The world around her returned to what it had been before – Diophane McCoy opposite her, speaking about the Nebula and what little she knew of it, the boy next to her and Ramon next to Natalie.
“According to the few records I’ve found of it, the stone was split in three, each sister left with one part,” the Diophane said. “No one knows what they did with the parts and no one has been able to locate the Nebula since the tragic death of the youngest sister.”
Natalie’s thoughts raced. She had found the eldest sister’s – Sophia’s – piece but two remained to be found. If Sandrine had died still holding her piece of the stone, then the part had been lost for centuries in the cold waters where she had died. Natalie would never find it.
She felt her heart fall into a pit of black despair. She wanted that part. She needed that part.
The Diophane caught her attention once more.
“But make no mistake, Miss Winters,” she said. “The stone was as dangerous as it was powerful. People have given witness to the destruction of the three sisters after they started using the stone – the more miracles they performed, the harder they fought. No one knows the origin of the stone, but there are stories that claim it had a life of its own.” She looked down her nose at Natalie. “Now, tell me where you heard of this stone.”
Natalie had prepared her lie. “At the library at home. I stumbled upon a magic room and there was a Script Magia. It had a page on the Nebula Medeor.”
The Diophane’s hard eyes bore into her, searching for deception. Natalie held her own, meeting the gaze unwavering. After a long moment, Diophane McCoy pursed her lips.
“It is odd that you would find such a text. I thought all texts on it had been moved here.”
Natalie assumed she meant that they had been moved to this dimension. She thought of Jules Sihera, the guardian of the Script Magia she had found. He might be the reason why the Script had never been moved. After all, he had claimed to be its Keeper.
Natalie wondered about the vision she just had of the three sisters. Why now? Why had it happened as she sat listening to the Diophane tell the very same story – albeit with much fewer details? No one seemed to have noticed her disappearance into the dreamlike place. She wondered how long it had lasted. It all felt very strange, especially as the previous dreams of the sisters had been so controlled, with a meeting with the robed figure before or after.
The Diophane stood and the boy with her. Natalie followed suit.
“I urge you not to try to find the stone, Miss Winters. There are Wielders who have gone mad trying to do so. It no longer exists and it is no longer a danger, as long as it is in pieces.”
“Yes, Diophane,” Natalie said. The piece of the stone that currently rested in Natalie’s pocket felt suddenly heavy.
“Good. If that is all, we shall be on our way.”
“It is,” Natalie said. “Thank you.”
She meant her thanks. The Diophane’s story had obviously made it possible for her to see something – perhaps a part she would have had to wait for much longer otherwise. However, despite the death of the youngest sister, the vision did not worry Natalie. It had, of course, been awful, but she felt convinced that the stone would not have much effect on her – she would only be using it once, and then leave it be. She only needed to heal Cecily – people would not line up outside her door to be healed.
The Diophane and the boy – Natalie presumed him to be her student as he followed her every move – swept their fingers across their glowing necklaces and in the next second, they had disappeared.
Natalie turned to Ramon, who had not said a single word since they had arrived downstairs.
“You’re going to look for it, aren’t you?” he asked.
For some reason, Natalie felt no need to lie. Perhaps because he was no longer a threat, or perhaps because some part of her recognized him to be her brother – and one should trust one’s brother.
“Yes,” she said simply. “I have to.”
“A friend of mine needs it.”
“I see,” he said, though he clearly did not.
Silence spread for several minutes.
“What are you going to do now?” Natalie asked.
Ramon looked out the windows, his face distant. “Your grandmother has offered me to stay here. I believe she wants to monitor me.”
“Oh,” Natalie said – she could come up with nothing more.
She wondered what she should feel about suddenly having a brother. Happiness? She could not quite bring herself to feel anything.
Darkness had fallen over the forest. Natalie could hear the faint sounds of the wind whispering outside and she felt weary. She wondered how it could be possible that a mere two months ago, she had not known anything about magic.
How simple life had been then.
She called for butler Thomas and asked to go home. Her grandmother slept on and Natalie did not bid her goodbye, as she did not want to disturb her.
She wondered whether she would ever be able to look at Ramon without thinking of Ava’s death.
The almost complete lack of bruises on Natalie’s face the next day had the other students whispering and pointing yet again. Natalie pushed it aside, not wishing to think about it. Besides, it had almost become part of the school day by now, people giggling and murmuring behind her back. She tried to focus in her classes but continuously returned to the Nebula.
Natalie sat in her first afternoon class, listening as the teacher droned on, when she looked down and found the sentence.
‘You have found the first piece.’
‘You pretty much gave it to me,’ Natalie wrote back. She really had not done much to find it.
‘Do not underestimate your own work.’
Natalie thought of the vision she had had of the sisters while at her grandmother’s. Although the ghost writer had shown her that the three sisters had fought about the uses of the stone, it had not shown the death of the youngest sister. Where had the vision at her grandmother’s come from? Had the ghost writer taken her there while she was completely conscious this time? Feeling a slight bit suspicious, Natalie asked,
‘Is the stone dangerous?’
It did not take long for an answer to appear.
‘No thing has ever only one quality.’
Natalie frowned. What did that mean? That the stone could be dangerous? It sounded like the old saying – in everything good lies some bad. Perhaps that was what the ghost writer meant, in its typical, cryptic way.
She sighed, for she knew the ghost writer would not be any more forthcoming.
‘I saw when the stone was split,’ Natalie wrote. ‘Is one part lost in the ocean?’
The answer took some time to appear and Natalie began to wonder if the ghost writer had once more disappeared. The teacher wrote briefly on the white board and Natalie copied it down into her notes. When he turned back to the class and continued speaking, Natalie let her mind drift again. The answer appeared.
‘Not everything is as it seems.’
Now that answer annoyed Natalie. What did it mean by that? She rather felt like ripping the piece of paper into shreds but refrained, taking long deep breaths instead. The gossipers did not need more fuel to their fire on her mental state.
‘What do you mean?’ Natalie wrote, though she doubted she would get an answer.
The clock showed five minutes left before class would end. Natalie wanted an answer before then, but the seconds ticked on and became minutes. Then, with only one minute left, she found an answer on the paper.
‘The first piece was not in the desert, but in a dreamland. The second piece is not in the ocean, but with the sister.’
The bell rang, and everyone around Natalie bustled out of the classroom. Natalie stared at the words. Though the fact that the piece had not ended up on the bottom of the ocean made her rather happy – she would never have found it then – she did not understand where else it could have gone. With the sister? Had one of the other two sisters grabbed it just before Sandrine went over the edge? It certainly seemed possible and Natalie could not quite remember what the two sisters had been doing at the time – her own eyes had been glued to Sandrine in the brief second it took for her to fall and disappear beyond the edge.
Natalie sighed and packed her things. She wished she could talk to Cecily – perhaps she would be able to shed some light on this. But no, she would not – not until she had the pieces, and could heal Cecily with it.
Two days passed without Natalie gaining any more understanding. The latest of the ghost writer’s words had her lost – but she found an odd sort of solace in the fact that she had been equally lost the first time around, and she had still managed to get that piece. However, she stressed – Cecily had been gone from school again and to Natalie, she looked worse each time Natalie saw her. She was running out of time.
As she walked home from school on Friday afternoon, company faded into view before her. A warm feeling spread in her chest at the sight of her friend – she had wondered why Ava had not been to see her in several days.
“Hi,” Natalie said.
“Hi,” Ava said. “What’s wrong?”
Natalie sighed – she had no reason to keep anything from Ava. After all, who would she tell?
“I found the first piece of the stone.”
“That’s great!” Ava said. “No?”
“It is, definitely.”
“But there are still two more parts and the ghost writer is giving me such annoying clues – and Cecily’s just getting worse,” Natalie said.
“Ah,” Ava said. “I see. What’s the clue?”
Natalie grabbed her notebook out of her bag and held it up for Ava to look at. Once Ava had read the text, Natalie told her about the vision she had had of the three sisters up on the cliff.
By the time she had finished, they had reached Natalie’s house and while she unlocked the door, Ava floated right through it. She smiled smugly for a moment at Natalie, before cocking her head to the side.
“That’s just horrible. But – ‘With her sister’? What does that mean?” she asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out – and it’s driving me mad,” Natalie said. “I’ve been trying to think if any of the other sisters grabbed the stone but I don’t really remember but perhaps—I don’t know. And even if one of them did, it doesn’t get me anywhere!”
“And it says it’s not in the ocean,” Ava said thoughtfully. “That’s good, at least.”
Natalie nodded. Ava followed her to the kitchen, where she grabbed a piece of toast.
“I’d offer you some but, you know,” Natalie said to Ava, who shrugged.
“Who needs eating when I can do this instead,” Ava said, and floated up in the air towards the ceiling. She did not have it quite down yet, as she floated through the ceiling and for a while, all Natalie could see were Ava’s legs and feet, which faded into the background.
“Show-off,” Natalie smiled as Ava came back down.
As always when she spoke to Ava, it felt nice. Since the first time they had met, they seemed to have clicked – Natalie kept forgetting that it had only been two months. She sighed, wishing she could have had more time with Ava.
“What is it?” asked Ava.
Natalie shrugged. “I’m being sentimental. I just wish we could have had some more time together.”
“Me too,” Ava said. She hesitated before continuing. “Natalie? You know this stone – the Nebula—if it can heal people, do you think it could make me—”
Natalie knew what she was asking. “I don’t know.”
The sisters had used it for healing, but Natalie doubted they had used it to raise the dead. They had never said anything to point in that direction, at least.
“I suppose you’d need my body anyway,” Ava said. “And that’s—well, not available.”
She tried to keep her voice light, but Natalie could hear the undertones of desperation.
“Do you want to live again?” Natalie asked.
Ava looked miserable and nodded. “I do. I miss things. Just looking at you eating toast right now – I want to eat toast too. The regular stuff, the things I never thought about doing. And I’d like to see my family again. They—they think I ran off, or got kidnapped – I’d like for them to know what happened. I—I was at my parents’ house a couple of nights ago and I saw mom and—she was crying. And I just wanted to comfort her and I couldn’t—”
Silver tears traveled down Ava’s cheeks. “I guess I’d have liked to see what my life would have been like. I just—now, it feels like someone is dangling my life in front of me, showing me everything that I can’t have. I think I’d be all right if I actually died and moved on somewhere—but right now it just feels like I’m stuck in limbo. See, but not touch.”
Natalie wished she could take Ava into her arms and hug her close, but that was exactly the problem – see, but not touch.
“I’m so sorry,” Natalie said.
Ava shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Natalie’s eyes grew suddenly wide, as she remembered what she had not yet told Ava.
“He’s my brother,” Natalie choked out.
“Who?” Ava asked. “You have a brother?”
“Ramon,” Natalie whispered. “He’s—he’s my half-brother. We—my dad—”
Ava stared at her for a full minute, feelings passing quickly over her face – surprise, anger, hatred, fury, shock. Finally, Ava looked to the floor.
“That still doesn’t make it your fault.”
“Please, Nat—I don’t want to talk about it—I have to—”
Though a ghost likely did not need to breathe, Ava’s chest heaved. She closed her eyes, pinching her eyebrows together, and let out a long, shuddering breath.
“I—I’ll see you later,” she said.
Before Natalie had time to say or do anything else, Ava turned and passed through the walls of the kitchen, disappearing from Natalie’s sight.
The feelings of shock that Natalie had felt when she had been at her grandmother’s returned. Sadness passed through her – she had not wanted to upset Ava further. Still, she knew that she would have had to find out at some point, and lying to her would not have made anyone any happier in the end.She sank down into her chair, feeling like a heavy weight sat upon her heart.
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