The Power (Chapter Three)

"Jacinth! Are you in there? Jacinth!" Cassie blinked in the bright sunlight. She'd seen this room before. It was her grandmother's kitchen – except that it wasn't. The walls of her grandmother's kitchen were sagging and dingy; these were straight and clean. Her grandmother's hearth was stained with the smoke of centuries; this hearth looked almost new and was a slightly different shape. The iron hook for hanging pots on shone.

It was the room in her dream, the dream she'd had the last time she spent the night at Diana's house. The low chair she was sitting in was the same. But this dream seemed to be picking up where the other had left off.

"Jacinth, have you fallen asleep with your eyes open? Kate is here!"

A feeling of anticipation and excitement filled Cassie. Kate; who was Kate? Without even knowing why, she found herself standing up, and she realized that she was wearing a dress that brushed the tips of her neat brocade shoes. The red leather Book of Shadows fell from her lap to the ground.

She turned toward the voice, toward what would have been the side door of her grandmother's house. In this house it seemed to be the front door. It was filled with sunlight, and there were two figures standing there. One was tall, with a silhouette like the engravings of Puritan women she'd seen in history books. The other was smaller, with shining hair.

Cassie couldn't see either of the figures' faces, but the smaller one was holding out eager hands to her. Cassie reached for them, stepping forward –

– and the dream changed. It was dark and she could hear the tortured scream of wood being ripped asunder. Salt spray stung her face and her eyes struggled vainly to pierce the darkness.

The ship was going down. Lost, all lost. And the Master Tools were lost as well – for now.

But only for now. The savage determination of the thought filled Cassie and she tasted bile at the back of her throat. Even as icy water rushed around her legs she felt the dream lose focus. She tried to hang on to it, but it melted and shifted around her, and the darkness of the turbulent, stormy night became the quiet darkness of Diana's room.

She was awake.

And relieved beyond reason just to be alive.

It wasn't really so dark in here. Dawn was brightening the curtains, turning the room gray. Diana was sleeping peacefully beside her. How could Diana be peaceful after all that had happened? After what Diana had learned about her best friend and her boyfriend, after losing the leadership of the coven, how could Diana sleep at all? But the dark lashes on Diana's cheek were still and serene and there was no bitterness in Diana's face.

She's so good. I could never be that good, Cassie thought. Not if I tried all my life. Still, just being near Diana made her feel better.

Cassie knew she wasn't going to sleep anymore. She sat back against the headboard and thought.

God, she was glad to have things right with Diana again. And with Adam – Cassie was almost afraid to think of Adam, worried about what kind of pain it would bring. But although there was a deep-down ache at the picture of him, it was not unbearable, and the poison of jealousy and anger was truly gone. She honestly wanted him and Diana to be happy. She was a different person from the one who'd burned with the frustration of not being able to have him these last six weeks.

She'd done a lot of strange things in the last six weeks, so many that she hardly knew herself anymore. 1 can't believe it, she thought; I went out and stole pumpkins with Chris and Doug in Salem. I drove that dog off Chris – that wasn't like me at all. 1 played Pizza Man with Faye. I went on that wild motorcycle ride with Deborah … well, that wasn't so bad.

A lot of things she'd done in the last month weren't all bad. The lying and deception and guilt had been awful, but some of the changes had been good. She'd gotten closer to Deborah and Suzan, and she'd gained some insight into what made the Henderson brothers tick. Even Nick – she thought she understood him better now. And she'd found strength in herself she'd never thought she had. Strength to chase the shadowy thing in the cemetery – Black John? –  after Jeffrey's death, strength to ask a boy to a dance, strength, in the end, to stand up to Faye.

She only hoped it was enough strength to stand up to the days ahead.

Cassie hadn't been to the old science building since Faye had lured her there and held her hostage, that first week of school. It was just as dark and unsafe-looking as she remembered. She had no idea why Faye had wanted them to meet here, except that this was Faye's territory, while the beach had always been Diana's.

It was strange to see Faye in Diana's place, standing in front of the group with all eyes on her. Faye was wearing ordinary clothes today, black leggings and a red and black striped sweater, but a mysterious aura of leadership still clung to her. As she paced, her star rubies flashed in the shafts of sunlight that came through the boarded-up windows.

"I believe it was Cassie who wanted this meeting called. She said there was a lot she had to tell us – right, Cassie?"

"About what my grandmother said before she died," Cassie said steadily, looking Faye in the eyes. "Before Black John killed her." If she'd expected Faye to be abashed, she was disappointed; those hooded golden eyes remained level and arrogant. Apparently Faye took no responsibility for the actions of Black John, even though she was the one who'd arranged for him to be set free.

"Was it really Black John?" Suzan said doubtfully, putting a exquisitely manicured fingernail to her perfect mouth, as if thinking was a new and difficult exercise. "Was he really there?"

"He was really there. He is really here," Cassie said. Suzan wasn't as stupid as she acted, and sometimes she had surprising insights. Cassie wanted her on their side. "He came out of that mound in the cemetery. It was his grave, I guess. When we brought the skull to the cemetery and released the dark energy, it gave him the strength to come back."

"Back from the dead?" Sean asked nervously.

Before Cassie could answer, Melanie said, "That mound couldn't have been Black John's grave, Cassie. I'm sorry, but it just couldn't. It's far too modern."

"I know it's modern. It's not Black John's first grave; I don't even know if he had a grave in the 1600s. I guess not if he died at sea …" There were startled looks from some of the group, but Cassie scarcely noticed. "Anyway, it's not his grave from then. It's his grave from 1976."

Laurel, who was pouring a thermos cup of herbal tea, sloshed hot liquid on the floor. Faye stopped dead. "What?" she snarled. Even Diana and Adam looked disconcerted, glancing at each other. But support came from an unexpected quarter.

"Just let her tell the story," Deborah said. Thumbs hooked in her jeans pockets, she moved to where Cassie was sitting on an overturned crate, and stood beside her.

Cassie took a deep breath. "I knew something was weird when I saw all those graves in the cemetery – graves of your parents, all killed in 1976. Diana said it was a hurricane, but it still seemed strange to me. I mean, why were only parents dead? Especially when I learned that you'd all been born just a few months before. With all those little babies, you'd think some of them would have died in an ordinary hurricane. That's not even to mention the weirdness of all of you being born within a one-month period."

She was relaxing a little now, although it was difficult to talk with everyone looking at her. At least their eyes weren't glinting with enmity and suspicion today. Only Faye looked hostile, standing with her arms folded across her chest, her feline eyes narrowed.

"But you see, the explanation for all of it is really simple," Cassie went on. "Black John came back during the last generation, our parents' generation. Nobody knew it was him, and my grandmother said nobody could ever figure out how he came back, but it was Black John. He tried to make our parents into a coven when they were just a little older than us."

"Our parents?" Doug asked, snickering. "C'mon, Cassie, give us a break." There were chuckles from others in the audience, and the expressions ranged from skeptical to troubled to openly mocking.

"No, wait," Adam said, beginning to look excited. "There are some things that that would explain. I know my grandmother wanders in her mind now and then? but she's said things to me about my parents – about us kids forming a coven – that just might fit." His blue-gray eyes were snapping with intensity.

"Here's something else," Deborah said, looking sideways at Nick. "Cassie's grandma said my mom was going to marry Nick's dad, but Black John made her marry my dad instead. That might explain why my mom freaks when you even mention magic, and why she always looks kind of guilty when she says Nick is growing up to look just like his father. It might explain a lot."

Cassie noticed Nick, who was standing apart from the group as usual, in a dark corner. He was staring at the floor so hard, his eyes seemed to be about to bore a hole through it. "Yeah, it might," he said so softly Cassie could barely hear the words. She wondered what he meant.

"It would explain why they yell at each other all the time, too – my parents, I mean," Deborah was adding.

"All parents yell all the time," Chris said with a shrug.

"All the parents around here are the ones who survived Black John," said Cassie. "They survived because they didn't go to fight him. My grandmother said that after eleven babies were born in one month, our parents realized what Black John was up to. He wanted a coven he could control completely, a coven of kids he could mold while they were growing up. You guys" – Cassie nodded around the group – "were going to be his coven."

The members of the Club looked at one another. "But what about you, Cassie?" Laurel asked.

"I wasn't born until later. Neither was Kori, you know. We weren't part of Black John's plans; we were just regular kids. But you guys were going to be his. He arranged everything about you."

"And the parents who didn't like that idea went to fight Black John," Deborah put in. "They killed him; they burned him and the house at Number Thirteen, but they died themselves doing it. The ones that are alive are the cowards who stayed at home."

"Like my father," Suzan said abruptly, looking up from her nails. "He gets really nervous if you mention the Vietnam Memorial or the Titanic or anything about anybody dying to save other people. And he won't talk about my mom."

Cassie saw startled looks around the Circle. There was a kind of recognition in many of the members' eyes.

"Like my dad," Diana said wonderingly. "He always talks about my mother being so brave, but he's never said exactly why. No wonder, if he didn't go, if he let her go alone." She bit her lip, distressed. "What a horrible thing to find out about your own father."

"Yeah, well, I've got it worse," Deborah said, looking grim. "Both my parents didn't go. And neither did yours," she added to the Hendersons, who looked at each other and scowled.

"While those of us with no parents are lucky?" Melanie asked, raising her eyebrows.

"At least you know they had guts," Deborah said shortly. "You and Adam and Laurel and Nick have something to be proud of. I'd rather be raised by a grandmother or a great-aunt than have parents who scream at each other all the time because they're so ashamed of themselves."

Cassie was watching Nick again, and she saw something leave his face, some tension that had been there ever since she'd known him. It made him look different, softer somehow, more vulnerable. At that moment he raised his eyes and met hers, catching her in the act of watching him. Cassie wanted to look away, but she couldn't, and to her surprise there was no hostility in his gaze. His mouth crooked slightly in a wry, relieved smile, and she found herself almost smiling back in sympathy.

Then she realized Faye was looking at them. Turning back, she spoke quickly to the entire group.

"The ones who died were killed because our parents didn't all stick together. That's what my grandmother said, anyway. She said that we were the ones in danger now, because Black John's come to take us back. He still wants his coven, and now he's alive again – a living, breathing man. She said that he won't look burned and awful when we see him again, and we might not recognize him, but we have to be ready for him."

"Why?" Adam asked, his level voice seeming loud in the sudden silence. "Just what did she think he's going to do?"

Cassie lifted her hands. There was no longer a guilty secret between her and Adam, but every time she looked at him, she felt – a connection. A new connection, that of two people who'd been tried by fire and had come out stronger. There would always be an understanding between them.

"I don't know what he's going to do," she told Adam. "Fool us, my grandma said. Get us to follow him the way our parents did. But how, I don't know."

"The reason 1 ask is because he may not want all of us," Adam said, still quietly. "You said he arranged for the eleven of us to be born – and if he joins the coven as its leader, that makes twelve. But you weren't one of the eleven, Cassie. Neither was Kori. And it looks like he got Kori out of the way."

Diana drew in a sharp breath. "Oh, my God –  Cassie! You've got to leave. You've got to get out of New Salem, go back to California – " She stopped, because Cassie was shaking her head.

"I can't," Cassie said simply. "My grandma told me I had to stay and fight. She said that was why my mom brought me back, so I could fight him. I may be half outsider, but I guess I'm one kid he didn't plan, so maybe I have some kind of advantage."

"Don't be modest," Deborah broke in caustically. "The old lady told us it was because your family was always the strongest. You've got the clearest sight and the most power, she said."

"And I've got our Book of Shadows, now," Cassie said, somewhat embarrassed, bending to take the red leather book out of her backpack. "My grandmother had it hidden behind a loose brick in the kitchen fireplace. Black John wanted it, so there must be something in it that he's afraid of. I'm going to read it and try to find out what that something is."

"What can the rest of us do?" Laurel asked. Cassie realized the question was directed at her; except for Faye, who was glowering, they were all looking at her expectantly. Flustered, she lifted her hands again and shook her head.

"We can talk to the old ladies in the town who're still alive," Deborah suggested. "That's my idea, anyway. Cassie's grandma said our parents have forgotten about magic, that they made themselves forget to survive. But I figure the old ladies might not have forgotten, and we can question them. Like Laurel's Granny Quincey, and Adam's grandma, old Mrs. Franklin. Even your great-aunt, Mel."

Melanie looked doubtful. "Great-aunt Constance doesn't approve of the old ways at all. She's pretty – inflexible – about it."

"And Granny Quincey is so frail," Laurel said. "As for old Mrs. Franklin – well, she's not always all there."

"To put it tactfully," Adam said. "Let's face it, my grandmother can get pretty loopy at times. But I think Deborah's right; they're all we've got, so we have to make the most of them. We can try to pump some parents for information, too . . . what have we got to lose?"

"An arm and an eye, if it's my father you're pumping," Suzan muttered, holding her fingers in a shaft of sunlight to examine her nails. But Chris and Doug Henderson grinned wildly and said they'd be happy to interrogate all the parents.

"We'll say, 'Hey, -remember that guy you fried like Freddy Krueger sixteen years ago? Well, he's back, so can you, like, give us any help in recognizing him?'" Doug said with relish.

"Didn't your grandma say anything that might help?" Laurel asked Cassie.

"No . . . wait." Cassie straightened up, excitement stirring inside her. "She said they identified Black John's body in the burned house because of his ring, a lodestone ring." She looked at Melanie. "You're the crystal expert; so what's lodestone?"

"It's magnetite, black iron oxide," Melanie said, her cool gray eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "It's like hematite, which is iron oxide too, but hematite's blood-red when you cut it in thin slices. Magnetite is black and magnetic."

Cassie tried to control her expression. Well, she'd known the hematite came from Black John's house; maybe it had even been his stone. She shouldn't be surprised that he wore a ring of something similar. Still, she felt a twinge of apprehension. She'd really better get rid of that piece of hematite. Right now it was sitting in a jewelry box in her bedroom, where she'd put it when Diana drove her over to her house to pick up her clothes this morning before school.

"Okay, we'll keep on the lookout for that," Adam was saying, sparing Cassie the necessity of speaking. "We can talk to the old ladies tomorrow – or maybe we should wait until after Cassie's grandmother's funeral."

"All right," Cassie murmured.

"You're making a lot of suggestions, Adam," Faye said, stung into speaking at last. Her arms were still folded over her chest, and her honey-pale skin was flushed with anger.

Adam looked back without expression. "Come to think of it, there was another suggestion I was going to make," he said. "I think we should retake the leadership vote."

Faye lunged toward him, golden eyes blazing. "You can't do that!"

"Why not? If all of us agree," Adam said calmly.

"Because it's not in the traditions," Faye hissed. "You look at any Book of Shadows and you'll see! The vote is the vote; I won and it can't be changed now. I'm the coven leader."

Adam turned to the others for help, but Melanie was looking troubled and Diana was slowly shaking her head.

"She's right, Adam," Diana said softly. "The vote was fair, at the time. There aren't any provisions for changing it." Melanie nodded her unwilling agreement.

"And I don't like you making all these plans without consulting me," Faye went on, pacing again like a panther in a cage. Sparks actually seemed to flash from her eyes, the way they flashed from the red gems at her throat and on her fingers as she crossed patches of sunlight.

"Well, what do you want us to do?" Laurel said challengingly, tossing her long light-brown hair back. "You were the one who wanted Black John out, Faye. You said he was going to help us, to give us his power. Well, how about it? What do you say now that he's here?"

Faye was breathing hard. "He may be testing us –

"By killing Cassie's grandma?" Deborah cut in harshly. "Don't be stupid, Faye. I was there; I saw it. There's no excuse for murdering old ladies."

Faye glared at her defecting ex-lieutenant. "I don't know why he did that! Maybe he has some plans that we don't know about."

"That's the truest thing you've ever said," Melanie interrupted. "He does have plans, Faye – to take us over. He's already killed four people, and if we annoy him I'm sure he'll be happy to kill us, too."

Faye stopped pacing and smiled triumphantly. "He can't," she snapped. "If Cassie is right – and I'm not saying she is, but if she is – then he needs us for his coven. So he can't kill us!"

"Well, he can't kill all of us, anyway," Adam said dryly. "He can only spare one."

Silence fell. The members of the Circle glanced uneasily at one another.

"Well, then, maybe you'd each better be sure you're not the one," Faye said, smiling around at them. It wasn't quite her old, lazy smile; it was more a baring of teeth. Before anyone could say anything she turned around and stalked out of the room. They could hear her footsteps going rapidly down the stairs, then the slam of the science building's front door.

Cassie, Adam, and Diana looked at one another. Adam shook his head.

"We're in trouble," he said.

"Oh, so is that what we figured out at this meeting?" said Deborah.

Diana leaned her forehead against her hand wearily. "We need her," she said. "She is the coven leader, and we need her on our side, not on his. We'd better go talk to her."

Slowly, the Club members got up. Outside, it was too bright, and Cassie squinted. Seventh period had just ended and people were flooding out of the school exits. Cassie scanned the crowds but couldn't see Faye.

"She's probably gone home," Diana was saying. "We'll have to go after her .. ."

Cassie didn't hear the rest. Among the milling students in the parking lot she had suddenly glimpsed a familiar face. A strange familiar face, one that didn't belong here, one that she had to rack her brains to identify. For God's sake, where had she seen that turned-up nose, that straw-colored hair, those cold hazel eyes before? It was someone she'd known quite well, someone she'd been used to looking at day after day, but that she'd been only too happy to forget about when she came to New Salem.

A feeling of heat and humidity overcame Cassie. A memory of sand underfoot, sweat trickling down her sides, suntan lotion greasy on her nose. A sound of lapping waves and a smell of overheated bodies and a sense of oppression.

Cape Cod.

The familiar girl was Portia.