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The Ice Castle
The lone Throp mumbled to himself. The uncomfortable old cave, deep in the castle cellar, was very quiet. But, that's the way it should be for a listening post.
While other Throps slept, those at the listening posts had to press their ears to the icy floor and listen for the sound of Squallhoots digging through the ice. The Squallhoots were down there alright - in their caves and caverns - and up to no good! It wouldn't be the first time they tried to tunnel into the castle!
"Squallhoots! Why don't they just leave us alone!" The lonely Throp talked to himself. "Look at my ears - they're already frostbitten!" He wiggled the bandage tied around his head and tightened the knot on top. "Oh, you poor thing, those ears must be painful. Yes, they are! You're very brave. Yes, I know. What's that? What's what? That! Listen! Shhhh."
The Throp shushed himself and listened very carefully, eyes wide with concentration. Was that the sound of chipping - or scraping - coming from deep in the ice?
A bandaged ear was held flush to the floor. "Ouch! That hurt!"
The Throp tried to listen again, but pressing a sore ear to the ice was very painful.
"It's probably... Maybe it's... Nah. It's nothing. Are you sure? Yeah, it's nothing."
"I'll tell you all about those - those - burly brutes!" Ludi slammed his pointer against a carving on the wall. Was that horrible looking thing a Squallhoot?
"Yeah!" whispered Kevin. "Squallhooter guys!" The children hung on every word.
"Squallhoots live underneath the snow," Ludi began.
"And they make trouble wherever they go," added Crystal, delighted at her rhyme.
"Why, they'd eat up a Throp and spit out the bones!" continued Ludi. "Squallhoots mean..."
"TROUBLE IN THE NIGHT!" Crystal and Ludi shouted out together.
"They're ugly, too! Can you imagine how ugly WE'D be if we were all covered in fur? Ugh!" Crystal shuddered at the thought.
The Throps had lived above the nasty old Squallhoots for longer than anyone could remember, and every Throp learned about them when they were just little Throplets. There were many stories about those ghosts of the ice, and the stories must be true.
"The sun is our protection. In the daylight we are safe, but stay away from the shadows - and don't go out at night!" Ludi warned.
"Squallhoots are a sneaky bunch. Why, those big bullies even invented a SECRET MIST WEAPON!" Crystal took an ice bottle down from a shelf and pointed to the label. "GOOGLIUM MIST".
The scouts had found the open bottle. It was empty but for a tiny wisp of mist swirling in the bottom. Not much - but just enough to make First Leader talk funny when he inspected it too closely. He looked at the bottle, he shook the bottle, he sniffed the bottle, and then he talked backwards - this like! When the other Throps laughed, he said "Silly be don't! Silly be don't!"
"A talking - backwards - mist - weapon..." Jason was taking notes and writing furiously.
"So, of course I invented a BETTER mist weapon!" Ludi proudly pointed to his laboratory equipment, manufacturing more mist even as he spoke. "I invented BOOHEMIUM MIST!"
"What does that - boo stuff - make you do?" asked Kevin.
"Just one sniff - and everything you say will come out in rhymes!"
Everyone laughed at the thought. Just imagine! Those big babbling Squallhoots running about, screaming and shouting - in poetry! They'd look so silly! Crystal danced about like a Squallhoot singing. "The snow is white - the sky is blue! We're going to get - you - hoo - hoo!" Yes! Ludi's invention would fix those fuzzy old Squallhoots - once and for all!
But Ludi looked worried again. "If only I could invent something to save Athropolis! That would be my GREATEST invention," he sighed wistfully. If only he knew what to do. He knew that the Throps must be drifting very far away from where they should be. The bright star was no longer overhead - and their orb had begun to lose its magical power. "But we've lost the orb, too," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "We're doomed, I suppose."
"The ORB?" the children asked together.
"Yes! The guiding orb!"
The orb had been a most precious treasure. Its glow had been a guide to Throps still far out on the ice during the dangerous twilight time - and a comforting light during the long winter night. But, when Athropolis started to drift away, the strong blue light began to fade. Nobody knew what made it glow. If they knew that - it wouldn't be magic.
Jason was taking in every bit of information. Maybe the North Pole was sending out a signal that the orb could follow - like the radio beacon in the lifeboat. Could the orb guide Athropolis home - like a compass?
"But where is the orb?" asked Sara.
Ludi told them the sad story. "The orb sat upon a pedestal - but the pedestal was broken. We were moving the orb when it slipped..." he began.
"It rolled down the hall..." Crystal jumped into the conversation.
"And out the door and down the hill..." Ludi continued.
"And into a deep dark hole!"
"Before we could get it, it was taken by those thieving Squallhoots." Ludi pointed out the doorway to the empty, broken pedestal standing in the hallway outside the ice repair shop. There was no point in repairing it now - everything was falling apart and the repair shop was already full to overflowing with too many more important things that urgently needed repair.
"Well, you should tell them to bring it back!" said Sara. "Nobody should steal things, not even Squallhoots."
Ludi shook his head and rolled his eyes upward. These visitors to Athropolis weren't really understanding anything at all about Squallhoots, that was certain. "We can't talk to Squallhoots! At night we can't even SEE them! We go blind in the dark." Ludi put on his ice spectacles for emphasis and polished the mist from the lenses. He didn't like wearing them - they made his nose cold.
"Blind?" The children asked. What was Ludi talking about?
"But nobody can see in the dark - not without a light!" Sara said.
"Squallhoots - THEY can see in the dark," Ludi huffed, "and very well indeed!"
The sounds bounced and ricocheted throughout the caverns.
The Squallhoots worked furiously on the new escape tunnel - their green eyes glowing from behind ice goggles like miners' lamps. The picks and axes swung wildly and chewed into the ice, eating a hole ever higher and higher through the frozen crystal. Every strike of the axes sent shards of ice flying through the air - bouncing off the helmets and goggles and sticking in the thick white fur of the diggers as they plowed onward and upward through the iceberg.
With loud scrapes, other workers scooped up the shattered ice with their shovels and filled the little trolley cars. Full to almost spilling, the trolley cars were released, and with the shove of a furry foot, they rolled wildly downward, with a clatter and a clickity-clack, taking the ice into the deepest holes and caverns.
Snort gave the orders. "Faster! Faster! Chop it up! Move it out!" he growled. "Faster! Faster!"
The tunnel moved steadily upward. Deep in the ice, where the sun never shone, the Squallhoots had been able to work all day, and as the tunnel got closer and closer to the surface, light began to reflect through the ice.
Snort growled his orders again. "Hurry! Faster! We're almost to the top!"
"Oh, good!" Ludi exclaimed as he rushed about. "Put one here! And put another over there! And one by the door, too! The walls have become very weak - any noise could make the castle fall apart! And remember - NO SINGING!" Ludi suddenly looked very sad. "Oh, how I will miss the singing."
BANG! BANG! BANG!
"What? Who?" Ludi spun around as the sounds of hammering drifted down the hallway. "What is all that racket about?" he shouted.
A shout was returned. "We're putting up the signs! The signs that say 'No Shouting'! By your orders, Ludi! You said..."
"Yes! I remember!" The shouts echoed through the corridors.
If anyone had looked closely, they would have seen the tiny little cracks appear. With a faint tinkling, the miniature crevices began their fractured journey - each shout adding new crinkled tentacles as they crept up and down the weak ice - spreading like frosty cobwebs across the wall.
But the children didn't see the cracks. Its hard to notice such things when you are deep in thought - and there was much to think about. Bit by bit and piece by piece, they began to put together everything that they had learned that day. Athropolis had to go one way - north - that's where the Throps lived. They had to go the other way - south - that's where they lived. And if the radio beacon didn't get turned on soon - they'd be too far away for anybody to pick up the signal!
Sara realized it first. "Jason, we've got to save Athropolis - or we'll never get the radio beacon back!"
"Yeah! The booper!" added Kevin.
"You're right! But HOW?"
Yes! How? How would they know where to go if the Squallhoots had the orb? And what could they build that the Squallhoots wouldn't break - and what could they build it with? They were running out of time - Athropolis was drifting further and further away and melting faster and faster! There must be something they could make. A paddle wheel? A sail? Everything was impossible! All they had was ice! What could they make out of ice?
Kevin looked up and down the hallway. "I'll find that blipper," he whispered to himself. "I'LL save us."
Sara spoke quietly. "The Squallhoots. They've - they've got to help us."
Jason heard her, but he was busy with his own thoughts. They needed a big tug boat - that's what they needed!
Crystal was doing some thinking of her own. Why wouldn't First Leader give the children their beeper back? If it didn't get turned on soon...
The ice glowed golden as the sun hung low in the sky. An evening breeze twisted through the castle windows and swatted at the propeller on Kevin's hat. The propeller began to twirl faster and faster, and Crystal noticed the whirring sound right away.
"What do you call that - that strange thing on your head?" she asked.
"It's my propeller," replied Kevin.
"Prop - peller?" Crystal tried to say the word.
"What is a - propeller?" asked Ludi, "And why is it on top of your head?"
"This hat helps me think! It's my thinking hat," said Kevin, stretching proudly to his full height.
Sara spoke very quietly. "Maybe we could make a propeller."
Jason began his explanation. "A propeller is..." He suddenly stopped and shouted. "A PROPELLER! That's it! That's what we need to push Athropolis home! Like a ship! A big ice-ship!"
Sara smiled to herself. She was right. That WAS a good idea.
Kevin began to look worried and pulled his hat down tight over his head. Nobody was going to get his hat. They'd better not be thinking that! It was staying on his head - right and tight!
"Yes! We'll make a great ICE propeller!" Jason stretched his arms out wide. "Big! Bigger than this! REALLY big!"
THIS was a new idea and Ludi was very excited. "Tell me more! Tell me more!" he shouted. He grabbed a tablet of ice. "Let's chisel out some ideas right away!"
The excited voices carried down the hallway and around a corner where Fourth Leader sulked against the wall. He had heard every word. "I know what a propler is!" he muttered bitterly to himself. "I know all about - pellerprops! Humph! I could have thought of that!"
"WHOOOOP! WHOOOOP! WHOOOOP!"
"YEEEIII!" Ludi's face froze with a look of sheer terror as a Throp ran down the hallway shouting so loudly its little blue face was turning pink.
"WHOOOOP! WHOOOOP! WHOOOOP!" The shouts could be heard spreading throughout the castle as other Throps passed the warning along.
"THE SQUALLHOOT ALARM!" Ludi's arms waved wildly above his head. "See! I told you, didn't I? Any plan is impossible as long as the Squallhoots prowl the ice - they make trouble wherever they go!" He rushed to the castle window and called down below. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Ludi! Come quickly!" The call was faint from out on the ice. "The Squallhoots have opened a new tunnel entrance - RIGHT ACROSS FROM THE WEAKEST PART OF THE CASTLE WALL!"
"We'll be attacked! They'll hit us on the head! They'll grab us by the throat! They'll shake us up and down until we start to choke - and then they'll eat us up with JUST ONE BITE!" Ludi was already rushing down the hallway with the children and Crystal running close behind him. "That's what Squallhoots doooooo!"
Crystal's voice was quivering with fear as she ran. "Getting eaten up is - HORRIBLE!"
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