Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  Excuse me?

  She looked at Liv. “And yours.”

  Why are you doing this?

  “We can bring whoever we want as our dates. It’s just until we get inside.”

  Are you crazy, L?

  No. It’s a favor for a friend.

  I looked at John and Liv.

  Which one is suddenly your friend?

  She reached up to put her hands on my shoulders, and kissed my cheek. “You.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  We’re moving forward. Let things be as they are.

  I looked at John and Liv.

  This is your idea of moving forward?

  Lena nodded.

  “Hello? If you two want to actually talk out loud, we can wait in the other room.” John was watching us impatiently.

  “Sorry. We’re good now.” Lena gave me a meaningful look. “Right?”

  Maybe we were, but I knew someone who wouldn’t be. “Do you have any idea what Link is gonna say about this? He’s waiting in the car with Savannah right now.”

  Lena nodded at John, and I heard the ripping noise again, coming from outside. The music blasting from the Beater suddenly stopped. “Link’s already at the dance. So I guess we go, right?” John grabbed Liv’s hand.

  “You ripped Link?” I felt my shoulders stiffen. “You weren’t even touching him.”

  John shrugged. “I told you, I’m not really a rules kinda guy. I can do a lot of things. Most of the time, I don’t even know how.”

  “That makes me feel a lot better.”

  “Relax. It was your girlfriend’s idea.”

  “What’s Savannah gonna think?” I could imagine her telling this story to her mom.

  “She won’t remember a thing.” Lena grabbed my hand. “Come on. We can take the hearse.” Lena picked up her keys.

  I shook my head. “Going to the dance alone with Savannah is the last thing Link wanted.”

  “Trust me.” Two more words no guy wants to hear from his girlfriend.

  What are you up to? Help me out here.

  “The band had to be there early.” She dragged me after her.

  “The band? You mean the Holy Rollers?” Now I was really confused. Principal Harper wouldn’t let the Holy Rollers play at a dance any more than—actually, there was no comparison. It would never happen.

  Lena’s hair curled in the nonexistent breeze, and she tossed me the keys.

  12.12

  A Light in the Dark

  I could see lights flashing through the upper windows of the gym all the way from the parking lot. The party was already in high gear.

  Lena pulled me by the arm. “Come on! We can’t miss this!”

  I heard the unmistakable howl of Link’s vocals and froze. The Holy Rollers were in there performing, just like Lena said they would be.

  I felt a moment of panic. The Eighteenth Moon was almost here, and we were about to walk into a dance at Jackson. It seemed stupid, but then so did staying home and worrying about the end of the world when there was nothing we could do to stop it. Maybe the stupidest part was thinking I could keep it from happening.

  So I did the only logical thing, which was keep my mouth shut and tighten my arm around the prettiest girl in the parking lot. “All right, L. Come clean. What did you do?”

  “I wanted him to have one good night without Ridley.” Lena slid her arm through mine. “And I wanted it for you.” She looked over her shoulder to where John’s low voice and Liv’s laughter floated up behind us. “For everyone, I guess.”

  The weirdest part was that I understood why she did it. We had all been stuck since the summer, as if it never really ended. Amma couldn’t read cards or talk to the Greats. Marian wasn’t allowed to do her job. Liv wasn’t training to be a Keeper. Macon barely came up from the Tunnels. Link was still trying to figure out how to be an Incubus and get over Ridley. And John had been stuck for real, in the Arclight. Even the heat stuck around, like the endless summer from hell.

  Everything in Gatlin was stuck.

  What Lena did tonight wasn’t going to change any of that, but maybe we could leave the summer behind us. Maybe it would end one of these days, taking the heat and the bugs and the bad memories with it.

  Maybe we could feel normal again. Our version of normal, at least. Even if the clock was still ticking and the Eighteenth Moon was getting closer.

  We can do more than feel normal, Ethan. We can be normal.

  Lena smiled at me, and I pulled her even closer as we walked into the gym.

  The inside of the gym had been transformed, and the theme seemed to be—Link. The Holy Rollers were onstage, lit by spotlights the Dance Committee could never afford to rent. And Link was in the center of it all, his ruffled shirt unbuttoned and drenched with sweat. He was alternating between playing the drums and singing, sliding along the stage with the mic stand in his hand. Every time he moved near the edge, a group of freshmen girls screamed.

  And for the second time in my life, the Holy Rollers sounded like a real band—without a cherry lollipop in sight.

  “What did you do?” I shouted to Lena over the music.

  “Consider it a Don’t-Let-the-Dance-Suck Cast.”

  “So, I guess the whole thing was Link’s idea in the first place.” I smiled, and she nodded at me.

  “Exactly.”

  On the way to the dance floor, we walked past a cardboard backdrop. There was a stool, but the photographer was nowhere in sight. The whole thing looked a little suspicious. “Where’s the photographer, L?”

  “His wife went into labor.” Lena wouldn’t look at me.

  “Lena.”

  “Really. You can ask anyone. Well, don’t ask her. She’s a little busy right now.”

  We passed Liv and John, who were sitting at a table near the dance floor. “I’ve only seen this on TV,” Liv said, taking it all in.

  “An American high school dance?” John smiled. “It’s my first, too.” John reached out to tug on a length of her blond hair. “Let’s dance, Olivia.”

  An hour later, I had to admit Lena was right. We were all having a good time, and it didn’t feel like summer anymore. It felt like a regular high school dance, where you wait for the slow songs to get close to your girlfriend. Savannah was holding court in her puffy cotton candy dress, and she even danced with Earl Petty—once. The only exception was the return of Link as a rock god. But tonight even that didn’t seem so impossible.

  Fatty was busting the rest of the Holy Rollers for smoking in front of the gym while the Dance Committee’s pre-approved playlist blasted through the speakers. But there wasn’t much Fatty could do, since they were all around twenty-five and confirmed dirtbags. That was obvious when the lead guitarist whispered something in Emily Asher’s ear that actually left her speechless for the first time in her life.

  I went to find Link, who was hanging out in the hallway by the lockers. The hallway was dark, except for one blinking fluorescent panel on the ceiling, which made it a good place to hide from Savannah. I figured I’d tell him how great he was onstage, because there was nothing you could say to Link that would make him happier than that. But I didn’t get to tell him.

  He was wiping the sweat off his face when I saw her turn the corner.

  Ridley.

  So much for Link being happy.

  I ducked into the doorway of the bio lab before they saw me. Maybe Ridley was going to tell him where she’d been all this time. She would definitely lie to Lena and me when we asked her.

  “Hey there, Hot Rod.” She was sucking on a cherry lollipop, wearing lots of black and showing lots of skin. Something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

  “Where the hell have you been?” Link threw his sweaty shirt onto the floor.

  “Around.”

  “Everyone’s been worried about you. Even after the stunt you pulled.” Everyone meaning him.

  Ridley laughed. “Yeah, I bet.”

  “So, where—” For a second
, he didn’t say anything. “Why are you wearin’ sunglasses, Rid?”

  I pushed myself flatter against the wall and looked around the corner. Ridley was wearing black sunglasses, the kind she used to wear all the time.

  “Take them off.” He was almost shouting. If the music wasn’t so loud, someone would’ve heard him.

  Ridley leaned up against the locker next to Link. “Don’t be mad, Shrinky Dink. I was never cut out to be a Mortal. We both knew that.”

  Link pulled her sunglasses off, and I could see her yellow eyes from where I was standing. The eyes of a Dark Caster.

  “What did you do?” Link sounded defeated.

  She shrugged. “You know, I begged forgiveness and all that. I think everyone knew I’d been punished enough. Being a Mortal was torture.”

  Link was staring at the linoleum. I knew that look. It was the same one he had whenever his mom started on one of her tirades, threatening moral damnation if he didn’t bring his grades up or stop reading books she was trying to ban. It was the look that said: Nothing I do is going to make any difference.

  “Who’s ‘everyone,’ Rid? Sarafine? Abraham?” He was shaking his head. “Did you go to them after everything they did to you? After they tried to kill us? The way you let John Breed outta the Arclight after what he did to me?”

  She stepped in front of him, resting her hands on his chest. “I had to let him out. He gave me power.” Her voice was rising, the sarcastic tone gone. “Don’t you understand? It was the only way I could feel like myself again.”

  Link grabbed her wrists and pushed her away. “I’m glad you feel like yourself. Guess I never really knew who you were. I’m the idiot.” He started walking back toward the double doors that led into the gym.

  “I did it for us!” Ridley actually looked hurt. “If you can’t see that, then you really are an idiot.”

  Link turned around. “For us? Why would you do this to yourself for us?”

  “Don’t you get it? We can be together now. We’re the same. I’m not some stupid Mortal girl you’ll get sick of in six months.”

  “You think I cared about that?”

  She laughed. “You would’ve, trust me. I was nothing.”

  “You were something to me.” He looked up at the ceiling, as if the answer to this mess was written on the worn squares.

  Ridley closed the distance between them. “Come with me. Tonight. I can’t stay here, but I came back for you.”

  As I watched her, I saw Sarafine—the one from the visions. The one who was trying to fight her nature, the Darkness taking hold within her. Maybe Lena’s family was wrong.

  Maybe there was still Light in the Dark.

  Link leaned his head against hers, their foreheads touching for a second. “I can’t. Not after what they did to my friends, and to you. I can’t be one of them, Rid. I’m not like you—and I don’t want to be.”

  She was stunned. You could see it in her eyes, even if they were yellow.

  “Rid?”

  “Take a good look, Hot Rod. This is the last time you’re ever gonna see me.” She was walking backward, still looking at him.

  Then she turned and ran.

  A cherry lollipop rolled across the floor.

  Link’s voice was so quiet I barely heard him as his hand closed around it.

  “Bad or not, you’ll always be my girl.”

  After seeing Ridley, Link didn’t care about being a rock god. He was in bad shape, and he wasn’t the only one. Lena had barely said a word since I told her about Ridley. The dance was over for us.

  The parking lot was deserted. No one left a Jackson dance this early. The hearse was parked at the far end of the lot, under the broken streetlight. Link was behind us, and Liv and John were walking in front, holding hands. I listened to our shoes against the asphalt as we walked. That’s how I knew John had stopped walking.

  “No. Not now,” he whispered.

  I followed his eyes, but it was pitch-black and I couldn’t see anything. “What is it?”

  “What’s up, man?” Link stepped up next to me, his eyes focused on the hearse. I knew he could see in the dark, like John. “Please tell me that isn’t who I think it is.”

  John didn’t move. “It’s Hunting and his Blood Pack.”

  Liv tried to find them in the darkness, but it was impossible until Hunting stepped into the pale glow of another streetlight.

  She pushed John. “Go! Get back in the Tunnels.” Liv wanted him to rip, dematerialize before Hunting had the chance to do the same.

  He shook his head. “I can’t leave you. I won’t.”

  “You can rip us out of here.” Liv reached for his hand.

  “I can’t take all of you at once.”

  “Then go!”

  It didn’t matter what Liv said. There was no time.

  Hunting leaned against the streetlight, a cigarette burning between his fingers. Two more Incubuses stepped into view. “So, this is where you’ve been hiding out. High school. I never would’ve guessed. You never were that smart.”

  John pushed Liv behind him. “How did you find me?”

  Hunting laughed. “We can always find you, kid. You’ve got your own personal LoJack. Which makes me wonder how you managed to hide out this long. Wherever you were, you should’ve stayed there.”

  Hunting started walking toward us, his lackeys right behind him.

  Lena squeezed my hand.

  Oh my God. He was safe in the Tunnels. This is all my fault.

  It’s Abraham’s fault.

  John stood his ground. “I’m not going anywhere with you, Hunting.”

  Hunting flicked his cigarette into the darkness. “It’s almost a shame I have to take you back. You’ve got a lot more fight in you when Abraham isn’t messing with your head. Does it feel any different to think for yourself?”

  I flashed on John wandering like a zombie through the cave at the Great Barrier. He swore he didn’t remember what happened that night. Was it possible Abraham was controlling him then?

  John froze. “What are you talking about?”

  “Guess you haven’t been doing much thinking after all. Oh, well. You won’t miss it, then.” Hunting lowered his voice. “You know what I won’t miss? Watching you twitch all the time, like someone’s poking you with a cattle prod.”

  John’s hands started to shake. “Shut up!”

  I remembered the way John’s body used to jerk all the time. The way his muscles had seemed to seize involuntarily—the way it had gotten worse when he was with Abraham the night of Lena’s Seventeenth Moon. I hadn’t seen it happen once since we found him in Ridley’s room.

  Hunting laughed. “Come over here and make me. Or we can skip the part where I beat some sense into you before I take you back.”

  Link stepped up next to John. “So, tell me how it works. Is this like a regular fight, or do I need to use some kinda Jedi mind tricks I don’t know about?”

  I was stunned. Link was clearly trying to even the odds. John looked as surprised as the rest of us. “I got this one. But thanks.”

  “What are you—” Link never had a chance to finish.

  John threw his hands out in front of him, the way Lena did when she was using her powers to tear up the ground or bring on torrential rain.

  Or hurricane-force winds.

  John was using Lena’s powers—the ones he absorbed the last time he touched her.

  The wind picked up so fast that it knocked Hunting off his feet. The other two Incubuses were thrown backward, skidding across the parking lot at a speed that would result in serious asphalt burn. But Hunting ripped before the full force of the wind caught him.

  He started to materialize a few feet away, but the wind pulled him back again.

  “He’s still coming!” Liv screamed. She was right.

  Lena pushed past me.

  I have to help John. He can’t do it alone.

  She threw her own hands forward, her palms facing Hunting. Lena’s powers were strong
er than ever. And as unpredictable.

  Rain poured from the sky as the clouds broke open.

  No! Not now!

  The rain hammered down on us—and the wind, which was dying down fast.

  Hunting was dry, the rain running off his jacket in rivulets. “Nice trick, kid. It’s a shame Sarafine’s daughter destroyed the Order. If her powers weren’t so screwed up, you might’ve been able to save your ass.”

  I heard a dog barking and caught a glimpse of Boo Radley running around the side of one of the cars.

  Macon was behind him, rain running down his face. “As luck would have it, mine seem to be developing in quite an interesting manner.”

  Hunting was as shocked to see Macon as the rest of us, but he did a good job hiding it. He lit another cigarette, despite the rain. “You mean after I killed you? It’ll be a pleasure to do it again.”

  The members of Hunting’s pack had picked themselves up and crossed the parking lot the old-fashioned way. Now they were standing behind Hunting.

  Macon closed his eyes.

  Everything went quiet and still. Too still. The way it feels right before something horrible is going to happen. I wasn’t the only one who sensed it.

  Hunting vanished, ripping through the shiny black sky—

  As he materialized, inches from Macon, a pulsating green light enveloped us. The light hummed with power.

  It was coming from Macon.

  Hunting froze in the eerie green glow, his hand outstretched, canines bared.

  “What is that?” Link was shielding his eyes.

  “It’s light,” Liv said, transfixed.

  “How can he create light?” I asked.

  Liv shook her head. “I have no idea.”

  The light grew brighter, and Hunting dropped to the ground, thrashing on the glowing concrete. An agonizing sound tore through him, like his vocal cords were shredding. The other two Incubuses were writhing on the ground, too, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Hunting.

  The color started to leach out of him, beginning at the top of his head and moving down over his face. It was like watching a sheet being pulled off someone, slowly. But this sheet was a black mist, and as it moved down, his neck—and his hair, his skin, his empty black eyes—became almost translucent. It was happening to other members of his Blood Pack, too.

 
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