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   Chapter 22 Quickening Cassie Wilson Book 1

Quickening By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 41018

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:52

Chapter 22

Cassie woke with her alarm. Bright white light was streaming in through her bedroom window. It seemed brighter than usual and Cassie wondered if somehow, despite the alarm, she hadn't slept later. Then she remembered the weather. She sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. Reaching for the remote on her nightstand, Cassie turned on the television and turned to the local news, looking for the list of school closings.

"No class today then, " she said to herself, spotting Elkdale on the list of closings. Feeling confident that the 'others' from Intelligent Fitness didn't think she was a Walker and that they weren't planning to tell Enki and Skadi's group she was strange, even if she wasn't a Walker, Cassie decided she wasn't going to worry about it.

"And since my homework is already done, I only have my Latin to get through, which means I can work on my dacquoise cake instead of saving it for the weekend." The cake featured layers of almond and hazelnut meringue and whipped cream covered entirely with buttercream. Every time she came across a reference to it, the author or cooking show personality made it sound as difficult as scaling Mt. Everest. Her cake book however had step by step instructions and while it seemed like a lot of moving parts, it didn't look terribly difficult, just time consuming.

"And if I get it wrong, I can mark down my mistakes and try again over the weekend, " Cassie told herself, sliding out of bed and pulling on her exercise clothes. "Besides it might warm up and I can practice archery in the afternoon." Cassie found that in the past few weeks, she grew accustomed to spending large chunks of time outside and ended up feeling rather confined when she stayed indoors all day.

She started her morning off as usual, practicing her skills learned in Mr. Dana's class. Herman was wheeled out of the front hall closet and endured a savage beating that left Cassie panting and dripping with sweat before she wheeled him back to the closet.

"Sorry Herman, " she said as she closed the closet door and went to take her shower. "After last night I just couldn't help myself."

Cassie showered and dressed in jeans and a hoodie. She pulled on thick socks and when she went into the kitchen, she paused and looked out of the window in the back door. The sun was shining brightly overhead, turning the large stretch of unmarred white her garden became overnight into a dazzling crystal festooned ice sculpture. The bushes were rounded domes of white, blanketed completely overnight. All of the flat spaces were buried under what looked to Cassie like at least a foot of snow and the trees were slumped low with their unexpected loads. Some looked as though they would never rise again, their trunks split by the weight.

Cassie let the curtain fall, ate a quick breakfast and began her dacquoise adventure. She read the instructions twice. Before assembling her ingredients, she gathered her equipment and following the instructions, traced several circles onto parchment paper to use as guidelines. Once all the gear was ready, Cassie began assembling her ingredients.

As she worked, everything else faded away. Here it was measurements, weights, accuracy and steady hands that mattered. Enki, Skadi, Erra, Mr. Babbin; they didn't matter. Ina, Mr. Dana, Bert or Bes were irrelevant. Here she didn't see anything strange; there were no people whose tusks or scales she had to pretend not to see, there were no people playing invisible that she had to pretend not to see. There were no footprints smudging her carpet while the air was filled with an electric tingle and the back door remained safely locked.

Here the weight of the flour mattered. Making certain no yolk got into her egg whites mattered. Beating the whites from slime, to froth, to white peaks mattered. Cassie felt as though she was finally standing on solid ground. She was used to doing her homework while she waited for items to cook, so adding her Latin lesson in between baking and waiting and mixing and cooling didn't disrupt the feeling of peace and contentment.

Eventually both her lesson and her cake were complete. "Not bad, " she decided, sliding her creation into the fridge. As always, the proof was in the tasting, but at the moment, she thought it looked like the picture in the book and was happy. As she worked inside the sun warmed the air outside marginally. It was still cold, but she could hear the drip, drip, dripping of the world thawing out.

"And my boots are waterproof, " Cassie said. She decided that while she would skip her run, she would get in a short archery practice. "As long as I get back inside before dark it shouldn't be too bad, and if it gets too cold to shoot, I'll just end my practice early."

She ate a quick lunch and tugged on her winter boots and coat. Deciding trudging through the snow would be enough extra weight for the day, Cassie left her pack in the front hall closet with Herman. Once she began adding items to the rucksack, she was afraid it would be too noticeable if she left it under her bed, choosing to stash it instead with the dummy. As the pack covered the metal stand Herman was mounted on and the coats covered Herman himself, Cassie thought it might not be a bad addition. Armed against the cold, she stepped outside the back door and used her keys to lock the kitchen door. If anyone visited while she was gone, she wanted some advance notice.

"Of course I could see their prints in the snow, " she said to herself as she slipped her keys into her coat pocket and zipped the pocket closed. "And they could see mine." Cassie realized. She paused on the step and thought about it for a few moments. Despite the melting, there was no way to head to the back of the property without leaving a trail of prints from her back door to her archery practice area.

"Unless I don't head straight back, " She mused. Normally she walked straight between the yew and the elder and made a beeline towards the shed. "Even though the snow was heavy, on the side the trees are planted thickly enough that there are still bare spots."

Instead of walking straight through the garden, Cassie walked around to the side of the house. The plain grass area between her house and garden and the tree line was an unbroken stretch of white.

"But not for long, " Cassie said to herself with a grin. She ran into the white, leaving loopy twists of footprints in the snow as she ran in spirals. She flopped onto her back and made a couple of snow angels. She let one of her loops lead close to the tree line and then back to her snow angel. Then she retraced her steps, placing her feet in the marks she already left until she was close enough to the tree line to jump into one of the bare spots under the branches.

Panting from her exertions and knowing that anyone who was watching probably thought she was insane, Cassie grinned. She surveyed her handiwork and thought it unlikely that anyone would be able to see where she left off running around and entered the woods. Also, she was careful not to make neat foot prints, twisting around in many of the spots so it would be uncertain to anyone looking which direction she was facing when she ran. She hoped it made it look as though she ran around in the snow and then went back into the house.

All in all, she was quite proud of herself for avoiding leaving the obvious trail through the snow. "Not that I think anyone is coming by today, " she decided as she moved from bare spot to bare spot under the tree cover, only stepping out onto the snow again when she reached the shed. "But after my slip up in class I need to remember to be careful."

Deciding to concentrate only on the stationary target rather than haul out the moving one for her truncated practice, Cassie rolled her bullseye on its foam cushion out of the shed and set it on its stand. She took her favorite bow and its accompanying arrows out of the case and walked into position. Even though the snow covered her marks on the ground, Cassie knew the twenty yard mark was located more or less evenly with a white birch. Given the surrounding snow, it seemed the birch was almost carved from snow itself today. Cassie stuck her arrows point down into the snow, their blue plastic-like feather fletches standing out starkly against the white. She reminded herself to make sure the arrows were all dried off before she stowed them away at the end of her practice.

Concentrating on getting as close to her target as she could Cassie took aim and shot all of her arrows into the target. It was a still day and even though the snow cast glares and made her eyes water, her continued practice over the past few weeks was paying off. Though she didn't hit the center each time, she still managed a close grouping. Practicing with the moving target seemed to help with her practice of the stationary targets as well.

'Although I'm not nearly as good with the moving target.' Many of her shots missed the small round, pendulum like target, thunking into the side of the shed instead. 'I am getting better, marginally anyway. And I've proven that I can hit the side of a barn, or shed I suppose.' The thought made her grin and gave her incentive to keep practicing, even if she doubted she'd ever use the skill anywhere but in her own backyard.

Cassie walked forward and pulled her arrows from the target. She walked back to her starting point and caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She placed her arrows in a line as before, point down, waiting for her hand to pluck them from the snow like bizarre flowers. She used her movements to turn so she could look in the direction she thought she saw movement. At nearly the same distance as she stood from the target, she spotted two sets of prints in the snow. She could see the trail leading from between the old yew tree and the elder at the edge of her gardens directly to where they waited.

Someone other than her left the obvious trail.

Cassie swallowed hard, but knew there was nowhere to run. There was no place to hide. There was no way to make this look like anything other than archery practice; no words, no clever ideas to convince them to go away. There was no way to hide the shed with its array of weapons. She was caught.

She swallowed back her fear, feeling a strange calmness fill her. There was no more hiding. Cassie plucked the first arrow from her row and took aim at the rounded target. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the footsteps drew no closer. She turned her attention to the target, took aim and let the arrow fly.

As she bent to pick up the second arrow, Cassie saw the two sets move closer to the target as though to get a better look at where her shot landed, while remaining safely off to the side. Cassie fitted the second arrow into her bow and pulled back as though taking aim.

'My keys are in my pocket, ' she reminded herself. 'If I hit them, I can slow them down as I run for the car.'

Where she would go from there, she had no clue, but running away sounded like her best plan for survival at this point. She knew the snow would slow her down. Wounding the others might help make up the difference. Cassie took a deep breath and felt the same sort of stillness inside she felt when she was concentrating on her baking. Nothing mattered but the weight of flour, the pressure on the piping bag and the peaks in the egg whites. Nothing mattered but slowing down those who came after her. Inside she went still.

Walking is dangerous.

Risk appears.

A walker chooses.

Cassie pulled back her bow. Before she let the arrow fly, she twisted her body, sending it flying towards one of her invisible visitors, aiming for the space above and between the boot prints. She didn't wait to see if it landed. Cassie immediately grabbed a second arrow and fired at the second set of prints. She then dropped the bow and turned, ready to sprint as fast as she could, hoping to reach her car in time.

"Cassandra wait, there is no need to run, " She heard Mr. Dana's voice and turned back. Both of her visitors were visible now. She saw Oliver Dana and, surprisingly, Ina standing in the snow. Each was holding an

ucksack, preparing to put it back in the closet with Herman.

"My rucksack, " Cassie said, blushing a little with embarrassment. She never expected to have to explain to anyone that she put together a survival pack that she ran with in lieu of a warrior's gear.

"Oh, " Oliver said. "And what have we stashed in our rucksack that makes us turn that particular shade of red?" He asked teasingly.

"Survival stuff, " Cassie admitted.

"Excuse me?" Oliver replied, frowning at her unexpected response.

"Survival stuff, " Cassie repeated. "I read a book that said I should learn to run with a loaded pack on my back so I've been slowly adding gear to it as I increase my running."

"The book suggested you should run with survival gear?" Ina asked.

"No, " Cassie corrected. "It suggested I learn to survive in the wilderness and that I run with a loaded pack of gear so I could race to a battle field like a Spartan or something. Not having a bag of weapons, I opted for the survival stuff."

"And what is survival stuff, " Oliver asked stepping closer. He took the bag from Cassie and opened it up. He poked around in the bag for a bit, looking at its contents.

"Interesting mix to start with, " he said grinning. "That's a lot of matches."

"The people on the survival television shows always looked cold, " Cassie told him. He laughed and handed the rucksack back to her. Cassie tucked it back in the closet and closed the door.

"We can work on survival training as well if you'd like, " he told her. "Chances are you will end up in the wilderness at some point. I would like to know what else your book told you to study."

"Languages, " Cassie said. "Fighting, running, survival, astronomy, botany, chemistry and cartography."

"So you put the pack together and run with it, came to me for fighting and go to school for the rest?" Oliver said.

"More or less, " Cassie replied. "I'm trying to learn Latin at the moment."

"We can help with languages as well as fighting, " Ina said. "We've been around long enough to have picked up a few."

"Although my Latin is a bit rusty, " Oliver confessed.

Cassie remembered something she read in one of the online descriptions of Oghma. Some of the sites claimed he invented some sort of language. "Do you know anything about symbols?" she asked him.

"Symbols?" he asked.

"One of the girls in school had a necklace with a charm on it. When she wore the necklace, she could see me. When she didn't have it on, the blocker … Abraham… put on me made her as blind as everyone else." As she told him about Kelly's necklace, Cassie wondered if that was the reason that Kelly never bothered her every day. She didn't wear the necklace every day; therefore she didn't remember Cassie existed every day. She shook the thought away.

"Can you draw the symbol?" He asked.

Cassie nodded and they followed her to her bedroom, where she pulled out the small spiral notebook she used to make grocery lists. She drew the symbol on the page as Ina looked around.

"It doesn't look like I'd expect, " Ina told her.

"When Enki mentioned Walkers liked maps I had to take them down in case the house was searched, " Cassie told her.

"And you didn't put them up again, " Oliver said. He was standing right behind her and Cassie could feel her skin prickle from the energy he was giving off. Somehow it seemed easier to ignore when she could actually see him and Ina.

'And when he isn't so close, ' Cassie thought, continuing to draw the symbol she remembered.

"People have come three times that I know of. Enki and Skadi the first time. You, Enki and Skadi the second time and you and Enki the third time, " she told him.

"You didn't get all that from marks in the carpet, " Oliver said. He stared at her. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Lots, " Cassie replied. She handed him the notebook with the symbol on it. He blinked in surprise.

"It's the symbol for clear sight. If cast in metal and worn as a charm it would let your classmate see past the blocker."

"It has to be metal?" she asked.

"No, " Ina replied. "There are other ways it can be worn."

Oliver frowned at her and Ina shrugged. "Many warriors who worked with the Walkers had it inked onto their bodies."

"A tattoo, really?" Cassie replied, wondering if she could draw it on her skin with a sharpie or something and use it to see the others instead of just their footprints. "Would it work for me?"

"You can already see us, " Oliver replied.

"I meant when you take extra precautions so Walkers can't see you."

"I don't see why it wouldn't, " Ina replied. Oliver didn't look too happy with her response.

"I would forget about this if I were you, " Oliver told her. He tore out the page and stuffed it into his pocket. "I don't suppose you know where she got the charm?"

"She was shopping with her mother for décor items."

"Décor items?" he repeated.

"Her mother is an interior designer." Cassie clarified.

Ina laughed. "Sounds like Aite. What do you know, " she continued. "Ratatoskr was right."

"Something else to deal with, " Oliver said shaking his head. "And you, " he said looking back to Cassie. "Should leave these well enough alone."

"And other people should stay out of my bedroom if they aren't invited, " Cassie replied.

"Very well, " Oliver said with a laugh. "I'll stay out of your bedroom, unless you invite me in." Cassie felt heat creep into her cheeks from his tone and Ina laughed. Oliver backed up. "You didn't use the symbol to see us did you?"

"No, " Cassie replied.

"But you aren't going to tell me what you did use?"

"No, " she told him.

"Because you might need it again?" Ina guessed.

Cassie smiled. "Yeah, I might need it again."

"Fine, keep your secrets, for now. Tomorrow when you show up for class, which we will be holding despite the weather, " he warned. "Be prepared for training."

Cassie nodded and Oliver and Ina turned towards the door. In the living room, Cassie handed Ina her coat while Oliver retrieved his from the door knob. Once their coats were on and buttoned he opened the door. Snow was still falling heavily outside. All of their tracks from before were obliterated.

"If you can't get out due to the snow, call and let me know, " he amended. "And get a better lock for this door, " he added crossly. "It was the only one Enki figured out how to open without breaking anything."

Cassie nodded and followed her two visitors to the door. She stopped in the frame as Oliver and Ina went out into the snow. Unlike her grandfather who seemed to disappear almost instantly, she watched as they walked around the side of the house and moved towards the street, losing them when they went around the corner.

Cassie shivered and closed the door. She locked it and leaned against the closed door for a few minutes as she thought. She was caught, positively identified as a Walker by those who were 'other'.

"And instead of killing me, we had cake and cocoa and they agreed to train me." She looked at the discarded cups, plates and utensils on the kitchen island. Cassie smiled as she moved forward and began collecting the dirty dishware. She washed them and set them to dry. Then Cassie cut herself a slice of the cake and took a bite.

"That's the first time I ever served anything I cooked to other people, " she realized. "And they liked it. Well Oliver did, Ina didn't eat it." Cassie smiled, somehow feeling not so very alone anymore. Oliver and Ina weren't exactly friends, but they knew she existed in more than a vague 'that space is occupied' way and even though she still kept some of her secrets, she actually had a real conversation with them.

"They will even remember I exist tomorrow, " she told herself. "Without me falling on them." Cassie thought about the look on Ina's face and had the feeling she would probably be doing plenty of falling the following day anyway. "But I'll get to fight back, " Cassie said with a grin. Cassie took another bite of her cake, eager to see what the next day would bring. Whatever it was, Cassie was certain, her world would never be the same.

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