Hazel and Holly — An Imparted Plea
Previous: Locks and Shadows, Part Two
Holly awoke in darkness. She tried to sit up but banged her head against a wooden plank.
“Ow!” She lay back down and rubbed her forehead. The air was warm and stifling and the room jostled to and fro. Where was she? She summoned a little flame into her cupped hands and sucked in a breath.
She was in a wooden box.
The box was as long as she was tall, but it was only about twice her width. Her heart floundered in her chest as she reached out and touched the wooden wall that loomed much too closely to her nose. She pressed against it—but the wood was solid and didn’t budge. She pressed harder, but still nothing.
A sharp, visceral fear unwound itself within her, and Holly screamed. The wood muffled her voice, warping it into something she didn’t recognize. It fed into her fear, and she screamed even louder until her voice cracked.
Holly suddenly sobered, the skin on her neck prickling. She had an unsettling feeling that someone was watching her.
“Hello?” she said, but of course no one replied. She was panicking; she needed to calm down and get a hold of herself.
She extinguished the flame and put her hands against the wood and pressed against it with everything she was worth. When that did nothing she kicked against it, but that only hurt her foot and the wood remained firmly in place. She summoned the little flame again and this time sent it against the wood. Heat licked at her face and singed her hair, and she coughed as smoke filled the cramped space. But the wood wouldn’t burn.
“Stupid wood!” she yelled and extinguished the flame. “You’re not natural!” The jostling of the box took a deep lunge and caused Holly to bang her head against the wood. Again.
She rubbed her head, biting her trembling lip to keep the tears away. She wouldn’t cry. Whatever was happening—she refused to cry.
Hazel marched down the stone-encased hallway like she knew what she was about. Of course she had no idea, but she was too angry to care. Ash was here somewhere, and she’d find him sooner or later. Oh, yes.
She passed through a smooth black door into an atrium of sorts. In this room, the stone ceiling opened to the sunlit sky, while various plants grew along the stony walls and in pots on the floor. A juniper tree in the middle of the room took up most of the space, filling the room with a clean, pleasant smell.
A man in a black robe trimmed the branches with a pair of shears and collected the little blue berries into a bowl.
Hazel marched up to him and the man started. “Where’s Ash?” she said.
“I… well…” he said, scratching his head. “The breakfast room? Maybe.”
“Take me there.”
The man’s mouth hung open as he stared at Hazel and the tree, then at the shears in his hand as if he couldn’t account for all of these things demanding his time.
To help him out, Hazel took the shears and bowl from him and set them on the floor. “The breakfast room,” she said. Then, in an attempt to be pleasant, she added, “Please.”
“I… of course.” He shuffled out of the room. Hazel followed.
They wound through more corridors lit by the flickering blue flames that the necromancers were so fond of. Every now and again gaps and crevices would appear in the walls to let in streams of sunlight that bathed Hazel in brief moments of blessed warmth. They passed other black-robed necromancers in the halls who did nothing to hinder them, but would often stop and watch as they passed.
Eventually they came to a door. Hazel’s guide stepped through it and she followed him into a vast hall with a vaulted ceiling that disappeared into darkness. The room was furnished with rows of polished black wooden tables and benches. Great iron braziers held blazing fires which both illuminated the room and provided warmth. Lines of men and women in hooded black robes sat at the tables, which were laden with bowls of fruit, baskets of bread, platters of meat, wedges of cheese, and crocks of honey and butter. Despite her sour mood, Hazel’s mouth began to water at the sight of it all.
Hazel’s guide scurried away and disappeared among all the other necromancers in the room. She frowned as she scanned the tables, looking for Ash. Everyone looked the same in their hooded black robes.
Hazel straightened her back and walked up to a table and took a plate as if she had every right to be there. She took some bread and cheese, and some meat from a platter of glazed ham. She scanned the table as she did so, meeting the eyes of necromancers she did not recognize. Some of them spared her a brief glance before returning to their food. Others glanced off towards a corner of the great hall before quickly looking away again or returning to converse with a neighbor.
Hazel followed the glances to the far end of the chamber. With her plate of food in hand, she made her way over to a table that looked just like all the others, but with only a pair of necromancers sitting there—Verrin and Ash.
Ash looked up at her and smiled as she stopped at the head of the table. “Well done, daughter. Though, you would have found me much more easily had you employed a familiar rather than conscripting poor Timmens into the job.”
“He’s a nervous fellow,” Verrin said.
Ash nodded. “Gets more nervous by the year. I think he’s harboring regrets in not pursuing botany instead.”
“Do not give me advice on magic,” Hazel said. “I am not your apprentice, and you are not my mentor.”
Ash slathered some butter onto a warm roll. “Of course you are, and of course I am. Why else would you be here? Necromancy is in your blood, Hazel. Just as it’s in mine. It won’t do to deny it. Here, try this roll. They’re especially delicious this morning.” He held out the buttered bread to her.
Hazel tightened her jaw and ignored his offering. “What have you done with Holly?”
Ash took a bite of the roll instead. “Holly? Why would you think I’ve done anything with her?”
“Don’t act stupid. I saw her. She’s trapped somewhere. You had a hand in it. I know you did.”
A slow smile stretched across Ash’s face. “You saw her? Well, now. How did you manage that?”
Hazel glared at him. “You know how.”
“Oh, yes. I know very well how. I just want to make sure you know. You’re a clever girl, Hazel, but this stubbornness of yours in refusing to accept the obvious does you no credit.”
“Is that why you locked me in my room? To make me accept the obvious?”
“Of course. And it worked. You got out. You saw your sister. Just imagine what you could do with the proper knowledge and training.”
She didn’t want any of those things, but Ash refused to listen. “Where’s Holly?”
Ash took another bite of the roll. “I’m sure if you apply yourself, you’ll be able to figure it out.”
Hazel slammed her plate on the table and the sound echoed through the chamber. The room quieted and everyone turned to look at her. “This isn’t a game,” she said, her voice low.
Ash gave her a level stare. “Of course it isn’t.”
“Where is she?”
“You’re wasting your time asking the wrong questions. I don’t know where she is. What you should be asking is how to find her.”
Hazel blinked several times. Despite his assurances, he was playing at something, and Hazel didn’t want to get caught up in it. But she didn’t know what else to do. Swallowing, she said, “How do we find her?”
“Are you asking for my help?”
A long moment of silence passed. “Yes.”
Ash smiled and Hazel felt as if her heart would shrivel. “We’d better get started then.”