Chapter Thirteen

The whole school whispered about Ava and Natalie the next morning. Apparently, Ava had been whisked off by an odd but good-looking fellow in a stretch limousine. The man had in fact been Natalie’s old boyfriend from wherever-she-lived-before and so she was horribly jealous and a catfight between the two had only just been avoided.

When Natalie heard the absurd rumors, she laughed. Then again, she thought, reality could be called even more absurd.

Cecily, Ava and Natalie did not have any opportunity to talk freely all day. Even during lunch, students walked past, much closer than they usually did, throwing curious looks at Natalie and Ava. The boys seemed to be hoping for the alleged catfight to break out.

“Throw in some mud and those boys will be drooling all over themselves,” Ava muttered with a shake of her head, making the other two fall into fits of giggles.

Being the center of the school’s attention did not prove to be much fun, however. By the end of the school day, Natalie already felt heartily tired of the stares and whispers sent her way. How did the cheer leaders and the ‘hunks’ of the school do it? Though she signed most of them off as stupid carbon copies of real people, she had to admit a sliver of respect for them, for putting up with everyone’s gawking. Then again, they probably thrived on it.

The three walked home once the school day ended.

“Don’t worry,” Cecily said, “they’ll have forgotten all about it by next week.”

“Yes, but I’m tired of it this week,” Natalie said.

“You’re whining,” Ava said. “It’s not attractive.”

Natalie stuck her tongue out and Cecily chuckled.

An air of happiness surrounded them – despite having to be picked up somewhere in the desert, Natalie still felt proud that she had managed to get herself and Ava out of the situation with Ramon. She would probably not be as lucky the next time – and she did not doubt that there would be a next time – so she took the time to enjoy the delight she felt. Ava in turn seemed to be glad to be friends once more, though she did not mention their fight.

Cecily seemed as serene as ever. Natalie had, despite her exhaustion the day before, noted with some worry that Cecily looked sicker again. Running around in the desert looking for lost friends had probably not been the best way to spend a Monday evening for Cecily.

Mr. Cordell was still at work when the trio reached the Cordell home so they seated themselves in the kitchen rather than Cecily’s room. Cecily played the good hostess and set the table with toast, cheese and chocolate milk to drink.

“So what happened?”

Cecily asked the question while sipping on her chocolate milk, looking between Natalie and Ava.

Ava looked at Natalie for a moment, then turned to Cecily. “I can give you the start but really, I don’t get what she did.”

Cecily chuckled. “I’m sure she doesn’t either.”

Natalie shook her head. “I really, really don’t.”

Ava cleared her thought and said gravely, “Once upon a time—”

Cecily giggled. “Oh, so it’s story time?”

“Well, it would have been if you hadn’t interrupted me,” Ava said. “Really, the start isn’t that interesting. I was walking towards the school building and out of nowhere, this man appears. He looked odd – black hair, robes, the mad glint in his eyes – so I stopped. He asked me about you, but really, he looked like he already knew that I knew you. Then he grabbed me and I screamed but no one did anything. Then you came running like a madwoman, around the corner and yelled for me to catch something. The guy smiled and when I’d caught it, there was a light and all of a sudden, we weren’t at the school anymore.

“The guy bound my wrists and ankles – I fought him and he cut me with his knife – and when he was done, he told me that I should sit down and that now we just had to wait.”

Ava sighed softly. “I’ve never been so scared in my life and if you tell anyone I said that, I’ll kill you.”

Natalie smiled slightly. “I was just as scared when I got there.”

Ava looked at her. “Which begs the question, how did you get there? I assume it was something magic-y?”

Natalie chuckled but then looked to Cecily. “I don’t know what happened. I just wished I was there and suddenly I was.”

Cecily shook her head at her, amused. “It’s called transportation magic. The tracking stone makes it much easier – you must have figured out as much, Natalie – otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to get away. It can be done with most stones, but the tracking stones, and other stones to do with traveling, are the easiest.”

Ava and Natalie both gaped at her.

“That’s what the guy did with me?” asked Ava and Cecily nodded.

“Transportation can be a very power-consuming form of magic, especially with another person. I think only Master Wielders use it with their regular power stones,” Cecily said. “And since many of the Master Wielders are loners, few feel the urge to move all that quickly from one place to another.”

“Then Ramon is powerful,” Natalie said. A light sigh and she added, “I figured as much after yesterday.”

“He is most likely a Master Wielder,” Cecily said.

Natalie nodded. “We were in his Mithridates yesterday, so I’m guessing he is.”

It was Cecily’s turn to gape. “You were at his Mithridates and you still managed to get away? How?”

Natalie made a face and had to smile. “Pure luck, I say. I managed to do some magic and he was taken by surprise.”

With some pride, she relayed the story of how she and Ava had managed to get away from Ramon. Cecily listened with large eyes and a mouth that kept falling open as she was stunned several times throughout the story.

“Natalie, I don’t think you realize how lucky you must have been to be able to get away like that,” Cecily said. “To get away from a Mithridates’ Stone of Sitis set on keeping you – it’s amazing – and then to actually be able to use the tracking stone backwards—”

Her eyes filled with awe as she looked at Natalie. Natalie blushed.

“It wasn’t that big a deal,” she said, studying her now empty plate.

“Yes, not that big,” Ava said, butting in without pardon, “and let’s not forget about me, who trekked through the desert to find a gas station that could tell me where I was. They looked at me kind of funny.”

Natalie felt glad for Ava’s interruption. Cecily’s stare had been a bit too intense. She chuckled and patted Ava’s arm.

“You did very good. By that time, I wasn’t much help at all.”

“Definitely not,” Ava said but her voice held no malice.

“Natalie, I’m sorry,” Cecily said, “but I need you to listen.”

“What?” asked Natalie. A slight annoyance built – she had been lucky to get away from Ramon but it had not been anything more than that. She had not saved the world or anything – she had not even hurt Ramon in any way or made it impossible for him to try another stunt like yesterday’s again. She had done nothing but get away.

“You don’t get it, do you?” Cecily said softly. “Ramon’s Mithridates is the place where his magic is stronger than anywhere else in the world. You should hardly have been able to do magic there – let alone use the magic inherit in the Stone of Sitis, in the Mithridates itself, for yourself.”

“Cec’, just drop it,” Natalie sighed. “I was lucky.”

“But you don’t understand,” Cecily said. “It should have been completely impossible!”

“Well, it wasn’t,” Natalie snapped. “It worked. We got out of there.”

Cecily fell silent at Natalie’s harsh tone. The hurt look on her face made Natalie feel bad immediately and she sighed.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just— I’m still tired from yesterday and the fact stands: we did get out. Whether or not it’s impossible.”

Cecily did not meet her gaze, just said quietly, “Of course.”

Natalie did not appreciate the idea of starting a fight with Cecily as soon as the one with Ava was over but she did not know how to make it right at the moment. Cecily felt hurt and a quick apology would not be enough.

Silence spread and the uncomfortable tension spread between Cecily and Natalie, while Ava watched uncertainly. Natalie did not know what to do – she suddenly realized that she did not know Cecily all that well after all, for she had no idea what she would need to make the sudden strain between them go away.

Natalie stood up. “Thanks for the food. I need to be getting home.”

Ava appeared uncertain. She obviously felt the tension but did not know if she should leave as well or not. In the end, she opted to stay seated.

Cecily nodded silently to Natalie. “You’re welcome.”

Natalie grabbed her bag and headed towards the door. As she did, she concentrated briefly on an image of a more healthy Cecily. She ran her hand past her necklace, which glowed faintly, and then she sent the tiny ball of healing magic she had created towards Cecily. Cecily did not notice; she watched the glass before her with great interest. The light glowed around her for so brief a time that if Cecily blinked, she would have missed it.

Ava had not missed it, instead she sat gaping at Natalie. She did not say anything, however, and Natalie knew she would not believe the magic she just done to Cecily had been anything but good.

Natalie said, “See you tomorrow.”

Ava’s gape became a half-smile. “See you.”


Ava called later that evening, as Natalie put away the dishes. Drying off her hands, she took the phone from Emmanuella, who looked disdainfully at the phone as though she wondered who would ever get the silly idea to call Natalie.

“What did you do?”

Ava’s words came with no preamble.

“What?” asked Natalie, playing dumb.

“You know,” Ava said and Natalie could almost hear the accompanying eye roll, “to Cecily. All of a sudden, she got some color on those pale cheeks of hers.”

Natalie headed upstairs, away from prying uncle and aunt ears. She doubted Emmanuella would get the idea to listen in on her phone conversations, but she did not want Richard to overhear anything. He probably already suspected something and that something did not need fuel.

Once upstairs, Natalie closed the door behind her and made herself comfortable on her bed.

“I did some healing magic,” Natalie said.

“So she’s well now?”

Natalie sighed. “No, it’s just temporary. I’m not strong enough to heal her permanently, or even for a very long time. The last time, it lasted for a few hours.”

“The last time?”

Natalie told her of the time she had healed Cecily, though she had not known what she had been doing at the time. It felt good that her magic control was improving. The magic she performed on Cecily today had been completely hers – her idea, her doing. She smiled to herself.

“You guys are way ahead of me in this,” Ava said. “I don’t get half of it and the half I think I get, I can’t keep straight anyway.”

Natalie chuckled. “You’ll get it. At least you only have to learn the theories – I have to learn to actually do it.”

“I would have liked to,” Ava said, her voice becoming a bit dreamy. “Could you imagine – when Chase and the others start picking on me again, I’d simply transform them into rats or pigs or something equally fitting.”

Natalie chuckled. “I don’t think it’d be good to go that far. I mean, how would you explain it?”

“Oh, all right,” Ava said. “I’d make them ugly. Butt-ugly. You know, pimples and discolored hair and cellulites – it’d horrify them even worse than being turned into animals.”

Natalie laughed. “I think my grandmother would frown upon using magic that way.”

“If you can’t have fun, what is magic good for?” Ava asked. Her voice held both a light note and a deeper one, truly asking Natalie what magic was good for.

Natalie became more serious. “I get it if you don’t see the good in it. You’ve only seen the bad so far – but it is wonderful, I promise. It’s—beautiful. It’s light and colors and shapes that form into something more – something that is part of you and yet beyond you.”

“It sounds like a good ruse,” Ava said softly.

“It’s more than that, it’s chaos in control—”

Natalie stopped suddenly. Memories washed over her like a tidal wave. Ramon’s voice echoed through Natalie’s mind, word by word, one by one. Was it so easy?

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

“Her. Chaos.”

Was that it?

Had Chaos been what she had felt – and what Ramon wanted to raise? Was it that simple? That horrible? Natalie could not imagine how anyone could raise that power but she did not think anything good could come out of it if possible. Complete darkness and evil – all the opposites of what Natalie believed magic to be. A never-ending black power.

It had not been the crazy talk of a madman.

Chaos was not just a word for something else and it did not solely exist in Ramon’s mind.

It should be taken at face value.

Chaos was that thing that Natalie had felt the beginnings of in Ramon’s Mithridates, as she stood in the middle of the surge of magic she had pulled out. Chaos was the dangerous, and yet alluring, force that she imagined she could live in forever. Blindingly strong, and dark and completely untamed.

Chaos meant magic at its darkest, mightiest power – and Ramon planned on releasing it.

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