“Where—where did you get that?”
Natalie stared at the necklace – that thing of evil – then up at her grandmother. Her mind took her back to Ramon’s Mithridates, when she had been in that dark place where Chaos controlled her, if only for a brief period of time. She vaguely remembered a burst of magic shattering the stone on Ramon’s necklace.
She could also clearly remember Ramon’s confused eyes upon her when she had fought back Chaos.
“I found it here, in my Mithridates,” her grandmother said. “It seems I might have been wrong about your abilities – that you did, after all, travel with Mr. Keys back to my Mithridates. If this is indeed his necklace—”
“It is,” Natalie said.
“—then I see no other explanation,” finished her grandmother with a look that clearly said what she thought of being interrupted. Natalie’s cheeks turned red.
For a minute, both were silent. Natalie studied the necklace but did not dare touch it. She could feel her grandmother’s eyes upon her. A chill ran down her spine. Was she really safe now? Had the necklace lost its powers?
“Could it?” Natalie whispered. “Could a stone control another person?”
She did not know what it would mean if it could. In her eyes, Ramon would still be guilty of murdering her best friend – but perhaps she could, in time, forgive him? She could not be sure. Would it be better to blame a necklace, a stone, of murder, rather than a person? It almost felt silly.
She looked up into the unreadable eyes of her grandmother.
“Not the stone itself,” her grandmother said. “But there is magic – magic to trap a part of one’s soul, or all of it upon death, inside a stone. The essence of the person will then live on within the stone and it will, if strong enough, control the wearer of the stone.”
Natalie swallowed. Sometimes, she really did not like magic.
“Why would anyone do that?” she asked softly.
Her grandmother sighed and placed the necklace back in her pocket. “I don’t know, Natalie. Some want to live forever.”
Natalie shuddered at this. She could not imagine why anyone would do such a thing – she did not want to live forever and she certainly did not want to trap herself, her soul, inside a stone.
Natalie glanced at the pocket in which the necklace now lay once more.
“Does it still work?” she asked. “Is there still a part of the soul in that stone?”
“No, the stone has been broken and the essence has been released. There is nothing there now but shards of stone, for the essence drains the stone’s energy.”
“Oh,” Natalie said. “How did you know it was Ramon’s?”
Her grandmother hesitated before answering. “I saw him. He wore it when he kidnapped you.”
Natalie had to smile slightly at the memory of her grandmother slamming the doors open to Ramon’s Mithridates and rescuing Natalie. It had been quite the entrance.
“Now,” said her grandmother, “there are other things we need to discuss.”
Natalie glanced questioningly up at her grandmother, but did not say anything.
“Though lecturing you on the ground rules of Wielders was not the first thing I needed to do,” her grandmother said, “it is still on the agenda. This seems as good a time as any for you to start – you are supposed to be in school after all. This will merely be a different kind of school.”
Natalie refrained from making a face. School in her grandmother’s Mithridates should, after all, be better than classes at Lake Sunflower High School.
“You are a beginner in magic, in Wielding,” her grandmother continued. “You are what we call a Novus because though you do, undoubtedly, have quite some power, you still don’t know how to Wield it.”
Natalie wondered if she should tell her grandmother about the spell she had cast on her classmates, but decided against it. Her grandmother would just frown at her and tell her not to do such things – surely, that sort of magic fell within the category of ‘harming another’, even though it had been well deserved.
“As I have never been particularly patient, I have never made a good teacher,” her grandmother said, with a slight roll of her eyes. “So I have taken the liberty of bringing a Diophane here for you.”
Her grandmother sent her a disapproving look. “A Diophane. A Diophane is a Master Wielder who teaches magic to Novus and Wielders. Helps them develop their powers, teach them how to use their skills the best way possible, to whatever extent that is. Many teach meditation techniques to get in touch with the inner powers and to connect with nature’s magic.”
“Right,” said Natalie, trying to keep the different titles and strange names straight.
“Diophane McCoy is a special kind of Diophane,” her grandmother continued. “She is, despite her age, already one of the most highly trained Diophanes in the world. She reached her own Master title at age fourteen, one of the youngest in history, and she has dedicated her life to studying magic and training others. But she doesn’t just teach any Wielder, she—” Natalie’s grandmother stopped in mid-sentence and smiled, pleased. “Ah, there you are.”
Natalie wondered who her grandmother spoke to. She turned around – and found a woman standing by one of the trees. Natalie felt rather certain that the woman had not been standing there the entire time and as such, she could only assume that she had used magic to get there. As one of the few things Natalie felt she could control somewhat, the transportation magic no longer felt all that foreign to her.
Her grandmother passed her and walked towards the redheaded, tall woman. Her clothes did not match Natalie’s grandmother’s at all. The woman wore modern, businesslike attire – pants and a rather cute jacket, all in black.
“Natalie, come along,” said her grandmother, giving Natalie a slightly annoyed look over her shoulder.
Natalie hurried to catch up.
They stopped before the woman. Natalie gazed at her; she was beautiful. Her long hair reached down nearly to the small of her back, falling in gentle waves. Her eyes were intensely green.
“Natalie, meet Diophane McCoy,” Natalie’s grandmother said.
Natalie reached out her hand to the woman. “Hi, I’m Natalie Winters.”
Diophane McCoy looked down at her. She stood nearly a head taller than Natalie in her high heels. However, not only her height made Natalie want to cower. While Diophane McCoy looked only thirty-something, she radiated knowledge and wisdom beyond her years.
“Mina McCoy, but you will call me Diophane McCoy,” the woman said with a smooth voice that held authority.
Natalie nodded quickly.
Her grandmother spoke. “I think it’s safe to call Natalie a Wielder by now – she has done magic that far surpasses that of a Novus.”
Natalie would have liked the tone of her grandmother’s voice to be a bit more proud. Obviously, this conversation was supposed to pass over Natalie’s head and although she happened to be the subject, she would not be allowed to interrupt.
“What magic has she done?” asked Diophane McCoy.
“Transportation magic – with another person – and she has managed to survive the attacks of a Master Wielder twice,” said Natalie’s grandmother.
The very first time, when Ramon had kidnapped her obviously did not count – Natalie had not done anything at the time but scream and beg. It did not quite count in the toll on whether to be titled a Novus or a Wielder.
“The latter can be purely accidental,” Diophane McCoy said, “but the former is usually not. I shall have to test her to see what she has to offer and then I will decide whether to train her or not.”
Natalie did not think it a good idea to tell the Diophane or her grandmother that she had done more than just survive the attacks of Ramon – she had made his Mithridates fall apart. Natalie did not know all that much about magic and Mithridates, but she would be willing to bet quite a bit that making a Mithridates fall into a million pieces was not something easily done – nor something that would be an appreciated skill.
She had not told anyone but Cecily about Chaos and how she had brought down the Mithridates with its power. It did not seem like something her grandmother would be happy about. It had been too dark, too frightening. The raw power she had held had scared Natalie.
“Do what you need to,” said Natalie’s grandmother.
Natalie resisted the urge to ask what kind of tests she would have to go through. She felt certain she would find out in time and she did not know if she wanted to know beforehand, if the tests were something she should be nervous about.
Diophane McCoy gave a curt nod. “I will be back at four p.m. sharp.”
Natalie’s grandmother nodded as well. “She will be ready.”
Natalie supposed she would be staying here for the afternoon. This made her realize that she needed to get a message to her uncle Richard. If he had found out that she had been taken to the hospital – a rather likely scenario, since he was her next of kin – he would probably be worried to pieces by now.
“Good,” said the Diophane. Then she touched her necklace briefly and, in a sudden burst of wind, she disappeared.
Natalie stared for only a moment. She had seen it once before, when Ramon had kidnapped Ava, but at the time, she had been distressed enough to not really take it in at all.
She turned to her grandmother. “I need to tell Richard where I am.”
“Of course,” said her grandmother and began walking back towards the house. “You’ll have to write a letter and I’ll have Maya run it over to your house.”
“Maya?” asked Natalie. She could not recall meeting anyone named Maya. Then again, she probably had not met all of her grandmother’s friends and staff.
“Maya is one of the wood elves,” her grandmother said, “They help me run errands into the other world sometimes. They’re very fast runners.”
She spoke as though a wood elf running errands was the most natural thing in the world. Frowning, Natalie thought that perhaps it was the most natural thing in the world in this place. Her eyebrows rose at the thought of little flying elves running about in the regular world.
“But—don’t people wonder about them?” asked Natalie,
Her grandmother actually laughed as she started climbing the stairs. “Of course not! For one, they’re very careful to stay hidden, but really, that isn’t necessary. The majority of humans can’t see them at all.”
“Why?” Natalie asked.
Natalie’s grandmother stopped and turned. “Have you ever seen an elf? Or a Pegasus? Or a unicorn?”
Natalie’s eyes were wide. “No.”
“That’s not because they don’t exist, my dear,” her grandmother said. “They exists – in the forest behind us and in the world that you live in. Never doubt that. But the reason you can’t see them is simple – humans cannot see beings that are magical. Only other magical beings can see each other. There are exceptions of course, but that’s the general rule.”
Her grandmother sighed suddenly. “That was more than I had planned to tell you just yet. There is a lot to magic and the rules that it follows and you have yet to even grace the surface of understanding.”
Her words were not harsh, merely honest. Natalie knew it to be true – she knew hardly anything about magic. Even now, Cecily knew more about it than she did.
She asked softly, “But – if I may ask – can you see them, then?”
Her grandmother nodded. “Yes. And so can you, now that you have been awoken.”
Natalie had to smile. She would see unicorns? Elves? It sounded fantastic.
Her grandmother could read her thoughts from the smile on her face. “I have to warn you, though – they do stay out of sight. Angels are very rarely seen in your world or mine at all as they prefer to stay invisible, and the winged horses like to keep to deep forests. If you haven’t seen anything up until now, that is why.”
Natalie shrugged, still grinning. “Perhaps I’ll get to see them, perhaps I won’t. I’m sure that if I ever get to meet an angel, it will be worth the wait.”
Her grandmother smiled and began climbing the stairs again. “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves,” she said. “Let’s concentrate on Diophane McCoy’s test first.”
Natalie did not appreciate the sound of that. Her grandmother’s tone of voice suggested that Natalie ought to be nervous.
Back in the house, the rather round woman that always served them food, showed them to the dining room. Natalie had not been in the dining room before – it was beautiful. A large wooden table with eight chairs, four on each side, filled the room and on the walls hung paintings and mirrors with ornate borders. A chandelier hung from the ceiling. On the opposite side from the entrance was a large window that overlooked another part of the surrounding forest than the living room did.
The table had already been set with plates for two, and beneath silver covers their dinner waited for them. Upon taking in the delicious scent of fresh potatoes, vegetables and meat, Natalie realized her own hunger. She had not eaten since breakfast. Although Natalie did not wear a watch, she suspected that dinner would not last too long, as the time probably already neared four p.m.
Butler Thomas entered the room, dressed immaculately in his dark, but not quite fashionable, suit.
“Have a seat,” said her grandmother to Natalie and gestured towards the table.
Butler Thomas walked before her and pulled out the chair to her seat. Natalie thanked him and sat down.
Dinner was delectable but quiet. Her grandmother seemed to be deep in thought on other matters and Natalie did not want to interrupt her, so she kept silent. As Natalie took her second portion, butler Thomas came in with a piece of paper and a pencil, and asked her to write to her uncle so that he would not worry. She wrote him a short note and gave it back to the butler.
“Do you have any questions before we go meet the Diophane?” asked her grandmother after Natalie had inhaled her second portion of meat and potatoes, finally feeling full.
Natalie did not know what to answer. She had no idea what she would be doing, so how could she ask about it?
“Don’t worry too much about the tests,” said her grandmother. “A person either has it or she doesn’t. If you don’t, you could never fool Diophane McCoy and if you do, she will see it. And the fact that you survived not once but twice against Master Wielder Ramon, suggests that you are definitely a Wielder that she should train.”
Natalie realized suddenly what her grandmother was saying and what she had been about to explain earlier. Diophane McCoy did not train just any Novus or Wielders – she hand-picked the Wielders she believed could one day reach Master status.
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