The storm was over when Isabel pulled into a space on her mother’s block and wiped the tears from her face with a shudder. She was just tired, she had to be. She worked a grueling 14 hour day in a sweltering kitchen and she was exhausted. Yes, that was it. It was the only thing that made sense. Why would anyone go through so much trouble for a piece of jewelry and what did it have to do with her father?
As Isabel climbed the steps of the brownstone, the door flew open and her mother stepped out. Her hair was in curlers for the night and the creases around her brown eyes and mouth from years of laughter and pain deepened as she laid eyes on her daughter. Leticia had gained some weight over the years, especially now that she was able to give up two of her jobs. Isabel preferred her mother plump rather than wizened and frail like her aunts who had become obsessed with dieting and fleeting youth. As it was her day off, Leticia wore her blue floral housecoat and slippers. Isabel met her mother on the landing and was crushed in a bear hug.
“My God, are you alright? Look at you!” Leticia touched the scratches and smears of blood on Isabel’s face and neck.
She glanced about quickly before wrapping an arm around her daughter’s shoulders and hurrying inside.
“The police called to say you’d been attacked and your home destroyed!” Leticia said as they climbed the stairs.
“Nothing left but a smoking crater.” She shook her head.
Well shit, at least I don’t have to worry about the mortgage now.
They entered the apartment and Isabel watched her mother slip and twist 17 locks into place on the door. That’s weird, when did she get all those locks? She thought but instead said,
“It’s the strangest thing. Some crack head tore through my house looking for something dad was supposed to have given me before he took off. Then he wanted to take me to some sorceress. I tried to get away but he just kept coming at me!”
Isabel shook violently and she sat down heavily on the sofa, sobbing. Leticia rushed to her side, holding her and rocking until she calmed down again. “It’s ok, nena, you’re safe now.”
“Who was that guy, mom? Dad’s been gone 20 years, why would someone show up asking questions now? And he said the weirdest things too, like how dad was a Duke and had run away from an army or something.”
Leticia paled. “Isabel, who did the man say he was and did he mention the name of the sorceress he was working for?”
Isabel laughed, shaking her head. “He said he was Lord of the Underworld, if you can believe it, and the sorceress was named... Phoebe?”
She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples to relieve a sudden headache. God, she could use some sleep.
“You mean Phaedra?”
Isabel looked up. “Yeah, that was it. How did you know?”
Leticia chewed the corner of her bottom lip, a sure sign of worry.
“Mom, what is going on? Who was that guy? What’s he got to do with dad and why does he want my necklace?”
Isabel held up the pendant and both women gasped. They both knew every detail of the silver dragon from the rubies embedded in the eye sockets and mouth open in a roar, to the tail wrapped around a crystal orb beneath it. Yet the wings they knew had always been folded and etched into the dragon’s back were now spread wide open. Isabel tapped them with her finger and found them to be as solid and immobile as the rest of the pendant, as if they had always been cast in that position. Mother and daughter looked at each other and Leticia said, “Come with me.”
They went into the bedroom where Leticia opened the massive wooden vanity that housed the mirror she liked to talk to. She reached into a drawer and pulled out two robes. She pulled on a blue silken robe with golden symbols embroidered on lavender cuffs and lapel. The other robe, white silk with silver symbols embroidered on light blue cuffs and lapel, she handed to Isabel saying, “Put this on and I’ll explain everything.”
Leticia yanked her hair free of the curlers and drew a long silver wand from her sleeve as Isabel shrugged on the robe.
“Do you remember when I gave you Papi’s pendant after he disappeared?”
“You mean the day after dad walked out on us?” Isabel snorted. Like a family trinket could make her forgive or forget?
It was the middle of the night when the murmur of hushed voices in the kitchen woke Isabel. Grabbing her Holly Hobbie doll she slipped out of bed, the edge of her nightgown brushing the tops of her feet as she padded over to the door. Her parents were fighting. About what, Isabel didn’t know, but occasionally her mother’s angry words drifted across the apartment, words like coward and danger. She didn’t dare call out. She was supposed to be asleep after all and she didn’t want to add to her parents’ anger. Isabel tugged on Holly’s braid, opening her slumbering eyes, and stepped out of the room. Whatever the danger, the little girl didn’t want to face it alone. She took another step, but the moan of metal chairs rubbing against the linoleum floor sent her scurrying back into her room. Peeking her head out again, the moppet saw her parents had moved into the living room.
“We can’t come with you, Omar,” her mother said, throwing her arms into the air. “It would put Isabel’s life at risk!”
“Then travel the Pathways of the Prism and move her. She can stay with your cousins in Puerto Rico until it’s safe for us to return.”
“And how long would that be? What if something happens to both of us?” Her mother shook her head violently. “No, I won’t have Isabel thinking we both abandoned her.”
“Only her father.”
It surprised Isabel that her parents couldn’t hear her heart pounding in the heavy silence that fell between them. What was happening? Why were they in danger? Why did any of them have to leave?
“I was a coward.” Omar spoke so softly she could barely make it out. “A spoiled, selfish brat who thought only of himself. I let everyone down, but I was too frightened to care.”
He grasped her mother’s hands. “You gave me strength, Leticia. You showed me what was right, taught me how to love. It’s my love for you and for Isabel that makes me strong now but I need to go back. I need to make amends for what I did. I need to put a stop to this before you and Isabel get hurt.”
Leticia placed a hand on her husband’s face. “If they gain your power all will be lost.”
Omar gave a nod. “Do what you must.”
Isabel saw her mother hesitate a moment before placing a mirror the size of a compact on her father’s chest. The dim light of the lamp flashed off a small silver rod Leticia clutched in her hands over the mirror. Omar placed his hands on top of hers and their eyes locked. Isabel shook her head. No, whatever this was, it was wrong.
“Papi?” Isabel called, stepping out of the bedroom again.
Suddenly, it felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. A bright red light burned beneath her parents’ hands and Isabel clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle her cry, squeezing Holly into a headlock. After what seemed like forever, the light faded. Omar blinked once, his face blank of emotion, then turned and walked out of the apartment. Leticia looked down into her cupped palms and a single tear ran down her cheek.
Isabel shook her head. Though it had been 20 years, somehow she remembered the event like it was yesterday.
Leticia sighed. “The first thing I want to tell you is that your father loved you very much.”
Isabel stared as her mother tapped the wand to different parts of the mirror, which lit up when she began to speak. “He comes from an alternate realm called Baelcrest and his family ruled a province called Kendra. For decades, war has raged in Baelcrest and when your father was about your age, the Duchy of Kendra came under attack by an evil sorceress named Phaedra. His father, your grandfather, was killed in battle and Omar became the new ruler.”
The mirror fogged up and glowed before scenes appeared, illustrating her words. Isabel saw her father as a young man standing in the doorway of a dimly lit bedchamber while several men and women knelt beside the bed, crying. The scene changed and young Omar stood in another room filled with heavily armored men who dropped to one knee as an older man stepped forward and gave him a salute. Rather than return the salute Omar fled.
“Kendra was one of many lands in Baelcrest to fall under Phaedra’s forces but it was the only land that was abandoned by its leader.” Leticia explained.
Isabel reached out and tentatively touched the mirror as it changed scenes again. This time she could see a strange land mass stretched out before her with lakes and rivers, snowcapped mountains and desert. She gaped at her mother. “Mom, how are you doing this? Are you a witch?”
“We prefer the term Mirror Mage.” Leticia laughed. “Every first born female in our family is a Mirror Mage.”
“Mirror Mage?” Isabel shook her head.
“Weavers of light, we travel along the Pathways of the Prism and guard them from our enemies.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t, muñeca, and that’s my fault. I should have started your training years ago but with your father’s amulet I was afraid you would draw too much attention from the sorceress and her minions. For now, let’s just say I am one of several guardians to a portal that joins our world to Baelcrest.” Leticia sighed. “Omar managed to travel the Pathways to our world where we met and fell in love. He was always ashamed of running away but he didn’t know what else to do.”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right, ma.” Isabel shook her head angrily. “How is running out on his family supposed to fix anything?”
“What happened to your father is a mystery to me but before he left he gave you a very special gift. One that has been passed down for generations.” Leticia said.
“I wish he’d kept the damn thing. It just cost me my home and almost my life!”
Leticia took her daughter’s hands. “Isabel, you may not realize it now but this amulet is an extremely powerful weapon than can help us in our fight. You are its rightful owner now and the fact the Lord of the Underworld traveled the Pathways to take it from you speaks of the desperation of our enemies.”
Isabel blinked. Our enemies? It seemed the mysterious stranger dropped her parent’s war in a make-believe kingdom right on her doorstep or into her dining room to be exact. This was insane; there is no such thing as magic! Yet in the space of an hour did she not witness a bird transform into a man? Did the bauble she wore around her neck these 20 years not suddenly spring to life and rescue her from a kidnapping? Did she not just see her mother conjure up scenes in the mirror like something out of a fairy tale?
“What could we do? I mean, you’re a magician which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, but other than cook a fabulous meal for the troops, what can I do?”
“A desperate enemy is a dangerous enemy, mija. There’s no telling how far Phaedra will go.” Leticia frowned. “Actually, this explains our latest trouble.”
“An exiled princess had to be moved to a safe house six months ago. Phaedra’s minions are closing in so she has to be moved again.”
“If they keep finding her where can she go?”
Leticia smiled and snapped her fingers. “Where they can’t get her even if they did find her, the Crystal Palace of Lothiari. In fact, I think the safest place for you both will be under the personal protection of the Alliance. We’ll swing by, pick up the princess and take you both to safety.”
“What about you?”
“My duty is here. As a Mirror Mage I have to maintain my vigil over the Pathways of the Prism and aid the Alliance whenever possible.”
She turned back to the mirror and, after another series of taps with the wand, the mirror began to flash and glow as the fog swirled.
“Take my hand, Isabel.” She reached out to her daughter.
Isabel hesitated. She didn’t completely understand what was happening but throughout her life one constant remained, her mother never allowed her to come to harm and could be trusted absolutely. Isabel took her mother’s hand and they were suddenly surrounded by light.