Island of Lost Forevers – Chapter 2

Island of Lost Forevers – Chapter 2

The rest of the week passed in a haze. Catilen stayed up late marking papers and projects. Just in case. She owed her students that much.

Preoccupation with the upcoming journey kept her awake, speculating on what they might find. She knew Damian hoped to find magic. Anything to lend credence to his theories and garner acceptance of his research. But he couldn’t hope to overturn centuries of intellectual discourse in a single weekend. He’d need strong evidence to impress the scientific community. Results needed to be replicated before anyone took them seriously and a large portion of Damian’s proof might soon disappear.

On Friday afternoon, as she rolled piles of clothing for ease of packing, Catilen realized she still didn’t know what she expected to find. If the island disappeared while they were on it, she might be stranded for the rest of her life with only Damian Cooke to keep her company. She didn’t share his conviction about leaving nothing behind. She had her mother to consider.

Three years ago, Delana’s deteriorating health forced Catilen to put her in a home. It hurt, but her mother’s condition required constant care, something she couldn’t provide and work at the same time. She’d be well cared for, even if something happened to her daughter, but Catilen still felt she was abandoning her.

You know if she were here, she’d tell you to go. Catilen smoshed as much air as possible out of her clothing and forced the suitcase zipper shut. She’d planned for warm and cool weather, plus extras in case she got wet or dirty. She stuck to essentials, doubting they’d encounter modern plumbing while they were gone.

Aren’t you over-thinking all this anyway? They might arrive to find the island just like all the others located off the California coast. They’d probably return from an extended camping trip, bemoaning their waste of time.

She retrieved a dusty sleeping bag from the closet, gave it a quick vacuum, and rolled a pillow into it.

Damian might consider his job at the university an interim position while he searched for a foothold in a less common field, but she poured everything into her work. She mentored students over summer break and reviewed manuscripts in her spare time.

Then again, one literature professor was much like another. Those rising stars could find other mentors. With the year winding to a close, and the bulk of her grades prepared after her recent work binge, she wouldn’t be missed. She loved her job, but it didn’t mean the world to her. Her life lacked something. Like Damian, she couldn’t find it here.

Catilen put her suitcase and sleeping bag by the door, next to the emergency first aid kit.

Her packing tended, she prepared for the night’s ritual. A quick check of her supplies confirmed she had everything they needed. She spent an hour clearing the yard of stray leaves and stones, so neither of them would stumble in the dark.

Despite her doubts, she resolved to see the venture through. She’d spend her whole life regretting if she threw away this chance.

With plenty of time left before moonrise, Catilen prepared dinner. It was a humble affair; she didn’t like to eat much before traveling. The butterflies dancing in her knotted stomach banished her appetite anyway.

Damian arrived just as the sun dipped below the horizon, igniting the sky with brilliant crimson and burnished gold. He brought a small overnight bag inside with him, leaving the rest of his gear in the car. They’d agreed to leave from Catilen’s house, since her backyard was perfect for the renewal ritual. He set the bag in the foyer and wriggled his feet free of his shoes.

Catilen waved him inside and offered him a drink. In stark contrast to their last get-together, she wore jeans and a baggy t-shirt, having changed when she got home from work. Damian wore similar attire, the hems of his jeans ragged from use, the decal on his t-shirt faded and cracked.

Retrieving a pair of frosted glasses from the freezer, Catilen filled them with lemonade and joined Damian in the living room. He accepted his glass graciously. She set hers on an end table without drinking.

“I picked this up for you today.” She lifted a small case from the table and passed it to Damian. “It should help us link our wards.”

Inside the case, a silver bracelet rested on a bed of velvet. A simple pentagram charm adorned the small, sturdy chain links. It would be a tight fit, but could easily be hidden beneath a watch or sleeve. Damian traced the shape with his fingers before lifting the bracelet from the case.

“Thank you,” he said, touched by the gesture. “I’ll keep it on all the time.”

Relieved, Catilen crossed the room to help him secure the clasp. Most men didn’t like jewelry, but she felt safer knowing he’d have a pentagram with him.

“Is everything ready to go?” she asked as she returned to the couch. She sipped from her lemonade and Damian did the same.

“Double and triple checked. We just need to wake up at the right time.”

“Alarms are set. Mine even has a battery in case the power goes out.”

Damian listed his preparations. They were extensive, assuaging her fears he’d leapt into this without consideration. By the time he finished, stars dotted the sky and their lemonade glasses were empty.

“I’m ready whenever you are,” he said with a nervous smile.

Catilen stood, retrieved Damian’s glass and set both in the sink. “Just head out the glass doors to the backyard. I’ll meet you in a minute.”

Damian departed without retrieving his shoes. She, too, padded through the door in bare feet after retrieving her basket of ritual objects. The grass felt cool and springy against the soles of her feet and between her toes as she bounded across the stone-free lawn.

A tall, wooden fence surrounded the yard. The east and west sides held garden boxes; vegetables grew in the east while herbs grew in the west. In the north corner rested a small stone altar, where Catilen set the objects from her basket; a dagger, a gold candle, a silver candle, a polished stone carved in the shape of a pentagram and a twisted driftwood stick.

She didn’t know how many objects her companion recognized. Damian wasn’t interested in the religion. He practiced a magic older than hers, ancient, lost. And while many of the tenets were similar, their applications differed. Catilen put positive energy into the world believing it would bring good things back to her. Damian made things happen.

“Where should I stand?” he asked. He stood several feet away, keeping a respectful distance. He rubbed the top of one foot against the opposite calf while he waited. She couldn’t help but smile.

After lighting the candles, she took two steps back, motioning for him to join her. “Over here with me. I want to raise a circle of protection. Have you ever been inside one before?”

“Once,” he sounded uncertain. “But I recall the preparations being far more elaborate than this.”

Catilen knew Damian well enough to catch his skepticism. “You may feel disoriented for the first few seconds. Just note the edges of the circle. If you pass through it before the end of the ritual, the protection will be broken and we’ll be vulnerable.”

Damian nodded.

Lifting the small dagger from the altar, Catilen drew the blade from its sheath. Most people got nervous about the idea of someone swinging a knife around, but Damian didn’t flinch. He probably knew the knife wasn’t used for cutting, at least not anything physical. It was a spiritual tool used for spiritual tasks, such as directing her energy when she drew up the circle.

She walked the intended perimeter of the barrier three times, using the blade to mark it. For the first circuit, she pointed the blade at the ground, imagining a golden light rising from the earth along the line she drew. The second time she pointed the blade straight out from her body, visualizing the golden light rising ever higher. Finally she lifted the blade above her head and imagined the edges of the light shield coming together to complete a half-bubble surrounding herself, Damian, and the stone altar. She returned the knife to its previous place and turned back to her companion.

Damian shivered. “Artfully done.”

Catilen’s ears burned. “Thank you,” she murmured, though she hadn’t done anything special. She knew many who practiced the same way.

“What now?” he asked, planting his feet further apart on the cool grass.

“Now we draw down the moon’s power to renew our wards. Do you know how to do it?”

Again, he nodded. “Though I don’t know if my method matches yours.”

“It doesn’t need to. So long as the source matches, the wards should meld. It’s best if we each weave the energy the way it suits us best.”

Damian’s shoulders sagged with relief. “I agree. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Catilen nodded and closed her eyes. She performed this private ritual every month. It was comfortable and familiar. She drew in a deep breath and released it slowly, letting the tension leak out of her muscles. She repeated the process a few times until she relaxed. She shook her arms out, then lifted them over her head, palms turned upward. Her hands and wrists tingled, a sensation unrelated to her relaxation exercises. It was the moonlight, symbol of the power of her goddess, caressing her skin.

Leaving Damian to his own devices, she imagined herself sliding up the path made by her arms. She left her body and drifted up the moonbeams to the distant place where the bright, silver orb hung. There she felt a swirl of power, like a fountain of clear, clean water flowing from a deep mountain spring. She dipped her fingers in the edges of the pool, careful to avoid the fountain, knowing that kind of power could easily singe her. Then she drew back along the path of the moonbeams, following them into her skin, back down her arms and into her body.

Breathing deeply, she allowed the moonlight and the power to fill her. She liked to imagine she glowed with the moon’s sliver light, though she knew no such thing happened. Lowering her arms, she ran her fingers over the pentacle pendant at her neck. She imagined the newly gained energy flowing from the tips of her fingers to the small spheres that represented the moon phases around the pendant. After suffusing each with the moon’s glow, she wove the wards she used for protection, using the pentacle to center and bind them. Once, in her youth, she’d neglected the ritual and spent the entire month in misery.

Satisfied with her work, Catilen reached for Damian with her mind instead of her hands. With her defenses lowered, she could feel him as a powerful presence beside her, relaxed and focused. She could tell he’d finished renewing his wards; his mind crackled with power at her tentative touch.

She’d never done this before, not with Damian. She didn’t know if he used the same kind of wards she did. Likely not, since he had different needs. She worried his defenses might retaliate, but Damian answered her mental probe with reassurance, opening his mind, inviting her in.

The mind-link resonated a strange harmony. She felt Damian’s kindness, affection and deep-running respect for her. Warmed, she allowed him a glimpse of similar feelings, though her affection still tended toward friendship.

Beneath his surface emotions, Catilen sensed Damian’s hold over the magic he wielded. He drew deeper from the pool than she dared. Knowing the danger of tinkering with forces she didn’t understand, Catilen turned control of the joining over to Damian. He wove the outer layers of the magic together until the two wards overlapped. Her trust had been well placed; neither of them would have trouble maintaining privacy for the month, but could easily perceive danger facing the other.

When he finished, Damian broke the mental contact. In the wake of it, Catilen mentally reached for the ground, allowing the excess energy to bleed into the earth. She blinked and opened her eyes. The night, lit by candles, street lamps, and the moon above, seemed suddenly bright. Damian squinted a moment and smiled at her, obviously feeling the same.

She moved to take down the circle, but hesitated, her fingers hovered over the dagger hilt. “Did you work your obfuscation yet?” She didn’t know how that kind of magic worked.

“No. I wanted it to be fresh. Now seems as good a time as any. Do you mind coming here a moment?”

Catilen crossed the short distance between them and took his outstretched hand, squeezing it gently.

He never closed his eyes, but they grew distant. Catilen stood as still as she could, holding her breath, trying not to disturb his concentration. The distant look didn’t last long. After a moment, Damian released her hand and smiled again.

“That should do it. Be careful, Cat. For the next few days, people won’t notice you unless you go out of your way to draw their attention. It would be a bad time to walk in the middle of a road during rush hour.”

Catilen chuckled, though she took the warning seriously. “I’ll keep that in mind. Just give me a moment to dismiss the circle…”

She closed the ritual in much the same way she started it, reversing the order of her movements with the dagger until she visualized the gold light retreating back into the earth. She snuffed the candles and returned her objects to the basket, scooping it up as they made their way inside.

She locked the door and glanced at the clock. It wasn’t late, but they planned to leave before sunrise. They should go to bed; they needed their wits in case they had to combat military patrols in the morning. But she couldn’t sleep now, too energized from the ritual to settle.

“I can show you the guest room if you like,” she offered, uncertain if Damian wanted to sleep.

He hesitated. Perhaps he caught something in her tone. With their defenses overlapping, it was easier to sense him than usual. He noticed and erected an extra shield to compensate. Not wanting to pry, she did the same, though she already caught his shared desire for further activity.

“Is there something you need to do?” he asked. “Perhaps I can help.”

“Nothing I need to do. Since I feel so energized, I thought I’d read my cards.”

“Read your cards?” He repeated the words slowly, eyes narrowed with confusion. “Is that your way of telling me I missed your birthday?”

Catilen laughed. “No, silly. My tarot cards. Haven’t you ever read tarot?”

“Ah.” His eyes brightened with understanding. “Not really.”

“Come join me then.” Catilen motioned toward the dining room table. She held up a finger, excusing herself a moment. Hurrying down the hall to her bedroom, she took a small wooden box from the bottom drawer of her nightstand. When she returned, she sat across from Damian, pulling the cards from the box.

She enjoyed the familiar feeling of the worn cards against her hands as she cut the deck and shuffled. She set the pile on a square of blue velvet in front of Damian.

“We can use the cards to gain insight for our journey. It’s traditional for the recipient of the reading to cut the cards. Any way you like.”

Damian glanced at the stack, skeptical. “This isn’t one of those things where you flip a few cards and it turns out I’m pregnant, is it?”

Catilen muffled her laughter with the back of her hand. “If you mean those old commercials for the gypsy lady who read tarot over the phone, that was total B-S. Tarot doesn’t work that way. It can’t tell us the future for certain, though it may provide helpful hints.”

“Why do it if it’s uncertain? Isn’t it a waste of time?”

“It’s like any form of divination.” Catilen shrugged. “It has its benefits and its drawbacks. If you keep the island in mind while you cut the cards, they may tell you what you can expect to find there. If you concentrate on our journey, you’ll probably learn something different. The answer depends on the focus. Just as the answer’s accuracy depends on how closely you maintain your current course of action. If you decided not to go to the island in the morning, everything the cards told you about it would cease to be relevant.”

“So it’s like a magic eight-ball?”

“Maybe. If so, would it hurt to try?”

“Fair enough,” Damian relented, reaching for the cards. He cut them into three different sized piles then shuffled them back into one. When he finished, he pushed the cards in her direction and tapped the top of the deck. “Done.”

Gathering the pile in one hand, Catilen flipped several cards, laying them in formation across the blue velvet. She used a variation of the Celtic Cross that included two extra cards for the outcome. The first six cards formed a cross shape, with a column of four cards beside it, the two additional cards forming a T.

She set the extras aside and contemplated the face-up cards. “Interesting,” she murmured.

“What is?” Damian squinted as he leaned over the cards from the other side.

“A couple of things.” Catilen considered the cards before offering an explanation, taking time to organize her thoughts.

“These cards represent us.” She pointed to a pair of cards in the center of the cross, one laid across the other. The bottom card read IV Emperor. The top read III Empress. “Aside from the obvious, these are powerful cards. To me, that indicates this journey will have a profound effect on our lives.”

“I thought that was the point.” Damian sounded disappointed.

“It suggests we’ll find more than a glorified camping trip. Look here.” She laid her finger on the edge of a card which read Seven of Swords. “This card is in the opposing forces position. It generally represents spying, stealing and lying.”

Damian arched an eyebrow. “I don’t expect anything like that to happen between us.”

“Of course not. But I hate to get my hopes up about meeting people. I still think the chances are slim. The meaning could be obscured by our lack of information. Maybe it’ll make sense after we arrive.”

“It could have something to do with the government. We know they don’t want anyone investigating this mystery.”

“I considered that, though I’d rather not get involved with them. In any case, the most interesting thing is the outcome.”

She indicated the three cards at the top of the T. XV The Devil, X The Wheel of Fortune, and VI The Lovers. “All three major arcana again, which makes all three powerful cards. The Wheel of Fortune especially. It represents a shift of luck or a change of fate. That it falls between the Devil and the Lovers is what draws my interest. One obviously represents love and happiness. The other represents suffering, often the result of being trapped in a bad situation.

“Perhaps our fate has not yet been written. But it seems the wheel will turn to one or the other, and that outcome will determine our fate.”

“Could it mean we have to pass through one to get to the other?” Damian indicated the position of the cards. “Doesn’t the appearance of all three indicate we’ll experience each in turn?”

“Not necessarily. The extra two cards are meant to modify the meaning of the first one.” She tapped the devil card. “But your interpretation is as likely as mine. That’s the trouble with divination. The way we interpret the meanings is what influences our future.” She gathered the cards and put them away.

“I don’t plan to let it deter me. I feel great about this trip.”

“That’s the best attitude.” Catilen folded the cards into the blue velvet and tucked them back into their box. “Reading the cards always makes me feel better. They warn of danger, but we anticipated that already. I didn’t see anything unexpected and that reassures me we’re properly prepared.”

“Another good attitude.”

Damian covered his mouth with a hand, but it was too late. Catilen caught his yawn as if it were contagious. Now it is getting late, and only a few hours before we have to get up.

“Here,” she slid to her feet, “let me show you to the guest room.”

Damian retrieved his bag while Catilen put her cards and the basket of ritual supplies back where they belonged. Then she led him to the far end of the hallway. The guest bed was small, but the mattress was comfortable and the sheets were clean.

“All you have to do is hit the button on top the clock to turn it off,” she said. “The bathroom is one door up the hall on the same side. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen if you need something in the middle of the night.”

“Thanks, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Well then, good night.”

“See you in a few hours.”

Before she made her way back up the hall, Catilen stood on her tip-toes and laid a quick kiss on Damian’s cheek. She noted his look of surprise as she darted across the hall, disappearing behind her bedroom door.

Read Chapter 3
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