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CHAPTER 58 ~ CRYSTAL
The minute Gunther walked in through the office door he knew something was wrong. Instead of greeting him with her usual cheery, "Morning!" Natalie was slumped at her desk, her shoulders shaking.
"Shit!" Gunther dumped his briefcase and jacket on one of the chairs by the door and rushed over to her. "What's happened?"
She flung out a hand at him. "Don't touch me!"
He stopped in his tracks. "O-kay," he murmured, taking a step back as she sank back down again. "Do you need me to call a doctor?"
She shook her head and waved her hand in the general direction of a small pile of letters on her desk.
Gunther eyed them. None of them had been opened, and they all looked like official letters, nothing personal at all. What the hell had upset her this badly?
"Nat, if you won't tell me what's wrong, I can't help you," he said, in as gentle a voice as he could manage.
"His daughter's dying!" she sobbed.
Gunther stared at the letters. "Whose daughter?"
Again, the hand waved, this time tapping a long fingernail gingerly at the topmost letter.
"Sweetheart, that letter's not opened," Gunther murmured. "You don't even know who it's from."
"I do!" She raised a tearstained face to look up at him. "It's a witchy thing I can do. I touch people and I can see parts of their lives. Just flashes of moments."
Boy, do I ever know that, Gunther thought, but he couldn't let on that he did. "Is that why you don't want me to touch you?" he asked.
She nodded. "I can't stop it. That's the problem. It started out where I just saw things when I touched people, and this morning it started happening when I touched things that they've touched!" She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "I saw a flash of him signing that letter, and then I saw a flash of him by her hospital bedside!" She sobbed again. "She's so young—just a little slip of a thing—and she's so ill," she whimpered.
Gunther watched her for a moment, then bowed his head. "Okay," he said decisively. "I'm calling Valois."
"I don't think even he can help me," Natalie mumbled, sinking back down again. "Mum tried, but couldn't. She said she's never seen anything like it."
"Good morning, mon cœur," Valois's soothing voice came down the line. "What is wrong?"
Of course he'd know. Gunther's heart was hammering nineteen to the dozen and he was worried sick. Valois was sure as hell going to pick up on that.
"It's Natalie," Gunther said. "I just got into work and she's sobbing her heart out. One of her witch skills—" He tried to imbue that with as much the one we both know about meaning as he could, without being too obvious to Natalie, "—looks like it's out of control."
"I'll be right over."
True to his word, Valois walked through the door less than a minute later. Pausing to caress Gunther's face very briefly, he made his way to where Natalie was slumped in her chair: the very picture of misery.
"Ma pauvre petite lionne," he murmured, going to one knee in front of her and reaching for her hand. She jerked it away with a soft sound of protest, but he took it firmly. "Fear not, ma chère. I can shield myself from this ability of yours."
Gunther just watched helplessly as Valois did, well... whatever he was doing. It just looked as if he was holding Natalie's hand, but Gunther knew there was more to it than that. He sighed. Maybe one of these days, Valois would start teaching him magic again.
Eventually, Valois stood. Without further ado, he stooped, hooked his arms around Natalie, and lifted her up. She gave a little shriek, then—wonder of wonders—she giggled.
"You're the first man who's ever swept me off my feet," she said, with something of her old cheerful nature peeking through.
"Ah, now that is such a tragedy. No man has done it before me? Tsk!" Valois smiled down at her. "Ma chère, your mother is training you, is she not?"
"Yeah, she is."
"And has she shown you the Veil yet?"
Natalie shook her head, and Valois frowned. "Non? Well, how long have you been training?"
"A few months," Natalie said. "Mum told me it's best to wait until I have more control over things before I go into the Veil thingy."
"I... see. Well, my dear, there is no more waiting. If you want this fixed—and, believe me, you do want this fixed, for it will only get a great deal worse—then into the Veil we must both go, and quickly." Valois turned to address Gunther. "Mon cœur, I should be but a few hours, but you know how to reach me, hm?"
~ In here. Do not forget, my darling. You can always reach me like this. ~
Gunther smiled and nodded, then blinked as the two of them vanished. With a sigh, he reached for Natalie's phone, to ring down to Reception and ask them to hold all but the most important calls for the day.
"Eloquent." Valois chuckled as he carried Natalie through the snow towards a large building.
"Okay, now that was—" Natalie shook her head. "We just poufed from one place into another?"
"It is the quickest way to get here, ma chère. Ah, there he is."
Natalie twisted around to look at the man standing in the open doorway, beckoning them in. Her eyes widened as she saw the great, sparkling white wings that pulsed gently behind him.
"He's a fairy!" she gasped.
"He is one of the fae," Valois gently corrected her. "And, like all of his kin, he has excellent hearing. Elsanine, my friend, thank you for coming at such short notice."
Elsanine bowed, then looked Natalie over. "One of yours?" he asked.
"One of my kin, but not under my tutelage," Valois murmured as he walked through the door into the warmth of an old stone corridor.
"Hm. Understood. If you were her elder then this would never have happened. Well, child," Elsanine addressed Natalie, "we need to fix this problem of yours before it becomes... unfixable. I am surprised your elder did not contact me sooner. From what Valois tells me, you are dangerously close to becoming out of control."
Natalie looked up at Elsanine as Valois set her down gently. "What d'you mean, from what he told you? He's not told you anything."
Elsanine merely smiled. "Through here."
With an encouraging nod from Valois, Natalie walked into a wide, airy room. Three beds surrounded by white flowers stood against the wall to her left, and shelves and shelves of books filled the remainder of the room. A smaller room was curtained off to her right.
"Where are we?"
"The Veil's healing quarters," Valois said. "Please sit. Elsanine and I must discuss a few things."
Natalie plunked herself down on the end of one of the beds, and watched as Valois and Elsanine withdrew to the other side of the room.
"Who is her elder?" she heard Elsanine ask.
"Her mother, Esme Tanner."
Natalie frowned. How the hell did Valois know her mum's name?!
Elsanine drew closer. "Impossible," he muttered. "I have only seen this once before, as have you. And you remember what happened to him."
Valois grimaced and nodded. "I am partly to blame. I knew they were different. I should have said something."
Elsanine threw his hands up with an exasperated sigh. "Yes, well, from what I hear you have had things aplenty of your own to keep you distracted. But this child is air, and the mother is earth. Earth begets earth and air begets air; you know that!"
"I am at a loss as to why it happened again. I thought safeguards were put in place to ensure that history wasn't repeated?" Valois murmured.
Elsanine sighed. "I need to research the family's lineage further, but it appears that this child is an anomaly. Her elder should have brought this to my attention much sooner. You should have said something sooner. I fear it may be too late."
Valois glanced over at Natalie, then turned his attention back to Elsanine. Resting one hand on the fae's arm, he stood in silence.
Natalie frowned as the silence lengthened, but something told her they were still communicating somehow. Eventually, Valois nodded and broke the contact, walking out of the room.
"Well, child." Elsanine sat down in the chair by Natalie's bed. "He is going to make a potion that you must use upon yourself, and then we will attempt to heal you of this... affliction."
"I'm not a child," Natalie mumbled, feeling awkward as she picked at the bedcovers. She jumped as several soft implosions came from the room next door.
Elsanine chuckled. "To me, you are a mere baby. I am older even than Valois. And that, my dear, is saying something, for he has seen three Ages of the Veil."
The door opened again, and Valois walked back in, cradling a large bottle in both hands. It glowed a beautiful pale blue, and steam or smoke or... something was curling out of its open neck. He set it down on the pedestal at the end of the bed.
"Take it, and throw it at your feet," Elsanine said.
Natalie stood up and eyeballed the bottle. "Won't the glass cut me?"
"It will not."
She looked to Valois for reassurance. He smiled and nodded. "It's fine. Go ahead," he murmured.
Gingerly, she picked up the bottle. "Throw it? Not drop it?"
She wasn't sure she liked this Elsanine bloke. He was awfully short with his words. With a sigh, she braced herself, then hurled the bottle at the floor, screwing her eyes shut at the same time.
She went down so quickly that Valois winced as she hit the floor. "Damn it!" he growled, crouching to pick her up. "Maybe a little too much henbane."
"The stronger, the better. If she were to wake during the treatment, it could be disastrous." Elsanine helped him to arrange Natalie on the bed, then he looked up, still crouched beside her. "We must work together on this, Valois. Two crafts as one. I cannot mend this alone. It is too far gone."
Valois nodded. "Which level do you need me to work at?"
"The highest? Merde! Is it that serious?"
"Crystal, Valois." Elsanine turned to cradle Natalie's face in his hands. "Now."
The crystal wand came to Valois's hand instantly as Elsanine's white magic began to fill the air. Joining it with his own spells, Valois reached for the highest level of his skill; a place that few of his kin could attain anymore. He knew it would severely deplete his power, but he also knew that if he did not do this then Natalie's uncontrolled magic might overwhelm her.
He had only seen that happen to a witch once before. He never wanted to see it again.
Together, they worked for what felt like hours, Valois's crystal magic blending with Elsanine's white healing. Blue light surrounded the bed, swirling around Natalie's motionless form as fae and witch together corralled her untrammeled magic into a bind safe enough that she could take from it more slowly, at her own pace.
The lights faded and Valois dropped his hand as Elsanine stood. The wand vanished, and Valois clasped his aching arm, weariness consuming him. He could feel his knees weakening.
"Thank you, my friend," Elsanine murmured. "She should— Valois!"
He just reached Valois in time, catching him and propping him up.
"By Gaia, she took it out of you," he muttered, as Valois sagged against him. "Up with you now. You need to rest as much as she does."
"Told Gunther I'd only be a few hours," Valois whispered as he staggered into the small recovery room, leaning heavily against Elsanine. His whole body ached and felt like lead, drained of power like it hadn't been in centuries.
"Your mortal?" Elsanine tsked. "I'll get a message to him, if you think he might worry."
Valois smiled wearily. "Immortal, remember?"
"Ah. Yes. Can you undress yourself?"
He couldn't even lift a hand, much less cast a spell to remove his clothing. He shook his head, and heard Elsanine murmur a few soft words. The weight of his clothes disappeared and he sank onto the bed.
"There." Elsanine tucked him in gently. "The flowers will help, and I'll bring some lake water for your hands once you've slept for a few hours. After that—and only when you feel up to it—we'll go to the Grove and you can sit with the trees."
Cool sheets surrounded Valois, and he sank down into them with mumbled thanks. The sweet scent of the flowers that surrounded the bed filled the air, their soft petals brushing his face as they slowly began to replenish his power. Nature, blessed nature.
Elsanine stood watch for a long time, wishing he could tell his old friend what he saw in the future. But the Veil would not allow it. Time must move at its own pace, and Elsanine saw much time ahead, and much sorrow.
With a sigh, he went back to his books, there to await the first of his patients' awakenings.