Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 2: Green-Eyed Daemon ( Chapter 2 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 2: Green-eyed Daemon
With each step he took Howl felt the lightness in his heart dissipate.
The Wallmaker emerged into the streets of Kingsbury only to find the city was once again teeming life. As he walked a flock of birds flew over him in the sky, their cousins crowding the trees along the boulevard with their raucous chattering voices. People bustled about the streets in groups, dressed in fine clothes; windows were open and families could be seen in their homes. The rumbling bumbling perambulators whisked on mechanical wheels through the streets trailing soot as fleets of sky kayaks buzzed like a horde of bees overhead. But amongst the easy sounds of everyday life, the wizard could feel fear as though it were a thin string stretched too taut between his fingers.
Although the birds sang, the inhabitants of the Ingarian Capital were silent.
People walked too quickly and had little time for anything more than a nod to their friends and neighbors. Even now the streets still seemed half empty in spite of all the noise of city life. As Howl rounded the corner, the semblance of normalcy shattered as his eyes fell upon the great piles of rubble that occupied the space where tidy ordered houses once stood. The raven-haired man couldn't help but stop and stare in desolation, his cerulean eyes large and serious. It was then that he noticed the robin garbed soldiers marching through every street, posted at every corner, and streaking through the sky above. The sun glinted off of their guns and it reminded Howl far too much of the Mardan war. He quickly continued down the row, carefully picking his way among the piles of rubble that clogged the crumbled street.
It had been so easy to return to his castle with his family in his arms and forget what had happened. Howl felt a stab of shame over the two days he had selfishly stolen for himself as he turned a blind eye to what they had left behind. He should have returned sooner, Howl brooded. He should have never left.
The naked blue sky overhead made him feel exposed.
Not that any of the non-magical citizens in the city could tell that the shield had fallen. But it didn't matter; they had been forced from their homes by the threat of monsters many humans had never before seen in their lives. Their existence had been forever changed as the burned place beyond the Dull Wall crept into the world. The inhabitants of the city realized that they would not wake from this nightmare and monsters did indeed lurk in the darkness. Even now Howl could feel it, the loitering threads of wild magic both kind and unclean, left behind in the wake of daemons from the plains of pain. It lingered in the disconcerting way that a burned smell permeates all things never permitting a person to forget the lingering ghost of a fire.
The destruction became worse as he drew near the palace.
Citizens were few here, almost non existent. Fleets of flying kayaks lifted heavy beams and larger pieces of rubble. Soldiers garbed in blue and red scrambled about with wheelbarrows and perambulating carts, trying to clear the streets. The Wallmaker was cheered to see points of crimson darting about in the air and standing among circles of workers pointing and giving orders. The Ingarian Wizard's Guard was not just a battalion of magic warriors. They were the force that filled in the gaps between the mundane and the magical societies: not quite sorcerers but not quite mortals. They bound the Ingarian country together in the way that completely unrelated pieces of cloth could be stitched to form a patchwork quilt.
But there were very few of them in the throngs of the laboring army. Guns and bombs were food to the daemons of the Dark, who took sustenance from pain and destruction. As such, when the city had been evacuated, King Ferdinand's military had accompanied the citizens of Kingsbury to temporary refugee camps set up in the fields east of Chipping Market. That left only the Wizards Guard, the Council, and an ancient shield from ages past to fight their foe. As such, the wizard's guard was forced to pay the ultimate price to protect their homes and families.
Howl was stopped twice at a checkpoint, once just beyond the workers and the second time at the great wall that surrounded the Palace. Under any other circumstances the lanky man would have pitched a fit over being detained and questioned like a criminal. At both stops a soldier held up a bell on a string that had been bewitched to ring in the company of daemon magic. The spell on the charm was strong and unfamiliar; most likely made by the foreign witches and wizards who had been sent to bolster the Council. Much to the handsome wizard's consternation, the talisman had clanged clamorously in his presence. As a result, the groups of terrified peach-faced soldiers leapt to attention and held him at gun point, demanding he raise his hands and not move an inch. One of their companions tore off and returned dragging a harried looking Wizard's guard, who took one look at Howl's great checkered coat and practically groveled at his feet in apology. The first time the Wallmaker was annoyed; the second time he was amused, but only just.
As Howl walked through the great gate he gazed up at the gleaming golden winged lions that held the Ingarian arms aloft. They had survived the assault intact, although the great heraldic sculpture was slightly askew. The huge courtyard within the wall was completely empty; in the distance he could see the shattered dome where the remnants of the shield room were located. The red bricks were still scorched. The vast square echoed loudly as a gigantic airship patrolled the sky over his head and the Wallmaker reconsidered trading his coat for feathers. He walked the rest of the way up the towering stairs on foot, shivering violently as he passed over the great banishing circle in the center of the plaza. The handsome man gave the doormen in the palace a great fright as he entered briskly. Howl listened as his grand title reverberate off the walls in the room but felt no pride in the name he had been given. The thin wizard grimaced mordantly as he remembered the three days he had spent wallowing in misery as the city was smashed to bits. But he did not linger long on those memories.
His thoughts were only of his brother at that moment.
Unlike his wife, Howl had no problem navigating the labyrinth of hallways and chambers that filled the Ingarian Palace. He had grown up in this place; indeed in his youth he had ruled here like a prince. As such he understood the secret clues, like carpet color and wallpaper shades, which told the servants exactly where they were. Thus, he quickly found his way to the east wing where Barimus' suite was located. As the tall man approached, his keen ears caught the furious tones of a familiar voice.
“You… You, cheeky brat… Get out, Out, OUT!” Theresa screamed.
“Why you dirty, impertinent, ill-bred, foul-mouthed little viper!” Another voice shouted in rage.
“I dare plenty you over-stuffed lout! You'll not see him! No one will see him! He needs his rest!” Martha's apprentice growled nastily.
Her throaty voice soared as Howl paused just outside the red wizard's suite gazing through the open doorway. Inside a young apprentice with long crimson hair and a face white with rage stood at odds with the herbalist's apprentice. He was about Markl's height and age and wore too much black. In his hands the boy clutched a packet of tattered papers wrapped in white silk. In spite of the heat in his voice, the boy was obviously wary of the freckle-faced girl and he stood well out of range of the garden hoe she held like a broad sword. Theresa barred the way to the next room, wearing her usual garb and as always, there were leaves in her curly hair.
“How dare you speak to me thus, you common girl! I was sent by my master, the GREAT Wizard Tirut to deliver these paper's personally to the Lord Councilor. I will see him!” There was a threatening pause and the boy stalked forward a step as the otherwind stirred his hair.
“You don't frighten me, Nalir!” Theresa shouted as she started forward swinging. Apparently the wizard's apprentice hadn't expected the girl to call his bluff. He backpedaled wildly and his wind extinguished.
“Help!” The red-haired boy squeaked and turned toe to sprint from the room, but he skidded to a halt in front of the Wallmaker. The young man took one look up at the blue-eyed wizard and seemed to wilt, turning as red as his hair. In the distance the Howl could hear the muffled sounds of his brother roaring with laugher.
“Master Howl!” Theresa exclaimed with joy, the look of murder fading from her eyes as she caught sight of the tall man.
“Hello, Theresa,” The raven-haired man grinned at the young healer, “I see you're entertaining company.”
“Wizard Howl, I demand that you deal with this common girl at once!” Nalir half screeched as he recovered and stabbed a finger back at Martha's apprentice, shaking with fury.
“Those look important, Nalir. I was on my way to see Barimus anyway, so why not let me take them for you?” Howl replied with a smile so charming it gave even the enraged young wizard pause; the red-haired boy simply gaped at him.
“Excellent! I'm glad we agree,” The tall man deftly relieved the boy of his burden as he strode forward past the squabbling apprentices and entered his brother's bedroom.
Barimus was laughing so hard he was crying.
However, the red wizard looked absolutely awful; there were circles under his eyes so dark he looked as though he had been beaten. Indeed there was still the ghost of a bruise on the bridge of his nose where Howl had punched him. But the Lord Councilor's face was far too pale beneath the bandaged that encircled his head, from which his corn silk hair tried desperately to escape. But his complexion went beyond white; he had the grey color of a person who had completely exhausted himself. Barimus was practically swimming among the pillows that propped him up in the great bed on which he rested. However, the mirth seemed to do him some good, because it brought a bright warmness to his golden eyes that made him appear more than half-dead.
The Lord Councilor was wearing a long nightshirt that disappeared beneath the heavy comforter that was tucked about his waist. He held himself against his glee, displacing the piles of papers that covered the writing desk in front of him. Howl noticed the pair of amber earrings in the middle of the desk immediately; both from the daemon magic on them and due to the fact that they looked familiar. But he quickly turned his eyes away, looking at the books and stray papers covering every inch of the bed within his brother's reach. More books piled on every chairs and table in the room. Except for one, which held a wicker basket stuffed with all manner of accoutrements. A small brazier sat not far from it, glowing with a cheery flame to warm the small constantly hissing kettle. A green candle etched with blue symbols flickered near a large white mortar and pestle, from which issued a sharp cinnamon smell.
Howl spared a glance around his brother's room, noting that this was perhaps the first time he had been in this place. It had the empty feeling of a chamber little used by its occupants and there were few personal things. Barimus had never been one for personal possessions. He practically lived in his office and Martha preferred to stay at her shop. Or at least she did before it had been destroyed. But the herbalist's presence manifested in the faint smell of agrimony that clung to the room and in large vase of bright purple thistles that sat on the side table next to the red wizard. Howl couldn't help but smile; it was a tradition in Market Chipping to place thistles in the room of a sick loved one.
Howl looked back at his brother and hovered at the foot of his bed, sorrow plain in his eyes as a pinched expression fractured the false smile on his face.
“Don't look at me like that, Howl. I assure you I feel much better than I appear,” Barimus chuckled as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
“I believe these are for you,” Howl spoke solemnly as he came to stand at the red wizard's side and sat the papers on top of a pile books.
“Damn the papers, you idiot,” The blond man growled gruffly as he caught hold of the sleeve of Howl's great coat, “Come here!”
The two managed a clumsy but sincere embrace that lasted quite some time. Neither wizard spoke, but much was said without words. At last the Wallmaker drew back and displaced some books to pull a chair up to his brother's bedside. Again he couldn't help but look at the amber earrings, but this time Barimus followed Howl's gaze and quickly closed his hand over the talismans. The blond man's face crumbled and tears gathered in his eyes as he placed the jewelry in the pocket on the chest of his nightshirt. Howl did not press the matter, to change the subject the Wallmaker took in the mess that covered the red wizard's bed.
“I can't believe your wife let you have your work,” the raven-haired man spoke in amazement.
“No, indeed Martha has refused to let me do much besides rest. She practically shackled me to Theresa. The poor child nearly fainted from fear when my dear wife charged her with the duty of caring for me.” Barimus' face suddenly came alive with consternation, “Can you believe that the little scamp drugged me? Twice!”
“Whatever for?” Howl couldn't help but laugh.
“The first time was shortly after the spire cracked. The second time was when I tried to see Peoter-Dieter about the business of giving magic to soldiers,” the blond man grimaced angrily.
“Ah, I was wondering who passed out those enchanted bells. Is it wise to be handing out magic to untrained mortals? In light of recent circumstances I understand that there are not enough of the Wizard's Guard left to patrol the city. But the mortal soldiers held me at gun point because the talisman sensed daemon magic on me.”
“They didn't!” Barimus half shouted, his face going alive with shock, “I need to speak to the twins about this immediately.”
“Where is Martha?” The Wallmaker quickly changed the subject, “I half expected her to eject me the moment I arrived.”
“In the palace infirmary; I have one of my spies on her to make sure she doesn't work herself to death,” the red wizard replied in distraction, obviously still disturbed by what he had learned. “I threatened to get out of bed if she didn't tell me everything she knew. Apparently Theresa missed a couple details. Perhaps can I manage to get her to smuggle more missives to the Peoter-Dieter by refusing to take my medicine.”
Barimus craned his head to look over Howl's shoulder, obviously seeking the young healer as he spoke, “The girl is a dear child, but she's far too gentle.”
“Tell that to Nalir,” Howl chuckled, “She nearly took his head off with the garden hoe Markl made for her.”
“I'm sure he deserved it. Currently he's the most gifted apprentice in the academy. But his head is far too big for his own good. Too bad…” Barimus replied with a heavy sigh.
“What's all this then?” The blue-eyed man asked as he indicated the mess on his brother's bed with interest.
“Research,” Barimus replied evenly, suddenly going deadly serious as he held his brother's eyes. The blond man looked away and clenched his fists so hard his knuckles were white. When he spoke it was in a harsh voice that grated between his teeth, “She was the daemon who almost destroyed us all. She was…”
“She is Suliman's younger sister Earin,” Howl finished for him with deep regret.
“Is?” The Lord Councilor asked in a dangerously quiet voice, “I was told you destroyed it.”
The Wallmaker was silent.
“It lives?” Barimus asked in a stunned voice.
“That thing killed my child, Howl!” The red wizard thundered in dreadful wrath as he threw back the desk on his lap and grabbed a hold of the front of his brother's shirt, “It tired to kill Martha! And Sophie and Markl and you let her live? It stole away your daughter and YOU LET IT LIVE?”
Papers flew about them and books clattered to the floor as the Royal Wizard threw himself at the Wallmaker. Rage seized his brother in a way Howl had seen only a few times in his life. But there was nothing he could do to assuage the pain in the blond man.
There was no solace he could offer.
Her daughter's breakfast was stone cold on the table.
“Deirdre! Don't soak too long or you'll turn into a prune!” Sophie called up the stairs, drying a dish with brisk movements.
She placed the plate back with its brothers in the tidy stack on the sideboard. She slid a few of the saucers an inch in different directions, aligning the row of cups into a smart display of precision. In spite of her practicality, the silver haired witch had a habit of getting ahead of herself. She had to empty the laundry from the sink to wash the dishes from breakfast. She would wash her daughter's plate and silverware later. She still sometimes forgot to clean the ashes from the fireplaces before scrubbing the floors. Swiftness was not always synonymous with efficiency. She had tried to explain this one many occasions to Akarshan when she asked him to clean his room and the little boy simply stuffed everything under his bed.
Markl had offered to help her with the dishes but she had smiled brightly at her eldest son and scooted him back to the couch. The russet haired boy still looked fatigued, in spite of the fact that he had slept the entire day after they had returned home from the capital. Shan tottered over to his brother with an enormous book and asked very politely if he would read to him. Granny witch was humming absently, the constant click of her knitting needles punctuated Howl's apprentice's voice like a metronome as he read aloud about some kind of levitation spell. Calcifer crackled softly in the grate and Heen wheezed, adding a mellow counterpoint to the symphony of the sounds of her family.
But a new voice had been added to the chorus of their lives and she needed to get out of the bath and come down to eat her breakfast.
Just like her father, Sophie mused with a grin as she turned on the hot water in the sink and snagged the wash board off the wall. Akarshan hated baths, but not Deirdre. Suddenly a thrill of terror passed through the silver sorceress as she remembered what had happened. She could still hear her daughter's resonating screams and remembered the hideous resounding crack the spire gave as it fractured. Her hands were shaking so much she almost dropped the box of soap she lifted from the adjacent self. It was so easy to slip back into the domestic routines she moved through as the mother of the castle. Patterns had a way of robbing from her all sense of time, lulling her into complacency and making her forget about anything beyond the walls of the castle. After experiencing all the horror and madness in the world outside, never before in her life had Sophie enjoyed scrubbing suds-covered sheets so much.
It was good to be home, among the ones she loved; surrounded by the things she knew and understood.
“Deirdre!” She called again, more for the joy of saying her daughter's name aloud.
All of the occupants in the room jumped as the door under the stairs suddenly popped open spilling a billowing rose-scented cloud of steam into the living room. Deirdre hovered dripping and pink faced on the threshold, her thin nightgown clinging to her thin body most inappropriately. Sophie experienced a disconcerting sense of displacement as she looked beyond her daughter to see the bathroom upstairs. The silver haired witch knew for a fact that the portal magic on that door lead to Market Chipping. It was then that she noticed her daughter's hand, which was resting on the bathroom latch. It was as though she was wearing a glove so blue it seemed black; although as the brown-eyed mother stared she knew it was the girl's skin. Heen gave a squeal that sounded akin to the squawk of a chicken with laryngitis at the sight of the child-woman and he flew from Granny's lap and went scrabbling under her skirts.
“Yes, mommy?” Deirdre asked cheerfully, but her words were cut off as Calcifer flared up huge and angry in the fireplace.
“DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!” The fire daemon thundered spitting sparks and soot as the room seemed to darken; the living flame went black and red in his rage. Sophie threw herself back against the copper pots on the wall in surprise, which clattered to the floor as a strangled shriek issued from Shan as he and his brother were showered with embers. Deirdre went white with terror and she threw herself backwards slamming the door behind her. Calcifer deflated with a stunned expression on his face, dwindling to a small sickly green ember in the grate.
“What the bloody hell was that about, Cal?” Mark cried in a heated voice as he yanked his brother up and madly patted at himself and Shan to dislodge the glowing ashes.
“Markl, watch your language!” Sophie snapped, recovering from the shock.
“The pages got burned!” Akarshan wailed as he twisted in his brother's grip to regard the blackened leaves of the open book.
“Oh, what a noisy castle,” Granny mumbled with a smile, not phased in the slightest as she reached down to disentangle Heen from her skirts.
“I'm linked to this castle you know!” Calcifer crackled furiously at Markl as he flared up into a healthier looking red color. The fire daemon stabbed a thin tendril of flame towards the ceiling, “She just made a portal from the bathroom door down to here and went right through the middle of my head in doing so! How would you like it if I went lumbering through your mind without so much as a by-your-leave?!”
That shut Markl up, for the apprentice was well acquainted with the disconcerting feeling of having someone else in his head. The elder apprentice still remembered the bewildering sensation of having the star daemon buzzing in the back of his head.
“Drie doesn't know any better, Cal. You didn't need to scare her,” Sophie snapped reproachfully as she whisked past her sons.
“She scared me just as much, Sophie!” The glowing ember called nastily after the silver haired witch as she went stomping up the stairs with a scowl.
The brown-eyed woman noted as she reached the top of the stairs that the bathroom door was wide open, and her eyes fell to the wet footprints on the floor. She tracked her little girl into Howl's bedroom and couldn't help but smile as the feet shaped puddles led up to the large closet where her husband kept all of his fancy clothes. The door was cracked an inch. Sophie stood there patiently, listening to the gentle pings and chimes of the many mobiles in the wizard's room.
“May I come in?” The silver-haired witch asked after a moment. The door pushed open another inch with a lazy squeak by way of reply. Opening the door, Sophie turned and sat on the ground, wiggling herself back into the close darkness that filled whatever spaces in the press weren't stuffed with fancy shirts and coats. She breathed in the faints smell of roses and hyacinth and turned to regard her daughter. The thin child-woman had tucked her knees under her chin and was currently hiding her face in one of Howl's cream colored coats, which she had plucked from above.
“When I was little, I used to hide in my father's closet too. I liked it because it was full of his suites and they all smelled of him, like tobacco and felt.”
“Is Calcifer mad at me?” Drie asked around a face full of coat.
“No, cherub; you just scared him is all. We're all still getting acquainted, it'll take a while for you to get used to the castle,” Sophie smiled in her best warm mommy voice. But indeed, she had scared them all. The silver haired witch did her best not to dwell on the memory of her daughter's dark hand on the door knob, but it stuck in her head like a cracker in a dry throat. To ignore her conflicted thoughts, she reached out to put her arm around her daughter and found that she was drenched.
“Goodness, you're soaked! Weren't there towels in the bathroom?”
“They were folded so pretty. I didn't want to get them wet,” Deirdre replied in a small voice that sent Sophie laughing so hard she held her sides.
“Up and out, little lamb. We need to get you dressed and fed,” The brown-eyed mother sang light-heartedly as she stood and pulled her daughter after her. Again the silver sorceress experienced the disquieting sensation of disarticulation as Deirdre stood to her full height and towered over her mother. None of her dresses would fit Drie, the mother of the castle realized in dismay. The child-woman stood taller than Markl but shorter than Howl and she was thin, thin, thin! Too thin, nattered the crotchety 90-year old woman in the back of Sophie's mind, but definitely not a child. No six year-old had those kinds of curves, which flustered the brown-eyed woman even further. It appeared the child had more than a castle to become acquainted with. She was now both a woman and a witch and that made things thrice as difficult for everyone, especially Deirdre.
“Look, mommy, I can touch the ceiling!” Deirdre smiled brightly as she placed her fingertips on the rafters above them.
“Wonderful, you can help me sweep the cobwebs in the hall,” The silver haired woman muttered in distraction as she fetched a couple of spare towels from the linen closet. Setting her daughter on the slanted corner of her broken bed, Sophie vigorously dried her off daughter in the same way she dealt with Akarshan in the aftermath of his weekly baths. Carefully brushing her girl's long silver hair, she fixed it into two plaits with expert skill. Finally, she had to root around in Howl's closet to find something that would fit their child and settled on a pair of the thin wizard's black slacks and a voluminous sleeved white shirt. The witch couldn't help but experience a wave of consternation over putting her daughter in pants. It was all well and fine for Martha and her apprentice to go about in trousers, but Sophie was a bit more old-fashioned than she let on.
“You look like papa!” Shan suddenly piped from the doorway, giving them both a fright.
“I love pants!” Drie asked with a grin, plunging her hands into the deep pockets with a look of glee on her face. “If I look like papa, does that mean I get to boss you?”
“No!” Shan sang petulantly, “I'm older than you by a whole fifteen minutes, mommy said so. So I get to boss you!”
“Out, cherubs! I need to see to the laundry and get you all into town to see the Hatters,” Sophie shoed her children from the room in the way one scatters a flock of geese.
“We're going to visit Grandma Honey?” Shan asked with excitement as he led Drie by the hand down the hallway.
“Yes, and Auntie Lettie too; we need to let everyone know I'm home and introduce them to Drie,” Sophie replied in an even voice. It wasn't going to be easy, but then again, since when was anything easy?
“Can we have éclairs as Auntie's shop? Drie needs to have an éclair, she's never had one!” Shan cried with greed plain in his eyes.
“You just ate, Shan!” Sophie half-scolded.
But the tall girl came to a stop halfway down the stairs with a strange look in her eyes. She sat on the steps and peered through the banister at the fireplace. The brown-eyed witch looked back at her girl just as Heen once again fled the living room. Markl was looking at her over his shoulder curiously, although his brows were slightly creased. But Drie was looking past him at the fire daemon, who was hunkered down in the grate doing his best impression of asleep.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Calcifer,” the silver haired child-woman spoke.
“Call me Cal, kid. Just don't do that again, okay?” The living flame crackled. His words were kind, although his voice was terse.
“Oh, what a dear little Drie,” Granny smiled over her knitting needles and turned to look around for her fat little friend, “Where's Heen? Here doggy? Nice doggy?”
Nalir didn't normally snoop.
It was beneath the behavior of well bred sorcerers to go listening at keyholes like common kitchen maids. Or so his mother had told him when she had caught him listening at the door of her study. His mother was constantly lecturing him on the importance of his rank and the behavior that was expected of him as a result. She was always nagging him about his posture, the cleanliness of his hands and the cadence of his speech. She had also added it was much better to scry with a bowl of water to spy on friends and foes because it kept you well out of range of magical retaliations. Not that his mother made much of a distinction between a friend and an enemy.
Tirut's apprentice had fled the Royal Wizard's antechamber after the Wallmaker filched his errand. The young man had no intentions of remaining in the presence of the common girl who spoke so rudely and threatened him with gardening tools. But he had not gone far, lingering just around the corner of the hallway out of curiosity. The wizard Howl was not known to visit the capital and Nalir could have strangled himself for speaking so insolently to the keeper of the balance. Indeed, had his mother been here she certainly would have throttled her son; so he lingered, waiting for a chance to apologize to the Wallmaker.
Being in the favor of the tall sorcerer would be helpful in times to come, especially since the Council was preparing to request that the Lord Councilor pick an heir. The assault on the palace had shaken the Wizard's Council to its core and his mother told him she had not seen such indecision and chaos since the time of the Wallbreaker six years ago. The attack had reminded the Council that witches and wizards were just as mortal as common people. Furthermore, the red wizard was not well; and he thought chilled Nalir. He liked Lord Barimus as much as he feared him; the Royal Wizard frequently visited the apprentices. All the students at the academy were in awe of the blond man, who seemed just as invincible as he was powerful. But the red-haired young man knew the truth of that matter to well.
Nalir's father had wizard of significant skill, died in the Mardan war defending their home during a bombing raid. Nalir was often surprised by the fact that he felt no sorrow over the loss of his father, nor did he harbor hatred for Ingary because of his death. There was too little of the man in his memories to feel any sense of bereavement. It was a political marriage, his mother said once; although she had briefly mourned the man. Merra of Marda, the water witch, so they called his mother. Their family was well known in both Tyrn and Ingary for their ambition.
As such, the red-haired woman and her son had migrated to Kingsbury to join the Council as a sign of good faith in the peace negotiations that followed the War. But Nalir recalled only fear and turmoil from that time in their life, which heralded the coming of the Wallbreaker. Merra was a shrewd sorceress and she caught wind of the ill fortune about to befall the capital after the passing of the Royal Sorceress Suliman. Nalir and his mother had fled back to Marda just before the Wizard Agyrus returned and killed half of the Council in a fit of madness brought on by a sorrow daemon. Together Howl, the Red Wizard and the Silver Sorceress had defeated the Dark. No, he reminded himself, only subdued; the place beyond the Dull Wall could never be destroyed, only held at bay.
With a sense of wonder tinged by embarrassment, the young wizard recalled the image of the tall raven-haired man he had shouted at earlier. The Wizard Howl was the most powerful sorcerer in all or Ingary, Marda and Tyrn; even more powerful than his Master Tirut, the eldest of the Council. And Nalir had shouted at him like he was a commoner. The red-haired boy wilted under his shame. The keeper of the balance had single handedly healed the breech in the Dull Wall caused by the Wallbreaker. Moreover, he saved all of Ingary by defeating the obsidian hydra the Councilors were calling the daemon queen. There was a lot of gossip about the raven-haired man in the palace. Howl was married to the Sorceress of the Silver flame, a woman shrouded in as much mystery as the Wallmaker. He heard talk that she had died in the first attacks on the city, but apparently not for he had caught a glimpse of the elusive witch in the chaos of the shield room. Nalir experienced the ear-splitting force of her cry just before the spire cracked and the golden barrier fell. But he hadn't been able to see much else around his mother, who had come all the way from Marda to save him.
It was wonderful to be back with mother again.
Merra had been so horrified by what hat taken place in Kingsbury during the time of the Wallbreaker that she refused to return from Marda. Although he was young at the time and barely into his magic, Nalir remembered the day that the Dull Wall had broken. Even in the darkest depths of his nightmares he couldn't recall having felt such an absolute sense of all consuming terror. It was a close call, but that single moment was far more horrible than the ordeal he had experienced during the assault on the palace lead by the daemon queen. The hair on the back of his neck prickled and the young wizard was seized by a violent shudder just thinking about it.
The green-eyed apprentice was on fire with questions about what had happened. But his mother remained silent as stone. He had gathered little knowledge of the extraordinary events that had taken place in the crumbled shell of the shield room. Even with a bowl made of the purest crystal filled with the clearest of water, he had learned little beyond the gossip that floated about the palace. Nalir had inherited his mother's uncanny ability to scry with absolute perfection; but his gift was limited to places and people he had already seen. There was only one person he knew whose magical ability outstretched his own. With a bitter sense of resentment, the Mardan boy entertained jealous thoughts of the Wallmaker's awkward apprentice Markl. But they were not malicious; the russet haired boy saved Nalir's life in the stairwell and once more in the shield room by holding the daemon queen at bay.
It burned Nalir that he had not been able to help himself and his own weakness was infuriating. Ambition suddenly flared in the lurking boy, manifesting in a fiery need to be better than every apprentice. It was this iron resolve that was swayed his mother to let him return to Kingsbury. Merra relented after a year of Nalir's persistent hounding, and allowed her son to attend school at the Ingarian Sorcery Academy. She recanted for two reasons; first and foremost was that Kingsbury was the seat of all magical learning and the home of the Wizard Council. Secondly, Nalir's prowess had attracted the attention of the great Wizard Tirut, eldest and wisest of the Councilors. His skill had flourished under the tutelage of the faded elder man.
He put that skill to good use listening in on the conversation within the Royal Wizard's chambers. He watched silently as the rude girl left in a hurry going who knows where. With great distaste, he noted there were leaves in her hair and mud on her pant cuffs. Creeping closer, Nalir opened his inner ear and almost jumped out of his skin as the Lord Councilor started shouting at the Wallmaker. His face burned with shame for listening to such private talk, but he continued to listen. The young wizard's knees went weak over what he heard. He did not linger any longer and went tearing off through the palace in search of his mother with the ominous revelation still ringing in his ears.
The daemon queen lived.