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Here Upon Athropolis
The sounds and change in motion had not been enough to wake the children - they still slept soundly under the cover. The dark clouds had rolled along, dragging the storm behind them, and the water was calm again. All was quiet.
What was that - within the deep dark crevices in the ice? The darkness was pierced by the glow of green spots - almost like fireflies. The spots danced silently - in pairs. Eyes! That was it! The glowing green eyes moved out into the twilight and toward the lifeboat. Closer... and closer... and closer.
The sun would soon creep over the horizon, and in the first reflected light of the day, shapes began to appear around the eyes. Dark hands reached out. A touch - quickly withdrawn - then another.
The lifeboat was surrounded! The ghostly, green-eyed creatures loomed - ready to pounce!
Suddenly, the first beams of sunlight broke over the ridge of ice. There was a flurry of snow as the shapes scampered into the shadows.
Then, new sounds. Somebody - or something - else was coming, following the path of the sun as it slowly lit each icy ridge and cliff and began to gently brush the last fogwebs from the ice.
A scouting party appeared on the ridge. Ice helmets pulled protectively over their heads, they held their ice shields and icicle clubs ready for battle.
"Listen, Throps! Be careful now! There! More tracks! Do you see the print of the big toe?"
"Squallhoots! Squallhoots! Watch out, Fourth Leader!" The Throps scrambled through the snow and disappeared behind a snowbank - leaving Fourth Leader alone, crouching nervously.
"Where? Where?" The leader's eyes darted across the snow.
Frightened heads popped up one by one.
"Over there - in the shadow!"
"Is that one?"
"Does it have horrible green eyes?"
"DON'T LET IT EAT YOU!"
The leader gripped his club firmly and crept up to a deep crevice in the ice that was still hidden from the early morning sun. "Th - th - there's nothing here! It's just shadows," he said after carefully peeking all around. He waved the Throps onward. "Let's go!"
"But what's THAT? Over there!"
"It's... Oh, it's nothing!" Fourth Leader was becoming annoyed. An early morning patrol during danger time was no place for these new scouts - they were just youngsters full of the jitters. "Come on, or we'll never finish the patrol before sunset - and you know what happens when the sun goes down!"
"WE'LL GET GOBBLED UP!"
Under the cover of the lifeboat, Jason was just rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Gobbled up?" he repeated to himself. Who was talking?
"We'll get gobbled up in JUST ONE BITE!" the voices continued.
With those words, Jason was fully awake and wide-eyed. He cocked his head and strained to hear.
"LOOK! Look THERE!"
Sara was startled awake by the shout from outside. She started to speak but Jason put his finger to his lips. "Shhhh."
"It's a - a FLOATER BOAT!"
"M - m - maybe it's a trap! A Squallhoot trap!"
Fourth Leader approached very carefully. "It IS a floater boat, and it's not made of ice. It's made of something different. Be careful! Be very careful!"
From under the cover, Jason and Sara could hear spiked boots crunching into the ice as Fourth Leader crept closer and closer - icicle club held high and ready to strike.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Kevin was jolted from his sleep - just in time to hang on as the lifeboat was rocked back and forth. The cover was suddenly snatched away and the three children bolted upright - coming face to face with the Throps! Squinting eyes stained to see! The ice armored shapes looked blotchy and shiny against the bright morning sun.
"AAAAAHHH!" Everybody shouted out together!
The Throps leapt upon the boat, yanking the cover back down. Icicle clubs swung wildly. The children were jostled about under the cover as the Throps struggled to hold them in.
"Hold the cover down! Hold it down TIGHT!" Fourth Leader jumped into action as the Throps shouted out in terror. The Throps had never seen faces like these! What could they be?
"Yeeeiii! Are they ICE TROLLS?" a scout shouted.
"NO! They're too ugly! They must be SNOW DEMONS!"
Kevin joined in the shouting. "Hey! What's... OUCH!" An icicle club bounced across a round shape under the cover! "That my head!"
"D - d - don't let them out - whatever they are!" the Throps screamed. "But what ARE they? Maybe they're b - b - bugaboos! REAL bugaboos! W - w - w - w - what NOW, Fourth Leader?"
Fourth Leader was so excited he hardly knew what to do. He didn't know what they had under the cover. Maybe they were invaders! Maybe they were spies! What should he do? "Tie them up TIGHT! That's what we'll do!"
The Throps jumped about frantically! Rope flew wildly from side to side! The scouts became tangled in a mess of coils and knots.
"Now what will I do? What will I do NOW?" Fourth Leader shouted to himself as he jumped about in circles.
"Uh - take them prisoner?" a Throp suggested.
"I know!" Fourth Leader had a brilliant idea. "We'll take them prisoner! Yes! That's what we'll do! Quickly! Tie these ends together and we'll take them back to the castle - as PRISONERS!"
"Ouch! Jason - tell them to stop!" Sara pleaded.
Jason tried to call out again as he was bumped about. "Stop... UGHH!"
"Just you wait!" Kevin was angry now. "You can't do this to... OUCH! I'll get you for... OUUUCH!"
"Quickly! Quickly now!" shouted Fourth Leader.
The muffled shouts of the children drifted across the ice and down into the deep crevices. From dark caverns, green glowing eyes watched as the Throps began to rock and drag the boat - bound in a mess and tangle of rope - through the ice and snow. Deep angry grunts and growls followed each movement, until the lifeboat and the Throps vanished over the ridge and into the bright morning sunlight.
Somebody was going to be very angry.
Basking in the safety of the morning sun, the great ice doors of the castle began to yawn and open wide. The return of the sun meant that the surface of the ice was safe once again, and the Throps spilled out onto the snow, straining to see if the troops and scouts - who had crept out onto the ice during "danger time" - would all return safely.
The thick frozen walls of the castle had been built to keep out danger, and while the noise of the day's activities began to build outside, behind the heavy blocks of ice, the castle hallways remained very quiet...
"Orrrrrrrrrb! Orrrrrrrrrb! Orrrrrrrrrb!"
The chanting echoed through the halls in time to the rhythmic footsteps.
"Orrrrrrrrrb! Orrrrrrrrrb! Orrrrrrrrrb!"
The procession of Throps rounded the corner and began their march down the long glistening hallway. The hoods of their cloaks pulled solemnly around their faces, they moved steadily along - carrying a mysterious blue orb above their heads. The orb shone with a soft blue light and its eerie glow threw a protective escort of shadow Throps around the walls.
Each step was taken with great care. Every foot was placed carefully and gingerly on the slippery floor. The orb was very precious - and magical.
But the Throps did not see the puddle beneath their cloaks. When they heard the splash - it was already too late.
Feet shot into the air! The line of Throps was broken! The shimmering orb slipped from desperate hands - and spun aloft. Fingers frantically thrashed after it, but the slippery sphere escaped again - and again - and again - bouncing from Throp to Throp until it finally hit the floor. It rumbled along the hard icy walkway - eluding every hand and body that tried to stop it. Eyes wide with horror, the Throps could only watch as the glowing blue ball bounced down the stairway. A blue streak shot across the floor - past the startled scouts - and through the castle doorway that had just been opened to bring in a mysterious floater boat.
"Yeiiii! Grab it! Stop it!" Shouts of panic and terror filled the air as the orb soared out onto the snow like a blue cannonball. "It's heading straight for the deep crevice! Hurry!" More Throps joined the chase - diving and stumbling through the snow as the slippery shiny ball bounced and then rolled along - evading every grasping hand!
The orb lifted gently into the air before it plunged silently into the dark hole. Throps, frantically running behind it, clawed at the snow to keep from following it over the edge.
Their heads slowly peeped down into the darkness. There was nothing to do but listen to the sound of the falling orb as it plunged deep into the chasm.
The children struggled to untangle themselves from the boat cover and fought with the canvas and rope.
Sara took a deep breath. "First we - we run into a storm - then the ship gets wrecked - then we're set adrift in a lifeboat all by ourselves - and now - instead of being rescued..."
Jason threw a piece of rope to the floor. "We're CAPTURED - and locked up!"
"Yeah! We're having a bad day!" Kevin added.
They looked around the icy room. Everything was made of shining ice - the walls, the floors, the chairs, the table - everything. Soft light glowed through the crystal walls, making the room quite bright even though there was only one tiny window. The window was much too high for anyone to see through and the only other opening was a small hole in the door.
"Hey! We're locked in a refrigerator - with furniture!" Kevin removed the hood of his survival suit and slapped his hat firmly onto his head. The propeller on top picked up the breeze coming through the window and began to spin gently. There! He could think better now. They were prisoners and he needed to think of a plan.
Sara sat down on a frozen chair. The chair was just her size. In fact, everything was just her size. Everything was just the right size for small people.
"Who were those strange looking - people?" she asked Jason. The morning air was still nippy and her breath formed mist as she spoke. "Were they - people with funny helmets? They looked like little knights of old!"
Kevin whispered to himself. "Zorks!"
"I don't know," Jason answered.
"Jason doesn't know something else! That's TWO things!" Kevin looked both puzzled and delighted.
Jason scowled at him. "I've never read anything about people who looked like that! I'll look in my..." He checked his pockets for his book, but it was gone. "Hmmm. I must've dropped it."
The padded feet drifted almost silently over the ice in the long dark hallway. Every step was taken softly and carefully, for each loud sound would bounce from the hard icy walls and echo endlessly down the passageway. The Throp carried a tray and stopped to listen just outside the heavy door. The voices of the children drifted through the small opening.
"I wonder what happened to Mom and Dad... and the other people on the ship. Jason, do you think they're safe?"
"I think so. There were enough lifeboats for everybody. We had an accident, that's all. Our boat just fell overboard too soon."
"Everything happened so fast. And now - we're lost!" Sara continued.
"Don't worry. Somebody will pick up the signal from the radio beacon." Jason knew that was their only chance.
"I wish we knew who locked us up. They jumped me - when I wasn't looking! Wait until I get my hands on them!" Kevin swung his foot at the wall. "Ouch! That hurt."
Before Jason could say another word, the latch on the door clicked, the bolt scraped back, and the heavy ice door creaked open. The children watched, wide eyed and speechless as two guards, their faces concealed behind ice helmets and gripping heavy icicle clubs, stood by the door - the weapons held ready to strike. Another Throp, dressed in a hooded suit, walked quickly through the room and gently placed an ice crystal tray on the table. As the mysterious figure turned to leave, a hand pointed to the tray and then to the children. At that moment, Sara peeked underneath the hood. Her eyes were almost as wide as saucers! She tried to speak, but she couldn't get the words to come out!
Suddenly Kevin shouted out. "Hey, you! I..." Sara grabbed him just in time. She smothered his words with her hand. "Mmmphh."
Jason tried his best to act bravely. "Who are you? W - what are you going to do with us? W - where are we? Why are we locked up? When are we...?"
The stranger did not reply, but quickly slipped back through the door. SLAM! The heavy door swung shut and the bolt hammered into place.
Sara stood motionless. She still held Kevin, but she looked like she had seen a ghost.
Kevin struggled free. He sputtered and straightened his suit. "Pfft! We should've jumped it - whatever it was! I could have..."
"You could have gotten us into even more trouble!" Jason scolded. He knew that they were in enough trouble as it was, and he didn't want to make things worse.
Sara tried to speak. Her voice was weak. "J - J - Jason..."
Kevin babbled on. "Aww - I'm not afraid. They're not gonna hurt us."
"Or talk to us!" Jason added. "Maybe they'll just leave us here - until we..." He looked around the icy room and shivered at the thought. "Look! This must be food," he said, changing the subject.
"K - K - Kevin..."
Kevin looked at the food on the tray. "Yuk! I'm not eating THAT! Look - the greeny stuff is touching the bluey stuff!"
Sara's voice was finally returning. " J - Jason... K - Kevin... I just saw... I - I just... It - it was..."
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