She stood atop a mountain, looking down over a valley that shifted in browns and green. It looked as though it had not rained there in a long time and what little vegetation in existence seemed burned by the scorching sun above. It was not particularly beautiful yet it still not ugly either.
Natalie wondered why she had come there – and then she wondered where ‘there’ was. She suspected it might be a dream but she could not quite tell. It did not feel like just any dream – she could feel the heat of the sun against her skin and the dry air. It felt real and little like a dream. She could even feel the sand slipping into her shoes – that did not happen in regular dreams, did it?
Vaguely, she recalled Ramon – he had stood before her a moment ago, had he not? Where was he now? Was this a trick of his?
Natalie turned around. Briefly, she wondered if she should be scared. The place did not frighten her and it did not have the qualities of a nightmare, but perhaps it would get worse. Had she used magic to come here? No, it did not feel quite right. But neither did the thought of this being a dream.
A figure stood before her, at a distance. Natalie had to call the figure ‘it’, for it dressed in long, dark robes and where the face ought to have been, nothing but a blur beneath the hood could be seen. The figure had no shape that Natalie could use to determine if it was male or female – even its hands were covered.
“Hi,” said Natalie, frowning.
They stared at each other for several long moments. Or rather, Natalie stared – without eyes, she could not tell if the figure stared back at her or not.
“Who are you? Where are we?”
“Always inquisitive,” said the figure calmly.
Natalie could not tell its gender from the voice – melodic yet deep, female and male at the same time. It sounded a bit as though it was part of a song.
“When I don’t know where I am or who I’m talking to, yes, I tend to be.”
Had the creature before her brought her there? Where was ‘there’? It looked like no place Natalie had ever been before. Beyond the bare valley were more mountains, fading off into the distance, and a clear blue sky hung overhead.
The figure asked, “Do you still wish to help your friend?”
“How do you know of Cecily?” asked Natalie.
Could this be a dream after all? If so, then any creature she would talk to would know everything that she knew, right? They would simply be part of her imagination. But again, it did not feel right. This was no ordinary dream.
“We’ve talked before, Natalie, though not in this forum.”
Natalie merely stared at it before finally saying to the figure, “You’ll have to be a bit more specific than that, I think. I talk to a lot of people. Though I usually can see their faces.”
She did not care that her tone of voice was not the most pleasant – this figure before her annoyed her with its silly way of talking.
The figure shook its head. “Not the way you talk to me.”
A pearl of sweat from the heat of the sun made its way down Natalie’s cheek. She frowned at the figure. She had never seen anything like it and she felt, of course, quite certain that she had never talked to it before. She narrowed her eyes, trying to make out a face in the dark blur beneath the hood. She failed.
“You will not be able to see me.”
The way the figure spoke reminded Natalie of something. Not the voice – the voice sounded unlike anything Natalie had ever heard before – but the words and the short sentences that did not quite make sense. Always riddles, always—
Natalie’s eyes widened. It could not be.
“You’re the ghost writer?”
There was slight amusement in the one word the figure uttered.
Perhaps the term ‘ghost writer’ was more accurate than Natalie had first realized. The figure before her certainly seemed anything but corporeal – perhaps ghosts actually existed. Could the figure be controlling her dream? But then, how would it do that? It seemed impossible.
A small voice in the back of her head said that her own visit in Cecily’s dream was equally impossible. In fact, a bunch of things that had happened recently ought to be deemed impossible and yet they had happened. Natalie did not know what to make of it all.
The figure repeated its question, tugging Natalie from her thoughts.
“Do you still wish to help your friend?”
“Of course I do,” said Natalie.
The figure said nothing for a while. Natalie wondered if the figure had eyes – it certainly felt as though it studied her. She did not appreciate it but if the figure had information on how she could help Cecily, then she would undergo the scrutiny. Besides, she reminded herself, she had no idea of how she had traveled to the place and as such, she did not know how to leave.
She wiped away the sweat drop nervously.
“Very well,” the figure finally said. “There is a stone, the Nebula Medeor, that could help her.”
“The Nebula wha-huh?” Natalie repeated.
“The Nebula Medeor,” repeated the figure. “It is a very powerful stone that has not been used for centuries.”
Natalie’s heart beat quickly. Could there be a way to get Cecily completely well? There were few things Natalie wanted more than to see Cecily healthy.
The figure did not answer her question.
“Come,” it said. “I have something to show you. Look to the sun.”
The figure lifted a glove-clad hand towards the sun as though about to touch it. Natalie did as told and looked into the bright light of the sun.
Natalie did not understand – show her? What? The stone? If so easy to find, why had she not already heard of it? Why had no one used it for centuries? Why had not Cecily, who was more well-versed in the world of Wielders than Natalie? If a stone with enough power to heal Cecily existed, then it should be found and used.
Natalie’s head swirled with questions.
She wondered again where she was and how she had gotten there. Then the sun’s bright light blinded her and surrounded her, all at once.
Her surroundings changed completely. The hot sun disappeared as well as the valley and the sand, and instead, she stood in what looked like – a village of the fifteenth century? Small houses made of clay, with roofs made of some sort of dry grass, lined a dusty, dirty walkway. The houses were very simple and quite tiny. Without going into one to check, Natalie would have to guess that they only held one room.
The sun had just started to make its journey up on the horizon. It appeared to be quite early in the morning. Only a few birds, flying across the skies, disturbed the peace with their song. Natalie breathed in. She had never inhaled such clean air – it felt amazing. The temperature was only a bit chilly and Natalie would have liked an extra sweater.
Just then, a woman emerged from one of the little houses.
“We ought to already be on our way if we are to do this today,” she said.
She wore a long dress with an apron, her brown hair pulled back. The colors and style of her outfit suggested that Natalie had not been far off in her assumption of what century this was. She appeared to speak French, but Natalie had no problem understanding it, for some reason.
The woman appeared to be only a few years older than Natalie, and about the same height.
She looked around the village, checking to see if anyone had noticed that they were leaving. She appeared a bit anxious. When she did not spot Natalie, Natalie frowned – she stood right in the middle of the so-called street, after all. Was she invisible to the woman?
Two other women, one possibly Natalie’s age and the other about the same age as the first, exited the house. Natalie wondered how many lived in there. The thought did not bother her for long, for far more burning felt the question of why she had been brought here. Was she still dreaming? The clear air in her lungs suggested otherwise – it felt very real – but how had she gotten here if not through a dream? The level of detail here was far greater than any other dream Natalie had ever had, that was for sure.
With a gasp, Natalie noted that she moved even though she was not walking. It felt like she flew over the grass. A gentle breeze swept through her hair.
The three women still walked straight ahead of her. They looked around every now and then, perhaps to see if anyone was following them or perhaps to keep a look-out for wild animals. Natalie did not know which one. By now she had, however, deduced that the women could not see her. They had looked her way several times. Natalie could only assume that she was there to watch them – nothing else made sense. Of course, Natalie felt unsure of whether anything about this made sense.
“Merely a bit further,” said the woman who had exited the house first. Natalie thought she was the oldest as her behavior made it seem that way.
“Good, for the sun is rising,” the youngest one said and glanced at the sun. “The herbs will not be of much use after noon, sister.”
So they were sisters, then. They did look alike.
They climbed a hill and Natalie followed at the same distance she had been the entire time. She started feeling oddly comfortable in this strange world, with the flying and the beautiful scenery. Around them, green fields untouched by human hands stretched on and on. Here and there, scattered by nature’s hand, stood trees and bushes. In the distance, Natalie could make out animals, possibly deer, calmly eating grass to their hearts’ content.
“We are here,” the oldest sister said a moment later.
A wide smile spread on the youngest one’s face. She hurried to a set of bushes to her right. She had not braided her hair like her sisters and it flew free in the wind. She was a beautiful girl. She kneeled by the second bush and began picking out leaves and branches, placing the ones she deemed good enough in her apron as she went.
The other two sisters calmly went to work on a tree on the other side. It hung heavy with some sort of fruit and the sisters plucked it gently. They also gathered some of the tree’s leaves.
They moved around the area for several hours, working their way around bushes with oddly shaped berries and beautiful flowers that Natalie had not seen before and placing bits and pieces of bark in their aprons. Natalie wondered what they needed it for – and even more, she wondered why she watched girls of several centuries ago as they collected beautiful but boring leaves? She wondered where the robe-clad figure of her previous dream – or whatever this was – had disappeared to.
Suddenly, the youngest sister gasped. “Oh!”
The other two turned their heads to her. “Sandrine? How are you feeling, sister?”
Sandrine’s blonde head became visible beyond one of the bushes. “I am well – but I laid eyes upon—”
As the two sisters drew nearer, their curiousness getting the better of them, Natalie was also taken closer to the youngest.
“Oh my,” said the oldest sister. “That is truly magnificent.”
Natalie leaned over their shoulders to see. She too had to gasp when she saw it.
A beautiful, oval-shaped stone lay in Sandrine’s hand. It nearly filled her palm and it shone brighter than any stone Natalie had ever seen, glimmering in pearly white and dark black, lines passing over the stone in an irregular pattern. Natalie could make out the other girls’ reflections in the stone, though not her own. She wondered, but did not let her thoughts linger too long on it. Instead, she looked upon the stone.
With sudden clarity, Natalie realized this stone to be the reason she had been taken here. Power emanated from it – power unlike any Natalie had felt in her brief time since becoming a Novus. It was different. It seemed to be based on something else, something unlike the magic Natalie had performed and where that had been drawn from.
It almost seemed to have a life of its own, Natalie thought.
Still, though she had now realized why she was here, she still did not know the bigger why. If she assumed correctly about what time they were in, this scene had taken place five hundred years ago. Even if she was completely off in her judgment, it had still happened at least a century ago, if it had happened at all. What did it matter to her? Why had she been taken to see this scene? What was the purpose?
“I have decided to keep it as my own,” the youngest sister said.
Neither the middle or older sister seemed to mind. They both appeared quite interested in the black stone. The middle sister – who had hair the same color as the youngest one, but was a bit heavier set with rougher features – even smiled.
Another breeze swept past them. The oldest sister shook her head.
“It would appear I lost myself for a moment,” she said softly. “We need to return to the village.”
The other sisters agreed but all three seemed strangely reluctant to stand and go. They all looked upon the black stone. Natalie’s eyes rested upon it as well – for some reason, it felt like it should not be left out of sight.
However, as the girls stood up to make the trek back to their village, the world around Natalie started to fade. Darkness swept in from all sides. The women were leaving, walking away from her, but somehow, Natalie could still sense the stone in Sandrine’s hand.
The last thing she saw before darkness erased the world around her was Sandrine clutching the stone close to her heart.
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