Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  I nodded. “It wasn’t really the kind of conversation you forget.” I’d been trying to wipe the image of Amma and the bokor out of my mind ever since I saw them. “I’ve watched Amma freak out before when she didn’t like what the cards were telling her. When she knew Sam Turley was going to drive off the bridge at Wader’s Creek, she locked herself in her room and didn’t say a word for a week. This was different.”

  “A Seer never tries to change the cards. Especially not the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sulla the Prophet.” Marian stared into her teacup, thinking. “Why would she try now?”

  “I don’t know. The bokor said he could do it, but it would cost her. Amma said she’d pay the price. No matter what. It didn’t make any sense, but it has something to do with the Casters.”

  “If he was a bokor, that’s not idle talk. They use voodoo to hurt and destroy rather than enlighten and heal.”

  I nodded. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was actually scared for Amma. Which made about as much sense as a kitten being scared for a tiger. “I know you can’t interfere in the Caster world, but the bokor’s a Mortal.”

  “Which is why you came to me.” Marian sighed. “I can do some research, but the one question I won’t be able to answer is the only one that matters. What would send Amma to a person who opposes everything she believes in?” Marian held out a plate of cookies, which meant she didn’t have the answer.

  “HobNobs?” I winced. They weren’t just any cookies—Liv’s suitcase had been full of them when she arrived in South Carolina at the beginning of the summer.

  Marian must have noticed, because she sighed and put the plate down. “Have you talked to Olivia about what happened?”

  “I don’t know. Not about—well, no.” I sighed. “Which really sucks, because Liv is… you know, Liv.”

  “I miss her, too.”

  “Then why didn’t you let her keep working with you?” After Liv broke the rules and helped free Macon from the Arclight, she had disappeared from the Gatlin County Library. Her training as a Keeper had ended, and I’d expected her to go back to the U.K. Instead, she started spending her days in the Tunnels with Macon.

  “I couldn’t. It would be improper. Or, if you prefer, forbidden. Until everything is sorted out, we aren’t to see each other. Not officially.”

  “You mean she’s not staying with you?”

  Marian sighed. “She’s moved into the Tunnels for now. She may be happier there. Macon’s seen to it that she has a study of her own.” I couldn’t picture Liv spending so much time in the darkness of the Tunnels, when all she reminded me of was sunshine.

  Marian turned in her seat, pulled a folded letter from her desk, and handed me the paper. It was heavy in my hands, and I realized the weight came from a thick waxen seal at the bottom of the page. Not the kind of letter you get in the mail.

  “What’s this?”

  “Go on. Read it.”

  “ ‘The Council of the Far Keep finds, in the grave matter of Marian Ashcroft of the Lunae Libri…’ ”—I started skimming—“ ‘… suspension of responsibilities, with regard to the Western Keep… trial date forthcoming.’ ” I looked up from the paper in disbelief. “You were fired?”

  “I prefer suspended.”

  “And there’s a trial?”

  She set her teacup on the table between us and closed her eyes. “Yes. At least, that’s what they are choosing to call it. Don’t think Mortals have a monopoly on hypocrisy. The Caster world is not exactly a democracy, as you might have noticed. The whole free will bit gets a little sidelined in the interest of the rule of law.”

  “But you had nothing to do with that. Lena broke the Order.”

  “Well, I appreciate your version of events, but you’ve lived in Gatlin long enough to know how versions have a way of changing. Nevertheless, I expect you’ll have your day on the stand.” The lines on Marian’s face had a habit of deepening from lines into shadows when she was really worried. Like now.

  “But you weren’t involved.” It was our longest running battle. From the moment I learned Marian was a Keeper—like my mother before her—I knew the one rule that mattered. Whatever was happening, Marian stayed out of it. She was an observer, responsible for keeping the records of the Caster world and marking the place that world intersected with the Mortal one.

  Marian kept the history; she didn’t make it.

  That was the rule. Whether her heart would allow her to follow it was a different story. Liv had learned the hard way that she couldn’t follow the rule, and now she could never be a Keeper. I was pretty sure my mom had felt the same way.

  I picked up the letter again. I touched the thick black wax seal—the same as the seal of the state of South Carolina. A Caster moon over a palmetto tree. As I touched the crescent moon, I heard the familiar melody and stopped to listen. I closed my eyes.

  Eighteen Moons, eighteen Sheers,

  Feeding off your deepest fears,

  Vexed to find as Darkness nears,

  Secret eyes and hidden ears…

  “Ethan?” I opened my eyes to see Marian looming over me.

  “It’s nothing.”

  “It’s never nothing. Not with you, EW.” She smiled a little sadly at me.

  “I heard the song.” I was still tapping my fingers against the sides of my jeans, the melody stuck in my head.

  “Your Shadowing Song?”

  I nodded.

  “And?”

  I didn’t want to tell her, but I didn’t see how I was going to get out of it, and I couldn’t manage to make up another version in the space of three seconds. “Nothing good. The usual. A Sheer, a Vex, secrets and darkness.”

  I tried not to feel anything, not the lurching in my stomach or the chill spreading through my body while I said it. My mom was trying to tell me something. And if she was sending the song, it meant it was something important. And dangerous.

  “Ethan. This is serious.”

  “Everything’s serious, Aunt Marian. It’s hard to figure out what I’m supposed to do.”

  “Talk to me.”

  “I will, but right now I don’t even know what to tell you.” I stood up to leave. I shouldn’t have said anything. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, and the more Marian pushed, the faster I wanted to get away. “I’d better get going.”

  She followed me to the door of the archive. “Don’t be gone so long this time, Ethan. I’ve missed you.”

  I smiled and hugged her, looking over her shoulder into the Gatlin County Library—and almost jumped out of my skin.

  “What happened?”

  Marian looked as surprised as I did. The library was a catastrophic, floor-to-ceiling disaster. It looked like a tornado had struck while we were in the archive. Stacks were leveled, and books were thrown open everywhere, along the tabletops, the checkout counter, even the floor. I’d only seen something like this once before, last Christmas, when every book in the library opened to a quote that had to do with Lena and me.

  “This is worse than last time,” Marian said quietly. We were thinking the same thing. It was a message meant for me. Just as it had been then.

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Well. There we go. Are you feeling Vexed yet?” Marian reached for a book sitting on top of the card catalog. “Because I certainly am.”

  “I’m starting to.” I pushed my hair out of my eyes. “Wish I knew the Cast for reshelving books without actually having to pick them all up.”

  Marian bent and handed me the first. “Emily Dickinson.”

  I opened it as slowly as a person can open a book, and found a random page.

  “ ‘Much Madness is divinest Sense…’ ”

  “Madness. Great.” What did it mean? And, more important, what did it mean for me? I looked at Marian. “What do you think?”

  “I think the Disorder of Things has finally reached my stacks. Go on.” She opened another book and handed it to me. “Leonardo da Vinci.”

&nb
sp; Great. Another famous crazy person. I handed it back to her. “You do it.”

  “ ‘While I thought that I was learning how to live, I’ve been learning how to die.’ ” She closed the book softly.

  “Madness and now death. Things are looking up.”

  She put one hand around my neck and let the book slide from her other. I’m here with you. That’s what her hands said. My hands didn’t say anything except that I was terrified, which I was pretty sure she could tell from how hard they were shaking. “We’ll take turns. One reads while the other cleans.”

  “I call cleaning.”

  Marian gave me a look, handing me another book. “You’re calling the shots in my library now?”

  “No, ma’am. That wouldn’t be very gentlemanly.” I looked down at the title. “Oh, come on.” Edgar Allan Poe. He was so dark he’d make the other two look cheerful in comparison. “Whatever he has to say, I don’t want to know.”

  “Open it.”

  “ ‘Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…’ ”

  I snapped the book shut. “I get it. I’m losing it. I’m going crazy. This whole town is cracked. The universe is one big nuthouse.”

  “You know what Leonard Cohen says about cracks, Ethan?”

  “No, I don’t. But I get the feeling I could open a few more books in this library and tell you.”

  “ ‘There is a crack in everything.’ ”

  “That’s helpful.”

  “It is, actually.” She put her hands on my shoulders. “ ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ ”

  She was pretty much exactly right—or at least the Leonard Cohen guy was. I felt happy and sad at the same time, and I didn’t know what to say. So I dropped to my knees on the carpet and started stacking books.

  “Better get going on this mess.”

  Marian understood. “Never thought I’d hear you say that, EW.” She was right. The universe really must be cracked, and me right along with it.

  I hoped somehow the light was finding a way in.

  9.19

  The Devil You Know

  I was dreaming. Not in a dream—so real I could feel the wind as I fell, or smell the metallic stench of blood in the Santee—but actually dreaming. I watched as whole scenes played out in my mind, only something was wrong. The dream felt wrong—or didn’t, because I couldn’t feel anything. I might as well have been sitting on the curb watching everything as it passed by….

  The night Sarafine had called the Seventeenth Moon.

  The moon splitting in the sky above Lena, its two halves forming the wings of a butterfly—one green, one gold.

  John Breed on his Harley, Lena’s arms wrapped around him.

  Macon’s empty grave in the cemetery.

  Ridley holding a black bundle, light escaping from beneath the fabric.

  The Arclight resting on the muddy ground.

  A single silver button, lost in the front seat of the Beater, one night in the rain.

  The images floated on the periphery of my mind, just out of reach. The dream was soothing. Maybe my every subconscious thought wasn’t a prophecy, a warped piece of the puzzle that would form my destiny as a Wayward. Maybe that was the dream. I relaxed into the gentle tug-of-war as I drifted on the edge of sleep and wakefulness. My mind groped for more concrete thoughts, trying to sift through the haze the way Amma sifted flour for a cake. Again and again, I kept coming back to the image of the Arclight.

  The Arclight in my hands.

  The Arclight in the grave.

  The Arclight and Macon, in the sea cave at the Great Barrier.

  Macon turning to look at me. “Ethan, this isn’t a dream. Wake up. Now!”

  Then Macon caught fire and my mind seized up and I couldn’t see anything, because the pain was so intense I couldn’t think or dream anymore.

  A shrill sound cut through the rhythmic buzz of the lubbers outside my window. I bolted upright, and the sound intensified as I fought myself awake.

  It was Lucille. She was on my bed hissing, the hair on her arched back standing up in a stiff line. Her ears were flattened against her head, and for a second I thought she was hissing at me. I followed her eyes across my room, through the darkness. There was someone standing at the foot of my bed. The polished handle of his cane caught the light.

  My mind hadn’t been groping for concrete thoughts.

  Abraham Ravenwood had.

  “Holy crap!”

  I scrambled backward, slamming into the wooden headboard behind me. There was nowhere to go, but all I wanted to do was get away. Instinct took over—fight or flight. And there was no way I was going to try to fight Abraham Ravenwood.

  “Get out. Now.” I pressed my hands against my temples, as if he could still reach me through the dull ache in my head.

  He watched me intently, measuring my reactions. “Evening, boy. I see, like my grandson, you haven’t learned your place yet.” Abraham shook his head. “Little Macon Ravenwood. Always such a disappointing child.” Involuntarily, my hands slid into fists. Abraham looked amused and flicked his finger.

  I dropped to the floor in front of him, gasping. My face smashed against rough floorboards, and all I could see were his cracked leather boots. I struggled to raise my head.

  “That’s better.” Abraham smiled, his white beard framing even whiter canines. He looked different from the last time I’d seen him, at the Great Barrier. His white Sunday suit was gone, replaced by a darker, more imposing one, his signature black string tie fastened neatly under his shirt collar. The illusion of the friendly Southern gentleman was gone. This thing standing in front of me was nothing like a man, and even less like Macon. Abraham Ravenwood, father of every Ravenwood Incubus who came after, was a monster.

  “I wouldn’t say monster. But then, I don’t see as how it matters much what you think of me, boy.”

  Lucille hissed more loudly.

  I tried to push myself up from the floor and keep my voice from shaking. “What the hell were you doing in my head?”

  He lifted an eyebrow. “Ah, you sensed me feeding. Not bad for a Mortal.” He leaned forward. “Tell me, what does it feel like? I’ve always wondered. Is it more like a blade or a bite? When I cut loose the thoughts you hold most dear? Your secrets and your dreams?”

  I staggered to my feet slowly, but I could barely carry my own weight. “It feels like you should stay out of my mind, Psycho.”

  Abraham laughed. “I would be happy to. There’s not much to see in there. Seventeen years and you’ve barely lived. Aside from a few meaningless trysts with trifling Caster trash.”

  I flinched. I wanted to grab him by the collar and hurl him out my window. Which I would’ve, if I could have moved my arms.

  “Yeah? If my brain’s so useless, why are you creeping into my room fishing around in it?” My whole body was shaking. I could talk a good game, but I was concentrating on trying not to pass out in front of the most powerful Incubus any of us had ever known.

  Abraham walked over to the window and ran his finger along the ledge and the trail of salt Amma had dutifully left there. He licked the crystals off his finger. “I can never get enough salt. Gives the blood a savory note.” He paused, looking out my window at the scorched lawn. “But I do have a question for you. Something of mine has been taken from me. And I think you know where to find it.”

  He flicked his finger against the window, and the glass shattered in the panes.

  I took a slow step toward him. It was like dragging my feet through cement. “What makes you think I’d tell you anything?”

  “Let’s see. Fear, for starters. Take a look.” He leaned out the window, looking down into my front yard. “Hunting and his dogs didn’t come all this way for nothing. They love a midnight snack.”

  My heart pounded in my ears. They were outside—Hunting and his Blood Pack.

  Abraham turned back to f
ace me, his black eyes shining. “Enough talk, boy. Where is John? I know my worthless grandson didn’t kill him. Where is Macon hiding him?”

  There it was. Someone had finally said it. John was alive.

  I knew it was true. I felt like I’d known all along. We had never found John’s body. All this time he had probably been in the Caster Tunnels, hanging out at some club like Exile, waiting.

  The anger welled up inside me, and I could barely force the words out. “The last time I saw him, he was in the cave at the Great Barrier, helping you and Sarafine destroy the world.”

  When he wasn’t busy running away with my girlfriend.

  Abraham looked smug. “I’m not sure you understand the gravity of the situation, so let me enlighten you. The Mortal world—your world, including this pathetic little town—is being destroyed, thanks to Macon’s niece and her ridiculous behavior, not me.”

  I fell back onto my bed as if Abraham had punched me. It felt like he did. “Lena did what she had to do. She Claimed herself.”

  “She destroyed the Order, boy. And she made the wrong choice when she chose to walk away from us.”

  “Why do you care? You don’t seem like you’re concerned about anyone but yourself.”

  He laughed, once. “A good point. Although we find ourselves in a dangerous state, it does provide me with certain opportunities.”

  Aside from John Breed, I couldn’t imagine what he meant, and I didn’t want to. But I tried not to let him see how scared I really was. “I don’t care if John has something to do with your opportunities. I told you, I don’t know where he is.”

  Abraham watched me carefully, like a Sybil who could read every line in my face. “Imagine a crack that runs deeper than the Tunnels. A crack that runs into the Underground, where only the darkest of Demons dwell. Your girlfriend’s youthful rebelliousness and her gifts have created such a crack.” He paused, flipping casually through the World History textbook on my desk. “I am not young, but with age comes power. And I have gifts of my own. I can call Demons and creatures of Darkness, even without The Book of Moons. If you don’t tell me where John is, I’ll show you.” He smiled, in his own deranged way.

 
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