Natalie spent her weekend in solitude, mostly in her room. The revelations and emotions she had gone through in the last couple of days and weeks had her drained.
The thought of her father, on Chaos’ side, inevitably steered her mind towards her mother. Who had she been? Why had she sided with someone who supported darkness? Natalie had always envisaged her mother as good and kind – had that been wrong? Had she been on Chaos’ side as well? She had died at about the same time as Natalie’s father, had she not? Had she too been killed for being on the wrong side?
On Sunday evening, Natalie walked downstairs to find Richard sitting in the living room. He sat alone, watching TV.
“Where’s Em?” Natalie asked.
She slumped down onto the couch as Richard answered, “She’s out with a couple of friends for the night.”
Emmanuella did that some times – left with her girlfriends, who were all like her: stuck up, underdressed and loud. Natalie did not mind her being gone.
“You’ve been quiet lately,” Richard said.
Natalie shrugged. “There’s just been—a lot of things going on.”
“What kind of things?”
“Just—a lot of things.” Then, on a whim, she asked, “What was my mother like?”
Richard whitened at the question and turned back to the TV. He looked as troubled as always, when Natalie asked the question. She had not asked in over a year – she had learnt that it was of no use.
“She was lovely,” Richard said. “But really, shouldn’t you ask your grandmother about it instead?”
As expected, he evaded her question. Natalie shook her head. “I’m asking you. You were her brother.”
“It’s been so long,” Richard sighed. “I barely even remember anymore.”
His face told her that he did remember. The pained expression made Natalie unsure of what he remembered, however – had her mother been a bad person? But no, the only thing Richard had ever said about her, was that she had been lovely.
She wanted to know. She wanted to know so badly – if her father had been a supporter of evil, then what had her mother been? Why had she died? Why had Natalie been forced to grow up with her uncle instead of with her parents?
An idea surfaced – could she use magic to make him tell her? Could she force it out of him?
She began to collect magic, her wish clear in her mind.
“Please,” Natalie said. “Just something—she was my mom. I just want to know.”
Richard shook his head and made to stand. “I’m sorry, Natalie.”
Natalie reached out and grabbed his wrist. A surge of magic passed from Natalie’s hand into Richard’s – she could feel it move. The magic felt specific like nothing she had ever done before. It had only one purpose – she wanted Richard to tell her of her mother. She had to know and Richard’s memories might be able to give her at least some answers.
But Richard’s words were drowned out. Something sucked Natalie forcefully in and she landed in a blurry landscape that seemed to change around her as she watched. She saw the vision through someone’s eyes and she realized with sudden clarity that the magic had pulled her into Richard’s memories.
A woman, whom Natalie soon could tell to be her own grandmother, bent down in front of her and showed her a small baby.
“This is your sister,” her grandmother said. “Her name is Carolina.”
A chubby hand belonging to the body Natalie resided in, was raised and touched the baby’s cheek.
The scene changed, the girl had become a few years old and ran down the stairs. The boy ran before her, looking over his shoulder and glancing back at the girl. Both giggled madly as they dashed around the house.
A school followed, a regular school with many children milling about. Richard had never noted them in his memories and they were merely a big blur, loud and ever-changing around him. Richard sat with friends – boys with blond hair and blue eyes, some freckled. He laughed with them. Then he looked to his side and there the girl was once more – unlike the ones surrounding him, this girl could not be clearer. She had aged to somewhere around seven years old, her hair in two braids and her clothes neat and tidy.
Natalie could feel a pang of regret, but she could not understand why – she merely thought it fantastic to see this. Then it dawned on her – regret was Richard’s feeling. She still did not understand why.
The memory changed abruptly into afternoon after school. Richard watched from afar as a group of boys and girls followed a lone girl.
“Freak!” they yelled and Natalie felt another stab of emotion – this time, it was anger and fear. The boys and girls continued to chant ‘freak’ and ‘misfit’ to the girl who would grow up to become Natalie’s mother.
Once more, Natalie’s grandmother came into the picture, along with a man Natalie had never met – her grandfather. He had kind eyes and thinning hair.
“Philip, would you take Richard outside – I need to speak to Carolina,” her grandmother said.
Richard turned and Natalie’s mother came into view. She was older yet again, perhaps around eleven. She sat quietly by the table, her face hidden behind a cascade of hair that had the exact same color as Natalie’s.
Natalie’s grandfather led Richard out. He looked over his shoulder one last time and Natalie wanted desperately to stay behind and hear what her grandmother would say to her mother.
Brief flashes followed that seemed to go the same way – her grandmother asked to be alone with Carolina, whilst Philip took Richard somewhere. Natalie felt Richard’s curiousness grow. She suspected what her grandmother spoke to her mother about. Carolina had been told of magic, and trained in it – Richard had not.
“Crazy! That’s what you are, Turner – a crazy, ugly freak!”
The scene changed and the voice echoed over Natalie’s head. The girl who had screamed stood before Carolina, who crowed. Two other girls stood behind the one who had yelled.
Suddenly, Carolina’s necklace glowed brightly. For a moment, everything became white and when the scene returned, the three girls were lying unconscious on the ground. Richard, who sat hidden behind something, felt shock and amazement – it traveled through Natalie as well. Carolina turned and ran from the scene.
Then Natalie returned with a gasp to the living room. Richard appeared dazed, but no longer than a second seemed to have passed. He shook his head and Natalie tried to get her breathing under control.
“There’s nothing I can tell you,” Richard said.
He pulled his hand from Natalie’s slackened hold, and hurried from the living room appearing badly shaken.
Natalie sat staring after him. She had not received any answers from her trip down Richard’s memories, but one thing was certain – her mother had been a victim of grim bullying. Natalie could not decide what to think of Richard – he had been there, he had wanted to do something, but he had obviously not, at least not for many years. Natalie had felt his fear of saying something. He had been scared they would turn on him too.
Natalie buried her head in her hands. That had given her nothing but more grief, this time for her mother. And a new question had surfaced – how much did Richard know about magic? He had obviously seen his sister do magic, but how much had he understood? Why had he not been told?
And still, she wondered – why had her mother died?
Despite the anger at Richard for what he had not done for her mother, and the lack of ideas to find the second part of the Nebula, Natalie still felt rather excited when she thought back to the events on Sunday afternoon. She had done magic completely on purpose that had worked on another person – she had entered another person’s memories.
She went to school on Monday morning with renewed energy.
Cecily sat in math class already when Natalie arrived. She looked tired as she usually did, and though Natalie knew that it would not last, she still concentrated for a minute and then sent a string of magic towards Cecily. It was not bright and shining this time, like when she had first healed her – this time, she consciously made it invisible. Cecily did not react when it touched her.
Natalie took a deep breath and decided that it was time to end the fight with Cecily. Though not quite ready to forgive her, they should still be able to talk to each other. Like Cecily had said – she did not have enough time left to spend it fighting. And though Natalie still hoped for the Nebula, there was still a risk…
Natalie sat down in the chair next to Cecily.
“Hi,” Cecily said carefully.
“How are you?”
Something lit in Cecily’s eyes. She smiled. “I’m good, and you?”
“I’m good too.”
They eyed each other, both rather unsure. Natalie could not recall feeling uncomfortable with Cecily before, but she did now. It would pass, eventually.
Class started and Natalie and Cecily kept shooting each other furtive glances, smiling rather shyly. To Natalie’s pleasure, a hint of color returned to Cecily’s cheeks as time passed.
They followed one another to English class, where the new substitute teacher waited for them. A woman in her late forties, likely the mother of some student. Natalie’s thoughts went to Ramon, still at her grandmother’s.
It still felt unreal.
Cecily watched her curiously. Natalie wanted to talk to her, but could say nothing as the teacher started speaking.
“Would you like to sit with me at lunch?” Natalie asked at the end of class.
Cecily smiled. “I would.”
“Good. I’ll see you then.”
It still felt stilted, but at least they spoke again. Natalie had not realized how much she had missed Cecily. If she had realized, she would have made peace much sooner. A warm feeling spread when they met up an hour later, and sat down outside with their lunches.
After an uncomfortable minute of silence had passed, Natalie said,
Cecily cocked her head to the side, pausing for a moment. “Nathan and I are dating.”
“Oh,” said Natalie, hardly surprised. “How long has that been going on?”
“Since the dance,” Cecily said. “We’ve been on a couple of dates – I wanted to experience the dating-thing.”
The sentence continued, before I die, but Cecily did not say it.
“You should. Really, so should I,” Natalie said with a roll of her eyes. “Is he a good kisser?”
Cecily blushed bright red and giggled. “He’s quite fine, yes.”
A few minutes passed with easy banter – Cecily told Natalie that Nathan was a gentleman, interested in science and sometimes a poet. He worried for her health, had bought her flowers once, and he had insisted on paying for the few dinners they had been out on. Natalie listened and basked in the feeling of being a regular teenage girl, talking about boys with a girlfriend.
Eventually, Cecily turned the question back to Natalie.
“What have you been up to?”
Natalie studied her sandwich. “I don’t even know where to start.”
My father was insane, Ava’s killer is my brother, my mother was bullied in school, and I’m trying to find the pieces of a stone that should be able to heal you. Oh, and by the way – Ava is a ghost.
She decided not to put it quite that way.
“At the beginning, perhaps?”
“I don’t know which part is the start,” Natalie said. She took a deep breath. “My father worked for Chaos.”
Cecily’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “What?”
“Apparently, he was quite fond of it – he got killed by the other side, the light side or something,” Natalie said.
“Trust me, I’ve been asking myself that very question quite a few times. I don’t have a clue why he would do that. I mean—it’s darkness! And then my mother—I don’t know if she was good or not.”
“I’ve told you before,” Cecily said. “You’re a good person, so they can’t have been too terrible.”
Natalie sighed. “I just don’t know.”
“Don’t fret about it,” Cecily said. “It won’t do you any good. You’re not your father.”
Natalie wanted to tell her of Ramon, but refrained. The bell would ring in a matter of minutes and Natalie knew that they would not have time to dive any deeper into the subjects. Telling Cecily she had a brother would not be a topic finished in a minute or two. Cecily would have questions and Natalie wanted to discuss it, talk about it. She wanted to tell Cecily everything – save, of course, for the Nebula. And perhaps she would not mention Ava’s ghost either.
“I know we’re not on the best terms right now,” Natalie said, “but I really need to talk to someone. Do you have time this afternoon?”
Cecily nodded. “Nathan and I thought of doing something, but I can call him.”
“Thanks,” Natalie said.
They stood. Cecily said, “I’m glad we’re talking again.”
Natalie smiled. “Me too.”
Afternoon had come and they sat in Cecily’s room, Natalie in the chair by the desk and Cecily propped up against pillows on the bed. The curtains moved lazily in the breeze and light played throughout the room. Cecily sat staring at Natalie, not quite able to form words.
Natalie said nothing. What could she say?
“He’s your brother?”
Natalie nodded. “Yeah.”
“And he was controlled by the evil spirit of your father?”
“Well, the spirit of my father at least. I don’t know if he was evil.”
“And he killed Ava while he was being controlled?”
“And he doesn’t remember anything?”
Natalie shook her head. “Not a thing.”
Cecily looked quite blown away – a look that Natalie had never seen on her face before. Her mouth hung open and a frown came and went as she went through the information Natalie had just relayed.
“That—changes things,” Cecily said.
It felt good, to have told her. Natalie had definitely needed to speak to someone about it – someone other than the brother himself, or his victim. Once Cecily got over the stunned part, she would be able to talk about it. Natalie needed to speak about her conflicted feelings towards Ramon – on the one hand, he was an innocent taken advantage of, but on the other hand, he had killed her best friend. Natalie’s head hurt just thinking of it.
Her headache would get worse.
“Natalie,” Cecily said carefully, “I had a dream.”
“A dream?” Natalie echoed. After a moment she realized. “A prophetic one?”
Cecily frowned. “I don’t know. It was odd – you were in the desert. But it seemed so real, so like the prophetic ones I’ve had before – but you’re not going to the desert, are you?”
Natalie shook her head, and told herself that it was not a lie. She was not going to the desert – she had already been there, in a dream of her own.
“I suppose it was only a regular dream, then,” Cecily said softly. She gazed at Natalie, her eyes penetrating Natalie.
“I suppose,” Natalie said.
Cecily sat quietly, appeared deep in thought, when Ava’s transparent body suddenly materialized before her. She looked tired, her lips pulled into a tight smile, and Natalie wondered if ghosts could really become tired. Did they need to sleep?
“I need to talk to you,” Ava said quietly.
Natalie glanced back at Cecily, who still looked quite far gone in thoughts.
“What is it? Are you okay?” she hissed as quietly as she could, lest Cecily think her crazy.
Ava shrugged. “I’ll be fine. Just a bit of a shock with Ramon being your—you know. Anyway, I—”
A loud gasp stopped Ava mid-sentence. She turned around as Natalie moved her gaze to Cecily – who stared wide-eyed and white-faced straight at Ava.
“Oh my god.”
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