap in the stone wall just beyond the rapidly escalating feeding frenzy Moric left behind.

When Sheriff Moric reached the occupied crevice he found the distortion came from an impressively strong pair of spectacles perched on a long, mildly pleasant mole nose, and the gap in the cave wall could only be small when compared to the way things sized up in that area of the underground, what with giant Fire Ants and Titan Lizards distorting perspective. One Fire Ant might be able to fit down the passage, but it would be a tight fit. The smaller cave stretched more than twice Moric’s usual height, but the Titan would never notice it, and the mole’s grease stained overalls had more cloth than some tents in which Moric had slept comfortably.

“Georgia sent me down to close up yon portal once all the wee beasties take their little party to te t’other side, oh and to keep an eye upon yer own good self, as well. She had it in mind that ye might be a wee bit distracted, as it might be, “ the big voice vibrated through into Moric’s mind as the towering mole shifted over to make room.

“That was very kind of her, “ Moric said finally after a deep breath and some rubbing at the more roughly used bits of himself. “I do not think we have been properly introduced. As Georgia probably warned you, I am called Moric, Sheriff of Funtown.” He held out one poof for a good shake, trying for the proper amount of eye contact, but a little distracted by the scene beyond their little bit of darkness.

“Thas right, te boss tol me te expect a well-grown moosey type feller of te upright persuasion in proper cowboy kit. To tell ye te truth now, you could ha’ arrived resembling nothing so much as a big, orange duck; or a tiny, wee giraffe all green wi’ purple spots; and I should still credit you wi’ being the Moose Moric arriving as you did in such company. Moosey fellers c’n manage such amazing things tha’ one thing more one way or t’other makes no nevermind.” The mole shook Sheriff Moric’s hand with no more force or vigor than required, though he could have. “They call me Engine Joe, seeing as how I take care of te engines on Boss Lady Georgia’s fine crafts, but I’m not above te blowing up of a thing or two when occasion calls for such pleasures.”

Some trick of the cavern’s echoes carried the sounds of the lizardly feasting and the mounting insectile counter assault to the two mammalian observers in such a way as to make them both louder and farther away as the Titan lizard slid out of view, down the smooth, oddly melted tunnel into the heart of the Fire Ant colony, without the need for any coaxing. The tunnel chosen squeezed the lizard down rather more tightly than those through which it had run under Sheriff Moric, but nowhere well-populated with giant Fire Ants could ever be truly dark, and down that way the Titan found food, a great motivator all in itself. No doubt the long run only increased the lizard’s hunger.

“Well there they go. Just let me set te timer and then we should exit post haste, just to be on te safe side,” Engine Joe said bending down to make some adjustment to a device formerly hidden in the shadows by his feet. “Back we go, down te passage a few yards, if you would.” The mole held one arm out and bowed slightly at the waist so Sheriff Moric could lead the way with no hint of urgency in posture or voice.

The passage soon widened out until they could walk comfortably side by side. Just after, a staccato series of sharp pops preceded a long rumble that shook the floor, walls, and ceiling gently before fading away. Moric gave Joe a long look.

“Any old ol’ fool can take down te roof with enough of a bang, but there is no telling what other damage that might do in an enclosed space like this, what with shock waves, oxygen consumption, and collateral damage to the surrounding superstructure of the cave networks. I took the ceiling down for a dozen yards in chunks big enough to keep the Fire Ants and Titan lizard in one another’s company for a time. This is supposed to be a culling, not an extermination, is it not?” Engine Joe sounded rather indignant and Moric wondered about the engineer’s fading accent.

“Of course. Very good. Thank you,” Moric said contritely. He stopped and looked around in the nearly pitch dark. Now that they were away from the Fire Ants, Moric saw that Engine Joe had some traces of the luminous substance that marked the turns spread over the oil stains about his person.

“How long will the glow persist, do you think?” Moric asked, waving at one of the larger glowing patches on the knee of Joe’s overalls.

“Only until the paste dries,” Engine Joe responded easily, accepting the change of subject. “Te first few turns should already be dark.” A thought seemed to strike the engineer and he rubbed the tip of his long nose fretfully. “Would you be wanting directions as to how to be reaching the surface now, or perhaps a lift? I have one of the smaller runabouts not far from here.” He dropped his hand and ducked his head, breaking eye contact. “I do not often go up to the surface, to tell you the truth, and never this way, so I am not certain how helpful I might be. I only did the marking for the last few turns, but we could give it a go.”

“That is quite all right.” Faint vibrations ran through the floor like shivers after a lump of snow starts to melt down your back, or very polite aftershocks.

“It is just the other charges going off. Georgia asked me to shut up all the entrances I could find,” Engine Joe assured Moric without having to be asked.

The Sheriff nodded, but otherwise went on as if the interruption never happened. “I brought my own transportation to the surface with me. Thank you for the offer just the same.”

“Suit yourself. This little adventure made for an interesting problem to solve while the others made our deliveries. Feel free to stop by down for a cuppa when next we come this way if you have the time.” Engine Joe patted Moric on the shoulder and turned away to disappear with surprising speed for a fellow of his size, taking the little scraps of light with him.

Experimentally, the Sheriff waved his poof in front of his nose, but his eyes could not detect the slightest hint of movement. He shook his head wonderingly and pulled a small spark from a certain point of his antlers. Carefully, he shook the dancing, sparkling thing until it grew to the size of a large shield, dancing and dripping bright golden sparks from his fingers with the sound of softly struck, glass chimes.

Sheriff Moric started to swing the flickering circle above his head as he would the loop of his lasso, letting it grow wider and wider. When the light had grown big enough to show the length and breadth of the cavern, the Moose swung the loop down and jumped through it, so that the glittering sparks passed over his whole body. When his boots touched ground again, Moric stood…someplace else, leaving nothing but a few sparkles still falling through the air in the cavern to show he had ever been.


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