Natalie could not believe her eyes.
The world before had changed in an instant – the shelf with the dusty books had soundlessly split in two, revealing before her a long, dwindling staircase. It was made out of large blocks of stone, and looked quite uneven but sturdy.
Natalie glanced around. There was no one there. The lanes between the large shelves were completely empty.
Slowly, she made her way down the stairs. There was no handle so she treaded carefully; the staircase was steep and she did not want to fall. Though the staircase lead downwards and no light shone behind her through any window, the passage was dimly lit. Once she had gone down far enough to not see the opening back to the library anymore, she saw the reason; a three-armed candelabrum burned quietly in a small pocket in the wall.
She reached the bottom of the stairs, carefully treading onto the dark floor. The musky, heavy air felt like no one had been there in years. Considering how she had found the place, Natalie believed that to be entirely possible.
Nonetheless, she said, “Hello?”
There was a tiny, tiny window at the other end of the room. It, together with the candelabrum, lit the room only just enough for Natalie to make out the contours of bookshelves lining the walls, and shadowed items strewn across the place.
She took another tentative step further into the room and—
“Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Natalie swirled around and screamed. A huge man with a beard and glowing red eyes stood behind her, looking furious. Natalie scrambled backwards, terrified. She stumbled over one of the dark pieces that was standing on the floor, and crashed into the bookshelf. It gave a great shudder and several of the books moved, but only one managed to fall out of its place and hit Natalie hard on the head.
The enormous man – his feet were on the ground and his head was touching the ceiling, and he was nearly as wide as he was tall – looked surprised.
Natalie stared at him, her whole body shaking, completely terrified. The man’s red eyes, still glowing in the dimly lit room, rested upon her.
They gaped silently at each other for several moments, before the red-eyed man said, “Oh, sorry.”
“E-excuse me?” Natalie asked, her voice trembling with fear. In the back of her head, the thought crossed her mind: she should probably be gathering magic to be able to defend herself – but she could not think clearly at the moment, much less defend herself. Her heart tried to beat its way out of her chest.
The man chortled, loudly enough for Natalie to draw back further, pressing herself against the bookshelf behind her. Her head ached slightly from the place where the book had hit her.
“I didn’t mean for you to get hurt,” said the red-eyed man.
Then something strange happened. Before her eyes, the man shrunk, both lengthwise and widthwise. The clothes shrank with him, until only a sliver of the man who had appeared before her remained. The beard was still there, rather bushy and long, but it hung from a rather slim, older man.
He reached out his hand to her, but then shook his head and took it back. “Silly me, still think I can help.”
Natalie was still on the ground, shaking. She knew she would probably be better off standing up, from a protection view, but she could not make her limbs work.
The man looked a bit concerned. “My, my, I frightened you for real, didn’t I? Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Or, well, perhaps I did, but it’s only for fun. I so rarely get visitors, you know.”
He looked like he was in his sixties, though between the beard and the strange red eyes, Natalie could not quite bring herself to take in enough details about him to make a truly informed guess. She wondered if he was a powerful Wielder as well – he had to be, considering how he had just changed his appearance.
“Now, do you speak?” asked the man. He appeared curious about her.
“I—I—” said Natalie, trying to make her tongue work. “Who are you?”
“Jules Sihera,” the red-eyed man said. “Keeper of this sorry old place.”
“Keeper?” repeated Natalie. She dared to take her eyes off him to glance around. She still could not make out much more of what the place was, than a minute ago when she had first stepped down here.
“Yes,” said Jules Sihera, “Keeper. Protect the things down here.”
“So—you live here?” asked Natalie. It did not seem like a particularly comfortable place to live – Natalie could see no bed and no kitchen, or any other necessity. Then again, there might be a hidden door somewhere.
Jules Sihera chortled again. “Yes, live here, you might say that.”
Natalie bit her lip. “And you’re not going to kill me for being here?”
The smile on his face was almost affectionate. “No, I most certainly am not. Like I said, I rarely get visitors. When I heard you coming, I just had to scare you. But anyone who can get here has a right to be here, that’s the rule, isn’t it?”
Natalie did not know of a rule at all, so she did not answer. Gingerly, she got to her feet, and placed back the book that had fallen on its rightful shelf. She still kept rather a close watch on Jules Sihera, in case he was lying and only pretending to not want to kill her. It did not appear to be the case, but one never knew.
“I’m not sure why I’m here,” Natalie said.
“Really?” asked Jules Sihera. “I thought you’d know exactly why you were here. Takes some knowledge to just get here, don’t it?”
Natalie did not answer. It had taken knowledge, but the knowledge had not been hers. Everything had been told to her.
“Well, never mind that – we’ll just see what the Script says,” Jules Sihera said.
Natalie’s eyebrows rose. “You have a Script Magia down here?”
Natalie decided to be quiet. Jules Sihera already seemed a slight bit suspicious of her and although she had nothing to hide, Natalie thought it might be better to pretend to know things from now on.
They walked over to the side opposite from the staircase. Natalie could make out a shape in the darkness and as they came closer, she saw that the shape was in fact a pedestal of sorts. It looked to be made out of boxes simply stacked on top of one another, but it did the trick. On the top box lay an old-looking book.
Natalie recalled the first Script Magia she had ever seen – Cecily’s Script, in Ramon’s hands just before he burned it. The book now laying before her was much older than the one Cecily had owned – every single page of this book was worn and fringed. Natalie could see this even as the book lay closed before her. The cover of it was made of leather, also looking beaten by time.
Natalie reached out to touch the Script.
Before she had a chance to lay so much as a fingertip on it, it flew open. Natalie pulled back her hand with a gasp.
The layer of dust that had been on the boxes became a cloud that made Natalie sneeze. It took nearly a minute before everything had settled enough for Natalie to be able to make out what page the book had landed on.
“’The Nebula Medeor’,” she read aloud.
Jules Sihera stared first at the page of the book, then at Natalie. “Oh my. If that’s what you’re after, then I can only wish you luck.”
There was a picture of a stone on the page – Natalie assumed that it was the Nebula Medeor. It was a beautiful stone, with black and white lines crossed its oval shape in odd patterns. It looked shiny and sparkling.
A sense of déjà vu overcame Natalie – she had seen this stone before. Once more, the image of three women accosted her, like a memory from a lifetime ago. The women had something to do with the lovely stone pictured in the book.
‘I have decided to keep it as my own.’
The word echoed through Natalie’s mind. She had heard someone say them. Someone young, a girl, just like herself.
Pulling herself from her strange pseudo memories, Natalie glanced to her side to find Jules Sihera.
“What do you mean, that you can only wish me good luck?” Natalie asked.
Jules Sihera looked at the picture of the stone and then his red eyes rested upon Natalie. “Read the text,” he said, but then continued anyway, “The Nebula was split in pieces. Each piece was hidden and no one knows where. There have been those who’ve tried to find it, but I don’t think anyone succeeded. We’d have heard about that, for sure.”
Natalie squinted at the text. It was hand-written and far from easy to read. On top of that, a part of the text was missing. Someone had ripped out an entire page from the Script Magia and only jagged edges remained.
Natalie read slowly, deciphering the text as she went.
‘Found in France in the fourteenth century, the Nebula Medeor has powerful qualities and can be used to heal that which is broken or sick, though it is also effective for breaking bonds of magic and protect the wearer. It is possible it has other, as of yet undiscovered, qualities.
Little is known about the origin of the stone, though some say it has been around since the creation of this world. The tale of the three sisters who found the stone will be told through generations: The sisters discovered the stone and used it to heal people in their village. The line soon grew long outside the sisters’ home and it gave hope to the masses, but in the end, the stone was split in pieces, during a tragic and stormy night. The sisters hid the pieces in hopes of preventing it from being reassembled.
The stone was named the Nebula Medeor – named for its healing powers and its dark lines. Obviously of great power, no one knows—’
The text ended at the end of the page – obviously, the writer had continued on the page that had been torn out. Frustrated, Natalie read on the page that followed, but it was about a red stone that helped fire elementals become more powerful.
Natalie sighed deeply. Helping Cecily seemed more and more hopeless with every second that passed. A stone that had been lost for ages and was, on top of that, in pieces? What chances did Natalie have to find them?
“As I said,” Jules Sihera said, “I can only wish you good luck if that’s what you’re after.”
Natalie nodded unhappily. “I see what you mean.” She paused, looking at the ripped out page for a moment. “If you’re the what-did-you-call-it, Keeper, of this place – do you know who took the missing page?”
“I believe the children got to the book before I had a chance to stop them,” Jules Sihera said.
Natalie raised an eyebrow at him, but he did not continue.
He asked, “Why are you looking for this stone? Begging for trouble, that is.”
“A friend of mine is very sick,” Natalie said. “I need to help her.”
A crease between his eyebrows appeared. “You know, sometimes it’s just time for people to go.”
“No!” said Natalie forcefully, glaring hotly at Jules Sihera. “She’s fifteen years old – she’s not supposed to die!”
He held up his hands in peace. “All right, all right! I’m just saying, that stone is an awfully big something to try to find. Can be anywhere, and not just in this world, I’m sure.”
Natalie wanted to slam her head into the wall, for of course Jules Sihera was right – not only was there the regular world, but the entire dimension where her grandmother and the Diophane, and no doubt others, lived, could hide the pieces as well.
“And I’m guessing you can’t help me?” asked Natalie.
Jules Sihera looked rather shocked to be asked. Then she shook his head vehemently. “No, no, can’t do that. Can’t leave. There are rules, you know.”
“You can’t leave here?” Natalie asked, rather horrified. This did not seem like a place one wanted to be held prisoner in. “Why?”
“Those are the rules,” Jules Sihera said. “Now, you might want to go back upstairs before old lady Ruth comes looking for you.”
Natalie could only assume that ‘old lady Ruth’ was the ancient librarian that she had met upstairs. Natalie could not help but ask, “Does she know that this place exists?”
Jules Sihera chuckled. “Goodness, no! Takes good care of her books, old lady Ruth does, but magic’s not for her.”
Natalie smiled slightly with an accompanying nod. She did not quite listen to him. Her mind had filled with questions – if the ghost writer had sent her here, then he or she must mean to say that Natalie would be able to find it. Natalie, however, simply could not see how it could be done. Others had apparently tried before her – what made the ghost writer think that Natalie could do it?
It felt like she had taken a heap of mental beating – the only thing she felt confident about at the moment was that finding the pieces was totally and completely impossible. It was not even just the one piece to find, but several, and Natalie did not even know how many!
While she raged on internally, a small part of her still protested. The small part kept sending images of a very ill Cecily for her to see and think about, trying desperately to motivate Natalie to try to find the stone anyway, no matter the impossibility of it all.
“Thank you for your help, sir,” she said softly to Jules Sihera.
Jules Sihera nodded and smiled at her. He looked far more pleasant now than when Natalie had first laid eyes upon him, although his red eyes freaked Natalie out.
“You’re welcome,” said Jules Sihera and continued with the burning question, “Are you going to try to find it?”
Natalie glanced at the picture of the shimmering stone in the book. She remembered seeing it in a girl’s hand, its raw power drawing her in without pardon. She knew that if she did find the stone, it would be able to help Cecily.
She nodded, albeit a bit hesitantly. She was still rather certain that she would fail spectacularly, but then at least she had tried. If she did nothing and simply watched Cecily become sicker and finally die without doing something, she would never be able to forgive herself.
“Yes,” she said to Jules Sihera. “I’m going to try.”
He looked almost proud. There was a smile on his face and he said, “Well then – I wish you good luck.”
Natalie smiled at the only thing he could give her.
Then she crossed the floor, heading back towards the stairs leading up to the library.
“Bye,” she said to Jules Sihera, who simply waved back.
Natalie turned towards the staircase and, with the help of the soft light of the candelabrum, she made her way back up to the regular world.
Readers of The Winter Legacy: Heritage - Chapter Ten: