"Two of a Kind...Almost"
Chapter 3: What Are You?
"You're bad! Lemme go!" yelled Connie as she tried to get Beastly to let her go, unaware that she was in danger of falling if she succeeded.
"Pipe down, and don't flatter me. It won't work." returned Beastly, holding Connie so that she couldn't bite him again. Somehow he managed to cycle to No Heart's castle without crashing, and this was no easy feat; Connie was refusing to be still, and he was used to cubs behaving meekly. Hugs and Tugs certainly hadn't given him this much trouble!
"I want my mommy! I want my daddy!" Connie wailed, bringing her little fists up to her eyes and crying loudly. "I'm scared, I want my mommy!"
"Be quiet! No Heart doesn't like-"
"-noise." Beastly finished lamely, and Connie was shocked into silence. A tall figure who was wearing a hooded cloak appeared in front of them, followed by a girl who looked to be about ten years old. She had a blue-and-purple ponytail, and wore a very sour expression.
"Causing trouble again, furball?" the girl sneered at Beastly, then she noticed Connie. "Eew, what's that dirty little brat doing here?"
Connie sniffled, and said, "I not dirty...I jus' had a bath..."
No Heart glared down at Beastly after getting a good look at the cub, and said, "I told you to bring both cubs. I only see one!"
"B-but I could only grab one! Their parents were giving the other one a bath, and that would be...er..." he counted on his fingers, "Yeah, that would be two against one!"
The sorcerer snorted, but didn't bother to argue. He had learned long ago not to rely on Beastly's courage, because it was doubtful that the strange creature possessed any. He strode slowly towards them to tower over Connie, as if trying to intimidate her, and she immediately began to wail.
"Silence!" No Heart roared, picking her up by the scruff of her neck and dangling her in front of his face.
"Silence, I said!" he shook her once, and she put her paws over her mouth to stifle her sobs. "That's better...now..."
Connie's tummy symbol began to hum, and all eyes including her own were drawn in the direction of her belly. Everyone but Contrary Heart suddenly felt as if their limbs were falling asleep; it began as a pins-and-needles sensation, and slowly a numbness began to spread from the tips of their fingers and toes. Even the air seemed thicker. No Heart's eyes widened in surprise, and he held her out at arm's length. "What are you!"
"I...I wanna go home!" she cried, and on the word 'home', everyone around her froze in place. She hung there for a moment before she realized that she was as good as alone, then she began to squirm until she had freed herself from No Heart's stony grip. She landed on her bottom, hard, but she barely noticed the pain as she scrambled to her feet and ran, screaming, into what appeared to be No Heart's throne room. She dove under the throne and curled into a ball, terrified that if she came out he would wake up and be angry with her. It was obvious already that he was not a good person to anger.
While Stellar Heart kept Hope amused inside, Brave Heart stood outside with his sister, just underneath the playroom window. So far they had only been able to get in touch with Brave Heart, and he had sent out a general distress signal to any Family member who happened to be near enough to see it.
"Now tell me, calmly, what happened." Brave Heart said firmly. Regal Heart had been hysterical when he had arrived, so he had taken her outside, hoping that some fresh air would calm her down. When it hadn't, he did something he never liked to do; he had taken her by the shoulders and sternly told her to stop, saying that the longer they stood around doing nothing, the harder it would be to get her daughter back safely. The look she had given him when he said that had split his heart in two, but they both knew he was right.
Regal Heart, now much calmer, took a deep breath and said, "Okay...I left the room for a minute because I heard Stellar slip and fall...I heard her calling for help, and when I got there the window was open, and...and she was gone." she sniffled and looked away, trying to control herself.
"All right, now we're getting somewhere." he said, "And you didn't see who it was?"
"Okay...then let's look around for some sort of clue." he gave her arm a pat, and began to scope out the nearby area. She sniffled again, and helped him look. "You're doin' great, Sis. Just keep it together for now, okay?"
"Yeah..." she swallowed hard.
Brave Heart actually had a pretty good idea who it was, but he wasn't entirely sure. He checked the ground for tracks, but he and his sister had thoughtlessly obscured the few that were there. He scratched his head, frowning.
"I know who it was." Stellar said from the window as he peered down at them, his face a mask of stony anger. "Who else could get up here? No Heart has to be involved somehow."
Brave Heart glanced up, and said, "I just wanna be sure."
"Humph, 'just wanna be sure'...I already said I was sure..." Stellar muttered, ducking back in as Hope tugged on his arm to get his attention. "What is it, sweetie?"
"Wanna pway?" she held up her stuffed bunny.
Regal didn't hear Stellar's response; she had spotted something. "Hmm?" she squinted at one of the bushes, having sighted a tuft of brown fur sticking to a twig. "Brave Heart..."
"Found something?" he asked excitedly.
"I'm not sure." she broke off the twig, and when she held it up they could see a red thread wound throughout the hair fibers.
Brave Heart growled, baring his teeth. "Why, that dirty little..." he turned and sent up another distress call from his tummy symbol.
"Wh...what is it? Do you know who it was?" Regal grabbed his arm, and he could feel her shaking.
He turned to her, and nodded. "Yeah..."
"Well, who?" she pressed, and he sighed.
"That fur and bit of thread came from Beastly...the thread's from that scarf he always has on...he's brought Connie to No Heart."
If Stellar had been within hearing range, he would have had something to say about that deduction. Regal stared at him for a moment, then quickly turned away and hid her face in her paws. "And I left her...what kind of mother am I?"
"C'mere..." Brave Heart turned her around and held her close. This time he let her cry. "You're a great mom, ya hear? Don't say you're a bad one, and don't think it. Okay?"
"We'll find her; it's not too late. She'll be okay, trust me." he supported her as her balance suffered, and she would have fallen to her knees if he wasn't there to prop her up. Unlike everyone else in the Kingdom of Caring, Regal Heart had actually lost loved ones to No Heart. Because of this, it didn't surprise him that she had gone to pieces; she was terrified of having it happen again.
He was still hugging her when help arrived, and she had calmed down considerably by then. When she heard the sputtering of the Cloudmobiles, she stepped back and rubbed her eyes. He used his tummy symbol to create a handkerchief, and held it out.
"Thank you..." she took it, and blew her nose.
"You okay now?" he asked.
She nodded, sniffling. "Yeah, I'm done..."
"Okay..." he nodded, patting her on the shoulder, and went to meet the others.
Very few had been able to answer the distress call; most of the Bears and Cousins were on missions, and hadn't even seen the signal. Only Pround Heart Cat, Noble Heart Horse, Lotsa Heart Elephant, Grumpy Bear and Wish Bear had seen the signal and responded to it.
"What's the trouble?" called Noble Heart, vaulting out of his Cloudmobile.
Brave Heart cleared his throat to keep his voice sounding strong, but it didn't work very well. "Connie's been kidnapped."
Proud Heart's mouth sagged open for a moment, and Wish Bear went over to Regal Heart.
"Are you all right?" asked the teal bear, and Regal Heart shook her head slowly from side-to-side. "Don't worry, we'll find her." said Wish Bear, giving her a hug.
"And that's the truth!" agreed Lotsa Heart.
"Yeah, but who took her?" asked Grumpy Bear, folding his arms, "Or do I already know the answer to that?"
"No Heart has her." replied Brave Heart, looking away in order to keep a straight face; it was starting to sink in that there was a possibility that they were wrong, and Connie might be lost forever.
"I knew it..." Grumpy sighed.
Brave Heart turned his attention back to the group, and said, "We're not as many as I was hopin', but we have to leave now."
Stellar Heart came out to join them as he said this, carrying Hope at his hip. The look of uncompromising anger on his face was enough to give even Noble Heart pause, but his expression softened when he saw his wife. Without a word he transferred Hope to her, and the corners of his mouth turned up somewhat. "We'll be back soon."
Regal looked at him in disbelief, and said, "I'm going too."
"No," Brave Heart turned to her, "you're too upset; you'll be a danger to yourself and the rest of us."
"But I can't just stay here! I..." she looked from one face to the other, but received nothing but nods in return. "I don't believe this!"
"I'm sorry, Sis, but I'm pulling rank here; as your Leader, I'm telling you to stay here. Besides, there's no one else to watch Hope. Unless you want to bring her with us..." he said in a rather offhand manner.
She shook her head quickly, holding her daughter close.
"Then it's settled." Brave Heart motioned for the others to follow him, and Stellar hugged Regal one last time before leaving with them.
As Regal watched them go, Hope said, "Mommy, I'm hungwy..."
Regal looked at her watch, and saw that it was actually past dinnertime. They hadn't even had a chance to cook anything. "What would you like?" she asked, trying to sound upbeat.
"Look out!" cried Wish Bear.
Brave Heart stopped short, just inches away from walking into one of No Heart's Shadows. "Whoa!"
The Shadow wasn't moving. Brave Heart didn't move either, at first, but after a moment he relaxed. "I think this one's a fake to scare us off." he told them, reaching out to poke the 'fake' Shadow. As soon as his finger came in contact with it, it sprang to life and reached for him. "Yaaah!" Brave Heart cried out in surprise, propelling it backwards with a Cousin Call.
"Stare!" yelled Grumpy Bear, and the seven of them eventually forced it to back off and hide from them.
"Whew..." sighed Brave Heart, sagging a bit. "That was a close one."
"Why was it just...standing there?" asked Stellar, "It was like it either didn't see us, or couldn't move."
"Never mind that." said Brave Heart, recovering his dignity, "We've got a cub to save! Come on."
They followed him closely, looking periodically over their shoulders as if they expected that Shadow, or more than one Shadow, to return. But, strangely enough, they met with no resistance.
They had been searching for about an hour by the time they made it to the throne room, and as composed as Stellar Heart appeared on the outside, his heart was in his throat. So far, they had seen no sign of his missing daughter. Brave Heart led the others into the throne room, halting suddenly when he saw No Heart, Beastly, and Shrieky. Just like the Shadow, they weren't moving at all; the room was completely still and silent. Brave Heart simply took in No Heart's immobile state; he sighed, his shoulders slumped in defeat. "How am I ever gonna tell my sister...?"
Grumpy laid a paw on Brave Heart's shoulder, and the fur on Stellar's back slowly began to rise. He clenched his paws into fists that shook, and stared up at No Heart with something that bordered on hatred.
"Are you all right?" Noble Heart asked him.
Instead of answering, Stellar lashed his tail and walked right up to Beastly, the one who had been so brazen as to steal his daughter from right under his nose. It would be so easy now, with Beastly standing there helpless, just one punch...
"Don't do it..." Noble Heart said quietly.
Stellar stared at Beastly for a long moment, his fists shaking at his sides, but finally he heaved a deep sigh and laid his ears back. "Don't do what?" And turning away from Beastly, Stellar Heart sat on the edge of the dais with his chin in his paw. "She's not here...One of No Heart's spells must have backfired on him or something, but if she was here we should be able to see her..." his voice broke, and he put his face in his paws.
Noble Heart began to approach him, but at the sound of her father's voice, Connie began to whimper softly.
"Listen..." Proud Heart cupped a paw behind her ear, "Hear that?"
They all listened, and their eyes soon oriented on the throne. Stellar leapt to his feet and ran over to it, and the whimpering turned into wailing as Connie mistook his footsteps for No Heart's. She scrambled as far away from the sound as she could and curled into a ball, still hidden by the large chair.
"Connie!" Stellar called, peeking underneath the throne.
"Don' hurt me!" she squeaked, and he reached under and touched her back, which was the only part of her within reach.
"Connie, it's me...it's Daddy!"
"Daddy?" she hazarded a peek and crawled out, holding out her arms as a request to be held.
"You're okay!" he lifted her in his arms, holding her tight. She clung to his neck, crying loudly, and that was the first time he was actually glad to hear it; his relief was so strong it was like a punch in the chest.
"I want Mommy!"
"Okay, okay...we're gonna take you home, don't worry." he told her as he and the others hurried out, "I gotcha now, no one's gonna hurt you..."
It took them less time to get out of No Heart's castle than it did to find Connie. Stellar sat with her in the back seat of one of the cars while Noble Heart drove, and soon Connie began to realize that she was safe again. She breathed a sigh of relief, and looked up at her father.
"Huh? Why you cwyin', Daddy?" she asked, reaching up to dry his face.
Stellar hadn't even known that he was crying, and he self-consciously touched his own cheek. "I'm...I'm just glad you're okay."
"But you don' cwy when you're happy, you laugh." she objected.
"Nah, sometimes you do." he replied, "If you're really happy, it can happen."
"Oh." she nodded, hiding her face in his chest again, still shaking from her scare.
Regal Heart yanked the front door open before they had a chance to touch the doorknob, causing them to jump a bit. "Connie!"
Connie gasped, and held out her tiny arms. "Mommy!"
Stellar gladly handed her over, and as his wife kissed Connie's chubby little cheeks over and over he took the time to blow his nose. Hope toddled out and wrapped her arms around Brave Heart's leg, and the lion picked her up with a laugh.
"Been a long day, hasn't it, Munchkin?" he asked, and though Hope didn't know exactly what he meant, she nodded anyway.
Brave Heart watched as Regal and Stellar fussed over Connie, and gave a satisfied nod.
"Unca Bwave Hawt, can you be the Lion?" Hope asked.
"Huh?" Brave Heart blinked in confusion. "I already am a lion, Hopie..."
"No, I mean Dowothy's fwiend! Be that lion!" she smiled.
"Ummm..." Brave Heart blushed and avoided the several pairs of eyes that fixed suddenly on him as if waiting for him to carry out her request. "Er...Tell you what, why don't we save that for the next time I babysit the two of ya, okay?"
"Okay..." Hope agreed, looking rather disappointed.
Regal picked some dust from Connie's fur, and groaned. "Sweetheart, you're filthy...You're gonna need another bath..."
As soon as Connie was safe at home, the mysterious force that had held No Heart in place vanished. He and his minions were able to move again, but how had they been rendered immobile in the first place?
"Aaaaiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee!" screamed Shrieky, as soon as she was able to move. "I'll turn that stupid cub into a pair of mittens!"
"N-No Heart, should I go and get her back?" stammered Beastly, hoping that the answer would be a negative one.
No Heart had his back to them, and was ignoring them completely. They soon got the message, and left him alone to think. What was that cub? None of the Care Bears or their Cousins had the power to do that. So, how had she done it? He didn't know...and he didn't like it. "That cub is more than what she seems...Supposing the other cub has the same abilities? When she and her sister grow, they could be a threat to me..."
No Heart needed time to think. A lot of time.
Author's Note: Sorry it took so long to finish this. I know Connie's ability seems to be coming out of the blue, but trust me, it does have a purpose. I'd explain, but that would ruin a few surprises I have planned. I hope you enjoyed it! The next story will be up soon!