Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 1: The Broken Door ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

The Daemon War: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 1: The Broken Door
Ice rained down on the occupants of the shield room as the surface to which it clung ceased to be solid.
“You need to leave!” Theresa spoke to Markl in a fierce quiet voice as they watched Sophie scrambled in the rapidly melting snow to her daughter's side. Martha took a few steps after her sister, a mixture of revulsion and horror plain on her face.
“But…” Markl's face was twisted with dismay as he gazed upwards at the fading barrier, wiping the melting snow from his face.
“Sophie!” The red-haired girl recognized Howl's voice as the Wallmaker came charging through the sleet.
A glowing point of fire came darting after him, fluttering about the silver sorceress and the lanky man. The tall wizard dropped to his knees next to his wife and their fallen daughter. But their voices was drowned out as a fleet of flying kayaks buzzed the shattered shell of the shield room, soldiers in red and blue uniforms showing clearly against the bright sky on the flying contraptions. Apparently the Ingarian Army had not gone so far as to remain out of reach of the capital. The regiments in the sky were greeted in the air by the survivors of the crimson flock of the Ingarian Wizard Guard. The small crafts began landing in any available space as crowds of soldiers with guns began clambering through the rubble.
A swirling wind tore through the area as a great airship loomed low over the building. The bristle bearded emperor gave a great whoop that was audible even over the roaring gale and began waiving wildly. The young herbalist cast her eyes towards King Ferdinand, who was currently jabbing his finger in the direction of the half-daemon. His face was absolutely livid and he was yelling heatedly at Peoter and Dieter, who were trying to placate their king. In the distance there were cries and shouts of mix horror and jubilation as the witches and wizards realized they were alive and their foe had disappeared, but at the cost of the shield.
“Get up, Markl!” Theresa dragged the young wizard to his feet and pushed him toward his family, “You need to get Calcifer and Drie out of here now!”
“What?” The young wizard was grey faced with exhaustion and could barely keep his feet.
“People are stupid when they're scared, Markl,” The red-haired girl's voice took on a shrill note. She regarded the guns the soldiers carried, obviously remembering something unpleasant from her past. But she continued in her level headed way, “Do you think anyone is going to take time to think about the fact that there are good spirits and bad spirits? Or are they just going to see monsters and ask questions later?”
The freckle-faced girl dragged him through the snow past Martha as she spoke, bringing him to where his parents were. Deirdre had half roused and Howl had gathered her into his arms as he stood. Casting his wild blue eyes about in the pandemonium that had broke out once more. The silver sorceress stood and held onto both her daughter and husband. The child-woman had buried her face under her father's chin and was clinging to him as would any human. Theresa took a moment to marvel over the fact that looks could be deceiving. But what difference did it make? Was it so important that Markl's sister was a daemon? Howl's best friend Calcifer was a daemon too, and no one seemed fazed by that.
It didn't matter to Theresa; family was family as far as she was concerned.
“Hey kid! Glad to see you're okay,” Calcifer crackled in his nonchalant manner as she approached with the Wallmaker's apprentice in toe.
“My name is Theresa, Calcifer,” she grinned at the fire daemon and crossed her eyes at him. The living flame colored a pink red and flashed her a toothy reply.
“Your pardon for speaking out of turn, Master Howl, but you should leave as quickly as possible,” the red-haired herbalist's apprentice spoke briskly as she pushed Markl forward.
The raven-haired man blinked and regarded the young hearl as though she had materialized from thin air. He nodded wordlessly and cast his eyes about as though he were at a loss for what to do. Theresa dragged Suliman's stick out of the melting snow nearby and held it out to Markl. The russet haired boy stared at her as though she were holding a poisonous snake. Sophie came forward with a strange look in her eyes and took a hold of both her son and the magic staff.
The herbalist's apprentice clutched at her hoe and stared at the crowded sky overhead, frowning dourly, “I would tell you to fly. But I don't think it's a good idea.”
“It's alright, we'll be fine,” Sophie spoke decisively as she gripped the twisted staff in her hands. But the silver witch's face was pale and twisted with anguish as she cast her eyes over head at the bare sky.
“What about you?” Markl asked with concern as he suddenly came to his senses. But Theresa was already looking over her shoulder to where Martha had snagged two soldiers, one of which had a medic bag. The uniformed men had snapped to attention under the authoritative manner of the herbalist and the red wizard's wife was already giving orders.
“We need to tend to the injured,” The young healer replied. But she suddenly turned the full fierceness of her attention on the Wallmaker. “What should I tell them about the big monster?”
“Gone… For now,” was Calcifer's grim reply.
Theresa nodded as she looked at the fire daemon and took a few steps back. But Howl sought the young girl's green eyes and spoke in a conflicted voice, “Tell Barimus I'm sorry.”
Theresa nodded just as Sophie struck the ground with Suliman's staff. A portal gathered beneath the feet of the Wallmaker's family like a deep pool of indigo water. Theresa could see tiny stars sparkling in its depths and the gentle wind that escaped from it made every hair on her body stand on end. The freckle-faced girl would never get used to magic, and had no idea how any of them could put up with it all the time. The lot of them sank like a stone into the vastness beneath them. As quickly as the doorway had come, it disappeared, taking the fey wind with it. For a moment all she could do was stare.
But there was work to be done.
Theresa ran to her mistress' side, where the hedge witch was directing the controlled chaos of the robin colored Ingarian soldiers who milled throughout the room. The curly haired girl noted that the majority of them wore white bands on their arms, marked with a large red cross. These must be the medics, and indeed they were. But they had shiny metal bars on their shoulders, probably a mark of high rank. The young healer tugged at the herbalist's hem and the dark-haired woman cast a hard glance at her apprentice. But the young girl knew better than to take offence from Martha's stony demeanor.
“I'm going to look after Master Barimus, mistress,” Theresa spoke firmly, knowing her teacher would not object.
The silent woman deftly relieved one of the medics of their supply kit and shoved it into the girls hand by way of reply. With that she pointed wordlessly into the distance and then strode away towards the crumbled stairway, following the medic captains to where the wounded were being kept. The red-haired girl stared after her teacher, taking a dizzy moment to give thanks for the fact that she was still alive. But she was bumped and shoved about as soldiers began shuffling around her. It would have taken the young woman ages to push through the turmoil that filled the broken remnants of the shield room. Instead she tucked her magic hoe beneath her and kicked off the ground into the air.
Climbing to a good vantage point, Theresa stared down at the milling chaos beneath her feet.
The broken glass spire loomed like a great monolith in the middle of the room. She could see the bright colors of the witches and wizards of the council as they were ushered from the shattered chamber by bright points of red. There were many and Theresa was overjoyed to know that so many of the Wizards Guard had survived. Indeed, King Ferdinand was leaving as well, no doubt off to somewhere more accommodating to help plan the reoccupation of the Capital. But cold fear filled the young herbalist's heart as she remembered the look of rage on the emperor's face as he pointed towards the half-daemon earlier.
She did not need a gift of magic to understand it was an ill omen.
But the young girl continued to look for a different shade of red, one she knew that Barimus favored. She found it in the distance, ringed round by a large crowd. Like an arrow, Theresa shot across the turmoil to the fallen royal wizard. Peoter or Deiter, she could never tell the twins apart, was one of the group that surrounded Barimus, who was still struggling to give orders. The other twin must have accompanied the king elsewhere. But the witches and wizard drew back from her as the young healer dropped from the sky.
“Theresa!” Barimus cried weakly and reached for her. But the young healer was half crushed under the press of people that surged back around the red wizard.
“Enough! All of you shove off! Give the Lord Councilor some room!” Theresa shouted as she brandished her hoe and shook it menacingly, making a couple swipes at those who regarded her dubiously.
“I'm sorry master, I know it's not my place,” The curly haired girl apologized as she took his hand and kneeled at his side as she put down her hoe.
But Barimus laughed weakly and then shivered violently as he lay back against the pile of cloaks on which he rested. Theresa pulled a few more over his upper body and checked the splints on his legs. As she dug around in the medic's pack, the girl took note of the bottle of poppy juice. Pulling more sturdy bandages, she tried to gently fasten the splints more securely. The red wizard made a muffled noise, probably doing his best not to cry out. He had probably shattered his lower shins.
“I'm sorry, Master,” she murmured with concern, “Do you want something for the pain?”
“No. No, it's quite alright, dear one. I need to be able to think. But do call me Barimus,” The blond man replied, looking faint.
“Yes, Master Barimus,” The young healer spoke in brisk distraction as she cast her eyes about the red garbed witches and wizards emblazoned with the Ingarian arms. She was searching for the platinum haired woman with one blue eye and one brown. The captain of the Ingarian Wizards Guard was inseparable from the Lord Councilor. She was both his body guard and his favorite messenger. It was strange that she was not here.
“Where's Captain Cyanine? Shouldn't she be dealing with this lot?”
“She's dead,” Barimus choked, hiding his face in his hands. This was a great shock to the young healer and for a moment all she could do was stare. She had liked the young blonde witch very much and all of a sudden she realized she was crying.
“I'm so sorry, Master,” she whispered, doing her best to console her mistress' husband. But their circumstances would not let the Royal Wizard or any of them grieve.
“Lord Councilor, the barrier is down! What about the daemons?” A frazzled voice called from somewhere in the crowd. They began to press in on them again.
“Oi! Get back!” She snapped angrily and poked at a few with her hoe, ignoring the wetness on her cheeks.
One of the twins was doing his best to keep them back, giving order and directions as best he could. He was close enough to touch, so the young healer reached out and pulled on his pants leg.
“Peoter?” The girl called hopefully and the copper haired man looked down at her with attentive green eyes.
“Deiter, little mistress,” He replied with a grin.
“For the sake of the master, I'm delegating power. You're the new Captain, okay? So get this lot out of here! But save me two or three because I need to get Lord Barimus someplace safe. The Wallmaker said that the big monster is gone, but the little ones might still be around. You should go look for them, right?”
“Yes, little mistress,” The wizard bowed to her with sincere reverence. She couldn't help but blush.
“My name is Theresa,” she half mumbled as the new Captain of the Wizard's guard began shouting at the crowd.
“Where's Howl?” Barimus asked hopefully through the cracks in his fingers, no doubt ashamed to have his inner grief exposed for all to see.
“He had to go. But he sent the big monster away. He told me to tell you he's sorry.”
“That idiot,” The red wizard laughed softly, dashing the tears from his eyes as he tried to sit up again and his face twisted with pain, “He has nothing to apologize for.”
“Stay down, master Barimus. You shouldn't move,” Theresa pressed gently on his shoulder, then placed a hand on his forehead and noted with a stab of fear that he was burning up. The ice must have given him a chill.
“What's Peoter yelling about?”
“You mean Deiter?” Theresa replied as she fished around in the medic bag for the brown bottle.
“Don't listen to that rat; the twins like to play games,” the Lord Councilor replied as he struggled against her hand. The young healer did not like how pale his face was, nor did she find the brightness of his eyes assuring. If he kept this up he would kill himself out of sheer exhaustion.
“That's Peoter!” Barimus replied, “You can tell them apart by their freckles.” Thresea might have laughed if she weren't so worried about her mistress' husband.
“Drink this, Master Barimus. Just a sip, okay? It's really strong,” the red-haired girl held out the bottle of poppy juice to him.
“What is it?” The handsome blond man asked in distraction as he craned his neck to watch the red wizards disperse, “Where are they going? Where's Martha?”
“It's brandy, Lord Barimus,” the red-haired girl lied smoothly and half supported him up as she held the bottle to his lips.
“Now that's my kind of medicine,” He laughed half hysterically and took a swig. Theresa snatched it away from him before he could drink too much. It didn't take long and Barimus collapsed back against the cloaks, his warm brown eyes glazing over.
“Woo,” He murmured weakly, “Remind me later I don't like brandy.”
With that Barimus passed out. Theresa covered him and carefully monitored his temperature. She scooping up the remnants of some near by snow, she wrapped it in her handkerchief to cool the Lord Councilor's forehead. It wasn't long before two red garbed wizards came her way carrying a gurney between them.
This time Howl knew it wasn't a dream.
Sophie lay tucked into the crook of his arm, her warm back pressed against his chest. But the silver sorceress was real beneath his hands, and he had no fear that she would disappear. Together they nestled in the mound of pillows that bedecked their bed, covered in a thin quilt the brown-eyed woman had made for them over the winter. Warm and absolutely content, the wizard listened to the soft sound of his sleeping wife, smiling in spite of the fact that he could not sleep. Every so often she would half mumble something and then give a gentle sigh. He smoothed her hair more for the sake of the act rather than to tame the silver mane that tangled about the witch's face.
Howl found it amusing that Sophie refused to wear her hair down during the day, and yet she could not stand to have it bound up in its customary braid while she slept. Turning his blue eyes to the large picture window that slanted at an angle into the ceiling over their bed, the Wallmaker noted the warming night sky. Normally Sophie would have been wide awake by this hour; but she was still exhausted from her time beyond the indigo veil. The raven-haired man would have gladly remain absolutely motionless and let his wife sleep away the entire day in his arms. But there was no guarantee that any moment of peace would last. Nor was there any assurance that his family's trial was at an end.
It had been two days; although it felt like ages.
He was not looking forward to going into Kingsbury today. No one had requested his presence, nor had Barimus sent him a letter asking him to come. Regardless, the Wallmaker would go to the Ingarian capital; an anxious feeling in the back of his mind told him he must. What little communication he had with the Kingsbury was from a foot soldier, who delivered a scribbled note from Martha. There was not much news in its few words. Barimus had not fared well in the Daemon Queen's assault on the Royal Palace and Howl was terribly worried for his brother.
But the raven haired man was drawn from his thoughts as he heard a door open and shut in the hallway. In the distance another door clicked open and closed with careful slowness. A pair of soft footsteps approached until they stopped right in front of his door. The wizard grinned as he realized his wife would not be allowed to sleep much longer, although hers would not be a rude awakening. The door clicked open softly and the feet approached. Howl quickly pretended to be asleep, making a great show of snoring softly, throwing the back of his free hand against his forehead dramatically. Someone giggled, and the Wallmaker peeked open an eye and gazed slyly at the twin pair of blue eyes that regarded him over the edge of his bed.
His son and daughter were like mirror opposites in both size and coloring. Akarshan's hair was as black as Howl's. But the six year old boy was tiny compared to his silver haired sister. Deirdre was so tall her father could barely tuck her head under his chin. However, their eyes were the same deep sapphire blue that his mother's had been. It was hard to remember that they were the same age, in spite of appearances. It was an amazing thing, having his daughter back. It was as though she had never been lost to them and the Wallmaker could not image life without her.
But all was not well.
Heen was absolutely terrified of the silver haired child-woman; he hid from her whenever she entered the room. Calcifer was not afraid of her per say, but the living flame did not seem to be at ease in her presence. Markl was distant as well. It was probably because of what they could see with their other senses. But it would take some time for the family to adjust, both he and Sophie included. The only ones who weren't fazed in the slightest were Akarshan and Granny Witch. Howl's youngest son had accepted his sister for exactly who she was the moment he saw her. The faded old woman threw a fit over the tall child-woman. It had barely been three days and former witch of the wastes had knitted the girl two hats! She showered her with kisses and nattered over her exclaiming endlessly, “Oh, what a dear, dear, little Drie.”
But Howl was again drawn from his thoughts by the sound of his youngest son's voice.
“He's not sleeping, Drie. His hair's not messy enough,” Shan whispered to his sister, who was kneeling next to him. Her eyes were so crinkled with glee she could barely see as she giggled again.
“You're faking, aren't you papa?” Drie asked quietly as she straightened, half towering over the wizard and his soundly sleeping wife.
Howl still experienced a bit of a shock when his daughter stood to her full height. Sometimes it was difficult to reconcile what he saw with his inner eye and the tall woman that showed before his mortal senses. But she was his child, regardless of what form she took. A smirk colored her face with rosy glee as the child-woman played with the ends of her two long plaits. The lanky girl bent from the hip and carefully lowered her face toward her father's, tickling his nose with the end of her braid. Howl couldn't help but grin, which made it difficult for the man to blow playfully at the offending tress. Shan began to giggle as well as Drie continued to torment her father, who moved his dramatically placed hand to bat at his daughter's hair.
“You're going to wake your mother,” Howl grinned softly, finally giving up his ruse.
“Help me up, Drie?” Shan asked as he reached his arms to his sister as she straightened.
Howl lifted the quilt as the tall girl deposited her brother on the edge of the high bed. His father noted Akarshan was wearing the sapphire necklace. Akarshan never took it off, nor did Deirdre ever take off the blue earrings she was currently wearing. Her brother wiggled under the covers as his twin followed suite. The bed creaked under the weight of all its occupants as Sophie stirred and automatically cuddled Shan to her with one arm as she sought blindly with the other. Drie smiled, snuggling into the pillows as her mother patted at her face. Sophie let out a great sight as she smoothed her daughter's hair.
“Good morning, cherubs,” the silver sorceress murmured.
“'Morning, mommy,” Shan and Drie chimed simultaneously. Howl chuckled and then yelped softly as his daughter placed her freezing cold feet on his shins.
“Your feet are cold, Deirdre!” Howl gasped as he yanked away his legs from the child-woman's frozen toes.
“But your legs are really warm, papa,” she smiled and tugged gently on the covers.
“You're squishing me, Drie! Move over,” Shan squeaked plaintively and squirmed against his twin.
“If I move over anymore, I'll fall off, Shan,” the silver-haired girl replied with a frown. The silver witch was doing her best to appear like she was resting, although her husband could tell from the small crease between her brows that she was far from sleep.
“I think we need a bigger bed, dear heart,” Howl murmured into Sophie's hair before he kissed the crown of wife's head. Sophie replied with another gusty sigh and found her husband's face with her hand. He smiled under her fingers.
“Good morning, horrible Howl,” she smiled with her eyes still closed and turned her face to kiss her husband.
“Ewww! No kissing!” Shan squealed as he hid his eyes in the pillow he stole from his mother. Drie couldn't help but laugh as she hid her face behind her hands, although she peeked notoriously. Howl gave his daughter a mischievous cross-eyed look just as Sophie gave another sigh and sat up, trying to extricate herself from her children.
“Time to get up, kids.” She replied in a commanding tone. But her order lost all its authority as it transformed into a squeal when Howl seized his wife and dragged her back into bed.
“Get mommy!” The wizard whooped jubilantly as he instigated a completely unprovoked tickling fight.
At first Sophie shrieked and thrashed, although she managed to turn the tide of the fight and rally her children against their father. Howl howled veritably and begged for mercy as pillows and stuffed animals went flying everywhere, causing a jangle of shiny bobbles to clang and chime dissonantly. Suddenly a door somewhere in the castle opened and slammed, plunging the bedroom's occupants into silence. Heavy footsteps fell in the hallway as Markl half stumbled down the dim corridor and paused at their doorway. The young wizard apparently had not slept well; either that or the rest of the Jenkins family was up very early that morning. It was probably the later. The elder apprentice's auburn hair could only be described as diagonal. He had buttoned the green vest he wore over his shirt wrong, missing the bottom two fastening. Blinking bleary brown eyes, the Wallmaker's eldest son peered at them as though they had sprouted horns.
“Do you want to join us, Markl?” Drie piped hopefully.
But the young wizard scowled and continued on just as the bed gave a creaking moan that culminated in a great snap. It sank an inch and the entire family scrambled off just in time for it to collapse. Howl winced as one of the chimes overhead gave an ominous ping while the dust settled.
“I guess we need a new bed,” Sophie laughed sunnily and then went about stripping the linens from the cushions.
“I get the bathroom first!” Drie called as she dashed out of the bedroom on her long pale legs.
“No fair!” Shan cried and tore off after his sister more for the sake of an argument rather than a need to wash. Akarshan hated baths, but he loved to hear himself talk. Their voices echoed down the hallway like squabbling birds.
“I suppose I should add another bathroom if I want to have a bath in the morning ever again,” Howl grimaced as he snatched a pair of pants out of the wardrobe and dressed quickly. Smoothing his hair, the Wallmaker watched his wife bustle about the room in her nightshirt and he couldn't help but grin. Sophie paused as she caught her husband staring at her, and she looked around in confusion before returning her brown eyes to him.
“What?” She asked self-consciously, turning a rosy shade as she smoothed her wild silver hair.
“Just remembering what beautiful looks like,” He replied genuinely before whisking from the room and skipping down the stairs with light steps. Markl was seated on the couch in front of the fire daemon, his back to the stairs. He did not greet his father as he normally did.
“What was that noise?” Calcifer crackled from the fireplace.
“Good morning, Cal,” Howl smiled in his carefree way, ignoring his best friend's question. The wizard went about getting breakfast ready.
“Is something wrong, Markl?” The lanky man asked his apprentice as he brought over the egg basket and the bacon tray. The fire daemon regarded the raven haired man with frank surprise as the Wallmaker hooked the kettle closer to the embers in the hearth with a large wooden spoon as he snagged a skillet from the wall. The master of the castle sat next to his eldest son as he tossed a slice of meat into the pan and let it season the skillet. Calcifer watched the two of them from under the pot with large eyes. The russet haired boy's face was hesitant and a melancholy expression colored his golden brown eyes.
“Drie had a bad dream last night… and so did I,” was his simple reply.
Howl paused and regarded his son with a thin smile that belied the worried expression in his sapphire eyes. The tall man completely forgot about the bacon in the pan.
“When I get home I'll put some wards up in her room. Hopefully that will help.”
“You're going into Chipping Market?” Markl asked in passing, his mind still elsewhere.
“Kingsbury,” They were both quiet for a moment after that.
“Can I come with you?” Markl continued.
“Not yet. But next time perhaps. I'll look in on Theresa for you,” Howl continued before his eldest son could object, “Do you want to talk about your dream?”
Markl sighed and scrubbed at his tired face, regarding his father with seriousness uncharacteristic to a thirteen year old boy. But then again, wizards are never usual, especially the young ones.
“I can't remember much about it, which is the strange part. It's probably because it wasn't my dream. But I do remember the elder star. At first he didn't see me; but when he did it was like he was trying to tell me something again. I wish we still had Suliman's crystal so I could try and talk to him again.”
Howl listened very intently to what his apprentice was saying. A lot had changed since the Wallmaker had lost and regained his wife; he did not dismiss anything quite so easily anymore. But the voice of the wizard's best friend drew his eyes back to the fire place.
“If he's trying to contact us it must be something important,” the Wallmaker mused absently, “Perhaps we could try to find him in the otherworld later.”
“Fat lot of good that will do you; Star daemons never make any sense, even to me,” Calcifer crackled moodily from under the pan. Black smoke had begun to rise from the skillet and the living flame reached out a tendril of fire to shake the wooden spoon the raven haired man held forgotten in his hand.
“Hey, Howl; you're burning the bacon!” Cal quipped.
With a yelp the elder wizard stood and quickly scooped the blackened slice into Calcifer's waiting maw, “Drat! You did that on purpose, Cal!”
“I did not!” The fire daemon snapped around his mouthful of bacon charcoal, “It's not my fault you've forgotten how to cook since you married Sophie.”
“What are you two bickering about?” Sophie called as she came downstairs with an arm load of bed linens. Shan followed behind her, buried under an armful of sheets.
“Nothing, Sophie,” Cal called over the whistling kettle, which he pushed away as Howl dropped another slice of bacon into the pan, “Howl's just burning breakfast.”
“Someone's not going to get any eggshells this morning if they keep this up,” The wizard muttered dangerously, letting the heavy skillet squish his friend, who gave a chittering crackle.
But the silver haired witch laughed at their antics as she came through the kitchen to the great tiled sink that also served as their laundry facilities. Shan tottered blindly behind his mother, bumped into the couch. He sat down hard and became buried under the sheets.
“Do you need some help, Shan?” Markl asked as he leaned over the back of the couch and uncovered the little boy. Akarshan grinned up at his brother from under a pillow case that draped across his head.
“No, thanks big brother, I'm helping mommy!” He replied with a grin as Sophie came back to her youngest son's side and began gathering up the strewn bed clothes.
The Granny witch emerged with Heen under one arm and a basket of yarn in the other just as Sophie dumped her burden onto the sink. The faded old woman came over and settled into her chair beside the fire, smiling at them all.
“Oh what a lovely family,” she murmured and began clicking her needles together.
“Breakfast!” Howl announced.
Markl stood and picked up Shan with a playful groan. The little boy squealed with glee as his older brother slung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The young wizard sat his brother down on the bench and began passing him plates, cups, and silverware from the side board. Their father came over with the sizzling pan and divvied up the eggs and bacon as his wife filled the tea pot with hot water at the hearth.
“Would it be alright if we do laundry today, Calcifer?” She asked the fire daemon after topping off the simple white porcelain tea pot, which she had painted with small blue flowers.
“Sure thing, Sophie,” Cal piped at the silver witch, a happy smile on his face. The fire daemon would never say it, but he loved the silver witch intensely. Calcifer was ever so happy to have her home.
“No pancakes?” Shan intoned sadly as his father began slicing bread and cheese.
“We're out of flour. Perhaps you and your sister can go into Market Chipping to get some later,” Howl replied as he sat at the head of the table.
“Yay!” Shan clapped his hands and bounced in place happily, “Can we visit Auntie Lettie and Granny Honey?”
“Is that a good idea?” Sophie asked quietly as she came over with teapot in one hand and Granny witch in the other. Her words were simple, but the meaning behind them was weighted with more than any family could expect to hear at the breakfast table.
“You should go see the rest of your family. They probably don't know that you're back. Plus, it would be good for the Hatters to know that Martha is alright,” Howl replied with atypical sensibility as he sipped his tea, “Besides, Markl will go with them, won't you Markl?”
“I will?” The young wizard looked up in surprise at his father's charming smile around a mouthful of bacon, “Oh, okay.”
The mistress of the castle settled the old woman next to her and stooped to pick up and deposit Heen in her lap. The little dog wagged his tail vigorously as she poured the stout brew into their cups, noticing that her husband had not put anything on his plate.
“You're not eating, Howl?” She asked carefully, but the wizard had fortuitously brought his tea cup to his lips at that moment and could not reply.
“We're missing a cherub,” Granny Witch mumbled absently, casting her eyes about the kitchen.
“Drie's in the bath, Granny. Tea?” Sophie replied without taking her eyes off her husband. The gaze indicated she expected a reply and would wait until her husband had finished his whole cup if necessary.
“Yes, please dear,” The old faded witch replied with a vacant smile, “I do so love tea.”
“I have to go into town today as well,” Howl replied cryptically, casting a glance toward the ceiling.
“Ah,” Sophie replied evenly, reading between the lines as plainly as one would read the paper, “Eat something before you go.”
Apparently Howl had business in Kingsbury and did not wish to upset his wife. In their second night together after the shield failed, since they had spent the first with a bed full of their children, Sophie had told her husband everything that had happened while she was in the beyond. The silver witch also confessed the terrible guilt she for fracturing of the glass spire and causing the failure of the Ingarian shield. Howl had attempted on many occasions during the past three days to convince her it wasn't her fault. The spire was old and they were lucky that the shield had lasted this long. But the silver sorceress was rather stubborn, much like her husband. But it was more than that, the Wallmaker's wife new her husband's trip had something to do with Deirdre. But she did not press the matter. Sophie knew the raven-haired wizard would tell her everything… eventually.
She turned her attention to Shan, who had begun feeding Heen bits of bacon. The fat little dog was slurping the little boy's hands and face, having turned his attention away from his bowl of oatmeal.
“Heen, has his own breakfast, Shan,” She admonished gently, “Now go wash your face and hands again.”
“Well, I'm off!” Howl finished his tea and stood briskly as he pushed away from the table, planting a kiss on Sophie's head as he passed.
“Howl, dear, would you give these to that handsome man?” Granny Witch called after the wizard, who stopped in his tracks with a backwards glance. The old woman held out a pair of fire engine red socks that had magically appeared in her hands. He tried not to feel the tinge of jealously over the old woman's words, but Howl indulged himself in a bit of childishness. There was only one handsome man that the raven haired wizard could think of that would wear such a color.
“That was very kind of you to think of Barimus, Granny,” The Wallmaker replied as he took the socks from her.
“I'm working on a blue pair for a handsomer man. But wherever have I put my needles?” The old woman blinked in confusion and looked about the kitchen table.
Howl couldn't help but laugh as his heart flooded full of happiness. It was almost enough to stymie the nagging anxiousness that clambered in the back of his mind. He snagged his great pink and grey checkered coat from the rack by the door and put the socks in one of the pockets.
“Bye, papa!” Shan called after his retreating father.
“Bye, Master Howl!” Markl called as the Wallmaker skipped down the front steps and turned the knob to red, disappearing out the front door.
Door lay in the grass curled like a ball against the wrenching pain the seized her body and mind. She had retreated once more into the otherworld hoping that the feeling of being torn apart would subside.
But it didn't.
For a moment the half-daemon was certain she was going to die. She decided that oblivion would be welcome if it would stop the pain. But as suddenly as it had began, the agony ceased. She lay there staring at the velvet indigo sky for a long time, feeling the constant silent wind rush over her, tangling the long silver hair that matted beneath her. For some strange reason the chimera though of the other… her sister. Was she alright? Had the pain reached her as well? Door was seized with another wave of conflicting thoughts over these foreign emotions. Why should she care if the other was in pain? As long as she lived the other would as well.
Life beyond the Dull Wall was the only thing of importance.
Several other daemons skirted about her curiously. They flickered like tiny points of blue and white lights, probably very young in this world because wiser beings would not have approached a spirit like she. Door bristled as some got too close and the daemons retreated from her anger. The half-human sat up and noted curiously the way in which the otherwind pulled at her mortal side. She would not be able to linger here for very long, and felt a stab of remorse over the loss of the tranquility of the green plains. Humans could not come into the otherworld for very long; but it was the only place a daemon could find true peace. It was also true that the mortal world was an intriguing world, full of food and fun; but it was no longer the home of spirits. There were some daemons that would disagree and fought long and hard to linger there. But Door didn't care about the troubles of her kin.
She had escaped the burned place and that was all that mattered.
The half-human stood and was considering going back into the mortal world when she experienced the most disorienting sensation of being pulled from her body. Door fought back and returned to herself, although the feeling remained, tightening like a vice right beneath her heart. It was painful, but nothing compared to the agony she had experienced before. It compelled her to walk forward, towards something in the distance.
A growing sense of dread clambered about her mind like a wild bird fighting against the bars of a cage. Her daemon half raged at her to flee, but her human side was curious. Suddenly she noticed the line of magic that fell from her like a shining blue-black ribbon in the grass. It emerged from her chest just below her heart. Door stooped to pick it up and stared at the enchanted living tendril in her hands. The chimera realized that there were two distinct cords, twining round one another in the way a rope is made from several lengths of string. The line gave a tug in her hand just as a figure melted out of the distance on the round swell of the next hill. The half-daemon knew the smell immediately and with a snarl her humanity fell away.
YOU! The daemon screamed and surged forward as her eyes fell upon Mrs. Danna.
The former healer stopped dead in her tracks as she saw the raging column of black water that rushed forward for her. The daemon could see that the cold woman was powerless now, having been stripped of all her magic. At first the mortal regarded Door with absolute shock, but displayed no fear as it advanced on her. The daemon savagely knocked the woman from her feet and she tumbled down the hill. Had she been just a pure daemon, Door would not have wasted a moment to think about killing the mortal. She would have ripped her apart, devoured her flesh, and spent the rest of the week gnawing on her bones. But she wasn't just a daemon anymore.
You killed her! You killed my mother! The half-human shrieked irrationally, but she could not take the life of the former daemon queen. Door's voice echoed through the otherworld like thunder as she loomed up like a black wave over Mrs. Danna's prone form. Again the memories flooded her, confusing her as she plunged into absolute turmoil. This woman was her mother as well, wasn't she? She had saved her from the burned place by giving her mortal flesh, fresh blood, and a heart. In the daemon's moment of hesitation, Mrs. Danna pulled hard on the thread she held in her hands and again the memories came. But these weren't from her sister, nor were they the silver mother's. They were Mrs. Danna's. Door reeled back with a silent scream, shedding her daemon skin. She collapsed into the grass next to the former daemon queen, clutching at her head as she remembered. When the memories faded, Door felt as if something inside her had broken.
He killed them… The half-human sobbed bitterly. He killed Alistair and Aeden…
After a moment, Mrs. Danna reached out and placed a gentle hand on the creature back. The half-daemon gave a start and then began to shiver uncontrollably. Door shifted to curl up in the cold woman's lap, hiding her face in the tattered remnants of the woman green dress. The former daemon queen stroked her hair tenderly in the way a mother would soothe her distraught child. But her face was emotionless and the madness in her eyes shifted for a moment to a calculating expression.
Mother… Door mumbled into the cold woman's skirts.