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Thread: The Weather Makers of the Mysterious Planet: The Legend of Huracan(Futago Hime, PG)

  1. #1
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    Default The Weather Makers of the Mysterious Planet: The Legend of Huracan(Futago Hime, PG)

    Or, if you're of that persuasion, ふしぎ星の☈てんき工: ハラカンのレンド

    Hello everyone. I come to you with a new fanfic based on Fushigiboshi no Futago Hime. If you've been reading my other work I have to apologize. I've pulled it up by the roots, thrown it on a pile of kindling, doused it with gasoline, took a lit match to it and threw in a couple sticks of dynamite for good measure. Okay, I abandoned it, but I thought this imagery was more dramatic.

    There are many reasons why I decided to discontinue it. I found myself unhappy with the direction it was going in and found that decisions I had already made in it were not to my liking. I'll spare you the gory details.

    As I said, I come to you with a new story that I hope you will all like. It's got a similar setup and the same characters but I've completely rewritten the plot and reorganized my thoughts. This is actually an extrapolation of one of my ideas for the Dungeons and Starships contests.

    Also, if you're curious (and can read Japanese) I suggest checking out the original concept by BIRTHDAY to learn more about the series. Much of my material came from here including some that was never showcased in the anime.

    I'll try to post a chapter a week on Thursday morning. Look here for updates.

    24/09/2008: Prologue posted.
    02/10/2008: Chapter 1 posted
    09/10/2008: Chapter 2 posted
    16/10/2008: Decided to drop the book thing. They would have only been a few chapters each.
    16/10/2008: Chapter 3 posted
    23/10/2008: Chpater 4 posted
    30/10/2008: Chapter 5 posted
    06/11/2008: Chapter 5 reposted and some story notes added.
    06/11/2008: Chapter 6 posted
    20/11/2008: Chapter 7 posted
    28/11/2008: Chapter 8 posted


    Without further ado, I give you The Weather Makers of the Mysterious Planet: The Legend of Huracan.


        Spoiler:- Skyline and Introduction:



        Spoiler:- Legal Crap and Acknowledgments:


    Historian’s Note: This story takes place about five years after the end of the first series.

    Based on ふしぎ星の☆ふたご姫 (The Twin Princesses of ☆ the Mysterious Planet):
    Concept by BIRTHDAY

    Prologue: Beware the Walrus

    As an industrialized nation, the Water Drop Kingdom was ruled more by the clock than by the Sun’s Blessing. Even with the darkness of night falling Saginaw City, its capital, was still active. Pale light poured from the windows in the round, white walled and blue onion top roofed buildings and overhead lamps shined down on the canals that crisscrossed one another like streets through the community on the edge of the world.

    Rising above it all was the kingdom’s castle, also emitting light from its many windows. Its design was similar to the other buildings only much larger. The structure appeared to be a blend of a tower and a fountain with water spilling over the rim of the central tower’s base into the top moat and then falling into the lower moats before flowing out into the inlet leading to the ocean.

    The castle was more than just the residence of the royal family. Housed within its structure was the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom; the device that converted liquid water into clouds for all of the Mysterious Planet. A cloud would periodically form from the distributor on the top of the central tower and expand as it was carried off the wind. The process went along, day or night as the need for the clouds and the life giving rain they carried never slept.

    * * *

    Princess Milro looked up from her canvas through the sliding glass door at the darkness speckled by points of light from the city. She instinctively turned to the alarm clocking sitting on her nightstand. The hands of the analogue face were positioned to show it was nearing a quarter to ten.

    It’s getting late, she thought.

    She could become so engrossed in her painting that she would lose all track of time. The memory of one time she was painting and when she looked at the clock it was three in the morning came to mind. Fortunately she still had some time make the evening rounds before bed.

    She set down her brush and glass palette on the table next to her and stretched as she stood up. She picked up the cloth she had laid over her lap and laid it over the almost completed painting of a lighthouse on a small, rocky island.

    She paused to think about her latest work. It was a landscape like many that she had painted before. However, unlike her other paintings she had never seen the subject before. The idea just came to her seemingly out of nowhere. However, that and the last few details could wait for morning.

    She turned to a full body mirror between her bed and the sliding glass door. A dainty girl in her mid teens wearing a long-sleeved, robin egg blue bodice and full length, white bell skirt decorated with blue raindrops looked back to her. She appeared human aside from the beige, beaver like ears nestled in her light brown hair in front of a small, blue, curled raindrop shaped hat perched elegantly on her head. She straightened her clothes as they had become a little askew from her sitting for so long.

    A knock came at the door. Milro immediately thought it was her younger brother wanting a story before bed.

    “Come in,” she replied in her gentle voice as she started looking through the books on a shelf above the head of her bed.

    The door slid open but instead of her younger brother a diminutive, anthropomorphic walrus dressed in a yellow tunic and tinted goggles stepped in. The small pinniped pulled out a small device with a large parabolic dish on the front as he crept quietly towards the unsuspecting princess. Milro pulled out a book bound in a red leather cover filled with fairytales.

    “What do you want to hear tonight Nalro?” Milro asked as she turned around.

    She looked down and jumped back in shock. She dropped her book when she saw the walrus standing in front of her. “Who are you?” she asked.

    The walrus said nothing in response. He instead pointed the device at her and squeezed its clumsy trigger. The device loosed a red energy that struck and spread over Milro.

    Milro tried to move away but her body wouldn’t budge. She saw that her room was expanding…or…more specifically, she was growing smaller. She urged her body to move but it wouldn’t. She could only watch helplessly as the world around her took on giant proportions. The device finally ceased, leaving her less than a dozen centimeters tall.

    Her body came under her control again. She stepped back and looked around. Her bed was now a mesa of blue cloth. She backed into the wooden leg of her easel up to the painting she was just working on now high above her. Even the book she had been holding was huge compared to her.

    Her attention turned to the walrus that now towered over her. He looked down at her. His mouth formed into a wide, toothy grin behind his stubby tusks and although his eyes were hidden by his goggles they no doubt had lit up. Before they could do anything else a voice shouting caught their attention.

    “Princess Milro-sama,” the voice called out.

    Chief Engineer Spigot ran into the doorway and rested against the jam. The anthropomorphic beaver was visibly winded, panting and gasping as he tried to catch his breath. His blue best was wrinkled and sat askew on his small, stocky frame as well as the blue visor on his head.

    “Dammit,” he gasped, “I’m too late.”

    The Walrus spun around to him. He pointed the device towards him but the engineer tackled him and smacked the machine from his hand. The two rolled over and threw each other off.

    “Mr. Spigot,” Milro panicked, “what’s happening?”

    “There’s no time to explain,” Spigot said as he kicked the Walrus in the gut. “You have to get out of here now.”

    The Walrus was stunned by the blow but rolled back up onto his flippers. He grabbed Spigot by his collar and threw his weight into them. Spigot’s back landed on the device that shattered under their combined wait.

    A sharp pain shot through Spigot’s body as his back bent over the machine. He gave a groan as he kicked off his attacker. He rolled over onto his hands and knees and grabbed his back, still throbbing. The Walrus curled his flipper and punched him in the face as he tried to get to his feet.

    Spigot was stunned for a second but jumped to his feet. He grabbed the Walrus from behind and held him in a tight headlock as the pinniped flailed to get free. He looked back to Milro still standing there, looking on in bewilderment.

    “I said GO!” he shouted.

    Milro was taken aback by his outburst. She paused for a second but she nodded and ran for the open door. Spigot grabbed the Walrus’ head and snapped it violently to the side with a loud, sharp crack and dropped the lifeless body on the carpet.

    Milro ran out into the hall leading out of her bedroom. The gently curving hall extended in either direction with evenly spaced floor to ceiling windows along the wall opposite her door. Several more Walruses dressed in identical garb as the first come out from around the curve.

    Milro noticed one of them carrying bell jar with three tiny figures trapped inside. As they drew near she gasped when she saw them. Her parents and brother, shrunken to the same size as her pounded against the glass. “Mom, Dad, Nalro!” she called out.

    The Walruses all stopped and looked at her. A particularly short Walrus with a gold tusk wearing a red aloha shirt with a palm tree motif pushed his way to the front. He turned to the others and shifted his eyes up and down the line in an irritated glare.

    “Why did you all stop?” he growled.

    “It’s Princess Milro Waltu-sama.” One of the Walruses pointed to the tiny princess.

    Waltu turned around momentarily to see her before turning back to the others. “I can’t see that, you imbeciles,” he shot back. He threw his flipper out to point at her. “GET HER!”

    Milro backed up a couple steps before she spun on her heel and ran away. The Walruses gave chase, running as best they could on their back flippers. She looked back and saw that although clumsy and awkward, the Walruses were gaining on her, their flippers extended to grab her. She looked away tried to run even faster.

    “Somebody,” her voice cracked between labored breaths as tears streamed from her eyes, “please, help me.”

    As she ran in front of an opened window a stiff gust of wind blew in. The cool breeze swept Milro clear off her feet and picked her up off the ground. The Walruses piled on the floor where she had just been trying to grab her. She tumbled helplessly through the air as the wind carried her out the window.

    The gust died, allowing her to fall. She screamed as she fell into the pool of water in the base of the castle’s main tower. She splashed through the water and swam back up to the surface, spitting out the semi-salty water to take a breath.

    She looked up at the tower. The Walruses stared down at her from the window. She heaved a relieved sigh as she grabbed her hat floating next to her.

    She began to feel like she was being carried away from the tower. She looked behind her and saw that she was being pulled towards the spillway. She treaded water frantically to get out of the current but the water carried her over the fall into the moat.

    The current carried her down into the lowest moat. Her dress grew heavy and waterlogged and she coughed and choked on the salty water. She felt herself sinking as her body was being overcome by exhaustion.

    She saw a piece of driftwood float by. With the last of her strength she swam to it and pulled herself onto it. She collapsed from exhaustion as the convenient piece of debris was carried out of the moat. It drifted out of the inlet and into the open ocean with its unconscious passenger.
    Last edited by The Big Al; 9th December 2008 at 10:59 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  2. #2
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    Chapter 1: Ophelia and Lee

    Milro awoke to the mournful call of a fog horn. She slowly opened her eyes to look upon the ocean extending to the Line of Obscurity. The cool air was filled with the tangy smell of sea salt and the gentle sound of lapping water. She bolted into a sitting position and looked around her.

    She was afloat on the piece of driftwood surrounded entirely by the almost perfectly smooth ocean. The sky above was a brilliant blue dotted with puffy, white clouds and the Sun’s Blessing was a bright, waxing crescent overhead. Gray, wispy fog sat over the ocean, hiding anything more than a couple kilometers away under its curtain of water droplets.

    Milro found herself bewildered by the unexpected surroundings for a second until it came to her. That’s right, she thought. I thought it was all a dream but it really happened. That Walrus did shrink me and… The next thought yelled so loudly in her mind that she jumped to her feet and said aloud. “…as well as Mom, Dad, and Nalro. I have to get back to Saginaw City and save them.”

    She pulled a long, slim splinter off to use as an oar. She dipped one end in the water and tried to get her bearings. However, there was nothing but ocean in all directions and the Sun’s Blessing was dead overhead like it always was over every spot on the interior shell of the Mysterious Planet. She did not even know from what direction the fog horn came from or how far away it was.

    She pulled her makeshift oar out of the water and dropped it on the driftwood. She smoothed out her skirt as she sat on her ankles. “Who am I kidding?” she almost pouted. Her ears drooped over as she let her head sink. “Even if I knew how to get back to Saginaw City what could I do?”

    A gust picked up, blowing through Milro’s still slightly damp clothes. She wrapped arms around her slender torso and shivered slightly in response to sudden chill going through her. A low rumble made one of her ears perk up. She sat up and looked behind her.

    Dark clouds were rising over the fog that was being shredded and blown away by the increasing winds. The water became more agitated, throwing up white foam from the tops of the growing waves. The tower of water droplets billowed upwards as it lumbered towards her. A more audible rumble came from it as it cast its ominous shadow over the tiny princess.

    * * *

    The sudden squall lashed at the Beacon Rock Lighthouse with water and wind. Gusts threw sheets of rain pouring down from the dark, angry sky in horizontal directions. The waves crashed against the rocky shore and threw their froth at the building clinging to the tiny landform.

    The stout lighthouse and the small residence attached to its base stood stalwart against the tempest. The lantern at the top of the tower shined brightly, cutting through the darkness and gloom of the tempest to warn vessels of the rock on which it sat. From the safety of the lantern room, Ophelia watched the storm as it raged.

    She was a girl of average height and figure in her mid to late teens dressed in a blue, ankle length dress with a raindrop pattern around the cuffs of the long sleeves and the hem of the skirt. A dark blue shawl was tied over her shoulders behind a medallion bearing the curled teardrop emblem of the Water Drop Kingdom. A blue bandana tied behind her neck covered her flowing, cerulean blue hair that was bobbed just below her shoulders and her bangs covered one of her silver eyes in the front. She appeared human for a most part except for five pairs of gill slits in the sides of her neck and translucent webbing between her fingers.

    She gazed out at the storm. It was almost black as night outside with lightning dancing through the boiling clouds and throwing bolts into the waves below. Rain piled onto the storm panes protecting the lantern room. The droplets coalesced and were blown sideways across the glass by the gale.

    “This is so strange,” she said to herself. “One moment I’m sounding the horn for fog and the next thing I know this squall has blown up.”

    She turned to the bright lantern in the center of the glass room. The fresnel lens rotated slowly, casting the light horizontally in all directions. She gave another glance to the raging storm outside before descending the spiral staircase to the bottom of the tower.

    Her mind remained on the drastic change in the weather. The squall literally appeared out of nowhere. As fickle as the weather at sea was, there would be some sign of an approaching or developing storm. It certainly never went from calm to storm conditions as quickly as it did.

    She continued to ponder as she stepped off the stairs and walked into an adjacent room. Her twin brother, Lee, sat at a large radio set holding a headphone set to one ear. He was very tall and rather gangly with the same cerulean blue hair he kept in a tangled mess. His attire was a white, long-sleeved shirt under a blue vest and pants with a white stripe along the outside seem. He scowled as he tapped his finger impatiently against the table.

    “You still haven’t gotten anything, Lee?” Ophelia asked.

    Lee tossed the headphones on the table and heaved an exasperate sigh. “I don’t get it, Ophelia,” he growled as he planted his foot on the edge of table to push his chair on its hind legs. “I just sent a test signal to one of the buoys and got the automated response. We’re transmitting and receiving. Yet I’m getting nothing from Saginaw City.”

    “First the radio and then the weather,” Ophelia thought out loud. “It seems like too much to be a coincidence.”

    Lee had to agree. While it was expected that an outpost like theirs could suffer an equipment failure from time to time, the central office had enough redundancies that they should never be silent. Unfortunately, he was in no position to find out what was happening. He took the visor off his head and dropped his foot to let his chair fall back onto all its legs.

    “I’m going fishing,” he said as he stood up from the chair and grabbed a calf length coat in the same design as Ophelia’s dress and a wide brimmed, cone shaped hat adorned with the curled teardrop emblem.

    “Fishing?” Ophelia repeated. “Haven’t you noticed that there’s a little storm going on out there?”

    “The dock’s on the lee of the island,” Lee replied dismissively as he slipped on his hat and buttoned his coat. “I’ll be protected. Besides, its breakfast time and it’ll give me a chance to think.”

    “Alright,” Ophelia replied uneasily. “Just be careful out there.”

    “I always am,” Lee said as he walked out of the room.

    A flash of lightning quickly followed by a long crack and lingering rumble of thunder caught her attention. She turned to window with sheets of water falling down its panes.

    “No one should be out in this,” she said to herself.

    * * *

    Milro clung to her raft as it was thrown by the waves. Sal****er was thrown in her face, making her cough and choke. Her nictitating membranes extended over her eyes to protect them from the stinging seawater. Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse she happened to look up and saw a sight that made her blood run cold.

    A wall of dark, frothy water was building towards her made even more overwhelming by her tiny size. It began to crash towards her, gathering enough power to smash her and her raft. In a split decision she leapt off the raft and into the ocean. The tower of water slammed into the piece of drift wood, breaking it into splinters.

    Milro dove down to be below the turbulence of the surface. Being half Beaver, she had many of their aquatic adaptations. Along with the nictitating membranes protecting her eyes she could hold her breath much longer than a normal Human and was an adept swimmer. Hopefully, she could stay under until the storm passed.

    She looked around her. She was in the open ocean and at first saw no landforms in the limited distance she could see. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she noticed what looked like a darker column against the deep blue. It appeared to be an undersea mountain that could be an island.

    She began swimming for it, having nothing else to suggest she was anywhere near dry land. As she grew nearer she saw that it was indeed an undersea mountain that poked up above the surface. It is an island, she thought gleefully.

    Her hopes grew. She couldn’t have drifted too far out to sea and almost all the near shore islands had manned installations of some type. She was as good as saved.

    The local life became more abundant as she drew nearer. The rocks were covered in coral with various kinds of fish and crustaceans swimming by or hiding in the alcoves between stones. As Milro came near she felt something large swim past her.

    She looked back to the open sea but she only saw darkness and the agitated surface. What was that? she thought. She saw it again. It was a kind of tuna swimming around. The large fish turned about and came towards her, opening his wide mouth.

    Milro darted away as it chomped down on the water where she had been. It turned again and came for her. It clearly saw her as its next meal.

    Her heart began pounding as it again came at her with its opened mouth. She had to think fast or she would be eaten. She looked at the various alcoves formed by the rocks. She avoided the tuna again and swam towards one of the larger cavities.

    She swam inside and turned back to the tuna. It swam towards her but suddenly veered away. She was about to heave a sigh in relief before she remembered she was holding her breath. As she wondered why the tuna swam away like it did she noticed water moving past her like a breath.

    She slowly turned around and saw a huge form in the darkness. Glints of light on the sides suggested eyes. It moved into slightly better light to reveal it was a giant moray eel. Milro’s eyes widened as she took a stroke back.

    Oh no! she thought.

    The massive eel opened its foreboding maw, lined with tiny, sharp teeth. Its second mouth chomped in the back of its white throat. Milro backed up and swam away as it lunged for her. She swam frantically out of the cave as the eel slipped its long, dark body into the open water.

    She now knew why the tuna did not go after her. However, this eel was probably the top of the local food chain and nothing short of a shark would scare it off her. She was also beginning to need a breath and growing exhausted as her dressed was becoming heavy with water again.

    So this is how it ends, she thought sorrowfully. I escaped the castle just to be eaten. I’ll never see my family or friends again.

    She looked around for something, anything that could save her from the eel. Her eyes fell on a line ending with a hook and a brightly colored lure. She grabbed onto the line and began pulling herself up. The eel chomped down on the hook and yanked violently on the line.

    * * *

    Lee was sitting in a foldable lounge chair on the wooden dock jutting from the island. The waves and wind weren’t nearly as violent as they were further out as the island blocked them for the most part. His coat and hat were weatherproof; causing the water that hit them to bead and runoff and kept the wind out. Ophelia had always been afraid of storms but Lee knew how to stay safe in them and that they had their benefits.

    Usually he had to dive and hunt for anything substantial. However, the turbulence kicked up by the storm attracted the fish towards the surface and closer to the island. He preferred to let them come to him instead of chasing after them. He took almost every opportunity to fish when the weather got dirty.

    He flinched at a loud explosion of thunder. While he didn’t mind storms there was something disturbing about this storm. Like his sister, he found it strange that this storm seemed to appear out of nowhere.

    And there was the sudden, unexplained silence of Saginaw City. Were they some how connected? The Water Drop Kingdom made the clouds and there were many who would love to wield that power and catastrophic malfunctions were not unheard of. Something might have happened there and created this storm.

    As he watched the sky the reel of his rod began to spin wildly. Surprised, Lee grabbed the handle and was pulled to his feet. He threw his long, thin, blue tail out to wrap around a piling several times over to keep him from being pulled clear off the dock.

    “Oh Nelly,” he exclaimed. “This one’s a whopper!”

    The storm was quickly forgotten as his pole bent sharply between him and his catch. He clenched his sharp teeth as he began reeling the line in. The line protested and tried to wrench the entire rod from his hands. He yanked the rod back, launching the fish at the end of the line out of the water. He looked up and saw the large form flying through the air.

    “It’s a…” he exclaimed eagerly until he saw the long, slim form of the eel falling right towards him. His smile disappeared and he shielded his face screaming. “EEEEEL!”

    The huge eel fell on him, knocking him down onto the dock. Milro had clung to the line for dear life. The line snapped and threw her off. She screamed as she fell into a soft sponge in the tackle box.

    She gasped for a desperately needed breath and took a few seconds for her breathing and heart to calm down. She slowly stood up and began straightening and wringing out her soaked clothes.

    She looked around her. “I’m alive.” She finally sighed in relief.

    “Thank you very…” She started to say as she turned to Lee and noticed that the eel had left him stunned on the dock. “Um…are you alright?”

    Lee finally pushed himself slowly to a sitting position. He groaned as he rubbed his throbbing head and picked up his hat. He grabbed the stunned eel by the neck and looked at it.

    “Lee,” Ophelia called out. She walked as quickly as she could down the winding stairs to the dock.

    “Check it out, Ophelia,” Lee slurred a little as he held up the eel up. “Meat on the table.”

    “Excuse me,” Milro called out.

    “Did the eel just talk?” Ophelia asked.

    “No.” Lee replied casually. “That was the tiny girl in my tackle box.” He paused for a second as his statement sank in. “The tiny girl in my tackle box?” he repeated.

    The two looked to Milro standing on the sponge. She looked back at the two of them. She was at a loss for words knowing they must feel as awkward as she did.

    “Oh my God,” Ophelia exclaimed. “It’s Princess Milro-sama!”

    “You’re right,” Lee stated the obvious. “But…” He trailed off as he couldn’t find a good way to form his next sentence.

    “I can explain,” Milro replied.

    “Let’s get inside first.” Lee looked up at the clouds. “This storm is a beast.”

    Ophelia cupped her slender hands and knelt down to hold them in front of Milro. “Here, I can carry you.”

    “Thank you.” Milro replied as she stepped into her hands and sat down.

    Ophelia stood up slowly and began walking up the stairs to the lighthouse. Lee gathered up his things as he followed them.

    * * *

    Milro was glad to finally feel warm when they got inside. Ophelia took her into their small kitchen with a wooden table and two chairs in the center. Lee began minding a kettle on the stove as Ophelia laid a towel over a line to make a privacy curtain in front of a table between a corner and a heating register. Milro went behind it to rinse the salt off her and her clothes.

    As she dried off with a washcloth she found herself thinking about her hosts. Judging from their appearance they were Shark People. Being one who takes everything in deep consideration, her mind immediately started running through everything her tutors had taught her about them.

    Shark People were an offshoot of the Human race that had evolved into truly amphibious life forms, being able to live as easily underwater as on land. They were mammals and had an outward appearance almost identical to Humans. However, much of their internal anatomy was similar to that of cartilaginous fish. They were known for their immense strength and intellect, sharp senses and reflexes, and predatory nature.

    The name came from their close association with sharks. They had domesticated several species and lived alongside them. Their culture was incredibly diverse as they divided themselves into tribes based on the species they raised and took on that species’ behavior patterns. They were such a heterogeneous people one could determine a Shark Person’s tribe by the color of their hair which resembled the color of their shark species.

    They were a vital segment within the Water Drop Kingdom’s society. Despite their tribal difference, they were united in their loyalty to the crown. Outside of Beavers, Shark People were they only other race that served in the crew that maintained and supported the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom. Their abilities were indispensable in certain stages of operations, particularly those that were underwater. For the most part they maintained the intake tunnels that brought seawater to the machine as they passed through the reefs they lived in.

    Milro wrapped the washcloth tightly around her like a towel and tucked it in. She picked up her still damp clothes and spread out across the warm, metal register next to her privacy curtain. Ophelia was sitting at the table while Lee was preparing a stew or soup in the kettle.

    It was not uncommon to see Shark People wearing the uniform worn by the engineers and other employees that worked directly or indirectly on the machine. However, most of them belonged to the reef dwelling tribes since they remained close to the shore and lived in one place. These two had blue hair suggesting they belonged to either the Blue tribe or Mako tribe. Both tribes were nomadic hunters that wandered the open ocean as they followed their prey like their sharks. They rarely associated with anyone else, even other tribes. Seeing two living a sedentary life, especially under the employ of the government was highly unusual.

    Milro put it out of her head. The important thing was that they saved her from being eaten and the cold and she was in good company. “I can’t thank you enough,” she said as she sat down on a large cork.

    “It’s no trouble at all,” Ophelia replied.

    “One of a lighthouse keeper’s duties is to provide a port in the storm,” Lee added as a flash of lightning and rumble of thunder came from the window. “And this is one hell of a storm. Once it passes we’ll get a boat to take you back to Saginaw City.”

    “Again, thank you,” Milro said.

    “We should probably introduce ourselves,” Ophelia said. “I’m Ophelia and this is my twin brother, Lee.”

    “Hi,” Lee said before taking a sip of the stew whose aroma of cooking fish wafted through the air and smacking his lips as he tested the taste. “Needs cloves,” he concluded as he started rummaging through the spices on a nearby shelf.

    “Obviously we’re the keepers of this lighthouse,” Ophelia continued. “We also take measurements of the local weather conditions for the kingdom’s cloud making operations.”

    “You seem a little young to be lighthouse keepers,” Milro replied.

    “Our mother was the previous keeper.” Lee motioned to a portrait on the wall. “That’s her picture over there.”

    Milro looked up to the picture. It depicted a beautiful woman in her thirties wearing the same uniform as Ophelia standing on a sandy shore. Her long, blue hair flowed behind her, waving in the wind. Her gentle eyes looked down and away, suggesting she was deep in thought.

    “She’s beautiful,” Milro said.

    “She never liked the nomadic life of the Blue tribe so when they were looking for a replacement keeper she jumped at the chance,” Lee said. “She then passed on all her knowledge on maintaining the lighthouse and the weather to us. It’s the only life we’ve known.”

    “The weather?” Milro asked.

    “She knew a great deal about weather,” Ophelia explained. “She taught us how and why the weather behaves as it does as well as what exactly the Water Drop Kingdom and Windmill Kingdom do to make the weather patterns. She even taught us what signs to look for to determine what the weather will do in the near future.”

    “She sounds like quite a woman,” Milro said in amazement.

    “She was many things,” Ophelia said but paused before she continued. “Sadly, immortal wasn’t one of them.”

    “Last winter was especially hard,” Lee said in a solemn voice after a long silence. “By the time we realized how sick she really was it was too late. The pneumonia was too severe.”

    “She made us the keepers in her place,” Ophelia added.

    “I’m sorry for your loss,” Milro said solemnly. “And your father?”

    “We never knew him,” Ophelia answered. “A lighthouse keeper’s existence is a lonely one. So when a seafaring man stayed out a storm…” She trailed off, believing the rest could be implied.

    “Uh…perhaps we should talk about something else,” Milro said uncomfortably.

    “Or better yet eat.” Lee grabbed a bowl and poured a ladle full of stew into it. “Breakfast is served.”

    “What is it?” Milro asked sniffed the pleasant aroma from the stew.

    “Fresh eel stew,” Lee answered as he handed Ophelia the bowl and started and pouring his own. “Want some?”

    Milro’s jaw dropped and hung from its joints. She had been quite hungry. She had not eaten anything since yesterday and having to swim for her life had worked up her appetite. However, the notion of eating the very eel that almost ate her killed that appetite instantly. She could only stare with a dumbstruck expression plastered on her face as Lee poured the stew in his bowl.

    “It sounds lovely,” she said, trying to be as polite as possible. “However, I think I’ll pass.”

    She walked over to her clothes and felt them. They were already warm and dry. One of the benefits of being small, she thought.

    As the twins sat down to their breakfast she took her clothes back behind the tower. It would spare watching them eat what could have very well have eaten her. If it had eaten her and…she did not even want to think about it.

    She took off the washcloth and started slipping on her stockings. They was delightfully warm though slightly stiff with the rest of her outfit. It took a little while to put on the complicated outfit. She placed her hat on her head once she was dressed and straightened her bodice and skirt.

    “It’s safe now Milro-sama,” Lee’s voice came from the other side of the towel. “We’re done.”

    “Okay,” Milro replied.

    “So Milro-sama,” Ophelia asked as the tiny princess stepped out, slipping on her shoes, “how did you end up on my brother’s line?”

    “And how did you end up…uh…” Lee paused as he tried to think of the best way to end sentence. “…well…like that?”

    “I’m not so sure myself,” Milro answered as she tried to make sense of it herself. “I was getting ready to do my evening rounds when this Walrus came in and shrank me with a device of some kind. He almost got me when Chief Spigot intervened.”

    “Spiggy-sama?” Ophelia exclaimed. “Here I didn’t think he had a courageous bone in his body.”

    She and Lee stifled a laugh at the expense of their superior.

    “You’d be surprised,” Milro continued. “He allowed me escape but then I discovered that there was a whole bunch of Walruses who had captured my parents and brother.”

    “What!?” The twins smacked their hands on the table and bolted into standing positions as they exclaimed together in complete shock.

    “The Queen’s been captured!?” Ophelia completed their thought.

    Milro nodded in reply.

    The two looked at each other. “This is a lot more serious that we thought,” Ophelia said.

    “Eh? What do you mean?” Milro asked.

    “We lost contact with our superiors last evening,” Lee answered. “At first we thought it was our equipment and then their equipment. However, it might have something to do with this.”

    Milro sat down on the cork again. She looked down to try to hide that she was on the verge of crying. She thought about seeing her parents and bother trapped and she could only think of herself.

    She had never been the courageous type. When the going got tough she usually ran away or hid behind someone else. She wouldn’t even stand up for herself and either give in or look to others defend and. Now, in a moment when she felt the most defenseless, there was no one to turn to.

    “I saw them trapped in that bell jar and was so scared I just ran,” she said as a lump grew in her throat. “I didn’t even try to save them.”

    Hot tears began to run down her cheeks. “And now,” she took out a lace handkerchief to dab the tears from her eyes, “I don’t know where they are or even if they’re alright.”

    The twins looked at one another. They nodded as they saw that the other was thinking the same thing as they were. “We’ll help you,” they said at once.

    Milro looked up, her eyes still watering. The look in their eyes reminded her of another set of twins. No matter hopeless the situation seemed Fine and Rein, the twin Princesses of the Sunny Kingdom, met challenges with their eternal optimism and unshakable will. While these twins didn’t have the air of eternal optimism their eyes held an almost as unshakable determination.

    “We were just going to take you back to Saginaw City,” Lee said. “But after all the pain and sorrow we endured losing our mother, we can’t stand by see others suffer the same fate, especially our own Royal Family.”

    “We’ll do everything in our power save Queen Yamul-sama and the others and find a way to restore you all to your original size too,” Ophelia added confidently.

    “You mean it?” Milro said, wiping the tears from her eyes.

    The two nodded in response. “You have our word.”

    “But, I can’t take you away from your duties here,” Milro said.

    “Don’t worry,” Ophelia replied. “Lemmy can watch the lighthouse while we’re away.”

    “We want to do this and we see it as our duty to protect our kingdom and royal family,” Lee added, clenching an eager fist.

    “But how will you find your way?” Milro asked. “It’s impossible to find your bearings out there.”

    “From the surface it is,” Ophelia replied. “The only way to navigate is by the bathymetric features of the ocean floor and the flow of the currents.”

    “Fortunately you’re looking at two of the best navigators in the Mysterious Planet,” Lee stated. “We’ve been to the mainland and back hundreds of times.”

    “But I can’t breathe underwater and I certainly couldn’t hold my breath that long,” Milro said.

    “I’ll take care of that,” Lee said.

    Milro felt her spirits lift a little. The tears stopped and she managed a smile but sincere smile.

    “Thank you, Lee, Ophelia,” she said. “You’re too kind.”

    “Once the storm clears I’ll call Lemmy,” Ophelia said. “Hopefully it will end soon.”

    The pounding of rain on the roof suddenly subsided. Everyone turned to the window. The seas were calming and rays of sunlight of poking through the clouds.

    “Wow,” Ophelia exclaimed. “I guess I’m more persuasive than I thought.”

    “Right,” Lee said as he walked out of the kitchen.

    Ophelia closed her eyes and placed her fingers on her forehead while she held her other hand out. “I hope a heartthrob who’s totally into me climbs up the cliff and knocks on the window,” she said jokingly.

    She opened her eyes and looked out the window. She was not surprised to see no one out there. It would have been nice though, she thought.

    * * *

    After making sure they securely held the rest of the castle, Waltu and his minions entered the Cloud Management Room. The huge, domed chamber in the top of the castle’s central tower served as the command and control center for the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom.

    Waltu rubbed his flippers together eagerly. “It’s mine.” He gave a cruel chuckle. “It’s finally mine.”

    It was dim with no windows to let in “natural” light and the fluorescent lamps provided minimal illumination. The top of the machine’s colossal condenser sat in the center of the floor with a large, transparent pipe leading from it through the center of the ceiling. Various workstations sat along the circular wall covered by monitors and lit and multicolored keyboards.

    Waltu grinned at the sight. The machine of the Water Drop Kingdom was actually a massive distillation plant and a condenser. Pumps drew in seawater that was boiled and the resulting steam was condensed into droplets of freshwater before being thrown out into the atmosphere as clouds.

    Those clouds were vital to the Mysterious Planet. Life could not exist without water and the rain from the clouds was the primary means of distributing the resource throughout the planet. With that power under their control they could final begin their master plan. He could barely contain his delight as he hugged the condenser and affectionately kissed its blue, metal casing.

    The Walruses climbed into the chairs and tried to prompt the machine’s controls. Their monitors responded with a large, bold security lockout message. One of them frowned at this.

    “Hey, Waltu-sama,” he said, turning back to his leader.

    Waltu had been caressing the condenser when he heard him. “What?” he barked.

    “We have a problem,” the Walrus answered.

    Waltu waddled up into the station. He read the simple message on the screen, grinding his teeth. His delight suddenly turned to dread. He pounded at some keys but they did nothing.

    “Damn,” he snarled. “I knew it wouldn’t be this easy.”

    “What do we do?” the other Walrus asked.

    “Get the chief engineer,” Waltu growled. “He has the codes.”

    “What if he refuses?” one of the Walruses asked.

    “Then be more convincing,” Waltu snapped. “Just get me those codes!”

    Two of the Walruses jumped out of their seats and ran out of the room. Waltu turned back to the monitors and scowled. He won’t like this at all, he thought.

    * * *

    Now that she wasn’t fleeing for her life, Milro could finally make sense of what happened to her. As far as she could tell she was about the same size as the miniature Humans from the Seed Kingdom. She often mused what the world must look like to them. She never imagined she would actually see for herself.

    It was a little unnerving to be in a world designed for someone several times your own stature. It reminded her of tales she read to her brother about people finding themselves in a world of giants and if they weren’t careful, they would be caught and gobbled up. Fortunately, that was not a worry for her here. Still, being as small as she was would take some getting use to if she couldn’t find a way to make herself big again.

    Lee had disappeared into the basement to solve her problem of getting back to the mainland. Some strange noises had come from the basement but she wasn’t sure what they were exactly. Ophelia had called this “Lemmy” person and then started working at a desktop computer in the same room as their radio.

    Outside it was like the storm had never happened. The sky and sea were exactly like they were before except the fog had lifted as the morning went on. She hoped that it would hold at least until they got ashore.

    Milro strolled through the residence. It was a cozy little place that wasn’t too lavish or spartan for a pair of keepers. The decoration was mostly random nautical articles including a massive adult marlin mounted over the fireplace and a complete suit of diving armor standing in a corner.

    Lighthouses were important to the Water Drop Kingdom. Being a peninsula, most of its lanes of commerce were over the water. Lighthouses served as both landmarks and warning beacons to airships and ocean going vessels alike.

    It was also a part of the extensive network of weather observation posts the Water Drop Kingdom maintained. As a country that played a very active role in making the planet’s weather, the Water Drop Kingdom had a vested interest in the state of the weather. Posts like this recorded measurements of the conditions and sent them to the central office. They sent the data to the Sunny Kingdom for their uses and interpreted for their own purposes.

    “I don’t believe this,” Ophelia’s voice grumbled from the communication room.

    Milro peered in to see Ophelia sitting at the computer. She gingerly walked in to get a better look. Ophelia was glaring at the monitor that displayed several lines of green text with a flashing box at the bottom. In one hand she was bouncing a clear orb while the other drummed impatiently on the desk. She glanced at a piece of paper attached to a cork bulletin board with a list of phone numbers.

    “Let’s try this one,” Ophelia said as she punched the “1” and ENTER keys with her free hand.

    The computer took a second to come up with the response. The box spelled out, “INPUT NUMBER”, below and dropped down a line. Ophelia typed in, “555-2354”, and pressed enter. The computer responded with a message, “CONNECTING”.

    Ophelia crossed her fingers as the box flashed and the connection rang. She wasn’t superstitious but after so many times she would try anything. After what seemed like a painstaking eternity the connection rang for the tenth time and the box began making text. “NO RESPONE FROM NUMBER”, and dropped line before spelling out, “CONNECTION FAILED”.

    Ophelia squeezed the orb and it burst into water flying in every direction. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” She snapped. “They can’t all be down!”

    “Is everything alright?” Milro asked.

    “Oh, Milro-sama.” Ophelia looked behind her. “I’ve been trying to access the machine’s systems remotely to check its status. However, it looks like every number has been disconnected. On top of that…”

    She trailed off as she turned on the radio and twisted the tuner. The high pitched tone of the test signal came from the speakers. As she twisted the dial it was replaced by a broadcast partially garbled by static.

    -tact with the capital since last evening, a dispassionate, male voice came over the speakers. The provincial governments have sent teams in to investigate and we expect news sometime this afternoon.

    Ophelia turned the radio off before the speaker could start another sentence.

    “It’s the entire city,” Milro thought out loud.

    “Looks that way,” Ophelia replied.

    Milro held her chin with her thumb and index finger as she thought over the latest development. Saginaw City was one of the largest communities in the entire Mysterious Planet. For someone to take the whole city was no small task. How could Walruses wield that much power?

    The door into the basement opened and Lee walked out with something strapped to his back. “Well,” he said. “It’s done.”

    “What’s done?” Ophelia asked.

    “This.” He turned around to show that he had two air tanks and the helmet from a suit of diving armor with a plate welded over the neck on his back. “A bathysphere fit for a princess…sort of.”

    “Nice thinking Lee.” Ophelia nodded as she examined the setup. “It’s about time you found use for all the junk you have lying around.”

    “It’s decoration, not junk,” Lee said in response. “Ever heard of classic nautical?”

    “More like classic flotsam,” Ophelia whispered to Milro.

    Milro tried her best to stifle a giggle. “I think it’s great,” she said.

    “I guess we can leave as soon as Lemmy gets here,” Ophelia thought out loud.

    “And he should be…” Lee was interrupted by a knock at the door. “…here right about now.”

    “I’ll get him.” Ophelia stood up and walked out of the room.

    Lee knelt down and placed his hand on the ground for her to step onto. He carefully lifted her up to an opened porthole on the helmet. “It’s not much but it’d do,” he said as she stepped in. “I put in an internal latch so you can open the porthole to my left but it’ll be pressure sealed while we’re under water.”

    He closed the porthole and set the latch. Milro looked around her means of transportation. It wasn’t very spacious or comfortable. However, it was an improvement over the alternative.

    Lee walked into the sitting room where Ophelia was explaining to Lemmy what he needed to know. Lemmy was a fellow Shark Man from the Lemon tribe and their personal friend. Ophelia felt a little guilty withholding information from him but she figured the fewer people who knew about Milro, the better.

    Lemmy was of average height and build with large, round glasses in front of his silver eyes and blond hair kept in a bowl cut. He noticed Lee as he walked. “Hey Lee, how ya’ be?” he said in his quick voice.

    “Same old, same old,” Lee replied as they shook hands. “Did Ophelia fill you in?”

    “Yup,” Lemmy answered. “So, New Atlantis is sending you to investigate what’s going on in Saginaw City?”

    “You could say that,” Lee replied carefully.

    Lemmy looked behind him. “What’s that?”

    “It’s nothing to concern yourself with,” Lee said. “It’s some other errands we have on the mainland.”

    “Oh, okay.” Lemmy shrugged. “Good luck you two.”

    “Thanks Lemmy,” Ophelia and Lee said as they stepped out.

    “There’s leftover eel in the ice box if you want it,” Lee said before he shut the door.

    “I think we have everything covered,” Ophelia said as they walked down to the dock.

    “Milro’s safe and dry and the lighthouse is being looked after,” Lee thought out loud. “Yeah, I think that covers everything.”

    They stepped onto the dock and slid into the ocean. The entrance into the water triggered changes within their physiology. Muscles covered their tracheas and opened the passages to their gill slits and spiracles. Their nictitating membranes slid over their eyes and their senses adjusted to the new medium. Their blood pressure increased against the higher external pressure of the water and their body temperature lowered slightly. Within a couple seconds they had completed their transition from land to sea creatures.

    Ophelia deeply inhaled the seawater and expelled it through her undulating gill slits. “There’s nothing like the smell of sea salt to get the blood pumping,” she said.

    “You can take it in on the go,” Lee said. “We have an hour or so before we’ll reach the shore.”

    He swept his arms out widely to push water behind him and propel himself forward. Ophelia followed with the same motion. They extended their tails a meter or so behind them to help their legs and feet with steering and they oriented themselves horizontally. They soon left the mountain for the seemingly endless blue of open waters.

    Milro watched from her bathysphere. The surface of the water made the gibbous of the Sun’s Blessing seem to waver and gave it a blue tint. The water was an uninterrupted field of deep blue that seemed slightly lighter towards the surface and almost black further down.

    She found herself as disoriented as she was on the surface. There was nothing that she could use to determine the direction they were traveling. Ophelia and Lee spoke of using bathymetric features and currents to navigate. Their senses were far sharper and covered a wider range of sensations than hers. No doubt they were following some invisible trail they could follow easily.

    Milro sat down and decided to enjoy the ride. She had always been fascinated by the ocean. It was teaming with life that came in seemingly infinite forms. Now that she was safe from drowning or be eaten she could take in the beauty of the environment.

    At first she saw nothing. She then noticed a large, dark silhouette coming from behind them. A giant manta ray swam up to them. The massive, kite shaped fish waved a pectoral fin to the twins who waved back. Milro wished she had her sketch pad as the massive yet graceful creature disappeared in the distance.

    The waters became more active as they passed by more fish and cetaceans. Most of them gave the two Shark People a wide berth. Even tuna that easily dwarfed them in size veered away as they swam by.

    Milro was so entranced by the living scenery passing by she didn’t realize how much time had passed until they came over the continental shelf. Anticipation replaced her fascination. She would soon be home and if all went well with her family again.

    She could imagine their reactions. Her mother and father would be overjoyed to see her. Her brother would be more interested in what happened and what kind of an adventure she had been on.

    Lee and Ophelia had been quiet throughout the journey. They had made the trip from the lighthouse to the mainland so many times on errands or meetings. They had made about as much small talk as could be made.

    They also didn’t want to discuss the current situation. They had seen how torn up Milro was over all this. They knew how traumatic losing a loved one was. It was better if they didn’t discuss it.

    They were beginning to have their doubts as well. If the Walruses could shut down the entire city the direct approach was out of the question. They would have to work out a strategy once they knew what exactly they were up against.

    Lee suddenly felt a twinge in his Ampullae of Lorezini. He instinctively threw his hands in front of him to stop himself and turn upright. Ophelia stopped and turned back to him.

    “What is it?” she asked.

    “Electrical impulses,” Lee answered quietly, “about two maybe three kilometers ahead.”

    Ophelia concentrated on the sensations in her Ampullae of Lorezini. All animal life put out electrical impulses as their nerves transmitted instructions to their muscles. Shark People, like sharks, had a network of electroreceptors to pick up on those impulses.

    “The entire area is filled with electrical impulses,” Ophelia observed.

    “These are different,” Lee said. “They’re mammalian…and moving fast.”

    Ophelia gasped. “It can’t be them,” she stated. “They wouldn’t get this close to the shore. Besides, they would have a ‘message’ somewhere around here.”

    Lee motioned with his eyes to a metal chain leading from the bed to the surface. Their eyes followed it up to a buoy floating on the surface. They looked at each other and then swam slowly up towards the surface.

    Milro was confused by what was happening. Lee suddenly changing his orientation had thrown her about the helmet. She had gathered herself when she saw the bubble portholes break through the surface. She pulled up the latch and pushed the porthole open.

    “What’s going on?” she asked.

    Lee and Ophelia were staring forward with their brows furrowed. She followed their eyes to a buoy decorated with a complete human skeleton bobbing on the water. Milro screamed in fright and almost fell out of the helmet when she jumped back.

    “Wuh-what is that?” she exclaimed.

    “A message from Mako poachers,” Ophelia sneered in response. “They’re hunting in this area and don’t want to be disturbed.”

    “A convincing message,” Milro whimpered. “What should we do?”

    “I think we should go around,” Lee answered uneasily. “I don’t want to go looking for trouble while we’re with you.”

    “I have to agree,” Ophelia replied. “There’s more than enough trouble waiting for us in Saginaw City.”

    “That makes three of us,” Milro said as she closed the porthole and set the latch.

    She watched as the water rose over the portholes and the helmet tilted as Lee assumed a horizontal orientation again to swim forward. Her anticipation had dulled after seeing that skeleton skewered to the buoy. It reminded her that despite claims of being a peaceful world, the Mysterious Planet was filled with perils as well as wonders. She had a feeling that much more of the former awaited them on the path ahead.
    Last edited by The Big Al; 29th October 2008 at 12:32 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  3. #3
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    Chapter 2: The Frog Who Would be King

    Tammy took a sip from her mug of hot coffee. The human sized Beaver was one of the many patrons of a small diner who had taken refuge from the erratic weather during the morning. It was now a cold, pouring rain from the dreary skies.

    People ran into the building, covering themselves with briefcases, newspapers, or whatever could keep the rain off them. Those finished were more apprehensive on leaving the warm, dry interior for the chilling rain outside. A few even sat down and stared out of the windows hoping the weather would change to something better soon.

    Hushed conversation was mixed with the clatter of silverware against plates. Some of it was over the weather but the vast majority was on Saginaw City’s sudden communications blackout. The entire Water Drop Kingdom was awaiting news from the teams sent to investigate.

    Tammy was very concerned with this latest crisis. Government work was her livelihood which required a government. However, she wasn’t interesting in wading into the quagmire of speculation and conspiracy theories that were twisting the kingdom in knots. She was perfectly willing to wait for real information.

    In the meantime; she had work to do. She had spent the past three days taking measurements of the eastern rivers. A clipboard with topographic maps sat on the counter in front of her covered in notes and scribbles.

    The traffic in and out the main doors had become so commonplace few noticed a pair of Shark People from the Blue tribe walk in. Both were dressed in the uniforms of kingdom workers and the tall male had air tanks and a helmet strapped to his back. They quietly sat down at a booth along the wall and the male took off the apparatus placed it on the cushion next to him.

    Ophelia and Lee looked around them. “Where are we?” Ophelia asked.

    “I saw a sign saying we’re in Cheboygan Town.” Lee held up his right palm and pointed to the upper knuckle of his index finger. “That would put us right about here.”

    “That’s still quite a ways to go,” Ophelia said. “I didn’t realize how far south we were forced.”

    Lee heaved an exasperate sigh. “We couldn’t exactly go through their hunting grounds with…”

    Ophelia cut him off by putting her finger to her mouth and shushing him. “Don’t broadcast it in a place like this.”

    They looked at the rest of the diner. The patrons were from several of the aquatic and semi-aquatic races that called the Water Drop Kingdom home. Most were absorbed in their own business or enjoying their meals. In the kitchen a small, purple furred, skunk like Sukusuku was minding a sizzling grill, throwing up plates filled with food. A Gator waitress walked up to them.

    “What’ll it be you two?” the alligator like women asked.

    “Uh…” Lee grabbed the menu and scanned through the selections quickly. “…I’ll have some scallops.”

    “A tuna melt for me,” Ophelia said. “And we’ll have two colas.”

    The waitress wrote down their orders as she walked away.

    “We’ll rent a vehicle after lunch,” Lee said. “We’re no more than an hour away.”

    “What time is it?” Ophelia asked.

    Lee reached into his coat and pulled his pocket watch out of his vest pocket and opened it. “I have eleven hundred fifty-seven hours,” he read. “Why do you want to know?”

    “They’re expecting news from the investigation parties sometime after noon,” Ophelia said. “It might give us a better idea of what to expect.”

    “Hopefully there won’t be any nasty surprises before we get there.” Lee leaned back against cushion of his booth.

    The door opened and several figures hidden under black cloaks and rain hats walked in. Most of them were huge, hulking figures. The first to walk in was distinctly shorter than the others. He removed his rain hat to reveal the head of an anthropomorphic bull frog with a lime green head and white lower jaw. The others removed their gear to reveal themselves as Gators wearing pale blue polo shirts and khaki colored slacks.

    Lee glanced at the newcomers but turned his eyes away when he saw who they were. “Oh no,” he whimpered. “It’s Geronita.”

    “What?” Ophelia exclaimed.

    She looked at the group. Sure enough, the Frog was the infamous Geronita. Ophelia felt her heart quicken.

    “What’s he doing so far from the Zubuzubu Swamp?” she whispered.

    “I don’t know,” Lee whispered his reply. “But this is one of those nasty surprises I was talking about.”

    Geronita was notorious for his running feud with the royal family. He was once a rather bad singer who believed his performances were masterpieces. Most people were too polite to say so and he blew off those who spoke the truth as having no taste.

    One day he gave a performance and the then recently crowned Queen Yamul happened to be in the audience. She had never been one to lie or sugarcoat the truth. When she saw that just about everyone setting their teeth on edge she summed up her opinion loudly in two words. Geronita was insulted and threatened her and family. For this, Yamul banished him to the Zubuzubu Swamp in the Water Drop Kingdom’s southern lowlands and as far from the Saginaw City as the kingdom could get.

    In the Zubuzubu Swamp, Geronita quickly built up support among the reptilian and amphibian residents. He was soon elected governor and had held the position ever since. He continued to hold his grudge against the royal family and had sworn his revenge. If he found Milro in her current state…

    “Get me a bowl of fly paste and liter of your best ale,” the frog yelled in his throaty voice.

    “You got it,” the waitress replied as she started writing on her pad. “It’ll be a bit pricey though.”

    “I don’t care,” Geronita said in response. “I have plenty of reasons to celebrate.”

    “I don’t see a reason to celebrate,” one of the patrons snapped. “The whole kingdom’s gone to Hell.”

    “I’m here to put your minds at ease,” Geronita said in a more subdued tone. “I just came back from Saginaw City.”

    Everyone stood up and turned to him. The clatter stopped abruptly and whispers and murmurs filled the room. Geronita grinned at the attention centered on him. He soaked it in a couple seconds before he divulged his precious information.

    “Saginaw City has been locked down by a mysterious thunderstorm,” he finally said. “The citizens are trapped in their homes or face almost certain death in a rain of lightning.”

    “A likely story,” a patron said in disbelief.

    “The other teams saw this sight and left,” Geronita continued, undeterred by the remark. “My group pressed on, finding a way to evade the threat from above and infiltrate the castle. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m telling you that the entire royal family is gone.”

    Milro gasped when she heard this. She was hoping they had found her parents and brother and perhaps got them out of the city. She still held out a little hope. Geronita had no way of knowing they had been shrunk. Perhaps he didn’t look everywhere they could have kept them.

    “The castle is under the control of a gang of Walruses,” Geronita announced to the now silent patrons. “However, this attack on our very government will not go unanswered. I, Geronita-sama, will gather my forces in the Zubuzubu Swamp and remove this terrible scourge from our capital. I will then assume the thrown and oversee our recovery as king.”

    Everyone gasped at this bold declaration. After a couple seconds the shock had worn off and one of the patrons spoke up. “That’s great and all but we do have a process for choosing a monarch when there is no surviving heir.”

    “Those archaic laws were created in the belief they’d never have to be put into practice,” Geronita replied casually. “Our response must be swift and decisive.”

    He walked over to Tammy, as the nearest person wearing a worker uniform. “Take this young lady here.” He placed his webbed, three fingered hand on her shoulder. “She’s working hard and depends on the government to keep body and soul together. She can’t wait for Parliament and the Council of Governors to rebuild the government.”

    Tammy didn’t say anything. She didn’t even turn around. Part of her couldn’t argue but she had to morally disagree. She decided no response was the best response to the Frog’s rant.

    Lee and Ophelia felt lumps form in their throat as he strolled towards them. They gulped and tried to not show it. Geronita walked up and patted them both on these shoulders.

    “You two can’t wait either, can you?” he said with a soft chuckle.

    He flicked the small shark tooth earring hanging from the bottom of Lee’s left earlobe and one of bivalve shell earrings Ophelia had in both ears. They both pulled away uncomfortably from him.

    “I can,” Lee said in a low voice.

    Geronita pulled his hands back. “What?” he snapped.

    “I said ‘I can’,” Lee said. He stood up to be more than chest higher than Geronita. “Even though we have a monarch as a head of state, we are a confederation governed by laws and rules of conduct. We can’t cast them aside because it’s convenient in a crisis.”

    Several patrons clapped or slapped their table at this. Lee bowed his head slightly to them. Geronita shifted his bulbous eyes around the room. He grinned as two of his bulky Gators came up behind him. They shot sharp glances through the room, silencing the ovation for Lee.

    “In a crisis like this the only rule is might makes right,” he said smugly.

    Lee was much taller than the two reptiles as well but they were larger in build than the gangly youth. He looked down at the two muscular reptiles smirking at him. He crossed his arms and stared at them.

    Milro watched from the helmet. She found herself growing restless as she listened to Geronita celebrate not finding her family and already planning to take their place. She knew she should remain hidden but as the reptiles got close to Lee she shouldn’t sit back anymore. She pulled up the latch and pushed open the porthole.

    “Stop!” she yelled as she ran out.

    “Milro-sama!” Ophelia exclaimed.

    “Please, stop,” Milro said as she ran up to the edge of the table.

    “Princess Milro?” Geronita said in disbelief.

    Milro nodded.

    A Walrus sitting at the counter saw the tiny princess. He jumped off his seat and ran out of the door, unnoticed by the other patrons watching the drama at the booth.

    “What happened to her?” one of the Gators asked.

    “She’s been shrunk, duh,” the other shot back.

    “That’s right,” Milro replied. “The Walruses you saw shrank me and my family. They’re holding them captive somewhere.”

    She looked up to Geronita. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she pleaded. “Please Geronita. I know you’ve had your differences with our family but if can help us I’m asking you to help save my family.”

    Geronita remained silent. His mouth stretched in a wide grin and he chuckled quietly. He finally doubled over laughing loudly to the point that tears came from his tightly shut eyes.

    “This is too rich,” Geronita laughed.

    “I don’t see what’s so funny,” Lee growled.

    “You don’t?” Geronita wiped the tears from his eyes. “Look at her. You really think people will accept that pathetic little creature as their ruler at a time like this? My claim on the monarchy is secure.”

    “Regardless of her size,” Ophelia shot back, “Milro-sama is our crown princess and the heir to the throne. You’re claim is moot.”

    Geronita looked past the two Shark People at Milro. “Are you going to hide behind these two pups, Princess?” he sneered his last word with contempt.

    “Well…I…” Milro couldn’t find the words to defend herself with. She looked away and let her ears droop.

    Geronita exhaled another laugh that made his bulging, white belly heave up and down. “Like I said, ‘PATHETIC!’,” he shouted his last word.

    “But…” Milro started.

    “Save you’re breath Milro-sama,” Lee growled. “He doesn’t give a rat’s hind end about you or your family or this country.”

    “Are you questioning my patriotism, pup?” Geronita spat.

    “I can’t question what doesn’t exist,” Lee answered with a smug, lopsided grin.

    A few soft laughs came from the other patrons. Geronita and his followers shot glares at them to return them to silence. He turned again to Lee. He glared at him with his mouth pulled into a contemptuous sneer.

    He hated people who stood against him. He had spent his exile gathering so much power that he would never be opposed again. Now this…child stood there as if he was his equal or even superior.

    “You act like you actually matter,” he sneered. “As I said, ‘might makes right’ in times like this. The views of one pup don’t mean a thing compared to my reptilian army.”

    He turned to Milro and smirked. “The people will accept me as their savior. They’ll never follow a tiny thing like you.”

    He walked away from them laughing. He suddenly stopped. “However,” he said as he turned back to them, “there is a little problem with the law. As long as there is a surviving heir they’re the next in line.”

    The Gators gathered around the table. Ophelia stood up with Lee between them and Milro. They stared at the reptiles who almost had their snouts to their faces.

    “You wouldn’t in front of all these witnesses,” Lee growled.

    One of the Gators turned to the other patrons. He pounded his scaly fist into the palm of his other claw. He grinned at the patrons all jumping slightly in their seats.

    “You were saying?” Geronita asked.

    Ophelia and Lee didn’t respond.

    “You have to understand this is a good of the country,” Geronita explained. “You don’t have to get hurt.”

    “You can’t do this,” Lee growled.

    “Oh?” Geronita retorted as he turned away from them. “Why not?”

    Lee walked between the Gators to Geronita. “This.” he grabbed Geronita by the shoulder and spun him around to throw his fist squarely into the Frog’s jaw. The Frog was spun around as he was thrown over a table.

    One of the Gators grabbed Lee by his neck. The powerful reptile lifted him off the ground before slamming him through a table. Lee wheezed as his back split the solid wood slab and slammed into the floor. He reared up his legs and threw them into the Gator’s knees.

    The Gator let go of Lee and staggered back. He leapt to his feet and delivered a roundhouse kick to the reptile’s long snout. Lee grabbed his back and winced as his body began to throb. He mouthed “ow” as he limped away.

    “I suggest you hide Milro-sama,” Ophelia said. “This is about to get very ugly.”

    Milro ran back to the helmet and pulled the porthole closed. She watched as the other patrons jumped from their seats. Objects as well as fists started flying as just about everyone joined the brawl.

    A Frog delivered several punches to the gut of a Deep One. The diving armor clad creature seemed to not even feel the blows. The Frog looked up helplessly as the Deep One picked him up and threw him across the counter. He slid past a Lobster Man daintily drinking tea. The crustacean picked up the saucer of his tea cup in time for him to avoid him hitting it.

    Tammy grabbed a Gator by the neck and threw his head into a chrome stool. He collapsed on his ground and struggled to get up. She kicked him in the gut to throw him off his shaky limbs.

    Another Gator stepped quietly behind her as he lifted a wooden chair over his head. He shattered it on her shoulders with all the strength he could muster. Tammy barely flinched as dull pain spread down her back and arms.

    She spun around to the surprised reptile holding the few remaining pieces of the chair. He backed up as the visibly enraged Beaver grabbed him by his collar. She lifted him over her head and hurled him across the dining room into the wall. The impact cracked the façade as he bounced off and landed on a table.

    A scream rose over the din. A Gator grabbed Ophelia’s arms. She tried to extend her tail out but he stomped on it with his heavy boot. She clenched her teeth as the pain shot up her back.

    Another Gator slipped brass knuckles over his claws as he walked towards Lee. “Say yur prayers, Gills,” he drawled.

    The reptile swung at Lee, the air whistling around the metal. Lee jumped back and weaved away from him as he swung wildly at him. His body still throbbed from going through the table and some moves sharpened the pain.

    The Gator backed Lee into a wall. He grinned as he pulled back his fist. Lee jumped off the wall before the brass knuckles could strike him and tore into the wall behind him. Lee tucked in his legs as he somersaulted over the Gator and landed behind him.

    “Why you,” the Gator snarled as pulled his fist from his wall and took another swing at him.

    Tammy walked up and grabbed him by the collar. She hurled him into the same part of wall as she did the first. Pieces of the façade fell off as he fell on top of the other Gator still stunned on the table. The table cracked and fell off the wall from their combined wait.

    “Thanks,” Lee said.

    He looked up and saw a Gator walked up behind her with a large table over his head. He shot out his tail and extended the stinger at the end. He whipped it to plunge the long sharp stinger into the inside of the reptile’s knee and delivered a powerful electric shock.

    The Gator’s knee convulsed and buckled. He fell sideways, dropping the table on himself. He rolled on his back, visibly stunned.

    “Thanks,” Tammy replied.

    Ophelia glanced at a half finished glass of water on a nearby table. She concentrated on the fluid and made it rise out of the glass. She formed it into a sharp cone and threw it in the eye of the Gator holding her. He grabbed his eye and lifted his foot off her tail.

    Ophelia shot her tail up. She shoved it through his pants and delivered as large of an electrical discharge as she could muster into his genitals. The Gator writhed in pain. Convulsions threw his arm off her as the shock ripped through his nervous system.

    Ophelia spun around and bent him over by his shoulders. She threw her knee squarely into his solar plexus threw him on the ground. He rolled over and groaned and didn’t even try to get on his knees.

    Geronita rolled over onto his stomach and tried to shake the daze from his head. He looked at the fight around him. “Forget these endotherms,” he grunted as a squirrel like Riri landed on him. “Get Princess Milro!”

    Tammy punched a Gator in the chest. He staggered back into the booth with Milro’s apparatus. Another gator struck Tammy in the muzzle with his powerful tail. She staggered a couple steps to the side, holding her cheek. The reptile jumped on her and tackled her to the ground. She reared up her heavy, ballerina flat clad feet and kicked him off her.

    The owner glared at the fight tearing apart his dining room. He grabbed a jar filled with gray smell balls. “Alright you hooligans,” he growled as he rolled one out into his palm and then another one. “You asked for this.”

    He put them between his teeth and crushed them to swallow. He turned around and threw up his bushy tail. He held the gases building until he believed they were ready and expelled them.

    A mustard yellow cloud exploded from his smell glands and spread through the dining room. It was heavy and carried a stench not unlike that of burning tires. The fighters began coughing as it burned their eyes, throats, and noses. They ran from the gas with cloths covering their faces. The rush of people broke down the main door as they scattered into the pouring rain.

    Lee forced his nictitating membrane over his eyes to protect them from the stinging gas. He pulled his shirt over his nose and mouth as he grabbed his hat and Milro’s apparatus. Ophelia grabbed his hand and they ran out with the others. They fell on their hands and knees as they gasped and coughed for fresh air.

    Ophelia looked at the apparatus and porthole hanging open. “Where’s…” She stopped to go through a coughing fit. “…Milro-sama?”

    “I thought she…” Lee coughed. “…was in the helmet.”

    They both heard a scream of “HELP!”. They looked at each other and grumbled “crap” at the same time.

    One of the Gators held Milro in his scaly claws as he ran from the diner. “I got her, Geronita-sama, I got her,” he practically sang.

    He stopped and slid a little in the mud as Tammy stepped in front of him. The large Beaver woman glared at him with her fur covered fists planted on his hips. He looked back at her and grinned sheepishly.

    Tammy put her hand out and motioned for him to place Milro in her palm. The Gator gently set Milro down in her palm, still smiling an unfitting, sheepish grin. Tammy pretended to lunge at him and the reptile ran away.

    “Thank you,” Milro said with relief.

    Tammy wiped the lit bit of blood from the corner of her lip. “You two,” she yelled at Ophelia and Lee. “You want to go to Saginaw City?”

    The two nodded as they got to their feet.

    “I’ve got a station wagon,” Tammy said. “Get in.”

    Ophelia and Lee followed her to a vehicle that resembled a white and blue station wagon. Ophelia sat in the front passenger seat and Lee got in the back as Tammy at down in the drivers seat. She set Milro down on the dash board and started belting in.

    “Thanks,” Ophelia said as she pulled her harness over her. “Perhaps were should introduce ourselves.”

    Tammy extended her hand. “My name’s Tammy.”

    “I’m Ophelia.” Ophelia shook her hand.

    “Lee.” Lee gave her a quick handshake.

    “Princess Milro.” Milro dipped slightly. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

    “Likewise, Princess Milro-sama.” Tammy bowed her head.

    Lee looked back to see several Gators coming towards the vehicle. “I suggest we continue this conversation on the road.”

    Tammy started the fuel cell engine and shafted it into drive. She slammed down the accelerator making the wheels spin the mud. Globs of stony mud flew from the wheels and showered down on the Gators. The station wagon pulled forwards, weaving between patrons still fighting in the pouring rain.

    Tammy turned them on the road and sped away. Ophelia watched through the side mirror as the lights of the town disappeared behind the sheets of the rain. Believing they were safely away, she relaxed and heaved a sigh of relief.

    “Thank God,” she said. “I thought we were going to die back there.”

    She flipped down the visor to look herself over. She straightened her shawl and retied its white, silk ribbon in a bow.

    Lee picked up a brass-pole and examined it. “I’m guessing you’re a hydrologist.”

    “Yes,” Tammy replied. “And I’d like it if you didn’t touch my equipment.”

    “Alright.” Lee set the pole down gently in the back.

    “Thank you for taking us to Saginaw City, Tammy” Milro said.

    “I’m glad to be of assistance,” Tammy replied. “And anyone with the gohanes to take Geronita to the woodshed like that is a friend of mine.”

    “I wonder if what Geronita said was true,” Lee mused. “It figures we get the news from a less than reliable source.”

    “We’ll know for sure when we get there,” Ophelia replied.

    “I hope everyone is alright.” Milro looked out at the road ahead.

    * * *

    The Walrus curled his fist and slammed it into Spigot’s battered muzzle. The Beaver cough up a little blood, adding to the red speckles on his vest and shirt. He slowly turned his head back forward, his beady, black eyes rolled around in their sockets.

    They had the chief engineer strapped by his wrists and ankles in a metal chair. An IV delivered drugs into his bloodstream through a needle in his arm. Waltu glared at the chief engineer. They had been at it for almost an hour and half and had gotten nowhere.

    “I’ll ask again!” he shouted. “What are the codes to unlock the machine’s control system?”

    Spigot seemed to momentarily come out his drug induced haze. “Go to Hell,” he coughed.

    Waltu bared his teeth in rage. He was sick of the exercise in frustration he was being put through. He motioned to one of the Walruses to strike Spigot again. The Walrus nodded with a satisfied grin and curled his flipper and pulled it back.

    “Enough!” a voice shouted.

    Waltu and the others turned to look behind him. A humanoid being that appeared to be made of water with foam acting as long, flowing hair, beard, and thick eyebrows walked to them. The being had shape a muscular human over two meters in height but he was completely transparent and ripples traveled across his body suggesting his form was liquid instead of solid. The Walruses bowed as he came to stand before them and planted the butt of his trident on the floor.

    “Hydran-sama,” Waltu said, “we must get those codes. We can’t begin our master plan if we can’t control the cloud making machine.”

    “Indeed,” Hydran replied. “However, we won’t get them from him if he’s too battered to speak and too drugged to understand.”

    Spigot found another moment of clarity. He took the opportunity to spit in Waltu’s eye when he turned back to him. The Walrus shut his beady, gray eye to keep out the wad of mucus and blood. He wiped it from his eye and threw it off his flipper.

    “He seems to understand perfectly,” Waltu sneered.

    “Wlatu-sama,” a voice called out from behind them.

    One of the Walruses ran in and bowed. “Waltu-sama, Hydran-sama,” he gasped, “I have news.”

    “Speak,” Hydran commanded.

    “Princess Milro is alive,” he answered. “I saw her in Cheboygan and I think she’s headed here.”

    “What!?” Waltu exclaimed.

    “You told he perished,” Hydran snarled at Waltu.

    Waltu tried to gulp down a growing lump in his throat. “We didn’t exactly see her die but…”

    “Never mind,” Hydran cut him off. He turned to the Walrus. “Why did you come to tell us? You should have taken the opportunity to capture her there.”

    “She’s with two Shark People from the Blue tribe,” the Walrus stammered. “I wouldn’t have stood a chance against them.”

    “Do I have to do everything myself,” Hydran snarled.

    “Not to worry.” Waltu grinned cruelly. He pulled a blue, dodecahedron shaped gem. The tiny stone glowed with a soft light in his flipper. “It’ll be a perfect chance to try out our new power.”

    * * *

    Tammy pulled up to the Rainbow Springs. The bluff on which the multicolored pools sat gave the best view of Saginaw City. They all stared, flabbergasted at the sight before them.

    “My God,” Lee said in shock.

    Just as Geronita had described a massive, black thunderhead sat over the city. Spears of blue lightning hailed from the sky onto the city. Even from a distance and the heavy rain the grass had been scorched in numerous areas.

    They got out of Tammy’s station wagon into a parched heat. The Sun’s Blessing glared down on the Rainbow Springs, making the towering cloud over the city seem even darker. They wiped their brows and shielded their eyes from the harsh light as they looked on.

    “Well,” Tammy said. “I guess Geronita was telling the truth for once.”

    “I almost want to be down there to get out of this heat,” Ophelia huffed as she fanned herself with her webbed hand.

    “We passed through so many different weather conditions.” Lee took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.”

    “I wonder if it’s like this across the entire planet,” Ophelia thought out loud.

    Milro sat in Ophelia’s palms and watched the storm. She had seen the capital from this vista so many times. She often came up here with her brother because the springs were more like paint than water. Saginaw City was a beautiful community surrounded by picturesque countryside.

    A particularly powerful strike plowed into the ground. The rumble echoed loudly across the land. Milro turned away. Seeing the beautiful capital this was almost too much for her to bear.

    Everything seemed to be tearing apart at the seams. Her family, her home, and even her country were all in trouble and she felt helpless. Worse, she had dragged Ophelia, Lee, and Tammy on a fool’s errand. There was no way they could survive against that kind of storm.

    “It’s hopeless.” she heaved a depressed sigh.

    “It can’t be,” Ophelia said. “I mean, Dumber than a Box of Rocks Geronita found a way in.”

    * * *

    A loud sneeze echoed through a corridor of the Cheboygan Jail.

    * * *

    Lee and Tammy didn’t answer. They were both staring at the storm and the lightning it was throwing on the city.

    “Do you see what I see?” Lee asked.

    Tammy nodded.

    “What do you see?” Milro asked eagerly. “Have you found a way in?”

    “Perhaps.” Lee rubbed his chin as he kept watching. “This storm isn’t a natural phenomenon.”

    “There’s no cloud to cloud lightning,” Tammy explained. “Most lightning is cloud to cloud and yet I haven’t seen any.”

    “So it’s an artificial storm,” Ophelia said, ashamed she hadn’t picked up on that. “How does that help us?”

    “If it’s artificial, there’s probably something driving it with an off switch,” Lee answered. “I’ve also noticed a pattern to the lightning strikes. They seem random but I’ve yet to see one hit a building or a canal.”

    “An opening,” Ophelia summed it up.

    Lee nodded.

    “We should be more worried about what we can’t see.” Tammy glared at the castle. “Who knows what waits for us in the castle?”

    “Hopefully my family is,” Milro clasped her hands together as she looked back to the besieged city. Mom, Dad, Nalro, she thought, hang on for a little longer. We’re coming to rescue you.
    Last edited by The Big Al; 23rd October 2008 at 1:41 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  4. #4
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    Chapter 3: Retake Saginaw City

    Waltu stomped down the hallway. He bared his tightly clenched teeth and glared ahead at the mental images of the annoyances that seemed to come by the hour. He now realized why they said the hardest part of taking power by force was holding it. He looked up to see two of the Walruses running towards him.

    “Have you found him yet?” he snarled as they stopped in front of them.

    “No, Waltu-sama, but…”

    “IDIOTS!” Waltu roared at them, making them coil back in shock. “This castle is not that big!”

    “He’s slippery,” one of them blubbered.

    “I don’t want excuses,” Waltu growled. “He’s seen too much already. He’s also one of the kingdom’s workers and could sabotage the machine even further. He’s a threat as long as he’s loose.”

    Waltu-sama, a voice cracked from the large walky-talky on his side.

    “Now what?” Waltu grumbled. He pulled the bulky device from its holder. “This is Waltu,” he answered.

    Scouting Party five reporting: the voice reported. We’ve found an abandoned station wagon with government plates and insignia near the Rainbow Springs.

    Waltu paused to think. He knew Milro and her new allies were likely headed to Saginaw City. He had sent out scouting parties hoping to catch them before they reached the city. They could have taken this vehicle. But if they did, where did they go?

    “Search the area,” he ordered.

    You’ve got to be kidding, the voice whined. It’s hotter then Hell out here.

    “I said search!” Waltu yelled into the speaker before shoving it back in its holder. He looked up to the two Walruses standing in front of them. “I thought I told you to find that worker!”

    “We’ll find him Waltu-sama,” they exclaimed as they ran past him.

    Waltu’s entire body heaved with every breath he pulled through his teeth. Everything seemed to be going their way last evening. They took the castle with ease and his shrinking machine worked perfectly. Now, it was all going to Hell in a hand basket. Milro had escaped and was now headed for them with help, the machine had been rendered useless to them, Geronita and his followers were able to not only evade their storm but have run of the castle, and now one of the workers was loose in the castle somewhere.

    “This day just keeps getting better and batter,” he growled as he walked away.

    In the duct above them, Bret, the person they were searching for, watched from the vent. He waited until he was sure the Walruses were gone before carefully opening the vent. He lowered himself out of the duct and dropped down in such a way as to make as little sound as possible when his feet touched the floor.

    The half Beaver was in his late teens with emerald green eyes and a flame red mullet. He rolled his hat down his arm on its brim before slipping it on his head and pulled his hip length coat straight. He looked around and smirked.

    “You think you’re going to catch me?” he said quietly to himself. “You’ve got another thing coming, you pigmy pinnipeds.”

    * * *

    Ophelia didn’t like freshwater that much. It had a bland taste compared the sea which had a nice tang to it. It was also lighter making it slightly harder to float in.

    She, Lee, and Tammy swam through one of the canals snaking through Saginaw City. Milro sat in the apparatus that Tammy wore on her back. They looked up wearily at the dark sky above with frequent flashes of light from lightning and rumbles of thunder.

    The canals were artificial channels with flat walls and floors of white concrete and turned at angles instead of curves. Every so often a dock or ramp protruded from the banks and dipped into the water from the surface. They didn’t provide much in the way of visual landmarks but the fact all water flowed towards the castle gave the twins enough to navigate the maze of water.

    “I wonder why they’re not hitting the canals,” Ophelia wondered as she gave another glance at the angry sky above. “Considering most races in the Water Drop Kingdom are either aquatic or semi aquatic, you’d think they wouldn’t leave them alone.”

    “Probably because it wouldn’t do anything,” Lee replied. “Water conducts electricity across its surface, preventing it from reaching anything below.”

    “I’m still surprised Geronita was able to pick up that,” Ophelia said.

    “It’s amazing what you can force your mind to do to get something you really want,” Lee said in response.

    They swam up to the wall representing the outer boundary of the moat. A hole had been blown through the concrete nearby. A mangled piece of metal that appeared to once be a grate sat among shattered pieces of concrete scattered across the floor.

    “I think I found how Geronita got in,” Lee said.

    They slipped into the dark, narrow passageway and followed it straight through to the moat. The moat’s water was notably saltier and warmer than the water in the canals. Several kinds of ocean fish swam through the coral reef or hid in the caves and crevasses.

    “It kind of reminds you home, doesn’t it?” Ophelia said as small group of fish swam by.

    They kicked up to the surface. Tammy gasped in a breath once her head broke the surface. The driving rain pelted them flashes of lightning filled the air. They all looked up at the majestic towers standing against the angry, black sky.

    “Wow,” Ophelia gasped in amazement. “It’s even more amazing up close.”

    “How do we get in, though?” Lee asked. “I doubt they let us just stroll through the front door.”

    “Mom once told me about a secret, underwater entrance,” Milro said as she pushed open the porthole. “I think she said it was somewhere near here.”

    “We don’t have anything else to go on,” Lee replied.

    Tammy and Ophelia nodded in agreement.

    Milro pulled the porthole closed. The water rose above the glass as they dove back underwater. The three spread out and started scanning the walls and floor of the moat.

    Ophelia felt some small sparks of electricity in the floor. “Over here guys,” she called out. “I think I found something.”

    “What is it?” Lee asked as he and Tammy swam up.

    “I’m picking up some weak electrical impulses from the floor,” Ophelia explained. “It might be metal interacting with the sal****er.”

    Lee felt it as well. He felt a rock near the center of the impusles. He pulled on it and a rectangle of the bed lifted up. Silt slid off and billowed away in clouds along the bed. They all looked down in the dark, square hole it had sat over.

    “It looks like a secret entrance to me.” Lee shrugged.

    They swam into the passage and let the trapdoor drop over them. The pitch black, narrow tunnel quickly turned to the horizontal towards the castle. Lee led feeling the walls ahead of him to determine what was just ahead.

    Milro sat quietly in the darkness of the helmet. She felt a mix of anxiety and anticipation. She had finally made her way to the castle and hopefully she would soon be united with her family. However, she could only imagine the dangers that still awaited them.

    Lee’s hands patted a wall. He felt above him and found open water above him. “I think I found a shaft,” he said as he pushed himself upwards.

    They swam up through the shaft. The salinity dropped off dramatically as they climbed higher. Lee felt above him when he hands touched a metal plate above them. He felt around him to find walls on all sides. Ophelia and Tammy stopped below him.

    Lee pushed on the metal above him and it lifted up. He pushed it open a little more and peered out. His eyes adjusted to the light of the area above.

    “Is the coast clear?” Ophelia asked.

    “Yeah,” Lee answered as he pushed the door completely open and swam up.

    He poked his head out of the water follow by Ophelia and Tammy. They had come out in the throne room. They were on the right side of the bridge leading from the raised platform on which the thrones sat to the large double doors on the far side of the large, elongated room. Water cascaded from fountains on either side of the bridge and transparent pipes brought water to a large dome of glass in the center of the ceiling.

    They pulled themselves out of the water onto the bridge. The throne room was empty and quiet aside from the sound of water falling into water. Milro stepped out onto Tammy’s fingerless gloved palm. The giant Beaver lowered her to the floor.

    Milro looked around. “It’s nice to be back,” she said.

    “Where do we go from here?” Lee asked.

    “We should probably hit the armory next,” Tammy said. “We don’t know how many of those pinnipeds there are and I don’t want to get caught unarmed.”

    * * *

    Milro didn’t like the armory. The Water Drop Kingdom’s castle was such a beautiful structure. Even the machinery had an aesthetic appeal to it. Yet, the entire image was ruined by the knowledge that this room with all the potential for death and destruction it housed lied under all the beauty.

    They saw no one in the short distance between the throne room and armory. The armory was a large, windowless room with several rows of cabinets holding weapons. Milro stepped off Ophelia’s hand onto a wooden ledge on one of the cabinets.

    Like all technology used the by the Water Drop Kingdom, its weaponry was designed for use underwater as well as on land. Their guns used highly compressed carbon dioxide instead of gun powder to propel steel darts and spears instead of lead slugs. They were sleek and modern in their design and made of sturdy, lightweight aluminum alloy.

    Lee picked up a pale yellow colored spear rifle from its holder. He placed the metal rest on his shoulder and stared down the barrel. He turned on the laser sight and a blue dot appeared on the wall in front of him.

    “I really wish that wasn’t necessary,” Milro said.

    “If it’s any consolation, I agree,” Tammy said as she pulled open the barrel of an identical rifle and snapped a cylindrical clip of spears in. “As the saying goes, ‘hope for the best while you prepare for the worst’.”

    She closed the barrel with a loud snap and slipped the black strap over her shoulder. She grabbed two reloads and slipped them in the zipper pockets in the front of her shawl. Lee also dropped a pair of reload clips in the zipper pockets in his sleeves. Ophelia picked up two dart guns and slipped them into her skirt pocket.

    Milro felt a chill go down her spine as the three armed themselves. Every click and snap made her wince as they filled their pockets with ammunition and various kinds of grenades. She would have preferred they didn’t have to use weapons. She had seen more than enough violence for one day.

    However, she knew the Walruses were numerous, dangerous, and would not give up the castle without a fight. She hoped there would be no bloodshed but that was sadly unlikely.

    She wondered by a gang of Walruses would suddenly do this. They had always been a disgruntled people but never violent and would never move against the crown. What caused this sudden change in behavior? What was motivating them?

    They heard the soft sound of the doors sliding open and then closed. Milro ran into a small alcove and the three hid behind the cabinets. Lee slipped his rifle off his shoulder and wrapped his hand around the smooth metal of the barrel.

    They waited anxiously as the sound of slow footsteps on the hard floor drew nearer. It was one person who wasn’t a walrus from the rhythm and sound of their walking. Lee drummed his hands as he tried to decide if they were friend or foe.

    The person entered the aisle they had been standing in. Lee turned around and pointed his rifle forward. “Forelimbs where I can see them,” he snapped.

    “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” Bret exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “I’m on your side, big guy…I hope.”

    Lee heaved a sigh of relief as he lowered his rifle. Tammy and Ophelia walked out from behind their cabinet when they saw Lee’s relief. Milro also heaved a sigh as she slipped to a sitting position against the wall of the alcove.

    “Who are you,” Lee asked.

    “Bret,” Bret answered. “You?”

    “The name’s Lee,” Lee replied. “This is Tammy and my sister Ophelia.”

    “How did you get here?” Tammy asked.

    “I helped Geronita find his way in,” Bret replied. “He then left me for those pinhead pinnipeds and I’ve been playing dodge the Walrus since. What about you?”

    Milro stepped out of the alcove onto the ledge. “They’re with me,” she answered.

    “What the…” Bret said when he saw the miniature princess.

    “Uh…it’s a long story,” Lee said with an awkward grin.

    “We can explain after we’ve evicted the Walruses from the castle,” Tammy interjected.

    “Our priorities should be securing the cloud machine and the Cloud Management Room and rescuing the staff,” Ophelia said. “We also need to put a stop to that storm out there.”

    “I know where they’re holding the staff,” Bret spoke up. “I could take you to them.”

    “I’ll go with him,” Lee said. “You two should secure the machinery.”

    “Right.” Tammy nodded in agreement.

    * * *

    The castle was more like two buildings intertwined into one with sharply different atmospheres. The actual castle was bright and open with beautiful furnishings and elegant decorations. In contrast, the machine and its support systems were dim, cramped, and seemed unfinished. About the only thing the two had in common was the network of transparent pipes through which water traveled through.

    Tammy and Ophelia crawled through one of the narrow service crawlways. Tammy came to a panel she pushed out and let it drop on the floor. She crawled out and Ophelia swung her legs forward to slip out.

    “Where are we?” Ophelia asked.

    They had come out into a gigantic room. A huge, blue sphere was set between massive cylinders that went through the ceiling and floor. Countless pipes of numerous sizes snaked their way through the room.

    “I think we’re in the machine’s boiler room,” Tammy answered. “The Cloud Management Room should be right above us.”

    She looked suspiciously around the room. “This is strange,” she grumbled.

    “What?”

    “Milro-sama said there were numerous Walruses,” Tammy explained. “Why haven’t we seen any of them?”

    “I don’t know,” Ophelia said. “Milro-sama wouldn’t lie to us.”

    “It’s not Milro-sama’s truthfulness I’m worried about,” Tammy growled her reply.

    “You think they could be lying in wait?” Ophelia asked.

    “I don’t know,” Tammy said. “However, we should be careful.”

    “I’ll go up and check the computer.” Ophelia pointed to a spiral staircase.

    She backed up a couple steps and turned around as she stepped onto the rod iron. Tammy examined the pipes and their gauges. Ophelia walked up the winding stairs until she was about to come out into the room above.

    She stopped and took a couple steps to bring her eyes just above the floor. It was the Cloud Management Room. It seemed empty at first but she noticed two figures near the condenser.

    They were smaller Beaver workers. The female had a large tuft of hair sticking out from under the front of her bandana and the male appeared to be slightly slimmer and taller than the typical Beaver and his coarse fur seemed more tan than beige. Their wrists and ankles were bound together and gags were tied over their muzzles.

    Ophelia thought back to what Tammy had said. The Walruses could very well be lying in wait. In her mind, a big, bright neon sign stating, “BAIT,” appeared over the two.

    However, she couldn’t leave them like that. Also, if she could trip whatever trap they had set, the Walruses might come out of hiding. She hopped up the last few steps and walked gingerly to them. She untied the female’s gag first.

    “Get away,” the Beaver shouted as soon as the gag dropped away. “It’s a trap!”

    The floor around them pulled up to form a box. Another panel swung around to close off the top with a loud clang. Two Walruses ran into the room, grinned at the box.

    “We got ‘em,” one of them exclaimed as he jumped for joy.

    “We rock.” the other held out his flipper for the first to slap.

    “Waltu-sama will be very pleased,” the first said.

    A finger poked at the first’s shoulder. “Hey, why did you just poke me?”

    “I didn’t poke you,” the other shot back.

    “Well,” the first snarled. “Some one did.”

    They turned around to see Ophelia and two now unbound Beavers glaring at them. They leapt back and yelped in shock.

    “But…you…how,” the first blubbered.

    “I’m quick on my feet,” Ophelia answered flatly.

    The two Walruses turned on their flippers and scrambled away. “Wal-tu-sa-ma!” they screamed as the door slid shut behind them.

    “And don’t ever come back,” the male yelled after them.

    “Thanks,” the female said. “I thought we’d never get out of that.”

    “You’re welcome,” Ophelia replied. “Who are you?”

    “I’m Emily and this is Franklin,” Emily answered.

    “Everybody calls me Frank,” Franklin added in his low, dull voice.

    “We’re engineers for the cloud making machine,” Emily continued. “And you are?”

    “I’m Ophelia,” Ophelia answered.

    “What in Hell is going on up here?” Tammy shouted as she stomped up the stairs.

    * * *

    “Why did you come here?” Lee asked Bret.

    “I was with one of the investigation teams,” Bret answered. “My team took one look at the city decided to hightail it and.”

    “You didn’t?” Milro asked.

    “I was…” He paused to search for the word. “…more curious. Geronita wanted a closer look so I decided to help me. All the good it did me.”

    “What do you do?” Lee asked.

    “I’m a zeppelin pilot,” Bret replied. “I fly craft to take readings from the upper atmosphere.”

    He looked at the bottom of the wall as they walked. He saw the quarter circles of gray dust sweeping from a panel of the wall. He stopped when they walked up to it. He knelt down and ran his hand through the dust

    “I think this is it,” he said, examining the dust on his finger.

    He grabbed a nearby candelabrum and twisted it. The panel swung out, exposing a large, dark, dust filled chamber behind it. A primitive elevator sat in a shaft.

    “My guess is they took everyone down here,” Bret said as he walked in.

    He pushed open the door and walked in with Lee. He pulled the door closed again and threw a lever down. The ancient machine screamed and groaned as it started to slowly lower.

    “I never seen something like this before,” Milro thought out loud.

    “Just wait until we get to the bottom,” Bret replied.

    The rest of the trip was silent aside from the protesting machine. It seemed like they had gone down dozens of stories when the machine finally stopped. Lee pushed the door open as they stepped out.

    It was dim with only two flickering lights over a pair of metal doors providing any illumination. The air was heavy with the stale stench of musk. A thick layer of dust covered the top of every surface and cobwebs filled every crevasse.

    Lee set his hand down next to Milro. “Here,” he said. “No reason you should walk through that.”

    “Thank you,” Milro said as she stepped into his webbed hands.

    Despite the dim lightning Lee could make out several tracks. Flipper tracks went either way but the shoe prints all led out. “So, this is how they got in the castle.”

    Bret pushed a bar on the door down and pushed it open. It led to a hall. It was a little brighter but its air was even staler and dust and cobwebs covered everything.

    “What is this place?” Lee asked.

    “I didn’t know at first,” Bret explained. “I wound up down here when trying to hide from the Walruses. I found an office and got some answers. These are civil defense tunnels.”

    “Civil defense?” Milro asked.

    “Apparently, long ago, the kingdoms weren’t as trusting as they are now,” Bret continued. “They built these tunnels deep underground to protect the people in case of war. They were sealed them off over a thousand years ago and forgotten.”

    Lee coughed on the heavy, stale air. “Yeah,” he choked, “a millennium seems about right.”

    “How did the Walruses learn of the though?” Milro asked.

    “Beats me,” Bret replied. “I found an entrance in the guard barracks. A few sleeping gas bombs would take care of them. They then took the castle almost opposed I guess.”

    “Where are they holding the staff down here?” Lee asked.

    “Well,” Bret started. “No. I didn’t find out where they’re holding them specifically.”

    Lee exhaled an exasperated sigh. “At least we can follow their tracks,” he grumbled as he looked at the prints in the thick coat of dust.

    * * *

    “Waltu-sama,” the two Walruses screamed as they fell over one another into the room.

    “What is it?” Waltu snarled as they got back to their flippers.

    “The trap in the Cloud Management Room,” the first huffed. “We thought we caught someone.”

    “Was it that elusive worker?” Waltu asked eagerly.

    “No.” The other gulped. “It was a Shark woman but she escaped before the trap closed.”

    “Shark?” Waltu exclaimed. “From what tribe?”

    “I don’t know.” The first shrugged. “I’m guessing one of the blue ones.”

    “Dammit,” Waltu cursed under his breath. “I wasn’t expecting them to get here so soon.”

    He took out his walky-talky. “All scouting parties return to base,” he yelled into the speaker.

    * * *

    Bret led Lee and Milro through the maze of corridors. Lee stopped when he noticed the dust had been knock off a door knob and the dust on the ground had been pushed away suggesting it had been opened recently. “Hey Bret,” he looked up to the half Beaver but he was gone.

    “Where did he go?” Milro asked.

    “I don’t know,” Lee replied. “I’m more interested to know what’s in here.”

    He grasped the metal knob and turned it slowly to try to keep it from making a sound. He pulled the door open slightly to peer in. It was too dark to make anything out. He pulled the door open and stepped in.

    His sight adjusted so he could see a winding staircase leading up. He looked down at the tracks. They were all flippers leading in either direction.

    There was something up there that the Walruses were interested in. What it was he did not know. However, he intended to find out. He stepped onto the metal steps and started climbing up the dark shaft.

    * * *

    Bret stopped and peered around the next corner. Two Walrus stood on either side of a door with a light over it. “Bingo,” he said to himself.

    He grabbed a fire extinguisher off the wall and threw it as far as he could down the wall. The small extinguisher clanged as it bounced down the hall several times. He pressed himself against the wall as the Walruses ran down the hall.

    He ran to the door and pressed his furry ear to the metal. He heard voices from the other side. They were the voice of young adult females. A wide grin formed on his face.

    On the other side of the door was a dim, dingy room with dilapidated beds against the concrete walls. A half Beaver girl with long, straight, raven black hair wearing the blue, sailor style dress worn by the castle’s maids paced impatiently. Five other maids sat or stood in the room.

    “How long do you think they’ll keep us here?” the girl pacing snarled.

    “I already told you,” the lone Beaver grumbled. “I don’t know.”

    “You’d think they could have cleaned this place first.” A human with curly red hair swiped her finger through the thick dust on a cabinet crumbled it against her thumb. “Of all the places to be stuck without a duster.”

    “Have no fear, Bret is here,” Bret whispered as he opened the door.

    “Thank God,” the Beaver exclaimed. “Rescued at last.”

    “Wherever there is a fair maiden in distress, I, Bret, will be there in her hour of need,” Bret declared.

    He knelt on one knee and gently took the raven haired maid’s hand in his own. He looked up at her eyes filled with determination and a debonair smile. Score, he thought.

    “Why thank you, kind sir.” The maid smiled gently and blushed.

    “How did you handle the Walruses?” the red haired girl asked.

    “Don’t worry,” Bret boasted as he walked out into the corridor. “I’ve made sure they’re occupied.”

    He turned around and saw the two Walruses glaring at them. One of them was holding the extinguisher in his flippers. The other held two dart guns with their visible laser beams leading to Bret’s chest. Bret smiled sheepishly as he and the maids backed up.

    “Apparently,” Bret gave a weak laugh, “not occupied enough.”

    They turned and ran away with the Walruses chasing after them.

    * * *

    Lee pushed the trap door up and looked through the thin line. From what he could tell it was a darkened warehouse. He couldn’t see much but there was a distinct grinding sound. He pushed the trap door away as he walked out of the stairwell.

    It was a warehouse. It was mostly empty aside from a few wooden crates and a strange looking machine at the far end. Lightning flashed from the windows and thunder rumbled outside. Lee walked up to the huge, box like machine which was making the grinding noise.

    “What is it, Lee?” Milro asked as he set her down on a crate.

    Lee examined it and the tall stalk leading to the pinnacle of the ceiling from it. It gave off a steady electric field leading into the ceiling.

    “I think this is what is making all that lightning,” Lee said.

    He grabbed the large switch and threw it from “ON” to “OFF”. The grinding became lower and softer before disappearing completely, allowing the soft sound of the rain hitting the room and the rumble of thunder to be heard.

    Lee wiped the dust off a nearby window and peered out. The lightning became less frequent and the clouds lightened to light gray. “There we go,” Lee said. “Now, to get rid of this thing once and for all.”

    He pulled a pyro grenade from his pocket and shoved the orange, can shaped device into the wiring exposed in one panel. He picked up Milro in one hand. “Hold on tight, Milro-sama,” he said as he slipped his free finger into the ring.

    He pulled the ring out and ran for the door. The Shark man cupped his hands over Milro as he dove down the stairs. He frantically wrapped his tail around the handle and pulled the door closed.

    No sooner did the door clang over them the incendiary device exploded with a blinding flash of white heat. The machine melted and globs of molten metal and burning insulation flew everywhere. Lee and Milro braced themselves as the concussion rocked even the stairs.

    “Are you alright, Milro-sama?” Lee asked, gently lifting his hand off her.

    Milro nodded. “Hopefully, that’s the last thing we have to blow up.”

    Lee set Milro down on the step to get back to his feet. He brushed the wrinkles from his sleeves and pulled his coat straight before she stepped back up on his hand. He opened the door to be enveloped by smoke reeking of burning rubber and molten copper. He coughed on the noxious fumes and let the door drop.

    “Yeah,” he coughed, “it’s gone.”

    The Shark man grabbed his hat and flipped it back over his cerulean hair. He walked back down the shaft to the tunnels. Now they had to find the castle’s staff which meant finding where Bret was. As they emerged in the hall below Bret and the maids came scrambling for them.

    “Lee, Milro-sama, thank God,” Bret huffed.

    He and the maids hid behind the large Shark man as the two Walruses came around the corner. The two slid to a stop, piling up dust in front of them. They slowly looked up to stared in terror at Lee. He glared back at them and lifted the corner of his lip and gave a low growl. The two scrabbled over one another as they ran away.

    “Damn.” Bret lifted an impressed eyebrow in amazement. “Don’t mess with the disgruntled, blue giant.”

    Lee turned back to him and the maids who waved weakly to him. “’Curious’, huh?” He grumbled.

    “Well, yeah?” Bret rubbed the back of his head and forced a loud laugh. “I was curious about the well being of the tender young women being imprisoned by those terrible Walruses.”

    Lee lifted an annoyed eyebrow. “Come on,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

    “We know where their keeping the others,” the half Beaver maid said. “We can lead you to them.”

    “Lead on then.” Lee swept his arm forward.

    * * *

    The maids led them to a large meeting area not too far from the stairwell. There, the rest of the staff was being held. There were no guards and the staff was quick to follow them to the elevator.

    They came up in groups with Bret and Lee among the first. As everyone filed out and shielded their eyes from the relatively bright light until they adjusted a Beaver guard dressed in a blue camouflage coat and cap pulled Lee, Milro, and Bret aside.

    “It’s good to see you in alive, Princess.” the guard bowed. “Though, I regret we couldn’t stop those scoundrels from doing this to you.”

    “It’s alright, Major,” Milro replied. “Have you seen my parents and brother? They were shrunk like me and were being kept in some kind of jar.”

    “I’m afraid I have not,” the guard answered with sigh. “All I remember is being knocked out in the barracks and waking up in their holding area where they kept us under guard until just before you showed up. I didn’t see Queen Yamul-sama, Prince Consort Pump-sama, or Prince Nalro-sama normal size or otherwise.”

    “I wonder where they could be.” Milro’s ears drooped as she looked down in worry.

    “Lee,” Ophelia called out as she, Tammy, Emily, and Franklin ran towards them. “I see you found the staff.”

    “We sure did.” Lee motioned behind him as another group filed out of the opened panel. “However, we still haven’t found the royal family.”

    “They could be with the Walruses,” Tammy replied. “Those cowards are fleeing the castle like rats from a sinking ship.”

    “We have to stop them,” Milro exclaimed. “If they get away with my parents we might never see them again.”

    * * *

    Waltu watched as his minions ran out the main entrance of the castle into the pouring rain. They waddled as quickly as they could down the drenched bridges and steps leading away from the castle. He sneered at the disgraceful retreat from the holding the so easily took not even a day before.

    “That’s the last of us,” a Walrus yelled as he ran out.

    “Alright,” Waltu said. “Let’s get out of here.”

    “Not so fast,” a voice said sharply.

    Waltu hunched his shoulders as he turned around. Bret, Emily, Franklin, Lee, Ophelia, Tammy, and Milro stood in front of the door. “You’re not going anywhere,” Tammy growled.

    Waltu glared at them but his mouth peeled into a contemptuous smirk. He snorted a couple of laughs before he laughed loudly. “Get back here you cowards,” he yelled after his minions. “It’s nothing but a bunch of teenagers.”

    “We’re still a lot bigger than you,” Lee sneered.

    “Oo, tough guy,” Waltu chuckled. “Alright, big guy, I would have preferred not to waste this on the likes of you but you’ve inconvenienced me. And I detest people who inconvenience me”

    He pulled out a remote control and smashed in the large, red button with a human skull over crossbones. A large, black sphere burst from the water and shot high into the air. Milro and the others shielded their eyes from the glare of Sun’s Blessing to watch the object.

    “What in God’s hollow Mysterious Planet is that?” Bret asked.

    “Trouble,” Lee replied.

    The sphere broke into hemispheres that blew away from one another. The craft it had contained fell back to the surface. It was some kind of machine with an exposed gatling gun and a large, studded ball on either side of a small cockpit and large propellers folded against its metal sides. Waltu jumped into the open cockpit as it splashed down in the moat.

    “Say hello to the War Tusk,” Waltu chuckled. “You should feel honored to see this incredible fighting machine in action.”

    He reached into his pocket and took out of the blue gem. “This bad boy has more than enough power to wipe you all off the shell of the Mysterious Planet.” He patted the metal dash. “However, as a staunch supporter in overkill and having a real hankering to smash you into subatomic particles, I’ll power it up even further with this Grace Stone.”

    “Grace Stone?” Milro gasped.

    Waltu laughed loudly. “Prepare to meet your doom.”

    “Wait,” Milro called out to him. “You can’t use the Grace Stone.”

    “Watch me,” Waltu shot back.

    “You don’t understand,” Milro pleaded. “If you don’t have all seven Grace Stones together it’ll drain your power. It could kill you.”

    Waltu exhaled another loud laugh. “I appreciate your concern, little lady,” he said with a grin. “However, we don’t play your rules.”

    He threw the stone into a small holder in the dash and closed the cover. The stone pumped energy into the machine, lighting up the controls and gauges. The propellers folded out and spun in their frames to lift the craft out of the water.

    “You were saying,” Bret aid with a gulp.

    Milro didn’t understand it. Fine and Rein were almost killed when they tried to use six Grace Stones. Why would just one grant Waltu’s machine power?

    “Let’s test this puppy.” Waltu grasped the control sticks.

    He turned the War Tusk to face one of the towers standing in the outermost moat. He smashed a button firing the ball at it. The heavy, studded ball of iron careened for the tower, carrying its chain behind it. It smashed through the small tower, disintegrating everything near by. The tower fell into the moat as the chain yanked the ball to its holder.

    “Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Waltu yelled eagerly.

    Milro and the others stared in horrified shock at display of terrible destructive power. Bret squealed a terrified yelp and jumped into Tammy’s arms. The Beaver promptly dropped him on the ground with a thud.

    The War Tusk turned back to them. Waltu grinned evilly at them.

    Bret leapt back to feet. He pointed at the craft and yelled frantically. “How the hell are we supposed to fight that?”

    Milro wanted to know as well. I wish Mom was here, she thought. She would know what to do.

    Since Milro knew she would someday be queen she had had doubts of her ability to rule. Her doubts seemed very real when she saw her mother govern. Queen Yamul was wise, fair, and used her power judiciously for the good of all. She literally saw the Water Drop Kingdom through its darkest hour and brought it back better than ever.

    But she’s not here. Milro looked up at the terrible machine hover in front of them. And wishing she was here and feeling sorry for myself won’t save her or Dad or Nalro.

    She turned to the six young workers. “You have to…” she started. “You have to defeat him somehow.”

    They all looked down at the tiny princess.

    “You have to find a way to defeat him,” Milro continued. “It could be our only chance to save my family. I know he looks powerful but if you combined your talents I’m sure you’d win.”

    They all looked to each other and nodded in agreement. “Huddle,” Lee called out.

    They gathered in a circle and tucked their head down.

    “Milro-sama’s right,” Lee said. “We can defeat him together. And we must to save the royal family.”

    “The question is how,” Tammy replied. “You saw how powerful that thing is.”

    “It has to have a weak point,” Emily said. “The trick is finding it.”

    “Might I suggest a change in scenery as well,” Ophelia said. “We don’t stand a chance up here but that thing doesn’t look like it would be as capable underwater.”

    “Sounds like a plan to me,” Lee said. “Any other suggestions?”

    “I’ve got one,” Bret whimpered. “I say we run away screaming.”

    “No,” Tammy said. “For one thing, I doubt he’d let us escape anyway. For another, you scream like a girl.”

    “I do not,” Bret shot back.

    “Sometime this century,” Waltu snarled behind them.

    Bret screeched and jumped behind Lee, trembling.

    “A real little girl,” Lee said.

    They broke the huddle and lined up in front of the door. They all stared at the craft hovering in front of them.

    “Everyone know the plan?” Emily asked.

    They all nodded.

    “Then let’s give him hell,” Lee said.

    He pulled a smoke grenade from his pocket and threw it at Waltu. The black, spherical device bounced on the bridge before coming to a rest. It belched a cloud of thick, black smoke that enveloped the War Tusk. They ran past him and dove underwater. Once the smoke dissipated he looked around.

    “You can run but you can’t hide,” Waltu snarled.

    He tilted the propellers forward. He plunged it into the water and looked around the moat for them. Emily and Franklin hid in a small alcove as the War Tusk lumbered past.

    Tammy hid behind a formation of coral as the droning of the propellers grew louder. She slipped her finger into the pin a pale blue cryo grenade and yanked it out. She threw the explosive over the coral towards the sound. It exploded in front Waltu causing the local water to flash freeze in an expanding sphere.

    “Child’s play,” Waltu sneered.

    He pressed the button to fire the ball out. It crashed through the ice, smashing it to shards. He then turned the gatling gun on the outcropping of rock and coral and unleashed a barrage of gas propelled bolts. The rock crumbled into rubble and kicked up a cloud of silt as it fell apart.

    In the cloud Tammy shoved a stick of coral in a link of the chain. Waltu pulled the chain back. The link with the stick hit the holder and jammed the mechanism. The cloud settled but Tammy had already disappeared.

    “Dammit,” Waltu snarled as he tried to shake it loose. “You think you’re so clever.”

    He pushed forward, scanning the coral and rock formations for another ambush. Lee laid flat in a trench, grasping his rifle over his chest, as Waltu passed overhead. Waltu continued without noticing him.

    Lee jumped out of the trench and rested the rifle on his shoulder. He took a bead on the propellers and timed them in his mind. He determined the timing of his shot and squeezed the trigger.

    The long spear flew out of the barrel for Waltu’s port propeller. It passed between the blades and was wedged between a blade and a spoke of the frame. The propeller ground to a stop and other working propeller caused the entire craft to begin spinning.

    “Now, Ophelia,” Lee called out to his sister.

    Ophelia swam out from around the curve of the inner wall. She summoned all her strength to craft the flow of the water. She created a vortex around Waltu and closed it around him. The spinning craft was further accelerated. She then threw him clear out of the water.

    The vortex spat Waltu towards the castle. He bounced off the towers several times before bouncing down the bridge. He was thrown clear out of the cockpit as the War Tusk slammed into the bridge. He rolled and skidded to a halt down the bridge. The parachute he was wearing flew out of his pack and settled over him.

    Ophelia felt a sudden weakness come over her. She fainted and began to slowly sink.

    “Ophelia,” Lee swam up and wrapped his arms gently around her, “are you alright?”

    “I’ll live,” Ophelia replied weakly. “I’ll just not try that again.”

    The burning wreckage of the War Tusk exploded in a yellow fireball. The Grace Stone flew into the air and came back down to Tammy as she, Bret, Emily, and Franklin pulled themselves out of the water. Tammy held out her hand as it settled into her palm.

    Waltu fought to the edge of his parachute and looked up to them and Milro glaring down at him. Lee helped Ophelia onto the bridge behind him. He swung his head from one group to another.

    “If you’re finished,” Tammy said with a slight growl to her voice. “Hand over the rest of the royal family and return them to their normal size.”

    A low rumble came from above. A massive object burst from the ceiling of clouds. It was a long, wide airship covered in propellers pointing both vertically and horizontally and the bow was crafted in the shape of a giant walrus skull. As it passed overhead a rope ladder dropped down for Waltu to grab.

    “As much as I’d like to stay and chat,” he yelled to the startled group. “I’ve got other appointments.”

    “Wait,” Milro called after them. “What about my parents and brother?”

    Waltu laughed. “That’s for us to know and you to never find out.” He pulled down his bottom eyelid and sticking out his tongue. “Pull me up, you clods.”

    The rope ladder lifted into the airship as it rose back into the clouds. Milro watched as it disappeared into the rainy sky and the droning of it propellers faded to nothing. She fell to her knees and buried her face in her hands.

    “Mom, Dad, Nalro,” she sobbed.

    Even after all she and the others had gone through they were no closer to finding her family. She had held out hope that they could save them but it now seemed like she would never see them again.
    Last edited by The Big Al; 23rd October 2008 at 1:51 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  5. #5
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    Chapter 4: An Unexpected Journey

    “I think they were keeping him in here,” Emily said as she pushed the door open.

    She looked in with everyone else and felt her heart sink. They stared in horrified shock at Spigot strapped to a metal chair. He was in a drug induced stupor and his face was visibly brutalized.

    “Oh my God!” Emily exclaimed as she ran in. “Chief!”

    “Mr. Spigot.” Milro ran in after her with the others.

    Emily held Spigot’s muzzle and turned it to her. His eyes couldn’t seem to stay on her as they rolled in random directions. She let go and his head slumped over to one side.

    “We better get him to a doctor,” Lee said as they removed the straps and Emily and Franklin pulled Spigot’s limp body onto their shoulders.

    * * *

    They carried the injured chief to the city’s medical clinic. They burst in, dripping wet from the pouring rain that still fell on the city. An older, mustached Riri wearing a white coat walked up to them.

    “Dr. McChi, thank God,” Emily said.

    “What’s happened?” McChi exclaimed when he saw Spigot.

    “We found him strapped to a chair and being given drugs,” Emily explained. “We think the Walruses were torturing him to get our access codes.”

    “We’ll take care of him immediately,” McChi replied. He turned to a squirrel like nurse wearing a yellow dress under a white apron with a red cross on the chest. “Melody, prepare bed seven.”

    “Yes doctor,” Melody replied and walked through a nearby door.

    Two male nurses took Spigot off Emily and Franklin’s shoulders and helped him through the door. McChi turned back to them. He noticed that Ophelia seemed a little pale.

    “Are you alright, my dear?” he asked.

    “Yeah,” Ophelia replied weakly, pushing her cerulean bangs back a little. “I’m just a little drained.”

    “You mind explaining what you did back there?” Bret asked.

    “It’s hydrokinesis,” Ophelia explained. “I can manipulate water with my thoughts. I just never tried to move that much water that fast.”

    “Trust me,” Bret said. “I don’t think you left anyone here unimpressed.”

    “Can we be with Mr. Spigot?” Milro asked the doctor.

    “That’s strange,” McChi thought out loud. “I thought I just heard Princess Milro-sama.”

    “You did,” Lee replied. He pointed down with his index finger. “Look down.”

    McChi followed his finger down to the tiny princess standing in front of him. The Riri recoiled in shock so hard it almost knocked his eyeglasses off his nose.

    “By, Joe,” he exclaimed and straightened his glasses. “Milro-sama, is that you?”

    Milro nodded.

    “That’s kind of the other reason we wanted to see you.” Tammy scratched the back of her head. “Would you know how to return her to normal size?”

    “Uh…” McChi furrowed his brow in genuine confusion. “…do you know how this happened?”

    Lee reached into his side pocket and pulled out some of the remains of the smashed shrinking machine they found in Milro’s room. “We think it has something to do with this.”

    “I’m afraid you’re out of even my expertise,” McChi said with a sigh. “I suggest a good engineer.”

    “But can we be with the chief?” Emily asked.

    “His injuries don’t seem too severe,” McChi replied. “However, I want some time to screen the drugs out of his system before he sees anyone.”

    “Alright,” Emily replied. “Thank you Doctor.”

    McChi walked through the doors the others had taken Spigot through. The six youths plopped down on the chairs along a wall.

    The waiting room was plain in its decoration. A few anatomy charts were pinned to wood paneled walls they were some puzzle toys on a low table in the corner. An orderly sat in an adjacent office with a hole cut in the window between the two rooms.

    “You’re good with gadgets, Emily.” Franklin turned to his colleague. “Could you fix that machine?”

    “Well,” Emily thought as she replied. “I could put it together but I have no idea what kind of technology the Walruses used to make it.”

    “That means?” Milro asked.

    “That means I don’t know how to repair it correctly,” Emily explained with a shrug. “I don’t have a clue how it changes the target’s size or controls the degree. I could probably get it to fire again but if we tried to use it to return you to your normal size it could end up making you huge or even smaller if it has any affect at all.”

    “Oh.” Milro’s ears drooped.

    She still wasn’t use to being as small as she was. She couldn’t imagine being any smaller. Being a giant didn’t sound too appealing either. She felt they were better off not trying it.

    “So much for that idea,” Lee grumbled.

    “I’m more worried about my family,” Milro said worriedly. “Where could they have taken her?”

    “I’m afraid we don’t have any answers there either.” Tammy heaved a sigh.

    * * *

    After a half hour or so McChi walked out. “You can see him now,” he said.

    They shuffled into the room. Spigot was lying in a bed under white sheets with machinery reading his vitals. As they lined up around his bed he tried to sit up slightly. He picked up his arm that had a small, dark colored worm stuck to it.

    “Uh,” he groaned. “This is your work, isn’t McChi?”

    “Be thankful my flatworm has an appetite for the narcotic cocktail they were pumping into you,” McChi replied politely.

    “You’re treating him with a worm?” Tammy stuck out her tongue in disgust.

    “Of course,” McChi replied. He motioned to a shelf filled with small cages and tanks. “I raise various animals that serve a medical purpose. When it comes to health, my dear, I believe we can’t turn our backs on any effective treatment.”

    “Since it seems I’ll live let’s go on to some serious business,” Spigot grumbled. “What’s the status of the machine?”

    “We’ve disengaged the security lockout and resumed normal operations,” Emily answered. “There’s no sign of damage or tampering.”

    “Good,” Spigot said.

    A loud crash came from outside. Someone was arguing loudly with the orderly over something. The door flew open and a silver haired woman wearing a sweater over her maid’s uniform stormed in.

    “I’m sorry, Doctor,” the orderly apologized. “I told her she couldn’t come in but she insisted on seeing…”

    “Milro-sama!” the older half Beaver exclaimed.

    “Miss Marcy,” Milro said in response.

    Marcy was the head of the castle’s maids and was Milro’s nanny and tutor. Although she her services had become more limited as Milro got older, she was still very protective of the princess. She knelt to be eyelevel with Milro sitting in Ophelia’s palms and stared at her with watery eyes behind her glasses.

    “Princess Milro-sama,” Marcy cried out. “What have those terrible creatures done to you?”

    “I’m fine, in case you were wondering” Spigot said.

    “Shut up,” Marcy snapped at the chief.

    “I’m alright, Marcy,” Milro answered.

    “Oh, Princess Milro-sama,” Marcy practically sobbed. “Can’t something be done for you?”

    “Well.” Emily rubbed the back of her head. “We could try but we’d more likely than not make the situation worse.”

    “Not to mention we have something more pressing on our hands.” Tammy took the “Grace Stone” from her shawl pocket.

    “What is that?” Marcy asked.

    “The Walruses called it a Grace Stone,” Milro answered. “However, it doesn’t look like the Grace Stones Fine and Rein used.”

    “I guess we could ask the experts in the Sunny Kingdom,” Ophelia suggested. “They might also be able to answer why the weather seems to have gone insane all of a sudden.”

    “An excellent idea,” Spigot said. “Since you’re here I’m sending you six to the Sunny Kingdom investigate.”

    “You got it chief,” Emily said.

    “I’m coming too,” Milro chimed in.

    “Oh, no you’re not,” Marcy yelled. “You are the only member of the royal family left and defenseless in your current condition. You’re staying here where you can be protected.”

    “Like she saw last night?” Lee rolled his eyes.

    “Watch you’re tongue, young man,” Marcy up at Lee, apparently undaunted by his stature.

    “But these six did protect me.” Milro looked back to the workers. “They saved me from certain death and kept me safe all the way back to Saginaw City. I trust them with my life.”

    She looked back to Marcy. “And, maybe, we can find out what happened to my family.”

    Marcy was about to say something but stopped herself. She couldn’t make an argument against her. She heaved a sigh and smiled gently.

    “Alright,” she said gently with a curtsy. “If that is what you wish, Princess.”

    * * *

    Back at the castle, the Beauty of Aqua, the Water Drop Kingdom’s flagship, was being prepped for departure. As Milro waited she toured the castle.

    It seemed like business as usual. The maids and engineers had gone back to their duties. The guards were securing the entrances to the civil defense tunnels.

    Being among surroundings so familiar to her yet much larger added to the surreal feeling of the day. So much had happened since the Walrus shrank her and everything seemed so different from her new size. It felt like she had been thrown into some kind of dream world.

    She stopped in her mother’s office. It was a large, elongated room with a desk and chair at the far end in front of large, bay windows that let in copious amounts of light from the outside. Like many chambers in the castle, there were areas of open water around the floor and large, transparent columns evenly spaced along the wall carried water up through them.

    Her mother, Queen Yamul, preferred her office to the throne room. She felt more comfortable with a desk in front of her and so much of her duties involved paperwork. Milro spent many a day there, learning how to govern from her mother for the day she would assume the throne.

    It was perhaps her mother’s absence that Milro felt the most. Whenever she needed advice, unless it was to disagree with the queen, the young princess would seek her advice. Milro really wished she could have her mother’s guidance in the situation she faced now.

    Her father, Prince Consort Pump, had few governing duties the Water Drop Kingdom’s matriarchal society. He instead nurtured Milro and her younger brother, Prince Nalro, in academia and the arts. He was the one who introduced Milro to painting and encouraged her. She looked to him more for inspiration than advice. Still, even inspiration would be welcome.

    She went to her brother’s room next. It was abandoned as well. Nalro’s favorite toy, a gray stingray plushy, was on the floor with its white belly facing up. Milro pulled it upright by the wing and ran her hand through the fake fur.

    Ophelia walked in. “Milro-sama,” she said gently.

    “Oh.” Milro looked up to her. “Hello, Ophelia.”

    “What’s that?” Ophelia asked.

    “This is Manta,” Milro replied. “He’s Nalro’s favorite toy. He’s his trusty sidekick in his adventures around the castle.”

    Milro smiled and as she remembered some of the zany antics Nalro undertook. He an adventurous young boy and saw the castle as filled with mysteries he and Manta had to solve. He’d listen to the stories and gossip told by the staff and go to whatever lengths necessary to find the truth.

    One time in particular Nalro had heard a maid claim that Milro had never thrown out a paintbrush and had kept a hundred spent brushes in a collection. He, along with Manta, scoured the castle in search of this fabled collection. In the end, he proved the maid wrong. Milro’s collection of old brushes was well over a hundred.

    Milro patted its thick fur. The fur made the blue eyes always seem to look sad like those of a puppy looking for affection. She had to admit she felt attached to the toy too. She even started referring the plushy by name and used the pronoun “him” like her brother.

    “Well, we can’t leave him on the floor like that,” Ophelia said.

    She picked up the plushy and rubbed the soft fur against her cheek. She placed the stingray on the pillow and made it face the foot of the bed.

    “There,” she said. “Now he’ll see Nalro-sama when he comes back.”

    “Thank you, Ophelia,” Milro said. “I’m sure he’d appreciate it.”

    “Well, the Beauty of Aqua is almost ready for launch,” Ophelia gave Milro the news she came to bring her. “We should probably head to the hangar.”

    * * *

    The Beauty of Aqua was a huge balloon with an expansive envelope shaped like a giant, blue raindrop. The gondola was shaped like a fountain with fins on the side. It sat in its hangar connected to several tubes and wires.

    Bret, Lee and Tammy jumped into the wheel house from the ladder. It was small with a chair in front of a wheel and a dash covered in controls, monitors, and gauges and circular window.

    While the exterior of the airship was the very picture of elegance, the wheelhouse’s décor didn’t seem to miss an opportunity to be tacky. The chair had leopard print upholstery and the floor was covered by neon pink, shag carpeting. A dancing hula doll sat on the dash under a pair of large, red fuzzy dice hanging over the window.

    “Classy,” Tammy said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “If it was any louder I’d go deaf.”

    “I’ve dreamed of piloting the Beauty of Aqua,” Bret said eagerly as he sat down in the chair. “It’s the reason I became a pilot. Now, I get to sit in this chair where some of the greatest aviators in the history of our kingdom have.”

    “Everything’s looking good,” a female voice came over a speaker. “The fuel cells are charged and envelope pressure is stable.”

    Bret flipped a switched next to the speaker. “Alright,” he said.

    Lee and Tammy climbed down into the much more subdued main passenger compartment. Aqua and blue colored seats shaped like raindrops were set along both round walls for dozens of potential passengers. Emily and Franklin were already sitting in two seats next to each other. Ophelia walked up the gangplank with Milro.

    Unbeknownst to any of them, Marcy and one of the Beaver maids were hiding in one of the small compartments under the floor. They squirmed to find the most comfortable position in the tight space.

    “Is this really necessary, Marcy-sama,” the Beaver asked as she hit a corner with her elbow.

    “Yes, Betsy.” Marcy tried to get her arm out from behind her back. “It is our duty to ensure Princess Milro-sama’s safety, no matter what.”

    “I think my tail’s fallen asleep,” Betsy complained.

    “No sacrifice is too great for our princess,” Marcy said in response.

    “Attention boys and girls,” Bret’s voice came over the speaker. “This is your captain speaking. We’ll be leaving momentarily so sit down and belt in.”

    Hangar crews closed the entrance door and disconnected the tubes and wires. The roof of the partially submerged tower behind the castle opened above them. Arms holding the gondola disengaged and the Beauty of Aqua began to slowly rise into the rainy skies.

    Bret punched up a display of the Mysterious Planet on the main monitor. A line spiraled steeply towards the Sunny Kingdom represented the standard approach to the kingdom floating in the center of their world. He looked out the view port to see they were passing through the low clouds. The Beauty of Aqua floated out of the clouds and into the brilliant blue sky.

    “We’re clear to navigate,” Bret reported over the speaker. “Feel free to move about the cabin and observation decks.”

    The passengers took off their harnesses. Lee stretched his back that was still a little stiff from being thrown through the table in Cheboygan. He looked over to Franklin who was still strapped in.

    “Is something wrong, Frank?” Lee asked.

    “I just don’t like flying,” Franklin replied uneasily.

    “Don’t worry, Frank,” Emily took his hand. “I’ll stay here with you.”

    “Thanks, Emily,” Franklin replied.

    Lee shrugged as he, Ophelia, Milro, and Tammy climbed up the ladder to the main observation deck above them. The looked out at the view that extended for several kilometers.

    The clouds had the appearance of a white sea. The once towering thunderhead had flattened out into an expansive blanket of stratus. It seemed to extend out until the amount of air between them and what they were looking at was enough to scatter all and light and hide it behind a blue haze. Above them, more wispy clouds curled and fanned out and the Sun’s Blessing shined down with brilliant light.

    “Wow,” Ophelia gasped in awe. “What a beautiful sight.”

    “I know,” Milro replied as she gazed out at the breathtaking view. “I wish I had paper and art supplies I could use to draw this.”

    “People have always found weather awe inspiring from afar,” Lee said as he rested his arms on the rail. “We almost forget what it’s doing to the people right under it.”

    “Fortunately this just a garden variety rain cloud now,” Ophelia replied. “It almost looks like the sea.”

    Milro looked out at the clouds and found herself thinking about her family. She hoped they were alright wherever they were. She had been holding out so much hope that she would be reunited with them she was crushed when the Walruses fled but still held them in some location only they knew.

    What made it all worse was how many people were hurt by recent events. And there were these young workers who had agreed to help her. They went through much and yet they came out emptied handed.

    “I’m sorry,” she said in a soft voice. “It seems I’ve led you on a fool’s errand. You’ve all done so much for me and yet we’re no closer to finding my family or understanding what’s happened.”

    “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Tammy said, leaning against the blue hull. “We retook the capital and our machinery is safe to make the clouds for the Mysterious Planet. We’re far from done.”

    “But you could have been killed back there,” Milro said. “You’ve already done more than anyone should ask of you.”

    “You’re forgetting something,” Lee interjected. “We gave you our word we would find the royal family and a way to return you to normal size.”

    “A Shark Person’s word is their honor,” Ophelia said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill it.”

    The young Shark woman leaned over the railing and watched as they began to drift south. She felt a sudden twinge in her electrorecptors. She looked up and noticed that dark clouds were quickly forming around them and congealing into one angry mass surrounding the Beauty of Aqua. She looked to Tammy and Lee who were already climbing up into the wheel house.

    “It looks like we’re in for some dirty weather,” Ophelia said.

    Milro stepped onto her hand as she walked to the door. A sudden gust of wind tore across the observation deck. Ophelia had to brace herself to avoid being blown off her feet. She practically fell inside as the door slid shut behind her.

    The Beauty of Aqua swung and twirled in the increasing wind. Everyone strapped in as the turbulence seemed to worsen by the second. Even Marcy and Betsy braced themselves against the chaotic motion.

    Franklin felt physically sick from the motion of the basket. Emily took his furry hand in his and patted it in a comforting manner. The stricken Beaver smiled gently to her.

    In the wheelhouse, Bret was laying on the wheel to keep it steady. “What’s with this storm?” the half Beaver growled as he forced the wheel to turn. “It came out of nowhere.”

    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Lee said as he grabbed a handhold to keep from being thrown into the wall. “If I didn’t know any better; I’d say something was waiting for us and made that storm.”

    The entire airship was suddenly thrown down by a violent thrust of wind. The passengers held on tight as the helpless craft was shoved towards the surface. Bret held on tight to the wheel to keep it from wrenching out of his hands.

    “What’s going on?” Bret yelled over the terrible sound of twisting metal.

    “We’re caught in a downdraft,” Lee yelled his answer.

    Down in the passenger compartment, Franklin was ready to hurl. He grabbed the handholds as tightly as he possibly could.

    “This is why I don’t like to fly!” he screamed.

    The others could hardly disagree. They all held on for dear life from being thrown by the harrowing dive.

    The Beauty of Aqua continued to tumble helplessly in the mass of plummeting air towards the surface with breakneck speed. Bret tried to turn the wheel but it seemed frozen in place. He eyed the altimeter which was running wild towards zero.

    “It’s no use,” he strained. “I can’t get us out of this.”

    The Grace Stone in Tammy’s pocket began to glow. They all looked to it as it expelled a brilliant flash of blue light. The light spread over the Beauty of Aqua as it righted and slowed.

    “Now what’s happening?” Lee asked.

    “I don’t know.” Bret turned the wheel. “It seems like we have control again.”

    The airship descended slowly out of the clouds towards a sand beach on Peanut Lake’s shore. From deck of their houseboat, Esteban and his father, Sebastian, watched the craft, covered in glittering light, approach the ground. Bret extended the landing feet as they gently touched down. Once they had come to a rest the light dispersed and the glow from the Grace Stone subsided.

    “Whoa,” Lee finally said. “What was that?”

    Franklin barely gave the entrance door time to open completely before he leapt out onto the ground.

    “Land!” he screamed.

    He kissed the cold earth as the others shuffled out. It was cold and snow fell in large flakes from the flat, light grey clouds blanketing the sky. It was eerily quiet with almost no wind.

    Peanut Lake got its name from its shape caused when two kettle lakes joined together. It was the largest lake in the Ottawa River system that fed Saginaw City. Many of the wealthier citizens of the Water Drop Kingdom chose to call it home for being close to events in the capital but still removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. Grand mansions sat on the wooded shores and houseboats sat along the docks. In the center of the lake was the famous floating stage sitting on the water like a majestic ship.

    “Hey!” they heard a voice call out.

    A Human midget with wavy, dark brown hair and a thick mustache walked up to them. He was dressed in a fine, blue waist coat and enough jewelry to make some in the Jewelry Kingdom jealous. Milro immediately recognized the man she had come to know very well.

    “Mr. Sebastian,” she said.

    “Excuse me.” Sebastian stopped. “Does one of you know me?”

    “I’m down here,” Milro called up to him. “It’s me, Princess Milro.”

    “Milro-sama.” Sebastian looked down to her, “is that really you?”

    “If only I got a sand dollar every time some one said that,” Lee thought out loud.

    “It’s kind of complicated,” Emily said.

    “Well,” Sebastian said with a shiver. “Why don’t you tell me inside my houseboat? It’s cold out here.”

    * * *

    Sebastian was a successful trader. He first met the royal family personally when Roman, the then Chancellor of the Moon Kingdom, suggested a wedding between his son, Esteban, and Milro. However, the wedding proved to be a plot to gain a political foothold in the Water Drop Kingdom.

    Despite the troubled start to their relationship, he became a close ally to the royal family. He provided a grant to help with the ailing cloud making machinery Roman claimed hinged on marriage. He also supported many projects that the kingdom pursued in the recovery after the Crisis of the Sunny Kingdom. Milro was glad that of all places they could be thrown it was into Sebastian’s lap.

    The small Human led them to his houseboat docked a little ways down the shore. Houseship might have been a better word for Sebastian’s luxurious home. It was the size of a small liner with a mansion rising from its deck. Everyone gaped in awe at the grand vessel.

    “Dude,” Lee said in amazement. “I think I missed my calling.”

    They followed Sebastian inside. The interior was just as grand and lavish as the exterior. Maroon and gold dominated the pallet and accentuated the warm lighting. Paintings hung from the walls and artifacts were displayed on tables and in glass cases.

    They came onto a balcony overlooking a spacious sitting room. It was two stories with a cathedral ceiling making it seem even taller. Tall windows provided a view of the lake on the opposite wall. Several sofas with plush, red upholstery were set around rectangular tables on the ornate carpeting. They walked down the curving staircase.

    “Please.” Sebastian spread his arm to a table. “Have a seat.”

    “Thanks,” everyone said as they sat around the table.

    “Would you like anything?” Sebastian asked.

    As if on cue, three young maids wearing black dresses and white aprons walked in. Bret’s emerald eyes lit up upon seeing the attractive, young women. He raised his hand and was about to make a request. Tammy grabbed his hand and pulled it down.

    “No thanks,” she replied. “We all ate before we left.”

    “Alright,” Sebastian said and turned to the maids. “You may leave.”

    “Yes,” the maids replied in unison and walked out of the room.

    Bret shot a sharp glare at the large Beaver.

    “When I saw the Beauty of Aqua landing, I assumed whatever happened in Saginaw City had been resolved.” Sebastian sat between Bret and Tammy. “You mind telling me what exactly happened.”

    “It all started last evening when I was about to go on my evening rounds,” Milro started. “I thought Nalro wanted to see me but it turned out to be a strangely dressed Walrus. He shrank me with a device and I discovered he was one of many who had already captured my parents and brother.”

    “Good God,” Sebastian gasped.

    “I escaped somehow and drifted out to sea,” Milro continued. “I was fished up by Ophelia and Lee and they brought me back to Saginaw City. We kind of picked everyone else up on the way.”

    “Well,” Sebastian said. “Any friend of Milro-sama’s is a friend of mine.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Emily said.

    “We drove the Walruses from the castle and freed the staff but we didn’t find my family,” Milro sighed. “We can only guess that they’re still holding them somewhere.”

    “We were also left with another mystery.” Tammy took the Grace Stone from pocket. “They called this a Grace Stone yet it’s not the right shape and they could get power from it individually.”

    “We were headed to the Sunny Kingdom hoping they would have some answers,” Lee added. “However, it seems like the weather turns against anything trying to approach it.”

    Sebastian rubbed his chin as he mulled everything they had said. “This is serious,” he thought out loud. “Unfortunately I can’t help you personally but I might know someone who can.”

    “Who?” Milro asked.

    “His name is Rosco,” Sebastian explained. “He lives just on the other side of the border in the Jewelry Kingdom. He’s an expert on metaphysics and might be able to help you with the Grace Stone and what’s been done to Milro-sama.”

    “That’s the best lead I’ve heard all day,” Lee replied. “Thanks, Mr. Sebastian.”

    “Could you also do me a favor?” Sebastian asked. “If you’re going to see Rosco, I would appreciate it if you could test something for me on the way.”

    “Sure,” Ophelia replied. “What is it?”

    “Come with me.” Sebastian hopped from the sofa. “It’s in my warehouse nearby.”

    * * *

    Not too far from his houseboat Sebastian had a large warehouse the protruded out over the lake. Compared to the elegant architecture of the other structures on and around the lakes it seemed unfinished and boxy. A large sliding door was set in the corrugated metal of the large building.

    “It’s actually good timing of you to come here,” Sebastian said as Lee and Tammy slid the heavy door open. “I’ve been hoping to pitch this to the government sometime this week.”

    The vast interior was as unfinished as the exterior with bare concrete for a floor and the metal tresses of the ceiling left exposed. It was cold inside and the smell of old wood filled the air. Sebastian threw a switch and the overhead lamps suspended from the ceiling slowly lit to add to the limited light from the outside.

    Crates and barrels of varying sizes and shapes were stacked one on top of another with a maze of aisles between them. Many of them bore the seal of the Water Drop Kingdom. They followed the midget as he led them through the maze.

    “What is all this?” Tammy asked.

    “As well as being a trader I’m also a philanthropist,” Sebastian answered. “I use this warehouse to store the results of the projects I’ve sponsored.”

    He grabbed a crowbar and pulled off the side of a nearby crate. He reached in the wood shavings and pulled out a palm sized device. It was blue and shaped like a rain drop with an LCD screen and small propeller at the top.

    “I personally like these.” He handed it to Lee.

    “What is it?” Lee asked.

    “Push the button,” Sebastian instructed.

    Lee pressed a small button on the side. After a couple seconds readings for the temperature, humidity, and pressure appeared on the screen along with zeroes for the wind speed and direction.

    “Cool,” Lee said. “It’s a handheld weather station.”

    The device read 3 for the temperature, 37% for the humidity, and 968 milibars for the pressure. He concentrated on the air and determined those readings seemed about right. “It’s pretty accurate too,” he reported.

    “It only takes the most basic measurements but could have its uses,” Sebastian said.

    “Can I have it?” Lee asked eagerly.

    “Sure,” Sebastian replied. “You can all have one.”

    “These could come in handy with these dramatic turns in the weather,” Ophelia thought out loud as she took one and placed it around her neck. “Are these things what you wanted us to test?”

    “No,” Sebastian said. “What I’m talking about is much bigger.”

    At the lake end was a large pool of water. Three craft sat in the water next to gaps in the railing. They were designed to resemble giant rays with four bladed propeller engines on the back of each wing and a two seated cockpit with an elongated canopy in the center of the body. They were painted light blue with the seal of the Water Drop Kingdom displayed proudly on the right wing.

    “These are the FS-I, the FS-II, and the FS-III,” Sebastian said as they looked at the craft. “We call them ‘Stingrays’.”

    “What are they,” Ophelia asked.

    “They’re the fusion of the best of aviation and submersible technology,” Sebastian explained. “Flying submarines.”

    “Awesome,” Bret said.

    “Current zeppelins rely on envelopes filled with either heated air or light gases like hydrogen and helium or vertical rotors to stay aloft,” Sebastian continued. “These machines use their aerodynamic design to fly through the air with much greater speed and maneuverability. The lack of a bulky envelop or rotors also allows them go straight from water to air and back again.”

    “Now that’s what I call progress.” Lee was impressed. “When can they take off?”

    “Immediately,” Sebastian replied. “They’re prepped and ready. They also use standard Water Drop Kingdom controls so there’s almost no learning curve for current pilots and submariners.”

    “That works for me,” Bret said confidently.

    “I have some experience with piloting submarines,” Lee said.

    “I’ve logged a couple hours in a zeppelin,” Tammy said.

    “Excellent,” Sebastian said happily. “I thought the short trip to Rosco’s would be the perfect chance to run them through their paces.”

    “It’s the best favor I’ve ever given,” Bret said, hopping on the wing of the FS-I. He had to balance a little as the craft bobbed in the water slightly.

    “These remotes control the canopy.” Sebastian took three devices with wrist straps from an alcove.

    He pressed the main button on each of them. The middle of the canopies lifted up and slid back. He handed them to Lee, Tammy, and Bret. They stepped onto the wings and sat in the cockpits. Bret and Franklin sat down in the FS-I, Lee and Ophelia in the FS-II, and Tammy and Emily in the FS-III. They all fastened and tightened the straps over their chests in an “X” with a fastener in the center.

    Sebastian pulled a lever on the wall to open an underwater exit. “Good luck,” he said. “I hope Rosco can help you out.”

    “How do we find them?” Ophelia asked.

    “He’s kind of a recluse,” Sebastian answered. “You can’t reach him with the Stingrays. You’ll find a lake on the edge of a foothill range to land at. You’ll know it by a giant weeping willow that hides the entrance to a tunnel. The tunnel will take you over an underground river to practically to his doorstep in a small valley.”

    “Lake, foothills, willow, tunnel, river, got it,” Bret said.

    “Thank you, Mr. Sebastian,” Milro replied. “Could you take care of the Beauty of Aqua while we’re away?”

    “I’ll keep it somewhere safe,” Sebastian replied.

    “Now let’s get this show on the road,” Bret said.

    He turned the ignition key and the controls and gauges on the panel in front of him lit up. The two other craft also activated as Lee and Tammy started them off. With the push of a button the canopies slid over them and closed with the hiss of an airtight seal.

    Milro watched as they slowly sank into the water. The surface crawled up the canopy until it let go as the vessel submerged completely. They started the propellers and the craft slowly pulled out into the lake.

    Milro watched schools of fish peel away from them. They probably saw these strange things as massive predators on the hunt for a meal. She could say with experience what that feeling was like.

    They picked up speed in the open water. Once Bret felt like they had enough speed he pulled back his control yoke. The elevators in the back of the wings pulled up, causing the nose to tilt up for the surface.

    Franklin felt queasy as they sped toward the surface. The Stingray breached the surface with the column of water. Lee and Tammy soon followed out of the lake and into the sky above it.

    “This is bad,” Franklin groaned.

    “What worng?” Bret asked, enjoying himself.

    “Flying is bad enough but flying in something heavier in air is just not right,” Franklin answered in an uneasy voice.

    “Don’t be a wuss,” Bret scoffed. “Tons of things heavier than air can fly. Birds. Bumblebees. Dutchmen.”

    From the surface, Sebastian waved and watched them grow farther and farther and farther away. They soon disappeared behind the veil of clouds still releasing a steady, gently shower of snowflakes. He waved until he could no longer hear the droning of their propellers.

    “Godspeed,” he said.

    “WAIT!” a voice screamed.

    Marcy and Betsy ran down the shore. The two stopped in front of Sebastian and gasped. Marcy grabbed him by his shirt and lifted the dwarf to her face.

    “Where are they going?” Marcy growled.

    “They’re headed to the Jewelry Kingdom,” Sebastian exclaimed in shock.

    “You have to give me an airship like theirs,” Marcy demanded. “I can’t leave Milro-sama’s side in her vulnerable state.”

    “I don’t have anymore,” Sebastian explained. “But I do have a zeppelin you can use.”

    “Where?” Marcy barked.

    “Over there.” Sebastian pointed to a craft made of a canal gondola attached to a life-sized, inflatable great white shark balloon.

    “We’ll take it.” Marcy dropped Sebastian and leaped into the gondola.

    “I’m not so sure about this,” Betsy said as she stepped in the gondola.

    “We must follow them,” Marcy proclaimed, pulling the cord of the engine. “Milro-sama needs protecting and we can’t leave her life in the hands of a few of teenagers.”

    The engine whirled to life and propeller began to spin. They lifted off the ground and turned in the direction the Stingrays were headed at a much slower pace.

    Milro and her new allies follow this latest lead to Rosco. Will Sebastian’s acquaintance be able to help untangle the mysteries of these recent events? Can they discover the nature of these supposed Grace Stones and the motives of the Walruses? What does the water creature Hydran have to with this? And, most importantly, where are Queen Yamul and the others?

    * * *

    Queen Yamul stared up at the sky. It was a brilliant blue in color with white, puffy clouds passing by slowly. However, there was no sun or other source of light in the sky. It seemed as if the sky itself was the source of light like she was staring at a giant monitor that sat like a dome above her.

    The human sized Beaver was sprawled out on the top of a grassy hill. She ran her fur covered hands through the grass. It seemed to be real grass and the dirt below seemed real as well.

    One of her ears perked up when she heard the faint sound of panting drawing near. She rolled on her side and saw King Wal of the Flame Kingdom lumbering up the hill to her. The stout, gray maned Lion, wearing a flame pattern aloha shirt and white Bermuda shorts, braced his hands on his knees and wheezed to catch his breath.

    “I need to get back in shape,” he groaned.

    Yamul sat up and then stood up. “What did you find?” she asked.

    “This whole thing is surrounded by a wall,” Wal panted. “There’s no way out.”

    Yamul grabbed the bottom of her light blue blouse and pulled it down to straighten it over her white and blue trimmed straight skirt. “I guess that should be expected,” she heaved an exasperated sighed. “Who do they have here?”

    “It looks like they got just about everyone,” Wal answered, his breathing becoming more normal. “All the royal families are trapped in here. But there’s no sign of your daughter. Auler and Sophie are missing too.”

    “They might have escaped,” Yamul thought out loud. “The question is, is that a blessing or a curse for them.”

    * * *

    They’re conversation was being watched on a closed-circuit monitor. A ring of smoke floated towards the black and white monitor and spread out along the screen.

    “The royal families of the Mysterious Planet,” a voice chuckled. “You were comfortable in the delusion of your might. Now you’re like rats scurrying around my maze.”

    Another ring of smoke spread out over the screen as Yamul and Wal walked away in opposite directions. The monitor switched to Princesses Fine and Rein doing a goofy dance and Princess Altezza staring on with a dumbfounded expression.

    “Your world is now mine,” the voice said coolly. “I might have been deprived of your weather making technology for now but it’s only delayed the evitable. I’ve knocked you from your apex of power and soon I’ll knock your entire civilization from existence.”

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  6. #6
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    Milro tried to move away but her body wouldn’t budge. She saw that her room was expanding…or…more specifically, she was growing smaller.
    Uhh...how do you grow smaller?
    She pulled a long, slim splinter off to use as an ore.
    Typo.
    Milro watched from her bathysphere.
    A princess gets loyal treatment, even when they are exiled
    Overall, I like your description, you clearly researched a lot to write this.
    Off-topic: You do realise you're heaps older than me, do you?
    Last edited by sweet_piplup123; 29th October 2008 at 7:50 AM.

    Surfing through the waves, diving deep into the sea,
    playing along the beach, having fun all day long.

  7. #7
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    The forums are being stupid and not letting me edit. So I had to delete the chapter and reload it.

    Chapter 5: Rosco

    The stingrays sailed through the skies over the Water Drop Kingdom. The aerodynamic craft sliced through the wind and passed in and out of the clouds floating lazily over the countryside. Bret took the lead with Tammy and Lee following closely behind to either side.

    “I’ve gotta get me one of these!” Bret declared loudly. “They fly like a dream.”

    “More like a nightmare,” Franklin grumbled.

    The Beaver stared forward at the monitor and controls in front of him. He tried to keep his eyes from looking to either side where he would see no ground. He tried to block out the drone of the propellers as well but that proved more difficult.

    “Don’t worry, Frank,” Bret said. “You’re in good hands.”

    The red haired half Beaver suddenly felt the urge to try something with this new craft. He pulled away from Lee and Tammy slightly to give himself room. He then yanked his control yoke to the side hard to spin the Stingray and invert it.

    “Oh, yeah.” Bret grinned and nodded in satisfaction. “Let’s see a zeppelin do this?”

    Franklin looked “up” to see the ground far below them. “I thought I’d never say this,” the Beaver screamed. “Thank God for zeppelins! Right this thing, NOW!”

    “Alright,” Bret grumbled. “Killjoy.”

    He righted the Stingray and fell back to Tammy and Lee.

    Milro sat on top of Ophelia’s monitor, watching the scenery pass out from under the starboard wing. They were flying over a thick mixed forest. The branches of the deciduous trees were full of lush, green leaves and the pines rose from the canopy like needle covered spires.

    She had always thought the Water Drop Kingdom was the most beautiful land in the Mysterious Planet both as its princess and as an artist. She found no end to the inspiration from the wide variety of environments and the great diversity of peoples. And all of it seemed to have its own beauty and charm.

    She lost her train of thought when she heard a click. She perked up an ear and glanced forward to see Lee picking up the speaker of his radio.

    “Hey, Bret,” Lee said into his speaker. “Do you know where we’re going?”

    “I think I know of the lake Sebastian told us of,” Bret replied. “You just have to follow me.”

    “Famous last words,” Tammy scoffed, rolling her eyes.

    “Hey,” Bret snapped. “You didn’t have to come along.”

    “Someone has to be sane here,” Tammy shot back.

    “That’s enough you two,” Lee interjected.

    Milro smiled as she listened to the heated exchanged between the pilots. She tried to stifle a giggle but it quickly grew into full laughter.

    “I don’t see what’s so funny,” Ophelia grumbled, leaning back and crossing her arms.

    Milro’s laughter subsided. “It just seems the more things change, the more they stay the same,” she replied.

    Listening to them reminded her of how dysfunctional the little band formed around Fine and Rein was. A crisis always seemed to bring together the most unlikely of allies.

    The pilots returned their attention to flying. The craggy peaks of the Snow Mountain Range soon emerged from beyond the Line of Obscurity. They were a line of tall, permanently snow-covered mountains along the Water Drop Kingdom’s west coast. The Stingrays climbed higher into the atmosphere to pass over the tallest peak.

    Milro looked down at the flattened top as they passed close to the snow-covered surface. The Monjara who lived there were going about their business. The large, hairy creatures cut large blocks from the ice covering the lake that took up much of the broad summit and pulled huge fish from the holes. A few noticed the aircraft flying by and waved to them.

    “It’s amazing,” she thought out loud. “Despite all the chaos, things seem normal out here.”

    “The outer provinces always seem to be the least affected by issues in Saginaw City,” Ophelia replied. “We’re run more by the local government.”

    The pilots turned the stingrays to the southwest and followed the line of mountains towards the border with the Jewelry Kingdom.

    * * *

    The peaks lowered in elevation as they continued along without much conversation. They summits dropped below the snow line and the tree line soon after. As they passed over the border into the Jewelry Kingdom the terrain had become rolling hills covered in deciduous trees.

    “There it is,” Bret called over the speaker.

    Ahead of them was a large, sparkling lake surrounded by a marshy valley nestled in the foothills. There were quite a few weeping willows but one close to a sharp, rocky rise was positively gigantic. It seemed to fit the description Sebastian had given perfectly.

    Bret, Lee, and Tammy began lowering them towards the valley. They looped back to line up with a stretch of clear land and extended their landing gears. They touched down on the grassy soil and the craft rolled to a stop in front of the massive tree. The propellers slowed and came to a stop and the displays went dark as they cut the power.

    The canopies slid back and steps dropped down. The guys grabbed their tall hats and placed them back on their heads as the six workers climbed out of their cockpits and jumped down onto in the soft soil. Bret, Lee, and Tammy pressed the button on their controls and canopies slid shut again. Ophelia held Milro gently in her hands as they gathered around the edge of the tree.

    The air was pleasantly warm and the sweet aroma of spring blooms wafted along on the gentle breeze. Fair weather clouds rolled along slowly against the blue sky and the Sun’s Blessing was a waning gibbous overhead.

    “It’s nice to be in some normal weather,” Lee thought out loud, deeply inhaling the fresh air.

    Ophelia held her sensor in the air. She read off the readout, “temperature 17 degrees, humidity 54%, pressure 1001 milibars, and winds out of the west-south-west at 6 kilometers an hour.”

    “Does anyone wonder if the strange weather is just over the Water Drop Kingdom?” Emily asked. “Or could it be this place just luck out and got a pleasant set of conditions.”

    “I don’t know,” Lee said with a shrug.

    They all turned to the huge tree before them. Its expansive canopy lay against the face of the foothill that abruptly rose from the marshy ground. Its long, spindly branches covered in long, narrow leaves swayed gently in the breeze.

    They walked through the drooping curtain of leaf covered branches. Under the tree was dim with a few hostas and other shade loving plants poking out from the otherwise bare ground. Small pools and points of light shining through gaps in the canopy danced on brown earth as it seemed everything except the twisted trunk of the tree around them was in motion.

    “It’s beautiful,” Ophelia said in awe. “It’s like a fairy’s hideaway.”

    Lee looked around and saw some branches lapping into a hole in the rock face. “Over there.” He pointed.

    They followed him into the mouth of a cave. The ground under their feet quickly became hard and uneven. Spears of luminescent crystal jutted from the walls and floor and gave off a soft, blue glow that provided a little illumination. It was cold, damp and eerily still with the soft sound of water dripping off stalagmites echoed around them.

    The workers took out long, bulky flashlights with black casings. They shined the powerful, white beams ahead into the dimness. Along with crystals, stalagmites and stalactites extended towards one another on either side of a narrow path with a few having come together.

    Hundreds if not thousands of bats flew out of darkness towards them. The ducked as the flying mammals flapped and squeaked in their flight over them.

    “I hate caves,” Tammy grumbled.

    “So far, so good,” Bret thought out loud. “We found the lake, the tree, and the tunnel. All we have to do is find the bridge over an underground river we’re home free.”

    “Look at all the stalagmites and stalactites,” Emily said as she looked at the cave walls and ceiling. “Which is which?”

    “The rhyme I learned was you have to hold tight to a stalactite and you might…” Tammy was interrupted by a thud. They all looked back to see Bret had tripped over a small lump sticking out of the ground. “…trip on a stalagmite,” she finished.

    “Thanks for the advanced warning,” Bret grumbled as he stood up.

    “We’re definitely in the Jewelry Kingdom,” Lee said, running his hand up and down a spear of crystal. “Crystals are as common here as water is in the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “I wonder how much this is worth,” Bret thought out loud.

    “This stuff is basically worthless,” Tammy replied. “It’s called Lumier Quartz. It’s basic Milky Quartz and the glow is caused a bacterium that lives in the crystal. Because it’s quartz, it can’t be made into jewelry easily and it’s so common it holds little value.”

    “That’s enough sightseeing,” Emily cut them all off. “We need to find that underground river.”

    “I think I hear it.” Lee cupped his ears.

    “I do too.” Ophelia did the same.

    “I don’t hear anything,” Bret said, straining his ears.

    “Don’t feel bad,” Lee replied. “Our ears might look like a normal human’s but they’re much more powerful than even a Beaver’s.”

    “Well,” Bret huffed. “Ours are furry and better placed.”

    “Shut up, Bret” Emily snapped.

    A figure watched from the shadows as they walked along. The humanoid creature appeared to be made of ice and was dressed in clothing resembling a ninja’s garb that took on the hue and texture of the cave wall. Its cold eyes fell on the emblems on their shawls and hats and the tiny princess in Ophelia’s hands. It ducked further into the shadows.

    * * *

    Milro and the others eventually came upon the underground river. The sound of rushing water echoed off the cave walls, drowning out all other noises. They knelt down and peered over the lip of the gash in the earth. The beams of their flashlights fell on frothy rapids rushing by.

    “Sebastian wasn’t kidding when he said river,” Bret yelled over the roaring torrent.

    “This was probably a confined aquifer at one point,” Tammy said. “The softer material must have been worn away by erosion leaving the flowing water.”

    “That’s a lovely geology lesson.” Franklin backed away from the edge. “How does it get us across?”

    “There should be a bridge somewhere around here,” Lee said.

    He scanned the length of the chasm. While Shark People’s sight wasn’t any more powerful than most other races, they could see very well in the dark. Their tapetum ludicum, mirror like tissue behind their retinas, allowed them to see in almost complete darkness and gave them their silver eye color. Even the glow of the crystals was enough for him to make out shapes and his eyes fell upon an arch of rock spanning the gap.

    “It’s there,” he said, pointing his flashlight.

    The others shined their flashlights through the darkness. It looked to only be wide enough for them to cross single file. Franklin gulped dryly as he followed it with his eyes.

    “We have to cross that?” he said uneasily.

    “I don’t see a better option.” Lee shrugged.

    He turned off his flashlight and dropped it in his side pocket. He stepped gingerly onto the rock first. Ophelia with Milro in had, followed Tammy, Bret, Emily, and finally Franklin walked carefully onto it.

    “Remember, Frank,” Emily said. “Just don’t look down.”

    Frank looked down at the rapids below. “Now she tells me.” He slapped his hand over his eyes and faced forward and grabbed her furry tail with his free hand.

    The ice ninja watched from the shadows. It silently produced a large snowflake in its hand. It threw it like a shuriken and it spun straight into the arch of rock.

    The entire structure broke apart under Milro and the others’ feet. They fell screaming into the turbulent waters and were carried down stream. The ninja watched them disappear into the darkness before withdrawing into the shadows itself.

    Ophelia held Milro as they floated down the winding rapids. They dropped down small waterfalls and dragged under to be thrown up again. Even Lee and Ophelia coughed and choked as their physiology was confused by being thrown in and out of water so rapidly, giving them no time to adapt.

    The water twisted through the channel cut through the stone. It brought its helpless passengers dangerously close to sharp outcroppings of rock and crystal both in the cave walls and jutting out of the swirling water. Bret noticed one particular cluster of crystals with a very sharp looking spear facing straight up stream for him.

    “Holy crap!” he screamed, rolling over in the water to just avoid being skewered.

    They rounded another corner and saw light ahead. They almost instantly rushed out into the open air of a long, narrow valley. They looked ahead and gasped in horror at the waterfall they were barreling towards. They barely had time to brace themselves before being thrown over the cliff.

    The workers landed with loud splashes and threw columns of water in the air. Milro fell into a pink flower that cushioned her fall. She gathered herself and looked around her. The flower she had landed in belonged to a potted plant sitting on the deck of a modest little shack with waterwheel turning in the falls.

    An older man with wiry, gray hair burst from through the door. He wore a flannel shirt under denim overalls over his gaunt frame. He looked around with his face screwed into an irritated sneer.

    “What in hell is going on out here?” he shouted in his gravely voice.

    Lee and the others burst from the water and pulled themselves onto the adjacent dock. They were exhausted and ached from the punishing ride. They sprawled out onto the planks of aged wood and tried to catch their breath.

    “It’s official,” Bret groaned as he pulled himself out of the water. “The universe hates us.”

    “I don’t think the universe had anything to do with this,” Lee panted, placing his hat back on his head. “That bridge was cut.”

    “Cut!?” Bret exclaimed. “How do you cut a stone bridge?”

    “With ice,” Lee answered, producing a chunk of rock with a cleanly cut face covered in ice. “There was likely water in the cracks and imperfections of the arch. Something froze that water and the expanding ice acted like a wedge to split the rock.”

    “What could freeze water that fast?” Ophelia asked.

    “Cryo grenade,” Emily suggested.

    “We would have noticed a cryo grenade going off,” Lee replied.

    The old man walked up to the six youths and planted his fists on his hips. He glared down at them with his gray eyes behind a pair of glasses.

    “Care to explain what you’re doing on my dock?” he growled.

    “Would you believe we’re dying?” Franklin groaned.

    “Do it somewhere else,” the man grumbled. “I moved all the way out here so I wouldn’t be disturbed.”

    “Alright.” Lee rolled over onto his stomach. “Before we go,” he said as the man turned and walked back to his shack. “Could you tell us where we can find a man named Rosco?”

    “That depends.” The man stopped. “Why are you looking for him?”

    “We need to see him because he might be able to answer some questions of vital importance to the Water Drop Kingdom,” Lee answered, standing up. “We were sent here by Sebastian.”

    The man smiled and gave a soft laugh. “You need to look no farther then,” he said. “Rosco is me.”

    “Thank you, God,” Franklin shouted.

    “I’m Lee,” Lee said.

    “Ophelia,” Ophelia said.

    “Bret.”

    “Tammy.”

    “Emily.”

    “Franklin.”

    “Wait a minute,” Emily said, looking around. She then screamed, “where’s Princess Milro-sama!?”

    “Oh, no,” Ophelia exclaimed. “I think I let go of her!”

    They all looked at the turbulent river flowing swiftly towards rocks and crystals. The six young workers felt a chill run down their spines.

    “I’m over here,” Milro called out. “I landed in this flower.”

    They all turned to Milro standing on the flower and waving her hands. The young workers heaved a sigh of relief.

    “What?” Rosco asked as he followed their eyes to the tiny princess.

    His tired, gray eyes widened when he saw her. “My word,” he exclaimed. He walked up to her and knelt down to see her better. “What happened to you, young lady?” he asked.

    “She was shrunk by a bunch of Walruses,” Tammy answered. She took the Grace Stone from her pocket. “That and this was why we came to see you.”

    “Well,” Rosco said. “Let’s go inside then. I’ll see what I can do for you.”

    From behind a large cluster of crystals, the ice ninja watched them walk into the shack. It narrowed its eyes in apparent distain of their survival. It leapt from its hiding place and bounded quietly out of the valley.

    * * *

    The interior of Rosco’s shack was cramped. The halls were narrow and the few rooms were small. The windows were also small increasing the closed in feel to the space. What alleviated the claustrophobia inducing atmosphere were the bright lamps that seemed to send light into every corner and the golden, glossy stain of the hard wood ceiling, walls, and floor. The noise of the nearby falls was also blocked out to the point of being barely audible.

    Rosco led them to the largest room in the back. It had several workbenches littered with tools and papers and more papers taped to the walls. Roscoe sat on a metal stool as the others filed in.

    “So, Sebastian sent you my way, ey?” Rosco said. “How is the old hobbit?”

    “As rich as ever,” Tammy answered.

    “Sebastian was one of my biggest supporters after I went into exile is probably the reason I still have body and soul together,” Rosco said. “I was a leading scientist for the Jewelry Kingdom once but that’s ancient history.”

    “What happened?” Milro asked.

    “Eh?” Rosco cupped his ear. “I can barely hear you, Milro-hime.”

    Milro remembered she had been around people with superhuman hearing. Her voice was natural soft. At such a small size she must have been barely audible to a normal Human’s ear.

    “She asked what happened,” Ophelia said for her.

    “Oh,” Rosco said. He furrowed his brow and grumbled, “I had to escape the suffocating grip of the Army of Orthodoxy that holds every piece of civilization in this Goddamn rock.”

    “The Army of Orthodoxy?” Lee asked in confusion.

    “My euphemism for people who would prefer to look away from discoveries that might force them to rethink our understanding of the universe,” Rosco growled. “They were energized by the Crisis of the Sunny Kingdom. Before then, everyone wanted to be at the forefront of metaphysics. Then, once they saw the dangers, they wanted to lock it in the nearest closet and throw away the key.”

    He shrugged. “I won’t bore you with my ranting.” He held out his hand. “Can I see the rock?”

    Tammy handed Rosco the blue Grace Stone. The gray haired man turned on a bright lamp and fitted a magnifier over his eyeglass. He adjusted the lamp and held the gem in front of the light. He nodded as he rolled it in his hands slightly.

    “Has it displayed any metaphysical properties?” he asked.

    “It saved us from a downdraft and a powered that Walrus’ fighting machine,” Lee answered.

    “I don’t know how much of a help I’d be,” Rosco said. “The Sunny Kingdom has kept almost all information on the Prominence and related items secret for security reasons. Most of what I’ve seen and heard is second hand. However, from what I can tell this is a Grace Stone. It’s the right size, the right color for the Water Drop Kingdom’s stone, and has that glow I’ve seen in every description as well as possesses metaphysical power. If it isn’t a Grace Stone, I don’t know what else it could be.”

    “What about the shape and the ability to use it individually?” Tammy asked.

    “The change is likely due to crystal contamination,” Rosco answered. “They were originally ovular suggesting they were made of a kind of glass. Someone heated this thing and introduced a crystal, likely garnet, to create this shape. Judging by the regularity of the polyhedron and speed of formation, I’d say it was likely done artificially.”

    “Who would want to crystallize a Grace Stone?” Ophelia asked.

    “Perhaps it’s what allows it to be used individually?” Lee replied.

    “A keen observation, my boy,” Rosco replied. “The Grace Stones were crafted with one purpose; produce enough power to defeat the Black Crystal no matter what, even if has to steal the power of life itself. This fundamental change in this Grace Stone’s physical properties could have changed its metaphysical properties, or the metaphysical properties were changed and the crystallization was a side effect.”

    “Wait a minute,” Bret interjected. “Could someone please tell what the hell you’re all talking about? What is a Grace Stone? What is this Black Crystal? Am I the only one in the dark here?”

    “Well…uh…” Milro started. “I’m not too good explaining things in just words and since Mr. Rosco can’t even hear me…perhaps I should use pictures.”

    Lee picked up a pad of paper and a small pencil. “Here.” He set them down in front of Milro.

    Milro picked up the pencil. Although it was cumbersome, she managed to get a handle of it and starting drawing. Everyone watched as she drew a picture of the Mysterious Planet’s exterior. Their small world was a lumpy orb with a star shaped hole from which light poured out. She then drew a ball with a long tail racing towards their planet.

    “The Black Crystal was a crystalline life form that came to the Mysterious Planet long ago,” Milro explained. “It’s origins remain a mystery to this day.”

    She peeled back the page and started drawing another picture quickly but with amazing quality and detail. She drew the Sunny Kingdom. The floating kingdom in the center of the world was dominated by a large dome with the castle coming out of the top and the Sun’s Blessing, a hemisphere of glass, made up from the bottom half. On a deck extending from between the dome and the Sun’s Blessing were totem cones arranged in groups around the kingdom. She then added spears of crystal extending from the Sun’s Blessing.

    “It imbedded itself in the Sun’s Blessing, the artificial star that shines on the interior of the shell and provides the surface with light and energy,” Milro continued to explain. “The Sun’s Blessing began to die in its presence and it seemed like all life would perish.”

    She began drawing a third picture. It was of a woman with long, flowing hair and wearing a long sleeved gown. She drew a scepter like object topped with a tulip like ornament in her right hand that she held high over her head. Around her, Milro drew crystal shattering.

    “Princess Grace of the Sunny Kingdom used her power to defeat the Black Crystal and lock it and its allies away,” she continued.

    She started a fourth picture. This one was of a slightly gaunt, middle-aged man with a push broom mustache wearing a long, coat and a hat with a long feather coming from the top. She surrounded him with smoke that curled and wafted.

    “However, it was not a permanent solution,” Milro continued. “The Black Crystal had the insidious ability to manipulate people through the darkness in their hearts. Six years ago, the Chancellor of the Moon Kingdom, blinded by his ambitions, found the Black Crystal and released it. Once again, it attacked the Sun’s Blessing and began to weaken it. That was the reason behind the year long Crisis of the Sunny Kingdom.”

    “So, that’s what happened that year,” Bret thought out loud.

    Milro drew Fine and Rein in her next picture. The two girls were practically identical except Fine kept her hair in two pony tails while her twin, Rein, kept hers longer and in a single ponytail. And, in reality, Fine had red eyes and pink hair and Rein has aquamarine eyes and blue hair making them look very different. She drew them in gowns similar to Princess Grace’s and holding similar scepters.

    “The spirit of Princess Grace bestowed her power onto Fine and Rein, the current princesses of the Sunny Kingdom to defeat the Black Crystal,” she explained.

    She drew one last picture of the Grace Stones. They were ovular gems, identical in appearance. In reality each was of a different color. She arranged them with six surrounding the seven in the center.

    “The Grace Stones were seven treasures, one for each kingdom,” she explained. “They increased the power of the Prominence but only if they were all together. If so much as one was missing, using the Final Prominence would prove fatal.”

    Milro put down the pencil. “Obviously Fine and Rein were victorious,” she said. “We thought the Grace Stones were destroyed in the final battle. Apparently, that was not the case.”

    “Somehow, the Walruses found our Grace Stone and changed it,” Lee thought out loud. “However, why kidnap the royal family and does it have anything to do with the weather in the Water Drop Kingdom going all screwy?”

    “Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that,” Rosco said. “Changing the metaphysical properties of matter takes some doing. I can’t imagine the kind of power it would take to alter the fundamental characteristics of a Grace Stone. And I don’t know how this could tie into the weather or what they would gain from kidnapping your royal family.”

    The youths let out a collective groan. It was starting to look like they had been sent on yet another wild goose chase.

    “What about Milro-sama?” Emily asked. “How did they shrink her?”

    Rosco leaned down to look at Milro more closely. Her miniaturization seemed perfectly proportional. He bobbed his head in a slow nod.

    “It seems as if she’s been subject to force nullification,” he answered.

    “Uh…what?” Bret asked, furrowing his brow in confusion.

    “Matter is mostly empty space, maintained by forces within atoms,” Rosco explained. “Weakening those forces will reduce the volume and apparent weight of matter as augmenting those forces would cause them to increase.”

    “That makes sense,” Bret said. “I guess.”

    “Can you reverse it and return her to normal size?” Ophelia asked.

    “Uh…no,” Rosco said. “I might know a cherry pie when I see it but that doesn’t mean I know the recipe. It’s been a long standing theory but, until now, no one has figured out how to do it.”

    They all let out another groan.

    “Terrific,” Tammy grumbled. “We came all this way and almost got killed for nothing.”

    “I’m sorry.” Rosco shrugged. “I just don’t have enough information.”

    Ophelia sighed. “That makes a lot of us.”

    “Well,” Lee said with a sigh. “Thanks anyway. This might help to point us in the right direction.”

    The aquatic humanoid suddenly felt a yawn coming on. He pulled out his watch and opened it. According to it, it was approaching midnight back home.

    “It’s getting late,” he said.

    “You can stay here for the night,” Rosco suggested. “I don’t have much but you’ve probably all had a long day. It’s the least I can do for journeying so far to see me.”

    “Thank you,” everyone said.

    * * *

    The guestroom was rather small, especially for six people. Nevertheless, everyone found a place to sleep. Ophelia and Bret hung hammocks one above the other, Tammy took the fold down bed, Emily and Franklin took the ends of a red sofa, and Lee took the floor since it was the only place he fit. Milro folded a table napkin to make a mattress and pillow on the wooden table in the center and spread another for a blanket.

    “Thank God this day is over,” Bret groaned as he climbed into the top hammock. He threw his hat and coat on a peg sticking out of the wall and kicked his shoes on his feet before lying down on the mesh. “If I had to face another life threatening peril I was gonna puke.”

    Tammy and Ophelia hanged their shawls, bandanas, and the outer layer of their dresses on pegs. Ophelia lied down in the bottom hammock and Tammy sat on the bed.

    “Lemmy is probably minding the lamp right now,” Ophelia thought out loud.

    It wasn’t the first time she, Lee, and her mother had spent a night away from the lighthouse. Usually their autumn supply run required it. However, she couldn’t help but worry about the lighthouse, especially now that she was charged with its upkeep.

    “Where’s Lee going?” Milro asked when she noticed he was leaving the room.

    Ophelia looked up and just saw him disappear out of the doorway. “He’s probably going out to stargaze,” she replied. “It helps him sleep after a stressful day.”

    * * *

    Lee climbed out onto the corrugated metal roof and laid down on it. Night had fallen and the air was already building a slight chill as the soft sound of crickets chirping joined the sound of water crashing over the nearby falls. Emily poked her head out and saw him holding the back of his head in his webbed hands and gazed at the clear sky.

    “What are you doing out here?” Emily asked.

    “I’m just stargazing,” Lee replied casually.

    Above them, in the midnight blue sky, were countless points of light. The Full Moon cast a pale yellow light on the landscape, giving it the look of being covered in a thin layer of gold dust.

    “You know,” Emily said, lying down next to him, “they aren’t real stars. They’re fist sized satellites that convert the long wave radiation emitted from the surface back into visible light.”

    “And the sun and moon are artificial constructs as well,” Lee replied. “Hell, even the clouds and wind are created artificially in this world. It’s why we have jobs.”

    “Our ancestors went to great lengths to recreate the environment of our original homeworld,” Emily said. “And to this day, people like you and me make our livelihood maintaining that environment.”

    “Still, it’s nice to forget all that and look as tiny points of light in the darkness,” Lee said. “I’ve always found it relaxing. Why don’t’ you join me?”

    “Okay,” Emily replied.

    The Beaver laid down next to him and pushed her hair from her eyes to look up at the sky. The surrounding countryside was almost completely dark, providing little interference to the stars in the sky. They seemed too numerous to even start to count. Only the sky near the surface remained empty as their sphere of stars curved up to parallel the surface.

    “You can’t see the stars like this back home,” she said.

    “I’d go up on the roof the lantern house,” Lee said. “It’s amazing what you can see when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

    He returned to his gaze skyward. As he scanned the skies he noticed something. He could just barely make it out but there was an area behind the stars that seemed just the slightest shade lighter than the rest of the night sky.

    “What is it?” Emily asked when she noticed he was concentrating more.

    “I thought I saw something,” Lee replied. “I looked like a milky dish northwest of the zenith.”

    Emily looked to the northwest. “I don’t see anything,” she replied. “Though, Beavers aren’t known for their keen eyesight.”

    Lee shrugged. “Perhaps I’m just tired,” he said, massaging his eyes with his thumb and middle finger. “We should turn in.”

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  8. #8
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    There is something wrong with the forums because I'm getting server error screens all over the place. So, I'll give the story notes I have here their own post.

    Story Notes:
    -There is some disagreement on the name of the Mysterious Planet. The original name is ふしぎ星 (Fushigiboshi) and that is what’s used in the dialog of the show. “Fushigi” has two commonly used translations. The first is “wonder” (an example is Alice in Wonderland is translated to Fushigi no Kuni no Alice in Japanese). Another common translation is “mysterious” (like in the Mysterious Dungeon games).

    The semi-official translation is Wonder Planet as that is what translators in Singapore used for the manga. I however use Mysterious Planet for a particular reason. I find mysterious better describes my portrayal of this world.

    -Yes, I used a pun that would only work in the English language. It’s canon that the Mysterious Planet speaks English as its primary language so don’t get on me for it.

    -Fans might have noticed I described Wal’s appearance very differently in the Chapter 4 from how he’s portrayed in the concept and anime. This is because I found his attire ugly and unfitting (the Flame Kingdom is hotter than Hell and he wears fur). Wal also reminds me of a friend from high school who wore flame pattern aloha shirts a lot.

    This also goes into my portrayal of the Mysterious Planet which is a bit more stylized in design than the concept. There will be more instances where clothes and other design aspects will be different. Also, some of the princes and princesses will have their attire modified to more closely mirror their parents (Princess Sophie of the Windmill Kingdom being the most noticeable example) kind of as my way of showing they’re older.

    -I’ll this right now. This story is written in a continuity in which the second series (Futago Hime Gyu!) never happened. There are a few (a very few) elements of the second series that I will include but not in the context of the second series.
    Last edited by The Big Al; 15th November 2008 at 4:17 PM.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  9. #9
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    Chapter 6: The Tip of the Iceberg

    Everyone bedded down for the night. They would make there way to back to Saginaw City in the morning and see where they could go from there.

    Milro was sleeping soundly until a faint noise caused her ear to perk up. She slowly opened her eyes and pushed herself into a sitting position. The room was dark with faint, blue light coming from the tiny window. It was eerily silent; making her wonder if it was her imagination.

    The noise had come from where Lee was laying the floor. She stood up and walked to the edge of the table. Lee was lying on his back in a soldier position on a rug.

    “Hey, Lee,” she said with a yawn. “Did you hear on something?”

    Lee’s head rolled towards her and Milro had to slap her hands over her mouth to stifle a scream. A long spear protruded from his forehead surrounded by a circle of blood that appeared almost black against his pale skin in the dim, blue light and a line running down his forehead, nose and cheek. His eyes were glazed over with the silver of his iris and pupil almost indistinguishable from the white and frozen in a lifeless stare. His lips were peeled back just slightly and his body was limp.

    He’s dead, Milro thought. But, she looked around the darkened room, what killed him?

    A blue dot appeared on her chest. She followed a thin beam of light in the dust to the tip of a stalk for a laser sight. She had to stifle another scream when she saw Waltu standing over Lee’s body.

    The Walrus’ entire body heaved as he sucked and expelled breath through his tightly clenched, knife blade sharp teeth. A terrible kind of madness filled his bloodshot eyes as they stared straight at her. He looked like a ghastly creature, drained of all traces of sentience with only the beast remaining. He rested a spear rifle against his shoulder with the bead on Milro and his flipper twitching on the handle.

    “I’ve found you…Princess,” he hissed.

    Milro was paralyzed with fear. She could only spin her head from side to side at the others for help. They all had spears protruding from their heads, necks, or chests with blood surrounding the points of entry. She could only guess they were slain as well.

    “They’re dead,” Waltu said between wheezing fits of insane laughter. “They’re all dead.”

    “No,” Milro cried out. “No way.”

    “Yes way.” Waltu cackled. “Everyone you love, everyone you hole dear, is gone. You’re all alone now.”

    Milro fell to her knees and trembled uncontrollably.

    “That’s what you fear the most, isn’t it?” Waltu said with a grin of satisfaction and wheezy, maniacal laughter. “Being alone. Dying alone.”

    Milro didn’t answer. She was so overcome she couldn’t even cry. With a cackle the Walrus steadied his weapon.

    “Die,” he said flatly.

    He squeezed the trigger. A spear blasted from the barrel and skewered the tiny princess. She was thrown back as the long spear of steel bore through her small body.

    Milro woke up with a start and bolted into a sitting position. A cold sweat came over her and her heart was beating so hard it felt like it would burst from her chest. Her torso heaved with every breath as she looked around the darkened room.

    She walked up to the edge of the table, still trembling slightly. She looked down on Lee laying the rug below. His chest rose and fell as he snored faintly. She heaved a sigh of relief as she saw he was very much alive. The others were also unharmed and sleeping soundly.

    Her heartbeat and breathing slowly returned to normal as she walked back to her bed. She lied down and pulled the blanket over her again.

    It was just a nightmare, she thought. Lee and the others are alright.

    She rolled over on her back and stared up at the round, darkened light fixture suspended from the wooden ceiling above her.

    But, what about my parents and brother, she thought. Are they alright? Are they even still alive?

    She felt tears well up in her eyes as she slipped back into her slumber. She didn’t notice a point of yellow light pass through the ceiling into the guestroom. It silently hovered over Lee and flew to Bret and Ophelia, then Emily and Franklin, and Tammy before coming over Milro. No one seemed to notice it, even as it grew in intensity until it filled the room with bright light.

    * * *

    Milro was brought back to consciousness by a warm, very comfortable feeling coming over her body. She slowly opened her eyes and as her sight came into focus she saw that the ceiling the light fixture above her were gone. She sat up and saw that she was lying in a field of golden, glowing grass. A blanket of clouds covered the sky and was lit from below by the glow of the grass and columns of light rose from the surface in several areas. A delicately sweet smell wafted through the air along with the warmth.

    “Where am I?” she thought out loud.

    She saw Lee and the others lying around her. However, they were fully dressed and about the same size as her. They slowly awoke and sat up.

    “What’s going on?” Franklin groaned, still half asleep. “Where are we?”

    “I don’t know,” Lee replied.

    He turned and saw Milro. “Milro,” he exclaimed, “you’re back normal.”

    “I hope that’s it,” Bret said.

    “I am afraid she is not,” a tender, female voice said. “What you are seeing are not your physical forms. I could not bring all of you here physically so I had to bring your astroforms.”

    “Who said that?” Ophelia asked as they stood up and looked around. “And what do you mean by ‘astroforms’?”

    “See for yourself,” the voice replied.

    Ophelia held up her hand. It was translucent and she could see the grass and the horizon through it. It was like her entire body, clothes and all, was made of gossamer.

    “My word,” she exclaimed. “She’s right.”

    “But who is she?” Bret asked. “Where is she?”

    “I am here,” the voice answered.

    A light appeared a few meters from them. It coalesced into a human shape and faded to reveal a female Human with long, flowing, pastel pink hair and warm, blue eyes. She wore a layered gown with long sleeves a circular ornament on the bow over her chest bearing the emblem of the Sunny Kingdom.

    “Princess Grace!” everyone exclaimed as they immediately recognized the Princess of the Sunny Kingdom from long ago.

    “Greetings,” Grace dipped slightly, “Milro, Lee, Ophelia, Tammy, Bret, Emily, and Franklin.”

    “She…knows…our…names,” Bret exhaled in Tammy’s ear while holding his arms to his body waving his limp hands like a ghost.

    “Knock it off, Bret,” Tammy snapped at him.

    “Hello Your…uh…Grace,” Lee said, being at a loss for a better word. “I thought you had gone on to eternal rest.”

    “I am one with the Sun’s Blessing,” Grace replied in an almost ethereal calmness in her voice and facial expression. “I will exist as long as it exists. I am effectively immortal with all its advantages and disadvantages. However, that is not why I brought you here. I must speak with you on the gravest of matters.” Grace looked to Milro. “However, I would like to set your mind at ease first, Milro.”

    “Eh?” Milro looked up.

    “You’re worried about the well being of you’re parents and brother,” Grace said. “Worry not. They are alive and well. However, they are being held captive with the rest of the royal families.”

    “All the royal families are being held captive!” Emily exclaimed.

    Grace nodded. “The Walruses you’ve encountered are only a part of a much greater threat to the entire Mysterious Planet,” she said. “It is of this threat I must speak with you.”

    “Why us?” Ophelia asked.

    “You have already saved the Mysterious Planet from this threat, at least, for now” Princess Grace answered. “If they had taken the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom, they would have become unstoppable.”

    “So that’s why they were so desperate for our access codes,” Emily thought out loud.

    “Indeed,” Grace said. “This new threat exerts its power through the weather. The recent, chaotic nature of the Mysterious Planet’s weather patterns is their doing. They sought to control the technology your kingdom and the Windmill Kingdom use to make the weather to increase their power. They were foiled but they continue to work towards some nefarious goal by other means.”

    “Who are they?” Lee asked.

    “I don’t know for certain,” Grace replied. “However, at their core is something very powerful and very ancient. I am afraid not even my power is a match for it.”

    “Well,” Bret groaned. “We’re screwed.”

    Milro felt her heart sink. Her ears drooped over and she looked down as she thought over everything.

    She couldn’t argue with Bret’s crude but accurate description of their situation. The Prominence held seemingly limitless power. She could hardly believe there was a force in the universe that could surpass it.

    Yet it did exist and it stood between her and her family. She didn’t know how they could hope to defeat but they had to. Her family had always been strong for her when she was need and she had to be strong for them. She looked up to Princess Grace.

    “Where are they holding everyone?” she asked.

    “There are being held in place you cannot reach at the moment,” Grace replied. “They’re working out of the Sunny Kingdom and have surrounded it in an impregnable shield of storms.”

    “We found that out the hard way,” Lee asked. “How do we get past it?”

    “The key lies in the Grace Stones,” Grace explained. “Those involved in this conspiracy found the Grace Stones and altered them to better suit their plans. They were then taken to their respective kingdoms. If you can gather the six Grace Stones from the surface kingdoms, their combined power will be enough to reach the Sunny Kingdom.”

    “Well,” Tammy said. “We already have one. We only need to grab five more.”

    Milro turned to the six young workers. “You’ll help me?” she asked.

    “Of course,” Lee said.

    “We gave you our word, didn’t we?” Ophelia added.

    Lee placed his translucent hand over his sister’s. Tammy placed hers on them.

    “I’m with you too, Milro-sama,” she said.

    “Count me in as well.” Emily reach up placed her hand with the others.

    “I might as well,” Franklin said, doing the same. “Who wants to live forever?”

    “I do, actually,” Bret said. He then shrugged and smiled. “But, what the hell?”

    He placed his hand with the others.

    “We’re with you to the bitter end,” they all said at once.

    “Oh, thank you,” Milro gushed. She placed her hand on everyone.

    “For the royal family and for the Mysterious Planet,” they all said.

    A gentle smile came on Grace’s face. “I know you will not fail,” she said. “I would start your search in Crystal City.”

    She created a blinding light that washed over them.

    * * *

    The Zubuzubu Swamp was a massive wetland that took up much of the southern regions of the Water Drop Kingdom. A few isolated pockets of civilization were scattered among the lakes and bogs but for the most part it remained untamed. It was considered an undesirable region by most of the mammalian races but aquatic reptiles and amphibians saw it as an ideal place to live.

    A steady rain fell from gray clouds hanging over the swamp. Two gators stood on a green of a golf course near Geronita’s fortress in Hell Township. One bent over and lined up his putter next to his white golf ball. The other held the flag and glared at his colleague as he eyed his angle to the hole.

    “Just take the put,” the large, dark green scaled reptile growled.

    As the first tapped the ball into the hole, a white and blue squad car and two police vans drove up the long dirt road leading to the large, stone building. They came to a stop at the front doors. A golden furred, Labrador like policewoman stepped out of the passenger side and walked around the car to open the back door.

    Geronita stood up and glared at the canine officer. He held up his cuffed hands for her to remove the restraints. More golden furred officers removed the cuffs off the Gators as they exited the wagons.

    The constable, who looked like an anthropomorphic Newfoundland, poked his head out of the driver’s side door window as his deputy got back in the passenger seat. He tore a bite off a bar of chewing tobacco and chewed on it like a cow would chew cud. Geronita couldn’t keep himself from curling his lip in disgust.

    “I suggest you stay in your swamp, Governor,” the black furred constable said. “We don’t need your crap on the coast.”

    “Fine,” Geronita growled.

    “Oh,” the constable said with a smile. “Tell us if you see any tiny princesses.”

    The Newfoundland exhaled a loud laugh. He paused to spit a wad of tobacco filled spit in the mud. He pulled his head back in his car and drove off with the vans. Geronita glared at them as they rounded a corner. Satisfied with their departure, he turned to the door.

    His fortress was an ancient castle made of stone. His Gator supporters were usually scattered about the halls but they had made themselves scarce as he walked through the cold halls. Only the sound of his wide, flat feet flapping on the floor accompanied him to his throne room.

    The Frog grabbed an amber colored bottle of moonshine whiskey as he stomped into the large room and pulled the cork from its neck. The large chamber was made of gray stone like the rest of his fortress with a high ceiling and tall windows with water cascading down in sheets. He plopped down in the wooden chair and took a generous swig from the bottle.

    What’s going on here? he thought. How did Milro end up ten centimeters tall and what happened to Yamul and her hobbit of a husband? More importantly, how can I use this to my advantage?

    He had yearned to overthrow Queen Yamul since the day she sent him into exile. That ambition only grew when her daughter was born. The thought of that simpering little girl being his monarch made him ill.

    He was always on the lookout for the opportunity he needed to dethrone her. He waited patiently through the crisis of the Sunny Kingdom for Yamul to make a fatal misstep. Unfortunately, she made none that could take full advantage of.

    Now, the perfect opportunity had practically dropped in his lap wrapped in a bow. Queen Yamul was missing and her daughter had been poetically shrunk down to just ten centimeters tall. Yet, not only could he not capitalize on this gift, he was humiliated by that uppity pup. He instead spent the night in Cheboygan’s jail while he, the female, and the giant Beaver escaped as a punctuation mark to his humiliation.

    I’m not giving up on this one, he thought. This might be my last, best chance. I need to know what exactly has happened. He bobbed his head in a nod and his wide mouth peeled into a sly grin. Yes. Then I can figure out the best way to use this to my advantage.

    He took another swig of the sweet liquor. “Spy!” he bellowed.

    A mosquito flew down from the rafters and landed on his armrest.

    “You called, Geronita-zzzama?” the mosquito bowed.

    “Go to Saginaw City and keep your ear to the rail about what has happened to the princess,” Geronita instructed. “Come back here when you have news.”

    “Of courzzze,” the Mosquito replied and flew off.

    Geronita leaned on one hand and took another swig.

    I’ll make this situation the wedge I need to finally take the Water Drop Kingdom if it kills me, he thought.

    * * *

    Milro slowly opened her eyes to look upon the light fixture and ceiling. She was lying on the table, still ten centimeters tall. She wondered if all that had been another dream.

    Frequent, ticks came from the ceiling from something solid hitting the metal roof. She looked out the window and saw a heavy shower of small chunks of ice fall from the gray clouds. It was already light and everyone had left the room.

    A two meter long measuring stick had been leaned against the table and propped against the wall. It reminded her of how the people of the Seed Kingdom often needed ramps and ladders to navigate the other kingdoms where everything was designed for people so much bigger than they were. She had never thought she would be using similar means.

    “So begins my second day of ten centimeters tall,” she said to herself. “Hopefully, I don’t have to get use to this.”

    Everyone had gathered in the kitchen. Lee was making pancakes as the others sat around the table. The sweet smell wafted through the air, making the others’ mouths water. He flipped his latest cake onto a stack on a plate. He placed it in front of Tammy and poured more batter into his skillet.

    “You make some mean chocolate chip hotcakes, Lee,” Emily said, cutting into stack in front of her. “You have to give me the recipe.”

    “Actually, these aren’t my specialty pancakes,” Lee replied. “Rosco doesn’t have any hagfish so I had to settle for chocolate chips.”

    “We’ll manage,” Bret said. He turned away to stick out his tongue and stick his finger in his mouth as if he was trying to gag.

    “Now those smell good,” Rosco said as he walked in.

    “I’m working on your stack now,” Lee said.

    “Don’t ask what he would have put in them if he could,” Tammy said, shoving some in her mouth and being thankful it was chocolate chips she was eating.

    “Thanks for your hospitality,” Franklin said.

    “I thought it was the least I could you for you after coming all this way,” Rosco said. “And I’m glad to see young men and women like you with such open minds. It makes me hopeful for the future.”

    Milro walked into the kitchen. Franklin set down his hand and placed her on the table.

    “Ah, Milro,” Ophelia said. “We had been talking a strange dream we all seemed to have last night. We were wondering if you had it too.”

    “You mean the meeting with Princess Grace?” Milro asked.

    The all nodded.

    “I did,” Milro replied. “I thought it was just a dream but with we all had it…”

    “Still,” Bret scoffed. “You have to admit that was pretty outlandish. I mean some evil threat is screwing with the weather and kidnapped all the royal families of the Mysterious Planet.”

    “Stranger things have happened,” Lee replied.

    “We might as well go to Crystal City like she suggested anyway.” Tammy took out the Grace Stone. “My parents have a friend there who knows about crystal formation and could help better explain what’s been done to the Grace Stone. Visiting the capital, a princess of a foreign land would be expected to pay her respects to the royal family.”

    “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Bret joked. “We wouldn’t want to put the royal family of the Jewelry Kingdom into debt.”

    Tammy smacked him upside the head.

    “I see what you’re saying,” Lee said. “If the Royal Family is there last night was the mother of all flukes.”

    “But, if they aren’t there,” Ophelia paused before continuing her sentence, “then we have a much bigger problem on our hands than we first thought.”

    “I have a more immediate problem we have to deal with,” Franklin said. “The bridge to the Stingrays crumbled under our feet yesterday.”

    “There’s another bridge a couple kilometers downstream from here,” Rosco said. “It’d be rough going but you’ll have to climb the foothill back to the lake.”

    “How hard could it be?” Bret said confidently.

    * * * 1 hour later * * *

    “Pretty damn hard it would seem,” Emily answered Bret’s earlier question as they stared up a large pine.

    “Are you to the top yet?” Ophelia called up.

    “Almost,” Lee’s voice answered.

    Lee pushed back the needle covered branch to look out on the rolling foothills before him. The pine he was perched in towered high over the forest, giving him an excellent view. The sleet had turned to a pouring, cold rain that cut his visibility significantly. He scanned the landscape through the gloom for a sign of the lake and surrounding marsh they had landed in.

    They had followed the river like Rosco suggested to a wooden bridge. They then followed it back up and climbed the hill. However, the thick forest was disorientating and they had followed the rise in elevation to the summit but weren’t sure on the direction they should go back down.

    “This doesn’t make it to any of my friends,” Tammy growled. “If they find out I got lost, I’ll never live it down.”

    “Now I know that dream was messed up,” Bret said. “We’re actually expected to save the world? We can’t even get ourselves out of the woods.”

    “Do you see anything?” Ophelia called up.

    “Not yet,” Lee yelled.

    His eyes then fell upon the lake. “Bingo,” he exclaimed.

    He quickly climbed down to the others. “It’s that way.” He pointed in the direction he saw the lake.

    They climbed over and under fallen trees, massive boulders, and clusters of crystal. They finally came to a cliff overlooking the lake. They all heaved a sigh of relief as they gazed upon the lake and wetland around its shores.

    The Stingrays were sitting in front of the weeping willow like they left them the day before. They carefully climbed down the steep face onto the marshy soil. They walked up to the craft and Bret, Lee, and Tammy were about to open the canopies.

    “Wait a minute,” Bret said. “They’ve been sitting out here alone all night. Knowing our luck, something took out that bridge and probably rigged these things to explode when we start them or something.”

    “You’re being paranoid,” Emily scoffed.

    “Our Princess is ten centimeters tall,” he said, extending one finger. “The weather is suffering from schizophrenia.” He extended a second. “Walruses attacked the capital. Their leader tried to kill us with a heavily armed war machine he was hiding in the moat. The weather tried to kill us. A stone bridge broke apart under our feet because the water just so happened to suddenly freeze at that moment and sent us into rapids that almost killed us. On top of that we’ve supposedly been sent on a quest to save the Mysterious Planet by the spirit of Princess Grace against an evil force that controls the weather which, guess what, will probably try to kill us,” Bret yelled. “Can you blame me for thinking something is out to get us?”

    “We’ll check them for tampering before we leave,” Tammy said.

    “Agreed,” Lee and Ophelia said at the same time.

    They walked up to the craft more cautiously. They knelt down to look at the underbellies. There nothing unusual on the smooth, blue hulls. They also looked into the wells of the landing gears which were also clear.

    “So far so good,” Milro said. “It doesn’t look like there’s anything on the outside.”

    “Of course there wouldn’t be,” Bret said. “Everyone knows they sabotage the engines and the fuel cell.”

    “You’ve seen way too many espionage movies,” Ophelia said in response.

    Tammy rolled her eyes and smacked her forehead to pull her hand down her face. “Those require keys to access.” She took out the set of keys for her Stingray. “Seriously, Bret,” she said. “You’re making a huge deal out of nothing. These things were designed to be nearly impossible to tamper with.”

    “We should still check,” Bret replied.

    The panels to access the engines and fuel cells didn’t appear to have been forced open. They opened them up and closely inspected the fuel cells for possible attempts to ignite the explosive hydrogen gas they held and the engines were tampering. Despite Bret’s concerns, they found everything in working order.

    “Are you satisfied now, Bret?” Tammy asked as she closed the panel on her Stingray’s left engine. “There’s no sign of tampering.”

    “Yeah,” Bret replied.

    “Then let’s get going,” Lee said.

    He pressed the button on his control. The canopy of his Stingray slid back and the steps lowered down. He climbed on the wing and jumped into the pilot’s seat. Ophelia climbed into back seat with Milro in hand. The others got into their cockpits and strapped in.

    The pilots inserted their ignition keys. They paused for a fraction of a second before turning them. The fuels cells started up and their controls and displays came on like they should. Everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief as they started their engines.

    “Where do we go from here?” Lee asked. “We have plenty of fuel to go to Crystal City and then head back home. Do we go to Crystal City like Princess Grace-sama said? Or do we just head for home?”

    “Like I said at Rosco’s,” Tammy replied. “I have an acquaintance in Crystal City who might be able to better explain what’s happened to this Grace Stone if nothing else.”

    “Besides,” Emily said. “There’s nothing lost in checking.”

    “So we’re heading for Crystal City?” Milro asked.

    “I say we go to Crystal City,” Tammy answered first.

    “Crystal City,” Ophelia said.

    “Crystal City,” Lee agreed.

    “Crystal City,” said Emily.

    “Crystal City,” said Bret.

    “Crystal City,” Franklin said. Though, he loathed the thought of spending more time in the air.

    “It’s settled then,” Bret said. “We’re headed to Crystal City.”

    High above the lake, Marcy and Betsy’s zeppelin putted along. Betsy was visibly sick as she hanged over the edge. Marcy’s hair, usually in a well kept bun had several hairs sticking out and both their clothes were disheveled and soaked.

    “I think I’m gonna die,” Betsy groaned. “I’ve never seen the weather as turbulent as that.”

    “Quiet,” Marcy snapped. “We must protect Milro-sama, come Hell or high water.”

    “We don’t really have to do this,” Betsy said. “She’s sixteen and perfectly capable of taking herself. On top of that she’s with six workers.”

    “All of them are in their teens and early twenties,” Marcy said. “In Milro-sama’s vulnerable state we can’t leave in such inexperienced hands.”

    “Agist,” Betsy grumbled under her breath.

    “What?” Marcy snapped.

    “Nothing,” Betsy replied.

    Se looked ahead and saw they were drifting towards the lake. She picked up a set of binoculars and placed them to her eyes. The Stingrays were turning around and their propellers were beginning to spin.

    “They’re moving out,” she reported.

    Marcy heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” she said. “We can head for home.”

    The Stingrays accelerated down the strip of land and picked off the ground. At first it looked like they were headed back the way they came. However, they swung towards the west and quickly disappeared into the gloom.

    “Where are they going now!?” Marcy exclaimed.

    “Please tell me we aren’t following them,” Betsy whined.

    “You better believe we are,” Marcy growled and opened up the engine. “I want to know what they’re up to.”

    In the Stingrays, Milro and the others wondered what awaited them in Crystal City. Were they really contacted by Princess Grace, the legendary Princess who bestowed Fine and Rein with the power of the Prominence six years before, and did something really wait for them there like she said?

    * * *

    A steady rain fell on Crystal City, the capital of the Jewelry Kingdom. The raindrops froze on contact with any surface, slowly incasing the city in a building coat of ice. The water ran down the slopes of the brilliantly colored, gem shaped roofs of the buildings and froze into icicles. More icicles formed on the curving, golden lampposts and the flagstone streets were covered in a slick, transparent sheet. Branches were cracking and snapping from their trees under the growing wait of ice that showed no signs of relenting.

    This scene was made more eerie by the abandoned streets as the citizens minimized their time outdoors. Crystal City was a major center of commerce. The streets were usually bustling with activity with buyers and sellers dealing in the country’s bountiful supply of gems and precious metals or the jewelry and ornaments made from them. They now were practically empty and even the famous Décor Plaza was abandoned.

    Overlooking it all from the top of a hill of crystal was the Jewelry Kingdom’s castle. The grand structure was made towers topped with brightly colored gems and adorned with details of gold and more colorful gems. Red and yellow topped towers sat on either side of the tallest tower in the center with a brilliant green gem reaching towards the gray sky. Like everything else, it too was being slowly entombed in ice and was eerily still.

    * * *

    The ice ninja walked into one of the treasure rooms under the castle. Gold and silver coins and gems of every color and shape were piled in heaps on the marble floor. The ninja stepped into a relatively bare area and knelt on one knee. No longer needing to hide, its garb became a flat gray in color. It held its masked head low as an indication of its failure.

    “I don’t believe it,” a gravelly voice growled. “How many lives does that princess have?”

    The ninja remained silent.

    “Damn Hydran and Waltu,” the voice snarled. “They were supposed to capture the entire royal family. Now the Water Drop Kingdom might be on to us.”

    The ninja didn’t reply.

    “However,” the voice thought out loud. “This could be an opportunity. They’ll probably be coming here in search of our Grace Stone. If I were to capture Princess Milro, Huracan-sama would reward me richly.”

    The voice pondered for a second before yelling, “Copter-Bot!”

    The heavy, metal door at the far end of the room groaned as it slowly opened. A humanoid robot with a blue body and chrome details walked in. His head was silver and designed in an art deco style and two helicopter blades were folded over a motor on his back. The LED “eyes” in his goggle like visor blinked.

    “You called, Krycek-sama” the machine man asked in his high-pitched electronic voice.

    “I have a mission for you, my mechanical friend,” the voice, apparently named Krycek, said. “Go into the city and spread the word that the Water Drop Kingdom is intentionally causing this ice storm.”

    “Uh…sure, boss,” Copter-Bot replied uneasily.

    He walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.

    “If they come, the people will mob them for screwing with their weather,” Kyrek thought out loud with a cruel chuckle. “They’ll rip those meddlesome peasants to shreds and my minions can spirit Princess Milro away in the ensuing mayhem. I’ll kill two birds with one stone.”

    Chunks of ice began to work their way out of the hills of treasure and slowly gathered in the center of the room.

    “However,” he said. “I should take some measures of my own just in case.”

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  10. #10
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    Jan 2004
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    Hello, it's been a long time since I updated. However this should be well worth it as Milro and the others have their first encounter with one of the five elemental generals. Can they possibly survive Krycek's icy onslaught?

    Chapter 7: Breaking the Ice

    Milro and the others saw Crystal City emerge from the sheets of rain. The Jewelry Kingdom was not as lush and green as the Water Drop Kingdom. The woods were more isolated and surrounded by areas a bare, gray soil. The capital was a cluster of brilliant color in the midst of the drab nestled in gem encrusted hills.

    “There she blows,” Bret yelled as they approached. “Crystal City is the capital of the Jewelry Kingdom and home to more jewelers than the rest of the Mysterious Planet combined.”

    “It might also hold answers as to what happened to the royal family,” Lee thought out loud. “Or should I say royal families.”

    “You honestly believe that dream?” Bret scoffed.

    “It’s the best lead we have,” Lee replied.

    “We’ve said that a few times already and they all led to dead ends,” Bret grumbled.

    “Enough of this,” Tammy snapped. “We’ll find out when we get there. Now, where should we land?”

    Bret scanned the city that got closer with every second. He could make more details and noticed a fairly wide river passing through the city. “We’ll land in that river,” he said.

    The townspeople peered out their windows at the strange aircraft as they came about to line up with the river. They glided down and reduced speed. The craft lowered into the water, throwing wakes to the sides. They slowed and floated up to a dock along the stone bank before coming to a stop.

    They opened their canopies and climbed out onto the wings. The air was cold and clammy and they could see steam come from their mouths and noses with every exhale. Tammy looked at the wooden planks of the docks and the thick ice covering it with air bubbles flowing under it.

    “What is this?” she said.

    Ophelia held up her sensor and took a reading. “Temperature negative two, humidity 92%, pressure 969 milibars, and winds north northeast at eight kilometers an hour,” she reported. “This is freezing rain.”

    “Freezing rain?” Milro asked.

    Ophelia nodded. “It happens when a thin layer of subfreezing temperatures forms under a layer of above freezing temperatures,” she explained. “Rain or melted snow falls through this cold layer and is cooled but doesn’t freeze until it hits a surface.”

    “Judging by the thickness of the ice,” Lee pondered aloud, “I’d say it’s been falling since yesterday morning.”

    The two aquatic humans became very quiet and went deep into thought.

    “What is it?” Bret asked.

    “This isn’t a random weather anomaly,” Lee replied in a quiet voice. “Freezing rain requires such specific conditions its almost impossible for them to hold for over a day, especially in such chaotic conditions like we have now. That is, unless they were being maintained artificially.”

    “Like the thunderstorm over Saginaw City,” Tammy said.

    Lee nodded. “However, this is lot more complicated,” he said, holding his chin as he pondered. “In Saginaw City, the lightning was being caused by a monster inducer charging the atmosphere. I don’t know what could maintain an ideal temperature profile for freezing rain.”

    “It’s starting to look like that dream was right,” Bret said. “We are facing some kind of evil cabal controlling the weather.”

    “And they must be the ones holding my parents and brother,” Milro said.

    “Well,” Ophelia said. “First thing’s first. We should head to the castle and either pay our respects to the royal family or find them missing.”

    They all nodded. Everyone placed their feet gingerly on the slippery dock and walked carefully to a set of nearby stairs. They were even more cautious climbing up the slick, rickety steps to street level. They steadied themselves on the street which was also slick with ice. Many of Crystal City’s residents had gathered in the streets and watched them come up.

    The vast majority of the townspeople were Humans. A few raccoon like Pokopo and swine like Bubu were also among the crowd. Several of the small, humanoid robots that served as the kingdom’s workforce were also in the crowd that had gathered. They were all finely dressed and well decorated with bright and colorful jewelry.

    Their curiosity turned to shock and they flinched when they saw the six workers.

    “They’re from the Water Drop Kingdom,” someone in the crowd screamed. “Everyone, run for your lives!”

    The townspeople slid and fell over each other as they dashed, screaming, for the buildings surrounding on the plaza. They ran into the buildings, slamming and locking the doors behind them. They even drew curtains and put closed signs in the windows of shops.

    “What the hell?” Krycek exclaimed from his vantage point in the castle. “You’re supposed to be ripping them apart, not running from them in terror.”

    Milro and the others were dumbstruck as they watched the people flee. The streets were abandoned almost immediately. A young man and woman stood in the middle of the street.

    “Stay perfectly still,” the brown haired man whispered in the girl’s ear. “I heard they can’t see you if you don’t move.”

    The workers stood behind them and stared at them with more than a little irritation. It was no secret the Water Drop Kingdom was not well liked. Rain had long had a negative stigma tied around it like a noose which by proxy fell on the Water Drop Kingdom and its people. However, they had never even heard of anything like this reaction to their arrival.

    “Okay,” Emily broke the awkward silence. “Not the welcome I expected.”

    They all heard a loud a crack. An ice laden limb snapped from a tree. It pulled bark from the trunk as it crashed to the ground.

    “I know the Jewelry Kingdom is known for its ice but this is ridiculous,” Bret said.

    “This is terrible,” Milro said, watching in dismay at the city being slowly entombed. “Who could want to do this?”

    “I don’t know,” Ophelia said.

    Copter-Bot snuck up to them as they stared on at the bizarre landscape around them. While they were distracted, he snatched Milro from Ophelia’s hand. The tiny princess let out a scream as he dashed away from them.

    “Milro-sama,” they exclaimed.

    “Help!” Milro screamed.

    “Milro-sama,” Bret and Tammy yelled as they ran after the machine man.

    “Copter-Bot:” Copter-Bot called out. “Flight Mode.”

    The blades on his back rose up and folded out. They quickly spun up and lifted him off the ground. Bret and Tammy jumped for him but missed and went sliding down the street.

    “And of course he had to be able fly,” Tammy grumbled.

    “It wouldn’t be us if he wasn’t,” Bret replied in a grumble.

    Milro tried to get free. She wasn’t being held tightly enough to hurt but she couldn’t free herself from his grip.

    “Please,” she pleaded. “Let me go.”

    “Oh, I’ll let you go,” Copter-Bot replied with a cruel chuckle. “When I deliver you to Krycek-sama.”

    “Help!” Milro screamed.

    “Milro-sama!” the others yelled.

    “Quick.” Tammy jumped to her feet. “We have to catch him in the Stingrays.”

    “It’s no good,” Bret said as he stood up. “By the time we got them started up and in the air he’d be long gone.”

    “What about your power?” Lee asked Ophelia.

    “It’s no good at that range,” Ophelia answered.

    Lee looked away, at a loss for answers. His eyes fell up on a nearby cluster of crystal with particularly long, thin spears. His eyes brightened and a sly grin came onto his face as an idea hatched in his mind.

    “I got an idea,” he said. “Everybody,” he threw his finger forward, “go long!”

    Everyone started running after Copter-bot. Lee grabbed a spear of crystal and slowly pulled it out. It was well over a meter long with just a few centimeters in width with a nice hexagon profile. It’d make a perfect harpoon. He planted his feet as best he could on the slippery street and took aim at the fleeing helidoll.

    “Alright,” he said, rearing up. “Here we go.”

    He hurled the long crystal forward with all the power he could put into it. It shot through the sky towards Copter-Bot. It tore through the upper part of the arm holding Milro.

    “What!?” Copter-Bot exclaimed. “I’ve been disarmed!”

    “Bull’s eye,” Lee said with a smirk.

    Milro screamed as the severed arm plummeted with her still in its grasp. Ophelia slid to stop under it. “Gotcha,” she said as she caught and cradled the arm.

    “Are you alright, Milro-sama?” she asked.

    Milro heaved a sigh of relief. “I am now,” she said. “Thank you.”

    “Wow,” Tammy said as she and the others clapped.

    Ophelia curtsied to their applause.

    “Hey!” Copter-Bot snarled. Everyone looked up as he flailed his remaining limbs in a midair tantrum. “What have to done to me?”

    “He thinks we’re done?” Lee said to himself as he pulled out another spear.

    He threw it at the now stationary helidoll. The crystal skewered Copter-Bot through his torso and bore straight into his motor. Sparks flew from the cylindrical motor as it shorted out and his blades quickly slowed to a stop. He plummeted to the ground and fell into a gold dumpster studded with colorful gems. The impact caused the door to fall shut with a loud clang over him.

    Lee ran up to them. “Oy vey,” he huffed. “Protecting a ten centimeter tall princess is a real pain in the gills.”

    “Damn, man,” Bret said. “You’re aim is deadly.”

    “When you’re accuracy determines whether you eat or not…” Lee replied.

    “Hey,” Copter-Bot groaned as he shakily lifted up the dumpster lid. “Gimme back my arm.”

    Tammy took the arm from Ophelia. She pried open the hand and gently handed Milro to the Shark Woman. “This arm?” she asked.

    “Yes,” Copter-Bot snapped. “Let me have it.”

    “Okay,” Tammy said. “You asked for it.”

    She balled the hand into a tight fist and threw it at Copter-Bot. The fist plowed into his face and threw him back. The lid fell down again with a loud, echoing clang.

    “I walked right into that one,” Copter-Bot groaned.

    “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Tammy said, wiping her palms against one another.

    “What was his malfunction?” Lee asked.

    “I don’t know,” Milro said. She was still a little shaken from this latest ordeal. “He said something about a person named Krycek.”

    “Great,” Tammy grumbled. “It seems like the more we seek answers, the more questions we run into.”


    “I’m sorry, Milro-sama,” Ophelia apologized. “I should have been paying more attention.”

    Milro shook her head. “It’s alright,” she said. “I’m safe now.”

    Lee caught something out of the corner of his eye. Someone had pulled away their curtain slightly to peek out. As soon as he turned his head they ducked away and let the curtain fall closed again.

    “Alright, this is starting to get creepy,” Lee said. “Why are they so afraid of us?”

    “I don’t know,” Bret said. “But that stunt probably didn’t help our image.”

    “Is that you, Tammy?” a voice asked tenderly.

    They all turned around to see a little old lady holding a bag of groceries. She was a short and fairly stout woman with her gray hair in a three lobed bun and a white apron over her blue dress. She adjusted the eyeglasses in front of her green eyes.

    “Martha?” Tammy replied when she recognized her.

    “It is you, my child,” Martha said. “My, have you gotten big.”

    “Trust me,” Lee said, cupping his hand to the side of his mouth as if he was trying to keep Tammy from hearing. “It’s all muscle.”

    “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you,” Martha said.

    “I believe it’s been seven or eight years,” Tammy replied.

    “Wait a minute,” Bret interjected. “Why aren’t you fleeing from us like everyone else?”

    “Oh, you have to forgive them,” Martha answered. “They heard a nasty rumor and have taken it as the gospel truth. I’ll explain inside. I should really get out of his wretched weather.”

    Copter-Bot lifted up the lid and glared at them as they left.

    “This isn’t over, Water Drop workers,” he fumed. “I shall have my revenge.”

    The dumpster was suddenly jolted. Hydraulic arms were lifting it over the large, gold hopper on a silver garbage truck. It shook Copter-Bot and the rest of the garbage into the hopper. The arms dropped the dumpster down clumsily before the truck drove off.

    * * *

    Martha led them to one of the gem roofed buildings off the plaza. It seemed a little fancier than the others with a door in the second story leading out onto a balcony. Inside was cozy and warm, especially compared to the clammy conditions outside.

    The six looked around the room. The floor was made of white and black tiles and the walls were painted in a cool, light blue color. Modest rings, head ornaments, and other pieces of décor were arranged neatly in glass display cases and a cash register sat on a table.

    “Is Martha the acquaintance you were talking about?” Lee asked.

    “No,” Tammy replied. “I was talking about Mr. Serias, the owner of this décor shop.”

    “I’m only his house keeper,” Martha added.

    Bret noticed a few photographs on a nearby table. One of a young, red haired woman in a full-length pink dress caught his eye. She was standing between a mustached man wearing a leather apron and a woman wearing a blouse and skirt.

    “Who’s the cute red head?” he asked eagerly.

    “That would be a young Princess Elsa of the Sunny Kingdom,” Martha answered. “She came here to be an apprentice of Serias’ parents when she was about your age.”

    “Figures,” Bret said with a deflating sigh.

    “You’re about two decades late on that one,” Tammy said.

    Ophelia set Milro down on the table. She looked at the other photos. One was of Fine and Rein when they were of infants. She couldn’t help but giggle as the pink haired Fine seemed so natural with a pair of baby bottles.

    Fine and Rein had told her about their first meeting with Serias. Their mother, Queen Elsa, had trained under his parents and they decided to follow in her footsteps. They found him in a fierce rivalry with another jeweler known as Mrs. Butterfly to see who could make the flashiest jewelry.

    He wasn’t happy. His parents had always taught him to make jewelry with his heart and his heart wasn’t in the rivalry. The twins wound up reminding him of that and he went back to making more modest, wholesome jewelry like his parents.

    “You’re home already, Matha?” a voice asked.

    A middle-aged man with blond hair tied back in a ponytail walked in. He wore a brown, leather apron over a shirt and carpenter pants with several precision tools sticking out from the pockets. It was hard to tell under the apron but he appeared to be rather wiry with large ears on the sides of his long head.

    “I wound up running into an old friend,” Martha said. “Does this young lady look familiar?”

    He turned to the giant Beaver and laugh joyfully. “Tammy,” he announced.

    “It’s good to see you too, Uncle Serias,” Tammy said.

    She hugged the wiry man who returned the embrace. They then kissed each other on one cheek and then the other.

    “Look at you.” Serias patted Tammy on the shoulder. “A member of Environmental Maintenance like you always dreamed.”

    “And you certainly look different from when I saw you last,” Tammy replied.

    “After I ended my rivalry with Mrs. Butterfly, I decided my appearance should reflect my work,” Serias said. “After all, I’m here to sell my décor, not myself.”

    He looked past her at the others. “Who are your friends?” he asked.

    “It’s more like colleagues since we only met yesterday,” Tammy answered. “We’ve come here on very serious business for the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “We have to break the bank of the local casino,” Bret said. “We even brought of pair of card sharks with us.” He pointed to Lee and Ophelia.

    Tammy shot him an annoyed glare. “The joker is Bret,” she said. “The blue haired twins are Ophelia and Lee.”

    “Pleased to meet you,” they said at the same time.

    “They’re twins?” Serias asked.

    They nodded in response.

    “Then there’s Emily and Franklin,” Tammy said as they bowed their heads, “and Princess Milro-sama.”

    “I pleased to make your acquaintance, Your Majesty.” He bowed before Milro. “However, I always thought you were taller.”

    “It’s a long story,” Lee said.

    “Well, make yourselves at home and you can tell me all about it,” Serias said. “Would you like anything?”

    “No thanks Mr. Serias,” Emily replied.

    “We were wondering,” Ophelia said. “Could you tell us what’s up with the people around here? As soon as they saw we were from the Water Drop Kingdom, they fled in terror. Martha said it was a rumor.”

    Serias nodded. “It started this morning,” he explained with a clear tinge of annoyance in his voice. “Someone claimed the Water Drop Kingdom was causing this ice storm on purpose. They probably think you came here to do them harm.”

    “We aren’t responsible,” Ophelia shot back. “Besides, even if we wanted to, freezing rain is caused by temperature.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” Emily said. “Whenever the weather goes wrong, everyone blames the Water Drop Kingdom for it. You should see the mountain of hate mail and death threats Operations gets every single day from all over the Mysterious Planet.”

    “Hate mail and death threats?” Milro exclaimed.

    “People just can’t seem to be happy with the job we do,” Emily said. “They always complain about it raining when it’s not supposed to or not raining when it is. They make those complaints known to us in the bluntest of terms.”

    “I think they’re unreasonable,” said Martha with disdain in her voice. “You’re kingdom plays a vital roll in our lives and so many men and women pour their heart and soul into making sure we all have good quality rain. They’re ingrates for tearing you down and complaining about the rain not complying with their trivial schedules.”

    “It’s our lot in life,” Lee said with a shrug. “Rain has long had a negative stigma attached to it which also falls on us for making it.”

    “We don’t let it get to us,” Bret added. “We instead mock it on the radio.”

    “To change the subject, how do you know Tammy, Mr. Serias?” Franklin asked.

    “My family has long believed an intimate understanding of crystals and gems and how they form helps us incorporate them in our décor. Every one has its own story and personality which determines in which kind of piece and where it goes,” Serias said. “I studied geology with her parents.”

    He motioned to a picture hanging on the wall. It was of a much younger version of himself and a young Beaver couple. They stood, beaming with pride, in front of an orange gem the size of a small vehicle.

    “My parents came to see him as a brother and my siblings and I saw him as an uncle,” Tammy said.

    “I’m glad to see you again and that you’re doing so well,” Serias said. “Now, what business do you have in the Jewelry Kingdom?”

    “It actually concerns you,” Tammy said, taking out the Grace Stone. “We were hoping you had some answers about this.”

    “What is it?” Serias asked as he took the gem delicately in his hand.

    “That is a Grace Stone,” Franklin said. “However, it’s been drastically altered both physically and metaphysically.”

    “We were hoping you would know how it was turned from glass to crystal,” Tammy said.

    Serias eyed the crystal carefully. Being a jeweler and a geologist, he saw things in gems and crystals that most didn’t. He understood their formations, luster, color, and hardness as a story of how they came into existence. This gem that had been handed to him told a very interesting story indeed.

    He had been trained to recognize an artificial crystal on sight. Some of the more unscrupulous dealers would try to pass cheaper, artificially created gems off as natural stones to get a higher price. This gem was clearly created artificially. However, it was of a quality he had never seen before.

    “Step into my office,” Serias said. “I’ll explain the best I can.”

    They followed him into a workroom with a table covered in tools with several designs pinned to a bulletin board above it. Bret, Ophelia, and Lee sat on a cushy, orange sofa while Tammy, Emily, Franklin, and Martha took chairs. Serias sat at the desk.

    “Turning glass into crystal is nothing new,” Serias said. “Basically, you melt down glass and let it solidify slowly so the silicate can crystallize.”

    “That’s all?” Emily exclaimed. “We thought such a drastic change would require more.”

    “It’s easier said than done,” Serias replied. “It requires very precise control of temperature and pressure over the course of weeks.”

    “But why can it now be used individually?” Emily though out loud.

    “It probably has something to do with the shape,” Serias answered. “This is a dodecahedron, one of the six perfect solids.”

    “Perfect solids?” Bret asked.

    “The sphere and the five congruent polyhedrons,” Serias explained. “They’ve long been considered important shapes ranging from being aesthetically pleasing to having divine meaning. It’s possible being molded into this shape has made it possible for the Grace Stone to give its power without the others.”

    “Arrgh,” Bert growled. “Meteorology, Metaphysics, Geology, Geometry, all this science and math is making my head hurt.”

    “This is some real craftsmanship,” Serias said as he handed Tammy the Grace Stone. “Whoever did this had very intimate knowledge of silicate and how it forms its crystal structure.”

    “So,” Franklin said. “We’re looking for a major rock buff.”

    “Perhaps it’s the ghost of the Black Crystal,” Ophelia said in a foreboding voice. “It’s returned to take its revenge.”

    Milro felt a chill run down her spine at the mention of the Black Crystal. She never saw the Black Crystal in person but the descriptions the twins gave her were enough to give her nightmares for a lifetime. Perhaps what scared her most was that it was a creature without a face or voice, just an ever growing crystal slowly consuming your home.

    She knew Ophelia was joking. However, she couldn’t help but shudder at the thought of it somehow coming back to the world of the living, or worse, the undead.

    “Are you alright, Milro-sama?” Franklin asked.

    “I’ll be alright,” Milro replied.

    “Well,” Lee said. “We’ve at least solved the mystery of the Grace Stone. Now we have another problem.”

    “What’s that?” Serias asked.

    “It has to do with my family,” Milro spoke as loudly as she could, hoping she could be heard. “A bunch of Walruses used a machine to shrink us and kidnapped my parents and brother.”

    “It can’t be,” Serias gasped.

    “Afraid so,” Tammy said. “We were wondering if the Jewelry Kingdom’s royal family had gone missing.”

    “Of course they haven’t,” Serias replied. “However, they have been acting strange over the past couple days.”

    “How so?” Lee asked.

    “No one has seen them outside the castle since this ice storm started the night before last,” Serias explained. “Prince Bright-sama would have come out to survey the damage by now. Even in the castle, they’ve only been seen a couple times in fleeting only for a moment.”

    “Now that is odd,” Ophelia thought out loud.

    “We’ll find out what’s going on when we pay our respects,” Lee said.

    “Well,” Serias said. “I wish you luck.”

    He stood up and shook everyone’s hand as they stood up. He gave Tammy another hug.

    “I wish I could have visited under different circumstances,” Tammy said.

    “Don’t worry about that,” Serias said. “I was glad to see you again and I’m glad I could help you. Perhaps you can stop by after you visit the castle.”

    “Sure,” Emily replied. “And don’t be a stranger if you ever make it to the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    * * *

    The young workers were very careful walking up the steep, slippery steps leading up to the castle. One slip would have sent them tumbling back down to the city below. It was slow going but they made their way to the level of the castle.

    As they stepped onto level ground they all heaved a sigh of relief. They then looked around at the castle in front of them. The Jewelry Kingdom’s castle was surrounded by an outer wall that curved up towards its back with gem topped ramparts. The front gate sat open, allowing them to enter the deserted courtyard.

    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Franklin grumbled.

    They walked up to the large double doors in the front of the castle. The stained wood doors decorated with colorful, beautifully cut gems groaned open. Two stewards wearing green vests and slacks over white shirts with red neck ties stood in front of them.

    One was a hulk of a Human with brown, curly hair. His chest bulged forward from his wide torso and his arms were as thick like tree trunks. His head was boxy with heavy brows that protruded over his permanently squinting eyes.

    The other was a stark contrast to his burly colleague. He was quite thin and the bangs of his light brown hair fell over his eyes as the rest rested on his neck and the top of his back.

    “State your business,” the burly one barked.

    “We’re here to pay our respects to the royal family while we visit the kingdom,” Lee replied.

    “We’re here with Princess Milro-sama,” Emily added.

    Milro waved to them. The stewards blinked in bewilderment at the tiny princess.

    “It’s hard to explain,” Lee said.

    He rubbed the back of his neck. He really didn’t want to explain the situation to the two stewards.

    “Come with us,” the gangly steward said.

    The two men turned around and shot them a suspicious glance before walking into the castle. The workers paused before following them.

    “Do you ever get the feeling you’re not welcome?” Bret asked.

    They walked after the stewards into the castle. The interior of the Jewelry Kingdom’s castle was as glamorous as the exterior. It was decorated in a rich art deco style that went heavy on colorful gems and precious metals. The grand halls were relatively dim as there was no direct lighting. Opaque, fan shaped fixtures in front of bright lights on the walls. Full sized, gold sculptures of angels were evenly spaced along both walls and chandeliers made of gold and colorful gems were suspended from the indirectly lit ceiling high above them.

    Unlike Serias’, the castle was cold. They could still see their breath with every exhale. Milro wrapped her arms around her and shivered from a mixture of cold and anticipation.

    Lee whistled. “This is some place,” he said as he looked around.

    “But what’s with the cold?” Ophelia asked.

    “The King ordered the temperature lowered,” the gangly steward snapped.

    “Bite my head off,” Ophelia said under her breath.

    “I’d expect the castle to be more active?” Emily thought out loud.

    “It’s none of our business,” the burly steward answered. “And it’s definitely none of yours. So, be quiet.”

    The stewards led them to a large set of double doors. The two stewards pushed the door open. They peeked in and announced Milro’s arrival. After a couple seconds they pulled their heads out and stood on either side of the doors.

    “You may enter,” the burly steward announced.

    Tammy was about to answer but the burly steward placed his massive hand on her shoulder.

    “King Aaron-sama says only the princess may enter,” he said.

    “If that arm holds any value for you,” she said coldly, “you’ll remove it from there.”

    “Please, Tammy,” Milro said. “We’re not here to cause trouble.”

    She turned to Ophelia. “Please, set me down.”

    “Sure,” Ophelia said.

    She set Milro down gently on the marble floor. She looked up at the people towering over her. She had spent very little time on the ground since being shrunk. She had either been in someone’s hand or on a table. However, it was on the ground she realized just how small she was.

    “Are sure you’ll be alright, Milro-sama?” Emily asked.

    “Don’t worry about me,” Milro said. “I just have to say hello and curtsy. I’ll be right out.”

    She walked through the doorway. The stewards closed the door behind her. She gulped when she realized it was the first time she had really been away from the six workers.

    The throne room was even colder than the hallway. There were chunks of what looked like ice in a pile in the corner. She found it very strange to find such a thing in the throne room.

    She tried to put it out of her mind and turned to the royal family at the far end of the room. King Aaron and his wife, Queen Camilla were seated in their thrones and their children, Prince Bright and Princess Altezza, stood on either side from them.

    Aaron was a tall man with chocolate brown hair and ice blue eyes. He wore a red cape over his white, gem adorned jacket and red slacks. A gold crown adorned with colorful gems sat proudly on his head.

    His caramel haired son stood to the side of him. Bright’s attire was almost identical to his father’s only his slacks were white and his crown was not as fancy.

    Bright was considered the hearth throb of the Mysterious Planet. Many girls were disappointed when he was finally claimed by Princess Rein of the Sunny Kingdom. He was very kind and gregarious. However, he was also a tortured soul trapped in the body of Prince Charming. He had even been tricked into assisting the Black Crystal for a time. However, in the years since, he seemed to have found happiness and his place in life.

    Camilla and Altezza were also similarly dressed. Both wore white, sleeveless dresses with massive skirts and large gems sat on their heads. Altezza looked more and more like her mother as she got older. They both had blond hair and green eyes. The only thing difference was Altezza’s massive rat’s nest of a hairdo while her mother kept her hair fairly short.

    Milro came to know Altezza fairly well. She visited the Water Drop Kingdom many times with Fine and Rein. Unlike her brother, she was a rash girl with an explosive temper. Even with age she refused to mellow out.

    Milro was both delighted and disappointed to see them. She was glad to see them safe and their normal size. However, it also meant their dream was a dead end.

    As she walked up to them she noticed something strange. She could see her breath but she couldn’t see theirs. And they seemed unaffected by the cold. She knew something was wrong but she wouldn’t let onto her knowing until she knew just what it was.

    “Good morning, Your Majesties,” she said politely as she dipped into a graceful curtsy. “I’m Princess Milro of the Water Drop Kingdom and wish to pay my respects while I visit your kingdom.”

    She then remembered they probably couldn’t hear her tiny voice. That made it even more surprising when Aaron replied, “Welcome to the Jewelry Kingdom. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

    “But,” Camellia spoke up, “what’s happened to you?”

    “Uh…” Milro tried to find the right words. “This is why I came to your kingdom. We were attacked in the Water Drop Kingdom and my parents and brother were kidnapped and they used some kind of machinery to shrink us.”

    “That’s awful,” Bright exclaimed.

    Milro nodded. “We were worried the same fate had befallen the other royal families.”

    She heard a faint sound. The pile of ice had shifted slightly.

    Get a hold of yourself, she thought. You’re jumping at the smallest things. It’s not like the ice will come up and attack you.

    Outside, the workers sat on a bench opposite the doors and glared at them. They periodically shifted their glare at the two stewards standing guard for a moment and then at the doors again. They could easily take the two Humans out but Milro insisted they didn’t cause trouble. So, they sat there and waited.

    “This sucks,” Lee grumbled. “What have we done to deserve this?”

    “We had the misfortune of being born in the Water Drop Kingdom,” Emily said. “That’s all the excuse they need.”

    Two of the castle’s maids walked past them. Bret cracked an indulged grin as he followed them with his eyes. “It’s not all bad, guys,” he said. “We can take in the sights while we wait.”

    “Do you ever think with your right head?” Tammy asked in disgust.

    Bret ignored her and cleared his throat to get the maids’ attention. “Hey ladies,” he called out.

    They turned away and huffed in disgust as they continued to walk down the hall.

    Bret’s grin sank into a scowl. “Lee’s right,” he growled. “This does suck.”

    Inside, Milro continued to hear the ice shifting. It slid and knocked against itself. She didn’t want to turn around. If something was happening she didn’t want to let on that she knew.

    She looked into Aaron’s eyes to see in their reflection. However, there was no reflection in his eyes. It was the same with Camellia, Bright, and Altezza.

    She heard much closer knocking behind her. She finally turned around to see the ice floating in the air. She gasped as it began assembling into a massive, humanoid form. The being of ice planted its bulky feet on the marble floor.

    It was a hulking creature, easily larger than a full grown Human. Its frame was bulky with pieces of ice forming each segment and joint. The light from the overhead lamps made its body shimmer.

    It held some kind of control in his hand. It pressed the largest button and the royal family of the Jewelry Kingdom vanished. It then looked down at Milro with its cold, beady eyes.

    Milro was petrified. She didn’t know what to do. All that came to mind was to scream and loud as she could. Hopefully, Lee and the others could hear her outside. So scream she did.

    Lee barely heard the scream outside. “Milro-sama,” he exclaimed and jumped to his feet.

    They ran for the door but the stewards stood in their way. Tammy slugged the burly steward in the side of the head, throwing him to the side. Lee grabbed the gangly steward’s shoulder and applied pressure at point he detected in his electric field. The Steward collapsed on the floor, unconscious. The two workers threw their shoulders forward to bust the doors open. They all ran in and saw the huge creature of ice looming over Milro.

    “What the hell is that?” Bret exclaimed.

    The creature turned its head to face backwards at them. It then turned the rest of its body as the head stayed stationary to stare at them.

    The stewards ran in and pushed their way past the workers. The gangly steward rubbed his throbbing shoulder and his burly colleague was already starting to bruise on the side of his head. They both gasped at the empty thrones.

    “Where’s the royal family?” the burly steward exclaimed.

    “They were never here, you stupid ape,” the ice creature answered coolly. “I created a holographic projection of them to make you believe they were here.”

    “You *******,” the burly steward snarled. “How dare you?”

    The two stewards rushed the creature. In response, the creature held out its huge palms.

    “You guys really need to chill,” it said with a smirk.

    White beams shot from its palms and impacted the stewards. The energy enveloped them and incased them in ice. The creature walked up to them and pushed the burly steward over to let him shatter on the floor.

    The workers flinched at seeing and hearing the man break into shards that scattered across the marble. They looked back to the creature who returned their gaze.

    “Drop Kingdom workers?” it hissed. “Why are you here?”

    “Actually,” Bret whimpered. “We were just leaving.”

    He turned to run but Tammy grabbed him by the collar. She pulled him back, causing him to fall off his feet.

    “Get back here, you coward,” she snarled.

    “Mind you,” Bret exclaimed. “I’m a living coward.”

    “Who are you?” Franklin asked uneasily.

    “I am Krycek, titan general of ice and cold in service to the storm god Huracan-sama,” Krycek answered proudly.

    “Aren’t you a little small for a titan?” Lee asked.

    “Even I have to make it through a doorway,” Krycek shot back.

    “Are you the one responsible for the ice storm?” Ophelia growled.

    “That I am,” Krycek replied.

    “But why?” Milro called out. “It’s destroying the city.”

    “Because I’m a coldhearted, sadistic prick,” Krycek answered flatly. “I have the power to freeze anything and I enjoy using that power.”

    “I think this guy has more than a few wires crossed,” Lee whispered nervously in Tammy’s ear.

    Emily suddenly remembered what happened to the bridge the day before. The water had been frozen. “Were you the one who froze the bridge?” she asked.

    “Personally no,” Krycek answered. “However, I have minions and they have come across you.”

    While they conversed, Ophelia extended her tail slowly along the floor. A Shark Person’s cartilaginous tail could extend an incredible distance to lengthen the reach of the electric stinger at its end for hunting and defense. She hoped it was long enough to reach Milro while staying well clear of Krycek.

    Her tail went unnoticed as it reached Milro. Milro immediately realized what it was. She remained quiet as Ophelia wrapped it gently around her waist and lifted her off the ground to slowly pull her back to them.

    “I grow tired of your presence,” Krycek growled. “Unless you wish to end like these two,” slammed his arm through the gangly steward, shattering the top half of his body, “I suggest you leave now. I have business to discuss with your princess.”

    “Alright,” Ophelia answered.

    The others turned to her. “What?” Tammy snapped. “You want to leave Milro-sama with this homicidal maniac?”

    Ophelia cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, “I got it covered. Get ready to run like hell.”

    They all backed up slowly out of the room. As soon as they saw they were behind the doorway, they bolted down the hall. Krycek smirked and exhaled a laugh at their flight.

    “Now, my dear,” he said as he turned to Milro.

    However, Milro was not where she had beem. He snarled as he realized she had escaped with the workers.

    “Get back here, you conniving peasants,” he roared as he stormed from the throne room. “I’m gonna put you all on ice.”

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  11. #11
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    Hi!
    Hmm...your story is interesting, but here's a suggestion: maybe split one long chapter into two shorter chapters? It'll be easier to read. But that's just my suggestion.
    Bret always made me laugh, he sounded like Brock from the anime

    Surfing through the waves, diving deep into the sea,
    playing along the beach, having fun all day long.

  12. #12
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    I could split the chapters into smaller ones. However, then I would have to come up with more chapter names. When I reading stories with long chapters (I'm not the only one who does it), I suggest taking a break when scenes change.

    I'm glad you found Bret funny. He's funny to write.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

  13. #13
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    Wow! Over 460 hits. I'm glad people are peaking in on this story. If only you'd leave comments. Anyway, here's the next chapter.

    Story notes:
    -Technically, the official translation of しずくの国 is Drop Kingdom. This is because Japanese has different words for drop as in a water drop and drop as in a fall. English, on the other hand, has almost a dozen different definitions for drop so it makes sense to translate it as Water Drop.
    -All measurements are in metric so temperatures are in degrees centigrade.


    Chapter 8: Cold War

    The young workers ran as fast their feet could carry them for the front door. Their throats burned from trying to breathe the freezing air and their breathing was raspy. They pushed their bodies none the less with certain death undoubtedly following closely behind them. They didn’t even dare look back and kept their eyes fixed on the grand hallway ahead.

    “Here’s the plan,” Lee huffed. “We get out of here, somehow survive running down the icy stairs of death, get in the Stingrays, and run like hell back to the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “What if he follows us?” Ophelia asked.

    “Two words,” Emily replied. “Pyro grenades.”

    “I knew we should have brought weapons,” Tammy growled.

    “We can’t go into other kingdoms armed to the teeth,” Ophelia shot back.

    “I told you,” Bret huffed. “I told you they’d try to kill us. Would you listen to me? No.”

    “Shut up, Bret!” everyone else snapped at once.

    The front doors came into view. The workers tried to get every bit of speed they could out of their legs, hoping they were home free. A beam of white arched over them and struck the door. They slid to a stop as a heavy coat of ice formed over them.

    They spun around to see Krycek running after them. The ice monster held up his forearms to form sharp spines and shoot them at the residents of the Water Drop Kingdom. The youths ran down another hallway as the spines embedded in the ice.

    The workers looked around the hall frantically. Tammy saw a door nearby. “In here quick,” she huffed.

    She threw the door open and the others ran inside. She then shut the door behind her. Krycek ran around the corner and stopped upon seeing the empty hall.

    “You can run,” he growled. “But you can’t hide.”

    Milro and the others listened quietly as Krycek’s heavy footsteps grew fainter and fainter. After they faded to nothing they heaved a collective sigh of relief.

    “Thank God,” they said.

    “Where are we?” Bret asked.

    Tammy looked around the room they were in. It was relatively small and plain compared to what they had seen of the rest of the castle. Green and white clothing hung on hangers from metal bars and there were multiple alcoves.

    “We’re in a dressing room for the castle’s servants from the looks of it,” she answered.

    “I’m more worried about what’s out there,” Lee said. “Anyone have an idea of how we’re supposed to get past that?”

    “I have no clue,” Emily said.

    “What about your power?” Franklin asked Ophelia.

    “It only works on liquid water,” Ophelia answered.

    “Mom always told me you should know your adversary,” Milro suggested. “Perhaps what we’ve figured out so far could help us.”

    “We don’t much,” Bret said. “He’s made of ice, a homicidal nut, has a problem with the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “Make that the ‘Drop Kingdom’,” Ophelia corrected.

    “I never thought I’d hear that name,” Lee said.

    They all paused to ponder. Originally, the Water Drop Kingdom was simply known as the Drop Kingdom. However, due to the multiple meanings of the word drop, they expanded it to Water Drop Kingdom to be clearer. This switch happened centuries ago, however. No one alive had ever used the name outside of history lectures.

    “First, we had Walruses that knew of tunnels under Saginaw City that have been closed off for over a thousand years,” Ophelia thought out loud. “Now we have an ice monster that uses our kingdom’s long dead name. Both appear to be responsible for the disappearance of royal families.”

    “It’s definitely too much to be a coincidence,” Tammy grumbled.

    Emily was unusually quiet and still seemed deep in thought.

    “What is it, Emily,” Franklin asked.

    “Krycek and Huracan,” Emily answered, still pondering. “I could have sworn I’ve heard those names before.”

    “We can figure this all out after we escape,” Bret replied.

    Tammy glanced at the clothing hanging on the wall. “I think I have an idea,” she said as she walked up to a line of maid’s dresses. “Ophelia, what’s your dress size?”

    “A four with a slightly above average height,” Ophelia answered. “Why?”

    Tammy took a dress off the bar. “Put this on,” she ordered.

    “What?” Ophelia exclaimed.

    “Our top priority is getting Milro-sama to safety,” Tammy explained. “Krycek’s looking for people from the Water Drop Kingdom, not castle servants and you’re the only one that wouldn’t be immediately recognized as being from the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    Ophelia tried to find a way to argue against Tammy’s plan. However, nothing came to mind. She heaved a sigh and took the dress from the large Beaver. She walked into an alcove with the symbol for female on the wall next to it to change.

    After a couple minutes she emerged in the maid’s uniform. The others looked her over. Like those who worked on the duty each kingdom performed, the castle’s servants had a stylized uniform. However, while the worker’s uniforms were more or less the same design for all the kingdoms outside of the color, pattern, and decorations, each kingdom had a very different style for their servants.

    For the Jewelry Kingdom, the main piece of the maid’s uniform was a full-length, white dress with short, puffy sleeves with an emerald green, sleeveless garment over it and a pink necktie. Ophelia had also pulled her bangs back in a jeweled barrette and layered generous amounts of her cerulean hair over her shoulders to better conceal her gill slits. She had even replaced her shell earrings with diamond ones and a frilly hair band adorned with a red gem completed the outfit.

    Emily nodded. “That should fool anyone who doesn’t get too close,” she said. “Now for the test.”

    She snapped her fingers. Lee untied a blindfold they had placed over Bret’s eyes. He looked at her and his emerald green eyes lit up.

    “You look absolutely adorable,” he gushed.

    “Uh…thank you?” Ophelia replied, uncertain of how to take Bret’s compliment.

    “And that’s a pass.” Tammy pulled Bret back and removed the controller from his wrist.

    Ophelia glanced in a full body mirror. A maid for the Jewelry Kingdom looked back at her. Her face redden in embarrassment.

    “I look ridiculous and I can feel my Achilles tendons being bent out of shape in these heels,” she whined.

    “It can’t be helped,” Emily said. “Remember, this is for the Water Drop Kingdom.”

    “We’re counting on you, Ophelia.” Tammy handed her the controller. “Head to the FS-I with Milro-sama and take it down the river to the ocean and head back to Saginaw City,” she instructed

    “What about the rest of you?” Ophelia asked.

    “We’ll keep Krycek off your back,” Lee answered. “We’ll take the other two Stingrays when we make it out.”

    “I understand,” Ophelia said uneasily. “Just try to come out alive.”

    “Trust me,” Bret said. “We’ve made it a top priority.”

    Milro slipped into one of Ophelia’s front pockets and tucked her body to better hide. Ophelia hid the controller in the other pocket. Lee placed his ear to the door. It seemed quiet outside.

    “You’re clear,” he said.

    Ophelia pushed open the door and looked down both ends of the hall. They were completely empty. “Wish me luck,” she said as she stepped out.

    The remaining five gathered after she closed the door behind her.

    “Alright,” Tammy said. “Now that we don’t have to worry about Milro-sama, we should have more liberty fighting Krycek.”

    “Fighting!?” Bret exclaimed. “Did you not see what he did to those stewards? I don’t know about the rest of you but I for one don’t want to end up a pile of ice cubes.”

    “That’s why we’re going to outsmart him,” Tammy said. “They’ve turned down the temperature to stay frozen more easily.”

    “I get it,” Lee chimed in. “We’ll turn the castle into a sauna and they’ll be exhausted just remaining solid.”

    “Then, when he’s weak, we’ll nail that abominable snowman,” Tammy said, slamming her fist in the palm of her other hand.

    “That’s great and all,” Emily spoke up. “However, we’ll need to find a way to the boiler room first.”

    “That’s while we’ll split up,” Lee said. “Only one of us has to make it down there and turn up the heat. It would also make it less likely Krycek and whatever minions he has would notice Ophelia is missing.”

    “We might as well get going then,” Emily said. “We’re accomplishing nothing chilling in here.”

    * * *

    Ophelia walked as casually as she could down yet another hallway. She was starting to miss her uniform as the maid’s dress provided little protection from the freezing cold. Not even lowering her body temperature seemed to help. She had also lost her bearings in the castle wasn’t even sure she near the outside wall.

    “Are you all right?” Milro asked when Ophelia stopped to shiver.

    “Yeah,” Ophelia chattered. “It’s just cold and the Jewelry Kingdom didn’t think to make their maid’s uniforms weatherproof.”

    She heard faint voices approaching her. She ducked in a nearby door of a supply closet and cracked the door just enough to peer out. She felt her heart race as the voices grew louder and clearer.

    It could just be two servants or Krycek hunting her down. If it was the latter, it would be natural for a maid to hide from the frightening creature. So she would remain hidden regardless.

    Two small creatures that appeared to be made of ice were talking with one another as they walked down the hall. They were about the size of an average Beaver with stout bodies and horns curving up from the top of their broad heads. They had to be minions of Krycek. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to notice her as they remained absorbed in their conversation. They walked past her and their footsteps quickly faded to nothing.

    Ophelia slowly opened the door and peered out from around the edge. The goblins were long gone. She heaved a sigh of relief and went the way they came from.

    She found it eerie that the castle seemed so abandoned. She expected the Jewelry Kingdom’s castle to have enough servants you couldn’t turn around without seeing one. Yet, she hadn’t seen any since coming across Krycek. She wondered if their staff was really been reduced or if something had happened to them.

    A shiver traveled down her spine from a mixture of cold and apprehension. She felt a growing sense of urgency to find a way to escape. Perhaps, the maid’s uniform made her as much of a target as her normal attire.

    She came across a set of tall windows along the wall ahead of her. They looked out upon the front of the courtyard. “Jackpot,” she whispered herself. She looked to make sure she was alone before she opened a window and slipped out onto the ice.

    She almost fell over as she tried to steady her feet under her. “Great,” she grumbled. “If there’s one thing worse than trying to walk in heels, it’s trying to walk in heels on ice.”

    She was really starting to miss her uniform as the cold rain and clammy air made her even colder. She tried to warm herself with the knowledge heat was waiting for her in the Stingray. She picked up her skirt and waddled to keep her balance on the slick ice. She managed to reach the top of the stairs and stared down the steep incline to the city below.

    “You’ve got to be kidding,” she groaned.

    There were no railings to hold onto and the steps were very steep. Walking up was treacherous enough. Walking down was only asking for trouble. She looked to the inclines on the sides of the stairs. She snapped her webbed fingers as an idea came to her.

    “Hold on Milro-sama,” she said. “This could get hairy.”

    She placed her feet on one of the inclines on the side of the steps and balanced before she let herself slide down. She held her balance as she moved faster and faster towards the city. Milro braced herself as she didn’t want to see the ground coming at them. Just as she came to the bottom, Ophelia leapt into the air. She planted her feet and managed to keep her balance.

    The young Shark Woman exhaled a relieved sigh. “Are you alright, Milro-sama?” she asked.

    “Yes,” Milro replied from her pocket.

    Ophelia waddled back to the river and down to the dock. She took out the controller and pressed its largest button. The canopy of the Stingray in front slid open and she sat down in the pilot’s chair. She closed the canopy and turned the heat up to full.

    She relaxed as the rush of warm air spread over her body and kicked off the high heeled shoes. “Ah,” she exhaled. “Now that’s more like it.”

    She helped Milro from her pocket and placed her gently on top of the dash. Even for the short time they had been sitting, the Stingrays were already gaining a coat of ice.

    “We actually escaped,” Milro said as she looked out.

    “Tammy’s cockamamie scheme worked,” Ophelia replied. “It’ about time something went our way.”

    “Still,” Milro said. “I know we’re supposed to head to Saginaw City. But,” she paused, “I can’t just leave them there.”

    Ophelia smiled. “I know,” she said.

    She pressed a button on the dash. A read display came on with four “8”s.

    “We’ll give them twenty minutes,” Ophelia said as she changed it to read “20:00” and started a countdown.

    Milro looked up at the castle barely visible through the rain. She knew somewhere in its towers the others were fighting against Krycek. She could only hope they found a way to come out on top.

    “Please be alright,” she said.

    * * *

    Krycek stomped down a hallway, glaring at every column and statue where the workers from the Water Drop Kingdom could be hiding. He was growing tired of trying to find them. He thought grabbing the princess from a handful of teenagers and young adults would be easy. However, they were proving irritably tenacious.

    “I’ll get you, peasants,” he snarled. “I’ll get you and your little princess too.”

    One of the ice ninja leapt to the floor in front of him as its garb became opaque.

    “Haven’t you found anything?” Krycek growled.

    The ninja shook its head.

    Krycek growled. “I’m starting to think these workers make better shinobi than you.”

    The ninja’s garb went transparent and it leapt away.

    * * *

    Emily and Franklin had entered the ventilation system. They hoped it would lead them to the castle’s boiler room without being detected. They crawled through the narrow metal ducks. The air was still cold and unusually still.

    They came to a joint where the duct split off in two directions. Emily peered down one dark duct and then the other. Evenly spaced vents in the sides allowed light to shine in.

    “Which way do we go, Emily?” Franklin asked.

    “I don’t know,” Emily replied. “Why don’t you pick a direction?”

    “We turned right last time so let’s turn left,” Franklin said with a casual shrug.

    Emily shrugged. “Works for me.”

    They crawled around the corner. There was no airflow so they were traveling blindly, not knowing whether they were headed towards or away from the boiler room. At every vent they looked out at the empty halls.

    “This place is emptier than a tavern on a Sunday morning,” Franklin said. “Where did everyone go?”

    “It’s possible they’ve ended up like those two stewards,” Emily replied. “They had the misfortune of running across that monster and then he used his image of the royal family to explain away their disappearance.”

    Franklin gulped dryly at the prospect. “I’m sorry I asked.”

    Emily stopped when she heard something. It sound like there was a struggle ahead. The two Beavers crawled up slowly and peered out one of the vents. Lee was jumping all over the halls, throwing punches and kicks in the air.

    “What’s gotten into Lee?” Franklin asked.

    A shuriken sized snowflake shot out of nowhere. Lee jumped out of the way as it spun past him. The snowflake sliced a large gash in the gold body of a nearby statue.

    Lee shifted his eyes from side to side for any visual clues to the whereabouts of his foe. He could hear it and detected the displacement waves in the air as it moved. However, it had no smell, was completely invisible, and had no electrical field. Unfortunately, his hearing and lateral line weren’t too good at determining precise direction in air.

    “Show yourself,” Lee growled.

    Franklin and Emily recoiled in shock.

    “What’s going on?” Franklin exclaimed.

    “He must be fighting something invisible,” Emily replied. “Considering all that’s happened; we shouldn’t be too surprised.”

    “Lee seems to know it’s there,” Franklin said.

    “Shark People can detect sensations you couldn’t even imagine,” Emily explained.

    Lee stood still, waiting for the next attack. He suddenly detected displacement right behind him. He threw his fist up and sucker punched his invisible enemy in the face. The ice ninja became opaque and fell to its knees and then to the ground.

    “Not even the most advanced ninja arts can defy the laws of physics,” Lee said.

    The sharp pain from punching the icy face suddenly reached his brain. “Ow,” he said, shaking his hand out. “That hurt my hand.”

    “Are you alright, Lee?” Emily asked from the vent.

    Lee looked up at the vent and made out his colleagues behind the grate. “I’ll live,” he replied. “You better be careful. These ninja are able to make themselves invisible.”

    “That’s good to know,” Franklin whimpered as they continued to crawl through the duct.

    * * *

    One of the ice goblins jumped for Tammy. It tensed its sharp claws as it sailed for the giant Beaver. As it got near, Tammy swung her lead pipe right into its side. The goblin was thrown into a wall and shattered on impact.

    Tammy glared at the others stand a few meters from her. “Who’s next?” she growled.

    The goblins looked at the shattered remains of their brethren. They then looked at the Beaver smacking the meter long pipe against her palm. She returned their stare with an irritated scowl. They cowered back and ran away screaming.

    Tammy rested the pipe on her shoulder. “Now,” she said to herself. “Where’s that damn boiler room?”

    She perked up her ears at a faint noise coming from down the hall. She scowled in its direction and prepared for another fight. She smacked her pipe in her palm as she walked towards it.

    As she raised it about her head Bret came from around the corner. He yelped when he saw her about to strike him. He crouched and wrapped his arms over his head.

    “Don’t hit me,” he cried, cowering away.

    “Bret,” Tammy sighed, lowering her pipe. “I thought you were one of those ice creatures.”

    “So you’ve met those goblins things too?” Bret asked.

    “You think I’m carrying this pipe for the hell of it?” Tammy replied.

    “This is insane,” Bret grumbled. “I thought the Walruses were bad.”

    They both swung around as Lee ran into the junction they were standing in. He braced his hands on his knees and gasped for breath.

    “Damn ninja,” the aquatic human grumbled. “Have either of you found the boiler room yet?”

    “No,” Bret replied. “It would have helped if they believed in signage around here.”

    “This has got to be the worse designed castle in the Mysterious Planet,” Tammy grumbled. “How hard can it be to find the boiler room?”

    “So that’s your plan, ey?” a gravelly voice spoke up.

    They all spun around to see Krycek walking up to them. It was hard to tell the expression on his blocky head. However, they could guess he was not amused.

    “You want to melt my indoor winter wonderland,” Krycek growled.

    “Busted,” Bret whimpered.

    “You better believe it,” Tammy shouted. “And when you’ve turned into slush, I’ll use you to cool my drinks.”

    “Tough talk for a rodent,” Krycek shot back.

    “You know what?” Tammy snarled, grasping her pipe. “Forget the boiler room. I’ll pummel you right here.”

    She charged at the ice creature and slammed the metal pipe into his body. She swung at Krycek again and again as quickly and as hard as she could. He couldn’t even steady himself as she started taking chunks out of him.

    “Sock it to him, Tammy,” Bret cheered. “Knock his block off.”

    Tammy reared up for another swing. She slammed the pipe into his head and knocked it clear off his shoulders. His head bounced against the floor a couple times before coming to a rest. The three workers gasped in shock.

    “I didn’t mean it literally,” Bret said.

    They were in for an even greater shock as Krycek’s head hopped into an upright position. It floated up to hover over his body. His arms grabbed his head and brought down in place. The workers were stunned and horrified as he turned his reattached head a couple times.

    “That’s just not right,” Bret finally broke the silence.

    The chunks that Tammy had pounded off also flew up. They sank into their divots in his icy body and melded back into his form.

    “You’re trying my patience,” Krycek snarled.

    The three workers spun around and ran. Krycek roared and threw a volley of freezing beams at the workers. They dodged the deadly energy and the ice they formed as they frantically ran out of range.

    * * *

    Franklin and Emily crawled into a segment of ducts with the vents on the bottom. They came to a particularly cold vent from which they no light came from. Emily took out her flashlight and used its butt to pound the vent open. They carefully dropped into the darkened room and scanned it with their flashlights.

    They both gasped when Emily’s beam fell on a Human maid incased in ice. She was one of many maids, stewards, and other people entombed in ice.

    “My God,” Franklin exclaimed.

    Emily swung her flashlight from side to side as she examined the frozen people closely. “I don’t see any evidence of cell damage,” she said. “My guess they were frozen so quickly it never had a chance to occur.”

    “Could they still be alive?” Franklin asked.

    “I don’t see why not,” Emily replied. “This isn’t too different from what’s done to the body during cryogenic suspension.”

    The doors burst open and thrown shut again. The two Beavers jumped and threw the beams of their flashlights onto the faces of Lee and the others. They heaved a sigh of relief when they realized it was them.

    “It’s you,” Franklin said.

    “Turn off those flashlights,” Bret exclaimed. “Krycek’s right behind us.”

    As if on queue, Krycek threw the doors open. The workers were smashed against the wall by the doors. Krycek scanned the room but only saw his entombed victims.

    “Nobody here but us ice cubes,” he said to himself. He slowly closed the doors again and stormed away.

    Lee and the others fell to the floor. Emily and Franklin emerged from behind the ice. Lee stood up and turned on the lights. They all looked at the numerous people trapped in the ice. Almost all of them had expressions of shock or terror.

    Bret gulped dryly. “What a room to meet up in,” he whimpered.

    “But excellent timing,” Emily chimed in. “We think we’ve found the boiler room. It’s a couple doors down.”

    * * *

    The two Beavers led the others to another door. It didn’t seem to be different from the other doors. When they pushed it opened, it led to a dark staircase leading down.

    “We noticed the duct went down here,” Emily explained.

    They stepped in and closed the door behind them. They descended the dark, metal staircase with their footsteps to accompany them. They came to a rather plain metal door at the bottom of the stairs.

    Emily opened the door a crack and peered in. Noticeably warmer air came from the crack. She didn’t see any movement inside and pushed the door open more. She stepped cautiously in the room with the others following.

    It was the boiler room with ducts and pipes leading from massive, metal water heaters and furnaces. It was distinctly warmer and they could see small fires glowing under the heaters. Other than that, the room was dark with shadows from the fires dancing on the walls.

    “Alright,” Bret said. “We’re here. Now what?”

    “We need to find the master thermostat,” Emily replied. “Then its good bye ice box, hello tropical paradise.”

    They looked around the room. There was a noticeable lack of glamour to the room. After seeing all the colorful jewels and precious metals, the boiler room seemed bland. They guessed because it would never be seen by anyone of importance.

    There were many pressure gauges attached to the web of pipes that coiled around each other. Franklin noticed a dial on the largest furnace. It was turned to negative five and appeared to be marked for temperature.

    “Hey, guys,” he called out. “I think I found it.”

    “Awesome,” Lee said as he and the others gathered around. “Now, what sounds like a good temperature?”

    “I say we go for a balmy 35,” Tammy replied.

    “Alright,” Emily said, turning the dial to the opposite end.

    The fires that had been barely burning roared to life. They spread across the bottom of the furnaces. The air around them quickly began to warm.

    Tammy threw a switch that turned on a couple overhead lights. They didn’t improve the illumination that much but they could better see everything in the room. She noticed a large pipe ended in an open elbow joint above the ground.

    She was suddenly struck with an idea. She cracked a sly grin as she worked out the details in her mind.

    “Hey,” she said. “I think I have an idea for putting Krycek out of commission for good.”

    “What is it, Tammy?” Emily asked.

    “I need water from the boilers directed to that pipe,” Tammy said, pointing to the large, open joint. “If we can lure Krycek under it, we could melt him under a deluge of scalding water. Liquid water has a much greater specific heat than ice. Even with his freezing power, he shouldn’t be able to overcome that much water at that high a temperature.”

    Emily grabbed a pair of wrenches and threw one to Franklin. “Then let’s get cracking.”

    The two Beavers climbed into the network of pipes and started turning spigots and valves. Having worked on the machine of the Water Drop Kingdom, they had an eye for how pipes were connected. Even this mess was easily deciphered.

    “We need to work quickly,” Lee said. “Krycek is probably realizing what we’ve done.”

    * * *

    The castle warmed quickly as hot air poured from the vents. Krycek and his minions could feel their bodies liquefy as the temperature rose sharply. The ice general used his power to keep himself frozen but he had to put a lot of effort into it.

    “Those peasants are in the boiler room,” he snarled.

    Krycek wasted no time making his way to the boiler room. He almost pulled the door off and stormed the down the stairs. He was ready to freeze the meddlesome residents of the Water Drop Kingdom when he got his icy hands on them.

    He kicked in the door open and stomped into the sweltering boiler room. He looked around the darkened room. It seemed empty with only the roaring fires to provide light.

    “I know you’re in here,” he roared. “Come out and face me.”

    The ice general unknowingly stepped into a diamond made of masking tape on the floor. Bret ducked out from behind a large pipe. Krycek stopped and glared at him. The flame haired half Beaver gulped dryly but stood his ground. He wondered how he let himself be talked into facing the ice monster.

    “You Drop Kingdom workers think you’re so clever,” Krycek growled. “You have no idea how small you are.”

    “Uh…right,” Bret said. “But could you do me a favor? I need you to read aloud the message on the floor in front of you.”

    “What?” Krycek exclaimed. He looked down and saw a message written in masking tape on the floor. “My name is Krycek and I’m about to get owned by the Water Drop Kingdom,” he read aloud.

    “Damn straight,” Bret said and turned a large spigot.

    Water erupted from the pipe and engulfed Krycek in searing water. He tried to freeze it but there was too much coming too fast at too high a temperature. He could feel his body liquefying as it absorbed heat from the water.

    “I’m melting!” he screamed. “I’m melting!”

    The others emerged from their hiding places. They all watched as Krycek’s body shrunk down until there was nothing. Emily turned the spigot and the water ceased.

    At first, they saw nothing but ankle deep water giving off steam. Tammy then noticed a small solid where Krycek had been standing. She picked it up and juggled it a bit because it was still hot. It was a small, cyan cube.

    “I think this might be the Jewelry Kingdom’s Grace Stone,” she said.

    “He was probably using it to increase his power like that Walrus,” Lee said.

    “Like it did him any good,” Bret scoffed. “We kicked his icy butt.”

    “You cocky little pricks,” a high pitched voice growled.

    Bret yelped and hid behind Lee. They all turned to see a ball of cyan light rise from the water.

    “You might have won this fight,” the ball shouted. “But you’ll never win the war. You’ll never defeat Huracan-sama.”

    The ball lifted itself upwards. It passed through the pipes and ceiling, leaving them alone.

    “And of course he’s still alive,” Bret grumbled.

    “At least he’s in no position to cause anyone any harm anymore,” Lee replied.

    “His victims should be thawing out by now,” Emily said. “We should probably check on them.”

    They quickly checked the castle. The other ice creatures had fled and the frozen citizens were thawing out. Fortunately, they were still alive and had no memory of Krycek. After making sure everything was fine, the workers turned the thermostat to normal and headed down into the city shedding its icy coat.

    * * *

    Ophelia and Milro had been watching from the Stingray. Their timer had just reached the one minute mark when the ice storm ceased the clouds began to break up. The ice covering their aircraft and the surrounding landscape quickly melted away.

    They could only assume Lee and the others had defeated Krycek. So they ignored the timer going off and waited for them. Soon enough, a knock came on the canopy. They were delighted to see their friends flushed but unharmed. Ophelia pressed the button to make the canopy slide open.

    “We thought we told you to escape,” Emily scolded.

    “I’m sorry,” Ophelia replied. “It just didn’t sit well with us leaving you behind.”

    “We’re guessing you stopped Krycek,” Milro said.

    “Yeah,” Lee replied. “We defeated him. At least we think we have.”

    “Think?” Milro and Ophelia repeated.

    “It’s kind of hard to explain,” Tammy said. “We can talk about it at Serias’.”

    “Let’s get going then.” Ophelia slipped her feet back into the uncomfortable heels. “By the way,” she said. “You wouldn’t happen to have my uniform, would you?”

    “We have it right here,” Tammy said, holding the neatly folded garments. “However, for not doing what you’re supposed to, I say you should have to wear that maid’s uniform for the rest of the day.”

    “I second that,” Bret exclaimed.

    “No way,” Ophelia said. She grabbed the uniform for Tammy’s hands.

    * * *

    At Serias’ shop, Ophelia immediately ducked into a bedroom and changed into her normal uniform. “It’s nice to be back in my normal clothes again,” she said as she came out into the workroom.

    The others were huddled around Serias. The jeweler was examining their new Grace Stone closely. He also compared it with their first.

    “What have you found out?” Ophelia asked as she walked up behind them.

    “These are definitely the result of the same method and is another perfect solid,” Serias reported. “It seems like those Walruses in your kingdom are connected to this ice monster you described in our castle.”

    “If they’ve struck both our countries,” Emily thought out loud. “It stands to reason they’ve hit everyone.”

    “Six perfect solids, six surface kingdoms,” Lee thought out loud. “It definitely makes sense.”

    “But why?” Ophelia thought out loud. “Why go to the trouble to find and alter the Grace Stones, kidnap the royal families, and go to all this trouble? What could they hope to achieve?”

    “I don’t know,” Emily said with a shrug.

    “What should be our next move?” Franklin asked.

    “I say we head back to Saginaw City,” Lee answered. “Now that we have a name, we’re in a better position to find answers.”

    “I agree,” Tammy concurred.

    “So do I,” Bret grumbled. “I’m more than ready to leave this crazy country and never come back. No offense.”

    “None taken,” Serias replied.

    “I can’t shake the feeling I’ve heard those names before,” Emily thought out loud.

    All the while Milro had been deep in thought. “Monster” was the only word she could find to describe Krycek and not just in appearance. He was so cavalier in killing the two stewards. It was like their lives meant nothing to him. She had lived her life around some very mean spirited people like Geronita. However, she couldn’t imagine someone being so callous and, no pun intended, cold.

    She hoped that he was the worst of the lot that stood before them. However, she was afraid even stronger enemies with even greater contempt for life were ahead of them. Yet, if what Princess Grace had told was true, they had to overcome whatever challenges lied before them if they were to save her family and her friends.

    * * *

    Marcy and Betsy were still putting along in their makeshift Zeppelin. Betsy was hanging over the edge, ready to hurl at a moment’s notice. She had never been one for flying. She preferred to take the train whenever possible and wished she could have this time.

    It was the turbulence that got her the most. It always unnerved her when she was thousands of meters off the ground and the only thing keeping her airborne was shaking like a leaf. Shaking would an understatement for their tiny ship’s trip. She felt as if the atmosphere had been playing a game of badminton with them as the shuttlecock.

    She should have never let Marcy talk her into coming. She had been a dedicated student of the head maid as she aspired to one day head up the castle’s servant staff. However, the old half Beaver was a zealot in her duties to Milro which only seemed magnified by the princess’ reduction in size.

    Unlike another aspiring head maid she knew; Betsy was not some yes-man who believed copying her processor was the best way to prepare for the job. She had her limits and she knew them very well. This little adventure had clearly pushed the envelope and she was more than ready to go home.

    The Beaver maid looked up and saw the Stingrays several hundred meters away. They were flying back to the east. Marcy watched as the aircraft disappeared into a cumulous cloud behind them.

    “Now where are they going?” Marcy thought out loud.

    “Oh, please, God, let it be back home where they’re going to stay,” Betsy grumbled.

    Marcy brought their airship around. Neither saw the massive claw of water rise up behind them. It fell on them and snatched them right out of the sky. All this went unnoticed by the workers and Milro as they were long gone on their way back to Saginaw City.

    Some people don't think it's funny that Exit 69 gets off on Big Beaver.

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