The more time I spend with Hollyhock the more intriguing she becomes. She kills people for a living and has no issue resorting to violence over an insult; yet she’s kind to children, patient and willing to help strangers. She doesn’t even know she’s named after a flower. When I moved my things here to her apartment, I expected some dissent. But she shrugged and went along with it.
This is going to be fun.
“Okay, I’m gonna give you the quick tour. This is the living room and kitchen,” Hollyhock introduces. Her voice is deep and raspy. At first, I thought it was because she was hurt when I met her; but this seems to be her natural voice. She doesn’t smell like she smokes, her teeth and fingernails aren’t yellow either. So if I had to guess, I’d wager that she cried a lot as a baby.
The assassin gestures around, besides my newly transported things, the room is rather plain. White carpet except for the tiled kitchen section, which is also white. I’m not sure what I expected of an assassin's apartment. Something more spartan, perhaps. But this is decidedly...pedestrian.
“Couch. Ottoman. Fridge. Do I have to explain what a fridge is?” She asks. I shoot a look at her.
“I know what a fridge is,” I reply. She’s so silly, like I wouldn’t know what that is. There is one object that confuses me, however. “What is that?” I ask, pointing to a flat, rectangular, black thing. Hollyhock looks at me, at it, and then back at me.
“That’s a TV,” she says. I look at the object.
“It is not, you liar,” I accuse. Hollyhock narrows her good eye at me.
“Are- are you being serious right now?”
“I know what TV’s look like, Holly! They’re not this wide and they have a back thing attached to them.” Hollyhock stares at me before laughing like an idiot. She laughs and laughs and laughs until it starts to irritate me. She puts a hand up in surrender as if I’m doing something to her. Which I’m considering.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh in your face but, that is just too funny. You’re telling me, in your magical hometown, you have TV’s with backs?”
“That’s correct.” She wipes a tear from her cheek.
“TV’s haven’t needed backs in, like, a decade. World’s gotten faster and smarter while needing less space,” she says. Hollyhock picks up a remote and turns on her “TV” and the image of two men arguing displays on it. The image is so clear and defined that it looks as if they're actually trapped in there.
“Great spirits of Arcadia! Look at that.” I press my face against the screen, I can barely see the pixels on it. “This is as good as a scrying dish! Better even, because it’s not wet!”
“Mmhmm,” Hollyhock nods. “That’s what the guy who sold it to me said too.”
“No, I don’t know what a scrying dish is. But yeah, it’s a good TV that I definitely didn’t steal from a mob boss I killed,” she says, which makes me think she definitely stole it from a mob boss that she killed.
“Anyway, here is my bedroom where my own kind of magic happens, if you catch my drift,” she says with a wink. I do. The room doesn’t have a sense of coziness like most bedrooms do. It didn’t think that was possible. Her bed is pressed against the wall in the corner away from the windows. The room is clean and tidy, with dressers and a hamper. Only a few things indicate a personal touch to the room, posters of what I guess are movies, various objects I can’t identify on a desk, and a chair with wheels. And then there’s exercise equipment that dominates one side of the room.
“I’m sure you’re thinking this is too plain for an assassin’s place. So I’m gonna let you in on a secret.” She leads me into the room and approaches the wall. It’s only on a closer look that I realize something is amiss with it. She presses against a spot and a panel opens up. The panel has an indent where she puts her hand. A green light scans the appendage and the panel closes. As it does, a satisfying CLICK comes from somewhere else in the wall. A larger part of the wall recedes and slides to the side. It reveals a hidden room which I’d been expecting to see.
We enter her den of death. The room’s walls are covered in guns, more guns than I knew existed, all manner of knives, and other things I assume can kill people or aid in the endeavor. Hollyhock walks in and approaches a small safe on a table. I explore the weapons on her wall. She has a knife with a raindrop Damascus pattern in its blade. I reach to grab it.
“Be careful, that’s a poisonous blade,” she says without turning from the safe.
“How did you know I’d reach for this knife?”
“It’s the most interesting one there. You’ve made it clear that unique things catch your eye,” she explains. Holly opens the safe and tosses in some of the money her boss gave her.
“What poison is on it?”
“It’s made of thallium if you believe it. Don’t know who worked that into the blade’s edge or how, but it’s nasty stuff. One cut from that and you can ruin someone permanently.” She closes the safe, pulls a knife from her back pocket and puts it on the table, not caring to place somewhere on the wall. “Anyway, that’s the whole tour. C’mon.” As we exit her secret room I realize how much sense the rest of her apartment makes.
She wouldn’t want it to look like a killer’s place. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Like the Bay Leaves headquarters, it presents as ordinary, safe. Only a few know the danger within.
“Okay, I’d hate to seem inhospitable, but I’ve had blood and sweat in my hair all day and I desperately need a shower,” Hollyhock says. She leads me to the living room and grabs the remote. “Guess you can watch TV while you wait.” She changes the screen from whatever was playing to something that asks for an ‘Email and password’. “Hold up a sec,” she says while pulling out her new cellphone. She quickly scrolls for something and puts the phone to her ear. After a moment or two, she starts talking.
“Yo, Larkspur, it’s Holly. Tamara gave me her phone. What was the FlickHub login again?”
“Why would I get my own account when you have one? C’mon now!”
“Oh, so you can use my DriveBai account but I can’t use your FlickHub?”
“Yes, I’ve noticed! You don’t see me being stingy over it, do ya?”
“Thank you. Was that so hard? See ya later.” She hangs up the phone and enters the information she just received. The TV shows a grid of different things. Holly hands me the remote. “There’re thousands of shows and movies on here. You use this to scroll through,” she shows me the corresponding buttons on the remote. “And this to select stuff. Have fun watching!” She turns from me, pulling off her ruined shirt.
My eyes travel down her form, past her scars and tattoos I spy the dimples of Venus. The little divots capture my eyes as they hint at her butt, that I'm trying not to stare at.
‘I’d love to rest my thumbs in them while I-’ I shake my head to get rid of that particular ley-line of thought.
“Let’s not get carried away,” I say to myself. Looking around the room, I realize how rude I’m being. Bringing all my stuff here, so disorganized, cluttering up her space. ‘If the Primus Witch saw this, she’d skin me alive and then feed me my skin.’ I take a moment to organize my belongings which, with a wave of my hand, takes 20 seconds. My things float at my discretion wherever I direct them with my eyes.
Now that the living room is clutter-free, I turn my attention to this fabulous TV.
“There are so many choices to pick from,” I say to myself as I peruse the virtual collection. I pick the with the most interesting cover. A bloody sword with a crown on its crossguard with the title ‘Regicide’. I watch the series for I don’t know how long, but Hollyhock comes out again.
“This show, huh? They need to come out with new episodes already,” she regards what I’m watching. The assassin is wearing a sports bra and some kind of shorts. Now that she’s clean I can take in Hollyhock as she really is. Her skin is a deep brown that reminds me of the cokoaconuts of home. She is scarred all over her body and she augments them with tattoos; calling attention to them rather than drawing focus away.
I’ve seen many tattoos, a lot of which actually move across the skin. But unlike the vain artisans who want to show off their art skills, Hollyhock uses the ink to show herself off. To show what she has survived, the things she's endured and embraced.
‘Gods, I love the way her mind works.’
There are many but my favorites are the ones just above her hips, they look like they're from old stab wounds. Around the thin lines, kiss marks are tattooed in red with striking detail.
In Ironhenge, there isn’t much need for muscle gain as most magic only benefits from muscle conditioning. So Hollyhock is easily the most muscular woman I’ve ever met. The power of her body is evident in every line, curve, and bump. Limbs thick with muscle on her otherwise slim frame and abs you can wash clothes on.
She’s a rather handsome woman. A strong jaw, sharp cheekbones, generous lips, and a nose that I can tell has been broken before. ‘I could fix that.’ Her one good eye is brown like a smoky quartz gemstone, it scans me like I’m an interesting question; which I suppose I am to her. Her hair is void-black, cut short on one side, on the other, it’s shaved like how I see many men wear their hair. A scar interrupts her hairline by her right eyebrow, she has an arrow tattooed on it. My sensitive nose catches the smell of lavender or the crude chemical imitation of it. And the shea butter she rubbed into her skin.
When we both realize we’re staring at each other for too long she flashes a smile at me. She’s missing one of her left molars.
“I’m sure you’re sweaty,” she begins. “Would you like to take a shower?” I’d rather sit and watch this show but I should clean myself.
“Well, aren’t you a welcoming hostess?” I stand while pulling my soap and shampoo to me. Hollyhock watches the objects float through the air; her mind no doubt forming questions. The assassin shows me to her bathroom and instructs me on how to operate it. She leaves me with a towel. I strip off my dress that has collected a fair amount of sweat from me. The small bathroom, having recently been used, smells of Hollyhock. A shelf on the wall has bottles of products I don’t recognize.
‘Are all these hers?’ I step into the shower, the water is already warm as it flows over me. I wash with a soap that not only cleans and keeps my skin moisturized, but heightens the sensitivity of the epidermis. It helps me stay alert to the slightest changes in air pressure, temperature, and other such factors of any magic around me. While I probably don’t need it here in this city, it’s still a habit I’ll maintain. Plus, I like the smell of plumeria it leaves. As I scrub my back I slowly brush my fingers over the large patch of scar tissue between my shoulder blades.
I focus on washing myself rather than the memory that threatens to come to mind. After I rinse the shampoo from my hair, I leave the shower to wrap the towel Hollyhock provided around my waist. With no patience to dry out my long hair, I pull the water with a simple hydrophile spell. The low-level magic barely registers to me as the water forms in an orb that floats above my hand. I toss the orb into the shower and it splashes against the tiles.
When I exit the bathroom Hollyhock is dressed in black jeans and a white tank top. She’s lying across her couch, legs crossed. She looks up from her phone at me.
“So about your dress-” she stops herself to sniff at the air. “What’s that smell?”
“Plumeria, it’s from my soap,” I answer, thinking that’s what she’s referring to. The assassin shakes her head.
“Doesn’t smell like a flower.”
“Oh, that’s my shampoo, it has a Modiamora enchantment on it,” I reply. “It smells different to everyone,” I further explain. “Usually a favorite scent, or something important.” I put some of my gray hair to my nose. “To me, it smells like the jasmine flowers outside my favorite mentor’s house.” I hardly notice the scent anymore. “What does it smell like to you?”
Hollyhock stands up and closes the distance between us.
“May I?” She asks softly and gestures to my hair. I’m so used to people playing with my hair without asking that I’m briefly shocked by the request. Physical touch is quite common in Ironhenge.
‘I suppose here people ask before touching someone’s hair.’
“You may,” I answer, respecting the custom. She slides a callused hand into my hair, lifting a few strands to her nose. A frown forms across her face when she can’t immediately place the scent. She uses her other hand to pick up more of my hair, holding it in her palms like it’s something precious.
The intimacy of this moment is only made more substantial because of how softly she asked me. If she just grabbed it I’m could’ve dismissed this as a playful curiosity. But now this seems deeply personal and I’m a part of it.
Hollyhock nestles more of my hair with great care as if afraid it might break. She takes more fragrance into her lungs, pressing her face with a deep longing to understand it. Warmth spreads throughout my body, especially my face when I remember that I’m standing here in nothing but a towel. Only a few millimeters of cloth separates me and the assassin.
She finally lowers my hair. I’m about to make a joke along the lines of ‘That good, huh?’ when I look at Hollyhock’s face.
She’s crying. Tears roll down her confused face. If she notices them, she doesn’t wipe them away. She just blinks.
This is the same woman who made jokes while she was dying, who fought three men and has probably killed far more in her career as an assassin. Yet, she’s crying in front of me. I can’t help but feel that I’ve witnessed something I wasn’t meant to.
She wipes away the long gone tears.
“What does it smell like?” I cautiously ask.
“It-” her voice hitches a bit, her composure not yet regained. She clears her throat. “It smells like…” she searches for the words, her tongue glides over her top teeth “like a storm after a heatwave? Does that make any sense?” She asks, genuinely unsure herself.
“You don’t know? Is there some moment that fits?” Hollyhock just shakes her head.
“No, I don’t remember ever smelling that before,” even as she says it she sounds unconvinced. I can practically see the gears in her mind turning as she searches for a memory of it. Something akin to fear plays across for her face. Then she looks down at my chest and remembers my state of dress. She takes a step back and her face takes on a neutral expression. Just like that her walls are back up.
“Well, whatever. Your soap smells better anyway.” If I didn’t just see her crying I would believe she wasn’t bothered. But now it’s too late; in the space of twenty seconds, she’s revealed something intensely esoteric about herself without meaning to. Another layer is added to her.
“May I?” I ask. Gesturing to her hair like she did mine.
“You may,” she answers. I step closer. I run my hand through her hair. The tight black coils are still somewhat damp. My fingers idly cruise through as I take in the shape of her head for no real reason. As I explore the shaved part of her hair, I see her eyes dart down for a second to see I’m in a towel. I feel warmth flood into her body. The disadvantage she had me at now becomes my advantage. The short hairs are spiky as I run my thumb over the scar on her temple. I look at her swollen eye.
“I can heal your eye, if you want,” I offer.
“If I have to drink another one of those potions or whatever, I’d rather not.” I chuckle, remembering how her face looked as she drank it.
“No, I can do it with a simple spell. No gross aftertaste.”
“Then please,” she answers. I hesitate for a second.
‘What if they notice? No, it’s small. It should be fine.’ A noise, a beep chimes somewhere, we both ignore it.
Deep purple smoke rolls from my hand. The color of my aura has always caught people’s attention. I picture in my mind what I need to do. Trauma swelling is caused by blood and other fluids rushing to an area of the body to prevent further injury. I seep magic through her pores, cooling the area.
“It kinda tingles. Is it supposed to?” I nod, focusing. Next, I gently push the water, white blood cells, and blood. The swelling reduces immediately.
“Whoa,” Hollyhock says, blinking her fixed eye. “That felt weird.”
“It’ll still be sore, so try not to get punched in the eye again.”
“No promises,” she jokes.
I don’t know if I cupped her cheek or if she turned her head into my hand. Either way, I’m holding her face. This close I notice something for the first time. There are flecks of emerald green in her eyes, small, but there. She has a slight smirk on her face as we hold each other’s gaze. My arm pulls her closer slowly.
A ringtone plays from Hollyhock’s new phone. She clears her throat and we separate while she answers.
“Hello?” This close I can hear the other person.
“Hey Tamara, you get the pictures I sent you?” A woman says in a sultry voice.
“Oh, Koki’O. This is Holly. Tamara gave me her phone.”
“What?!” Koki’O says, annoyed “why didn’t she tell me that?” Hollyhock shrugs.
“Why does Tamara do anything she does? What kind of pics did you send?”
“None of your business.”
“Those kind, huh?” The assassin says with a chuckle.
“Whatever, bye.” The phone call ends. We look through the messages and see pictures of a woman, who I assume is Koki’O, in various stages of undress.
“Yeah, she’s been trying to bump uglies with Tamara for a while now if you know what I mean,” she explains. From the context I do. With the mood changed I decide to change subjects.
“What were you going to say when I came out the shower?” She tilts her head for a second.
“Oh, I wanted to talk to you about your dresses.”
“What about them?”
“You can’t wear them. I mean you can, but no one dresses like that around here and it’s gonna draw attention. And as an assassin that’s not what I’m hoping for.”
“Well, I think that walking around naked would draw more attention. Is that what you’re hoping for?” She quickly looks me up and down again, remembering that I'm in a towel.
“No,” she turns away to pick up a stack of folded clothes and offers them to me. “Here, these should fit you.”
The offering consists of a pair of gray joggers with a drawstring waist, white camisole top, and a blue plaid shirt about four sizes too big. I only know what these things are because of a fashion magazine that somehow made its way into Ironhenge.
“I’m supposed to wear these forever?”
“No, I’m taking you shopping for clothes! So hurry and get dressed.”
Hollyhock, ever courteous, lets me dress in her room. Putting on the clothes, I realize there’s no way that they could fit her. Meaning they belong to someone else.
‘An ex-lover?’ I shove the thought from my head. Hollyhock gives me a thumbs-up when I exit her room. She rolls up the sleeves of the oversized shirt and ties the front into a knot over my navel. Making me look more modern.
“Now about that hair.” With a twirl of my finger, my hair ties itself into a bun. “Perfect.”
We exit her building to her car. While she drives, music blasts from the radio. Nothing I recognize but Hollyhock sings along, occasionally messing up the words.
“I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch!” She has an awful singing voice but the confidence of a world star diva. It’s cute.
After a half-hour drive, we arrive at a boulevard lined with stores on both sides of the street. Hollyhock pulls up in front of a store with a sign that reads “Heartbreakers” in blood red. She turns to me and says,
“Let’s get you some clothes.”
Chapter 4 End.
Bio: I’m a young writer from NYC I want to be a professional writer someday and hope I look good while doing it. I like writing action and romance and even exclusively either. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr for updates and bug me about my stories!