The Power (Chapter Twelve)

"Get out of here before any of them see us," the voice said tersely. Cassie could smell the acridity of sweat.

Jordan, she was thinking. The one with the gun. The one in the Pistol Club. The other one was Logan, who was on the MIT debate team, and was younger than Jordan – or was he older? Cassie never had been able to keep Portia's brothers straight, even when Portia was telling her about them, back on Cape Cod.

Her mind was working very calmly and clearly.

They drove her out of New Salem, onto the mainland, keeping her squashed on the floor of the backseat the whole time. Jordan kept his feet on her and kept something cold and hard pressed against the back of her head. As if I were a dangerous criminal or something, Cassie thought. Good grief. What do they think I'm going to do, turn them into toads?

The other pair of feet resting on her was feminine. Portia, Cassie guessed. No, Sally. Portia was too aristocratic to tromp on somebody's legs.

Cassie heard the thudding of the tires as they drove over the bridge to the mainland. After that there were a lot of turns, and then a long ride on a bumpy road. When they finally stopped, it was very quiet.

They were in the middle of a forest. Birch and beech and oak, the native trees of Massachusetts, grew thickly all around. They let Cassie out of the car, and then the guys marched her into the woods. Cassie could hear the lighter footsteps of the girls following. It seemed like a long walk, farther and farther away from the road and any semblance of civilization. As dark fell, they reached a clearing.

Somebody had been here before. Logan's flashlight showed a fire pit, and ropes hanging from a tree. Portia and Sally – Cassie had been right, it was Sally – made a fire in the pit, while the guys tied Cassie to the tree. They used a lot more rope than Cassie thought necessary.

And she didn't like the look of that fire.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked Logan as he stepped back from tying her. When she could see their faces she could tell Logan from Jordan – Jordan was the one with shark's eyes.

"Because you're a witch," Logan said briefly.

"That's a reason?"

Portia stepped forward. "You lied," she said accusingly. "About the boy on the beach, about everything. All the time, you were a witch yourself."

"I wasn't then," Cassie said, trying to keep her voice steady. "I am now."

"Then you admit it. Well, we're going to do now what we should have done then."

A hard fist of fear clenched in Cassie's stomach, and she looked at the fire again. Jordan was putting something in it, something long and metal.

I'm in trouble, Cassie realized. I am in very, very bad trouble.

She needed help. She knew that, and knew of only one way to call for it. Her only weapon was her power.

All right, she told herself; do what you did to call to Sean. Get ready, stay calm – now.

Adam, she tried to call to him with her mind. Adam, it's Cassie. I'm in trouble. She wished she had the chalcedony rose to hold while she called; Adam had told her it would help make contact with him. But the chalcedony rose was Diana's.

Don't think about that now. Think about Adam. You need to make Adam hear you.

Adam, she called again, putting all her strength behind it. Strange that the ability to push with her mind, to do whatever she did to send the power lancing out, didn't seem to deteriorate with use. Instead, it was like a muscle, getting stronger as she exercised it. Adam, she called again, keeping the message simple and clear. It's Cassie. I need help.

He'll come, she told herself. He'll find this place somehow; he'll come if I can just stay calm and wait. It was the thought of what might happen before Adam came that chilled the blood in her veins.

So here she was, stuck in the middle of nowhere with four witch hunters. And the silence was getting on her nerves.

"The least you can do," she said slowly, speaking to Logan and Sally because she didn't think Jordan or Portia would answer, "is explain yourselves. You've got me out here, and the least you can do is tell me why you hate witches so much. Because I don't understand."

"Are you crazy?" Logan said, as if it should be perfectly obvious. Then, as she continued to stare at him, he said simply, "Because they're evil."

"Logan …" Cassie searched his face in the firelight. "We're just like you. We're more – in touch – with nature, that's all. We study it and we celebrate it, and sometimes we can get it to do things for us. But we're not evil. Look," she said, as Logan turned away, "we have our faults like everybody else, but basically we try to be good."

"What about Faye Chamberlain?" Sally snapped, joining the conversation suddenly. "Is she good?"

"There's good in Faye," Cassie said, even more slowly. "Diana said that once to me, and it's true. Faye just has to find it. But anyway, you can't judge all of us by one person."

"How about what they did to the entire school for years? You're calling that good? They treated everybody like slaves!"

"That was wrong, I admit it," Cassie said. "But Diana didn't do that – if people treated her like a princess, it wasn't her fault. Faye was the one treating people like slaves. Some of the others went along because they didn't think about it. And whatever they did, this isn't the way to solve it!"

"Mr. Brunswick is going to solve it," said Portia briefly.

"Mr. Brunswick is a murderer! He is not your friend, Portia. He's the one who killed Kori Henderson, Chris and Doug's sister. He killed her because she didn't fit in with his plans. And he killed Mr. Fogle, the old principal, because he wanted to take his place. And," Cassie said, "he killed Jeffrey, Sally! Yes. He did it out of spite as far as I can see – or else to drive the witches and the outsiders farther apart. He wants us to hate each other."

"That's ridiculous," Logan said. "Why would he want that?"

"Because," Cassie said, shutting her eyes, knowing it was probably useless, "he is a witch. The bad kind. The only completely bad one I've ever met. And I think he wants us to wipe you out. Or maybe he just wants to take us somewhere else and wipe out the people there. I don't know what he wants," she said, opening her eyes, "but whatever it is, it isn't good. It isn't something that's going to make you happy."

"Oh, forget this crap. Let's get started," Jordan said.

"No, wait, I want to get something clear." Sally stood in front of Cassie, eye to eye. "You said Brunswick killed Jeffrey – but he couldn't have. He wasn't even in New Salem that night, or when the other murders were committed, either."

"Oh, he was here, he just wasn't up and around," muttered Cassie. She looked at Sally. "He didn't need to be there. He's a witch. He sent out power – dark energy – to do it. Or else maybe he took over somebody's mind and made them do it."

Like Faye, Cassie was thinking grimly. When it came right down to it, Faye could have pushed Kori down the steps to break her neck, and could have dislodged a boulder to start a rock slide on Mr. Fogle. She could even have gotten Jeffrey down to the boiler room on some pretext and then strangled him. All it would take would be sneaking up on him from behind and then somehow getting the rope around his neck. The police doctors had said one person could do it.

"What difference does it make, how?" Cassie asked tiredly. "He did it, that's all that matters.

And he did do it, Sally, I promise you. He killed Jeffrey."

Sally was staring hard into her eyes, her pugnacious face inches from Cassie's. She shook her head and turned away.

"I'm sorry," Cassie said to the back of her rusty head. "I liked Jeffrey too. I know what you think, that I was trying to steal him or something. But I wasn't. I was just – I was so excited that night at Homecoming. It was the first dance I'd ever been to when guys wanted to dance with me."

"Oh, I'm sure!" Sally snapped without turning around.

"It was. It's the truth, Sally," Cassie said passionately. "Back in California I didn't know any guys at all. I was just too shy. I don't even know why they wanted to dance with me at Homecoming. Sally . . ." She gazed at the red-haired girl's tight shoulders helplessly.

Sally turned slowly. "I guess you don't ever look in a mirror," she said, but there was less animosity in her voice.

Cassie blinked away the tears that threatened. "I do, but I don't see anything special," she said. "And I didn't want to steal Jeffrey; I was just so flattered that he asked me. It was a beautiful night, and everything seemed enchanted, and then . . ." She looked from Sally to Logan, blinking again. "You don't know how I felt when I realized he was dead. I would have done anything to catch the person who did it."

Logan took a step toward her, but Portia's voice, sharp as a wasp sting, stopped him. "She's doing it! She's using her witch powers on you, right now. Don't be stupid, Logan."

Cassie looked at her. "Portia, for God's sake . . ."

"Portia's right," Jordan said brutally. "If we listen to her, she'll trick us. She's been a liar from the start." He pulled the metal thing out of the fire.

"What is that?" Cassie asked.

"A cattle brand."

Cassie thought about that, and tried to keep her fragile grip on control. Jordan stepped in * front of her, holding the long rod which was red-hot at the end. That didn't surprise Cassie. What surprised her was what he said.

"Where are the Master Tools?" he asked.

Cassie was dumbfounded. "What?"

"Mr. Brunswick told us," Portia said, her voice thin and hard. "He told us that they're the source of your power, and that if they're destroyed you lose it all. He wants to destroy them himself and stop you forever."

Cassie had the wild impulse to laugh, but she knew that would only bring more trouble. So he'd put them up to this. And he knew she'd found the Master Tools. Right now, he must be expecting her to tell Jordan to save herself. Or maybe he was around here, hoping Cassie would call on him for help.

I won't, Cassie thought. No matter how bad it gets, I won't do it. I don't want to be saved by him.

She looked around the clearing, especially at the shadows that flickered on the edges of the firelight.

"He wants the Master Tools, all right," she said distinctly. "But not to destroy them. He'd use them to destroy you, and us, too, if he can't get us to knuckle under."

Jordan looked unsurprised. "You'll tell us in a while," he said. "I expected you to lie at first."

Cassie's entire body tightened as he brought the glowing brand closer to her. I am brave, she thought, trying to calm her heartbeat. I am as strong as I need to be. But when she smelled the hot metal, sheer black fright swept through her.

"Wait! Stop right there, Jurgen and Lowdown, or whatever your names are." It was Deborah's voice, angry and filled with elemental savagery. The girl was standing between two trees as if she'd just materialized there this moment. With her tumbled dark hair blending into the black shadows, and her graceful, stalking posture, she might have been some forest goddess come on a mission of vengeance.

Jordan dropped the cattle brand and grabbed his gun, pointing it directly at Deborah.

A new voice spoke quietly from the other side of the grove. "If you move away from Cassie and put the gun down," Adam said in low, precise tones, "we won't have to hurt you." He had appeared just as soundlessly and he looked just as dangerous as Deborah. Cassie thought of the costume he'd worn at Halloween, the stag antlers and autumn leaves of the horned god. Right now she wouldn't have been surprised to see a stag beside him.

There was another slight movement and Cassie saw Diana.

It was as if moonlight had suddenly stepped into the grove. An unearthly aura hung about the girl who stood with fair hair cascading around her like a shining cloak. Tall and slender, she had such an air of command that she might have been the goddess Diana, with the moon and stars at her fingertips. She looked at the outsiders silently with eyes as green as jewels, and then she spoke.

"Get away from my friend," she said.

For an instant Cassie thought they were going to do it on the strength of her authority alone. Jordan's gun wavered. Then it snapped up again, pointing toward Adam, and Logan snatched a burning stick from the fire. He held it close to Cassie's face, as Jordan had held the brand.

"Keep back or we'll hurt her" he said.

Adam let out his breath. "We warned you," he said softly.

Cassie was looking into Diana's emerald eyes. She glanced at Logan's burning stick, and then back. She could tell that Diana remembered the candle ceremony.

Fire – so close she could feel its heat on her cheek. The flames changing shape every second, their radiance streaming endlessly upward. There was power in Fire, as Cassie had discovered when Faye had waved a piece of burning paper at her in the old science building. Power there for the taking . . .

This time she took it.

The stick flared up as if someone had dumped gasoline on it, and Cassie turned her face away, eyes shut against the brilliance. Logan screamed and threw the stick. Jordan's head jerked sideways, he was distracted for an instant –

– and that was all it took. Jordan went down as the Henderson brothers appeared from nowhere, leaping like twin golden flames. The gun fired a shot skyward, and then they were pinning him, one on each arm. Cassie saw Nick surge up from the shadows and grab Logan from behind. Logan struggled, but Adam joined Nick and the fight was over in seconds.

By the time Cassie looked the other way, the outsider girls were taken care of. Sally was on her face, with Deborah kneeling on her back and Melanie standing over them. Portia was flattened against a tree, very still. Two feet from her, Raj was snarling, lips peeled back, hair bristling. Laurel stood just behind him, looking tall and terrible.

"These trees," she said to Portia, "have put up with a lot from your kind. If you try to run you'll end up lost in the middle of them. That's not to mention what the dog might do. If I were you, I wouldn't move a muscle."

Portia didn't.

Diana walked over and cut Cassie's ropes with a white-handled knife. It took some time.

"Good job," Suzan said from the sidelines.

"Are you all right?" Diana asked Cassie, still with that frightening, unearthly aura about her. Cassie nodded.

"We were already on our way when you called to Adam," Diana said. "Laurel saw their car speeding down Crowhaven Road and Adam felt there was something wrong. He guided us to their car, but it was Raj who tracked you through the woods."

Cassie just nodded gratefully. She couldn't speak.

"Since Cassie's all right, we won't hurt you four," Diana said aloud, then. "But we're going to take this" – she picked up Jordan's gun, holding it as if it were a poisonous snake – "and we're going to leave you here. Your car has a few flat tires. You can walk home."

The four outsiders said nothing. Sally, still on the ground, was panting; Logan, with Nick's arm around his throat, was trembling-still; Portia remained frozen against the tree. But it was Jordan who held Cassie's attention. He was staring at Diana with eyes of pure hatred, like a cornered wild dog.

It will never stop, Cassie thought. They'll hate us even more after this. They'll do something else to us, and we'll do something to them, and it will never stop.

On impulse, she walked over to where Jordan lay sprawled on his back on the forest floor, and she held out a hand to him.

"We don't have to be enemies," she said. "Can't we just end it now?"

Jordan spat on her.

Cassie went still, too surprised to be upset. Nobody had ever spat at her before. She looked in shock at her outstretched hand, then wiped it on her jeans.

What happened next she heard later from Laurel, because she was actually looking down at the time. Nick started toward Jordan instantly, but he was hindered by having to get rid of Logan, and anyway Adam was simply faster. He moved faster than the eye could follow, grabbing Jordan by the front of the jacket and hauling him up, then knocking him down again with one lightning-quick blow to the face. Behind Cassie, the bonfire shot up in orange flames ten feet high. Jordan landed on his back, both hands clapped over his nose.

"Get up," Adam said. The flames roared and crackled, sending a shower of sparks floating into the darkness of the woods.

Nick was beside Adam now. His face was emotionless, utterly cool, the old Nick. "Naw, buddy, I think he's had enough," he drawled, taking hold of Adam's arm.

Jordan lifted one hand from his nose, and Cassie saw the blood. "She's a little liar. You'll find out," he yowled in a thick voice, looking from Cassie to Adam.

For a moment Cassie thought Adam was going to hit him again. Then Adam turned away, as if forgetting Jordan existed. He didn't seem to notice Nick's existence either. He took Cassie's hand, the one Jordan had spat on, turned it over, and kissed it.

Cassie thought that somebody had better do something fast.

"We should tie them up," Melanie said, her calm, thoughtful voice pervading the clearing. "Or three of them at least – the fourth can be untying the others while we get away."

"Not too tightly," Diana said, conceding. While Jordan, Logan, and Sally were being tied up, she stuck the white-handled knife in the ground by Portia. "You can cut them free when we leave. Don't try to follow us," she said. Portia didn't look as if she might follow; her eyes were showing white all around.

Diana followed her gaze to the fire, which was still roaring more like a burning oil well than a bonfire, and spoke softly to Cassie. "Can you tone that down a little? I think they're scared enough."

Cassie, who wasn't doing it, mumbled something inarticulate, and hastily went over to check on Sally's bonds.

Sally glanced at her out of the sides of her eyes and spoke without moving her lips. "I was wrong about you."

Cassie looked at her in surprise, but said nothing, leaning over as if to examine Sally's tied wrists.

"You may be right about Brunswick," Sally said, still in almost inaudible tones. "If you are, I feel sorry for you. He's going to do something on the ninth. There's a full moon or something –  and that's when he's going to move. He wanted the tools before then."

"Thanks," Cassie whispered and she squeezed Sally's hand behind her back. Then she straightened up as Diana said, "Let's go." As they left, Cassie nudged Adam inconspicuously.

"Are you doing the fire?" she whispered.

"What? Oh." The flames fell, collapsing suddenly into a normal bonfire. "I guess so," he said.

They walked through the woods, Laurel and Deborah leading them surely among the dark trees, Raj trotting alongside. Cassie spent the entire walk thinking about Nick.

She got in the Armstrong car with him when they came to the road. He drove silently, one arm along the back of the seat. The other cars were in front of them, headlights shining on the lonely road as they made their way back to New Salem.

Cassie was trying to find the right words to say. She'd never had to do anything like this before and she was afraid to do it wrong. She was afraid to hurt Nick.

But there was no way around it. From the instant that Adam had kissed her hand she had known. Cassie could like it or hate it, but there was no way to do anything about it.

"Nick …" she said, and choked up.

"You don't have to say anything," he said, in his old detached, nothing-hurts-me voice. Cassie could hear the pain underneath it. Then he looked at her, and his tone softened.

"I knew what I was doing when I got into this," he said. "And you never pretended anything else. It's not your fault."

He'd said she didn't have to say anything – but she did. She had to try to explain to him.

"It's not because of Adam," she said softly. "I mean, it's not for him, because I know there's no hope. I – accept that now, and I'm happy for him and Diana. But I just…"

She stopped and shook her head helplessly. "This is going to sound totally stupid, but I can't be with anybody else. Ever. I'm just going to have to . . ." She tried to think of a way to put it, but all she could come up with was a phrase out of one of her grandmother's Victorian etiquette books she'd read one rainy afternoon.

"I'm going to have to live a life of single blessedness," she mumbled.

Nick threw back his head and laughed. Real laughter. Cassie looked at him, embarrassed, but glad that at least he was smiling. His voice was more normal too, as he glanced at her sideways, taking his arm off the back of the seat.

"Oh, you think so?" he said.

"Well, what else am I supposed to do?"

Nick didn't answer, just shook his head slightly, with another little snort of laughter.

"Cassie, I'm glad I met you," he said. "You're – unique. Sometimes I think you belong back in medieval times instead of now. You and Diana and him, all three. But, anyway, I'm glad." Cassie felt more embarrassed, and she didn't understand. "I'm glad I met you," she said. "You've been so nice to me – you're such a good guy."

He snorted again. "Most people would disagree," he said. "But I'm not so bad. I'll have to make sure I'm not, or I'll still see you looking at me with those big eyes." He started to fish a cigarette out of the pack in his pocket, then glanced at her sideways and tapped it back.

Cassie smiled. She wished she could hold his hand, but that wouldn't be right. She was going to have to make it alone now.

She leaned back and looked through the windows at the lighted houses slipping by.