Natalie had to wait for Ava to return from the Land of the Restless to do the magic. Although Ava had become much better at controlling her coming and going, and could now stay for hours in the real world, she still had to go back and recharge. She had promised to return as soon as possible.
For the first time in over two weeks, Cecily met up with Natalie as she walked to school. They greeted each other good morning and fell into step next to each other.
“I haven’t been able to get yesterday out of my head,” Cecily said. “Seeing Ava—I don’t know what to think about that—and I’m magical. I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around that. I asked dad but he didn’t know.”
“But he must know, right?” Natalie asked. “I mean, either him or your mom must be magical?”
Cecily made a face. “Or perhaps I was exchanged when I was a baby. Some troll put me there and took mom and dad’s baby.”
“More like a fairy, then. You really don’t look like a troll,” Natalie said.
“Have you seen one?” Cecily smiled.
Natalie rolled her eyes. “No. It’s common knowledge.”
Cecily chuckled. “Well, yes, that’s true.”
Like Cecily, Natalie wondered. What kind of magical could Cecily be? She did not know much about magical creatures – and she thought it odd to think of Cecily as a ‘creature’ to begin with. She had heard of wood elves, and even seen one once, and her grandmother had mentioned unicorns, angels and pegasi had she not? Perhaps Cecily was part elf. She was certainly pretty enough.
They reached the school and Natalie hurried up the stairs when she saw the Eadan’s large car roll down the street. The Eadans had a private driver that dropped him and his older brother off every morning. Natalie felt sick at the mere thought of Chase Eadan. She had been able to put the incident out of her mind for most of the time since it had happened, merely because she had enough other things to occupy her mind – but she still ducked away each time they came in near vicinity. She did not want to face him.
Cecily shot her an understanding look. They said good bye and headed towards their respective classes.
The day passed in a blur of activity. She had lunch with Cecily, steered clear of Eadan, and thought of the magic she and Ava would have to perform. Through it all, she listened to teachers droning on and on. When Natalie finally made it back home, she felt tired enough to warrant a nap. She placed her backpack by the desk and dropped down on the bed. The room felt chilly and she climbed under the covers. Soon, she had fallen asleep.
It felt as though she had just blinked and everything had changed. She stood in a small, but perfectly round, field of green. Around it flowed a stream of water, crystal blue. In the midst of the green grass stood a circular stone that Natalie had come to recognize by now, even though she had never been in this particular place.
“Whose Mithridates is this?”
As she expected, the cloaked figure stood behind her when she turned around.
“You’re learning,” the figure said. “Very good.”
“This is the Mithridates of Sophia Neige,” the figure said.
“And why are we here? I haven’t even found the second piece yet,” Natalie said.
“I am sure you will manage.”
Natalie looked around at the lovely Mithridates. The circle of water surrounding it pearled, making the setting most serene. Her grandmother’s Mithridates was quiet, but never quite this tranquil. The stone in the middle of the glade shone blue, rather than the granite one in her grandmother’s Mithridates.
“And the last piece is here?” Natalie asked. “If this belonged to the eldest sister, then that makes sense – that’s the last one.”
“May I ask what I have to do then?”
The figure nodded. “Of course you may. Once you have assembled the pieces, you simply have to merge them. They belong together and placed together, they will merge on their own. When this is done, the stone will start to function once more.”
“And I’ll be able to heal Cecily?” Natalie asked.
“Yes,” the figure said.
“Just like that?”
“Just like that,” the figure said. “But I recommend that you are in a place of strength – a Mithridates, perhaps, to ensure that the stone words completely.”
Natalie felt surprised. “Isn’t it powerful enough on its own?”
“The stone is,” the figure said. “You may not be. It is through you the magic will have to pass – you ought to want to make sure that as much as possible can do so.”
Natalie nodded. “Okay. But I don’t have a Mithridates.”
“You have family. Theirs will do,” the figure said.
Natalie thought of her grandmother’s. She had said that the Mithridates would work as a place of power for Natalie as well. She remembered Ramon’s as well – the one he had used when he had been under the influence of the stone. Just then, Natalie realized why she had been able to get away from there when she should never have been able to control the Stone of Sitis – the Mithridates had been hers as well. The Mithridates had likely belonged to Orion Winters, which meant it belonged to both Natalie and Ramon now. Of course, Natalie had made it crumble to little pieces, but still—
“I would like to show you one last of the sisters’ past,” the figure said. “You already saw the tragic day when the youngest sister died, and the stone was split – this is what happened afterwards.”
Tell-tale light surrounded them and the next instant, Natalie stood on the same dirty street that she had stood upon on the first time she had seen the sisters. It was not early morning this time – the sun stood high in the sky and the small village bustled with life. On the fields beyond, Natalie could see men working.
Natalie floated into the house that she knew belonged to the sisters. She caught sight of the middle sister at once. She carried a baby on her shoulder, looking happy and healthy.
Sophia, the eldest sister, entered through the door. She wore a dress and an apron around her waist. A boy followed in her footsteps, blond and freckled.
Natalie caught sight of the necklace Sophia wore. On a thread of leather, hung a triangular piece of the black-and-white stone that Natalie easily recognized as her piece of the Nebula.
“Maurice, come here,” Sophia said in flowing French. Natalie somehow understood it.
The child came running and Sophia smiled at him. A man entered, rather large and bushy, with dirty hands and a tan face. He placed his arms around Sophia.
“You see, Natalie,” the figure said, appearing suddenly next to Natalie. She had never appeared in one of these dreams before. “They lived happily.”
“I’m glad they did,” Natalie said.
“Sophia wore the stone throughout her life and only parted with it days before her death,” the figure said. “She learned in time that it was not a bad stone and came to terms that Sandrine had been right about it.”
Natalie nodded. Perhaps the ones who had written about the stone had only heard the first part of the story – the fights and the death of Sandrine. The Nebula did not seem dangerous – after all, it had healed people. And that was all Natalie was looking for – the ability to heal another person.
“Find the last pieces, Natalie,” the figure said.
The figure and the surroundings faded slowly into a dark mass of nothing.
An echo of her voice lingered for a moment. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Natalie said.
Ava did not appear the next day either. Natalie started to feel anxious – she wanted to get it over with. She wanted the second piece, so that she could travel to the other universe and find Sophia’s Mithridates and the last piece. Then she wanted to heal Cecily.
Watching Cecily’s ashen face all through Wednesday made Natalie feel sick as well.
“They’re testing a new medication for me,” Cecily explained.
She rinsed her mouth with water. She had just been sick. Natalie wished she could do something to help her, but came up with nothing.
Thursday passed no better and Cecily’s father had to pick her up from school during lunch because she felt too ill to be there. Natalie watched her go with a heavy heart.
When Natalie came home the same afternoon, she found more bad news. An envelope with the sigil of the local police had arrived. Natalie took it upstairs and opened it.
As we lack evidence in your case against Mr. Chase Eadan, we are now closing the investigation. In the case of new evidence, the case can be re-opened.’
There were a few more lines on how they could do absolutely nothing, and it had been signed by some cop. Natalie blinked away tears – she had been beaten to a pulp and they did not have evidence? Anger and hatred welled up in her towards Eadan. She wanted to hurt him.
She ripped the letter to tiny pieces.
That night, Natalie spent half an hour in the company of Richard and Emmanuella during dinner and she could not wait to get out of there. She did not tell them of the letter from the police. She was still angry with Richard for what he had failed to do for her mother, and Emmanuella acted as childishly annoying as only she could, complaining about her weight – her belly was now well-rounded – and she pouted like a child until Richard told her she looked beautiful. Natalie ran out of there.
When Ava appeared in her room, Natalie pushed away the anger, allowing excitement to fill her instead. Finally, they could do this.
“You look impatient,” Ava said.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Natalie said. “I just want to get this done.”
“And you’ve thought about it? The consequences?” Ava asked.
“You’re not supposed to be the worrier, you know.”
Ava placed her hands on her hips. “I’m the dead one – I really don’t think much can happen to me. You on the other hand—”
“I told you,” Natalie said, “it’s either me or Cecily. I’m willing to take the risk.”
Ava pursed her lips. “Okay.”
“Good. Now, let’s do this.”
Natalie had explained what the book had said about combining their essences, so Ava did not need any instructions. Natalie lay down on the bed and Ava floated right next to her, the chill of her incorporeal body touching her. It gave her goose bumps.
Her heart beat wildly in her chest. Excitement mingled with nervousness and fear – she wanted to do this, but what would it do to them?
“And when we’re connected – you take me to the Land of the Restless,” Natalie whispered.
“Yes. Just hold on and I’ll get us there,” Ava said softly.
She took a deep breath. “Let’s do it.”
Ava gave a tiny nod. Then they both closed their eyes.
Natalie used her imagination as she did when she did magic – she imagined herself calm, floating away from her own body. She floated out of her window and up into the sky, slowly gaining altitude. The houses of Lake Sunflower became smaller and smaller until calming blue skies surrounded her everywhere. The sense of her own body disappeared and little by little, she became one with the heavens.
She no longer had any sense of time or place – it could have been hours, days, years or merely a second – but a light suddenly started to glow not far from her. She looked around to see other lights, growing brighter and brighter. There were all colors – blue, red, yellow, purple, orange. Every color of the rainbow and then some was represented in the multitude of lights around Natalie. Some were near, others far away. Every living being in the world seemed represented.
The one closest to her glowed red, but appeared see-through in a way that the others were not. Without having to think about it, Natalie knew it was Ava.
She neared the light when she sensed something else. Not too far from her – in fact, the second closest light – glowed a bright green light. Within it, a small, dark red light glowed, pulsing with each passing moment. Natalie smiled to herself. Her unborn sibling. Without knowing how, she could tell – it would be a girl.
She turned back to the light of Ava, who appeared to be working to get closer to her as well. Natalie floated towards her. No stress existed in this place, no hurry and no worries. No time at all existed.
Ava and Natalie reached each other. Natalie could vaguely make out Ava’s shape in the light – lying down, outstretched in the real world.
They touched each other, their spirits embracing one another. Natalie did not know if she should have expected a bang or a burst of magic – either way, nothing happened. Ava’s spirit mixed with Natalie’s and they became one, just like that. Natalie could feel Ava’s thoughts and feelings – Ava shared Natalie’s fear but still felt calm and collected, concentrated on the task at hand. Beyond that lay a sadness, a wish to be alive once more.
‘I can read your mind.’
Natalie did not know for certain if it was her thought, or Ava’s. She concentrated – it seemed to be Ava’s.
‘I know. Me too.’
Together, they began their journey away from the spirit realm back to the real world once more. The lights around them dimmed, and the blue skies Natalie had imagined before returned. It mixed oddly with a field of flowers, growing oddly out of nothing – it was Ava’s meditative state.
The field and the skies disappeared as they floated towards their own bodies. But instead of going into their own bodies, they now had to work together.
‘We have to get into my body,’ Natalie thought. ‘We have to get my body to the Land of the Restless.’
‘I know,’ Ava thought back.
Ava’s spirit pulled towards her still, ghostly body, but both Natalie and Ava resisted. Natalie’s spirit wanted to go into Natalie’s body and she allowed it. Ava pushed to come along, to not split up.
It did not matter who had thought it – it was true. A moment later, the joined spirits of Ava and Natalie landed in Natalie’s body, flowing through her. Natalie gasped hard, then winced at the foreign feeling of another spirit in her body. She tried not to fight it.
‘Take us to the Land of the Restless,’ Natalie said.
‘I’m working on it,’ Ava replied. ‘You just work on letting me stay here.’
It was easier said than done. Two spirits were not meant to inhabit one body and every fiber of her being told Natalie to fight it.
Then she felt a strange lightness. Her body moved and Natalie felt Ava working to get them to the Land of the Restless. She felt Ava’s agitation and frustration when it did not work as easily as it usually did. She saw flashes of the place where they were going – Ava’s memories, accessible for Natalie. It looked like a place built of white clouds.
She gazed down at her own body and gasped when she saw it – part of it had faded into nothing. Briefly, she saw the wispy white clouds of the Land of the Restless again. This time, it was for real, not a mere memory. Natalie did not know how she knew the difference, but she did.
Then suddenly, they were there.
Walking among white clouds, soft to the touch – they were not regular clouds. The place felt warm and inviting, light and serene. Ava called it the Land of the Restless but Natalie did not feel restless.
Ghostly beings passed around them. Some slept, resting in cocoons of clouds, while others moved about in a zombie-like state. None of them were corporeal. They faded into the background and passed through Natalie’s body. No one seemed to notice they were there at all.
‘It is so weird to see this and be aware of it.’
Natalie felt the note of wonder that passed through Ava. For herself, she felt cold.
‘There,’ Ava thought.
Natalie looked up and saw a glimmer. It could be a stone, possibly. A transparent being rested next to the sparkle and when Ava and Natalie rose upwards, Natalie recognized the ghost.
‘Then that,’ Ava thought and they looked at the shimmering thing that lay in Sandrine’s hand, ‘is the piece you’re looking for.’
Readers of The Winter Legacy: Heritage - Chapter Twenty-Two: