Chapter Seventeen

“Oh god no.”

Time had never moved so slowly.

Ava sank down, completely lifeless, the wall colored with her blood.

Natalie ran to her, not minding Ramon. Ava lay on her side, her eyelids closed and not a muscle in her body moving. She bled from the back of her head, the blood pooling around her. She was not breathing.

Natalie placed two fingers against Ava’s throat, checking for a pulse. All the while, she whimpered under her breath, “Oh god, oh god please no, Ava…”

She found no pulse. No pulse, no breathing, nothing – and her neck angled in a way that could only mean bad things. Tears began streaming down Natalie’s cheeks, her heart beating wildly in her chest. Her fingers ran over Ava’s face and cheeks, and did not want to register her crushed skull and the blood that would just not stop coming. It covered her hands and clothes and she did not care.

It was not possible, was all she could think. Ava was not dead, she could not be. She could not be.


The painful grip on her hair came suddenly but Natalie hardly felt it. Ramon lifted her to her feet and threw her, this time by hand, across the room. She stumbled but did not go flying into the wall this time – not like she had done before and not like Ava had done just a second ago. Ava. She was not dead.

It could not be possible.

“Now that she’s out of the way, let’s get down to business,” Ramon said.

With a simple, uncaring flick of his wrist, he sent another ball of magic hurling Natalie’s way.

Time slowed down again. Tears trickled down Natalie’s face and she waited for impact, when the ball of magic would hit her. It would hurt, perhaps even kill her. She could not bring herself to care anymore.


Her name repeated itself in her mind over and over again, like a broken record. She could not be dead. It could not be possible. Yet over there, in a heap on the floor laid her still body, not moving, not even her chest to take a breath. Not even her heart to beat.

She was dead.

The ball of agonizing magic hit her at that very moment, sending her flying through the room. Her mind only barely registered the bodily pain, too busy trying to understand – Ava was dead.

Ava was dead.

She screamed out, though not aware of it. Black pain surrounded her, sorrow unlike anything she had ever felt before. Waves of hatred towards Ramon, towards Cecily’s illness, towards all the world’s unfairness rolled over her, faster and faster until nothing remained but a dark void.

She rose into the air, flying though she did not know it. Chaos allowed her to do things she could not otherwise. Chaos filled her now, one with her, one with her mind, controlling her as much as Natalie could control it. She could feel the darkness grab hold of the shards of her broken heart. With Chaos, she embraced the feelings  she would otherwise be scared of – hatred, fury and malice.

The shining necklace that hung around Ramon’s neck became a target in her black mind, a magic that had to be destroyed. A single shot of her impossibly strong magic and Ramon fell down, unconscious or perhaps dead, the necklace shattered in a million pieces.

The walls of Ramon’s Mithridates moved, the magic Natalie controlled shaking their very core. Cracks ran up and down the walls and bits and pieces began falling.

Then suddenly, Ava’s voice echoed through her mind.

“Natalie, stop it, please.”

She slowed down, answering to the ghostly words as though they were a homing beacon.


Ava would not have wanted this. She did not want Natalie to go with Chaos, to allow Chaos to reign. Ava had wanted her to be Natalie – she had died because she had brought Natalie back to her senses. Was Natalie going to waste that gift, and make Ava’s death pointless?

The waves of black abated somewhat. Slowly, Natalie sank to the ground once more.

They – she and Ava – had fought their way out of Ramon’s clutches once before, all to avoid allowing him to raise Chaos once more. Was she to simply let Chaos nest within herself now? It would be to spit on Ava.

Her feet touched the ground and a surge of normalcy washed over Natalie. Fresh hot tears began flowing down her cheeks.

She ran to Ava’s side, the darkness seeping out of her veins along with the magic. The walls still shook, the magic having stirred them up too badly to hold for long. Still, Natalie fell to her knees at Ava’s side and picked up her lifeless body in her arms. Ava’s head fell to the side as she did. Blood painted Natalie’s hands, arms and legs. So much blood.

Hoping against hope that Ava would now be breathing, Natalie once more held two fingers to Ava’s throat.


Natalie broke, this time without magic. This was simply her own feelings, her own great sorrow at losing her friend, possibly her best friend. She sobbed, great, hulking sobs.

“I’m so sorry,” she said between tears. “I’m so, so sorry.”

She buried her head in Ava’s hair and wished for a way to bring her back. But she knew, in her heart, that it was not possible. Ava could not be brought back to life by magic – who knew what that would bring – a zombie? A soulless shell?

Chaos might have had the kind of power needed to bring back Ava. It did not matter – Chaos was what Ava had died saying no to and Natalie would not give into those powers. This time, leaving them behind had been easy enough – next time it might not be that way.

A large chunk of stone suddenly crashed down on the ground, leaving a gaping hole in the Mithridates’ walls. Bits and pieces of debris had already filled the air, dust rising. The whole place would come down – soon.

Ramon groaned from his place on the ground. He still bled. Natalie looked at him, a rush of hatred going through her. She should leave him here to die. He had killed her best friend, and nearly killed her – he deserved nothing less than death.

Yet she could not leave him.

As gently as she possibly could, Natalie laid Ava’s body back on the ground. She placed a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Sleep tight,” she whispered. Another stone came down, as if to accentuate her words. “I love you.”

She had never thought to tell her friend that before. They had only known each other for a couple of weeks but Natalie knew – Ava had been the first friend she had made in Lake Sunflower, and she tied with Cecily in first place.


Natalie was instantly reminded of her other friend. Would she lose both on the same day? Would the message of Cecily’s death be waiting for her once she returned to Lake Sunflower?

Closing her eyes, Natalie squeezed Ava’s hand tightly.

Then she stood and hurried over to Ramon. He had only just started to come out of whatever stupor he had been in, blearily blinking against the light. His features seemed softer somehow – probably because he seemed only partially conscious.

With great cracks and booms, the walls around Natalie and Ramon began coming down at a quicker pace.

“Where— who—” mumbled Ramon, looking at her. He looked utterly confused.

Natalie fought the urge to simply run out of there and leave Ramon to die. He deserved it – he had killed Ava! He had killed her. He deserved the same. But no, she should not be the judge of that and she could not simply go. She did not have it in her to leave him behind, even after all he had done. If he wanted to fight her again, she would kill him – she could defeat him, she knew that now.

She slung his arm over her shoulder.

“I’m getting us out of here,” she said grimly. “Hold on.”

She felt the drain it put on her to summon magic once more. It could not be helped – a great chunk of the walls already blocked the exit. The Mithridates would be in ruins within minutes.

This time, Natalie closed her eyes and pictured Cecily and Ava together, both smiling widely, and she drew on the image for badly needed strength. Then she imagined a forest, any forest – great and lush and beautiful and peaceful as it could only be in a person’s imagination. She wanted peace. She wanted bliss and ignorance and to not remember.

With a crack, the Stone of Sitis of Ramon’s Mithridates was smashed into a million pieces by a great chunk of the ceiling – and Natalie and Ramon were transported out of there, guided by the last bit of magic Natalie could summon.


She could hear voices, far off. Someone placed something soft over her, gently wrapping her up in a cocoon of warmth. She felt safe. One of the voices sounded familiar but she could not place it as she soared weightlessly in a warm, comfortable fog. She felt no pain and nothing could hurt her.

When she awoke many hours later, everything had changed. Her brain tried to make its way out of her skull, banging hard with a headache like nothing she had ever experienced before.

Opening her eyes, she immediately squeezed them shut again. It was too bright in the room and she moaned in pain.

A door opened – Natalie could hear it creak. She did not dare to open her eyes again, though she wondered where she was.

The curtains were pulled shut and her surroundings became darker. Natalie dared to open one eye just slightly. She found her grandmother standing at the side of her bed.

“Good morning,” her grandmother said.

Natalie, feeling utterly confused, attempted to answer the same thing back, but only a croaked, “Mornin’,” left her dry mouth.

Her grandmother held a glass of water to her lips and Natalie drank slowly. It did not taste very good, but it was far better than the parched feeling in her mouth.

Her grandmother placed the glass on the bedside table and looked at Natalie. She looked more concerned than Natalie had ever seen her before, and Natalie drank in her grandmother’s worry for her. However, she could not quite remember what she was doing here or how she had gotten here.

“You’ve been sleeping for a good long while,” her grandmother said. “Would you care to tell me what you were doing, appearing in my Mithridates in the middle of the night?”


The memories came crashing down upon Natalie – Cecily’s illness, the dream, Ramon and—Ava. Tears immediately filled her eyes and spilled over her cheeks. She studied her hands, unable to look at her grandmother.


“She’s dead,” Natalie whispered brokenly.

“Who is?”

“Ava,” Natalie said. “My friend. My best friend. Ramon killed her. She’s—dead.”

Her grandmother had no reply for this. Natalie closed her eyes and flashes of what had happened flew past her. It made her head ache even worse and she gave a great sob.

To her surprise, she felt her grandmother’s arms around her. She had never thought of her grandmother as the mothering type, but now she stroked Natalie’s hair gently, her other arm around Natalie’s shoulders. Natalie leaned into the embrace and cried.

When the flow of tears ebbed out, Natalie wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.

“How did I get here?” she asked.

“I was hoping you would tell me.”

Natalie frowned. “We were in Ramon’s Mithridates. I wanted to get out of there – that’s the last I remember.”

Her grandmother’s eyebrows rose. “That is possible, of course – to travel to a different Mithridates – but it takes far more magic than you’d be able to control.”

Natalie stayed silent. She remembered the feeling of Chaos as it invaded her mind. She had held the powers of the universe right there. Still, she did not feel comfortable telling her grandmother this. She had no idea what she what she would say.

“I suppose I was desperate,” Natalie said finally. “Perhaps that was why it worked.”

Her grandmother nodded thoughtfully. “Desperation is often a patent motivation.”

Natalie lay back against the pillows. She felt impossibly tired, her body weary. The only reason she could not claim this to be worse than when she and Ava had gotten away from Ramon was that this time, she laid in a bed rather than in the desert waiting for a car to pick her up.

Suddenly, she sat up straight though her body screamed in pain as she did.

“Where is Ramon?”

“Ramon?” asked her grandmother. “I haven’t the faintest. Should I?”

“I rescued him from his Mithridates when it fell apart,” Natalie said. “He was with me when I came here, I’m sure of it.”

Her grandmother shook her head. “Traveling with another person? No, Natalie, you are certainly not strong enough to manage that. I believe you are imagining things, my dear. And what are you talking about – why would a Mithridates fall apart?”

Natalie, who had opened her mouth to speak, closed it again. She was not strong enough? She had done it twice in the same night – first with Ava to Ramon’s Mithridates and then, she felt certain, with Ramon out of there. Ramon had been with her, she knew it. He must have woken up while she had been out and left. If he had not been with her – if she had not managed to transport with him – then he was dead now.

“Oh,” said her grandmother, “but I noted that you got your mother’s necklace back.”

Natalie frowned. “What?”

“You’re wearing it, dear,” her grandmother said. “I’m proud of you for managing to trick it off him.”

Her grandmother’s words echoed in Natalie’s mind. Trick it off him? Natalie had not given her mother’s necklace so much as a thought in the whole time she had been in Ramon’s Mithridates. She had been a bit preoccupied. But as she looked down, her grandmother was right – her mother’s necklace hung securely around her neck.

She knew instantly that he had not died. But what had happened? Who was Ramon? He had killed Ava – but when Natalie had been about to pick him up to leave the Mithridates, he had looked at her as though he did not recognize her. He had looked – softer. Why? And why had he returned her necklace – the one he had stolen to begin with?

Several hours later, Natalie managed to get out of bed. Stiffly, she walked around her grandmother’s house in one of the beautiful dresses. Outside, the sun shone warm and inviting. Natalie made her way down the steps, into the forest and to her grandmother’s Mithridates.

Where Ramon’s Mithridates had appeared cold and dark with all the stone and old architecture, her grandmother’s Mithridates felt gentle and appealing. The magic in there sang to Natalie, a beautiful song that flew on the wind and mingled with the leaves of the surrounding trees. Natalie walked to the Stone of Sitis and placed a hand on it. It felt warm  beneath her hand, pulsating with life.

Images of Ava’s body flashed before Natalie’s eyes. What was she going to do now? Ava was dead but no one knew about it. No one would be able to find a body – at least Natalie doubted it. She did not think Wielders’ Mithridates could be easily found. What would her family think?

She would tell Cecily.

The thought made her heart stop beating for a moment. Cecily – what had happened with her? Was she still alive, or was Natalie now alone? What news awaited her upon her return?

A warm breeze swept through her grandmother’s Mithridates, embracing Natalie almost as if it wanted to hug her. Natalie took solace in it.

Then she turned back to the house – it was finally time to return home. It felt as though an eternity had passed since she left Lake Sunflower.

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