Hazel and Holly — Stained Glass Memories, Part One
Previous: Familiar Fellowship
Holly sat on the floor in front of the fire. The flames warmed her back, and that warmth helped keep her fear under control. Everything would be fine—nothing could be so bad as long as you had clothes on your back and a fire to warm them. Right?
She needed to believe that.
Hawthorn remained in front of the creepy black door. He had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, as if he intended to wrestle with the door if it didn’t give way to his spells. Holly grinned a little. She’d like to see that.
“You should sit on a chair,” he said without turning to look at her. “The floor is filthy.”
“I like it here. It’s warm, I can watch what you’re doing, and it keeps me from wondering what necromancers stuff their chairs with.”
He turned and arched an eyebrow at her. “The souls of laughing widows?”
“Or the bones of baby animals.”
“The unwashed feet of wayward peddlers.”
Holly giggled. “Exactly. So I’ll stay right here.”
Hawthorn turned back towards the door. But before he could speak another spell, a faint scratching came from the other side. Holly scrambled to her feet. When Chester wriggled through the crack underneath the door, she scooped him up and gently rubbed the soft, furry mouse against her cheek.
But the scratching continued.
Both she and Hawthorn froze. In the same spot where Chester had squeezed through, a little woolen creature wriggled and writhed as it scrabbled at the floor with its little dark hands until, finally, it pulled free from the door and got to its little feet. It blinked up at Holly with tiny eyes that shone like glass beads.
“Wonderful,” Hawthorn said. “Look at what your rat dragged in.”
“He’s not a rat,” Holly said, half distracted. Her heart wasn’t in that particular argument. Her attention remained fixed on the creepy black woolen doll-thing.
“How do we get rid of it?” He took a kerchief and waved it at the doll. “Shoo, shoo.”
The doll remained unfazed by Hawthorn’s flapping cloth. It stood on its tip-toes—well, what would have been the tips if it had any toes—and pointed up at the door.
“Yes, out,” Hawthorn said. “That’s where you should be going.” He flapped his kerchief some more.
“No, wait,” Holly said and picked up the doll before Hawthorn scared it away. It was cold in her hands, like frost-encrusted leaves.
“Ugh, don’t touch it! You don’t know where it’s been.”
“It’s been with Chester.”
“Hardly a redeeming factor.”
“No, don’t you see? I sent Chester to find something that will help us get out of here. This must be it.”
Hawthorn scowled and wrinkled his nose, but he remained silent.
The little doll continued to point at the door, so Holly stepped closer to it. As she did, the doll flung itself from her hands and wrapped its arms around the glass knob.
“Agile little thing,” she said.
The doll hung there a moment, then let go with one arm to reach for the keyhole.
“What’s it doing?” Hawthorn said.
Holly shook her head—she had no idea.
Having hooked its hand—or whatever—into the keyhole, the doll let go of the knob. Holly jerked forward to catch it before it fell, but the doll had somehow managed to get its other arm in the keyhole, and was now wriggling and writhing as it tried to work its way into the tiny little slot.
“It looks like it’s having a fit,” Hawthorn said.
“It’s not really going to get in there, is it? The keyhole’s too tiny.”
Yet, somehow, it did. It was like the doll collapsed in on itself, like a cake taken too early out of the oven. A lone, dark foot dangled momentarily from the keyhole before it, too, disappeared.
They stood in silence. Holly counted three steady breaths before a sharp click resonated from the door. Yet the little woolen man didn’t come out. She took one more breath then tested the knob, smiling as it gave way and the door swung open.
Hawthorn stepped into the hallway.
Holly leaned down and peered into the keyhole. “What do you think happened to the little guy? Is he still in there?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. We need to find Hemlock and Hazel, remember?”
“Wait.” Holly squinted. A dark thread poked out of the keyhole. She pinched it between her fingers and eased out a swatch of black woolen cloth, a little smaller than her palm.
“Come on,” Hawthorn said as he grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door, only to run into three necromancers backed by three tall familiars taking the form of pale men dressed in well-tailored, starched suits.
“Well, that’s just great,” Holly muttered.
The shadows surrounding Hazel had eased. Somewhat. Not enough to allow her to walk freely, but enough that she could take a few steps before the shadows strengthened again and bound her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to reach Hemlock. But she had managed to reach a table with a mirror, basin, and ewer.
Hemlock sat limp and pale-faced upon the ground at the other end of the room. He watched her movements with dark-rimmed eyes. “Hazel,” he rasped.
Was that a plea or a condemnation? She opened her mouth, wanting to say something, but Ash and Verrin returned.
Her father studied her and smiled. “I see you have regained some mobility. Splendid.”
“Is that so?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Of course. I’ve only wanted what’s best for you.”
Hazel bit her lip to keep herself from snorting. “Obviously.”
“Yet it is rather interesting, don’t you think, that you’ve used your magic to help your sister—even after I assured you she was safe—but not the man you love?”
Hazel opened her mouth to reply, sharply, but before she could, Ash raised a finger and continued.
“You see, I believe I may have also misjudged the situation. I thought the others would distract you. But I see now that their continued absence is far more distracting than having them here. You seem to fear what you can’t perceive, Hazel. So, I’m here to alleviate that.”
He opened the door, and Holly and Hawthorn stumbled inside followed by a trio of necromancers.
“Hazel!” Holly said and tried to go to her, just as Hawthorn tried to go to his brother. Three pale men in impeccable suits came in from behind the necromancers and two of them grabbed Holly and Hawthorn by the arms. It took Hazel a moment before she realized they were familiars.
“Don’t move!” she said.
Holly froze, fear etched on her face like an epitaph.
“This isn’t how I imaged our reunion would go,” Ash said. “But few things in life ever transpire as we would expect.”
“It’s not a reunion,” Hazel said. “At least not yet.” She poured some water from the nearby ewer into the basin and spoke her mother’s name. The candle she had left on another table flickered, and Willow took shape in the mirror behind her.
Holly gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. Ash’s face tightened, then his expression turned sad and almost wistful. Hazel turned to face her mother.
Willow frowned, looking confused. Her gaze moved from Hazel to Ash and Holly, to Hemlock and Hawthorn, before finally settling on the collection of necromancers. Ash, following her gaze, sent them from the room, including the familiars. Hawthorn went to Hemlock’s side, but Holly—at a warning glance from Hazel—remained fixed in place.
Ash took a step forward. “They are gone, love. Calm yourself.”
Willow fixed him in a withering glare. “Do not tell me to calm down. And do not call me love.”
Ash’s expression turned troubled but he quickly composed himself.
“She’s different, isn’t she?” Hazel said as she studied him. “When you’re not the one summoning her, she’s less under your control.”
“She’s agitated. When I summon her, she’s calm.”
“She’s someone else.”
Ash chuckled, dreadful and calm. “You have no idea who she is. You hold such loyalty to her. I wonder if you still would if you knew the truth.”
“Shut up, Ash,” Willow hissed.
“She left you, Hazel. Both you and your sister. Back when you were still children. Do you remember?”
“Of course I remember,” Hazel said. “She came back.”
“Oh, yes, she came back. The noble mother returning to her children after… what? A lovely little holiday? Did you ever ask her where she went?”
“Ash…” Willow said, her voice weaker, though the harshness remained.
Hazel glanced at her mother before returning to her father. “She refused to say.”
“Of course she did. How could she tell you, her beautiful daughters, that she had never intended to return? That she had intended to leave her little girls alone in the cold world and let them fend for themselves?”
“You’re lying,” Holly said.
“But even that’s not the most interesting part,” Ash said. “What’s interesting is that she only returned when she found out that I intended to take you in. She came back to you, not out of love, but out of spite.”
“Ash!” Willow’s voice boomed in the closed space and everyone turned silent.
“It’s not true,” Holly said in a little voice. “Tell him it’s not true, Mother.”
Willow said nothing, her body shaking as she glared at Ash.
“She can’t tell you that,” he said, “because that would be a lie, which the geas will not permit.”
Hazel said, “I don’t believe you. If that were true, then you would’ve come back after she died. You wouldn’t have cared about her ‘wishes’ or whatever reason you gave for staying away.”
“Yes,” Ash said, his voice frighteningly calm. “I would have.” He shifted his cool gaze over to Willow, and her mother stiffened her back and raised her chin, as if steeling herself for an onslaught. “I’m afraid I wasn’t entirely honest with you earlier, Hazel. I had hoped to spare you some of the uglier truths. Though, perhaps it would be better if your mother explained.”
Willow continued to glare at him. Then, to Hazel, she said, “You don’t understand the situation. You don’t know what he is capable of!”
“I have a fair idea,” Hazel said. “But I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Tell her, Willow, of the spell you cast to keep me away.”
“I cast no such spell.”
Ash chuckled. “True. You found others to do it for you. Including a Necromancer you hired from Sarnum. It seems your distaste for the discipline doesn’t prevent you from employing it when the mood strikes you. How convenient.”
To Hazel, Willow said, “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, many of which I regret. But protecting you and Holly from him wasn’t one of them.”
Hazel shook her head and, to her father, said, “I don’t understand. You’re a necromancer. How could a necromantic spell keep you away?”
“Because it wasn’t just Necromancy—it was all of them. Every discipline, each with its own corresponding spell, cast by a capable witch or warlock dedicated to that discipline. To be fair, the spell was genius. And though your mother didn’t cast the spells herself, she still needed to orchestrate it, and that, perhaps, was the most impressive part of all.”
“How did it go, Willow? I’m not sure I recall all the details.” When Willow said nothing, Ash continued. “Let’s see… the Wyr spell made the wind turn foul should I approach the Grove, accompanied by illusions to lead me astray; Weaving magic rent my clothes and turned out my pockets and set whatever was in them to harass me.” He chuckled. “That was a good one. Wild magic turned the trees to claw at me with their leafy branches, while animals hunted me from among the shadows. Hearth magic turned the sun blinding, and fire would combust at inopportune moments that threatened to burn me alive.” He grimaced. “Most unpleasant.”
“And the necromancy?”
Ash fixed her in an intent gaze. “Necromancy is what held it all together. It’s what turned four disparate spells into a single cohesive one; it’s what enabled her to bind the spell to me exclusively, and, ultimately, what prevented me from undoing it.”
Ash cocked his head. “Without it I could have found others to undo the spells your mother had commissioned, but with it, even if I had managed to find someone willing, it wouldn’t have mattered. The spell was bound to me, and so only I could undo it, but I lacked the knowledge.”
“So you trapped her soul in a geas for… what? To get even with her? To lure me out?”
Ash shook his head. “I was truthful when I said I didn’t do it for you. She got sick and… well…” His expression turned solemn as he fixed his gaze on Willow. Then, almost too quietly for Hazel to hear, he said, “It’s a kind of life, isn’t it? What I gave her? Isn’t it better than nothing? Than the cold void of death?” He fell silent. Willow met his gaze, though her expression remained unmoved.
He cleared his throat and returned his attention to Hazel. “But what your mother never accounted for was how much you would strive to seek me out.”
“I only sought you out so you could undo what you did to her, which, you say, you didn’t do for me. How do you account for that, if not by intention?”
He smiled. “I’ve found that the world often steers us on a path we are meant to walk. In this case, I played an unintended part—at first at least—on leading you down the path you now find yourself. But have you ever considered that, for you, there was never any alternative? That, even if I hadn’t trapped your mother’s soul, you would still have found your way to Necromancy some other way?”
“No, I hadn’t considered that. Not once.”
Holly, still on the other end of the room, rubbed her arms and looked uncomfortable as she stared at the floor. Ash walked over to her, studying her as he did.
“What do you think about all of this, Holly?”
She shook her head.
Ash touched her chin and gently lifted her face. “You know otherwise, don’t you daughter?”
Holly looked at him, at Hazel, and back to Ash. She shook her head again, but the sadness in her eyes spoke of the truth in Ash’s words.
Hazel’s mouth fell open. She felt like she had just been slapped. “Holly?”
Holly pursed her lips and squeezed her eyes shut. Then, clenching her hands, she looked right at Hazel. She stood tall with her shoulders squared—her stance spoke of defiance, yet her expression was more conspiratorial. It was like they shared a secret, and somehow that served to bolster Hazel rather than frighten her.
She turned towards Ash. “Enough of this. Undo what you’ve done. Release Mother from her geas. Now.”
Ash gave her a severe look. “I love you, my daughter, but you are in no position to dictate my actions to me.”
Hazel glanced at Hemlock. He remained on the ground, unresponsive as Hawthorn tried to revive him. She tightened her jaw, then grabbed hold of the mirror and smashed it on the tabletop. Willow’s form faded into smoky translucence, but she still remained. Hazel took a shard from the mirror. Ash watched her as she picked it up, his eyes shining and expectant as she put the jagged glass to her palm.
Madness. This was madness. But she needed to give all of herself to this. She didn’t know any other way. It was all or nothing.
She looked over at Holly. Her sister pursed her lips, her brow furrowed with worry. But she gave a slight nod, so Hazel sliced the glass into her palm.