Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia

  “Your mom was already going Dark.”

  “You don’t know that. Maybe she could have fought it, like Uncle Macon.”

  I knew how badly Lena wanted to believe there was some good in her mother. That she wasn’t destined to be the murderous monster we both knew.


  We stood up as Marian turned the corner. “It’s getting late. As much as I’ve missed having you lounge around on the floor, I really need you to leave. This isn’t pleasant business, I’m afraid.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “The Council is paying me a visit.”

  “The Council?” I wasn’t sure which one she was talking about.

  “The Council of the Far Keep.”

  Lena nodded, and smiled sympathetically. “Uncle Macon told me. Is there anything we can do? Write letters or sign a petition? Hand out flyers?”

  Marian smiled, looking tired. “No. They’re just doing their job.”

  “Which is?”

  “Making sure the rest of us follow the rules. I think this falls into the category of taking one’s lumps. I am prepared to take responsibility for anything I’ve done. But nothing more. ‘The price of greatness is responsibility.’ ” She looked at me expectantly.

  “Um, Plato?” I guessed hopefully.

  “Winston Churchill.” She sighed. “That’s all they can ask of me, and all I can ask of myself. Now it’s time for you to go.”

  Now that Mrs. English and my dad were gone, I noticed that Marian was dressed in clothes that were very un-Marian. Instead of a brightly colored dress, she was wearing a black robe over a black dress. As if she was going to a funeral. Which was just about the last place I was going to let Marian go without me.

  “We’re not going anywhere.”

  She shook her head. “Except home.”


  “Ethan, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

  “When Lena and I were the ones in front of the firing squad, you walked right into the line of fire—you and Macon. There’s no way I’m going anywhere.”

  Lena dropped down into one of the few remaining chairs and made herself comfortable. “Me neither.”

  “You’re very kind, both of you. But I intend to keep you all out of this. I think it’s better for everyone.”

  “Haven’t you noticed whenever someone says that, it’s never better for anyone, especially not the person saying it?” I looked at Lena.

  Go get Macon. I’ll stay here with Marian. I don’t want her to go through this alone.

  Lena was at the door, the lock unbolting itself, before Marian could say a word.

  I’m on it.

  I put my arm around Marian’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. “Isn’t this one of those times when we should pull out a book that magically tells us everything is going to be okay?”

  She laughed, and for a second she sounded like the old Marian, the Marian who wasn’t on trial for things she didn’t do, who wasn’t worrying about things she couldn’t help. “I don’t recall the books we’ve found lately saying anything of the sort.”

  “Yeah. Let’s stay away from the Ps. No Edgar Allan Poe for you today.”

  She smiled. “The Ps aren’t all bad. There is always, for example, Plato.” She patted my arm. ‘Courage is a kind of salvation,’ Ethan.” She rummaged in a box and pulled out a blackened book. “And you’ll be happy to know, Plato survived the Gatlin County Library’s own Great Burning.”

  Things might be bad, but for the first time in weeks, I actually felt better.



  We were sitting in the archive, in the flickering candlelight. The room was relatively undamaged, which was a miracle. The archive had been soaked, not burned—thanks to the automatic sprinklers in the ceiling. The three of us waited at the long table in the center of the room, having tea from a Thermos.

  I stirred mine absentmindedly. “Shouldn’t the Council be visiting you in the Lunae Libri?”

  Marian shook her head. “I’m not even sure if they want me back there. This is the only place they’ll speak to me.”

  “I’m sorry,” Lena said.

  “There’s nothing to be sorry about. I only hope—”

  The cracking sound of lightning filled the room, then the rumble of thunder, and blinding flashes of light. Not the ripping sound of Traveling, but something new. The book appeared first.

  The Caster Chronicles.

  That was the name inscribed on the front. It landed on the table between us. The book was so massive that the table groaned under its weight.

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  Marian put her finger to her lips. “Shh.”

  Three cloaked figures appeared, one after the next. The first, a tall man with a shaved head, held up his hand. The thunder and lightning stopped instantly. The second, a woman, flung a hood back over her shoulder to reveal an unnatural and overwhelming whiteness. White hair, white skin, and irises so white she appeared to be made of nothing at all. The last, a man the size of a linebacker, appeared between the table and my mother’s old desk, disrupting her papers and books in the process. He was holding a large brass hourglass. But it was empty. There wasn’t a single grain of sand inside.

  The only thing the three of them had in common was what they had on. Each wore a heavy, hooded black robe and a strange pair of glasses, as if it was some kind of uniform.

  I looked at the glasses more closely. They seemed to be made of gold, silver, and bronze, twisted together into one thick braid. The glass in the lenses was cut into facets, like the diamond in my mother’s engagement ring. I wondered how they could see.

  “Salve, Marian of the Lunae Libri, Keeper of the Word, the Truth, and the World Without End.” I almost jumped out of my skin, because they spoke in perfect unison, as if they were one person. Lena grabbed my hand.

  Marian stepped forward. “Salve, Great Council of the Far Keep. Council of the Wise, the Known, and That Which Cannot Be Known.”

  “You know for what purpose we have come to this place?”


  “Have you anything to say other than that which we know?”

  Marian shook her head. “I do not.”

  “You admit to taking action inside the Order of Things, in violation of your sacred oath?”

  “I allowed one who was in my charge to do so, yes.”

  I wanted to explain, but between the perfectly hollow sound of their choral voices and the white eyes of the woman, I could barely breathe.

  “Where is the one?”

  Marian pulled her own robe tighter around her body. “She isn’t here. I sent her away.”


  “To keep her from harm,” Marian answered.

  “From us.” They said it without even the slightest hint of emotion.


  “You are wise, Marian of the Lunae Libri.”

  Marian didn’t look as wise right now. She looked terrified. “I have read about The Caster Chronicles— the stories and records of the Casters you keep. And I know what you’ve done to Mortals who have transgressed as she has. And to Casters.”

  They studied Marian like an insect under glass. “You care for this one? The Keeper who is not to be? A girl child?”

  “Yes. She is like a daughter to me. And she is not for you to judge.”

  The voices rose. “You do not speak to us of our powers. We speak to you of yours.”

  Then I heard another voice, one I had heard so many times before when I’d felt this helpless. “Now, gentlemen, madam, that’s not the way we speak to ladies of good report here in the South.” Macon was standing behind us, with Boo Radley at his feet. “I’m going to have to ask you to conduct yourselves with a little more respect for Dr. Ashcroft. She is a beloved Keeper of this community. Beloved by many, who possess great power in the Caster and Incubus worlds alike.”

  Macon was impeccably dressed. I was pretty sure he was in the same suit he w
ore to the Disciplinary Committee Meeting, when he showed up to rescue Lena from Mrs. Lincoln and her lynch mob.

  Leah Ravenwood materialized next to him in her black coat, holding her staff. Bade, her mountain lion, growled, pacing in front of Leah. “My brother speaks the truth. Our family supports him, and the Keeper. You should know that before you continue down this road. She doesn’t stand alone.”

  Marian looked at Macon and Leah gratefully.

  Someone stepped through the doorway behind Leah. “And if there’s anyone to blame, it’s me.” Liv walked past Leah and Macon. “Aren’t I the one you’ve come to punish? I’m here. Have at it.”

  Marian grabbed Liv’s hand, refusing to let her go any farther.

  The Council regarded her solemnly. “The Incubus and the Succubus are of no concern to us.”

  “They’re standing in for my family,” Liv said. “I have no one else except Professor Ashcroft.”

  “You are brave, child.”

  Liv didn’t move or let go of Marian’s hand. “Thank you.”

  “And foolish.”

  “So I’ve been told. Quite often, actually.” Liv looked at them as if she wasn’t the least bit afraid, which I knew was impossible. But her voice didn’t waver. Like she was relieved this moment was finally happening, and she could stop dreading it.

  The Council wasn’t finished with her. “You held a sacred trust and chose to break it.”

  “I chose to help a friend. I chose to save a life. I’d do it again,” Liv answered.

  “Those were not your decisions to make.”

  “I accept the consequences of my actions. Like I said, I’d do it all again if I had to. That’s what you do for the people you love.”

  “Love is not our concern,” the voices answered as one.

  “ ‘All you need is love.’ ” Liv was quoting the Beatles to the Council of the Far Keep. If she was going down, she was going down in style.

  “You understand what it is you say?”

  Liv nodded. “Yes.”

  The Council members looked around the room, their eyes moving from Liv and Marian to Macon and Leah.

  Lightning cracked, and the room filled with heat and energy. The Caster Chronicles radiated light.

  The tall man spoke to the other two, his voice deeper without theirs blending into it. “We will take what has been spoken to the Far Keep. There is a price to be paid. It shall be paid.”

  Macon bowed. “Have a safe journey. Be sure to visit us if you’re ever passing through our fair town again. I do hope you can stay longer next time and try some of our famous buttermilk pie.”

  The woman with the milky white eyes removed her glasses and stared in Macon’s direction. But it was impossible to tell what she was really looking at, because her eyes didn’t move at all.

  The lightning cracked again, and they were gone.

  Thunder rumbled while the book lingered on the table for another second. Then it disappeared, following the dark figures into the light.

  “Bloody hell!” Liv collapsed into Marian’s arms.

  I stood frozen in place.

  Hell didn’t begin to cover it.

  Once Macon was satisfied that the Keepers were gone, he moved toward the door. “Marian, I hate to leave you, but there are a few things I want to look into. Or rather, look up.”

  Liv recognized her cue and started to follow him.

  But Macon wasn’t looking at Liv. “Lena, I’d like you to come with me if you don’t mind.”

  “What?” Lena looked confused.

  But not as confused as Liv, who was already gathering her notebook. “I can help. I know where all the books are—”

  “That’s quite all right, Olivia. The sort of information I’m looking for is not in the books you’ve read. The Far Keep doesn’t provide other Keepers with access to information regarding the origins of the Council. Those records are kept by Casters.” He nodded at Lena, who was already shoving her things into her bag.

  “Of course. Yes.” Liv looked hurt. “I can only imagine.”

  Macon paused at the door. “Leah, would you mind leaving Bade? I believe Marian could use her company tonight.” Which really meant he didn’t want to leave Marian alone, without a two-hundred-pound bodyguard on the premises.

  Leah scratched the big cat’s head. “Not at all. I have to get back to County Care anyway, and they aren’t partial to animals.”

  Bade circled the table where we were sitting, finally settling on a spot beside Marian.

  Lena looked at me, and I could tell she didn’t want to leave me alone with Liv and Marian, but she didn’t want to let Macon down either. Especially not when he was asking for her help, instead of Liv’s.

  Go on, L. It’s fine. I don’t mind.

  Her answer was a very public kiss and a meaningful look at Liv. Then they were gone.

  After they left, I sat in the archive with Liv and Marian, drawing out the moment as long as we could. I couldn’t remember the last time the three of us were alone together, and I missed it. Liv and Marian tossing around quotes, and me always coming up with the wrong answer.

  Liv finally stood up. “I have to go. I don’t want you to get in any more trouble.”

  Marian stared into the bottom of her teacup. “Olivia, don’t you think I could have stopped you if I’d wanted to?”

  Liv looked like she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. “You weren’t even there when I helped Ethan release Macon from the Arclight.”

  “I was there when you took off into the Tunnels with Ethan and Link. I could’ve stopped you then.” Marian took a shaky breath. “But I had a friend once, too. And if I could turn back the clock—if there was anything I could’ve done to save her—I would have done it. Now she’s gone, and there’s nothing I can do to get her back.”

  I squeezed Marian’s hand.

  “I’m sorry,” Liv said. “And I’m sorry I got you into so much trouble. I wish I could persuade them to leave you alone.”

  “You can’t. No one can. Sometimes everyone does the right thing and there’s still a mess left to clean up. Someone has to take responsibility for it.”

  Liv stared at a water-stained box on the floor. “It should be me.”

  “I disagree. This is my chance to help another friend, one I love very much.” Marian smiled and reached for Liv’s hand. “And there has to be at least one librarian in this town—Keeper or not.”

  Liv threw her arms around Marian and hugged her like she was never going to let go. Marian gave Liv one last squeeze and looked over at me. “EW, I’d appreciate it if you would see Liv back to Ravenwood. If I gave her my car, I’m afraid it would end up on the wrong side of the road.”

  I hugged Marian, whispering to her as I did. “Be careful.”

  “I always am.”

  We had to make a lot of detours to get anywhere in Gatlin now. So five minutes later, I was driving past my own house, with Liv in the passenger seat—like we were on our way to deliver library books or stop at the Dar-ee Keen. Like it was last summer.

  But the overwhelming brown of everything and the buzzing of ten thousand lubbers reminded me it wasn’t.

  “I can almost smell the pie from here,” Liv said, looking toward my house longingly.

  I glanced at the open window. “Amma hasn’t made a pie in a while, but you can probably smell her pecan fried chicken.”

  Liv groaned. “You’ve no idea what it’s like living in the Tunnels, especially when Kitchen is out of sorts. I’ve been living on my stash of HobNobs for weeks now. If I don’t get another package soon, I’m doomed.”

  “You know, there is a little thing called the Stop & Steal around here,” I said.

  “I know. There’s also a little thing called Amma’s homemade fried chicken.”

  I knew where this conversation was heading all along and was halfway to the curb by the time she said it. “Come on. I bet you ten bucks she made biscuits, too.”

  “You had me at ‘fried.’ ”
  Amma gave Liv all the thighs, so I knew she was still feeling sorry for Liv after last summer. Luckily, the Sisters were asleep. I didn’t feel like answering questions about why there was a girl at my house who wasn’t Lena.

  Liv stuffed her face faster than Link in his prime. By the time I was on my third piece, she was on her second plateful.

  “This is the second-best piece of fried chicken I’ve ever tasted in my life.” Liv was actually licking her fingers.

  “Second best?” I was the one who said it, but I saw Amma’s face when I did. Because by Gatlin standards, those two words alone were blasphemy. “What’s better?”

  “The piece I’m about to have. And possibly the piece after that.” She slid her empty plate across the table.

  I could see Amma smiling to herself as she added more Wesson oil to her five-gallon pot. “Wait till you taste a batch right outta the fryer. Can’t say you’ve tried that, have you, Olivia?”

  “No, ma’am. But I also haven’t had any homemade food since the Seventeenth Moon.” There it was again. The familiar cloud settled back over the kitchen, and I pushed my plate away. The extra-crispy crust was choking me.

  Amma dried the One-Eyed Menace with a dishrag. “Ethan Lawson Wate. You go get our friend some a my best preserves. Back a the panty. Top shelf.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  Amma called after me before I made it to the hall. “And none a that pickled watermelon rind. I’m savin’ that for Wesley’s mamma. It turned out sour this year.”

  The basement door was across from Amma’s room. The wooden stairs were scarred with black marks, like a burnt marshmallow, from the time me and Link put a hot pot on the stairs when we were trying to make Rice Krispies Treats on our own. We almost burned a hole in one step, and Amma gave me stinkeye for days. I made sure to step on the mark every time I went down those stairs.

  Going down into a basement in Gatlin wasn’t all that different from going through a Caster Doorwell. Our basement wasn’t the Tunnels, but I’d always thought of it as some kind of mysterious underworld. Under beds and in basements—that’s where all the best secrets were kept in our town. The treasure might be stacks of old magazines in the furnace room, or a week’s worth of icebox cookies from Amma’s industrial freezer. Either way, you were going back up with an armload or a stomach full of something.

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