Disclaimer: Don't own Howl's Moving Castle.
Author's Note: Found the movie on TV and I got this idea while I was eating my sandwich. Let's see how it comes out. The first part of this is very much like a scene in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy.
Adolescents are not monsters. They are just people trying to learn how to make it among the adults in the world, who are probably not so sure themselves. ~Virginia Satir, The New Peoplemaking, 1988
The first time Sulliman lays her eyes on the boy, she's not impressed. He's sitting in the third row, all the way to her right, just by the window. She can't see his face from here, but she supposes it's not all that important. When she had seen the boy's application for the Royal Magic Academy, Sulliman had been intrigued. It had said that the boy showed great potential, but she can see nothing of it in him.
She twitches a finger and small wooden cubes, children's toys, float to each desk. "I want each of you to point on finger at the box and move it as far across the table as you can."
All of the students try. Some of them make the box inch along the desk. Others can't make it move at all. Sulliman feels a surge of raw power from across the room and she turns to see the boy. His box hadn't moved, but she's sure it was him.
"If you can't get it right away, try the other direction."
Another surge and again, the box doesn't move.
Sulliman frowns. Someone with that much power shouldn't have a problem with simple magic like this. "Who's still having difficulties?"
The boy raises his hand half-heartedly, the only one. Sulliman crosses the room and suggests,
"We could try it with something personal. That's usually easier. Try it with your shoe."
The boy obeys, kicking off the left shoe and places is on his desk.
"Most magic," She tells the class, but it's mostly for the boy's ears. "Requires either a physical action, or the translation of a physical action into a mental action. For instance, if you wish to get something from the other side of the room, you have to imagine getting up and bringing that object to where you are." She looks back at the boy. "Now, I want you to reach forward, grasp and bring in the show."
He stretches his arm, clenches his hand and yanks. Everything happened at once.
Several chairs are zipping towards him, knocking their occupants to the floor. Books whiz through the air like crazed, exotic birds before hitting walls and desks with thumps. Everyone's shoes are pattering frantically, as though trying to escape their feet. And through it all, the boy's voice can just barely be heard yelling, "Stop it! Just stop!"
And then there's silence.
Sulliman stares around the room. Students are groaning as they get up off the floor. Several are getting their chairs back, some a little timidly, as though they're afraid that the chairs will bite them.
And the boy's shoe is sitting on his desk, not having moved an inch.
"I'm sorry, Master." He says, head bowed.
"Class dismissed. Except for you. You stay here."
Sulliman waits until the classroom is clear before she takes another look at him. He's small and skinny and he's staring at the floor as if it's the most interesting thing in the world.
"What's your name, boy?"
"Howl, ma'am." She waits for a family name, but there is none offered. Hearing no anger in her voice seems to give Howl the courage to look up. It's the first time she's seen him do that since he walked in. He glances over the desks whose wood gleams, eyes lighting up when he sees the floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind her desk. His eyes are the blue of a summer sky and rather disappointingly dull-witted.
But then Howl looks straight back up at her and those eyes change. They're brighter, like blue fire tinged with silver. It's not a natural color and those eyes see more than he's letting on.
Sulliman has no explanation as to why someone with all this power should be having this much difficulty. And she can't quite think of what to say other than, "Practice, Howl. Lots of practice."
He slumps a little, but his voice is as polite as ever. "Yes, ma'am."
"Sulliman! What happened in here?" Professor Namel from the Theoretical Magics Department was standing in the door, with a rather surprised look on his face. His wheat brown hair is back in its low ponytail and dark gray eyes are rather thunderstruck.
"A magic lesson."
Namel stares at the mess. "Is there a student I should be looking out for?"
"Yes, in fact. Boy called Howl. Doesn't make a whole lot of noise until he tries magic."
"Why'd he do this?"
"It wasn't intentional. I don't think so, at least. Simply uncontrolled." Sulliman sighs and says, "I hope the entire Academy still has their old courage."
"Because we're going to have to train a seven-year old wizard who has enough raw power to decimate the entire palace and is abysmal at basic magic."
"Howl is going to drive me mad." Namel drops into the seat beside Sulliman.
She simply turns a page in her book. It's been three months since Howl started the Royal Magic Academy and everyone's starting to become accustomed to Howl and his eccentricities. "Why is that?"
"We were just going into image magic, something that went entirely over the kids' heads by the way. I don't know why the Headmaster wants them to be introduced to it so early, and he's sitting in the corner, same as always. I thought he was the same as the other kids because he was staring at his notes like they were in a different language. But when I go over there, he hasn't written any notes. He drew a picture of the classroom on his paper instead."
"Was it a good drawing?"
"Of course not. He's seven. It looks like a seven year old drew it."
"But when I asked him if he wrote any notes, he just shook his head. 'I understand it already.' Is all he says."
Sulliman looks up from her book, an epiphany striking her. "It's clumsy."
"Of course it is. He's a kid."
"That's just it. Things that involve a tremendous amount of magic are like giving him a huge piece of paper with crayons he can wrap his hand around. We start teaching practical magic with small things because they don't require a lot of energy. Asking him to do those is like asking him to use a brush with only one hair. He doesn't have the mental control to do it."
"That's wonderful, Sulliman. He can't move a box, but he can destroy the palace."
"That doesn't seem like it's in his temperament."
"Let's hope not."
"I just heard the most fascinating thing about one of your students, Sulliman."
"What is that, Headmaster?" She replies politely.
"It's about Howl. My niece has him in some of her classes and she's mentioned him to me. She says that he's really quiet, she calls him shy, but that if you can get him to talk, he says the most amazing things. Do you have any idea what those kinds of things are, Sulliman?"
"None, sir. He hardly says a word in my class."
"I see. I think you should bring him into a proper apprenticeship when he gets to that age."
"Yes, of course. You like prodigies, don't you? Here's a challenging one."
Sulliman is startled when she's making her nightly rounds (you never knew where thieves and spies could lurk after all) and she sees someone out in the courtyard. She thinks it's an enemy at first, and is tense as she nears. Upon closer inspection, she finds that she knows this person. It's Howl.
He's got a worn, leather-bound notebook in his right hand as he draws with his left. It's one of his many oddities. He's right-handed—he eats, writes, and casts magic with his right hand—but when he draws, he uses his left. The magic circle is nothing that she recognizes, though she can see that it's a variation of a summoning spell. The circle is hardly more than two feet long, yet when Howl snaps the book closed and slips it into the back of his waistband so that it rests at the small of his back and steps into the circle, it seems to grow. Sulliman has never known a magic circle to do that.
Howl raises his arms and takes a deep breath. The circle in its activation, glows like embers in a fire. And before she can blink three times, there's birds zooming out of the circle, their cries echoing through the star sprinkled sky. And they're not the misshapen things of children's experiments.
These birds are elegant and proud. They're all exotic-looking, with brilliantly colored feathers, but there is no doubting the fact that their claws looked like they could kill you in half a second.
One, colored deep emerald with a sapphire crown, comes to rest in his hands. Howl laughs and speaks to it in a low voice. His laugh is silvery and doesn't sound human. He turns and looks directly at her, a smile that doesn't belong on a child's face spread wide on his lips. "Madam Sulliman, come see them! Aren't they lovely?"
She comes closer, though her instincts tell her not to. "They're very well-made, Howl. Who taught you how to do it?"
He blinks at her. "No one did, ma'am."
"Then how did you learn it?"
Howl shrugs and releases the bird in a flurry of feathers. "Animals got workings and they just kinda talk to me."
"Some do. Others aren't so friendly."
She really doesn't know what to say to that. "You should go off to bed, Howl. It's late and you have class tomorrow."
He wilts visibly. "Yes ma'am." He leaves with a final glance to the sky and, just before he goes back inside, he asks, "Ma'am…do you believe in demons?"
"I've met some of them."
The smile he gives her before disappearing into the corridor lights up the night.
Howl has grown very little in three years. But he has a bit of a finer control on his magic, but not by much.
"Howl? I hear you're looking for a magic tutor?"
All children in the Academy were at this age. This is when they became apprentices, to learn the finer and more complex bits of magic.
"Yes ma'am." He isn't looking at her. He doesn't like to look a lot of people in the face, but Sulliman was fairly sure that, in this case, it wasn't a matter of shyness. He was focused entirely on what was happening outside.
"Would you like to my apprentice?"
His gaze snaps back to her. "Really, ma'am?"
She nods and a delighted smile lights his face. But, almost as if someone had wiped it from his face, the smile fades as he cocks his head to the side, as if hearing something no one else could. His gaze goes back out the window.
"Howl, is there something that is happening today that is so important?"
"Yes, ma'am. A meteor shower."
Sulliman stares confusedly at him for a moment. There had been meteor showers before and she's sure he's seen one. One of the professors had taken all the students to see one as he explained their magical properties.
"And what is so important about it?"
"Oh, nothing." He replies lightly.
He has an aptitude for spells of growing and making. Potions are entirely new to him, but he seems to have little difficulty with them. In fact, he corrects her on several occasions.
"Ma'am…rather than boneset, shouldn't you use juniper and black pepper? Together, their properties are better suited for a defense potion."
Howl's notebooks are filled with sketches upon sketches of what seem like nothing; with patches of words and sentences; strange circles and symbols. The run in wild courses, occasionally overlapping and tangling. Pieces of it are in English, but the rest is all in various languages. When you look at the paper as one entity, it is like twisted chaos.
Like reading madness itself recorded in a child's handwriting.
Howl's birthday is over the summer holidays. No one sits with him on the long train ride to his uncle's house. There aren't many people who will talk to the too-talented boy.
Nicolai thinks his nephew is an eccentric child, true, but an intelligent one. Howl is good company, but sometimes Nicolai thinks that he is too old for twelve. Every summer, Howl demonstrates what he's learned at the Magic Academy that year. He makes a few impressive potions, but what impresses Nicolai the most is when Howl walks outside and makes a garden in the area extending three yards from their little cottage.
But when Nicolai asks if Howl wanted to invite any friends over for his birthday, Howl's face shuts down.
It's later into the summer that they both hear about a star shower. Howl's face lights up like Nicolai has rarely seen. But Nicolai is called to the Royal City to assist the king with some matter or another. Howl smiles and assures him that he'll be fine staying home alone and that yes, he'll remember to lock the doors and windows and yes, he knows the way to the village.
Howl watches the star shower from outside, past the lake. He knows better than to go too far from the cottage, there are dangerous things out there after all. The stars glow brilliantly blue as they fall and they cause explosions of light wherever they fall. They skip like stones across the lake's surface, causing rainbows in the ripples.
One falls startlingly close to him and Howl moves closer. He's been waiting for something like this ever since he found hints of it in some old texts. Howl traces another one's path as it draws closer and holds his hands out, as though to catch a snowflake. It's almost too hot to bear for a moment, but then the flame goes cold.
"You're a brave kid, y'know. Most people would be too afraid to catch a star." The star tells him.
Howl is reminded of a song that children used to sing sometimes in the Royal City. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket…save it for a rainy day…catch a falling star and put it in your pocket…never let it fade away…
"I'm not most people." Howl tells it honestly. "What's your name?"
The star eyes him for a moment. "Calcifer."
"Calcifer," Howl says, as if trying out the name, rolling it around on his tongue. "Calcifer. It suits you."
Calcifer laughs. Of the few people that had caught him before, there had been plenty of different reactions to his name, but never something like that. "And your name, kid?"
"I'm Howl and I've got a question for you." It's not the first time someone's had something to ask him, but it is the first time that a kid has caught him.
"I've heard that stars are fire demons."
"Yes…" Calcifer doesn't entirely like where this is going.
"I'm not sure if I'm phrasing this correctly, but could you become a wizard's familiar?"
"Depends on the wizard."
"And if it was me?"
"Kid, there's no way you could be a real wizard. I don't think you've even kissed a girl yet."
Howl ignores the latter. "I graduate from the Magic Academy in a year and some change."
"Why would ya want a fire demon as your familiar?"
"Convenience." Howl replies easily. "And do you really want to just be a star forever?"
"There's nothin' wrong with being a star!" Calcifer protests.
"Except that you just float there and do nothing." Howl counters.
"What's your point, kid?"
"Once I'm out of the Academy, I just want to travel the world. A fire demon could be pretty useful. Would you like to come with me as my familiar?"
Calcifer thinks of the world he'd always had to look down at. It had seemed wonderful, with that lovely green grass and bluer than blue oceans, nothing at all like the dull blackness of space. "Kid, do you know what me being your familiar means? I need your heart for that. Do you really want to give it up?"
"Take it, Calcifer. It's yours. I don't have much use for it anyways."
"If you're sure, kid."
Howl brings Calcifer to his lips before the fire demon crawls inside. It feels like the inside of his mouth should be burning, but it's not. The entire meadow darkens once Calcifer's inside, but then there's a terrible pain in his chest. Like something had taken his heart, which he was fairly certain Calcifer had, and just squeezed until Howl feared it might burst. Then his entire chest is tightening and a hacking cough escapes his lips, Calcifer along with it.
It's oddly strange to see his heart beating in his own hands. Calcifer is a proper fire now, and doesn't burn his hands in the slightest.
Both he and Calcifer look up when they hear a woman's voice calling their names. But that was impossible, because the nearest woman would have to be in the next village. "It's me, Sophie! I know how to help you now! Find me in the future!"
He and Calcifer look at each other wildly. Neither of them knows anyone named Sophie, but Howl's heard tell of people seeing things from the future before. Warnings, especially from the future, were not to be taken lightly,
"Ma'am, how was your holiday?"
Sulliman looks up at Howl and thinks that someone had taken the child she'd known and just twisted until they found something that was similar, but not quite; like a cracked reflection in a mirror. There's nothing physically different about him, save the few inches or so he grew over the summer, but there's something just wrong about his eyes.
They remind her of starfire.
It takes her a long moment to remember that he asked her a question. "Fine, thank you. And yours?"
He smiles and it's nothing like the one she remembers. It's a little mocking, a little charming and a little mischievous. "It wasn't really anything interesting. But I did have a question for your, ma'am."
"Really? And what is that?" Howl had been an inquisitive child, the most inquisitive of anyone she'd ever met. Sulliman was accustomed to his sometimes out of the blue questions.
"I was wondering if you'd teach me how to change into something else."
"You know your illusion spells." He was good at them.
"Yes, but I meant literally change into something else."
"Like what for example?"
Sulliman looks carefully at him. What he asked after wasn't particularly advanced magic, but it had to be taught properly or it could end up very badly. She remembers that night when he summoned his exotic birds.
"We'll take it slowly." She says.
"Have you noticed a change in Howl since last summer?" Sulliman asks Namel five months later.
Namel looks up from his mug of coffee. Howl had been the topic of few conversations in the past few years. He'd fallen into his place with his talent and caused few problems.
"Did something happen?"
"Not particularly. He seems different."
Namel thinks about it. He doesn't see Howl that much anymore, but the young genius will occasionally drop in for a cup of tea and just to say hi. "I haven't seen him lately, but when he got back, he seemed a bit more reclusive."
"Except for that girl what's-her-face."
"Elaina?" He asks, naming another witch of extraordinary promise.
"That's the one."
"I certainly hope that he pays more attention to her now. They are dating."
"Is that a fact?" Sulliman says before taking a sip of her tea.
"Mmhmm. It's supposed to be the biggest piece of gossip for some of the younger students."
"Well, according to sources," Namel gives Sulliman a look that tells her that his 'sources' were the gossiping girls in his class that liked to pass notes. "Howl is quite popular among the girls and Elaina is supposed to be one of the most beautiful girls in the school. Together, they make a dream couple, or something like that."
"So who's the girl that's comin' over?" Calcifer asks from his spot in the fireplace.
"Why do you say it's a girl?" Howl asks, dropping the stack of books in his arms so that they were up against the wall.
"Because I can't think of any other reason why you'd clean your room. Seriously, it's a wonder you don't trip over all the things you have on the floor."
"And what does it matter to you whether I have a girl over or not?" Howl crouches on the floor, checking beneath the bed for dirty clothes.
A knock at the door. "Howl?"
"Coming!" Howl looks at Calcifer sternly. "Not a word, Cal."
"Yeah, yeah." Calcifer simmers down to embers.
Howl opens the door to the girl. Calcifer's eyebrows, if he had any, would have been in his hairline. Again, if he had one. Her auburn hair is falling in light waves past her shoulders. She wears a pale gold skirt that falls just shy of her knees with a white scoop neck blouse.
It's a few months later that something occurs to Calcifer. "Hey, Howl, are you dating her just 'cause of what I said? About you not having kissed a girl?"
Howl shrugs. He's not quite sure why he did it. "Now that I think about it Calcifer, you have my heart, but I have nothing of yours."
"I'm a fire, Howl. The only thing I have to give you is a flame"
"That'll work." Howl says. "I'll find something suitable when I go to the market tomorrow."
"Something suitable for what?" Calcifer asks, but Howl doesn't reply.
The next night, Howl holds out a clear jewel on a silver and gold chain. "Put some of your flame in here. That way, we both have something of the others and it completes the spell."
Calcifer has never had a magician's mind, but Howl's not the kind to lie to someone. He slips a lick of blue fire into the jewel. Howl smiles as he slips the necklace on. "Well, I can't get cold now." He remarks, feeling the heat from the fire gently seep into his skin.
The next time Sulliman sees Howl, he's wearing a necklace. That's not the part that bothers her. The part that bothers her is that she can feel something not human about that necklace. "Howl, come here a moment."
He obeys, but his shoulders are tense. Sulliman taps at the jewel, startled when she can feel heat emanating from it. Frowning, she takes Howl's wrist and feels for a pulse. With that much heat in nearly direct contact with his skin, his heart should be reacting.
There wasn't even the slightest sound of a pulse. Thinking that perhaps the blood was just pumping weaker at the arms, she moved her hand directly over where his heart was. Nothing. Not a sound or faint beat.
"Howl…what…did you do?"
He takes a step away from her. "What are you talking about, ma'am?"
"Your heart is missing, Howl. What. Did. You do?"
"Ma'am, that's impossible. How could I still be alive if I didn't have my heart?" He reasons. Had he not been an incredibly talented wizard, she would have left the argument at that. That was not the case however.
"You have a familiar, don't you?" A familiar, an extension of the wizard or witch's body in another physical body, was magic that was incredibly advanced. Few magic-users even understood the concept of the magic involved. And it was strictly illegal to have a familiar when you weren't a full-fledged wizard or witch.
"Why would I have one? It's illegal, ma'am. If I was going to have a familiar, I could just wait. I have less than a year before I graduate."
(Ma'am…do you believe in demons?)
"Not unless you wanted a demon as a familiar. What kind is it?"
"I don't have one, ma'am."
"You're lying to me, Howl."
Howl's eyebrows go up. "Ma'am, have I ever lied to you before?"
She can't think of another occasion where he had. Howl had the ability to be brutally honest if he wanted to be, say truths no one else wanted to say. But there wouldn't have been a harsh punishment if he'd lied in the past years. The punishment for this, if they could find enough bad evidence, could strip Howl of his magic. And he had to know that.
But Howl has backed up another three steps towards the door. Innocent people don't run.
"Howl." Sulliman says warningly.
He books. He had never struck her as a particularly athletic person, but he runs incredibly fast.
Howl dodges around people, ducking underneath arms and bumping into them. He apologizes a few times, but he has no idea if anyone heard him. All he knows is that he needs to get to Calcifer.
He bursts into his room and Calcifer immediately flares. "Whoa, Howl, what's wrong?"
"We need to get out of here." Howl looks around the room and finds a jar that he used to hold herbs for his potions. He dumps cedar bark and anything else that'll burn for a while in there before saying to Calcifer, "Get in."
The fire demon climbs in and asks where they're going.
"I don't know. Away from here."
Calcifer is about to say more when Howl stuffs him in a deep pocket so that he's positive he won't fall out. There's a thudding of footsteps, Howl's positive that Sulliman's called the guards by now, and he jerks the windows open, and, as an afterthought, grabs a coat before he leaps out of the window.
He hadn't thought about transforming, only about escaping. But the next thing he knows, there's a sharp, brief pain in his shoulder blades and he's flying, though there's a noticeable extra weight from his back. Glancing up, his breath catches. Black wings. They're awkward and he doesn't quite know what to do with the extra limbs. But Howl uses a simple levitation spell (like walking on air) to keep himself afloat until he understands and his back muscles become accustomed to the wings.\
He looks back down and he can see people in the courtyard, staring and pointing, but he flaps his wings a few times and he's flying higher, higher than the clouds even. Howl doesn't really have a clue about where he's going, but he figures it doesn't matter much.
She looks to where her Tom's calling for her. They've been married nearly forty and she doesn't think she's ever seen him sound like that. "What's wrong?"
He's got a kid in his arms. The kid's a lovely thing, black hair and pale skin with an odd blue jewel around his neck. "I found him out by the well."
"He's not dead is he?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, bring him inside. Can't just leave the poor kid outside."
The boy wakes up hours later and immediately looks for his things. "Relax, boyo." Tom says. "Your clothes are on the chair. They were rather dirty, so Mora washed 'em."
"Thanks so much." The boy rises, slightly unsteady on his feet. He looks positively ridiculous in one of Tom's smaller shirts. It practically swamps his small frame. "What day is it?"
"March twenty-third. It's a Tuesday."
The twenty-third! He'd flown away on the twentieth! "How long have I been out?"
"Only about a day. You gave us quite a scare, young man."
"Oh, about your jar," Howl starts. Where was Calcifer? "Mora wasn't quite sure what to do with it, so she put it in the window."
Howl nearly gives himself a whiplash when he spins to look towards the source of light in the room. He can just barely see the embers in the jar. "I'm sorry for troubling you."
"It's fine, boy. Get dressed and I think Mora's preparing you a four-course breakfast."
Once Tom's out the door, Howl goes to Calcifer. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I need some kind of fuel." The fire demon answers honestly.
"Sorry. Didn't mean for this to happen." Howl rakes a hand through his hair, wincing at the tangles.
"Got a plan for what we're gonna do next?"
"Not really. I'm a fugitive technically. At least until I graduate under a different name."
"What are you talking about?"
Howl flashes him a smile. "Master Pendragon, great wizard extraordinaire, is about to be born.
"Do you even know if this is gonna work?" Calcifer asks from his comfortable position in a pile of old wood.
"That's why it's called a test, Cal." Howl raises his arms at the piles of rubbish that he's accumulated out here. With a deep breath and a surge of energy that goes through his body and into the large circle he's drawn, the pile shakes and moves into some semblance of order. Howl struggles to make it look like some kind of building and when it stands on its own, Howl releases the magic with a breathless chuckle. The little building stands for a moment on quivering legs before it collapses.
"I'd say this test was failed, Oh Great Wizard Pendragon."
"Hush, Cal!" Howl snaps, though there is no real anger behind the words. "Something's missing. It stands while it has magic to hold it up, but once the magic leaves, so does any stability."
"So what's the solution?" Calcifer knows that Howl doesn't need someone to bounce ideas off of, but he thinks that it helps.
"I don't know just yet." Howl plops on the ground beside Calcifer and slips his notebook out of his waistband, the leather-bound one that he keeps on his person at all times. "It could be a structural problem or it could be a magical one."
"So, remind me why you want a moving house again? Can't just have a stationary house and take trains or walk everywhere?"
"A moving castle." Howl corrects. "And I think Madam Sulliman is going to be after me for a long time. There were rumors that she likes to steal people's magic and if she steals mine, she gets you too. Since neither of us wants that to happen, I figure a moving castle is the best way to go."
"And why a castle?"
"You're asking the wrong question, Cal. Why not a castle?"
Calcifer is asleep when Howl has his epiphany. "What in the—Howl, it's past midnight! I was sleepin'!"
Howl sits beside his fireplace, eagerness all over his tired face. They'd found a little abandoned cottage that Howl had managed to fix up. It was practically borderline with the Wastes, but that didn't bother either of them.
"I just figured it out! Cal, you're a demon.
"Very good." Calcifer said sarcastically. "You're clearly a prodigy. I'm a demon. You're up all night and this is all you come up with?"
Howl ignores him. "You could move a house if you wanted."
"Sure, but not directly. I'd burn it."
Howl is scribbling away in his notebook. "Yes, but, and don't take this the wrong way, if you were the castle's central heating system and I made a binding spell that kept your energy bonded to the castle, I think I could get it to work."
Howl tilts the notebook so that Calcifer can see the rough sketch of the castle. "If you want me to move it, it's going to need legs. I can't levitate something."
The legs are added and slowly, the moving castle comes together.
As Calcifer takes a look at the inside of what is their new home, he can only say, "Howl, you may be a genius wizard, but your homemaking skills leave much to be desired."
Howl, lying with his back against Calcifer's fireplace, just shushes him. "We can change it now that the actual structure is there. And I need to figure the door out."
"What're you gonna do with the door?" Does his wizard never run out of new inventions?
"It's an idea I've been playing with." Howl stands and it strikes Calcifer that Howl's taller than when they met. Then again, it has been three years, nearly four. Howl had figured out a potion to dye his hair blonde, part of his disguise against Sulliman and, he confessed, he always hated his original color. His shoulders are too broad for the slender body and his face is still too awkward and exotic for him now, but he's been slowly growing into it. "A door that leads to more than one place."
"And how are you going to make that work?"
Howl clicks his tongue and says "That is work for another day. I'm tired. This spell took a lot out of me."
"Did you remember to make yourself a bed?"
Calcifer doesn't get an answer. Howl is already asleep, curled back up on the floor, his coat serving as a blanket.
Howl is getting some ingredients for his hair dye, as well as a chicken or two and a bag of rice for dinner, when she bumps into him.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She says before looking properly at his face. He recognizes Elaina immediately. "I feel like I know you."
Howl smiles disarmingly. "I think I'd remember you. You're far too pretty to be forgotten."
Had it been anyone else, Howl might have gotten away with the casual flirt. "I know that smile. Howl? Is that you?"
It takes him a split second to make his decision. "Elaina! I'm so sorry! I didn't recognize you for a moment. How have you been?"
"Pretty well considering I wasn't chased out of the Academy." She gives him a look and he gives her a sheepish smile. "But you don't seem to be so bad off."
Howl rubs the back of his neck. "No, not at all though I am kind of between houses right now."
"Did you get a job out here, Howl?" She links her arm with his as they walk. "What happened to you after you left? Sulliman started spreading a story about how you had your heart stolen by a demon, but you'd never let that happen to you."
Howl never tells her that it wasn't stolen. It had been a trade; a gift freely given. "I ran to the country and I found a place, hardly a shack, where I lived for about a year as I tried to get my wits about me again. Since then, I've been traveling."
"Sounds like you've had an exciting time. How did you escape Sulliman's henchmen?"
Howl tugs at a lock of blonde hair. "What do you think this is for?"
She tilts her head consideringly. "You look better with blonde hair."
It's the first time anyone's ever said something like that. To be fair, no one of his old life had seen him in nearly five years, but it's a fact that just seems to want to make itself noticeable in his mind.
Then another fact decides to make itself noticeable. "Why are you all the way out here? I thought you'd still be with your family in the Kingsdale."
"Sulliman didn't much like some projects of mine and she talked the king into banishing me."
"Banishing you to…?"
"The Wastes. I guess I'll never get that royal invitation I've always wanted. To be one of the king's personal magicians."
"You know that those guys are bored all day anyways. They're like court jesters." Howl supposes that that was one of the great differences between him and Elaine. Her ambitions had never gone outside of her city, outside of the lovely little bubble that was Kingsdale with its clean streets and brightly colored rooftops.
But he's curious about these projects of hers, though he knows better than to ask her directly. When she wanted to, Elaine could be nearly as good at hiding secrets as he was. Nearly.
"Did you graduate at least?"
"Oh, yes. A certified witch for five years." Which meant that whatever she had done had to have been extreme for it to be against the law as a certified witch. The law was clear for a magical crime only up to a point. In magic, things got much fuzzier than the law could state, which had allowed a lot of things to slip through the cracks. "This is my stop, unfortunately. I'd hate to keep you from any engagements that you have."
Howl recognized the cue, to say that he didn't have any. That he'd love to spend the day with her. He ignored it. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your day, Elaina."
With a promise from her to see him soon, he disappears into the market crowds once more. He leaves town that very night.
"I heard some interesting news, Calcifer." Howl begins mildly.
The fire demon looks up at the wizard. Howl likes to bring him news of the going-ons of people, though he's never sure why. "And what is that?"
"The people are calling this person the Witch of the Waste."
"What's your point, Howl?"
Howl smiles and it doesn't look human to Calcifer. "The description matches Elaina to the T. And Elaina was banished by Sulliman for whatever reason. I want to know what that reason was."
"What happened to dating a girl 'cause she was beautiful?"
Howl waves a hand dismissively. "There are plenty of beautiful girls out there."
"Now the only problem is attracting them." Calcifer ducks behind a log as Howl flicks a quill at him, his laughter ringing through the air.
Elaina is sitting in Howl's 'living room'. It's not his; he wouldn't let her in his castle for anything and everything in the world, so he built a cottage from the ground up and tells her that he's renting a room there from an old couple for a few months.
They speak of topics that are simple, mechanical. Of course magic is under that list. Howl looks at her more closely this time. Looks at the gleam in her eyes that hadn't been there before he'd left the Academy; the way that she's a little plumper than she used to be. Usually, he could attribute that to simple laziness, but Howl knows that Elaina is a stickler for looking good.
The jewel around his neck burns a little hotter and Howl suppresses a wince. He usually can't feel the heat at all, but Calcifer was trying to get his attention for some reason or another. Howl looks her over again, this time noticing the hardly there glow of magic in her skin. Constant magic as well. People that worked the market stalls sometimes commented on how he glowed. And illusions, unless badly done, didn't glow.
Howl's mouth moves in automatic speech patterns as he calculates all of this. The jewel has stopped burning and he wonders what demon Elaina's in cahoots with. There's no sign of jewelry that has the feel of magic to it anywhere on her, so he's sure that whatever deal she had with whatever demon she found isn't complete. Perhaps that's why it was slowly destroying her.
"What did you trade your heart for, Elaina?" It's not the first time Howl could be accused of bluntness.
She frowns at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Don't think I can't figure it out. You traded your heart for something. What?"
"The very same thing you got blamed for."
"A demon? Of what?"
The glint in her eyes becomes more prominent and her voice is uncharacteristically harsh. "You don't know what you're dealing with, boyo. I'm a demon of greed and there's nothing you can do to separate me from her."
"I wasn't going to try." Howl says honestly.
"I have to give you some applause. Not many can detect a demon like me. But then," Her eyes land on his jewel. "You're possessed as well."
"Not possessed. I would never be so foolish."
"Very clever. You did your research before meddling with demon affairs. But that alone wouldn't have done it. It takes a heart strong in magic to survive a demon bond." A feral smile spreads her lips. "Your heart must be so lovely. I want a lovely heart."
Howl jerks back as she leaps for him. The next thing she's aware of is being entirely alone in a cottage that's coming down around her because the magic that had held it up is gone.
"Would she tell that Sulliman lady about me?" Calcifer asks.
"She would, if I didn't know her secret as well. If she exposes me, she exposes herself." Howl is bent over a paper at his desk, muttering various things to himself under his breath. Around him are texts stacked to a ridiculous height. They are eight and ten deep, like a fortress and Calcifer can just barely see the top of Howl's head above it all. Drifts of paper were mixed with the books and Calcifer sees a few of them before Howl tosses them to him for food. There are strange symbols, like you might see in a mosaic or a stained glass window, around the words.
"Still can't figure out this door of yours?"
"It's complicated, Cal. And there's just something missing. And what's frustrating me is that it's most likely right in front of me."
Calcifer knows very little about magic. What he does know, he's picked up from Howl's aloud monologues. "Do you need a piece of whatever place the door's going to?" Perhaps it was a bit like a demon bond; a piece of both participants was needed.
"Calcifer, you're a genius."
The fire demon blinks. "I know that. Why this time?"
"I think you just figured it out." Howl grins at him and it looks a little tired around the edges. Howl didn't get much sleep when he was working on something and he ate even less than he did normally. "Move the castle thirty-seven miles north. Towards Kingsdale."
Howl places the three jars onto the magic circle, each with soil from a different city. Regulating his breathing, he lets the magic trickle through him. This spell required more finesse than the spell he'd used to make the castle. He had to control the flow of the spell this time, rather than the flood.
There's a jerk somewhere in his naval area, it hurts and Howl thinks he should have researched aftereffects of this spell first, and then there's a confusing swirl of color in front of him before it settles. The soil is gone; the rich, moist soil from the ocean town, the dry, sandy dirt from the Wastes and the artificial feeling, gritty dirt from Kingsdale.
"Did it work?" Howl asks aloud.
"You're askin' me, kid?"
Howl looks towards the door and sees a dial, with three separate colors, just by the door. The doorknob has changed as well, currently set on the blue dial. He steps out the door and finds the ocean city, across the country from where the castle had last been parked.
"Lemme guess, it worked? That's great. Less work for me."
Howl's laughter echoes off the rafters of their rundown castle, but it's theirs. They're the kings of their own place, far from society. If Howl had to hazard a guess, he had to say it was one of the best feelings in the world.
Howl blinks down at the kid. "You want to what?"
"I wanna be your apprentice!"
"Kid, why not go to a local magic school?" They were becoming more and more popular as more magicians left palace life.
A scuff of a shoe. "They won't take me. An' we don't have any money."
Howl looks at the kid. Brown hair, brown eyes and scrawny for—how old was he, eight? Nine? "Sure, kid. Why not? Someone's gotta keep Calcifer company."
Calcifer's words of protest are ignored behind him.
Howl doesn't tell him the whole story. No one knows the whole story, not even a young woman several years later. "He's a fire demon I caught to help fuel the castle."
The kid—what was his name?—smiles as he takes a look at the fireplace with its disgruntled occupant. "That's awesome."
"Kid, what's your name?"
It's several years later and a war's begun over basically nothing. Howl grasps the girl's hands and shoots them both skyward. "Now, straighten your legs and start walking. See, not so hard, is it?" She's obviously a little more than nervous at not having solid ground beneath her feet. "You are a natural." She smiles a bit at the praise and relaxes, her hands not clutching to his.
Howl sets her on a balcony and bids her farewell. And that is the end of one life and a beginning of an entirely different one.