Hazel and Holly — Cold, Quintessential Comfort
Previous: Shadowed Dreams
Hazel awoke on the stone floor of the dark cavern near the bank of the pond. Her head ached, and she rubbed it as she sat up and looked around. Ash stood nearby, watching her.
“What happened?” she said. “How did I get here?”
“You went into the pool, remained there for some minutes, then left and lay down there. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Where did I go? What was that place? How…” Her aching head increased to a steady pounding. She took a breath and tried to relax. “How did I get back?”
Ash considered her a moment. “You never left.”
“What are you talking about? I went into the pool and… went through it to someplace else.”
Ash continued to study her, putting Hazel’s nerves on edge. Then a slow smile stretched across his face. “What did you see?”
Hazel’s mouth hung open as she shook her head. “I saw Holly. What do you mean I didn’t leave?”
“Our realm and that of the Keeper of Stars are congruous and yet not. Her realm is meant for spirits and souls, and so only the spirit of your soul went there. The rest of you remained behind.”
Hazel’s body went cold. In a voice equally icy, she said, “What are you talking about?”
“You walked in the realm of Ether, Hazel. You saw the world through eyes of the dead, yet while you are perfectly well and living.” Ash beamed at her and even gave a little laugh. “I wasn’t sure if it would work. The only other living souls to have ever touched this pool had already formally dedicated themselves to the Keeper. One cannot even reach this location until one has done so. But I had my suspicions, and you’ve proven them correct.” He let out a heavy breath and spread open his arms, as if inviting Hazel for a hug, but she remained still. “The Keeper has accepted you. You are well and truly one of us.”
Hazel scrambled to her feet. “I am not one of you! You used me and lied to me! All to prove some theory?! You didn’t think it important to tell me what this pool was, of what would happen?”
“Would it have made any difference if I had?”
“Yes! I would have refused. I would have found another way.”
“Is that so? What is this other way, Hazel? Why didn’t you find another way to talk to your mother after she passed? Or to find the path that led you here? No one made you use necromancy in the basement in the house in Sarnum, or at the windmill in that backwater town. You made the decision to practice necromancy, Hazel. No one else. And you did this because you know, just as I do, that there is no other way!”
“That was different! Those were just spells, they didn’t mean anything. You didn’t tell me that by using the pool here I’d be dedicating myself to your Keeper of Souls. Well, I refuse him, her, it, whatever!”
“You dedicated yourself to the Keeper from the first moment you cast a necromantic spell. The only thing that happened here was that the Keeper has accepted your dedication to her. All spells mean something, Hazel. Do you think our ability to cast magic is an accident? It is a gift from the gods themselves. Most people are completely cut off from doing any magic at all until they undergo a dedication ceremony. Haven’t you ever wondered why everyone doesn’t work magic? Why everyone’s not a witch or a warlock?”
“Yes, but… the dedication ceremonies are just formalities.”
Ash sighed and shook his head. “I see the Grove hasn’t improved in its education. No, Hazel, they’re not formalities. At least not for most. For you, however, they are, and for others like you and me who are born with pure souls. For people such as us, dedication ceremonies are quite meaningless.”
“Pure souls? What are you talking about?”
“We are the ones born with a connection to the Keeper. For us, magic comes naturally, without needing any ceremonies to appeal for a god’s favor. Haven’t you ever noticed you have a capability in schools of magic to which you have not dedicated yourself?”
“I… yes… but I didn’t…”
“And how did you account for that?”
Hazel shook her head, trying to understand everything he was telling her. “I couldn’t.”
“Exactly. Do you understand now why I left? The people of the Grove, though well meaning, are too entrenched in their superstitious ignorance. They refuse to see the world as it is; anything that doesn’t abide by their narrative, they ignore and forbid. And people like us are left to wither on their vine of mediocrity.”
Hazel took a deep breath. “Let’s suppose, for the moment, that you are right. What would my connection with this Keeper of yours have anything to do with my ability to cast Wyr magic, or any other magic than necromancy?”
“Because, my dear daughter, all of the other schools of magic are the foundation of Necromancy. Wyr for Air, Wild for Earth, Hearth for Fire, Weaving for Water—these schools of magic are the bones of creation. Combine them all together and you get something far greater than each discipline could achieve on its own—you get Ether, the soul of creation.”
Hazel shook her head. “No. That’s not possible.”
“Do not fall back on your Grove upbringing and their propensity to outright ignore plain facts. Surely you must have noticed this yourself? What of the potion you created in Sarnum? There are many who would argue that potion making is strictly a Hearth skill. And you are well familiar with Weaving magic, are you not? You must have noticed that some of the necromantic spells you cast are awfully similar, with only an altered pronunciation to separate them. How did you account for that, Hazel?”
Hazel closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe. She had noticed the similarities but had dismissed them. She hadn’t ever wanted to dwell on why she had been able to work necromancy, or what it had meant. “I didn’t account for it,” she whispered.
“This is who you are, Hazel—who you’ve always been from the day you were born. To deny yourself this is like denying yourself air to breathe, fire to warm your skin, water to drink, and food to eat. You are denying yourself the very essence of your existence. Surely you can see the folly in that?”
Hazel opened her mouth to protest, but the words wouldn’t come. Her mind felt numb. She didn’t know what to think anymore—she didn’t know what to believe.
Ash’s expression softened and he gently took her arm. “You are tired. We will return to your quarters.”
Unable to bring herself to resist, she followed Ash as he led her from the chamber.
Back at her quarters, the mirror, basin, and ewer were still on the table, just as she had left them. The poker she had thrown remained on the floor by the bookshelf. No one appeared to have been there.
“You should get some rest,” Ash said. “I’ll have someone bring you dinner when it’s ready.” He backed out of the door, closing it after him.
Hazel stood there. She felt as heavy as a rock and about as useless. She wanted to tell Ash he was mistaken; she wasn’t at all meant for necromancy. It wasn’t who she was. And yet, deep down in her heart, his words sparked a warmth of calm assurance, a familiarity that brought her… comfort. That frightened her more than anything else. She didn’t want to think about it—she couldn’t. It was all too much. She went into the bedroom and lay down, hoping for dreams that would let her forget everything, if only for a little while.
Next: Roadside Meeting