Chapter Twelve

“Sire,” said a voice in the Tower chamber, “the final consignment from the mine.” A guard with brightly polished armor stood watch over a pair of squirrels in chains as they pushed a strongly-built cart full of green crystals into the chamber.

“Excellent,” the Nightmare King replied, gliding over to the cart. The chained squirrels cowered as his shadow fell across them. “What news from the mine itself?”

The guard hesitated a moment only. “A report of the meddlers known as the Rescue Rangers, sire. The mine has been destroyed as planned, but there has been no further information.”

“They were observed by my servants in the Forest of Visions,” the Nightmare King responded thoughtfully. “Take no chances. When you have left, see that the Tower is sealed. Until the Master Gate has been completed, there will be no further access.”

“Understood, sire,” the guard replied with a deep bow, and left the chamber with his charges.

“There is no way that the pawns of the Muse will stop my plans now,” the Nightmare King vowed, going to the cart and taking a handful of the glowing green gems from within in a sinewy claw. “Soon those who ridiculed me in the waking world will bow before me in the dream world!” As he spoke, he held out his claw, and the gems rose from his palm in a whirling dance, faster and faster until he was holding a miniature green tornado. Extending another claw towards a rounded metal control panel, he seized a large lever and pulled it. From somewhere below came the sounds of massive engines stirring into life. “Check, and mate!” The Nightmare King began to laugh, a hollow laugh of vengeance and triumph, as he headed to complete his machine.

With a grinding of stone on stone and the clank of massive machinery the Tower began to grow, extending taller and taller into the cloud-darkened night sky, and over the cacophony of the Tower rang the mad laughter of the Nightmare King.

“Fat Cat, the prisoners are revolting!” Meps yelled as he dashed into his boss’s office.

“This had better not be some stupid joke about their not bathing regularly,” Fat Cat warned.

“Huh?” said Meps.

“What are you talking about?” Fat Cat asked with a sigh.

“I don’t remember,” Meps admitted, “what was I saying?”

“About the prisoners!” Fat Cat bellowed.

“Oh yeah. A bunch of them broke out of the dungeon and they’re fighting with the guards,” Meps answered timidly.

“How did they get out of their cells?”

“I don’t know boss.”

“Well find out more about what’s going on! Let the garrison handle the disturbance, but keep them out of here. In a little over an hour it will be too late anyhow.”

“Yes boss,” Meps said, and rushed out.

No one was going to find out what was going on in the Citadel anytime soon. Chaos was now the rule of the day as prisoners and guards grappled for control of their fate. Fortunately Chip and Dale now had a little experience at staging palace revolts. The Nightmare King’s policy of imprisoning any and all potential enemies was working to their advantage now; the guards were overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Monterey Jack was in his element. He felt a full ten years younger as he waded straight into the thick of the melee and took on all comers, of which there was no shortage. It wasn’t long before guards began to gang up on him, but Monty was a past master of the unfair fight. Indeed, he relished it! With a whoop of glee he seized a long table and drove four guards into a wall like some sort of a crazed bulldozer. The force of the impact knocked the fight right out of them, and it was a simple matter for the other captives to restrain them.

“Now that’s what I call taking care of business!” Monterey said gleefully as he dusted off his hands, “I ain’t seen a dust-up like this in far too long! Right, who’s next?”

Zipper squeaked a warning and Monty began to turn, but it was too late. He was suddenly seized from behind in a powerful full nelson by Wart. “Wart will be happy to break your fat neck for you!” the lizard hissed.

“Get your claws off me before I makes a suitcase outta you!” Monty retorted as he tried to break free, but Wart had too good a grip on him.

“I think after I take care of you, I’ll eat your little friend,” Wart said with a meaningful glance in Zipper’s direction, and began to put on the pressure. Suddenly a burly form charged into Wart’s side, knocking him to the ground and freeing Monterey Jack. Monty whirled about with both fists out.

“Have a look at this naughty little blighter!” said Monty’s new helper with an accent strikingly like Monty’s. A well-muscled kangaroo rat wearing a khaki shirt and shorts had Wart pinned firmly to the ground.

“Get off of me you crazy--mmph!” Wart protested, as the newcomer grabbed hold of his jaws, holding them firmly clamped shut with one hand.

“That’s enough outta you mate,” said the kangaroo rat as Wart struggled, “I’ve wrestled big salties that’d swallow you whole! I’ll have a little guy like you triced up in a jiff!”

“Thanks mate,” Monty said, rubbing his neck.

“No worries mate, us Aussies gotta watch out for each other. Name’s Steve,” the kangaroo rat said, grinning and extending his unoccupied hand.

“Monterey Jack!” Monty replied with a hearty handshake.

Wart attempted to wriggle free again, but Steve held on. “He’s a naughty little bloke isn’t he!”

“He certainly is,” Monty replied. “Make sure you tie him up real good.”

“No worries. If you’re ever up in Queensland, look me up. Terri and I’ll put out the red carpet for ya.” Another kangaroo rat handed Steve a rope. “Thanks Wes!”

“Thanks Steve-o!” Monty replied, and dove on top of two more guards with a whoop as Steve and Wes tied Wart up.

Through all their adventures in the mine and the forest, Gadget had managed to hang on to the satchel of experiments she’d brought from her lab in the Valley of the Mists. As the fighting raged around her she decided that now was as good a time as any to try them out. Coming upon a knot of half a dozen guards, she pulled a canister out of her satchel and activated it, then tossed it towards the guards. “Hey, over here!” she yelled.

The guards looked up to see the canister bouncing towards them, smoking and fizzing slightly. The guards held their ground and one of them, whose insignia marked him as an officer, bent and picked up the can, as the reaction abruptly fizzled out. “We heard about you from the Belfry garrison,” the officer growled. “It’ll take more than some loud bangs and spring-loaded snakes to scare us.” The knot of guards advanced on Gadget menacingly.

Gadget hoped her invention would work. “No bangs or snakes here guys,” she said a little nervously. Just then the can burst with a splat! that covered the guards with a sticky yellow substance. “Just glue,” Gadget finished with considerably more confidence. The guards struggled in vain, they were stuck to the floor and to each other, and three other guards who attempted to free them also got caught in the sticky morass, making it a total of nine guards caught in her experimental glue bomb. Not bad for an untested experiment.

Foxglove alighted beside her, taking a brief break from her aerial reconnaissance of the Citadel. “Wow, where did you get that?” she asked.

“I invented it!” Gadget said proudly.

“That’s really cool! Can I have one?”

“Take two, I’ve got about half a dozen more,” Gadget replied, handing Foxglove two of the canisters. “Just pull the pin out and bombs away.”

“Thanks Gadget. From above, it looks like the tide’s turning in our favor, but something weird just happened to the central tower. It’s just grew up out of the floor.”

“Okay Foxglove, thanks. Every bit of information helps, you’re doing great!” As Foxglove lifted off, Gadget drew another canister from her satchel and looked for more guards.

Chip and Dale were having a rough time of it. The first guards on the scene had identified them as the ringleaders of the revolt, which caused a great deal of unwanted attention to be focused on them. In their favor, many of the Citadel’s captives had reached the same conclusion and were doing their best to keep them out of trouble. Unfortunately, in the course of the confusion they had become separated, and Dale was trying to find Chip before he got in any more trouble. At the moment that meant he was running for his life from a huge guard who’d caught sight of him.

“Come back here little one, I won’t hurt you!” the huge guard taunted him.

“Nothin’ doin’!” Dale retorted as he continued to run, dodging over, under and around other combatants. In contrast, his pursuer simply barged through the melee tossing other guards and captives aside, clearly bent on capturing the fleeing chipmunk.

“You can’t escape, you’re heading for a dead end!’

“Yeah right, like I’m gonna fall for that!” Dale shot back, just before skidding to a halt at a blank wall. The guard seemed to fill the whole corridor that he’d unfortunately decided to dodge down.

“You made me run,” the guard grunted, “I hate to work for my pay. I think I’ll teach you a little lesson before I toss you and all your friends back in your cells.” The guard cracked his knuckles and began to advance on the cornered chipmunk.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size,” said a thickly accented voice behind the guard.

“Why don’t you butt out,” the guard said, turning, just before a huge fist smashed into his face. Wearing a goofy grin, the huge guard slid to the ground to listen to the mockingbirds for a while. Behind him was an extremely muscular rat wearing a leather motorcycle jacket and dark glasses, who was easily as large as the guard whom he’d just punched out.

“Gee, thanks a lot,” said Dale.

“No problem, that guy was starting to get on my nerves anyhow, pushing people around like that.” The rat produced a large cigar from a jacket pocket and lit it. “Guess no one ever taught him any manners.”

“There you are!” said Chip, coming into the short hallway behind the muscular rat, who obligingly stepped aside for him. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Dale, we’ve got the guards on the run! We need to wrap things up here and find the Nightmare King!”

“Oh that’s easy,” said the muscular rat. “He’s holed up at the top of the central tower, working on his machine.” He paused long enough in his narrative to grab two more guards and bang their heads together like cymbals, knocking them both cold. “Looks like you have things under control here. I’ll make sure things stay under control once we’ve taken the Citadel.” The rat turned to leave.

“Wait a minute!” said Dale, “What if we need your help again?”

“Don’t worry,” said the rat with a grin, “If you need my help again, I’ll be back.” Clamping his cigar firmly between his teeth, he headed back out into the fray.

“C’mon,” said Chip, as Dale pondered where he’d heard those three words before.

Between Monterey’s enthusiastic fighting, Gadget’s glue bombs, Foxglove’s aerial bombing and reconnaissance, Chip’s plan, and a great deal of help from the Citadel’s former captives, their impromptu palace revolt had succeeded, leaving only a few pockets of resistance to be cleared up. Foxglove had taken to walking for a bit, she needed the rest and wanted to stick with Dale anyhow.

Chip stood looking at a set of massive stone doors at the base of the Tower. A round metallic plate was set in the wall next to the doors, with an odd-shaped keyhole in its center.

“That might take me a while to pick,” Gadget observed, “it’s not a cheap lock like the ones in the dungeon were.”

“We need the key,” Chip replied. “Picking the lock might set off some sort of trap or alarm.”

“That big jerk of a cat had a key,” Foxglove offered.

“Who, Fat Cat?” Dale asked.

“He was fat,” Foxglove replied, remembering. “The key looked like it might fit this lock.”

“Are you sure luv?” Monty asked.

“I remember him very well. The key was on a chain around his neck. He was playing with it.”

“Then that’s who we’re going to see next,” Chip decided. “Do you remember where he was?”

“I sure do, he was in that office over there,” Foxglove answered, pointing to a door in the outer wall of the great hall.

“C’mon Rangers!” said Chip, leading the way. As they reached the door, they found their way blocked by Meps and Snout.

“Nobody gets in to see the boss without an appointment,” said Meps.

“And unfortunately for you, his schedule’s booked solid for the day,” added Snout. “Ours, however, is wide open.”

“One side you two,” Monty said, rolling up his sleeves, “we ain’t got time to play with you!”

Suddenly Meps and Snout produced what looked like guns. “Make time,” Snout said with a wicked grin as he activated his, causing fat electrical sparks to jump from the muzzle which blew Chip‘s hat off of his head and caused everyone to scramble for cover.

“Yeah,” Meps added. “How does this thing work?” he asked Snout.

Snout might have been about to reply, but whatever he might have had to say was unexpectedly cut off by the arrival of a mouse on the end of a bullwhip, who crashed into the pair and knocked them off their feet. Retrieving his whip, the mouse remarked, “I hate bullies.”

“Nice moves,” Monty remarked, picking up the weird guns from the floor. Having no use for them himself, he neatly demolished them by the simple expedient of bashing them together until they were reduced to junk.

The newcomer was dressed in a brown leather jacket and battered fedora. As he coiled up his whip, he noticed Chip’s jacket and quipped, “Nice outfit. Who’s your tailor?”

Chip was nearly speechless with admiration. “Aren’t you . . .”

The newcomer winked and said, “The one and only.”

“C’mon Chip, we’ve gotta get that key!” Dale reminded him, as Monterey kicked in the door to Fat Cat’s office.

“I’ve gotta go,” Chip explained, turning to go.

“Hey,” said the mouse. As Chip turned back, the mouse tossed him a rumpled brown shape. “Don’t forget your hat.”

“Thanks!” said Chip with a broad grin. Settling his hat on his head, he turned and followed the others into Fat Cat’s office.

Mole stood up and attempted to bar them, but Monterey roughly shoved him back into his chair. “You say one word or try one thing and I’ll bounce you like a basketball,” Monty warned.

Fat Cat stood at the sound of his voice. “You!” His jaw dropped in surprise as the other Rangers entered behind him. “How dare you barge in here after surviving certain death!” he sputtered.

“The jig is up Fat Cat,” said Chip. “We control the Citadel now, and we’ve come for your key.”

“Bah!” Fat Cat retorted, standing up behind his desk. “You self-righteous rodents will never take me or this key!” Fat Cat reached under his desk and pressed a hidden switch, causing a trap door to open in the floor, into which Fat Cat leapt with the parting shot, “Farewell, Ridiculous Rangers--OOF!” Fat Cat’s parting shot was spoiled by the fact that he didn’t quite fit through the secret trap door he had opened, rendering him stuck half-way out of the floor and struggling to un-stick himself. Adding insult to injury, Meps and Snout chose this moment to rush into the office with the intent of aiding their boss, only to catch sight of him stuck in the trap door. They skidded to a halt and gaped ineffectually.

“I’ll just take that,” Chip said, reaching over and taking the chain and key from Fat Cat’s neck. Fat Cat growled and took a swipe at him, but Chip easily dodged the blow. “Thank you for your cooperation!”

“Don’t just stand there you morons,” Fat Cat bellowed at his henchmen, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

“Okay boss,” said Mole hastily, and ran over to Fat Cat and began jumping up and down on him in an apparent attempt to dislodge him. He was quickly joined by Meps and Snout.

“NOT LIKE THAT YOU IMBECILLES!” Fat Cat roared. “GET OFF OF ME YOU--” Fat Cat suddenly popped loose, and the four of them plunged straight through the trap door without any further ado, landing at the bottom of the secret passage with a crash. “Dimwits!” Whack! “Idiots!” Whack! “Dolts!” Whack! “Blunderers!” Whack!

Chip and Dale peered curiously down the trapdoor as the string of insults and blows continued. “Wow, he’s really steamed!” Dale observed.

“This ought to cool him off then,” said Monty with a wicked grin, pushing a large ornamental aquarium towards the trapdoor.

“We don’t have time for that,” said Chip, “we’ve got to get up the tower and stop the Nightmare King!”

“Er, right,” Monty said, lingering as the others preceded him out the door. Once they were gone, Monty went back and tipped the aquarium over, listening to the splash and the fresh cries of outrage from below. “There’s always time for that,” he said, as he ran after the others. He still hadn’t forgiven Fat Cat for deep-sixing his house years ago. When he caught up to them he found a rather impressive tableau awaiting them.

The Citadel’s former captives were waiting for them outside Fat Cat’s office. Not a single guard was in evidence, except for the four that were stuck to a nearby wall by one of Gadget’s glue bombs. With a grin that was echoed by the rest of them, the muscular rat with the Austrian accent stepped forward and announced, “We’ve rounded up all the guards, the Citadel is ours!” Cheers broke out from the others at the sound of this happy news.

As the cheering died down Gadget pointed out, “So that just leaves the Tower, and the Nightmare King.” Formidable obstacles indeed. The Tower had ceased its unnatural skyward growth, but it was still forbiddingly tall. There was no telling what awaited them inside.

“Thank you all for all of your help,” said Chip. “I can’t ask you to risk yourselves any more. My partners and I are going up the Tower now to put a stop to the Nightmare King and his mad schemes. You’ve done all you can, this is our fight now.”

“No problemo,” said the large muscular rat, removing his sunglasses. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of ourselves. You guys take care too.” The crowd parted, creating a path through them to the large stone doors that led into the base of the Tower. Together the Rangers and Foxglove began to walk towards them.

“Good luck mates!” said Steve, the kangaroo rat.

“See you guys back in the real world,” promised the mouse with the leather jacket and fedora.

“Thanks for getting us out of those cells,” said Spinelli. “We’ll take care of things down here.”

“Go get ‘em,” added Muldoon.

They arrived at the doors.

“Okay everybody, paws in!” Chip said, holding out one paw. The others gathered in a circle, and Dale put his paw on top of his life-long friend’s, then Gadget added her paw. Zipper and Monterey Jack followed suit, and finally Foxglove tentatively added a wingtip.

Even Dale was surprised. “Foxglove, are you . . .”

“It’s all right, isn’t it?” Foxglove asked with some uncertainty. “I mean . . .”

“Well,” Chip began, adopting a serious expression, “I’m not sure. I’ll have to check, we do have rules you know.”

“Rules?” Foxglove asked, her hopes waning. Monterey raised an eyebrow at Gadget, who could only shrug in return. Neither was sure what Chip was up to.

“Sure,” Chip explained, holding up one finger as though lecturing. “All new members have to be approved by the existing membership!” he explained with a broad grin and a wink. The other Rangers also broke out in smiles as they caught on. What better way to demonstrate their support and acceptance of Foxglove? “All in favor of making Foxglove a Rescue Ranger, say ‘aye’!”

“Aye!” everyone cried, enthusiastically holding up their hands.

“Then it’s unanimous,” Chip declared, “welcome to the Rescue Rangers, Foxglove!” The Rangers all crowded in on Foxglove, offering various forms of congratulation, and of course Dale gave her a big hug.

Foxglove was positively glowing with happiness. “Wow,” was all she could say at first, then “I’m a Rescue Ranger?” the others nodded. “I’m so happy, I feel like I must be dreaming!”

“We are dreaming,” Chip reminded her, “but don’t worry, you’ll still be a Rescue Ranger when we wake up. Okay everyone, paws in again!”

Again the friends clasped their paws as before, Foxglove with more confidence this time, and as with one voice, sounded their rallying cry, “RESCUE RANGERS, AWAY!!”

Not everyone watching this happy scene drew joy from it. In the shadows of a balcony above, Fat Cat looked on with contempt and loathing. His henchmen, still wet and sporting fresh bruises from his payback for the trap door, stood by in uncertain silence. “I should have wasted that dizzy flying mouse when I had the chance,” Fat Cat seethed.

Mole spoke up, his self-preservation instincts temporarily failing him. “Bats aren’t mice, boss.”

“What did you say?” Fat Cat asked incredulously. Snout and Meps both took a couple of steps away from Mole.

“Bats are a whole different order of mammals,” Mole continued cheerfully, “they . . .” Whack!

“Wherever you got those brains from, put ‘em back, they don’t belong to you,” Fat Cat said sharply. Mole rubbed his head where Fat Cat had smacked him, but held his silence. Meps and Snout exchanged a look, no more TV nature documentaries for Mole. It was for his own good, after all.

“If the Tower machinery doesn’t get them, then I most assuredly shall,” Fat Cat swore to himself, gripping his lacquered walking cane with its polished bronze cat’s head.

“Do you want us to help . . .” Meps trailed off as Fat Cat fixed him with a venomous glare.

“You clowns have helped enough already today. I’ll take care of this personally.” Depressing a hidden catch, Fat Cat slipped through a secret passage that closed swiftly behind him.

At least he didn’t get stuck this time

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