The Secret Circle: The Hunt Chapter 9

The Secret Circle: The Hunt Chapter 9

After her encounter with Scarlett at the dance, Cassie’s sleep was fitful – nightmare after nightmare plagued her mind. As she woke up, she knew what she had to do to make it stop. She pulled the gunmetal chest out from under her bed and unlocked its clasp. She’d wanted to wait for Adam to be with her before she tried to open the book again, but time was running out, and things with Adam had just gotten a whole lot more complicated. She couldn’t allow a potential love triangle to trip up her search for answers.

Plus, she had an idea. In the jewelry box where she kept all her precious stones, Cassie had an obsidian crystal. It was the same crystal she’d once used to disable a guarding spell Faye had placed on one of the Master Tools. Cassie squeezed the sharp-edged black rock in her hand now. It was known to purify dark matter. Why not give it a try?

She glided the crystal over and around her father’s Book of Shadows while whispering the chant that had been successful last time:

Darkness be gone, no shields are needed, purity enters and leaves here unhindered.

Then she pulled on the book’s leather string and fanned its cover open. She touched the first page hopefully, but it immediately grew hot, singeing the tip of her pointer finger.

Cassie drew back, but before the book flapped closed she thrust the obsidian crystal between its pages. At first the book struggled against the stone, rattling and thrashing, and the crystal shook over its pages like a kernel of corn in hot oil. But then the book seemed to tire. Slowly, each page grew calm and quiet beneath the crystal until they were still. The book’s darkness had been tamed just enough to allow the rock to hold it open like a simple paperweight.

The words scrawled upon the first two pages still looked like an ancient language of lines and symbols. Viewing them this closely made Cassie’s eyes feel strange and off kilter, like staring at an optical illusion. But at least now she could get to researching and translating. And if she maneuvered the obsidian just so, she could even use it to turn the book’s pages. Wait till Adam saw this.

Just then her doorbell rang and Cassie realized what time it was. The Circle meeting to go over the events of the night before was set to begin in a few minutes. Cassie removed the obsidian and the book flapped closed. She quickly locked it back in its hiding place before running down to answer the door.

On her front porch was Nick, carrying a duffel bag over his shoulder. He didn’t look happy, for obvious reasons, but Cassie was glad to have a moment with him before the rest of the Circle arrived.

She led him inside and asked him to have a seat on the living room sofa. “I’ll show you downstairs in just a minute,” she said. “But first I was hoping we could talk.”

Nick dropped his bag on the floor and sat down. “Okay.”

Cassie sat beside him. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I feel like it’s my fault you got marked.”

“Scarlett was trying to kill you. You weren’t exactly asking for it,” Nick said.

“I know, I just … you saved my life. And I can’t bear to think what might happen to yours now.”

Nick shook his head. “It’s not your fault, Cassie. I knew the chance I was taking, and I chose to risk it. Besides, I can handle this.”

Cassie reached for Nick’s hand. It was a bold move, but she felt like under the circumstances it was worth the try.

For once he didn’t pull away from her. Cassie opened her mouth to assure him that she would be there for him the way he was for her – but then a loud, pounding noise rattled the floor beneath them.

Nick jumped with alarm.

“It’s okay,” Cassie said. “It’s only Faye and a broom handle. She finds the use of it ironic.”

Nick tried to play it cool, but Cassie knew he was embarrassed about being so easily startled, that the cracks beneath his cool exterior were starting to show.

“It’s Faye’s special signal,” she said casually. “When she bangs on the ceiling with the broom, it means she’s in dire need of attention.”

“When doesn’t Faye need attention?” Nick ran his fingers through his hair and allowed himself to laugh. “So where is this secret room anyway?”

Cassie smiled. “Follow me.”

She led Nick downstairs to the old bookshelves and cast the spell to reveal the hidden door. Faye and Laurel were waiting expectantly inside. They’d microwaved popcorn, baked cupcakes, and had music playing.

“I’ve been marked,” Nick said, surveying the scene. “It’s not my birthday.” But he still reached for a pink-frosted cupcake and took a hearty bite.

The room had changed quite a bit since Cassie had last seen it. Faye and Laurel each infused it with their own character. Laurel’s side of the room was draped with green plants, herbs, and flowers. Piles of thick books were stacked as high as the eye could see, many of them for the research she was doing on the hunters. Faye’s side was adorned with red tapestries and velvety pillows. She’d also created a small altar that housed candles and incense and various concoctions.

“You’ll have to carve out a space of your own,” Cassie said to Nick. “At your own risk.”

“I’ll be just fine.” Nick tossed his duffel bag down and shoved the last bite of cupcake into his mouth. “I don’t need much.”

“We’ve got an air mattress for you to sleep on,” Faye said. “But if you get lonely, there’s lots of extra room in my bed.”

“Gross,” Laurel shouted. “Not with me here there isn’t.”

“That’s my cue to leave.” Cassie let Nick get settled in and went upstairs to wait for the rest of the Circle to arrive for their meeting. As everyone trickled in, Cassie directed them downstairs. It was Adam she was really waiting for, but he was last to arrive, which was rare.

When he finally rambled up the walk, he appeared more disheveled than normal. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair was uncombed. There were dark circles beneath his eyes that made it look like he hadn’t slept all night. Cassie hoped it wasn’t yesterday’s conversation about the cord weighing him down.

“Before we go downstairs,” Adam said, “I want to show you something.” He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and retrieved a squeezable pink plastic tube.

“My lip gloss?” Cassie asked.

Adam nodded. “Not just any lip gloss. This fell out of your pocket the night of our first kiss. And this …”

Adam pulled a tiny square of paper from the same pocket. “This is the movie ticket stub from our official first date.”

Next Adam held up his cell phone. “Saved on here,” he said, “is the first time you said I love you to me on my voice mail. And these are only the beginning, Cassie. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”

“You’re in great danger of becoming a hoarder?” Cassie grinned.

Adam laughed. “Maybe, but it’s because everything and anything that reminds me of you, I have to save forever. If that doesn’t prove that I’m head-over-heels in love with you, I don’t know what will.”

All the tension and fear Cassie built up overnight about their relationship had just floated up and away. She wanted to jump into Adam’s arms and lose the afternoon in his embrace. But there was no time for that now. Their friends were waiting. All Cassie could do at the moment was kiss Adam with her whole being, and hope her love for him shined through, that their connection was palpable, before leading him downstairs to join the others.

“The hunters and Scarlett are way too close for comfort,” Melanie was saying when Adam and Cassie entered the secret room.

Everyone was gathered in a circle except for Chris and Doug, who were stirring around in the kitchen like hyperactive children. Deborah agreed with Melanie. “We need to get closer to the hunters, to have full surveillance on them, since they’re obviously watching us.”

“I can get us closer to Max,” Diana said.

Faye snickered and whispered something under her breath to Deborah and Suzan.

Diana turned to her. “I’m the only one who can easily do it,” she said. “We all know that.”

“But you could be putting yourself in danger,” Faye said mockingly. Then her face took on a spiteful weightiness. “If given the chance, Max will mark you just like he did me.”

Diana shrugged. “I’m not going to do any magic around him. Besides if I can get into his bedroom, I might be able to find out where he keeps his relic.”

“You’re not going anywhere near his bedroom,” Faye shot back.

Laurel cleared her throat. “I’ve made some progress digging up information about the relics,” she said. With a nod from Cassie, she took the center of the floor and explained to the Circle that the relics originated around 1320, shortly after Pope John XVII authorized the Inquisition to persecute witchcraft as a type of heresy.

“An accused witch created and spelled the relics in return for her life,” Laurel said. “She christened the owners of these magical stones and taught them the killing curse.”

“Of course they needed a witch to do their dirty work for them,” Sean called out. “Wimps.”

Laurel pursed her lips at the interruption. “Soon the Inquisition led to a wave of witch-hunting,” she continued, “during which the relics were sighted throughout France, Italy, and Germany. But many of them were destroyed during the peak of the hunts, which occurred in the late 1500s till around 1630. And by the time the hunt reached Salem in the 1690s, only a dozen or so relics – and even fewer hunter families – had survived.”

Laurel focused her eyes on Diana specifically. “It’s now believed there are only six relics still active.”

Diana was looking straight down at the floor. In almost a whisper she said, “That’s all?”

Laurel glanced at Faye. “So it may be worth it for Diana to search Max’s bedroom if it means we can bring that number down to five.”

“Five, six, seven hundred, what difference does it make?” Nick called out. “We still don’t have a way to beat them. Can we talk for a moment about Scarlett? She wants to kill Cassie, to get her spot in the Circle, and she has our Master Tools. She almost got the best of us last night, and she’ll come back again. If we can’t use magic on her, then we need to be ready to destroy her with our bare hands.”

Deborah patted Nick on the shoulder. “Well, it goes without saying that my cousin can use some anger management right about now.”

Until this point, everyone had been so engrossed in the discussion that no one had noticed Chris trying to squeeze his six-foot-tall body into the tiny confines of the dumbwaiter carved into the kitchen wall. But the racket he was creating finally captured the group’s attention.

“I can do it,” he said. “Doug, push my feet in for me. And then launch me upstairs.”

Doug did as he was told, laughing. He shoved Chris’s feet deeper into the box with one hand. His other hand hovered over the wooden lever that would send the dumbwaiter flying up the chute that led to the kitchen above them.

“Chris,” Cassie yelled. “That’ll never hold you. It’s not an elevator. Get out before you break it.”

“Don’t mess with that thing,” Faye called out to him. “It’s our favorite way to have Cassie wait on us from upstairs.”

“But I can do it,” Chris said again. “I’m not as big as I look.”

Cassie’s patience had worn thin and a peculiar anger surged through her. Her face and hands grew hot with rage. “I said, get out of there!”

Before she could get control of herself, she marched over to Doug and forcefully shoved him away from the lever. Her strength caught him by surprise, causing him to stumble backward.

Chris, in his struggle to climb out of the dumbwaiter before Cassie could reach him, slipped out headfirst and hit the floor with a thump.

A few silent seconds passed before he screamed out in pain, clutching his left arm.

“Now you’ve done it,” Doug said. “You broke my brother.”

“Seriously, Cassie,” Sean said. “You didn’t have to humiliate him like that.”

“I barely touched him,” Cassie screamed out.

“He’s in pain,” Diana said.

“Duh.” Doug helped Chris to his feet. “I think his arm is broken.”

“I guess Nick isn’t the only one with anger issues.” Deborah glanced at Cassie and then went to Chris’s other side for support.

“He’s in pain,” Diana shouted out again. “Do you understand what this means?”

Cassie thought back to her car accident a few weeks ago, when she walked away unscathed, and she suddenly comprehended Diana’s shock. “The protective spell is broken,” Cassie said.

A spine-chilling quiet fell over the room as everyone realized what this meant for their safety.

“Scarlett in the gym last night,” Diana said. “She wasn’t there to ruin our dance. She was destroying the only thing keeping us alive.”