Hazel and Holly — A Reluctant Ally
Previous — …Will Bring You Back to Me
Holly leaned against the wall in her room as she stared out the window. Dawn had broken, but she hadn’t been able to sleep. That had never happened to her before, being unable to sleep. She didn’t much care for it, truth be told. This was all an ugly mess. Hazel leaving to become a necromancer, and now them unable to figure out where she’d gone. Hazel was always the one who fixed things, just not lately. Lately it was almost like she’d become another person.
Except maybe that wasn’t true. Maybe this was who Hazel truly was, only Holly could never see it before. Even in the weird potion-dream, Hazel had turned to necromancy, even though they had never come to Sarnum or did any of the things that followed. As long as their mother’s soul remain trapped, Hazel wouldn’t ever stop. She couldn’t stop—Holly could see that now. And maybe… maybe Holly wasn’t ever meant to stop her. Maybe she was just supposed to help her through it.
Holly gritted her teeth. When had life gotten so complicated? She didn’t like it—not one bit. It’s time she took life by the scruff and rattled it some before it got too big for its breeches.
She marched to the door and yanked it open, nearly crying out when she saw Hemlock there. His hand was poised, as if he had been about to knock on the door.
“What are you doing here?” Holly said once her heart felt like it was no longer going to run out of her chest.
“I haven’t been able to sleep, thinking all night, but I keep coming to the same conclusion.” He took a breath. “I need to become a necromancer. I need to go after her.”
“You’re not doing any such thing.”
“If that’s what it takes to get me in the Shrine to find out where she’s gone, then I’ll do it. She shouldn’t be alone in all this.”
“I know, and she won’t be. That’s why we need to get back to Elder’s house.”
“Elder? He already said he won’t help us.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see about that.”
“He’s got beer, you say?” Tum said as he, Holly, Hawthorn, and Hemlock stood once again outside Elder’s home. Dawn was still young and new, and a thin mist lingered along the damp ground.
Holly nodded. “Lots of it. Bitter dark. Abby brews it herself. I reckon they’ll have a full cellar of the stuff.”
Tum rubbed his hands. “Full cellar’s good. What else?”
“Well, the house is big. And nice. There’s got to be all kinds of spoils in there.”
“It’s been far too long since old Tum’s gone spoiling, I’ll tell you that.”
“Well, now’s your chance. You’ve got to spoil it for everything you’re worth.”
Tum drew himself up, looking offended. “I always do.”
Hawthorn said, “Don’t forget about Augustus.”
“Who’s that?” Tum said.
“Elder’s creepy little butler,” Holly said. “He’s not even human… or gnomish or anything.”
“He’ll probably try to bite you,” Hawthorn said.
“Well, he’s welcome to try,” Tum said. “He might just find out old Tum bites back.”
Hemlock asked, “How are we supposed to get Tum inside?”
Tum drew himself up again. “Please. I’m a cellar gnome.” He thrust a finger in the air. “There’s never been a cellar Tum couldn’t get into.”
Holly rolled her eyes. “Unless it’s chained shut with a big fat lock.”
Tum shuffled his feet. “Well, yes, but these Sarnum folks aren’t familiar with cellar gnomes—few of us live in these parts. If he’s chained his cellar shut, I’ll eat my pyjamas.”
“Perhaps I should chain it shut,” Hawthorn said, “because I’d like to see that.”
Tum opened his mouth, but Holly interrupted him and said, “We need to get moving. Elder’s going to be up any moment now—if he’s not already. We need to get inside.”
They all walked around the house, looking for an entrance into the cellar. But when they ended up back where they started without finding a door, Holly grew concerned.
“Maybe he doesn’t have a cellar.” It honestly hadn’t occurred to Holly that Elder wouldn’t have a cellar. Her whole plan hinged on it.
“Nonsense,” Tum said. “If he’s got as much beer as you say he does, then he’s got a cellar, mark my words.”
They walked around the house again, only this time Tum poked around the bushes and hedges that decorated the property.
“Here we go!” he shouted as he rummaged behind a prickly gooseberry shrub. “There’s a window here.”
Holly peered through the bush and spied a little narrow window on the wall of the house right above the ground. “It’s tiny.”
“Big enough for a gnome.” Tum pushed on the window and then tried to pull on it, but the window didn’t budge. “Blasted thing’s locked.”
Holly turned to Hemlock and Hawthorn. “Either one of you know Weaving magic?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Hawthorn said and snorted. The man actually snorted. “Weaving magic.” He smirked and shook his head.
“Sorry, Holly,” Hemlock said. “We’re both strictly Wyr warlocks.”
Glass shattered and Holly flinched.
“Got it!” Tum said as he cleared away the broken shards of the window. “Not anything a good rock couldn’t fix.”
Holly remained speechless for a couple of heartbeats before she regained her senses. Which was good, because Tum was squirming through the window and, before she knew it, disappeared inside.
She bent down towards the window. “You all right, Tum?”
“Tum’s always all right,” he replied from within the darkness.
“Well, good then. You get to work.” She straightened, turned towards Hemlock and Hawthorn, and grinned. “This is going to be fun.”
She and the two warlocks walked around to the front door, where she grabbed the knocker and gave it several quick raps. Holly clasped her hands together and tried to put on a solemn expression, but she couldn’t do it. A wide grin had spread across her face that she couldn’t dispel. She felt confident, and that confidence filled her with an unexpected glee.
The door opened and there stood Elder in his red flannel pyjamas and bunny slippers. “Sweet biscuits and jam,” Elder said and scowled at them. “Not you again.”
“You know,” Holly said. “I don’t think there was any way this was never going to happen. I never used to believe in destiny, but now, I’m not so sure.”
Elder continued to scowl as he looked her up and down. “What are you talking about?”
From within the house, Abby screamed, accompanied by Augustus’ squawking. There was a metallic clanging and a loud, hollow thud.
“Abby?” Elder said as he turned back around “Abby!” He ran down the hallway, his red robe billowing behind him. Holly and the two brothers followed him in.
They walked past the living room and toward the kitchen. Except for Hemlock—he and Holly exchanged quick glances before he hurried upstairs. Elder hadn’t seemed to notice his departure.
When Elder, Holly, and Hawthorn walked into the kitchen, they found Tum and Augustus playing tug-of-war with a shiny silver tray while Abby ran frantically around the room until she found a rolling pin. She swung it at Tum
“Hey!” He let go of the tray and tumbled out of the way, and Abby clipped one of Augustus’ wings instead. The blow sent him into a fit of squawks and hopping.
“I’m outta here,” Tum said and he darted back into the cellar and slammed the door shut.
Elder rounded on Holly. “What was that thing? Did you bring it here?”
Holly smirked at him. “At least he’s not some weird monkey-bat-thing.”
“Why is it in the cellar? What does it want?” He rattled the cellar door, but it wouldn’t budge.
“All your beer’s in there,” Holly said. “And he’s got it. You’re from the Grove, I’m sure you’ve heard of cellar gnomes.”
Hawthorn said, “They’re really nothing more than a vermin infestation, if you ask me. Except that this particular vermin will drink all your beer and steal your silver, so, in fact, they’re actually worse.”
“What will happen to your constitution?” Holly said. “You won’t be able to have your beer for breakfast.”
“Or the pickles.”
“Oh, yes, Tum loves his pickles. That is, when he’s not vandalizing carriages with them.”
To Elder, Hawthorn said, “You don’t have a carriage, do you? The wretched gnome ruined mine with pickled eggs. I don’t think it’ll ever recover. I’m going to have to burn it.”
“Let’s just hope he doesn’t get into your linen closet.” Holly added. “With his grabby little hands, who knows what he’ll ruin. One day, you’ll pick up a pair of your nickers, only to find out they smell like beer and old cheese.”
Hawthorn shuddered. “I would have to move. Honestly.”
Holly nodded. “Oh, absolutely. Once a cellar gnome gets dug in, there’s no getting rid of him.”
“Not until the beer runs out at least.”
“Which,” Holly smirked at Elder, “I’m sure won’t happen here for quite some time.”
Abby crouched on the floor, tending to Augustus’ wing. The creature made a pitiful whining sound. Then Abby straightened and leveled her rolling pin at Elder. “I want that thing out of my house, Elder.” She shook the rolling pin at him as her round face purpled. “Out!”
Holly flinched. Abby had always been so pleasant and jovial. This side of the woman was a little bit scary.
“I’m taking Augustus to see the doctor,” Abby continued. “If that thing isn’t gone by the time we get back, then you’d better find yourself a new home, a new wife, and, so help me, a new hide.” She took Augustus’ little hand and marched out of the room while the imp hopped frantically alongside her.
Elder stared at where she had gone, his arms limp and his mouth hanging open. He looked like a man who had just woken up in the middle of the forest, missing his shoes along with any recollection of how he had gotten there.
“So,” Holly said. “We need to get into the Shrine. You help us do that and we’ll leave, take the gnome with us, and you’ll never see us again.”
Elder rubbed his eyes. He looked exhausted. “I told you, I can’t help you get to the Sea of Severed Stars. If I did, I’d likely suffer worse than a ruined marriage.” His face crumpled a little, but then he sniffed and composed himself.
Holly felt a little bad for inflicting Tum on Elder like that. But they were desperate—she needed to push on. “I know. We’re not asking you to take us to the Sea. We just need to get into the Shrine here in Sarnum. That’s all. If we’re lucky, Hazel will still be there.”
“And if she’s not?”
Holly shrugged. “It’s doubtful she managed to get to the Sea. We’ll look someplace else.”
Elder snorted and shook his head. “Right, and I’m a plucked chicken ready for roasting.”
Holly stared at him, unable to keep herself from imagining Elder sitting naked in a giant pot as Augustus basted his fleshy limbs.
Hawthorn nudged her and she started back to attention.
“Look,” she said, “you help us get in there and we’ll take Tum away. We’ll even get you that orange tree we promised earlier. What we do or don’t do later won’t involve you at all. After we get in the Shrine, we’ll part ways, and you’ll never hear from us again. That’s all you know.”
From beyond the cellar door came a crashing sound. Then, a moment later, the sharp smell of vinegar permeated the air.
Elder closed his eyes and sighed. “Fine. I’ll get you in.”
Next: Summoning Visions