As they approach The Crater, heated thermal winds bask the wings of the pair eagles in a gentle warmth and lift them high above the canopy. The coating of snow melts off in steamy drops, leaving only a thin track of powder stretching from their heads to their tails like the stripe of a skunk. They do not expect it, but they greatly welcome the reprieve from the falling frost – Lysandra even does a barrel roll to melt the snow off her back. Lysander keeps upright, his wings flapping steadily, his eyes trained on the approaching hole in the canopy.
‘Isn’t it just wonderful, Highest Lysander?’ Lysandra sends as she sways through the heated air. ‘It’s as if a rouge spring wind has formed just to find us!’
‘‘Tis,’ Lysander sends flatly, his mind preoccupied. ‘Look ahead, Lysandra, and tell me what you see.’
Lysandra levels herself out and flaps wing even with Lysander. Up ahead of them she sees the canopy of the mountains rising behind Monksville’s two isles; set back in the space between them is a large dark hole. It seems to be coated in ice, as if the snow fallen there is trapped in an unending cycle of melting and immediate refreezing.
‘I see it, but… what is it?’
As they flap closer, the eagles begin to hear a kind of buzzing – not the buzz which forever taunts The Beast as he shreds the lakebreathing population of Monksville; that buzz is only audible to a monster with a heart as cold as the blood in its veins – rising from The Crater. There seems to be a dome of shimmering air capping the odd landmark, a plume of heated air hot enough to evaporate the snow as it falls. The buzz becomes louder the closer they approach, and they begin to pick out noises – barks, chirps, chitters, churrs – the noises of a trillion bumbling squirrels, live rodents in need of a carnivore’s belly to fill.
Finally they reach the chasm. As they circle over the mouth like buzzards over a slain carcass left to rot in the heat of the great shine, the eagles are greeted by a sight as terrifying as it is exhilarating: inside The Crater waits the indomitable squirrelhorde, rodents buzzing and yipping as they tirelessly sprint and hop from tree to tree, branch to branch, back to tail and head to back, entranced under the spell of momentum, generating massive body heat as they ceaselessly dash around and around in an endless loop of flurried motion. At The Crater’s floor is a pile of dead rodents, some squirrels, some ‘munkies, all perished from starvation, dehydration, or simple exhaustion.
‘The squirrels, they–’
‘They do their dance just like the rest of us, my love,’ sends Lysandra, both of her starving eyes fixated on the gyrating mass of fur and squeak. They circle over the top of the caldera for a short while, long enough to heat the hollows of their bones but not long enough to outlast the fading storm.
Then, Lysander sends and Lysandra receives.
‘Highest Lysandra, I do believe we’ve been found by that thing which always remains constant when all else changes with the seasons.’
She receives it very well but still sends her question, as if the bald eagle needed to confirm the law of nature. ‘What has found us, Highest Lysander?’
‘Death, my love, and now we shall bring it home.’
The eagles scream in unison before divebombing into the center of the spinning squirrelhorde, shrieking all the way through the cyclone.
One single squirrel escapes the massacre unscathed and burrows across the lake through the snow, finding safety in the dense forest surrounding Muskellunge Cove, the very forest where the screeching owl makes his roost in all seasons but the winter.
This has been the tenth subchapter of the third chapter of the book The Monksville Chronicles. Here is everything you need to know about it:
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