“Can you get back to my grandmother’s by yourself?”
Ava nodded. “It shouldn’t be any different from moving to any other place.”
“Good,” Natalie said with a quick grin, “’cause I haven’t a clue of how I’d move you with me.”
Ava paused for a second. “It’s nice to see you smile again.”
“Isn’t it?” Natalie said, grin going ear to ear.
She had never felt so accomplished – she had reached her goal. She had all the pieces of the Nebula Medeor, and now it was just a matter of putting them together and using them to cure Cecily.
“I’ll see you there,” Ava said.
She faded, and Natalie could only hope that she did not have to return to the Land of the Restless as she moved. Guilt washed over her, replacing the giddy happiness she had felt a moment ago. She wished she could have spared Ava the pain somehow – she had already died because of Natalie and she did not deserve more pain.
Natalie took a deep breath. At the moment, she had other things she needed to concentrate on.
She touched the blue, round stone, and focused on the image of her grandmother’s home. She gasped at the sensation of the magic coming from the stone – it truly seemed tuned to her now, enhancing her powers and making the transportation magic come easy to her. For a brief moment, Natalie pondered bringing Cecily there instead, but she discarded the idea – taking her to her grandmother’s Mithridates was much easier, and ought to work just as well.
Natalie landed on the grounds just outside the house, where the carriage usually stopped to drop them off. It was not so much a preference on Natalie’s side, but a test – could she land where she wanted to? It seemed so.
She pulled open the front door and entered.
“—and I really don’t see what you wish to accomplish by calling me here—”
“She put us to sleep!”
Natalie identified both voices – the first belonged to Diophane McCoy, and the second to Natalie’s grandmother.
“She used magic—”
“She controlled magic heavy enough to keep me sleeping for nearly half an hour – and poor Miss Cordell would still be sleeping if I hadn’t woken her up!”
“It doesn’t mean anything, Master Turner. The Test always tells the truth – Natalie does not possess magic great enough for me to take an interest in her.”
“You are impossible! You know who her mother was – what she did. How can you say that Natalie doesn’t possess enough magic—”
“Mother and daughter are not the same being, Master Turner,” Diophane McCoy said, her voice cold.
Both fell silent, to Natalie’s great disappointment. They had started speaking about her mother – and they had spoken of her as though she had done something hard, something not everyone could do. Natalie wanted to hear more.
“Where is the girl now?” Diophane McCoy asked.
“I don’t know. She seems to have disappeared. Probably using transportation magic – how else would she have gotten anywhere?”
Her grandmother’s voice made a point of Natalie using magic consciously.
“She has done so before – many Wielders have. It doesn’t mean they are Master material.”
Natalie pondered what to do – should she go into the living room and announce her presence, or not? She suspected her grandmother would not be happy with her for what she had done and Natalie did not feel like being yelled at at the moment.
She took the risk of peering into the living room. Her grandmother stood glaring at the Diophane. The Diophane in turn stood as calmly as she always did, dressed in black and hands clasped behind her back. Cecily sat on the couch, as she had done when Natalie had left, staring blankly ahead. Natalie swallowed – her magic seemed to have affected Cecily quite heavily.
Natalie nearly gasped at the sound of Ava’s voice, whispered in her ear. She pulled back, hoping no one had noticed her. After a few seconds had passed and no one had come for her, she could only assume that they had not.
Natalie pulled back further and huddled in a corner. Ava kept close – she could not rely on invisibility here among magical people.
“I need to get Cecily away from my grandmother and the Diophane—”
“The who?” asked Ava.
Natalie made a face – she did not have time to explain. “The other woman in there. I need to get Cecily alone and down to my grandmother’s Mithridates.”
“And how do you suggest we do that?” Ava asked.
“I was hoping you’d have an idea or two.”
“Can’t you magic them somehow?”
“I don’t think that’ll work,” Natalie said. “The Diophane’s too strong, and my grandmother will be prepared this time.”
“Oh,” Ava said. She thought for a moment. Then she cocked her head to the side. “Maybe I can distract them. You’ll have to be really sneaky and get Cecily out – but maybe?”
It did not sound like a winning concept, but Natalie could not think of anything else. She had not calculated into her plans that Diophane McCoy would be there, and either way, she had not planned this part very carefully. Perhaps they ought to simply wait until later? No, that would not do. Her grandmother knew what she had done and Natalie knew that her grandmother would not leave her alone for so much as a second – she would probably send her home as soon as she could. She would not get a chance to go down to the Mithridates.
“Okay. But you need to really get their attention,” Natalie said.
Ava nodded and grinned wickedly. “No problem.”
Then she squeezed her eyes shut – and transformed before Natalie’s eyes. Ava’s curly hair grew long, flying behind her spookily. Her clothes changed into a black, torn dress and her eyes were nearly white.
“What—you—” said Natalie.
“Do you like?” Ava asked, and her voice did not fit with the appearance. “It’s just a little trick Jules told me about. Apparently, both ghosts and spirits can change our appearances when we want to.”
Natalie remembered how she had first met Jules Sihera – he had changed his appearance into a huge, bearded man and he had scared her half to death.
“Okay,” Natalie said weakly. “Go get ‘em.”
She doubted that the Diophane or her grandmother would be as shocked by the sight of the scary ghost – they had probably seen many ghosts through their lives – but Ava would likely catch their attention.
Natalie snuck back to her watch post by the living room, and glanced around the corner.
Ava floated into the room, looking freaky and rather like something from a movie.
“Hellooo,” she said, sounding like a lunatic. “Who are you?”
Natalie’s grandmother gasped lightly at the sight and sound of Ava, likely mostly because of her sudden appearance than any real fear. The Diophane’s cold eyes rested upon the ghost, unimpressed. One eyebrow rose, and she spoke:
“I think the question is, who are you?”
As Ava began to engage the two women in conversation, Natalie snuck into the living room, behind the first set of couches the room held. She stopped for a moment, her heart beating hard with anticipation, but heard no footsteps come nearer. She snuck quickly to the cover of the next couch, bringing her closer to Cecily, but also closer to her grandmother and the Diophane.
“Look, I can do all these things – have you ever seen anything so awesome in your life?” Ava said, though Natalie could not see what she did.
“We are both Master Wielders,” the Diophane said, speaking in short tones, “I think we have seen far more than what you are capable of.”
Natalie had a long distance between the couch she currently hid behind, and the next one – the one Cecily occupied. However, the distance between them gave her grandmother and Diophane McCoy plenty of time to discover her. Then they would both question her, and her grandmother would no doubt send her and Cecily home – and Natalie simply could not accept that.
“Oh, but have you heard this very funny story – I just have to tell you—”
Ava talked on and on, and Natalie had to grin at her inventiveness. Though the Diophane sounded more than annoyed in her replies, Ava kept on going.
So when Ava started speaking the next time, Natalie took a chance and dashed forward towards the next couch.
Her grandmother’s voice cut through her. The hurt felt physical – she had to get herself and Cecily down to the Mithridates! Her grandmother could not stop her now.
“Natalie, what are you doing hiding behind the couch?” asked her grandmother angrily. “Stand up, right now.”
Natalie thought for a moment. Then she moved consciously further away from her grandmother and Diophane McCoy, putting Cecily between herself and them. She stood up.
“Hi,” she said weakly.
Cecily looked at her questioningly.
“Young lady, what do you think you’ve been doing?” her grandmother asked. “Spelling us to sleep! Leaving without a trace! And now hiding from me?”
“Yeah—” Natalie said. She really did not know what to say.
“You are going straight home, do you hear me? I invite you to my house and this is the thanks I get—” her grandmother trailed off, muttering.
“Do you trust me?” Natalie asked Cecily, speaking quietly, quickly.
“What—yes, of course I do,” Cecily said. “But—”
“As it seems you have found your lost granddaughter, and she does not seem to have become a Master Wielder or even close over night, I shall be leaving,” the Diophane said. “Young Wielder Mar awaits me.”
“Then come with me to grandmother’s Mithridates,” Natalie said. “I have something I need you to see.”
“But your grandmother—” Cecily said.
“It doesn’t matter. Will you come?”
“Then we’ll have to run,” Natalie said. “On three.”
Cecily gave another nod, although confusion shone clearly in her eyes. Natalie took her hand.
Her grandmother mumbled, “I should even write to Richard and have him ground you for this – using magic on your own grandmother—”
Diophane McCoy moved to the side, readying herself for transporting.
Natalie pulled Cecily off the couch and they both took off running. Her grandmother immediately fell silent, staring after them, and the Diophane stopped in mid-motion.
“I suppose no one wants to hear the end of my story, then?” asked Ava, and then she flew after Cecily and Ava.
Natalie feared they would both fall as they ran down the stairs leading into the forest, where Natalie’s grandmother’s Mithridates lay. Neither would be any better off with a broken neck, but Natalie could not bring herself to slow down.
“Natalie! Stop right now!” screamed her grandmother behind them.
Ava flew up beside them. “You have two women in hot pursuit, just so you know.”
Natalie did not dare turn her head to look back, so she simply trusted Ava’s words.
“Keep them from doing magic on us!” Natalie said.
Ava nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“What—are—we—doing?” Cecily asked, gasping for breath.
“I’m going to make you healthy,” Natalie said, her own breath coming in rather short. “That’s what we—Ava and I—have been doing – we’ve found this stone—a Nebula – it’ll make you well.”
Cecily’s eyes widened. “What? Are—you—serious?”
“Do you think we’d be running away from my grandmother if I wasn’t?”
Cecily stumbled but Natalie kept her on her feet and they continued their mad dash towards the Mithridates. Natalie could not remember the way there being so long, but then she had never been in a hurry to get there before.
Then suddenly, it loomed before them. The wide, circular clearing, tall trees closing it in. The grey skies above seemed a promise for rain. In the middle of the clearing sat the stone, grey and with a crack running down its center.
Natalie and Cecily ran to the middle of it and reached the stone. Natalie did not hesitate – she grabbed the pieces from her pocket and placed them on the stone. With trembling fingers, she placed the pieces together, bit by bit.
They fit together perfectly.
Diophane McCoy and Natalie’s grandmother reached the clearing as Natalie pushed the three pieces together, joining them as they had been centuries earlier.
Both women stopped dead in their tracks.
“What is that—”
“Oh great heavens, save us all!”
The latter came from Diophane McCoy, whose eyes widened in pure fear at the sight of the stone.
It only took a second after the three pieces had been put together – suddenly, it soared into the air, resting on a pillar of black smoke that seeped from the Stone of Sitis. The black smoke surrounded the Nebula. An earsplitting noise followed, making Natalie fall back and cover her ears, and then the Nebula Medeor rose higher, once more whole. No marks showed that it had ever been in pieces at all.
Then the sky lit with a great bolt of lightning. It passed straight through the Nebula Medeor, and continued on down the pillar of smoke. Time seemed to stand still as the light made its way down, down, down – into the Stone of Sitis.
The crack that seemed to have been sealed once was opened with great force. Natalie threw herself to cover Cecily as pieces of stone shot everywhere.
Then something rose from the Stone of Sitis, from the middle of it, where it had been split. A dark shadow, black smoke that seemed to have a life of its own.
All sound died, and everything was silent.
Then came her grandmother’s voice:
“Oh, Natalie – what have you done?”
Readers of The Winter Legacy: Heritage - Chapter Twenty-Five: