--This is the problem with writing and then stopping for two weeks. Yay for minor edits! Thanks, Mandy. :D--
The Calm Before
The Calm Before
"Time does not change us. It just unfolds us."
Everyone, without exception, knew the Rules. It was ingrained into them, for fear that if they didn't do as the Rules commanded, their self-appointed guardian--a vengeful creature of the night--would swoop down like a vicious bird of prey and snatch them away. Everyone also knew that the places they were taken to were best left to the imagination; the reality was invariably worse. But, the one rule that the citizens of St. Canard knew above all else was thus:
When Darkwarrior Duck was angry, bad things started happening.
Much to their soon-in-coming dismay, Darkwarrior Duck was very, very angry.
He paced atop the Tower like a man possessed, his steel-lined boots thudding against cracked cement and metal. The sound echoed through the heavily fortified Autobahn Bay Bridge, and if the 8 o'clock curfew hadn't existed, anyone within hearing distance would have felt the hollow foreboding the repetitious tromp, tromp, tromp brought. There would be vengeance tonight.
"How could she?" Darkwarrior exclaimed at no one. "That Time Top was the perfect opportunity to fix this world the way it was meant to be fixed. Why did she take that away from me?" He circled the Tower yet again. "I can't believe my own daughter would sell me out like that! Why, if I had a time machine of my own, I'd..."
He slowed to a halt. His glowing red lenses flared minutely. With a speed that was unusual for a man of fifty-two, he slammed his gloved first into his awaiting palm. "That's it! I'll make my own! It will take work, but..."
Darkwarrior's voice withered away in the crisp wind that hadn't been present moments earlier. He gazed blankly at the metropolis that lay sprawled at his webbed feet, briefly noting how beautiful it looked at night, before he noticed a single glimmer of light that didn't belong there.
He stepped to the thick stone wall that lined the edge of the Tower's precipice. He ignored the bothersome way in which his worn gray fedora whipped at his beak, and glared intently. "I've never seen that light before..." Within seconds, the sparkle had blossomed into a cascading wave of light that spanned the entirety of the winking horizon of his city, and steadily advanced upon him.
Somewhere, a part of his mind was screaming; telling him, frantically, to run and avoid the on-rushing tsunami at all costs. His compact and toned body refused to respond. The wind shrieked past his ears and mercilessly tugged at him, and in a brilliant, horrifying epiphany, he knew he was staring at something far worse than Death itself.
A sudden, inescapable fear seized him. It had been years since he'd ever felt anything except a deep, boiling rage that wrapped around him as though it were a warm security blanket. In contrast, the stark terror in his veins was cold and biting, and gnawed away at his bones like the jackal he so often claimed to be. The irony was lost upon him; one of many cases.
Time rolled easily over the spires and valleys of St. Canard; nothing more than concrete sandcastles being washed away by the sea. A scent traveled through the wind. It smelled of acrid smoke and immortal Redwoods, perfume and car exhaust, death and beauty. Without thought, his hands tightly gripped the railing, going completely still. He, Darkwarrior Duck, was being written out of history. After all he'd done, he was to be cut out of the big picture like an unwanted scrap of paper to be tossed aside. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, he couldn't help but rail against the injustice of it all.
The breath was knocked from Darkwarrior's chest as the tactile light slammed into him with all the force one would expect Time to possess. The weight of the universe forced itself on him, pushing down until he was certain his mind would soon burst. He was distantly aware of a man with his voice shrieking in agony. His consciousness tore open and began to spill out a lifetime's worth of meaningless contents into the time-stream. Still, a sliver of him fought tenaciously. He wasn't about to be scattered into oblivion without a fight. He wouldn't allow it.
The pressure continued to mount. His senses went into overload. He couldn't breathe. He saw a bright light...
Darkwarrior gasped. In a massive onslaught of images and sound, the universe yielded its information to him. He was connected with Everything--that that was and would be. His fear and anger vanished, replaced by a child-like wonder. Lay before him was a vast abyss of twisting fabric; threads of all shapes and sizes intertwining into a shape that defied human knowledge. He saw the beginning, the end, and everything in between. It was breathtaking.
Within the tapestry, he spotted a single strand that was a cross between gold and ruby. Instantly, when touching upon the silken string, he knew who it belonged to. Something undefined rustled. He had to reach this wayward thread, before it was lost forever on the wrong path. He had to save it and protect it from harm, no matter what the cost.
Closing his eyes languidly, Darkwarrior released his hold on the stone wall and was swept away by the current, never to see his beloved city-state again.
Launchpad McQuack awoke groggily. His blue eyes lazily ambled to the digital clock on the nightstand and blearily read the time: 2:46 pm. He mentally admonished himself for staying out so late with his boss; the terrifying vigilante mallard Darkwing Duck (or DW for short), to which he was the faithful, if slightly slow, sidekick. He knew his job was worthwhile and important, but it was wreaking havoc on his sleeping schedule. Still, he supposed if helping the people of St. Canard only required the occasional loss of sleep, he considered it manageable. 'All's well that end's well' and all that stuff.
Twisting and twitching his beak, he rubbed a large feathered hand down his face as he rose to a sitting position. He yawned mightily and stretched his arms high over his head, tensing all the muscles in his back while wiggling his webbed feet inside his knee-length brown boots. Absent-mindedly, he looked down and realized he hadn't bothered changing after returning home the previous night. He wriggled his foot again, and watched how the worn leather creased in all the right places. Briefly, the thought of getting a new pair crossed his mind, but instantly dismissed it with a small, "Nah," and stood.
He plodded down the steps sluggishly, his eyes half open and barely registering where he was going. The sound of heated competition greeted his unusually sensitive eardrums, and he winced, looking to his left. On the living room couch sat DW, sans costume, while he counterattacked his nearly ten-year old adopted daughter, Gosalyn Waddlemeyer-Mallard. Their attention was squared entirely on the sleek television that sat nearby as they viciously tried to outdo each other on their videogame of choice, Whiffle Boy.
And from the looks of things, ol' DW was losing spectacularly.
Launchpad smiled. So far, so good.
He passed through the living room into the adjoining kitchen. With a jovial wave, he said, "Hiya guys! Havin' fun?"
Both grunted in reply. He began to whistle an off-key tune. Typical.
Drake Mallard bared his teeth and concentrated fiercely on the television screen before him, his lean and nimble fingers flying over the buttons of his controller. He glanced sideways, instantly recognizing the predatory glint that had entered Gosalyn's pale green eyes. His momentary lapse in concentration proved to be his downfall, as his pixilated character fell down a bottomless black pit. Growling, he tossed the plastic controller down onto the ground with a light thunk, curtly switching the game off with as much dignity as he could muster. He valiantly attempted to ignore Gosalyn's cheers. And failed.
She leapt jumped into the air, exclaiming happily, "Ha ha, I win again! That makes eight times in a row!"
Drake's face darkened, his cerulean eyes narrowing. "'That makes eight times in a roooow!' Like that's some huge accomplishment or anything," he mocked quietly as he stalked over to the matching Lay-Z-Beak recliners sitting by the opposite wall. He raised his hands in the air, waggling his fingers to emphasize his point. "Ooooo, you beat me at Whiffle Booooy, I'm SOOO impressed! Bah!"
He twirled on his webbed foot and plopped down in the thickly padded seat, barking, "Come on, LP! There's crime afoot! To Darkwing Tower!" He pointed his forefinger in the air dramatically and pressed his flattened palm down on the head of the bronze Basil statue, disappearing in an instant.
Gosalyn rolled her eyes at the spot her adoptive father previously occupied, muttering, "Spoil sport."
A slow rumbling of thunder shifted her focus to the nearby window. She walked over and rested her hands on the thin pane, the glass fogging up around her fingertips, and stared at the darkening sky. "Aw, nuts," she remarked with a disappointed lilt, "it's gonna start rainin'."
Launchpad took his attention away from carefully arranging his baloney sandwich that barely even passed as such, and stared out the tiny kitchen window to his right. He studied the rolling gray clouds with a frown as they consumed the clear blue sky above. "Yep. Looks like a big one, too. Shame, really; it's been real pretty out the past couple a weeks."
Gosalyn pouted, resting her pudgy cheek in her hand. "Yeah, I know. And I was lookin' forward to beating Tank's butt at hockey, too."
The infomercial that had been mindlessly wasting the airwaves of local Channel 3 said its final goodbyes, and was replaced by the terrified shriek of a woman. Her curiosity piqued at the sound of wanton death and destruction, Gosalyn craned her neck to look at the television she had abandoned moments before, and her eyes lit up in excitement. "Ooooo! Blood Sucking Zombie Worms from Mars! Cool!" She bounded across the room and dove down onto the worn cotton couch cushions with a small bounce of pure exuberance.
Launchpad poked his head out from the archway. "Hey, is that the original or the remake?"
Her wide eyes never left the faintly glowing screen. "Original."
Disappearing back into the kitchen, he replied, "Awright! Count me in!"
The powder blue Lay-Z-Beak swirled as he stepped out into the living room with a plate of food in his hand. Darkwing appeared in the overstuffed chair with the thick purple cape draped haphazardly across his shoulders, crossing his arms over his chest with an air of impatience. Launchpad was oblivious. "Oh, hi, DW! I'm just about to watch the Blood Sucking Zombie Worms from Mars. Wanna--"
"Launchpaaad! Get a move on!" Darkwing ordered irately, motioning roughly to the unoccupied seat.
The hulking pelican gaped at him, his brows puckering underneath the wild tuft of copper-red hair. "Gee, DW, can't I watch this one? Just this one? I haven't seen the original since..." He paused a moment for thought. "Well, never, actually," he finished with a chuckle.
Darkwing calmly stood, quickly rearranged his cape, and clasped his hands behind his back. "Launchpad," he began in a quiet, patronizing tone, "this is a large city." His voice slowly grew louder. "And, I don't think the entire seedy scandalous syndicate of super-villains that slithers in the sewers beneath the unsuspecting citizens of St. Canard will wait while you finish watching a matinee showing of THE SEWER SLUGS FROM NEPTUNE!"
Launchpad blinked. "Uh, actually DW, it's Blood Sucking Zombie Worms from Mars. The Sewer Slugs from Neptune came on the other night. Remember?"
The memories of the horrid B-flick came screaming back. Darkwing blinked twice, shaking his head. "Ugh, all too vividly." He quickly ran a hand down his face, stopping to massage the bridge of his beak. "Nevermind. Just...nevermind." Grumbling to himself, he threw himself back down upon the chair and slammed the jamb down.
Launchpad blinked again, staring at the apricot-striped wallpaper blankly. He wondered about DW sometimes.
The phone rang, jarring him from his thoughts. He pivoted on the heel of his boot and strode forward, tossing over his broad shoulder, "I'll get it!"
Gosalyn gave a distracted wave, enamored by the black and white images that splashed across the TV, and paid his muffled voice no mind. She vaulted up with a feral grin as the movie faded to the commercial break, her hands clenched in exhilaration. "Don't get comfortable, blood-sucking hordes of the Netherworld, because Gosalyn the Destroyer has arrived! Prepare to meet your DOOM!"
She crouched defensively and shifted her hands as though she were holding a titanium-reinforced twelve-gauge shotgun aptly named "The Zombie Killer", play-fighting with an invisible army of monsters that surrounded her. Providing her own sound effects, the yellow gosling clad in an oversized jersey and tennis shoes leapt onto the couch and blew away a swath of the undead minions, skillfully snapping her sinewy leg out and catching an imaginary zombie in the mouth. She hadn't noticed that Launchpad's strong tenor had gone eerily silent until she heard him exclaim, "What?"
The cool steel in her feathered hands incinerated. Her battle forgotten, she spun and hopped from her perch, quietly stealing to the dingy kitchen archway. She rested her hands on the rough-textured wallpaper, poking her head around the corner to spy on the pilot, and immediately frowned in concern. He stood unevenly, swaying back and forth ever so slightly upon his firmly planted feet. She almost revealed herself to find out what was wrong, but the long crack that ran up the phone receiver from gripping the orange plastic shell too hard made her quickly banish the notion.
He fumbled behind himself blindly for a chair with his free hand. No sooner had he dragged it across the floor with a harsh screech of wood on linoleum than he collapsed into it, resting his forehead in his palm. The silence hung thick in the air; stiflingly cold and heavy. Gosalyn thought of leaving, but her own morbid curiosity kept her eyes pinned on the hunched over figure that sat in complete shadow. She shivered from the sudden chill in the air and wondered just when the room had gotten so dark.
She jumped at the whirring teleportation chairs, looking over her shoulder guiltily at Darkwing as he walked in her direction. Had he been in the mood to use his brain, he would have realized that the range of Gosalyn's facial expressions rarely included guilt.
He glanced through the door for no more than a second, spotted his sidekick on the phone, and then frowned down at her. "Gosalyn!" he snapped, grabbing her by the arm. "You know better than to eavesdrop--!"
From inside the darkened kitchen, they heard Launchpad hoarsely utter, "D'ya want me to identify the bodies?"
Father and daughter glanced curiously at each other, and then simultaneously gawked into the kitchen. "Bodies?" Darkwing asked.
Gosalyn took a step over the threshold. "Yeah, what dad sa--" A wiry hand clamped down on her beak and pulled her back.
They examined Launchpad as he murmured a few words of thanks and laid the receiver on the counter. Seconds passed, all parties remaining stock still. The gentle, annoying beep from the phone, the background thrum of Gosalyn's horror flick, and their shallow breathing were the only sounds in the entire house.
Darkwing felt a small tug at the fabric of his coat, and turned to his young daughter's pleading stare. Her bright green eyes seemed oddly luminescent. "Say something, dad," she goaded quietly.
He glanced from her to Launchpad, and sputtered an incoherent reply that she assumed was a refusal. Frowning, she yanked harder at his cape, jerking him to the side. "Say something, dad," she repeated through clenched teeth, "before we all go crazy."
"Alright, alright," he whispered to appease her. He sighed, running a finger around the worn cotton collar of his teal turtleneck in the vain hope of relieving some pressure. Anxiously, he took a step into the kitchen that reeked of foreboding, stopping short of the Formica-paneled table. "Launchpad?"
There was no response; not even the slightest hint of movement.
He took another hesitant step forward, holding out his hand in a calming gesture. "LP?" When no answer was given, Darkwing laid a lead-weighted hand on his sidekick's shoulder to stir him. "LP--"
Launchpad yelped in surprise, instinctively swatting his arm away with a quick slash of his elbow. Darkwing hopped back and rubbed his sore hand crossly. "Well, geez, Launchpad, if you didn't want me around, all you had to do was..." He trailed off, watching as Launchpad ignored his very existence and returned to his previous position. He then observed how much the pelican's solid, white-feathered hands shook as they obscured his face, and his gut told him it wasn't from the shock he just received.
After distractedly hooking the phone receiver back on the cradle, he knelt down to Launchpad's level and squeezed the side of his arm comfortingly. He felt the faint trembling of his toned muscles through the smooth, aged leather. "Launchpad, what happened?"
Launchpad's mouth moved soundlessly, like he was getting reacquainted with it. "I... My--my family...they, uh..." It didn't take much to discern the level of self-control he was trying to assert over something so simple as his voice. A cold, damp feeling entered Darkwing's veins.
His eyes flashed over to Gosalyn, who in turn shrugged. He admired the fine craftsmanship of the antique flight goggles adorning Launchpad's crown as he waited for him to continue. When it was obvious he wasn't, the Masked Mallard forced down a swell of annoyance, and prompted him. "What about your family?"
Finally, Launchpad listlessly lifted his head to meet his boss' inquiring gaze. His large piercing blue eyes were hollow and glassy, lightly glazed over with growing pools of unshed tears. Darkwing's insides turned to ice. "...They're all dead," he whispered.
Lightning illuminated the Mallard residence, the roar of thunder drowning out their thoughts. The storm had come.
To be continued...