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The Initiation (Chapter Fifteen)

The door was no longer tiny but life-size, large enough to go in. It was ajar, and colored light streamed from the other side.

Inside the skull, Cassie gazed at the door, her scalp tingling. If it opened, could I go inside? she wondered. But how could it open?

Maybe if she just imagined it opening… but that didn't seem to do any good. What had Melanie said? Crystals help us call on the Powers. What Powers would be connected with clear quartz? Earth and water? For sand and sea?

That sounded almost like the beginning of a poem.

Earth and water, sand and sea

As I will, so let it be…

She concentrated on the door, willing it to open. And as she stared, it did seem that there was more rainbow light spilling out. More… and more. Keep it opening. Let it draw you closer. She was floating in front of the door now. It was huge, like the door to a cathedral. Opening… opening… She was drowning in rainbow light.

Now! Go in!

But at that instant a scream tore through the room.

It was a scream of terror, high and wild, and it lanced through the utter silence. The door stopped opening, and Cassie felt herself being pulled backward. The door was receding, faster, faster. Then, just before she found herself outside the skull, a face flashed before her eyes. The same face she'd seen before. But it wasn't receding; it was traveling toward her. Getting bigger. Bigger and bigger so fast – it would burst the crystal. It would –

"No!" cried Diana.

Cassie felt it at the same instant, an overwhelming sense of evil. Of something rushing toward them at incredible speed. Something that had to be stopped.

She never quite knew what happened next. Sean was sitting on the other side of Faye. Maybe he was the one who moved first; maybe he panicked and tried to bolt. In any case there was a commotion. Faye seemed to be trying to do something and Sean to stop her, or maybe it was the other way around. They were struggling. Diana was crying, "No, no!" Cassie didn't know what to do.

She tried to check her instinctive flinching away from Faye, but it didn't matter. Faye lurched forward and Cassie felt the pressure of Faye's knee leave hers. The circle was broken, and Faye's candle went out.

Instantly all the other candles were snuffed out too, as if by a blast of wind. In the same instant Cassie felt the rushing thing reach the limits of the crystal. It burst out of the skull and past the dark, smoking candles. Cassie didn't know how she could tell this – everything was pitch-black. But she felt it. She could sense the rushing thing like an inkier blackness. It exploded past her, blowing her hair straight up and to the side. She threw out an arm to protect her face, but by that time it was gone.

There was a faint cry in the darkness.

Then everything was quiet again.

"Turn on the lihts," somebody gasped.

Suddenly Cassie could see. Adam was standing by the light switch. Diana was standing too, her face white and frightened. Around the circle every face reflected alarm and consternation – except Nick's. His was impassive as usual.

Faye was just sitting up. She looked as if she'd been blown backward by some tremendous force. Fury blazing in her eyes, she turned on Sean. "You pushed me!"

"No, I didn't!" Sean looked around the room for help. "She was trying to get to the skull! She was lunging for it!"

"You lying little worm! You were trying to get away. You were going to break the circle."

"She – "

"No, I didn't!"

"All right!" shouted Diana.

Adam came up beside her. "It doesn't matter who did what," he said, his voice tense. "What matters is that – energy – that escaped."

"What energy?" Faye said sullenly, examining her elbow for bruises.

"The energy that knocked you flat on your back," Diana said grimly.

"I fell. Because this little snot pushed me."

"No," said Cassie before she could stop herself. She was beginning to shake in delayed reaction. "I felt it too. Something came out."

"Oh, you felt it. The expert." Faye gave her a glance of scorn and disdain. Cassie looked around at the others, who were still sitting, and was surprised to see uncertainty in their expressions. Surely they had felt it too?

"I felt – something," Melanie said. "Something dark inside the skull. Some negative energy."

"Whatever it was, it was released when we broke the circle," Adam said. He looked at Diana. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have let this happen."

"You mean you should have kept the skull a secret from the rest of us," Faye said sharply. "For your own personal use."

"What difference does it make?" Laurel cried from the other side of the circle. "If something was released from the skull, it's out there right now. Doing God knows what."

"It's – bad," Cassie said. What she wanted to say was "evil" but that seemed such a melodramatic word. Yet that was what she had sensed in the dark, rushing thing. Evil. The intent to destroy, to harm.

"We've got to stop it," Adam said.

Suzan was fiddling with a button on her blouse. "How?"

This silence was long and uncomfortable. Adam and Diana were looking at each other, seeming to have some grim unspoken conversation. The Henderson brothers were also telegraphing something to each other, but they didn't look as if they minded having something murderous and evil loose in the immediate community. In fact, on the whole they looked pleased.

"Maybe it'll get whoever got Kori," Chris offered at last.

Diana stared at him. "Is that what you think?" Then her face changed. "Is that what you were thinking when we were reaching into it? Is that what you were willing?"

"We were supposed to just try and read the last imprints," Melanie said, her voice as angry as Cassie had ever heard it.

The Henderson brothers looked at each other and shrugged. Deborah's expression was somewhere between a scowl and a grin. Suzan was still fiddling. Nick, face expressionless, stood up.

"Looks like that's all for tonight," he said.

Diana exploded.

"You're damn right it is!" she cried, astounding Cassie. She snatched up the skull in her two hands. "Now this is going to a safe place, where it belongs. Where it should have gone in the first place. I should have known you were all too irresponsible to deal with it." Hugging the skull to her, she strode out of the garage.

Faye was instantly alert, like a cat who sees the flicker of a mouse's tail. "I don't think that was a very nice way to talk to us," she said throatily. "I don't think she trusts us, do you? Hands up – how many people here want to be led by someone who doesn't trust them?"

If looks could maim, the one Melanie threw Faye would have left her a basket case. "Oh, get stuffed, Faye," she said in her classy accent. "Come on, Laurel," she added, and got up to follow Diana toward the house.

Cassie, not knowing what else to do, followed them. Behind her she heard Adam saying to Faye in a low, tightly controlled voice, "I wish you were a guy."

And Faye's laughing, husky answer: "Why, Adam, I didn't know your tastes ran that way!"

Diana was putting the skull back in the Pyrex dish when Adam came in behind Cassie. He went to Diana and put his arms around her.

She leaned against him a moment, eyes shut, but didn't hold him in return. And after that moment she moved away.

"I'm all right. I'm just angry with them, and I've got to think."

Adam sat on the bed, running a hand through his hair. "I should have kept it a secret from them," he said. "It was my own stupid pride – "

"Don't," said Diana. "It would have been wrong to keep something from the Circle that belongs to them."

"More wrong than to let them use it for stupid, malicious reasons?"

Diana turned away and leaned against the cabinet.

"Sometimes," Adam said quietly, "I wonder about what we're doing. Maybe the Old Powers should just be left asleep. Maybe we're wrong to think we can handle them."

"Power is only Power," Diana said tiredly, not turning. "It's not good or bad. Only the way we use it is good or bad."

"But maybe nobody can use it without ending up using it badly."

Cassie stood and listened, wishing she were anywhere else. She was aware that in some terribly civilized way, Diana and Adam were having a fight. She met Laurel's eyes and saw that the other girl was just as uncomfortable.

"I don't believe that," Diana said finally, softly. "I don't believe that people are that hopeless. That evil."

Adam's expression was bleak and longing, as if he wished he could share her belief.

Cassie, watching his face, felt a stab of pain, and then a wave of dizziness. She shifted, looking for a place to sit down.

Diana immediately turned around. "Are you all right? You're white as a ghost."

Cassie nodded and shrugged. "Just a little dizzy – I guess maybe I should go home…"

The anger had drained out of Diana's eyes. "All right," she said. "But I don't want you out there by yourself. Adam, would you walk her back? The beach way is faster."

Cassie opened her mouth in reflexive horror. But Adam nodded quickly.

"Sure," he said. "Although I don't want to leave you alone…"

"I want Melanie and Laurel to stay," Diana said. "I want to start to purify this skull properly, with flower essences" – she looked at Laurel – "and other crystals." She looked at Melanie. "I don't care if it takes all night; I want to get it set up. And I want to start now. This minute."

The two girls nodded. So did Adam. "All right," he said.

And Cassie, who had been standing with her mouth open, suddenly thought of something and nodded too. Her hand automatically patted her front jeans pocket to feel the hard little lump there.

So that was how she found herself walking on the beach alone with Adam.

There was no moon that night. The stars shone with a fierce, icy brilliance. The waves roared and hissed on the shore.

Not romantic. Raw. Primitive. Except for the faint lights of houses above on the cliff, they might have been a thousand miles from civilization.

They were almost all the way to the narrow path up the bluff to Number Twelve when he asked her. She'd known in her heart that she couldn't avoid it forever.

"Why didn't you want anyone to know that we'd met before?" he said simply.

Cassie took a deep breath. Now was the time to see what kind of actress she was. She was very calm; she knew what had to be done, and somehow, she would do it. She had to do it, for Diana's sake – and his.

"Oh, I don't know," she said, and marveled to hear how casual her voice sounded. "I just didn't want anybody – like Suzan or Faye – to get the wrong impression. You don't mind, do you? It didn't seem very important."

Adam was looking at her in an odd way, hesitating, but then he nodded. "If that's what you want, I won't mention it," he said.

Relief washed over Cassie, but she kept her voice light. "Okay, thanks. Oh, by the way," she went on, fishing in her pocket. "I've been meaning to give this back to you. Here." It was strange how her fingers seemed to cling to the chalcedony rose, but she managed to open them and drop it into his hand. It lay on his palm, the quartz crystals seeming to capture a little of the starlight.

"Thanks for loaning it to me," she said. "But now that I'm an official witch, I'll probably be finding my own stones to work with. And besides" – she curved her lips in a teasing smile – "we don't want anybody to get the wrong impression about that either, do we?"

She had never in her life acted like this with a boy, teasing and carefree and confident. Almost flirtatious while making it clear that she meant nothing by it. And it was so easy – she'd never imagined it could be this easy. It came, she supposed, from the fact that she was playing a role. It wasn't Cassie standing here; it was someone else, someone who wasn't afraid because the worst had already happened and there was nothing left to fear anymore.

A wry smile had touched Adam's lips, as if he were responding automatically to her tone, but it disappeared almost instantly. He was looking at her hard, and she forced herself to return his gaze blandly and innocently, the way she had returned Jordan's on the beach that day in August. Believe me, she thought, and this time she knew the power of her own thoughts, the power she could draw on to enforce her will. Sky and water, sand and sea; As I will, so let it be. Believe me, Adam. Believe me. Believe me.

He looked away from her suddenly, turning sharply toward the ocean. It reminded Cassie, to her surprise, of the way she had broken free of Faye's mesmerizing gaze.

"You've changed," he said, and there was wonder in his voice. Then he turned back to look at her with that hard, unrelenting gaze again. "You've really changed."

"Of course. I'm a witch now," she said reasonably. "You should have told me that in the beginning – it would have saved a lot of trouble," she added in a scolding tone.

"I didn't know. I could sense – something – in you, but I never thought of you being one of us."

"Oh, well, it all turned out okay," Cassie said quickly. She didn't like him talking about what he sensed in her. It was too dangerous. "Anyway, thanks for walking me home. This is where I go up."

With a final smile, she turned away and quickly climbed the narrow path. She couldn't believe it. She'd pulled it off! The relief that flooded her was actually painful, and when she reached the top of the path and saw her house, her knees felt weak. Oh, thank you, she thought, and started for it.

"Wait," a ringing, authoritative voice behind her said.

I should have known it wouldn't be that easy, Cassie thought. Slowly, keeping her face expressionless, she swiveled to look at him.

The faint light from above reflected off the planes of his face as he stood on the bluff with the ocean behind him. Those high cheekbones, those humorous, expressive lips. There was no humor now. His eyes were as keen and piercing as when he had stared after Jordan and Logan that day on the beach, radiating a power she didn't understand, frightening her. They frightened her now.

"You're good," he said. "But I'm not completely stupid. There's something you're not telling me, and I want to know what it is."

"No, you don't." The words escaped her lips before she could stop them, but their flat sincerity was unmistakable. "I mean – there's nothing I'm not telling you."

"Listen to me," he said, and to her dismay he stepped closer. "When I first met you," he said, "I had no idea you were one of us. How could I? But I knew that you were different than that phony friend of yours. Not just another pretty girl, but somebody special."

Pretty? He thought I was pretty? Cassie was thinking wildly. The clear, despairing calm was leaving her, and she clung to it desperately. Look cool and blank, she ordered herself. Politely inquiring. Let nothing show.

Adam's blue-gray eyes were flashing now, his odd, proud face clearly revealing his anger. But it was the hurt in the depths of those eyes that confused Cassie most.

"You weren't like any girl I'd met on the outside – you could accept mysterious things – even mystical things – without being afraid of them or trying to destroy them on sight. You were… open. Tolerant. You didn't automatically hate and reject anything different."

"Not as tolerant as Diana. Diana's the most – "

"This hasn't got anything to do with Diana!" he said, and Cassie realized that he meant it. He was so completely honest and straightforward that betrayal had never even entered his mind.

"I thought," he went on, "that you were someone I could trust. With my life, even. And when I saw you hold out against Jordan – a guy practically twice your size – I knew I was right. It was one of the bravest things I'd ever seen – and all for a stranger. You let him hurt you for my sake, and you didn't even know me."

Show nothing, Cassie thought. Nothing.

"And afterward, I felt something special with you. A special understanding. I can't explain it. But I've thought about it ever since. I've thought about you a lot, Cassie, and I was just waiting to tell Diana about you. I wanted her to know that she was right, that there were some outsiders who could deal with us, who could be trusted. Who might be friends of magic. She's been trying for a long time to get the Club to believe that. I wanted to tell her that you'd opened my eyes – in a lot of ways. After I left you, I even seemed to see more when I went out on fishing boats looking for the Master Tools. I'd look for islands while we were out laying the lines, and all of a sudden I felt like I could see clearer – or as if the ocean was revealing things. Helping me. I wanted to tell Diana that too, and see if she could explain it.

"And in all that time," Adam finished, turning the full power of his blue-gray gaze on Cassie, "I was never sorry I'd given you the chalcedony rose – even though we never do that with outsiders. I hoped you'd never be in enough trouble to need it, but I wanted to be there for you if you were. If you'd ever done what I told you, held it tight in your fist and thought of me, I'd have known, and I'd have tracked it down, no matter where you were. I thought you were that special."

Was it true? Cassie wondered dizzily. All those times she'd held the stone – but she'd never held it clenched in her fist and thought only of him. She'd never followed his instructions because she'd never believed in magic.

"And now I get back – and find you're not an outsider after all. Or only half. I was glad to see you here, and to hear you'd joined the Circle. And from what Diana's said, she saw how special you were right away too. But I couldn't tell her I knew you – because for some reason you didn't want people to know. I respected that; I kept my mouth shut and figured you'd explain when you could. And instead – " He gestured ail-inclusively. "This. You've been giving me the brush-off all week, and now you act as if nothing ever happened between us. You even call on the Powers against me, to make me believe a lie. And now I want to know why."

There was a silence. Cassie could hear the waves below, like soft, rhythmic thunder. She could smell the clear, cold night air. And finally, as if compelled, she raised her eyes to his face. He was right; she couldn't lie to him. Even if he laughed at her, even if he pitied her, she had to give him the truth.

"Because I'm in love with you," she said, simply and quietly. And then she wouldn't let herself look away.

He didn't laugh.

He was staring, though, as if in disbelief. Not understanding what he thought he'd heard her say.

"That day on the beach, I felt something special too," she said. "But I felt – more. I felt as if we were… connected somehow. As if we were being pulled together. As if we belonged together."

She could see the confusion in Adam's eyes – like the whirling, spinning confusion she'd felt when she'd discovered Kori's body.

"I know it sounds stupid," she said. "I can't even believe I'm saying this to you – but you asked for the truth. Everything I felt that day on the beach was wrong, I know that now. You've got Diana. Nobody in their right mind would want anything more. But that day – I had all sorts of stupid ideas. I actually thought I could see something connecting us, like a silver cord. And I felt so close to you, as if we understood each other. As if we were born for each other, and there was no point resisting it…"

"Cassie," he said. His eyes were black with emotion. A look of – what? Utter disbelief? Revulsion?

"I know it's not true now," she said helplessly. "But then I didn't realize. And when you were standing so close to me, looking down at me, I thought you were going to – "

"Cassie."

It was as if her words had conjured something magical out of the air, or as if her own perceptions had been sharpened. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw it again. The silver cord. It hummed and shimmered, more powerful and vibrant than ever, linking them. It was as if her heart was directly connected to his. Her breath was coming faster and faster, and she lifted her eyes to his face in bewilderment.

Their gaze held. And in that instant Cassie recognized the emotion that had darkened those blue-gray eyes before.

Not disbelief, but realization. A dawning understanding, and a wonder that made Cassie's knees feel weak.

He was… remembering, she thought. And seeing what had happened between them in a new light. Realizing on a conscious level just what he had actually felt that day.

She knew this as clearly as if he had told her in words. She knew him. She could feel every beat of his heart, she could sense the world through his eyes. She could even see herself as he saw her. A fragile, shy creature of half-hidden beauty, like a wildflower in the shadow of a tree, but with a core of shining steel. And just as she could see herself, she could feel his feelings about her…

Oh, what was happening ? The world had gone still, and it contained only the two of them. Adam's eyes were wide and dazed, the pupils enormous, and she felt she was falling into them as he looked down at her. A lock of his hair had fallen onto his forehead, that marvelous, tangled wavy hair that was all the colors of autumn in New England. He was like some woodland god who'd come out in the starlight to court a shy tree nymph, and he was irresistible.

"Adam," she said. "We…"

But she never got to finish. He was too close to her now; she could feel his warmth, feel their electrical fields merging. She felt his hands cupping the backs of her elbows. Then slowly, slowly, she felt herself being drawn toward him until his arms were around her, embracing her fully. The silver cord could not be denied any longer.

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