The Power (Chapter Eight)
"All right, come inside," Faye said. They filed into the circle through a gap which faced northeast, and sat down around the inner perimeter. It was strange to see only the faces of girls around the circle, Cassie thought.
"Do you want to explain or shall I?" Diana asked Faye, her hand on the white bag. There was still something inside it.
"Oh, you can explain" Faye said negligently.
"All right. We each take a candle, you see, and light it, and put it in a circle in the middle. And we each say a word, naming one of the aspects of womanhood. Not the stages, you know, like maiden, mother, and crone, but a quality. A – "
"Virtue," Melanie helped her out.
"Right. A virtue. Something that women have. Then, when we get all of them together, we show the candles to the elements and get their blessing. It's an affirmation of what we girls are, sort of; a celebration."
"I think that's lovely," Cassie said softly.
"All right; let's do it. Who wants red, or do I need to ask?" Diana took a red candle out of the bag. Very faintly, Cassie thought she caught the warm, spicy scent of cinnamon.
"Me. I'm red," Faye said. She turned the candle over in her hands, examining its smooth waxiness. She held it upright and cupped a hand swiftly around the wick. Cassie saw the flame spring into being, shining through Faye's fingers so they looked like pink shells, turning Faye's long red nails into jewels.
Diana, who had been holding a pack of matches toward Faye, put them down.
"Passion," Faye said throatily, smiling her old, slow smile around the group as she dripped wax on the road and stuck the candle in it.
"Is that a virtue?" Melanie asked skeptically.
Faye raised an eyebrow. "It's an aspect of womanhood. It's the one I want to celebrate."
"Let her have it," Laurel said. "Passion's okay."
The red candle burned like a star.
"Next comes orange," said Diana. "Who wants that?"
"I'll take it," Suzan said. The orange candle was close to the titian of Suzan's own hair. Suzan sniffed at it.
"Peaches," she said, and Cassie could smell the sweet, voluptuous fragrance from where she sat. "All right: beauty," Suzan said. She lit her candle in the conventional manner, with a match.
"Beauty definitely isn't – "
"Well, it's not a virtue, but it's something women have," Cassie argued. Melanie rolled her eyes. Suzan stuck the orange candle in its own wax on the road, beside the red one.
"Here, let me go next. I know how to do this," Deborah said. She snatched up the white sack and rummaged in it, coming out with a yellow candle.
"Matches," she said commandingly to Suzan, who put them in her outstretched palm. Deborah lit the yellow candle.
"Courage," she said, clearly and distinctly, tilting the candle so a transparent stream of yellow wax ran onto the road. Cassie smelled a clean lemony sharpness and thought that it smelled like Deborah, like courage. The flame of the yellow candle lit Deborah's dark hair and flickered madly off her leather jacket as it burned by the other two.
"Okay, green," Diana said, retrieving the bag.
"Me," said Melanie, and took the dark green candle. She was sitting right beside Cassie and Cassie leaned in to smell the wax when Melanie did. It was scented with something woodsy: pine, Cassie decided. Like a Christmas tree.
"Wisdom," said Melanie, her cool gray eyes steady as she lit the wick. She breathed in the scent for a moment, then placed the green candle on the road. The four burning candles formed a semicircle.
"Now blue," said Diana. Cassie felt a jolt of nervousness and excitement. Blue was her favorite color, and she wanted it, but she wasn't quite sure she ought to speak out. Still, Diana and Laurel weren't saying anything, and she remembered that Laurel liked amethysts and often wore purple. Cassie cleared her throat.
"I'll take it," she said, and reached for the pale blue candle Diana offered. She was very pleased to have it, to represent blue in the coven's rainbow – but she hadn't thought of anything to say. What's blue like? she asked herself, sniffing at the candle to gain time. What virtue do girls have that I want to celebrate?
She couldn't quite identify the scent, which was sweet but sharp. "It's bayberry," Melanie told her, as Cassie kept sniffing. "A smell with a history. The colonists all used to make bayberry candles."
"Oh." Maybe that was why it smelled familiar. Maybe her grandmother had burned bayberry candles – her grandmother had done a lot of old-fashioned things. Cassie knew what virtue she wanted to celebrate now.
"Inspiration," she said. "That's imagination – or like the flash of an idea, you know. When my grandmother was helping make my muse outfit for Halloween, she said that's what the muses were for: They gave people inspiration, the ability to think of new things, to have brilliant ideas. And they were female, the muses."
Cassie hadn't meant to make a speech, and she looked down, embarrassed. I didn't get the matches, she realized – and then she had an inspiration. Cupping her hand around the candlewick as Faye had, she concentrated hard, thinking of fire, bright leaping fire – then she pushed with her mind, the way she had with the doberman and with Sean. She felt the power leave her like a blast of heat and focus on the wick and suddenly a flame shot up, so high that she had to jerk her hand away to keep from getting burned.
"An idea – just like that," she said, a little shaken, and she dripped wax on the road to stick the blue candle in. The other girls were looking at her wide-eyed, except Faye, whose eyes were narrow and hooded.
Deborah grinned. "I guess we've got more than one fire-handler around here," she said. Faye looked even less amused.
"Ah – purple," Diana said, giving herself a little shake and taking a lavender candle from the bag.
"That's me. How did you do that, Cassie? All right; I'm going on with the ceremony. I just wanted to know," Laurel said. She looked at her candle. "I don't know how to get mine into one word," she said. "I wanted to do environmental awareness – sort of like, connectedness to all things. We're a part of the earth and we should care about all the other things that live here with us."
"What about 'compassion'?" Melanie said quietly. "That would cover it, I think."
"That's good; compassion." Laurel lit the purple candle.
"What's it smell like?" Suzan whispered as Laurel stuck the candle in the road between Cassie's blue candle and Faye's red one, completing the rainbow circle.
"It's sweet and floral; I think it's supposed to be hyacinth," Laurel whispered back.
"Wait," Cassie said. "If it goes there, what about Diana? Don't you get a candle, Diana?" She felt jealous on Diana's behalf, she wanted the blond girl to have a turn too.
"Yes: white goes in the middle, and I'm the only one left to do it." And it's perfect, Cassie thought, watching Diana take out the vanilla-scented white candle and hold it up. Diana represented white as surely as Faye did red.
It showed in the virtue Diana named, too. "Purity," she said simply, lighting the white candle with a match and reaching into the circle of candles to place it in the center. Anybody else would have sounded ridiculous saying it, but Diana looked like the embodiment of purity sitting there, her beautiful face lit by the candles, her silky straight hair of that impossible color falling down her back. Her expression was serious and unself-conscious. When Diana said purity she meant purity, and not even Faye dared to snicker.
The circle of candles was pretty; seven tongues of flame leaping and dancing in the night air; seven scents mingling into one delicious composite fragrance. Eddies in the breeze seemed to bring the smell of cinnamon to Cassie, then a whiff of pine, then the sharpness of lemon.
"Passion, beauty, courage, wisdom, inspiration, compassion, and purity," Laurel ticked off, pointing to the candles that represented each.
"Let us all . . ." Diana prompted, nudging Faye.
"Let us all have all of them," Faye said. "Earth, Water, Fire, Air, witness. Not that we don't have them already," she added, regarding the glowing circle with a satisfied smile. Laurel's eyes twinkled at Cassie from across the flames and Cassie let her own eyes twinkle back.
"Well, anyway, we have all of them if you count all of us," Deborah said, and grinned. Diana smiled her gentle smile. For a moment, all the girls were smiling at each other over the candles, and Cassie felt as if they were a part of . something bigger. Each of them contributed something important, and together they were more than just the sum of the parts.
"Now we're supposed to let them burn all night," Melanie said, nodding at the candles.
"What if somebody runs them over?" Suzan asked pragmatically.
"Well, I guess if we don't see it, it doesn't matter," Diana said. "Wait, though, there's something else I wanted to do. It's not part of the night of Hecate, but it's another Greek thing, the Arretophoria. It means the trust festival." She reached into the white bag again. "The Greek priestesses of Athena used to do this. It's where one of the older members of the group – that's me – gives a box to the youngest member – that's you, Cassie. You have to go bury the box somewhere without looking at what's inside it. It's supposed to be a dark and perilous journey you go on, but I think Nick's right and you'd better stick around here. Just take it off the road somewhere and bury it."
"And that's all?" Cassie looked at the box Diana had given her. It was made of some light-colored wood, carved all over with tiny, intricate figures: bees and bears and fish. Something inside it rattled. "I just bury it?"
"That's all," Diana said, handing Cassie the last item from the white bag: a small trowel. "The point is that you don't look inside it. That's why it's called the trust festival; it's a celebration of trust and responsibility and friendship. Someday later we'll come back and dig it up."
"Okay." Carrying the box and trowel, Cassie stepped outside the circle and walked away from the group, leaving the little dancing points, of flame behind.
She didn't want to bury the box close to the road. For one thing, the soil was hard and strewn with gravel; it wouldn't be easy to dig here; she'd just be scratching at the surface. Besides, this close someone might see the ground had been disturbed and dig the box up before its time.
Cassie kept walking east. She could hear the whispering of the sea from that direction and feel a faint, salty breeze. She climbed over some large rocks, and the beach stretched out before her, deserted and somehow eerie. Lacy white waves were lapping quietly at the shore.
A yellow moon, just over half full, was rising above the ocean. The mourning moon, Cassie remembered. It was just the color of Faye's eyes. In fact, it looked like a jaundiced, ancient eye, and Cassie had the uncomfortable sense of being spied on as she stuck the trowel into the cold dry sand and began to dig.
That was deep enough. The sand scooped out by the trowel was caked now, and she hoped the moisture wouldn't ruin Diana's box. As Cassie put the wooden box in the hole, moonlight glinted off the brass hasp. It wasn't locked. For just an instant, she had the temptation to open it.
Don't be stupid, she told herself. After all you and Diana have been through, if you can't do a little thing like bury a box without looking inside…
Nobody would know, the voice in her mind countered defensively.
I would know, Cassie told the voice. So there. She dumped sand on the box decisively, scooping with both the trowel and her hand to cover it faster.
It was sometime while she was covering the box that she noticed the blackness.
It's just a shadow, she thought. The moon was high enough now to throw a long shadow behind an outcrop of rock which was closer to the water than Cassie. Cassie watched it out of the corner of her eye as she smoothed the sand over the buried box. There, now you'd never know anything was hidden here. The shadow was stretching closer, but that was just because the moon was rising . . .
Wrong, Cassie thought. She stopped in the middle of brushing sand off her hands and looked at it.
Shadows get shorter as the moon gets higher. Just like the sun, she thought. But this one was definitely closer to her.
The whispering of the ocean was suddenly loud.
I should have listened to Diana. I should have stayed near the group, Cassie thought. Slowly and casually, she glanced over her shoulder. The rocks she'd climbed over seemed far away, and there was no sign of the circle of candles behind them. No sound either, except the waves. Cassie felt exposed and very much alone.
Don't act scared. Get up and go, she told herself. Her heart was knocking against her ribs. As she stood, the shadow moved.
Oh God. There was no way to pretend that was normal. The shadow wasn't even attached to the rock anymore. It was just a blackness on the sand, flowing like water, moving toward her. It was alive.
Go, go! Cassie's mind screamed at her. But her legs wouldn't obey. They were locked, paralyzed. She wasn't going anywhere.
Cassssie. Her head jerked up; she looked for the person who had spoken. But it wasn't a person. It was the waves.
I want to get out of here, Cassie thought. Her legs still wouldn't move.
The blackness flowed like tar, rippling toward her. It divided, pouring itself on either side of her, encircling her.
The shadow was whispering to her with Black John's voice. It eddied around her, a formless darkness like smoke. As she looked down at it, Cassie seemed to see snakes in it, and black beetles, all crawling loathsome things. It was around her, but it didn't want to kill her. It wanted to get into her mind.
She could feel it trying. A pressure as it swirled around her feet. All she could think was, thank God I don't still have the hematite.
I should have listened; why didn't I listen? she thought then. The girls wouldn't miss her for a while. Too long. She wanted to scream, but her throat was as paralyzed as her legs. She could only stand there and watch the rippling blackness swirl around her feet.
Push with your mind, she thought, but she was too frightened. She couldn't scare away this darkness the way she had the doberman. She wasn't strong enough.
Please help me, she thought.
And then, in a rush, it was all she was thinking. Oh please somebody help me, somebody please come, I can't get out of this myself, oh please somebody –
Cassssssie, the whisper came. The waves and the darkness and the watching moon all seemed to be saying it.
Help me …
"Cassie!" It was a shout, not a whisper, and behind it Cassie heard a dog barking. At the sound, Cassie's mind was flooded with images of safety, of comfort. She looked around frantically. Her legs still wouldn't move.
"I'm here!" she shouted back. Even as she called, she felt herself released. The black was edging away, retreating to the rock. Merging with the real shadow there.
"Cassie!" The voice was familiar, loved.
"I'm here," Cassie called again, stumbling toward it. The visions of comfort and safety and closeness were still whirling inside her, pulling her. She followed them. Just as she reached the rocks, strong arms caught her up, held her tightly. She felt the warmth of a human body against her.
Over Nick's shoulder, she met Adam's eyes.
The moon was shining full in his face, turning those eyes odd colors, blue-violet like the bottom of a flame. Like the sky before some strange storm. She thought she could see silver reflecting in his pupils. Raj bounded up beside him, still barking. The German shepherd's tail was waving frantically as he headed for Cassie. Adam caught him by the ruff and held him back.
"Are you okay? Are you hurt?" Nick said in her ear.
"No. I'm all right," she whispered. She didn't know what she was saying.
"You shouldn't have gone off by yourself,"
Nick said angrily. "They shouldn't have let you do it."
"It's okay, Nick." She hung on to him with all her strength and buried her face in his shoulder just as Adam turned, leading the reluctant Raj away. Then she clung there, knowing he could feel her shaking.
"Cassie." He stroked her back soothingly.
Cassie pulled back slightly. Adam was gone. She looked at Nick in the moonlight, at the clean carven handsomeness of his features with their hint of coldness. Except his eyes weren't cold now.
Passion, she thought and brought up Faye's red candle in her mind. Then she kissed him.
She'd never really kissed anybody besides Adam, but she guessed she knew how to do it well enough. Nick's mouth was warm, and that was nice. She felt how startled he was, and then instantly felt the surprise swept away by something deeper, sweeter. She felt him kissing her back.
She kissed not to think. Kissing was good for that. Suzan had been dead wrong about Nick. He wasn't an iguana. Little lines of fire ran along Cassie's nerves, tingling her fingers. She felt warm all over.
Eventually, they both broke it. Cassie looked up at him, her fingers still intermeshed with his.
"Sorry," she said unsteadily. "I was just scared."
"Remind me to get you scared frequently," Nick said. He looked slightly dazed.
"We'd better go back. Black John was here."
She had to give Nick credit; he didn't yell "What?" and shake her. He cast a quick, hunting look around, switching his grip on her so that he was holding her arm with his left hand and his right hand was free.
"He's gone now," she said. "There was a shadow that came out from that rock, but it's not there anymore."
"After this, nobody goes out alone," Nick said, guiding her toward the rocks they had to climb to get back to the crossroads.
"I think he was trying to get into my mind," Cassie told the others when they were all back at Adam's house again. She sat beside Nick, holding tightly to his hand. "To influence me, or. take me over, or whatever. I didn't know how to stop him. If you guys hadn't come, he would have done it."
"Nobody should be out by themselves anymore," Nick said, with a hard glance at Diana. It was unlike Nick to say anything at meetings, but now his voice was decisive, not to be argued with.
"I agree," said Melanie. "Moreover, I think we should do something to defend ourselves, to put up some kind of shield against him."
"What did you have in mind?" Adam asked her. He was sitting on the arm of Diana's chair, his face calm, his voice steady.
"Some kind of crystal might help. Amethyst, maybe. It should help us to focus and fight against him, against any psychic attack. Of course, if anyone were simultaneously wearing another crystal that he could use against them – like hematite – it wouldn't do any good." Melanie was looking at Faye.
Faye made an impatient gesture. "As I've already told my interfering cousin, I don't have any stupid hematite. I don't have to steal other people's crystals."
"All right; we won't argue," Diana said. "Melanie, do you have enough amethysts at your place? Or can you lend us some, Laurel? I think we should get them ready immediately, so everybody can wear them home tonight."
"Yes, and keep them on all the time," Melanie said. "When you take a bath, when you go to sleep, at school, whatever. But wear them under your clothes; don't let him see the crystals, if possible. They'll be more effective that way."
"What a way to end a party," Doug groused, as he picked up his jacket.
"Think of it as a party favor," Nick replied unsympathetically. "A memento." He squeezed Cassie's fingers quickly with a sideways glance, as if to say he knew what he would be remembering.
Cassie felt warmed by that. But as they were leaving for Melanie's house she asked casually, "By the way, why did you guys come after me?"
"Yeah, did you get bored with the party or something? Found out you couldn't deal all by yourselves, so you had to find us girls?" Deborah put in, her dark eyes flashing at Chris.
Chris looked at her oddly. "No, we were dealin' fine. It was Adam who told us to come. He said Cassie was in trouble."