"Where in the creature world could Martin have gotten to?" Chris wondered as he and Aviva hurried through the trees. Having discovered the troubling weakness of the opossum powers, he knew that he needed to warn his brother, but Martin hadn't answered his Creature Pod, and their search, thus far, had yielded no trace of him. "We must have covered half the swamp by now - he's gotta be around here some-"
He broke off, startled, as something landed on his head. Skidding to a stop, he reached up to retrieve the small object, staring at it for a moment in some confusion. It was a flower, a cluster of tiny pink blossoms atop a long, flexible stem, with pointed leaves all along its length.
Aviva giggled. "Aw, you should have left it on. It was cute!"
Chris rolled his eyes and tossed it in her direction, looking speculatively up at the tree from which it seemed to have fallen. "You wear it. I'm going up to investigate - it could be a clue! Or even a brand-new mystery: The Case of the Falling Flower!"
"Lots of trees have flowers, Chris," Aviva pointed out. "And when they've been pollinated and started forming seeds or fruit, they fall. I don't see what the big mystery is."
"But that flower didn't come from this tree - or any tree at all! Look at the stem, and the way the leaves grow. This is definitely a terrestrial plant. And d'you see how it's broken off at the bottom? Someone, or something, picked it and put it up in that tree. And I'm going to find out why." A decisive nod, and he was off, expertly scaling the trunk with the help of the opossum's climbing powers.
Settling herself against the trunk of another tree to wait, Aviva tucked the flower behind her ear, but a moment later, she removed it with a slight grimace. "I don't think I'm going to wear this after all," she called up to Chris. "It smells weird, like… mothballs or something."
"But it looked so cuuute," Chris teased her. Aviva gave him a deadpan look. "Watch it," she warned. But her narrowed eyes flew open a moment later as she caught sight of another rosy sprig a short distance above him. "Chris, look! Another flower!"
Chris could see it now, too, hanging halfway out of a fist-sized hollow in the tree. Scrambling up to the hole and peering in, he let out a gasp of surprise and relief. "Jillybean! You're safe!" Reaching into the cavity, he carefully pulled her out, along with a few more of the odd-smelling flowers, which he allowed to fall to the ground before securing her in his pouch and making his way down out of the tree.
"Aww," Aviva cooed, reaching out to pet the little opossum. "Hi, sweetie! I'm so glad we found you!" She looked up at Chris, slightly puzzled. "But I still don't understand where the flowers came from. Is that another opossum behavior?"
Chris frowned. "Not that I know of…" He looked thoughtfully back at the flower that Aviva had discarded, then picked it up and gave it an experimental sniff, his expression brightening as he recognized the aroma. "Camphor weed! Of course! Martin must have put it in there with her so Gourmand couldn't smell her out! Mystery solved!"
"But… where is Martin?" Aviva asked hesitantly.
Chris's triumphant smile faded abruptly. "I don't know." Trying to ignore the sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, he reached for his Creature Pod and rang his brother's device again. No answer.
He turned to Aviva, forcing a weak laugh. "He, uh… he's probably just…" He trailed off, the attempt sounding hollow even to his own ears. There were any number of perfectly innocent reasons why Martin might not be answering his Creature Pod, and Chris did have to admit to a tendency to worry too much on occasion. But this feeling was not one he could rationalize or explain away. Something was wrong. He was sure of it.
Chris looked down at the small opossum still nestled in his pouch, the impression growing stronger. Martin would never have left Jillybean alone unless he had to. Unless…he didn't think he could protect her any longer.
With slightly trembling hands, Chris gently extricated the little marsupial and passed her to his crewmate. "Aviva, you take Jillybean back to her mom. I've gotta go find Martin." He gazed out at the surrounding cypress trees for a moment, the muscles in his jaw tightening. "And I've got a pretty good idea of where to look."
Chris approached the kitchen cautiously, keeping back among the trees where he hoped he wouldn't be spotted. His vision was somewhat limited by the opossum powers, but he could still make out Gourmand's bulky figure standing in front of one of the counters. From the sound of it, he was slicing up some kind of vegetable. Chris crept closer, slipping behind a clump of bushes near the corner of the kitchen. He'd been able to observe Gourmand undetected from that spot earlier in the evening; maybe it would work a second t-
"Well, hello, Green Grape." The booming voice made him jump. Chris straightened up, frustrated at having been discovered, but determined not to show any weakness. "Gourmand," he spat.
The chef met his glare with a knowing smile. "Lookin' for someone?"
He stepped aside, still smirking, and Chris felt his insides grow cold as he caught sight of his brother on the ground behind him, bound hand and foot, and unconscious.
"Martin!" Chris took an involuntary step toward his brother. "Wh- what did you do to him?"
"He took a little tumble while absconding with my appetizer." The chef's face darkened. "He won't be doin' that again. You Kratt croutons have ruined one of my recipes for the last time!"
Dismissing the last part of that speech as more of the chef's usual bluster, Chris turned his anxious gaze back to his sibling. He couldn't tell much from this distance, but he was relieved to see that Martin at least seemed to be breathing evenly. However, his examination also revealed traces of dough on the front of his brother's suit, near the activation button, and Chris felt his fingers curling themselves into a fist. He was beginning to get a fairly clear picture of just how that "little tumble" had come about, and he didn't like it one bit.
"Let him go," he growled.
"Why, certainly!" Gourmand responded, with a broad smile. His tone was cheerful, almost jovial, and Chris stared at him, momentarily thrown off his balance. Gourmand's smile widened. "Just as soon as you promise to stop interferin' with my culinary genius."
Now they were back in familiar territory. The younger Kratt shook his head, arms folded tightly across his chest. "Forget it, Gourmand. I'm - We're - not letting you cook endangered animals!"
"Were you not listenin'?" Gourmand suddenly slammed his hands down on the countertop. "I am done takin' orders from you two! I am done seein' all my talent go to waste because of a couple of animal lovers!" He leaned toward Chris for a moment, breathing heavily, then seemed to regain some of his composure. "Now, we can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way." Twirling the vegetable knife casually between his fingers, the chef glanced over his shoulder toward where Martin still lay on the ground. "Maybe I should just take care of this one right now. He's far more trouble than he's worth."