Hazel and Holly — Soup and Secrets, Part Two
Previous: Soup and Secrets, Part One
Holly glanced at Hazel and Hemlock, shrugged, then followed Hawthorn back inside the soup shop.
Hazel stared at them until they disappeared.
Hemlock, without looking at her, said, “What just happened?”
Hazel shook her head. “I have no idea. But maybe we should follow them inside?”
Hemlock continued to stare outwards before his gaze slowly shifted to her. “What?”
She gave him a small smile and then took his hand. “Come on.” She led him back into the shop and to the little room. Ada threw them a quizzical look as they passed by, but said nothing.
Hawthorn took a great interest in his bowl of soup when they entered. Holly sipped from her mug as she glanced between them. Hemlock stood there, staring at the table yet didn’t seem to actually see it. Hazel nudged him, and he started and sat down in a chair.
Holly raised her eyebrows at Hazel, but Hazel just shook her head. Hemlock grabbed a bowl of soup and proceeded to swirl the broth with a spoon, staring at the food as if divining its contents.
Hazel pulled one of the bowls over. It was a thick chowder, both warm and filling. “So, Hawthorn,” she said as she ate. “What was it you were going to tell us about the Grove? Some history with Sarnum?”
Hawthorn looked up at her, then glanced at Hemlock, but his brother kept his gaze on his own soup. Hawthorn cleared his throat. “Yes. Well. Long ago–”
“How long?” said Holly.
“Um, several hundred years.”
“Then you should say that.”
“Holly…” Hazel said.
Hawthorn raised a hand. “Several hundred years ago, there was no Grove, and there was no Sarnum. There wasn’t much of anything really, just small townships and communities, each paying homage to their own patron god or goddess.”
“What kinds of gods and goddesses?” Holly asked.
“The same ones we pay homage to today. The Ladies of the Sky and Sea, and the Lords of the Trees and Sun. Yet there was another that we in the Grove have long since forgotten: The Shapeless One, The Nameless Father, The Barren Mother, Keeper of the Stars and Siphoner of Souls.”
“A lord of necromancy?” Hazel said.
“Some say a Lord, others say a Lady. Some say that its neither, a being that’s transcended beyond the limitations of gender. But it’s not necromancy that it guides, it’s ether, the element of the Otherworld, that intangible substance that permeates us all and cannot be measured. That is the element that guides necromancy, just as air guides Wyr, and fire guides Hearth. And the Shapeless One is the deity of that element.”
Hemlock came out of his stupor and stared at Hawthorn. “You’ve studied necromancy?”
“I’ve studied the theory of it, but never the practice. Father forbade it, but he said it wouldn’t do to be wilfully obtuse. Necromancy exists in the world, and the best way to fight it is to understand it.”
Hemlock stared at him. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Hawthorn caught him in a level gaze. “Would you have wanted to know? Would it have helped your estimation of me to know that I studied these things?”
Hemlock said nothing and looked back down at his soup.
“What does this have to do with the Grove and Sarnum?” Hazel asked.
“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that necromancy is a grim discipline. It focuses on manipulation of spirits and the dead, of the darkness that seeps into the cracks of the world. Yet for all its grimness, it’s highly complex. It’s similar to Wyr magic in that regard. And, like with the Wyr discipline, there are many who thought–that continue to think– that the discipline’s complexity makes it superior. This was further compounded by the nature of the discipline’s element. Ether: the fifth element. Quite literally quintessential. This brought about the mindset among necromancers that there are only two types of people in the world: those who practice necromancy, and those who are too inept to do so.
“As you can imagine, all this was not met well with non-necromancers. Regardless of the deity one pays homage to, respect still needed to be afforded to all. Equally. But necromancers continued to disparage and disregard the other deities of the other elements. An unmendable rift formed among the people, until the only recourse was to split from the necromancers. Those who followed the ways of earth and air, water and fire, headed north and settled in what is now the Grove. The necromancers remained behind and built their walled city so that they could practice their dark arts in quiet seclusion.
“It was decided long ago in the Grove to forbid necromancy in all forms, fearful of repeating past events. Father always thought it foolish. That only through ignorance will the errors of the past be repeated, but he never spoke out about it. He just taught me in secret instead.”
“I suppose can see why he and Pyrus were friends,” Hazel said.
Hawthorn nodded. “Indeed. I never knew Pyrus’ thoughts on the matter, he left the Conclave before I joined. But it does make sense.”
“But how does this help us?” Holly said. “What does it mean that Hazel can work necromancy on her own?”
“It’s difficult to say. There are some avid followers that might say she’s been chosen by the Shapeless One.”
“What?” Holly said. “That can’t be true.”
Hawthorn shrugged. “I doubt it is. I’ve never been fond of such literal representations of the Divines at any rate. But there are some who believe it.”
“But I had also worked Wyr magic before I learned about it,” Hazel said. “Does that mean I’ve been chosen by the Lady of the Skies as well?”
“I have no explanation for your magical aptitude. But if I were to wager a guess, I’d say you’re better at intuiting the nuances that each discipline has. There are similarities between them. Perhaps you are just better at making the leaps between the gaps than most people are.”
Holly beamed at him. “You think she’s good at magic. What happened to ‘Wyr magic is for the men-folk’ nonsense?”
Hawthorn shifted in his chair. “It was a position I had not been challenged on until your sister. Prior to that, I believe I was quite accurate in my assessment.”
Holly snorted. “You were wrong, you can admit it.”
“Go on,” Holly poked him, “admit it.”
Hawthorn took a breath and fixed his gaze on the ceiling. “I suppose I was wrong,” he mumbled.
Holly grinned like she had just snagged a pie from a windowsill. “There, now. That wasn’t so hard.”
Hawthorn kept his gaze upwards as he shook his head.
“What happened to the scattered communities and townships?” Hazel asked. “Do they still exist?”
“I believe some do, yes. Though I’ve never been to any town outside the Grove other than Sarnum.”
“Can we go to one?”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll ask Ada, she might know where the closes township lies.”
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