Markl glanced at the clock on the wall with a sigh that was both slightly fearful and bored. He didn't know where he was—somewhere noisy and smelly—and he didn't know when he was. Portal magic was tricky, he knew that much. And the portal he took to get here…well it wasn't exactly like one of Master Howl's. It did strange things to him. Made him older. Gave him a gangly new body that was all limbs. He didn't know what to do with himself so he alternated between having one leg bent in front of him on the chair, with the table cutting into his knee, or leaning back and balancing the chair on its back legs, fascinated that he could reach the floor. There was only so much waiting he could take. He’d jumped through the portal and had been met by people who seemingly knew more about it than he did (which wasn’t hard, since he knew nothing) and they had explained things a little. Not much, but enough to convince him to go with them. He'd been gifted new clothes and a rushed meal, then told to sit and wait all the while being assured that someone would be in to speak with him “shortly". Shortly, he found out, meant something different here—wherever here was—than it did in Ingary. Or perhaps it just meant something different for him. He did hate waiting. If only they had left him with some cards or his cloak. At least then he could be practicing his magic while he waited. Thankfully, just as he was nearing the end of his rope, a woman entered the room. She was short and stout but had a kindly face and for as worried as he had been, she put his mind at ease. She had a sense of calm about her and like a warm blanket, he felt it drape around his shoulders. Whatever this place was, wherever Sophie and Howl might be, everything would be fine and this nice lady would make it so.
In an unhurried manner, she made her way to the chair across from him. He fought down the urge to help her into her chair, as he would have done for Sophie, not out of disrespect but because he got the sense that the woman would have disapproved of such assistance. So he waited, squirming only slightly, for her to situate herself. She flicked on a strange looking contraption (he would later learn it was a tape recorder) and opened her notebook, pen poised as if whatever was about to occur was the most important thing to happen and demanded notation. With a quiet, albeit friendly, smile she introduced herself as Doctor Amelia Green and stated that she was to be conducting his interview today. It would be just like a normal conversation, she claimed, and that he had no reason to be nervous. There were no right or wrong answers, which Markl thought was strange, but he trusted Doctor Green wouldn't steer him wrong.
“Why don't you try introducing yourself, dear, and do use that lovely name you put on your paperwork, please. It keeps things kosher for when we file everything together later and it's good practice for you as well.”
“Marcus.” He said simply, testing the new name out on his tongue as he might have done with a new casting word or dialect. At her prompting, he continued, “I'm Marcus Liam Jinkens, though I used to be called Markl. I'm ten—whoops, I mean eighteen years old, roughly a hundred and sixty-eight pounds, and five foot eleven—which is quite the jump from what I used to be.” The last bit was said with a cheeky smile, being completely serious was a drain on him but thankfully, the doctor didn't seem to mind.
“And where are you from dear? Any family or friends that may be looking for you?”
“I'm from Ingary. Don't feel bad if you don't know where that is, it's a fair jaunt from here.” He said with a flirtatious wink that he'd often seen Master Howl use on the ladies he wanted to impress, it always seemed to work for him but when Marc tried it himself, it never looked quite right. More like a seizer than a wink. Yet another thing he would have to practice. As it was, instead of softening up the doctor, it instead made her laugh which the young man didn’t seem to mind. “Depends. If you mean family in the traditional sense, no. I'm an orphan. At least I've assumed I'm an orphan but…if I'm honest I'm not sure. Could I have an ambiguous family out there looking for me? Possibly. But far more likely, considering what my circumstances were, I would say not.” He shrugged preferring to leave those thoughts behind. It was highly likely that the Fishers were still alive. Or at least ere, prior to the fall of the darkness. But their son, had ceased to exist for them at a young age. Four. To be exact, if the note that had been pinned to his basket was to be believed. That was when he had done his first bit of unexplainable things. Magic. And naturally, they had done what any parents would have done. They took him to the Wastes. And left him on a wizard's stoop. He had been with Master Howl ever since. Master Howl was his father now, in every way that mattered, that was why he took his name into this new world. “In the nontraditional sense, yes, I have people who are looking for me.” He continued, voice soft but tone firm. Sophie and Howl. They would be looking. They had to be. He didn't know if his heart could take being abandoned again. Sophie had promised to stay and Master Howl always came back. They wouldn't have left him on their own, not if they'd had any choice. “My Master and Sophie. They'll find me. I know they will.”
“I'm sure they will, love, and we'll help you find them in whatever way we can. Will you tell me more about them?”
“I guess, but I thought this session was about me?” He replied, cheekiness returning and banishing the somber tone of the previous statements. It may have come across as a type of cold indifference in an older person but this particular boy it was more evidence of his childlike innocence. Sorrow didn't belong on a face such as his, it was made for mirth. In response to his remark, the doctor just laughed and encouraged him to tell her anyway. For background's sake. Whatever that meant. “Well, I guess I'll tell you about Master Howl first, but not too much, I have a duty of secrecy, you know as his apprentice. He's a magician, and a really good one, he used to train with the very best—Madame Suliman. I never met her, my master says she's a stuffy old bat, but she works for the king of Ingary. He's not from there you know, not like me, he's from Wales I think. But working for Suliman got too boring, so he always said but I think there's a little more to it than that.” He crossed his arms and gazed unseeingly at a spot on the wall. His master was very at his shallow wizard's routine. And, he supposed, that to a point Master Howl was selfish and power-hungry. But if he was as bad as everyone else seemed to think he was, he wouldn't have kept him around. Tutored him. Laughed with him. The newness of having an apprentice would have worn off ages ago. Yes, he had shown a glimmer of natural talent but in the light of his ignorance…it shouldn't have been enough. But it was. Under all his frippery, there was a person who cared. He just didn't show that side of himself often.
“Anyway, he stopped working with her after he broke up with the witch of the waste. Now he uses pseudonyms to hide from them. And he spends his days wooing pretty girls, going through his black portal, and tutoring me.We fell into a sort of pattern—Howl, Calcifer and I. And no, Doctor, I won't tell you much more about Calcifer.” His tone became firm, like iron, instead of the conversational tone he had been previously using. His arms crossed, not in a casual way but as if he were on defense or expected the doctor to argue with him. No longer did his face hold boys glee or impish teasing. No, in mere moments the boy had turned into a man. He wouldn't change his mind about this, not even if it meant he lost all chance of getting help here. He didn't think they'd send him back through the portal, not with the monsters that ran rampant over there now, but even if they refused to let him stay, he wouldn't betray Master Howl or Calcifer in that way. Not after everything they had done for him.
At the doctor's acquiescence to his refusal to share more than he was comfortable with, he immediately softened. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, the gesture causing his red brown hair to stick up in a chaotic mess. “I don't know much anyway.” He stated hoping that she would hold to her word and not press further. When she didn't after a brief pause, he continued on as if nothing had happened. “Our routine was simple. Most mornings Howl would be gone, doing whatever it was he had planned for the day. On occasion, there would be a list of tasks both magical and non-magical for me to complete. If there weren't any, Calcifer thought of some or I ‘self studied' which consisted of me trying to not blow myself or the house up. If customers came in requesting a magic powder or potion I would scrawl their request down on whatever parchment I could find. If it was simple or Calcifer felt helpful, I'd make it myself. If not, I'd leave it for Master Howl to fix when he had time. In the evenings, if Master Howl was home and not too tired, I would usually try to get him to teach me something, usually magical, but occasionally I would bring him a word I didn't recognize, and we'd practice reading—much to my dismay.
“That was about it. I could do as I pleased throughout the day. The pantry was open to me—though hot meals were a rarity saved for when Howl was around. Cleaning was a foreign concept. Howl would sooner buy something new rather than clean it and I wasn't about to. His manners and cleanliness habits were impeccable while mine often left things to be desired.
But that didn't last long after Sophie breezed into our lives. She’s our cleaning lady. Or at least that was what she was supposed to be, and was, I suppose, in the barest sense. I don't mean that rudely, not at all, but in the sense that she became so much more than a cleaning lady to us. Each of us. And I think we became more to her too. Or at least, I hope we did. I woke up one morning and she was there, snoring in a chair by the fire, and she hasn't left since. She's cursed—the witch of the waste did it, though Sophie doesn't remember why—and Howl can't break it. At least, not yet. But we will. Though I think Sophie could probably just break it herself if she put her mind to it. She did manage to tame Calcifer and no one has ever done that but Howl himself. Luckily for me however, that meant hot meals more than just on occasion.” He laughed a little, remembering Howl's surprise at the domesticated Calcifer. It hadn't taken long for her to work her magic over all of them, himself included. Sophie made the castle feel like home, with her flowers and her warmth, she was the piece that no one knew was missing. “Sophie made our house a home and an odd assortment of people a family.”
“They sound like wonderful people. How did you get separated from them?”
“That' s a long story, doctor.” He scratched the back of his head and leaned back in his chair again, ignoring the disapproving look, “You see, the castle was magic. It had several portals—not entirely different from the one that brought me here—and they opened in different parts of Ingary. Mostly for Howl's ease and business but also to hide us from both Suliman and the Witch of the Waste. Each of them were looking for Howl for their own reasons. The Witch for his heart and Suliman for his allegiance—there was a war going on in between Ingary and a neighboring kingdom and Suliman had convinced the king to agree, or spelled him into it for her own gain, to use magicians to fight the war thus trapping them in their other forms. They forgot how to be humans and instead became a mindless sort of henchman. Either that or Suliman took their magic for herself, I never was quite sure.
Either way, the king's messenger found us, or rather found Pendragon an alias of Howl's, and demanded his presence in front of the king. As he had sworn an oath years prior to always appear when summoned, he couldn't directly refuse. What he had chosen to do, which admittedly wasn't the best plan, was to have Sophie go in his place and say he wouldn’t come. Complain about how he was a lazy son and would be of no use to the king's cause. Howl would appear but in a disguised fashion—disguise is my best form of magic currently, just in case you wondered doctor—to presumably ‘fulfill' his oath and take Sophie with him. However, that plan backfired. I don’t know all the details but what I do know is after that trip our ‘family' got bigger. Sophie ran into the Witch of the Waste and Suliman took her powers. It left her in a terrible state, old and barely able to function on her own, and despite everything she had done, Sophie couldn't leave her behind. Suliman's dog, Heen, came too. "
He smiled as he remembered the excitement he felt as Howl prepared to move house. The attention he paid to the symbols etched on the wood floor, how his ears strained to hear the muttered incantation—not that it would help much, he'd never be able to do the magic without help. Howl wad a powerful magician on his own but Calcifer helped immensely in matters like this. Despite what he said, he was used for far more than heating water. He kept them safe. He moved the castle whenever needed. And countless other things that no one but Howl could possibly know. But he wouldn't say that in this interview. Calcifer’s, and there by Howl's, secret would remain so. No one else needed to know where Howl's heart lied. Sophie would never tell. And no one would believe the senile old bat that the Witch had become. It wasn't much protection but it was all that he had to give. He could only hope that either the doctor wouldn't read too much into his fabricated backstory—though most of it was in fact true—or in the hope that Sophie, wherever she was, would think to do the same.
In any case, the truth of the move and how he had gotten separated from the other members of his household, would remain with him. Howl's heart, the fact that he occasionally midnights as a large bird-like beast, and the nature of Calcifer's origins, would be carefully left out of this narration. Instead, he would spin the fantastical into the most mundane. It would be his greatest feat yet and he could only hope that he would do his master proud. “Well, as I'm sure you can imagine, our home was rather tight quarters.” At least it had been for Sophie and the witch, neither of which had been given an actual room. Sophie's cot was stashed nearly under the stairs, but she had given it up for the (now) elderly witch. While he had simply allowed Heen to bunk with him. It was a fine solution for the day or so that it took for Howl to return to them, but seeing as he hadn't even known where Sophie had slept that night, it was a poor permanent solution. Thankfully, Howl had a remedy planned. Moving House. While that seemed simple for most everyone, for them it was a bit more complex. Moving house meant occupying an entirely separate place in all portals (save one) and magically changing the entire structure of a home to fit their needs. Marc had watched, eager eyes devouring the spell that Howl had chalked out on the floor, quick to help (what little he could do), but mostly being forced to stand out of the way while his master and Calcifer did the work. His nose tingled and his eyes burned a bit at the expanse of magic that was expelled in the deceitfully easy looking spell. It had been marvelous to behold. “Howl couldn't stand to see his ‘guests' so uncomfortable, so we ended up moving house. As it turned out, once the spell was finished we occupied a similar—if not the very same—space as Sophie's family hat shop. It was huge compared to the last space and I was so excited. There was even a courtyard where Heen and I could play, everyone's need were met—exceeded really, and that didn't even count the extra magical bit—a new portal just for Sophie. Howl had never done that before, but she seemed pleased and so did he. Honestly I think, had things gone differently, we might have been quite happy in Market Chipping. But things, rarely work out the way they ought to, at least, in my limited experience.”
He paused in his narrative, as the doctor looked as if she might comment on his last statement, likely something about ‘how did that make him feel'—absolutely irritated beyond belief, as he didn't know why he didn't deserve to have one thing go right for him for once— or some sort of empty platitude on how things would of course turn out all right for him in the end if he ‘kept the faith' or some other such nonsense. However the doctor ended up saying nothing, likely discouraged by the sour look on his face. Instead, she indicated for him to continue. “We had been there barely a week when Suliman found us. Naturally, she didn't come herself but instead employed underhanded methods to weaken us. Sophie’s mother came to visit us. She seemed nice enough, though nothing like her daughter, except she kept trying to convince Sophie to go with her. That put me in a sour mood and though I took tea with them, I ate nothing—an extremely rare occurrence, especially if there are sweets involved—and glowered at the bubble-headed woman the entire time. I thought for certain that Sophie would leave us. Who wouldn’t? We appreciated her, as well as we were able, but she deserved more. And the life her mother had been selling sounded pretty nice. One of ease and luxury, not like the one that she had with us—always busy tidying after one or the other of us or dealing with Howl's guests and surly attitudes…but after the woman left, despite my earlier decision to say nothing and keep my mouth shut and thus let Sophie have the life she deserved or at least to make the choice without anyone’s cumbering advice, I asked—no begged her not to go. I told her that I loved her—as far as I could remember it was the first time I had uttered those words to another living soul. And to my surprise, she agreed to stay. Nothing felt better than the warm embrace of Sophie's arms. It was the first, and subsequently the last, time I'd feel that warm, safe, happy feeling.”
He missed them. However much of a hard time he had given Master Howl about his habits or Sophie her penchant need to clean everything, he missed them. Like a tangible ache in the center of his chest. He rubbed the place thoughtfully as the doctor switched to the other side of the tape. How would he find them here, in this vast place? While his magic came with him, from what little he had been able to tell before being swept away to this place, he didn't know any locator spells. Howl had never gotten around to showing him. He had managed to smuggle a few books out of the castle's rubble after Calcifer had collapsed but he had no idea what they might contain. Or if he could even read them. And while the doctor seemed nice enough…he was leery about trusting her or this place fully. But he would need help. And soon. The sooner he found them the better. At the doctor's signal, he pushed his feelings aside. One step at a time. He'd finish this interview, see what they knew, and then be on his way. < b>“Shortly after that we found out the real reason for Ms. Hatter's visit. She was sent by Suliman, to weaken us so that her goons could attack and forcibly conscript Howl into service or drain his powers as they had done to the Witch of the Waste. She had mistakenly—purposely left her handbag behind, knowing full well that whatever shred of the witch that remained with in the old woman would be unable to leave it be. Inside, Suliman had hidden a peeping bug which the witch fed to the fire and kept the cigar for herself. There was either something inside the bug or within the smoke—I’m still not sure which but it made Calcifer sick. He was weakened considerably and Howl was away tending to the bomb threat. It was all he could to keep the hat shop safe, even after Howl had returned and pulled the sickness out of him. Sophie was restless and determined that we should leave, as was I if I'm honest, but for once in his fool life, Howl decided to stay. To protect us. To protect her. Never had I ever seen Howl look at another soul the way that he did—” He shook his head and quickly recovered his grievous error, “the way he does Sophie. He loved her. And she loved him. Which was why she had to do it. Collapse the hat shop in an attempt to draw Howl away from the city. Naturally, Calcifer was against it. He was weakened by Suliman's schemes. He was sure that he could keep us safe or at least safe enough, within the confines of the house but…that wasn't enough for Sophie. Or for myself, had I been less frightened and more levelheaded. We needed Howl. She loved him. I loved him. And we wanted him to return safely. With some stern persuading, there, really was no fighting Sophie when she got this way, Calcifer relented. As they argued, I shoved as many of the books that were at hand into my satchel and cloak pockets. Life with Howl had taught me one thing, it never hurt to be prepared. I had no idea what would happen to this space once we took Calcifer out. Spells like these were tricky. Anyway, Sophie finally got her way, as she usually did when this mood struck, and she instructed me to help the witch outside. I did my best, carefully leading her out of the castle and into the field, muttering gentle encouragements to her as she went. She had moments of clarity, where bits of her old self would peek through but unfortunately, this wasn't one of them. Turnip-head caught up with us outside and hopped excitedly as Sophie led Calcifer out.
As expected, the castle collapsed in on itself as soon as he crossed the threshold. It began to rain, as Sophie tried to find a way back inside. Quickly enough, she accomplished that feat, and Turnip and I helped the witch back inside. Unsurprisingly, Sophie and Calcifer were arguing again. She wanted him to move the castle—what little was left in the aftermath of her last request—to Howl and convince him that he no longer needed to protect the hat shop. Both Calcifer and I were skeptical at that idea. I had never seen Calcifer do magic without Howl before and he didn't seem too keen on the idea either. Regardless, Sophie kept at him doggedly refusing to give up, often switching between plying him with compliments and begging him for his help. Finally, he agreed but said he needed something of hers to make the magic work. He suggested her eyes and Sophie countered with her braid. He took it and within moments he was strong enough to move a small portion of the castle. It was a strange but beautiful sight and the initial blast of power was enough to knock me flat. It was then that the witch moved.” His brow furrowed in anger. He couldn't believe what she had done. Especially in the light of everything that Sophie and Howl had done for her within the last few days. They could have just as easily left her with Suliman but they hadn't. Instead they had taken her into their home, fed her, gave her a place of shelter…but this was their thanks. He didn't know how much more he could say without potentially endangering Howl or Calcifer. But the Witch had found out just what the fire was and what he held in his possession. Howl's heart. And she wanted it. She took him from his hastily assembled hearth thus breaking the spell-work that was taking us to Howl—and holding the castle fragment together—and tried to consume him right then and there, despite the fact that she was burning while she did so. It was only Sophie's quick, but equally dangerous, thinking that stopped that from happening. She. Threw. Water. On. Calcifer. It reduced him to embers and the castle split in half, Sophie and Heen on one side and everyone else on the other. But what could he say to appease the doctor without betraying his friends?
“She reached in and took the source of Howl and Calcifer's power. It broke the spell that was taking us to Howl and keeping the castle aloft causing it to crumble apart and for us to be separated. I don't know where the rest of them are. I fell as the castle crumbled and when I woke up, everyone was gone.” That last bit at least wasn't glossed over. He had fallen—or had the old witch pushed him? He couldn't really say—off of his side of the house shortly after they had lost sight of Sophie. Turnip-head, the Witch, and Calcifer—still clutched in the meaty, clammy hand of the witch, had ambled on without him. Turnip had tries to catch him or come to his aid but his pole was wedged in tight amidst some rubble and he hadn't been able to get free. Marc had hit his head on a rock in his fall and he didn't know how long he'd been out or which way the others had gone. He'd had no ring to lead him home or even a home to be led to. His only thought had been was to wander in the direction of the hat shop and hope that someone would find him there. Someone who wasn't one of Suliman's creatures. “It was dark when I awoke. And not the darkness of a starless sky or that of a city shrouded in flames. This was a darkness that I had never seen before and with the strange darkness, came creatures. Beasts twisted and dark, unnatural. I didn't know what they were, nor where they had come from, but I knew that if they found me, I would be lost. So I ran. I ran in the direction that I thought Market Chipping was in. I scrambled over rocks and ridges, unsure of where I was, but simply knowing that I needed to get away. I wished I knew some kind of portal magic like Howl’s. I had seen the mechanics but I wasn't strong enough to try it on my own. Not when the stakes were as high as they were. It didn't matter. Several days of wandering and a portal made itself known. An unsuspecting archway with the tinge of magic, I had thought that Howl had found me. True, it wasn't exactly a door, but it was a natural one. I was tired, hungry, and lost, I was hoping for anything that wasn't Ingary. I stepped through and now I'm here.”
“And how do you find our fair city?” The doctor asked with a slight twinkle in her eyes.
Marc wasn't sure how to answer as he hadn't seen much of it. He'd stepped through the portal and been whisked away by a person he'd never seen before and brought here. “Noisy.” He finally said after a while. It was true. He hadn't grown up in the city, but rather in Howl's castle. It was noisy there and he usually heard the bustle of whatever city the portal was turned to, but other than that it was usually just him, Sophie, and Calcifer. He was used to puttering around by himself, practicing his spells or helping out with the easier customer requests, and while he missed that—the familiar sounds of Sophie going about her day or the crackling of Calcifer's hearth—he was also excited to start this new adventure. He'd find his family and then they would explore this new world together.
The doctor laughed at his short answer and promised that he would get used to the noise. Then she turned off the odd little device that captured his voice, thanked him for his time, and said that he was free to go. He rose from his chair, collected his things from a stout faced man, and took his first steps into this strange new world.