Hazel and Holly — An Unadorned End
Previous: A Return to Light
Hazel moved as if within a dark and disturbing dream. It was like she had become trapped in a net of iron-bound mist. And she wasn’t alone. There were others here with her, whispering against her skin, drawing long, shadowed fingers across her mind.
They desired things of her, wordless pleas that pulled on her thoughts and crawled over her skin. The men in black robes needed to die—they told her this. And they gave her a soulless dragon as her vessel.
Yet, at the height of her fury, a light shone in the distance. It permeated the cloying whispers like sunlight spilling over a strawberry strewn hill. She reached towards it, but then the warmth gathered around her hand, as if she held the sun itself and it had refused to burn her.
Confused, Hazel stared at her hand. A faint light glimmered there. She focused her thoughts, pushed away the whispering voices, and before her stood a girl with golden hair and rosy cheeks.
The girl didn’t belong here with the scratching whispers and worm-like fingers. She needed to leave, go someplace where her golden hair could shine in the golden sun. Hazel wanted to tell her, but the girl pressed her hand and told her to remember.
Remember what? Mountains grinding into sand that had been washed out to a long-forgotten sea? No, the sun. It must be the sun, shining and brilliant, warming her skin much like the girl’s hand warmed hers.
Hazel squeezed her sister’s fingers, for it was her sister. She remembered now. The fingers lacing through her mind eased, and the voices lessened. But shadows still connected her to the abominable dragon. She worked a spell to send it back to its own realm, but before she could unravel it completely, Verrin severed the dragon’s connection to her and took it as his own.
She cried out, mostly from the shock of no longer having its dark presence intwined with hers.
She pulled words from deep within her gut and worked a spell that turned a nearby mirror into a glass-wrought eagle. It dove at the dragon and pierced its scaly hide with crystalline talons. The dragon snapped at it, but the eagle soared out of the way and wheeled towards Ash.
He had been watching the unfolding events with an expression of smug amusement. Now, as the eagle soared towards him on beveled wings, his smugness turned to annoyance. He took a few steps back as he spoke a spell, but when the eagle still flew towards him, his annoyance gave way to shock as he put up his arms to ward the eagle’s outstretched talons.
The bird rent his arm, and he cried out. He worked another spell, and the eagle’s glass feathers cracked, causing beads of broken glass to fall to the ground like crystallized blood.
Hazel put out her arm. The eagle gave a pathetic cry, but before it could return to her, the dragon crushed the bird in its jaws. The glass ground against its teeth, faintly tinkling like broken chimes.
The dragon headed towards Hazel and the others. She tried pulling control of the creature from Verrin, but his hold upon it was too strong.
“Are you going to let him keep control over you, Hazel?” Ash said.
She tried to sever his connection again, but failed.
Hemlock managed to summon a legion of fairies with ivory wings and set them upon the dragon. Holly patted her pockets then frowned. “Stupid necromancer robes. I haven’t any pinecones.”
Hawthorn put out his hand and conjured a pinecone that took up his entire palm.
Holly’s eyes widened and she grinned. “Lob it at the dragon.”
He did, and as the pine cone sailed through the air, Holly made it combust into flame. It struck the dragon in the neck and splintered into fiery shards.
Holly squeaked and giggled. “Again.”
Hawthorn conjured another cone. But before he cast it, Hazel said, “Throw it at Verrin.”
He did and Holly ignited it. The cone arced towards Verrin’s head and, just before it struck him, he worked a spell that sent it veering off course. Yet in that moment, his concentration over the dragon had slackened. Hazel pulled the shadows from him. He resisted her and started to pull them back. Hemlock sent his fairies after him, and they flurried around his head, pulling at his hair and ears and poking his eyes.
When Verrin’s concentration shattered, Hazel took control of the dragon. The beast reared around and swiped him with its tail. Verrin dodged out of the way, but the fairies poked at his eyes and blinded him and he tripped over his feet. As he went down, the dragon breathed a cloud of its rancid breath into his face. Verrin coughed as his cheeks purpled. He tried to get up, but his arms turned wobbly, and he flopped back onto the floor like a land bound fish. The dragon exhaled another breath, and Verrin, after a bout of fitful coughing, became still.
Hazel pushed the dragon’s shadows away from her, back into the creature itself. She unwound the spell until the great serpentine beast dissipated into the shadows of the room and disappeared.
The sudden silence made Hazel’s hammering heart deafening.
Until Ash said, “You understand now, don’t you?”
His comment should have infuriated her. But the anger never came. At that moment, he was no longer her father—no longer the man that broke her heart all those years ago when he walked out of her life. He was just a man, confused and afraid of his own frailty and ignorance, who tried his best to hide it. Just like her.
She crouched down and picked up a shard of broken glass and cut her hand anew.
“What are you doing?” Ash said. “Using your own blood against me won’t work.”
“My blood is your blood, Father. But I think you’ve forgotten that it’s also hers.”
Ash glanced at Willow who stood beside him, diaphanous and fading.
“I think it’s time she told you what she really thinks.”
Holly watched as her sister cut her hand and angled the bloodied shard at their mother. The spell she spoke was frightening with its harsh vowels and angular words. But there was also a softness there, a delicate beauty that Hazel wove between the words that Holly hadn’t ever noticed before.
As the spell ended, Willow’s form became solid, and her vacuous expression hardened into anger.
Ash reached out, as if to touch her, then started to move away. But Willow grabbed hold of the silver chain around his neck and, with a grimace, yanked it off. The chain bore a crystal amulet that shifted from black, to blue, to purple, depending on how the light hit it.
Ash held out his hand, palm up, as if expecting Willow to hand the amulet back. Instead, she clutched onto the crystal, as if trying to crush it in her pale hand, but the amulet didn’t give way as its chain swung back and forth, glinting in the light.
He gently took her hand and held it, and Willow’s resolve seemed to waver as her expression slackened.
“Mother,” Hazel said. “It’s your choice to make. Don’t let him make it for you.”
Willow closed her eyes and stepped closer to Ash. She looked resigned, and Ash reached out to touch her hair. Her form faded into misty impermanence. The amulet fell to the ground and, before he could react, Willow thrust her fading hand into his chest.
The muscles in his neck tightened, his eyes bulged. The skin on his cheeks reddened then paled, while his lips turned blue.
“Mother!” Hazel shouted.
Willow flinched and yanked her hand back, and Ash fell to the ground.
Holly gasped and ran over to him and put her hand on his forehead. “He’s cold. Why is he so cold? He’s not dead, is he?”
Nobody said anything. Willow stared at the amulet on the ground, keeping a distance between it and herself as if it were a poisonous viper.
Holly put her head against her father’s chest. “He’s breathing. Sort of. I don’t think he’s dead.” She twisted her face up. “But you just can’t tell anymore these days.”
Hazel walked over and picked up the amulet from the floor. The silver chain dangled between her fingers, swaying back and forth like an errant pendulum. Willow licked her lips, opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it and remained silent.
Holly got to her feet. “What happens now?” She eyed the amulet in Hazel’s hand.
“We came here to undo Father’s spell,” Hazel said. “Remember?”
Holly stiffened her back. “I remember.”
But Hazel fell silent as she stared at the necklace. She thrust it at Holly. “You take it. You decide what to do with it.”
Holly’s mouth fell open and she took a step back. “What? I don’t want that thing.”
“It holds Mother’s soul. You should have it.”
“I don’t want it! Nobody should have it!”
“Then destroy it.”
“But won’t that…?” Her eyes filled with tears. “She’ll die if I do that.”
“She’s already dead, Holly.”
“Then you do it. I can’t.”
Hazel swallowed as she fixed her gaze on the amulet. She closed her eyes and quietly said, “Neither can I.” She thrust the amulet at Holly again. “Please, just take it. I can’t have it. Do you understand me? I can’t have it.”
Holly didn’t understand, but she understood the tremor in Hazel’s voice. There was a warning there, danger. So, with trembling fingers, Holly took the amulet from her sister’s hand.
It was lighter than it looked. And cold, too, like a handful of frozen feathers. Yet it warmed against her skin the longer she held it. Aside from the strange crystal, it almost seemed ordinary. Had she seen it at a market, she might have thought it lovely.
Willow walked up to her. Her form was more solid now, at least in the middle parts of her. On the outer edges of her hair, hands, legs, and feet, her form was still hazy and translucent. She took Holly’s hand–the one that held the amulet–in a grip so cold that Holly gasped. But her mother’s touch was gentle, and she tenderly wrapped Holly’s fingers around the crystal of bruised twilight.
“Destroy it, Holly,” her mother whispered.
Holly shook her head. “No, you’ll die.”
“It is too late for that.”
She clenched her eyes shut against welling tears. “But isn’t it better than nothing? Isn’t it a kind of life, what you have? Isn’t it enough?”
“It is nothing. It is not life. It is not death. It is being in between, for years on end, for no other reason than to satisfy the whims and desires of someone else. Let me go, daughter. Do not anchor me in a world in which I do not belong.”
Holly shook her head again, and tears streamed down her face. “Aren’t you afraid?”
Willow smiled and touched her hair. “The dead fear nothing, don’t you know? Fear belongs to the living.”
“But I’ll miss you.”
“We must all one day pass into the realm of memory. Who’s to say that it isn’t real, in its own way? Who’s to say I won’t live on there, more vibrant and vital than I ever was in this life? Who’s to say that it is worse than what we cling to here? Who is to say we won’t meet again? Somewhere, someday our paths will cross, and we will love each other all over again.”
“I’d like that,” Holly whispered. She looked down at the crystal that seemed to hold a turbulent night within its depths. She wasn’t sure how to destroy it. The crystal was probably stronger than anything. It looked like the sort that would break rocks if one tried to smash it.
It looked like it should be heavy, yet it wasn’t. It had once been cold, yet now held a warmth beyond what it could have absorbed from her skin. It was like it was its own entity, abiding by its own set of rules.
She made a fist and squeezed the amulet against the palm of her hand. The crystal, though warm at first, grew colder and colder the harder she pressed. It grew so cold that her fingers began to tingle and her palm grew numb. But she kept pressing, watching her mother with tear-filled eyes, harboring a deep-hope that it would remain unbreakable.
Then, like a thin layer of rime across chilled water, the crystal gave way and shattered. An intense cold engulfed Holly’s hand, encasing it in pain before the numbness returned and she lost all feeling.
Willow’s form began to unravel. The parts of her that had been solid now began to twine away in curls of smoke that dissipated in the air.
“I’m sorry!” Holly cried.
But her mother just smiled and put a fading hand to Holly’s cheek. She turned to Hazel, put a hand to her lips, and offered the hand to Hazel. And then, one heartbeat later, Willow was gone.
Next: Aggravated Acceptance