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The Power (Chapter Ten)

Cassie stared, beyond speech, beyond thought. Not believing – but inside her, something knew.

"It's true. He's your father."

Cassie just sat.

"And he wants you to be happy, Cassie. He wants you to be his heir. He's got a lot planned for you."

"And what are you?" Cassie cried, outraged, pushed beyond the limits of her endurance. "My new stepmother?"

Faye chuckled – that infuriating, lazy, self-satisfied chuckle. "Maybe. Why not? I've always liked older men – and he's only about three centuries older."

"You're disgusting!" Cassie couldn't find the right words. None were bad enough, and she didn't want to believe that any of this was actually happening. "You're – you – "

"I haven't done anything yet, Cassie. John and I have a –  business relationship."

Cassie felt as if she were gagging. For herself, for Faye . . . "You call him John?" she whispered.

"What do you think I should call him? Mr. Brunswick? Or what he called himself the last time he was here, Mr. Blake?"

Everything was spinning around Cassie now. The pale green cinderblock walls were whirling. She wanted to faint. If only she could faint she wouldn't have to think.

But she couldn't. Slowly, the spinning steadied, she felt the floor solid beneath her. There was no way to escape this. There was no choice but to deal with it.

"Oh, God," Cassie whispered. "It's true. It's really true."

"It's true," Faye said quietly, with satisfaction. "Your mother was his girlfriend. He told me the whole story, how she fell in love with him when he went over to Number Twelve to borrow some matches. They never did get married, apparently – but I'm sure he didn't begrudge her his name."

It was true … and that had been what Cassie's grandmother was trying to tell her when she died. "I have one more thing to tell you," she'd said, and then Laurel had come in. The last words had only been a whisper, "John" and something else Cassie couldn't make out. But she could recall the shape of her grandmother's lips trying to make it. It had been "Blake."

"Why didn't she try to tell me before?" Cassie whispered raggedly, hardly aware she was speaking aloud. "Why wait until she was dying? Why?"

"Who, your grandma? She didn't want to upset you, I suppose," Faye said. "She probably thought you'd be – disturbed – if you knew. And maybe" – Faye leaned forward – "she knew it would bring you closer to him. You're his own flesh and blood, Cassie. His daughter."

Cassie was shaking her head, blind, nauseated. "The other old women – they must have known too! God, everybody who knew him must have known. And nobody told me. Why didn't they tell me?"

"Oh, stop sniveling, Cassie. I'm sure they didn't tell you because they were afraid of how you'd react. And I must say it looks as if they were right. You're falling apart."

Great-aunt Constance, Cassie was thinking. She must have known. How could she stand to look at me? How can she stand to have my mother in her house?

And Mrs. Franklin had been going to tell her, she realized suddenly. Yes. That had been what that last-minute scene in Aunt Constance's parlor had been all about. Adam's grandmother had been about to tell, about to say something to Cassie about her father. Granny Quincey and Aunt Constance had stopped her. They were all in a conspiracy of silence, to keep the truth from Cassie.

Probably not the parents, Cassie thought slowly, feeling very tired. They probably didn't remember anyway. They'd made themselves forget everything. But Aunt Constance had warned the Circle against stirring up those old memories, and her gaze had settled on Cassie when she did it.

"Just think about it, Cassie," Faye was saying, and that husky voice sounded reasonable now, not gloating or triumphant. "He only wants the best for you; he always has. You were born as part of his plans. I know you and I have had our problems in the past, but John wants us to get along. Won't you just give it a try? Won't you, Cassie?"

Slowly, painfully, Cassie made her eyes focus. Faye was kneeling in front of her. Faye's beautiful, sensual face seemed lit softly from within. She really means it, Cassie thought. She's sincere. Maybe she's in love with him.

And maybe, Cassie mused dizzily, I should think about it. So many things have changed since I came to New Salem – I'm not at all the person I used to be. The old, shy Cassie who never had a boyfriend and never had anything to say is gone. Maybe this is just another change, another stage of life. Maybe I'm at the crossroads.

She looked at Faye for a long moment, searching the depths of those amber eyes. Then, slowly, she shook her head.

No.

Even as she thought it, chill white determination flooded her. That was one road she would never take, no matter what happened. She would never become what Black John –  what her father – wanted.

Without a word, without looking back, Cassie got up and walked away from Faye.

Outside, the melee was still going on. Cassie scanned the front entrance of the school and saw the weak November sun shining on a cascade of fair hair. She headed for it.

"Diana. . ."

"Cassie, thank God! When Nick told us you were alone in his office . . ." Diana's eyes widened. "Cassie, what's wrong?"

"I have to tell you something. At home. Can we go home now?" Cassie was holding on to Diana's hand.

Diana stared at her for another moment, then shook herself. "Yes. Of course. But Nick will be looking for you. He had the idea that we should start a fight on the first floor as a diversion; just grab a bunch of people and start swinging. All the guys did it, and Deborah and Laurel. They're all looking for you."

Cassie couldn't face any of them, especially Nick. Once he knew what she really was – what he'd held in his arms, what he'd kissed …

"Please, can't you just tell them I'm okay, but I need to go home?" Suzan was standing nearby; Cassie nodded at her. "Can't Suzan just tell them?"

"Yes. All right. Suzan, tell everybody I've taken Cassie home. They can stop the fight now." Diana led Cassie down the hill to the parking lot. They had barely reached Diana's car, though, when Adam appeared, running.

"The fight's breaking up – and I'm coming with you," he said. Cassie wanted to argue, but she didn't have the strength. Besides, Diana might need Adam there when Cassie told her the whole story.

Cassie nodded at Adam and he got in the car without further discussion. They drove to Diana's house and went up to Diana's room.

"Now tell us what happened before I have a heart attack," Diana said.

But it wasn't that easy. Cassie went over to the bay window, where sunlight was striking the prisms hanging there so that wedges of rainbow light bobbed and slid over the walls. She turned to look at the black and white prints on either side of the window; Diana's collection of Greek goddesses. There was proud Hera, queenly with her mane of pitch-black hair and her hooded, untamed eyes; there was Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, with her soft bosom exposed; there was fierce Artemis, the virgin huntress afraid of nothing. And here, on the other side, was Athena, the gray-eyed goddess of wisdom, and Persephone, fresh-faced and elfin and surrounded by blooming flowers. Last of all, in color, was the print of a goddess older than the Greek civilization, the great goddess Diana, who ruled the moon and stars and night. Diana, Queen of Witches.

"Cassie!"

"Sorry," Cassie whispered, and slowly turned to face her Diana. Who just now looked sick with suspense.

"I'm sorry," she said, more loudly. "I just don't know how to say this, I guess. But I know now why I was born so much later than all of you . . . or, actually, no, I don't." She pondered that a moment. "Not why I was so late. Unless he knew by then the coven was going to try to throw him out, so he thought he'd better have a back-up . . ." Cassie thought it over and shook her head. Adam and Diana were staring at her as if she'd gone crazy. "I guess I don't know everything. But I'm not half outsider, like we thought. That isn't why he's been after me; it's a completely different reason. We thought Kori and I spoiled his plans somehow . . . oh, God." Cassie stopped, feeling a pain like jagged glass shoot through her. Her eyes filled. "I think –  God, it must be. I know why Kori died. Because of me. If she hadn't died, she would have joined the coven instead of me, and he didn't want that. She was the one he hadn't planned on. So he had to get rid of her." Another spasm of pain almost doubled Cassie over. She was afraid she might be sick.

"Sit down," Adam was saying urgently. They were both helping her to the bed.

"Don't. . . you don't know yet. You might not want to touch me."

"Cassie, for God's sake tell us what you're talking about. You're not making any sense."

"Yes, I am. I'm Black John's daughter."

In that instant, if either of them had loosened their grip on her or recoiled, Cassie felt she might have tried to jump out the window. But Diana's clear green eyes just widened, the pupils huge and bottomless. Adam's eyes turned silver.

"Faye told me, and it's true."

"It's not true," Adam said tightly.

"It's not true, and I'll kill her," Diana said. This, from gentle Diana, was astonishing.

They both went on holding Cassie. Diana was holding her from one side and Adam was on the other side, holding both of them, embracing their embrace. Cassie's shaking shook all three.

"It is true," Cassie whispered, trying to keep some grip on herself. She had to be calm now; she couldn't lose control. "It explains everything. It explains why I dreamed about him –  him and the sinking ship. We're – connected, somehow. It explains why he keeps coming after me, like when we called him up at Halloween, and last night on the beach. He wants me to join him. Faye's in love with him. Just like my mother was."

Cassie shuddered. Adam and Diana just kept hanging on. to her. Neither of them even flinched when she looked them in the face.

"It explains my mother" Cassie said thickly. "Why he went to our house that night when he came back, when we let him out of the grave. He went to see her – that's why she's like she is now. Oh, Diana, I have to go to her."

"In a minute," Diana said, her own voice husky with suppressed tears. "In a little while."

Cassie was thinking. No wonder her mother had run away from New Salem, no wonder there had always been helpless terror lurking at the back of her mother's eyes. How could you not be terrified when the man you loved turned out to be something from a nightmare? When you had to go away to have his baby, someplace where no one would ever know?

But she'd been brave enough to come back, and to bring Cassie. And now Cassie had to be brave.

There's nothing frightening in the dark if you just face it. Cassie didn't know how she was going to face this, but she had to, somehow.

"I'm okay now," she whispered. "And I want to see my mom."

Diana and Adam were telegraphing things over her head.

"We're going with you," Diana said. "We won't go in the room if you don't want, but we're going to take you there."

Cassie looked at them: at Diana's eyes, dark as emeralds now, but full of love and understanding; and at Adam, his fine-boned face calm and steady. She squeezed their hands.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you both."

Great-aunt Constance answered the door. She looked surprised to see them and a little flustered, which surprised Cassie in turn. She wouldn't have thought Melanie's aunt ever got flustered.

But as Cassie was going into the guest room, Granny Quincey and old Mrs. Franklin were coming out. Cassie looked at Laurel's frail great-grandmother, and at Adam's plump, untidy grandmother, and then at Aunt Constance.

"We were – trying one or two things to see if we could help your mother," Aunt Constance said, looking slightly uncomfortable. She coughed. "Old remedies," she admitted. "There may be some good in them. We'll be in the parlor if you need anything." She shut the door.

Cassie turned to look at the figure lying between Aunt Constance's starched white sheets. She went and knelt by the bedside.

Her mother's face was as pale as those sheets. Everything about her was white and black: white face, black hair, Hack lashes forming crescents on her cheeks. Cassie took her cold hand and only then realized she didn't have the first idea what to say.

"Mother?" she said, and then: "Mom? Can you hear me?"

No answer. Not a twitch.

"Mom," Cassie said with difficulty, "I know you're sick, and I know you're scared, but there's one thing you don't have to be scared of anymore. I know the truth. I know about my father."

Cassie waited, and she thought she saw the sheets over her mother's chest rise and fall a little more quickly.

"I know everything," she said. "And … if you're afraid I'll be mad at you or anything, you don't have to be. I understand. I've seen what he does to people. I saw what he did to Faye, and she's stronger than you." Cassie was holding the cold hand so tightly she was afraid she was hurting it. She paused and swallowed.

"Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I know. And it'll all be over soon, and I'm going to make sure he doesn't ever hurt you again. I'm going to stop him somehow. I don't know how, but I will. I promise, Mom."

She stood up, still holding the soft, limp hand in hers and whispered, "If you're just scared, Mom, you can come back now. It's easier than running away; it is, really. If you face things they're not as bad."

Cassie waited again. She hadn't thought she was hoping for anything, but she must have been, because as the seconds ticked by and nothing happened her heart sank in disappointment. Just some little sign, that wasn't much to ask for, was it? But there was no little sign. For what seemed like the hundredth time that day, warmth filled Cassie's eyes.

"Okay, Mom," she whispered, and stooped to kiss her mother's cheek.

As she did, she noticed a thin string of some kind of fiber around her mother's neck. She pulled, and from the collar of her mother's nightgown emerged three small golden-brown stones strung on the twine.

Cassie tucked the necklace back in, waited one more second, and then left.

Can I face it if my mother dies like my grandma? she wondered as she shut the bedroom door. She didn't think so. But she was beginning to realize that she might have to.

In the parlor, Adam and Diana were drinking tea with the women.

"Who put the crystals around my mother's neck? And what are they?"

The old women looked at each other. It was Great-aunt Constance who answered.

"I did," she said. She cleared her throat. "They're tiger's eyes. For keeping away bad dreams – or so my grandmother always said."

Cassie managed a small smile for her. "Oh. Thank you." Maybe Melanie's affinity for minerals ran in the family. She didn't bother to tell Aunt Constance what Black John could do to those stones if he tried.

"Bad dreams are a nuisance," old Mrs. Franklin said as Adam and Diana got up to leave. "Of course, good dreams are something else again."

Cassie looked at Adam's grandmother, whose disordered gray hair was coming uncoiled as she happily crunched cookie after cookie. Cassie had never known anybody who liked to eat so much, except Suzan. But there was more to Mrs. Franklin than you'd think at first sight.

"Dreams?" Cassie said.

"Good dreams," Adam's grandmother agreed indistinctly. "For good dreams, you sleep with a moonstone."

Cassie thought about that all the way home.

She and Diana had dinner quietly, just the two of them, since Diana's father was still at his law office. Adam had gone to talk to the rest of the Circle.

"I can't tell them," Cassie had said. "Not tonight – tomorrow, maybe."

"There's no reason you should have to," Adam replied, his voice almost harsh. "You've been through enough. I'll tell them – and I'll make them understand. Don't worry, Cassie. They'll stick by you."

Cassie couldn't help but worry. But she put it aside, because she had other things to think about. She'd made a promise to her mother.

She lay in bed reading her grandmother's Book of Shadows. Her book of shadows. She was looking for anything about crystals and dreams.

And there it was: To Cause Dreams. Place a moonstone beneath your pillow and all night you will have fair and pleasant dreams which may profit you. She also found a passage about crystals in general. Big crystals were better than little crystals; well, she knew that already. Melanie had said so, and Black John had demonstrated it today beyond question.

She put the book down and went to Diana's desk.

There was a white velvet pouch there, lined with sky-blue silk. Diana had long ago given Cassie permission to open it. Cassie took the pouch to the bed and poured the contents out on a folded-over section of the top sheet. The stones formed a kaleidoscopic array against the white background.

Blue lace agate – Cassie picked up the triangular piece and rubbed its smoothness across her cheek. She saw light yellow citrine –  Deborah's stone, good for raising energy. And here was cloudy orange carnelian, which Suzan had once used for raising the passions of the entire football team. Here was translucent green jade, which Melanie used for calm thought, and royal purple amethyst – Laurel's stone, a stone of the heart, Black John had said. There were dozens of others, too: warm amber, light as plastic; dark green bloodstone speckled with red; a wine-colored garnet; the pale green peridot Diana had used to trace the dark energy.

Cassie's fingers sorted through the clinking treasure until she found a moonstone. It was translucent, with a silvery-blue shimmer. She put it on the nightstand by her side of the bed.

Diana came in, fresh from her bath, and watched Cassie putting the stones back into the pouch.

"Find anything in your Book of Shadows?" she asked.

"Nothing specific," Cassie said. She didn't want to explain what she was doing, even to Diana. Later, if it worked. "I'm beginning to think my grandmother didn't mean there was anything specific in the book about Black John," she added. "Maybe she just wanted me to be a good witch, a knowledgeable witch. Maybe she'd thought that way I'd be smart enough to beat him."

Diana got in bed and turned off the light. There was no moon; the bay window remained dark. It was peaceful, somehow, with the two of them lying in bed – like a sleepover. It made Cassie think of the old days, when she and Diana had first decided to be adopted sisters.

"We need to find a way to kill him," she said.

A sleepover with a grim and bloodthirsty purpose. Diana was silent for a moment and then said calmly, "Well, we know two things that can't kill him – Water and Fire. He drowned the first time when his ship went down, and he burned the second time, when our parents burned the house at Number Thirteen. But he didn't stay dead either time."

Cassie appreciated the "our parents." Her mother hadn't been trying to burn anybody, she'd bet.

"He said his spirit didn't need to stay in his body," she said. "I think he can make it go different places. Maybe when he died, he just sent his spirit somewhere else."

"Like into the crystal skull," Diana said. "And it stayed there until we brought it and his body together. Yes. But what can we use against him?"

"Earth … or Air," Cassie mused. "Though I don't see how Air could kill anybody."

"I don't either. Earth could mean crystals . . . but we don't have a crystal big enough to use against him."

"No," Cassie said. "It sounds like it's the Master Tools or nothing. We've got to find them."

She could feel Diana nodding in the darkness. "But how?"

Cassie reached over and felt for the moonstone. She put it under her pillow.

Maybe it's not the size, but how you use them, she thought. "Good night, Diana," she said, and shut her eyes.

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