Chapter Four

The doors before Natalie slammed open with such enormous force, they were blown off their hinges. A shower of cold water surrounded her and soaked her, chilling her to the bone. Still, Natalie ran blindly towards the door.

She waited for the knife that would surely embed itself between her shoulder blades. She waited for the pain and the sensation of warm blood, seeping down her back.

It never came.

When she finally stopped, and dared turn around, the knife had stopped in midair a mere arm length away from Natalie. It hung there, as though it was completely natural for a knife to float. Natalie’s heart beat so hard she thought it would make its way out of her chest.

The room before her was now empty. Ramon had disappeared, even though Natalie could not figure out how. There were no other exits than the doors behind her and he certainly had not run past her, had he?

“Are you all right, my dear?”

Natalie swirled around, jumping at the sound of a gentle female voice.

Before her stood an old woman. She had grey hair gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck and she looked as though she was dressed for a ball several centuries ago, in a green dress with lace and several skirts. The woman had pale blue eyes that seemed a bit cold, with which she looked upon Natalie. She had concern written on her face.

“I—” said Natalie, but found she was unable to say anything more. She sank to the ground as all the energy left her. She was shaking badly and, she noticed dimly, the wound on her throat still bled lightly. The woman before her, whom Natalie felt far from sure she could trust but really had no choice but to, kneeled next to her.

“Sleep,” she said.

Natalie felt darkness sweep over her mind, lovely oblivion following.

When she woke up again, she was lying in a bed. The sheets felt soft to the touch, the mattress large and comfortable. She felt warm and comfortable but wondered idly where she was – it certainly did not feel like her own bed. She had the nagging feeling she should remember something, but did not. Then Natalie felt something pressing against her throat. When she touched it, she realized it was a bandage – and suddenly the memories came rushing back.

She sat straight up and looked around. The room was a good sized bedroom. To her right, a window with the drapes pulled, allowing only a bit of light through. Still, as she recalled that it had been dark when she had been trapped with Ramon, she supposed she had been sleeping for quite some time.

There was a knock on the door and without waiting, the lady that had come to her rescue entered. Tall and thin, with a long nose and hollow cheeks, she looked stern. Behind her trailed a round woman, who appeared only slightly younger than Natalie’s savior. The younger one, dressed in a skirt, button-up shirt, an apron and a rather silly-looking hat, carried a tray with toast and juice.

Natalie’s rescuer wore a blue dress, the same style as the day before, but this one was navy blue.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning,” Natalie replied hesitantly.

The woman with the apron placed the tray before Natalie. Then, with a slight bow, she exited quietly.

The lady pulled back the drapes from the window and light spilled in, momentarily blinding Natalie.

“You’ve been sleeping a good long while,” said the lady. “I thought maybe you were more seriously injured than we first believed. It appears not. Now, eat.”

Automatically, Natalie took a piece of toast. The woman’s voice was demanding. After swallowing her first bite, Natalie said softly, “I’m sorry but— who are you? And where am I?”

The lady turned to Natalie. She smiled slightly, amused. “Why, I’m your grandmother of course.”

Natalie simply stared.

“Did you believe you didn’t have a grandmother after all?”

Natalie frowned. “It was a rather easy conclusion to reach, when I was kidnapped by a lunatic rather than brought to you. That, and the fact that you were pronounced dead fifteen years ago.”

“There are things we have to do,” said her grandmother evasively and Natalie did not press, still in shock. “And I am sorry about the kidnapping. I found my butler Thomas, who was going to pick you up, bound and unconscious out in the stables when I started wondering why you hadn’t arrived yet.”

“So the carriage is yours then?” asked Natalie, amazed.

“Of course,” said her grandmother as though it was the most natural thing in the world. “I have a tracking stone on it so it was easy enough to find you once I realized you were missing.”

“A tracking stone?” asked Natalie dumbly between bites.

Her grandmother made a sound. “Eat up first, business will come later.”

With those words, her grandmother turned and headed towards the door. “I will be in the living room. Come there once you’ve finished eating and have dressed.”

She left, leaving Natalie staring after her. What a strange woman.

She found that she was dressed in a white night gown with frills, which style-wise fit rather well with what her grandmother had been wearing. However, it did not fit the bill as something one could wear anywhere out of bed, so when she had finished her breakfast – which she did with another two bites – she looked around the room for her regular clothes. They were nowhere to be found.

Standing up and opening the door to the large, old-looking wardrobe, Natalie found a dress in the same style that her grandmother had worn. Shrugging, she figured it was better than nothing to wear and she put it on. It reached the floor and fit snugly around her waist. The light blue color shimmered in the daylight. Natalie felt a bit like a fairytale princess and could not help but giggle at the thought.

She left the room she had slept in, heading down the corridor in what she hoped was the right direction. Looking around, the place seemed huge. A number of closed doors could be found on each side of the corridor. The floor had thick carpets into which her bare feet sank pleasantly.

Curiously looking around, Natalie eventually found the living room. It appeared she had been sleeping on the second floor. At the end of the corridor, there were rails on each side and she looked down, finding the cozy living room. It had couches and a table and a fireplace but not a single electronic device, Natalie quickly noted.

“Ah, there you are,” said her grandmother as Natalie descended the stairs. “Oh my, you look so pretty.”

Natalie smiled. She looked around with great interest. The living room was larger than she had been able to tell from upstairs. Another set of couches sat on the other end of the room. Still nothing that required electricity, however – not even any lamps, only candles.

Then Natalie caught sight of the view from the windows and she could not help but gasp.

“It’s— magnificent,” she said.

And it was. Before her, there a downward, green slope led into a immense, green forest that seemed to simply go on and on until it merged with the blue skies. The huge trees reached for the skies and above them flew birds that twittered on, filling the air with song. Even from this distance, Natalie felt the life forces that emanated from the forest. It was somehow— powerful.

“Why thank you,” said her grandmother. “I can often sit and simply watch the animals.”

Natalie smiled. “This whole place is rather fantastic. I mean, the clothes, the house—”

Her grandmother looked down her nose at her and Natalie thought she detected a smile. “Shall we take a walk?”

Natalie was handed a shawl by a maid who suddenly appeared. Where had she come from? She was allowed no time to think about it. Her grandmother headed outside through one of the large glass doors. Natalie shrugged the jacket on – it matched her dress perfectly – and hurried to walk next to her grandmother.

“Where are we? I didn’t think this kind of forest existed anywhere near Lake Sunflower.”

Her grandmother merely smiled and remained silent.

There was a small stone stairway leading down the slant into the forest. On each side of it grew beautiful flowers, each more colorful than the other. Chattering birds flew happily overhead. Natalie thought she saw a group of deer hiding beyond the trees but she could not be sure.

They reached the bottom of the stairs and suddenly, the large trees loomed above them. They hid the blue skies and surrounded them in dusk. Her grandmother trotted on and Natalie followed duly. The darkness around them dimmed her mood and it reminded her forcefully of how she had been brought to her grandmother’s home. Those were not pleasant thoughts.

“Grandmother,” she said, not quite knowing what she should call her, “what am I doing here? What happened yesterday?”

Her grandmother hesitated for a second, but then said simply, “I will answer you in a moment.”

Natalie and her grandmother reached a clearing mere moments later. It was perfectly circular, the trees around reaching high towards the sky. It reminded Natalie of the room in which she had been the day before; the tall roof and the pillars, and far above, the sky and stars. This clearing felt much more inviting and calm – though that might be because she did not have a knife to her throat this time. With a gasp, Natalie noted the large round stone in the middle of the clearing – just like in the room Ramon had held her in. The stone was large enough for Natalie to be able to lie down and stretch out on. A crack ran down the middle of it as though it had once been split in two, but put together again.

Her grandmother knelt at the side of the stone.

“Sit, Natalie.”

Natalie sat down on the soft grass. It was thick and a bit damp still from the cool night, as the sun had not yet reached high enough to warm it.

“What is this place?” asked Natalie.

Her grandmother still stood tall, appearing thoughtful.

Her grandmother ran her hand over the pale green stone that hung on a necklace around her neck, a motion reminiscent of what Ramon had done the night before. Her grandmother’s appearance did not change when she did however. Were the necklaces or the motions significant? Something told Natalie they were.

“You are in my Mithridates,” her grandmother said, looking around, her face soft. She said the words as though they would explain things.

Natalie sat silently and watched her grandmother, unsure of whether she should speak or not.

“I suppose I should start a bit more towards the beginning of things,” said her grandmother, her eyes coming to rest upon Natalie. She frowned, “Though I’m not sure what the beginning is. I’ve never awoken anyone.”

“Awoken?” echoed Natalie. She attempted a joke. “I don’t believe I’m asleep.”

Of course, she had to add in her thoughts, this might be a dream. It sure was strange enough.

Her grandmother did not appear to appreciate her words. She said nothing. Natalie glanced around uncertainly. What was this, some kind of cult? Really, considering the clothes and the style of her grandmother’s home, it might well be. Cults probably also always had psychos – and for that, Ramon certainly qualified.

“Do you believe in magic, Natalie?”

Natalie was thrown by the question. She would expected a few different questions but that had certainly not been one of them.

Memories flashed before her – hazy images of flying horses, a man changing his appearance simply by touching a stone, and finally, clearly in her mind, a knife hanging still in the air, no strings attached.

After a moment, she answered, her tone that of a question. “I think so.”

“Good,” said her grandmother. “That helps.” She paused for a moment. Then, looking away from Natalie, she said, “Magic does exist. It’s not a thing of fairytales and fantasy books. It is very real and you will be able to wield it.”

“Magic? Wield it? Huh?” Natalie felt rather stupid, repeating her grandmother’s words, but she could not help herself. Though the evidence stared her hard in the face, and though she wanted to believe, Natalie still had to have doubts. There could be some other explanation for the knife and Ramon’s changed appearance, could there not? And she was certain the flying horses had been of her wild imagination. Perhaps her grandmother was crazy.

“I’m not crazy,” her grandmother said.

Natalie scrambled back. “What do you do, read minds?”

Her grandmother chuckled. “No, dear, but your thoughts were rather obvious – and it’s an easy conclusion to reach. Perhaps this will help you.”

She placed her hand on the red stone around her neck again. She held it there for a moment, her eyes closed. When she pulled away, a blue light floated above her fingers. It slowly transformed before Natalie’s wide eyes – into a large drop of water.

Natalie stared.

Her grandmother looked at her, her face deeply serious. “Magic exists.”

The drop of water was catalogued in Natalie’s brain right next to the knife hanging in the air. Her thoughts ran a million miles a minute with all sorts of questions – magic existed? Her grandmother, a witch? Why would she tell Natalie about it? Who was her grandmother?

Her grandmother let the drop of water she had created fall to the ground. Natalie touched the spot with a shaking hand. It was soaking wet.

Finally, her voice barely above a whisper, Natalie asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m a Wielder,” her grandmother said. “A Master Wielder of magic and within magic, mostly water. It is my most powerful element.”

Natalie could not decide what she felt. Amazement? Fear?

“You are a Wielder too, Natalie,” her grandmother said. “A Novus as of yet, but a Wielder none the less. Take out the necklace you received from your mother and you will understand.”

Natalie looked up suddenly, remembering. A lump in her throat formed. “I don’t have it.”

“You don’t— where is it?”

Natalie studied her hands. “That man, yesterday – Ramon – he took it from me.”

Why Ramon had taken it? Of all things – save for the photograph she had framed, the necklace was the one thing of her mother’s she had ever owned.

Her grandmother looked distressed. “Then Ramon got part of what he was out for yesterday after all.”

“What do you mean? What’s so special about that necklace? To anyone but me, I mean.”

“That necklace is more than a mere family heirloom,” her grandmother said. “It is powerful. It is made with a immensely powerful crystal and in the wrong hands, that stone can wreck great havoc.”

“But it’s just a necklace,” said Natalie.

“Haven’t you been listening?” asked her grandmother. “Magic! The magic is in the stones. Like the stone I have around my neck – it is my power source. With it, I can cast weak magic in all magic fields, and strong magic within the water bound magics.”

Natalie remembered water from when her grandmother had rescued her. Had that been magic, her grandmother’s doing? Had the knife been stopped, thanks to her grandmother?

“Like spells? With wands and stuff?” asked Natalie.

“We don’t use wands – pieces of wood are of no use when it comes to magic,” her grandmother said shortly.

Natalie stayed silent for a moment. “Who is Ramon?”

“I don’t know,” her grandmother said. “He reeked of strength but I have never heard of him before. The tracking stone on the carriage was the only reason I found you, and met him. But he disappeared before I had a chance to get a grip on his strength.”

“He said he was going to kill me,” Natalie said, her voice small.

Her grandmother stopped and stared at Natalie for a moment. Then she smiled slightly. “Then it was lucky that I showed up when I did, wasn’t it?”

Natalie nodded.

Her grandmother held out her hand to Natalie. “Now, stand – even if you don’t have your necklace, it doesn’t mean I can’t start teaching you.”

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