Howl's Moving Castle Fan Fiction ❯ The Daemon Wars ❯ Chapter 10: Secrets ( Chapter 10 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 10: Secrets
At the very moment Door made ready to pull apart the Howl's magic, a shockwave pulsed through the room, severing all connections.
All except one.
With a dizzying sensation of begin ripped apart, Howl and Calcifer separated just as the other lost her link to the Dull Wall. The circle of magic burst into healthy power once more. Falling to one knee, Howl realized Sophie stood at his side, Suliman's staff in her hand. He stared up at her, blinded by the nimbus of silver-white light that burned around her like a halo. Perhaps because she used it so rarely, her magic never ceased to amaze him. She was formidable in spite of the fact she was still wearing her nightdress and her long hair was unbraided and tangled from sleep. But with troubled brown eyes the woman regarded with the half-daemon before her. Reaching out her hand, the sorceress caught the disoriented fire daemon to her, trying to give comfort in spite of herself. The silver sorceress wore an expression of such intense grief that he knew immediately that she understood more than words could convey.
Wordlessly, the Wallmaker stood and slipped his hand over Sophie's where it rested on his later master's staff. Together they struck the ground with the butt of the twisted piece of wood and an enormous wave of pressure crashed through the burned chamber. The Dark trapped within the circle suddenly whirled around the doppelganger, dissolving into a thick clot of shadows that gathered at the blood-smeared woman's feet. Again they hammered the ground with the stick and this time the entire castle shook. It was as through the madness retreated through a door in the half-daemon, sent back to the burned place beyond the Dull Wall. And with it went all of the daemon's power, taken from the lives she had consumed. But in that moment both Howl and Sophie realized the door was broken and it could not be locked; the Dark would be able to find its way back through once more. It had been banished, but only for the moment.
Now in the center of the circle stood only a thin and lanky woman with matted silver hair; but anyone with the othersight could see she was half daemon. As the last dregs of the tainted magic fled her, the woman's legs failed and she gracelessly flopped to her knees like a child. Trembling violently, the woman cast wild cerulean eyes about the smoldering room before fixing them with such longing intensity on the silver sorceress that the look could have melted stone.
“Silver mother!” The creature whispered with a heart-wrenching sob, reaching towards her weakly with arms sticky and stained with blood. But the containment circle shocked her violently as the daemon tried to reach beyond the barrier.
“Banish it, before it brings back the Dark!” Calcifer crackled wildly, starting up from Sophie's other hand. The creature hissed like an animal as it caught sight of the lanky wizard, cowering as she narrowed blue eyes at the raven-haired man.
“We can't Cal. If we do then Deirdre will be sent with her,” the Wallmaker replied in an exhausted voice. The handsome man stared openly at the trapped half-daemon, deeply disturbed by the blood on its body and the color of its eyes.
“Can we help her?” The mother witch asked softly, giving a start as the daemon once again turned pleading eyes to her.
“Sophie, will you check on the children?” Howl asked, evading her question, shamelessly attempting to maneuver her out of the room. The Wallmaker's wife seemed reluctant to leave, regarding her husband with a troubled expression full of questions and conflict. But the sapphire eyed man smiled at her with an expression of such confidence that she finally relented. Seizing the lanky sorcerer for a moment to plant a kiss on his lips, Sophie fled from the room, pausing for only a moment as the chimera called after her.
“Silver mother!” The creature shrieked again, but fell silent and guarded as the wizard Howl drew close, regarding his daughter's doppelganger with an impassive expression. The daemon attempted to summon a portal, but the silver sorceress had temporarily removed from her all magic. The creature was very nearly mortal in that moment. Realizing her predicament, the silver-haired half-human crumbled into a huddled ball, shrinking as far from the luminous blue line that encircled her.
As soon as his wife left the room, Howl wilted visibly and turned away from the daemon.
However, there was a furious fire in his eyes that sent his best friend to a distance as the master of the castle looked around the ruins of his workshop. Calcifer flitted higher; casting a warm mellow light through the gloom that filled the dark room, save for the cold glow of the binding circle. Sustained by the fire daemon's magic, the windows in the shop remained intact and the night outside passed swiftly by as the moon sank lower on the western horizon. It was very late, or very early depending on your perspective. Wearily, the aggravated wizard slowly wandered about the burned room, digging through piles of charcoal in hopes of salvaging his work. But the papers fell to ash in his hands, just as the many tables holding his projects had crumbled. Pools of melted glass and metal clung to the charred floorboards, where once they had been beakers, boxes, and vials. He paused in front of a particularly large pile of cooling molten glass; this was once the mirror.
“The papers Markl wrote on were right here,” Calcifer spoke solemnly.
But the Wallmaker was not completely disheartened and he silently praised his eldest son's curiosity. His apprentice had read the papers before they were destroyed. Perhaps he could transcribe the words? But still, that was little solace. Prying up a piece of metal with some difficulty, the raven-haired man hurled it aside with an angry growl as he discovered it was unsalvageable. Kicking about in the wreckage that filled his room, the man would stoop every so often he fished a gleaming jewel or bit of rock from the rubble. Suddenly, the thin sorcerer straightened visibly and strode over to the back wall, where a series of shelves held rows of blackened rectangles. Gently, as though he were afraid a mere touch would destroy the objects; Howl dusted the soot from the objects, which were miraculously unscathed save for a coating of charcoal. This time he sagged against the shelves out of relief.
Much like his bathtub, the raven-haired wizard could not live without his books.
“At least the books are okay. Good thing you put the fire charms on them.” The living flame piped optimistically.
Without a reply, the Wallmaker pulled many frilly handkerchiefs from his endless pockets. He began lovingly dusting off the many volumes, which wiped clean as much from magic as from care. Very quickly the hankies were destroyed and the cerulean-eyed man was far filthier than the books that lined the shelves. But the work seemed to calm him. As thin clouds of mist and spray whisked by in the indigo twilight outside, the rage in the lanky man dissipated, leaving only patient resolve.
“What is your name?” The Wallmaker asked the daemon all of a sudden, but not unkindly. Calcifer let out an irritated snort and look like he was about to speak when Howl silenced him with a glance.
“What do you care, Wallmaker…” Door snarled in a voice twisted with hate from beneath the cloak of her tangled filthy hair. Howl approached again, standing above the captive in the circle. Calcifer lazily circled above the wizards head, doing his best impression of a fire daemon's version of pacing. The long silence that followed grew heavy and tenuous and the creature shrank from the intense gaze with which the handsome man pinned her in place. But there was no where to go.
“What are you waiting for!? Kill me!” The silver-haired doppelganger sobbed with such bitter remorse that the blue-eyed wizard almost believed that the being wanted to die.
It was not at all a reply the thin sorcerer had expected from a daemon touched by the Dark. Tainted spirits were often embodiments of the harshest emotions; driven mad by the evil beyond the Wall, they existed only to cause more destruction without sorrow or regret. Much like their kindred, the touched did not feel, they were being of pure mindless action. As such they were dangerous because they could not be reached or swayed; the ancients from beyond the Wall were outside reason and could not be saved. To preserve the balance they had to be destroyed.
But this touched spirit was different; which gave Howl both hope and foreboding.
“Are you so eager to leave this world?” The keeper of the balance replied not without pity.
“No…” She whispered in anguish, “But I have failed and betrayed. If you do not, then green mother certainly will…”
“Who is green mother?”
Again his intuition burned like a wild may-fly in his mind. Here was the connection once more. But the silence returned, like a wave crashing upon the sands; but just as the sea is indecisive, and in that moment so was the chimera.
“My name is Door,” She spat out her reply as though it were a vile thing.
Again Howl was forced to pause and reflect on Door's circumstances. She was half-human that much was for sure. Ancients were not concerned with the mortal concept of identity and mortality, nor would they claim a name or any kind of responsibility. But this complicated things significantly. Unlike what he had previously assumed about the other, Door wasn't just a faded copy of his daughter born out of the chaos of wild magic unleashed in the otherworld. The silver-haired woman was a person; a living being with a mind, a heart, and a soul.
Another truth twisted in his mind, filling him with revulsion and aversion. But it was not something Howl could ignore; family was a matter the Wallmaker held to be one of his greatest concerns. His ferocious love of his kin often set him at odds with his other fundamental purpose: to maintain the balance in the otherworld. However, he could feel a connection to the corrupted woman; they shared the kinship of blood. She was indeed Deirdre sister, just as in a way she was his daughter. But he sensed something else in her, it lingered beyond the distant ghost of the Dark that permeated her like the smell of smoke. But even as he reached for it the other recoiled from him.
“I want to help you, Door. But first I need your help.”
“I DON'T NEED YOUR HELP! HATE YOU!” Door screeched at the top of her lungs, rising up from beneath her hair like a wild-eyed furry. The creature threw herself at him, her pale hands twisted into the mimic of the claws that would have coalesced had she not been dry of magic. But Calcifer flared like blue-white fire above his friend's head and the barrier crackled to life. With a sizzling sound, the half-human issued a cry as she was flung back to the ground.
“Calcifer, be gentle!” The Wallmaker snapped angrily, turning luminous blue eyes to his friend.
“She's trying to kill you and our family, Howl! You'd think you'd be a little more concerned!” The fire daemon growled back showing a great deal of tooth around the curls of smoke that escaped his mouth.
“Everything she feel Deirdre feels too!” The wizard replied curtly and that seemed to sober the living flame, “Besides, she will never trust us if we do not show her kindness.”
“Murderer!” Door gasped as she struggled weakly to rise inside the blue circle. Her words rooted Howl in place, sending an icy chill down the length of his spine. He knew that voice! It was like another was speaking through the daemon's lips. Suddenly the creature raised her face to scowl threateningly at the Wallmaker.
Her eyes, they were not blue, but cold and grey!
“You killed them, Agyrus. I will never take your help… Murderers! You will be punished, all of you on the Council for what you did. Your Doom is coming! I have seen it!”
At the sound of his late uncle's name, every hair on Howl's body stood on end. Suddenly he understood the other presence he felt earlier, the one that had hid from his prying. Here was the connection he had been looking for, the familiar sensation that filled his heart with simultaneous exultation and foreboding.
“Danna!” Howl shouted as recognition pierced his mind like a shard of ice.
At that very same moment Nox walked calmly into the room, humming softly to himself. The star daemon was sober in spite of his tune, sadly casting his violet eyes around the room. But Earin Danna let out a shriek filled with horror and knowing as soon as she saw him. It was as though she knew the daemon and what his presence meant.
“The fallen star!” The cold woman screeched incredulously through the chimera's lips, her shock turning to fury.
The snow-haired man turned to regard her with a gentle serene smile, oblivious to the seething hatred with which the figure regarded him. Abruptly his song changed, melting into a deep mellow timbre that resonated from all around him as well as from within. With it came the otherworld. The indigo veil seemed to rise up around them like water bubbles from the ground where once it lay hidden beneath the surface of all existence. The fire daemon let out a cry and looped wildly in the air, clasping thing arms where human ears might have been.
“Calcifer!” The wizard shouted in dismay, trying to catch hold of his friend in spite of his own intense discomfort.
But Danna also screamed and heaved herself up, railing against the barrier. Howl was forced to cast out his hands and the circle flared strongly, containing the former Daemon Queen who wore Door like a great cloak of madness. But the piercing song continued and the woman clutched at her chest, from which a twisted cord emerged just beneath her heart. The strand had two parts, a smooth length of sapphire blue and a twisted snarl of charcoal black. At an arms length they separated and coiled about her in opposite directions, and she clutched at them possessively.
“You cannot take her from me without killing them both, star daemon!” The mad one snarled, but Nox did not appear to be concerned.
He opened his mouth and sang a single reverberating note that was visible for a moment like a sunbeam piercing the gloom. It splintered like the shattering of a glacier, but them seemed to move beyond sound. Danna stood stock still, eyes wide with terror. The grey faded from their wide corridors, just as her presence inside of Door was forced to an end. As the star's song faded, the chimera alone was left standing with her hands clutched over her heart and a grieved expression on her face.
“What did you do!?” Howl all but shouted at the star daemon as he caught Calcifer in his hands. The violet eyed man turned to regard the Wallmaker with a quizzical expression. The stranger then turned his gaze to the fire daemon as he spoke in the shining gold tone of the language of magic.
“He made Mrs. Danna leave,” Calcifer translated blearily.
“But we had her! We could have severed her connection to the girls!” The blue-eyed man raged.
“It's not that simple, Howl,” The fire daemon spoke firmly, shaking himself as he rose up from the wizard's hands to regard his friend, “That loony-bin wasn't really here, so there wasn't much we could do. The elder star had to get Danna out of Door before she let the Dark back in.”
The Wallmaker again felt at a loss in the darkly tanned man's presence. He was not accustomed to being wrong in matters of magic. Currently, Nox was regarding him with the same sad smile he had earlier, which did nothing to help calm Howl's fury. Had Door not spoken, the wizard surely would have torn up half the floor to throw it at the star daemon.
“Kill me…” The chimera spoke in a small traumatized voice.
Nox rounded on the half-daemon in a fluid motion devoid of the awkward constraints of gravity. For the first time the sorcerer could recall, the star-man showed anger. The metallic multi-level chorus of the stranger's voice tore through the room like the boom of the darkest iron, riding a great avalanche of purple-red vehemence. Howl was forced to clamp his hands over his ears, lest his head split in two. Calcifer turned and fled from the room, a small teal spark of light. But Door instantly roused from her self-pity and recoiled in fear. Immediately the chimera replied in a shrill crystalline song that was saturated with meek compliance. Once their voices ceased, Nox turned to the Wallmaker and spoke in the halting lilt that would characterize all of his mortal speech.
“She…” The daemon gestured gracefully to Door, “Will speak to you now.”
With that Nox left the room, humming to himself serenely.
Mrs. Danna was hurled back into her body so violently the knife she held clutched in her hands flew from her grasp.
Exhausted and on the verge of unconsciousness, the former daemon queen as she attempted to sap energy from the connection between she and her daemon. But the cord that connected them was a bare thread, a transparent ghost of what it had been. She had to be careful not to over tax it, lest it break and cause them both die. She was completely powerless, helpless, and at the mercy of her own mortality. Despair was replaced by seething hatred as she realized somehow the Wallmaker had placed a barrier between them, preventing her from influencing Door.
Again the Darkness in her chest reared up like a great chasm of anguish and had she not been sitting she would have fallen.
Door was so close, the daemon had the boy in its grasp and yet she had failed to act. It would have been so easy to snap the little boy's neck, but she hadn't. WHY?! What was it that was holding her back? Danna warred with herself again, confusion mixing like salt in the wound of her tortured mind as fragments memories flooded her. You would think that one without a heart would not be troubled by emotions any longer. But the grey-eyed woman learned the truth of that matter not long after bringing Door to life. Even the heartless could still feel guilt, remorse, and hate.
Was it because of the Star?
Perhaps... Perhaps it was because it was not what the prophecy foretold? She had not realized how close to the Doom they had become. Her chest tightened with terror as ghostly visions of the great looming wave of vermillion hatred crashed over the Wall, flooding their world with sorrow and oblivion. Danna suddenly forgot all thoughts of revenge and retribution, driven by her deeper purpose. She must act quickly, or the mortal world would perish. But the woman was weak, barely able to stand. Now even Door, her connection to the otherworld, was beyond her reach. Was the prophecy wrong? No, she reflected with cold moroseness. She knew only too well how right it was and what came of doubting its words.
Perhaps she had misinterpreted it?
It was so hard to tell now that her sight was gone, ripped from her along with everything she had ever loved. But those thoughts disintegrated as her eyes fell on the silver blade. It glinted brightly in a pool of moonlight on the ground in the distance. Absolute certainty filled her, a faint echo of what she used to experience when she was younger, before she was touched during the time of pain and madness.
“I am right!” She whispered out loud to no one in particular. She had the silver knife: the blade that would end life of the Wallbreaker. That, if anything, proved it.
Fatigue finally claimed her, leaving those satisfied thoughts echoing madly through her mind. When her eyes flew open the sunlight streaming in the windows outside was blindingly bright, weakly she shielded her eyes. Something had roused her, a thin tendril of anxiousness pressed upon her, making it difficult to breathe. Suddenly, she sensed another presence in the room. It was far away, so very far she could barely taste it with the broken remnants of her othersenses.
Someone was looking for her.
Danna remained very still in the dusty room of the cottage, gently probing the mind that roved around her. It was a woman, a powerful seeker; there was no way she could hide from the hunter's magic. Had she been in full form, this infiltration would be no more threatening than had a fly buzzed past her ear. Had she been wearing her cloak of daemons, she could have ripped the witch's mind from her body and shredded it between her claws. But she was mortal now, beyond any such power. Thus, the former healer froze, cold terror creeping with a shiver through her paralyzed limbs. If she moved she would be discovered, if she remained motionless she risked the same.
Outside she heard the gulls crying in the bright blue sky overhead; if she listened carefully she could even hear the distant sigh of the ocean. The moments of lucidity she managed to experience in this place had reminded her of how amazing quietness could be.
She was so very tired and for a moment forgot everything.
The madness had not seized her since she had emerged from the otherworld, carried by Door to this place. Perhaps they could just stay here and forget the world? Door? Where was she? A brief spark of panic fled through Danna as she realized she was alone and even her daemon was gone. The seeker suddenly intensified her search, no doubt catching wind of the broken woman's unease. But with an overwhelming rush of bitterness Danna realized that she could not stay here. The blood of the elderly couple she had ordered the chimera to kill was still spattered on the walls. Some even soaked into the hem of her tattered green dress. She was stained, Earin brooded morosely, and there was no place of rest in this world for one such as her.
Perhaps it was fate that she was about to be discovered. Her legs were not capable of carrying her to where she needed to go. Instead, it appeared that Ingary would be coming to her.
In the distance she saw the silver knife laying on the floor and knew with iron certainty she had to finish what she started. Standing with a great deal of difficulty, Earin Danna shuffled painfully over to the blade and stooped stiffly to pick it up. The moment her fingers closed around the hilt she was discovered. The magus' othersight fixed upon her with ferocious intensity there was no doubt in her mind that the seeker knew exactly who and where she was.
Danna knew it would not be long before there were soldiers at her door.
Bright sunshine woke Theresa.
“G'morning Lady Martha,” the curly haired girl mumbled sleepily, rubbing her red-rimmed eyes.
The dark haired healer went along the eastern side of the room throwing back the thick curtains to let in the sun. The bright light did nothing to help her predicament. The freckle-faced girl felt exactly the same way she had the morning after her teacher's wedding where he had drank too much cider. Not that she had anything to drink last night. Wait… hadn't Martha fixed her a cup of tea? Ah, yes. It tasted of vervain and lavender, a perfect cover for bitter kava root, a lesser cousin of the poppy plant. Not that it matter that her mistress had drugged her; the sleep had been welcomed. Otherwise she would have cried all night.
Theresa felt like her nose was twice as large as it should be and she snuffled miserably. Her mistress suddenly appeared at her elbow and lifted her chin with gentle hands, peering at her with an intense frown and piercing green eyes. It perhaps was not the best way to wake up in the morning, but apprentice didn't mind. The red-haired girl had long since discovered that Martha's concern for her health was the herbalist's way of showing affection.
“Open,” The healer commanded and the young apprentice complied by sticking out her tongue with the obligatory `Ah.' The green-eyed woman seemed satisfied that she was not ill and would most definitely live.
“Crying won't help,” was the bitter medicine the pale woman offered.
“But it makes me feel better,” Theresa mumbled morosely as she gazed at the dew-covered thistles Martha had brought in that morning.
“The special tea needs more lavender; I still can taste the bitterness of the kava this morning,” The young woman added testily, feeling the gentle jib was justified by the dull ache in her head.
Martha, however, did not deign to reply as she went about lighting the traditional rune marked green candles she had set up in the room.
They were in a private quarters in the healer's wing of the palace. It was an extra special chamber because it had a view of the gardens and palace greenhouse. The sky overhead darkened as another pod of airships moved through the sky on patrol. Lord Barimus had left early that morning for Market Chipping on a similar fleet of flying machines with Emperor Ferdinand, Prince Justin, and the Boy-King Walden from Tyrn. She did not recall if the blond wizard had come by this morning or late last night. Her memories after the cup of tea were a little fuzzy. But he must have because there was a bell tied to her belt, the twin of that which hung from her teacher's belt. They were oddly silent when they moved. Martha had only just returned from her rounds of the palace infirmary. She could tell by the greenish tinge in her teacher's face she was working too hard again. The herbalist looked rather red nosed herself; perhaps she needed a cup of tea, the curly haired girl thought crankily.
“Work while you mope,” the dark haired woman spoke evenly, placing a large white mortar and pestle on the small table next to her apprentice. A wet woody smell like peeled bark issued from the seeds within as she crushed them half-heartedly. Finally, she gave in to the one thing she had been avoiding since she woke up.
Theresa looked over at Markl where he lay unconscious on a pile of pillows.
He had not moved an inch since he had been brought here after the daemon attacked them. The only thing that indicated he was still alive was the slow hush and sigh of his breathing. The tall russet-haired boy looked lost among the large fluffy pillows and the red-haired girl knew he preferred a single hard cushion. She had stayed in his room at the Wallmaker's flying castle a single night during the daemon assault on the palace. Shamelessly, she had snooped through all of his things quite notoriously and as a result knew a great deal about the Wallmaker's apprentice. For instance, she knew that he loved books, the color green, and had a penchant for wind chimes. She had never once doubted their friendship; there was always the garden hoe to encourage her. No passing acquaintance would have done something like that for her, especially since she was non-magical. But it was different now.
The curly haired girl wondered if the brown-eyed boy had noticed her in the same way she had him.
Even now she wanted to wildly tousle his hair to make it look like the cute little cow lick that stood up at the back of his head. She wanted to put leaves and sticks in his hair so they could match. She wanted to jump barefoot with him in puddles of mud because she knew he wouldn't mind getting dirty. Most of all she wanted to kiss him on the cheek again. More and more frequently she remembered the time in the shield room when it seemed as thought they were all going to die. The curly haired girl dwelled long on the moment she had kissed the russet haired boy's cheek. She would rise out of that particular daydream to find her own cheeks burning. Theresa had even become so desperate that she wrote him a letter, hinting at how much she liked him. The green-eyed girl even scented the paper with lavender oil, one of her favorite smells.
But he had not written her a reply.
With a stab of bitter jealously she remembered how she had come upon him draped by those two girl apprentices from the Royal Sorcery Academy. Perhaps he liked them better? The blonde one certainly was pretty, and a great deal… chestier than she. Perhaps it was because she wasn't magicky? But those thoughts only turned to guilt and sorrow. Markl had saved her from the daemon, but there was nothing she could do to save him. Whatever had happened to him was beyond the healing arts of even her mistress. She had asked Martha if Master Yewin could perhaps be called to look at the sleeping boy. But her mistress' stony glare had disintegrated that suggestion immediately. Apparently Yewin was now on the herbalist's bad list. The young apprentice knew it had something to do with Barimus and the Wizards Council. But the dealings of Magi never made any sense to her.
What if Markl never woke up? Who would explain any of it to her then? Who would go flying with her or climb trees with her? Who would fall into the pond with her?
Not that there was a pond anymore. Their shop had been destroyed in the events leading up to the Kingsbury invasion. Her mistress had given no indication that they would be rebuilding, in spite of the fact that Barimus had mentioned it a few time. She knew that Martha and her husband would take care of her; it was just that Theresa didn't feel like she had a home anymore. She had never had many personal possessions, but the little cottage beneath the willow tree in the quiet corner of Kingsbury had made her so happy.
Would they stay in the palace forever?
The curly-haired girl had her own room close to the gardens, but she really hated the palace. Everyone was so stuffy and stuck up and no one her age wanted to speak to her let alone be friends. The freckle faced girl wanted to be surrounded by wild green things again. To her the palace greenhouse felt stunted and claustrophobic. Everything was uncertain again, like it had been in the Mardan War when she lost all her family to the bombs. That was before she had met Martha. She was ever so grateful for her life with the herbalist, it was just that the world of magic and daemons seemed to have swallowed everything normal and consistent. She loved her mistress more than life itself, but this way of living was not for her. Suddenly Theresa realized she was crying again, her tears dripping down into the powder at the bottom of the great white bowl. Martha came up along side of her and wrapped her arms around the young girl, speaking in a gentle voice that held none of her normal sharpness.
“Don't worry, dear one. Salt is actually good for that mixture. Go ahead and cry.”
And so she did, all the while attacking the seeds viciously with the pestle.
It took Sophie a moment to realize why the room looked to odd; the bed was tilted at a very strange angle.
Apparently she and her children were so exhausted that they did not even wake when the broken leg in the bed gave out again. The previous night, after she had left the workshop, the silver sorceress discovered that the star daemon had replaced the support for the broken leg and deposited Deirdre in her parent's bed. Akarshan was fast asleep next to the child-woman, curled up in the crook of her arm. Nox was nowhere to be seen, but the mother witch was no worried. She trusted the star daemon implicitly in spite of the fact that he followed his own calling. He had saved her life and her daughter's. As far as she was concerned the daemon-man was welcome in her home, no matter how strange he acted. Mildly, she realized both her children were still wearing their shoes and were covered in soot. And so was the bed. Sophie heaved a sigh, full of endless love and exhausted exasperation.
Now she had to do laundry again.
The brown-eyed woman did her best to stay awake waiting for her husband to come to bed. But eventually she fell asleep, in spite of the twisting worry in her heart about the thing in the workshop upstairs. Letting her children sleep as they lay, Sophie dressed quietly and went to the bathroom to wash off some of the soot only to find it occupied. Rose and hyacinth scented steam crept from the cracks above the door. Giving a gentle knock, she received no answer. Half concerned, she entered quickly so as not to let out too much of the sweet-smelling mists.
To her surprise, she found the Wizard Howl, last of the Wallmakers, keeper of the balance, and the most powerful sorcerer in all of Ingary, fast asleep in his bath. Plus, there was still soot on his chin and arms, which hung limply over the lip of the tub, his long fingers touching the ground. Furthermore, from under the washcloth that was draped over his face, which was lolled to one side, her husband was snoring.
Grinning, she quickly scrubbed herself off in the sink and pulled over a stool to sit beside the bathtub. The water was still piping hot and thick with pink frothy bubbles, so he could not have been there long. That meant the had but up far longer than all of them that night, and the tub had become both bath and bed that morning. The silver sorceress toyed with the idea of waking him, half-afraid he would sink lower into the water and drown. But that she doubted, for the man's thin knees were beginning to peek out of the bubbles. He looked so relaxed that she was loath to disturb him.
When she first met Howl she had thought him lazy, but now she knew better. Magic was exhausting, and a magus needed every inch of rest they could steal. However, the children would both need baths and Howl could sleep all day if left to his own devices. So the mother of the castle made a compromise. Lifting the corner of the washcloth, she leaned over and softly kissed the sleeping wizard on the lips, hoping to gently rouse him.
“Mmmmmm… Sophie?” He murmured sleepily and she couldn't help but giggle as she let the wash cloth fall back over his face.
“Good morning, horrible Howl. You fell asleep in your bath.”
“Did I?” Suddenly one of his arms snaked around her waist and pulled her towards him, almost causing her to tumble into the tub had she not shot out an arm to catch the other lip.
“Howl!” She protested with hot indignation only to choke on a laugh as she caught sight of the grin and single blue eye that winked at her from under the washcloth. She splashed him playfully with her other hand and he chuckled, releasing her. Sitting up in the tub he yawned loudly and stretched sinuously before ducking his head into the water and snatching up the cloth to scrub his face. Sophie perched on the edge of the sink, watching him flounder among the pink bubbles. However, her mind was elsewhere.
“Enjoying yourself?” The raven-haired man grinned at her, making a great show of scrubbing his shoulder. Sophie frowned at him and playfully kicked the side of the bathtub, sending the water sloshing.
“Madam, it would please me greatly if you would not waste my bubbles!” Howl replied seriously in the loftiest of his brogues. His eyes, however, were still winking merrily.
“Where is Markl?” She asked suddenly, and the thin wizard quickly ducked his head into the water, disappearing under the bubbles for quite some time. The silver haired witch was impressed with how long her husband could hold his breath. She had managed to straighten a whole shelf of vials of some kind of cosmetic by the time he surfaced for air with a great sputtering gasp.
“I'm still here,” Sophie spoke mildly in spite of the fact that Howl was currently scrubbing the inside of his ears. She knew perfectly well he could hear her. Nor were his antics doing anything to alleviate the fear for her eldest son that was twisting in her chest.
“He's in Kingsbury, no doubt chasing after Theresa.”
She knew instantly he wasn't telling her everything. The cheer in his voice was too convincing. Just as his teasing this morning was too playful since she knew for a fact he had not sleep hardly at all that night. This was no time for jokes. Especially with what had happened and what was probably still upstairs in the shop.
“Howl…” She began anxiously, but he cut her off.
“I'm going into Kingsbury today, Sophie. I'll find Markl and bring him home with me tonight. What's for breakfast?”
Howl evasiveness and refusal to look her in the eye made her more and more worried. Currently he was scrubbing his back vigorously with the long handled bristled brush he always left in the bottom of the tub. It was amazing how quickly people backslid into their old habits. Howl was forever keeping secrets from her; so did the rest of their family for that matter. Always for her own good, so they told her. Sophie had been lenient before, too much so perhaps. But whether out of inexperience or exasperation she wasn't sure. However, it had not been so long that she had forgotten how forced silences had very nearly taken her from this world.
She was not about to backslid herself.
Luckily, Howl was somewhat trapped by his current situation. As such, she went to stand at the foot of the tub and fixed him with a stare he could not evade. The manner in which she deftly placed hands on her hips was as much a warning to the bathing wizard as if she had raised the red flag. The posture was not lost on the raven haired man, who rinsed his hair one last time, madly planning his escape.
“I think I'm done. I bet the cherubs need a bath, so would you hand be a towel?”
With a gusty sigh, Sophie slowly walked forward to the middle of the tub. Suddenly she turned and sat fully clothed right in Howl's lap, splashing water and soap everywhere in the bathroom.
“Sophie!” Howl sputtered, utterly shocked by what his wife had just done. He was well aware of the fact that one of her pet peeves was wearing wet clothing. Crossing her arms, she fixed her husband with her best Martha stare. She didn't even relent when his surprise turned to mirth as she blew out of the corner of her mouth at the bit of soap-suds that clung to her cheek.
“Tell me everything or I'll sit here till we both turn to prunes!” She all but demanded.
The blue-eyed wizard laughed out loud, a sound that made the silver haired woman's heart melt; if not the stony expression she wore on her face. Even that faltered as the thin wizard wrapped his long arms around her, gathered her to his chest as he kissed the top of her head.
“I love the fact that you can still surprise me, Mrs. Witch,” He murmured into her now damp hair, doing his best to drip on her as much as possible.
“I'm a blessing and a curse. Don't change the subject.” She wriggled uncomfortably,. Sophie did indeed hate being wet while wearing clothing.
Howl told her enough to make her forget even the discomfort of having her dress soak up half the bath. She was quiet a long time, clinging to him long after he had silenced. She remained in the tub even after Howl disentangled himself from her. Drying and dressing quickly, the Wizard roused the brown-eyed witch from her distressed thoughts by draining the tub and dousing her with drying powder. Sophie knew he hadn't told her everything knew, she could tell by the nervous way he smoothed the back of his wet hair. But she had enough on her mind already and trusted he would eventually.
Or would he?