It is now thirteen years after the "Darkwing Duck" series took place. A lot of things have changed since then, such as ... well ... oh, heck, read for yourself!
By Kim McFarland
|"But I never intended all this madness, ever,
And nobody really understood - well, how could they? -
That all I ever wanted was to bring them something great!
Why does nothing ever turn out like it should?"
Jack Skellington, The Nightmare Before Christmas
A varied lot of people filed into the auditorium. The group was more heterogenous than most crowds, but that was to be expected at The Eldritch Academy. The Academy attracted some of the strangest beings in the world - who, once they arrived there, found that they were not as unique as they had expected.
From backstage, a tall, pale duck wearing an austere, somewhat out-of-date black suit glanced out at the crowd. They were almost ready for him to begin. He turned to another, a young man was lying on a gurney from the local hospital. "It won't be long now. Are you in pain?"
"No." the man on the gurney answered in a nervous whisper.
"Good." He knew that the pain-blocking spell had not worn off yet, but a show of concern always reassured the patient. He placed a gentle hand on the man's shoulder. "Just remember, you have no need to be afraid."
"I'm not afraid."
That was clearly untrue. But anyone who, only a few hours ago, had had his legs crushed in a rockslide needed no excuse to be afraid. Especially if he was then brought into the company of sorcerers, masters of the unknown. He could not have afforded the medical care he needed at the hospital, and it was doubtful if he would regain the use of his legs without special intervention. He was perfect for Marius's purposes.
Marius wheeled the gurney onto the stage behind the closed curtains. He paused a moment, then gestured at the curtains. They opened, revealing a full auditorium with people standing in the back. Mixed in with the Academy's students and alumni were a group of delegates from the young man's village, who had come at a special invitation. The chatter died away immediately, leaving a respectful silence.
"Greetings. I have invited you here to present something in the field of necromancy that I'm sure you will find quite interesting." For the benefit of the villagers, who knew little about magic, he explained, "Necromancy, although widely known among the uninitiated as the study of death, is also the study of life. As life can be taken, so it can be strengthened and transferred. All healing spells are, in truth, necromantic spells.
"The limitations of healing spells depend on how much power can be used to fuel them. A healer who tries too strong a spell risks spending his own life energy in the process. The alternative is to draw on the life force of a sacrificial being - a barbaric practice.
"We of the Eldritch Academy know that there are many dark and dangerous forces in the world. We shun them, knowing that to use their powers is to put the soul in jeopardy." He paused for effect. "However, there is one particularly sinister existence which I have found a way to draw on, taking its unworthy life force and using it to heal the innocent."
In the audience, Morgana McCawber watched raptly. She knew Marius by his professional reputation; she had even studied under him once. She knew that he had never trafficked with the forces of evil. What, then, could he be talking about?
Marius gestured to one side of the stage. On cue, an assistant brought out a stand around which tendrils of a plant had been wound. The vines led offstage, obviously connected to the mother plant outside. Marius gestured theatrically. "I give you one of the most ancient and sinister forces - kudzu!"
The audience laughed. Marius smiled. "This pesty plant certainly has no shortage of life energy; it grows at a furious rate. It is also almost impossible to kill. Thus, it is a perfect source, once the problem of converting plant energy into something usable by humans is overcome." He stepped over to the gurney. "This man was injured by a rockslide this morning. Those who do not want to see should avert their eyes when I cast the spell, as I will have to reveal his legs, which are not a sight for the squeamish. The bones are crushed from the middle of the femur down."
Morgana watched attentively as he began weaving a magical spell. She could follow most of what he said, though he switched languages several times for different phases of the spell. Then he removed the sheet. Morgana's stomach turned. She calmed herself quickly by thinking that Marius must have already done some healing work on him, otherwise the poor man would certainly have bled to death.
Marius wound several strands of the vine around his patient's arms. Then he began the process of knitting the fragmented bones back together. As he progressed the vine began to wither.
After a tense ten minutes Marius straightened up and removed the now dried out kudzu vines. He completed his spell, then spoke softly to his patient. "How do you feel?"
"I... don't know. I'm still numb."
"I will remove the anaesthetic." Marius spoke a short spell backwards. Then he asked, "Do you think you can stand?"
"I think so. It doesn't hurt, but it itches like crazy." His voice was full of surprise.
"That's from the healing process." Marius smiled and held his hand to steady him as he got off the gurney. When he stood on the stage beside Marius the audience erupted with applause.
"Thank you." Marius said, though he could not be heard. He spoke to his patient, "Are any of your friends or relatives in the audience?"
"Yes. Right there." He pointed to a clique of people in the middle.
"I'll take you to them; your legs might be a little unsteady yet." He escorted his patient off the stage.
The presentation was over. People began to file out. Morgana picked up one of the write-ups of the experiment that Marius had made available. She skimmed it, but she could not concentrate on the meaning of the words. She gave up and folded it for future use.
She glided through the campus to a building covered by painted containment runes. This was where much of the Academy's research was conducted. She paused for a moment to gather her nerve, then tapped on one of the doors.
The door swung inward. Nobody was on the other side, but that was not startling in an academy of sorcerers. Further inside, Marius looked up from writing notes in one of his books. "Ah, Ms.... McCawber. Come in."
"Am I disturbing you?" she asked.
"No." He put down his quill. "Actually, I'm glad for the company."
She shut the door behind herself. "I saw your presentation..." she began, then realized that she had gone blank. She was actually flustered. He waited patiently. "I, I just wanted to tell you how impressed I was."
"Thank you." He nodded. "The spells themselves need more fine tuning before I can teach them to anyone else, but I think that once I work out the kinks they will prove quite handy. To both the medical and gardening communities." he smiled faintly.
"Yes. Where did you get the idea?"
He looked upward thoughtfully. "It was not a new idea really. It simply occurred to me that if animal life forces can be exchanged, as they are in sacrifices, then plants could be an even greater source of energy. From then, it was only a matter of developing a way to convert and channel the energy."
She floated closer. "You say that as if it were that simple."
"Perhaps, when I improve the spells, it will be." he replied. Changing the subject, he asked, "I have not seen your ... boyfriend? ... around here in some time. Darkwing Duck. How is he?"
"He's fine. But we haven't been together for a decade now."
"Really?" he asked, surprised. "Time does pass me by when I'm busy." he said pensively.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"Oh, just a touch of ennui, I suppose." he said, shrugging again.
"How can you be bored? That was one of the most fascinating breakthroughs I've ever seen! Being bored with magic is like being bored with beautiful sunrises." Morgana insisted.
"Sunrises... I don't remember much about those." he said thoughtfully.
Morgana flinched when she realized her gaffe. Sunrise was the wrong image to use when talking to a Vampire. "I meant, I've followed your career since I first came to the academy. You have created some of the most brilliant magic I have ever seen, and not by copying others' spells, but by creating your own!"
"Brilliant? No." He shook his head and spoke gently. "Morgana, I am not a brilliant man. I am a man with average intelligence who has been practicing magic for... what year is it?"
"Two thousand and four."
"Already? For two thousand years, give or take a decade. Given so much time, and a good memory, many people could become experts in their fields. The only reason more people haven't matched my achievements is that they do not live long enough." He sighed. "It is such a pity to see so many worthy people flicker in and out of existence, and to think of what they might have been capable of, had they only the time."
"It's a shame you can't do something about that. If you could lengthen peoples' lifespans without using the Forbidden Library, it would do wonders. Especially if you could do it to Normals." she said jokingly.
She realized that he was staring at her. She said, "I wasn't serious."
He said "Of course not." absently as he opened his book and picked up his quill again. He dipped it in an inkwell and began scratching rapidly on a page.
Morgana left. She was not offended; she knew that Marius often became so absorbed in his work that he forgot what was going on around himself. It must be the reason he was still alone. Which was a shame, as no matter what he said he was a brilliant man. And charming, in an absent-minded way.
"We FINALLY get done with a case, and you want to go to the spookiest place on Earth." Darkwing grumbled loudly.
"Oh, chill, Dad. We could all use a change of scenery."
"For me, a change of scenery would be a rest at home."
"Nope." Quiverwing replied. "If we stayed at home, you'd just be listening to KRYM radio, waiting for a crime to fight."
"Still. Transylvania?! Couldn't you just curl up with one of your horror videos?"
"Nahh. I heard about some new magical invention, and I'm curious. You didn't have to come."
"Like I'd let you come here alone, after that little incident with the Forbidden Library!" Darkwing shot back.
"Guys, ain't this all old news?" Launchpad ventured.
"Yeah, but Dad can't seem to tell that." Quiverwing answered sweetly.
Launchpad switched the radio on loudly enough to drown out their bickering. They always argued, but when it was for hours on end during a long flight it wore on Launchpad's nerves.
Darkwing shouted, "Will you turn that down? I can barely hear myself!"
He could not hear the reply, but he could read Launchpad's lips: "I know."
Quiverwing leaned close to Darkwing. "Truce. OK?"
"All right." he said reluctantly. He tapped Launchpad on the arm and made a T with his hands.
Launchpad turned off the radio. "Almost there, guys." They could see, in the middle of a wilderness, the buildings of the Eldritch Academy and the nearby village.
"Just like a movie setting. Out in the middle of nowhere." Quiverwing murmured to herself.
"I know. Who knows what could happen, especially if there's magic involved." Darkwing commented.
"Only when YOU'RE involved. Especially if you've gotten a witch mad at you."
"And WHO conjured up that Taronga that wrecked everything?"
Launchpad switched the radio on again.
One eventful landing later, Darkwing and Quiverwing disembarked from the Thunderquack. Darkwing commented, "Boy, am I glad to see the ground again. Even this ground."
Launchpad said, "I'm starved. Let's go and grab some chow."
"I can go for that. Just remember, don't drink the water." Quiverwing joked.
They found a local restaurant easily. Thankfully, it was one that offered western food as well as local cuisine. Both Darkwing and Quiverwing ordered hamburgers. Launchpad ordered the same as both of them. As an afterthought, Darkwing ordered bottled water for all of them.
Quiverwing snorted. "Water? You know what fish do in that stuff? I'll take a Koo-koo Cola."
The waiter noted this and left. Darkwing said, "That stuff is no good for you."
"Yeah, right. Dad, you know that, to use the food you eat, your body has to break it down into the right chemical form. Glucose, better known as sugar. I'm just saving a few steps."
Darkwing looked at Launchpad in mild exasperation. Launchpad shrugged back. It didn't really matter to him whether they drank water or cola, so long as the burgers were there. Darkwing said, "I never thought I'd say that Honker was being a bad influence on you."
"I'll tell him. He'll be proud, I'll bet." She grinned.
"I'm still not sure about that magical thing." Darkwing returned to an old topic. "It sounds too good to be true. And anything that sounds to good to be true usually is!"
"Come on, what could be wrong about it? He used the life from a plant to heal someone! Only Bushroot could find anything wrong with that." she insisted.
"There's still something sinister about it." Darkwing replied.
A woman from a nearby table spoke up. "I saw the demonstration. There was nothing sinister about it."
Quiverwing turned around in her chair. "You saw it? Tell me about it!"
She was pleased to oblige. "Marius Magnus, from the Eldritch Academy, healed someone whose legs had been all but destroyed in a rockslide. After he was healed he just walked off the stage!"
"Was there any chance this could have been faked?" Darkwing asked.
"No! He was at the hospital before they took him to the Eldritch Academy. They have records of his injuries. He would never have walked again."
"Hmm." Darkwing hummed, unwilling to give up his skepticism. "He had to kill plants to work his sorcery. How many did he have to kill?"
"Only some kudzu."
"Well, Dad, does it sound like a winner or what?" Quiverwing turned back to him.
"You're always sayin' how you hate kudzu, DW." Launchpad commented.
"I'm still not convinced that something sinister isn't going on." Darkwing muttered as their food arrived.
When they finished their meal and exited the restaurant Darkwing shielded his eyes from the sun and said, "Ow!" in a tone of surprise.
"What's the problem?" Quiverwing asked.
"The sun's bright, that's all. Just hurt my eyes a little."
"Me too." Launchpad added, squinting.
"It's no brighter than usual." Quiverwing said.
Launchpad yawned. "I'm beat."
"It's just afternoon!" Darkwing said, then yawned himself. "But, now that you mention it, I'm a little tired too. Must be jet lag. Let's find a place to stay."
Quiverwing stayed with them while they found a room at a local inn. By the time they made it to their room Launchpad could barely keep his eyes open, and Darkwing was scarcely in better shape. Quiverwing wondered what was in those burgers. But she had had one myself, and she felt fine. She decided that Darkwing and Launchpad just couldn't fight crime all night and keep going the next day like they used to. Taking a key, she said out loud, "I'll be back in a few hours."
"Fine. See you later, Gos." Darkwing mumbled.
She shut the door. He must be really whacked if he was calling her by her name while she was in costume.
Even if she had not seen it on the flight in, she would have had no trouble finding her way to the Eldritch Academy. Its craggy towers stood above the treetops of the surrounding forest. A path of hard-packed earth wound between what looked, when one came close, like very unfriendly trees. Unconsciously she kept to the center of the path. Why wasn't there a regular road? But then, the people of the Academy must not need to drive, not when they could just "zap" themselves from here to there.
After what seemed like far too long, owing to the meandering of the path, she emerged in front of the façade of the main Academy building. It looked just as she remembered it, complete with gargoyles and poison ivy. Ignoring a few odd looks from odd looking people, she stepped inside, wondering if a place like this would have anything as simple as a faculty directory.
A door in the hallway ahead of her opened. A wizened duck, bent over with age, stepped out. He was speaking in a thick Scottish accent to someone still inside the room. Dean Spector McHex. Quiverwing ducked around a corner, hoping that he had not seen her. If he recognized her...
"Looking for something, lassie?" she heard.
Of course he had seen her. Just her luck. She turned back. "Just trying to find someone."
He looked at her, as if trying to remember something. Then he said, "You must be one of the new students. Who're ye looking for?"
Quiverwing said, "Morgana McCawber."
"Is that you, G - Quiverwing?" Morgana came to the door, and had seen her costume just in time to catch herself.
"Hey! How's that for a coincidence?" Quiverwing said, still slightly nervous.
"There are no such things as coincidences. Just things we don't know the reason for yet." The old duck smiled and bowed, as much as was possible for a duck already bowed with age.
Morgana stepped out of his office. "Dean McHex, this is Quiverwing Quack."
McHex studied her face again. "You seem familiar. Have we met?"
"Er, no, I don't think so. I'm no good at magic. Just a Normal friend of Morgana's." she said quickly.
"Ah. Well, I must be off now." He winked at them and returned to his office.
Quiverwing said, "Whew. I thought he'd recognized me."
"Perhaps if you still wore your hair in pigtails." Morgana said. She understood why Gosalyn would not be eager to be recognized here, after the fiasco with the Forbidden Library. She said, "What has Dark gotten himself into this time?"
"What? Oh, nothing." Morgana folded her arms and gave her a skeptical look. Quiverwing said, "Really. He didn't even come with me; he and Launchpad are in the village down there. I heard about that demonstration the other day. I was curious."
"That's made the Normals' news?" Morgana asked, surprised.
"Well, not exactly. When you fight crime, you learn to look for the unusual."
That satisfied Morgana. It pleased her to see Normals taking an interest in magic - although in Gosalyn's case she hoped the interest was not too serious. "Well, there's nothing much to see right now, during the day. But I have a copy of the write-up I can lend you."
"Thanks!" As they started walking, Gosalyn asked, "How you planning to use that kinda magic?"
Morgana replied, "On a small scale, I suppose once the techniques are simplified and perfected they will be taught to our shamans and witch doctors in training. Not to mention the alumni who are already eager to learn Marius's techniques. It's a pity that we can't put this to much wider use. Magic is not well enough accepted."
"But, if it worked as well as I heard, then you could just show people that, right? After all, it's gotta be better than lying in a hospital bed for weeks."
"True." Morgana acknowledged. "The people of the village who we invited to the presentation - the kin of the injured, mostly - were impressed."
"There, see? We Normals aren't all vain, arrogant, egomaniacal, pigheaded waffle-brains." Quiverwing said with a smile.
Morgana laughed softly. "Not all." she agreed.
Morgana opened the door of her office. Inside, it was decorated pretty much the same as the study in her house, complete with dusty books and desk gargoyles, and a vase of black roses. She picked the report up off her desk and said, "Do not copy this, or let it out of your posession. It contains information on the preliminary spells, which, if performed by an unskilled sorcerer, could lead to disaster."
"No problem." Gosalyn said. "I know as much as I wanna know about that."
Morgana looked at her in surprise for a moment, then said, "Oh, Gosalyn, I wasn't thinking about that. That was a mistake you made when you were a child. I don't hold that against you."
"Thanks. Say, the Forbidden Library is locked up, right?"
"More than that - after what happened with our friend Beelzy, we moved all of those materials to our Archives. Few even know where that is."
"Good." Quiverwing said sincerely. "Is it OK if I return this tomorrow?"
"That's fine. I'll see you later, Quiverwing." Morgana said warmly.
After she left, Morgana sighed. She liked the girl. She had much more spirit than most Normals, and she was not intimidated by the unknown. It was a pity that, with her, she brought the memory of less pleasant times with her father. In the years since they has stopped dating Morgana had come to understand that Dark was not to blame. Neither was Morgana. They were simply not compatible. But still, there had been good times, which Morgana missed...
She shook her head. This was getting her nowhere. Wading in the past was a waste of time. Why was she brooding? She had not done this in years. It was remarkable that news of Marius's breakthrough had made it outside the magical community. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this could be applied in the world at large?
She had not seen Marius in several days. That was not surprising; he tended to drop out of sight when he became absorbed in his work. But he had seemed to like her company before. And it would be dusk in a few hours. Why not?
When Quiverwing returned Darkwing and Launchpad were awake - but only barely. Darkwing greeted her with a peevish "Where have you been? We were worried!"
"Fine, thanks. And you?" she answered.
"What's that, Gos?" Launchpad yawned, looking at the papers in her hand.
"Oh, this. It's the report. I just asked Morgana about it, and she let me borrow it." she answered smoothly. "It's got some neat pictures, too. Here's the after' picture." She showed them one page.
"So what." Darkwing answered, unwilling to give up his bad mood. "For all we know, he was never hurt to begin with."
"Oh, yeah?" Quiverwing flipped a few pages back. "Take a look!"
Darkwing glanced at it, then looked away. "Gosalyn!"
"Ow! But he's OK now, right?" Launchpad asked.
"Yeah." she answered, then looked at Launchpad. "Hey, you usually can't stand the sight of blood."
"Huh, that's right." Launchpad answered, surprised. "Guess it's not so bad if I know it's better now?"
"I guess so. Come on, Dad, I just went there, visited a little with Morgana, and came back. Nothing weird happened. I didn't even speak to any janitors. You feel any better?"
"I don't know. I'm still sleepy." He shook his head, as if trying to clear it.
"Still? It's the evening!" She opened the blinds.
"Ah - would'ja close that, Gos? It's bright." Launchpad said, shading his eyes with a hand.
"OK." She did. "What's the matter with your eyes?"
"I dunno. Light hurts 'em. Maybe I should wear sunglasses?" Launchpad considered the idea.
"Well, never mind. Darkwing Duck is a creature of the night anyway." Darkwing declared.
That logic made little sense to Quiverwing, but she did not say anything.
Several hours thereafter, Morgana rapped on Marius's door. He opened it himself, and smiled when he saw her. "Morgana, come in."
"I haven't seen you around the Academy grounds lately. Nobody has. I was just wondering how you were."
"I have shut myself in, haven't I?" he admitted. "I've been working on something. As a matter of fact, it's something that you inspired. Would you like some tea?"
"Thank you." She had never seen him this animated. He hummed to himself as he filled a pot with water from a bottle of mineral water. He waved a hand over it. The water boiled. He added a few powders to it. She recognized the ingredients; it had never occurred to her to make tea out of magical herbs. He poured some of the tea into a cup and handed it to Morgana.
"Sugar?" he asked.
"Yes. A little."
He placed his hand on a sealed jar in his cabinet, then looked at her cup. The tea suddenly turned slightly cloudy. She stirred it, then tasted. He had somehow spirited the sugar into the tea from a closed container. That made sense; things kept fresh longer in sealed containers. She smiled. He WAS in a good mood! "I'd never expect a vampire to make tea." she commented.
"I have all the ingredients. I don't drink it myself, but there's no reason I can't make it for others." he replied cheerfully.
"And to think I was worried about you." Morgana smiled over her tea.
"I've been pursuing the research that you suggested to me the last time you were here. I'm ready to test it now." he said.
"What did I suggest?" she asked, confused.
"You commented on the short lifespans of Normals', as compared with that of many Paranormals'. I have found a way to change that. They need no longer be limited to a single century of life."
He stood and began to pace, still speaking animatedly. "The problem with necromantic spells that lengthen lifespan is that, for one person to gain life, another must lose it. Some of the more horrible spells involve stealing the youth of children, or even sacrificing them. A dreadful practice. However, if we approach the problem from a different angle - like the using of plant life to heal a Human - the equation becomes simpler."
"You mean, take the life from plants to lengthen Human life?" she asked, not as pleased as he was.
He looked at her briefly. She was young; of course she did not know that the properties of the energies were incompatible. He replied, "No. That's not a bad idea, but it would not work. Morgana, not all of us were born Paranormal'." He smiled widely, revealing his fang teeth.
She was beginning to understand. He continued, "When I became a Vampire, my lifespan became indeterminate. I may truly be immortal; who knows? No Vampire has ever died of old age."
Morgana put the tea down. "People don't want to be Vampires, Marius."
"True, people are very conservative. And there are many horrible myths about us - that we kill Human victims out of blood lust, that we are undead monsters. However, you know the truth, Morgana. I am as alive as you are. A Vampire actually needs very little blood to survive. It can be from an animal as well as from a Human, so long as it is alive. And we do not kill, or steal blood from unwilling Humans. If the truth were known, people would choose to become Vampires. It seems unkind to hold this gift away from them."
"I'm not sure." Morgana said softly.
"The more rational people will choose it. It's only logical." He said with assurance. "The only apparent drawbacks are the nocturnal lifestyle, and the, shall we say, dietary restrictions. However, once one has been a Vampire one soon becomes accustomed. I can see in the night as well as you can in the day."
"Yes, I know." she said uncomfortably. What was he planning to do with these theories? "This would have a ... drastic effect on society."
"As do all major revolutions." he acknowledged. "I have seen many of them in my two thousand years. The recent invention of one single machine, the automobile, brought with it sweeping changes in working and living arrangements, not to mention economic, financial, and courtship patterns, all in a few short decades. I remember it well, do you?"
"No, I don't. That happened before I was born."
That stopped him. He looked at her silently for a moment, then smiled apologetically. "Pardon me. I don't mean that you look that old; I simply forget how young you are."
"No offense taken." she replied, charmed.
"Time flies, as the cliché goes. But, Morgana, this could be a great boon to mankind. Imagine if, instead of a few sorcerers and others who must keep their nature secret, scientists and medical researchers had unlimited lifespans! Instead of flickering in and out of existence, they would be able to continue and build on their life's work, as I have."
Morgana did not know what to say. She knew that some of the best ideas sounded ridiculous before they were demonstrated; who would have believed that lightning could be harnessed in the form of electricity? He must know what he's doing. Finally she spoke. "I suppose that makes sense."
"You're not convinced." he stated gently. "That's fine. I know it sounds strange. But so did using those pestilential vines outside for healing purposes. You will soon see."
"I suppose I will."
He laid a hand on hers. It was cool. "Thank you for listening to my ramblings. You have more patience than most of my students, Heaven knows."
"I enjoy your company."
"That's something Vampires do not hear often." he replied lightly.
She left him to his research after a few more pleasantries. She was a charming woman, he thought. Her skepticism was refreshing. Most people had such blind faith in him that they would not discuss anything with him; they would only agree with him. To someone younger that would be flattering; however, Marius found it pointless.
He would especially enjoy proving this theory to her. He had refrained from telling her that the process had already begun.
As the night deepened Darkwing and Launchpad recovered from whatever was bothering them. Unsurprisingly, the first thing that Launchpad suggested was dinner. They went to the same restaurant. They were surprised by how crowded it was. Darkwing spoke with one of the employees while they waited. "What's going on? Convention or something?"
"I don't know." He shrugged, baffled as well. "We had a lighter dinner crowd than usual, and then, about a half hour ago, everyone started coming in. There's no conventions in town, or even at the Academy."
"Hmmm." Darkwing thought out loud, "I wonder if THEY have something to do with this."
"With a late crowd at a restaurant?" Quiverwing rolled her eyes. "You know what, Dad? You need a vacation. You think EVERYTHING'S a case!"
The employee continued, "It's funny, what with the flu that's been going around I'd have thought we'd have fewer people here, period."
"Flu?" Launchpad asked.
"Yeah. Seems a lot of people have come down with something in the last few days. Makes them sleepy, mostly. But I guess it doesn't last long, because people who had it before seem to be all right now."
"Guess that's what WE had, DW." Launchpad said, relieved.
"Case closed." Quiverwing added.
While they were at the restaurant the number of people did not dwindle; rather, it increased. This struck even Quiverwing as odd; this was not the kind of town she would expect to have an active night life. "Especially this near the Eldritch Academy. I'd think they'd leave the night to the - whatever."
"I dunno. The night's kinda nice tonight." Launchpad commented.
Quiverwing and Darkwing glanced at each other. That was an odd comment, coming from Launchpad.
Darkwing said, "There's still something weird about this place..."
Quiverwing sighed noisily. "To our dearly departed vacation." She raised her cola. "Skaal."
"Quiverwing, you have to learn that you must always be vigilant! What do you think they call us vigilantes for?"
"We are St. Canard's vigilantes. We aren't in St. Canard. Just relax a little, OK?"
"Guys, let's not fight." Launchpad said.
Quiverwing said, "I'm going to go back to the inn and read through Morgana's report, 'cause I promised to return it tomorrow, and then I'm gonna catch some sleep. You go out and find something to fight if you want. See you later." She left the table.
"That settles that." Launchpad said.
Darkwing looked angry for a moment, then shrugged. "Oh well. She's still young, she's not acclimated to the all-night grind that all crimefighters must follow. C'mon, Launchpad, let's go."
They paid the bill and left the restaurant. Outside, the streets were full of people. Launchpad asked, "What'cha wanna do?"
"The same thing we do every night, Launchpad." Darkwing replied. "I want to find out if what we caught is the same thing that everyone else did. It seems fishy that we would catch a local bug after being in town only a few hours."
"Yeah, I guess that is strange." Launchpad agreed.
"So, we begin our investigation at the hospital."
The town was small; it only had one hospital. The emergency room was empty. "What the - I thought that this place would be full!" Darkwing said.
"Maybe it ain't bad enough to make people go to the hospital." Launchpad suggested.
Darkwing spoke to a bored triage nurse. "Have you had any admissions here for some sort of new disease?"
"Heavens, yes." she replied tiredly. "All day today. We didn't have enough space for all of them. And then, a few hours ago, they all got up and left."
"They got better. Just like us." Launchpad said to Darkwing.
"Curious. Are you sure that this was a disease? Couldn't it be some kind of poison?"
"No known poison makes a person drowsy and also affect his eyes, then disappears in a few hours. No disease either, for that matter."
They could see how frustrated she was. Darkwing declared, "Well, if there's any foul play behind this, we'll get to the bottom of it!" and left.
Outside, Launchpad asked "Where we gonna start? I mean, we haven't got a clue 'bout what's causing it."
"Wrong." Darkwing declared. "We began to feel the effects right after had lunch. Maybe it was something at the restaurant. But then again, Gosalyn's fine. And she ordered the same thing we did."
Launchpad asked, "Maybe it's something in the water? After all, they always say Don't drink the water'."
"Launchpad, that's just silly. These people are all acclimated to it, and we were drinking bottled water."
When Gosalyn awoke she thought at first that it was still night, because the room was so dark. Then she saw that the shade was down over the window. Dad and Launchpad were asleep in their beds; she was surprised that she hadn't heard them enter. She stretched in the bed, pointing her toes, then suddenly cringed and growled several unprintable words. When would she learn not to stretch in bed?! That always gave her leg cramps!
She got out of bed and stamped her leg on the floor. Gradually the clenched calf muscle loosened, and the pain faded. She let out a breath of relief. She would feel the ghost of the cramp for the rest of the day, but the worst of it was over. She looked over at her father and Launchpad, expecting Drake to be ready to bite her head off for waking him up. However, neither had awakened.
"You guys must've been out all night." she said under her breath. Maybe they HAD found a case or two to chase after. She pulled the blind back, and the late morning sun slanted into the room onto Drake's bed.
Drake opened his eyes, then shut them tightly. "Gosalyn! Shut that!" he exclaimed.
"Eyes still hurt, Dad?"
"Only when you shine that light into them." he answered peevishly.
"Huh." Dad must be suffering a relapse. She went over to Launchpad's bed she had to shake him by the shoulder to awaken him. "Launchpad? Are you all right?" she asked.
"Huh? Uhh... sure, Gos." he said groggily.
On a hunch, she went to the window next to his bed. "I'm going to open the blinds a little. Tell me if it hurts your eyes."
"Uh... OK." Launchpad said apprehensively.
She pulled one of the cords, tilting the slats just enough to let a glow into the room. Launchpad said nothing. She pulled the cord a little farther, letting narrow stripes of light in. Launchpad put a hand over his face. "Gos-"
"All right." She shut the blinds again. "Sheesh. You two are messed up. I'm going to find a doctor."
"We'll be fine, just let us sleep, OK, Gos?" Drake said.
"All right." she said in a voice of resignation.
"Thanks, sweetie." Drake said, yawning on the last word.
She changed into her Quiverwing costume for continuity's sake and headed back to the academy. If, as she suspected, her father and Launchpad had fallen victim to the same sickness as the others, the hospital would already have its hands full. However, she thought that she might be able to get some help at the Academy. She had to return the report anyway.
She found Morgana's office and tapped on the door. It swung inward. "Come." a voice nowhere near the door said.
Quiverwing entered. Morgana gestured, and the door shut behind her. Good trick, Quiverwing thought. "I have the report. That's neat stuff."
"Isn't it, though." Morgana replied, taking it.
"Say, do your healers ever come down to the village?"
"There's some sort of virus or something going around. Looks like a lot of people caught it. Dad and Launchpad too, and they've only been there a little while. I've never heard of a bug that would make someone want to sleep all day and make their eyes hurt, too."
"That is strange." Morgana answered. "What about the hospitals there?"
"Last night we went to one. It was empty. There had been a lot of sick people, and at night they all just up and got better. They couldn't figure out what was wrong with 'em."
"Hmm. Maybe someone should go down there. I can go."
"I didn't know you did healing spells too." Quiverwing commented.
"Any witch knows magical first aid." She stood. "It's a graduation requirement. It sounds as if the village might just have fallen victim to an old hex or curse. If so, I can burn it off in two shakes of a bat's wing."
They walked the path through the woods down to the village, chatting as they went. Morgana really was nice, Quiverwing thought, as long as you didn't bring up any touchy subjects. Too bad Dad had never learned that lesson. She did not say anything about this out loud; instead, she asked Morgana about her work at the Academy, which Morgana was happy to talk about.
When they reached the inn Quiverwing tapped on the door to their room. "Hey, Dad, 'Pad! Lady comin' in!"
"What time is it?" Drake groused from within.
"Afternoon. Jeez, Dad, you'd think you had terminal jet-lag!" she replied, opening the door. "Hey, it's pitch dark in here!" She could barely see by the light coming in from the hallway that someone had covered the windows with blankets, so no light came in at all.
"It is not - HEY!" Drake exclaimed when Morgana entered the room. "What're you doing here!"
"I'm here in a purely professional capacity, Drake." she replied coolly. "You might say I'm a witch doctor."
Drake tried not to flinch at the pun. She said, "Sensitive eyes, hmm? Well, I can't work in the dark."
"You're not going to open the windows, are you?" Drake groaned.
"No." Morgana spoke a few unintelligible words. A glowing sphere of light appeared between her hands. Drake stared at it. "That doesn't hurt your eyes?" she asked.
"How about you, Launchpad?" Quiverwing asked.
"I'm fine." was the reply.
"Hmm." Morgana spread her hands wider apart. The glowing ball brightened. "How about now?" It did not bother either of them. She said, "Tell me when it does hurt your eyes." and continued expanding the sphere. Soon the room was filled with blue light. Launchpad was obviously flinching from the magic, but he was not squinting. Finally Morgana flicked on the room light and dissipated the sphere. "Your eyes are fine!"
"Wait a minute." Quiverwing interjected. "Before I left, you two were ready to scream if I opened the blinds. Now you're all right?!"
"Hmm... sunlight?" She gestured. The blankets fell away from the windows, and the blinds opened.
Drake yelled, "MORGANA!"
She closed the blinds again, as startled as Drake and Launchpad were. Drake said, his hands over his eyes, "I hope you found out something valuable from that!"
"Launchpad?" Quiverwing said.
He was obviously in pain. Morgana looked at him closely. He looked sunburnt. "Were you like this before?"
"No." he said through gritted teeth.
She cast a minor healing spell, one commonly used for light injuries. When she touched him, the burns faded somewhat.
"Whew, thanks." Launchpad breathed.
"Doesn't it still hurt?" Morgana asked, surprised. The burns should have healed completely, not just faded a little!
"A little, but not like before."
"Good. How about you, Drake?"
"Just dandy. You might warn us next time you do that."
Ignoring his peevishness, she continued, "You don't have any burns?"
"No. I'm all right, except my eyes hurt. Why should I be burned?"
Drake took his hands away from his eyes. It was true; Launchpad did look slightly reddish. Alarmed, he turned back at Morgana. "What's wrong with us?"
Morgana paused before answering. "I don't know. I don't sense any evil spell at work, but this does involve magic. I will bring someone back from the Academy tonight."
"Fine." Darkwing said, then yawned. "Now can I PLEASE go back to sleep?"
"Yes." Morgana said shortly and left the room. Quiverwing followed her. Morgana shut the door behind herself and smiled wearily as she shook her head. "Same old Dark."
"Yeah, I guess Dad doesn't change much. He's not usually this bad, though. Do you have any idea at all?"
Morgana shook her head. "I told Dark the truth. I don't know what has happened to them. And if this has happened to others... Don't worry; I can sense an evil spell, and this isn't one." She smiled reassuringly. "There are others at the Academy who know much more about healing than I do."
Morgana returned to the Academy and started looking through the books in the library, searching for a description of any illness that had the symptoms that Darkwing and Launchpad displayed. She did not find anything, but that was all right; she had not expected to. She did not know enough of medical matters to guess where to begin her search. She was really just killing time until dusk.
After the sun had set she tapped on Marius's door. He looked surprised to see her. "Morgana? Come in. What brings you here? You look like you have something on your mind."
"You have sharp eyes." she replied. "I do. I was just down in the village. There seems to be a disease spreading. I tried the simple spells, and they did no good. It was not a curse either; there was no evil magic involved."
"Really?" He looked interested. "What kind of disease?"
Morgana recounted her experience with Drake and Launchpad. After she finished Marius looked surprised. "Already?" he mumbled to himself.
"Already what?" Morgana asked.
Marius had not realized he had spoken out loud. He paused a moment, then said, "This is neither a disease nor a curse. I know what is happening. I will go to the village."
Although they could have teleported to the village effortlessly, they took the path through the woods instead. One thing about Marius: he never seemed to be in a hurry. She supposed that anyone several thousand years old would have a lot of patience. Whatever the reason, she liked it.
When they reached the village Morgana was surprised at the activity. People were walking about in the streets, going about their business as if it were daytime. She stopped short. He looked at her inquisitively. "What's wrong?"
"This isn't right." she answered. "Normal people don't sleep all day and stay up at night."
She could hear the sound of someone chopping wood, but she could not see the person in the dark. "How can they see what they're doing?"
"What do you mean?" He saw Morgana's expression of disbelief, and realized the answer to his own question. "You can't see in the dark like I can. I forget."
She guided him to Darkwing's room at the inn. Before she rapped on the door she cautioned him, "Try not to let him know you're a Vampire. He's... skittish."
"Don't worry. I'm quite used to dealing with Normals." he said, amused.
Gosalyn answered the door. "Oh, hi, Morgana." she yawned.
"Hello, Gosalyn. Are Darkwing and Launchpad here?"
"No. They left an hour or so ago. Now they're all right again." She shrugged in tired annoyance.
"That's what I would have expected." Marius commented quietly.
Morgana and Gosalyn both looked at him. He asked, "Do you know where they went?"
She thought back. "They didn't say ... but, knowing Darkwing, he's still investigating this sudden, mysterious plague' himself. He never gives up on a case."
"That's Dark." Morgana agreed.
Gosalyn was looking at Marius. He was strange looking, but she could not figure out just why. He made her think of a statue. Maybe it was because he was so pale. "You're from the Academy too?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm one of the ... witch doctors'." he said with a hint of a smile. He had remembered just in time not to call himself a necromancer; outside the magical community that field had a bad name.
"Oh, cool. Pleased to meet'cha." She held out her hand to shake his.
He took her hand and held it for a moment. "Gosalyn... Mallard? Have we met?"
"Er... I don't think so..." she said nervously.
Her voice triggered a memory. He had last seen her when she had been a child. The incident with the Forbidden Library. No wonder she was embarrassed. He said, "A pleasure to meet you." and released her hand.
"My guess would be the hospital." Gosalyn suggested.
"Thanks. We'll check there." Morgana replied.
They went on their way. Gosalyn went back to bed, but she was now wide awake. Why did that man strike her as strange? Not frightening, but ... weird. And he had cold hands.
The heck with it. She was awake now; might as well join in the fun. She changed into her leotard.
At the local hospital Darkwing was indeed carrying on his investigation, in the process annoying the staff. Morgana and Marius arrived and told the admissions clerk that they were from the Academy, and were there to help if they could. The clerk, relieved, waved them through, saying that they would likely be more help than "the crazy duck in the purple suit."
Morgana said under her breath, "That would be Dark."
In the waiting room Darkwing was questioning one of the prospective patients, a woman with the same pale, wide-awake expression as most everyone in the room. Darkwing stopped when he saw Morgana and Marius, to his victim's relief. Morgana said, "I think we can take it from here, Dark."
"What are you going to do, shine a sunlamp on everyone and see who screams?" he replied shortly.
"Not at all." Marius replied calmly. "I am a specialist in the field of magical healing."
"Oh, a witch doctor, eh?" Darkwing said.
"You could call me that." Marius agreed. He had been looking around the room. His glance rested on Launchpad, who had been standing against one wall, staring out the window. "May I see you?"
"Er - ah, me?" Launchpad asked, surprised.
"Yes. You appear to be the most advanced case here." Marius answered.
"But I feel fine. The burn's healed up, see?" He held up his hands for Morgana to see.
"It's all right, Launchpad." Morgana said. "He knows what he's doing."
Nervously Launchpad submitted to Marius's examination. Marius looked into his eyes, checked his pulse, and did several magical things which appeared to allow him to see inside Launchpad. Then he asked, "What have you eaten today?"
"Nothing." Launchpad answered.
"Really? Are you hungry?"
"Yes... sorta. I mean, I am, but there isn't anything I wanna eat."
"Huh!" Darkwing said. He felt the same way, but had not given it much thought.
"Anything to drink?"
"Just some water."
"Yep. They say never drink the water, y'know?" Launchpad tried to joke.
Marius looked pleased. "You needn't worry, Launchpad. This will not last long. You are progressing perfectly normally-"
"HOLD it! You KNOW what's going on?!" Darkwing exclaimed.
"Yes, I do. I went through it once myself."
Morgana looked at Marius. She had developed a suspicion, and had been hoping that it was too ridiculous to be true. Quiverwing, who had just entered, asked "So how long will it be before everyone's back to normal?"
"That is not the phrasing I would have chosen." Marius stated. "It will take some time - anywhere from a few days to a week or so, from the look of things - before the effect has taken place."
Morgana breathed in disbelief, "Marius..."
Marius finished, "When the change is complete, you will be as I am."
Quiverwing joked, "What, a vampire?"
Morgana looked at her, then at Marius. He did not deny her statement.
Quiverwing's eyes widened. "You're a real vampire? I was just joking!"
"Oh, dear." Launchpad breathed.
"Please, relax." Marius said.
"Let me get this straight!" Darkwing asserted. "You say we're turning into undead bloodsuckers like you, and you expect us to relax?!"
Mildly Marius said, "Please, listen. Yes, I am a Vampire. You need not fear me; I am well known as a healer. And I do not harm people, especially for their blood." From his expression, it was clear that he found the prospect disgusting.
"What do you do then, rob a blood bank?" Darkwing shot back. Launchpad had gone paler.
Marius continued, "Vampires are immortal beings. We can heal from nearly any injury. We are immune to all illness. And you can see that I am as alive as any of you. Far from being a curse, Vampirism is a gift."
"Oh, it is, is it?!" Darkwing growled. "You know an awful lot about this epidemic, don't you. As if you were behind it!"
Marius said nothing.
Darkwing drew his gas gun. "You're under arrest. Launchpad, cuff him." Nervously Launchpad moved to obey.
"Dark! What are you doing?" Morgana shouted.
He turned on her. "He's turning this whole village into vampires! I don't know about you, but that strikes me as being slightly illegal!"
Marius spoke to Morgana. "Don't worry. I'll be all right. No need to involve the Academy in this. These are reasonable people; I can make them understand."
Morgana said softly and sadly, "Marius, you are a fool!"
"Don't worry about me." he repeated, and smiled softly at her.
It was a dark and stormy morning. The weather itself was pleasant enough, but the mood at the village was not. As soon as the sun had risen half of the population had "disappeared". Nearly everyone had a relative or loved one who had been affected by the curse, and now that they knew the curse to be vampirism, they were ready to lynch its perpetrator. They had not harmed him yet because he was safely locked up in a "magicproof" jail cell - and because, even though he slept during the day, they feared him.
It was quickly decided to use him as a bargaining chip against the rest of the Academy. Surely one of those other monsters could cure them. Maybe Marius was just a renegade.
By the time they had arrived en masse at the Academy many of the "monsters" were there to meet them at the Academy steps, having been alerted via crystal ball. One, a tall man with white hair, a graveyard complexion, and a sepulchural voice, demanded, "What in the underworld is all this about?"
One person detached herself from the crowd and said in a loud voice, "We demand that you lift the curse that one of your number has visited on our village!"
Moloculo stared hard at her. "None of us have cursed you. We have more important business than teasing Normals."
At his words a threatening murmur spread through the crowd. The monster had the nerve to deny it! She held his gaze - though it was hard to stare down a man with one normal eye and one featureless red eye - and said, "We have the culprit in our jail in the village. If you want him back safely, lift his curse before it turns the entire village into monsters!"
"Turn your village into monsters? Och, there's no curse that powerful at work here; it'd suck up all the magic for miles around!" Dean McHex insisted.
The villagers' speaker was beginning to lose her nerve. "I'm warning you, if you don't cure us the bloodsucker will only live long enough to see dawn tomorrow!"
Incensed, Moloculo raised his hands. They were wreathed in blue flame for a second, then a fan of fire erupted above him. The crowd of Normals scattered and fled in a most satisfactory manner. When they had all disappeared into the woods he dusted his hands together smugly.
"What on Earth is that curse' they were rambling about, anyway?" Dean McHex wondered out loud.
"A few Normals catch cold, and they want to blame us." Moloculo said angrily. "Normals are like that. Let them stew!"
"Not a bad idea." said the hunchbacked, parrot-beaked witch next to him. "With enough oregano, they could be tasty."
Morgana rushed out. "What happened?!"
"Oh, nothing to worry about." Moloculo answered. "A few Normals with problems, that's all."
"Problems - problems about what?" Morgana nearly shouted.
"They claimed we cursed their village. Really, daughter, don't concern yourself."
"And you scared them away with that fire I saw?" Morgana said desperately. "I don't believe it!"
"You know something about this, lass?" Dean McHex asked.
"Please - let me handle this."
"We can handle any batch of Normals. What're you so afraid of?" the hunchbacked woman asked.
"This doesn't need to become a war!" Morgana insisted. "Just trust me, all right?" Without waiting for a reply, she clapped her hands together and disappeared.
"That's my daughter, always taking charge." Moloculo commented proudly.
Morgana appeared on the village's end of the path through the woods. The first of the villagers had almost made it through the woods, and pulled back sharply on seeing her. She asked, "Where is Marius?"
Her eyes flashed red. "The Vampire!"
More people were coming through the woods, but none dared to pass Morgana. Someone spoke up. "He's in the jail."
"Thank you." Morgana said simply, clapped her hands together again, and vanished.
The desk clerk at the police station was surprised to see a flare of light. It condensed into the form of a woman. She said, "Take me to where you are holding the Vampire."
"We're not letting anyone in to see him."
Morgana scowled. Her eyes flashed red again. "Oh, I WILL see him. It can be either with your help or without it." she said in a low voice.
A minute later, she was looking into a cell in the middle of the holding area. Thankfully, it was a windowless cell. Inside the cell was what looked like a corpse.
"It looks like he's dead." the guard said.
Morgana did not bother to answer the stupid comment. Vampires always looked dead when they slept. He was so helpless now, she thought. They could kill him simply by taking him out into the sun. It would burn him alive. They had not been so cruel yet, but if the situation deteriorated any further... She knew that he truly had not meant to harm anyone. He also had no idea how to deal with Normals. She would have to intercede. She had done it before.
She looked back. "I will be back tonight, when he awakens. Do not let anyone take him out. If any harm comes to him... she let her voice trail off threateningly.
The guard hastily agreed. She had not even needed to let her eyes flash this time.
Morgana spent the rest of that day in the Academy's resource rooms, researching Vampirism in hopes of locating something that would reverse the process. There was a great deal of information to deal with - scattered in a great many books, a page here, a paragraph there. She searched until she developed a headache from reading faded print. When she looked up again, the sky outside the window was dark blue.
She shut the book. Then she clapped her hands together sharply and disappeared.
The guard in the police station startled when she appeared. She did not have to say anything to him; he quickly escorted her back to Marius's cell. When she saw the chair outside the cell, she drew in a sharp breath. It had been placed in a pentagram drawn on the floor with iron wire. She looked up at the guard. From his expression, he could not know what a deadly insult that was. It must have been put there by some Normal who had seen too many bad movies. As horrible as the symbolism was, it could not harm her, so she did not drag the chair out of the design before she sat in it.
After a few minutes Marius opened his eyes and looked around himself, momentarily confused. Morgana had to smile; she had not imagined that a Vampire would be as groggy as a mortal on awakening in a strange place. She said, "Some place to find yourself, isn't it?"
"Spartan." he said as he sat up on the cot. "But while I'm asleep I don't mind."
"So long as there's no window."
"Yes." He stood up. Then he glanced down and saw the pentagram on the floor. He stared at it in shock. "Morgana?"
She shook her head. "Those Normals believe that will stop me from doing whatever evil deeds they imagine I've planned." she said ruefully. "They don't understand."
"I'm sorry." he said sincerely.
"Never mind. You're the one who's locked up! Why don't you escape? Think of what could have happened if someone had carried you into the sunlight while you were asleep!"
"Morgana, they are afraid of me. You can see that. Fear prevents them from hearing reason. But if they think they have me under their control, then they will be less afraid of me. They will listen, eventually, and see the logic of the situation."
Morgana pleaded with him to understand. "These are people you're talking about, not laboratory experiments-"
"And I'm no guinea pig!" A voice said behind her.
She jumped. Darkwing was standing behind her, his cape folded around himself.
"Darkwing!" Morgana exclaimed.
"That's right! I demand that you undo your vampiric villainy!" he blustered.
Marius raised an eyebrow at Darkwing's choice of words. "I have not done any villainy'."
"Really? Then how come half the village now has one-minute sunburns? You said yourself that you're behind all of this midnight madness!"
"Darkwing!" Morgana stood and stared down at him. "Stop listening to yourself babble, and try to act like an adult for once!"
Marius said softly, "Morgana, please don't shout."
Darkwing stepped up to the bars of the cell. "I want to know exactly how you're turning us all into monsters!"
Marius did not bother to argue over Darkwing's choice of words. He said simply, "It was triggered by a substance in bottled water. The larger the dose, the faster the transformation. For example, I can see that you drank less than your friend Launchpad. Last night he appeared to be halfway transformed." He had slipped into his lecturing mode. "I will educate the fledgling Vampires, of course-"
"That's a confession!" Darkwing exclaimed. "You're creating a race of vampires to take over the world!"
Marius stared at him, unsure if this accusation was serious. Darkwing did not seem to be joking. Marius said, "No, that was not my purpose. In fact, that would be impossible. The essence from a living Vampire is required to transform a mortal, and that essence is carried in the blood. It cannot be created any other way. As you may guess, I have a very limited supply."
Darkwing recoiled from the implication. "Ewwww!"
"It takes very little to effect the transformation, if one is not in a hurry." Marius continued.
Morgana said, "I'm sure Dark doesn't want to hear about the science part."
"That's right!" Darkwing had recovered his composure. "All I want is to be cured of this curse, along with the rest of the village! I've heard all about that kudzu spell - use that!" he shouted.
Marius shook his head. "That spell is used for mending damage to the body. The effect of Vampirism is a transformation, which must be handled in a very different way."
Darkwing was close to losing control. "I don't care HOW you handle it! Just cure me!"
"If you insist, I will reverse the effect. It can be reversed up until the transformation is complete. But," Marius said, gesturing at his cell, "I cannot do it from here. The energies are poor. The iron bars of this cell further muddy the magic currents. And I lack the material components for the spells. If I can gather my equipment, and go to a proper casting ground - the village square will do, I believe - I will reverse the effect."
"There. See, we can straighten this all out if we just keep our heads." Morgana said, then looked at Darkwing.
Darkwing glowered at Marius. "Oh, no. You must think I was hatched yesterday! You think you can just talk your way out of here? How stupid do you think I am?!"
"Dark! He just agreed to cure everyone, just as you wanted! He's an honest man! He'll keep his promise!" Morgana exclaimed.
"I might have known that you would side with him." Darkwing hissed as he stalked out.
Morgana uttered a small noise of anger and raised her hands to cast a spell. Marius reached through the bars and lay a cool hand on her shoulder. "Morgana, don't. It will do no good."
"Maybe not." she muttered under her breath, "But it would teach that vain, arrogant, pigheaded, loudmouthed, egomaniacal waffle-brain a lesson!"
Darkwing met Quiverwing and Launchpad outside. She asked, "How'd it go?"
"He can cure us-"
"Thank goodness!" Launchpad said, his speech slightly slurred by some novel dentition.
"But he won't, unless we release him!" Darkwing concluded angrily.
"Oh..." Quiverwing said.
"He must think we Normals are complete idiots, to let him go free like that! He'd just turn into a bat and fly off or something!"
"He can fly like a bat?" Launchpad asked.
"Vampires can change into bats, Launchpad. Have you forgotten?"
"Oh, er, yeah..." Launchpad considered the idea briefly. "But, he can really cure us?"
"That's what he says. You know that there's always an antidote."
"Good." Launchpad looked infinitely relieved. "I'm so hungry, I'm ready to rob a blood bank."
Nobody smiled. Then both could imagine how Launchpad felt, and soon Darkwing would feel the same way. Launchpad could not even look at a bottle of ketchup now.
Darkwing turned to Quiverwing. "You better go home."
"Wake up!" Darkwing said. "If Von Teppen in there doesn't cure us, this place is going to be crawling with vampires! You'll just be a part of the buffet! St. Canard needs a protector, and if I don't find a cure, you're it."
"The heck." she stated flatly. "Quiverwing Quack does not cut and run. Besides, you two need SOMEONE to do the thinking for you!"
Launchpad said softly, "Gos, please go. You don't know what it's like..."
Somewhat surprised, she said, "You wouldn't...?"
Slowly he replied, "No. I don't think so. But, it's hard... if other people feel this bad... please, Gos, don't stay here. I'll set the TQ's autopilot so it'll take you right to the tower."
"Sorry, 'Pad. I'm staying. I'm gonna help you guys get back to normal. You two are the only family I have." In an effort to lighten the mood she commented, "The restaurants around here must be selling a lot of steak tartare."
"Steak tartare?" Launchpad repeated.
"Um, yeah." she replied. "Just a joke. I mean, since it's practically raw meat, I thought..."
"Steak tartare sounds real good to me, DW!" Launchpad said enthusiastically.
"Really? I could never stand the stuff." Darkwing replied. "But, now that you mention it, it doesn't sound that bad."
"Do they serve that here? I hope so!" Launchpad said.
"If they didn't, I'll bet they do now." Quiverwing commented.
She was right. Better than half of the restaurant's patrons had ordered steak tartare, and the restaurant now sported an "Open All Night" sign. Quiverwing commented, "Someone always knows how to make a buck."
"Jealous, Ms. Fan Club?" Darkwing teased.
"Just because people would rather see my legs on a calendar than yours..." she responded with a grin.
"Guys." Launchpad said wearily.
Darkwing looked at him. "Lighten up, LP. We're just joking."
Quiverwing had not noticed it because Launchpad had been so quiet, but now that she looked at him he seemed haggard. "Is it that bad, Launchpad?"
"It ain't good." he said softly. "I'm so hungry - OW!"
"I bit my tongue." he said sheepishly.
They were seated quickly and their orders taken. Quiverwing surprised the waiter by requesting a hamburger. He looked at her again, then said, "You're one of the lucky ones."
"Yeah, I know." she replied vaguely.
Darkwing spoke suddenly. "Are you serving bottled water here?"
"You have to stop serving that immediately!" Darkwing insisted, standing up. "That is where this plague is coming from!"
The chatter in the restaurant suddenly ceased. The waiter said, "Please, sir, if you'll just-"
Darkwing ignored him. He spoke to the crowd. "I've found out how this plague is spreading! It's through bottled water!"
A general mumble of disbelief went through the crowd. Quiverwing, deciding that it was better to join in than to fight it, said, "Is there anyone here who has been drinking bottled water who hasn't caught it?"
People looked at each other. None spoke. Darkwing nodded in satisfaction. "I thought so. That vampire you've got locked up, he's put something in the bottled water that turns people into vampires! And he says he knows how to cure it - if we let him out!" His tone made it clear that he did not believe this.
A babble of confusion rose. Darkwing let it run for a minute, then he shouted, "Rule Number One of dealing with villains: Never give in to their demands! He'll give in quickly enough if we let him out - at dawn!"
Quiverwing said in Darkwing's ear, "Don't you think you're overdoing it a bit, Dad?"
Darkwing looked at her. "Group psychology. I know what I'm doing."
"If you take him out in the sun, it'll kill him." she pointed out. "It'd be hard for him to cure anybody then."
"It's just a threat." he replied. "If he knows that we won't hesitate to do it, he'll fold like a deck of cards."
"You wouldn't really do that, would'ja, DW?" Launchpad was taken aback.
"Calm down, LP. We'll get you back to normal." He addressed the crowd. "Dealing with these underworld monsters is a dangerous business, not a task to be tackled by just anybody. Fortunately, I have experience with these creatures. I'll handle him. By the time I'm through with him, he'll be begging to cure you!"
Quiverwing left unobtrusively. She ran through the forest to the Eldritch Academy, at times barely able to see the path. When she reached Morgana's office, out of breath, she found that it was empty. She stared inside for a minute, muttering darkly under her breath.
Something flew at her from behind the curtains. She started to raise her hands to swat it away - and then stopped. "Eek? Squeak?"
The bat hovered in front of her. Excitedly she said, "I have to find Morgana. Where is she?" The bat flew over her head and back to the door.
She followed the bat to a building across the Academy campus. The bat stopped at the door of an ancient-looking, ivy covered building. The door was ajar. Quiverwing peered in. "Morgana?"
"Quiverwing?" Morgana answered, surprised. Quiverwing opened the door. Morgana was at a table, looking through a score of handwritten books. She looked tired.
"Morgana, things have gotten worse at the village. Dad's doing his hero shtick and getting people stirred up. He just told everyone why they're turning into vampires, and they're going to be screaming for blood soon - so to speak."
"Fewmets." Morgana hissed under her breath. "That fool thinks he can put out a fire with kerosene!"
"Can you turn them back to normal?" Quiverwing asked. "If you could do that-"
Morgana shook her head. "I can't. I don't know how. I've been looking through his books and notes, but I haven't found anything I can use. There must be a way to do it; he wouldn't have said that he can reverse the process if he couldn't do it. He's an honest man. He wouldn't lie about that..."
"Can't he cure one person, and show everyone that he can do it? They'll have to believe him then."
"He can't in that cell. He doesn't have his tools, and the iron of the bars could interfere with the spells. He could break out of there if he wanted, but he'd rather stay there and wait until everyone sees the light of reason." She stood suddenly, anger plain on her face. "They're all idiots! I should turn them all into pudding!"
"Things are getting crazy down there. They were talking about giving Marius a suntan."
"Don't they know-" Then Morgana saw Quiverwing's expression. "That's murder!"
Quiverwing nodded. Morgana stared at her for a moment. Then she said, "I'll straighten them out!"
"Wait! Morgana, it's pretty ugly there. Dad's got everyone really riled up. I'll bet they'd attack you if you went there. Let me escort you - vigilante costumes seem to hold a lot of authority here."
Marius almost wished his cell had a window. He would have liked to look out into the night sky behind these bare cement walls. This would get dreadfully boring if it went on for too long.
He looked up when he heard the door open. The duck in the purple coat was there again, this time with Launchpad and several other tough-looking men armed with sharpened wooden stakes and mallets.
Darkwing glared at the Vampire. He barely reacted to Darkwing. He just sat there, calmly looking at him as if waiting to see what he would do next. Darkwing motioned for him to come to the door of his cell. He did. "May I help you?"
Darkwing said, "Stick your arms through the bars. Both through the same gap." Marius did. Darkwing snapped a pair of handcuffs on him. Then he unlocked and opened the cell door.
Marius said, "I cannot cast the spells if my hands are bound."
Darkwing added, "Especially with iron handcuffs. You're coming with us."
One of the toughs seized Marius's arm, the other positioned himself behind Marius, mallet and stake at the ready. Marius did not bother to tell them that that was an old superstition; hammering a stake into him would not kill him - it would only hurt badly.
They hustled him out into the town square. It seemed that the entire village was watching. Darkwing handcuffed his captive to a pole with his arms behind his back. Launchpad watched silently, nervously.
Quietly Marius said to Darkwing, "I cannot cure anyone if I am bound like this. The iron could twist the spells, making them dangerous."
"I'm not betting on your curing anyone. Nobody here has completely become a vampire yet; I'll bet we can still stand the sunlight. It'll burn the vampirism out." he looked at Marius hard, emphasizing the final words.
They actually meant to kill him? Marius replied, "Sunlight won't cure anyone. It will only harm those who are partially Vampires. The further advanced, the worse it will be."
"I'm supposed to believe you, after what you've done to us?" Darkwing hissed. "I don't think so! We'll just wait and let the light of reason clean up this foulness!" He started to say more, but a sudden thought stopped him. He was thirsty. A Vampire's blood... He looked away from him. The thought was disgusting. But the more he tried not to think about it, the more it seemed like poetic justice.
Marius had recognized Darkwing's hungry expression. He said, "If you were to take my blood, that would complete your transformation. You would be a Vampire from then on."
"Enough of your threats! You expect us to believe you now, after what you've done?!" Darkwing shouted.
Marius looked around. The crowd stared back with open hate. The ones that he could recognize as the furthest along in the transformation looked the angriest.
Marius began speaking to Darkwing again. "If you would only listen to me-"
"Shut up!" Darkwing snarled and turned his back at him.
Morgana had teleported herself and Quiverwing to the jail cell, only to find it empty and the door open. Morgana, hearing the sound of voices, had rushed to the door. They saw the crowd in the square. Morgana started to rush out, but Quiverwing grabbed her arm. "You'll start a brawl if you do that!" she whispered. "I told you, I'm escorting you. Make like you're my prisoner or something. I'll put cuffs on you, and take them off when we're clear. OK?"
Morgana said, "All right." impatiently. Quiverwing placed the handcuffs on her and shouted out, "Coming through!"
The surprised crowd parted enough to let them through. Darkwing stared, trying to figure out why Quiverwing had taken Morgana prisoner. Was Morgana in on this plot too? But, come to think of it, that would not surprise him. Much. When Quiverwing reached him and removed the handcuffs Darkwing said "What-"
Quiverwing said, "Give her a chance, Dad!"
"You think I'm going to trust those two?!"
Morgana pinned him with a harsh glare. "Need I remind you of the pudding trick?"
"Well... a few minutes couldn't hurt." Darkwing said nervously.
Darkwing and Launchpad positioned themselves so they could keep an eye both on Morgana and on the crowd. Morgana said to Marius in a low voice, "Why are you letting them do this to you?! Dawn is less than an hour away! They'll kill you! Why don't you escape?!"
Marius was slow to reply. "They are right, I have wronged them terribly. Perhaps this is how it should be."
Morgana stared at him, aghast. He spoke to the ground. "I am responsible for their grief. If I were to escape, they would take their anger out on the Academy. It could lead to another battle between Normals and Paranormals. I cannot let that happen. It must stop here."
"No!" she said in a choking voice.
He looked up and met her eyes. He forced a smile. "Don't be so upset, Morgana." he said softly. "I've lived a long, long life. I have done much. I have no regrets... well, except for the obvious. Don't be sorry for me."
Morgana stared at him, unable to speak. Her eyes were becoming shiny. Then she jerked forward and let out a sharp cry as a stone struck her back.
She turned and glared at the crowd behind herself. "Who threw that?!" she said in a low voice. Nobody answered, but she could see that many of them had picked up stones from the ground. Quiverwing had readied an arrow equipped with a cartridge of knockout gas; Darkwing was standing with his gas gun at the ready.
From the behind her another rock came. It hit her hair, damaging it only slightly. She flinched, then looked with cold fury at the crowd surrounding them. "So, after all these years, you would STILL stone a witch?!"
Darkwing was now pointing his gas gun at her. Ignoring him, she shouted, "Can't you see that Marius holds your cure? Kill him, and you doom yourselves!"
She saw a flare of blue light on the outskirts of the crowd. While attention had been focused on her, they had come in. Great, as if Darkwing needed any help from the Academy in stirring up trouble!
Someone started shouting; and the rest of the crowd took up the cry. More stones were launched, both at her and at the members of the Academy. More were teleporting in as she watched; someone must have been watching with a crystal ball and spread the alarm. She threw force spells into the air around herself and Marius, and between the mob from the village and the mob from the Academy. Stones and magical blue flame bounced harmlessly off. And were followed by more stones and magic, as the crowds tried to fight through the barrier spell.
Morgana's eyes glowed red. She threw an aurora of flame into the air above herself, illuminating everyone with a momentarily blinding yellow light. "SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME, YOU BONEHEADS!" she shouted, levitating above the level of the crowd. She gestured violently; all of the stones in the nearby area crumbled into dust. The sorcerers who tried to use their advantage found themselves unable to speak their spells.
She pointed at the sorcerers. A light leapt from her fingers, illuminating her targets. "You are NOT going to escalate this any more than it already has!" Glaring around at the villagers, she continued, "You are going to free Marius right now!" She turned her glare on Marius. "And YOU are going to reverse that idiotic spell that you cast on the people of this village as soon as they do!" Addressing everyone, she finished, "AREN'T YOU?!"
Nobody dared disagree. They stood, silently staring at her. She shouted, "GOOD! THEN GET TO IT!", triggering a flurry of activity.
Morgana watched, her arms folded, as Darkwing grudgingly released Marius. She said, "Any volunteers?"
Nobody came forward; they were too frightened. Marius said, "I should attend to the most advanced cases first, to cure them while there is still time. Once the transformation is complete, it is irreversible."
Morgana said, "Launchpad."
"Yes." Marius agreed.
Impatiently Morgana pointed to Launchpad, who looked ready to flee. "Go to it."
Marius said, "I need some material components as well-" As he listed the ingredients, Morgana caused them to appear before him. When he finished with live kudzu she asked, "Is this an experimental spell?"
"No. The spell I will use causes the subject's body to reverse the effects of the Vampiric transformation and reclaim its normal form. If I don't have a power source, I may sap whatever life force is nearby - including Launchpad's own. The transformation is so far advanced, the cure might kill him otherwise." He spoke the last sentence in an ancient language that was only used in magic.
"I see." she said slowly. "That plant is all over the place in this village. How much do you need?"
"I need any segment that is touching the mother plant."
Morgana levitated above the level of the crowd. She looked around, then gestured. A tentacle of leaves and vine came snaking toward her. Several people in the crowd took out knives, preparing to cut it if it attacked them. Morgana shouted, "Don't cut that, you fools! He needs that to work his cure!"
Quiverwing said, "First one to touch it gets a face full of knockout gas." She pulled her bow taut.
The crowd parted to let the vine snake through. Before Marius began he looked at Launchpad. Launchpad stared back, worried and pale. The paleness was only partially from fear, Marius knew. He had not fed. He must be starving. Marius said softly, "I am sorry for everything I've put you through. I had only the best of intentions - but we both know what is paved with those."
Launchpad glanced at Darkwing. Darkwing nodded. Launchpad gathered his nerve and said, "All right."
Morgana addressed the crowd. "All of you, quiet! Let him work!"
Marius said, "You know how doctors say This may give you a little discomfort'? This will be like that, but only briefly."
"Go ahead." Launchpad said, his voice still slurred by his fangs.
"Close your eyes and relax, as much as you can under the circumstances." Marius directed. Launchpad obeyed.
Everyone kept a close watch while Marius wove a complex spell. When the crowd, bored by watching him speak gibberish, started muttering she created a barrier of silence around Marius and Launchpad; she recognized a delicate spell when she heard one, and Marius did not need any outside distractions.
After some time Marius finished speaking. The vine had dried and become brittle. He tapped Launchpad on the shoulder. "How do you feel?" Morgana watched closely.
Launchpad opened his eyes. "Tired. Real tired. And hungry."
Morgana saw that his fangs were gone. Marius asked, "For what?"
"I dunno. Anything but steak tartare." Launchpad made a face. "Hey, how'd it get so dark all of a sudden?"
Morgana smiled, relieved. Marius said, "You can no longer see in the night. That is a Vampire's ability."
Launchpad asked, "You mean, that's it? I'm all right now?"
"You are cured." Marius confirmed.
Launchpad felt his teeth with his tongue. No fangs! He turned to Darkwing. "Ah, DW... I'm starved."
"Yeah, LP, go on and get something to eat." Darkwing said. He had been prepared for a Climactic Battle Between Good and Evil, but he was more relieved to see Launchpad cured. "Why didn't you say the cure was that easy?!" he asked Marius.
Morgana rolled her eyes. "Cowans!" she muttered, catching Marius's eye. It would be pointless to explain that simply because a spell was short, it was simple. He smiled back, knowing what she was thinking.
Marous spoke to Darkwing. "I can cure anyone affected in the next few nights. I should take care of the furthest advanced tonight. Anyone interested may watch, of course, but it will be a boring and repetitive process. It would be best if I could work in a kudzu patch."
"All right." Darkwing said.
Morgana said, "How can you tell which cases are the most advanced?"
Marius answered, "They will be pale, and have fangs that are nearly or fully developed." He looked at her oddly. Surely she already knew that.
Morgana turned to Quiverwing. "Would you screen the villagers for us?"
"No problem." she said.
While Quiverwing started sorting through the people in the crowd Darkwing and Morgana escorted Marius to a likely-looking kudzu patch. Darkwing's gas gun was still drawn - but Marius felt Morgana's warm hand resting on his shoulder.
A week later, Morgana and Marius were satisfied that their work at the village was done. Marius had worked hard, curing people from dusk until dawn each night; a mortal would not have been able to keep the pace that he had set for himself. She knew also that he had not fed in all that time; he had not had the time. Most of the cases had been cured in the first three nights; they had returned to the village to make sure that there were no other cases that they had missed. For the past few days, as soon as he had returned from the village he had retreated to his quarters, pleading fatigue. He had spoken with nobody else.
Morgana was becoming a little worried. He did seem tired, but Vampires did not feel fatigue as mortals did. He had also been quieter than normal. Probably he was just worn from his work, but still...
She tapped on the door of his quarters. After a few seconds it opened. She went inside. He looked up from his workbench. "Good day, Morgana. Have they found any more cases?"
"No." She noticed that his workbench was clear. No books, no notes, no equipment or jars of herbs. Had he just been sitting here, staring at the table? "People are wondering about you."
He looked away. "I ... am not quite ready to go out again." he admitted.
Morgana said nothing. He continued in a flat voice after a minute. "I have been considering resigning from the Academy."
"Why?" Morgana asked.
"After what I did..."
"Marius, you made a mistake! Granted, a dreadful one, but you also admitted it and set it right."
He shook his head. "I was too careless with others' lives. I did not think it through. Morgana, did you see that some of the people I cured were children? If I had had my way, they would have been frozen in childhood for eternity! I didn't think."
Morgana replied, "I know, I was there! But the point is, you set things right again. Not everyone would have been willing to admit their mistakes! You're a brilliant sorcerer. It would be stupid for you to quit now!"
"I've had a lot of practice with stupidity lately." he said.
"That's true." Morgana replied. "And the stupidest thing you did was give up at the end. You would actually have let them turn you into a martyr, wouldn't you? Don't you realize that that would have set off a WORSE war between the Normals and the Academy?! Not to mention that it's the cowardly way out."
"I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time." he said softly, ashamed.
"There is a saying, You're only Human'. Humans make mistakes. BIG ones. And don't tell me that you're not human, you're a Vampire; for these purposes Vampires are human." she lectured. "And humans LEARN form their mistakes, rather than just giving up! Life isn't a laboratory, where you can just junk an experiment that isn't working!"
He was looking up at her silently. Her hand, again, was resting on his shoulder. When she finished speaking she returned his gaze steadily. Then she realized where her hand was, and started to removed it.
He placed his cool hand over hers. "Nobody has spoken to me like this in hundreds of years."
She said softly, "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to be so harsh."
"No, Morgana. You're correct. Just because I am a brilliant magical scientist', doesn't mean that I am immune to making stupid mistakes. To be honest, I have stayed inside because I didn't want to face anyone else. Not after what I'd done."
She sat beside him. "They will get over the shocking discovery that you are fallible like anyone else. And a lot of the talk I've heard is about the spell that you used to cure them. Did you make that up on the spot?"
"No. I used an existing spell. It hasn't been used in centuries because it requires huge amounts of life force. To cure one person would require the sacrifice of another. I simply adapted that spell the way I adapted the healing spell I demonstrated earlier."
"Just like that."
Morgana put her hand on his. "That is brilliant. How many other people would have been able to do that? We can't afford to lose you."
From his expression, he was beginning to understand that she was not speaking from a purely professional standpoint. She smiled and patted his hand. "And one other thing. You really need to get out more!"
He laughed softly. "That I do."
She laughed back. It was so good to see him cheered up; she hated to see him depressed. It had hurt her more than she had expected it to.
"Morgana..." he whispered. "You have a lot of wisdom. You would make a fine Vampire."
She shook her head gently. "Perhaps I would... but no, thank you. Not now."
"I understand." he said.
She moved her hand on his. "You're cold as ice. How long has it been since you fed?"
He looked upward. "I don't remember. More than a week, I believe. I haven't had the heart lately..."
Morgana turned down her collar. He looked at her in blank surprise. "Morgana, I don't take Human blood."
She said, "If it offered by someone who knows that you would never take enough blood to harm your donor, it is a gift."
"No, I would never harm you... But you don't understand the significance..."
"Blood is life." she said. "I know a bit more than you think."
He looked in her eyes. She did understand.
He pushed her collar to the side, exposing part of her shoulder. "Never from the neck." he said. "Never close to an artery. That would be dangerous."
In answer, she put her arms around him. He lowered his head.
She did not flinch.
All characters in this story are copyright © Disney, except for Marius Magnus, who is copyright © Kim McFarland. This story is copyright © Kim McFarland. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only, provided no changes are made to the story or the credits.
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