Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 7: The Silver Blade ( Chapter 7 )

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

The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 7:
Markl didn't hear a single word of what Calcifer said.
Ever instinct in his body told him to get to the capital as quickly as possible; to get to his aunt Martha. The young wizard tore down the stairs, his feet not even touching the ground. He alighted in front of the herb cabinet in the kitchen, and snatching open one of the drawers he fished out a bright red piece of chalk.
Markl rushed to the front door of the castle. Still ignoring the fire daemon's angry prattle, the russet-haired boy turned the dial to red and began deftly sketched the crisp vectors of the circle magic on the wooden planks. Howl's apprentice had done very little portal magic in his life time. Once, at his mother's desperate request, he had fashioned a spell that brought them immediately to the top of the palace stairs in Ingary. He had been very young at the time, about as old as Akarshan was now. For an apprentice of his current age such a spell was still an incredible feat. But Markl was not nearly as afraid as he had been the first time. Howl had given him quite a few lessons in portal travel since that time and he trusted his master's instruction. The brown-eyed young man marveled on multiple occasions the way the raven-haired wizard did not need to use circles to perform magic. There was the time the Wallmaker had brought Shan, Theresa, and he to his aunt's shop. His master simply dragged his hand across the door to shift the magic embedded in the colored dial.
But thoughts of his mother's dark-haired sister made him work faster.
“Markl! Oi, Mark! I can't go with you. At least tell me what's happening?” The fire daemon yelled in frustration. The spark was right in his ear and still he only half heard him. The living flame reached out a thin arm and gently tapped the boy's head. Some of his hair singed and let up a small curl of smoke.
“Ouch!” Markl yelped and batted at the side of his head, turning a furious face toward the fire daemon. But the young sorcerer shrank from the fuming ball of vermillion that threw himself right in has face.
“You're not listening to me, you ruddy wizard! I can't leave the castle while it's in the air! I can't go with you so at least tell what's wrong?”
“I have to go! Martha… Cal, show Howl the papers! I have to go!” Mark sputtered anxiously as he sketched the last mark in the circle with a slashing motion. Suddenly the drawing came alive with deep purple light and the young man ripped open the door, exposing a distant hallway somewhere in the Ingarian capital. Calcifer went cross-eyed and pink for a moment as the insides of the castle shifted.
“Markl!” Calcifer managed to shout in spite of his discomfort. But the thin boy dove through the doorway and slammed the door shut.
Door hated the palace; it stank of mortals and the magi. The combination made her very nervous.
While between worlds the half-daemon was troubled to discover mirrors in the room where she had been born again had been shattered. To spirits, mirrors are like the surface of water, a thin membrane in between the worlds through which one could slip with ease. That is if you could find them in the first place. With her old doorways gone, the half-human was forced to create a portal. This was an act she was loath to make because it would alert any wizards in the area to the presence of her magic. As she rose up from the floor, the chimera immediately went on guard but was greeted only by silence.
The room was empty, save for the twittering of distant ghosts.
The smell of the Dark was thick as smoke in the room, it made her gag and sent a shiver down her spine. The burned place was very near to this place, too near for her liking. Bad things had happened here, and the tall silver-haired half-daemon was desperate to leave as quickly as she had come. However, she did take a moment to inspect the goose-pimples that stood up her arms with perplexed fascination.
Broken glass crunched harmlessly under her bare feet. With sharp eyes she cast her gaze around the room, seeking for the knife only to find it missing. Frustration rose within her like the heat that climbed into her face. However, it suddenly turned to rage as she sniffed and caught wind of a familiar smell.
Him… Door seethed as her sight went red as blood.
The daemon tasted the strength of his magic and knew the Wallmaker had been here very recently. Through eyes black as pitch she could see the lingering outline of the wizard footsteps as clearly as though the tall mortal had been walking in snow. Again she was amazed at how much she hated the man, so much so she forgot to ask herself why. She followed the sorcerer's tracks as they crisscrossed through the room, visible only in her daemon sight. But the marks began to muddy as other fleeting impressions of living beings rose up in her senses. Many humans had been in this room since the time she was brought out of the burned place. There was no telling who might have picked up the blade. With a shudder Door recalled the cold tang of the magic in the silver knife and then relished the memory of the hot red blood that it had given her.
Suddenly she was hungry again. But very soon that would be remedied.
Focusing her entire will upon the smell of the metal blade, she sniffed again. Like a distant echo filtering from afar, she caught the tangible thread of its smell. Slipping into the skin of the mortal solider she had eaten earlier. Doing her best to ignore the overwhelming sensation of revulsion, Door followed the bright bitter aroma of silver. Several times she had to linger at a distance, feeling the acute pressure of an approaching mage; but apparently the man's skin masked her own presence. It was the same as when she had worn the skin of the empty woman whose blood and flesh brought her back from the beyond. Green mother was very clever, the daemon reflected. Door chew on a thought: perhaps if she ate the cold woman she would gain her cunning as well as her skin. But the mortal was too smart for her to outwit; besides, she was a slave to the woman's every whim.
The daemon's skin began to crawl as she drew closer to the knife. Although the narrow hallways became wider and the ceilings taller, the smell of people was thick around her, making her more and more claustrophobic with every step. But she became bolder after several humans dressed in silly clothes passed her by, oblivious to her true nature. The mortal men had hair on their faces just below their nose. The doppelganger thought it looked absolutely ridiculous. Indeed, the human skin she wore had whiskers under his nose as well; it itched horribly.
And the stink of man! Door felt she would never be rid of it.
Several times she stopped to stare at large pieces of wood on the wall covered in bright colors that looked like people. At first she thought they were strange mirrors, until she poked them and found the surface solid. Next, she peered out of a large glass-paned window at the bright lights of the city outside. How pretty, she thought; but not as beautiful as the sea. It was late, nearly midnight; she could tell from the height of the moon. But the humans bustled about like it was day. Curious creatures, did they not need to sleep? She would never have been interested in the habits of mortals had she been purely daemon. But Door was fascinated by the silver sister, and she attempted to understand the other by observing the mortals around her.
Taking up her hunt once more, an anxious feeling began to twist in the pit of her stomach as she moved through a series of sterile feeling hallways. More and more the people around her wore olive uniforms, an unsettling sight since they were almost identical to what the green mother wore. The scent of the blade was so strong it made her insides twist wildly with nausea; but draped over the smell like a thin sheet was the sharp tang of wizard's magic. However, the chimera was forced onward by the command of the cold woman. Pushing through a set of double doors, the daemon stood stark still at the end of a long ward full of beds filled by injured men and women. Some were dressed in soldier's habits, but the majority of the humans were garbed in crimson red.
This is the den of the red ones… Door thought to herself, doing her best not to flee in spite of the irrational feral madness that crept into her mind. This place was brimming with mortal thoughts, smells, and the loud echoing chatter of their voices. The half-daemon knew she could not leave without the knife; however, she did wait a moment, ready to cast open a portal at a moment's notice. But thanks to the mortal husk she wore like a garment, no one seemed to notice her. The blade was beyond this room, the disguised half-human knew that fact with such assurance she rushed briskly through the large dormitory. Her belly once again performed a flip-flop as a man with a bandage around his face resting in the beds began peering at her fiercely. Door quickened her pace as she passed, ignoring the mortal as he called a foreign name after her.
The daemon burst through a set of double doors on the other side of the room and wove through a narrow series of hallways before emerging into some kind of equipment storehouse. The acrid stench of blood, sweat, and metal permeated every inch of the room. Standing at a counter enclosed by metal bars was a solider in a robin colored uniform. He was currently being confronted by a girl with fiery red hair that twisted into two knots. Door noted there were leaves in the young woman's curls. The small human waved a piece of red colored paper in the clerk's face, her green eyes bright with annoyance. Somehow the mortal child looked familiar.
“I know its evidence, but the Lord Councilor wants it! Do you want me to have to go back empty handed to the Royal Wizard and explain that some clerk didn't feel right handing off a knife to a kid?”
Reluctantly, the man slid a piece of black velvet through the bars of the cage. Door's heart hammered in her chest: within the cloth was swathed the knife. She began to loose her grip on the dead man's skin as her lust for blood consumed her and she felt her hands coalesce into claws. But the mortal child swept the object into her hands and turned to exit the room through an adjacent pair of doors. But she was brought up short by a pair of uniformed soldiers came in and blocked her way. Hanging from their belts was a pair of bells that began ringing violently where once they were silent.
“Don't worry!” Called the man at the caged desk, “She's okay, it's just that blasted knife again.”
The soldiers parted for the freckle-faced girl, gentle smiles replacing their previous trepidation as the green garbed child disappeared out the doorway. However, their grins dissolved as the bells continued to ring once the red-haired girl had gone, increasing their intensity as Door stepped forward. All eyes turned to her as the men went grey faced with horror.
“I swear I saw Gerold! It's him, I know it,” insisted the bandaged man as he pushed through the other set of doors dragging a reluctant red garbed wizard behind him.
“He's dead, Darren! You've been seeing all manner of things since you hit your head…” The sorcerer's reply was cut short as a bell at his waist, the twin to the two that were already sounding, suddenly added its voice to the ringing in the room. All of them men fumbled in their pockets for the small round mirrors that had passed out just that evening. But they were far too late. Not even the bars on the cage would stop her.
Kill or be killed, the daemon within Door thrummed lustily.
Sophie was snoring in a very unlady like fashion.
Howl grinned in the mellow twilight that filled their room, pressing his face into her hair as he tucked her head under his chin. His wife was still exhausted, which was very apparent from the deep sleep in which she was currently immersed. The Wallmaker himself had been dozing lightly, but something had drawn him away from sleep. It was not the gentle chimes of the spinning mobiles overhead; nor was it the soft sounds of sleep issuing from the silver haired woman beside him. The anxious premonition was back, twisting in the narrow space just beneath his heart. But he ignored it, holding Sophie closer in his arms, and did his best to avoid the guilt that rose unbidden in his mind.
How many times had he forsaken his responsibility as the last Wallmaker for the sake of his family? In spite of the joy of their reunion, their lives had become ever so much more complicated as of recent. The blue-eyed wizard reflected on the fact that Markl was nearly a man with great pride. But he knew with a pang of regret that it meant his eldest son would leave his apprenticeship. It was uncommon for master and journeyman wizards to live under the same roof, but it was not unheard of. Sophie was a powerful witch, but her sorcery was still wild and inconsistent, springing from intuition and emotion. Furthermore, the sorceress of the silver flame took a very restrained approach to her magic; one not suited for instruction. He had two children to care for now, both gifted in magic and in dire need of teaching. Perhaps his apprentice would stay and help him?
Reflecting on his tall silver-haired daughter, Howl brooded over her complicated circumstances. Deirdre's needs were… unique. With a stab of despair the sorcerer dwelled on the fact that he might not be able to give her all that she needed. They had much in common, he and his lost child. As the Wallmaker he was forced to live between two worlds; but as a wizard it was easy to mediate the balance between the mortal and otherworlds. However, his daughter had would be forced to exist between two races, and humans had become very intolerant of daemons as of recent. Her life would be very difficult.
For some reason he was reminded of the naked sky over Kingsbury.
The tall wizard knew he should have stayed to help sort out the chaos left in the wake of the Daemon Queens attack. He knew he should not have left Kingsbury so hastily hearing the news of daemons and death in Market Chipping. He should have gone to see the king about the bells and mirrors. He should be figuring out some may to restore the shields over the capital. He should be in the otherworld right now, stabilizing the echoes of magic that were no doubt eroding the Dull Wall. At that very moment he should be hunting down the cold woman. With harsh regret, Howl reconsidered not killing Earin Danna in her moment of weakness for once again the long shadows of her influence were causing devastation. But the consequences of such actions left him feeling crippled and lost. A bitter revelation filled him with the knowledge that there was no such thing as the right decision: no matter what he chose to do, someone he loved would suffer at his hands.
For a wild moment of fury, Wallmaker hated his gift of magic.
But the Howl was pulled from his gloomy thoughts by the sound of Calcifer's voice as it streaked by his door on a wave of the otherwind. What the devil?! Sophie snorted softly but continued to snore as the bed shifted whilst the sorcerer gently extricating himself from his wife. The raven-haired man dressed quickly and strode with barefoot silence down the hall.
“Markl!” The handsome man heard Calcifer shout over the sound of the front door as it slammed just. Just as Howl reached the bottom of the stairs the bright smell of his apprentice's magic brushed past him. For a brief moment he caught sight of the dwindling circle magic on the back of the front door.
“Calcifer!?” Howl cried in confused dismay as he rushed forward to stand at the top of the front stairs. The fire daemon flared up with a chittering crackle, coloring a surprised pink as he spun in place to regard his best friend with huge eyes.
“Howl, Mark…” The living spark blurted out anxiously. But his words transformed into a terrified yelp as the dial next to the door issued a clicking chirp as it twisted from the red mark to the pink. The fire daemon whisked up the steps and fluttered fearfully just beyond the cerulean-eyed wizard's shoulder just as the front door opened again. The fragrant night air of the flower covered moors swept into the flying castle, eddying about Deirdre as she strode forward. She entered with brisk steps leading a tall man with snow white and luminous violet eyes.
“Papa!” Drie exclaimed in surprise as she came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. Flabbergasted, the Wallmaker threw up a hand as the brightness surrounding the stranger blinded his othersight.
With the eyes that pierced the mortal veil, Howl could see his daughter held a star by the hand.
King Ferdinand, Emperor and sovereign ruler of Ingary, twitched his moustache irritably.
He was exhausted, peevish, and wanted to drink a pint of the darkest coldest beer he could find before going to his bed. Talk of magic always made him itchy, probably because he didn't understand half of what the magi were talking about. What he did understand was his country was under threat, his people were being killed, and it was his duty to protect them through any means possible. As such, he did not understand why the Royal Wizard was lecturing him like a young school boy about all this nonsense of balance and other worlds.
Ferdinand was not angry with, Barimus; in fact he was overjoyed to see the tall blond man once again. However, the wizard's wife gave him quite a fright; the dark haired woman loomed behind the chair in which her husband sat like a great living statue. To her left was one of the Captains of the Ingarian Wizards Guard; he had no idea which one he was. The blasted twins looked exactly alike, which made him feel at a loss whenever he spoke with them. But at least they spoke! The ruler of Ingary could not remember the last time he'd heard the Herbalist speak; plus, he swore the woman never blinked. Stone faced and grim, the herbalist was the exact opposite of the gregarious, well spoken Lord of the Wizard's Council.
Now there was another thorn in his side. The Councilors had been at him constantly for the last three days; demanding that he command Barimus chose an heir, especially in light of his poor health. Out of respect for the sorcerer's health he had forbid anyone to speak of it with him. Indeed, the wizard looked like he was well on the mend for one that was half-dead three days ago. Ferdinand marveled at the capabilities of magic. Barimus had broken both of his shins, something that would have taken normal people months to heal. But not wizards; the Royal Sorcerer moved painfully and needed his wife's help to walk, but his bones were whole. The healer magus Prince Justin brought from Marda had seen to that. But recent events had reminded everyone of just how mortal they all could be; especially the magi. King Ferdinand knew he would not be able to avoid the subject forever.
The rust-colored king did his best not to let his attention drift; turning his eyes back over his huge desk to regard the golden-eyed sorcerer. He owed his life to this man; without he and his brother the Wallmaker, the capital would be in ruins and they would probably all be dead. That was why he was doing his best to be patient with the Lord Councilor. That was why he was desperately trying to understand why the wizard was so upset about the bells and mirrors. He himself thought it was a brilliant plan, especially since it no longer left his soldiers at the mercy of daemons.
Another of his men had died today at the hands of the monsters, and one of the Wizard Guards had cursed horribly. Ferdinand himself had seen what daemons could be like; they were terrifying creatures out of the worst of his nightmares. Moreover, they could look just like people! He remembered with a shudder the screeching wail of the silver haired creature that he had encountered in the shield room. Furthermore, in the dimmest of his memories he remembered the Mage Wars and the furies from hell it had unleashed onto the world. No, this world was the only one that matter in his mind, this world and the people in it. If it meant sending daemons back to wherever they came from, well then so be it!
And then there was this business of the daemon queen still being alive. Just thinking about the beast turned his blood to ice. How had is escaped the Wallmaker? He himself had watched through the golden barrier as the raven-haired wizard had transformed into a great winged creature and then tore the black hydra limb from limb. Apparently it had survived somehow. With the sky above them was unprotected the ruler of Ingary was very nervous; he would have to send word to the Wallmaker about this. Perhaps he could rebuild the shield?
But the king's thoughts turned away from the conversation back to the hideous beast that half destroyed his city. The plain faced sorceress with the long red hair, what was her name? Merra; that was it, Merra of Marda, the water witch; she had offered her services in the pursuit of the daemon queen's whereabouts. The woman was well known for her ability to scry; Prince Justin himself had high regards for her. But of course, there was a price. The Mardan woman wanted him to agree to encourage Barimus to accept her son Nalir as his heir and apprentice. He had been informed by several Councilors that favored the idea that the red-haired young man was the top of his class. He was currently studying under Master Tirut, oldest and wisest on the Council. However, there was far more ambition in the boy than just a seat in the Circle of Magi.
Ferdinand was getting tired of the Council and their troubles. Sooner or later he would have to cave to their demands in order to get them to agree on anything. Fortuitously, solutions to two of his problems had been placed before him and the king did not have the luxury of being choosy in his current diplomacy. Suddenly, the barrel-chested king realized that Barimus was staring at him expectantly. In order to cover the fact that he really had not been listening, the king turned his attention to the waifish golden man seated to his right. Prince Justin, the uncrowned ruler of Marda, their neighbor to the east, was currently regarding Martha with misty eyes. It was no secret that the Prince had fallen madly in love with the Sorceress of the Silver Flame, and then after loosing her to the Wallmaker, the golden man had turned his attentions to her younger sister. Unfortunately, Justin was not very lucky in love.
“What do you make of all this, Justin?”
The handsome young prince blinked in surprise, furrowing his smooth white brow in thought. Justin knew quite a bit more about magic than the ruler of Ingary; Marda was almost as well known as Ingary for their magi. In spite of the man's delicate appearance and tendency towards emotionality, there was a quick mind beneath his golden curls. He and the emperor had become fast friends over the years after the Mardan War, and the bristled bearded man very much valued his advice.
“The balance in the otherworld is very important, Ferdinand. Anything that threatens the stability of the Dull Wall should be approached with caution. Perhaps you should wait to deploy your troops until we can consult the Wallmaker?”
That was the main reason why the Royal Wizard had come to see him in the middle of the night. Ferdinand had issued an order to deploy an entire battalion of his troops as well as several airships in response to the presence of daemons in Market Chipping. Every man would be armed with both an enchanted bell and banishing mirror, which the Councilors had been feverishly constructing since the fall of the shield.
“If we wait more of my people will die,” Ferdinand growled, twitching his moustache irritably.
“It's not that simple, my Lord,” Barimus began again holding out one of the bells once more, “There's no way to tell if the daemons your troops will find with the bells are touched by the Dark. If we banish too many untouched spirits, we threaten the Wall.”
“This is perhaps why it is best to wait for the Wallmaker,” Justin began again in a persuasive voice.
“The Wallmaker was just here and he did not seem to care to visit!” The ruler of Ingary bristled. Since when did a king need to wait to do what he knew was right for his country?
Suddenly the freckle-faced Captain stiffened and frowned furiously. His eyes flew wide and he kneeled next to Barimus and spoke quickly into the blond man's ear. With some difficulty, the Royal Wizard managed to stand, his face white with consternation.
“I have just been informed by Dieter that four soldiers and a wizard guard were found murdered in the royal armory,” the golden-eyed man replied in an even voice.
“WHAT? HOW?” Thundered the king of Ingary incredulously.
“Eaten, my lord,” The twin wizard spoke up, his face grey with horror, “Apparently by a daemon; the bells were what raised the alarm.”
“I sent Theresa to the armory,” The Royal Wizard grabbed Dieter by the arm, his golden eyes urgent with worry.
“Peoter said nothing of the child,” Was the twin's reply.
“Is it still in the palace?” Justin's voice was a bit high pitched.
Almost as if in response to the Mardan prince's question, the bell in Barimus' hand began ringing softly. Every one in the room stared at it. As the bell began ringing louder, Martha turned and fled from the room.
“Martha!” Barimus called after his wife. But she had gone in search of her apprentice.
Howl's eldest son stumbled slightly as he exploded into the hallway just outside of Barimus' room.
The young wizard had purposefully chosen the doorway of his uncle's room as the exit point of his portal magic. Spinning on his heel, the young wizard threw open the door and called out his aunt's name only to find the chamber empty. Stunned, Markl was rooted in place for a moment quite at a loss for where to look next. He had only been in the palace a few times in his life and was hopelessly lost on all occasions. The herbalist was a workaholic so there was no telling where she could be. But she was wearing Barimus' talisman, and the young sorcerer could use its magic as a homing beacon. He had learned the trick from his father when Howl had once explained how the rings he and Sophie wore worked. It was a lot like scrying, but based on feeling rather than seeing. Focusing his inner eye on the image of his mother's dark-haired sibling, the young wizard let fly the thought and the purple amethysts at his ears pulsed brightly for a moment.
Suddenly, Markl knew exactly where his aunt was, and he shot off down the hallways like an arrow.
Blinding crashing around startled and harried servant half asleep as they tottered about on midnight errands, the young servant wound his way through the Kingsbury palace. Never once was he stopped, although several times a particularly haughty courtier called after his nastily as he thundered by. So intent was he on his mission, the young wizard did not sense the group of wizard apprentices until he literally crashed into their midst. As he came careening around a corner, there was little time for the russet haired boy to screech to a stop as he caught sight of the familiar young men and woman. There was no mistaking the colorful bunch. Nalir, dressed starkly in black velvet, was kneeling over a small crystal bowl filled with water. The surface of the liquid had turned to quicksilver, and was reflecting another place with the clarity of the clearest of mirrors. Trissa and Hedera were intently peering over the red haired boy's shoulders as Ryden kept watch down the opposite end of the hallway from which Markl emerged.
“Look out!” Ryden called in surprise just as he turned and caught sight of Markl as he streaked around the corner. The Wallmaker's apprentice tried desperately to halt, but momentum carried his upper body forward in spite of the desperate insistence from his feet, which told the rest of his body to stop. With a resounding smack, the russet haired boy crashed into the group sending them into a sprawling pile of limbs, with Nalir right on the bottom.
“Markl!” Ryden called out happily, reaching out one of his willowy limbs to pound the young boy on the back with good natured glee.
“GET OFF ME YOU BLITHERING IDIOTS!” Nalir roared in both pain and mad embarrassment as he thrashed wildly, which did nothing to help their predicament.
Because of their orientation prior to the crash, Markl landed right on top of the Hedera and Trissa. Unfortunately, or fortunately, one of the golden-eyed boy's hands ended up in a very inappropriate place on the pretty blond's chest. Realizing in horror just what was under his palm, the russet-haired boy turned as fuchsia as the plump girl's robes and snatched back his hand as though it were on fire.
“I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!” The Wallmaker's apprentice stammered wildly, placing his hand on Trissa's upper thigh as he tried to leverage himself off the pile of apprentices.
“Get off, Get Off, GET OFF!” Nalir howled, beginning to kick again. Ryden was laughing uproariously, offering no help at all.
Once again Markl realized what he had done and snatched back his hand, which unfortunately caused him to tumble right back onto Hedera. Poor Markl was absolutely purple in hue by this time.
“I'm sorry,” He squeaked faintly.
“No need to apologize, Markl,” Hedera smiled at him coyly, leaning towards him in a manner that displayed far too much of what his hand had been on a moment before.
“Ow! Nalir, stop kicking!” Trissa yelped, not even noticing Markl's hand as she viciously elbowed Elder Tirut's apprentice in the ribs.
The vain emerald-eyed boy let out a great wosh of air and ceased to struggled, which allowed Ryden to finally wiggle out from under them. The tall brown apprentice, who was beginning to fill out to match some of his height, plucked Markl off of the top of the pile as though he weighed nothing. Hedera let out a disappointed sigh and shot and annoyed glance at her reedy comrade as Trissa pulled her off of Nalir, who was still gasping. The sallow horsy faced turned her full attention to the Wallmaker's apprentice, ignoring the blonde girl's pretty pout as the words spilling from her lips in an endless tumble.
“Markl! It is so good to see you we were so worried about you we had no idea where you went after the shield fell it's been absolutely mad around here what with Lord Barimus being injured the Council is doing all kinds of stupid things,” She paused to take in a deep breath then continued, “It was amazing what you did in the shield room, how did you learn such powerful magic?”
“He is the Wallmaker's apprentice,” Ryden managed to insert into the torrent issuing from the dark haired girl. The dun colored apprentice reached down a hand to Nalir, who glowered at him darkly and ignored his offer. The red-haired man stumbled gracelessly to his feet and irritably straightened his hair and robes, cheeks bright with humiliation. Crossing his arms, the boy from Marda turned his back on his friends haughtily. But his reedy compatriot wasn't going to let him sulk.
“I told you this wasn't the best place to scry,” Ryden grinned good-naturedly as he stooped to pick up the crystal bowl and held it out to his green-eyed friend. The red haired young man gave a start and snatched it out of his hands with a dark scowl.
“And I told you that most chambers have scry-wards, the hallways the only place I can word unhampered.” The black clad apprentice spat venomously, turning his back one more to the group.
“Honestly, it wasn't me,” Markl replied lamely, embarrassed and made very nervous by the bright-eyed attention both girls were giving him, “Suliman's staff is capable of far more magic than what I can do.”
“You're so modest; how very darling!” Hedera giggled breathlessly, leaning very close to him again with a look that made him want to run away very quickly.
“You mean that stick you were carrying was Suliman's staff?” Nalir suddenly spun around and burst into the conversation incredulously, his face suddenly white with shock, “Impossible! I don't believe you!”
The russet-haired boy was so stunned by Nalir's furious denial he was quite at a loss for what to say. He didn't understand why the red haired apprentice was so upset.
“Oh, come off it Nalir. There's no need to be snooty!” Trissa snapped with a scowl.
“I have to go,” Markl spoke up suddenly in a weak voice, his face stricken as he remember all in a rush why he had come to the palace. Pushing forward he tried to slip past the girls, but they grabbed a hold of him as he tried to pass.
“Don't let him get to you, Markl. We want you to stay and so does Nalir. You should hear him talk about you,” Trissa replied as she tugged him backwards.
“I most certainly do not!” The red-haired young man screeched in a rage, but the teal garbed young witch ignored his incredulous dissent.
“Come have some mead with us? Ryden snuck some from the kitchen this morning,” Hedera almost purred as she clung to his other arm. Ryden laughed again at the sheer panic that showed on the face of the Wallmaker's apprentice. Suddenly Nalir pushed past them, and the dun colored tall boy reached after him.
“Oh, don't be a spoil sport, Nally!”
But the red-haired apprentice stopped just beyond his friends, and threw up a hand that silenced the reedy young man. Standing rigid as if he were intently listening to something in the distance, Nalir spoke.
“I told you not to call me that... Can you smell that, Ryden?”
His rapt attention and guarded behavior sent all the young witches and wizards on guard. Recent events had taught them all the merit of being on guard. Suddenly the girls clung harder to Markl and they all sniffed the air. The reek of dark magic suddenly clotted the air, making it thick as though filled with smoke.
“Gah, what is that smell!?” Ryden gagged as he pressed the back of his hand to his mouth.
“Magic…” Nalir gritted between his teeth. The otherwind fluttered about his robes as the red-haired boy clenched his fists, making ready for anything as the smell intensified. Suddenly, Theresa whisked around the corner as briskly as Markl had, coming nose to nose with her arch-nemesis.
“YOU!” They both screeched at one another, although the green-eyed boy went white with terror and fled behind Ryden.
“What are you so afraid of, Nally? She's just a common girl!” The tall sorcerer laughed at his white faced companion.
“Theresa!” Markl cried in surprise, struggling to free himself from the girls. His heart skipping a beat as the curly haired young girl's face lit up when she turned her jade eyes to him.
“Markl!” She sang his name exultantly; although the look faded in the same way that a sunbeam can penetrate for a momentthe thickest of storm clouds. Indeed, her face darkened and went livid with fury as she caught sight of the two girls clinging to the apprentice. Her face hardened in the same way it had when she caught him looking at Cyanine.
“Do you know her, Markl?” Hedera demanded, jealously plain in her voice.
“She reeks,” Trissa sneered with a nasty grin, “And she has twigs in her hair.”
“I most certainly do not!” The freckle-faced girl went white with fury. Indeed she did, on both accounts, not that the herbalist's apprentice could tell. She was non-magical and could not sense the thick black magic that issued from the velvet wrapped object in her hands. Tossing her coppery hair, she pushed past the apprentices and continued down the hallway.
“Theresa!” The russet-haired boy called after his aunt's student in dismay, managing to extricate himself from the blonde and her brunette friend to go chasing after her.
“Don't leave, Markl! She's just a common girl!” One called after him, although the golden-eyed boy ignored whoever had spoken. His thoughts were only of Theresa at that moment.
“Theresa! Theresa, wait!” Howl's eldest son spoke anxiously as he managed to catch up with her long strides.
“I'm just a common girl, Markl. Why should a wizard want me to wait for him?” She snapped angrily, snatching her elbow away from his touch as she careened through the empty hallways. It was very late and there weren't any people about in this section of the palace.
“Please, Theresa!”
“No!” She rounded on him all of a sudden, green eyes bright with fury; the lanky young man almost fell over again as he tried not to knock her over, “I haven't seen you for three day! I was worried sick about you after you left the shield room! Did you send me a letter or a note or anything?! No! I had to send one back with Master Howl and even then I didn't get a reply! And here I find you in the capital, in the middle of the night, nattering around with him and his gaggle of friends?”
There were tears in her eyes and it nearly broke Markl's heart to know he had caused them. It was so good to be near her; just seeing the mud on her pants cuffs made him feel like everything in the world was right. Theresa was his best friend in the whole world. He had an inkling of what he had done to upset her, but the young wizard was more worried about the freckle-faced girl and the thing she held in her hands.
“Theresa!” He gently grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to look into his eyes. She seemed taken aback by his fierce look and then followed his gaze to the velvet she held in her hands.
“What is it?” He asked in a hushed voice, his face going green as he tried not to retch.
“A silver dagger; Master Barimus asked me to get it for him,” her fury suddenly evaporated, transforming to concern as the tall boy went white as a sheet, “What's wrong, Markl? You're shaking?”
“Give it to me, Theresa,” he whispered, holding out his trembling hands. Sensing his trepidation, the young girl blanched and stared down at the cloth in her hands as though she clutched a snake. Gingerly, she handed it over to the Wallmaker's apprentice, who stuffed into the magic pouch he always wore at his waist. Suddenly the smell began to thin and the russet haired boy let out a great sigh of relief. Martha was safe now.
“Markl?” The herbalist's apprentice's small voice drew him out of his desperate thoughts.
Gone from it was all the anger and jealousy with which it had been previously saturated. Right now his knees were very weak and he very much wanted to hug the girl until she squeaked. Lifting his gaze, again he was seized by the odd compulsion to count her freckles. However, with a stab of disappointment, he noticed she wasn't looking at him. Instead, she was craning her head around his shoulder to stare curiously back down the hallway from whence they had come.
“Markl, isn't that your sister?”
At her words, Markl turned to regard the slim figure that appeared around a corner in the distance. She was tall, almost as tall as Howl; her long silver hair fell far past her knees, snarling into a dirty matted tangle that fell around her like a cloak. Her feet were bare and the woman swayed as though drunk, although it was more out of a primal need to be in motion rather than from inebriation. It was the same way an animal moved. The girl sniffed and looked back the way it came as though searching for something. From her issued a low guttural growl that thrummed deeply in the silence of the hall. It was sound that no human could make and every hair on the young wizard's body stood on end.
“Deirdre?” Markl whispered in horror.
The creature stood stock still, hearing a human voice, and then turned slowly. It was his sister's visage; there was no doubt in his mind. But her face, the front of her thin dress and the majority of her hair were soaked in bright red blood. It glittered wet and thick against her skin, which looked grey in the dim light. Again she thrummed and her hands, which were dripping with viscous red ochre, coalesced into obsidian claws that looked exactly like the daemon queen's. The menacing sound sharpened as the hideous creature bared needled teeth. The Wallmaker's apprentice realized her eyes were completely black: fathomless like pits of tar. Theresa screamed just as Markl spun on his heels and swept the curly haired girl into his arms, rocketing into the air as he was propelled forward by magic.
The ghastly wail that followed them turned his blood to ice and the young wizard knew that the daemon was not far behind them.