Garett Ledwich has been suspicious of me from day one. “I know you’re hiding something,” he’d said, leering.
I’d been in the house for two days and had no friends to speak of, so I did the only thing I could think of and pushed my nose right into his face. It wasn’t easy. He was taller and bigger than me, but I’d learned a thing or two about looking menacing when you’re not. I pushed my shoulders back and raised my chin. “And I know you’re ugly, but I’m not taking offense.”
He swung and I ducked and slammed my shoulder into his guts. He hit the ground, knocking his head against a wooden bench. It made an unsurprising hollow sound. That was where the fight ended, but I’d made a life-long enemy of the Master’s son, which might have been the end of things if he hadn’t also made enemies with every other boy in the house.
Sunset pours orange and pink through the western windows of the library. It illuminates my notebook and exposes thousands of dust motes in the air. They swirl around the end of my pen, racing back toward the darker air where they won’t be forced to reveal themselves. I make careful notes on herbs for foreseeing and hinderseeing annotating each with sketches - fennel and meadowsweet and clove. Between them I draw the face of a girl, my sister, as I remember her with a watchful expression and hair curling away from her shoulders.
When the bell rings six times, the door opens and Master Ledwich enters. He wears no jacket and his sleeves are pushed up to his elbows. Red stains the tips of each of his fingers and I sit up straight. The other four young men in the study do the same. No one misses his fingertips. He hasn’t said a word, but we are attentive as dogs.
“The moon is full tonight. And you are all ready.” His eyes rest on each of us in turn, settling last on me. “Everard, you’re first. The bath is prepared. The rest of you will follow in one-hour intervals.”
I stand, pulling gently on the hem of my vest. “Thank you, Master Ledwich.”
Garett gifts me with a sneer as I pass. “Do us a favor and drown.”
I make no reply. I follow Master Ledwich into the hall where the gas lanterns are dim and light crawls across black mirrors. Any other night, I’d stop and stare into them. But tonight, I keep my eyes on the Master’s back. Our footsteps fall in between the soft ticks of the Grandfather clock. I match mine to his so the rhythm is clean and predictable.
“Everard,” Master Ledwich says without turning around. “Remember to relax. Do not bring expectation into the chamber or you will meet with disappointment.”
“Yes, sir.” I hope I sound more certain than I feel. I’ve been in the house for six months and in all that time I’ve not set foot inside the descrying chamber. It lies below the house, where it is quiet, with a shaft that goes all the way through the house to capture the moonlight. No other light ever touches the chamber because it is only in darkness that one may truly see anything at all. And it is the sole reason I am here. To see her. To find my sister and bring her back.
He gestures to the bath chamber and I leave him in the hall. The room is filled with steam and scents of fennel and orange blossom. They’ll have been added to the bathwater in order to cleanse my skin of any impurities. I don’t relish the thought of smelling fennel in my hair for three days, but it is the first step of the cleansing ritual and I must complete them all if I’m to have any hope of seeing.
I undress carefully and slip into the scalding water. I stay in as long as I can, focusing on the meditation that is meant to clear my mind of thoughts and expectation and my sister. This may be my only chance to prove my worth and I intend to do everything exactly as I should.
I cannot fail her.
When I’m as red as the dye on Master Ledwich’s fingers, I step from the water and dry off quickly. Steam sticks to my skin, keeping me warm and damp as I complete the last steps of the cleansing. Clove oil behind my ears to remind me to listen, a drop of sweet hibiscus on my tongue to seal my lips, and lavender oil over my heart to keep me calm. I am ready, but I let myself linger because it isn’t often that I’m allowed privacy enough to be unfettered by layers of cotton and wool and silk. It feels honest.
And that was my mistake because Garett, too eager to wait his turn, took that moment to open the door.
Cold air rushes in, cutting the steam in half. I scramble to pull one of the descrying robes from the hooks on the wall, but it’s too late.
Garett’s mouth works like a fish gasping for air. His eyes are wide and his cheeks pale as he lifts a finger to point at me. “Everard?” He asks in a voice much softer than I’ve ever heard him wield. “You’re a girl?”
I had suspected Everard was hiding something from the day I met him. Her. But I had never suspected this.
Everard shake her head, no, likes she’s hoping that maybe, just maybe I will believe what I saw was my imagination, but it’s no use. “Yes you are!” I say, though there is no certainty in my voice. “I—I saw you.” The image of her skin, so milky white and soft with pink spots dappled over her chest and collar from the hot water of the bath.
She sprints past me and closes the door with a soft click, sliding a chair in front of it. “So help me Garett Ledwich, if you tell anyone, anyone, you will regret it.”
Myriad emotions roil around inside of me. The most prominent of all is anger. “You lied.”
Her face looks torn. She pulls the robe tightly around herself. “I had to.”
“You had to because you know girls are forbidden! You are not allowed to practice—”
Everard presses her warm lips to mine, her mouth coated with droplets of condensation from the heavy steam that fills the room. She pulls away quickly and I’m left gasping for air like she’s sucked my breath away. “If you tell,” she whispers in my ear, “I’ll tell the Master that you kissed me and you know he’ll be able to see that it’s true.”
My lips tingle, the taste of hibiscus lingering on my tongue. I’m too shocked to say anything to her, but thoughts race in my mind, jumping and tumbling over one another. “I wasn’t going to tell.”
“You—You weren’t?” Everard looks small beneath the descrying robe. When I thought she was a boy her frailty made me want to hurt her, but now it makes me feel strange. Like I need to protect her.
I shake my head. “No. But, Everard, you can not go into the chamber.”
“I’ve done everything correctly.”
“You can fool me and the others in this house, even my father, but you can not fool the spirits.”
“I have to.” Her decision has already been made and it is of no use to attempt to change her mind. She has risked far too much to turn back now. Whatever she wishes to see, it’s of grave importance to her.
“Then I will go with you.”
“You can’t. Only one person is allowed. If she—if they know you’re there, they won’t talk to me. I won’t see. It won't work. You’ve ruined everything!” She pushes the heels of her hands into her eyes. When she pulls them away her eyes are rimmed with red. I’ve never seen Everard cry, and I’ve given her plenty of reasons. I’d always tried to break her, when I thought that she was a boy.
“It also won’t work for a girl. Not in this house.”
She sighs and her vulnerable face is replaced with the determined one she’s always worn. “Why do you want to help me?”
“Because you’re a—because I’m…sorry.”
Everard doesn’t have time to find fault in what I’ve said. A knock at the door makes us both go rigid. “Everard? Have you finished cleansing? The chamber awaits.” My father’s voice comes through the door soft and certain, something I can never be.
Everard straightens her back, thrusting her chin out and her shoulders back. She gives me a firm nod. “Yes, Master. I’m ready.”
Thankfully the path to the chamber is empty. The mind must be clear when the scryer leaves the cleansing bath, and no other persons are to be there to distract. But I’m there and Everard, a girl, is very distracting. She stops at the entrance to the chamber and dips her finger tips into a bowl of red dye. She whispers the grounding chant, the sacred words that will keep her grounded in this reality whilst she visits a realm that is not our own.
For me this does not feel like the reality.
Inside the chamber moonlight bounces off of the black mirrors that line the walls. In the center of the room, one large oval shaped obsidian mirror stands alone, framed in silver that is older than anyone alive can remember.
Everard places one slender finger in the center of the mirror. She leans in close to it so that her lips just brush the surface as she whispers a word that I can’t hear, a word that only she can know. One that binds the mirror to her, insuring that what she sees will be hers alone. I turn my head to the side, feeling like I am invading this private moment.
When she steps away I say, “It won’t work the way you want it to.”
“I know. You’re going to call her for me.” She sits down, gazing into the mirror from an angle so that she can’t see herself. She gestures for me to sit in front of her.
Everard rests her hands, small and cold and delicate, on my shoulders. I tense beneath her touch, fighting with my emotions. She whispers in my ear, her breath smelling of hibiscus brushes my cheek. The fennel and orange in her hair seems oddly out of place there, it sparks some distant flame in my mind. Something I’ve forgotten.
My mouth repeats her words, speaking of secret glances and sacred sights. Images flash across the mirror, swirling clouds of gray and black and dirty white. Everard keeps whispering the chant and I keep repeating.
I’ve never been inside the chamber, not without my father and never during the ritual, but I’ve rehearsed it so many times. The process has been drilled into me by my father since I was old enough to comprehend our legacy. I should feel as though I have done this countless times, but something feels off. Something is not right. I shake the nagging thoughts away, reminding myself that my head needs to be cleared. Forget that Everard is not who’d I’d suspected. Forget that two in the chamber is unorthodox. There will be time to sort it out after this is over. After I help her to find what she’s fought so hard to see.
She stops speaking and after I breathe the last word of the chant I fall silent with her. Images swirl in the black mirror--some hazy, some clear, some simple, and some absolutely terrifying. Everard needs my words and my presence to see. She doesn’t need my eyes. My gaze drops from the images to my hands lying limp in my lap. My finger tips look almost blue beneath the moonlight that paints the chamber walls.
The flickering thought in my mind flares. “Everard,” I whisper so afraid to speak, so afraid to break the spell, but needing to before something terrible happens.
She doesn’t answer me but her fingers dig into my shirt, leaving red fingerprints to crown my shoulder like droplets of blood. But it’s not blood. It is the dye that grounds the scryer to this realm.
“Everard, I haven’t been cleansed.”
The images fly by so fast that I can’t take them all in. They’re confused, like they’re for me, but not for me. Garett didn’t clear his thoughts before we entered. They're clouding my intentions. Spoiling my one chance to find Aurelia. In the glass I see myself naked and dripping in red dye. And then my sister drenched in blood. I don’t know what’s truth anymore.
The images set my teeth on edge. Anxiety is not supposed to be in the chamber but I can’t shut it off. I’m failing. I have failed. My body starts to tremble. I grip Garett’s shoulders and try to stay focused on the vision. He’s whispering to me but I ignore him. I can’t hear his words over the hum in my brain, anyway.
My eyes burn from staring without blinking but I can’t afford to miss anything. Suddenly I tip forward and then just as I thrust my hands out to catch myself, I’m yanked backwards.
“Everard!” Garett shouts at me as he pulls me away from the mirror. He shakes as I try to wrestle away from him, back to the mirror, and I realize the mirror is shaking too. The truth about what happened to my sister is too much for even the mirror to bear.
“No,” I shout, and claw at the ground. The truth is in there and I want it out. I kick back and Garett’s grip loosens. I scramble to the mirror on my hands and knees. I am face to face with what should be my reflection, but it’s Aurelia’s face I see looking back at me. She puts her hand to the glass and I reach up to place my palm against hers.
“Everard, don’t!” Garett’s voice is piercing but I can’t stop. I have to know.
I press my hand to the glass. My sister’s face contorts into something less than human. A grin splits cracked black lips as the thing that’s not my sister laughs. The noise is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. High and keening. The whole room vibrates with the sound. My palm is on fire. It feels like it’s melded to the mirror. Heat, dark and stinging, spreads up my arm and through my veins. I feel Garett’s grip on my shoulders just as the glass starts to quiver.
The crash of dozens of mirrors all fracturing at once fills my ears and then I’m wrenched away, onto the ground. Garett throws his body over mine and the world explodes into a thousand shards of glass.
For a moment there is only silence and the sharp pain of the tiny glass knives stuck in my body. I hear my own ragged breaths, but no others. “Garett?” He makes no sound.
The room is much darker without the moonlight reflecting from the walls. I twist myself out from under Garett. He lies motionless. In the faint light I can see one large piece of the seeing mirror sticking out of Garett’s back. It takes me a moment to recognize my own bloody reflection in the glass.
I want to scream, but the sound won’t come. It’s trapped inside me with the horror that I created. Garett is dead because of me. Just like my sister.
The door to the chamber slams open and the room sparkles with the light from the hall.
The Master takes one look at the glass and stops in the doorway. “Everard?” His eyes catch on the bloody heap of his son. “What have you done?”
“I just wanted to find my sister,” I say. My voice is barely a whisper.
I’m not sure that the Master heard me. He’s looking at Garett, his usually emotionless face full of pain.
I can feel blood running out of my wounds in streams but I don’t ask for help.
The Master’s footsteps crunch as he makes his way to his son. He places fingers to Garett’s neck and goes still. An eternity passes before he speaks again. His voice is soft. “Everard, please go to my office and bring me the grimoire and the small box I keep in the cabinet there.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
His shoulders slump in reply. He leans forward and pulls the shard of glass from Garett’s back. “There’s not time. Go!”
Standing is nearly impossible. I take a deep breath and begin to yank the largest pieces of glass from the backs of my legs. All the while, the Master mumbles words over Garett’s dead body. He doesn’t turn to look at me even when I cry out in pain.
I tread carefully, the combination of my bare feet, slick with blood, and the glass strewn floor makes the trip a slow one. I tell myself I’ll be able to run when I reach the hall. I let myself hope that the Master knows how to save Garett.
I am two steps from the door when the laughter starts. It’s the sound the thing in the mirror made, only much more horrible because it’s not coming from the other side of the glass. It’s right here in this room. I am too afraid to turn around.
The Master shouts, “No!” He starts to say something else but he’s cut short by a sickening thud. The Master makes a gurgling noise and I know without looking that his death is in my hands too.
“Don’t bother, Aveline,” says a voice behind me that is Garett’s, but not. “Garett is gone, but thanks to you, I’m free.”
Photo by photomaker66 via Flickr Creative Commons