Bob grounded the boat softly on the shore of the island, then jumped into the water and pulled it up onto the beach behind a stand of bushes. “No one really watches this side of the island, just a patrol every hour or so. They’ll be changing the guard in a little while, so we’ll wait until that starts and take advantage of it. We’ll have to work quickly.” Chip and Dale leapt out of the boat, while Bob solicitously helped Gadget up on shore. Bob gathered up some branches to disguise to boat.
“So who is this Muse anyhow?” Dale asked. The question had been nagging at him since he first heard Chip mention the name at the mall, and he somewhat resented the fact that Gadget also seemed to know about the Muse, while he did not.
“I’m not really sure myself,” Chip admitted. “After we took you to the hospital he was waiting for us at headquarters. He asked us to help him.”
Gadget reached back into the boat and took out a canvas bag. “He had a container with him that he said was Pandora’s Box, the first gateway to the world of dreams. Bob, do you know anything about the Muse?”
Satisfied that the boat would not be found without a deliberate search, Bob turned back to them. “He’s usually the guardian of dreamland. When the Nightmare King took over, he imprisoned him here. The Belfry is his home. I suppose there’s more, but it would be better if you heard it from him.
“I’ll go and see what’s going on. Just keep out of sight until I get back, okay?”
“Sure thing Bob,” said Dale. With that, Bob left quietly. Chip and Dale decided to explore a little bit. A short distance from the shore, they came upon the foundation of the Belfry, which they had missed earlier because of the dense growth around it. Looking up at the gracefully arched supports, they were no less impressive at close range than they had been from across the lake, only at this distance one could see that ivy and creepers had gained a significant foothold in the stonework. For some reason, the flora avoided the arched supports themselves.
“What are we waiting around for?” Dale asked. “We can just go in through this arch!”
“I’m not so sure,” Chip replied. He climbed to the top of the foundation and started to climb through the huge circular arch, but found he was unable to do so. It didn’t feel like there was anything there, but he just stopped all the same.
“What’s wrong?” Dale asked
“I can’t get through,” Chip said, dropping back down to the ground beside him. As an experiment, he picked up a small rock and chucked it at the opening. It bounced silently off of nothing and landed some distance behind them.
“That’s weird,” Dale said, and tried the same experiment, with the same results.
“What’s weird?” Gadget asked, coming up behind them.
“Check this out,” Dale said, and whipped another rock at the opening. Like the others, it was noiselessly diverted.
“We can’t get in that way,” Chip observed.
“Golly, that’s pretty impressive,” Gadget said. She climbed onto the foundation and felt at the opening. “I don’t feel a thing, but I can’t get through it either. It’s like some kind of force field.”
“Or magic,” Dale pointed out.
“Don’t be silly,” Gadget said.
“All right, how do you explain it?” Dale asked. Chip rolled his eyes because he knew what was coming next.
“This is some kind of invisible frictionless energy field that works by the diversion or reflection of kinetic energy, although without any distortion or refraction of light whatsoever! The technology behind it must be amazing; it’s the perfect compromise between physical defensibility and visual accessibility.”
“Uh-huh,” Dale said, not understanding a word. “Magic.”
“Come on Dale, there’s no such thing as magic.”
“What about that stuff Winifred did? Remember that?”
“I’m sure that was just some technological trick, just like Professor Nimnul’s flying carpets,” Gadget asserted confidently, examining the huge circular stone arch in minute detail.
“Oh yeah?” Dale replied. “What kind of technology did she use to turn me into a frog?”
Gadget thought about it briefly, but was interrupted by Bob’s return. “They’re just about to change the guard, let’s go. Miss Gadget, you can’t get in that way. There’s a magic barrier there.”
“Told ya,” Dale said, as Gadget climbed down off the foundation.
The guards at the entrance of the Belfry were nearing the end of their watch, and the fatigue of the day showed plainly in their bored expressions. No one ever tried to get in here. It was an island in the middle of a bloody lake, for crying out loud! And what was the point of having six guards on the main gate anyhow? It’s not as though an intruder was going to walk right in the main gate.
A guard walked up the path to the main gate. He was holding a short rope to which were attached two chipmunks and a female mouse dressed in rough brown cloaks. “What’s this?” the guard asked with some interest, which is to say in a slightly less bored tone.
“Caught ‘em trying to tunnel under the north wall,” said Bob. “Guess they were trying to free some friends.” The north wall adjoined the casemate, where the Belfry garrison kept what few prisoners it had, but for the Muse himself.
“Oh, bunch-a heroes, eh?” the guard asked. He considered making a note about it in the pass-down, information turned over to the next watch, but since he was going to be relieved soon anyhow, he decided he could remember it. “You got this under control?”
“Oh yeah. I want to get them processed fast so I don’t miss chow,” Bob replied.
“I hear that,” the guard sympathized, and opened the gate to let Bob and his prisoners through.
“Come on you lot,” Bob said, tugging on the rope. The short line of prisoners stumbled through the gate after him. About that time the first relief guards began to show up. The guards were so occupied with their turnover that they didn’t notice when Bob and his prisoners ducked down a side alley.
“By the end of their watch those guys are so bored we could have walked through the gate dressed as a pack of clowns playing accordions for all the notice they would have taken of us,” Bob said.
“You’d think they’d pay more attention to their jobs than that,” Chip said.
“Why? No one ever tries to get in here. Just be happy that they don’t.” Chip, Dale and Gadget took off the ropes.
“It doesn’t matter Chip, we’re in,” Gadget pointed out.
“Yeah, how do we get out again?” Dale asked nervously.
“Just leave that to me,” Bob reassured him. “Remember the signal and you’ll be fine. I’ll be waiting for you.” With that, he disappeared into the lengthening shadows.
As the Rangers started their operation at the Belfry, Fat Cat’s operation began making its way into the Valley. Many of the people fled before the army’s advance, but surprisingly there were a number of booby traps left behind. As a result, the army’s advance soon bogged down as the lead elements got caught in nets, fell in concealed pits, or were hoisted up into treetops by concealed snares.
Gadget had made pretty good use of the two days she’d been there, and as she had pointed out, she’d had help.
“Morons! Simpletons!” Fat Cat railed as news of each new trap reached him. “Can’t you even pull off the simple occupation of an unarmed town?”
The Colonel ground his teeth and continued to direct his brigade. The first rule of military planning was that nothing ever went according to plan, but of course politicians never understood that. The pattern of the traps emerged quickly; they had been planted along the easy routes of advance. The colonel therefore directed his field commanders to pass up such routes for more difficult paths. There was no way that an unarmed town was going to defeat him.
In fact, the purpose of the traps was not to defeat, but to delay. Word spread quickly of the army’s advance, and soon almost everyone who could had fled. The operation wasn’t going to capture very much.
Chip, Dale and Gadget watched cautiously from the shadows as a guard went about lighting torches and braziers. As soon as he was gone, Chip motioned for the others to keep quiet and follow him. Quietly, they crept out of the alley and down the street. They stopped short and receded into the shadows again as a pair of guards marched by, on their way to relieve the gate watch. Chip consulted the map Thomas had given him, and as soon as the patrol had gone he darted across the street into another alley, motioning for the others to follow him. This alley was still dark, the lamplighter apparently hadn’t made it here yet.
Chip was about to cross the next street when Gadget grabbed his cloak, stopping him. Her hearing was a little more sensitive than that of either chipmunk, and she’d heard the sound first. It was lucky that she had, for an entire formation of guards came marching down the street. They had nearly run right smack into them. Fortunately, it was a simple matter for them to wait until the formation had passed, then dart across the road behind them into yet another narrow alley. The alley ended at a large courtyard in the center of the Belfry. In the middle of the courtyard was an open atrium of weathered marble and granite that resembled the Jefferson Memorial in miniature, except that it looked like a tortoise, with its high, domed shell made of stained glass, and elevated by elegant fluted columns. At the far end was the keep.
A large open pavilion, heavily guarded, formed the foundation for the tall graceful spire that rose nearly to the height of the parapet high atop the circular arch. At the top of the spire a large ovoid structure was clearly visible, with narrow arches in the top third of it. The overall effect was like a giant flower bud, realized in stone.
“How do we get up there past all those guards?” Dale asked softly.
Chip studied the structure carefully, his sharp eyes picking out an empty flagpole at the very top of the keep. A plan began to take shape in his agile mind, but first they would need to get up to the parapet, and one other thing. Checking the map once more he announced, “This way. I have a plan.”
Chip led them back down the alley to the street where they’d narrowly avoided the formation. Making sure the coast was clear, he led them up the street until they came to the base of one of the towers around the periphery of the Belfry. “Wait here a sec,” Chip told the others. Chip peeked carefully into the base of the tower. Inside was a long hall with columns on either side that separated the hall from the rest of the floor. The hall held a long table that was piled with miscellaneous weapons and armor and other equipment. After motioning for the others to follow him Chip continued to look around until he spotted what he was looking for; a coil of rope underneath a chair at the opposite end of the table. Grinning, he started to make for it, but Dale pulled him roughly into the shadows behind one of the columns while Gadget clapped a paw over his mouth before he could protest.
A whole company of guards, just relieved at their posts, came trooping in to the hall. As soon as they were inside, they began to set their weapons in racks and remove their helmets. They took seats around the table, and the officer in charge of the company, a large muscular rat, seated himself at the far end of the table and removed his helmet. To their surprise, they recognized him.
“Bubbles?” Gadget said in surprise.
“Bubbles?” Dale echoed.
“Mm-mls?” said Chip. Gadget took her paw off of his mouth. “Are all of our enemies in charge of this place?” he wondered quietly.
Bubbles was enjoying his new authority. “Gimme eat! I’m starved!” A pair of soldiers went out between the columns in response. Bubbles leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the table. Chip noted with some dismay that the rope he wanted was now trapped under one of the chair legs still in contact with the ground. They needed that rope, and they were already behind schedule. “You guys are the laziest bunch I’ve ever seen, but I’ll whip you into shape. You got to keep your eyes open, stay alert all the time. From what I saw from some of you today, I wouldn’t be surprised of someone just snuck up in here right under your noses!” The two guards who’d left earlier returned with a large pot of thick stew, which they began ladling into bowls and passing around the table.
Chip, Dale and Gadget crept into the shadows and found themselves in a room full of bunks and lockers. They were evidently in the guards’ barracks. “Great idea,” Dale hissed. “What were you thinking of?”
“I was thinking of getting some rope, and getting up to the parapet. I was thinking that those stairs at the end of the hall lead up the tower, but we need that rope.”
“So how do we get it?”
“Follow me. Gadget, meet us by the stairs.”
“Roger,” said Gadget. Chip looked out at the table again, but all the guards were preoccupied either with waiting for their food, eating their food, or ignoring Bubbles’ ongoing harangue. Chip darted out and ducked under the table with a nervous Dale close behind him.
Chip and Dale slowly crept down the length of the table, being as careful as possible not to step on someone’s toes or otherwise give away their presence. Gadget, meanwhile, flitted from shadow to shadow as quietly as . . . well . . . as a mouse.
“If you think for one minute that things are always going to be this quiet around here, then you’d better think again,” Bubbles was saying. He paused in his berating the guards long enough to shovel several spoonfuls of stew into his mouth. “Just because things are quiet now, you can’t allow yourselves to get lazy.”
There had been a few close calls, but Chip and Dale made it to the end of the table. Chip could see Gadget behind the last column, waiting for them by the stairs. The coil of rope was still firmly stuck under Bubbles’ chair. Chip gave it an experimental tug, then motioned for Dale to help him.
“If you’re always careful, then you’ll never be surprised,” said Bubbles. “Like me. Nothing ever surprises me.” The next instant, Bubbles found himself lying flat on his back in his overturned chair, with the laughter of the entire company of guards ringing in his ears. Bubbles leapt to his feet and surveyed the laughing guards angrily. Reacting with his typical diplomatic aplomb, Bubbles seized the nearest bowl of stew and hurled it at the nearest guard, yelling, “SHUT UP!” In the ensuing chaos, no one noticed the three forms that darted up the stairs to the tower.
It was a fairly long climb, and to ensure that they were not followed they ran most of it. By the time they finally reached the top of the stairs, the lookout post atop the tower, they were pretty winded.
“Did you see the look on that big jerk’s face?” Dale said, laughing despite his hard breathing.
“Serves him right,” said Gadget.
Chip went to the outside door and opened it. They emerged onto the broad parapet, which was free of guards; apparently they felt no need to patrol it. The sun was gone now, and the torchlight from below fairly illuminated everything. Dale looked over the edge at the torches below, realizing in that instant that they were awfully high up.
“This way,” said Chip. The design of the Belfry put the keep off center, and Chip was heading for the part of the parapet that was closest to it. Arriving at what he judged to be the closest point, Chip put down the hard-won coil of rope and began to tie a lasso in one end of it.
“I think I see what you’re up to,” Gadget said, “but you’ll never be able to throw the rope across that distance with any accuracy.” She reached into the canvas bag that she’d brought with her and produced a grappling hook. “Here, use this.”
“Thanks Gadget,” said Chip, taking the heavy iron hook. Working carefully, he bent the rope to the hook and carefully knotted it. Dale looked around, expecting some sign of pursuit. “Stand back,” Chip warned, and began to swing the hook, faster and faster in growing circles over his head. Judging carefully, he let go and watched as the line paid out. The hook bounced once on the roof of the keep and fell off.
As Chip retrieved the hook, Dale began to catch on to Chip’s plan. “Hey Gadget,” he said, “You don’t happen to have a cable car in that bag, do you?”
“Sort of,” Gadget said, producing a pulley sheave with a short rope loop attached to it. “I figure it’s to our advantage to get across as quickly as possible.” Dale was not reassured.
Chip lined up for his second attempt, this time letting the hook swing even wider before he let it go. The hook sailed in an arc and clattered onto the top of the keep. Chip reeled in the line quickly, and the hook snagged on the flagpole atop the keep. Chip tugged on it with all his weight, then, satisfied that the hook was firmly set, tied off the near end to the parapet railing. There was a lot of rope left over, so Chip produced his pocketknife and cut it, saving the remnant for later. You never knew after all. “Okay, I’ll go across first, then Dale, then Gadget, okay?” The others nodded, and Gadget handed chip one of the pulleys. Putting the pulley on the rope, Chip closed the sheave and took a firm grip on the rope loop before stepping over the rail. With a deep breath, he pushed off.
The guards in the courtyard around the keep never thought to look up. It simply didn’t occur to them that anything like that could be going on above them. Far above, Chip zipped down the rope and fetched up against the roof of the keep. The landing was a little harder than he expected, but he made it, finally letting go of the breath he’d held the entire way across. Chip checked the hook, and tied a short piece of rope around it and the flagpole to ensure that it wasn’t going anywhere, then looked up just in time to see Dale crashing into him.
The impact nearly knocked them both off the roof, and had Chip not made a frantic grab for the flagpole they would have been street pizza. “Just once, just once! Would you look before you leap?” Chip complained, bonking Dale on the head.
“Ow, sorry.” Dale said. He made the mistake of looking down. The top of the tower wasn’t as high up as the parapet, but it was still very high up.
Chip was better prepared when Gadget came across and caught her easily. Gentleman that he was, her carefully set her down on the roof before continuing his plan. Using a lighter line, they let themselves down the side of the tower until they were able to get in through one of the archways. Finally, they were safely inside the keep.
“I don’t get it though,” Dale said, looking back at them from the darkness as he walked. “Why do they call this place the Belfry?” Not watching where he was going, Dale ran headfirst into the reason why, a huge, ornately cast bronze bell that produced a soft, sonorous tone from the impact of Dale’s head. It was just one of half a dozen or so bells ranged around the large space they were in. Lines led from the bell clappers through pulleys and holes in the floor.
Gadget helped Dale back to his feet, while Chip remarked, “Does that answer your question?”
Dale rubbed his head where he’d hit it. “Silly me for asking.” A soft creaking sound made them all freeze in place. A light appeared in the floor where an old trap door opened upwards. They waited, but no one came through the door, so they went closer to investigate. The trap door opened onto a spiral staircase leading down. Chip looked at the others and shrugged, then went cautiously down the steps, Dale and Gadget following closely.
At the landing at the bottom of the steps, they found an intricately caved wooden door, which swung quietly open at Chip’s touch. Beyond the door was a well-lit, high-ceilinged room full of the most amazing assortment of toys any of them had ever seen. A train set ran through it all, complete with crossings, bridges, tunnels and miniature towns, and the tracks meandered through an astounding collection of toys of every description, and from every era. There were pedal cars and toy trucks, dollhouses, arcade games and pinball machines, a bowling alley, slides, swings and teeter-totters, and mounds of plush animals of every species.
“Wowie,” said Dale, “is this heaven?”
“Not really,” said a voice. The Rangers turned and saw a huge gilded Victorian birdcage furnished with a red velvet Chesterfield sofa and a low table bearing a silver tea service, nestled upon an intricately patterned Persian rug. The cage contained one occupant, an elderly, portly white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and bow tie. “Welcome to my home. I am the Muse. Would you care for some tea?”
“Er, you look different from when we last saw you,” said Gadget.
“Not my idea,” said the Muse, “although one can’t help but appreciate the humor of it.” Reaching into a waistcoat pocket the Muse produced a large golden pocket watch which he regarded in mock horror, exclaiming “Oh my buttons and whiskers, I’m late!”
Dale giggled at the preposterous sight, and the others relaxed somewhat. “Are there any guards in here?” Chip asked.
“No. I am a prisoner in my own home, but still they respect me enough to allow me my privacy. I imagine that we shan’t be disturbed.”
“Good,” Chip said, “now maybe you can tell us what’s going on around here. Is this really the land of dreams?”
“It is,” replied the Muse. “You might be more comfortable thinking of it as a parallel dimension you can only see when you’re dreaming. In fact,” said the Muse, pausing thoughtfully, “that’s very nearly how it works. Do you like stories? I hope so, because this is rather a long one.” The Muse paused. “Before I begin, there is one more member of your party--”
“Yeah, Monterey Jack, we know,” Dale said.
“And Zipper, don’t forget,” said Gadget.
“No, no, not him. She arrived shortly after you did--”
“Yeah, Gadget, she’s right here,” Dale said. Gadget waved.
“No, there’s one other member of your group who arrived just after--”
Flap, flap, WHUMP! CRASH! A fast-moving form caught Dale about the midsection, knocking him ashcan over apple cart to land in a pile of stuffed toys. “Dale, you’re all right!” Foxglove cried joyously, wrapping her wings around him and kissing him.
Dale sat up and rubbed his head. “Well I was a moment ago,”
“Did I hurt you Dale?” Foxglove asked with evident concern.
“Just a little,” Dale said.
“I’m sorry,” Foxglove said, helping him up and giving him a big hug.
“Foxglove! How did you get here?” Gadget asked
“Oh, they brought this old rat into the hospital, and he had a beautiful gold box with him--”
“Pandora’s box,” Chip observed. The Muse nodded in agreement.
“Oh really? I thought that was just a Roman myth. Well anyhow, I opened it to see what was inside, and the next thing I know, here I am!”
“Terrific! We can really use your help!” Gadget said.
“And I for one am very happy to see you,” Dale said. This got him another hug and a kiss from Foxglove.
A strange half-smile crossed the Muse’s face. “Well what do you know, it seems that there’s a bat in my belfry.” The others groaned and looked at him accusingly, except Foxglove who was too wrapped up in being happy to be back together with Dale. “Okay, bad jokes aside, this is what’s going on here.”
“We have occupied the town sir,” the soldier reported. “Aside from numerous traps there was no resistance. The town has been evacuated, we have only a few prisoners sir.”
“Where could they have gone?” Fat Cat demanded to know.
“Either up into the hills and cliffs around the valley, or some of them may have gone to the island,” the Colonel’s aide-de-camp replied. The Colonel stood off to one side, watching Fat Cat act like he knew what he was doing.
“And what’s on the island?”
“The Belfry sir.”
If those rodents were here, then the most like place for them to have gone would be . . .
“Colonel, take your men and search the cliffs for fugitives. I’m taking one company over to the Belfry.”
“Good idea sir.” At last he would have this big loudmouth out of his hair. Let him deal with that idiot Major in charge of the Belfry garrison
The Muse’s tale and its attendant explanations took most of the night. The first gray streaks of dawn were beginning to show in the Eastern sky when the Muse concluded his story.
“So this Nightmare King guy took over dreamland and closed most of the paths between dreamland and the waking world?” Foxglove asked.
“Just the ones he knows about,” the Muse answered.
“”And now he’s building a machine that will force everyone in the world into dreamland and trap them there?” Gadget asked.
“Yes. The green maelstrom you dreamed about and got caught in is the physical manifestation of that machine’s effects.” The Muse took a drink of tea before continuing. “It seems clear to me that he intends to gain dominion over everyone in the world by trapping them in this plane of existence.”
“Is that why everyone we’ve met has been like mice and rats and stuff?” Dale asked.
“I must admit, I don’t know what that’s about,” the Muse answered. “It might make sense once we know who the Nightmare King is.”
“Don’t you know?” said Chip.
“If I did, I could have settled this matter long ago. That’s what I need you for. To discover the Nightmare King’s identity, I have to regain the power he stole from me. To do that, the machine he built must be destroyed. I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve, so listen carefully; this is what I need you to do. If he succeeds, if he severs the link between this world and yours, the consequences could be catastrophic. Each world will become a closed system., and the plane of dreams was never meant to handle the entire physical population of the waking plane. It is imperative that he not be allowed to succeed.”
The boats tied off at the dock facing the main gate. The guards, who had stood a long dull watch through the night, watched with interest as the soldiers piled out of them, and an overweight feline climbed out of one of them and advanced upon the gate with an air of authority.
“Who are you?” one bored guard asked.
Fat Cat produced an official letter and dropped it into the guard’s hands. “I am in charge of this facility, effective immediately. Who is your commanding officer?”
The guard was too busy reading the letter, so another guard answered. “Major Bubbles, sir.”
“Wake him up and have him meet me in the central courtyard.”
“Yes sir,” the guard hurried to obey.
“Secure this gate,” Fat Cat instructed Wart. “No one goes in or out until further notice.”
“You got it boss,” Wart answered. At his signal, the soldiers closed the ornate wrought iron doors.
Bob watched from the shadows, unsure of what was going on, but knowing that it could only mean trouble.
Bubbles ran into the courtyard, still adjusting his uniform. He was not too happy with being woken up this early in the morning and had determined to give this obnoxious busybody, whoever he was, a piece of his mind, as if he could spare it. Fat Cat stood in the courtyard gazing intently upwards at the keep.
“Alright you, what’s all this about?” Bubbles demanded.
“Your job, or rather my job, since you’ve made such a muck of it,” Fat Cat responded darkly.
“Now just a minute, I’ll have you know that I keep my men alert, they don’t miss a trick!”
“Oh really?” Fat Cat said with feigned civility. “You and your men didn’t happen to notice anything strange last night, did you?”
“Like what?” Bubbles retorted.
Even though Bubbles was quite muscular, and Fat Cat was quite obese, Fat Cat was still three or four times the muscular rat’s size. He picked Bubbles up by the scruff of the neck with one paw and pointed him in the general direction of the rope he’d spotted swinging in the breeze between the parapet and the keep. “Like that for instance?” he growled.
Bubbles gaped at the sight of the rope. As observant and alert as he might have been, he had no facility for putting two and two together. Nor had it occurred to him to simply look up. “What’s that doing there?” he asked unwisely.
Fat Cat contemptuously dropped Bubbles onto the dust of the courtyard. “Even as a cat’s paw, you’re useless. Meps, Mole, bring some men and come with me.” Fat Cat angrily strode in the direction of the tower, determined to make certain there were no more foul-ups.
“Do you think you can handle that?” the Muse asked.
“We sure can,” Gadget answered.
“We’ll destroy that machine, and find out who the Nightmare King is!” Chip added.
“As soon as you destroy the machine, I’ll be able to help you. Until then, you’ll be pretty much on your own, but I will at least put you together with the rest of your group before you start.”
“How can you do that?” Dale asked.
The Muse smiled. “As I said, I still have some tricks up my sleeve.” He paused, hearing something. “I think it would be wise for you to go soon. It seems as though forces have gathered against you. Please stand in that square there. This may take some time.”
The lock on the ornate double doors clacked as it was turned, and the doors began to open. Foxglove moved closer to Dale, clinging to his arm for security.
“We don’t have time!” Dale said.
“We will,” said Gadget, reaching into her canvas sack again. “I brought another working model!” With a wicked grin she activated it and tossed it towards the door as it opened.
“A what?” Foxglove asked.
“Hit the deck!” Dale answered, throwing his arms around Foxglove and dragging her down. The first guards watched as the innocent-looking canister rolled and bounced towards them, unsure what to make of it until it exploded in their faces, knocking them all back away from the door.
“Idiots!” a disturbingly familiar voice yelled from outside the door.
“Looks like you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve too!” Chip said admiringly.
“You better believe it!” Gadget reached into her sack and pulled out another can and tossed it at the door. This time the guards in the doorway vanished with gratifying speed, but nothing else happened.
“Nothing’s happening,” Chip pointed out.
“Nothing will, that’s just a can,” Gadget said. “But hopefully by the time they figure that out, we’ll be out of here.”
“Get going!” Fat Cat’s voice rang out again.
“But boss--” Meps began to whine.
Meps and Mole appeared in the doorway, giving the can a wide berth.
“I apologize for the mode of transportation, most people find it . . . unsettling,” the Muse told them, “but it will get you where you need to go in the shortest possible time.” With those words, a large transparent bubble appeared around the four friends.
“Boss!” Meps yelled, “It’s the Rescue Rangers!”
“Good luck!’ said the Muse, waving to them. The bubble glowed brightly for a moment, then suddenly dropped out of sight through the floor like a ghost.
Fat Cat came into the room, and saw only the Muse. “What Rescue Rangers?”
“They were here a second ago boss,” Meps said, “and there was a bat with them.”
“You’re batty,” Fat Cat told him.
“Ah, hello there, I so rarely get visitors,” the Muse called to them. “Would you like some tea?”
Mole cautiously poked at the can Gadget had left behind. The lid popped off and a pair of spring-loaded snakes leapt out, causing Mole to faint.
Foxglove clung to Dale for comfort as the bubble they were in dropped straight down through the inside of the keep, past the ornate spiral stair that wound its way around them. The floor was approaching pretty rapidly. “We’re going to crash!” she exclaimed, shutting her eyes and burying her face in Dale’s chest.
But the bubble did not crash on the floor, it passed straight through it to the utter astonishment of the guards in the lower section of the keep. When Foxglove opened her eyes to look around again, there was nothing to see; everything was dark.
“Where are we?” Chip asked nervously.
“I don’t know,” Gadget replied, “It seems as though we must be passing through solid matter, but that’s impossible!”
“No it isn’t, it’s magic!” Dale said.
“Are you going to start that again?” Gadget asked.
“Look!” said Foxglove. A fiery glow began to fill the bubble, and they could see each other dimly again. There was no sensation of heat however. The glow lasted for only a moment, and then was gone again.
“We are passing through solid rock!” Gadget gasped. Suddenly a dim light suffused the bubble, and they could see that they were in the middle of an immense cavern. The light came from a number of spectacular rock formations and a flowing river of what looked like molten rock miles beneath them.
“It’s beautiful!” said Foxglove.
“We must be passing right through the middle of the dream world!” Chip exclaimed. The bubble passed through gigantic stalagmites and stalactites dripping with gypsum and diaphanous stone curtains. Some of the formations were composed of colored crystal. The flowing river of molten rock led to a huge fissure with many more rivers leading off of it. They passed directly over the fissure, which pulsed slowly as they looked down into it. A few more stone curtains and they left the huge chamber, and plunged into darkness once more.
“Where are we going?” Dale asked.
“I guess we’re going wherever Monty and Zipper are,” Chip answered.
“The Muse did say he’d reunite us,” Gadget reminded them.
“And after that?” Foxglove asked.
“After that, we have to find the Citadel.”
“We’re slowing down,” Gadget observed.
Light flooded the bubble once more, coming from bizarre multicolored crystalline formations and torches set in holders on the wall. This cave didn’t have the graceful appearance of the cavern they’d just left. It was rough and square, excavated in fact. The bubble glided to a stop and then popped, vanishing from around them and leaving them standing in what appeared to be a mine.
Chip looked around. “Wherever we’re going, we’re here.” Suddenly two big arms grabbed Chip and Dale in a huge bear hug.
“Am I glad to see you!” Monterey Jack exclaimed.
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