.: PREFACE :.This short story is inspired by my 8 cat Toons and the lovely artwork @Maxie Cat has made of them. She has done a Toontastic job of bringing my ideas to life -- they've been percolating in my head for a while now, probably since I had 6 cats -- plus adding some cool touches of her own. It has been a pleasure to work with her and I highly recommend doing so if you need an artist or want to collaborate on a piece! Please note that I'm not using the full names of the Toons featured in the story (for the most part) and they aren't included in the image itself per my request, but they are [listed in the order shown from left to right]; Lady Morrigan, Black Opal behind Little Witty Tenderfoot, Energy, Phenomena, Midnight Fog (Foggy), Queen Fayleen, and Pinkie Purrwinkle. I hope you enjoy the story and illustration. .: SATURDAY :.Tomorrow was Sunday and the weather forecast promised a warm day. Fayleen thought it would be a beautiful day to spend some time with her family and have a picnic at the estate. She loved playing jokes on the cogs like most Toons, but was growing weary of the endless daily grind. "By Lil' Oldman's ears, it's time for a break!" she declared aloud and set to work by first whispering to her younger sisters, Morrigan and Opal, to see if they had any plans. To Fayleen's delight, they said there was nothing that couldn't wait. Each offered to bring some traditional dishes enjoyed by their ancestors; four-fish casserole, rodentini in cream sauce, baked magpie, catnip cake, plus shrimp and lobster jellybeans. They would eat well for days. As soon as Fayleen hung up, she got started on preparing the basket and airing out a pretty blanket. With the coming of night, sleep was slow to arrive. Everything was ready, but her daughters could be quite a handful so it took a while to get them all tucked in; especially Energy, Witty, and Phenomena. Pinkie and Foggy were already dreaming as of half an hour ago, bless them. "Come on girls, we have a big day tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun, but you have to get some rest now," she told them, trying for gentle persuasion. Witty fought to keep her eyes open, even cocking her eyebrow a little like she did whenever she was presented with a challenge, but yawned widely and soon snuggled deeper into her blankets. Fayleen yawned too, utterly exhausted, before leaning in to leave a gentle kiss on Witty's forehead. One corner of her daughter's mouth raised in a brief half smile before falling open on a light snore. Energy, on the other hand, was bouncing on her bed and trying to do somersaults. "Energy, enough is enough!" Fayleen hissed, trying to keep her voice down. She was running out of patience now. Energy's eyes filled and Fayleen hurried to stop the wail that was surely coming. "How about a story? It will have to be a short one though, because Mama is tired." Energy sniffled and shook her head, pouting, "I want looong." Fayleen sighed and told her, "I'll be back in a minute, I need to check on Phenomena." Phenomena lay quietly in her room and Fayleen thought she was asleep until the light went off. "Oh! Please leave it on, I'm scared, Mommy." "Of what? The cogs can't get to you here. We're safe," Fayleen flipped the light back on and tried to reassure her. "Noises in the wardrobe," Phenomena's lips quivered. Fayleen marched over to her daughter's closet and flung open the doors as Phenomena hurried to pull her blanket over her head. "Look, it's just your clothes. I'll leave it for tonight, but you have to promise to go to sleep. We've got an early day tomorrow. I'll stop by Nina's on Monday and get you a nightlight." "Okay, I promise. Good night, Mommy." "Good night, Phenomena," Fayleen said, kissing Phenomena's forehead and attempting to smooth her perpetually spiked hair before returning to Energy. Thank goodness, she was finally asleep! Fayleen thought she must have gotten bored waiting for her, but no matter. It was done and Fayleen could crawl into her own bed at last. .: SUNDAY :.Witty was awake and dressed before anyone else, even Energy. She crept quietly out of her room and carefully pushed open the door to her mother's room. Satisfied that Mama hadn't heard her, Witty steathily approached an armoire, moving around a floorboard that was known to creak. Inside the armoire were various doohickies from battling the Cogs, including a multitude of gears meticulously arranged in rows by model and level. Mama won't miss a couple of them, she thought. At least not until it was too late. She selected some that were small enough to fit in her pockets, but for what purpose, she couldn't have said. Witty just wanted to feel a little more grown up and all the cool older kids had gears. Someday, she wanted a complete collection of her very own. The ones that she had were all from stinking low level cogs because she had to let her aunts take the big ones to Headquarters. The lavender kitten made her way out as quietly as she had come in, breathing a sigh of relief when she got back to her own room. By then, she could hear her sisters beginning to stir and then her ears perked up at a knock on the front door. She ran to the peephole and saw her aunts waiting on the front step, their arms full of stuff. If it were anyone else, Witty would have ignored the knock. Maybe. Her mother taught them to never open the door without her. While Witty engaged in an internal debate, weighing the action with the consequences, Pinkie took matters into her own hands by waking up their mother. "Mama, Aunt Mor'gan and Aunt Opal are here," Pinkie whispered, gently nudging Fayleen until her eyes opened like twin crescents. "Mkay, honey. Let them in, would you?" She said and stretched, nails treading the soft, warm sheets that she didn't quite want to leave just yet. But the picnic was her idea. Fayleen got up and dressed, then padded into the kitchen where her sisters were gathered with her daughters, having a light breakfast at the table. Fayleen set water on to boil for some Catnip tea. Morrigan said, "We figured you'd want to leave in another hour or so and the girls said they were hungry." "Sounds good to me, thank you for feeding them," Fayleen replied. "No problem," Morrigan and Opal said in unison, making the kittens laugh. They had the same mother as Fayleen, but were born to a subsequent litter. As fraternal twins and best friends, they often finished each other's sentences or spoke at the same time. The kettle began to emit shrieks. Fayleen took it off the flame and poured three steaming mugs, adding a little honey to each. After giving her sisters theirs, she sat down with her own and sipped. The warm liquid helped to clear the last of the cobwebs from her mind, bringing thoughts of the day ahead. Fayleen was glad that everyone was already awake. Then she noticed what Energy was wearing. "Energy, it's going to be warm today. Are you sure you want to wear your Winter clothes?" she asked. Her daughter nodded once, "Ya," she said around a mouthful of Meaty Munch cereal. Fayleen made a mental note to pack a lighter change of clothes. Knowing Energy, she would be running around a lot and whining about being too hot later. At least they weren't going very far. It was close enough to walk, but Fayleen wanted to take her cart so they could all relax. She was fortunate to have been able to get a retired golf cart for a good price with some tweaks from Goofy's Speedway. They would hitch a small trailer to the cart, then put their supplies and most of the children on it with her. If her calculations were correct, they would get there in less than ten minutes. Opal and Morrigan were trying to guess how many beans Fayleen had in her bank for the driver's seat. Opal came the closest with 9,000. Morrigan thought 15,000. That made Opal the winner. "Wooo!" she cheered. "Loser sets up the trailer!" Morrigan's eyes blazed indignantly, then she rolled them. "Oh, fine. Do any of you girls want to give me a hand?" Witty snickered and started clapping, which slowed to a halt when she realized Morrigan was scowling at her. Then her aunt's face brightened and she said with a mischievous grin, "Great, a volunteer! Let's go, Champ!" Witty started to object, but it was quelled by a look from Fayleen. Her shoulders hunched a little and she sighed. "Aww, rats. Okay, okay, I'm going." Witty followed Morrigan outside, joined by Energy and Pinkie. It took them approximately a half hour to get the trailer on and loaded, plus 15 more minutes of trying to coax Phenomena into getting on until Fayleen decided to just strap her in on the back seats of the cart with Foggy. Finally, all was ready. Opal pressed the ignition button. The engine puttered to life. Opal hit the pedal and they lurched onto the dirt road, groaning and giggling in equal measure with every bump. They soon bounced to a stop at the picnic grounds; surrounded by lush greenery outlined with a sandy beach and flanked by the sparkling river than ran through the estate. Fayleen spread the blanket out under a large, shady oak while her sisters unpacked the food. As they settled in, Pinkie brought her mother a daisy, presenting it with a purely delighted grin. Fayleen's hand went to her heart, touched at the sweet gesture and she accepted it with a hug. "Pwetty!" Foggy exclaimed with an awestruck gasp at Nature's beauty, snuggling up to her mother. "Very pretty, Foggy, like all of my girls," Fayleen said, including her in the embrace. Meanwhile, there was a commotion from the other side of the blanket. Morrigan was now glaring at Fayleen who hadn't been paying attention, her eyes darting between Witty and the cake they had just set out. "What's going on?" Fayleen asked. "Look," Morrigan told her, pointing at the cake, which now had a gear sticking out of the top. Phenomena appeared to be frozen with her mouth open in trepidation while Energy giggled and bounced in place as if she were still on the cart, both pairs of eyes were wide. Opal was about to tell Morrigan to calm down, but Fay spoke first. "Witty! Where did you get those gears?!" Fayleen demanded to know. "It's just one..." "One on the cake. How about that one in your pocket? I want answers for both of them, young lady!" "Oh, I...uhhh..." Witty gulped audibly. "Well, I -- you see -- it was like this..." Witty's face quirked and smirked while she smugly relayed a plausible story about some high level cogs she battled a few weeks ago all by herself. "Aunt Morrigan had to hand most of the gears in, but the office said 50 would do. So I got to keep these!" Morrigan disagreed, shaking her head and putting a hand on her hip, but Fayleen was already holding out her's. "Give them here, right now." Witty ducked her head and flattened her ears. "Okay, okay..." She gave her mother the one in her pocket and plucked the other out of the cake, which made a little squelching sound. Fayleen used a cloth to wipe off the icing and peered at the serial numbers etched into the metal. It read 07-7621 and the other said 09-8914. "Do you mean to tell me that you defeated level 7 and 9 cogs with level 5 gags, all by yourself?" Fayleen had made a note of another detail, but since it was her secret method of identification for the gears she won, she refrained from sharing it. "Yeah. Pssh, it was nothin'!" Witty said, waving her hand dismissively. When Fayleen just looked at her with a raised eyebrow, she added, "Okay, well, maybe this nice duck lady helped me out a little, but she didn't do much except lure and heal!" "Witty Jestifer Tenderfoot, I must say I'm deeply disappointed with your behavior. Stealing and telling these tall tales. That's not very Toony. Did you think I wouldn't recognize the gears? Starting Monday, you will put up notices that you will be doing community service as an Apprentice until I say so. That ought to teach you not to do that again. I know you already are an Apprentice, but this is not going to be on your timetable...do you understand me? And no sweets for you today." "Okay," Witty said aloud on a little tremulous sigh while thinking; Oh boy, Mama had used her full name. She had gotten herself into more trouble than anticipated. "We will talk about this more later. Right now, I want everyone to just relax and forget about the cogs for a little while." Fayleen was determined not to let anything spoil their day, not even a wayward daughter.