Chapter Eleven

Natalie ran faster than she ever had in her life. It did not matter – it still felt as though she was running through thick mud, as though each step took an eternity.

She rounded the corner to the front of the school and found Ava standing face to face with Ramon. He had his hand wrapped around her wrist, just about to pull her along.

Natalie heard her own blood pounding in her ears as she tried to reach the two. She fumbled with the stone in her pocket and seized hold of it.

“Ava!” she yelled. “Catch!”

Ava turned around and their eyes met. Natalie threw the tracking stone to Ava and as in slow-motion, Ava reached up to grab it. Her eyes were wide with terror. Ramon reached for his necklace and with his black eyes trained on Natalie and a smirk on his lips, a white light swallowed him and Ava.

The light blinded Natalie and she could not tell if Ava’s out-stretched hand had ever closed around the opaque stone.

Her breath coming in uneven gulps, Cecily caught up with her. “Ava?” she asked between tries to get enough oxygen into her lungs. She leaned forward, hands on her knees. Around them, people stared, both at the spot where Ava had disappeared from and at Cecily’s weak form. Curious whispers started to spread around the area and a few pointed at them.

Natalie’s arm went around Cecily and she lowered them both to the ground.

“I think she caught it,” Natalie said, her throat thick with tears. She was not nearly as sure as she sounded.

Cecily continued to draw small hacking breaths for air. “Good,” she whispered and closed her eyes. “Then we— need to find— a map.”

Natalie realized then that she had not thought of how the tracking stone worked. She had been able to feel it before but now she could only make out that it was far away. Wherever Ramon had taken Ava, it was not within Lake Sunflower.

“I think there are maps in the library,” Natalie said.

Cecily nodded. “Just— let me catch— my breath.”

Natalie fretted – each second they stayed put, could be the second that cost Ava. Her heart pounded in her chest and she looked around, eyes passing over the road, the grass and the stairs they were on. She searched for clues but found none.

The scene played before Natalie’s eyes over and over again. Ava’s terrified eyes locked on Natalie every time and she felt useless, that the only thing she had managed to do was throw her a stone.

“Was it like in your dream?” asked Natalie.

Cecily nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”

They stayed still for a minute longer. The other students around them stared wide-eyed at them. Some were talking between themselves, shooting meaningful glances at Natalie and Cecily and talking animatedly about how Ava had disappeared. What they would think now – would everyone realize that magic existed? Would they suddenly know?

“A man just came and grabbed her. I think they left in a car.”

Natalie turned her head, surprised. The words had been uttered by one of the girls who’d seen the event. Natalie frowned. Did people come up with explanations for the inexplicable?

She tried to swallow the lump in her throat. It had not been inexplicable. It had been magic. Magic she could do – magic she could Wield. Magic that made life dangerous for both Ava and Cecily.

The bell rang. How could everything that had happened have taken place during the forty minute lunch break? It felt like it had been much longer.

Natalie helped Cecily stand. She still looked worryingly pale but she had her breathing under control and she could stand up straight.

“Let’s go to the library.”

It did not matter to either one that they ought to be in class. They had to find Ava. Natalie hoped that the few minutes Cecily had needed to recuperate had not cost Ava – they could not be helped. Without Cecily, Natalie would be at a loss for how to use the tracking stone and without that, Natalie still would not be able to find and help Ava anyway.

They snuck into the library and quietly made their way to the back where the map books were. The old librarian, a small man in his mid sixties with hardly any hair, sat in his office, deeply captivated by the book he was reading. Natalie hoped he would stay that way – if she and Cecily were caught, they would be sent straight to their respective classes with a detention slip in hand. Natalie really did not have time for that.

“Here,” whispered Cecily and spread out a map of California on the floor. “Let’s start with that – hopefully she’s still in the state. Of course, he could have taken her anywhere.”

“What do I do?” asked Natalie, ignoring Cecily’s last sentence. She hoped Ava was close – if she was not, how could Natalie get there on time?

“Hold the necklace over the map. It will pull itself to the spot where the tracking stone is.”

Natalie did as she was told and watched, amazed, as the necklace started moving. Natalie had placed it over the area where Lake Sunflower and her heart sank, the amazement disappearing, as the necklace pulled itself away from the area and up north. When it stopped, Natalie was close to tears – the necklace had placed itself in an area that would take at least four hours to drive to.

She did not have that kind of time. Ava did not have that kind of time. Ava had no way to protect herself against Ramon and though Natalie did not have much of an idea of how to do it either, at least she was a Novus now. She needed to get there. But how? A car was out of the question – she did not know how to drive and she had no car. Bus would take far too long – in fact, everything Natalie could think of took far too long.

“Natalie,” she heard Cecily say.

Natalie had not realized she had closed her eyes, but obviously, she had. When she opened them, she found her necklace glowing bright red. She only had a second to think before Cecily suddenly blurred and a sea of white light replaced her.

Suddenly, Natalie was flying. The wind around her was hard and strong, pulling at her hair and making her eyes water and tears stream down her cheeks. She was traveling fast, faster than humanly possible. Below her, a blur of colors passed that Natalie could only barely make out. Brief thoughts went through her mind as quickly as she was traveling. Where was she going – was she really going to where the tracking stone had pointed? Was she going into danger? Should she be scared?

As abruptly as the journey had started, it ended.

Everything stopped at once and Natalie, who was still moving at great speed, landed on the hard ground and rolled around several times before finally stopping. Her body felt like one big bruise. Her vision swam for a moment before she realized what she was seeing.

She had tumbled into the round room that she had been once before, when Ramon had first kidnapped her. Her first violent meeting with magic – this was where it had taken place.

“Took you long enough.”

Natalie felt the unpleasantly familiar feeling of cold steel against her throat – Ramon’s knife.

Natalie swallowed. In her mind she answered her previous questions: Yes, she was going into danger. Yes, she should be scared. How would get out of this? What had she been thinking? She reminded herself that she had not been thinking, that the only thing she had thought of was to save—


Ava sat a few feet to the side of Natalie. Her hands and feet had been bound together with thick rope. In her left fist, she held tightly onto something. There were several cuts on her forearms and one across her cheek – she had obviously put up a fight.

“Natalie?” Ava’s eyes were wide. “How did you—”

“Are you all—”

Natalie did not get to finish the sentence. Ramon’s grip on her hair tightened and the pressure of the knife increased.

“No talking,” he hissed in her ear.

Natalie wanted to break free, to slap Ramon hard, to grab Ava and get away. What had she been thinking? What possible way had she thought she would be able to help? She had learned a touch of magic, yes, but she was barely able to control it and even if she was, Ramon was still a much more experienced Wielder and would make mince meat out of her.

A small whimper escaped her and she could feel the smile on Ramon’s lips. It made her want to shudder, but she managed to restrain herself as Ramon’s knife still pressed hard against her throat. Any movement could result in a cut.

When she spoke, her voice did not sound as strong as she would have wished.

“What do you want with us?”

“Not ‘us’,” Ramon said. “She was just bait. Easier to get to than you, now that grandma’s got you all protected. But you’re what I want. Just you, just like the last time.”

At this, Ava’s eyes became wider. “Last time? You know this mad-man?”

“’Know’ is a strong word,” Natalie muttered. “He kidnapped me two weeks ago.”

Ramon seemed proud of this but then his face darkened. “If it hadn’t for your grandmother, I would have succeeded with my task.”

“What task?” asked Ava. Natalie could her both frustration and fear in her voice.

“Killing her,” Ramon said. “Killing young Winters here, you see – it would raise her.”

“Her?” both Natalie and Ava echoed.

This was news for Natalie – she had thought him to be just a regular mad Master Wielder who killed girls for fun, but obviously it was worse than that. Was this man a necromancer? Cecily had told her they existed – and Ramon certainly seemed to fit the profile for such a creepy specialty. But who was ‘her’? A dead lover?

“Yes, her,” said Ramon. “Chaos.”

Natalie and Ava shared a meaningful look, all fighting forgotten. This man was insane. That did not bode well for the two of them.

“You would never understand,” Ramon said.

Natalie did not think she wanted to understand what went on in Ramon’s head.

What would hurt him if she did manage to conjure something? Fire? The great ball of electricity? He would probably be able to wave it off somehow – after all, he was far stronger than her.

She did not have time to think anymore as Ramon pulled her to her feet. He stood at least a head taller than her and could easily keep his grip on her hair and continue to press the knife to her throat. He wore long black robes this time – she could see them as she glanced around. She suspected that if she could get a good look at him, he’d look like something out of a movie.

Ramon turned her around and she saw the slab of stone in the middle of the room. Suddenly, she knew where they were.

“We’re in your Mithridates!”

The grip on her hair hardened and she tears sprang to her eyes.

“I hear you’ve learned something since the last time we saw each other,” Ramon hissed.

Then he unceremoniously shoved her towards the round stone. She held up her hands to protect herself as she stumbled. As soon as her hands touched the stone, she realized her mistake. The stone seemed to be magic in itself – it grabbed hold of her and made it impossible for her to get away. Behind her, Ramon smirked.

“But you have obviously not learned much,” he said. “Yes, you are in my Mithridates. I hope you like it – after all, it’s the last place you’ll ever see.”

“At least let her go,” Natalie begged.

“Why?” Ramon asked cruelly.

“She has nothing to do with this!” Natalie screamed.

She felt as though ghost hands pulled her towards the stone. She tried to fight it but it did not bulge – her hands were nailed to the side of the stone.

“Stop it!” yelled Ava. She struggled against the ropes. There had to be something else holding her down as well – if not, she would have at least been able to stand. As it was, she fought uselessly. Natalie could only watch, equally useless, over her shoulder.

Ramon turned his back to Natalie. His voice was low and threatening as he bent before Ava.

“What are you going to do about it?” he hissed at her, barely loud enough for Natalie to hear it.

Natalie wanted to cry but did not because it would not help. Then again, there was nothing that would help her at all. Her grandmother would not come to her rescue this time. She sank down to a kneeling position, still with her hands glued to the stone.

Her necklace, dangling on the thin silver chain, felt cool to the touch. A crease appeared between Natalie’s eyebrows – what if she could do something? Ramon’s back was still turned and Natalie doubted that he thought she could do anything that would enable her to escape. And even if she could escape, where would she go? What would happen to Ava? She had come to rescue Ava and that was what she needed to do – she could never leave her behind to be killed by this madman.

No, she had to get away and she had to be able to take Ava with her.

The ghostly arms of magic still pulled her towards the stone. Natalie looked at her hands – could she make the stone’s magic work with her rather than against her? She had no idea.

Still, Natalie could not help but try. She had to. If she did not, the only thing both she and Ava had to look forward to was death – a death that would likely be excruciating and slow.

She focused as she had in her grandmother’s Mithridates. What was to say that this Mithridates was only Ramon’s? She made herself believe that she could use it, that Mithridates weren’t specifically made for one person.

She drew upon the raging fear and anger – even hatred – she felt towards Ramon. It boiled within her, red-hot, like an angry ocean of flames. Natalie could feel her breathing grow quicker, her heart speeding up in her chest. The air around her seemed to vibrate, making the hairs on her forearms stand on end. Her body felt hot, as if burning.

She felt the magic flow in her veins. Squeezing her eyes shut, Natalie had to work hard to stay in control of the powerful emotions that rolled through her. She could easily lose herself in this. This was power, raw and tempting as forbidden fruit. The ghost hands that had been pulling at her began to form to her wishes; Natalie imagined the small, brightly shining magical creatures bowing before her as though they were her servants. The magic did not come only from the stone, it came from the ground beneath her, through her shoes and legs, traveling up through her body and spreading.

When she opened her eyes, she let hell break loose.

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