Conjural Family

Lilly Teal's phone rang.  When she'd answer a grim sound would come across the line.

"Listen carefully-" A male voice started warningly. "-and don't even think about calling the authorities, or the hostages get it. I'm not bluffing either... you don't want to tempt fate here Ms. Teal.  Now you know very well what I want from you, and your tricks won't work this time. " 

There was the sound of one of the hostages being ruffled up and a sharp snap.

"So if you know what's good for your precious little friends, you'll come to the designated rendezvous spot, the same one as last time, alone... at about..." The sinister voice on the phone faltered. "-uh... what time did we say again? Well, whenever I'm here all day.  But you-" the voice lowered again menacingly. "-you better be quick about it or I'll start bending their spines. Toodles!"

Click. 

    • Lilly Teal
      Lilly Teal

      Toodles.

      Lilly put the phone down, shaking her head and not even trying to suppress the wide smile that spread across her face. He was just so ridiculous.

      And that was exactly what she loved. It made her feel that she had the freedom to be a little silly in return. To be comfortable, a little childish, to be... natural, which she didn't often feel like she had the luxury to be around her friends, and never her acquaintances.

      And so, slipping her phone in her bag and brushing her hair again, she headed off to the Market, giving Irma a bright, loving hello with a little hug over the counter before she made her way down the stairs. It was such a familiar place now, even if it was always surprising.

      Mental note, look in on Leonard and Bristle today if there's time. They messaged back and forth but sometimes you just need a face to face, you know?

      Speaking of faces, she cracked open the door to the flower shop and poked her face inside with exaggerated caution, looking around for the gander.

      "Release the hostages, Gander."

      It might have been more intimidating sounding if it wasn't Lilly saying it. And so chirpily.

      • Gladstone Gander
        Gladstone Gander

        The vile villain in question froze with his arms filled with seed packets and darted his eyes to the very intimidating presence that had just made itself known.

        "Not before you hand over the goods, Teal." He shot back with a grin of his own. "You better not have been followed-" he dropped the packets and they just happened to shower into three bins sorting themselves appropriately mid-fall.  The goose started backing away toward the door to his compartment. "-or you'll never see their dogeared little pages again! Mwahahahahaha!" He bumped the door open with his hip and disappeared through it.  After a moment he popped his head back out to talk to the older woman behind the counter who was talking all this in with an amused smile. "Uh-I'll bring the rest of them in tomorrow if that's okay Effie?"

        "Yes, that's fine I think we'll manage okay today with these boss. Hello Lilly." She nodded to the hardened cop. "You two have plans today I hear?"

        "Don't distract her, we have a very tense hostage negotiation to work out here." Gladstone reprimanded her, shot Lilly another pleased look, then ducked back in the doorway out of sight.

        Effie just rolled her eyes with a chuckle.

        • Lilly Teal
          Lilly Teal

          Stifling a giggle, Lilly moved over to give the woman a tight hug.

          "We do. Or rather... I tried to make plans today. We thought it might end up less disastrous overall, so fingers crossed for us, Effie!"

          Please. Because there's no guarantee this would turn out well. And it was them, so it was practically guaranteed to go off the rails in some way.

          "Now if you'll excuse me," she added with a warm smile, tilting her head towards the doorway. "I need to facilitate a rescue."

          The hardened cop made her way towards Gladstone's living space and cautiously peeked around the doorway.

          "Back away from the hostages slowly. Unless... oh gosh, I barely dare look."

          Stop giggling, Lilly.

          • Gladstone Gander
            Gladstone Gander

            Effie dutifully crossed her fingers and held them up with a little shake before Lilly walked away.

            The moment she was in range a hand shot out and pulled her into the room closing the door with a 'thump' and pressing her up against the wall. 

            "You thought you could double cross me huh?" he mused as he released her to place his hand on the wall beside her head and lean in to give her face a very serious once over. "Thought you could just march in here making demands?  Well no one makes demands of Gladstone 'Murderlad' Gander, but if you want to take one last look at your friends then..." His eyes flashed 'wickedly' as he backed away from her slowly.  Unable to keep up the act for long he smiled before he reached the bookcase and leaned against it casually. "-you'll find they're very much alive.... for now."

            The first shelf contained the eclectic stylings of the gander's reading preferences. A few horticulture books were joined by a squadron of horoscope, astrology, and magic themed nonfiction as well as a few works of fiction and men's fashion magazines. The second shelf, deemed "the girlfriend shelf" in recent weeks, currently had eight fine rare books stacked on it.  He patted their spines pointedly.

            "Quite a few of them this time, I won't let them go without proper payment... otherwise I'll be the laughing stock of the criminal underworld. Business is business after all." His gaze flitted to her mouth for a moment before returning to her eyes.

            • Lilly Teal
              Lilly Teal

              If there was one important piece of information she'd learned over the course of various adventures, it was that being pressed up against the wall with him so close was very, very pleasant indeed, and she heated up instantly, only to let out a small, disappointed breath as he backed away.

              But that was fine, because there were books on the horizon.

              Ooooh. Oooooh they look so pretty. Her fingers twitched slightly as she fought down the desire to make little grabby motions. Instead she folded her arms and regarded him with cool professionalism, her lips not twitching at all, her face not even slightly red.

              Suuure.

              "Normally I don't negotiate with criminals," she said, drawing closer as she kept eye contact with him. Once they were up close again though, she couldn't quite keep it up, and dropped her gaze to the front of his shirt again, eyes flicking to watch his face through her eyelashes every now and again. "But... in such circumstances I can't refuse any demands you might have~."

              • Gladstone Gander
                Gladstone Gander

                If there was one important piece of information he'd learned over the course of various adventures, it was being looked at through long eyelashes while she tried to conceal how much of an effect he had on her was enough to pour twenty gallons of gasoline on an already lit furnace inside him. His fingers twitched as he stopped himself from grabbing hold of her the instant she came near.  He was a heartless crook after all, he had to play the part. Despite his mental resolve he held a heated gaze on her as he continued.

                "That's a clever girl.  Don't want to stain those pretty little hands of yours with their ink now do you? Now normally I only accept payment in the form of life size heavily gilted statuary in the likeness Hyacinth Hippo, but as I don't-" he tore his eyes away from her to glance around the room as if looking for something. "-see a pickup truck tailing you I suppose I'm going to have to make a compromise. But you see..." He leaned in close, his hand moving toward hers unconsciously, entangling their fingers  on it's own volition. "-I'm not particularly creative. Do you have any ideas or-" He froze with their bills barely touching. "-any suggestions of alternate payment for me?" 

                • Lilly Teal
                  Lilly Teal

                  She almost snorted with laughter and broke the whole atmosphere at his 'normal' demands.

                  Life size heavily gilted statuary in the likeness of- how do you come up with these things?

                  "That was a difficult demand, but I'm sure I can propose an alternative you'll appreciate..." she murmured, his breath hot on her bill and very distracting. All the same, she did her best to look around the room in pretend thought as she turned the issue over in her mind, squeezing the fingers of their linked hands gently, like their hands were entirely outside of this drama and having their own private moment.

                  "Hm. What can I suggest that would satisfy someone with such specific tastes?"

                  Well if you pinned me up against the wall again I'd probably think of something very quickly.

                  She was definitely not bold enough to say that. Even thinking it made her go redder as she blinked, shaking the thought away.

                  "Maybe..." She closed the gap between their mouths gently, not that there was any gap worth speaking of, and then pulled away with a little smile. "More of that?"

                  • Gladstone Gander
                    Gladstone Gander

                    A smile spread across his face as she moved away from him and he made a little “hmm” as in deep thought.

                    “Not much resale value in one of those... but, my oh my, if it isn’t tempting.” His eyes locked on hers with a quick eyebrow wiggle. “Verrrry tempting.” Unable to continue on he laughed and pulled her in for a burst of quick kisses and brushed his fingertips along her chin with a look of complete adoration.

                    “Enough, I surrender. You’re going to get me all riled up and then I’m going to be useless for the rest of the day.” He tightened his arms around her giving her a firm hug as a proper greeting. “Hello Sunshine,” he kissed her forehead and leaned back to look her in the eye. Good lord was she beautiful. “Your supplier has been spoiling you, doesn’t he know that’s my job? Go ahead and look at your new toys.” He released her with a wave at the books and moved away from the shelf to pick out a hat to wear.

                    “You have me at a complete disadvantage here with this secretive little plan for today. Like is it a Homburg occasion? Or Trillby? Boater? Or maybe,” he picked up a dark ivy colored cap and slid it over his golden locks. “-Newsboy? You’re playing a very wicked game on my fashionable sensibilities. I hope you’re pleased with yourself.”

                    He sure seemed pleased with her that was for sure.

                     

                    • Lilly Teal
                      Lilly Teal

                      If he could keep secrets, she could keep secrets of her own! She smiled, the kiss to her forehead still tingling as he moved away from her. It felt so nice. Very different from his impassioned fare, and just as wonderful in its own way. A warm, safe sort of kiss.

                      She had descended on the books with a delighted squeal, running her hands over the covers happily before making the hard, hard decision to pick one to open first so she could flip through it. Gladstone's hat dilemma wasn't exactly noticed, there were so many other wonderful things to look at.

                      But since books had yet to find a way to enter through your ears as well as your eyes, she could hear him musing his options clearly enough, and smiled at his accusation.

                      "I'm very pleased with myself. But don't worry about it too much-" Madness, of course he was going to worry about how he was dressed. "- it's not fancy or formal. Ah..."

                      Closing the book, she turned to look at him properly, fingers unconsciously tapping the cover. She was still smiling, but there was a touch of nervousness in her eyes.

                      "I hope you'll like it."

                      • Gladstone Gander
                        Gladstone Gander

                        With a few final preening glances at the mirror he slid the cap back to allow his bangs more room to show. Once completely pleased with the placement of his accessory he turned to her with a analytical look.  He squinted at her in thought and folded his arms across his chest.

                        "Well... let me see here..." He held up a hand to count off on his fingers as he walked back over to her. "First off, I get to spend the afternoon with you, Secondly, I didn't have to do a lick of planning, thirdly, you're going to be with me, fourth...ly fourth of all-...nextly you're way better at plans than I am, next nextly, did I mention getting to spend time with you? Don't sweat it Lillypad, I'm sure whatever you have up your sleeves is going to blow my bowler off..." he blinked and looked back at the bowler hat with great consideration. "...nah I think I'm good." 

                        "So, should I bring anything but myself?  Tap shoes? Fishing pole? Semaphore flags? A hundred and one paper cranes? OR-" He suddenly got very close to her again, pressing her up against the bookshelf, his hand slowly reaching for her face, his eyes nearly closing as he  moved.  At the last moment his hand diverted course and he grabbed something behind her, and brought it up beside her face his eyes held on her, twinkling with cheeky amusement. "-a book?" 

                        • Lilly Teal
                          Lilly Teal

                          Phew.

                          She laughed, though it was more breath than sound, and raised her hands to his chest to push him away and just... hide her face in her hands for a moment until she looked less worked up. Stop it, you. Any more of this and I won't want to leave at all.

                          "Just yourself," she managed, bringing her hands back down. "But you may have to help me get something into your car so we can take it where we're going."

                          More mysteries?!

                          "... it's a fairly obvious hint but I couldn't have gotten it into your car without the key..."

                          Gosh, being sneaky and mysterious was very hard, how did people do it? It definitely didn't come naturally to her. As it was, large picnic baskets were not exactly conducive to sneaky mysteriousness, so she was working at a disadvantage here.

                          And she was Lilly, so make that several more disadvantages to sneakiness and mystery. Reaching out to take his hand, her free hand drifted upwards to fuss with his bangs just a tiny bit, fixing any shifts her tiny shove might have caused.

                          "So, if you're happy with how handsome you look, shall we?"

                          • Gladstone Gander
                            Gladstone Gander

                            "Let's shall."

                             

                            After decidedly unsneakily placing the picnic basket (which prompted an elated "YAY! I love picnics" from the gander) into his car they were off. Their destination was one of the larger parks in St. Canard.  One with an actual small forest included in its acreage.  If you squinted and tried to block out the honking of cars stuck in gridlock you could almost imagine that you were in a glade in the country.  A glade with hotdog vendors every few feet but never the less, downright outdoorsy for city folk.  The weather was being very cooperative as well, it was warm enough not to warrant more than a light jacket, cool enough that you wouldn't bake in the sun.  The sky was a bright blue with fluffy white clouds floating by like a scene from a picture book.  It was a perfect day for a picnic and he was in particularly high spirits.  So far so good.  They even passed a small pond and he almost wished he'd brought his fishing pole but it was a fleeting thought.  After all, he glanced at Lilly, he was sure he was going to be very entertained without it. 

                            "Well I have to hand it to you Lillylove, you really hit it out of the.... park. " He grinned at her, feeling exceptionally bubbly.  If she wasn't careful he might start singing.  The basket in his arms was a good weight and with each step, he was more and more curious about it's contents.  "I forget, did I tell you I love you yet today?" He carefully stepped over a Teddy bear that was discarded in the middle of the path.  He looked at it curiously for a moment before carrying on. "Because I do." He put a quick peck on her cheek. "In case you were wondering. "

                            "How much farther are we headed Captain Teal? Almost ready to weigh anchor?"

                            As they walked on the Teddy bear slowly turned it's head to watch them until they were out of sight.

                            • Lilly Teal
                              Lilly Teal

                              What fortunate weather! Lilly walked with a bounce in her step, both because she was genuinely very happy, and also because she wasn't carrying the basket and could afford to bounce.

                              "The weather helps." Give it due credit, this wouldn't be as wonderful without it. The kiss on her cheek prompted a giggle, and she tilted her head to look at him. "I know, love. But I never get tired of hearing it."

                              Bah they were adorable, somebody stop them. It was easy to be a little worried sometimes, to wonder if this was just the enthusiasm of new love, and wonder if they would be able to sustain it. But... when they sat together quietly, or just talked about their days, or even when, in rare moments, the patience of one of the other was tested (though not to any real extent just yet), it was comforting. It felt sustainable, far beyond heated physical affection and declarations of love.

                              Also... should we pick up that teddy bear? Maybe there's a lost and found we can put it- well, there's not likely to be a lost and found in the park. Best leave it alone so it can be found when the child comes running back for it.

                              As they walked on a little further, she sped up a little she could get in front of him, and then turned around, continuing backwards carefully so she could talk to him face to face, and smiled brilliantly. "We're almost there. It turns out there's a far corner of the park, almost behind the trees. Not a lot of people go there." Probably because it's much more convenient to sit down in the nearest empty spot from the entrance. "But because it's a bit quiet, something really nice happens there once in a while."

                              As they neared their destination, the sound of music started to drift into audible range, followed swiftly by the sight of a little musical group soaking in the sun, laughing amongst themselves as they waited for one of their number to get his violin tuned so they could play properly. Not that they weren't, he was the only one who seemed to have an issue with the sound.

                              "Live music!"

                              • Gladstone Gander
                                Gladstone Gander

                                "Well, well. well..." he scanned the scene before him. "-I'll be a monkey's uncle, Gladstone Gander outdone on her first try?" He eyed her with a smile. "You clever little cupcake. It's almost like you've been hoarding this little treasure all for yourself." 

                                After a quick glance around he found the perfect spot (because of course he did) that put them in the shade of those lovely trees and close enough to hear the band but far enough away that they wouldn't have to shout over the music to talk to each other. When it was time to put down the blanket and she held out a side for him to take he stared at it blankly. In his experience picnics were just... laid out for him. He never actually had to do any of the preparations himself... no matter how small.  So looking at her a little suspiciously he took the offered cloth but caught on quickly what the purpose was. Oh. Oh yeah. Duh. makes sense.  Under all those good looks and charm there was really a lot of loose ends flapping in the breeze. Not knowing how to set up for a picnic was the least of the gaps in his staggeringly empty "common sense" mental file.

                                But as for right now, blanket in place and music just beginning to start, he sat down opposite her drumming his fingers on the lid of the basket beside him. 

                                "Did you cook for me?" He asked brightly ready to be astonished at yet another wonder of the world that he'd never had any real exposure in. Well, for clarification's sake he had never been much of a cook, and he hadn't needed to be as people tended to just give him food, or he'd win free meals. When was the last time he'd had someone cook specifically for him... his smile fell slightly as he realized he couldn't actually remember.  Months? ...oh geeze, years?  Whatever was in this basket was already his new favorite food and he didn't even know what it was.  His smile brightened again. "Don't leave me hanging, go on and dazzle me with your culinary prowess!" 

                                • Lilly Teal
                                  Lilly Teal

                                  Outdone? This coming from the man who, without even trying, manages a picnic in a private greenhouse with fireworks?

                                  And he doesn't even know how to lay out a picnic blanket, good grief. Gladstone was, without a doubt, the most unique collection of lack of basic knowledge the world had ever known.

                                  His bright smile caused a smile in response. She couldn't have held it back even if she wanted to. But his enthusiasm, while absolutely flattering, was also a little... well, overly expectant. She hadn't really. It wasn't. Not like the fancy, expensive things he was used to eating.

                                  "Ah. Um. There's nothing very dazzling," she admitted, reaching over to open the basket, pausing to tuck some of her hair behind her ear to keep it out of the way. "I just packed small things that would be easy to eat and clean up after. So it's not really-"

                                  I mean, it's not cooking, is it?

                                  "I made sandwiches, and... ah, peanut butter brownies. Lemonade. Some fruit. Oh! I made a little chicken and mushroom pot pie, I'm not sure why I did that because this was supposed to be easy, small things but I thought we could just eat it out of the dish so we don't need to bother with disposable plates and it'll be nice and warm with the chilled lemonade-"

                                  Ahah... grinning faintly, she waved her hands slightly like the end of an awkward unprepared magic act.

                                  "Ta dah?"

                                  • Gladstone Gander
                                    Gladstone Gander

                                    It may as well have ended with her pulling a rabbit out of there too as well as a mile long strand of colorful handkerchiefs for the way he was watching her.

                                    "You made all this?" He said faintly, clearly in awe. "You're kidding me.  You did all this for me? I-" he picked up the pot pie and turned it around as if it was a precious gem. "-I don't know what to say." 

                                    It might have seemed over dramatic if it wasn't so openly sincere. 

                                    "This might be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me." He put the pie down and gave her a quick glance out of the corner of his eye. "It's kinda pathetic when I say it out loud." an embarrassed smile crossed his face. "But you know, apart from family I don't think there are any folks that have put this much thought into doing something nice for me. Thank you. " He leaned in and kissed her cheek before turning his attention back to the little feast. "Alright-" He rubbed his hands together. "-so where do we start?" 

                                    A teddy bear fell out of the tree above them landing softly on the small stack of plates. Gladstone blinked at it then looked up into the tree.  At least fifteen more stuffed animals were up in the branches looking down at them. 

                                    "Aha... hah. Well that's not creepy at all. Tell me Lillypad... are there always bears laying in wait in these parts? Or is this us, 'us'ing again?" 

                                    • Lilly Teal
                                      Lilly Teal

                                      Even bears would be one thing. But... teddy bears?

                                      "I think it's us again," she said weakly. Really? Not even time for a bite? Really? She reached out to pick up the teddy bear, though half of her was sure it was a very, very bad idea. The other half was just hoping this belonged to an incredibly careless child who had lost a lot of toys. And was fond of climbing trees.

                                      "I've never seen so many toys here before. Or ever, children don't come to this side often since family groups prefer the open spaces. Easier to keep an eye on the kids while they play."

                                      Or if they do, it's a sneaky mission, and toys are not left behind as evidence of their disobedience. She looked at him over the top of the bear, still holding it in one hand. "Do you think there's a chance that a large busload of children lost their toys all at the same time, and they'll be back for them soon?"

                                      That's a nice, non-creepy explanation, isn't it?

                                      Her free hand hung in space uncertainly as she talked. The teddy bear reached out and shook it in a friendly manner, and she froze. Still staring at the gander,, her eyes widened.

                                      "Please tell me you're touching my hand."

                                      • Gladstone Gander
                                        Gladstone Gander

                                        Gladstone slowly grabbed the stack of sandwiches and put them in his pockets and was about to take the pie and hug it to his chest when that last statement hit him. Was he-? No he was pretty sure he had some peanut butter brownies and a pie tin in his-he saw the toy merrily shaking her hand and made a strange sound, half laugh half whine. Dessert was pocketed and the pot pie gently put in the basket as he slowly reached out and picked the bear up under the arms removing it from her grip. It wiggled irritably like an infant taken from it’s mother near feeding time.

                                        There was a rustling of leaves as the other toys cleared out of the canopy hurriedly. The gander locked eyes with her, forcing a grin.

                                        “Well what the odds that they’ve just gone back to cotton candy cove?”

                                        “Pawdon me siwr, but cowld yew pawsubbwe put me down?”

                                        The completely forced smile became drastically moreso as his eyes widened and he nervously looked into two button eyes.

                                        “I’m... sorry I thought I just... heard this-“

                                        “Becawse we’wre gunna have to all come togewwer to get yew two home safwey.”

                                        Gladstone blinked then lifted his eyebrows, then his eyes from the smiling red thread that made that impossible little mouth that was unbearably chatty, to look at Lilly.

                                        “Well.. that doesn’t sound.... bad. We were kind of in the middle of something though so... if you could hold off on our escort...? Or better yet, just forget the whole thing Mr.-?”

                                        “Huggie. Generwal, Huggie.”

                                        “My mistake, General Huggie sir-“ he pulled off a smart salute which the bear returned. “-you seem a reasonable bear-“

                                        “Siwr yew an’ da Misses have jus gotta come back to da howse. Da childwren, think of da childwren so wonely an’ afwaid! Missing dere Mommy an’ Daddy! No we’wre takin’ yew home wight now! BEAWRS! FALL IN!”

                                        A rush of fluff and pastel colors closed in around them as an army of teddy bears surrounded them on all sides.

                                        “What do we do?” He whispered to her.

                                        • Lilly Teal
                                          Lilly Teal

                                          Lilly shrugged helplessly, her hand feeling out blindly to close around his as she kept her eyes on the bears.

                                          Does anyone know what they're talking about? No?

                                          "I. Ah. Think you have the wrong people?" It's more likely than you think, it's happened so many times.

                                          They didn't seem convinced, why weren't people ever convinced? They also, at a quick gauge, didn't seem to have formed too high a wall. We can jump that, can't we?

                                          "Run?" she suggested in a whisper. They'd gotten so good at running. Admittedly running never seemed to get them away, but surely they deserved credit for trying every time.

                                          However, General Huggie seemed to have their number, and the only reason he didn't narrow his eyes is because buttons couldn't be narrowed. So it was that as soon as they tried to make a break for it, the nearest soft plush paws locked around the nearest ankle, and Lilly pitched forward with a startled yelp.

                                          • Gladstone Gander
                                            Gladstone Gander

                                            Run. 

                                            Running sounded good. But alas it was not in the cards.  As Lilly tumbled he rose to catch her just as a straggler in the foliage above jumped down.  It used the brim of his cap like a springboard, forcing the hat to slam down over his eyes.  The bear then did an acrobatic little flip over Lilly's head kicking her in between the shoulder blades to shove her into the gander's arms before it landed neatly on the ground.  The same could not be said for the couple. His arms had closed around her instinctively as she was pushed into him his legs where swept out from under him by two fuzzy battering ram bears and they collapsed on to the blanket with her on top of him, the wind knocked clean out of him on impact. 

                                            "BEAWRS! Pack up dat basket an' start operwation 'snug as a bug'!"

                                            A cluster of bears started grabbing all of the items that Lilly had lovingly prepared and placed them back in the basket before hauling it off toward the woods. Gladstone wheezed slightly, hat still crammed over his eyes.

                                            "You know... as much as I hoped we'd end up in this position, I have to say... this has taken a very strange turn."

                                            Bears lined the sides of the blanket and grabbed the fabric with a shout from their leader.  With alarming speed they cocooned the entangled duo in the blanket cradling them into a very intimate blanket burrito. From outside the folds General Huggie gave the order to 'heave ho' and the blanket tightened around them as they began to be dragged along the grass. With a resigned sigh, because what else could he do, he tightened his arms around her.

                                            "So... what are you thinking is happening here?  Crazed toymaker?  Cursed sewing machine?  Nuclear waste dump near a Teddy Bear graveyard? " 

                                            The music started fading and the sounds of a forest closed in around them. 

                                            "...think we're headed to the Teddy Bear Picnic?"

                                            The sounds of wildlife suddenly died and the temperature dropped at least ten degrees. The dampness of rain started seeping through the blanket as they were hauled along.  Well, that was concerning, there was no sign of rain at all in the forecast today.  All in all it wasn't a terribly uncomfortable trip, albeit a bit soggy until there was some hurried conversation and Gladstone's head was banged against something hard. He let out a mild "ow" and the sounds of a poorly enunciated argument erupted from the bears. Something patted his head and there was a loud. "mmmwah!" as a stuffed snout pressed against the afficted area.

                                            "Sowwy Daddy, we fowrgot 'bowt dese staiwrs. But I kissed it an' made it feewl all bettwr.  Allllwight yew gumdwop bwains! Yew gotta WIFT dem up ovwer da staiwrs! Fowward mawrch!"

                                            They were indeed lifted up by squishy little arms and carried up the steps with much swaying and bobbing.  It was almost like being carried off by a lumpy complaining wave.  The rain stopped as they were moved into a building, the sound of a door slamming and a series of locks sliding home ringing out loud as thunder. They were carefully lowered and rolled out of the blanket in the center of a monochromatic, elegantly decorated living room with a large fireplace as the focal point of the space.  There were pictures and oil painted portraits all over the walls of a family of four, two young children and a man and a woman featured in each of them.  The presumed parental faces had been burned away.  

                                            "Dewwivery compwete yowr majesty! We await yowr ordwers!"

                                            "...just go away." Said a small flat voice from an armchair and the bears scattered.  The figure slowly stood and meandered over to stare down at them with pale green eyes. The little duckling was probably no more than six, her green eyes were locked on them dully, long black hair hung in a long sheet, partially blocking her face, it was the same deep shade as the poofy dress she wore with royal purple frills around her throat and wrists.  She was hugging a headless teddy bear and staring at them as if they were insects under a magnifying glass. "I'm hungry." She informed them as Gladstone finally pried the cap off his eyes. "Make me something to eat or I'll bury you alive in the backyard." 

                                             

                                            • Lilly Teal
                                              Lilly Teal

                                              Crazed toymaker? No, this didn't sound like Quackerjack's work. There was too much talking and not enough lazers and buzzsaws.

                                              ... honestly, this was more concerning somehow. But she didn't get time to wonder who exactly was behind it, distracted by the absurd change in weather, the lift over the stairs, and, far more importantly, the sounds of the multiple locks, each of the serving to make her more and more nervous.

                                              Gladstone's arms around her helped. But only for so long. The burned pictures, the little girl... not even the comfort of the gander's presence could counteract how creepy this was becoming. Tightening her grip on his coat, she looked at the little duckling in concerned confusion.

                                              "I'm... s-sorry?" We. Have sandwiches? Somewhere. Possibly Gladstone's pocket. And there's the pie in the basket, didn't the bears bring the basket? But when why was she asking for food if they had the basket.

                                              Ah yes, the mental babbling was beginning.

                                              "Where... where are your -" she began hesitantly, craning her neck to look over her shoulder. But before she could finish asking a possibly fatal question, another little duckling came out of a side room in a hurry, his own pale green eyes alight with excitement.

                                              "Are they here, are they here? Oh!"

                                              He came to a stop in front of them, right next to what was now obviously his sister. Dressed in quite a sweet little six year old's suit, also in black with a royal purple shirt, he beamed at them.

                                              I like them! They look nice!

                                              "Perfect timing! We can all have lunch together. Won't that be nice Arete?"

                                              • Gladstone Gander
                                                Gladstone Gander

                                                Arete made a noise as if 'nice' was something that you scraped off the bottom of a shoe. 

                                                "Athame, tell her-" she looked at Lilly coldly before turning her gaze to her twin. "-what I like to eat. I will wait at the table." She stalked off into the next room, where the screeching of chair legs on a wooden floor announced that yes... yes she was sitting at a table in a dark room waiting for... who knows?

                                                Gladstone blinked as the hat fell off his head in his prone position. His eyebrows knitted his forehead like a loom on steroids. Slowly, he sat up, shifting Lilly as he went to keep her close. He looked around the space, his eyes lingering on the charred holes in the paintings for a moment before he smiled tensely at the boy.

                                                "Hey little man, Athame was it? What's uh... what's going on? I'm Daddy and this is Mommy," he patted Lilly's head, and brushed some stray hair out of her face. Then paused.  That wasn't what he had meant to say. "-I'm... " Gladstone. "Daddy." He frowned, confused. GLAAAAD. STOOOONE. "DAAAAAD. DDY." He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Magic. Oy. ...Where are we? Why are we here and what can I do to convince you kids to let us go? Only we were kind of in the middle of something really sweet and... well this is all kind of killing the mood, you'll appreciate my frustration when you're older."

                                                • Lilly Teal
                                                  Lilly Teal

                                                  "You're here!"

                                                  Not helpful, Athame.

                                                  "And you're here because we want you here."

                                                  Not helpful, and also fairly sinister.

                                                  "And you can't go, we haven't even eaten yet!"

                                                  Young man, there appears to be a pattern in your answers, regarding unhelpfulness and sinister undertones. But he seemed genuinely very pleased to have them there. Gazing at them for a minute like a pair of brand new toys, apparently oblivious to any mentions of frustration or places they would rather be, he reached forward and gave Lilly a hug.

                                                  "Oh. Ah..." Her arms hung in space for a moment looking at Gladstone helplessly over his little head. After a brief pause, because he certainly didn't seem to be letting go, she put her arms around him carefully and patted him on the head.

                                                  "I think we should have potatoes and cheese sauce. Arete really likes that. I like it too!"

                                                  Who doesn't like potatoes in cheese sauce?!

                                                  "Oh! Oh! And can we have mushrooms in it? And those little green onions? And sausages cut up into little bits?!" Such luxury! "Come on."

                                                  Finally letting go, he took one hand each and tugged at them. "I'll show you where the kitchen is, Mommy! Daddy, you can be with her."

                                                  That's... very kind of you.

                                                  • Gladstone Gander
                                                    Gladstone Gander

                                                    Well that was quite a series of unhelpful answers.  When Lilly was hugged he couldn’t help his forehead wrinkling slightly in confusion.  But at least this one hadn’t threatened them.  So… that was a plus?

                                                    As they were lead by the hand Dadstone leaned in to whisper to her.

                                                    “I like this kid better.”  He raised his voice to address the boy. “Hey champ,  not that Mommy and I don’t want to help you two out if you’re hungry but -“ As they entered the hallway there were more portraits with burned out faces that lined the walls.  His hand gripped Lilly’s shoulder. This was so creepy.  “-uh you do know that we aren’t your real Mom and Dad right?”

                                                    A squadron of Teddy bears appeared ahead hefting the picnic basket overhead and disappearing into the kitchen.  General Huggie hung back and gave Athame a salute as he passed.

                                                    “All pepwrwations have been made yowr majesty! I have some of my best beawrs swicing the tatoes as we speak.  If hewr majesty da queen-“ he bowed to Lilly. “-needs any help pwease wet us know.  King Daddy the pwincess has asked dat you be bweifed as to the storwy book dat will be wead for sweepytime.  It’s waiting fowr you on the counter I suggest you  wead it a few times and work out what voiwces yowr going to use in advance. Now, I have some things to attend to if yow’ll pawdon me.” He gave another salute and marched off.

                                                    The kitchen was a sprawling room with pots, pans, and herbs hanging from the ceiling,  A long marble countertop provided a vast workspace and it was currently bustling with bears making themselves useful chopping up ingredients and washing dishes as they went.

                                                    As they neared a blue one dropped his potato peeler and ran over to a large flat picture book and handed it to Gladstone proudly.

                                                    “…’I Can Make you Disappear Like the Others.’ By Arete Crucible. “ he read aloud.

                                                    “It’s a weal page twurner!” Supplied the bear happily.

                                                    “…I have no doubt.  Athame, kiddo,  does your sister have any chill?  Like even a little?”

                                                    • Lilly Teal
                                                      Lilly Teal

                                                      "Chill? What's that?" Athame asked brightly.

                                                      ... well that answers some questions.

                                                      "And we know." He was a little quieter as he went on, dismissing the blue teddy bear to get back to work. "We know you aren't our real Mommy and Daddy. But we need a Mommy and Daddy! Ones that will love us!"

                                                      That... answers very few questions and just creates more, because Arete didn't exactly seem on a mission to encourage them to love her. More just... serve her?

                                                      Athame's was somber only for a brief time though. He was an optimistic boy at heart, supported by the fact that he knew that when he was upset, his sister would simply make what made him sad go away.

                                                      She didn't seem like it to the outside world, but he knew she loved him as much as he loved her. And he was positive this nice couple would love them both, in time! And while Arete was never happy (or at least, never acted happy) he knew she liked to feel loved! Love was more important than simply taking care of someone!

                                                      Lilly just... stared. This was definitely all very, very creepy, and the little boy was breaking her heart, which wasn't improving matters.

                                                      "Honey-" Just saying that in a gentle tone seemed to make him perk up, and she hesitated, not sure if talking was going to dig a deeper hole than they were in already. Luckily there was not much chance to worry about it either way, as the chopping and peeling for lunch seemed to be all done. A teddy bear walked up and gave her a kind but very firm push towards the stove, everything laid out for the cheese sauce, down to the cheese being ready grated.

                                                      "Maybe if we feed them and read them to sleep, we can find a way to get out of here?" she whispered to Gladstone. It was optimistic, but it was a chance.

                                                      Also, she really didn't see how she was getting out of cooking, so she sighed slightly and started.

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