Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia

  Mrs. English was shaking. “I don’t have anything of value. I’m just a teacher.”

  Sarafine smiled, which made her look even more deranged. “Actually, you have something that is very valuable to us, Lilian.”

  Mrs. English took a step back. “I don’t know who you people are, but you should leave. My neighbors have probably already called the police. This is a very quiet street.” Her voice was rising. I was pretty sure Mrs. English was only a minute away from a meltdown.

  “Leave her alone!” I started to walk toward Sarafine, and she flung open her fingers.

  I felt the force, ten times stronger than any hand, slam against my chest. I fell back against the bookcase, sending dusty books falling around me.

  “Have a seat, Ethan. I think it’s fitting for you to watch the end of the world as you know it.”

  I couldn’t get up. I could still feel the weight of Sarafine’s power on my chest.

  “You people are crazy,” Mrs. English whispered, her eyes wide.

  Sarafine fixed her terrifying eyes on Mrs. English. “You don’t know the half of it.”

  Abraham stubbed his cigar out on Mrs. English’s side table and rose from the chair. He opened The Book of Moons as if he had marked a specific page.

  “What are you doing? Calling more Vexes?” I shouted.

  This time, they both laughed. “What I’m calling will make a Vex look like a house cat.” He started to read in a language I didn’t recognize. It had to be a Caster language—Niadic, maybe. The words were almost melodic, until he repeated them in English and I realized what they meant.

  “ ‘From blood, ash, and sorrow. For the Demons imprisoned below…’ ”

  “Stop!” I shouted. Abraham didn’t even look at me.

  Sarafine twisted her wrist slightly, and I felt my chest tighten. “You are witnessing history, Ethan—for both Casters and Mortals. Be a little more respectful.”

  Abraham was still reading. “ ‘I call their Creator.’ ”

  The moment Abraham spoke the last word, Mrs. English gasped, and her body arched violently. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she crumpled to the floor like a rag doll. Mrs. English’s neck was resting against her chest awkwardly, and all I could think about was how lifeless she looked.

  Like she was dead.

  Abraham started to read again, but I felt like I was underwater—everything was slow and muffled. How many more people were going to die because of them?

  “ ‘… to avenge them. And to serve!’ ” Abraham’s voice echoed through the tiny room, and the walls began to shake. He snapped the Book shut and walked closer to the body of Mrs. English.

  The spidery-looking plant fell off the TV, and the pot broke against the stone of the fireplace. The tiny figurines were rocking back and forth, the pieces of Mrs. English’s life breaking apart.

  “She’s coming!” Sarafine called to Abraham, and I realized they were both staring at Mrs. English’s body. I tried to get up, but the weight was still bearing down on my chest. Whatever was happening, I couldn’t stop it.

  It was already too late.

  Mrs. English’s neck lifted first, her body slowly following, rising from the floor as if an invisible string was pulling it. It was horrible—the way her lifeless body moved like a puppet’s. When her body straightened, her eyelids snapped open.

  But her eyes were gone. In their place were only dark shadows.

  The shaking stopped, and the whole room was still.

  “Who calls me?” Mrs. English was speaking, but the voice wasn’t hers. It was inhuman. There was no variation in tone, no inflection—it was haunting and ominous.

  Abraham smiled. He was proud of whatever he had done. “I do. The Order is broken, and I call you to bring forth the soulless, those who wander the abyss of the Underground, to join us here.”

  Mrs. English’s empty eyes stared past him, but the voice answered. “It cannot be done.”

  Sarafine looked at Abraham, panicked. “What is she—”

  He silenced Sarafine with a look, and turned back to the creature inhabiting the shell of Mrs. English. “I was not clear. We have bodies for them. Bring forth the soulless and offer them the bodies of the Light Casters. This will be the new Order. You will Bind it.”

  There was a rumbling sound within Mrs. English’s body, almost as if the creature was laughing in some sick way. “I am the Lilum. Time. Truth. Destiny. The Endless River. The Wheel of Fate. You do not command me.”

  Lilum. Lilian English. It was like a sick cosmic joke. Except for the part that wasn’t a joke, the part I couldn’t stop repeating in my mind.

  The Wheel of Fate crushes us all.

  Abraham looked stricken, and Sarafine staggered backward. Whatever this Lilum thing was, the two of them had clearly believed they could control it.

  Abraham tightened his grip on The Book of Moons and changed tactics. “Then I appeal to you as the Demon Queen. Help us forge a new Order. One where the Light will finally be eclipsed by Darkness forever.”

  I froze. It was all coming together. The Shadowing Song was right. Even if I hadn’t heard a word about this Lilum thing, the song had warned me about the Demon Queen and the Wheel of Fate more than once.

  I tried not to panic.

  The Lilum answered, her voice unnervingly even. “Light and Dark hold no meaning for me. There is only power, born from the Dark Fire, where all power was created.”

  What was she talking about? She was the Demon Queen. Didn’t that make her Dark?

  “No.” Sarafine’s voice was a whisper. “It’s not possible. The Demon Queen is true Darkness.”

  “My truth is the Dark Fire, the origin of power both Light and Dark.”

  Sarafine looked confused, something I had never seen in her outside of the visions.

  That’s when I realized she and Abraham didn’t understand the Lilum at all. I couldn’t pretend that I did, but I knew she wasn’t Dark in the way they believed. She was something all her own. Maybe the Lilum was gray, a new shade in the spectrum. Or maybe it was the opposite, and the Lilum possessed neither Dark nor Light—she was the absence of both.

  Either way, she wasn’t one of them.

  “But you can forge a New Order,” Sarafine said.

  Mrs. English’s head jerked toward the sound of Sarafine’s voice. “I can. But a price must be paid.”

  “What’s the price?” I called out without thinking.

  The head jerked toward me. “A Crucible.”

  The Demon Queen, the Wheel of Fate—whoever she was, she wasn’t talking about my English homework. “I don’t understand.”

  “Shut up, boy!” Abraham snapped.

  But the Lilum was still staring blankly in my direction. “This Mortal has the words I require.” The Lilum paused. She was talking about Mrs. English. “Crucible. A pot for melting metals. A Mortal allegory.” Was she searching Mrs. English’s mind for the right words? “A severe test.” She stopped. “Yes. A test. On the Eighteenth Moon.”

  “What’s the test?”

  “On the Eighteenth Moon,” she repeated. “For One who will bring the Order back anew.”

  It was the message from my Shadowing Song—most of it, anyway.

  The One Who Is Two.

  “Who?” Abraham demanded. “Tell me now! Who will bring back the Order?”

  Mrs. English’s neck jerked unnaturally toward Abraham, the black-shadowed eye sockets facing him. A thunderous sound ripped through the house. “You do not command me.”

  Before he could respond, a blinding light streaked from the dark sockets where Mrs. English’s eyes should have been—directly at Abraham and Sarafine. Abraham didn’t even have time to rip. The light hit them and exploded around them, filling the room. Sarafine’s invisible grip disappeared, and I threw my arm over my eyes to shield them from the light. But I could still sense it, as if I was looking into the sun.

  Within seconds, the impossible brightness dimmed and I pulled my arm away from my face. I loo
ked at the place where Abraham and Sarafine had been standing. Black splotches clouded my vision.

  Abraham and Sarafine were gone.

  “Are they dead?” I found myself hoping. Maybe Abraham had used The Book of Moons one time too many. The Book always took something in return.

  “Dead.” The Lilum paused. “No. It is not their time to be judged.”

  I disagreed, but I wasn’t about to argue with a creature powerful enough to make Abraham and Sarafine disappear. “What happened to them?”

  “I willed them away. I do not wish to hear their voices.” She didn’t really answer the question.

  But I had another one, and I had to find the courage to ask it. “The one who has to face the test on the Eighteenth Moon—are you talking about the One Who Is Two?”

  The darkened sockets of her eyes turned toward me, and the voice began to speak. “The One Who Is Two, in Whom the Balance is paid. The Dark Fire, from which all power comes, will make the Order anew.”

  “So we can fix it? The Order, I mean?”

  “If the Balance is paid, there will be a New Order.” Her voice was completely flat, as if what I had been hoping for meant nothing.

  “What do you mean by the Balance?”

  “Balance. Payment. Sacrifice.”


  By the One Who Is Two.

  “Not Lena,” I whispered. I couldn’t lose her again. “She can’t be the sacrifice. She didn’t mean to break the Order.”

  “Both Dark and Light. Perfect balance. True magic.” The Lilum was quiet. Was she thinking, searching for words in the mind of Mrs. English, or just getting tired of hearing my voice, too? “She is not the Crucible. The child of Darkness and Light will Bind the New Order.”

  It wasn’t Lena.

  I took a deep breath. “Wait. Then who is it?”

  “There is another.”

  Maybe she didn’t understand what I was asking. “Who?”

  “You will find the One Who Is Two.” The empty black shadows stared at me from the face of Mrs. English.

  “Why me?”

  “Because you are the Wayward. The one who marks the way between our worlds. The Demon world and the Mortal world.”

  “Maybe I don’t want to be the Wayward.” I said it without thinking, but it was true. I didn’t know how to find this person. And I didn’t want the fate of the Mortal and Caster worlds resting with me.

  The walls began to shake again, the ceramic figurines knocking against one another. I watched as the little moon moved dangerously close to the edge of the mantel. “I understand. We cannot choose what we are in the Order. I am the Demon Queen.” Did she mean that she didn’t want to be what she was either? “The Order of Things exists beyond. The River flows. The Wheel turns. This moment changes the next. You have changed everything.” The walls ceased shaking, and the moon stopped just before it fell over the edge.

  “This is the way. There is no other.”

  I understood that.

  It was the last thing the Lilum said before the possessed body of Mrs. English dropped to the floor.


  Bad-Eye Side

  With her glasses knocked off, her glass eye closed, and her hair unraveled from its maniacal bun—Lilian English almost looked like a person.

  A nice person.

  I called 911. Then I sat in the worn flowered chair, staring at Mrs. English’s body, waiting for the ambulance. I wondered if she was dead. Another casualty in this war I wasn’t sure we could win.

  Another thing that was my fault.

  The ambulance arrived not long after that. By the time Woody Porter and Bud Sweet found a pulse, I could breathe again. I watched as they loaded the gurney into the back of the “bus,” as Woody called it.

  “Anyone you can call for her?” Bud asked as he slammed the ambulance doors.

  There was one person.

  “Yeah. I’ll call someone.” I went back into Mrs. English’s tiny house, through the hall and into the kitchen with the hummingbird wallpaper. I didn’t want to call my dad, but I owed Mrs. English that much after everything she’d been through. I lifted the pastel pink receiver off the cradle and stared at the rows of numbers.

  My hand started to shake.

  I couldn’t remember my phone number.

  Maybe I was in shock. That’s what I kept telling myself, but I knew it was more than that. Something was happening to me. What I didn’t know was why.

  I closed my eyes, willing my fingers to find the right numbers.

  Combinations of numbers marched through my mind. Lena’s number and Link’s and the Gatlin County Library’s. There was only one phone number I couldn’t remember.

  My own.

  Lilian English missed her first day of school in about a hundred and fifty years. The actual diagnosis was severe exhaustion. It made sense, I guess. Abraham and Sarafine could do that to anyone, even without the help of a Demon Queen.

  Which left Lena and me hanging out alone in the classroom a few days later. Class was over, and Principal Harper had collected the pile of papers he would never grade, but we were still sitting at our desks.

  I think we both wanted to stay a while longer in the place where Mrs. English had never been a puppet, where she’d been a Demon Queen all her own. The real Mrs. English was the hand of justice, even if she wasn’t the Wheel of Fate. There was never a curve in her class. Between that and the whole Crucible thing, I could see why the Lilum had thrived in Mrs. English’s body.

  “I should have known. She was acting creepy all year.” I sighed. “And I knew her glass eye was on the wrong side at least once.”

  “You think the Lilum was teaching our English class? You said the Lilum talked really weird. We would’ve noticed.” Lena was right.

  “The Lilum must have been inside Mrs. English some of the time, because Abraham and Sarafine showed up at her house. And, trust me, they knew what they were looking for.”

  We were sitting in silence at opposite ends of the room. Today, I was on the Bad-Eye Side. It was that kind of day. I had recounted every detail of the other night to Lena three times, except the part about forgetting my phone number. I didn’t want her to worry, too. But she was still having trouble wrapping her mind around it all. I couldn’t blame her. I had been there, and I wasn’t doing much better.

  Lena finally said something, from the Good-Eye Side. “Why do you think we have to find this One Who Is Two?” She was more upset than I was, maybe because she had just found out about it. Or maybe because it involved her mother.

  “Did you miss the whole Crucible speech?” I’d told her everything I could remember.

  “No. I mean, what is this ‘One’ going to do that we can’t? To forge the New Order, or whatever.” She left her seat and sat on the edge of Mrs. English’s desk, her legs dangling. The New Order. No wonder she was thinking about it. Lena knew the Lilum said that she would be the one to Bind it.

  “How do you Bind a New Order, anyway?” I asked her.

  She shrugged. “No clue.”

  There had to be some way to find out. “Maybe there’s something in the Lunae Libri about it.”

  Lena looked frustrated. “Sure. Look under N, for New Order. Or B, for Binding. Or P, for psycho, which is how I’m starting to feel.”

  “Tell me about it.”

  She sighed, swinging her legs harder. “Even if I knew how to do it, the bigger question is, why me? I broke the last one.” She looked tired, her black T-shirt damp with sweat and her charm necklace tangled in her long hair.

  “Maybe it needed to be broken. Sometimes things have to break before you can fix them.”

  “Or maybe it didn’t need fixing.”

  “You want to get out of here? I’ve had enough Crucible talk for today.”

  She nodded, grateful. “Me, too.”

  We walked down the hall, holding hands, and I watched as Lena’s hair began to curl. The Casting Breeze. So I wasn’t surprised when Miss Hester didn’t even look
up from painting her long purple nails as we passed by, leaving the Demon and the Mortal worlds behind us.

  Lake Moultrie really was as hot and brown as Link said. There wasn’t a drop of water in sight. Nobody was around, though there were a few souvenirs from Mrs. Lincoln and her friends, stuck in the cracked mud of the sloping shore.



  She’d even written her home phone number across the bottom.

  “What, exactly, constitutes apocalyptic behavior?” Lena tried not to smile.

  “I don’t know, but I’m sure if we asked Mrs. Lincoln to post a clarification, she’d have it up here tomorrow.” I thought about it. “No fishing. No dumping. No calling up the Devil. No plagues of heat and lubbers, or Vexes.”

  Lena kicked the dry dirt. “No rivers of blood.” I’d told her about my dream—that one, anyway. “And no human sacrifice.”

  “Don’t give Abraham any ideas.”

  Lena put her head on my shoulder.

  “Do you remember last time we were here?” I poked her with a dry piece of river grass. “You ran away on the back of John’s Harley.”

  “I don’t want to remember that part. I want to remember the good part,” she whispered.

  “There are a lot of good parts.”

  She smiled, and I knew I would always remember this day. Like the day I found her crying in the garden at Greenbrier. There were times when I looked at her and everything stopped. When the world fell away and I knew nothing could ever come between us.

  I pulled her against me and kissed her harder, in a dead lake where no one could see us and no one cared. With every passing second, the pain was building in my body, the pressure of my pounding heart, but I didn’t stop. Nothing else mattered but this. I wanted to feel her hands on my skin, her mouth tugging on my bottom lip. I wanted to feel her body against mine until I couldn’t feel anything else.

  Because unless we found whoever it was, and convinced the One Who Is Two to do whatever had to be done by the Eighteenth Moon, I had a sinking feeling it didn’t matter what happened to either of us.

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