Hazel and Holly — Familiar Fellowship
Previous: Tormented Love
Holly jolted awake as a scream seared through her sleep-addled mind. Had she dreamt it? She must have, because everything now was so quiet except for the crackling of a fire in a nearby hearth, and the gentle snoring of Hawthorn as he sat slumped in an armchair. She herself lay on a sofa. How had she gotten there?
She sat up and looked around the well furnished room that she now found herself in. There were no windows in the stone walls, but the lavish curtains seemed to make up for it somehow. Plush carpets padded the stone floor, and the warm tones of the intricately carved wooden furniture added almost as much warmth as the fire that crackled so close to hand.
She got up and shook Hawthorn by the shoulder. “Wake up.”
He opened his eyes and blinked at her a while, then scrambled to his feet. “Where are we? Where’s Hemlock?”
Holly shook her head. “I don’t know. I just woke up a minute ago and we were here.”
“That’s some fine father you’ve got there. Who would’ve thought he’d poison his own daughter?”
“Well, I don’t think we were poisoned…” Holly began, but trailed off when Hawthorn’s expression told her he didn’t much care about that particular distinction. “Norman’s gone too,” she added, not knowing what else to say.
“Who cares about the necromancer?!”
“His mother probably cares,” Holly muttered.
“Good. She can shed an ocean of tears for him while we find Hemlock.” He walked over to the door, but it was locked. He closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath.
“Maybe he’s with Hazel,” Holly said, trying to sound hopeful.
Eyes still closed, Hawthorn said, “Why would he be with Hazel while we’re left here?”
“I…” Holly tried to think of a reason that let her hold onto this thread of hope she had found, but nothing came to mind. She wrung her hands. “It’s all ruined, isn’t it? They’re both gone. What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to find them, that’s what.”
“Well, an excellent start would be by getting out of this room, don’t you think?”
Holly took a deep, shaking breath as she struggled to pull herself together. “Right.” She smoothed her skirts as if she might find some confidence hidden among the wrinkles, and joined Hawthorn by the door. “Maybe we could burn it down.”
“It’s worth a try.”
Holly spoke a spell that pulled fire from the hearth and she flung it at the smooth black door. Hawthorn winced and backed away from the heat. But once the fire died down, the door remained unscathed.
“Stupid necromancers!” Holly shouted.
Hawthorn cast spells of his own. There were bright flashes of brilliant, colorful light, and powerful gusts of wind that threatened to knock Holly over. She took refuge behind the armchair. But after the onslaught of spells died out, Hawthorn stood there scowling and puffing at the door that still remained locked.
“Damned necromancers,” he muttered.
Hawthorn said nothing.
His silence frightened her. There had to be a way out. This couldn’t be the end.
Holly reached into her pocket, relieved to feel the familiar, fuzzy little body curled up into a warm ball. She gently lifted Chester and pet his tiny head.
“Great,” Hawthorn said. “Vermin.”
Holly ignored him and lifted Chester up to her face. “We need your help again, Chester,” she whispered. “One last time. Hopefully. We’re stuck here. We need you to go find the key to the door, or something that will let us out.” She kissed Chester on the head then put him on the ground. With a sharp squeak he scurried under the door and out of sight.
Hazel clenched her eyes shut and shifted her focus to keeping her breathing steady and calm.
“Open your eyes, Hazel,” Ash said. “You’ll only add to his pain by hiding.”
Hazel glared at her father. “You’re doing this to him!”
“And what are you doing to stop me? You don’t get to choose to use Necromancy as it suits you, Hazel. Everything you did to come here, everything that led you to me, you had to use Necromancy to find. Are you really going to balk now, when so much is at stake?”
Frustrated, she cried out and tried work a conjuration, but her knowledge of such spells remained limited, and her distress only served to scatter her thoughts. The conjuration took shape as a blackbird. When it flew towards the pale woman, she swatted at it and the spell unraveled.
“You can do better than that, Hazel.”
“I don’t know how! I don’t know what I need to do!”
Ash considered her a moment then nodded to Verrin. He gestured to his familiar, and the pale woman slackened her grip, allowing some color to return to Hemlock’s haggard face.
Movement pulled Hazel’s gaze to a corner of the room. A little brown mouse darted behind a desk leg. She never thought she’d be so glad to see a rodent in her entire life. Holly was nearby, she had to be.
“Your excuses grow wearisome, Hazel,” Ash said. “But I am not an unreasonable man. I will give you time to reflect on the task at hand. Perhaps my absence will help you… focus.” He started for the door.
Hazel, fearing he’d see Chester who now nosed around one of the bookshelves, said, “Where’s Holly?”
He turned back around. “Your sister is safe, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Why don’t you bring them here, so we can all have this discussion together?”
“Because this doesn’t concern them. They will only distract you.”
“Or perhaps you’re worried they will distract you.”
“Your attempts at stalling are childish and unbecoming of you, Hazel.”
Chester scurried from the bookshelf to underneath a table. The movement pulled Hazel’s gaze before she could stop herself.
“Well, well,” Ash said as he walked over to the table. “Looks like someone’s come to join us after all.” He crouched down just as Chester dashed underneath a pile of fallen papers. As Ash moved, a delicate silver chain poked out from underneath his robe around his neck. It gleamed in the light for the span of a breath, then he moved again and the collar of his robe shrouded it once more.
He put out his hand and, to Hazel’s surprise, Chester scampered onto his upturned palm. He straightened and grinned while petting Chester’s furry back. “I’d always thought there were never enough Wild witches and warlocks in the Grove. I was happy to learn Holly had become one.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d care for the discipline,” Hazel said as she studied Ash’s neck, trying to get another glimpse of the silver chain he wore.
“On the contrary, I care for all of them. Wild magic is the least pursued of all the disciplines. I’ve never understood why. Being able to interact with other living creatures is quite astounding. It’s not to be underestimated.” He brought up Chester near his face, angled so that both he and the mouse faced Hazel. “Why do you suppose this little fellow is here?”
“Perhaps you have an infestation.”
He smiled. “Oh, I don’t think so. Familiars of Wild practitioners never act quite the same as their cousins out in the natural world. This one belongs to Holly, and I think you know that.”
Hazel said nothing.
Chester scurried up Ash’s arm to his shoulders and went behind his neck. Just as Ash reached up to retrieve him…
“Ow!” he cried.
Chester leapt to the floor and hid underneath a gap in one of the bookshelves.
Ash put a hand to his neck. When he pulled away, one of his fingers was stained with a spot of blood. His previous good humor faded and he scowled at Hazel. “Out of respect for your sister, I will overlook that particular trespass. But only this once.” He walked out. Verrin, casting a single glance at Hazel, followed. The pale woman he had summoned faded, and Hemlock slumped to the floor.
“Are you all right?” she said, but he never even looked at her. He stared at the ground as he took in slow, deliberate breaths. She tried to move towards him, but the shadows wouldn’t let her. Instead, she crouched down and peered into the gap below the bookshelf where Chester had disappeared. She put out her hand, not really expecting the mouse to come out, but he did. The shadows didn’t hinder his approach, and he scampered onto her palm. A fragment of black cloth had gotten snagged on his teeth. She prized it free and let Chester run off again.
Hazel pinched the tiny bit of cloth between her fingertips, and they came away with a slight red smudge. A portion of her father’s robe, stained with a drop of his blood.
She spoke a Weaving spell that altered the bit of fabric and made it grow larger and larger until it was almost the size of the palm of her hand. The blood stain hadn’t grown with it, and the mark was so small that, along with the dark color of the cloth, Hazel couldn’t see where it was.
Knowing Ash, he had probably locked Holly up somewhere. It would explain why she had set Chester loose, not being able to get out herself. Maybe she could turn the fabric into a key somehow. Only problem was that she had no way of knowing how the key should be shaped, not to mention that changing cloth to metal would be exceedingly difficult. No, that wouldn’t work.
She pursed her lips. She was still thinking like a Weaving witch. Her Weaving magic hadn’t helped her when Ash had locked her up; she doubted it would help now.
Tired, she sat down on the floor and laid the fabric on the floor in front of her. Then she got an idea.
She spoke a spell similar to the one she had used to summon a familiar when her father had locked her in her room. But for this one, she wove elements of Weaving magic into it. She joined short words, lively and bright, with longer, complicated ones that lived in the shadows of her mind, bending under their own sorrows.
The patch of black fabric formed into the shape of a tiny little man. His body was entirely featureless, except for the two bright eyes that peered at her like pinpricks in paper held up to the light.
“Hello,” Hazel said, tremendously uncomfortable but hoping it didn’t show on her face or come through in her voice.
The little man didn’t respond. He teetered upon one stout leg, then the other. Chester came out from hiding and crept up to him. The mouse’s whiskers twitched as he sniffed at the familiar, and the familiar touched Chester’s nose with a tiny woolen finger. Hazel expected the mouse to run away, but he stayed put and began to wash his face with his paws while the little fabric man tottered unsteady circles around him.
Hazel gently poked the familiar’s chest. The fabric had gone cold, but it gave away at her touch far more easily than any stuffed doll she had ever put her hands on. It was like there was nothing inside but billowing air, cold headwinds whipped over star-soaked snow.
Hazel rubbed warmth back into her finger. “I need you to find Holly,” she said to the familiar. It snapped to attention at her voice, though it still weaved back and forth as if unsteady on its legs. “Follow the mouse, here. He knows where she is. Do what you can to help her. Understand?”
The familiar put its tiny hands together and its eyes flared bright before darkening and blending in with the surrounding fabric. It threw itself across Chester’s back like a sack of grain, and the mouse scampered underneath the door with his burden.
Hazel took a deep breath. The familiar would help Holly—she needed to believe that. And now she needed to focus on Hemlock and figure out how to help him.