Title: Defying Gravity
Category: Cartoons ยป Gummi Bears
Author: strangeseraph
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Genre: Romance
Published: 04-21-08, Updated: 08-30-08
Chapters: 35, Words: 112,673

Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Chapter One: The Welcoming Committee

Gruffi Grummi stood on the watch tower beside Ursa Barbic, shielding his eyes from the bright sun and looking down along the mountain valley towards the river. The forest floor was dark and invisible to his keen eyes from this distance, and the mountains cast their dark shadow over the tapestry patchwork landscape of human farmlands and great sprawling fields. A thin blue river, barely visible to the naked eye, wound its way up from the ocean towards the city and Gruffi was keeping both eyes on the that river, the the tiny dark dots upon them that were moving slowly in the direction of Ursalia. Gritty ran along the wall towards them, followed by at least half the Barbic clan. Below them on the ground near the inner wall the Glen Gummis were assembled, looking up towards Gruffi and Ursa with concern on their faces. But Gruffi barely shifted an inch.

"So?" Ursa said impatiently. "What did you see?"

Gritty stopped for a moment to catch his breath, and then grinned fully.

"Its like Arte told us," he said. "Three Gummi ships, coming down the tributary from the sea. Arte went to take them a map of the causeway up away from the human dam and shepherd settlement."

"The Great Gummis have returned," Gruffi said, feeling his stomach flutter. "Zummi's going to go spare."

Gruffi took his casual time walking down the stairwell to the waiting Glen Gummis to share the news. He heard Ursa sounding the welcome bell; the sounds of pounding feet. Zummi was dancing in spot grinning.

"Is it? Is it?"

"It is," Gruffi nodded. "They're back."

Gruffi had to plug his ears whilst laughing as the rest of his family spun in circles screeching and dancing. The Barbics soon joined them and there was much talking and conversation about the plans of what they were going to do to welcome the Great Gummis.

"I'll bake a cake!" said Grammi. "Cookies! Pies!"

"Yum!" said Tummi.

"I'll put on a fireworks show!" Zummi declared.

"We'll have dancing and parties!" Sunni said.

"And games!" Cubbi said.

"Music and songs!" Buddi said brightly.

"What about sports and competitions?" Ursa said, with a gleam in her eye.

"Er, yeah, that too," Buddi said with a blush.

"I wonder what sort of technology they'll bring with them," Gruffi said thoughtfully.

But there was one voice that didn't chime in with suggestions or commentary, and Gruffi stopped in his pondering to look around the group in confusion. There was somebody missing.

"Wait a moment...where's Gusto? He should be here!"

A horn wail sounded down the long wall up from the valley, interrupting their conversation.

"Oh goodness! They'll be here any minute!" Grammi said. "Oh heavens I have to go start baking!"

Everyone suddenly went in seven directions, leaving Gruffi and Ursa standing alone in the courtyard.

"Well, we'd better go find Gusto," said Ursa. "Last thing we need is him off somewhere daydreaming when the most important thing in Gummi history is going on right under his nose."

"I just know he's going to start painting the moment he hears about the Great Gummis," Gruffi added with a chuckle.

When they found Gusto he was sitting in his studio staring at a blank canvas. At this point in time it seemed that inspiration had left him.

"I can't decide...a flower arrangement or a self portrait?"

"Well, you could always paint some of the Great Gummis when they arrive today..."

"Nah I've painted tons of...what did you say?"

"They're coming. The Great Gummis are back."

What followed Gruffi's response was a whirlwind of Gusto activity that could only be described as artistic chaos. Paint and brushes went flying as Gusto went scrambling around in a flurry of fur, grabbing supplies off shelves with a starry look in his eyes.

"It's my dream," Gusto told them both. "Finally I can meet the Great Gummi artists! This is my chance to finally have my art truly appreciated and critiqued by the Masters! And...and...and, I can't even think of what to paint!"

He dropped his armful of canvas and brushes and grasped his head as if a headache was pounding in his head.

"Inspiration! I need inspiration! I need ideas! Why has my brain chosen now to keep me creatively bereft? Why!?"

"You'll think of something I'm sure," Gruffi chuckled. "Just be out there when they get here, you don't want to miss the big welcome party we're all throwing..."

"I wouldn't miss this in the world!" Gusto said. "I've been waiting for this moment my entire life!"

"I know Gusto," Gruffi couldn't help a wry chuckle. "So have we all."

They came in force; a large grand procession of laughing smiling Gummi Bears. It was overwhelming, the sheer number of bears in one place, three hundred or more at least. They smiled and laughed and looked around at the city of Ursalia with great interest, hope and a hint of creative enthusiasm. Large groups of them, in families and bands, and a large roving group of about fifty armed warriors lead by a procession of brightly robed wizards and scholars.

But most importantly, Gruffi noticed how different they were. Their clothes were different, their weapons and armour resembled nothing that the Barbics or King Gregor's knights could have ever pictured, and they were generally stockier, well built, beautiful and tall.

And Great Atlantic, the women; wearing clothes that would make even Ursa blush. Half clothed, with mid-sections and cleavage showing and their hair swept up away from their eyes or cut off completely. Gruffi had never seen anything so...scandalous.

Zummi was not the least bit flustered. He strode forward in welcome to them and the identifiable leaders, the wizards, stepped forward to accept his welcome.

"Welcome to Ursalia!" said Zummi grandly. "We're very happy to welcome home the Great Gummis at last!"

Much to his dismay, the wizards laughed.

"Thank you for that very warm welcome," said the front most bear, a tall, stocky orange furred elderly male with a bald head and silver whiskers. "But we aren't the Great Gummis."

"You...you aren't?" Zummi was so flustered now that his hat flopped sideways on his head.

"No..." said one lady, smiling kindly at Zummi. "We're their ancestors, of course, come from New Gumbrea."

"Surely you didn't think that I was five hundred years old when you saw me?" said the old man.

There was a smattering of nervous laughter in response to this, and they introduced themselves.

"I am Prime Minister Welsi," said the old man. "And this is my wife, Molsi."

Molsi had pink fur and gray hair, and she, like the rest of the New Gumbreans, was looking at them in obvious amusement and delight. Gusto had his wish granted at once when she introduced the other important persons in their entourage of leaders, including Craftmaster Tulli, an old tan furred bear with an artist's smock, who cried in dismay after being introduced.

"Why all these old statues and buildings are falling to pieces! We must replace them with proper works of art!"

Gusto grinned, eyes dancing. Ursa immediately introduced herself to the head of the militia, Armsmaster Vigo, a burly chalk gray bear, who was amused and delighted to meet the ancestors of the Barbics of Barbic Woods.

"We have many stories of the Barbics," said Vigo, a smirk on his grizzled face. "I never thought I'd meet the brave vanguard of the woods."

But there were almost too many bears to possibly remember the names of! The overwhelmed Glen Gummis and Barbics had the dubious task of showing them around the city, the restoration work they had been doing, and where the habitable residences in the city were located.

"Well, we can start from the beginning," Welsi said, not moving from where he stood, and he started giving out orders. "Bring the supplies into the city, assemble the kitchen staff to start working on lunch, we'll have to set up a makeshift barracks for the soldiers where the old barracks are. Get those old books into the Great Library, the last thing we need is for that thunderhead we spotted to break open and ruin them..."

Gruffi had to hold his hat as bears started moving past him, around him, talking, chattering and making decisions about what they would do with the city without even asking permission from the current residents. They filled every room of every building. They filled the kitchens with laughing smiling cooks, replacing Grammi's old iron pots and pans with their own copper and steel pans that made her eyes water with delight. The Barbics, however, had to make way for the Militia, who ran right over Ursa's designated sentry spots and started assembling themselves on every parapet and sentry wall within sight. The wizards and scholars took over the library, removing the old ruined shelves and books with a wave of their magical hands and replacing them with hundreds upon thousands of new volumes, which put poor Zummi's own sparse library to shame. Gruffi's workshop was soon filled with ten carpenters who all started making plans to rebuild the city, filling his tables and shelves with their strange tools and hundreds of blueprints and inventions that Gruffi couldn't even begin to understand the use of.

The Great Gummis had returned, and they had taken over Ursalia without even a thought. Gruffi could only sneeze as his nose caught hint of the dust their stomping pounding feet let loose in their wake.

-So I've given this fic a reprieve. But I'm going to start over from scratch, editing each chapter and making plot decisions as I go. Same as with Prince of Penance. Sort of just changing my mind about a few things. Thanks for your understanding!

Chapter 2: Chapter 2

Chapter Two: A Few Minor Adjustments

Prime Minister Welsi sat in his office, at his desk, staring down at the parchment in front of him. He was a little annoyed that his inkwell was empty, but managed to procure a new one from inside his desk, and a new feather quill in his favourite color; green. Green like the trees, and the grass, like this new world they had sailed away to and arrived upon at last.

Well old world. Ursalia. It seemed as if everything was going mostly as planned for them. Though they were a little worried about how the locals here would welcome them, it turned out that they greatly outnumbered the Ursalians by a great catch; three hundred New Gumbreans against nineteen Ursalians. Six Glen Gummis and twelve Barbics, plus one reclusive bear who didn't lay any claim to any clan, and one old Knight who swore himself to be the last of the original citizens of Ursalia. He was at least a hundred years old and not a threat to anyone. Not a large number of bears to have to contend with, and despite the differences in their language and dialect it wouldn't be too hard for them to integrate with the rest of them.

It was easy as pie. No fuss no muss. These locals had been disconnected from Gummi ways and culture for nearly five hundred years. They would flower under the guidance of the New Gumbreans. It was a good thing there were so few of them, really.

Which bothered Welsi slightly. The Great Gummis had not left small groups of bears behind them to look after this world. They had left whole clans and warrens full of Gummis.

Where are all the Gummi bears? We should have come home to a full city of Ursalians!

Instead the city was old, crumbling, and bereft of all but this small rag tag band of peasant bears and one old Knight who could barely remember the wars that had driven his people away from the city. Had the Human-Gummi wars here really gone that badly for them?

And how hopeful they were! How excited! Their need for closure of the gap of Gummi history sparkled within their very eyes. How gratefully the wizard Zummi had welcomed them as the Great Gummis, as if the Great Gummis had been worshipped with religious reverence for all these hundreds of years. And probably had been, if their records book was any clue. The Great Book of Gummi they had called it. Only one of the many books of lore their ancestors had left behind, but was well guarded by them with almost fervent piety. They were that desperate for knowledge of how to survive in their lawless and chaotic world.

Well, Welsi would look after them. Gummis would flourish in the Old World once more. And it would be easy enough for them to adapt.

Why look at Zummi, he's been positively ecstatic about the large catalogue of books now for him to study. And it'll be easy enough for Sir Thornberry to adapt to duty on the guard with the other Knights. Why we can get him armed and decked out as a local police; Vigo says there's still some fight left in the old snapper! And if what Chummi told me was correct the Glen Gummis will just have the time of their lives.

It seemed to be true so far. Already Tulli was touting the praises of his newest apprentice, delighted to have a new person with as much artistic enthusiasm as him. But the artist bear, Gusto, was something of a sore thorn in Welsi's side. A mystery that wouldn't quite let itself be revealed. He had seen the artistic creations of Gusto spread throughout the entire city, painted onto the old walls of rooms, hanging from the mainly travelled corridors and hallways of Ursalia right next to the old dusty canvases of ancient Gummi art, and what Welsi had seen had struck him hard.

Gusto had a very similar artistic style to the New Gumbreans. His modernistic creations were almost on par with the likes of San Gurri, and Da Yinno, his style was very much a composition of Modernism and Realism. It was as if the bear was trapped in time between two worlds, his art had all the flavours of the future in them, but there were clearly human influences upon his work. Was he related somehow to the New Gumbreans? Had their people somehow at some point crossed back over to the Old World without his knowing it? Or was his work more significant than even that? His own wife, their only Seer, had been horrified to see some of these the paintings. She had broken into tears in pure recognition of them.

"Am I no longer alone in this world? Is there another Seer here for me to confide in? Is this the future he is painting, that I have Seen with my own eyes?"

Poor Molsi. So alone in the universe. So desperate for others like herself, the ones who could truly see into the future, and hold the high magic tomes of the ancients like recipe books for their own creation. Wizards and scholars were one thing, but Seers were another matter altogether. Her talent had set her apart from the rest of New Gumbrea. It had left her alone.

Which is probably how these simple Ursalians are feeling right about now, Welsi decided at once, making some more notes on his parchment. No laws, no order, perhaps only one bear of each craft altogether, having to do the multiple tasks that usually would have been accorded to an entire hoard of bears! All of them eager. All of them ready to be a part of our world.

Except the Barbics. Barbics, according to Gummi history, had thousands of years of culture and traditions that were seperate from New Gumbrean, and even Old Gummi, traditions. If they truly decided to stay in Ursalia with the rest of them, then there would take some work for them to adapt. It wouldn't be pretty.

For one, they were totally unprepared for the tough endurance and pure talent of the Knighted guards. Barbics were hunter gatherers, warriors yes, but they used simple spears and weapons, much like the human natives of New Gumbrea had. They had some experience in fighting with humans, and had strong survival skills. But the New Gumbrean soldiers were blooded for open warfare. They had been the ones confronted with the menace of the Spanish invasion. They had been fighting with Native humans for hundreds of years over territories and forest space. They were armed to the teeth; their aim was deadly and their timing precise. Would the Barbics be able to integrate into the guard?

Maybe I'm looking at this all wrong...we need to give them duties more suited to their skills. They're naturally tough, survivalists at heart. Why not put them with the hunters and fishers? Why, they've domesticated the local animals here very well on their own, and in such a small band too. They could surely handle hunting down food, and acting as bodyguards for the fishers on the rivers. The shepherds around here aren't going to give us trouble. My biggest problem will be finding work and distractions for the Knights!

Welsi smiled and wrote another sentence onto the parchment before him. It played out like a well timed rune notation. Every letter was in its place on the page, neat and orderly.

The female bear, Ursa, is probably going to be the hardest to adapt to the change. She is used to being a leader. She is tough. And now she will have to follow the lead of others. But perhaps there is a way. She certainly acts very similar to the other women on the guard, tough and strong and ready to face any challenge. If she made enough friends here to show off to, if we found her a husband amongst the common folk to keep her entertained...Ah I have it! That cub of hers! A key to a woman's heart is through her children, and I'm sure Barbics are not going to be the exception to the rule.

The children would be the easiest to adapt to the New Gumbrean settlers. They wanted new friends to play with. They wanted role models to look up to besides their parents. They wanted people who appreciated their presence, who they could feel useful to. And the boy, what was his name? Buddi? He was something of a musician, outside of being thrust into a warrior's role by his guardian. But he wasn't well read, most of the Barbics were illiterate, and making very small effort to learn anything at all.

We'll put the boy in school lessons, and on one of the sports teams. She'll see him so happy to be learning so much, enjoying his life so much, that she'll want to stick around for his sake, if anything. No, the Barbics will stay here, even if they retain most of their old traditions. They're tough, but they aren't the trouble makers they would like to think themselves. They will be just as easy to control as the rest of them, given the right influences.

Welsi resigned himself to finishing the sentence he was writing, and rolled up the parchment. All set for now. He had his plans, and everything was in order.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. It was councillor Sesil, who had a strangely amused look on his face.

"Prime Minister? We've finished bringing the last of the supplies to the city."

"Excellent! Any luck with finding a proper place to harbour the boats?"

"No problem at all," the councillor laughed. "That young sailor bear, I think his name is Tummi, was more than happy to show us the Gummi safe causeways and rivers. We found an old cavern in a mountain pass where they can easily be stowed. His knowledge of the waterways will come in handy for the fishermen. I went ahead and put him on fishing detail, I hope you don't mind."

"Ah, I hadn't thought about where to place him! Yes, good idea. I think we're getting settled in quite nicely. Start giving the orders to the builders to start building then. We'll need a barracks and to restore the old living quarters. The Ursalians will show you around. Have their carpenter, Gruffi, show you the work they've been doing to restore the place. Pretty impressive techniques, for simple homegrown carpentry. He has a bit of experience with ancient Gummi technology at least."

"It'll be modern technology that'll be the problem. Finding sources for the supplies we need in this area..."

"I'm sure everyone will adjust fine..." Welsi said. "Well, you'd better get started!"

Sesil left, and Welsi put his quill pen back into its holder.

It makes me want to laugh... he thought, and did indeed chuckled. Far too easy. Far too easy...

Gruffi stared down at the blueprint in front of him in complexity. His workshop was now overrun by many busily working, hammering carpenters, who were all happily busy with unpacking their inventions and beginning to build furniture for the residences. They had just gotten their orders to build a barracks and already they were in the process of building a mechanical crane of sort that would help them clear away the remains of the old barracks. The chief architect had handed Gruffi a blueprint for a steam powered shovel, which was much different than the crank and pulley shovel that Gruffi was used to building with.

"This is your first learning project. If you can build something like this, then you can build anything in our library."

It seemed almost too simple to figure out how to build it. The blueprints made everything so much easier to go on. Lengths, weight and wood grain were all accounted for, just the way the Ancient Gummis made their blueprints, with some adjustments here and there to certain math concepts which Gruffi could tell were simply a matter of time perfecting the craft.

But some of the parts involved using metal gears, and that had confused him. That was when one of the carpenters, Sera, had pulled him aside to talk about mining and welding techniques. And that was when his education in New Gumbrean technology began.

"So for this part," Gruffi heard himself saying, poking the blueprint with his finger. "I'll need a disc, five inches long, with struts...Hm."

"Well, start with welding a smaller two inch disk on either side of it. Use the steam drill then and a one inch bit to make a hole in the center. There are your struts."

"Sounds about right to me."

Gruffi had to admit it. These folks were pretty handy with tools. It was like a dream come true. For once he wasn't the only person with a wrench and a hammer in his hand. And now he had steam powered drills, a motorised saw, and even more tools of the trade at his personal disposal.

Could things be any easier?

Grammi was in paradise, and Grubbi seemed to be sharing her sentiments. The New Gumbrean cooks were the most skilled and knowledgeable chefs she had ever encountered before and she was just itching to try out their recipes. Oh she had been a little offended when they had taken over her kitchen, replacing all her well worn tools with their high grade polished supplies.

But she had to admit; the new pots and pans were glorious. For example, one of her pots had a loose handle which she never seemed able to get Gruffi to fix. The New Gumbreans had pots with handles that screwed on, could be replaced easily and were made of solid steel and well seasoned copper, which would probably last for ages longer than her old cast iron pans. They cooked just beautifully and she didn't have to worry about burning her hands; the handles were insulated in a layer of wood and quite cool to the touch. She would never have to bug Gruffi about her pots and pans again.

And the exchange of ideas had been equally shared. It wasn't as if the New Gumbreans had shoved her aside. Rather, there was an exchanging of information. For five hundred years the New Gumbreans had lived across the sea. Now they needed the help of Grammi and Grubbi to teach them the proper cooking of local fruits and vegetables, how to make use of the local herbs and spices, and what new vegetables and foods they could use in their own recipes to replace ingredients they were lacking. Cooking skills would be exchanged for sure; the Head chef Merribell was just itching to try a hand at baking Grammi's blackberry pie.

Food, it seemed, was a language that anybody could understand. It was just that easy.

Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Chapter Three: Making Friends Is Easy As Pie

Sunni giggled as a paper ball hit her in the head. She turned around, stuck her tongue out, and threw another paper ball in the direction that the original ball had come from. The resulting giggles that followed this caused the elderly teacher at the front of the classroom to stop in her reading of the textbook and look up to see what the commotion was about. She noted the two giggling girls, and the rolled eyes of some of the rest of their classmates, with a sigh.

"Are you having a problem with the textbook reading, Miss Sunni?"

"No Professor Brim," Sunni singsonged, putting her hands up on her desk.

"And you Miss Nessa, is there a problem with the book I was not aware?"

"No Ma'am," said the pretty dark haired girl in the desk next to Sunni, also with hands on desk. "I'm finished my reading now. Is class going to be over soon? We'll be wanted in the kitchen any minute now!"

All the teen girl bears in the class looked up hopefully to their teacher, hands clasped together. The teacher looked up to the ceiling, as if asking her ancestors for guidance, then sighed.

"As soon as you are finished reading to the end of the chapter you may leave."

Sunni gave a whoop, followed by half the class, who stood to leave, with the teacher giving very alarmed frantic instructions for their homework before resigning herself to the loss of half of her students.

"Gee Nessa, its weird doing book reading with only girls," said Sunni, once the two girls were in the hallway and on their way down to the residences. "I've always had to do reading with Cubbi, and it was never ever like this."

"Too right," Nessa said, throwing her dark hair over her shoulder. "Boys can be so immature sometimes, its easier for us to learn with other girls. Paper balls are fun and easy, but they can play dirty. Shooting spitballs and putting insects in your books."


Sunni was very happy to have made a friend her age already. It had happened by accident really. Due to the sheer number of bears in the city housing was now an issue, and some people would have to bunk up until a new residence was built. Sunni had been given Nessa as a roommate.

"Now I want you two to get along nicely!" Tarra had said in response to Nessa's pouting.

Tarra was the beautiful red-haired matron who was apparently in charge of the residences, and who had been in charge of assigning them all quarters.

"Its only for a little while," Grammi had agreed. "So no nonsense!"

Nessa and Sunni had taken one look at each other, then had laughed the moment their parents were out of ear shot.

"Tarra wouldn't let me have my own room," Nessa had said pouting. "As if I'm not mature enough to handle living on my own!"

"Yeah, I know the feeling. Sometimes they treat me like such a kid!"

From there they had gotten along swimmingly. Beautiful, elegant Nessa, with her pale flawless fur and long dark hair, was a contrast to Sunni, the rough and tumble short haired tomboy, who was very excited to have someone to trade clothes and gossip with.

"We simply must get you to a seamstress and convince them to make you some new clothes!" Nessa was saying brightly as they walked towards their room. "I don't care if cotton is in short demand! You have the most hand me downs I've ever seen in a closet, and some of your clothes look so very human!"

"Well, my friend Princess Cala gives me her old clothes and Grammi makes them small enough to fit me...Which usually consists of them being cut to pieces."

"You're friends with a human? What is she like? What colour is her hair?"

"We're both blondes," Sunni giggled.

"Well you know what they say, blondes have more fun!"

As soon as they arrived at Sunni's room, both girls flopped onto their beds and threw their books on the floor.

"Do you want to do our homework now or later?"

"Later!" Nessa replied with a laugh. "Oh, free me from the boredom of books! If we can get our way out of kitchen duty we can sneak off and watch the boys have try-outs for the fly ball teams. The boys are probably already playing while we've been busy studying our tails off!"

"What's fly ball?" Sunni asked in interest, grabbing one of her heart shaped pillows to hug.

"Its a sport. You throw the ball and try to make it fly into a basket. Fly ball. But there are lots of rules for it. I bet you'd be good at it. The girls have teams too, but our try-outs aren't for a few days yet."

"If its half as much fun as dodge ball I'll love it!"

"Dodge ball?"

What followed was a long explanation of different sports, followed by talk about games, hobbies, dancing, and ultimately, the clothes they would wear to these all important welcoming events planned for the next two weeks.

"Now for sports teams, we wear these," said Nessa, pulling out her training clothes, a jumper with snort pant legs and a number and her name inked onto the back. "A tunic could fly up during the game, and that would be very embarrassing wouldn't it?"

"And how," Sunni said, blushing. "Wow that's a very neat outfit. I always just wear the same old things. What's the number for?"

"The number tells you what spot you play on your team. We have lots of clothes made for lots of different things. Uniforms with numbers for sports, aprons for cooking in and work clothes, and I have lots of dresses for balls."

"Oh I so want to go to a ball!" Sunni said with fluttery joy. "I only have a couple of dresses though, and I've worn them all at least twice."

"Lets see them then!" said Nessa promptly. "I may have some older stuff that would fit you that is more in the New Gumbrean style."

What followed was a 'de-closeting' of clothes, whereupon everything both girls owned ended up on the beds, on the floors and everywhere. Neither of the girls were very tidy.

"Now this one I wore that on my birthday in April. The seamstresses made it for me special."

"I wish I could get clothes specially made," Sunni said with a pout. "You have all the nicest clothes!"

"You usually only get a new party dress if you have a special event coming, like a birthday," Nessa said with a sigh. "I hate all these dumb rules sometimes! I really do! I wonder if we could make up an event for you to convince the seamstresses to make you a dress?"

"Well I don't have any birthday coming. I turned sixteen two months ago."

"Sixteen...That's it!" Nessa jumped to her feet excitedly. "Have you had your Coming Out yet?"

"My...what? Is that like a party?"

"Coming Out," Nessa said grandly. "Sixteen is the age when you can start dating boys and looking for a husband. You can throw a ball to let the boys all know you're available. Its very simple, and the girl always gets a new dress."

"Well I'm more than ready to have a party! But I don't know about boys," Sunni said, blushing. "I don't know anybody yet."

"Exactly; you get the chance to meet them, and they get the chance to know you. You had no idea what it even was, so you mustn't have ever had one! Its not a law, but its an important part of our culture! At least, to me it is."

Sunni giggled with excitement. A pillow fight ensued between them before Grammi had to come remind them of their kitchen duties.

"But we have soooo much homework," Nessa said to Grammi mournfully. "Couldn't we maybe defer our kitchen duties to another day of the week?"

"Pleeeease Grammi?" Sunni chimed in, hopefully, in the same pleading tone that they had both used on their teacher.

"Well," Grammi had sighed. "I suppose it couldn't hurt. We have more than enough helpers in the kitchen."

Sunni glowed. She had the distinct feeling that she was really going to like being friends with Nessa. This was going to be a piece of cake. Or a slice of pie, as Grammi offered to bring them some slices of blackberry pie and tea to snack on while they studied.

"It'll all go to my hips," said Nessa with a frown. "Oh, but maybe a small piece. I've never had...blackberry?...pie before."

As soon as Grammi was gone the girls both looked at their books on the floor, nearly hidden by the massive amount of clothes.

"Well, since we told Grammi we were going to study I guess we'd better," Sunni said with a frown. "But its boring!"

"No worries, we can still go outside and watch the boys try out for the teams," Nessa said with a wink. "Leave it to me."

They both had their books open dutifully by the time Grammi returned, and Nessa sat up, closing her book.

"Its rather dark in here Grammi," she said sweetly. "Is it all right if we took our books outside for awhile and studied somewhere in the sunshine? This candlelight is hard on my eyes."

"All right dears, you go right ahead," said Grammi blushing. "My, I remember when I was your age, all I wanted to do was go outside and play...Those were the good old days..."

Sunni practically beamed. They threw on some outdoor clothes and sped out of their rooms, nearly forgetting to bring their books with them.

After all, it had to appear as if they had really gone out to study, instead of playing truant and going off to watch boys.

Could life be any easier?

Sometimes, life was complicated. This was one of those times.

Buddi Barbic stood in a circle of eight teenage boys, all of them laughing, rough housing and generally making a nuisance of themselves to their fly ball coach, the burly Armsmaster Vigo. He had the ball in his hands, and was staring at the group in dismay.

"We can only have five boys on this team, plus spares, so three of you may end up as side players."

Buddi felt almost as if he would end up as a side player. And he wasn't sure he wanted to play fly ball, but every boy had to try out, that was the law, lest the sport die out from lack of interest. But he had been told the rules of this sport by his new friend Jaci, and it seemed entirely too easy to him. Bounce the ball on the ground, pass it to your team mates, and throw it in the basket. It seemed to simple.

"It's really hard," Jaci said. "The basket is high up there, and you have to dodge around everyone all while bouncing the ball; you're not allowed to carry it. There are so many little rules you have to know."

Buddi had never played a sport with so many rules. But then, his clan had many sports and games of their own, most of them designed around the concept of following rules to get to a certain destination; races and obstacle courses. Like the Barbic Test of Bearhood.

Fly ball seemed to be designed purely for the purposes of skill, and competition. The rules were strict so that everything was fare. It wasn't just the toughest person that could win, but also the fastest, the highest jumpers or the best catchers. It was a team sport.

"Now then, I'll break you off into two pairs of fours, and you can all go ahead and take positions. We'll leave out the basket guards for now, then change up positions."

"Oh coach," said the sweet sound of a girl's voice. "Maybe we could take over the basket guard spots for you? I've told Sunni all the rules already, and she's just itching to try her hand at it."

Buddi turned his head at the same time Vigo did, and stared. He had never seen Sunni this way before. Both girls were wearing short legged jumpers with no sleeves. Buddi couldn't help himself; he blushed. Sunni's shoulders were bare and the neckline of her outfit swooped down drastically, showing off just the fact that this girl was actually, in fact, a young woman.

"Ah, Nessa, I thought you'd be hanging around here," Vigo said, strutting over to her. "Well then, Miss Sunni, think you can handle guarding a basket?"

"Piece of pie," said Sunni brightly. "Buddi's a pushover!"

"I am not!" Buddi said hotly.

"Well, I'll put you on his team, actually," Vigo said, heading off any potential arguments between them. "All right, take up your positions!"

All and all, Buddi liked fly ball. It was controlled chaos, is what it was, and it got his blood pumping. Or was that Sunni? He couldn't tell; both girls, playing at their respective baskets, were jumping around and being quite a distraction to the boys on both teams.

Vigo must have planned it this way. For some boys even literally smacked together when they got too close to one of the nets.

But Buddi wasn't going to let himself get bowled over by any girl. When it was his turn with the ball he moved quickly, remembering to bounce the ball on the ground as he dodged the opposition and approached the goal.

The shot line was near...inches...his foot hit the line and he tossed the ball at once. It sailed over the heads of the other players, passed Nessa's outstretched hands, and into the basket.

"All right!" Buddi cheered, and jumped up, kicking his heels. "I did it!"

"Point one for Buddi!" said Vigo, jumping to his feet. "Well done! All right, lets change up the teams and put you in perspective. Mack, Buddi, you two can act as the basket guards now. Girls, you can switch teams this time, both to point."

Buddi was passed by Sunni, who winked at him with a giggle.

"This is fun," she said smiling. "I think you're doing great."

Buddi felt all of his blood rush from his brain down to his feet at once, and he stammered.

"You did good too," he said.

"Hey Buddi!" said Jaci loudly. "No fraternising with the enemy!"

Both teams laughed, Sunni blushed and fled towards her position and soon they were playing fly ball again. And this time there was nothing to distract him. It was all about the net. Sunni had morphed from friend to rival the moment the coach trilled his whistle.

Until, of course, she jumped up to try and make a basket throw close to the net, and Buddi jumped up and their bodies collided in the air. Both their eyes met for a mid fraction of a second, Sunni's eyes were large and alarmed, and they both fell to the ground in an untidy pile of limbs and fur.

"Oh, I'm sorry Sunni!" Buddi stammered. "Are you hurt?"

"No don't be sorry!" Jaci said. "That's exactly what you want to do! Man its a good thing the girls teams don't play against the boys or we'd never win a game with you!"

Sunni giggled, and Buddi blushed fully. They de-tangled themselves from one another, and Sunni strutted off to the shot line with the ball. Apparently there was a foul involved here somewhere. Buddi wasn't sure. But he was sure of one thing.

Life was really really complicated. Nothing would ever be the same.

Chapter 4: Chapter 4

Chapter Four: Something Has Changed

Gusto stared at the canvas before him. It was practically inches from his nose and very much a blur of colours and shapes.

"Don't look at the vase from only the outside!" Tulli was saying. "Stretch out your feelings, discover what is inside! Give us an impression of the feeling of the vase!"

Gusto could quite understand where Tulli was coming from. He had done impressionistic artwork before. But never to the degree of creative depth that Tulli was pulling from him, like blood being drawn from an open wound. Gusto hesitantly mixed some colors onto his brush, and took another look at the vase.

"Ignore the exact shape and colour of the vase, understand the values!"

It was so entirely new to him, being instructed by another on how to paint, that Gusto had almost rejected it from the start. But Tulli had immediately made a very good impression upon him.

"You have such raw talent!" Tulli had told him, upon seeing his art. "Are you sure you've had no previous instruction before? I can see you have a good basis."

Flattery could get you anywhere it seemed. Even with Gusto, who was so used to working independently. Now, after only a few days of instruction, he was seeing things in his art he had never paid attention to. The way shapes came together, the way colours of pigment clotted together to form different values of the original hue, the tiny little speckles of pigment dust that clung to his fur and his brush, how they melted together to form the material. His eyes were open now to infinitesimal changes in the shades of paint along a single brush stroke. It was so invigorating that he nearly forgot just what his exercise was.

"Ah, you must always be consciously aware of your subject. You are too easily distracted, so quick to go off on a tangent...that is your only weakness I have seen. You are too easily pulled away towards other things..."

Well, yeah, usually something inspires me and I get stuck on it... Gusto thought. I'm not used to somebody else giving me something specific to paint for them. I usually choose my own subject and work from there.

He bent his head around the canvas to look at the vase again and closed his eyes. An impression of the vase inside his eyelids remained and he smiled.

Ah...I get it now. Colours, not details. I've done this before.

He was doing so well that Tulli clapped his hands together in joy.

"Ah such talent! Such exquisite talent!" the bear beamed. "You'll do just swell! Do you usually do object impressions? Or are you more into landscapes?"

"People actually," said Gusto immediately. "My favourite thing to draw is people. Gummis, humans; Princess Cala is a frequent subject of mine actually."

"Humans!" Tulli said laughing. "Oh, no wonder! I thought I saw influences of portraiture in your art. Humans do like the more realistic imagery don't they? Well no matter, we have rules about what you can and cannot paint, and we'll have you painting some truly Gummi worthy subjects in no time. I have half a dozen projects waiting for someone talented to begin them...once I've finished going over the basics with you...but you're pretty adept at them already."

Gusto blinked, feeling somewhat bereft.

"You mean, I'm not allowed to just paint what I want?"

"Well, of course you can paint in your own free time whatever you like to," Tulli said, adjusting his collar. "But I doubt you'll have any time to get leave to go out to human towns to paint humans, especially with all the commissions we go through in a single day."

"But, Cala could come here..."

It suddenly dawned on Gusto just what Tulli was very politely trying to say, and he knew what the man's next words would be before they even left his mouth.

"Humans won't be allowed in the city, I'm afraid," said Tulli. "But since so much time has past, and there seems to be only a small number of humans here who know of our existence, a few exceptions may be allowed. I do not know."

Gusto suddenly no longer felt inspired to paint.

"Do you think there'll be a chance for peace with humans now that the Gummis have returned?"

"I really can't say," Tulli said morosely. "The war with the humans never stopped for us when our ancestors left here. We fought with them even in New Gumbrea. Humans are everywhere, no matter where you go. Natives, peasants, Spanish soldiers on their heavy war steeds...No matter, no matter, our business today isn't about humans, it is about vases! Lets try a new technique, surrealism, as I like to call it. I want you to drastically change the proportions and colours of the subject. Now this vase here is perfect..."

Tulli then set up another diorama for Gusto to paint, and Gusto had to try, through the fog of worry about Cala and Cavin, to paint something totally surreal. The twisted image that resulted brought much joy to Tulli, but only made Gusto feel nauseous with despair. It was a mirror image to the state of his worried stomach and brain.

He had a feeling that surrealism would come to him quite easily; he was feeling a little surreal himself.

"No humans?" Grammi said woefully. "But Cala and Cavin are our friends!"

"That's what Tulli said," Gusto said mournfully, drinking heavily from his mug of tea before continuing. "I get the impression that nothing has really changed for them in the last five hundred years."

"Well I've spoken to Minister Welsi before about Cavin and Cala," said Zummi, adjusting his hat. "He said he would deal with the problem when it was time, he very busy...but I'm sure it'll be fine."

The kitchen was practically empty right now. Only Tarra, Grammi, Gruffi, Gusto, and Grubbi lingered there. The Barbics were all on watch duty, and the young people were probably in bed by now. Gusto could hear the soft wheezing of Grubbi in his chair by the fire, taking a nap in the midst of the sugar boiling bee that had taken over the kitchens this day. Gusto could still smell the syrupy substances emanating from the softly simmering pots.

"Well," Tarra said brightly, putting her hands on her hips. "Prime Minister Welsi is a fair and honest leader. I'm sure he'll allow your friends to visit. After all, we can't keep angry towards humans if the humans aren't being angry in return. Maybe we'll have peace here. We're so used to war, we're still very much protecting ourselves."

She smiled and moved one of the kettles onto a new burner. Gruffi rose quickly to help her move the heavy kettle and she grinned highly, causing him to blush.

"Thank you," she said sweetly, and gave him a sample of the sugary syrup by kissing his cheek, and leaving a sugary imprint of her lips on his fur.

Gruffi turned beet red and Grammi chuckled heartily. But Gusto felt a stone's weight make itself known in his belly, and turned his head away from the pair, taking another comforting sip of his tea and trying to ignore the interaction.

"I just hope we'll be able to adjust to all the rules," Gruffi admitted. "Even though I tend to be an orderly person, I've never heard of having so many rules for every little thing. A bear's gotta have some enjoyment in life."

Tarra tutted at their looks of despair, and threw her coppery red hair over her shoulder.

"You lot are just used to being able to go about everywhere, here and there, wherever you want. Or else you've had to hide away in holes waiting for problems to pass you. We've been living orderly open lives for many years. Our rules do exist to protect us, but they also give us direction. I was telling my own daughter earlier that the reason cotton is in high demand is that there is no cotton plants nearby to get cotton from! But of course she wants another dress, the darling girl, without realizing why we have limits to what is allowed. It is entirely possible we may have to switch to flax, or refine the Rama wool in some way. We'll probably have to start recycling our clothes..."

"Well flax is plentiful," Grammi said, sticking a rod into the pot to test the consistency of the sugar. "Its getting it honestly, instead of taking it from human farms, that'll be the problem."

"We could always grow it up here somewhere," Gruffi commented. "Or we could send a quick car detail to Dunwyn, we've been fostering large wild flax fields up there for years..."

Conversation turned to other things after that, the harvest season, the Apple Festival, and Gusto ignored his tea promptly at the subject of the Apple Fest, turning to look immediately at Gruffi and Tarra, a bitterness taking hold of his heart momentarily. He noticed how Tarra batted her eyelashes whenever Gruffi looked her way, and how she tapped Grubbi politely to wake him and send him off to bed, as if waking an old friend, rather than somebody she hardly knew yet. Something about her mannerisms seemed rahter, well, annoying. It seemed as if she was trying to send off all the extra staff simply so she and Gruffi could be alone together. Even Grammi got the hint, going out to get another cord of firewood for the ovens with a smile on her face.

"You know Gruffi," Tarra said with a laugh, re-tying her hair back with her handkerchief to keep it from getting in the new vat of sugar they were brewing. "You remind me in so many ways of my husband. Lost at sea ten years ago he was, but he was just as burly and bashful as you. Some days he would get so prickly you couldn't talk to him, others he's be a soft and sensitive as a lamb. Of course he was taller than you..."

Gruffi gave a huff and tried to stand up straighter. Gusto tried to ignore the obvious flirting going on and accepted a mug of tea from the sleepy eyed Grubbi, who had ignored Tarra's flirting long enough to stay with Gusto, and pat him on the shoulder pointedly.

It was time for him to go to bed. He was hungry, and tired, and he had thirty six different projects to do this week for Tulli, with no time for himself. He turned to take one last look at the pair by the sugar vat, their close, familiar mannerisms, the way Gruffi looked into Tarra's eyes and smiled that smile so easily which he rarely ever gave to Gusto.

It was seeing that heartbreaking smile that woke Gusto up. He was jealous! He was jealous, but it was not over a girl, it was over Gruffi!

I really MUST be tired if I'm going crazy over other guys! I have to work tomorrow, no time for this!

It would pass eventually, this feeling of wanting to be wherever Gruffi was, especially if Tarra was near. It would pass, and he'd find other ways to feel comfortable again.

"You mean the Prime Minister's wife is our fly ball coach?"

"Molsi is a great coach!" Nessa said laughing. "Important people like to play sports too, and since we have exactly five girls trying out, we'll both get to be on a team I bet! Its great! We're probably just going to try out for positions today, you just wait and see!"

"All right girls," called Coach Molsi over the din of giggling noisy girls; she looked entirely too old to be coaching a fly ball team. "Choose a spot! We'll throw you all through the rounds and see where you fit! Tomorrow night is our first game already and we have an entire day of practising to get through! The Archers won't beat us this year!"

"Archers?" Sunni blinked. "What are the Archers?"

"The other team," Nessa said. "We form the same teams every year, but we add newer, younger players whenever somebody gets married. And girls often do get married, so there's always positions to fill. Plus we have to try every new position each year to see who gets each spot."

"Oh, so what team are we then?"

"What else? The Flyers!"

Sunni grinned, and then they were being put through their paces, tossing balls and trying to dunk the baskets. It was easy! It was fun! And it was something she knew she would do good at!

"All right!" said Coach Molsi finally. "I can see we have no end of talent this year! Lets do our number call."

Sunni couldn't believe her good fortune when Molsi tossed out the uniforms to each person, and her uniform, a green jumper with white edging, was etched with a large bold number one.

"New point and basket guard this year," said Molsi brightly. "We have a lot of work to do, so lets get too it. Get into your new uniforms and right back out here on the double!"

Sunni turned to smile at Nessa, but could only blink at seeing that Nessa was already storming off towards the change rooms, her hands clenched to her sides.

Uh-oh, Sunni thought worriedly. This could be a problem.

Chapter 5: Chapter 5

Chapter Five: Grin And Bear It

Gruffi was absolutely horrified. He couldn't believe that this was actually a sport!

Girls. Young girls. Barely clothed sixteen year old girls, who should have been dressed in many layers of clothing, running, jumping, bouncing and throwing balls around like boys. It was...it was...

Sunni. Sunni was out there, in a green jumper, with a band around her head to keep her hair out of her eyes and the ball in hand bouncing and pounding down the wooden floor like a young teenaged titan. The other team, The Archers, were more experienced, and from what Tarra had told him, rather mean. But even with all their experience, Sunni was still eluding them. She was a wildcard player whose playing style was different than what they were used to. Tarra had told him that would play havoc with their usual strategy.

"Go Sunni go!" shouted Grammi.

"Go Nessa! Sunni, you can do it girls!" Tarra called out.

Nessa didn't look like she was in any mood to play sports. She looked furious and burly as she stood before the basket, her arms crossed and her eyes flashing. Basket guard was not her usual position. She's been a surly mood since the team had formed the day before, and she wasn't talking to Sunni, thought Grammi was at a loss to understand why. It was a serious problem

"Poor Nessa," Tarra sighed. "She's probably just missing her old spot right now. She's used to being number one."

"Does being number one mean you're a better player?" Gruffi asked, trying not to watch the scantily clad girls race around the court.

"Nope," Tarra shook her head. "Its just the position you play. But number one position gets more time with the ball, and guards, number threes, tend to get injured more if they aren't paying attent...ouch!"

Nessa jumped, suddenly caught off guard, as the opponent Archer tried to make a basket after slamming into Sunni and stealing the ball, and the two players collided in the air. A whistle was blown signalling a foul; Sunni now had an open shot at the opponent team's basket, but Nessa did not because she had landed on her feet.

"Why that no good little...shoving my Sunni on the ground!" Gruffi said.

Tarra giggled.

"That's the way the game is played. Foul shots could make all the difference in the world."

Sunni made her first shot, and missed her second, and at the end of the game it was a proud Sunni being held aloft by her team mates in victory, holding up the fly ball in her hands.

"We did it, we did it!" she shouted.

Gruffi jumped up cheering, spinning Tarra around in his arms.

"That's my girl!" he said joyfully. "That's my Sunni!"

Tarra's face, however, was a pure red blush.

"Are you angry with me? I mean we won, that's good isn't it?"

Sunni sat with Nessa in the change rooms, watching the emotions that played over Nessa's face and tried to keep a peaceful tone. Something was wrong, and she wasn't sure what.

"Is it...because I've got your position now?"

"No, its not that," Nessa shook her head. "The positions change sometimes, and I'm a good basket guard. Just..."

She frowned.

"Sunni...don't you ever wonder why we do this?" Nessa said, eyes wide and sad. "Make the same teams every year, play games every year, go through the tears sweat and pain, the training, for what? We won, but what? A game. We can play games for fun and still win. It sometimes seems pointless, doing it year after year. We don't get any credit for it. Next week we could be beaten, and our opponent will win. Then one of their opponents could win. It doesn't matter!"

"But it does matter. We win a trophy if we keep winning until the end of the year right?" Sunni said, trying to make sense of what was wrong.

"You're good to say that," said Nessa smiling. "Maybe its because you're new to the game. It hasn't worn off of you yet. I dunno. You're right though, its good that we won, and I'm sorry I've been mean. I just...I'm used to being the one on top, making all the baskets, winning games for us. Now somebody else gets to be point. I just have to get used to taking turns, that I won't always get the credit."

Sunni hugged her and smiled.

"There's going to be a party any minute now with cake and ice cream for us winners, and we're all sweaty in our uniforms and I just know Gruffi will have a hissy fit if he sees me dressed like this. Lets not sit around here being grumpy and melancholy! I've been waiting for a party like this and now is my chance to impress some boys!"

"Especially dressed like this," Nessa said. "You're right, lets shower and change. I want some sugar!"

Both girls giggled, and quickly ran to claim an open shower.

Gusto found himself staring off into space, too distracted to enjoy himself. It wasn't that he didn't like parties, really, he did. It was nice to great a break from all the hard work and drudgery of life.

Which was entirely his problem. Art should not have to be about drudgery. He had never found himself so tired and so unsatisfied after a day of doing art. Sure, they were restoring the city, and it would be great when the place was cleaned up and shining again like new.

Yet he was edgy and unsatisfied. He had entered Tulli's studio this morning early, only to find the other apprentices already at work around a large piece of marble, with Tulli tutting at them and giving instructions.

"That old fountain is on its last legs! Leaks and cracks everywhere! Prime Minister Welsi wants it replaced from the ground up!"

Finally! Gusto had thought. A sculpting project! That I can do!

But he hadn't been involved in the fountain project at all. Tulli had spotted him, thrown up his hands in dismay and grabbed him.

"Oh good, Augustus, come along now! I'll be busy all day with this and somebody has to take over my other projects!"

Tulli had handed him a large list of art projects that he would be restoring, with no time for anything else. That was his mission. There were the old broken busts he had to repair, all the old paintings he was in charge of cleaning, and yet another tapestry in the residence hall that they were reapplying colour to and bringing up to new for the Apple Festival in two weeks, where it was going to be used as decoration. He felt, for want of a better term, more like a repairman than an artist.

"I understand how you feel," Tulli had told him, seeing his dejected face. "It shouldn't be long until we have restored the city, see what valuable works of art can be salvaged and which ones should be replaced, and then when that is all done we'll have time to start new projects. One step at a time after all."

It was logical. But it was hard controlling the creative gears of his brain that had been churning wheels in his head for his entire life. Hard to put aside all the ideas in his head in order to concentrate on work.

Maybe this is what I need. A new direction. A firm set path to follow. I've been restless and off kilter all week. Maybe this will keep me grounded...

Gusto also found himself staring at Gruffi as he congratulated Sunni and her friend Nessa on their win. It was painfully apparent that this new found crush on Gruffi was not going to go away anytime soon. It seemed that the lions in his belly had reacted badly when presented with competition in the form of beautiful Tarra, and now he wanted nothing more than to drag Gruffi away somewhere and talk to him like they used to, without any womanly interference.

But that wasn't going to happen any time soon.

"You shouldn't have to wear such skimpy clothes!" Gruffi complained grumpily. "Its not...decent."

Sunni laughed and hugged him.

"They have different outfits for everything they do, Gruffi! Even for sports! Can't wear big bulky clothes for fly ball, I mean, how would I be able to run around in them?"

"Well, I have to admit kid, you sure are a fast runner. That was really good, how you snagged the ball out from under that one girl's nose..."

"Yep, that was great wasn't it?" Sunni agreed. "It's called 'stealing' the ball. I'm learning all sorts of little tricks like that."

"'Stealing'?" Grammi said. "Oh my goodness!"

A long explanation about the sport followed this and Gusto found himself drifting off again, watching Gruffi. The way his hands moved when he talked. The way he scratched his fur and stammered when he was confused. It was like seeing him for the first time. He also noticed, with a painful twist of his stomach, how Gruffi would blush in that strange way around Tarra, and give her that smile, that dazzling smile he rarely ever showed.

If only he would smile that way at me...

Gusto was so distracted that he jumped three feet into the air when Tummi put a hand on his shoulder to say hi.

"Oh! Hiya Tummers," Gusto stammered. "I haven't seen you around, where have you been lately?"

"Oh, sailing," said Tummi, rubbing his stomach. "I've been out every day sailing, and catching fish. Its fun."

Gusto mentally smacked himself. He'd become so distracted with his own problems that he'd forgotten everybody else.

"Sounds like you're making yourself useful then."

"Yeah, and doing what I love," Tummi agreed. "But I don't get to talk to everyone much, since I'm out every day. How are you? Done any nice art?"

"Well, not exactly," Gusto said, getting a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as this topic was addressed. "Been too busy with restoring the art that already exists in the city to do any new stuff. I have to admit, I'm feeling a little uncomfortable right now."

"Yeah, you aren't the only one," Gruffi said suddenly, coming up beside him, causing Gusto to jump again.

Woah! Where'd he come from? Am I really that distracted?

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," Gruffi said, looking towards the far corner. "You're not the only one who doesn't feel all right here."

Gusto followed the path of Gruffi's eyes to the far wall, where Cubbi sat with a group of children his age, looking somewhat miserable and not touching a bite of his lemon cake.

"What's wrong with Cubbi?" Gusto asked, feeling the weight in his stomach increase.

"They wouldn't let him go see Cavin," Tummi said quietly. "No humans allowed, period. They've even shut down the old quick car systems. Too dangerous, they say."

"Thats...insane! We need the Quick car systems!" Gusto said, highly offended.
"They won't let Cubbi train as a squire either," Gruffi said with a grumble. "He's too young, apparently. Even though Sunni is old enough to get married now, apparently. Its not right!"

"Too young...wait a minute, Sunni's getting married?" Gusto said in horror.

"No no no, she's not engaged," Gruffi corrected in annoyance. "She's having a 'Coming Out' party during the Apple Festival. She just told me now."

"Coming...Out...party..." Gusto said slowly, trying to put the two words together.

"Its what New Gumbrean girls do when they are old enough to get married," Grammi said, entering their conversation. "To attract boys Tarra says."

"But...Sunni's not old enough to get married yet!"

Gruffi nodded largely, and Gusto could tell he was chomping at the bit to stop this nonsense before it started. Gusto couldn't blame him.

"So, what are you going to do?" Gusto said, having a feeling that Gruffi was not going to let this go without a fight.

"I'm going to be there at the party," Gruffi smirked. "Not too many boys will want to try anything funny with Sunni with her old man watching them like a hawk."

Gusto chuckled.

"So, speaking of romance, what's going on with you and Miss Tarra?" Gusto said, putting gushy emphasis on the name, though his stomach was twisting.

"Oh," Gruffi stammered, blushing deep red. "I...asked her to come with me to the Apple Festival."

Gusto felt this comment come upon him like a punch to the gut. He and Tummi both stared at Gruffi for long moments, as the bear tried to work up the next thing to say, coming up short.

"But...the Apple Festival is is a celebration for...married couples...generally...isn't it?" Gusto said with a sinking feeling.

"Yeah...Well..." Gruffi said. "It is. But we aren't...married. Lots of couples go, not married couples I mean..."

"So you're...a couple then?"

"Maybe, s'pose so.." Gruffi was blushing beat red, an affirmative yes.

Had it really been that long since the New Gumbreans had come? Could Gruffi and Tarra had formed a relationship that quickly? It had only been a week, maybe two at most.

Was he really that out of the loop?

"Congratulations," Tummi said. "I bet you two will get married some day."

"Oh, well, its not that sort of relationship, you know," Gruffi said bashfully. "We're just friends right now..."

"Suuure you are," Tummi chuckled.

"Well," Gruffi stammered. "Maybe we're a little more than friends."

But Gusto was having trouble being happy for Gruffi. Right now he was feeling more than just as little jealous.

He was angry. Anger had suddenly taken weight along side the jealousy that was knotted in his belly, a white hot lump of smoldering fury that was threatening to make itself known. How could this happen now? How could he feel this way about Gruffi, and then have to deal with reality in such a brutal way? It was unfair! It wasn't right!

But he was too tired, and too hurt to say anything in opposition to Gruffi's situation. All he could do now was grin and bear it.

The last thing I want to do is hurt him, and if I say anything he will be. He would hate me forever if he knew how I felt. Its not the Gummi way for men to...feel this way...for each other. I'll just have to push it down inside, and just let it pass.

But Gusto had a sinking feeling in his heart that it wouldn't.

Chapter 6: Chapter 6

Chapter Six: Beauty In The Eyes Of The Beholder

Ursa really didn't understand why she was being chosen to do this job. Surely Grammi or Tarra would have been a better fit? She so hated parties. She hated everything feminine and girly. She liked being on the guard. Sure she wasn't in charge of the guard, but she was in charge of a whole barracks of men twice her size who wouldn't dare speak down to her in any way shape or form in fear of having all their teeth knocked out.

Which is why she was absolutely gritting her teeth at the idea of being one of Sunni's chaperones for her Coming Out party. She didn't need any dresses! She didn't want any dresses! And now she was standing on a stool in a makeshift fitting room, being fitted for one. She was hating this with every fibre of her being.

"Ouch! Watch where you're poking me with that pin!"

"Oh come now," said Tarra brightly in response, as she poked yet another one of those tiny pins into the fabric. "You can't go to Sunni's party in leather jerkins, can you?"

Ursa bit down the urge to respond that she didn't want to go at all. But Sunni was behind the screen separating her from the next fitting room, and she didn't want Sunni to think she didn't want to be there. This was Sunni's event after all, not hers.

"Oh Ursa, that peach colour just suits you to a t!" said Sunni, peeking around the screen to look at her. "Its too bad Gritty won't be there."

"My Gritty likes me in plain clothes any day of the week," said Ursa. "He doesn't need to see me in some frilly dress."

"You and Gritty should have been married by now, for as long as you've been together," Tarra said with a huff. "A wedding dress would change your mind about frills. Every girl has a secret Princess inside them waiting to break free during their wedding!"

Ursa tried to bite down a scathing retort.

"I don't need to marry Gritty. I've proven my friendship and love to him the Barbic way. By taking the long raining, icy road up Mount Everlast to get the Frost Flower. Its a test of our endurance and willingness to commit to each other to spend so much time climbing up a mountain to get a flipping flower. Usually the man does it, but I didn't want to wait for him to make up his mind."

"Barbic traditions are...interesting..." Tarra said awkwardly. "But you'll be shining tonight!"

"As will Sunni!" said Nessa, coming out from behind the screen. "I've taught her everything she needs to know. She'll be the most popular girl in Ursalia by this time tomorrow I'll bet."

"Really Nessa? You think so?" came Sunni's voice from behind the screen. "If you do my hair with those butterfly clips you have, it'll match my dress."

"Good idea Sunni, lets go do that now!" said young Nessa, who then coyly blushed. "If her dress is done I mean..."

"You girls go on ahead," said Tarra. "Sunni's dress will be just fine."

"We can see how they're decorating the ballroom after!" Sunni said, grabbing Nessa by the hand. "Oh I'm so excited!"

The two girls took off and Ursa jerked in pain again as Tarra stuck her with another pin in her distraction.

"Ouch!" Ursa hissed. "Geez, its just a party. Everyone has to get all worked up over a party."

"Ah Ursa," Tarra said shaking her head. "You've been around boys all your life. You even have only a son. Now's your chance to really understand the secret language of women. Maybe you'll want more children after this."

Ursa highly doubted that. The entire ball would be filled with gossipping teenaged girls and boys, all of them laughing, giggling and flirting. It would be sickeningly sweet and entirely opposite to everything that she stood for. If that was supposed to inspire to want some more, then the very idea was laughable.

Gruffi and Grammi really really owed her a favour for this one. It helped at least that they were both be chaperones too. As many chaperones as possible, Gruffi had said sternly. She wouldn't be alone in her misery. She would make them miserable too.

"Oh Sunni, your dress is so nice! And your hair! You're going to look so nice for the party!"

Sunni followed Nessa out to the ballroom, where the decorations were already going up.

"I can't believe Prime Minister Welsi decided to make my Coming Out party one of the opening events of the Apple Festival! There's going to be so many people there!"

"Boys, Sunni, so many boys. All of them looking for a girlfriend. Oh look, they're bringing in the tapestries. Oooh! Isn't that you're friend Gusto, the artist? He's soooooo cute."

Sunni looked up and sure enough Gusto came in, with a painter's smock on and art supplies in hand, followed by a small gaggle of assistants carrying what looked to be a large tapestry scroll. He did not look happy. He was complaining about the tapestry loudly enough for anyone to hear him.

"I spend two weeks getting that thing restored and what do they do? Bunch it up and stuff it in some corner broom closet because they say its too old! Hah! I worked for two weeks on that and its going somewhere by Gum!"

It took awhile for him to decide just where. Both Nessa and Sunni watched as the artists all unrolled the tapestry and hung it upon the wall. It was an ancient but beautiful peice, showing the creation of Ursalia, the construction of the city, with apple trees and tall grasses depicted. Ursalia was built in the fall during the apple season. The Apple Festival, a New Gumbrean tradition, was a celebration of apples, and the start of winter, when all hard labour ceased and Gummi bears could finally rest. Much like Fall's Farewell, save for one significant difference. The Apple Festival was especially a time for romance. Hence the amorous Gummi couple on the tapestry, who were holding hands and dressed in very lovely Gummi costume. And the heart shaped apple pies, pastries and pleasantries all over the banquet table nearby only enhanced the tapestry's presence. It worked perfectly with the theme of the day.

"Wait..." Nessa said. "Isn't that the old tapestry that was in the residences? I didn't even recognise it! It looks great!"

Gusto must have thought so too, for he picked and pattered over the tapestry with a pair of tweezers, pulling off hairs, bits of lint and dust and clipping stray threads. But Sunni couldn't concentrate on the tapestry.

Gusto was mad. She had never seen him so mad before in her life.

"One day these ungrateful people will think twice about shrugging off my art," Gusto grumbled, his magnifying lense making him look more like a welder than an artist. "Great Gummis, there's going to be kids in this room too, flighty, silly, chattering, empty headed kids, with drinks and food and putting their grubby hands all over it! But it must be appreciated by somebody, even children."

Now that was going a bit far. Sunni flushed hotly at the thought of her friends being seen as grubby, empty headed gossiping kids. Nessa put a hard hand on her shoulder, shaking her head when she had started to move in his direction in protest.

She's right. Probably not a good time for me to get angry with him, not with the favour I have to ask him. This might be a good time to do it to, otherwise I may never see him. He holes up in the studio all the time now and we only ever see him at dinner...

Sunni and Nessa approached him cautiously, and Sunni saw that her friend was blushing in a way that signalled to Sunni she had the same girlish crush on Gusto that Sunni had once had. He was very easy to crush on.

"Oh Gusto," said Sunni sweetly. "Um..."

Gusto jerked his head up to glare at her, the magnifying mask making his face and eyes look oddly out of proportion.

"Yes...Sunni, did you need something?"

Sunni blinked. He had never been this rough with her before and she put a hand to her chest in alarm.

"Well, I was going to ask if you'd be willing to chaperone here tonight, since Grammi will be mostly busy with giving out drinks. But if you're gonna snap my head off then I won't bother."

"No...I'm sorry, didn't mean to snap," he sighed, and pulled the mask off his face. "I...suppose I can chaperone. I have nothing to wear though. Haven't had any time to get any new clothes, though I've been wanting to, much to busy with other people's work because they were all to busy getting ready for the festival."

Gusto wasn't just angry, he was miserable. He looked like a ghost. His eyes were sunken and his fur was ruffled from not getting enough sleep. Something was clearly quite bothering him, though she wasn't sure what that possibly could be.

"I'm sure the seamstresses will have some extra dress clothes around they can fit you for, if you go right now," Nessa said, smiling fondly at him. "I bet you won't even need fitting, you'd probably look good in anything, even something slightly larger or smaller than your size."

Gusto pointedly ignored the flattery and shoved his supplies into the hands of another artist.

"Fine, I'll go then. See if they have anything. If they don't I'll have to borrow something from somebody. But I will be there tonight! I should be allowed to celebrate too!"

Sunni watched him stomp off with confusion and worry in her chest. She was desperately curious to know what could be wrong, but she wasn't sure there was a problem at all. Gusto would go off the deep end over his art being used as a coaster.

"He's cute," Nessa said. "But kinda mean."

"Gusto isn't normally this moody. I wonder what's wrong with him?"

"Don't worry about that now! We have to go get you in your dress and get your hair done up! Oh you're going to be the bell of the ball!"

Sunni heartily agreed. She couldn't wait until everyone saw her in her new dress. She was going to wow them all.

Gruffi could tell Ursa was uncomfortable in her dress and quite miserable to be there. But she did look good. If she wasn't already practically married he'd have been tempted himself. Her light wheat blond hair was up in an elegant bun on her head and she wore layers of gauzy peach fabric that matched her coloration. She was very pretty. Tarra had told him it was the only dress she now owned.

Of course some people didn't quite fit their clothes. In this case, himself, who had given the seamstesses a run for their money when he had pulled out his old dress clothes.

"These have to be hundreds of years out of date," Sunni had told him. "You'll have to update your wardrobe."

"For one party?" Gruffi had huffed.

"For my party!" Sunni had said. "This is important! I could meet my future husband! You want to make a good impression on him, right?"

Not if Gruffi could help it. Any boy that approached Sunni tonight with the thought of marrying her was going to get the old evil eye. Of course it helped that he had been dressed entirely in green, like an archer ready to shoot and arrow through the kidneys of anybody who tried anything funny with Sunni.

"It suits you," Tarra commented, blushing. "Like wedding clothes. You can make use of them when you get married."

If that wasn't a hugely dropped hint then he was an ogre. Of course Tarra looked dazzling in yellow, with a white collar and a simple pearl necklace. Gruffi felt his stomach flip flop. Seeing her. Was she the one?

But then, all the activity in the room stopped as Sunni was finally presented, by Grammi, to the ballroom, and every teenaged boy within a continent turned their heads.

In this room were girls in different colours. Some wore blue. Some wore green. Some wore pink. Sunni was wearing them all. Gauzy layers of pretty pastel printed rainbow dotted white woven cloth was used for her dress, with a voluminous skirt and tailored form fitting white fabric from the waist up. She was dressed up like a princess, from her hair curled and styled with many little colourful butterfly clips to the little rose embroidered slippers on her feet.

Like a princess, or a bride... Gruffi felt the idea hit his stomach like a punch to his gut. She's growing up far to fast. Sakes alive!

Gruffi had no urge right now to be mean to her potential suitors. Right now he could only follow her around the room, where she greeted each of her guests personally and handed each of them a little candy wrapped up in lace. Her friend Nessa followed her promptly around the room to introduce her to the adult officials and the people who her invited guests had brought along with them. Sunni didn't seem to mind that so many people had come to her party uninvited. She glowed.

She's so pretty, and she knows it, Gruffi thought proudly, watching her take command as hostess of the party. Soon she'll be a woman, and I won't have my little Sunni anymore.

"Why Gruffi, what's wrong?" Tarra said, suddenly confused.

"Nothing," Gruffi wiped his eyes. "Just, got some dust in my eye."

Tarra smiled knowingly and patted his arm. Gruffi then jerked suddenly as a dark form caught the corner of his eye, and he turned his head. His stomach did a fearful twist and he stared.

Gusto was fashionably late, and looking all the picture of the handsome, overworked, under appreciated artist. Like the painters of old, Gusto was decked in gaudy clothes that would have suited any time period, simply because they were being worn by him; a crumpled velvet tunic that went down practically to his knees, because it was slightly oversized, black hose, and a white collar. Even though this style of tunic was meant to be worn buttoned up, he wore his open and casual, with a white shirt underneath giving off quite a contrast.

In short, the complete opposite of everyone else in the room who was done up to the nines, yet he seemed to fit right in. He was a rake, but a handsome rake. He plodded over towards Gruffi and the other chaperones in an uncaring fashion, eyes fierce and aloof.

"Nessa was right," Tarra said, clapping her hands together. "You do look good in anything."

"You've dressed me in funeral clothes," Gusto said immediately, glowering. "I never wear all black."

"I noticed, you even defied my orders and put on a white shirt and collar."

"Well, if I'm going to be eating tonight I'm not getting food on this velvet. This outfit's gonna stay with me until I'm good and old because I'm going to be buried in it."

"Now don't be so negative," Grammi said hotly. "You look just fine. And you don't want to outshine the father of the hostess anyways, now do you?"

Gruffi stammered a soft sound of annoyance, and Gusto turned to look at him pointedly. Their eyes locked and there was a fierceness in Gusto's gaze that Gruffi couldn't place or name.

"Green," Gusto said. "Ironic, that was the colour I asked for."

"You wouldn't have looked good in his clothes," Tarra stated pointedly, tugging Gruffi's sleeve. "Now, there's a whole bunch of young people out there interacting and we're supposed to make sure their hips don't touch when they dance, and that they don't go wandering out to the court yard to kiss. Lets not dwell on the negative here while the night is wasting away on us."

But Gruffi couldn't get over that fierce and hostile look Gusto had given him. It was so strong and savage that it made his stomach twist in anxiety. He felt himself sweating under his tunic.

"Sure thing," Gusto sighed. "Just keep me away from Miss Brim; she saw me in this outfit earlier as I was being fitted and tried to court me into a closet."

Ursa laughed heartfully and they started making the rounds around the room. Gruffi found himself distracted from watching Sunni and her friends to watching Gusto move around the hall like a hawk seeking out his prey.

Ironically, it was Gusto in his grumpy, moody state of mind that broke up the most dancing couples, and not Gruffi. But when Gruffi became distracted with Sunni and her dance partner, Gusto and Ursa both managed to slip out of their chaperone duties and away from the party. It was rather alarming that they both went together. Wasn't Ursa married? Oh this wasn't good at all.

Great...just great...

But then, he could be wrong about what they were doing together. What did he know about women, or Gusto for that matter? He had changed so drastically in little over a month that he didn't even recognize him anymore.

Gusto's eyes had been haunting, and had bore their very way into his soul. He was not the same person. Something had changed within him, and Gruffi was feeling drawn by it. Like gravity, a concept Serra had told him that only Gummis seemed aware of. The force that drew a smaller body to a larger body, like a magnet.

"Are you all right?"

Tarra had come up beside him and Gruffi was suddenly brought back to reality.

"Yeah..." he said, and scratched his head. "Do you want to dance? I think these kids are fine on their own."

"I'm glad you've finally seen that. Its time you enjoyed yourself, and forget about all the little worries in your head. Sunni will be fine."

But it was no longer Sunni he was worried about. It was himself. Gravity was pulling on him now, and he wasn't sure which direction he was being pulled in anymore.

Chapter 7: Chapter 7

Chapter Seven: Second Guessing

Sunni felt the eyes of her male guests upon her like thousands of open flowers waiting for the Queen bee herself to take a delicate sip of their nectar. She felt with much amusement as if she had already obliged them with her smile, for she was rewarded by a soft murmur of their whispers. She allowed Nessa to introduce her to everyone in turn, giving each boy, and associated friends and aquainteneces, her most dazzling smile. She soon found herself shaking Prime Minister Welsi's hand, something she had not expected would happen. He was a very important person after all.

There was a sparkle of static, like she had been walking on carpet, and he grinned at her.

"Why you're a charming young lady," said Prime Minister Welsi. "Allow me to introduce my son, River,"

"Sir River," put in the bear pointedly, then turned to look at Sunni. "And when I was told I was coming to a party for a young girl, I wasn't told that this girl was an angel."

Sunni dutifully stammered an embarrassed reply and River immediately extracted a promise from her to be the first to dance. He was making an interesting impression upon her. Dark roan fur and deep silver eyes, his hair combed neatly back from his face. He wore his military uniform, of course, but not his armour, just the black leather boots and waistcoat of his station. He was, to be blunt, gorgeous. Sunni couldn't help the blush that stained her cheeks.

"Hi Sunni."

Sunni barely noticed Buddi when she came to him. She felt fevered. Something was wrong with her chest; her heart was pounding.

She could feel River's eyes on the back of her neck. She could feel her pulse racing, waiting desperately for the moment when the music started at last and she could make good her promise to dance. Something told her she would be paying the most attention to only one particular guest, and ignoring most of the rest, who were now painfully trying to attract her attention to them with jokes and flirty comments of their own.

Names and faces blurred together, and Sunni found herself responding to questions by rote. But once the music began, once the couples were out on the dance floor, all laughing and having a grand time, she was able to at last feel her pulse return to a normal state. River was there, right in front of her, bowing and taking her hand to accept the first dance. She had to, by the rules of this particular tradition, dance with more than one male guest. But she didn't have to dance with all of them, thankfully, and found her attention was kept mostly by him.

What proved most annoying was when Gusto decided they were dancing too close for his comfort and came over to interrupt them. He had been prowling around the ball all evening, bothering her guests and being rude and irritable towards them, making her wish she had never asked him to chaperone at all. And she had thought Gruffi would be the strictest!

Now he was there towering over her like the Carpie King, glowering at the pair of them.
"You want me to get a ruler and measure?" he threatened them hotly. "Waists apart."

"Just who do you think you are?" River said acidly, turning to glare at him. "Her keeper?"

"I'm her friend," Gusto countered thickly. "And I'm protecting her from potential rogues who want more than just a little dance."

"And would you care to have it repeated to my father that you think I'm a rogue?" said River firmly. "I'm sure he'd find that quite pleasing."

"Whatever you are you're my age, old enough to be her father, so just watch where you put your hands mister!"

"Oh believe me...I will," River responded thickly.

"Okay, that's enough," said Ursa suddenly, coming out of nowhere to break up their argument. "Really, Gusto, you're not only dressed like death, you look and act like it; no manners and bad timing! Let them dance already!"

"Ursa..." Gusto turned to glare at her, and she glared back at him.

"Come outside and get some air! Neither of us really want to be here, and nobody really wants us here, so lets oblige them and take a break!"

"Please," Sunni begged. "Just let us dance!"

Gusto muttered several oaths, and threw up his hands.

"Fine!" he said. "Dance! Don't say I didn't warn you!"

Ursa practically dragged him from the room. Sunni was never so grateful for Ursa's short temper as she was now. River's eyes shone like twin moons of amusement to their plight.

"Is your friend usually so...sour?"

"No," Sunni said, feeling hurt and distressed. "He's usually the nicest and least caring about people getting into mischief. I don't understand! What is wrong with him?"

"Jealousy likely," River said drolly. "Everyone else is enjoying life in Ursalia save him. Craftmaster Tulli can't stop complaining about him. Won't work without giving a thousand complaints, countermands every order Tulli gives him. Driving the poor old bear spare...Sounds like I'm not the one who should be accused of being a rogue."

Sunni couldn't help it...she giggled. River had such an amusing way of putting things that she had trouble finding fault with anything he said. His eyes caught hers and they dutifully danced with their hips apart, though she soon found his hands were straying further around her back than they were at the beginning of their dance.

Intoxicated. That's how she felt. Entirely besotted, and strangely, very very female.

Sunni felt like a Princess. A Princes who was being danced around the ballroom by her Prince charming with thousands of colourful dancing people waltzing around her like daisies waltzing around twin roses. They gave the pair a wide berth as they danced, laughed, smiled, and gave them looks of jealousy or delight as she passed them. But she wasn't put out by their looks.

Sunni felt like a Princess for the first time in her life. She felt like a Princess in her royal court, with her royal ball, and all her dreams were coming true.

As if a fairy godmother had cast a spell upon her, just like in a fairy tale.

Ursa could sense several emotions radiating from Gusto as she pulled him out to he courtyard for a walk. He was irritated and offended, that was true.

But the anger and irritation could not completely cover the despair she could sense from him. She pulled him to a newly furnished stone walkway behind the remains of the old gardens, where a new garden was being built, and allowed him to pace around and pound out his irritation.

Gritty would get this way sometimes. There would be nothing he could do, save rant, but he would be too exhausted to rant, so he'd stomp around everywhere he went until he burst. Usually resulting in the two of them tumbling, and eventually sex, but that was neither here nor there.

The problem now was Gusto. He did not know how to deal with these new emotions he was presented with. In many ways she pitied him. Glen Gummis and Barbics had been cut off from Gummi culture for five hundred years. But Gusto had been cut off from all Gummi contact for a good stretch of his life, twelve years, in which he had been mostly alone with his sanity, with only a talking parrot for companionship.

Not very good for the soul, to be so entirely alone... Ursa thought sadly.
Ursa was broken from her thoughts as the bear in question finished pacing and fell onto his rump on the stone steps with an angry complaint.

"Gah! This is...driving me nuts! All of it!"

"You must be feeling smothered here," Ursa said promptly, as soon as he had settled a might. "You're not used to large groups of people. You work alone."

"Right," Gusto said, rubbing his sweaty face in his hands. "I would give up every work of art I've done in the last two years to have a few days of freedom again. To get away from all these bears."

"Mmm hmm...Maybe you should. Go to Dunwyn, get away for awhile. Someone has to tell Calvin and Cala they aren't allowed back to the city. Might as well be you."

Gusto nodded but said nothing. Ursa wandered over to where he sat, and stood before him.

"Everyone has to adjust in their own way. You'll adjust."

"I'll go crazy..." Gusto said, then looked up at her, and stared. "Everyone dancing, working, laughing, and they are all happy. And I'm miserable. I want their happiness. I want to feel what they feel." He paused for a moment. "Ursa...do you realize how gorgeous you are right now? How beautiful..."

Ursa was so entirely shocked by this comment, and complete change of topics, that she didn't move an inch when he rose from where he was sitting, handsome and tragic, eyes fiery, to approach her.

"I need something that I'm not getting, like Dionysus being deprived of his own wine. I need something that isn't art or dancing...I need..."

Ursa was then entirely gob struck when Gusto took her by both arms and kissed her...hard. It wasn't a kiss of passion, it was hard, and entirely too demanding for her liking. She was not interested in his kiss, or him, and it was obvious that he wasn't interested in her. He was trying entirely too hard to make her take interest in him, and failing.

But she was also aware of something in the back of her mind sizzling, snapping, and fading away. As if he were breaking a spell on her, like in a fairy tale, waking her up from a hundred year dream.

But this was not a fairy tale of her choosing. She finally had enough of his kiss and shoved him away from her, hard. It was a statement of how weak he had become in his misery that he fell right back onto the ground.

"Gusto! Get a grip on yourself!" she said commandingly. "What is wrong with you?"

"What is wrong with me?" Gusto asked, climbing slowly to his feet. "What is wrong with me?"

He turned away from her, and she could feel his disgust now, and it was entirely self directed.

"Why does it have to be this way? Why do I have to be like this? Why can't I find interest in kissing even one woman?"

Now this was different, she had not expected this. Ursa watched him take to the stairs again, sitting with his head in his hands; he was tired and close tears.

"Why? Why?"

"Gusto..." Ursa approached him unsteadily. There was a private battle going on here, she understood that very well. But... "You aren't making sense. What's wrong? Why did you kiss me, if you aren't interested in me?"

"I...Ursa." He lifted his head too look at her. "Do...do Barbics have rules about who they can and cannot love?"

Gusto had such a mournful expression in his eyes that she lost her breath. He was, quite clearly, in love. But not with her. He had all the acute stages and symptoms of somebody who was head over heels. Why hadn't she seen it before? Anger, hurt, aggression, bitterness, that unkempt look of somebody who has slept little and thought a great deal. He was in love, and it was painfully obvious that his love was not being returned. At least not yet.

"I don't understand...rules about love?"

"I mean...you're a Barbic, so you have different traditions than Gummis do..."

"Yes we do..." Ursa said, feeling quite relieved now that she was getting to the bottom of this. "A few traditions actually. Mostly about what compromises a proper courtship of somebody you love. Great deeds, fierce quests, to prove your worth."

"Maybe I shouldn't even ask...Its too...private...I dunno..."

"Go ahead...you'll feel better to ask and get it out...at least. You can trust me."

He was having trouble working up the courage to say what it was he wanted to say, so she stood where she was and waited for him to speak.

"Is there..." he swallowed. "Any tradition, in Barbic culture, that prevents two people...Gummis I mean...of the same sex...from being in...love?"

"Two Gummis..." Ursa could swear her brain made a clicking sound, like the way Gruffi would snap his fingers when he got an idea. "Oh! Oh...oh I see. Well.."

Her voice sounded uncomfortable even to herself.

"Just...forget it.." he said, getting up.

Ursa mentally smacked herself.

"No, I can't forget it," Ursa declared, approaching him to touch his shoulder. He recoiled from the touch as if in pain, but she held firm. "Its bothering you, and as your friend I can't let you down. So I will answer your question. No, there is nothing in Barbic culture that prevents two males, or females for that matter, from loving one another. Its quite set in stone for us that if a Barbic loves, they love. I've just never...encountered it before."

"I wish I was a Barbic..." Gusto said at once, throat hoarse. "For this...I mean..."

He put his head in his hands again, and Ursa sat next to him on the stairs, putting an arm around his shoulders. She had a feeling that Gummi tradition was quite clear on these sorts of things, and not for the good.

"Who is he? Do I know him?"

"I...don't think you want to know..." said Gusto, eyes quite damp now with the tears he'd been unwilling to shed before in front of her. "He's quite happy with the woman he's decided to be with, and I could never deny him that sort of happiness. I just...I just watch them...and despair."

Ursa nodded, feeling pity tie a coarse knot in her belly. She rubbed small circles on his shoulders, and sighed.

"Ursa..." Gusto suddenly chuckled. "You really are beautiful...in that dress...I'm so inspired to paint you right now."

Ursa laughed.

"This horrid thing? Why ever would you want to paint me in this?"

"You really don't give yourself enough credit. You really should show your dress to Gritty. I bet he'd die seven times over just seeing you like that."

"Oh he'd die all right...of a laughing fit," Ursa moaned. "But if it inspires you so much I'll come by your studio with my dress and pose for you."

"Thank you..." Gusto said. "I think...I think I'll go to bed now. I shouldn't have agreed to chaperone tonight. I really have been ill mannered and snappy with everyone."

"And you'll need to appologize to Sunni I'm sure."

"Yeah, well, let her have her night, and I'll see her in the morning. All though," Gusto sighed. "I can't help disliking that River creep she was dancing with. I thought she was all into Buddi for awhile there."

"Things change at that age," Ursa said immediately, feeling a pang of sorrow for her son. "New sweethearts come and old ones go..."

"Yeah, well sweet River is nearly as old as I am. And I'm a tired old bear. Too tired really, to be dealing with teenagers."

Ursa chuckled. Gusto scratched his head, and then turned to look at her, suddenly wide eyed.

"I've been meaning to ask you, have you seen Arte lately?"

"No," said Ursa. "I've lost track of nearly everyone. Thornberry was on the guard for awhile, then they put him in charge of guarding the Gummi berry juice barrels. But I've heard very little of him since. I think Tummi is a sailor, or a fishermen. Zummi has barely set foot outside of the Library since day one."

"Its like we're breaking apart, something is coming between us..." Gusto said vaguely, eyes taking on a strange look.

"Its the new bears," Ursa said, gritting her teeth. "Their new laws and ways are an eyesore. Whatever happened to our plans for the Festival of the First Snow? Why won't they celebrate our traditions as we are willing to celebrate theirs?"

"It started snowing already?" Gusto said, wide eyed. "Really?"

"Its always winter in the mountains, so you can't really tell, but yes, it has. But the New Gumbreans are using magic to keep out the snow here and keep it warm."

"Oh," Gusto looked up, and the starry sky was clear as any spring night. "Its...not right to use magic like that. To interfere with nature..."

"I agree."

It was an unspoken connection between them. Suddenly they were more aware of their surroundings now, and it only made Gusto look more bitter than he had before.

"I'm going to bed. If you see Arte before I do, please please let him know that I'm not mad at him. Its only paint, and there's plenty of it. I'm just angry with myself. You know..."


Ursa watched him go with a weary sigh. Then she looked back at the party where they had just been.

And she shook her head.

I'm going home...and if Gritty laughs at me I swear I'll box his ears!

She sped down the paths and stone walkways towards the barrack quarters that she and Gritty shared, feeling a sense of worry and panic at the idea that Gritty was going to see her like this, totally out of character and out of place, and laugh.

But Gritty didn't laugh at her when she got home. He took one look at her, then scooped her into his arms and kissed her.


"Ursa, you look as pretty as a picture. Never seen you so dolled up and fancy before in my life."

"If you laugh at me I swear..."

"No, I'm not going to laugh at you..."

He made love to her instead. So much for not wearing dresses.

Chapter 8: Chapter 8

Chapter Eight: Crack The Whip

Morning dawned upon Ursalia like fresh apples peeking out from behind their leaves; red, dark and partially hidden beneath the veil of clouds that was moving in from the west.

Snow clouds, Gusto thought, as he made his weary way to the Prime Minister's office.

Head bent low, centred in his thoughts, Gusto dwelled upon the night before, and his interaction with Ursa as he walked.

You kissed her...bear's fur, and then you told her! Thank Gummi she doesn't know who you're crushing on, or she'd flip!

He had woken with a sour feeling in his belly, as if he knew this day was going to go badly.

And it was. He had entered the studio and the first thing that had happened was Tulli, on a rampage, lecturing him about the tapestry, and the half dozen projects he had abandoned without permission in order to be Sunni's chaperone. Then Tulli had sent him straight out of the studio again.

Apparently he had been 'reported' to Prime Minister Welsi for misconduct.

I bet Welsi will have more fun with this situation than either of us will, Gusto thought. If I can get away from Tulli and the endless train of restoring projects he gives me, only to abandon them when something else comes along, I might actually be able to get some art finished.

Gusto was made to wait outside Welsi's office for a time, his office being the former strategy and defence room of the Barbics. Outside this office were rows of chairs that had been put here impromptu for people to sit in to wait.

And wait they did. Welsi's assistant came out to call names one at a time from a little list, and one at a time these bears, some with complaints, others without, all of them with frowns on, went into the office, and came back out with smiles on their faces. Gusto watched them go, one by one, until finally he heard his own name being called.

"Right...here I am..."

Welsi's office was a round room, with many decorative works of art, some were Gusto's own, hanging from the walls. He had a work desk that reminded him in many ways of Zummi's reading desk, which it may in fact have been. So many things had been taken from their original owners to be made use of elsewhere in the city, that it was hard to remember where something had come from, or if it had once belonged to someone else, unless it had once belonged to you.

For everything now belonged to everyone. Share and share alike.

"Ah, Gusto, come in, come in, was just finishing this up. Come in, stand there, that's right, right in front of my desk, no need to be shy."

Every step he took felt like thunder clapping in the sky. Which it may very well have been, since the magical shield over the city kept the rain clouds and snow from interfering in city business. He never knew when it was raining or clear, because in Ursalia it was always sunny.

"There you go," Welsi said, promptly bringing him back to reality. "Now Gusto, I hear from Master Tulli that there's been some problems."

Gusto nodded, but didn't speak; it seemed as though Welsi wanted to say his piece first.

"The foremost issue being the tapestry which I had decided against putting in the banquet hall, which you then decided to use to decorate the ballroom the young people were using for their ball last night. Is that correct?"

Gusto nodded. It seemed pointless for Welsi to even ask; he had been at the ball last night himself.

"I understand how it is to work hard on something, and want to see it through," Welsi said immediately. "I understand that there is effort involved in your work. I can't count the number of projects I had to start and then later abandon. But what is important here is not what you want, but what the community wants. Several people complained about the tapestry you see. It was old, rather old fashioned, and didn't personify the values and traditions associated with the Apple Festival."

Besides the fact that Sunni adored it and half her friends commented on how great it was to have something that actually did personify the Apple Festival, Gusto thought savagely.

"I suppose my point is, that when Tulli is giving you a task, and then asks you to abandon the task, it is for the good of the city. We want what is always best for the city, you see."

Gusto nodded, and for a moment his eyes connected with the old man's. It seemed as if Welsi were holding all the world in his eyes, and that Gusto was an insignificant problem in the scheme of things. There were more important problems then one frustrated bear.

"I guess...I just don't feel appreciated sir..." Gusto said, feeling a bit foolish for talking to this man as if he were the leader of the entire city.

Wasn't every bear responsible for their own lot in life? Weren't they all working together?

"Of course your work is appreciated. Now I think I have the perfect task for your talents. Tulli says you do amazing lifelike portraiture."

"I do," Gusto nodded. "Its the one thing I know I'm good at."

"So much so that you have requested several times to be able to go to Dunwyn or the valley settlements to paint humans. Correct?"

"One of my favourite subjects," Gusto agreed, not liking the feeling of where this was going.

"Well, I think I have a more appropriate subject for you," Welsi said with much pride in his voice. "Tulli is now in the beginning stages of drafting up a mural for the inner wall of Ursalia, depicting the return of the Gummis to the Old World, and the union of our two cultures. It will have the visage of many important bears in the city upon it. I have it known that the winners of the Ladies Fly Ball Championship is going to be posing for the mural. But there is a little snag. You see the inner wall has to be primed first. The carpenters are repairing the wall now, even as we speak, and everyone in the city is to be involved in the mural's creation."

A mural. When there was a shortage of places for people to live and people were in need of blankets and warm places to sleep. When there was a dire need for proper nutrition and flax, and they weren't allowed to travel to Dunwyn to get what was sorely needed. And they were going to be in charge of painting a mural?

"A mural sir?"

"You have been far too impatient for a task worthy of your talents. Everyone wants to be admired and appreciated, its true," Welsi continued, as if he hadn't heard him. "But it is time you learned some patience and humility. I thereby assign you the task of helping the carpenters prime and coat the wall in white paint in order to prepare it for the mural. You will then have the honour of painting my very own portrait upon the mural once painting begins. You understand this is a monumental task, and it is a team effort. I am asking you to put aside your independence and become a part of this community, making use of the talents which you are gifted with."

Welsi then stood up and came around to approach him. Gusto didn't move, nor did he blink when he felt Welsi's hand make contact upon his shoulder.

Static. A crackle of magic between them that was hard not to recognise. It whipped and fizzled around them and then settled into the stone floor like a blanket of snow settling upon the earth.

Welsi's using MAGIC on me? What in the name of Gummi...?

But then the magic died, and Welsi gave Gusto a warm smile.

"Of you go then. Report to Gruffi Gummi immediately for painting detail. And let this be a lesson to you. Patience is always rewarded."

Gusto could only stare at Welsi, nodding vaguely, then turned to leave the office with a new understanding in his head.

Magic...he's using magic, Gusto looked from left to right, down the hall of waiting people, and remembered the smiling people who would leave Welsi's office.

But he wasn't smiling.

He's using magic to put people under his spell when they get out of line. To make them happy with their work, when all around them they have to do what he wants...Of course! Now I see it. The mural. The Apple Festival. These are all things he's ordered to have done, and people just obey them. They don't question him at all!

And now...now he knew. He knew, and somehow Welsi's spell hadn't had an effect upon him. Somehow the spell had not touched him, and he was free still to think, to feel.

I know now...But suddenly I wish I didn't. Everyone is under his control...and I am not. Gummi save us!

Yes indeed. It was going to be one of those days.

Nessa tried to push down the panic in her chest as she slipped quietly into the art studio. She wasn't sure what she wanted to accomplish here, but she knew she had to do this alone.

She didn't trust Sunni anymore. Sunni now had her number one jumper. Sunni now had River, the handsome Captain of the Guard who had turned down Nessa's previous attempts to court him. It was time for Nessa to get revenge upon this intruder in her life. Somehow she was going to have control again. She was going to be on top again.

And it all had to do with that artist bear. Sunni's friend. The one that Sunni had once crushed upon. Who had turned her down flat, however many years ago, because she was too young.

Well, he'll fall head over heels for me, Nessa decided, thinking that the perfume she had chosen was perfect. Not to strong, not flowery, a little catchy, and the skirt, a nice print, it'll catch his eye...

Not that she wanted Gusto Gummi for her own. Oh no. He would be a nice catch sure. But most important of all, Sunni would be angry and jealous. For once she would have the upper hand.

Is this petty? Am I being selfish?

These thoughts raced through her mind as she approached Gusto. He was bent down, filling boxes with his personal possessions, clearing out his work area. Apparently he had been reassigned to the carpenters for a painting project, but she didn't dare ask him about it.

"Oh, hello, Gusto, could I talk to you a moment? Its about...Sunni."

The bear jerked up, totally caught off guard by her comment, and thats when she saw it.

The pity in his eyes. He quite clearly pitied her. And she didn't know why, but he was looking at her with such a sad pitying look that she had to say anything to keep him from looking at her further with those strange eyes.

"Its just...I know she was upset with you last night, but she's very sad, and I can't seem to convince her to patch this thing up between you before it gets out of control. I know you are both friends."

"Yeah...friends. So what do you want me to do about it? I said I was sorry, but...I have no time to talk to anybody anymore."

He put his hands up to his sides, turning away from her.

Okay, that didn't work...lets try something different.

"Well, you're Sunni's friend and you know her best. What would you say to her, if you were me? To cheer her up, I mean, make her feel less...edgy and twitchy. She's gotten a little mean to me since last night. I just wonder if something is wrong besides what happened at the ball."

Gusto blinked, a little taken aback, and then appeared to be thinking.

"Well..." he said, then started talking about Sunni, and how she would sometimes get into these selfish moods, but she didn't mean to hurt anybody by it, and then Nessa knew this was her chance.

She slowly approached him, carefully, so that he wouldn't notice how close she was to him until it was too late.

"...And just be honest, like you have been with me. She'll understand. Does that help? Am I making any sense?"

"It does, and you are," Nessa said, nodding. "You're a good friend to help her. I wish I was as good a friend to her as you."

"I'm sure you'll be a great friend with a bit of practice."

He put a hand on her shoulder and thats when Nessa knew her chance had come.

"Thanks," she said, and reached up, before he could say anything, to kiss his cheek.

It was a chaste, proper kiss between friends, but she had aimed it to be just a little short of the corner of his mouth, barely brushing, blurring the edges of risque behaviour.

But he had jerked sideways at the last second so that their mouths were perfectly aligned, totally contrary to her plans. Their lips contacted and a crackle of static suddenly sparked between them, shocking her out of her reverie and causing Gusto to jump back two feet.

"Oh, oh I'm sorry," said Nessa. "I must have been walking on carpet today. Whoops."

"You...you kissed me?" he said, eyes wide.

"New Gumbreans always kiss each other," she said, semi-honestly. "Its how we show we care."

"I see..." Gusto said, distrustingly. "You'd better get back to school."

Nessa nodded, barely seeing Gusto, now feeling her stomach twisting in strange ways that it had never done before.

It was like her ears had popped. She could see, hear and smell, as if she had broken the water's surface. She stared at Gusto in horror, and he stared back at her, puzzled and panicked.

"I...have to go," she said, feeling the squeak in her voice. "B-bye."

Helpless, frightened, she ran from the room, and down the halls and the sets of stairs that would lead her down into the lower stories and the residences, down those many winding doorways to the door that would take her to her bedroom.

She felt sick, and helpless, and unable to take it anymore she threw herself onto her bed sobbing.

I remember! she thought, a cold lump in her stomach. I remember, I remember, Armsmaster Vigo killed my parents! I remember the night we tried to escape, and they were executed for it! I remember, and then Prime Minister Welsi touched me and...and I forgot. I forgot Mommy and Daddy. I forgot!

She sobbed, and sobbed, and didn't leave her bed. Not even when Sunni came to talk to her, or when Grammi came to her with a tray of tea and warm soup. She didn't feel happy at all until Tarra came and hugged her and talked to her, assuring her that this too would pass, this sick and helpless feeling.

She felt sick, and tired, and ill, and she wanted her parents. And they were never coming back.

-Things have changed, and probably will moreso from here on out.

Chapter 9: Chapter 9

Chapter Nine: Working In Tandem

By morning, Gusto heard word that Nessa was not the least bit better. Nor half the young people and children in the residence.

An illness was sweeping through Ursalia and it was a dire one. Coughing, fever, shivering, vomiting, and it was mostly effecting the rather young, or the supremely old. Sir Thorberry was seen being brought to the infirmary on a stretcher, having passed out in the midst of his guard duties. Cubbi and most of the young people were being kept under quarantine. People were rather at a loss as to how to deal with this.

Oh, but Prime Minister Welsi has the answer, Gusto thought sarcastically, as he headed towards the inner wall with a bucket of primer. Paint the mural, clean up the city, build those barracks. Not enough room in the infirmary for all the sick people, not enough food or warm clothing...but we have plenty of workers to build a nice comfortable quarters for the soldiers. The soldiers who do nothing!

Gusto found himself looking up at the soldiers, like Sir River, who stood on the wall as sentry looking bored where they stood, glaring down at the workers like lazy drone bees waiting for the Queen's command. They didn't have much to do, and Gusto found himself fighting down the urge to throw his paintbrush at them.

What they need to do, what they should have done weeks ago, is take quick cars down to Dunwyn. With the first fall of snow there will be no crops left of Gummi berries, or anything else for that matter, to harvest. We could have gotten some supplies from the Princess...but since humans aren't allowed in the city...

He felt his stomach twisting even further as he laid layer upon layer of white paint onto the stone walls. The only consolation in this whole infuriating situation, the only bright spot in this gloomy day, was Gruffi.

Gruffi, who grinned that heartbreaking grin at him upon seeing him approach in such a fussy mood, had chided him and laughingly accepted another brush.

"You look a lot like the weather we're having...gray. Want to talk about it?"

Gusto felt his heart melting in his chest and nodded. It was worth this little punishment he was undergoing with the primer just to be near Gruffi and his gorgeous smiles.

"Gladly. I'm glad somebody asked because seriously, I'm tired of it all."

Gusto then went into a long rant about his frustrations with the sick people, and the seeming waste of their manpower on an unnecessary project. Gruffi chuckled nervously and listened to him as they ended up working together side by side to paint the wall most.

"The way I see it," Gruffi said in reply, "Is that Welsi wants to keep the minds of the people off their problems, give them something inspiring to keep their hopes up. It could be a long hungry winter with so little supplies. But the art keeps our hopes alive."

Gruffi really wasn't acting like himself, and it was taking all Gusto's self restraint not to shake him back into some sense.
"Also keeps us from seeing how incompetent a leader he really is..." Gusto muttered.

A hard cough from right behind their backs interrupted them.

"Would you mind repeating that for me? I want to write every last word down for posterity..."

Gusto whirled and glowered at the bear standing behind him. Sir River grinned cheekily, as if trying to draw attention away from the fact that he has been eavesdropping on their conversation. Of course he did have a pen and paper in his hands. As if he had anything better to do.

"Well, let me repeat that for you," Gusto began slowly. "Since you seem so fascinated with watching other Gummis do honest work while you sit around...rather bored I'm sure...doing nothing. Which is exactly what is getting done right now. A whole lot of nothing. People are sick, the city is hungry, we have no resources or supplies, and every last man available to be had is being stuck on this mural project!"

"Mmm hmmm," River nodded, finishing his note with a jot. "But I thought you wanted to do art?"

Gusto just glared.

"G-Gusto.." Gruffi put his hands out to take Gusto by the arm. "Don't push a fight...lets just paint...okay?"

Gusto couldn't help it. Gruffi could calm him down out of any rage. Make him laugh when all he wanted to do was cry.

"...And of course I'll be giving father my day's report..." River continued smoothly.

"You do that..." Gusto muttered, and turned back to the wall to paint.

Gruffi nodded nervously, watching River saunter away, then whispered to Gusto in an anxious voice.

"You know you shouldn't fight and make a fuss..."

"Gruffi, you're the last person I ever would have thought would comply with the rules and bad decisions of another person. You're just as whipped as the rest of these people."

If the gruff brown bear had any reply, it wasn't spoken. Because Gusto was right. Gruffi was bewitched, just as everybody else was.

Gusto turned his head in despair and disgust. His beloved Gruffi, bespelled and controlled by another, and there was nothing he could do about any of it but grin and bear it. He hated it! But this was just another bitter reality he was going to have to swallow.

Sunni Gummi felt herself compelled towards the place where the carpenters were painting. She had visited Nessa and Buddi today and stopped in to check in on the comatose Thornberry, who they had decided wasn't ill from the plague, but had been knocked out by a loose barrel of Gummi Berry juice. Now she was restless, and she needed to see River.

She needed to talk to him. Did he share the same feelings she had? Was he the one?

A momentary panic filled her when she saw him, up on the wall glaring down at the Gummis working at its base. Gruffi and Gusto were down there together, laughing and talking together as they always used to. But there was something odd about the way they interacted. Something different. Gusto was trying too hard to be friendly, and Gruffi was obviously not trying hard enough. She could almost feel that he didn't want to be anywhere near Gusto at the moment.

But then she suddenly got an idea of how to conveniently interrupt them. Some of the kitchen staff were out here keeping the workers supplied with warm drinks. The cold air of winter was making its crispy self known now. The magicians were so concerned now with working on potions and cures to stop this plague that there was no need to keep out the snow any longer. But no snow fell, instead the city felt almost frosted. Like snow had already freshly fallen.

No matter. She made the excuse of wanting to give Gruffi and Gusto some cocoa and went towards them. Her fingers in her gloves tingled around the warm mugs of cocoa and she had to pick her way to the wall carefully in fear of dropping breaking them. She had been feeling strange for a few days now, but she wasn't sure if this was just the menses come upon her early, or the cold in the air. But she couldn't worry about that anyway. She had important things to do!

Gruffi accepted his mug of cocoa with a happy hug, but Gusto just stared down at his as if it were laced with poison. Now was her chance.

"Um, Gruffi, could I talk to Gusto alone for a moment?" Sunni said with a slightest hint of urgency to her voice. "There's something I need to say to him privately."

"Sure," said Gruffi, ruffling her hair. "You should be wearing a cap, you'll freeze your fur."

He wandered off, leaving Sunni alone with Gusto. Gusto the grouchy. He had put the mug of cocoa down on the nearest surface, and was glaring at her pointedly now, as if she had just interrupted something important. It must have been a surprise to him when she glared right back.

"Now, I came here to accept your apology and make up, so don't be grumpy with me from the first hand off!"

For a moment he seemed about to retort. Then the obvious hot air he had been about to inject into the void between them deflated from his sails.

"I'm sorry," he said seriously. "I've been prickly, as you said, and I've been stepping all over people's feelings. Even Gruffi is upset with me. Everyone is tip toeing around me. I'm trying...I'm trying so hard to fit in! But..."

He put his hands up, and she took the advantage to hug him tight around the middle.

"We all love you Gusto, why can't you see that?"

"I...know..." he sighed, and hugged her back. "I just don't know if I feel right here in Ursalia with the way things are. I don't know if I'll ever be all right here again."

"You'll feel better if you just try to have some fun," she said pointedly. "And not be a grump."

"I'll try," he said honestly. "It's like I've switched places with Gruffi to compensate. He's so happy with his lot he's not really complaining. Somebody has to complain now and again."

She giggled, then reached up to kiss him on the lips, which Nessa said was a New Gumbrean tradition between friends. Hey! Anything excuse to kiss a cute guy! But a spark of static shocked her upon contact with his startled lips, and she jumped two inches.

"Oh, ow," she laughed. "Static. Who knew kissing older guys would be this dangerous?"

"Yikes, you've kissed many boys?" he chuckled nervously.

"Tons," she agreed, and kissed his cheek. "You'd be surprised."

"Now stop that with the kissing, before old River up there has a conniption fit."

"I...guess..." Sunni looked up the wall where River was standing, waiting for her arrival to talk with him.

The only foreseeable problem now was that she wasn't sure she wanted to go see him anymore. Something about him was making her feel positively ill.

In fact she was ill. Lukily Gusto was there to catch her, in shocked dismay, as she fell fevered into his arms.

Opposed to Gruffi's worries, Prime Minister Welsi didn't summon Gusto to his office that evening, nor for the next three or four days. It seemed the Prime Minister had more important things to do than to be concerned with River's report on Gusto's behavior. But Gusto had still been elusive since the fiasco with River at the wall, and Gruffi didn't feel inclined to track him down.

Pushed that bear's buttons, Gruffi thought with concern. Making all the wrong enemies...

By the Great Gummis, Gruffi had far too many other important things to worry about. Like Sunni and Cubbi. His cubs, his children, were both ill. Sunni had been ill for a long time, actually, according to the healers. But she had been so busy, as they all had, with the restoration and repairs, that she hadn't realized she was sick. A lot of people were in the infirmary now from fevers and sickness. Thornberry was still in that coma.

I've been feeling rather off kilter myself...

Tarra had been a concern of his too. It was obvious that she was enamored by him. At every conversation she was dropping hints of marriage and weddings. But something was holding him back.

I like her...she likes me...our courting has gone well so far. Why am I so afraid?

But suddenly he turned a corner, as he was entering the residences, and came across the very source of his fear and panic.

Gusto. Dressed in his usual black. He always wore the black these days. It suited his moods really. He was always angry, it seemed. His eyes were those hot fierce and unyielding pits of fire that they always were.

"Oh, Hi Gruff. Just on my way to the infirmary. This place sounds so empty without all the people who are usually here..."

Alone. They were alone. Save for the kitchens down the next hall, and some of the residence rooms, most Gummi bears were above ground on projects or in the infirmary and workrooms. Alone in a hallway, together.

"I was just on my way from there. Nothing good happening there I'm afraid."

Gusto sauntered over to him, all the tragic picture of self-righteous indignation.

"You...didn't tell me about Thornberry. I knew he was sick, but nobody told me about the accident."

"I...didn't know until now myself," said Gruffi. "Its not that bad, really..."

"He cracked his skull," Gusto said thickly. "We should have known that days ago when it happened!"

"We've all been busy..."

"...painting that mural," Gusto finished in obvious disgust. "What I don't get is this; what is the point of it all? What will this all result in? If Welsi is going to order us around, at least order us to do necessary tasks for the well being of everyone! Sunni didn't even know she was sick until it hit her like a sack of bricks!"

"She'll be fine...we'll find a way to deal with this," Gruffi said, feeling himself getting angrier by the second. "You, however, need to watch your manners. Everyone is doing the best they can. We're playing by the rules!"

Gusto almost seemed chagrined for a moment. For a moment he stopped, as if resigned. But then he finally spoke.

"I'm done with playing by the rules," he said, and his eyes were alight with a fiery passion. "I'm going to make my own rules. I'm tired of this game, Gruffi. I want what I want, and I want you."

Gruffi stared, unable to speak a word, and took a startled step back as Gusto approached him, like an intoxicated bear after yet one more sip of the wine that was causing his condition. Like gravity, another body pulling towards him, and him unable to escape it. Startled, and vaguely disgusted, Gruffi put his hands out, only to have them captured by Gusto's own hands and forced to the sides.

"I'm tired of fighting my feelings for you, Gruffi. Even if you hate me for it, even if you're disgusted by me, I must know if this is real. Some things I can't change Gruffi, but I have to try to make you like me, and not just sit like a complacent little doll. I just have to try!"

Gruffi felt Gusto's eyes boring into his own, those deep pools of intoxicated defiance that were reaching into dark, horrified pits of his soul, swallowing him with their darkness.

But suddenly this dark black hole of abyss was replaced with an arching fire as lips met his in furious and desperate contact. Electricity arched wildly through his body, passion tingling down his spine and through his lungs divorcing him of anything but the pounding of his heart. Opposed to all malice, breaking free of all fear, he felt himself come up from the kiss as if he had just been saved from drowning. A clear and determined path was suddenly there before him and no longer was he being led in every which direction by other people. Gravity was no longer working upon him, he had been freed from its tether, able to move freely in space. His belly was on fire and he felt something akin to joy at the agony he felt from having his mind freed from the clutches of whatever evil spell he had been under before.

For now there was only Gusto. Gusto with his warm ebony eyes and soft smile. His blue fur that was sweated over with the signs of his own obvious illness. Gusto, whose eyes were sunken in his despair in desperation, was looking at him not with the indignation and arrogance that Gruffi had been deluded into thinking he carried, but rather his eyes carried all of the pain, desperation and despair that Gruffi had never seen in his beloved friend's eyes before. It was heartrending. Gruffi wanted nothing more than to stop that look at all cost!

"I'm...not disgusted at all..." Gruffi said, finding his voice. "I feel like you've woken me from a thousand year sleep beneath the ocean and I can breath again. Where did you learn to kiss like that?"

Gusto seemed about to answer, then his eyes went to pinpoints.

"The kiss! That's the answer! That's how I can break the spell!"

"What? What spell?"

Gusto suddenly took on a very serious look.

"Prime Minister Welsi is using magic to control everyone. He tried to put a spell on me when I was in his office the other day and failed. Which is probably why he hasn't called me to his office yet. He knows his magic doesn't effect me!"

"I...believe you," Gruffi said, rubbing his face, astonished that he was finally making sense of everything around him. "But why? I mean, why doesn't it affect you?"

"I don't know," Gusto shook his head. "But Nessa took sick when she kissed me. Maybe she's been sick for awhile and breaking free of the spell woke her to what condition her body was really in. Same for Sunni the other day when she kissed me too. Of course, Ursa didn't change a hair...save for that interest she has now in teaching Cubbi and Buddi how to fight. She wants them to go on the annual Barbic Rama Rumpus with her and Gritty..."

"Wait a minute!" Gruffi said, stopping Gusto. "Ursa kissed you?"

"Um...I kissed her..." Gusto coughed. "I was trying to cure myself of men. Didn't work...obviously."

"Doesn't help that she's half a man herself..." Gruffi muttered.

"She was in that pretty dress when I did it," Gusto protested. "Anyway, forget about Ursa. The point is, my kiss freed her from whatever spell everyone is under! I can fight this!"

"You think you're going to be able to kiss everyone then, before Welsi figures out what's happening?"

"Not yet. He's probably got more than one person on his side looking out for trouble, just like Sir River, and I need an action plan," said Gusto. "But first, I think I have a bunch of kisses I've been wanting to give you that I haven't yet..."

"By Gummi!"

Gruffi found himself being thrown over Gusto's shoulder and carried into his rooms, where he was then subjected to a heck of a lot more than kisses.

It was mind numbing. He felt whole again, for the first time in forever, and so he succumbed to it willingly, gratefully. If this was the effect Gusto's kisses had upon him, he couldn't wait to see what they would do for Ursalia!

Chapter 10: Chapter 10

Chapter Ten: In Opposition To Truth

Gusto woke with a warm feeling in his stomach. He rolled over, and nearly neatly rolled on top of the slumbering Gruffi.

A warm fuzzy butterfly feeling filled his stomach upon seeing the bear of his dreams lying next to him, giving soft heady breaths in his sleep. The urge to tickle Gruffi's nose was too great, and being the sneak that he was, readily gave into that urge, blowing whuffs of soft air along the bear's snout.

Gruffi woke with a startled sneeze, and Gusto rewarded him with a kiss.

"Oh, good morning."

"Hey there lover boy," Gusto demurred, leaning on the pillow with his head in his hand. "Did you sleep well."

He must have been an attractive site, because Gruffi gave a little cough of delight.

"Pretty good. You and your magic touching..."

"I doubt I'm going to be doing that with the rest of Ursalia..."

Gruffi choked and laughed, hitting Gusto with a pillow.

"Who would have thought us?" he finally said, as he dropped the pillow to look pointedly at Gusto. "I never would have thought..."

"Besides being friends for as long as we have," Gusto said seriously, taking the pillow and holding it tight in his hands. "I'm always so afraid of rejection, so quick to hate myself. But...but I had to try to make you like me..."

"Well, I don't know about making me like you...but you certainly broke that spell on me and woke me up to how I really do care about you. Don't know what I'd say to Tarra though..."

"Tarra's probably under the spell too," Gusto said. "I've noticed that people under the spell seem to be unnaturally happy with their lot, and constantly courting one another."

"Yeah, there's always people romancing lately, and people working, and doing things. They're nice to everyone and they never fight."

"You can tell somebody isn't under a spell if they aren't happy, or they're not quite as nice to everybody, like Sir River."

Gruffi paid immediate attention to this, and Gusto had the feeling that Gruffi would not be so complacent about a man their own age courting his daughter any longer.

"I think Welsi has some people who aren't under the spell working for him. And he can't always keep people under a spell so sometimes it wears off. That's when those people are sent to Welsi for a 'cure'."

"So...what are we going to do?"

"I don't know," Gusto sighed. "I don't think kissing everybody would help. Welsi could just touch them again and control them, for all I know. I don't know how this kiss thing works."

"Might be a good idea to kiss Zummi then, and have him figure out as much as he can about this..." Gruffi smirked for a moment, then sighed.

A momentary silence between them, and Gusto crawled in behind Gruffi to pull him against his chest and nuzzle his hair.

"I can do all things if I have you..."

"Well, you have to start painting the wall today."

"The wall..." Gusto grumbled. "That damn wall..."

"Now lets not try anything funny with the wall," Gruffi warned. "We'll make contact with Zummi first."

Gusto nodded, sighing.

"Don't suppose you want to sleep in and just ignore the world for awhile?"

Gruffi chuckled and curled up in his embrace.

"A few more minutes can't hurt none..."

"Just a few..."

It was actually a good hour before either of them left the bedroom.

But Gusto didn't get a chance to go see Zummi. The moment he arrived to the mural wall he was stopped in his tracks by Sir River.

"Councillor Welsi wanted to see you in his office before you started working on his face, and you should bring a sketch book. After all, he's not going to come out here and stand in the cold waiting while you paint him..."

Gusto suppressed his growl of complaint and followed the Knight to Welsi's office.

This time there was nobody waiting outside his office. Everybody was either sick or working their tails off on building projects. But that meant he would be seeing Welsi sooner, and the elderly orange bear did not look delighted to see him when he arrived.

"Back again? Of course of course, well do your sketching, but don't talk, I'm working very hard here."

Oh yes. The Minister was working veeeerrry hard. Writing. Whatever it was he was writing, he didn't share it with Gusto. But as Gusto made sketch after sketch of the bear for his records, Welsi just continued to write. The scratching of Welsi's quill, and Gusto's pencil, echoed in twin consternation in the quiet din of the office. But midway through Gusto's sketching Welsi stopped.

"River, would you please take these orders to Head Chef Merribell and then return? Thank you."

River smirked as he passed Gusto, then sauntered out of the office with the orders under his arm as if he were transporting a rare treasure. Soon it was just Gusto and Welsi alone together in the office. Welsi clasped his hands together, looking at Gusto.

"My, you're a problematic one, aren't you?"

"Come again?" Gusto asked, laying down his sketchbook pointedly.

"I said don't talk! You see, you have no obedience. No respect."

"Well, I apologize sir," said Gusto flippantly. "It is very hard to defend ones own character when one is not allowed to speak."

"Well, your viewpoint does not matter, does it defiant one?" Welsi said, as if daring him to argue.

"I should think it does," Gusto argued, startling the bear even further. "The Great Gummis practiced democracy; every bear has a voice and a vote."

"But we aren't the Great Gummis are we?" said Welsi. "I give the people what the want; a proud leader and a strong military to protect them. I protect the people of Ursalia. As long as my plans are in motion, everything will happen to the benefit of the people. Nobody else needs to have a vote."

"To the benefit of the people?" Gusto said with a snarl. "The people are sick and starving, they are cold from a lack of firewood and warm places to sleep, because the carpenters are working very hard at repairing the outer walls; not that this is necessary since the only humans who know of our existence who are likely to want to attack us live hundreds of miles down south of us. Every command you give seems more like the demands of an argumentative child than the commands of a great leader. It sounds rather like a dictatorship to me."

"I see. I suppose I can't change your views," Welsi rose from his chair. "But I shall have to be a little more firm on the matter of keeping you under my control. Oh what to do with you? Magic certainly cannot control you."

"Nope," said Gusto. "It can't. Your spell won't work on me."

A quiet settled over them both and an understanding filled the void between them. Welsi was clearly calculating the next best possible way to punish Gusto without causing too much of a fuss, since Gusto clearly knew about his spell casting and couldn't be manipulated himself. Gusto waited patiently for the final hammer to strike, and busied himself with gathering up his sketches. Sir River eventually returned and Welsi smiled.

"Its going to be at least twelve days before my face will be needed on the mural," he said pointedly. "My face should go on last don't you think?"

"Save the best for last father."

Gusto said nothing, pointedly. He was trying very hard not to be sick.

"River," Welsi rose, and approached the Knight with amusement. "I do believe I have found something for you to do. Our friend Augustus is rather incompliant as of late..."

"When isn't he?" River said, dryly. "Tulli demands we send him elsewhere, into a different craft, and I'm starting to agree."

"No, I think I prefer Gusto to paint," said Welsi, putting a hand out to touch the top of Gusto's head.

Gusto recoiled from the touch and glowered at Welsi.

"And what if I refuse?" Gusto said with a huff.

Welsi took on a smile that was nothing like his previous smiles. It was an uncaring, laughing sort of smile, very much a child's smile, save one thing. The eyes. They were cruel, and not the least bit forgiving.

"Lock him up," Welsi said, breaking contact with Gusto's fur. "We'll see if I can't find a replacement for him in the next twelve days. If not, perhaps I'll let him paint me after all."

Welsi then snatched the sketchbook from his hands and went back to his desk. Gusto took several warning steps backwards, but River had already grabbed him and was now attempting to drag him off.

"You can't do this to me!"

Welsi just chuckled, sat down, and put Gusto's sketch book onto the top of his desk without any fuss.

"I already have."

"But why do you have to go?"

Buddi sighed, rubbing his face and staring at the sad blue eyes of Sunni Gummi. She was looking much healthier now that she'd had some rest and a few days to recuperate. It seemed as though she was much healthier than most of the other people in the infirmary. Nessa looked practically dead where she lay, hollow and pale as a ghost. He was quite thankful it wasn't Sunni who was laying there as Nessa was, sick as death.

"Its a Barbic tradition," Buddi said firmly. "And one that I respect. Besides the Rama Rumpus, and all that rot, we'll be going to Barbic Woods. My grandparents died in Barbic Woods, and that is where we go to honor them. Its not just animal herding, its a part of our life, seeing all the places of great importance to Barbics."

"But when are you going to come back? What about me? Its not fair!"

Buddi didn't know what to say.

"If you were feeling better we would take you too," he said, reaching out to squeeze her hand. "But we'll be back when the winter is over. And Cubbi will be coming with us, so you'll know he'll be taken care of. I won't let your little brother get into trouble."

"I wish I could go," Sunni sniffled. "I wish I could...but...but..."

She turned to look pointedly at Nessa, and the other patients in the infirmary.

"I know, your place is here. Just...don't let that River creep follow you around anymore. Doesn't that guy get the hint?"

"Probably will soon. Gruffi's going to make a point to let him know he's not wanted around me."

Buddi nodded, then bent down to do something bold.

He kissed her. It was a nice kiss. But he wasn't an expert, so she merely blushed in response. Not the sort of dynamic reaction he'd been hoping for.

"You hurry back in time for Spring, and all the festivals and balls that come with it," she said forcefully. "I'm saving my polka dot dress just for dancing with you."

Buddi nodded brightly and rose to his feet.

"I'll see you in a few months, and I'll have something for you when I get back..."

"Oh, now you have me curious," Sunni giggled. "What are you going to bring me?"

"You'll see," said Buddi. "Its a Barbic tradition, so I can't ruin the surprise."

"Just hurry back, before I grow old and cobwebbed from boredom waiting."

Now it was his time to laugh and he bowed before her grandly before turning to leave the room. Grammi gave him a knowing and approving nod before he left, and Buddi returned it with a smile.

He had his plans all set. Now if only Gruffi could keep that other guy away from Sunni. He had to find Gruffi, and make sure that nobody else courted Sunni before Buddi returned from his quest.

Mount Everlast was a long way from Ursalia.

Gruffi rounded a corner at a run, heart beating a mile a minute, and nearly ran straight into Grammi.

"Good Heavens!"

"Sorry Grammi..." Gruffi said, "I...was...going...I don't even know where I'm going..."

His eyes hurt and he felt close to tears, though he was trying very hard not to cry in front of her. But he lost control and the tears just came. She took his hand and patted it softly.

"So I suppose you heard about Gusto?" Grammi said, tears at the corners of her own eyes.

"Yeah, and when I get my hands on Minister Welsi, I'm gonna..."

"Oh please don't, Gruffi," said Grammi, putting her arms around him to hug him. "Or you'll be thrown in jail too."

"Do you know where they're keeping him?" Gruffi asked, trying to be neutral, but seething inside.

"Yes...I was just to visit him, the poor dear. They have him locked up in the old jail cells under the courthouse. I bet Thornberry could take you down to see him; the poor dear woke up this morning at last, though he's a little addled right now. I wouldn't go down there alone though. Those rough types like Sir River may try to pick a fight," Grammi's face turned sour. "Since they don't do anything else in this darn city they seem to be having a ball standing around playing cards and 'guarding' our Gusto."

Gruffi nodded then did a double take.

"Grammi wait...did...did Gusto kiss you? Do you know about...?"

"Yes...he did," said she, and she hugged Gruffi again. "And he told me everything. Oh Gruffi what are we going to do?"

"I don't know," Gruffi sighed. "But we'll figure out something."

Gusto sighed and stared up at the ceiling again. It hadn't changed its color or texture in the last six days, but that didn't stop him from staring at it.

Not much else to see, besides a locked door with a barred window on it that the soldiers poked their noses in from time to time to tease him. But there were no windows. Four stone walls around him. And a blanket on the cot.

Rest of the people in Ursalia are cold and ill but they leave some blankets for me!

Well, the blanket in question was actually the old tapestry he had worked so hard to restore. He pulled it around himself tightly and curled up in a ball. At least he was warm. And Grammi had come by with some food for him. He had made of point of kissing her right on her lips, wasn't going to take a chance that it needed to be on the lips to work, and had immediately whispered his story to her. She was now bringing him news and food every morning and evening like clockwork, and in the trays of food she brought she had given him some goodies; a needle and thread for darning the holes in his shirt, a thimble, some small pieces of parchment, Cubbi's old broken crayons and even one of Sunni's butterfly clips, a gift from the girl herself. Anything she could sneak into the little hankerchief she brought with each meal.

But it barely staved off the madness brought about by isolation. And they had thought had been half mad on that island for twelve years! This was purely claustrophobic!

At least Gruffi came, regularly, to look at him through the bars with those doleful sad eyes.

"Whatever happened? How did you get into this much trouble anyhow?" Gruffi had asked him the first time he came, or rather, demanded. "After I told you to not make a fuss yet!"

"I pulled a Cubbi and talked back," said Gusto unapologetically. "I couldn't just stand there and let him dictate to me like Duke Igthorn would to his ogres. I'm not a puppet."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked so much of you, but be careful, okay? Zummi and I are working on getting you out."

"Zummi won't visit me," Gusto said pointedly. "So I can't kiss him."

"You don't have to," Gruffi chuckled. "The spell on him seems to be wearing off already. It doesn't seem to last as long for us as it does for New Gumbreans."

"Well that makes a bit of sense, they've been under the spell longer," Gusto agreed. "What about Cubbi and the kids?"

"Ursa and Gritty took the Barbics and Cubbi off to Barbic Wood," Gruffi sighed. "Welsi let them go, and I doubt he'll be letting them come back. At least they're far away from here. Zummi is doing what research he can into how to break this spell. Sunni seems to be well again and she's been able to avoid anymore attention from Welsi's son."

And that was rather what all their conversations were like. Grammi would bring him food and stuff to occupy himself with, and Gruffi would come and bring him news and would hold his hand through the bars. And the news was always punctuated by some painful addition. People were so sick now that the residence project had been abandoned; forget the fact that the mural and outer wall repairs were still a go. An elderly bear had died, being the first victim of this plague that the New Gumbreans said they had fought off before in the New World, and they would fight it off again. But Gusto had a feeling that the plague had never left the New Gumbreans in the first place. Food supplies were dwindling and so the hunters were now stealing sheep from the shepherds and raiding the store houses of the local farmers. There was now talk up and down the valley of ghosts. The Knights were in full control of the city now, keeping everyone from wandering in the streets and putting every stray person found to various mundane tasks as suited their whims.

Oh, when I get out of here I am going to plan out my revenge, Gusto thought acidly as he began scrapping at the wall with his spoon. I'll free the Ursalians and make Welsi pay for all this pain he's causing...believe you me. This is far from over!

Chapter 11: Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven: Too Late To Go Back To Sleep

When Nessa woke she felt groggy, and not nearly so energetic as she usually was. She cracked her eyes open and moaned as the ceiling above her swirled.

"Don't move around too much," said Sunni from beside her. "Here, let me put a cold cloth on your head."

Nessa waited for the cool piece of damp fabric to find her brow, then cracked her eyes open again.


She was surprised to hear how weak her voice sounded.

"Yeah, its me," said the blond girl apologetically. "How do you feel?"

"Bad...tired...headache," Nessa moaned. "Memories of my parents returning to me suddenly, and being sick, not a good combination. It hasn't been fun. How are you?"

"Oh I'm fine. Grammi put me in charge of you. Every last hand is needed in the infirmary. School's been canceled too. Not fly ball though. They...replaced us both on the team."

"Oh...well that happens."

Sunni then began to tell her everything that had gone on. Apparently she had also been instructed by Gruffi to ally with Nessa, since both of them had kissed Gusto and were free from whatever spell Welsi had put on them.

"So Gusto's kisses can break his magic?" Nessa said with a giggle.

"We don't know why," said Sunni with a nod. "We won't know much until he's out of jail really. Zummi thinks that some people have a more natural immunity to magical influences than others, like himself. He didn't need to kiss Gusto to be freed, though we've noticed he's a little more hesitant than the rest of us in plotting against Welsi. Maybe because he sees the man every day. Afraid he might give something away. Gruffi thinks Gusto will have to kiss him anyways, just in case. But Zummi's so shy, we can't get him to leave the library for even a day! At least Grammi's free of the spell now, thats a good thing."

Nessa felt strangely good hearing this, though. There was an uprising in the works, and there would be changes as a result. Hopefully. Vigo would eventually be brought to justice. If only the rest of the people could be freed.

"What's the number one plan we have now?" she asked, sitting up, and then regretting it as her head spun.

Sunni helped her gently to sit up and then handed her a cup of sweetened tea.

"Well, first of all we have to pretend that nothing is out of the ordinary. Follow the rules, do your chores, you get the drift. In my free time, which is almost none, I'm in the library with Zummi reading books for anything that may be the spell that Welsi is using on us. Its weird that we haven't figured it out yet, normally Zummi can find something right away! Nobody else has time to help him though; Grammi has to be here in the infirmary, or in the kitchen, and she's being torn between both jobs. Gruffi has to be with the carpenters, so he has no time, between work and visiting Gusto and this darn new project he's being forced to participate in..."

"What new project?" Nessa felt Sunni's seriousness and concern over this topic immediately upon asking this question.

"Prime Minister Welsi," Sunni began curtly. "Has decided that the aqueduct doesn't suit his tastes. It works, but he wants it all built again from scratch."

"You've got to be kidding me!" Nessa said, suddenly more awake then she ever wanted to be. "The most vital thing keeping the city going right now, and he wants it replaced? He can't possibly be serious?"

Sunni just nodded numbly. It was a point of the seriousness of the situation that they were both so understanding of it. Even teenaged girls knew what was important.

"Well this sucks," Nessa sighed. "If only I wasn't so sick, I could help you in the library."

"I'll let Zummi know you're willing to help us," said Sunni. "We have to be careful we don't get caught. Maybe Gusto can kiss more people and break their spells too."

Nessa chuckled.

"He sure has magical lips, doesn't he?"

Sunni giggled in response and helped Nessa with getting dressed and all that.

"You'll be better soon, then they'll put us both to work elsewhere I bet."

"Probably in the kitchens again."

The girls both giggled this time and soon they were chatting away as normal about boys, the fly ball teams and all the normal stuff they usually talked about. But this time it was different.

This time they were both free, for the time being. And freedom made their gossip and girl talk all the more real.

"So you are letting him out?"

Molsi Gummi circled her husband's desk reflexively, watching him in his patient writing.

"I am."

"But...why? He is a threat to us!"

"He's nothing, love," said Welsi softly, making another notation on his piece of paper. "But he is the most talented artist in this entire city. So much so that I wouldn't want anybody less talented working upon my own face."


"Yes, he's a problem, and he can't be spelled to compliance," Welsi leaned back. "So we give him what he wants. He's the best artist in this city, and for all the trouble he has caused his artwork has attracted the admiration of most of the populace, including me. Its no wonder Tulli is so incensed by him; jealousy. Pure jealousy."

"So you're going to bribe him then, like Vigo and the others?"

Welsi nodded.

"But how are you going to bribe him?" Molsi said. "He seems so honest!"

"Well, if my memory serves me, Vigo was just as headstrong as Gusto at one point. It was a matter of finding the right...influences...to persuade him. But we give Gusto his dreams and he'll forget all about revolution. He has a love of great art and a love for male bears, according to my spies."

"Ewwwwwww," Molsi grimaced. "Abomination!"

"He wouldn't be the first bent that way."

"All right, so you'll try to bribe him," said Molsi. "But by the Great Gummis please, whatever you do, don't let him leave this city! I fear the future. I fear for us, if he escapes us."

"Fear not my love," Welsi said demurely, finishing the last sentence on his paper. "I shall make him an offer he can't refuse. I'll make him the Craftmaster, and it shouldn't take much convincing to have old Tulli retire. He's been so ill lately somebody has to take over for him! And Gusto will have all those young, pretty male apprentices around him admiring his art, his visions...He'll have enough projects to keep any sane Gummi happy. He'll suck it up like butter."

But Molsi wasn't so sure of her husband's sentiments on this and she wrung her hands. In her dreams she had seen this bear, this defiant one, and she had seen as if from a nightmare out of the darkness of her heart an evil green glowing light in the center of the darkness. She had seen the Eye and the Servant in their slumber many times.

But soon the Servant would awaken, which could mean Ursalia's second destruction.

We must prevent this as all costs, we must keep him from leaving the city at all costs...I fear him...I fear him...

But all she could do was wring her hands and pray that her husband feared him too.

"Its idiotic," said Head Carpenter Sera as she searched her tool belt for a wrench. "With the hundreds of projects we have going now he decides to replace the aqueduct. Why?"

"Well, the thing must be a thousand years old at least," said another carpenter, Yanni. "It probably needs to be replaced."

"The Great Gummis built things to last," said Gruffi. "And we've already made all the repairs that were necessary to make the aqueduct functional for another thousand years at least. This is purely a cosmetic change, and its not necessary."

"I agree."

Gruffi turned to look at Sera, who was looking at him with some strange look of determination. Was she free of Welsi's influence as well?

"I suppose if we must, we must. But we'll have lesser staff on the aqueduct, while the rest work on the more important tasks of finishing the outer wall and starting on the residences. Sorry Gruffi, but you would be considered lesser staff by rank so the aqueduct project will be yours."

"I kind of suspected that," he grumbled. "So, what's the plan for the redesign?"

"Well...you know the aqueduct design better than us, so I'll let you decide how to begin."

Gruffi sighed, and scratched his head.

"First, we need to divert the water from the old aqueduct so that the city is still supplied, perhaps some of those metal pipes we use for pumping it around the city?"

"Wouldn't hold up in a stiff breeze..." said Yanni. "What about wood troughs?"

"Wood is too precious right now," said Sera. "We need every scrap of it for building and for fires."

"Well," Gruffi looked up at the sky. "How about we build the new aqueduct inside the old one?"

"Come again?"

They all stared at him like he was insane.

"Build the new one within the old one, then remove the old one from outside," said Gruffi again. "The aquaduct is rather large in berth and height. The new one will be only a little smaller, but we won't need scaffolding or supports. And we won't need to stop the water supply to Ursalia in the interim."

"That," said Sera with a smile, advancing on Gruffi to hug him. "Is the cleverest idea I've heard in forever. We'll do it."

Gruffi smiled, and turned to look at Yanni, but the other bear's face was a neutral mask.

When dreams came, they came dark, like a bottomless pit from which there was no escape. These dreams, which he had been having almost constantly now since his imprisonment, were always the same thing. Darkness, punctuated by only one thing; a beam of light.

It was green. An emerald glowing with raw power. It begged him to touch it. He yearned to touch it. It was easy to reach out to, a soft light, a round shape that he could cup in his outstretched hand. All he had to do was touch it, bend it to his will, and it would come alive...

Gusto's dreams were broken when his cell door opened, spilling light across his body and bringing him to startled wakefulness. A shadow moved to block the light in the doorway, and he blinked his eyes repeatedly in surprise. Standing there above him like a figure out of a dark fairy tale was Sir River, in all his haughty glory.

"I'm to take you to Prime Minister Welsi at once," said the Knight thickly.

"I see," Gusto stood, careful to keep hidden the things Grammi had been sneaking to him, rolling them up inside the tapestry. "Would you instruct somebody to take this to my studio, it may be useful for rags for cleaning my brushes."

"You can return for it later...Come with me."

Gusto found that was was able to cover his animosity very well. As they walked through the rather crowded halls of the residences River was talking to him in disgusted tones.

"Really is rather crowded down here, isn't it? Good thing the barracks are built now and my men are able to sleep away from this disease ridden mess..."

Gusto held his temper in check as River rounded a corner, coming to a stair that led up to the upper suites.

"Of course I can't even begin to imagine why father has freed you, obviously he has a purpose for you, I couldn't care less if you rotted in that cell for years, but what do I know? Maybe it has to do with Tulli taking sick."

"Maybe..." it was the first thing Gusto had said since River had arrived.

"I didn't say you could speak."

"You aren't Prime Minister Welsi," Gusto argued smoothly.

Sir River only stiffened in offense, but didn't make a move against him. He had orders, and he seemed unwilling to disobey them.

Maybe River is under control...

Gusto was soon made to wait, for nearly an hour, to see Welsi. Ten days ago there had been almost no people in this room. Now that number of people had swelled to nearly fifty. A lot of these bears were carpenters, some were soldiers, hunters, bakers, fishers...in fact, wasn't that Tummi?

"Hi Gusto," said Tummi. "You sick too?"

"What?" Gusto looked around.

Everyone here looked very very sick.

"Minister Welsi believes he has found a magical cure for this plague," said River pointedly. "He's seeing each person personally to cure them. Such a great Gummi bear..."

Oh I bet he's curing them, Gusto thought with a growl. Curing them of any knowledge that they were sick to begin with!

Grumpy people entered Welsi's office, and happy people left it. When it was finally Gusto's turn to enter River didn't go in with him.

"I'm not permitted to be present," said River. "Keep your tongue in your mouth, if you know what's good for you."

Gusto glared, then entered the office...and stared.

Minister Welsi was sleeping! Or half sleeping. His eyes were lidded and he looked very tired.

"Magic been draining you lately?" Gusto surmised wryly.

"Please be quiet," said Welsi at once. "And give this old bear a moment to recuperate from alleviating almost the entire city of their illness..."

"By pretending that you're curing it with magic!" Gusto argued.

"Its something we've dealt with before," Welsi explained impatiently, reaching into his desk for what looked to be a marple nut cookie, possibly one of Grammi's. "It goes away on its own with time. But we can't afford to have people whose jobs are vital to the city sick and miserable."

"Why not put some of those soldiers on duty in their place then?" Gusto said thickly. "The ones that are always sitting around playing cards and doing nothing?"

"I know what I'm doing!" Welsi declared, getting angry for the first time since Gusto arrived. "I've done it often enough! Don't make me regret bringing you here! I have a vital job for you, and I doubt you have any inclination to argue against something like that!"

Gusto stared for a moment and decided not to push anymore of the Minister's buttons. He could easily get thrown in jail again if he went too far. He would be useless in jail.

"Now...Gusto...since magic doesn't seem to work on you I must first ask you; what do you plan to do with this knowledge now that you are free?"

"Well, share it of course, anything to fight this magic control you have over people," Gusto said with a smile. "Though I doubt I'll get much response, and I'll probably get thrown in jail again if I did."

"Well, what if I said I could give you your dreams? Would you want to betray my secret still?"

"I doubt you even know what my dreams are," Gusto countered. "I doubt anything you could say could convince me..."

"What would you do if I made you Craftmaster in Tulli's place?" Welsi interupted quickly. "The old bear is sick and retiring and somebody has to take over his work."

Gusto stared. Was Welsi insane?

"Somebody has to teach the apprentices," Welsi continued. "The artists work in a delicate balance with the carpenters, as you have seen, and eventually they'll need you as well. Once the mural is finished and this illness taken care of, there will be a thousand projects worthy of your talents. But those talents will lie ill used and wasted in a jail cell."


"Yes," said Welsi with a chuckle. "Tulli must retire, and though I hate to admit it, you are the most talented artist in the city. Somebody with your talents should have seventeen apprentices working under him and a thousand works of art being crafted under his direction. Not languishing away in a dungeon. So we'll make it a deal. You don't tell anyone else about the spell I'm using and I'll make you Craftmaster. You may even get some bonuses out of this. Vigo, after all, isn't Armsmaster based upon talents alone. He serves me, willingly, without any need for magic control spells. Most of my wizards are free of the spell as well. So not everybody needs to be controlled. They can be influenced. You can have a part in the creation of my glorious society, and you could be a bit influence upon others with your art. You just need take over for Tulli. It is so simple."

By The Great Gummis! Gusto thought wildly. This could be the opportunity that Gruffi was waiting for! Welsi is actually bribing me!

"I don't know what to say," Gusto said, putting on a mask of delight. "I'd...be honored!"

Welsi seemed momentarily surprised, then grinned. Gusto fought down the urge to growl and throw his offer back in his face. Instead he plastered hiw own with a goofy, characteristically Gusto-ish smile.

"So," said Welsi, sitting back. "Here is a list of all your assignments for this week. Of course the mural is priority and you'll be returning to that immediately. Here is your sketchbook, it should be in the same condition as you left it. You'll then be working with the aqueduct team in giving a...Gummi feel...to their work. I have several ladies who want portraits of their recently born children as well. Ah, baby pictures..."

Welsi went on and on about the list of projects he had in mind for Gusto. But Gusto's mind was churning in other directions.

I can use this to my advantage. I can work at finding a solution, and free people from the spell, without any suspicion! I'll find the answer to this, by Gum, and Welsi's dictatorial dynasty will fall.

Gusto left Welsi's office as soon as he was dismissed, gave River a look of amusement, and sauntered passed him down the hall towards the studio.

Chapter 12: Chapter 12

Chapter Twelve: Breaking All The Rules

Gusto looked at the canvas with a smile, then turned to give that smile to the youth who was sitting in front of it.

"Hey, not bad Teddi, why don't you try adding this color and blending it..."

Prime Minister Welsi had not been kidding when he had said the apprentices would need somebody to teach them. Upon his arrival to work he found not a few, but several young people, older apprentices, and even some carpenters who further fielded in crafting in order to become architects, all waiting for his commands.

At one point there had been lots of Craftmasters to do this job. But time, the plague, and everything else that had troubled the New Gumbreans for many years, had changed that. Now there was only him. He just loved it.

"But won't that turn the whole thing orange?"

"If you blend it properly, it'll spread the color out and highlight it rather than replacing it."

He did find his plate full, and suddenly was more sympathetic to Tulli than he had ever been before. No wonder the man had hated him so! With so much stuff to do, and no time for self, it had to have been hard on the old man.

Sure, he had apprentices following him around like scurrying ants after the Queen, but managing them all was not a piece of cake. He was their teacher rather than simply an artist with assistants. Some of them were as young as Buddi and Sunni. He had to give full classes on techniques and principals to these youngsters before he could put them to any important tasks.

Like the mural, which was almost completed, but was being done under the paint brushes of only the adult senior artists for the most part. Which meant only a few of them. Most of the artists in the workshop were much too young and green in their talent to do any of the tasks Welsi had given to him. In fact Teddi, this boy he was working with, was no more than fifteen. Teddi was Armsmaster Vigo's grandson and he was talented in many ways, though his Grampa was pushing him towards the Guard. But his talent was growing and eventually he could be a good apprentice for working on important projects.

"Hey! That does look good!"

Teddi gave him a beaming smile and Gusto patted him on the back, them moved off to help somebody else. Much to his surprise Nessa was in his class now. Once she had recovered Nessa had decided to take art rather than try the fly ball teams again. Most girls were not-so-subtly nudged in the direction of the more womanly arts; cooking, sewing, laundering. But some specialized outside of those fields, and the sketches this girl made in her school books that she had shown him were quite amusing.

But her paint skills had made him do a double take. She had some beautiful realism skills going severely to waste. Most Gummi Bears preferred the New Gumbrean modernistic or surrealist styles. Pop art was quickly becoming a new favorite, thanks to the fact that his art that was spread all over the city.

But Nessa's landscape paintings and animal sketches were simply lovely. He wanted her to be working on the mural. She would be, if he could at all drag permission for it out of the redoubtable Prime Minister.

"So how's today's lesson working out for you?" Gusto asked, bending down only slightly to look at her brush strokes. "Enjoying the medium?"

"Not sure if tempera is really my preference," she said, sounding more mature than he usually gave her credit for. "I think I like oil paints better. This stuff is like working with egg yolks..."

"Well, that's because tempera is made with egg yolks, and oil and other types of binders. Tempera is what you use to bind the pigment, so oil paint is a form of tempera as well," he grinned at the look of surprise that her face took on. "We'll be going over how to mix and make your own paint in another class."

She gave him a bashful smile in return and she patted her in the same way he did Teddi before moving off to the next student. He was quite thankful that they had gotten so easily passed the awkwardness of the kiss he had given her. Because she was a joy to have in his class.

She was also an asset in other ways. Some days he would be so swamped from work that he could barely ever have time to go to the library to see what Zummi was doing. Most days he was in the studio from dawn until dusk, then crawled into the sheets with Gruffi and slept until the morning's light hit their window drawing him out to the studio again. But when she came to the studio she would bring him news about what was going on, and take messages to the others that he couldn't take himself.

Now I suddenly know why Welsi gave me this job! It wasn't because Tulli needed to retire. It's because it's keeping me too busy and tired to make any more trouble for him.

But he wouldn't need to make trouble. The others would make trouble, and he could enjoy doing art for a change.

Nessa stopped him as he was moving away to pointedly stick a piece of paper into his hand. He waited until later on when the apprentices had all left the studio and he was alone in his office to unfold the slip of paper and read it.

It was from Gruffi.


We've all agreed that it is time for us to meet and really organize...those of us who are working on our 'project'. Don't worry about the where and when, I'll tell you more when I see you tonight. We have more people than I suspected willing to work on this."

This entire letter, of course, was in code, as actually mentioning any of their activities, or their ill feelings for the Minister, could risk somebody who wasn't on their side finding the letters they wrote to each other and turning them in.

"Don't worry about spending more time with Sunni after classes; they've put her permanently as a Healer Apprentice now. She's going to be in school half the day, and half the day in the infirmary. She never sees Zummi anymore."

Which meant Zummi was working alone on the project in the library now, so that part of their plan was going to need another free hand soon.

"Grammi has been throwing her hands up in the air most days at the crowds in the kitchen, and swears she's going to change crafts every other day. Thornberry, like Tulli, has been given retirement. She'll be seeing him every day now and you know what that means for her blood pressure...And you can bet she'll go crazy over the crowd that'll be there tonight."

Yes, he knew what that meant. Welsi's idea of retirement was putting old people out of their work and into an existence where they were completely dependant upon the charity of others for food and water and places to sleep. They were a second class of citizen, who could only have food if there was any left over in the kitchen pots at the end of the cooking day. Grammi was finding herself with seventeen or eighteen elderly bears coming to kitchen for something to eat, with Knights escorting them back and forth between places they went. During the rest of the day they were herded into a retirement 'residence' building where they had to fend for themselves off the scraps of whatever the crafts were willing to donate to them. They were not on any of the ration lists for the seamstresses or other crafters so they were in sore need of warm blankets and clothes to wear. Basically they were being killed off, slowly, and excruciatingly, by lack of nutrition, warmth and health. It was a point of how busy Gusto was that he hadn't been ranting up and down the street about the matter for all to hear. Grammi had been ranting enough about it for them all.

"Tummi has been pulled off fishing duty onto other chores now that the rivers have fully frozen over. He's with the wood cutting and fuel gathering detail."

Gusto could only roll his eyes at this. There was very little wood to cut in the mountains and the wood cutters weren't allowed to go anywhere else, so they didn't do much more than wander around looking for little trees to cut down or offal debris to stuff into sacks for kindling.

"No new word from Arte Deco or the Barbics. It may be that they've washed their hands of New Gumbrea and are staying away from us for good. I hope the children are okay out there in the wilderness. Its been a rather cold winter."

Good, thought Gusto. I'm glad. Cubbi will be happier free. This existence is no existence for a cub. Tarra says the den mothers in the residence are going half-mad from dealing with the plague. Painful to see so many sick children.

Gusto was feeling his ire rise now with every single word that he read, and now that he wasn't distracted and busy, the urge to go protest this entire business was driving him half mad.

"Speaking of children...I hear you have some now of your own. Hope they are as much trouble for you as Sunni and Cubbi were for me.

Love Gruffi"

"Oh ha ha," Gusto muttered at the last bit. "He thinks he's funny..."

Of course Gruffi meant that the apprentice students were his children. Gusto folded the letter and leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. This day had been entirely too tiring for his liking, but he was quite used to being tired and busy these days.

If there was something I could do...Oh well...

He was quite surprised, when he looked up from his desk, to see young Teddi standing there, a look of bashfulness on his face.

"Oh...Teddi. Have you been standing there awhile?"

"Yes sir," said the youth, face glowing. "I...wanted to talk to you."

"What about Teddi?"

"Well, about the possibility of me being an artist, instead of starting Squire next week."

The youth seemed to hesitate for a few moments, scratching his mint green fur and digging a toe into the floor. He was a pretty boy and seemed much too thin and delicate for the Guard. Gusto felt a wince of sympathy at the kid's plight.

"Well Teddi, I can't control your grandfather's decision about your place in society. You have to respect his wishes. I can only tell him, as I have been all week, that you shouldn't be pushed into something you aren't capable of."

"Well that's it sir," said Teddi. "You can't push my grandfather...but you do have an ear with Prime Minister Welsi. Everybody knows it. That's why you got this position. Right? Because he listens to you."

In a round about fashion, the boy was right. Welsi listened to Gusto because he couldn't shut him up!

"So, you want me to convince Welsi that you shouldn't join the guard?"

"No but...maybe you could play up, you know, how good I'm doing in class. Make it seem like I'm better than I am. He decides who goes into each craft, so he would overrule grampa."

Poor lad...I doubt Welsi would listen to my advice about apprentices...

"I'll see what I can put in my day's report," Gusto said, smiling wryly. "Is there anything else?"

Teddi nodded and swallowed hard, as if he was swallowing nails.

"Well, could it be possible for me to skip tomorrow's lesson maybe?"

As soon as it was out of his mouth, the boy looked like it was instantly regretted. Gusto stared at him hard for a moment.

"Now, you just asked me to make it seem in my report like you were one of the best apprentices I have, in order to avoid the Squires. And now you are asking me for a free period?"

Gusto felt rather angry for a moment, until, of course, the boy broke out crying. He hated when people cried. He melted, like butter. He couldn't handle emotions like that.

"Its just...its just...you know what its like to have somebody you love, and be too busy to see them. And its okay for you to have a boyfriend, because...because you're an important person! But I'm not! I'm not allowed to see Jaci, ever, anytime. Only during lessons. My grampa forbids it because he knows about us, and he wants me to marry a girl! But Jaci is a carpenter apprentice now, so I never ever get to see him even in classes!"

Gusto listened to this rant with a pang of pure curiosity in his stomach that was something akin to amazement. Teddi wasn't under the influence of the spell!

"But if I had a free period I could go with the kitchen staff to give him cocoa," the boy finished lamely.

He looked so downcast and bereft now that Gusto had to stifle the urge to go to the boy, pick him up in his arms and hug him like a mother. He didn't have any parents, only Vigo, his grandfather.

"All right Teddi, you can go to the carpenters tomorrow," Gusto said with a smirk. "But I'll put you under Gruffi and the other woodcrafter apprentices for the day. You like sculpting and carving so its not out of my bounds to dual assign you to two different art studies."

Teddi jumped about three feet in the air, eyes wide and bright, then before he could even breath the boy ran over to hug Gusto tightly around his waist and then run out the door.

Gruffi was right...kids are nothing but trouble... he thought wryly.

But he was smiling.

When Gusto finally arrived back at his rooms he was tired, cranky, and wanting to sleep. After a day of working on the mural, teaching apprentices, painting baby pictures, and all the other nonsense on the list Welsi had given him, he was exhausted.

But he was not, it would seem, destined to go sleep. He arrived at his rooms to find Gruffi waiting there for him, hands clasped and looking the picture of panic. He was shifting from foot to foot, and he went to Gusto the moment he spotted him.

"We have to go now, to the kitchens..."

"Come again?"

"Come on Gusto, you read the note. Everyone's going to be in the kitchens, in the spare dining room where the old timers eat. You've been busy all day, and none of us were sure how to tell you, so we got Nessa to send you that letter..."

"Oh! Right, the meeting thing, okay..."

He was dragged by his hand through the empty halls of the residences down to the kitchen. Tarra, whom he had yet to kiss, was tending the kettles. Gruffi pointedly pointed to her, Gusto nodded, and before she could think twice he kissed her.

"Oh my goodness! Now I know we're friends but what is all this about?"

"How do you feel? Feel dizzy? Headaches? Maybe a little clearer?"

"I do feel...strange...and...oh my Great Gummi..."

Gruffi took her immediately as she burst into tears. They both held her as she cried. It truly dawned on Gusto now how much Tarra's free will had been kept under wraps as her emotions were finally freed.

"He kissed you to free you from the spell," Gruffi explained to her softly. "Will you come with us now and meet with everyone who is freed too?"

"Yes," she sniffed. "I'll come with you."

"All right," said Gruffi, pointing towards the dining room in question. "I think we'll be right on time."

It was rather dark in the dining room, with candles and oil being at such as premium. Only one candle was being used to light this room and it was sitting at the dining able where everyone was sitting.

Gusto was surprised by how many people were in here. Zummi was there of course and he had brought the Great Book Of Gummi with him. Also there was Grammi, Tummi, Sunni and Nessa. But there were also Thornberry, Tulli, and three or four elderly people that Welsi wasn't bothering to spell anymore because they were too old to cause trouble, including Miss Brim, the teacher. Then there was a more influential bear that Gusto immediately recognized as Coffi, who was a ranked wizard. What would he be doing here? Also present were young Jaci and Teddi, and a few other teenagers who were friends of Sunni.

At once a woman, whose name he vaguely remembered was Sera, pushed her husband towards Gusto upon spotting him.

"Please, if you have the ability to break this spell with a kiss, do it! Nicco doesn't believe me!"

"Now woman!" said the man flustered. "I'm not gonna be kissing any man, so you just stop that thought this moment! I agreed to coming here and listening to this nonsense, isn't that enough?"

But Gusto was fully flustered, and for some reason now felt totally embarrassed and downright scared. The only other male he had kissed was Gruffi. In private. For love. This was entirely too awkward.

"Now, er I...maybe this isn't the best time for..."

"Do it!" Gruffi said firmly. "We can't risk any people who are under the spell knowing about this."

"I won't!" said Nicco. "Absolutely refuse!"

"Nicco!" Sera plead. "Please! For the love of Gum!"

"All right all right, but if this doesn't work woman I swear..."

It was an awkward kiss, and Gusto found himself beat red and covering his face with his hands when it was over.

But everyone was staring now.

"You see, it works! Did you see the electricity?" Gruffi said. "I saw it. You don't always see it, but there's a glow around the people he kisses when he kisses them. Like a little charge. But in here, where its dark, you can see it!"

Gusto was momentarily gobsmacked, and Nicco was staring at Jaci for a moment in panic.

"Is my son...under this spell?" he asked, frantic now.

"No," Gruffi said immediately, then waved his hands towards the empty chairs for the rest of them to sit. "And this is why I called you to this meeting. To discuss why this only effects some bears, but not others."

Gusto sat down next to Gruffi, and everyone vaguely assembled in an awkward fashion. Chairs were pulled in and he began.

"I discovered something very interesting," Gruffi started, grinning. "When I talked to Sera about my remonstrations with the Prime Minister. We may have figured out a little bit why some people aren't affected by the spell. And it has primarily to do with how often they've seen Welsi in the last year. The spell, you see, has a one month cycle before it starts wearing off and needs to be refreshed."

"Which is why Welsi appears at just about every event or social gathering he can," said Sera wryly. "Not so he can be friends with everybody, but so that he can touch them and shake their hands in order to pass on the spell. Its also why he has these weekly reports on every single worker; so he can find people who the spell is wearing off of and summon them right to his office for a recharge. I've stopped reporting the bad behavior of any of my apprentices, of course."

"Mind control. I never would have thought Gummi Bears would do anything like this," Gruffi said, shaking his head sadly. "Zummi, tell them what you have discovered."

"I found in the Great Book of Gummi some allusions to mind control spells," Zummi said."You see, the problem I've been having with finding the spell he's using is that it isn't a Gummi spell. Gummi spells couldn't hurt Gummi Bears, so he's using an external force of magic. Coffi?"

"I have been free of the spell for a long time," said Coffi pointedly, and his purpose for being here suddenly became clear. "Welsi feels he can trust me and I've advised him on several magical matters related to this spell. He uses a different Gummi medallion each month to power the spell. When that medallion is no longer effective he gives it back to its owner to recharge it. When a Gummi bear wears the medallion it becomes charged with the magic they use. He can then use this power for his spell. I have had to give my medallion many times, and now so has Zummi."

"Ah, I thought something looked odd about you," Gusto said, looking over at Zummi. "No medallion."

"Exactly," Zummi said. "So the key to his downfall is depriving him of medallions to power the spell."

"The wizards will never give up that power," Coffi said pointedly. "He has them well bribed. And the knights have medallions of their own as backup. I don't know where he got so many medallions. But its a point of how long he's been collecting them that I remember him having one when I was a little boy. And I'm almost eighty years old."

"He may be using magic to extend his life as well," Zummi said. "So what we need to do now is find a way to deprive him of medallions. We think we may have found an answer to that."

Gusto was now highly fascinated and excited. He leaned forward and watched as Zummi flipped through the Great Book to the bookmark he had placed.

"An old poem in the Great Book tells us about a dark magical object that could break any spell and could destroy Gummi Medallions. It has origins in evil and the History of Ursalia. The Eye Of Roshi"

Everyone bent in to listen and Gusto could barely breath as Zummi launched into his tale.

"Five hundred years ago there was a Prophecy made by a Seer which said that one of the Royal Princes who ruled in Ursalia would destroy the city and everyone in it. An uprising occurred and the Royal Family was killed. But their servant, a dark and terrible Gummi wizard by the name of Roshi, vowed he would not rest until he saw the Prophecy fulfilled. However, he died before he could ever fulfill this vow. A dragon of great power turned Roshi to stone and he now lies deep in a dark cave, somewhere in the Swiss Mountains."

Gusto finally let out his breath that he had been holding and Zummi sighed.

"But Roshi's dark powers were left behind in his emerald eye, the source of his power. It is a magical amulet that, when wielded by the right person, can harness great power, and even destroy Gummi medallions."

"Green...emerald...wait a minute! I've been dreaming about that for weeks now!" Gusto suddenly said, eyes turning to pin points. "Its always the same dream! A glowing green gem in a dark cave."

"Exactly," Zummi said, with and 'a hah!' sound. "You aren't affected by the spell, and you have some uncanny ability to break the spell when you kiss people. It is my belief that you may have the ability to wield and control that amulet. My guess is now confirmed that you say you've been dreaming about it. It must be your fate to go and find the stone for us."

"Well," said the wizard Coffi, looking softly at Gusto with newly considering eyes. "Molsi swears to any of us wizards who will listen to her that you are a Seer. Your paintings are in a style like something out of the future, she tells us. Something called pop art, and some human artist called Picasso. But nobody would really believe her. Maybe you are seeing the future though, with these dreams. Maybe we will be using this stone to save our people. I mean, you can't kiss everybody...and not everybody is being controlled by a spell. Maybe...we need something stronger than a kiss."

Gusto stared at them all, and they stared back at him. He swallowed and found himself shivering at the thought of going near that evil green emerald that haunted in his dreams. He felt himself despairing at the idea.

"Isn't it risky?" said Sera suddenly. "Using a dark magical object to save us from Welsi? What if something goes wrong? What if we destroy every medallion and lose our magic forever? Dark magic comes with a price."

"I don't know," Gruffi said. "We have to try something. We have to try to break free."

"I don't know about breaking free," said a haughty voice suddenly from the doorway. "But as for being locked up, well, I'm sure we could make arrangements for that."

Everyone gaped in horror upon seeing Sir River in the doorway, with his vanguard of knights standing behind him.

Nobody spoke.

"Well well well, what have we here," River said, walking around the room and staring at the group of them with amused delight. "A little gathering?"

"Its not against the rules to drink tea and have a chat," Gruffi said, putting his hands tightly around the handle of his cup.

But Gusto could see that under the brave face, Gruffi was shaking.

"But strange company to have all together and these children," he looked down at Jaci and Teddi, then over at Sunni and Nessa, who shrunk down embarrassed. "Should be in bed, shouldn't they? I suppose we won't be arresting the children..."

"River..." Sera stood but the Knight held up his hand.

"No, we'll only be arresting one bear tonight. One person. The leader of this gathering. Those are my orders. So then, tell me, who's idea was this?"

Nobody said a word. Gruffi moved as if to speak up, but Gusto jumped up with a pang of panic in his chest.

"Mine," he said firmly. "It was all my idea. I asked them to be here. So leave them alone. Let them go. You have me, and that's what you want right?"

"Oh Gusto!" Grammi said in horror. "Don't!"

"Ah!" River said, ignoring her. "I am delighted! Positively delighted. No, I won't be putting these ones in prison after all. My father will have to see now that you cannot be trusted not to cause trouble, and they'll be put back under spell immediately I am sure. As I have been telling him for awhile, he should see each person regularly, rather than letting them wander about as they will, but you know him. Likes to do things his own way. Oh well. Take him away boys."

Gusto managed one last look at Gruffi and the others before he was lead away, mentally pleading with them to not bother on his behalf. It occurred to him now that he had to be the one to go find the stone. He would have to escape prison somehow.

He had been distracted and blinded by his position as Craftmaster, and all the wonderful nights he had shared with Gruffi. He had been enjoying teaching art and doing painting again. Being in love and having his dreams had been a powerful distraction. He had been doing exactly what Welsi had hoped he would.

But now he had to put aside his dreams. He had to defy gravity. He had to save his people.

Nothing else matter any longer. Not even staying here with Gruffi. I have to find the Eye of Roshi at all cost!

Chapter 13: Chapter 13

-I've been waiting since I started this story just to write this chapter. This chapter is one of the reasons that I wrote this story. That, and any excuse for Gruffi/Gusto fluff. Oh well. Cue the song lyrics!

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
"Everyone deserves the chance to fly!"
And if I'm flying solo
At least I'm flying free
To those who'd ground me
Take a message back from me...

Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I'm flying high
Defying gravity
And soon I'll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No Wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!
-Defying Gravity, from the musical Wicked.

Okay, enough with the song and dance, onto the show!

Chapter Thirteen: Defying Gravity

"We have to do something!"

Nessa sat in her room on her bed staring at the pink painted wall, with Sunni on her other side on her own bed likewise staring. It was late at night and both girls were restless.

"We have to help Gusto escape! This trial, it'll just be another one of those mock trials Welsi has for people he wants to get rid of! Like my parents!"

Nessa gave a big tearful sniff. Gusto hadn't even gotten to talk to Welsi. He had just been thrown in jail no fuss no muss and nobody was allowed to visit him. It was Welsi's idea that Gusto's trial would be the first held in the old courthouse, and had appointed Zummi to be his lawyer. It gave only the smallest appearance of democracy to the whole charade.

"Its not fair," Sunni said. "The others aren't doing anything but talk about helping him! Why aren't they doing anything?"

"I don't know. Maybe they're afraid. Maybe they can't come up with any ideas. We're so few now."

Welsi had tried to spell them all again, of course, and those that weren't had all pretended to be spelled anyway. Nessa wasn't sure why but only the ones who had kissed or been kissed by Gusto were free still of the spell.

"Its like everyone is afraid of something."

"Well Gusto needs us!" said Nessa thickly. "I know that River guards him personally now, and he's alone on the night shift! So what do you think we should do? Why, with our beauty and brains we can bewitch him, don't you think?"

Sunni smiled and went through her closet with Nessa looking for the most stunning outfits either of them could find. One of them would distract River's attention and the other could get the key to Gusto.

Though Nessa had a sinking feeling that it would probably be Sunni doing the distracting. Sunni had never made out with a guy before. Would she be okay?

"I'll handle fine," Sunni whispered softly after Nessa told her these worries. "You just get the key to Gusto. But...oh...Nicco. Hello."

The old man was standing in the doorway now, looking restless.

"I was just coming to find you gals," he said. "Gruffi and the others want to try and free Gusto, but we're at a loss as to how. You girls got any ideas?"

Nessa and Sunni turned to look at each other and giggled. Perfect timing!

"Leave it to us! Have everyone wait for Gusto with some travel supplies by the main gate."

"All right," said Nicco scratching his head. "You girls be careful! He's all the hope I have now of getting my wife cured of this spell again."

"Don't worry, we will!"

Gusto was busy darning holes in the tapestry in in his cell with a needle and thread when he heard a noise, and paused.

He had been surprised to find all his old bits and bobs still in here. He had forgotten about them and now he had plans for the use of them and the tapestry, if he could alter it correctly. And if he could get beyond the city walls. He had melted down the one lighted candle he was allowed to coat the back of the tapestry in places where the fabric seemed weak. He had then used Cubbi's wax crayons when the candle was getting low. He was going to do things the way they did it in the future, if at all possible, and had made sure there was no way this tapestry was going to fall apart.

It wasn't false, that dream. It was the future. All the weird things I've seen in my head at night. All my paintings too. I hope this works though. I'll need to get a head start on River and his goons. Speed and distance will be important.

When he was satisfied that the tapestry could hold up to anything he started carefully folding it into a proper, severely tight square, and stashed it away under his shirt. He would have to be careful how he used his new tool. If he used it the wrong way he could die a very unpleasant death.

One thing at a time...

Another noise and Gusto jerked his head. Voices. Female ones. He approached the cell window and leaned into it to listen.

"Please? We want to visit him, just for a little while?"

"Well, perhaps for you Sunni. But only for a kiss! You haven't kissed me in awhile."

"I suppose one kiss couldn't hurt..."

Gusto was flabbergasted and waited patiently until he saw Nessa peeking into his cell window at last.

"We're going to spring you from jail," she whispered. "Quick, I'll unlock you while Sunni's distracting him."

"How'd you get the key?" Gusto squeaked.

"With the way those two are kissing? He's totally distracted. Sunni's more talented with the boys than I thought."

"Just hurry!"

Gusto soon found himself slinking down the hallway passed Sunni and River, who was in the midst of some very amorous necking. Gusto had to use all his self-control not to part them as he and Nessa snuck out of the cell.

"I'll go back in and get Sunni," said Nessa. "River will discover quickly that you're gone so hurry! The others are waiting at the front gate with your things."

"Front gate?"

"Yeah," Nessa beamed. "They took the doors down to repair them and they've been laying there in the mud forever now. Front gate won't be a problem, since there isn't one up to begin with! Welsi probably thinks all his guards are proper enough security until the repairs are done. But I'm sure the others will find some way to distract the guards there."

Gusto grinned fully and kissed her cheek before turning to run.

"Say bye to Sunni for me!"

"I will! Be careful!"

Gusto ran to the gate, ducking behind pillars when guards were near and sneaking along the walls. Sure enough there was Gruffi by the gate, alone in the shadow of the wall.

"Tarra's up on the wall distracting Vigo and Grammi's handing out coffee to the guards," Gruffi said with panic. "We made up a pack for you..."

Gruffi momentarily stopped to give a choking sound that was very close to a sob. Gusto took the bear into his arms to hold him.

"Come with me..." Gusto said. "Come with me...we'll do this together Gruffi. We'll find the stone."

"No," Gruffi pushed Gusto away firmly, voice going hard, and hoarse. "No. I promised Buddi I would protect Sunni from Sir River until he came back, so he could marry her," Gruffi's eyes turned momentarily damp at this. "And...well...somebody has to stay to try and get as many of those medallions as possible and try to weaken him, should your search for the stone...fail."

"I will succeed," Gusto said firmly, and looked deeply into the other bear's eyes. "Because I love you. I won't fail you. Our love will keep me alive. I will come back here and free Ursalia from Welsi, and we'll have all the rest of our lives together Gruffi. You and I."

Gruffi kissed him fervently, and neither of them let go until an alarm bell rang in their ears and both of them suddenly woke to the realization of what that alarm bell meant.

"River knows I'm loose!" Gusto hissed. "I've got to go."

"Hurry!" Gruffi said. "Run!"

And run he did. His feet pounded the stone as he fled into the mountains, toes finding every unhelpful loose rock and sharp stone as he ran. Behind him he heard the shouts of the Knights, all of them chasing for him, their arrows flying through the air. He risked as peek back to see the Knights coming out of the tunnel after them, followed closely by Welsi and the wizards.

Magic! But wait...they are using magic and its failing! Their magic doesn't work against me!

Gusto almost had to laugh at this, until he turned his head back before him and saw the road was getting narrower, steeper, and icier. The winter winds penetrated his shirt and licked fire at his skin. The ice was shooting like daggers into his flesh. No...

No...that was an arrow, now lodged deeply in his calf. He hissed and ignored the wound, eyes on the distance.

I just got to reach that cliff that sticks out and overlooks the valley. I can use my little surprise...if it works.

Feet pounding, blood streaming from the arrow stuck in his leg, he practically flew to the cliff's edge. The Knights were having a hard time in the snow with their heavy armor and the archers were too far behind now to hit him with arrows yet. He saw the cliff before him, and went for it at a run.

"He's trapped now boys!" shouted River, followed by Vigo. "Shoot him!"

"Oh I don't think so!" Gusto shouted back and pulled the tapestry from under his shirt. "This isn't the end!"

And he leapt. Over the edge, over the precipice, until he could see below him the lush valley floor which went on forever, in one beautiful green blanket of pine forests and lush pastures. Below him the river stretched out like a serpent with its coils hugging the human settlements, showing him the path through the wilderness towards the distance.

"He jumped!" River's voice laughed from overhead. "He bloody well did our work for us and killed himself!"

It was time. He took two corners of the tapestry tightly into his fists, saying a silent prayer that this worked, or death would surely take him.

"Think again!"

It must have been a site for River and the Knight to see Gusto flying. Well, falling actually, but then brought back up again with the gusts of wind, since he was being held buoyantly aloft by the strong material of the tapestry which was now being used as a parachute. It must have been even more alarming to see Gusto stick his tongue out at them in tease.

"It walks! Its talks! It even paints frescoes! Its the incredible flying artist extraordinaire!" he said, feeling triumphant. "Just try and stop me now!"

Gusto then had to steer for his life as a rain of arrows came down upon him to try and do just that. He angled his parachute towards the valley, green and covered in lush trees, and his eyes just caught site of the river below.

Wait a minute! Why is the valley green? Shouldn't it be winter? Didn't Tummi say that the river was iced over?

No...Tummi had only been told the river was iced over. But up until then he had been fishing just fine.

No snow in the valley...which means this winter isn't a natural season!

An arrow hit the parachute and he was starting to lose buoyancy. There was only thing left to do. He angled himself towards the river, swinging his body wildly right and when he felt he was aimed properly he looked back up at the mountain edge, which was getting smaller and smaller as he moved along. Another arrow hit the paracute and Gusto decided.

Time for me to fly!

Both hands released the tapestry at the same time and he dropped like a stone, laughing like he hadn't laughed in a long time as he plunged deep into the dark cold waters of the river.

Water was harder than it looked. He felt the shock of passing from air into water crash through his bones like the force of a hammer, and he knew some of his bones were probably broken or fractured. For a few moments as he hovered beneath the surface of the cruel cold waves he wondered if he would survive at all. Floating beneath the water like the merfolk of lore he felt momentarily as if he could fly, as if he really was in the air above the world, beyond, in the vast and distant expanse of time that swirled out across the ocean. Somewhere somebody was laughing, a Gummi cub, and she was drawing with her crayons pictures of trees and buildings, tall skyscrapers and fast moving vehicles, cement roads which stretched across the land snakelike and wound through the forests, up the mightiest of mountains and even overtop the widest bodies of water, bringing his heart back to the river and the present, and the realization of all that he had seen and heard in his heart.

The future is moving forward, and I am moving with it.

Vertigo swept over him and he scrambled with hands and feet until he broke the surface of the water, gasping and breathing in at last the life giving breath of air.

Now Gusto was free. Soon, so would be Gruffi, and Sunni, and all of his friends and loved ones. All of Gummi kind was now at stake. But they would be free, he would make sure of that.

Chapter 14: Chapter 14

Chapter Fourteen: We're Not In Ursalia Anymore Gusto

Morning. It swept across the grass in the form of cool comforting breezes. It blocked out the mind numbing pain, the arch of hurt that swept up his leg through his spine to his cranium.

A thick vein, it must have been...I feel like I'm being drained of all my energy...If I could just sit up to tie off that wound...

But death would be preferable to failure at this point, and sitting up was so difficult, so painstakingly slow, that he just lay there, waiting for the burst of energy he needed to sit himself up long enough to stem the flow of blood from his leg. The clouds above him were puffy white and floated along the sky like ships upon the buoyant water. He found himself swept up with those ships, remembering all that he had seen and done in his mind. In pain and misery, the future of the Gummi race was laid out before him, the fate of all the world set at his feet.

If I don't act now, if I don't do something...our people will go extinct. We'll die. I have to do something...if I could...just...maybe...sleep...a little...

When Gusto woke again he wasn't laying on grass. The bed below him was large and soft, the pillows were of the most luxurious silk which tickled and rolled against his fur, curling around him like a warm hug. His vision swam and a hand, a human hand, under his head lifted him to take a drink of water from a glass. He was laid down again and fell once more into the swimming cloudy world of unconsciousness.

The third time he awoke, Gusto sat bolt upright, waking from the shock of a nightmare to horrible to fathom.

Gummi bears...extinct...I remember! I know what I have to do!

He was very startled to find himself in a human bed, in a human bedroom, laying on human sheets. This was a castle, and nearby him he could see a window where there was a bird's nest. This bedroom was decorated in heart shaped pillows and curtains, all of them in black and gray heart printed fabric that made Gusto's inner interior designer scream for mercy. It said 'Please please, for the love of all that is fashionable, at least complement your grays with some contrasting hues!'

"Are you awake Gummi Bear?" said a familiar female voice. "I chose this room for you, of course, because its incredibly sweet and morbid. A bit too bright for my tastes but for a Gummi Bear, perhaps it suits. Very few other people would possibly put up with it."

"You're right about that!" Gusto said wryly, as Lady Bane stepped gracefully into view. "Who designed this room? A three year old?"

"Yes..." said the woman primly, seating herself on a black lace upholstered chair. "More precisely, my daughter. I told you that only a few people could possibly put up with it. If my darling little girl wasn't away with Duke Igthorn conquering Dunwyn, I'm sure she'd be sleeping in it too. She just loves watching her Daddy fail over and over again. And speaking of my husband, he'll be quite surprised to see that I have a Gummi bear here for him. Yes what a pleasant return home present you will make for him."

Gusto was astounded. That Lady Bane had a daughter, at her ripe thousand years of age, was astonishment in itself. That Lady Bane had married Duke Igthorn of all people was something else!

"Listen lady, I'm not sticking around for chit chat, and I'm worthless to Igthorn; I don't know how to make Gummi Berry juice!"

"Oh, Gummi Berry juice is quite far from his mind right now I'm sure. He's more interested in other Gummi secrets you may possess. Now that there's more Gummi bears around here than we know what to do with we'll be finding out many secrets I'm sure. He's just an impatient creature, my husband, unwilling to wait for the Gummi bears to come to us. And look, you have! All it took was a little patience."

Gusto grumbled and stared at her. When the silence had stretched out to almost a good minute, she finally broke it with an amused chuckle.

"But tell me; why is the Gummi city suddenly overun with bears? Where did they come from?"

Gusto flushed hot red when she tried to change his bandages, and pulled the sheets up to his chin, not bothering to answer her question.

"Come come now, I dressed your wounds, and given you my only child's bedroom to rest in. Surely you can answer my questions without any moral qualms. Its a debt; you owe me your life. You would have bled to death on that river bank had I not found you there."

Gusto had to admit, she had a point. He wasn't in any position to argue at any rate. Her hands were deftly untying the wrappings on his leg, and the healing wound she revealed made his stomach churn painfully. He hated the sight of blood.

"Well..." he swallowed. "The Gummis have returned from across the ocean."

Of course this information wasn't that vital. She already knew there was Gummi Bears, so why lie?

"Couldn't cut it in the new world, hm?" she guessed correctly. "Speaking of which, lets see your stitches. Yes, my magic is healing this nicely. In a few days I can remove them."

"Magic?" Gusto sat up in alarm.

He wasn't sure he wanted to be healed by magic. Especially if it was evil magic.

"A simple skin knitting spell. Don't be so fussy. I'll just redress this wound, and put you back under the sleep spell and you'll be off to slumber land again..."

"No wait!" Gusto sat up alarmed. "I...I have things I have to do, I can't be in bed until this heals! There's no time! Don't!"

"Unfortunately for you, you have no choice!"

She waved her hands and magic crackled in the air. Unlike the magic of Welsi, this magic did have an effect upon him and he fell under its power, still begging her all the while not to cast her spell until his eyelids finally drooped shut and sleep came upon him.

When Gusto awoke he was quite alarmed to see not just one, but three human faces surrounding him. Duke Igthorn, Lady Bane, and some young dark haired girl he didn't recognize. She was wearing a black velvet dress with white lace trim.

Then it hit him.

By The Great Gummies, they SPAWNED! he thought in horror.

"Well, he certainly doesn't look happy to see us?" Duke Igthorn laughed.

"Bear!" said the little girl, pointing at Gusto pointedly. "Papa, bear!"

"Yes sweety, that's a Gummi Bear," said Igthorn proudly. "He's your Gummi Bear now."

"Yay!" The girl promptly climbed into the bed to hug Gusto around his neck.

"Ack! Lemme go!" he complained in horror. "I belong to nobody!"

"Take it easy Gummi Bear," said Lady Bane firmly. "Morianna is three years old, and her feelings are very sensitive."

"I imagine," Gusto grumbled, at being half strangled by the toddler.

I have a feeling I am not going to like being the family pet, Gusto thought grumpily, and soon found himself being bathed and dressed by the little girl in dark repulsive clothes that would make even a Troggle weep, while her parents laughingly looked on.

Oh Great Gummis save me from this insanity!

Actually, when Gusto was finally dressed, and cleaned, and sitting at the table being forced to eat what the girl fed him, he had to admit the clothes weren't that bad. At least there weren't any heart patterns. And black leather was always in style. Even if it was dungeon chic.

"Excellent," said Duke Igthorn, once he had finally joined them at the table. "Are you enjoying yourself Gummi Bear?"

"That depends upon your perspective," Gusto said, giving the spoonful of mashed peas the child was holding out to to him a sickly look.

"Well then, I shant bother to keep you in suspense as to what your fate is to be."

"My bear," said Morianna firmly, clutching Gusto's arm.

"Of course my dear," said Igthorn firmly. "I simply want to borrow him for a little while, then you can have him all to yourself. Would you like that?"

Morianna seemed to like that, nodding feverently.

"Good good. Why don't you go with Toadwart and the Troggles outside to play, while I talk to our guest, hm?"

Gusto watched in relief as the girl reached out to promptly grab the shrinking Toadwart and drag him out to the courtyard.

"Haaaalp me!" the ogre begged as he was being dragged.

I suddenly feel as if I've just been saved from a fate worse than death, Gusto mentally shuddered.

"So Gummi bear," said Igthorn firmly, once the girl was gone. "I don't usually make promises to my daughter that I don't plan to keep. But you've seen so far what she's like."

"Yes. You've certainly raised her rotten," Gusto complained, pushing the leftover dinner away from himself.

"She takes after her mother," Igthorn whispered conspiratorially. "But the important point is this; you help me conquer Dunwyn, and I'll...think about setting you free from her clutches."

"Forget it," Gusto said thickly. "I'm not helping you do anything."

"Now now now," said Igthorn, picking up Gusto by the back of his shirt. "You do understand that Morianna has an entire closet full of clothes to dress you in if you don't cooperate."

He pushed Gusto in front of a mirror and Gusto mentally cringed. Black leather hat, black studded boots, an eye patch over one eye. It all conspired to make him look insane. Like an executioner. No color, no pizzaz. Leather may have always been in style, but at this rate he would be made of the stuff.

"She can get really fiesty when she's playing tea party in the torture chamber, so the ogres tell me," said Igthorn fondly.

"I...I...would have to think about that," said Gusto nervously.

"You have one hour to decide, then I let my little sweet offspring have some fun with you. Good babysitters are really so hard to find these days you know."

Toadwart's cries for help echoed through the castle and Gusto winced in abject horror.

"No not the doll house! Not the doll house! AAAUUUGH!"

"All right, all right! I'll see what I can do!" Gusto said weakly. "But only cause I'm weak and at your mercy!"

"Of course," Igthorn put him down and snapped his fingers, and one of the troggles entered the room prancing up and down. "Fetch Lady Bane for me would you? I think our plot for the destruction of Dunwyn is going to work out just as she planned."

Gusto tried to ignore his pounding headache as he sat in the study with Igthorn and Lady Bane, who were looking at him in amusement.

Morianna would not go to bed unless Gusto had read her a story. And since she had too many story books piled up in her room for her to possibly choose a single book for him to read, she demanded that he read them all. Of course, Lady Bane had helped out with a little magic.

"She seems to be partially immune to my spells, takes after me," said Lady Bane, sipping from her goblet of wine. At least he thought it was wine, and not some strange potion. "All right Gummi Bear. Since you agreed to help us, we'll give you a sporting chance. We'll share with you all the knowledge we've amassed so far, and you can make the decision. I'm sure morally you find this repugnant, but we all must do what we can to survive."

I'll just see what they want me to do, Gusto thought, trying to block out the memory of reading Little Red Riding Hood three times from his head. And look for any escape opportunity I can!

"Now here are the Gummi books we have amassed," said Lady Bane, pointing to the pile on her desk. "Not exactly a library. But enough so far to help us decide on what we plan to do. This is the volume in particular we are the most interested. The Eye Of Roshi."

Roshi! Gusto thought, trying not to let his astonishment show. That's what I'm looking for! The Eye of Roshi! Egads! How did Lady Bane get her hands on that?

He took the volume from her covetously and started reading it. Duke Igthorn and Lady Bane were chattering away about this and that and being thoroughly public with their affection for one another whilst ignoring Gusto almost completely.

But it didn't matter to him now what they did. The book they had given him alarmed him completely. The Eye Of Roshi had to be almost the exact opposite to the history of Ursalia that Zummi had told him!

Roshi was a wizard and servant to the gentle and noble royal family of Ursalia, five hundred years ago, whose sole purpose of being was to protect the royal family with his life. Gummi bear royalty didn't rule Ursalia the way human royalty did, rather human beings fashioned their kingdoms after the example of Gummis bears, but their own system was faulty.

A council of wizards made up the ruling body of the Gummi people. But Kings and Queens were chosen by democratic vote. They possessed certain qualities, the most important being purity of heart and kindness of spirit. The Kings and Queens carried a magical item, or power, known as the Heart of Gummi, which was supposed to be able unite and protect all Gummis everywhere. The Heart of Gummi gave Gummi Bears the ability to do magic, but could only ever be held by one Gummi Bear; the King or Queen, depending on the gender of the person. Sometimes it was passed down to a Prince or Princess.

But this Roshi, he was their bodyguard, hat was why he had the Eye. It was a magical talisman passed down for the aide and protection of the Royal Family.

According to the diary, Roshi was one of two witnesses to a prophecy made that foretold the destruction of Ursalia. The wizards of the Council of the time were corrupt and selfish, and wanted the Heart of Gummi for their own. It was their decision to murder the Royal family, and take the Heart for themselves. Rather than let her child be slaughtered, the Queen gave her infant son to Roshi, to take out of the city away to safety. But the Council of Wizards rose up and summoned a great beast, a dragon of terrible power, to stop him. Roshi was forced to flee and try to hide the Prince, smuggling him into smaller glens and warrens until a time when he could safely return to Ursalia with the child.

But he could not hide from the beast. So Roshi took the baby Prince and sealed him away in a magical place, much like Gummadoon, a place where the young Prince would age into adulthood, but not suffer from the burdens of time, until he was ready to rule again.

However, Roshi had made a calculated error. Since the Prince wasn't with him, the Heart of Gummi could not protect him from the dark magic of the dragon and so, after a fierce battle was waged, in which he was drained to his last dregs of magic to try and slay the beast, Roshi was turned to stone, somewhere deep in the Yandragil Mountains. And there Roshi lay, unable to wake from his five hundred year slumber, while somewhere the Prince still lived, sealed away from the world, unknowing as to his own timeless fate.

It was...so different from Zummi's version of the tale that Gusto could hardly believe it.

Yet...Why would Igthorn change or alter this book? What would he have to gain? But Welsi...he could, he has control of the Great Book of Gummi, and all the events noted down there. Could he have changed things? Or someone before him? But why?

"Have you gotten to the part about the magical emerald yet?" asked Lady Bane impatiently. "The one which held such awesome powers?"

"Yeah," Gusto said, flipping a page. "Roshi could seal away unruly dark spirits inside the emerald, in order to control their power. It is supposed to eventually drain the spirit of all its evil dark magic and convert it into white magic."

"Not unless the power of the evil within is awakened, and made use of," said Duke Igthorn laughing. "We can use that power to level the walls of Dunwyn!"

"But only a Gummi Bear can lift it from its place of rest, and use it," Lady Bane finished with a sigh. "Which is, of course, where you come in..."

By the Great Gummis, thought Gusto, almost laughing at the irony of fate that had brought him to Duke Igthorn and Lady Bane, the sheer coincidence of it. They're after exactly what I'm after. I can use them to get to the emerald just the same way they're using me! Its almost too perfect. There has to be a catch here somewhere.

But the universe seemed to be tossing him a line, one that he would reach out and grasp with both hands.

"All right Iggy," said Gusto, putting on a wry smile. "I'll go with you and we'll see if this emerald eye has any power left in it after five hundred years of slumber."

Both Igthorn and Lady Bane grinned at one another, but Gusto just shrugged. If there was a catch to it he was sure the universe would let him know at the most inconvenient time.

It doesn't matter who my allies are, or what their morals are. As long as I save Ursalia. I have to save Ursalia. This is my path, my fate. Its all that I care about.

Chapter 15: Chapter 15

-Up until this point the story is basically the same as I wrote it. For the most part it'll be later chapters that change, not these earlier ones. But editing my grammar and spelling is never a bad idea so every single chapter is getting a read-over. Yay! :)

Chapter Fifteen: Darkness Whispers To The Light-

Smoke rose from the campfire and curled its way up to the moon in a peacefully lazy motion. It was far and beyond the most heartwarming sight that Ursa Barbic had ever seen.

For here, at the base of the Everlast Mountain, the sign of smoke rising meant that the winds were low, and the weather therefore was mild. Which meant that her son, Buddi Barbic, was safe somewhere up in the rocky terrain above the camp. The weather would not be an impediment to his quest.

Beyond the fire Gritty was teaching Cubbi how to duel the Barbic way, teaching him a thing or two about fighting with pure muscle, when weapons weren't at hand. The other Barbics were likewise training, fortifying themselves for the rocky road ahead. Barbic woods would now be overun with human settlements, and getting to the places where their people were buried might be tricky.

If Buddi makes it back quickly, we'll be off again in no time...

Tradition stated that she could not go with him on whatever quest he chose; he had to do this task alone. He had chosen a very traditionally Barbic task for himself and she respected that.

But how can I not feel concerned? He's so young; he shouldn't be so confident in his choice of future wife! He should be...more careful.

It had surprised them all to see that beyond Ursalia the world was rather green. It was spring everywhere, soft and fair. Which meant that their traditional Rama Rumpus would have to take place next winter, since wild Ramas only mated in the winter, just in time for the lambing in the spring.

We were all deceived by the weather. But then, perhaps it wasn't the weather which was being deceptive.

Her heart went out to the Gummis in Ursalia. It would take a great thing indeed for the Barbics to abandon Gummis who were in an ill turn, especially friends. Which was why it was so important that they made it to Barbic woods in time and back again, enough to fortify themselves, strengthen themselves, and hopefully convince other Barbics who had remained behind in Barbic Woods to rejoin their band.

She had a feeling that returning to Ursalia would mean a fight. There would be a conflict, if she had anything to say about it. Buddi would wed Sunni, she knew he would fight for her, even if she rejected his proposal and shot him down.

But for her, and the other Barbics, the future was plain. It was to find the other Barbics somewhere in the woods beyond Mount Everlast and gather together enough strength to counter whatever the New Gumbrean Knights could dish out.

Our ancestors spoke of a prophecy, of a Gummi War between bear clans, a fight to avenge injustice, a fight led by the one true Prince. Whoever our Prince turns out to be, we will follow him unto death. That is the Barbic way.

Night spiraled fast under the dark lamp of the stars, and on the mountain top above her Ursa could perceive with her keen eyes the plume of another tendril of smoke and the light of a fire; a beacon to all and a lamp of hope in the darkness. It was a joy beyond measure for her to see this bright flame of hope burning in the sparkling darkness.

Buddi had made it to the top of the mountain. Ursa's chest filled with overwhelming pride. She was not the least bit ashamed of the tears of joy which fell from her eyes. Her son was now an adult at last, a full warrior who had proved himself not only in his own eyes, but the eyes of his entire clan.

If Sunni doesn't find Buddi a worthy husband, then she isn't worthy of him.

If only they could make it back in time. If only time was on their side. Their moment of honor had finally come and it was time for them to rise up and meet it.

Dreamtime came, a smattering of sights and sounds; from the sound of his own heart beating to a voice softly speaking to him in verse,

'Darkness...It whispers to the light, telling it to slumber...'

A glowing green light in the darkness followed this...always the green glow, and the emerald that he struggled to reach out and touch, as if he were running towards it through water. Cold slushy water. It bit at his bones and caused his very soul to shiver

'See it do you? You see my Eye? Do you feel it, the Heart's pulse racing? Reach out to touch it...touch it...'

Gusto rolled over in bed and found himself rolling face first in the damp morning dew laced grass. The smell of flower pollen creeping up his nose caused him to sneeze and a roguish human voice began laughing.

"It was about time you finally woke, Gummi Bear," Duke Igthorn mocked, hands on hips. "Toadwart was about ready to dump you into the river."

Gusto ruffled the pollen clumps out of his hair and turned to acknowledge the little ogre with a sour look. It was hard pretending to be interested in Igthorn's plans to take over Dunwyn. He had to keep his own goals in mind. But the Duke had given him much more privilege and respect when he thought Gusto was somewhat wicked himself, and it was very easy, at this very early hour in the morning, to be surly.

"If Toadwart even thinks about touching me I'll toss him into the river," Gusto growled, then added, "...to give Morianna her bath."

"No no! Anything but that!" Toadie bellowed, and flung himself behind Igthorn's legs to hide.

"Toadwart," Igthorn picked the ogre up from his ears to look at him right in the eyes. "Stop snivelling and go get the troops ready, we'll be moving out immediately."

Gusto didn't try to suppress his smile when Igthorn tossed Toadie casually over the bushes towards the rest of the camp. Really, the Duke would be much more pleasant to communicate with if he thought Gusto enjoyed Toadie's pain.

"Now then Gummi Bear," Igthorn said seriously, as Gusto stood to his feet. "Do you happen to know where this Yandragil mountain could be? These maps we found aren't labeled in proper English."

"To be perfectly honest, Iggy, I haven't a clue. But if you'd call me 'Gusto', instead of 'Gummi Bear' I might try and figure it out for you."

"Why of course...er...Gusto," said the Duke, crossing his arms. "So then? The map?"

Gusto went over the maps for a delicate while, as Lady Bane tried to keep her daughter entertained...which meant having the troops keep her entertained as well. Poor Toadie did eventually have to give the girl her bath, and his agonized wails rang in Gusto's ear for many moments as he tried to unravel the strange rune writing on the maps.

"This is an older form of Gummi writing," Gusto explained to them at last, finally piecing together a few of the symbols. "This large rock formation here on the map is mount Yandragil...Yandragil is translated from the old Gummi futhark into Mount Everlast."

"Ah!" Lady Bane said, laughing. "I have been to this mountain once before! I know where we're going now!"

"You have? You do?" Duke Igthorn looked at her in astonishment and she grinned primly at having caught her husband off guard like this.

"Yes...it is where I found my Gummi Medallion, and many of these books. Which must have once belonged to the wizard Roshi. Which means his resting place can't be far from the old ruins where I found the Medallion. Why didn't I think of this before?"

Yeah...why didn't she? Oh brother!

"Well then! Lets not leave Toadwart in the river until he turns into a polliwog! Lets get going!"

"Haaaaaaaalp!" called Toadwart, with all his breath as if he knew he was being talked about.

"My love," said Lady Bane smoothly. "Mount Everlast is in Switzerland. It'll take us some time to procure a ship and sail to the mainland. Don't you think we should restock our supplies first?"

Igthorn pointedly sagged, and Gusto smacked himself in the face.

Of all the idiocy I have to put up with! I hope this emerald actually does what its supposed to do!

'Patience young one,' came a soft voice in the back of his head. 'Patience...will always be rewarded. You will have my Eye. Yes...you will have it.'

Chapter 16: Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen: No Rest For The Wicked
Smoke curled up before him from the torch, rising towards the green lighted cavern walls above him.

Rise young one...rise up with it...

Gusto's party had left England without incident, other than Morianna's brief temper tantrum at learning that she was being left at home with her Uncle Victor babysitting her...and the troggles. Victor, apparently, was more than capable of controlling her. But upon arriving in Switzerland they had discovered a series of Gummi ruins beneath Mount Everlast were standing in their path. This ancient underground Gummi city consisted of a series of walls and tunnels that wove their complicated labrynthine way beneath the mountain base, through the mountain to the other side. There were traces of old camp fires and stone circles, and flowers were laid along various walls here, which signaled that these tunnels were used quite often. Probably by Gummi Bears. Possibly by the Barbics.

"There must be thousands of hidden passages here, and Gummi Bears could be hiding anywhere," Lady Bane complained. "Which direction should we try?"

Gusto followed the rising smoke upwards towards a softly glowing pinpoint of green and smiled, eyes crinkling in delight.

"That one," he pointed with his fingers. "The stone must lie close to the top of the mountain; and the tunnel should be large enough to fit the dragon that turned Roshi to stone in the first place."

"It makes sense," Igthorn said, pulling on his goatee. "You go first, Gummi Bear. In case the dragon is still nearby."

"It's Gusto, and I'll be sure to let the dragon know you're coming," Gusto replied wryly, looking Igthorn dead in the eye. "All right Iggy, gimme the rope..."

"Aww, the iddy biddy Gummi Bear needs some rope," Igthorn said softly, hands clasped together at his cheek. "Are you going to use it to capture the dragon and train it to climb for you?"

The wall was not too tall for a Gummi Bear to climb over, so he was probably right about the rope being overkill. But Gusto had been trading barbs with Igthorn for days now, and he wasn't going to let any of his insults go unpunished.

"Why not? I bet he would make a great pet," Gusto concluded thickly. "A bit more well behaved than your own spawn I'm sure."

"I'll have you know that my daughter is paper trained!" Igthorn said, rising to the bait.

"You know, this was once a volcano," Lady Bane said acidly, though neither male was even listening to her. "Isn't it possible that the dragon came in from the top and we're going to wrong way?"

"Give me a boost Iggy," Gusto ground out. "Unless you don't think you can lift me? You're looking a little out of shape these days, being a parent and all now..."

"Oh I'll boost you all right..."

Once Gusto (and Toadwart) were safely thrown over the first wall, and Igthorn had placated his wife, they carried on forward without the ogres (who had tried and failed to make it over the wall.)

"I'm going to have a bruise where I landed," Gusto grumbled, putting a hand to his aching back, walking with a similar limping posture to the little green ogre next to him. "How much more abuse am I going to have to take?"

"Ever aching Toadie agrees with the Gummi Bear," grumbled said ogre.

I've been reduced to seeking ogres for allies, Gusto complained. What has this world come to?

Gently young one, soon you'll be free of your unfortunate human companions. Upwards now...

Gusto didn't think about arguing with the invasive thought. He was grateful to it, really.

You should be grateful! After all I've done for you!

Either I've got a psychic invader or I'm losing my mind! Gusto complained, after Igthorn had thrown him up and over yet another steep wall. At least its better then having to listen to another one of Duke Igthorn's stories about Morianna's first steps, first tooth, first word...

Can I quote you on that?

Not unless you tell me your name!

A silent pause filled the darkness, and all Gusto could hear was Toadwart and Igthorn complaining about Lady Bane having to stop to file down a broken nail and re-powder her face.

"...up there..."


Gusto jerked his head up and looked at Duke Igthorn, who was pointing up to a set of stone stairs at the wall overhead which lead to a precipice and what looked to be a stone statue. It was obvious that he had been speaking to Gusto, and Gusto had not been listening.

"See," Igthorn said smugly to Lady Bane. "I told you I would find it."

"It wasn't exactly hard," she replied acridly. "Its shining so bright it could have been found even if it had been at the bottom of the ocean!"

Gusto jerked his head up to the path ahead, rolling his eyes up the stairwell and to the statue. He was quite alarmed to see the pile of bones that surrounded it.

"Well," Gusto swallowed. "Wow...I didn't think...I...the book didn't say anything about this."

Toadwart's chattering teeth did little to alleviate the nerves of the party as they climbed over the dark black bones of what had once been a rather long vicious dragon with many sharp dagger sized teeth. It was quite obvious from the position of the dragon, and the wild posture of the petrified Gummi Bear, that the last act of magic of this tragic character before being turned to stone was to slay the dragon.

"By the Great Gummis," Gusto breathed. "Look..."

A long stone bridge over a chasm, which the wizard Roshi had obviously been guarding. It wound its way through the mountain out to the other side into the dark woods beyond. There were two skeletons on the bridge, Gummi Bears, in various postures of death.

"Well there's Roshi," said Lady Bane. "Rather lively isn't he?"

"It looks like he was trying to protect a group of Gummis as they fled from the danger to the other side," Gusto said sadly.

"But look at what he left behind!" Igthorn said brightly. "The emerald eye is just sitting there, ripe for the plucking!"

It was hard not to notice it, really. From the hollow stone gaze of the statue, Roshi's Eye was giving their party more light than their torches could have possibly created in this dark underground abyss. Gusto swallowed hard and went searching in his head for the voice that had been guiding him now for days, the voice of reason that could help guide him.

But it was gone. The voice was silent. Perhaps he really was going crazy, looking for voices in his head.

"Well Gummi Bear," said Igthorn, rubbing his hands together. "What do you think? Are there magical traps guarding this thing we should be aware of?"

"I can sense deep dark magic lying here," Lady Bane cooed. "I'm quite sure the emerald will only respond to the touch of a Gummi Bear. Go on then, take it. Its ours now."

Gusto could only shake his head and stare at the stone statue of Roshi, which he approached with a heart of pounding dread. The chatter of the humans died away as Gusto slowly began to examine Roshi's face, and the position of the eye in his granite skull.

Roshi wore a look of violent insanity, the evil green emerald in his left eye socket bathing his twisted angry features in an ominous glow, sending slices of light through the gaps created by the strands of stone hair that had frozen in the midst of wild motion around his face. Although he looked like a simple granite carved statue, he was anything but. Gusto couldn't have carved anything anywhere close to the level of reality of this. Which proved it in Gusto's mind, and the details of the truth were all there. Even down to the small stubby fingernails and the rugged nose.

What do I believe about Roshi? Zummi's story of his evil, his insanity? Or the story of his life in the diary found by Lady Bane? What story to trust?

Either way, the green glowing evil of the emerald was unabashedly apparent. Gusto soon came to the startled realization that he was two inches from the statue, almost nose to nose, and had been reaching for the emerald.

Spell indeed...This thing is evil! I just can't touch it!

Touch me... the voice argued. Please touch me...wake me...

"Come along Gummi Bear," said Igthorn smoothly. "We mustn't keep Dunwyn waiting."

"Nor Ursalia..." Gusto whispered softly.

An image of Gruffi instantly came to his mind, and he thought of the Gummis now being controlled by Prime Minister Welsi. Emboldened by this, Gusto bit his lip and reached his fingers out.


Ever so gently he lifted the emerald into his palm, pulling it from the empty eye socket with laughing ease. When it didn't strike him down with lightening and magic he sighed in relief.

"Excellent! Excellent work!" Igthorn clapped his hands. "Well done! Now bring it here to us..."

Roshi's Eye was warm in his palm. Even though it hadn't struck him down, it still tingled with unspent magical energy. He could feel its power shaking him, testing him...tempting him. For a moment the air was calm.

A crackle of magic startled him out of his trance and the stone statue of Roshi suddenly came to life before his eyes. The stone textured fur gave way to a dark blue-gray tattered pelt, thin strands of stone hair that had once before been fragile as glass furled out wild and black around his head. As if in afterthought Roshi's right eye blinked shut and open again, and Gusto could see that it was brown and not green like the emerald. Gusto was eye to eye, and nose to ragged nose with the crazy maniacal Gummi wizard Roshi, whose magical eye he was holding cupped in his hands.

All was silent. Not even the human party standing amongst the dragon bones behind him moved. The Gummi Roshi was staring at Gusto as if he were a human being seeing a Gummi Bear for the very first time. His ragged robes and wild tangled hair gave him the look of someone who had come out of the woods after years of being separated from all contact with civilization. Gusto could not believe that this Gummi Bear had survived for the last five hundred years trapped in stone.

But before either of them could speak a bolt of magic struck the ground between them and they were thrown in opposite directions. The emerald eye flew out of Gusto's hands, sending bolts of energy at the human pair, who scurried immediately for cover. Toadwart jumped inside the dragon's skull in fright. The emerald was shooting off blue and green whips of energy around itself, turning around in violent circles and casting its evil green glow upon them.

"Don't let it touch you!" Roshi suddenly shouted at Gusto, throwing his hands up in the air. "Its mine, you can't control it!"

But the emerald had decided. It went for the most susceptible target.

The cavern was suddenly bathed in violent neon blue light as the emerald slammed into Gusto's face with the full force of lightening striking the earth.

Gusto screamed in pain, arching in agony at the sheer power which crackled through his body before closing his eyes and passing into darkness.

Roshi's first thought upon seeing the emerald slam right into the other Gummi Bear's face was that it had killed him, it had killed the boy and all hope was gone.

He had failed.

But then the blue Gummi rose from where he lay on the ground and stood a moment looking between his two hands as if seeing them again for the first time.

And he probably was. His body was now covered in bright glowing neon green and blue patterns which all found their root from the glowing emerald embedded in his left eye socket.

"What a body," said the Gummi. "Warm...alive...young...few morals, selfish to a fault, already this one was turning towards the darkness. Pushed beyond his heart by his lust for revenge. I can feel his lust powering every fiber of me!"

"Araskis!" Roshi stood to his feet, reaching for his belt...

...and discovered that his Gummi Medallion was gone. How long had he been frozen? He would never let his Medallion go missing! Where was it? Where did it go?

"Ah yes," the bear turned, evil green left eye glowing brightly in amusement. "Roshi...How ironic. You stole my soul, trapped me in that stone bauble, and now...now I've stolen the soul of your precious Prince. The Heart will soon be mine!"

"What?" Roshi's remaining eye went saucer wide.

He hadn't known it was the Prince. He hadn't recognized the boy at all!

"I would love to stay and chat," said Araskis snidely, dark eyebrows creasing together viciously. "But I have things to do, a city to annhilate, lives to destroy..."

Roshi ran at Araskis with a violent motion but it was all for naught. He was lifted by a bolt of magic and instantly throw over the chasm down into the gorge into the endless darkness below, his thoughts likewise spiralling into darkness as he braced himself for imminent death.

I've failed her...I've failed her...I've failed...

Chapter 17: Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen: Flight Of The Valkyries

After laying flowers at the various places in the ruined city where their tribe had lost loved ones to death, the Barbics had made their way up into the forest and out into what was no longer a barren burning wasteland. A sprawling grassland with many human settlements now stood where their territory had been, and young growth forests that were only a few years old covered the unsettled areas. What they found in the young forests were many more Gummi bears, who were more than ready to join their band and join in the fight to retake the great Gummi capital from tyrannical invaders.

Because after many years of quiet life in the Barbic Glade living alongside the peaceful farming humans, these bears were ready for a fight, or at least a great journey. They were now a force to be reckoned with.

We're doing well, Ursa thought firmly. We shall make good time returning to Ursalia.

Their return journey began with a quiet camp out under the roots of Mount Everlast in the ancient city, with no lamps and no light, in pure darkness. It was a trial of courage for a Barbic to spend a night this way, unknowing as to the dangers lurking in the darkened ruins, relying only on their instincts and fighting skills to keep them safe.

Cubbi was doing surprisingly well with this challenge, for someone who wasn't a Barbic. Ursa guessed it was a Glen Gummi thing. They slept underground normally, and usually did sleep without any light.

Life is, as always, life. A peaceful night of rest before our long journey home.

But a peaceful quiet night was not in the cards. It was quite a surprise to Ursa and the other Barbics when an intruder fell down right into the middle of their quiet camp, landing on Gritty and sending the entire group into an uproar of panic and spears. Shouts and cries of dismay filled the darkness and Ursa's ears as she tried to figure out just where the attacker, or attackers, were attacking them from. It was Buddi and Cubbi who had the sense to light their emergency lamps. The intruder turned out to be a middle aged grizzled Gummi Bear with one eye missing, hopefully not due to landing on any of their spears.

So much for old traditions... Ursa mentally sighed. Poor fool must have missed a step up there somewhere.

The befuddled Gummi Bear rose to his feet shaking his head. His eye wasn't bleeding so Ursa felt somewhat relieved. No lasting damage had resulted from their panic.

"That gorge wasn't as deep as I thought it would be," the Gummi bear said, looking genuinely surprised. "Thank you for breaking my fall."

Gritty was about to answer him, possibly with violence, when the cavern roof overhead suddenly began to crumble down over their heads.

"He's bringing down the mountain!" the stranger said. "RUN!"

Ursa didn't argue as her band made a unified trampling run towards the nearest exit. A burst of bright blue and green light soon filled the caverns with more illumination than was possible for normal sunlight. A gigantic rumble soon filled their ears and Ursa found herself ducking under the protective cover of a wall with her band as the ceiling finally crashed down upon them. But it ended almost as quickly as it began and as the dust started to settle it soon became apparent once again that they weren't alone.

They were surrounded by many many ogres and two disheveled looking humans.

"Duke Igthorn!" Cubbi said. "And...Lady Bane?"

Ursa readied herself for imminent battle, but the grizzled Gummi stranger suddenly leapt to his feet and advanced on Igthorn and Lady Bane, pointing his fingers.

"Its your fault!" said the crazy old coot. "Its all your fault! He was only supposed to touch the Eye to break the curse on me! He wasn't supposed to take the Eye!"

"How were we supposed to know he'd try to bring down the mountain?" Lady Bane said snidely.

"It wasn't yours to take to begin with!" Roshi snarled. "I'm the only one who can contain the evil magic locked within the emerald. It sleeps under my care because I trapped those evil spirits to begin with! They obey me as a master, but nobody else!"

"...Oh." Lady Bane went suddenly pale, as if suddenly understanding the enormity of what he was saying. "So...then...is this...bad?"

"'Is this bad?', she says," the bear finished snidely. "Yes, very bad. I didn't trap all those spirits at one time, and it was tough enough getting the individuals trapped in the emerald in the first place. Now they are going to unleash all their combined dark energy upon the world, starting with Ursalia! You gave Gusto bad advice on purpose for your own selfish desires! Now the world as we know it is in danger, Gummis and human alike will fall under their power!"


Cubbi and Ursa both spoke at once.

"What does Gusto have to do with this?" said Ursa angrily, advancing upon the stranger immediately. "And just who the hell are you anyway?"

The Gummi stranger blinked, startled by this sudden comment, and then smiled. It was quite a surprise to Ursa when the stranger bowed to her.

"I am called Roshi. Aide, servant and slave of the Royal Family of Ursalia. Gusto is my charge, my ward. I've been trying to bring him here to wake me for some time now. Its a wonder that boy can block me out of his mind so easily. Must be due to my missing medallion. But yes, Gusto tried to assist me and due to the bad advice of others has gotten his hands on a powerful dangerous object that could destroy our entire world."

Nobody said anything. What could they say. Ursa thought this guy was just a tad bit loopy, but he could be telling the truth.

"Wait! You're that old statue that we pass every year on our way to Barbic Woods!" Buddi said immediately.

"Old?" The bear raised his eyebrows, his single eye going round and accusatory. "I'll have you know I was a spry fifty-four before being petrified!"

"Enough of this chatter!" said Lady Bane. "Ogres attack!"

"Barbics to battle!" Ursa shouted.


Roshi came between both groups, raising his hands.

"Listen to me," he said. "A hundred demons have just gone off to destroy the world and you lot are fighting! We have to join forces to stop this now!"

Everyone turned to stare at Roshi and the old Gummi sighed, shaking his head. Ursa felt bad for him momentarily. He was definitely loopy if he thought Gummis and Humans would join forces. Especially with Igthorn and Ogres.

But then Roshi suddenly went into violent action, moving faster than seemed possible for such a grizzly old guy, and jumped right on top of Lady Bane snarling.

"You! You had it all this time, when I could have been saving our necks from that demon! Give it to me!"

"Eeek! Get off me you beast! Ogres atta...MY MEDALLION! Give it back to me you cur!"

"Nope, its MY medallion," Roshi returned, jumping from upon her bosom with the Gummi medallion now in his hands. "Now to find Gusto!"

"Wait!" Ursa shouted. "Shouldn't we take care of the ogres first?"

"Yes...the ogres."

Roshi raised his hands, power arching from his fingers and before Ursa could blink Igthorn and Lady Bane had been thrown against the wall and knocked to the ground, leaving the Barbics to deal with the ogres and Toadie, who were rather easy to deal with once the only magic user of the group was dispatched.

"You're a wizard?" Cubbi said dumbstruck.

"No time to explain my life history or anything," Roshi said. "We have to stop Gusto. If the spirits within the emerald gain total control of Gusto's soul then the Gummi world will end as we know it. I have to get my emerald back!"

The weight of this weighed upon them all completely. Ursa felt her chest constrict and her breath fail in her chest. This was sounding like worse a danger to face than the New Gumbrean Knights. Was the universe playing games with them?

"I don't understand how all this has happened," Ursa said. "But for some reason I believe you, and I'll follow you to where you go. If Gusto is in trouble then as his friend I cannot leave him in peril. This will be a battle worthy of the Barbics."

To her immense relief everyone else agreed. Roshi seemed to consider Ursa for a moment, sizing her up, then nodded slowly. He smiled when his eyes came upon Buddi and his bottled Frost Flower.

"I have a feeling we will all have battles to fight upon returning to Ursalia," Roshi said cryptically. "So be it then. So be it."

Gusto was spiraling in a world of blinding neon colors and twisting churning winds. He was seeing through his own eyes the landscape pass by beneath him, but he wasn't the one controlling this strange power of flight, and he was helpless to alter it.

Flight was something that he had dreamt of; many Gummis had probably done so. But the experience itself was a shock to the system because he couldn't control it, and the pure height he reached in the atmosphere was terrifying. The clouds were below him.

He was ever grateful when one of the spirits in his head cautioned the others that flying too high could drain their energy. He was grateful when they descended to the ground in order to rest.

But he was not in control. He could not stop the spirits from destroying Mount Everlast, or part of it anyway, nor the path of destruction they left in their wake. Mostly they shot fireballs at random forests and attacked human settlements from above the clouds where they couldn't be seen. The humans would think they were being prey to godlike wrath or a meteor shower.

And the spirits in his head now had names. Anubi, Cnarsi, Belior, and many others, all of them trapped within the Eye. All of them had been whispering to him through his strange psychic link to Roshi, begging him to set them free, but only one had made contact.


The ringleader of the band, Araskis had a mind of cruelty and suffering. This darkness overwhelmed Gusto so fully that there were times he would black out and find himself once more a thousand feet above the ground spiralling in uncontrolled flight towards their destination.


If I can regain some control of my own body, maybe I can take the emerald out, or warn the Gummis...somehow...

Dream on, Araskis laughed at him. I'm in charge of this body now. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

It was all he could do not to scream in horror as they descended upon Dunwyn like a demented valkyrie, shattering the castle and toppling the towers with a single blast of magic.

You promised Igthorn you would help him destroy Dunwyn, so we're just keeping your promises, the demon mocked, sending bolts of lightening at the various human targets that crawled out from the rubble.

No no please! Gusto begged. Its Ursalia you want right? And Welsi, yes, Welsi, you want to destroy him as much as I do don't you?

Yes! they all agreed! Yes we will destroy the destroyer!

Finally, he had found a way to somehow control these beasts! By giving them his darkness, his lust, his revenge, they shared in his power, rather than forcing it from him, and in this way he was able to protect himself and gain some small portion of control.

A small corner of his heart, the corner where his memories of Gruffi lay sleeping, was kept protected in a barrier of fragile memory. As long as he kept his true path in his heart and head, the dark spirits within him could never control him fully. As long as he kept his love for Gruffi firmly in his heart, they couldn't contaminate him.

Ursalia lay before them now in a sparkle of white snow laced spires and Gusto felt confident that he would find a way to break through this darkness that was leeching through his heart and break free of the spirits. He would not let them kill the ones he loved.

Even if he had to kill himself to do it.

Chapter 18: Chapter 18

Chapter Eighteen: Dark Is Falling From The Sky

Gruffi Gummi rolled onto his side and tried to ignore the chaos of moaning sounds and the silent persistent agony of those around him. He felt confident that Grammi would be coming by soon to finish dosing him with medicines. He just didn't know how long he could stay awake with this headache pounding its rhythm in his skull.

With the plague coming to a staggeringly powerful crescendo, Welsi had finally dropped all pretense of pretending he knew how to deal with the illness, and had put an end to all operations in the city. At least he was smart; he knew that if he let his slaves all die out from illness, then he wouldn't be able to carry on with his plans. He had therefore closed himself and his family up his his rooms, claiming to be researching the illness further, had pulled all his wizard healers and important officials away from the plague ridden infirmary and had put the Knights on permanent watch around the perimeter to keep the quarantined citizens trapped inside.

Gruffi was actually thankful for that. No more working at useless tasks that made no sense for the good of the people. No more listening to lengthy speeches about his duty to the city. It was aggravating, having to tow the line to Welsi when he was such a sanctimonius flop. No, it was beyond aggravating.

It was downright a pain in the ass. At least some of the others were starting to show signs of being free again of the spell. Welsi was concentrating his magic on the healthy, and leaving the ill and infirm to fend for themselves.

"Okay Gruffi," Grammi said as soon as she came to him with Sunni in tow. "Lets check your fever, and see how that scrape of yours is doing."

Tarra had ended all attempts to woo Gruffi into her heart and bed with a sad appology and a shuffling of her feet. Tarra had never even had the chance to properly grieve for her husband, lost at sea for four long years, and now she was doing so, though she hid it with a smile whenever someone was around her. Her eyes were baggy and her heart was just not in her work.

"If ever there was a sign that this city is run down its that," Grammi had said to him. "I've never met a more energetic woman in all my years. Its a shame to see her so wane."

Gruffi felt just a little awkward taking his shirt off in front of Sunni so she could put salve on the scrapes on his back. He had nearly fallen off of the aqueduct when he had finally taken ill, but had passed out right on top of his open toolbox. Thats how you knew were sick; you passed out from the sheer lack of energy to keep you standing. He was lucky he hadn't stabbed himself with a screwdriver or something.

"Well, it doesn't look infected," Sunni said, as Grammi moved away to help somebody else. "It just needs to be cleaned, none of that stingy goop that Grammi brewed up."

"You sure are learning a lot of healing tricks kid," Gruffi said proudly.

"That's so true," Sunni raised her head and crossed her arms. "I don't have school anymore but I still have to learn anyways."

Gruffi smiled fondly at her and ruffled her hair. Never was he more proud of her than now. She carefully gauged that his fever wasn't so bad that he couldn't have some soup and went immediately to fetch some.

But before Sunni could even reach the door handle a loud scream of voices filled the city around, them and the alarm bell started clanging in the very center of Gruffi's brain.

He leapt to his feet, uncaring about his fever now, and ran for the exit just as other Gummis were fleeing from the infirmary. Gruffi soon found himself out on the street, where pandemonium was taking place. Gummis were running left right and center, the Knights were amassing in a body towards the eastern wall and Welsi and his vanguard of wizards, including Zummi, had come out of hiding to approach whatever menace was causing this chaos to ensue.

It was hard not to miss it. Something was approaching the city from the sky in a flight of vicious lightening, striking the ground with its power. Gruffi ran towards the direction of Zummi, followed by Sunni, Grammi, Tarra and some of the others who weren't afraid to see what the threat could be.

The strange invader was glowing green and blue with magic power and it was approaching the city with great speed. All the knights were slowly inching back in fear from the eastern wall as it came ever closer.

"What is it? What is it?" they shouted.

"Gummi Medallions ready!" Welsi called out to his wizards. "Shield! Brace the shield!"

But Welsi's magical efforts were no good. The invader broke the shields around the city with relative ease, and came to a stop momentarily hovering above the city in a riot of bright blue and green whirling magic. It seemed to be thinking.

"By the Great Gummis! What IS that father?" sir River cried.

"I don't know. Everyone stand your ground!" Welsi called. "Civilians below ground immediately!"

But suddenly the invader dropped, falling towards the city at speeds so fast that Gruffi could barely blink before a the eastern wall mural and the soldier's barracks had been reduced to rubble.

All voices went silent at once, not by any will of their own, but by the sheer will of terror that now surrounded them. Hovering about two feet from the ground, washing the city in the glow of its evil eyes, was a sight that haunted Gruffi's very soul and caused him to fall to his knees in agony.

It was Gusto. But it was not any Gusto that Gruffi had ever known.

"Dark Magic comes with a price..."

Sera had been more than right. Gusto was now paying the price for using dark magic to free his people. Whatever dark force he had come across, it now controlled him completely, warping his body and twisting him into a visage of evil. His naked flesh was split with many blue and green glowing wounds that oozed glowing liquids and wound their evil way around his flesh. His hair was flying free in the wind, whipping around his face in a demented crown, lashing strands across the evil green eye that now rested where one of Gusto's once bright blue eyes had once been.

Roshi's Eye...Oh Hell, what have we done! Oh Gusto! Oh oh oh!

Gruffi was paralyzed, and could not move if he wanted to. All the energy was gone from his limbs and he sagged in complete and utter defeat.

If only we had known...if only...

But Gusto was now laughing, a demented sound that was not his voice, and not from his throat, but almost outside of it, as if he was using ventriloquism.

"Welsi?" came the mocking voice. "WELSI? Alive? Here? A half a millennium has passed and still you live? You vicious old bugger!"

"Araskis!" Welsi shouted violently. "Araskis you beast! How did you come to control a Gummi Bear's body?"

"How indeed?" 'Araskis' answered in mockery. "It was your fault completely"

"My fault?"

"Yes indeed...You see, Gusto would never have thought of the Eye of Roshi as being something he could use to break your magic, if you had not manipulated the records of the Great book to speak of its spell breaking powers. The Eye itself has no power. It was the wielder, in short, Roshi, who could break spells, by using his personal Gummi Medallion, which is directly tied into the Heart of Gummi. The emerald was simply the object in which he placed the evil spirits whose magic power he had broken! Gusto would not have taken the Eye if he had known it had no power in and of itself. It is only a vessel for us spirits. But now...now...I am free at last!"

Gruffi could see a slight commotion near Welsi and he guessed correctly that Welsi was amassing as many Gummi Medallions as he could to charge up his own so that he could counter this threat, but he was doing it subtly, so that the invader would not realize it.

"So what do you care about us?" Welsi snarled. "Go off and have your vengeance upon Roshi, since he was who imprisoned you."

"No, I have already thrown down mine enemy into the darkness. Roshi is dead," said Araskis softly, his voice almost a purr. "But this youth, this vital youth whose body I now control, he has a lust of vengeance towards you that must be spent, it must be lifted from his soul for us to control him. We have long since waited to destroy this pathetic Gummi City. We shall soon have the Heart for ourselves, and eradicate your people once and for all. We have come to fulfill the prophecy by destroying the city of Ursalia and all its inhabitants."

"The Prophecy!" Zummi shouted. "Oh oh oh! Gusto!"

But before anyone could act Welsi had shot up into the air, robes flying, to slam magically into Araskis. Their bodies crashed within the air in a shower of explosive electric sparks, their power rippled and sent bolts of lightening down to the streets below, crashing into the pavement and sending the heavily armored knights running for cover.

Gruffi wasn't sure whether he wanted to root for, Araskis or Welsi. It seemed that they were both matched in power. But what was worse; the outright destruction of Ursalia by Araskis or the slow lingering painful death of the subjects from the subjucation of Welsi?
"You've grown powerful in five hundred years," Araskis said acridly. "But your power is stolen, stolen from the Gummi Medallions, leeched from the Heart of Gummi. Once we possess it, your power will die."

"You will never possess it," Welsi said. "I shall destroy you and take the Eye of Roshi! I shall control you as Roshi did and wield a power greater than any other. I will find the Heart of Gummi!"

"Just go ahead and try it old man," said Araskis...or was it Gusto now? "I've been waiting a long time to do you in."

They came at one each other again and again, crashing in the air and sending more showers of hot magic spiraling down to the ground, leaving destruction in their wake. Gruffi managed to get to his feet and flee for the cover of a building just as a shower of ripcord power came down to tear open the street and reveal the fragile network of sheltered warren tunnels below them. Those below ground ran screaming from the destruction.

"Don't kid yourself Welsi!" Araskis shouted. "Your hatred only fuels me! Your blind greed only empowers the vengeance of my host. You are helpless before me!"

"I should think not!"

Both of them slammed together and this time they flew sideways, crashing into one of the city towers and toppling the building to the ground. Mass pandemonium broke out and Gruffi went running now, trying to find Sunni, Grammi and the others, calling their names.

"We have to get out of here!" Tarra said, grabbing his hand and pulling him.

But Gruffi turned his head back just in time to see the blue glowing form of Araskis rise from the rubble of the tower and saunter leisurely out onto the street.

"He won't be bothering me any longer. Now..."

Araskis raised his finger towards the Gummiscope tower, as if he were imagining a scenic backdrop he were to paint, classic Gusto posturing. But instead he shot fireballs of energy towards the tower, sending it flaming and falling towards the ground. Gruffi saw with a thrill of dread terror that Sunni and Nessa were under the shadow of the falling tower, covering their heads in terror, and ran to help them, knowing that he was too far but desperate to save them.

But as the debris crashed down around them it was obvious they weren't alone. Coffi had come out of nowhere to cast a spell, protecting the girls with his magical shields. Gruffi gave a heavy sigh of relief and came over to them, helping them both to their feet.

"Are you okay?" he asked Sunni hoarsely, as a mute silence filled the city; Araskis had finished his destruction.

"I don't understand!" she said, sobbing. "What's wrong with Gusto? Why's he doing this?"

"That isn't Gusto," said Coffi. "Its the spirit of the dragon that petrified Roshi! Lookout!"

More debris began falling over them as more buildings were blasted skywards. Araskis wasn't done, he had just been taking a break. His fingers soon sent out more fireballs, which landed in buildings and sent their flames rolling across the city streets. The screaming and pandemonium which filled the air pounded their way into Gruffi's brain and woke him from the fever of fright and terror that he had been stuck in.

Gusto is in there still, trapped somewhere inside the mind of that maniac, he thought, watching the glowing blue form of Araskis move through the city on foot, laughing like a cub. If vengeance is what fuels Araskis, then maybe love will have the opposite effect.

Gruffi raced forward, grabbing a fallen sword from the ground and raced towards Araskis, heart pounding, blood pumping in his chest.

But Araskis heard him coming and turned around in time to put up a shield before Gruffi could get within ten feet of him.

"Fool! Stay back from me!" shouted Araskis. "Don't you know I could kill you with a single flexing of my fingers?"

"What have you done to Gusto?" Gruffi countered hotly. "Give him to me you coward!"

"Brave little warrior," said Araskis with a laugh. "You think to fight me? When I have the power of a hundred spirits at my command?"

"If you had any honor you'd fight sword to sword," Gruffi countered hotly, hoping to boast.

"Sword to sword it shall be then," said Araskis, summoning a sword to himself. "Fight me then. Slay your love if you have a will to. Even if you struck him down I'd still have control of his corpse!"

"I'll free Gusto whatever it takes!"

Their blades met, hot and steely, and all eyes watched them in their deadly dance around the city. Gruffi wasn't the least bit talented, so he fell back from the deadly blows, using the sword as more of a shield than not. He countered, parried a thrust, and finally had his chance, he was closer enough now to look Araskis in the eye.

"Gusto I know you're in there, listening to me," Gruffi said. "You have to fight this! You must gain control again! Welsi isn't worth it! Vengeance isn't worth it! Come back to me!"

"Hah!" Araskis said. "I have him in my control! He is my puppet!"

They lashed at one another again and it was becoming apparent to everyone in the courtyard that Gruffi was wearing down. He wasn't really all that energized to begin with, but something had to give. Gusto had to awaken and break free. He just had to!

"I know its within you to break this Gusto, you were always the energetic one, the laughing one. You have a power in you that none of us understand, and you can use that power to break this evil. You have good in you, and you have love. You said you loved me, well I love you, and if you let yourself become evil like this then it will kill me more surely than any blade ever could."

Once again they were nose to nose, eye to green glowing eye, and Gruffi repeated himself.

"Come back to me Gusto...I love you..."

For a moment, they stood their, faces straining against one another. Evil fierce eyes locked against hopeful promising ones. Slowly, almost painfully, Araskis' green eyes flickered in shades of molten panicked blue.

Gruffi perceived now that the balance of powers within Araskis had shifted in Gusto's favor, and took this fragile moment to reach up with his bare hand to yank the emerald eye right out of its bleeding socket.

Araskis screamed, a blood curling scream which sent ripfire electricity out into the air and ripped the flag stones up from from under their feet. Araskis slashed Gruffi sideways across his stomach with the sword before all the dark glowing magic leeched from his body and furled like fiery ropes into the emerald in Gruffi's hands.

Gruffi fell backwards onto the the stones, nearly knocking himself out. He had the sense to drop the emerald into a free pocket and away from his bare skin before anyone could come and take it from him, before curling up into a fevered ball, clutching his bleeding belly with his hands.


Tarra was at his side weeping, with Grammi soon come, but as soon as Gruffi was sitting up again, under the ministrations of Grammi, he could see Gusto laying nearby, unmoving and blood stained.

"Gusto," Gruffi hissed and pulled himself free of the hands that were trying to lift him. "Let me go! Gusto!"

He crawled across the stone road, much to Grammi's dismay, leaving a trail of blood behind him, and eventually reached for the fallen form of Gusto, pulling his head into his lap. He combed his fingers through Gusto's hair and wept.

"G-Gusto...please don't be dead...Gusto..."

"M'not..." said Gusto blearily, opening up his remaining eye and smiling softly at Gruffi. "Y'saved me. Gruffi."

"Gusto darling you look like death," Grammi said. "We best get you to the infirmary now!"

"I'm afraid that won't be necessary Madam."

Around them were now many Knights, all their spears pointed towards them. Gruffi clutched Gusto reflexively, giving them angry defiant looks. Welsi soon staggered into the center of the group, battered but not dead, and looking quite furious indeed. He grabbed a sword from one of his knights and raised it as if to strike them both down.

"Welsi stop!" shouted Coffi, coming between Welsi and them with his hands outstretched. "You mustn't!"

"Why not?" Welsi shouted. "This is all his doing!"

"You know very well its not! Gusto did not know about Araskis, could not have! He's just a simple bear who wanted to do the the right thing!"

"He still must be punished for all the crimes he's committed against us!"

"But not without a proper trial," Zummi plead, likewise coming out in front of Welsi with hands outstretched. "We do not just execute Gummi bears will nilly. Its not the Gummi way."

Welsi's eyes seemed to refocus back to a shade of normalcy, and he turned his eyes down to look at Gusto and Gruffi, who both lay bleeding on the wet street. Rain pattered down upon their noses and blood stained fur and Welsi jerked his head up, as if astonished that it could ever possibly rain.

"Very well, we shall have a trial. Sir River, take him and lock him up somewhere where he can't do anymore damage. Get the wounded ones to the infirmary and we can start assessing the damages to the city. I must find the Eye of Roshi, it must be here somewhere."

Welsi then went and started searching every inch of the ground for the emerald eye with his Knights in tow. Gusto was pulled away from Gruffi's arms by a very ragged looking River and Vigo, who gave Gruffi ugly glares. Gruffi just watched him go, stomach churning.

Failed...it failed...its all failed...And Gusto is going to be punished for it. For what isn't his fault. None of this is his fault! He's the least guilty party here! At least he tried to make things better for the people of Ursalia. At least he cared.

Gruffi was gently carried from the scene of destruction to the infirmary, face dampening in the darkening air, but not from the rain. Grammi wiped his tears with her apron, Sunni cleaned and stitched the wound in his belly, and Tarra was there to hold his hand until he could finally sleep in peace.

What a comfort is was to have friends by his side in this hour of darkness. Dawn would come, and with it, a new day for him to hope.

Chapter 19: Chapter 19

Chapter Ninteen: Look To The Western Skies

Gusto felt his heart quivering with the beauty of the night. Overhead a thousand stars tickled his eyes with their warm assessing gaze, trickling their light down upon him with the last smatterings of spring rain.

It seemed as if no buildings were left in the city. Gummis were taking shelter where they could, because most of the officials of the city had taken control of the underground warrens and the Great Library for their own shelter. The devastation had been complete and total. The few buildings above ground which were still passable were now housing the knights and the kitchen staff. Gusto himself had simply been chained to the remains of the old fountain under an armed guard since there was nowhere else to keep him; the jails were being used as shelter by the people. But in the onslaught of spring rains which the magical shields had been keeping out, most of the Knights had ran for cover, leaving him out here alone with Vigo and River as his only guards. And they were rather poor company.

I should have kissed them, Gusto thought forlornly. Instead of focusing on the little people who had no control, I should have stirred dissent amongst the leaders. Like Coffi. And I really really should have kissed Zummi. Hindsight is ever perfect.

If he had only known that Roshi's Eye didn't have any powers of its own! If he had only known what the real truth of the Eye had been! Roshi himself had been the power he had been seeking; and he was dead.

Yes, hindsight is ever perfect, Gusto thought wearily, as the last of the rain found its way to the ground. But it can't bring back an old myth from the grave from where I sent him. And it can't save the people of Ursalia.

A soft scuffling sound invaded his senses briefly, and his guard immediately snapped to attention.

"Who goes?"

"Me," said a soft voice, which turned out to be Sunni. "I've brought some warm tea for you guys. Its chilly out here."


Sunni did so, and Gusto could see she was dressed in nurses garb.

"Should you not be in the infirmary?" River said immediately, stopping her from coming any closer. "You'll catch cold out here in the rain."

"Gusto is one of my patients," Sunni said. "Zummi and Coffi say that he should be in strong condition for his trial tomorrow so I'm here to make sure he's not bleeding to death. And...I've brought you guys some tea?"

"I see," Vigo said, looking down at the tray of teacups. "Are those laced with anything fell?"

"No," said Sunni with a grumble. "There aren't any dangerous herbs left in the kitchens to lace them with! These thistles were picked just tonight."

"And why are they being given to a criminal, when they should be given to those whose need is dear?"

"This is my own day's ration," Sunni revealed defiantly. "We've been given permission from Councillor Sesil to share our rations with whoever we want. And I want to share mine with Gusto."

"And the Prime Minister...?"

"Has gone to bed for the night, so Sesil is in charge," Sunni finished firmly. "Can I give him his tea now? If you aren't going to have any."

Both Knights declined their tea, but allowed Sunni to hold a cup to Gusto's lips.

"Getting enough sleep?" she asked him, reaching out to touch his forehead and assess his fever.

"It...could be warmer...but I'll be fine."

He was lying of course and she immediately pulled a white strip of gauze from her pocket to wrap around his head and gaping left eye socket.

"You'll be all right," she whispered, checking his pulse and smiling. "Coffi says a vanguard of angels watch over the just and good. Grammi says to not give up hope, they'll find a way to free you again. People are starting to wake up from the spell. Welsi's just too exhausted from his fight with you to do any magic."

"Thought so," Gusto said, swallowing another sip of tea. "Trial is tomorrow?"

"First thing," Sunni agreed. "Welsi doesn't want to waste any time. He's declared that you're an unlucky person and that you're bringing your ill luck to the people. Whether you were in control or not when you destroyed the city, your ill luck is still responsible, and that things will start to go well once you are dead."

"Basically I'm a scapegoat for all his troubles."

"He's probably pretty desperate right now," Sunni said gently. "We've been bringing him tea all night. He's writing a speech of some kind apparently. Who knows what it says."

"He's probably just mad because I broke his little mural..." Gusto said, trying to be humorous.

"No, he's very happy."

Silence filled the momentary void, and Sunni continued to treat his wounds.

"All right Miss Sunni," said Vigo firmly, coming back over to them. "You get yourself to bed. Everyone will need some rest for tomorrow."

"All right," she said, then turned to look at Gusto one more time.

Gusto didn't know what to say, so she said everything by hugging him tight.

"Gruffi's going to be all right," she whispered into his ear. "He's thinking of you."

Gusto nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. Sunni rose to leave, tears streaming down her cheek.

But River stopped her gently with his hand as she passed him.

"Do not cry for the condemned my dear," he said to her. "Cry for the people."

"I have no tears left for the people or the condemned," she said. "I cry for myself and my pain. But you wouldn't know what pain is like, or seeing people you love and care all around you dying and hurting. You've never truly felt it. I feel sorry for you."

"Sorry for me?"

"Whatever woman you bewitch to marry you will be a sad woman indeed," Sunni continued. "To have never truly lived without being under your spell, to have never truly felt the tears on her cheek, or the joy of remembering loved ones lost. Its a sad thing to live without true feelings. I'm truly grateful that I can shed tears and feel. I've seen what not feeling can do. I've seen how ill people are now. This plague is not a disease of the blood. Its an exhaustion of the soul."

Gusto felt pride fill his chest as she turned and walked away from River, not looking back. He stood there as if he were made of stone.

"Whatever woman I..." River said, slowly, as if thinking. "Bewitch..."

"Do not waste your thoughts upon it," Vigo said shortly. "You have had everything you've ever wanted. You will have Sunni Gummi as well, before long. Take over, I'm going to try and get some food for us."

But Gusto noticed that River could not settle his mind on anything after Vigo had left. He strode back and forth around the fountain nervously, as if he had a chip on his shoulder. It was then that Gusto realized it.

River had been under the spell. And the spell was fading. But his father had made the mistake of trying to tie River magically to Sunni, to interest him in somebody in order to distract him from the waning spell.

River had really thought he was in love! Now in a state of being half under his father's spell, and waking slowly to the reality that Sunni did not return his affection, he could not rest. He doubted.

Gusto knew. River was worried he would not win Sunni Gummi, and that worry was breaking through the spell.

"Sir River," Gusto called out hoarsely. "Would you really like to know the key to Sunni Gummi's heart?"

River stalked over, sticking his dark brown nose against Gusto's blue one.

"And what would you know about Sunni Gummi's heart that I do not?" he asked acidly.

"One, I know that you've been alive for almost five hundred years...its not just your father whose lifespan is increased, but everyone in his family...right?"


"Sunni would rather have her mortality than be married to an immortal," Gusto continued, hoping that he could manipulate River properly, praying that this would work. "Also, she outwardly has a thing for being treated like a Princess, when in fact she's a down to earth girl who wants a man who is willing to work hard to have her. I mean, she's kissed a lot of boys, but she hasn't shown any partiality to any of them. Even I've been kissed by her."


River was taken aback. So, he did not remember the incident on the wall. He was being charmed only to see his own attraction to Sunni.

"Sure I have, lots of times. Of course people say I have...magical kisses."

"Pft, magical...I'll believe that when I see it."

"I'll help you get Sunni, I'll tell you exactly what you need to win her over, but I want something in return."

"I refuse to help you escape," River snorted, tossing his hair back inelegantly.

"No, I don't want that," Gusto said, putting on his most tragic sorrowful look. "I...want a kiss."

"A kiss?" River's eyes shot to his hairline. "You...that's disgusting!"

"Look, we both know I'm going to die tomorrow," Gusto said, pathetically. "But I want to go out of this world with the memory of kissing one of the most gorgeous men on the guard. Is that too hard a request to ask for?"

"I would rather kiss an ogre!"

"All right then, no kiss, no Sunni. And I'm warning you that no magic spells will work on her now. I've made sure of that. Only I know the key to winning her over. She was once in love with me before you lot showed up, after all. I know what its going to take."

River contemplated this for a moment. And for once, Welsi's magical manipulations actually started to work to Gusto's advantage.

"Heck, I suppose it couldn't hurt to grant your last wish...Father always says you have to try something once. I've been meaning to prove my worth to him for many ages. What better way than to show that I can get information from Gusto Gummi that he cannot?"

The Knight bent down to him, as if bending down to nibble on a daisy, and Gusto felt the electrical shocks of the spell breaking its chain link from Sir River's soul the moment they made contact.

It was kind of hard to miss the aura of light surrounding them both.


Sir River took two steps back to stare at Gusto. Their eyes locked for a moment in time, and Gusto wasn't sure if it had worked, if River really had any missing memories that could change his course of action.

But then...

"Oh...heaven! Its true what they're saying! You do have the power to break father's magic spell!" he covered his face with his hands and panicked. "But what...do I do?"


"What can I do!" River said. "My...My Gummi...what have I done?"

Gusto stared in shock as River fell to his knees, covering his head and crying.

"River...about Sunni..."

"No...I don't need to know now..." River hissed. "My eyes are truly open now. Oh heaven what can I do? How can I save my honor now? I have killed...I have killed."

For a moment he seemed truly broken, kneeling on the ground in tears.

"You have to listen to me," Gusto said hotly. "You can't free me, but you can free yourself and your people! Go find the Barbics. You hear me?"

"What?" River whirled and looked at Gusto. "No, I should free you...you can kiss people and..."

"No time for that. You have to find the Barbics, and bring them back to the city. Ursa Barbic, their leader, is no longer under the spell either, nor her tribe. Bring them back, River!"


"If you can't find the Barbics, go to Dunwyn and get Cala and Cavin. Gummi Berry juices makes humans super strong. They can help."

"I shall bring back who I can," River said, bending down to him. "If I could help you..."

"No time...Vigo will be back any minute and he'll summon the guard the moment he saw I was free. No...I have a plan for tomorrow. I'm going to...confront your father about his spell during my trial. It might wake people up from the spell faster if they see somebody being openly defiant, and they can see the truth with their own eyes. Its not much, but its a try."

"You think so? Well then, you are braver than I..."

"Go get the Barbics River..."

"I will," River stood. "Give my regards to Sunni if you get a word with her again. She's...suffered enough on my account."

"Just go please," Gusto said, exasperated now.

Thankfully River did leave. Gusto watched him run off towards the nearest hole in the outer wall, praying that River would return soon, with the Barbics in tow.

Its a start...its not too late to try and help Ursalia. I could die tomorrow, but there will be a whole contingent of Barbics who can fight against Welsi. He can't bespell them all!

The Gummi Roshi gave a deep throat filling sigh as he leaned back, surveying the stars. Ursa watched him tensely from where she sat across from him in front of the campfire, wondering what the dodgy old bear was going to talk about next. He had so many stories to tell.

"You know," he said to her. "I never thought I would see the stars again. In all my long years."

"Were you awake all that time?" Ursa replied, shocked by it.

"For some of it," he admitted, watching the flames of the fire crackling and giving off their sparkling embers. "I was mad as a mountain lion before being petrified. But I can't begin to describe how strangely free of madness I am now. How slowed down my thinking is."

"Well, the mind learns to cope with a situation," Ursa decided. "Learns to adapt to a different way of thinking."

Days of Roshi trying to remember the quickest paths to take to Ursalia had not brought any results, and so the Barbics just simply decided to follow Gusto's own path of destruction to where they were now; a few miles from the Western mountains and the city, hoping and praying they could make it up the mountains by the morning and to the city in time to do some lasting good. For now they had stopped in order to eat, and get a brief hour a rest before setting off again. Their pace was hard, but their hearts were full and ready for battle, or whatever the dawn would bring them.

"Time in Ursalia has been altered, its still winter there while its already spring here," Ursa said. "If we're lucky we'll be able to get there before they've even noticed we've been gone."

"Or else Welsi has just been playing with the weather to his own benefit and time hasn't stopped there at all," Roshi said realistically. "Either way we don't have a lot of time. If Welsi manages to stop Araskis, he may just learn where the Heart of Gummi is. If he gets his hands on my eye...Ah poor Gusto. Poor poor Gusto."

"He's strong, he'll pull through," Ursa said.

"Ah, but the magic of the Heart is waning, and the magic of the Medallions are dying. Welsi really doesn't understand what he's doing by destroying Gusto. He's going to destroy us all with his greed."

"Do you know what he's up to?"

"I can see through Gusto's eyes," Roshi admitted. "He's planning even now to defy Welsi, confront him in front of the people and reveal his magical tampering to everyone. But what effect this will do, who knows? We have to get there."

"How are you able to see through Gusto's eyes?" Ursa asked, poking the fire with her sword. "It's a sort of magic I don't understand."

"My family line is tied to Gusto's," Roshi admitted. "I can tap into his mind with the medallion. But that contact has been dying for some time now. Its possible that Gusto is losing his energy and health. Magic is part physical energy and part spiritual."

"I see."

"We're going to be having company soon," Roshi suddenly said loudly, rising to his feet. "Someone is coming now from Ursalia to help us sneak into the city. So everyone mind your manners."

Ursa jerked her head up, but she couldn't see anything, nor could the rest of her band. For nearly an hour they waited, and watched the corners of their vision for any movement. Was this guy for real? Was Roshi just losing his marbles?

And then she saw it. A lone figure in silver armour stumbling down through the trees towards them. She could have expected anybody. Grammi or Zummi, or Gruffi

She hadn't expected Sir River. Roshi immediately plodded towards him as the Barbics all crowded around him now, tense hostility and curiosity in their posture. Roshi came right up to him and gave him a shoulder to lean on.

"River...Somebody give him some water, that's a strong lad."

"Uncle Roshi?" Sir River looked astonished. "You're alive?"

"And you look half dead," Roshi admitted, helping him to sit by the fire, whilst everyone crowded around him. "Have you been eating today?"

"Everyone is on rations," River admitted, reaching gratefully for the water canteen that Ursa held out to him hesitantly. "The whole city has been destroyed."

"Oh, I see," Roshi swallowed. "I can see some things, but I didn't know that. Gusto's hiding things from me."

"Speaking of which," River swallowed a gulp of water, then sat up. "Father's decided to lay all the blame for the city's destruction upon Gusto. He's to die at dawn in a mock trial designed to make father himself look once more like the avenging leader, hero to all Gummis."

River shook his head back and forth, covering his eyes with his hands.

"I would still be blindly following him now to this very second, if Gusto had not risked everything to kiss me and break the spell. He then sent me out to find you. Five hundred years..."

They watched as he broke down into sobbing and shaking. Ursa was having trouble feeling sorry for him, remembering how hard he had worked everyone to the bone. But five hundred years was a long time to be manipulated by another person.
"River you must listen to me," Roshi said, bending down to look his nephew in the eyes. "You've been under spell for so many years that you were numb, and even somewhat arrogant," he put a hand up to the bear's head. "But now is not the time to beat yourself up. If you know a quicker way up the mountain than what we have been taking you must regain your strength and lead us there."

"Well, there is one way," River covered his face with his hands and pulled them down to his chin. "The Quick Car tunnels."

"But I thought the Quick Car tunnels were dismantled?" Ursa declared. "We were told..."

"Father has his own tunnels," River said weakly. "He's been keeping some so that the Knights can go on raids to the farms around the valley, and so that he can go where he likes. He takes trips around the countryside with Mother sometimes. Goes on holidays..."

Ursa's felt her own eyes flash with fire. River hung his head in shame.

"Holidays," she ground out. "Well, show us these tunnels, and we'll put an end to his overlong vacation time!"

"I fear it may be too late to do anything," River said firmly. "Look, there is dawn come to cheat us out of victory!"

A wane light was giving off its purple presence in the east. Roshi immediately helped River to his feet.

"I thank you nephew. We shall go now, and hope that we are not to late!"

Chapter 20: Chapter 20

Chapter Twenty: Ultimate Showdown Of Ultimate Destiny

Dawn. It crept in upon Gruffi Gummi like a slow burning fire. It roused him from his half-sleeping state, so that he crawled free of his bed and his bed dress and found some proper clothes to put on.

"Gruffi, back to bed," said Sunni immediately, coming over to him. "You aren't well."

"Not...gonna...let...them...hurt...Gusto..." he ground out, making himself perfectly plain.

"All right, but I'm coming with you. Someone else can look after the patients I suppose."

She put his arm around her shoulders and they stumbled outside, weaving sideways in search of wherever Gusto could be.

A bit of investigation told them that Gusto was in court. Already.

"Welsi doesn't want anybody to witness whatever last act of defiance Gusto had in mind," Gruffi. "But his execution will be public I bet."

Sunni dragged him down the streets towards the central courtyard, where the knights were already all assembled, keeping the commoners from getting into the one free standing building where the trial was taking place; the royal courthouse. Gruffi could hear a commotion coming from inside. Welsi and Gusto were having a shouting match to end all shouting matches. It did not sound pretty.

"What's going on?" Sunni asked Teddi, coming up beside the young squire gently so as not to startle him.

"Sir River went missing last night," said Teddi. "So Welsi's also laid charges of witchcraft upon Gusto, on top of everything else."

"Ridiculous!" Gruffi said immediately. "If he was a witch he could have freed himself!"

Teddi nodded largely. Gruffi noted that the boy did not look very happy right now. Of course, rumor had it that he hadn't wanted to be a squire; he wanted to be an artist. Welsi had simply countermanded every single wish of every single young person in the city. Sunni had originally been wanting to join the seamstresses instead of healing.

What's done is done...Oh Gusto if only you did have magic to escape with...

A large crowd was gathering now, but the knights were purposefully pushing them away from the courtyard into a rather pointed circle around the outside of the building. Gruffi and Sunni raised their heads over the shoulder of the nearest armored knight to see what was going on.

Two guards had finally come out of the building and they dragged the struggling Gusto out onto the street by a chain. His bandages were loose and he was naked, and he had fresh bruises and cuts on him, as if he'd recently been in a fist fight.

Gruffi felt his stomach recoil in shock and panic. Gusto was thrown to the stone paved ground outside the impromptu courtroom without any fuss. Welsi, looking not the least bit ruffled, came out from inside the building, hands behind his back and a look of regret on his face.

No...its a false look...he's actually really happy on the inside!

Welsi raised his hands in the air and the air grew quiet. Not a person stirred. It was obvious that Welsi had something important to say.

"My fellow Ursalians! This morning we brought this...bear...to trial, in hopes of seeing perhaps some remorse or sanity in his heart worth sparing his life. But I feel sorrow to declare that he is unrepentant. The sheer animosity he has displayed towards us is unforgiveable. Its a sad day when a Gummi bear must turn his back upon another Gummi bear, and suffer him onto death..."

"The only sad thing here is that you've managed to rule over the hearts and lives of the people of Ursalia as long as you have," Gusto responded defiantly. "Mark my words; your dictatorial reign will end, even if it takes my death to end it!"

"I rule, because I have been chosen to do so," Welsi said matter-of-factly. "All my people know this. How else have I managed to live as long as I have if I am not the true ruler of the Gummis? But I came here with my people in peace and friendship, and have received only rebellion and animosity in return. It ends here, today. Let this be the day when all evil among Gummi kind is destroyed forever, and Gummis can live together in peace!"

"I say amen to that!" Gusto shouted. "So practice what you preach Welsi; break the spell! Live in peace, not control. Kill me if you must to restore order, but break the spell!"

Welsi put his hands behind his back, stepped down the stairs towards where Gusto stood, and came up to him, eye to eye, and nose to nose. Gruffi saw, with a thrill of dread, the twisted smile that Welsi bestowed upon Gusto.

"You first," Welsi said to Gusto. "Restore my son to me. Tell me where you've sent him, and I'll free your friends, and let them leave the city if they choose to. You cannot alter your fate, but you can alter theirs."

The air tingled around Gruffi as the thin threads of his magic reached out into the crowd to attempt to numb their hearing and block them out of the little tete a tete between the two of them. It didn't work on Gruffi and Sunni, and anybody else Gusto kissed was probably free now too. Gruffi watched Gusto's reaction to Welsi with both pride and pain.

"No, your son is free forever Welsi. I have set him free, as I've already done with many of your people. You will never control them again, though you can try. I die today a martyr, a martyr whose memory and name will live on in those who are free of your spell. My art will forever remind them of who I really was. They will take up my example and find ways to free the others. The rebellion has begun Welsi; you can't stop it now."

Welsi took a step back, eyes flashing, then raised his hand.

"Armsmaster Vigo! Are you prepared to do your service once more to the people of Ursalia, as you have done before?"

"I am," said Vigo, striding forward and drawing his sword. "You only need give the command my dear leader, and I shall obey it."

"He's talking about killing my parents," Nessa whispered to Gruffi from where she stood directly behind him. "We can't let them kill Gusto the same way!"

But as their wails of protest rose over the crowd of knights, none of their pleas of mercy were paid any attention and they were unable to break through the wall of steel armoured knights.

Gruffi watched Armsmaster Vigo approach Gusto, who didn't have a hint of fear in his eyes.

"Remember," Gusto said snidely as he was forced to kneel on the ground. "When you have my head in your hands, make sure you nail it over the city gate, so the whole world can see just what a peaceful society exists within its walls!"

"We shall show them how justice has been done," Vigo concluded. "A heart as dark shall certainly live on in infamy forever."

Gruffi closed his eyes. He just couldn't watch. His heart lay heavy in his chest and sobs filled him, desperation was closing its hand around his sore heart, squeezing it tight, denying his lungs the very air around him, his brain any thoughts to think.

But a bright violent light suddenly hit his retinas through the thin layer of his eyelids, blinding him and blinding half the crowded knights. It caused Vigo to take a step back, and all heads turned up to look at the sky.

"Stay your hand!" cried a voice. "And fall back ye from Augustus! Or I shall do my own brand of witchcraft and turn thee into a frog!"

Shock and momentary confusion caused the knights to panic. A strange figure was now hovering in the air above them near the city gate, and Gruffi saw with delight and joy that this figure had arrived with the Barbics in close tow. The knights immediately left theirs posts in order to surround the group at once, but it was hard for them to do this as the Barbics had increased greatly in number since they had left. So many new faces!

"Its Roshi back from the dead!" cried Vigo. "Ah ah!"

"Yes, I am Roshi!" said the bear in question. "Look Welsi, look! You want your son, I have brought him here to you! Your son who was spirited to me in the night with fell stories of your insanity and greed! Five hundred years have passed and all of my kin still lives? Do I even want to know how you managed it?"

"Roshi!" cried another voice. "Brother!"

Molsi had come out of the crowd to stand across from Roshi, next to her husband Welsi. Her face looked insane when Welsi stopped her roughly with his arm.

"Yes sweet sister," said Roshi the wizard, finally landing on the ground next to Gusto. "Sad have been my dreams these last five hundred years. But not so sad as these horrid scenes I have seen through the eyes of Gusto. Through his heart painful dreams have been my own. The slavery of Ursalia and its people!"

"You cannot alter his fate Roshi," Welsi said at once, approaching him. "Your evil Eye and his evil plans have destroyed our people and our society. He must die!"

"No! It was your evil will and dark designs that set Gusto off in a quest to save his people from your insanity! All this today is a culmination of your greed! But I return today, after my five hundred year slumber, to reclaim what is mine. Where is my eye?

Welsi grinned an aloof grin, and rolled back on his heels, but didn't speak a word.

"ANSWER ME CUR!" Roshi snarled insanely. "Where is my eye? No other can control it! No other knows how to keep the spirits locked within it in! As long as it stays linked to Gusto it is a danger to us all! I must have it back! Where is my eye?"

"I don't have it," Welsi said acridly. "But if I did, I wouldn't give it to you."

A soft voice suddenly gently spoke, and for a moment nobody could figure out who had spoken. Until suddenly Gruffi realized it was Gusto, who was still kneeling on the ground. Pure exhaustion had finally over taken him, but he had the energy enough again enough to speak.

"You can trust him," he said, turning to look vaguely in Gruffi's direction. "You can all trust Roshi. He raised me. He's my foster father. If you have the stone, give it to him. Please."

A quiet impasse filled the air around Gusto as he watched the play of emotions come over Gruffi's face. Roshi had arrived at last, had stopped his execution, and would take the Eye and take care of its evil, and hopefully, Welsi too. But would anybody trust Roshi? Five hundred years he'd been petrified, while Welsi had altered the records of time to tell Gummis about Roshi's insanity and evil, not about his courage and wisdom.

Would the people of Ursalia trust Roshi?

"Gusto," Roshi said, coming down to the ground to gently touch Gusto's face. "Ah my boy what have I done to you, to inspire such loyalty? Raised you as my own, yes, but then left you to suffer in a timeless place in isolation and pain while I slept for hundreds of years. As your youth melted into adulthood, you should have forgotten me, but your heart stays fast. Do you truly remember me now?"

"Yes...Roshi...at least, I remember being raised by you, if only vaguely," Gusto shook his head, memories flooding him with their painful clarity. "You taught me how to paint, how to laugh, how to dream about the world. How to think and feel. I..."

Gusto wept bitterly for the father he had forgotten. Gruffi suddenly pushed himself passed the guards to approach the two of them, face pale.

"I have the Eye of Roshi," he said at last. "But...I don't know who to trust. I'm afraid of what will happen if I hand it over. I'm afraid."

"Seize him!" Welsi suddenly shouted.

"Stay your ground!" Roshi wailed and a magical barrier surrounded Gruffi at once. "Do not touch him!"

A shuffle of knights occurred in which they tried to get through the shield, but could not. Welsi looked alarmed for once, and for good reason.

"Roshi, how can your magic be stronger than mine? When I have twenty medallions at my command?"

"You use evil human magic that countermands the Heart of Gummi in order to extend your own life and control the minds of others," Roshi said. "Therefore your Medallions can barely touch the power of that sacred fountain. But my family line and my medallion are directly tied into the Heart. I have an endless supply of magic and indirect control over the Heart itself. Don't make me use that power on your inept knights. They don't deserve that fate, and this madness is all your own to blame. Now, the Eye..."

Gruffi swallowed and Gusto looked deeply into his eyes. There was love there, strength, and finally there was trust and dutifully Gruffi reached into his pocket for the eye.

Its green glow caused everyone in the courtyard to stop moving and speaking. Its evil was rippling through the crowd. For a moment Gruffi seemed to hesitate, and Gusto mentally pleaded with him to hand over the emerald and just let things happen in their turn.

But then Roshi darted out like a manic spider to snatch the emerald from Gruffi's hand. With a quick greedy motion he popped the emerald into his single empty eye socket without so much as a word, and Gruffi jumped back in alarm.

A magical gust of winds suddenly emanated from where Roshi stood, lifting their clothes and sent dust swirling up from the ground. The green emerald glowed momentarily with its evil and malice, and everyone held their breath, taking fearful steps back from Roshi in alarm.

Gusto screamed suddenly as pain lanced through his body, pulling through him out of his empty eye socket like poison being sucked from a wound. His back arched and Gruffi ran over to hold him upright in panic.

"What are you doing to him?" Gruffi demanded, rounding on Roshi.

"Healing him..." Roshi said softly. "Trust me."

Suddenly the vicious air died and Gusto blinked his eye open. No, both eyes. His left eye had been restored! Whatever power had destroyed it had fully left his body, and now it had been healed. His wounds were also slowly healing; he could see the flesh knitting itself together on the cuts on his arms and legs.

Gusto lifted his head in shock and amazement just in time to see the emerald eye within Roshi's head start to spin, as if pulling the dark magic from Gusto's body and spinning it around itself. For moments it spun as if madness had overtaken the elder bear. But then the emerald slowly melted away and what remained behind in its place was was a glistening living eyeball with a green iris that held all the warmth and companionship of the other brown one whose face it shared.

"And now, it is as I feared," Roshi said, turning to address the crowd. "Araskis the destroyer, among the company of four other powerful spirits, has escaped from the eye through Gusto's connection to the Gummi medallions. Which means somewhere, someone now is being inhabited by Araskis. Someone who has a Gummi medallion!"

"Wait!" Gruffi suddenly took two steps towards Roshi. "What do you mean, Gusto is connected to the medallions? You mean he can control them?"

"Yes indeed he can," Roshi laughed brightly. "Yes indeed he can!"

"But how is that possible?" Zummi asked. "He's not a wizard, he doesn't even have a medallion himself!"

"Yes Roshi," said Welsi snidely. "Lets hear the grand explanation of how you managed to do that trick."

It seemed almost a complete change of personality for Welsi. The old bear looked deathly afraid, and was now putting on a defensive arrogant stance to cover the fact. His knights were merely waiting for his order to attack, arrest, or whatever, but he wasn't giving the order. Why?

"Oh come now Welsi," Roshi said, rocking back on his heels. "Don't tell me you've forgotten the Prophecy? Molsi, dear sister, you have the words of it memorized, why don't you share with us what your husband has forbidden you to write down?"

Molsi swallowed painfully.

"My prophecy..."

"Woman be silent!" Welsi snarled. "Do not speak!"

But she did, swallowing deeply before her voice rose over the crowd, rousing many from their fear lo listen with pointed interest.

"And Behold!
A Prince of Gummis shall come forth,
To destroy Ursalia with fell powers,
And break its golden walls asunder.
But he shall then be bound in chains,
A convict of his own people,
and slave condemned to die,
Until his own servant returns,
To break his chains and set him free.
A war of bears shall start his reign,
A battle between clans and kin,
When the Heart of Gummi sends out its call,
To unit all Gummis once and for all."

Silence filled the momentary stillness after this verse. A pause of quiet in which people suddenly came to realizations that they never had before. Gusto let the words fill him, and considered them, wondering what they could possibly mean.

"But you forgot the best part, Molsi," said Roshi thickly. "You didn't mention the fact that the Prince of Gummis IS the Heart of Gummi. That magical fountain from which all Gummi Magic flows. Only one Gummi can create the Gummi Medallions. And only one Gummi can rule with any assurance to the Gummi people that his rule will be just, for his soul will always remain pure, tied directly to the Heart of Magic. Incorruptible. That is the truth. And that Prince is Augustus."

Gusto felt his own eyes widen in panic and shock and turned to look at Roshi in surprise.


"Its true," said Molsi in despair. "It is all true. I watched the Queen hand you over to Roshi to spirit you away into the night, and I did nothing to stop it."

"Because your husband," Roshi said, walking towards Welsi harshly. "Thought to claim the Heart for his own by having the Royal family assassinated. He wanted to destroy them and take the Heart of Gummi for himself! But it is impossible to force the Heart of Gummi from its bearer. It has to be freely given in love and trust. It is a Heart, that is fragile just like any heart. If you had killed Gusto this day, the Heart of Gummi would have died with him. We would have lost all Gummi magic forever!"

Welsi turned completely pale at this and sunk to his knees. Several knights backed away from Gusto now in fear and panic.

"In short you self fulfilled the very Prophecy you were trying to prevent from being fulfilled," Roshi concluded. "You have only yourselves to blame."

Roshi left Welsi's side and returned to Gusto, reaching out to him to put a hand on his shoulder.

"Beautiful Prince," he said, softly now. "Do you know how to do it? How to call the magic to yourself, to fulfill the last line of the prophecy?"

"I...didn't know," Gusto said. "I didn't know...that I...could...?"

"You have the power to free your people now. You always have. Call the magic of all Gummi kind back into the Heart. Destroy the Medallions. Break Welsi's power. Call the magic. All it takes is love."

Gusto turned to look at Gruffi immediately. Gruffi was smiling at him with pride and honor and joy, and suddenly he did know what to do. Love was his key.

Gusto closed his eyes and looked deep within himself. He could perceive his own heart, beating with blood, and something that was strange. He thought of Gruffi, his friends, of those he loved, and reached down into his heart in search of something stronger. Something more powerful than blood, more vital than water, a living essence which flowed through time and space, the way the future had flowed to him so easily beneath the waters of the river.

Come to me...

At once he felt the magic filling him. It arched through the air and crackled as it spiraled through the sky in ropes of power. He drew it into himself, pulling upon it madly, begging it all to come. He reached out towards the medallions, felt for them, those magic points of focus that drew their life force from him. Now he was drawing them to him and he could see with his living eyes that the medallions of the wizards surrounding him were disappearing. Welsi looked like he would burst from horror at the sight of all the medallions crumbling to dust within their owner's hands, including his own. But Roshi's and Zummi's also crumbled. They all were.

Because Gusto could not stop. The power continued to fill him and he could not stop it!

"I can't stop!" he cried.

"Of course!" said Roshi at once. "Since you have not done this before, you must be claiming your Lordship over all Gummi kind! You are calling not just to all medallions and magic, but to Gummi Bears! Every Gummi shall hear your call and come to it. Our people shall unite when the Gummis come to find the source of the power that touched them!"

Gusto could only bend his body in supplication to that power, and wept from it's mighty presence. It was an awesome force that whirled out from all four corners of the earth and forced itself through the mists of the mountains to every Gummi heart and brain to touch them, connecting them all to his own mind. It arched out wildly and finally whirled and pulled back within himself until he could feel that it was all within him now, and that he was whole and pure once more.

Exhausted he fell to his knees on the ground, and Gruffi fell with him, holding tight to him and wiping the sweat from his brow with his hand.


At once Roshi had gotten down to one knee to bow before him, smiling brightly. Around him he could see others, the Barbics, his friends, bowing as well, and he struggled to rise back up to his feet.

His whole body was glowing faintly. His very skin seemed made of strange colors. He was seeing himself for the first time, not as the final finished product, but all the tiny variations in color and magic that made up his whole vital being. It was like looking upon a painted canvas.

He could also see these variations in those around him, in Gruffi. Every Gummi was a masterpiece, a riot of colors that bounced off his retinas and gave him a headache. Suddenly, his vision cleared and the glow was gone at last. But they were all bowing to him!

Why are they bowing to me? What have I done? I don't understand why they would bow to me! I'm not a king, or a god! I'm mortal! I'm a Gummi Bear!

But Welsi and his knights stood defiant. The power of Welsi's spell was now broken, and so the people who had been under it were half in a state of confusion and despair. They looked around at one another, and a great weeping broke out amongst them. A few of them were bowing now, but most were looking at Gusto as if he was half mad.

"But...I can't rule," Gusto argued with Roshi. "I'm a democrat! I believe in the vote!"

"Ah, Gusto," Roshi rose to his feet. "Such a fine sentiment shall be appreciated by those in future generations who understand democracy and its intricacies. But in this medieval day and age the people do not need bureaucrats. They need kings. A solid leader who isn't corrupted. You'll do fine."

Gusto bowed his head resigned.

"I...am so scared..."

But Welsi had finally perceived his chance had come.

"So your little puppet can take away our medallions, Roshi," Welsi said with a sneer, as if trying to regain his balance of power with his words. "But he cannot take away our swords, and you have no magic left. Knights! Attack! Seize them all!"

"Barbics!" Ursa called in angry response. "It is time! Death to tyrants!"

A great frenzy of motion broke out all at once as the knights drew their swords to meet battle with the Barbics. Vigo rushed forward as if to slay Gusto and Gruffi, but somebody ran between them from the crowd with a sword raised to clash with him.

"Vigo!" shouted Ursa wildly as their swords met. "It is time to see just who is the power here! Have at thee!"

Oh Great Gummis! She'll be killed!

"I accept your challenge witch!" Vigo shouted.

All at once their swords clashed and Gusto found himself being pulled away from the action by Gruffi. The unarmed civilians were all running from the battle in panic towards the warrens. Gusto found himself being dragged off in that direction, Zummi and Sunni beside him, soon joined by Grammi. Gusto couldn't see anyone else; the courtyard was a flurry of chaos and hysteria.

"We can't just abandon Ursa and the others!" Gruffi said. "They're no match for the knights!"

"We aren't fighters," Zummi said. "What can we do?"

"Gummi berry juice!" Gusto said. "Go get some juice! Gruffi, Zummi and I will help her however we can!"

"We'll be right back with the juice!" Sunni said.


Roshi and Welsi were now sword to sword, their eyes flashing fire and steel. Gritty and the Barbics were being run around the city by the knights. Teddi had abandoned the fight in order to lead Jaci underground, but both youths had been cut off by Sesil and another wizard, who were shooting arrows at them to stop them both from leaving. Arrows were flying through the air now and Jaci was batting them away with Teddi's sword, while the other youth covered his head protectively with his shield. Cubbi and Buddi suddenly came bounding in out of nowhere to protect Jaci and Teddi, the two boys laughing in delight at driving the two stuffy politicians away at spear point.

All around him Gusto could see chaos of a similar nature going on. Gusto searched the fighting crowds in panic and in fear.

Bears are fighting bears...and I can't do anything about it. I've done my part. I've taken away their magic. People are fighting, and they're fighting over me.

Gusto finally found Ursa and his blood ran cold. She lay on the ground bleeding, with her hand on her wounded leg stemming the flow of blood, and Vigo standing over her grinning.

"Witch! I shall do you as I have done many before you!"

Vigo raised his sword to strike, but another figure in silver armor shot between him and her, and two swords clashed once more.

It was Sir River. He was bleeding from a nasty gash on his eyebrow, but he stood overtop of Ursa with legs parted, protecting her bodily from Vigo.

"You will not kill her," said River. "For now I shall regain my honor for those lives I have taken. I shall fight now for justice, not greed."

"You will fight against your father, then you will fight to your death," Vigo declared. "Die!"

Gusto watched them in their deathly dance around the courtyard. But around the two fighters the battle was coming to a close. The Barbics had disarmed and defeated most of the knights, who were now running towards the outer gate. Cubbi and Buddi had rejoined the main fighting group to help with the stragglers. Most of the civilians, perceiving that danger had passed, were now standing hesitantly around the outskirts of the skirmish, watching the fighters in their interplay. Grammi and Sunni had finally brought the Gummi Berry juice, but it was mostly unneeded now.

Somewhere near to the two central fighters Gusto saw Roshi crawling towards Ursa to help her, his own face bloodied from a broken nose. Zummi had ran forward to help them both. Gusto found himself searching the area in panic for Welsi.

Where'd he go? Where is he?

A sword was now suddenly at his neck, answering his thoughts.

"Don't move a muscle, either of you," said an acrid sneering voice. "You're coming with me, oh mighty Prince. Don't try to stop me either, carpenter, or your Prince shall die. Heart or no Heart."

Gusto swallowed and gave Gruffi a pained look as Welsi dragged him away. Gusto mouthed, 'Gummi Berry Juice' to Gruffi, who nodded and ran immediately off in search of Grammi.

"Well, this isn't a total loss," Welsi said as he dragged Gusto along. "So I can't kill you yet, or I could lose what it was I was trying to gain all these years. But I can hold you captive. Your only power is to create and destroy Gummi medallions. And you shall make many for me."

"I'd rather not," Gusto countered hotly.

He was dragged roughly through the deserted streets towards the gate, where the defeated knights had already arrived, as well as Sesil and two other wizards, Molsi, and some other stragglers.

"I'll use you to regain control," Welsi said triumphantly, at seeing that he still had many loyal followers. "Yes, its not over yet."

As the knights gathered around them, Welsi raised his hands.

"Gentlemen, we can still defeat them and win this. We have their Prince now, and therefore, we have the power to defeat them and retake our city."

The group erupted in cheers. Gusto swallowed hard as he was handed over to a knight.

"Father!" suddenly called a voice. "I've come!"

Welsi jerked his head sideways at the same time that Gusto did, to see Sir River running towards them breathing hard.

What in the name of Gummi...!

"So you have! I knew you would not abandon me son," Welsi said proudly. "Where is Vigo?"

"On his way presently. I see you have captured the blue one. Good. He was always such a pain in the fur, it'll be fun to torment him now."

Welsi immediately started to make preparations to leave the city through their secret underground Quick Car Tunnels.

"We'll find another settlement to inhabit for the time being...Gummi Glen, or one of the outer warrens..."

River walked over to Gusto to take him from the knight who was holding him, and pulled him towards the Quick cars firmly. Gusto then jerked when he felt the very real presence of a bottle of Gummi berry juice being slipped into his hand by River.

Ahhh! I see now!

As they climbed into the quick cars, Gusto could see the commotion of the Barbics coming towards them from inside the city, swords raised.

"We'll have to come back for Vigo!" said Welsi. "Lets go!"

As the quick cars were moving out of the city towards the mountains, River turned to Gusto and poked him.


Quickly they both drank their Gummi Berry Juice and jumped free of the cars, bouncing back towards Ursalia.

"Hasta La Vista Welsi!" Gusto shouted.

"Noooooo!" Welsi cried, as his Quick Car whirled out of site. "Tricked! We've been tricked!"

Gusto and River stopped in their bouncing long enough to see the Quick Cars speeding away into the distance.

"That was quick thinking," Gusto said, turning to River. "Quite a clever trick."

"Thank you sire," said River, winking. Then he sighed. "I will miss my Mother."

"I'm sure she'll come back eventually," Gusto said, feeling awkward at River's use of 'sire'. "Lets get back to the city and make sure everyone is okay."

"As you wish, sire."

"Stop with the sire talk! I'm Gusto, remember?"

"Well, you're rule isn't going to last long with that attitude," said River haughtily. "All right then Gusto."

"That's better," Gusto said. "Now lets go."

Chapter 21: Chapter 21

Chapter Twenty One: Coffee, Tea or Gummi?

When River and Gusto returned to the city they were met with cheering and laughter, as people came in to hug them and ask them what had happened. Gusto could barely hide his tears of joy when Gruffi wrapped his arms around him tightly. Roshi presently came along, supporting a wounded Ursa, who was immediately taken by the arm by Gritty.

"It seems, my Prince, as if you have many Gummi bears, young and old, who are loyal to your service already," Roshi chuckled.

"I'm never going to get used to this," Gusto admitted. "Being a Prince. I don't think I want to be a Prince."

"Which reminds me," Roshi said, glancing sideways at Gusto to look at Gruffi. "The Prophecy only speaks of you being a Prince, not a King. Does this mean you aren't planning to marry a Queen? Hm?"

Gusto blushed crimson and shook his head firmly, squeezing Gruffi's hand tightly. An awkward pause filled this silent pronouncement, until of course, Roshi chuckled.

"Ah, I was wondering how it was that Araskis was unable to control you fully. A small part of the Heart of Gummi is tied into the love, in this instance, lover, of the Prince. Consider it a balance check if you will. You cannot be corrupted fully if you have a seat of love to fall back upon. Usually it is a King and Queen, but two Princes are fully acceptable under these stressful circumstances I'm sure."

Gusto nodded brightly, and then found himself being hugged by his friends. Sunni, Cubbi and Buddi and the other young people all stood to the side, while the adults conversed and laughed, and hugged.

But suddenly, when they least expected it, the sky broke open, and everyone was drenched from head to toe in rain.

"Everyone had better get underground," Roshi said. "Welsi's power isn't keeping back the weather any longer!"

"There might be enough room for everyone in the old warrens," Gruffi said. "If we move some of those bookshelves in the library then we'll have a meeting room to start making decisions in."

"Its all connected down there," Zummi said. "We can even get to the spare kitchens and the executive warrens through a secret passage from the Library that Welsi had built. They're big enough to fit everybody, I'm sure"

"Executive warrens?" Gusto said wryly. "Well, then lets do it."

"We can bring all our supplies into the new warren from the old one," Gruffi said. "But we'll have to put something over that big hole in the kitchen roof or the rain will get in."

"Why not use some of those big tapestries inside the courthouse to make a tarp?" Gusto said wryly.

"So be it," Roshi declared. "My Prince, any official decisions you would like to make now, before we all go get this done?"

Gusto stared, and then came up suddenly with a blank. They wanted an official word from him? What sort of utterance were they expecting? Some noble doctrine or royal pledge?

"We'll have a meeting in the library after everyone is inside out of the rain," Gusto said, finally settling on being informal for the time being. "To...figure things out."

"All right," Roshi chuckled. "You are going to have to use your power for something eventually you know."

"I'll avoid it if at all possible," Gusto said fervently. "These people have been taking orders for too long. Its time people were able to think on their own again."

Roshi nodded, and then reached out to catch Gusto when he fell forward, exhausted.

"Hm, maybe I'm not as energetic as I thought," Gusto murmured.

"You have the magic of all Gummi kind inside of you Gusto," Roshi declared gently. "You need to go to bed, and have some warm clothes put on you, and sleep."

"Kay," Gusto yawned, and perceived himself being lifted by Gruffi. "Just a few winks..."

Gruffi found himself maneuvering the new warrens below the city in a mental state of chaos. The civilians of Ursalia were all in here and Zummi was right; this place was big enough to fit everyone, and well appointed enough that everyone should have been able to live here in the first place. Point in fact; Welsi was keeping all these lovely beautiful bedrooms empty out of personal selfishness.

Everyone now had a bed to sleep in. The ill were all sleeping and resting in rooms of their own, overseen by the healers, and those who were well were sitting in the common rooms talking and chattering up a storm about everything that occurred. The Barbics were keeping watch on the city from above, but those who weren't on watch were now crowded in the common rooms below ground with the civilians, sharing stories with the carpenters and smiths and artisans, passing around jugs of ale and singing Gummi folk songs that these people hadn't been able to sing in many years.

Its so nice to see people smiling, genuinely smiling, and not out of forced submission.

Grammi and the kitchen staff had been dealing with the problem of the food shortage by taking a tally of everything that they had available to eat. She had sent Sunni and the other young women to go up and pick dandelions and other wild vegetables for broth, but Buddi and the other young men had agreed to go up with them for their protection.

Oh I know what those young people are doing, thought Gruffi firmly, thinking about Buddi and the bottled Frost Flower he had presented to Sunni. But it has nothing to do with picking vegetables or protecting one another from danger!

There had been no fuss from Gruffi or Ursa when Sunni had taken the Frost Rose and kissed Buddi firmly on the cheek, agreeing to a long engagement. Yes, a long engagement would be fine, no need for her to get married until she finished her schooling...and grew a few more inches.

Sunni was almost as afraid of them getting married as I was! Gruffi thought with a chuckle.

Roshi, Zummi and Coffi now were in the Great Library talking, and Zummi was getting Roshi's advice on how to repair the historical damage that Welsi had done to the Great Book of Gummi. Since none of these wizards had medallions anymore most of what they did was try to move the books around so that there was room in the library for a table for the meeting that Gusto planned on holding. If he planned to have a Council, he would have to elect one first, and make a medallion so that somebody could have control of the Great Book of Gummi again. For the time being it was locked shut, and that was impeding their search for building records of the city.

Gusto is such a democrat though, Gruffi sighed. He won't be happy until he's given the people some sort of vote, even if it is a vote over who sits on the council.

Gruffi was having serious trouble seeing Gusto as a Prince, a ruler of an entire society. No, he was still seeing Gusto as his lover and friend. As the artist who was filled with passion and energy and so many strange trains of thought.

Gusto, Gruffi thought proudly. Who would have thought?

Immediately upon entering the kitchen, Gruffi was stopped by Grammi.

"Here," she said flatly, ladening him down with a tray of food. "If you and Gusto haven't eaten yet, well then you should. Take this, and this, and this, and take it to him. You need to then lie down yourself, you have a wound that needs to heal, you know."

"Sunni's looked at my stitches, she says I'm fine," Gruffi groused, as he carefully tried to maneuver out of the kitchen with a loaded tray of food.

"Well she's still a trainee healer, and my authority overrides hers, so you go get some rest!"

It took some careful steps to keep the tray from spilling over as Gruffi navigated the crowded warrens from the kitchen back to the room that he and Gusto were sharing.

It seemed as if people were just itching to leave the warren, waiting for the showers to stop so that they could go up above ground and get their usual duties done with; fishing, building repairs, and the like. Gruffi's heart went out immediately to the young people up there in the damp weather scavenging for wild vegetables.

At least they brought some of Sunni's rain jackets with them, Gruffi decided, carefully pushing open the door to their bedroom. "Gusto?"

Gusto was still asleep. He had basically passed out under the weight of the energy he was carrying, and was recuperating his physical strength. Gruffi put the tray on the table beside their bed, and looked around their room in amusement.

This had once been Welsi's room. It was the most well appointed room in the warren, and even had its own back exit into an upper level garden. Of course that garden had been buried under rocks and debris during the city's destruction.

He gets to sleep in the nicest room, simply for being the Prince. Nobody has questioned this at all, and I know he hates it, the privilege. Its just how the people of Ursalia are used to treating their leaders. But Gusto isn't used to it.

Eventually the city would be rebuilt, from scratch if necessary. But not until they had proper food supplies and the people were healthy again. This warren would make a good place for them all to live either way. Above ground homes were so much trouble anyways.

As soon as Gusto regains his strength we'll have his meeting, and decide who is going to be in charge of what, and what is going to happen next.

Speaking of which, Gusto was now stirring under the sheets, his eyelids fluttering softly, mouth open and taking in deep breaths. Gruffi took a moment to admire his beauty; his strong vital body, the smooth healthy sheen of his glossy blue fur, the mess of roguish hair he had managed to grow since the New Gumbreans had arrived. Gruffi reached out with his hand to ruffle the fur on Gusto's belly, scraping his fingers gently through it and causing Gusto to whuff and giggle.

"Wakey wakey," Gruffi said wryly. "Come on, Grammi has sent me with food for you."

"Food...mmm, is that more vegetable broth I smell?"

"Yes," said Gruffi pointedly. "Some grain bread too, and tea. Not sure where Grammi got the leaven for the bread. The kitchen staff has been quite surprised by how much food we actually do have in storage and available here. Welsi was hoarding it, the bugger."

"Hmm," Gusto sat up, ruffling his fur, and kissed Gruffi firmly. "I wonder what else he was hoarding?"

"Who knows," Gruffi said with a shrug. "Zummi says he even has secret passages and places that none of the wizards were allowed to go, which may end up being something if we can figure out how to get in and out of them. Zummi's with Roshi and Coffi in the library now trying to figure out the various maps of the city they have been able to find. Everyone is still waiting for you to have your meeting, by the way, and for you to create a Medallion so we have access to the Great Book again."

"Oh," Gusto swallowed. "I was thinking it should be a group meeting actually. The whole community. At least, those who are well enough for a meeting. I...want to...gosh...I can't even say it."

"Gusto?" Gruffi broke his own piece of bread in two, and looked at Gusto pointedly.

"I...plan on putting together some sort of council. Yes. And I already have an idea of who I want on it. But...I don't think people are going to like my decisions."

"Poor you," Gruffi chuckled. "You don't like being responsible for anything, do you?"

"Not really," Gusto admitted wryly. "Gah, this soup tastes bad."

"Well, I'm sure it'll taste better once some proper vegetables are added to the menu," Gruffi chuckled. "When you're ready for the meeting let me know, and I'll go make sure everyone gets off to the library. Those who aren't drunk on mead anyway."

"Gruffi," Gusto reached for his arm, and smiled. "Thanks lover. I appreciate it."

Gruffi bent down for another kiss, and stammered.

"Aww, well, it was nothing..."

"Nothing hmm? Why don't you stay here a few minutes so I can better show my appreciation..."

Gruffi didn't bother to argue with that. After all, Grammi had told him to rest. And he would rest...in a little while.

Roshi Gummi settled himself down onto the floor with great reluctance. But since there weren't any chairs, it wasn't as if he had much of a choice.

Since the library wasn't big enough for a meeting of this sort, and Gusto had made it clear he wanted every able bodied person to attend the meeting, they had decided to use the one remaining structure that still existed above ground; the old courtroom. Queens and Kings of the past had used this room as a seat of justice and law. Welsi had been using this place for making laws and decrees. But today, Gusto would be using it for the first time in his rule as Prince.

The tapestries had indeed been pulled down to make tarps for covering up the leaky spots in the kitchen roof and so the walls were bare. The wall sconces were dressed with simple candles, since there was no oil for proper lamps. The lone fireplace was crackling with a sputtering fire that was struggling to stay alive in this damp air.

Despite the lack of heat, the sheer number of bodies in the room made up for it, huddling together to keep warm, to talk and share stories. Grammi was passing out soup to everyone, and the Barbics were taking their positions around the perimeter of the room. It seemed impossible that so many people could fill this space.

"All right," Gusto said nervously, once everyone was settled down. "Um...I have a reason I wanted to call you here together, and that was basically so that we can solve important issues that exist. I have decided, and I think you will probably all agree, that we need a government of leaders and councillors to oversee various aspects of our city. Everyone should have somebody they can go to for a specific issue that needs addressing. I think this room would due best for a council room, since its the largest."

Roshi nodded approvingly.

"So, let me guess," he said wryly. "You've brought everyone in here to help you decide who to put into important positions?"

"No," Gusto said. "Actually, I have people in mind for the positions. I just wanted everyone here so that everybody could see who I'm putting in charge. So that if there's any question as to why I've put a certain person in charge, those questions can be answered right away, instead of being left to simmer under the collar."

"Why, I'm quite surprised at you," Roshi said, grinning. "Acting with such complete authority. Taking a position of power."

"We really don't have time for an election," Gusto said with a sigh, and he stood to his feet. "If the medallions really have been destroyed, and all magic now comes directly from me, then that means Gummadoon has returned from its own magical isolation. Which means we're going to have hundreds of Gummi Bears coming to Ursalia looking for their medallions again. We're going to be swamped with people all coming back here looking for their lost magic."

"Ah, I see," Coffi said. "If they come here, and you don't give them what they want, they could easily and quickly try to take over. Especially the Knights of Gummadoon."

"Exactly," Gusto said. "We already were overwhelmed once when the New Gumbreans came, and everyone had to try to adapt, or like the Barbics, leave. Unless you want that happening to us again, we need to be a strong tight knit community; with an able government and a law system set in place, before they ever arrive. Or else outsiders can run right overtop of us."

"I remember the council of Gummadoon," Roshi said softly, leaning back and looking up to the ceiling. "Technologically advanced in their own way, but rather arrogant and militaristic. Totally dependant on their magic. Yes, they will be coming to Ursalia, no doubt."

"And not likely to bow to a Prince," Sir River concluded stiffly. "In five hundred years, I wonder if they even remember that the Heart of Gummi exists."

"Or the reverse could occur," Gusto sighed. "They could ignore us completely, though I doubt it. But one thing is for sure, we have to be a strong and healthy example of Gummi society in order to deal with the Gummis who come to our city seeking Medallions. Which brings me to the next point. How exactly do I make them anyway?"

Roshi chuckled fully, and put a finger to his eye.

"Same way you took em away. The first Medallion you make will be stronger than the rest of them, and will be tied to you directly, so choose wisely who you gift it to. The one person you trust completely will usually be the one you give the first Medallion."

Gusto turned to look at Gruffi immediately, who held his hands out in front of him.

"Uh uh," Gruffi said. "No way, I don't need any hocus pocus magic. That's Zummi's realm."

"Aww, Gruffi," Gusto chuckled. "I do trust you the most though. But I think...you're right..."

Gusto held out his hands, mouth pursed, and there was a moment in which tingling magic arched through his fingers before he had it in his hands and formed it into a Medallion. But unlike other medallions, Gusto's magic caused this medallion to have a golden looped chain rather than the satin sash of the old ones.

Each person who bears the Heart of Gummi shows a different preference in fashion, I suppose...

But for a second, Roshi panicked. Who was Gusto giving this medallion to? Gusto had a moment or two of hesitation and thought, before he passed the Medallion over to Roshi directly.

"Thank you," Roshi said in arched relief. "I was worried I'd be taking a back seat now that I had done my part."

"No, your heart's in the right place," Gusto chuckled. "You served my family for years and years, so I think I can continue trusting you. And for the work you do, you'll need the strongest Medallion. You have to find Araskis and the other spirits and capture them again."

Roshi nodded gravely, and put the medallion around his neck.

"So then, who is next? Mind you, you can give medallions to whoever you want and you should be able to take any medallion back now without having to take them all back."

"Well, I don't know...I suppose..."

Gusto made two more medallions, holding them softly in his hands, then passed them directly to Zummi and Coffi.

"All wizards, hm?" Roshi said, smirking. "You're thinking magically, rather than politically."

"Well, I want Zummi and Coffi in charge of the Great Library," Gusto explained. "So they'll both need to be able to open the Great Book of Gummi. I...I don't need to give out medallions to everyone in important positions, do I?"

"No, don't spread yourself thin that way," Roshi said immediately. "Remember, whenever they use the medallion, they're draining magic through you. If you make too many it'll be a toll on your body as well as yourself. You'd eventually lose the ability to even make medallions!"

"Well, then I won't make anymore now. I still have positions to hand out though."

Gusto took a deep breath and walked to the center of the room. Everybody had been watching him pointedly in his creation of the medallions, and now those who were around him who had once had medallions before and no longer did were looking somewhat irritated and morose.

"We need a head carpenter to oversee the repairs to the vital places in the city, like the residences," Gusto said, looking around them. "I have on good authority from everyone that Sera is the best of the best, and opposed to simply choosing somebody else, I've decided that she will continue to be the Head Carpenter for the city. I shall just have to trust that my people do know whats best for themselves."

The carpenters all laughed and patted Sera on the back. She gave Gusto a thumbs up and he smiled at her.

"Okay," Gusto laughed. "That wasn't so hard. Now what's next."

Roshi waited patiently. This wasn't something Gusto was used to doing, so he was going to let the bear have his space, but be ready to poke in advice should it be needed.

"Ah right, since we have lost poor Merribell to sickness," Gusto said, pulling his hat off his head momentarily in sorrow. "I have decided to appoint Grammi as our Head Chef. Tarra shall continue to work as Head Seamstress, and Marma shall continue as the Head Healer. You three are doing such a great job I wouldn't want to interfere."

The three lady bears nodded, and bent their heads together in whispering conversation. Of course they knew what their positions would be, but they were amused that Gusto would heap upon them such soaring praise for what came naturally to them all.

"Miss Brim," Gusto said, addressing her directly. "The schooling of young people is still yours. But you may have to instruct the boys as well, since Sesil's left."

"He'll come back," she said firmly. "Eventually he'll figure it out, that he's on the wrong side. He's just being stubbourn."

Gusto nodded worriedly, and looked at Coffi pointedly, but the bear only shrugged in response. A quiet pause filled the air, and then Gusto walked out right into the center of the room.

"We have a predicament now," Gusto said largely. "Security. Welsi has taken most of the knights with him. And while the Barbics are a wonderful clan with proud traditions, not every Gummi who trains to become a knight will also want to be a Barbic."

He took a deep breath.

"So I want to have a city guard in place, but I want to have two people in charge of the military in this city. Two Armsmasters."

Silence. Not a pin dropped. Roshi was a little alarmed, but amused by this.

Two Armsmasters? Hm. Could he be thinking what I think he is?

"The first Armsmaster will be Ursa Barbic," Gusto turned to look at her nervously. "You'll be in charge not only of the Barbic clan and its own training, but also the primary outer wall security of the city, which means that you may have non-Barbic squires and Knights end up under your authority."

Everyone was tragically stunned by this. Gusto was really showing his mettle in a time of crisis, and it wasn't something anybody was used to. Roshi watched their looks of surprised and awe with a feeling of nostalgia. It didn't seem all that long ago that he had been training the young Prince in just such leadership principals. Was he starting to remember his old childhood schooling?

"I...don't know what to say?" Ursa declared, standing to her feet.

"Don't say anything yet," Gusto said, smirking. "I'm putting Sir River in as the second Armsmaster. He'll be in charge of of training the Squires and Knights, and inner city security. You two will have to get along completely if we're to have proper security and safety in this city."

Both of them stared at one another in stunned shock. But the New Gumbreans seemed so much more at ease now that one of their own was part of the military too. Roshi was delighted!

Gusto is rising to this challenge so much better than I had hoped!

"Gusto, there's another thing you can do with the Heart of Gummi besides make medallions. Do you remember what that might be?"

Gusto blinked and turned to look at Roshi momentarily, before smiling.

"Ah, I see! Alchemy! You were all over me about that one day when all I wanted to do was play!"


"Alchemy?" Coffi queried. "What is that?"

"Its how he creates the Gummi Medallions," said Roshi. "As of this moment he can only create metal objects that are tied to the Heart of Gummi. Metal is the simplest substance to create. Woven cloths and living substances like wood are a little more complex. But come now, Gusto, don't leave us in suspense, show them what I mean!"

The Prince gave a heavy gulp and then closed his eyes. Everyone held their breath, watching the magic form in his hands, and suddenly they were awed to see that he had created two objects; a shield and a sword. They both were imprinted with the same Gummi symbol as the medallions.

"Hm, I meant to make multiples of both..."

"Each person should only possess one object created by the Heart," Roshi cautioned. "Or they could become controlled by it, as Welsi had become."

Gusto nodded, and thoughtfully passed the sword to River, and the shield to Ursa.

"Um, I'm not sure how magically imbued weapons and armor work. I think the shield enhances defense and the sword..."

"Offense..." Sir River finished with a cynical smile. "So being a better swordsman than I, Ursa would have need of such extra strength, though she is less inclined to shield herself from danger so..."

"Swordswoman," Ursa corrected gently. "Thank you, your Majesty."

Gusto blushed as they both bowed to him. Roshi would have to talk to him later about accepting, graciously, the fealty of others. Even if it bothered him, he could lose the loyalty of his knights if they didn't think he wanted their favor.

Other positions after this were easier to hand out. Head Farmer, Hunter, Fisherman, Blacksmith and Crafter were all positions who already had persons in them willing to continue. Tulli was happy to return to being Craftmaster of course. But there was a sense of sorrow in Gusto as he handed out that position.

He misses being just a humble artist, but he's going to be insanely busy for the next few days to come.

"All right, I think everybody knows now who is in charge of all the important decisions in this city. Our number one priority now is keeping the people warm, making sure we get food, and having enough firewood. Summer is coming upon us though, so Gummi Berries will be coming in season. Gummi Berry juice is one priority of course. The empty flower gardens around Ursalia can be used for planting vegetables and herbs for the kitchens if garden space for vegetables is low. I'll leave everyone else to decide what should be done and where. If you have any seriously important questions...ask Roshi."

Roshi hiccuped and Gusto grinned at him.

"And if the Heads of each Craft have any questions that I cannot answer, they should ask Prince Gusto," Roshi countered hotly. "Since he has failed to appoint any aides."

"Uh...oopsie. I didn't think of that. Um...I guess you'll due fine for now Roshi...and well...who else...?"

"Me," Gruffi said, taking Gusto by the arm. "I'm not letting people run you into the ground with questions. They can go through me first. And Roshi? Don't be lazy."

Roshi chuckled at the joke and everybody shared a laugh.

"All right!" Grammi said. "I have cookies baking and soup probably boiling over, so anybody who is still after supper had best get down to the kitchen for last call."

Pandemonium broke out immediately and Roshi had to chuckled as he, Gruffi and Gusto were immediately surrounded with questions.

"Of course the council will have regular meetings up here to discuss things," Gusto said quickly in the midst of the chaos. And... "Yeah, get back to me on that...No...that's all right. Go ahead and decide...the...THE AQUEDUCT?!"

Gusto stopped talking in alarm at Sera's question as to the aqueduct repairs, and suddenly everybody stepped back, as he had a seriously pale look on his face.

"Roshi I...I...I'm seeing the aqueduct, right in front of me...what...?"

"Quick!" Roshi said in alarm. "You're using the Heart of Gummi to see into the eyes of somebody else! Who is it? What is happening?"

"It's Vigo, and the other Knights!" Gusto shouted in panic. "They're trying to destroy the aqueduct! Roshi, the infirmary is underground! The elderly, the children, all underground in the warrens!"

"If they destroy that thing the whole city will be flooded!" Gruffi said. "We have to go stop them now!"

"Get everybody in the warrens above ground now!" Gusto said. "Ursa! River!"

"To arms!" Ursa cried. "To arms!"

"How did Vigo escape?" Zummi said to Roshi, as people started moving in chaos around them. "I thought we locked him in that closet?"

"Someone must have helped him escape," Roshi said humbly. "The knights still have family here in the city. But there's no time to lose; if the knights are going to flood the city then the Great Book is in danger."

"The Great Book! I forgot!" Zummi cried. "Lets go!"

Chapter 22: Chapter 22

Chapter Twenty Two: Hope Floats

Teddi Gummi was tired and bored, sitting curled up in his purple rain slicker on top of a rock waiting for the next downpour of rain with trepidation. He watched as Sunni and the other girls picked dandelions and wild carrots, and pondered briefly if he should go and help them.

But it was nice up here on his particular rock, under the warmth of the sunlight and under the cooling shadow of the aqueduct. He knew that this was the best area for roots and wild berries. And for once he was given a job that didn't require him to do anything at all. The boys were all so busy with talking to the girls they didn't seem bothered about acting as security.

Except Jaci. His Jaci. Teddi found himself admiring the way Jaci's shaggy wheat hued fur moved with the wind as he stomped around the perimeter. The way his eyes curved down at the corners in a smile when he returned to Teddi's side.

"Doesn't seem to be anything dangerous out here," Jaci said, and bent in to kiss Teddi on the cheek. "Everyone's having a grand time."

"Do you think we should...have been in for the meeting?" Teddi stammered softly, though his heart was beating fast and free.

"Nonsense," Jaci said, putting his hand up to tug on Teddi's short braid. "Adults only, they said, so let us kids play."

Teddi grinned and kissed Jaci again. Pattering rain hit their raincoats, soaking their heads.

"Do you think, well, that I'll be an artist now? Since Gusto, I mean, he's in charge right?"

"Yeah," Jaci said. "And I can go back to the carpenters. None of this squire stuff."

"Welsi sure liked having lots of squires," Teddi decided, looking around the group of teenagers in the clearing.

Most of the boys and a few of the girls had swords. A few of those girls with weapons were Barbics who had been brought back from the woods.

"In our country," said a girl named Kansy, in a heavily accented variety of basic Gummi, "We picked wild roots all the time like this. We didn't have to grow crops because they grew for us!"

Nessa and Kansy were now picking roots mostly alone. Not wanting to bother with the wild roots, which were to hard to pull out of the ground, Sunni and Buddi and the other couples were now nuzzling each other on their rocks.

"We're supposed to be doing work," Nessa complained, looking over at Sunni with a hint of annoyance. "Come on Sunni, this is your chore to you know!"

"My bag is full already," Sunni countered. "Besides, we'll be going in soon. This rain is really chilling my fur."

Teddi was in agreement with her. The rain seemed to have few breaks, and the strange spring heat that none of them had expected was causing them to be legarthic and irritable. He would be quite happy for the sunshine to come back. Maybe summer would bring about some change.

"But we don't have enough roots for everyone, lets fill all the bags now so we don't have to come back again later."

"Oh all right!" Sunni huffed, getting up to start picking roots again.

For a moment, Teddi was deciding whether he should just get up and go help the girls. He wasn't much use as an armed guard. Until he suddenly was cast in shadow by a figure standing behind him.

"Hold!" Jaci suddenly jumped up, and half the young people dropped their sacks in panic.

"I leave my grandson in the company of others for one day and looks what happens. Abomination."

Teddi turned his head just in time to see Jaci bash the hand that had reached out to grab him. Vigo jumped back with a cry of pain and the boys all surrounded him.

"Teddi, get the girls back to the city!" Jaci said. "We'll deal with him!"

"That won't be necessary," said another voice.

Teddi swallowed quickly at seeing that they were surrounded, and entirely outnumbered. The knights all reached out to grab them, swords drawn.

"Are you kids going to fight us? We don't want to hurt you," Vigo said, grabbing Teddi by the arm. "You will be coming with us, where you belong."

"We don't want to go with you!" Teddi said. "We're happier how we are!"

"Welsi will have something to say about that," said Sesil, coming through the crowd to stand in the midst of them. "He and his group are up on the aqueduct as we speak, ready to end this unfortunate state of affairs once and for all. We were ordered to return to the ravine and prepare for their arrival, but it seems we'll have a gift for them when they return."

"We won't go with you!" Buddi said. "Ursalia is our home!"
"Once we flood the city it will be over," Sesil stated. "Even if the water doesn't kill everyone, having no source of fresh water will make Ursalia uninhabitable. Which gives us the upper hand; they'll come crawling out of the city looking for a settlement with fresh water, and we will strike."

"I must go to Welsi at once," said Vigo. "Look after my grandson, Sesil," he turned to look at Teddi firmly. "We'll be having a nice long talk when we get home."

Teddi felt his face turn red in anger. 'Talks' with his grandfather usually consisted of painful beatings and longs angry tirades which did nothing but make him feel like dirt.

Their weapons were taken from them and they were lead in a group down the ravine. Teddi turned his head in time to see Sunni, at the back of the colum, ripping pieces of her purple rain jacket and leaving them in a trail behind them. With all the noise from the armor, and their hooded helmets, the knights didn't even notice her patient ripping. Teddi sighed in relief at this.

Hopefully the others realize that we're missing. They'll send out a search party and find Sunni's trail. I hope.

Gusto's group consisted of himself, River and some of the other adults of the city who were good at fighting, but weren't knights. Ursa had taken the Barbics up to the aqueduct from the upper mountain path, whereas Gusto and River's group was coming in towards the ravine. So far they had seen no sign of Vigo or his Knights, and Gusto was worried that the Heart was maybe seeing the future, not the present, and he had brought them out here too early to do anything.

"Hold!" River said. "Look here!"

At once Gruffi and Gusto ran over to him, where he stood next to a bunch of sacks on the ground. Gruffi opened one and pulled out a dandelion.

"The kids were out here, but they left their bags behind."

"Something happened, there's heavy footprints everywhere..." Sir River declared, following the footprints down to the edge of the rocky ravine. "The footprints end here at the rocks, sire, but another single set leads up to the aqueduct."

"Vigo...it must be...these footprints lead in from the city."

Gusto ran forward, pulling his rain jacket tightly around him, and surveyed the ravine, and the path that led up to the aqueduct. Clearly the kidnappers had taken the children down a route in which they couldn't be tracked.

"We'll have to see how far this goes," Gusto said, shaking his head. "And see if we can pick up the trail...one of us should follow Vigo..."

"Wait," Gruffi said. "What's this?"

He picked up from the ground a piece of purple fabric, no more than a couple inches in width. Gusto looked down the ravine, and by squinting his eyes he could see more of this fabric leading down the way.

"Ah ha," Gusto said with a grin. "The kids have left a trail for us!"

"Your majesty, we should split into two groups. One group will go after the children, and the other after Vigo."

Gusto nodded, looking between them.

"I suggest Gruffi's group comes with me and the men to find the children," Sir River stated at once. "And you and Nicco's group go after Vigo."

"Vigo is one man," Nicco said. "But the kids have many knights holding them. You'll need a larger group. Take some of my guys with you."

"No, all of you will go," Gusto said. "Just me and Nicco will go after Vigo."

"And me," Sera said purposefully, striding forward with her spear in hand to stand next to her husband. "I'm not going to be left behind!"

"We shouldn't have brought the woman to begin with," River said thickly. "Its too dangerous."

"It is not!" Sera said hotly. "And I dare you to say those exact same words to Ursa Barbic!"

Sir River shut his mouth immediately.

"All right," Gusto said, grinning. "Sera comes with me and Nicco, the rest with River and Gruffi. Vigo is just one bear. I can only hypothesize that he's going to meet up with Welsi and whatever group he has brought with him to damage the aqueduct. We can hope that the Barbics cut them off before Vigo can meet up with them. But Welsi is my responsibility so I must go."

"Very well," said Sir River. "Good luck sire!"

Gusto and Gruffi gave one another a fond look. Gruffi mouthed 'be careful' to Gusto and he nodded, before turning with Nicco and Sera to follow Vigo's trail up the hill.

Lets hope we're not too late...

Grammi found herself swamped with activity.

"Everybody get up to the main level. To the courthouse!" she called out. "Single file, no shoving! Carry the sick and wounded! Tummi, you get that lot in charge of bringing the food and supplies up top."

"Yes Grammi," Tummi said, licking his lips.

"And no snacking! This is an emergency. Thornberry, can your group handle the Gummi Berry juice?"

"Certainly Madam," Thornberry said saluting. "All right you lazy varmints! Off to the juice cellar!"

"I want everybody out of here quickly!"

"Grammi, I put some nets and ropes by the warren exit, in case it floods before we can get everything out," Cubbi said, coming over with some of his friends to stand next to her.

"Good idea Cubbi. We can fish things out of the water with the nets."

"The water level should go down quickly if it does flood," Roshi said, coming over to Grammi. "I'm more worried about what would happen after, when there's no water for us to drink."

"Gruffi fixed the aqueduct once, I'm sure he can do it again," Grammi chuckled. "Lets just try and get these people out and worry about that later."

"I should have gone to stand at Gusto's side," Roshi said at last. "But...Gusto has to learn how to protect his people and take charge on his own."

"And as the only wizards we have to protect the city and our Gummi secrets while he's away," Zummi added, adjusting his glasses.

"That's true," Roshi smiled. "All right, lets see how much of the library we can get up to the top level."

"At the first sign of trouble you lot get out of here," Grammi said, shuffling the last bunch up the exit tunnel. "We don't need to lose our only wizards because they were trying to save some bookends."

Grammi had meant it tongue in cheek, but Roshi was frowning pensively, and soon Zummi was joining in with him.

"What is it?"

Roshi pointed, and she turned to see a small group of bears huddled near the kitchen. Tulli was on the ground weeping, and shaking his head.

"Its my fault," he was saying. "All my fault. I deserve to die. To drown."

Grammi went with Roshi over to him and Roshi bent down to touch his cheek.

"Ah, Roshi," said Tulli. "Are you here to try and talk me out of it?"

"Tulli...you're coming up above ground with us," Roshi said. "If I have to force you."

"Roshi...I did it. I let Vigo go...I...he was such a friend of mine..."

"Its not your fault," Grammi said. "I'm sure you weren't the one who decided that Welsi should go after the aqueduct. You aren't to blame."

Tulli just shook his head in despair.

"Listen," Roshi said none to gently. "We can deal with this later, when Gusto and his company return to the city. Now is not the time. We must get out of here. You are coming with us."

Tulli seemed to resign himself to following them out of the tunnel above ground. At once an alarm rang out through the air.

"Its coming! The water its coming!"

"Good heavens!" Grammi cried. "Roshi! Zummi and Coffi are still in the library!"

"I'll get them, and any others may still be lurking below. Get the rest to the courthouse!"

At once he jumped right back down the tunnel and Grammi momentarily had to admire his courage.

"All right everyone lets go!" Grammi said. "Cubbi, where are you Cubbi?"

"Right here!" said Cubbi, with his nets ready.

"Good boy! Take your group and take up position here on this stairwell with your nets."

"Do you think the water will get really high Grammi?"

"Lets hope not, child. Lets hope not."

Gusto, Sera and Nicco found themselves walking along the aqueduct below its shadow, until they finally came to a carved stone ladder up to the aqueduct above them.

"Lets go!"

Nicco went first, Gusto went second, and Sera took up the rear. It was a long haul up the side of the aqueduct. Gusto could feel the sweat forming on his brow.

Maybe I should have brought a couple more people... he thought dejectedly. What if Welsi has a large group of men with him?

But when Gusto reached the top of the ladder he saw the Barbics heading down in this direction to join him.

"Ursa!" he called gratefully. "So glad to see you!"

"What happened? Why did you split up?"

"Some of Welsi's knights grabbed the kids," Gusto said, accepting a hand up on top of the aqueduct from Nicco. "We followed a separate set of tracks here, which might belong to Vigo."

"Do belong to Vigo," said Gritty hissing. "Look!"

Vigo and a few other knights were standing next a large open gap in the aqueduct, which was flowing water down towards the city. It wasn't a very large water flow, not necessarily enough to do any damage, but all of them looking quite pleased with their work. Gusto and the Barbics immediately sprang forward to confront them.

"You're too late!" Vigo said with laughter. "Our glorious leader has gone down to the water's source to open the pressure valve, flooding the city! Victory is already ours!"

Ursa snarled and immediately jumped across the floor wildly to confront Vigo, who pulled out his sword immediately to do battle. But he was too late to stop Ursa in her wild assault of him and the two of them fell off of the aqueduct in a tangle of limbs.

Gusto gave a cry of dismay and went over to the edge to look down at the ground, but breathed as sigh of relief at seeing they were both alive. But both of them were clearly injured and weakened by their fall. Nicco and a few of the other Barbics were already climbing down the ladder to go help them.

I can't help now, I have to stop Welsi!

Gritty and the other Barbics quickly jumped the gap to do battle with the other knights. It was really no contest. The knights were simply outnumbered. But Gusto glanced down vaguely into the hole.

"You'll never catch up to him," said one of the knights, now being bound in ropes by Gritty. "He's heading down there now to the source. You'll never catch him!"

The water wasn't flowing too quickly, and so Gusto spent no time climbing down into the aqueduct. Sera passed him down a torch.

"I must go on ahead," he told them. "Take the knights back to the city. Those of you still able to fight go down to the ravine and help Gruffi free the kids. You'll find a trail of purple cloth to follow."

"Good luck Gusto," Sera said. "Come back to us safely."

"I will. Welsi won't succeed in his plan," he paused. "If I don't come back, its important that the people still are cared for and protected."

"But the Heart of Gummi...?"

"...will probably go to Gruffi if I don't survive," Gusto smiled. "He's linked to me you know. Take care of yourself!"

"Its a pleasure to serve you, my Prince," Sera said, eyes going momentarily misty. "Hurry!"

Gusto did, turning to look down the darkened pipe ahead of him, and finally sped forward through the inky darkness, finding his path only by the wane light cast by his torch.

I hope I'm not too late!

Chapter 23: Chapter 23

Chapter Twenty Three: To Where The River Flows

Gruffi lifted his head up over the stone fence and surveyed the situation in front of him.

"Looks like they've taken over an abandoned human mill," Sir River said quietly, coming around behind Gruffi in a huddle. "Settling themselves as close to humans as possible so they can raid their food."

"Hmph, just like Welsi to not want to do a lick of work for himself," Gruffi snorted. "Okay, you take your group to distract the knights in the mill and my group will go free the kids."

"Since when are you in charge of giving orders here?" River asked thickly.

"Since I outrank you," Gruffi said firmly.

"Oh really? And what exactly do you do, may I ask?" River asked snidely.

"I keep Prince Gusto's feet warm at night," Gruffi said with a wink. "If you catch my drift."

"Ah I see. So then," River coughed. "What is your plan for distracting the knights?"

"I was gonna leave that up to you," Gruffi chuckled in amusement. "But since they seem to have amassed a large supply of stolen food for themselves, a raid on their barn may just be the ticket."

"Ah, I see," River chuckled. "Thieves we shall be, vandals, pirates of the open plain..."

"Guh, just go," said Gruffi, smacking himself on the face. "Hurry."

Both groups split in two and Gruffi and his lot took the trail along the stone fence towards the river, where he could see a small burnt out farmhouse was being used as a place for the hostages. It was clear that the old mill was the better building to inhabit, so except for a few lone guards most of the knights were up there. Gruffi split his group further in two and started giving instructions.

"You guys get between the mill and house, in case trouble comes down this way. The rest of you come with me and approach from the rear. We'll sneak in and knock out the guards."

As soon as Sunni spotted Gruffi and the others approaching, her face lit up with happiness. Quickly the other kids began to notice them. Gruffi smiled and put a finger to his lips. He slipped into the house quietly and started untying the ropes around the kid's wrists, while the rest of his group tied up the two guards.

"Good work everyone," Gruffi told them. "River's group should be stirring up some trouble for them up near the barn. Let's show these knights what for shall we!"

"You're going to attack them?" Sunni said, taking his arm anxiously.

"We're going to attack them," Gruffi corrected, and the teens were quickly passed some weapons. "Even if we leave, they'll still come back to keep bothering us and trying to cause us trouble. This may be our only chance to teach them not to mess with us."

Gruffi took the kids with his group, those that were stronger fighters, and left those who weren't so able bodied behind to guard the two knights they had already tied up.

As soon as he got out of the house Gruffi could see the damage that River was causing. Of course they were all mostly outnumbered, but the element of surprise was working to their advantage. The barn was now aflame with fire and battle was being joined. Gruffi turned to look at Sunni, who had a dagger in her hand, and he grinned.

"This, kid, is going to be your first lesson in how to fight," he told her. "I'd have taught you this stuff sooner, but you know..."

"I'm a girl," Sunni finished firmly. "I know. It wasn't proper."

"Well, after months of being Welsi's slave, I'll take practicality over propriety any day. Are you ready to learn how to take on a bear twice your size?"

"I'm more than ready Gruffi, lets go teach them a lesson!"

Gruffi smiled.

She takes after me so much sometimes its hard to remember she's not my own flesh and blood...

Together, father and daughter ran forward with weapons drawn to show just how much like one another they truly were.

Darkness. It swept over him and around him like the water swriling around his ankles. The path was dark and narrow and the incline was steep to climb. Gusto lifted his torch to the route above him, and shook his head.

Nothing. Darkness. Welsi had made sure that every last hole, crack and gap in the aqueduct had been sealed shut by the carpenters months ago.

Did he have this in mind when he was giving out instructions for the aqueduct's reconstruction? Did he know he might have to do something desperate?

Gusto wasn't sure about that. Why would Welsi plan to destroy what he wanted to control? Regardless, the aqueduct was half built, and the knights had made their hole right where the old section and the new section had joined. This old tunnel may have been wider and easier to navigate, but it was not as sturdy as the new aqueduct and could fall apart if too much pressure was exerted upon it.

How am I going to handle this? Gusto thought, holding the light over his head. If I can't stop Welsi, then the Ursalians will be the ones who suffer!

As he was coming up the incline he discovered a flat platform where the flood gate was located. It was wide open and Gusto could see the outer flood valve had been broken free, so the only way to close it would be from the inside.

Hm...Welsi's noticed that this mechanism isn't in control enough for it to do any damage. He must have gone right up to the dam to increase the water flow.

Gusto ignored the flood gate and pressed on, his feet finding it difficult to move more and more with each step.

The water level is rising...Welsi!

The dam rose over his head, a monolith of stone construction and ancient engineering, pipes and valves and great stone gates which regulated the flow of water. The water was up to his waist now, swirling around his legs and threatening to pull his feet out from under him. Welsi was standing high above him near the valve controls, breaking open the pressure valves on every pipe he came to. The water level was rising and Gusto struggled with every step he took.

Forget Ursalia, he's going to flood the whole valley!

"Welsi stop!" Gusto cried. "You must stop, you don't understand what you're doing! You'll destroy the valley and everything in it!"

Welsi's head jerked sideways, and all the happy masks of pleasant attitude were gone. In his eyes was a look of hate and rage that was almost misplaced. His face was twisted into an angry and vicious mask of violent.

And his eyes were glowing a deep and evil green.

"Araskis!" Gusto shouted. "So this is where you've gone!"

"It'll be too late for Ursalia," said Welsi/Araskis smoothly. "And the humans in the valley will quickly rush to stop the flood and save themselves. But what will the Gummis do without their Prince to guide them? When they find his drowned body floating down the river. They'll come looking for guidance at Gummadoon, is what they'll do! To Gummadoon they will fly, and I will be waiting for them there."

Gusto put his hands out in a gesture of alarm but Welsi had broken open the last valve, and was now climbing up to the top of the dam to reach the exit. The only exit.

"Farewell Gusto Gummi. You'll drown before you save your people you know. There's no way out, and no way to stop the water from flooding Ursalia. Its too late"

Gusto looked miserably up at the exit, too far from his reach. The pipes were now spewing water down upon him in torrents, the water was already pouring forth into Ursalia as of this moment. No way to stop him. And then it hit him.

The flood valve! I could sinch it shut! The water will have nowhere to go and will come back this way! But...

The only valve for the flood control was on the wrong side of the flood gate. He could close it shut...but he would be trapped.

I'm already trapped anyway! I have to...stop it...I just have to try!

Gusto swallowed and reached into the Heart of Gummi for guidance. At once a vision of the future swam before him and Gusto knew what he must do. With courage in his heart, and his route clear in his eyes, he released his foothold and let himself be swept away down the aqueduct with the current towards the flood gate.

Ever flowing is the future...Ursalia will not suffer another second! I'll save it with my very last breath!

Roshi could feel ill tiding swirling through his bosom even as the water swirled around beneath him. He was alarmed at how high the water level was rising. It had filled the warrens and tunnels below ground first, and should have found its way to the caverns below the city. But it hadn't.

Welsi must have found a way to plug the lower levels, he must have been planning this for ages!

Roshi pushed down his anger and reached deeply into his heart in search of Gusto, in search of that thread of life between them that would join them together, for any information he could gain or give. But there was nothing to reach for; a strange sort of empty darkness met his mental searching, and he ached in worry for his Prince. He longed to rush off to help Gusto, to protect him, but the people of Ursalia needed him.

His magic was the only thing keeping them afloat now and he could not abandon ship. Literally. He had constructed a barge for the people to float upon using magic, but the boat would not hold together forever, being an artifact of magic that it was and not made of actual materials.

If this water doesn't stop soon Ursalia will be gone forever.

Tulli had nearly had his wish granted at once when his feet were swept out from under him and he was dragged hollering down the current of the flood. Cubbi, quick thinking lad that he was, had netted Tulli quickly and pulled him in, much to the oldster's gratitude.

Guess he doesn't want to drown after all!

Speaking of nets, the kids were now all working hard to pull things out of the water, overseen by Sir Thornberry. Meanwhile, Zummi was magically navigating the boat towards higher ground and Grammi was organizing the people to take the netted boxes and furniture and lash it together, in case Roshi's spell died. Coffi was using magic to try and suck up as much of the flood water as he could, but it just kept coming

Roshi felt his chest twinge in worry, and suddenly a vision of the valley flooding, and waters sweeping in around him filled his bosom.

My Prince is in danger!

A momentary silence suddenly roused him from his alarm and people were pointing out to the waters.

The flood waters had stopped...well...slowed. Around him he could see the the water level going down as the water spilled out of the city down into the canyon and valley below. It was going down so fast that Roshi was momentarily stunned.

But then he remembered Coffi and his water sucking spell and laughed.

"You must teach me that one," Roshi said to him immediately. "I was never really interested in the practical magic. I was more skilled in battle."

"Well, the water has stopped coming, finally," said Coffi, taking a break. "Its going down of its own accord now. Must be redirected somewhere else. We can only hope the others are all right. And that there's something left of the city we can actually salvage."

Gruffi could only stare as he led his group, with captive knights in tow, up along the rocky incline towards the city.

The rocky ravine that lead down to the valley was no longer a rocky ravine. It was a river, a rather dangerously wide river, and the water was flowing too quickly for comfort. He could see the human settlements below them in the valley, and tiny groups of figures were rushing to stop the flooding with sacks of sand and heavy rocks. But Gruffi and his team pressed on up the ravine. There was to be no stopping here.

So Welsi succeeded in flooding the human valley, Gruffi sighed. "I hope Ursalia is all right."

"I'm sure its fine," Sir River said. "Its unlikely it'll flood for long, its an elevated area. I'm worried about Welsi. Did he escape then? Was Prince Gusto's team unsuccessful?"

"Lets hope not..."

Either way about it, the water was flowing more rapidly now by the second. The river was getting wider. He had to get his group out of the ravine and up to higher ground as quickly as possible.

"Hey...what's that...in the water?" said Buddi. "It looks like a person!"

Gruffi stopped walking to turn and follow the direction in which he was pointing. Gruffi felt a pang in his stomach at seeing a sodden furry blue form moving slowly down the river towards them, being swept along by the current.

"B...body," he stuttered, gritting his teeth and trying to ignore the fur color he was seeing. "Lets just carry on..."

He was all but ready to do this, until the furry blue form suddenly reached out to grab a boulder it was passing in a desperate attempt not to drown.

It was Gusto. He was coughing up a fit and he looked ghostly. Immediately River sprang to action.

"Your Majesty!" he shouted. "How did you get out there! Nevermind, hang on we'll rescue you!"

"We'll form a chain!" Gruffi said. "The strongest swimmers in only!"

Gruffi found himself at the end of the chain, and his heart was beating faster and faster as he reached out with his free arm to try and grasp the struggling form of his beloved, who was now reaching out towards him with panic and desperation in his eyes.

"Closer...I need to be a little closer!" Gruffi said, teeth gritted. "Reach, Gusto...reach!"

At once their hands connected and Gruffi pulled him close to his chest. Gusto put his arms around Gruffi's neck and buried his face there weeping.

"All right, back to the shore, all together now!" cried River, who was second in chain. "Now!"

It was a desperate struggle against the current as their group rolled back in towards the rocky shore, but they made it, and Gruffi pulled Gusto onto the bank of the river and held him close.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm alive...that's nice then," Gusto said softly, clearly not in his wits. "I didn't expect the aqueduct to just crumble beneath me like that. Must have been too much pressure all around...Ursalia is safe though. The water is going this way right? So its safe, now, right?"

"Yeah," Gruffi said, holding Gusto close to his chest. "We're all safe now. You did good."

"You protected your people, sire," River said gently.

Gusto smiled, with a warmth and tenderness that nearly broke Gruffi's heart, then closed his eyes and curled up against Gruffi's chest for a much needed sleep.

It's going to be all right...

Chapter 24: Chapter 24

Chapter Twenty Four: On A Boat With Billowed Sails

Gusto could only stare as he walked through what was once Ursalia. A throbbing pain in his chest was a constant reminder of the pain of his people, the Heart of Gummi weeping in sympathy. Their homes and lives were now washed away, and now everyone was forced to take shelter in the washed out courthouse and city ruins, trying to find what was left of their world from the flotsam they had managed to save from being carried away down the valley with the floodwater.

It was the worst nightmare any monarch could face. His people were soaked, sick and cold, and forced to take shelter in a structure that was barely more than a square stone box.

So this is what it comes to, he thought, making his way painfully through the underground warrens with Roshi and the rest of his council in tow. Should we just abandon everything and leave, just like Welsi said we would?

His chest hurt so bad that he half wanted to abandon this inspection altogether.

Can't let this stop me...got to keep going...

"This place isn't safe for anyone to live in," Gruffi snorted. "Zummi and Coffi's drying spells are barely making any difference. Everything is soaked and it stinks down here!"

"It'll be weeks for this to dry out," Roshi agreed. "Welsi must have planned this from the start. If his rule ever failed, if something went wrong, he could easily wipe out everything and start from scratch elsewhere."

"Yeah," Gusto said, scratching his chin. "But where?"

They pondered this as they moved into the kitchen, and Grammi paused a moment to lift a stray pot from the floor in disgust. There was a deep brown and yellow stain now in the warrens that nobody even questioned the source of. They all knew. But Gusto found himself recoiling from the smell regardless, and had to choke down the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. Gruffi reached out to give him a shoulder to lean on and he accepted it gratefully.

"This place is a sewer," Coffi said thickly, covering his nose with a hanky. "People can't live down here. Its not clean. Diseases will spread faster than wildfire"

"We could start cleaning from the ground up," Sera said. "But it would be better to start rebuilding from scratch elsewhere."

"We don't have the manpower for that," Gruffi complained. "Or the resources."

"No...Sera's right. Everything would have to be dug up and rebuilt if we stayed in Ursalia..." Gusto sighed. "We need to leave and find a dry place for everyone to live in. Ursalia must be abandoned."

"But where will we move to?" said Sera.

All of them put their heads together, but came up with no quick solution.

"We need to find someplace for our people to sleep tonight anyways..." Gusto said, and started walking back down the tunnels towards the exit. "The Quick Car Tunnels, or some underground place that didn't get hit by the flood?"

"Its amazing how high the water got," Zummi said. "Ursalia is already so high up in the valley..."

"We did a search of the area," River said firmly. "All the excess rains this spring caused most of the rivers to swell. It was only matter of time for flooding to occur. The break in the aqueduct only initiated it."

"Not to mention whatever evil magic Welsi is still in possession of," Roshi said thickly. "He may not have a medallion anymore, but that control spell he was using had to come from some place else. I swear by my own fur that he's still using dark magic of some kind to aid himself."

"Well, either way about it, Ursalia is a ruin," Gusto sighed, deciding that he'd tell Roshi about Araskis later. "We need to leave. Its too late for Ursalia. We need to save ourselves if we can."

Another silent pause followed this.

"Zummi, did you want to have another look at the Great Book of Gummi?" Coffi said, breaking the silence hesitantly. "We might be able to find an older Gummi settlement near here that can fit everyone..."

"Wait a moment," Zummi said. "I just thought of something. Didn't the Gummiscope tower have some underground stairs that led to a cavern of some sort?"

"Yeah...there's a path to the caves where the boats were harbored," Sir River turned his head sideways. "If they haven't all been chopped up for firewood, or broken free in the flood, then they could provide a temporary shelter."

"Excellent!" Gusto said. "We'll do it. It'll make moving everyone much easier once we've found another warren."

"Alas that we should leave old Ursalia!" Coffi cried. "But our people must come before our vanity."

"Nothing much left to call Ursalia, really," Gusto sighed. "We're Ursalia; the people, and wherever we go, Ursalia will be."

"So this is it, a second abandonment of Ursalia," said Roshi sadly. "The world of Gummis coming around in a cycle, the Heart leading us across the seas and through time, as the water flows forth, so do we."

No other sentiment to their plight was better spoken than this.

Gruffi found Zummi and Coffi huddled over a large map of Brittany that was laid out on a box on the ground near the ships. Zummi had his glasses askew on his face as his finger poked along the map to various places, which Coffi then scribbled on with his quill.

"The Great book of Gummi mentions so many settlements for Gummi Bears," Zummi said to Gruffi, upon spotting him. "But deciding which one to try first is rather difficult. Most of them will have been abandoned, or were destroyed by humans. And we don't want to take a warren that belongs to somebody else. We already know how that feels."

"True. Where else do we know of that isn't currently inhabited?" Gruffi asked. "And that's easily accessible from the sea?"

"Hm, we wanted to ask Gusto. He has more knowledge about Gummi settlements than anybody I know. But...well..."

Gruffi nodded sadly. Gusto was no longer well, and nobody could understand where this illness had come from, or how to combat it.

It had started slowly. Gusto had complained that his legs always seemed to hurt wherever he went, and there was something wrong with his vision, and breathing. What followed after this were brief periods of good health and then long ones of bad health. Roshi had suggested that the amount of time he had spent underwater with no oxygen had damaged him in a way that would take time to heal.

Everything seems to happen to Gusto, Gruffi thought forlornly. Possessed by an evil spirit, nearly beheaded by Welsi, then almost drowned, and now he's sick on top of it all. When will he ever have good luck? Is he cursed?

Roshi feared that sea sickness would contribute to the illness of everyone, so they were laid up now on shore in the harbor waiting for a period of good health to leave. They didn't dare go out to sea.

"Gusto will be well eventually," Zummi sighed. "Grammi says there really shouldn't be anything wrong with him. Physically he's fine."

"Its probably just exhaustion," Coffi commented. "He'll recover quickly enough, once we're away from Ursalia."

But it didn't help the people any to have their Prince weaving his steps where he walked, and taking uneasy rests between small moments of peace that his illness was giving him. Seeing their Prince in such weakened condition likely did nothing for their hearts, or their fragile loyalty.

"Anyway, we know of a few places besides South Gumton that Roshi was able to vaguely point out on the map," Zummi continued, scratching his chin. "But Roshi's memory is rather bad simply because he's been trapped in stone for five hundred years."

"He's senile," Coffi said snidely. "Poor old guy can't find his way out of the latrine, let alone to Dunwyn and back."

"Who else is old enough who might remember the old Gummi places?" Gruffi asked, rubbing his temples.

Gruffi was a little tired of how much disrespect the New Gumbreans were giving old Roshi. But then again they had been raised with tales of his evil. What did they know about who he really was?

"Well, besides Welsi's own family, Vigo was also under the immortality magic," Coffi said, pushing the map away from himself for a moment as if he were tired of it. "But Vigo isn't talking to us, and Sir River's memory isn't any more intact than Roshi's. He knows nothing of Geography. So our best lead at the moment is actually Sir Thornberry...and we all know how good his memory is."

"Thornberry?" Gruffi said with a smirk.

"He lived alone in Ursalia for forty years, its true," Zummi said, wiping his eyeglasses on his robe. "But he was also here when the last Ursalians fled the city. He's bound to know where they all went. He might know some secrets that we don't."

"I'll talk to him," Gruffi said with a nod. "And see what he remembers."

"Then of course," Coffi put his hands up. "There's always Gummadoon."

"No," Gruffi said firmly. "Gusto says Welsi is in Gummadoon now. Who knows what kind of trouble he's stirring up for us there. And if we go to Gummadoon they'll run us roughshod trying to adapt us to their ways. We'll be fine on our own thank you very much."

"True, but Gummadoon is without magic now, and they'll have to make some sort of compromises in order to get even a single medallion from Gusto."

"If he even plans on giving out anymore medallions. Besides," Gruffi rolled his eyes. "If we did give Gummadoon medallions, they'd probably just cast another spell to make themselves dissappear. What good does that do for Gummis?"

"We have other options too," Zummi interrupted hastily, trying to stop an argument before it could start. "It would take some work probably to get South Gumton back into shape, but we would be able to start resettling all the abandoned warrens again if we did; the Quick Car tunnels all connect to it since it was the agricultural center of the Gummi world."

"Restore the Gummi world to its former functions, you mean?" asked Coffi. "Seperate warrens to provide for various needs of Gummi bears?"

"Exactly," Zummi traced the hastily drawn quick car routes down the map with his finger. "Another place we can try to rebuild is Gummi Glen, in Dunwyn, which is destroyed but probably salvageable, and has an ample supply of Gummi Berry bushes. Then there's Gummerset, Chummi's old home."

"But its far to the Northeast, up in Viking country," Coffi said. "We don't know what sort of condition Chummi left it in when he came to the new world."

"Whatever happened to Chummi anyway?" Zummi asked. "Why didn't he come here with the New Gumbreans?"

"Oh," Coffi looked momentarily distressed, and shook his head. "He went exploring the great Northern Continent with some bears. Welsi wanted to see how far the world went and where Gummis could go to expand and colonize, and Chummi sailing was perfect for that. But their group never returned to New Gumbrea, lost at sea is the excuse Welsi gave. Welsi sent out many groups like that. I suppose they eventually broke free of the spell and just decided not to come back to us."

Gruffi swallowed the lump in his throat. Another loose end in the Gummi chain.

"Hm...South Gumton, Gummi Glen, Gummerset...I don't know if any of these will be all right. Gummerset is too far..."

"There are other places mentioned in the Great Book," Zummi said. "But do you want to try South Gumton first? I'm sure the Treefolk would be quite happy to see the Gummis have returned."

"Treefolk?" Coffi asked, looking puzzled. "What are Treefolk?"

While Zummi was explaining to Coffi about the Treefolk and Fangwood Forest, Gruffi bent down to look at the map in more detail. But then he spotted something he wasn't quite familiar with.

"Zummi...what's this place here in Drekmore? Tangleroot Warren. What's that?"

Zummi turned his head mid-speech to look at where Gusto was pointing.

"Oh ho ho," Zummi chuckled. "Tangleroot was said to be a settlement of Gummi doctors and healers. They cultivated some of the most beneficial healing roots and plants known to Gummi kind, many of which only grow deep in the swamps of Drekmore. But...uh unfortunately the true location of Tangleroot is unknown to this day. It was said to be lying somewhere in the bottomless swamps in Drekmore, way off to the east, in places which Ogres cannot reach. But its impenetrable territory for Gummis too. The path to the warren is shrouded in mystery and legend."

"Tangleroot is a myth," Coffi said snidely. "I grew up hearing stories about it, all of them fables. Magical potions for every illness, great doctors who could cure anything. A Gummi Warren in the very heart of Drekmore right under the noses of ogres. Its the sort of legend that people make up when they have a desperate need to believe in something."

"Ah, but all myths are based somewhat in fact. And many beneficial herbs and roots do grow in Drekmore."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Coffi replied with a huff. "At any rate, we should decide on an existing place to go, and I say South Gumton."

"I agree," Gruffi said. "A fresh water source, Gummi Berry bushes, and an old warren waiting for us to fix it up and set it to rights. And the Treefolk need tending as well. Its close to Dunwyn and Gummi Glen and would be a good place to start coming into contact with all the various outlying settlements. South Gumton is is."

"What about Welsi's knights?" said Coffi. "Will they be going with us?"

Zummi looked at Gruffi, and then back at Coffi.

"This is something that only Gusto can decide," Gruffi sighed. "Lets hope his health is up to it, or we may have more problems than we bargained for by capturing them."

Gusto was delighted by the Gummi ships that they were now sailing on, floating slowly along the shores of Brittain like clouds towards the south, the sails billowing out in the breeze. What had become of the third ship that had been anchored in the harbour was anybodies guess. But the two remaining ships easily provided room for everyone. Some luck had finally come to them at last, luck, and smooth sunny weather for sailing that was the end result of weeks of spring rain.

As for Welsi's knights, Gusto had decided to let them go with a warning.

"Don't follow us. Don't cause trouble for us. You can come with us if you promise to do your fair part and help, but if not then you can stay here in Ursalia and make your own way to wherever you plan to go. Lets just keep the peace and agree not to fight for the time being."

Some of the knights had decided to stay with their families, and had accepted that Gusto was now in charge. Upon seeing what had nearly become of them in the flooding had decided that they no longer wished to serve Welsi. Their families were important, and they hadn't realized that they had been in such grave danger to begin with.

But many more of the knights had decidedly stayed hostile towards Gusto and his rule and they had left Ursalia in a rough angry company, all swearing that they would find Welsi and reunite against Gusto once more, to take back their families and their ways.

Because Gusto had not allowed them to take their children or wives with them. Even women and children had a vote in his society. If he was going to be a Prince, then he needed to rule under a certain set of self-imposed moral guidelines. And there was nothing better to rule by then by his heart. Even if democracy didn't fit into the day and age in which he existed, he would still follow a path of peace and individual rights, no matter what.

Sesil had surprisingly stayed with them, though he had done so only due to his ill health and desperate need to remain with his wife Marma. But he wasn't speaking to anybody else beyond his wife and children, trapped in his own little world of misery and hostility. Nobody had any idea what to do with him, other than letting him watch to see what Prince Gusto, as opposed to Prime Minister Welsi, was like as a ruler.

But no need to dwell on these unpleasant things, Gusto decided, sitting out on the main deck and letting the salty breeze gently blow the fever from his skin. South Gumton here we come! Gummi Berries and summer leaves and places to plant and harvest. A sheltered protected valley for my people. I only wish I had thought of it first!

How miserable it was to be sick! He didn't understand where this mysterious illness had come from, but it was driving him nuts! He needed to be strong!

What kind of leader am I? thought Gusto miserably. I can barely stand on my own two legs, when my people need me the most! I'm a sham, is what I am!

Frustrated, he turned and headed dazedly in the direction of Gruffi and Tummi, who were near the steering wheel discussing the route they would sail down to Dunwyn.

"We don't want humans seeing us, so we'll have to stay away from the shore for most of the trip," Gruffi was saying to him. "Keep it steady, you have a whole crew of people now to help you sail."

"Aye aye Gruffi!"

Gusto gave Gruffi a soft adoring look as he approached and Gruffi smiled.

"Turns out Welsi was using magic to guide the ships to Ursalia," Gruffi commented, crossing his arms. "Other than a handful of fisherman, they didn't really have any sailors. So Tummi's now in charge of the nautical stuff."

"I see," Gusto said wryly. "This is what happens when you depend upon magic to do everything."

"You were right, of course..."

Gusto longed to just reach out and snuggle Gruffi tight. But he knew the people were still as of yet unused to their strange relationship and so it was better to keep this sort of affection private. Besides, he was just about ready to collapse from exhaustion.

"I may have to go back to bed soon," he said. "Tired..."

"You go do that," Gruffi said firmly. "Can't let you work yourself to death can we?"

"I s'pose not," Gusto said with a yawn. "To bed I go."

Gusto felt miserable having to abandon his post, and Gruffi, to go get some more rest. But when his head hit the pillow he knew he wouldn't be getting up again for awhile. His eyes fell together so easily as he drifted off to sleep that it was almost as if it were meant to be.

Chapter 25: Chapter 25

Chapter Twenty Five: If A Tree Falls In Dunwyn Forest

From the shore they came in a ragged line. Every bear who wasn't too infirm or too ill was carrying some sort of burden, whether that burden was a baby or a box. They had harbored the boat safely away in the old cavern where the Gumarine had once been hidden. From there they brought all that they could carry or pull by cart up the inclines and bumpy roads towards Gummi Glen, every bear on watch for humans or wolves, every bear tensely aware of the increasing unease of their Prince.

Even Gusto was burdened down under the heavy weight of the pack which carried his own supplies. Zummi was carrying the Great Book of Gummi singlehandedly as well as his own clothing and food. Many other Great Books of the Ursalians had been lost in the flood, so most of their heritage and history was now dependant upon this important treasure.

And speaking of treasures; Grammi, Tarra and the other women had accosted Gusto this morning the moment he stepped out of his cabin, all of them carrying a bundle of cloth. It was a plain canvas bag they handed to him, but unwrapping it had revealed something else entirely was hidden inside.

All night they had worked hard, crafting for him new robes from the finest silver cloth they had. It was the raiment of a Prince. And Gusto quickly recognized this material as having once been part of a New Gumbrean woman's wedding gown. Each woman had given a piece of her silver bridal array to create this garment. They had lined it with soft blue velvet which hugged his body like a dream. It was a gift that humbled him completely

But that wasn't the last of his surprises. After dressing in the fine clothes, bashful and embarrassed beyond measure by the touching gesture, he had come on deck to find everyone assembled. Roshi had gathered every bear together in their best clothes so that Gusto could bless them and ask the powers of the universe to guard over their journey.

Gusto had cried when the blacksmiths had pulled his simple hat from his head in order to place upon him a golden crown. It hadn't felt quite right, being dressed in such fine clothes with such a fine crown upon his brow. But he had fulfilled the blessing; taking each person's hand to speak a soft prayer of protection over them. It was a ceremony that had been lost to Gummi Bears for hundreds of years, but which they were now restoring to its rightful place of honor.

Gusto hoped that the blessing would give them the protection they needed so desperately. The fur at the back of his neck was standing up on end as they traveled ever deeper into Dunwyn forest.

"Everyone be careful, we're getting close to the Glen now. We don't know what we'll find there, or who could be lurking in wait. Poachers, bandits maybe; this is human territory."

Roshi was up at the front of the line with Gusto, Gruffi and Ursa, keeping an all important lookout for trouble. Coffi was at the rear of the line with Sir River, the rest of the Barbics and Sir River's Knights walking alongside the line with burdens of their own in hand. If magic was needed then the wizards would be there to help. If muscle was needed then the Knights and Barbics would drop their burdens and hail off to war.

War...oh lets hope not!

Roshi was almost immediately at his side at this thought, and Gusto came to the realization that he was linked to his old friend in ways that most people wouldn't understand. Roshi had been listening to him psychically and had sensed his distress all too plain.

"Are you all right, my Prince?" asked the oldster, taking Gusto by the arm to stop him in his walking. "You look pale."

Gusto leaned heavily on the other bear, which caused Gruffi to stop as well.

"I have this strange ominous feeling in my chest with every step we take closer to Gummi Glen. Like something is nearby that doesn't know we're here, but could come upon us any second if we tarry."

"We are getting close now to Gummadoon," Roshi said. "This could be the presence you sense. Knights in the forest ready to cart us off if they spot us."

"Roshi, the prophecy spoke of a war between Gummis," Gusto said, accepting the shoulder up in order to keep moving forward. "Do you think the war was not our battle with Welsi, but a true war against other Gummi clans? Gummadoon maybe?"

"Oh, I pray not," Roshi said with a desperate sound. "Gummis haven't had war with one another in over a thousand years. It would be lambs to the slaughter if we were to come against the Knights of Gummadoon."

"I'm sure Welsi's probably counting on this," Gusto decided. "Which means its more important than ever that I keep Welsi from getting his hands on another medallion. We can't gift any magic to Gummadoon, or Welsi could gain control again."

"Preserve us," Roshi breathed. "The wizards of Gummadoon will be wroth without their magic. We have those here who had medallions who are still angry and bereft. Oh power protect us..."

"Shhh," Gruffi suddenly hushed them both. "We're coming upon Gummi Glen."

Roshi said several oaths when he finally saw Gummi Glen for the first time. The people all stopped forlornly outside of the Glen, looking on in astonishment to the destruction that was there. Big Tooth the termite had done his job only too well.

"Now I know why the choice was South Gumton over this," Roshi said fervently. "This warren was once the center of the Gummi world outside of Ursalia."

"Well now its just a hole in the ground," Gruffi said. "At least South Gumton still has some warren tunnels intact."

Immediately Gusto called a halt to their march and soon the people were gathered together under the protective circle of the Barbics and newly appointed Knights, which included Nicco and a few other members of River's band of fighting bears. The old knights that had once turned against the people of Ursalia would have to remain simple citizens until Gusto felt confident in their loyalty. They would have to re-earn their place, for only Gusto could Knight them.

Sir River immediately came forward to the front of the column, and soon the whole council stood together with hands on hips, surveying the old warren.

"Well, this place is abandoned," said Coffi. "We should inspect the place first before bringing our people inside."

"No...its not abandoned," Gusto said at once, feeling his eyes widen. "I feel something here. Something strange. Not Gummi."

"Humans?" Ursa hissed. "Bandits taking shelter in a Gummi warren?"

"No, this presence is friendly, whatever it is," said Gusto, and then he closed his eyes for a moment. "Ursa, Gruffi and Roshi will come with me inside to inspect the Glen. Coffi, Zummi and Sir River will stay out here and look after the people. Get everyone in the cover of the trees until we know its safe below ground."

"Yes sire," Sir River bowed, and went immediately to give orders to his men.

"Is something the matter sire?" Roshi said, once the four of them were alone.

"I see blood, when I close my eyes," Gusto said firmly. "I think a sin of my own is going to come back to haunt me. Lets...hurry."

Gummi Glen was a hopeless ruin and it took pushing, pulling, and carefully placed spells from Roshi for them to enter it safely. Which made Gusto curious as to how the human intruders had gotten into the Glen in the first place? And then he spotted them in the remains of the old laundry room near the quick car tunnels, and Gusto could wonder no longer.

It was Cala and Cavin and a couple other humans that they had brought with them. All of them were curled up sleeping and exhausted on piles of old laundry. He could see that King Gregor himself was stretched out, his body bandaged in more places than Gusto could count, and all of these bandages stained heavily with blood.

Blood was everywhere. He could smell it in the air. It stained all the sheets and towels, it was even stained in Cala's golden hair. Unwin lay curled up and fetal next to the washtub where he had been cleaning some of these bloody clothes at one point, his leg in a splint. Cavin was passed out next to him using a pile of old towels as a pillow.

But at least Gusto now knew where Arte Deco was; he was here, guarding over the sleeping Princess. He flapped his wings and immediately flew over to Gusto upon spotting him.

"I've been watching them for awhile now. Its pretty bad."

"Easy Arte," said Gusto quietly, ruffling his feathers. "Easy now. You did good."

Four humans in all were in the Glen, a cursory check of all the rooms confirmed this. Gusto pulled his crown off his head to pass over to Roshi, who raised an eyebrow.

"They don't know me as a Prince," Gusto said softly. "One shock at a time."

Roshi nodded, standing back to the side with Ursa. Gruffi and Gusto together went to approach Princess Cala and Cavin.

"Cala," said Gusto, bending in to touch her face. "Its me, Gusto."

Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled upon spotting him. It had been months since either of them had seen one another. Since any Gummi Bear had seen Cala or Cavin.

"Oh..we knew you would find us," she said weakly. "Cavin kept saying you would come..."

Gusto smiled at her and helped her to sit up. The wound on her head didn't look too serious.

"What happened?" he asked, feeling his stomach twist.

He knew what had happened. He knew very well.

"Something attacked Dunwyn from the skies..." she said, tears in her eyes. "We got father out with us, but most of Dunwyn is in ruin. Unwin followed us," she pointed to the sleeping knight with a single gentle finger. "But we couldn't leave him behind with his injuries."

"We understand," Gusto said, watching as Gruffi tried to rouse Cavin. "You had no choice."

"Duke Igthorn came and took over Dunwyn the moment he saw we were vulnerable. He stays in his own castle in Drekmore, but his ogres roam Dunwyn now, keeping the whole country under their control. Its just not safe anywhere," she said. "Oh what shall we do?"

"I'm not sure...but I'll make sure you're taken care of," Gusto said. "Roshi, the King...he should stay sleeping until his wounds heal. And Sir Unwin."

"I agree," said Roshi, and he gently cast a spell over them both. "But will we take them with us to South Gumton?"

"We can't!" said Ursa in objection. "They're humans!"

"Cala and Cavin already knew about us, and Ursalia, if you'll remember," said Gusto to her shortly. "I'm sure Unwin and Gregor both know about Gummis by now, since they're both here."

"As long as we keep the Knight and the King under my sleeping spell they won't even know where they are," Roshi sighed. "They may even think they were dreaming about coming here."

Cavin finally was roused and looked somewhat happy but miserable to see them.

"Its been so long," said Cavin finally. "We tried to get to Ursalia, but the Quick Car tunnels..."

"Were blocked off," Gruffi said, shrugging. "We tried to get to you too."

"Evil forces took control of the city, and our lives," said Ursa. "We have Gusto to thank for saving us. Unfortunately Ursalia was destroyed by the same force that destroyed Dunwyn. Now we go to South Gumton to start over again."

Both of them quickly told Cavin and Cala the situation, while Roshi tended to King Gregor and Sir Unwin's wounds. When Gruffi finally finished explaining the business about Gusto being a Prince, Roshi handed him back his crown.

"Don't be so quick to give this up," Roshi said. "Stand in your crown proudly."

"Pride goeth before the fall," Cala teased. "Oh Gusto you look so handsome!"

"Now we have a Prince and a Princess," Cavin said brightly.

"Yeah..." said Gusto, and momentarily paused. "Cala...I have something I want to give you."

Roshi jerked his head up suddenly and Gusto closed his eyes. Both humans were awestruck at watching Gusto create magic between his own two hands, shaping it with his fingers into something that was much more than a Gummi medallion.

Since Cala didn't know any magic, and teaching her how to read Gummi writing in order to learn their spells would take up more time than it was worth one way or another, he decided to do something different. This Gummi talisman was imbued now with the protective magic of the Heart of Gummi, the same sort of force that he had used to protect himself and other Gummis from Welsi's evil spell. It took the form of a Gummi shaped pendant upon on a delicate golden chain. A charm worthy of a Princess.

"Wear this my lady," he said, bowing. "For your protection. It'll guide you, and let me know when you're in danger."

She was awed by the gift and put it on without question. Gusto could instantly feel a connection to her at the back of his head that told him she was safe, if a little weakened by her situation. It worked better than he had hoped it would. Ursa and Roshi seemed both entirely affronted by this.

"But...but she's a human!" Ursa declared. "Why give it to her?"

"You know the people will never accept this," Roshi said, looking completely put off. "Don't you?"

"Yes," Gusto sighed. "But humans and Gummis can't be enemies forever. She'll need to stay safe in order to bring her people back into a time of peace. And I only know when Gummis are in danger, not humans. I'll be keeping an eye on her this way."

"Its the Gummi way to protect humans," Gruffi said firmly. "The Great Book says so. 'To fight the wicked, and protect the innocent'. We are meant to unite with humans, not be divided from them."

But Gusto still felt a pang in his chest at seeing Cala with the necklace on, her blood stained hair twisted in knots around her pretty head. He had caused her suffering. He had to undo it however he could. He felt completely responsible, and swore to himself that Igthorn was going to feel pain for taking advantage of Dunwyn's dire situation, instead of helping those in need.

I will repair this damage at all cost...I swear by my crown and my life.

Chapter 26: Chapter 26

Chapter Twenty Six: A Tale Of Two Trees

Princess Cala picked her way through the crowded tunnels of South Gumton warren, where bears of every shape and size were quickly picking up the debris littered here and taking inventory on how many bears could truly fit in this place. The sick and the old were given first chances at the rooms, which included a very tired and pale looking Gusto.

It had been a trying trip by quick car to South Gumpton for the newly crowned Monarch and his people. Cala's heart went out to them. There had been only two quick cars left in Gummi Glen to take, certainly not enough for over two hundred bears, so a large majority of the process in getting everybody to South Gumpton included sending healthy carpenters down there in order to fix the gap in the tracks and the stopover points so that the Quick Cars could be sent back again after dropping off a group of passengers.

This had taken a day, and the journey itself had taken a day too. Roshi Coffi and Zummi, with their magic, were able to help in little ways, including the construction of a third Quick car that could carry someone who was ill, and magically cleaning the tracks of debris and fallen stones.

Upon finally seeing South Gumton the reaction of most Gummis was disbelief. Certainly the forest was green with spring leaves, and the Gummi Berries grew here in bright well tended bushes. But the warren itself was a mess of dusty infertile earth and a dried out old tree that would need lots of work to bring back to life. At least the roots were still living, even if the rest of the tree looked dead.

But Prince Gusto was quite hopeful, so many bears had immediately swarmed upon the mess under orders of their superiors to tend to the place. It was already starting to look beautiful inside. Rocks and leaves and broken furniture were pulled out of the place, a temporary roof was being built in the old dining area where the ground had caved in, and the greenhouses were being cleared out to be used as spare rooms and workshops.

"We're good at getting things done in a pinch," the Gummi named Tarra had told her with amusement at her surprise.

She was learning their names rather quickly, much to the surprise of the Gummis. They were the most put off with having humans in their midst, and rather stunned to meet human beings capable of understanding Gummi speech. For five hundred years they had lived in the new world, having no contact with any Englishmen; Spanish settlers and natives were the only humans they'd had for neighbors in a long time. But coming back to this country, and England, was an exercise in adaptation and learning how to communicate with other Gummi tribes again.

But Cala and Cavin were two strangers whose ways and language they didn't understand, and it would take awhile for them to be trusted. At least they both helped to clean out the warren, and found a nice room away from the main group to set up pallets for her father and Unwin.

"Humans...What next?" Sir River had said derisively, not yet knowing then that they could both understand him. "Ogres too?"

Cala had laughed at his comment.

"I think it would be much too crowded in here to have ogres in," Cala had responded in perfect Gummi, much to his chagrin.

Cala continued to make her way through the warren, on a mission to help Sunni with her duties in any way. The New Gumbreans gave her various looks of interest and panic as she passed them, but she simply kept a smile on her face.

At least Gusto agreed to me keeping the amulet a secret from the majority of them, she thought carefully, putting her hand to her chest to feel the necklace that lay sleeping under the fabric of her dress. We monarchs have to look out for one another.

She found Sunni in the kitchen, hastily helping Grammi put food onto trays for everyone.

"Landsakes!" said Grammi as she bustled around the kitchen. "We have to get everybody fed quickly so I can start the kettles for the first day's batch of Gummi Berry juice."

"Do you have enough berries for making juice today?" Cala asked, helpfully lifting a tray from the table.

"Tummi and his group have gone out now to go pick berries. They have all the younglings with them, it should be done quickly enough," she smiled at Cala and gently tugged on her dress. "Now you two just take these trays to Gruffi and the other carpenters hard at work topside, then come back and I'll give you one for Gusto."

"All right," Sunni said, turning with the tray and slipping out of the kitchen, Cala close at her heels.

"And tell everyone you pass that the soup is ready!" Grammi called out as she was leaving. "People with working feet can come get their own dinners, its the sick I have to worry about."

Cala chuckled as she and Sunni made their chattering way through the warren to ground level, where the carpenters were bent over blueprints of the warren, hands on their heads.

"We need to improve water quality here, and try to bring life back to this old tree," Gruffi was saying, pointing to the warren tree with much distress. "We've got flowing water for us, we should take care of this tree also. Otherwise our warren will die out before we can even get our shirts hung up."

"A dam is a proper idea," said Sera to him. "We could fill out this whole area with a nice pond and help the Treefolk propagate. Of course we'll need a bridge to connect us to the warren, but I don't see that as being hard. All that water would be lovely."

"We don't know where the water will go," said another bear hastily. "It could flood us out of house and home all over again!"

"Which is why we take the proper measures to see that it doesn't," Sera replid. "We board up our own areas tightly, have specified routes for Gummis to reach topside, then block off all the rest. We could make that old ruined dining hall into a drainage well or as part of the pond system by blocking off the doors and putting down some stone walls."

"I still say its risky..." said the bear, whose name Cala remembered as either Yanni or Yammi, something to that extent. "We have other important projects to do."

"But we have lots of hands to work on them now," Sera argued.

"Look, Yanni, we're already planning to build new rooms in the opposite direction towards the Gummi Berry patches," Gruffi said, confirming Cala's guess as to the name. "So why not use the old rooms for other functions than their originals? I think having a pond surrounding the warren is a good idea, and if the pipes or the pumping station ever have problems we can access fresh water right from our own back yard."

Cala and Sunni both coughed pointedly, and the carpenters jumped in embarrassed nervousness.

"We've brought lunch," says Cala, and quickly relayed Grammi's message about anybody who wanted more would have to go to the kitchen for it. "And I have to say I like the idea of having a pond around the warren."

"Oh?" Sera raised her eyebrows. "Why is that?"

"Because at Dunwyn we had a moat around the castle for its protection, right? Its a good way to keep intruders out."

Sera looked at her for a moment in total amazement, and the Gummi carpenters all looked at one another. Then Sera laughed.

"I like your thinking, human," said she.

"Cala please. Now, we have to go take a tray to Gusto, where is he?"

"Oh," Gruffi sighed. "He went to bed already. Tell Grammi I'll take a tray to him as soon as I have a break. I wouldn't want to wake him from his nap."

Cala nodded, feeling a little worried as she went with Sunni back to the kitchen.

This was turning out to be a day full of surprises. But the idea of having a nice pond surrounding this old dying tree brought a momentary lifting of her spirits.

It would be just like Gummi Glen.

Gusto curled himself tightly into a ball, burying his face in his arms and pulling a blanket over himself. His vision was swimming. He could feel his chest constricting tightly.

I need to be well again...I have too much to do to be sick...

A wave of nausea passed over him and he shivered, body shaking under the covers.

I lie down to rest, just as Grammi wanted me too, and then this. The damning headaches and the pain in my leg. Or is it numbness? I can hardly tell anymore. One leg hates to move and the other hurts too much to move. What is wrong with me?

Nobody seemed to know. Coffi and Zummi had been searching the Great Book and all their reading materials for any source of information that could help them diagnose his problem. Roshi had listened to his list of symptoms patiently, and had promptly shaken his head.

"I've never heard of anything like this before..."

None of the healers seemed to know either. They gave him strange brews and sang strange songs over his head to try and route out any demonic sources of problems.

Superstitious nonsense!

But some days he just felt paralyzed. Days in which he couldn't move even a bare inch from where he sat without hurting. He felt as if he were passing into a coma every time he came in and out of sleep. He lay there waiting for some end to this unbearable situation. Some ease to his burden in any form.

A timid knock at the door startled him, and a smiling familiar face peeked in at him smiling.

"Gruffi?" Gusto mumbled, sitting up with much difficulty.

"Grammi's sent food. How do you feel?"

"Terrible," Gusto said, slurring his words a little and looking down at the distasteful broth in front of him. "Not hungry."

"Oh Gusto," Gruffi sighed, putting an arm around his shoulders. "Don't be stubborn. You have to eat."

Gusto leaned into that shoulder and just cried.

"S'not fair," he wept. "Need to be well, for the people..."

Gruffi nodded, and scratched the back of his head.

"Which involves you getting food, and rest," Gruffi said, pushing the broth towards him.

"Don't know what's wrong with me," Gusto argued. "Nothing works. Eating doesn't work. Nothing works."

Gruffi looked alarmed for a moment, and Gusto looked at him, eyes watering.

"M'dying," Gusto said tearfully. "I need to...choose an heir. Gruffi...I...can't choose you..."

"I know," Gruffi said, eyes going damp. "I can't inherit because I'm too old, Roshi told me. But Gusto, you aren't going to die. I'll find a solution for this illness, I'll find a cure. Even if I have to go to the ends of the earth to find it."

Gusto nodded and closed his eyes.

"In meantime...bring...bring me Cubbi..."


"Cubbi. Need to choose sooner or later...might as well be him. He can start his squire training then, nobody will be able to argue with it anymore. He'll be perfect. He's already our son. Yours...now mine too."

All Gruffi could do was bow his head. Gusto bent forward to kiss his lover's head gently, and then pulled the bowl of broth closer to himself.

But as he mentally prepared himself for the idea of death, he closed his eyes and saw before him something strange.

"Gruffi...I'm seeing something odd..."

"What's that?"

"Floating islands...in the misty swamp...and The Great Willow Tree...its beautiful..."

A horrified Gruffi watched as the tray slid from the bed and crashed upon the floor as Gusto collapsed, rolling off the bed in a tangle of lifeless limbs.

Gruffi closed the door of the old library, and looked at those assembled therein. Roshi had a look of extreme caution on his face, as if fearing that any word he spoke could be trouble. Sir River was expending most of his time being hostile towards Cala, who was only there because her addition to Gusto's magical chain made her a part of the council. Cubbi was only there because Gusto had chosen him for an heir, and he had to be aware of what would happen if Gusto's soul passed on and he managed to pass the Heart of Gummi onto Cubbi in the process.

Besides them were Ursa, Sera, Grammi, Tarra, Marma, Zummi and Coffi. All the Heads of each division, from the head fisher to the head healer. Some other adults who weren't in positions of power had also been invited to attend. Nicco and some of Gruffi's friends, and some of Sir Rivers Knights, as well as some Barbics and Sir Thornberry.

They crowded the library in a severely quiet group. It was too quiet for the sheer number of people present.

"Is he really dying?" Cubbi suddenly said, breaking their pensive silence. "Isn't there anything we can do?"

"I don't know," Roshi said immediately, approaching the boy gently. "But the fact that he gave his heir a name automatically connects you to him. All you have to do is touch hands in fact, and he can pass it on to you."

"If he ever comes out of this coma," Grammi said softly, crying gently into her apron.

"All we can hope for now is that the symptoms clear up in time for us to do some good. That this passes."

"And there's nothing in the Great Book about this at all?" Ursa asked entreatingly.

"Nothing," Roshi agreed. "We must be prepared for any possibility."

"Roshi," Gruffi said, finally speaking up in the midst of his grief. "Gusto's last comment, before he went into the coma, was something about a big willow tree and floating islands. Does that sound familiar to you?"

"Oh it does to me," said Sir Thornberry, injecting himself into the conversation. "Sounds just like Tangleroot Warren. They say its home to some of the best healers in the Gummi world."

"You mean that place really exists?" said Sera. "I thought it was just a fairy tale."

"Perhaps," said Roshi. "But the legend says that Tangleroot has more books on medicine than the Great Library of Ursalia. Its possible that there could be a cure written there, even if there are no Gummi Bears present in the warren."

"Tangleroot is a myth!" Coffi said.

"Well myth or no myth, I'm going to find out," Gruffi said. "I'll search every inch of Drekmore if I have to, to get to Tangleroot."

"We'll come with you!" Nicco said immediately, standing to his feet.

"Oh no," Sir Thornberry said mysteriously. "You see the trick of it is that only one Gummi Bear can navigate through the swamp at a time. A bigger boat won't make it. You have to go through it one at a time, and you can get easily lost in those swamps. Bottomless, they say..."

"Yeah, I bet they say a lot," Coffi mumbled. "We have no time to waste on a myth. We should be looking for other cures, and start training Cubbi in his duties as an heir."

"You sound like you've given up already," Grammi said hotly. "Let Gruffi try."

"Excuse me," said Cala. "But I have an idea."

"Nobody asked you," Sir River said thickly.

"Let her speak," Roshi said acidly, giving Sir River a glare. "Go ahead then, Princess."

"Well, human medicine is bound to be different than Gummi medicine. Maybe I could sneak in and bring back some medical books from the old castle...it might help the healers to have a different form of medicine available to try..."

"Not a good idea," Gruffi said at once. "Dunwyn is swarming with ogres."

"And Drekmore isn't?" Cala said hotly. "In the least we need those books. The healers should know how to take care of my father, even if they can't help anybody else! They're barely trying to help him!"

Ahhh, I see now, Gruffi thought smartly. She wants to learn some medicine herself, but she can't read Gummi writing.

"I don't see why we can't do both," Roshi commented, sharing a look of amusement with Gruffi. "We'll see what human medicine can offer to us and Gruffi can go decide, once and for all, if this fabled swamp warren exists. Either way we don't have much time. Coffi, you and Sir River will be in charge of instructing Cubbi. The rest of us will continue working as always. The sooner we get the warren into shape again the sooner we'll have more time to devote to serious situations that may arise, such as this."

As one they lifted from their chairs to go start organizing themselves. Cubbi came over to Gruffi and stood at attention before him. Cubbi looked a little odd in his squire uniform.

"Are you sure you don't want to bring me with you, just in case?"

"I think it would be too dangerous," said Gruffi, giving Thornberry a questioning look from where he stood across the room grinning like a chesire cat. "I'll move faster by myself. I really don't know if that old bear's story about only one bear at a time traveling through the swamp is accurate, but I can't take any chances."

"I'll be worried about you," Cubbi said, and hugged him in a rather cublike manner, regardless of the fact that he was nearly twelve years old now. "I'll miss you."

"Drekmore is just a stone's throw away," Gruffi said, swallowing softly. "I shouldn't be long. If it exists, I'll find it quickly. I promise."

Cubbi was finally ushered away from Gruffi by Coffi, who started to placate the boy by telling him stories of the old warrens and Gummi Knights who guarded the gates of Ursalia from a fierce and terrible dragon. Roshi followed him, interjecting his own parts of the tale, since the dragon turned out to be Araskis, the dragon Roshi himself had fought to the death in Yandragil Mountain. It was ironic to think that both Roshi and Araskis survived after all.

Gruffi swallowed as Cala approached him and bent down to look at him in the eyes.

"I'm sorry I made this about my father's health," she said. "I just want something..."

"You want to learn some healing," Gruffi interupted. "Everybody wants to learn a little bit of healing right now. We all feel helpless and vulnerable when we don't know how to fix our own problems."

She nodded, then bent down to kiss his forhead.

"Safe journey to you, Gruffi."

"Safe journey to you too kiddo..."

Chapter 27: Chapter 27

Chapter Twenty Seven: The Thunder Rolls

Sunni Gummi sighed quietly, and lifted Gusto's hand in her own, feeling his pulse with her fingers and trying not to feel hopeless. Darkness was creeping over the new infirmary, but she couldn't bring herself to go try and rest.

After all that had occurred, she had finally decided to stay working in the infirmary. She found she enjoyed helping others and learning how to heal them. It brought out some of the best in her.

And it made Gruffi proud of her.

"You look after him while I'm gone," he had told her, pack on his back and a pain in his face. "Keep him warm and safe."

"You'll find a way to help him," Sunni had said. "He did the same for you, in a round about fashion."

Gruffi had smiled at that and had left her fully in charge of caring for Gusto. Of course Marma was there to aid her, but she had told Sunni that her healing talents were far above most of the other trainee healers.

"You might be ready to learn some surgical techniques soon. Fortunately we don't have many patients right now so you won't have to practice any yet."

The door creaked, and thinking it was Marma come to relieve her of her duty, she put Gusto's hand on his chest and gently pulled the sheets around him.


Sunni jerked her head up and smiled at Nessa.

"Oh, what are you doing here?"

"I couldn't sleep," she said. "I keep thinking about everything. I wanted to draw Gusto, for a permanent record. You know he did portraits of everybody but himself."

Sunni nodded and shuffled her chair sideways so she could settle a stool next to her.

"Its a great thing that we found so many locked up rooms and hallways here, lots of room for everyone now..."


Sunni watched as Nessa gently sketched on her pad with charcoal. Her eyebrows creased in a way that reminded her of Gusto during one of his inspirational tangents.

"Do you think he'll be okay?" Nessa asked, looking at the bed.

"I don't know," Sunni said, shaking her head. "A coma is very weird. He's eating and sleeping, but he isn't conscious; we have to feed him and change him like he's a baby. Sometimes he makes sounds and you think he might be waking, but he doesn't. Its heartbreaking."

Nessa immediately leaned in to give Sunni a shoulder to cry on. The two girls remained embracing for a long time, until Marma finally did come and tell them both to go to bed.

Tomorrow we'll be busy with the planting and the harvest of the last Gummi Berries, and I'll be learning some human medicine from those books Cala brought us. Its going to be a busy day...

Little did she know how right she was.


"Our spies report that they've taken over the old South Gumton warren, ma'am. Prince Augustus is apparently very ill. Young Cubbi Gummi has been named as his next heir should he not survive."

"Excellent work," said Councillor Wooddale primly.

"Tell Sesil and Tulli that their bravery and courage will one day be faithfully rewarded," Welsi said smoothly.

Immediately the two Knights bowed and left the council chamber.

"Well, brother? What do you think? Do you think this will be an easy assignment for our Knights?"

Welsi smiled a toothy smile at Councillor Wooddale and she crossed her hands.

"Very well, send out Sir Plucky and his best Knights immediately to save our Prince."

It had been entirely too easy to convince his sister that he had been the wronged party. That Gusto had been stolen by Roshi and his rebellious followers and was being kept under his control. All too easy. The council of Gummadoon was ready to believe anything if it meant getting their Gummi Medallions back.

And even though Welsi had no medallions at his disposal, he was able to still keep two Gummi Bears under his magical control using his own dark magical amulet, powered now by the magic of Araskis. He had chosen to control the minds of the valiant Knights Sir Plucky and Sir Blastus.

This work will be short order...Sir Plucky and his crew will be a force to be reckoned with, and with Gusto too sick to do anything about it they will easily be able to take control and kidnap him. The boy will inherit so he must be taken too. All we need is one Medallion. Sesil, Sesil my loyal servant, will try his best to steal a Medallion. That bear Zummi isn't exactly as skilled with magic as other wizards. It wouldn't be any waste to relieve him of his.

Welsi chuckled to himself and followed his sister out of the Council room towards the audience.

This will be like picking Gummi Berries from a bush.

Araskis couldn't have said it better himself.

Grammi Gummi slammed down her frying pan with a sigh.

"All right, Tummi, get your hand out of that cookie jar! You're supposed to be helping Grubbi clean those fish!"

Tummi gave Grammi a bashful look and went back over to where Grubbi was cleanly slicing up the fish that the fishers had caught this morning.

It seemed to Grammi as if life was almost getting back to a peaceful normalcy. Gummi Berries were now almost all harvested, they had enough Gummi Berry juice for the next winter, and the warren was now even cozier than Gummi Glen had once been. It wasn't an odd sight to see several women in one of the common rooms knitting. The Barbics not only had Ramas to look after here, but sheep as well, so warm clothes were in abundance, even if they weren't made of fancy materials like cotton.

Food was plentiful too. The farmers had managed to start a late planting of some late season veggies. Lettuce, carrots, beans and radishes had all been planted and wouldn't be too long in coming, thanks to some magical influences on the part of Coffi. All sorts of fruits were already ripening in the branches of the trees around here, apples and cherries ready for plucking. The water was fresh and full of fish and other water species for catching and the hunters were finding no lack of game to trap.

Cubs were now playing out in the meadow every day, which was how it should be. The carpenters had put up solid fence around the more dangerous areas to keep the cubs safe, such as the gorge. Which wasn't so bottomless anymore; a rock slide had filled in the gorge and turned it into a ravine that was painfully similar to the ravine at Ursalia. But it was still forbidden to everyone to go near there and so the fences were built rather tall, with signs alerting all to the dangers of falling. The Knights and Barbics now patrolled the borders of their territory to keep an eye out for danger.

Also surprising was how beautiful the valley was becoming with just a bare two weeks under their care. Sera and her builders, and the smiths and all the workers were already hard at work building the pond that would surround and protect the warren tree from danger. They were even taking Cala's advice about a moat and making the bridge that crossed the gap over the water a floating one that could be sank by pulling a lever if anybody tried to get on it who wasn't welcome. The miners had gone off to the safe end of the ravine to start searching for any minerals they could procure for making tools and they had plenty of firewood and fuel. Even those who were ill in the infirmary were already showing signs of good health from just two weeks of rest and healthful eating.

All except Gusto. He remained comatose and pale. Every day different Gummis would come in to visit him and talk to him. Roshi said that speaking to him might help him. Cubbi came in every day to hold his hand and talk to him, in case Gusto was ready to pass on the Heart of Gummi.

Nothing. Nothing at all. No sign of a change in his condition. Not even a twitch of his eyebrows. Nor did he gain or lose any weight.

In short, everything was well in the lives of the Ursalian's save for their Prince. He had sacrificed it all to give them this warm fertile earth and blessed sunlight. He had fought everything to bring them here, and was now paying the final price for it.

Grammi couldn't see how he would ever survive. He was slowly dying by inches. It was horrible to witness.

Now I gotta feed over a hundred Gummi Bears and I can't stop thinking of Gusto. Come on Grammi Gummi, its time to get this pottage cooked and the sausages fried. Its not gonna cook itself!

"Grammi!" said Sunni, coming into the kitchen with a smile. "The carpenters are ready to start filling the pond! Do you want to come watch?"

"You go on ahead dear, I have lots I have to do."

"All right!"

Sunni kissed Grammi's cheek and hugged her tight. It was fortunate that the two of them were underground and safe when the Knights of Gummadoon decided to roll down upon the valley like thunder.

Chapter 28: Chapter 28

Chapter Twenty Eight: The Floating Isles

Gruffi Gummi swore under his breath as he pushed past another branch and felt his anger quicken when it snapped in his face.

I swear this forest is mocking me, thought Gruffi as he struggled through the thick undergrowth. If there is a swamp on the other side of this forest I'll be a monkey's uncle.

But there was a swamp on the other side of the forest. In fact, he stepped right into it, swearing as he sank nearly up to his waist in muddy water.

Great, thought Gruffi, as he struggled through the thick mess. Just great.

He discovered that the swamp here wasn't too deep, but the farther he went in the harder it got to navigate. The mud beneath his feet was an impossible quagmire of sludge. All over his head the trees were tall and imposing. The water at their roots was heavy and dark like the mud he was squelching through. But his patient splashing was rewarded when he found an old raft; two short planks lashed together and a paddle, barely big enough for one Gummi to sit upon. It was attached by a worn knotted rope to a tree that stood out in the middle of the quagmire of mud and swirling waters, as if it had been waiting for him to find it.

Not that I need it now, Gruffi grumbled. I'm already muddy...

It was impossible to navigate the water without it though. As he paddled along the waters through the trees he noted that the trees were becoming farther and father apart and the water was becoming deeper and deeper. It was like rafting upon a lake and he could look into the water and not only see his reflection, but the faces of hundreds of little fishes as they passed by under his boat.

So this is why its called the Bottomless Swamp, thought Gruffi with a smile. You can't see the bottom. But its probably there somewhere. Makes it hard to navigate, not knowing how deep the water is...its certainly moving very fast now...almost like it has a current...a current?

Gruffi was nearly toppled right off his raft when the first of the floating islands came at him. He yelped and quickly paddled sideways, darting to the left as the island lazily and quickly floated by him. It was a mound of earth blanketed in grass about five meters across and two meters high. And it wasn't the only one, as Gruffi deftly slid around it he could see, before his eyes, other islands of the same size and similar shapes to this one, floating past him and around the clearing like little sentries. They bumped against one another, against the trees, and then backwards again, bobbing around the swamp like apples.

Gruffi found navigating through them as great an obstacle as trying to steer Tummi's boat. He had to paddle swiftly and deftly as they came towards him, two trying to pincer slice him in half and having to quickly jerk his boat sideways just in time to keep them from toppling him into the water to his potential doom. It was like navigating through a labyrinth and he was soon finding it difficult to remember which way he had come.

But there was a slight pattern to this madness. He found himself swirling in a forward motion, for all his turning and darting, being navigated by the islands in a certain direction. Rather than avoiding them, he followed them them through the water until he found the forest was opening up ever more around him. He could see the islands beginning to break up, their motions slowing as he came out into a causeway of water that pulled him forward into a clearing of pale glassy clear water.

As he glided along the water, like a slick wet stone gliding over an icy surface, he noticed how polished the water seemed. How clear and radiant. He could almost see down to the bottom here and when he looked up he could see the sunlight streaming down as it broke through the leaves of the trees in great beams of light, sending a cascade of colors down to the surface of the water. Those thousands of little fish were now thousands of tiny little rainbow lamps under the water, glowing and darting under him in jeweled patterns that totally distracted him. Butterflies darted around the branches of the trees. A thousand birds made their homes here, welcoming him in a chatter of wild bird calls that momentarily stunned him.

By the Great Gummis!

And there before him, like a great obelisk rising from the water, was a great willow tree of such height that it didn't seem logically possible. It had to be twice the size of the Gummi Glen and South Gumton trees combined. Its long tendril vines swayed through the breeze and tickled along the water as if trying to catch the rainbow fish within their leafy palms. Its roots were great hands that grasped the the water with many thick fingers that were wider than Gruffi's head. And in the branches of the trees Gruffi could just barely make out rope ladders and branches that connected the forest to the massive willow holding court in their midst.

Forms and shapes were darting along these rope bridges now. Gruffi felt his exhaustion from the journey coming over him as he watched those shapes, fearing the worst, fearing that he would be attacked before he ever had a chance to speak. As the shadow shapes formed at last into the shapes of Gummi Bears, coming out of hiding from the branches of the trees, his raft was pulled by the current towards the willow as if by an unseen force.

I shall never forget this journey, thought Gruffi, as he finally felt hands pulling him up onto the great roots of the tree, since there was no ground here to stand on. Never...its like I'm in a dream, or waking up from one.

"A'right there," said a voice near his ear, in a strange accent. "All feeling better? It can be a bit difficult traveling around here if you don't know your way."

Gruffi lifted his head dazedly to look into the eyes of what could only be a Gummi Warrior. But this was no Gummi Warrior that he had ever seen.

Tall and roan furred, this Gummi bear was covered in strange tattoos and face paint. A long trailing black rooster comb of hair rose from the middle of his head and fell down sideways to his waist in a thick curtain. Never had Gruffi seen a male with so much long hair. This Gummi was bare save for a loincloth, and he carried a bow and arrows over his shoulder.

"I'm fine," said Gruffi. "Thank you. My name is Gruffi."

"And mine is Diomi," said the warrior, bowing his head. "Welcome to Tangleroot Warren."

Many of the other Gummis that were now coming down upon him were likewise armed. But other bears who came wore more clothes. There were women and men, all of them in a mixture of different clothing styles that was rather odd. Gruffi thought for a moment that they were cautiously concerned and mistrustful of the stranger in their midst, until a familiar voice in the crowd called out his name.


At once Gruffi felt his chest being warmed by the site and sound of Chummi Gummi, who pushed through the crowd to pick him up and spin him around laughing.

"Gruffi! Well ain't you a sight for sore eyes. How you been?"

"I've been better, I'll admit. But I'm good now. Its good to see you."

"Hey Chummi, this is a friend of yours?" asked Diomi smiling.

"He is," said Chummi chuckling. "You can call off the tribe lad."

Diomi put two fingers together and whistled and half the bears present retreated into the warren. Immediately the woman nearest to him wrapped him in a warm blanket and his pack was taken from his shoulders. They were leading him into the warmth and safety of their home, satisfied that somebody there knew him and therefore he was safe to let into their warren.

Gruffi was grateful. He was tired now. His arms and legs felt like dead weights from a day spent trekking through the swamps of Drekmore and paddling a boat in search of the very place he had finally stepped foot upon. Tangleroot Warren.

Some luck had come to him at last, now he only hoped they could help him cure Gusto. Before it was too late.

Gruffi soon found himself sitting in the middle of a large and rather comfortable dining room, which had a rather large and picturesque window that looked out into the water of the swamp. Little fish and large lazy trout were swimming past the window before him, and the great roots of the tree was now surrounding them in their embrace. All that was keeping them from the water was about a foot of solid glass window and some amazing under water architecture, which was not just a remnant of the Great Gummis from ages past but was still practiced to this day by the current occupants. Most of the warren lay underwater in this way, with large expansive windows and beautiful vistas of tree roots and aquatic life. The Great Tree itself housed the residences and a library and storage rooms for all the various important supplies of the inhabitants. And yet the tree was still living, still growing, and thriving under the care of its inhabitants.

Of which there were many. Gruffi had never seen so many bears before. Not even in Ursalia when the New Gumbreans had arrived. There had to be over five hundred bears here, maybe even a thousand, all in various costume of dress.

"Have some tea," said a kindly old lady handing him a mug.

Her name was Maggie, one of the cooks here. She had a kindly old face...mint green fur and she seemed...almost...familiar somehow.

"Welcome to Tangleroot," said she as she found a place to sit.

They hadn't asked any questions yet. They had merely given him a tour, with Chummi explaining who they all were and where they had all come from.

It turtned out that Chummi was Tarra's long lost husband. Tired of Welsi's rule, and the slavery of his wife, he had set out to the Northern Continent and met up with Diomi and his people there in hopes of getting their help in fighting against Welsi. Diomi was one of the descendants of those who had escaped from New Gumbrea two hundred years previous and his band had been living in peaceful commune with human natives. When they discovered that Welsi had left New Gumbrea, both groups had decided to team up and had taken Chummi's flying ship back over the seas in hopes of finding the Glen Gummis again to warn them about the New Gumbreans and the unrest in the New World.

Instead they had accidentally been shot down in the swamp by a Tangleroot archer, who mistook them for an enemy of some kind. When the situation had eventually been figured out, they had decided to stay in Tangleroot. It hadn't been a long time, but there had been already hundreds of bears living in the warren when they arrived, those descendants of the Great Gummis that had stayed behind to maintain this warren. And those who had fled here from Ursalia during the last war.

So all together there were a bunch of different groups inhabiting this warren. New Gumbreans who were led by Chummi, the warriors who called themselves the Makwa, led by Diomi, and the Tangleroot Gummis, lead by an elderly Gummi male named Brunewood.

It was quite a crowd.

"But enough about us," Chummi said laughing, as food was being passed around. "What about you? Why are you here, what brings you all the way out to Tangleroot?"

Gruffi sighed, and put down his cup for a moment.

"A lot has happened in the last year. The New Gumbreans returned to Ursalia," said Gruffi, turning to look at Chummi, whose face turned cold. "We've barely been able to break free of Welsi's rule but there has been a terrible price paid for all of us. We've had to abandon Ursalia and are settling in South Gumton. However, its not been without its troubles."

He began to tell the entire tale, not sparing them anything, feeling his hurt and his pain in his voice as he broke down in front of them, his last resolve wearing out as he came now to his task at hand.

"I came here looking for some cure, or some explanation for the why Gusto is sick. None of our Healers have seen anything like this, and our wizards have confirmed that it's not witchcraft. So what can we do? While they try out human cures and start Cubbi's training, I've come here looking for answers, or any sort of book or knowledge that could at least tell me what is wrong. It may have been a hopeless gesture, going out in search of a mythological place in hopes of finding an answer...but...but..."

He bowed his head and wept and Chummi nodded.

"Its love driving you, Gruffi," said Chummi. "I can see it in your eyes as plain as day. You're hurtin'. But you found us, you did. I think we could at least let you stay here and see what you can find out."

"Even better," said Brunewood, rising to his feet. "Our Healers will help you in any capacity. Many of the old traditions and Healing techniques of Tangleroot are alive to this day, although we have no Gummi Medallions now to help."

"Well, that's the thing," said Gruffi, smiling sadly. "If Gusto dies, and if he doesn't pass on the Heart of Gummi to Cubbi, then there won't be anymore Medallions again ever."

"We will try our best to stop this. Our Hippocratic vow as healers forbids us from not giving aid to those who seek it."

"Especially those who are willing to navigate the bottomless swamps of Drekmore to find us," Maggie said with twinkling eyes. "I will certainly help you, if only for the chance to see my Grandson again."

Oh! This is Teddi's Grandmother! Gruffi thought. Well I'll be bounced! I thought she looked familiar! He looks just like her by Gum!

More food and more tea and some strange bitter alcoholic brew that was a beverage the Makwa had brought over with them when they had come. Food in abundance and lots of bears all sharing their names, and their stories.

It's going to be all right, Gruffi thought, accepting their stories and their conversation and all the warmth it brought to his battered soul. Its going to be all right...

"Do you think he'll be all right?" Maggie asked, as she tottered into the library after Brunewood.

"He's fine," said Brunewood, shuffling over to one of the shelves. "I'm more concerned about the news he brings. We all felt the Heart of Gummi calling to us, but our Prophecies tell us we have to wait here until the moment is right to rejoin our Prince."

He reached for one of the books there and Maggie settled herself onto a chair.

"We have to help Gruffi, and the Prince, there's no doubt about that," she said.

"We'll give Gruffi a night to rest and recuperate before we start gathering the proper materials needed. He's harboring some wounds of his own and he may need some healing."

"Mm hmm..."

Brunewood sat at the table and flipped open the book he had chosen.

"Its a good thing we keep good records of everything. Replacing old books with exact copies and keeping all the old knowledge intact."

"What does it say Bruni? Are we to go with him?"

He flipped the book and sighed, putting his fist to his chin.

"It says, 'Oh Warriors of Tangeroot, oh Healers good and true, will thou fly forth to South Gumton warren to the aid of thy Prince? When his beloved comes to your tangled tree, will thy heart be ready to leave the brightly beaming bows? Do not tarry, linger not, or all your efforts will be for naught. Do not argue or stay behind, or a massacre is what you will find.'"

Maggie lifted her head and stared at him.

"Our ancestors were quite literal weren't they?"

"Yes," said Brunewood, eyes for a moment crossing. "By fly, literally, we must use Chummi's airship to make it to the Southern warren with all haste."

"But...a massacre?"

"The Prince is ill and weak. He will not be able to protect his people," Brunewood stood to his feet. "They would be no match if a great force were to come upon them."

"So we have to go," said Maggie.

"Our best warriors will come with us, and our best Healers...which means me and you."

Maggie smiled brightly and Brunewood reached out to touch her hair.

"You'll see your Grandson, dear heart."

"He'll be surprised to see I've grown so old," said Maggie brightly. "I wonder how old he is?"

"Fell thing indeed to mess with time. The Knights of Gummadoon have more in common with the New Gumbreans than they realize."


Both of them just nodded and spoke no other words. Brunewood pushed the book towards her and she flipped through it.

He suddenly jerked up his head when the door clicked open.

"Well good morning," said Brunewood, as Gruffi pushed the door to the library open.

"I couldn't sleep," Gruffi said, wiping his eyes and shuffling into the library. "Its hard to sleep when Gusto is lying so close to death. We've only been lovers for such a short time..."

Brunewood smiled, noting Maggie's discomfort. It was apparent that Gruffi was comfortable with his relationship to his Prince, even if nobody else was.

"Some subtlety is needed, my friend," Brunewood said gently, offering him a chair. "Not everyone here in Tangleroot will be as delighted by the relationship between you as you are. Humans even jail and execute couples like yourself."

Gruffi nodded and sat down and Brunewood closed his book promptly.

"Hard to be subtle at this time in the morning," Gruffi said with a yawn. "I just want to know he's going to be okay."

"Okay then. Well, lets do a diagnosis. Give me the symptoms of his illness and I'll start searching for a proper cure."

Gruffi grinned and started to list the different symptoms off hand.

"Hm...trouble walking, one leg hurting and one leg rather numb. Slurring speech, headaches, nausea and dizziness...and now this coma..Hm...Well Gruffi, those are quite some symptoms. Did he injure his head?"

"Not according to him," said Gruffi. "Roshi said his being underwater for such a long time could have damaged him someway."

"Ah," said Brunewood, pulling a book from a shelf. "Lack of proper air can do permanent damage to the brain. Lets see..."

He started piling up books onto the table and Maggie started to flip through them.

"Gives me a good picture of the problem," said Brunewood, using a pen to write down everything upon a piece of parchment. "My first hypothesis, at this point, would be that Gusto has had a stroke."

"I agree," said Maggie, opening her book. "A blood clot has formed in his head and its interfering with the functions of his brain."

Gruffi stared at them both and Brunewood finally stopped writing.

"We can't be entirely sure. A hundred percent would be making use of a medallion to perform a full diagnosis spell. Its the sort of thing only a Healer wizard is capable of doing. We alone understand the subtleties between a magical diagnosis and a physical one. Its probably true that your healers couldn't have figured it out, even with medallions. Its a spell, I think, that only Tangleroot Healers are adept with."

Gruffi nodded and leaned his chin on his hands. He looked quite interested, yet dozy. Brunewood decided now would be a good time to tell him about their plans.

"We must not delay," said he. "I think it would be prudent for me and my healers to bring some of the New Gumbreans back to their families. I think that Diomi and his warriors might enjoy a trip out to the new warren. Your people need allies and I think we'll be good allies indeed."

"In place of any advice from Gusto on the matter, I have little choice but to agree," Gruffi sighed. "I just know Welsi is going to try something with the Knights of Gummadoon."

"Great Gummis," Maggie breathed. "Gum forbid there should be another Gummi war."

"We may just have no choice in the matter," Brunewood said, closing the books and stacking them atop one another. "Our grace period of peace ended five hundred years ago. Our peace was only possible because we had started to isolate ourselves from human beings. They saw our peace as a sign of our magical superiority and wanted it for themselves."

"But now...now we're back. We haven't had true peace in five hundred years. We've been fighting against Welsi with our minds," Maggie shook her head. "And the Tangleroot Gummis have had peace only because they've stayed so isolated."

"Wars and disease have reduced Gummi Glen and Ursalia to a handful of bears," Gruffi said with a nod. "We have to fight for our right just to exist."

"Now Welsi would control the Heart of Gummi," Maggie said. "The Prophecies tell us of the rise of the Prince, and the season of war his crowning heralds. The Council of the Gummis, made up of a body of ruling Gummis from Gummadoon and Ursalia, saw this as a sign of the Prince's dictatorial rule, and sought to bring an end to the Royal family. Now we may have come to the culmination of their efforts. A chance for them to take over."

"Not if I can help it," said Gruffi. "I know the Barbics and Sir River's Knights will be ready to fight if it came to it."

"Truth," said Brunewood. "But are they capable of handling Welsi's followers and Gummadoon? A city which is housing over a thousand Gummi Bears?"

Silence. Brunewood nodded.

"We'll bring Chummi's group and the Makwa with us, and hopefully we can start setting up a defense around your territory to protect your people. I'm sure the Makwa would be happy to be out of the swamp and into a region which is more like their own territory back in the New World."

"Yes," said Maggie with a giggle. "They've even been talking about driving the ogres out of Drekmore."

"And thats another problem," Gruffi said, throwing up his hands. "Duke Igthorn and his ogres have taken over the peaceful Kingdom of Dunwyn. The King, his daughter, one of his knights and one of his squires have been taking shelter in South Gumton with us because it isn't safe for them to return home. Ogres are everywhere."

Gruffi explained that situation and Brunewood sighed.

"I think its important that the Gummis fix their own mess first. From that activity, change can occur for the humans. Having a strong united Gummi society will make us better able to stand against the ogres."

"We need the Knights of Gummadoon for that. Dunwyn is their territory now."

"Oh fiddle faddle," Maggie huffed. "Gummadoon. No bigger group of human haters in the world. Coming to a peaceful union with them will be an exercise in patience I'm sure."

"Hey, we convinced them of Cavin's good worth," Gruffi said smiling. "I'm sure we can convince them about Cala and her people."

"Maybe," Brunewood sighed. "The Gummis of Tangleroot went into hiding because they feared animosity with humans would bring them to war, the way it had with Ursalia. We wanted to remain peaceful. We were just as guilty of hating humans as Gummadoon, but we were passive about it."

Gruffi nodded and sighed.

"A lot of block heads to bang together," he snorted. "But we'll do it. We'll manage."

"All right," said Brunewood with a chuckle. "So then, the hard part; telling our warren about the great need before them, and hoping they will be ready to unite for the purpose of protecting, defending and obeying the rule of someone they've never met."

Chapter 29: Chapter 29

Chapter Twenty Nine: Cutting To The Bone

When Gruffi and the Tangleroot Gummis arrived to South Gumpton in Chummi's airship, Gruffi had a sickly fear in his stomach that maybe they were too late to do any good. The skyline blazed crimson as a forest fire raged across the landscape. A desperate battle was being joined now next to the warren and the pond that Gruffi had helped so carefully to design was now a quagmire of mud and bodies. Chummi landed the airship and Diomi raised his spear up high.

"Makwa warriors! Now is the time for us to rejoin our people and reclaim our heritage! We must now to battle these foes and protect our Prince and his chosen Heir. Let us fight now! Sound the horn!"

A horn cry blasted its loud trumpet through the air and drums sounded. Diomi and his warriors leapt from the airship, followed by Gruffi and the other Tangleroot Gummis.

"Fight!" shouted Diomi. "Protect the warren! Protect our Prince!"

"Diomi wait!" shouted Gruffi. "You don't know who is who, friend or foe!"

Diomi stopped and smiled.

"Then come with us, brother Gruffi, and we shall see who is your friend and who is your foe."

As a group they converged upon the battle scene. Ursa and her Barbics were driving the main force of Welsi's soldiers, now wearing the armor of Gummadoon Knights, away from the warren, where the most damage had been done. But at the sight of so many armed warriors coming to fight the Knights beat a hasty retreat. Diomi's forces swept across the glade with their arrows and spears, chasing after the retreating forms until they had fled high over the valley ridge. Gruffi saw that Sir River and his gang were with the Treefolk trying desperately to put out the fire and keep it away from the warren. Gummis were running left right and center with water buckets and weapons, nobody knew who to trust or where to go and there were bodies on the ground, many still and lifeless, others moaning in pain from their injuries.

"Gruffi," said Ursa, as he approached her. "Thank the Great Gummis you're here!"

"Are we too late?" said Gruffi sickly, looking around at the chaos.

"No you're right on time," said Ursa, taking a cursory glance around the valley. "Sir Plucky and his band thought they'd try and distract us by starting a forest fire. They then went after the warren to try and grab Gusto, but Roshi sealed the tree shut with magic to keep them out. But...but they took Cubbi and...Buddi."

She looked stricken. Gruffi reached for her and she leaned on him.

"They took my son Gruffi, they took Buddi," she said, eyes wet. "They took him. They took all the boys. They couldn't get it out of us...which one was the Heir. They couldn't recognize Cubbi, see Coffi, in a moment of smarts, used a spell to turn them all pink. So they couldn't recognize him and took them all. They took my cub, my son..."

Gruffi growled and held her for a moment as she shook her head. She was trying hard to say something but it must have been hard for her to get it out for her words were shaking and forced through her teeth.

"Sesil took Zummi's medallion, attacked him while his guard was down, him and Tulli together. They...broke his hands, and tortured him. Oh god the things they did here! G-Gruffi! It was...it was..."

She broke at last and buried her head into his shoulder. Ursa and the Barbics had always been warriors, and had fought with human farmers and settlers for control of their homeland. But they weren't blooded soldiers, and they had not been prepared for the slaughter and pure horror of a real battlefield with real armored soldiers. Gruffi held her long enough to help her calm down, until finally Gritty managed to pull himself from the fighting to come to her side. Together they managed to calm her down a little, and Gritty told Gruffi the rest.

"They took the boys back to Gummadoon," said Gritty hotly. "Kidnapped Coffi when he wouldn't hand over his medallion. We stopped them short of killing poor old Zummi. But he's in rough shape."

Brunewood and his healers were now moving over the battlefield, helping people to their feet, assessing their injuries. Healer Brunewood was quickly met in the middle by Sir Thornberry. Both bears looked at one another in complete happy recognition, and Gruffi could just strainingly hear what they were saying to one another.

"Bruni, I knew Gruffi would find yeh, I knew..."

"And I knew just who it was who sent him to us," said Brunewood in response chuckling. "Brother. My brother Thorny. You look like shit."

Both Gummis chuckled and laughed, and Sir Thornberry helped his brother carry the wounded to the warren.

Thornberry and Brunewood are brothers? thought Gruffi in shock. No wonder he knew how I could find Tangleroot! He must have gone to visit there so many times!

Eventually Brunewood and Maggie came over to Gruffi's side, along with Sir River and some of his uninjured soldiers. Chummi had been reunited with his wife Tarra, and the two lovebirds were currently amorously and tearfully kissing. Gruffi had to jerk his head away from the sight of them in jealously.

"Oh heavens," said Maggie. "Its just what we feared. War has returned to the Gummi people at last. Our peace is over."

"Better get the wounded inside and the dead laid out for burial," said Sir River. "At least we have enough folks here to keep out Plucky and his Knights. If they decide to come back."

Sir River's face was bleeding and he looked maniacal, almost insane with fury.

"Gruffi, we cannot let them get away with this horrible abomination," he said hotly. "We cannot let them go unpunished..."

"Revenge will only result in more revenge, and more bloodshed," said Gritty, looking quite serious. "Our best hope is to heal Gusto and deny the rascals anymore magic."

"He's so sick now," said Ursa tearfully. "The power of the Heart is fading. My own shield crumbled right in my hands."

"As did my sword," River said with a nod. "Without young Cubbi, we must trust to the health of Prince Gusto to save us, and that is failing."

"Then lead us to him," said Brunewood fiercely. "Let the Healers of Tangleroot save our Prince as we have studied and practiced and prepared for these long years!"

Sunni Gummi found herself swamped as the infirmary was suddenly full of bleeding, wailing Gummis. Anguish filled them and sorrow seemed to have spread rampant across the whole warren. She wanted desperately to be by Gusto's side, helping heal him, or assisting with wrapping Zummi's poor hand. But she instead found herself carrying trays of sterile needles and thread to the Healers as they stitched wounds, saw that the dressings on people's wounds were properly changed, helped Grammi feed them, and changed them, and didn't get any time to get off her feet for a moment until the Tangleroot Healers entered the infirmary and announced that they would be giving their aid.

At once she was relieved by Marma to go sit with Gusto in his private room and make sure he was changed and comfortable. She pulled her bloody apron off with some relief, throwing it into the nearest hamper before grabbing a fresh one and slipping into Gusto's room with a soft sob of anguish. She never knew that being a Healer could be so painful! But then she calmed herself down and tried not to make too much noise, upon remembering that she and Gusto were not alone.

Roshi was sleeping in a chair by Gusto's bed, from where he hadn't moved for hours. He had been working hard magic to protect them all inside the warren, and had collapsed exhausted from the effort.

Sunni wasn't sure how long she would have to put up with all this horrible mess. But she took a moment of pacing herself by the door before she started cleaning Gusto.

"Its going to be much better around here," she said quietly to him, though she wasn't sure he could even hear him. "Now that we have more Healers, and all the new warriors. Makwa I think Gruffi called them. He's taking a bath right now. Healer Brunewood wouldn't let him near the infirmary until he and everyone else had rested up. He's out there helping heal Zummi's hands."

Before Sunni had been apprenticed to the Healers she had maybe seen only one man naked before, Gruffi by accident one or two times. Tummi once maybe when she was a child. Accidentally of course; they had all lived in the Glen together and those sorts of mishaps sometimes did happen amongst a close family.

But now she had become so used to stripping down her patients to clean them and look at them for injuries that she didn't feel anything untoward as she started taking off Gusto's clothes.

But he was very very beautiful even in sicknes. And it was hurting her to see him this way. His body was almost wasted now. His ribs were sticking out and his hip bones were hollow of any muscle and flesh. He was so sick that she wondered if he would ever recover. If he even could.

She had just finished putting on his clothes when a soft knock and the arrival of others broke her from her duties. She stood to her feet and put her hands in front of her apron as Healers Brunewood and Maggie came in with Gruffi and Sir River in tow, as well as Healer Marma, who was looking bloodstained and exhausted.

"Goodness," said Brunewood, approaching Gusto's side. "He looks like death."

"Bruni..." said Healer Maggie, coming to his side. "Can you help him?"

"I'm not sure," said he. "This would depend on whether Roshi can lend me his medallion."

Healer Maggie was apparently Teddi's grandmother, and was horrified that he had been kidnaped by her ex-husband. Sunni had brief introductions to them earlier, but now she could see them close and in person. Maggie did look a lot like Teddi. But she also looked a lot like somebody else, somebody in this room.

"Roshi," said she, bending down to shake the old bear into wakefulness. "Roshi, brother. Its me."

"Maggie," said Roshi quietly, eyes going moist upon seeing her. "My other sister. Now I have seen you both."

"Molsi is corrupted by her husband," Maggie said sourly. "My twin has turned her back upon her brother and children."

"And now it is her sister that must speak some sense in to her," said Brunewood firmly. "Right my love?"

"True that," said Maggie with a stern frown. "I am grateful that at least my brother is still true. Brother?"

"M-maggie," Roshi said, half choking. "What have I done? What have I done?! Look at him, look at him dying! I should have been there! I should have listened to my instincts, and been by his side when the dam was flooded! But I was selfish! What have I done to you Augustus? What have I done?"

Maggie comforted him, putting a hand on his shaking shoulder. Gruffi made a hushed noise of despair and Marma consoled him, putting an arm around his shoulders.

"Roshi," said Brunewood softly, bending down to look the oldster in the eyes. "I know we are strangers, and we have never met before now, but I must ask you to trust in me and lend me your Medallion. So that I may heal his hurts, and undo all damage done."

Roshi looked suspiciously at Brunewood and Maggie moved at once to take his hand, twining their ring fingers together, pointedly, so that he could see they were married. Roshi nodded, but then shook his head.

"I am torn this day," said Roshi. "Between my duty and my wants. I would want to help Gusto, I would want to help him, my son, my son who I cannot acknowledge, even in his mother's death. My blood son..."

"Roshi!" said Maggie in horror.

"Do not be so offended," said Roshi, eyes damp. "The King could not have children, and so they asked their servant, their most faithful, to give the Queen a child. How could I not but obey? But I have learned to love my son, this boy I raised, and left him alone on some timeless Island, alone to the elements while I was frozen in stone. I did not want to see him have to take the throne and suffer all that his parents suffered. I was selfish."

Maggie nodded, the look of horror melting away at once in sympathy. Roshi sighed, putting his face on his hand.

"Yet I am torn between my duty and my heart," he continued. "Part of me wants nothing more than to hand over the Medallion, and see my son cured and well, even if he'll never know I am his father by blood as well as heart. But...but I am bound by my life to keep the spirits of evil locked within the Eye, the ones that still remain there. They cannot join Araskis and the others that left, for their united power would be a horrible force that I do not think I could face again. If I don't have magic to control them, if the power fades from my living body, then I would just as well hand my Eye over to Welsi this very day!"

"Roshi," said Maggie. "I do not think the key to defeating these demons of yours is in trapping them in a magical Eye. Five hundred years my sister and I were Seers, predicting the future, and never did we See this. And I can see now how hard this trial has been upon you. You may just find, brother Roshi, that the answer you so desperately seek lays there right by your side."

Roshi turned to look at the comatose Gusto, eyes wrought with grief.

"You are not the only one who loves and needs Prince Gusto," Brunewood put in gently. "Perhaps this love is such a dire need that it is a greater responsibility then keeping your demons in control. You have had two burdens here before you Roshi. It is time to let go of one of them at last."

Roshi started to cry softly, an old man's tears for the hard choices he had made in his life. He finally reached under his shirt and passed the medallion over to Brunewood, shivering with obvious fear and sorrow at this difficult choice.

"Take it, take it," he said desperately. "Take it if you must. Only heal him. Save him. Don't let it all be for naught!"

Brunewood took the medallion, covering Roshi's hand in both of his for a moment, before taking the medallion and approaching the bed. Sunni shuffled to the side and let him near. Gruffi came over and took Sunni's hand tightly in his, whilst Sir River, quiet this whole time, came over to put a comforting hand on Gruffi's shoulder. Sunni could see now that Brunewood was holding the Medallion over Gusto, dangling it from the chain with his eyes closed. He was working with magic now and the Medallion was moving slowly over Gusto's body of its own accord.

The Medallion quickly found Gusto's sunken face, and when it moved there the Medallion started to glow, a pulsing sickly gray color that was difficult for Sunni to look at. Brunewood opened his eyes and nodded.

"It is just as I thought," said he. "A stroke. It is taking the Heart of Gummi all the energy it can spare to keep the blood clot in his brain from killing him. It must be straining because of the power flowing through the Medallions."

"Which explains why my sword and Ursa's shield disintegrated," said Sir River smartly. "They aren't medallions, so they cannot pull power from the Heart of Gummi to keep themselves intact while he's in this state."

"Very clever," said Brunewood with a smile. "So now we must do what I had feared we must. We must perform surgery to remove the blood clot and make sure that he bleeds no further."

"You mean, you're going to open his head?" said Gruffi, suddenly stricken. "But..."

"I have done it twice before," said Brunewood firmly. "It is a matter of having the right tools and instruments at my disposal. I may need to get the right implements from Tangleroot."

"Or take Prince Gusto back there with you," Sir River said at once. "He must be kept safe at all costs, and at any cost we will protect him."

"Tangleroot is well protected," said Maggie. "But severely isolated. He cannot rule his people from there."

"No he cannot, but this is not about ruling, its about his very survival," said Brunewood. "In days long passed memory Tangleroot was the center for all healing in the Gummi world. It is my opinion that we bring all the severely wounded to Tangleroot for their healing, including our Prince. Meanwhile, the Makwa and remaining New Gumbreans will repair the damage here."

"I agree," said Roshi firmly, startling them to looking at him. "Sir River, I think you should gather together with Diomi's tribe and whatever force you and Ursa Barbic have and start training together in earnest to keep this place fortified."

"I think this is a proper path," said Sir River. "I think uprooting too many Gummis from here would just further displace us. You are right; let the severely damaged go to Tangleroot where they can fully mend without interruption. Take the Prince with you. Let those who are well and hearty stay here in the valley."

"And let those Healers who are young and in need of training go to Tangleroot," said Brunewood, looking up suddenly at Sunni. "I shall need a good young apprentice to teach my surgical techniques too. Brain surgery is something only I have aquired a knack for. So what do you say Miss Sunni? Will you come to Tangleroot to learn the true arts of Healing? Will you help me perform surgery on Prince Gusto? Healer Marma has given you the highest praises."

"I...I don't know," said Sunni, looking at the pale form of Gusto on the bed. "Me? Help you do surgery? I don't know."

"Please go Sunni," said Gruffi at once, taking both her hands. "I would feel safer knowing you are away and safe in that place. Its beautiful and you'll learn a great deal there. I don't want you back here in South Gumton until there's peace again. I can't risk losing another cub..."

His body shook and his eyes misted over.

"Yes all right," said Sunni, looking flustered at this emotional display. "I have a request though," she said firmly, turning to look at Brunewood.

"Yes, what is that?" asked Brunewood, looking highly amused.

"Will you be willing to bring King Gregor and Cala with us?"

Brunewood looked highly startled.

"What? Humans? But why?"

"King Gregor's condition isn't improving," Sunni said pressingly. "And Cala wants to learn healing too. So we could learn to heal together. And we can heal both our fathers."

"Fathers?" said Gruffi softly, and he touched Sunni's shoulder. "By Gum."

Sunni hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek.

"I know how much you mean to each other. But Gusto is like a father to me. He's family either way, and I know how Cala feels, I know how she's suffering, because I am too."

Brunewood made a choking sound of laughter and smiled.

"Very well. Princess Cala and King Gregor will come with us. But only them. I fear too many humans might cause a stir with my very traditional people."

"Cavin is going to stay here and help us repair the damage Plucky and his Knights have done. And Unwin will be going back to Dunwyn soon enough," said Gruffi wryly. "I dare say that he is quite commendably well behaved now that Cavin had been proved right about the existence of Gummi Bears."

"We will have to alter Unwin's memory," said Roshi. "I know humans will be learning of our return quickly enough, but the sooner we delay that knowledge the better."

Gruffi nodded silently. But then Sunni put on her full Grammi mode and huffed.

"Well! If we're taking Gusto to Tangleroot warren then I have to finish dressing him and feeding him. All of you out! Out of here and go talk about this somewhere a little less depressing! You all look so grumpy and broody you could make a boulder look like a lively little fairy!"

Gruffi laughed and hugged her tight, the first real laugh she had heard from him since Gusto had fallen ill.

And it wasn't just her imagination, but at the sound of this laughter, and the chatter of excitedly talking voices around them, Sunni could swear that she could see the corner of Gusto's mouth twitch up into a smile.

Chapter 30: Chapter 30

Chapter Thirty: A Method To The Madness

Gruffi hadn't been kidding. Tangleroot Warren was absolutely beautiful. Sunni found herself moving through the halls as if through a dream. A water dream, will full glass windows which looked out onto vistas of fish schools and the tangled roots of this warren which were its namesake. All the halls and rooms of this warren were appointed in lavish golden oak carved furniture and wood paneling, the floor runners and curtains in bright crimson cloth that was different from flax. Silk, which Cala had told them was a very rare and rich a fabric.

"They must weave it themselves, I don't know where else they would get such quality fabric," she had said, "Its made from the cocoons of moths," she had added, admiring the curtains as she walked along with Sunni through the hallways, Nessa close in tow.

Nessa. Sunni wasn't sure why they had brought Nessa with them, but she was glad the girl was there. Perhaps to give her a change in scenery away from South Gumton, or maybe she just wanted to tag along. Perhaps she needed healing of a kind and that was why Marma had pointedly sent her with them. Whatever the case she was here, and Sunni was never more grateful to have her here than now.

"What do you think?" said Nessa quietly, as they moved their belongings into their shared room. "Do you think you'll be able to save Gusto?"

Even though Tangleroot was large enough to house everyone at South Gumton three times over, the two girls had chosen to room together for their own comfort. Cala had pointedly taken the room next to where her father was being kept, and for their part the two humans were not causing too much of a fuss with their presence.

Sunni even had the privilege of hearing King Gregor's reaction to Tangleroot Warren when they had arrived.

"By all that is holy, I never thought I would ever see such a sight. Maybe I have died, this certainly is like heaven on earth."

Sunni had to agree. The trees and their beautiful fronds gently playing in the water, the thousands of rainbow fish, birds and winged insects, the bright sunlight peeking through the branches; it was all so peaceful and beautiful, yet full of life.

Its the perfect place for healing, she had realized with delight.

"I don't know, but I'm going to do everything I'm told and listen very carefully so I don't accidentally make mistakes," Sunni said, feeling her nerves creep up on her.

"Aren't you afraid of...the blood?" Nessa asked fearfully, pulling a brush out of one of her packs to try and detangle her hair.

This was the only sign of the old vain, clothing loving Nessa that Sunni had seen since her memory of her parents had returned.

"Oh I'm used to blood, I'm more scared of the fact that we're opening his head. Today I have to learn how to use their little bone drill thing...which is really scary..."

Nessa continued combing her hair, and Sunni felt her heart getting lighter and lighter with every stroke of the brush. But when Nessa started humming and Sunni burst into tears.

"Sunni?" said Nessa. "What's wrong?"

Sunni jumped up and hugged her tight.

"I was afraid you would never come around!" Sunni had said. "I thought you'd be blank faced and pale forever!"

"I..." Nessa's lower lip trembled and she smiled. "I'll be all right. Yeah I miss my parents," she added, then paused. "I miss them very very badly. But...but I can't be selfish. Everyone needs me right now. Thats why I wanted to come here. To help, even if helping is just doing laundry and washing dishes."

Sunni sniffled and rubbed her eyes.

"Don't worry, we'll be sisters," she said. "Gusto and Gruffi can both be our fathers!"

"One for each of us!" Nessa agreed, then she giggled quite mischievously. "I claim Gusto!"

"Oh sure!" said Sunni, catching quickly onto the joke. "Take the only one of them who can't lecture you!"

Both girls giggled, the first real sign that the two of them were starting to recover from their whole painful ordeal, and then put on some fresh clothes to go off in search of their day's duties.

"Are you sure it is wise to have a young girl in with us when we operate?"

Brunewood looked up at the question pointedly, noting the firm look that Healer Marma was giving him.

For all that he had wanted to have Maggie with him back at Tangleroot, he knew she had unfinished business with her sister to finish, so she had been left behind. In place of her was Healer Marma, who had all the smarts and intelligence of Maggie, but none of the gentleness. She was round and dark furred and grumpy, and rivaled Gruffi in sheer snark.

"Marma, I examined the patients that Sunni tended at South Gumton very carefully, including Gusto. Each one of them differed invariably from the patients that Sunni did not approach in a Healing capacity."


"Sunni's patients healed faster," said Brunewood pointedly. "They bled less and were of better temperament and color. She knew exactly what they needed, when they needed it, and why. Gusto, as a matter of fact, has been mostly surviving because she knew exactly when to be in the room with him, what to say to him to encourage his sleeping mind to keep fighting the sickness. She knew when he was uncomfortable, when he needed feeding, she knew it all. I watched her."

"Come again?" said Marma, eyes going wide at the realization. "You mean...?"

"Seers often have different ways of using their talents," Brunewood said gently. "Miss Sunni is using her talents, however passive they are, to Heal. It is a much better use of the Sight than Maggie and Molsi use it for. I think its better not to tell Sunni about it, and to let her continue use her abilities in this way."

"So, you're saying she'll know what to do even before she does it?" Marma suggested.

"Yes," said Brunewood. "To be blunt, she'll probably be telling me what to do. I haven't done surgery on a brain in ten years. And from the looks of it I was lucky with my attempts; brother Thornberry is still alive, if somewhat less sane."

"You...operated on Thornberry?" said Marma. "I thought that scar on his head was kinda odd. And he never wears a hat...and that blow to the head he took by the Gummi berry juice barrel should have killed him..."

"No, he doesn't need a hat," said Brunewood with a chuckle. "He broke his skull ten years ago when he was fighting Toggles, and I replaced his skull with a solid metal cap. He's got the most well protected brains in all of Dunwyn."

"Heavens! And you're worried about healing Gusto!"

"I am," said Brunewood seriously. "This is much more complicated than a fractured skull. This is a case where the brain may be too damaged to ever heal. We may bring Gusto out of his coma, but part of his mind and many of his physical abilities may be severely crippled for the rest of his life. I don't know if saving him at this point will be doing him any favors. But for the sake of all Gummi kind I have to try."

Marma nodded sadly. Nothing more needed to be said. He was praying that the intuitive Healing skills of Sunni Gummi would help give Brunewood what he needed the most right now.

A miracle.

"Why are you staring at me like that?"

Gritty held back his instinctive reaction and coughed. Ursa was being her usual tetchy self today, so there was really no reason to be off himself.

"You're just...glowing. Pretty. From the working out and...the sweat."

Didn't come out how he wanted to. She huffed, because she must have assumed he was after sex, when they were in the middle of training with the Makwa.

"If you'll pay more attention to the exercise instead of your loins we might be able to get some training done!"

Gritty hummed and got back into position. The Makwa were showing them how to do a pole lunge of some kind which involved two spears and a broken lance with a pillow on it being used as the target. Later Ursa had promised the Makwa she'd show them her spear throwing technique. She had quite a knack for getting the target exactly in their middle.

"Up on your feet and try again!" called their trainer to all the Barbics. "Practice it takes!"

Diomi could be a real pain, he found. He was full of energy, and often seemed to think he was the expert in areas that maybe he was only average. And Gritty was not liking the way he was admiring Ursa's body.

But then again it wasn't just Diomi. Gritty had a feeling that he wasn't the only one who had noticed the glowing of her body. After the battle with the Knights of Gummadoon, Sir River had pointedly pulled Gritty aside to talk to him.

"I have never seen Ursa crying before. Are you sure your woman is quite...well?"

The emphasis on the fact that Ursa was a woman, and that she was unwell in some way, is what tipped Gritty off. Now, watching her struggle to get the exercises right, struggling to find a way to vault over the target to hit it from behind like they were shown, her rounded belly quite more noticeable now then it had been before, he was...well...

He was worried. If she were pregnant, she'd abort the baby before she even knew she was with child, with all this exercise.

"I'm just saying that we should take a break for awhile, you know, relax."

"You want to take a break after what happened?" Ursa said, glowering at him viciously.


"No," he said, realizing he wasn't going to get out of this topic now that he'd brought it up at all. "I think you need a break."

"Me?" said Ursa. "I've never been stronger!"

"Liar," said Gritty firmly, changing his tactic. "You're sweating and people are noticing."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" said Ursa firmly as he approached her.

"It means, you need to take a break," he said, then planted his hand pointedly on her curved stomach. "Before you hurt somebody else in trying to prove that you are incapable of being hurt yourself."

Ursa's eyes went up to her hairline and Gritty pressed in to kiss her.

"When was the last time you bled?" he whispered quietly.

Gritty was probably the only male in existence with the guts to ask a woman that sort of question. Ursa cocked her head to the side and he could faintly see her trying to calculate in her mind the days and weeks and all that.

But he knew it had been at least two months or even three, and sometimes even pregnant woman bled a little. He knew the exact moment she came to the same conclusion that he did when her face turned white and her mouth dropped open.

"Go see Grammi," he said, taking the spears from her hand and turning her to push her un-protestingly towards the warren. "Find out for sure. Better to be safe then sorry."

There were very few times that Ursa Barbic didn't argue when Gritty told her to do something she didn't want to do. And this was one of those times. He watched her stumble towards the Warren tree with a lump in his throat, and sighed, turning to look back at Diomi.

The Makwa and the Barbics were all looking at him with amusement and he growled.

"If'n any of you make fun of her ever I'll tie your personal business into a permanent a knot."

That got him the proper reaction as the men all turned back to their training.

Yep, sometimes all it needs is a little Gritty touch.

Diomi must have thought so too, because with Ursa no longer distracting him Gritty was able to perform the Makwa exercises with almost exact perfection.

"Hi Zummi, how are we today?"

Zummi opened his aching eyelids to observe Brunewood and Marma with despair.

"Don't know about we, but I feel like...what is it the Barbics say?"

"A Rama with his wool shorn?" said Sunni coming in from a side door. "Oh Zummi," she added, shaking her head. "You stubborn old goat!"

He pulled the blankets over himself wincing at the pressure on his bandaged hands, and Brunewood responded by pulling the blankets right off of him.

"Enough!" said the old healer. "Out of bed, into the sunshine with you," he declared. "Your fingers will need to heal on their own time, but they can do that without you spending every day in bed."

Zummi grumbled and pulled himself out of the bed wearily. Marma immediately handed him some green robes, not his usual purple.

"We'll have to work on your attitude later I suppose," she said pointedly. "Point in fact we need you out of the infirmary and in the library distracting Roshi while we're operating. We just know he'll keep hovering around the infirmary and you're the only other wizard for him to talk to."

"I don't have a medallion anymore," said Zummi pointedly. "I'm not a wizard."

"Oh yes you are!" said Sunni. "Otherwise anybody could be a wizard!"

"A wizard knows his spells by heart, knows the Gummi heritage and is a well versed and capable scholar," Brunewood said point of fact. "A wizard is a wizard before he casts a single spell."

Zummi wasn't so sure about that. But the three Gummis were glaring at him so firmly that he didn't argue, just pulled the green robes achingly around his tired body and stood to his feet.

"You can help Nessa too," said Sunni pointedly. "She's in the library sketching and she needs some models."

"Sketching?" said Zummi, looking perplexed.

"Miss Nessa is going to make many illustrations for our medical manuals," said Brunewood proudly. "Her realism and attention to details makes her the perfect person to do this job, one that I've been putting off for some time."

"It was my idea," said Sunni without any modesty. "She needs something to do here."

"Right," said Zummi. "Right, fine, okay. I'll go pose for her."

He fumbled out of the hospital wing of the warren towards the library. Then he remembered that there was more than one library in the warren and wondered which one to head to. He was pointedly helped out by a passing Tangleroot Gummi, who didn't introduce herself and went off in the other way as soon as Zummi had his directions.

Everyone coming and going and so much happening, and I've been laying in bed doing nothing. Well I'm going to do something, even if its make sure Roshi doesn't agitate himself to death.

But it wasn't only Roshi and Nessa he found in the library, and it wasn't them that the three Healers had pointedly sent Zummi to the library for, because the two of them were together bent over books, working on updating the medical catalog all on their own. They quite pointedly didn't need Zummi at all to keep them distracted.

No, the subject purpose of his being here was sitting at a table near a window, with a book out in front of him, staring ahead of him at nothing.

They tricked me! thought Zummi. They knew Gruffi was here and they tricked me into coming here!

Zummi hadn't wanted to talk to Gruffi yet. Not with the way he was feeling, and the way Gruffi was feeling. Gruffi was going through hell without his lover, and without Gusto there to bring him back out of that hell he wouldn't be coming out of that hell anytime soon. Zummi wanted to sympathize and console him, to let him know that he understood.

But he was a coward. A coward who couldn't acknowledge how he felt about himself.

I'm a coward. Coffi was taken away because he protected the kids. I could be there with him, I would be, if I hadn't been a coward and handed over my medallion. I should have been there with him, protecting him!

But the current problem here wasn't his unrequited affection for the other Gummi wizard. The problem here now was Gruffi. He hadn't wanted to deal with Gruffi's sheer despair. It seemed as if nothing could console the gruff brown bear from the moment Brunewood had admitted that they were going to open Gusto's skull. It seemed almost as if Gruffi had already buried Gusto in his mind.

It was a sort of despair that Zummi did not want to have to face, because it would remind him of his own pain. His own loss. But he couldn't put it off any longer. For Gruffi was staring into the darkness of the waters beyond the window as if for all the world he wanted to be out there in those dark deadly waves drowning within them.

"Gruffi," said Zummi, ignoring the looks Roshi and Nessa were giving him from where they sat. "Come on, get up, lets go for a walk."

Gruffi shook his head, but did as he was told.

They didn't even need to leave the library to go for a walk, because the library had many floors and levels and so many sections of books that Zummi could barely keep his eyes off them. And he had been sitting in the infirmary like a grumpy guss while all these books were here just waiting for him to read them. But he couldn't yet.

Not yet.

"You, are over reacting," said Zummi pointedly, ignoring the Tangleroot library's lovely big copy of the Great Book Of Gummi. It was locked anyways.


"Brunewood has done surgery on people many times," said Zummi, though he was grasping a little at straws for memory of the conversation's he'd had with Sunni about the Healer. "He operated on Thornberry."

"Yeah, and look how loopy he is!" said Gruffi pointedly.

"He's alive," said Zummi. "I think you need to look at the big picture here. I mean, look at where we are!" He spread his bandaged hands around the warren with a feeling of triumph, like he had gained a hand in a game of poker. "Tangleroot Warren! With the medical heritage of this place, how can you be worried about Gusto's health?"

Gruffi looked at Zummi for a moment, and the old wizard looked back at him, expecting him to try and make up some shoddy excuse for why he should be behaving this way.

The answer that came, however, was not what he expected.

"Because I love him," said Gruffi, and Zummi could practically feel the other bear's hurt in his own chest. "I love him, and if he dies I just know I will. I hurt so much can't take it anymore. Zummi...I'm afraid that if he does recover...he may not be the same Gusto anymore."

Zummi looked into the despaired face of his friend and sighed.

"Nobody ever stays the same Gruffi. Gusto isn't going to stay the same bear forever. He hasn't been the same since the day the New Gumbreans stepped foot in Ursalia. The point is that he loves you too, and he'll need your love in order to recover as much of his strength as he can."

"Yeah," said Gruffi. "Yeah. Just, a part of me wants to just keep him here with me at Tangleroot forever, and the other part of me knows he'll have to leave sometime."

"He'll have to be a Prince eventually," Zummi said pointedly. "He can't rule from a hospital bed."

Zummi was startled when Gruffi threw his arms around Zummi and buried his face into the bear's chest crying. It had been forever since the two friends had last hugged, but here it was, and Zummi wasn't sure whether he was comfortable with it or not. But then again, considering whom his current interest of the heart was, he wasn't exactly able to take the role of superiority anymore.

"He is a Prince," Gruffi sobbed. "He's my Prince and I love him!"

It seemed Gruffi was inconsolable and nothing could untangle his hands from around around Zummi's neck. But if this was how he would be comforted in his despair, then Zummi didn't have much choice in the matter.

Lets just hope Sunni and the other Healers are having a better time of it then I am.

Chapter 31: Chapter 31

Chapter Thirty One: Sharpness And Softness

Sunni lifted her head the moment the door opened and the two healers, robed in blue, entered the operating room.

"Healer Brunewood," she said immediately. "I'm sorry, I asked Cala to help me shave Gusto's head, she had experience with shaving her dad and..."

"You shaved...his head?"

Brunewood had such a perplexed look on his face, that for a moment Sunni felt she had done something wrong. Then the old healer smiled.

"I never would have thought of that. Yes, shaving away the fur will make for an easier operation and keeping hair out of the wound. How thoughtful of you."

Marma didn't say anything, just took her position next to the prone Gusto on the operating table. Sunni had pointedly made sure he had been stripped down, dressed in a proper robe and laid out on his side. His left side.

"This is the correct position as well," Brunewood said, as if hearing her thoughts. "You've thought of everything haven't you? And look, all the right instruments...though...what is the sponge for?"

"Keeping the wound clean," said Sunni nervously. "I sterilized everything first in boiling water. Is that right?"

"Well I'll be!" Brunewood chuckled. "I suppose its a good use for them to keep the area we are operating free of fluid. And you were correct with the boiling water. Lets not beat about the bush then. First, the anesthetic. Marma?"

Marma immediately moved to start administering the anesthesia. Sunni found that she was more and more confident in her ability to assist with the surgery then she had thought. She mentally winced with the first slice of the scalpel, but she found herself soon falling into a subconscious routine. The bone saw was easy, really, it was like cutting through butter, though she hated to admit it.

What a marvel the brain. Brunewood had told her just how many complicated functions the brain was responsible for, besides thought. And yet the consistency of the brain resembled a sack of jelly being held together with veins. And how sensitive those little veins! Poor Gusto had himself a nice big clot which had to be cleaned up, and tiny little broken veins that had to be repaired.

"Could you use the Gummi Medallion for this?" she had asked Brunewood, after watching him very carefully suture something that was no wider than a peice of yarn.

"Anyone else, I would have tried. But this is Gusto, and if the Heart of Gummi hasn't already healed this then it must not be capable of it. Though this would be a good sphere of research. Just what damage is the Heart capable of healing on its own? Hard to test that when the Heart of Gummi is a living vessel."

Such tiny stitches! When the long complicated procedure had finished, Sunni helped with putting the skull back in place, and suturing the skin back together to close up the wound. The bandages would keep the broken skull in place while it healed, and the sutures would slowly disintegrate. Bone and flesh would knit. The skull and the brain would mend.

And Sunni felt quite confident, though she wasn't sure why, that Gusto would recover.

"And now," Marma laughed. "It appears I needn't even have been here at all. You two did it all."

"Ah Marma," said Brunewood. "You have well trained this girl it seems."

But Sunni couldn't help catching the wink the two adults shared with one another. It seemed as if there was some secret between them that they weren't sharing with her.

The mystery would have to wait until another time. She had things to do. Cleaning Gusto, wrapping clean bandages around his head, dealing with cleaning and sterilizing the surgical tools, then bringing him back to his room and making him comfortable for his recovery.

And throughout all of this the two Healers watched her, proud beaming smiles on both their faces.

Yes, Sunni felt very confident about Gusto's healing. And she had an inkling feeling in her head that Gusto would soon be telling her the same.

Colors. Many colors. So many tiny dot colors that they blended into shapes of people. Humans. A parkland. The perfect subject. But it was gone is a flash of light as he blinked open his eyes.

Sunni was leaning over him, a smile on her face.

"Oh Gusto!" she said, eyes wet. "Its so good to see you awake!"

"Yeah?" Gusto said, and coughed. "Why? Am I needed?"

She then burst into tears and kissed him on the nose.

"Its been awhile. You've been in a coma for a long time."


He tried to sit up, and the most unfathomable pain pounded through his head.

"No don't move too much! We had to do surgery. Are you okay?"

"Surgery? Yeah, other than this pain, and...what do you mean 'we'? Are you a...Healer?"

"Mm hmm!" said Sunni brightly, then she leaned back so he could see the blue robes she wore. "I'm full Healer now. Your surgery, it turns out, was my final exam too. They were very impressed with me."

Gusto chuckled a bit and coughed. Pain. It was throbbing in his head.

And the pain wasn't destined to go away soon. People came into the infirmary all day long to laugh and say hello and hug him and tell him how much they missed him. Healer Brunewood came in to check his sutures and to give him a lecture about not stressing himself out, which was hard considering the number of visitors he was getting. Eventually Nessa twirled into the room to see him, showing off her own new apprentice robes and kissing his cheek. She was, apparently, Zummi's new library assistant.

"He was very impressed with my manual drawings," she said. "I'm helping illustrate all the medical manuals here, and I'll be doing illustrations for other old books too. I enjoy it. Gruffi says I'm almost as good as you..."

"Oh!" Sunni said suddenly worriedly. "Gruffi isn't here! He went back to South Gumton with Roshi to check up on things!"

"Roshi thought he should get his mind off you," Nessa said gently. "But as soon as Arte goes and brings him the message that you're awake I'm sure he'll come right back."

"Yeah," Gusto said with a wince. "Unless he's doing my job now. I gave him permission awhile ago to...Wait a minute...BACK to South Gumton? Where ARE we?"

It took a very long conversation with the girls about everything, including the attack on South Gumton, to relay everything to him, and he put his head back down on the pillow with a sigh.

"Don't let them send Arte off just yet, I'll have things to put in that letter I'm sure," Gusto groaned. "I'm almost sorry I'm awake now, so much to do!"

"Well I'm certainly not sorry for you to be well again," said an unfamiliar, yet somehow familiar, voice near the door. "For I finally get to meet you in earnest."

Perhaps Gusto had been expecting Healer Brunewood, or one of the other Tangleroot healers he'd already met. He certainly had to admit, he was quite surprised to see King Gregor standing in the doorway smiling, despite the pair of crutches he now boasted. This certainly was a day for surprises!

"Uh..." was all that Gusto could get out. "Your Majesty I...mean...why are you here?"

"No, its all right," Sunni said brightly. "He's seen the whole warren, and Roshi says he's got some sort of immunity to those memory spells so there's no point to try them anymore. He's a King after all. A good guy to have as an ally."

Gregor chuckled.

"Thank you Miss Sunni. I was wondering if I might have a private word with you, Prince Gusto isn't it?"

"Yeah, and sure," Gusto said, wincing and grabbing his head as another throbbing pain lanced through his skull. "A quick word. Then I think I want to sleep. Again."

Sunni kissed him, and made him comfortable, before slipping out of the room with Nessa, both girls talking and whispering excitedly about Gusto being awake. Gregor closed the door, having to duck his head to fit in the room.

"I must admit, I never thought I'd see Gummi Bears in my lifetime," Gregor sighed, and sat down on the floor next to Gusto's bed so they could see eye to eye. "Now I'm not sure I should be happy for it. So many problems! But nothing we both, as Monarchs, cannot handle I suppose."

"Suppose," Gusto said, feeling rather suspicious. "Though I have a war on my hands now that I hadn't wanted."

"So have I, and my Kingdom under siege by ogres," Gregor sighed sadly. "Certainly a problem."

"I'm sure you and your Knights can handle ol' Iggy. You did it once."

"Well, thats just it," Gregor said, twiddling this thumbs. "I did barely anything. Half of the effort involved in throwing Igthorn out of Dunwyn was that of Gummi Bears."

"Ah, I see where this is going now," Gusto said. "You want my help."

Gregor nodded, looking a little nonplussed.

"Look, Gregor, not to be rude, but I just woke up from a coma in which I nearly died and had my skull opened up and all that. I don't think this is a good time to discuss politics. But, if you're willing to wait until I'm in full health, I'll be happy to talk to you about it."

Gregor looked suddenly stricken. Then he laughed heartily.

"Forgive me," said he. "I had been informed, this morning, that I am well enough to go back to Dunwyn. I had been hoping to meet you before I left and this was my only chance. I shall not bother you any longer."

"Well I'm countermanding that order," Gusto said pointedly. "You're staying here, because I say so. As the Prince. And this is probably the only selfish order I'm going to give if I can help it."

Another pain, and Gusto put his head back down on the pillow.

"Oooh, ah, could you tell Healer Brunewood to bring more of that pain cure of his? I think I preferred the coma to this."

"Ah, my friend, dreams are the easiest form of thought. They require no effort on your part and are only a days patient waiting needed."

Gusto smirked and pulled the sheets up to his neck.

"Could you blow out the candle then? So I can dream a little bit longer."

Gregor laughed, and oblidged him with a soft whuff of breath before slipping out of the room.

Tomorrow, I swear, I'm going to hunt that man down and let him know who's the boss here! But...ow...my head...maybe a little more...sleep...is just what the doctor...calls for...

Sir Gumlittle shivered and covered his arms with his hands. Darkness surrounded him in these tunnels, but he dare not break his pace, not even for a moment. Slipping free of Gummadoon had been easier then he would have thought. But he'd had a long day with trying to keep the ogres away from the city, let alone all the training he was doing, and that had worn him down considerably.

Training. The taste of it was still sick in his heart. Training of the newly 'aquired' teenagers had consisted mostly of forcing them through painful bouts of dueling with Knights three times their age and in some cases three times their girth. The resultant bruises had laid the boys out on their backs in the infirmary, with mustard plasters being laid on their backs and reassurances that they would heal quickly enough.

This was not how a Knight of Gummadoon trained his Squires.

Some of the worst transgressions of all had been done to Cubbi himself. Gumlittle shook his head, trying hard not to think about it.

"You are the heir of all Gummi," Sir Plucky had told Cubbi, once they had correctly identified him from all the pink magicked young men. "That means that certain responsibilities are yours. You can be a Knight one day. You can help rebuild this Gummi world. But you will never get there if you continue to let your elders in South Gumton treat you like a cub. You are a squire of Gummadoon. If Knighthood would be your goal, then you must choose."

And every day after that had been the same. The same lectures, the same goading and needling and convincing. The constant bombardment of propaganda, the sheer brainwashing the boy was undergoing was horrific.

But not perhaps, as horrific as the beatings poor young Teddi had received from his grandfather. There was an obvious disconnect in thinking between Vigo and Gumlittle when it came to deciding which boys were suited to being Knights, and which were not, and they had fought about it until Welsi had finally sided with Vigo, countermanding Gumlittle's place over his own Squires.

Teddi was, quite rightly, not suited to being a Knight. He was thin, and sickly, and the beatings didn't help. He barely ate, and he had clung with weeping pleading to Jaci when they had dragged the defiant youngling to jail. Jaci had refused to participate in the training and had swore he would never follow the rule of Welsi or the Councillors of Gummadoon.

Jaci and Buddi both had defied them. Buddi in fact, had promised to do serious damage to Welsi and his ilk right before the Barbic was laid flat on the ground with a slap to the face.

By Sir Plucky. That was when Gumlittle knew. That is when he realized.

I cannot do it alone...my friends, my good friends, under magical control.

It was a bitter age for Gummis that he was living in. An age of war and magical trickery. Dire treachery. Therefore he had to be quick, there and back before anyone would notice he was gone. Just on a quiet 'tour of the woods to route out some ogres' that had been hinted were hanging out around there. Perfect excuse to slip off to South Gumton.

He had trouble getting his pony to go underground into the quick tunnels with him, but he didn't dare travel overland where he could be seen. His pony was able to jump large gaps and distances that Gummis couldn't and he was able to make good time.

South Gumton was very quiet when he arrived. The forest was dark and the sounds of sobbing and the heartrending wails of the mourning were enough to make him want to turn around again.

But he was steadfast. He had seen battle before. Yet fear gripped him now. Seeing whatever devastation his two friends and Vigo's group had done to this little warren was not what he wanted at this deathly time of night. But he had a mission.

He approached the first sentry, a tall elderly graying bear and a younger female with a similar appearance, the two of them with swords in their hands.

"Hold!" said the male. "Who goes?"

"Sir Gumlittle of Gummadoon," said he, breathing restlessly. "I'm here to speak with the leaders of South Gumton. I bring news for them, and my aid."

The girl looked up at her elder, and both of them nodded, leading him and his pony by sword point through the forest to the next sentry, who took his horse. Soon, as a group, they went until they reached the warren proper.

A strong burly bear was guarding the main door, and he growled upon spotting Gumlittle.

"Brought me a prisoner, Sir Thornberry?" said the gruff Gummi.

Right...my armor...he recognized the Gummadoon livery.

"Not this time, Gritty," said the old guard. "Young Kansy and me were just on watch and this one approached us. Wants to see Gruffi and the others. Says he has information for us."

"Does he?" Gritty said, holding his sword up archly. "Or maybe he'd like a turn in a cell for a fortnight first? How do we know he isn't a spy?"

"I'm not a spy," Gumlittle said quickly. "But I haven't got much time before they've discovered I've left."

"A trick!"

"No Gritty," said a voice suddenly from behind. "He wasn't with the others."

A woman with golden honey hair slipped up beside the other bear, looking at Gumlittle with obvious distrust.

"Are you sure Ursa? It was pretty crazy..."

"I'm sure," she said. "Lets hear him out first, before we make any assumptions."

Gritty nodded, reluctantly, and Gumlittle found himself being seen through the warren, his stomach twisting upon seeing so many black cloaked women and the sad faces of their children.

I only hope I can end this bloodshed by coming to a truce, thought Gumlittle with a shiver. I will stand behind my word of honor as a Knight. I will prevent anymore damage being done to the young boys.

He was greeted with vague distrust by Gruffi, the wizard Roshi, and a Knight named Sir River. The three of them looked him over, sizing him up. Gumlittle knew Gruffi quite well. River and Roshi were strangely familiar to him, though he never had met them before in life. Then he remembered. River was the son of Welsi, and Roshi the brother of Maggie his wife. It was a family resemblance that had triggered that memory, or else he would have forgotten them completely.

"Well well well, if it isn't Sir Gumlittle," said Gruffi smartly. "Why are you here? After what the Knights did to us, you expect us to trust you?"

"Gruffi," said he, bending on one knee so that he was shorter than the normally rather short bear. "I swear by my honor that I was not here for the battle, and I did not know of the damage that was done by my thieving friends."

Gruffi looked over Gumlittle, and nodded quietly.

"Speak," he said, and offered the Knight a chair.

"I will, though it hurts to do it," Gumlittle took off his helmet and ran a hand through his hair. "One, I bring the news that my good friends Sir Plucky and Sir Blastus are under magical control..."

"...of Welsi, yeah, we know about that," Gruffi said quietly. "It was easy to figure out, knowing who they were riding with."

"Yes well, the treachery doesn't end there," Gumlittle said, and crossed his arms. "The young men they brought back with them are taking a bad turn for it in Gummadoon. Brainwashing and other magical interference is being used to bend the lads' minds to Welsi's rule. Any who do not obey him, or who cannot be influenced by the magic, are jailed or beaten. And the Council of Gummadoon is under his rule now, though where he got such power to control so many is beyond me. Only myself and that wizard Coffi seem to be free of his enchantment, and I have been pretending I am controlled."

"How fares Coffi then?" Roshi asked at once. "Did he give his medallion to them?"

"No, and the thing is they cannot take it from him either, for it will not let them take it forcefully from him. But they have placed the poor oldster on stocks until he complies. Its unbearable to witness, his humiliation. All for not wanting to give them the medallion that he, with his broken hands, is unable to make use of himself to escape his fate. Young Cubbi is the only other uncorrupted one of those young ones who were not jailed. He, and that young lad Teddi, who have both been caring for the poor old man as best as they can between punishments and brutal training sessions."

"Oh this is bad," Roshi said sadly. "Gummadoon under Welsi's control. And with Gusto's health and condition still uncertain, Cubbi may indeed have already recieved the Heart of Gummi. Either way we need him out of Welsi's influence."

"We only have one choice," Sir River said stoutly. "We have to confront Welsi and take back our children!"

"I can help sneak you into the city," Gumlittle said immediately. "I know where the cubs are being kept. And let me tell you; though older than twelve the most of them, these are still cubs. These are hurting boys who are going through a troubling time in their lives. They needn't anymore of this trouble. Whats being done to them is nothing short of forcing them into being adult fighters. The squire period is one of transition, and squires are selected carefully because it is a difficult transition to undergo without knight training added to it. Some of these young men can barely hold their swords. While the eldest are being treated like dogs. For all that I am a Knight of Gummadoon, I am also father first. And I will not see young men like my son go through this pain. Will you let me help you?"

Gruffi looked over Gumlittle carefully, sizing him up. Roshi coughed a little, but River was the one who surprisingly stood and nodded his ascent.

"I too was not trusted when I first joined Prince Augustus and his followers," said Sir River. "I had broken many of my Knightly oaths, and repairing the damage is now what I live for. So I accept your word, because I trust it, as much as I can trust myself having done the same."

"Go on living then, Sir River," said a soft voice in the doorway. "For this is not a matter for men, but for women."

The men all stood to their feet as Grammi, who was carrying Arte Deco, and the Barbic named Ursa came into the room. They were followed by many other women as well, young Kansy too, all of them dressed for the rain.

"Our cubs have been taken from us," said Grammi.

"And lovers," said Kansy, standing up straighter.

"And Grandsons," said the green furred eldery woman with dimpled cheeks.

"And we're going to get them back!" Ursa finished hotly.

Gruffi jerked his head and looked up at the women.

"And what makes you think I'm going to let you go alone after Cubbi?" Gruffi said, stomping over to Grammi to confront her.

"Because according to Arte Deco, Gusto's finally woken up," she replied, ruffling the feathers of the parrot's head. "And he wants you, Roshi and Sir River to meet with him at Tangleroot Warren. Just as soon as he gives his consent to our plans we can leave."

"Oh," Gruffi said, stumbling backwards as if the wind were taken out of his sails. "Oh."

It was such a broken sound that Gumlittle almost thought the bear was going to faint. But Roshi quickly rushed forward to accept the letter that Arte Deco had in his beak.

"Ah," said Roshi, scanning the page. "I see, he's going to try and take all the medallions back once more, and he wants me there so he can make mine again, and Sir River's sword."

"But I thought he could take back individual ones," Sir River said, taking the paper to read himself.

"No," said Roshi. "Only if he can see in front of him the the one who has the medallion in hand. Otherwise he must take back them all by doing The Call."

After each male had a turn reading the parchment, Sir Gumlittle fell to his knees.

"Sirs, let me take the woman into the city to free the boys. You have my word of honor that they will be safe."

"We could bring the Makwa with us if we needed protection," Maggie suddenly said, to broach any arguments. "But if Welsi thinks we're coming in willingly to the city to be with our children then he'll be caught off guard. And this is my chance to confront my sister and bring her back to logic as well. Gumlittle can say he brought us in as prisoners, and we can get close to the children."

"Ah I see," said Roshi chuckling. "Well how can I argue with such intelligent logic? And from such beautiful young ladies as well."

The woman all laughed and Gumlittle felt a lightening of his heart at this show of defiance from a group of Gummis who were usually seen only as secondary citizens, behind the scenes in the scheme of things.

"Though, Maggie and Kansy will both have to be kissed by our Prince first to protect them from Welsi's spell..."

"We have already kissed him," Kansy said pointedly. "He kissed all the girls to protect us."

Sir River suddenly looked highly offended, but Roshi chuckled.

"Gusto certainly knows who his allies are."

That was for sure! Welsi was going to have to face the fury and scorn of not only the Prince, but the women under his rule as well.

What a force they are to be reckoned with! Now let us hope we can get there before anymore damage is done to young Cubbi and his fellows!

Chapter 32: Chapter 32

Chapter Thirty Two: Jupiter in Gemini

A feeling a disbelief had come over Gruffi upon learning that Gusto was well. It had crawled upon him almost at random, even as he climbed into Chummi's ship to go to Tangleroot Warren. Even as they got out of the ship to be greeted by the laughing smiling Zummi, who hugged him and Roshi and the reluctant Sir River, dragging them inside for warm soup and comforting news of Gusto's health.

Yes, he could not believe it. He couldn't comprehend it. Yet here he was, being led by Sunni to Gusto's room, amongst the chatter of her and her twin terror Nessa, who had adopted herself into the family without his say.

He would have to address that. Eventually. Right now he had to deal with this Gusto situation, that was prickling the back of his fur.

Worry was filling him now. Worry at Gusto's condition. Worry about how he would react to seeing Gusto again.

Worry that Gusto would not be the same bear.

Laughter came from behind the door. Laugher, Gummi and Human. He could hear Cala, and Gregor, and most of all, he could hear Gusto.

Gruffi could not believe his eyes when he entered the room at last, trying to hold back his horror and panic. Gusto was actually sitting up in bed, with Gregor sitting on the end of the bed, and he was talking to him! Laughing and joking with him!

Just two monarchs having a larf! Why I oughta...


Gruffi glared at Gusto...but he couldn't hold it. He broke down at once.

"You're alive!" he said. "Thank the Great Gummis!"

And flung himself into his Prince's arms.


"Yeah yeah, I'm here," Gusto chuckled. "You're stuck with me."

"Well, I think I now know who missed you most of all," said Gregor serenely. "I shall leave you alone then."

And without more than a nod Gregor silently left them alone together, ushering Cala and Sunni out of the door with him.

"Did you really think I was going to die?"

Gruffi looked up at Gusto and nodded silently.

"If you had died, I think I might have gone with you. I don't think I could have kept going..."

"You would have," said Gusto painfully. "Even if you didn't want to. I know you, you're a stubborn old bear."

"How are you then?" said Gruffi, unable to suppress a chuckle. "Healers must have fixed you up good."

"Not entirely," said Gusto wearily, and pulled the blankets of his body. "I can't walk. My legs are completely numb."

"Oh," Gruffi swallowed. "I see."

"Brunewood says he thinks I'll be able to walk again, eventually, but that depends upon me getting all the medallions back, including Cala's pendant. And to do that I'll have to see Welsi and his Knights face to face. I cannot do The Call in my condition. And...something magical is wrong. I'm not sure what yet. I'll be talking to Roshi about that just as soon as he gets his medallion back form Brunewood. I...made another one for Zummi. It seems he's got his old fire back. Did you know that he was in love with Coffi?"


Gusto nodded slowly, and leaned on his elbow.

"Its why Coffi and Zummi are able to fight Welsi's spell at some level. Roshi could probably explain it better, but when you're heart bonded to somebody that way, male or female, your mind cannot be completely corrupted by magic. And Zummi says he remembers Coffi from his childhood, though how they managed to be anywhere near each other to interact as children, from such a distance across the ocean, is a mystery."

"Oh I see," Gruffi said, chuckling. "So Zummi's gonna go save Coffi, I'm guessing?"

"Already left," Gusto admitted, and pulled the blankets off. "He left Nessa and Sunni in charge of the library and took off to go join Grammi and her troop. I just need you to build me a proper wheelchair so I can have a council meeting about what to do about Welsi."

"Well," Gruffi said, chuckling once again as Gusto pulled him in for a kiss. "I'll see what I can do."

Night. A stony silence under the canopy of stars. A small band of bears were approaching the city of Gummadoon. Mostly women, and a man. Well two men actually: a knight, and a wizard dressed in a woman's shawl and dress.

Zummi could swear he could hear the sound of his own hard breathing in the dark. He was disguised as Nelli, the grandmother of one of the boys that was stolen, who had the same fur coloration as him. He was hoping his disguise would pass the test, because Nelli had died in the attack. He was hoping this would work to his advantage, that they didn't know she was dead yet. But the dress and woolen shawl itched him awfully. Coffi would laugh himself silly at seeing him. But Zummi had lost some weight during his hospitalization and that would help play up his disguise, since he had lost weight so quickly that wrinkles of skin had formed on his face, obscuring his appearance. This could give him an advantage.

"I shouldn't have let you come," said Gumlittle. "But Prince Augustus insisted..."

"Its important that I get to Coffi and his medallion before they can break him down," Zummi said, breath hitching. "He doesn't know about the failsafe."

"What's this failsafe you lot keep talking about?" said Ursa said archly, slipping in besides the two of them in line.

"The failsafe, in the Heart of Gummi, is that Medallions can be used only by those with a capacity to love. If you cannot love then the Medallion dies, crumbling to dust. If you have ever loved, that love becomes a failsafe in which a person cannot be corrupted completely, from which magic can grow."

"So Welsi...?"

"Has a piece of love inside of him that is keeping him from being totally corrupted..." said Zummi. "I pyhostethize, er, hypothesize, that that failsafe is his wife. Only she can get through to him."

"So then whats the plan?" Grammi said, sounding delighted.

"I get to Coffi," said Zummi, shivering. "Then the two of us with our two medallions can do a spell to summon Gusto right into the city. It has to be done by two people."

"The closer he is to the medallions the stronger he'll become," Maggie said softly. "He'll take back Roshi's medallion first, Zummi's, and then Coffi's, and finally the one that Welsi has. If we can get Molsi to help us. Thats my job."

"Excellent," said Gumlittle. "But Zummi, I fear that they will recognize you."

"Its just important that I just get into the city. We're coming in willingly so we shouldn't get too much trouble."

"But we'll have to be careful not to stir up the nest too much before Gusto's arrival," Maggie said softly. "As soon as Gusto takes Roshi's medallion, the next Medallion in line will become the tap to the Heart. Until finally Welsi's medallion will be left. I don't know what Gusto has planned, but I hope he at least keeps one medallion in existance to keep Welsi from having that power."

"Shhh, ladies, we're approaching the gate!"

Tonight the gate watch turned out to be none other than Vigo, who glowered down upon the band of travelers with contempt.

"Hold!" he said, and Sir Gumlittle approached him.

"I found these women approaching the city from the south," he said stiffly. "They are surrendering themselves, they say, for the chance to be with their children."

Vigo looked them over one at a time, and Zummi took advantage of the rain and cold to bury himself deeply into his woolen shawl.

But it turned out Zummi wasn't of any interest. Vigo approached Ursa with caution, and wiggled his fingers at his partner at arms.

"She was fighting with them, check her for weapons..."

It was not a long search. The soldiers found no sign of weapons on any of them. And Vigo didn't even recognize Maggie under her own shawl. In fact they had been hoping he wouldn't recognize her. She had to get to her sister.

"The Barbic woman is pregnant and unarmed," said Vigo's second. "She's no threat."

"These are mostly old women, except the girl," said Gumlittle, as practiced. "She claims she wants to see that her betrothed is all right. She is, apparently, betrothed to young Narsi. And there is Narsi's grandmother..."

Zummi looked up over the edge of his shawl towards Vigo but the bear wasn't even looking at him. His eyes had settled on Ursa with an almost predatory, hungry look. He was doing this right in front of his ex-wife without realizing it! But the look of hunger subsided into something of a smile.

"Very well, take them inside to Molsi. I will report to Welsi and we can decide upon their rooms and duty assignations."

What luck! Right to Molsi, which was what Maggie had been hoping for! Zummi prayed they could get to Coffi and Cubbi as well, before it was too late!


Maggie lifted her head gracefully from under her shawl, to observe Molsi with a soft sight.

So many years had passed between herself and her sister that it was hard to remember what they both used to look like. For now they were both old and withered, both from an unnaturally long life thrust upon them by magic. But Maggie had managed to escape into the world with Chummi and the Makwa and now to look upon her sister was to look upon a stranger.

Strange what a bare ten years could do to somebody. Behind her the other women waited, and Zummi was shifting foot to foot anxiously. They had been led to this guest chamber alone, and now Molsi was here, looking like the mouse that had been caught into the proverbial mouse trap.

She recognized them all at once.

"Molsi," said Maggie, beating her to the punch. "Sister...at long last...after so many years..."

Both sisters jerked stiffly, as if to move towards one another, then Molsi rushed over to embrace her.

"What are you doing here?" said Molsi anxiously. "Have you returned to be with your husband?"

"No," said Maggie stiffly. "For unlike you I was not given the choice of a marriage of love. And this is why I come. You're married to Welsi out of love, not greed, and that love can save you both, if you'll only trust me. If you'll only change sides, help us stop this insanity!"

Molsi stiffened a bit and shook her head.

"It is too late for us, Maggie, you should not have come. This is my fate and future now. My husband will never stop. He is greedy. He has become hungry with that power..."

"He can change!" said Zummi suddenly, coming forward. "Without the medallion Araskis will lose his power. You can help us with that."

"What do you mean to do?" Molsi said cautiously. "How would you get the medallion back from my husband?"

"We will bring Prince Augustus to the city," Maggie admitted. "And he'll take back the medallions. But we must find Coffi and his medallion to do this. Will you show us to him?"

"Then he's alive?" said Molsi breathlessly. "Our Prince is alive, truly?"

"Surely, but if Araskis destroys all of Welsi's love for you, and controls him completely, then all will be lost. The medallion will die, but the possession will be complete. Your husband will die and a monster will be left in his place. It will be the same situation as at Ursalia, with nothing to save us. Your good love is what is keeping Araskis from becoming as powerful as he truly is."

Molsi made a stricken noise, then looked down at her hands.

"You know what I Saw, sister?"

Maggie closed her eyes and nodded.

"Yes, I do. I know what you Saw. I've seen the Dragon too. It was the last Sight I Saw before I heard The Call."

"Then we both have lost our powers," Molsi said helplessly, eyes damp. "Even now I fear. I cannot see my own future. I cannot see my husband's future! For the first time in my life I do not know what will happen next."

"Then let us make a start," Maggie breathed, and took her sister's pink furred hands into her own green. "Lead us to Coffi. Show us to our children. You and I together can free my Grandson, and help rescue the young Cubbi. You can help us bring peace back. Together we can do it!"

Maggie looked at Molsi, and Molsi looked at Maggie, then at the other women, then finally Zummi, and she smiled.

She had decided.

Shivering and cold, Teddi curled up on his mat of straw, staring across the room at Narsi. The other boy's blue fur and round belly were a sharp contrast to his skinny green furred companion. Teddi could not believe that he was paired with this big kid for his squires!

But he was. And Narsi, though round, was tough, and loved being in Knight training! And he had a sweetheart, that Barbic girl Kansy, and everyone praised Narsi his talents, his engagement, his successes...

And Teddi. Well. Teddi was just beaten. Beaten and given the lectures that none of the others were given about proper male behavior.

At least Jaci had been let out. Which wasn't necessarily a good thing, as he and Buddi were now both being forced to work kitchen duties, rather than squires, which meant huge piles of dishes and pots to clean and no fraternizing with the squires or upper classes.

Teddi would have traded all the success and praise in the world to be in the kitchen with Jaci.

Narsi rolled over in his sleep, round belly barely moving an inch to show that he had moved at all, and spoke Kansy's name in ruffled delight from where he lay.

"Moonbeam, precious, muffin," he cooed in quiet slumber.

Teddi stuck his tongue out.

Gag me!

A rustle of motion outside their room suddenly broke the silence and Teddi stiffened. Normally they were left alone at night. They were allowed to sleep.

The only time anyone came to bother them at night was when his Grandfather came to beat him.

Narsi was awake at once, wide eyed.

"Quick, under the cot!" said Narsi. "He's nicer when you're under the cot I've noticed!"

This was not helping. But Teddi did crawl under the cot, eyes damp and fear in his chest.

Please don't be Grampa, please don't be Grampa! Please don't be Grampa!

It wasn't. The door creaked open, in fact several doors creaked open at once along the row, and a bright green furred face was peering in upon them both.

An old and familiar face. A face that brought a sudden rush of joy to his chest and made his breath hitch in his throat.

"Gramma!" Teddi squeaked, crawling out from under the cot into order to rush forward into her arms.

"Yes son I'm right here," said Maggie soothingly, and pushed his hair away from his eyes. "Is that a black eye? Oh my dear grandson what has been done to you!"

She kissed his head, and Narsi came over towards them both, scratching his head.

"Ma'am," said Narsi. "Is this is an escape? Because I really don't want to leave..."

Maggie was going to say something, when Kansy herself flew into the cell glowering.

"Don't you dare tell me you want to stay here and join those pig headed Knights, when we've had your Barbic name picked out for ages!"

Narsi grinned fully and kissed her. Outside of the cells the other members of the escape party had come out with boys in tow, all of them looking flushed and excited.

"Come on," said Maggie. "We have to get out of here. Zummi will have found Coffi by now, and will be opening the portal. We can sneak you boys back through the portal and to safety."

"But what about Jaci and Buddi, in the kitchens? And Cubbi always sleeps in Plucky's quarters!"

It wasn't a trick of his eyes. His grandmother's face turned dark and her lips pursed.

"Kansy, Narsi, you take the other boys and go find where Coffi and Zummi are. Molsi, take Ursa to go get Buddi and Jaci. Teddi, you and I will go with Grammi and find Cubbi."

"Us?" Teddi squeaked. "Face Plucky?"

"Yes. Us. Gusto wants us to be there when he arrives. I don't know why, but now...I think I do. I pray that I'm wrong."

Zummi felt a rushing of relief fill him upon seeing that Coffi was alive, and still had the medallion.

But that relief was quickly turned to concern upon seeing the condition that Coffi was in. He was locked within a stocks in the middle of the town square, right out in the open.

It would be hard not to draw notice to his rescue.

"Better get to it," Zummi decided, and peeking around the square made sure there were no soldiers nearby before rushing across the square towards Coffi.

It was not a pretty sight. The bear's eyes were so black and swollen they seemed to be shut. His hands were broken, but unlike Zummi his hands hadn't been treated. He had lost as much weight as Zummi had during their separation and so he was stick thin. He was covered in old rotten tomatos and vegetable matter. He looked like death.

"Coffi, its me."

The other bear's head moved barely a fraction.

"Z-Zummi? S'really you?" said he, voice hoarse and happy. "You know they've been disguising their voices to try and trick me into...into..."

"No, I don't want your medallion. I have my own. You're going to use your medallion yourself to help me open a portal and bring Gusto in."

"I don't know...Zummi...how do I know its you?"

"Don't worry, you'll see noon senuff, er, soon enough. But first I've got to get you out of here," said Zummi, and he went poking around in his pocket. "Now where is that skeleton key Roshi gave me?"

Coffi actually chuckled.

"Its like you to lose it."

Zummi huffed and located the key, sticking it into the locks on the stocks.

"If it works, it should conform to the shape of any lock and get you out."

A heavy clanking of metal and a click told Zummi that the magic was successful.

"We have to hurry, the guard will have seen us by now," said Zummi, helping Coffi to stand and taking his hand tightly into his own.

"Zummi...what are you doing?"

"Its a shared spell that requires two medallions to cast," Zummi said. "And only we can do it...because we both have medallions and...because we're lovers."

"Oh, so you are my Zummi," Coffi said chuckling brightly. "Welsi hadn't known about that bit and I didn't dare share it with him. Glad I didn't, cause now I know for sure its you..."

Zummi grinned, then raised both their hands to their sky, and began to recite. He felt the magic flow through him, not just from the Medallions, but from Coffi and his heart as well. With that connection they were able to form a base. And with that fragile seat of love in place they reached out their hands together and searched, as if with a magnet, for the Heart of Gummi and the Medallion of Roshi.

And together, they called the portal to open. It was then that the shouts and thundering cries came from behind them, and the city erupted into chaos.

"So what is this spell again?" said Gruffi, sitting down next to Gusto in his wheelchair.

They were inside the warren, in the main hall, which was mostly empty save for Gusto, Gruffi, Roshi, River, Gregor and Cala for some reason, and Healer Brunewood.

"Its a spell to open a portal," Gusto said archly, looking over at Roshi for confirmation. "Coffi and Zummi will use their shared connection to provide a target that the Heart of Gummi can home in on, since the Heart can only connect with Gummis who feel love. Better to have a pair the same genders as we are...at least thats what the Great Book says anyways."

Sir River made a coughing sound which caused Gruffi to chuckle.

"And Roshi's part?"

"As my...foster father...he'll be the anchor that connects both sides," said Gusto. "Once we're all through the portal, I'll remove Coffi's medallion from the chain, thereby leaving Roshi to come with Chummi and the Makwa in the airship. It all must be timed properly. Arte will fly to South Gumton the moment we're through."

Roshi looked so bereft and concerned that Gruffi felt the need to stop himself from proclaiming Roshi's true blood connection to Gusto right there and then. But it was Roshi's place to say, not his, so he kept silent.

"So who all is coming on this insane little expedition?" said Brunewood. "I can't leave my patients I'm afraid, so I'll depend upon you to bring my wife home safely. And I know the Makwa and Barbics will be going on the airship with Chummi..."

"We'll take as many as we can," said Gusto with a sigh. "The stronger a number of loved ones and allies we have near me, the more powerful the Heart will be. Including Gregor and Cala, since I have a special job for them."

"And we're coming too!" said a girl's voice suddenly from the door.

Gruffi jerked his head up as Nessa and Sunni came in, both girls dressed for cold weather and packs on their backs.

"You are not!" he said instantly. "Its much too dangerous!"

"Yeah, and who was it that saved Gusto, twice now?" said Sunni, firmly. "And who was it who said I was as good with a knife in a fight as any full grown adult bear? Besides, I'm not gonna sit around while my future husband gets beaten up by Welsi and his goons! I'm gonna help Ursa rescue Buddi!"

"And wherever Sunni goes I go, because we're sisters!" Nessa said hotly. "We can help Grammi and the other women rescue the boys! We're just as capable as they are, aren't we?"

"And Nessa's gonna marry Sir River one day probably, so she has to be there to make sure he doesn't get himself killed!"

Sir River choked a gagging and somewhat delighted strangled sound, amidst Nessa's unhelpful giggles. Gruffi was about to protest, but Roshi chuckled.

"Twice have we been rebuked by the fairer sex. All right then, the girls come with us. Since Cala is coming I can't really say they aren't fit to help out on the basis of their gender."

"Thats right," said Gusto softly, squeezing Gruffi's hand. "They're our daughters now so their love will help strengthen me too."

King Gregor made an uncomfortable sound but said nothing. Roshi double checked his medallion to make sure the set spell was in place. Nessa and Sunni were now on either side of Sir River, daring him to argue with his newfound engagement to Nessa. For the most part he stood red faced and silent between them, looking like the proverbial puppy put in place by the master.

Poor River is already whipped, Gruffi thought with a chuckle.

A magical crackling of static electricity suddenly woke them all from their nervous silence as a round portal gate suddenly opened in front of them, giving them all a clear view of Gumadoon at night. The sounds of chaos were coming from inside the portal and Gruffi gave Gusto a look of dismay.

"Guess we'll be expected. Come on, I don't want to keep Welsi waiting."

Chapter 33: Chapter 33

Chapter Thirty Three: Death, Sex and Candy!

Silence. A dropping of liquids, dripping into a vessel somewhere, possibly a fountain. The quiet of sound that follows magic.

"There," said Roshi. "I've put the entire city to sleep. That should give us enough time to find Welsi."

"If he's even in the city," Gusto sighed, looking down at the Gummadoon guards that they'd just sent to dreamland, still half frozen in their positions of alert call to arms. "He may have skipped town the moment Coffi and Zummi opened that portal. Last thing he would want is to lose another medallion."

"There's also the possibility that he went with his knights to try and rout out South Gumton again," said River hotly. "Which would make this exercise pointless..."

"Well, not entirely pointless," said Gusto sharply. "We still have to find Cubbi."
They had not been surprised to find the city in a riot due to the arrival of Gusto and his party from the portal, and the women breaking free the cubs.

They had been surprised that the city was so quiet now. That Welsi did not put in an appearance. Defeating the Gumadoon guards had been surprisingly quick. So when Maggie and her party put in their appearance, Gusto decided to put the city to sleep. Roshi had been delighted by the idea and with Zummi and Coffi's help had begun to weave a master spell around the city to put anybody who tried to attack them or stop them in their actions immediately to sleep.

Very complicated. Gusto didn't ask Roshi where he had learned the spell, only that it wasn't, according to Zummi, something from the Great Book of Gummi. But nobody could find Cubbi. The arrival of Maggie and Molsi and the boys changed this entirely.

"Well," said Roshi, looking at his two sisters with something of delight in his face. "Do you know where to find the boy?"

"Sir Plucky's quarters," said Maggie. "And I have had a fell and terrible notion as to what may be the evil that has kept Gusto from doing The Call."

"Hm? What could that be?" Gusto queried, looking over at the women with some feeling of darkness seeping into his chest.


That softly spoken word, and Roshi bowed his head in sorrow.

"We'll have to deal with them sooner or later I suppose," Gusto sighed. "How many are there Roshi?"

"Four, not including Araskis, that are free. Araskis," Roshi sighed. "Bound four demons to himself, and that is how he became so powerful. But Araskis can only inhabit two things, my Eye, or a Gummi with a medallion. A demon, however, can possess anyone he touches. Araskis will be drawing power from the medallion to himself through his demons from whoever they possess."

"Thats it then. Well," Gusto scratched his face. "Lets get Cubbi first, then we can use him to lure Welsi out and get that medallion back..."

"You are not going to do that Gusto!" Grammi said hotly, sternly. "Use Cubbi as bait?"

"'Fraid so M'lady," said Sir River. "Father knows Cubbi is the heir. If he doesn't have the boy right now already then he'll try to get at him. That puts him in danger."

"I'll take my team to find the Cubster," said Gusto. "Ursa, you take the rest and spread out and see if you can find Welsi...its possible that our sleep spell doesn't effect him because of the medallion. Gregor, you and Cala find a place to hide nearby until I find Councillors Wooddale and Berrybowum. A couple of humans will really stick out like a sore thumb."

"Whatever the case, we only have a couple hours before the spell wears off!" said Roshi. "So lets try and get back here in exactly that time. Understood?"


Ursa took Coffi and Zummi and the rest of their group around the city in search of Welsi. Gregor and Cala went looking for a place to hide until Gusto needed them. He had a plan for them, but it would have to wait. The rest spread out into the city like little ants looking for sugary treasures. Gusto took Roshi and his sisters, Sir River, Sunni and Nessa, Teddi, Jaci and Grammi and went in the direction of the palace. They were halfway to it when they were stopped by the most unlikely figure, standing there with sword in hand and a glare in his eyes.

Its was Vigo.

"You shall go no further," said Vigo, in a voice that was unusually high. "Not a single step."

"Vigo's still awake!" said Gusto, "He's..."

"A demon!" said Roshi suddenly, emerald and brown eyes going wide. "He's been possessed!"

Vigo laughed, a high pitched hissing croak.

"Yesssss," said Vigo, in a voice that was not his. "My Lord Araskis knew that he could not draw the strength of the heart through one medallion and one bear, so he used Welsi to spread us. Each bear had the chance to touch the medallion, doing so without argument from Welsi, each falling under our power."

"Great," said Roshi suddenly. "Am I going to have to do this whole capturing of demons all over again?"

"Forget it Roshi," said Vigo suddenly. "You can't put us back in that emerald with your hocus pocus. Not any longer. Now that we have Gummi flesh..."

Roshi's face fell flat and he actually pouted.
"I remember that," said Roshi sadly. "I remember that I could control the spirits of demons who entered humans or objects, but when a Gummi bear was the host the demon would not enter the emerald, it had to be exorcized with just the right set of actions, and even then many would still choose to return to Araskis instead of me! I had to trap Araskis in the end to trap them all!"

"So," said Maggie. "Which demon is this then?"

The demon spun the sword around his head, as if daring Roshi to try and identify him. Roshi bent his grizzled head in thought.

"Now...I really don't know..."

"Wait," said Gusto, "I have an idea!"

They watched as Gusto closed his eyes to tap into the Heart of Gummi. Suddenly, in his mind, the name of which demon was possessing Vigo was in his head.

He knew them all. All the demons who had been inside him had been named, and now he could see them.

"Cnarsi," said Gusto with a breath. "Necromancer."

"Ah shit, I thought so," said Roshi, causing Grammi to tsk at his swearing. "I knew it might be him."

"Clever," said Cnarsi sourly. "Not terribly, but clever, but now you know what you must do to release me from my host; kill my host. For I am the necromancer, bringer and death, I lived and reveled in death in life, I can inhabit only those who revel in such death and destruction, such as this lovely bloodthirsty host I possess, and only death can take me."

"I...I can't kill anybody!" said Gusto in horror. "You're asking me to murder!"

"Well," said Cnarsi. "It is of no value to me to keep this one alive, for as soon as you freed me I would return to Araskis with all the energy that I have stolen from him."

"As long as the demons give him power, Araskis cannot be defeated," said Roshi sadly. "My vain search to try and separate him from his demons was all but futile, for I ended up having to trap him into the stone to stop him from his deadly dance...even trapping them, he's still attached to them. Gusto...Cnarsi is right. We can't allow Araskis to receive the energy his spirits have been gathering. We have to find Cubbi and try to take back the medallion...trap Araskis again and this time for good..."

Gusto nodded, resigned, and then they both started forward then, nervously, as if to pass Vigo pointedly, but the spirit was not going to let them just walk away.

"Hold!" said Cnarsi. "For I do now possess a body of such great fighting talent that I could keep even the stoutest of you on your feet. And since your magic cannot touch me you only have one choice...fight me, or turn back, for I will not allow you to pass."

Gusto stared at the demon possessed Gummi with horror, and unabashed dismay. Fight Vigo to the death. The idea was just so horrific to him, and the Heart of Gummi, that he was forcing himself to reach for the sword at his belt.

"Well?" shouted Cnarsi. "Which one of you will stand against me and fight?"

"Allow me my Prince," said Sir River suddenly, drawing his sword and coming between them. "At least I can keep him distracted while you go after young Cubbi!"

"River!" said Nessa in horror. "But you shouldn't!"

"It is no use," said Cnarsi, stepping forward towards Sir River with his sword. "The demons all give the boy their protection. You must get through them all."

"Hm, there's only four of them, we'll see what we can do," said Roshi with a clever chuckle.
"So be it!" said Cnarsi, and he leapt towards them with his eyes ablaze.

Battle was joined. Sir River and Cnarsi circled each other in a deadly dance of parrying thrusts and deathly whirling blades. Gusto was frozen to the ground, watching them fight.

"Go my Prince!" shouted Sir River. "Hurry!"

Gusto snapped suddenly into motion, and they all ran into the palace, with Jaci and Teddi showing them the route to Plucky's quarters. The palace seemed deathly empty, even with its own collection of Gummis, fast asleep under the spell. Not a sound could be heard through the hallways of the palace. Their footfalls echoed through the air.

"Cubbi's a future Prince," said Teddi quietly. "So they were keeping him away from everyone else. Up here, in one of Plucky's bedrooms."

Pushing open the door to the suite revealed nobody. Not a single soul. But these sitting rooms were immaculately clad in jewels and gold, mirrors on the walls reflected their concerned faces under soft crystal chandelier light. Gusto had to swallow the bile in his throat at the depictions of Gummis that were painted on the walls, in various stages of dress and undress. The paint looked fresh. Gusto turned beat red at some of the images.

"What in the name of Gummi?"

"Well...they used to be Plucky's rooms," said Teddi with a squeak. "What happened here?"

"Hm," said Gruffi, putting his hand to the wall. "Cold. The paint is fresh. But why would Plucky live in rooms like this? I don't get it. He always seemed so...conservative..."

"The bedroom maybe?" said Gusto to Roshi, swallowing hard and turning red. "Ladies, perhaps you'd...better stay here..."

Gruffi still looked clueless and was staring at a statue of a Gummi with angel's wings.

"I think I will too," said Jaci, covering his face. "Teddi?"

The other boy was staring at a painting of what could have been his own twin self, without any clothes.

"Um...yeah...I'll stay here..."

Jaci pointedly covered his boyfriend's eyes for him.

"Just us then my Prince," said Roshi, and the two of them went towards the bedrooms with trepidation.

"Do you have any idea of what we'll find?" Gusto whispered to Roshi as they peaked in each room in turn to check the occupants.

"I think so," said Roshi. "I don't think we'll find Cubbi. This one is empty."

Roshi was right. There was no sign of Cubbi in any of the bedrooms they checked. But the last room they checked, the most immaculate and gaudy, was indeed occupied, though not by Cubbi.

It was the opposite of dark in here, for the light of many candles was glinting off crystal and mirrors and the most interesting erotic artwork that Gusto had ever had the unfortunate opportunity to view. Angelic Gummis in no clothes frolicking in an enchanted wood in various positions of sexual intercourse. The statues and even the embroidery on the blankets and wall curtains were all sexual in nature.

And there, laying on the elaborate embroidered red velvet cushions on the bed, sprawled out lazily with a sly grin on his handsome face, bare as the day he was born, was Sir Plucky, who was starkly and gloriously nude.

And as randy as a tomcat in the heat.

Roshi's jaw dropped at the same time as Gusto's and the two of them just...stared.

"Why hullo there Roshi," said Plucky, wiggling his fingers at them coyly. "I didn't fancy I'd be seeing you again! Aren't reunions just...exciting? And you've brought the Prince of Gummi with you. What an honor! I've never had a Prince in my bedroom before!"

Gusto outright choked. This wasn't Sir Plucky! He could never have imagined his Gummadoon friend acting this way! And Welsi certainly wouldn't have tolerated such...gaudy behavior...in his knights!

"Anubi," Roshi said sharply, and shook his head. "You never learn, do you?"

"Anubi...another demon?" said Gusto with a croak halfway between dismay and relief.

Then his friend hadn't completely lost his mind after all.

"I prefer the term spirit," said Anubi with a huff, pulling himself slowly and leisurely into sitting up, leaning on one hand and batting his eyelashes at them. "The spirit of lust..."

Roshi nodded, and Gusto's eyes went wide with realization.

If a necromancer has to die to be exorcized then that means...

"I think I'll let you take care of this one," said Gusto, pushing Roshi towards Anubi without modesty.

"Oh no you don't!" said Roshi, panicking and doubling back to push Gusto instead. "We need information from him...come on now!"

"Why of course, I can tell you all that I know," said Anubi startling them both. "I was always was fond of you Roshi..."

The Gummi in question made a sickly sound in the back of his throat. Anubi flexed Plucky's strong shoulders and stretched his arms up, tightening his furry belly and winking at them sexily. Gusto coughed.

"All right, so then...uh...Anubi, you wouldn't happen to know where Cubbi is, would you?"

"Yes, and I'll do one better then telling you where," said Anubi. "I'll show you, but I need a promise first from you, my Prince."


Anubi stood to his full height and strolled over to Gusto with a soft leisurely padding of his feet. Gusto kept his eyes firmly averted to Anubi's face, and tried not to jerk when the possessed knight touched his cheek with a soft explorative finger.

"Promise me that you'll free me. I have too long been chained to Araskis, a Gummi spirit forced into servitude. I long to be free. To rest."

"Gummi spirit?" choked Roshi. "You're a Gummi Bear's soul?"

"We all are, all but Araskis," said Anubi, pouting softly. "But the Heart of Gummi can free us, break the spell on us. We all were called back from the grave by Araskis and his necromancer, Cnarsi. Some of us reveled in the power, enjoyed it, but I...I am trapped in my own nature, a creature of pure pleasure, who can never be at rest, never fully...satisfied. The Heart of Gummi," and he touched Gusto's chest, "Has the power to free us permanently and break the tie between us and Araskis."

Gusto stared at Anubi, who smiled coyly back. Roshi was dancing on the spot.

"You mean, there's a chance I don't have to trap spirits anymore? I can just free them?"

"No," said Anubi sharply. "It can only be the Heart of Gummi who frees us. Roshi, you can only hold us in your eyes, but you cannot break Araskis's power. My Prince," he turned back to Gusto, voice turning strangely warm and inviting. "I swear to you I do not lie. You have the power to free us spirits forever, and send me finally to my final rest, to my peace."

Gusto swallowed hard, and turned to look at Roshi. He was well aware that his face in the mirrors around them was as pale as a sheet.

"All right then," said Gusto. "I'll do it. You take me to Cubbi, and I'll set you free. But if you're lying..."

"I swear by the honor of this knight I have inhabited, I shall not. He is much much more honest a host then I could have ever imagined, for one so wanton as he is..."

"I can imagine," said Gusto dryly. "Well you'd better put some pants on or something first, there's women and children out there!"

"Hm, I suppose clothes may be a good idea," said Anubi, and he went over to the closet in search of clothes. "I have red, green, gold velvet, hmmm...which one?"

"Just choose one!"

"Don't rush me! I want to go out of this world in style!"

Roshi put his face in his hands and Gusto rolled his eyes.

Its taking far too long for my liking! The gods are mocking me aren't they? Come on already! Even Sunni doesn't have that many clothes!

Gruffi Gummi was highly amused. Gusto and Roshi had come out from the rooms with Sir Plucky in tow, who was apparently possessed by a very...interesting...demon who was going to lead them to Cubbi. He was wearing a red velvet wrap of some kind and some sort of elaborate head dress of bead and polished stones. Roshi said that Anubi was Egyptian.

"All these years," said Roshi, as Anubi lead them through the eerily quiet palace. "I never knew they were Gummi Bears. I just thought..."

"They were demons," said Gusto, who had been unusually quiet after they had come out of the bedroom. "That's all right. I suppose some of them may have even forgotten they were Gummi Bears once. I nearly forgot I was a Gummi Bear when Araskis possessed me.

"Exactly," said Anubi, with a light skip to his step. "We are almost there. The nursery."

"Nursery?" said Grammi, turning pale. "Oh Great Gummis what do they think he is, a baby?"

But Roshi coughed softly and pushed the door open to the nursery, peering inside.

Chaos. A world of broken toy soldiers. A rocking horse turned on its side. Stuffed bears relieved of their insides. Rattles cracked open and spilling their beads into the crayon stained carpet. Pulled drapes and the smell of vomit, milk and honey. The honey was from a honey pot, several of them, pouring their contents out onto the floor, broken, their lids missing somewhere. The dolls all had their hair pulled out and their dresses torn. The toy knights were all broken.

"I want candy!" said a voice near the closet. "Candy! And toys! More toys!"

Gusto stared. Cubbi had slipped out of the closet with wild eyes, face and hands covered in sticky candy, wearing a sailor suit. He did not look like Cubbi. He did not look like a twelve, nearly thirteen year old boy.

"Cubbi Gummi!" Grammi admonished. "Act your age!"

"Zip it lady!" said Cubbi. "You act your age you old hag, and go fossilize!"

Grammi grasped and went as if to grab Cubbi by the ear, but Roshi stepped between them.

"Wait! Its not Cubbi! Its..."

"Another demon," Gusto moaned. "Why me?"

"Its a child spirit," said Anubi with a soft breathless sound. "What other demon would Araskis put inside the heir to control him? Ah, Roshi, you do know how to properly release this mischievous cub back to where he came?"

"Yeah," said Roshi. "I remember that. But if the Heart of Gummi has to do it to make it permanent, then it must be Gusto who does it."

"Does what?" Gruffi asked, now turning highly suspicious.

"More candy!" interrupted Cubbi loudly, and he grabbed a toy and threw it at them. "More candy!"

"Nope," said Roshi harshly to the youth, then turned to look at Gusto. "The Child Spirit is simply an out of control youngster in need of some discipline, although," he turned to look at Anubi. "I have a feeling he's more than that."

"Much more," said Anubi sadly, obvious sympathy coming through his voice. "The boy was killed by his own practical joke, that was meant for his hated father. He cannot rest until he has been properly...punished...and reunited with his lost guardian. And no matter who punishes him, releases him, he's always returned to Araskis, scared and frightened and having no way to break free, an endless cycle of punishment and selfishness, still as mischievous as ever and remembering the harsh father that he always feared and hated. But I have a feeling...my Prince...that the Heart of Gummi can free him forever...the gentle love of a father that he never knew."

Gusto looked over at the boy Cubbi and seemed to think about it.

"All right," said Gusto. "First I'm going to...release...the spirit Anubi from his enslavement, like I promised him, then I'll come back and take care of Cubbi somehow. You lot stay here and keep him distracted..." he ducked a toy ducky that had flown at him from the youth. "And whatever you do don't punish him! Or the spirit could end up going right back to Araskis."

"All right," said Gruffi, not really sure what Gusto was going to do to release the spirit from Plucky. "But you'd better hurry, I'd really like my son back the way he was."

"Don't worry Gruff," said Gusto, kissing Gruffi firmly in front of everybody. "This shouldn't take long."

Gruffi was speechless. A silence filled the room at the kiss. And then a screaming Cubbi threw another toy, which hit Gruffi right in the middle of his forehead. It took Roshi and Gummi together to hold him back from tanning the boy within an inch of his life.

"Great," said Sunni, as Gusto ducked out of the room with Anubi striding along leisurely behind him. "Why do we have to babysit?"

"Come on Sunni!" said Nessa. "This is our chance to learn how to take care of a cub!"

"An unruly cub," said Roshi wryly. "Remember, no punishing him."

"Candy!" said Cubbi. "And toys! Games! Fun! Now!"

Roshi hmmmmed, then lifted his hands, and the toys magically repaired themselves. The toy soldiers started to march around the nursery of their own accord. The dolls started dancing with the bears and the honey pots righted themselves. The rattles started shaking out a merry song. The dirt and mess was cleaned up and the candles lit themselves. Cubbi clapped and started dancing around under the floating toys like a toddler.

"Yes yes! More more!"

"Oh brother," said Gruffi, and covered his face. "Why do I have a feeling Gusto's having an easier time exorcizing that spirit then we're having with this cub?"

Roshi, for his part, turned red, and didn't meet his eyes. Suddenly Gruffi realized what it was that the spirit Anubi might require to be released from enslavement.

Oh Great Gummis alive!

It took all the power of Roshi and all the others to hold him back from rushing right on after him.

Teddi laughed.

"He finally gets it!"

It was a simple idea really. Have sex to release the soul of a whoremonger. But...he hadn't imagined it would be so much more complicated. That he would actually find himself as an unwitting audience to the tragedy and pain that was the life of Anubi Gum Ra, which now played itself through his brain like a broken harpsichord. With the Heart of Gummi he felt and saw and experienced all the terror and tragedy that had lead to the death of Anubi, and it nearly brought the Heart of Gummi to its knees.

Anubi had been a gorgeous young bear, with a lean body like a young panther, black furred with golden paint and tattoos around his eyes and jewels on his arms and legs. Born into unfortunate slavery into the human courts of the Egyptian royal palace he had lived with the richest of luxuries, yet always he had been a prisoner, never once had he been free. His life amongst the painted Egyptian hieroglyphic walls and the heat of the desert sun had first been as an unwilling pet, and then as a servant, and finally the unfortunate slave of a beastly human, a human who sought great power and wealth and promised freedom in return.

Anubi's fair body had been bruised and battered, raped and abused for many years from youth into the spring of his adulthood. His life had never been his own. Taught to use sex as his tool, his power and strength, he soon had the role of seducing the most prominent courtiers of the Egyptian human courts, seducing and murdering them, all to slowly gain his freedom from his Master.

'Do this for me, and one day you will be free as well.'

A promise. A promise that was never fulfilled. He was sold. Over and over again, and soon broke down into despair. Debauching himself mind and body until he no longer cared about freedom or honor, and finally taking his own life.

But it was not to be. The spirit of Anubi was called back from the land of the dead, pulled from the fresh grave where his body had lain, a dark presense clawing and pulling at him until he was once again chained, an unwilling servant of Araskis, just another prized possession of yet another horrid Master, for a horrid purpose; to make Araskis the Master of all, a slave forever to his evil whims, seducing those that Araskis would use as puppets and forever trapping Anubi in a state of lust that he could not control.

But those days were no longer. Gusto could feel the soul of Anubi slipping over the Heart of Gummi, even as their bodies slipped together like two halves of the same whole, breaking the spell with a snapping and sizzling of magical static. He felt the spirit curl around the Heart, thanking it, loving it, being healed in places that had once been so torn and frazzled that Anubi had thought they would never heal. But he did heal, the fragile beaten battered soul becoming soft and light and whole and slowly melding with the power of the Heart.

'I'll give you one last piece of advice before I leave this world, my Prince,' said Anubi's spirit as he slipped over the Heart like a warm blanket. 'The spirits of Gummis don't just leave this earth, they rejoin the Heart, and are born again. One day my Prince you will rejoin that Heart too, passing it onto another. But for now know this; all the ones you love will be with you, for a brief moment, in the Heart, and always will be. All Gummis are connected, and even those who are evil can be healed by its power.'

And with this last thought, a thought of love and worship towards Gusto, and freedom at last within his grasp, Anubi's soul melted within the Heart completely and disappeared, gone forever. But his memories would be seared into Gusto's mind and heart until the end.

And when Gusto woke, the memories were there, and he allowed himself to weep for the tragedy and sorrow that had been Anubi Gum Ra.

Araskis...you are going to pay!

But suddenly a worried face was hovering over his, the panicked nervous features of the most valiant Knight of Gummadoon.

Who he, Gusto, had just bedded. Gusto felt his face turning completely red.

"We must go my Prince," said the Knight with an embarassed cough. "No time to mourn or be shy, we must go! I hear footfalls outside the room, and I fear they may not be friendly."

The smell of wet paint immediately lashed at their senses and Gusto turned pale. He quickly wrapped the blankets around himself and kept them there whilst searching for his discarded clothes.

"Um...yeah...Sir Plucky. Can you do me a favor?"

"Yes my Prince?" said the blushing red knight, as he tried hastily to pull on some breeches.

"Don't...ever mention this to anybody...okay? Its bad enough that I now have to go thrash my soul son, but I now have to face my lover too and he'll probably have already figured it out."

Plucky chuckled bashfully.

"I doubt it would do my Knightly honor any service to bandy about such tales sire."

"I hear you. Let me get some clothes on, and we'll see just who it is who is outside in the hallway. I have a feeling I know who is out there, and from what I've seen its not going to be pretty."

Chapter 34: Chapter 34

-this is the last chapter, then an epilogue. Boy am I bushed. But its worth it to get this done, I have lots other stories I want to work on now.

Chapter Thirty Four: Fathers And Sons

It was Tulli who they found outside of the suite. Painting. The smell of it permeated the air and Gusto could see down towards the far end of the hallways that Tulli had been painting the entire palace with his detailed graphics. Every inch of the hallway covered in paint. Except for the one spot he was sitting in front of, paint brush in hand, almost as if he were paused mid-stroke and unable to complete what must have been the final touches of a very very hard day of painting.

He must have been at it for hours! Gusto thought with a feeling akin to horror. Why hasn't he passed out from exhaustion yet?

But the old bear showed no signs of exhaustion, only frustration.

"Why? Why can't I remember, why why why?"

"Uh Tulli?" Gusto came over to the bear. "Are you all right?"

"There is no Tulli here!" the bear proclaimed, standing to his feet in true artistic posture. "I am the great Belior! Finest artist in all of Rome!"

"Oh great, another spirit," said Gusto.

Plucky gave a chuckle and crossed his arms. Gusto gave him a glare, a pointed look to keep quiet, and then put a hand on Tulli's shoulder.

"Anything I can help you with?" Gusto asked quietly, feeling that he indeed knew what might be needed for an artistic spirit to be exorcized.

"I can't remember, you must help me remember," said Belior, crouching before the wall in dismay. "I remember the chariot, the colors of it. I remember it, but I cannot see it! I cannot make the details! I cannot complete my great masterpiece without it! The Generations of Gummi, from The First Migration to the Last. That is my masterpiece! But...the chariot, the chariot...it is there, mocking me, like it did when I died!"

"Oh, so the chariot ran you over?" Gusto asked.

"Yes yes, you are right! Could you help me?"

"I could try," Gusto sighed, taking the brush from the artist's hand, and then looking at the tiny blank spot on the wall. "Describe your chariot to me?"

"Well, let me show you..."

For a moment, Gusto hadn't realized what had happened. But then he felt the touch of a forehead against his, the spirit moving from the artist Tulli into Gusto, and suddenly Gusto was full of memories that were not his own.

...A ship in a seaport, her sails battered but holding against the perilous wind. A voyage across stormy waters, the rising and falling of great long poles stroking through the water in time with a drum. An artist on the deck of a ship, painting the storm as if his life depended upon getting the last thrown bolt of lightening...

...A beach. Climbing onto the shore. Breathing in the deep cool air, the moist salt spray. Feeling freedom for the first time. Watching as men and Gummis pulled their belongings out of the battered ship, all of them heading to destinations unknown...

...A Roman soldier ordering him off of the road at spear point. Threatening bodily harm if he didn't move...

...And the chariot, a great monstrous thing of metal, Roman made, battered and twisted, the wheels stained with his blood...

'You see? You see? Great big thing! I must paint it, I must!'

Gusto felt a thrill of awe fill him as he mixed egg yolk and pigment, spreading colors to create the textures of metal and wood just as he had taught Teddi, laughing as he remembered the sheen of light glinting off the soldier's helmet...

...It seemed color filled his eyes. His vision blurred. His heart's pace quickened. There was a moment where body and soul and thought were all fused and he was thinking and feeling with the Heart of Gummi, and the artist was laughing, he was laughing...

"Yes yes yes! That is it! It is complete! My greatest work, ever! Complete at last! Now I am free! Free at last!"

And feeling...with a soft sigh, the soul of Belior leaving the physical plane forever, Gusto finally released the breath he had been holding in his lungs.

"Woah," Gusto stood to his feet and rubbed his head. "That really knocks the wind out of a bear."

"But you did it?" said Plucky. "You freed the spirit?"

"Yes," said Gusto, turning to look at Tulli now...who was on the ground. "Oh Great Gummis, Tulli!"

He lifted the head of the old bear and gauged his pulse. It was steady, and he was breathing.

"Oh thank Gum. I thought he'd have painted himself to death!" said Gusto, lifting the bear from the floor.

"No, let me carry him sire," said Plucky, taking the bear from his arms. "I think we can find a suite for him to rest in..."

"That would be an idea," Gusto said. "But first lets go to the nursery. Sunni is a Healer and she can have a look at him..."

"Very well then," said Plucky, nodding his head formally. "Lead the way."

Cubbi was feeling very much out of sorts. He had awoken to find himself staring down at the carpet, with Gusto speaking to him in a rather fatherly manner, whacking his tail end.

Am I...dreaming?

He had spent a great deal of time without any control of his body, controlled and manipulated by the monstrous child spirit who had ravaged the nursery and threw things at anybody who had tried to stop him. And before that he had spent many more days being lectured and ridiculed and just feeling helpless and worthless, knowing that Sir Plucky and his other friends were not themselves, but being unable to help them.

But all these thoughts had popped and fizzled, like the soft bubble of Grammi's soup pot, upon feeling the first hard stroke of pain lancing all the way up his spine.

That cub spirit must have really done something nasty, for Gusto to spank me!

It didn't last long, and Cubbi didn't feel the least bit upset about it. The spirit was leaving! Slipping from his body into Gusto's and leaving him having to deal with a slightly sore tail end, not the worse for the wear, and a tad bit embarassed.

I can handle it, Cubbi thought as Grammi gently hugged him. Gruffi's thrashed me far more painfully than this...

But it was a measure of how much he had gone through that he cried, not for the punishment, but for the mental stress.

"G-Gusto, I...I'm sorry, I don't want to be a Prince! I don't want to!"

Anguished, but honest, he tore from Grammi's hug to put his arms around Gusto and hug him instead.

"You're like a dad to me," he said, seeing the sad look on Gusto's face. "But I just wanted to be a Knight! Thats all I ever wanted! It's what I still want!"

"I know kiddo," said Gusto, and ruffled his head. "And honestly, I wouldn't, couldn't possibly pass the Heart to somebody who so desperately does not want it. I'm not cruel, and the Heart doesn't work that way."

"That's right," said Roshi, a sly look on his face. "So then, my Prince, who will be the next Prince?"

"Princess," corrected Gusto, and he walked over to the girls and put his hand right on top of Nessa's head. "It takes a great deal of creativity and a bit of resourcefulness, and a keen attention to the small details, to use magic. I think as Zummi's apprentice you're already heading in the right direction."

"Oh," said Nessa with a squeak to her voice. "I...I..."

"Well, are you willing? I don't really want to go through this again..."

"Oh yes, of course!" said Nessa, smiling widely. "Yes, all right," and she hugged him.

Cubbi watched this with a bit of sorrow in his chest, and relief. It wasn't him. Thank Gummi.

But it should have been Sunni, not that other girl! It should have!

Or that's what he thought. But Sunni's face, when he looked at it, was smiling with contentment and joy, happiness for her friend and not the least bit of malice.

"Come on," Gusto said firmly. "Lets go see how your River has fared in battle, and hope that he's none too worse for the wear."

They found Sir River, alive thankfully, being patched up by Ursa and her crew, a very nasty gash on his cheek and leg, and his nose bleeding.

"Bugger ran off," said River snidely, as Nessa kissed his uninjured cheek and assessed his injuries fretfully. "Relax woman I'm not too hurt!"

"What happened?" said Gusto, leaning down next to the bear.

"Vigo...or...Cnarsi, decided that since he couldn't best me in combat he'd cheat and sucker punch me...then turned tail and ran for it."

"Ouch," said Gusto, then bit his tongue to still it as Ursa pulled on River's broken nose to straighten it.

Everyone winced when River howled in pain.

"Dammit that hurt woman!"

"Mind your language!" said Grammi. "You're a knight remember!"

"Ah, forgive me madam," said River, holding his broken nose in hand and allowing Ursa and Nessa to fight over who would wrap his wounded leg. "It is hard to remember who you are in such pain."

Gusto sighed and looked at Roshi.

"So we have one spirit on the loose somewhere, and still Welsi to find. We'd better find King Gregor and Princess Cala and finish their bit."

"That would seem the best course of action," Roshi said, and watched as Gusto stomped around the courtyard in a dither looking for them. "Your Majesty, I am a trifle confused as to why you brought them?"

"Ah," said Gusto, coming to a stop beside him, "You haven't guessed yet."

"I must admit, I'm rather nonplussed."

"Well, allow me to enlighten you," said Gusto, putting his hands behind his back in amusement. "Once the sleeping spell wears out, Berrybowum and Wooddale will wake up. I had the thought that we could kidnap the two of them, and Cala and Gregor could have a talk with them back at Gummi Glen..."

"Ah, I see!" said Roshi laughing. "I see!"
"I don't," said Sir River, scratching his head. "I'm still not sure I understand."

"Its simple," said Cala, scaring them all out of their liver as she crawled out from her hiding place, a storm drain that was right near Gusto's feet. "Until we deal with Duke Igthorn, those Ogres are a menace to humans and Gummis alike."

"Exactly," said Gregor, following her from behind. "We'll have to join forces to clear the ogres out of Dunwyn, not to mention the less reputable scoundrels that Duke Igthorn has bribed to work for him."

"I like that idea," said Ursa firmly. "So lets all go find those two Councillors and get it over with..."

"Not so fast..."

Everyone turned, and Gusto groaned. For there was Welsi, Vigo and Wooddale, the three of them looking highly cross from where they stood with both feet. Immediately their group surrounded the three to prevent their escape.

Wooddale has the medallion...what does this mean? Is Araskis still in Welsi or did he move into her?

"Of course you'd choose now to show up!" said Gusto hotly to Welsi. "Now when we're just about finished here and ready to wash our hands of this place!"

"Ah, did I upset you, My Prince," the oldster sneered. "Far be it for me to upset the precious feelings of our wittle Princey Wincey."

He laughed, and Gusto turned his grumpy attention to Wooddale.

She's being controlled...maybe. Or maybe she's the one controlling?

He was getting mixed signals from the Heart of Gummi. And he was trying, and failing, to take their medallions. Why?

"What is this magic?" said Gusto, forgetting the present, and touching his chest. "So black...so twisted...I can't..."

"Of course," said Roshi softly. "In order to keep Gusto from doing The Call and taking away his medallion, Araskis is inhabiting both of them at once!"

"What? How?" said Gruffi, the first words he had spoken since Gusto had returned to the nursery with Plucky and Tulli.

"They're holding hands," said Roshi, pointing to the two sneering wizards, who were indeed hand in hand. "They're Twins! They can do shared magic like Zummi and Coffi can!"

"Exactly," said Welsi. "With the medallion and these two Gummi bodies, you cannot remove the medallion. And now, now I will kill you all!"

At once the crackle of sleeping magic dispelled and the city came forth to life. Wooddale pointed at Gusto's group, suddenly outnumbered by the soliders that began pouring into the city streets to answer the alarm call that had sounded before their eyelids had closed.

"Its up to you to decide," said Roshi to Gusto. "Fight or flee!"

Gusto shook his head for a moment, prepared to run for it...

...When finally the Makwa arrived from South Gumton in Chummi's airship, landing next to their group and piling out of the aircraft to stand side by side with the Barbics.

"We fight," said Gusto, feeling a grin spreading cross his features. "Get the youngsters and the King and Princess to the airship to safety!"

At once there was a flurry of activity as the Gummadoon Knights and the South Gumton warriors met sword to spear. Arrows flew, knives and daggers whirled, weapons seemed to materialize from everwhere to everyone and soon not one bear was unarmed in the clearing. Ursa looked like she wanted to run right into battle but Gritty shooed her to the airship, then landed with a crash on the ground as an arrow caught him in the back.

"Gritty!" Ursa said, her voice a shriek. "Gritty!"

Gusto didn't have the chance to help her, or anyone. He was being protected now by Roshi and his magic spells, as Wooddale and Welsi were now launching a magical attack upon him.

I'm weak legged and not in any condition to fight back, Gusto thought blearily, as Gruffi and Sunni both fended off physical attacks from the soldiers coming behind him. Where's Vigo?

Vigo had confronted Sir River again, and the two males were shoulder to shoulder in height, and complete opposites of each other in complexion. They danced and circled around one another, their blades dancing. Then River was on the ground again, his hand over his head to protect himself, eyes wide and expecting death...

A sudden cry filled the air as Sir Vigo's body fell to the ground, his head flying severed from his neck, and Nessa standing behind him, her sword and fur stained with his blood.

"THAT was for my Mother and Father!" she said, eyes damp with tears.

Suddenly, as if realizing what she had done she fell to the ground bawling.

"Nessa," said River, reaching for her. "Darling, don't cry, you were very brave, yes very brave..."

Gusto would have run to their side at once, but was again distracted by Sir Plucky, running over to him and the nearby airship with a very unconscious Sir Blastus over his shoulder.

Oh...so that's why Anubi chose Plucky...

"Nothing like a good sword fight to get the blood pumping, eh sire?" said he. "I'll take him to safety, you take my sword and go use it, on them! Now's as good as any to do it!"

He pointed to Wooddale and Welsi, who were too distracted by Roshi's magical attacks to pay attention to anything physical that came their way.

That's it! thought Gusto, as a light seemed to turn onto his head. That's how I'll take care of Araskis! And Cnarsi...wait...did Cnarsi go back to Araskis or did Nessa, as my Heir, have the power to exorcise that spirit when she killed him?

It was hard to decide what had happened. But it wasn't hard to decide his next course of action. Instead of taking the sword, Gusto ran to the airship and climbed aboard.

"Molsi, where are you?" he called out, looking for the elder women, who had helped some of those injured get onto the ship.

"Here!" she came out of the hold, the sound of Gusto's voice calling to her.

"I need you to come with me," he said. "Between you and me we can get rid of Araskis. Are you ready?"

"I am ready," she said, suddenly looking panicked. "What do you need me to do?"

He quickly told her his plan and the two of them ran down to where Roshi was battling Welsi and Wooddale.

A pale light was rising in the east, the sun, and the sound of screaming, the cries of dying and the clash of steel was filling the air, the stones were stained with blood, there seemed to be lurching bodies everywhere...

And the two of them finally came to a standstill before Welsi, just as Wooddale collapsed, the magic draining from her and into Welsi. He took the medallion from her with his own two hands, which meant that there was no longer a demon controlling her.

Roshi immediately stopped his magical attacks to go scoop Wooddale into his arms.

"Dale," he said quietly to her. "No don't speak...I'm here."

A silence seemed to fill the air, as everyone was now completely aware that the Prince was confronting their enemy, his enemy, at last.

"Well," said Welsi. "Look at this. Now we shall have it. The last desperate fight of the Gummis. It'll all end here..."

"No Welsi," said Molsi desperately, going over to him to touch him. "Please, I know you're there, I know you love me. Come back to me...please come back to me..."

It wasn't enough. Welsi threw her off of him, and she fell weeping to the stones.

"Then it is done," said Roshi, going over to her next to protect and comfort her. "All of his love for Molsi is gone now, and all that is left is...Araskis...and...Cnarsi?"

Gusto couldn't believe that could be true! But to their astonishment Araskis shook his head.

"No, no, Welsi still is struggling with desperation to hold onto his soul, but what love holds him? Possesses him. Not the love of husband and wife...no..."

"No," said Gusto suddenly. "Its the love of father and son. Welsi's father to his son. Berrybowum..."

Araskis gave a growl of anger, and the old orange bear with the spectacles plodded through the crowd, a look of despair on his face. His eyes were intensely inward focused, as if he was trying not to look at anybody, rather looking at the ground, or his feet where they stepped.

Then he stepped over to Welsi and looked him in the eye.

"Ah, my son," said he, shaking his head. "Can you forgive an old man, after all these years, for his mistakes?"

A hush seemed to fill the crowd. Welsi's eyes seemed dim, distant...as if memory was stirring in him.

"Mistakes? Is that what you call them?" said Welsi, for it was Welsi now, shaking his head in distress. "For abandoning me for your personal gain? For becoming a Councillor and wizard when all I wanted was a father? I promised...I promised myself I would never let such a thing happen to my son the way it had to me. That I would make new rules...that people would have to be good, their families would have to stay together..."

It was a much younger Welsi that was speaking now. A child Welsi. A hurt Welsi.

Berrybowum shook his head, and went over to Welsi, taking his hands.

"Son, I was wrong. I know that now. Your sister woke me to that fact. And what I wouldn't give to take those years back, to be the father that you needed. If I had, none of this would have happened, you would have been a good son, a son I could have always been proud of...its my fault that you have felt so alone...but I am here now. I'm ready to start over now. Now that you're home."

Gusto perceived that his chance had come. Araskis had retreated into the medallion. Gusto reached out to the two bears and before Welsi could react the medallion was snatched by Gusto right off off his head.

It was too much of a lure for Araskis, who sank into Gusto's soul greedily as if he were Duke Igthorn sinking into a bathtub of Gummi Berry juice.

But this was not the same sleeping soul that had lay in Gusto's breast quietly like a forgotten memory when he was possessed before. This was a very much living, vital soul, awake, and thriving under the power and purity of the Heart of Gummi.

At once Araskis screamed as that fountain of pure joy touched his own soul, searing and ripping away the evil and darkness that dwelled within and leaving only the purest forms of life behind...the soul of the dragon Araskis, and, Gusto thought with a nod, the soul of Cnarsi, the necromancer.

These two souls seemed to consider themselves a moment, unaware and completely instinctively curling around the precious Heart of Gummi. But this wasn't their afterlife, they weren't Gummis and weren't a part of the Heart, and so they drifted, finally slipping away from Gusto and up into the air, like mist...to whatever fate or spirit world they were meant to dwell within...

The Gummi Medallion crumbled in his hands and Gusto nodded. A brief settling of the air occurred. Then Gusto finally came to himself.

"So Welsi, what is this other magical source of power you were using to gain control of the Gummis?"

Berrybowum's face took on a stern look, and Welsi sighed, reaching under his shirt to pull out another amulet of sorts, shaped like a dragon, with an empty eye socket that was just large enough to hold an emerald about...

"Ah ha!" said Roshi. "So that's what happened to the other half! You stole it from me!"

"Yes. I used it to summon Araskis the first time, to destroy Roshi," said Welsi with a sad sigh, passing it to Roshi. "Now you can at least wear that thing of yours without having to wear it in your eye socket. For the love of Gum, Roshi, you look demented."

Roshi chuckled and snatched the amulet greedily from the other beat, who scowled but said nothing. It seemed he was a much more subdued Welsi now, ready to do as his father told and broach no arguments from anybody. He did look old though, very old.

Five hundred years old, Gusto thought, as Roshi slid the emerald into place in the amulet. And he still hasn't matured a day from when his father abandoned him.

"So then my Prince," said Roshi, putting the dragon amulet with the emerald eye around his neck. "You think you can handle the job of dealing with all of this without me? I have to dispose of this thing once and for all...if I can..."

"Oh, I dunno," said Gusto coyly, putting on an effeminate air and imitating Anubi. "Whatever will I wear?"

Both of them laughed, much to the dismay of everyone present, and Gusto laughingly went forward to start helping get the wounded to the airship.

-Yay! Last chapter! Lots of aftermath, but I'll have an epilogue to sort everything out. I may do further revisions, but I won't remove the story ever again. Gosh this took awhile to set up, but it was worth it! I now love this story again! Yay for the power of family! And now, back to your regularly scheduled fanfic.

Chapter 35: Chapter 35

epilogue "To the order of goodwill..."

"What was that?"

"Oh, I'm sorry Gruff, just re-reading these vows again...something isn't quite right about it..."

Gruffi shook his head, chuckling at the fact that his lover had not tried to hide his loving vows from his future husband. It seemed like he had gone to half the citizens of Gumadoon asking for proof reading and advice. Gruffi had heard that he had even gone to get help from Welsi, who was known for his public speaking skills.

"Seems a bit fussy, that line," said Gruffi, pointing over his shoulder. "You've been over this paper so long its starting to look like another one of Welsi's proclamations."

Post-war cleanup had been one of the most depressing and exhausting efforts. But everyone had pitched in, the darkness of Araskis melting away under the love and friendships that had been bound during the struggle to destroy him. Even Welsi, who had fallen the farthest into that darkness, proved beyond a shadow of doubt that he did care as much for Gummi welfare as he had claimed.

He had even offered to officiate at the wedding. Both the grooms had declined. It was there decision to let Zummi do the honors, since he knew them both the best.

But Gusto had given something to Welsi and his family which proved that the Prince, wonderful and loving Gummi that he was, had forgiven them fully for the troubles they had caused.

Time. Each and every New Gumbrean who had been effected by the time warping magic of Welsi had been given a little hour glass full of time; ten more years before they would return to their actual ages.

River, actually, had been given forty extra years on top of that as his reward for being Gusto's faithful knight, as much as Gusto had been capable of filling the hourglass with before exhausting the power of that particular magic. But only Gruffi, Gusto and River knew about it, everyone else assumed that River had been given the standard ten that all the others had recieved.. In fact, Gruffi had the secret suspicion that Gusto had given River all that extra time in order to have a chance at a real life and family with Nessa, not because of any sort of loyalty to the knight himself

Sentimental, Gruffi thought amusedly as Gusto scrunched up the ball with his speech and threw it at the over flowing basket by the desk.

"This vow has to have meaning. Or its just words on a page!"

"Why don't I go get you some cocoa, and that'll help you think it over. I bet Grammi's just finished a batch..."

"Sounds good to me."

Gruffi left Gusto to his patient typing and found his way down the halls of Tangleroot Warren towards the kitchen. They had decided to come here for the wedding, instead of in Gumadoon where Gusto had formally taken reign over the Gummi world. They had come to Tangleroot because of how beautiful it was. How perfect a honeymoon destination it would be.

And because it was so hard for the average Gummi to get to without Chummi and his airship as an escort. Nobody from Gummadoon would be able to come to the place to bother Gusto on some minor issue.

Besides, Gruffi thought to himself. The knights and council have enough problems with the routing out of ogres from Dunwyn. They'll be busy fightin for awhile, too busy to need Gusto to sign anything.

Gusto's plan to have Gregor and the Gummi council work together and share resources had gone so smoothly and beautifully that it was almost shocking. Humans and Gummis had never worked together so seamlessly before!

Its because they know now whats on the line,
Gruffi thought in despair as he peeked his head into the infirmary. So much bloodshed and violence, nobody wants to ever repeat it.

"Hi Gruffi," said Sunni brightly as she scuttled past. "No time to talk, sorry, gotta be in the operating room in five minutes."

"No worry," said Gruffi warmly, proud as any papa could be of their child. "I was just headed to the kitchen and thought I'd say hi."

She quickly came over to kiss him on the cheek and bam! Was off down the hall again as if she hadn't been there."

So busy, thought Gruffi sadly. But not too busy to say hi and give me a kiss.

Down the hall he went again, nearly bumping into Tummi and his new girlfriend, Kansy, that Barbic girl whose previous boyfriend had decided he would rather be a Knight than a Barbic. She liked round sweet fellas and Tummi seemed a good match for her.

Now if we can only convince him. He still insists that they're just friends.

Into the kitchen, and there was Grammi, indeed with a fresh pitcher of juice and some cocoa in steaming mugs waiting for people to take them. She was taking a break and having what looked like a heart to heart talk with Nessa.

"I don't know if Wendi will take it that well," said Nessa, throwing her long hair back. "She's a good seamstress and a first rate laundress, but I don't know if she's suited for art. Unless its a needlecraft."

"She come around," said Grammi. "You and Gusto just have to ease her into the idea of crafts as opposed to art."

"I suppose so. But she's looking at me as if its my fault! As if I'm doing this just because I don't like her, and I DON'T."

Gruffi chuckled. Nessa had far exceeded their wildest expectations as to her training as the Princess. But it was mostly being kept secret, the less people who didn't know she was Gusto's heir, the better. So to the rest of Gummi society it just looked like Nessa was a normal girl getting an artist's education under the Prince's tutelage, who was a reputed artist. Nothing untoward about him taking on an apprentice.

Because if what the Seers were telling him was true, Gusto didn't have that much longer to live, now that the Heart had begun the process of passing into Nessa. It was such a painful thought that Gruffi was grateful when Grammi and Nessa finally noticed his presence.

"Oh hi Gruffi," said Grammi. "Here, take some cocoa to Gusto, I know he's been burning the oil trying to get that speech done and all."

"On that subject, have you finished your vows yet?" said Nessa, eagre as ever for any new gossip she could get her fingers on.

"I think I'm just gonna wing it," said Gruffi honestly. "My love comes from my heart, not from a peice of paper. But Gusto, well," Gruffi laughed. "When he practiced saying some off the cuff words to me they turned a little bit...not for children if you get my meaning. Better that he has a speech."

Nessa blushed bright crimson.

"This wedding stuff is gonna drive me nuts," said a voice behind Gruffi suddenly, startling him to peices. "I'd rather just crawl away somewhere until its all over."

"Roshi, don't you dare," said Gruffi, putting his hands on his hips. "He's your son, even if he doesn't know it. He needs you there."

"Yeah," said the older bear, stiffening. "I suppose. But I also suppose that being 500 years old and single is not much fun."

"I can set you up a date with Marma," said Nessa coyly. "She'd just love you."

"Yeah, she'd love to throttle me," said Roshi. "Sorry to tell you, but I have a date."

"You do?" said Gruffi, looking amused.

"Yeah, my sister, Molsi. I'm playing escort to her since her husband decided on his own that he wasn't welcome to come..."

"Guh, Welsi just drives me nuts!" said Gruffi. "Doesn't he understand that Gummis forgive with all their hearts? Sometimes I think he's part human."

"All right enough," said Grammi, putting a laden tray of cocoa and cookies in Gruffi's hands. "Go back to bed. And you Roshi need some sleep. You have to be your best for the wedding tomorrow."

"Yeah, because walking the Prince down the aisle is really going to win me brownie points with our more conservative citizens."

"Yes," said Gruffi, "And I think you should tell Gusto about your fatherhood before he goes down the aisle. That'll be the best wedding gift you can give him."

Roshi looked a little stricken, then pulled his hair.

"He doesn't need a blood father. I've been father enough to him without it."

"Look," said Gruffi. "This isn't the same case as mine. I have Sunni as a foster daughter and her mother had no idea whose daughter she was, but decided to make me her father. I may never know if she's mine or not, but I've raised her as my daughter and she's happy with that. But Gusto, he needs more than a father that raised him. He needs honesty, because your family is blood to him, and that'll be important to him when he starts to...decline..."

And the grief suddenly caught in Gruffi's throat and he nearly dropped the tray. Roshi rushed over to steady him and Grammi took the tray from him for a moment.

"Is it really that serious?" said Roshi, looking pale. "Do you think he'll need a kidney from me, or blood?"

"Anything," said Gruffi, shaking his head. "The Seers and the Doctors don't seen him surviving the year without some serious medical care. Though Seers and doctors have been known to make mistakes. And Gusto's got that little hourglass of his with him everywhere..."

Roshi nodded, then hugged Gruffi tightly as he let it out. It shouldn't have happened this way. But even after the extensive surgery to his brain, even after all the sacrifice and toil, Gusto still was destined to die young because of the Heart of Gummi...it couldn't keep him alive anymore. 500 years was a long time to be alive with the Heart. It was an unnatural lifespan that should never have happened.

But one thing was certain; Gruffi would go with him. They both had matching hourglasses. Their time would end together, for Gusto had done something forbidden, something which Roshi had raged about for almost an hour upon discovering...

He had split the Heart of Gummi in half between them both. He had figured out how to do it after finally destroying Araskis. With the Heart of Gummi connected to the two of them, their own time on this planet would be cut down to these scant few years until the Heart finished passing to Nessa. Then they would fizzle out together. But thankfully only Roshi knew it. They didn't need the others finding out and trying to stop their mutual suicide. It would be pointless for them to try and cause them too much distress.

"I don't understand why he has to die," said Nessa trembling. "Quite frankly I'm a little scared myself."

"There now girly," said Roshi going to her. "You'll still have lots of time once the Heart is yours. Just, it wasn't something that the Royals ever talked about. That you don't age until you first use the Heart of Gummi, and then after that age catches up with you quickly, like a landslide. Gusto has had the heart for 500 years, longer than any other Royal I've met, and he only survived that long because I trapped him in time. Its time that he doesn't have anymore, and can never get back."

Gruffi gritted his teeth, and took a few steps back to the wall. He needed to be strong, because he was getting married tomorrow, and there was no way he was getting married with thoughts of death on his mind.

"He's lived a good life, and I'm sure he needs the rest as much as anyone," Grammi said suddenly, putting her sorrowful wisdom into the conversation. "And like he told us, he won't be gone at all, he'll be going to the Heart of Gummi, no further than your own chest darling."

Nessa nodded, then shook her head.

"I can't take all this drama anymore, I need to sleep. My husband is gonna kill me if I don't get to bed soon. He's not that young either you know!"

Hence the other reason why Gusto gave River extra time; Nessa would live to be fifty, about, and so would he.

"Go ahead child," said Grammi. "Take some cocoa with you, it could be a cold night."

"Man are you right," said Gusto's voice suddenly, causing them all to jump out of their fur. "Old man winter just had to stick his nose in early doesn't he? Where's that cocoa Gruffi promised me?"

Gruffi quickly recovered himself and they both sat at the kitchen table with Roshi and Grammi. Cocoa was passed around and Gusto sucked his down quickly.

"So whats this about drama?" said Gusto suddenly, causing Grammi to go 'oh my' and Roshi to cough.

"How much of your conversation did you listen into?" Gruffi demanded to know at once.

"Not much," said Gusto. "Well actually, most of it. Well not most. But some. But..."

Gruffi looked very stern suddenly, and Gusto coughed and laughed.

"All of it, actually. From the part about Roshi being set up on a date with Marma. Who, by the by, I would NOT want as a step-mother," he shuddered a bit. "Clever she may be, but I wouldn't want to make her mad with me."

"Did you say 'step-mother'?" Roshi choked. "You mean...?"

"Um, yeah I heard that part too," Gusto said. "But I knew you were my dad for a long time now?"

"How long?" said Roshi, looking strangely guilty.

"Aunt Molsi told me," said Gusto stiffly. "She said she wanted to know that her and Welsi not coming was a political issue, not a family one, and it sort of slipped out in our conversation."

"I see. Tight lipped my sisters are not I'm afraid."

Grammi pointedly tugged on Gruffi's arm and Gruffi reluctantly left his beloved to have a private talk with Roshi about their now out in the open heritage.

"Doesn't take much to get that man feeling guilty does it?" Grammi commented as soon as they were out of ear shot. "Oh, my knees ache from working all day."

They sat down in a nearby parlor where Grubbi was currently taking yet another one of his famous naps. It was well
established now that he was sharing a room with Grammi, who was not the least bit embarassed by the gossip, and who immediately went over to poke him and take his hand.

"Time for bed darling, you go on ahead of me and I'll be right there."

Grubbi yawned, nodded his droopy head, and got up to go stumbled to their room. Grammi took the chair he had vacated and looked at Gruffi squarely.

"Nervous about tomorrow?"



"Definitely," said Gruffi, relieved. "Its finally happening."

"You two deserve to be married," Grammi said. "You've gone through so much, you need each other."

"I know," said Gruffi, idly putting a hand over the hourglass under his shirt. "Believe me, I know."

The wedding ceremony took place in the highest branches of Tangleroot Warren, with the guests all taking their seats amidst the branches of the trees, the cool fall air and the red leaves making them all look like tiny elves in a woodland setting. Chummi's flying machine full of South Gumton guests sort of ruined the picture, but Gruffi and Gusto standing on the suspended platform in their finest clothes with twin crowns was a quick draw for the eyes.

And the hands. Nessa quickly sketched the couple as they declared their vows, amidst the quiet crying of Grammi and the dreamy looks of Sunni. Gusto's voice was soft and inviting, making the whole assembly lean forward in their precarious perches just to get a better fill of.

"...with all my strength, I'll love you with ever inch of me..."

Yup, he definitely wrote that in advance, Nessa decided in amusement as she finished the basic skeleton of the drawing.

Teddi and Jaci were there next to her, both watching wrapt at the first ever same-gender marriage ceremony in the history of the Gummi race. Theirs would be the second.

And not a moment too soon. Jaci has that commission to rebuild Ursalia from the ground up and Teddi won't be able to get away from Tulli and his constant sculpting projects to join them until that statue of Gusto is finished.

It was to be ten feet tall, a picture of the monarch in his best health with crown on head, in the most gorgeous marble. Gusto had immediately hated the idea but hadn't wanted to squelch the Craftmaster's artistic muse. Tulli had finally gotten his creative self back after losing that artist spirit, and had taken the post as chief Craftmaster of Gummadoon. Nessa was so grateful that Gusto was teaching him instead of Tulli. That bear had a thousand ideas and none of them involed her all important drawing skills.

"...knew from the moment I met you that we would be stuck together for a long time..."

Now it was Gruffi's turn for vows, and as promised they were completely off the cuff, impromptu, totally from the heart.

And now they kiss, Nessa said, as the two bears embraced with much applauds by the audience.

A warmth filled her heart suddenly, like the warmth of a sip of cocoa, or the feel of a kitten lying on ones chest. The married couple turned to look up at the audience, holding each other tightly, their eyes alight with something beautiful, tragic and eternal. One by one the guests started to go down to the platform to congratulate them, friends embracing friends, lovers planning for their own marriage; Zummi giving Coffi a pointed look from where he was standing behind the Great Book of Gummi, Molsi pushing Roshi gently, and transparently, towards a friend of hers from Gummadoon, in order to introduce them. Cubbi coming up to the grooms, wearing full Gummadoon livery, and giving them both hugs. River shaking Gusto's hand with eyes dancing...

Nessa smiled, thinking that she ought to go down there and join her husband. But first she finished the last touches on her drawing, wiped a tear from her eye, and put her sketch book away. As she stood to her feet a funny sort of feeling filled her. Like a drawing of blood, but into her, not outwards. Like magic flowing from some spellcaster into her. A feeling of inexplicable greatness. She could feel so many memories suddenly flooding her mind; a quite river with great stone pyramids, a city full of chariots and wheels, a great manor house filled with beautiful objects...a Gummi girl, the drawing in front of her, crayons in her stubby fingers making pictures of buildings and people, humans and Gummis together, and tall winged vehicles that flew over the horizon towards a sunset skyline of buildings...

A shock of dismay rang suddely threw her ears. Suddely the platform was a riot of panic. Suddenly there were nurses and healers running towards the platform down the rickety wooden bridge that joined it to the warren. Sunni was there, and the crowd parted for a moment and Nessa could see suddenly the Prince on the platform on his back, eyes shuttered with pain, and Gruffi reassuring them all that he had these pains all the time...he would be all right...he would be all right.

But he wouldn't be. The succession of Heirs had begun its cycle anew. The Heart of Gummi had passed down to Nessa at last.

And Nessa, new inexplicably, that the future of the Gummi race was now assured. The crisis was over. The world would not come crashing down upon them like a meteor out of the sky set to destroy them forever.

They would not go extinct. They would survive the ages. They were defying the laws of time, space and physics in their magical race towards the finish line, where all life and all souls would one day be one and the same, and there were be no death, no pain, only love, the love that the smiling, graying Gruffi and Gusto were now giving to one another as time claimed its prize at last...

They had defied gravity, and because of this, the Gummi race would survive.

Nessa knew it would. She could feel it in her Heart.

The End

-Yay! Its down now! :D I loved this story, thats why I had to go back and fix it. I may have to fix this prologue, but so far I love it. Do you love it? What do you think?

And sorry for the time I've been away folks. Needed time away from the internet and to sort out my crazy life. But I'm baaack! And I have the urge to write some more Gummi slash, but with a different pairing. Is that a good thing, heheh, ;)