Hazel and Holly — Shadowed Depths, Part One
Previous: An Imparted Plea
Hazel followed Ash through the long stone corridors, her mind racing as she tried to figure out what she had done, what was coming next. That she had asked her father for help shouldn’t have meant much of anything at all. But his smile had been entirely too smug, and the hush that had hung in the breakfast chamber entirely too ominous.
What, exactly, had she done?
They passed through lengths of corridors, down flights of narrow stone stairs, and through countless nightwood doors. They descended until the gaps in the stone that showed glimpses of sunlight stopped, and they were left only with the sconces of cold, flickering blue flames for light, and the bone chilling damp for comfort.
“Where are we going?” Hazel asked. She had hoped they would leave the mountain, but that possibility lessened with each downward step.
“You will see,” Ash said.
Down and down they went. The sconces became fewer and far between. When they ended, Ash spoke a spell that made the lichen clinging to the stone walls glow. The light, though dim, was sterile and harsh—a dead kind of light in which nothing could grow. It turned Ash’s skin pallid and the hollows of his eyes to shadows. Hazel must look as ghastly. The skin of her hands had turned pale and translucent, marbled with black veins like ink-stained webs.
They came to a narrow corridor with roughly hewn walls as if carved with a spoon. Then a door—smooth and black just like all the others. They passed through it into an unlit chamber.
The air remained damp and cold, but it had turned fresher somehow, smelling like copper and salt and mulching leaves. The glowing lichen did not follow them here, and when Ash closed the door behind them, he and Hazel stood in complete darkness.
“You must create a light, Hazel,” he said.
“Because this is your journey.”
“What are you talking about?”
But all Ash said was, “A light. Please.”
Hazel took a deep breath and summoned a little glowing moth, but the light it emitted was feeble and strained. She held out her hand and the moth fluttered to it, illuminating her fingers but nothing else.
“That is not the correct light,” Ash said. “You know it is not.”
Hazel supposed she did know. She let the moth linger on her fingers a moment longer, and a sadness settled over her. Hemlock had taught her that spell.
Her sadness sharpened that made her breath catch in her throat. Then, closing her eyes, she uttered a different spell—one she had taught herself in the darkened depths of a basement not unlike this chamber.
A circle of blue flames flared alight before her, trembling in the shadows as if buffeted by a breeze. They flared outwards to illuminate a cavern with walls as roughly hewn as the passageway beyond the door. Nearby, a pool of water lay like a shard of blackened ice. All else remained shrouded in shadows.
Hazel edged her way over to the pool. The water remained still—no waves or ripples to indicate it was fluid. Perhaps it had frozen. She took care as she navigated across the stone floor, not wanting to slip on any patches of ice that might be lurking underfoot.
When she reached the water, she leaned over it, but it did not give her reflection. She tapped the tip of her foot against its surface and nearly lost her balance when the water gave way and its glassy surface broke into a languid ripple. After she removed her foot, the water stilled and regained its perfect placidity.
“What is this place?” Hazel asked.
“This place has no real name, or perhaps too many to count. People come here for different reasons, and accomplish different things.”
“People,” Hazel said in a flat voice. “You mean necromancers.”
“That is a distinction you draw, Hazel, not I.”
“Why are we here?”
Ash fell silent a moment. “I suppose that will be for you to decide. I view this place as both a promise as well as its fulfillment. But what that promise is, and what it will fulfill, depends on the person in question. It depends on you, my daughter. I cannot say much more than that.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
He tilted his head. “A measure of both, I suppose. This place defies description. Yet even if I could describe what you might expect within the pool, I don’t think I would.”
He smiled. “Where is the fun in that?”
Hazel scowled at him. “We’re here to find Holly, not have fun.”
“And you can use this place to find her, if that is what you desire. But the potential—both within you and within this chamber—is much, much greater than that. I hope you will not waste this opportunity. The times one is allowed to use this space is… limited.”
“Because the power—the magic—that infuses this place has decreed it so. Most are only allowed one visit here—their first. After that, it is sometimes possible to use this chamber in times of great need, but that is not always the case. We do not truly understand it ourselves. But it is accurate to say that you will more than likely never get this opportunity again.” He moved away into the shadows.
Hazel remained by the pool as her father’s words of potential and wasted opportunities floated in her mind. She didn’t know what he expected of her—what he thought would happen here. She didn’t even know what she expected of herself.
Hazel took a deep breath to clear her mind. None of that mattered. Whatever Ash expected or wanted to happen here didn’t matter. She needed to help Holly and find out what had happened to Hemlock and Hawthorn.
She focused on the water—its smooth, glass-like surface reminded Hazel of a mirror, especially since the water refused to giver her reflection as Ash’s mirrors had. She could probably use it like a mirror and view Holly through it like she had before. But Ash’s words of wasted opportunity rang in her ears. Was she thinking too simply? She didn’t need to see Holly, she needed to help her.
Hazel turned around as she searched for her father in the shadows, but she couldn’t see him. Was he still there or had he left?
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she called into the darkness, but no reply came. Not even an echo. Hazel’s confusion dissolved into annoyance. She wasn’t a necromancer—she was a Weaving witch and a Wyr witch. Those were the types of magic she understood. Those were the spells she had been educated in. That she had been able to cast necromantic spells at all was an unexplainable oddity that Hazel wanted to ignore, not encourage.
Of course, things rarely worked out that way.
Hazel turned back towards the water and sighed. She tapped her foot on the surface again, watching with a strange satisfaction at the way the water rippled from her foot. Its slow, easy movement had a look of thick cream rather than water, or an aspic just before it sets.
She knelt down and put her fingers into the pool. The water was cool but not frigid as she had expected. But it felt like water should and didn’t cling to her fingers like a thick cream would. Small, gentle rings radiated from her fingertips, carrying across the entirety of the vast pool like wind over a grassy field.
In the wake of the ripple her fingers had caused, a blue light appeared in the water. Hazel looked up and there, in the dense shadows that served as a ceiling, floated one of the blue flames she had summoned. Yet in the water the light within the pool gave off its own illumination. She could make out a silhouette of a tree and a rock, but then the water stilled, and the reflection faded.
A few moments passed as she stared at the pool, thinking. Then she altered her spell and all the lights she had summoned joined the single one above the water. They floated like cottonwood seeds, wayward and lazy.
She put her fingers in the pond and flicked the water. As the liquid rippled, the lights appeared in the water’s reflection, illuminating a shadowed forest. Silhouettes of darkened trees plunged deeper into the shadowed depths of the water, reaching towards a sable sky with sapphire flames for stars.
As the water stilled, the scene before Hazel faded. She flicked the water again, and the dark forest returned in sharp clarity. A curious thought entered her mind. This wasn’t a reflection—this was real. At that moment, the world within the water looked more real to Hazel than the world in which she currently found herself. It filled her heart with an aching longing, soothed only by allowing the cool liquid to lap at her ankles, her thighs, her waist, until finally it eclipsed her head. And she was made whole.