Hazel and Holly — A Breath Before Dawn
Previous: In the Midst of Midnight, Part Three
Nobody spoke as they walked back towards the inn. After surviving the horrific altercation at the mausoleum, the darkened streets of Sarnum seemed like a serene haven by comparison. But they still didn’t want to draw any attention.
Tum scampered after the group, having followed them out of the cemetary, but even he remained quiet.
When they finally reached the inn–without incident, thankfully–Holly ran towards it, threw the door open, and ran upstairs. Hazel and the others followed her. Except for Tum. He grumbled something about beer and returned to the cellar.
Hazel walked down the lamp-lit hallway and to the room she shared with Holly. Hemlock and Hawthorn followed close behind her, right up to her door. She raised her eyebrows at them, but Hawthorn just waved impatiently at her, and so she opened the door and they all stepped inside.
Holly sat on the bed, burying her face in her arms as she hugged her knees. Hazel sat down next to her as Hawthorn sat in the chair next to the desk, leaving Hemlock to sit on Hazel’s luggage.
No one said anything. Hazel stared at her hands, waiting for the accusations to be flung at her, but they never came.
“It was my fault,” she said, no longer wanting to wait for the inevitable discussion. “Everything that happened tonight…” She took a deep breath. “My fault.”
“I’m sorry,” Hawthorn said. “Do you mean to tell me you summoned those ghastly things and set them upon us?”
“No, but I brought that golem to the mausoleum and then lost control of him. I shouldn’t have done that. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t done that.”
The room turned silent again. Holly lifted her head and peered at Hazel with red-rimmed eyes. “What’s happening to you, Hazel?”
Hazel shook her head, blinking away stinging tears of her own. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Is it all really because of Father?”
Hazel shook her head again. “I don’t know anymore. I can’t keep blaming him, certainly not for the poor judgment I’ve shown tonight. I’m not even sure why I’m here anymore.”
“To save Mother.”
“At what cost?”
Holly fell silent a long while. “Where did you go tonight?”
Hazel told her about everything–the potion she made and then drank, and the otherworldly vision that it caused.
Holly stared at her. “But potion-making is a Hearth skill. What business has necromancy in making potions?”
“I don’t know, Holly. I really can’t explain any of it.”
Holly pressed her lips into a fine line. “And so you think that’s where he is? That Father is at this house on a hill, or whatever it was you saw?”
“I honestly can’t say for sure, but… I think so.”
Holly glowered at Hemlock. “And you let her do this?”
Hemlock met her gaze with a steady one of his own. “Would you rather she do such things alone, without anyone there to look out for her?”
“Don’t talk about me as if I’m not here,” Hazel said, annoyed. “My mind is my own, Holly. You know that. You have a problem with what I did, you talk to me about it, not Hemlock.”
Holly shifted her glower to Hazel. “And what if it had been me? What if you found out I snuck out in the night to do necromancy? What would you do? How do you expect me to react?”
Hazel took a breath. “I’m sorry for putting you in this position, Holly. I never wanted that. It’s why… I left without telling you.”
Holly opened her mouth and Hazel interrupted her by adding, “Which I know I shouldn’t have done.”
Holly snapped her mouth shut, frowned some more while glancing between Hazel and Hemlock, then let out a heavy breath and slumped her shoulders. She closed her eyes. “Well, now what?”
“I suppose we try to find this hill I saw, though I really don’t know where to start. It looked like it might be outside of town, but I really can’t be sure.”
“Do you know, Hawthorn?” Holly asked.
Hawthorn, cleaning his fingernails, stopped when he saw everyone looking at him. “What’s that?”
Holly emitted a heavy sigh. “The house and hill Hazel saw from drinking the potion. Do you know where it is?”
Hawthorn waved a hand. “There’s a lot of houses and hills around here. I don’t know how I’m supposed to figure out which one from a second-hand account of a hallucinatory dream.”
Holly glowered at him and firmly said, “Try.”
Hawthorn sighed and squinted up at the ceiling.
Holly narrowed her eyes and looked the ceiling too. “What’re you looking at?”
“The ceiling help you with that?”
Hawthorn ignored her. To Hazel, he said, “Were there trees on this hill? Landmarks?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
Hawthorn gave her a flat look.
“I don’t remember. There might have been a tree or two. But that’s all, I think. It was the building that caught my attention.”
“That may be a house or a mill, according to your account.”
Frowning, Hawthorn rubbed his chin a moment. Then he brightened and began smoothing out his clothes.
“Well?” Hazel said.
“I have no idea.”
“It’s quite out of my hands. I am not a man of miracles, as shocking as that realization may be.”
“Yes,” Hemlock muttered. “We’re all dumbstruck by the news.”
“So that’s it, then?” Holly said. “We just give up? After everything?”
“Nobody’s giving up,” Hazel said. To Hawthorn she asked, “So who would know something like this? There’s bound to be some elderly person who’s been around as long as dust that would know every facet and detail about this town.”
“You could always try the city archives,” he said.
“Yes, archives. You know, old papers, books, people. They’ll probably have something there that can help.”
Hazel narrowed her eyes. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”
Hawthorn shrugged and resumed cleaning his nails. “You didn’t ask.”
They all spent what remained of the night in Hazel’s and Holly’s cramped little room. Hawthorn wedged himself between the sisters on the bed and promptly fell asleep, followed shortly after by Holly. Hazel, finding herself in closer proximity to Hawthorn than she ever would have liked, relocated to the floor. Hemlock sat next to her, and so she spent the night resting her head against his shoulder as she drifted in and out of fitful slumber.
Until something soft brushed against her cheek, tickling her skin. She rubbed at her face and felt a soft, fuzzy body, wiry tail, and feathery whiskers. Hazel cried out and leapt to her feet, swiping at her face and dress, but Chester had already scurried out of sight.
“Sweet merciful moonlight,” Hawthorn said as he bolted upright, blinking as he looked around.
“What happened?” Hemlock said as he woke. He stretched his neck and winced.
Holly still slept.
Hazel marched up to her and shook her awake.
“What?” Holly said. “What’s going on?”
“Your disgusting mouse was crawling all over me. It was on my face. My face!”
Holly blinked a few times. “Chester?”
“Yes, Chester. Do you mean to tell me you have another filthy rodent stashed somewhere?”
“He’s not filthy…” Holly said, trailing off. “Well, actually, he is due for a bath.”
“Wonderful,” Hazel said.
“Don’t be so dramatic. He only goes up to the faces of people he likes, so you should be honored.”
“I’ll try to remember that the next time I’m getting mauled.”
“Chester doesn’t maul. He quietly nibbles.”
“That’s comforting. Truly.”
Holly peered around the floor. “Where’d he go? You didn’t stomp on him, did you? I’d never forgive you!”
“Trust me, he’s fine. I’m the victim here.”
Holly snorted. “If Chester ever made you a victim, then I’ll have to give him more cheese.”
Hazel opened her mouth but then snapped it shut again. She didn’t know how to respond to that.
“Well, that was exciting,” Hawthorn said as he rose from the bed and straightened his clothes. “If you’ll excuse me, these garments are now disgusting.” He turned and left the room.
“Looks like we survived another night,” Hemlock said, nodding towards the window and the streams of light peeking behind the curtains.
“Barely,” Hazel muttered.
“I should go change as well,” Hemlock said. Then he turned overly serious. “Unless you’re not feeling safe here with a rogue mouse on the loose. Then I’ll stay, of course. To protect you.”
Hazel glared at him. “I’m glad you’re finding this amusing.”
Hemlock grinned. “There are worse ways to be woken.”
“Like Hawthorn singing opera while naked? And singing poorly, I might add.”
Hazel cringed. “That hasn’t happened. Has it?”
Hemlock’s grin widened. “How’s Chester looking now?”
“Strangely less horrific.”
He laughed and walked out.
Hazel stared at the door, unable to keep a small smile from stretching across her face. She turned and found Holly watching her. “What?”
“You’re good together.”
Hazel’s cheeks turned hot, but she smiled even more. By the Four Divines, she couldn’t help it. She cleared her throat and tried to get a hold of herself. “Come on. We’d better get changed and go find something to eat.”
Next: Archived Amity