Hazel and Holly — Through the Keyhole, Part Two
Previous: Through the Keyhole, Part One
“She’s lost it,” Holly said as Hemlock gently led her across the main room. “Her mind’s finally snapped and she’s gone the wrong way ’round the bend.”
They reached the door and Hemlock opened it and led them outside.
“I mean, you agree with me, right?” Holly said. “We shouldn’t be staying here.”
Hemlock stopped as they reached the bottom of the steps at the base of the porch. He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what I think. Hazel’s dug in, and she’s not going to change her mind. Arguing about it isn’t going to help us at this point. Not when we’ve got an angry mob headed our way. We need to decide what we’re going to do about that.”
Holly threw up her hands. “I don’t know! I don’t know what to do that will scare them away again. I don’t think they’ll be chased off twice by rats and moles.” She scratched her head. “I could try to bring a pack of wolves over, but that’s trickier.” Holly rubbed her nose. “A lot trickier.”
“So,” Hawthorn said as he came over to stand next to Holly and Hemlock. “We have a choice of either getting mauled by an angry mob, or by a pack of wild wolves. Brilliant.”
“I pick the wolves,” Holly said.
“Nobody’s getting mauled,” Hemlock said. To Hawthorn, he added, “Have you ever done a keyhole illusion?”
Hawthorn arched an eyebrow. “A couple of times. Why? Have you?”
Hemlock shook his head. “I’ve read about them, but, no, never tried one.”
“What’s a keyhole illusion?” Holly said.
Hawthorn held up a hand at her. To Hemlock, he said, “You’re not suggesting we try one, are you?”
Hemlock remained silent a moment as he met Hawthorn’s gaze. “You have any other ideas?”
Hawthorn chuckled and rubbed his hands together. “Well, this should be interesting. Do you have an illusion in mind?”
Hemlock nodded. “I created an illusion of the Witness earlier, and it worked for a little while. But it was too simple, too crude, and they saw through it. If we can work a keyhole illusion of the Witness, well, if that doesn’t send them running for the hills, nothing will.”
Holly waved a hand between the two brothers. “Hello? Will someone please tell me what we’re talking about?”
Hemlock took a breath and turned towards her. “A keyhole illusion is basically a cross between a conjuration and an illusion, and requires two practitioners in Wyr magic to pull off.”
“Only the tricky part,” Hawthorn added, “is that whoever does the conjuring bit risks breaking his own mind.”
“What?” Holly said. “How?”
Hemlock rubbed the back of his neck and said, “The summoner, in this case… conjures the entity within him, rather than externally.”
“He becomes the conjuration, essentially,” Hawthorn said.
Holly’s mouth hung open. “I don’t understand. Is it a spirit? This sounds like necromancy.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Hawthorn said. “No souls are involved–it’s not at all the same.”
“The discerning difference between a conjuration and an illusion,” Hemlock said, “is that others must be present to observe the illusion for it to work.”
“But since others can’t see what is inside oneself,” Hawthorn added, “it must be a conjuration in this particular instance.”
“But what will it do?” Holly asked. “Why can’t you do the conjuration outside yourself?”
Hawthorn said, “Despite the complexities in summoning them, conjurations are simple creations. You can create a conjuration of a giant or a fierce beast, but they will not necessarily act as you wish. They have no souls, no wills of their own. They are not alive, and, just like an illusion, they can sometimes be seen for what they are.”
Hemlock said, “But if you summon a conjuration within you, well, it’s like it changes you. You… become what you summon. At least mentally. Externally, you’ll look the same.”
“Which is where the second person comes into play, to apply all the necessary outward illusions.”
“Oh, I see,” Holly said. “So, you basically give the thing your soul. Tell me again how it’s not like necromancy?”
Hawthorn gave her a flat look. “I’m not giving it anything. Lending perhaps is as far as I would go. And you would be surprised how thin a line separates many of the disciplines from one another. But this is strictly a Wyr spell, I assure you.”
“Though it is forbidden,” Hemlock said.
Hawthorn chuckled. “Ah, yes. The Conclave wasn’t at all pleased at the rising number of drooling warlocks cooking their brains from attempting keyhole illusions.”
“But why the conjuration at all?” Holly said. “Why not just act the part?”
Hawthorn shrugged. “I suppose one always could take that approach, but you will never get the same kind of authenticity by acting. For all intents and purposes, we will be bringing the Witness into the world in a way that acting could never replicate.”
“It’s why it’s called a keyhole illusion,” Hemlock said. “Because they say it’s like looking through a keyhole into another world.”
“Or like bringing another world through a keyhole,” Hawthorn said. “It depends who you ask.”
From further down the road, the murmuring of voices and the scuffling of footsteps grew louder.
“I’ll do the conjuration,” Hemlock said. “You do the illusion.”
“Absolutely not,” said Hawthorn. “You’ve never done this before. I’ll do the conjuration.”
Hemlock fixed Hawthorn in a level gaze. “It’s my idea, it’s my risk to take.”
“And all of us are at risk if it’s not done properly. We have one shot at this, and we don’t have time to argue.”
Hemlock glowered at Hawthorn, but before he could say anything else, Hawthorn started his spell.
He spoke a series of words foreign to Holly’s ears, and as he did, the familiar glint in Hawthorn’s eyes faded and was replaced by something entirely foreign. A chill bore into the base of Holly’s neck, and she took a step back.
“WHO DARE STANDS BEFORE ME UNPREPARED?” Hawthorn’s voice boomed as he spoke. The was a sliver of his usual voice present, but he mostly sounded like someone else entirely. Hemlock worked his illusion, and right before Holly’s eyes, Hawthorn transformed.
He grew taller in stature, his purple-black coat replaced with a long, black, tattered cloak. His beautiful features were eclipsed with a horrid waxen mask, similar to the one Holly had seen earlier. She clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. She hadn’t really thought it possible, but Hawthorn was gone. This… this was the Witness.
“YOU WILL ANSWER ME,” the Witness said as he took a step towards her. “OR BEAR MY WRATH.”
“I…” Holly began.
Hemlock, standing behind the Witness, waved towards the road.
Holly nodded and she clenched her hands and raised her chin. “They stand before you unprepared!” She thrust an accusatory finger at the throng of people just as they topped the hill.
The Witness rounded on them, and as he did, the entire group froze. For one hopeful moment, it looked like they might run away. But then a man stepped forward.
“It’s all a trick!” he said. “This isn’t the Witness!”
This solidified some courage in the rest of the group and they charged forward.
The Witness lifted his arms and spoke a spell and the entire group ran into an invisible wall with a series of grunts and cries of pain. Several of them staggered back and fell down with bloodied noses.
The Witness bent down next to a man on the ground cradling his jaw and grabbed the back of his head. The man seemed to shrink within himself as the Witness brought his face close to his. He stared into the Witness’ eyes, and then he began to scream.
“It’s him! It’s the Witness!”
Panic broke out among the crowd. Most were trying to cover their eyes as they scrambled to their feet, resulting in a clumsy dash as the townsfolk collided into one another as they ran for all they were worth back down the road.
Holly had just let out a breath when the Witness turned on her.
“YOU,” he said. “YOU MUST ATONE.”
Holly staggered back. The illusion fell from the Witness and he looked like Hawthorn again, but he still came towards her with a gleam in his eyes that Holly didn’t recognize.
“Hemlock?” she said as she backed up against the porch.
Hemlock spoke another spell and the foreign gleam in Hawthorn’s eyes faded, replaced by one of befuddlement. Then he fell over.