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The Captive (Chapter Four)

"Cassie? Is that you?"

Sick dismay tingled down Cassie's nerves. Then she heard her own voice saying, as she turned, "I-I was scared … I didn't want to bother you …"

"Oh, don't be silly. Come lie down," Diana said sleepily, patting the bed beside her and shutting her eyes again.

It had worked. Cassie had gambled that Diana had just woken up that instant, and she'd been right. But Cassie felt as if she were reeling as she went over to the other side of the bed and got in, facing away from Diana.

"No more nightmares," Diana murmured:

"No," Cassie whispered. She could never get up now and call Faye, but she didn't care. She was too tired of stress, of tension, of fear. And something deep inside her was glad that she hadn't been able to go through with it tonight. She shut her eyes and listened to the roaring in her own ears until she fell asleep.

In her dream she was on a ship. The deck was lifting and dropping beneath her, and waves rose up black over the sides. Lost, lost. . . What was lost? The ship? Yes, but something else, too. Lost forever… never find it now…

Then the dream changed. She was sitting in a bright and sunny room. Her chair was low to the ground, its spindly wood back so uncomfortable that she had to sit up straight. Her clothes were uncomfortable too; a bonnet as close-fitting as a swimming cap, and something tight around her waist that scarcely let her breathe. On her lap was a book.

Why, it was Diana's Book of Shadows! But no, the cover was different, red leather instead of brown. As she leafed through it, she saw that the writing in the beginning was very similar, and the titles of some of the spells were the same as in Diana's.

A Charm to Cure a Sickly Child. To Make Hens Lay. For Protection Against Fire and Water. To Hold Evil Harmless.

To Hold Evil Harmless!

Her eyes moved swiftly across the words after it.

Bury the evil object in good moist loam or sand, well covered. The healing power of the Earth will battle with the poison, and if the object be not too corrupt, it will be purified.

Of course, Cassie thought. Of course.

The dream was ebbing. She could feel Diana's bed beneath her. But she could also hear a fading voice, calling a name. "Jacinth! Are you in there? Jacinth!"

Cassie was awake.

Diana's blue curtains were incandescent with the sunlight they held back. There were cheerful pottering noises in the room. But all Cassie could think about was the dream.

She must have read that spell in Diana's Book of Shadows last night, absorbed it unconsciously as she was flipping through. But why remember it in such a weird way?

It didn't matter. The problem was solved, and Cassie was so happy that she felt like hugging her pillow. Of course, of course!

Before the skull ceremony Diana had said the skull should be buried for purification-in moist sand. Adam had found it on the island buried in sand. Right below Diana's back door was a whole beach of sand. Cassie could hear the ocean breaking on it this minute.

The question was, could she find the exact place in the sand the skull was buried?

Faye was in writing class. And she was furious.

"I waited up all night," she hissed, grabbing Cassie by the arm. "What happened?"

"I couldn't get it. It wasn't there."

Faye's golden eyes narrowed and the long red-tipped fingers on Cassie's arm tightened. "You're lying."

"No," Cassie said. She cast an agonized glance around and then whispered, "I think I know where it is, but you have to give me time."

Faye was staring at her, those strange eyes raking hers. Then she relaxed slightly and smiled. "Of course, Cassie. All the time you need. Until Saturday."

"That may not be long enough-"

"It'll just have to be, won't it?" Faye drawled.

"Because after that I tell Diana." She let go and Cassie walked to her own desk. There was nothing else to do.

They had a minute of silence at the beginning of class for Mr. Fogle. Cassie spent the minute staring at her entwined fingers, thinking alternately of the dark rushing thing inside the skull and Doug Henderson's tip-tilted blue-green eyes.

At lunch there was a note taped on the glass door of the back room in the cafeteria. Outside in front, it said. Cassie turned from it and almost ran into Adam.

He was approaching with a loaded tray, and he lifted it to stop her from knocking it all over him.

"Whoa," he said.

Cassie flushed. But then, as they stood facing each other, she discovered a more serious problem. Adam's smile had faded, she couldn't stop flushing, and neither of them seemed to be going anywhere.

Eyes in the cafeteria were on them. Talk about deja vu, Cassie thought. Every time I'm in here I'm the center of attention.

Finally, Adam made an abortive attempt to catch her elbow, stopped himself, and gestured her forward courteously. Cassie didn't know how he did it, but Adam managed to carry off courtesy like no guy she had ever known. It seemed to come naturally to him.

Girls looked up as they went by, some of them casting sideways glances at Adam. But these were different than the sideways glances Cassie had seen on the beach at Cape Cod. There, he'd been dressed in his scruffy fishing-boat clothes, and Portia's girlfriends had averted their eyes in disdain. These glances were shy, or inviting, or hopeful. Adam just tossed an unruly strand of red hair off his forehead and smiled at them.

Outside, the members of the Club were gathered on the steps. Even Nick was there. Cassie started toward them, and then a large shape bounded up and planted its front feet on her shoulders.

"Raj, get down! What are you doing?" Adam yelled.

A wet, warm tongue was lapping Cassie's face. She tried to fend the dog off, grabbing for the fur at the back of his neck, and ended it by hugging him.

"I think he's just saying 'hi,' " she gasped.

"He's usually so good about waiting just off campus until I get out of school. I don't know why-" Adam broke off. "Raj, get down," he muttered in a changed voice. "Now!" he said, and snapped his fingers.

The lapping tongue withdrew, but the German shepherd stayed by Cassie's side as she walked over to the steps. She patted the dog's head.

"Raj usually hates new people," Sean observed as Cassie and Adam sat down. "So how come he always likes you so much?"

Cassie could feel Faye's mocking eyes on her and she shrugged uncomfortably, staring down into her lunch sack. Then something occurred to her: one of those witty comebacks she usually only thought of the next day.

"Must be my new perfume. Eau de pot roast," she said, and Laurel and Diana giggled. Even Suzan smirked.

"All right, let's get down to business," Diana said then. "I brought us out here to make sure nobody's listening. Anybody have any new ideas?"

"Any one of us could have done it," Melanie said quietly.

"Only some of us had any reason to," Adam replied.

"Why?" said Laurel. "I mean, just because Mr. Fogle was obnoxious wasn't a reason to murder him. And quit grinning like that, Doug, unless you really did do something."

"Maybe Fogle knew too much," Suzan said unexpectedly. Everyone turned to her, but she went on unwrapping a Hostess cupcake without looking up.

"So?" said Deborah at last. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well…" Suzan raised china-blue eyes to look around at the group. "Fogle always got here at the crack of dawn, didn't he? And his office is right up there, isn't it?" She nodded, and Cassie followed her gaze to a window on the second floor of the red-brick building. Then Cassie looked down the hill, to the bottom where Kori had been found.

There was a pause, and then Diana said, "Oh, my God."

"What?" Chris demanded, looking around. Deborah scowled and Laurel blinked. Faye was chuckling.

"She's saying he might have seen Kori's murderer," Adam said. "And then whoever killed her, killed him to keep him from talking. But do we know he was here that morning?"

Cassie was now staring from the second-story window to the chimney that rose from the school. It had been cold the morning they found Kori dead, and the principal had a fireplace in his office. Had there been smoke rising from the chimney that morning?

"You know," she said softly to Diana, "I think he was here."

"Then that could be it," Laurel said excitedly. "And it would mean it couldn't have been one of us who killed him-because whoever killed him killed Kori, too. And none of us would have done that."

Diana was looking vastly relieved, and there were nods around the Circle. A little voice inside Cassie was trying to say something, but she pushed it down.

Nick, however, had his lip curled. "And who besides one of us would have been able to drop an avalanche on somebody?"

"Anybody with a stick or a crowbar," Deborah snapped. "Those rocks on the cliff at Devil's Cove are just piled up any old way. An outsider could've done it easy. So it's back to the question of which of them did it-if we have to ask anymore." There was a hunting light in her face, and Chris and Doug were looking eager.

"You leave Sally alone until we figure this out," Diana said flatly.

"And Jeffrey," Faye added throatily, with a meaningful look. Deborah glared at her, then at last dropped her eyes.

"Now that we've got that solved, I have a real problem to talk about," Suzan said, brushing crumbs off the front of her sweater, an interesting process which Sean and the Hendersons watched avidly. "Homecoming is in less than two weeks, and I haven't figured out who to ask yet. And I haven't even got any shoes…"

The meeting degenerated, and shortly after that the bell rang.

"Who are you going to ask to Homecoming?" Laurel asked Cassie that afternoon. They were driving home from school with Diana and Melanie.

"Oh…" Cassie was taken aback. "I haven't thought about it. I-I've never asked a guy to a dance in my life."

"Well, now's the time to start," Melanie said. "Usually the outsiders don't ask us-they're a little scared. But you can have any guy you want; just pick him and tell him to show up." . "Just like that?"

"Yep," Laurel said cheerfully. "Like that. Of course, Melanie and I don't usually ask guys who're together with somebody. But Faye and Suzan…" She rolled her eyes. "They like picking guys who're taken."

"I've noticed," Cassie said. There was no question about whom Diana went to dances with. "What about Deborah?"

"Oh, Deb usually just goes stag," said Laurel. "She and the Hendersons hang out, playing cards and stuff in the boiler room. And Sean just goes from girl to girl to girl; none of them like him, but they're all too scared not to dance with him. You'll see it there; it's funny."

"I probably won't see it," Cassie said. The idea of walking up to some guy and ordering him to escort her was simply unthinkable. Impossible, even if she was a witch. She might as well tell everybody now and let them get used to it. "I probably won't go. I don't like dances much."

"But you have to go," Laurel said, dismayed, and Diana said, "It's the most fun-really, Cassie. Look, let's go to my house right now and talk about guys you can ask."

"No, I've got to go straight home," Cassie said quickly. She had to go home because she had to look for the skull. Faye's words had been ringing in the back of her mind all day, and now they drowned out Diana's voice. All the time you need-until Saturday. "Please just drop me off at my house."

In silence that was bewildered and a little hurt, Diana complied.

All that week, Cassie looked for the skull.

She looked on the beach where her initiation had been held, where stumps of candles and pools of melted wax could still be seen half buried in the sand. She looked on the beach below Diana's house, among the eelgrass and driftwood. She looked up and down the bluffs, walking on the dunes each afternoon and evening. It made sense that Diana would have marked the place somehow, but with what kind of mark? Any bit of flotsam or jetsam on the sand could be it.

As each day went by she got more and more worried. She'd been so sure she could find it; it was just a matter of looking. But now it seemed she'd looked at every inch of beach for miles, and all she'd found was sea wrack and a few old beer bottles.

On Saturday morning she stepped out of the front door to see a bright-red car circling in the cul-de-sac a little past her grandmother's house. There was no building at the very point of the headland where the road dead-ended, but the car was circling there. As Cassie stood in the doorway, it turned and cruised slowly by her house. It was Faye's Corvette ZRI, and Faye was in it, one languid arm drooping out of the window.

As she went by Cassie, Faye raised her hand and held up one finger, its long nail gleaming even redder than the car's paint job. Then she turned and mouthed a single word at Cassie.

Sunset.

She went cruising on without a backward look. Cassie stared after her.

Cassie knew what she meant. By sunset, either Cassie brought the skull to Faye, or Faye told Diana.

I have to find it, Cassie thought. I don't care if I have to sift through every square inch of sand from here to the mainland. I have to find it.

But that day was just like the others. She crawled on her knees over the beach near the initiation site, getting sand inside her jeans, in her shoes. She found nothing.

The ocean rolled and roared beside her, the smell of salt and decaying seaweed filled her nostrils. As the sun slipped farther and farther down in the west, the crescent moon over the ocean glowed brighter. Cassie was exhausted and terrified, and she was giving up hope.

Then, as the sky was darkening, she saw the ring of stones.

She'd passed by them a dozen times before. They were bonfire stones, stained black with charcoal. But what were they doing so close to the waterline? At high tide, Cassie thought, they'd be covered. She knelt beside them and touched the sand in their center.

Moist.

With fingers that trembled slightly, she dug there. Dug deeper and deeper until her fingertips touched something hard.

She dug around it, feeling the curve of its shape, until she had loosened enough sand to lift it out. It was shockingly heavy and covered with a thin white cloth. Cassie didn't need to remove the cloth to know what it was.

She felt like hugging it.

She'd done it! She'd found the skull, and now she could take it to Faye….

The feeling of triumph died inside her. Faye. Could she really take the skull to Faye?

All the time she'd been looking for it, finding it hadn't been real to her. She hadn't thought further than simply getting her hands on it.

Now that she was actually holding it, now that the possibility was before her… she couldn't do it.

The thought of those hooded golden eyes examining it, of those fingers with their long red nails gripping it, made Cassie feel sick. An image flitted through her mind, of a golden-eyed falcon with its talons extended. A bird of prey.

She couldn't go through with it.

But then what about Diana? Cassie's head bent in exhaustion, in defeat. She didn't know what to do about Diana. She didn't know how to solve anything. All she knew was that she couldn't hand the skull over to Faye.

There was a throat-clearing sound behind her.

"I knew you could do it," Faye said in her husky voice as Cassie, still on her knees, spun around to look. "I had complete faith in you, Cassie. And now my faith is justified."

"How did you know?" Cassie was on her feet. "How did you know where I was?"

Faye smiled. "I told you I have friends who see a lot. One of them just brought me the news."

"It doesn't matter," Cassie said, forcibly calming herself. "You can't have it, Faye."

"That's where you're wrong. I do have it. I'm stronger than you are, Cassie," Faye said. And as she stood there on a little dune above Cassie, tall and stunning in black pants and a loose-knit scarlet top, Cassie knew it was true. "I'm taking the skull now. You can run to Diana if you want, but you'll be too late."

Cassie stared at her a long minute, breathing quickly. Then she said, "No. I'm coming with you."

"What?"

"I'm coming with you." In contrast to Faye, Cassie was small. And she was dirty and disheveled, with sand in every crease of her clothes and under her fingernails, but she was relentless. "You said you only wanted the skull to 'look at it for a while.' That was the reason I agreed to get it for you. Well, now I've found it, but I'm not going to leave you alone with it. I'm going with you. I want to watch."

Faye's black eyebrows, curved like a raven's wings, lifted higher. "So voyeurism's your idea of fun."

"No, it's yours-or your friends', rather," Cassie said.

Faye chuckled. "You're not such a spineless mouse after all, are you?" she said. "All right; come. You might find it's more fun to join in than to watch, anyway."

Faye shut the bedroom door behind Cassie. Then she went and took something out of the closet. It was a comforter, not rose-patterned like the one on the bed, but red satin.

"My spare," Faye said, with an arch smile. "For special occasions." She shook it out over the bed, then went around the room lighting candles that gave off pungent, heady scents. Then she opened a velvet-lined box.

Cassie stared. Inside was a jumble of loose stones, some polished, some uncut. They were dark green and amethyst, black, sulfur-yellow, pale pink and cloudy orange.

"Find the red ones," Faye said.

Cassie's fingers were itching to get into them anyway. She began to sort through the rainbow clutter.

"Those garnets are good," Faye said, approving some burgundy-colored stones. "And carnelians, too, if they're not too orange. Now let me see: fire opal for passion, red jasper for stability. And one black onyx for surrendering to your shadow self." She smiled strangely at Cassie, who stiffened.

Undisturbed, Faye arranged the stones in a circle on the comforter. Then she turned off the lamp and the room was lit only by the candles.

"Now," Faye said, "for our guest."

Cassie thought that was an odd way to put it, and there was a sinking in her stomach as Faye opened the backpack. She'd promised herself that she would keep Faye from doing anything too terrible with the skull-but how?

"Just what are you planning to do with it?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

"Just scrying," murmured Faye, but she wasn't paying much attention to Cassie. She was gazing down as she slowly peeled the wet, sandy white cloth away to reveal the glittering dome of the crystal skull. As Cassie watched, Faye lifted the skull up to eye level, cradling it in red-tipped fingers. Reflections of the candle flames danced in the depths of the crystal.

"Ah," said Faye. "Hello there." She was gazing into the empty eyesockets as if looking at a lover. She bent forward and lightly kissed the grinning quartz teeth.

Then she put the skull in the center of the ring of gems.

Cassie swallowed. The sinking feeling was getting worse and worse; she felt sicker and sicker. "Faye, shouldn't you have a ring of candles, too? What if-"

"Don't be silly. Nothing's going to happen. I just want to see what this fellow's all about," Faye murmured.

Cassie didn't believe it.

"Faye…" She was starting to panic. This was a bad idea, this had always been a bad idea. She wasn't strong enough to stop Faye from anything. She didn't even know what Faye was doing.

"Faye, don't you need to prepare-" "Be quiet," Faye said sharply. She was hovering over the skull, gazing down into it, half reclining on the bed.

It was all happening too fast. And it wasn't safe. Cassie felt sure of that now. She could feel a darkness welling up inside the skull. "Faye, what are you doing with it?"

More darkness, rising up like the sea. How could Faye be this powerful, to raise it from the skull so quickly? And all by herself, without a coven to back her up?

The star ruby at Faye's throat winked, and for the first time Cassie noticed matching gems on Faye's fingers. All these red stones-to heighten the energy of the ritual? To enhance the power of the witch-or the skull?

"Faye!"

"Shut up!" said Faye. She leaned farther over the skull, lips parted, her breath coming quickly. Cassie could almost see the darkness in the skull, swirling, rising like smoke.

Don't look at it! Don't give it any more power! the voice in her head cried. Cassie stared instead at Faye, urgently.

"Faye, whatever you're doing-it's not what you think! It's not safe!"

"Leave me alone!"

Swirling, rising, higher and higher. The darkness had been thin and transparent at first, but now it was thick and oily. Cassie wouldn't look at it, but she could feel it. It was almost at the top of the skull, uncoiling, wheeling.

"Faye, look out!"

The black-haired girl was directly over the skull, directly in the way of the rising dark. Cassie grabbed her, pulling at her.

But Faye was strong. Snarling something incoherent, she tried to shake Cassie off. Cassie threw one glance at the skull. It seemed to be grinning wildly at her, the smoke corkscrewing inside it.

"Faye," she screamed, and wrenched at the other girl's shoulders.

They both fell backward. At the same instant, out of the corner of her eye, Cassie saw the darkness break free.

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