The night sky filled her vision when she woke and she wondered, is this heaven? There were clouds but also stars, peeking out in the holes in the clouds. It seemed serene, but the air felt chilly.
Natalie heard someone crying.
She sat up on her elbows, wincing all the while as the muscles in her body protested.
What had just happened?
Cecily threw herself around her neck and hugged her tightly. It felt good to have Cecily close but Natalie had to know—
Cecily drew back. There were tear tracks on her cheeks and new tears formed in her eyes.
“You saved us,” she said thickly. “You made a shield and that woman’s magic—it bounced back at her.”
“A shield? Bounced? But I don’t have a stone—”
She noticed that she was holding something in her right hand. She opened it – her fingers hurt from the tight grip – and found—
“The stone from the beach.”
Cecily gave a watery smile. “I told you, you should have it as backup.”
Natalie stared at the stone. “That you did.” She looked up. “So she’s gone then? Chaos is gone?”
Cecily shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. It hit her but—I think she just left to recuperate.”
“Oh,” Natalie said. The nightmare she had created was not over.
Cecily looked uncertain. “Natalie—I don’t know if you remember—but—your grandmother—”
“She’s dead,” Natalie said softly. “I remember.”
Pain, fresh and searing, tore at her heart. The images flew past her and she saw it once more – her grandmother’s magic, bounced off Chaos’ hands, and then—
She did not feel the same agonistic pain at the loss of her grandmother that she had felt with Ava, but she still left a hole in her heart. Natalie had kept the hope to become close with her grandmother, to understand her and make her proud. Now, that chance was gone, disappeared in a single moment in time.
Taken from her, as Ava had been taken from her.
She wondered again where Ava had gone. Had she filled her purpose? The thought hit her suddenly. Had she left for good this time?
Tears ran down her cheeks.
“And Ramon?” she asked.
“He’s alive, but badly injured,” Cecily said.
Unsteadily, Natalie stood. Ramon lay on the ground, his face ashen and still. Cecily had done her best to stop the bleedings from the cuts Chaos had made.
Diophane McCoy walked towards them. She did not appear to have cried, but her hands shook where they hung at her sides. She seemed to be in a state of shock. Natalie could relate.
“I’m sorry, Miss Winters,” she said.
“Call me Natalie, please,” Natalie said thickly.
The Diophane kneeled by Ramon’s side. With one had on his forehead and one hand over his chest injury, she closed her eyes. Magic, this time white and healing, flowed through her hands.
Natalie looked the other way. She saw her grandmother’s body and walked to it.
She could not quite manage to believe that her grandmother was really dead.
Her grandmother’s body lay at a strange angle, but her face appeared calm. The lines of anger had evened out as death relaxed her. It was a cliché, but she did look as though she merely rested. She looked gentler in death than she ever had in life, at least in the time Natalie had known her.
She kneeled at her grandmother’s side. Long, grey strands of hair had fallen out of place and Natalie gently placed them back, her hands shaking, knowing that her grandmother would want her hair in order. At least she imagined she knew that.
“Forgive me,” Natalie said softly.
She squeezed the lifeless hand, then stood, unable to look at her grandmother’s body any longer. Diophane McCoy still healed Ramon, although Natalie could not see him become any better.
When she stopped, Natalie asked, “What do I do now?”
She had no idea. Was there a procedure to follow? A way to care for the body? A funeral? Who would take care of the house now? What happened to the Mithridates? Who would take care of Ramon?
The Diophane’s eyes softened as she gazed at Natalie.
“We need to move him back to the house,” she said. “I’ll take care of the rest, Miss—Natalie.”
“I want to help,” Natalie said. She did not want the Diophane to believe she did not care. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“I understand,” Diophane McCoy said. She looked at Ramon, who lay either sleeping or unconscious. “Can you please elevate him and take him back to the house?”
Had Natalie not been so tired, and still in shock, she would have been surprised that the Diophane believed her able to do such magic. As it was, she merely began collecting what little magic she could still feel in the air and ground around her. Tears traveled down her cheeks as she transferred the magic onto Ramon, and lifted him into the air.
Behind her, the Diophane stood over the body of Natalie’s grandmother. Her necklace, orange just as the magic she had used before, glowed and a light shone from her hand. It fell over Natalie’s grandmother, illuminating her for a few seconds. Then the light died and Diophane McCoy allowed her hand to drop.
At Natalie’s questioning look, she said, “Keeping magic, until the elves can care for her. They will come once we leave, to prepare her for the funeral.”
“Oh,” said Natalie.
She gazed at her grandmother’s body one last time. This did not feel like when Ava had died – it had all been so stressed then, with no time to say goodbye. Natalie had a feeling that her grandmother would not return as a ghost – she had served her purpose, fulfilled her life.
She floated Ramon ahead of her, and the three women walked away, as the dark of night began enclosed them. Cecily cried silently, still sick and frail. Her face was white, her eyes red. Natalie felt like a complete failure – despite everything, she still had not managed to make Cecily well. The Diophane walked behind them, her head down.
Perhaps she cried too.
Natalie sent a note to Richard, but did not return home. She did not feel that she could leave, because Ramon had not yet woken up. She did not want to leave him – he had very nearly sacrificed his life for her.
Butler Thomas, appearing as red-eyed as well, took Cecily back home. Like Natalie, she appeared to be in shock.
The cook served Natalie food and draped warm blankets around her, as she sat in the chair next to Ramon’s bed. She hardly touched the food, and the blankets did not seem to keep her warm. The cook lit a fire, and yet Natalie shivered.
She slept through the day, waking up crying from nightmares as she watched her grandmother, and Ava, die over and over again. The image of her mother turned into Chaos, and Chaos laughed at her, taunted her, and sent her magic towards Cecily and Ramon. In her dreams, they both died as well. Natalie curled into a fetal position, holding on to a teddy bear and tried to think happy thoughts before she fell back to sleep. It did not work.
Ramon did not stir.
On Wednesday, butler Thomas came knocking on the door to the room where Ramon rested and Natalie stayed.
“Madame’s funeral is today,” the butler said. “If you wish to attend.”
Natalie did not. The mere thought made her want to cry and feel sick.
The wood elves had taken care of the body, and the funeral itself. Natalie wished she would have gotten her first good look at the beautiful creatures at some other time – they were breathtaking. As it was, her attention stayed on her grandmother’s final journey. They did not use a coffin, but a small boat made entirely out of wood.
“She was a Master Wielder of Water,” butler Thomas said from his place next to Natalie. “She is sent off into the water, for it to take her where she belongs.”
Natalie nodded mutely. The wood elves played music – haunting yet perfect music, stringing notes that made ripples on the water – and tears ran down Natalie’s cheeks so that she could hardly make out her surroundings. Her heart ached. Were all people she loved doomed to die when she came too close?
Natalie returned to Ramon, who lay perfectly still on the bed. His chest barely heaved as he breathed. The Diophane, or one of her students, would return within the hour to continue performing healing magic on him.
“Don’t you dare die on me too,” Natalie said, choking.
She grasped his hand, holding onto it like a lifeline.
She sat there, tears running down her cheeks. She wondered if the tears would ever end. She resisted sleep, for sleep only meant nightmares.
Another knock on the door – Natalie was just about to tell the butler to go away, when the door opened and Cecily stood before her.
Natalie did not know what to think, or feel. “Hi.”
“I—uh, the butler came and picked me up,” Cecily said. When Natalie did not respond, she continued, “I brought someone.”
Natalie remained impassive. Then Ava floated through the wall.
Natalie resisted the urge to throw herself at her friend. It would not do anything good. A tired, but happy smile spread over her lips. Ava had not left for good after all.
Ava sized her up and frowned. “You look like hell.”
Natalie’s tears would not quite dry. She did not wipe them away, because more would come.
Then Ava stopped, her eyes locking on Ramon’s still form.
“Ava—I’d like you to meet my brother,” Natalie said, very softly. “Ramon Keys.”
Ava stared, and a multitude of emotions passed over her face. “Is he—?”
Natalie shook her head. “Not yet. But the wounds won’t stop bleeding, so—they don’t know.”
“Can’t the Diophane do something?” Cecily asked.
“They are, but it’s not helping much,” Natalie said. “They just open up again. The Diophane believes it’s Chaos’ dark magic that keeps him from healing.”
“Chaos?” said both Cecily and Ava.
“So—that woman – she was actually Chaos?” Cecily said.
Natalie gave another nod.
“But—why?” asked Cecily. “How could it – she – escape?”
Ava’s eyes stayed on Ramon. She floated over to him, suspended right above him, and stared down at him. She reached out a hand towards him as though to touch him, but stopped at the last minute.
“He—he doesn’t look insane,” she said.
“He’s not being controlled by someone else anymore,” Natalie said. “He tried to save me from Chaos. He’s—good.”
Ava stared at Natalie. Then she asked, “So what happened – what went wrong?”
“When did you leave? How much did you see?”
Ava paused for a second. “I didn’t leave, not on my own accord anyway. They yanked me out of this place, to the Land of the Restless. I thought they’d beat me up again but—it wasn’t that.”
She looked thoughtful and Natalie had to ask, “What was it then?”
“She left,” Ava said. “The girl we took the necklace from – Sandrine. Everything just stopped there and we saw it. She woke up and a light flooded her and then—she was just gone. Just like that.”
“I merged the pieces of the Nebula,” Natalie said. “I suppose it set her free.”
Cecily followed their conversation with a frown. “I don’t suppose either of you would like to explain? I still don’t get what happened.”
“Me neither,” Natalie said softly. “The ghost writer told me of a stone, the Nebula Medeor. She said it’d make you healthy again. But it was in pieces and it took us a while to get to them.”
Cecily cocked her head to the side. “Make me healthy? But why didn’t you tell me?”
Natalie shrugged, studying the floor. “I didn’t want to raise your hopes, in case it didn’t work, or in case I didn’t find all the pieces.”
“But why did you – it – raise Chaos instead, then?” Cecily asked.
“The ghost writer turned out to be Chaos,” Natalie said softly. “It had been her plan the whole time, in case Ramon didn’t free her. She said the stone belonged to her, or something, but I don’t understand, not really.”
Natalie glanced from Ava to Cecily.
“And—I can’t believe this, really but – she’s also—”
“Also what?” asked Ava.
Natalie studied her hands. “She’s also my mom.”
“What?” Ava and Cecily chorused.
Natalie’s voice sounded dead to her own ears. “A girl took Chaos into her body years ago. Apparently, that girl was my mom. And since my mom got pregnant with me, Chaos is also a part inside of me.”
She hid her face in her free hand – she still held onto Ramon with the other. She did not want to let go of him, this new brother of hers.
Time passed, though Natalie did not know how much. She thought she could feel the shocked – perhaps disgusted – looks on Ava and Cecily’s faces. How could they be anything but shocked and disgusted? Her parents were both murderers.
Then she felt Cecily’s hand on her back, stroking it hesitantly. A moment later, Natalie felt the chill of Ava’s touch. Though she already felt cold, the sensation was pleasant. She looked up into the eyes of her two friends, still crying.
“My mother killed my grandmother and tried to kill me,” she said, then looked at Ava, “and my father killed you. I’m the daughter of two murderers – what does that make me?”
Ava shrugged at her. “It makes you, you. Your parents don’t make you who you are.”
“But I have Chaos in me!”
“And you have won over it once,” Cecily said. “And you’ll do it again, if you have to.”
Natalie sighed. “I don’t know if I can.”
Cecily gave her a slight smile. “Of course you can. You’ve just spent weeks trying to find a stone to cure me, and you saved both Ramon, me and Diophane McCoy – Natalie, you’re nothing if not good.”
Ava nodded. “What she said.”
Natalie smiled through tears. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you two.”
Ava shook her head theatrically. “Neither do I.”
Cecily smiled. “You don’t deserve friends. You get them anyway.”
Natalie’s heart still felt close to breaking – her grandmother had died, Ramon lay comatose and both her parents were killers. At least now she could understand why her father had supported Chaos – if they had loved each other, that made a disturbing, horrifying kind of sense. Still, it did not help as Natalie thought of it.
She knew Chaos would return. She wanted Natalie on her side and Natalie knew that she would try again. Natalie did not know what she would do when that time came. Chaos stood far stronger than she could ever hope to be – she was not even a Master Wielder.
But then Natalie looked from Cecily to Ava and back again, and turned her gaze to her brother on the bed. Suddenly, she felt something other than the pain and despair she had felt in the last few days. She knew she had something that Chaos did not have, nor would she ever be able to have it. A power that Natalie had been able to Wield for years:
And that made the tears fall a bit slower.
Readers of The Winter Legacy: Heritage - Chapter Twenty-Seven: