To put it mildly, Chip was relieved to discover that he was still alive. At least he thought he was, he hadn’t opened his eyes yet. There was a constant dull roaring sound in his ears however, and he could feel that he was soaking wet and lying on something rough and lumpy. Chip reasoned that if those senses were working, he must still be alive. Tentatively, he opened his eyes.
His eyes told him that he was hanging in midair over the waterfall. He could see the water hurtling by and the crashing mists below; that accounted for the dull roaring sound and the wet feeling. The rough, lumpy feeling was accounted for by the rope net he was lying on. Rolling over gave him a view of Dale sitting in the net, along with the water bottle and assorted other debris. Dale was looking at something.
“Dale, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking at this sign,” Dale replied
“What sign?” asked Chip.
“The sign on this rope over here.”
“What does it say?”
“It says, ‘This is probably the best rope to pull’,” Dale read.
Chip sat up. “Whatever you do, don’t pull it until I--”
Dale pulled the rope. With a sharp metallic clink, a pair of shackles opened up, and the net began to move, sliding down a pair of wires into the mists with increasing speed.
“YI-I-I-I-I-I-I!!” they yelled, as the net plunged into the mists. The wires the net slid on were crossed, so that the net closed over them as they slid. They caught a glimpse of red brick buildings and grassy fields below as the ground rushed up to meet them, and finally skidded to a stop in a haystack.
Chip spit out some hay and looked around. Dale extricated himself from a pile of hay beside him. They had crash-landed, more or less, in a haystack that was set up against an old mill next to the river. A waterwheel creaked softly as the current turned it. A figure came out of the mill and approached them, silhouetted by the sun. The figure pointed a pike at them and resolved itself into a hulking guard.
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” the guard said with a soft southern accent, “would y’all put your hands where I can see ‘em please.”
Out of one frying pan and into another. After all the effort they’d put into escaping, it was just too much. Both chipmunks passed out.
Meps, Snout, Wart and Mole sat on the curb wrapped in blankets. Fat Cat had arrived, and was less than sympathetic. “How did you let them get away? Why did you let them get away?” he demanded. The only reply he got from them was a loud sneeze from Meps.
“I wouldn’t say they got away boss,” said one of the guards, “they went over the falls. They probably drowned or got smashed to bits on the rocks.”
Fat Cat rounded angrily on the guard. “I get enough stupid opinions from my henchmen. That’s their job. Your job is to guard, so go guard something!” The chastised guard beat a hasty retreat.
“Hey boss, I think he’s right,” said Mole. “We took a beating just getting as far as we did. Those chipmunks have got to be fish food.”
“You’re in enough trouble as it is round-boy, don’t add to it,” Fat Cat snapped.
Another guard approached. “Sir, you have a telephone call.”
“Whoever it is, tell them I’m busy.”
“Uh, sir . . . it’s Him.”
Fat Cat’s demeanor abruptly underwent a subtle change. “See that I’m not disturbed,” he said, walking quickly towards the Rolls. Once inside, he shut the door and took a deep breath before picking up the handset. “This is Fat Cat,” he announced, the barest quaver in his voice.
Suddenly the limousine flew apart around him. The various parts quickly spun away into a silent black void, leaving Fat Cat momentarily floating in the middle of nothing holding the handset. An intricately patterned tile floor appeared; onto which gravity unceremoniously dumped him. As he pushed himself up off the floor, the tall, gaunt, robed figure of the Nightmare King appeared, towering over him.
“You have failed,” the Nightmare King intoned.
“Your majesty,” Fat Cat began in his most servile tone, “failure is such a strong word. Delayed, perhaps. Besides, they could very well be drowned or smashed to bits on the rocks. They went over the waterfall, after all.”
“Into the Valley of Mists,” the Nightmare King stated flatly.
“It isn’t my fault,” Fat Cat whined.
“You personally assured me that you would take care of any meddlers. For this reason, you were given the necessary authority, and allowed to retain your natural form. If you cease to have utility to me in this respect, you can always join the others.” As the Nightmare King spoke, Fat Cat shrank to about one fifth his size except for his ears, which grew rounder. His tail also grew longer and thinner. With a shock, Fat Cat realized that he’d become a mouse. A fat mouse.
“Your majesty,” Fat Cat began desperately, “I have special knowledge of these particular meddlers. They call themselves the Rescue Rangers--”
“I know who they are.”
“Please sire, give me another chance! After all, they may already be dead!”
“I cannot afford to take that chance!” The Nightmare King bellowed. “This unfortunate circumstance forces me to advance my timetable, a risk I did not wish to take. The Valley of Mists must be taken quickly. You will accompany that operation. The army of occupation will link with and reinforce the Belfry Garrison. Your work in the city is finished. Go now to the Valley of Mists, and await further instructions. Do not fail again.”
Just as suddenly as the vision had begun, it was gone. Once again Fat Cat was seated inside the Rolls Royce limousine, holding the handset of the car’s telephone. With relief, he noticed also that he was his own self again. Fat Cat hung up the telephone with a shudder. To think that he had been threatened with existence as his own favorite prey, a mouse! Br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.
Fat Cat opened the door and stood up. “Get in boys,” he announced to his henchmen, “we’re leaving.”
Chip awoke expecting to find himself imprisoned again. Instead, he was lying on a soft bed covered with a warm blanket, and his injuries had been dressed. His coat and hat were hanging on pegs on the wall. Warm sunlight entered the room through a large window, heavy wooden beams supported the roof, and he could hear the creak and splash of the waterwheel. He guessed he was inside the mill. The other bed in the room was unoccupied and unmade, leading him to believe Dale had been there.
Chip experienced one of those moments when one is not really sure whether one is dreaming or awake. The situation seemed both familiar and different, and there was a definite fog. Chip rubbed his eyes and tried to sit up, but it hurt to move so he lay where he was, wondering where exactly he was. Chip decided he had to be dreaming. Dale never woke up before he did.
Chip heard voices over the creaking of the old mill machinery. “It’s much too soon for you to be up! Now are you going to go back to your bed, or do I have to take you by the ear and put you there?”
“Take me by the ear and put me there,” Chip heard Dale challenge. “Ow!” The door banged open and Dale came through, wincing in apparent pain due to a paw that had a firm grip on his ear. On seeing that Chip was awake, Dale broke into a huge grin. “Hey Chip, look who I found!”
“Oh good, you’re awake!” Gadget said happily, maintaining her grip on Dale’s ear.
“Gadget!” Chip yelled, jumping up from his bed despite the pain.
“Am I going to have trouble with you too?” asked Gadget, just before Chip caught her in a huge bear hug, causing her to let go of Dale, much to his relief.
“You would not believe the time Dale and I have had!” Chip exclaimed.
“I can sorta guess from your injuries, not to mention the fact that you were out for two days,” Gadget said, briefly returning the hug before sitting Chip back down on his bed. “You’d better stay in bed for a while.”
“Two days?!” said Chip.
“See, it’s just like I told you!” said Dale. “We ran into a bunch of people from the city, except that they weren’t people any more, they were mice and rats and squirrels and stuff! And the city was bombed and Fat Cat was running everything and the Police Chief was a rat . . .” Gadget made for Dale’s ear again, causing him to sit down and shut up with his forepaws covering both ears.
“I know you’ve both been through a lot, and that’s why you should stay in bed. Both of you need to rest.”
Chip stood up again. “We don’t have time for that Gadget, we have to find the Belfry, like the Muse told us, remember?”
“No problem,” replied Gadget, pointing out the window, “it’s right there.”
Chip gaped at her for a second before he rushed over to the window, followed by Dale. Both Chipmunks looked out into the mists. At first, they couldn’t see much but the near shore of the lake and the omnipresent mists from the waterfall. This valley was well named. Presently a wind blew up, just audible over the splash and creak of the mill wheel, and the mists drew aside like a veil to reveal a densely wooded island in the middle of the lake. At the center of the island, its base obscured by the trees, was an elaborate castle of sorts, made of eight graceful towers arranged in a circle about a central keep. The most fascinating things about the castle, however, were the walls. Instead of a conventional solid wall, the towers were supported by huge carved stone rings that acted as archways, each supporting a parapet near the tops of the towers, high above the ground. Owing to this unusual construction, you could see the interior of the castle quite plainly. Chip, Dale and Gadget a good look at it before the wind subsided, allowing the mist to descend over the scene once again.
“Oh boy, we made it!” said Dale.
“Now all we have to do is get over there and find the Muse!” said Chip.
“Err, slight problem there guys,” said Gadget, “the Belfry is pretty heavily guarded. I’ve been trying to think of a way to get in there, and now that I think of it, I could really use you guys’ input on some of the ideas I’ve come up with.” Gadget opened the door and left the room, her earlier efforts to keep Chip and Dale bedridden apparently forgotten.
“Why don’t we just sneak in?” asked Chip, taking his hat and coat from their pegs.
“Oh, by the way . . .” Gadget’s voice floated back into the room.
“She’s made some modifications,” Dale finished with a grin, for Chip’s benefit.
Modifications, indeed. The entire interior of the mill seemed to have been gutted. The shaft from the water wheel still ran from one end to the other, but now rather than driving huge millstones, a number of leather belts ran off of it, and these provided the motive power for a startling array of machines. There was a small generator making power for overhead lighting, a drill press, lathe, and various other shop tools, and a water pump. One light was carefully attached to a drawing table, on which a set of blueprints rested. Gadget seated herself on a stool before the table. Chip took it all in, “You did all this in just a couple of days?”
“Well, I had help,” Gadget admitted modestly. “Okay, here’s my first idea.” Spreading the blueprint out on the drawing table, she pointed to each section as she explained it. “I think the Muse is here, in the central keep. The guards control the rest of the island, so all you have to do is get inside the wall. We build a large catapult and just shoot you over the wall.” Chip and Dale swapped a look. Catapult? “I built a working model.” Gadget bent down and picked up a small version of the catapult from her blueprint and set it on the cluttered workbench. Reaching under the bench, she produced a colorful gourd, which she set in the catapult, then pressed the release. With a sproing, the catapult launched the fruit straight up into the ceiling where it instantly disintegrated, showering the three of them with fruit juice and pulp. Gadget frowned. “It’s not supposed to do that.” Gadget produced a pencil and began to write out an equation on an empty corner of the bluepri nt. Dale began wiping fruit juice out of his eyes.
“Um, Gadget, maybe you could show us one of your other ideas,” said Chip. Gadget wasn’t paying attention, she was concentrating on the equation. “Gadget?”
“Hmmm? Oh, one of my other ideas.” She folded up the catapult blueprint and pulled out another one. “Okay, in this plan we build a glider, which uses suction cups to land on the top of the keep, and then we just go on in!”
That plan seemed pretty good to Chip. “Great! How do we get the glider airborne?”
“Well, we need a great deal of momentum to sustain the lift, so my first thought was to carry it up the side of valley and push it off a cliff, but then I came up with this giant slingshot here. Now to land on an area that small at that speed . . . let’s see, we’ll need crash helmets and five-point safety harnesses . . .”
It was the word crash that made up Chip and Dale’s minds for them. “That . . . might . . . take a little while to build,” said Dale.
“Yeah,” Chip agreed. “Do you have any ideas we can put to work right now?”
“Hmmm, it would take a while.” Chip and Dale breathed a sigh of relief. Gadget snapped her fingers. “Of course! If it’s a quick solution you wanted, you should have said so in the first place. I could build this tonight! I have another working model right here--” Gadget said, reaching under the workbench again. “This should work with no problems at all!”
Chip and Dale exchanged a worried look.
Bob, for that was the name of the guard with the southern accent, was working in a small garden outside the mill when the explosion from within startled him, along with everyone else nearby. The whole mill shook with the force of it, shaking dust from its eaves and breaking all the windows. Seeing the smoke coming from the window to Gadget’s lab, Bob grabbed his pike and ran to see what was the matter.
Chip, Dale and Gadget were standing with dazed expressions and sooty faces around a smoking burnt spot on the workbench. The bench had been forcibly cleared of everything else that had been on it, and Chip’s hat had been blown off. “Oh darn, that wasn’t right at all,” Gadget said thoughtfully. The door to the workshop banged open and a guard charged in with his pike.
“Miss Gadget, are you okay?”
“Oh great,” said Chip, raising his paws.
“Here we go again,” Dale added, raising his.
“What?” asked the guard.
“We’re okay Bob,” Gadget said resignedly, producing a towel from underneath the bench to wipe off the soot, “just a little accident. Guys, this is Bob, my assistant. Bob, this is Chip and this is Dale.”
“You sure you’re alright?” Bob asked concernedly. Gadget paused wiping long enough to nod. Bob broke out in a smile, put up his pike and stuck out his paw. “Nice to meet you fellas. Don’t worry about the uniform, I quit that job.”
Chip and Dale slowly put their arms down, feeling slightly foolish, and shook paws with Bob. Gadget handed the towel to Dale and began trying to straighten out her hair while Chip went to look for his hat.
“Golly guys, I’m sorry I couldn’t come up with a good plan to get into the Belfry.”
“You’re trying to get into the Belfry?” Bob asked.
Chip’s hat was stuck in the rafters and Chip was trying to knock it down with a long pole. “That’s right,” he said.
“Why don’t you just sneak in?”
Gadget paused in trying to brush out her hair. “Bob, do you know a way into the Belfry?” Bob had been part of the garrison stationed on the island.
“No, but old Thomas does. I helped him escape afterwards.”
“Great!” said Dale. “Where is he?”
“Why, he’s the librarian,” Bob answered.
The Library was built on the side of a hill with its entrance precisely at the crest of the hill. The rest of the building gracefully descended the gentle slope, and a set of carved stone steps led up the steeper front slope to the entrance. Bob politely went ahead of them to hold open the door, which was crafted of richly carved wood and stained glass. Inside, the atmosphere smelt of old paper and leather bindings, and had the atmosphere of quiet one normally associates with libraries. They were in a room facing a dark, semi-circular wooden desk, which a sign suspended from the high ceiling by chains proclaimed to be the circulation desk. A sensibly attired young girl mouse with glasses that were too large for her face rose from behind it.
“Hullo Bob, what can I do for you?” she asked.
“Hi Crystal. Is Thomas around? My friends here need to talk to him. This is Chip, Dale, and Gadget. They want to pay our old friend a visit.”
Crystal raised an eyebrow. “No one’s visited him since Tom did. I’ll ask him. Could you please wait in the reference section?”
“Sure,” Bob replied. Again, he politely went ahead of them and opened the inner door, ushering them inside.
The library proper was one large open space that descended the slope of the hill. As it descended, the carved wooden bookshelves, heavy with books, were arranged about them in semi-circles, rather like an auditorium in reverse. The ceiling was high and indirectly lit, and painted the azure color of the late afternoon sky, giving one the impression of still being outdoors. Standing lamps picked out tables and comfortable chairs, where readers perused their selections. The reference section was at the top of the hill, and contained a heavy oak conference table surrounded by chairs, and a number of heavy books open upon their own pedestals.
“Golly, this is some library,” remarked Gadget in hushed tones.
“I wonder if they have any Captain Spiffo comics?” said Dale.
“Or mystery novels?” Chip added.
“The latter, certainly. The former, I sincerely doubt.” Said a voice behind them. They turned and saw Crystal coming towards them, pushing a wheelchair that held a middle-aged rat with both of his legs in casts. “Hullo Bob, how have you been?”
“I’m good Tom, thanks.”
Thomas turned his attention to Dale. “So you want to get in to the Belfry, do you?”
“No, I wanted the Captain Spiffo comics,” Dale replied, to Chip’s annoyance.
“We’re trying to get in to see the Muse,” Chip said, elbowing Dale.
“How do you know the Muse?” asked Thomas.
“He brought us here,” Gadget answered.
“And why do you want to see him?”
“He asked for our help,” Chip replied.
“He asked for mine as well, and you see what happened to me,” Thomas said, gesturing at his legs. “Do you still want to help?”
“Did that happen to you getting into the Belfry?” Dale asked.
“No, it happened getting out again. If not for Bob here, I would probably be a prisoner of the Nightmare King now.” Thomas paused, scanning the faces of the Rangers in front of him. “Who exactly are you people? I mean in the real world? I was a State Trooper.”
Chip was ready for the question this time. “We’re private investigators.”
“I’m an inventor,” Gadget added.
“Hmm, you seem like an odd lot,” Thomas mused, eyeing them. “Well, there’s more than one of you, so that’s an advantage you have over me. I got in by disguising myself as a guard, but I doubt that will work for you so Bob will get you into the Belfry. Can you handle that Bob?”
“You should wait until sunset. The low visibility will help you, and it’s near the time of the change of guard.” Thomas wheeled himself over to one of the shelves and took down a dusty, ponderous tome. Setting it in his lap, he wheeled back to the table, where he set the book. “And you’ll need this. I did it from memory.” He opened the book and withdrew a folded piece of paper that had been hidden between the pages, which he unfolded and laid out on the table. “This is a map of the Belfry. The Muse is being held here, at the top of the keep.” Thomas laid a finger on the appropriate part of the map, and looked up at Chip. “Say hi to the Muse for me, will you?”
The Valley of the Mists was protected on all sides by high mountains and steep cliffs, a natural cul-de-sac with only one way in or out, and that was the river that drained the lake. It was at this point that an army was gathering. No camp had been set up, as they were preparing to move. An antique Rolls-Royce limousine pulled up in a cloud of dust behind the Colonel in charge of the brigade.
“How big is the garrison at the Belfry?” the Colonel asked his aide-de-camp, not noticing the Rolls.
“A full regiment sir, one thousand men plus staff.” The aide looked over to see who was coming and straightened up, causing the Colonel to turn and look for himself. He had to turn around owing to the rough patch that covered one eye. They didn’t look like much to him, a scrawny cat, a lizard, a rat, and another cat. A fat cat, wearing a suit.
“What’s this nonsense then?” the Colonel asked, spitting into the dust.
“I think that’s the overseer we were told about,” the aide answered.
“Great,” the Colonel muttered grumpily as the newcomers stopped, except for the fat one.
“Is this army ready yet?” Fat Cat asked.
“It is,” the Colonel answered him, “though I can’t say as I agree with stripping the Citadel garrison to reinforce the Belfry garrison.”
“It’s not your decision to make,” Fat Cat said dismissing the Colonel’s complaint. “The operation will begin tonight, under cover of darkness.”
“At night?” the Colonel said with some surprise.
“We’re not dealing with professional soldiers here, this is a simple occupation. If you can’t handle that, I’ll find someone who can.” Fat Cat did not travel well, and was in no mood to be challenged on any point.
The Colonel ground his teeth together. “We’re ready to go. We’ll be in control of the entire valley by sunrise.”
“Good,” Fat Cat said. “One more thing. Have your men watching out for anyone answering these descriptions,” he handed the Colonel a piece of paper, “they call themselves the Rescue Rangers.”
Three of the people answering those descriptions, Chip Dale and Gadget, got into a small boat with their guide and protector, Bob, and pushed off from the dock at sunset, bound for the island in the middle of the lake, whereupon was the Belfry, wherein the Muse waited.
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