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House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 3

September 24, 2019 11:16AM

The House with Kaleidoscope Doors



Lucy J, thank you for your comments!

Maria V, it wasn't my intent to have a sentient house but rather a very, very enchanted one. HMC is arguably best known as a movie by Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo), but Diane Wynne Jones wrote a set of books in this 'world' and the movie is not an exact adaption of the novel by the same name (kinda fan fiction in another medium) so don't settle for one or the other if you can experience both. DWJ also wrote "House of Many Ways" which definitely inspired the title to this story and some mechanics, and "Castle In The Air" which I thought would be a good starter for a Persuasion story, but here we are.

Chapter 3: Meeting the Master



“Hello?” Catherine called out tentatively as she pushed open the door.

Truth be told, she was a little scared of what she might find inside, but she was more frightened of what would happen to her if she spent the night in the cold mountain air without even a shawl for warmth.

And the house was most definitely magic, which meant that it was a magician's house. And that meant that she had found someone to break her curse! Surely she could tolerate a pleasantly creepy home if it meant that she could be her real self again.

“Hello?” she called again as she crossed the threshold. She could feel a ripple of magic, no doubt checking her for hostile intent. If Catherine had a magical house with a habit of appearing to random strangers, she would probably have all sorts of protective spells on it.

“Hello,” answered a warm voice. Even though this was only in reply to Catherine’s own query, she still jumped in surprise.

“Wh-where are you?” Catherine asked, looking around in confusion.

“The fireplace,” the voice -- definitely female -- replied. “Come closer so I can see you.”

Catherine hesitated, trying to gather her courage. Sensing her indecision, the door softly shut behind her, narrowing her choices.

“Come in, come in,” the woman cajoled. “I've put the kettle on and you can sit near me and warm your human bones while we wait for it to boil.”

Catherine tried not to be alarmed by the offer. “My human bones?” she repeated. “Are you… are you not human?”

The creature crackled with amusement. “No, I am not. But I have been told that I am very human-like, and it was meant to be a compliment.”

“If you're not human, what are you?” Catherine took a small step forward. The stranger's friendliness was slowly eroding her fears.

“Oh, I'm a fire demon,” came the matter-of-fact reply. “I have to stay in the fireplace, if you must know. Otherwise, I'd burn down the house and my master would be very displeased.”

Catherine thought it was very understandable to get mad at someone who destroyed your home, however accidentally. She took a few more steps.

“And where is your master?” That truly was the person she needed to speak with.

“He's out for the night, he and his apprentice,” the demon answered. “They won't be back until sunrise and I was feeling lonely, and you would surely be frozen to death by morning. Won't you come closer?”

Catherine supposed there was nothing else to be done. With determined strides she went to the fireplace, the most ornate and large fireplace that she had ever seen. It was massive, practically a room within the room, really. The fire demon herself was tall, nearly as big as Catherine, and in the flames Catherine could clearly see arms and legs and a head.

“There you are!” the demon cried happily. “Have a seat. The brown chair is the most comfortable, or so I've been told.”

A whistling from the stovetop pulled Catherine's attention from the fascinating creature just long enough for her to spot the kettle.

“The water's ready,” sang the demon. Then she leapt up the chimney and disappeared. A moment later, a dainty, flaming hand popped out of the stove, gripped the kettle, and poured boiling water into a teapot. The hand disappeared and a second later the demon dropped back into her fireplace.

“I'm afraid you'll have to take it from there,” the demon apologized.

“I don't mind at all,” said Catherine, shuffling over to the teapot. She put some tea leaves in the pot to steep and placed it on a tray with a cup, then carried it over to the comfy chair.

As soon as she lowered herself heavily onto the seat cushions, the fire demon also sat on a piece of blackened brickwork. The demon lifted up what Catherine recognized as a crucible and held it to her lips like a cup.

“Can you drink?” Catherine asked in surprise. It sounded like a dangerous hobby for a creature of fire.

“No, but I am fascinated by human rituals, like drinking tea with people,” she said. “It is a great excuse to pause one's labors and discuss important things.”

Catherine snorted a laugh and poured the tea. She had listened to enough chatter during tea time to know that very few things of great importance were discussed.

“So how did you get that curse?” the demon asked curiously.

Catherine set her cup aside, grateful that she hadn't knocked it over. “How do you know that I'm cursed?”

The demon smiled and pretended to sip from her crucible. “Any magical creature could recognize it. I've seen lots of curses. Even my master is cursed.”

Catherine felt her hope fail. If the wizard who had captured this demon was not strong enough to remove his own curse, how could he save anyone else?

“Do not worry about my master.” Apparently it was much easier for the demon to read Catherine's expression than the other way around. “I know exactly how to break that curse. It requires another person -- an outside influence, if you like. Like you if you like,” she added pointedly.

“I'm not a witch! I can't do magic,” Catherine protested.

“There are things older and stronger than magic.”

“Such as?” Catherine prompted.

The demon paused, trying to think of how to phrase her words. “Love. And curiosity,” she said at last. “Curiosity is the root of all magic. And you strike me as a very curious person.”

Catherine demurred. She didn't think she was curious enough to thwart magic.

“Let’s make a deal, you and I,” said the demon, wiggling excitedly in her seat. “Stay and try to break my master's curse, and in return I will see to it that your curse is broken.’

Catherine's eyes lit up. “You can do that?”

The demon shrugged. “I make no promises, offer no explanations. But I know how it is done.”

"And you cannot do it yourself, right now?" asked Catherine.

"I cannot. And I cannot say more," the demon flickered.

It wasn't exactly what Catherine was hoping for, but she shouldn't expect to be so lucky as to have her curse broken right away. She wasn't so foolish and shortsighted as to cast away this opportunity. Besides, what would happen if she refused? Would the demon make her go back outside when she was currently so warm and comfortable? Without a feasible alternative Catherine agreed.

The demon smiled widely and chattered on. Catherine leaned back in the chair and felt herself grow drowsy. She was falling asleep, she knew, still wearing her boots and her bonnet but she was too content to care.

.o8o.

The front door was flung open and two figures entered, one walking on bandied legs while the other flapped to rest on the back of a chair.

From the fireplace, the demon roused herself and crackled to life. “You're home!” she announced happily. “How was your search?”

In the chair, Catherine began to awaken. Everything felt sore and achy. She didn't want to move so she simply sat there as the new arrivals moved closer to the hearth.

“It was fruitless!” exclaimed the old man and the bird shrieked in agreement. The man had a long gray beard and stooped over as much as Catherine did. “The girl has gone --” He stopped abruptly, finally catching sight of the unexpected guest in his comfy chair. “Who are you?” he demanded. “And how did you get in here?”

Catherine groaned as she tried to straighten her back. “My apologies, Master,” she began, “but your demon allowed me to stay.”

“Master?” the ancient wizard repeated, then looked at the others in confusion as the demon snickered and sizzled behind her hands. “Oh, I forgot.” With a flourish he removed his cloak and revealed himself to be a boy maybe a few years younger than Sally.

Catherine's eyes widened at the casual magic. The wizened old man was actually a boy, and the hawk -- She watched in amazement as the bird transformed into a man.

“You!” she said with a hint of accusation. It was none other than the handsome wizard who had stolen her hat!

“Me?” he said, coming closer to get a better look. Obviously he didn't recognize her.

“You… You… You look too young to be a master wizard,” she fumbled lamely. It suddenly seemed important to guard her identity from the man.

“You are too generous, Madam,” he told her with a wary expression as he took the seat next to her. "But I must repeat Allen's questions: who are you and how did you get inside?”

“Oh, I… Your demon let me inside last night.”

“Eleanor?” He turned his attention to the creature in the fireplace. “Did you invite her in?”

“Well,” the demon danced about, “she did order me to show myself when I found her wandering around the mountainside.”

The wizard swivelled his eyes back to Catherine. “How can a hedgewitch such as yourself control enough magic to command my own personal demon?” His tone was completely blank.

“I'm not a hedgewitch!” she flatly denied.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Madam,” he said, straightening a little. “Under what magician have you studied?”

Catherine felt her eyes bulging. It was like they were having two conversations at the same time. She had studied under her mother’s tutelage, but she had been taught how to make hats, not magical spells.

“I am not a witch,” she stated emphatically.

The three looked at each other then looked at her. They wore expressions of uncertainty, disbelief, and amusement.

“She's really quite sweet,” the demon said with a smile. “She doesn't even know she's a witch.”

The master stood up and started to pace. “That makes no sense," he said quietly, for his own ears. "I am seeking one hedgewitch yet another one turns up in my home."

Catherine knew enough about hedgewitches and hedgewizards from her books to fear them. They had all the power of trained magicians and none of the discipline. This was a dangerous combination and the danger was proportionate to their powers. Ignorance of one's magical abilities didn't prevent one from using them, merely from controlling and understanding them. Such people typically died at a young age, sometimes killing a great number of innocents at the same time. Still, they were preferable to trained wizards who used their magic with deadly precision to achieve their villainous goals.

The master paused in his pacing to stare at Catherine who quailed beneath his gaze.

“Who are you?” he asked again. It was a question she had not gotten around to answering.

Again Catherine was gripped by an instinctual need to hide her identity from him. Telling him that she was Catherine Morland felt suicidal but the only other name she had was Hattie and that was no longer fitting. She had left the hat shop to Sally; she had lost her hat to the wizard standing before her. Instead of her familiar hat atop her head she was instead wearing a -- “Bonnet! You can call me Granny Bonnet.”

The wizard didn't believe her but the fire demon danced for joy. “Granny Bonnet! There, Master, she has given you her name. You must let her stay now.”

The younger man seemed to rouse himself at hearing that “What? But I am the apprentice!”

“Relax, Allen,” cautioned the master. “No one is replacing you. But I cannot let an undisciplined hedgewitch wander the mountains; something bad would surely come of it. All right, Eleanor, I am putting you in charge of getting her a room. Allen, you can start basic lessons with her this afternoon to get a feel for what she doesn't know she knows, after she gets settled and you have some rest. This isn't a distraction I planned for, but if the two of you can watch over Granny perhaps I can have better luck with finding my little mouse on my own.”

“Little mouse?” Catherine repeated, suddenly feeling much better that he didn't recognize her. “You are looking for a mouse?”

“A very special mouse.” He provided no more details, becoming suddenly fascinated with her bonnet. “And what are you wearing, Granny?” he asked.

With a snap of his fingers, her ribbons untied themselves and her bonnet flew off her head and into his hand. She would have squawked in indignation if her body wasn't instantly racked with pain. She gasped and clutched her chest where her heart was no longer doing its job.

Her distress was obvious to the room. The wizard quickly kneeled in front of her, pressing a hand to her shoulder to keep her from toppling out of the chair. Warmth seeped from his touch, it felt calming but it was not enough. It was not enough!

“What can I do, Master?” the demon called frantically.

“Just a little more focus,” he ordered and the fire tamed itself into a low blue flame.

Catherine could feel the warmth spreading through her body and growing hotter, but it couldn't overcome the numbness in her extremities.

“It's the hat!” cried the apprentice who grabbed the bonnet from the wizard and roughly set it back on Catherine's head.

Her heart, which had been gently coaxed into beating by the wizard's magic, now thumped at a gallop. It was a painful acceleration but welcome as blood flowed forcefully through her veins.

She sat there panting and sweating while the sensation of pins and needles swept through her. When it began to fade she felt utterly exhausted.

The wizard removed his hand from her shoulder although he kept her fixed in place with his piercing gaze. “I did not see that coming,” he said quietly.

The crisis was now averted. Allen stepped back to give her some room. Eleanor darted about in the fireplace, trying to see her clearly. The wizard leaned back on his heels. Catherine sat still and tried to catch her breath. She knew that if she shut her eyes, she would fall asleep for a thousand years.

“Forgive me, Granny, but I have to ask where you acquired that hat.”

Catherine wanted to frown but her face was already grimacing and her body was too tired to put more effort into it.

“Forgive me, Master, but I don't think now is a good time for questions,” said the demon. “I have a room for her under the stairs. That way she won't have to go up and down the steps.”

“Very well,” he said, not pleased. He gathered Catherine in his arms and lifted her out of the chair. If he thought she was lightweight and frail, he was too polite to mention it.

A doorway appeared in the wall and rattled open to reveal a new bedroom as the wizard carried her over the threshold. She would have liked to have covered the distance under her own power, but that was impossible. And if that meant her choices were either to sit in the chair until her strength returned or to be put to bed like a weak kitten, she would rather go to bed as she had no more dignity to lose.

Under her drooping eyelids, she could see that the room was sparsely furnished although details seemed to make themselves apparent with every labored breath. At first the only thing she noticed was a small fireplace that stood in a corner with a miniature version of the fire demon pacing about in it and calling out notes. As soon as Eleanor said something about a bed, Catherine realized that a tiny cot was pushed against a wall. No, listening to Eleanor describe it, Catherine realized it was bigger than she first thought and more comfortable too. The comforter, which Catherine had initially believed was pulled up to the pillows, was actually pushed aside and waiting for her to be wrapped up. As the wizard began to lower her to the mattress, light from the window bothered her eyes. How could she sleep with the sun shining on her face? But then the light was muted, hidden behind curtains and shutters. The comforter was pulled up to her chin.

Her eyes shut.

Before Catherine knew it, she was asleep.
SubjectAuthorPosted

House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 3

NN SSeptember 24, 2019 11:16AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 3

Lucy J.September 25, 2019 01:56PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 3

Maria VSeptember 24, 2019 11:32AM



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