Dungeons and Deities

In a flash Lilly and Gladstone had been uprooted from the comfort of her bedroom to the... well to the comfort of another bedroom.  Gladstone sat up quickly, flinging the little blue bear off him in surprise before catching him. This little blue bear who had transported them to...wherever this was.

The room around them was made of dark fine wood, rich velvet curtains blocked out the rays of sun making the sheets of fabric glow, illuminating the dust motes that drifted through the air. Making just the barest outlines of the antique furniture visible in the warm darkness.

"What?" he breathed as he looked at Lilly on who had landed on the elegant four poster bed beside him. "Where?"

"Qwickwy! Dewre isn't a moment to wose!"

"H-hold on." Gladstone tried to keep the squirming little bear in his grip but it got away.

General Huggie dashed across the dark elaborately embroidered bed covering and leaped off the bed. Making a beeline for the door. But opening it was something the bear had not considered. He put his hands on his hips as he frowned up at the knob.  There was a shrill, high pitched sound from the other side of the door and the gander scooted himself into a full seated position, pulling Lilly in protectively as he stared at that ominous door. 

"...Lilly, sweetness, am I... still sleeping?" He asked weakly as the doorknob slowly turned, the hinges squeaking eerily as it opened slowly.

  A tall figure stood in the doorway, back lit by the midday sun that flooded the room like a search light.  Blinking into the brightness the sound came again as a small creature pushed passed the tall one and exploded into the room like a shock wave of sound.  There was no time to react. No time to defend themselves.  Before they knew it a duckling in a royal purple dress was climbing onto the bed and threw her arms around the both of them with such force that they almost toppled over.  The child bopped up and down excitedly still squealing with delight.

"Arete," The man in the door way said the name with a tender warning note. "-be gentle."

Big green eyes shone up at them as the girl took this to mean 'hug them individually'. 

"I missed you Ms. Lilly!" She whispered as she hugged her around the neck.  So much healthier and cleaner and just so much happier than when they'd last seen her. The girl looked up at her hopefully. "Did you miss me too?" 

    • Lilly Teal
      Lilly Teal

      "I don't think so-" Which as far as she got in response to his question before everything seemed to happen at once, and something loud and small had thrown itself at them. Reacting more on instinct than any actual understanding, she wrapped her arms around Arete as soon as the girl hugged her around the neck.

      It took a moment, because there was just too much to take in, but everything disappeared as she heard the voice, and saw the eyes, and saw a smile she never thought she'd see with the familiar eyes or voice. No other questions mattered for now, she melted entirely, her own smile so warm and happy at the sight of the girl as she cuddled her close, leaning back a little to look at her properly.

      "Of course I did! Oh darling it's so lovely to see you again. Look at how beautiful you look. And so happy!"

      There was another sound, a little feet pattering down the hallway towards them, but she didn't notice at first, too busy looking at Arete with astonished love.

      "Have you gotten a little taller as well?"

      Ah. Ah yes, wait. Looking up slightly, she realised she should probably be responding to the other people in the room as well. It was impossible to tell with the light behind him, and she hadn't spent as much time around that voice, but the clear love the man was using with Arete meant-

      "Mister Crucible. It's good to see you as well too. We're sorry for. Er." She glanced at Gladstone. Dropping in? "What exactly's- ah!"

      Another little body smacked into her.

      "You're here, you're here!" Athame practically sang, barely giving her a second to reorient herself after that hug before he flung himself on Gladstone. He was no longer alarmingly light, and the dark circles under his happy eyes had vanished entirely. He too was much cleaner than before, though there was a definite smudge on his cheek that indicated he'd escaped from having his face cleaned because he was too excited to see their guests. "Hi! It's me Athame! Do you remember me?"

      • Gladstone Gander
        Gladstone Gander

        The little girl smiled brightly with a happy little squirm and buried her face into her next hug with a giggle. Until her brother collided with her and she gave him a little push as Gladstone, who was not at all prepared for any of this, scrambled to catch the boy as he flung himself into his arms.

        "Athame," Mr. Crucible  used the same tone again. "-gently."

        Gently didn't seem to appeal to anyone as the gander hugged the boy back, feeling a strange mix of joy and desperation swirl inside him. That was odd.  But he didn't give it much thought he looked down at the boy with a warm smile.

        "Hmmm... yes-" he turned the boy's head back and forth, then slicked his hair down over his eyes, poking him lightly in the stomach. "-yes it IS you Athame.  You're at least ten feet tall now. I nearly didn't recognize you."  You sweet little boy.  And your happy sister.  How different they looked in all the best ways. 

        Gilfaethwy Crucible cleared his throat lightly and clapped his hands.

        "Children. Our guests are tired and... not in too much pain any more I hope?"

        "Siwr! I pwovided da magic yow sent to heawl dere wounds!" Huggie saluted the raven haired man who nodded.

        "Excellent. At ease General." the bear collapsed into plush again and he picked him up.  "Arete, Athame why don't you go help your mother pick out some clothes for your friends to change into after lunch.... or-" he glanced at a complicated contraption on his wrist. "...I suppose breakfast for them." The wizard moved into the room, finally approaching the pair looking at them in guarded interest but a kind smile. "I hope you don't mind my bringing you here? It's just I've found-"

        "Daddy knows why you're in trouble all the time!" Arete whispered to Lilly which earned her A Look from her father. 

        "...I think I do anyway thank you Arete. The series of escalations in your lives was set to reach an all time high this afternoon had I left you at your house Ms. Teal, it is... a magnetic sort of pull you two have with such dramatic events.  I thought interfering before... well..." Hecrossed his arms in thought before shrugging. "I suppose there's no harm in telling you as I've cut it off at the root, your house... would have caught fire and burned down. The blaze starting with everyone still inside. " He held up a hand as Arete gasped and hugged Lilly tighter, whether this was new to her or she was just hamming it up to continue being held was anyone's guess. "Mr. Gander would have had to go back in for the big man-your-" He paused as if trying to remember a speech. "-ah yes your Uncle.  It would have been terribly heroic. Lengthy hospital stays for all involved, a brief respite and then the earthquake would happen, and the super villain would -anyway.  The point I'm trying to make is I..."

        "Have been... spying on us?" Gladstone asked, more curious then angry.

        "No!" Gilfaethwy looked shocked absolutely positively shoc-he suddenly shrugged. "Well yes I suppose. If  you want to be blunt about it.  But I think in my spying research I've figured out where all this ... well call a spade a spade... Chaos... comes from.  When my children release you." He said primly, lengthening his spine with a meaningful look at the twins. "I hope they'll allow me to show you my findings in my study."

        "Daddy!"

        "Yes Caterpillar?"

        "They need to eat first!" Arete's small hand brushed Lilly's bedhead hair away from her face before she covered her mouth and whispered. "-are you hungry? My mommy makes good food. Like you do."

         

        Gilfaethwy bowed lightly to the little girl and stepped out of the room.

        "When you're ready, and please take a moment to orientate yourself, you've traveled a very long way in a short amount of time, please allow us to... well feed you first it would seem."

        • Lilly Teal
          Lilly Teal

          A... fire? Whether Arete was hamming it up or not, Lilly tensed significantly against Gladstone's shoulder, holding the duckling closer to herself. No. No, of all things. Not again... Even if, according to Gilfaethwy, they were all meant to survive, just having to go through that again.

          Hopefully it wouldn't happen now, if they weren't in the house? Although, Javert and Uncle Matthew must be worried out of their minds. But at least. They wouldn't...

          Arete's little hand was a blessing, as the contact shook her out a spiral of worrying and second-guessing that threatened to freeze her to the spot. Starting a little, she looked at the child in surprise before her face softened into another smile, not replacing her fears, but simply covering over them for the little one's sake.

          "A little hungry." She really wasn't, but Arete was so pleased and clearly wanting to be helpful. And honestly... if this was going to be another mess they had to get into, this may be the one time they actually get to eat before it. Her stomach growled embarrassingly, and she was suddenly aware of the fact that yes, she actually was hungry, because they had been far too tired to eat afterwards like they usually did, and hadn't had a chance for dinner in the first place, for obvious reasons.

          "That sounds a lot hungry! We'll give you good food and good clothes and make sure you're all good," Athame announced confidently, having snuggled himself happily into Gladstone's arms for the story, and taking all of it with great optimism. "Just like you did for us!"

          The mood seemed a little low in this room. No matter. It was no match for Athame. He gave Gladstone a bright eyed look and patted his arm, reaching over to pat Lilly's as well. You helped us. And now? "It's our turn to be the helpers and make you safe! Right Arete?"

          • Gladstone Gander
            Gladstone Gander

            Gladstone watched Lilly with eagle eyed concern.  He was just about to say "maybe they have a phone" when it was suddenly broadcast how hungry someone was, and he finally registered the ache in his stomach as well. As Arete saw to Lilly he couldn't ignore the helpful little guy he held. He looked at the twins smiling at each in turn, then back to Lilly.  

            "How can we say no to that hm?" 

            "There is no escape." Growled a voice from the doorway. Gilfaethwy had reappeared, his shoulders hunched, clutching something to his chest, bent over menacingly, yellow eyes searing through the darkness. "You have lingered in this place too long-" He continued in  the same dark snarl. Gladstone felt his arm coil around Lilly, ready to push her behind him should the warlock pounce. Arete blinked at her father, her eyes growing wide. "-yes, lingered too long... and now.... SHE HAS AWOKEN!"

            He trust his arms over head holding the bundle aloft like a lightning rod.  It gurgled.  

            "Eeeeeee!" Arete put her hands to her cheeks in a playful little scream. "Oh no the beast!"

            "The BEAST!" Gilfaethwy boomed dramatically as he held the wide eyed infant out in front of him. "THE BEAST DEMANDS YOU GET TO THE KITCHEN NOW. BECAUSE HER SLAVE IS GETTING ANNOYED THAT THE FOOD..." He curled the baby back into the crook of his arm, swirling his cape about him like a silver age Hollywood Dracula. "-THE FOOD! IS GETTING COLD! GO NOW YOUNG MORSELS! RUN! RUN FROM!..." the cape whipped open again to show pudgy little hands had gripped his buttons and was trying to put them in her mouth. "...hey now sweetie don't.." he took one of the offending little hands and waved it at them. "-THE BEAST!

            The man swept into the room with his ultimate weapon his older daughter squealing in delight and fake fear as she squeezed out of Lilly's arms grabbed her brother and hopped off the bed, running out of the room and hanging a tight left giggling down the hallway.  Gilfaethwy smiled after his children then turned back to the Normals.

            "Oh. I'm sorry did I scare you?" He sounded genuinely shocked at the paleness of Gladstone's face in particular. He looked down at the baby. "Shame on you, scaring the nice Normals like that." He cooed to her then smiled at them.  "I realize now that we haven't been properly introduced. I'm Gilfaethwy Crucible, you may call me Gil if you like as my name is a trial in itself for even ghoulish tongues. And this little beast is Aura." he presented the red haired, gray feathered, yellow eyed baby, who blinked at them with the wide eyed wonder of infants everywhere." And you're Lilly and Gladstone, the children speak of you both with such fondness I admit it makes me jealous.  I owe you a great debt." He sobered slightly. "Truly. So I hope that this alarming turn of events doesn't cause you any more distress and I assure you Lilly, your Uncle, familiar, strange looking collection of lawn gnomes on metal steeds, and home are all perfectly safe and will continue to be.  We can send a raven to your Uncle to let him know you are well, unless by any chance know anyone with a crystal ball then we can touch base much quicker, face to face as it were."

            "Mambo?" Gladstone mumbled to her in suggestion and feeling the panic drain from him he got off the bed and took her by the hands helping her to stand as well.

            "But before any of that I must insist that we eat. The children get wild if they're hungry." He turned on his heel and went in the same direction the children had moments earlier. "Absolutely feral." 

             

            As if they didn't know.

            • Lilly Teal
              Lilly Teal

              "Mambo," she agreed with some relief, though even as she got to her feet she was unwilling to let go of his hands. "It'll be much better coming from her. Maybe they can even explain to her what's happened to calm Uncle Matthew down."

              The house was so much warmer than the horrible one Gwydion had created, and the clear familial playfulness made it all the more pleasant, minor heart attack aside. She looked out of the door after where they had disappeared, feeling a distinct pulling sensation in her heart that made her want to follow them even if that wasn't exactly what she was supposed to do. Arete's warmth was still in her arms and lap, the sensation of Athame's tiny hand still on her shoulder, and she had to fight down a sudden, wild surge of emotions that she couldn't quality or comprehend. Nor was there was the time to sit down and unpack all of those complicated feelings.

              Pulling Gladstone closer by their linked hands, she caught him in a tight hug and buried her face in his shoulder, taking a moment to breathe deeply before she leaned back and took his hands again, looking much calmer.

              "We finally get to eat this time."

              Following their hosts left and down the hall, they came out into a dining room. Again, a vastly different one from the black, sickly red one from before. This one was well-lit, the sunlight gleaming off of a finely carved table of dark, polished wood that seemed to be the same kind that made up the bed. The kitchen was barely partitioned from it, with a wide, wide doorway between the two so that anyone using the kitchen could keep a keen eye on the table, and wouldn't have far to move. The children, bouncing up and down, had clearly been asked to sit at the table after they had done their very important duty of bringing in the toast and butter.

              "Gil, sit down." Rhiannon said with amusement, setting down the final dish. The smell of scrambled eggs, cheese, sausages and roast tomatoes hung heavily in the air, accented by hot, fresh toast and melting butter. Looking up, she shook out out her mass of deep red hair and smiled.

              "There you two are." She swept over to the two Normals regally, spreading her hands. "Rhiannon Crucible. A pleasure to meet you in less threatening circumstances."

              "Oh... the pleasure's all ours..."

              "Please, sit. Arete and Athame won't put a thing in their plates until you two start eating."

              • Gladstone Gander
                Gladstone Gander

                At the sudden forceful hug Gladstone caught her and held her as close as he could without hurting her. He was having quite the internal tornado himself over the situation.  He'd been so sure he'd never see these children again... so certain that they were gone, safe but gone,  that seeing her hold Arete again...  It made his heart ache, and break, and swell all at once. And that was just seeing her hold the child, he couldn't even begin figuring out his own reaction.  He needed this hug as much as she did, he hadn't realized how much. When she leaned away he smiled at her.

                "Let's mark it on our calendars."

                And really, they should.  Gladstone was speechless at the house itself, at the rooms they passed and the one they ended up in.  Grateful and smiling he sat at the table, Lilly beside him, hand still holding hers, across from two grinning, bouncing faces. 

                "Do you like eggs Ms. Lilly? Do you like toast too! I can butter your toast for you! Have you had any more adventures with princesses? Have you-" She paused with the butter knife scraped halfway across the slice of bread looking shy an unsure, a shadow of the child they'd originally met. "...hugged any more dragons? Made them nice?"

                "Listen up you boisterous brood!" Gilfaethwy appeared in the doorway, wait... hadn't he come in here first?  Well the stack of books in his arms, a baby sitting on top of the little pile flailing happily, might say otherwise.  "There is much to do today my minions!" He made to go to the end of the table, stopped, doubled back, kissed his wife's cheek then carried on. "We have very special guests!"

                "We know!" Arete, all solemnity gone as she presented the blobbily buttered bread to Lilly as if it were a holy relic.

                The books slammed down on the table, the baby bouncing up in the air only to be snatched up by limber limbs. Gilafaethwy scooped Aura up to rest on his chest as he sat in the chair at... well it wasn't the head of the table that was for sure.  That chair remained open until the lady of the house felt so inclined.  In the warm light of day the warlock was not at all the imposing figure Gladstone remembered in the dark forest when he'd first met the man, not even the shadowy visage from moments ago in that shadowy bedroom.  "Gil" was tall, yes, willowy even, but he had broad shoulders and strong lean arms, short cropped ink black hair, a regal looking face like a kindly king beloved by all who served him, shockingly bright yellow eyes, and plumage the color of dust.  He snapped his fingers and food appeared on his plate, depleting the stores on the table accordingly.

                "No magic at the table!" Arete reprimanded him, clearly something she'd been told many times herself. "And no books at the table too!"

                "Minion I have just a few last things to read up on before our trip toda-"

                "I'm sorry-" Gladstone spoke up, grinning widely from ear to ear. "-but... I couldn't help but notice your painting."

                "Oh?" Gilfaethwy blinked and looked at the painting that hung on the wall between two windows and he sat straight up pounding the table with his fist (making everything rattle) before his head whipped right back around to beam at the couple. "Oh! YES! I had that painting commissioned as soon as we got home! It came out rather exceptional if I do say so myself.  Of course I only had the children's accounts of what actually happened so I'm sure it's slightly exaggerated."

                The painting depicted a raven haired goddess with blazing blue eyes, holding a fist on high, light blossoming from it in the recoil of a devastating blow.  Her other hand held a cowering man, similar looking to Gilfaethwy but thinner, more sinister looking,  with longer, wilder hair.  He had fallen at her feet, victim of her maternal fury, sobbing openly.  A decapitated giant black bear was under her mighty heel, a beam of sunlight was bursting through thick clouds over her, making her glow with heavenly light.  She was a vision of female strength, in a billowing white gown with glittering high heels peeking out from under the hem.

                "No I think it's pretty spot on." Gladstone grinned and nudged Lilly with his shoulder.

                "I posed for Gywdion myself.  That why he's far too handsome." 

                Well thank you for that Gilfaethwy. That was really the part that everyone was looking at surely. 

                • Lilly Teal
                  Lilly Teal

                  "Much too handsome," Rhiannon smirked, precluding any further need for magic at the table by serving out hearty portions for everyone (no Athame you have to finish your first plate before you ask for more). Her every move was graceful and she was tall and proud-backed with her masses of hair cascading down it, every inch a warrior queen in her own right, as if she had stepped out of a painting. She was probably the one who posed for the lady, come to think of it. It was no wonder the image of the two of them was so idealised in the minds of the children and their 'minions'

                  Speaking of idealised...

                  "Are you alright?" Rhiannon asked, mid-serving. Lilly looked very red and wide-eyed. Flattered and absolutely, absolutely embarrassed.

                  "Fine," she squeaked, covering her face with her hands. So much for a vision of female strength. Their hostess laughed, not unkindly, and gave Gladstone's wide, amused grin a equally amused look of her own.

                  "Maybe you'll feel better if you turn around." A hand fell on Lilly's shoulder and turned her gently so she could see the wall on the other side of the room, and the impressive relief on it.

                  A monster loomed on the far wall, hideous spindly arms reaching with claws out, a massive maw that made up most of its head open wide, trying and failing to bite down on a heroic figure with his arm raised high, a torch in his hand. The top of the torch looked more like an empty wall sconce, and as they looked, it blazed into light, making the shadows on the monster deeper and more eerie, and somehow making the hero's perfectly coiffed hair glow, a devil-may-care smirk on his face as he shielded a less detailed mass of teddy bears cowering behind him.

                  "The children were very, very grateful. And so are we."

                  • Gladstone Gander
                    Gladstone Gander

                    Glifaethwy had not noticed the attention had shifted to the relief as he was demonstrating that if you looked at the painting THIS way her fist was actually punching the wizard and over here, after the hit,  you could really see the tears blubbering down his face.

                    Gladstone bit his lip to keep from laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. That heroic stance, Rhiannon probably posed for that too.  The way the torch lit up. Not even five hours ago they were brutalized and beaten emotionally and physically until they collapsed into literal exhaustion and now this?  Eating breakfast with witches and wizards who had tribute created in their honor and hung them in their dining room. Tribute because they didn't let these children get hurt on what was one of the scariest nights of his life?  He lost his battle with himself and started laughing openly and soon found he couldn't stop. Everything was too much and he dissolved into helpless, hysterical, breathless laughter because... that was the only thing he could do. Arete blinked at him mid chew of a roasted tomato and started giggling too. 

                    "I'm sorry-" he gasped as he clung to Lilly for strength. "-I'm sorry they're..." don't laugh don't laugh "-really lovely.  It's just..." He chuckled weakly and looked at his girlfriend in disbelief. "It's been a heck of a time these last twenty-four hours. And I don't know why we're here.. and-" He seemed to finally catch his breath. "-and I've only slept about four hours..."

                    "I can tell you!" Arete shot her hand in the air as if in a classroom. "Can I tell them daddy?"

                    "Wait, wait... before we get ahead of ourselves." Gil, during Gladstone's mini meltdown, had sobered considerably.  Now he was looking at the gander and duckette with a more clinical eye, as if watching from behind a mirrored window. "I... well I need you to just sit still for a moment. I'm going to cast a spell on you, it's not harmful at all, it will only work if the conditions have been met and even then all you'll feel is a slight tingling in the affected area." 

                    "...what?"

                    "It's easier just to show you?"

                    He snapped his fingers and a wand appeared in his hand.  With a complicated series of movements and rumbling on in some long dead tongue the wizard cast his spell.  At the end of it he thrust the wand at them and Gladstone felt his forehead tingle. Ah... that was... weird? He put his hand to it and a golden glow lit up his hand as it neared. 

                    "I knew it." Gilfaethwy breathed in triumph as he swept around the table and moved Gladstone's hand away from a shimmering golden kiss on his forehead. The wizard smiled. "I KNEW it!" he poked the kiss. "Fortuna's blessing!" Tyche's kiss!" He turned his eyes expectantly to Lilly. "How about you Ms.? Anything?" 

                    • Lilly Teal
                      Lilly Teal

                      It was a surprising sight to be sure. Of course she KNEW he was blessed with luck. She just hadn't been expecting it to manifest itself physically.

                      ... well it always manifested itself physically but you know what I mean.

                      She was still looking at his forehead in surprise when the question was put to her, and it caught her off-guard.

                      "Me? I don't think I have anything?" she said, almost asked, uncertainly as Gilfaethwy watched her narrowly. Was... was she expected to have something? Or was she supposed to do something? Feel something?

                      He's still staring. She felt her cheeks tingle with embarrass- wait. It was just one cheek. Bringing up a hand quickly, she saw a glow of her own reflect out of the corner of her eye. Dark red, almost black.

                      Rhiannon frowned thoughtfully at the cheek, an imprint of what looked like a finger and thumb, like someone with paint on their fingers had pinched her cheek.

                      "I... don't recognise that mark in particular. But the colour itself answers a lot of questions, does it not Gil?"

                      Really because I think the two of us just have more questions than we started with.

                      "What?" Lilly and Athame asked at the same time, followed by the little boy cheerfully appending "Is it bad?"

                      • Gladstone Gander
                        Gladstone Gander

                        Gladstone blinked at Lilly, staring at the pinch mark and wondering just what the heck any of this was-

                        "AHA! HA! YES!" Gilfaethwy threw his hands into the air and jumped up and down excitedly. "YES! I KNEW IT!" 

                        He whirled around and grabbed one of the thick books he'd brought in with him. He laughed excitedly to himself as he flicked rapidly through the pages until he stopped and stared at the page and then slapped it happily. 

                        "I KNEW IT!" He grinned at his wife. "Iiiii~ knew it!" Without any warning, he poked the mark on Gladstone's forehead. "Luck! Mwah!" He blew a little kiss before he grabbed Lilly by the clear mark on her face and pinched her cheek probably a little harder than he should have. "-aaaaand Chaos!"

                        Gladstone's face fell as he stared at Lilly.

                        "What?"

                        Gil hopped up to sit on the table between them, eggs and tomatoes going every which way, looking at them like a pair of favorite lab rats. 

                        "You two have been favored by GODS." He held out his arm to his wife. "I have goosebumps. Can you see them? Actual favored mortals in OUR house."

                        "What are you talking about?" Gladstone frowned at the excitable wizard as he leaned in to look at the glowing mark on her face himself, cupping the afflicted cheek and running a thumb through the mark to see if it would vanish... which it didn't.  "...Chaos? Wait....did you say..." He frowned and slid his eyes back to the wizard. "...Gods?"

                        "Are you really surprised?  How else do you explain what-" he motioned between the couple quickly with his hand. "-this is? You know this whole thing that happens to you two isn't normal, right? Who else do you know who have such an interesting effect on each other?"

                        "...'interesting'." Gladstone echoed weakly and then looked back at Lilly. "That's putting it lightly?" 

                        • Lilly Teal
                          Lilly Teal

                          Of course it wasn't normal. They'd just somehow assumed that Gladstone's luck was malfunctioning around Lilly out of coincidence. Not that it was something... much...

                          "Chaos?" Lilly repeated weakly. She pressed Gladstone's hand to her cheek with her own, holding onto it tightly.

                          "Gil, get off the table," Rhiannon said with a light laugh, as Athame enthusiastically tried to copy his father. Catching the little duckling as he got up on the chair and tried to make the transition to the table, she set him back on his bottom and pushed his orange juice in front of him. "Drink, Athame."

                          "Awwwww. But I want to know if it's bad!" Nobody had answered his question and he demanded answers!

                          "It... sounds bad." Lilly's voice was still very uncertain, but Rhiannon turned to her with a calm, unworried face that eased her slightly.

                          "It's neither bad, neither good. It's simply chaos. Unpredictable. Constantly shifting. The least expected. Which, as Gil has been telling us all night, is probably absolutely delighted to have a Luck-favoured companion to bounce off it. It allows Chaos to... what was it you said, Gil? 'Safely raise the stakes'?"

                          "Raise the... but why me?!"

                          • Gladstone Gander
                            Gladstone Gander

                            "That I don't know." Gilfaethwy said tapping his fingertips together as he slid off the table, least he unleash the wife's wrath. "Chaos only knows...." He grinned widely as he leaned down to address the worried looking couple. "...which is why we're going to ask him." 

                            Arete, who had been watching all these dramatics while slowly sinking in her chair perked up with a gasp.  

                            "Are you going to see the Gods, Daddy?"  She breathed as she scooted forward taking Athame's hand worriedly.

                            "No," Gil said thoughtfully as he straightened up to his impressive full height. "-we all are. That is if it's alright with your mother.... and Ms. Teal and Mr. Gander."  he checked the whirling device on his wrist. "...I urge you to consider it quickly as the window of calm that you two have left is rapidly closing.  We have a bit of a journey ahead of us should you chose to go."

                            "I want to go." Arete whispered to Athame, looking at Lilly and Gladstone pleadingly, then to Rhiannon with full blown puppy dog eyes, hugging her brother tight, clinging to him nearly making his orange juice splash all over them both. 

                            "i uh-" Gladstone looked around the room then back to Lilly, "-can we have um... a moment?"

                            "Oh yes of course!" Gil waved his hand at them like a teacher dismissing class early and went back to his own seat to pick at his own breakfast with his fingers, pouring over the information about Chaos. "There's-" He pointed and a door opened at the corner of the room. "-a study right through there. Talk it out, take your breakfast with you, think about it." He glanced at the magical projection of hourglasses and moving gears that hovered over his wrist. "...but again... the sooner we go the better. If you chose to go that is." He lifted his eyes to Rhiannon as he threw a fluffy bit of scrambled egg into his mouth. "...I should... probably talk to my wife about this too." 

                            Gladstone took hold of Lilly's hand and brought her into the study. It was a comfy little room, quiet, bright, only a few bookcases and a collection of comfortable chairs in the center.  He closed the door, trying to ignore the curious stares that followed them.  With a deep exhale he turned to her and his gaze immediately went to the fading mark on her face before they moved to her eyes. 

                            "...okay. Uh." Everything seemed to big all of a sudden, too weird, too out of their control.  Gods? Really? How far did that go? Was any decision made actually their own? Or was it more like... their decisions were made in spite of the powers that be?  It was overwhelming but as he looked at her he smiled, calmed just by her presence. "You look like you need a hug."  And so he gave her one, hugging her close as he felt the tingling on his own forehead fading. "...what should we do Lillypad?" he asked softly. 

                            • Lilly Teal
                              Lilly Teal

                              It was a good question. A truly excellent one.

                              She was tempted to joke that perhaps they should flip a coin on this. Luck would decide what was best for Gladstone, after all. Except... it was less of a joke once you realised that it was her. She was the coin. Rather, she was one Gladstone was putting his trust in to decide what was best.

                              And maybe, as luck would have it, she would make the right decision, because Gladstone was involved. But that was hardly a guarantee. It still meant she could decide all wrong. And he was trusting her. It made her heart ache just to think about it, and as she wrapped her arms around him in response to the hug, she put her face in his neck and took a few deep breaths.

                              "It's not just us this time," she whispered. "If Rhiannon says yes. It's them. It's the kids... I don't-"

                              They could get hurt, after we worked so hard to keep them safe. I don't want that decision on my conscience.

                              On the other hand, isn't it technically Rhiannon's decision? If Lilly said yes to this, and their mother said no, then there was nothing to worry about to begin with! Surely their mother would know best.

                              Did anyone really know best, in this situation? Or even just better?

                              Leaning back to look at his face, she gave a little laugh, just the sight of him supporting her going a long way towards helping things.

                              "It's just not getting any easier, is it?"

                              I just want everything to stop.

                              "But if this is real..." She swallowed a little, feeling the weight of the choice hanging overhead. "I want to know. Maybe we can. I can. Ask... Chaos? To stop?"

                              • Gladstone Gander
                                Gladstone Gander

                                "Or at the very least." He conceded as he ran his fingers through her hair. "-ask the guy to settle down?  Let us have like... a handful of days off? Think he's a negotiator?"  he was quiet for a moment.  The sounds of the Crucibles no doubt having a similar discussion in the next room were muffled by the heavy door. "I want to know if this is real too.  I think you deserve some answers after everything.  And..." He sighed lightly. "-it seems like it might be my luck... or uh... Lady Luck that is keeping things rolling. If it really is the two of them duking it out... maybe I can talk to her.  Get her to... I don't know... lean into it real hard? Or..." he closed his eyes. "...leave me alone."

                                 

                                "I didn't mean to put this choice on you, but you should have a say, it's your life he's been messing with." His thumb stroked the now completely vanished mark on her face.  "But I want to know. We stick together, keep the rest of them close-" He let out a breathy laugh rolling his eyes slightly. "-the whole family what is he thinking? And we can do this. I know we can."  

                                 

                                ---- 

                                "Rhi, before you say anything-" Gil held up his finger to her the instant the study door closed. "-I want to explain one thing. Children! Earmuffs!"

                                Arete clapped her hands over her ears to block out the adult conversation and urged Athame to do the same. Gil gave them a nod and picked up the baby, bringing her with him to his wife.  

                                "I'm not leaving any of you behind." he said seriously not even a trace of the upbeat wizard he was moments earlier. His yellow eyes were locked on hers with fierce determination. "Gywn is loose again. And I'm not taking any chances.  You're all safer with me and them-" he nodded toward the study. "Then you would be here.  The Gods don't like to lose their playthings. I'm confident no real harm awaits us.  There may be a few challenges... but..." He set his jaw. "I owe them this. We owe them this.  If these two hadn't been lead to our children by these petty deities, they would be dead. I know that with a certainty that chills my blood Rhiannon. Why would they come to that exact place at the exact time that our children needed them most if these Gods were out to harm us? We need to get them there.  And the children can help. Arete is a skilled spellcaster, stronger than either of us in someways, and Athame is her focus.  They work together. Just-" his hand sought out hers. "-like us." 

                                "I have thought about this to the brink of madness and back my love, don't think that this was an impulsive decision.  But if all of us don't go... I will not leave you.  We can attempt to send them alone but, I want to help them, and no Normal should face the path before them unaided.  They are near breaking as it is.  The only thing that is keeping them together is their own stubborn affection for one another." He grinned again, lifting his eyebrows. "That rather sounds like us too doesn't it dear?" 

                                • Lilly Teal
                                  Lilly Teal

                                  That prompted a giggle, and she leaned her forehead against his and closed her eyes. This time her deep breath was not to calm herself, but one of simple enjoyment in the feeling of safety in this embrace, no matter what else the future held.

                                  "I can't believe this is being turned into a family outing. But you're right." Optimism sparking again, she opened her eyes to give him a brilliant grin. "It's us! We've managed so well already, we can do it again!"

                                  That's the spirit! Reinforcing the jug one more time, she pulled away, holding onto both of his hands.

                                  "Let's go tell them."

                                  ~~~

                                  On the other side of the door, Rhiannon laughed as well, pulling him in by his hand for a quick peck on the lips.

                                  "You always were overdramatic. But," she sobered, very slightly. "I understand. We will do what it takes to remain safe. And pay back some small part of the debt we owe these Normals."

                                  As far as she was concerned, that debt could never be repaid. Running her thumb over his knuckles, she smiled. "We're the Crucibles, after all. I'd like to see the Gods throw something at us we cannot find some way to handle. Especially with such amazing helpers."

                                  "What's happening?" Athame asked loudly, his hands still clamped over his ears, prompting another laugh from his mother as she pulled his hands away, and then Arete's.

                                  "If they agree, then yes, we're all going with them."

                                  Athame threw his arms up in the air, but hadn't gotten to the verbal celebration yet before the door to the study swung open, the 'favoured' pair still holding onto each other's hands tightly.

                                  "Mister Crucible?" Lilly said firmly. "We'd like to go."

                                  "YAY!"

                                  • Gladstone Gander
                                    Gladstone Gander

                                    "Excellent!" Gil put his hands on his hips triumphantly. Well, hand. The other one was still full of baby. "Yes this will be a very interesting trip indeed! Minions!" He bellowed and Arete squeaked and slid out of her chair ducking under the table to run to him. 

                                    About halfway to him she veered off course and dashed to Lilly hugging her leg tightly with a giggle. 

                                    "Mutinous minions..." He grumbled and grabbed Athame before he could get any ideas of his own.  Son on one hip, infant on the other he regarded the Normals. "Very well, we are all headed to the valley of the Gods.  It's been millennia since they dwelled on Olympus you know? Most of them, once they lost their worshipers, just decided to live among us.  I think there's an ancient Omnian Turtle God living near the botanical gardens in that city of yours... I seem to recall hearing that anyway. But before we get too deep into mythology let's see to letting your Uncle know you're alright and just taking a little other worldly stroll shall we? Then of course we do need to outfit you for such an undertaking." He grinned. "Togas okay with everyone? I'm kidding, mostly. This way please!" 

                                    Gil walked out of the dining room into the hallway they'd originally come from.

                                    "Ms. Lilly?" Arete's eyes were locked on her curiously as walked alongside the adults, having to move twice as fast to keep pace. "Is your Uncle nice?" 

                                    Gladstone released Lilly's hand to scoop up the girl, bringing her to Lilly's eye level as they trailed after Gil who was rattling on about some demigod or another living over in Spoonerville. 

                                    "He is a nice uncle." He informed the child with a smile.  "He loves Lilly very much."

                                    "Oh." She said softly as she twirled a lock of hair around her finger thoughtfully. She shifted her weight in Gladstone's arms so that she was leaning on his shoulder to get closer to Lilly her big green eyes shining with protective earnestness. "If you want me to put him in a painting I can do that remember? But... if he's a nice Uncle then... what's his name? Can I see him? Can I say hello in the crystal ball? I want to see him!" She bounced excitedly, the lights in their sconces flickering brighter in her enthusiasm. "I want to see Lilly's nice Uncle!" 

                                     

                                    The Crystal Ball was sitting at a small table in the center of a quaint sitting room. One that showed signs of regular use.  Gil was peering at it curiously as it was not clear as it ought to have been but billowing magenta clouds filled the interior of the orb.

                                    "Ah. Seems we're getting a call." His eyebrows lifted as a brown feathered hen came into view. "Oh. OH! Mambo dear, Aha... " he sent a sly glance back to Lilly and Gladstone. "So this is your Mambo. I should have known."  He turned back to the crystal, shifting the children in his grasp. "Hello Mambo how very nice to see you."

                                    "Gilfaethwy Crucible, ya devil! Ya look exactly th' same. Dashin' and dimpled  an' oh no, dat can't be. Who is dat big man dere? Dat can' be Athame. Ah-" She put her hand to her heart. "-such a han'some man ya are. All grown up." The tiny image of Mambo squinted and looked around the room, her eyes lingering on the couple and relief painting her features visibly. "Ah, I thought dat's where ya got of to.  Gladdy, ya look good holdi' dat kid."  Gladstone cleared his throat lightly a slight twinge of pink coming over his cheeks. "Lilly dear I'll get yer... Oh Matt!" She vanished. Through the small space the interior of the Halden residence could be seen.  

                                    Gil used his foot to slide out the chair in front of the crystal ball.

                                    "Alright Ms. Teal, have a seat. I think our friend will be along shortly with your Uncle in tow.  She is a tenacious little thing isn't she? How she does it is a mystery to me.  I turned my precognition off ages ago." He shook his head lightly. "Too many headaches." 

                                    • Lilly Teal
                                      Lilly Teal

                                      Lilly couldn't help but smile at the waves of goodwill coming off of the child.

                                      "He's very nice, and of course you can say hello," she said, stroking Arete's head gently as they walked. Nerves at what was ahead of them couldn't quite stand up against how kind and completely loving the Crucibles were being, here and now. And speaking of kind and loving, the sun rose on her face when she saw the familiar brown hen, a surge of gratitude almost overtaking her as she saw Mambo at their home. Uncle Matthew must have called her, and she had come right over...

                                      The 'handsome grown man' waved and chirped a "Hi aunty Mambo!" before the hen disappeared from the crystal ball. Bouncing in his father's arm, Athame kept a keen watch on the ball, as if only by his vigilance would things go well.

                                      "It's aunty Mambo, Mummy," he added to bring Rhiannon up to speed as she swept into the room last of all, having stayed behind to put away the dirty breakfast dishes.

                                      "Is it now?" the lady's eyebrows raised in surprise as Lilly took her seat, wrapping an arm around Gladstone's waist. These Normals certainly knew a lot of people they normally shouldn't. Gil was right. They probably had a better handle on this than she thought.

                                      When Matthew's face appeared in the crystal ball, he had clearly been prepared, because there was no obvious worry on his face. It was present only around the eyes, which relaxed almost as soon as he set eyes on his niece and her glowing smile. It made him smile warmly as well, a very rare occurrence when Gladstone was present, especially when the two of them were touching each other.

                                      "There you are, Princess. You gave me a scare."

                                      "I'm sorry uncle Matthew. It was very... sudden. But I'm alright, I promise. I'm with friends. They, uh," she glanced at Gil. "- think they might know what's... wrong with me and Gladstone and we're going to go and see if it's true. We're all going together!" she added quickly as his face darkened. "I won't be alone, and the Crucibles will take care of us."

                                      He didn't look very happy about it, of course he didn't, but she looked so earnest, so intent on her decision, that he sighed.

                                      "Just come back safely. Gladstone, bring her back safely." Or I'll have something to say about it.

                                      "We'll be back, I promise!" Oh sweetheart... you can't make promises like that. You can't. "Ah! Let me introduce you. This is Gil... faeth? Wy? Gilfeathwy Crucible. And this is Rhiannon," the woman inclined her head. "And this is Athame-"

                                      "Hi! You're big!"

                                      "And this is Arete. These are the lovely children I told you about before!"

                                      Ah yes. The ones who kidnapped you. But then we know why, now.

                                      "Aaah," he said, his voice warm and friendly. "A pleasure."

                                      • Gladstone Gander
                                        Gladstone Gander

                                        "Ah it's 'Gil-VYTH-wee' a little awkward on the tongue. Comes with the whole old mythological name thing. My parents were very keen on keeping it in the family." Gil chimed in pleasantly and gave a small wave to the ibex. "Greetings Mister Uncle Matthew. They are in very  good hands I assure you."

                                        There. All settled. Couldn't possibly be put more at ease, the wizard put Athame on the floor and slung the baby to hang partially off his shoulder as he stepped back to allow some... well privacy wasn't exactly the right word as Arete took this opening to squirm out of Gladstone's arms and climb onto Lilly's lap.  The child leaned forward on the table to get as close as she could to the crystal ball, green eyes wide with wonder.  

                                        "You have horns." She said carefully, as if he wasn't aware. She leaned her chin in her hands as she peered at him with unblinking starry eyed interest. 

                                        "I'll have her home lickety-split Mat-uh-Mr. Halden don't you worry." Gladstone smiled as brightly as he could.  We're just going God hunting nothing to worry about in the least. I'm not worried. Ahaha... ha.. ha.  Yes not worried at all. Ha ha...Hm. "Oh um. This is Arete." 

                                        "I want to have horns too!" The girl suddenly declared with intense passion. "Like Lilly's Mister Nice Pretty Fuzzy Uncle Matthew!" Yes well too bad you're just a duckling who can't hav-the child grabbed two handfuls of hair on the top of her head and pulled them back and the curly locks became horns, very much like Matthew's own albeit smaller. "Hoooorns!" She roared as if it was a battle cry and turned to Lilly with a bright smile, her newly acquired headgear bopping into the crystal ball so that Gladstone had to jut forward to stop it from falling over. "He called you Princess!" She  squeaked happily and bounced on Lilly's lap.  Apparently too excited to sit still. "I knew you were a Princess! I knew it! Athame! Athame!" She reached out to her brother, her hands glowing, her pure delight freely flowing to her twin in waves.  "I wanna give you horns too!" 

                                        "Oh for the love of-here hold this." Gil shoved the baby into Gladstone's arms as he took the Arete by the horns and plucked her from Lilly's lap. 

                                        The baby stared at Gladstone as if looking right through him down into his heart of hearts, the all knowing eyes of surely an all knowing child. She was so small and wobbily he held his breath as he held her, afraid that she'd combust if he moved the wrong way.  This staring little creature reached out and grabbed a handful of Lilly's hair and started tugging happily gurgling with infantile power madness. 

                                        "...what do I do with this?" He whispered to her hoarsely too anxious to remove both hands from the baby to attempt to rescue her hair.  He resorted to blowing on the baby's hand as if it were a pesky fly that would move on if the air hit it just right. "...I haven't held a baby in ten years. Can you take it...er... her?

                                        Absolute bedlam was breaking out as Gilfaethwy was trying to wrangle his daughter as she squealed in delight, pushing against him, trying to wiggle to freedom and  making fistfuls of his hair turn into horns. 

                                        It appeared as if the situation needed a mother's touch to calm the masses. 

                                         

                                        Matthew was sure to feel very at ease indeed.

                                         

                                        • Lilly Teal
                                          Lilly Teal

                                          Hold a baby? She couldn't remember holding one this small before, so she hesitated slightly, but then nodded and held out her arms to take her.

                                          "Here. Put your hand here and I'll-"

                                          And suddenly she was holding a baby. Look at her tiny face. Tiny fingers...

                                          "Oh... hello darling. Uncle Matthew, look at her."

                                          "She's beautiful child," the ibex smiled, trying very hard to ignore the chaos in the back. "It suits you to hold her."

                                          "Gil, don't pick her up by the horns."

                                          Rhiannon could get in the middle of the bedlam and force calm onto it, but when you have an advantage, might as well use it.

                                          She raised a motherly hand, and snapped her fingers. Athame and Arete was suddenly suspended in bubbles of light, and the girl's horns popped out of her father's hands as the bubble closed around her, both orbs floating towards their mother before the bubbles popped and they were deposited in front of their mother with a warm, but very firm look.

                                          "Horns later. If you want to go on this adventure you're both going to wash your hands and go to the bathroom first." We don't want a repeat of 'I have to go' 'Why didn't you go before you left?' 'I didn't have to go then!' "Mister Halden, please be assured we will all take care of your niece. Isn't that right, children?"

                                          "Yes, we'll be so good!" Athame declared happily. "We'll keep her safe!"

                                          • Gladstone Gander
                                            Gladstone Gander

                                             "Yes! Yes! I will keep her safest! The safest of the safe Princesses!" She jumped up and down excitedly. "I want to bring Huggie mommy! And I want to pet Princess Lilly's fluffy Nice Uncle Matthew's fuzzy face!" She grabbed a hold of her mother's skirt and tugged on it eager to get her point across by any means. "He's. SO. CUTE!" She squeaked and pointed toward the crystal ball. "Do you see his twitchy ears mommy? and his looooong snout? and his little beard? and-and-"

                                            "Alright. Go do as your mother says." Gilfaethwy interrupted the gushing recounting of the... apparently very cuddly looking Matthew.  "Hop to it!" 

                                            Arete dashed away toward the bathroom.  There was no way she was going to be the reason they were late! No way! She was going to be the best helper that ever helped!

                                            Gladstone breathed a sigh of relief as the baby was removed from his care. But he agreed with Matthew, if only in the silence of his own head. It did suit her. He'd already told her as much in the aftermath of their first encounter with the Crucibles... among other things.  His hand fell lightly on her head as he attempted to recenter his attention on whatever madness they were about to do.  Which was interrupted by a hand slapping him harshly on the back and in a flicker of movement Gladstone was in a completely different outfit. One that wouldn't have been out of place on a safari adventure in the 1930's.  ...except that it was all black. Black jacket, black shirt, black vest, black pants, black mid calf boots, black hat... Even the socks were black. If he could see them which he couldn't. 

                                            He blinked at himself as Gil gave him another hearty clap on the back, making the hat tip forward over his eyes.

                                            "Ah! Yes! Very dashing!"

                                            "..it's very... black?"

                                            "Perfect thing for where we're going! Sorry to rush you but the sooner we go the better! Mister Uncle Matthew, and Madam Mambo where ever she's gone off to, it was a pleasure to see you, meet you, all of the above.  Don't you worry a bit about your lovely niece.  We're going to march her up to those Gods. Demand answers. Get them by Hell or high water. Then hopefully be home in time for tea. But we really must be going! Good bye!" He poked he crystal and it went dark.

                                            "There! That's all done, now-" He rubbed his hands together. "We must get you all fixed up as well Ms. Teal! Can't have you traipsing around the valley of the Gods in comfy pajamas now can we? I can whip up another adventurer's look for you! Or a an amazonian warrior outfit? Lots of leather there-" he nudged Gladstone with a little wink. "I do not recommend Victorian age lady adventuring clothes as they're mostly corseted dresses with boots on. I understand that this is sort of a 'fashion trend' among the Normals but I think practicality would be best in this situation! How abouttt..."

                                            Gilfaethwy poked her in the shoulder and as quickly as Gladstone had changed so did she. A much more practical look was applied to her.  Long black sleeved shirt tucked into a... well yes a black pair of highwaisted pants and... guess what, knee high black boots.  He tsked lightly and quickly brushed his fingers through her hair which sprung into action braiding itself into a tight plait. 

                                            "...this okay?" He inquired to Lilly then turned to his wife. "Thumbs up? Thumbs down?" 

                                            • Lilly Teal
                                              Lilly Teal

                                              Lilly had to agree with Gladstone. It was very black. At least Gladstone's blond hair broke up the block of colour, she didn't even have that. Although... he certainly did look very dashing, even if the hat was a little silly.

                                              As for her? She held the baby to her chest so she could look down at her black on black ensemble, turning her head and twisting her body somewhat to get a better look at it from all angles. It was certainly comfortable. Practical and elegant. Except-

                                              "It's... ah, very form fitting?" The only reason she wasn't already pulling her shirt down further was because it was tucked into the pants, so she settled for looking a little red.

                                              "Practical," Rhiannon nodded to her husband, and then looked at Lilly again. "You wouldn't want sleeves or loose edges to get caught on anything, after all."

                                              "I suppose that's true..."

                                              "You look just fine dear," the other woman said matter of factly as she gathered up the baby from her. "Try not to distract your boyfriend too much."

                                              Why would you say something like that is it too late to get a long coat-

                                              Athame ran back into the room, holding up his hands proudly to show how clean they were. As he neared, his mother ran a hand over his head and changed his clothes into something sturdier, with sensible shoes and thick pants to prevent errant scratches from nature. Also black, but she had fondly added royal purple accents to the whole thing, including the soles of his shoes.

                                              "Arete's just bringing Huggie!" he announced, hopping in place as he admired his new clothes. "We look like a team!"

                                              • Gladstone Gander
                                                Gladstone Gander

                                                "We ARE a team!" Gil said proudly and snapped his fingers. Aura was now also dressed in an all black baby sized safari outfit. Complete with hat.  She gurgled in approval and kicked out stumpy little legs happily. 

                                                "Me next!" Arete skidded into the room, hugging the blue button eyed bear to her chest. Her hands suspiciously still dripping.  It seemed that properly drying your hands was not on her agenda for today. Gil obliged, crafting an identical outfit on her to Athame, her own hair twisting into high pigtails. "We match!" She said brightly to her twin.

                                                "And now-" He sent a sly grin at his wife, with a suggestive wag of his eyebrows before he conjured up a new look for her as well. All that left was himself. He looked at his long black jacket, black pants, black boots, black vest and shirt... "Guess I'm already done. Okay everybody! Let's go have an adventure! Yay~!"

                                                He moved to the closest door tapped it a few times with his wand and opened it. A broom, several mops, a couple of clanging buckets, and a roll of paper towels spilled out and he scrambled to shove it all back in. 

                                                "Oops. Broom closet." He laughed, Arete laughed too.  He was being silly.  She like it when he was silly. Even though she knew he was doing it so no one would be scared.  But why would they be scared? Very strange. Silly Daddy. "Okay I've got it this time-" he tapped the closed door a few more times and it swung open to reveal a dark cave on the other side.  In the distance there was a cold blue mist that clung to the shadows of trees within it's depths. "Ah here we are! Oh-let me just-" He walked back over to Lilly, took Aura, tapped the wand against his chest and slid her into the harness that appeared there. "-perfecto! Now... who wants to go meet some Gods?!"

                                                "I DO!" Arete dashed forward Gil swinging in close behind her.  Once through the doorway she tossed the teddy bear in the air and with a flash a large blue grizzly bear was blinking at her, giggling madly she tried to climb up on it where a pair of small saddles were waiting. "Daddy daddy! I wanna ride Huggie!" 

                                                "I see that." He said smoothly as he plucked her up and sat her in her saddle. "I hope you don't mind old boy?"

                                                "It would be my pweaswur yowr majesty." The bear rumbled.

                                                "Much obliged. Athame let's go, you next." He held his arms open to the boy to scoop him up into his place behind his sister.

                                                Gladstone took Lilly's hand in the sitting room and shot a small smile her way. 

                                                "This is gunna be a weird one I can tell." He whispered to her and kissed her captive hand. "You ready to go spit in God of Chaos's eye with me my darling?" 

                                                • Lilly Teal
                                                  Lilly Teal

                                                  Rhiannon laughed warmly at her husband's antics. He was so good at distracting everyone from fear and potential danger. That was an area he shone in, where his brother did not.

                                                  His brother.

                                                  Where Rhiannon shone,  while she couldn't be as bright and sociable and silly as her husband, was in being warm and strong. Strong for everyone if need be. Arete was a powerhouse, and she got that from her mother, even if she hadn't learned to control her temper just yet. Rhiannon could. Which wasn't to say she never lost her temper. It was just that it was slower to lose, and when she did lose it, it was enormous and terrible and she had both hands firmly controlling it, a conscious, deliberate weapon against whoever made her lose it. She could stand up to anything head on.

                                                  But even so. Gwydion had a way of not fighting you head on. He came from underneath, like a snake, and struck where you were vulnerable. And it scared her. He had always scared her a little. How he had at all been related to her husband was a mystery never to be solved. She was glad, infinitely and forever, that she had married the right brother. Given her power in the aid of the right companion.

                                                  With her family ahead of her, she flexed her fingers slightly, getting ready for whatever she might need to face for them, and knowing that though he didn't show it, Gil was doing the same. They would not lose anyone again.

                                                  Lilly tightened her grip on his hand, and smiled.

                                                  "As ready as one can be for something like that," she whispered back as they started to move after the others. "I'm so worried they're going with us. But... I'm also glad? Just to see them again. Look at how happy they are. We did that, sweetheart."

                                                  This being directed by gods thing can't be all that bad then, can it? If we could do that for them? So maybe, yes, maybe we can just ask them to slow down.

                                                  • Gladstone Gander
                                                    Gladstone Gander

                                                    ‘We did that’. 

                                                    Gladstone stared at her for a moment in confusion before he looked at the family as if seeing them for the first time. Slowly an uncertain smile bloomed across his face and as he looked back at her it brightened up with earnest disbelief.

                                                    “I guess we did.” He agreed. “Huh. How about that? Although…” His eyes moved to hers, burning with that specific intensity and warmth they only deployed on her.  It was like when he saw her everything else went a little blurry with she came into hyperfocus.  “-that was mostly you.  But, it’s nice to see something we did have a happy outcome for someone for a change.”

                                                    His eyes drifted along her face for a moment before he tore his attention away from her to the cave around them.

                                                    “I hope you won’t find me too boring when we talk some sense into these Gods.” Gladstone’s hand gave hers a little squeeze, his voice light-hearted and amused. “Without all these daring adventures to go on, I mean.  You’ll have to get used to boring old me-” he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “-I barely recognize myself anymore I’ve become quite the heroic type to keep up with all this and you.  But can you imagine?” A wistful sigh spilled out of him and he released her hand to drape his arm around her waist and pull her close to his side. “If things calm down, we can go out for a nice dinner, take a walk, have a picnic, sit under the stars until the sun comes up and go home all in the same clothes we started in. No new bruises or traumas. Just… you and me.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

                                                     ----

                                                    Gil did a quick attendance check.  Twins? Strapped into their saddles on the big blue bear.  Baby? Strapped to his chest, blowing spit bubbles. Normals? Bringing up the rear nice and cozy and adorable. Oh just so cute. Wife?

                                                    He turned to see her stride through the doorway, fierce and beautiful and shining even in the dark.  He smiled and as she neared he greeted her with a look reserved only for her. Full of love and desire and respect and sorrow. It was a complicated look for a complicated couple, but he never could see what his own features broadcasted to her the instant he saw her. He adored her, completely and totally with a devotion only surpassed by the reverent and hopeless love he had for their children.  It was painted on his face for all to see.  Like a fifty foot tall billboard with a target on it.

                                                    “Okay.” He piped up when the door closed behind Lilly and Gladstone and the humid misty air of the cave settled in on them. “On we go! If the stories I’ve read are to be believed we may have some challenges to overcome.  Because if Gods, especially the Greek and Roman ones, love anything more than power and … er… ‘physical love’, it’s testing mortals! What kind of tests do you think the Gods will throw at us, minions?”

                                                    “Maybe they’ll make us hold up the whole world!” Arete suggested, not at all sounding opposed to the idea.  

                                                    The cave opened up into the dense forest mist.  There was no path, no indication that anyone had ever passed through here since time immemorial.  Huggie the giant bear sniffed the air in all directions then started wandering around snuffling the ground. Gil put his hands on his hips and considered their options. Straight? Left? Right?  Hm.  Would it even matter? He suddenly snapped with a bright laugh.

                                                    “Mr. Gander-!”

                                                    Gladstone held up a hand to stop the request before it started and closed his eyes.  Listening for anything at all, waiting for a feeling, any indication that…

                                                    “Oy. You lot the mortals?” A willowy short tree shifted it’s branches, revealing itself to be a dryad.  She looked at them all curiously. “I fink yer supposed t’ go that way.” She pointed to a tree nearby that shuddered and suddenly leaned to indicate their route.  This started a chain reaction among the trees each one along their designated path twisting to guide them along. “You’ve been expected you have. Better get a move on. Don’t wanna be in the woods after dark, believe you me.”

                                                    • Lilly Teal
                                                      Lilly Teal

                                                      That would be nice. That would be so, so nice...

                                                      Lilly felt a deep sigh welling up in her chest, and smiled as Gladstone kissed her cheek. "You couldn't ever be boring."

                                                      And certainly not when the very landscape seems willing to point the way for you. As she hugged the gander's arm in delight, look at how well this was going, Rhiannon paused, a warm, gentle smile crossing her face at the look on her husband's face. A vulnerable look she wouldn't have allowed anyone to see, all love and wanting nothing more than for him to know he was loved and safe.

                                                      She would keep them safe. Brushing some hair out of his beautiful eyes, she leaned forward and gave him a soft kiss.

                                                      "I thought I only had to worry about the Normals getting distracted," she teased, putting a hand on his shoulder to turn him around to face the path. And so, in pairs, they proceeded on their way.

                                                      It was a long way to darkness yet, at least it seemed so, but the mist clung to the trees and the floor like giant, dust-ridden cobwebs, thick and cold, and the silence was heavy and oppressive. The marked path of bent trees was a true blessing, and even then they had to pay attention to where they were going, lest they miss the bent marker and walk right into the trees themselves. No doubt it would be easy enough to turn back to the back if you weren't too far in. And yet...

                                                      Something about the forest seemed to indicate otherwise.

                                                      And it was large. To the point that it started getting darker than they'd realised. Rhiannon cast a quick look towards her children, stepping forward to make sure the twilight and the silence and the chill weren't frightening them too much, but they seemed to be holding up relatively well. Athame had snuggled himself into Huggie's fur, nice and cozy, when he suddenly looked around at all of them and beamed.

                                                      "I can help!" Raising his little hands, he clapped them once, twice, three times, producing three of those globes of light he had impressed Gladstone with on their first meeting. They glowed as they hovered around the group not illuminating their way very far, or much at all, but creating a pleasant circle of light and gentle warmth.

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