Hazel and Holly — A Star Enshrined Heart
Previous: Crossroads Conundrum
Hazel woke up and stared at the ceiling. A jagged crack seared across the stone surface to a corner where moss began to grow. She lay still a moment, savoring the softness of the bed before she realized a lamp had been lit in the room. Someone had been in her quarters. Again.
Annoyed, she got up from the bed and went into the main room. A fire had been lit in the hearth, and the poker that had been lying on the floor had been returned to its proper place. The basin, ewer, and mirror were all still on the table, along with a cloche-covered tray and lit beeswax candles. Hazel continued to eye the room, but nothing else looked out of place, and the warmth from the fire helped ease her tension.
She went to the table and lifted the cloche. A bowl of pale, creamy soup lay on the tray along with an ample chunk of bread. The aroma wafting from the bowl smelled of herbs and wine. She picked up a spoon and tasted the soup, surprised at the lightness of the broth, and delighted to find salty pieces of cured fish. She ate the bowlful along with the bread, and washed it down with water from the ewer.
After she had finished, Hazel remained at the table as she considered what to do. According to Ash, she had traveled in the realm of the dead and visited her sister. What did that mean? Had she helped her? Holly hadn’t seemed like she was in trouble—the entire experience felt unreal when Hazel thought back on it.
She poured water from the ewer into the basin and repeated the spell that had summoned the vision of Holly the day before. When she appeared in the mirror, Hazel let out a long, relieved breath to find her sister in the sunlight, her eyes no longer tinged with fear. Strangely, she wore a black robe and was riding a horse with… Hemlock.
Hazel stared at the mirror, uncertain how she should feel. Part of her felt relieved to find Hemlock well, and happy to look upon his face again. But another part felt envious that her sister sat together so closely with him; that they shared experiences of which Hazel had no knowledge. It made her angry—at herself, mostly. She had chosen to leave them behind. Hazel wished she could feel confident in her choice. That it had been the right one to make. But of all the emotions that stirred within her, confidence was not among them.
She poured the water back into the ewer and turned the mirror away only to realize she had forgotten to look for Hawthorn. She really didn’t want to work the spell again—didn’t want to keep looking back at what she had left behind. Hawthorn was well—he must be well—Hemlock and Holly would have made sure of it.
Her assurances took hold, and Hazel began to feel more composed. It was time to focus on what she had come here to do.
It had become clear that Ash had no intention of releasing her mother—Hazel would need to do that herself. Of course, she had no idea how to make that happen. This was her father’s spell—it was possible that no one but him would be able to undo it.
Either way, she had to try, and she wouldn’t be able to do anything from this room. She needed to find Ash’s workshop, or wherever he usually worked his magic, and she needed to find it on her own—preferably without him knowing. That meant she couldn’t ask Timmens or anyone else for directions. Ash had told her before she should have summoned a familiar to help her find her way. And though the idea of it made her skin crawl, she conceded that, in this matter, he was right. Her father knew necromancy, and if Hazel wanted to undo the spell upon her mother, then she needed to know it too.
She took a deep breath and considered how one might summon a familiar. Conjuration was part of the Wyr branch of magic, and she had learned a little of conjuring from Hemlock, though she had never summoned anything larger than the little glowing moth. But the principal behind summoning remained the same, regardless of the size of what one was conjuring into the world.
If Ash was to be believed, necromancy was the product of all the magical disciplines—Wyr, Hearth, Weaving, and Wild. They all meshed together to create something wholly different. She still had a difficult time believing that—it made necromancy sound so grand and important. So… quintessential. Yet necromancy involved manipulating souls of the dead, and Hazel didn’t think she’d ever be able to set aside her distaste for that.
She walked over to the hearth and warmed her hands by the flames. Closing her eyes, she took several deep and steady breaths. She wasn’t like her father—no matter what he said or what he thought, they were different from each other. She wasn’t going to trap anyone’s soul in a geas. The familiar she would summon—assuming she succeeded—would be here temporarily. Once she accomplished what she needed to do, she would thank it then let it go. It wasn’t the same as what her father had done.
Hazel turned her back to the fire and started a spell similar to the conjuration that Hemlock had taught her, only she altered the pronunciation in a way that brought to mind images of darkened nights with star-studded skies. Despite the warmth from the fire, the air turned cold, and the candles flickered and stuttered as shadows gathered in the room.
And from the shadows, a figure emerged.
Darkness shrouded it like a mourning veil. One moment the familiar would melt into the shadows and disappear; another moment it would catch the candlelight and its body would blush with a warm crystalline sheen.
The coldness in the room solidified and gathered near Hazel’s cheek, brushing against her skin like feathered snowflakes. In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, “I need your help.”
The presence moved away from her, and Hazel relaxed, just a little. The familiar disappeared within the shadows of the room, reappearing again as the candlelight glinted off its body like sun-soaked crystal.
“I need to find my father’s quarters,” Hazel said, glad she had managed to keep her voice even. “I need to find where Ash does his magic.”
The familiar moved further away, taking the cold with it. And, with a final glinting of candlelight, it went through the door.
Heart pounding, Hazel followed it into the hallway. The light from the sconces didn’t stutter near the familiar like the candles did, but the light they gave off weakened until it passed by. She grabbed hold of her skirts and followed.
The hallways remained empty, except for one necromancer. He turned his head to follow the familiar’s passage, but otherwise hadn’t seemed to think much of it and walked past Hazel without sparing a glance for her.
Eventually they came to a nightwood door indistinguishable from all the others they had seen. The familiar lingered by it a moment before its shadows bled into the black wood and disappeared. Hazel opened the door and stepped inside her father’s quarters—the uniquely wide room and open wall that led out onto a lush balcony. Sunlight spilled into the room like luminous paint. A breeze stirred, sweeping in scents of heather, rosemary, and sun-soaked stone. A fire blazed in the hearth that helped push back the chill that hung in the air. The familiar stood beside her. In the daylight, its shadows had gone and its form had taken on a brilliance like crushed diamonds scattered over velvet cloth.
“Thank you,” she said to the familiar. “Thank you for your help, but I don’t need you anymore. You may return to… wherever you came from. To your own realm.”
The air next to the familiar warmed, and the shimmering sparks of its body dissipated among the dust motes that danced in the sunlight.
Hazel crossed the room to the forest-scene tapestry, pushed it aside to expose the hidden door, and walked through it.
She navigated down the narrow dark hallway, still illuminated at the far end with a single blue light. At the end, she turned left and came to another door. She eased it open and peeked inside.
Ash’s workroom looked just as it had the last time she’d been there. The desktops and benches were still cluttered with papers, bookshelves still lined the walls, bowls and ewers still littered the room. Only this time Ash wasn’t there. Hazel stepped inside and closed the door behind her.
She went to a desk and sifted through a stack of papers. Her father’s handwriting was at times graceful and even, harried and jagged at others. The former comprised journal-like entries that documented his daily events, what he had eaten, how he had felt. The latter leaned towards brief descriptions of spells to be tested at a later date, and other scattered thoughts quickly penned so as not to be forgotten. She sifted through them all, looking for something to stand out, for some hint on how she could undo her mother’s spell. But she found nothing.
Hazel moved on. She pulled books from the shelves and looked at the empty spaces between them; she opened drawers and pushed around writing implements and more papers. One drawer was littered with small, broken bones. Disgusted, she was about to slam it shut but hesitated.
Perhaps a bone was what she should be looking for. Trapping a soul in a bone sounded like a distinct possibility, but it also sounded… wrong. Disrespectful. If Ash truly still loved Willow like he claimed, he wouldn’t trap her soul in something so crude. He would use something beautiful.
She continued to look around, but aside from the book bindings and workmanship of the shelves and desks, there was nothing beautiful in the room. Everything held a purpose other than ornamentation. She needed to try something new.
Hazel walked over to a bench that bore a mortar and pestle weighing down a stack of papers. She fished her mother’s lock of hair out from her pocket and put it in the mortar. Taking a moment to consider, she then retrieved a bone from the drawer and put it in the mortar along with the hair. Yet there was still something missing. The room lacked any plants or herbs, so she returned to her father’s quarters and went out onto the balcony.
Sunlight warmed her skin, even though the breeze blew sharp and cold. She found a pot of flowering vervain, broke off a few of the purple blossoms, and headed back to the workshop to add the flowers to the mortar. Taking the pestle in hand, she ground up the ingredients as best she could, though the hair was stubborn and wouldn’t break down.
Hazel took another moment to consider. Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she returned once again to the main room, found a corked bottle of wine on one of the side tables, then lit a candle from the fire and headed back to the workshop. She pulled the cork out of the bottle, smelled the wine, and took a sip before pouring a small amount into the mortar. Then she tipped the candle to the sludgy mixture and stood back as it flared alight.
A thick, acrid column of smoke rose from the mortar. It smelled of burned hair and grass, stinging her eyes and making her cough. Yet underneath the unpleasant stench, a sweet aroma lingered like a half-remembered dream.
Hazel wiped her watering eyes, fighting the urge to double over in a fit of coughing. Had she done something wrong? There shouldn’t be so much smoke, should there? She started for the door to get some fresh air when a light beyond the door stopped her.
She wiped her eyes again, convinced she was imagining it, but the light remained. A single orb, gentle and white, floated like a star that had been plucked from the sky. It shone through the smokey haze, through the doors and walls—it shone through all of it as if the light itself were the only true thing in a world built upon fragile illusions.
Hazel held her breath, transfixed by its gentle sway, marveling how the light flared a little brighter with each beat of her heart. Then the door to the workshop opened and her father stood in the doorway. The light shone upon his breast, through his clothes as if he had replaced his heart of flesh and blood for one of pure star shine. He stared at her, surprised, which quickly turned to anger.
“You shouldn’t be here, Hazel.”
Tears poured from her eyes so that she could no longer see, and the smoke had grown thick beyond bearing. She doubled over, coughing. And when icy tendrils snaked around her body, she was too weak and disoriented to stop it.
Next: Of Mushrooms and Men