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

      How dare you. I, Aura Crucible, nap for nobody! She flapped her arms and legs in excitement at the spirits in the river like a very happy starfish, and the tripled growling elicited another little "oooo!" What a trip! She would have so much to tell her friends!

      IS THAT A DOGGIE?!

      Athame laughed, Arete's bounciness making him want to bounce as well. "Thank you Arete!" He adored his sister and was always very pleased when she liked his little magics. As established, where everything she did was big and bombastic, everything he could do was smaller and more subtle. And he loved making his glowing balls, it always comforted Arete. They had used them like night-lights in the scary house, when they were sad and alone. But now they weren't any of those things! And mommy, who was indeed the strongest mommy in the world, had taken care of uncle and protected them. Everything was good! They just had to ask the gods to be nicer to to their favourite aunt and uncle.

      Shadows stared at them from water near the bank, but they seemed nice. If his parents weren't worried, he wasn't worried, broadcasting optimism to the world at large and particularly to his sister, wanting to protect her and make her feel safe. He waved.

      "Hello! We're visiting!"

      The growling distracted him from the optimistic thoughts, though it didn't interrupt them, and one of the orbs floated up towards a wet nose, illuminating dark fur.

      IS... THAT A DOGGIE?!

      "Oh no," Lilly mumbled, holding onto Gladstone all the tighter. "Isn't that-"

      "Cerberus," Rhiannon said with surprise. "You're right dear, we're in a very old part of town. But no matter. Arete, Athame, Lilly, Gladstone, you get between the two of us. We should be able to appease him easily enough."

      Sleep spells? Conjured food? An illusion to distract him with so they could sneak past? A muzzle, if things got desperate? There was no limit to the solutions their magic and Gladstone's luck afforded for this-

      Almost as if her optimism had triggered it, the ground began to shake violently.

      • Gladstone Gander
        Gladstone Gander

        Optimism was often not rewarded in kind and this time was no different. 

        The ground broke apart like brittle old saltines, not just creating a rift between the three headed dog and them but between them as well.  The ground split down the center of the line and splintered off in all directions.  Gladstone found himself poised with two feet on two pillars of earth that suddenly wanted to go in two separate directions.  Both of those directions happened to be away from Lilly.  He tried to keep his hold on her but the momentum of his fall, the way the ground buckled beneath him, pitched him backwards where he hit the crumbling floor at a roll and indeed rolled along like a pill bug until he was stopped.  It was a blessing that the one who had done the stopping was Gilfaethwy, and it happened an instant before he was set to plunk right into the river Styx, which, would have been unpleasant and also you know... fatal.

        As the ground gave out with the others, it was a different affair all together, too close to the front of the line to double back too far ahead to rush forward without angering the beast  who had all it's ears pressed flat and was growling and whimpering simultaneously. Arete latched onto her mother with a started squeak as the floor shifted.  The fissure in the floor reached the river and like the releasing of a dam the highly populated water splashed into this new tributary with enthusiasm. The souls within made "woo"s and all put their hands up, this was the most exciting thing that had happened in millennia! It was like a water slide! A water slide that caused the slab of floor Arete and her mother were on to crash to one side of the break and desposit them on the same shore as Gil and Gladstone, who both quickly rushed forward to pull them away from the wild rapids. 

        So... that just left...

        Arete drew a worried breath as she saw Lilly and Athame stranded in the patch of unfriendly and unstable waters and broke free from Gladstone's grip to rush the water line.  She blew on her hands and they started to glow bright scarlet.

        "I'm going to protect you!" She shouted as she leaned over the thrashing water.  "I'm going to protect you Ms. Lilly! Athame!" She flexed her fingers as if shaking them free of water and two red orbs appeared in her palms.  The world around them went slightly dark as the fires from the sconces started dimming as Arete pulled all the surrounding energy into her spell. Without hesitation she flung a blast at each of them, hitting them directly and sending them sailing at if a croquet ball hit by a mallet. They would come to a crashing halt on the other side of the chasm just as their previously inhabited footholds would gurgle into the spooky "woo"ing depths.  The landing would be soft though, as if they landed on an air mattress that deflated slowly beneath them.  The magic left Arete's hands and she started jumping up and down happily. "I did it I did it! I-"

        "Fed them to Cerberus." Gwydion, bloodied and grinning, stepped out of the shadows beside her. "How very delightfully naughty of you Arete."  He slammed his foot on the ground which splintered with another rumbling of the cave. "Now why don' t you help your old Uncle out and get the rest of your family over there too?"

         

        • Lilly Teal
          Lilly Teal

          "What does it take." Rhiannon's voice was low and heated, not in the way he would prefer, as a splintered slab of ground bounced up into the air and whizzed past his face, trying to make a slice along his cheek as it passed. "To make you STOP? Arete is nothing like you, Gwydion."

          She turned her eyes to her daughter as she moved towards her, holding out her arms with a much softer expression.

          "You haven't done anything wrong dear," she said firmly. "You protected Miss Lilly and your brother as best as you could. That is what the magic is for."

          Oh gag, where's the sick-bag. Gil had really done a number on this woman.

          "And we will get them away from Cerberus in practically no time at all."

          And even if you made a mistake? Remember that you're uncle has done FAR worse, on purpose, and his brother still aches to forgive him. How could we ever think of anything but loving you?

          Scooping Athame up in her arms, Lilly gave a wave and smile to show they were alright, before a large shadow fell over them in a form of a very angry dog, and she squeaked, running between its legs to escape a snapping head and thus disappearing from view. The second head was preoccupied with trying to eat a floating globe of light, and the third was still growling, methodically following the running pair with its eyes as the whole body began to turn around.

          Yes indeed, no time at all.

          • Gladstone Gander
            Gladstone Gander

            The jagged piece of rock slashed across Gwydion’s cheek leaving a red line that soon let two thick red droplets slip down his face.  He laughed.  It was all so ridiculous really.  How hard they were fighting him.  How pointless it all was. 

            “I’ll never stop.” He said brightly as he swung his left foot out to slam against the ground, the tremors rattling the cave again. “Don’t you see that?”

            Arete stared at him in horror for a moment before she turned and ran into her mother’s arms.  Once she was safely in Rhiannon’s grasp Arete looked up at her, a mirror image of her own determination.

            “My magic can help you mommy.” She put her hands on either side of Rhiannon’s face and closed her eyes. “He’s not going to win.” Her hands lit up a pale blue making a tingling coolness spread through Rhiannon as her depleted magical stores started to build up again. Arete’s face screwed up in effort as she transferred her energy to her mother. “I don’t know… how to… stop him… but you… do.” Arete let out a gasp and let her hands fall away, her head flopping forward to rest on her mother’s shoulder. “That’s all I can give you.” She said tiredly.

            “How sweet.” The bloodied sorcerer snarled as he started circling them.  “But you’re both fools. I’ve eaten the fruit of the gods you imbeciles!” Gywdion cackled, the sound cracking in a tone of near madness. “The Golden Apples of Hesperides grant immortality. How long can your little hexes last against eternity Rhiannon?  How long until you let your guard down?  Or better yet…” he wiped his cheek, leaving a red smear along his plumage. “-until little Arete has a daughter of her own.  Do you think your power will pass to her spawn? I’ll hold a séance and let you know.” He chuckled darkly.

            Gladstone was barely aware of the wizard and his taunting as he watched the three-headed dog bear down on Lilly and Athame. He made to run to the water, probably dive in and try to swim to their aid but Gilfaethwy tackled him, Aura letting out an indignant squeak as she got caught between them before she started wailing.

            The hound’s hackles rose at the sound of the baby’s shrieking cries and a snarl rose in three throats.  The cave shook again and six ears flattened, a single tail tucked between its legs as too much assaulted its senses. It had a sudden urge to bite, run, and roll in the dirt all at once.  Sometimes having three brains was a real nuisance like that.

            • Lilly Teal
              Lilly Teal

              With her child in her arms, heavy against her shoulder, with another out of sight and in danger, with the third's screams ringing in her ears, Rhiannon felt as if she was trapped in a nightmare. Wrapping her arms around Arete tightly, she let the energy course through her, closing her eyes and taking a deep, deep breath.

              What do we do with nightmares? We hug the ones we love.

              What do we do with nightmares? We try not to let them stick, because they're not true.

              What do we do with nightmares? We wake up.

              Gwydion for heaven's sake stop stamping around I can't hear myself think!

              She didn't raise her hands, didn't even open her eyes, just kept holding her daughter close, but Gwydion would abruptly find himself suspended in the air, his feet far from any more cave-rattling escapades. Lifting Arete with her as she got to her feet, Rhiannon walked back to rest of her family.

              "Aura, Aura, shhhhh."

              Gwydion spun slowly and in a very undignified manner.

              "Immortal, you say?" she asked, finally looking at him. "I'm sure the Underworld won't be too sad to lose you. Will you still be immortal in Cerberus's stomach, being constantly digested, Gwydion? Will you still be immortal at the bottom of the Styx as spirits feed off of you?"

              Whew. That was one horrible, overwhelming sensation out of the picture. It couldn't get any worse in the Cerberus's mind... but it was bad enough already.

              "Calm down doggie," Athame said kindly, reaching out a hand to give his back leg a little stroke.

              "Oh Athame don't-"

              "It's okay miss Lilly. Look he's just scared!"

              That was a very valid assessment, Athame but he was also a giant, three-headed dog and the consequences of him being scared and not wanting to be touched were much worse than just being bitten.

              "I- I'm sure Athame but..."

              "Help me pet his leg!"

              "If... if you say so?" It wasn't as if they could do anything else.

              • Gladstone Gander
                Gladstone Gander

                "Well, you sound very eager to test these theories." Gwydion retorted dryly in his rotation. "What are you waiting for? But when I climb out of the Styx unharmed what then? Wrap me in cheese and see if the beast takes the bait? I suspect he might be pretty full after he gets through with his snacks over there right now."

                 

                Cerberus's heads each slowly turned to look at the duo patting its hind leg. Ears still flat to their skulls and teeth bared as they lowered to look suspiciously at the tiny treats.  

                u are doin' me a pet.

                y are u doin' me a pet?

                is time for play?

                The more inquisitive head lowered and sniffed at Lilly's hair.  Smelled like living people. Living people gave good pats. Sometimes scratches. And belly rubs. And bacons. And the little treat? What did he taste like? The head's mouth opened and a long floppy pink tongue plopped on Athame's head in an experimental lick. The other two heads turned to the third as it considered the taste. Soapy.

                Gladstone watched anxiously pacing the waterline. 

                "Be a good boy er... boys. Good boys."

                Gil slid the baby out of her harness, grabbed Gladstone by the collar as he passed and put the still slightly fussy Aura into his arms. 

                "Stay by Rhiannon and keep Aura happy." 

                "But-" Gladstone looked back at Lilly and Athame then Arete and her mother.  Aura pulled on his shirt with a look of complete betrayal, tears welling in her eyes. "Oh no don't cry the dog doesn't like that." What to do? Her little face screwed up in infantile outrage at the world at large, but she was NOT tired NO this was a rational response to everything wrong in this HORRIBLE world.  At a complete loss, he started bopping the baby lightly as Gilfaethwy used his magic to try to form a stone walkway across the raging river.  It was slow going and the baby drew an angry breath before he head it off with a hurried whispered lullaby. 

                Cerberus froze.  All ears and heads lifted, turning to stare at the gander, the tail tucked between its legs giving a little wiggle. Gil also froze, not wanting to annoy the beast when his son had already been taste tested. But....

                "Lilly... sing to him" The wizard coached her calmly. "Anything you want.  The alphabet if you can't think of anything. Show him you don't mean him harm." 

                Gwydion laughed.

                "Idiots. Yes, sing little Normal, a nice little ditty to accompany a meal." 

                • Lilly Teal
                  Lilly Teal

                  At the sound of the lullaby, Aura's indignation froze in its tracks, and she stared up at him with her lower lip thrust out and still wobbling slightly. Rhiannon reached over to stroke the little infant's hair, a brief gesture on the way to the motion sending an invisible force to wrap about Gwydion's beak. She would drop him in. She would. But she wasn't sure what would happen if she did. Best to let Gil build the bridge first.

                  She hoped.

                  Sing? Lilly tried not to let Gwydion's words get to her, but on the spot she was suddenly at a loss, half afraid that if she tried, her voice would shake and spoil everything. Athame let out a small 'bleh' at being tasted, but resumed his petting, adding some nice scritches here and there.

                  "Miss Lilly," Athame whispered. "Do you remember the song you sang us? When you wanted us to feel nice and happy and safe?" We didn't mean you any harm. We were just scared and confused and upset and I think this doggie is scared and confused and upset too.

                  Yes. Yes she did remember. Fixing her attention to the little boy, who was dutifully stroking a giant dog's furry leg, she smiled, hugging him closer for her own comfort. Casting her mind back to that moment in the house made the song come easier, and before she knew it she was humming the tune under her breath, moving Athame very gently side to side, and then singing much more strongly. Singing warmth, singing kindness. Her mother used to sing it for her when she needed it, and it had come so easily with the children. And it came easily now.

                  • Gladstone Gander
                    Gladstone Gander

                    Six ears flicked at the sound, the beasts heads whipped back around and Gladstone's breath caught in his chest as all three of them lunged at her. He was running before he knew it, before he knew even what to do, he'd figure it out.  He was caught once again by Gil who held him back with one arm, watching the display with the same distress.

                    "Just... wait." He breathed.

                    Feeling shaky all over Gladstone cradled the baby close to his chest, but... over the terrified pounding of his heart... he could still hear her singing.  He let out a slow breath, nearly collapsing with relief. 

                    "I'll make the bridge."Gil continued calmly, moving very slowly drawing debris from the bottom of the diverted river to form a narrow walkway rock by rock.

                     

                    Cerberus had lunged at Lilly and Athame, bringing all three heads down at once to sniff at her wildly, as if trying to find the source of the sound on her. Three wiggling wet giant noses snuffled and prodded at them interestedly, before the creatures reared back with sudden enthusiasm and started dancing on all four paws letting out a long howl.  Gilfaethwy jumped, nearly dropping his wand in the river, but caught it. Gladstone let out a nervous laugh.

                    "Ohhh," He said weakly. "He's singing too."

                    And he was. All three heads howling happily, each side eyeing the duo to see if they were impressed. Oh they had the loveliest voices and all the pups told them so when they passed through to the underworld of course the they were impressed.  A tail the size of a redwood tree thumped happily against the ground with echoing 'booms'. We are good boys. Yes. Look at how good, can we roll over for belly scratches while still howling? Well if Chico (the right head) and Harpo (the center head) would pay attention maybe!

                    The biggest, dopiest dog in mythology flopped dramatically to one side as it's left head started panting happily, licking the little boy repeatedly, quite enjoying the taste of soap. 

                     

                    Gwydion, now floating and silenced, watched the ludicrous display with furious intensity.

                    • Lilly Teal
                      Lilly Teal

                      It was all Lilly could do not to stop singing as she noises descended on her, snuffling her every which way. As it was, she was interrupted briefly as a she squealed, but quickly caught up the song again and continued, even as the dog flopped onto it's side.

                      "Keep singing, miss Lilly," Athame said happily, urging her forward to stand... oh no, oh no she really didn't want to right between the beast's massive paws. Taking one of her hands, he encouraged the duckette to place it on the giant, furry belly, and then leaned over himself to scritch the belly dutifully with both hands.

                      "Good boys! Best boys!" he chirped. Lilly blinked, but tried to tune out everything else so she could keep singing while she stoked the fur gently.

                      Rhiannon, completely unable to believe what was happening, started to laugh very softly. "Can't tell a centaur from a shoelace, you said? I think he has this handled very well. And it seems she has a lot more talents than just slapping you. Though admittedly that's the most entertaining and useful one."

                      Gathering Arete up in her arms, she walked towards the met at the start of the makeshift bridge, towing Gwydion after her on an invisible line, like the world's angriest balloon.

                      • Gladstone Gander
                        Gladstone Gander

                        Cerberus made happy grunting noises as the living people made with the belly rubs. This was a good day! And they were good boys! Yes! Yes they were! The tail hammered the  ground frantically, making loose pebbles rattle along the entire cave. It was like having the world's largest metronome.  

                        Gil exhaled slowly as the last of the rocks slid into place, the bridge now complete and barely had thought about testing it's integrity before Gladstone dashed across it.

                        "Ahhh-" the wizard groaned extending a hand toward the goose. "-the baby!" he hissed.

                        Aura was just starting to drift off when the world got FAR too bouncy if you asked her, WHICH NO ONE EVER DID! THE NERVE OF THESE AWFUL HORRIBLE PEOPLE! How dare they not consult her before doing ANYTHING! This nice smelling fluffy person was MOVING TOO MUCH! NOT that she was tired AT ALL! She sucked in a few breaths the wave of tears sloshing up against the partitions as she filled her lungs with ammunition in the oncoming crypocalypse.  But then the fluffy man started humming again, and with the soft lady singing Aura thought that maybe the running was a little nice. She looked up at the fluffy man, he looked very worried.  Hmm hmm. Yes. Repentant.  He knows what he did. Oh and he was fussing over her now his velvety hand smoothing down the peach fuzz that was her hair.  Hm. She blinked lazily, her head wobbling, suddenly feeling very heavy. 

                        Cerberus seemed to be having the same reaction. With their belly getting some much needed attention all three heads flopped down onto the ground and one by one they started snoring. All four paws were up in the air, twitching in puppy dreams. Probably chasing dream bunnies. 

                        Gladstone looked up from the suddenly sleeping baby in his arms  to the pair partially obscured by the snoozing Cerberus and carefully, slowly started walking around the beast.  

                        "Gladstone." Gil hissed at him through gritted teeth as he picked his way across the bridge. He send an irritated glance back Rhiannon. "Do you feel as though we've been saddled with two more rebellious children dearest?"

                        Gwydion squirmed angrily, but couldn't do much else.  Oh he could growl.  So he did that too.

                        Arete watched the Cerberus with bright eyed interested. 

                        "Athame is good with animals mommy." She informed Rhiannon as if it was the most precious secret she held. "They all like him." 

                        • Lilly Teal
                          Lilly Teal

                          Oh come on Gil, as if you've never dashed into danger for your wife. Rhiannon suppressed a laugh at his irritation, and was about to respond when her daughter's comment caught her attention.

                          "Is that so, my love? Then it's a good thing we've met so may animals on this trip. Come, let's join them, we'll have to be careful. Gil," she added gently. "I'm going to drop Gwydion in the river once we've gone across. I'm not sure what the reaction will be so should be well on the other side of the dog and ready to run when that happens, in case it wakes him him."

                          On the other side of said dog, Lilly looked up and beamed, reaching out her free arm to wrap around Gladstone's neck and kiss his cheek. She wanted very much to fling herself at him, but there were too many babies in the way for that to be possible.

                          "Look Mister Gladstone," Athame whispered in utter delight. "We helped!"

                          You guys don't think I'm useless and pathetic. You love me even if I don't have a lot of magic. And look! We did it! Just love and singing and pets and that's kind of magic too!

                          Perking up further at the sight of his parents, he waved a little hand, wriggling with joy. "We were good, right?"

                          "Absolutely wonderful," Rhiannon said sincerely. "You children have been so very brave throughout. I'm so proud of you."

                          • Gladstone Gander
                            Gladstone Gander

                            Gil paused his careful stride at Rhiannon’s matter of fact announcement of her intentions.  He lowered his eyes, brow creasing with concentration as if he’d misheard her and reaching the unthinkable conclusion that he hadn’t.  His eyes turned to her questioningly, concerned, and hurt but then they drifted up to his twin who was glaring at him with such livid intensity he quickly looked away. Yellow eyes held their attention on the river below them for just a moment before he returned them to Rhiannon and nodded with broken acquiescence.  The last of the bridge was crossed in silence.

                            Gladstone leaned into Lilly as much as he could without disturbing the infant. Oh, how he wanted to hug her, kiss her senseless, anything… but this adventure seemed to have very different ideas indeed. Athame’s proud hushed voice made him grin. He beamed at the boy.

                            “’Helped’?” he whispered back. “Athie you and Lilly saved the day.”

                            Cerberus snorted in his sleep as the elder Crucibles and Arete joined the others. Gil, carefully keeping his eyes away from the now madly thrashing Gwydion, put his arms around the Normal’s shoulders and slowly started steering them away from the dog.  

                            “I’m so very proud of all of you.”  He smiled at his son lovingly.  “You’re so smart Athame, and kind.” He leaned down to kiss the boy’s forehead. “When we get out of this… maybe we can talk to mommy about maybe getting a dog?”

                            Arete’s eyes lit up and she looked at Rhiannon expectantly but Gil turned and gently took the little girl off his wife’s hands. He hugged her to his chest his eyes falling on Rhi’s again.  He watched her as if she’d have some epiphany and change her mind about what she was about to do but no such luck. Gil shook his head, closing his eyes tight for a just moment. The Styx would strip his brother of every scrap of life, flay away years until nothing was left unless he was as immortal as he boasted, then he’d just sink into the mire of lost souls drowning until he weaseled his way out of that one.  Gilfaethwy placed the softest of kisses on his wife’s forehead.

                            “I’ll make sure they’re far enough away.”

                            • Lilly Teal
                              Lilly Teal

                              "Please," she said. Still gentle. Still matter of fact. But in her eyes there was a deep sadness, the heartbreak of seeing her husband so hurt, so helpless and broken.

                              She hoped she was doing the right thing. She had to make the decision, keep them safe. But all the same she couldn't help wondering if Gwydion had won after all, in some small way. If this was going to be a dark space between her and her husband that would never go away. As he kissed her, she shut her eyes, an apology caught in her throat, unable to come out but so painful as it remained..

                              "Go," she whispered around the agony, watching his feet as he turned, raising her head by increments to make sure he was taking the others away. Not higher than the feet. She wasn't sure she wanted to see if anyone was looking back at her. Wondering what was happening.

                              Once they were too far for anyone to hear her, she took a deep breath and turned to Gwydion, her face impassive.

                              "If you're immortal after all," she said levelly. "And you survive this to crawl out, I will find where Prometheus is tied and put you in his place so the eagle rips out your liver every day. After all, everything else from the pantheon seems to exist so far, maybe that does too."

                              Snapping her fingers, he plunged into the water.

                              He sank. She took another breath, a much shakier one this time, and pressed the heels of her palms to her eyes, wanting to collapse on the bank and stop moving.

                              But she had to keep moving. There wasn't an option. Spinning on her heel, she hurried to catch up with the others, instinctively reaching for Gil's hand before hesitating.

                              "I really hope that's the last trial," Lilly murmured, her hand holding onto Gladstone's tightly as she continued to cuddle Athame in the other.

                              It certainly seemed so. At least, it was quiet. And not the quiet that seems far too quiet and a precursor to something dreadful. A real, peaceful sort of quiet, that was only punctuated by the...

                              They had left the river far behind, so that wasn't the lapping of water. It sounded sharper that that. Like... bones rattling together. Only there were no skeletons in sight. But what else could possibly make such a rattling, rolling noise? It was very strange.

                              Hopefully just strange, and not dreadful.

                              • Gladstone Gander
                                Gladstone Gander

                                When Rhiannon reappeared Gil  felt his breath catch in his chest.  There was some small part of him that knew that Gwydion was a cold blooded murder,  a heartless monster who had tried to kill his entire family but... the larger part of him knew that Gwydion was his brother. As twisted and evil as he was, he had always held hope that his twin would see the error of his ways. But now... he pressed Arete’s face into his chest, curling around her with a dry sob. 

                                “Daddy?” came her worried voice, muffled by his embrace.

                                Gladstone blinked and looked back, seeing Rhiannon hesitating at her husband’s side and a significant lack of surly sorcerer.

                                “Where’s-“ But Gil looked up fiercely, the expression on his face silencing the gander as if he’d shouted at him. Then the noise came. And he knew it instantly although it was much louder than he was used to. “We’re getting close.”

                                The passage they were truding along started to go up an incline, steeper and steeper until a light could be seen in the distance, but before  they passed through there was a sentry of sorts sat in the middle of the tunnel. The rattling was coming from a cup in it’s hands, and it sat hunched over it’s body dripping in a pitch black cloak, hiding any feature except for two blazing blue orbs from within the darkness of the hood.  Gladstone let out a slow breath and handed Aura to Rhiannon as she was currently the only one not holding a child. The rattling stopped and one skeletal hand lifted to point at the group.

                                THE UNDERWORLD DOES NOT RELINQUISH THE LIVING LIGHTLY. A booming dark voice announced. 

                                “I’ve got this.” Gladstone whispered to them before he strode over to the black mass and looked at the bowl before it. “Death I presume?” The hood nodded once. “What’s the game?”

                                YOU WISH TO PLAY THE REAPER FOR YOUR PASSAGE TO THE REALMS BEYOND THIS ONE?

                                “Yes. For all of us.  We’ve had a bit of a slog through all sorts of whimsical horrors and I’d really like to just... get on with it.” He paused. “No offense of course.”

                                SO BE IT. The rattling resumed as the skeleton jostled the cup, the dice within clanking off one another.  SHOULD YOUR ROLL BEAT MINE, THEN I SHALL NOT STAND IN YOUR WAY. SHOULD YOU FAIL... YOUR SOUL MUST STAY IN THIS REALM FOR ALL ETERNITY.

                                “Okay. Sounds fair.  Meet or beat or just beat?” the figure did not reply but continued shaking the dice. “Beat. Got it.”

                                With the seriousness of an executioner’s axe strike the reaper tipped the cup and the dice clattered into place.  Eleven.  Gladstone stared at it.

                                ONE ROLL PER SOUL.

                                Gladstone inhaled sharply.

                                “Wait no that’s not...”

                                SEVEN ROLLS TOTAL.  I DO WISH YOU GOOD LUCK.

                                Gladstone sent a worried glance to his companions.  Okay.  Okay. Seven rolls for seven souls.  All needed to be twelve.  No pressure.  Okay... he picked up the dice.  Ghostly scythes suddenly hovered before each of them, ready to strike them down should the roll not meet the cut.  Gladstone closed his eyes and rapidly fired off the dice.  The scythe in front of Lilly vanished. The dice rattled again.  The scythe for Athame faded into nothingness.  And so it went.  Quickly, and effortlessly the last die was cast and the scythe that had been hung over Gladstone’s head vanished. Feeling shaky despite himself he looked up at the hooded face, the blue glowing eyes watching him interestedly. The grim reaper started to shake until it’s laughter could be heard.  It started off low and rumbling but soon twisted and brightened until it was the pleasant sound of a woman laughing, the eyes flared green suddenly and the robes blazed from black to  bright white.  Gladstone recoiled but was his face was caught by two pale feathered hands. The hood lowered to his face where he felt a kiss land on his forehead.

                                ~*~Go along then, I’ll be with you shortly. But he’s waited long enough.  Best not let him get bored. ~*~ The woman said sweetly as she vanished.

                                 The cave fell away leaving them in a glade, a quiet open space where there was a small wooden cabin set in the center.  A curl of smoke was coming from the chimney but the trees were quiet.  It seemed a welcoming place but... off. Like it was more the idea of a cabin then a cabin itself.

                                Gilfaethwy looked at it, then Lilly. His hand reaching out and taking Rhiannon's firmly.

                                “This must be it. Are you ready?”

                                • Lilly Teal
                                  Lilly Teal

                                  As soon as he touched Rhiannon's hand, she made a curious motion, flinching away and tightening her hold on his hand at the same time. Maybe his parents had been right. She still couldn't look at him, focusing on the top of Aura's head instead. She gave it a quiet kiss.

                                  Are you ready?

                                  No.

                                  "Yes," she said, at the same time as Lilly did, both women holding onto the hands beside them for dear life. As a complete group, no more separation or falling behind, they crossed the glade. And yet nothing stopped them. Nothing pulled them apart, or threatened them, or forced hard decisions. So quiet. So calm.

                                  Gladstone was the only one with a free hand, so Lilly urged him to knock as they reached the door, but he would only have managed to raise his hand before the door opened on its own.

                                  "You're here!" came an excited voice, and without warning they were swept right into the-

                                  Cabin?

                                  It was so much larger on the inside than a cabin had any real right to be. A figure sat at a table, looking at it intently for five seconds before bringing his hands back and beaming at them. His eyes as he looked at them were black from end to end, with occasional flashes of deep red, like stars flaring and dying. Perhaps that was exactly what they were. Seats swooped underneath them as he practically bounded forward, clasping his hands under his chin.

                                  "I can't believe you're here! Oh you're even sweeter now that I can see you all up close. I really haven't interacted in close quarters with any of you except Lilly here, I hope you understand," he said brightly, patting her head. "Where's Luck? I thought she went to get you. Or went to get more ice. I forget which. I wasn't paying attention! You were so close, I was preoccupied!"

                                  • Gladstone Gander
                                    Gladstone Gander

                                    This.... was not what Gladstone expected.  This wasn’t what Gil expected either but as Crucible had only been recently aquatinted with the maddening experience of everything going wrong around the young couple, we’ll just focus on Gladstone’s reaction.

                                     

                                    At first it was terror. His hand held tight to Lilly’s as they prepared to finally get some answers, talk to the deities who decided that almost every waking moment of their shared lives would be full of fear and pain, of course with the lulls being wonderful and warm and.. really the best times of his entire life... but anyway.  He was expecting something more sinister than this.  So when he was put in a chair and Lilly’s head was patted he just gaped at the... god those eyes were unsettling. For no reason other than he was still feeling panicky he put his hand on Lilly’s hair where the God had touched her.  Inspecting it as if the hair would fall out.

                                     

                                    “Lord Chaos.” Gil spoke up, Arete hiding half her face in his cloak staring at the man.  “It is an honor to meet you.  I imagine you went through a lot of trouble to arrange for those trials for us...” he faltered for just a moment.  “...I thank you for not making them too impassible.”

                                     

                                    “I liked riding the hind.” Arete said softly. “And the big doggy that Ms. Lilly sang to and Athame pet.”

                                     

                                    Aura squealed, gurgling happily flailing pudgy fists and legs.  Finally someone who gets it!  Chaos! She loved chaos! Let her show you by pulling mommy’s hair!

                                     

                                    “Wait.” Gladstone said weakly.  “Just wait a second... Ch-er-Lord Chaos, um.. Gladstone Gander-“ he put his hand to his chest by means of introduction.  “Uh... Luck um, Luck’s...friend? Can I ask you...” he glanced at Lilly worriedly.

                                    Just looking at her now in this crazy place with her all black outfit, and tightly plaited hair worried and tired,  on day two of awful events dragging them through the dirt. Looking at her here, hugging Athame protectively he thought of the very first time he saw her. The bright smile he soon would love fading as terror took over as a ghost harassed them.  The fear, the defeat in her eyes when Oz had been taken hostage and nearly killed.  The horror on her face on countless other occasions from chameleons, him getting shot, being harassed by violent lookalikes, mummies, dragons, foppish spirits, murderous writers, german agents, fighting pirates, facing down wicked warlocks, demented Queens, facing her nightmares ... and his, it just went on and on.  He felt a fire stoke in his stomach.  He was angry, angry for all the pain this God had forced on them, on her.  He turned back to Chaos.

                                     

                                    “I want to know why.  Why are you doing this to us?” He demanded heatedly, as he took the hand he held and brought it to his chest his heart pounding in fury and fear against it.

                                    • Lilly Teal
                                      Lilly Teal

                                      "Oh I never make them impossible," Chaos said brightly. "At least I don't think I do!"

                                      Gladstone was ignored for now, as if he hadn't even spoken. The god put his hands on his knees and bent over to be closer to Arete and Aura's level, very pleased. "Did you now? They liked you very much too. They don't often meet kind mortals so this was a win for everyone, wasn't it?"

                                      Clearly. Laughing at the proof of allegiance from his tiny, diapered disciple, he tapped her playfully under the chin as she squealed, before finally turning his sparking eyes to the couple in question, though his eyes seemed more preoccupied with the hand Gladstone was holding to his chest than the emotion it was being held with.

                                      "Aahhh!" He practically squealed, reaching over to pinch a very confused Lilly's cheek. "Look at you! Oh I'm so proud. So proud. You did it again. I knew you would, you always do."

                                      Especially now that he's with you!

                                      Gladstone's question finally seemed to penetrate his attention, and the god of Chaos blinked. "Doing what to you?"

                                      Oh. OH. "Oh the game! Right! I forgot what all this was about. Funny I forgot, since we were listening."

                                      Sweeping over to the board, he picked up a piece and brought it over proudly. It was a beautifully made, detailed miniature of a dark-haired duckette. "She's my favourite. You've been my favourite since you came to live with your uncle. So brave. So cute! And you're Luck's favourite," he added to Gladstone, as if he didn't already know. "Also adorable! Luck and I are always around all sorts of people, always in some kind of balance. I thought it would be fun if we played together with our favourites! I can really have more fun knowing your luck's in the way. Aaah and you're both so cute. Luck still doesn't agree I don't think but she enjoys herself, at least I'm sure she does, she wouldn't keep coming if she didn't."

                                      That explained everything, surely? Maybe Luck needed to come clarify a few things...

                                      • Gladstone Gander
                                        Gladstone Gander

                                        Gladstone opened and closed his mouth a few times, his eyes moving from the game piece to the figure holding it, his mind trying to wrap around this and failing.

                                        “...a... game?” he managed weakly.

                                        “Steady Gladstone.” Gil hissed warningly. “He’s a God.  Please don’t make him angry.” Not while my entire family is in this room.  He shifted Arete out of his arms and onto his lap, reaching to the chair beside him to carefully take Athame and place him beside his sister.  Both twins secured in his grasp he looked at Rhiannon. “He’s an enthusiastic bloke wouldn’t you say?”

                                        Gladstone shook his head seemingly completely at a loss, looking to Lilly as if she had the answers.

                                        ~*~You’re right. I don’t agree.~*~

                                        A tall, a very  tall, woman appeared in the house,  her face shrouded in a veil but two bottomless green eyes shone through, long blonde hair cascaded down her back like a pillar of sunlight but when she moved it shifted, changed to raven black as dark as the abyss of space her coloration fickle and unpredictable, her shapely form was dripping in draped folds of gold and green and as Gladstone met her eyes she smiled.  It was a strange smile, insincere and yet full of promise.  Which way would it go? Flip a coin. 

                                        She turned her attention with unnatural grace to Chaos, placing her delicate hand on her hip.

                                        ~*~ Here.~*~ She held up her hand and a glass milk bottle appeared there.  ~*~ Hopefully this will suffice. ~*~ she sniffed the air and her hair went dark. ~*~ Didn’t you say you were going to bake something? Did you forget? ~*~ her voice lowered in annoyance and she put the bottle on the table instead.  Shaking her head, her radiant hair flaring again.  There were more important things to do.  Before she continued on she paused and looked at the Crucibles, then Chaos again. ~*~ Why did you let them in? I thought we agreed to send them home when they-you know I feel like sometimes you do this just to spite me. Never matter,  you-~*~ She suddenly descended on Athame, Gil hugged the twins to himself nervously. The woman smiled at him, then the boy. ~*~I saw what you did in the clearing.~* She said warmly, her smile brightening  her hair as brilliant as the sun itself. ~*~Planting those seeds.  That was very kind of you Athame Crucible, and if you plant the ones you took somewhere bright and warm-~*~ she stroked his cheek gently. ~*~You’ll be a very lucky boy indeed.~*~

                                        “Lady Fortuna...”

                                        ~*~And you-~*~ She ignored Gil and looked at Rhiannon with keen interest, her hair a swirl of midnight and daybreak. ~*~ You who thinks herself the judge of the underworld, false though this incarnation may be... I have seen to your little deposit in the river.~*~  She smiled again, this one wicked, the eyes shifting to a dark almost black emerald. ~*~I suppose it was his lucky day.~*~ Her expression softened and the warmth returned to her and her hues, putting her hand on the woman’s head as if she were a lost child. ~*~And yours... he is slowed, your conscience cleared, and your husband’s love no longer tested. I’ve smiled on you today, because-~*~

                                        She rose and finally swept over to the final occupants of the room.

                                        ~*~You’ve brought me my favorite. Hello Gladstone.~*

                                        “H...hello?”

                                        The goddess’s attention moved, as Chaos’s had to the hand clutched to his chest, but this time noting all the emotion and purpose behind it. Slowly the goddess’s gaze turned toward Lilly, her countenance changing once more to the grim darkness she’d briefly held with Rhiannon. Her hand reached out and effortlessly yanked Lilly’s hand out of Gladstone’s.  The strong grip was like ice as she placed the girl’s wayward appendage back in her lap.  She leaned in to look at her up close, her mouth a thin line, eyes narrowing.

                                        ~*~So you’re the one he’s in all this mess over? You’re right Chaos, she is very cute.  But how much longer can you go on like this girl? How tired are you? How desperate for some peace? This game we’re playing is because of you, because you and your little pinched cheek stopped my boy dead in his tracks. And it’s been an endless back and forth ever since.  You must be exhausted-~*~ She patted the girl’s face roughly with a chilly smile.  ~*~ -why not just forfeit?  Your both only making this hard on yourselves.~*~

                                        “No.” Gladstone interrupted, getting  to his feet. “No, it’s not us. It’s you! The two of you.  Why play your games with us? Why can’t you just leave us-“

                                        ~*~Alone? Gladstone, my darling little creampuff, what happens when I look away from you every August? Your heart is beating so hard with fear right now but I knowI know how alone you feel when I’m gone.  Could you survive without me?~*~  The sunny disposition returned as she put her hand on his hair, stroking it lovingly, he looked shaken.  And he truly was.  She laughed playfully and curled a lock of his bright gold hair around her finger softly. ~*~No you wouldn’t even know where to start without me.  But you’ve done so well up until now without her. I wonder if you even remember how nice it was? But, there is much to discuss before decisions are made.~*~

                                        She straightened up and walked over the gameboard, she picked up a little figurine of Gladstone and smiled at it before turning the look on Chaos.

                                        ~*~It’s your move, care to speak your case to the little darlings? Tell them how much fun you had pushing me to my limits to protect them.  You do have a good time now don’t you? Even in your little pocket dimensions.~*~ She slid her gaze to Lilly with a frosty smirk. ~*~He’s rather obsessed with you dear.~*~

                                        • Lilly Teal
                                          Lilly Teal

                                          Why did I let them in even when we agreed otherwise? Well I thought this was was something they needed to hear. He could see Rhiannon relaxing slightly, holding into her husband's hand more firmly, though there was still a sadness in her eyes.

                                          The god of Chaos gave the Crucibles a thumbs up from behind Luck's back.

                                          "Speak my case?" For what? Was he supposed to be defending himself for some reason? He couldn't imagine why. As for being obsessed...

                                          "Of course I am. As are you with him. Hypocrite," he said merrily, completely unphased and not even seeming to notice any frostiness or sass on his companion's part. Instead he clapped his hands slightly, and then spread them, spinning his fingers in the air until what looked like little bubbles were spun into existence, skating across his fingertips. "I am. Sometimes I like seeing what would happen if you'd taken a different decision. Or if things had just been different overall. I have so many ideas! And just because they're not possible in this reality, I don't really like letting them go. Here, look!"

                                          With the enthusiasm of a child, he stuck his fingers into one of them and splayed them apart, stretching the bubble into something that looked like a film screen that flicked through sketches and doodles and assorted scribbles. "Luck encourages me to keep notebooks so I don't confuse the real game. This one's a murder mystery. It's on a train! Very fancy. Sometimes I put you in them, Glad, but this isn't one of those, she didn't want you involved. That's fine. And then there's thiiiis one, where you and Lilly never have your first meeting. It's amazing how much everything changes that way, You're not very happy though, dear. I can't show you too much of that, but it's getting very interesting! Oh, and- and-"

                                          Wait. The bubbles popped as he turned to Luck and smiled. "I DID bake. Oh, I was so busy keeping up the nice cabin smell that I didn't realise it would cover up the smell of the cookies."

                                          A snap of the fingers, and the room was suddenly full of the soft smell of baking. A plate appeared on the table, piled high with cookies.

                                          "But I do have fun," he went on. "All I usually do is make possibilities. Once in a while I find someone I really like and push possibilities on them instead, and see what they do. Like now! Ever since you lost your parents. ... which wasn't me, by the way. But everything in St. Canard since then. Even before you two met. And you've been so brave and strong through it all. And just getting stronger! And Luck has fun too. She really gets to spread her wings rather than making her favourite win the lottery for the fiftieth time."

                                          But really the most important part here is that I am having fun.

                                          As soon as Luck had moved away, Lilly had shakily reached for Gladstone's hand again, wrapping her fingers tightly around his, and had been watching and listening to, apparently, her patron god show off his fanfiction collection in mute horror. "B-but-"

                                          "I suppose I have been getting a little over enthusiastic," he conceded, picking up the plate and coming forward. "I should tone it back to how it was before, it's much more sustainable that way. And you did come out all the way here, I'm always willing to accept feedback."

                                          Note that there was absolutely no mention made of stopping his behaviour. Just returning to its base level. The ladle. The gala. The pyramids.

                                          "Cookie?"

                                          They were chocolate chip. And not in any physically possible shapes, though they were still, somehow, existing.

                                          • Gladstone Gander
                                            Gladstone Gander

                                            Over the course of Chaos’s demonstration of... well himself, Luck would stand back at the game table staring at him.  Gaping even.  He was normally excitable and unpredictable but... what was this giddiness? When he called her out on playing favorites with her favorite, she realized she was clutching the figurine to her chest and hastily put it down, her hair turning an embarrassed shade of grey.  She winced lightly when he started relaying the details of his alternate fictions, she had encouraged the notebooks to better keep his mind in the present and not overlap reality and fiction, the last thing she needed was to come to game night and find out the players were now merpeople, or circus workers.  Although, she quickly averted her eyes  her hand covering her mouth as if in thought but truly to hide her smile, she did have one of two of his yarns tucked away at her own abode for a little light reading.  They were very entertaining she especially liked the-

                                            She jumped as she was suddenly addressed, and the topic of baked goods jarred her back to her own present reality.  The instant the cookies appeared she could see the wonder in the Crucible children’s eyes and her countenance was bright once more. As Chaos swept past she sneakily grabbed a handful from the plate without him noticing and put one each in the children’s hands. She then looked at their parents, such tired looking little things they were. A cookie was presented for each of them too.

                                            ~*~ I promise you won’t chip a tooth. He’s actually very good at creating, as well as destroying. ~*~

                                            It was as she was offering this unsolicited kindness and literal sweetness that her feathers were ruffled a second time by the more senior God.

                                            ~*~ He has not won the lottery fifty times.~*~ she grumbled to herself as she dusted the crumbs off her hands, having instinctively crushed a wayward morsel.   The Crucibles were given a dismissive wave and they vanished. They instantly reappeared in their own household, seated at their table, pockets loaded with impossible cookies, and the portal to the Valley of the Gods sealed.  The moment they were gone they were forgotten as she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest moodily. 

                                            Gladstone’s forehead was getting tired with how much it knotted and unknotted as the chipper deity wove the tale of their unique courtship through a kaleidoscope made of mazes.  The hand that held his seemed his only tether to reality.  This was real right?  He tore his eyes away from Chaos to look at Lilly, the tense uncertainty fading slightly, ‘brave and strong’. A smile unbidden crossed his lips and he put his free hand on her knee, as if to remind her that he was still here, even though she had a strong grip on his hand.  The cookies were presented and at a loss he took one, blinking at it curiously.

                                            “Thank you...?”  He couldn’t look at the cookie too long, it made him dizzy so instead he looked at the hand that held his.  He exhaled deeply, trying to figure out what to do.  What to say. This was completely... crazy. Feedback? He looked up at Chaos wearily. “Yesterday was her birthday. That was...” he looked at Lilly then Chaos again. “...that was really... difficult.  Awful? I understand that she’s your favorite... she’s my favorite too, but-“

                                            ~*~It was exciting.~*~ Luck cut in testily. ~*~More exciting then sitting around and eating cake and I mean look at you-~*~ She motioned to them irritably.  ~*~If you sat any closer you’d be genetically fused with one another, so don’t act like it was all that bad.  Look...~*~  Luck took a deep calming breath and took up residence beside Chaos.  She looked down at the couple, a strange twisting of light and dark expressions and colorations falling over her. ~*~ You’re both very cute. Apart you’re fine.  Lilly, before you met Gladstone, how often were you in the kinds of peril you’re in on nearly a daily basis since you met him? I know-~*~ she said darkly, a chill coming off her in an icy wave, hair as dark as ebony. ~*~-that Chaos has always enjoyed prodding your into danger on occasion.  But think. Think about it. Objectively.  And you- ~*~ she looked at Gladstone harshly who paused with a cookie halfway to his mouth. She lit up again. Oh my goodness he was so cute! She just wanted to pinch his cheek! But that was more Chaos’s thing. ~*~-how many daring rescues did you pull off before you got sucked into this whirlwind of danger and pain? Hm? None.  And how often have you begged me to extend my reach to those around you? And I’ve always obliged. I don’t do that.  I never did this for your mother.  She understood that pushing me was unwise, and she still did it.  And now you’re doing it as well but I allow it because otherwise Chaos would win.  And I won’t lose.  Now you’re thinking far ahead, about what will happen to you, what will happen to her, and what would I do  if you had CHILDREN?! Children, Gladstone!  Gladstone. ~*~ she rubbed her temples as if a headache was coming on. ~*~I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.~*~

                                             ~*~There is one solution where everyone can rest and be at peace.  Where love can flow freely without agony and terror. Where Lilly can run her shop, be a dazzling little gem on stage, have her family, have a peaceful love. Raise beautiful, healthy children and live a slightly chaotic life.  And Gladstone you can stop trying to saddle yourself to responsibilities that don’t come naturally to you.  You can go back to travelling, remember how you loved the hush of the waves as the sun came up, spreading it’s warm light all around you? Setting the sea on fire with its orange blaze, knowing the world was our oyster.  There was nothing you couldn’t do.  The day would bring you whatever you needed. You were younger then...” She smiled softly, stroking his face with one slender finger. ~*~And you thanked me, you thanked me for every moment of your life up to that point. You remember. I know you do. And your road will also lead you to love, one not fraught with such ugliness and trauma.  You’ve been very brave and I know you’re tired .   But you cannot have both.  You cannot have each other and these perfect scenarios. It might seem unfair but I’ve never promised to be such a ridiculous thing.  So, I know you’re both so wrapped up in this right now you can’t see beyond it but what I urge you to do is... consider it.  Talk to the ones who love you.  Listen to what they say, stay away from each other for a few days, a week if you can, see how different life is. But you already know.  You lived that way before.  Who you were before you got off that boat in the bay,  and who you were before a silly man walked into your shop with a ladle.  They were happy people.  Don’t you want to be happy?~*~

                                            • Lilly Teal
                                              Lilly Teal

                                              We've lived that way before.

                                              But.

                                              He was happier before, wasn't he? She was sure he was, and the beautiful picture Luck painted of his past and future made her feel so cold inside.

                                              Was she happier before? She did remember being happy, though she was so happy with him. She remembered being more peaceful.

                                              "Be apart?" Lilly whispered. They'd promised they wouldn't be. And an old fear started to rise up in the back of her mind, dark and ugly. Once they were apart, he wouldn't want to come back, would he?

                                              "They're fine," Chaos grumbled, the cookie in his hand separating into strands, tying themselves into a Gordian knot, fusing into a sphere, developing a hole that expanded and then crumbled the baked structure, a small section of reality destabilising in reaction to his dissatisfaction. True, the game had been pushing Luck to do things she would never dream of, but it was quite nice to see the fickle goddess being forced to be considerate of more than just her favourite at the expense of everyone else.

                                              Never mind that he was having his fun at the expense of everyone else.

                                              But... looking at them, finally forcing himself to pay attention to them, really them and not just the shape of them, he sighed slightly. They did look very tired and scared. The birthday had been too difficult, he'd layered on too many things at once. Awful. Messy storytelling.

                                              "Noted." He had to play with them less hard, or he'd end up breaking them, and that was no fun for anyone. It wouldn't be sustainable.

                                              "Well I can't force the two of you to stay together. Well I can, but that's not what I do." He gave Luck a slightly dirty look for, in his mind, taking advantage of that fact. "All I can offer are possibilities. And those are certainly possibilities. If you remain together I will not stop, you must know that. I can soften, but no more."

                                              Take a few days or a week if you must. If that was the end of the game... well. He would be sad about it. But Chaos wasn't about forcing exactly what you wanted. That was the exact opposite of the point. It was about pushing you towards possibilities.

                                              He loved humanity, so much. They turned his possibilities into choices. He would never have let either of them get killed, even if they had chosen not to participate in his games. But the fact that they had, again and again, to protect others, and themselves, and love eachother so hard... it was worth more because they had chosen to do it.

                                              And if he forced them, he was taking away the choice. It wouldn't be alive. It wouldn't be fun.

                                              So he had to let them choose. And if they chose to end it, it had been a good run.

                                              • Gladstone Gander
                                                Gladstone Gander

                                                Just as all men were dogs all Gods were liars. 

                                                Right?

                                                It was hard to hear any of this.  Even harder to listen.  To process and... agree. Gladstone heard Lilly's soft whisper and closed his eyes, feeling that he ought to release her hand but not being able to do it. She deserved everything the goddess had run off like an idyllic grocery list.  Even before he met her, Lilly deserved a happiness that was as warm and gentle as she was.  Knowing now that she was marked by the literal God of Chaos and had lived her life with such sincerity and kindness even with him peppering in trouble like an enthusiastic chef with a heavy hand for spices, it made his insides twist into terrible knots. He could picture her in her shop, bouncy bright children helping with the upkeep, dependable and hardworking husband at her side, fixing the... uh.. what's it called? Pipes in the wall? Water.  ...Plums? Plum...sing? Whatever. Someone more practical and grounded.  Someone who could keep her safe from normal things like, fallen thumbtacks and overdrawing her bank account.  Not pushing her out of the way of gunfire praying to a goddess that he now knew to be real (and fickle) to protect her.  

                                                PLUMBING!

                                                What a stupid word. 

                                                And what a stupid, selfish dream it was that he'd get to keep her.  She didn't know any better.  She'd never even been kissed before he came along, and he swept her off into a perfect storm of danger and desire. They barely had a moment to breathe between it all, and he fell hard.  Harder then he ever knew he could.  So hard it scared him at first, but the dust had settled long ago and he knew without a doubt that  he loved her.  What was the saying? If you love something, set it free? It was true he was happy before.  On the surface he was always happy, like the sun warmed waters of a lake, only when you settled in and your toes slipped lower you felt the icy darkness of isolation below.  And that was his selfishness, his fear lurking beneath the surface, not wanting to be alone. Not wanting to give up his hold on the one thing he hadn't won by chance, her love was the most precious prize he'd ever been awarded, and he'd worked for it. Perish the thought, but... he'd never regret a moment of it. Regardless of what happened.

                                                 

                                                "Apart." He finally replied. Turning his eyes to her rebuilding the walls within him slowly. Of course she deserved to be happy.  He couldn't deny her the chance to try even if it broke his heart. "I think we can manage a few days, don't you Lillyp-" he stopped, biting the nickname in half. "-Lilly. See how we feel." We = You but I'm being diplomatic. I've already told you that everyone leaves eventually, and you're too kind to leave on your own... even if you wanted to. 

                                                ~*~ A few days. ~*~ Luck confirmed gently. ~*~ Rest, sleep, eat, just think about what I've told you. What you've seen.  What Chaos has said.~*~ She patted the slightly sulking God on the arm kindly.  ~*~Let yourselves come down from this high and consider these months of madness behind  you. Take stock in your feelings, your friendships, your families, consider it.  Give yourselves the chance to make a choice rather then being swept away again on this power struggle between him and me.~*~ Luck patted the god again for emphasis.  ~*~ I for one would welcome the rest.  Because someone likes to spring things on me.~*~

                                                She could see her argument taking root in them both.  Good. 

                                                ~*~When you're ready, I will send you back. Separately.~*~ she smiled kindly, hair the shade of dawn as she placed her hand on Lilly's cheek, the hand now as warm and loving as a doting mother. ~*~Your Uncle will be most delighted to see you safe and well.~*~ The hand removed itself to repeat the motion to Gladstone. ~*~And I have a special surprise for you. I think you'll be very pleased.~*~

                                                That being said she retreated to the game table.

                                                • Lilly Teal
                                                  Lilly Teal

                                                  Okay yes i suppose Luck deserved a bit of rest as well. He could tone things down. Back to normal, like he promised.

                                                  Chaos looked at the two of them, how hard they clung to each other, their hesitation, the doubts on their faces, and sighed. Well. He had to give them their time. Their choice.

                                                  When you're ready.

                                                  Ready? Ready? She wasn't going to ever be ready. And she had to be. She had to let go of him before something terrible happened. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that his luck had to work so hard. It wasn't fair that he was always getting hurt, was nearly always on edge, all for her sake.

                                                  Pulling at his hand, she wrapped her arm around his neck, but that had been the worst decision. He was so warm and safe and close and it had been hard enough to think of letting go of his hand, much less all of him. She looked at his eyes, feeling a strange distance as he cut off his affectionate nickname. This was what he needed. To be happy. This was good for him.

                                                  "O-okay," she said shakily, pulling away with great reluctance. "A few days..."

                                                  • Gladstone Gander
                                                    Gladstone Gander

                                                    Gladstone's arms closed instinctively around her when she embraced him.  This was it.  She was going to pipe up, and politely tell these Gods to kindly take their suggestions and stuff them up their-but this wasn't her usual fierce happy hug. No.  No this wasn't an act of defiance.  It was a reluctant good-bye. For how long? Gods only knew. But peace was addicting. Especially when it was in such short supply.  

                                                    Okay.  Well, no not okay.  Not okay in the least but... she pulled away and he let his arms fall from her. Both wanting to pull her back and let her be.  What was best? How could he ever know? So he pushed down the always present urgent desire to kiss her, and released a resigned sigh and sat back in his chair. She deserved so much more then this. He had to make himself let her go.  

                                                    Luck sensing the melancholy and hesitation decided enough was enough. Mortals were so... emotional.  She snapped her fingers and Lilly vanished. Gladstone sat bolt upright, his hands reaching for where she'd been and letting them fall when she was no longer there.  The goddess bent down, stroking his hair, leaning in to whisper in his ear. His eyes widening for a moment and then he too was gone.  She stayed where she was for just a moment before she straightened up and sidled up beside Chaos, linking her arm through his.  The game board trembled, the tiles on it rotating and clacking into a new map, no longer showing the miniature facsimile of the cabin but now a sprawling map.  The little raven haired piece in the portion labeled "St. Canard Lilly's House".  The goose, across the bridge and in the center of a block that read "Gladstone's House". She smiled, her hair glowing as bright as a new dawn as she turned her mischievous glance to Chaos.

                                                    ~*~Want to make a bet?~*~


                                                     

                                                     

                                                    Gladstone woke up. Buried in pillows, the haze of sunlight filtering in through the cracks between the fluffy rectangles.  He groaned and shifted, stretching out and his feet didn't even find the edge of the bed.  Hm. Come to think of it, these sheets felt like...  Egyptian cotton..... He blinked. Wait. He sat up quickly causing the pillows to explode all over the room like engorged marshmallows. This was.  This was HIS bedroom.  His bedroom in the house that was no longer his in Duckburg.  But it was just as it had been before he left it all those years ago.  He jumped out of bed feeling like a kid on Christmas and whipping open the closet.  A sob caught in his throat as he was rewarded with a sight beautiful enough to make all the angels in heaven weep.  His suits, all the ones he'd lost, they were here.  Even the ones that were ruined were here "alive" and well.  Staggering drunkenly into the closet he took a mass of them into his arms and sank to the floor. Hugging them tightly to himself, burying his face in their familiar fibers.  Hello old friends.  I'm home.

                                                     

                                                    Was he? The smile of disbelief faded quickly, the only sound that met his ears was the ticking of the clock, the singing of birds outside.  No, he knew where his home was, this was only a house.  A house with stuff in it.  Nice stuff, granted, but just stuff. Sighing and feeling as if he'd just aged fifty years in two minutes he let the clothes fall to a pile on the ground and headed downstairs.  And there it was.  The grand layout of his fantastical home.  Elegant statues, hearty ferns growing nearly to the high ceilings, plush embroidered rugs. Stuff, things, nonsense. Urgh. He tousled his bedhead into further disarray.  This house was ridiculous.  Lilly would just stare around at it and lau-he shook his head. Stop.  She was better off.  If she thinks it through and decides that she still wanted him even though he was as showy and dramatic and useless as this house... she knew how to contact him.  He slapped himself lightly on the cheek to come back round.  Food.  What magical food had been left for him he wondered it was probably all his favorite things. Luck seemed to have pulled out all the stops to reward this outcome.  With a sigh he pulled the fridge opened and  stared.  A platter of little sandwiches, a vegetable pie, some peanut butter and chocolate swirled brownies. He closed the door numbly.  What? He cracked the fridge open again, the contents were completely different. Shaking his head he glanced over to the study and a thrill of hope surged through him.  The bookcase was just as he had remembered, his books. He ran a hand along their spines with a contented smile. They were all here, oh this one! He slid out a leather bound first edition, Lilly would love to see the illustrations in thi-

                                                    Lilly would probably never see this.  Lilly would move on and things would be better for her.  She had her family, her friends, and she'd find someone else who could make her happy. He slammed the book back onto the shelf angrily. It wasn't right.  HE wanted to make her happy.  It wasn't the same if anyone else did it damn it.  But she had let him go.  She would come back if she wanted to if she- Gladstone froze.

                                                    She would come back if she thought that he would be happier with her.  If all the pretty words Luck had said had twisted as deep into her mind as they had into his... she'd be convinced he was better off without... that he'd be happier...

                                                    Nope.

                                                    No way. 

                                                    He started to storm off but paused, went back to the bookcase, took the book off the shelf and smiled at it. Okay. 

                                                    No more than ten minutes later he was showered, changed, and tearing off down the street in his car. In his haste he nearly ran down a sweepstakes worker who tried to give him one ticket for a supermodel cruise line. Feeling lighter the farther he got from the house he leaned into the gas. A smile started slowly across his face.


                                                    He was going home.

                                                    • Lilly Teal
                                                      Lilly Teal

                                                      As Chaos laughed, always ready for fun, Lilly woke up.

                                                      Safe and sound, in her own bed. And while the Crucibles had done their best to take away the pain and bruising before starting this whole quest, she felt... lighter, somehow. As if half of it had never happened in the first place. Pushing herself into a sitting position, she stared at the opposite wall, drawing her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around them.

                                                      She had done the right thing. Probably. It wasn't what she wanted, but it was what he needed. And... wanted. Probably.

                                                      "Princess?" Matthew cracked the door open softly, knocking on the edge of it. "Mambo told me you were back."

                                                      "I am. Sorry for giving you a scare like that."

                                                      "From what I understand, you weren't given much of a choice," he said, stepping further into the room and instinctively doing a check to make sure she was intact. Arms, legs, she didn't seem to be bleeding, she wasn't moving stiffly, masking any pain-

                                                      His eyes moved to her face, and his smile fell.

                                                      "What's the matter?"

                                                      As he strode over to sit beside her, she shook her head, burying her already tear-soaked face into her knees and letting out a heart-wrenching sob. And another. And another, every one of them shaking her violently as his large hands hovered over her worriedly, afraid to touch her. Every time he'd bring them close she'd shake again, and he would flinch back slightly, as if contact would break her.

                                                      He finally laid a hand on her back, and she lifted her head to throw herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. She may have even said something, but between hiccups and gasps for breath and sobs, it nothing he could make sense of. Nothing he could help with So he just put his arms around her until she stopped.

                                                      She stopped eventually, leaning back to scrub at her eyes shame-facedly. She was being stupid. If he wanted to come back, he would. And if he didn't, he wouldn't. Crying wasn't going to change that. Sniffling, she patted Matthew's arms and pushed away gently, to sit on the edge of the bed properly. And as she did, her eyes fell on the little book he'd given her, and she wanted to cry all over again. Which was stupid. She should be trying to be happy. Just like was. After all, it was only a few days. And if he really wanted he would-

                                                      ... unless he thought she wouldn't-

                                                      Hadn't that been exactly what he tried to do the first time? To make her safe and happy?

                                                      Oh. She had been stupid. At least. Probably. It wouldn't hurt to find out.

                                                      And she had basically promised to find him and sit outside wherever he lived until he talked to her, if they separated.

                                                      She liked that idea. It was a good plan.

                                                      She hadn't even realised she'd gotten up and run out of the bedroom until she heard Uncle Matthew behind her say "What the- where are you going?!"

                                                      She hadn't brushed her hair, she hadn't taken her bag, or her phone, she didn't have the slightest idea where exactly he lived, but she was already running out the door and aiming for the nearest bus-stop.

                                                      "Duckburg!"

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