As always the standard disclaimer applies: I do not own the Happy Tree Friends; they are the property of Mondo Media. Also Crush belongs to the original HTF forums user MrKaos. I own only my own characters and this story.

81 – TAKEN BY SURPRISE

The next morning Lifty and Shifty were awake early to make more definite plans. They made a quick foray to make sure the Marauder army wasn't on the move. It wasn't, but it was also clear that it wouldn't be staying in that place for long. During the previous evening the raccoon brothers had contacted the Animal City on a secure line and had received detailed information about the terrain where they were. From what they had received they knew that the area they were currently in was indeed high up in one of the mountain passes. Right near the top in fact. West of where they were the land mostly descended for kilometers. And to the east the land sloped steadily down again to come a flat plateau between mountain chains. Then it started upwards again in a fresh range.

The Marauder army, having toiled hard to reach the top of this pass, was resting now for a short while before descending down the other side into the broad valley.

"Let's see how long we can keep them up here" said Shifty once they were back in their den to discuss options.

"Let's see if we can do enough damage at all for that" said Lifty.

"Yes" said Shifty, "if only we could cause some kind of really big disaster to them of the sort that would force them to stop for an extra length of time just to put themselves back together again."

"Hmm" said Lifty, and a thoughtful look entered his eyes., "what if – " he began to say and then stopped.

"What?" said Shifty after a moment.

"I'm not sure" said Lifty, "maybe something, maybe nothing. Can we go and have another look at the Marauder camp?"

"All right" said Shifty, "we need to know the camp's layout as much as we can in any case before we do anything."

The two raccoons left their hideout and went towards the place where they had seen the camp. It was still there and it still stretched for as far as they could see. The sun could be seen on the other side of the camp, still rising upward in the early morning. Lifty and Shifty looked at this, then Lifty moistened a paw and held it up.

"Hmm" he said, "the wind is coming from the west, right behind us."

"Ye-es" said Shifty, now thoughtful himself, "I think, yes, I think I might see what you're getting at. But is there enough raw material around to successfully get it going?"

"Look at the edge of the camp there" said Lifty pointing, "dead bushes."

Shifty saw them and then also saw a mound of refuse nearby piled up just outside the camp's edge.

"They're careless with their garbage" said Shifty.

"All the better for us" said Lifty, "if we can use it in the right way. Hmm."

"Let's go back to base and figure this out" said Shifty. Lifty agreed and so they turned around and went back toward their hideout.

They were about half-way down the crest of their home slope when Lifty stopped suddenly and motioned for Shifty to do the same.

"What is it?" whispered Shifty.

"I don't know" said Lifty, "I feel as if we're being watched."

"Really?" said Shifty, "do you see anyone?"

"No" said Lifty, "but still..."

Lifty and Shifty looked around the area as carefully as they could but didn't see anything that they hadn't seen before. There were the trees, the bushes, some pieces of snow scattered here and there, and a large rock pile nearby. But nothing moving that they could see. For long moments they stayed motionless before Shifty signaled that they should move on.

"Cautiously now" said Shifty to Lifty, "if we're seen entering our base we're finished."

The raccoon brothers moved on slowly. They took a few steps toward the rock pile. Nothing moved. They moved alongside the pile. Still nothing moved. As they passed the rock pile they decided to look behind it, just in case.

It was as they rounded the rock pile that it happened. A huge figure suddenly reared up in front of them moving so fast that they couldn't get a good look at it. Before they realized what had happened both Lifty and Shifty had been seized and forced to the ground. Next thing they knew they found themselves pinned down by what seemed like giant hands which held them helpless, rendering any struggle impossible.

"Don't move!" hissed a deep voice that seemed to come from between them, "I don't intend to hurt you but if you do something stupid I might not be able to help myself so stay where you are!"

Neither raccoon moved. They couldn't have moved even if they'd wanted to, so effectively were they held.

"I'm not a Marauder" said the voice again, "I'm an animal like you so you have nothing to fear. I'm going to let you up now but don't try to run away or you'll be sorry."

Slowly the pressure eased off the backs of the two raccoon brothers and they were able to move again. After a moment they both sat up, looked at each other, saw that they were okay, then turned and for the first time got a look at the amazing person who had so effectively taken them by surprise.

He was a polar bear and he was enormous, easily as big as a polar bear could be. He had a thick white fur coat that covered a very muscular frame. The two front paws that had held down the raccoon brothers had seemed giant because they were; they had been able to easily hold Lifty and Shifty down to the ground. The bear was obviously no stranger to danger however; his right eye was covered by an eye-patch and the right side of his face showed distinct scarring from burns. Whatever he had been through in the past had left him marked. However his remaining eye, though hard and sharp, also had kindness in it and he looked at the two raccoons with wonder.

"I didn't expect to see any other animals around here" the bear said, "your arrival yesterday took me by surprise."

"We looked around the area when we got here" said Shifty, "we didn't see you."

"That's what you can expect to see if I'm watching you" said the bear with a rather pleased expression, "but we shouldn't talk here it's too close to the enemy. I don't think I can fit in your hide-out – yes I saw where you put it, it was a good choice by the way, no one else will find it easily – but I know a place not far from here where we can talk in greater security. Come."

The bear got up and began moving down the slope. Lifty and Shifty followed somewhat cautiously but were not as afraid as they might have been since the bear had not killed them when he could have. Also they were curious to learn more about him.

"By the way" said the bear, "let me introduce myself. My name's Crush. Who are you?"

Lifty and Shifty introduced themselves.

"Well hello Lifty and Shifty" said Crush, "glad to meet you. Welcome to the middle of nowhere." The raccoon brothers were not sure how to reply to this statement so they did the prudent thing and said nothing.

Crush led them steadily down one slope, across a small valley with a brook carving the bottom of it, up another slope, around a small rise, and over into another area that had scattered trees in it. There, near the top of another rise, they found a deep hollow behind another pile of rocks, not a cave but a recessed area that gave shelter yet at the same time allowed whoever was inside it to see anyone who might be coming towards him. Crush entered the hollow followed by Lifty and Shifty. Once inside he sat down on the ground and motioned for the brothers to do the same.

"All right" said Crush, "we're out of sight now so we can talk."

(To Be Continued)