Diophane McCoy awaited them in the living room when Natalie and her grandmother had finished dinner. She stood straight, not leaning towards anything, and Natalie suspected that even if they had kept the Diophane waiting for hours, she would still not have slouched. Then again, Diophane McCoy did not seem to be the kind of person one kept waiting.
She eyed Natalie critically. She would certainly have a hard time impressing this woman, Natalie thought, and she likely did not take new students very often. If her grandmother had not stood right next to her, Natalie might have tried to run away from the stare. As it was, she tried to meet it squarely without flinching.
“Bring something warm,” said Diophane McCoy to Natalie. “We will be outside for a while and it might get cold.”
Natalie barely dared to nod – she merely grabbed her shawl and hurried back.
“We will be back after nightfall,” the Diophane continued, now speaking to Natalie’s grandmother.
Her grandmother nodded. She looked rather pleased that Diophane McCoy was considering her granddaughter as a possible student. Natalie held back a smile at this – perhaps she could make her grandmother proud after all.
“Good luck,” said Natalie’s grandmother to her granddaughter.
Natalie smiled nervously. Then they walked away from her grandmother, out the glass doors that led to the porch and into the back yard.
Diophane McCoy looked down upon Natalie with a stern face. “I hope you are aware, that luck has nothing to do with this.”
Natalie did not know how to respond, so she kept silent, eyes trained on the ground. She wondered where they were going, when Diophane McCoy stopped suddenly, in the middle of the grass field.
“How good are you at transportation magic?” the Diophane asked.
Natalie did not know. Though she could control it, she did not trust her ability at the moment – she had balled her hands into fists to keep them from shaking with nervousness. It did not matter if her grandmother told her not to fret about it.
“I have done it a couple of times,” Natalie said.
The Diophane pursed her mouth. “That does not answer my question.”
“Oh,” said Natalie quietly. “Well – I think I’m okay at it.”
Diophane McCoy sighed. “Take my hand. I will transport us to the testing location.”
She held out her hand. Natalie felt like a small child, with the Diophane in the role of her angry mother. Still, she took Diophane McCoy’s hand. Almost immediately, the world around them turned into the familiar swirl of colors and shapes, as they transported away from her grandmother’s home.
The journey did not last long. Natalie stumbled as they suddenly stopped, while Diophane McCoy stood perfectly still, her hair as neat as before and not the least bit frazzled. Natalie blushed at her own clumsiness.
“Come on, we have much to do,” said Diophane McCoy and turned away from Natalie.
Natalie hurried to catch up, then followed a few steps behind the Diophane. They climbed a grass hill and when Natalie glanced behind them, she saw wide-stretching plains. Flowers, in all colors of the rainbow, grew all over the field.
They reached the top of the hill. The wind felt stronger up there and Natalie’s breath caught when she saw the beautiful view before them: the sea. It shifted in blues and grays and reds, the skies overhead reflecting in the dark water. The sun started to set beyond the clouds. Natalie took a deep breath and smelled the salt hanging in the chilly air. It calmed her somewhat.
“The tests will be performed here, where we will not be disturbed,” Diophane McCoy said. She turned her hand and a piece of paper on a board appeared out of thin air. Natalie only barely kept from gaping at the casual use of magic – Diophane McCoy did not seem to have to think about her magic at all. “Are you ready to start?”
It was not quite a question as the tone did not leave any room for any answer other than ‘yes’. Natalie nodded.
“Good. We will start by seeing if you have any strong element,” said the Diophane.
Natalie recalled her grandmother saying that her element was water – the first magic had ever witnessed had been her grandmother creating a drop of water out of nothing.
Natalie did not know what it felt like to have a strong element and she doubted that she did. There had at least never been anything that had come especially easy for her, save for the time when she had felt Chaos. She doubted that Chaos could be counted as an element.
“We will go through them one by one – water, fire, earth and air,” Diophane McCoy said. “Start with water whenever you’d like.”
Natalie nodded, trying her best not to let her apprehension show on her face.
Then she closed her eyes and tried to imagine water. She remembered her grandmother’s very first attempt to make her do magic – she had told Natalie to think of anything to do with water. Still, that had not helped, so Natalie very much doubted that her element was water, if she had one.
She drew upon the stormy sea before her, attempting to create a large ball of water. But all the while, she could feel the Diophane’s eyes upon her, judging her, and when she finally opened her eyes, she had to wince. A single drop of water, no bigger than the average rain drop, hung in the air just above Natalie’s hand.
“Not water then,” said the Diophane, eyes hard. She marked something in her notes on the paper, then demanded, “Fire.”
Natalie bit back the question of if her mother had never taught her to say ‘please’. Instead, she tried to channel her irritation into the vision of fire she was creating. She could see the fire, a warm and safe fireplace, and could almost even sense the heat it emitted.
Opening her eyes, she saw that she had fared a little better this time, but not much. The small fire that she had conjured would be big enough to keep a cat warm, but hardly anything more.
Diophane McCoy pursed her lips in displeasure again. It did not calm Natalie any. Unfortunately, she did just as badly on the two remaining tests, earth and water. For earth, she attempted to create soil in which a pretty flower grew, but only managed to make enough dirt for a few straws of grass to grow. Finally, she wanted to do a tornado, but the one she created would hardly even have upset an ant if it had been put to the test.
“Not an elemental, it would seem,” Diophane McCoy said. She wrote something in her notes. “We will continue with reflexive magic. I will throw magic at you and you will defend yourself.”
Natalie’s eyes widened. “W-what?”
Diophane McCoy sent her a look that clearly stated that she would not be repeating herself. Natalie did not need for her to repeat her words – she had understood it the first time. She merely did not want to be a part of it.
“Move back a few steps. It will give you enough time to react to my magic,” said the Diophane. “If your grandmother told me the truth, you should be good at this.”
Natalie swallowed. She did not know what she had done back at Ramon’s Mithridates – she had just been so very angry and heart-broken after Ramon had killed Ava that it had all come naturally. The darkness, the chaotic powers – it had all seemed natural.
This did not seem natural.
The Diophane still stood close enough for Natalie to be able to see her face. She appeared to be completely calm, her face wiped free of emotion. Her eyes looked cold, but not evil.
Natalie’s heart nearly pounded its way out of her chest.
“Let us begin,” said the Diophane.
This time, when the Diophane did magic, she closed her eyes briefly. Natalie wondered if it was necessary for her to do so, or if it she wanted to give Natalie a little bit of extra time to react.
A ball of fire came hurtling towards her and the world slowed down. Without thinking, Natalie threw herself into a ball on the ground, squeezing her eyes shut, and wished as hard as she possibly could that she would not get hit by the fire. It did not matter that she was supposed to protect herself – she did not know how to!
A strong hand around her upper arm made her open her eyes again. Diophane McCoy stood above her, looking displeased. She did not say anything, but it her wish for Natalie to get up could not have been clearer.
Natalie did, albeit carefully. She looked around to see if the ball of fire had hit anything but it appeared it had not. Perhaps the Diophane had stopped it before it could do any damage.
The Diophane wrote something in her notes and then turned back to Natalie.
“Let’s try one more time,” she said and it was not a suggestion. “This time, do try to defend yourself.”
Natalie’s cheeks turned red again. They seemed to be doing that a lot in the Diophane’s presence, but then the Diophane was that kind of person. She made Natalie feel like a kid who could do nothing but wrong.
They put some distance between each other once more and Natalie took a deep, steadying breath. She had to try to do this right.
Diophane McCoy closed her eyes once more and when she released her magic, a ball of sparkling blue energy was flying Natalie’s way. With everything she had, Natalie resisted the urge to throw herself onto the ground again, and forced herself to think of creating a force field around herself to protect her.
The single second that it took for the sparkling ball of energy to travel from the Diophane’s hand to Natalie’s position seemed like an eternity. As it came closer, Natalie closed her eyes, one hand going to her necklace and holding on tight.
A moment of heat – and Natalie opened her eyes.
The ball of energy had disappeared, but the world around her looked odd. After a moment, Natalie realized that she stood within a bubble that appeared to be made of very thin, blue-tinted glass. It distorted the world outside, though only a little.
Diophane McCoy neared Natalie. Quickly, Natalie let go of her necklace and relaxed. The shield evaporated.
The Diophane looked happier this time. She did not quite smile, but her face looked less hard.
“Well done,” she said shortly, marking in her notes.
Natalie could not keep the smile off her face. Finally, she had done something right. She felt far from certain that it would be enough to become the Diophane’s student, but it felt like a victory for her anyway. Besides, she did not know for certain that she wanted to be a student of the Diophane’s. If this was the kind of tests the Diophane put her through to see if she proved to be good enough to be a student, then Natalie did not think she wanted to know what an actual student of Diophane McCoy’s would be forced to do.
“I have one more test for you before we return to your grandmother’s,” said Diophane McCoy. “You are to go down onto the beach and pick out one stone. You are to pick the stone that you feel holds the most power and that you feel you could do the most with. There is no time limit and no right or wrong, so take your time deciding. You may start whenever, if you don’t have any questions.”
Natalie had several questions, most of them related to how she was supposed to tell if a stone was powerful or not, but as she suspected that that was the point of the test, she did not ask.
She took off her shoes before going down, as she knew she would only get sand in her shoes otherwise. Then she made her way down the hill, on the other side than the one she and the Diophane had arrived on. On this side, the slope consisted mostly of soft and slippery sand. Natalie stumbled several times, but managed to get down to the more even ground without getting sand everywhere.
As she looked upon the beach, she realized that there were thousands upon thousands of stones embedded in the grey sand. There were all shapes and sizes and several of stunning colors. Natalie gaped and wondered how she was supposed to know which one to pick – if she was to go through them all, she would be here for years.
Slowly, she started walking down the beach. The beach continued on behind her as well, but as she had had to choose a direction, she had chosen to go to her right.
The soft, wet sand felt cool beneath her feet. Every now and again, a cold wave of water would rush in and soak her feet and after the first one, Natalie rolled up her pants so that they would not get wetter than they already were.
“Okay, let’s find a stone,” Natalie mumbled to herself. She rolled her eyes at the impossibility of finding a single stone in this mass. Briefly, she considered simply picking up a stone and take it up to the Diophane but she quickly dismissed the idea. The Diophane would probably send her back down again anyway, or get angry with her. Natalie did not want Diophane McCoy angry with her.
She picked up a stone here and there. Mostly, it was the shiny, colorful stones that caught her attention, but she did not feel anything when she picked them up. Natalie was not entirely sure what it was she was supposed to feel. So far, every magical stone Natalie had had in her hand, had been placed there by her grandmother who’d told her that it was a magical stone. She had never picked one out herself.
She walked a bit further. Looking over her shoulder, she could see the tall figure of Diophane McCoy, watching over her.
Suddenly, something caught Natalie’s attention.
It was not much, but Natalie crossed the beach towards the slope. A rather small stone lay in the sand, half-way hidden in soil. Natalie picked it up. There was nothing special about it – it was grey, its outside soft to the touch from many years of water shaping it – but still, there was something. Natalie could not put her finger on it. The stone seemed to radiate something.
Natalie frowned at the stone. Was that what she was looking for? This ‘sense’ that the stone was radiating magic? She brushed some dirt off the stone and pocketed it. She would keep it for now, and if she did not find anything better, she would present it to the Diophane.
She continued down the beach, the wind pulling her hair hard. It seemed to have done that all day long, she thought. Darkness was starting to spread, as the sun sank beyond the dark clouds. Salty splatters from the worried ocean landed on her face and hands.
Walking and trying not to think of much of anything paid off after nearly half an hour. It seemed like she had found another stone of power. This one was stronger, and unlike the first one she had found, it was a small thing of beauty. Its color was gentle green, with darker green dots sprinkled over it. It seemed serene but to Natalie, it pulsated with life.
She exchanged the grey stone in her pocket with this one but decided to continue a little longer, muttering to herself, “Third time’s the charm.”
The wind was picking up and the clouds seemed heavier now. A light rain started to drizzle over Natalie. As her hair and clothes began to get soaked, Natalie wondered why she was doing this. She had found a stone that she could say called to her, which filled the requisites for Diophane McCoy’s task, and she had been out there for quite some time. She should stop and go back.
Still, she did not. She walked onwards, although she now had to hold on tight to the scarf around her shoulders, lest it blow into the ocean. The rain was coming down hard, each drop like a small spike on her skin.
Then she heard it. Heard, yes, not felt it.
It was like a song, a melody that hung in the air that easily made itself heard over the noisy wind. Natalie could not put her finger on it, could not quite tell what the melody was, but it was there. It was—magic.
She found the stone lying only a few steps away. It was unlike any stone Natalie had ever laid eyes upon before. It looked like a sunrise – reds, oranges and yellows were all melted together in a symphony of colors. All the while, the stone kept playing the song to Natalie. She held it in her hand and despite the rain and the cold, the stone made Natalie smile.
She had found it.
She turned around, about to return to Diophane McCoy.
She gasped in surprise when the Diophane was standing right there, before her. Had she been following her? No, Natalie had seen her, standing up on the hill, watching her. She had probably used magic to get there so quickly – but how had she known Natalie was done just now?
“Here, I know everything,” said Diophane McCoy.
Natalie’s eyebrows rose. Still it somehow did not surprise her that the Diophane could read her mind. The Diophane was obviously a very powerful woman.
Diophane McCoy reached out and took Natalie’s hand. A second later, they were soaring through the air as the world swirled below them, transporting them from wherever they had been to wherever they were going. Natalie hoped they were going home to her grandmother.
They landed, Natalie no more graceful this time than she had been the last, and she quickly – and happily – gathered that they were in fact back in her grandmother’s backyard.
Her grandmother was waiting for them, sitting in a stuffed chair on the porch. She stood and hurried over to them when she saw them.
“How did it go, Diophane McCoy?” her grandmother asked eagerly, obviously hoping for a positive answer and expecting one as well.
The Diophane looked at Natalie briefly before turning to Natalie’s grandmother.
“The girl has some good traits and magic in her,” she said, “and I’m sure she will make a good Wielder. But she is not an elemental, she is not a natural at any magic, and while she did find a stone that will serve her well, it is not nearly enough to warrant a place as my student. She is nowhere near ready for that. I am sorry, Wielder Turner.”
Natalie’s grandmother’s face fell. Her disappointment was obvious and it hurt Natalie to see it. She studied the ground instead, uncertain of her own feelings. Part of her had wanted to become a Master Wielder such as her grandmother, but another part of her was perfectly content with just being able to do magic here and there. It had not done her much good so far, she thought and the image of Ava came back to her once more. It was best left as a hobby.
“I see,” said her grandmother finally. “I understand.”
It was obvious that her grandmother did not understand.
The Diophane turned to Natalie. “Thank you for doing your best, Miss Winters. You did well, with what you have.”
Natalie wondered if she should be annoyed with the platitudes the Diophane was offering. She had obviously not done well enough to become a student of Diophane McCoy’s. But Natalie was overcome with tiredness and she did not have the energy to be irritated with the Diophane. The day had been too long, too trying, for her to feel much of anything by now. She barely held back a yawn as she recalled just how much had happened in this one day.
“Thank you,” she said simply to Diophane McCoy, taking the Diophane’s outstretched hand.
“Oh,” said the Diophane, “and you may keep the stone you found. Like I said, it will serve you well.”
Natalie smiled briefly. Then Natalie blinked and when she opened her eyes again, the Diophane was gone.
Readers of The Winter Legacy: Heritage - Chapter Five: