Hazel and Holly — In the Midst of Midnight, Part One

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Hazel and Hemlock returned to the inn, finding their respective rooms empty.

“Where could they have gone?” Hazel said. She had to remind herself to breathe. Nothing had happened. There was no need to worry.

Hemlock shook his head. “I don’t know. Hawthorn is more familiar with this town than I am. If he and Holly are together, they could be anywhere.”

Hazel glowered at him. “That’s not reassuring.”

Hemlock gave her a wan smile. “I’m sure they’re fine.”

Hazel wanted to believe him, but he didn’t know Holly was fine any more than she did. They were just empty words, and Hazel needed more than that. “We need to go look for them.”

“They’re probably out looking for us. It might be best to wait here. They could come back at any moment.”

Hazel stared at the empty bed, still rumpled from where Holly had lain. “You can wait here then. I’ll go out.” She turned and headed down the hallway.

Hemlock hurried after her. “You don’t know what’s out there, Hazel. You shouldn’t go out alone.”

“I’m going. Whether or not I’ll be alone is up to you, isn’t it?” She hurried down the stairs. She was about halfway down when she heard Hemlock’s footfalls following behind her.

Neither one said anything as they crossed the common room before stepping outside into the dark night.

***

“It’s dark,” Holly said, her breath pluming in the sterile blue-green light of a lamp post. “And cold. Why is it so cold here? It’s supposed to be summer.”

“Summer is nearly past,” Hawthorn said. “Perhaps autumn is already upon us.”

“Autumn is when the best beer is brewed,” Tum said. “You ever brew beer, Miss Holly?”

“No, we only brew mead.”

Tum sniffed. “I’m sure Odd has an extra still we can use. We can do some proper brewing when we get back.”

“We have a still.”

“Not like the one Odd has. You ever have clover beer?”

“Um… no?”

Tum nodded. “I could go for some clover beer right about now.”

“Beer is a vulgar drink,” Hawthorn said. “Wine is for gentlemen.”

Tum sputtered. “Vulgar? Beer is the only honest drink there is. Wine can’t decide what color it wants to be. Never trust a drink that can’t settle on its own color.”

Hawthorn opened his mouth but Holly said, “That’s enough about wine and beer. We’re supposed to be looking for Hazel and Hemlock, remember?”

Hawthorn sobered and continued walking. Tum drew himself up, looking smug and victorious until Holly rapped him on the head with a knuckle. He scowled at her, but Holly paid him no mind and followed Hawthorn.

“Do you have any idea where we should look?” Hawthorn said. “Or was blindly wandering the streets the extent of your plan?”

“I don’t know,” Holly said. “Hazel’s got a gross bloody bone and a mind to do necromancy. Where would someone go for that?”

“For necromancy or bloodied bones?”

“Both.”

Hawthorn thought a moment. “A butcher shop or a graveyard?”

“Really?”

He shrugged. “Plenty of bones and blood at butcher shops. And graveyards seem like the natural lurking ground for those inclined towards necromancy.”

Holly wrung her hands. “Is there a graveyard here?”

“Of course. A rather extensive one, from what I’ve heard.”

She took a deep breath. “All right. Let’s go there, then.”

***

“Do you have any idea where she would go?” Hemlock said as he walked next to Hazel. He kept his voice low, eyeing the lumbering shadow further up the street.

Hazel stopped walking. When she felt certain the shadow wasn’t coming towards them, she sighed and said, “I don’t know. They could be wandering blindly. Holly wasn’t ever one for planning.”

“Does she know about the bone?”

Hazel’s mouth hung open as a shiver crawled up her neck. “Yes.”

“So she knows, then, what you had intended to do?”

Hazel shook her head. “I never told her of my plan. I didn’t even have a plan. I told her not to worry about it. But…”

“She knows. So where would she think you’d gone to do necromancy?”

“I’m such an idiot. I shouldn’t have ever shown it to her.”

“She had a right to know. You can’t protect her forever, Hazel.”

Hazel bit her lip and looked at the ground. “I know. But this… I would happily let her charge into whatever danger she likes if she didn’t have to be involved in necromancy.”

Hemlock put a hand on her shoulder and Hazel looked up at him.

“So, you’re Holly,” he said. “You wake up in the night and find your wonderfully wilful, enchantingly clever, and stunningly beautiful older sister gone to do necromancy. You march down the hallway, drag a pretentious old warlock out of bed–under threat of ruining his finest silk vest–and head out to find said sister. Where would you go?”

Hazel suppressed a giggle. “How do you know it happened like that?”

“I can’t see it happening any other way, honestly.”

The giggle escaped her and she clapped a hand over her mouth. She glanced at the lumbering shadow, but it seemed transfixed with one of the shop windows. “I don’t know,” Hazel breathed. “She couldn’t know about the house. I didn’t know about and I don’t think Holly has the same… inclination as me.”

“So, not knowing anything about necromancy, where would you go to find it?”

Hazel rubbed her forehead. “Wherever there’s death, I suppose.” She looked at Hemlock. “A graveyard. Where do we find one?”

He shook his head. “I have no idea. And there isn’t exactly anyone around whom we can ask for directions.”

Hazel fixed her gaze on the shadowed form down the street. “I bet that thing knows.”

“We don’t even know if it’s capable of thought.”

“There’s only one way to find out.” She started towards it.

“Hazel!” Hemlock hissed.

But Hazel kept on. Her quickening footfalls pulled the thing’s attention, and the shadows around it shifted as it turned towards her.

Hazel faltered a step, but then clenched her hands and continued on. The shadow lumbered towards her. It moved into the light of a lamppost, but the shadows remained, clinging around its form like black-stained gauze. Beneath the shadows, Hazel caught glimpses of pale, lacerated skin, the cuts looking fresh and red and angry.

It lunged towards her, but Hazel darted out of the way. Before it could turn around, Hazel flicked her hand and spoke a single word. “Secant.”

The shadows clinging to the thing’s skin gathered and pulled away. They formed into the shape of a man, and its scarred husk of a body slumped its shoulders and lowered its head.

Hazel stood in front of it. It had yellow, watery eyes that watched her as she moved, but it otherwise remained still. Its shadow stood off to the side. It would walk away a short distance, shiver as if strained, then move back to stand next to its fleshy counterpart.

It had once been a man, Hazel could see that now it no longer had shadows to clothe it. But this was not a man. It was just a collection of flesh, cut and scarred, made to ambulate through town for reasons Hazel couldn’t figure. It stared at her with its yellowy eyes, looking on the verge of weeping pus-filled tears, and Hazel felt sorry for it.

Hemlock stood next to her. His brow was furrowed and his hands clenched, his gaze shifting between Hazel and the flesh golem.

Hazel met the golem’s gaze. “The graveyard. Can you take us there?”

The golem remained still, but its shadow nodded. The shadow headed down the street, while its scarred collection of flesh lumbered behind it. Hazel and Hemlock followed.

 

Next: In the Midst of Midnight, Part Two


6 Comments

  1. Lori Wing

    Goodness, Hazel is getting brave! I’m afraid Hemlock is going to have his hands full from now on.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Brave or boldly stupid? 😉 I think you’re right about Hemlock. Those crazy wimmin!

  2. Michelle Morrison

    Glad to see Hazel and Holly are back. This is very intriguing. Hazel is either very brave or very dumb.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Michelle! The line between brave and dumb is rather thin, isn’t it? 😉

  3. I see Hazel has a definite talent for necromancy! If I were Hemlock, I’d be worried.

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