Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 3: The Bell's Knell ( Chapter 3 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 3: The Bell's Knell
“I had to,” The Wallmaker replied in a whisper.
“WHY?” The Royal Wizard roared as he shook Howl frailly. But the raven-haired man was silent, paralyzed before the fury of his dear friend and brother. Suddenly, the red wizard went cross-eyed and became faint as he slumped against his younger sibling.
“Barimus!” Howl cried as he came back to his sense and carefully settled the injured man back into bed. He was so pale.
“Why?” The red wizard demanded again and again as he weakly fought against the Wallmaker's hands.
“Because of Deirdre!” Howl finally replied distraughtly and that seemed to give Barimus pause.
“Your daughter? What about her?” The blond man struggled to catch his breath as he stared with conflicting emotions at his brother. The raven-haired man gazed back at his brother, half horrified of the truth he was forced to speak. The Wallmaker would have followed the daemon queen into the otherworld in his rage; but Sophie's desperate cry brought him back to reason. In the moments after the shield fell, the sorcerer could see very clearly exactly what his daughter was and why the rest of his family was ill at ease around her.
“She is a daemon… I don't know how or why, but Danna is somehow tied to her in the way Calcifer was connected to me. That's why Sophie shattered the barrier. If I had destroyed that woman, Deirdre would have died with her.”
Barimus stared at him wordlessly, a fierce look of horror bright in his golden eyes; although the fury on his face did not subside. I should never have come, Howl brooded. I should have stayed in his castle and let things take care of themselves. That was half the reason why the raven-haired man ignored things as long as possible. Every time he tried to do what was right it seemed to make things worse. Suddenly the red wizard turned away from him, scowling darkly. Howl sank back into his chair, weighted by a keen sense of despair.
Would there never be peace between he and his brother?
“I'm sorry, Barimus,” the Wizard Howl mumbled in a brittle voice as he started to stand.
“Sit down you fool, and stop apologizing!” The red wizard snapped as he turned back to regard the blue-eyed man with a cross expression. But his eyes softened contritely in spite of the hard frown on his lips. The blond wizard never seemed to be able to feel any emotion by itself. They mixed within him like a swirling thunder cloud that broke to expose the bright sun while simultaneously pouring rain. Howl sank back into his seat and regarded the injured man with candid surprise.
“I'm ever so happy to hear that Sophie is alright. And I'm just as glad you're here,” his sibling spoke earnestly, trying to mask the tender emotions in his voice while busily tidying up the papers he had tossed around the bed in his fit of rage. “Would you hand me my desk?”
The blue-eyed man retrieved the writing table wordlessly and set it back in Barimus' lap. The red wizard strained with a frustrated grimace to reach the packet of papers Nalir had brought to him and Howl handed it to his brother.
“Damn these legs,” He growled in aggravation as he tore away the white silk on the papers.
“Are they badly broken?” The Wallmaker asked in an off-handed way, trying not to let his distress for his brother sound in his voice.
“Martha said that both my shins are fractured. A wall fell on Markl and I after the wrath daemon let loose an explosion outside the shield room. I'm lucky it wasn't my head,” the red wizard replied in the manner a person describes a stroll in the park. But the blond man was peering intensely at the pages in his hands. Although the Royal Wizard was not so far from himself to forget to give thanks, “The only reason I'm alive right now, why any of us are alive, is because of you and Markl.”
“Keep scowling at that page and it will burst into flames,” Howl replied with interest, deftly side-stepping the previous conversation, “What are you looking at that has you so annoyed.”
“Councilor Raia's prophecy,” Barimus replied, still peering sternly.
“The one she spoke of six years ago to the Wizard's Council?”
“Yes, but its unfinished and a bloody mess! I can't read a single word and I can't very well ask her to decipher it for me. The poor old fool was murdered in the moments before the explosions ushered the first wave of daemons into Kingsbury. That's far too much of a coincidence for me to ignore. Her apprentice has been missing ever since.”
As he spoke the red wizard looked away from the parchment in his hands and stared into the distance as memories filled his eyes.
“She was a tall mousy girl, just as blind as her mistress, but something about her always made my skin crawl. She could walk about like any other sighted person, but it was more than that. Something wrong with her… I can't think of how to describe it.”
“It was like she was empty?” The Wallmaker offered, a severe expression sobering his face.
“That's exactly it!” Barimus snapped his head up from the papers to regard his brother in candid alarm, “Did you know her?”
In a quiet voice, Howl proceeded to tell the Royal Wizard exactly what Sophie had told him in the dark hours they had passed on their second night together. He went on to described how he had found his wife once more in the otherworld through the help of the elder star daemon. The Wallmaker explained how he and the silver sorceress returned once more to the mortal world through a portal created by the hands of their daemon daughter. Once he had finished, Barimus' stared at him wordlessly. His face twisted in consternation as the Lord of the Wizard's Council attempted to process what he had learned.
“Before Deirdre aged, Sophie said the daemon was inside your girl? I thought you said that she is the daemon?”
“Yes, yes! I don't understand it either!” Howl half shouted in dismayed confusion as he shot to his feet and began pacing around his brother's bed. But Barimus pursued the thread of their conversation without pause.
“You said that Sophie followed the empty woman, Councilor Raia's apprentice, right into a trap set by… by…” The red wizard choked on the former healer's name as though it were poison.
“Earin Danna.” The Wallmaker spoke grimly.
“Don't you dare speak that name in my presence ever again! That thing is not Suliman's sister!” Barimus snarled, going pale with irrational fury as he clutched at the pocket on his nightshirt, “That soulless fiend couldn't be called human after all it's done! It's beyond evil! It's insane and I won't speak of it!”
“Calm down, Barimus!” Howl spoke softly as he tried to settle the red wizard, taking the papers from his hands. The raven-haired man suddenly understood why Martha's apprentice had drugged his brother on two occasions. But the Wallmaker was not so removed from the situation to have missed the important truth the Royal Wizard uncovered. The empty woman created a connection between Danna and Councilor Raia. But what did it mean? What the bloody hell did any of this mean?
The husband of the silver sorceress was snatched from his thoughts as the double doors to the adjoining pushed open. Theresa whisked in carrying a platter that held a tea service and a plate of sandwiches.
“My champion returns!” Barimus sang in a light hearted voice. The curly-haired young girl regarded them both with her best imitation of Martha's stony practical demeanor; the look did not suite her.
“I was wondering where you had gone, dear one. For a while I was afraid for young Nalir's life. I hope you didn't maim him too badly?”
Thanks to a life surrounded by courtiers, both Howl and his brother had the ability to charm even the bluest of bloods. The red wizard turned the full lamp of his charisma on the young healer and the kind-hearted girl's expression softened. She couldn't help but blush and grinned sheepishly. With the practiced movements of a person well acquainted with multitasking, Theresa shifted the tray to one hand and poured hot water into the bright red tea pot.
“I didn't kill him if that's what you mean, Master Barimus,” the girl spoke. She bustled over and began indiscriminately clearing the books and papers from the Royal wizard's desk, much to his dismay. Theresa sat the tray in front of the wizards and began collecting books that had been strewn from the bed onto the floor.
“Have a care for my work, dear one. And call me Barimus,” but the blond man's frown transformed into a smile as his warm brown eyes fell on the bright red tea pot. “Oh, you brought my favorite service; how kind of you.”
As his brother strove to return order to the chaos of his parchment piles, Howl discretely slipped Councilor Raia's papers into one of the voluminous sleeves of his coat. The Wallmaker had only the dimmest memories of Suliman's sister. After Barimus' outburst Howl realized that he would have little help from his brother when trying to uncover information about the former healer. The blue-eyed wizard desperately wanted his brother's aid, but did not trust his objectivity at this moment. He felt a twinge of guilt over filching Raia's papers, but he could not afford to overlook anything at this moment. Besides, he was much better at deciphering messy script; Sophie's writing hand was atrocious.
Perhaps with time they would be able to speak more, but time was not something they had at their disposal.
“Would you like some tea, Master Howl?” The curly-red haired girl asked with a sunny smile as she poured some of the stout brew into the single cup on the tray. The Wallmaker politely declined.
“Is it drugged?” Barimus sniffed at the cup his wife's apprentice handed him.
“Master Barimus! What a thing to say,” Theresa frowned guilty as she colored as red as her hair. Although the expression fled as the young healer peered at the Royal Wizard's face.
“I'm quite fine, young lady. And call me Barimus!” The red wizard mock growled as he sipped his tea.
“I almost forgot. I came bearing gifts. Granny made these for you,” Howl suddenly remembered the socks in his pocket and handed them to his brother as he stood.
“What a dear old woman she is,” Theresa exclaimed as she snatched them out of the Royal Wizard's hands and went toward the foot of his bed before she realized what she was doing. Again she flushed as dark as the tea service as the young woman cast her wide green eyes at her mistress' husband.
“Forgive me, Master. Would you like me to help you?”
“Barimus, dear one… Yes, my feet are rather cold,” the red wizard murmured as he sank back into his pillows, obviously beginning to tire.
The young healer pulled back the blankets at the foot of the bed. Howl had a good look at the plaster casts on his brother's lower legs as the girl gently slipped on the fuzzy woolen socks. With skilled efficiency, Theresa adjusted the pillows elevating the royal wizard's shins and tucked the cover back around him. By the time she had finished, Barimus was fast asleep. Howl was about to speak when Theresa shot him a Martha glance that silenced him. Moving to the head of the bed, she tucked the blankets closer around the sleeping Royal Wizard and gently laid her hand on his forehead to check his temperature. Seeming satisfied she picked up the tray and writing desk, noting with a frown that Barimus hadn't touched the sandwiches. Setting them aside, the freckle-faced girl beckoned the Wallmaker into the next room, closing the door to the antechamber just enough that their voices wouldn't wake the red wizard. Howl couldn't help but grin at the young herbalist, who was as red as a beet.
“Tea?” He asked archly.
“You've seen how he is, Master Howl!” Theresa half snapped her eyes bright with worry as she gestured with wild motions towards the bedroom. But she settled and planted her hands on her hips regarding the Wallmaker with a challenging glint in her eyes, “Martha authorized the judicious use of lesser herbs like chamomile, lavender and a spot or two of vervain. But that's beside the point.”
Suddenly, the young healer began pacing wildly and picked up her garden hoe as she passed where it leaned against the wall. She seemed at war with herself over whether or not to speak of what was on her mind.
“How is he?” Howl asked in a softer voice, hoping to start a conversation and encourage the young girl to settle in one spot.
“The master is well enough, and so is the mistress. But I'd like to drug Lady Martha as well; she's as bad as the master. But there is good news; Prince Justin comes from Marda with a mage healer who specializes in bones. There's only so much we can do with herbs and rest.”
“Is that what's bothering you?” Howl had more than a hand in the raising of his two sons and had picked up a thing or two from his wife. With a great sigh Theresa settled on one of the couches in the room and fiddled with her garden hoe, a troubled expression on her face.
“I'm a plain girl, Master Howl. I haven't a stitch of magic in me and I don't know much about Wizarding. It's not my place to talk about these kinds of things.”
“Everything is magic, Theresa; including you. Don't forget that.” The Wallmaker replied in a serene voice. He sat on the arm of the couch and returned the young girl's startled look with a warm smile. With that the words tumbled from her mouth.
“I'm not supposed to go listening at doors; honest, I know I'm not. But Master Barimus threatened to get out of bed himself if I didn't start finding out the going-ons of the Council. I've been passing notes between he and the new Wizard Guard captains Peoter-Dieter. But I haven't been telling Master Barimus everything, nor do the twins know that I know a lot more than what they're telling me. The captains have been doing their best to keep the Council from doing something stupid. But they've gone and done it anyway, giving magic to the soldiers.”
Theresa paused for a moment to look at her garden hoe, a conflicted look passing over her face. “It not a bad thing for us normal people to have magiked things; spells and what not are quite a help at times. You know all about it, being that its your profession to help us folk with charms and things. Lots of us have encantered… Um, en-whatered things,” She stumbled over the word.
“Enchanted?” Howl offered, listening with captivated seriousness.
“That's it, enchanted things! Ingary itself is soaked in magic like a dish rag that's gone dripping with water. Now, I'm an herbalist and I know that lots of things have magic in them just because that's the natural way of things. Like you said, Master Howl, everything's got magic in it. But the Councilors are gathering up the things, helpful and not, like they're all bad or something. I heard a couple of wizard guards talking about it. They're afraid that the monsters will get into our world through from the bad place through the things.” Theresa whispered in a low voice as she leaned closer to Howl, “I shouldn't know this, but they're burning them in big magic circles.”
“King Ferdinand's at it as well. He made some decree about there being no daemons allowed in the capital no more. That's what I mean when I say the Council's gone and done something stupid because they're agreeing with him. They're in fits over the shield, Master Howl; you know, the gold one Martha and I couldn't see. Because of that they're passing out enchanted bells like candy to the soldiers because there aren't enough of the Wizard's Guards to go around any more. They're all scared about daemons getting through the Wall. But I don't see what difference brick makes to spirits, Master Howl,”
Howl realized that Theresa was referring to the wall that surrounded the Kingsbury Palace. She probably had no idea that the Councilors were speaking of the Dull Wall in the otherworld. Equally, she probably did not know the place even existed. But he did not clarify for fear an interruption would stop the girl from speaking. The Wallmaker realized that Theresa knew far more about what was happening in the capital than he had realized. Plus, Howl very much needed to know what she did. Barimus had created quite an effective spy. Furthermore, the tall wizard was impressed by her understanding of magic and daemons. Realizing he was drifting, the blue-eyed man returned his attention to the freckle-faced girl.
“But the soldiers are scared,” She continued hastily, “They don't understand that the bell rings no matter what, even if something's not harmful at all. Lots of witches and wizard, including some of the Council, are in fits over this because some of their magic is only possible through friendly spirits. Now I know that not all daemons are bad. Like Calcifer, and he's family! But everyone seems to have forgotten about that. It's like the enchanted things; they want to get rid of all the daemons just to be safe.”
Again her voice dropped low as her face when blank with horror, “They pointed guns at me when the bell rang because of my garden hoe! But the Captains were there and told them off something awful! They're doing it to lots of normal people and they're dragging them in for questioning and what not, all because of the big monster. But that's not all; I'm not witchy, Master Howl, but I know a thing or two. You can't spray poison over all the plants in a garden and expect only the weeds to die: everything will wither and then the good soil washes away. It's like the enchanted things. They're banishing all the daemons they find in the red circles I can't see, but they don't stop to make sure that they're not nice ones. It's not right, Master Howl!”
The fact that the soldiers had pointed guns at the little red-haired girl gave Howl an absolute shock. But it was more than that. Any half-wit sorcerer would understand the perilous ramifications of the extreme approach King Ferdinand was implementing. It was a flagrant violation of the rules that governed the use of magic in this world, which in turn affected the balance he strove so hard to preserve in the otherworld.
“Fools…” Howl murmured harshly as he shot to his feet towering rigid with fury, which gave Theresa quite a fright.
“Did I do something wrong, Master Howl?” Theresa asked anxiously, her face white with worry.
“No, not at all Theresa,” As Howl turned the mercurial nature of his mood transformed into a bright smile and a carefree composure that masked his inner turmoil, “Thank you for telling me what you know. I think you should tell Barimus as well but do so under heavy threat of further drugging. You should perhaps tell Martha as well, but no one else. Tell my brother I'm working on this and not to do a thing until I come back. Alright?”
Theresa nodded with determined expression on her face. Howl couldn't help but smile because he saw that same look on Martha's face. How quickly the bonds of kinship formed when it came to love.
“You're a very smart hedge witch, Theresa. You should come by the castle, our family misses you,” Howl replied warmly as he turned to go.
“Wait, Master Howl. Would you give this to Markl?” Theresa called after him, holding out a small white envelope. Noting the bright pink color in the girl's cheeks as he took it the Wallmaker smirked wordlessly and tucked it into one of the pockets in his great checkered coat.
The Wallmaker left the room fully intending to kick the King of Ingary square in the seat of his pants.
Sophie pulled her straw hat over her eyes, doing her best not to scream in frustration.
“What is she doing, mother?” Shan asked curiously as he tugged at her apron and then turned his blue eyes to gaze down the alley to where Drie was squatting. The tall silver haired girl was regarding a bucket of coal dust left behind by a chimney sweep with earnest fascination. This was the third time her daughter had run off with a cry of surprise to regard some bit of trash of junk as though it were some long lost treasure beyond all compare. It had taken them nearly a half hour to walk the five blocks from the Hatter's shop towards the town square. Mother Hatter was not at home and Sophie's witchy sense told her the blonde woman was at her middle sister's second home. At this rate it would take them until sundown to reach Cesari's bakery. At first the silver sorceress had tried to be understanding; she had no idea what kind of life her girl had experienced up until now. Deirdre had not spoken of it yet, nor did she give any indication she cared to. But that was beside the point; who in their right mind stared at a bucket of ashes? This was beginning to get ridiculous.
“Deirdre, let's go!” Sophie called impatiently, trying not to sound too cross.
“Can't you hear them?” Drie asked in a distracted voice. Suddenly she smiled brilliantly and giggled, her gaze still glued to the bucket.
“Hear what?” Markl asked cautiously, his curiosity getting the better of him. The brown-eyed woman let out an exasperated sigh and began to smooth Shan's hair which had gone wild in the light summer breeze. This was the first time the strange child-woman had indicated there was anything out of the ordinary about the things she had been investigating.
“Look there. Can't you see them?” Akarshan's twin asked as she pointed a graceful finger at the bucket.
The young wizard crept up behind his tall sister and gazed nervously at the pail.
“No… All I see is soot.” Howl's apprentice replied sullenly, obviously disappointed.
“That's because you're not looking right,” She replied in a guileless voice with a bright smile, turning to look over her shoulder at the russet haired boy with eyes that were completely black. Markl gave a violent start and stumbled back against the wall, going white as a sheet. But she blinked in surprise and her eyes were suddenly blue.
“Are you okay?” Deirdre asked with a confused frown as she straightened and was forced to look down at the brown-eyed young man.
“I'm fine,” The apprentice replied uneasily, avoiding her gaze as he turned and fled from the alleyway followed at a distance by the silver haired child-woman. The exchange in the alleyway was missed by Sophie, who had been occupying her youngest son by explaining the magic in the ring with the red stone Howl had given her. She straightened as Markl walked past her at a brisk pace. The silver sorceress had to hurry to catch up with her husband's apprentice, half dragging Shan by the hand.
“What's got into Markl? Markl!” The brown-eyed woman asked of no one in particular and then called after her eldest son as he wove through the crowd in front of them.
“You're going to fast, mommy!” Shan had to skip and jump to keep up with his mother, “Carry me?”
Wordlessly the silver-haired mother picked up her son and hefted him onto her hip. But she didn't get very far before she was puffing and had to set him down again.
“I'm sorry cherub, you're too big. I can't pick your for very long,” she replied hastily, standing on her toes to keep sight of the russet haired boy in the crowd of townsfolk that walked around them, “Wait for us, Markl!”
“Gotcha!” Drie laughed as she swooped down behind her brother and scooped him up. Settling the boy onto her shoulders, the tall child-woman stood and began walking beside her mother as though her brother weighed nothing. Sophie caught herself staring in surprise; she could barely lift her boy onto the kitchen bench without trouble.
“Whee!” Shan cried as Drie whirled in a circle and he grabbed a hold of his sister's head to stabilize himself before grinning down at the silver haired witch, “Look, mommy, I'm taller than you!”
“Fly me, sister!” The raven-haired boy squealed and began making airplane noises as his twin threw out her arms and began careening in circles around their mother. As they buzzed further and further from the silver witch, Markl appeared at Sophie's side. The young wizard regarded his siblings with a serious face.
“Is that a good idea?” He asked in an even voice.
“Oh! You scared me, Markl. What? I'm sure she won't drop Shan,” Sophie replied in a light-hearted voice as she stretched her back as she watched the twins play, “Besides, he's little enough he'll bounce if she does.” Markl frowned and was silent.
That wasn't quite what he meant.
Shan was absolutely baffled.
Auntie Lettie had nearly fainted when one of the shop girls ushered them into the upstairs office from which the pastry queen ruled her catering business. Since marrying the son of the café owner, a tall gentle breadmaker with a handsome smile, the feisty Hatter's daughter had completed a successful culinary coup of the cafe. His eldest auntie stared at his mother like she was a ghost. The blonde woman had burst into tears and handed off the new little girl on her hip to his cousin Tilly before she tackled Sophie. His auntie then sent his younger cousin Milly to fetch Grandma Honey from the café downstairs. The older blond woman had nearly knocked his mother over as she came running from somewhere at full tilt. Her scream still rang in his ears. His mommy had gone away for a while, but she hadn't been gone that long. Girls were ever so silly. They fussed about the strangest things, like dresses, dirt, and frogs.
And bugs too, he couldn't forget bugs.
“Why are those ladies crying on mommy?” Drie whispered to him.
“Huh?” Shan replied as he settled back onto her shoulders, giving up on trying to touch the ceiling. He then waved vigorously at his cousins, who were staring up at him enviously.
“Dunno. The young one is mommy's sister Lettie and the old one is her mother, Grandma Honey. You'd think they would be happy to see her. But you know how grown-ups are. They get upset about strange things,” Shan replied sagely and Drie nodded at his wise words. Markl gave a snort at his younger brother's words, although he kept his distance from the tearful woman as though he sense he were next in line to be soaked.
“Is Martha alright? Have you heard from her?” Honey asked with unbridled distress, the little purple hat in her hair all askew.
“She's fine, mother. We're all fine,” Sophie smiled gently, dabbing at her mother's tears with her apron.
“Look at you, Markl! You get bigger every time I see you. How's your redhead?” Lettie seized Howl's apprentice with a grin, gossip gleaming in her eyes. The auburn haired boy went white with panic and then red with embarrassment as his aunt squeezed him vigorously.
“Goodness!” The bossy baker exclaimed with surprise as she caught sight of Deirdre and Markl retreated from her grasp in her distraction, “I didn't know Howl had a sister, Sophie. I though you said that he's an orphan?”
“She's not papa's sister; she's my sister!” Shan laughed out loud as he hugged the silver-haired child-woman's head possessively. The boy gave a sad whine, which echoed in the silence that followed his words, as Deirdre lifted her twin from her shoulders and sat him on the ground. Both Honey and Lettie regarded Sophie with white faced shock.
“This is my daughter,” the silver sorceress replied without hesitation as she disentangled herself from the platinum haired woman and reached a hand towards her girl, “Her name is Deirdre and she's Akarshan's twin.”
Shan didn't understand much about what happened after that. He found himself standing in the hallway outside Lettie's office holding Drie's hand with Markl hot on their heels. The door slammed shut behind them. A second later it opened, Tilly emerged hastily with her new sister in her arms and Milly by the hand. The three blonde little girls were like tiny replicas of their mother, dressed in identical pink ruffled Cesari's uniforms. The children stared at one another wordlessly as the door slammed again and high voices filtered through the walls.
Apparently the grown-ups were going to have a discussion.
“What are the ladies upset about, Markl?” Drie asked in a worried voice as she regarded her elder brother.
“They're not mad, Deirdre,” The apprentice replied evasively.
“She's wearing trousers!” Milly exclaimed in wonder as she regarded her tall cousin, “Why can't I wear trousers?”
“Who cares about trousers? Let's go play!” Shan cried in glee and reached his arms up towards his tall sister, “Pick me up, Drie. I want to be tall again.”
“Can I be tall too?” Tilly asked breathlessly as she handed off the little girl to Milly, who frowned petulantly.
“What about me?” The younger girl cried shrilly as she handed her sister to Markl, “Here, you hold her.”
The baby regarded the wizard's apprentice with wide sapphire eyes and then began to cry. Markl gave a violent start and held the blond little girl at arms length, regarding her with bald-faced terror.
“She doesn't like me! You take her!” He handed the girl back to Milly, who frowned up at her cousin crossly. But the baby stopped crying the moment she left his hands.
“I can only take two at a time. But don't worry, I'll come back for you,” Drie smile at the small girl. With that she scooped up Shan and Tilly into her arms before tearing off along the wide open hallway that lined the top floor of the café.
“Stay on the balcony!” Markl called after them with a sour frown as their shrieks echoed off of the roofs and walls of the gabled building around them. He settled against the wall and pulled a book that was so impossibly large it could never have fit in the pouch at his waist from which it had emerged. Milly settled next to him in a huff, momentarily waking her sister who began to squall again. The blond little four-year-old gazed over the apprentice's elbow to at his book curiously. Markl gave a sigh and began to read aloud about locomotion spells.
“Faster!” Shan cried.
Deirdre zipped up and down the stairs that led from one balcony to the other with tirelessly. The silver haired girl blurred she was moving so fast she barely touched the ground. Not that she needed to use her feet, in fact she didn't.
“Too fast!” Tilly squealed fearfully, clinging madly to her cousin as they zipped along the gallery at a dizzying speed. Suddenly a door opened in front of them and the child-woman veered to the side to avoid crashing into it. The blonde little girl screamed in terror as they spilled over the banister. But the ground fell away from them as the half-daemon shot upwards on the otherwind, propelled into the vastness above on feathered silver wings that tore through her shirt from her back. Free of all human fear, a joyous cry beyond language sand from her lips as they flew up into the bright blue sky overhead. The city shrank small beneath them, swallowed by the vast green fields and snow capped mountains loomed large in the wastes.
“We're flying Drie!” The raven-haired twin cried exuberantly as the wind tore at their hair, “Let's go find the castle!”
“I don't want to play anymore!” Tilly screeched hysterically, her white face buried in Drie's shirt, “Stop! STOP!”
But it was not the little girl's plea that suddenly tore the child-woman from the mindless ecstasy of flight. A voice cried out in her mind, blossoming a tortured red in her mind in the way blood wells from a deep wound. Pursuing the cry was the sound of a bell, small and clear like the chimes in her father's room. But this bell sounded with the knell of death without dying. As they banked wildly, Shan gave a panicked shout as Deirdre's eyes went black and the sapphires at her ears pulsed brightly. The sky before them ripped in the way fabric cleaves before the sharpest of knives. The balcony on the fourth floor of Cesari's showed plainly through the portal.
As the three of them plunged through it, they disappeared from the sky.
A great wind stirred Markl's hair and the pages of his book turned wildly.
The smell of magic filled his nose and the Wallmaker's apprentice shot to his feet, giving Milly a scare. The little girl had fallen asleep next to him not far into his description of how to draw the proper vectors for circle magic associated with non-human locomotion. Tossing aside the book, Markl walked quickly down the balcony listening intently. He realized all at once he could no longer hear his brother's laughter. The russet haired apprentice was about to call out when the door to Lettie's office burst open to show nothing by empty blue sky. A second later Deirdre erupted from the doorway on a violent gale fed by enormous silver wings. Her eyes were black as midnight and the pale skin of her hands had transformed into claws. She touched down for a moment to gently deposit Shan and Tilly on the wooden floor before bounding over the balustrade and rocketing off into the village. Markl was thrown from his feet by the power of her otherwind as the blue dissolved behind her to reveal his silver haired mother.
“Deirdre!” The silver sorceress shrieked as she clung to the doorframe let she be knocked from her feet.
But the child-woman was gone.
As she fell from the sky above Market Chipping, Deirdre knew exactly where she was.
She had lived in this house not long ago.
The bell grew louder in her ears, filling her with fury, as the ground rushed up beneath her and the cobble stones of the back alley shattered beneath her feet. This was where she had met her brother for the first time. It felt like ages ago. It was before Mrs. Danna put a daemon in her soul; before she had gone to the twilight place between worlds; before she had met the other. But Deirdre wasn't thinking about that; her mind was fixed with such singularity on the cry for help.
No one but she could hear the cry; it was a daemon's voice, a soot spirit who lived in the fireplace. She had seen him once as a child while she was hiding from Mrs. Danna in fireplace they never used. The little spirit had made her smile with wonder and she had kept him secret from the cold healer, who had a powerful hatred of daemons. Her wings dissolved around her in a flurry of silver feathers as she stormed up the back steps. The door splintered before her. Inside everything was as it had been before: empty, plain, and sterile. She breezed through the small kitchen, half flying down the dark narrow hallway and the door into the living room burst open before her.
Three men stood in the living room. The two in blue were mortal as could be; they held their guns as though they expected to die at any moment. The third was dress in brilliant red and the Wallmaker's daughter knew at once the man was a sorcerer of little skill. He held a bell aloft in one hand and a circle mirror in the other. A flash of red blinded her for a moment as the cry and the bell suddenly ceased. Her sight returned a second later only for her to see the twisting points of red in the burned place beyond the hungry barrier reflected in the glass the wizard held. She knew it was there that the coal daemon had been sent.
“NO!” Deirdre screamed in anguish.
Suddenly the bell in the sorcerer's hand began chiming with raucous clangs, vibrating so violently it almost ripped itself from the wizard's grasp. The three men turned startled eyes at the white faced woman who materialized in the doorway. But a moment later it was not a woman who stood in the doorway. The soldier's cocked their guns as the half-daemon stalked forward; the shots echoed deafeningly in the small space. The bullets surged harmlessly through the living column of inky water, which rematerialized into the woman's shape. The creature shouted a word in a spidery language, which crawled through the human's minds like a spider. The guns in the soldier's hands erupted into white flames. The red garbed sorcerer shouted another word in the strange speech of magic and the mirror in his hand flashed as a red circle burst into red light beneath Deirdre's feet.
She could barely move, although if she were a full daemon the child-woman would not have been able to move at all. But wild panic filled her to the point of senselessness, pushing from her all thoughts as she realized the wizard was going to send her to the burned place. She knew she would never come back from that horrible scorched world where the sky boiled like fire held no stars. The plains of pain meant death without dying and an eternity of suffering. She would never see her family again.
In that moment the bell stopped ringing and the mirror in the wizard's hand cracked.