CHAPTER ONE: WEDDING DAY BLUES

Vanora looked at the spectacle around her and stifled a sigh. Wedding receptions were the worst place to be when one wanted to be alone. Witches of all shapes, colors and sizes milled around her, bombarding her senses with their chatter and laughter. The air hummed from having so many spell casters in one place, but no one else seemed to notice. Vanora was miserable, but as a fellow witch, she was expected to attend.

So she fulfilled her obligation by congratulating the couple before retreating to the nearest corner. She was taller than most witches, but she had always been able to go unnoticed when she wanted to, even in large crowds. No one paid any attention as she ducked behind the group of chattering witches. Once she had a few pieces of furniture between her and the crowd, she felt better.

Morwen, the bride, owned one of those magic houses that somehow stretched to fit any number of guests, without ever looking any bigger. Nearly all houses owned by witches were enchanted in some way or another. In fact, the only witch home in the entire Enchanted Forest that didn't have any spell, charm, enchantment or trick of any kind was Vanora's. Most other witches thought it was odd, but she didn't care. Her mother had loved the little cabin just the way it was and Vanora refused to tamper with it in any way.

Most people were surprised when she told them she was a witch. "You don't look really like one," they always said. "Well, what do I look like?" she always shot back. No one ever answered. Vanora's mother, on the other hand, was never mistaken for anything else. She always wore black robes, black boots with laces and pointy toes, striped stockings, silver spectacles, and always kept her graying hair pulled back in a neat bun. A spell book was always tucked under one arm, and a gray-eyed cat always followed at her heels.

Vanora wore plain tunics and skirts and always left her strawberry-blond curls loose. She studied spells and enchantments and other witch-like things, even though she didn't feel any more like a witch than she looked like one. Her mother had been a witch, her grandmother had been a witch, and so on and so on, all down the family line. Growing up, Vanora often felt like she was born into the wrong family.

But after her mother passed away, she picked up her mother's books and continued with the proud family legacy.

She withdrew a small book from her tunic now and started skimming it. She tried hard to drown out the clutter of voices and concentrate on the words, but she felt like someone was staring at her. She ignored it for as long as she could stand it before tearing her eyes from the page; no one in the room was looking at her. It looked like they had forgotten she was even around, but the feeling persisted. Vanora's green eyes scanned the area until they rested on one of the windows.

It was dark outside, so the only thing visible was a pair of gray eyes, illuminated by the light in the room. Vanora quickly put her book away and slipped outside.

"What's up, Doyle?" she asked.

A sleek male cat darker than the night sky leaped from the window ledge and landed silently near her feet. "Let's go for a walk," he suggested, his voice low.

Vanora followed as Doyle darted away from the house, knowing his odd behavior meant something funny was going on. When they were out of sight of the small house, Doyle stopped walking and sat in the grass.

"You look unhappy," Vanora noted.

"It's Behelak."

Vanora stiffened at the name. He was a wizard who had bothered her for as long as she could remember. He was a sneaky fellow who crept around (and sometimes in) witches homes, looking for magic items and secrets to steal. Despite wizards being barred from entering the Enchanted Forest, Behelak continued to sneak in and out. In a course of action that had him labeled a blithering idiot by other wizards, he left his staff at home. Without his staff leeching magic from the air he could go completely undetected...if his clumsiness didn't give him away instead.

"What's he doing here?"

Doyle looked grim. "I thought he was just snooping around like he always does, but I think he's finally found something that could make all our lives...unpleasant."

Vanora folded her arms. "What did he find?" she pressed as Doyle took a moment to clean his paw. He often paused for dramatic affect, but she wasn't in the mood for theatrics.

"A mirror. I saw him carrying it. I heard Chairwitch Archaniz talking about it a few weeks ago and I know it must be the same one.

"A mirror," Vanora repeated. "What does it do?"

"It's enchanted."

"I already guessed that part. Enchanted to do what?"

"Mystical travel."

Doyle stood up and lightly brushed her ankles. "All someone has to do is hold an image of a place in their mind and the mirror sends them there. To go back, they just picture home. A person can go anywhere in the world, even if they've never been there before. All they need is a clear mental image and they can slip in and out completely unnoticed, if they wanted to."

Vanora didn't like the sound of that. It was a simple tool, but she had learned at a young age that wizards couldn't be trusted with even the most harmless of items.

"Where is he now?"

"He went that way," replied Doyle, pointing to a group of trees with his paw. "I was going to follow him, but I thought I should come tell you first."

"I hope he hasn't used it already," muttered Vanora.

A commotion rose up in the house behind him. Vanora glanced over her shoulder. "Sounds like the guests of honor finally arrived," commented Doyle.

"Who're they?" wondered Vanora.

The sleek cat gave her an exasperated look. "The King and Queen of the Enchanted Forest, of course. Morwen has known them for years."

Vanora wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Let's go."

"Don't you want to meet them?"

"You know how I feel about royalty."

Doyle followed her as she headed for the trees, tail twitching. "They can't all be mindless snobs. I've heard good things about these two."

"Maybe, but we don't have time to find out."

The pair hurried into the darkened forest, leaving the lively party behind. Vanora reached her hand out and felt the air; there was no sign of anyone passing through recently, but an invisible line buzzing faintly in the open air indicated that a powerful object had been there recently. She and Doyle quickly followed the unseen path and could soon hear the young wizard pushing through the brush ahead of them.

The moon was full and bright and Vanora was able to spot Behelak's bright hair easily. Doyle vanished into the bushes as she reached out to shove a branch out of her way. "Where are you going with that?" she called.

Caught off-guard, Behelak spun around. His green robes seemed to meld with the trees around him, but his blond hair glowed in the moonlight. The mirror he clutched tightly in his hands glowed, too, as it captured the moon in its surface.

Behelak licked his lips nervously. "Hey, Vanora."

Vanora was looking at the mirror. It looked like an ordinary wall mirror with a fancy silver frame, but as she drew closer she could feel its power. Behelak drew back as she neared.

"I don't think that belongs to you."

"You're not making a fool out of me again," Behelak snapped. "I'm taking this back to my father. They'll stop laughing at me after this."

"Trinkets won't make them stop laughing if you still trip over your own two feet," she pointed out.

Behelak scowled and held the mirror like he wanted to bash it over her head, but that would spoil his plans. "You can't stop me this time," he told her. "So just...leave me alone, okay?"

Vanora smirked. "Your threats need work, Bel."

In her mind she was trying to figure out how she was going to get the mirror away from him. He wasn't any threat without his staff, but she knew she couldn't start flinging spells at him; they would probably bounce off the mirror and come right back at her. Her only other option was to get physical, and she had stopped enjoying wrestling with him when she was ten.

Vanora was steeling herself to tackle him when Doyle, nearly invisible in the darkness, darted out of the bushes. He shot towards Behelak and threw his weight against the back of his leg.

Behelak let out a yelp and stumbled forward. Not particularly wanting him to fall on her, Vanora threw her hands out and pushed him away. She watched in horror as he lost his balance and fell. The mirror flew from his hands.

She reached out for it, but it sailed away from her fingers and shattered against a thick tree. Stunned, she could only stare as the pieces fell to the ground, glistening like falling stars. A wave of pain and nausea struck her as the magic contained in the mirror broke free and flooded the area. Vanora shielded her face with her arms as her mind scrambled to pull a protective spell together, but it was too late. The magic overcame her and she fell to the ground, unconscious.

She came back to her senses slowly. The moon had moved on, leaving the forest completely dark. Small insects and a growing wind were the only sounds around her. Vanora put her hands on the ground and started to push herself up, but she paused. Soft, damp moss squished beneath her palms. The air around her was moist and fragrant. Her eyes slowly adapted to the darkness and she looked around; clumps of trees with dirty trunks and long, gnarled roots surrounded her. Moss-covered stones dotted her vision. Cattails waved in the wind. She was in a swamp.

An image of the shattered mirror flashed through her mind. It wasn't long before she realized what must have happened and she quickly got to her feet.

"Doyle?" she called uncertainly.

Silence. She tried again. "Behelak?"

No answer. Wherever she was, she was alone.

I hope I didn't end up too far from home, she thought. Wrapping her arms around herself, Vanora started walking down a muddy path as thunder rumbled overhead.