Tearing at the Seams

The moving castle shook and rattled, the knickknacks and treasures that littered the corners of Howl's room clattering and crashing to the floor. He startled awake, and with a snap lit up the lamps of the room. Sophie sat up beside him, and her voice was groggy when she spoke.

"Howl, what's wrong?"

"Something is wrong with the castle," he began to lift the covers, moving to step out of bed, when the walls flared with white-hot light.

"What's that?" Sophie's voice rose, and Howl felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight. There was a sudden thickness in the air, as if an invisible blanket had been placed over the room, and when Howl saw the frame of his window that overlooked his sister's garden warp, his anger flared.

"Someone is trying to steal my castle!" he boomed, flying out of bed and placing his hand against the wall, forcing the shape back into place. The heaviness wavered, but did not leave. "Sophie! Quickly, get out of bed!"

Sophie threw off the covers and sat up, reaching for her robe but Howl rushed to the bedside and took her arm, pulling her from the mattress. The charms and dangles above their heads trembled and rang out noisily as they knocked together, and Howl wrapped an arm around Sophie's waist before bodily carrying her from the room.

The walls were washed in strange, scrolling symbols that were lit like fire, and he felt the protective charms on the castle sag under the strain.

"Calcifer!" he shouted down the stairs as he hurriedly lead Sophie along, "Who is after my castle?"

"I don't know what it is," Calcifer spat from his hearth, "But whatever it is, it's annoyingly determined."

"A poor choice," Howl's brows came together as he sat Sophie in a chair, before going to his work bench, pulling off inventions and papers until he found a piece of chalk. He quickly drew a circle onto the floor, scribbling marks and spells that straightened the floorboards and stilled the walls.

"Why would someone want the castle?" Sophie asked as Howl got to his feet, dusting off his hands before pacing the floor.

"I don't know!" he ground out between his teeth, a hand running it agitatedly through his knotted hair, "But it wants in, and it's succeeding."

"You stop that," Sophie snapped, and Howl looked up but saw she was instead talking to the door, which was twisting and ebbing along the tremors inside the house. Dust started to sprinkle from the rafters, and Howl clenched his fists.

"Calcifer, I need your assistance a moment while I try to push it out," he ordered the fire demon as he moved to roll up the sleeves of his night shirt, but a sudden crack like the sound of a whip shot through the room.

"What's going on?" Sophie stood, gripping the back of the chair for balance as the house shook harder than before. Howl felt another ward snap under the pressure and he looked to Sophie in a sudden rush of alarm.

"Sophie, you're going to hate me in a moment, but I do think you'll simply have to trust me," he moved closer to her, and her head snapped up.

"What are you trying to say Howl?" her voice was dangerous, and Howl let out a noise of exasperation.

"I don't have time to argue Sophie!" he pressed, "I'm going to cast a spell, and you're going to escape until I can come get you!"

"Excuse me?" she stiffened, eyes narrowing into slits, "I'm fully capable—!"

"You're not Sophie!" he cut her off, voice strained, "I really don't have the chance to fully explain, or to banter back and forth as is routine with you at this very critical moment. Think of the baby!"

Sophie's eyes widened. "How did…"

"I'm a man Sophie, not an idiot," he huffed, and Sophie gave him a look, but she was thankfully still and quiet as Howl took her hand and lifted it to his lips, pressing a kiss to the back of it. His lips were warm against the skin as he whispered a spell onto it, and softly glowing shapes began to trail up her hand and under the cuff of her sleeve.

He picked her up once the light faded, gently brushing his fingers over her black fur.

"It's admittedly not my best work," he said carefully, and his newly enchanted cat-wife looked up at him, "But we're out of time. Though you make a lovely cat. I must admit I regret the fact that I didn't think of this before to find a way to quiet some of the nagging."

Sophie's eyes narrows and she swatted at him, catching his nose with a hiss.

"Yes, yes, I know, poor time for a joke," Howl laughed lightly, and she growled, "Forgive me Sophie."

"Howl!" Calcifer sparked from the fireplace, and he quickly put Sophie down to turn his attention back to the situation at hand. The castle creaked and groaned as the pressure returned tenfold, and the room suddenly grew hot. There was a spit and hiss from behind him and Howl turned to look just as Sophie was lifted into the air by force and thrown out the open door.

"Sophie!" he called after her in a panic, but the door slammed again before disappearing completely. He grit his teeth before kneeling before the hearth, pressing his hand into the ashes. He felt the spells that held the house together shifting under someone else's control, and his anger heated and boiled over.

"You are annoyingly persistant," he muttered sourly, "I have enough of that from my wife; I don't plan on accepting anymore from anyone else."

Calcifer flared and Howl felt the heat of his flame on his face as he looked up into the eyes of his fire demon. The strings of wards and protective spells was fraying, and he heard another crash from upstairs.

"What are we going to do Howl?" Calcifer flickered irritably and Howl felt the room begin to close in around them.

"I don't know," he admitted as the fireplace began to crumble beneath his hands.

Then the room collapsed and the lights went out.