Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  “Belt?”

  Liv pulled out her little red notebook. “The one Lena’s wearing. The disgusting belt with the scorpion trapped inside.”

  Macon held out his hand. Lena unclicked the buckle and handed the belt to him.

  Link turned on John. “What did you do to her?”

  “Nothing. Ridley’s been ordering me around since she let me out of the Arclight.”

  “Why would you agree?” Even Macon was incredulous. “You don’t strike me as particularly selfless.”

  “I didn’t have a choice. I’ve been stuck in this house for months now, trying to get out.” John slumped against the wall. “Ridley wouldn’t help me unless I found a way for her to Cast. So I did.”

  “You expect us to believe that a powerful hybrid Incubus allowed a Mortal girl to trap him in her bedroom?”

  John shook his head, frustrated. “This is Ridley we’re talking about. I think you all have a bad habit of underestimating her. When she wants something, she finds a way to get it.” We all knew he was right.

  “He’s telling the truth, Uncle Macon,” Reece said, from where she was standing by the fireplace.

  “You’re absolutely sure?”

  Reece wasn’t about to bite Macon’s head off, the way she had done to me. “I’m sure.”

  John looked relieved.

  Liv stepped forward, her notebook in hand. She had no interest in why Ridley may or may not have done something. She wanted the facts. “You know, we’ve been looking for you,” she told John.

  “Yeah? Bet you’re not the only ones.”

  Liv and Macon convinced John to sit down at the table with the rest of us, which meant Link refused to. He leaned against the wall next to the fireplace, sulking. All the Linkubus hype aside, John had changed Link in ways I would never really understand. And I knew something else John didn’t know.

  As much as Link loved driving all the girls crazy, it didn’t really matter. There was only one girl Link wanted, and none of us knew where to find her.

  “Abraham has gone to great lengths to locate your whereabouts, literally tearing this town apart. What I need to know is why. Abraham doesn’t do anything without a reason.” Macon was asking the questions, while Liv wrote down John’s responses. Reece was sitting across from John, watching for any trace of a lie.

  John shrugged. “I’m not really sure. He found me when I was a kid, but he’s not exactly a father figure, if you know what I mean.”

  Macon nodded. “You said he found you. What happened to your parents?”

  John shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I don’t know. They disappeared. I’m pretty sure they ditched me because I was… you know, different.”

  Liv stopped writing. “All Casters are different.”

  John laughed. “I’m not a regular Caster. My powers didn’t manifest when I was a teenager.” Liv stared at him. He pointed at her notebook. “You’re going to want to write this part down.”

  She raised an eyebrow. Subject displays combative attitude. I could imagine it on the page.

  “I was born this way, and my powers have only gotten stronger. Do you know what it’s like to be able to do things no one else your age can?”

  “Yes.” There was a trace of something in Liv’s voice, a mix of sadness and sympathy. She had always been smarter than everyone around her, designing devices to measure the pull of the moon, or some other thing no one else cared about or understood.

  Macon was studying John, and you could see the former Incubus in him sizing up this strange new one. “And exactly what sort of powers do you have, aside from being impervious to the effects of sunlight?”

  “Standard Incubus stuff—amplified strength, hearing, sense of smell. I can Travel. And girls are pretty into me.” John stopped and looked at Lena as if they shared a secret. She looked away.

  “Not as much as you think,” I said. He smiled at me, enjoying Macon’s protective custody.

  “I can do other things, too.”

  Liv searched his face. “Like what?”

  Link’s arms were crossed, and he was staring at the door, pretending he wasn’t listening. But I knew he was. Like it or not, he and John would always be connected now. The more Link knew about John, the more he would be able to figure out about himself.

  John looked at Reece, then at Lena. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to say. “Random stuff.”

  Macon’s eyes flickered. “What random stuff? Perhaps you could elaborate.”

  John gave up. “It sounds like a bigger deal than it is. But I can absorb other Casters’ powers.”

  Liv stopped writing. “Like an Empath?” Lena’s grandma could borrow the powers of other Casters temporarily, but she never described it as “absorbing” anything.

  John shook his head. “No. I keep them.”

  Liv’s eyes widened. “Are you saying you can steal the powers of other Casters?”

  “No. They still have their powers, but I have them, too. Sort of like a collection.”

  “How is that even possible?” Liv asked.

  Macon leaned back in his chair. “I would be very interested in hearing the answer to that question, Mr. Breed.”

  John glanced at Lena again. I wanted to jump across the table. “All I have to do is touch them.”

  “What?” Lena looked like he had slapped her in the face. Is that what he’d been doing with his hands all over her on the dance floor at Exile? Or when she had climbed onto the back of his stupid motorcycle that day at the lake? Siphoning her powers, like a parasite?

  “It’s not like I do it on purpose. It just happens. I don’t even know how to use most of the powers I have.”

  “But I’m sure Abraham does.” Macon poured himself a glass of dark liquor from a decanter that had appeared on the table. Never a sign things were going well.

  Liv and Macon looked at each other, a silent exchange.

  I could see the wheels in Liv’s mind turning. “What could Abraham be planning?”

  “With a hybrid Incubus who can collect the powers of other Casters?” Macon answered. “I’m not entirely sure, but with those capabilities at his side, Abraham would have the ultimate weapon. And Mortals wouldn’t stand a chance against that sort of power.”

  John whipped around to face Macon. “What did you say?”

  “Would you care for me to repeat—”

  “Wait.” John cut Macon off before he could finish. He closed his eyes as if he was trying to remember something. “ ‘Casters are an imperfect race. Polluting our bloodlines and using their powers to oppress us. But the day will come when we wield the ultimate weapon and eradicate them from the Earth.’ ”

  “What kinda crap is that?” John had Link’s attention.

  “Abraham and Silas used to say it all the time when I was a kid. I had to memorize it. Sometimes when I got in trouble, Silas made me write it over and over for hours.”

  “Silas?” Macon stiffened at the mention of his father’s name. I remembered the things my mom had said about Silas in the Arclight visions. He sounded like a monster, abusive and racist, trying to pass his hatred on to his sons—and apparently to John.

  Macon looked at John, his eyes darkening to a green so deep it was nearly black. “How did you know my father?”

  John raised his empty green eyes to meet Macon’s. His voice was different when he finally answered—not powerful or cocky, not John Breed at all.

  “He raised me.”

  10.24

  The One Who Is Two

  After that, Macon and Liv spent most of their time grilling John about Abraham and Silas, and who knows what else, while Lena and I pored over every book in Macon’s study. There were also old letters from Silas, encouraging Macon to join his father and brother in the battle against the Casters. But aside from that there were no clues to John’s past, no mentions of any Caster or Incubus capable of anything close to John’s abilities.

  The few times we were allowed to join the inquisition, Macon watched Lena
and John’s interactions carefully. I think he was worried that the strange pull John had wielded over Lena in the past might return. But Lena was stronger now, and John annoyed her as much as the rest of us. I was more worried about Liv. I had witnessed the reaction of the Mortal girls in Gatlin the first time John walked into the Dar-ee Keen. But Liv seemed immune.

  I was used to the ups and downs of living in the place between the Caster and Mortal worlds, but these days were all downs. The same week John Breed turned up at Ravenwood, Ridley’s clothes disappeared out of her room, like she was gone for good. And a few days later, Aunt Prue took a turn for the worse.

  I didn’t ask Lena to come with me the next time I went to County Care. I felt like being alone with Aunt Prue. I don’t know why, just like I didn’t know much about anything that was going on with me these days. Maybe I was going crazy. Maybe I’d been crazy all along, and I didn’t even know it.

  The air was freezing cold, as if they found a way to suck the Freon and the power from all the air conditioners in Gatlin County and pipe it into County Care. I wished it was this cold anywhere but here, where the cold wrapped itself around the patients like corpses in a refrigerator.

  This kind of cold never felt good, and it definitely never smelled good. At least sweating made you feel kind of alive, and that smell was about as human as you could get. Maybe I’d spent too much time considering the metaphysical implications of heat.

  Like I said, crazy.

  Bobby Murphy didn’t say a word when I walked up to the front desk, didn’t even look me in the eye. Just handed me the clipboard and a pass. I wasn’t sure if Lena’s Shut-the-Hell-Up Cast still affected him all the time, or only when I was around. Either way was fine with me. I didn’t feel like talking.

  I didn’t look in the other John’s room or the Unseen Needlepoint Room, and I walked right past the Sad Birthday Party Room. I held my breath as I passed the Food That Wasn’t Food Room, before the smell of Ensure hit.

  Then I smelled the lavender, and I knew my Aunt Prue was there.

  Leah sat in a chair by her bed, reading a book in some kind of Caster or Demon language. She wasn’t in the standard County Care peach uniform. Her boots were propped up on a hazardous waste disposal container in front of her. She’d obviously given up trying to pass for a nurse.

  “Hey there.”

  She looked up, surprised to see me. “Hey, yourself. It’s about time. I’ve been wondering where you’ve been.”

  “I don’t know. Busy. Stupid stuff.”

  Freaking out and chasing down hybrid Incubuses and Ridley, my mother and Mrs. English, and some crazy thing about some crazy Wheel…

  She smiled. “Well, I’m glad to see you.”

  “Me, too.” That was all I could manage. I gestured at her boots. “They don’t give you a hard time for all that?”

  “Nah. I’m not really the kind of girl people give a hard time.”

  I couldn’t make any more small talk. Talking was getting harder and harder every day, even with people I cared about. “Do you mind if I spend some time with Aunt Prue? You know, alone?”

  “Of course not. I’m going to run out and check on Bade. If I don’t get her house-trained soon, she’ll have to sleep outside, and she’s really an indoor cat.” She tossed her book onto the chair and ripped out of the room.

  I was alone with Aunt Prue.

  She had gotten even smaller since the last time I was here. Now there were tubes where there hadn’t been, as if she was turning into a piece of machinery an inch at a time. She looked like an apple baking in the sun, wrinkling in ways that seemed impossible. For a while, I listened to the rhythmic pulsing of the plastic ankle cuffs on her legs, expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting.

  As if they could make up for not walking, not being, not watching Jeopardy! with her sisters, not complaining about everything while loving it all.

  I took her hand. The tube that ran into her mouth bubbled with her every breath. It sounded wet and croupy, like a humidifier with water inside it. Like she was choking on her own air.

  Pneumonia. I overheard Amma talking to the doctor in the kitchen. Statistically speaking, when coma patients died, pneumonia was the Grim Reaper. I wondered if the sound of the tube in her throat meant Aunt Prue was getting closer to a statistically predictable end.

  The thought of my aunt as another statistic made me want to throw the hazardous waste bin through the window. Instead, I grabbed Aunt Prue’s tiny hand, her fingers as small as bare twigs in winter. I closed my eyes and took her other hand, twisting my strong fingers together with her frail ones.

  I rested my forehead against our hands and closed my eyes. I imagined lifting my head up and seeing her smiling, the tape and tubes gone. I wondered if wishing was the same thing as praying. If hoping for something badly enough could make it happen.

  I was still thinking about it when I opened my eyes, expecting to see Aunt Prue’s room, her sad hospital bed and her depressing peach walls. But I found myself standing in the sunshine, in front of a house I’d been to a hundred times before….

  The Sisters’ house looked exactly the way I remembered it, before the Vexes tore it apart. The walls, the roof, the section where Aunt Prue’s bedroom had been—they were all there, not a white pine board or a roof shingle out of place.

  The walk leading up to the wraparound porch was lined with hydrangea, the way Aunt Prue liked. Lucille’s clothesline was still stretched across the lawn. There was a dog sitting on the porch—a Yorkshire terrier that looked suspiciously like Harlon James, except it wasn’t. This dog had more gold in his coat, but I recognized him and bent down to pet him. His tag read HARLON JAMES III.

  “Aunt Prue?”

  The three white rocking chairs were sitting on the porch, with little wicker tables between them. There was a tray on one of them, with two glasses of lemonade. I sat in the second rocking chair, leaving the first one empty. Aunt Prue liked to sit in the one closest to the walk, and I figured she would want that chair if she was coming.

  It felt like she was coming.

  She’d brought me here, hadn’t she?

  I gave Harlon James III a scratch, which was strange, since he was sitting in our living room, stuffed. I looked at the table again.

  “Aunt Prue!” She startled me, even though I was expecting her. She didn’t look any better than she had lying in her hospital bed, in real life. She coughed, and I heard the familiar noise of the rhythmic compressions. She was still wearing the plastic cuffs around her ankles, expanding and contracting, as if she was still in her bed at County Care.

  She smiled. Her face looked transparent, her skin so pale and thin that you could see the bluish purple of the veins beneath it.

  “I’ve missed you. And Aunt Grace, Aunt Mercy, and Thelma are going out of their minds without you. Amma, too.”

  “I see Amma most days and your daddy on the weekends. They come by ta talk a lot more regular than some people.” She sniffed.

  “I’m sorry. Things have been all wrong.”

  She waved her hand at me. “I’m not goin’ anywhere. Not just yet. They got me on house arrest, like one a them criminals from the TV.” She coughed and shook her head.

  “Where are we, Aunt Prue?”

  “Don’t reckon I know. But I don’t have much time. They keep you pretty busy ’round here.” She unhooked her necklace and took something off it. I hadn’t seen her wearing the necklace in the hospital, but I recognized it. “From my daddy, from his daddy’s daddy, from way before you were even a thought in the mind a the Good Lord.”

  It was a rose, hammered out of gold.

  “This is for your girl. Ta help me keep an eye on her for ya. Tell her ta keep it with her.”

  “Why are you worrying about Lena?”

  “Now, don’t you go worryin’ ’bout that. You just do as I tell you.” She sniffed again.

  “But Lena’s fine. I’ll always take care of her. You know that.” The thought that Aunt Prue
was worried about Lena scared me more than anything that had happened in the last few months.

  “All the same, you give it ta her.”

  “I will.”

  But Aunt Prue was gone, leaving only half a glass of lemonade and an empty rocking chair, still rocking.

  I opened my eyes, squinting into the brightness of my aunt’s room, and I realized the sun was coming in sideways, much lower than when I’d arrived. I checked my cell. Three hours had passed.

  What was happening to me? Why was it easier to slip into Aunt Prue’s world than to have a simple conversation in my own? The first time I spoke to her, it didn’t seem like any time had passed at all, and I couldn’t have done it without a powerful Natural at my side.

  I heard the door open behind me.

  “You all right, kid?” Leah was standing in the doorway.

  I looked down at my hand, uncurling my fingers around a tiny gold rose. This is for your girl. I wasn’t all right. I was pretty sure nothing was.

  I nodded. “Fine. Just tired. I’ll see you around, Leah.” She waved me off, and I left the room with the weight of a backpack full of rocks on my shoulders.

  When I got into the car and the radio started playing, I wasn’t surprised to hear the familiar melody. After seeing Aunt Prue, I was relieved. Because there it was, as right as the rain that hadn’t fallen in months. My Shadowing Song.

  Eighteen Moons, eighteen nears,

  The Wheel of Fate herself appears,

  Then the One Who Is Two

  Will bring the Order back anew….

  The One Who Is Two, whatever that meant, was tied to fixing the Order.

  And what did it have to do with the Wheel of Fate—the Wheel that was a she? Who could be powerful enough to control the Order of Things and take human form?

  There were Light and Dark Casters, Succubuses and Sirens, Sybils and Diviners. I remembered the previous verse of the song—the one about the Demon Queen. Possibly one who could take human form, like stepping into a Mortal’s body. There was only one Demon Queen I knew who could do that. Sarafine.

 
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