Damian sighed. Despite its requirement in his arcane studies, he struggled with patience.

Shaking off the last of his weariness, Damian fumbled to disable the alarm before it chirruped its morning greeting. By the time he dressed and re-packed his bag, the agreed upon time had passed. Catilen should at least be awake. Even so, he lingered in the guest room, contemplating the paintings hung on the wall.

Catilen’s house matched her personality. The walls bore earthen tones, wood carvings and faerie paintings. The atmosphere was open, airy and inviting. He wondered how often she entertained guests; she had the perfect space for it.

Damian inched the door open and peered through the crack before he ventured into the hallway. He didn’t want to wander the house; it felt like intruding.

Catilen stood outside the door, her back to him. As he watched, she dropped something into a thick manila envelope and sealed it.

Guilt washed over him; he’d eavesdropped on something private. As if it caught her attention, Catilen turned. Heart in his throat, Damian opened the door and forced himself to smile.

“Good morning.” Catilen greeted him with a genuine smile. “Did you sleep well?”

“Not really,” he admitted, his tone sheepish. “Too excited. Kept dreaming of the mystical isle. Yourself?”

“About the same.” Catilen tucked the envelope into the top drawer of an old wooden dresser that occupied one side of the hallway. “Let’s eat a quick breakfast and be off, shall we?”

Damian nodded and followed her to the kitchen, wondering all the while what she put in the envelope.

Catilen offered him eggs and toast if he wanted, but Damian chose a lighter breakfast when he saw his colleague pulling fruit and yogurt from the fridge. Though his stomach rumbled, he knew heavy meals didn’t mix well with long journeys.

When they finished breakfast, Catilen poured coffee into two thermoses and handed one to him. He took a moment to savor the first sip before he fetched his bag from the guest room. He helped Catilen tuck her suitcase into the back of his car, cramming the camping equipment deeper into the trunk to make space.

His hands shook when he got behind the wheel, nerves prickling with adrenaline. It was all he could do to keep the car parked while Catilen buckled her seatbelt.

The speedometer warned him he spent most of the drive over the speed limit. It was early enough the roads were still empty, or his driving might have crossed the line from reckless to dangerous. His companion pointed out every stop sign he missed, her lips pale and pressed in a thin line.

He lightened his touch on the gas pedal every time Catilen made one of her clenched-teeth comments, but the reform never lasted long. He wanted to be in their hired boat. He wanted to be across the ocean. He wanted the answer to this spell-binding mystery.

Catilen looked haggard when she exited the car. While he unpacked the trunk, she took a moment to re-bind her hair.

The tents and camping supplies fit into two large backpacks, though their bulk made them unwieldy. Luckily, their personal packs were small and light. He didn’t anticipate trouble finding a decent campground.

When Catilen’s knees stopped shaking, she shouldered her half of the gear. Damian led the way to the dock.

The battered boat he’d hired to take them to the island brought a dubious look to his colleague’s face. The craft looked as though it had seen better days, but it belonged to the only captain willing to brave the military patrols blocking their path. For the right price, he’d even pledged to bring them home.

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