Hazel and Holly — A Return to Light
Previous: Before the Fall
Holly gripped the skirts of her dress so tightly that her hands had turned numb. Her whole body tensed; she wanted to run. But she couldn’t—not with that dragon with its creepy, blinking scales and fetid breath blocking the way forward. Nor could she go back. Her mother stood right behind her, exuding a chill that made Holly’s skin prick and the hair on her neck stand on end. It was too much, being wedged between a necromantic dragon and a dead mother. It was wrong, all of it.
From across the room, Hawthorn headed towards her. He had made it halfway across before the dragon put down a monstrous leg and blocked him from view. She needed to do something, but whenever she tried thinking of a spell, countless cold, otherworldly eyes across the dragon’s flank would blink at her, and Holly’s mind froze along with the rest of her body.
A chill gripped her shoulder, and her mother said, “Look.” She extended an arm past Holly’s cheek, pointing underneath the dragon’s belly to Hazel on the other end of the room.
Her sister had grown taller. Hemlock, sitting on the floor, looked almost childlike next to her. Wisps of shadows arced from the dragon and twined around Hazel and flattened against her. They turned her dress an impossible black, and her skin had paled and faded, like she was becoming nothing. Like she no longer belonged to this world.
Hot panic seared through Holly’s gut. She searched the room and found her father standing in an opposite corner from Hazel. She started towards him, but the dragon reared its head at her and expelled a plume of hot breath that smelled of spoiled eggs and ichor.
It opened its maw wide, exposing rows of jagged crystalline teeth as sharp as glass. Before Holly had a chance to move back, her mother stepped in front of her and pulled the dragon’s attention.
“Go,” she said without turning to look at Holly.
Heart pounding, she ran across the room and to her father. Verrin stood behind him, looking so smug that Holly wondered how she could have ever thought him handsome.
“What’s happening to her?” she said.
Ash’s gaze remained fixed on Hazel. “She is becoming her true self.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her father said nothing. He shifted his gaze over to Willow, who stood before the dragon with an upraised hand that, somehow, seemed to have enthralled the creature. Ash gave Verrin a pointed look, and Verrin barked orders in a harsh, gutteral voice that made his words incoherent. At least for Holly.
But the necromancers wove their spells, and the dragon came out of its stupor and snapped its jaws at Willow before turning back towards Hazel.
Ash went up to Willow and took her by the arm. The determination she had held while facing the dragon faded, and she turned to look upon Ash as if nothing in the world existed except for him.
At another spell from the necromancers, the dragon extended its wings, bringing night into the chamber. The bright blue scales blinking over its body became like stars.
The room faded away, and Holly found herself in a wide field dotted with purple cosmos flowers, underneath a pale golden sky with clouds like mother of pearl. A grey stone wall running alongside the field cast long, impossible shadows that stretched toward the setting sun and toward Holly’s feet. She stepped back like she might step away from an encroaching mud puddle, but the shadows continued to creep and creep until they nipped at her toes.
A cry from Hazel rang into the air. The field faded and Holly was back in the chamber. Yet the walls pulsed around her, as if they remembered the meadow and preferred to give way to it.
Hawthorn tried to run past the dragon, but it swiped a taloned claw at him. He twisted out of the way, lost his balance, and fell.
As Holly ran over to him, twisting shadows passed overhead as they bled from the dragon to Hazel and the necromancers. Hazel never looked at Holly; she had taken on a distant look, as if watching something Holly couldn’t see.
The necromancers began another spell, but before they could finish it, Hazel worked a spell of her own. The shadows connecting the dragon to the necromancers severed, and they all cried out in surprise, or maybe pain.
“I saw a room,” Hawthorn murmured as Holly knelt next to him. “Paneled in stained walnut and… my father was there. Did that really happen?”
Holly tried to help him off the floor, but he just sat there like a sack of grain. She tapped his cheek. “Snap out of it, Hawthorn. I need your help.”
One necromancer buckled to the ground, and then another. The dragon, smaller than it had been but still imposing, lumbered towards them. Its long, black claws scraped the floor as it moved, grinding like river stones against an eternal tide. Hazel, shrouded in more shadows now that none were being siphoned by the necromancers, watched its advance with apparent disinterest. While Ash watched on with an expression that looked far too eager.
Holly pulled at Hawthorn one more time. “Get up,” she said, then hurried over to Hazel now that the dragon had moved away. She grabbed her sister’s arm, but yanked her hand back when a shock of searing cold lanced through her bones.
“Stop this!” Holly shouted, as if Hazel stood across a great chasm and not right in front of her. She waved her arms, but Hazel’s eyes had turned black and her gaze never moved from the dragon. She didn’t even look at Hemlock, who still sat near her feet, looking much too ashen than a man ever should.
Hawthorn staggered upright, looking perplexed that Holly was no longer at his side. “I was coming to help you. Didn’t you notice?”
“That’s nice,” Holly said as she looked around. She needed to bring Hazel back from… wherever she was. Holly didn’t want to think about it too much. Hawthorn shuffled over to check on Hemlock just as Holly’s gaze fell on a mirror on one of the tables. “Make sure she doesn’t kill anyone.”
Holly hurried over to the mirror, grabbed it, and returned to find Hawthorn waving a kerchief in front of Hazel’s face. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know. Something reasonably inoffensive so she won’t kill me. Have you seen her? She looks ill amused.” He waved his kerchief some more, but Hazel never looked at him. “I don’t think she even hears us. Or sees us.” He stuffed the kerchief back in his pocket.
“Well, let’s hope she can see something.” Holly held up the mirror in front of Hazel. But her sister never blinked, just stared straight forward as if she could see through it.
Growing frustrated, Holly shouted, “Look at yourself!”
Hazel gave no reaction. The dragon reached one of the prone necromancers and stepped on his back with a scaled foot. The necromancer cried out. The other two worked a spell, but nothing happened.
“She’s become the dragon,” Hemlock rasped from where he sat on the floor. “Hazel, for the moment, is gone.”
“The dragon?” Holly said. “How is that even possible?”
“I don’t know. But judging by her behavior—and the dragon’s—my guess is she’s performed a variation of a keyhole illusion, only without the illusion.”
“Impossible,” Hawthorn muttered.
“Can you undo it?” Holly said. “You undid Hawthorn’s keyhole spell, can’t you undo hers?”
Hemlock shook his head. “I’ve already tried, she won’t let me in.”
“That’s because you can barely stand,” Hawthorn said. He spoke a spell of his own, then his face darkened.
“Well?” Holly said.
“Your sister’s quite the stubborn girl.”
The necromancer under the dragon’s paw fell silent, and the dragon moved towards the remaining two. They tried to work another spell, but when it failed, one ran out the door while the dragon trapped the other against a bookshelf.
Hemlock struggled to get to his feet, so Hawthorn helped him up. “Hold the mirror up again,” Hemlock said.
Holly raised the mirror back in front of Hazel, but she still ignored it.
Hemlock spoke a spell, and a light shone from within the mirror.
“How did you—” Hawthorn began but Holly shushed him.
This time Hazel’s gaze moved towards the mirror. Her brow furrowed and she reached towards the glass as if to try and pull out the light.
“Hazel,” Holly said as she took her sister’s hand. Her skin was painfully cold, but Holly endured it.
“Don’t forget yourself,” Holly whispered. “Don’t forget why you’re here. Don’t forget… me.”
Hazel’s fingers tightened around Holly’s, and she met her sister’s gaze.
Holly bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from gasping, for the eyes peering out from her sister’s pale face were foreign. They were an eerie color—a mixture between charcoal and silver. And yet, there was a gleam of familiarity deep within them, an indescribable aspect that could only belong to Hazel.
Her sister shifted her gaze back to the dragon, and rasped whispered words that remained foreign to Holly’s ears. The dragon started to unravel, but then Verrin stepped forward, lifted his arms, and worked a spell that kept the dragon bound.
It reared its head back towards Hazel and hissed a cloud of fetid breath.
Hawthorn coughed and lifted a kerchief to his nose, but Hazel cried out as if it had hurt her. She spoke a spell—deep and guttural—and the mirror Holly had brought over transformed into an eagle of spun glass.
The eagle veered over the dragon’s head and pierced its scaly skin with its talons. The dragon snapped at the bird, but the eagle darted away. It soared across the room towards Ash and Willow. Willow took a step back, but Ash remained still. He spoke a spell, but it must not have had the effect he wanted because his expression turned troubled, and then the eagle was upon him.
Next: An Unadorned End