Length: 1,200 words
Summary: "A missing star? How careless a thing to lose!" DWJ - Chrestomanci, Howl's Moving Castle.
Note: Written for kattahj on livejournal (albeit possibly in a somewhat sideways fashion, in the sense of me saying, 'hey, challenge me to write Chrestomanci and Howl in the same story' and her replying, 'hey, I challenge you to write Chrestomanci and Howl in the same story').
After he'd spent a good half-day following the fading ephemeral trail faithfully across, for the most part, boggy moorland, Chrestomanci was surprised to find at its end not a star but a great ugly looming hulk of a castle. On the slope below the castle, a young man stretched on his back in the grass with folded arms pillowing his head.
The fellow seemed quite oblivious, head flung back, chin pointing up to the brilliant blue sky, one foot hooked over the other bended knee. Quite the picture of lazy bliss Chrestomanci could only envy. He turned his gaze from the youth - who was unaware of him either honestly or by choice - to examine the towering half-mechanical half-magical beast at his back. Black and smoky, and bulbous and ugly in design, he was mildly affronted by the uneasy sensation the grotesque thing was eying him right back with equal disdain.
He looked back down to the youth. "I suppose," he remarked, only the faintest bit testily, "that we could play this game all day. Nonetheless, having already missed dinner and not being of a mind to miss supper as well, you'll excuse me if I forgo the niceties."
The young man in the grass lazily blinked the one eye that was visible underneath his unruly mud-brown hair. "By all means. You can sit down, if you like." His tone all-too-obviously betrayed that he believed himself most magnanimous and obliging, and the only possible response to be a suitably grateful acceptance.
"I think I shall stand," Chrestomanci announced. It was surely childishness to shift his feet so that they were planted just a little more purposely, but he did so anyway.
Fingers scraped back a lock of hair to reveal a second eye - both eyes were open and awake now. The youth raised one shoulder in a gesture that couldn't be bothered to be a shrug. "As you prefer. Your loss - the grass here really is very comfortable and springy. You'll forgive me if I don't get up, but I have had a rather tiring day."
Chrestomanci brushed at the tenacious grass seeds still clinging to his coat. "I, on the other hand, have had rather a tiresome day." He drew in a breath and concentrated on being quite as Stern and as Tall as he was able. "I have been looking for a missing star."
"A missing star? How careless a thing to lose!" the young man exclaimed.
"Perhaps not so much 'missing' as having failed to meet a crucial engagement," Chrestomanci amended. "Last night, a star fell and did not die. Far from the most common occurrence, and I don't believe any of the previous such incidents on record ended in any manner that could be described as 'well'."
He eyed the bulk of the castle as it seemed to sidle closer, either working toward the theory of safety in numbers or offering a brooding moral support. The young man gave it a sideways frown, and a glare out of the corner of his eye, and it halted and looked vaguely guilty in a way that one would imagine only a sixty-foot high moving castle possibly could.
"I take it that monstrosity belongs to you," Chrestomanci said pointedly. "Certainly - hm! - one would hope no responsible owner would allow it to wander around willy-nilly unsupervised."
The youth sat up eagerly, as if presented an invitation he found himself quite unable to resist. He said proudly, "I think it's rather grand. Utterly exhausting to make, of course - beyond even anything I had expected - but I'm exceedingly pleased how it's all turned out. I'll grant the exterior could use a little more finesse, but as transdimensional mobile habitations go, I'd say it's a splendid job." He broke off and looked Chrestomanci up and down, as though taking him in for the very first time. Beneath the show, Chrestomanci thought he detected a faint souring of the young man's demeanour. "You're that Chrestomanci fellow, aren't you?"
"That would be correct."
"Sorcerer Jenkin." The young man offered a hand far too briefly for anyone to stand a chance of accepting it, before he withdrew it and leaned back on both arms, legs stretched in front of him over the grass, and said quite distinctly, "You can't have it."
"I don't want it," Chrestomanci replied. "I'm merely acting upon a request from certain other authorities. Who are likely to be quite displeased with you, I might add."
Jenkin waved a dismissive hand. "At this stage, I doubt there's anything anyone can do... oh, there's no need to correct me - I can see you're just dying to, but I assure you I don't doubt you could take it back." He granted the point without losing for an instant his air of imperiousness. "But then you'd probably also kill me in the process, and I get the sense that's not really your sort of thing."
Chrestomanci narrowed his eyes and said crossly, "No matter how you may over-indulge in this devil-may-care attitude, you are an entirely foolish young man. And I sincerely doubt you shall have long at all to wait before events conspire to prove to you just how foolish."
"Ah, but you must allow it as entirely my foolishness to indulge." Jenkin lay back again, apparently reassured that he was not, in fact, going to be killed. He extended one arm, trailing the backs of his knuckles across grass, until his fingertip touched the edge of the castle where it squatted, emoting disgruntlement like a fortress constructed entirely of Sulk. Jenkin's gesture, though, was oddly like a caress.
"You'll have no argument from me on that count," Chrestomanci declared. "Oh, for Heaven's sake!" He brandished a pointed finger at the castle as it rumbled faintly, expelling black smoke. "Tell your... castle... to stop fussing so."
"I'm afraid he's rather high-strung, as castles go," Jenkin said blithely. "I - "
"I'm sure," Chrestomanci cut in flatly, and heard the young sorcerer shift with indignation as he turned away.
He was some way down the grassy slope with his feet beginning to sink once more in the squelch of the marshy land by the time Jenkin called after him, "I say! What will you do?"
"Go home to supper." Reluctantly, he halted and looked back.
Jenkin made an agitated noise through his nose. "About the star!" he pinned down, with an irritation that suggested he resented it considerably.
"Very little," Chrestomanci enunciated. A certain desperation in the way Jenkin's hands clenched at his sides gave him pause. "This world really isn't a part of my bailiwick. I'm here only as a favour to those who are unable to investigate the matter themselves - " he eyed the currently starless afternoon sky " - and if that's what you're worried about, I doubt that we shall meet again. But the universe has its own ways of balancing out This Sort of Thing. I advise vigilance - although I already rather fear you doomed to be unhappy in any case."
"That's all right, then," the young sorcerer said cheerily. "I bid you a pleasant journey, sir!"
"One can hope," Chrestomanci agreed, rather bluntly, before he strode squelching away.