Remembered Kisses: Chapter 6: Five Witches

Chapter 5 can be found here.

The Day is Done was busy that night, but Sam’s favorite booth was open. He settled into the corner, sitting gingerly.  Marcus's poultice had worked wonders, but he was still tender.  He caught Eileen's gaze, she nodded in greeting, and he turned to watch the crowd. 


He noticed some familiar faces from the college, including the five girls gathered at one of the central tables -- all of them ritual thaumaturgy students. One of them, a dark-haired woman with steely eyes, was sipping at one of David’s brews. Kendra was at her side, eating animatedly.  There was a blonde one, curvy and pretty, with her hair done in a fishtail braid, complimenting both her graceful swan neck, and her strong shoulders.  Long dreamcatcher-style earrings dangled from her ears. A dark-skinned girl with short hair was holding the red-headed girl's hand, and they were sharing a chocolate milkshake.

“They eat here often?”  Sam asked Eileen as she delivered his sandwich. It was served on a big home-baked hero roll, the steak thick-sliced and piled with onions, peppers, mushrooms, and melted provolone cheese. David's famous cheesesteak: aptly named the Steerslayer.

Eileen nodded, placing Sam's beer next to his plate.  “They do. They always share a plate of fries, a plate of 'shrooms, and a big cup of the feta sauce.  Most of them drink water, and they tip well. Nice and easy.  I love it." Her eyes sparked a little as she smiled.  “They're too young for you, Sam.” 

Sam looked up, searching her face. Something in her tone had sounded odd, but he couldn’t make out anything in her smile.  He shrugged and turned to look back at the table, a blush rising to his cheeks. 

“What?  No.  Nothing like that.  Kendra’s involved with my grad assistant, Marcus,” he said as he pointed. “She’s the brown haired one.”

“He was the handsome one here with you the other night?  The one with the dreamy eyes?” Sam’s head snapped back around.  This time she was grinning at him and winked with a snicker.

“Yeah, that one.  Anyway.  Most of them are students at the Arcane College, so I guess I should look after them some.”

She craned her neck a bit.  “So if I were to call them a bunch of witches, it wouldn’t be an insult?”

He snorted. “Not entirely, no.  In fact, that's exactly what they're studying.” 

“How's that different from what you do?”

“A little bit more theurgy, a little more herbal work.  More ritual, less disturbing the balance of reality.  You know.  That sort of thing. There are a couple of good classes on ritual work and sympathetic traditions, actually, at the college.  I just wish we had a witch on staff.” 

“It sounds... safer?  From what David tells me, you mostly run around blowing things up.” 

“That only happened the one time!  Okay.  Twice.  Maybe three times."  He sighed. "It is safer, really. Kind of. After a fashion.  Probably.” He laughed. “Maybe I should be one.”

“There are male witches?”

“Oh, of course.  Definitely.  And the local mage college draws on the patronage of a Greek goddess, so there’s some overlap there.”

“Yeah, but Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“You’d look funny in one of those shapeless black dresses.”  She stuck her tongue out at him.  “Really damn funny.”  She winked again. “Enjoy your sandwich.”  

Sam leaned back and laughed. He lingered in his corner, savoring his Steerslayer and finishing his beer as he watched the crowd slowly ebb.  The girls left after a while, Kendra never noticing him, but the steely-eyed one gave him a long, appraising look before she followed the others out.  When Sam was done, he put his money on the table and slipped into the fog-filled New Tamsbridge night. 

***

The quad was bright and sunny the next afternoon; only a few wispy patches of fog still lingered on the College's campus. A half-dozen students in long sleeved workout shirts and exercise pants took up one of the corners.  Sam recognized the steely-eyed girl from the bar; she was shorter than he remembered, and her long black hair was tied back in a severe braid that accentuated the sculpted definition of her neck and shoulders.  Kendra was next to her, stretching out her shoulders. They both held blunted longswords that flashed in the daylight.  A large man approached them, also dressed to work out, but his sword was longer than than either of the girls were tall.  They all acknowledged each other and then put on fencing masks.

Sam watched in fascination as they engaged.  Kendra stepped forward first, but the man matched her footwork with ease.  He engaged her sword with his own for just the space of a heartbeat before hip-tossing her to the grass with casual ease. His attention shifted to the dark-haired girl and he smiled.  

She didn’t.

In an instant she was on him, swinging her sword in a savage horizontal arc.  The man somehow got his own in the way, and with a twist of his arms dealt her a resounding ‘pop’ on the mask.  She staggered back. Sam could hear her cursing from where he sat, but when she took off her mask, there was a rueful grin on her face. “I’ll get you next time, John,” she said.

“You took the vor quickly that time, Pallas,” he replied, pulling off his own mask.  “But you lost true-time when you moved your hips too quickly.  Gave yourself away.”

Kendra slowly got up, and she was smiling, too.  “You tossed me like a rag-doll!  Thanks for the lesson!”

He laughed.  “You hesitated before you struck, and your shoulders gave away your plan.  It happens.”

“An important lesson to us all, I’m sure,” Sam said at last as he approached, helping Kendra the rest of the way to her feet.  “I heard there was a weekly weapons practice out here.  But I didn’t expect to see one of our young witches out here getting tossed around.” 

“Two of them, professor,” said the dark haired woman, who held out a hand to Sam.  Her accent was classic middle-American, with just a hint of the Mediterranean on it, and her eyes were a unique shade of grey that gave Sam a brief pause as he took her hand.  

“Grey-eyed Pallas,” he murmured.  “Fancy that.” 

“You’re observant, aren’t you?” She asked dryly, a small curious smile on her face.  “A fine trait in an educated man.  Tell me, do you have any other revelations for us today?  Perhaps that it’s foggy here, or that the grass is brown for want of warmth?”

Sam blushed.  

Kendra chided her.  “Don’t be so salty, Pallas.  The professor here is a good man.  He’s Marcus’s teacher.”

“You’re Professor Lawrence?” The big man asked.  He had a rough brogue that contrasted sharply with his clean-cut features. 

“That’s the rumor,” Sam said. You've been speaking with Saul too much.  Come on, Sam.  Not all Irishmen are scruffy. “But I don’t believe it.”

The big man laughed.  “That would be you, then, and no mistake. Don’t worry, sir, we’ve heard good things.  Mostly from Kendra here.”

Now Kendra blushed.  “Well, he’s always been nice to me and Marcus. And he’s no pretender.”

“Is he not?”  Pallas asked, her voice cutting in, raising a delicate eyebrow as she examining the mage.  Her gaze was piercing, and for the second time this week Sam felt like he was a mouse — but this time it was under the gaze of an owl, not a snake. Sam felt like he was under a microscope.  “Well.  Perhaps.”

Sam turned to the woman, watching her again, trying to understand that glint in her eye.  “Well,” he said.  “I hope I pass examination.  By the stars, I would hate to disappoint your grey-eyed gaze.”

“Agreed,” she replied simply, with the ghost of a smile. She looked back at Kendra.  “Kendra.  Our lesson here is finished for the day. Remember our meeting tonight.  It is your turn to bring the sage.”
Kendra nodded.  “Of course, Pallas.”

Pallas held her gaze for a moment, then turned back to Sam and John. “Gentlemen,” she said, gave a curt nod, and departed.

Sam was speechless for a moment longer, then said, “She’s a force of nature, isn’t she?” 

“A right battle-ax dolled up like a stiletto,” John agreed.
Kendra frowned.  “That’s not right,” she said.  “You can’t judge a girl just because she stands up for herself.  If she was a man…”
“I’d say he was a jackass,” Sam said with a laugh.  “No worries, Kendra. Nobody appreciates a strong woman more than I do.”

“Well, Good.  Pallas is the leader of our coven.  She looks out for us. That’s why I’m here.  She thinks I need to learn to protect myself better.”  She rolled her eyes.  “I’m fine, though.”

“It’s never a bad thing to learn to fight, lass,” John put in. “It’s good exercise.  Training the body as well as the mind, like they say.  Lots of you magicy folk talk about that… though from the number of roly-polys in the arcane college, I’m not sure how many actually believe it.” 

“Are you a student in the college?” Sam asked, surprised.  “I’m not sure how I could have missed you.”

“You couldn't have.  I’m pretty big; not sure if you noticed. No, I’m in the art department.  I leave the finger-waving to you types.  Never been my style or my gift.”  He patted Kendra on the shoulder.  “But you did a good job today, believe it or not.  It takes guts to come at guy like me head on, and more to get back up after a toss like that. Good job.” He nodded at Sam. “Professor.  Another time.  I'm going to catch a shower.” 

Sam whistled, watching John leave.  “You've got a fascinating collection of friends, Kendra.  Are all the women in your coven so… fierce?”

“Well, yes.  Sort of.  In their own way.”  Kendra tucked a brown lock of hair behind her ear.  “We’ve all got our ties to our chosen goddesses.  Pallas… she’s just protective, and not so trusting of mages.  I think she’s been burned.” 

“Yeah.  Could be.”  Sam shook his head.  “Well, if she’s only half so fierce to people who are actual threats, I’m sure she’s keeps you all very safe.  Come on.  I’ll walk you to class, and you can tell me about how you met Marcus and wound up at this backwards campus in the middle of spook city.”

She laughed, smiling brightly, and walked with him.

***

“And that’s how ley lines affect basic rituals,” Sam said. He shut his book.  “And that’s the end of class for today.  Homework for Monday: Aristotle’s Law of Thaumaturgical Dynamics and how that fits in with modern ripple thought.  Have a nice weekend.”

As students got up to leave, Sam started putting papers in his briefcase.  When he looked up, he noticed there was a girl standing in front of his desk; one of the ones he had seen eating with Kendra and Pallas.  The smiling one.  Today her long blonde hair was worn long and down, and she wore a pale pink lipstick that complimented the soft green of her jacket.  

“Hello,” he said.  “Can I help you, miss?”

“Connor,” she said.  “Lily Connor, professor.  I just started your class today.”

“A late add, then.  Well, welcome.”

Her smile grew.  “Thank you,” she said.

“I’m kind of surprised to see you in my class, honestly,” he said.
“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re part of Pallas’s coven, aren’t you?  This class is a little… academic, for most flavors of witchcraft.”

“Oh, so you’re putting me in a box already? Why professor, I barely know you.”  She winked and her grin turned devious.  “Although you’re cute enough, and I do like older men.  But usually, I’m not the one in the box.”

“What?  I mean. Um…” Sam stammered out, and she snared his gaze for a moment. His face turned crimson. Her bright blue eyes stared into his, and he could feel the energy sizzle between them.   At last he looked away.  “Is there anything I can do for you?”

He wasn’t watching her face but he could almost hear her grin grow.  “Yes.  Plenty.  But as for now, I just wanted a little help catching up.  You’re right, this isn’t our usual thing, but with all the mages here in town I feel like I should learn some.  After all, there are what, like, five faculty here?”

“Six, including the Dean.” Sam said.  "It's a small school.  But they're all very, very competent."

“Six.  And all mages?”

“Yes.”

“No wizards, then.”

He shook his head.  “We’d like one, but the last died off decades ago.  You know about the difference?”

“Of course I do.  Why wouldn’t I?”

“It’s pretty rare to know, outside of specific circles.”

“Putting me in a box again and you haven’t even bought me dinner yet." She met his eyes. "It’s important to know things. Especially about the people with power.  The difference between mage and wizard... it important, isn’t it?” She tilted her head. “A difference of magnitude, right?”

“That’s one way to put it,” Sam agreed.  “Although some mages are very dangerous, especially the older ones.  As you get more practice, the Otherworld grows easier to access.”

“And how experienced are you, professor?”

Sam blushed again.  What is this girl doing to me?  It’s not just what she’s saying, it’s how she says it.  There’s something in her voice that’s just so compelling… I’m hanging on every word… Oh. He thought about it for a moment, focused his mind, and then it cleared up and he was thinking clearly and precisely, as if a fog had rolled away to reveal clear sky. “Experienced enough,” he said.  “I know what I’m about.  You’re a follower of Juno, aren’t you?”

It was her turn to blush, and she looked away demurely before looking back up at him through long eyelashes.  It was a good effect, but Sam now could see the artifice and calculation behind it.  “Is it so easy to tell?”

“It’s the voice,” he said, firmly.  “The compelling note in it.  It's supposed to be a gift Juno gives her followers, or at least one of the early techniques they learn.  I’m interested to see that rumor confirmed.  It's very effective.”

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, her voice almost a squeak, her eyes wide with worried surprise.  “I wasn’t trying to manipulate you.”

He softened. “I know.  You’re still young. You might not even realize when you’re doing it.  But. you know, you can get what you want by just asking.  You don’t need artifice.”

“I was hoping for some tutoring,” she squeaked.  “Maybe a few private lessons? Help me catch up?”

He frowned again.  “Where, exactly?”

She blushed.  “I was hoping… maybe my apartment?  It’s near the coven house.”

Sam let some sternness creep into his voice.  “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said, then gently added, “You are my student.  And very pretty.  It wouldn’t look right.  We could meet in the library, maybe?  Or my bookstore.”

She perked up.  “You have a book store?”

“I do.  The Dusty Covers.  Rare and used books. You should stop by sometime.  I’m sure you’d like it.”

“I’m sure I will!”  She said, now sounding excited.  “What about tomorrow?  Three o’clock?”

Sam thought about it for a moment.  This beautiful girl, in my shop, eager to learn whatever I have to teach her?  It could be dangerous.  It WILL be dangerous.  On the other hand, he had so many resources there to help her catch up… and Audrey would never let anything happen.  Even Methuselah would watch his back if he asked. “All right,” he said.  “That’s a plan.”  

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