Check out our episode here! The Threat Below by Jason Latshaw
Icelyn and Adorane, two seventeen year old best friends, are going down the mountain. This is forbidden, but Ad has something he wants to show Ice. It's... a pile of nuts? Wait, a pile of nuts WITH HER NAME WRITTEN ON THEM. Ad has apparently been training squirrels from down the mountain to carry nut messages up to the top. Ice is getting nervous because they're not supposed to be this far down the mountain, nor are they supposed to be holding hands, since Ice is a Cognate, even if it's for support, and even if Ice is secretly pleased that the two are touching. He's promised to Catalandi, something Ice doesn't like at all.
Nicholas, Ice's father and Head Cognate of Mountaintop, is worried about his wife, Marjan. She's not doing well. As leader, it's Nicholas's job to make sure everything runs smoothly for Mountaintop, but he's also sometimes sneered at because of it. He decides to go to Waterpump to get water from Ice, who should be working there today, but... Where is she?
She's on the other side of the wall! Ad goes hunting here all the time for ultrabears and ultralions (really violent sounding creatures), a lot of Veritas do, but this time, it's bad. They find Jarvin tied to a tree, hollowed out like a gourd. And then they hear what sounds like something, or someone, hunting them. They run! Maybe the Threat Below is real after all.
Back on Mountaintop, Nicholas has been looking for Ice and goes to her betrothed's house. Turns out, all the time Ice has said she's been spending with Torrain, is not true. Torrain asks where Adorane is, and hints that that's where Ice will be, too. Nicholas goes to Ad's house to speak with his father, but then Ice comes crashing into the door with a lie that she had been delivering water to the hunters. Nicholas knows though. He knows that she's been with Ad and he's trying to woo her. Well, that's not right at all, but at least Ice is off the hook now for being on the other side of the wall. But what are they going to do about Jarvin? They can't tell anyone he's dead because then everyone would know they were on the other side of the wall. In a few days, everyone will realize he's missing and presumed dead and then another family will be allowed to have a baby to take his place. That's... good?
Oh well, we can't worry about Jarvin right now because Marjan is getting worse. It turns out that she is sick from drinking so much water from Waterpump. The water, that comes from Below, is poisoned! Oh no. And to make things worse, Torrain wants to make a formal accusation of Ad. Even though Icelyn doesn't seem to care for Torrain at all, he is still upset that his intended is interested in someone else. Luckily Ice finds Ad making out with Catalandi. Wait, no! That's not good! People don't do that anymore! At least Torrain decides not to accuse Ad. If he had, Ad would have been Dispersed and sent over the wall, which is pretty much a death sentence.
Nicholas calls a meeting to tell everyone in Mountaintop the water is poisoned. That doesn't go well. Tranton, Nicholas's advisor, seems to be undermining Nicholas. They declare that they must ration the rain water, the small reserve they have to drink during winter, which of course causes a panic. To disperse the crowd, Tranton declares, on Nicholas's behalf, that if the crowd doesn't leave the rain water alone right this minute, anyone left will be forced to go down Below. Ice thinks this is ridiculous and that people are just scared and need more information from their Head Cognate, so she stays. And of course, because Tranton is not a good person, he wants to make an example of Icelyn and says she must be sent Below.
Torrain convinces Nicholas and Tranton that Adorane should go down below in place of Ice. She was trampled a little bit at the poisoned water meeting so she's a little out of it and gets locked in her room when she tries to protest. Torrain breaks her out later and it seems like they're getting along, but it's fake? Maybe? Ice leaves him just when he thought they were getting along. Ahh, so it was fake.
Ice sneaks through town and comes to her teacher, Belubus's house and finds it in a shambles, then she goes to Ad's house where she sees his mother and several other Veritas singing (which isn't done anymore since the before times. The Apriori, what everyone calls the people that came before, used to sing a lot.) around a weird wooden X thing. They're singing about God... But religion isn't real and it's forbidden... She can't deal with these dull minded Veritas singing to a god. Then she realizes that she needs to get over the wall to find Ad because she decides she has nothing left in Mountaintop now. Her parents locked her up like a prisoner, her father basically has no spine, her tutor is missing, her intended is a wiener, and her best friend has been sent Below because of her to find clean water. She's got to go too.
Meanwhile, Nicholas and Marjan argue about their missing daughter, then Tranton and the Tarlinius, the police-types, go to Torrain's house. He's inconsolable about Ice fake-liking him and his parents refuse to let Tranton and co in, but then they come in anyway and shoot Torrain's mother. Where did they get guns? Those aren't a thing anymore! Tranton discovered them in a labyrinth-like cave down Below. He also found a library with scrolls of information leading him to believe that he should be the leader of Mountaintop. Just like Nicholas, it's in his blood… But he's not a Brathius… He’s related to the original Brathius’s wife.
Ice is on the other side of the wall and finds Jarvin again. She, thinking very highly of herself, says some Cognate words over his body then walks on. After a bit, she starts to get thirsty because she didn't think to bring water with her. She keeps going but gets so thirsty that she decides to eat leaves and slugs, then she passes out outside of the labyrinth. Meanwhile, Torrain gets sent off without fanfare to rescue his intended because that's what you're supposed to do when you're promised to someone, even if that someone pretty much hates your guts out. He obviously resents Ice now, but vows to find her and fix the water problem so he can be a hero. Speaking of heroes, the crew that has actually been sent Below to fix the water problem, led by Ad and his father, are sharpening spears and singing to prepare for an inevitable fight with the creatures down Below. They are about to enter Cloudbank, which is the line between Mountaintop and Below. It's so foggy no one can see and is full of monsters so it's not a good place to be.
Ice wakes up to a kind woman keeping her safe in the labyrinth, which turns out to be old mines, calling her a Rejected and complaining about how those up top are so terrible for sending people outside to die. She offers her water and takes care of her. Hey, wait... There is water in the mines! A small spring, not enough for those on Mountaintop, but still! Ice is taken to the beloved leader of the mine folk and is shocked to discover that it is Belubus, her tutor! No one wants her to leave fearing that she'll tell her father or worse, Tranton, that they exist. She plans to trick Belubus into letting her outside, but of course he realizes her plot and lets her go. She continues on looking for Ad but then she realizes she's being hunted.
While Ice is in the mines, her father is manipulated more by Tranton, and her mother, now that she's feeling better and is no longer poisoned, wants him to be fired. He has a store of guns but didn't send any down below. Everyone knows he's the worst. Torrain tromps down the mountain, half-heartedly looking for Ad and for Ice. Then he realizes he's being hunted. He runs and hides in a cave.
Ice finds Torrain a little while later, but the cave he's in isn't a regular cave. It's got machinery inside that seems to be assisting, if not down right producing, the clouds from Cloudbank. Torrain gives a clearly rehearsed speech about how he didn't mean a pebble to Ice, so why should he care about her now and it's embarrassing for everyone. He leaves her in the cave, but she goes after and gives him food. Then they are chased by a Threat Below. It has sparkling blue eyes and red and black cloaking its face. It sometimes stands on two feet and is covered with grizzled fur and surrounded by flies. Ice punches it in the stomach and it looks at her dejectedly and leaves. Uh. What?
A short time later, Icelyn and Torrain find Aderone and the crew by following their singing. Ugh, stupid Veritas. Ad sees Ice's blue eyes in the woods and fears she's a Threat Below, but no, she's just Ice. Ad's father makes him take Ice and Torrain back to Mountaintop instead of going through Cloudbank. He refuses to let these children go down below to get killed, which makes Ad furious. He and Ice leave the next morning without Torrain. They really can't stand the guy. Ad's father and the rest of the crew go through the fog and die violently one by one. Unfortunately Ice and Ad find them later. It's horrendously sad.
Torrain, now on his own, goes back to the cave and tinkers with the fog machines. He realizes he can trap water from the machines. That's fresh water! He might be the hero of Mountaintop! While he's figuring that out, Ad slays an ultrabear, remember, the super violent sounding creatures that the Veritas valiantly hunt, which turns out to be... a raccoon. Ultralions are lynxes. Why does everyone in Mountaintop think it's impressive to slay a raccoon?
Later, Ad tells Ice that he, a lowly dull-witted Veritas, took the Cognate test and scored higher than Ice. How could that be? Veritas are stupid and clearly only good for manual labor like slaying terrifyingly violent raccoons! It's impossible! They argue, but then change topics and talk about what they want to see down below. Ad says he wants weapons, you know, for raccoon-slaying, but really, he wants to see landforms other than the top of a mountain. They joke a lot and see a lot of animals they've never seen before, but are always careful to hide when they hear a sound. Much like Ad being smart and not only there for muscle, Ice wants a spear to help protect them from the Threat Below. If Ad can be strong AND smart, Ice can be smart AND strong.
Back on Mountaintop, Marjan wants everyone to have weapons, not just the Tarlinius, so she and Nicholas sneakily distribute them. Ice, meanwhile, never wants to go back to Mountaintop. She loves exploring Down Below. She and Ad come across a cabin with music playing. Recorded music? Who ever heard of such a thing? It must be 300 years old, something left by the Apriori before the world was destroyed by the threatbelows.
Back on Mountaintop, Tranton finds out about the guns and uses everyone having them to further his agenda of making Nicholas look weak and stupid. Someone dies as a result of gun misuse and then Tranton, to make things worse, gives a gun to a twelve year old to protect his mother now that his father is dead, which definitely results in that twelve year old killing the man who killed his father. Nicholas tries to protect the boy, Istoch, by hiding the gun. He tells him not to tell anyone anything that happened, because without any real evidence, they can't stone him to death.
In the house that Ice and Ad found, there are all sorts of Apriori artifacts, some Ice knows about and some she doesn't. Ad knows most of the others, but then they realize that something is in the corner, watching them. Ahh but no, it's just cloaks. Giant fur cloaks with animal heads. Then they realize the record has stopped playing and someone else is in the cabin. They hide under the giant cloaks as the creatures eat dinner and go to sleep. Ice is drawn to them, almost attracted to them, but Ad keeps her from getting too close. She can almost understand what they're saying, but all Ad hears is grunts.
They manage to escape and continue on to find the source of the water that leads to Waterpump. When they arrive, they stake it out, sure that they will spot what is poisoning the water. And they do! They see three giant threatbelows dump something from barrels into the river. So the Threat Below is *actually* poisoning the water.
There's a brief chapter here from the POV of one of the threatbelows, or as they refer to themselves, the Croathus. His name is Amperous. He felt something draw him to the valley, but what? Something that makes him feel at peace. The Croathus feels a change coming to the valley and can smell that something is happening, so he runs through the town, the remnants of an Apriori neighborhood it seems, gathering up the others.
While Ice and Ad watch the threatbelows poisoning the water, Torrain stumbles through, having just studied the water wheel that sends the water up the mountain. He's sure he's going to solve the poison issue, but then he literally walks right into the three threatbelows. They start to attack and Ad runs down to attack too, so Torrain runs away. Ice doesn't want to watch Ad die, so she joins him. As the threatbelows are about to kill them, another smaller one runs up, bellows, and attacks. She kills or runs off the beasts... But what's going to happen now with Ice and Ad?
They are protected by the small threatbelow, who seems to be very taken with Ice. So much so that she speaks! Ice can understand her perfectly but Ad only hears barks and chirps. The threatbelow takes off her cloak and says her name is Eveshone. She's beautiful, and nearly twice the size of Ice. Eveshone tells Ice that she's so happy she's finally come for her and says that she gave her everything. Uh what? Ice has no idea what Eveshone is talking about. Eveshone leads them to Deep Water, a Drowned City, where Ice will be able to get the answers to all her questions, though Eveshone just thinks she's joking when she asks anything. Surely she knows everything! They stop at the cabin where Ice and Ad hid under the cloaks. That is Eveshone and her father's house, but her father has been gutted like Jarvin and a message is on the wall, not to go against your own kind and to kill those from above. Well Eveshone is not going to do that. They bury her father, but Ad is really unsure of everything that's going on. He can't understand Eveshone at all so doesn't trust her.
On Mountaintop, Nicholas and Marjan pretty much hate each other over the loss of Ice and Nicholas's poor leadership. The boy, Istoch, is now free because Tranton could find no evidence that he murdered the man who killed his father, but his mother was so distraught she hanged herself. Nicholas tries to take the boy in, but Marjan won't have it. They already have a child, or has he forgotten?!
Torrain, after fleeing the threatbelows and leaving Ad to die, ran off to an abandoned neighborhood and is searching through houses for supplies and machines. He sees a lot of Apriori stuff but is taken with the television. He carries it off, but it's very heavy and he falls through the floor and is attacked by a bear! A real bear. He uses a hatchet, slaughters the bear and takes its skin as a cloak. Now he's determined to find Ice and Ad and help them, even if Ice hates him. As he's searching back by the water source, he sees more threatbelows, close to a thousand, gathered and waiting in line like an army. He's got to find Ad and Ice.
Nicholas is still struggling but makes plans to get rid of all the guns. The Veritas are on board, led by Ad's mom, and even some of the Tarlinius are too. When they meet up with plans to throw all the guns off the side of the mountain, of course Tranton is there, and now Nicholas is seen as an even weaker leader. Marjan and Istoch meanwhile have a heart to heart, but then he leaves to find Ice and bring one family back together.
Ice, Ad and Eveshone continue on to the Drowned City after burying Eveshone's father. They make it to the beach and can see old skyscrapers in the middle of the ocean, but they don't have a way to get there. Eveshone finds a boat that needs repairs, so they begin working on it, until Ad takes it upon himself to try to kill Eveshone. Ice tries to stop him, but Eveshone says if Ice wants her to die, she will. No no no! Ad stabs Eveshone with his spear, but then Ice tackles him and then, shocking everyone, they make out! Ice is ecstatic but finally pulls away when she hears Eveshone whimper. She's fine really, but still hurt, physically and emotionally. Ice tells her she never wants her to die and she will make Ad stop trying to hurt her. Eveshone then asks Ice when she's going to have her litter of children after she and Ad just mated on the beach. No no no. They didn't mate! No litter! Well good.
On the beach, Torrain arrives and Eveshone tries to kill him. Torrain and Adorane talk about how Ad and Ice kissed, but Ice says it was nothing, making Adorane run off. Ice goes after him and they're attacked, but when the attacker sees Ice's eyes, he runs off, but returns a short time later with the Army of Croathus. Ice, Ad, Torrain and Eveshone get in their boat, but you know what? The Croathus can swim. You know what else can swim? Sharks. Eveshone cuts her arm and dangles it in the water. Shark attack! Many of the Croathus are devoured.
Istoch comes back from over the wall with things belonging to the dead, including a necklace that belonged to Icelyn, which brings about the end of Nicholas and Marjan. Tranton now feels bad about trying to usurp Nicholas and says he needs to be the leader again.
Icelyn, Adorane, Torrain and Eveshone make it to the Drowned City and Amperous, the leader of the Croathus, is angry. He's going to get them all. Ice asks about Eveshone's mother, but she says Ice is her mother. No, that can't be right. They go up a skyscraper where there are many others like Eveshone. There is a portrait of someone who looks exactly like Ice but it's hundreds of years old. Ice meets the leader of this group and when they touch, their memories blend together. Icelyn can see the past.
She joins with the leader, Omathis, and lives his memories. Sean Brathius, Icelyn's many times great grandfather created Omathis and the ones like him and Eveshone. Sean was a scientist who created weapons for the military, and in particular, these creatures. They age slowly, they are strong, they are powerful, they are smart. But they're not aggressive enough for the military. Sean and his daughter, who Omathis calls Lovely, want to keep them safe. Omathis and his cellmate and brother, Amperous, love and care for Sean and Lovely and would never hurt them. But then Sean finds a mate, Shai, and they hate her and she them (which is understandable because she’s pretty terrible, and it turns out, a distant relation of Tranton, which is probably why he’s so terrible, too). Shai tells Sean that he isn't their father, but it doesn't seem that way. They were made with his blood. They have his eyes. They are treated like family. Until the government says the experiment failed and they must be terminated.
Sean works quickly to make them more aggressive so he will not have to kill the creations made with his own blood, but they are to be terminated anyway. Lovely comes to try to set them free but she can't, the locks have been changed. She tells them they are strong enough to break free. When Shai comes later with her brat of a son, Travis, Omathis and Amperous break out of their enclosures and throw her against the wall and terrify her son. Men with guns show up and more like Omathis and Amperous are released from their enclosures. Even against guns, they cannot be stopped. Sean and Lovely flee the carnage.
After reliving all this, Omathis nearly falls into a depression, but Ice wants to understand all the tragedies that have befallen them and help them. She sees herself as their God. Omathis greatly misses Mr. Sean and had always hoped he would come back down the mountain for his creations. He tried to lead expeditions up the mountain but found they couldn't breathe the air and many died. They created masks in the likeness of Mr. Sean that would allow them to breathe, but as they begin to climb the mountain, a great earthquake happens and then there's a flood. They all assumed that it was Mr. Sean, their creator, punishing them, so they never tried to find him again and hundreds of years passed. But it wasn't a punishment, just a natural disaster.
Now, through visions, Ice has discovered that the masks are hidden in a sports coliseum in the Drowned City. She wants to get them and take as many Anaghwin, the name for the nice threatbelows like Omathis and Eveshone, up to Mountaintop as she can. She tells Torrain that she wants to get the masks but doesn't say why. She doesn't tell Ad at all. Torrain discovers scuba equipment and gets it working again, then they all three go underwater in search of the masks. They find them and almost make it back to the surface without incident, but then Ice gets spooked by a shark and flails away. Torrain, not Ad, blocks her from the shark and ends up being bitten. When they get out of the water, Eveshone is there and attacks Torrain because they could have gotten her God killed. He's knocked out and Ice tries giving him a kiss just to see what it's like. It's not so bad.
Ice visits with Omathis to tell him about the masks. He is a little excited about going up the mountain, but also upset because he knows his brother, Ampherus, the leader of the Croathus, won't go and is in fact building an army to kill them all as they try to ascend. Ad and Torrain have a scheme they're working on behind Ice's back that will kill those wearing the masks just in case. They think it's ridiculous for Ice to think that she is a god while they believe that all the threatbelows are bad.
They all come up with a plan to sneak around the Croathus Army who definitely want to kill everyone, but it means sacrifice. Luckily there is a group willing to die for Ice. And they do. Ice and co sneak around to the mountain while a different group of Anaghwin are attacked as a distraction. Amperous realizes this and goes to attack. Ice's small group's sneaky traveling leads to Ad nearly drowning, but Eveshone goes to rescue him.
Ice is very pleased that only four died in their adventure and she wants to kiss Ad in celebration. He sneaks off in the middle of the night and she follows, but finds him talking to Eveshone. They are having an in depth conversation about God. Ice is pleased that they're talking, but doesn't like what they're talking about. Eveshone leaves and Ice kisses Ad, but it's not the right time. They instead talk about whether his father still exists somewhere. Ice doesn't think so, but she tries to comfort Ad anyway. As they go back to the camp, they spot Croathus coming on boats. Shit. Torrain estimates that they have about a half-day head start. He also tells Ice, secretly, what it was that he and Ad were planning, then they take off up to Mountaintop. When they arrive, Ice has everyone hide and she approaches alone.
Istoch spots her before she has all the Anaghwin hide and tells Nicholas and Marjan that she's back but they don't really believe it. Nicholas gets Tranton and the Tarlinius to guard the wall. Ice arrives and declares herself the new Chief Cognate. Tranton says she can't have whatever childish things she wants and commands the Tarlinius to shoot. Eveshone is shot but not hurt at all. The guy that shot her though... yeesh. Nicholas concedes and Icelyn and co enter Mountaintop.
It's not so great there anymore, no one seems to like Ice, but freaking come on. You just arrived with an army of monsters. She says that she brought the army to save Mountaintop from the Croathus that are on their way. She commands the people to barricade themselves in the meeting hall. Tranton tells them they should scatter and hide all over, but she says no, the Croathus enjoy the hunt and will kill everyone who is not protected by the Anaghwin. Ice leads them into Brathius tower and tells them it's their home now. Omathis visits Sean's grave and looks through all his old belongings, many of which are from when Omathis and Amperous were young. Tranton asks if there is any way to defeat the Croathus and Torrain starts to speak up, to tell them whatever it was that he is and Ad discovered, but Ice shuts him up.
The battle begins and ... It's not great. The Croathus pretty much swarm the population. Ad does a good job leading the Anaghwin fighters but it's still too much. When Ad witnesses a person literally getting ripped in half, he and Torrain implement the plan that they worked on before coming up the mountain. The secret backup plan that will kill all the Threatbelows, whether they are good or bad, that Ice will never, ever forgive them for. Ad tells Eveshone to run, that Ice commands it, so she takes off. Torrain releases canisters of poisoned gas that, when breathed through the masks the Threat Belows have to wear to breathe on Mountaintop, gets ultra concentrated.
Meanwhile, Ice has made a soothing connection with Amp and the other Croathus, the same kind of connection Mr. Sean used to make with them. They have calmed and are no longer attacking at literally the exact same time Ad and Torrain poison them. All the Threatbelows begin to die while Ice shouts Nooooo!!!! The boys shut off some canisters, but Tranton worms his way out of hiding just long enough to toss a canister out of reach, its gas still flowing. Amp manages to run away, feeling hurt and betrayed by humans again, which definitely isn't going to be good in the future. Ice finds Omathis and shares her breath with him as they run off down the mountain.
Ice is freaking out about losing pretty much her entire new found family and thinks Eveshone is dead too, but she pops up out of the woods, thank goodness. Ice is also violently angry about Ad and Torrain killing everyone, but she understands why they did it. She realizes that she no longer fits in on Mountaintop so she, Omathis and Eveshone leave to find their new Heaven elsewhere.