Hazel and Holly — Stained Glass Memories, Part Two
Previous: Stained Glass Memories, Part One
Hazel made a fist over the basin and let her blood drip into the crystalline water that bloomed like a drowned rose. Ash did nothing to stop her. Instead, he smiled a self-satisfied smirk, as if to say he never doubted this moment, as if to say I told you so.
Hazel clenched her hand and the gentle drip-dropping of her blood turned into an irregular patter as it seeped between her fingers and stained her fist. It was like she had a second heart, and this one would pump her blood into the world, infusing it with her life and her will.
Ash’s smug complacency infuriated her. She would not be his pawn and play into whatever plan he had for her—she would find her own way.
Hazel grabbed the bowl and flung the bloody water out across the room. It splattered against books and shelves, tables and chairs; against unbound papers, bowls and ewers and flickering blue flames that hissed against the liquid but did not extinguish. Then she spoke a spell—the same spell she had used to bring the swatch of fabric to life. Only this time she put all of herself into it, this time she gave it everything.
Wooden tables transformed into svelte horses and deer with long arched necks and grain-marbled bodies. Books turned into ravens, peacocks, and swans all with yellowing parchment feathers that rustled like blood-encrusted silk. Silver bowls turned into giant beetles with muted, tarnished carapaces and beveled legs that clicked and clacked against the cold stone floor. Mirrors grew into vast windows that looked onto a foreign night with stars that flitted like fireflies in a bruised plum sky among three golden moons. Bookshelves became broad-shouldered guardsmen in oaken armor bearing sheathed broadswords. Their faces were toothless and grim, yet they showed a careful tenderness among the aged vellum birds that flocked around them. Snakes of blue flames slithered from the sconces on the walls and gathered around Hazel’s feet, pulsing with wavering light as they waited.
Ash smiled. “Finally. Now you see.”
Hazel tightened her jaw. Attack, she thought, and without needing to utter the words, her creations turned upon her father. The oaken men unsheathed their swords, the snakes slithered forward; the deer and horses, beetles and birds all flapped and pranced and scurried towards him. The windows showed black expanses devoid of stars and moons.
Ash lifted his hands, spoke a spell, and all of Hazel’s creations froze in place.
“Your blood is my blood, daughter. Your magic is my magic.” He waved his hands, and her creations returned to their original forms. With another spell, shadows pulled themselves from the walls with long, sinuous arms that resembled rivulets of spilled ink.
If her magic was his magic, then his was hers. She spoke a dispelling incantation, but nothing happened. She altered the spell, weaving warped and shadowed words into it, but still nothing.
Heart pounding, she took a labored step back. A shadow reached towards her and its inky fingers brushed against her skin, cold and stinging. She didn’t know how to undo her father’s spells as easily as he had undone hers. And she couldn’t think, not with shadows twining around her, smelling cold and crystalline like a frozen lake in a desolate winter’s night.
A light erupted in the room, and the shadows momentarily paled. In the corner, Hawthorn stood and supported Hemlock as he leaned upon him. Hemlock’s face was still pale and haggard, but he fixed Hazel in an intent gaze, his mouth moving as worked a spell. Hawthorn’s gaze was fixed on Holly. She stood there, eyes wide as she clenched her skirts with white-knuckled fists. Then, shifting her gaze to Hazel, it was like she remembered herself. She stood tall and tilted her head back, and she unclenched her hands from her skirts as she worked a spell of her own.
The cold blue flames in the sconces extinguished, replaced by warm, living flames of candlelight. This light, along with the light Hemlock created, washed out the shadows until they were nothing more than pale silhouettes.
Ash’s mouth tightened. He walked over to the door and opened it, and the necromancers from earlier filed in, followed by their familiars.
“We’ve toyed around long enough,” he said to Hazel. “We are not here to test our proficiencies in magic. You have made your choice. It’s time to follow through on that.”
Ash inclined his head. “To take up the robes of Necromancy, as you were always meant to do. Before, you held yourself back. But now, you have shown me you are ready. Do not refuse me this, Hazel. Not with your sister here, and others you care about. Let us conduct ourselves civilly, for the good of all.”
Hazel’s stomach tightened until she felt sick. She had never wanted to involve the others in this; she had never wanted to put them in danger. And yet, they were. Again. All because of poor decisions she had made. Again. For a moment, Hazel was tempted to grant her father’s request. To do whatever it took to send the others away and assure that they would be returned to the Grove, unharmed. But then Holly’s intent stare caught her eye. Her sister didn’t speak, but the scowl she wore and the dark gleam in her eyes conveyed her meaning as well as words ever could. Don’t you dare.
Hemlock and Hawthorn wore similar expressions, willing her to a course of action that went unuttered.
Don’t you dare.
A strange kind of relief settled over her. Hazel didn’t want to send them away; she had never wanted to do any of this alone. She had only wanted to do what was right, even when she hadn’t understood what that meant. She had always thought it her responsibility to shoulder the weight of everything, to fix every problem, to make sure she did whatever needed to be done. No matter what. Maybe that had once been true, when Holly had been too young to care for herself, their father gone, and their mother too taken up with her own problems to help solve the ones of her daughters. But now she had others who she cared about—and who cared about her—to help bear the burden. If she would let them.
Swallowing the lump rising in her throat, she drew herself up and faced her father. “You don’t get to decide what I’m meant to do. Just like you don’t get to decide what to do with Mother’s soul. She’s not yours to keep. You need to let her go.”
Ash’s expression softened and his gaze drifted over to Willow where she stood in a corner of the room, her form translucent like a reflection on glass. “I’ve never gotten her to stay before, without the mirror.” His voice was soft and distant, as if he spoke to himself. Then he sobered and he returned his focus to Hazel. “Perhaps we are too alike, you and I. Just as you refuse my advice on your choice of actions, I must also follow my own heart. We must each choose our own path. I had only hoped that ours would converge, even if only briefly.”
Hazel winced inwardly. She wished his words hadn’t caused a constricting pain in her heart; she wished that, deep down, she hadn’t hoped for the same. But, despite the similarities they shared, they were too different; the worlds they occupied too incompatible. “And they have, but that brief moment is over, now. It needs to be over.”
Ash nodded, his eyes sad. “And perhaps, under normal circumstances, it would have been. But now…” he shook his head. “It’s quite impossible.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve come to the Sea of Severed Stars, Hazel. All of you. This is a hallowed place, where only dedicated Necromancers are allowed to come. That you would dedicate yourself to Necromancy, I held no doubt. It was a simple matter of time. But your refusal complicates that, as does the presence of your sister and your friends.”
“You intended to trap me here?” Hazel wished she felt surprised, but she didn’t, and that broke her heart.
“I intended to set you free here.”
“And Holly. Were you going to set her free as well?”
“She—they—” he flung a hand at Hemlock and Hawthorn “weren’t supposed to come here, but what choice did I have? What was I supposed to do? Ignore them? Let them inflict their damage and ruin my reputation? The others in Sarnum weren’t at all pleased with their trespassing on the Shrine. If I hadn’t stepped in and had them brought here, then who knows what would have happened to them.”
“Yes, I’m sure they’d love to thank you for exchanging one prison for another.”
“Damn it, Hazel! You don’t get to judge me! Not after everything you’ve done to get here. Not after you’ve spilled your blood to make sure you get your own way. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I know that had you been in my place, you would have done the exact same thing. That you refuse to acknowledge this doesn’t change the truth of it. But I’m tired of arguing, and I learned long ago how to live with the consequences of my choices. It’s about time you did the same.” Ash spoke a spell, and the candle light Holly had summoned extinguished, and the room was plunged into darkness.
Next: Before the Fall