The Captive (Chapter Two)

Somewhere on the way downstairs Cassie stopped feeling guilty.

She didn't know exactly how it happened. But it was necessary, if she was going to survive this. She was doing everything she could to protect Diana-and Adam, too, in a way. Adam must never know about Faye's blackmail. So Cassie would do whatever it took to protect them both, but by God, she wasn't going to feel guilty on top of it.

And she had to handle Faye somehow as well, she thought, marching behind the tall girl, past Diana's father's study. She had to keep Faye from doing anything too radical with the skull. She didn't know how; she'd have to think about that later. But somehow she would do it.

If Faye had looked back just then, Cassie thought, she might have been surprised to see the face of the girl behind her. For the first time in her life Cassie felt as if her eyes were hard, like the blue steel of a revolver instead of the soft blue of wildflowers.

But right now she had to look neutral- composed. The group on the driveway looked up as she and Faye came out the door.

"What took you so long?" Laurel asked.

"We were plotting to kill you all," Faye said breezily. "Shall we?" She gestured toward the garage.

There were only traces of yesterday's chalk circle left on the floor. Once again the garage was empty of cars-they were lucky Diana's father worked so much at his law firm.

Diana, her left fist still closed, went over to the wall of the garage, directly behind the place Cassie had been sitting when they had performed the skull ceremony. Cassie followed her and then drew in her breath sharply.

"It's burned." She hadn't noticed that last night. Well, of course not; it had been too dark.

Diana was nodding. "I hope nobody is going to keep arguing about whether there was any dark energy or not," she said, with a glance back at Deborah and Suzan.

The wood and plaster of the garage wall was charred in a circle perhaps a foot and a half in diameter. Cassie looked at it, and then at the remnants of the chalk circle on the floor. She had been sitting there, but part of her had been inside the skull. Diana had told them all to look into it, to concentrate, and suddenly Cassie had found herself inside it. That was where she'd seen-felt-the dark power. It had begun rushing outward, getting bigger, determined to break out of the crystal. And she'd seen a face….

She was grateful, suddenly, for Adam's calm voice. "Well, we know what direction it started in, anyway. Let's see if the crystal agrees."

They were all standing around Diana. She looked at them, then held her left fist out, palm up, and unclasped her fingers. She took the top of the silver chain with her right hand and drew it up taut, so that the peridot just rested on her palm.

"Concentrate," she said. "Earth and Air, help us see what we need to see. Show the traces of the dark energy to us. Everybody concentrate on the crystal."

Earth and Air, wind and tree, show us what we need to see, Cassie thought, her mind automatically setting the simple concept in a rhyme. The wood of the wall, the air outside; those were what they needed to help them. She found herself murmuring the words under her breath and quickly stopped, but Diana's green eyes flashed at her.

"Go on," Diana said tensely in a low voice, and Cassie started up again, feeling self-conscious.

Diana removed the hand that was supporting the crystal.

It spun on the chain, twirling until the chain was kinked tightly, and then twirling the other way. Cassie watched the pale green blur, murmuring the couplet faster and faster. Earth and Air… no, it was useless. The peridot was just spinning madly like a top gone wild.

Suddenly, with broad, sweeping strokes, the crystal began swinging back and forth.

Someone's breath hissed on the other side of the circle.

The peridot had straightened out; it was no longer twirling, but swinging steadily and hard. Like a pendulum, Cassie realized. Diana wasn't doing it; the hand that held the chain remained steady. But the peridot was swinging hard, back toward the center of the chalk circle on the floor, and forward toward the burned place on the wall.

"Bingo," Adam said softly.

"We've got it," Melanie whispered. "All right, now you're going to have to move it out of alignment to get outside. Walk-carefully- to the door, and then try to come back to this exact place on the other side of the wall."

Diana wet her lips and nodded, then, holding the silver chain always at the same distance from her body, she turned smoothly and did as Melanie said. The coven broke up to give her room and regrouped around her outside. Finding the right place wasn't hard; there was another burned circle on the outer wall, somewhat fainter than the one inside.

As Diana brought the crystal into alignment once more, it began to swing again. Straight toward the burned place, straight out. Down Crowhaven Road, toward the town.

A shudder went up Cassie's spine.

Everyone looked at everyone else.

Holding the crystal away from her, Diana followed the direction of the swinging. They all fell in behind her, although Cassie noticed that Faye's group kept to the rear. Cassie herself was still fighting every second to not watch Adam.

Trees rustled overhead. Red maple, beech, slippery elm-Cassie could identify many of them now. But she tried to keep her eyes on the rapid swish of the pendulum.

They walked and walked, following the curve of Crowhaven Road down toward the water. Now grasses and hedges grew poorly in the sandy soil. The pale green stone was swinging at an angle, and Diana turned to follow it.

They were heading west now, along a deeply rutted dirt road. Cassie had never been this way before, but the other members of the Circle obviously had-they were exchanging guarded glances. Cassie saw a chain-link fence ahead, and then an irregular line of headstones.

"Oh, great," Laurel muttered from beside Cassie, and from somewhere in back Suzan said, "I don't believe this. First we have to walk for miles, and now…"

"What's the problem? Just gonna visit some of our ancestors underground," Doug Henderson said, his blue-green eyes glittering oddly.

"Shut up," Adam said.

Cassie didn't want to go inside. She'd seen many cemeteries in New England-it seemed there was one on every other street in Massachusetts, and she'd been to Kori's funeral down in the town. This one didn't look any different from the others: it was a small, square plot of land cluttered with modest gravestones, many of them worn almost completely smooth with time. But Cassie could hardly make herself follow the others onto the sparse, browning grass between the graves.

Diana led them straight down the middle of the cemetery. Most of the stones were small, scarcely reaching higher than Cassie's knees. They were shaped like arches, with two smaller arches on either side.

"Whoever carved these had a gruesome sense of humor," she breathed. Many of the stones were etched with crude skulls, some of them winged, others in front of crossbones. One had an entire skeleton, holding a sun and moon in its hands.

"Death's victory," Faye said softly, so close that Cassie felt warmth on the nape of her neck. Cassie jumped, but refused to look back.

"Oh, terrific," said Laurel as Diana slowed.

The light was dying from the sky. They were in the center of the graveyard, and a cool breeze blew over the stunted grass, bringing a faint tang of salt with it. The hairs on the back of Cassie's neck were tingling.

You're a witch, she reminded herself. You should love cemeteries. They're probably your natural habitat.

The thought didn't really make her feel less frightened, but now her fear was mingled with something else-a sort of strange excitement. The darkness gathering in the sky and in the corners of the graveyard seemed closer. She was part of it, part of a whole new world of shadows and power.

Diana stopped.

The silver chain was a thin line in the gloom, with a pale blob below it. But Cassie could see that the peridot was no longer swinging like a pendulum. Instead it was moving erratically, round and round in circles. It would swing a few times one way, then slow and swing back the other way.

Cassie looked at it, then up at Diana's face. Diana was frowning. Everyone was watching the circling stone in dead silence.

Cassie couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "What does it mean?" she hissed to Laurel, who just shook her head. Diana, though, looked up.

"Something's wrong with it. It led here- and then it just stopped. But if we've found the place, it shouldn't be moving at all. The stone should just sort of point and quiver-right, Melanie?"

"Like a good hound dog," Doug said, with his wild grin.

Melanie ignored him. "That's the theory," she said. "But we've never really tried this before. Maybe it means…" Her voice trailed off as she looked around the graveyard, then she shrugged. "I don't know what it means."

The tingling at the back of Cassie's neck was getting stronger. The dark energy had come here-and done what? Disappeared? Dissipated? Or …

Laurel was breathing quickly, her elfin face unusually tense. Cassie instinctively moved a little closer to her. She and Laurel and Sean were the juniors, the youngest members of the Circle, and witch or not, Cassie's arms had broken out in gooseflesh.

"What if it's still here, somewhere… waiting?" she said.

"I doubt it," Melanie said, her voice as level and uninflected as usual. "It couldn't hang around without being stored somehow; it would just evaporate. It either came here and did something, or-" Again, though, she could only finish her sentence with a shrug.

"But what could it do here? I don't see any signs of damage, and I feel…" Still frowning, Diana caught the circling peridot in her left hand and held it. "This place feels confused- strange-but I don't sense any harm the dark energy has done. Cassie?"

Cassie tried to search her own feelings. Confusion-as Diana said. And she felt dread and anger and all sorts of churned-up emotions-but maybe that was just her. She was in no state to get a clear reading on anything.

"I don't know," she had to say to Diana. "I don't like it here."

"Maybe, but that's not the point. The point is that we don't see any burns the dark energy could have left, or sense anything it's destroyed or hurt," Diana said.

Deborah's voice was impatient. "Why are you asking her, anyway?" she said with a jerk of her dark head toward Cassie. "She's hardly even one of us-"

"Cassie's as much a part of the Circle as you are," Adam interrupted, unusually curt. Cassie saw the arch, amused glance Faye threw him and wanted to intervene, but Diana was agreeing heatedly with Adam, and Deborah was bridling, glaring at both of them. It looked as if an argument would break out.

"Be quiet!" Laurel said sharply. "Listen!" Cassie heard it as soon as the voices died down; the quiet crunch of gravel at the roadside. It was noticeable only against the deathly quiet of the autumn twilight.

"Somebody's coming," Chris Henderson said. He and Doug were poised for a fight.

They were all hideously on edge, Cassie realized. The crunch of footsteps sounded as loud as firecrackers now, grating against her taut nerves. She saw a dim shape beside the road, and then saw Adam move forward, so that he was in front of both Diana and her. I'm going to have to talk to him about that, she thought irrelevantly.

There was a pause in the footsteps, and the dim shape came toward them. Adam and the Henderson brothers looked ready to rush it. Quarrel forgotten, Deborah looked ready too. Sean was cowering behind Faye. Cassie's heart began to pound.

Then she noticed a spot of red like a tiny burning coal floating near the figure, and she heard a familiar voice.

"If you want me, you got me. Four against one ought to be about fair."

With a whoop, Chris Henderson rushed forward. "Nick!"

Doug grinned, while still managing to look as if he might jump the approaching figure. Adam relaxed and stepped back.

"You sure, Adam? We can settle this right here," Nick said as he reached the group, the end of his cigarette glowing as he inhaled. Adam's eyes narrowed, and then Cassie saw the daredevil smile he'd worn at Cape Cod, when four guys with a gun had been chasing him. What was wrong with him, what was wrong with everybody tonight? she wondered. They were all acting crazy.

Diana put a restraining hand on Adam's arm. "No fighting," she said quietly.

Nick looked at her, then shrugged. "Kind of nervous, aren't you?" he said, surveying the group.

Sean emerged from behind Faye. "I'm just high-strung."

"Yes, you ought to be-from a tree," Faye said contemptuously.

Nick didn't smile, but then Nick never smiled. As always, his face was handsome but cold. "Well, maybe you have a reason to be nervous-at least some of you," he said.

"What's that supposed to mean? We came here looking for the dark energy that escaped last night," said Adam.

Nick went still, as if struck by a new idea, then his cigarette glowed again. "Maybe you're looking in the wrong place," he said expressionlessly.

Diana's voice was quiet. "Nick, will you please just tell us what you mean?"

Nick looked around at them all. "I mean," he said deliberately, "that while you've been scurrying around here, a crew's been up at Devil's Cove, pulling rocks off old Fogle."

Fogle? Cassie couldn't place the name. And then suddenly she saw it in her mind's eye-on a brass plate in a wood-paneled office. "Our principal?" she gasped.

"You got it. They say he got caught in an avalanche."

"An avalanche?" demanded Laurel in disbelief. "Around here?"

"How else do you explain the two-ton chunk of granite that was on top of him? Not to mention all the smaller stuff."

There was a moment of shocked silence.

"Is he…" Cassie couldn't finish the question.

"He wasn't looking too good when they got that chunk off him," Nick said, and then, with less sarcasm, "He's been dead since last night."

"Oh, God," Laurel whispered. There was another silence, just as shocked and even longer this time. Cassie knew they were all seeing the same thing: A crystal skull surrounded by a protective ring of candles- and one of the candles going out.

"It was Faye's fault," Sean began in a whine, but Faye interrupted without looking at him. "It was his fault."

"Wait, wait," said Diana. "We don't know the dark energy had anything to do with it. How could it have, when we know it came here and then stopped?"

"I don't think that's much comfort," Melanie said in a low voice. "Because if it wasn't the dark energy, who was it?"

There was a sort of strange shifting in the group, as if everyone was standing back and looking at all the others. Cassie felt a void in the pit of her stomach again. The principal was-had been-an outsider, who hated witches. And that meant they all had a motive-especially anybody who blamed the outsiders for Kori Henderson's death. Cassie looked at Deborah, and then at Chris and Doug.

Most of the rest of the coven was doing the same. Doug glared back, then gave a wild, defiant grin.

"Maybe we did do it," he said, eyes glittering.

"Did we?" said Chris, looking confused.

Deborah just looked scornful.

There was another silence, then Suzan spoke in a petulant voice. "Look, it's too bad about Fogle, but do we have to stand here forever? My feet are killing me."

Adam seemed to shake himself. "She's right; we should get out of this place. There's nothing we can do here." He put an arm around Diana, and gestured everybody else ahead. Cassie lingered. There was something she wanted to say to Diana.

But Diana was moving now, and Cassie didn't have a chance. With the Henderson brothers in the lead, the group was taking a different route than the one they had taken in, cutting toward the northeast corner of the cemetery. As they approached the road, Cassie noticed the ground sloped up. There was a strange mound of grassy earth near the chain-link fence on this side; she almost tripped when she reached it. But even stranger was what she saw when they had passed it and she looked back.

The front of the mound was faced with stone slabs, and there was an iron door, maybe two feet square, set between them. The door had an iron hinge and a padlock on it, but it couldn't have opened anyway. Pushed right up against it was a large, irregular hunk of cement. Grass was growing up around the cement, showing it had been there a while.

Cassie's hands were icy cold, her heart was thudding, and she was dizzy. She tried to think, noticing with only part of her mind that she was passing by newer gravestones now, marble slabs with writing not worn smooth by time. She was trying to figure out what was wrong with her-was it just reaction to all the events of the past day and night? Was that why she was shaking?

"Cassie, are you okay?" Diana and Adam had turned around. Cassie was grateful for the growing darkness as she faced both of them and tried to get her mind clear.

"Yeah. I just-felt weird for a minute. But wait, Diana." Cassie remembered what she had wanted to say. "You know how you were asking me about my feelings before… well, I have a feeling about Mr. Fogle. I think the dark energy did have something to do with it, somehow. But…" She stopped. "But I don't know. There's something else strange going on."

"You can say that again," Adam said, and he reached for her arm to get her moving once more. Cassie evaded him and shot him a reproachful glance while Diana was staring into the distance. He looked at his own hand, startled.

There was something strange going on, something stranger than any of them realized, Cassie thought. "What is that thing back there, with the iron door?" she asked.

"It's been there for as long as I can remember," Diana said absently. "Something to do with storage, I think."

Cassie glanced back, but by now the mound was lost in darkness. She hugged herself, tucking her hands under her clasping arms to warm them. Her heart was still thudding.

I'll ask Grandma Howard about it, she decided. Whatever it was, it wasn't a storage shed, she knew that.

Then she noticed that Diana was toying with something around her neck as she walked lost in thought. It was a fine golden chain, and at the end of it dangled a key.