Where do you find a moving castle?
Thank you to aedifica for your excellent beta!
(NOTE: She did not beta the bonus chapter, which is presented in its full glory)
"It needs to be imposing," said Howl, waving his hand in a flourish. "Something that says 'A Dark Wizard Lives Here.'"
"You're about as dark as the tint in your hair," muttered Calcifer from the furnace.
Howl, in a chair, and Calcifer, in a fireplace, sat in the filthy kitchen of the cottage they had recently set up their latest business. But they had other problems they needed to solve and unfortunately it wasn't 'who's going to clean up this bloody mess?'
They had been discussing, arguing, and debating their plans for their new home for a month now. The design ideas of a fire demon and a formerly Welsh wizard were not what one would call ‘in step.’
"You know, if you hadn't gotten tangled up with her in the first place," said Calcifer, voice crackling, "we wouldn't need to be on the run, and if you weren't so averse to being on the run we could actually be on the run without you trying to find ways for us to run while staying in one place!" His voice hissed and snapped at the end, sparks flying up.
"If I had a heart," said Howl wistfully, looking at the black lump that fueled Calcifer, "perhaps I would not have strayed so far..." With a deep sigh, he looked away.
He looked incredibly poetic, facing the window with his lovely face in a small frown.
Calcifer threw some sparks at his cape.
"You're no gentleman, Calcifer," said Howl, beating out his cape hurriedly. "You're every bit a demon."
"Thank you," replied said demon.
"So, imposing?" said Howl. "Or wait… beautiful and spiraling, like something from space. You are a star, aren't you?" A wicked grin.
"Spiraling towers don't have chimneys, Howl," said Calcifer. "Bricks and smoke."
"Black obsidian, glittering in the night."
Calcifer, for a creature without actual hands, did an amazing imitation of a facepalm.
"Well, I'm not meant to be a nice wizard," said Howl. "I mean, devastatingly handsome and dangerous to women, but not nice. I need a home that strikes fear and intrigue. I don't mind looking like an evil fairy prince. Chimneys are too cozy."
"Chimneys are efficient and comforting to a certain demon of your acquaintance. You aren't a beautiful, exotic wizard. You're a pain in the arse wizard, to me," said Calcifer. Then, thoughtfully "If we use bricks and chimneys, it wouldn't look so bad if I dropped pieces the castle off, I suppose. It's not easy moving around an entire castle."
They stared at each other. Howl, realizing he was losing, claimed Calcifer's side.
"That's the bright side, my friend!" said Howl. He put another piece of wood on the fire. Calcifer gobbled it up, flames rising. "An imposing chimney filled castle it is!"
"Glad you see it my way."
"One of us has to give, old boy, or we'll be here in another month's time still with no castle and the witch ever closer to our trail."
"That'll be you one day, hunting down someone new..." said Calcifer. "Well, clearly there's no point in arguing with you if you're just going to agree."
"Excellent! I have just the place chosen!" Howl jumped up and tipped several logs onto Calcifer.
"You do, do you," muttered the demon. "Since before last month when this stupid argument even started, I bet." He added.
Howl made a pointed show of ignoring the demon, shoving chairs and detritus away to start constructing a relocation diagram on the floor in chalk. As he worked, Calcifer stopped his grumbling and began to add his power, until the final steps where Howl slid the silver shovel under Calcifer and lifted him carefully over top of the diagram.
Once everything had settled, Howl took Calcifer out the new door, feeding him bits of fuel the whole way. They'd come to stop in a ghost town, old houses fallen in and vines growing up every which way.
Calcifer glanced back. The 'house' they'd come out of was a half-constructed shanty in the middle of an existing house. The door and its frame were were propped up into the shanty to create the final 'house.' They weren't created from scavenged bits of lumber. No, Howl had used the old standing door and frame from the original house and created a shanty within it to serve their purposes. Magic held it from collapsing.
Around it was a house that had clearly once been a stately manor, made of black brick and solid wood. Time had not been kind to it. A stiff wind that made Calcifer cower back on his shovel gave him a hint to how such a house had come to collapse.
"This is a dump," he said.
"It’s our supplies," said Howl.
Calcifer rubbed together his not-hands. "I can work with this," he said in his crackling voice.
Howl took Calcifer on the silver shovel, walking carefully upon the uneven ground, to an already well-supplied fireplace in the middle of the collapsed black-bricked manor. He set Calcifer down gently on the dry wood and stepped back as Calcifer settled himself inside.
"You're too confident," said Calcifer. "You had this all ready for me before I even said yes."
"I'd've only been out a bit of wood if you'd refused," said Howl.
"What happened here?" said Calcifer, looking at the rubble of the house and the surrounding ruined town he could see through the holes in the walls that had fallen in.
"The mine ran out. The river went bad. Time." Howl brushed some invisible dust off his shoulder. "It wasn't me."
"I see you weren't confident enough to have the circle already drawn," said Calcifer. "Get on that while I work up my fire."
In the end, Howl ended up having to use Calcifer's travel shovel (with many complaints from Calcifer) to move aside enough rubble to create a base for the shell of the castle they were creating. Lines were drawn around the fireplace, Calcifer's new home. Merging two places into one wasn't easy work, but Calcifer and Howl didn't work with easy.
And then the creation began.
"Almost worth the fight," Howl said softly, ducking to avoid a flying brick. Calcifer sat in the center of the circle in the fireplace, burning brightly. Around them the remains of the larger house and the others near it whipped through the air, constructing themselves into a enormous, rickety castle from pure imagination.
Walls built themselves. Towers spun together. The door through which they had entered the ruins from makeshift hovel snapped past them to affix itself to a wall, becoming their entrance to the new shell.
But unlike their earlier houses, Calcifer wasn't creating a tie to the doors, he was creating a shell for a door. It was a challenge. He flared and burst and popped as he built the castle's shell. Howl laughed as he dodged the bricks and wood that flew around them.
The world then took a strong tilt sideways and the ruin of the old house was gone and they were inside their filthy cottage again. But now it occupied a new place in space and was somehow more. And in the cottage was a new fireplace, belonging to a once grand home. The fireplace was enormous.
Calcifer was down to a flicker, and could only make a grateful noise as Howl placed logs upon him to feed.
Howl swallowed deeply, then went to open the door.
Outside the countryside was racing by, the ruined town in the distance.
The Moving Castle was complete.
Chapter 2: How Calcifer Chose His Form
Bonus round! The unfinished original Howl/Calcifer story!
It was going to be resolved with Calcifer deciding Howl was too much of a human mess and deciding to stay a ball of fire.
FUN FACT: Originally Howl spent this demanding Calcifer put on pants until I remembered what that meant in British.
Bonding with a demon isn't the easy part. The power that comes with it is. But the part where you bond and work out each other's limits and needs, that's hard. When you do it young, giving it your heart before either of you are all the way grown, it's even harder.
When you are young, you feel invincible. When you are magic, you feel stronger still. You don't think twice of making a deal with a demon, giving it your own heart to fuel itself. You think of what you can get out of it. How the demon will be a partner to you.
You think, I am in a different world than my own. Demons aren't soul eating horned monsters who live beneath the earth to punish the naughty. They are forces of nature with their own wants and needs and can be reasoned with.
Or at least, that's what you think when you're Howl and you are both very intelligent and very stupid.
Howl and Calcifer kept their secret for an entire month.
But truth be told, it wasn't even that long and Howl's teacher had been hoping he would just fess up.
Howl, blithely, left, Calcifer in tow.
Calcifer's first form was of a cat. When Howl would pet Calcifer, he could feel his own heart beating inside Calcifer's little furry body. But Calcifer didn't care for the life of a feline, with the kicks, the disregard from the mice, and the hairballs. So that form fell by the wayside.
Calcifer's next form was of a bird. But Howl's heart, though young and strong, was too heavy for Calcifer to float about on the air currents. He could not flit to and fro.
But the third form had a problem neither of them had considered possible.
"No, this is quite unfeasible. You'll just have to choose another," snapped Howl, throwing trousers at Calcifer in the event the demon didn't obey him and fetch the trousers himself. The demon rarely did obey him. A partnership, Calcifer insisted. Howl was headstrong and wasn't sure he liked that. He wasn't sure Calcifer did either. It was a struggle of wills every day and this new twist was eroding Howl's will magnificently.
"Do you want me to use your heart up before the year's out?" said Calcifer, letting the trousers drop to the floor. "I can't keep changing bodies. You're not as bottomless a pit as you and your ego seem."
"Then put on some bloody clothes!" said Howl.
Calcifer looked down at the body he'd chosen. Long, strong legs, a muscled midsection, powerful arms. A rather fetching shade of dark skin. To Howl's chagrin, Calcifer's face was equally well sculpted. He suspected Calcifer had gotten it from one of the books he'd taken from his home in Wales.
"I'm comfortable, really," said Calcifer.
"I'm not," said Howl.
"You just don't understand a fire demon's style and you're bossy to boot," said Calcifer, taking a seat. He leaned back, glancing at the ceiling. "It all looks so different when you're bigger than a cat or a bird."
"I understand what I expect out of this partnership and it's not... this! You can't be my assistant looking like that," said Howl.
Calcifer grinned. Howl's stomach sank looking at it.
"And why's that? Afraid you'll be outshone? You're so vain."
"That's not-- I am far more attracti-- any woman would immediately see what a pai--" Howl stopped himself abruptly and stood straight up. He took a deep breath.
"We will discuss this later. I have studies to do." With that, Howl turned, swinging his cape dramatically in the air and retreated to his study. The study, unlike Calcifer, was completely covered. No bare surfaces there.
He put his head in his hands. Letting Calcifer know entirely what the issue was would lead to disaster. The demon would take power in a heartbeat. Something had to be done.
Calcifer, for his part, was enjoying himself immensely. A flustered Howl! Calcifer had considered using one of the ladies he'd found in the magazine, but he didn't want to deal with how Howl got around women. And unlike the other women, Calcifer already had his heart. No, that would be just awkward.
He admired himself in the reflection of the water from a spilled glass - knocked aside when Howl had begun his dramatic demands. The body was a work of demonic art. He'd captured everything a demon appreciated in a form - although the temptation to mimic Howl had been there. But Howl's form was artifice, and Calcifer had given himself as little upkeep as possible.
His new chest hurt. Calcifer rubbed it, frowning.
"Maybe this body is too large..." he said, but quietly. Enough to reassure himself with the sound but not enough that Howl would hear.
The voice was interesting. It should have been deep, like Calcifer had planned, but instead was the same high wheedling voice he'd been stuck with as a cat, then a bird. He couldn't win.
"If you're going to sulk," he called out to Howl, "I'm going outside!"
Howl's voice thundered out of every crack in the house, magically amplified.
"NOT WITHOUT TROUSERS."
To Calcifer's credit, his first time putting on trousers only resulted in falling over twice.
Howl listened to Calcifer leave their little cottage and grumbled. He probably hadn't put on trousers and now he'd have to explain to the villagers why a naked man had walked out of the Wizard Jenkins' cottage. He'd have to leave town. Move his location to a cabin deep in the woods. A whole new start.
He wondered if he had to bring Calcifer.
He sighed, of course he'd have to. They were bonded and doing a pretty sorry job of it.
He paused. And maybe it would add to his mystique, strangers like that coming out of his home. He could probably be a few of them himself.
Then again, did he really want to get known as that kind of wizard?
(Four years ago he would have said yes. He'd been that kind of teen.)