The Parable of Bone Ash
People were going missing at an alarming rate. Warring factions kidnapped each other’s children, leaving them with questions about their well being and location. Those who were in debt were often taken from their homes in the dead of night, never to be seen again.
Nasma and Siraj were neither at war or in debt. Mother and daughter lived within their means and worked hard for the little they had. They never quarreled, choosing instead to keep their nose to their work and not concern themselves with the dealings of others. But they were especially cautious because they came from a long line of witches and wizards, most of whom met messy ends. Although they were healers and the people of the village were grateful to them, they were never deluded into thinking that they would not be sold off if they made one wrong move.
When Siraj was lost in the crowded market, her mother did not think anything of it. She even thought that it was a good thing, them splitting up to sell their cloth, making more of a profit than if they were together. But, when the market ended and she still had not found her, she grew concerned. It wasn’t until she found Siraj’s basket, the contents strewn about as if she had been ripped from them, that Nasma knew something terrible had happened to her daughter. In a fit of distress and panic, she called out, the force of her scream rattled a few trees. When Siraj did not appear, Nasma ran home, hoping to find her there. Their home was the same as they’d left it in the morning, not reflecting the panic that seized her. She tried to sleep, hoping that Siraj would show back up. But Nasma did not sleep, and Siraj did not return.
Nasma decided that every moment she spent waiting, something terrible could be happening to her daughter. She packed a few belongings and set out to bring her daughter home. She visited many villages, setting up shop as a traveling healer. For each person she came in contact with, she would search their mind, looking for even a glimpse of her daughter. Closing her eyes, she would walk through the person’s memories. Most of these searches were filled with mundane, everyday activities. In some minds, there would be no memory, but just the feeling of unimaginable loss, similar to her own.
The last village she encountered was on the coast. She had never seen somewhere so busy. The shore was lined with boats of all shapes, and in the distance, she could see the outline of much larger ships, too far out for this body of water to just be a river. She was unsure of how long she had been traveling, but she never slept well, always waking from a nightmare of her daughter enduring horrible torture. She bolted upright when someone stumbled into her makeshift clinic. The man looked like he, too, had traveled a great distance without a care of his outward appearance. The only difference between them is that he reeked heavily of something rancid. He sat across from her clumsily, offering her a tormented half smile, which revealed a jagged scar that started from his temple and disappeared under his chin.
“You look like death,” he croaked, and she thought his breath smelled worse than the rest of him. She scowled at his tattered tunic and trousers, something that was at odds with her own faded red and yellow wrap-around. Dirty tufts of coarse, kinky hair pushed out of his cap and his feet were blistered, leaving bloodstains on her mat.
“At least I smell alive,” Nasma shot back. The man smiled again before his face went blank and his eyes widened and Nasma felt the air around them grow heavy.
“You will be reunited with your lost treasure, but it will be your undoing.” His voice filled the room as if the air was delivering the message and not the man who spoke the words. “But your sacrifice will not be in vain, for a new dawn will rise from your ashes.” Nasma peered into his mind, and she saw a village on fire, ghosts dragging people into the night and felt loss but also overwhelming guilt. She came face to face with a ghost with dark hair and eyes the color of the ocean she left in the real world.
Before she could ask what he meant, the room shifted again and everything was the way it was before. The man’s crooked smile was back on his face as he looked around the tent as if he didn’t know how he got there. From a satchel he pulled out a bundle of dried flowers, placing them in front of Nasma.
“Burning these will help you sleep,” he tells her. Without waiting for her to respond, he leaves. Despite her reservations of the strange man who had wandered into her tent, she did as instructed that night.
It was the first night she had a pleasant dream of her Siraj. She was face to face with her, watching her sleep. She could see everything: her wild hair that she always had to struggle to put into plaits, the freckles that had grown in number since the last time she had seen her, the scars, fresh and healing, that littered her arms and shoulders. Nasma couldn’t help but reach out and touch her, nearly weeping with joy. She watched as Siraj’s eyes fluttered open.
Nasma tried to open her eyes, only to realize that they were already open. Their reunion was quiet but tearful. Siraj told Nasma of all the terrible things that happened to her, only for Nasma to realized that she had seen most of them. Siraj also told her mother that they were a long way from home, that she had taken a boat to get there. Nasma tells her that she can bring them home, but Siraj shakes her head.
“I have been bound to this land,” she whispered. “The Man made sure to suppress the magic of any wizards he brought over.”
“Who’s The Man?”
“The Overseer.” Siraj then leaned in so that only her mother could hear her. “He’s also a wizard.”
Nasma realized that her task would not be as easy as she thought. At that moment, a bell chimed and everyone else in the shack stirred. Siraj begged her mother to stay in the cabin, out of sight of the masters and The Man. Nasma used the time she had to herself to put a protective spell on the cabin. Night fell and Nasma was left, yet again to wonder where her daughter was. When she heard her scream outside, she ran to her aid. In a clearing, she saw Siraj, being held by her hair by a very disheveled man in the same odd clothing that the seer had. As she marched towards him, she noticed that he was carrying the same bottle the seer had.
“I saw what you could do,” he slurred loudly. “Travelled all that way in a dream? You are much stronger than she is.” With that, he tossed Siraj to the side and pulled a long, thin wooden stick from his trousers. Nasma stopped short. The ghost she saw in the seer’s mind was the same one that stood before her now.
“With you, I could double the yield of the harvest.” He flicked the stick in Nasma’s direction and a red light shot towards her. She blocked it, holding out her hands in front of her, palms out, before turning her palms inward. The light hit a tree, slicing a branch that dropped right in front of him and Siraj. He sent another jet of red light and another, each one deflected by Nasma. She then went on the offensive, sending her own spells. She sent a blue orb at the man, causing him to throw Siraj aside and begin the duel in earnest. From his wand, a blue falcon erupted, heading straight for Nasma, but it was dissolved by a green wind that swept through the plantation. The Man lost his balance, falling to the ground, and Nasma used his distraction to Apparate to Siraj. She attempted to Apparate away, but as if she were a bag of lead, Siraj was rooted to the spot. The Man finally regained his balance, and in a fit of rage, sent jets of red in all directions. One hit Siraj in the chest. She was dead before anyone knew it.
Nasma, unable to comprehend that she had, once again, lost Siraj, this time for good, crouched down and held her. Neither of them realized that they had acquired a large group of onlookers, slaves and masters. The Man used her distraction to make sure that Nasma couldn’t leave. He repeated the spell that he used to brand the others, but a circle appeared around Nasma and Siraj. He tried again and again, and each time, the circle just got deeper. Thinking that Nasma simply projected a charm that would protect her in her grief, The Man simply left her. Soon, she began to slowly turn to stone.
What The Man didn’t know was that Nasma had used her own blood and Siraj’s hair to cast a protective spell amongst the remaining slaves. The other effects of the spell did not appear until much later. The harvest, which was promised to be the largest yield that they had ever seen, refused to grow for the rest of the year. The Man tried to get the slaves to harvest faster, but it seemed that they were moving slower than ever. He tried to make an example of a few slaves, just to remind them of what he was capable of, but it never seemed to make a dent to them. At night, he would find the scars that should have been left on them adorning his skin instead. He understood that these kind of results were magical.
He returned to Nasma and Siraj, who had greyed in color, closely resembling carvings in stone. He tried every spell he knew that could possibly destroy the rock. Day after day, he would try several spells to disassemble the boulder. He didn’t notice that each time he tried, he only succeeded in fortifying the rock. What he did notice was that each attempt made the slaves stronger, more rebellious. Even as he tried to starve them back into submission, they grew stronger still.
The masters, who knew the man was a wizard now, insisted that he fix things, or they would kill him. He spent a day using everything he knew to destroy the cursed object that now plagued him. He used mortal instruments and magical potions. Prayers and incantations. Finally, with all options exhausted, he did the only thing he could. Raising his wand, he rasped, “Avada Kedavra.”
What happened next was pain. It was all he was, all he could hear, feel, see, or touch. All of the pain he had caused throughout his years, he could feel it. While he could not see his body, he could see the plantation as a whole, including the boulder he had failed to destroy. It is said that you can still hear him scream in agony from time to time. And the boulder, many years after slavery had ended, was easily removed to a different location.