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The Captive (Chapter Eleven)

"This is all too weird for me," Laurel said, shivering.

"But what does it tell us?" Deborah challenged.

"It's another link to Black John," Adam said. "Other than that, nothing."

"So it's a dead end, like the cemetery," Faye said, looking pleased.

Cassie had the feeling they were wrong, but she couldn't explain why, so she kept her mouth shut. Something else was worrying her, worrying her terribly. The piece of hematite that right now felt as heavy as a bit of neutron star in her pocket … it had come from the ruins of Black John's house. It might even have belonged to him. Which meant that she had to tell Diana about it.

People were wandering around, breaking up into small groups. The meeting, for all intents and purposes, was over. Cassie took a deep breath and went to Diana.

"I didn't get a chance to talk to you earlier," she said. "But I wanted to tell you about something that happened yesterday."

"Cassie, you don't have to tell me. I know it wasn't like Faye said."

Cassie blinked, thrown off balance. "What did Faye say?"

"We don't even have to talk about it. I know it's not true."

"But what did she say?"

Diana looked uncomfortable. "She said- you were over at her house last night, playing- well, some kind of game."

"Pizza Man," Cassie said distinctly. When Diana stared at her, she explained, "Pizza Man He Delivers."

"I know what it's called," Diana said. She was scanning Cassie's face. "But I'm sure you would never …"

"You're sure? You can't be sure," Cassie cried. It was too much-Diana's blind insistence on her innocence. Didn't Diana realize that Cassie was bad, evil?

"Cassie, I know; you. I know you wouldn't do anything like that."

Cassie was feeling more and more agitated. Something inside her was getting ready to snap. "Well, I was there. And I did do it. And"-she was getting close to the source of the anguish inside her-"you don't know what kind of things I would or wouldn't do. I've already done some things-"

"Cassie, calm down-"

Cassie reeled a step backward, stung. "I am calm. Don't tell me to calm down!"

"Cassie, what's wrong with you?"

"Nothing's wrong with me. I just want to be left alone!"

Diana's eyes sparked green. She was tired, Cassie knew, and anxious. And maybe she'd reached a snapping point, too. "All right," she said, with unaccustomed sharpness in her normally gentle voice. "I'll leave you alone, then."

"Fine," Cassie said, her throat swollen and her eyes stinging. She didn't want to fight with Diana-but all this anger and pain inside her had to go somewhere. She'd never known how awful it was to have people insist you were good, when you werern't.

Her fingers unclenched from the piece of hematite, and she left it in her pocket as she turned around and walked away. She stared down over the edge of the cliff at the swirling waves below.

Faye moved in beside her, bringing a scent of sweet, musky perfume. "Show it to me."

"Huh?"

"I want to see what's in your pocket that you've been holding on to like it might run away."

Cassie hesitated, then slowly drew the smooth, heavy stone out.

Still facing the ocean, Faye examined it. "A hematite crystal. That's rare." She held it up to the moonlight and chuckled. "Did Melanie ever tell you about some of hematite's more- unusual properties? No? Well, even though it looks black, if you cut it into thin slices, they're transparent and red. And the dust that comes off the stone turns the liquid that cools the cutting wheel as red as blood."

She gave the stone back to Cassie, who held it loosely, looking down at it. No matter where it came from, it was her crystal now. She'd known that from the moment she'd seen it. How could she give it up?

"I found it here, by the foundation of the house," she said dully.

Faye's eyebrows lifted. Then she collected herself. "Hm. Well-of course, anybody could have dropped it here in the past three hundred years."

A strange sense of excited relief filtered through Cassie. "Yes," she said. "Of course. Anybody could have." She put the crystal back in her pocket. Faye's hooded golden eyes were gleaming at her, and Cassie felt herself nod. She didn't have to give up the crystal after all.

Adam was calling people back into a group. "Just one thing before everybody leaves," he was saying. He seemed oblivious to the little drama that had been enacted between Cassie and Diana a few minutes earlier.

"I have an idea," he said, when the Club had gathered around again. "You know, I just realized that everything connected with the dark energy has led to death, to the dead. The cemetery; that ghost-shape Cassie and Deborah and Nick and I saw on the road; even this place-a ruined house built by a dead man. And-well, the weekend after next is Samhain."

There was a murmur from the group. Adam looked at Cassie and said, "You know, Halloween. All Saints' Eve, November Eve, whatever. But no matter what you call it, it's the night when the dead walk. And I know it might be dangerous, but I think we should do a ceremony, either here or at the cemetery, on Halloween. We'll see what we can call up." He turned to Diana. "What do you think?"

This time the response was silence. Diana looked concerned, Melanie doubtful, Sean openly scared. Doug and Chris were grinning their wild grins, and Deborah was nodding fiercely. Faye had her head cocked to one side, considering; Nick stood with his arms across his chest, stone-faced. But it was Laurel and Suzan who spoke up.

"But what about the dance?" Laurel said, and Suzan said, "Saturday night is the Halloween dance and I've already got my shoes."

"We always have a party on Halloween," Melanie explained to Cassie. "It's a big witch holiday. But this year Halloween falls on Saturday, and the school dance is the same night. Still," she said slowly, "I don't see why we couldn't do both. We could leave the dance around eleven thirty and still have plenty of time for a ceremony here."

"And I think it should be here," Diana said, "and not the graveyard. That's just too dangerous, and we might call up more than we bargained for."

Cassie thought of the shadowy form she and Adam had seen at the graveyard. A bit too belligerently, she asked, "What are we planning to do with whatever we can call up?"

"Talk to it," Adam said promptly. "In the old days people called up the spirits of the dead on Halloween and asked them questions. The spirits had to answer."

"It's the day when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest," Laurel clarified. "Dead people come back and visit their living relatives." She looked around the group. "I think we should do the ceremony."

There was agreement from the Circle, some of it hesitant, some enthusiastic. But everyone nodded.

"Right," Adam said. "Halloween night, then." Cassie thought it was unusual that he was taking over the job of coven leader this way, but then she looked at Diana. Diana looked as if she were holding some turmoil inside her tightly under control. For a moment Cassie felt sorry for her, but then her own misery and conflict welled up. She left the meeting quickly, without speaking to Diana.

In the weeks before Halloween, the real cold set in, although the leaves were still bronze and crimson. Cassie's bedroom smelled of camphor because her grandmother had brought old quilts out of storage to pile on her bed. The last of the herbs had been gathered, and the house was decorated with autumn flowers, marigolds and purple asters. Every day after school Cassie found her grandmother in the kitchen, cooking oceans of applesauce to jar, until the whole house smelled of hot apple pulp and cinnamon and spices.

Pumpkins mysteriously appeared on everybody's back porch-but only Cassie and the Hendersons knew where they came from.

Things didn't get better with Diana.

A guilty part inside Cassie knew why. She didn't want to fight with Diana-but it was so much easier not having to worry about her all the time. If she wasn't always talking to Diana, wasn't over at Diana's house every day, she didn't have to think about how hurt Diana would be if Diana ever found out the truth.

The shameful secrets inside Cassie didn't rub her so much when Diana was at a distance.

So when Diana tried to make up, Cassie was polite but a little cool. A little-detached. And when Diana asked why Cassie was still mad, Cassie said she wasn't still mad, and why couldn't Diana just leave things alone? After that, Diana did.

Cassie felt as if a thin, hard shell were growing all over her.

She thought about what Deborah had said about Nick. He gets in bad moods sometimes, but that doesn't mean you should give up. Of course, there was no way Cassie could go back and ask Nick again. At least, there was no way the old Cassie could have. There seemed to be a new Cassie now, a stronger, harder one-at least on the outside. And she had to do something, because every night she thought about Adam and ached, and she was afraid of what might happen if she went to that dance unattached.

The day before Halloween she walked up to Nick's garage again.

The skeleton-car looked just the same. Its entire engine was out, resting on a sort of bottomless table made of pipes. Nick was underneath the table.

Cassie knew better than to ask him what he was doing this time. She saw him see her feet, saw his gaze travel up. Then he scooted out from under the table and stood up.

His dark hair was spiky with sweat, and he wiped his forehead with the back of a greasy hand. He didn't say anything, just stood there looking at her.

Cassie didn't give herself time to think. Focusing all her attention on an oil stain on his T-shirt, she said rapidly, "Are you going to the Halloween dance tomorrow?"

There was a long, long silence. Cassie stared at the oil stain while Nick stared at her face. She could smell rubber and warm metal as well as grease and a faint hint of gasoline. She felt as if she were hanging suspended in air.

Then Nick said, "No."

Everything came crashing down. Cassie felt it, and for some reason she was suddenly able to look Nick in the face.

"Oh," she said flatly. Oh, stupid, stupid, she was thinking. The new Cassie was as dumb as the old one. She should never have come here.

"I don't see why you want to know in the first place," Nick said. Then he added, "It's got something to do with Conant, doesn't it?"

Cassie tensed. "Adam? What are you talking about? What could my asking you to a dance have to do with Adam?" she said, but she could feel the blood rise to her face.

Nick was nodding. "I thought so. You've really got it bad. And you don't want him to know, so you're looking for a substitute, right? Or are you trying to make him jealous?"

Cassie's face was burning now, but hotter was the flame of rage and humiliation inside her. She wouldn't cry in front of Nick, she 'wouldn't.

"Sorry for bothering you," she said, and, feeling stiff and sore, she turned around to walk away.

"Wait a minute," Nick said. Cassie went on walking and reached the golden October sunlight. Her eyes were fixed on the fading scarlet leaves of a red maple across the street.

"Wait," Nick said again, closer. He'd followed her out. "What time do you want me to pick you up?" he said.

Cassie turned around and stared at him.

God, he was handsome, but so cold… even now he looked completely dispassionate, indifferent. The sun caught blue glints off his dark hair, and his face was like a perfectly carved ice sculpture.

"I don't want to go with you anymore," Cassie told him bleakly, and started away again.

He moved in front of her, blocking her without touching her. "I'm sorry I said the thing about trying to make Conant jealous. That was just…" He stopped and shrugged. "I didn't mean it. I don't know what's going on, and it's none of my business, anyway. But I'd like to go to the dance with you."

I'm hallucinating, Cassie thought. I've got to be. I thought I just heard Nick apologize… and then say he'd like to go with me. I must have a fever.

"So what time do you want me to pick you up?" Nick said again.

Cassie was having trouble breathing, so her voice was faint. "Um, about eight would be fine. We're all changing into our costumes at Suzan's house."

"Okay. I'll see you there."

On Halloween night, in Suzan's Greek Revival house, the girls of Crowhaven Road prepared themselves. This night was different than the evening of the Homecoming dance. For one thing, Cassie knew what she was doing now. Suzan had taught her how to do her own makeup, in exchange for Cassie helping Suzan with her costume.

They'd all taken baths with fresh sage leaves; Laurel's orders, for enhancing their psychic powers. Cassie had also washed in milk of roses-rosewater and oil of sweet almonds-for softening her skin and to smell nice. Cassie's grandmother had helped her plan and make her costume, which consisted mainly of panels of thin gauze.

When she was finished that night, Cassie looked in Suzan's mirror and saw a girl slender as a candle flame, dressed in something like mist, with an elusive, glancing beauty. The girl had hair like smoky topaz curling around a delicate face, and as Cassie watched, rosy shadows bloomed on her pale skin.

She looked soft and touchable and sensuous, but that was all right, because she would be with Nick. Cassie dabbed perfume behind her ears-not magnet oil but simply attar of roses-and tossed her scented hair back. Well, there was a certain wistfulness in the girl's wildflower-blue eyes, but that couldn't be helped. Nothing was going to cure that, ever.

She wasn't wearing any crystal to allure, only the hematite for iron-strength in a pouch under her costume.

"What are you?" Deborah said, looking into the mirror over her shoulder.

"I'm a muse. It's an old-time Greek thing; my grandmother showed it to me in a book. They weren't goddesses, just sort of divine guides. They inspired people with creativity," Cassie said. She looked at herself uncertainly. "I guess I'm Calliope; she was muse of poetry. The others were muses of history and stuff."

Melanie spoke up. "Witches believe that there was only one muse before they got split up into nine. She was the spirit of the arts, all of them. So maybe tonight you're her."

Cassie turned to look at their costumes. Deborah was a rocker, all silver bangles, studs, and black leather. Melanie was Sophia, the biblical spirit of wisdom, with a sheer veil over her face and a wreath of silver stars in her hair.

Suzan had taken Cassie's suggestion and dressed up as Aphrodite, goddess of love. Cassie had gotten the idea from Diana's prints and her grandmother's book of Greek myths. "Aphrodite was supposed to be born from the sea," she said now. "That's the reason for all the shells."

Suzan's hair was loose around her shoulders, and her robe was the color of sea foam. Iridescent sequins, seed pearls, and tiny shells decorated the mask she held in her hand.

Laurel was a fairy. "A nature spirit," she said, pivoting to show long, curving dragonfly wings. She was wearing a garland of leaves and silk flowers on her head.

"Everyone looks great," a soft voice said, and Cassie turned and caught her breath. Diana wasn't even dressed up, or at least she was only wearing her ceremonial costume, the one she wore at Circles. But she appeared to be wreathed in her own light and she was beautiful beyond description.

Laurel spoke quietly in Cassie's ear. "She's not making fun of it or anything, you know. Halloween's our most magical holiday of the year. She's honoring it."

"Oh," Cassie murmured. Her eyes slid to Faye.

Faye, she guessed, was a witch. The kind that guys were afraid of. She was wearing a sleeveless black dress, like a parody of the white shift Diana wore at meetings of the Circle. It was slit up both sides to the hip, and cut to show every curve. The material shimmered like silk when she walked.

There are going to be some hearts broken at the dance tonight, Cassie thought.

Downstairs, the doorbell rang, and the girls all went down in their fluttering draperies and rippling gowns to meet the guys. The Club was going to this dance in a group, as they planned to leave in a group at eleven thirty.

Nick was Cassie's date, but in that first moment all she could see was Adam. He was amazing. The branched ends of stag antlers sprouted from a crown of oak leaves on his head, and he was wearing a mask of oak leaves and acorns.

"He's Herne, the horned god," Melanie said. "Sort of like Pan, you know, a nature god. He's god of animals, too-that's why he gets to take Raj with him."

Raj was there, trying to thrust his nose forward to give Cassie one of his embarrassingly warm greetings. Adam-or Herne; it unnerved Cassie how natural he looked with the horns and the oak leaves-held the dog back.

The other girls were laughing at the guys' costumes. "Sean," Laurel said, "you're skinny enough without showing all your bones." He was dressed as a skeleton.

Chris and Doug had strange symbols painted on their faces: black and red triangles, yellow lightning bolts. Their long hair was even more disheveled than usual. "We're Zax," they said, and everyone said, "Who?"

Chris answered: "Zax the magician. He pulls cigarettes out of the air."

"It's from some science-fiction show they saw once," Suzan explained finally.

Faye's slow, lazy voice broke in. "And just what are you supposed to be, Nick? The Man in Black?"

Cassie looked at Nick for the first time. He wasn't wearing a costume, just black jeans and a black pullover sweater. He looked very handsome, very cool.

"I'm supposed to be her date," he said calmly, and without another look at Faye he held out his hand to Cassie.

Faye can't mind, Cassie told herself as they walked to the line of cars outside. Faye doesn't want him anymore; she shouldn't care who he goes with. But there was a thin coil of uneasiness in her stomach as she let Nick guide her to the Armstrong car. Deborah and Laurel got in the back.

On the porches around them, jack-o'-lanterns had fiery grins and dancing flames for eyes. It was a crystal moonlit night.

"A haunted night," Laurel said from the backseat. "Tonight spirits gather at all the windows and doors, looking in. We always put a white candle in the window to guide them."

"Or a plate of food to feed them, so they don't try to come inside," Deborah said in a hollow voice.

Cassie laughed, but there was a slightly false note in the laughter. She didn't want spirits looking in her windows. And as for what Laurel had said two weeks ago, about dead relatives coming back to visit the living-well, Cassie didn't want that, either. She didn't know any of her dead relatives, except her father, and he probably wasn't really dead. No, on the whole, she'd rather just leave all dead people alone.

But the Circle was planning to do just the opposite tonight.

The gym was decorated with owls, bats, and witches flying across giant yellow moons. Black and orange crepe paper was wound around the girders and streamed from the basketball hoops. There were dancing skeletons, spitting cats with arched backs, and surprised-looking ghosts on the walls.

It was all so fun and harmless. The ordinary students who'd come to dance and masquerade and drink purple poison punch had no idea of the real darkness that lurked outside. Even the ones who hated the Club didn't know the full truth.

Diana and Adam arrived together, making what must have been the most impressive entrance New Salem High School had ever seen. Diana, in her simple white shift, with her bare throat and arms looking as fresh as baby's skin, and her aureole of shining hair falling down her back, looked like a shaft of moonlight that had somehow wandered accidentally into the gym.

And Adam-Adam always had a presence, a way of innately commanding respect from anyone smart enough really to look at him. Tonight, as Herne, he was more arresting than ever. He seemed to be the forest god, perilous and mischievous, awe-inspiring but not unkind. Above all, he looked wild. There was nothing domesticated about him; he belonged in the open spaces, running underneath the stars. Raj stayed beside him, looking more like a wolf than a dog, and none of the chaperons said a word of objection.

"You know what happens tonight," a voice murmured, breath warm on Cassie's neck.

Cassie said, "What, Faye?" without turning around.

"Well, the coven leaders who represent the goddess Diana and the horned god have to make an alliance. They have to…" Faye paused delicately. ". . . merge, shall we say? To represent the union of male and female principals."

"You mean they… ?"

"It can be done symbolically," Faye said blandly. "But somehow I don't think Adam and Diana will be satisfied with symbolism, do you?"

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