Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 9: Dark Fire ( Chapter 9 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 9: Dark Fire
The surface of the water in the bowl rippled for a moment, obscuring an image of the blond man.
The Lord Councilor stood forward under what could only be a heavy weight of sorrow; his face was hidden in his hands. Merra blinked her brilliant viridian eyes, which were pale and distant as she stared into the faintly glowing vessel, which held a mere handful of clean cool water. Her long straight hair fell about her thin face like a curtain of scarlet velvet, which gleamed brightly against the black robes that shrouded her thin form. As a widow, in Mardan custom she was always expected to wear some black; the water witch took the habit to an extreme.
His mother's face looked quite ghost-like above the luminous scrylas she held cupped in her gloved hands. The divining bowl was carved of the largest piece of flawless pale amethyst Nalir had ever seen. It was about the size of half a large melon and was worth a fortune. It had been passed down through his family for generations and as his birthright it and would some day pass to him. Currently, the young man was reduced to using a bowl carved of common quartz crystal. There was a fracture the length of his finger near the bottom and it clouded his sight, preventing him from utilizing the true potential of his gift.
The limitation infuriated him.
But the Royal Wizard's reply to the ruler of Ingary had nearly sent him to pieces. The most of Council favored him as the primary candidate to succeed the red wizard; many magi muttered that the Wallmaker's family was already too strongly entrenched in the positions of power within Ingary. Nalir learned the fact first hand as he scryed in the hallway, eavesdropping on a late night meeting of several key Councilors. But the young wizard was chiefly incensed by Barimus' reply mostly because he knew it was a lie. He himself had listened in on what the Wallmaker and the Lord Councilor were speaking of, and it had nothing to do with picking an heir. Not that he had any right to be angry with the blond man for his mistruth. The Royal Wizard was treading a dangerous line, the very same which Nalir and his mother currently were currently walking. They had both committed concealed acts that bordered on treason. However, unlike her son, the Mardan woman was pledged to her Prince and the Alliance upheld by the Council, not to King of Ingary. When Nalir entered the royal sorcery academy he signed an oath of fealty to King Ferdinand and for all intensive purposes became a citizen of Ingary. However, his mother had not. As foreign representatives Merra held a kind of diplomatic immunity. However, should he be discovered, the consequences for Lord Barimus would be far more severe.
The knowledge they held was a powerful bargaining chip, and one Nalir prayed with all his heart his mother would not play.
Returning his attention to his mother, the pale young wizard knew she was also quite furious, which made him very, very nervous. There was a burn on the witch's neck, which she had gained during a bombing in the Mardan War. It turned a scarlet red whenever she was angry and as her son he had seen it quite often. The scar was part of the reason the woman wore her hair long, to hide the blemish for she entertained a vain streak much like her son's. His mother was not beautiful by the standards of fashion; her face was too thin and she had a long scholar's nose. However, her eyes were shrewd, sharp; robbing from her any softness that might have lightened her features. Not that Merra ever deigned to show gentleness in public; as she often said, one did not need a pretty face to realize ambition.
But the woman also used the mark as a didactic point. She commented frequently when he tried to use it divine her mood that it was important for a magus never to wear emotions on his sleeve. His enemies would exploit any weaknesses he showed without mercy, Merra had informed him. But she was not carved from ice; his mother had come all the way from Marda to save him when the shield threatened to fall. Again Nalir remembered with shame his outburst in front of the Wallmaker. But he carefully shoved that thought into the back of his mind lest he look guilty. Regardless of his mother's obsession with court politics, the mark simply reminded the boy that not even his mother was impervious to the dangers of magic. The thought often filled him with cold terror for secretly the young wizard was terrified of being separated from his mother.
Currently the scar was positively fuchsia.
However, Merra was true to her own advice, and was not one to express her anger outwardly. Her plain face remained impassive as she stared into the bowl. She blinked and the light faded a moment as the image reflected on the surface of the liquid dissolved, evaporating upwards into a light mist of colored points of light. Suddenly the color in her eyes returned before fading once more, the ethereal vapor sank back onto the surface of the water, showing a ward in the palace infirmary. Several figured dressed in green rushed about, although one towered in the midst of the milling chaos like an obelisk of order. That must be lady Martha, which meant Markl was somewhere in the room.
He had been shocked to learn of another series of deaths due to the infiltration of a Dark touched daemon. But nothing could compare to his dismay over hearing that Markl had been one of the mad spirit's victims. He simultaneously liked and hated the young wizard intensely. Nalir secretly wished that they might be friends. Barring that at least they might study together. Perhaps he could be tempted if Trissa and Hedera were in attendance? Personally the pale young man couldn't stand the company of the two witches, who chattered and squabbled mindlessly. He much preferred Ryden's company; the dun colored young sorcerer was greatly skilled at chess. Plus he was quite tall; taller even than Markl. Nalir liked tall people; they were quite useful to one as short as he.
Suddenly, he wished reverently that the young man would wake.
He had gathered a few tidbits of information about what had happened. Apparently the circumstances were much the same as the poor cursed wizards guard Seran. It took every inch of the red-haired boy's self control not to pelt his mother with questions about the health and condition of the Wallmaker's eldest apprentice. Nalir knew his mother well. Merra would deliver a scathing reprimand for showing weakness by concerning himself with the wellbeing of his greatest rival. He knew his mother looked upon the Wallmaker's apprentice as an opportunity: if the boy did not wake up then their problems would resolve themselves. In spite of the fact that Merra could regard the situation with cold detachment; Nalir could not.
At times like these Nalir hated his mother and her ambition.
But that was to be expected. He might fear her, but she did not rule him. The red-haired young wizard had his own ideas. He would not be able to scry the room in which the russet-haired boy was being cared for. There were wards on the room into which his mother was seeing, but not that they mattered to the water witch. If he were to attempt such a feat with his scrylas, the water would turn cloudy, but show him nothing. That meant he would have to visit in person and keep that fact secret from his mother. Merra, however, was not impeded by the restrictions of scry wards. If she focused hard enough, the barrier charms would dissolve before her othersight and reveal all. The thin woman could see anything or anyone she had looked upon with her mortal eyes. Sometimes she could see things she had not already seen.
Besides Markl, his mother was one of the few magi he knew with such a gift: farsight was very rare.
It was because of this talent that the Emperor of Ingary had sought out her help after the water witch discreetly let it be known that the Daemon Queen had not been destroyed. It had been part of the plan his mother had constructed to maneuver Nalir into the perfect position to be chosen as the Royal Sorcerer's heir. However, Barimus apparently did not agree he was a suitable candidate. That fact alone made him want to die of humiliation. Did he not possess the makings of great power? Had he not already far surpassed all that his Master elder Tirut had to teach him? Was he not the best in the Royal Sorcery Academy? However, that was not a whole truth. The emerald-eyed young man knew he was not the most advanced apprentice in his age group. The events in the shattered remnants of the shield room had proved that to him.
“The emperor will be looking for you, mother.” Nalir spoke carefully.
“Don't interrupt, Nalir. Words are distracting.” Merra spoke crisply and once again the image in the amethyst scrylas evaporated only to condense into an image of King Ferdinand.
He could not hear what they were saying; only Merra could. The barrel-chested man was ruddy cheeked and currently up to his nose in a frothy headed pint of beer. Next to him perched an effeminate man with pale blue eyes and curls that matched the pastel gold silk of his clothing. As a child, the young sorcerer thought their sovereign far too yielding to be capable of leading the Mardans. But his gentle appearance and tender inclinations were deceiving. The Golden Sun, as their countrymen called the prince, was well versed in the ways of magic. Although he was not a magi, the man's life had been filled will all kinds of magic.
Justin had been betrayed and cursed by the traitorous Tyrnian Ambassador Varra. But he survived as an enchanted scarecrow, exiled into the Wastes of Ingary as part of a scheme for a coup grand enough for a Mardan to have concocted. The prince's disappearance sparked the Mardan War in which Nalir's father had died. Luckily, the be-spelled prince was discovered by the Wizard Howl' moving castle. It was said that the kiss of the Sorceress of the Silver Flame lifted the spell from Prince Justin and marked the end of the War. Apparently the ordeal had tempered him in ways that did not show on the surface; Nalir sensed there was steel beneath his Prince's silk.
Currently their uncrowned monarch, Prince Justin, delicately sipped honey-colored liquor from a frosted crystal flute. On his other side sat a youthful man with a long red braid who looked quite awkward in the regal clothing in which he literally swam. A small gold circlet slipped askew on his head as he attempted to take a sip from a mug that was the twin to Ingarian ruler's stein. It looked far too big in his hands, just as the crown looked far too big for his head. This must be Walden, the Boy-King of Tyrn. The heraldic colors and the rich fabric the man wore were appropriate for that title. Walden did a poor job of disguising a yawn, so he was travel weary and must have only just arrived. Since these matters concerned all countries in the alliance, together the rulers would ship out to the foothills of the wastes to oversee the search for the last daemons of the Dark.
“It's late, Nalir. You should be asleep.” His mother's voice was still frosty, and the tone drew him out of his brooding.
But the young wizard tempted the fates by peering over the thin woman's shoulder. The scrylas showed his fair prince had colored a rosy hue and jumped as his bristled bearded friend slammed down the pewter mug. The jolt caused Walden's crown to fall over his head to hand around his neck and Ferdinand began laughing uproariously. The juxtaposition between the rulers of the Alliance was quite comical.
With a snort of derision Merra leaned back and closed her eyes; instantly the image disappeared. Nalir was privy to many of the water witch's personal sentiments. Secretly she was disgusted by the manner in which King Ferdinand deferred all decisions in matters of magic to the Royal Wizard. It was a weakness in autocratic leadership that left a potential opening for bad decision making and manipulation by those without the Alliances best interests in mind. Barimus was an excellent leader driven by altruistic intentions; however, not all the Councilors were so strong of character. Regardless, with the red, wizard in a place of power there was something to be said about checks and balances. The Lord Councilor persuaded the Ingarian monarch to make several changes to policies made in aftermath of the daemon attacks. Powerfully enchanted objects would be confiscated and examined for the Dark, not destroyed. Eventually they would be returned. Indeed, one of the captains of the Royal Wizard's Guard would no doubt come by to inspect their scrylasses. Additionally, less extreme measures would be taken for questioning magi who had ties to daemon magic.
However, the true reason his mother disliked King Ferdinand was her strong disapproval of having a non-magical monarch in charge of the most powerfully enchanted country in the alliance. This was why she felt so strongly about maintaining the power and authority of the Council. This could only be achieved through sound leadership, to which Barimus was perfectly suited. Merra was convinced that the red wizard was the ideal master to pick up where Elder Tirut had left off. The Royal Wizard would help mold her son into the perfect candidate for this future role as leader of the Council. Unfortunately, the outcome of her tactics had not gone according to plan.
“The king will not see us tonight,” the thin woman muttered in bitterly, messaging her temples as her forehead furrowed in pain, a single line forming between her brows.
“Do you have a headache, mother? Shall I fetch you something?” Nalir was instantly ready to run all the way to the healer's wing if necessary. He would have braved even the temper of the muddy-hemmed healer apprenticed to Lady Martha if it meant easing his mother's pain.
“No need. I'm only tired,” she replied evenly.
The shadows gathered around them like a thick concealing blanket as the light faded from the gemstone bowl. But with a stab of hot shame, the young wizard knew it was more than weariness. His mother was disappointed. Ever since his father had died, in one way or another, his mother had devoted her entire life to furthering their family's name. This had been his one chance to finally make a contribution to her efforts. It was not his fault, but the green-eyed boy felt like he had failed her in some way. Above all, more than being the better than any other apprentice at magic, more than becoming the Royal Wizard's heir, the black-robed boy wanted the woman's approval. Suddenly, Merra took up the vessel and drank every last drop of the water. It was a diviner's superstition, but a practical one. If the seer imbibed the water that was the medium of the spell, the enchantment would be severed and no one would be able to trace the scryer back to its source.
“Nalir, bring me the pitcher,” the woman's eyes were distant and calculating, glittering like hard bits of jade and flint in the shadows that filled their chambers. The young sorcerer did not like cold resolved in her voice one bit.
It normally meant she was about to do something reckless.
“It's very late, mother. Shouldn't you rest?” But he was returning with a fine glass decanter in his hands even as the protest escaped his lips. Merra did not deign to reply; she took the jug and refilled her scrylas. She then settled her elbows into the deep ruts on the cushion that rested on the table over which she leaned.
“Leave. Do not come back unless I send for you.”
Her cold dismissal stung him just as much as he was surprised by the cool green circle of protective magic that flickered to life around the water witch.
“What are you doing mother?!” His voice sounded a bit shrill in his ears.
“We have not lost yet. If I uphold my end of the bargain then King will be indebted to us. The Council already favors you, and the gratitude of the Ingarian ruler at will give us powerful leverage. So I am going to give Ferdinand the one thing he wants most: the location of the Daemon Queen.”
The young wizard stared with wild-eyes at his mother; it had been a long time since he had seen her so determined. But what she was planning to do was horrendously risky. The water witch must have sensed his hesitation, so she with skillfully chosen manipulative words. They were gentle at first, belying the seldom shown tender sentiments she felt for her son. But the cold command with which she finished chased him from the room.
“This is for your sake, Nalir. Now get out!”
Door sprawled onto the floor as soon as she lifted from the portal.
The knife flew from her fingers and she curled into a tight ball against the pain that racked her body. If felt as though half of her face had been burned off and she could barely close the hand in which she had clutched the blade. Door could not help sobbing into the thick darkness that filled the house. It was still and stuffy, although it was definitely not safe. The daemon hushed as she clearly heard the woman across the room shift in her chair. The green mother's movements were slow and deliberate as though every motion caused her difficulty. There was a soft scrape at the silver knife lifted from the ground.
“You reek of agrimony…” Danna's voice was cold as ice, completely indifferent to the daemons pain. “Still, you did manage to bring back the knife. However…”
The daemon queen's icy thoughts pierced Door's mind in the same way the blade might have cut through her skin. In the moment of silence that followed Door issued a soft mewling cry as the former healer painfully raked through the half-human's thoughts. The silver-haired woman had no strength to keep from the cold mortal any of the secrets in her head. She could feel the rage building in the grey-eyed mortal, and she flinched from it in terror.
“Green mother…” She whimpered pitifully, her agony making her weak.
“You've been keeping secrets, dear little Door.” There was no humor in her voice, nor was there any compassion.
“Please… I tried.” The half-human gasped, talking made her face hurt horribly.
“No… Not nearly hard enough I'm afraid,” Dana spoke quickly after that, her cruel words punctuated by the piercing jabs of her mind. “Do you really think you're human? No one can love a daemon you little fool. Do you really think that your so called sister will still want you when she finds out how many mortals you've killed and eaten?”
“Stop it!” Door wailed, but the woman continued, driven by the Darkness that lodged itself in the emptiness within her chest.
“And what about your precious silver mother? What do you think she would think of the fact that you've probably killed her son? You have nothing, Door! No family, no one to care for you except me. You're evil and stained with blood. Admit it! You enjoy killing and you always will!”
“I hate you! I hate you!” The half-daemon hissed.
“Not as much as I hate you!” Danna thundered back.
The chimera summoned a portal to escape the woman's words. But that was exactly what Suliman's sister wanted. She knew where Door would go in such a state of distress; she would seek out her other half, the Wallmaker's daughter. The grey-eyed woman would follow along, wearing her daemon's skin.
And where the daughter was, she would find the son.
Simultaneously as the cold unnerving wind erupted into the room from the realm beyond the mortal veil, Danna reached out her hands to catch hold of the cord that joined them. Earin felt her mind peel away from herself and she rushed forward in the shadow of the fleeing chimera. In the disarticulated moment of separation the cold woman reflected on how was weak and broken her human body was. Without her enslaved spirits, it was no longer suited to fulfilling the purpose for which she had sacrificed everything. It was a liability, holding her back, just as were the thin tendrils of sorrow and guilt that surfaced in her mind. And she would cast both aside when they were no longer necessary.
For a moment she recalled the heavy weight of the silver blade in her hand. It felt like a piece of frozen fire between her fingers. The dagger was a bitter reminder of everything she had forsaken; it marked the beginning of the time of madness where everything had gone wrong. But she shed the memories as a zealous fever flooded her, bringing with it her purpose, the reason that justified everything she had done. The tides of time have a cruel habit of repeating themselves. She knew the doom that awaited them, but she would succeed where her ancestors had failed! She would prevent a repeat of all that had been ruined by the Wallmakers.
So she would hide, waiting for just the right moment.
Akarshan's roused with a start as a wild burst of wind tore about him and something landed next to him with a heavy thud.
As the something burst into tears, the little boy jerked wide awake, regarding the figure with curious trepidation. He could barely see in the dim light cast by the few flickering flames of candlelight that filled the workshop. Clapping his hands, the flames multiplied magically and flooded the room with light.
“Sister!” Shan exclaimed in horror as the silver haired woman sat bolt upright and turned to regard him in utter surprise.
Half of her face was blotched with dark welts that bled like ink-stains through her smooth white skin. One of her eyes was blue as the afternoon sky, but the other was completely black. She looked like she had fallen into a fire for she was somewhat blackened; there were matching marks on her arms, but these were worse. Beneath the soot and the dirt was a ruddy reddish substance that soaked into her dress, caking her face and clotting her hair. Wasn't Drie wearing pants? But the little boy did not care what his sister looked like or how filthy she was. All that mattered to him was she was in pain. Indeed, his twin was trembling like a leaf as she regarded him with a white blank expression.
“Don't worry, sister! I'll take care of you.” He smiled at her and dragged over the sheet to wrap it around his sister's thin shoulders. Next he deposited himself in her lap and began humming softly.
Door was shocked beyond all compare. She had only been treated with such kindness by silver sister. She could feel the kinship between her and the little boy in the same manner she felt the connection between the other and herself. His eyes were blue, the same color as the others, which were identical to hers. It was an amazing thing for it lessened her anguish and pain. Again the intense pressure twisted within her chest, tight and hot, leaving the half-daemon feeling giddy as she eddied in the wave of emotion.
My brother! Door exulted silently with sorrow soaked joy as her mind latched onto the fact that she was not alone. Green mother was wrong; she did have a family, both a brother and a sister. She hugged the raven-haired boy closer in her arms.
Mine… She rumbled possessively.
Suddenly the little mortal squirmed in her arms and spoke at a great length.
“What was that? Is you're tummy's growling, Drie? Are you hungry? Drie? Ow! You're squishing me… Hey, Drie? Drie are you listening to me?”
But Door wasn't listening to him; she had caught wind of the smell that permeated the entire room as well as the child in her arms. The Wallmaker's presence saturated this place, pressing close around her like a suffocating wave that threatened to drown her in blood-red rage. A fire filled her that robbed her of coherence and the silver-haired half daemon experienced a weak stab of panic. She had begun to understand that this power was fed by the taint that marred her soul. The infection was like a doorway to the scorched place beyond the Wall. Desperately she railed against the darker half of her existence, the daemon who joyfully bathed in the suffering and death of others. But Door was new to herself and her body, and was weak before the will of the Dark.
Akarshan immediately sensed the change in the woman that held him and his face went white with shock and terror as he drew back and stared at her.
“You're not my sister!” He screeched and began to thrash wildly, “Lemmie go!”
But the doppelganger was momentarily saved from her descent once more into the madness of hatred as another daemon approached. The chimera knew her immediately and managed to wrench herself from the oblivion that threatened to flood through her. Just as the other rose to her feet the doorway to the workshop burst open and Deirdre surged into the room. The door slammed after her, barred by the child-woman's magic. The daughter of the Silver Sorceress stopped dead in her tracks as the sheet fell away from Door's shoulders, exposing the blood that soaked her hair and clothes. Drie's face twisted with horror and trepidation as she caught the scent of the sulfur and fire that echoed in the eyes of her other. They stared at one another, rooted in place like the twin scales of a balance on the verge of tipping.
“Sister!” Shan shrieked, shattering their impasse as he recognized his twin immediately. He reached for the flabbergasted young woman in desperation as he fought again the iron grip that held him, “Make her put me down! I don't like her, she scares me!”
“Door…” Drie whispered. Her voice trembled as she once again stared at her red soaked replica, noting with surprise the burns on the other's face. Unconsciously, the silver sorceress' daughter raised a hand to her face, remembering the phantom pains that had seized her not long ago.
“My brother as well!” Door claimed and pleaded simultaneously; casting her eyes from Deirdre to the blue-eyed six-year old.
But the chimera was visibly stung by the little boy's words. Unintentionally, she crushed the raven-haired child in her embrace as though she were terrified he would be taken from her. Akarshan squeaked and coughed as the daemon forced the air from his lungs.
“You're hurting him, Door...” Deirdre cried in angered dismay as she reached towards them, approaching slowly. The burned and blood stained creature gave a start and almost dropped Shan as she realized the boy was going blue in the face. Wild confliction tore at the half-daemon as she slackened her grip; although she visibly softened as Shan began to cry and call for Sophie. But the tender emotions were fleeting as the dark fire gathered once again in the other's eyes.
“You're mine! Both of you!” The daemon half snarled covetously, retreating a step as Drie drew close enough to almost touch them.
“Give him to me…” Deirdre asked again, her gentle voice softer now. Again the half-daemon faltered as her grip slackened.
“You're all I have,” Door whispered in a thick voice as she stared at the silver-haired child-woman. Abruptly, the fire was gone from her, as was the smell of the Dark; her eyes both blue and endless black trembled with bright sorrow.
Suddenly, as though she regretted the very act of touching the child, she let go of the Wallmaker's youngest son. With a sob, the boy rushed into his twin's outstretched arms just as the door to the workshop splintered under a shockwave of violent magic. The Wizard Howl came striding through the doorway ushering in a tempest of otherwind, which ripped through the room. The Wallmaker was livid, his pale face pinched with fury as the crackling nimbus of indigo light twisted around him. The other took one look at the lanky man and her humanity fled. The flame shadowed nightmare within Door reared up, unleashing a torrent of black sulfur fire which erupted from the chimera like an explosion.
WALLMAKER! Door's othervoice roared around them like a thunderclap, threatening to tear the castle in two under the power of her hatred.
The workshop burst into flames and to them the prophecy was lost.
Books, paper, tables and bits of metal melted and turned to ash as the parched harsh wind of the scorched place beyond the Dull Wall invaded the home of the Jenkins family. Deirdre swept Akarshan into her arms, turning her back to the inferno to protect her brother from the blaze that rushed forward to consume them just as their father pushed the flames from them with his magic. The wizard Howl cast his hands before him in a powerful dividing gesture, cleaving the Dark fire in two as strode forward to his children. Catching hold of his daughter, the raven-haired man practically threw Drie towards the doorway of the shop along the narrow wedge of protected space his power created. But the cerulean eyed sorcerer was immediately forced to cast his hands back at the eruption of black fire that pulsed towards them in his distraction.
“Get Shan out!” Howl bellowed over the roaring conflagration. With her terrified little brother in her arms, Deirdre could do nothing but obey.
Gritting his teeth and peering through the searing ash and smoke that clouded his vision and choked his breathing, the wizard regarded the raging Dark that had invaded his home. Fire that moved like black water churned through the triangular room, crashing against the walls of the workshop like great living waves as it lifted lashing tongues to scorch the roof. It whirled like a great vortex, at the center of which stood a tall thin figure obscured by a thick cloak of madness pierced with violent hatred. It was simultaneously a daemon, and yet not. Confused, Howl blinked back his othersight and stared in astonishment with mortal eyes at the twisted features of what could have been his daughter. But she did not wear his mother's sapphire earrings. Furthermore, he had seen his girl leave a moment ago with his son in her arms.
It was terrifying how much the doppelganger looked exactly as his girl. She appeared just as she had when they met on the day he found his wife in the otherworld. But the Wallmaker was horrified as the fire momentarily parted to reveal the chimera. The creature looked as though she had bathed in blood and her eyes were fathomless. The long silver of her hair was a wild tangle of starlight and mottled blotches of midnight bruises marred her face and long white limbs. But just as his daughter was touched by the green hills beyond the indigo veil, so it seemed this creature was imbibed with the burned place beyond the Wall.
The other stood before him.
Howl had not understood until now; the cold revelation came crashing down around him like an avalanche of snow. Even through the foul contaminated magic of the Dark that flooded his senses with its thick nauseating stench, he could sense the thin tendrils of his daughter's presence.
The furry raged against the rudimentary power with which he held the inferno at bay, nearly knocking the lanky man from his feet. Straining again the force, Howl could feel the wood beneath his feet warp and protest as he fought back. But with his children out of harm's way, the Wallmaker was free to unleash the full ferocity of his magic.
“Calcifer!” He shouted over the snarling flames that threatened to destroy their home.
All at once his best friend was with him, a point of twisting ruby light against the Darkness that clotted the room like a disease. With the ease of slipping into one of his great sleeved coats, the two merged in both mind and magic. A geyser of shimmering magnesium light erupted around the joined wizard-daemon, shattering the sinister inferno. As Howl clapped his hands together, a thunderous sound like a gigantic bell resonated through the room. But suddenly the sorcerer cast his palms apart as though the very act could hew the ocean in half. An enormous circle of sapphire star fire burst into life beneath the half-daemon. Immediately the Dark beyond its boarders crumbled into ash as its link to the other was severed, leaving behind the smoldering remnants of the workshop.
The daemon-wizard's action seemed to rouse the doppelganger, which screeched and thrashed, casting twisting torrents of the black water-fire at the obstruction that now contained it. But the circle slowly began constricting in spite of the furious assault being waged from within. Suddenly the creature cast aside its fire and clawed at the air, raking its talons towards itself in a perplexing beckoning motion. The circle beneath its feet pulsed and let out a great breath as though it were a living thing. Calcifer's surprise twisted through Howl's mind like a streak of bright yellow sparks as they both clearly saw the Dull Wall with their othersenses. Somehow the half-daemon summoned a connection to the ravenous charcoal bricked barrier in order to drain the magic that trapped her.
A horrific sensation seized Howl; it felt like his power had turned to sand in his hands, which was slowly being snatched away in the wind of the otherworld. Suddenly the black blotches on her face and hands disappeared, leaving her whole save for the darkness in her eyes. Just then the edge of the circle flickered just as the other stuck out towards them, closing its claws around something unseen.
The Wallmaker gasped as it felt like someone had reached inside of his chest with cold talons made of ice.
Just as soon as Howl had gone tearing upstairs after their daughter, so too had Sophie followed.
But the brown-eyed mother witch stopped dead in her tracks as she caught sight of the doorways to her son's rooms. Her intuition screamed in her mind and she tore open both doors only to find their room's empty.
“Markl!? Akarshan!?” The mother screamed wildly, cold terror knotting in her chest as she turned to run after her husband.
She tore blindly down the magic hallway at the top of the stairs. The ground blurred beneath her feet as she lifted into the air, literally flying to the top of the long winding staircase that let to the workshop. The witch felt faint as she caught sight of the door, which looked as though it had been smashed through. But just as her bare feet met the wood floor of the upstairs landing, an explosion of fire hammered against an unseen force in the portal. Casting her arms up as a gust of searing air pushed past, the brown-eyed woman realized the flames had not touched her. Peering over her hands, Sophie saw that the flames were held back by the charms Howl had placed on the workshop to keep magical accidents from destroying the castle. But the charms did not hold back the horrific stench of the Dark that turned the witch's knees to water.
“Howl!?” She screamed over the roar of the flames and was about to rush into the inferno when Deirdre came barreling through the portal with a sobbing Akarshan in her arms.
“Mommy!” The little boy screamed and half leapt into her mother's arms. The silver-haired witch crushed him into her arms, kissing his tear-streaked face before grabbing the back of her daughter's pants to haul her backwards as the child-woman attempted to return to the workshop.
“Get back here, Drie!” Sophie shouted.
“Mommy, mommy, mommy!” Shan wailed inconsolably, as he slipped from the small woman's grasp and was forced to stand. Howl's youngest son clung to his mother's skirts.
“What's going on, dearies?” Granny witch shouted up the steps.
“Let me go!” Drie shrieked wildly, dragging her mother and brother after her, “He's going to hurt Door!”
“Who?!” The silver sorceress half screamed in exasperation as she managed to hold onto both her daughter and son.
“LET ME GO!” Drie thundered, rounding on her mother with eyes dark as night. The change was instantaneous, and all of a sudden it was not just from the workshop that the smell of the Dark issued. The silver sorceress recoiled in horror in the close quarters, loosing her balance as she realized she perched on the edge of the top step.
“Oh, dear!” Granny witch gushed as a great wind rushed up the stairs behind Sophie. Nox appeared behind her. The star daemon gracefully ushered the witch forward, saving her from a fall as he reached out a single finger and touched Deirdre's forehead. The girl gave a violent start and her eyes went blue as she blinked before collapsing forward fast asleep.
“Drie!” Sophie gasped. But the star daemon caught her effortlessly with one arm as he turned and smiled peacefully at the silver sorceress.
“Look, mommy, a star!” Shan sniffled in awe as he stared up at the tall stranger.
“Help him!” The silver sorceress pointed wildly at the inferno beyond, but Nox simply looked at her as though nothing were wrong.
Suddenly, the snow-haired man held out Suliman's staff to Sophie, the piece of twisted wood magically materialized in his grasp. As she caught it up, Nox held out his free hand to Akarshan, who took it without fear. The star daemon turned to lead the little boy downstairs, carrying his sister. Then he paused to look directly at Sophie. Something in his posture indicated that her children were his only priority at that moment. He was here to help, the look spoke clearly in her mind, but as though he were bound by some other pledge, it was apparent he would only do so much. The star daemon's violet eyes were beyond luminous at that moment, full of swirling mysteries he had no intention of sharing. But then he shifted his gaze, directed her attention towards the doorway.
And then he retreated down the stairs, leaving the brown-eyed witch alone before the hellish flames of the Dark.