Chapter I: Through The Looking Glass
Izzy wandered the stacks in the library, searching fruitlessly for a book her teacher had recommended. She had thoroughly checked and double-checked the regular shelves and hadn't found it. Her pride would not let her ask Miss Ratcliff, the librarian, for help. Izzy had long since given up hope of finding the book, but was reluctant to go back to class empty-handed.
Somewhere between the Unsolved Mysteries and Netherworld Studies sections, she literally stumbled on something interesting. Nestled in among the dusty tomes was a cluttered workbench, covered in wood, wax, and ceramic shavings.
Tall candles burned in holders on and by the desk. "Miss Ratcliff would have a fit if she saw this back here," Izzy thought. "Aren't there electric lights everywhere?" She looked up at the ceiling, trying to find the aforementioned fluorescent lights and was surprised to find the absent.
"Curiouser and curiouser," she muttered, taking a closer look at the desk and the shelves above it.
Dozens of little figurines stood amid the wax shreds, wood slivers, and ceramic dust on the table. The flickering candlelight cast eerie shadows on the dolls, making it appear that they were actually moving. She could easily identify many of the creatures, but some were beyond her ken.
A ceramic dragon lay curled around a pile of gold, its eyes burning red. Izzy was afraid to touch it, for fear that she would be burnt or the creature would snap at her.
Knights on horseback paraded around the bench, with banner-waving squires following on their heels. A wooden griffin watched from a rocky outcropping, ready to swoop down on the crowd.
Wax towers stood guard over dancing maidens, while other girls sat playing music and chess. Children ran around, playing tag and hide-‘n-go seek.
A forest sat on a shelf above the workbench, mythical creatures weaving through the trees. Izzy was completely transfixed by the statuettes. Every hair, feather, and scale was faithfully represented.
She was investigating the far tower of a half-finished castle and didn't hear someone come up behind her.
"Hello," a soft, low voice said. Izzy jerked her head up, hitting one of the shelves, hard. She cringed, waiting for the exquisite figurines to hit the floor.
The sound never came. She slowly straightened, looking at the shelf. Everything was where is should be, as if she had never hit it. She turned and looked at the person behind her.
"How'd you do that?" she asked, astonished.
"That is for me to know," the young man started.
"And for me to find out. Gotcha. Who're you?"
"My name is James Allen Xavier. Those who know me call me Jax."
"Well, Jax, they're beautiful. I'm Isabelle Hope Stanton. Everyone calls me Izzy, though."
"Thank you. Isabelle. It is such a beautiful name," Jax said quietly. "May I?"
"Call me Isabelle? Sure. Whatever floats your boat."
"Well, Isabelle, what brings you here?"
"I'm looking for a book, actually," she began.
"Hence your presence in the library," he interrupted, smiling. "Please, continue."
His smile sent a shiver up Izzy's spine and made her stomach contract with a sharp, hot, not quite unpleasant pain.
"It's on magic. "Sorcery: Myth or Magic." I can't seem to find it."
"It is an age-old debate," Jax said, reaching up to a shelf above Izzy's head. "Which side do you take?"
"I have to say Myth-a lot of that stuff is too far out for me to believe. The rest is all done with smoke and mirrors. With the life I've led, it's a little hard to believe in magic."
Jax's face fell. The smile disappeared from his lips and the light in his eyes dimmed.
"I am sorry you feel that way," he said coolly.
Izzy noticed his change in demeanor and called him on it.
"What's with you?" she asked. "I state my opinion, and you act like I just said that there's no such thing as the Tooth Fairy. It's not a life and death situation."
"For some it might be," he replied cryptically before turning and walking back down the aisle.
Izzy looked down the row after him, but he was gone. She turned her eyes back to the workbench, but it too had vanished, shelves of old books where the statues had been. Looking up, Izzy was stunned to see that long fluorescent tube lights were shedding a bright, artificial light on the musty volumes.
"Spooky," she whispered, before quickly going to the checkout desk and returning to her room.
Jax slunk down the hall to his room, which was in one of the darker, damper corners of the school. He opened the door and stepped inside, waiting just a moment before raising his hand, palm out. He moved it in a circular motion, as if to wipe a slate clean. The drab, gray room dissolved, revealing a bright, warm study. He crossed the room, entering an equally warm kitchen, where and older woman and a younger boy sat, reviewing the day's lessons.
"Hello, James," the woman said, her voice melodic and calming. "We were not expecting you until the week-end."
"Where is Dad?" Jax asked, clearly agitated. He nodded to his mother, acknowledging her welcome.
"I'm right here," Peter Xavier said, entering from another door. "What is wrong?"
"I think I have found her," Jax said anxiously.
"Who?" the boy, Benjamin, asked. He was not interested in the slightest.
Jax ignored his brother.
"Her name is Isabelle Stanton, which is very close to Sylvester. And she got through the wards on my workbench in the library."
"Then what's the matter?"
"She does not believe in magic," Jax sighed, running a hand through his spiky brown hair.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Miriam asked after a moment. "I mean, the soul stays the same, it's just the body that changes. If she really is the Lady Isabelle that we know, her soul will know Magic whether or not she believes in it."
"You have a point," Peter said.
"I know I do."
"All right then. Jax, you keep an eye on this girl. If she is Lady Isabelle, we have to keep track of her."
"I plan on it," Jax said quietly.
"Well, be careful, James," Miriam said. "I don't want to see you get hurt."
"I will, Mother," he said.
"Great," Benjamin sneered. "Now all we have to do is find Malcolm."
"I'm sure he'll find us, Ben," Peter said. "I'm willing to wager that he's been waiting until we found her. He'll come to us, Ben, we won't have to look for him."
"Well, I just hope that he is quick about it," the boy said. "I want a chance to grow up."
The family looked at the boy, who stared unapologetically back at them. Jax shook his head, returning to the study after saying good-bye to his parents and younger brother. The cheery room washed away, returning to the dingy dorm room. Jax sighed, and then flopped onto the bed, springs creaking and frame groaning under his weight.
Izzy tried to concentrate on her homework that night but she found her mind wandering to the strange boy in the library.
"He must be around 6 feet tall," she thought. "Kinda scrawny." She began to form a mental image of Jax. Brown hair, shaggy and spiky at the same time. Warm, intelligent brown eyes that were incredibly sad. There was something very familiar about him, and it bothered her to no end.
She certainly liked the guy. She liked almost everybody. Izzy had the feeling that Jax was going to be around for a long time.
She had no idea just how right she was.
The resemblance was uncanny. He remembered exactly how Lady Isabelle looked, and Isabelle Stanton was almost a precise copy.
She was about a head shorter than himself, making her just over five feet tall. Her dark blonde hair was liberally streaked with gold and copper, framing her oval face. Green-gray eyes glowed from beneath perfectly arched brows.
She wasn't pretty by societal standards-not by any account-but he thought she was beautiful. As a man who followed his instincts, he knew she was the one.
Jax placed his hands under his head and stared up at the ceiling. Be careful, man," he scolded himself. "Do not lose your heart or your head."
It was too late.
They had only met once at West Bridge Alternative Academy. The school occupied an ancient castle miles away from the nearest village. No one knew how old the building was; some claimed it was built in the mid-1500s, others said it was centuries older. The library had church registers that went back to the 1100s. The debate raged on in schools and pubs throughout the countryside.
Rumors floated around about the building itself. Aside from the prerequisite ghost stories, many believed the building to be enchanted, since it was very easy to get lost in the old castle. They said that the original owners put spells on the building to confound trespassers. The more rational people argued that the place was huge to begin with.
The school was so named because in order to reach it, one had to cross the west bridge of the River D'Or-the Golden River. True, it was not an imaginative name, but it served its purpose.
Izzy received the brochure for West Bridge and was ecstatic. Not only did the Academy scour the area secondary schools for prospective students, but Izzy lived 400 miles away. The application was sent off almost before the brochure was opened, and she was accepted nearly as fast. The school was very private, very exclusive, and very expensive, but her father didn't mind paying the steep tuition price. Some of her classmates wondered about that, but Izzy was not open to discussing the matter.
The alarm went off at 7:30 a.m. The constant, high-pitched beep beeping continued for five minutes, until Naomi Blanchard, Izzy's roommate, sent her pillow airborne in her friends' direction.
There was a sudden thrashing in Izzy's bed when the pillow found its mark.
"Huh?" she slurred sleepily. "What time izzit?"
"Time to turn off that &%(&$^% alarm!" Naomi hissed.
The noise stopped as Izzy unplugged the clock.
"I don't wanna go to class today," she moaned.
"Yup," Izzy grunted, getting out of bed. "I swear, Mrs. Croft hates me."
"She doesn't hate you, she hates your writing," Naomi said reassuringly, sitting up in bed.
"Where were you all yesterday?"
"Huh? Oh, I was in the library looking for a book for Dame Grey's class." Izzy scrambled around, getting clothes together and trying to decide what to wear.
"That shouldn't have taken all day, though."
"I ran into someone. Oh!" She fell over while pulling a sock onto her foot.
"Who? Miss Ratcliff?"
"No, some guy named Jax. Stands for James Allen Xavier."
"I've heard about him," Naomi said.
"I'm not surprised," Izzy broke in. "You know everyone."
"It's hard not to when you go to such a small school. He's a cool guy, if a little weird. He slinks around a lot. Maybe he's trying to be invisible. I think you two would be cute together."
"Stop," Izzy laughed. "I don't need to be set up right now, Naomi. My life is hard enough without a boyfriend. Plus, I only just met the guy yesterday."
"You always say that," Naomi pouted. "I really wish you'd let me play match-maker for you at least once."
"You always say that. When I'm ready to date, you'll be the first person I go to," she said absent-mindedly while searching for her books under her bed.
"If you wait a few minutes, I'll go down to breakfast with you," Naomi said after a moment. Izzy looked at her, smiled, and sat down on her bed to wait.
Twenty minutes later, once Naomi had selected and rejected six different outfits and hairstyles, the pair headed down to the cafeteria and got their food.
"How much do we pay to go here again?" Izzy frowned, pushing her eggs around her plate.
"Too much," Naomi sighed.
"Hello, Isabelle," a familiar voice said.
"Jax! Hi," Izzy gulped, not expecting him.
"May I join you?" the smooth, velvety tone of his voice wrapped around Izzy like a warm cloak.
"Sure," Naomi said brightly. "Hi Jax, I'm Naomi, her roomie. I've heard a lot about you." She smirked at Izzy, who blushed a light rose color.
Naomi didn't move to make room for him at the table, so Izzy scooted over and Jax slid in beside her. Naomi grinned when she saw that Izzy stopped eating once he sat down.
"So, Jax, I hear you're into magic. Like David Copperfield or Sigfried and Roy?"
"No. They are sleight of hand artists. Real magic is much more complicated."
"How so?" Izzy asked.
Jax reached up and plucked a playing card from thin air-it materialized between his fingers. He set the card on the table, then placed his hands flat on the table. Izzy felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up when he began to murmur unintelligible words. The card stood up on its edge-it was the King of Diamonds-and began to walk around the table. The girls sat, spellbound, as the playing card bowed to each of them in turn. Naomi picked him up to get a better look.
"I would not do that-" Jax said, cringing as the little King drew his little sword and stabbed Naomi's thumb.
"Ow!" she cried, dropping the card. It landed on the table and stayed there for just a second before fading away.
"Wow," Izzy breathed. "How'd you do that?"
After that eventful breakfast, Jax walked Izzy to the main lobby area of the school.
"So," Izzy said, feeling very awkward.
"Can I meet you here for lunch?" Jax asked quickly.
"Sure!" Izzy said, even more quickly. She smiled shyly and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
Jax grinned and reached for her hand. She let him take it. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. Pictures flashed in her mind. A boy kissing her hand in much the same manner-a boy with Jax's brown hair and warm eyes.
Izzy shivered, pulling her hand away.
"I've got to get to class. I'll see you at noon?"
"I will be waiting."
Another mind-numbing hour and a half with Mrs. Croft would have certainly pushed Izzy over the edge. Luckily, the class ended early and Izzy was relieved to escape into the hall. Unfortunately, Mrs. Croft followed her.
"Izzy!" the professor called.
Izzy quietly groaned, then turned to face the teacher.
"Yes, Mrs. Croft?"
"I was just wondering if you were all right-You seem to be a little, well, distracted lately."
"I'm okay, really, Mrs. Croft. I think I'm on the right track now."
"All right then," the teacher said, not convinced. "You know where to find me, should you ever want to talk."
"Thank you," Izzy said through clenched teeth. Mrs. Croft was nice and all, but she was one of the last people she would go to for anything. "If you will excuse me, I have to be going to my next class."
Having said their good-byes, Izzy quickly turned on her heel and sped down the hall, up one flight of stairs, through another hall, down two flights of stairs and through an archway before she opened the door to the lab theater, where she had agreed to meet her Independent Study-Stage Combat professor, Matt Stephens.
"You're late," he said, teasing.
"Oh, I know. Mrs. Croft held me after. She said that she was worried about me."
"Well, to tell you the truth, I have been too. Anything wrong?"
Matt knew that something was up, whether it be good or bad. He also knew better than to say anything about it. Izzy's family life was not too great-Matt wondered how she had turned out so well. Her father was a tyrant, her mother was submissive, and her siblings, well, her siblings could best be described as demon spawn.
Izzy rolled her eyes. "Gosh, no! Why does everyone think something's wrong? I'm fine! Maybe I am a little stressed that my fighters aren't cooperating-by the way, did you find someone to fill in for Craig?"
"Yeah. One of the guys from the Advanced Fencing class was interested. He'll be here in a few minutes. How is Craig doing, anyway?"
"As well as can be expected, really. It's just a stress fracture. He just can't move his arm," she said with sarcastic lightness.
"What about Ryan?"
"No clue where he's been. I had to hunt him down a couple of days ago to tell him he was out of the fight. I wish people would learn to honor commitments!"
At that emphatic outburst, the theater door opened and a tall, thin figure slipped through.
"Ah, Jax, right on time."
"Jax?!" Izzy gasped.
"I see you two al ready know each other. Great. Ready?"
"How come you never told me you fence?" Izzy said as they walked to the cafeteria.
"You never asked."
"Sure, catch me on a technicality," she grinned.
They waited patiently in line, and once they were served their meals, found a nice, secluded corner to sit in. After a few quiet moments poking at their food to make sure it was indeed dead, Izzy put down her fork and grimaced.
"This is an insult to good taste," she sighed.
"No, this is an insult to bad taste," Jax said. "Cereal?"
"Cheerios or Golden Grahams?"
"Lucky Charms, please," she said sweetly.
"Excellent choice. I will be right back."
As they continued to eat and chat, Izzy began to feel more and more relaxed. His rich, deep voice enveloped her, putting her at ease. She had never felt so comfortable around a guy. His eyes were honest and sincere; so much so that Izzy believed that if she were to lie to him-not that she would-she would never be able to live with herself for hurting him. His eyes made him look so old and tired. Izzy found herself wanting to make the sad, weary expression in those kind, brown eyes go away.
Jax tugged at a lock of his shaggy hair that was continually falling into his face. He would brush it aside, but it would stubbornly sneak back into his eyes. Izzy finally got fed up with the chunk of hair and quickly reached up and tucked it behind his ear. A small spark of static electricity shocked them both as her fingertips gently brushed she skin by his ear. She drew her hand back, barely skimming the skin of his cheek.
The contact was brief, but was accompanied by a startling image-she was in the forest, with the boy from her other visions. They had been out for a walk, stopped, and were talking. She reached up and moved a small lock of hair out of his face, placing it behind his ear. He softly touched her cheek, then lifted her face up to kiss her.
Jax saw the far-away look on her face and wondered what she was thinking. Was she remembering her past?
She snapped out of her reverie a split-second later.
"Sorry," she mumbled, quickly getting up and taking care of her tray. "Class," she called to him, a feeble explanation for her sudden departure.
Izzy's mind was racing. What had she just seen? What had she just done? She could only think of one way to clear her fuzzy mind-she was going to take a nap.
Jax was rightfully confused. He had seen the same thing she had, only from the boy's perspective. He didn't see what was so objectionable-it had really happened, she was just getting back slices of her memory. Jax sighed, picked up his plates, and carried them over to the kitchen before making his way to the library and his workbench.
At his table, Jax carefully selected a block of wood and a chisel. The hours slipped away as he began to carefully carve at the wood, bit by bit exposing a female form.
The face was one of serene determination, beautiful in it's purpose. She was tall and lean, almost muscular. The dress she wore was long and flowing, very old-fashioned, and she had a sword belt complete with sword.
She was an exact copy of Lady Isabelle Sylvester.
Jax sighed heavily and placed the figurine on the table, near a knight on horseback. He stood, turning, and was surprised to see Izzy there, leaning against the bookshelves. She smiled.
"Hello, boy," she murmured. "I came to find out how you worked that card trick."
"Hello, Isabelle," he said, straightening. "I suppose I could teach you, if you are willing to learn."
She stepped closer to the work area. Jax moved behind her, his right hand wrapping around hers. He made her place her palm out, then close her hand into a fist.
"Now, repeat after me," he whispered. He didn't need to-Izzy muttered the words before Jax could say them.
She lifted her index and middle fingers. Firmly held between them was the Queen of Hearts. Izzy looked at Jax in disbelief. He motioned for her to continue.
Izzy set the card on the table, and the incantation spilled from her lips. The playing card stood up on edge and curtseyed to first Izzy, then Jax. They bowed back.
Jax waved his hand and the card fell back against the table, slowly disappearing.
"How did I-what was that?" Izzy squeaked. She looked at the table, where the card had been. The newly carved figure caught her attention.
"Jax, what or who is this?"
"That is an image of Lady Isabelle Sylvester, a beautiful and talented young lady. I had the honor of knowing her for a few years," he said quietly.
"Does she go to many Festivals?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Does she go to a lot of Renaissance Festivals? She's in costume, isn't she?"
"Not exactly," Jax said.
"It's beautiful," she said after a few moments of silence.
"You're welcome. Now, please tell me how I did that trick? I'm sure I don't know."
"You have the Gift," Jax said simply. "You can work magic."
"No, I don't!" Izzy replied vehemently, whirling and stalking off.
"Isabelle, wait!" Jax called, catching up to her. "I'm sorry. You did ask to learn how to work the trick, but you already knew!"
"I don't want to know! My life is hard enough as it is without having this "Gift" crap! Can't I just be a normal human being?"
"No, you cannot. You are not a "normal human being," Isabelle!" he said forcefully. He calmed himself and continued, "If it will make you feel better, I promise to not mention magic any more. Please," he pleaded.
Izzy stared at him, hugging her elbows and gnawing on her lower lip. She looked like she was about to cry. Jax traversed the space between them in three strides and put his arms around her. She rested her head on his shoulder, drinking in his scent.
"Let's be friends, Jax. I want to get to know you better," she said into his coat.
Jax pulled away slightly.
"I do not want to be friends with you," he said softly.
Izzy broke away and took one step back.
"What?" she asked, feeling that the bottom was falling out of her world.
"I do not want to be friends with you. I want something more."
He stepped closer to her, gently caressing her face. He hooked his finger under her chin, bringing her mouth up to meet his in a tender kiss.
She could only return the favor.
I: Through The Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
II: Powers That Be, by Ann McCaffrey and Elizabeth A. Scarborough
III: First Impressions-the subtitle of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
IV: Persuasion, by Jane Austen
V: Where The Heart Is, by Billie Letts
VI: The Silver Kiss, by Annette Curtis Klause
From that moment on, Jax and Izzy were "the" couple on campus. Trusting, independent of each other, and cute as could be. They spend exorbitant amounts of time in each other's rooms, keeping the door open so as to quell the slow of rumors. It was a small school, and the rumor mill kept on grinding.
Jax was true to his word and didn't say one thing about magic for a long time. They lived life as what appeared to be normal; going to class, eating, sleeping, doing homework. All outward appearances showed them to be a happy, secure couple.
One day, in the cafeteria at lunch, the Religious Ed teacher scurried up to Izzy while she and Jax were eating their meal.
"Izzy, I need to talk to you," Miss Lange said, ignoring Jax.
"I'm eating right now, Miss Lange. I'll come find you when I'm done."
"No, I need you right now."
"What is the problem, Miss Lange?" Jax asked.
"None of your business," the teacher sneered.
Miss Lange was a feminist to the highest degree, and it showed in her treatment of the male populace of West Bridge. Even the male teachers got the cold shoulder or silent treatment from her, for no reason save that they were men.
Izzy had made the mistake of writing a few papers on feminism for different classes, and word got round, as it always does, to Miss Lange, who latched onto the poor girl and tried to make Izzy into a Mini-Lange.
"What's the matter?" Izzy said, getting annoyed with the persistence of the woman's presence. Miss Lange was not well liked.
"I need you to see something. There is a problem I want you to solve for me."
"What kind of problem?" Jax ventured.
"I said it was none of your business!" Miss Lange snapped.
Izzy had had enough.
"Miss Lange," she started, "Jax is my boyfriend. I am sorry that you do not agree with my choice of companion, but you really have no say in the matter. Jax and I are a team of sorts-I am sure that he can help me solve your problem. If you can't deal with that, then you had best find someone else!"
Jax had taken one of Miss Lange's classes, so he knew how she acted normally. She was not acting normally. There was something about her that bothered him, something he couldn't explain. She had a funny odor to her, her eyes seemed a little out of focus and her face was discolored.
"Fine!" Miss Lange huffed. "Come along!"
Izzy wordlessly got up and followed the professor out of the lunchroom. Jax stood and joined them. He didn't have a good feeling about what was going on-Izzy was in danger, and he knew Miss Lange, or whoever she was, wouldn't let him help her.
"Here, Isabelle, take this," he whispered, handing her his satchel.
"Why?" she asked quietly.
"I have a bad feeling about this situation. Does Miss Lange seem different to you?"
"Yeah, but then she's always been a little strange."
"That is true. But now she is more odd. Everything you will need is in this bag. I do not think I will be able to help you after all."
Before anything else could be said on either side, Miss Lange stopped. They stood in front of a large, heavy wooden door. Miss Lange stepped up to it and heaved it open. Izzy and Jax were taken aback and Jax's theory was confirmed; No way could the teeny-tiny Miss Alberta Lange open that huge door.
In one quick move, Miss Lange shoved Izzy into the room and shut the door. She laughed as the door disappeared, morphing into the cold granite wall. Another section of wall vanished, a plate of clear glass in its place. Izzy walked up to the glass and pressed her hand against the smooth, cool surface. Miss Lange giggled maniacally when Jax put his own hand up to "touch" Izzy's.
"There's nothing you can do, boy," she said.
"Does Malcolm have anything to do with this?" he snarled.
"Who's Malcolm?" The woman was clearly confused.
"What do you want with her?" Jax continued, anger and fear mixing in his voice.
"I don't want her," she said with mock innocence. "He does."
Miss Lange pointed behind Izzy. While Izzy couldn't hear the woman speak, she and Jax followed the direction she was pointing. A large demon rose from the floor, an evil grin splitting his otherwise handsome face.
The demon was taller than average, near 7 feet tall, with pale, pale skin stretched taut over long, thin bones. It was wrapped in dark, smoky gray robes that had brightly colored detail work on the edges. His-since it was apparently male-hair was pure jet black, long and tied back. It wore a Van Dyke style beard and stroked it continually. Black, sparkling eyes peered out from aristocratically arched black brows. It was very beautiful, which made it all the more deadly.
Izzy glanced at Jax, terror showing plainly in her features. He looked back at her, giving her confidence and strength. She nodded, swallowed, and turned to face the monster.
"Hello, child," the thing said. "Are you ready to die?"
"What? I don't think so!" she retorted.
"So few people are," the demon said with a sigh. "Don't you have some reason to want to end it all? Your family situation isn't all that great, is it? You're not going home for the holidays; you never do. You dread going home to see your family; they make you feel worthless."
"Stop," Izzy warned. The demon only grinned and began to circle the room, pacing along the walls.
"What about your social life, then? You've always felt like an outsider, a lone wolf. Never could find your place in society. You feel ignored by everyone you care about, like they don't care about you. Isn't that right?" the fiend sneered persuasively.
Izzy felt herself begin to believe what the demon was saying. His words filtered into her thoughts like a thick, dense fog. She shook her head to clear her mind.
"No," she said forcefully. "I don't want to die any time soon. I've got too much to live for."
"So be it," the thing said, apparently bored.
All this time, Izzy's hand had been rummaging through the satchel that Jax had given her. She fumbled around, pulling out a lighter and a small rubber disk. She stared at Jax with a questioning look on her face. He just shrugged, motioning for her to place the circle on the palm of her hand. After doing so, she waved her hand over the disk, and the thin, corrugated rubber circle filled up like a balloon. Izzy's eyes nearly popped out of her head when the six-inch ball started floating just above her palm. Suddenly, she knew what to do.
Extending her left hand, the one the ball was hovering over, she lit the cigarette lighter and held it under her hand. Before the little flame could burn her, Izzy pulled her hand away, and the rubber ball caught on fire.
"How cool is that?" she said quietly, watching the flaming ball hang in midair.
"Not incredibly impressive," the creature droned.
Sparks of electricity formed on its' deathly pale fingertips and moved down his fingers to collect in his palm. When there was enough flickering energy in his hand, the creature molded it into a ball, in much the same way one moulds a snowball or a ball of clay. Once he finished, a smallish ball of electricity floated effortlessly above his outstretched hand.
Without a moment's hesitation, the little ball of energy flew out of his hands and straight at Izzy, who was still transfixed by the blazing sphere. Jax pounded his fists against the glass, trying to make her look up.
She did raise her head, but not fast enough. She heard the crackle of energy as the orb hurtled toward her and she ducked. The energy hit her shoulder, sending her sprawling to the ground. It was strange: the floor treatment kept changing. It was at one time marble, another hardwood, a third soft and spongy, like a mattress. This time, it was rough sandstone.
Jax howled in anger as Miss Lange laughed hysterically.
"Like I said, there's nothing you can do!" she twittered. "He'll make fast work of her, no doubt."
"Why does he want her?" Jax asked, seething mad.
"Why does anyone want anyone else?" she leered. Jax glared at her. "But it's true. Actually, he feeds off of the lifeblood of young virgins. Rather archaic, but it pleases him."
"You cannot be serious!"
"Yes, I am. Thankfully he only needs to be fed once a year."
"Then why didn't you take me? I can handle this-this thing! She cannot!"
"Do you honestly expect me to believe that you're a virgin, let alone young? I know who you are, James Allen Xavier. I know your secrets. Don't try to fool me, boy. I know who you are."
"Is that a threat?" he said, his voice menacing and low.
"Does she know, Xavier?" Miss Lange continued as if he had never spoken. "Does she know who, or better yet, what you are? How do you think your sweetheart would react to finding out your dirty little secret?"
"If you so much as breathe a word to her," he said, his tone ominous, "Or hurt her in any way, I swear that I will break every bone in your body."
The woman laughed. Inside the room, the demon was inching closer and closer to Izzy's unconscious body. She stirred, looked up, then closed her eyes again. She had looked right into the smirking face of the demon. The evil spirit kept advancing. Izzy rolled onto her knees, her shoulder a dull, persistent ache. She staggered to her feet just as a second blast propelled her against the wall. Using the cold stones for support, Izzy pulled herself up to a standing position, gasping for breath. Her face felt battered and bruised. Blood poured from her nose; she was certain it was broken. Her hand went to the satchel-it wasn't there. It was lying four feet away from her-three feet from the being.
Panting for breath, Izzy weighed her options. She didn't know what this thing wanted-she had a few guesses-and she didn't know what it was fully capable of. She could stand there, wheezing and clutching her side-it felt like she had been running to long and too fast-and let that thing, whatever it was, get her; or she could make a break for it, grab the bag and try to get the heck out of Dodge. She liked the second idea better.
Taking a deep breath, Izzy ducked her head and did a barrel roll, snatching the bag off of the floor. She silently thanked Matt for insisting she learn how to fall, tuck and roll. Springing to her feet, she made a mad dash for the glass wall and threw herself against it.
Nothing happened. Actually, she bounced against the glass and fell back onto the floor. Groaning, she once again staggered to her feet and leaned against a wall. The demon slowly turned and chuckled.
"Try all you want, my dear," he said. "You won't be getting out of here alive."
Izzy fumed. The burning orb was still hanging where she had left it. Without issuing a command, the brilliant sphere floated over to her. She began to chant in some old, forgotten tongue, not bothering to wonder how she knew it. Her eyelids were growing heavy and her vision was dimming. She had evidently lost a lot of blood.
Jax once more was focused on Izzy. She was slumped against the wall, her lips moving, chanting a spell he knew. It was a simple propulsion spell. She was adding something to it, though.
"Degara Semtius Oreno," she whispered. Fast as lightening, hard as marble, strong as fear.
The little ball of fire shot out of her hands, careening in the direction of the demon. He chuckled, not bothering to deflect the sphere. The being stopped laughing when it hit. The momentum that the ball had picked up slammed him into the wall, his robes catching fire. The demon screamed in agony as the fire consumed him, wailing useless charms.
A pile of ash was all that remained of the demon. Izzy collapsed. Thankfully the floor was like a mattress and she wasn't hurt further. The enchantments on the room slowly dissipated, starting with the glass wall. The "Miss Lange" who was outside of the room disappeared when the demon was destroyed, proving that she was not what she seemed.
Jax bolted into the room and cradled the broken, battered Izzy in his arms. He easily picked her up and carried her up to her room.
"Oh my gosh!" Naomi gasped when Jax appeared outside her door. "What happened?"
"A lot," was all he said.
Naomi started fussing around like a mother hen, first ordering Jax to put Izzy on her bed, but only after Naomi made it. He sat down at one of the desks and waited.
After she cleaned up all the blood, Naomi called her mother for some advice.
"Hey, Mom? Yeah. It's about Izzy. I think she might have broken her nose. Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, it's very swollen. How should I know? She's unconscious! It was bleeding a lot. I don't know how she did it. She's beat up pretty bad. You can come? Oh, good. I'll see you in a little while."
She hung up the phone and met Jax's inquisitive look.
"She's a Nurse practitioner. She works at the ER in the city."
Jax wasn't satisfied.
"Mom'll take care of Izzy. Don't worry."
He still wasn't satisfied, but he was quickly distracted. Izzy was waking up.
"Hmm? What happened?" she asked, her voice slurring slightly.
"Yeah, Jax, what happened?" Naomi ordered.
"You would not believe me if I told you," he replied.
Naomi gave him one of her patented "Tell-me-or-you'll-regret-it" looks. He sighed and recounted the whole story, from "Miss Lange" and her lunchtime approach to his carrying Izzy up to the room.
"Wow," Naomi said, amazed. "You did all that?" she inquired, staring at Izzy.
"I don't remember any of it," she said quietly, whimpering: "I hurt all over."
"Well, Mom's coming over. She'll be here soon and then we can decide what to do with you. We probably should make up a more plausible story, though. I might believe the whole demon thing, but no-one else will."
"Thank you," Izzy said weakly.
Lily Blanchard had unofficially adopted Izzy into the Blanchard family and thought of her as her own daughter. Izzy had often taken care of Naomi when she was sick at school, and vice versa, and Lily was glad her daughter had such a nice girl for a roommate.
Izzy and Naomi were as different as night and day, in both looks and personality. Where Izzy was quieter, reserved, and serious, Naomi lived for excitement, noise, and activity. Izzy was somewhat pale, had cloudy gray-green eyes and a shaggy mop of shoulder length hair. Naomi had creamy, caramel colored skin, a pretty, heart-shaped face, and super-curly brown hair. Her black eyes sparkled when she was happy and flashed black lightening when she was angry. She and Izzy were polar opposites.
Naomi watched Jax and Izzy quietly talk. They were very cute together. She didn't think she had ever seen Izzy so radiant. She wasn't necessarily happy, or if she was, she didn't show it. Izzy was like that; always hiding her emotions under a steely countenance. Naomi wondered just how long her roommate had been doing that. Since before she met her, that's for sure.
The phone rang.
Everyone stared at it.
It rang again.
"I'll get it," Naomi said.
"Yeah? Oh. Okay. I'll be right down," she said before hanging up the phone. "That was the front desk-Mom's here. What'll we tell her?"
"Tell her I fell down the stairs during a fight. Matt'll back us up."
"Okay," Naomi raised her eyebrows.
"He will. I lost my footing at the top of the North stairs and fell down. That's three flights of cold, hard granite."
"Okay," she repeated.
"Go get you mother," Jax said. Naomi nodded and walked out the door.
They heard Lily before they saw her. Izzy smiled slightly. Jax just looked worried. Izzy patted his arm, as if to say "I'm fine-she'll take care of me. Don't worry." Jax still wasn't convinced.
"Isabelle Hope Stanton, what in heaven's name have you done now?"
"I fell down the stairs, Mom," Izzy laughed. Lily sat down at the edge of her bed, shooing Jax away to sit in a chair across the room.
"I swear, girl, you are the biggest klutz I've ever met," she said, gauging the extent of her injuries. "If you-"
"I know, Mom," Izzy picked up. "If I don't stop throwing myself into my classes, I'm going to end up a bloody pulp, splattered on the floor."
"You know it. I honestly don't know why you insist on doing this to yourself. I want to talk to your professor about this."
Jax, Izzy, and Naomi exchanged nervous looks.
"Jax, how's about you go find Matt for us? I think he's in his office," Naomi said, shooting a knowing glance in his direction.
"Ah, yes. I will-go find him," Jax said uncertainly. "I will be right back."
Jax got up hastily and left the room, running to Matt's office and nearly trampling a freshman in his path.
"That's some guy you got there, Izzy," Lily smirked good-naturedly.
"You don't have to tell me, Ma!" she grinned under her swollen nose.
"Yeah. It's a match made in heaven, and I didn't have anything to do with it, I'm sorry to say," Naomi admitted.
"Matt!" Jax panted, bursting into his office.
The teacher's chair toppled over backward, taking him with it.
"Whoa! Hey, whaddaya want?" Matt asked sleepily. Jax had woken him up from his mid-afternoon nap.
"We need you to come and talk to Naomi's mother-Izzy got into a little trouble," he started.
"What?" Matt asked, fully awake. "What happened?"
"The official story is that we were practicing a fight and she fell down the North stairs."
"Official story? What's the truth?" Matt requested cautiously.
"That is a very long story, Matt. Naomi's mother wants to speak to you, most likely to berate you for allowing her get the crap kicked out of her."
"What?!" Matt cried.
"Come with me, please," Jax pleaded. "I will explain on the way." Matt glanced around and decided to follow his student.
"I still don't quite believe it," Matt said after hearing the story.
"You do not need to believe it-just, please, maintain the story. If not for me, for Isabelle."
"I have a question for you. If I was monitoring the fight, and I saw her fall down the stairs, why didn't I take her to the hospital right away?"
Jax thought for a moment. That wasn't something he had considered.
"Either you did not think that her injuries were serious enough to merit the trip or she insisted that she was all right."
"I'll go with the second option. I could lose my job if we went with the first," he said. Jax gave him a withering look. "It'd make me look irresponsible."
Jax pushed open the door and led Matt into the room. Lily had bandaged Izzy's nose-it was broken-and had also taken care of her three cracked ribs. Izzy grinned apologetically.
"You Matt?" Lily asked.
"Yes. You must be Mrs. Blanchard."
"I am. What's this business with you allowing this poor girl to put her life in danger?"
"I'm sorry, I don't think I quite follow."
"You know what I mean. How come you let Izzy get away with this nonsense-stage combat and all that rubbish?"
"Izzy knows all of the risks involved with stage combat. Now, I know that sometimes a fight can go wrong, and so does she."
"Whatever," Lily said. "Answer me this: If you were there, which they tell me you were, and you saw her fall, why didn't you take her to the hospital then?"
Izzy groaned silently.
"She asked that I not take her," Matt answered simply.
"Is that right?" Lily asked, looking at Izzy.
"Uh, yeah," Izzy grinned sheepishly, catching Matt's explanatory look. "I didn't think I was hurt all that bad."
"But I was wrong. I should've let Matt take me in."
"Well, at least you're taking responsibility for your actions. I'll leave some painkillers for you. You coming to our place for Christmas?"
"I don't know yet. I'll let you know."
"And then there's us," Matt chimed in. Izzy knew that she was always welcome to stay at his house over the holidays. His kids absolutely adored her.
"Sheesh, you guys, it's nice to know I'm loved. Things are pretty much up in the air right about now. I'll let you know."
Lily left soon after, leaving instructions like when Izzy should take the medication and to stay off her feet for a few days. Matt sat down at the other desk and demanded an explanation. A good explanation.
Izzy and Jax gave them a blow-by-blow account of the day's events. They offered no apologies or excuses, just the truth.
"Wow. For real?" Matt asked.
"Matt, you know me. Would I lie?"
"Well, no, you wouldn't. It is a little far-fetched, you have to admit."
"Yeah, it is. But it's true."
"So, saying I believe you, what does this all imply?"
"That you know a secret, and telling that secret could prove disastrous to many people," Jax said quietly.
"If it helps, Matt, I don't really believe it either," Izzy chimed in.
"I think that, for me professionally, I shouldn't get involved in this," he said after a pause.
"Great!" Izzy exclaimed sarcastically.
"Hey, hey! If you need me to help, I will, but don't publicize it. This school is very liberal, yes, but I don't think that I would be able to honestly say that Yes, there are students in this school who cannot only work magic, but they work it in the school itself. Society wouldn't buy it. We'd have another witch-hunt on our hands. Trust me-the fewer people know about this, the better off they'll be, and the better off you'll be too."
Matt got up, said his good-byes and left. Naomi returned to her computer, discreetly watching as Izzy made room for Jax on her bed. She watched as they curled up as best they could, saw Jax wipe a tear off of her cheek, and witnessed him gently kiss her face.
Naomi smiled and went back to her homework.
It was the end of the semester and Izzy had yet to decide what she was going to do for the upcoming holidays.
"Just come home with me," Naomi pleaded. "I don't want you to stay here over break."
"I don't know," she sighed. "I could really use a break from people in general."
Jax knocked and let himself into the room.
"Jax, tell Izzy to come home with me for Christmas. She's thinking she's gonna stay here," Naomi begged.
"I heard you discussing this earlier. Why are you not going home for vacation?" he asked innocently.
Izzy stood up quickly and pushed past him, going out into the hall and slamming the door shut behind her.
"Did I say something wrong?"
"Not really. She didn't tell you about her family situation, did she?"
"No. Every time the subject came up, she would quickly change the subject."
"Yeah, well, her dad's a real jerk and her mom doesn't do much to stop him. Her little brothers are just pains. So "home" and "family" are sore subjects with her."
"I'll go apologize. Thank you," he said, walking out the door. "Isabelle?" he asked, crouching beside her.
"What do you want?"
"I want to say that I'm sorry."
"Don't bother. You didn't know."
"You did not tell me."
"True. But there is a reason why," she said.
"Please, tell me. I'll listen."
"Why didn't I tell you? I guess I didn't want to scare you away."
"You could never scare me away. I-" he stopped. Thankfully, Izzy didn't press.
"That's good to know," she said.
"Come home with me," he asked suddenly. Izzy looked at him questioningly. "Come home with me," he repeated. "Naomi is right. You should not have to stay here over winter break."
"Y'all really don't want me to stay here, do you?" she grinned.
"Please. Christmas is a time for family," Izzy started to protest, but Jax held up a hand to silence her. "I know you do not want to be with your own family. I offer you my family-myself, my parents, and my little brother Benny. We will be your family. I'll take care of you," he whispered.
"Well, how can I say no to an offer like that?" she smiled. "How long do I have to pack?"
Jax smiled, brushed a lock of hair out of her face, and kissed her gently.
"So how are we getting to your place?" Izzy said, setting her duffel bag down outside his room.
"Easy," Jax answered, pulling her and her luggage into his room.
Holding her hand, he put his hand palm out and moved it in a circular motion. Izzy inhaled sharply as the gray room dissolved and a bright, cheery study appeared before her eyes.
"My word!" she gasped.
"James, is that you?"
"Yes. And I brought someone with me," he said, smiling.
"Isabelle?" Miriam asked, coming into the room.
Izzy knew she would like Miriam. The woman had a round, open, smiling face, framed by wispy gray fly-aways, the rest of her hair tied back in a braid. There was an air about her that almost instantly put Izzy at ease.
"Hello, Mrs. Xavier," Izzy said, extending her hand in greeting.
"Please, call me Miriam, or Mum or anything. It certainly is nice to meet you," she shook Izzy's hand. "Would you like anything to drink?"
"Um, sure. Water?"
"Of course. James?" Jax nodded and went into the kitchen.
"Well, Mum, where can I put her things?" Jax said, once he returned with Izzy's glass of water.
"Thanks," she said, taking the glass from him.
"How about putting her bags in your room?" Miriam suggested mischievously.
Izzy sprayed a mouthful of water around the room. Jax laughed.
"I do not think that she would appreciate that, Mother, although I might," he grinned. Izzy smacked his tummy playfully.
"There is a guest room at the top of the stairs," Miriam said. "Unless you want to stay with my son," she added, joking, but with a hint of seriousness.
"The guest room sounds fine," Izzy said, blushing.
"I'll show you the way," James said, picking up Izzy's bags.
Upon returning to the study, Jax inquired as to the whereabouts of his father and brother.
"Ah, Peter took Ben into the village for new shoes. They should be back in an hour or so."
"Well, make yourself at home, Isabelle. Dinner will be on the table once Peter and Ben get home."
"All right. Thank you again, Miriam."
"Not at all, honey. You're welcome here. James, could you please help me a moment?"
"Sure. I'll be right back, Isabelle."
She nodded and began to investigate the bookshelves that lined the study. Several titles were familiar to her but many were not. she lifted Tolkien's The Hobbit from the shelf and settled down in one of overstuffed armchairs near the fire.
"Who are you?" a bratty kid's voice said suddenly.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, dropping the book.
"Be careful, you daft cow! That's a first edition!" the kid said severely. "Who are you?" he repeated, "And why are you here?"
"Hey!" she cried. "Ease up, kiddo! I'm Izzy Stanton-Jax's girlfriend. Who're you?"
"Benjamin Alexander! Behave!" a male voice called. The voice belonged to the handsome, middle-aged man who entered the room. "Hello, Izzy. I'm Peter, Jax's dad. And this little pain is Ben."
"Hello," she said nervously.
"Ben, take your things upstairs, then tell your mother we're back," he ordered. He sat in one of the over-stuffed armchairs across from Izzy. "Are you a Tolkien fan?"
"Kind of. My aunt says that when The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings came out on television, I watched them in awe. Needless to say, whenever I tell that story, I get groans from the audience."
"I haven't had time to read the books, but they are on my "To Read" list. Along with C.S. Lewis."
"Good choices. We've got them all here, so if you want to, you can read them over break."
"Thanks," Izzy said.
She knew she was going to enjoy this break.
The first two of the three weeks flew by too quickly for Izzy's taste. She really like the whole of the Xavier family and didn't want the break to end. She was just beginning to really relax, and the prospect of returning to West Bridge Alternative Academy in a week was not at all appealing.
One night, not long after New Years, Izzy found herself wide-awake and cold. She got out of her bed, wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, and walked down the stairs to the study. The fire was still burning brightly in the hearth, something that had ceased to surprise her after the first few days. She curled up in one of the armchairs and stared into the flames, letting her mind wander.
Since her involvement with Jax, she had begun to believe in magic and had actually worked it on a few occasions. She was totally convinced when she and Jax traveled to his house. The whole thing still amazed her. Especially the images she saw every once in a while when she touched Jax; they felt so real.
Cold hands on her neck broke her from her reverie.
"Mm. You're cold," she said sleepily.
"I was hoping you would help me warm up," Jax grinned.
"I don't think this chair'll hold us both," she replied.
Jax pulled her to her feet and guided the somewhat sleepy Izzy to a small sofa. Izzy offered part of her blanket, and they cuddled together on the couch, her head resting on his shoulder.
"Penny for your thoughts," Jax murmured.
"I was just thinking about all the stuff that's happened since I met you," she said quietly. "About all this magic stuff." She told him about the visions she would see sometimes when they touched.
"And it's only every once in a while. Like when you would play with my hair, or kiss my hand. It's really weird. They feel so real," she said.
Jax was silent for a moment.
"I want to show you something," he said, getting up and crossing the room to a bookshelf filled with books on medieval history. He selected one and returned to the sofa. "I question the intelligence of showing you this right now, but you would see it eventually."
He sat down and flipped through the pages. Izzy had caught a glimpse of the title: Medieval Nobility, Volume IV. The Forgotten Lands. He showed her the page he had turned to. It was a portrait of a young man who looked remarkably like Jax-almost a carbon copy.
"That," he said slowly, as if it was difficult to say, "That is me."
Izzy looked at him in disbelief. She looked at the picture again; the caption read "Lord James Allen Xavier; Son of Lord Peter Xavier, Most High Wizard." The picture was dated in the mid 16th century.
Jax turned the page. There was a painting of a young woman looking over her shoulder; a young woman who greatly resembled Izzy.
"And that is you," he said softly. "Lady Isabelle Sylvester, Wizard; Daughter of Sir John Sylvester."
"I don't get it," Izzy said after a few seconds of contemplation. "Is this some kind of joke? How can that be me? That painting is five hundred years old!"
She got up, taking the blanket with her. She turned to stare at Jax.
"Well, she really is not you-she is your former self. I must say that I cannot offer a good explanation for this phenomenon. My father would be a better person to talk to."
"Talk to me about what?" Peter asked, coming into the room. "Well, it seems that this is a popular place tonight."
Izzy, clutching the blanket in one hand, snatched the book from Jax. She held it out, the picture of Lady Isabelle displayed on the pages.
"He says that that girl is me," she said. "And that the boy on the other page is him. How is that possible?" she laughed. "Those paintings are 500 years old!"
"Oh," Peter replied, a little dismayed. "Well, in a way, she is. And he is the boy in the picture. I will explain it all. Let me tell you the story of Lady Isabelle Sylvester."
He motioned for Izzy to resume her place beside Jax. Peter moved one of the chairs so he could sit and face the couple.
"In the year 15--, Jax and I were out in the forest, in the middle of a fencing lesson. He was 15 years old then," Peter started, his voice taking on a spellbinding quality. He watched Izzy closely. Her eyes went out of focus as she lapsed into a hypnotic trance. "I think you know the story, Izzy, would you like to tell it? I promise, you'll remember it when you wake up."
"I was ten. My daddy was really mean to me because I had The Gift, and I decided to run away. I packed my second-best dress, my ivory comb, my book of fairy stories, the dagger that daddy's friend, Sir Charles, gave me for my tenth birthday, and some biscuits the cook had given me.
I had to leave my favorite dolly, Hannah, behind, because there wasn't room in my bag. I just left, started walking and I didn't stop for a long, long time."
"Where were you when you stopped?" Peter asked.
"In a forest. I was really tired, hungry, and dirty. I sat down and cried."
"Yes. Do you want to continue, or shall I go from here?"
"You keep telling it. I'm cold," she said.
"All right. Like I said, Jax and I were in the forest, practicing fencing. I heard a noise, not far off, and I sent Jax to see what it was. He brought a little girl back, slung over his shoulder."
"I remember," Izzy whispered. "He was rude to me. I was the daughter of knight."
"Right. He dropped the little girl right on her bottom, and she wouldn't look at me, even though I was nice to her. She insisted that she was Lady Isabelle Sylvester, and if we harmed her in any way, her daddy would see us soundly thrashed. I assured her that we wouldn't hurt her, gave her some of our lunch, and took her home with us."
All the while he was talking, images, like holograms, hovered between his chair and the sofa. Izzy watched the story unfold, completely mesmerized by the story.
"Isabelle begged Please, please don't send me back, but Miriam and I decided that we had to at least send word to her father to tell him where his daughter was.
Dear Sir John Sylvester;
If you are wondering where your daughter, Isabelle, is, which I am sure you are, you can put your mind at ease. She is staying with my family in -------, county -------. We do not mind taking care of Isabelle; in fact, we find her company quite enjoyable. Please send someone to retrieve her as soon as possible.
Lord Peter Xavier
About two weeks after we sent the letter, we received one from him.
Thank you for informing me of the whereabouts of my daughter-in all honesty, I had not noticed her absence until you brought it to my attention. Unfortunately, at the moment I cannot spare a single servant to come claim her. You will find I have enclosed with this letter a bag of silver pieces-200, to be exact-which should compensate for any expense my daughter might incur. I will send more as needed.
Sir John Sylvester
He was effectively wiping his hands of his daughter, paying us to take her off of his hands."
Both letters had appeared in the panorama, and subsequently disappeared.
"She lived with us for six years, Sir John sending more money every year. I taught her alongside James. It was no big surprise that they fell in love," he said, allowing the picture to change.
A girl ran through the forest, nimbly as a deer, laughing and being pursued by a handsome brute. Her hair glinted gold, copper, and bronze; raw metal in the sunlight. The boy caught the hem of her skirt, the blue fabric pulling taut, making her stop. She turned, smiling, and allowed the boy to step closer. He gently caressed her cheek, then kissed her tenderly.
"I wrote to her father, asking his permission for them to marry. A day after I sent it off, another arrived. Sir John wrote, saying that he had arranged for Isabelle to marry a certain Count-Malcolm Frederick. He was coming to collect his bride in a few day's time, and we were to make sure Isabelle was ready.
"She and James decided to elope, to run away, and we supported the idea. I knew what Malcolm was like-he had asked me to teach him to use his own powers, but I refused. I could see into his heart, and I saw that it was as black as tar and just as foul. But he had money, and was willing to pay a great deal for Isabelle.
"Before they could get away, Malcolm arrived. We tried our best to protect her, eventually encapsulating her in a safe, bubble, for lack of a better word. There she was safe from him, but she couldn't help. She could only watch.
"The battle raged on, him versus us. Just when we thought that it was almost over, that we had won, Malcolm pulled a nasty trick. He wanted Isabelle for himself, and decided that if he couldn't have her, no one would. He directed one last, powerful spell in her direction. We tried to counter it, and for the most part we succeeded.
"The bubble popped, depositing her right in the middle of the field. a bright, white light covered her, apparently protecting her. Our magics collided, and cancelled each other out. We were all exhausted, powers temporarily depleted. The white light that surrounded Isabelle raised up, taking the form of a person; her guardian angel.
"Enough, the being said. I have removed the cause of this conflict. Jax ran over to Isabelle's still body; she was dead. "Why?" he asked. The One Creator wishes it, it said.
""For what reason?" he begged. That, even I do not know. "Take me too, then," James pleaded. "And me," Malcolm added, "I cannot live without her." The being thought for a moment, presumably conversing with The One Creator. Very well, it said. We have a solution. The girl's soul will recycle, a type of reincarnation. Until you have found her again, be it years, decades, or centuries from now, you will not age. Both of you love the girl; a true, genuine love. When you have found her, the battle will resume, but on his territory, the being indicated Malcolm. Are we agreed?
"We were surprised to learn that Malcolm really and truly loved her. We all nodded our consent-what else could we do but agree? Malcolm returned to his castle. We buried Isabelle, and from that day forward, we searched for her. For five hundred years we searched. And then you stumbled into Jax's life and then all of ours. Now it is only a matter of time."
Peter finished the story, and for several minutes the room was silent save for the crackle of the fire.
"I remember," Izzy quietly said after a while. "I remember all of it."
To Slay A Demon, by John Wayne Kennedy
The Bonesetter's Daughter, by Amy Tan
Remember Me, by Mary Higgins Clark
Chapter X: A Wrinkle In Time
"So there you have it," Peter said quietly. "The whole story."
"Right," Izzy mused, chewing on her knuckle. "What next?"
"That's a good question," Peter answered. "You've only worked two spells so far, am I right?" Izzy nodded. "And those came rather naturally to you. Even so, I believe that you will need further training and preparation for this next confrontation."
"What kind of preparation?" Jax asked.
"I was thinking of sending you to study with my friend Simon Oliver. He knows infinitely more about magic than I do, and he is eager to teach others who have the gift. He also owes me a favor."
"Classes resume at West Bridge next week-we don't have time to travel anywhere to learn anything else," Izzy said sadly.
"That's the beauty of my plan," Peter interjected. "Simon Oliver lived 500 years ago. We would create a little rip in the fabric of Time, send you through and sew the tear back up. You could stay there for as long as you like, and return in three days or three minutes, so long as you do nothing to alter the course of history."
"Oh. That's possible?" Izzy exclaimed. "Wow."
"Yes, it's possible. Now, I suggest that you both try and get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a big day."
Peter stood and left the room, followed by Jax and Izzy.
"Jax, wait a minute," Izzy said, pausing a few feet from the door.
"What's the matter?" he asked quietly, taking a couple of steps nearer to her.
"Can I sleep with you tonight?" she asked quickly. "I mean, just sleep in your bed with you, like cuddling. I don't want to sleep alone."
"Of course," Jax smiled gently. "I promise that I'll be a perfect gentleman."
"Good," Izzy sighed. They walked hand in hand up the stairs and went to bed.
The morning light streamed in through the open window, illuminating the spacious bedchamber. Izzy woke slowly, sitting up in bed. She peered through heavy eyelids, getting a good look at the room and furniture. It was definitely a man's room, as there was little in the way of frivolous decoration. There was a knock on the door.
"Come in," she called.
Jax stepped into the room. Izzy laughed.
"You look like you just stepped out of a Men Without Hats video!" she giggled. Jax was not amused.
"You will have a similar outfit," he said soberly.
"Because if we go back in time five hundred years, people will be suspicious of our thoroughly modern clothes. This is what people in my country wore back then."
"If you say so," she said dubiously.
"We kept our clothes from that time period," Jax continued. "But not Lady Isabelle's. I felt it would be too painful to keep them. Mom made an outfit for you last night."
Izzy was about to ask "How?" but bit her tongue. She knew how.
"If you want to shower or anything, do so now," Jax said briskly. "Dad wants to get us on our way as soon as possible."
"Breakfast?" she asked. Jax nodded. "Okay then. I'll wash up and meet you in the kitchen." She threw the covers aside and got out of bed. "See you in ten," she said, standing on tiptoe to peck his cheek.
Twenty minutes later, a slightly damp Isabelle entered the kitchen, her hair held up by two yellow pencils and wearing a green peasant dress.
"No pencils," Miriam said, bustling over to her. "The pencils have to go. They're too modern. Here," she pulled a honey-gold wooden comb from her pocket and deftly pushed it through the knot of hair.
"I don't see why they get to go back in Time and I don't!" Ben said crossly.
Izzy quietly buttered an English muffin and spread strawberry jam over one half. She was going to let Jax and Miriam handle that.
"Now, honey," Miriam started, "You know what our situation is. We can't have half a dozen people go gallivanting around the universe and playing with Time like it's a toy. Isabelle and James need to learn, or relearn, how to act as a team, and your father can't help them as well as Simon can."
"I should still be able to go with them," he pouted. "I could benefit from a little more practice as well."
"He has a point, Mom," Jax said. Izzy just nibbled on a piece of bacon.
"Go talk with your father," Miriam sighed. Ben jumped down from his high stool and ran off in search of him.
"Thank you, Miriam, for the dress. It's lovely," Izzy said after a few moments of silence.
"I'm glad you like it," Miriam said quietly. The rest of the meal passed peacefully enough, the somber silence punctuated by the clink of silverware against plates.
They met Peter in the drawing room after breakfast.
"Ben will be going with you," he said distractedly. "Are you ready to go?" he asked.
"As ready as we'll ever be," Izzy replied shakily. Peter nodded.
On one of the small tables sat an ornately carved wooden box. Peter opened it and showed its contents to them.
A cushion of navy velvet displayed a smallish knife, crystal clear and apparently very sharp.
"This knife," Peter said gravely, picking up very carefully. "Is made of diamond, the hardest substance known to man, as you all know. The blade has been honed down to a monofilament edge, which is incredibly sharp. On top of that, it is enchanted so that it can indeed cut through Time."
Also in the box was an ivory needle threaded with a blacker than black thread.
"And this," he stated, brandishing the needle like a miniature sword, "Is what I will use to sew up the rip in Time that we will create. The needle is of unicorn horn, very valuable and very rare. The thread is a hair from the head of Father Time himself, for nothing but Time can repair Time."
"Question," Izzy said suddenly. "How can we be sure that the hole we make in Time will get us back to 15--?"
Jax looked from Izzy to his father.
"I was just getting to that," Peter said. "You will each have in your possession an artifact from that time. Jax and Ben are wearing their clothes. I have something for you to take, Izzy."
Peter opened a drawer in the hutch cabinet and pulled out a small silver dagger. Izzy's eyes widened and her mouth opened and closed several times.
"It's the dagger Lady Isabelle-you-brought from home 500 years ago."
Izzy tested the weight of the knife in her hand. The cold metal felt familiar to her and the simple decoration was well-known.
With a nod, Peter took the diamond knife and deftly sliced the air. A gaping hole opened up after the blade; black, empty space beckoned to the three Time travelers.
Ben stepped through right away, eager to start his adventure. Jax followed him slowly, but Izzy hesitated. He turned back to face her and saw the fear in her eyes. Taking her hand in his, Jax gently led Izzy to the portal and entered.
Cold enveloped them. Izzy shivered and closed her eyes, clutching Jax's hand tightly. She prayed fervently that the intense cold would go away soon. Jax squeezed her hand reassuringly.
The ordeal was over relatively quickly. Izzy took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
© 2001, 2002 Copyright held by the author.