The Secret Circle: The Divide Chapter 9
Witch hunters go back as far as witches. Just as Cassie was descended from a long line of powerful ancestors, the witch hunters, too, had their lineage. That’s what Cassie’s mom told her as they walked down Crowhaven Road toward Melanie’s house.
They walked side by side, her mother carrying a casserole dish and Cassie holding a few soothing herbs from the garden. Cassie felt her hair lifted by the salty wind coming off the ocean, and she watched the trees fill with that same wind. The birds nesting within the trees began to sing and a strange sort of calm came over her.
“The symbol you saw on Constance’s forehead was an ancient mark only a true hunter could make,” her mother said. “Something must have brought them to New Salem.” Cassie noticed the tiny crocus buds just beginning to poke their heads up from the ground alongside the sidewalk. Spring is still on its way, she thought, even as we’re being hunted and killed. “I wish whatever brought them to New Salem would leave,” she said.
Melanie’s house was so crowded when they arrived that they could barely get through the door. It appeared that everyone who’d been at the spring festival and seen Constance collapse had come now to pay their respects to the old woman. The first familiar face Cassie saw belonged to Sally Waltman. What was she doing here? Had she come with Portia? Were Portia’s brothers, Jordan and Logan, here, too?
A million worst-case scenarios raced through Cassie’s mind. Were they hoping to turn Constance’s wake into a celebration? Jordan and Logan were longtime enemies of the Circle, and Cassie wouldn’t put it past them to gloat publicly over the death of a witch. But when Sally met Cassie’s eyes and approached her with an outstretched hand, she recognized that Sally had come alone, with only good intentions.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, and for Melanie’s loss,” she said. She looked a little nervous to be there. She fidgeted with her dress and played with her rust-colored hair.
“Thank you,” Cassie said hesitantly.
Sally continued, speaking almost directly to Cassie’s hesitation. “I know I don’t belong here,” she said, “and that your friends don’t even like me, but Constance always greeted me warmly when I’d see her in town, and she was a nice lady, and I guess I just wanted to stop by to pay my respects.”
Sally took a breath and Cassie gently patted her on the back. It was true, the Circle didn’t like Sally very much, and she and Cassie would probably never really be friends, but since last fall when they’d overlooked their differences and worked together to get through Black John’s hurricane, they’d had an understanding. Sally was the closest thing the group had to an Outsider ally, and that was nothing to take lightly.
“It was good of you to come,” Cassie said. “Really. This was a nice gesture, and I know Melanie appreciates it.” That seemed to put Sally at ease. Her small, wiry body relaxed.
“Speaking of Melanie,” Cassie’s mother said. “We should probably go find her.”
“Of course,” Sally said, and Cassie and her mother elbowed through the crowd as politely as they could until they located Melanie.
The group had Melanie surrounded like an army of black-clad secret-service agents. Most days Cassie forgot how intimidating the Circle could appear to others, and how superior they looked compared to average kids their age. It wasn’t only their genetics that set them apart; it was also their attitude. But, Cassie wondered, don’t they ever grow weary of striving to appear so infinitely strong to the outside world? Sometimes vulnerability was appropriate, and this was one of those times.
Cassie locked eyes with Adam and dreamed for a moment that they could run away together, far away from all this. He didn’t even know yet how bad all this actually was.
None of the Circle did. How would they react when she told them everything she’d learned from her mother about witch hunters?
Cassie went to Adam first, just to breathe in his scent and feel his strong arms around her body. Then she offered her condolences and the soothing herbs to Melanie.
Diana tapped Cassie on the shoulder and pulled her in for a tight squeeze. Hugging Diana was like hugging for a tight squeeze. Hugging Diana was like hugging daylight, and she was about as constant. Tall, magisterial Diana could always be relied upon. “How are you doing?” she whispered into Cassie’s ear.
But before Cassie had the chance to answer, Diana got distracted. Her attention turned to someone else who’d just walked in. “Scarlett’s here,” she said.
It was a surprise to see Scarlett making her way through the crowd, dressed conservatively in all black with her wild hair tamed into a neat ponytail.
As she meandered through the crowd, Cassie noticed people stepping aside to let her pass. How weird, Cassie thought, but then it occurred to her the reason why: All these strangers must have thought Scarlett was one of the group.
She assumed the air of belonging right there with Melanie and the rest of the Circle, and so people believed she did.
But when she finally reached Cassie and the others, some of that confidence fell away. “I know I don’t really know any of you,” she said, looking down. “But I wanted to say I was sorry.”
Diana scanned Scarlett up and down with her sharp green eyes and then said in a slightly artificial tone of voice,
“It was nice of you to come.”
“Yes, thank you,” Melanie said.
Like Sally, Scarlett didn’t have to be there, but she’d gone out of her way to show her support to Melanie and the group. Maybe, Cassie thought, if any good could come from this crisis, it would be the start to better relations with Outsiders.
Adam stepped in to make small talk with Scarlett, giving Cassie the chance to grab Diana and lead her to a quiet corner. “Gather the others,” Cassie said quietly. “Melanie, too. I know why the resuscitation spell didn’t work.” Diana’s eyes grew wide. She took a step back to size up Cassie’s expression and then immediately began rounding up the group.
Constance’s garage was filled with ancient junk and knickknacks that may or may not have been authentic magical relics. Two stone swords rested on hooks in the wall, bronze jewelry boxes and dusty heirloom books were stacked high on drooping shelves, and multicolored stuffed birds hung precariously from wire pitched to the ceiling. A claw-foot table sat in the center of the room in front of a sagging green couch.
Melanie sat on the couch, but everyone else remained standing, spread out between piles of cardboard boxes.
They waited silently for Cassie to begin.
Melanie was examining her, leaning forward, eager to hear what Cassie knew. There were dark circles beneath her usually alert eyes, and all the life had escaped from her features. Cassie suddenly worried this news might be more than she could handle at the moment.
Cassie bought some time and tried to soften the blow by explaining, step by step, the conversation she’d had with her mother the night before. She paced herself, carefully building up to the description of the symbol she saw on Constance’s forehead before everything went black during the resuscitation spell.
“Did any of you see it?” she asked.
Everyone shook their head.
“How do you know it wasn’t just a hallucination?” Faye asked, with a tinge of malice. “Or your overactive imagination?”
“Because Cassie has the sight,” Diana said. “Tell us, Cassie, what exactly did the symbol look like?”
“Well,” Cassie glanced quickly at Melanie before she spoke, “I thought it looked like a hexagon with two bent- up U-shapes inside it. But my mother corrected me.”
“It was a W,” Melanie said, almost to herself. “Great-Aunt Constance was killed by a witch hunter.” The room shuddered.
“This is bad,” Melanie said, shaking her head. “I’ve read about that symbol.”
Adam sat beside Melanie on the sofa. “Do you think this means there’s someone in town targeting us?” Melanie nodded, too numb to cry. “And not amateurs like the Bainbridge family, either. These guys are the real thing.
They’re descendants of an ancient clan of hunters.” Adam’s jaw tightened, and his eyes sharpened to an intense navy blue. “The hunter could be anyone.”
“Or hunters,” Diana said. “There could be more than one.”
Laurel sat down on the couch on the other side of Melanie and reached for her hand. “We have to be careful.”
“That’s right,” Adam said, jumping up to pace the room, nearly bumping his head on various hanging fowl as he marched back and forth. “And we have to stick together.
More than ever. Is that understood?” He stood still and eyed each member of the group individually.
Then his gaze rested on Faye.
To Cassie’s surprise, Faye had no snide remarks this time. She simply nodded. But this out-of-character response worried Cassie more than if Faye had been her inappropriate, obnoxious self. If Faye was frightened, they were in serious trouble.
Diana glanced at the door. The people inside the house were getting louder, and one muffled voice was asking for Melanie.
“I have to get back inside,” Melanie said.
Diana nodded. “You should. Melanie, I’m sorry to leave, but I’m going to run home. I know I’ve seen a protection spell in my Book of Shadows somewhere. I’ll look into it and see what I can do.”
“That’s a good idea,” Melanie said, standing now but still holding on to Laurel’s hand.
Hesitantly, they all began filing out of the garage, but Nick hung back, and Cassie took advantage of the opportunity to talk to him alone. She reached for his arm and started talking before he could say anything.
“I know you’ve been avoiding the group because of me,” she said. “And I want you to stop doing that.” Nick turned away, but she forced him to look at her.
“Listen to me. We have to stay close now. We’re in serious danger.”
He squinted his mahogany eyes at her as if she were a foreign object.
“I don’t want to see you get hurt,” Cassie said desperately. “Please.”
“Well, thank you for your concern.” He said it sharply, like it was intended to cut her, but Nick always resorted to sarcasm when he started to feel something. It meant she’d gotten through to him, at least a little bit. She’d take what she could get for now.