Hazel and Holly — In the Midst of Midnight, Part Three
Previous: In the Midst of Midnight, Part Two
Hazel and Hemlock walked into the great mausoleum to find Holly and Hawthorn standing before a great statue, both looking flustered and uncomfortable. Holly wouldn’t even meet Hazel’s gaze.
“Is everything all right here?” Hazel asked. “I’ve been worried sick about you, Holly.”
Holly, staring at the ground, nodded. “Sorry. I…” She trailed off without finishing the thought.
Hawthorn, meanwhile, took a great interest in studying the statue. Hazel looked to Hemlock, but he just raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
“Never mind about it,” Hazel said to Holly. “Let’s just get back to the inn. It’s not safe for us out here like this.”
As if on cue, the creature Hazel had subdued shambled inside. Its severed shadow shivered and lost its form, twining itself once again around the scarred flesh of the golem’s body like a shroud.
“What is that?” Holly said, sounding panicked. She took a step back.
Hazel spoke the word that had earlier brought the golem under her control, only this time nothing happened.
A rhythmical sound erupted from the fleshy husk, slow and gutteral, almost like a laugh. Then the sound altered, taking on a cadence like language, but it wasn’t any language Hazel knew.
From within the shadows of the mausoleum came a screeching of grating metal. A whispering stirred the air–actually stirred it–so that the air around them chilled, and the candle flames surrounding statue flickered in agitation. Some went out.
Holly, gasping, grabbed a candle and whispered words of her own, and the flame of the candle she held stilled, as did the others that remained around the statue. She continued her spell, and the candle flames grew brighter, pushing back some of the shadows and revealing numerous glinting eyes peering out them from the darkness.
Hazel searched her mind, looking for that dark part of herself that told her things she didn’t want to hear, only now it remained quiet. Her mind went blank and all she could do was stand there as Hemlock and Hawthorn stepped forward, conjuring shimmering, prismatic creatures with long crystalline limbs and wings of spun glass. The conjurations soaked up the feeble candlelight before bending it and casting it into the shadows, banishing the darkness and exposing the creatures that lurked within it.
They were horrible. Grey twisted things with gaping wet mouths and black, shiny eyes like chips of polished coal. Lines of ribs protruded through their dusky, desiccated skin that was stretched taut across their bodies like old book bindings. And the smell–growing stronger as they shuffled forward–was sharp and acrid like rotting teeth and stomach bile. They squinted their glossy black eyes as they peered up at the prismatic creatures, but otherwise advanced unhindered.
“Perhaps we should leave,” Hawthorn said as he backed away.
Holly started for the door but stopped when she saw it was blocked by the shadowed golem that Hazel had brought with them.
Hazel froze. What had she been thinking? Dabbling in forbidden magic she didn’t understand, putting them all in danger, and justifying it by saying it needed to be done. Hemlock was right–she didn’t recognize herself. Here she was not only practicing but depending on necromancy, and when it failed her, she turned helpless? That wasn’t who she was. That wasn’t who she wanted to be. She was a Weaving witch, been one most of her life. How could she forget that?
The shadowed golem shuffled towards Holly, and Holly cried out as she staggered back. She spoke a spell that pulled flames from the candles, and she threw the fire at the creature. But the shadows surrounding it only grew darker, and the flames Holly hurled at it stuttered and died.
Hawthorn spoke a spell and one of the prismatic creatures came to Holly’s aid, swooping at the golem and poking at its eyes. The golem spoke what Hazel could only assume were words, uttered in that rasping, guttural voice, and the some of the shadows surrounding its body formed into an imp with blackened wings like curling smoke. The imp leapt at the shimmering form, dug its claws into it, and both creatures disappeared.
Enough. Hazel spoke a spell of Transformation and the statue of the shrouded woman groaned as the stone turned pliable and began to move. She stepped over the candles, knocking some over with the solid veil that trailed behind her, and towards the horde of grey husks coming towards them. The creatures balked at her approach and Hemlock spoke a spell that turned his prismatic summons more aggressive. They darted at the husks, poking at and harrying them before flying away. Those that weren’t harassed seemed transfixed by the massive statue that moved towards them. The statue dropped the bundle of dried flowers she had been holding and extended her hand, and several of the creatures scurried away.
“We can’t leave with that thing guarding the door,” Hemlock said to Hazel as he nodded towards the golem.
A brown field owl flew into the chamber and circled over Holly’s head before flying around the room, swooping down with clawed talons at the grey creatures or the golem’s shadowed head only to fly away again before any of them could react.
Hazel focused on the statue she had brought to life, and conjured for her a gleaming silver sword with beveled edges that caught the light of the prismatic creatures that flew around the room. The statue leveled her sword at the golem, and the golem, seeing the threat, split its shadows into two darkened figures the shapes of men. Hawthorn mimicked Hazel and the golem and conjured an illusion of himself–smart jacket and all–wielding a long silver sword that it used to swiped at one of the shadows and sent it leaping back.
The statue advanced on the golem. The grey creatures, seeing the statue’s attention was elsewhere, began to scurry forward. Hemlock conjured a dragon the size of a horse with white, pristine scales that glinted with color depending on how the light hit it. The dragon opened its maw and exhaled a crystalline breath. Most of the grey creatures scurried out of the way, but the breath caught one and its murky skin paled like frost on a window pane before it froze and shattered into dust.
There was a moment of silence as the creatures stood there, dumbfounded as they stared at the remains of thier fallen companion. But then their shiny black eyes hardened, the gaping holes of their mouths widened, and in collective body they hissed, filling the chamber with their acrid stench that almost made Hazel retch. The husks swarmed at the dragon, stepping over the ones that got caught in the dragon’s breath and collapsed on the floor in ashen heaps.
Hazel tightened her jaw as the dragon was overrun. The statue continued to advance on the golem. Hawthorn’s illusion battled the two shadows it had summoned, and the shadows surrounding the flesh of the golem itself had waned and lessened. Hazel spoke a spell, and the statue quickened its step, lifted the sword, and brought it down on the golem’s shoulder and severed its arm. The shadows battling Hawthorn’s double retreated and returned to the husk, and the golem pulled the darkened forms around it once again.
But before the golem could open its wretched mouth and speak any more of its foul words, Hazel infused the sword with gleaming light, and the statue ran the sword through the golem’s head, causing the shadows to dissipate, and the golem thudded to the ground and remained motionless.
Hazel spoke another spell and the statue moved towards the grey creatures just as they overpowered the dragon and were about to head towards Hazel and the others. She didn’t wait to see if the statue stopped their advance. She and the others ran out the door–the owl flying after them–and slammed it shut. Hazel spoke one last spell that made the lock catch and fuse together. And then she stood there, waiting for her heart to stop hammering in her chest.
“Can we leave now?” Holly whispered. The owl she had summoned took one more circle over her head, before flying away into the night.
Hazel swallowed and nodded. “Most definitely.”
Next: A Breath Before Dawn