Legal notes : I do not own the Care Bears or any associated characters.

A few of these characters are by me, such as Checkmate Warren – although the inspiration for him came from Warren Wright of "Absurd Notions" (www.absurdnotions.org /).

This story is a sequel to my previous fanfictions: "Return of the Care Bears", "New Allies", and "Control's Prank", in that order.

OF ORIGINS AND INVASIONS

Part one: Old Wounds

In his special cell, Clifford Quentin, aka Control, aka Quenos, was having a discussion through telepathy with his brother, Nollius, aka No Heart.

"Let's get to business. You wouldn't contact me just to stay in touch with family – you want something.

-It is you who need something, Control…Without my help, you're finished.

-So are you, from what I've heard. As long as it was just the Care Bears family, you could go on,

with one flawed plan after another – no matter how many of them they failed, you could always try another one next time. But Checkmate Warren is a bit more proactive than they are, isn't he? I've heard that he's trying to get the authorities to finally get involved with you – and if he succeeds, YOU are finished. And that's probably the only reason you're calling – you don't know how to get out of this mess.

-On the contrary, I have a plan – a plan to save us both, and crush caring in the world once and for all!

-You always have a plan. It's just never a clever one.

-This time, it will work! Together, we can do it –

-Okay, you've got my attention. What's this uncharacteristically brilliant plan of yours?

-It's simple: We will…Free THEM.

-'Them'? You mean…The Guardians?

-Themselves."

For a while, Control didn't answer. Finally, he thought:

"Wow. You must be really desperate – calling them is like admitting that you cannot do it yourself. You're aware, of course, that there's much danger involved for us…Last time we saw them, we double-crossed them. They'd have done the same to us, but still, I doubt they'll hesitate to eliminate us when we're not useful anymore…Of course, this goes both ways.

-I'm aware of that. But we'll manage.

-And then, there's the difficulty of actually freeing them. The spell is extremely complex, and will require immense powers. You're a better magician than me…But I guess you will need my help for that one.

-Do you agree then?

-Of course. We'll have to prepare everything in advance before springing me out of here…And when everything is ready, you'll get me out, and I'll assist you with the spell…"

The blood-chilling roar burst through the Caretakers HQ:

"Cherrywooood!!! Bring your worthless hide to my lair and face my WRATH!!!"

Nicholas looked at David, then said gloomily: "I'm dead meat.

-Jeez, what did you do to upset Warren that much?"

With apprehension rising, Nicholas walked toward the office of the mastermind. Everyone here considered Warren a friend, but when he got angry, nobody wanted to be too close. Especially if they had somehow caused that anger. But if Warren wanted to see you, there was no running away – he'd always catch you, eventually.

Nicholas entered the office. Warren was inside, playing chess – in a rather peculiar way: He would move a piece, rotate the chessboard by 180 degrees, think for about one second, move a piece of the other colour, and rotate it again, thus playing a fast-paced game against himself. Nicholas knew he sometimes did that for the intellectual kick of it, but he suspected that right now, he was doing it either to blow some steam, or to indicate in a subtle way that he really was as angry as his less subtle ways of expression had indicated. Without looking away from the chessboard, Warren spoke up:

"Tell me, Nicholas – do you remember those CD-ROMs I asked you to bring to me around noon? Those that you eventually found, and gave to me after lunch?

-Y-yeah…

-Tell me, in all necessary detail, what you did with them.

-Well, I found them in Dawn's office…I asked Dawn about them…I picked them up…Then I noticed that it was lunchtime already, and Dawn suggested that we go eat together…I accepted, and said that I'll be back in a second. I wanted to put the CDs somewhere I wouldn't forget them, so I went to my office and…Hold it. To put them in plain sight for later, I put them on the whiteboard…With magnets. You know, I just realized that it wasn't a very good idea…

I'm dead, right?"

Warren kept playing, and didn't even look up at Nicholas. Eventually, he spoke up again:

"On one hand, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to throw you into the shark pool…"

"Does he really have a shark pool? I can never tell" thought Nicholas.

"…But tell me…What do you intend to do?

-Well…Ask you what was on the CDs, to see if I can somehow repair the damage.

-And that's why I won't obliterate you. You may be a klutz, but you keep trying until you succeed.

-So…You won't frag me, right?

-"Frag"? You spend entirely too much time around Paul.

 As for the CDs…They were files concerning the various villains we have encountered or might one day encounter. Everything around here has backups, so I'll be able to get the data back in half-an-hour at most.

-Then…Why were you so upset?

-I'm allergic to idiocy, Cherrywood. You're no idiot in general, but sometimes I wonder…

Aside from that, there are a few more things I need to discuss. I've heard about your work at the Carenet orphanage…

-Warren, are you spying on me or something?

-I've asked a few questions. And some parts caught my attention…About how you and your girlfriend run the orphanage.

-Uh…Is it about the bedtime prayers?

-No. Tempting, but no. I won't force the staff to run the orphanage differently now that we're in charge of it. Nor will I censor your beliefs. I expect the favour to be returned, of course. No, the part I noticed was the bedtime story you often tell the children.

-Oh, that. Well, I think it's a great story, although I may be biased…

-But, you're not telling it exactly the way it happened, are you? You're making it sound like the Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins didn't know each other at its beginning. They were raised together as cubs by Noble Heart and True Heart, remember?

-Okay, I'll admit I took a creative licence…

-That's okay. But there's another point that bothers me…The boy who was manipulated by the Spirit Book. You said his name was James Smith.

-Uh…Creative Licence?

-More like an attempt to deny your past. For crying out loud, Nicholas – I'm a former criminal mastermind. You were the Spirit Book's lackey. David was a demon devoted to the destruction of kindness. Christy helped him capture the Care Bears family. Paul helped Professor Cold Heart freeze the children of his town. Arnold was a double-agent for Control. Even Lumpy was a bully as a kid! If people around here didn't deal with their dark past, if we all let guilt paralyse us, the Caretakers would get nowhere, because only Isaac, Alice and the twins would be able to get any work done – maybe.

-That's what you wanted to tell me?

-Pretty much. You have a dark past – deal with it. Don't pretend it never happened, and don't beat yourself with it either.

While you're at it…Do you intend to go into their origins story? I always thought it would make great material…

-No doubt.

-Their arrival in Care-a-Lot, how they grew up there, how they accidentally came upon Wonderland, how Swift Heart got an adoptive family there – although, come to think of it, the Care Bear family is also adoptive. Well, I guess you won't be running out of material anytime soon.

There's one more thing I need to tell you – well, actually, I need to tell everybody: I'm going away for a day or two, and Arnold's coming with me. In the meanwhile, I want Isaac, Alice, and David to run this operation.

-Okay. But why…

-Isaac's the second-smartest person around here, Alice has some leadership skills, and David has a lot of experience. That's why.

-And…

-Me, because I need to examine something…Personal. Arnold, because I'll need someone to keep me in check in the likely case I get angry.

-Could you…

-…let you finish your sentences by yourself, even though I know very well what you're going to say? Not likely. I need to have my fun, after all."

The Rainbow Rescue Beam had just brought Warren and Arnold to Care-a-Lot, and would soon send them to their destination. Bright Heart was working on the controls, redirecting the beam.

"I'll send you there in a few minutes. But, out of curiosity, why are you going there? I always calculated it was the last place you'd want to go.

-And you were right" replied Warren. "It is the last place I want to go. Wonderland comes a close second.

-Hue? What's wrong with Wonderland?

-The chaos would drive me insane. I'm a complete and utter control freak, as you may recall.

-Oh. But why are you…

-Because I need to examine it, if only for my own mental stability. In this job, one can't afford to be too much of a mess. Speaking of which, how are you people holding after the nightmare we recently went through?

-Well, many people twitched doing the clown show, but you were right – it helped. Most of us have had nightmares about the Prank, but it's nothing too bad. I think we're holding up fine. And Grumpy's not depressive anymore – just grouchy as usual. But still, I'm worried…

-About what?

-Well, please consider: We've been frozen in time for several years. As soon as we're awakened, we have to face you – and you were the greatest enemy we've ever had. I mean, you actually beat us at a point! And on your first try! No Heart, Cold Heart and Dark Heart had always failed, no matter how many times they tried. But to you, it was easy! As a matter of fact, I don't think you even considered us worthy enemies!

-I didn't consider you as enemies at all. At the time, you, No Heart, and Cold Heart were, in my worldview, little more than pawns I could manipulate into doing my work.

-See what I mean? And then there was the C-bomb, and how the entire world went grey. And after that crisis was solved, we had to go against Control, then his nanomorph. He's much more dangerous than his brother.

-No argument from me there.

-And then, the Prank. Ever since we've woken up, it's like the scale of the dangers we encounter has gone up drastically! Sometimes, I get the feeling that we're just not in our league anymore…

-I understand. I'll get back to you on this – after we come back from Salvation Town…"

Warren and Arnold were teleported to the outskirts of the town.

"Say, boss – why didn't we just use the flying cars?

-Because we'd have to park it in town, because I'm not very popular with the population, and because I don't want to find a not-so-flying wreck when we get back.

-You think they dislike you enough to wreck your car when you're in town?

-Why not? There's a certain precedent. See this street corner?"

As Warren explained to Arnold, some of the people in the streets began whispering among themselves. Warren hadn't set a foot the town since he was 18, but he had become famous with the C-bomb and all the events that followed – and many people recognized him. Most of them preferred to quickly get away – which suited Warren just fine.

"You see, that was at the time when everybody wanted to rearrange my face. I was thirteen at the time, as you may recall. Well, I was sneaking through the town, going from home (if you can call 'home' the place where you sleep and eat with 11 people who despise you, and vice-versa) to the library. Well, when I came here, I saw one of the meanest bullies of the town: Ed, aka Muscle-Mountain. He was a bully even before the entire town began to hate me, but I had until then managed to avoid our ways crossing. As soon as I saw him, I hid behind the car that was parked here – his father's car, incidentally. I was crouching there, hoping that he wouldn't notice me, and that no passer-by would point me out to him – and then, I just got sick and tired of hiding. Instead of crouching, I stood up to my full height, and leaned back against the car's door. He saw me, approached with a typical bully grin. After a quick verbal exchange, during which he said nothing of intelligence, and I warned him that he'd get in trouble if he attacked me, he proceeded to do exactly what I advised him against, and sent his fist toward my face. Of course, I was expecting it, and just let myself go down with gravity – his fist went through the car's window.

-Ow!

-It was easy to dispatch him after that. A few days later, I was pulling my infamous "Squirrel Cage" strategy. I've heard that it's called "monkey bars" in some places?

-Sounds to me like you could have used the Care Bears' help as a kid.

-They can't help everyone, Arnold. And I survived – that's not bad, in my opinion.

-And after the monkey bars, they never bothered you again?

-Almost…There was another incident, two years later. Look, here's my house!"

Arnold looked. The house didn't look peculiar in any way. As a matter of fact, the whole town almost looked normal. Could these people really be the fanatics Warren had described?

As he pondered that, a man about Warren's age approached them. "Why, if it isn't the prodigal warlord. Back in town, Warren?

-Thomas. I intended to come and see you sooner later. Allow me to do the introductions – Thomas, this is Arnold, from the Caretakers. Arnold, this is Thomas, the only person in this town I respect.

-Uh, hi" waved Arnold. Thomas looked like a nice guy, even if he gave Warren a weird look.

"Now, you're going to ask me what brought me back to Salvation Town.

-There you…

-…go again, finishing your sentences in your stead just to show that I can predict what'll go through your head, with my typical arrogance. Now that that's out of the way, how have things been going in this place since my departure?

-Same ol', same ol'. Nothing changed much. People felt a relief when you left – and I can understand them. Warren, everybody was scared stiff of you! Some of them still are! Do you have any idea how many people felt vindicated when you embraced a career in crime?

-I believe I actually do.

-Of course. For your family, it was like things were okay again – no offence intended, but they did consider you the black sheep.

-You know I don't hold them in very high esteem either.

-Yeah, guess so. I think there was one attempt to contact you, then nothing. They said they couldn't find you.

-Hardly surprising. I was studying in New Jersey.

-New- but you said you were going to California! Oh. Proud of yourself, I suppose. Outsmarted everyone again, hue?

-Is it just me, Thomas, or are you resenting my conduct?

-Well, I know you had reasons, but still! Warren, you treated everybody like dirt!

-I was merely returning the favour.

-You traumatized everybody with fear of you, just so that they'd leave you alone! I know, I know – they'd have beaten you up otherwise. But I still don't condone what you did. Not that you care, of course.

-You know me so well. Say, I think we'll be staying here for a night. Is the old hotel still in business after all those years, and the complete lack of tourists?

-Yes, it is. But I recommend sleeping at my place. You're welcome there."

"We are?" wondered Arnold. He had thought Thomas disliked Warren.

"Why, thank you. Come, Arnold."

Thomas was married with five children, but they had gone with their mother to visit some family for the week-end. On the way to his home, he kept talking with Warren about what had gone on in Salvation Town during all those years. Apparently, of Warren's nine siblings, five were spending most of their waking time attempting to decode the Perfect Book. Thomas had himself tried, but had quickly concluded that he didn't have the brains for that. Warren then pointed out that Thomas had more brains than any of the white sheeps of the Wilson family – so they were obviously wasting their time.

"Of course, you know very well what I think about the Perfect Book.

-Yes, Warren, I know. I just don't agree.

-And why is that? Have you found any logical flaw in my reasoning?

-No, Warren, I haven't. We both know very well that you're better at logic than I am. But I know the book is genuine. I know it in my heart.

-Translation: You want so hard to believe it, that you won't consider any evidence that goes against it."

When they reached Thomas's home, they were greeted by a lovely young woman who presented herself as Jessy, who was staying there for a while.

"You see, I was on the road, on my way to visit my folks in the next state. On my way, I picked this hitchhiker guy. Then he tells me he thinks he heard the car engine making a weird sound. I got worried, got out of the car, went behind to check the engine – and as I did, the car suddenly sped up. In less than a second, it was gone. And since I left my wallet in the car, I was basically stuck. I was lucky Thomas here went by, and gave me a lift. After I explained my problem to them, he and his wife agreed to let me stay in their home until the police caught the thief.

-Touching" said Warren. "Incidentally, what type of car was it?

-Oh, one of those old Mustangs. Been in the family for years. My parents let me have it when I left to study out-of-state.

-Well, good luck. Excuse me, but I have a few things to take care of."

With that, Warren left the rest of the group, and went to another room to do some work on his PDA (which was connected by satellite to the Caretakers' computer system). After a while, Arnold joined him:

"Whatcha' doing?

-Some detective work. I wonder…

-Say…Who exactly is this Thomas guy?

-Ah, well, it's another element of the story…As I told you, the monkey bars incident was the culmination of my plan, at age thirteen, of making everybody so scared of me that they'd leave me alone. It worked just fine for two years. But then, at age fifteen, I went to High School – and there was the new student, Thomas. Now, Thomas's family had left Salvation Town when he was much younger, and had come back just a couple of weeks before school started. Thomas was near-perfect – a heart of gold, a mostly-functional mind, a winning personality, and the courage of his convictions. In no time, he became extremely popular, and made many friends. Then he saw me.

I was the cold, sinister guy that everybody was afraid of. Thomas didn't know about the events of two years earlier – all he could see was that I was always being nasty to everyone else, and that, for some strange reason, they were all afraid of me. Well, he certainly wasn't afraid. He told the others to stop letting the fear I had instilled rule them. And when that didn't suffice, he confronted me publicly, telling me that he didn't know why I inspired such terror in the others, but that he wasn't afraid, and that I should be nicer to them all, or else!

-Wow. So what happened?

-Well, keep in mind that the only reason I didn't have half the school gang up on me was the aura of fear I had established. I couldn't afford to let him inspire them into not being afraid anymore.

-Okay, but what did you do?

-I poked him in the eyes, slapped him on his ears, and then proceeded to break all the fingers of his left hand. Then I laughed loudly, like a maniac, to make the effect stronger.

-…

-It was the only time throughout my stay here when I actually felt bad about hurting someone. When I fought against the others, I sometimes even enjoyed it – I despised them, and besides, I was acting in self-defence. But Thomas didn't deserve it. He was just trying to do what's right. So I visited him in the hospital. His parents were there at the time. It wasn't very pleasant – but I managed to say what I had to say: That I wasn't sorry for what I did, but I was sorry that it had to be him, the only person in town who didn't deserve it. I also explained the whole situation to him. Afterwards, he still didn't like me much, but he let me be. No-one dared to confront me, and aside from Thomas, no student had the guts to even talk to me.

-I see. That explains a lot.

-By the way, Arnold…I'd like to ask your opinion concerning Jessy. Things don't add up…

After a while, Jessy went to sleep. Warren and Arnold went to speak with Thomas, who had a few things to say himself:

"By the way, Warren, you still haven't told me what brought you to the one place you hate the most.

-A trip down memory lane, mostly. This town contributed a lot to making me what I am, and I want to make sure I understand it all. I also notice that I had less effect on it that it had on me…

-Sure, unless you count the time the whole town went grey and unfeeling for hours.

-Sorry about that. My biggest mistake.

-And you actually admit it? Maybe there's hope for you. Although I have some trouble picturing you doing caring missions…

-And with good reason. I'm no people person. I stay out of most caring missions – I'm much more useful as the brain that remains behind.

-Figures, but I'm still upset about your good-bye speech.

-Good-bye speech? Do tell" said Arnold.

"Well," explained Warren, "it wasn't officially a good-bye speech, but that's how I thought of it. It was graduation from High School, and I got the Excellence Award, predictably. Heck, I could have graduated years sooner if I wanted too – but there'd have been no point, as I'd still have been stuck in Salvation Town until I was 18.

Now, the school headmaster was twitching furiously when he said I got the award – but with my grades, he just didn't have much of a choice. So I went on the podium, and did my acceptance speech:

"It is a great pleasure for me to accept this award for excellence, even if it is only relative to the rest of you. I would like to take this occasion to thank all of those who allowed me to win. I would like to thank Ed, who punched through a car window in an attempt to hit me, thus making him unable to write for weeks. I would like to thank all those who tried to rearrange my face, thus forcing me to break their bones, taking their minds of studying. I would like to thank Jonathan, who predictably enough tried to switch my answer sheet for a blank page, and was thus electrocuted by my booby-trap, and missed the test the next period. I would like to thank Bethany and Peter, who spent much of their time in futile attempts to outsmart me with their pathetic pranks, when they should have been preparing for the exams. I would like to thank Jonas, Edmund, Jebedia and Arthur, who spent entirely too much time trying to decipher the Perfect Book – a hopeless initiative – and thus didn't have the time to study their calculus. But the reason I'll always treasure this award is because you all had to be complete and utter morons for me to get it!"

The next day, I left town.

-Years later, I saw something similar in a Dilbert cartoon" said Thomas. "I wondered briefly if you knew Scott Adams…

-I still think it was a great speech. But forget that – we have a more pressing concern. Jessy.

-Poor girl, hue? If I ever catch the hitchhiker jerk…

-Thomas, she is the hitchhiker jerk. You really fell for her story hook, line, and sinkers, haven't you?

-What are you insinuating?

-Thomas, that story was obviously a tale designed to make you feel pity for her and offer your support. Trust me, I can tell.

-Well, so can I! I don't care about your paranoia, Warren – I know she can be trusted!

-And I suppose you know it in your heart?

-Well, yes! She's a poor sweet girl down on her luck. You're just seeing evil everywhere!

-She's a con woman, Thomas. She knows how to be convincing. She said she got behind the car to examine the engine, and the car then went forward in a flash. In the likely case this didn't occur to you, those Mustangs have their engines at the front, not the rear. And she said the car was in her family for years – another detail of a story designed to obtain your sympathy. Arnold here agrees with me – and he should know, as he used to be a con man himself.

-Why am I not surprised? Warren, I just know she's telling the truth. Don't you understand?

-On the contrary. I understand that you're attached to the way you see things, so when logic says your view is mistaken, you tune it out.

-There you go again with your logic! Warren, logic isn't everything – you're good at thinking with your head, but I know how to think with my heart!

-Fitting metaphor, as the heart has no brain cells, and cannot think. Thomas, reality is cold, hard logic. If it isn't logical, it isn't true. To say that you "think with your heart" is just a pretty way of saying you believe something that doesn't make sense. And I ran a search on Jessy on the computers – they support my claims.

-Warren, I could see it in her eyes: She's telling the truth.

-And we all know what a good judge of character you are.

-Warren, stay out of it."

The next day, Warren and Arnold went by Salvation Town Junior High. Warren contemplate the squirrel's cage – repainted since then, but still the same.

Flashback:

Warren was on top of the squirrel's cage, fending off his eight pursuers with the broom he had grabbed from the janitor in mid-run.

"Hah! Try to get me, idiots! You can't all climb from the same side, and as long as you're all coming from different directions, I can easily fend you off!"

Of course, that wasn't true. He couldn't fend them all off until recess was over, it would actually be easier to fight them with the broom if they all came from the same direction, and they could all climb on the same side. And he knew they would fall for it.

"Think you're smart, brainiac? Watch this!"

All eight of them began to climb on the same side of the monkey bars. They had been pursuing him for half the recess, without any grown-up interfering. Warren had so far escaped only through the use of numerous clever tricks (or dirty tricks, as they called them). But this time, he intended to finish this once and for all. With impeccable timing, Warren jumped backward, coming down from the squirrel's cage on the side opposing theirs. Without leaving them the time to understand what was going on, he caught the monkey bars, and lifted with all his strength (he wasn't very muscular, but his sheer determination helped a lot). Between him and the weight of the bullies, the squirrel's cage tipped over. The bullies screamed in terror as they fell backwards, and as the metallic construct landed on top of them, in front of the horrified eyes of the entire school.

Warren looked down at them. His plan was working – now he needed the final touch, to cement everybody's fear of him for years to come:

"Nobody lifts a finger on me and gets away with it! Never before, and never after! Mwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!"

/End of flashback.

"All the memories…The first time I used my sinister laughter…I made them quake in fear before me, Arnold. I still do it nowadays…Even with people I like.

-We don't hold it against you. We know you mean well.

-Perhaps…But at the time, I did it at first for practical reasons. For my personal safety. With time, I came to do it even when there was no need – I do it out of anger. The same anger I felt against these people. I have felt it all the time ever since – it was my drive, as I raced to learn and understand everything in school and college. As I began my career. As I masterminded daring crimes. As I tried to take over the world. As I invented amazing devices. As I fought against all the villains we've encountered.

-Uh-hue. When do you intend to go see your family?

-I don't. They don't really mean that much to me after all what's happened. But there's something that must be taken care of before we leave…"

Thomas and Jessy were outside, chatting. Thomas was explaining the story of the Perfect Book, while Jessy was listening with polite interest. About then Warren and Arnold came about.

"Excuse me, Jessy, but I was curious…That car of yours that was stolen: Was it the new wagon model, or the old-fashioned sedan model?

-What? Uh, the old sedan model" replied Jessy, sipping her lemonade.

"There never was a sedan model. I only phrased it that way to make you slip.

-Warren…" began Thomas in a reproachful tone.

"The jig is up, Elizabeth J. Twain.

-What do you mean?" asked 'Jessy' nervously. "I don't understand.

-Yes you do.

-Warren…

-You're on the list of the police of Salt Lake City. Low-level crook and car thief. Did some prison time. And recently, you got identified in one of your thefts.

-Warren, stop it!" Thomas got angry. In reply, Warren handed him some files.

"So you fled with the stolen car. You knew you'd have to ditch it in order to avoid getting caught, so you took advantage of an infrequently-used road that went near a river. You pushed the car into the river, hitched a hike – maybe several, until you got a lift from a nice guy you could fool with a story that presented you as the victim of human wickedness. You were hoping to abuse of Thomas's hospitality to lay low in Salvation Town – there would be no trail to lead the police here. Good plan, but your luck ran out.

-You can't prove any of this" replied 'Jessy'.

"You might want to rethink that, considering those police files. And those boys in blue."

She turned, and saw the four policeman as the one closest to her cuffed her hands and read her her rights. Two of them were from Salt Lake City, two from Salvation Town. Those from Salt Lake confirmed her identity. Warren had insisted on calling them because of his bad reputation with the Salvation Town police.

As Elizabeth was taken away by the police, yelling obscene insults at Warren, Thomas, still processing the information, turned to face the mastermind:

"I suppose you're proud of yourself.

-Yes. And you're saying it like I shouldn't be.

-…

-I'm not going to gloat, Thomas. Not this time. But I think I got what I wanted from Salvation Town. Good bye, Thomas. Good luck with all your future endeavours."

Back on Care-a-Lot, Warren and Arnold were waiting for Bright Heart to calibrate the Rainbow Rescue Beam and send them to Rainbow City.

"So, how did it go?

-Pretty well, I guess. Got some insight, stopped a criminal. Did anything happen here?

-Not to my knowledge.

-Speaking of insight" said Arnold, "Warren, you said it yourself: You're still angry at the people of the town. You've been angry at them, and probably at the world in general, for most of your life. Don't you think you should just forgive them and move on?

-Move on? I don't spend my waking time thinking about them.

-No, but you're still angry.

-Arnold, I don't think they deserve my forgiveness. They tried to hurt me for believing they were wrong. They had no excuse.

-That's not what I meant! Warren, I've learned a thing or two since I joined the Caretakers. For example, I learned that you should forgive – not for their sake, but for yours. Just so that you can have some peace of mind.

-I know what you mean, Arnold. But I have my reasons. Now, Bright Heart, no need to hurry – I think I could use some minutes in Care-a-Lot."

With that said, Warren took a walk through the cloudy, cozy land. Eventually, he found Friend Bear and Secret Bear.

"Hi Warren!" said Friend, and Secret waved. "What are you doing here?

-Well, as a matter of fact, I was hoping to have a little talk with Secret.

-Oh. Okay, I'll leave you two alone for a while."

After Friend left, Warren spoke to Secret:

"You know, for most of my life, I've been a walking ball of focused anger. Not just explosive anger – sure, I could explode, but mostly I channelled it into determination. All that anger that I felt toward the world as a whole and my hometown in general – it's always here. Sometimes it's beneath the surface, but it never fades away.

I never claimed to be happy – I'm content, and that's a lot more than many people can claim. I'm certainly better off now than I was before. But I still have that anger.

You know why I don't just forgive them? Why I don't let go of it? You're the first person I ever tell. You see…I'm afraid that I'd lose my drive if I did. That anger may make me a bit unstable, but it keeps me energized. During all those years, I've been hyperactive, always doing something, always thinking and acting faster than anyone else. But I'm not sure whether I'd keep that fire without the anger. And then, I'd be, well…I'd be like Isaac. And Isaac is great, but…I think I need to be Checkmate, more than I need to be Warren. Thanks for listening."

Secret Bear smiled apologetically, and hugged Warren. After a moment, Warren reciprocated.

Soon enough, Warren and Arnold were back in the Caretakers' HQ. They quickly met with the rest of the team.

"So, how did it go?

-I got what I needed.

-And he caught a crook" added Arnold.

"I was around. Did anything happen?

-Well," said Isaac hesitatingly, "something did a few minutes ago: A flying city just appeared above the Atlantic."

There was a moment of silence. Isaac followed: "In addition, there's just been a call to inform us that Control has escaped."

Part two: Villains of the World Unite

In the Headquarters of Care-A-Lot, the family was assessing the situation:

"The flying city appeared right here" said Noble Heart, gesturing to a point on the map in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, "and it's pretty big – it seems to be floating on clouds. But those clouds are dark, a lot like those that surround No Heart's castle. Speaking of which, his castle is moving fast in the city's direction.

-That can't be a coincidence" said Tender Heart. "And that Control just escaped.

-According to Warren, he obviously had outside help" noted Bright Heart. "He says the only way Control could have gotten out was with the support of an incredibly powerful magician who would communicate with him and coordinate an escape plan, which indicates that Control somehow communicated with No Heart.

-So they're working together" concluded Tender Heart, "and they have something to do with the city that just appeared.

-This can't be good" noted Grumpy. "They were dangerous enough alone, but together? Whenever our enemies work together, it means trouble. When No Heart worked with Dr Fright, we almost fell into the bottomless pit. When he worked with Cold Heart, they first froze us in time for many years, and then they made the Earth go grey. When he worked with Checkmate Warren, we got captured. When Cold Heart worked with Control, he created the Prank.

-Yeah, but we always won in the end" replied Brave Heart.

"What do we really know about the city that just appeared, anyway?" enquired True Heart. "For all we know, maybe it isn't that bad – and maybe whoever lives there is going to need our help to protect them from No Heart and Control.

-Actually," said Wish, "I know what that city is.

-You do?!

-Yes, the Great Wishing Star contacted me and told me about it.

-So, what is it?

-It's Avalon."

Avalon was quite a sight – just not a pleasant one (unless you liked gloom and spookiness): Imagine No Heart's castle. Now imagine an entire city in the same style. That was Avalon.

Of all the buildings, there was one that towered above all others – although at times, it seemed like it was actually three buildings: It was a huge castle, constituted of two oversized dark keeps, with a smaller section joining them. In front of one keep, there was an oversized signpost declaring: "This is the domain of Lord Uncaring. Obey as you enter, or you shall never come out". For the other keep, it was "Ye are entering the domain of Lady Uncaring, land of hatred and agony". Right now, the owners of the castle were reunited in the middle section, and discussing the latest developments.

"Well, unless I'm gravely mistaken, we have returned to Earth" said Lord Uncaring. He was clothed in a dark and yet regal attire, wore a crown of gold and ebony on his head, had a green skin, and his expression lacked any feeling whatsoever – that was a person who cared about nothing save his own interest. Not about other people, and not about morals.

"I won't be sure until we've checked!" replied Lady Uncaring. Her appearance wasn't too different from that of Lord Uncaring, except for her purple hair (as opposed to his black), and her expression, which conveyed an unquenchable hatred for all of existence. "It could be just any place we've never heard of! We need to find locals, and interrogate them! Here, slave!"

As she spoke, one of her servants rushed forward, with fear almost pouring out of his eyes. All of the slaves had a physical appearance close to that of Beastly. Their attitude was that of someone who obeys out of fear of punishment – and that fear was obviously greater among those who served Lady Uncaring.

The slave carefully laid a metallic plate before Lady Uncaring. She made a quick gesture above it, and an image appeared on the metal – that of a large boat, only a few miles away from Avalon.

"See? A ship, presumably manned by humans. We shall bring them here, and interrogate them until they reveal to us everything we need to know!

-Which will obviously be a lot" noted Lord Uncaring. "We've been away for decades – nearly a century. And I've never seen a ship quite like this one…Even those preposterous "steam" vessels weren't as strange as this.

How many shadows do you suppose we should send for this? 500 each?"

I wasn't a good day for the crew of the boat. Here they were, just carrying merchandise from one side of the ocean to another, when suddenly, this huge wall of flickering light appears in the sky – a portal, as they came to realize when a city – a flying city, floating on clouds for crying out loud! – had appeared through it. In doubt, the captain had decided to just go on like nothing happened – but they hadn't gotten very far when hundreds, maybe thousands of freakin' living shadows had assaulted their ship! The crew had been too scared to do anything as the shadows easily rounded them up and, and they were brought to the menacing city.

Half an hour later, the two rulers of Avalon were discussing again:

"The interrogations have already begun" said Lady Uncaring. "We'll soon know everything they know – and we've already confirmed that this is Earth. Like we thought, their 21st century has recently begun.

-So time does flow at the same speed here and there. Well, while you were having your fun with the humans, I've been observing…And something's coming in our direction:" With that said, Lord Uncaring motioned toward one of the metallic plates – on this one, everybody could see what was progressing in their direction: No Heart's castle.

"The world's military are all nervous" explained Isaac in the Caretakers' HQ. "The shadows that attacked that ship – they were identical to those No Heart uses. According to what the Great Wishing Star told Wish, this city is Avalon – it was around a long time ago, and then disappeared."

David and Nicholas both made weird sounds, obviously surprised at hearing the name of Avalon. Warren looked at them both, then said: "Avalon, you say? Interesting…I've gleaned some data in the past which might tie in with this. Nicholas, David, what do you know on the subject?

-Well," said Nicholas, "the misty island of Avalon was mythical in Britain in the old days…It's related to many of the stories of the Knights of the Round Table. My research on magic over the years often came across it…I'm not sure, but I think Avalon was a city of elves and magic-wielders. But that's all I know – and I'm not even sure of that.

-Avalon…" hesitated David… "…I don't know much, but that's where I came from.

-Uh-hue. Well, David, I'm going to have a lot of questions for you, for some members of the Care Bears family, and for the Great Wishing Star…Not to mention some of my archives. There were some occasional mentions of Avalon in No Heart's library…

-But we don't have access to No Heart's library" objected Christy.

-In case you forgot, I'm a former sysadmin, and I always keep backups of everything. When I was in charge of No Heart's castle, I skimmed through his books and scrolls – and, just in case, I scanned everything. I still have a lot of data on the computers. Between all of these sources, we should be able to figure out what's going on here…"

About then, the Caretakers got a message: No Heart's castle had reached Avalon.

At the border of Avalon, Lord and Lady Uncaring, with their royal escorts, prepared to see who had come in the flying castle. It was obviously a castle built with Avalonian magic…But who could…?

Finally, two men came out of the castle. One was a handsome-looking human, dressed in what they assumed were contemporary human clothes. The other was an elf, dressed in a Wizardry Master's robe, just like in the old days. He also carried an amulet – obviously a powerful magical artefact, although they weren't sure what it's purpose was.

"Who are you, and what are you doing on our land?" enquired Lord Uncaring.

"Don't recognize us?" asked the human mockingly – and without warning, his appearance changed to that of an elf. "Of course, we were just children last time…"

The masters of Avalon looked in astonishment at the two – then came to realization:

"Nollius! Quenos!

-Not anymore. We changed our names, just like you renamed yourselves Lord and Lady Uncaring. Is that still how you call yourselves? Yes? Very well. As it is, I am now Control, while my brother here has become No Heart.

-You have quite the nerve to come here, traitors!" said Lady Uncaring, her voice dripping with poison.

"Aw, you'd have done the same to us. Irrelevant, anyway. We brought you back, and we want to discuss an alliance.

-Of course" said Lord Uncaring, grinning. "You wouldn't bring us here just because we're your parents. You want our help. But I don't see why I or my wife would help you.

-Because you're going to need our help too. The world has changed, father – it isn't as helpless as it was in the old days. If you try to take it over all by yourselves, you'll fail miserably. I know, because we've tried. The world has new protectors, new weapons, new powers, and it will smite Avalon if you attack it – and I can prove it."

With that said, Control threw an orb to the Lord and Lady. They caught it, and watched it with amazement: "A Past-watcher!

-Exactly. You know how hard to make these are, but No Heart and myself are among the world's most powerful mages, after all…It was designed to show you an event that happened more than half a century ago, during a human war."

As his parents watched the unfolding events, Control quietly chuckled. He knew they'd be impressed – the Past-Watcher was designed to replay the events of August the 6th 1945, Hiroshima. And if the same thing could happen to Avalon, surely those two would become less sure of themselves…And admit that they needed him. Control.

"Yes, Bright Heart, you heard me right: The city has disappeared" confirmed Warren on the videoconference. "The portal through which it came swallowed it, together with No Heart's castle. But I suspect the problems just won't end there. Have you guys come up with anything?

-Not really, except for what the Great Wishing Star knows. I suppose you'll want to hear it?

-Yes, I will. But prepare the Rainbow Rescue Beam – I'm going to need to ask a lot of questions in the next 24 hours. Questions for True Heart, Noble Heart, Grams, the Great Wishing Star, David, and documents from No Heart's castle. This is going to be a long day…"

In a peculiar place – nowhere on Earth – the city of Avalon was floating in a huge emptiness. The portal was flickering behind it, but it was now restrained magically so that nothing could come inside. Four great evils were plotting together at that moment:

"So, you see, both No Heart and I came pretty close to attaining our objectives – and each time, we were defeated. No Heart's magic wasn't enough to destroy the Care Bears, and my genius wasn't enough to destroy the Caretakers. And we weren't the only ones who tried – Dark Heart, the Spirit Book, and more all failed.

-Dark Heart? The Spirit Book? I was wondering what happened to them…

-Well, with Avalon gone, their prison weakened to the point where they could free themselves…The book has only been opened once, and was never heard of again after its defeat at the paws of the Care Bears family. And the Book had powers on the same scale as us. As for Dark Heart, he did exactly what the Balance-Keepers intended him to do – he tried to be as evil as the creatures of the Great Wishing Star were good. But things didn't work out like the Balance-Keepers intended (hardly surprising, of course), and Dark Heart turned to kindness and lost his powers.

-Wasn't there another prisoner in the Pit?

-Yes, the vampire. He renamed himself Dr Fright. Minor villain, who tried to defeat the Care Bears to become No Heart's associate. He failed, of course.

-Then…The Great Wishing Star project was a success after all. Who'd have thought?

-Oh, it succeeded all right. And that's why taking over the world will be so tough – our enemies possess powers that can rival ours.

The true threat, however, may not come from them, but from the Caretakers.

-They're just simple human!" protested Lady Uncaring. "How could they possibly oppose us?

-You'd be surprised. These people are the result of the Care Bears' activities – most of them were helped by them as children. In addition, they possess an uncanny intelligence, high-level technology, and they developed a peculiar device which materializes caring.

-You mean…

-Yes! The very power that the Great Wishing Star project was supposed to bestow on a select few. They discovered another way to replicate it – and that makes them all the more dangerous. When they work with the Care Bears, they're borderline invincible. We shall need all the help we can get – which is why I left a couple of portal generators on Earth for a few allies to use. With all of us together, we shall form an unstoppable team! The world will be ours!"

Warren was in the middle of a discussion with the three elders of the Kingdom of Caring when Bright Heart came in.

"What is it, Bright Heart?" asked Warren, obviously annoyed at the interruption.

"Something just happened on Earth. Two portals, similar to the one Avalon came through appeared – but much, much smaller. One opened in Canada, the other one near Los Angeles. Both closed after a few minutes, but not before someone went through – and according to the glimpses we got on the star-o-scopes, we think we know whom: The Canada portal was used by Professor Cold Heart and his assistants, while the one in California was used by Dr Fright. The small portals disappeared afterwards.

-Great. I see we're dealing with a full-fledged Injustice Gang."

"So, your name is Dr Fright now, hum?" said Lord Uncaring. "I vaguely remember you. You were one of those insane elves who called themselves vampires.

-Insane? We fed of people's fear! We were powerful at a time!

-A rather short one. The question is, how exactly can you be of any use to us?

-Control knows that my skills with traps can be useful. If you're going to fight the champions of caring, you'll need every possible advantage, and my traps may tip the balance in your favour.

-That's the short of it" said Control. "However, Dr Fright…

-Yes?

-Let one thing be clear for you: You're here to kill them, nothing more, nothing less. If I discover that you're toying with them, playing your stupid games instead of finishing them as soon as you get the chance, I'll make sure my brother and mother get to toy with you."

Dr Fight gulped.

Lord Uncaring turned to Professor Cold Heart. "And how on Earth can you be of any use? You're just a human.

-I am Professor Cold Heart! I am more useful to this operation than you are!

-The professor is here to offer technical expertise" explained Control. "In this modern world, technology has become even more potent than magic, and if we try to rely on wizardry alone, we are doomed to failure. The professor is one of Earth's greatest inventors, and will provide us with all the machines and advice we'll need. Won't you, professor?

-Of course. But I'll need the machinery and blueprints from my labs.

-Which labs?

-I have a few here and there, all well-hidden. The one in Cold Heart castle has probably been found by now, since Warren got the FBI to search it…But there are many others! You can get my equipment from there, can't you?

-We can. It'll take some work and preparations, but we'll manage."

"So, you are Shrieky…Daughter of Control and a human female.

-And you're my father's mother, Lady Uncaring.

-Well, we'll see if you're deserving of your Avalonian heritage. I suppose you already know a bit of magic?

-Of course I do! I learned with uncle No Heart!

-Then let's see what you are capable of."

After a short demonstration, Lady Uncaring concluded: "Not bad…For a normal Avalonian. But pathetic compared to the rest of the family. Which should be expected, as you haven't gone through the ritual of the sacrifice of the heart…Well, maybe we'll give you lavatory duties."

Shrieky replied with one of her high-pitched screams. After it was over, and after Lady Uncaring had gotten up from the floor, she looked at her grand-daughter, and said: "Maybe there's something about you after all."

Control was on his way to his personal quarters when No Heart confronted him:

"Listen, Control – what by all the forces of darkness is going through your head?!

-Much more than ever went through yours.

-Don't play your foolish mind games! I'm talking about those associates! What were you thinking?! Dr Fright failed miserably last time I made an alliance with him!

-As opposed to whom? You have failed dozens of times. Because you never came up with a good plan. But this time, I'm the one doing all the planning. Dr Fright will have his uses.

-And what of Cold Heart?! Why did you have to bring that clown here?!

-Never underestimate a clown, brother. The Prank did more damage to our enemies in one day than you did in several years. As for the dear professor, need I point out that he managed to become as big a threat to the Care Bears as you – with much fewer resources? He's smarter than everyone around here except me. His skills will be useful to our invasion of Earth.

You and our parents – you provide the magical firepower. I do the thinking. Cold Heart defeats mankind's technology. Dr Fright…Will handle a certain detail. Too bad I never could find the Spirit Book…And that Dark Heart was lost to the enemy. But we can win without them."

Lord and Lady Uncaring were discussing away from everyone else:

"This is all rather unexpected, my lady.

-Quenos is hoping that we'll just play the minor role! Perhaps we should just get rid of him and the rest, and conquer the Earth by ourselves.

-Unadvisable. I'm afraid Quenos wasn't bluffing about mankind's firepower – they were already developing some amazing machines when we left, and you know how quick they can be at times. I'm afraid he's right – we'll need the help of the others for this.

-And we'll kill them later.

-Of course.

-But they probably intend to do the same thing to us.

-Yes, but we'll manage. It's our city, after all.

-I'm not as confident as you are, husband. Quenos always was a clever one – I suspect he was already smarter than many adults at a young age. How can we be sure that he won't have the upper hand?

-Good question. I guess we'll just have to make it clear from the beginning that we're in charge – so that, when it's all over, we'll have all the advantages.

By the way, what is your opinion of the rest?

-Nollius is obviously the same as I am – a master of magic, hate, and evil. And he's still as predictable as when he was a child. Quenos's daughter, Shrieky, is half-human, but there's some potential in her…She might be useful.

The slave under their control is worthless, but they insist on keeping him and no-one else. I'm not sure why…

-Presumably because they don't want us introducing any of our spies among them.

-Oh, right.

Dr Fright doesn't impress me in any way. I fail to see his usefulness. As for Professor Cold Heart – I think introducing a foolish human here is an insult to us.

-I partially agree…But Quenos is confident that the professor will be useful. And I guess Quenos's judgement can be trusted, even if his intentions cannot.

-And as for Cold Heart's assistants…The woman is despicable, and the midget is idiotic. They're not worth our attention.

-My opinion exactly."

The seven villains – without Frostbite, Auntie Freeze, and Beastly – were now seated around a conference table (a round one, incidentally) and discussing strategy.

"Before we decide on a course of actions" started Lady Uncaring, "we would like to make something clear: This war of worlds we're planning will rely on Avalon. It will use Avalon's resources, power, and magic. And Avalon is ours. We are in charge. Everything goes through us. Is that clear?

-No." came Control's answer.

"What?!

-You heard me: No. You're not in charge of this operation. I am. You may have Avalon, but I have spent decades on Earth, learning how it works, and how to use it to my advantage. Without me, you don't stand a chance. None of you. And that means I'm in charge here.

-I'm with the playboy" said Cold Heart (which was ironic, because Control wasn't using his handsome human form at the time). "Not out of loyalty, but for survival. I've seen how things work around here, and it's obvious that he's the only person in this family with a working brain.

-What makes you think your opinion matters?" rebuked Lord Uncaring. "We could kill you all where you stand!

-Wrong" replied Control, without losing his cool. "When it comes to magical powers, No Heart and I can hold our own against you – and although he won't come out and say it, No Heart is on my side. He has lost enough times to know that we won't stand a chance unless my genius is coordinating everything.

As the professor just pointed out, I'm the only truly intelligent person in this family. And know this: There have been many attempts in the past to take over the world – and they all failed. Alexander the Great, Hitler, the Spirit Book, and more. But our alliance has many advantages. Our biggest advantage" he paused dramatically, "is me. Control. Everyone here has some skills and powers – but my strategy coordinating them all multiplies their effect. With my genius, we can win.

Moving on: If we are to be up-to-date in terms of technology, we're going to need to bring equipment from Cold Heart's various stashes. This will require using the dimensional portal. Of course, we will need to make sure no-one else can get through the portal.

Predictably, our precautions won't prevent some of the enemies from getting inside – they'll find a way. With Checkmate Warren, they're bound to. Which is where Dr Fright plays in. Your mission, Doctor, is to prepare traps for them – make sure that they don't survive. I'll give you the guidelines.

Afterwards, we'll need a way to render the Earth helpless and vulnerable to our invasion. Then, and not a moment sooner, we invade. Suggestions, anyone?"

"Coordinating moves with the military just isn't for me" admitted Dr Isaac. "I hope Warren will be done soon with his research marathon. According to all observations, something's blocking the portal in one direction – things could get through before, but now they suddenly can't get in, only come out.

-Hold it" interrupted Christy. "How can we know they could get through before? I mean, sure, Avalon did, but what if it's something about Avalon, and not the portal? I mean, really, what do we know about this thing?

-Good question" replied Dawn. "But you'd be surprised. You see, the meteorological satellites up there have infra-red cameras. They can detect heat. And while Avalon was around, they detected a flow of warm air coming through the portal. So we know air can go through. And we know the air is warmer there – which isn't saying much, as this is the middle of the Atlantic in the second half of the winter.

-Of course, we still don't know where the portal leads" noted Isaac. As a matter of fact, we didn't even know portals such as this one were possible. Things are moving so fast lately…"

That's when a call came from Warren, urging the Caretakers to come to Care-A-Lot, where the whole situation would be explained to them.

Part three: A Lesson in History

The Care Bears family and the Caretakers were reunited in Care-A-Lot. The Great Wishing Star was far away in the sky, but nevertheless participated. Videoconference tools enabled several political and military leaders to listen and watch.

Warren began: "I have now completed my research. Between what some individuals here knew, and the information gleaned from No Heart's library, I think I've found the explanation for everything that's been going on. It ties in with our History…

It all begins with the city of Avalon. Avalon was the city-state of the elves.

-Elves?" interrupted Dawn. "Please explain.

-Gladly. They're humanoids – very close to us, but green-skinned. You've met a few – No Heart is one. Control is one. Dr Fright is one.

-Dr Fright? From the descriptions I've heard, I assumed he was some kind of vampire" admitted Paul.

"One doesn't exclude the other. But I'll get to it later.

Elves are not so different from humans – aside from skin colour, one might note that some elves have purple hair, and some, like Dr Fright, have pointy ears. Also notable is the lifespan, several times longer than ours. But most important is – elves have a greater natural affinity for magic than us.

And that's what characterized Avalon: With its elven population, it was the world-centre of magic. Not every inhabitant was a wizard, mind you – it was a lot like knowing how to drive is in our society: It's not vital, but most people learn how to do it because it's so practical.

For various reasons, the Avalonians preferred to avoid extensive contact with human society. Using their magic, they had built their city in a magical mist, which allowed it to float on water, not far from the shores of Britain. This helped isolate them – but despite it, they still had some interactions with humans. Hence their role in Arthurian mythology.

Eventually, as human society expanded, the Avalonians decided to move their city to a less crowded place. Using their magic, they upgraded the mists of Avalon, creating semi-solid clouds that could lift heavy objects. This isn't as impossible as it sounds, when one considers some of the modern endeavours of chemistry…Ever heard of aerogel?

Regardless, Avalon became a flying city, and was moved to a position above the Atlantic. It remained there for many, many centuries, without mankind having a clue.

Of course, some elves would sometimes leave Avalon and go on Earth. Some of them had peculiar interactions with mankind, although the humans often had no clue what was going on. Take the vampires, for instance: My research indicates that they were a society of elven wizards who had developed a technique for obtaining magical energies from people's fear. That's why they tried to be as mysterious as possible, surrounding themselves with various legends – like the ones claiming that they were undead, or that they fed on blood. Most effective.

The rest of Avalon didn't see the vampires in a very positive light, to say the least. They were eventually outlawed, and soon became a true criminal organization. They were hunted down, and over the centuries their ranks dwindled, until there were less than my fingers.

Another important element of this society was the Guardians. It was a family of wizards that was expected to protect the city and the world from great dangers, no matter the cost. The position always went to the eldest son of the current Guardians. It was a position of both prestige and responsibility.

At the times which interest us, the Guardians were a family of four: The parents, Merlin and Alia. The children, Nollius and Quenos.

-Hold it. Did you say "Merlin"?

-Yes, but it wasn't the Merlin. Elves may live much longer than us, but even with their lifespan, the Merlin who according to the legends helped king Arthur must have lived several generations ago, if at all. Maybe the Merlin of our story was a descendant of his. Or maybe not, and Merlin was just a common name in Avalon. I don't have the data on that.

Anyway, Merlin and Alia were probably the most respected and loved citizens of Avalon, and truly devoted to its protection and their duty. Nollius, being the eldest son, was expected to remain a Guardian for the rest of his life, with the family he would have. Quenos, the younger son, was supposed to remain a member of the Guardians until he got married.

There were still more elements to the puzzle of Avalon: The nobility which ruled the city, the official rank of Wizardry Master, the Balance-Keepers, the original founders of Wonderland, and more. I'll explain the important parts (those that I know of, at least) when we get to them.

Anyway, about a century ago – maybe a bit more – some of the wizards of Avalon, to their surprise, came upon a mysterious communication. It could only be detected with complex magic, and they had no idea where it came from. Many of the Wizardry Masters set to work on it, and after some time, discovered how to participate in the communication. What they then learned astonished them.

The communication came from a place whose very existence they had never suspected before. It wasn't on Earth – it was far, far away, in a different area of the cosmos.

-You mean," interrupted Bright Heart, "outer space?

-Exactly. Decades before SETI, Avalon came into contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The communication was telepathic, to circumvent the language barrier – a good thing, since the aliens apparently didn't even communicate through sounds. From the description they gave of their homeworld, the Avalonians decided to call it Heavyland.

The Heavylanders explained that using some form of magic and technology, they had designed a manner of communication which proceeded faster than light. In other words, tachyons.

-Tachyons?" interrupted Isaac. "Tachyons are purely theoretical in our physics.

-I guess the Heavylanders were more advanced than us in this particular subject.

Anyway, the Heavylanders explained that they were attempting communication with every civilization they could contact in a desperate attempt at saving their kind. Some form of disaster was threatening to destroy their homeworld, so they were attempting to exchange knowledge of science, technology and magic with all the other civilizations, in the hope of finding a solution. Apparently, the gravity of their world was so strong that even with their technology, they couldn't leave it.

Heavyland had so much to teach Avalon. Somehow, they had managed an incredible feat – they had found the scientific explanation for magic. Something I have myself been working on for quite a while.

-Hold it." It was now Nicholas's turn to interrupt. "Are you saying that magic has a scientific explanation?

-You're saying that as if there was an alternative.

-Don't you think that's a bit of an arrogant thing for you to say?" half-joked Nicholas.

"Arrogant is my middle name. Nicholas, science is the logical set of rules according to which our universe works. There's a scientific explanation for everything, pretty much by definition. You said it yourself – magic follows its rules. Just because the physics behind these rules isn't obvious, it doesn't mean it isn't there. I mean, how long do you think it took until people figured out that fire was a chemical reaction with oxygen? Everything seems magical until you discover the explanation.

-Ah, the good old "logic and science" speech" reflected Isaac. "I hadn't heard you do any of those for quite a while.

-I was reminded of its importance by Salvation Town" grinned Warren, who then went on: "The Heavylanders were way ahead of the Avalonians – as a matter of fact, not only was there very little Avalon could offer that Heavyland didn't already have, but most of what Heavyland had to offer was completely beyond the understanding of Avalon's scholars, since their understanding of science was generally lacking. But among the few things that they did manage to understand, two in particular caught their attention: The sentient world and the materialization of caring.

The former was a technique the heavylanders had applied to their own world, essentially turning it into a sentient, thinking computer that could interact with their society. Avalonian scholars understood that they could apply the technique to any heavenly object, creating an entity with sizeable magical powers. The latter revolved around an important element of Heavyland's society: The Feeling Force.

The Feeling Force was a society of Heavylanders who, through a complex process, had been bestowed upon the ability to materialize their caring, affecting reality itself. In a sense, they were a bit like the Care Bears family – the same power, and pretty much the same objective: They protected Heavyland, and helped its inhabitants share their feelings.

The very scholars who had been interested in the sentient world were also interested by the Feeling Force. They thought that it should be possible to apply it on Earth, creating their very own equivalent to the Feeling Force, and thus make the world a better, safer place over time. But since they didn't really understand the math and physics involved, they needed to create a magic-wielding entity that would be capable of manipulating the necessary powers and creating the new champions of caring. And thus, the Great Wishing Star project was born.

-Are you saying that the wizards of Avalon created the Great Wishing Star?" enquired Wish.

"Yes, and that actually explains a lot, in the light of Avalon's legendary involvement with the Knights of the Round Table.

-What do you mean?" asked Noble Heart.

"Come on. The name Care-A-Lot is obviously based on Camelot, the legendary castle of king Arthur. Love-A-Lot would be a play on Lancelot, greatest of the Knights of the Round Table. Speaking of which, did I mention that you people discuss around a heart-shaped table? I think the Great Wishing Star here was affected by Avalon's culture before it disappeared.

Regardless, the project excited many in Avalon. They believed it would help spread goodness immensely. Soon, many wizards – including several Wizardry Masters – set to work on the creation of the Great Wishing Star.

But not everybody liked the idea. One group in particular disliked the project: Those who called themselves the Balance-Keepers.

The Balance-Keepers were a semi-secret society who believed in the vital importance of balance between everything in the world. Between Chaos and order. Between Light and Darkness. And, here's the interesting part – between Good and Evil.

If a great evil had threatened the world, the Balance-Keepers would have fought against it. But in their opinion, the Great Wishing Star, and the champions of caring that it would create, would be problematic, as they would tip the balance in favour of good. And that, according to their ideology, was a bad thing.

They didn't manage to cancel the project – so instead, they decided to create something that would restore the balance. Something that would bring enough evil in the world to compensate for the new flow of goodness. Hence, they started their own project: Dark Heart!

The Balance-Keepers intended Dark Heart to be the sworn enemy of the champions of caring. They intended to give him powers great enough to match the care Stare, and infuse him with a personality of pure evil. Because the Great Wishing Star project was so long and complex, they even finished their work before the opposing project was completed. It isn't clear whether Dark Heart was created by them, or just summoned from somewhere, but in either case, they had him there. Now, they didn't want to tip the balance in the favour of evil, either, so they imprisoned Dark Heart, intending to release him as soon as the Great Wishing Star project was complete. In the meanwhile, they instructed Dark Heart about the Great Wishing Star and the champions of caring, and taught him that his purpose was to destroy them and spread evil throughout the world.

-I vaguely remember it all" said David. "I don't have any earlier memories…The first thing I recall is being in that containment cell, where they explained all those things to me. It's a bit blurry after all the years, but I remember that.

-The Balance-Keepers were patiently waiting for the right time to unleash Dark Heart. But there was one major flaw in their plan: Simply put, the Balance-Keepers were idiots. I won't comment on their peculiar ideology right now…But their very concept of morality was flawed. They thought of good and evil as two opposing forces – one of their many mistakes.

-You mean they're not?" asked Noble Heart, quizzical.

"No. You see, there is no such thing as "evil" – what we call evil is merely the absence of good. When they tried to create a being of pure evil, they were doomed to fail – all they managed to do was create a being that was convinced it was pure evil. And we know how that ended.

-Hold it" Brave Heart interrupted. "What do you mean by "no such thing as evil"? We've met plenty of evil people! No Heart! Cold Heart! The Spirit Book! Are you saying they weren't evil?

-Depends on your definition. What I mean is that, despite what some people imagine, villains don't think of evil as an end in itself, usually. Dark Heart acted like a villain because he was convinced that this was his purpose. The wizard of Wonderland wanted to be king. Control wanted power and wealth. I was thinking that what I was doing was right. No Heart is motivated by hatred. Sour Sam was jealous of happy people. Dr Fright fed of people's fears. The Spirit Book and Cold Heart were jealous of people who still had their feelings, although I'll get to it later. As for the Prank, well…The Prank was insane, which was much more efficient than the motivation the Balance-Keepers gave Dark Heart. But I digress.

As I have pointed out, the Balance-Keepers weren't the sharpest crayons in the bunch. And while they were waiting for the Great Wishing Star to be completed, they managed to screw up – their plans were discovered, they were all arrested, and Dark Heart, still a prisoner of the containment cell, was sent to the Pit.

Before you ask what the Pit is, here's the run-down: The Pit was a special prison designed to hold some of the more dangerous criminals of Avalon. And I'm not talking about normal murderers and the such…I'm talking about the "weird" criminals. Weird even by Avalon's standards. It was built separately from the rest of Avalon, as a precautionary measure.

When Dark Heart was sent to the Pit, that made three inmates. The two others were Dr Fright – one of the last remaining vampires – and the Spirit Book. One might think that the Pit was overkill for the Spirit Book, as it was helpless unless someone opened it, but the Avalonians still had bad memories from the short time the Book had been open. You see, the Book was a former Avalonian sorceress who had realized a special ritual to transfer her mind into the book – minus her feelings, which were converted into magical energies. This made her an incredibly powerful magic-wielder, but also utterly devoid of feelings. This eventually drove her to the heights of villainy some of you have witnessed, as she tried to make everyone as uncaring as her. Tragic case of jealousy, really.

With a disaster apparently averted, the Great Wishing Star project progressed. Now, the Avalonians in charge of the project were lucky that a celestial object matching their requirements happened to exist in close enough vicinity: What astronomers call a "brown dwarf". It's a special type of star – almost a planet – that isn't massive enough for thermonuclear reactions to occur. There is still enough heat for a faint red light to be emitted, but that's it.

A fact unknown to most astronomers at the time is that there was a brown dwarf less than a tenth of a light-year away from here. That was close enough for the Avalonians to cast certain spells on it, which, after enough years, turned it into the sentient, magic-wielding Great Wishing Star that we know."

Warren looked up in the direction of the Great Wishing Star, and went on: "The process heated up our friend, causing its light to change from red to yellow. Of course, sentient or not, brown dwarves are spherical, and not shaped with five branches. But considering that he must remain at a certain distance from here, lest his gravity wreaks havoc on our tides, the Great Wishing Star uses his magic to project an image much closer than he really is. And said image is given a somewhat friendlier face than you would normally get with overheated gases. No offence.

-None taken" replied the Star.

"Anyway, the Star was given the task of bestowing some interesting powers on individuals who cared enough to use them right. The process involved serious changes in the biology of the individuals – so the Avalonians had decided against giving the powers to elves or humans. They had moral qualms about changing those. So instead, the Star was to give the powers to animals – the process would, among other things, give them sentience and intelligence. As a matter of fact, it would seriously rework their DNA – something that the Avalonians wouldn't have been able to pull off without the expertise of the Heavylanders, as they were completely ignorant of the very existence of DNA. Heck, humans only discovered it decades later!

The Great Wishing Star was to find animals whose behaviour indicated that they would do – not an easy task. So to make its job easier, he created tiny magical constructs – the star and heart buddies.

-You mean they aren't really stars?" said Wish, surprised.

Warren looked at her, taken aback, then clutched his head as if in the pangs of physical pain:

"Bright Heart…Please tell me that at least you know that stars are gigantic balls of hydrogen and helium undergoing nuclear fusion, that they're way too hot to touch, and that a small entity with five branches and a face that you can hold in your hand is not a star!

-Well," said Bright Heart, "I guess so…But truth be told, I never really wondered what they were. That's one thing I took for granted.

-Never mind. Never mind. Moving on:

With the help of the stars and heart buddies, it was hoped that the Great Wishing Star would soon find enough good candidates to create the earthly equivalent of the Feeling Force…But something happened. You see, through their dealings with various civilizations, the Heavylanders had gleaned barely enough technology to escape their homeworld…But shortly after they did, disaster struck. I don't have enough data at my disposal to piece out exactly what happened, but it would seem that something called "The Devourer of Worlds" made short work of the Heavylanders. And afterwards, the tachyon communication indicated that the Devourer, whatever he was, went after each civilization they had been dealing with, one after another. It seemed that its path was leading it to Earth.

Quickly, Avalon's authorities proceeded to find a way to avert a planetary holocaust. Eventually, the Guardians found a desperate solution: The sacrifice of the heart.

As I mentioned earlier, the Spirit Book was a former sorceress who had transferred her mind into a book, and converted her feelings into magical energies. The ritual she used was described by ancient Avalonian mystical texts. They specified some complex rituals involving the conversion of caring into power. One version was the one used by the Spirit Book. Another version – the one that interested the Guardians – was somewhat different. It would cause them to lose all their feelings, and give them immense powers, far above those of normal wizards. And they'd cast a spell while the ritual was going, one being completed at the same instant as another. The spell they'd cast was a very large-scale one – it would create a barrier surrounding the entire Solar System, making it undetectable from the outside (without preventing the starlight from getting inside). Thus, the Devourer of Worlds would be unable to find them.

The ritual had its requirements. Two ingredients were necessary to separate the casters from their feelings: The first was an artificial hate, generated by the ritual itself. The other was a rare crystal, extremely hard to find on Earth, which caused a temporary loss of feelings in the subject: The uncaring crystals. The Avalonians knew how to use them in small samples for some spells, but this particular ritual required immense quantities – they had to work hard at obtaining quickly all the crystals they could find, which was probably at least 99.9% of what there was on Earth.

Since the casters would lose all their feelings, the texts describing the ritual said that their hearts would stop – thus effectively killing them as soon as the ritual was over. It was a true kamikaze spell. But the Guardians didn't hesitate to go through with it.

-Hold it. The children too?" said True Heart, startled.

"Yes. They may have been children, but they were Guardians first and foremost. In Avalonian society, it was considered obvious that they would do it – even they considered it obvious. And so, once all the necessary ingredients had been obtained, and once the four Guardians had said their last goodbyes to everyone, they proceeded, in the view of every person in Avalon, to cast the spell.

I suppose it must have been unpleasant, to put it mildly, with either the magically-created hatred or the loss of feeling induced by the uncaring crystal (all the crystals had been fused into a large one). But as the ritual neared completion, the crystal, charged with the magic of the power-boosted Guardians, ascended at top speed into low Earth orbit, from where it ejected the spell's tremendous energies in all directions, creating a stealth barrier around the Solar System. The crystal would then remain in Earth's orbit for several decades, until it would fall as a meteorite in the area of what would then become Drab City.

But for Avalon, the real trouble was only beginning. That's when those people paid the price for not having taken an interest in biology. You see, as I said before, their old scrolls claimed that once the casters of the spell lost all their feelings, this would lead to their hearts stopping, and to their deaths. But as we know now, the heart isn't the organ of feelings. It's a common misconception, which can be found everywhere – but the heart is nothing more than a pump for our blood. Caring, feelings, and emotions are located in the brain, just like intelligence, memories, personality, and every other aspect of the mind. Although," he looked around, "I guess I can see the incentive for not calling oneself "Tender Brain" or "Gentle Brain". Anyway, the fact is that the loss of their feelings did not cause the Guardians to die – their hearts kept on beating, and while there definitely was a change in their heads, it wasn't lethal. But in a certain sense, they did die that day – their good part did, anyway. Irreparably.

All four of them lost all their caring and morals. Others just stopped mattering to them. Merlin and Quenos became inhumanly selfish, in the worst possible way. As for Nollius and Alia, the ritual's components of hatred had somehow infected them, filling them with an all-consuming hate. And the worst part was – they were now the most powerful wizards in the world.

The parents decided to rename themselves Lord and Lady Uncaring, to reflect their new nature. They quickly declared themselves the new rulers of Avalon – he wanted power, and she wanted victims. Soon, the four of them demonstrated their powers by crushing a few who opposed them. But soon enough, the various factions of Avalon united to oppose them. The Avalonians were horrified at the horror that they had accidentally unleashed on the world, and decided to join together to cast an extremely powerful spell – one that would open a portal to send Avalon to a place from which it couldn't return.

-So they went to another dimension, hue?" said Paul.

"Dimension? Paul, up and down is a dimension. So is left and right or backward and forward. Or, for that matter, before and after. Despite what countless cases of science-fiction say, what we're dealing with here is not a dimension. Maybe a parallel universe. Maybe something else. But it's not a dimension.

-Sure, but it's easier to call it that way, so dimension it is.

-Sighhhh…Moving on. The Guardians were taken by surprise by the revolt of Avalon. While the entire population was trying to cast the portal spell, the four super-charged wizards tried to oppose them. It looked pretty much like a draw for a while, until, unexpectedly, Quenos and Nollius stopped fighting against the spell, and instead cast one of their own, getting themselves out of Avalon in the nick of time as the city was swallowed by the portal. Presumably, the treachery was an idea of Quenos, who was by far the most intelligent of the two.

Avalon disappeared into this, well, dimension. Judging from its looks today, it would seem that Lord and Lady Uncaring took it all under their iron-fisted control. It would also seem that they created an entire army of shadows, and transformed the entire population into weak creatures disconnected from magic that couldn't oppose them. Beastly is one such creature.

-You mean Beastly used to be an elf?

-Yes, and his fate is the one that befell all of Avalon. But that's all I can figure out about them. I can tell you more about the Guardians' children, however: Nollius renamed himself No Heart, and sheltered himself from humans, all the while plotting their destruction. He grew up in our world, learning more and more about magic, eventually building a flying castle on the model of Avalon – but with dark clouds, to symbolize his hate. He also cast a spell to bring, in order to use him as a servant, a person from the dimension where Avalon was locked: That's how Beastly came to work for him. Beastly had been transformed by Lord and Lady Uncaring, and had spent many years under their dictatorial rule – with such a past, it's no wonder that he's so messed up.

At a certain point, No Heart realized that small bits of the power he had acquired were lost over time. It would probably have been centuries before it would all have been lost, but he nevertheless created an amulet which he infused with his powers, so as to not to lose them. It is possible that the amulet even increased his power by a notch or two – but, many years later, when he finally had all the power he needed to wreak havoc on the world, he discovered to his dismay that the Great Wishing Star project had been rather successful…

Quenos, brilliant as he was, decided to mingle with the humans. With his powers, he could make himself look like one of them – and as the years went by, he learned how to manipulate them, be it with or without magic. He decided to call himself Control in private, but for when he was in public, he created himself many aliases, slowly but surely building a power base. In one of his many roles, he met a woman with whom he had a short relationship – of course, he was incapable of love – and without his knowledge, she gave birth to his child. That in itself brings us to an interesting conclusion…

-Hey, yeah!" said Paul. "If he could have a child with a human, that means…

-…That elves and humans are part of the same specie. Well, actually, that's almost correct – biologically, we say that two individuals are of the same specie if they can have children who can have children of their own. A saint-Bernard and a Chihuahua are of the same specie. But a horse and a donkey are not, because their progeny – the mule – is sterile. If the children of humans and elves can have their own descendants, then they're the same specie. And judging from DNA samples I took from Control, I suspect that's the case.

Anyway, the mother of Control's child wasn't exactly a moral person – she tried to use the baby to blackmail Control, who was already a millionaire at the time. She obviously picked the wrong person to play these games with – he had her killed soon enough. But he decided that the child might be useful, and raised her to become his lieutenant, naming her Shrieky. One can see why: It would appear that her physiology – a cross between a human and an elf – gave her some impressive sonic abilities. By coincidence, her scream turned out to have the right frequency to trigger a reaction from No Heart's amulet, which is why he transforms whenever she shrieks. I don't think he ever figured out why that happens.

Quenos and Nollius weren't the only Avalonians who hadn't left this world in a literal sense: The Pit, being separate from the rest of Avalon, had remained in place. Without guards to maintain it, the magical restraints eventually broke down, freeing the prisoners. Dark Heart easily joined the mainland, and set on his quest to hunt down the champions of caring. Dr Fright, I can only speculate how, managed to reach a shore, carrying the Spirit Book. Why he took it with him we can only guess – it is perfectly possible that he didn't know what the book was, and was hoping it was valuable. Anyway, he soon got rid of the Book, and resumed his villainous career as a trap-master. The Spirit Book, as you know, remained closed for several decades until Nicholas opened it.

Meanwhile, the Great Wishing Star, despite the disappearance of its creators, was still looking for candidates. This took a lot of time…Years after years. Until something unusual was found: In a North American forest, a female bear who already had a female cub took under its care a male foal that had lost its herd. The cub and the foal were being raised together, and were obviously friends. This convinced the Great Wishing Star that he had found suitable candidates. He thus used his magic to transform all three of them. Over a few days, the transformation of the cub and foal were complete: They had become beings that, while still closely related to a bear and a horse, were nevertheless different in many aspects. For reasons that eluded the Great Wishing Star at the time, no effect could be seen on the mother bear.

-Just what exactly are the differences?" enquired Bright Heart.

"Well, the morphology is more humanoid, coloration is modified in a rather unpredictable way, the throat allows speech, size changes, lifespan is modified, the brain acquires sentience and intelligence of human level, and the tummy symbol lays dormant until something activates it. None of you can really be said to be the specie you were born as.

-Hold it. Are you saying I'm not an elephant?" asked Lotsa-Heart, startled.

"Lotsa-Heart, your trunk is heart-shaped, you're smaller than a human, and you're pink for crying out loud. I thought it was obvious.

Anyway, there didn't seem to be any effect on the mother bear, and for a simple reason: Her DNA may have been modified, but being an adult, she was already past her growth period…The modified DNA just didn't change much. At least not yet; it would eventually have its intended effect, but so slowly that it would take many years. But she kept taking care of the cub and foal, who would later become True Heart and Noble Heart. And as these two grew up, they were constantly under the watch of stars and hearts buddies. It should be noted that since they were without contacts with human society, the Great Wishing Star magically instilled knowledge of English in their heads over time.

But Dark Heart was still out there. He was searching for the champions of caring, and for the Great Wishing Star. At a point, he eavesdropped on a conversation between the Great Wishing Star and the stars and hearts buddies, and learned that a bear had been transformed. He then set on to hunt down as many bears as he could in the forest.

Without revealing themselves, the star and heart buddies allowed True Heart and Noble Heart to discover what danger was threatening them. They were forced to leave, and couldn't take True Heart's mother with them, as she still hadn't acquired sentience.

They made their way through the forest, always trying to avoid Dark Heart. On their way, they found several cubs that had become orphaned because of Dark Heart's hunt. Unable to leave them alone to die, they adopted them and went on with them. Seeing an occasion to create a true Feeling Force, the Great Wishing Star secretly transformed every cub at night, immediately after it was adopted.

Other animals aside from bears sometimes died in the forest, leaving their progeny behind. Some of those were found and adopted too. That's how True Heart and Noble Heart came to adopt Tender Heart Bear, Wish Bear, Grumpy Bear, Cheer Bear, Love-A-Lot Bear, Champ Bear, Good Luck Bear, Birthday Bear, Friend Bear, Secret Bear, Share Bear, Take Care Bear, Bedtime Bear, Funshine Bear, Harmony Bear, Swift Heart Rabbit, and Bright Heart Racoon.

Not far from the forest was the town of Starnesville: It was a medium-sized city, centred around an engine factory. But at the time, due to catastrophic management, the factory was going bankrupt, and a large percentage of the town's population lost their jobs. The city was going down. And as it did, all the businesses around it did the same. With so many people leaving, even the farmers around the town went bankrupt – several of them just gave up and went away, leaving the farm animals behind them. As True Heart and Noble Heart approached the edge of the forest, they found some more orphaned animals – that's how they ended up adopting Gentle Heart Lamb and Treat Heart Pig.

Eventually, what had to happen happened: The degenerating situation of Starnesville lead to a disaster. Surprisingly, the disaster struck at the Starnesville zoo. Now, personally, I doubt the wisdom of putting such a large zoo in such a small town to begin with, but that was hardly the only case of poor management at Starnesville. Fact is, a fire erupted in the zoo – more than half of it had burned down before the end. True Heart and Noble Heart, drawn by the panic, had come out of the forest to help. Of course, people were surprised to see those magical creatures come out of the forest – but at that point, the inhabitants of Starnesville had become too apathetic to care.

True Heart and Noble Heart helped with what was left of the zoo, and came to adopt some more orphaned animals: Brave Heart Lion, Lotsa-Heart Elephant, Cozy Heart Penguin, Playful Heart Monkey, and Perfect and Polite Panda. Afterwards, they remained some time in Starnesville, trying to help where they could – and adopting Loyal Heart Dog and Proud Heart Cat on the way. But the threat of Dark Heart was still on their minds, especially now that they were responsible for so many cubs.

One of the many people they helped owned a large boat. He told them that he wouldn't need it anymore, and that they could use it to go down the river and to the sea, and reach a safer place. They wholeheartedly agreed, and took the cubs with them.

Around that time, No Heart discovered that the Great Wishing Star had been active for all that time, and decided to match his powers against its protégés. They managed to flee – but not without losing Perfect and Polite Panda in the process. I'm not sure how they ended up in Paradise Valley, but that's irrelevant. As for No Heart, he lost interest in them – for a while. What matters is that the most unusual family in existence left for the sea – but then, Dark Heart finally found them. He attacked, and this wouldn't have ended well if it wasn't for the Great Wishing Star, who brought their ship to the sky, and finally presented himself to them. He gave them their new names, as well as their mission, and activated their dormant tummy symbols. In addition, the Great Wishing Star had, over the years, amassed some of the solid clouds left over from Avalon, and used them to create Care-A-Lot and the Forest of Feelings.

The new Care Bears family established itself in the Kingdom of Caring. Dark Heart renewed his oath to hunt them down. Perfect and Polite wound up in Paradise Valley, and their tummy symbols eventually activated on their own – partially. They were active enough to create the micro-climate of Paradise Valley, but not enough to appear on their tummies – or to do the stare. They were fully activated only later, when they came to Care-A-Lot for a while. Soon enough, the first caring mission came – one that would eventually lead to the confrontation with Dark Heart.

Somewhere on Earth, a scientist renamed himself Professor Cold heart. But that's another story.

The Care Bears family fought against Dark Heart…Until he came realize that he did care, despite the Balance-Keepers best efforts, and abandoned his evil ways.

With the cubs now grown up, Noble Heart and True Heart had more time…And they remembered True Heart's mother, who had remained in the forest. They decided to set to search for her. In the meanwhile, over the years, her transformation had completed, turning her into a true Care Bear – the one we know as Grams. She had, in the meanwhile, adopted two orphan cubs herself. When they found her, the Great Wishing Star gave her her new name, and transformed the two cubs, who became Hugs and Tugs.

Shortly afterwards, Nicholas found the Spirit Book, and opened it, with the consequences that we know. The Book was eventually defeated, but soon afterwards, the Care Bears came upon a new enemy: Professor Cold Heart, whom they confronted in the Land Without Feelings. The mad scientist clashed with them several times afterwards, with the help of Frostbite, and sometimes Auntie Freeze. Some time later, No Heart too decided to wreak havoc on Earth – and he soon realized that if he wanted to do that, the Care Bears family had to go. He was soon joined by Shrieky, whom Control had sent to him to study magic professionally.

At a point, Dr Fright realized that No Heart was the son of the Guardians, and the most powerful wizard on Earth. Attempting to jump on the bandwagon, he offered a partnership, where he would eliminate several members of the Care Bears family, and become an associate of No Heart. As we all know, his traps failed, and No heart punished him. Later on, No Heart and Cold Heart made an alliance to defeat the family – and ended up frozen in time with them for several years.

Control took the name Clifford Quentin, and was already one of the most powerful and influential men in the world when the family came back. After my own unfortunate bout with arch-villainy, the Caretakers were founded – and Control realized that happy people were much harder to manipulate and control than people who were dissatisfied with their lives. He then attempted to destroy us. He also hired Cold Heart, finally completing his nanomorph. And the rest is History.

As you all know, I've been trying lately to get the authorities to finally deal with the unusual villains of this world. No Heart may not be the sharpest crayon in the bunch, but he had enough brains to understand that this would be the end of him. That's why he was desperate enough to work with Control, and together, they reopened the portal of Avalon – something that can only be done from the outside, apparently. They also obtained the cooperation of Cold Heart and Dr Fright – presumably an initiative of Control. In short, we are now dealing with an evil alliance of epic proportions – one that won't be easy to defeat.

-Then how do we defeat it?" asked David.

"I'll get to that soon. But before I do, I think we should review the History of Professor Cold Heart. That's another subject I've done research on over the last few months, and I think I have a pretty clear idea of what happened…"

Part four: A Bad Choice

"Professor Cold Heart was one of the most persistent enemies of the Care Bears family. And also one of the most brilliant. His plans were always flawed, but he came close to victory several times.

But tell me: Does any of you know who the professor truly is?

-Not really" admitted Bright Heart. "I don't suppose Cold Heart is his real name…

-Of course not. That would be Michael Hart.

-Michael Hart?

-Indeed. You know, there's a peculiar multiple-universe theory which implies the existence of an evil Mike in every single universe…But I digress. Fact is, professor Hart wasn't always a mad scientist bent on the destruction of feelings worldwide…He used to be the greatest mind in the field of cryo-technology.

-You mean, cold-related machines" noted Bright Heart.

"Exactly. The professor used to be one of the greatest inventors of the era…A multidisciplinary scientist, who understood several different subjects well enough to combine them, obtaining some rather impressive results. But one bad choice ruined everything. Let me tell you…"

Flashback:

"And so," explained professor Hart, "thermodynamics clearly prevent you from reducing the entropy of a closed system. In layman's language, that means that you can't make something more orderly – unless you're increasing the disorder in something else. For example, this college may increase the order in your heads – but in exchange, there's a massive increase in the disorder in your dorms."

Most of the class chuckled at the joke. The professor went on:

"If you want to cool something down, you can't just make the heat disappear – the energy has to go somewhere. Thermodynamics just won't let go. When your fridge removes the heat from your food, it vents the heat outside. But, you can't make one object cold and another one hot – that would be a decrease in entropy. So the captured heat has to be released chaotically, in a disorderly way. That's one of the many reasons your fridge makes for a poor oven.

So, if you want to cool something down drastically – as I do in my lab – you need to compensate somehow for the change. The Freeze Machines we're working on suck out the heat – but they have to spend an enormous amount of energy, which goes into entropy. And that energy will heat up something, somewhere. We just make sure it's dispersed far away. Questions?"

One of the students raised his hand. "Professor Hart, will we be seeing a demonstration of this famous Freeze Machine?

-Well, any of you is always welcome to visit my lab and see it at work any time they please. But I'm afraid it's still too bulky for the classroom."

Another student raised his hand. "Professor, this Freeze Machine…The design is a well-kept secret, correct?

-Well, yes, at least until I'm done improving it. The thermodynamic compensation system I mentioned earlier still eludes most of my colleagues. But why that question, James?

-Well, I've been thinking, and I think something like that could very well be used as a weapon. Imagine people being frozen by the ray of frost." James kept smiling as he said that.

The professor looked taken aback. "Well, yes, I guess that's a possibility…But if that's what goes in your head when you're studying physics, then I truly do hope that you'll keep Calculus as your major, young Mr Dover." The class chuckled again – but truth be told, some of them were a bit scared of Dover, whose behaviour may have been mild-mannered, but who had a reputation for being an incredibly sadistic jerk when he felt like it. After a while, the hand of a rather small student rose.

"Yes, Fred?

-I just don't get it, professor…The cooling fluid, I mean. It says here" he motioned toward the blackboard, "PV=nRT. If the Pressure and the Volume are equal to the number of molecules times the Radius of the cylinder times the Temperature, won't we get a lower temperature by increasing the radius?"

The professor sighed. "Well, we would, Fred, if 'R' stood for 'radius'. But in this context, 'R' is the constant of perfect gases, and as you know, constants always remain the same."

Again, there were chuckles…But Fred seemed down. Finally, the lesson ended, and as the students left, professor Hart made sure to have a word with Fred.

"If you'll excuse my meddling, Fred, I believe I need to talk to you.

-Um, yes...?

-Fred, your dedication to my lessons is inspiring – you haven't missed a single one so far. An impressive feat, I might add. And yet, it always seem like you're lagging behind the rest of the students. It's not that you don't work as hard as they do – if anything, you're working harder than 90% of them. And yet, your results just don't match your effort – because, pretty obviously, you don't understand half of what I'm talking about."

Fred didn't say anything for a while, then finally replied: "I…I know I'm not the smartest person around here. But I should be able to succeed, if I work hard enough. That's what my aunt always says.

-Your aunt?

-Yeah, I live in her house. She convinced me to try college – she said if I really put my mind to it, I could do anything.

-I see your aunt is rather ambitious for you. But I'll be honest with you, Fred – at the rate you're going, you won't make it through finals.

-What…What can I do?

-Well, I might have a solution…You could earn extra credit by helping around my lab. It'll give me an opportunity to explain everything to you individually, so that you can get a better understanding of the principles. I'll give you a few days to think about it…"

Fred didn't need a few days to think about it. Professor Hart was one of the greatest scientists in the world – everybody knew that! He was so clever, and he explained better than any other teacher. Helping him around the lab was a very small price to pay for getting tutoring from him!

When he first came, Fred had forgotten to bring a snow suit, like Mr Hart had told him. The advice had seemed weird at the time, so he hadn't really taken it seriously – but when he entered the lab, he soon realized that a snow suit would have been appropriate. The place was freezing.

"I like cold" explained Hart. "I have this terrible allergy to flowers. When I was a kid, I couldn't go outside during the spring, and even during the summer I had problems. The cold season came like a liberation to me, allowing me to do as I pleased. Besides, I enjoyed playing in the snow so much – how could I not love the cold? I don't freeze the classroom, because the students wouldn't like it – but in my home and lab, cold is always welcome!" For that one day, he lent Fred some of his warmer cloths (which were several times too large for him, but were better than nothing). Fred never forgot again to bring his snow suit.

As Fred soon discovered, the professor's lab was much more than just a testing ground for the Freeze Machine: The professor was constantly tinkering with at least a dozen different devices, all of them impressive feats of technology. The Freeze Machine was the one he most involved the university in, but it was far from being the only one. "You see, Fred, that's one of the many advantages of being a recognized figure in the scientific world: Thousands of colleagues willing to exchange ideas with you. I'm always following with the latest discovery in any field that interests me – and sometimes, a colleague comes up with an idea that inspires me to build something. Take this" he gestured toward what looked like a small, chair-sized organ. "It's not very well-known, but during World War II, the Third Reich experimented with sonic weapons. Machines that could destroy objects with sound. It didn't work well enough to be used on the battlefield – thank goodness – but it's still an interesting concept. An acquaintance of mine, Dr Steven Hereti, said his company is working on an improvement. He sent me some blueprints, and asked if I can think of a better way to do it. I came up with this mini-organ – it can shatter glass. I told Steven that if one built a larger organ, it should be possible to shatter concrete – but he said he's thinking more in the line of a sonic boom generator. Weird man, that Steven.

-What's this?" asked Fred, pointing at a small ray-gun.

-Well, it's not working yet…But I've been thinking, and I believe it should be possible to modify the Freeze Machine so that it freezes only select parts of an object. You could target a building, and put out a fire – or you could target a human body, and freeze a tumour, without surgery. Imagine the possibilities! As a matter of fact, the Freeze Machine in its original version already has a staggering potential – one day, not far from now, it might allow us to freeze patients in a terminal situation, take care of them, and then thaw them out! We could save countless lives!

-And what's this?" Fred pointed at a tube full of a weird potion.

"Well, most of my colleagues wouldn't call it science, but I disagree. Tell me, Fred – what do you know about….Magic?

-Magic? You mean, circus tricks?

-No, I mean real magic.

-I don't know anything about it.

-Well, that's hardly surprising. There's enough magic in this world for its existence to be a known fact, but little enough that it remains a mystery. Most scientists shy away from it, not wanting to confront something which they don't understand. I say that's not an attitude fitting a true scientist – if something exists, it's up to us to figure out how!

I've been doing some research on magic for quite a while now. It's hard to find real magic among all the false things, but I've been patient enough. It looks like most magical objects have mysterious origins – there are talks of a mythical place called Avalon, although it isn't clear what Avalon was. It was supposed to be around Britain, but it's nowhere to be found.

Anyway, I've concluded that magic has its own logical rules, just like everything else. As soon as we understand those rules, we should be able to make magic-based technology! There would be no limits! These potions are magical concoctions I've been able to create. They trigger interesting transformations in lab rats, both physically and in behaviour. Truly fascinating.

-But professor…A scientific explanation to magic? Doesn't that sound a bit far-fetched?

-Not more so than a movie actor getting elected president, Fred. Nothing surprises me anymore in this world – but nothing's impossible, either!"

The professor's enthusiasm was contagious. Soon enough, Fred came to look forward to working in the lab, with all the amazing machines surrounding him. He also came to consider Mr Hart as his best friend – other people often ignored Fred because of his small size, and he had never been particularly brilliant (and his clumsiness didn't help much), but the professor seemed to appreciate his dedication.

Eventually, the professor got invited to the home of Fred and his aunt. He brought his wife, Lucy, with him. Fred already knew he was married, but he had never met his wife before. She was a perfect match for the cold-loving old man: Reserved and yet friendly, calm and yet joyous, with icy yet lively blue eyes, she inspired respect – and yet was easy to connect with. Fred came to understand that she and the professor had met and fallen in love as early as high school, and had married only a few years later. Their marriage seemed an exceptionally happy one.

Fred's aunt was a member of semi-high society. She prided herself an amateur businesswoman, and while she had never been a millionaire, she nevertheless made a very comfortable living. She and her group of friends would often meet to discuss about business, just as other women their age would meet to play bridge. She had raised Fred since he was in junior high, and was certain that despite the fact that he displayed no skill in particular, he could go far if he tried hard enough. She had paid his tuition and sent him to the best college in the area – and was delighted to meet professor Hart, the great scientist who was kind enough to tutor her dear nephew!

When the year ended and finals came, Fred scored a C-. That was much more than he had expected before Hart had began tutoring him. He now really understood the principles of the discipline, and could go on with his next year. The college organized an end-of-year party, and both students and teachers came. Michael Hart came with his wife, and surprised all the students – save Fred – when the two started dancing, and dancing well. Fred already knew by now that the professor was remarkably agile for his age, and never passed a good occasion to dance. And he and his wife certainly enjoyed it…

Fred and his aunt remained close to the Harts during the summer vacation. To Fred's surprise, the professor even invited him to accompany him on a trip to a cryotechnology conference. Fred eagerly accepted.

As the professor explained, the conference occurred once per year at a fitting location: Kelvin Castle. The place had been built there during colonial times by a rich nobleman from England, who somehow liked the cold micro-climate of the land. The place's real estate value had dropped afterwards – nobody was interested in an area that was cold even in the summer. There were few farming opportunities, and people didn't want to live there. Eventually, when the cryotechnology experts had tried to look for a place to hold their conferences, the professor had suggested renting the castle – and, on their way, they managed to have it renamed "Kelvin Castle", in honour of Lord Kelvin, the scientist whose name had been given to the Kelvin heat measure unit.

The conference went extremely well. The professor was obviously the greatest scientist and inventor of that lot, and the other respected him for that. While many of them had very interesting achievements of their own to present, the Freeze Machine remained the (ironically) hottest topic of conversation. Several of them asked the professor how he had solved the thermodynamic obstacles to his machine – but he insisted on revealing that only when he was done tinkering with the device. Fred knew by now how much the professor enjoyed being secretive and dramatic.

But when they came back home, they discovered that tragedy had struck: While they were on their way home, Lucy Hart had had an accident. It had been fatal. Nothing could be done.

The professor was devastated. Fred and his aunt did all they could to lift his spirits, but to no avail – and it was easily understandable.

Then, one day, they just stopped hearing from the professor altogether. He didn't answer his phone. They didn't get worried until the second day; Fred then went to investigate. The professor's home was locked, and Fred couldn't see him through the windows. He then went to the lab on campus, and found him there – working on the Freeze Machine, and several other inventions. He then tried to talk to him.

"Professor, we're worried about you. Since the accident, you just haven't been yourself.

-Do you have any idea how much it hurts?" asked the professor. "I hope you never have to find out. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. I can't take it anymore. I'm putting an end to it."

Seeing the scared expression on his student, he quickly explained: "No, I'm not talking about suicide! I just want to stop the pain. And I think I know how. As you know, when objects are cooled down, chemical reactions go slower. And when a living thing is frozen, its metabolism halts, thus stopping all its functions. You know that I hoped to use my invention to freeze patients until we could cure them. Well, I intend to freeze my own pain!

-Freeze your own pain? What do you mean?

-Well, our emotions and feelings are the result of biochemical reactions in our brain. If I freeze the part of the brain responsible for that grief, it'll just end.

-So you're going to use the Freeze Machine?

-Yes and no. The Freeze Machine wouldn't suffice – it would freeze me completely, and I would eventually get warmer. Remember that small ray-gun? It should freeze parts of the body selectively. That would work, but it won't be ready until some time – and I refuse to wait that long.

But I have a better idea: With my magic potions, I've designed a special molecule that will do the trick. Once I swallow the potion, the molecules will target the part of the brain that handles feelings, and attach themselves there. Then, I'll use the Freeze Machine – the ray of frost will converge toward these molecules, stopping my feelings without affecting me otherwise. And nothing could thaw it out then – this process is irreversible.

-Professor, I don't think you should do that…

-Do you have any idea how much it hurts?!!

-N-No…"

Fred couldn't convince the professor to renounce his plan – and after all, was he really certain that the professor was wrong? It obviously hurt more than Fred could even imagine…He still remembered how much it had hurt when he had lost his parents. And the relationship between Michael and Lucy Hart had obviously been something unique…

So Fred helped the professor with his contraption. After a few days, the professor drank his potion, and then subjected himself to his Freeze Machine. The result surprised them both: He became blue-skinned, and it quickly became apparent that he could now freeze what he touched – and, with some effort, what he was looking at.

"My guess is that this affected my metabolism in more ways than I expected. Well, that's hardly surprising, after all – the human biochemistry is so complex, we're only beginning to understand it.

-But, professor…Your skin is blue!

-Well, that's strange, although somehow fitting…

-And you can freeze stuff, just like the Freeze Machine!

-Almost the same ray of frost, yes. All because of those molecules…

-And…How do you feel?

-I feel nothing. I'd say that's an improvement."

A couple of weeks went by. Both Fred and his aunt were really worried about the professor, who, with his blue skin, preferred to avoid showing his face. As for the professor, what went through his mind was much, much different from what had usually gone there…

Eventually, he invited them both to meet him in his lab. Fred's aunt was horrified at his sight – but he reassured her that it didn't hurt a bit. He offered them drinks – Fred didn't realize at the time that those drinks were the very potion the professor had used on himself earlier. Finally, the professor explained why he had wanted to see them:

"As you know, I wanted to stop my feelings so that the grief would end. Truth be told, I think that the grief was so strong, it prevented me from thinking clearly. But what is done is done.

The fact is, I've successfully turned off my own feelings. I have stopped caring. But the pain isn't the only thing that stopped – no feelings also means no love, friendship, or joy. You might say I threw the baby with the bathwater.

If I thought the pain of losing Lucy was great…It's still a few notches below that of having stopped caring about anything, while the world around you still knows joy, love, and, yes, pain and grief. I suppose I really am a different person now, because I know the old me never felt envy – and that's what I feel right now. I envy those who still care so much that it's almost driving me crazy!

-You poor man!" exclaimed Fred's aunt. "There has to be a way we can help you!

-As a matter of fact, there is" replied the professor. "Just stand still." And with that, he stepped sideways and activated the Freeze Machine, negating the feelings of his two guests just as he had done to his own. They didn't stand a chance.

As the professor came to discover, the human metabolism was even more complex than he had supposed – the effects of his anti-feelings treatment were different for each person. In Fred's case, many of the synapses of his cortex had blocked down. He had never been very bright before, but now, he was downright mentally handicapped. As for his aunt, she acquired, like the professor, the ability to form rays of frost at her eyes' level – and, with that, the ability to turn invisible.

"Interesting. I once read a paper by Dr Griffin on the possibility of turning the human body transparent as air with a certain chemical treatment. Oh well, I guess that's an added advantage.

-That's not the only advantage! Now that I don't care about my friends anymore, I can make a fortune by double-crossing them all!

-See? With our abilities, we can get anything we want! We have no morals left to stop us, and between your invisibility and my inventions, nobody can defeat us!

-Well, I'm not so certain I'm interested in working with you, professor. I'm off to make millions – if I'm interested in a partnership, I'll call you."

Before she left, they agreed on one thing – their past lives didn't matter anymore. As a result, their names held no more meaning. They thus chose new names for themselves – Professor Cold Heart, Auntie Freeze, and Frostbite!

Auntie Freeze left to take on the business world. Frostbite, obedient to the professor, was left in charge of his house. As for the professor himself,  he decided to get a better domain – and what would be more fitting than Kelvin Castle? From his investigations on the subject of magic, he knew that the authorities wouldn't want to get involved with something too weird and unusual for them. He thus decided to use his Freeze Machine and other inventions to take over Kelvin Castle and the surrounding area, using simple but effective magic to suck the feelings out of it, turning it into the Land Without Feelings. He renamed Kelvin Castle Cold Heart Castle, and built numerous traps in case he ever had visitors. One of his experiments involved putting a special mirror in the foundations of the castle – with the right magic and technology, he estimated that the mirror would, after enough years, obtain the capacity to turn anything into its opposite. He figured it might be useful for evil purpose.

Every once in a while, a child would wander through the Land Without Feelings – he would then bring them to the castle, and give them one of his magical potions, which would transform them into his slaves. Until, one day, he transformed a boy named Kevin…And encountered for the first time the Care Bears. He didn't know about their Stare, and was taken completely by surprise when they used it. He then decided to temporarily leave the castle and go back to his house, where he and Frostbite would prepare their next move. Having conceived an immense hatred for the feelings and caring he was denied, he wanted to wipe them from the surface of the Earth – and in order to achieve that, he kept improving on his Freeze Machine. He then tricked a young genius boy named Paul into helping him freeze every child in town – but again, the Care Bears intervened. From that moment, he realized that defeating the Care Bears was a vital step to destroying all caring in the world. Some time later, Auntie Freeze would agree to help him – she wasn't too fond of feelings either, now.

/End of Flashback.

"…and that's what happened, as I understand it" finished Warren.

"What a tragedy!" exclaimed True Heart. "You say he used to be a good man?

-Pretty good. Not a saint, but most assuredly not a villain. But he made the wrong choice.

-One wrong choice, and that's it?!" protested John. "That's insane! If all of us got only one chance in life, we'd be doomed!

-He's right" said David. "I was a villain for decades. And you made bad choices too, Warren.

-Of course. But in the case of Mike Hart, his choice ruined everything.

-It's so unfair!" said John, unwilling to let it go.

"I thought we had established by now that life isn't fair" replied Warren.

"Well, yeah…But we also said that we were trying to make life fair!

-That we are. And that's why we must stop Avalon at all cost.

-What happened to Avalon isn't fair either" noted Dawn. "All those elves – they need our help!

-Of course. But we must also ensure that we do not meet their fate. This is war, my friends – call it the Avalon War, call it World War III, call it the War of Worlds, it is going to be a greater challenge than anything we have faced to date. But I swear to you – and I hope you'll do the same in your mind – that I will do all that I can to prevent a disaster!"

A few people cheered. The Care Bear family remained silent.

Part five: Early Manoeuvres

Amid all the preparations, Warren still found the time to have a chat on the Web with an acquaintance:

"Checkmate: I guess this time, that's it. It's a real war. Everything else was games against criminals. This is much more serious.

Sophia: So much for anonymity on the Web.

Checkmate: Oh please. You've known I was Checkmate Warren for quite a while.

Sophia: True, but you've always left a small margin of doubt.

Checkmate: Correct. But this is no time for games. I will need every good idea I can get to lead this merry band to victory – and truth be told, I'm afraid the CBF will be problematic.

Sophia: Problematic how? They're on your side. Are you afraid they're not cut out for this war? Wait, stupid question. Of course they're not.

Checkmate: Dead-on. They're used to helping people share their feelings and to opposing incompetent fools like No Heart – a war just isn't what they're about. This will be complicated.

Sophia: Do you really need them? You've said it yourself – war isn't what they're about. Why do you think they will be so useful – just because they can do the stare?

Checkmate: That too. But they have several advantages, and I have no time to build a better team anyway. Besides, they're not to be underestimated either…

Sophia: Well, you'll just need to convince them. Just keep them away from the violence, and that should do the trick.

Checkmate: I will. Gotta go now.

Sophia: Bye."

"I trust, Dr Fright, that the installations are operational?

-Absolutely, Control. My traps will spell the end of our enemies – if they come, anyway.

-Oh, I'm fairly positive that they will, Dr Fright. But when they do, we'll be ready for them. Soon enough, the world will be ours…

Another thing, my vampiric associate: I know you're not stupid, and certainly you have realized that there is a power struggle between myself and my dear parents going on. And certainly you have been wondering which side you should support. Well, remember this, Dr Fright: I'm the mastermind planning all this. I know what I'm doing. To me, the strategic ongoing of this struggle are a clear and well-understood flow of events going in a logical, orderly fashion – whereas most people, like Lord and Lady Uncaring, only see individual attempts at obtaining various goals. They don't have the mind of a true strategist – they're doomed to fail. Remember that."

Having done what he needed to do with Dr Fright, Control went to see his daughter.

"Father! I've been looking for you! When do we start?

-Patience, little one. If we rush in like fools, we will just end up crushed. If we take our time to make sure that everything is flawless, then we shall rule the world. We've been over this.

Now, my daughter, you will yourself have an important role in what is to come.

-An important role? What?

-You are my most loyal ally – the only one I'd trust unconditionally." He patted her on the head. Shrieky beamed. "Everyone else is a potential threat. Your uncle will work with me, because he has finally come to realize that my genius is necessary for our victory. Cold Heart will support me, because he knows I'm his best chance at defeating the defenders of caring – and because he sees that of all the great wizards here, I'm the only one who realizes his worth. Dr Fright is hesitating between me and the Lord and Lady – and while I did my best to ensure his loyalty (by playing on the cowardice so characteristic of those who consider themselves the masters of fear), there is still a chance that he might betray us. As for the Uncaring rulers…When this is over, they will be our greatest enemies. They want the world for themselves. We'll have to dispose of them, just as they will try to dispose of us. They have a big advantage – Avalon is their home ground, after all. But this will make them overconfident in their ability to beat me – allowing me to outmanoeuvre them. I believe that they are trying to establish something vaguely resembling a strategy against me as we speak…

-Then what are we waiting for? We should be spying on them! Figuring out what they're up to!

-Yes, we should. But stop to ask yourself how.

-Well…We could just use magic, and turn ourselves invisible! That's easy!

-Yes, that is true…But tell me: Do you really believe that in all these years, those two haven't come up with some protection? They certainly have established some wards to alarm them when magic is being used in their vicinity…

-Then what should we do?

-Simple enough: We use something that they can't detect. Something they don't know about…"

In another part of Avalon, two of the greatest sorcerers of all time were making plans of their own. As Control had expected, his parents were already planning his downfall:

"We can't make our move too soon…I'd hate to admit it, but without the alliance, we might actually lose. And we'll need Quenos's skills to win, my lady.

-But as soon as Earth's defences have crumbled, we will be free to do as we will with them! We can kill them all – as a matter of fact, some of them should be killed, if only to ensure our safety.

-Indeed. Quenos is the most dangerous one – with his intellect, he's the most likely to pose a threat. As for Nollius, I suspect he's a notch or two more powerful than even us – which makes him the greatest wizard in History! We can't allow anyone to be more powerful than us. He'll have to go. What of Quenos's daughter, the half-breed?

-She has potential, but I suspect that she has too great a loyalty to her father. Unlike us, she never went through the sacrifice of the heart – loyalty isn't foreign to her. I'm almost sure that she would stand by him. We'll have to get rid of her too.

-Which leaves the human and the vampire. I don't think Cold Heart can be trusted…He isn't afraid of us. We'll easily dispose of him. As for Dr Fright…He'll just side with whoever wins. Which leaves the question…How do we eliminate Quenos and his crew once mankind has been defeated?

-That shouldn't be so hard. We have been shaping this city since so many decades, instilled such fear in its inhabitants, and created so many evil shadows, that making a trap for Quenos should be child's play. Let's examine the situation…"

With that, Lady Uncaring made a map of Avalon appear. Soon, the sinister duo began scheming and preparing traps for their sons…Unaware of the fact that they were being watched the whole time by the invisible Auntie Freeze, whom they couldn't detect, as her invisibility wasn't magical!

"If they had told me at West Point that one day, I'd be fighting against a flying trans-dimensional city of elves, I'd never have believed it" admitted the general.

"It's not trans-dimensional…Never mind" sighed Checkmate Warren. "Listen, general…We can't afford any slip-up with this.

-Can't we just bomb them and be done with it?

-I fear it isn't quite so simple. Avalon is currently on the other side of the portal, and we know that right now, the portal is working asymmetrically – you can come out of their dimension, but you can't get in. Presumably they need to send someone outside soon, but don't want any of us getting in. Well, they can't hold it like this for long – that's just too energy-consuming.

-How can you know that? You're an expert on magic or something?

-Not really. And while we do have something close to an expert on magic, that's not how I know the one-way portal is energy-consuming. It's just simple physics.

Consider, general: Air is always moving, even if only a little bit. And right now, it can get out of Avalon's dimension, but it can't get in. What do you think will happen after a long enough time (possibly years)?

-Uh…

-All the air will come out, leaving their dimension in a vacuum! But that's a reduction in entropy. It needs to be compensated for somehow – in other words, they need to spend a lot of energy. That's basic thermodynamics.

-My head hurts. Can we skip the science-y stuff?

-Well, excuuuse me for trying to get the details right. But back on topic: See, even if you could bomb Avalon – what would you aim for? We don't know where the commanders of this invasion force will be – surely they aren't stupid enough to expose themselves to your weapons. Well, at least Control isn't. And anyway, there's the little matter of collateral damage – you'd be killing countless of civilians. Those elves are no different from us. So basically, I'm afraid brute military force alone won't solve this mess – we will need to add a big dose of subtlety.

-Then I suppose a well-aimed H-bomb is out of the question.

-Only as a last recourse. And don't tell anyone I said that.

-Well, super-genius, what's your strategy?

-First, there's the matter of figuring out what their course of actions will be.

-We can't spy on them…

-No, but we can nevertheless predict what they'll do. Think, general: Control will surely have explained to them how powerful our technology is. The first thing they'll want to do will be to make sure that they're safe from it.

-And how do you suppose they'll do that?

-Considering they have Professor Cold Heart, they'll probably do it the most efficient way: With a huge, planet-wide electro-magnetic pulse.

-An EMP?! I've learned about them at West Point, during the lesson on nuclear warfare. It shorts out all the electronic stuff, right?

-Correct. As soon as they can generate that EMP, all our technology will be destroyed. We will be left powerless to stop them. That's when they bring their city into our world, and conquer it all. That's the best strategy they could use – and Control and Cold Heart are smart enough to figure that out.

-A lot of our stuff is shielded against EMPs…

-But not enough. And even if you'll have enough weapons left to beat them – which is by no means certain – that will still cause a world-wide crisis. I'm not enthusiastic about going back to the dark ages. Which means we'll have to prevent them from generating it.

Now, generating an EMP is no small task – under normal conditions, you need an atomic explosion for that. Presumably, with the magic of No Heart, Control, and Lord and Lady Uncaring, it should be possible for Cold Heart to generate all the EMPs he needs – I can easily think of a few designs. But that would require a lot of technological equipment, which surely can't be found in Avalon, and that the professor couldn't have taken with him when he went through the portal. So I'm expecting them to send some expeditions here and there to get the equipment they need – Cold Heart had several secret labs, after all. That's when we strike!

-By attacking the expeditions, I suppose?

-That too. They'll be expecting them to be attacked, so they'll only send expendables – i.e., the shadows. There'll probably be too many of them for you to stop – but you should be able to slow them down.

-And how do I do that? We can't shoot shadows! What are we supposed to do, bring a huge lamp?

-Not too far from the truth, actually. You see, those shadows are a rather interesting creation of black magic in Avalon…They used to be forbidden, but the evil sorcerers we're dealing with have used them as a military police – their own loyal, fascist troops. They don't need to eat, nor do they need to be refuelled with magical energy – they get their energy from light.

-You mean – light is their food?!

-Exactly. But – and that's the interesting part – they can be overloaded. Just subject them to strong enough flashes of light, and they'll absorb it all – causing their structure to collapse. I already did that once.

-So, I just need to give my men some light-weapons?

-That's it. That'll slow down the shadows, buying my team the time we need.

-The time you need for what?

-Well, think about it: When the shadows bring the equipment back to Avalon, they'll have to set the portal to let them in, right? Well, we will take advantage of that to sneak into Avalon.

-Well, why not send my men too? We can have our commandos storming that city in no time!

-Unadvisable. Your men never learned how to deal with magic. Believe me, it's better that you leave that to us.

-Well, I guess you know what you're doing…But what's your plan?

-Once we're inside, we will play a little game of sabotage…Ensuring that they can't generate that EMP. But they'll still come. And when they do, we'll be ready for them. We'll need you to have battleships, aircraft carriers, and a cruise missile (all of them shielded from EMPs) at hand – as a plan B, in case plan A fails. As for plan A, I'll need your engineers to hurry up and build this little device…"

Back in Avalon, Control was having a discussion with Cold Heart, Shrieky, Auntie Freeze and Frostbite (although the latter didn't say much – a fact for which the others were grateful):

"…and that's it" said Auntie Freeze, as she finished explaining Lord and Lay Uncaring's plans.

"As amateurish as I expected" scoffed Control. "They're only a notch or two better than my brother. Nearly incapable of coming up with a respectable plan, and relying way too much on their power. I can easily come up with countermeasures to each and every one of their traps. We will easily dispose of those two after we've conquered the Earth. I'll have to inform No Heart and Dr Fright of some of our plans…Although it should be noted that No Heart, being the most powerful wizard of us all, could also be a threat when this is all over. We'll have to get rid of him too, after we eliminate my dear parents.

-Wait a minute" interrupted Auntie Freeze. "How do we know that you won't eliminate us too?

-A proper concern, but there is no need to worry, Auntie Freeze" reassured her Professor Cold Heart. "Control knows that with my scientific skills, I'll be extremely useful to him even after the Earth has been conquered. But what of Dr Fright?

-He'll have his uses" replied Control. "A master of fear is just what I'll need to keep the population in check. But let's not forget – all of this is for nothing unless we can actually conquer the Earth. How is the global EMP generator progressing, professor?

-I've finished the designs. Now I only need the material to build it. It will generate thousands of small EMPs, all of them at different locations of the globe, always at a height of a few miles. This kind of feat would be impossible to present-day technology, but the magic of your family will allow it. But I'll need that equipment!

-Patience, professor. We will send the expeditions soon enough…"

"Well, we have a plan. We have a fighting chance. Is everybody with me?" Warren addressed both the Caretakers and the Care Bears family.

"All the way!" John and Dawn were the first to reply. David, Arnold, Alice, and the rest of the Caretakers soon followed – but they quickly realized that the members of the Care Bears family were remaining silent – and they all looked like they really wished they were somewhere else. One could half-expect Wish to disappear any moment!

Finally, True Heart spoke up:

"Warren, I don't know how to say it, but…We don't think we can help you on this one."

Warren didn't really look surprised. He calmly replied: "And why is that?

-This…This just isn't what we're about. We're not warriors. We don't fight in wars. We're supposed to help people share their feelings. Not win battles.

-Actually, you were also supposed to protect the world from me back when I was Dark Heart, remember?" noted David.

"And you also opposed countless other villains" added Isaac. "No Heart. Cold Heart. The Spirit Book. Sour Sam. Dr Fright. The Wizard of Wonderland.

-That's all true" conceded Noble Heart, "but that was different! Those were isolated villains! We could prevent them from hurting others by using our Stare. We can't use our Stare to win a war! And besides," he looked at the ground, "I don't think we can really be much help. Since we woke up from that time-freezing spell, the villains we've encountered have been much more powerful. You defeated us on your first try!" he said, while gesturing toward Checkmate Warren.

"And that's not all" he went on. "We couldn't do anything against Control – it was you, the Caretakers, who stopped him! And we couldn't do anything against the Prank either – you had to come and save us! We're just not powerful enough for the new villains. It's up to you to take care of them."

As Noble Heart and True Heart went silent, nobody spoke at first. Most of the Caretakers were too shocked to say anything. During all those years, it had been the Care Bears who had always said that you should never give up. And now, it looked like they felt they weren't up to the challenge anymore! The whole thing seemed just wrong.

Warren eventually spoke up: "Amazing. You, the Care Bears family, are giving up? That's rather uncharacteristic of you. Tell me, Champ," he turned toward the orange bear, "Aren't you the one who always said that you can always do it, if you try hard enough? Tell me, True Heart – aren't you the one who always said that running away from a problem never solved it? And what of you, Tender Heart? Brave Heart? Loyal Heart? Noble Heart?

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand what you're thinking. You've been noticing that lately, your love and caring just haven't been enough to protect the world. And it's been disturbing you deeply. The horrors you've seen with the Prank haven't helped much either. It's like you told me, Bright Heart – the scale of danger has gone up drastically. So you all feel out of your league, and think that it's better to just leave the villains for us to handle, since we seem better at it than you. And in a sense, you're right – we Caretakers are better at defeating evil under its various forms than you are. And you're better at helping people. But the difference isn't that big.

It's true, you couldn't stop the Prank by yourself. Newsflash: Neither could we. We needed your help, in case you forgot. And I'd like to point out that when the Prank attacked Care-A-Lot, you managed to survive for several minutes before we reached you – unlike the best men of the Secret Service.

Tell me, True Heart – do you think I'd be exaggerating your abilities in this situation? Do you think I'd overestimate you?

-Well, no…

-Good. Because I'm being completely frank when I'm saying that it's your help we'll need here – more so than the help of anyone else. Unlike anyone else who might join us, you have a long experience of opposing the rather unusual evildoers that we're about to face – and your mastery of the Stare is unmatched. Even if we could find some people who could use the Care Blasters, and even if we had the time to make several more Care Blasters to give around, they wouldn't have as good a control over them.

Of course, the main reason you don't want to have anything to do with this war is because it is a war – as opposed to a struggle against isolated evildoers. Of course, you're aware of how real wars go among humans – and after what happened with the Prank, you just don't give yourself the luxury of ignoring the darker aspects of this world. Needless to say, the last thing you want is to have to take part in one yourself.

Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins: You have my word that it will not be asked of you to cause anyone physical harm, and that you will not have to be accomplices of anything that will hurt innocents. I promise it to you."

The members of the Care Bears family looked at Warren and at each other, not sure what to do. True Heart spoke up again:

"Is that even possible, Warren? Do you think we can win this without hurting innocents, and without ki – without injuring anyone?

-If my plan works right, then yes. But your help is necessary.

-Then there's no questioning it" said Noble Heart. "We have to help.

-I knew you'd do the right thing" Warren smiled mischievously. "Then we can beat the round table of evil! Well, it's probably more of an irregular polygon…And Control is certainly on top. Power plays are his specialty. "Tricks all people, young and old, for all is his to grab and hold."

 Now, about the plan…As I explained, we will soon have a chance to sneak into Avalon. Once we're there, we will have to sabotage their war machine – and we'll have to do it in such a way that they'll think it's still operational. That way, they'll come into our dimension – and that's when we can defeat them. Of course, getting inside won't be that easy…They'll be expecting us. Now, Nicholas, I believe invisibility spells are within the range of your abilities, correct?

-Well, yes…Especially if the Great Wishing Star helps me.

-Excellent. We'll use the spell to turn ourselves and the flying car we'll be riding in invisible, go through the portal…Of course, once we're inside, it's rather likely that they'll be able to counter our invisibility. We'll need a decoy…And once we're there, we'll have a double target: The EMP generator, and Professor Cold Heart. He's the only member of this nefarious alliance with a real understanding of science; without his expertise, they should be possible to defeat. Dr Fright may be a bit of a gadgeteer, but that's it…

-Hold it" interrupted Noble Heart. "What do you intend to do to the Professor?

-Well, I've gone over his research, blueprints, and any papers that were left at the university he used to teach at. I think I've figured out what molecules he used to turn off his own caring – and that means I should be able to neutralize them with the Care Blaster.

-So…You'll be returning him to normal?

-Hopefully. But Control surely realizes that the professor will be one of our targets – meaning that he'll have some security around there. And considering the importance of the EMP generator…That's probably the purpose of Dr Fright: Control will have told him to design all kinds of traps there for us. No, wait, that'd be too simple – what Control did was probably build a decoy generator, with traps and all – and a real one, hidden. That way, he hopes that we will waste our time on the decoy – and maybe even leave Avalon thinking that we've won, only to discover too late that he still can unleash his worldwide EMP! Damn, he's good!"

People and Care Bears around Checkmate Warren were at this point already beginning to loose track of the assembly of plots within plots that characterized the rivalry between him and Control. But eventually, Warren explained his plan in a way everybody could understand.

"Well, I guess we just need volunteers. Who's willing to come?" Everybody raised hands – even if many were uneasy. "Excellent. We won't need that many people, but I wanted to make sure that nobody was imposed this mission upon.

Tender Heart, Bright Heart, Swift Heart, Loyal Heart, Paul, and David: I'll need you to follow me into Avalon's dimension. Any questions?

A few hours later, something went through the portal. Something eerie. Evil shadows – tens of thousands of them! They rushed at high speed toward several locations in the North American continent. As they reached various caches of equipment, the Army did its best to fight them – with light-based weapons that had had to be constructed quickly, and which destroyed thousands of shadows, and with conventional weapons, which could damage some of the equipment. But eventually, most of the shadows reached the portal with the technological tools they had been sent to obtain.

As they did, an invisible flying car followed them through the portal. As soon as it approached Avalon, the magic of the four greatest sorcerers in the world was quick to detect it…And to send thousands of shadows in its direction. Soon enough, the car (which they couldn't see yet) was forced to land…And as it did, it turned visible, to their surprise.

No Heart, Control, and Lord and Lady Uncaring hesitatingly approached the car, which was surrounded by thousands of shadows now.

The car was empty. On it's windshield was a plastic card which Control took and examined:

Nice try, Cliffy, but no cigar.

528526734916

Just as he finished reading the taunting message, a sound was heard – the sound of something going incredibly fast. And a smoke trail could be seen for a brief moment. Control understood before the others: Checkmate Warren and the others had used a second invisible flying car – one with booster rockets attached – and had come into Avalon while its sorcerers had been busy with the first car.

"Point for you, chess-boy – but that was just the first obstacle."

Neither Control nor his associates realized that although the invisibility spell that had been cast on the first car had faded, it was a separate spell that had been cast on a small container and its recipients beneath the car. And that while they had been distracted by the second car, the passengers of the small container – still invisible – had snuck away: Tender Heart, Swift Heart, and Bright Heart.

In another part of Avalon, the second car had landed, and Checkmate Warren, Loyal Heart, Paul and David got out. The invisibility was already fading.

"Charming place" noted Warren. "I'm sure Cthulhu would feel right at home.

-Who?" asked Loyal Heart.

"Big evil horrible monster. Literary joke. Never mind. The shadows have taken most of the equipment to these locations – meaning that each one of them is either the location of the fake generator, or the place where Cold Heart resides. Hmmm…This place is more residential. That's where Loyal Heart and I will go, to confront the professor. Swift Heart, Tender Heart, and Bright Heart" he spoke to the transmitter of his digital gear, "you go to the second location, with the decoy generator. Paul and David will join you soon. Once there, you'll have to follow the shadows when they try to discreetly bring the equipment to the real location of the generator – and you know what to do there. Loyal Heart and I will take care of the decoy. Check?

-Check." replied Tender Heart.

"Then everybody knows what to do. Let's roll!"

Part six: Through the City of Fear

"Well," reflected Control, "the hunt begins. They're somewhere in the city. We won't even need to find them – they'll come to us!" He then turned to the three other sorcerers. "You three will guard the real generator, in case they discover its existence. Dr Fright and myself will guard the decoy, in case they do fall into my trap. Cold Heart has his own protection…Oh, and have some shadows destroy the first flying car, just in case."

As Paul and David snuck away to join the other team, Warren and Loyal Heart progressed toward the building which housed Cold Heart. Warren spoke up:

"Are you scared?

-A bit" admitted the blue-furred dog. "And you?

-A lot."

Loyal Heart looked at his team-mate with surprise.

"Really? I thought you were never afraid of anything.

-Far from it. I just don't let my fear control me. But I was most definitely afraid during the confrontation with the nanomorph. Or when we fought against the Prank. And when the Prank attacked Care-A-Lot, and I was too far away to help, well…I was almost scared out of my mind. 'Almost' being the operative word.

-You were?

-Of course I was! All of you could have been killed, and all I could do was give some advice and hope you'd survive until I reached you. Those were the most frightful minutes of my life – none of the bullies of Salvation Town had ever inspired such fear in me.

-I guess you really do care about your friends" smiled the Care Bear Cousin. Warren smiled too, but his smile soon faded.

"By the way, Loyal Heart…I must make a confession.

-What is it?

-Well, I had to do all my research very fast…I only got the global picture of things. I didn't have the time to research certain details. I know how to neutralize the anti-caring molecules Professor Cold Heart has absorbed, but…I'm not completely sure of the effects that will have. I think it will restore him back to normal, but…There is a slight chance that it will kill him. Improbable, but possible.

-What?! You didn't say that back on Care-A-Lot!

-No, I didn't. Because we have very little time, and can't afford to come up with a safer way to stop him.

-We can't do that unless we're sure it's harmless!

-You can't. I most assuredly can.

-Warren, if that might kill him…

-It probably won't. And if we don't do it, all of Earth will suffer the same fate as Avalon!

-I can't let you do this!

-As a matter of fact, you not only can, but have to. You promised not to interfere with my plans, remember?"

Loyal Heart stopped in mid-track, speechless. Eventually, he replied:

"That…That was something different! We were talking about your plans to take over the world!

-No we weren't. You didn't even know I was planning to conquer the Earth back then. Are you trying to find a loophole to your own promise, Loyal Heart?

-No," Loyal Heart sighed in resignation. "You're right, I promised…But you're taking advantage of it! You're breaking my trust! And THAT is no way to treat a friend!

-No, it isn't. And I wish there was another way, Loyal Heart. But I'm trying to do what I think is best here, no matter how unpleasant it is. I'm sorry.

-When you wanted me to join you here…You chose me because you knew I'd have to let you do this, didn't you?

-Yes, Loyal Heart – that's the reason. And I know you resent my manipulative tendencies – but I believe that sometimes, in order to make something good, you need to go through something bad.

-Isn't that the reason you tried to conquer the Earth back then?

-One of many. But please focus on the mission. Cold Heart can be dangerous, and Control will probably have put someone there to get us if we attack…Better have an ace up our sleeve (if you'll excuse the expression). Loyal Heart…When I confront Cold Heart and whoever else will be there, I want you to stay hidden behind. If I signal you, or if I'm down, then you intervene. And when I say "down", I don't mean if I'm losing…I mean if I lost. Not any sooner.

-Isn't that risky?

-It is. But we have a little advantage:"

Warren then pointed behind them. Loyal Heart looked, and was surprised to see their flying car following them discreetly, hovering from roof to roof.

"What…It's on autopilot?

-Even better: Remember how the Care Blaster is controlled by the will of the user? Well, we made connections to some other systems. The Blaster now allows me to control the flying car with my thoughts."

Paul and David eventually joined up with Tender Heart, Bright Heart and Swift Heart. They were in front of the building which Warren supposed was the decoy generator – and if it was a decoy, it certainly was a convincing one. It took them some searching, but eventually they found shadows carrying the machinery through the city. They followed them, doing their best not to get caught.

Avalon was a frightening sight. Everything in the city had been reshaped over the decades by the twisted tyrants – it was now menacing. Dark. Gloomy. Nightmarish. The architectural incarnation of despair. Here and there, a few frightened occupants – elves which had been transformed by Lord and Lady Uncaring into creatures like Beastly – would run away at the sight of the shadows. They were all devoid of hope, living in constant fear of their evil rulers. With a shudder, Tender Heart reflected that it was exactly this fate which he and the rest had been doing their best to prevent from befalling on Earth.

In the control room of the decoy generator, Control and Dr Fright were waiting.

"Your traps had better work, Dr Fright…These people have been a thorn in our paws long enough.

-Don't worry, Control…I know what I'm doing. If they come here, they won't get out alive."

Control then examined the plastic card. "528526734916. What does that mean?

-Hue?

-Focus on your job, Dr Fright. I'll focus on mine."

Somewhere in Avalon, a couple dozen of shadows were doing their best to destroy the flying car that had first entered Avalon. They were progressing rather slowly – the machine was made of very strong materials, after all. They had only caused some minor damage to the exterior when a device attached to the car suddenly appeared…And shot a very strong ray of light at the nearest shadow, destroying it. The others soon followed.

Warren ascended the stairs leading to Cold Heart's residence. Loyal was following from a good distance. The flying car remained on a nearby roof.

Warren charged into the room. He was immediately hit by a ray of frost – which had no effect, as he had taken the precaution of carrying one of his heating units. The next moment, he was facing the icy trio: Professor Cold Heart, Auntie Freeze, and Frostbite. Auntie Freeze had apparently been busy grooming herself in front of the mirror, Frostbite had been doing nothing, and the professor was reviewing some blueprints when he came.

"Well, well, well. It appears we have a guest" mocked the professor. "You came here alone? Sometimes I think you're just overconfident. Wasn't that how we managed to beat you and reach the C-bomb?

-At least most of my plans actually worked, Mr my-entire-plan-will-hinge-on-the-children-choosing-to-cooperate-with-me-rather-than-with-the-Care-Bears. Or should I be calling you Mr my-entire-plan-will-hinge-on-my-brain-damaged-assistant-doing-his-job-right? Or Mr my-plans-always-fail-but-I-nevertheless-won't-make-the-effort-of-coming-up-with-a-plan-B? No, wait – I should probably save those for No Heart.

-You haven't come all this way to make fun of my past failures, Checkmate Warren" said the professor, preparing himself for a confrontation.

"No, although there's one more mistake of yours that I'd like to point out: You should have destroyed documents more thoroughly when you left the university. I was able to figure out how you've shut down your feelings."

The professor was still processing what Checkmate Warren had said when the mastermind lifted his Care Blaster and sent the Stare at all three members of the icy trio. In an instant, the molecules the professor had used to deactivate specific parts of their brains were destroyed, and the corresponding neurons reactivated. In a few seconds, all the emotions which had been blocked over the years suddenly flooded them – both the professor and Auntie Freeze fell to their knees from the shock. Frostbite, his brain suddenly working at normal capacity again, hesitated for a moment, then said:

"Uh, professor…I just realized…Back when you said that with me as navigator we could end up on the moon…That wasn't really a compliment, was it?"

The professor's only answer was a scream, as everything came back to him…The pain over Lucy's death, the guilt over all what he had done since becoming Cold Heart…It was all too much to handle. Auntie Freeze only looked a notch better, curling up in a corner, sobbing. Frostbite eventually broke down too, sitting down, clutching his head, trying to make sense of all that was happening.

Warren surveyed the three. Success…At least so far. But it wasn't over yet. He got the confirmation he needed when a young purple-haired girl came through the doorway from the nearby balcony.

"Excellent! You have fallen into my brilliant trap!"

Warren looked at Shrieky for an instant without reacting. Then, suddenly, he exploded in laughter:

"A brilliant trap?! You?! Hahahahahaha!!!

-Stop laughing!

-From what I figured out," his laughter was calming down, "back when you were working with Beastly, you usually had him think up a plan, and always took the credit. Beastly was the thinker of the group! Beastly, for crying out loud! You needed that retard to do most of your thinking, and you want me to believe that you can come up with such a brilliant plan that I won't be able to walk away from it? It would seem that you truly need to reacquaint yourself with this thing we call reality…"

Enraged, Shrieky held up her magic mirror. At the same time, Warren lifted his right arm, aiming the Care Blaster in her direction.

"A Mexican standoff? Truly a plan worthy of you – and that's not a compliment" mocked Warren, as he slowly walked sideways.

"If you try your Stare against me, my magic mirror will flash it right back at you!" boasted Shrieky, as she too moved sideways, trying to keep facing the mastermind.

"Ah, yes. The Stare shares certain properties with light…It can bounce of reflexive surfaces if the user of the Stare does it the right way. And it does bounce of that magic mirror of yours…But that's not the only mirror around here, is it?"

Shrieky didn't realize what was going on until it was too late: Warren had positioned them in such a way that the mirror on the wall was behind her. When the Stare erupted from the Care Blaster, it wasn't aimed at Shrieky or her mirror – instead, it hit the normal mirror on the wall, bouncing on it, and hitting the magic mirror from behind, knocking it out of her hand. It fell at Warren's feet, and the mastermind just picked it up.

"Give it back!" screamed Shrieky, furious. In reply, Warren threw the mirror upward. Control's daughter rushed forward to catch it, but a second Stare from the Care Blaster hit the mirror in mid-air, this time destroying it – and Shrieky found herself weaponless, and standing just a few feet away from her enemy. Another Stare sent her through the doorway and on the balcony.

The balcony was rather large – it could have been a room, if it had a roof and an additional wall. Shrieky was now there, fighting the man who had kicked her and her uncle out of their castle before burning half of it down, and who had arrested her father. She didn't have her magic mirror anymore. And she had the feeling that she was about to fail her father when he counted on her the most…

"Feeling miserable, my dear? Oh, silly me – that's how you people feel by default. And by choice, I might add. I guess I can identify with that, in a sense" reflected Warren, as he walked through the doorway. Shrieky summoned her magic in an attempt to zap him – but again, his Care Blaster was too powerful, sending her to the other end of the balcony.

Feeling increasingly hopeless, Shrieky screamed – but, as she expected, it had no effect whatsoever on Warren, just like during the battle in her uncle's castle, when he had used an electronic filter to protect his ears. Again, she tried to summon her magic for a desperate attack – but Warren used the Stare to pin her against the wall.

"Sorry, my little, but I can't let you and your father's little league of evil win this, can I? Control may have outdone himself with this invasion, but that won't be enough – I'll defeat him, just like every other time." Warren may or may not have noticed the sudden flash of anger in Shrieky's eyes as he went on: "That prison wasn't enough to hold him – well, it was, but he got help. I won't give him a chance to escape this time!" Shrieky's eyes now flashed with a newfound determination. "Now, don't move, and this nerve strike should knock you out painlessly…" But as Warren's hand moved toward the side of Shrieky's neck, she caught it with her hands – and the following moment, Warren almost roared in pain as her magic cursed through his body. The next instant, he was magically flung against the wall. Then he was zapped. Again. And again. And Again.

Shrieky was putting all her strength into her attacks. NOBODY could threaten her father like that! She kept zapping – until Warren managed to say something:

"Shrieky, wait – we're on your side!"

She stopped, puzzled. What did he mean?

"Don't you understand? It's damned if you do, damned if you don't." Warren sounded less arrogant now – almost pleading. "Suppose everything goes like Control wants. Don't you get it? You'll still lose. Control wants nothing more than power! Everyone else is irrelevant to him!

-I'm his daughter and heiress!" Shrieky snapped angrily.

"That won't make a difference in the end! Shrieky, he went through the sacrifice of the heart – he and No Heart both! He is literally unable to care about other people – even his daughter!

-He wants me to take care of his empire!" Shrieky was now furious – but at the same time, for reasons she wasn't sure she understood, almost panicked. So much that she didn't notice his Care Blaster silently activating, and causing the flying car to move…

"And why is that, in your opinion? Because he loves his empire, and wants it to go on after his death? He's devoid of caring, Shrieky. He can't love anything – only his self-interest counts. Even something like wanting his creation to go on after his death is beyond him. All those years, what he really wanted was to make you a perfect agent – that's all there is to it, and all there can be!

-Stop it!" she screamed.

"But you, Shrieky – you're different! The sacrifice of the Heart doesn't affect DNA – and that means that the unfeeling isn't transmitted to the next generation. YOU can care just like any normal person – the only reason you don't is because that's how they raised you! But there remains a little bit of caring that Control never removed, because he knew it would be useful: Your loyalty to him. The reason you're doing all of this is so that you can have his approval – but it's a doomed quest, Shrieky! He can't love anyone, and there's nothing you can do to make him truly care about you!

-Stop it!!!

-But you don't have to do any of this! You can come with us – we can help you! You could come to CareNet…And there, maybe Nicholas could find you…Real parents…"

Shrieky looked at the mastermind. She then stood up, and said defiantly: "I already have a father. His name is Control.

-Lightspeed, Shrieky."

Shrieky finally realized what was going on as the flying car rushed in her direction from behind her. She quickly jumped sideways – but again, she was mistaken: The car wasn't attempting to crush her; but to force her to move out of the way. It stopped before hitting Warren, and the impulse gun mounted on it sent a quick blast, knocking Shrieky out.

"I can't believe she gave me trouble! Must be Control's teachings…But I definitely need to step the arrogance down a bit. You can come now, Loyal Heart" said the mastermind. The Care Bear Cousin appeared.

"I wasn't sure if I should have helped you…

-You did fine. And everything's working like I hoped it would. Control even fell for the little trap I left for him – that card he took from the car will monitor everything he does! We know he's with Dr Fright, at the decoy – which is our next target!

-It's the same kind of card you gave us the first time you came to Care-A-Lot, isn't it?

-Yes, it is, Loyal Heart. Are you going to bring that back too? I'm sorry if I can't do everything in a pure and innocent way, but if I'm to prevent a disaster, I need to do a few things I'd rather avoid!

-What about her?" Loyal Heart motioned toward the unconscious Shrieky.

"She's fine…But…Oh! I just had another idea!

-Not so fast. What about Cold Heart and his crew back there?" he pointed back toward the room. "I think they need some help right now. They're a wreck!

-Your concern is admirable, but I'm afraid we'll have to help them some other time. We have to hurry!"

Tender Heart's team had finally reached the building that housed the generator. Shadows were coming in and out – but only through one entrance, guarded by No Heart, who checked every single shadow to make sure everything was as it seemed. Next to him were some magical wards, which the heroes knew would activate if an invisibility spell was used in their vicinity. Lord and Lady Uncaring were patrolling around the building.

"This plan had better work" said Tender Heart, as David pulled out a bag with seven tiny glowing orbs inside. Five were white, one yellow, one red – all of them had been created by the Great Wishing Star and Nicholas, and had their specific purpose. David took the yellow one, pressed it in his palm – and its magic activated, disguising David, giving him the shape of one of the Beastly-like inhabitants. He gave each of the team members a white orb, and the red one went to Swift Heart. They waited until both Lord and Lady Uncaring were far enough, and then David, with his magical disguise, approached No Heart – looking very nervous.

"This is insane. This is the guy I'm supposed to fool? He could turn me into ashes with a snap of his fingers – and besides, he has, what, a century of experience? How can I pull it off?

No. I can pull it off. Warren's right – just because I'm not evil anymore doesn't mean Dark Heart isn't my past, and just because Dark Heart isn't someone else doesn't mean I'm not good. And I can fool this guy – for all his power, he never could come up with a real plan. I won't fail, I won't fail, I won't fail…I just hope everything works, Swift Heart!"

No Heart was surprised at seeing one of the transformed elves approach him, with the fear showing in his eyes. As a matter of fact, it was amazing that anybody in this city could muster the courage to address any of the former Guardians. Since they had learned that the newcomers were the long-gone sons of Lord and Lady Uncaring, they all quaked in fear at their sight. As should be. But it wasn't enough for No Heart that they be afraid of him – fear was the domain of Dr Fright, and power that of Control. What motivated No Heart was his unquenchable hatred for all of them – he didn't want them to be afraid of him, he wanted them to be miserable. And soon, with Control's plan, he would finally bring darkness to all of the Earth…The objective he had tried to achieve for so many years without success. It had taken him a long time to admit it, but even if he was the most powerful wizard of all times, he just lacked that ability Control often displayed of coming up with efficient plans…

"E-e-excuse me, Lord…No Heart. I, uh, I'd hate to bother you, your highness, b-b-but…Uh, y-you see, my daughter ran in this direction, and I was wondering if maybe she was here? I mean, I mean, sometimes Lady Uncaring takes people to her palace to, um, you know…

-Silence!!!

-Y-y-yes!!! B-b-but, did you…

-Get out of my sight, you bumbling fool!!!

-All right! All right!" yelled David in a panicky tone, as he slowly backed off, appearing to whistle nervously – in truth, trying to cover any noise from Swift Heart's movement.

No Heart, yelling at David, had turned his back to the magical ward – allowing Swift Heart to take advantage of his impressive speed and rush behind the evil magician and reach the ward. Once there, the rabbit pressed the red orb against the ward – its magic scrambling its detection. The Care Bear Cousin then pressed the white orb, turning invisible. Tender Heart, Bright Heart, and Paul did the same – and so did David, as soon as he had gotten out of No Heart's sight.

With the ward neutralized for about an hour, the invisible group could now enter the building. Inside, hundreds of shadows were busy working on a huge device – the EMP generator, which was supposed to channel the magic of the former Guardians, neutralizing all of Earth's electronics. The shadows were building it according to a huge blueprint that was hanging on the wall, courtesy of Professor Cold Heart. It seemed like it was about 25% complete.

"Remember," whispered David, "it must look like nothing was done to it.

-Well, we can't change the generator itself," noted Tender Heart, "but with our Stare and your Blasters, we should be able to change the blueprint. By the way, that was some great acting you did there!

-Thanks! You know, I wasn't sure that would leave enough time – but I guess the name "Swift Heart" wasn't given randomly!

-You bet!" chuckled the rabbit. "But what changes should be done?

"Well," answered Bright Heart, "We had a talk with Warren and Isaac on that, and we've concluded on the best way to do that…But I calculate we have very little time to understand those schematics. Let's do it, Paul!"

Next thing, they stumbled on each other. They agreed afterward to carry some small pieces of machinery that were lying around, so that the others could see where they were.

The flying car hovered at a respectable distance from the huge building. Inside it was the decoy generator – the one they were expected to believe was supposed to create the EMPs.

"Remind me again – why are we even bothering to attack this fortress, if we know it's a fake?

-Because we don't want them to know that we know it's a fake. If they do, they'll realize that we must have sent another team to the real generator – and then, they won't come to our dimension without repairing it first. Which would be rather unfortunate for the parts of the Earth which depend on electronics. On the other hand, if we attack the decoy, they'll think we fell for Control's trick, and come into our dimension with a dysfunctional generator – and when they realize it's dysfunctional, it'll already be too late.

-Well, decoy or not, this place is well-guarded. There's at least a hundred shadows at the entrance!

-The shadows can easily be disposed off. It's what's inside that we should be worried about…Under Control's directives, Dr Fright's traps will be much more deadly than in that carnival. Besides, Control can be rather dangerous himself…He's the fourth greatest magician in the world, after all.

Thankfully, we have our own advantages. We have a relatively good idea of what we're up against, thanks to the card we left for Control. We have this car – and with the technology I used to build it, that's better than having a tank. And we have this!"

With that said, Warren took something big out of the luggage – which Loyal Heart immediately recognized as battle suits!

"You brought those robotic exo-skeletons with you?

-Observant as always. This one is for me, this small one is for you…Designed so as to not block the Stare, of course…

-And those?

-Oh, they're not really exo-skeletons. They only look like them – but they're just robots. They have the same physical power, but their intelligence and dexterity is sorely lacking. They'll only be a moderate help in there, if at all – their real purpose is to make it look like there's a big team of us at it! Control must not suspect that there are more of us somewhere else, taking care of the real generator!

-This one has a weird head…

-It's designed for Brave Heart's mane…Well, designed to look like it was designed for Brave Heart's mane. You see, if I believed the decoy was the real thing, I'd have chosen somewhat different team members. Tender Heart I chose because the other team needed a leader, while Bright Heart and Paul were chosen because their technological skill would be needed to sabotage the generator (since I can't be there myself). If I thought this wasn't a decoy, I'd have chosen David, Brave Heart, Swift Heart, and Champ. The exo-skeletons and robots are supposed to reflect that.

-All this effort, just to make it look like we fell for Control's deception?!

-The biggest plans depend on details such as this. We can't let one little detail ruin everything – and with an intelligent enemy like Control, that means that we have to be extra-careful. Oh, and by the way – when you use your Call, be careful to use one of those that look like a Stare. We need you to make a convincing Champ under that exo-skeleton, after all."

Finally, Bright Heart and Paul were done – the blueprint had been modified according to the required specifications. The mindless shadows were following their instructions, and building the EMP generator – but with a few slight modifications. But there was very little time left – soon the invisibility would wear out (and the ward at the entrance would reactivate).

"Let's hurry!" whispered Tender Heart. "Everybody in line – drop the stuff you're holding so we won't be seen – and slowly!"

The five tip-toed in front of No Heart, and kept going for a couple of blocks – then, at Tender Heart's command, started walking faster. After getting far enough, they regrouped, made sure everyone was there, and turned at a street corner. Soon enough, their invisibility faded – and after a few more turns, they found their flying car. Its exterior was a bit damaged, but it was nevertheless fully functional…

The blinding flash of light destroyed the shadows in an instant. The next instant, the flying car was ramming through the wall – and immediately afterwards, Checkmate Warren, Loyal Heart, and the robots all rolled out of the car.

"Okay, everybody – be careful. Swift Heart, you go first – but be ready to dodge, run, jump, or take any other necessary action" Warren told the corresponding robot.

In the control room, Dr Fright and an evil genius were watching and listening.

"Resourceful as ever, I see. No matter – make sure they don't live, Dr Fright.

-Consider it done, Control."

As the flying car took them to another part of Avalon, Tender Heart addressed his raccoon friend:

"Bright Heart, are you sure this is all going to work?

-I can't tell for sure, Tender Heart. It's the best plan we could come up with in the limited time we had, and we did our best to eliminate flaws, but we won't know if it worked until the end.

-Right…I just hope Loyal Heart and Warren are doing fine."

"They've already survived 57 of your traps, Dr Fright. And counting.

-I'm trying! I'm trying!

-To your credit, I wasn't expecting some of the stunts they pulled…Certainly not the exo-skeletons or the car. And they do seem rather well-informed…Nevertheless, it's your future that's on the line.

-Don't worry! They won't survive the combined "shroom of doom" and collapsing ceiling in the next corridor…

-You've already said that about several previous traps.

-Yes, but the combined…Now look! They don't stand a…No!

-Foiled again, Fright. It would appear that you're severely underestimating the adversary, and now they've almost reached the generator room…Hold it. They KNEW what was lying ahead! But how could…Unless…"

Control suddenly grabbed the plastic card. Using a particularly subtle spell, he scanned it – then, with a much less subtle spell, he burned it to a crisp.

"Curses! They've been spying on us the whole time! Well, I guess it's time I took this matter into my own hands!"

"Okay, team – they're up to us. In all probability, we will have to face Control in the flesh soon. The good news are that we're reaching the generator. Everybody knows what to do."

"I can't believe we're going to all this trouble just to pretend we were fooled," thought Loyal Heart. "The way he's acting, you'd really think there were more than two of us!"

The Care Bear Cousin's thoughts were interrupted as they entered the generator room – well, the decoy generator room. There was a huge machine inside – completely fake, but realistic-looking.

"There it is! Destroy it!

-Over my dead body, chess-boy!" yelled Control as he entered the room, throwing a magical lightning at Warren. Warren dodged in the nick of time, and shouted: "Everybody focus on the generator – I'll handle him!"

While Loyal Heart and the robots were all shooting their impulse beams at the fake generator, slowly but surely wrecking it, Checkmate Warren duelled with Control. This time, the sorcerer had prepared for battle, spell-wise. His magic wasn't as powerful as that of No Heart, but he was more clever and efficient in its use. Of course, Warren, with the battle suit, was a rather formidable foe himself.

"I admit it, chess-boy – you're one. Impressive. Foe" said Control, as one of his attacks damaged the battle suit's right leg. "But this time, you won't get away – and your flying car won't save you!"

That was true – some of the corridors had been too narrow for the car, and it had remained behind.

"The car, no. But I'm still not out of gadgets!" said the leader of the Caretakers, and suddenly, an extremely high-pitched sound came from his battle suit. Loyal Heart was really grateful for the electronic filter he had been given – this was at least as bad as Shrieky's screams!

Control grimaced in pain, and quickly magicked himself some auditory protection – but that moment had been enough for Warren to punch him with the exo-skeleton's mechanical strength, sending him to the other end of the room.

"Okay, retreat!" yelled Warren. The spot where the fake generator had stood a few minutes earlier now looked like a disaster zone. The robots, as well as Loyal Heart, followed Checkmate Warren back through the corridors they had used to reach the generator room (because the traps there had already been activated during their first passage). They soon reached the flying car, got in, and took off. As they did, Control, still recovering from the blow, made a telepathic call to his family:

"Everybody…Gather at the portal's surrounding area. The defenders of caring will soon attempt to escape back to their world.  It's our last chance for now to eliminate them. Oh, and send shadows to surround the decoy building, so that Dr Fright can't escape – he'll have to face the consequences of his failure."

"Yes, Tender Heart, everything's fine. Mission objective accomplished, and we're alive and well. How about your team?

-Same here, Warren" replied Tender Heart's voice on the car's radio. "Now, we just need to get out of Avalon alive. Good thing they couldn't close the portal…

-It's impossible to open it from this dimension. Otherwise, Lord and Lady Uncaring would have come back to Earth a long time ago. So, if they close it, they're stuck here – along with the population. But there's something you guys need to know – our escape plan just got more complicated.

-Why, what happened?

-Well, we got an additional passenger" said Warren, while giving a glance to the bound and gagged Shrieky on the back seat (who was furiously trying to scream). "Let's just say I need to prove something to her. Don't worry, I have a plan.

-Okay. Where should we meet?

-Same place we agreed upon before. See you in a few minutes."

With the radio conversation over, Loyal Heart spoke to Warren: "I'm not sure about this, Warren. Are you sure we're doing the right thing, capturing Shrieky and all that?

-Well, it's not like we're hurting her or something. We can't leave her here – she could help Control. This is increasing our odds at saving the people of Earth – and we're not doing anything dishonourable, in my opinion at least.

-But what are you trying to prove?

-Well," Warren turned to face Shrieky again, "I'm trying to prove that I was telling the truth earlier – that Shrieky is being used by Control. That he's not a real father for her."

Control, No Heart, and Lord and Lady Uncaring were all gathered at the same spot, surrounded by a few hundreds of shadows.

"It doesn't look like your plan is working very well so far, Quenos" mocked Lady Uncaring.

"On the contrary. Has there been anything to report on your side?

-No.

-Nothing at all? Even false alarms?

-No…

-Then we're winning so far. As long as we have the EMP generator, we're winning. Besides, we still have one shot at killing several of the defenders of feeling before the battle. Look!"

A flying car appeared, hovering above the ex-Guardians. It became stationary. The sorcerers prepared to launch a magical offensive when a voice came through a loudspeaker on the car:

"Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. You might want to rethink this, people – and especially YOU, Control. Tell me – what kind of father sends his daughter to oppose a psychopathic super-genius? She's with us, Control – any attack against us will kill her just as well.

You see, Control, this is why people like you and me make the most effective villains: Because we know how to present the opposition with sadistic choices. Let go of a chance to kill your greatest enemy – or become the murderer of your own daughter? Choose!"

As the flying car began moving toward the portal, Control and the rest watched it, trying to make sense of the situation. Control was the quickest:

"He's probably telling the truth. Of course, he knows I wouldn't pass an occasion to kill him – he just wants to prove to Shrieky that I don't care about her. Meaning he has some plan for surviving our attack. But what –

-Look!" yelled Lady Uncaring. And immediately the other villains saw it: Another car had gotten even closer to the portal while they had been distracted.

"The first car is still operational?! Very good, Warren – but not good enough! Destroy the far away car first!" With that, bolts of dark magic flew from the hands of the four evil sorcerers, hitting the car, and causing it to explode. The other car was now reaching the point of the explosion, and getting beyond it and closer to the portal fast.

"Destroy that car too, just in case!"

Again, the bolts of dark magic flew toward their target – but this time, before they could reach the car, its luggage opened – and several objects were ejected from it in mid-air. They were hit by the bolts, exploding instead of the car, which went through the portal.

"The exo-skeletons" Control thought out loud. "Impressive. Points to you for getting out of this alive. Points to you for Shrieky. Points to you for Cold Heart. But the winning point will be mine.

-I'm sorely disappointed in you, Quenos" mocked Lord Uncaring. "You prided yourself a brilliant strategist, and yet your plan failed to cause the demise of even ONE of our enemies. And whatever it is they did to the professor, I doubt he'll be useful to us in his state. We needed him for his scientific expertise, not his expertise on whimpering in a corner.

-Need I explain again? We're still wining. Killing them while they were here was never the primary objective – it would merely have been a useful plus. The important part is that we now have a weapon that can neutralize mankind's technology – and as soon as that's taken care off, we can conquer the Earth with our magic!"

In the flying car, Warren turned to Shrieky:

"Well, you saw what I saw." She didn't even reply – but tears appeared in her eyes.

"Hey, don't cry" Tender Heart tried to comfort her. Her only reply was growling at him, and giving him a look charged with hatred through her tears.

Part seven: The Battle

As the flying car landed on a military aircraft carrier, several people rushed to it. Its occupant were soon swarmed with friends worried about their well-being, but ecstatic to see them return. Bright Heart was greeted by Champ and Treat Heart. Christy, John and Dawn hugged David. Love-A-Lot was the first to reach Tender Heart. For Swift Heart and Loyal Heart, it was Proud Heart. Lumpy wanted to reach Paul, but the gadgeteer was being hugged – well, squeezed – by Alice.

"Uh, Alice? Need to breath.

-You'll breath later! I was so worried – next time, I go risk my life on a suicide mission, and you stay here to kill yourself with worry!

-Sure," laughed Lumpy, "but he's gonna have to do lots of push-ups until then so he can squeeze you too when you come back!"

Isaac and Nicholas approached Warren. "Are you okay?" asked the novice magician.

"Fine. And your magic worked flawlessly. Good work.

-Thanks" reply Nicholas, unsure of how to answer.

Isaac kept his quiet smile and said: "I remember back in college, how you threatened the fratboys to zap them into a parallel universe. At the time, I thought it was an over-the-top bluff, but I guess you were serious after all…

-Well, they sure fell for it" chuckled Warren, who then added: "Still, it's a bit frustrating…I'm having a duel of wits of epic proportions with Control, and I'm under the impression  that most people are unable to appreciate its finer nuances.

-Not everybody here is a master strategist, Warren.

-No. But several people had good ideas. Nevertheless, I think a lot of people didn't really understand my plans.

-At least it was well-executed, right?

-Yes, but there's success, and then there's appreciation. How would an artist feel if he managed to sell his work at a good price, but almost no-one understood it?"

Warren and Isaac's peculiar brand of humour and half-jokes was interrupted by Tender Heart:

"Um, Warren, what do we do with Shrieky?

-I suggest keeping her away from what will follow. Nicholas will make sure she can't use any magic against us. What is it, Alice?

-Warren…I don't remember the plan including anything about taking prisoners. Especially minors.

-Well, it was an unexpected plus. As for the minor, she's chronologically older than you, even without counting the time-freeze. And she's Control's daughter, No Heart's niece, and an aspiring villainess who tried to destroy the Care Bears several times. Now if you'll excuse me…"

Warren then proceeded toward Loyal Heart. The Care Bear Cousin, upon seeing him approach, disengaged from his previous conversation and spoke to the mastermind:

"Warren, we still need to discuss…

-I need to go. As for what you wanted to discuss – I know what you're thinking. Feel free to explain everything about my behaviour to everyone."

He then turned away from the rest, and walked away while muttering under his breath: "Because I don't have the heart to tell them myself."

"Dr Fright is now in my dungeon" said Lady Uncaring, as she and the other ex-Guardians convened. "As for the humans, they're under close watch. The only times I've ever seen such wrecks was after long tortures – what the enemy did to them I can't imagine.

-I can" replied Control. "Didn't you notice that the professor's skin is becoming less and less bluish? Obviously, they found a way to reverse the process that turned him into Cold Heart. Unfortunate, but far from a crippling blow, as our weapon will soon be complete. Even the loss of my daughter won't change much…As for Dr Fright, his usefulness was mostly expired anyway. We'll see about him after the war.

-But we'll have to attack soon" said Lord Uncaring. "Keeping the portal like this is taking a lot of energy."

"Checkmate: Well, we took all the precautions we could think of all together. Now we can only hope that it'll be enough.

Sophia: Probably. From what I understood, Control's devious, but less than you.

Checkmate: True, but there remains a slight chance for it to go wrong. Still, if there's something here I'm proud of, it's resolving this without the conventional military violence.

Sophia: Especially as the CBF wouldn't appreciate.

Checkmate: No, they wouldn't. And you're too quick to dismiss their importance.

Sophia: Perhaps I underestimated their value as heroes.

Checkmate: That too. But it's their unique attitude and outlook on life that makes them so special.

Sophia: And vulnerable.

Checkmate: Sometimes. But so far, their positiveness and my cynicism have usually worked together rather well. I just hope the recent events won't change this…"

"…and that's it" finished Loyal Heart.

"That just burns me up!" exclaimed Brave Heart. "Taking advantage of a promise you made a long time ago like that!"

The other Care Bears and Cousins mumbled among themselves. Opinions were varied, but many agreed with Brave Heart.

"I'm not sure I can blame Warren" said Grumpy. "Don't take it the wrong way, Loyal Heart, but sometimes you're just too loyal for your own good.

-What do you mean by too loyal?

-Well, I mean that if Warren hadn't done all this, Professor Cold Heart would still be making weapons for Avalon, and we couldn't protect the people of Earth!

-And if we had known for sure that it would have killed him? Would it have been right then?

-I don't know! But I don't think I can really blame Warren this time."

The mumbling resumed.

"Gee, the palace sure feels different without Shrieky" reflected Beastly. "Much, much better. No more "do this, furball" or "it was my idea", or those awful shrieks. Or magic mirrors. I just hope…

-Beastly!" No Heart's voice resonated through the palace.

"Yes, boss?" the creature ran to its master. Some things had remained the same.

"Beastly, we are going to attack the Earth in less than an hour. Make sure that none of my equipment gets damaged.

-Sure thing, boss." As Beastly turned away, he predictably managed to stumble and break a few objects.

Shrieky was sitting on a bed in a small room aboard the aircraft carrier. She had remained motionless for nearly half-an-hour when the door opened. Grams Bear came in, carrying a few things.

"Shrieky? How do you feel?"

The purple-haired girl didn't reply.

"Well, you don't have to answer. I just brought a few things I thought you were going to need. A blanket for your bed – I thought you probably wouldn't like one with flowers and hearts, so I got a plainer one" she put a white blanket next to Shrieky. "And also some food – just some bread I made. I hope that'll be all you need."

Shrieky began to shake in anger – she tried to scream, but the sound that came from her throat was muffled. Warren and Nicholas had taken precautionary measures.

"I'll leave you alone now. But don't hesitate to call if you need anything" Grams gestured toward an electric buzzer. "Good bye."

"So close" reflected Control. "In a few minutes, the Earth will be defenceless. With the help of my dim-witted family, this will be an easy conquest – and I know in great detail what Lord and Lady Uncaring intend to do to dispose of me. Eliminating them will be easier than any of my corporate takeovers. And I already have a plan for dispatching my brother…"

His reflections were interrupted by No Heart: "Are you ready, Control? The others are waiting.

-I am ready. Let the show begin!"

The red alert rang through the fleet as Avalon began going through the portal again. In a minute, the entire Care Bears family, all of the Caretakers, and a few others were reunited on the deck. The general addressed the defenders of feeling:

"Well, there goes. I hope your crazy plan works.

-So do we, general. So do we" replied Checkmate Warren. "And I hope that the little machine I asked you to build is functional.

-We tested it. Dr Isaac told us how to build it, but he left some grey areas – I don't think we could replicate it.

-That's the point, general. Don't take it the wrong way, but there are designs at work that I don't want in the hands of any army. And the person who invented this originally thought the same."

Warren's gaze then met that of Loyal Heart. After a moment of awkwardness, they both looked away in Avalon's direction.

The frightful city had now fully crossed the portal. The population watched, frightened, as their town returned to where it had stood decades ago – the middle of the ocean, a few hundreds of feet above the water. Although this time, there was an entire fleet in the area – and even if only the dark clouds could be seen from the sea-level, this time, the people down there knew very well what lay above the clouds.

The four who, that long time ago, had been the protectors of the city, now inspired only fear to its citizens. They had now ascended on their special dark cloud, and as the sinister shadows took down the walls surrounding the EMP generator, they all focused their formidable magical powers, and hurled them at the machine. The huge device absorbed the energy, which it converted…And the next instant, thousands of electro-magnetic charges were sent to various points around the globe.

"Finally!" yelled Control. As he did, the sorcerers cast a few spells that allowed them to watch the events unfolding throughout the world.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Cars were still moving in the streets. People wee still working on their computers. Planes still roamed the sky.

"No. That's impossible. We generated all the EMPs just like we intended to!" Control was starting to become afraid. What he didn't know was that Bright Heart and Paul had made a slight, virtually undetectable modification to the design: The sphere of EMPs that was supposed to cover the Earth had been shrunk only so slightly, and each individual EMP, instead of appearing a few miles above the ground, appeared a good distance below it – having no effect whatsoever.

On the ship, Warren addressed the others:

"Now!"

The device which had been constructed in their absence came to life: A new Freeze Machine. It was aimed at the dark clouds that supported Avalon.

It all took only seconds. The clouds of Avalon, for all their magic, were still clouds – in other words, water under its gaseous form. As the Freeze Machine reduced their temperature, big chunks of the clouds turned into liquid water, then into blocks of ice that ensnared the flying city. Slowly at first, but surely accelerating, Avalon began to fall toward the ocean.

The population of Avalon shrieked in terror as their city approached the water. The ex-Guardians, however, had retained their magic – and used it to keep their cloud aloft, even as Avalon kept descending.

"Care Bears, stare!

-Care Cousins, call!

-Caretakers, blast!"

The energy of the champions of caring hit the sorcerers at full force, but the four villains soon retaliated with their magic. For a few instants, the greatest powers on Earth clashed – the villains, having converted all their feelings into magical energies, were the greatest wizards the world had ever seen. The Care Bears, Care Bears Cousins and Caretakers, on the other hand, were projecting their combined caring against the evil of the ex-Guardians.

While they fought, other people were using the Freeze Machine to turn the ocean water into ice an instant after Avalon hit it, thus stopping its fall and preventing it from sinking…Avalon soon floated on its very own iceberg. And the fight went on.

For a while, the forces were evenly matched…Until the defenders of feelings used a little secret weapon: A sound recorder with a loudspeaker. As it played, the unexpected sound came out: Shrieky's infamous scream. The vibration messed with No Heart's amulet, causing him to lose control of his transformations for a while. He regained his shape as soon as he could, but it was too late: Without his magic, the three others couldn't oppose the combined Stare. All four of them were pushed – through the portal!

"No! Not again!" protested Lord Uncaring. Control only watched with horror, understanding their enemies' plan:

The champions of caring were now sending their Stares to Nicholas, who used his simple magic to channel it to the Great Wishing Star, who turned it against the portal. It wasn't used as a subtle magical spell; it was instead an attempt to scramble the portal, to play havoc with its delicate structure. The ex-Guardians did their best to keep the portal holding, but it was no use: Soon, the portal began to collapse. Several members of the Care Bears family and Caretakers collapsed too, drained by the effort.

As the portal slowly faded, the four sorcerers remained somewhat visible behind it, frantically trying to re-open it – a doomed initiative. Seeing that she and the rest were about to be trapped again in the other dimension, Lady Uncaring abandoned her attempts to revive the portal, and yelled:

"You can lock us away, but my revenge will destroy you! Quake, insects, as I take back that which I have given you!" And with that said, she cast one last spell – and bolts of magical energies flashed through the sky. The portal kept fading, slowly.

 As it did, Checkmate Warren grabbed the loudspeaker and used it in the villains' direction:

"Hit the road, jerks!

And don't you come back no more no more no more no more

Hit the road, jerks!

And don't you come back no moooooore

Hit the road, jerks!

And don't you come back no more no more no more no more

Hit the road, jerks!

And don't you come back no moooooore"

As the portal faded completely, Warren added: "Oh, how could I forget? Checkmate, Control. And no rematch this time."

 Later that evening, the heroes of the day were going through Avalon, as its inhabitants were coming to realize that they were finally free of Lord and Lady Uncaring.

"This is True Heart speaking" said the elder Care Bear's voice on the cell phone. "Cheer and I have found Professor Cold…I mean, professor Hart and the two others. They're not hurt physically, but they don't seem too well.

-No kidding" came Warren's reply. "Well, if anybody can help them now, it's you. Good luck" he said, as he closed the phone. John was walking beside him in the Avalonian street, and asked:

"Tell me, Warren…Do you think it's really over?

-I don't really know, John. I don't know if the elves' situation will ever be normal again…I don't know if we've fought our last big villain. This was our greatest victory, no doubt…But our job is far from finished. The world needs help…And that goes double for Avalon, after a near-century of gloom.

-Hey, guys!" Lumpy suddenly appeared from a street corner, with Wish coming after him. He was holding one of the inhabitants. "Look what I found!"

The muscular young man put the obviously frightened being on the ground. Upon closer inspection, Warren easily recognized him:

"Why, why, why! If it isn't dear old Beastly!

-Um, uh, hi, ex-boss...I mean...

-Ah, but indeed, you used to work for me, didn't you? As a matter of fact, I distinctly recall you betraying me at a point – no doubt under threat from your other boss – thus becoming one of the many reasons that led to the downfall of my original master-plan. And while it may have been a blessing in disguise that my original plan failed, I don't forget a betrayal."

Beastly now looked at the mastermind with fear. "Eh…What are you going to do?

-What I'm going to do?!" Warren's tone of voice was now the one his acquaintances dreaded. "I'm going to show you the true meaning of abject terror! I'm going to put mind-warping fear into you! I'm going to make you quake before me!"

Beastly's entire body was already shaking. He was now too frightened to reply.

"There" said Warren. "I'm done." And he turned away. It took Beastly a few minutes to calm down and understand.

As Wish caught up with Warren, she admitted: "I really thought you were going to hurt him.

-Eh, I think I'm holding enough grudges already."

A couple weeks later, the Caretakers and Care Bear Cousins were on a visit to Care-A-Lot. Warren was having a discussion with True Heart and Noble Heart:

"Well, Avalon is recovering. With the elves back to normal physically, and with the city soaring on white clouds again, there's hope for them…Although they're going to need help.

-I was surprised when you convinced them to avoid extensive dealings with the humans" admitted Noble Heart. "Why did you do that?

-Well, their knowledge of magic could be very useful…But everything needs time. And in their present state, I think that too much interaction with us humans would give them trouble. There are many Clifford Quentins in this world…

-But you didn't shy away from asking them for information on everything!" noted True Heart.

"No, I didn't. I don't think we're done protecting the world. Besides, I'm trying to make sense of their recorded communications with Heavyland. Imagine that – an alien civilization! Not to mention the scientific explanation to magic – something both I and professor Hart have been trying to achieve!

-Speaking of which," said True Heart, "I think you pulled a lot of strings for the professor…

-True. I managed to avoid him trouble on the count that he was insane when he committed his crimes – they'd have seen that anyway, but in his state, I'm not sure he'd have survived a long trial.

-It's still a tragedy. We're doing our best, but I'm not sure if we can help him, or his associates…Or Shrieky.

-Just keep trying. CareNet alone won't be enough.

-By the way," interrupted Noble Heart, "when we all have a meeting in the Hall of Hearts later, we will talk about…

-…my shameless manipulation of Loyal Heart during the ordeal. I know. And I'll have something to say besides that."

As he walked away from the two elders, he met Tender Heart.

"Hi Warren! How do you feel?

-After weeks of unceasing activity? Not quite drained yet. Although I certainly am glad that we didn't have to spend too much time in that 'dimension'.

-It wasn't that bad, except for the darkness, gloom, and despair.

-It's not just that. It's also that the physics involved remain a mystery. I hope to one day understand all this, but so far, it's driving me crazy!

-I don't get it. What's the problem?

-Sure, you weren't weirded out by the fact that there was air and gravity even though the Earth was nowhere to be seen, or that there was light despite the absence of the Sun!"

Later that day, all the defenders of feelings were meeting at the Hall of Hearts. True Heart opened the session with a speech:

"The crisis with Avalon is now officially over. Everybody here – and several others – have done their part to protect the world – and it was a success. I'm sure all of us remember how nervous we were at first – and with good reason – but thankfully, this has ended in what was probably the best possible way. Not only are the people of Earth and Avalon both safe now, but the villains who threatened them are not dangerous anymore.

-Indeed that," said Warren. "No Heart, Lord and Lady Uncaring, and of course Control are all exiled forever on the other side of the portal. Shrieky is under surveillance. Cold Heart and crew have their feelings back. And Dr Fright is the first inmate of Avalon's new Pit.

-But some things still need to be taken care of" said Noble Heart. "Starting with what you did about Cold Heart, Checkmate Warren.

Now, before I go on: I have to say that most people here, maybe even everybody, think of you as a friend. And we can forgive a lot. But tell us – why did you withhold the truth from us about the danger to Cold Heart? And why did you chose to manipulate Loyal Heart?"

Warren hesitated for a couple of seconds, then spoke up:

"I did what I thought was best. Now, look at it this way – I have a different worldview than most of you – especially you, Care Bears and Cousins. And especially you, Loyal Heart. You tend to see things in terms of black and white – right or wrong. I, for all my love of chess, tend to think in shades of grey. The risk of killing Cold Heart was acceptable to me, if it meant that the six billion inhabitants of this world wouldn't become Control's slaves. And yes, I would have relied on lethal force if it was necessary – the reason I used the Stare to eliminate the anti-caring molecules was because there was a chance that it would neutralize him without killing him. But in this situation, the ends justified the means – in my opinion to the very least.

But I was far from certain you'd agree. And if you didn't, well…How would I pull off the whole operation? It was hard enough to defeat the evil alliance as it was. So I did something I didn't want to – told my friends half-truths and manipulated them – because if I didn't, it could have spelled disaster.

I'm genuinely sorry about it. I consider all of you my friends, too (no matter how much some of you can get on my nerves without even trying), and I'd rather be honest with you. But if I had to, I'd do it all over again – in exactly the same way.

-I don't know if I'd have done the same thing you did" said Dawn, "but I can understand why you did it. And I can forgive you.

-So can I" said Loyal Heart, surprising many. "I don't agree with everything you did or said, but you obviously did what you thought was the right thing – and I can't hold that against you."

Soon enough, it was pretty much agreed that Warren was forgiven by all. Which is when he requested the right to say something of utmost importance:

"Now that this is out of the way…There's something that requests everybody's attention:

As you may have noticed, before the portal completely collapsed, Lady Uncaring cast a last spell. It went up into the sky, then into deep space – quite impressive. Astronomic observations have seen her spell…do something. And we've figured out what:

It wasn't a spell as much as the cancellation of an earlier spell. What Lady Uncaring did was neutralize the spell she and her family had cast all those decades ago – the one that created the barrier to hide the Solar System from the Devourer of Worlds. The barrier is gone now – and that means the Devourer probably knows where to find us."

To be continued (is that getting old?)

Author's additional notes: Yes, another story finished – and the sequel is already in preparation. But there's a couple of things I'd like to say about this story before I start writing the next:

"Of Origins and Invasions" is the biggest, most complex piece of writing I've done so far. I think it's going to be the longest story in this series – but if there's one thing about it that bothers me, it's that I might have made it a bit too complex. Now maybe I'm wrong, and the readers will have no trouble following the plot – but really, I think it was necessary: The duel of minds between Warren and Control can't, logically speaking, be simple.

I rather like the explanation I gave for the origin of the major players of the Care Bears world. I know alternate explanations have been given by other authors – some of them quite good – but this is the one I'll be sticking with for what's left of the series. Also, maybe not everyone will like the idea that Nicholas took a creative licence in his retelling of his story – but that's the way I most liked to explain the discontinuity between the first and second movie. I respect other explanations, though.

As for the science in this story: Well, there's no way I could make all of this scientifically correct…But I did put a minimum of research into this. Some of this is accurate – some isn't.

I'd like to thank Sean (aka Swift Heart Rabbit) for helping me get some of the details right.

One last thing: Like previous stories, this one is full of references. Here's a non-exhaustive list:

-Starnesville was a reference to "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand…And while I may not agree with Ayn Rand on everything, she did make me think.

-The multiple-universe theory stating the existence of an evil Mike in every universe was a reference to "The Seventh Power" ().

-James Dover did stick to Calculus, eventually becoming a teacher. He remained an incredibly sadistic jerk (although they used a somewhat stronger word) in "CRFH": (www.crfh.net/). And calling Professor Cold Heart "Mike Hart" wasn't intended as a reference to "CRFH", but it could have been.

-Dr Steven Hereti eventually became a villain in "Sluggy Freelance" (www.sluggy.com/). And that sonic boom generator sure worked.

-Dr Griffin was a reference to "The Invisible Man" by H.G.Wells.

-Sophia will play her role…But let's say her name wasn't chosen randomly either.

-The 528526734916 had no meaning whatsoever – it was just there to trick Control.

-Cthulhu is from "The Call of Cthulhu". I haven't read it myself, but I played the RPG…

-If Shrieky's last stand and her fight with Warren remind you of the Spider-man movie, that's no accident. Although the roles have been switched…

-Warren's little send-off song…Well, just replace "jerks" with "Jack".

Well, that's it. I just hope you had as much fun reading this as I had writing it!