Hazel and Holly — Enshrined, Part One
Previous: Cats and Contemplation
Holly grinned and sipped her tea. She sat at their little kitchen table at home, seated across a squirrel twice her size.
“It’s all rubbish, you know,” she said. “Gathering acorns for winter is one of the world’s greatest hoaxes. Everyone knows that summer is eternal, and that winter is just a clouding of the mind.”
The squirrel chittered and nodded, then buttered a piece of bread.
Holly jolted awake. Hemlock stood over her, a little glowing moth illuminating his haggard face.
“Hazel’s gone,” he said.
“What?” Holly sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Gone where?”
He dropped a note on the bed and went over to the closet. “You need to get dressed.”
Holly blinked several times as she tried to clear the haze of sleep from her eyes. She squinted at the paper, illuminated just enough by Hemlock’s fluttering moth.
I’m sorry, but there is no other way. I need to do this, though I don’t expect you to understand. Please look after Holly for me and make sure she gets home safe. Tell her I’ll find a way to make Father undo what he’s done. Tell her–just tell her that.
Holly flipped over the letter but there was nothing else. “Where did you get this?”
Hemlock pulled out a dress from Holly’s closet and threw it onto her bed. “The night man slipped it under my door. I couldn’t sleep, so I noticed when it came in. After I read it I went to her room, but she’d already gone.”
Holly’s mouth hung open as she stared at him. “But, she said–”
“Get dressed, Holly,” Hemlock said, his voice quiet and strained. “We need to go get her before it’s too late.”
The street was quiet and abandoned, for which Hazel was grateful. The night man on duty at Sensi’s Contemplation had told her where she could find the Shrine, and even helped her find a late-night carriage to drive here there. He had promised to deliver her letter after she’d gone. She had made him repeat the promise until she had believed him.
Now she stood on the Shrine’s wide doorstep, the stone immaculately clean and freshly scrubbed.
She gripped her mother’s lock of hair as she stared at the black wooden door carved with an elaborate motif of stars and bones. The building itself was a massive stone affair, as clean as the doorstep upon which she stood, though there was nothing but darkness beyond the tall windows.
Curtains. They were dark because of curtains. Or because everyone was asleep. Surely there would be light somewhere inside. She was being silly, fretting over trivialities that didn’t exist other than in her mind. She tightened her grip on her mother’s hair. Just one more minute, to gather her nerve. To tell herself she wasn’t making the biggest mistake of her life.
Just one more minute.
Hemlock walked into Hawthorn’s room without knocking. Holly trailed after him, quietly closing the door behind her, though her care was unnecessary.
“Get up,” Hemlock said as he went to Hawthorn’s closet.
Hawthorn groaned. “I have never slept so poorly in my entire life than I have in the company of you three.”
“You mean us two,” Hemlock said. “Hazel’s gone.”
“Shocking.” Hawthorn sat up and ran a hand over his face. “Has it ever occurred to you to simply let her go? The woman’s more trouble than she’s worth.”
Hemlock’s expression tightened, and he stared at his brother with a coldness that Holly had never seen in him before.
Hawthorn sobered and cleared his throat. “I… Where did she go?”
“To the Shrine,” Holly said. “She’s actually going to do it. She’s going to become a necromancer.” Holly couldn’t believe it. She spoke the words yet they still felt hollow to her. How could Hazel possibly do such a thing?
Hemlock said, “Which is why you need to get up and take us there.”
Hawthorn nodded. “I… of course.” He got up and took the shirt and pants that Hemlock held out to him. He opened his mouth, like he wanted to say something, but instead he just nodded and started to get dressed.
Holly walked out and waited in the hall, only then realizing that Hawthorn had been naked and she didn’t even care. She didn’t care about anything other than finding her sister.
With a final, deep breath, Hazel squared her shoulders and pulled on a thick braided cord by the Shrine door. She clenched and unclenched her jaw, twisted the lock of hair around her finger until it hurt.
The door opened, and a man in a shrouded black robe peered out at her. “Yes?”
Hazel froze. She should leave. She should just turn on her heel and head back to the inn, let Hemlock’s hands warm her own, let his assurances warm her heart. Instead, she said, “I’m here to become a necromancer.”
The man stared at her a long moment. Then he chuckled a low laugh. He started to close the door but Hazel put out her hand and stopped him.
“We don’t take in trash from the streets,” he said. “To be a Necromancer is to be Chosen. And you… you are not a chosen one.”
Hazel gritted her teeth. “If I’m trash then you’re a pus-filled boil. How dare you? If I wasn’t chosen then how could I know of your Sea of Severed Souls? How could I work necromancy without learning a single thing about it? I’d wager I’m more of a chosen one than you, so you go back in there and find me someone with real authority.”
The man smirked at her. “Of course. Wait here.” He had nearly gotten the door closed when Hazel thrust her foot in the threshold.
“I’m not an idiot.” She fished out the ribbon from her pocket and handed it to him. “If I wasn’t supposed to be here, then why do I have that? Why would it tell me to come here? That is what it’s telling me, right?”
The man summoned an orb of silvery light and read the ribbon. He regarded her a long moment from under his brow, then he swung open the door. “Follow me.”
Hazel wiped her sweating palms on her skirt and hoped that, one day, Hemlock and Holly would forgive her.
Holly, Hemlock, and Hawthorn sat silently in the carriage as it hurtled down the street. Hemlock stared out the window, biting his nails as his legs mindlessly bounced up and down. Hawthorn stared at his hands. When the carriage slowed, Hemlock jumped out and ran to the Shrine and pulled on a braided cord that hung by the door. Holly and Hawthorn followed close behind.
Hemlock tapped his hands on his legs as he waited. Then the door opened and they were met by a man wearing a black robe.
“A young woman came here tonight,” Hemlock said. “Her name’s Hazel. We need to see her.”
“We are not a boarding house,” the man said. “We do not take visitors. We do not betray those who pass beyond our walls.”
“But she came here, right?” Holly said.
“I couldn’t say.”
Hemlock grabbed the man by the collar of his robe, yanked him away from the door, and sent him stumbling out into the street. Hemlock tried to walk into the Shrine, but it was like he walked into an invisible wall and went staggering back.
The necromancer laughed. “As if you were the first who ever tried to trespass on our Shrine. As if we weren’t prepared for such inevitabilities.”
From within the Shrine, three more black-robed necromancers came to the door. From the shadows on the streets, dark forms shambled into the light. They watched Hemlock and the others with weeping yellow eyes. Hemlock took a step back.
“That’s right,” the necromancer said. “You’d better leave, and you’d better leave now.”
Holly neared Hemlock and whispered, “We need to find another way in.”
Hemlock clenched his jaw, but he nodded. So Holly, Hemlock, and Hawthorn hurried to the carriage and drove away.
Next: Enshrined, Part Two