Butler Thomas took her home and Natalie did not need the magic to make her fall asleep. The day had simply been the most exhausting she had ever been through. She was almost glad that her grandmother had been disappointed with her – it meant almost no conversation before allowing Natalie to go home.
When the alarm went off the next morning, Natalie wanted to throw it out the window. She wished that she could stop time so that she could sleep for just a little longer, but her wish did not work.
Coming down the stairs for breakfast, she found Emmanuella chewing on her piece of toast, looking as irritated as ever that another day had come and Natalie was still there.
“Good morning,” mumbled Natalie. She did not know why she bothered, but it felt like she should.
“Morning,” Emmanuella sniffed. “You came home late last night.”
Natalie nodded, picking out her cereal, and some milk from the fridge. She took a piece of bread and put it in the toaster. “Yes, grandmother picked me up and I spent the evening there. Did not you get my note?”
“Richard did,” Emmanuella said shortly. Then, looking at her piece of toast and turning rather green, Emmanuella exited the kitchen hurriedly.
Natalie looked after her – it was not the first time Emmanuella had been ill in the last several weeks. In fact, it was more of a rule than an exception and Natalie had to start to wonder about it. After all, the evidence pointed in a very certain direction. Still, she expected Richard and Emmanuella to tell her if that was the case.
Half an hour later, Natalie walked to school.
As she turned onto Garden Avenue, on which the high school had its address, she heard a familiar voice.
Natalie gave Cecily a smile and stopped to wait for her to catch up. Cecily did not run without good reason – even a quick walk would have her gasping for breath.
“Good morning,” said Natalie once Cecily had come within talking distance, instead of shouting range.
“Good morning,” Cecily smiled, and then went straight to the point. “You disappeared yesterday.”
Natalie knew she had. She had not even returned to the hospital to pick up her shoes.
“Yes. Sorry,” she said, knowing that she had probably worried Cecily.
Cecily made a face. “The whole school is talking about how you had a seizure and a substitute had a heart attack in class. I’d say they’re all quite wild rumors. What happened, Natalie?”
Natalie studied the ground as they came closer to the school. “Well,” she started hesitatingly, “it’s not all wild rumors.”
“You had a seizure?” asked Cecily, immediately concerned.
Natalie shook her head. “No, no, of course not. I—I just sort of panicked.”
Cecily frowned. “Panicked? Over what?”
“The substitute teacher,” Natalie said with a sigh. At the strange look Cecily was giving her, she continued. “It wasn’t just any sub. It was Ramon.”
Cecily’s eyes widened. “Ramon? As in Ramon-Ramon? Are you serious?”
Natalie nodded, biting her lip. “Yeah. I just—I thought he was there to kidnap me again, or something, so I panicked. I did magic and I think I gave him a heart attack. But the thing is, he did nothing back! And when I spoke to him in the hospital, he didn’t have a clue of who I was, other than a student in class.”
Cecily looked at Natalie with eyes wide as saucers. “You’ll probably have to take me through that a bit slower. You were at the hospital? Why?”
“I think I used up all my power supply, or something,” Natalie said, throwing her hands in the air, frustrated with not quite understanding. “I kind of collapsed once I’d – well, once I’d given Ramon the heart attack.”
They had arrived outside the school now and began climbing the stairs. Natalie noted that there were a few people looking at her – obviously Cecily’s rapport of ‘wild rumors’ appeared to be true. Natalie sighed.
“But you said Ramon didn’t recognize you?”
“No, he didn’t,” Natalie said. “After I woke up in the hospital, I went to talk to him – and he didn’t have any idea of who I was, or who Ava was. It was just not him. He didn’t know anything. And then my grandmother has found his necklace—”
“Whoa,” said Cecily, “your grandmother?”
Natalie pulled open the door to the school. “Yeah. Butler Thomas came and picked me up at the hospital and I got to spend a lovely afternoon with my grandmother.”
“Right,” Cecily said, “I’ll have to hear more about that but—Ramon?”
“Yes, right, Ramon,” Natalie said. The bell rang. “Well, we obviously need to go, but just answer me this: Could a necklace really hold the soul of another person, and would that necklace then be able to control the wearer? And if the necklace was broken, would the soul be released and the wearer be returned to normal?”
Cecily raised an eyebrow. “I’m guessing that’s not a hypothetical question?”
Natalie shook her head. “Grandmother found Ramon’s necklace. It was broken – and I think I broke it when we were in his Mithridates. It was after that he became all confused.”
“It would make sense,” Cecily said, frowning. “I haven’t heard of it, but I’m not all that well-versed in magic, really. Did your grandmother tell you it could happen?”
Natalie nodded. She glanced at the clock on the wall; they were running short on time before class started.
“Then my guess is, she’s right,” Cecily said softly, “although I’m not sure what position that puts Ramon in.”
Natalie did not know either. She had been able to keep Ramon from her thoughts for the most part while at her grandmother’s – the visit and impromptu tests from the Diophane were more than enough to keep her mind and body occupied – but now they were back full-force. What was he? Who was he? And if he had been controlled, whose soul had been in the necklace?
Natalie and Cecily had just spent the last two hours discussing everything Natalie had been through, from the sudden appearance of Ramon in the English classroom, to Diophane McCoy’s tests. Though Cecily had been curious about the latter, most of her concern remained on Ramon’s sudden reappearance.
Cecily sat by her desk, her favorite place in the room, Natalie had come to conclude. Natalie was propped up against a few of the pillows on Cecily’s bed, feeling rather comfortable.
“I’m conflicted,” Cecily said. “On the one hand, Ramon seems to be almost a good guy now, or at the very least, neutral. He came in as a substitute, he didn’t recognize you, and he didn’t defend himself against your magic, which he should have easily been able to do. Instead, he ended up in the hospital, still without recognizing you and seeming very ill.”
Natalie nodded. “On the other hand—”
“On the other hand,” Cecily said, “it is possible that he knew what classes you are taking, and faking amnesia isn’t really that hard.” She sighed. “Still, it leaves the question of why he would let you hurt him.”
“And why would he leave my mother’s necklace with me when we were in my grandmother’s Mithridates?” asked Natalie. “He stole it from me to begin with – why give it back?”
“And what’s with the broken necklace your grandmother found?” Cecily said, rounding up the questions they had yet to answer.
“It does, undoubtedly, look as though Ramon is a good guy now after all,” Cecily said softly.
“A good guy who just happened to kill our best friend?” asked Natalie, bitterness lacing her voice. “Yes, that’s a really good guy.”
Cecily’s smile was pained. “It also appears that your grandmother was serious when she told you that a stone can hold the essence of a person, or at least a part of it.”
“But who?” asked Natalie, standing up and starting to pace to try to vent her frustration. It did not work. “Who would want to kill Ava and release Chaos? Why would anyone want to do that? Releasing Chaos – it’s insane. It’s a dark power, a really dark power, Cecily. I’ve felt it – it’s a pit of black, where everything is—well, chaos.”
Cecily shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know who’d want to release it.”
“There was nothing on it in your Script Magia?” asked Natalie. “Nothing on maniacs wanting to release it? Or worshipping it, or whatever it is maniacs do?”
“No,” Cecily said. “There was nothing on Chaos at all in the Script. There have been Wielders that have gone bad – but I never found anything that described what you felt.”
This frightened Natalie. She had thought that any Wielder who was angry enough when performing magic would feel the darkness within, would feel Chaos, but according to Cecily, that did not seem to be the case. But Cecily was not an expert in the field in any way – perhaps there had been others, Wielders that Cecily did not know of because they had not been mentioned in her Script Magia.
“We need to find out more about Chaos,” Natalie said.
Cecily cocked her head to the side. “How’re we going to do that?”
Natalie thought for a moment. “I guess I’ll have to ask my grandmother.”
“Do you think she’ll answer?”
Natalie frowned. “I’ll have to make her answer, or something.”
Cecily was quiet for a moment. For once, Natalie could read her thoughts – part of Cecily thought it was a good idea while the other part of her wondered how she would do it. Could a Wielder make another person spill their guts? Could she make a Master Wielder such as her grandmother do so? And did her grandmother even know much about Chaos?
“I suppose that’s easier said than done,” Cecily said finally, “but if it works, I’m sure she has at least some stuff to tell you.”
Natalie smiled slightly. “Thanks. Do you know how Wielders communicate within the second dimension?”
Cecily shook her head. “No, sorry. Nothing on communication in the Script.”
Natalie gave a mental sigh. “Oh well. I’ll just have to wait until my grandmother asks me to come visit again – and who knows when that’ll be. She usually just sends a letter or shows up.”
“Yes,” said Cecily, “she’s a bit peculiar.”
“I think anyone would be, living in a place like that,” Natalie said with a roll of her eyes. “No electricity, no contact with the outside world, and wood elves running around.”
Cecily smiled. “I think it sounds quite lovely.”
Half an hour later, Natalie looked at her watch and realized that it was time for her to go home and prepare dinner. Emmanuella was cranky enough without the added bonus of low blood sugar. Natalie bid Cecily goodbye and left the Cordell house.
The air was cool and the sky was a colorful palette of reds and yellows as she walked home. It was beautiful – the opposite, compared to the stormy clouds of the night before, with its heavy wind and spray of ocean water on her face. It had been lovely in its own right, though cold and harsh.
Natalie thought of the Diophane. The woman had authority like no other person Natalie had ever met. Simply by looking at her, Natalie had known that she was powerful, a force to be reckoned with. She was undoubtedly more powerful than Natalie’s grandmother, but was far less obvious about her powers than Natalie’s grandmother. Natalie appreciated that.
Natalie was deep in thoughts and was not quite paying attention to the world around her. Therefore, it came as quite a shock when a very familiar voice suddenly could be heard.
“Magic really never gave me anything good.”
Natalie whirled around, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. There was no one standing behind her, or to her side. Still, she knew that voice. Was she going crazy? Was she hearing things that no one else did? It had to be, because that voice—Ava was dead. Dead people did not talk.
“I mean, first it made us fight.”
Natalie turned again, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice. It felt like she was in one of those movies, where the crazy character hears voices in surround.
“Ava?” she said weakly.
The voice continued. “Then I was kidnapped, gagged, hurt and finally I waded through ten tons of sand to get back home. Then we go and face the madman again and not only do I get choked – I finally get thrown into the wall and break my neck.”
The voice seemed to be moving around her, taunting her. It was here and there, willing her to believe in her own insanity. It was not possible.
Natalie sank to her knees on the empty side-walk. A weak thought of hoping there was no one watching from one of the houses passed through her mind but mostly, it was just grief coming up to the surface once more. She squeezed her eyes shut, new tears falling even as she told herself that she was being weak. Oh, how she wished for Ava to be alive once more, to taunt her and throw sarcastic comments her way.
To not be dead.
“I’m sorry,” said the voice and this time it was far softer. “That’s one thing I can’t do anything about. And neither can you.”
It seemed to be coming from a single place this time. The voice had stopped moving and instead, it was coming from straight before her.
Slowly, Natalie opened her eyes.“Hi,” said Ava softly.
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