Cold Secrets: A SoNaR Adventure

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Whirlpools & Waterfalls

The gigantic whirlpool was at least fifteen meters in diameter. It loomed straight ahead.

“What do we do?” Maddy screamed.

“Paddle!” Corbyn wrapped the backpack’s straps securely around his leg. “We need to get this thing moving left!”

All three members of Team SoNaR moved to the right side of the raft. They used all the strength they could muster to paddle against the current. Even if the inflatable raft didn’t get sucked under, it could’ve easily flipped. The team’s efforts seemed to move the raft slightly away from the direction of the whirlpool, but the river was moving so fast that it seemed impossible to avoid it altogether.

Maddy had to eventually stop paddling. She was too fatigued to continue, and the lactic acid buildup in her arms made them feel like they were on fire. “I can’t! My arms are killing me!”

“You have to!” Corbyn shouted back.

Maddy looked up. The whirlpool loomed just ahead. She knew she had no choice if she wanted to survive. As much as she wanted to have K-1 take over for her, he simply could not be trusted. She gathered what little remained of her strength and rejoined Corbyn and Aaden. Team SoNaR continued paddling against the relenting pull of the river’s current. After what seemed like an eternity, the raft finally began to slow its descent into oblivion ever so slightly.

“We’re doing it!” Corbyn urged. “Keep going!”

Finally making progress, Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden feverishly paddled with a renewed vigor. They felt the pull of the massive whirlpool slowly begin to weaken. Soon, they felt the current that traveled towards the Monster’s teeth begin to take over. In a state of complete and utter fatigue, the teens collapsed in relief as the raft drifted safely between two stalagmites in the lower half of the formation. Team SoNaR was finally headed in the right direction.

“I…hate…water,” Aaden murmured between deep breaths. “If I never…have to get near…water…ever again….”

All Corbyn and Maddy could do was nod in agreement.

For some time, the raft drifted comfortably downstream through the darkened limestone tunnel. The river’s speed had slowed enough that the team was able to put the oars down and rest their arms. After drifting in silence for some time, Aaden turned to K-1.

“Glad you came with us now?”

K-1 scowled. “The moment I get paid, I won’t remember a thing about it.”

Aaden looked at Maddy and Corbyn. He could tell from the looks on their faces that they were all thinking the same thing: it was amazing how much control greed held over some people. Not a single member of Team SoNaR was brave enough to say so though. After another uneventful few minutes of drifting, Maddy noticed that the river was slowly widening.

“You guys see this? The walls of the tunnel are separating the further we go.”

“I just noticed that.” Corbyn looked around. “Aaden, what comes next in the poem?”

Aaden removed the canister from his pocket and reread the clue. “Second, of all the options in the lake, clockwise says the luckiest path to take.

“Looks like the river is widening because it’s feeding into an underground lake,” Corbyn observed.

Aaden replaced the canister safely into the backpack. “Could be. But I don’t get what the part about the luckiest path is supposed to mean.”

“Just get on with it,” K-1 demanded.

The raft wound its way from the river’s tunnel into a cavern that held a pristine, underground lake. The crystal clear waters had to be at least a half-mile wide or more. It was easy to see the entire lake because the top of the cavern, which seemed to be miles above, was letting small rays of sunshine through.

Maddy temporarily forgot about the team’s situation and admired their surroundings. “This place is huge. And the water is so clear and calm.”

“I don’t care,” Aaden responded. “I still hate water.”

“I said get on with it,” K-1 growled. “Stop gawking, figure out what you need to do, and get going. Unless you’d like to spend the rest of eternity admiring the bottom of the lake.”

Subtly, so that K-1 wouldn’t see, Maddy saluted him as if to say, yes, sir.

As the raft drifted further towards the center of the lake, Team SoNaR worked to figure out the meaning of the poem’s stanza. Lost in thought, Corbyn looked towards the opposite side of the lake. What he saw instantly cleared everything up.

“Look over there. There’s a bunch of tunnels leading from the lake. I bet we need to figure out which tunnel to float into.”

Maddy agreed. “The clue says that of all the options in the lake, clockwise says the luckiest path to take. Let’s see.” She counted all of the tunnels. “There are thirteen of them, and we need to pick the luckiest one…whatever that means.”

“And you’d better pick right,” K-1 threatened, “or I might just have to—”

“Are you going to keep threatening us or are you going to let us concentrate?” Aaden challenged. He’d had just about enough of K-1.

“Watch it, kid,” K-1 warned.

Maddy refocused the team. “What do you suppose makes one path luckier than another?”

Aaden took his eyes off K-1 and shrugged. “The fact that we won’t die if we choose the right one?”

“Besides that. We need to figure out what makes one path luckier than the other twelve before we go down it. I don’t want to find out the hard way that we’ve chosen wrong.”

“What does the clockwise part of the stanza mean?” Corbyn asked.

Maddy stared at the tunnels, working through the problem in her head. “If something is moving clockwise then it’s rotating to the right…so that must mean….”

The twins waited for Maddy as she problem-solved in her head.

“…that we need to start with the left-most tunnel and count from there. Let’s call the one on the left tunnel one. Moving clockwise, the next tunnel would be number two, all the way to number thirteen.”

“But how does numbering each tunnel tell us which one is the luckiest?” Corbyn asked.

Maddy smiled. “Think about it. Which number between one and thirteen is considered lucky? Especially since the total numbers of tunnels—thirteen—is supposedly unlucky.”

Comprehension dawned. “Seven, of course.”

“Exactly. I think we need to go through tunnel number seven. The other twelve probably lead to results we don’t want to know about.”

Corbyn processed her logic for a moment. “I can’t think of a better solution. There’s only one way to find out I suppose.”

Team SoNaR grabbed the raft’s oars and paddled towards the seventh tunnel from the left.

Aaden’s anxiety was quickly on the rise. “I don’t like this, guys.”

“One way or another, we have to choose,” Corbyn replied. “We may as well trust ourselves and go with it.”

Aaden reluctantly agreed.

After paddling across the lake, the raft was on the precipice of the entrance to the seventh tunnel. It was pitch black ahead.

“Are we sure this is the one?” Maddy asked once more. “It’s going to be too late to change our minds in a few seconds.”

“This tunnel is the one we chose,” Corbyn declared. “We’re sticking with it.”

Aaden suddenly feared for his life. The raft slowly passed from the cavern into the blackness beyond. Suddenly, somebody screamed.


Isaac’s phone rang. It was his secretary.

“Hey, Sarah. How’re things going today?”

Sarah sounded tired and defeated. “Not good. Mom’s taken a turn for the worse. She had a really rough night last night. At least she’s sleeping well right now though.”

“I’m so sorry, Sarah. Do you want me to let everyone here know how things are going with her?”

“No!” Sarah responded instantly and, Isaac thought, somewhat forcefully. “I mean…let’s just keep this between you and I for the time being. I’m not much for being the center of attention to be honest. Is that all right?”

“Of course it’s all right. And please call me if things change, okay?”

“Will do. Thanks, Isaac.”


Maddy hit Corbyn over and over on his shoulder. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

Corbyn took the punches and laughed. He screamed as the raft floated from the lake into the tunnel just to get a scare.

“I hate you,” Aaden managed to say.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the raft lurched down then forward. It quickly picked up speed as it flew down the darkened tunnel. All four passengers reflexively grabbed handles on the raft and held on for dear life.

“This is not good,” Corbyn murmured as the raft hurtled down into the blackness beyond.

For what seemed like an eternity, the raft continued to fall down the tunnel at a slope that felt much steeper than it really was. Between the raft’s increasing speed and the lack of light, Team SoNaR and K-1 did not know where they were going, if the raft was going to crash into something, or how fast they were really moving. All the passengers knew was that their lives were at the mercy of gravity. The raft rapidly carried them deeper into the bowels of the underground tunnel, straight into the unknown.

As suddenly as it began, the fast and furious trip down the tunnel came to an abrupt end. The raft forcefully splashed down on what appeared to be another underground lake. However, as the members of Team SoNaR quickly realized, there were two major differences here: first, there was no light; second, there was an ear-splitting roar that made it difficult for the four passengers to communicate.

Assured the raft was not going to plunge any further, Maddy felt around for the backpack. Blindly, she opened it up and fished out one of the flashlights. She moved the beam around the team’s new surroundings. The teens saw they were drifting through another cavern that held a second large, underground lake. It was also evident that the roar was coming from a massive thirty meter waterfall feeding into the opposite side of the lake.

Maddy soon realized something else that struck fear in her heart: there was no visible tunnel leaving the lake, and therefore no obvious way to get out of the cavern. It looked like the team had chosen the wrong tunnel and were now trapped.

“Guys?” she shouted. “I don’t see any way to get out of here!”

“Me either!” Corbyn said. “Not to mention what that waterfall could do to us if we get too close to it!”

Aaden couldn’t speak. He sat in silent terror at the prospect that they had chosen the wrong tunnel and would now be stuck down in the cavern forever.

Fortunately, despite her fear, Maddy kept her composure. After letting the raft drift for a few minutes, she made a very important observation about the team’s situation.

“Now that I think of it, this may be exactly where we’re supposed to be!”

“How do you figure that?” Corbyn responded. “Are you planning on magically paddling us up the waterfall until we get back to the surface?”

“Stay with me! Think about it. Millions of gallons of water are rushing into this cavern every second!”

“And?”

Maddy sighed. “And…the water level in here isn’t rising noticeably, is it? Don’t you think this cavern would’ve been full by now if the water had nowhere to go?”

Corbyn nodded. He had to hand it to Maddy. Sometimes, the simplest answers were the most difficult to come by. “The water’s gotta be draining somewhere, doesn’t it?”

“Exactly! Let’s look at the poem again!”

Aaden’s hopes rose ever so slightly, but he still wasn’t convinced. How could this pitch-black death trap be the right spot?

Above the roar of the waterfall, Maddy retrieved the canister and read the next stanza loud enough for all to hear. “It says we need to get devoured by Mammoth Falls, and then we’ll find ourselves in the Great Halls.” She looked at the massive waterfall. “What do you think?”

“It’s certainly big enough for the name to fit,” Corbyn agreed, “but how’re we supposed to be devoured by it?”

Aaden was getting nauseous. The word devoured was something he didn’t want to hear.

Maddy put the clue safely in the backpack. “My guess is the water is leaving the cavern somewhere near the waterfall! And that’s probably where we also need to go!”

The raft was inching closer to the waterfall. The spray from the pouring water was beginning to hit the faces of the passengers.

Corbyn thought for a moment and nodded. “Almost as if something near the waterfall is consuming the water in the lake! That’s why the level of the lake isn’t going up! Let’s paddle closer and see if there’s something going on we can’t see from here!”

No, Aaden thought weakly. Please don’t.

“You better hope you know what you’re doing!” K-1 yelled. He looked nervous for the first time.

“Or what?” Maddy shouted defiantly. “You’re going to die with the rest of us if we end up stuck down here, so sit down and shut your mouth!”

K-1 could not believe what he had just heard. He stood up confrontationally. “How dare you talk to me like that? I could end you right here!”

Maddy stood her ground. “So do it! Then what? You’ll never find your way out of here alone! How sad is it that you have to rely on a bunch of teenagers to survive? I said sit down and shut up!”

K-1 relented, seething. I will have my revenge on you, young lady.

Maddy and Corbyn paddled towards the mouth of the waterfall, careful not to get too close.

“We need to be devoured by it!” Maddy shouted. “How’s that going to happen if we don’t paddle straight into it? It’ll sink us in a second!”

Corbyn suddenly had a thought that he desperately hoped was correct. “Maybe we need to paddle around and behind it!”

Maddy nodded. Straining, she paddled furiously to turn the raft towards the back of the waterfall.

Please be right, Aaden silently pleaded.

Within minutes, Maddy and Corbyn had paddled the raft around to the side of the roaring falls.

Corbyn pointed. “There’s a tunnel back there!”

Maddy saw it as well. “Right behind the mouth of the waterfall! Almost as if it’s leading into the waterfall’s stomach!” Maddy shouted at Aaden. “We need your help now! We’re going to be really close to the waterfall and could get sucked under if we’re not all paddling hard enough!”

Though paralyzed with fear, Aaden somehow found a way to grab an oar and help. Soon, the raft was moving straight towards the tunnel that had been hidden by the wall of water. In no time at all, the raft was behind the waterfall, completely avoiding the suction force produced by the millions of gallons falling into the lake. Team SoNaR was soon drifting lazily away from the falls and into another seemingly endless tunnel.

Corbyn sat back and breathed deeply. “Devoured by the waterfall. Could’ve been worse, I suppose.”

After the raft had drifted for some time and the roar of the waterfall could barely be heard anymore, Maddy looked ahead. She could see a small amount of light in the distance poking through the tunnel. “Thank God. I’ve been through enough pitch-black tunnels today to last me a lifetime.”

Aaden nodded and smiled weakly. “Did I mention that I hate water?”

Before long, the raft had traveled the length of the limestone tunnel. It soon entered another giant cavern. Known as the Great Halls, the cavern was in the shape of an immense hallway and was lit by numerous torches attached to its walls. To the relief of its occupants, the raft quickly ran aground in the cavern. The river they had been traveling down had finally come to an end.

Aaden didn’t hesitate to jump out. He breathed a huge sigh of relief and knelt down on the ground, elated to finally be back on dry ground. Maddy and Corbyn followed and took in their surroundings.

“Kinda creepy,” Corbyn said.

“At least there’s light here.” Maddy turned the flashlight off and put it in the backpack. “Though I wonder who lit these torches for us.”

“Probably whoever set the quest up in the first place.” Aaden stood up and shook out his legs. “Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.”

K-1 climbed out of the raft and hovered over the team. “Enough. Get going.”

Maddy gave him a dirty look, fished the clue out, and read the next stanza. “It says we need to blow our way through a barrier within, but we need to make sure we don’t burn and scar our skin. Any ideas?”

Corbyn and Aaden shook their heads. Neither knew what the lines meant.

Maddy shouldered the backpack. “Then let’s walk and see what we find.”

For the next ten minutes, with K-1 steadily on their heels, Team SoNaR walked down the immense hallway-shaped cavern in search of anything out of the ordinary.

“How come the poem calls this place the Great Halls if it’s only one long hallway?” Aaden asked.

Corbyn looked around. “Good question. Maybe there’re other hallways that branch off of this one somewhere.”

Maddy stopped in her tracks and let out a cry of disgust. “Gross!”

“What?” Corbyn asked.

“This…stuff! It’s hanging all over the walls. I nearly put my hand in it!”

Corbyn and Aaden looked at what she was referring to. What they saw took them by surprise: the walls of the cavern were covered in what could only be described as white mucus. Slimy in appearance, it had no trouble adhering to the slippery limestone walls.

“What is this?” Corbyn reached out to touch the unknown substance.

“Don’t!” Aaden shouted.

Corbyn reflexively retracted his hand and rounded on his brother. “Why not?”

“Because it’ll burn you.” Aaden put his face near the mucus and studied it. “I think it’s called Snottite…for obvious reasons.”

“What’s…Snottite?” Maddy asked.

“I don’t remember everything about it, but I think I remember our Earth Science teacher mentioning it back in eighth grade. If I remember right, it’s a bacterial colony that gets its energy from sulfur compounds found in caves. For whatever reason, it can be as acidic as battery acid.”

“Which is why touching it would burn us,” Maddy concluded. “Good to know.”

“Exactly. Make sure to stay away from this stuff as you walk. It wouldn’t be any fun if it fell on your head.”

Glad they hadn’t found out about the dangers of the Snottite the hard way, Maddy, Corbyn, Aaden, and K-1 continued down the cavernous hallway. After walking nearly a mile, they found themselves face-to-face with a limestone wall blocking their path. Other than dozens of stalactites hanging precariously from the ceiling above them, there was not much else out of the ordinary.

“Now what?” Maddy looked frustrated. “We’re at a complete dead end.”

“Let’s think about the clue again,” Corbyn said, keeping his wits about him. “It says we need to blow through the barrier within. This wall right in front of us looks like a barrier, doesn’t it?”

But Maddy never got the chance to answer. K-1 suddenly ran towards her and snagged the team’s backpack. With a sneer, he opened it up. “Thanks for getting me this far, kids, but I’m afraid I’ll have to go it alone from here.”

“What are you doing?” Maddy charged straight at K-1, but he effortlessly brushed her to the ground with a swipe of his hand. Corbyn and Aaden knelt protectively in front of her.

K-1 rummaged through the backpack, pulling out the axe and nylon rope. He sneered and stared at Maddy. “When you waved the axe at me in the biosphere, I promised myself that I’d use it against you somehow. And here we are.”

Corbyn looked up and glared. “What do you think you’re—?”

“Shut up. And stand up.” K-1 used the axe to intimidate and herd the teens together. He tied them together with the rope. “Looks like you underestimated me,” he mocked in Maddy’s face. “And for that you will die.”

“Oh, really? And exactly how do you plan on getting the secret without our help? You’re too stupid to—”

K-1 grabbed Maddy’s cheeks with one hand and squeezed. “You just don’t give up, do you girl? Maybe I’m not as stupid as you give me credit for.” He pushed her face away and turned back towards the wall. “It doesn’t take a genius to know that I need to break through this. When I do, I’ll climb through and reach my payday. You three, on the other hand…well, all I can say is, rot in peace.”

Growing up in Kentucky, K-1 had to learn about cave systems nearly every year he was in school. He knew that the walls of the caves were made of limestone. He also knew that, as far as rocks went, limestone was fairly soft; soft enough to bust his way through with the axe anyway. K-1 surveyed the area, looking for a spot on the wall that looked weakest.

With his back to the team, Aaden quietly gave instructions to Corbyn and Maddy. K-1 was so absolved in getting through the wall that he wasn’t listening.

“We need to move back,” Aaden whispered. “Away from the stalactites above us. Shuffle your feet.”

K-1 didn’t notice that the teens were slowly moving away from him.

“Now what?” Maddy whispered.

“Just wait,” Aaden replied. “We may not need to do anything.”

Maddy wasn’t sure what Aaden meant, but she trusted his instincts.

For the next several minutes, Team SoNaR watched with baited breath as K-1 hacked away at the wall. With every forceful swing, the wall vibrated. Small chips of limestone flew off in all directions and mixed with bits of dust falling from above. Seemingly unaware of the dust gathering in his scalp, K-1 continued aggressively swinging until the first crack appeared in the wall.

“Told you.” K-1 wiped the sweat from his brow. “Maybe I’m not as stupid as you think.”

K-1 resumed chipping away at the wall. Every piece of limestone that broke away was slightly bigger than the one before. Soon, the wall began to open up where the original crack had formed. Naturally, this encouraged K-1 to keep going. Before long, he had produced a hole in the wall approximately the size of a hubcap.

K-1 looked at the hole he had produced. He now knew the wall was only a few centimeters thick, so opening it up enough for him to crawl through would be no problem. He swung the axe again and hit the edge of the hole with all his might.

Unfortunately for him, it was one swing too many. The moment the axe made contact, the hall shook as if protesting the damage being inflicted upon it. K-1 looked around to see what was going on but it was too late. Some of the stalactites above his head could no longer withstand the vibrations the axe produced. The final blow was all it took: three large stalactites that had been shaken loose crashed down right on top of him.

The teens watched in amazement as the devastation unfolded before them.

“Told you,” Aaden said.

Once the dust from the cave-in had settled, Team SoNaR looked down to find K-1 nearly completely buried.

“He’s out cold,” Maddy said.

K-1 was lying flat on his back. He was unconscious under a heap of broken limestone. Surprisingly enough, he was still breathing.

“We need to get out of here before he wakes up,” Corbyn said.

The team struggled with the rope for a couple of minutes, eventually jimmying themselves from their bondage. They stuffed the rope and the axe into the backpack. Corbyn and Maddy then got ready to make a run for it back through the hallway.

“Wait,” Aaden said. “We can’t go back. The current in the river won’t let the raft go that direction. We’re stuck here.”

“What exactly do you suggest we do then?” Maddy pointed in exasperation at K-1. “You saw what just happened when he tried to break through the wall. There’s still more stalactites up there that could fall on us!”

“That’s why we’re not going to use the axe,” Aaden replied coolly. “Think about it. The clue says we need to blow through the barrier. I don’t think that literally means we need to force our way through it by bashing it like this idiot did.”

“What are you suggesting?” Corbyn asked. “That we’re going to sit here and watch the wall melt away right before our eyes?”

Aaden nodded. “Basically, yes.”

Corbyn laughed in disbelief.

Undaunted, Aaden continued. “Okay, you’re right. We’re not going to watch it melt away. But we are going to watch it dissolve away. At least until the hole that K-1 produced is big enough to crawl through.”

Corbyn and Maddy stared in silent confusion.

“Get to the point,” Maddy said.

Aaden pointed at K-1. “As he just showed us, blow doesn’t mean we should be knocking the wall down. It’s a play on words that’s telling us to blow…as in noses!”

Maddy and Corbyn remained silent. They had no idea what he was getting at.

With a sigh, Aaden stopped beating around the bush. “We need to use the Snottite that we walked by earlier. We’ll use it to slowly dissolve away part of the wall so that we don’t cause another collapse. Think about it: Snottite, blow, noses. Get it?”

“Got it,” Maddy said. “But how is that stuff going to dissolve the wall away?”

“Because acid dissolves limestone! Don’t you remember putting vinegar on our limestone rocks last year in science?”

“Yeah.”

“And what happened?”

It suddenly dawned on her what Aaden was getting at. “The limestone began to bubble because the vinegar—”

“The acetic acid,” Aaden clarified.

Maddy nodded. “The vinegar started to dissolve the limestone away.”

“Exactly. And even though vinegar is a very weak acid, it still reacted with the limestone, didn’t it? Can you imagine what the sulfuric acid produced by the Snottite could do to this wall?”

Maddy smiled. “It’s gonna eat away at it in no time. Aaden, you’re a genius.”

Aaden blushed. “Let’s go collect some Snottite and bring it back.”

“But what about him?” Corbyn pointed at K-1. “What if he wakes up and breaks free before we get through the wall?”

Aaden wasn’t too worried. “He did enough damage to the wall already that we’re not going to have to dissolve much more of it to crawl through. Plus, even if he does wake up, he’s almost completely buried. It’s gonna take him quite a while to get out of there.”

Corbyn couldn’t argue. Now that they had a plan for getting through the limestone wall safely, they ran back down the hallway and quickly collected as much of the Snottite as they could carry.

“Be careful not to let it touch your skin,” Aaden warned. He picked up a rock about the same shape and size of a dinner plate. “Use the axe to scrape it off the walls onto this.”

While collecting the Snottite, Corbyn was curious about something. “If this stuff is able to dissolve the wall away over there, why isn’t it dissolving this one also? I see no bubbling or anything going on.”

Aaden shrugged. “Maybe because the wall we have to make it through is dry. This one has ground water dripping down it, which is probably neutralizing the acid enough that the reaction is slowed down, so much so that we can’t see it happening. Without water on the other wall, I’d expect a stronger and quicker reaction.”

Once the team collected as much Snottite as they could, Aaden carefully carried the rock back to the wall. Making sure K-1 was still out cold, the team used the axe to stick the Snottite around the hole. Within seconds, the acid from the bacteria began to react with the calcium carbonate in the wall.

“Just as I thought,” Aaden observed. “It’s bubbling away like mad.”

The Snottite continued eating away at the hole. As chunks of limestone weakened, the teens used the axe to carefully knock them to the floor without sending vibrations through the cavern. It didn’t take long for the hole to grow wide enough for the team to crawl through. Aaden used the axe to remove what remained of the bacterial colony and rinsed the wall with a bottle of water.

“That should do it. The water should neutralize the acid enough that we should be able to climb through without getting too burnt. After you.” He waved Maddy through.

“Wait,” she said. “I think we should at least remove some of the rock from K-1 before we go, don’t you?”

“Are you crazy?” Corbyn replied. “After what he’s done to us?”

“True, but—”

Before she could finish her sentence, Aaden came to her defense. “He’s an awful excuse for a human being. There’s no arguing that. But I agree with Maddy. He doesn’t look like he’s severely hurt, just knocked out. He should be able to walk out of here when he wakes up. We should remove some of the stuff off of him to help out. If we just leave him here like this, we wouldn’t be any better than him, would we?”

K-1 began to stir. Corbyn thought about what Aaden said and finally agreed. “Even though he would’ve left us down here had he gotten the chance.”

“All the more reason for us to be better than that,” Maddy replied. “I, for one, don’t want to sink down to his level. Do you?”

Corbyn looked at K-1 in disgust. “Fine. Let’s clear him off before he wakes up and get the heck out of here.”

Maddy smiled and silently thanked him. It only took a couple of minutes for Team SoNaR to clear most of the broken pieces of stalactite off their pursuer.

“Can we go now?” Corbyn asked.

“Maddy, go first,” Aaden said.

Maddy smiled as she went through the hole, careful to avoid touching that edges with the Snottite. “I never knew you were such a chemistry whiz.”

Aaden smiled.

K-1 groaned in pain.

After Maddy made it through the hole, Corbyn threw the backpack to her, went through himself, and helped Aaden through.

Now I see why the poem called this place the Great Halls,” Aaden said after stepping into the large, limestone hallway on the other side. “The wall we just climbed through was the barrier that separated this cavern into two different hallways.”

Team SoNaR heard K-1 groan again.

“Good observation,” Corbyn replied urgently. “But not really important right now.”

Team SoNaR left K-1 where he lay, knowing it wouldn’t be long before he’d escape. They sprinted through the long ascending hallway that eventually led them back to ground level. When they emerged, they realized they were standing in a forest in the middle of Kentucky. They looked around and noticed a river directly in front of them. They headed straight towards it.

“This must be the Green River.” Corbyn soaked up the afternoon sunshine that covered his face. “The last stanza of the poem said that this is where our quest should continue.”

Not more than twenty yards away, a silver canister reflected the sunlight on the shore of the river. Maddy grabbed the canister while Corbyn called for a taxi to pick them up. The teens ran to a highway not far away, waited nervously until the taxi arrived, and finally found themselves safe and sound in the helicopter later that evening.


The phone rang again.

“Hello?”

“Good evening,” Mr. Zhang said. “It’s just me calling with an update.”

“I trust you have good news?”

“This time I do. The kids just left the caverns, grabbed the next canister, and took a taxi presumably back to the helicopter. Everything seems to be back on schedule.”

“Excellent. They’re getting close now. Keep me informed.”

“Will do.”

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