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The Initiation (Chapter Thirteen)

Very funny, Cassie thought. But actually it wasn't funny at all. She guessed that there was a deadly serious side to Faye's question. Somehow she didn't see Faye wanting to use the Powers – whatever those were – for good. And she didn't see Diana wanting to use them for anything else.

"Does anybody have anything more to say? Questions, comments, club business?" Diana was looking around the group. "Then I'm declaring the meeting over. You can all go or stay as you like. We'll have another meeting tomorrow afternoon to honor Kori and talk about a plan of action."

There was a murmur of voices as people turned to one another and got up. The electric tension that had held the group together had dissipated, but there was an unfinished feeling in the air, as if nobody really wanted to leave yet.

Suzan went over behind a rock and pulled out several wet six-packs of diet soft drinks. Laurel promptly went behind another rock and returned with a large thermos.

"It's rose-hip tea," she said, pouring a cup of fragrant, dark red liquid and smiling at Cassie. "No tea leaves at all, but it'll warm you up and make you feel better. Roses are soothing and purifying."

"Thanks," said Cassie, taking it gratefully. Her head was spinning. Information overload, she thought.

I'm a witch, she thought then, wonderingly. Half a witch, anyway. And Mom and Grandma – they're both hereditary witches. It was a bizarre and almost impossible notion to swallow.

She took another gulp of the hot, sweet drink, shivering in spite of herself.

"Here," Melanie said. She removed the pale green shawl and put it around Cassie's shoulders. "We're used to the cold; you're not. If you want, we can make a fire."

"No, I'm fine with the shawl," Cassie said, tucking her bare feet under her. "It's beautiful – is it very old?"

"It was my great-grandmother's great-grandmother's – if you can believe the old stories."

Melanie said. "We usually get more dressed up for Circles – we can wear anything we feel like, and sometimes it gets outrageous. But tonight…"

"Yes." Cassie nodded in understanding. Melanie was being nicer than usual, she thought. More like Laurel or Diana. It puzzled Cassie for a moment – and then she got it.

I'm one of them, she thought, and for the first time the full import of this struck her. Not a puppy off the street anymore. I'm a full member of the Club.

She felt the bubbles of excitement, of exhilaration in her bloodstream again. And there was a deeper feeling, too, of recognition. As if something at her core was nodding, saying Yes, I knew all along.

Cassie looked at Melanie quietly sipping her tea, and at Laurel straightening a pink candle that was slumping over. Then she looked at Diana, standing a little distance up the beach with the Henderson brothers, the three blond heads close together. Diana seemed to feel no self-consciousness about wearing the thin white shift and the fancy jewelry. It seemed a natural costume for her.

My people, Cassie thought. The sudden sense of belonging – of loving – was so intense that tears came to her eyes. Then she looked at

Deborah and Suzan, deep in conversation, and at Faye, who was listening with a bland smile to something Sean was excitedly saying, and at Nick, who was staring silently out at the ocean, a can of something that wasn't soda in his hand.

Even them, she thought. She was willing to try and get along with all the other members, with everyone who shared her blood. Even the ones who'd tried to keep her out.

She looked back at Laurel, to find the slim, brown-haired girl watching her with the hint of a sympathetic smile.

"A lot to deal with at once," Laurel said knowingly.

"Yes. But it's exciting, too."

Laurel smiled. "So now that you're a witch," she said, "what's the first thing you're going to do?"

Cassie laughed, feeling something almost like intoxication. Power, she thought. There's so much Power out there – and now I can take it. She shook her head and lifted the hand that wasn't holding rose-hip tea. "What can we do?" she said. "I mean, what sorts of things?"

Laurel and Melanie exchanged glances. "Basically, you name it," Melanie said. She picked up the book that Diana had shown Cassie earlier and riffled through it, showing Cassie the pages. They were yellowing and brittle and covered with cramped, illegible writing. They were also covered with pink Post-it notes and plastic tape flags. Almost every page had one and some had several.

"This is the first Book of Shadows we got hold of," said Melanie. "We found it in Diana's attic. Since then we've found others – every family is supposed to have one. We've been working on this one for maybe five years, deciphering the spells and copying them out in modern language. I'm even putting it on my computer for easier cross-reference."

"Sort of a Floppy Disk of Shadows," Cassie said.

Laurel grinned. "Right. And it's funny, you know, but once you start learning spells and rituals, it seems to wake up something inside you – and you start coming up with your own."

"Instinct," Cassie murmured.

"Right," said Laurel. "We all have it, some more than others. And some of us are better than others at certain things, like calling on the different Powers. I work best with Earth." Laurel took a handful of sand and let it trickle through her fingers.

"Three guesses as to what Faye works best with," Melanie said dryly.

"But anyway, to answer your question, there's lots we can do," Laurel said. "It all depends on your taste. Spells of protection, of defense – "

"Or attack," put in Melanie, with a glance toward Deborah and Suzan.

" – spells for little things, like lighting fires, and for big ones, like – well, you'll find out. Charms for healing, and for finding things out – scrying and divining. Love potions…" She smiled as Cassie looked up quickly. "That interest you?"

"Oh, a little, maybe." Cassie blushed. God, she wished she could just gather her thoughts properly. She still had that nagging feeling that there was something she was missing, something obvious that she was overlooking and should be asking about. But what?

"There's a certain amount of debate over the ethics of love potions and love spells," Melanie was saying, her gray eyes not entirely approving. "Some people feel it violates a person's free will, you know. And a spell misused can rebound on the person who casts it – threefold. Some people don't feel it's worth the risk."

"And other people," Laurel said mock solemnly, her brown eyes sparkling, "say that all's fair in love and war. If you know what I mean."

Cassie bit her lip. No matter how hard she tried to concentrate on that nagging worry, another thought was pushing it out of her mind.

Or, not a thought so much as a hope, the sudden glimpse of a possibility.

Love potions. And finding things out. Something to find him and bring him to her. Was there such a spell? She seemed to feel in her bones that there was.

To find him… the boy with the blue-gray eyes. Warmth pooled in Cassie's stomach and her palms tingled. The very possibility seemed to lift her on wings. Oh, please, if she could only ask one thing…

"Supposing," she said, and was relieved to hear her voice sound normal, "you wanted to, say, find somebody you'd met and lost track of. Somebody you – liked, and wanted to see again. Would there be any kind of a spell for that?"

Laurel's brown eyes sparkled again. "Now, is this a boy-type person we're supposing about here?" she said.

"Yes." Cassie knew she was blushing again.

"Well – " Laurel glanced at Melanie, who was shaking her head in a resigned way, then turned back to Cassie. "I'd say something like a simple tree spell. Trees are attuned to things like love and friendship, anything that grows and brings life. And fall is a good time to use things you harvest, like apples. So I'd do an apple spell. In one, you take an apple and split it. Then you take two needles – ordinary sewing needles – and put one through the eye of the other and bind them together with thread. Then put them inside the apple and close it up again. Tie it so it stays closed. Then tie it back on the tree and say some words to tell the tree what you want."

"What kind of words?"

"Oh, a poem or something," Laurel said. "Something to invoke the power of the tree and help you visualize what you're asking for. It's best to make it rhyme. I'm not good at making up that kind of thing, but, like: 'Friendly tree, friendly tree, bring my special friend to me.' "

No. Not quite, Cassie thought, a thrill going through her. Laurel's words were changing in her mind, transforming, expanding. She seemed to hear a voice, bell clear and yet remote.

Bud and blossom, leaf and tree,

Find him, bind him, now to me.

Shoot and seedling, root and bough,

Threads of love entwine us now.

Her lips moved soundlessly with the words. Yes, she knew somehow in the very core of her that that was right. That was the spell… but would she really dare to use it?

Yes. For him, I'd risk anything, she thought. She stared down at her fingers as they absently combed through the sand. Tomorrow, she decided. Tomorrow I'll do it. And then afterward I'll spend every minute of every day watching and hoping. Waiting for the time when I see a shadow and look up and it's him, or when I hear footsteps and turn and see him coming. Or when –

What happened next was so startling and unexpected that Cassie almost screamed.

A wet nose thrust under her hand.

What stopped her from screaming was something like heart failure; the shriek got to her throat, and then she actually saw the dog and everything went fuzzy. Her recoiling hand fell limply back. Her lips opened and closed silently. Through a blur and a mist she stared at the liquid brown eyes and the short, silky-bristly hairs on the muzzle. The dog stared back at her, mouth open and laughing, as if to say, "Aren't you happy to see me?"

Then Cassie raised her eyes to look at the dog's master.

He was looking down at her, as he had that day on the beach in Cape Cod. The moonlight tangled in his red hair, turning some strands to flame while others were dark as wine. His blue-gray eyes looked silver.

He'd found her.

Everything was motionless. The ocean's roar seemed hushed and distant, and Cassie was aware of no other sound. Even the breeze had died. It was as if the entire world was waiting.

Slowly, Cassie got to her feet.

The green shawl fell behind her, discarded. She could feel the cold, but only because it made her aware of her own body, of every part of it, tingling like electricity. Yet strangely, although she was keenly aware of her body, she also seemed to be floating above it. Just like the first time, she seemed to see herself – and him – standing there on the beach.

She could see herself in her thin white night-gown and bare feet, her hair loose on her shoulders, looking up at him. Like Clara in the Nutcracker ballet, she thought, when she wakes up in the middle of the night and looks at the Nutcracker Prince who's come to take her away into a world of magic. She felt like Clara. As if the moonlight had transformed her into something delicate and beautiful, something enchanted. As if he might take her in his arms right then and dance with her. As if in the moonlight they could dance forever.

They were gazing at each other. From the moment their eyes had met, neither of them had looked away. She could see the wonder in his face. As if he were as surprised to see her as she was to see him – but how could he be? He had found her; he must have been looking for her.

The silver cord, she thought. She couldn't see it now, but she could feel it, feel the vibrations of its power. She could feel it connecting them, heart to heart. The trembling went from her chest into her stomach, and then all over.

The cord was tightening, drawing them together. It was pulling her closer to him. Slowly, his hand came up and he reached out to her. She raised her own hand, to put it in his –

And there was a cry from behind her. The tall boy looked over her shoulder, distracted. And then his hand fell away.

Something came between them, something bright. Bright like sunlight, shattering Cassie's trance. It was Diana, and she was embracing the tall red-haired boy. She was holding him. No – they were holding each other. Cassie stared, stunned, at the sight of him with his arms around someone else. She was barely able to comprehend the words she heard next.

"Oh, Adam – I'm so glad you're back."

Cassie stood like a pillar of ice.

She hadn't seen Diana break down before, but Diana was breaking down now. She was crying. Cassie could see her shaking and could see how the tall boy – how Adam – held her to try and stop it.

Held her. He was holding Diana. And his name was Adam.

"You mean she hasn't told you about Adam yet? Diana, there's such a thing as carrying modesty too far…" "Who is he? Is he your boyfriend?…" "He's nice. I think youi'll like him…"

Cassie fell to her knees and buried her face in Raj's fur, clinging to the big dog. She couldn't bear for anyone to see her face right now, and she was grateful for Raj's warm solidity as she leaned against him. Oh, God; oh, God …

Vaguely, she could hear Adam's voice. "What's wrong? I tried to get back for Kori's initiation, but where is she? What's going on?" He looked at Cassie. "And – "

"Her name is Cassie Blake," Diana said. "She's Mrs. Howard's granddaughter, and she's just moved here."

"Yes, I – "

But Diana, her voice distracted by grief, was still speaking. "And we just initiated her instead of Kori."

"What?" Adam demanded. "Why?"

There was a silence. Finally, it was Melanie who spoke up, her voice as quiet and detached as a newscaster's making an announcement. "Because this morning – or yesterday morning, rather, since it's really Wednesday now – Kori's body was found at the bottom of the school hill. Her neck was broken."

"Oh, God." Cassie looked up to see Adam's grip on Diana tighten. He shut his eyes briefly as she leaned against him, shaking again. Then he looked at the Henderson brothers. "Chris… Doug…"

Doug's teeth were clenched. "Outsiders did it," he said.

"Sally did it," snarled Deborah.

"We don't know who did it," Diana said. She spoke with passionate force. "And we're not going to do anything until we find out."

Adam nodded. "And you," he said, looking toward the back of the group. "What have you been doing to help while all this was going on?"

"Not a damn thing," Nick said. He had been standing with his arms folded over his chest, watching impassively. Now his defiant gaze met Adam's and locked with it. It was clear there was no love lost between the two.

"He has been helping, Adam," Diana said, forestalling whatever Adam was about to say next. "He's come to meetings, and he's here tonight. That's all we can ask."

"It's not all I can ask," Adam said.

"Ask away. You're not going to get anything more." Nick turned around. "I'm out of here."

"Oh, don't go…" Laurel began, but Nick was already leaving.

"I've been showing up because Diana asked, but I'm through now. I've had enough for tonight," he said over his shoulder. Then he was gone.

Faye turned to Adam and smiled her slowest, most dazzling smile. She put her hands together and clapped. "Beautiful job, Adam. Here Diana has spent the last three weeks slaving to keep the troops together and you undo it all in the first three minutes. I couldn't have done better myself."

"Oh, get stuffed, Faye," said Laurel.

Cassie, meanwhile, was still kneeling. Although she was clinging to Raj, she could see, sense, think of only one thing. Adam's arm – his arm – around Diana's shoulders.

His name is Adam. And he's hers. Not mine; hers. He always has been.

It couldn't be. It was not possible. Beyond all hope, she had found him again; he had come to her. Without a love spell, as if drawn by the very intensity of her need for him, he had come – and she couldn't have him.

How could she have been so stupid? How could she not have realized? They'd all talked tonight about completing the Circle, about twelve members, always twelve. But if she'd stopped to count, she'd have seen that there were only eleven. Diana and Melanie and Laurel, that was three; and Faye and Suzan and Deborah, that was six. Plus the boys, the Henderson brothers and Nick and Sean – that was ten. And Cassie made eleven. All along something at the back of her mind had known that it didn't add up, and had been trying to tell her. But she hadn't listened.

And how could I have not known anyway? she thought. How could I have not realized the boy I'd met had to be one of them? The clues were all here, right in front of me. He has Powers – I saw that on the beach with Portia. He read my mind. He told me he was from somewhere else; he told me he was different. Portia even said the word.

Witch.

And tonight I found out that the Club is a coven of witches. The last generation of witches in the New World. I should have realized then that he must be one of them.

I even knew Diana had a boyfriend, a boyfriend who's been away "visiting." The pieces of the puzzle were all there. I just didn't want to put it together.

Because I'm in love with him. I didn't know how much until I saw him again tonight. And he belongs to my best friend. My "sister."

I hate her.

The thought was terrifying in its intensity, making her fists clench in the big dog's fur. It was a raw, primal wash of emotion, a feeling so strong that for a moment it even wiped out the pain. A murderous hatred, red as blood, rushing out from her toward the girl with the hair like moonlight…

Like moonlight and sunlight woven together. Staring at it now, with that acid violence still raging inside her, another picture flashed into Cassie's mind. That same impossibly shining hair falling across the emergency brake in Diana's car. After Diana had rescued her from Faye.

When she was taking you home to take care of you, a voice whispered. And then she cleaned you up and fed you, introduced you to her friends. Protected you, gave you a place to belong. Made you her sister.

Now what was that you were saying about hating her?

Cassie felt the murderous red fury slipping away. She couldn't hold on to it, and she didn't want to try. She couldn't hate Diana… because she loved Diana. And she loved Adam. She loved them both and she wanted them to be happy.

So where does that leave you ? the voice inside her asked.

It was all very simple, really. The two of them were so obviously perfect for each other. Both tall – Diana was just the right height to look into his eyes. Both seniors – Diana was mature enough for him, and how could Cassie ever have imagined that an older guy would go for her? Both strikingly attractive, both confident, both leaders.

And both full-blooded witches, Cassie reminded herself. I'll bet he's incredibly talented – of course he's talented. Diana wouldn't have anything but the best. Because she's the best herself.

And don't forget they're childhood sweethearts. They've been together forever; they don't even see anybody else. Clearly they were made for each other.

So it was all very obvious and very simple – except then why did she feel as if there were razor blades shredding her guts? All she had to do was wish them happiness and put aside any thoughts of Adam and her together. Just resign herself to what was going to happen anyway. Just wish them luck.

That was when, clear and cold, the resolve came to her. No matter what happens, she promised, Diana will never know.

And neither will he.

If Diana found out how Cassie felt, it would upset her. She was so unselfish, she might even feel she had to do something – like give Adam up so Cassie wouldn't be hurt. And even if she didn't, she would feel awful.

So Cassie wouldn't let her know. It was as simple as that.

Not by word or look or deed, she promised herself fiercely. No matter what happens, I won't make Diana unhappy. I swear it.

A wet nose was poking at her, and soft whines sounded in her ears. Raj was complaining about the lack of attention.

"Cassie?"

And Diana was talking to her. Cassie realized what she must look like, clinging to the big dog in a daze.

"What?" she said, trying to keep her lips from trembling.

"I said, are you all right?"

Diana was looking at her, those clear green eyes full of concern. There were recent tears on the heavy lashes. Looking into those eyes, Cassie did the bravest thing she had ever done in her life. Braver than standing up to Jordan Bain-bridge and his gun, far braver than throwing herself out to rescue Sally on the hill.

She smiled.

"I'm fine," she said, giving Raj a final pat and getting to her feet. Her voice sounded like somebody else's, incredibly false and stupid. But Diana wasn't expecting her to be false, and Diana relaxed. "I'm just – so much has happened tonight," Cassie went on, "I guess I'm a little overwhelmed."

Adam was opening his mouth. He was going to tell everyone, Cassie realized. He was going to tell them how he and Cassie had met and everything that happened. And then Faye, who wasn't stupid, was going to put two and two together. She was going to realize he was the boy in Cassie's poem.

And that couldn't happen. She wouldn't let it. No one must ever know.

"And you didn't introduce me yet," she blurted out desperately to Diana. "You know I've been wanting to meet your boyfriend ever since you told me about him."

There. It was said. Your boyfriend. Adam was looking puzzled, but Diana, innocent Diana, was looking chagrined.

"I'm sorry; I didn't, did I? Cassie, this is Adam – I know you two will like each other. He's been away – "

"Visiting," Cassie put in feverishly as Adam opened his mouth again.

"No, not visiting. I know I told you that before, but now I can tell you the truth. He's been looking for certain – objects – that belonged to the old coven, the original one. From their records, we can tell that they had some powerful tools that somehow got lost. The Master Tools. Ever since Adam heard about them, he's been searching for them."

"And coming back empty-handed," Faye commented in her husky voice, amused. "I don't suppose this time is any different."

Adam's attention was distracted. He looked at the tall black-haired girl and smiled. It was a mischievous smile, full of the promise of secrets.

"What?" said Faye cynically, and then, as he simply kept smiling at her, "What? You don't expect us to believe…"

"Adam," Diana said, her voice changing, "are you saying that… ?"

Adam just grinned at them, then he jerked his head toward a duffel bag lying a little way down the beach. "Sean, go get that."

Sean scuttled to get it and came back saying, "It's heavy."

"Adam…" whispered Diana, her eyes wide.

Adam took the duffel bag from Sean and put it on the ground. "It's too bad Nick was in such a hurry to get away," he said. "If he'd stayed, he might have seen this." He reached inside with both hands and pulled out a skull.

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