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House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

October 04, 2019 11:26AM
Penultimate chapter! Today is Friday, right?

Marci, thanks for the kind words. It was a fun story to write, and relatively quick.

Maria V, it would be a much shorter story if everyone communicated clearly and early winking smiley But hopefully Allen has some satisfying information for you in this chapter.

Chapter 6: Lecture and Lesson

The story that Catherine expected over tea -- Tiln's version of how he had met her in the alley -- was cast aside when Eleanor excitedly told Allen that Bonnet had learned potions from her father.

The young apprentice was entirely too curious, digging into all sorts of details that Catherine didn't know she really knew, like when to use honey rather than different sugars as a binding agent, or how violets could mend a broken heart as well as inspire a new passion.

Too soon, tea was over. Master Tiln's cup was empty and, invigorated by the syrup, he wanted to get back to his search for the missing witch. Trusting that Master Errol did not already have the girl in his clutches, and eager to ensure her continued safety, he transformed into a hawk and flew away, leaving behind a rather disappointed Catherine.

"Oh," she huffed, "why is he always doing that, turning into a bird to dash out of here? I should think that a fire demon would be able to take him exactly where he wanted to be with no need to fly long distances."

"Yes, but that's the nature of his curse," said Allen with a shrug.

Catherine perked up at the mention of the curse. For so long, she had been focused on her own problem that she had forgotten she had promised the fire demon to help the wizard.

"What do you know about Master Tiln's curse?" she asked the other two.

Rather than answering, Eleanor leapt with a crack and disappeared up the chimney to hide in some other room of the house. In alarm, Catherine looked at Allen, waiting for him to flee as well. He only chuckled and sat down. "Demons!" he chided.

"What was that about?" asked Catherine when she realized that no additional comments were forthcoming.

"Master Tiln cannot discuss his curse, so his demon cannot either," explained Allen. "It's all in how they are bound together. But it’s a different relationship between master and apprentice so there's nothing stopping me from sharing what I know, if you want to hear it."

Catherine's mouth fell open. All the time she had spent with Allen, and she could have been quizzing him on the curse instead of wasting their breath dancing around topics she wasn't allowed to discuss?

"Allen!" she squawked. "Of course I want to hear! Tell me everything you know."

Obviously neither wizard nor fire demon had been able to impart the exact details of the curse to the apprentice but Allen was able to describe his observations and hypotheses while Catherine looked on in encouraging silence.

The first hypothesis was that Master Errol had cursed Master Tiln at the end of his apprenticeship rather than releasing him gracefully from their contract. Having been hexed by Master Errol himself, Catherine could readily believe him guilty of anything.

Allen also believed that the curse was reaching a critical point. While the curse must have been in effect for the entirety of Allen's apprenticeship, in the last six months Master Tiln had grown increasingly focused on finding someone. Allen's lessons were more and more neglected as the master had less and less time for them. And the wizard had more than once commented on ending their contact before his next birthday. Allen took it as an ominous sign that if this particular someone didn't break the curse by then, that it would be unbreakable.

"When is his birthday?" Catherine asked.

Allen pulled a thoughtful face. "In a few days, give or take," he estimated.

"Give or take?" she repeated. "But that could mean tomorrow!"

"It will probably match up with Master Errol's next visit," Allen surmised.

Catherine grimaced. A few days was barely enough time to understand the curse, much less to break it.

The last hypothesis was that the curse was slowly robbing Master Tiln of the ability to be human. It was not so much supposition as fact that Master Tiln could not appear as human outside of the house. Allen had been an apprentice for a few years and the master had never once been able to walk out the door without transforming. Even when he was home, he tended to sprout feathers when stressed. And when he was magically exhausted, he often reverted to a bird until he could rest.

"That can't be right," mused Catherine. She had met Master Tiln in an alley in Market Chipping, and he was very much a man although he did turn into a bird twice. "Maybe he can't cross the threshold as a man but then he can change back later."

"Granny, I have never seen Master Tiln as a human outside the house," Allen stated unequivocally.

"Yes, but what if it's more than just being outside," suggested Catherine. "What if it's only during the daytime, or in a certain location?"

Allen was already shaking his head. "No, no. Do you know how hard it is to understand him as an animal, how much it has impeded my education? He has no other choice."

"But what if I've seen him before," insisted Catherine, "in his human form, walking in an alley in the town at the bottom of the mountain?"

"Then I'd want to know if you saw anyone with him, because that's the person who can break the curse." The apprentice thumped his hand on the table for emphasis.

She refused to believe it. "You can't be serious!" She glanced at the fireplace, expecting to see Eleanor's knowing eyes but there was nothing but burning logs. "Whoever the master was with, I'm sure she has no idea how to cast spells or to break hexes or anything useful."

"Do you know who she is? Do you know how to find her?" Allen asked excitedly, taking exactly the wrong message from her words.

"Yes, I know her, but what if she doesn't want to be found?" Catherine countered. "What if she's afraid of wizards? What if she can't undo the spell?"

"Who's afraid of wizards?" asked Allen with a snort.

"Regular people are afraid of wizards! I was afraid," she told him. "I didn't know that I was magical, and if this girl is anything like me --" and Catherine could not believe her own curse let her say this much -- "then she is scared too. And even if she isn't terrified, she probably doesn't know the first thing about breaking a curse."

"But that's impossible," Allen argued. "Think of yourself, all the magic you can do without even realizing. You're a natural at potions and I'm sure she will just know exactly what to do, like an instinct. Some things are older and stronger than magic."

The words reminded her of when she had first entered the house and made a pact with the fire demon. So long as Catherine did what she could to break the master's curse, Eleanor would likewise attempt to break the curse that had aged Catherine. By refusing to help, was Catherine also be refusing to be helped?

"Such as curiosity?" said Catherine.

"Such as love!" said Allen.

Catherine sputtered at that. "They aren't in love with each other!" They barely knew each other, how could they find time to fall in love?

"You don't know that," Allen chided her, and wouldn't he feel foolish if he knew the truth! "Love is a natural neutralizer to dark magic -- curses and hexes, what-have-you -- and a natural amplifier to light magic. And don't your ridiculous stories always end in true love?"

"You just told me that those stories were rubbish," she pointed out. "Why should I believe the part about love?"

"Oh, even a stopped clock is right every now and then," he said with an eye roll, getting up to grab his magical cloak. "Don't worry about it, Granny. Just find that witch. Let love sort it out. I will fetch Master Tiln while you bring the witch here. Door!" he called out, banging on the mantle to call Eleanor from her hiding place. The fire demon appeared in a shower of soot and shifted the world around the knob before swinging it open onto the same sunny spot where the wizard had recently passed.

Recognizing the press of time, Allen was gone before Catherine could refuse anything.

Back in her usual hearth, Eleanor leaped about. "Bonnet, this is so exciting!"

"This is terrifying!" Catherine exclaimed. "What if you're all wrong? What if I like him but not enough? What if it's not love that we need to save him?"

"Don't panic, Bonnet," Eleanor soothed her. "It will take a little time for Allen to bring the master home. We have time to calmly talk about this."

Catherine sat down heavily, then immediately sprung up again. Tea! What she needed right now was a perfect cup of tea, something sweetened liberally with Creative Spark and a love potion.

"It cannot be love at first sight," she muttered more to herself than to an audience as she refilled the kettle. "He's already seen me three or four times, and the first time he turned me into a mouse and a cat, and then stole my hat. That's hardly a good foundation for love. And besides, I've been here for nearly a week and he hasn't recognized me. You'd think if we were fated to fall in love that he'd instinctively know that it was me in this old body."

"Do not judge him too harshly," said the fire demon. "After all, he's only been in your company for a few moments all told. He knows that you're special, Bonnet. He just doesn't know how."

"He thinks I'm ugly and old now, doesn't he?" Catherine asked. "I heard the two of you talking when I woke up."

"How much did you hear?" asked the demon. "Did you hear him talk about meeting 'the most amazing witch' and how he had been scouring the town for days, looking for a sign of you?"

Catherine covered her face with her hands and stood hunched and silent. Eleanor, satisfied that her companion was thinking about this information, sat flickering while Catherine could feel her own self wavering.

"But how will he even know it is me?" she said at last. "Twice he's asked me who I am and I couldn't answer him. Something prevented me."

"That was your magic protecting you," Eleanor explained. "True names have a power of their own and you wouldn't want to give that to anyone you don't trust completely."

"Be that as it may, he's going to come back here expecting to see my old self -- I mean, my young self, Hattie Morland -- and he's going to see Granny Bonnet instead."

"Then we must find a way for him to use more than his eyes to see you," Eleanor stated.

"Hearing won't work either because I sound as old as I look," grumbled Catherine.

Eleanor didn't respond right away. She stared meditatively at Catherine. After a few beats of silence, she spoke again. "Master Tiln said you transformed into a cat when he met you."

Catherine crossed her arms at the memory. "That is because he turned me into a mouse and flew off with me in his claws. Then he dropped me and turned me into a cat as I was falling."

"He said that he was walking with you when some shadow demons started to chase you," Eleanor said. "He transformed you both so he could get away from them -- they can't go into the sunlight. But he said that you transformed yourself into a cat, not him."

"But that's ridiculous," said Catherine. "I don't know how to turn myself into a cat! I didn't even know that I was magical at the time."

"Magic doesn't need to be understood to work," Eleanor told her. "That's what makes hedgemagicians so dangerous."

Catherine thought about it. "I can transform into a cat? And if I am the same cat that he saw earlier, the master will recognize me as Miss Hattie?"

The demon's smile was blazing. "That's a wonderful plan."

"Yes, but how do I make myself into a fluffy, gray cat? I may have done it before but that doesn't mean I can do it again on command."

"Everyone has natural talents and affinities, even magicians. You might be a cat person, just as Master Tiln is a bird person."

"How is it done?" she asked. "What do I need to do?"

Eleanor looked momentarily stumped. Fire demons and humans went about it so differently that none of her personal experience could be considered advice. "I remember something from when the master taught Allen how to do it. You start by imagining what the animal looks like, and then encourage your body to change shape to match the animal. Sometimes it helps to study skeletons."

Catherine wrinkled her nose. All those holiday dinners with a showstopping roast goose or lamb had not prepared her for this.

"There are some drawings in the classroom," offered Eleanor hopefully.

Catherine could sense the demon spinning the rooms of the house like a kaleidoscope behind the walls before finding the room she wanted and swinging open the door. Catherine went through the opening and Eleanor soon joined her in the new fireplace. It was a classroom and had clearly been neglected recently with dust on every surface, but it had also seen a lot of use.

"Go to the leftmost bookshelf," instructed Eleanor. "There's a portfolio of anatomical drawings."

Catherine did as she was bid and found the book easily. She placed it on a desk and began to page through it.

"Aha!" She found it. The sketch was detailed with notes on where to find the elbows and other helpful guides. "And I just try to make my bones arrange themselves like that?" she asked. There had to be more to it than that. What about muscles and claws, whiskers and fur?

Eleanor just shrugged. "Human magic is a little mysterious to me."

Catherine shook herself. It couldn't be that hard. It wasn't impossible if she had done it once already without even trying.

She stood there for who knows how long trying to get her body to shift. Not knowing how long it should take to figure out, or how difficult it truly was, she was constantly going from being terribly disappointed with her failure to being absolutely determined to succeed.

At a low point, she turned to Eleanor and asked, "How long did it take Allen to transform?"

The fire demon squinted through the flames. "I don't exactly remember," she hedged. "It was a while ago." Catherine got the feeling that it was more than an afternoon.

"Oh, this will never work," she gave up. "There must be something else. We need to think of another way."

Suddenly Eleanor stood at attention. "Allen has found him," she announced. "They need the door. Stay here. I'll make something up." With that, she leapt up the flue and back to the main room to greet the wizard and his apprentice.

Alone, Catherine could feel her heart begin to race with nerves. As soon as Master Tiln laid eyes on her, he would think this whole thing was a joke. If only she had proof that she was Hattie Morland. If only she could tell him that Master Errol had done this to her.

But she knew that as soon as she tried to speak, the memories would get all muddled in her brain.

The hat!

The hat! Like the cinder-girl's glass slipper, that was conclusive proof that she was the one he was seeking. If she could get the hat, even if she couldn't say that it was hers, surely Master Tiln could figure out what it meant.

But how was she supposed to get to it? It was hidden in the master's closet. To get there, she'd have to go through the main room and... and up steps probably... and poke her head in a lot of rooms, and she didn't have time for that.

She stared at the doorknob. She had been watching how Eleanor worked the doors and, while human magic was no doubt very different from fire demon magic, there had to be similarities.

Catherine rested her hand on the knob, not firmly grasping it but mentally preparing to do so. Then there was a slight tension that had to come from someone trying to open the door from the other side.

Not thinking twice, she grabbed the doorknob and began to turn. The house tumbled on the other side, rooms sliding past, forming and reforming until she was certain she had the right space. Biting her lip for false confidence, she pushed the door open.

She wasn't sucked immediately into an unending void. Instead, she entered the master's closet! Victory!

Laughter bubbled up in her chest and spilled from her mouth. She had done it. At that moment, she thought she could do anything. She had been doing magic nearly her whole life -- just potions, really, but still quite an accomplishment -- and was able to do more than she ever realized. What was supposed to be so difficult about shifting rooms around? Was it supposed to be hard to turn into a cat? Nonsense! She could do it. She had done it before without even trying. If she really wanted to or needed to, Catherine could do it in an instant.

But first, the hat!

She took a step forward and flailed as her limbs transformed and sprouted fur.

She stopped moving, sat on her haunches, and hung her head. She really needed to work on her timing.

House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

NN SOctober 04, 2019 11:26AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

MEROctober 08, 2019 03:28AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

leonardsntOctober 06, 2019 11:56AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

PetraOctober 05, 2019 02:40PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

Maria VOctober 04, 2019 12:06PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

Lucy J.October 04, 2019 04:34PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 6

MarciOctober 04, 2019 11:46PM


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