Hazel and Holly — Summoning Visions
Previous: A Reluctant Ally
Hazel got up from the table and backed away. Ash got up with her. She wanted to leave, but she dared not. She could not—not after leaving Holly and Hemlock the way that she had. They’d likely never forgive her for that.
“You’re lying,” she whispered, but the words felt hollow. Somehow, she knew her father spoke the truth, and that frightened her more than she wanted to admit.
Ash’s expression softened, as if he knew she understood. “You know that I’m not.”
Hazel closed her eyes against the memories that surfaced. The windmill where she had found the enigmatic message with a lock of Willow’s hair. The abandoned house with the pristine alchemical table in the cellar. The first time she had summoned her mother’s aspect in that abandoned cottage back in the Grove.
She shook her head, trying to dispel the unwanted memories, but they wouldn’t go. They lodged themselves in her mind, demanding to be looked at, to be understood. Hazel clenched her eyes shut tighter for one more treasured moment, then opened them and looked at Ash. “You planted all those things there for me to find. At the windmill, at that house.”
Her father smiled. “Yes.”
Hazel fought down her rising anger at his pleased expression. “Including Mother. Did you…” She swallowed. “Please tell me you didn’t trap her soul in a geas for me.”
“I didn’t do it for you,” he said quietly.
Hazel studied him, looking for any sign of falseness, but he gave none. “Then why did you do it?”
Ash averted his gaze and shuffled his feet. He looked uncomfortable. “It is not always an easy thing to understand one’s own mind and heart. To confess the truth, I cannot say for certain why I did it.”
“That’s not good enough,” Hazel said. “There has to be more than that.”
Ash scowled at her. “Of course there is more. A great deal more. So much so that one is hard pressed to make much sense out of the emotional racket going on in one’s mind. I left your mother. I was through with her, and yet…” He shook his head. “Can we ever truly leave those we love behind? Can we live the entirety of our lives without them, either in presence or in thought?”
Hazel stiffened her back. “You tell me. You’ve had more experience than me in that regard.”
Ash gave her a cool look. “Yes, to my great regret. But you know the answer already. That you stand here now is all the answer either one of us needs.”
Hazel and her father shared a tense, silent moment as they regarded each other.
“How did you do it, then?” Hazel asked. “If you can’t tell me why, then tell me how.”
Ash frowned, looking mildly puzzled. “I’m afraid the practical application of such spells are much too advanced for you to understand right now. You are gifted, Hazel, but some things remain beyond your understanding.”
Hazel clenched her hands. “I don’t care about the spell! How did you know she was sick? How did you even have the opportunity to do what you did?!”
Ash regarded her silently for a moment. Then he said, “Come with me,” and walked to a door hidden behind a tapestry depicting a forest scene populated with woodland animals dining under a twilit, summer sky.
Hazel followed him into a darkened hallway illuminated only by a single flickering blue light at the far end. After the hallway they turned left and walked a few steps further to another door that Ash pushed open. It led to a chamber that looked to be a combination of a workroom and library. There were benches and desks littered with piles of papers and an occasional bowl or ewer or other receptacle for holding water. Tall bookshelves lined the walls to the left and right, but straight ahead the wall was bare.
Ash walked to the barren wall and to a table bearing a single tallow candle, a mirror, a wide shallow bowl, and a tall silver ewer. He turned to Hazel. “You are familiar with such implements, I am sure. They are quite similar to the magic you performed to summon the aspect of your departed mother.”
Hazel flinched despite her efforts to remain calm and collected. He hadn’t told her anything she hadn’t already known—she had realized herself that each time she had called upon her mother at each new moon that she had performed necromantic magic, even if she didn’t understand how she had managed to do it. But it still shocked her to hear him say it out loud, like she had just crossed a bridge that had now collapsed into a endless chasm behind her.
Hazel cleared her throat, struggling to collect her thoughts. “I’m not familiar with the mirror or candle,” she finally managed to say and almost immediately regretted it. Was she really going to discuss necromancy with her father?
Ash nodded. “The flame from the candle serves as a beacon that leads a soul through the Void with its light and warmth.The water poured from an ewer to a bowl serves a similar purpose and helps a soul to navigate between worlds. It is drawn to the source of life that water brings, as well as to the sound, though there are some necromancers who will argue that point. The mirror is often used to capture the soul’s aspect, so that they cannot leave before bidden.” He squinted at her. “I’m curious, if you did not use a mirror, what did you use to get your mother to stay? And you must have had a flame of some sort, somewhere.”
Hazel’s mouth worked soundlessly a while. She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation. “Cake,” she whispered. “I crumbled some cake. And lit a fire in the hearth.“
Ash smiled. “Ah. Cake is a much gentler form of coercion. The dead are often drawn to objects that remind them of life, which could be any number of things. A favorite article of clothing, the smell of a certain flower. Or a particular food. Such coercive elements would never be strong enough to bind more willful souls, but for your mother and the connection you shared with her… yes, cake would work splendidly.” He smiled again. “Well done.”
Hazel looked away. She wanted to tell him she hadn’t done it for him, and that she didn’t care for his opinion of her. But his words lit in her a spark of unexpected pride and she realized that, even now after all this time, after everything that had happened, she still cared what he thought of her. In that moment, she found herself happy to have pleased him. And that made her ashamed.
Silence lingered between them as Hazel stared at one of the shelves of books. Out of the corner of her eye, Hazel could see Ash watching her even though he remained silent. She didn’t want to let him see her shaken, to let him know the effect his words had had on her. So she forced herself to look at him. “Why am I here?”
“Given you’ve never employed a mirror in summoning the aspect of your mother, I can only assume you’ve not yet discovered the nuanced magic between summoning aspects and summoning visions.”
Hazel frowned and looked at him, momentarily forgetting her discomfort in her desire to understand. “Visions?”
Ash nodded. “It’s all very similar, the only practical difference between the two spells is the use of the tallow candle. While it could be said the flame represents the spark of a soul, it’s the fat within the candle itself that we are in need of here. The fat represents substance, flesh, and serves as such in place of the person you are… ah… compelling to manifest visually. This vision can be observed in either the mirror or the basin. But I recommend the mirror, as I find looking upon visions in pools of water most tedious.”
Hazel stared at him in open horror. “Compel? Do you mean to tell me that by simply using a tallow candle in your spell, you have power over living people? That you can coerce them into doing what you want just as you would the dead?”
Ash tilted his head. “Theoretically speaking, yes. But, truthfully, it is more complicated than that. The living bear exceptionally strong wills that are not easily manipulated. Most often such spells will only cause nightmares for the person in question. In other cases the person will retaliate in the most remarkable and unexpected ways upon the spellcaster. There is a well-known anecdote of a man who cast such a spell upon his wife who had run away with another man and compelled her to return. His wife came back to him, burned down his house, stole his valuables and livestock, sold them at the local market for a hefty sum with which she then used to purchase a respectable property for herself and her new-found lover.” He chuckled. “It is a dark sort of magic that is best left well alone. This spell is only reliably used for visions, nothing else.”
Hazel wrinkled her nose. “Dark? And what would you call necromancy? Slightly shady?”
“Necromancy is only dark in the way that sunlight produces shadows. It has dark elements, yes. But it also has light. This is what those in the Grove refuse to acknowledge to everyone’s detriment.”
Hazel closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe. She didn’t want to argue about this with him—she didn’t want to waste what little energy she had in trying to convince him to give up on a belief he had held dear for so long. “What did you want to show me?” Maybe if she went along with him–for a little while at least–he’d be more willing to cooperate with her.
Ash spoke a spell—was it a Hearth spell?—and lit the candle. He then poured some water into the basin and, leaning over it, said, “Holly.”
Hazel’s chest tightened as the air seemed to thin. A mist passed across the surface of the mirror, though there was no mist in the room. Then the haze cleared, and there she saw Holly sitting in a carriage, her hair tousled and her rosy cheeks more flushed than usual from fatigue. Hazel bit her lip as tears stung her eyes. Part of her wished she had never left her sister, that she had never left home, that she had never once needed to know the burden of responsibility. She wished she could stand there now, convinced she had made the right decision, but she couldn’t.
In a harsh tone, she said, “So, you’ve been watching us then? All this time?”
“On occasion, yes. Just to see how you and your sister were doing. To see… how your mother was doing. That’s how I knew she had fallen ill.”
“And so you trapped her soul. Now you get to keep her forever, just like you wanted.”
He looked away. Quietly, he said, “It is a sort of living, isn’t it? Isn’t it better than the cold void of death? Isn’t it better than being lost forever?”
“It’s not right. And it’s not what she wants.”
A strange, soft expression fell over Ash’s features. For a moment, he looked on the verge of remorse, of letting go at last to shed long-suppressed tears. But then his expression hardened and he turned back to Hazel. “Let us ask her ourselves what she wants.”
Next: Return to the Shrine