Photo courtesy Athena-chan
Very powerful wizard
Creative in fighting, and discerning
Thinks he is a coward
Too kind for his own good
He actually likes spiders
Photo courtesy frinki.com
"Graced" with survival - can survive almost anything.
Killed first person when she was eight
No qualms about killing, oh, just about anyone
Doesn't form any deep emotional connections
Has hang-ups with her uncle
How we think the fight might go...
Katsa looked at the little old lady with disbelief. When the King of Ingary had first proposed a “friendly little match” between her and his head wizard, she’d been more than a little skeptical. She wasn’t sure how having a match to test their abilities would benefit either one of them. If Howl had possessed any qualities that made her think he’d fight decently, then maybe, but all the rumors she’d heard of him either called him a coward or a dangerous wizard that ate young girls’ hearts.
And, staring at the wispy white hairs that had escaped the old woman’s hair pins, Katsa was willing to bet that Howl was a coward that hid behind a somewhat checkered reputation.
“I’m sure you understand, my dear,” the woman said, her voice like that of a rusty hinge being forced open.
“You mean he’s too afraid to fight me?” Katsa asked. She might have respected his feelings more--and he was right to be afraid--if Howl had told her himself rather than sending an innocent old woman out to meet her instead.
The woman sucked in her cheeks and her green eyes widened while her nostrils flared. “Oh, dear me no. I can see I haven’t explained his position clearly. He isn’t afraid to fight you. Not exactly.”
Katsa held very still, impatience jangling through her nerves. “Then why did he send you?” She narrowed her eyes. Something just outside her senses was bothering her. She knew enough to trust her instincts--instincts that were led by her Grace for survival. They were warning her now not to let her guard down. Someone else was here, someone who might mean her harm. Someone like Howl.
Katsa eyed the old woman, but knew she wasn't a serious threat. The old woman looked like a brittle lump of dough that might snap in half if the wind blew too hard. Her knees were knocking and she gripped her cane, her knuckles stark white, as if it was the only thing keeping her upright.
Katsa stilled herself, holding her breath as she focused every ounce of her being through her senses. The old woman’s words fell like small pebbles that clacked against each other in Katsa’s periphery while she waited.
She could just make out the ghostly outline of a man standing a few paces away from the old woman. He wore a ridiculous suit of red and black, his long sleeves hanging down nearly to his knees. Katsa shook her head in disgust. If this was Howl, then he knew absolutely nothing about fighting. But maybe that’s why the King of Ingary wanted this match. Maybe he wanted her to teach his head wizard that sleeves like that were a liability. Katsa measured him up silently, wondering if it would be too much to show him how easy it would be to strangle him with his sleeves--not that she’d hurt him, of course. Much.
First things first. Katsa needed to know if Howl was insubstantial along with being mostly invisible. Casually, she toed the dirt where wagon tracks had worn away the grass. She worked a stone loose and kicked it in his direction the way she’d seen people kick rocks out of boredom. The small rock flew true and hit Howl in the leg right above his boots.
Katsa kept her face expressionless when the ghost-Howl made a face and leaned down to rub his shin. He was corporeal then. Good. That made everything easier.
She glanced back at the old woman who had moved on from whatever excuse Howl had baked up to the virtues of keeping up appearances.
Katsa measured the space between the old woman and ghost-Howl. The trick would be to teach the wizard a lesson without either of them accidentally hitting the old woman. She was sure she could do it, but what about ghost-Howl? Was he the kind that lashed out or curled in when attacked?
Katsa tensed before she leaped forward. Only one way to find out.
Katsa aimed a light punch at ghost-Howl’s midsection. The air rushed out of his lungs as her fist connected with the plush fabric that provided halfway decent padding. He was going to need it. She spun around and kicked him in the back of the knee, making him stagger, but didn’t drop him completely. His reactions seemed slow and if the way he hunched over his stomach indicated anything, he was the type that curled in.
She spun around, timing her blows so a new one struck him every few seconds, waiting just long enough for the place she’d hit him previously to start throbbing. She held herself back as far as she could without turning her jabs and punches and kicks into gentle pats.
Ghost-Howl--he still clung to his invisibility as though that would somehow save him--lurched and staggered and moaned, but didn’t even make a half-hearted attempt to block her or retaliate.
Katsa stepped back for a second, her mind and senses working overtime as they analyzed the wizard in front of her. Why was he just standing there taking her attack? Why didn’t he...
And then her eyes widened as she realized she could see his mouth moving. Her Grace might be attributed to magic in Ingary, but she could almost taste a distinct difference between her Grace and the power that made flowers bloom out of season and reduced whole dwellings to little more than rubble and ash.
And she could taste the sweet metallic flavor in the back of her throat that she’d learned to recognize whenever she’d come across magic during her short stay in Ingary.
Without a second thought, Katsa spun around, whirling her leg out, and clipped the ghost-Howl on his temple with her foot. A moment later, he crashed to the ground, unconscious and completely visible.
“Oh my,” the little old woman said, hobbling over to where Katsa bent over Howl. “Have you killed him?” She leaned forward, blinking nearsightedly.
“No,” Katsa reassured her. “I just gave him something to think about.” She fished through her pocket for the small pouch of medicines Raffin insisted she carried around. “You might want to give him this later.” She held out a small pill.
“What does it do?” the old woman asked.
Now that everything was over and everyone was still alive, Katsa grinned. “He’s going to have a headache when he wakes up. This will help take care of it. It will also turn his hair blue.”
“Oh my,” the old woman tutted. “Howl would be most distressed if that happened. Most distressed.” As the old woman said the words, Howl sparkled for a moment before fading away into nothing.
Katsa gaped at the ground then looked up at the old woman as a terrible certaintly hit her in the stomach. She moved to leap up, but the second her eyes met the green eyes that turned blue, the sweet metallic taste of magic filled her mouth as darkness swarmed over her like a heavy blanket.
“Blue!” the old woman muttered as she lengthened and the wrinkles fell away. Howl brushed his hands off and glared down at Katsa. He’d seen what she’d done to his glamour, and to add injury to insult, she’d planned to turn his hair blue as well.
Howl could put up with a lot--he hadn’t turned his sister and her husband into the toads they both deserved to be yet--but he drew the line at anyone who dared to mess with the color of his hair. Rendering the young woman unconscious by magic was perhaps extreme, but understandable given the fact that Sophie had made it very clear there would be consequences if he ever again summoned so much as a speck of the vile green goo he’d filled the castle with.
He grinned. Ah, the memories. Stepping deftly, he bent down and retrieved the pill Katsa had intended for him and gazed at it thoughtfully as his grin widened. One good turn deserved another, especially in light of the fact that he’d worked so hard to avoid anything even resembling fisticuffs.
A second later, he tucked the pill into her cheek. Then he turned on his heel, working out a way to convince Sophie that she wanted to go on vacation. Right now.
Predicted winner: Howl
Katsa is from Kristen Cashore's Graceling and Howl is from Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle