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Trouble's Confidante

Chapter Text

The sun was rising over Inkwell Isle. A few stars still twinkled in the dim but swiftly brightening sky when the moon yawned widely, tipping its hat to the sun politely as it disappeared.
The woodlands below were dark but the first early risers had already begun starting their day. In a small house topped by a teapot which served as the chimney, Cuphead sat up in his little bed at the first sound of the rooster. He yawned, and stretched, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and turning to look over at the other little bed where his brother Mugman was still snoring soundly. Cuphead grinned as he pushed the covers to the foot of the bed and bounded over- Mugman was a heavy sleeper, he usually needed a little help getting up on time.

"Rise an' shine Mugsy! You'd better get up, or we'll be late!" He peeked over the bed, poking Mugman's round blue nose with a little squeak and chuckling quietly. Mugman grumbled something unintelligible and reached up to rub his nose, then opened one sleepy eye. He smiled and sat up when he realized who it was.

"Morning already? I was just having the nicest dream." He stood up, holding his nose and blowing, causing the nightcap on his stumpy little straw to pop off, fluttering back down onto the little hook near his bed that also housed a cozy robe. Cuphead was already half dressed, pulling up his trousers and stepping into his boots. Well, one of his boots anyway- the other one was nowhere to be seen.

"You can tell me about it on the way, we've gotta skedaddle if we're ever gonna make it outt'a Tableton and get to Clovertown 'fore lunchtime." He slid down the ladder that lead to the open area below their bedroom, grabbing an empty brown letter bag and throwing it over his shoulder before continuing the search for his missing boot. Mugman peered down at him from the ledge above on his hands and knees.

"Cuppy." He called his brother, a smile in his voice. Cuphead turned to look up at him, then smiled as Mugman held up the missing boot, chuckling as he tossed it down to him. He then hopped down as well, bouncing off of the couch below and landing beside Cuphead with a grin.
Mugman grabbed his letter bag from the coatrack near the door, and the two were off, running down the dirt road leading into the little town of Tableton. It was still terribly early but the place was full of activity, toons of all kinds awakening for the day- but not all. A streetlamp checked his watch, yawned, and uprooted himself to head home. He didn't notice Cuphead and Mugman, who scurried past just beneath him, running right between his legs.
While their method of travel might appear chaotic and risky to an onlooker, the cups were accustomed to dodging the foot traffic in Tableton, darting under and around the local toons with a practiced ease until they reached the postal service to collect the outgoing mail. The facility was comprised of a little cobblestone building with a brick wall at the very edge of the town, and it wasn't open yet, but it didn't need to be. A postbox was napping on the small paved platform just outside the wall, its flap fluttering with each snore. Cuphead scampered up to it, and Mugman skidded to a stop right behind him, peeking over his brother's shoulder with a smile.
The cranky post box opened a sleepy eye to squint at them shrewdly, and Cuphead gave it a charming, toothy grin in return.

"Good morning!" He greeted the grumpy mailbox who simply grumbled and made as if to go back to sleep. Cuphead put his hands on his hips, giving the box a stern but somewhat playful look. "Oh come now, give it here!"

The post box glared at them for a moment, then puffed itself up and spit out the letters they'd come to collect with very little ceremony. The cups ducked, and Mugman squeaked a bit in surprise. The box watched them scramble to collect the flyaway parchments with a little snicker, then settled back down to finish sleeping.
After the cups had snatched the last letters out of the air, Mugman took a piece of string from his bag and tied them all neatly into two little bundles, giving one to his brother before they quickly made their way out of town and into the hilly, forested countryside. The way was paved by a gravel road which gave way to a dirt footpath which eventually faded to trails that forked off in many directions. The trail the cups took wound off through a bare field and up a large hill with a wonderful view of the sun rising over the valley below, as well as the coast beyond. It proceeded to skirt along a garden before it eventually disappeared into the forest.

An orange flower curled at the base of a large tree just up the hill from the garden opened his petals and stretched, rubbing the sand from his eyes. His attention was immediately drawn to the fence across the field, where the two little figures of Cuphead and Mugman were running through the tall grass. Mugman slowed his step to wave at the flower, then scurried along to catch up with his speedy brother, leaving a cloud of dust behind.
The flower waved in return with one of his leaves, smiling brightly as he watched them disappear into the grass once again- however his smile vanished when a dark shadow fell over him. The flower turned to face the source of the shadow and went stiff with fear, shutting his petals tightly over his face and cowering until the monster had passed. Lifting one petal to peek and make sure it was gone, the flower relaxed and heaved a heavy sigh of relief.

Further up the path, Cuphead and Mugman had stopped at their favourite berry bush for breakfast. Cuphead was sitting in the grass at the side of the path with his map open while Mugman collected an armful of berries, sticking a few into his bag.

"What are ya doin' that for? We can get lunch in town when we get there." Cuphead looked over his shoulder at his brother, who quickly came to sit beside him, handing over a few of the large berries.

"I want to make a pie later!" Mugman replied and leaned over to peer at the map for a moment as well. It was old but it had a habit of staying uncannily accurate- no doubt by some sort of enchantment, but neither of them ever felt it necessary to question exactly why. It was marked with a lot of notes about locations of importance, such as the berry bush, as well as lines to show where less traveled routes went.

"Oh, good idea!" Cuphead smiled, setting the map aside before gracelessly shoving a berry into his mouth. Mugman laughed loudly, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe the juice from his brother's face. It was a quick and filling breakfast, even though Mugman had been careful not to take too many berries. He and Cuphead weren't the only ones who got their morning meal here.
A funny little creature fell from the canopy above, landing softly in the grass and popping back up. It appeared to be a little acorn man, and he scurried to the bush, grabbing a berry and scampering off into the undergrowth. Mugman watched him disappear, swallowing a mouthful of berry.

"Here and gone so fast. Not so much as a glance." He mused, putting a finger to his chin. Cuphead shrugged.

"Maybe he's in a hurry- like we are! C'mon Mugsy, let's skedaddle." He grabbed his map and stood up, dusting himself off- he then offered a hand to Mugman, pulling him to his feet as well. They scurried off together quickly, and not a moment too soon. After they had left, a dark shadow crept into the glade, frightening away another little forest dweller who had come to get breakfast. The creature to whom the forboding shadow belonged swept through, slipping into the brush and out of sight.

The cups were well on their way through the forest by mid-morning, scurrying through fallen branches and along logs. Mugman stopped, however, when he realized his brother was no longer with him. Turning 'round once, he scanned the area for his brother. Cuphead, who had taken a different path that went up a log, suddenly fell from atop it with a little screech, bouncing off of a plant and falling right into Mugman's arms. Mugman fell on his bottom, dropping his brother, and they sat there in a heap, glancing at one another in surprise before laughing aloud. They had only just stumbled upright again when a loud rustle from behind them indicated they weren't alone.

"Good morning!" A deep, silky voice dripped out of the shadowy brush nearby where the sun's meagre light hadn't broken through yet. Cuphead and Mugman both turned to face the source of the voice- which appeared to belong to a tall, soot black toon with a pointed tail and a toothy grin filled with the sharpest teeth either of the cups had ever seen. His yellow eyes stood out starkly from the darkness, narrowed wickedly into slits.
Mugman gulped, grabbing onto his brother's arm- partly because he was startled and partly to keep his occasionally overconfident brother from approaching this dark and mysterious stranger. Every so often they would meet a traveler or a local while on a route- that wasn't surprising. But he'd never, ever seen a toon quite like this one, and it filled his little belly with all sorts of heebie jeebies. Cuphead, however, wasn't afraid. He almost never was- and if he was, he rarely showed it, likely for his brother's benefit. Stepping in between Mugman and the stranger, he boldly stood his ground, his hands on his hips.

"Mornin' friend! Ain't seen you around these parts before." He returned the greeting, tipping his straw to the stranger politely. Mugman waved, smiling nervously from behind him.

"Oh, you wouldn't have. I don't get around here very often.. And I usually prefer to travel by night." The dark toon vanished into the shadow, reappearing a moment later just behind them, looming over the fallen log and chuckling quietly. Both of the cups jumped a bit, looking back at him with wide eyes. "I have a habit of untintentionally spooking folks, you see."

"Oh!" Cuphead exclaimed, smiling casually. "Well, It's mighty nice of you to be so considerate then. So, where are ya from? Anywhere on here?" Cuphead asked, opening his map to give it a once-over and looking back at the dark toon. The map, though accurate, was incomplete, with a good deal of space around the edges. He'd always assumed it was simply because whoever had drawn it had never finished, but he'd never tested the theory.. Neither he or his brother had been far outside of the few square inches that their neck of the woods was comprised of.
The stranger leaned down to observe the parchment briefly before pointing to a spot on the far corner. Days' and days' worth of a walk if the time it took to reach the destinations they traveled to was an accurate measure. Much, much farther than the cups had ever dreamed of going.

"Right about there, I reckon!" The dark creature replied, and both of the cups looked at him in awe.

"That's so far away!" Mugman exclaimed, but Cuphead was riding a completely different train of thought. Caution forgotten in lieu of excitement, he shoved the map in his pack, jumping to prop himself up by his arms on Mugman's shoulders.

"Are you an adventurer?" He practically shouted, looking up at the stranger eagerly, Mugman peering up as well from under Cuphead with a curiosity he couldn't hold back anymore. The dark toon grinned broadly, folding his arms behind his back with an aura of pride.

"You could certainly say that. I've been on escapades you could only dream of, sonny. Ever wonder what other lands are out there? Uncharted, unknown, lying in wait to be discovered by the keen and the ambitious.. I've been there- places you wouldn't believe." He waggled his barbed tail in delight as both of the cups gave him their undivided attention. Perfect.

"Really?" Mugman asked as Cuphead slid down from his back to stand beside him. They were quite enamoured with the silky stranger- and for that, he had them right where he wanted.

"Cross my heart!" The dark toon's pointed tail mimicked the motion over his breast before he leaned down close, gripping the mossy log in clawed hands, almost as if prepared to spring. Mugman stepped back a bit, but Cuphead continued to stand firm, leaning back only slightly.
"Say, you wouldn't happen to be in the market for a little adventure of your own, would you? I know a brassy soul when I see one.." The dark creature purred in an oily voice, snaking an arm around Cuphead's shoulders and using his tail to redirect a slowly fleeing Mugman into his other arm as well by spinning him quite like a top. "I'd wager I might be able to convince the two of you fine fellows to ditch the countryside and lend me a hand. You see, I've recently stumbled upon some very interesting information on the whereabouts of an artifact of great import."

Cuphead didn't really trust the slinky black thing- but he couldn't tell whether that was a result of the traveler's intimidating appearance, or an instinct. Perhaps it wasn't fair to allow that feeling to rule his judgement.. After all, he did say it wasn't intentional- some toons just couldn't help looking a little spooky. Caution aside, he couldn't deny that the stranger had a way of capturing the imagination. He glanced at Mugman, whose eyes were still spinning and tilted his head a bit. "Artifact? What sort of artifact?"

The black creature smiled disarmingly in response- or at least without quite so many of his sharp teeth. The result was less disarming than it was simply not-terribly-alarming. "Let's just say that I had a hunch it would be a profitable venture- and I'm never wrong about that."
Now Cuphead was dreadfully curious.. And in his excitement he actually did consider the offer briefly- he loved his home and the countryside and all the familiar faces and places found there, but he'd always wondered what it would be like to hit the road on an adventure into the unknown. It was hard to resist.. But his good sense told him they should hightail it out of there- and Mugman, who had regained his equilibrium, seemed to agree.. That is, if his knocking knees had anything to say about it. Cuphead wormed his way deftly out of the black creature's hold, grabbing Mugman's wrist and dragging him along.

"That's a really tempting offer, pal." He said, honestly. "But we're just a couple'a letter carriers." He shrugged, giving the creature a cheeky grin- perhaps appearing just a little too innocent.

Mugman followed his brother along, reaching up to pull his collar out and swallowing visibly. "He's right, we mustn't be late, you understand.. Makin' folks wait for their mail isn't terribly proper, after all."

The black creature slipped back into the shadow of the trees in a way that made Mugman shiver. The stranger was quite like a shadow himself, in fact. He proceeded to inspect his pointy claws as if he'd quite lost interest in the whole affair.
"Oh of course, I understand completely!" His tail curled as he leaned against a tree, crossing his legs and looking down at the two past his long nose. "But since you mentioned.. Might I convince you to spare just a moment more? I have a delivery of my own to make- and a pair of mail carriers might save me some trouble."

"Oh? How's that?" Mugman asked, tilting his head and exchanging an inquisitive glance with his brother as the mysterious stranger rummaged in his pack to pull out a handful of glimmering dust. The cups gasped in unison, captivated by the wonderous glimmering substance.

"See here." The stranger held the dust at their level, but before either of them could say anything more, the dark creature puffed out his chest and blew it right over them in a sparkling cloud. The both of them scrambled back, spluttering and flailing about, but Cuphead's arms dropped slowly to his sides and his eyelids suddenly grew heavy as a powerful drowsiness descended upon him. Mugman, experiencing a similar effect, rubbed his eyes and yawned, his body going limp like a noodle as he slowly dropped.

"What was thuhh.." Cuphead trailed off as he sank to the ground alongside his brother, yawning as well. Neither of them could keep their eyes open, but they could dimly recognize the voice of the stranger. It had taken on a sinister quality that made Cuphead and Mugman feel oddly chilly.

"I do so appreciate your help with my delivery. Your mail will have to wait longer than you intended.. But I never cared much for propriety anyway." He chuckled lowly.
Cuphead and Mugman gasped shortly as the sack was thrown over them, and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

It was dark when Mugman came to, lifting his head a bit and blinking sleep dust away. He was still terribly drowsy but it seemed the effect of the shimmering dust was wearing off. He shook his head, but when he tried to lift his hands to rub his face, he found them tied behind his back. He thought that to be quite an alarming development now that his wits were returning and memory trickled back.
He squirmed a bit, quickly realizing that someone was leaning against his back- a quiet mumble helped him identify it as Cuphead, and it seemed they were bound together. A quick glance around also made it clear they were inside a sack resting on a hard surface. It seemed dim and quiet outside, so he took that to mean they were alone.

"Cuppy!" Mugman whispered loudly, trying to nudge his brother awake. Cuphead grumbled something else and stirred a bit, then cracked open one eye just a sliver.

"Muh.. What's goin' on Mugsy?" He replied sleepily, wriggling sleep dust from his little red nose. He tried to rub his face but came to the same startling realization Mugman had, and gave his brother a wide eyed look from over his shoulder, his straw briefly standing up straight in alarm.

"What's goin' on?" He asked again, more literally this time. "Where are we?"

"I don't know- all I can remember is that dark fellow blowin' that sleepy dust all over us.." Mugman replied honestly, yawning widely. "Gosh, I'm still so tired Cuppy, this bag must be full of the stuff.."

Cuphead had to agree- he was fighting what he didn't want to admit was a losing battle just to stay alert, and defiantly shook his head. "I don't think that's an accident, we gotta get out of here 'fore anybody comes back."

Mugman looked at Cuphead over his shoulder, his wide eyes catching the dim light filtering in through the sack- they were filled with confusion. "What d'you suppose he wants from us?"

"Beats me- but I don't wanna find out!" Cuphead said stubbornly. He wriggled and fought with the rope tied around him and his brother, but for all of his effort it simply wouldn't budge- much to his chagrin. He muttered tartly to himself about just how much he'd like the heckin' thing to heck right on off to heck. "We'll have to find a way t--"

But he didn't have a chance to finish before he was interrupted by the sound of muffled voices and footsteps approaching from somewhere beyond the room they were in. A lock clicked and a door opened, whereupon the voices suddenly became clear enough to make out.

"The first tests have met mild success, about as much as expected, but we will need to keep pace.. I trust you've been keeping a thumb on your own responsibility in our agreement." An unfamiliar voice droned lowly in an even tone as a light switched on. Cuphead could see two large, indistinct figures outside through the tiny holes in the burlap sack, but nothing else. He exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Mugman, but neither said a word, both for fear of drawing attention, as well as potentially interrupting what could be useful information.

"Of course- I think you'll be satisfied." A familiar voice replied, and both of the cups gasped shortly before the bag they were trapped in was upended with little ceremony, sending the both of them tumbling onto the cold, smooth surface of a desk. They bounced once before landing in a sitting position, a little dazed but unhurt.

As their eyes adjusted they found that the dim room they had awoken in was what appeared to be some sort of prison. Cages of various sizes were stacked on tables and shelves, and some contained the forlorn forms of other toons. Most cowered away, shrinking back to the recesses of their cells, and when the cups looked up to the source of the dark shadow that fell over them, they too trembled in fear, staring in shock at what they saw.

Neither of them had seen a creature quite like the one that was examining them now. It--he?--was tall and thin, wearing a black suit, gloves and hat. He had a thin, sharp mustache, a long, sharp nose, and narrow eyes that were even sharper still.
But what the cups found most astonishing was that this creature, this man- he didn't appear to be a toon at all! He had no outlines, and moved differently- slowly, stiffly and deliberately.
A pair of small round spectacles sat on the bridge of his nose, catching the light as he bent down to take a closer look at the captive toons. Blearily Cuphead noted the presence of the dark toon that had swindled them, grinning and rubbing his hands together as he peered over the new creature's shoulder- but Cuphead was too frightened to address him just now.

"Hm." The strange, not-toon hummed lowly, reaching out to gently take Cuphead's handle as leverage to tilt his head in the same manner as one would lift another's chin- and then he smiled. But his smile was only vaguely amused and anything but friendly. It did very little to allay the creeping sense of dread that was overtaking the cups. "They'll do. Finish securing them here, and meet me in my office. We will discuss the development of our contract.. I feel that we are going to do excellent work- so long as you take care to remember our terms."

The man turned to give the dark toon a keen, dangerous glance. He hadn't said anything that might insinuate his comment constituted a threat, but even in their drowsy, befuddled state, both Cuphead and Mugman could tell that one hung in the air regardless. As for what that threat happened to entail was impossible to say, but it must have been dire as the dark toon suddenly looked uncharacteristically nervous. He swallowed hard, but recovered himself remarkably quickly.

"Oh come now! I'm a devil of my word! I never break a contract and you can hold me to that. Besides, you've been more than fair." He swept in close, closing his clawed hands on the man's shoulders and offering one of his dreadfully alarming grins. The man appeared to be caught slightly off-guard for a moment, eyes widening only slightly before he lifted a hand to adjust his hat and shrugged the toon off with exceptional calm, considering his accomplice had just addressed himself as a 'devil'.
This revelation distressed the brothers deeply- they'd both heard stories and tales of such characters. Such dastardly creatures were to be avoided at all costs, lest one find themselves vamping with trouble's confidant. But they could hardly be blamed for their current predicament- after all, they had never seen one before, and couldn't have known the danger.. Which was likely what the dark toon had been hoping for when he'd spotted them in the forest alone.
If this non-toon man was clever and dangerous enough to have such creatures working for him, he must have been very powerful indeed. Cuphead and Mugman trembled when the man's gaze swept over them again.

"Indeed. In that case I'm certain you'll see that I don't regret it." He nodded to the cups before turning to walk out of the room. Cuphead was still afraid, but that didn't stop him from shooting a nasty glare at the devil looming over them. Mugman shrank behind his brother, but he frowned too as the devil leaned down a bit to smile at them.

"Sorry boys- it ain't personal or nothin'." He lifted a hand, unsheathing his claws with a sound like that of metal grazing metal. Cuphead didn't back down, though Mugman sorely wished he would. Instead, the hotheaded little cup struggled to his feet, taking his brother with him and stumbled around, trying not to get his legs tangled in Mugman's until he was facing the bigger toon.

"You- you--! You rotten little goblin!" He shouted, an angry jet of steam puffing out of his straw. This elicited a series of gasps and whispers from the surrounding toons, but Cuphead either didn't notice or didn't care. Given how red his face was, Mugman was willing to bet on the latter. "What's the big idea anyway!? Where are we and what's all this about? You better start explainin' yerself or-- or--!" He didn't have time to think of a suitable threat, as his train of thought was promptly derailed when the devil suddenly lashed out. Both Cuphead and Mugman yelped loudly and shut their eyes, but opened them again when the ropes around them suddenly fell slack. The dark toon chuckled, picking up each of the astonished little cups and shaking them loose of the tangle of rope he'd cut them free of. Their freedom was short lived, however.
After deftly tossing a terrified Mugman into a little cage with a squeak and shutting the door before he could get back up, the devil lifted a struggling Cuphead to eye level by the back of his shirt.

"You've got quite a temper son- I like you! Just mind it doesn't get you in trouble.." He tossed the little cup in the air, catching him with his arms pinned to his sides instead.

"See, my friends around here don't care much for chaos.. Sad, ain't it? I imagine you and I know how much they're missing out on, heh. Still, 'round these parts, troublemakers are liable to meet some consequences." He made an alarming gesture with his free hand across his neck and Cuphead adopted a comical look of shock. The dark toon laughed.

"Looks like you've got the idea."

The devil tossed Cuphead into a cell, and little cup landed with a soft thump, somersaulting once and spinning around on his tushie as he came to a stop, eyes spinning for a moment before he shook his head and hopped to his feet. The dark toon had pulled away a layer of his fur like a coat--was he even wearing clothes? More to the point, he actually had pockets in there?--and produced a ring of keys, using them to lock the cups into their little prisons. Cuphead scrambled to the door and gripped the bars, growling up at their grinning captor.

"You bad bad thing! If you don't let us out'a here right now, I'm gonna cast a kitten!" He shouted, fiercely shaking his little fist. He knew there was nothing he could do but he felt obligated to express his ire regardless. The dark toon simply spun the ring of keys on his finger once before stashing them away in his 'coat' and turning to sidle to the door of the dark room, swinging his tail in one hand as he slipped out into the hallway.

"You boys behave!" He called right before the door closed, clicking once as it was locked from the outside, and then it was quiet. Cuphead was still rattling the bars of his cage, but Mugman plopped down heavily on his bottom, twiddling his fingers sadly before reaching for his straw and pulling it down to his mouth. Sucking idly on his straw was a childhood habit he'd never kicked, and he often found himself doing it when he was anxious, bored or, as with his current situation, upset.
When Cuphead's short little tantrum was spent, he aggressively adjusted his rumpled shirt and turned sharply away from the door to cross his arms and pout- but when he noticed his brother sucking on his straw, his anger quickly vanished.

"Mugsy.." He said softly, letting his arms fall to his sides. "Hey- it's gonna be okay." He assured Mugman quietly, creeping over to sit down as close as the bars would allow. Mugman closed the gap, scooting over to be near his brother, who immediately stuck his arms through the bars to pull him into a hug. It wasn't as comfortable or as close of a hug as either of them would have liked at that moment, but Mugman returned the gesture anyway. He did find some comfort in it though, letting his straw pop out of his mouth a few moments later.

"Whatever are we gonna do, Cuppy?" He asked, giving his brother the forlorn look of one presented with a challenge they aren't entirely sure they're capable of overcoming. Cuphead, of course, wasn't entirely sure either, but he adopted a look of resolve instead, getting up into a kneeling position and gently bringing Mugman up with him, resting his hands on his brother's shoulders.

"We're going to find a way out of here, that's what." He replied, smiling a little. He didn't feel as confident as he sounded, but sounding the part was at least halfway there, right? Mugman seemed to think so, as his eyes widened and he put a finger to his mouth thoughtfully.

"How are we gonna do that?" He asked again, lightly thumping one of the bars with his boot. "We're stuck in here and that devil fella has the keys." He was right. The bars were too close together for them to squeeze through, even with rubber anatomy, and they'd held up solidly under Cuphead's tantrum, so forcing their way out clearly wasn't an option. He hummed a bit, scuffing his shoes on the floor as he thought. Then he snapped his fingers.

"I've got it!" Cuphead stood up and scampered to the cage door, yoinking his straw out with a flourish and biting the tip, twirling it briefly til it resembled a cone. Leaning against the bars, he stuck his tongue out as he fumbled for the lock and attempted to pick it with his straw.
Mugman stood as well, gripping the bars and watching hopefully, as did a few nearby onlookers- but after a moment or so, Cuphead stumbled back.

"Ow!" He squeaked, forlornly looking down at the crumpled tip of his straw before straightening it out and sticking it back in his head as he rested his chin in his hand. "Well, that's a bust. We'll just have ta' keep thinkin."

A sudden, muffled noise that sounded like a voice coming from somewhere above them drawled something unintelligible and both Cuphead and Mugman startled a bit, glancing around uneasily in search of its source. It was quiet for a moment.

"Over here." The dangling earpiece of a toon phone dropped into view in front of Mugman, swinging just outside the cage. It was close enough now for the voice to be clear enough to hear, but it was still quiet and vague from a distance.

"Oh!" Mugman gasped and reached out to grab it, holding it up and turning his head to listen. Cuphead scurried over, beckoning his brother closer so he could do the same.

"I said give it up kid- nobody gets out of here unless it's by Lou's permission. And he ain't exactly in our corner, insofar as anybody can see." The phone repeated, and Cuphead pulled back briefly, wrinkling his little nose and giving his brother a look.

"Lou?" He asked, deciding that now wasn't the time to refute the point. A garbled bit of static--maybe a sigh?--came through the speaker.

"Guess he's not good at introducin' himself- that's the character who brought you here. Tall, black fuzz, horns n' a tail, sells his fellow toons out for profit, you know who I'm gabbin' about." The phone responded, speaking quickly but his tone was flat. There was a weary sarcasm in his voice that seemed to suggest he'd probably been trapped here for some time. Cuphead and Mugman pulled away and exchanged a solemn look before leaning back in to the speaker.

"So what's goin' on here, fella? What is this place?" Cuphead asked, feeling a touch more confident than he did just a short time ago. A friendly--if not somewhat gruff--voice was more than welcome right now. Not only for reaffirming that good toon folk could be found in this strange and frightening new place, but also for answers to the questions they couldn't answer themselves.

"Far as I can tell, they're tryin ta figure us out- doin tests an' studies, like some kinda gang of mad scientists. But that ain't the end of it, no siree. Mark my words, there's some big ol' operation goin on here n' they're keepin it real hushed up.. Even for folks on the inside, like us. I don't know what they're gunnin for, but it can't be anything good."

"Golly.." Mugman breathed, biting his nails. It sounded scary, but Cuphead didn't balk yet.

"Well whatever crooked business they're up to, I'm not gonna let 'em get away with it! We're gonna find a way out of here, and we're gonna make sure nobody else ever gets tricked into this! That'll show 'em!" He replied confidently, and Mugman nodded, grinning at his brother. Cuphead's bold and fearless attitude was an endless source of encouragement for his brother, and encouragement was something they could both use more of now. The phone huffed a single, quiet laugh.

"You got some moxie in ya, kid. Ain't seen that in a while.. Just don't shoot your hopes too high if you ain't got a solid plan of action. Trust me kid, I been here a good while- I seen a lot of bright n' scrappy toons abandon their hope. And I might not know everything, but I know enough to tell yous that gettin outta here- it ain't gonna be easy." The phone warned them, and the brothers exchanged another look- this time one of concern. Once more, the phone continued before they could respond. "But see here.. If ya do find a way out, you can count on all the help I've got. I've had about enough of this joint, n' if there's an escape plan brewin, you can bet yer bottom dollar I'm gonna be in on it."

"Will do, Mr.." Cuphead paused for a moment, realizing abruptly that neither of them had introduced themselves. The phone chuckled.

"They call me Dilly." He replied, and both Cuphead and Mugman grinned.

"Glad to meet ya Mr. Dilly! I'm Cuphead, n' the fella who accepted your uh.. Your /call/ is my brother, Mugman." He turned the receiver toward Mugman, who offered a quiet but cheerful greeting.

"Heh, real pleasure." Dilly muttered, a note of sincerity in his otherwise cynical tone. "But that's enough gabbin' fer now- if they catch us mid-chat, there ain't gonna be another chat."

"Yes sir- thank you, sir." Cuphead replied, letting go of the receiver and watching it get pulled up out of view. Mugman waved goodbye even though it was unlikely that Dilly could see it, then stepped over to sit next to Cuphead, who had resumed his plotting.

"Mr. Dilly seems nice- and he said he'd help us! That's gotta count for something, doesn't it?" He asked, but inwardly, Cuphead was becoming increasingly less optimistic that they could escape on their own.. Perhaps, for now, that was for the better. In the end, it might simply come down to a waiting game wherein patience was the only viable method with which to fabricate a getaway, or at least swipe a useful tool while heads were turned. Sighing, he settled down next to Mugman, who immediately reached out to cling to him.
"Yeah. We'll find a way." Cuphead said, but now that his temper had ebbed--and with it some of his confidence--he wasn't so sure.
In the shadows, a small spy observed them quietly as they spoke, before looking down and silently slipping away into the dark.