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The Power (Chapter Fifteen)

Around four o'clock the power went off. The house got colder. They lit candles and went on reading.

"'For Protection Against Fire and Water,'" Cassie read. But Melanie said the spell which came after wasn't powerful enough to protect against a hurricane, and Cassie knew she was right.

"Here, this is To Cast Out Fear and Malignant Emotions,'" Diana read from her own book. "'Sun by day/ and moon by night/ let all dark thoughts/ be put to flight.' Nice thought."

They went on reading. A Charm to Cure a Sickly Child. An Amulet for Power. Three Spells to Bind a Lover. To Raise a Storm – that, they didn't need, Cassie thought wryly. She read again about crystals: how the larger a crystal was, the more energy it could store and focus. The spell To Turn Aside Evil, she read aloud, although she didn't understand it.

"'Invoke the power which is yours alone, calling upon the elements or those features of the natural world which lie closest to your heart. These powers have you over all that is evil: powers of sun and moon and stars, and of everything belonging to the earth.'"

She read it again, puzzling. "I still don't get it."

"I think it means that as witches we can call on nature, on the things that are good, to fight evil," Melanie said.

"Yes, but how do we call on them?" Cassie said. "And what do they do when we do it?"

Melanie didn't know.

It got dark. The gray light from the windows got dimmer and dimmer and finally faded altogether. Wind banged the shutters and rattled the glass in the windows. The rain kept coming steadily in the blackness.

"What do you think he'll do?" asked Suzan.

"Something unfriendly," said Laurel.

Cassie was proud of them. They were scared;

she knew them well enough to know that fear was what was behind Deborah's restless pacing and Melanie's stillness, but none of them were running away or backing down. Doug cracked bad jokes, and Chris made paper airplanes. Nick sat tense and silent, and Adam kept Doug's headphones on, listening to the news on the radio.

At six o'clock the storm stopped.

Cassie's ears, used to the drumming of rain and the clattering and banging and howling of wind, felt suddenly empty. She looked and saw the others were all sitting alert.

"It can't be over," Suzan said. "Unless it missed us?"

"It's still out in the Atlantic," Adam said. "They think it should hit land in about an hour. This is just the calm before the storm."

"Cassie?" said Diana.

"I think he's making his move," Cassie said, trying to sound calm. And then every muscle in her body tightened.

Cassandra.

It was his voice in her mind. She looked at the others and saw they'd heard it too.

Bring your coven to the end of Crowhaven Road. To Number Thirteen, Cassandra. I'm waiting for you.

Cassie's fingers clenched on a piece of unfolded laundry lying nearby. She tried to concentrate on the power of the Master Tools, on the warmth where they touched her. Then she pushed with her mind, forming words.

We're coming. Say hello to Faye.

She let out her breath. Doug grinned at her. "Pretty good," he said.

It was sheer bravado, and they all knew it, but it made Cassie feel better. She inconspicuously wiped her wet palms on the laundry and stood up. "Let's go," she said.

Diana had been right; wearing the symbols of the coven leader and the white shift, she didn't feel cold. Outside, the sky was clear and the earth was silent except for the sound of the waves. Yes, the calm before the storm, Cassie thought. It was a very uneasy calm, ready to erupt into violence again at any moment.

Melanie said, "Look at the moon."

Cassie's stomach lurched.

It looked like a crescent moon, a silver disk with a bite out of it. But Cassie sensed the wrongness there. It wasn't a crescent moon; it was a full moon being invaded, overshadowed. She was watching darkness fall on a bright world.

She thought she could actually see the shadow moving, covering more of the white surface.

"Come on," she said.

They walked up the wet street, making for the headland. They passed Suzan's house with its Grecian pillars, a gray bulk against the moonlight. They passed Sean's house, just as dark. Water gurgled down the sides of the road in little rivers. They passed Cassie's house.

They reached the vacant lot at Number Thirteen.

It looked just the way it had when they had celebrated Halloween here by making a bonfire and calling up Black John's spirit. Empty, deserted. Barren. There was nobody here.

"Is it a trick?" Nick asked sharply. Cassie shook her head uncertainly. The little voice inside wasn't telling her anything. She looked eastward at the moon, and felt another shock.

It was visibly smaller, the crescent very thin now. The shadow was not black or gray, but a dull copper-brown color.

"Ten minutes until totality," Melanie said.

"About half an hour until the hurricane reaches land," said Adam.

A fresh wind blew around them. Cassie's feet, in the thin white shoes Diana had brought for her, were damp.

They stood uncertainly. Cassie listened to the waves crashing at the base of the cliff. Her senses were alert, searching, but nothing seemed to be happening. Minutes dragged by and her nerves stretched more and more taut.

"Look," Diana whispered.

Cassie looked at the moon again.

The dull brownish shadow was swallowing up the last fingernail-thin edge of brightness. Cassie watched it go, like a candle winking out. Then she gasped.

The sound was involuntary and she was ashamed of it, but everyone else was gasping too. Because the moon hadn't just gone dark, like a new moon, and it wasn't even the coppery-brown color. As it was covered by shadow it turned red, a deep and ominous red, like old blood. High in the sky, perfectly visible, it glowed like a coal with unnatural light.

Then someone choked and Sean made a squealing noise.

Cassie turned quickly, in time to see it happening. On the empty lot before them, something was appearing. A rectangular bulk was taking shape, and as Cassie watched, it became more and more solid. She could see a steeply pitched roof, flat clapboard walls, small windows irregularly placed. A door made of heavy planks. It looked like the old wing of her grandmother's house, the original dwelling from 1693.

It shone with a dull light, like the blood-red moon.

"Is it real?" Deborah whispered.

Cassie had to wait a moment to get the breath to speak. "It's real now," she said. "Right now, for a few minutes, it's real."

"It's horrible," Laurel whispered.

Cassie knew what she was feeling, what the whole coven was feeling. The house was evil, in the same way that the skull was evil. It looked twisted, askew, like something out of a nightmare. And it gripped all of them with an instinctual terror. Cassie could hear Chris and Doug breathing hard.

"Don't go near it," Nick said tightly. "Everybody stay back until he comes out."

"Don't worry," Deborah assured him. "Nobody's going near that."

Cassie knew better.

The inner voice, silent just a few moments ago, was telling her clearly now what she had to do. What it wasn't telling her was how to get up the courage to do it.

She looked behind her, at the rest of them standing there. The Club. The Circle. Her friends.

Ever since her initiation, Cassie had been so happy to be a part of this group. She'd relied on different members of it at different times, crying on Diana and clinging to Nick and Adam when she needed them. But now there was something she had to do, and not even Nick or Adam could help her with it. Not even Diana could go with her.

"I have to go alone," she said.

She figured out that she'd said it aloud when she saw them all staring at her. The next instant they were all protesting.

"Don't be crazy, Cassie. That's his territory; you can't go in there," Deborah said.

"Anything could happen. Let him come out," Nick told her.

"It's too dangerous. We won't let you go by yourself," Adam said flatly.

Cassie looked at him reproachfully, because he was the one who'd said that being coven leader might not be good for her; and he was right, so he was the one who should understand now. Of course this was dangerous, but she had to do it. Black John – John Blake – Jack Brunswick, whatever you wanted to call him –  had summoned her here, and he was waiting for her inside. And Cassie had to go.

"If you didn't want to listen to me you shouldn't have elected me leader," she said. "But I'm telling you now, that's what he wants. He isn't coming out. He wants me to go in."

"But you don't have to," Chris said, almost pleading.

Of them all, only Diana was silent. She stood, mouth trembling, tears hanging on her lashes. It was to her that Cassie spoke. "Yes, I do," she said.

And Diana, who understood about being a leader, nodded.

Cassie turned away before she could see Diana cry. "You stay here," she said to all of them, "until I come out. I'll be all right; I've got the Master Tools, remember?" Then she started walking toward the house. The nails in the heavy timber door were set in a pattern of swirls and diamonds. They seemed to glow redder than the wood around them. Cassie touched the iron door-handle hesitantly, but it was cool and solid to her fingers. The door swung open before her and she went inside. Everything here was slightly misty, like a red hologram, but it felt real enough. The kitchen was much like her grandmother's kitchen and it was empty. The parlor next door was the same. A flight of narrow, winding stairs rose from the back corner of the parlor.

Cassie climbed the steps, noting with a strange amusement the incongruity of the tin lantern hanging on the wall. It was giving off a cold, eerie red light, barely brighter than the house itself. The stairs were steep and her heart was pounding when she reached the top.

The first small bedroom was empty. So was the second. That left only the large room over the kitchen.

Cassie walked toward it without faltering. On the threshold she saw that the red glow in here was brighter, like the surface of the shadowed moon.

She went in.

He was inside, standing so tall that his head almost touched the uneven ceiling. He was giving off a light of pure evil. His face was triumphant and cruel, and inside, Cassie thought she could see the outlines of the skull.

Cassie stopped and looked at him.

"Father," she said, "I've come."

"With your coven," Black John said. "I'm proud of you." He extended a hand to her, which she ignored.

"You brought them here very nicely," he went on. "I'm glad they had the sense to acclaim you as leader."

"It's only temporary," Cassie said.

Black John smiled. His eyes were on the Master Tools. "You wear them well," he said.

Cassie felt a slow writhe of panic in her stomach. Everything was going according to his plan, she could see that. She was here, with the tools he'd wanted for so long, on his territory, in his house. And she was afraid of him.

"There's no need to be frightened, Cassandra," he said. "I don't want to hurt you. We don't need to quarrel. We have the same purpose: to unify the coven."

"We don't have the same purpose."

"You are my daughter."

"I'm no part of you!" Cassie cried. He was playing on her emotions, looking for her weaknesses. And every minute the hurricane was getting closer to land. Cassie sought desperately for a distraction, and she glimpsed something behind the tall man.

"Faye," she said. "I didn't see you there, standing in his shadow."

Faye stepped forward indignantly. She was wearing the black silk shift, like a negative image of Cassie's, and her own diadem, bracelet, and garter. She lifted her head proudly and gazed at Cassie with smoldering golden eyes.

"My two queens," Black John said fondly. "Dark and bright. Together, you will rule the coven – "

"And you'll rule us?" Cassie asked sharply. Black John smiled again. "It's a wise woman who knows when to be ruled by a man."

Faye wasn't smiling. Cassie looked at her sideways.

Black John didn't appear to notice. "Do you want me to stop the hurricane?" he asked Cassie.

"Yes. Of course." This was what she'd come for, to hear his terms. And to try and find his weak point. Cassie waited.

"Then all you have to do is swear an oath. A blood oath, Cassandra; you're familiar with those." He held a hand out to Faye without looking at her. Faye stared at the hand for an instant, then reached down to pull a dagger out of her garter. The black-handled knife used for casting circles on the ground. Black John held it up, then he cut his own palm. Blood welled out sluggishly, dark red.

Like Adam, Cassie thought wildly, her heart accelerating. Like the oath Adam and I swore.

The tall man held the dagger toward Cassie. When she made no move to step forward and take it, he held it toward Faye. "Give it to her," he said.

Faye took the dagger and handed it to Cassie, handle first. Slowly, Cassie's fingers grasped it. Faye moved back to Black John's side.

"It's just a little blood, Cassandra. Swear obedience to me and I'll release the hurricane, let it turn harmlessly back out to sea. Then you and I can begin our reign together."

The dagger was actually trembling in Cassie's hand. There was no way to steady her pulse now. She knew what she was going to do, but she needed time to get her nerve up.

"How did you kill Jeffrey?" she said. "And why?"

The tall man looked momentarily taken aback, then he recovered. "By getting him to sit down for a moment; and to cause dissent between our kind and the outsiders," he said.

He smiled. "Besides, I didn't like his attention to my daughter. He wasn't one of us, Cassandra."

Cassie wished Portia could see her "Mr. Brunswick" now. "Why did you use Sean?" she asked.

"Because he was weak, and he already wore a stone that I could influence," he said. "Why all these questions? Don't you realize – "

He broke off then and moved lightning fast. While he was in the middle of speaking, Cassie had thrown the dagger at him. She'd never thrown a knife before, but some ancestor who'd worn the Master Tools must have, because the bracelet seemed to guide her right arm, and the dagger flashed end over end straight toward Black John's heart. But the tall man was simply too quick. He caught the dagger in midair – by the blade – and stood holding it, looking at Cassie.

"That was unworthy of you, Cassandra," he said. "And hardly any way to behave to your father. Now I'm angry with you."

He didn't sound angry; his voice was cold as death and poisonous. Cassie had thought she'd been afraid before, but that had been nothing. Now she was truly afraid. Her knees were weak and the pounding of her heart shook her whole body.

Black John tossed the dagger back and it stuck in the floor in front of Cassie, quivering. "The hurricane is about to reach land," he said. "You don't have a choice; you've never had a choice. Take the oath, Cassandra. Do it!"

I'm frightened, Cassie thought. Please, I'm so frightened . . . She was wearing the Master Tools, but she had no idea how to use them.

"I am your father. Do as I tell you."

If only I knew how to use them …

"You have no power to defy me!"

"Yes, I do," Cassie whispered. In her mind, a door opened, a silver light dawned. Like the moon coming out of a shadow, it illuminated everything. She understood the spell to turn aside evil now. Invoke the power which is yours alone . . . these powers have you over all that is evil…

Suddenly, she felt as if a long line of witches were standing behind her. She was only the last, only one of them, and all their knowledge was hers. Their knowledge and their power. Words rose to her lips.

"Power of moon have I over thee," she said shakily.

Black John stared at her, seeming to recoil.

"Power of moon have I over thee," Cassie repeated, more strongly. "Power of sun have I over thee."

Black John stepped back.

Cassie stepped forward, searching for the next words in her mind. But she didn't say them. A voice said them for her, a voice behind her.

"Power of stars have I over thee. Power of planets have I over thee."

It was Diana, her fair hair stirred as if in a light wind. She came to stand behind Cassie, tall and proud and slender, like a silver sword. Cassie's heart swelled; she had never been more glad to have anybody disregard her instructions in her life.

"Power of tides have I over thee. Power of rain have I over thee," said Adam. He was right beside Diana, his hair shining like firelight, like rubies, in the red glow.

Deborah was behind him, her dark hair tumbling around a small face fierce with concentration. "Power of wind have I over thee," she said.

Nick joined her, his eyes cold and angry. "Power of ice have I over thee."

And Laurel. "Power of leaf have I over thee.

Power of root have I over thee."

And Melanie. "Power of rock have I over thee."

They were all here, all joining Cassie, adding their voices to hers. And Black John was cowering before them.

"Power of thunder have I over thee," Doug told him, and, "Power of lightning have I over thee," shouted Chris.

"Power of dew have I over thee," Suzan said, and pushed a small figure in front of her. It was Sean, and he was shaking, seemingly terrified to come face to face with the man who had controlled his mind. But his voice rose in a shriek.

"Power of blood have I over thee!"

Black John was against the red wall of the house now, and he looked shrunken. His features had lost definition, and the red glow had died, leaving him black in reality.

But there were only eleven in Cassie's coven; the Circle wasn't complete. And only a full Circle could stand against this man.

As Sean's yell died, Black John straightened. He took a step toward them, and Cassie's breath caught.

"Power of fire have I over thee!" a husky voice cried, and he fell back. In astonishment, Cassie looked at Faye. The tall girl seemed to have gained height as Black John had lost it, and she looked every inch a barbarian queen as she stood glaring at him. Then she moved to stand beside Cassie. "Power of darkness have I over thee," she said, each word a stabbing knife. "Power of night have I over thee!"

Now, thought Cassie. He was weak, wounded, and they were united. Now, if ever, was the time to defeat him.

But neither Fire nor Water had done it before. Black John had been defeated twice, had died twice, but always he'd come back. If they were going to get rid of him permanently they had to do more than destroy his body. They had to destroy the source of his power – the crystal skull.

If we only had a larger crystal, Cassie thought. But there was no larger crystal. She thought desperately of the protruding outcrops of granite in New Salem . . . but they weren't crystal, they wouldn't hold and focus energy. Besides, she didn't just need a big crystal, she needed an enormous one. One so huge – so huge . . .

I like to think of crystals as a beach, she heard Melanie's laughing voice say in her mind. A crystal is just fossilized water and sand . . .

Along with the words came a picture. A glimpse of Cassie's own hand that first day on the beach at Cape Cod. "Look down," Portia had hissed, seeing Adam coming, and so Cassie had looked down, ashamed, staring at her own fingers trailing in the sand. In the sand that glittered with tiny flecks of garnet, with green and gold and brown and black crystals. A beach. A beach.

"With me!" Cassie shouted. "All of you think with me – give me your power! Now!"

She pictured it clearly, the long beach stretching parallel to Crowhaven Road. More than a mile of it, of crystal piled on crystal. She sent her thoughts racing toward it, gathering the power of the coven behind her. She focused on it, through it, looking now at Black John – at the crystal skull with its grinning teeth and its hollow eyes. And then she pushed with her mind.

She felt it go out of her, like a rush of heat, like a solar flare with the energy of the entire Circle driving it. It poured through her into the beach, and from the beach into Black John, focused and intensified, with all the power of Earth and Water combined. And this time when the skull exploded it was in a shattering rain of crystal like the blasted amethyst pendant.

There was a scream that Cassie would never forget. Then the floor of the house at Number Thirteen disappeared from under her feet.

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