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Caverns and Squallhoots
The Squallhoots loved their world of darkness. There wasn't anything that they missed by not being able to go out in that blistering sun. The moon was their sun, the northern lights were better than sunsets, and the stars and the constellations had always been a reliable guide to the ice fields - although that seemed to be changing.
Oh, the long dark Arctic winter night had been lovely. All of that time to wander about, completely free of those pesky Throps. But, longer twilight times meant that the dreaded summer was coming. The sun had begun shining again, and the nights were becoming shorter and shorter. Soon that awful sun would be pouring its rays down upon the ice every minute of every day! Soon the Squallhoots would be stuck down in their caves and caverns again - for the long summer sunstorm season!
Going outside was getting to be a problem. Lately, going outside usually meant rain too, and if there was anything that Squallhoots hated more than sunshine, it was wet fur!
The icy caverns and passageways led to the grot, the large meeting room of the Squallhoots. The only light came from an orb, made of crystal clear ice, resting on a table near the entrance. Its pale blue rays shimmered around the icy walls and made the cavernous room seem even colder than it already was. From time to time, gusts of wind found their way down the long twisting passageways and whispered and whistled around the pillars and columns of ice that added strength to the ceilings and walls.
Now, in the distance, there was a sound. It became louder and louder. A chant echoed through the tunnels. The Squallhoots were coming.
Huzza! Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!
The Squallhoots poured from the passageways into the grot.
Huzza! Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!
We're mean and we're nasty
And everyone hates us,
And everyone hates us
Because we're so mean!
Everyone hates us -
Oh, we've got them running,
So we must be nasty
Whenever we're seen.
The Squallhoots liked to sing, and the scarier the song, all the better to scare those Throps. If the Throps thought Squallhoots were mean and nasty and fierce, they would leave them alone forever. They would be too afraid to do anything else!
A fur covered hand grabbed the icicle and snapped it from the ceiling. A pink tongue slithered out of the white furry face and licked along the full length of the icicle with a long satisfying slurp. Spittle flowed down the side of the mouth and the green eyes glowed in the darkness. The long low growl could only belong to one Squallhoot - Snort!
"QUIET! Quiet now!" Snort plopped into his chair and glared out into a field of shining green eyes. "Are we all here?"
"Yes, Great One. We're here. Yes, Grand Leader, Sir! Yeah, Second to None One!" the Squallhoots replied. "Let the hubbub begin!"
"Where is the leader of the skulks who were on patrol last night?" Snort didn't waste any time getting down to business. "Where is DRIZZLE?"
Drizzle nervously stepped forward. "H - h - here I am, Most Honorable Snort, Sir. I was the one."
"Well? What happened?" Snort's voice boomed around the walls in an echo that seemed to never stop.
"Th - there was a big storm last night..." Drizzle began.
"I know that!" Snort was very impatient.
"The strong winds made it - impossible - yeah - IMPOSSIBLE - for us to go outside until just before dawn. We could have been blown into the freezing water! Water is all around us now."
"I know that, too! Go on!"
"W - when the wind stopped, I - I took the skulks out onto the ice to see if the Great Sea had sent us anything. W - we saw it - just before the sun came up."
"IT? What is IT?"
"We saw a - a FLOATER BOAT with..."
"A floater boat! It had invaders - or - or someone - hiding underneath a c - c - cover!" Drizzle was becoming very nervous and frightened.
Anything that washed up on the ice was immediately claimed by the Squallhoots. It would be pulled down into the passageways, examined from top to bottom, and then put into the storage caverns where it might wait, sometimes for many years - even centuries - until someone came up with a good use for it.
But what a prize! A boat! Not pieces of a boat - they had plenty of those in the caverns - but a WHOLE boat! Squallhoots had never even seen a whole boat before. They had only imagined what a boat looked like by trying to stick all of their old broken boat pieces together.
Snort jumped up and down with excitement. "A boat for the storage cave - and prisoners for the dungeon!" Finally something good had happened! He suddenly glared at Drizzle. "And SO?"
Drizzle was becoming very frightened. He knew what question was coming next and he was trying his best to keep from shaking.
"WHERE IS IT?"
Drizzle was so nervous that he was almost falling down. "We - we - lost the boat - and - and..."
"You WHAT!!" Snort's deep voice boomed around the room. Many of the Squallhoots covered their ears until the echo finally stopped.
"It was taken by - by the - by the - Throps!"
Snort jumped to his feet. "TAKEN BY THE THROPS?!" His nostrils flared and mist billowed into the cold air as he huffed and puffed in anger.
"Yes," Drizzle answered meekly. He wished that there was somewhere to hide. Under anything - in anything - even a hole full of water would be welcome right now.
"And you didn't attack them? WHY? WHY? WHY?"
"B - b - but," Drizzle stammered, "the sun came up! We could not attack. We had to dash for cover to avoid the sunbeams!" He looked at the skulks for support but got none. They were all too afraid to speak.
"Oh, Drizzle! You IDIOT!" Snort fell back into his chair in disgust. The Throps had stolen the floater boat. HIS floater boat! He wasn't quite sure exactly what it looked like, but by now it was his FAVORITE floater boat! Would his problems never end? "The darkness is ending - our caverns are flooding - those treacherous Throps are right overhead! We can't go up - we can't go down - water is gushing all around - and now you let those blundering Throps steal MY floater boat! Oooooh! I'm so mad - I think I'm going to bite somebody!" he growled.
A Squallhoot finally dared to speak. "But where is the water coming from? In the lower caverns - it's starting to get DEEP!" Puddles were slowly forming everywhere - and walking around with wet soggy feet was making everyone quite disagreeable.
And why was it getting so warm outside? Why was their fur starting to fall out? If this continued, they'd be bald - or even NAKED! Some Squallhoots had noticed that their beautiful white fur was starting to turn brown! What was going on? And why were the tunnels rolling back and forth? They were getting - tunnelsick! There were many questions - but there were no answers!
"What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?" the Squallhoots shouted.
Something had to be done, there was no doubt about that. Something had gone very wrong, but Snort didn't know how to put it right.
"How can I know every little thing?" Snort shouted angrily. He jumped up and shook the water from his fur. "Isn't it enough that I ordered a new escape tunnel to be built?" He scowled and thought very hard. "Maybe we should attack those furless frost-bitten bandits," he finally said.
"But," said Drizzle, forgetting his fear for a moment, "if we win the castle - what will we do?" The sun had started to shine again - soon those dangerous rays would be pouring down on the ice all summer long! "We can't live up THERE!"
"WE'LL BURN UP!" the Squallhoots shouted.
"We'll sizzle and fizzle!"
Snort looked up with glaring green eyes. "And does anybody have a better plan?" he sneered.
Drizzle shrank back and stared meekly at the floor. "No."
"No. No. Not me. No. Nope. Ugh ugh. Not me." Nobody had a plan.
Answers! They needed answers - and they needed them fast!
"I've got it!" Snort had an idea. "It must be Throp bad magic! Those Throps are doing this! If we can just get our hands on one of those blue-bellied..." He suddenly had a better idea. "Where are my skulks?" he bellowed.
A group of skulks stumbled into a line in front of Snort.
"We're here, Boss!"
Snort moved closer to the skulks. "When the darkness returns," he said quietly into their ears, "and those troublesome Throps are snoring their blubbering little blue heads off, you will go - like ghosts of the ice - and..."
Crystal paced nervously up and down the hallway outside of the library. She had taken food to the children while they were locked in the tower. She'd heard them talking. They weren't spies and she knew it! She just had to do something - but what?
The door to the library was partly open and she could hear the talking inside. The "spies", still guarded by other Throps, were being questioned by Ludi and Toot.
"PEEE-ple! Peee-PLE! PEOPLE! People - people - people! Hmmm. We've never heard of 'people' before!" Ludi carefully picked up a fragile tablet of ice and read from top to bottom. He couldn't find any mention of "people".
Jason was astonished by what he saw before him. The library shelves held the chronicles - tablets of ice upon which the entire history of Athropolis was chiseled. This was a great discovery! "Look!" he whispered to Sara. "The story of a lost civilization! I'm going to be famous!" He paused and looked around. "If we ever get out of here," he added.
The questioning continued. "You - people - are you like the humankind?" asked Toot. He scratched his chin under his long white beard.
"Yes, that's right. We're humans," Sara replied.
Ludi remembered reading about the humankind. He searched the chronicles. "Aha! Here it is!" He read aloud. "The legends say there are creatures - almost like us - but with skin of funny colors. Are there more humankind like you?"
"MY skin isn't a funny color. YOUR skin..." Kevin began, but Sara grabbed him. "Mmmph." This was becoming a full time job.
"There were LOTS of people like us when you go south. That's where its warm." Jason suddenly became very excited. "THAT must be why Athropolis is melting! Athropolis is drifting SOUTH!"
The Throps had gone south before - but never this far! On the top of the world - everywhere they went was south! But now there was east - and west - and north! They'd never had NORTH before!
And nobody on Athropolis had ever heard of a place where it was warm! Why, they'd never even heard of other PLACES! What would happen if Athropolis drifted into somebody else's place? What new dangers could there be? Did such places really exist?
"Tell us more! We need new ideas!" Ludi looked puzzled, but he was learning more things every minute. "If it's warm, what happens to the ice and snow?" asked Toot.
"There is none," replied Jason. "Some people have never even SEEN ice and snow!"
"But that's impossible!" interrupted Ludi. "What would they stand on? What would keep them from falling into the cold water?"
"They stand on the land."
"LAND?" Ludi frantically looked through the chronicles. He'd never heard of LAND either!
"Pre - p - p - p - preposterous! How can this be true?" Toot shook his head in disbelief. "First Leader thinks that you are spies, and I..."
Crystal had heard enough. She rushed into the room. "But they're NOT spies! They ARE lost! I heard them talking and it's true!" she shouted.
Sara recognized the face and jumped to her feet. "That's who brought us the food!"
"That wasn't food," Kevin mumbled. "That was YUK stuff."
"Tell us what you have to say, Crystal," commanded Toot.
"They were drifting in their floater boat and they came here by accident! They don't know who we are!"
"Maybe they can help us!" Crystal continued. "Ludi said we need new ideas!"
"Yes! I DID say that!"
"They need our help - and we need their help - and I think we can trust them!"
"Look! Here in the chronicles!" Ludi read the story. Long, long ago, a group of scouts had wandered far from the castle during a storm, and they met a creature - much like the children. It was pulled in a sleigh by other slave creatures - furry beings, like Squallhoots, but with four legs! It seems that those creatures had meant no harm - or so it was reported. He looked the children over very carefully, then he read the chronicles again. "Hmmm. Maybe you're not spies after all," he finally said. "And we DO need new ideas!"
"Yes," agreed Toot. "We must do something - and do it in a hurry! As Athropolis melts, the caverns will begin to flood. When they fill with water..."
The guards looked terrified. They hadn't realized this until just now. If the green-eyed furry ones were driven from their caverns, they'd need somewhere to go! There would be too many Throps - too many Squallhoots - and not enough ice!
"We'll be ATTACKED!" the guards shouted. "They'll come out and GET US - and EAT US UP! There could be a WAR!"
Well, putting it that way, the children didn't seem so dangerous after all. "Crystal is right!" shouted one of the guards. "The pee-ple creatures can help us!"
"We'll go to my laboratory and talk about new ideas." Ludi still had many questions. "We..."
"Yes, we know," shouted all of the Throps together, "WE NEED NEW IDEAS - and FAST!"
Kevin had a question, but he made sure Sara wasn't standing too close to him. "Are those Squallhooter guys gonna try and eat us, too?"
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