Author's Note: Most of the up and coming stories will be somewhat shorter than the others that went before them, but they won't be quite as short as this one. And now for the obligatory disclaimer; I don't claim ownership to anything except for Stellar, Regal, and their cubs. Enjoy!
No Heart clasped his long-nailed, corpse-blue hands behind his back, and inclined his head forward as he inhaled the vapors that rose from his cauldron; he held this position for several long moments, the red light from his eyes hidden behind tired, unseen lids. He had spent the past four months spying on the Liger Twins, but had seen no evidence that they were anything other than regular Care Bear Cousin cubs. 'But if they are merely that, how was that cursed little ragamuffin able to petrify every being in this castle?' he thought acidly. No doubt it had been involuntary, but that made it no less dangerous.
The sorcerer inhaled deeply, feeling himself becoming more alert as his potion did its work. By inhaling the vapors, he had enabled himself to stay awake for unnatural stretches of time while he alternately spied on the cubs and searched through many books only to toss them aside in disgust. There was nothing he could do but keep at it, because if these cubs had strange powers other than what he was used to, he needed to learn how they got them and why; he needed to know if it was possible that the adults had them as well. If so, it was imperative that they be relieved of them.
No Heart opened his eyes once more, and waved a hand over his cauldron. The liquid swirled and bubbled for a long moment before it suddenly became as smooth as glass, revealing a now-familiar scene to him. It was the living room of that lioness and tiger couple, and all four of them were there; husband and wife, and their unnatural hybrid daughters. What were they doing? He squinted, and saw that the two parents were apparently giving their daughters a reading lesson. Clasping his hands behind his back once more, he considered them, one by one.
First, the father. At first glance, he seemed to be of little consequence. He was of average height for a Care Cousin male, no more or less muscular than the others, if they could be considered as such. No Heart hated his face, hated the way the misfortunes of others sometimes moved the tiger to tears. As timid as he was, it was easy to mistake Stellar Heart for a coward, but he had proved on several occasions that he was not. Beastly was deathly afraid of him, because once someone managed to get the tiger's hackles raised it was difficult to hold him back. No Heart's lackey had won no amount of affection from the tiger when he had kidnapped one of the cubs, and now both parents were more protective than ever. While Stellar had never actually struck Beastly, he was adept at putting on a good show; these days, all he had to do was show his teeth or hiss, and Beastly would head for the hills. But he had no unnatural abilities.
No Heart turned his attention now to the mother, whose face was burned into his memory. Regal Heart Lioness. No Heart had nearly prevented their union, but somehow the infernal wench had stalled him long enough for the others to come and rescue her. He had fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book; getting the bad guy to start talking about himself and what he would do. If he had simply destroyed her and been done with it, he wouldn't have had to deal with this now. He would not make that mistake again, and he certainly wouldn't underestimate her intelligence in the future. She was crafty in a way that few of the others were, and he was rather unsettled to note that she wasn't completely above resorting to mild deception if it meant keeping her loved ones safe. She had certainly stumped Beastly on more than one occasion. 'Not that that is a difficult thing to do." he thought to himself. Oh, he hated all Care Bears and Cousins, but he especially loathed the smart ones. She was a possible danger, mostly because she had been raised by humans and saw the world through different eyes than the rest of them. This sometimes made it hard to predict what she would do. 'She is a thorn in my side, yes...but there is nothing physically out of the ordinary with her.' He supposed she might be considered comely by Care Bear standards, but she certainly wasn't unusual.
No Heart's eyes focused on Hope, and he curled his lip in disgust. He had yet to see this cub in person, but already he despised her. She was too cute, too shy, too smiley. He hadn't seen her display any sort of special talent yet, but he sensed that there was something different about her. If only he could put his finger on it. Even by simply looking at her image while she was elsewhere, he could feel that the subtle vibrations of her Life Force were out of synch with those of her parents. If he could simply pick out the specifics of those differences, all this cauldron-gazing would be quite unnecessary.
But Hope shared this strange new 'vibration' with her sister, Connie. He was familiar with this noisy little brat. She was the one who had managed to freeze him. During the time he had studied this little unit of the Care Bear Family, he had come to know her ways and habits, but had seen nothing that matched what she had done four months before. Connie was as feisty as they came, and if a phrase could be attached to her, it would be, 'It's my way; there is no highway option'. He considered her to be the biggest threat of the two, because by the time they had matured she would be the most confrontational. She would be the most likely to say, 'You want a piece of me?' right to his face without an iota of fear or respect.
He had tried a few more times to claim the cubs so that he could study them, but had met with no success at all. No, it was time for a change of tactics. There had to be something he was missing. He rubbed his chin, talking thoughtfully to himself. "They are the first to be naturally born as Care Bears..." he didn't bother to say Cousins, because frankly he didn't care. "But that shouldn't make them any different from the others. Their being females should have nothing to do with it...Neither of their parents display any special.." he stopped short in his monologue, and went wide-eyed.
'The parents aren't different because their blood is not comprised of DNA from two separate species.' he thought, 'These are not only the first cubs to be born, they are the first hybrid cubs to ever exist there!'
From what he knew of hybrids, both plant and animal, they could either be stronger and fitter than their parents, or frail and sterile things that hardly seemed worth the time and trouble. He had seen that the twins possessed a mixture of lion and tiger traits, both in body and personality. They had stripes like their father, but it was possible that it was lion blood that muted them to a chocolate brown hue as opposed to his black stripes. They were not orange underneath the stripes, but tawny like their mother. Hope loved to swim, as did her father. Connie detested water, and usually stayed with her mother on the bank of the Rainbow River when they went there on an outing. Both cubs had been heard to chuff through their noses like Stellar sometimes did when he was in a contented mood, but that was a tiger trait. Regal had never done that. Could it be possible that the combination of lion and tiger blood from two Care Bear Cousins might account for the strange ability of at least one of their cubs? They weren't normal animals, after all. A wholly animal liger or tigon certainly couldn't shoot beams of light from its stomach!
'That might explain a few things, yes...but I still don't know for certain...' No Heart thought to himself, though he felt his black mood beginning to melt away. Now he had at least some idea of how it had occurred. All that remained was to decide what was to be done. 'Easier said than done.'
"Beastly!" No Heart shouted over his shoulder.
A loud crash told No Heart that Beastly had been startled while in the process of fiddling with something he shouldn't. "Coming, No Heart!"
"You clumsy fool, what did you break this time?" No Heart said wearily as Beastly entered the room, tripping over his own feet; this was an all-too-common occurrence. "Never mind. I have a job for you, Beastly."
"Really? A job?" Beastly asked eagerly, rubbing his hands together. No Heart had been preoccupied for so long that he had neglected to give Beastly and Shrieky any orders pertaining to the Care Bears. During that time, Beastly had organized his bug collection, learned to crochet, and discovered that it's not a good idea to approach tarantulas from the front if you want to tease them with a poke or two. At first he had been glad for the vacation, but now he had too much time on his hands and not enough to do. "Oh boy, oh boy! What do you want me to do? Dust off your books? Make trouble for the Care Bears? Shine your shoes?"
'I'm being punished, aren't I?' thought No Heart as he drew in a deep breath. Out loud, he said, "No, Beastly, not today. In fact, I've decided to take a little break from trying to destroy the Care Bears, at least for now."
"Huhhh?" Beastly's jaw sagged open.
"I want you to learn everything you can about those new cubs. I've watched them long enough, and I have other matters to attend to. You are to keep me posted on their development, and you are to report to me if they display any unusual abilities other than those infernal Stares of theirs." No Heart turned away, intending to sleep for the first time in two weeks.
"But...Don't you want me to get them for you, Boss?"
"No! I want you to obey the orders I have given you, obey them to the letter. Is that clear? Do not let yourself be seen, and do not attempt to take them; if you get frozen again, I certainly won't come to animate you once more." No Heart stated emphatically, then added as an afterthought, "Also, you are to inform me if the mother becomes pregnant again."
"If...if you say so, but..." stammered Beastly.
"Good." No Heart cut him off, and left the room. Perhaps he should simply cast a spell to prevent any such pregnancies, but the 'scholar's voice' in the back of his mind screamed out against it. What an opportunity to learn, and what a perfect way to distract the parents! It would be much harder to watch the twins if a new baby were to come, and he could then snatch one of them to be his guinea pig. Once he learned what made these new threats tick, he should have little trouble disposing of any new cubs that might arrive.
But all of that would have to wait for another day. No Heart felt his bed beckoning.
Author's Note: No Heart may be easing off a bit, but he isn't completely out of the game. The plot line still has a lot of bugs and kinks in it, I'm afraid. Thanks for being so patient, and you guys won't have long to wait for the next story. Until next time!