Rise and Fall

Part 3:  Ashes and Dust

"I'm only one, but not alone…

I rise and fall, yet through it all, this much remains…"

--Whitney Houston, "One Moment in Time"

As Defender Bear looked into the mirror, he couldn't help but wonder:  Where did it all go wrong?  How could he have let everyone down like this?  He was standing in his house, forced inside by No Heart's crippling assault.  His eyes were fixed on those of his reflection, and it felt to him like it was scrutinizing him, judging him on his progress.   While he continued to lock eyes, he took the glove off his left hand.  His face quickly snapped into a scowl, and he yelled at the mirror, "Stop looking at me like that!"  With that, he punched the glass, shutting his eyes from the falling fragments.  When he opened them again, he was now being observed by several copies of himself, each with a look of bewilderment. (Of course, they were only copying the original.)  Finally, Phoenix Audubon turned away in shame.  The sharp pain in his left hand finally began to register, and he blankly stared at the cuts and glass bits before hiding it behind his back, underneath the cape of his cloak.  He walked briskly outside toward Take Care's office, hoping no one would notice the spots of blood on the ground as he moved on by.  Fortunately, hardly anyone else was out and he arrived unnoticed.  The office was empty, so Defender Bear decided to help himself.  He extracted the pieces of glass from his left hand, washed up, added some ointment, and then wrapped his hand in bandages just enough to maintain mobility in his fingers.  He had just finished putting his gloves back on when he heard someone ask him, "Is that you, Defender Bear?"

"Oh!"  Startled, he turned around to find Cheer Bear standing in the doorway.  He hid his hands behind his back as he anxiously replied, "Um, yeah, it's me.  Wh…what is it?"

"What are you doing in here?" Cheer asked.

"Me?  Oh, um, well, you see I was, uh, waiting for Doc, and…" When he began to notice that Cheer had lowered her head slightly, he trailed off.  "You don't mean…?" he began to ask.  The pink bear nodded slightly.

"Oh."

They both stood there without saying a word, until Cheer finally spoke again.  "Everyone is meeting at the Hall of Hearts right now.  At least, everyone that's left is."

"Don't worry, I'll be there," he answered.  With that, Cheer turned around and left.  Phoenix took one last look at his left hand, his glove hiding the bandage underneath, sighed and shook his head with his eyes closed, and then set out for the assembly.

When he arrived, Defender Bear found the remaining bears and cousins seated at the table.  They were all mostly silent, some of them with their eyes gazing downward.  All the empty seats only magnified the somber atmosphere in the hall.  Once attendance had been taken, Noble Heart stepped to the podium in the room and called the family to order.

"Bright Heart, what was the number of casualties?" he asked.

"Nineteen," the purple raccoon replied.  "That number includes Perfect and Polite Panda.  We now assume they were captured in the same manner."  That started a murmur from all the bears and cousins.  Noble Heart struck the wooden block on the podium with gavel to regain their attention.

"Listen to me, everyone," the elder began, "I understand how you feel.  I know things look bleak, but we mustn't lose hope, because if we do, we may never see our friends again.  We have all faced the 'Cloud of Uncaring' before, and just because we couldn't destroy it this time, it does not mean we have lost, Care Bears.  It may be stronger than the last time, but we are stronger, as well.  If we have confidence in ourselves, and put all our effort into it, we'll be able to defeat No Heart and rescue the others!

"Bright Heart, is there anything else to report?"

"There is one more thing, Noble Heart," he said.  "After the cloud passed, the last check of the Caring Meter showed it has now dropped to 50 percent.  It's holding right now, but I don't think it would take much to send the needle into the yellow zone," Bright Heart explained, trying to maintain a dry tone of voice through the gloomy news.  Just as he finished saying that, the ground began to tremble beneath them for a few seconds.  Once again, the other members began to talk out from concern, and Noble Heart asked for their attention again.

"Do you see now how important it is for everyone to keep hope?  More than ever, we need to make a stand against No Heart.  That is why, tonight, we will be storming No Heart's castle, rescue the rest of our family, and stop the Cloud of Caring once and for all!" he shouted enthusiastically.  He had hoped the rest of the family would have joined in his excitement, but instead, they all just stared at him, a little taken aback by the idea.  Even True Heart (with whom Noble Heart had conceived the idea) gave him a look that reflected some concern.

Noble Heart sighed and muttered under his breath, "How did I know this was going to happen?"  He looked back out at the Care Bears and pressed his plan again.  "Listen, everyone, I know there might be some worries about going against the cloud, but we all know that everything depends on us.  Our fallen friends, Care-a-Lot, and the people on Earth—if we don't stop it from destroying the countless lives of the humans down below, who will?"  He stopped for a moment, and saw the look in the others' eyes that they agreed amidst some hesitation.  "A lot depends on us right now," he continued and that is why we have to act as soon as possible.  Everyone, take some time to do what you need to get ready for tonight.  At 10 o'clock, we move out."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

While everyone else was preparing themselves for the upcoming campaign, Defender Bear simply started to wander around Care-a-Lot.  In his mind, he was asking himself several questions:  Am I ready for this fight?  What if I can't help everyone?  What if I fail just like last time?  What can I do?  When he decided to take notice of where he was, he found himself back nearby the Hall of Hearts.  Bright Heart Raccoon was standing on the raised platform where the Caring Meter stood, and he was writing something down on the clipboard he held in his left arm.

"Hello, Bright Heart," Defender said.

"Oh, hi, Defender," the raccoon greeted back, looking up at the visitor.  "Are you ready for tonight's big plan?"

With a sigh, the white bear answered, "I think so, but I'm so worried about, I don't know…everything.  Aren't you worried at all?"

"Of course I am.  I'm sure everybody is very anxious.  But, it's just like Noble Heart was talking about.  This is something we have to do.

"Besides, you've been up against No Heart before on your own.  I would think you'd be the least nervous about tonight."

Defender laughed nervously.  "Yeah, well, you would think so, but the first I was kind of, well, going on impulse.  You know, making it up as I went along.  Now, I am fully aware of what's going on. But, I don't know if I'll be as daring as the last time."  The subject was starting to become uncomfortable for Defender Bear, so he decided to ask about something else.  "Hey, is this the 'Caring Meter' everyone's been talking about?" he asked, pointing up at the meter.

"Of course!  The Caring Meter is how we are aware of problems down on Earth.  Anytime someone does mean things to others, or if someone is feeling very sad, it causes the needle on the Caring Meter to drop."  Once he finished his sentence, another tremor shook the ground.

"Whoa!  What was that?" the stunned Defender asked.  Bright Heart sighed, and explained, "That was a signal that something's wrong.  The existence of Care-a-Lot—our homes—depends on the caring feelings of both the Care Bear Family and the people on Earth.  If something threatens those feelings, it threatens this very land.  The fact that the meter is low indicates that there is a serious drop in the amount of love in the world, and that deficiency is causing Care-a-Lot to become unstable.  If it gets worse, our land will begin to crack, and break apart.  And, if the meter should ever reach zero…" He stopped for a moment; his head hung low with anguish.

"What?  What happens if the meter reads zero?" the white bear pressed.  The purple raccoon lifted his head up just enough to look at Defender.  "If the meter reaches zero, Care-a-Lot will disappear," he finally concluded.

"Oh, dear," was all Defender could say.  Once again, Defender struck a conversation with someone only to end up silently staring at the other person.  Eventually, Defender found something to say.  "Now I see why Noble Heart was so intent on raiding No Heart's castle tonight.  Um, I'm gonna' go prepare myself for tonight, and all, so, um…good luck, Bright Heart."

"Okay, thanks, Defender Bear.  You, too."  With that, the white bear hurriedly left the platform, feeling rather embarrassed for some unknown reason.  Note to self—work on conversational skills next chance I get, he thought to himself.  He continued to walk along until he reached the edge of Care-a-Lot.  Looking out, he could see the lands and oceans of Earth beneath him.  He decided that a trip down might help him clear his mind.  He bent his knees and then jumped and spread his arms out, and began to fly down towards the world below.  The cool, crisp air was refreshing to the white bear.  As he near the ground below, he could see a park in the middle of a city, and decided to land there.  He slowed his descent and landed inside a tree, so as not to attract quite so much attention.  He sat down on one of the limbs, and looked at everything around him—the plants, the forest critters, and the people.  He could see a couple sitting next to each other on a bench, an elderly man jogging along a path, and several children running around on the soft, green grass.  All these people, Phoenix thought to himself, if only they knew the danger above them.  Would they still be so happy?  Would they still be outside?  If somehow the Care Bears should fail, can they stop No Heart from destroying this world?

"Hey!  What are you doing up there?"

"Wha? Huh?"  His pensive moment was interrupted by a voice from the ground.  He looked down to find a little girl looking back up at him.  She was holding a red kickball in her arms.  When Phoenix saw her long blonde hair, he recognized her from before.

"Marigold, isn't it?" he softly called down.

"That's right!  And, you're, you're…Phhhhhh…"

"Phoenix," he finished for her.  "Yes, that's me."

"Phoenix.  Right, I knew that.  So, whatcha' doing up there?"

"Oh, nothing," he replied with a sigh.  "Just thinking."

"You look lonely.  I can come up there, if you want me to."

            "I'm not lonely, actually, but I don't mind having company.  But, how are you going to get up here?"

            She giggled.  "I'm really good at climbing trees!"

            "That may be, but I think I'll help you up here, just to be safe," Phoenix suggested.  He slowly waved his hands around a few times, and then held his arms out at her.  She slowly began to rise up towards the branch.  She slowly gasped in amazement, letting the ball fall from her hands and bounce on the ground.  When she was as high as he was, he slowly rotated himself around to his right, and Marigold followed the arms until she was floating centimeters above the tree limb, where the bear slowly moved his arms down and she sat herself.

            She giggled again with delight.  "Wow, that was fun, Phoenix!  Say, wait a minute.  Your tummy…you have a tummy symbol!  That means you really are a Care Bear!"

            "Well, I am now," Phoenix replied.  "They also gave me the name 'Defender Bear', but you can still call me 'Phoenix'.  It doesn't matter to me."

"I'm so happy you finally found your family."  Marigold's face quickly became inquisitive when she examined Phoenix' face.  "But, you don't look happy.  Aren't you glad you have a family now?"

"Well, I am thankful for that, and all.  It's just…"  Phoenix looked at her for a moment, then turned his head, and sighed.  "I won't lie to you, Marigold.  An evil person came and took a lot of my family away.  He's trying to capture all of the Care Bears so that we won't be able to stop him from taking over the world and making it a very sad place."

"Oh, no," Marigold said in concern.  "That's horrible.  Are you going to try save them?"

"Yes, tonight we're going to the evil guy's castle."

"But, you'll save them, won't you?  You can your magic to save them, right?"

At first, Phoenix only sighed at the question.  He finally responded, "Maybe I can, but…I don't know.  I think I'm just really nervous."

"Well, I remember some of the other Care Bears helping me before.  If you're a Care Bear, then I think you'll be able to help out a lot."

The bear looked up at the smiling girl.  "You really think so, Marigold?"

"Uh-huh!  I know you'll save them."

Now Phoenix was smiling with her.  "Thanks, Marigold.  I think I'd better get back to Care-a-Lot and get ready for tonight, but I want to thank you for your confidence in me."
            "Oh, you're welcome."  Phoenix put his hands underneath her arms, and they both floated down off the tree.  Marigold waved good-bye and ran off bouncing her ball.  Phoenix started to fly back home, but on the way there, the idea of tonight continued to weigh heavily on his mind, and he became anxious once again.

Once back in Care-a-Lot, the white bear continued his aimless walk through the cloudy land.  His wanderings led him to the Rainbow River.  Phoenix watched the clear blue water flow between the cloud shores, until it entered the mountain cave further downstream.  He could see his reflection in the water, near perfect save some intermittent distortions from the current.  He got down on his knees and peered closer towards the image in the river.  He sighed in reflection.

Even with my protector's magic and Brave Heart's training, am I truly ready for this?  If the situation demands it, will I be able to fight?  It seemed that Phoenix Audubon had begun to doubt his own abilities.  He searched his reflection's face for something to give him confidence, and that was when he looked at the tummy symbol of the mirror image.  The blue and white shield with a heart and a star on the double's chest (and his own) began to inspire him.  "This symbol", he said aloud to himself.  "This is proof of my membership in the Care Bear Family, but it also means that everyone in this family trusts me as well.  They trust me to protect not only them, but the humans on Earth, as well.  If they have confidence in my abilities, then I should have confidence, too.  If the time comes where I have to decide to fight or not, I'll know what I'll choose.  To protect the Care Bear Family, I choose to fight.  It is the only way I know how to show that I care."  Now, with the vote of confidence he had given himself, Defender Bear stood up from the riverbank, and began to walk back toward the city.  He stopped for second, and turned his head back towards the water.  He laughed softly, and then said, "Trust me," before continuing on.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Night had fallen in Care-a-Lot, and the time had come.  Three to a cloudmobile, the remaining Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins rode out into the darkness of the evening.  They were headed towards No Heart's castle with one goal: to free the captured family members and restore their feelings, and stop the evil wizard's Cloud of Uncaring from plunging the earth below them into an era of unfeeling.  Each team was to enter the castle at a different location in an attempt to ambush their foe. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

But, unbeknownst to the Care Bears, their attempt at a surprise had already been foiled.  For watching them in his black cauldron was No Heart himself, quite amused at his current situation.

"Well, well, well," he mused to himself, "it would seem I have visitors this wonderfully dark night.  Those rotten Care Bears are trying so hard to win back their friends, I almost find it a shame they won't even get close to accomplishing that.  Finally, it would appear that all my struggles shall finally come to fruition tonight.  Only twelve more Care Bears to defeat, and Care-a-Lot will be destroyed.  And then, there will be no one to stop me from turning Earth into a wasteland of woe, which I shall rule over!"  He cackled to celebrate his seemingly imminent victory.

He leaned closer into the bubbling concoction in his cauldron.  "So come if you will, Care Bears," he beckoned to the visions in the liquid, "come to your doom!"  Up above him floated the same cloud from before (albeit much smaller so as to fit within his study) that had already overcome most of his enemies.  He pointed to it, and then pointed at the door leading out to the hallway.  The cloud then broke into 4 smaller clouds, and each one took a different path through the castle in search of their targets.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Defender Bear had been teamed up with Wish Bear and Grumpy Bear, and they came into the castle through an opening in the dungeon.  Expecting to find their comrades imprisoned within the cells, the team found all of them eerily empty.  Only slow, constant drops of water broke the uncomfortable silence as they quietly moved across the basement.  Grumpy Bear walked in front while Defender followed a few steps behind him.  Looking behind him, the white bear saw that Wish Bear was trailing far behind, looking noticeably anxious and constantly looking around.  Defender walked back to her.  "Wish Bear, are you all right?" he concernedly asked.

"Um, yes," she slowly replied.  Defender knew she was lying, and was determined to find the source of her fears.  "Please, Wish Bear, I only ask because I care, because I…Um, er, I mean, that is, I hate to see you so nervous, and sad."  Wish did not seem to notice the stumble in Defender's words as she sighed in resignation.  "Defender Bear, there's something you need to know.  I'm sure you've heard that this isn't the first time the Care Bears have faced No Heart's Cloud of Uncaring.  Many years ago, while I was helping a young boy on a caring mission, No Heart had created this cloud to defeat us with.  We tried to stop him from completing the spell that created the cloud, but we came up short.  He tried to use the cloud on the little boy, but I pushed him out and the way, and I had my feelings washed away.  And, if it hadn't been for that boy, I might never have recovered from that."

By this time, Wish Bear's head sagged, and she was looking down at the floor.  She felt a hand on each of her shoulders, and looked up to see Defender's face in front of her.

"My goodness, Wish Bear, I had no idea.  You sacrificed yourself to save that little boy.  That was very fearless of you. But this time, I'll make sure you won't be a victim to that cloud again.  I swear I will do everything within my power to protect you, and save you from No Heart.  I promise I will save you from danger."

"Um, Defender Bear?"  Though she appreciated the promise, the white bear's speech was now starting to make Wish feel nervous, but not in the way that the cloud made her feel.  When Defender saw the look in her eyes, he quickly removed his hands.  "Sorry about that.  I, uh, was just, um…"

"Hurry up, you guys!  We've got to keep moving!"  The pair looked to find Grumpy shouting whispers at them at the other end of the dungeon.  They quickly ran after him, and climbed up a set of stairs.

"Where are we headed to, Grumpy?" asked Defender.

"I'm not exactly sure," Grumpy replied.  "I just hope we catch up with some of the others before they, or we, find No Heart."

Unknown to these three, however, the other Care Bears would not be able to help them anymore.  For, one by one, the smaller clouds fulfilled the orders of their evil master, flushing the caring out of the other Care Bears, and leaving the "shells" for the evil wizard to collect and add to the rest of his wicked collection somewhere within his stronghold.

Back in Care-a-Lot, the land itself was being affected by the losses.  For each Care Bear or Cousin defeated, the needle on the Caring Meter dropped more and more.  In turn, the cloudy land suffered numerous cloudquakes, causing several deep cracks in the land and in the many rainbow paths.  The Hall of Hearts had begun to crumble apart.  Not even the Forest of Feelings was spared by this disaster, as trees and plants began to whither and shrivel, and the waters of the once mighty Rainbow River and waterfall began to recede, leaving only a weak stream.  When only Grumpy, Wish and Defender remained, only 10 percent remained on the Caring Meter as it stood alone among the deserted, ruined land, with parts of the "ground" beginning to break off or disintegrate.

But, none of the bears in the castle knew of the situation at home.  They were focused on the rescue mission at hand.  After what seemed like an endless maze of staircases, the party found themselves in No Heart's magic study.  From the shelves of books and relics, to the desks full of chemicals and potions, the cauldron and the imposing thunder pit, the two veteran Care Bears knew what went on in here, but Defender Bear was experiencing this dread place for the first time, and in more ways than one.  "Oh, my", he said, putting a hand on the side of his head, "I can feel the evil in this room.  It's so heavy, it's almost overwhelming!"

"Maybe we should look around in here.  We may be able to find something to undo the cloud's effects," Grumpy said, walking over to a table and reading some of the papers lying there.

"I don't think it's a good idea to stay in here too long, Grumpy," Wish said nervously.  "I don't see any of the other Care Bears in here."

"Oh, but I see Care Bears in here!"

Wish and Defender instantly turned around at the sound of the mysterious voice, and there he was—No Heart, that conniving villain, with his arm wrapped around Grumpy Bear's neck while the poor blue bear was pulling at the arm, struggling desperately to escape.

"Let him go, No Heart!"  Defender Bear yelled at the wizard.

"And just what makes you think I have any reason to listen to anything you have to say?  After all, my plan would not have been so successful had it not been for your..." he cackled briefly, "assistance."

"What are you talking about?  I'd never help anyone with evil intentions like you!"

"Funny, you weren't this difficult to work with the last time.  But, since you'll all fall before my power, I should at least enlighten you before I trounce you."

At this point, he turned to face Defender Bear.  "You see, Care Bear, it was the crystal you bears found that increased the power of my Cloud of Uncaring.  But, you had created such a powerful force field around that even I, at that point, could not have dispelled."  At this point, he narrowed his eyes a bit.  "Therefore, I cast a spell to control you through a dream…or, should I say, a nightmare.  And, I commanded you to remove the force field from the crystal.  And, all I had to do was bring it back here with me to use in my spell.

"So, you see, you little trickster, all of the havoc that I have brought upon you all, and the inevitable demise of the Care Bear Family, would not have been possible without your help."

"No…no!  No, it isn't true!  I don't believe you!"  Defender Bear put his hands over his ears and shut his eyes from the accusation.  Deep within, however, a part of him was compelled to agree with what the evil wizard said was not entirely false.

"Well, it sounds like you don't believe me," No Heart feigned concern.  "Perhaps I need to use some 'visual aids' to prove my point.  Not only did I use the crystal to strengthen my cloud, but I also fused a piece of it with the lightning crystal in my amulet, which increased my power multifold.  And, just to demonstrate…" He now looked down at the still-struggling Grumpy Bear in his grasp.  "I don't need my Cloud of Uncaring to do this!"

At that moment, a purple light surrounded Grumpy, and he began to thrash about even more fiercely, and yell out in agony.  But it would only last a couple of minutes, as Wish Bear and Defender Bear could do nothing but watch in horror as the blue from his fur faded to grey, and his body stopped moving and slumped over No Heart's forearm.

Wish Bear and Defender Bear were mortified by what they had just witnessed.  They couldn't pull their eyes from poor Grumpy while No Heart turned his gaze on the remaining bears.  "Now you know my true power, you detestable little animals!  It will also be the last thing you'll ever know!"  He quickly snapped his fingers in the air.  "But, I think I will allow my dear cloud the pleasure of dispatching you two."  With that, the clouds that had been roaming throughout the castle began to pour in from the door up to the space above them all in the study.  The black, smoky storm cloud began to creep across Wish and Defender, who were now retreating slowly towards an opening at the opposite end of the room.  When they got there, they realized it led outside of the castle to a ledge that jutted out only a few meters before stopping abruptly above a brown, murky cloudbank below.  The two bears continued to backpedal until they were only a few feet away from the edge as the cloud was just outside the threshold of the study.  They tried a Care Bear Stare against the cloud as a last stand, but as before, it didn't even touch it.

Wish Bear cried aloud, "I think we may have finally reached the end, Defender Bear."  Defender Bear looked down below at the hazy depths below, and then put his hands on Wish Bear's shoulders.  "Wish Bear, do you trust me?" he spoke rapidly as he looked at his partner with equally impatient eyes.

"What?" she replied, startled by both her seemingly impending doom and the brash question she faced.

"I have a plan on how to escape this, but I won't do it alone, and I need to know if you trust me.  So, do you trust me?"

As the Cloud of Uncaring began to seep outside, it appeared to Wish that she had no other alternative.  "Yes…" was all the time she had to say before the white bear wrapped his arms around her fiercely and jumped off the ledge.

Bewildered by her colleague's "plan", Wish Bear screamed as she watched the threatening cloud as she fell.  Defender, meanwhile, was studying the brown clouds below when he spotted a window along the castle walls.  Quickly deciding they had a better chance inside than what could be hiding with or below the smog bank, he guided their fall (with a little help from his magic) towards the opening.  He saw there was no glass but a set of ragged, purple drapes as Defender rotated himself so he was beneath Wish Bear.  As soon they entered the window, they hit the floor, the teal bear's landing cushioned by the white bear.  However, the impact was so strong, it knocked Wish from Defender's grasp and both of them tumbled away from each other in an unlit room.  After a few seconds to regroup (and to rub a few bumps), the two got up of the floor.  However, the darkness was so intense, neither one could see their hand right in front of their faces.  Defender managed to find a wall, and began to feel his way across.  Wish Bear started walking blindly, until she felt something.

"Um, Defender Bear, is that you?  Is this your hand?"

"No, it's not me," she heard somewhere off in the distance.

"Uh-oh…then, whose is it?"

"Don't move, Wish Bear.  I think…yes, I found a torch here!  Hang on a second," he shouted out.  With a little magic, a small fire sparked from his hand, and he put it towards the torch.  Once it caught fire, something unexpected happened—torches from all over the room had flames burst on top of them in random succession.  The sudden brilliance of light was too intense for the bears' eyes, but once they adjusted…

…they gasped in horror at the scene laid out in front of them.

All around them were the captured members of the Care Bear Family.  Every bear and cousin was there, but they were scattered all over the grand, circular room seemingly in some kind of arrangement.  Every one them was drab gray and appeared frozen in time—either standing, kneeling, or trying to crawl forward, their faces were paralyzed with expressions of agony, anxiety, and anguish.

It was like some travesty of a garden.  It was as if someone had sewn seeds of ruin and vengeance, nurtured them with spite and bitterness, to which they bore the fruit of sorrow and misery.

When Wish Bear turned to see whose hand she was holding, she looked up to find Brave Heart Lion's ashen face in front of her, his eyes wide open and mouth gaped open in fear.  She screamed out and jumped back, almost bumping into the shell that had been Friend Bear.  The startled bear quickly spun around, desperate to find any sign of life, and she found Defender Bear on the other side of the grand room, also appearing to be disturbed by what he was witnessing.

"This…is…this is horrible!"  Defender unsteadily exclaimed, as he examined Tenderheart Bear and Noble Heart Horse.

"We've got to help them, Defender Bear," Wish Bear urged.

"I know, but how do we do that?"

No ideas came to either one of them.  However, it was during that uneasy moment that something caught Defender's eye.  He ran to one of the victims, someone he recognized, but didn't expect to find.

"Look over here, Wish Bear.  It's Grumpy Bear!"  Indeed, the formerly blue bear was among the fallen, lying on the floor with the sullen look still on his face.  "If he's here, then that means No Heart might be close by."

"Closer than you realize, foolish bear!"

Defender Bear quickly turned around upon hearing those words, and one the other side, he found the evil wizard himself, and this time, he had Wish Bear struggling in his grasp.

"It seems that even though you tried to escape, but here you are, in what will be your final resting place.  Rather ironic, isn't it?" No Heart snidely remarked.

"No Heart, I demand that you release Wish Bear and release everyone else from your spell," Defender shouted at the wizard and pointed his finger straight at the foe.

"After all the trouble I went through to cast my spell, you expect me to simply undo it all?  Now that doesn't sound very practical now, does it?"  He moved his head closer to Wish Bear's ear.  "Does that sound practical to you, my dear?"

"Help..." she weakly uttered.

"Let her go!!!"  With that, Defender Bear began to charge at No Heart in hopes of rescuing Wish Bear.  Unfortunately, No Heart was ready for him, and with one arm still holding his prisoner, he thrust his other arm straight out in front of him, and a giant burst of purple flames exploded from his hand, right in front of the oncoming bear.  The blast completely enveloped the would-be hero, and knocked him back several feet.  Normally used to working with fire, Defender was shocked to find that was actually burning not only his clothes, but his skin, as well.  He began to roll around on the floor, desperate to put out the flames.  Realizing his clothes were being reduced to tatters, he quickly tore off of him what was left of them, and stood back up, panting from the whole ordeal.

"I think there's a lesson to be learned here, Care Bear," No Heart continued to taunt.  "You may have stopped me once with your magic, but now, you are no match for me.  And now, without your clothes, the truth is obvious.  Deep down, you're just like every other Care Bear—weak and worthless!"  He laughed at his own insult.

"You're wrong, No Heart!" the white bear retorted, "This is not over yet!"

"Well, for one of us in here, it is," he remarked as he looked down at his hostage, "It's time I finished what I had started before!"  With that, the purple light surrounded Wish Bear, and she began to cry out from the pain.  Defender Bear once again ran headlong towards her and the wizard, desperate to save his remaining companion.  But this time, it was a purple lightning bolt from No Heart's hand that stopped the white bear and dropping him to the ground.  Greatly weakened by the attack, Defender could only muster the strength to pick his head, where he witnessed the end of the incantation, and the end of Wish Bear.  With all her color and feelings gone, she simply stood there with her knees slightly bent, her arms resting at her sides, her shoulders sagging, her head bent down, and her eyes closed in a forlorn quietness.

On the ground from afar, Defender's mouth was open, but he couldn't make a sound after witnessing this defeat.  It took him a minute to gather the energy to meekly utter, "No…"

            "And now, only one Care Bear remains," No Heart said aloud, admiring his handiwork.  "It's almost a shame that this almost over, really.  I rather enjoyed wrenching the life out of each and every one of you.  And, when you think about it, what good is a Care Bear that cannot care?  Nothing, that's what!"

            "Stop it," the wounded bear boldly forced through his pain.

            "All that stands between me and what I want is you, runt.  And soon, you will end up just like the rest of your friends.  Look how helpless they are!  Take this one, for example," he walked to Wish Bear as he continued his sarcastic speech.  "Doesn't she look so vulnerable?  I've killed her on the inside; it wouldn't take much to dispatch her altogether."

            Defender quickly got to his knees.  "That's enough!!!" he shouted at the menacing magician.

            "You sound as if you could stop me, when you couldn't save even one of your precious family members!  You almost humor me with your worthless attempts.  I think I'll simply take her life for the fun of it."

            That was the last Defender Bear would hear.  In one quick maneuver, he dashed straight at No Heart from halfway across the room, his feet never touched the floor—it was a very fast glide inches above the ground, and all the while he was yelling, "Leave her alone!!!"
            But, just as before, all the bear's efforts were futile, for No Heart expected such an offensive.  He had plenty of time to mutter, "Pitiful fool", before he caught Defender in mid-flight, clutching his neck between his long, bony hands.  And as the bear gagged and choked for air in his grasp, No Heart slowly raised him over his head to get a good long look at the final obstruction in his pursuit of world domination.

            "Even with all the magical power residing within you, you couldn't master it enough to stop me," No Heart mocked the white bear.  "You have been nothing but an annoying little thorn in my plans.  I will enjoy removing you from them."

            As Defender pulled and tugged at No Heart's hands, he managed enough breath to reply, "You…you haven't won…yet."

            "Enough!  It's time to say 'good-bye', Care Bear!"  He started the spell to remove the caring and feelings from Defender Bear.  The poor bear's vision turned purple from the effects of the spell.  He could feel sharp, piercing sensations all over his body as the enchantment ran its course, groaning several times in anguish.  He tried desperately to hold onto his emotions by remembering happy memories in his life.

            The evil wizard was growing impatient.  "Stop resisting my spell, trickster.  You'll only make it hurt that much worse.  I'll just have to increase the strength and get this over with!"  The purple light surrounding the bear shone more brightly as the spell intensified.  The sudden boost was too much for Defender Bear to contain as he yelled out from the agony.  He gritted his teeth and attempted to wrestle free from his oppressor's grip, but he was starting to lose the feeling in his hands and feet.  With his eyes and mouth wide open, he reached out his arm at No Heart's face in vain, but he was too high above to grab it.  By that point, Defender Bear's white fur began to fade to gray.  Finally, when the light faded, No Heart grinned beneath his cowl at what he was holding.  The drab bear still had a wide-eyed and open-mouthed expression on his face, but his arms were dangling limply below him.

            Defender Bear had lost.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            Far away, something else was about to be lost.  With the last Care Bear subdued, the needle behind the cracked glass of the Caring Meter dropped to zero.  Despite no one remaining in the land, the bell within it began to ring once every three seconds like a death knell.  The resonance floated across the ruined Care-a-Lot and the withered Forest of Feelings.  Like everything else in the Kingdom of Caring, the bell had been reduced to a weakened, shoddy state, and eventually cracked, and the land became silent once more.

            Out of nowhere, a strong cold wind rushed throughout the kingdom.  Deteriorated as it was, everything in Care-a-Lot, from the cracked cloud houses to the broken rainbow bridges, began to disintegrate into dust from the force of the winds, which carried the remains away as it passed through.  The once mighty Rainbow River quickly dried into an empty ditch.  Even in the forest, both dry leaf and rotten tree were reduced to powdery leftovers.

            In the end, high in the clear sky above the earth, nothing remained of the Elysian place that had once been the Kingdom of Caring.  The sun shined innocently bright, as if to deny any tragedy had taken place in the now clear, empty air.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            At No Heart's dark castle, the wizard was abnormally happy, still holding the cold, lifeless body of Defender Bear.  "It's over!  Finally, it's over.  I am rid of these wretched animals forever!"  No Heart disdainfully let go of the bear, letting him fall to the ground with a sickening thud.  He walked over to one the window at the other end of the room, and looked outside.  "Soon, I will take my Cloud of Uncaring to the earth, and use it to cleanse all that…disgusting love, and caring, and I will reign over it forever!"  He cackled at the thought.

            Back inside, it seemed that all hope had been forcibly removed from the once grand Care Bear Family.  However, this was not entirely true.  Somewhere, deep inside someone in that room, a spark of hope remained.

            Even though his face was still stuck with a gape, deep within Defender Bear's mind, there was still conscious thought going on.  Unfortunately, it was less than enthusiastic.

            "Where am I?  And, why am I on the floor?  Oh, well, it doesn't matter.  I'm too tired, anyway," the voice inside complained, letting out a yawn.  Defender's eyes were unable to move, so they were unintentionally fixated on someone standing in his line of sight.

            "Hmmm…I wonder who that is.  It doesn't really matter to me, though.  Still, she doesn't look very happy.  I'd ask her what's wrong, but…" the voice yawned again, "…I don't really care that much to find out."  However, the more the voice inanely rambled about it, the more interested it became.

            "Something about her seems so familiar, but I can't really think of why.  Something about her face, and her tummy…it has shooting stars on it.  What's so special about shooting stars, anyway?  Something about…making a wish, or…a wish!  That's it!  I know who that is!"  It seemed that Defender Bear was beginning to regain all his thoughts and memories.

            "Oh, my gosh!  It's Wish Bear!  And, she's still doesn't have her caring anymore.  And…neither do I.  I've got to do something; I've to save her.  But, I feel so tired, and I can't move anything."  Defender Bear's eyes were still stuck looking at poor Wish.  "But, I have to do something!  I've got to get up!  Come on, Phoenix!  Get up!"

Meanwhile, No Heart had decided that it was time for him to take what he believed to be his rightful place as ruler of Earth.  He had just turned around when he sensed something happening in the room.  The wizard could see no obvious cause for alarm, but the "feeling" inside of him was becoming.  He quickly looked at Defender Bear's body.  He didn't notice anything significant about the spread-out gray figure on the floor, but upon further scrutiny, it seemed to No Heart that the bear's body was trembling slightly.  Suddenly, a white spark appeared at the top of the bear's head, and began to spread across his body like fire smoldering across paper.  As the sparkling line passed, the drab gray of his skin and fur returned to the alabaster white it had been.  Once his color had been completely restored, the bear closed his eyes and mouth, and slowly lifted himself to bended knee.  With one arm resting on his thigh and his other hand pressed against the cold brick floor, a small streak of fire appeared and formed a circle around him.  The flames immediately intensified and rose all around the bear, hiding him from view for a moment.  Just as quickly as they appeared, the fire dissipated, revealing Phoenix Audubon, who was now wearing his vest, shorts, cloak, gloves, and a look of heated determination on his face, staring right at No Heart, who could not believe what he had just watched.

"This is impossible!!!" He bellowed furiously.  "You should not be able to anything right now!  How were you able to free yourself?  I demand you to tell me!"

Phoenix, in full regalia, remained quiet as he stared down his adversary.

"Use the silent technique again, will you?  Foolish imbecile!  I'll make you pay dearly for defying the all-powerful No Heart!"  With a heated wave of his arm, his Cloud of Uncaring barreled into the room, filling the entire ceiling.  "Go, my cloud!  Eradicate that bear's feelings!"

With a mighty clap of thunder, the cloud released a torrent of rain inside the grand room.  But, just before the hazardous precipitation touched Phoenix, flames ignite all over his body.  However, neither his body nor his clothes caught fire.  Instead, the flames evaporated the rain before it could touch him.  During the corporeal conflagration, he clenched his fists, and the fires surrounding them intensified.  Phoenix looked up, and then threw his arms above him and opened his hands, releasing two fiery streaks that ran straight into the cloud, where it set the entire storm cloud ablaze.  Not only did it stop the rainstorm, but it also destroyed the cloud, dispersing it into harmless steam.  With that done, he put his arms back at side, and turned his back down to face the now-shocked wizard once again.

No Heart was both furious and frustrated.  "No!  My…my cloud!  What have you done!?!"

This time, instead of not saying anything and just standing there, Phoenix did not say anything and slowly starting walking towards No Heart.  For the first time, the wizard began to retreat.  "No, stay away from me!  You can't stop me!"  He shot a purple bolt of lightning at the advancing bear, but Phoenix slapped it away from him with the back of his hand and continued his steady pace.  No Heart tried twice more, but Phoenix knocked those away as well.  No Heart summoned the purple fire from his hands, but Phoenix held out his hand and parted the flames as he continued to step closer.

Finding himself backed up against a wall in his own castle, No Heart felt he had no choice but to resort to drastic measures.

"That's far enough, you meddling half-pint," warned the wizard.  "I've gone too far to lose it all, and I'm not about to let one solitary bear foil my plans.  If you come any closer, I'll bring this entire castle down.  You don't believe me?  You don't think I'm willing to get rid of you Care Bears any way I can?  I know you won't allow yourself to take that risk."

The threat was sufficient enough to stop Phoenix mid-stride, and the annoyed frown on his face prominently revealed his disappointment.  As determined as the bear seemed to be to stop this menace, he wasn't confident enough to gamble his family's lives in case the sorcerer wasn't bluffing.  At this moment, it appeared that both Phoenix Audubon and No Heart did nothing but lock eyes, waiting for the other to make his move.

However, something inside of the bear was compelling him to take action.  Not a voice, not any outward form of interference, just some kind of intuition revealed a new ability to him, and he was compelled to use it now.  Phoenix closed his eyes for a moment, and his fists became enveloped by spheres of bluish-white light, that grew larger with each passing second.  When No Heart saw, he immediately exclaimed, "I'm warning you!  Stop now or you and your friends perish!"  By this time, the spheres around the bear's hands were about one-half of a meter wide each.  Phoenix opened his eyes and then narrowed them before screaming out,

"LEAVE THEM ALONE!!!!!!"

With that, Phoenix threw his arms out in front of him and joined the two spheres of light together.  The fusion caused a massive beam of light to burst out away from the bear and straight towards the bewildered wizard.  No Heart quickly held his arms to stop the blast, but the tremendous amount of energy was far too much for him to hold off for very long.  The sorcerer's last words to the bear were, "This isn't the end, Care Bear.  I will be back, and I will have revenge on the entire Care Bear Family, but especially you!!!"  As soon as he finished, the beam forced its way past No Heart's barrier, and the light surrounded him.  His silhouette remained for less than a minute before the offensive reduced him to a black, floating amorphous shape.  Its blackness was so absolute, even amidst all the white light.  The shape darted out of the beam's path, and collided into Phoenix Audubon, and wrapped itself around the bear for a few seconds before escaping through the window outside.  All the while, Phoenix continued to expend his energy into the magical ray.  For all the power he seemed to possess, it appeared that he couldn't stop the spell, even though No Heart had been defeated.  The beam eventually broke through the castle wall and streaked through the sky.
            About twelve feet in diameter, the beam of light traveled at a very fast pace through the air.  Too small to be seen from Earth, passengers in flying airplanes were in awe over this impressive shaft of light.  Some thought it was a shooting star; some believed it was debris from outer space.  A few feared it was a meteorite or a falling satellite, but the light didn't strike anything.  After about five minutes, though, the beam began to shrink and fade from the sky, leaving many people with questions.

One good question at this moment could be, "How did Phoenix Audubon manage to stop his magic?"  The answer:  he didn't.  The beam had consumed all of his energy and stamina that when he ran out, so did the beam.  When it finally ended, Phoenix remained in the same stance for a few seconds before collapsing to his knees, and he fell prostate to the floor, unconscious.

Seconds passed.

Then, minutes.

Finally, hours later, the bear's body began to stir.  Phoenix groaned slightly as he slowly began to pick himself up from the floor.  His head throbbed, his knees were unsteady, and his vision was blurry, but he managed to stand on his feet.  "Ohhhhh…where am I?" he asked aloud as he shook his head.  When he was see and think straight again, he realized where he (still) was.  "Oh, right…I remember now," he commented dejectedly.  He looked around the room, at his still-imprisoned family and at the extensively damaged wall, and all he saw was evidence of his own failure.  "Hmmph…some 'Defender' I turned out to be," he muttered.  He was staring at the ground as he walked around the room, until his eyes came upon a pair of gray feet.  Looking up, Phoenix discovered he had nearly walked into Wish Bear.  When he looked at her sullen face, his heart sank.  The image that had first horrified him and then inspired him now only disheartened him, so much so that he fell to his knees right in front of her motionless figure.  Phoenix put his hands together in front of his muzzle as if in some sort of prayer to Wish, and he said softly, "Wish Bear, I'm so sorry.  I couldn't save you.  Please forgive me."  The white bear looked up at the evil wizard's victim, and, not seeing any sign of acknowledgement, grabbed her shoulders and shook her.  "Please, Wish Bear!  Please, wake up!"  There was still no response.  The distraught Phoenix Audubon could not hold back any longer as he abruptly put his hands around Wish and cried on her shoulder.  "I'm…so sorry," he sobbed as his tears rolled down Wish's fur.

When Phoenix wiped the tears off his face and looked up at Wish's face again a few moments later, it was as sad as he last saw it.  He began to panic.  "I've still got to help everyone get their caring back," he thought out loud, "but I don't know how to do that.  I wish I had my book with me, but I left it back in Care-a-Lot, and I don't want to leave everybody alone.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this.  I just wanted to have a family, I just wanted to help."  He clutched his head with his hands, and yelled straight up at the ceiling,

"What am I supposed to do now!?!"

As soon as Phoenix brought his head back down, he suddenly froze in place, and a faraway look came over his eyes.  It seemed that the same "intuition" from before had struck him again, and it seemed to reveal more of the bear's talents to himself.  He closed his eyes for a moment, as if to soak up and fully comprehend what he had just learned.

Opening his eyes again, he asked himself, "What…is this?  I don't know where this…idea…came from, but…it's a way to help my family.

"But, I get this feeling that there is a high cost on my part for attempting this." He took a moment to think about this decision.  "You know what?  I think they've suffered long enough, and I don't think I should waste any more time think on this."  He walked slowly in the middle of the motionless congregation.  "I just hope they can forgive me for what I'm about to do," Phoenix added anxiously.  He stood there for a minute, and then closed his eyes, and bowed his head.  A glowing circle was traced onto the floor around him by an unseen hand.  Then, glimmers of lights appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, and gathered around each of the bear's hands.  The inside began to glow with an intense white light, casting shadows on some of the white bear's features, and it was accompanied by an intense that whipped his cloak's cape around.  Phoenix then crossed his arms over his chest.

He opened his eyes just a bit amidst the blinding light.  "Everyone, please forgive me," he spoke softly.  With a small smile, he added, "Wish Bear, please forgive me."  Just then, the white light erupted from the floor and flooded the entire room with the strong light. It spilled outside the door and windows.  Everything—and everyone—disappeared within the white.  Had any outsiders witnessed this, it would have looked like something had exploded, yet it all occurred in silence.

For all its impressiveness, the luminescent bath lasted less than ten minutes, before the light began to slowly fade.  When it had finally disappeared, all the Care Bears were their original colors once again.  When they had finally become aware again, they began to stretch and move around.

"Wh…where are we?" asked Good Luck Bear.

"We're back to normal!" Harmony Bear shouted.

Noble Heart Horse looked around the floor.  "Is everybody alright?" he asked.

"It likes everyone has recovered," Tenderheart answered, "but aren't we missing somebody?"

"Hey, where's Defender Bear?" Loyal Heart questioned.

Secret Bear began to whisper in Friend Bear's ear.  "Hey, guys!  Look up there!" she said, as they both pointed above the room.  Floating above all of them was Phoenix Audubon, but as soon as they looked up, they watched him fall to the floor with a sickening thud.  Some gasped and some turned away from the ghastly scene in the center of the hall.  His cloak was slashed and tattered.  He had lacerations all over his body, and the blood slowly wept from the cuts. They began to crowd around for a closer look, but Take Care Bear maneuvered his way through to the front.  "Everyone please!  Give us some room!" he ordered as he kneeled down next to Phoenix and began to check for signs of life.  The doctor put his fingers on the white bear's neck, and put his ear next to his muzzle, but a minute later, he stood back up, and slowly shook his head.

True Heart Bear ran to Take Care's side.  "It's not true, is it?" she pleaded.

"I'm afraid it is."

This time, it was Wish Bear who came and kneeled at Phoenix Audubon's resting place.  "Did you really sacrifice yourself to save all of us?" she softly asked the lifeless bear.  "We barely knew you, and yet you did so much for us." She lamented, sniffling a few times.

"I wish that you could hear how much we…I…appreciate what you've done."  A tear fell from her face and landed on Phoenix' hand.  As soon as it touched, his body began to rise from the floor, and hovered a foot in the air.  Wish Bear watched in awe as Phoenix began to glow with an orange light that danced and flickered around him.  Once it stopped, his body floated back down to the floor.  This time, however, Take Care noticed that phoenix' chest was moving.  He knelt down to check, and he shouted, "He's breathing!  Quick!  We've got to get him back to Care-a-Lot immediately!"

Every bear and cousin hopped into cloud cars and rainbow rollers and left No Heart's castle.  The entire group stayed close as they flew back home.  But, after some time, Noble Heart contacted Bright Heart Raccoon over the radio.  "Noble Heart to Bright Heart; where is Care-a-Lot's location?"

"According to my calculations, we should be coming up on it right now.  We should be able to see it," he replied.

"I don't see it anywhere," someone remarked over the radio.

"Does anyone see it?"

"Not me."

True Heart's came over the speaker.  "Everyone, stop your vehicles," she directed.  They all gathered around each other.  "Bright Heart, where exactly should Care-a-Lot be?" The raccoon checked his computer.  "We should actually be right over it," he said.  "I don't understand.  My calculations look right.  Even if I was off, we should be able to see it somewhere."

"True Heart, does this mean what I think it does?" Noble Heart asked.

"I'm afraid so, Noble Heart," the elder bear responded.  She picked up the radio microphone to address the rest of the family.  "Everyone, I'm afraid that because we were all captured, the Caring Meter must have fallen to zero.  And, as you all have know, when that happens, Care-a-Lot.  And, I know it looks bad, but Noble Heart and I know how to bring it back.

"We need every Care Bear and Care Bear Cousin to join us and put Care-a-Lot and the Forest of Feelings in your hearts.  Think about everything that makes it special to you, and let our homes know how much you care."  They all bowed their heads and reflected on the good times they had in their homeland.  True Heart created a duplicate of her tummy symbol, and it flew above the group and floated in the air.  Noble Heart did the same, and soon, everyone's symbol began to line up one behind the other.  As the line continued to float, True Heart asked over the radio, "We're almost done, everybody.  Is anyone missing?"

Take Care Bear and Wish Bear were riding in a cloud car together, with Phoenix lying in the back seat.  "This is Wish Bear.  Defender Bear is still unconscious.  I don't…" Her sentence was cut short when she noticed a hand on the top corner of her seat.  The seriously injured Phoenix Audubon strained to sit himself up, wincing from the pain of his wounds.  "Defender Bear!  What are you doing?"  Take Care asked in shock.  "You shouldn't be moving around."

"Sorry, Doc," he managed to speak through his clenched teeth, "but I'm a part of this family, too, and I want to help bring the Kingdom of Caring back."  He groaned as he struggled to find the energy, but he managed to summon his own symbol to add to the others.  However, that simply task was too much for the bear, hurt as he was, and passed out and fell back into the seat.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Beep…..Beep…..Beep….Beep…

The noise awoke Phoenix Audubon, and when he opened his eyes, he found himself lying in a white room.  To his side was an EKG machine that was beeping.  He went to touch his head, and found tubes attached to his arm and several bandages attached as well.

"Hey, don't move."

Phoenix turned to his left side to find Wish Bear sitting next to the bed he was in, and she was changing some of the dressings on his other arm.

"Where am I?" he asked weakly.

"Take Care's clinic.  You've been out for a week, and some of us were starting to get worried that you wouldn't wake up."

"What?  A week…ow!"  He tried to sit up, but his body was still very sore.  "I said don't move," Wish softly scolded him. "Just wait until I finish changing these bandages."

"Okay," he responded.  "Say, is everybody okay?"

Wish nodded.  "Everyone's just fine, and so is Care-a-Lot, thanks to you."

"You're welcome," said the white bear with a smile.  "Looks like…your wish came true."

"What do you mean?"

"At the castle.  I did hear what you said."

"Oh…you did?  Well, I, I was just…you see…" She was a little lost for words at this news.

"Wish Bear, if you don't mind my asking, how come you're changing my bandages right now?"

"Well," she began, "I was just concerned, that's all.  And, I wanted to help Take Care so he could attend to others, and, um, stuff."

Phoenix put his hand on hers, and gingerly sat himself up to speak.  "Wish Bear, there's something I need to tell you now.  Ever since I came here, you've been nothing but a good friend to me.  And, every time I see you, I get this feeling inside of me.  Something special, something I hadn't fully understood until now.  Wish Bear, I..."  He moved a bit closer to her face.

"I think…I love you."

At these words, Wish Bear turned her head away.  "Oh my gosh, I'm sorry," Phoenix began to apologize.  "I hope I didn't offend you.  I just wanted to tell you.  I just felt…"

"No, it's okay," Wish interrupted.  "You don't have to apologize, because I understand how you feel."

"Y-you do?"

"Uh-huh.  You see, Defender Bear, I understand how you feel because I feel the same way.  Phoenix Audubon…I love you, too."

The two bears looked into each other's eyes for a moment, and moved closer to each other, and softly kissed.

Unbeknownst to the two lovebirds, they were being watched from the window outside.  True Heart bear sighed contentedly at the happy event inside.  "I think they'll make a wonderful couple, don't you agree, Noble Heart?"

The horse nodded.  "I agree.  It's nice that they have each other."

Hugs and Tugs were also peeking inside.  "Wow, isn't love wonderful, Tugs?" Hugs asked her twin brother.

"You know what I think?  He's just going to be a big softie now," the teenage bear fussed.

"All right, you two," said Noble Heart, "I think we'd all better leave them alone. Come along now."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few days later, Take Care Bear released Defender Bear from his care, and Wish Bear escorted him back to his house.  True Heart and Noble Heart wanted Defender to get ready as soon as possible, because they were waiting for him to get better so they could throw a celebration in Paradise Valley with Perfect and Polite Panda (whom, Defender later learned, also recovered and returned home just in time to save their valley and the villagers) over their latest victory.  Defender opened the door to his house, and it was just like he left it.

"Um, Phoenix," Wish asked, "how come this mirror is broken?"

The white bear laughed nervously.  "Um, it's a long story, and everyone's waiting on us, so I'll explain it later.  Besides, I only came in here to get ready for the party."  He walked into the closet and closed the door behind him.  It opened a second later, and he walked out with a brand new set of clothes on.  He walked up to the broken mirror.

"Well, I guess I should fix this, huh?" Defender asked rhetorically to Wish, who was standing at the door.  He touched the remaining glass on the wall with his finger, and it seemed to liquefy into something like mercury.  The fragments on the floor also turned into shiny droplets, and Phoenix waved his hands around to move the droplets back onto the wall.  When it had all collected, he touched the liquid glass, which created a ripple and then solidified into one solid piece of glass.

Phoenix Audubon stared at the reflection in the repaired mirror, and questions began to fill his mind.  Everything that happened in that castle, he thought to himself, how did I know what to do?  Where did those ideas come from?  And, what else am I capable of?  I don't want to hurt anybody, especially not the ones I love and care about.

"Phoenix, are you all right?"  Wish Bear asked when she saw him just standing there.

"Huh?  Oh, yeah, I'm fine.  In fact, I like what I see.  Well, I'd think we'd better get going.  We've got a party to attend."

He would leave all his questions and worries at home, for now was not a time for fear.  It was a time to celebrate new friendships and new successes.  He knew he'd have to face all his concerns sooner or later, but right now, Phoenix Audubon, Defender Bear, would only let himself think about the good times of today.

THE END

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Author's Notes

Project Date:  January 13, 2003--March 10, 2003

(Original Project Started:  July 13, 2002)

The Care Bears and Care Bears Cousins are the property of American Greetings Corp, Nelvana Ltd, and Those Characters From Cleveland, Inc.  No relationship with any of the aforementioned companies is implied by this work.

The story is the original idea of the author and is not intended to represent any real event.  Furthermore, the uses of the characters are not meant to represent any real person, explicitly or implied.  Any use of the story, in whole or in part, must not be completed without the prior consent of the author.