Beyond the Indigo Veil: Part I of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 9: Dawn
The ground beneath Sophie's hands was green and verdant, not the black scorched sands of the plains of suffering. She lifted her face into a gust of the otherwind and caught sight of great hills that rolled into the distance. They were studded with tiny white, blue, and green lights that brought a sense of peace to her heart. For a moment Sophie thought she was dead, but then Calcifer flicked in front of her, soundlessly mouthing words in agitation.
Suddenly she was seized by a hand of power and hurled into the air. She landed hard with a silent cry of pain and rolled onto her side, staring up into the looming shadow of the great Dull Wall. The great vermillion wave still rose up beyond its border as though it would crash at any moment. Not far off she could see Barimus' prone form, the red wizard's clothing fluttered in the otherwind. Calcifer again hovered frantically in her vision, shouting soundless warnings. This time Sophie rolled out of the way of the shadowed claw that reached for her.
Stumbling to her feet, the silver witch turned to face the Core of Darkness, which wore Agyrus' husk like a new garment.
She realized at once that it still could not yet go far beyond the Wall, which gave her hope that Howl was still alive. Beyond the Wall Breaker's fluctuating form, she caught the glint of the emerald jewels the raven-haired sorcerer wore. There, trapped in the long arm of the possessed wizard's shadow, Howl's form could be seen in the Dull Wall. Only his face and shoulders hung from the black bricks of the barrier, but unlike his form in the mortal world, here Howl was flesh and blood.
Sophie retreated from the slashing claws of the Darkness, dragging Barimus' out of range. Standing up into the whipping wind of the otherworld, the silver witch looked on the scene before her with anguish. Her magic was beyond her without Suliman's staff as a focus. Above she could still see the vortex to the ice fortress, held open by the forgotten stick.
Calcifer appeared at her shoulder, gyrating with cross-eyed frustration over his lack of voice. Sophie caught him in her hands and smiled at him. The fire daemon seemed to calm as Sophie communicated her words to him through other means.
Please, Calcifer. I need your help.
Too weak, was the flame's tremulous reply.
Sophie pointed to her eyes and then placed one of her hands over her heart. Calcifer made a face of absolute astonishment and crackled silently, telling her without words just how crazy she was.
I'm only lending them to you, Calcifer. Is it a bargain?
The little fire daemon fluttered as she gave him a kiss, and then the silver haired witch swallowed him whole.
Sophie doubled over in agony then her arms flew wide as she snapped back her head in a silent scream. A great white fire burst from her chest and eyes, lifting her into the air as it surrounded her form. The red wizard came to his senses then and scrambled back, shielding his eyes as the blinding nimbus of Sophie's raw magic. The silver sorceress hovered in the air, a pale and sightless outline within the great fire she had conjured.
Lifting her arms to either side, Sophie glided down the hillside towards the Darkness with a serene expression on her face. The shade within the wizard Agyrus faltered and shrank back before the blinding light that approached him.
Be gone! Sophie disembodied voice rang like a silver bell on the otherwind.
Never! The Core of Darkness thrummed triumphantly.
A great gaping maw split Wall Breaker in two and swallowed the silver sorceress. For a moment her light was completely smothered and Barimus looked on in horror. But suddenly the wizard Agyrus burst into white flames from the witch's radiance.
No! It cried in surprise.
The Dark attempted to draw back, but the woman in the silver fire shot forward, overwhelming the darkness with the tremendous power of her love. She scourged every last wriggling tendril of the blackness from the soul of the wizard Agyrus. Sophie burst from the teetering old man, dragging the long arm of the shadow after her as she gained speed. Opening her arms wide, Sophie plunged through the Wall in the exact spot where Howl's face had just disappeared.
On the other side of the Dull Wall the silver witch broke free of the bricks, the slack form of the raven-haired wizard Howl slung over her shoulder. Behind her the black arm of shadow had transformed back into Howl's soul, which showed like a shimmering blue membrane. The silver fire around her began to dim as she lost speed, it flickered and extinguished. Sophie strained onward, hauling the great sapphire ribbon from the hungry bricks of the Dull Wall.
It finally snapped free and fled back into the wizard Howl, who tossed back his head and gasped in a great breath of air. His eyes flew wide and he returned to his senses just as Sophie collapsed into his arms. Casting his eyes about wildly, Howl's attention snapped back to the Dull Wall as the section that had tried to consume him crumbled into rubble. The ground trembled and the sorcerer cast his sapphire eyes over his shoulder at the burning wave of the Dark that rushed forward towards the breech.
Turning with his wife in his arms, Howl erupted into a crackling indigo corona, tinged violet with the weight of his power. Ominously, the ground beneath them vibrated as the magic of the green plains responded to the wizard's call. The indigo veil was pierced for a moment by the blinding light of his supernova, which cleaved the Dark in two. Soundlessly the wave rolled back on itself, turning a sickly grey as it faded into ash. Like a burning star the witch and wizard shot backwards through the breech in the wall. As they passed the bricks shuddered to life and filled in the hole as though it had never existed.
Howl dropped from the sky next to a shaken Barimus, who stared at the wall in shock. The raven-haired wizard gently kneeled with his wife in his arms. Placing his hand over her heart, the sorcerer's eyes flashed with inner fire as the otherwind sprang up around them. He carefully withdrew a giddy Calcifer from Sophie's chest. The little daemon did a weak loop-de-loop and shot upwards through the open portal in the sky. Sophie stirred and blinked through tearful eyes as she caught sight of her husband's smiling face. Wordlessly, she flew up into his embrace.
Howl gathered her to him, standing with grace. He cast his bright eyes in the direction Barimus was looking and caught sight of his uncle's body where it lay in the thick grass. The three of them watched it dissolve into a tiny point of white light. His magic had been consumed by the greedy bricks Dull Wall, but his soul went on into the vast tranquility beyond the indigo veil. There was sorrow with them in that moment, but also there was peace.
Together the companions turned their faces back to the mortal realm and disappeared through the portal in the sky.
They landed knee deep in snow, the light of the sun above blinding in comparison to the gentle dark of the otherworld.
Howl reached out and took a hold of Suliman's staff, where it stood plunged into the snow. He rapped its end against the ice and the portal to the otherworld closed. Sound came rushing back into the mortal world.
"I can BELIEVE you actually ate me!" Calcifer snapped and crackled at Sophie incredulously, flaring up red and orange.
"She ate you?" Barimus' face was astonished, but neither Sophie nor Howl were paying attention.
The raven haired wizard tenderly lowered the silver haired witch to her feet and had gently cupped her face in his hands. They drank of each other's eyes as though the whole world was a desert and they had finally found respite.
"I almost lost you," Sophie whispered, her tears freezing like tiny diamonds as she hugged her husband tightly, her eyes full of desperate love.
"I heard you calling. It gave me the strength I needed to wait for you," Howl murmured, brushing the ice from her cheeks as he leaned down to kiss his wife passionately.
Calcifer and Barimus both turned pink and looked away.
Sophie was fiddling with her wedding ring again, twisting the silver band around her finger again and again.
Staring outside the kitchen window, she watched the white flakes falling in the garden with an anxious look on her face. Lingering memories were perhaps the cause of her nervous mood. She knew it was silly, but she didn't like Howl and Markl being out in the weather. They were probably soaked to the bone. The freak storm had blanketed the entire wastes with a dusting of snow even though it was autumn.
It had been a month since the three of them had returned from the ice fortress. It had only been a week since wizard Barimus had announced his engagement to the herbalist Martha Hatter. The red and gold invitation sat in the middle of the kitchen table. Her heart was full of nothing but joy for the two of them.
The dark haired healer and the Royal Wizard had become inseparable since their return. Martha had stonily refused to leave Kingsbury much to the dismay of dear Mrs. Fairfax. But the sunny old herbalist admitted that Martha had long since learned all she had to teach, thus releasing her from her apprenticeship. But all was well. Granny Witch spent a great deal of time helping the plump woman; the two had become fast friends.
But that was not what was bothering Sophie. It was something that Calcifer had revealed to her in private shortly after they had returned. At that moment she was doing everything in her power to not think about it. Instead she was worrying a hole in the floor.
"Quit stressing, Sophie! It's going to be fine!" Calcifer crackled in annoyance from the hearth. The little flame peered at her with one eye as he watched the silver haired woman pace.
Sophie hadn't said anything because she wanted to be sure. But the flame made it clear that since she had deigned to swallow him, he had a lot more insight into what was going on in her body than she herself did. The thought had terrified her at first and she hadn't wanted to believe Calcifer.
She was worried about what Howl would say. It wasn't something they had ever talked about. And then there was Markl. Would he feel betrayed and unwanted? The thought of hurting the little boy mortified her. But there was no doubt in her mind anymore. Sophie was very sure; her witchy sense told he with certainty.
"You haven't told him yet, have you?" The fire daemon surmised dryly as he watched the silver haired witch make another circuit around the kitchen.
"Tell me what?" Howl came rushing in from the garden chased by a breath of icy air. Sophie and Calcifer both jumped as the lanky wizard practically ran over to fire, hopping in place as he tried to warm himself. The little flame retreated into the ashes as Howl tossed another log onto the fire.
"Where's Markl?" Sophie asked evasively.
She stood on the tips of her toes to wrap a blanket around her husband's shoulders. The wizard dressed for vanity and not practical reasons, like warmth. The silver haired witch made a moue as she wondered at the fact that he wasn't an icicle.
"Outside playing in the snow with Heen. What were you going to tell me?" The raven-haired wizard asked cheerfully.
His eyes flashing mirthfully as he leaned down and kissed the top of her head. He was about to enfold her in the blanket with him when she retreated once more to the table, a hesitant look on her face. Howl frowned in confusion as he kneeled on the couch and looked at her questioningly.
"Howl… What would you say if I told you that you we are going to have to take on another apprentice," Sophie blurted out after an awkward moment of silence.
"Is that all? Has Barimus been bullying you again? Honestly, he and Martha are going to tear the kingdom apart…"
Her husband replied quickly in his carefree way as he jumped to the wrong conclusion, but Sophie cut him off before he could continue.
"No, Howl. That's not what I mean," Sophie replied, her voice tenuous with implied meaning as she placed both of her hands on her stomach. She stared hard at her husband, trying to make her meaning plain.
Howl stared at her, the smile fading from his face as it was replaced by a wide eyed look of utter shock. It slowly dawned on him what she was talking about. For a second Sophie thought her heart would break when he stared wordlessly at her. But the wizard let out an elated whoop and shot forward over the couch, scattering furniture as he swept her up into his arms and kissed her soundly.
"Sophie! You're! I mean, we're! I mean! Dear, Sophie, how wonderful!" The jubilant words came tumbling out of him as he spun her around in his arms. Setting her back on her feet, Howl kneeled to gently hug her around her waist, resting his head on her stomach.
"Yes!" Sophie laughed breathlessly, "Markl will have a brother and you will have another son!"
She reached down and cupped her husband's face in her hands, bending to kiss him with all her heart and soul. Calcifer peeked an eye at the pair, burning a rosy pink. Perhaps the family had finally found their happily ever after.
To be continued in Children of the Stars: Part II of the Wallmaker Saga