Chapter 3

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Damian lay on his back, staring at the plaster ceiling. The bold green numbers on the alarm clock indicated the passage of several hours. He felt as though he’d slept ten minutes. The strange surroundings didn’t bother him. Since joining his wards with Catilen’s, he felt warm, content and safe. Besides, he was used to sleeping in stranger places.

Excitement pried his eyes open long before the alarm was set to ring, his head filled with thoughts of the island and what it might hold. He didn’t know why Catilen agreed to accompany him. Probably just to humor me. Catilen Taylor was the only professor at the University of San Francisco who hadn’t laughed in his face the first time he mentioned energy constructs and sorcery. If he could find a hint of solid evidence to bring home with him, he might escape the label of Catilen’s hooky friend.

It wasn’t hard to find open-minded people in San Francisco. Not crazy people who believed any old conspiracy theory; people who believed in humans’ abilities to manipulate energy fields and auras. No one treated it as much like a science as he did, but he wasn’t without company or interesting conversations. When he met Catilen, he thought she’d be one of that crowd. She turned out to be so much more.

It had something to do with her religion. He hadn’t paid much attention to it at first. Wicca, as people called it these days, had been all the rage among teenagers when they were young. Plenty of black-bedecked goth girls called themselves witches and talked about secret rituals they held in forests and abandoned warehouses. Most of them had no idea what they were talking about.

Catilen wasn’t one of them either. She’d obviously studied the history of her beliefs. She knew why she did the things she did; she’d explained a number of rituals to him over the years when he expressed curiosity. He spent a lot of time contemplating the similarities between her practices and his own. Her knowledge impressed him and her rituals were practical, tailored to her needs. Catilen took care to distinguish between needs and desires. She never wasted energy.

Damian hadn’t realized her practices were anything more than spiritual until last night. Based on the way she talked about spiritual energy and its use in magick – with a k, he reminded himself, distinct and different from the kind of magic he performed – I suspected our techniques were similar. I never expected she could make things happen. He marveled at her skill in drawing a shield out of the ground, a glimmering, translucent gold bubble to his second-sight.

He shouldn’t be surprised. He knew Catilen used protective shields similar to his own. He’d tested them before, unable to resist the temptation when she proved so knowledgeable on the subject. Whatever she did, it rebuffed an earnest probe. Now he knew why. Her practices may be different, but their results were the same.

Damian had met precious few people capable of sorcery. They became his teachers, though each plea for apprenticeship met with resistance. Proving himself grew more difficult with each new level he strove to achieve. But the time and effort were worthwhile; he understood things most people dismissed. He could make significant progress in several scientific fields, if he could get people to take him seriously.

Lying in Catilen’s guest bed, watching the glowing clock numbers climb toward the appointed hour, Damian wondered if other modern witches were as capable as Catilen. Could all the non-pretenders make things happen? Or was Catilen special? Did her teachers practice the same ancient arts he did? Had they disguised their knowledge as witchcraft? Perhaps a sorcerer founded the religion for that purpose.

Does it matter? The revelation of Catilen’s magical prowess made her the perfect companion. Last night’s kiss was her first indication of interest. Or was it? Catilen had clearly defined their relationship as friends. He didn’t want to risk losing that by misinterpreting a kind gesture. A kiss isn’t an invitation.

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