Twilight Doom: Part III of the Wallmaker Saga
Chapter 10: End's Beginning
From the frying pan straight into the fire.
That was Sophie's first thought as she stared up at the swiftly shrinking golden dome. At first the hatter's daughter had no idea where she was. It took her a moment to realize it had turned dark as night because of the black ice that coated it in its entirety. In the distance she could see a huge crystal obelisk that flickered dimly, casting the only light in the thick frozen darkness of this strange place. In her othersight the sorceress of silver flame could see the many witches and wizards that huddled in the gloom, outlined in a rough circle by their burning magic. In a flash of intuition she knew that most were members of the Ingarian Wizard's Council. That meant they were somewhere in the Kingsbury Palace. With a crushing sense of doom, she understood that the magic of the sorcerers and sorceresses around the glowing spire were the only thing keeping them from being crushed to death in the twilight gloom.
So much had happened while she was in the beyond.
The barrier gave a hideous shriek as it constricted inward under the powerful force of the frost outside. The moan sounded like claws raked across a stone. Confused and frightened by the distant screams and unfamiliar setting, the silver sorceress clung involuntarily to her husband. Howl had not put her down, nor did he give any indication that he would. The Wallmaker was staring at the darkness overhead with intense seriousness, although his features were calm and resolved. There was no fear in him in that moment, only a determination so strong it was tangible. Because of their closeness, which extended through many levels beyond mere physicality, Sophie could feel the vast expanse of the magic that the wizard Howl gathered within. In that moment the brown-eyed mother caught sight of her daughter, who was a few steps beyond her father. The expression on Drie's face was uncanny, a mixture of horror and understanding as she gazed upwards.
It was then that Howl set on Sophie on her feet and she sank to her ankles in the cold black snow that coated the vast chamber.
"Mother! Father!" Someone shouted in the darkness and the Wallmaker's wife was almost knocked from her feet as Markl scrambled through the frozen gloom and tackled her. Sophie fell back against Howl, whose face cleared with joy as he stooped to wrap his arms around them both. Breathless with joy, the silver witch and the Wallmaker crushed her eldest son to them.
"Master Howl, your hair!" Markl squeaked through the intensity of his father's embrace, looking in concern at the silver that peppered the temples of the handsome man's raven hair.
"It's no matter, Markl. I can dye it back!" Howl laughed his blue eyes bright with elation as he beamed down at their eldest son. Suddenly a glowing point of red-yellow light swooped around them like a shooting star.
"Sophie! I knew it! I knew you were alive!" Calcifer exulted as he came to hover above them. Following closely in the fire daemon's wake was a red-haired girl wrapped in the patchwork cloak the silver sorceress made for Markl's thirteenth birthday. Seeing them reunited, Theresa clapped her hands and jumped up and down with unfettered delight.
But the fire daemon's mood shifted quickly as his eyes fell upon Dierdre, who stood partly aside with a hesitant expression on her face. The child-woman stood barefoot in the snow and gave no indication she feel the cold. The little flame fluttered in shock for a moment and then he darkened to a menacing black purple. Drie drew back, an enigmatic expression on her face as she regarded the living flame. But Howl let go of his family. In a swift moment he carefully caught Cal into his hands and brought the daemon close to his face just at the barrier overhead gave another mournful screech. The sound seemed to sober the former star and the little flame was drawn from his fierceness by Howl's voice.
"She is my daughter," the Wallmaker spoke convincingly and the fire daemon gave a shocked sputter. But the wizard continued in spite of his best friend's consternation, "Never mind that, Calcifer, right now I need your help."
The little flame looked at him with large eyes, shifting his gaze from the stranger back to the lanky wizard before he nodded. "Take care of your mother, Markl. Drie, would you come with me please?"
The tall half-daemon followed after her father wordlessly as he walked with Calcifer in his hands towards the approaching barrier.
"Wait! Master Howl!" Markl cried out and tried to chase after his father, but Sophie held him back. Normally she would have vehemently protested being left behind in any circumstances. However, a powerful sense of foreboding had flooded her and she knew she must stay behind for the sake of her family.
"Let him go, Markl," His mother spoke softly as she buried her face in the back of the young man's shirt, which was damp with snow. She shivered convulsively, whether from the cold of from the vision it was unclear.
"Are you cold, Mrs. Jenkins?" Theresa asked in concern and without hesitating the young healer swept off Markl's cloak and wrapped it around the silver sorceress.
"Thank you, Theresa," Sophie smiled at the herbalist's apprentice, then sobered for a moment as she realized what the girl's presence implied, "Is my sister here?"
"Mistress Martha is with Master Barimus. He's in a bad way, Lady Sophie. He broke both his legs."
"Dear gods, is he alright?" Sophie gasped in horror, but was distracted from her worry by Markl's voice.
"Who is that… that creature, mother?" the russet haired boy asked haltingly, "Master Howl said…"
Markl's face was fractured by uncertainty and conflicting emotions and the brown-eyed woman was about to speak sharply. But she hesitated when she caught sight of Suliman's stick in her boy's grip. It was then that she really took a look up at the young wizard, clearly seeing the grief and exhaustion plain on his face. Her little boy had grown up a great deal since last she had seen him. Looking off into the distance, Sophie caught sight of Calcifer's light. Near him she picked out the dim sapphire silhouettes of her husband and daughter in her othersight.
"Her name is Deirdre, she is my daughter and Akarshan's twin. That means she is your sister, Markl."
"But… She's a…" The young wizard continued in alarm.
However, his words were cut off as a brilliant flash of blue light erupted in the distance. The howling gale of otherwind ripped like a great whirlwind through the shield room, sweeping up the black snow in eddies of power. Markl half stepped in front of his mother protectively, but she pushed him aside, peering into the blinding light around the cracks of her fingers. Something akin to a thunderclap rocked the chamber as blue lightening cascaded from where Sophie could see Howl. He was on fire with familiar radiant cerulean flames. The lanky wizard was bent with furious concentration as he pushed against the shield wall with all his might. Next to him was Drie, who was a perfect mirror of her father's posture.
All of a sudden, the nerve-racking groaning of the barrier's constriction ceased, settling the shield room into an eerie silence.
Instantly, the glass spire in the center of the chamber erupted into incandescent brightness, returning the light of day. Cheers of hope echoed through the room and the silver sorceress could feel the barrier overhead solidifying as it regained its power. Casting her eyes about, Sophie caught sight of a flash of red in the dark snow in the distance. In that moment Martha lifted her head from the prone form she held in her arms and her green eyes connect with her sister's. Sophie heard the royal wizard triumphant shout as clearly as though he were sitting right next to her.
But Howl was not finished yet.
Calcifer's blue fire cascaded up the far wall like a great blazing inferno. The Wallmaker's wife felt the searing heat as she turned her eyes back to her husband and daughter. Water and bits of liquefying frost rained down on them from above in the furious heat that thawed their prison. The snow beneath her feet began to melt. The black ice coating the dome around the wizard Howl and Drie thinned and dissolved, letting in brilliant shafts of light from the sky outside. But the daylight was obscured once more and Theresa screamed as the insidious obsidian hydra loomed beyond the shield. Sophie could clearly see the great beast the deamon queen had become. The silver sorceress gaped up at the twisted being and realized why Howl had been desperate to return to the mortal world. But in that moment Drie's form seemed to darken and waver, as though she were no longer solid.
Sophie shifted her eyes away from the thing that had once been Mrs. Danna and she stared at her daughter with her othersight. Fear and horror warred within her heart as she watched the child-woman loose all physicality and surge upwards into the golden barrier. The girl's mother recoiled as mad terror gripped her like the chilly ice in which she stood. The brown-eyed witch recognized the empty woman's daemon form and recalled how it had erupted from her daughter's shadow in the palace's Council Chamber. The revelation was terrible by the fact that somehow Sophie knew that the empty woman no longer resided inside of Drie. Her daughter had become the daemon; how this had happened the witch did not know.
Paralyzed by her dismay, the silver sorceress watched as Drie became a great black rectangle. The doorway seemed to absorb all light, showing plainly in the brilliant nimbus that surrounded the wizard Howl. He drew back from the forming portal for only a moment, waiting like a coiled spring. It split for a fraction of a second, creating a gateway to the world outside and yellow-black flames rushed in from the beyond. But Howl held out his hand and the fire split before his magic like water flowing around an immovable stone.
In that moment the Wallmaker and Calcifer surged forward, escaping beyond the inner barrier of the golden shield.
Howl stalked forward through the firestorm, his cobalt eyes fixed with furious hatred on the enormous black creature before him.
As the obsidian hydra cut off its conflagration the hideous creature reared up its many heads as it furled membraned wings, bellowing a challenge to the sky. The rubble around the wizard and the fire daemon vibrated and trembled. The deafening chorus of its gruesome warbling seemed to herald the end of all things. The beast had grown large and powerful on the death and suffering it had inflicted upon Kingsburry. But the Wallmaker knew that appearances could be deceiving and he looked beyond the physicality of the mortal world. The many daemons that made up the hydra's twisting form glittered like crimson lights in the wizard's othersight. But at its heart, burning like a point of twisting black and purple fire was the daemon queen, mother and ruler of the horde of spirits. They wrapped around her in a great cloak of enraged magic, and she road their power like war horse. They were the source of her magic and also her weakness. Because she commanded it, the creature towered over the Wallmaker, almost as large as his flying castle.
But the raven-haired wizard was not afraid; his mind was fixed with blazing intensity on a single thought: retribution.
The daemon queen had crushed half of Ingarian capital; she had murdered scores of witches and wizards. She had hurt his family, stolen away his daughter only to return her cursed, and if only for a moment, she had killed his wife. But, why? The lack of reason behind the cold healer's action enraged Howl. The lanky wizard and his best friend had merged shortly after halting the golden dome and together they burned like a single flame. Calcifer surged through his thoughts like a smoldering brand, echoing his decision. Together they agreed that what the cold healer had done was unforgivable!
The Wallmaker had not felt the blinding sense of rage that consumed him in that moment for a long time. It filled him with white hot magic that should have been beyond even his power. The last time he remembered feeling this way was during the Mardan War. It was the same limitless magic that had seized him as he took his bird-like form to protect their home in Chipping Market from the bombs. The wizard gave into the oblivion of the force and he slipped once more beyond humanity. In a form that took him between worlds, through the raw intensity of his emotions, the wizard Howl tapped into the vast reservoir beyond the indigo veil. Perhaps the hydra felt his building power, because it faltered. Had he been thinking more clearly, the Wallmaker may have recognized the conflicting emotions that surfaced within the monster. But the blue-eyed sorcerer was beyond perception at that moment.
The moment of hesitation was the daemon queen's downfall.
The wizard Howl, last of the Wallmaker's, surged forward on navy wings that trailed indigo-violet fire like a great sapphire phoenix. The obsidian hydra screeched and snapped at him with its needled heads, but their darting attacks met the impenetrable barrier of blue star fire. Yellow-black fire poured around the feathered daemon-man, but its heat never reached him. With eyes that saw beyond the physical realm, Howl reached out with taloned hands and tore aside the daemons that drew up around the retreating monster. Within his grasp the twisting spirits screeched treacherously as they erupted into flames from the intensity of his banishing magic. As they crumbled into ash, the daemons were exiled once more into the scorched plains beyond the Dull Wall.
Howl… Somewhere in the distance a voice called for him. But the wizard was beyond mortal language at that moment.
Like the leaves of some great poisonous bloom, the Wallmaker peeled away the layers of shrinking and wailing shades, growing ever closer to the core of the beast. With an agonized shudder, the crimson fog that had once acted as a protective cloak dissipated from around the daemon queen. The woeful creature collapsed into a huddled ball, clutching at a tiny point of flickering obsidian-sapphire fire that glowed within the trembling light of its hands.
Hatred gripped his mind, making the Wallmaker irrational. He and Calcifer retaliated ruthlessly, pursuing the prone point of black light that cowered before them. With a triumphant cry, the daemon-wizard called up a lance of incandescent blue fire and was about to destroy the being when an enormous pulse of magic tore him back into the mortal realm. Magic splintered around the broken rubble of what had once been the shield chamber, showing the lanky man with golden sparks.
HOWL! The voice was deafening this time and it pierced the fury that clouded his mind.
Casting his eyes at over his shoulder, reason returned to the Wallmaker as he realized in horror that the inner shield had shattered. Looking overhead with abject dismay, the wizard watched as the golden barrier faded like a dream from the sky above. In a moment of excruciating pain, he and Calcifer separated as the handsome man returned to his human form in a rustling whirl of fading indigo feathers. Bewildered, the wizard Howl blinked with mortal eyes and gazed down at the pitiful figure that cringed in the ruins before him.
She was almost human, save for the thin threads of two daemons she clutched desperately in her hands. Turning her battered face to regard him, the woman stared at Howl with burning grey eyes frenzied by fear and loathing. The Wallmaker realized all at once that she was completely insane and her madness clouded about her like a contagious disease. But it was not from this that Howl recoiled in horror. He recognized her face through the incensed hatred that twisted her features. As he stared at her, Mrs. Danna spat at his feet. Calcifer, who had fluttered weakly about his friend in the disorienting aftermath of their disjointing, crackled in rage. Howl gathered the fire daemon into his hands before the living flame could streak forward.
"Let me go, Howl!" Calcifer snarled, going black as night in his wrath. He twisted in the Wallmaker's hands like a living bonfire of burning hate, "I'm going to eat her!"
The cold woman regarded the former shooting star with fearless defiance in spite of the fact that she no longer had any power to defend herself. But the tall wizard held fast to his best friend, oblivious to the heat of his fire as he remembered things from a childhood he strove desperately to forget. Suliman had a younger sister, born magicless to a family renowned for their powers. In a clouded haze, Howl remembered a tall woman dressed always in green; she was a healer, and had cared for him once while he was very sick. She married a lesser magician named Alistair Danna. He was one of the weaker wizard who died at the hands of his uncle Agyrus in the time of the Wallbreaking. The revelation that rushed through the Wallmaker left him weak. He had almost killed the sister of the woman he half counted as his mother!
"Earin?" Howl spoke in a soft voice, half unsure of the name that fell unbidden from his lips.
Mrs. Danna gave a violent start as though he had slapped her, going absolutely white with shock. It was as though hearing her name drew the cold woman out of the madness in which she had completely immersed herself. She began to tremble violently. As she stared at the Wallmaker, the former daemon queen warred with herself as her a myriad of contradictory emotions crossed her features: most chiefly rage and regret.
But just as Howl's memories explained nothing, neither would Suliman's younger sister. With the final dregs of magic that reverberated in her soul, the former healer flickered like smoke and faded beyond the indigo veil.
The moment after the Wallmaker passed through the doorway, the black rectangle fell away from the golden dome like a cascade of pitch-black water.
Sophie rushed forward to her daughter. Deirdre rematerialized as the viscous ooze collected like quicksilver and solidified into the tall child-woman. The half-daemon shivered convulsively, although not from cold as she struggled to her knees. The silver sorceress wrapped Drie in her son's cloak, noting with a dismayed frown the expanse of pale leg that showed beneath her tiny white smock. In her peripheral vision the brown-eyed mother watched Theresa and Markl approached cautiously as she rubbed her daughter's shoulders vigorously. Suddenly Martha loomed up over her sister, appearing out of the melting snow like a living statue. The herbalist's normally stoic face was red and streaked with tears, which cut through a grey ash that smeared her normally pale skin. Sophie looked up at her youngest sibling and straightened, sweeping the melting black ice from her apron with a brisk motion.
"Aren't you going to hug me, Martha?" Sophie asked with a smile.
The herbalist rushed forward and crushed her sister in an embrace that might have cracked her ribs. The silver sorceress couldn't help but mop at her sister's face with the edge of her apron and the dark haired woman batted in irritation at her sister's ministrations. In the distance Sophie could hear Barimus' tenor, he was yelling at someone. A flustered copper-haired wizard in a red uniform slid to a halt next to Martha as King Ferdinand came up along side of the group.
"Lady Sophie! Good to see you!" Boomed the ruler of Ingary, "I can't tell you how happy I am to know that the Wallmaker is here. He'll trounce that dragon out there, I'm sure of it!"
Almost as though on cue, a soundless burst of blue fire cast its light through the melted breech of the black ice outside.
"Woo! What was that?" The bristled-bearded emperor exclaimed.
Suddenly Drie stood bolt upright, giving all of them a fright as she clutched Markl's cloak around her, horror plain on her face. Peoter drew back from the child-woman as a dangerous expression replaced his usual mirth, but Markl stayed him by gripping the wizard's arm.
"Eh? Who's this?" Ferdinand asked briskly, bending slightly from the waist to regard the tall woman.
"What is it, Dierdre?" Sophie asked, turning from Martha.
But the silver sorceress' daughter answered them with a blood-curdling scream of agony. As she fell writhing into the melting snow, the girl lost her grip on her human form. She fluctuated between the trembling liquid of her daemon shape as she clawed at the ground with gleaming jet talons.
"By the Gods!" Ruler of Ingary exclaimed in horror as he stumbled backwards. Peoter deftly stepped in front of his king as green fire enveloped his hands.
"Daemon!" Martha screamed and yanked Theresa away from the thrashing creature.
But Sophie was on her knees next to the unstable chimera, desperately trying to hold her daughter and assuage her pain. Markl barred the way as Peoter made ready to attack as the half-daemon twisted in the silver sorceress' arms with inhuman strength. The child-woman's voice warbled in a metallic multilevel chorus, causing every hair on their bodies to stand on end.
"She's my daughter!" Sophie cried helplessly, "Markl! Help me! Drie? Tell me what's wrong?"
But in her agony, the girl lashed out blindly, cutting her mother's shoulder with her knife like claws. The wound bled red blood, which seemed to frenzy Dierdre further. Markl surged forward and dragged Sophie away from the half-daemon as it staggered to its feet clutching at its head, keening madly. Dieter came up along side his twin, his face clouded with confusion. All eyes were on the chimera as she crashed into the golden barrier, raking at it with her talons as golden sparks flew about them.
"Don't hurt her!" The silver sorceress screamed as she slipped and struggled, thwarted by both ice and the hold of her eldest son. The twin wizards cast a sharp look at the Wallmaker's wife, and the green fire in their hands extinguished. No one moved.
"Make him stop!" Deirdre screeched in a voice not her own, "He's killing us!"
With a flash of intuition Sophie finally understood. She batted in distraction at the hands of Martha and her assistant, who were trying to staunch the bleeding from the slash on her shoulder. The silver sorceress tried called out to her husband in a voice that could only be heard by a different kind of ear. But the echoes of her cry resounded back to her, deflected by the golden dome that trapped them. She tried again, but Drie continued to scream. Mad with fear for her daughter's life, the brown-eyed mother caught sight of Suliman's staff in the snow where Markl had dropped it.
Ripping herself from Markl's grasp, the silver sorceress snatched the stick out of the ice and used it to haul herself upright in the snow. Slamming the staff onto the ground, her voice roared like a hundred thunderclaps, amplified by the magic that teemed within the ancient artifact. The sound was deafening to all those with the gift and it reverberated around the chamber like one of the voices of the thousand gods. The glass spire vibrated dangerously under the intensity of the magic trapped within the dome, and as though it were destined to do so, the crystal obelisk cracked in two and went dark. With an expression of absolute horror, Sophie turned her eyes skyward only to watch the golden shield dissolve. But as the dome fell, it released the witch's silent cry.
In that moment Deirdre silenced and collapsed into the melting snow.
To be continued in The Daemon Wars: Part IV of the Wallmaker Saga
Sorry everyone, but I'm going to disappear for a while. I have a month left of school and I need to focus on gradating and getting a job! . But you know that I'll be back and posting like mad as soon as class is finished. I'm dedicated to this story and I will finish it, that I promise. Thank you so very much for reading and for being patient with me!