Author's Note: If you haven't already, it would probably be beneficial to read Part I before moving on to Part II -- just for, y'know, flow n' stuff. THIS ISN'T EVEN ON MY WEBSITE YET, SO YOU GUYS ARE GETTING A REAL TREAT HERE! Please let me know what you think so I can revise what needs to be revised before I DO put it up on the site. THANK YOU!!
Disclaimer: Negaduck and Morgana McCawber are copyright the Walt Disney Company and are used without permission. Everyone else was doing it! :P
Ariana McCawber is copyright ME, Amanda Rohrssen (DarkwingPsycho). Please do not use her character or her likeness without my consent.
Part II: Embrace the Darkness
Don't let 'em get where they're going to,
You know they're only what they think of you,
You heard of this emotional trickery,
And you felt like you were learning the ropes,
But where you're going now you don't know
And when the kids on the street say
What's your problem girl,
And the weight of their smile's just
Too much for you to bear,
When they all make you feel
Like you're a problem girl
You're no problem at all
You're no problem at all
Pride like promises can let you down,
You thought that you'd be feeling
Better by now
You worry all the things they could do to you,
You worry about the things they could say,
Maybe you're seeing things the wrong way
If you stand or you fall,
You're no problem at all
Rob Thomas, "Problem Girl"
She stopped when her feet began to ache. Duckburg sat on the black horizon, a glittering hive buzzing with activity from which she had been expelled. The pavement beneath her feet was cold, and the touch of it covered her with goose bumps. Unsurprisingly, it began to rain. She barely noticed; she had grown numb to the outside world. Consuming her mind instead were feelings of foolishness, guilt, anger, loss…emotions that gripped her senses and allowed no freedom to worry about shelter or what her next move was going to be.
Tears rolled silently down her cheeks as recent events played over and over in her thoughts, and she grew frustrated that all of her good intentions had been distorted and turned against her. While deep down Ariana was glad to be away from Krysten, she had the intense feeling that she deserved the way Krysten had treated her – just as she deserved the way her father had treated her. In her weary, disillusioned eyes, she felt as if she had failed them both, and now she was paying the penalty. She deserved to be out here in the darkness alone, wet, and freezing with her few meager possessions; she deserved every nasty comment anyone had made to her; she deserved being manipulated and taken advantage of; and she deserved to be shunned for what she was - a monster.
The thought made her snap out of the reverie, and taking in her surroundings she found that she had just started to cross the Audubon Bay Bridge. It was the landmark that separated Duckburg from another city, but she couldn't quite recall which one.
Had burning tears not blurred her eyes and had her thoughts not spiraled into self-loathing, it would have been a beautiful sight to see the city at the end of the bridge. Its towering skyscrapers winked through the misty fog that rolled over the bay, shrouding the metropolis in a thin gray curtain, and it seemed to glow with its own inner light. The cityscape was illuminated as if it were on center stage for all the world to see.
Ariana set her box of belongings on the sidewalk beside the bridge wall, but not before lifting out the framed photograph, its picture distorted in the little drops of rainwater that had gathered across it. She pulled herself up to sit on the bridge's ledge so that she was facing the murky waters and stared down at the photo while the rain insistently pricked her back, head, and shoulders like sharp-tipped needles.
Still, the weather was nothing compared to the turmoil Ariana felt within as she wiped the drops away from the picture with her thumb.
Krysten smiled up at her, skates slung over her shoulder, and Ariana felt another pang of guilt. Another friendship was down the drain.
The frigid December wind wove through Ariana's long hair, sending it into the air like a stream of golden honey. As she filled her lungs with the fresh, cool air, she closed her eyes and thought of home. The snow was packed hard where countless people before her had tread, but where she could she stepped on newly fallen snow so she could feel the flakes – light and powdery – on her feet. She hadn't worn shoes; she hated to wear shoes and avoided it for as long as she could. It was the perfect weather to seek out an ice skating pond. A pair of ice skates was slung over her shoulder, and she sang a happy tune quietly to herself. That is, until a familiar voice cut into her thoughts.
"Hey kid! Ariana! Hey!"
The voice was loud and impatient, with an undertone of arrogance.
Ariana grimaced, then forced herself to smile. She felt guilty when she reacted to Krysten like that. After all, Krysten was the only person who seemed to want to be her friend, and Ariana felt a sense of dutifulness toward her – that she should be grateful for Krysten's friendship.
Footsteps neared, then Krysten was at her side, decked out in a brand new coat, hat, mitten, and scarf.
"What're you doing out here?" Ariana asked, making an effort to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
"Uh, duh," Krysten sneered, "skating." She held up her own set of skates by the shoelaces.
"Oh." Ariana felt her cheeks reddening with humiliation – a feeling that had become almost synonymous with Krysten's presence.
"Woody and I were just out there. He had to get to work, and I was gonna go home, but then I saw you."
Ariana knew Krysten well enough to know a self-invitation when she heard one, and though she would rather have skated alone, she didn't protest. It all went back to feeling ungrateful should she deny Krysten anything, even if it meant she was miserable. She didn't want to lose the only friend she had.
"Do you skate a lot?" asked Ariana as she joined Krysten on one of the benches surrounding the frozen pond. She was somewhat surprised to learn that she and Krysten shared an interest in something.
"Hey, I'm thirsty," Krysten remarked, ignoring Ariana's question. "You wanna get me a Coo-Coo Cola?" She shoved a couple of bills in Ariana's face.
Ariana stared at them for a few moments, not quite comprehending the sudden demand right off, then reluctantly took them. "Where at?"
"Over there," came Krysten's reply as she began tying up her skates.
For the third time in five minutes, heat rose to Ariana's cheeks, yet still she said nothing and did what Krysten wanted. She would do almost anything to avoid confrontation.
When Ariana returned and gave Krysten her change, she sat down to put her own skates on.
"Hurry up; what's the problem? Forget how to tie shoelaces?"
Underneath the cloak of hair circling her bent head, Ariana scowled in spite of herself. Tightening the last knot, she swallowed her emotions, stood up, brushed back her hair, and smiled. "Ready?"
"Yeah, an hour ago, come on!" Krysten snatched Ariana's wrist and pulled her eagerly toward the frozen lake. "I was really good at this when I was younger, along with a lot of other sports. Won all kinds of awards and contests…You ever skate before, kid?"
"A couple of times…" was Ariana's hesitant reply.
"Eh, you'll get the hang of it after a while. Just watch me." Krysten skated a little way out, then turned expectantly toward Ariana. "Come on, you can do it."
Flushing yet again, Ariana tried to remind herself that she was overreacting – that Krysten didn't mean to be condescending; that was simply the kind of person Krysten was.
Obediently Ariana stepped out onto the ice, but she skated past Krysten rather than toward her, letting herself get reacquainted with the feel of the ice beneath her feet.
It wasn't long before Krysten was back at her side.
"You're all right, kid, but I'll bet you can't do this!" Suddenly she took off like a shot, weaving around other skaters toward an open spot, then whipped around and glided backwards, making the shape of a figure eight in her wake. As she made her way back toward Ariana, her expression was smug and challenging. She laughed haughtily.
The sound made Ariana want to crawl into a hole. But at the same time, a small, defiant flame sprang to life deep within her.
Wordlessly she struck out toward an open patch of ice, skating gracefully, effortlessly, over the frozen liquid as if she were merely flowing through the crystalline veins along the surface. From the moment she slid into her first spin, everything else faded away. Krysten was far away. The only things she was aware of were the sounds of her skates scraping gently against the slush as she cut her own way in the ice and the feel of the wind streaming through her hair.
Here on the ice, she was free; freer than any bird, freer than any creature of the deep. She could make her own path, follow her feelings, let go of herself. It was as close to flight as she could get.
A crowd had gathered, watching her, but she remained unaware of their stares, unaware that she now had the lake all to herself, unaware of the complete change that seemed to have come over her. It was only when she realized her eyes had been closed that she allowed them to open slowly in mid-twirl and caught sight of a set of beautiful brown eyes. Though she'd only met them for a split second, it felt like eons. It was like an electric jolt to her insides. Unfortunately, at that exact moment her skate hit a rough patch of ice, and she was pitched forward, skidding across the frozen water, bits of ice biting through her flesh.
A gasp fluttered through the crowd followed by a few snickers. Then one particularly loud guffaw reached Ariana's ears, making her head begin to pound unbearably. Krysten skated toward her, her laughter continuing even as she was helping Ariana to her feet.
"Not a graceful one, are you?" she said sardonically.
"I'm fine, thanks," Ariana muttered under her breath.
"That was some show you put on there. You'll have to show me how you do that sometime."
Ariana blinked. Had Krysten just…complimented her? The idea left her momentarily struck dumb. She could only smile as Krysten draped one of Ariana's arms around her shoulders and helped her off of the ice.
Until then she had kept her mind blank, pushing away any thoughts or memories or feelings, and the same twinge of panic, fear, betrayal, and rejection that had followed her from Transylvania pricked her insides. She couldn't stay in Duckburg any more than she could have stayed in the village. She had already been labeled, and there was no one to defend her name. It didn't surprise her much to find herself in this position yet again, but it was disappointing. She had had such high hopes.
With a heavy heart, she sank to the curb and rested her elbows on her knees. Beside her sat everything she had in the world. More raindrops splattered against the glass of the frame, distorting the shape of her face as it smiled out at her from beside Krysten's in the photograph.
Why was it that no matter what she did she couldn't seem to keep a friend for very long?
The more she thought about it, the more depressed she became. Even so, she and Krysten smiled out at her from the picture. It seemed to be mocking her pain, parading the ideals of friendship as if the whole thing were just a show and that underneath, the surface was as empty and cold as the wind that was blowing through Ariana's feathers. She began to grow bitter.
Why do I even bother?
Because, that rational voice in her mind interrupted, faith is the essence of happiness. Keep searching, and you will find what you are looking for. Just have faith.
But I don't have anywhere to go…
She sat for a few minutes more, mulling over her options, and as she did so, her eyes lighted on a highway sign. Duckburg was to her right and a city in the distance to her left. The cars whizzing by her hadn't registered in her senses until now, their wind trails seemingly urging her after them. Squinting, she rose to her feet to read the highway sign carefully.
Saint Canard 3
Morgana… she thought with some relief, recognizing the name of the city across the water. As much as she didn't want to impose on her sister, Ariana knew she had no other alternative. With a defeated sigh she hoisted the box up into her arms and trudged along the sidewalk, the backs of her eyes throbbed with a sharp pain.
Again. She was going to have to start over again.
A couple of hours had passed, and Ariana found herself in the middle of what looked to be the seedy side of town. The buildings lining the vacant, cracking streets were boarded up, ready for demolition. Graffiti littered the alleyways, and the dim streetlamps flickered in warning.
To her right, drunken howls cut through the otherwise silent night, and a duo of alcoholics stumbled out of a nearby tavern that appeared to be a few years away from condemnation. Locked in a brawl, they tumbled to the sidewalk right in front of Ariana, swinging their fists wildly at one another. Her body went rigid in fright, and she stared at the battling boozers hoping neither one would notice her. As they slurred insults at each other, she carefully sidled around them and continued down the uneven sidewalk, occasionally glancing over her shoulder as she went.
The farther Ariana headed into this shady scene, the more she wanted to turn back around and leave. The problem was she didn't know the way back. She'd taken so many turns in this foreign city that it was impossible to retrace her steps. The worst of it was, she didn't know Morgana's address, so even if she had enough courage to ask one of the sleazy characters around here for directions, she wouldn't have known to where the directions should lead.
Her beak opened wide in a yawn, and she could tell by the night sky that it was just past midnight. She would need to find somewhere to rest soon, preferably somewhere hidden. It unnerved her to be in this decaying, foreboding place, but it was getting too late and she was getting too tired to keep moving.
Finally, she stopped in front of one of the abandoned warehouses that faced the wharf and decided to find a hiding place inside to put up for the night.
Maniacal, insane laughter echoed in the city streets in a cyclone of madness, making it impossible to pinpoint just where it was coming from. To those who recognized the sound, however, the location of it was not important – it was the source of it. In a panic, they dodged inside buildings, alleyways, even dumpsters merely to get out of sight before he arrived. The Bad Part of Town was especially tame when the roar of a motorcycle joined the gravelly giggling, and a figure dressed in a yellow suit, red fedora, and black cape came tearing down the street. His chilling laugh would have made even the stoutest of hearts shiver.
Abruptly the tires squealed in agony against the pavement. Something had caught his attention.
With a cruel sneer, he approached a small, half-starved puppy cowering behind a garbage can.
"Aww," he crooned snidely, "a little lost puppy. I know just what to do with you." He picked the tiny canine up and patted its head. Its tongue lolled out contentedly, and then it gave a sharp yelp as Negaduck suddenly drop-kicked it, sending it sailing through the air. "Get outta my territory, you mutt!" he yelled after it before allowing himself a congratulatory chuckle.
So far he'd managed to knock over a couple of banks, bomb a stock broker's office, vandalize the local library, and shake down an entire Girl Scout troop for their cookie money – and it was only noon. It was certainly turning out to be a promising day.
Continuing through the dilapidated section of St. Canard, Negaduck finally decided on one of the abandoned warehouses along the wharf to pose as his next hideout. Parking the Troublemaker, he unloaded his loot and marched toward the nearest boarded up entrance. He paused momentarily to size up the 2 X 4's, then heaved the heavy sack around and knocked it flat against the door, splintering the makeshift barricade. Smirking, he slid the massive bundle over his shoulder again and made his way inside.
A tiny clicking noise and the spine-tingling feel of metal against her forehead jarred Ariana from sleep, and she found herself face-to-face with a pistol.
"I hope you enjoyed your nap," a cold, menacing voice sneered tauntingly from behind the weapon, "because it was your last."
She sat up quickly, surprise straining her petite face. Her assailant jerked the gun back on her, and her eyes drifted to the iron nozzle.
"Any last words, trespasser?" he rasped emotionlessly. The gleam in his eyes betrayed the sheer pleasure he was feeling, mismatching the deadly calm in his voice.
As her initial shock faded, Ariana stared wordlessly at the gun with no trace of fear. Certainly there was intimidation, but she did not tremble. She had been threatened with guns enough that they no longer instilled that instinctual fear of death or pain. Instead, she lifted her eyes from the pistol and they now bored steadily, searchingly, into her attacker's face. Why hadn't he shot her yet?
"Well?" he demanded, her lack of terror making him angry and a bit unstable.
Still, she said nothing. If she was going to die here and now at the hands of this murderer, then so be it; she would simply accept her fate.
Her entire body relaxed, and she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable gunshot.
A different sound, however, pierced the tense air like screaming missile - a booming, threatening, hate-filled sound that cut to her inner core and jolted her to her feet in an instant - a scream of pure, unadulterated rage.
A bullet went rocketing to the ceiling in the wake of the deafening roar as Negaduck's bloodshot eyes narrowed at Ariana. His chest heaved as he inhaled for another furious outburst, but she didn't have to be told twice.
She tore out of the building like a bolt of lightening, her legs pumping in a frenzy across countless city streets, the rough pavement tearing mercilessly at the bottoms of her feet. Remnants of that horrible scream played through her mind over and over as she weaved desperately through the dense throng of normals packing the sidewalks like cattle.
When the dregs of irrational panic finally ebbed, Ariana slowed to a stop and realized she was in an upstanding business district. Soon her mind caught up with her feet, and she wondered to herself just who that dangerous gunman had been. Had he really been going to shoot her? He had called her a trespasser…
Her thoughts on the stranger halted when a different matter rose once again to mind and drove all others away. Her heart sank. She still didn't know how to get to Morgana's, and now she had nothing in the world save the clothes on her back. It was Transylvania all over again. She was back where she had started, and this time she was less inclined to strike out on her own. She knew she wouldn't be able to deal with trying to build a new life yet again with no one to help her stay on her feet. Duckburg had made sure of that. If she couldn't find Morgana…
The bitter metallic taste of blood spilled warm in Ariana's mouth as she bit into her lip to hold back the anxious tears. It all seemed so hopeless.
Trapped in her tragic thought cycle, she didn't see the tall red-haired duck waltz out of a nearby hardware shop until she'd successfully stepped on his heel.
"Ye-ouch!" he yelped, nearly dropping the bags in his arms.
"Oh my goodness – I'm so sorry!" she cried apologetically, rushing forward.
The duck turned around with a good-natured smile on his large, exuberant features.
"Ah, that's okay. I know ya didn't mean to."
A worrisome frown remained on Ariana's face as if she expected him to suddenly change his mind and explode on her at any minute.
He smiled again, this time reassuringly.
"Hey, there's no reason to feel bad! Though if ya wanted to meet me that bad ya could've just tapped me on the shoulder," he joked with a wink. "Name's Launchpad," he continued, shifting his sacks to one arm so he could stretch a friendly hand toward her, "Launchpad McQuack."
A subtle rosiness climbed to her cheeks as Ariana accepted Launchpad's handshake.
"I-I'm Ariana," she started, clearly taken aback by his genuinely open and amiable personality.
"Nice to meetcha, Ariana," he replied. "New in town?"
She didn't answer him right away, momentarily held silent by some irrational fear of what might happen if she did admit to her recent arrival. Casting the concerns of her timidity aside, she smiled helplessly and nodded in reply to his question.
He returned the smile sympathetically.
"It's okay, I've only been in St. Canard a few years myself. Where ya headed?"
"My sister's house," she said, feeling more at ease, "but I don't know how to get there."
"Maybe I can help," Launchpad offered. "Who's your sister?"
"Oh sure! I know her! She lives a couple a blocks that way, third house on the right. Ya can't miss it!"
Ariana's eyes lit up as sheer jubilation and gratitude streaked through her tiny body. "Oh, thank you so much! I'm very glad to have met you!"
"No problemo!" he returned amiably before adding, "I'd walk ya there myself, 'cept I gotta get this stuff home. But hey, maybe I'll see ya 'round sometime! Say hi to – what was your sister's name again?"
"Morgana!" Ariana called over her shoulder, already making her way down the sidewalk. "Morgana McCawber!"
It was sheer luck that she turned around just in time to miss Launchpad's face drain of color as if he'd just contracted a deadly virus.
13 DeSpell Lane. The street name brought back unwanted memories for Ariana. A rock seemed to have wedged itself into her throat as she fought against the unbidden recollections of dimes and criminals. She rang the doorbell. The suddenly chill and gloomy air was filled with a melancholy and foreboding rendition of the funeral march, played on an organ. The morbid humor reminded Ariana of home, and she braced herself for yet another gush of memories when Morgana answered the door.
Lightening abruptly streaked across the malevolent sky, casting a brief, blinding flash on the woman who stood in the doorway, and a cacophonous roar of thunder soon followed. Even in the faint illumination of the porch, Ariana could feel her eyes lock with her sister's. They had not seen one another for two years. In the silence she was almost afraid that Morgana was not very happy to see her. Her fears were quickly dispelled, however, when her sister suddenly leaped forward and wrapped her arms around her.
Tears of happiness sprang to the younger McCawber's eyes as she returned the eager hug and grinned from ear to ear. She was so overjoyed that she couldn't speak. Seeing her sister again, she felt some semblance of peace for the first time since leaving Transylvania.
"How have you been? Where have you been?" Morgana cried. "Oh, come inside and tell me everything! It's been so long since I've seen my little sister!"
It was so good to feel welcome again. Following Morgana over the dark threshold, Ariana took time to gaze around the interior of the manor before the inevitable barrage of questions began.
Every room was blanketed in the heavy, mystic glow of candlelight and the dim, ghostly halo of ancient electric bulbs. Elaborate rugs covered the ashen floors, the patterns seeming to leap and tumble over the fabric in a haunting dance of candle flames. The walls were decorated with spider webs, moving-eye portraits, and gloomy tapestries. One portrait in particular that hung in what had to be the study caught Ariana's eye as she peered through the doorframe from her spot in the entryway.
"Let's go in here," Morgana rushed on excitedly, leading Ariana in the opposite direction toward what appeared to be the living room. She sat down on one end of a stately violet sofa, and Ariana followed suit. "Father told me what happened…well, his side of it anyway," she corrected herself. "He refuses to even allow your name to be spoken in his presence. If you ask me he's just being childish. So what really happened?"
Ariana tensed ever so slightly before taking a deep breath and starting from the beginning.
"Well…you remember when I graduated from school…?"
It had been only a few days since she had graduated from the Webminster Academy of the Dark Arts, and her father was still aglow with pride and the prospect of what the future held for him and his prodigy of a daughter. Ariana relished the positive attention and the affection he so suddenly bestowed on her, but she was intuitive enough to recognize that his love was for the raw power she had learned to harness and not for the woman she had grown into. Still, she told herself she didn't care. She would have done almost anything to win his approval.
Today Moloculo seemed particularly anxious to begin the traditional father-daughter lesson that they had been doing together since she had been four years old. He bustled into the dungeon room carrying a rolled up parchment, his red eye gleaming in the eerie candlelight.
"I've summoned the entire McCawber clan; they should be here by tomorrow morning! Everything is in place save for one little detail."
"What's that, Father?" Ariana asked immediately, forcing enthusiasm into her voice.
"I will teach you one last spell, one that they won't teach you at any school."
Now Ariana's curiosity was peaked. She waited restlessly, more excited at the idea of spending time with her father than learning yet another enchantment.
"Only the most powerful of magic-wielders can perform it," he continued. "The utter magnitude of what it does can disintegrate those who are unworthy of its power from the inside out."
At the frightened look on Ariana's face, Moloculo chuckled and held up a reassuring hand.
"But you…you are far more advanced that any magic-wielder in history, the likes of which Transylvania has never seen and isn't likely to see again for many lifetimes. You will be able to perform this spell with a mere snap of your fingers." His face looked almost bloodthirsty in the dim light.
She swallowed her fear, which quickly made her nauseous. Simultaneously, his compliment made her smile and blush a little. "What does it do?"
"It kills as many or as few as the caster wants…and it rips the soul apart so there is no chance for reincarnation or resurrection. In other words…it gives you the power of Death."
The room grew hazy all of a sudden and began to tilt at many odd angles all at once. Ariana could scarcely see straight as her father's words rolled through her head, their meaning becoming more incomprehensible each time they resounded in her ears.
"W-what?" she managed, refusing to believe he was actually saying this to her. She scrabbled for the table to support her lest her legs give out beneath her.
"We're going to kill them. All of them. I will have blood for blood, and I want you to be the one to do it. I'm so proud of how powerful you've become, and I'm sure you'll make me even more proud once we're fighting those despicable normals side by side! Now, come over here and we'll get started." He turned and began thumbing through a large, ancient spellbook.
Ariana stood frozen in place, her mouth slightly agape. Pillaging and destroying property was one thing, and even then Ariana hadn't really believed he'd actually do it, but murder?
"I won't go through with it…" she said meekly, barely above a whisper. She was terrified of what his reaction would be, but she knew she had to say something.
"What's that?" Moloculo questioned, pausing in mid-action with an eager gleam still in his eye.
Ariana took a deep breath and repeated in a louder, steadier voice, "I said, I won't go through with it."
"What do you mean you won't go through with it?!" Moloculo raged, taking two strides toward his daughter and glaring down at her through both his glass eye and his good eye.
"I . . . I don't want to hurt anyone . . ." she cringed, backing up against the wall like a rabbit cornered by a rabid hound.
Moloculo sighed heavily. "There is no other way, Ariana. Something must be done to show them that monsters are not to be trifled with!" He put a hand on her shoulder. "How else do you expect to get revenge for what they did?"
"That's not what she would have wanted . . ." Ariana ventured, turning her face away from her father.
"Don't talk back to me! This is what we've been working for all these years! Are you just going to throw that away?"
She felt her resolve weaken at the disappointment and disapproval in his voice.
"I . . . that's not what I . . . there has to be another way . . ." She rubbed her arm anxiously, her stomach twisting like a sponge.
"There is not. Now stop this foolishness."
A minute burst of resentment spurred within her. "It is not foolishness . . ." she muttered.
"Oh, but it is." He clenched his fists, his eyes narrowing to slits. "You're my daughter, and you'll do as I say!"
Ariana shrank back as far as the stone wall would allow, her eyes looking up at Moloculo with fearful determination.
"Father, I . . . It's not right . . . I won't help you hurt them!"
"You will if I say you will!" he snarled. "Even if I have to use force! I will not let it go without a fight, do you understand me!?"
He struck her hard across the mouth, drawing a bit of blood at the corner. Her eyes burned with an even greater defiance, a part of her that had long been buried beneath years of diffidence and a desperate need to feel loved.
"I won't! I believe there are good people out there, but you have judged them all without knowing them – as they have so unfairly judged us! I would rather live one week as a normal than succumb to the empty, hate-driven, immortal life that you so covet!" She bit back her tongue then, realizing all too late that she had gone too far.
Moloculo stood towering over her, heaving with fury.
"Get. Out. Of. My. House," he snarled slowly, enunciating each word with venomous deliberation.
Her heart faltered within her breast. The world stopped spinning. She could scarcely breathe. It was her greatest fear come to life.
"You are no daughter of mine. Now be gone from my sight, you wretched girl, and never set foot near a McCawber for as long as you live."
"OUT!" He grabbed her upper arm and jerked her through the castle, ignoring her sobbing pleas, his long and bony fingers digging into her fair, feathery skin. "And don't you DARE come back!" he shrieked one final time before throwing her outside with all his might. "I banish you! Live with your precious normals and be gone!" The heavy oaken doors slammed in her face, and with that sound Ariana's heart shattered.
"Why didn't you come to me first?" demanded Morgana. "You know I would've understood."
"I know…I didn't want you to get into any trouble with Father for taking me in."
"But why now? Father's still pretty upset, especially since his raid on the village was a disaster. His magic isn't what it used to be."
"I guess I hoped that by now he'd have cooled off at least a little…"
"Well, Father can be a bit stubborn."
"Morgana…I don't have anywhere else to go. I'm sorry to drop in on you like this, but I've got no friends, no job, no money…"
"Father's not the only reason you didn't come to me sooner," Morgana observed flatly with the hint of a smirk on her bill.
Ariana flushed. Morgana knew her too well.
"No. I wanted to see if I could make it on my own in the normal world…and you can see how brilliantly that worked out."
"So where did you go?"
"Duckburg. I got a loan from Scrooge McDuck, and –"
"McDuck? Scrooge McDuck?" Morgana repeated, obviously stunned.
Ariana frowned slightly. "Y-yes…why?"
"Never mind, it's not important."
She opened her mouth to ask further, but decided against pressing the issue, no matter how much her curiosity burned to know.
"Why don't we talk more about this later? Are you hungry? Thirsty?"
As soon as Morgana spoke, two bats flew into the room carrying a platter of finger food (literally) and squawking. Ariana immediately swallowed her declination and grinned.
"Eek! Squeak! Oh, I've missed you two so much!" Within seconds she was on her feet and scratching both bats under their chins with a doting expression. "I'm glad to see that you had them all this time, Morgana. I was afraid Father might have set them loose or worse after what happened. Thank you so much; it looks like you've taken great care of them."
"My pleasure…" her sister replied, but Ariana didn't see the devious smile that lingered on Morgana's bill.
"How's your familiar? I hope mine weren't too much trouble since you had him to take care of, too."
"Archie's fine; we were glad to have the extra help. Weren't we, Archie?" Morgana asked sweetly to the spider that had just crawled onto the arm of the sofa. He waggled a leg at her and grumbled incoherently. "Besides, what are sisters for?"
At this Ariana beamed. The McCawber sisters were like best friends, reunited. How she wished she had gone straight to Morgana rather than foolishly believing she could have made it in the normal world alone. It would have saved her so much heartache.
"I'm just so glad to see you all again…it's quite a relief to see friendly faces after –" Here Ariana broke off, feeling the angry hurt rise in her throat again as she remembered the reason she was even there.
Morgana quickly changed the subject. "You can stay in the guest room upstairs."
It was then that she noticed Ariana's lack of baggage.
"Didn't you bring anything?"
Now Ariana looked like she might cry at any moment. Morgana mentally chastised herself.
"Well, you can use my things until we can get you your own. Come on, the room's this way."
Winter had long since battered the Transylvanian landscape with a barrage of snowstorms and frigid, turbulent winds screaming with hail and ice. The skies were perpetually overcast and gray, and the bare trees stood black and razor-sharp against the bleak horizon like foreboding spears thirsting for blood. It was her mother's favorite time of year.
Today was different from any other winter day, however. In fact, it was to be such an extraordinary day that it would imprint itself in the minds of those who were there, and all would have differing perspectives on just what that day had set in motion.
Ariana sat alone in a corner of the castle, playing quietly with a toy that looked like it was straight out of Quackerjack's factory. Per Moloculo's insistence, it was the only present she had received on this, her fourth birthday, and she loved it with all her heart. It was a stuffed demon plush with a forked tongue, long red horns, and a pointed tail, and its mouth spewed fire when the horns were pulled back. Interestingly enough, when squeezed around the middle, the stuffed toy inverted itself and became an angel with golden wings and a matching halo that, when pushed down, played a heavenly melody. Everybody in the household cringed whenever the little song chimed. It was hideous. Moloculo soon wished he and his wife had picked out a different toy, as Ariana seemed to prefer the loathsome and deformed angel to the properly wicked, scornful demon. In fact, she laughed with delight whenever the halo sprang up in place of the crimson horns. It just wasn't right, and it made Moloculo suspect that there was more wrong with his daughter than met the eye. It unnerved him.
"Hi, baby, having a good birthday?"
Ariana smiled up at her mother and nodded, clutching the toy against her so that the demon popped out.
"Do you want to go on a little trip with Mommy?"
"Where?" the child asked breathlessly, already on her feet with anticipation.
"Just down to the village. I need to pick up a few things from one of the farmers."
Seconds later they were hand in hand heading down to the quiet parish at the foot of the hill upon which their castle stood. Ariana loved going anywhere with her mother. In fact, Ariana just loved being with her mother.
"Here for the usual, Mrs. McCawber?" a portly stork drawled, feathered hands wrapped around his suspenders. A straw hat sat primly on his narrow head, the edges fraying and casting a shadow over his eyes. He was dressed for harvest even though it was the middle of winter.
"Yes, Frank," she replied kindly. "Ari, why don't you go out back and play with Isaac until I'm finished."
Ariana stared up at her mother for a few moments before slowly doing as she'd been asked. Her tiny feet trudged over the slushy mud, and she kept her head low and her shoulders hunched as if gravity was somehow double for her. Against her chest she clutched her birthday present, the angel now, until she cautiously made her way around the corner of the barn. And stopped dead.
There was something lying on the ground a few feet away, unmoving and furry. She recognized the dog right away as belonging to the boy Isaac. With careful steps she came toward it, expecting it to spring up and bark at her as soon as it caught her scent. She was confused when it continued to lay in the mud, motionless. Then she noticed the gunshot wounds, a large chunk of the dog's chest blown away in a mass of gore and flesh. The sight didn't grossly affect her, as carnage was something she had been desensitized to merely by being around members of her family, but she did feel a sting of pity for the creature.
Remembering how much Isaac had loved to play with the dog, she thought he was probably sad that the dog wasn't able to play anymore. She felt so overwhelmed with grief for Isaac and how he must feel that she actually began to cry. Gingerly she sat down on a nearby snowdrift and placed her small cherub hands on the dog's coarse coat, wet with snow and mud, the muscles underneath stiff with rigor mortis, and began stroking the carcass sadly, wishing that she could do something to bring the beloved pet back for Isaac.
The more she wished, the more she touched the dog, and soon both of her hands were tenderly holding its head. She closed her eyes, yearning intensely for the dog to wake up.
The next thing she was aware of were the horrified screams of the villagers and the abominable sound of a rabid, demented animal snarling and barking.
"We never should have trusted you monsters!" She could hardly make out the farmer's accusatory snarl above the hysteria. "My son was almost killed because of that creature!"
Arms encircled her and lifted her out of the cold.
"She's just a child!" her mother's voice pleaded against Ariana's head. "She didn't know what she was doing!"
As darkness consumed her conscious again, the last thing she focused on as her mother carried her away from the chaos was her birthday present. The demon, grinning its gleeful and hideous grin at her from a puddle of darkened, muddy snow.