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The sun shone brightly, and the warn rays attacked the iceberg without mercy. The castle was falling apart!
Crumbling ice fell from the ceilings, the walls, the towers and the battlements. Rooms became smaller and hallways became narrow passageways as the fallen ice was pushed aside to clear walkways through the castle. Throps tip-toed about, whispering their worries and greetings, afraid that any loud sound might cause something else to break.
A crack appeared at the top of the library wall, already straining under the weight of the chronicles. The crack began to spread, in little fits and starts, both down toward the floor and sideways across the wall. It crept almost noiselessly - and unnoticed by Ludi, Toot and the General as they talked down below.
"It must be a trap!" the General said loudly, completely forgetting to whisper.
"But maybe Jason hasn't been eaten up after all!" replied Toot.
"We're still looking for him! Maybe we'll find his bare bones at the mouth of a cave - all that will be left of him after a big feast!" The General brushed the eight stars shining on each of his shoulders.
"Yes. We've never known anybody to be captured by the Squallhoots and live to tell about it!"
Ludi scratched his head. "But then - we've never known anybody to be actually captured by the Squallhoots - have we?"
The General slammed his fist down on the table. "Because we're too smart to fall into their traps! That's why!"
"Yes, that could be true," agreed Ludi. "But what are we going to do?"
Sara and Kevin sat impatiently on the wet floor outside the library door - drops of water dripping down upon them like rain. The sunlight coming through the window created a rainbow, but it did little to lift their spirits. What were the Throps going to do? How long would it take them to decide?
And what were THEY going to do? They didn't know where they were, and nobody could find them because the radio beacon wasn't even turned on! Even if somebody found them now - they couldn't find Jason. He was double lost!
All they could do was sit by the door and wait.
"I'm gonna find the bleeper," was all Kevin could think to say. But where could it be? He'd looked everywhere he could think of. "Yeah. The booper."
"I don't like it! I just don't like it!" The General waved his hands in the air.
"But it was Jason's handwriting! Sara told us that!"
"And he called you 'General'. Only Jason would do that."
"And the Squallhoots used HIS knocking signal - Sara told us that, too!"
"Maybe they FORCED him to do those things - before they chopped him into little pieces!"
Everything was so confusing - nobody knew what to do. Maybe it was a trap! Maybe it wasn't! Maybe Jason had a plan! Maybe he didn't! But they had to do something - they couldn't save Athropolis on their own!
"But work with the Squallhoots? It's UNTHINKABLE!" bellowed the General. "It will be a sorry day in Thropdom when we have to..."
"But what CHOICE do we have, General? What choice do we HAVE?"
The very loud discussion, which some might even call shouting, hid the sounds. Nobody heard the creaks and scrapes, or even felt the shudders and the tremors. The zig-zag pattern of the crack lengthened and widened, until a beam of sunlight finally broke through at the top of the wall. Nobody noticed that either.
"Yes! How ARE we going to save Athropolis?"
"Well, I - I'm not sure."
Ludi tried as hard as he could to make his head think, but something inside the little blue dome wasn't working. He wasn't used to thinking about more than one very important thing a day - there had never been any need before. But then, there had never been problems like THIS before. His little blue noggin was beginning to hurt inside! Was the room starting to tremble - or was it just the pounding in his head?
"We KNOW what Squallhoots do! They'll attack us - without a doubt - the very minute we turn our backs!"
"But - if something isn't done right away, Athropolis will just - fall to pieces!"
"That's right! The whole castle will..."
A grinding sound filled the room! The whole room trembled! The wall shuddered, and then it shuddered again! Then it was just - GONE!
The wall was gone! The shelves were gone! Many important chapters of the chronicles were gone! Everything just disappeared from sight!
SMASH! CRASH! Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. The wall finally crashed into the ice far below.
The Throps stood in stunned silence as the room was bathed in sunlight. They looked out to the ocean and the drifting icebergs beyond. What a view!
The door to the library finally scraped opened.
"Well? Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do?" Kevin shouted impatiently.
"Please tell me you're going to meet the Squallhoots! You've got to go and get Jason!" Sara added, somewhat more politely.
"We can't make up our minds. We don't know what to do." Toot held his head low.
Sara became silent. Anger flashed in her eyes.
"But you've GOTTA go!" Kevin insisted. "You can't let my brother be eaten by the Squallhooter guys!"
"It just might be a trap. It could be a trap, you know!" The General threw his hands up in the air in frustration.
"But then again - it might not be a trap," Ludi said. "Oh, I wish we knew what to do!"
Sara had heard enough! They couldn't sit around while her brother was in danger! She'd let other people do things for her for far too long - it was time for a change! She wasn't a stupid person! She was going to start doing things for herself - starting right now! She exploded in anger.
"You silly Throps! Look around you - everything is falling apart! It won't be long until you're all up to your blue ears in water! Now get your butts off the ice and go and find Jason - or I'll go and find him myself!" Sara stomped down the hallway. "I'm not afraid of a furry old Squallhoot! I'm not afraid - not one bit!"
Everyone stood frozen in shock by Sara's sudden outburst. Was that SARA who said that?
Kevin was the first to regain his composure. "And I'm - I'm not afraid one bit, too!" he shouted as he ran down the hallway after Sara. No, he wasn't afraid one bit - he was afraid two bits - or maybe even three bits - maybe even more. And, he had a feeling that things were never going to be the same at home ever again - IF they ever got home.
"B - b - but..." the General stammered.
"W - w - we..." added Toot.
"I - I - I..." Ludi couldn't think of anything to say either.
"Wh - what are we going to do now?" asked the General, managing a full sentence.
Finally Toot made up his mind. "Sara's RIGHT! We're going to meet the Squallhoots! That's what we're going to do!" He began to run down the hallway as fast as his wobbly blue legs would carry him. "Sara!"
"Sara! Wait! You're right! Wait for us!" Ludi shouted.
"I don't like this," muttered the General. "I don't like this at all."
Even so, Snort could see the Throps approaching. "Grrrrrrr. Here they come," he growled. "Get ready." Jason, his hands tightly bound, was pulled to the front of the cave.
The Throps moved slowly, following the last rays of the sun as it wrapped them in its protective glow. They didn't know what to expect.
"This is it!" The General pointed to the tracks in the snow. "Be very careful!" Squallhoot Canyon was a dangerous place to be. It was here, sheltered from the sun by steep ice cliffs, that the signs of Squallhoot traffic could always be found in the morning - a sign that their cavern entrances were nearby.
"Look! There's Jason!" shouted Toot, pointing to the cave. "They've tied up his bones - and they're throwing them out onto the snow!"
Jason was shoved out of the entrance. He slipped and tumbled down the ice.
"I TOLD you we should have brought the troops!" shouted the General. Then he noticed that Jason still had his arms and legs - maybe the Squallhoots hadn't been eating on him after all! But Jason had been in the caverns, alright - they could tell by his clothes. He had Squallhoot fur all over him!
The white shapes of the Squallhoots loomed out of the dark cave. The sun was just setting and the two groups moved cautiously toward one another - the Throps clinging to the last long rays of sunlight, and the Squallhoots advancing slowly in the lengthening shadows.
"Danger time!" the General whispered as the last edge of the sun disappeared behind the ice.
Jason struggled to pick himself up and stood between the two groups. He knew that everyone was nervous - perhaps even afraid - and he knew that he must be brave and act with confidence. He took a deep breath.
"Throps, meet the Squallhoots! Squallhoots, meet the Throps!" Jason made the historic introduction - nobody in living memory could remember such a meeting ever having taken place.
"So," began Snort, very concerned about his appearance and manner on this important day, "old enemies finally meet, after all this time." He had heard many new things about the Throps from Jason. He hoped that they are true.
"Yes! F - f - finally!" answered Toot nervously. He and the General had also tried to look their best, and the General did look splendid in his newly decorated uniform with eleven stars shining on each shoulder. "We are old enemies indeed. So far back... All the way to - to..." All of a sudden he couldn't remember why they were enemies! He turned quietly to the General. "Just why are we enemies? Do you remember?"
The General rubbed his chin and thought very hard. "I - I seem to forget. But be careful just the same!"
"WATCH OUT!" Everyone jumped at Drizzle's shout - and just in time! A jagged chunk of ice crashed down through the middle of the little group as if to remind them of just why they were there. It was getting dangerous on Athropolis!
Snort looked up at the icy wall very nervously, and then brushed pieces of shattered ice from his fur. He turned back to the Throps. "The Jason creature has a plan."
Drizzle shook his wet foot. He would listen to almost anything if it meant having dry caves again.
"But my plan will only work if we all work together," Jason said eagerly. "You need the Squallhoots - and the Squallhoots need you."
The General puffed up his chest. "We don't need these prowling, fur covered..."
"And we don't need you, you little blue - savages!" Snort responded angrily.
"Savages?" Toot was horrified at the thought. "Us? ME?"
Jason tried to gesture with his hands tied. "EVERYONE has to help! If you don't - the plan won't work!"
The General was not convinced. "But they'll attack us - as soon as our backs are turned!"
"WHAT?" Snort huffed. "You attacked US! Have you forgotten already?"
"Yes! You shot a big block of ice RIGHT AT OUR TUNNEL!" Drizzle added.
Jason could feel the meeting getting out of control. "It was an accident! I saw the whole thing! A rope..."
"It was an ATTACK tunnel!" shouted the General.
"It was an ESCAPE tunnel!" bellowed Snort.
Toot didn't understand what was happening. "Throps attack Squallhoots? Nonsense! We're only protecting ourselves!"
"WE'RE protecting ourselves!" Snort retorted.
Toot and the General were almost speechless. They had never heard anything like this before. Squallhoots protecting themselves? "From - US?" they finally said together.
"Nooooo!" Sarcasm dripped from Snort's voice. "From the man in the moon - by the pink lagoon - down by the purple sea. OF COURSE FROM YOU - you sneaky, sneaking around in the sunshine where you can't be seen Throps!"
"WHAT? You miserable, poking around in the night-time pirates!" the General snapped back.
Toot turned away from the shouting and name calling, and became very quiet. He rubbed his chin as he began to think about all of the new things that he was hearing. Squallhoots defending themselves - from THROPS? Throps attacking Squallhoots? Is that what they'd been thinking?
Jason tried to stop the shouting. This wasn't the way the meeting was supposed to go! "Listen to me!" he shouted. "The Squallhoots have a cave full of all sorts of good stuff - bits and pieces of things that have washed up onto the ice. They threw me into - I mean - they showed it to me!"
"Humph!" huffed the General. "It can only be - junk!"
"But it's GREAT junk! There's wood, and bits of metal, and canvas - all parts of old sailing ships! The Squallhoots have been collecting these things at night for as long as they can remember - it must have been hundreds of years! Everything has just been sitting there - waiting for somebody to come up with a good use for it. Well, we have a good use for it NOW!"
Toot had been very quiet and thinking very hard. Suddenly, he jumped back into the conversation. "Are you saying - that WE always thought that the Squallhoots were going to attack - and that YOU always thought that the Throps were going to attack - and that we were getting ready to defend ourselves against an attack by YOU - and you were getting ready to defend yourselves against an attack by US? Were we all getting ready to attack one another when all this time - nobody wanted to attack anybody at all?"
Sudden silence. Had they all been quibbling and wasting their time away?
"Is - is this right?" asked the General.
"W - well - maybe it could be right," answered Snort, looking a little puzzled and sheepish.
Drizzle slapped his hand against his furry thigh. "Well frosty fiddling fingers! Are we dumb or what?"
Jason could see that his plan had a chance now. "Throps have got to trust Squallhoots and Squallhoots have got to trust Throps! THAT'S the way to save Athropolis! It's the ONLY way!"
The General spoke quietly to Toot. "Hmmm. Even if we don't trust them, maybe there is no other way."
"We have no choice, General," Toot whispered. "We have no choice!"
They both turned to Snort. "The Throps will work with the Squallhoots," they both said with a nod of their heads.
"Will the Squallhoots work with the Throps?" asked Jason.
"How can we trust you sneaky, ice shooting..." Snort began.
The General waved his finger in the air. "Look around you! Everything is falling apart! It won't be long until you're all up to your fuzzy ears in water! Now - get your - umm..." He whispered to Toot. "What was that word again?"
Toot whispered in his ear.
"Yeah. Get your BUTTS off the ice and make up your minds!" the General shouted, startling Jason and the Squallhoots by his outburst.
Toot smiled to himself. That was good advice.
"Humph!" huffed the General. "You don't see THROPS wasting all day wondering what to do!"
The General scowled.
"Well?" Jason asked, his voice ever so hopeful. "Well...?"
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