Authors Note: All characters in this story belong to the talented Karen Chance. Takes place after "Curse the Dawn" and after the fanfic "Accidental Sex". Reviews are appreciated.

The Gift

"Concentrate Cassie, focus on your power core. Do you feel it?" Pritkin was quietly coaching me thru the magic spells he had deemed indispensable for any self-respecting Pythia; especially a Pythia who, as he put it, made trouble her middle name. We were in the training salle, a large room in Dante's. Pritkin had appropriated the use of the room several months ago. He had systematically coached and threatened me into a young woman who was fairly proficient in self defense in a remarkably short time. I was proficient for a normal young woman, but I was not yet up to Pritkin's high standards for a young woman who also happened to be Pythia. I doubt I ever would be. The man was relentless when he had a goal in mind, that goal being me able to protect myself. Now he had moved on to instructing me in the use of magic for self defense. He claimed I had a respectable amount of magic in me, but I was woefully untrained as he frequently told me with disgust.

"Pull the magic from your core and let it collect. Think of winding it into a ball…don't let it loose yet."

Marsden cleared his throat. "Her aura is still not correct for this task. Agnes' aura had more of a gold tint to it when she did this same exercise," he explained.

His interruption made me loose focus and I let go of the magic with a small pop near my finger tips. The small bowl in front of me glowed pink for a second, then faded back to its usual white. I sighed and rubbed my eyes. We had been at it for a few hours and I was tired.

"Take a break," Pritkin ordered with a quick touch on my arm while he turned to address Marsden. "She almost had it…why did you distract her?

"Well," said Marsden, "she should get used to casting spells while surrounded by any manner of noise and distraction, since she will rarely have complete quiet when she needs the spells. In fact, if all was quiet she wouldn't need to be casting, now would she?" he argued.

"She must start somewhere, and this is the fastest way to get thru the basics," Pritkin countered. He rubbed his hands thru his hair while he muttered some of his weird Welsh curse words.

The door to the training salle crashed open and several noisy kids ran into the room.

"Hey, Cassie!" they chorused.

Alfred and Jesse and Jeannie, some of the misfits, came up to me with smiles stretched across their faces. Rafe followed, with the baby curled against his chest.

"Hey, Mage Pritkin…do you have the swords today?" asked Jesse. He and Alfred had walked in last week while Pritkin and I were furiously battling it out with the wooden training swords. They had watched with fascination and had somehow gotten Pritkin to give them a few training points. The two boys had adopted the exercises with happy abandon, and now practiced everyday. Pritkin waved them over to the duffel and they pulled out the swords with glee. The two ran to the other side of the room and started an exuberant sword fight. The door opened again and several vampires wandered in, looking bored. This was a common occurrence since Dante's had become MAGIC 2. The place was bursting with the former occupants of MAGIC.

"There isn't much time before her inauguration…she should have the basics down before then for her own safety. How are the Pythian classes going? Do you distract her while she is practicing those, too?" scowled Pritkin.

"Of course not," huffed Marsden. "We have proceeded with utmost dignity and decorum, as befits a Pythia. I don't see what the hurry is. She will have you by her side during her reign, so your spell classes are at most an interesting side activity."

Pritkin was strangely silent. Before I could question him, I heard more Welsh cursing from the other side of the room. Apparently, the boys had learned more than just sword skills from Pritkin. As we watched, Alfred used his telekinetic power to toss Jesse into the air and away from him. Jesse landed with a thud. He laid there for a few moments, and then got to his feet, silently considering his opponent. Without warning he shoved his arm forward while fire shot from his hand straight at the wooden sword in Alfred's hand. The sword burst into flame while Alfred threw it to the floor. The vampires scuttled towards the door in alarm. Pritkin closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Marsden walked over, whispered an incantation and the fire died out.

"Would you kindly refrain from burning down our training room?" he admonished the boys.

"Is there a spell for self-control?" I muttered. I looked down. Jeannie had moved close to Pritkin and wrapped one arm around his leg while she grabbed my hand, staring intently at the door. We turned and watched the door, too, wondering what she was expecting to come thru. Marlowe walked in. He had been shadowing me ever since Pritkin and I had returned from our activity over the skies of New Mexico. I knew Marlowe had placed a sophisticated tracking spell on me, but I had come to believe the spell did more than just track. I believe it functioned as some sort of bug, letting him know what I was doing as well as showing him my location. Mircea had not acted differently towards me, so either Marlowe had not told him his suspicions or Mircea was waiting for the most opportune time to bring it up with me. Marlowe was staring at me. I so did not want a confrontation with him. I almost expected him to blackmail me. I wasn't waiting around to hear what he wanted.

"Find me," I silently mouthed to Pritkin. He gave me a quick nod as I shifted out of there.