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Deep Beneath the Ice
Snort was angry. He had finally found a cave that did not have water running through it, and had just settled down to dry his feet and have a nice long nap when he was called to the grot. He stood on the icy ledge and glared down into the glowing green eyes of the Squallhoots. If this wasn't good news - somebody was going to be in big trouble!
Drizzle jumped up and down with glee. He cupped his hand to his ear and leaned his head toward a tunnel entrance. "It's coming! It's coming! Here it comes now!"
The sound was getting louder and louder as somebody - something - slid down the passageways. Suddenly, the sound exploded into the grot.
Jason, gagged and tied with rope, flew from the passageway and spun across the slippery floor with two skulks sliding right behind him. Finally, Jason stopped spinning and came to rest upside down in front of Snort. He was quickly surrounded by snarling Squallhoots.
"See! A prisoner!" Drizzle shouted excitedly.
Snort glared at Jason - then at Drizzle. "That's not a THROP!"
"It's BETTER! It's an invader! A prisoner invader!"
The skulks gruffly pulled Jason to his feet and propped him in front of Snort. As Snort stepped forward, he stopped to wiggle his big toe in a puddle. Beneath the wet fur, Jason could see feet with three little toes and one very big toe. Very unusual.
A Squallhoot took a deep breath and put a battered old horn to its lips. "Braaaaaaaaaaa - doooooooooo!"
The leader was announced. "The Baron of Frostbite! Lord of the Icicles! Duke of Chilblains! Knight of the Frosty Garter! Noble..."
"That's enough!" Snort cut him off. He had heard it all before.
"Uh - Snort!" The introduction was finished.
Snort's green eyes flared like fiery emeralds as he glared down from the ledge. An invader? Maybe this invader came from one of those far away places where they had funny ice - the kind that was brown, and black, and hard, and wouldn't melt! Then again, maybe the invader was from the floater boat? HIS floater boat! His FAVORITE floater boat! "How did you get this - prisoner?" he asked Drizzle without looking up.
"We trapped it! It was easy! This stupid invader almost walked into our hands!"
"Mmmmpf." Jason struggled to speak.
"Untie it! Uncover its mouth!" ordered Snort.
The gag was ripped away, sending Jason spinning like a top on the icy floor. He grabbed a Squallhoot to stop himself, accidentally burying his head in the thick white fur. "Pffft!" He tried to blow the fur away from his face.
"I DID walk into your hands!" he finally said as the skulks removed the ropes from around his wrists. He brushed some Squallhoot fur from his lip.
"There was a struggle! A BIG struggle!" Drizzle shouted.
"I didn't struggle. I was looking for you!"
The laughter in the grot was deafening. Looking for Squallhoots? Why, Squallhoots were the meanest - the strongest - the fiercest prowlers the ice had ever seen. Nobody came LOOKING for Squallhoots. You only found them by accident - when you were ready to be eaten up!
The Squallhoots, still roaring with laughter, crowded around Jason. They poked him with their long furry fingers and prodded him with icicles. The gales of laughter were starting to turn into snarls.
"Why would anyone come looking for US?" Snort had never heard anything so ridiculous.
"Because... Because you need my help."
Snort slammed his fist onto the ice, smashing it to splinters. "We need NOTHING!"
Jason hesitated only slightly before he spoke again. With courage he said, "And you need the help of the Throps."
"WHAAAAT?" Snort bellowed. He flew into such a rage that the hot air puffing from his nostrils filled the grot with fog as it hit the cold air. The other Squallhoots had never seen their leader so mad. It was nonsense to even think about trusting those sneaky, double dealing, icicle swinging Throps. "What kind of a fool would say this?" he shouted, looking out over the Squallhoots for an answer but getting none. "DRIZZLE! You brought me a prisoner without any brains!"
Drizzle shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's - broken - like all the other things we find on the ice."
Jason took a deep breath. "And the Throps need YOUR help, too!"
"Oh?" Snort was suddenly interested. Jason had his attention now.
"Look at the orb!" Jason stood above the glowing sphere. The blue light illuminated his face. "Its glow is getting weaker. That means Athropolis is drifting farther and farther away from where it should be. If the light disappears..."
"Is THAT what it means?" Snort brushed the long fur back from his face and leaned over the orb. "Does this orb tell us where we - aren't?"
Jason could see that the Squallhoots were starting to listen very carefully now. "The farther we drift, the warmer the weather becomes. The ice is melting! If everything melts away, what will you do? Where will you go?"
Snort tried to think of a good answer, but he couldn't think of anything to say. Nobody could.
Jason continued. "If Athropolis doesn't survive, the Throps won't survive, and..."
"Yes! Yes! The Throps will not survive!" What great news! The very thought delighted the Squallhoots and they danced up and down with delight. Finally those Throps would get what was coming to them. "The Throps will be destroyed! The Throps will be destroyed!" they chanted.
Jason had to shout to be heard. "And YOU won't survive! If you don't all work together, NOBODY will survive."
Silence. The Squallhoots had forgotten that they would also be destroyed by such an event. They suddenly became very serious. "Huh? Oh? Really?"
What Jason said was making the Squallhoots all think very hard. But work with the Throps? There were a lot of things that a Squallhoot could do with a Throp, but that wasn't one of them!
"THROPS!" Snort cringed at the sound of that awful word. Those Throps were just downright - different! He could only imagine how ugly Squallhoots would be if they didn't have fur - and were blue, too! "We can't trust those creepy little slinking around in the daylight Throps - with their ugly little bald bodies! Yechhh!" He spit on the ice.
"But the Throps say they can't trust Squallhoots," Jason responded.
The Squallhoots were shocked, every one of them.
Snort's green eyes flashed. "WHAT?" he bellowed. "Why would they think THAT?"
"Because they say you are so fierce and mean."
"Yes! We are!" said Snort, looking very proud. "Who would dare attack us when we are so fierce and mean? But, if those Throps got the chance they'd bop us on the head!"
"And chop us up," added Drizzle.
"And throw the little pieces in the sun to fry!" another Squallhoot shouted.
"The Throps wouldn't do those things!" Jason suddenly had the terrible feeling that his plan might not work - maybe coming here hadn't been such a good idea after all. "You've GOT to trust each other - you've just GOT to!" he shouted desperately. "It's the only way to save Athropolis and there's not much time! We can help!"
WE? Green eyes became wider. Were there MORE of these creature invaders? Was what this invader said TRUE? Maybe it was a lie - a big fat lie! Maybe this creature was a spy for the THROPS! That's it! "It's a SPY!" a Squallhoot shouted from the back of the grot.
Jason turned and faced the snarling Squallhoots. "I'm NOT a spy!" he shouted. Why did everyone think he was a spy? "I can help! My brother and sister can help, too."
"More spies! Brother spies! Sister spies!"
"We can see in the light to help the Throps - AND we can see in the dark to help you. I have a flashlight."
"A flash - what?" asked Drizzle.
Jason reached into his pocket. "This is a flashlight!" He held it up for all to see and flicked it on. A beam of bright light shot through the air.
"YEEEOUU! EYEEIII!" Howls and screams of terror filled the grot.
The Squallhoots jumped for cover beneath anything and everything they could find, including other Squallhoots. "A weapon! A HORRIBLE weapon! A terrible SUN MACHINE! We're gonna FRY! We're TOAST! My EYES - I'm BLIND!"
The shouting startled Jason. As he spun around, the beam of light slashed through the air, sending even more Squallhoots diving wildly for cover to avoid the killer beam of the dreaded sun machine!
Jason quickly realized his mistake and with a click the beam disappeared. "Oops! Sorry." Now he'd done it - as if it wasn't bad enough that they thought he was a spy, now they'd think he was trying to fry them, too. "This is NOT a weapon," he said quickly. "We can use this to help you - and the Throps!"
The Squallhoots gradually began to crawl out from their hiding places - blinking and straining to see through the spots dancing in front of their eyes. Untying this invader didn't seem like such a good idea now!
"Do the Throps have more of these - flash things?" growled Snort. He rubbed his eyes and suddenly looked very worried.
"Then..." Snort's hand flashed out with blinding speed and snatched away the flashlight, "GIVE IT TO ME!" he snarled. Squallhoots could see in the dark just fine - this flash thing was only good for blinding everyone. "Now, TIE HIM UP AGAIN!"
Drizzle crept out from behind a pillar of ice - still squinting to see after the blinding flash. "Yeah! We can't trust this invader spy - and how could anyone be stupid enough to think that we could trust a Throp? This invader's brain must have fallen out onto the snow during the struggle - the BIG struggle!"
Jason struggled as his hands were tied again. "But I have a plan!" he protested.
"A plan?" Snort's voice was mocking and sinister. "Ohhhhh! He has a PLAAANNN! Humph!" He motioned Drizzle to his side and whispered in his ear. "We'll listen to HIS plan, and then, heh, heh, heh, we'll find the brother and sister spies, too! I ALSO have a plan! I have plans for THEM!" He looked up and shouted to the skulks. "NOW - LOCK HIM UP!"
A skulk pushed open a heavy ice door. A furry hand grabbed Jason by the hood of his suit and flung him inside.
"...Shoving me AROUND!"
Jason crashed into the room. The door slammed shut with a great thud and the bolt scraped into place. He rolled over and took a deep breath. "Locked up again!" he said to himself, staring upwards into the blackness of the dark room.
He picked himself up and struggled with the ropes that bound his wrists. He could feel them loosening, and soon he slipped his hands free and heard the rope fall to the floor.
Whatever there was in the dark room, there certainly was a lot of it. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could just make out the shadowy images. A large thing felt like - could it be wood? A cold hard object felt like metal! Was this cloth? Was that... Yes! A candle - in an old candle holder! He groped in his pockets for his matches.
The match scraped on rusty metal and a flame flashed in the darkness. The old candle sputtered and flickered before finally glowing with a steady flame. Jason's wide eyes looked around the room as the candlelight revealed the treasures - one by one.
"Wow!" Jason suddenly realized what he was looking at.
There - old canvas, and part of a big broken pole. A wheel with handles on it, a bell, lanterns, ropes, flags! And over there - big chunks of wood and more pieces of metal! As Jason held the candle up a creature seemed to jump out of the darkness! The face stared down at him. It was the figurehead of an old sailing ship - and these were bits and pieces of old sailing ships! Jason stubbed his toe on an old splintered nameplate and read the name. "TERROR." Then he remembered - it was one of the ships of the lost Franklin Expedition!
Somebody had been hard at work sorting and storing all of the little things. Ice storage bins were full of old odds and ends. Some Jason recognized - some he didn't.
He whispered to himself as he carefully moved about. "This stuff must be hundreds of years old - except for this!" He held up his very own book "The Arctic World".
"I must have dropped it - and the Squallhoots found it - just like - just like they found all of these other things!"
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