Hazel and Holly — Tormented Love
Previous: Of Mushrooms and Men
Hazel awoke on a cold stone floor with a pounding headache. She pushed herself upright and looked around, surprised to see she was still in her father’s workshop. She must have fainted, probably from all the smoke. Had something gone wrong with her spell?
No, the spell had worked. There had been a bright light close to Ash’s chest. That had meant something.
She got to her feet and started across the room, but it was like shadows had solidified around her, clinging like tar that made her movements heavy and strained. When she stopped, the shadows receded, but as soon as she tried to walk again, the shadows returned like night-tempered chains. Her father had done this. He had trapped her here.
Why? Of course he’d been displeased with her poking around where she didn’t belong, but then why leave her there? Why not throw her out? Lock her in her room? Both seemed like more reasonable actions to take against a trespasser than leaving her exactly where she wasn’t supposed to be.
Hazel conjured a beam of prismatic light and combined it with a sharp gust of air, but the shadows remained. Unsurprising, she supposed. Ash was a necromancer, she’d need to use necromancy to undo his spell. She took a moment to think, then worked a corrupted version of a Weaving Unraveling spell and tried to pull the shadows apart. But the shadows remained, as strong as ever. She tried corrupting the prismatic light and gust of wind, but that didn’t work, either. Hazel tightened her jaw as she pushed down her frustration. Should she try summoning a familiar again? She didn’t know how that would help, but she was running out of ideas.
Before she had a chance to try, the door opened and her father stepped inside. Hazel eyed his chest, but the light that had been there before was gone.
Ash stood before her, his expression unreadable. He didn’t look angry, but he didn’t look pleased, either.
“I don’t really blame you,” he said after a while. “I grew up in the Grove, just as you did. My mind was also filled with the ignorance and lies that pervade the region. I do not blame you for wanting to… undo what I’ve done. I don’t blame you for not understanding. But I would be lying if I said your actions haven’t wounded me. I had hoped…” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Perhaps I’ve been foolish in thinking it would be easier. That, once you saw what I could offer you, that you would want my help.”
“Help with what? Necromancy?”
“Realizing your true potential.”
She shook her head. “I don’t need your help. Not with that.”
“We are so alike, Hazel. I was just as you are when I was your age. Gifted with certain talents, then crippled with the uncertainty that followed. What I struggled to find was that there is more in life than what the people in the Grove can offer. You don’t have to struggle as I did. I can help you.”
Hazel took a deep breath as she struggled to keep calm. “I told you, I don’t need your help.”
Ash smiled and shook his head. “Even now, the similarities between us are striking. You are willful and stubborn, just like me. You refuse to compromise, just like me. You show an unflagging determination to reach a goal you have set for yourself—doing whatever it takes to succeed in it, for good or ill.” He exhaled a short laugh and smiled again. “Just like me.”
“I am nothing like you!”
His expression sobered and he clasped his hands together and arched his head as he regarded her. “Yes. Perhaps my own willfulness has prevented me from seeing that you are, in many ways, also like your mother. You, like her, are much too quick to dismiss that which you don’t understand. You put too much faith in the lies you have been raised with.”
“The lie that Necromancy is a separate form of magic, one to be ignored and never discussed. That those who practice it are somehow… tainted. That is what you think, isn’t it?”
Hazel said nothing.
Ash nodded as if she had answered. “What the people in the Grove don’t understand is that Necromancy is the only magic. Every other discipline, Wyr, Hearth, Weaving, and Wild, they are all aspects of the same thing. Pieces of the same pie. The Lords of the Sun and Trees and the Ladies of the Sky and Sea are all aspects of the same being—the Shapeless One, the Keeper of Stars and Souls. Refusing to accept this is as absurd as refusing to accept that the sun is bright and the night dark.”
“It sounds to me rather that someone thinks he’s more important than he really is, and extends that importance to his magical discipline of choice.”
“This isn’t about me, Hazel.”
“Oh, I think it is. Because you keep ignoring what I want, choosing instead to believe whatever suits you best!”
Ash remained quiet a moment. “You know, I sometimes wonder how I might have reacted if a mentor had come to me and offered to teach me of Necromancy and all that I struggled to learn in my life. I wonder if I would have accepted such an offer. I’ve never much cared for accepting help from others. I’ve never liked the sense of obligation it gives me, the sense that I owed them something. You, perhaps, know what I mean?”
Hazel knew exactly what he meant, but she remained silent.
“But when I look back now,” he continued, “I can see how much my life would have benefitted from such a mentor. Much of what I’ve learned of Necromancy, I learned on my own. I used to hold a sense of pride in that—not everyone could say the same. But now I wonder if that pride was misplaced. I can’t help but wonder if I’d had some help, how much more I might have accomplished in my life, of what I might have accomplished for my family. Perhaps, if I’d learned more, I could have saved your mother from ever perishing in the first place.”
Hazel tensed. She felt as if they had tread upon unsteady ground and she needed to choose her words carefully. “People die. It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the way life is. You need to let her go.”
“The way life is,” Ash said, his voice dangerously flat. “You say that as if it’s something we must accept. Life is malleable, as are the laws that dictate it. I refuse to bend to life’s fickle whims. As should you.”
“It’s not fickle, it’s just the way it is. Why can’t you accept that?”
“And why can’t you accept that life is what we make of it? We can manipulate souls and spirits, Hazel. The very essence of life! With enough time and practice, we could make life bend to our whims!”
“You’ve lost your mind. Do you hear yourself? Do you know what you sound like?”
“I hadn’t wanted to do it like this. I had thought that with enough time, you would come to understand the world as I do, that you would see it as I do, because, given who you are, how could you see it any other way?”
“What are you talking about?”
His expression turned resigned. “You are right, in a way, about life. There is one aspect of it that is not malleable, that can not be manipulated, or changed, or reversed. I’ve tried. But it inevitably binds us all, and eventually, we all return to it.”
Hazel’s breathing turned heavy and ragged. Despite everything Ash had done to her and her mother, Hazel had never been frightened of him. Until now. “Father, what are you talking about?”
He fixed his gaze on her in a way that made Hazel wonder if he had ever truly seen her prior to that moment. It was like he saw straight to her heart—straight to her soul—and the tenderness he held in his gaze for her at that moment made her want to weep.
“I’m talking about love, daughter. It is life’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. It hinders us as much as it bolsters us. But love’s fire burns incredibly hot. Perhaps, within such a fire, a temperament for the greatest witch of our time might be forged.”
Before Hazel could say anything else, Ash returned to the door, opened it, and Hemlock and Verrin stepped inside.
Hazel cried out and clapped a hand over her mouth. Her outburst surprised her, as did the warmth and joy that filled her heart to look at Hemlock. He wasn’t supposed to be there, and yet, now that he was, she was grateful beyond words.
Hemlock remained quiet at his gaze met hers. He didn’t look angry or disappointed, as she had expected. Instead he looked tired, relieved, but also strangely enlivened. His eyes held a spark in them she hadn’t noticed before, and it made her heart quicken to have such a gaze fall upon her.
Swallowing, she said, “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Neither are you,” he said.
Ash stood alongside Hemlock. “Perhaps your greatest failing, my daughter, is your continual misjudgment of a given situation. You insist on underestimating yourself and others. You choose to see things as you want them to be—or perhaps even believe them to be—instead of how things actually are.” He placed a hand on Hemlock’s shoulder, and Hemlock stiffened as his expression tightened. “Take our mutual friend here. You chose to believe you could leave someone you love behind. That once you did, it would be the end of it. You would go your way, he would go his. That is what happened here isn’t it? I’ll admit I’ve had to puzzle out a few of the gaps from what I’ve seen in the mirrors.” He paused as he glanced between Hazel and Hemlock, but when neither said anything, Ash continued.
“Perhaps you chose to believe that you didn’t love him, or he didn’t love you. Or perhaps you underestimated the bond of love that ties you together. I’ve certainly made that mistake. Whatever you chose to believe, it put you at a disadvantage, and so now we find ourselves here, together, at a crossroads of sorts, don’t you think?”
Hazel tried to walk towards Hemlock, but the shadows constricted and kept her from taking more than a step. Hemlock’s face darkened and he tried to go to her, but Ash tightened his grip on his shoulder and Verrin cast a spell that summoned a tall, lanky woman with hair like midnight and crystalline skin. She put a bony hand on Hemlock’s arm, causing him to wince as he paled, and he went still.
“What do you want?” Hazel said. “Why are you doing this?”
“I want what I’ve always wanted from the day you were born, Hazel. I want you to be true to yourself, without fear, without reservation. I want you to achieve your potential. I want you to recognize, as I do, how great your potential truly is.”
“What does any of that have to do with Hemlock?”
He smiled even as his brow furrowed in a quizzical manner. “Even now you refuse to see this situation for what it is. You underestimate the significance of this moment.”
Hazel clenched her hands in an effort to keep calm. “Then why don’t you tell me?”
“You have been holding yourself back, Hazel. You have preconceived notions of what it means to be a Necromancer that don’t sit well with your other preconceived notions of who you think you are. Perhaps you are afraid of what others will think of you. Perhaps you worry you will never be able to return home. Perhaps you worry about something else entirely. But one thing is clear: the right situation can push all of that aside and force you to see yourself as you truly are. And there is no coming back from that.”
A dreadful understanding unfolded itself for her, and Hazel’s fear turned sharp and acrid. “Let him go.”
“You’ve held me in such disdain for all of these years, accusing me of ruining your mother. But did you ever once put yourself in my shoes? Did you ever, just once, imagine what you would have done, had you been in my situation?”
The conjured woman dug her pale fingers deeper into Hemlock’s arm. His pallor turned waxy and his lips blue. The skin under his eyes darkened and he would have slumped onto the ground if not for the woman and Verrin holding him up.
“Let him go!”
“I never wanted this for you, daughter. I never wanted for you to witness what it’s like to watch someone you love waste away before your eyes. I would have protected you from this, if you would have let me. But you are my daughter. I should have known you would choose the harder path, just as I always have. It was wrong of me to have expected anything different.”
She fought against the shadows, but the harder she pushed, the harder they solidified around her. This couldn’t be happening; never before had she felt so helpless. The woman tightened her hand again, and Hemlock’s pallor worsened. Hazel hunched over and let out an enraged scream.
Next: Familiar Fellowship