Kayla and the Mortog King
"Your Majesty," Kayla proclaimed proudly from her workbench, "I've completed a new potion!"
Her friends grinned back at her from behind King Skarl and his champion Jeran Borodere, whose furry tail was swishing slightly at his little sister Lisha's ankles. Lisha, Kayla's best friend, clapped her hands together. She caught the motion just in time to keep it quiet. Morris and Boris were both bouncing a little, Morris on his toes and Boris on his tail.
The eager young Zafara had been thrilled to find that her fascination and imagination in the area of chemistry and magical brewing translated, upon her arrival in Meridell, to a real knack for potions. They'd been astonishingly useful in battle. (Kayla was possibly the most astonished of all, but secretly, deep in her heart, she'd always thought it ought to work that way.) Now that Lord Darigan was gone and Meridell was tentatively at piece with its looming new neighbor, she really had time to experiment.
King Skarl folded his arms and let out a soft snort, inspecting the flask critically. "Well," the Skeith rumbled, "what do you call it, and what does it do?"
"It's called Mortog Serum." Kayla didn't bother to hide her smile. Gruff he might be, but the king hardly had to come up to her lab when her friends did. "Would you like to be the first to try it?"
It was a measure of how well most of her brews worked that King Skarl took the flask with every sign of confidence, pausing only to peer curiously into the bubbling vat. Then he raised the flask and quaffed off the green liquid in one long gulp.
Kayla watched beaming, as he smacked his lips thoughtfully.
He let out a belch.
His blue skin began to take on a distinctly green hue.
Kayla's smile faded, and her ears twitched worriedly.
Skarl set the flask down, frowning at his own hands.
"Your majesty," Jeran said, "are you feeling well? You look a bit--"
"I had better not be going to look like Ha--" A loud pop cut off the name of Skarl's brother.
Kayla stared in horror at the knee-high, bluish-green Mortog sitting where the king had stood. His royal robe had transformed with him; his crown perched rakishly over bulging eyes.
"RIBBIT," Skarl the Mortog croaked at the top of his froggy lungs. Then, with a kick of powerful legs, he hopped away.
Jeran lunged for him an instant too late, landing flat on the floor with a crash of armor on stone as a second bound carried the royal Mortog out the door.
"That wasn't what it was supposed to do!" Kayla blurted in dismay.
The Champion of Meridell raised his head slowly from the floor. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he panted. "We have to catch him!"
All five of them pelted out the door and down the stairs.
Apparently being a Mortog, even a remarkably conspicuous one, made Skarl unusually discreet. People tended to look at them oddly, the searchers found, when they asked if anyone had seen a crowned Mortog. Lisha shakily examined every Mortog out by the kissing booth and checked in case the crown had fallen off. Morris and Boris got completely filthy trying to fish for him in the drains. Kayla, panting and less than coherent in her guilt and anxiety, screamed at the head cook and was actually chased out of the kitchens. Jeran had to go in, apologize for her, and ask the cooks all over again. They still hadn't seen the king.
Lisha sat Kayla down in the corridor and made her huff air in and out of a bag until her pulse slowed and she was able to breathe without gulping air. "I think we're not going about this the best way," the young Aisha said. "Kayla, when we find the King, we're going to need to reverse this. You've got to go up to your lab and analyze what went wrong with the serum and whether you can reverse it."
Kayla nodded nervously, the wheels already turning in her mind. A puzzle like this had always tended to focus her mind, although it had never before been under the pressure of having actually turned somebody into a petpet!
"Lisha's right." Jeran looked thoughtfully over the four kids. "I should have thought of that in the first place. And Lisha, it would probably be a good idea if you looked through the library. Have you run across anything in your cataloging efforts that would apply?"
Lisha chewed her lip and squinched her eyes even tighter behind her glasses. "I'm not sure. And I don't want to leave the rest of you to do all the work."
"Only you would call it that," Jeran said. "Morris and Boris and I can look for the King. We'll get more knights and squires if we need to. We've got more of them than sorcerors. Get that Bruce kid to lend a hand if you think it's safe for him, and figure out what's going on; we'll spread out."
So Kayla ran up her tower to her laboratory, and Lisha raced to the library, and the search continued.
A few hours later, Kayla was almost happy again. She had identified the flaw in the Mortog Serum, created an antidote, and brewed a fresh batch. A pounding on the door suddenly reminded her why she was working on this in the first place, and her heart sank.
"Just a minute!" she yelled. Stomach churning, she turned the heat down for the cauldron, off for the smaller flasks, and found her way to the exterior wall to throw open a window. Then she made her way back through the door and emerged in a cloud of colorful fumes.
Morris's jaw actually dropped. On a Quiggle, this was an impressive sight. Boris rocked right back on his tail.
Even Jeran raised an eyebrow. Over the enormous teal Mortog he held with both hands, crown still perched at an angle on its head.
"Oh." Kayla plopped right down on the floor in sheer relief and dropped her head into her hands. "You found him. Thank goodness. Where was he?"
Lisha giggled tiredly. "Out at the Rubbish Dump, catching flies."
Skarl the Mortog smacked his lips.
Lisha nodded. "All the magical information I could find suggested you'd have it handled before long, so I started thinking about how Mortogs behave."
"Oh." Kayla took a shaky breath and picked herself back up off the floor. "I, ah--I do have it. The antidote's all ready. Come in, please. Your Majesty," she added nervously to the Mortog.
They trooped carefully into the lab, where it was necessary first to weigh Jeran and Skarl together, then perform some calculations involving Jeran's weight in armor and Skarl's alterations in size. Kayla finally measured off a dose of another green potion -- this one light and sparkling -- and the Mortog obligingly opened its wide mouth for her to slip the spoon in and tip the liquid onto its tongue.
The Mortog shut its mouth and swallowed. After a few seconds of no apparent effect, it croaked inquisitively.
Then it burped.
Then it ballooned suddenly in size. Jeran hastily let go. There was another loud POP, accompanied by a cloud of blue smoke. Kayla gulped as they fanned it away--that noise was uncomfortably like losing a game of Mortog Kiss--but when the air cleared, their king stood before them in his usual shape.
"Much better," King Skarl said. "But I think that's the last potion of yours I'll test for a while, Kayla." He looked thoughtful, running his tongue around the inside of his mouth. "Tasty, though."
"Y-yes, Your Majesty."
"Well, I'd best go have a snack to prepare for dinner. I want to see all of you at my table tonight. Try to get the fumes out of your fur if you can." He swept out, leaving Kayla open-mouthed.
"I cannot believe," Kayla hissed to Lisha, "that you just--just decided I would have it taken care of and ran off to the Rubbish Dump! What if I hadn't been able to formulate an antidote?"
"Well, I can't believe you gave King Skarl the first sip of one of your potions and turned him into a Mortog," Lisha retorted, then had to stop in the middle of the hall as her friend moaned and sank to the floor in a puddle of formal skirts. "Oh, stop it. You did work it out. I knew you would. And if you hadn't, I guess there's always the traditional method. Although it might've taken longer to find somebody appropriate."
"I can't believe he even let me try to fix it," Kayla muttered. "I just hope there aren't any lasting effects."
"Like what? You expect him to turn back into a Mortog every new moon or something?"
"I don't know!" Kayla blinked. "New moon? Not full?"
Lisha brightened slightly at this expression of interest in another topic. "Of course not, that's Werelupes. Of course, if he compromises and just turns into a Quiggle or something, Morris will be honored and we can probably fix it with a morphing potion."
Kayla worried at her lip, the distraction flitting away again. "I hope he isn't very angry. What if he has me hauled off from the feasting hall to the dungeons?"
"He didn't seem angry," Lisha said patiently. "We are talking about King Skarl here. If he were going to send you to the dungeons in a fury, he'd have done it right away, not invited you to eat at the King's Table to set you up and mess with your expectations."
"Well--well maybe he'll have considered it calmly and rationally in the meantime that I'm too careless and can't be trusted, so I have to go!"
"Kayla," Lisha said, "get up off the floor and come to dinner. You're probably fine as it is, but he will get mad if you're late!"
This was a valid point, so Kayla picked herself up.
She spent the dinner in altogether self-inflicted agony. She watched King Skarl incessantly and surreptitiously for any sign of... of Mortog-like qualities, which required watching the king eat. King Skarl gobbled food with his usual enthusiasm and his usual level of neatness, holding forth on various topics (but mostly the meal) all the while. He failed to show any signs of turning green, hopping around, or swelling up indignantly and releasing a red splat as cover for his escape, although there was a false alarm involving a particularly juicy tomato. Still, she flinched every time he used the word "hop." Or "green" or "tongue" or "fly."
"You seem a little jumpy tonight, Kayla," Skarl observed as he finished off his plate.
Kayla nearly burst into tears.
"I'm looking forward to dessert tonight," Skarl rumbled to the rest of the table. "We have the Potions Sorceress Kayla to thank for the selection, too. Through my experiences today, I've gained a great appreciation for...." He stopped and gestured grandly, and the covered dessert plates were brought out. As usual, everyone else started with one slice, and Skarl received an entire dessert to himself.
The covers were removed, and the room buzzed softly.
It was Fantastic Fly Pie.
Kayla stared at her plate, then up in terror at the king. It was happening. He was still affected. Was he turning green again? Did his eyes look a little bigger? Were his teeth shrinking? Was he going to have her clapped in irons?
King Skarl lifted his pie to his mouth and took a big bite, but he didn't shut his eyes as he usually would. Instead, he looked straight at Kayla.