Our tale begins deep in the Lollipop Woods, where a multitude of misfit critters have gathered to take part in an odd ritualistic dance. A pair of giant pandas skirt the edge of a clearing, following the narrow path created by the diabetic whitetail deer that call the forest home and feast upon the candied leaves of the trees on quieter evenings. Flung over the right shoulder of the lead panda is a burlap sack - from which whimpers can be heard faintly over the monotonous beat of the music emanating from the other side of the thin line of colorful trunks. The agonized scream of a dying animal causes the pandas to pull up short and peer through the prism of leaves.
What does the fox say?
Ring-ding-ding-ding-ringedingeding . . .
Ring-ding-ding-ding-ringedingeding . . .
Ring-ding-ding-ding-ringedingeding . . .
Entranced by the spectacle of a human dressed as a fox and dancing in synchronization with woodland creatures, the pandas stand with mouths agape until a loud yelp is emitted from the sack, and the snapping of a candied twig in the undergrowth not too far away, alerts them to a pursuer. Taking one last peek at the dancers, then shrugging their large rounded shoulders at one another, the lead panda readjusts the burlap sack and they continue swiftly on their way.
Meanwhile, Lils' is cursing the fragility of the dumb sugared branches in this dumb forest of lollipops. Why did Aproma let Cooper decide on the location when they built The Castle? Bordering Candy Land? Really? C'mon, now! Thinking of her family makes her suddenly very anxious about being in the Lollipop Woods so late in the day, pursuing two giant pandas on her own. I should have at least knocked on Gold's lab door before I left. Or written a quick note for Muffin to find when she arrived home from the Bulgarian Bakery! I wonder if Yew is hiding in one of these trees? Sighing as she pushes through the undergrowth that continues to snap apart like - well, candy - she spots two monochromatic lumps through the colorful confectionary trees. She yells at them, but a resurgence of that awful music renders her inaudible.
What does the fox say?
"Dillon!" she manages the second time with more success, before being drowned out once again.
Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho . . .
Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho . . .
She's getting so close, but that song is driving her bonkers! Angrily, she turns towards the clearing and spots a woman dressed up with orange ears and a tail, flinging a squirrel into the air while a moose clumsily sidesteps beside her.
Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho . . .
"April? What the-"
A long howl from further into the woods stops her thoughts. The music stops too, and April emerges through the threshold of the clearing, removing her fox ears and throwing them to the ground, "Lils! What was that noise? What are you doing out here - I thought you had tennis practice with Johanna and Hazel this evening?"
"Angel. Pandas. Angel's pandas kidnapped Dillon!" Lils sputters out.
"Shit! Not again!" April slaps her forehead, smearing the white and orange costume makeup that covers her face. "Okay, you keep on them - they shouldn't be too hard to follow in these woods," she states the obvious as they both stare at the shattered remains of low-hanging branches along the panda's route of escape. "I have to go round up the rest of the Littles - pandas are more of a nuisance than anything, but we're going to need all the troops we have to take on Angel!"
Lils is about to ask if maybe she should be the one to return to the Castle, seeing as how April is an adult and would possibly be the wiser choice for being alone in a quickly darkening forest, regardless of being composed of candy. . .but then she remembers Lucy saying April has the attention span of an adorable Schnoodle puppy, and heads off in the direction that she last saw the pandas heading.
April skids through the Castle entrance and glides on her furry fox footies nearly past the doorway to the sitting room before glancing over and spotting Lucy lounging on a dainty pink sofa with a cup of tea poised at her lips. She half falls on the slippery stone floor as she turns quickly to enter the room, silencing Pete Murray's mellow voice as she passes the stereo. "Wait until you hear about this opportunity!" she announces giddily as she approaches Lucy.
"Oh?" Lucy entertains her with as she tries to sneakily push her jar of Nutella into safekeeping behind the Tardis teapot on the coffee table.
The clip-clopping of hooves in the hall causes both of their heads to swivel towards the door as Cooper appears, dressed in magnificently shiny armor, sitting atop his dear unicorn. "An opportunity to rescue damsels in distress?" he inquires eagerly.
"Not quite," April answers quickly, hopping around on one foot as she removes her dangerous footwear from the other, "Angel has once again stolen half of our special baking team!"
"Oh, no! Not the unicorn!" Cooper exclaims, a look of shock and dismay etched on his face.
April stares up at him from where she has collapsed onto the floor, struggling to get out of the other fox slipper. Lucy glances down at April, then up at the brave young man before her, "Cooper, dear, you're sitting on the unicorn right now. . ."
Cooper startles and jumps in his saddle as he notices the beautiful white horse. "Oh, no! DILLON!"
The pandas are keeping a swift pace through woods, and Lils is pleased to find that her conditioning for tennis and netball have made it fairly easy for her to keep up with them; she even takes the opportunity to practice her backhand with a racket-sized lollipop sapling when the second panda lobs a few gumdrop globs her way. . .she returns the gooey candy in lime colored clumps, splattering them across the panda's white belly. The colorful trees begin to thin out and the frosting covered peaks of the Gumdrop Mountains can be seen in the waning light. She lingers on the edge of the woods as the pandas scurry ahead on the rainbow pathway. She watches as they pause momentarily at a fork in the road, then continue on to the East. Emerging from her hiding spot, Lils sprints down the path to read the sign. 'Gumdrop Path'. . .they're taking a shortcut to the Ice Cream Sea! Hurry, Littles!
Meanwhile, back in the castle, frantic preparations are made. April whistles for a squirrel and the bushy tailed rodent scurries down one of the columns and perches on her shoulder.
"Tell Lils we're on our way," April says, and with a frankly laughable salute, the squirrel leaps away and out of the castle.
Cooper adjusts his visor which keeps falling over his eyes and Lucy looks regretfully at her half finished cup of English Breakfast.
"Can't I just-"
"No!" April cries in exasperation. "Some things are more important than tea."
With a sigh, Lucy sets down her cup of tea and calls for her preferred mode of transport. The pounding of heavy feet on the stone floor announces the arrival of six white boomers, snow white boomers.
"Lucy, stop singing!" April prods her.
"Singing, me?" Lucy tries to look innocent. "Now look, I didn't want all of you. Just one will do."
Grumbling, five of the roos disperse and Lucy leaps up onto the back of the remaining and largest. Offering a hand, she pulls April up behind her. And finally, with the thumping of the roo's hind feet, and the clatter of hooves on the drawbridge, the Little family rides off in pursuit.
Lils skids to a halt at the edge of the foaming, Ice Cream Sea. The smell of vanilla is heady and makes her mouth water but she does not dip her fingers in for a taste, because the pandas are already setting out in a dinghy, stroking the lolly-pop paddles hard through the waves. Carried on the sweet, sea air, a forlorn whimper comes to her ears and she stamps her foot in frustration, for there is no other boat.
Hearing something behind her, she turns and brings up her lollypop racquet in defence. But, with a sigh of relief, she recognises the rest of her family as they race onto the sand.
"Fear not, fair maiden," Cooper bows from the waist while atop his unicorn. "We will recover the pup and restore our supply of cupcakes in no time."
"But the pandas have the only boat and they're nearly out of sight," Lils wails.
"If only Gold were here with the flying machine he's been working on," Lucy sighs, but then she brightens. "I might have the next best thing."
The creamy waters surge as a giant, scaly reptile emerges and drags itself up onto the sand, saluting with its stubby forelimb. In no time at all, the Littles climb aboard, bidding farewell to the unicorn, and Lucy takes the reins. Propelled by Sarge's muscular tail, they begin rapidly gaining on the pandas' boat.
Scrambling onto the sand on the further edge of the Ice Cream Sea, the Little family are mere minutes behind the pandas.
"We have to stop them before they take Dillon to Angel," April says.
"If Angel gets hold of our pup, that'll be the end of the cupcakes for us," Cooper adds.
Just then, a shadow passes over the beach and they look up fearfully. Cooper draws a somewhat soggy candycane sword as, in a tangle of wooden slats and canvas wings, Gold's flying machine lands a few metres away.
"Drag, lift, resistance, physics, physics," Gold mutters as he pushes up his flying goggles.
"You caught up," Lils exclaims. "What is that?"
Gold reverently takes a wrapped package from his coat pocket, handling it with care. "I've been working in my lab all day," he says, "and finally I have come up with an antidote to The Angel. Take it, Lils, and use it well."
"An antidote to The Angel? I'm not a disease! I'm a Mary Sue!" Angel huffs and turns her back on the vat of magical rich chocolate that she had been peering into. A panda tears off a chunk of licorice from the nearest exterior wall and offers it to Angel, thinking her anger may be linked to low blood sugar. "Oh, my lovely little minions, I glomp you all! But you really must stop consuming Caesar's Licorice Palace. . ."
Angel charges over to the belfry to send a message by way of her licorice bats - yes, I said it, Angel has bats in her belfry - taking her bamboo scepter along with her so she can poke any panda she sees nibbling on the Palace walls. She unpackages a fruit roll-up and scratches a message into the pliable surface, then attaches it to the nearest licorice bat's leg. "Fly to the cat lady! As swift as your licorice wings can take you!" She releases the bat dramatically, only to have it immediately snatched from the air by a hungry panda. The panda munches on his treat as Angel stares at him in annoyance. The panda swallows and Angel sighs. "Fetch me another bat and another fruit roll-up."
Irma is startled from her knitting when something slams into her kitchen window with a loud thump. Her favorite ginger cat, Rachel, leaps onto the countertop - depositing hair all over a fresh batch of burnt cookies - and peers through the smudged glass at a small black form crawling across the ledge. "What the-" Irma appears by Rachel's side, "** that Angel! We live across the street from each other, not over the Gumdrop Mountains. . .why can't she just ring the bell like a normal neighbor?"
She opens the front door and retrieves the stunned bat, setting him on her kitchen table as she removes the message from his little batty leg. Rachel swats at his licorice wings as he tries to wriggle away. Irma reads the message on the gummy stationary, then rolls it into a strawberry flavored ball and pops it into her mouth. Rachel gives up on the bat and slinks over to Irma to be petted. "Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. . .this is a ** up land we live in, with animal battles constantly being waged and an under-appreciation for LBD, but I am truly, madly, deeply crazy in love with you!" Rachel purrs in response and allows Irma to carry her back over to their comfy rocking chair to continue knitting.
April stares at the small wrapped package now being held in Lils' hands, "Is it dangerous?"
"I hope so," Lils responds, "or at least a little bit. I mean, it wouldn't do much good if a bunch of Freddo Frogs come hopping out."
"Oh! Chocolate!" Lucy exclaims while clutching her grumbling stomach and muttering, "I didn't get to enjoy my tea or my Nutella. . ."
Cooper noisily walks over to interrupt their musings, "Ladies, we need a plan of attack. How are we going to get near enough to Angel to use this mysterious package?"
"The pandas have eaten a secret passage through the cellar."
Cooper, Lucy, Lils and April each look in a different direction, than blurt out at the same time, "Who's there?"
April scratches her head, "You?"
"Precisely. I am Yew."
Cooper draws his lollipop sword once again, "Show yourself!"
Yew laughs out loud, then emerges from behind the striped trunk of a peppermint candy cane, "There are five of us, plus our animal armies. . .all we have to do is distract Angel long enough to sneak into the Licorice Palace's cellar; she won't be expecting an interior attack."
"Yew, you are genius," Lucy proclaims as she pats him on the back.
"I know," he says, laughing out loud again. "Angel tries to ship me with too many different people. It's time to take a stand."
"And get back Dillon so that he and the unicorn can make Lils the best rainbow birthday cake EVER!" Cooper excitedly shouts. Lucy and April both slap their hands over his mouth at the same time. Lils pretends she didn't hear a thing, and Yew just smirks. Cooper shakes himself free of his mothers' censorship and lets out a massive belch.
"Cooper! Why'd you go and do-" asks April as she jumps back from the sickeningly sweet smell of cola that he has just emitted, but her query is interrupted as a dozen large, white polar bears come crashing out of the Peppermint Forest. Nodding in understanding, she calls out for her squirrels, "Chikoo, chikoo, chikoo!"
Squeak, squeak, SQUEAK!
Boom boom boom boom boom boom BOOM!
From behind the polar bears, all of The Castle's troops appear, ready to rescue Dillon and defeat The Angel!
The sea roils and the waves crash on the beach in a confused tumult as a battalion of crocodiles emerge from the water, carrying the chipmunks on their backs. As they line up, raising their tails in a salute, the company looks upward when a dark shadow passes over them. In rapid fire, the sugar gliders land in the sand, tumbling to a stop and shaking sand from their whiskers. Just as the Littles are recovering from the shock, the roos arrive en masse, spraying sand high into the air as their powerful hops take them onto the beach. In a moment, they divulge from their pouches the chipmunk army, looking just a little motion sick.
"Now warriors," Cooper calls in a booming voice. "Today-wait! Where's the unicorn?" When he spies it, he swings astride, well, almost, and with the frustrated clatter of armor, he gets a leg up from April.
"That's better! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men and animals fail! But it is not this day! A day may come when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of sugary sweetness! But it is not this day! An hour of pandas and shattered lollypops when the age of the Castle comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Littles!"
"Isn't that just the speech that Aragorn made in the final Lord of the Rings movie?" Lucy points out.
"I changed a few words," Cooper pouts.
"People, people! Focus," Yew says. "We must decide who will sneak into the cellar and free Dillon before he's squashed flatter than a lollypop by a panda's behind. Obviously I can't, because I'm a tree fort."
"Well, I wouldn't fit in this armor," Cooper says.
"And I just wouldn't fit," Lucy mutters.
"I'm not feeling too comfortable with cellars after all the horror movies I've been watching," April shivers. "Looks like it's up to you, Lils."
With a shudder, Lils looks to the Liquorice Castle and the slimy grate at the base. But the remembered whimpers of her beloved pup as he was carried away give her courage. "I'll do it," she asserts, drawing herself up to her full height and gripping her lollypop racquet and Gold's mystery package closely. After all, it would always have been Lils; she knew it deep down. "Just keep the pandas busy for a few minutes."
Lils looks back once over her shoulder, and sees Cooper riding up and down the lines, inspiring the animal troops. His shouts of, 'Bears to the centre, we'll break their charge, roos, swoop in from the flank, crocs, swim around the point and get them from the rear…" His brave words give her courage, and the farewell hugs her mothers bestowed on her. Treading quietly, she makes for the grate, but the noise of her quiet steps is drowned out by the growls and squeaks of the animal army as the pandas take to the field.
But as she approaches the grate, the noises become dim and Lils feels on her own for real this time. With a deep breath that nearly makes her choke from the smell of refuse and rotting liquorice, she steps up to the grate and pulls it from the setting. Luckily, liquorice isn't very hard, she thinks, as she enters the low tunnel, her trusty racquet at her side.
Bent nearly double, Lils creeps along the passage, trying not to think of the muck coating her new tennis shoes. She'll definitely have to ask Lucy to take her shopping when she gets back. After several minutes of this, she hears a loud, imperious voice and realises that she is right beneath Angel's throne room.
"Yes, pokestab them, pokestab them!" Angel screeches.
Lils peers through the grate and sees Angel with her bamboo sceptre, standing on her balcony as she watches the battle progress below. As her eyes travel over the room, Lils stifles a gasp, for, under panda guard, Dillon cowers in the far corner. The very sightof him gives her the strength to push her way through the grate and burst into the room.
Putting on her most grown up voice, she brandishes her racquet. "That's my pup!"
Angel watches the battle with dismay. The fighting is as fierce as the last animal and panda war. Cooper's bears have broken the central line and the pandas are slowly being pushed back to the Ice Cream Sea where the crocodiles wait. Already, some of the crocs are bellyaching from feeding on the pandas before they sink, for everyone knows that pandas can't swim. She curses as she watches April stride about the battlefield, a squirrel and chipmunk on each shoulder relaying information to her so she can direct the battalions. Cooper darts here and there with his unicorn, rallying the troops and lending his sword wherever he is needed. Yew provides a rally point for the injured, and Lucy is astride her white roo again, a thermos of tea in her hand as she moves to sweep around the pandas' flank. But what worries Angel most is that Lils, her greatest adversary, is nowhere in sight.
"I knew you'd be here somewhere!" Angel cries, waving her sceptre. She gestures to her panda guards. "Pokestab her!"
But Lils is ready. With her trusty racquet, she pulls out a few spare gumdrops and lobs them at the pandas. The gooey candy lands on the floor and the pandas blunder into it and are soon stuck and helpless.
"No!" Angel screeches. "You will never take back your pup. The cupcakes are all mine!"
As Angel reaches towards Dillon, Lils knows that it is now or never. Hastily, she pulls out the parcel that Gold gave her and pulls off the wrapping. Laying in her hand is a Wilson tennis ball, slightly scuffed.
"This is it, Gold?" she wonders aloud, thinking that perhaps her brother has finally inhaled too many fumes and lost the plot. But as she runs her finger over the yellow green fuzz, she realises that nothing could be more perfect.
"Hands off my pup!" Lils shouts, and as Angel turns, raising her sceptre, Lils lines up for a smash serve. The ball flies above her head in a high arc and collides with her racquet with lethal velocity. Like a missile, it flies just where she wants it to go.
"Game, set and match!" Lils cheers as Angel collapses against the wall, clutching the tennis ball sized lump on her head.
Suddenly, music begins reverberating from the walls and time slows down as Dillon bounds towards Lils' open arms. In a tangle of limbs, fur and cupcakes, they collide and roll about on the floor as Dillon frantically licks Lils' face.
"Come on, Dillon," Lils says. "We're going home."
Back in the Littles' castle, Muffin hands around a plate of freshly baked French croissants. Eagerly, the Littles help themselves.
"So, I hear Lils was the hero of the hour?" she asks.
"Of course!" April cries.
"Lils saved the day," Lucy adds.
"What I wonder, is why you didn't just use the TARDIS to go back in time and stop the kidnapping." Muffin continues.
As one, the Littles turn to stare at each other with identical looks of shock and embarrassment written across their croissant crumbed faces. For a moment, nobody says anything.
"Well," Gold offers, "I suppose it was a fixed point in time."