Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 4: Hunger ( Chapter 4 )

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

The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 4: Hunger
Howl managed to walk through the palace without having any more soldiers point guns at him.
The raven haired wizard hated guns, he hated bullets, and he hated any kind of weapon that brought about needless violence. But he loved technology. He had brought an old dilapidated perambulator back to the castle once, not long after Akarshan was born. Sophie had teased him about being taken in by a lemon, and scolded him for being lazy. But she ended up eating her words, as he dismantled the contraption outside the shop to see how it worked. He pulled apart every gear and piston, all the while making detailed drawings in one of the many sketchbooks that cluttered his workshop and bedroom. After he had finished, he abandoned the pile of junk to the street, turning his attention to another project. It had sat rusting on their doorstep, until Sophie hauled it off to some salvage yard in Kingsbury. He was always dragging home bits of clocks and anything with gears, pulleys and odd little twirling bits. Science was very much like magic: it was formulaic and cerebral. Plus, it gave him something to do besides teaching his family magic and keeping shop. But more and more he found himself spending endless hours in the otherworld looking for places where the Dull Wall had begun to erode.
Recently the Wallmaker had little time for technology.
It seemed like there was nothing but magic in his life now. It was funny, people without the gift went on and on, wishing they had magic as if all their problems would disappear if they could wiggle their fingers and conjure a cup of tea. But the truth of the matter was magic wasn't any better at solving the world's problems than science. Witches and wizards squabbled just as much as the fish monger's wife, possibly even more. They still caught colds and broke bones. And yet, when the world went to hell in a hand basket, it became their job to fix everything that science and brawn could not.
Howl thought of the broken glass spire in the shield room and how many sorcerers and sorceresses it took to keep the dome functioning under stress. The shield had served its purpose, but it was a travesty of construction. The dome trapped in all magical things as much as it kept them out. It was a brilliant plan at first, until the reaching effects were considered. Wizards and daemons both were prevented from entering and leaving and what kind of solution was that? As he always did when brooding on how quickly witches and wizards turned to enchanted solutions with out thinking of the consequences, his mind turned to the Dull Wall. The black barrier had been born from blood and tears, and was sustained by similar circumstances. There had to be a better way.
And then there were the bells.
Howl clenched his fists as he walked in the empty corridors, imaging the look on the emperor's face as he chucked the king's desk through a window. Perhaps he should throw Ferdinand himself? But the Wallmaker was not as hot-headed as he had been in his youth. He understood too well that people quickly abdicated their ability to think when magic was involved, especially those without experience or understanding. Mortals believed blindly that when all else failed magic, will save them. But that was the problem with magic: it made no qualms about how it was used. King Ferdinand had acted with the best of intentions. However, the barrel-chested man did not understand that the enchanted bells would ring just as loud for a daemon of the Dark, as it would for a curly haired little girl who held a magic garden hoe. Magic is a tool to be used, not the solution to every problem. And that was the rub: like guns and bombs, magic was frequently used without thinking.
And there was another problem: the Ingarian Emperor, and half the Council for that matter, seemed to have forgotten that not all daemons were evil. The ancients and humans maintained a very tenuous balance, for the most part existing unseen in one another's company, both in the mortal world and beyond the indigo veil. During the Mage Wars there had been as much fighting among humans and daemons as there was among the warring wizards. From what he had read, it was a dark time clouded by uncertainty. Luckily, a truce had been chartered shortly after the Wall was built.
However, daemons were as wary of the mad spirits that were contained by the Dull Wall as humans were. Just like a wolf pack abandons a member who had been taken by rabies, most spirits would avoid a Dark Daemon at all costs. For the most part the untouched ancients kept their own council, and had little interest in the doings of their mad cousins. Nor did they seem to care about what wizards did with them. However, it would be disastrous to anger the ancients that lingered in the mortal world, and unnecessary banishing would do just that. Howl only hoped it was early enough to demand that a witch or wizard go with the soldiers on their daemon hunting forays. Perhaps the red-coats would bring some reason to the searching.
The tall raven-haired man took a sharp corner in the way a person does when they know exactly where they are going. However, he was torn from his thoughts and brought to a complete stop by an odious smell. The stench made him want to wretch. It was the smell of powerful magic, and the worst kind: blood magic. Howl back-tracked, letting his nose guide him through the winding labyrinth of richly furbished corridors that filled the palace. But as he passed through an archway, the walls suddenly turned black and scorched. Broken furniture littered the corridor and the halls were dark; no servants would be coming here to light the candles. A cold draft filtered down the hallway, smelling of fresh air over the overpowering stink of black sorcery. The lanky man knew if he continued on his present course he would arrive at the shattered stairwell that lead up to the remnants of the shield room.
But it was not from that direction that the smell issued.
Along the corridor a doorway stood open. Someone had barred the way into the room with a knotted length of spirit paper. It was folk magic; some would call it old knowledge because the tradition came from so long ago many couldn't remember why it was done. An enormous length of the finest white paper was folded in intricate pleats and curls until it formed an unbroken chain. It was said that bad spirits would be trapped forever in the endless turns of the folds and be unable to pass.
The stench wafted from the open doorway.
Respectfully, the Wallmaker ducked under the chain so as not to disturb it and stepped into the chamber. As he straightened, the handsome wizard resisted the urge to empty his stomach, not that he had eaten anything that day. Glass crunched beneath his feet as he walked forward, regarding the narrow shattered mirror that reached from floor to ceiling in each of the corners of the room. In the center of the chamber was a chair, and the pale cream silk of the upholstery was stained with what Howl could see in his othersense was blood. There was another large stain on the carpet not far from the seat. But he was distracted from his cool observations by the fact that he could smell the Dark here. It had been a long time since he had thought about the wickedness beyond the Dull Wall; but he no longer feared it. It was the darkness in mankind that filled him with trepidation; humanity had been making enough of its own evil recently. The emerald around his neck burned against his skin. It was a cold kind of fire, that brought knowledge he should not have known. His skin crawled as he suddenly knew that two people died horribly in this room, it was almost as though he could hear the faded mournful wails. One was Councilor Raia; this was her room and the mirror only confirmed it. But who was the other? Howl moved beyond that thought as he realized their lives had been taken to do portal magic.
It was here that the mad daemons had been loosed into the world.
But how!? He had not sensed weakness in the Dull Wall. There were no tell-tale echoes beyond the indigo veil that spoke of a breech. And yet there had most definitely been one. All at once he recalled what Sophie had told him about the empty woman emerging from their daughter. The silver sorceress had only dim memories of her girl forcing the daemon into the Wall to form a door. As Howl stood in that place, the lingering threads of death and horror faded as he began piecing together what had happened. Because Deirdre was of the Wallmaker's blood, the hungry barrier would have obeyed her, even if she was creating a passage through the coal bricks. The keeper of the balance suddenly flew into a violent rage, the bits of glass at his feet tinkling as his otherwind tore about the room. That was why Danna stole their daughter, why she put a daemon in her soul; so she would have access to the madness beyond the Wall. But why!? What the hell would have driven a healer to murder and blood sorcery!?
The connection between Earin Danna and the old senile councilor suddenly burned like a brand in the Wallmaker's mind.
There was much more to this story, Howl realized as he calmed. The prophecy Raia had written felt very heavy in his sleeve. Something in his memories plagued him to the point of distraction, but it lingered just beyond his grasp. Why couldn't he remember? It was like a fog filled his head, preventing him from recalling anything about Suliman's sister. And yet the wizard knew he remembered the woman, or at least what she had been before she went insane. His memories were like a painting that had faded in the bright sun to the dimmest of outlines. He recalled only fractured pieces of the woman: her kind hands and the swishing of her long green skirts.
She and his teacher had not been close; that much he could surmise from the lack of any memory of the sisters together. Howl wished he could ask Barimus more about Danna; his brother was older than he, and perhaps knew more of the cold woman. But the Royal Wizard was greatly out of sorts at the moment, and refused to talk about the woman. Earin had been good once, that much was for certain. She had cared for him when he was very ill as a child. What could have possibly happened to cause her to change so much?
Quitting the room, Howl flew like a wild bird to the Ingarian Library, completely forgetting the appointment he had scheduled for his boot and the emperor's backside.
The Wallmaker frightened several apprentices as he strode into the great open atrium. It had been ages since he had visited this place, and it still made him feel small to stand in the middle of so many books he had never read. The raven-haired man noticed a group of apprentices staring at him with open-mouthed abandon. Of the two girls one was fair, plump, and pretty, while the other was dark, thin, and horsey. A young wizard with brown coloring sprouted from between them like a weed, as tall as he was thin. They had the look of friends about them. The kids continued to stare at him and Howl smiled dazzlingly, making a great show of swaggering into the shelves as he went to hunt for enrollment records. The clerks in Ingary were known for the sharpness of pens, and the immaculate detail of their accounts; records were the one true way to track down anyone who passed through the palace. Perhaps a timeline would help him understand and provide him with the missing clue.
If it did not, he was going to have to talk to Deirdre. Howl was keenly aware of balances, and did not want to disturb his daughter's fragile existence unless it was absolutely necessary. Her life had been traumatic enough, and she didn't need her father lumbering about in her mind uncovering painful memories.
Turning his thoughts back to the library, he began hunting for books. When he was a child, still barely an apprentice, Howl had poured over the set of huge tomes that held the tiny signatures of all the witches and wizards who had studied at the Royal Academy. It had taken him months, but he eventually found his mother's name, written in lovely curling swirls not far from his father's unintelligible scrawl. He also found his uncle's signature, and many more of the Jenkins family written in the great books. There were names for the other colleges of study that were housed at the capital, and it was for this that Howl was searching. The healer's guild kept immaculate records. However, the wizard was quite at a loss for where to find the ledgers. It seemed he could find every spell book and scroll he had read as a child, but not what he was looking for. The raven-haired man entertained a childish fit of frustration and kicked a tiny wheeled stepping stool that went spinning off down the marble floored corridor.
“Can I help you, sir?” Asked a light voice from directly behind him.
The Wallmaker leapt bolt upright and spun to regard the small woman. She gave him a dour frown, and regarded him with grey eyes over the glasses sliding down her nose. The librarian cast her gaze around the handsome wizard to watch the wheeled stool gyrate down the stacks. As she peered up at him expectantly, she slipped books back onto the shelf with such silent efficiency it was no wonder he didn't hear her. A braid as thick as his wrist slung over her shoulder, the brown of her hair trying madly to escape at every twist. Fixing her with his most dapper of smiles, the wizard told her of his need.
“Hmph, is that all?” She replied in a business like manner, completely unaffected by his charms and then went whisking off into the maze of shelving that filled the room. Like a lame duck, Howl followed after her. It took the small woman seconds to find the books he had been hunting after for nearly an hour.
So much for all knowing sorcerers.
Carrying his heavy burden to a table near the still gawking students, Howl began leafing through the gigantic pages of tiny names. The Wallmaker realized he was in the wrong volume and was about to close the book, when he caught sight of a name that made him stop. There, on the very bottom corner of the page, placed as though even the book was trying to forget her, was written the tiny neat print of the name, Earin Danna. This was back when she was still Earin Suliman. As he peered closer, it looked as if someone had attempted to erase the minute letters, tried so hard they had ripped the vellum. But the blue-eyed man paused.
This couldn't be right; Mrs. Danna wasn't a witch. According to Calcifer the cold woman was completely non-magical, and had turned to daemon magic in order to wield any power. Hence, she had enrolled in the healer's guild. The Wallmaker pulled open another of the huge ledgers, and found Danna's name again, written in neat print under the healer's guild. But the date was off by about ten years difference. It appeared that Earin had originally enrolled in the Ingarian Sorcery Academy at the proper age of six. Following the name up the column to find the name of her master, a cold place settled into the pit of the raven-haired man's stomach. There at the top of the page was Councilor Raia's name.
The doors to the library burst open, as the red-haired young wizard that had shouted at Howl earlier that day, came tearing into the room. He skidded to a halt near his friends and hastily arranged the black velvet of his robes. The apprentices were regarding Nalir as though he sprouted a tail; apparently this was not characteristic behavior for the vain boy. He gasped and coughed, trying to catch his breath.
“Out with it you silly thing,” The words spouted from the horsey girl in a jumble of syllables.
“I just heard Peoter-Deiter tell the king they found daemons in Market Chipping!” The red-haired boy gasped, “I heard somebody got killed!”
Howl was on his feet and out the door, which slammed after him, giving everyone in the atrium a fright.
The bell silenced, but Deirdre remained.
Bright terror bloomed within the child-woman as she felt a keen sense of vertigo. The circle beneath her feet changed, but not due to any of her magic. The angry red of its hue faded to an icy blue, casting cold pale light in the dark room. The magic in the artifacts the crimson-garbed sorcerer held, drained away as the cerulean ring seemed to draw in a great breath, like a living thing. A look of unadulterated astonishment passed across the wizard's face, as the mirror in his hand cracked and went dark. The soldiers dropped their weapons as the silver fire disintegrated the guns into ash. As swiftly as it had left, mobility returned to the Wallmaker's daughter. The silver-haired girl crumbled to her knees, weak and light-headed with elation, due to the fact she was still in the mortal world.
But as the otherwind eddied up around her, Deirdre realized she was not alone.
Familiar hands lifted her up, and with an electric jolt Drie turned her eyes to gaze at the other. Door loomed over her, gently holding up the child-woman. The half-daemon wore a perfect replica of the same small white frock from the day they split. The Wallmaker's daughter clung to her twin, as the blue-eyed woman was struck by how sick Door looked. There were dark circles under her eyes and grime smeared on her face. The billowing tresses of her impossibly long silver hair were dirty and matted. But the tenderness of their embrace was marred by the other's gaze, which was fixed with such venomous hatred on the terrified humans that Drie went cold with dread.
In that moment Door's sapphire eyes went black and fathomless.
Returning to his senses, the red garbed wizard stepped in front of the blubbering soldiers, as he tossed aside the bell and mirror. His hand erupted into green-yellow fire as he spoke a burning word in the language of magic, and stabbed his finger at the twins. Simultaneously, Door threw out one of her hands, which was black as night with obsidian claws. She snatched the word from the air in the manner one seizes a fly. But the daemon grasped something tangible. As she pulled, the power drained from the man, as the flame surrounding his hand extinguished. With a guttural moan, the wizard took an involuntary step forward, as a look of absolute horror twisted his face. The stranger spasmed in agony as Door twisted her fingers, her cruel high laugh piercing the silence in the room. The years seemed to drain from the sorcerer; where once his face had been youthful, it creased with lines, and the brown of his hair peppered with grey.
“No!” Deirdre screamed as she lunged at the other. The circle beneath them extinguished and the man crumbled to the ground. Door threw off her other-half as though she weighed nothing. The child-woman crashed backwards into the fireplace, shattering a huge divot in the stone bricks. But the daughter of the silver sorceress bounced back without a scratch. The half-daemon rounded on her doppelganger with a snarl. In a voice that echoed like an incomprehensible nightmare through the mind's of all present, Door spoke in the language of ancient spirits.
I protect you! The half-daemon growled as her human form dissolved, and the creature reared up as a twisting column of living water.
Killing is wrong! Deirdre replied in a speech she did not know she knew, reaching out to the other pleadingly.
What of the little brother, the coal spirit? He is lost to the burned place!
But the child-woman could find no words to respond to that truth. Drie was besieged by the other's sorrow for the loss of the soot spirit, and together they grieved. Over the heavy gloom of their mourning, Door's terror of the plains of pain blew briefly like a gust of frozen wind through the window of her mind. But the ice turned to fire, evaporating under the overwhelming burning hatred the daemon felt for the humans in the room.
After all that we do for these mortals the Wizards turn on us. They kill all of us, not just the mad ones. Why? What have we done? Nothing!
They're scared Drie replied lamely, shrinking from the boiling creature. She could not speak of Mrs. Danna at that moment; the words seemed to freeze in her throat before the other's fury.
SCARED!? Door boomed thunderously. I will give them reason to fear! Kill them! Kill them all and take back our world!
Until that moment the faceless uniformed soldiers had been cowering in mad panic from the horrible sounds issuing from the monster before them. Suddenly one of the men mastered his fear enough to pull a small revolver from his boot. The blue garbed man uttered a hoarse cry, as he stumbled to his feet and began shooting wildly. Deirdre gave a startled cry as one of the bullets struck her in the arm, and the door daemon whirled, surging forward with blinding speed to consume the young solider. The Wallmaker's daughter clamped her hands over her ears, in spite of the pain in her arm. Sinking to the floor, the child-woman stared blankly at the wood grain as she strove to block the sound from her mind.
The human's hideous shriek dwindled to a gurgle, and then silenced.
Drie flinched as inky water gathered beside her, and flowed upwards into her human form. Soft hands once again touched her, examining the place where the bullet had pierced her flesh; but no blood oozed from the wound. In spite of her mirror image's compassion, which blossomed in her mind like a gentle field of lilacs, she could not look at Door. The daemon had just killed a man; no, she ate him. The girl shrank away from the hands, as she was gripped by intense aversion. Suddenly, the other pulled Drie against her in a fierce embrace. Desperate worry flooded the child-woman, plunging her into a deluge of Door's conflicting emotions.
Fear them, not me. They will kill you, they will kill me. Don't let them.
The daemon pleaded and commanded simultaneously, reading her thoughts as only she could. Carefully, Door pulled Deirdre to her feet, being gentle not to jar her arm. With graceful pale hands, the other turned her face to stare deeply into her eyes. How lovely she was, but again Drie was struck by the sickness that clung to her doppelganger. Something had happened to the other; something horrible. Questions filled Drie as she stared at her twin. Where had she gone? What had happened after they had parted ways? What did she know about Mrs. Danna?
Door shook her head as though to discharge Drie's uncertainty. But the intensity in the half-daemon's gaze shook the child-woman to her core. At that moment there was so much turmoil in her other-half, the Wallmaker's daughter could hardly think. But Deirdre clung to the revelation in the other's eyes, which seemed to anchor her within the flood of emotion. Within the shattered tendrils of the myriad of whispering thoughts, came a truth that bound her like a net to the daemon. So much had changed since the last time she saw her other; before the daemon hated her, had raged against her and all humans. Yes, she had killed a man, but Door had done so only to protect her.
Door loved her.
The residence was like any other in the row of town houses that lined the narrow streets of Market Chipping; but perhaps a little shabby next to its cousins.
The multicolored gabled roofs of row houses looked like people on a crowded rail-perambulator. They were jammed so closely to one another they had to stretch upwards to fit along the merrily winding cobbled streets. In the waning afternoon light the street was quiet, and the setting summer sun cast everything in warm pastels. But all was not well. Anyone with the gift of magic would be knocked from their feet by the overpowering stench of potent magic that emanated from the dilapidated house. However, there were no people in the paved avenue because everyone, including any wizards that might have been about, was at home enjoying dinner. As such, there was no one to startle when the great silver bird woman dropped from the sky like a burning comet.
The front door to the empty house splintered inwards under the boot of the sorceress of the silver flame. Sophie stormed through the shattered carapace on the furious gale of her otherwind, silver feathers dissolving all around her. The small woman was surrounded by a nimbus of cold, steel-colored radiance as she thrust forward her fist, lead by a beam of red light that issued from the ring on her finger. Sophie had flown from Cecari's café on a wind greater than the northern gale, in mad pursuit of her daughter. She did not think about what her mother and sister thought, having witness her transformation into a great winged creature. She did not think of the hundreds of people in the great square that might have seen her flying. Nor did she think of her sons, who were probably back at the castle worried sick, and wondering where their mother was.
All Sophie could think about was finding Drie. The horrible events of that night clung to her, like the long shadows of dawn herald the ever-present night. She was still exhausted, she was still angry, but most of all she was still terrified. Terrified that Mrs. Danna could turn up at any moment; terrified that she would once again become a powerless old woman. But most of all, she was terrified of losing her daughter again. Casting wild brown eyes around the chaos, she finally fixed her piercing gaze on Deirdre.
The tall child-woman stood completely alone in the middle of the room.
The girl had a look of devastation on her face, one that melted to surprise as she swayed, like something firm had been taken from her. Sophie might have uttered a great sigh of relief, and ran to comfort the child, if not for the smell. The strange magic hung about her girl, like a cloud of sweet-smelling poisonous mist in the brown-eyed woman's othersight. It was so strong the silver sorceress almost choked. It disturbed her greatly to see the wisps of black and red clinging to her child. Thin ripples of magic reverberated in her mind, heralding the fact that something dire had happened here. Something had called Deirdre here, but what?
Suddenly, Sophie recognized that the smell of othermagic, faded with time. But as she sorted it from the multi-sensory messages of her othersight, the stench reared up in her mind. The Wallmaker's wife nearly lost her composure, as she felt crushed by the echo of Mrs. Danna that lingered all around her in the house like a ghost. But she was ripped from her panic as one of the two men huddled in the corner, that the brown-eyed woman had not noticed, whimpered softly. Deirdre turned her anxious face toward them.
“Stay there!” Sophie snapped at her girl. A pang of remorse twisted within the witch, as the child-woman flinched. However, fear made the silver sorceress fierce and hasty. The sorceress threw her eyes around the room once more, as she approached the fallen men. Again the new magic had closed around her; it smelled bizarre, like a mixture of the foulest of rotting things, and the most pleasant of flowers. As she moved, Sophie's nimbus faded, but her expression remained severe. Whatever had brought the smell was not far from this place and could still be near; the witch expected to be attacked at any moment.
“Are you alright?” The Wallmaker's wife asked as she kneeled by the prone men.
“Don't touch me!” Gasped the wizard in the red uniform.
“I'm here to help you,” The silver-haired mother replied soothingly. But the sorceress recoiled in horror from what she saw as the man rolled over on his back.
“I know,” the man wheezed as he struggled to breathe, “But the curse is still upon me.”
“Tell me what happened?” Sophie asked softly, sympathy plain in her voice. However, she refrained from touching the grayed wizard's guard as she examined the whimpering human. The other solider shrank from the woman's touch, madly clutching his little cap to his head.
“A daemon attacked us. It… ate Gerold.” The sorcerer managed to say, horror thickening his voice. His breath coming in short gasps, but the man managed to half sit up.
“Is he alright?” Deirdre asked fretfully, suddenly appearing close to her mother's side. But the wizard scrambled backwards in terror as his eyes fell on the child-woman.
“The daemon!” The man exclaimed, panic robbing from his face all the color of his efforts. The brown-eyed mother followed the man's frenzied gaze and stared at her daughter in alarm.
Had Deirdre done this?
Suddenly soldiers armed with guns pounded into the room through the shambles of the front door. There was a nerve-racking moment as the uniformed men pointed their guns at Drie and Sophie. The silver sorceress straightened slowly putting her hands in the air as she returned her anxious gaze once more to her daughter. The child-woman had gone white as a sheet in fright, favoring her arm, and looking faint with fear at the sight of the rifles. In the blink of an eye the otherwind erupted from beneath the girl as a portal winked into existence under her feet. The girl plunged out of sight and the gate dissolved, just as the soldiers opened fire on the spot where the tall half-human once stood.
“Deirdre!” Sophie screamed, mad with worry for her child, even though she knew her daughter had escaped. The sound was deafening, although the fallen wizard's voice shouted over the din. “Cease fire!” Cried the newly aged man, and the soldiers complied.
But now all the guns in the room were pointed at Sophie.
“Where are mommy and Drie?” Shan asked for the fifteenth time.
“I don't know!” Markl snapped angrily as he paced the front room wildly.
Moments after a winged Deirdre had torn out of nowhere through the doorway leading to Lettie's office, Sophie had taken off after her daughter wearing a matching set of feathers. But not before making Markl promise to take Shan home immediately. Howl's apprentice hotly resented being forced to look after his brother, especially since Sophie might have gone into danger.
It was still a bit surreal to him, but it had only been three days since the he faced off against several gigantic wrath daemons and survived. The brown-eyed boy had proven a thousand times over that he could handle more than taking care of a six-year-old. But the apprentice quelled his bitterness by reflecting on the uncertain circumstances that had driven the silver-haired witch to act so hastily. Deirdre was unpredictable; there was no telling what had made her go tearing off in the way she did. But then again, his new sister was not exactly normal. The young wizard remembered with a shudder how her eyes had been completely black when she looked at him in the alley. They were just like the eyes of the daemons he had encountered in the shield room.
The girl was not safe.
Markl felt a stab of guilt over such thoughts, but he had experienced too much hardship in his life at the hands of betrayed confidences to ignore the danger the girl posed. As such, the golden-eyed young man stalwartly refused to be completely trusting of the tall woman until time she proved him wrong. It was not that the Markl hated daemons. On the contrary, he was fascinated by them. But like fire could be both enticing and beautiful, it was changeable and dangerous. Night was coming, and it was beginning to get dark outside. The apprehension the Wallmaker's son felt grew heavier with every inch the sun sank. He wished that Howl would come home.
“That girl's trouble,” Calcifer muttered irritably from the fireplace.
“Be nice to my sister!” Shan snapped at the fire daemon with a cross face. Cal gave a chittering-pop in surprise at the young child's harsh tone.
“You're not such a blessing either, kid!” The fire daemon frowned nastily, long plumes of black smoke trailing from his mouth.
“Would you like some tea, dearies?” Granny witch asked cheerily from her chair, conveniently speaking up at the exact moment to defuse the tension in the room. But Shan appeared to ignore the living flame's baiting words, still watching Markl pace over the back of the couch. However, his older brother could tell from the calculating look in the boy's eyes that his mind was elsewhere. Howl's youngest son furtively flicked his hand in a manner that looked far too casual. Suddenly the kettle swiveled into the hearth and bashed the fire daemon right in the middle of his forehead.
“Ouch!” Calcifer sputtered up around the copper vessel in bright white anger, “You did that on purpose!”
“No need to be such a hot-head, Cal. Granny wants some tea,” Shan replied loftily with his back to the hearth.
“Why you little brat! I ought to…”
Perhaps it was a good thing Markl was looking after his brother. Sophie would be ever so cross with him if Calcifer were to eat Shan. The kettle immediately began whistling madly under the daemon's fierce heat. Granny bustled over humming softly, cutting off the rest of the living flame's angry retort as she snagged the copper vessel from his flames with a poker.
“Oh what a pretty fire,” She murmured softly with a loving smile. Her words managed to completely deflate the little spark as she filled a tea pot. Shan had a smug look on his face as Markl orbited closer to his brother.
“Akarshan!” the Wallmaker's eldest apprentice scolded with a stern frown.
“He started it,” Shan replied casually as he looked away, smoothing his raven-hair unnecessarily. Howl did the same thing when he was nervous or guilty.
“You should be grateful for all that Calcifer does for us!” Markl continued as he planted his hands on his hips, falling into the same timber of voice he heard Sophie use when she reprimanded her children. But it was lost on his little brother, who rolled his eyes at the impending lecture. The russet-haired apprentice felt a surge of anger over his young brother's dismissive behavior. The little boy could be so like Howl sometimes it made him want to spit. The brown-eyed young man knew it would do no good to lead his brother directly to reason; like his father, Shan did not take well to lectures. But Markl did not have any intentions of letting his brother get away with his rude behavior. A lesson would be learned, even if he had to take the long way to deliver it.
“Do you know why mother doesn't like to use magic unless she absolutely has to?”
The lanky young man ceased to circuit the room and loomed over his brother. Akarshan settled back on the couch with a frown, surprised by Markl's bad mood and the strange question. But his older brother paused as Granny handed them each a cup of tea from the service tray that sat on the edge of the fireplace. She winked at them both as she dropped an extra lump of sugar into their mugs and tottered off to her chair calling to Heen.
“No,” Shan replied hesitantly after a moment, realizing Markl was still staring at him with a quickly intensifying frown. Obviously he expected an answer.
“Maybe because she's the only one in his family with any manners!?” Cal snapped unpleasantly from the fireplace, rubbing his forehead with a thin tendril of flame. The russet-haired boy flashed the living flame a contrite smile, but quickly returned his attention to the six-year-old.
“Where does magic come from, Akarshan?” Markl asked in a way a teacher drills his student. Howl may be the master of magic in the Jenkins family, but his apprentice did most of his brother's teaching.
“The otherworld,” Shan replied automatically, preening over his quick response.
“How does it get into our world?” The Wallmaker's apprentice continued. The little boy went to open his mouth to speak, but with a look of consternation he realized he did not know. However, Shan hunkered down and looked at Markl expectantly, blowing on his tea to cool it, knowing his brother was about to tell him.
“Think of the rocks we saw in the side of the mountain by Star Lake. You remember, the ones with the ferns on them, because water was coming out of the cliff? Deep in the mountain there is a huge underground lake. It trickles through little nooks and cracks until it comes out of the ground. Trickles become streams, streams turn to rivers, which feed lakes and oceans. Think of the otherworld as a vast underground lake of magic that exists just beyond the edges of our world.”
“But how does it get here?” Shan piped curiously, cowing as Markl gave him a look that said he intended to tell him if he would stop interrupting.
“Magic comes from life, Shan, and everything lives in one way or another. Everything has a connection to the otherworld. In the same way that the nooks and crannies in the rocks let the water through the mountain, living things allows magic to seep into this realm from beyond the indigo veil. That means everything is magic: me, you, the castle, animals, rocks, and the ocean.”
“Rocks aren't alive!” Shan suddenly disputed incredulously.
“And how do you know?” Calcifer crackled irritably from the hearth, still miffed with the little boy. “Have you ever sat down and talked to one? Ever bothered to take a good look at a boulder?”
Shan's brow furrowed as he considered that, but turned his attention back to Markl as his brother began to speak again.
“Think of it this way. Especially old things have a lot of magic in them, like rocks and trees and rivers. After a while they take on a life of their own, like people.”
“You're talking about daemons aren't you?” Shan cut in and Markl sighed, giving up on asking the boy to remain silent. The small raven-haired boy was obsessed by daemons as of recent, probably because of his sister. It had only been two days, but the six-year-old had been constantly hounding him with questions about the spirits.
“Yes, that's right. Daemons are some of the oldest living things in our world. They have a foot in both worlds so to speak; what I mean is they're so full of magic that they can move between the mortal realm and the otherworld. It also means that they can make things happen using their power. It is because of the magic that daemons bring to this world that Witches and Wizards can do sorcery. We have our own internal stores of power, but sometimes that's not enough. Sorcerers can also borrow magic from daemons to make things happen. In fact, you may not know it, but daemons are helping us all the time simply by existing. For example, who is flying the castle right now? Who is keeping it in the air?”
“Calcifer,” Shan replied in a quiet voice, his pale face flushed with shame.
“Don't you think you owe someone an apology?”
“I'm sorry, Calcifer. Is you're head okay?” Shan spoke in a small voice, turning to peer at the little ember, who flickered a mild yellow color in the hearth.
“S'okay, kid,” the flame mumbled sleepily, “I shouldn't be so hard on your sister. She just freaks me out.”
“Markl,” Shan asked in a distracted voice as he turned to regard his brother with big blue eyes, “If everyone is magic, why isn't everyone a wizard?”
Howl's eldest son looked at the ceiling to mask his perplexed expression, “Have you ever heard the story about how the otherworld came to be?”
“Yes! Papa told me it a lot of times. I made him a crystal charm that shows a picture of the star daemon who talks to me in my dreams.”
“You see him too?” Markl stared at his brother, frowning sharply, remembering the strange dream he shared with his sister the previous night. But he brushed by that coincidence to continue his explanation. “Magi are supposed to be the descendents of the star twin who stayed in the mortal realm.”
“Oh! Now I get it!” Shan squealed as he stood on the couch and began clapping his hands. Calcifer groaned in the hearth and wedged his head under a frying pan. “That means witches and wizards are part daemon. That's why we can go to the otherworld, and that's why we can use magic.”
The russet-haired apprentice blinked rapidly. He had never made that connection before. Suddenly several things clicked into place within his head, and all he could do was stare at the black-haired little boy.
“Hey, that means that Dreidre and I are still twins. She's a daemon and I'm a daemon. I just wish she weren't so much bigger than me. I never win any wrestling matches.”
“I'm afraid it's not as simple as that, Shan,” Markl replied solemnly, his mind working furiously as he sipped his tea, which had been forgotten in his hand. The tall young man settled next to his brother, deep in thought as the little boy wiggled restlessly.
“Calcifer, Heen's a daemon, right?”
“Yeah, he used to be. Now he's just a fat useless dog,” Calcifer crackled from the ashes, sending a sly look at the little creature who was curled up in Granny's lap. Heen cracked an eye to meet the living flame's gaze with a bland expression, and wheezed softly before returning to sleep. The old witch was clicking her needles together furiously, in spite of the fact she was dosing lightly.
“How come I can understand what you say and not what Heen does?” Akarshan half demanded, as he rounded on the living ember.
Calcifer gave a chattering-pop and flickered a ruddy color, which was a good indication the little boy had surprised the fire daemon, “That's a rather personal question, kid.”
“Is it because papa ate you?” The raven-haired Howl clone pestered the flame persistently, leaning off of the couch to peer at the daemon.
“Didn't I just say it was a private matter?” Cal snapped nastily, a bit of tooth showing as he regarded the boy through narrowed eyes.
“You're part human now, aren't you Cal? That's why you speak people and not daemon,” Sometimes the boy's intuition was a bit too much for his own good; just like a certain silver haired someone.
For just an instant Calcifer turned the brightest bubble-gum pink Markl had ever seen; which told him without a doubt that it was true. Then the living flame flickered into a dark black-purple, looking for a moment like he was about to explode. At that same moment the front door tore open and the otherwind came blowing into the house as Deirdre lunged through the archway. Markl nearly dropped his tea cup because the velvet sky of the otherworld showed through the archway for an instant before the door closed. However, the dial on the wall was still pointed to Kingsbury.
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT!” Calcifer snarled up from the hearth, pelting the Wallmaker's sons with soot and embers.
Deirdre retorted what must have been a nasty reply; but he couldn't understand her words, which were in a strange language that sounded like a chorus of chiming metal bells. Calcifer once again went pink with surprise, and shrank small into the ashes. The language in which she spoke made Markl's insides shiver and quake, and Heen issued a squeak as he went flying from Granny's lap.
“Where's Sophie!?” The russet-haired youth demanded as he recovered himself.
But Deirdre literally flew through the living room and up the stairs, favoring one of her arms. She did not look at them, and the wind of her passing stirred the pages of the books he had left open on the table.
“What happened, sister?” Shan called anxiously trying to chase after her, but Markl held him back. An uncomfortable squirrelly feeling was twisting in his chest. Something was about to happen. The door under the stairs, which was also the portal to Market Chipping, suddenly burst open. Sophie literally erupted into the room wearing a crackling nimbus of mercurial fire.
“Dierdre!” Sophie shouted at the ceiling. Markl didn't think he had ever seen his mother this angry, and he flinched as the small woman turned her blazing brown eyes to regard her sons.
“Rooms! Now!” She commanded. As her sons dropped their tea cups and fled for their lives Calcifer went straight up the flue.
“Oh, what a lively evening,” Granny mumbled to herself, and continued to knit without a missing a stitch.
“DEIRDRE!” Sophie shouted louder this time, and her voice split the silence in the castle like a thunder clap.
The sun fled the room as the walls and floor of the castle groaned and creaked, warping around the woman's fury. A door overhead opened, and soft steps echoed down the hallway. Drie came to a seat halfway down the stairs, her deathly pale face peering at her mother through the banister. The silver sorceress stabbed a finger at the ground, indicating she expected her girl to stand before her. But Sophie had to look up at the child-woman, who was almost as tall as her husband. It was difficult to remember that the woman before her was just a little girl. In spite of the fact that her daughter appeared exactly the silver sorceress' age, Drie was barely more than six-years-old. She already acted much older than her twin because of all she had seen and suffered. But the former hatter was beyond anger at that moment, and forgot herself in her irrationality
“A man is dead,” The Wallmaker's wife spoke each word slowly.
“And so is a daemon!” Deirdre snapped angrily, fire flickering in her blue eyes for a moment. But that was not the best reply she could have given, and Sophie stared at her daughter in horror. The child-woman looked away, her face hot and red with shame; she couldn't bear the expression on her mother's face.
“What happened?” She heard the woman whisper, but she didn't say a word. She couldn't tell her mother about Door. It was horrible, but Drie didn't trust humans anymore. She was afraid. She knew if she did tell her mother about the other, the red ones would hunt her down and kill her just like they did the soot daemon. Door protected her. They hadn't done anything wrong.
“What did you do!?” Sophie screamed.