Chapter Two — A Grand Landing
The ants in the long line on the beach were still wondering what to do when Blaize yelled back up to them. “Are you just going to stand there until next Friday? C’mon, get out here and play!”
The remaining ants looked at each other one more time before rushing out to join the others.
“We’re gonna lose,” said a small ant on Blaize’s new team.
Blaize looked over to see a small nerdy-looking ant. “It’s fine if we do,” she replied, “but I think we can still take ’em. What’s your name?”
“I’m Glow, and this is my buddy, Hearth.”
“Hey,” said Hearth in a deep voice, looking down at his feet.
Both boys looked a little strange, especially standing next to each other. Glow was smaller than most ants his age and wore glasses that were stuck to his head with a piece of human gum. Everyone else thought it was gross, but Glow said it was perfect because his glasses never fell off no matter what he was doing. Other ants thought Glow was just plain weird because he was always making strange gadgets that didn’t seem useful at all. His parents even changed his name to Glow at his naming ceremony because he always seemed to have bright ideas that came out of nowhere.
Glow’s friend, on the other hand, was a very large ant. Actually “large” is probably an understatement—He was huge. Because of his size, Hearth wasn’t very coordinated or athletic, but for some reason he always pretended to be an athlete and wore a headband and running shoes everywhere he went.
Needless to say, both Glow and Hearth were teased all the time. They didn’t care, though, because they were great friends and stuck together no matter what.
“You better not talk to us,” said Hearth, glancing up with a weak smile.
“Why not?” asked Blaize.
Glow whispered his reply. “The other kids might think you’re our friend.”
“But I am your friend!” said Blaize smiling. She grabbed both of them by a shoulder, “Now let’s win some points.”
Just then the other team served, and the stuffed aphid-ball smacked Glow in the head, toppling him to the ground. Everyone on the other team laughed.
Blaize helped him up. “Are you all right?”
Glow was obviously embarrassed, and he scowled at the other team. “I wish I had my pack to teach them a less—”
“Forget about it, Glow,” interrupted Hearth. “Let’s just get this point so Blaize can serve.”
The other team served the ball again, and it hit Glow right in the head, harder than before. This time the aphid-ball bounced off of Glow’s head, and Blaize set it perfectly next to the net. Hearth leapt awkwardly into the air and clumsily mishit the ball. To everyone’s surprise, it flew right down the line and hit the sand for a winner!
“Yessss!” said Blaize as she pulled Glow up again.
Glow was still a little dazed. “Did we get it?”
“Yep,” replied Hearth reaching down and rubbing Glow’s little head. “I always knew your noggin would be good for somethin’.”
That was the turning point of the game, and they didn’t lose another point with Blaize serving. Quite a few ants came up to them afterward and asked them to be on their team for next Friday’s games. Blaize asked her two new friends if they wanted to come up to her platform and watch the sunset from there. Hearth and Glow gladly accepted.
Meanwhile, Wingnut, Tinder, and Bloke shoved off and jumped on top of their new creation. It was well-built but barely big enough to carry the three of them.
“I wish we would have had time to make a proper boat,” said Wingnut.
“I like this one!” declared Bloke. “Extra maneuverable.” He nodded with assurance.
“Everyone lay low,” whispered Tinder, “so no one notices us until we get behind that rock.”
The three boys didn’t say another word as they quietly paddled the little raft toward the reef and anchored it behind a big boulder in the bay.
“This is going to be swee-eet,” murmured Bloke.
“Shhhhhh...it’s almost time,” whispered Tinder in reply.
Tinder was in the royal army, so he loved to strategize, but he also liked to tell people what to do a little too much. Wingnut and Bloke didn’t mind him taking charge this time, though. They could see that he was super excited, and Tinder usually didn’t get excited about much.
Tinder’s plan was for the three of them to stay behind the rock until dusk. Then, while everyone was watching the sunset, they would pop out and start paddling to the shore. Tinder had brought his war whistle, which was only supposed to be used for emergencies. He was going to blow it to scare all the ants on the beach and make sure Blaize watched their grand landing.
“Okay, it’s time,” whispered Tinder as he peeked around the rock.
Wingnut and Bloke looked at each other with big silly grins on their faces. Tinder turned just in time to see Wingnut force a straight face.
“What?” asked Tinder.
“We’re just excited,” said Wingnut innocently as he shrugged his shoulders.
“Yep, just excited,” confirmed Bloke.
“Good,” said Tinder. “You know I’m only doing this for you two, right?”
“Thanks, dude,” replied Bloke. “This is gonna be cool!”
They untied the raft from the rock and paddled toward the shore.
Every Fire-Ant on the beach was staring west at the sunset and didn’t notice them coming. All three of their little hearts began pounding fast as they were so excited to surprise everyone on the beach and make an impression on the beautiful Princess.
They got their raft about one hundred ant-meters away from shore when they noticed Hearth stand up and point in their direction. Tinder had no time to lose and told Wingnut and Bloke to paddle faster as he took a deep breath. He blew as hard as he could into his whistle. The sound pierced their ears as it rang over the beach. All the ants turned and looked at them with horror on their faces.
“PIRATES!” yelled Hearth as he grabbed Glow and the Princess and started running slowly toward the path. All the ants dropped whatever they were doing and began scrambling to get away.
“They think we’re pirates!” said Tinder with excitement.
The ants on the beach were panicking and screaming and running in every direction.
“Looks like a Crazy-Ant circus show,” joked Bloke.
Wingnut started to worry a little about everybody’s reaction, so he stood up, waved his arms, and yelled.
“Hey guys... it’s just us!”
“No—it’s not,” said Bloke in a very serious tone.
Tinder and Wingnut both turned to see what Bloke was already staring at, and their faces changed from confusion to dread.
Three huge ships with black flags floated just outside the reef, and nearly thirty landing rafts filled with Slave-Maker ants were bearing down on them.
Tinder blew his whistle again and yelled,
“PIRATES! — We’re under attack!”