Chapter Eight

Cecily waited with Natalie outside of school for Natalie’s grandmother and butler to arrive. Cecily looked healthier now, with a hint of color in her cheeks. It was a good day.

“I would love to meet your grandmother,” Cecily said.

“She’s kind of weird,” Natalie shrugged.

“She’s a Wielder. They can be weird but they are always interesting.”

Natalie rolled her eyes. “You find everyone interesting.”

Cecily smiled. “That’s because everyone is interesting.”

“Even Chase Eadan?” asked Natalie. Chase just left the building, his group in tow and his girlfriend hanging off his arm. Natalie had learned that the beautiful blonde was his girlfriend, Lindsay Weaver. Though not quite as rich as the Eadans, the Weaver family apparently had enough for the son to accept her.

“Of course,” Cecily said. “Just imagine the upbringing that boy must have had to become what he is today. Getting him to open up would be fascinating for sure.”

“There is nothing even remotely fascinating about him. He’s a self-absorbed jerk.”

Cecily smiled serenely and Natalie knew what she was saying – that no person is one-dimensional. Natalie could only call Chase Eadan and Lindsay Weaver the exceptions that proved the rule.

“Miss Winters,” said a male voice suddenly and Natalie jumped.

Her grandmother’s butler, Thomas, stood behind her. He gave a light bow. “I can assure you that it’s me this time, though I doubt that will give you any peace of mind. Your grandmother is waiting for you in the carriage.”

Natalie nodded and followed Thomas. Butterflies flitted about in her stomach – she hoped it was in fact Thomas this time.

The carriage stood around the corner on the same small, people-free street that it had been parked the last time. Thomas opened the door and held out a helping hand for Natalie’s grandmother, who climbed out gracefully. Like the last time, she wore the old-fashioned navy blue dress.

“Natalie,” she said and then turned to Cecily. “Hello.”

“Grandmother, this is Cecily Cordell,” Natalie said. “Cecily, this is my grandmother, Madeline Turner.”

Cecily held out a hand and Natalie’s grandmother took it a bit hesitatingly, looking as though Cecily’s thin hand might make break upon contact.

“Cecily knows about magic,” Natalie said. “She has prophetic dreams.”

At this, interest showed in her grandmother’s eyes. “Prophetic dreams?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Cecily shyly. “Though it’s only happened a few times.”

Natalie’s grandmother said nothing, then, “How interesting.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Perhaps you’d like to join me and Natalie at my house?”

Natalie’s eyebrows rose in surprise at the sudden invitation. Her grandmother certainly found something about Cecily fascinating. Then again, Natalie had never met anyone who dreamed prophetic dreams before – perhaps it was not very common even among those who knew about magic.

“Oh, that would be lovely. Just let me call my father first.”

Natalie smiled. She felt certain it would be fun to have Cecily come along to her grandmother’s mansion. Between home work, Cecily’s illness and Natalie’s chores at home, they had barely had time to talk all week.

Cecily stepped back to phone her father. Natalie felt uncertain in the company of her grandmother as she still did not quite understand the older woman and her moods, which seemed able to change at any time without any kind of notice.

“She seems like a nice girl,” her grandmother said

Her voice sounded neutral, her eyes still on Cecily, studying her from afar as though she was an object of value.

“She is.”

Cecily returned a moment later after her short conversation with her father. “As long as I’m back in a reasonable time tonight he did not mind.”

The three women climbed into the carriage and with a single nod to Thomas, it started moving.

“This is comfortable,” Cecily said, looking around with interest.

“There are stones in here that will make you sleepy,” Natalie said.

“Oh,” said Cecily. “Yes, I can feel that.”

“Then you girls should give in,” Natalie’s grandmother said. “It’s better if you sleep now, rather than when we arrive at the cottage.”

Natalie snorted at the word used for her grandmother’s mansion.

“That is very true,” Cecily said, yawning and letting her eyes fall shut. “Wake me up when we’re there.”

Natalie leaned back against the cushions and closed her eyes, already feeling the beginnings of sleepiness sweeping over her. Friday afternoon and she had been in school all week – she felt her tiredness was justified. Cecily placed her head on Natalie’s shoulder. She felt small and frail. Natalie thought that it strange how different one’s body could be from one’s personality. Cecily’s personality was not frail. A bit shy, yes, but not weak.

Natalie had meant to answer her grandmother, but she fell asleep before she had the time to.

Natalie’s grandmother shook her shoulder gently to wake her up. It felt like they had only been asleep for a few minutes but checking her watch, Natalie saw that they had slept for nearly an hour.

“We’re here,” her grandmother said.

Natalie gently shook Cecily awake as well. She looked around seeming a bit disoriented, before realizing where she was and smiling at Natalie.

“I suppose ‘good morning’ is not the correct way to greet you?”

“Well, someone told me it’s always morning somewhere in the world,” Natalie said with a wink.

They exited the carriage. Natalie did not miss how Cecily’s mouth fell open at her grandmother’s supposed ‘cottage’.

“This place is huge,” Cecily said. “Where are we? I didn’t know California had places like this.”

Natalie’s grandmother came over from speaking to Thomas. “We’re not quite in California anymore, Miss Cordell.”

Natalie turned around, surprised. Her grandmother had refused to answer that particular question the first time she had visited, opting to simply ignore Natalie’s inquiries. “Then where are we?”

“In a slightly separate but still joined reality,” her grandmother said, as though that made things clear. She evidently did not wish to answer any more questions.

Cecily looked as though she understood a slight bit more than Natalie – though she still seemed confused – and Natalie decided that they should discuss this once they arrived back home. For now, both girls followed Natalie’s grandmother into the house.

Natalie had a better chance to look around this time. Her grandmother asked them if they were hungry and at their affirmative replies, she left to tell her cook to make something light.

Cecily leaned over to Natalie. “This place is fantastic.”

Natalie nodded. “I would like a slightly better explanation as to where ‘this place’ is though.”

Cecily giggled. “Me too. But I have to say, I feel very refreshed after the journey here. I slept deeper than I usually do at home.”

They peeked around the room in silence. They were in the living room. The great fireplace that Natalie had noted when she had been here last had been lit and the flames heated the room to a nice temperature. The great windows showing the breathtaking view of the forest surrounding her grandmother’s mansion lay before them. Down there somewhere was Mithridates, where Natalie had been introduced to magic.

“Enjoying the view, girls?” asked Natalie’s grandmother. Behind her stood the cook that had delivered Natalie’s breakfast the last time. The plump little woman carried a tray of cups containing what smelled like hot chocolate, and two sandwiches.

“It’s beautiful,” Cecily said.

Natalie’s grandmother motioned for them to sit down in the comfortable, huge couches. The cook set down the trays on the low glass table before them.

“Thank you,” chorused Cecily and Natalie, and the cook bowed and left.

Natalie sipped her hot chocolate.

“So, Natalie, how was your week?” asked her grandmother.

Natalie bit her lip. She did not know how much to tell her grandmother – she did not really know the lady and perhaps she would be angry if Natalie told her she had managed to do magic once she had left? Either way, she would not tell her grandmother about the strange messages she had been writing. She had no idea where they came from and though both she and Cecily were convinced that Ramon was behind it, neither had any proof. It felt better to keep it to herself until they knew more.

“I did magic on Sunday,” Natalie said, studying her hot chocolate with great interest.

“You did?” asked her grandmother and she sounded delighted.

Natalie looked up. “Cecily was feeling sick and I made the fever go away.”

Her grandmother’s thin lips drew a smile. “That’s great news, dear.” She looked to Cecily. “Are you often sick?”

“I’ve been sick since I was a baby.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Despite her words, Natalie could not hear any kind of remorse in her voice. Rather, some sort of odd curiosity flickered in her eyes. A moment later, she turned back to Natalie once more.

“Tell me what happened,” she said.

Natalie did. Cecily filled in with a bit of detail that Natalie forgot and Madeline Turner listened carefully to their words. Natalie finished her sandwich and Cecily half of hers. When they were done retelling the tale of Natalie’s first magic, her grandmother stood.

“Let’s return to my Mithridates,” she said.

Without another word she left the room. Natalie and Cecily hurried after her.

The late afternoon air was chilly but not cold. Still, as Natalie saw Cecily shudder in her light shirt, she handed over her sweater to her. Cecily gave her a thankful look and shrugged it on.

They passed the beautiful flowers that grew along the stone stairway and entered the forest. The tall trees emanated peace and though birds flew here and there and the wind ruffled the leaves and branches, the world felt still and quiet.

The three women entered the clearing that Natalie’s grandmother called Mithridates. It looked as it had when Natalie had last been there.

Cecily stared at it. “It’s as I imagined it would look.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Natalie, sending a weird look at Cecily. “Have you dreamed about this place too?”

Cecily shook her head. “No, silly. Mithridates – don’t you know? Each Master Wielder has his or her own Mithridates. It’s their place of power, where their powers are the very strongest. The closer to Mithridates the Wielder is, the more powerful he or she is.”

Natalie’s grandmother nodded. “Very good, dear. You’re clearly well-read in the field of Wielders.”

Cecily shook her head, her cheeks reddening at the praise. “Not really. I only know the basics.”

Natalie could not help but feel out of the loop. She wished she knew as much as Cecily obviously did, as it would be a great help to understand things. Still, she was thankful that Cecily was her friend – that way Cecily could at least explain things as they happened.

Natalie’s grandmother nodded to Cecily. “All right. It doesn’t make your words less true, however. This is my Mithridates, my place of power. It’s been in our family for generations, which is why it is also a good place for you to learn about magic, Natalie. As my granddaughter, you will be aided by my Mithridates.”

Natalie looked at her, unconvinced. She had not been able to do anything the last time she had been there. “Uh-huh,” she said.

Her grandmother ‘tsk’ed at her. “No negativity, please. It will not help.”

Natalie only barely kept from rolling her eyes. She attempted to share a look with Cecily but the other girl studied Natalie’s grandmother.

“Now, let’s try again,” her grandmother said. “Ramon is still out there and I would sleep better at night if I knew you could actually protect yourself.”

A note in her voice made Natalie feel like a chore because someone tried to kill her. She glared at her grandmother’s back, irritated with the notion. She could not help that some insane man was after her!

“So concentrate,” said her grandmother. “You don’t have to focus on water this time – I’m rather certain that is not your strongest element. Focus on anything that comes natural to you, whether it is fire, or wind, or light or even love. Try to conjure it, try to wield it.”

Natalie did not understand what her grandmother was saying. Still, unlike the last time, Natalie had now performed magic once. She knew what it felt like to be able to draw energy from the red stone that hung around her neck.

She thought of the things her grandmother had suggested to her. None of them felt right. A part of her felt like she might be able to create fire at some point but it not right now. Fire was passion and heat – at the moment, Natalie felt more annoyed than anything else. Wind was not it, nor was light. Though she felt love towards Cecily, it was not something she was about to create at the moment – she was not even sure what that would mean. Could she make one person fall in love with another once she wielded that power?

She pushed the thoughts aside and suddenly, there was a spark of something inside of her. It was created from the annoyance Natalie felt towards her grandmother’s nagging, from the frustration she felt about the situation with Ava and from the feeling of helplessness she felt about Cecily’s illness. As these things flashed before her eyes, Natalie felt the spark grow into something bigger. Her fingers began to shake as she drew them towards the red stone and her blood felt like it was boiling within her.

Slowly, she placed her fingers on the stone and drew out the powerful magic she had created. It rested in her palm, floating just above her fingers, and though Natalie’s eyes were closed, she could still see it. It was beautiful, she thought; it was pure magic.

“Well done,” she heard her grandmother say. Natalie barely registered it.

She opened her eyes to find something that she could only describe as sparkling electricity hovering just above her palm. Blue and intense white sparks flew from it but it did not hurt. Natalie knew that her own magic would not hurt her.

Natalie gradually pulled her fingers in, closing them to a fist. As she did, the ball of electricity became smaller, just as she knew it would, until it disappeared completely. Natalie stood perfectly still and noted that her chest heaved as she tried to regain her breath and her eyes attempted to re-adjust to the regular light of the sinking sun. She could hear her own blood pounding in her ears.

“That was amazing,” she heard Cecily say, though she sounded awfully far away. Natalie could not find her voice to reply.

The next moment, Natalie’s legs gave out and she collapsed into a heap on the ground, feeling distantly giddy.

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