Note for your reading experience: I wanted this page and the next one to be one page, but couldn't do all the art I wanted on time. No worries though! Last page of the Isabel segment next week. Thanks for reading!
When Spender only stared, Ángel continued. "I want my daughter to be safe, Richard, but I want her to see our world and all its magic, too. And not just as a threat that she must best. If she needs to be armed against it, then... I'd rather it be with friendship. With understanding."
He held out the book that he'd picked up.
It was a thick red tome, its title weathered down past legibility. In its place, a subtle carving of an hourglass had half-emerged, less like an engraved symbol than a scar. Blotches of black and white spanned opposite sides of its binding, stains that reached out for more surface with spindly pseudopods of color. All the telltale signs of a sleeping spirit's slow distortion... Spender knew at once it was possessed.
"Master Guerra won't approve," Spender said immediately, pushing past the question he felt coming, "if you're giving Isabel that tool."
"Tool..." Ángel squinted, distaste clear in his smile. "That is my father's term. His people's, your... Consortium's. The book is haunted, yes, but not a tool unless treated like one."
Spender didn't care about semantics. He'd had the same thought yesterday, that Isabel should have a spirit partner like he did when he was young. Now he could only see this gift as a salvo in a conflict she was caught between, a message meant to snub her grandfather, to win back ground Ángel had lost by leaving.
Ángel responded as if he'd heard Spender's thoughts. "My father allows his pupils to bond with spirits. Yourself included. But in my youth he never let me do so. Do you know why that is?"
Spender didn't like his leading tone. He felt like a student reprimanded after class. "Just tell me," he snapped under his breath, and instantly regretted showing weakness.
Ángel smiled sympathetically.
"Because the only bond he trusts is our reliance. If we need him for power, safety, a roof over our heads, the way his pupils do by choice... then we can't leave, can't not love him, even as he lashes out at us in ignorance of his own heart. In willful ignorance of ours." There was a factual remove to Ángel's words, a scarring over of old wounds in his calm eyes. "I don't expect you to accept that, Richard. I know that you have known his generosity. But that kindness is a tool. A desperate reflex. My father, he's a very fearful man."
Spender's cheeks were burning. He wanted a retort, knew he had one deep down, but frustration snuffed the words before they formed.
It must be nice, Spender thought, to absolve yourself of your past life, look back, and pass such placid judgment on the distant pain behind you. Maybe this was all adults were good for, calm recusal. Maybe that's what Mina had become.
"Sir," Spender said, speaking carefully this time, "if it means more stress for Isabel..." He trailed off, letting silence voice the breadth of his objection.
Somehow, Ángel Guerra's soft expression grew still softer.
"You've grown into a good man, Richard. Please, trust me when I say our best intentions are aligned." Ángel held the book out once again. "I've met the little spirit that haunts this. And I've spoken to Amy. She agrees with my decision, and that will keep my father to his grumbling." He put a hand on Spender's shoulder. "More than any of that, though... I know who my daughter wants to be."
The book did Ángel's pointing for him.
"That's why I must ask this favor. If not as a gift from you, then..." He smiled sadly. "At the very least, she can't receive this book from me. Isabel... wouldn't accept it from my hands."
Spender wanted to write him off completely. One more outsourced responsibility, that's all this was. A maneuver, calculation like Ángel saw in all his father's kindness. No, it was more like... he wished Ángel had tried before deciding that he knew she would refuse.
Spender reached for the book. He didn't know if it was spite moving him now, keeping him silent, or something Ángel said he couldn't make himself deny.
"Thank you," beamed Isabel's father, letting it ease into his grasp. "This is the seed of future light, this thing you've done. Know that you've earned more than just my gratitude—if there's anything I can ever do for you..."
The rest was empty, blurred in Spender's mind. He left the shop with Ángel's book tucked out of sight.
Isabel watched him from the upstairs window. He waved at her, and she waved back.
Spender felt a familiar anchor on his soul. Another secret. Just a small one, but with all the rest...
He shook his head, pushing away the feeling. Isabel, Ed's parents, Jean, Mayview... if they were all counting on him...
...then all he had to do was bear that weight.
Spender departed with old promises filling his head. As he drove, they smoothed into a cycling chant, then one low note, to pure determination.