“You—you can see me?”
Ava and Cecily stared straight at each other. Cecily’s mouth hung open in complete shock.
“You’re dead,” she whispered.
“Yeah. And you’re not supposed to be able to see me,” Ava said.
Natalie’s gaze wandered between the two. She thought it was good that Cecily had been sitting down already, for she feared she would have passed out otherwise. Her face matched the white sheets.
Finally, Cecily swallowed. “You’re a ghost?”
“But that means that I’m—” Cecily said, trailing off.
Natalie finished with a smile. “Magical.”
She remembered the shimmer she had seen surrounding Cecily on several occasions, though it had been a while since the last time. She thought of the prophetic dreams and the sense that Cecily had always been different than them.
Cecily stared at her. “But I’m not a Wielder – I can’t do magic.”
“Perhaps you’re something else, then,” Ava said. “I mean, fairies and whatnot are real, aren’t they?”
Natalie nodded, “That’s what grandmother said.”
“But I’m not a fairy – mom and dad – mom died of cancer,” Cecily said. “She was human.” She sighed and closed her eyes, rubbing her face with her palms. “You’re a ghost. Why didn’t you tell me?”
She directed her question to Natalie.
“Uh—I thought I was going insane,” Natalie said. “I had no idea ghosts even existed!”
“Neither did I, until I became one,” Ava quipped.
“She told me she was a ghost but I couldn’t really believe it,” Natalie said, “and there wasn’t exactly anyone to verify it for me, either. I mean, who would I ask?”
Cecily sighed. “Just don’t expect me to be fine just yet. I had just started accepting that you—”
She did not need to finish the sentence – all three felt rather happy that she did not. The translucence of her body served as enough of a reminder – Ava still existed, but not quite.
“I had a dream about you,” Cecily said. “I didn’t realize it at the time – I thought it was a regular dream – but it must have been a prophetic one. I saw you with Natalie, weeks ago.”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Natalie said.
Cecily shook her head. “What was I supposed to say?”
“Have you had any other prophetic dreams?” Natalie asked.
A crease appeared between Cecily’s eyebrows as she thought. “I’m not sure – I’ve had this very fuzzy dream—you’re chasing something, but I can’t see what it is.”
She glanced curiously at Natalie for an answer. Natalie tried to keep her face neutral as she replied. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. Perhaps I’m chasing good grades and they’re getting away from me.”
Cecily rolled her eyes but smiled. She turned to Ava. “What are you here for, then?”
“Here for?” Ava asked.
“Yes, what’s your purpose? All ghosts have a purpose – something they need to do before they can move on,” Cecily said.
“I don’t know,” Ava said. “I’m just floating in and out of this place. I don’t think I have a purpose. No one’s told me, at least.”
“You’ll know, eventually,” Cecily said.
“But I don’t want to move on!”
A note of desperation tinted her voice. Natalie wanted to hug her but could not, for obvious reasons. She stayed quite, having no words of comfort to offer. She could not imagine the situation Ava was in – being forced to watch life go on, not participating, just watching the world, waiting for the time when she would die for real.
Cecily studied Ava with a pained expression. “Then all you have to do, is to not fulfill whatever purpose you have here.”
“But what if it’s something important,” Ava said, perhaps mostly to herself. She shook her head, cleared her throat, and looked at Natalie. Her voice sounded thick. “I still need to talk to you.”
If Ava did not want to speak in front of Cecily, then it could only mean she had one subject in mind – the Nebula Medeor. Natalie stood.
Cecily did not ask. She saw the looks exchanged between Ava and Natalie and Natalie could only assume that she knew she would not get an answer. She would not force it out of them. Natalie hoped it would not drive a new wedge between them – they certainly did not need that.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Cecily said.
Natalie nodded, her cheeks red with shame of so obviously leaving Cecily in the dark. She bid her goodbye together with Ava and they left. Ava floated through the wall because she could.
Once they were outside, the two went a whole block without saying a word. Natalie felt guilty about not telling Cecily, though it was for the good of things. She did not like to keep secrets.
A small park spread out a few blocks down from Cecily. Natalie and Ava headed that way. It was no bigger than two blocks, but it stood out green and lush amongst the suburb houses. A fountain stood in the middle, and a playground inhabited by a few children, their mothers sitting on the benches just next to it, lay on the other side. Natalie and Ava stayed as far away as possible from it, wishing for privacy. Natalie would appear to be talking to herself, and the less audience, the better.
“You wanted to talk?” Natalie said finally.
Ava startled. “Yeah. Sorry. Just—the Cecily thing threw me for a loop. I mean—I hadn’t even tried to talk to her, I just assumed it wouldn’t work. I knew she was different but – I didn’t know she’s magical!”
Natalie shook her head. “Neither did I – or she, apparently.”
“I wonder what kind of magical,” Ava said thoughtfully.
“Ava, please,” Natalie said. “The Nebula.”
Ava gave her a slightly annoyed look. Natalie could not blame her – had the roles been reverse, she would probably have wanted to think of the new person that could see her.
“Right,” Ava said. “I was thinking about your second clue. The whole ‘not in the sea, but with the sister’-thing. And I was thinking – what if it wasn’t with one of the other sisters, but with the one who died?”
Natalie stared at her.
“Just hear me out,” Ava said hurriedly, seeing Natalie’s face. “It’s kind of weird but still. Just listen. The stone’s not in the ocean. It’s with a sister, according to your ghost writer thingy. If the sister who died—”
“Sandrine,” Natalie filled in.
“—if Sandrine had it, and it’s with her, then she could’ve brought it along with her. Into death.”
Natalie’s eyes grew bigger. It sounded insane – but she had learned in the last few months, that insane did not mean impossible. Could it be? But then, that still begged the question of where the stone had disappeared to.
“But where’s ‘into death’?” Natalie asked.
“Ah, that’s where I come in,” Ava said, “‘cause I think it’s where I disappear to, when I’m not here. I don’t know what it is, but in my head I call it the Land of the Restless, because it seems to be filled with beings like me – not quite dead, definitely not alive. Just—spirits. Restless ones.”
“But—can things exist there? A piece of a stone?”
Natalie felt both excited and horrified with the idea. Excited, for if Ava was right, then they might soon have the second part of the stone, and horrified because – the Land of the Restless? It did not ring too well for a living person.
“I think so,” Ava said. “I have seen something there. Or well, seen is a big word ‘cause you just kind of float around in there, being nothing at all, just there, but I’ve sensed something. Something that shouldn’t be there.”
“Could it really be—?” Natalie asked.
Ava nodded. “Like I said, I think it might be. It fits too well. A stone should not be there, because it’s material, and it should disrupt things. If the sister – Sandrine – managed to bring it along with her spirit to the Land, then—it fits with the clue, doesn’t it?”
Natalie did not know what to say. It did fit with the odd ghost writer’s intelligible clues and it seemed strange enough for the evasive stone.
“It does,” Natalie said. “But how would we ever get it out of there?”
Ava shrugged. “I suggest you use magic.”
She appeared to be under the impression that magic could do just about anything. For a moment, Natalie frowned – nothing she had seen so far had done anything to prove that statement wrong. But visiting another realm, or whatever it was? But reaching beyond death? Could that be possible?
She could not ask anyone either. Her grandmother would certainly get suspicious, as would Cecily. Diophane McCoy would tell her grandmother, without giving Natalie the information she wanted. Other than those three, Natalie had no one to ask. Ramon no longer had the knowledge of a Master Wielder.
Perhaps the ghost writer could help. Then again, relying on the tight-lipped ghost writer seemed a bad idea – Natalie never knew when she would start talking, and she could never get straight answers out of her.
She would have to do this on her own – with Ava.
“I suppose you can’t just grab it and get out of there?” Natalie asked.
Ava shook her head. “I’m not corporeal. I can’t grab anything.”
“And while I’m corporeal, I’m not there,” Natalie said.
“So really, all we have to do is combine the two of us,” Ava said lightly.
Natalie did not know if Ava suggested it seriously or not. It did not matter – it was still exactly what they would have to do. Somehow, they would have to become one to be able to enter the Land of the Restless. And if she could not ask anyone, she would have to do it another way.
“I think you’re onto something,” Natalie said. “That’s exactly what we have to do.”
Ava had obviously not expected her throw-away words to hold any kind of idea. She stared at Natalie.
“You know, that place – it’s for us folks that are dead,” she said. “I kind of doubt it would just allow you in there.”
“It allowed the stone,” Natalie said.
“If I’m right!” Ava said.
Natalie rolled her eyes. “You’ve sold the idea to me. Don’t take it back now.”
“But you can’t go there – I mean—it sounds like one of those stupid things people do in movies and then they end up dead.”
Natalie pursed her lips. “It’s either me or Cecily.”
Ava had already breathed in to respond, but the air left her like a sad balloon. Her mouth hung open for a second.
“Okay,” she said finally, with a great sigh. “But if you don’t manage to get back, then it’ll be both of you.”
“I’m willing to take my chances. I’m getting that stone,” Natalie said.
Ava nodded. Silence spread – though they had agreed, somewhat, upon what to do, they still did not know how to do it. Natalie studied the trees, hoping for a sudden flash of insight. She did not get one.
She glanced at Ava. “You haven’t said anything about what we talked about the last time.”
Ava shook her head, rather slowly. “There’s nothing to say. I was—upset. But there’s nothing to do about it, and it doesn’t change what happened. It especially doesn’t change that I love you – you just happen to have the same father as him. Like I said back then – though I didn’t really believe it, I think – it doesn’t make it your fault.”
“I still feel guilty,” Natalie said.
They fell quiet. On the other side of the small park, a child fell and started crying. Natalie watched the boy’s mother come pick him up and she thought again of her own mother. What would it have been like to have a mother like that?
To her side, Ava gave a great heaving sigh.
“Don’t you have a magic book or something? You know, with spells and whatnot? Then you could just look in that and—”
Natalie’s face lit up with a great smile. “Ava, you’re a genius.”
“I am? Well, yes, I am but—I am?”
“Yes, you are! There’s a Script Magia in the library – there must be something in it, right?” Natalie stood, excitement running through her body.
“There’s a magic book in the library? Why would they have that?” Ava asked, obviously confused.
“It’s not in the library, it’s in a magic room, so it’s hidden but—come on, we have to go there,” Natalie said. She talked quickly.
Ava gave her a bewildered look, but shrugged and said, “Right. Okay. Sure.”
Still smiling widely, Natalie took off in a run.
Ava watched curiously as Natalie opened the way to the staircase that lead to the magic room. This time, Natalie did not have to think of anything more than a need of pure magic for the staircase to open. It ought to serve as more proof that she could control it now, she thought.
They walked downstairs.
“There’s a man who lives here,” Natalie said. “He might try to scare us. Obviously, he doesn’t get much visitors.”
“He lives down here?” Ava asked, looking rather horrified. “How can anyone live down here?”
Jules Sihera did not disappoint. As soon as Natalie’s foot touched the floor of the room, he jumped out, this time spooked out like a pirate, complete with the eye-patch. Though Natalie had been prepared, she still jumped at his sudden appearance.
“Ah, it’s you,” Jules Sihera said when he saw her. “And a friend.”
“You can see me?” Ava asked.
“Child, you’re in a magic room – do you think there’s a chance I might be magical too?” Jules Sihera asked.
If ghosts could blush, Ava would certainly have done so. “Sorry, sir.” She paused, then asked, “May I ask what kind of magical?”
Jules Sihera chuckled. “I would have thought that’d be rather easy to figure out.”
Natalie frowned at him.
“No?” Jules Sihera said. “Oh well. I’m a spirit.”
“A spirit?” asked Natalie.
“Is that like a ghost?” Ava asked.
Jules Sihera thought for a moment. “Not quite,” he said. “I belong to the Script – have done so for a couple of hundred years. You don’t belong to anything, really – you’re simply stuck between life and death.”
Ava nodded morosely.
“What do you mean, belong to the Script?” asked Natalie.
“Now, now, I’m sure you don’t have time for such a long story,” Jules Sihera said.
It was true. And the revelation that Jules Sihera was not a regular person, but a spirit, made sense now that she knew it. Living down here, without a kitchen and a bed, without food or anything else necessary – he might as well have written it on his forehead.
Natalie shook her head. “You’re right. I just get distracted sometimes – I’m still new with magic.”
“And yet you’re looking for that stone.”
Natalie nodded. “I am. That’s why we’re here. I need to see the Script.”
“Of course,” Jules Sihera said. “It’s right here, at your service.”
It did not seem as though anyone had touched it since she had been there last. The page of the Nebula Medeor still faced her when she reached it. Natalie eyed through the text, but it told her nothing new. She held out her hand, and the book’s pages flipped by themselves, as though a sudden wind went through the room.
‘Combining essences’ it read at the top.
‘The combining of essences has been thoroughly researched by Master Wielder Theodore Marque, and he has been quite successful. Words are unnecessary for this magic, but a complete trust in one another and an openness of mind has proven a requirement. In his research, Master Wielder Marque has found that an unwillingness towards the magic whilst performing will prove quite disastrous, with results raging from simply failed magic, to misdirected magic binding the two subjects together in an unwilling bond feeding on unhappiness. See the pages on Bonding for more on this.’
Natalie made a face at the book. Though she did not know what an ‘unwilling bond feeding on unhappiness’ meant, she could only assume that it was not pleasant.
‘Combining essences, for whatever reason, is made easier if both subjects are magical. Combining a non-magical can be done, but requires much more energy from the Wielder, and concentration from the non-magical.
‘The combining itself is by Master Wielder Marque quite simple – body contact is necessary (the more, the better) and calmness of mind. Both need to reach a meditative state, going to the realm beyond flesh, before attempting to find the other’s spirit in the spirit realm. Once there, Master Wielder Marque describes it as the two souls ‘embracing each other’, leading to the combining of essences.
‘Once combined, subjects have been able to control the other’s body, speak to each other telepathically, reach each other’s mind, and so on.’
Then the text ended, although at the very bottom of the page and in very small print, Natalie could make out, ‘Not tried.’
As Natalie had never heard of the spirit realm before, she could not quite describe the ritual, or what one would call it, simple. Also, she did not feel confident that she would be able to reach ‘calmness of mind’ considering what they planned to do.
The book did not show her anything else. Natalie wondered about how they would get to the Land of the Restless, but thought that perhaps, once their essences had combined, she would be able to go there with Ava.
They would simply have to see where the magic took them.
Readers of The Winter Legacy: Heritage - Chapter Twenty-One: