Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 5: Night ( Chapter 5 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 5: Night
“What did you do!?” Sophie screamed, rousing the half-daemon from her confusion.
“Don't yell at Drie, mommy!” Shan yelled, suddenly coming tearing down the stairs to stand on the landing. There were tears on his face.
“Akarshan!” Markl called as he rushed down after his brother and scooped the struggling boy into his arms.
“Get back upstairs this instant!” The silver sorceress shouted at her sons. But they remained rooted in place as Drie finally spoke.
“They killed the little soot spirit, mother! They sent him to the burned place beyond the Wall.” The girl-woman was shaking as she spoke in a voice full of horror.
“What about the Dull Wall?” Sophie's face showed her terror of the barrier plainly. But the half-daemon continued.
Suddenly, the words spilled from the half-daemon. The girl held forward her arm, and drew back the sleeve showing the strange puncture wound stunning the silver sorceress into silence.
“The red one, the human wizard, the one with the mirror and the bell; it rang for me. The soldier shot me mother! They tried to kill me, to send me to the burned place! They're sending all of my kind to that place!”
“Deirdre,” The brown-eyed woman spoke through her fingers, gazing in consternation at the mark on her arm. The bullet gleamed in the light. “You're not a monster. You're just…”
The silver witch trailed off as she realized what she was going to say. But her strange daughter knew exactly what had remained unspoken. The words burned as though her mother had slapped her. It was like the ground opened up beneath her, and she plunged into dark despair. They did think she was a monster, her mother and her brothers. They hung back from her as though they thought she was going to eat them, just like Door ate the man. She heard herself speaking, but it was like she was watching from outside of herself.
“Cursed?” She demanded in the human language, although her words garbled and stretched as she felt her shape change. But Drie had no control over herself; the body in which she was trapped was a stranger's. Her sight changed, as the blue of her eyes went black and fathomless. Her mortal senses melted away as the daemon within her took hold. She felt the horror on their faces more than she saw it, as she loomed upwards. It was plain in their eyes, just as she could smell the pungent metallic blood smell of their fear. When she spoke again it was in the language of daemons, which was thick with despair.
I'm not cursed, mother. THIS IS WHO I AM!
Sophie stumbled back from the great boiling column of indigo that reared up before her, a scream issuing unbidden from her lips. It was the same creature that had caught her in the darkness of the Council Chamber. The memories in her mind loomed as large as her daemon daughter's words echoed painfully in her head. But Markl pushed in front of his mother and brother as Calcifer darted to hover above the apprentice's head. Together they flashed with violet light, as a great circle of purple erupting from beneath them. The banishing magic burned Drie since she was too close, but it shocked the girl out of her turmoil. Drie fell backwards and when she hit the floor she was human again. Stumbling to her feet, the Wallmaker's daughter turned wordlessly from her family and fled.
She rushed to the front door and randomly turned the knob to pink, and disappeared out into the sunset.
Door emerged from a random doorway in the line of townhouses that propagated in the streets of Market Chipping just in time to see the robin-colored soldiers go storming into the green mother's old house.
There was an earth shattering moment when shots rang out from within the building. The daemon experienced a fit of rage simultaneously as a cold sensation she identified as fear caused a strange weakness in her knees. She was forced her to sit mad with worry. Was the other safe?! Door wildly vacillated the opposite direction as she was seized mad frustration. Why did she care? Why was she still here? Why had she even bothered to come? But it took every ounce of control the daemon could muster to not go charging back into the building. She knew the silver sister was safe; she tasted the otherwind on her tongue a moment before the guns had exploded. However, it was not because of the other that she lingered.
Silver mother was alive.
Seeing the little brown-eyed human come charging in through the front door had shocked Door so completely that she had fled through a portal on mere instinct. Again the feeling of intense pressure twisted within her chest; it was tight and hot and left the half-daemon feeling giddy. But it was not entirely painful. It was because of this emotion that she had come to the aid of the other. Door felt it wash through her as she held the silver sister in her arms. It was because of this same feeling that she stayed. With it came a sense of longing so compelling she had to flee down the street a ways to prevent herself from entering the house just to see the silver mother again.
Green mother would be very angry with her if she knew where she was.
But Door didn't care. It was strange, when she was just a daemon, it hadn't mattered to her in the slightest what Danna did. However, now that she was half-human it had not taken her long to realize just how insane Green mother was. Just as mad if not more so than the twisted kin that lived in the burned place beyond the hungry Wall. The fact filled her with such a strong aversion she experienced an odd sensation that made her feel sick. The half-daemon knew that she should bring the woman beyond the Wall and leave her, but that would mean death for the mortal. Ever ounce of her daemon instincts told her she should kill the weak faded human, but she couldn't. ? Green mother had power over her through the broken place inside her. The cold woman exercised an awful control over the chimera that even she could not disregard.
Door had been forced to ride a mortal's body in order to escape the burned place. She had resided in the other for a long time as well and never once had she felt an aversion to the idea of a shared existence. But now, trapped in this human flesh, the creature was desperate to keep the new found liberty of freewill. It was because of this new self-love that she feared the one who had helped her escape from beyond the Dull Wall. Door was more terrified of Danna than of the scorched plains. She did not understand any of what the human said to her. What did she care of prophecies and mortal vengeance? But the mortal woman forced her feel and see things that made her become someone else. They twisted her mind with pain and loss and then sent her to a place of black oblivion far wore than the burned place.
She hid from green mother because the daemon feared that one day she would not come back from the nothingness.
Door was dragged back to her senses as she watched the silver sorceress emerge from the house and rocket into the sky on shining feathered wings. This gave her a start. Was the silver mother daemon kin? The tall chimera blinked and looked after the woman with her othersense, tasting the smell of her magic in the manner an animal scents another's mark. It was a strange mixture of the bright tangy aroma that colored the newborn lights that marked the existence of mortals, but intertwined with it was the dusky resonating hues of the ancients. It was that same smell that brought her attention back to the streets around her. True daemons approached.
So the little soot brother was not the only of her kin to dwell in this place of mortals.
Door swiftly gained her feet and strode down the side walk ignoring the scandalized looks primly dressed woman shot at her thin shift and bare legs. As soon as she caught sight of an entrance to an alley, the half-daemon careened down the passage into the narrow dark world between the human's dwellings. She frightened a scruffy looking cat, who hissed at her viciously and fled as Door entertained thoughts of another meal. But the daemon was very full at that moment and the lusty bite of her hunger remained silent in her belly. She cast her eyes about; there were no windows here, and from the dusty empty smell that permeated the passage nor did it appear that mortals frequented this place. It was here that the other daemons approached her.
Brown water suddenly seeped out of a gutter and ran up one of the alley walls defying all commonsense. Something akin to a face emerged from the churning bubbles that split to blink fathomless eyes on her direction. One of the trash heaps shuddered and gathered itself up into a huge limbed golem of stinking refuse; in its shadow a tiny fleet of soot daemons surged and chattered softly. Out of the rafters that sloped low overhead a bit of yellow fire gathered like a pinwheel of color that resolved into a floating will-o-the-wisp.
Be you kindred, outsider? The trash golem's thoughts rumbled like churning granite boulders in her mind.
Smells like kindred, but looks like mortal! Whispered the light in a feminine voice that breezed around her like the warm western wind. The tone was playful, although the words insulting. Door blinked her eyes, which turned to night and she thrummed menacingly. Her hands resolved into obsidian claws as she stared at the lamp light, which darted behind the trash golem.
I see daemon claws beneath this mortal's flesh. She is kindred. Bubbled the water on the wall in a cheery voice.
I am the Door. What do you want? The other replied with barbed thoughts.
We flee to the wastes so the red ones do not catch us, Chimed a chorus of voices from the colony of soot daemons that twisted around the trash heaps ankles.
The red ones hunt us all, not just the mad cousins. Gurgled the water spirit. We seek the Ancients.
What makes you think the old ones care for us? Door replied nastily.
Some do. Some will fight. The light sang as she whirled like a kaleidoscope of balmy yellow hues.
The mortals unbalance this world and the next. Grumbled the golem. The truce is broken and the ancients must choose lest we all go to the burned place.
Come with us, sister. The water on the wall sang hopefully. Staying means only death.
Door was about to answer when an excruciating pain blossomed within her chest as though she had been stabbed. The chimera staggered, clutching at herself as a mournful moan issued from her. The green mother called and there was nothing in her power she could do to refuse. Even though she was no longer tied to the broken body of the mortal whose blood Danna used to release her from beyond the Wall, Door was bound by the terms of their bargain.
Flee, kindred. The silver-haired woman sent with a ragged sob that bleed through her thoughts like a dark ink blot. You are right. The mortals have gone mad and they will kill us all!
With that, Door was involuntarily swallowed by a portal that opened beneath her feet.
The high moors were silent and serene until the door to the tiny house flew open.
As the portal slammed shut it flushed several birds roosting in the shingles up into the mellow sherbet sunset that colored the sky in rosy hues. Deirdre stumbled on the narrow path through the rolling fields of sweet smelling flowers. Blinded by tears, she fell several times, but for some reason she knew exactly where she was going. As she rounded a hill, a scattering of high alpine lakes reflected the darkening sky. Nestled on the shores of one of the larger ponds was a small cottage with a merrily turning water wheel. Again she fell on the steep side of the hummock, twisting her ankle painfully and jarring her injured am as she sprawled into a patched of honey scented lupine.
“Door!” She cried mournfully to the sky as he held her arm. But no on answered.
DOOR! She cried again with her othervoice, but still there was silence. The daemon was far from her sister and could not hear her. She was alone, completely and utterly alone. A chill wind blew across the high moors of the wastes as the sky faded slowly into night. However, the girl did not feel the cold. She could have walked barefoot through miles of snow and not felt a thing. Wearily, Deirdre gained her feet and trudged the rest of the way down the path to the cottage, trailing her sorrow like a veil of shadows behind her. Several flower daemons and a lake spirit watched her curiously from a distance, but the silver-haired girl ignored them. As she plopped down on the bench in front of the little house, she began to wail hopelessly.
She wasn't sure how long she cried, but it was a long time because when the numbness replaced her tears it was completely dark. Here the sky was much bluer than in the otherworld, where the indigo firmament had more of a violet color. Stars winked in the crystal clear heaven above and a full moon began to peak over the eastern horizon. Drie could not remember the last time she looked at the stars, and the numbness faded into a sense of peace. It was quiet here, and she listened to the gentle gurgle of the pond as it turned the water wheel, the wooden gates opening and closing with a flopping click. This place was far away from humans and their problems. Rather, how complicated her world had become.
She pushed away all thoughts and turned her sapphire eyes back to stare at the jeweled sky.
One of the stars pulsed brightly, its light spinning like a top amongst its lazy cousins. Drie peered at it curiously and then stood as it seemed to sparkle larger in the sky. Coming forward off of the stone patio that lined the front of the cottage, the child-woman ran out along the shore of the pond and realized the light was indeed growing larger. All of a sudden it shuddered and broke free of its place, arcing lower as it fell from the eastern sky right above the moon. The awe the Wallmaker's daughter experienced suddenly turned to terror as she realized the light was heading straight for her at a swift speed. But there was no time to move. The star plunged towards the wastes trailing behind it like a tail of shimmering pastel light. The shooting star crashed into the surface of the pond, sending up a huge plume of white magnesium fire that showered the shore with sparkling embers. Shielding her eyes against the light and the wind that coursed across the hills, Deirdre watched as out of the fire came a twisting ball of light that skipped across the surface of the lake. The star daemon lost its momentum just as it tumbled to a halt on the green grass right in front of the blue-eyed woman.
The tiny being of light and fire uncurled its trembling limbs and struggled to stand, flickering weakly. Without a second thought, the silver sorceress' daughter reached towards it, offering help in a way no human could. But as she approached the creature stood and let out a mellifluous cry that echoed with endless magic; in that moment a wondrous thing happened. The creature stretched upwards, the sparkling edges of its filmy form expanding to take on a human shape. It struggled for a moment, as though it did not know quite what to become.
It shuddered and solidified. Suddenly a man stood before Deirdre, wrapped in a cloak that look like it was cut from the cloth of the velvet sky beyond the indigo veil. The stranger was taller than her father, if that was possible, although just as thin. The star daemon's face was beautiful, almost like a woman's if not for the hard angles of his jaw. His skin was as tanned as his hair was light; although it was not a flat grey of Drie's. It was stark white tinted with mellow hues like the star fire that had exploded over the lake. As he looked at her his gaze was fathomless, just as Door's had been. But then the man-daemon blinked and his eyes became the most intense shade of violet.
“Who are you?” Deirdre whispered as she stared at him.
The man frowned at her words, looking confused as if he didn't understand her. Every emotion he felt showed plainly on his face as though he were not familiar with any of them. He blinked rapidly and it appeared her words finally made sense to him. The stranger smiled brightly, a look that would have melted a mortal woman's heart. Then he spoke with the slowness of a person unaccustomed to language. In spite of the fact that he stumbled over his words, the man did speak them; instead he sang them. The mellow timber of his voice rang sonorously in Deirdre's ears, resonating like a great golden bell.
“Nox,” he replied serenely, placing a hand on his chest while inclining his head. The man-daemon gestured with fluid grace towards the sky, his words flowing haltingly like a punctuated rhythm of a song, “I fell… to help.”
All of a sudden the Wallmaker's daughter realized she knew this spirit. He was the elder star that helped her mother beyond the indigo veil. She stared at Nox with her other sense and realized he was half human.
Just like her.
The sun had set by the time Howl reached the Kingsbury portal that lead back to his castle.
The Wallmaker practically tore the door from the hinges as he came thundering into the house. The first thing he head was Sophie's crying and his knees almost would not carry him up the front stairs. Granny witch was seated on the couch comforting his silver haired wife, who was curled up like a child at the faded old woman's feet. The mother of the castle was hiding her face in the former witch of the waste's lap, sobbing so bitterly she was trembling. Heen had cuddled up against the little woman's legs and the fat dog thumped his tail, turning large eyes to regard the lanky raven-haired man. Calcifer was green with worry, perched on the very edge of the hearth. The living flame gave a chittering-pop as he caught sight of Howl, flushing a ruddy orange as he started up into the air.
“The children?” The keeper of the balance demanded hoarsely.
“We're fine,” Markl's disembodied voice spoke suddenly from halfway down the stairwell. Both he and Akarshan faded into view as they emerged from under the apprentice's cloak of many patches. Howl sagged in relief and almost sat right there on the stairs.
“Get back in your rooms!” Sophie all but shrieked around Granny Witch's skirts.
The entire living room darkened and trembled, rattling a couple of pans from the shelves. The boys fled their mother's earthquake with wide-eyed terror. Calcifer made a cross-eyed grimace and shrank back into the hearth regarding the woman warily. Howl had heard his wife raise her voice to their sons in that manner only a few times in their life together. Sophie was not a delicate woman, nor was she prone to emotional distress. Indeed, she was one of the strongest and most level-headed people he had ever met. Something horrible must have happened that to make her fall apart to such an extent. Howl couldn't bear hearing her cry with such hopeless abandon. Just the sound of it made him want to break something.
“You should take her, dearie. You might have more luck than I,” Granny Witch smiled at him sadly.
The Wallmaker started forward. He kneeled next to Heen, taking a moment to pat the dog before gently attempting to extricate the silver sorceress from the old woman's skirts. She fought his hands blindly, still shaking like a lone leaf in winter.
“Where's Deirdre?” He asked Granny, who frowned at him with uncharacteristic seriousness and made a shushing noise. But it was too late. Sophie took in a ragged breath and began weeping with renewed vigor.
“I'm a horrible mother!” She wailed at the ceiling as she surfaced from Granny's lap. Howl couldn't help but laugh out loud, it was possibly the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard his wife say. As husband and wife, Sophie was often the loadstone of their lives, her consistency brought the swinging pendulum of his moods into balance. His heart swelled with infinite love for the little brown-eyed woman and he was glad to know that he could do the same for her.
“Forgive me for being contrary, Mrs. Witch, but you are possibly the best mother in the entire world,” The raven-haired replied with shining eyes. The silver haired woman mastered herself enough to realize her husband was sitting on the floor next to her, leaning jauntily against the edge of the hearth.
“Howl?” She mumbled between sniffs, peering at him with eyes red and swollen from crying. Sophie's hair was a mess, her nose was running, and she had the appearance of a squashed tomato, but to him she had never looked lovelier. The handsome wizard smiled dazzlingly and fished a lacy monogrammed handkerchief from one of his sleeves. Making a great show of it, he delivered it to the mother of his children with a graceful flick of his wrist. Sophie took it and unceremoniously honked her nose into it rather loudly. She smiled weakly as Heen scuttled to his feet and licked at her face.
“Better?” He asked brightly, turning his head to the side to peer at the silver haired woman. But she seemed to shrink inward under his eyes.
“No. Deirdre…” She whispered but her voice failed as a flood of tears once again threatening to fall.
In a single movement Howl cast off his great checkered coat and scooped her up into his arms. The Wallmaker carried the Sorceress of the Silver Flame up the stairs with swift steps to their bedroom. In transit he noticed the door to Sophie's old chamber was wide open. It was Deirdre's room now. The first day home the wizard brought up an entire bucket of multi-colored chalk making a great deal of telling his daughter he would expand it and make it look exactly as she wanted it. But the tall child-woman had giggled and shyly declined her father's offer. Then Drie hugged him so hard he felt his sternum pop. She said it was perfect the way it was. Howl noticed the chamber was dark and empty. As they passed it Sophie began to cry again, her tears hot and wet on his neck. A cold knot of fear twisted beneath his heart.
Pushing open the door to their room, the faint smell of roses, hyacinth and a pinging chorus of chimes greeted them. The Wallmaker had to stoop to deposit his wife onto their perfectly made albeit tilted bed. It slanted a bit more under Sophie's weight. One of the feet broke that morning and the silver-haired woman had propped it up on a pile of bricks. Silly witch, Howl thought while kicking off his shoes, she could have just ensorcelled it back to normal. But Sophie hardly ever used her magic unless she had to. He untied his wife's boots as she hid her face in their pillows and pulled off the thick grey socks granny witch knitted for her. The old witch had tried to making her blue ones once, but they all mysteriously turned a humble hue once on his wife's legs. The silver haired woman didn't even twitch as he mischievously tickled one of her small bare feet. Settling next to her, the lanky man wrapped his arms around her and tucked her head under his chin.
It didn't take long before the words came spilling out of his wife.
Howl had learned many things about the brown-eyed woman over the years of their marriage. Sophie never burdened others with her troubles until her silence became unbearable. She always told all eventually. And as she did the Wallmaker recalled the appointment he scheduled for his foot with the King Ferdinand. Or perhaps the window? Howl couldn't decide. However, the bells and mobiles over them began pinging and twirling wildly, reacting to the silent fury that welled up within the cerulean eyed sorcerer. They pointed guns at Sophie. They tried to banish Deirdre beyond the Dull Wall. Today had not been a good day for any of them.
Perhaps they all should have stayed in bed.
“A soldier is dead. The wizard said that a daemon ate him,” Sophie whispered into his shirt, pressing her face against him so fiercely that the buttons left an imprint in her cheek as she lifted her head to regard her husband, eyes wide with horror. “Deirdre would'nt... She couldn't!”
And if she had Howl would not have blamed her. It was an evil thought but one a father could not help but feel. The soldiers were following orders, just like the wizard guard. But that was no excuse for not thinking. Was a soot daemon really a threat? Or had the young sorcerer been unable to sort the lingering threads of Mrs. Danna's magic from the little spirit. However, he should not judge to hastily. If he had been there, the Wallmaker was not sure he could have restrained himself either. Howl decided that was not the most appropriate answer at this point in time.
“There might have been many daemons in that house,” He replied smoothly, gently brushing his wife's wild hair from her face, “There's no telling what Danna kept locked up in her cellar.”
That seemed to give his wife some peace, albeit fleeting. Her face twisted with sorrow before she hid under his chin, clinging to him weakly as the words came once more. Howl managed to remain relaxed, giving the impression of calm composure as she told him what happened in the kitchen downstairs, describing in detail what their daughter became. The Wallmaker had been half-daemon for a long time himself because of the self-inflicted sorrow curse in which he had been trapped. And then he remembered the bells. He and Calcifer were still very close and he reflected on how easily they had merged to destroy the wrath daemons in the shield room. Perhaps the connection lingered; not that it mattered. The fire daemon was the wizard's best friend in spite of all the nasty words they shared. Their family already included one daemon; it would not be hard to make room for another.
“Why can't I do anything right? First, I cracked the spire and now my daughter has run away because of me,” Sophie mumbled morosely and then let out a ragged sigh.
“Sophie, he spire was not your fault. This is a difficult time for all of us, dear heart, us just as much as Drie. We're doing the best we can,” He replied soothingly.
“When she changed, she looked just like the thing from the Council Chamber that brought me to the Wall. She's so strange and it's awful of me, but she frightens me, Howl.”
“I'm sure she's just as confused and frightened by herself, dear heart. Besides, Deirdre knows you love her; mothers are supposed to yell at their children sometimes. At least you don't throw furniture,” Howl replied with gentle humor and he felt the little woman relax in his arms. As if sensing the question her husband held back, the silver sorceress spoke as she rolled over onto her back, undoing the travesty her braid had become.
“She went into the wastes via the pink mark.”
“Ah… the cottage.”
“What if it snows!? We can't leave her out there alone; she's just a little girl!” Howl could not help but smile at the idea of snow in June.
“No, she's not a little girl anymore. I know it's hard and perhaps a little cruel, but I'm afraid we can't treat her as such. This world will not see her as a child, and it would be a grave disservice to give her such mixed messages.”
Howl could tell that his wife did not agree with him by the way she set her jaw and stared at the night sky outside the window overhead. However, she must not have felt like arguing because kept her peace.
“Right now I think Deirdre needs space. I'll check on her in the morning,” the Wallmaker continued softly.
The handsome man propped himself up on one hand so he could smooth the other over Sophie's long silver hair. It was so good to be with her again, surrounded by her clean linen scent, feeling the warmth of her body tucked against his own. It was easy to forget that she had ever been gone. Sometimes it rattled him how easily he had given up. Besides the might of love, his wife had taught him another truth: the power of hope. Leaning down, he tenderly kissed the crown of her head vowing never to forget the lessons of his heart. Suddenly, she turned toward him; regarding him with brown-eyes so full of love they were fierce. Reaching up, his wife gently brushed the grey at his temples; the wizard had never gotten around to dyeing it back.
Howl worried about the bed's broken leg, but only for a moment.
Between worlds the vast gloom was calm and spiral around her lazily. Not at all like the horrible nothingness that consumed her when the green mother pushed her out of her body. But she was not allowed to linger here; the half-human plunged through another gate and dropped back into the mortal realm. It was a dark of a different kind here, stuffy and close making the chimera feel trapped. Through the dirty windows of the house she could see that twilight was beginning to color the sky over the ocean in rosy hues. How pretty, she thought and then entertained a puzzled moment trying to understand the concept of pretty. But her enjoyment was fleeting as a figure stirred in a chair across the room. Mrs. Danna sat forward into the light and clutched at something unseen in her fist. Door let out a strangled gasp and stumbled forward, sinking meekly to her knees in front of the cold woman.
“Where have you been?” A voice that burned like ice asked evenly.
“I was hungry,” the half daemon whispered, avoiding the human's cold grey eyes.
It was peculiar; Door had never before feared this woman until now. It was ridiculous because the mortal had no magic nor did she wield the strength of the mad kindred beyond the Wall. But just the sound of her voice struck terror into the daemon's heart and made her knees weak. Danna's sharp presence invaded her mind and the half-human scrambled madly to hide everything that had happen save eating the blue-garbed mortal man. Apparently she was successful because the former daemon queen chuckled darkly, a humorless sound that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
“You ate another human, Door? A solider from the Royal Ingarian Army… How fortuitous.”
Green mother had forced her to eat the elderly couple that lived in this house high above the village of Porthaven. She had not even hesitated, although moments after the daemon felt a new emotion she had never before encountered: guilt.
Humans were so bizarre. Daemons killed to eat and to protect themselves. Silver sister said killing was wrong, and yet mortals murdered each other every day. And Door did not feel the slightest regret over having eaten the soldier who shot the other. However, the chimera began to understand mortals were driven by motives other than hunger and survival. In retrospect, she realized the old ones had not provoked her in any way and there was no reason to kill them. The complications plagued her, she had never had to think about things like this when she was a daemon. Door quickly learned the difference between the mortals and the ancients: spirits were creatures of pure action, whereas humans dwindled over thoughts and feelings. But she was torn from her philosophical turmoil as the grey-eyed woman voice that echoed through the room.
“Change!” She commanded and again her hand twisted.
Door let out a yelp and then her skin faded into the twisting dark matter that substantiated her daemon form. But even that melted away as she solidified into a tall lantern-jawed you man wearing a sharply tailored red and blue uniform. Mrs. Danna surveyed her with cold eyes bright with glee and she chuckled again.
“Excellent! Since you seem to have taken a liking to mortal flesh I have someone else for you to eat. Wear that form to Kingsbury, no one will be able to tell you apart from the other soldiers. Make sure you steer clear of the Wizards Guards, they'll be dressed in red.”
“Who?” Door asked curiously in the male's deep baritone, shuddering involuntarily. She did not like the feel of the mortal man's skin. She found the hairy human men ugly and repulsive. Plus, their smell was foul. She much preferred her long white limbs and thin curves; plus her hair was shiny.
“The Wallmaker's brother has a wife with long black hair and green eyes. Her name is Martha. Kill her.”
Danna spit out the woman's name as though it were a poisonous thing, Door could see the hate plain in the cold woman's eyes; and perhaps a touch of fear? The daemon did not understand why green mother despised the herbalist, but she felt that same unwarranted loathing for the tall one, the Wallmaker. Was it because he looked like the other tall one who had killed green mother's husband and son? She mentally shook herself; it was becoming vexing how often her thoughts were clouded by the mortal obsession of understanding.
It didn't really matter why. For some reason the former daemon queen had a powerful need to extinguish this mortal. Perhaps she threatened her in some way. That must be it because the green mother had attempted to murder the Royal Wizard's wife twice before. There had been the mirror; Door herself had written the cursed mark in addition to coercing a dimwitted magician into taking the blame. Then there were the puppet daemons, she and the other had been forced to let through the Wall and send to the herbalist's shop. She remembered how her stomach had turned at the thick smell of agrimony in the shop. But who knew why the green mother did anything. She was crazy, always mumbling about prophecies and revenge. Perhaps there was no reason in anything she did.
But wait! Wasn't the herbalist silver mother's sister? Indeed, she dredged through the jumbled collection of fragmented memories that were not her own and found the dark haired woman. Silver mother loved her sister very much; just like she loved the other. Turmoil erupted in the daemon once more. It was definitely wrong to eat this one, she was sure of it.
“Why?” Door asked, half stalling for more time to think.
“Since when do daemons ask why?” Danna's voice was quietly dangerous. Even though the half-human knew the cold woman was too weak to even stand, she shrank back from the chair as the male husk faded from her.
“What if I say no,” The chimera replied in a voice that trembled in spite of the fact that the ancient within her railed in disgust at her frailty.
“You are mine, Door. I brought you into this world and I can easily send you back to the burned place,” The force behind threat was enough to send the chimera's mind blank with white panic. The daemon was still, and Danna mistakenly took her silence to indicate assent.
“There's something else. You must find the silver knife; you know which one I'm talking about. Bring it to me. Now leave!”
The command twisted in Door's mind like the violent despair that seized the silver-haired woman. What should she do? What could she do? But the half-human's thoughts fled her as she faded into nothing through a portal that erupted unbidden beneath her feet.
Well into the dim hours of the morning, Markl crept out of his room.
The russet haired boy had long since ceased being self-conscious about prying into matters that did not concern him. Well… at least when he didn't get caught he wasn't embarrassed. But how else was he supposed to figure out what was going on? Nobody ever told him about anything! And so, just as his Master kept the balance in the otherworld; the russet-haired boy tried to maintain the equilibrium in the mortal world by unceremoniously spying on his parents.
The young wizard crept down the stairs, listening intently to the silence in his parent's room. He noted sadly that Deirdre's door was open and her room empty; the brown-eyed young man felt sorry for his older sister. Drat! Younger sister; she was younger than he and it was very difficult to remember. Drie did not act at all like Shan, who was flighty and often very selfish in his thinking. But he had lived with Howl as a daemon, and the Wallmaker's apprentice made up his mind to try and be friendlier to the girl when she returned. He knew all to well what it was like to be cast off by the world.
He expected Calcifer to be glowing small and yellow in the grate. But instead the living flame was an anxious teal, perched on the edge of the hearth. Cal was staring in trepidation at Howl's coat, which was cast haphazardly onto the ground next to the couch. The fire daemon gave a chittering pop as he caught sight of Markl, half starting up into the air with surprise. But the young man quickly sensed what had been upsetting the glowing ember. There was something in Howl's coat and it smelled very odd.
“What are you doing up?” Cal asked nonchalantly.
“I could say the same to you,” Markl replied evenly.
Suddenly, Heen came shuffling out of Granny's room, eyeing both the young wizard and the fire daemon before scrabbling over to the couch. The fat little dog snuffled the checkered coat warily and then gave it a wheezing bark.
“He says its dangerous and we shouldn't bother it,” this was the first time Calcifer had ever translated for the dog and the fact that the two could communicate gave Markl as shock.
“Heen really is a daemon isn't he?” The young wizard gaped in awe as the little creature wagged his tail and gave another wheeze that sounded conspicuously like a chuckle.
“Of course he is! Do you think anyone in this family is normal? Hey? Hey! What do you think you're doing?” Calcifer crackled apprehensively as Markl pick up his master's coat and began riffling through the pockets. Heen gave a tiny yelp and went scrambling through the living through, disappearing under Granny Witch's curtains. The russet-haired boy sorted through pockets filled with frilly handkerchiefs and bits of colored glass until he discovered a tiny white envelope that smelled like leaves and dirt. The brown-eyed boy turned absolutely red as he recognized the writing. Calcifer managed to catch a glimpse of the note before the young boy shoved it into one of the pocket on his vest.
“So she's sending you love letters now, eh?” The fire daemon grinned toothily, enjoying watching the young man roast under his own embarrassment.
“Shut up, Cal. I haven't seen Theresa since the shield failed and I miss her,” Markl mumbled despondently as he counted three more handkerchiefs. Gods, how many did Howl have?! Suddenly he found the thing, rolled up and half crumpled in one of the jacket's great sleeves. Carefully, as though he were afraid it was going to bite him, the young wizard pulled out Councilor Raia's prophecy.
“Gah, that thing smells hideous!” Calcifer grimaced, tingeing a sour apple hue as he waved a thin tendril of flame in front of his face in all too human a motion. But Markl wasn't affected and began leafing through the few pages. The script was unknown to him, albeit oddly familiar. But the writing was a mess; it looked like someone had literally scrawled on the pages.
“I can't read it,” The Wallmaker's apprentice huffed crankily. His magical limitations were irksome at times. Calcifer flitted above his head, regarding the pages with frank interest. Suddenly he spun in the air and looked at the page upside down.
“That's because it's upside down and literally written backwards,” Cal replied mildly, “We need a mirror.”
Together the fire daemon and the young wizard carefully crept upstairs into Howl's workshop, where the only other looking glass in the house was located. Sophie had a strong aversion to mirrors and had since stripped the entire house of any glass that was not bolted to the wall. She had permitted the one in the family bathroom to remain, although it was often covered. But for Calcifer's sake, for the little flame abhorred any kind of humidity, it was not to the bath that the turned.
Howl's workshop was dark and the long shadows cast by the fire daemon's warm red light looked foreboding. Silent clouds whisked past them outside the large windows that lined the two side of the triangular shaped room. A large full moon showed to his left in the indigo blue firmament, which mean they must be heading south at the moment. The flying castle made a habitual lazy circuit from the skies above the wastes to Market Chipping, over Porthaven, to just west of Kingsbury and back north to the wastes again.
The workshop was very much the Wallmaker's domain, which was evident by the chaotic mess that spread throughout the chamber. Sophie never came in here. Markl remember the day not long after she had come to the castle that she tried to clean the room on one of her rampages. Every time she passed through the doorway she found herself once again in the hallway outside. After a while she gave up trying, finally deciding it Howl had a right to keep his own space in whatever condition the sorcerer liked. But the russet-haired boy was sure his mother would toss a fit if she saw the mess in the room. Large scraps of metal were lying about on any spare table, great boxes and chest of strange looking tools jutted from under every surface. Quills, wands, and bits of pencil poked from several tea cups his master had no doubt pilfered from the kitchen down stairs. Books were crammed on every shelf of the only wall without windows. Scattered about the room amongst scraps of paper and gigantic drawing of circle vectors were all manner of crystal, gems, and magical components: like feathers, colored string, and buckets upon buckets of chalk.
Suddenly Markl felt very much at home.
Against one of the corners, swathed in a sheet, was a large glass his master used for magical purposes and it was to this the Wallmaker's apprentice and the fire daemon turned their attention. Pulling back the cloth, Markl held the page up in front of the glass, turning it this way and that until the squiggling letters suddenly made sense to his eyes. Brightness filled the room as Calcifer flitted about lighting various candles that hung on chandeliers overhead. However, the world seemed to go very dark, pressing close to the young wizard as he read furiously. Blinding reaching for a scrap of paper and pen, the russet haired boy began feverishly translating the garbled mess in his neat hand. When he had finished reading, his face was white as a sheet.
Slowly, like cold water dripping in a freezing line down his spine, Markl realized that there was someone else looking at him out of the mirror over the reflection of the page.
He did not see who, for his mind went white and blank in abject terror. The young wizard flew backward to his feet, the prophecy scattering about him as he nearly knocked over a table in his haste to retreat from the mirror. But he remembered the figure's eyes: they were black and fathomless like pools of tar and yet cold and frozen like ice.
“What is it Markl?” Calcifer crackled anxiously as he shot back to the young man's side. But the brown-eyed boy stared open-mouthed at the mundane reflection in the mirror, barely able to will his pounding heart to slow. Whatever had been there a moment ago was gone; but that didn't make him feel any better. Suddenly he seized the sheet from the floor and threw it over the glass, leaving his madly strewn papers where they lay as he fled the room.