This is the first fan fiction I've ever shared with anyone. I'm a bit shy about what I write. Please forgive the mistakes.

I'm mixing aspects from both Miyazaki's movie and Diana Wynne Jones' novel. However, this story takes place in the aftermath of both. Be forewarned that I have taken some liberties. A few preliminary notes. The ring Howl gave to Sophie that dissappeared in the movie still exists. Sophie has two sister: (1) Lettie is a blond who works in a bakery, (2) Martha is an herbalist apprenticed to Mrs. Fairfax. I promise I've tried my best to stay true to the characters, but if you see them acting differently perhaps it's because they've grown in light of their circumstances. I do try to strive to balance both happy and sad elements in what I write. Equally, I'd love some feedback, good and bad!

Update: 3/31/06

I've broken up some of the longer chapter in this story, although there are new chapters the content is mostly the same. I'd like to take a moment to thank my beta reader SkItZoFrEaK! She has been instrumental in the new updated and reworked version of this first part in the Wallmaker Saga.

Thank you for reading!


Beyond the Indigo Veil: Part I of the Wallmaker Saga

Chapter 1: Mirror's Reflection

The rose was quite beautiful, barely a blossom. White as a first snow, its velvety petals had just opened in the crisp early morning. The dew fell from its leaves as Sophie gently trailed her fingers over the bloom.

"Blue…" She whispered, "Be blue, like his eyes."

A gust of wind trailed past the silver haired woman, causing the flower to tremble as a hint of cerulean crept into the petal tips. Brown eyes stared, wide in consternation, as the rose became the exact shade of Wizard Howl's eyes.

It was magic. Her magic.

"Be white! Oh, please be white!" Sophie murmured anxiously.

The rose faded back to its original color, then wilted and turned brown in response to her blazing terror. Sitting back on her heels, the young woman almost began to cry as she gazed upon the ruined bloom. Sophie's anxiousness swallowed the tears as she straightened. Another gust of wind plucked at her long skirt and apron as a mist of clouds enveloped the courtyard of the flying castle.

The castle, Howl's Moving Castle, had long since taken to the air. It was much easier to see the world from on high, Howl had grinned with a capricious laugh. Not long after their curses had been lifted, Howl got a wild hair and suggested that they go on a vacation by way of the sky. Calcifer, who had long been confined to the kitchen fireplace, was all for the idea. The former shooting star retained the wanderlust of his earlier years and steered the flying castle completely by whim.

With the fire daemon at the helm, Howl had plenty of time to pursue his inventions, his magic, and make improvements to the castle. Although it had sprouted wings, the great junk heap still looked ready to fall apart at any moment. Off of the kitchen, the raven haired wizard had built the small garden. The green lawn, cozily encircled by a stone banister, was flanked by fruit trees and trimmed with flowers of all kinds, especially roses. Howl loved roses.

Howl…

In the months that followed the War, Sophie had spent her time filling their castle with love: every tender moment, every smile and every touch was like a new stitch in the patchwork quilt that was their new life. In many ways the wizard Howl had not changed since she had returned his heart: a child's heart. But in other ways he had grown surer of himself, more content and less artificial. It was the little things that Sophie noticed: Howl still spent two hours in the bath, but no longer emerged smelling like a perfume shop and sparkling with glamour magic. He dressed simply now, with fewer jewels and spangles. Howl had always been quick to smile, but now he glowed all the time.

It all seemed a dream and she was terrified she might wake up.

Dreams…

It had all started with dreams. It was like the dark place the front door opened upon when the knob was turned to the black mark. When she had gone to find Howl during the War, the shadowed place had been melancholy and troubling. But it was not the cold place full of terror she now saw in her dreams. Sophie realized that she had carried something back to the mortal world when she and Heen followed a path of tears to save Howl.

It was almost as though she had been marked by magic when the curse had left her hair silver. A seed of magic had somehow lodged within her heart and was growing. That budding magic gave her a feyness she had never before felt, and it was warning her that something was coming. After being plain and normal for so long, the thought of having such abilities terrified her.

A crash of thunder shook the brown eyed woman out of her reverie. Looking up at the darkening skies, Sophie caught a flash of lightning just as the clouds opened and began to pour down rain. With a squeal, the silver haired woman tore back into the house, a gust of wind at her heels.

"Whoa!" Calcifer yipped, rousing from sleep as the castle banked in a particularly strong wind.

When Sophie snuck past him early in the grey dawn the fire daemon had been sleeping soundly. She could always tell when Cal was asleep by his color, which flickered a pale yellow.

"Good morning, Calcifer," Sophie smiled a little more brightly than she felt. The storm had caught her off guard as well. Somehow it seemed like a bad omen.

"Where did this come from?" The little red being crackled in annoyance, tinting an unhealthy green. "Blah! I hate the rain. It's just like Howl not to warn me about the storm. The idiot's had his head in the stars all week. This is a powerful gale; I'll need to set us down somewhere. Oh, good morning by the way."

The castle listed to the side once again under a powerful gust and Sophie scrambled to grab a hold of the stone fireplace. A huge crack of lightening brightened the kitchen and a thunderous boom followed shortly. Overhead a door slammed and the quick patter of tiny feet alerted her to the fact that Markl was awake. The young apprentice tore down the stairs and threw himself into the young woman.

"Sophie!" He cried in terror. Markl was always such an even tempered little boy. As a wizard's apprentice, he had seen some things that would curl the toenails of a normal child. However, he was scared to death of the simplest things like thunder.

"Don't worry, Markl," Sophie smiled gentle as she hugged the little boy. He cowered into her arms as another flash and boom shook the kitchen, "Calcifer is bringing the castle down to the ground."

"Sophie… You're soaked!" The boy drew back and looked at his damp nightshirt. They both giggled and he squirmed as she squished him to him and let her hair drip onto his head.

"I was in the garden early this morning and the clouds crept up on me," Sophie let him go and sidled closer to Calcifer. The little flame glanced at her when she shivered and then reached for another log.

"Oh, a storm," murmured the old witch as she emerged from her room as the ragged little lap dog circled her feet restlessly.

Granny Witch took her chair beside the hearth. Heen wheezed excitedly and hopped about as another crash rattled the kitchen windows. Markl grabbed a handful of Sophie's skirts in spite of how they dripped. Even the dog cowered and hid under the old witch's chair. The former Witch of the Wastes chuckled and gazed with glazed eyes at Calcifer, "Oh, what a pretty fire. What a pretty, pretty fire."

"I've almost got us to the ground, Markl. There's no need to be fussy," Calcifer crackled in amusement.

"But won't the lightening be more liable to hit us on the ground?" The apprentice's voice trembled slightly as he looked from the fire daemon to the silver haired woman.

"You helped Howl put the lightening rods on every gable of the house, didn't you Markl?" Sophie pointed out as she mopped at hair and clothes with a towel from the kitchen.

"Yes," The boy admitted tentatively, "But what if it actually hits us?"

"We'll be fine! I'll eat the lightning with a side of eggshells. Happy?" Calcifer gritted through his sharp little teeth. The Castle gave a gentle shudder and the little red flame stretched and relaxed. "We're on the ground now."

"You might want to go and get dressed while I make breakfast, Markl," Sophie stifled a grin as the little boy realized he had torn downstairs in his nightshirt. He gave a small squawk and ran off up the stairs. In the distance, she heard his door slam.

"I'm surprised that Howl isn't awake with all the crashes, bangs, and booms going on this morning," Calcifer mused as he chewed on a smoking splinter.

Sophie suddenly sneezed explosively and the little fire daemon crept towards her with concern glowing in his small voice, "Are you warm enough, Sophie?"

"Don't catch cold, dear," the old witch murmured, consoling Heen who had jumped up into her lap.

"I'm fine," She smiled, and again it felt false. Rubbing her hands together over Calcifer, she set a kettle on and went about making breakfast. Shortly Markl came back down and quickly set the table as Sophie began flipping pancakes onto a tray. Eggs and bacon followed, although she made sure to drop a couple into the waiting mouth of the fire. Just as the kettle began to whistle, a door overhead shut and Sophie recognized Howl's brisk steps.

"Good morning, all!" The lanky man chimed brightly as he swung around the landing and glided to his place at the kitchen table. Sophie could always tell when Howl was in a good mood. Like Calcifer, he glowed in the morning light. His sapphire eyes were warm and alive, and with every brisk move he seemed to float. The 90 year old woman that still lurked inside her mind clucked her tongue at Howl's skinny frame. As a good measure, Sophie added two extra pancakes to his plate.

"Mmmm, pancakes!" The wizard began to devour his breakfast, then blinked in surprise as thunder crackled overhead, "It's raining!"

"You finally noticed, eh?" Calcifer grumbled from the fireplace, still a greenish color as he hunkered down in the ashes, "Nice of you to warn us. Sophie got soaked in the garden this morning!"

Howl's face took on a serious expression, colored with genuine surprise in spite of the fact that his mouth was full of pancakes.

"That's strange. It shouldn't be raining. I didn't see anything that would indicate a storm this direction."

Sophie sneezed again where she stood cooking at the fireplace, and all eyes turned on her.

"Don't catch cold, dear," The old witch murmured again as she dropped a bit of pancake for a waiting Heen.

"You're soaked, Sophie!" Howl pushed back from the table and stood over her, peering at her with concern. "Why didn't you use a pinch of drying powder? Here, I'll get you some."

"I'm fine!" She insisted in annoyance.

Reaching out, she caught Howl by the elbow as he turned to fetch the powder from the bathroom. Accidentally, she turned out the contents of the pan into the ash of the fireplace.

"Damn!" Sophie swore violently. All eyes in the kitchen once again turned on her. Howl blinked in surprise and frowned. Ashamed of herself, the woman dropped her hand and hid her scarlet face by looking at the floor.

"It's alright, Sophie," Calcifer chirped, picking up the ash coated pancake and munching it happily, "It still tastes good to me."

"I'm going to go change my clothes." The brown eyed woman murmured softly, pushing past Howl as she quickly retreated up the stairs to her room.

As she shut the door behind her, tears blurred her eyes, but she refused to give into them. She felt guilty for killing the flower in the garden, for letting it affect her mood, and for the outburst in the kitchen. Howl was only trying to help; she was being silly for refusing a sensible solution to her soggy clothes. The truth was that magic, even simple drying powder, terrified her at the moment. She moved to sit at the tiny dressing table next to her bed. Rain pattered steadily on the windowpane, making her feel even more melancholy.

Sophie insisted that her room be small and practical. It was barely the size of the huge bathroom that housed all of Howl's potions. The raised bed was narrow, but warm and soft. Directly over the head was a small window that angled slightly so that she could watch the stars as she fell asleep. At the foot of the bed was a wardrobe and on the floor was a rag rug Sophie had made herself. Her only vanity was the small mirror on the dressing table and a vase of flowers she replaced daily.

She glanced at her reflection in the tiny mirror and almost expected to see the wrinkles and liver spots of her former face. Instead she was confronted by the face of a stranger. Her silver hair had grown longer since the end of the War. She pulled it back into a short ponytail at the back of her neck. The smooth skin of her face was foreign to her, but what disturbed her most were the eyes that looked back at her. They were not her own, which were large and brown and fringed with black. These eyes were cold and grey, almost cruel. The face suddenly smiled evilly. Sophie shuddered as she looked at the reflection and a deep revulsion seized her.

This was not her face!

She knocked the mirror over and half stood. With trembling fingers she lifted the glass and gazed at it once more. The eyes that stared back were hers again, but her heart still hammered in her chest.

A soft tap at the door brought her out of her brooding and the latch gave a click as it opened. Gentle arms folded themselves around her, dissolving all of her melancholy just as a sunbeam filtered through the square window over her bed. But the cold knot of fear sat like a stone in her stomach.

"Sophie? Are you alright?" Howl's voice was soft and tender as he rested his chin on the crown of her head. Sophie wanted to tell him about her dreams, about killing the flower, about the dark foreboding feeling she was experiencing, but most of all she wanted to talk about magic. But she couldn't. It was like when she had tried to talk about the curse that made her an old woman. Her mouth clamped shut and her throat closed and not a word could escape her. It was like she had been cursed all over again.

"I'm fine, just in a bad mood this morning," She murmured softly, sinking backward into his arms, and then sneezed again. Howl hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm sorry I haven't been paying much attention to you recently. I'm a silly wizard who gets too caught up in his toys," the genuine remorse in Howl's voice melted her heart. She realized that he thought that he was responsible for her bad mood. Turning, she looked up into his face smiling with all the love in her heart.

"Silly wizard! I'm not mad at you. You haven't done anything wrong. I've enjoyed watching you and Markl climb all over the roofs putting up those lightening rods. Honestly, I'm just out of sorts right now."

She watched as relief flooded into Howl's features. The raven haired man sat on the edge of her bed and beckoned a shawl from her closet with a flick of his hand. As he wrapped it around her, Sophie hid her face in her arms as she leaned on his legs. She loved this man so much it made her heart ache.

Over the months that followed the War, Sophie and Howl had begun to discover the meaning of happily ever after. But they had taken things slowly. They kept their separate rooms in spite of all their passionate kisses. They both needed time, which was something of which they had plenty.

"You obviously don't understand the meaning of vacation, dear Sophie," Howl chuckled tenderly, stroking her silver hair. "You're working much too hard when you should be relaxing."

"I enjoy my work," Sophie mumbled into her hands and Howl laughed, lifting her face to meet his melting gaze. His black hair had fallen into his eyes, and he let it hang there, peering lovingly from beneath the strands. When he looked at her like this she could not image how she had come to be loved by this man. She felt unworthy.

"You're wearing yourself out," he lightly tapped her nose then rubbed his hands together as a look of pure glee brought his features to life. "Hence I have a surprise! Today we're going out, just you and I! If you can't take a vacation on your own then I'll have to take you on one myself."

Howl spread his arms wide and another ray of sunshine filtered in from outside, catching the green jewels that hung from his ears like the points of Calcifer's fire. Again, the wizard seemed to glow and his enthusiasm was infectious. Sophie laughed genuinely, her worries forgotten.

"What? And leave the dishes undone? And the floors upswept, and…"

Howl silenced her by placing a hand on her lips, an impish look on his face. He arched his eyebrows and wagged his other finger.

"None of that! From this minute forth you are on vacation! I had Markl and Granny Witch take care of the dishes today. As for the dust bunnies, they will have to wait." Sun began streaming in from her window, filling the whole room with light. "See? Even the sun agrees with me. I insist that you cannot argue."

But Sophie tried to anyway and this time Howl leaned down and silenced her with a kiss. Tender and gentle, he stole away every possible reason she could think of for them not to go out. When Howl drew back, Sophie murmured happily, "Where are we going?"

XXX

Market Chipping spread out before them, and Sophie was delighted to see so many familiar faces. Howl had created a temporary portal to the city through the closet under the stairs, which opened up into the city out of a random door in the end of a hidden alleyway. She had put on her best outfit, a soft silk yellow dress she knew Howl loved. Sophie had even tied a yellow ribbon in her hair.

Together they visited the old hat shop, which had been rebuilt after the War by her stepmother. Honey still made a living making fancy hats for the country folk, but it was more out of habit than necessity. Sophie's stepmother had remarried into money, and she lived happily with her new husband.

It was nice to visit with family again. Over tea they chattered about Martha, her youngest sister. Apparently she was doing in very well in her apprenticeship with Mrs. Fairfax, a renowned healer and herbalist. Her sister now lived north of the wastes in Folding Valley, and rarely had time to visit. Honey absolutely adored Howl, who was a vision of gentlemanly behavior, and the two gossiped notoriously. While Howl and Honey nattered on about the mayor's daughter, the Sophie was able to spend some time talking with her mother's mustached husband. Mr. Hausa was bald and round as an egg, with eyes that disappeared into his smile. Sophie knew they would be quite happy together.

Next she and Howl visited her middle sister Lettie, who had married the son of the bakery's shopkeeper. She and the young bread maker had literally fallen in love after tripping over each other on numerous occasions in the kitchen. Lettie had proudly announced the joyful news that she had a bun in the oven not long ago, and Sophie was so happy to see how well she was doing. Howl bought some sandwiches and cakes for a picnic lunch and the two left the shop amid a shower of goodbyes and promises to return.

Sitting on the edge of the stone bridges spanning the Chipping River, Sophie and Howl ate their lunch laughing at silly stories they made up about the clouds overhead. As the sun sank well past its zenith, the couple began making their way back to the magic door.

On their way Sophie noticed a new shop she had never before seen. Tucked away in the corner of the main square was a glass storefront stuffed to the gills with antiques and oddities. She could see a series of old kettles of various sizes, gilded furniture, and stuffed animals in the front window. But mostly what caught her eye were the rows of books along one of the walls. The purple paint of the exterior was shiny new and even the triangular panes of the windows glittered invitingly. This was exactly the kind of shop that Howl would enjoy.

"Look, Howl. A curiosity shop. Doesn't that look like fun?"

"Wonderful! Let's have a look, yes?" Howl beamed brightly.

Once inside, Howl literally became glued to the wall of books, perching bird-like on top of the rolling ladder that provided access to the topmost shelves. Sophie's heart was light and full of love for Howl at that moment, and she chatted with the store's owner. The small grey woman reminded her of herself in a time not too long ago. Mrs. Goose, as the shopkeeper introduced herself, could have lived inside a shoe. Her wire-rimmed glasses and white ruffled collar made her the spitting image of a nursery rhyme. The old woman chuckled at Howl from her chair where a cat sat in her lap, pinning her in place.

Sophie began to wander about the shop when she realized Howl wasn't liable to move for quite some time. The store was indeed quite large, with a narrow aisle due to the fact that it was stuffed to the gills with odds and ends. Suits of armor stood as if waiting in line at the market along with great chairs and tables. Rugs, tapestries, and silks lined the walls in yards of soon to be dusty fabric as boxes and baskets of spangles and bangles glittered on every surface. A flash of light caught Sophie's eyes and in the back corner of the store, almost hidden by a series of huge wardrobes, she discovered a miniature maze of mirrors.

At first she was amused. The various mirrors had been arranged in overlapping sizes and frames to create a solid wall of reflections. As Sophie perused the mirrors, she began to feel strange. The space had been tiny, but now it opened up before her like a vast ocean. The cold fear that had been gnawing at Sophie that morning crept like a mist into her mind, quickly subsuming the joy that had previously erased her anxious feelings.

Turning, she was faced with a gigantic mirror that held her entire reflection. The huge rectangular glass was the exact size of a door, and even the frame seemed to suggest that the surface could swing outward at any moment. For the second time that day she realized with horror that her reflection was not her own. The figure could have been her, but it moved of its own accord and its cold eyes were grey. Reaching out it, it placed its hands on the glass surface as though it were a window. Its cruel eyes rooted Sophie in place, robbing her of movement and of her voice. Its lips moved in speech, and although nothing came out, Sophie heard it all the same in her mind.

I found you. The figure beat its fists against the glass in a sudden furry, its eyes locked onto her with a hungry need.

I found you. I found you. I found you. I found you.

Jolted out of her paralysis by the sudden violence of the shade, Sophie brought up her arms and shrieked, "Go away!"

The glass cracked and the figure vanished.

"Sophie!" Howl was suddenly at her side and the woman realized she was once again staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was white as a sheet. Howl grabbed a hold of her and forced her to turn and look into his eyes.

"Sophie, are you alright? What happened?" The sound of his voice brought her back into herself.

"I scared myself, that's all." She managed a shaky laugh that once again sounded false. Howl looked at her with a serious face, his eyes skeptical. He hugged her to him as he stared over her shoulder at the mirror, a fey look in his eyes.

"Everything alright over here, my dears?" The old woman had hobbled over with her cane, a movement too familiar to the shaken Sophie whose nerves were already frazzled.

"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry for the trouble but somehow I managed to break this mirror."

"Eh? Oh, not to worry dear, that mirror's always been broken."

Sophie wilted in Howl's arms and murmured softly, "I'd like to go home now, Howl. I think I've had too much vacation."

XXX

Howl closed the closet door behind him and watched Sophie retreat to her room without a word of hello to the household. Markl was still working on the puzzle spell Howl had left for him and Granny Witch was sitting by the hearth knitting a sock and keeping Calcifer company.

"Is Sophie okay?" Calicifer asked. The little flame was tinged blue with concern as he zipped from the hearth to hover above the stair's banister, floating just high enough so as not to scorch it.

Markl frowned. "She didn't say hello."

"She's just a little under the weather today," Howl replied in a cheerful voice. "Perhaps we shouldn't have gone out."

"She's caught a cold, a nasty cold," murmured Granny Witch.

"Let's just let her have some rest, yes? I'll bring her some warm milk later."

That seemed to settle everyone down, and Howl went over to have a look at Markl's progress on the puzzle. The wizard was a bit more distracted than normal; his thoughts kept turning to a certain silver-haired someone. Sophie's behavior had become increasingly strange over the past few weeks. He had chalked it up to the fact that she was annoyed with him for not spending more time with her. But that wasn't it.

She was very jumpy as of recent and did not appear to be sleeping well. According to Calcifer, she was always up at an inhuman hour of the morning and spent a great deal of time in the garden staring at flowers. Plus, she had become increasingly stubborn about certain aspects of the housework. She flatly refused to use any magical shortcuts, almost as though she were repulsed by the idea.

And then there was the time spent between them. Howl almost felt as though he would burst into flames for the strength of his love. At times he found it hard to reign in his frustration for the slow pace at which their relationship was moving; other times it frightened him how quickly things had progressed. Howl understood how delicate Sophie could be, in spite of her fearlessness. But she kept he own council, and that was what worried him. She would never trouble any of the family with her problems. It was as though she thought that the curse was still upon her, preventing her from talking about what was bothering her.

Something was indeed bothering her, and Howl had only just received and inkling of what that was. In the shop earlier that day, she had gone white as a sheet in front of a cracked mirror. At first he thought she had mistakenly seen the reflection of her old self in the mirror and panicked. But there was more to the story. The cracked mirror in the shop had a faint aura of magic, darker magic, and it unnerved him. There was something going on; he could feel the stirrings of magic deep within the threads of the otherworld. He considered that perhaps Sophie could feel them as well.

Howl fiddled with one of his earrings as he leaned back against the wall next to Markl. He stared idly at the shadows of the hearth, watching them deepen as the sun outside began to set. Something was coming; he could feel it. Even if though they were on vacation would not change that fact.

"I'm going out," Howl announced as he shot to his feet so suddenly that he startled Markl. "I'll be back soon. I need to check on something."

Before anyone could ask, Howl had glided to the door and turned the knob to black for the first time since the War. Opening the portal to the otherworld, he disappeared into the shadows beyond.

"He'll catch a cold too," Granny Witch mumbled and Heen wheezed in sympathy.

xXx

Sophie emerged into the castle in the middle of the night. She had thrown the mirror on her dressing table out her window the moment she entered the room. The rest of the evening she had spent listening to the sounds of the house. She felt a sharp stab of guilt for not coming down to cook dinner. Although, she had heard the front door open and close shortly after having retreated to her room.

Howl.

He must have gone back out after they had returned. Another pang of guilt filled her. She had ruined their day by forcing them to return home early after the incident at the curiosity shop. She had barely spoken a word to Howl on the way home. The wizard had walked with his arm around her shoulders and she held his hand tightly, hoping that the contact would communicate to him what she seemed incapable of voicing. She was alienating him and she knew it. The cold knot in her stomach seemed to close over her heart at the thought of losing the wizard's love.

"No!" She whispered to herself emphatically. "This will stop!"

Shooting to her feet, she changed out of the yellow dress she had been wearing earlier. Clad in her usual grey, she pulled on her boots and wrapped herself in her warmest shawl. She pulled the yellow ribbon from her hair and put it on the side table. A moment later, she paused and then tied the ribbon back into her hair. Somehow it gave her strength.

Creeping out of her room, she whispered to herself, "I am completely silent. I am not here."

Had Sophie been watching herself at that moment she would have been surprised to see herself disappear. Under the influence of magic, she moved soundlessly down the closet under the stairs. She could hear Granny Witch snoring behind her curtain. Even Calcifer was asleep in the hearth, his dreams tracing shadows around his warm yellow glow.

As she had expected, Howl had not yet removed the spell from the door. Glancing at the front door, her heart froze as she saw the knob turned to the black mark. Howl had gone into the otherworld. A fey premonition told her that this was not good. Quickly, she opened the closet door and hurried out into the streets of Market Chipping.

At first she was not sure where she was going. But her feet brought her to the curiosity shop where she had earlier encountered the shade. She knew the door was locked, and looking above the shop she knew that Mrs. Goose was fast asleep with a fat cat sitting on her chest. She looked at the lock and spoke sharply, "You are not locked!"

Her heart skipped a beat at the soft click. With a trembling hand, Sophie reached out and opened the door.

Magic… Her magic.

In the daylight the shop had been inviting, a cozy clutter of odds and ends. Now the darkness gave it a sinister feeling and each step she took filled her with dread. In the back of the shop the mirror gallery sparked in the faint light from the moon outside. Sophie crept forward, her anger stealing courage from the cold fear in her stomach. Coming to stand in front of the cracked mirror, she stared at the many reflections that looked out at her from the splintered space.

"Where are you?" She whispered to the mirror and placed her hand on the surface. She was surprised to find that the crack was sharp and she cut her finger on it. Snatching back her hand, she placed her finger in her mouth, staring at the red stain on the surface.

Here. It replied in a voice that could have been hers. In the smaller fragments of the mirror, cold grey eyes stared out at her with pure hatred.

"What do you want?" Sophie hissed, recoiling from the intensity of the stare.

Hate you.

"Why? What did I ever do to you?" Anger filled Sophie and she turned away from the mirror, but another reflection of herself stared back at her with cold grey eyes.

"Go away!" Sophie whispered weakly. But power in her words was not there and she felt her strength was draining away. On the other mirror the red smudge on the crack seemed to pulse.

Hate you. Hate your world. The reflection said again.

But now I have you.

Icy fear turned her legs to water as a splintering sound made her turn back to the broken mirror. The smallest fragment of the mirror, out of which the eyes had stared, had fallen to the ground and shattered. Where the backing of the mirror should have shown there was only a gaping darkness that suddenly oozed forward and began pooling on the floor. Sophie choked on the rotting stench that filled the room, but horror held her rooted in place. Tendrils, much like arms, reached up towards her, clenching and unclenching obsidian claws that formed from the vile substance.

Sophie turned and ran though the shop. Behind her, she heard the mirror shatter and she could smell the evil torrent of black that was pouring out of the mirror in waves.

"Open!" Sophie screamed and the front door splintered beneath the force of her need. The silver haired woman tore out of the shop. The windows shattered as arms of black ooze shot out after her, snatching at her as she wove through the central square.

"Faster!" She told herself and she began to glide over the ground. In her mind she could hear the dark substance shrieking. Loud crashes and explosions sounded in her wake and she knew the Dark was just behind her.

MINE! MINE! It called in a chorus of metallic voices that no longer belonged to her.

Like a shooting star, Sophie took a hard right and flew down the alleyway's twists and turns. She could see it, the backdoor of the café that lead to home. To Howl.

Sophie slammed against the portal and nearly passed out in pure terror as she found the door locked. Sophie saw a dark arrow of movement shoot out of the corner of her eye and in the nick of time she threw up her arm. Pure acid pain lanced through her body as the black substance closed around her wrist.

"Open!" She screamed.

GOT YOU! The metal chorus crowed triumphantly. But its glee turned to a shriek of pain as the Dark around her arm dissolved in a familiar burst of purple flame.

Calcifer, Sophie's mind reeled with relief and she tumbled backwards into nothing.

xXx

A silent shape glided through the midnight veil of the otherworld. Howl silently gazed at the star-strewn world below him. Unlike the mortal world, the beyond had no stars, although the glimmering lights below were as bright as the night sky. This realm was sacred. Until Sophie came into his life, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

But the lights were not stars, they were people and places. Each person came into the world with an inner light, their own piece of magic that dwelled within their soul. Sometimes things and places took on the lights of the people that once lived around them, but who had long since left the world to a place where even Wizards cannot go. The otherworld was where magic came from, fueled by the great ocean of light that lingered here once the corporal world faded. The stronger the light, the more powerful the magic.

Beyond the black knob was a world that existed between worlds. Like water gathered beneath the ground, the world of the indigo veil pooled in between the mortal realm and the mysterious beyond. Wizards were able to tap into the magic of the otherworld in the same way that a well brings up water from far below. Some sorcerers were powerful enough that they did not need anything more than the strength of their own light to create magic.

Like the surface of a pool of water, the otherworld reflected the ripples of magic used in the mortal world. It was for those rippled that Howl was searching.

In his childlike way he had hoped that the hardship of War had passed, and had even tried to ignore the tight anxious feelings he sometimes received. As a wizard he knew better: sorrow, like joy, always came in threes. The warnings had been easy to ignore until recently. He had been observing from on high for quite some time now, and suddenly he saw what he had been waiting for. The sight chilled him.

There was no sound in the otherworld, only a constant silent wind. However, change was often heralded by a slight building pressure, like the calm before the storm. It felt like a hand had closed around his heart and squeezed gently. In an area below, the gentle greens and mellow whites of an area of lights dimmed slightly, and then one by one they winked out. But suddenly, out of the consuming darkness a light so bright it could have been beacon flared into being. Howl watched in horror as the Dark turned and rippled after the fleeing light. It moved like a flood, consuming even the brightest points of illumination that fell into its wake.

Suddenly, the ring on his right hand sent a line of red light toward the fleeing beacon, which halted abruptly and wavered.

Sophie!

Howl tucked his wings and plummeted from the sky like a meteor from the heavens. His magic sparked in angry reds about him as he called up the doorway that led back into the mortal world. A rectangular outline of burning white opened before him and he shot through it a second after it came into being.

Howl flew into the Castle through the front door just as Sophie tumbled backwards onto the floor from the closet doorway. He took in the smoking black mark on the woman's arm and the wriggling tendrils of dark that were dissolving into nothing. Casting his eyes through the purple fire that guarded the doorway, Howl could see the great wall of Dark that rushed towards them.

"Calcifer, inside now!" Howl shouted. The fire daemon fled inward just as a wind of light and power lifted the wizard from the ground. His sapphire blue eyes blazed as the Dark came to a halt inches from the door.

MINE! The metallic chorus howled in anguish and frustration, and then shrank from the blinding aura that consumed Howl. The closet doorway slammed shut and then splintered under the weight of the wizard's eyes, severing the portal to the village.

Granny Witch came fumbling out of her room with Heen on her heels and the old woman screamed as she caught sight of Sophie on the floor. Howl swept the limp form of the silver-haired woman into his arms.

"Calcifer, hot water!" The wizard shouted and nearly trampled Markl as he bolted up the stairs.

The door to the bathroom splintered before the raven-haired man and the hot water faucet nearly wrenched itself off as water began rushing into the tub. Casting a fearful look at the woman in his arms, he noted that she was not breathing and his face went blank.

"Markl," Howl barked and the apprentice appeared at the doorway, his face a mask of terror.

"Bring me a small mirror, a piece of bone, and a knife!"

The young boy disappeared and returned with the items just as the water in the tub spilled over the edges. Markl had never seen his master like this before, and the young boy was awed by Howl's power. The great nimbus of light pulsed around him, swirling through whites, purples, pinks, and blues. His clothing and his hair fluttered about him in the otherwind that blew from the world of magic.

"Calcifer!" The flame daemon zipped into the room and hovered over Howl's head, burning a sick green color.

Howl let go of the Sophie and she floated weightlessly in the air. Taking the knife, he gouged his finger and smeared the blood on the bone, then took hold of Sophie's burned arm. He spoke a spidery word and the bone turned to turn to silver with a flash. Touching the object to the black ooze on Sophie's wrist, it absorbed into the talisman, leaving behind only an evil looking black mark the exact shape of a hand. Howl tossed the bone into the air and Calcifer devoured it, flaring purple-white for a moment.

Snatching the bloody knife and the mirror from the air where they were suspended magically, Howl etched the glass with a series of red concentric circles and triangles. In their center he traced a strange mark that seemed to crawl with a life of its own. As Sophie lifted up in the otherwind to float over the bathtub; Howl held the mirror directly underneath her and dropped it. When the mirror hit the water, its surface turned to ice and Sophie let out a great scream in a voice not her own; the multi-toned shriek was like a metallic chorus. Her eyes flew open and Markl could see that they were completely black. The wind ceased and the silver haired woman plunged into the tub, smashing through the ice which splintered like a great mirror.

The water consumed her.

Howl reached in as the liquid turned ink black and hauled Sophie out. She coughed and sputtered, gasping for air as she cast her wide brown eyes about the room. The black water boiled and thrashed, then went still and clear. At the bottom of the tub, the splinters of the mirror could be seen. They had turned black.

Wordlessly, Howl gathered her up in his arms and carried her into his bedroom. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving an anxious apprentice, a faded old witch, and a somber green fire daemon to wait.