“Oof! Let go Monty!” Dale said.
“Mmff!” Chip added. Monty was covering his mouth.
Monterey set both chipmunks down. “Sorry mates, it’s just that you are the first friendly faces I’ve seen in quite a while. Gadget!” Gadget was the next recipient of a big hug. “We’re all together again!”
“Good to see you too Monty. Put me down please.” Monty set Gadget back on her feet.
“But where are we?” Chip asked.
“The Crystal Mine,” Monty explained. “Rat Capone has a bunch of us down here diggin’ up these green rocks for him.” Monty reached into a nearby cart and pulled out a large green luminescent crystal. “Dunno what they’re for, but he sure needs a lot of ‘em.”
“Zowie!” said Dale, picking up one of the crystals for himself.
“Wait a minute, you’re digging them up too?” Chip asked. Monterey nodded. “Why are you helping them?”
“It’s Zipper,” Monty said. “Rat Capone and his gang are holding him hostage. They said they’d pull off his wings unless I do as I’m told. They kept me blindfolded, so I don’t know where they’re keepin’ him, and I don’t know where the exit is.”
“That’s mean,” observed Foxglove. Insectivore or no, Zipper was a friend.
Monterey noticed Foxglove for the first time. “‘Ere now lass, when did you get here?”
“Just now,” Foxglove replied.
Monty let the matter pass. “You know, I think I just got an idea.”
“What about doing what you’re told?” Dale asked.
A twinkle appeared in Monty’s eye as a smile creased his features. “They didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout you lot now, did they?”
Zipper sat dejectedly in a small cage, watching some of Rat Capone’s henchmen play cards. He’d seen his friend Monty only once, when Capone made his threat to pull off his wings if Monty didn’t toe the line. The thought of it made Zipper shudder. If they ever tried anything like that, he’d make sure they paid for it before they were through. But for now all he could do was pace in his tiny confinement, trying to think up a way to get out.
“Call. What-choo got?” one of the henchmen said, tossing some chips on a pile in the middle of the table.
“I got three of a kind,” another one said, laying out his cards.
“That beats me,” said the third, tossing his cards onto the table with a frown. The second one reached for the chips, but was stopped by the first.
“Full house, queens high,” said the burly rat with evident satisfaction, laying out his cards for the others to see. “My pot,” he added, raking in the pile of chips.
“Sheesh, you sure got an awful lot of beginners luck for a beginner,” the second rat observed sourly.
“What can I say, I’m charmed.”
The henchmen stood up as Rat Capone entered the room. The third rat took advantage of the distraction thus offered to swipe a few chips form the first rat’s pile and add them to his own.
“Whattaya say fellas, enjoying life?” Capone was in an unusually good mood.
“Sure boss,” said the first rat. In the next instant he noticed the third rat dipping into his stash and solved the problem with a straight jab to the smaller rat’s head, sending him sprawling.
“Youse guys don’t gotta lie to me, I know youse better than that,” Capone said. “This place is the dump to end all dumps, but I got good news for youse. We’re outtahere. I just got word from the Citadel that we’ve mined enough crystals, so we can shut this operation down.”
“You mean it boss? We’re done?” the second rat asked.
“Of course we’re done. If I sez we’re done, then we’re done. We just sent the last consignment down the mountain. Alls we gotta do now is close this place up and get outta here. But I sez we do a little celebratin’ first.” Rat Capone snapped his fingers and a small mouse entered, bearing a large covered platter that he set on the table next to Zipper’s cage. “Alright, scram,” Capone told the mouse, who vanished with alacrity. With a flourish, Capone removed the cover from the platter, exposing a wide tray piled high with a variety of cheeses. “Bone appateet guys, and remember, when I sez I’ll take care of ya, then I’ll take care of ya. This is a reward for the good work you done.”
Capone went to leave, but then turned and bent over Zipper’s cage. “And I’ll take care of you too, bug. Just before we blow this place, I’m gonna pull your wings off anyways, while your fat friend watches.” Capone rapped the cage sharply, which had the effect of knocking Zipper off his feet. “See you later bug,” Capone said with a cruel smirk as he left the room. Zipper glared after him.
“How about that,” the second rat said, “we can finally leave this hole.”
“‘Bout time too,” the first rat answered, picking himself out a hunk of provolone.
“What about him?” the second rat asked, indicating the unconscious third rat.
“Nuts to him, serves him right for tryin’ to cheat me.”
Zipper got back to his feet and considered his situation. In short, it was desperately bad, unless he did something desperate to get out of it. Taking hold of the cage bars, he began beating his wings as fast and as hard as he could.
“Hey, check out the bug,” the first rat said. “Guess the boss rattled him, lookit him tryin’ to escape.”
“Yeah,” the second rat said, laughing. “Fat chance bug.”
In fact Zipper knew that he couldn’t escape from the cage by himself. Gadget had once explained that according to something called Chaos Theory, a butterfly beating its wings affected weather patterns all the way around the world. Zipper only hoped that the meager air current produced by his wings would be enough.
“Now, you’re sure you’ve got all that?” Monty asked.
“No problem,” Dale said. “We’ll have you and Zipper out of here in no time!”
“Glad I could help,” Foxglove said.
“It seems simple enough,” Gadget said, putting her stamp of approval on Monty’s plan.
“That’s a really good plan Monty,” Chip admitted with some admiration. “If everyone remembers their part and does what they’re supposed to, we’ll find out where Zipper is being held and rescue him, and then we’ll find our way out of here!”
“Great! Thanks mates!” Monty said. Suddenly he stiffened slightly, as a very tiny breeze crossed his face.
“Hey, do you smell something?” Foxglove asked.
Monty’s eyes glazed over.
Gadget sniffed at the air. “You’re right Foxglove, I do smell something.”
Monty’s moustache twitched.
“You know,” said Dale, who had a whiff of it now too, “it almost smells like--”
“Chuh-hee-heez-uh!” said Monterey Jack, now in the full throes of a cheese attack.
“Oh no!” Chip exclaimed, as Monterey suddenly dashed off, nearly knocking him down.
“So much for that plan,” Dale observed.
“Come on! We’ve got to follow him!” The Rangers and Foxglove set off in pursuit of the burly Aussie mouse. The chase led them through the twisting galleries of the mine, past other mice still hard at work extracting the green crystals from the unyielding rock face, and formations of blue and red crystals as well, carefully left untouched. Monterey paused at an intersection where multiple tunnels led off of a large open room and sniffed the air. The others had just caught up to him when he zeroed in on the source of the scent and dashed off again. There was barely any time to catch their breath before they had to set off again.
“Chasing Fat Cat is easier than chasing Monty,” Dale observed.
Zipper kept beating his wings, but he was starting to tire. He knew that this was a last-ditch effort and a long shot at best, but he refused to give up, even if it only meant he and Monty could just see each other again.
“Ya know, Rat Capone ain’t the easiest boss to work for,” the first rat observed, “but he sure pays well.” The rat stuffed a large hunk of gouda into his mouth.
“You said it,” agreed his companion, speaking around a mouthful of cheddar. “Hey, you hear something?” No sooner were the words out of his cheese-filled mouth than Monterey Jack burst into the room, and fixed immediately on the large tray of cheese. Unfortunately, the larger of the two rats was between him and the tray.
“Hey, it’s the fat guy!” yelled the second rat
“Alright you, now you’re gonna get it—OOF!” The large rat hadn’t even time to start to make good on his threat before Monty bodily picked him up and tossed him aside like a rag doll. The criminal henchman crashed first into his partner, then his momentum sent the two of them crashing into the table, resulting in a spectacular flurry of playing cards and poker chips. Finally, the whole mess came crashing down on top of the third henchman, who had only just regained consciousness in time to be knocked back into la-la land. Monterey then proceeded to devour the cheese. Foxglove, who’d flown, came in immediately behind him, followed by the others.
Zipper squeaked frantically from his cage, finally drawing Monty’s attention, now that he’d taken the edge off of his cheese attack.
“Zipper! Me little pally!” Monterey dropped the cheese he was holding, a rare event in itself, picked up the cage and wrenched the door off of it with one paw. Zipper flew out and hugged Monty, or at least his neck. “I’m glad to see you too! Pull your wings off will they? I’ll pull something off of them, now that we’re back together again!” Zipper squeaked frantically in reply.
Chip surveyed the wreckage Monterey had created. “Change of plan,” he observed. “We’ve got Zipper, now we’ve got to get out of here!”
“Too right,” Monty said. “Zipper ‘ere tells me that they’re gonna blow up the mine!”
“If they do that, we’ll all be trapped inside here!” Gadget pointed out.
“Let’s get out of here!” Dale replied. They all left the room they were in and went back out into the tunnel they had come from. Monty remained behind long enough to fill his pockets with as much of the cheese as he could carry.
“This looks like the main shaft,” Gadget observed. “All we have to do is figure out which way is out, and then get everyone else out of here before they blow it up.”
“I think I can figure both of those out for you luv,” said Monty. Going to one of the red crystalline formations, he wrenched one of the glowing red crystals loose and tossed it into a mining cart full of green crystals. “Hit the deck,” he advised his friends.
The reaction was fairly spectacular. Electrical discharges flared between the red crystal and the green crystals, and the red crystal began to glow brightly, while the green crystals became slowly dimmer. As the electrical discharges became more violent, the others followed Monty’s advice, Foxglove protectively wrapping her wings around Dale. The red crystal flashed brilliantly, and suddenly the entire mine cart went up with a heavy “WHOOMP!” that shook the whole mine, dislodging a lot of loose rock in the process.
Throughout the mine, workers stopped their work and looked up with concern as the shock wave shook the tunnel in which they were working. With the air of people familiar with catastrophe, they left their tools lying where they were and began moving quickly up the tunnels.
Rat Capone looked up in alarm from where he’d been gathering his things. “They ain’t started yet, have they?” he asked the large henchman who was helping him.
“Um, I dunno boss.”
“Go find out then, I gotta finish packing!” The henchman left.
The three henchmen who’d been playing poker were awakened by the blast. Sharing a panicked look, they all picked themselves up and ran out as fast as they could.
“That happens every so often,” Monty explained to his dazed comrades, “and every time it happens they evacuate the mine until the engineers can check it out and see if it’s safe to go back. See?” Monty pointed to the streams of miners who were coming out of the side tunnels and rushing past them. “Just follow them to the surface!’ Monty beamed proudly.
“Yeah, I see,” said Chip, dusting himself off. “Just one thing Monty—WARN us before you do something like that again, okay?”
“Er, yeah. Sorry about that.”
Gadget studied the effects of the blast thoughtfully, then pried loose one of the red crystals. She had a hunch that it might come in handy later. “Come on luv,” Monty yelled to her. “We don’t want to get caught in a cave in!” Gadget shoved the crystal into one of her pockets.
“Well, well, well, if it ain’t the Rescue Rangers,” said Rat Capone. He was standing between them and the mouth of the tunnel, with one of his henchmen. “Hey doll,” he said to Gadget.
“Don’t even think about it,” Gadget retorted icily.
“Well, well, well,” Monty said, “if it ain’t the jerk who threatened to pull off me pally Zipper’s wings.” Zipper appeared next to Monty and fixed Capone with a venomous glare. Monty cracked his knuckles. “So would you like your beating regular, or extra-crispy?”
“You ain’t got what it takes fat boy,” Capone spat.
“That’ll be extra-crispy then,” Monty growled, advancing on the gangster.
“Now hold up you,” Capone said, holding up a length of fuse. “See what I’ve got here?” Producing a match, Capone lit the fuse and dropped it onto the ground. It burned rapidly down the main tunnel towards a side tunnel. “So what’ll you do, take your revenge on me or save the miners?”
“Dale, you help out Monty. Gadget and I will stop the bomb,” said Chip.
“Right!” Gadget said. Together they ran after the burning fuse, which had a good head start on them.
Monty turned back to Capone with a grin. “Now where were we?”
“Don’t just stand there, get him!” Capone yelled at his henchman.
“Check boss,” said the henchman, just before he was knocked in the head by a rock Dale had chucked at him with great accuracy. The thug growled and turned on Dale.
“Good shot Dale!” said Foxglove, unable to disguise her admiration. “Look out!” Dale managed to evade the guard’s grasp, but the thug was after him again in an instant. Seizing a larger rock, Foxglove took off and flew over the thug, dropping the rock as she did. The thug looked up just in time to catch it square in the face. The thug let Dale go and shook his head to clear it.
In any case, the thug’s nerve broke and he began to run. “You never said nuthin’ about this, I say we run!”
“All right Foxglove!” Dale yelled triumphantly.
“Rat Capone runs from no one!” the gangster yelled defiantly. Seeing that Monty was now unopposed and much too close for comfort, Capone turned and ran up the tunnel, with Monty, Zipper, Dale and Foxglove in pursuit.
Chip and Gadget ran after the burning fuse. “Hey Gadget, how will we stop the bomb in time anyhow?” Chip asked.
“I thought you had a plan for that Chip,” Gadget returned. Seeing the horrified look on his face, she added, “Don’t worry, Capone will have given himself plenty of time to escape. I’m sure when we reach the main charge there will be a way we can cut the fuse or something.”
“That’s not very reassuring!” Chip returned.
“It was your idea!” Gadget reminded him. The pair emerged suddenly into a large room, the floor of which was all but covered with a pile of green crystals. The fuse led up to a large cluster of red crystals suspended from the ceiling by ropes. As they watched, the fuse set the ropes on fire.
“I don’t know if I can come up with a good way to defuse that in time,” Gadget observed.
“Forget it, just run!” Chip yelled, grabbing her paw and pulling her out of the room.
“Where’s the boss?” one of the henchmen in the cable car asked.
“Right behind me,” said the winded thug as he climbed into the cable car that would take them down the snow-covered mountain.
“Youse better wait for me!” Capone yelled as he ran for the cable car. Monty was closing the distance between them pretty fast. For someone his size, he could move pretty quickly when he needed to.
“Threaten my friends will ya?” Monterey yelled. “That bomb of yours will be the least of your concerns if I gets my paws on ya!”
“Start the car!” Capone yelled. One of the henchmen pulled a lever and the car began to move. He pulled the lever out of its socket and threw it away. Capone ran to the end of the cable car dock and leapt the last distance to the moving car. Monty skidded to a halt, the distance was just too much for him.
“Coward!” Monty yelled after the fleeing gangster.
“Don’t just stand there, pull me up!” Capone yelled. The thug advanced and pulled his boss safely up onto the cable car. “Hey, thanks for your help there. And here’s thanks for your help back there in the mine!” Capone shoved the thug out of the cable car, to land rolling in the snow below.
Dale and Foxglove joined Monterey and Zipper on the cable car dock, watching the cable car descend the mountainside. Monty was still shaking with rage. “Hey Monty, you okay?” Dale asked.
Monterey Jack didn’t answer, not in words anyhow. With a cry of rage he seized a ladder that was left leaning against the wall, then swung the heavy wooden ladder with all his might into the cable car mechanism, nearly demolishing it. The cable slipped from the pulley and shuddered to a halt. Monty dropped the remains of the ladder and regarded the wrecked machinery, his temper beginning to cool. “I think I broke it.”
A second cable car, which had been hung on one of the beams next to the cable machinery, crashed onto the platform, barely missing Dale and causing Foxglove to jump. “I know you broke it,” Dale retorted.
Chip and Gadget rushed breathlessly onto the platform. They had run the whole way.
“Did you get the bomb defused?” Dale asked.
“No,” Chip managed to get out between breaths.
“What?” said Monty, Dale and Foxglove all at once.
The last rope burned through and the cluster of red crystals plunged straight into the middle of the pile of green crystals. Almost immediately the room was filled with powerful electrical arcs as the crystals began their violent reaction.
“I think everyone’s out of the mine though,” Gadget said, “At least we didn’t see anyone in there on the way out.” Gadget looked around. “Where are we?”
“Half-way up a mountain,” Monty told her.
“Uh-oh, this could be a very bad thing,” Gadget said. “We need to get down the mountain and fast!”
Monty picked up the cable car from where it had fallen, it was surprisingly light, being basically an open box with an apparatus to suspend it from the cable. “Who’s up for a bit of tobogganing?” Monty asked.
The luminance of the red crystals built up to a painful brilliance, then glowed white hot as they reached critical mass.
“Everybody ready?” Monty asked, preparing to push off the makeshift sled. The others nodded nervously, contemplating the steep drop in front of them. Suddenly the entire mountain seemed to jump under their feet as the crystals in the mountain blew. Monty was knocked off his feet, but kept his grip on the cable car. The sled began to move, dragging Monty behind it until the others pulled him aboard. “Crikey! That was one big bomb! Still looks like we’re okay now. What’s the big rush to get off the mountain Gadget-luv?”
“That is,” said Gadget, pointing behind them. Dislodged by the blast, thousands of tons of ice and snow were hurtling down the mountainside towards them, adding their own throaty rumble to the receding roar of the explosion.
“Avalanche!” Dale yelled in alarm.
Their car was moving pretty fast, here and there caroming off of rocks and bumps in the snow, but the sliding ice and snow was faster. Soon they were half-sliding down the hill, and half-surfing the leading edge of the avalanche. Dale might have said something like “Yahoo!” but in truth he was too terrified, and could hardly breathe as Foxglove was holding onto him very tightly.
“What’s going on!” Capone demanded of his henchmen. A couple of them had ascended the armature in an attempt to get the car moving again.
“I dunno boss,” answered one of them, who didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.
“Boss,” said another thug looking up the mountain.
“Alls I asks for is a quick getaway off this mountain. Is that too much to ask of youse mugs?” Capone ranted.
“Instead all I get is excuses and ‘I dunno, boss’ from you clowns. I think we’d have gotten down faster if we were sliding down the mountain!”
Capone wheeled around angrily. “What! Sweet mother of . . .” A moving wall of white engulfed the gangsters’ cable car, cutting off Capone’s words. The cable car was knocked off the cable and sent hurtling end-over-end down the side of the mountain.
The avalanche had threatened to overtake them, but they managed to keep just ahead of it until they reached the foot of the mountain. Just as it seemed they were about to be swallowed by the rushing wall of white, the cable car bounced off of a large bump and sailed into the air. The avalanche petered out as it slid into the foothills, and when the unexpectedly aerial portion of their journey ended, they crashed into a big, soft pile of snow. They landed next to 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. The foothills of the mountain rolled away into a dense forest of very tall trees, not far from where they were.
Monty surfaced first, pulling Zipper up out of the snow with him. Zipper shivered and sneezed, but otherwise seemed okay. Gadget came up next, brushing snow out of her hair. “Is everyone all right?” she asked.
Foxglove came up next, looking in wonder at the snowy landscape as she helped Dale up. “What is all this white stuff?” she asked.
“It’s called snow,” Dale said, holding his head. “Haven’t you ever seen snow before?”
“No, I haven’t,” said Foxglove. “It’s very . . . cold. Are you okay?”
“I think so,” said Dale with a grin, “I landed on my head.”
“He’ll be fine then,” said Chip, pushing himself out of a snow-bank, “that’s the hardest part of his whole body.”
“Who asked you anyhow?” Dale shot back.
“Now what do you suppose this is?” Monty asked, looking at the stone and stained glass structure they’d narrowly missed.
“I don’t know,” said Dale, “but I remember seeing one just like it in the courtyard of the Belfry.”
“And I saw one like it back in the city,” Chip added.
“Guys,” said Gadget, “we still have to get to the Citadel to stop the Nightmare King, remember?”
“Right,” said Chip, pulling some notes from his pocket.
“The whozis?” asked Monterey Jack.
“We’ll fill you in on the way Monty,” said Chip. “The Muse said it would be pretty easy for us to find the Citadel.”
“Well, if it’s the Citadel we be needin’ to get to, then let’s just follow this road,” Monty said. The snow had buried the part of the road they were on, but it was clearly visible further down, leading away into the forest.
“How do you know that road leads to the Citadel Monty?” Dale asked.
“Well it just makes sense lad, after all, that’s where all those green crystals we dug up were being sent.”
“If Monty’s right then we’re almost there,” Chip observed, putting away his notes. “All we’ve got to do is get through this forest. Let’s go!” Together the Rangers and Foxglove headed for the forest.
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