The Power (Chapter Sixteen)

"Are you okay?" Cassie asked Suzan, whom she happened to be lying on. "Is everybody okay?"

The Circle was lying scattered over the vacant lot as if some giant hand had dropped them. But everyone was moving.

"I think my arm's broken," Deborah said, rather calmly. Laurel crawled over to her to look at it.

Cassie stared around the lot. The house was gone. Number Thirteen was a barren piece of land again. And the light was changing.

"Look," Melanie said, her face turned up. This time there was joy and reverence in her voice.

The moon was showing silver again, just a thin crescent, but now the crescent was growing. The blood color was gone.

"We did it," Doug said, his blond hair disheveled more wildly than Cassie had ever seen it. He grinned. "Hey! We did it!"

"Cassie did it," Nick said.

"Is he really gone?" Suzan asked sharply. "Gone for good this time?"

Cassie looked around again, sensing nothing but brisk air and the endlessly moving sea. The earth was quiet. There was no light but moon and stars.

"I think he is," she whispered. "I think we won." Then she turned quickly to Adam. "What about the hurricane?"

He was fumbling at his belt with the radio. "I hope it's not broken," he said, and put the headphones on, listening.

Limping and crawling, they all gathered around him, and waited.

He kept listening, shaking his head, flicking the channels. His face was tense. Cassie saw Diana beside her, and reached out to take her hand. They sat together, hanging on. Then Adam sat straight suddenly.

"Gale force winds on Cape Cod . . . storm moving northeast. . . northeast! It's turned! It's heading out to sea!"

The Henderson brothers cheered, but Melanie hushed them. Adam was talking again.

"High tides . . . flooding . . . but it's okay, nobody's hurt. Property damage, that's all. We did it! We really did it!"

"Cassie did it – " Nick was beginning again, irritably, but Adam had leaped up and grabbed Cassie and was whirling her in the air. Cassie shrieked and kept shrieking as he swooped her around. She hadn't seen Adam this happy since … well, she couldn't remember when she'd seen Adam this happy. Since the beach on Cape Cod, she guessed, when he'd flashed that daredevil smile at her. She'd forgotten, in their months of trouble, that grimness wasn't Adam's natural state.

Like Herne, she thought, when she was deposited, breathless and flushed, back on her feet. The horned god of the forest was a god of joyful celebration. Chris and Doug were trying to dance with her now, both together. Adam was waltzing Diana. Cassie collapsed, laughing, just as something large and furry hit her and rolled her over.

"Raj!" Adam said. "I told you to stay at home!"

"He's about as obedient as all of you," Cassie gasped, hugging the German shepherd as his wet tongue lapped her face. "But I'm glad you came. All you guys, not the dog," she said, looking around at them.

"We couldn't just leave you in there," Sean said.

Doug snickered, but he slapped the smaller boy on the back. "'Course not, tiger," he said, and rolled his eyes at Cassie.

Cassie was looking at Faye, who had been sitting a little apart from everyone else, the way Nick used to do. "I'm glad you came to join us too," she said.

Faye didn't look anything at all like a stenographer. Her mane of pitch-black hair was loose over her shoulders, and the black shift exposed more pale honey-colored skin than it covered. She looked a little bit like a panther and a lot like a jungle queen.

Her heavy-lidded golden eyes met Cassie's directly, and a small smile tugged at the corners of her lips.

Then she looked down. "I can do my nails red again, anyway," she said lazily.

Cassie turned away, hiding a smile of her own. That was probably as much acknowledgement from Faye as she was ever going to get.

"If you guys are all finished yelling and dancing," Laurel said, in a carefully patient voice, "can we go home now? Because Deborah's arm is broken."

Cassie jumped up guiltily. "Why didn't you say so?"

"Aw, it's nothing," Deborah said. But she let Nick and Laurel help her up.

As they walked back, Cassie was struck by another thought. Her mother. Black John was dead, the hurricane was detoured, but what about her mother?

"Can we take Deborah to the crones?" she asked Diana.

"That's the best place, anyway," Diana said. "They know the most about healing." She looked at Cassie with understanding in her green eyes, then she took Cassie's hand and squeezed it.

I've got to prepare myself, Cassie thought as they approached Number Four. I've got to be ready. She could be dead. She could be just the same as when I left there . . . lying on that bed. She could stay that way forever.

Whatever happens, I kept my promise. I stopped Black John. He won't ever hurt her again.

Cassie glanced up at the moon before stepping up to Melanie's house. It was a thick crescent now, a fat happy moon. She took it as a good omen.

Inside, candles flickered. Cassie wondered for one wild instant if the three old ladies were still dancing around sky-clad, and then she saw the parlor. Great-aunt Constance was sitting as stiff as a ramrod on the rounded seat of a chair, immaculately dressed and looking very proper as she served tea by candlelight to her three guests.

To her three guests . . .

"Mom.'" cried Cassie, and she ran forward, knocking over one of Great-aunt Constance's fragile chairs as she went. The next minute she was holding her mother, hugging her wildly on Aunt Constance's couch. And her mother was hugging back.

"Good heavens, Cassie," her mother said a few minutes later, pulling away slightly to look at her. "The way you're dressed . . ."

Cassie felt for the diadem, which had fallen askew. She settled it on her head and looked into her mother's eyes. She was so happy to see those eyes looking back at her, and seeing, that she forgot to answer.

Deborah's voice came from the hallway, tired but proud. "She's our leader," she said. Then: "Anybody got an aspirin?"

"Well, obviously it isn't just temporary," Laurel said, looking nettled. "I mean, we elected you."

"And you came through," Deborah said, taking a large bite out of an apple with the hand that wasn't in a cast.

It was the next day. There was no school, because of minor storm damage and the disappearance of the principal. The Circle was enjoying the unseasonably mild weather by having a picnic in Diana's backyard.

"But we've got two leaders now," said Chris. "Or is Faye unelected?"

"Hardly," Faye said, with a withering glance.

Melanie shifted thoughtfully, her gray eyes considering. "Well, other covens have had more than one leader. The original coven did; remember, Black John was only one of the leaders. You could share with Faye, Cassie."

Cassie shook her head. "Not without Diana."

"Huh?" said Doug.

Nick directed an amused glance at her. "Diana might not want the honor," he said.

"I don't care," Cassie said, before Diana could say anything. "I won't be leader without Diana. I'll quit. I'll go back to California."

"Look, you can't all be leaders," Deborah began.

"Why not?" Melanie asked, sitting up. "Actually, it's a good idea. You could be a triumvirate. You know, like in Roman times; they had three rulers."

"Diana might not want to," Nick repeated, with rising inflection. But Cassie got up and went over to her anxiously.

"You will, won't you?" she said. "For me?"

Diana looked at her, then at the rest of the Club.

"Yeah, go on," Doug said expansively.

"Three's a good number," Laurel added, smiling impishly.

Faye sighed heavily. "Oh, why not?" she grumbled, looking in the other direction.

Diana looked at Cassie. "All right," she said.

Cassie hugged her.

Diana pushed a strand of fair hair back. "Now I've got something for you to do," she said. "As a leader, you're not a junior member of the coven anymore, Cassie, but nobody else can do this. Will you please go and dig up that box I gave you on the night of Hecate?"

"The trust festival box? Is this the time to unbury it?"

"Yes," Diana said. "It is." She was looking at Melanie and Melanie was nodding at her, obviously sharing some secret.

Cassie looked at both of them, puzzled, but then she went down the road to get the box, accompanied only by Raj, who trotted along behind her. It was wonderful to be alone, and to know that nothing was out to get her. She dug in the sand near the big rock where she'd buried it that night, and pulled the damp box out. The sea flashed and sparkled at her.

She brought it back to Diana's house, breathless from the walk, and presented it to Diana.

"What's in there? More Master Tools?" Doug said.

"It's probably some girl thing," said Chris.

Diana bent over the box, an odd expression on her face. "You didn't open it," she said to Cassie.

Cassie shook her head.

"Well, I know you didn't," Diana said. "I knew you wouldn't. But I wanted you to know. Anyway, it's yours; and what's inside it, too. It's a present." She blew drying sand off the box and handed it back to Cassie.

Cassie looked at her doubtfully, then shook the box. It rattled lightly, as if there were something small inside. She glanced at Diana again. Then, hesitantly, with an almost scared feeling, she opened it.

Inside, there was only one object. A little oval of rock, pale blue swirled with gray, embedded all over with tiny crystals which sparkled in the sunlight.

The chalcedony rose.

Every muscle frozen but her eyes, Cassie looked at Diana. She didn't know what to do or say. She didn't understand. But her heart was beating violently.

"It's yours," Diana said again, and then, as Cassie just crouched there, immobile, she looked at Melanie. "Maybe you'd better explain."

Melanie cleared her throat. "Well," she said, and looked over at Adam, who was sitting as still as Cassie. He hadn't said much all morning, and now he was staring at Diana wordlessly, riveted.

"Well," Melanie said again. Adam still wouldn't look at her, so she went on anyway. "It was when Adam was telling us about how he met you," she said to Cassie. "He described a connection – what you called a silver cord. You remember that?"

"Yes," said Cassie, not moving otherwise. She was looking at Diana now too, searching Diana's face. Diana looked back serenely.

"Well, the silver cord is something real, something in the old legends. The people it connects are soul mates – you know, meant to be together. So when Diana and I heard about it, we knew that's what you and Adam are," Melanie finished, sounding glad to be done explaining to people who wouldn't look at her.

"That was why I was surprised about Nick, you see," Diana said to Cassie, gently. "Because I knew you could only love Adam. And I was going to tell you at the very beginning, but then you were asking me to give you another chance, to let you prove you could be faithful . . . and I thought that was a good idea. Not for me, but for you. So you'd know, Cassie, how strong you are. Do you see?"

Cassie nodded mutely. "But – Diana – " she whispered.

Diana blinked, her emerald eyes misting over. "Now you're going to make me cry," she said. "Cassie, with all the unselfishness that's been going on around here, do you think I'm not going to do my part? You two have been waiting for months because of me. Now you don't have to wait anymore."

"There's nothing anybody can do about it," Melanie put in, sympathetically but pragmatically. "You and Adam are linked, and that's it. There isn't anyone else for either of you, so you're stuck together for this lifetime. Maybe for a lot of lifetimes."

Cassie, still frozen, shifted her eyes to Adam.

He was looking at Diana. "Diana, I can't just … I mean, I'll always – "

"I'll always love you, too," Diana said steadily. "You'll always be special to me, Adam. But it's Cassie you're in love with."

"Yes," Adam whispered.

Cassie looked down at the rough little stone in her palm. It was sparkling crazily and she felt very dizzy.

"Go on, go over to him," Diana said, pushing her gently.

But Cassie couldn't, so he came to her. He looked a bit dazed, but his eyes were as blue as the ocean in sunlight, and the way he smiled at her made her blush.

"Go on, kiss her," Chris said. Laurel smacked him. The rest of the Circle looked on with great interest.

Adam glared at them and kissed Cassie formally on the cheek. Then, under cover of the groans, he whispered "Later," to her in a way that made her pleasantly nervous.

Can I handle Herne? she wondered, looking up at his hair that was so many colors: dark like garnet and bright like holly berries, threaded with gold in the sunshine. I guess I'm going to have to, she thought. For a lifetime, Melanie had said; maybe a lot of lifetimes.

For some reason that made her look at Faye and Diana.

She didn't know why, and then she had a flash of memory. Sunlight. Golden sunlight, the smell of jasmine and lavender, a laughing voice singing. Kate. Kate's hair had been the impossible fair color of Diana's. But, Cassie realized now, Kate's laughing, teasing eyes had been Faye's.

An ancestress of both of them, Cassie thought. After all, they're cousins; they've got most of their ancestors in common.

But something deep inside her seemed to smile, and she wondered. Was Melanie right; was it possible to have more than one life? Could a soul keep coming back to Earth? And if so, could a soul ever – split?

"I think," she said suddenly to Diana, "that you and Faye are going to have to learn to get along. I think you two . . . need each other." "Of course," Diana said, as if it were something everybody knew. "But why?"

It was probably a crazy theory. Cassie wouldn't tell her about it, or at least not right now. Maybe tomorrow.

"I'm going to do a picture, I believe," Diana was saying thoughtfully, "to add to my collection. What do you think of the Muse, with the moon and stars around her, looking inspired?"

"I think it's a good idea," Cassie said unsteadily.

"What we really have to talk about," said Melanie, "is what we're going to do with the Master Tools now. We have power; the coven has power, and we need to decide what to do with it."

"Naw, what we need to do is party," Doug said. "To make up for all the birthdays that we missed. Chris and me didn't get a real party, and neither did Sean or Laurel…"

"Environmentalist!!," Laurel was saying firmly to Melanie. "That should be our first cause."

"I didn't get a party either," Suzan pointed out, delicately peeling the wrapper off a Twinkie.

Faye examined her nails, jewel-red, in the sunlight. "I know some people I want to hex," she said.

Cassie looked at them all, her coven, laughing and arguing and debating with each other. She looked at Nick, who was leaning back, looking amused, and he caught her eye and winked.

Then she looked at Diana, whose clear green eyes shone at her for a moment. Then, "Yes, environmentalism is good," Diana said, turning to Laurel. "But we have to think about how to improve relations with the outsiders, too …"

Cassie looked at Adam and found him looking at her. He took her hand, closing it in his own, both of them holding the chalcedony rose.

Cassie looked down at their intertwined fingers, and it seemed that she could see the silver cord again, wrapping around their two hands, connecting them. But not just them. Filaments of the cord seemed to web out and touch the others of the group, linking them together with silver light. They were all connected, all part of one another, and the light shone around them to touch the earth and sky and sea.

Sky and sea, keep harm from me. Earth and fire, bring my desire.

They had. And they would in the future. With her inner vision, Cassie saw that the Circle was part of something bigger, like a spiral that went on and on forever, encompassing everything, touching the stars.

"I love you," Adam whispered.

From the center of the Circle, Cassie smiled.