Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia

That finally got her, like I knew it would.

  I followed her into the parlor for the second time, but she didn’t remember. The collection of ceramic figurines on the mantel over the fireplace was lined up perfectly again, as if nothing had ever happened there. The only giveaway was the spidery plant. It was gone. I guess some things were too broken to fix.

  “Please have a seat, Ethan.”

  I automatically sat in the flowered chair, and then stood right up, because there was nowhere else to sit in the tiny room. No son of Gatlin would sit while a lady stood. “I’m fine standing. You go ahead, ma’am.”

  Mrs. English adjusted her glasses as she sat down. “Well, I have to say, this is a first.”

  Anytime now. Wade on in.

  “Ethan? Did you want to tell me something in particular about The Crucible?”

  I cleared my throat. “This might sound sort of weird, but I need to talk to you.”

  “I’m listening.”

  Don’t think about it. Say the words. She’ll hear you somehow.

  “Yeah, well. That’s sort of the thing. I don’t need to talk to you. I need to talk to—you know. Only you don’t know. The other you.”

  “Pardon me?”

  “The Lilum. Ma’am.”

  “First of all, it’s pronounced Lilian, but I hardly think it’s appropriate for you to call me by my first name.” She faltered. “It must be confusing, my friendship with your father—”

  I didn’t have time for this. “The Demon Queen? Is she there?”

  “I beg your pardon!”

  Don’t stop.

  “The Wheel of Fate? The Endless River? Can you hear me?”

  Mrs. English stood up. Her face was red, and she was the angriest I’d ever seen her. “Are you on drugs? Is this some kind of a prank?”

  I looked around the room, desperate. My eye stopped on the figurines on the mantel, and I walked over to them. The moon was a stone, pale and round, a full circle with a crescent shape carved on top of it. “We need to talk about the moon.”

  “I’m calling your father.”

  Keep trying.

  “The Eighteenth Moon. Does that mean anything to you?”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her reach for the phone.

  I reached for the moon.

  The room filled with light. Mrs. English froze in her chair, holding the phone, the room fading around her—

  I was at the Temporis Porta, but the doors were wide open. There was a tunnel on the other side, the walls crudely covered in mortar. I stepped through the doors.

  The tunnel was small, the ceiling so low I had to crouch down as I walked. There were marks on the wall, thin lines that looked as if someone was using them to count. I followed the tunnel a half a mile or so, when I saw the rotted wooden stairs.

  Eight steps.

  There was a wooden hatch at the top, with an iron ring hanging down toward the stairs. I climbed them carefully, hoping they held my weight. When I reached the top, I had to slam my shoulder against the wooden hatch to get it open.

  Sunlight flooded into the tunnel as I pulled myself out.

  I was in the middle of a field, a path just beyond where I was standing. Not a path so much as two snaking, parallel lines where the tall, waving grass was worn down to dirt. The fields on either side looked gold, like corn and sunshine—not brown, like lubbers and drought. The sky was blue, what I had come to think of as Gatlin blue. Thin and cloudless.

  Hello? Are you there?

  She wasn’t here, and I couldn’t believe where I was.

  I would’ve recognized it anywhere; I had seen enough pictures of this place—my great-great-great-great-granddaddy Ellis Wate’s plantation. He was the one who had fought and died on the other side of Route 9 during the Civil War. Right here.

  I could see my house—and his—Wate’s Landing in the distance. It was hard to tell if it looked the same, except for the haint blue shutters staring back at me. I looked down at the hatch, hidden by the dirt and grass, and understood instantly. It was the tunnel that led to the pantry, in the cellar at my house. I had come out on the other side—the safe side, where slaves using the Underground Railroad could lose themselves in the thick fields.

  Why did the Temporis Porta bring me here? What was the Lilum doing at my family’s farm, more than a hundred fifty years in the past?

  Lilum? Where are you?

  Half of a rusty bicycle lay in a heap by the side of the road. At least, it looked like part of a bicycle. I could see where the metal had been sawed off in the middle and a hose threaded through the frame. It had been rigged to water the field. A pair of muddy rubber boots stood in the dirt next to the bike wheel. In the distance, the fields stretched as far as I could see.

  What do I have to do?

  I looked back down at the rusted half of a bike, and I knew.

  A tide of helplessness washed over me. There was no way I could water the field. It was too big, and I was just one person. The sun was growing hotter, and the leaves were turning browner, and soon the field wouldn’t be gold at all, but burnt and dead, like everything else. I heard the familiar hum of a swarm. The lubbers were coming.

  Why are you showing me this?

  I sat down in the dirt and stared up at the blue sky. I saw a fat bee, drunkenly buzzing in and out of the wildflowers. I felt the soil beneath me, soft and warm even though it was dry. I pressed my fingers deeper into the dirt, dry as coarse sand.

  I knew why I was here. Whether or not I could finish it, I had to try.

  That’s it, isn’t it?

  I yanked on the hot, muddy boots and picked up the rusting metal wheel. I held the handlebars, pushing the wheel in front of me. I started watering the field, one row at a time. The wheel groaned as it turned, and the heat prickled my neck as I bent into the job, pushing as hard as I could through the bumps and ruts of the field.

  I heard a sound like a massive stone door opening for the first time in a century, or an enormous stone being pushed out of the mouth of a cave.

  It was water.

  Slowly coming up, returning to the field from whatever old pump or well the hose was attached to.

  I pushed harder. Water started to run through the dirt in rivulets. As it ran down the dry trenches in the field, it created tiny rivers that formed small rivers, which formed decent-sized rivers that I knew would eventually flood the path entirely, to form even bigger ones as far as I could see.

  An endless river.

  I ran fast as I could. I watched the spokes of the wheel turn faster, pumping the water harder, until the wheel was moving so fast that it looked like a blur. The force of the water was so strong that the irrigation hose split open like the back of a gutted snake. There was water everywhere. The dirt was turning to mud beneath my feet, and I was soaking wet. It was like I was riding a bike for the first time, like I was flying—doing something only I could do.

  I stopped, out of breath.

  The Wheel of Fate.

  I was staring at it, rusty and bent and older than dirt. My Wheel of Fate, here in my hands. In my family’s old field.

  I understood.

  It was a test. My test. It was mine all along.

  I thought about John, lying on my bedroom floor. The Lilum’s voice when she said he wasn’t the Crucible.

  It’s me, right?

  I’m the Crucible.

  I’m the One Who Is Two.

  It was always me.

  I watched the field as it started to turn green and gold again. The heat subsided. The fat bee flew off into the sky, because the sky was real, not just a painted bedroom ceiling.

  I heard the rumble of thunder, then the crack of lightning, and I stood in the middle of the field, holding the rusty wheel, as the rain began to fall.

  The air hummed with magic, like the feeling I had the first time I stepped onto the beach at the Great Barrier—only a hundred times stronger. The sound was so loud my ears were ringing.

  “Lilum?” I shouted with m
y Mortal voice, sounding small in the middle of the massive field. “I know you’re here. I can feel it.”

  “I am.” The voice echoed down from above, from the blinding blue sky. I couldn’t see her, but she was there—not the Mrs. English Lilum, but the real Lilum. In her nameless, formless state, all around me.

  I took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”

  “And?” It was a question.

  I knew the answer now. “I know who I am. And what I have to do.”

  “Who are you?” The question hung in the air.

  I looked up toward the sky, letting the sun fall on my face. I said the words I had been dreading, since the moment they first whispered themselves in the deepest, darkest reach of my mind.

  “I am the One Who Is Two.” I shouted it as loud as I could. “I have one soul in the Mortal world and one soul in the Otherworld.” My voice sounded different. Sure. “The One Who Is Two.”

  I waited in the silence. It was a relief to finally say it, like a crushing weight had been lifted off my back. Like I had been holding up the burning blue sky.

  “You are. There is no other.” There wasn’t a trace of emotion in her voice. “The price must be paid to forge the New Order.”

  “I know.”

  “It is a crucible. A severe test. You must be sure. By the solstice.”

  I stood there for a long time. I felt the cool air and the stillness. I felt all the things I hadn’t felt since the Order had changed.

  “If I do this, then everything goes back to the way it was. Lena will be okay without me. The Council of the Far Keep will leave Marian and Liv alone. Gatlin will stop drying up and cracking open.” I wasn’t asking. I was bargaining.

  “Nothing is certain. But—” I stood there and waited for the Lilum to answer. “There will be order again. A New Order.”

  If I was going to die, there was one more thing I wanted. “And Amma won’t have to pay whatever price she owes the bokor.”

  “That bargain was made willingly. I cannot alter it.”

  “I don’t care! Do it anyway!” But I knew she wouldn’t, even as I said it.

  “There are always consequences.”

  Like me. The Crucible.

  I closed my eyes and thought about Lena and Amma and Link. Marian and my dad. My mom. All the people I loved.

  All the people I’d lost.

  The people I couldn’t risk losing.

  There wasn’t a lot to decide. Not as much I thought there would be. I guess some decisions are made before you make them. I took a step and found my way back into the light. “Promise me.”

  “It is binding. An oath. A promise, as you call it.”

  That wasn’t good enough. “Say it.”

  “Yes. I promise.” Then she said a word that wasn’t in any language or even any kind of sound I could understand. But the word itself sounded like thunder and lightning, and I understood the truth in it.

  It was a promise.

  “Then I’m sure.”

  A second later, I was standing in Lilian English’s parlor again, while she lay collapsed in the flowered chair. I could hear my father’s voice coming from the other end of the phone in her hand.

  “Hello? Hello—”

  My brain shifted to autopilot. I picked up the phone, hung up on my dad, and called 911 for the very Mortal Lilian English. I had to put the phone down without saying a word, because Sissy Honeycutt worked dispatch down at the station house, and she’d recognize my voice for sure. I couldn’t get caught at my unconscious English teacher’s house twice. But it didn’t matter. Now they had the address. They would send out the ambulance, like they did before.

  And Mortal Mrs. English wouldn’t remember I had been there at all.

  I drove straight to Ravenwood without stopping, without thinking, without turning on the radio or rolling down the window. I didn’t remember how I got there. One minute I was driving through town, and the next I was pounding on Lena’s front door. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was trapped in the wrong atmosphere, in some kind of terrible nightmare.

  I remember slamming my fist on the Caster moon as many times as I could, but it didn’t respond to my touch. Maybe there was no way to hide how different I was. How incomplete.

  I remember calling and crying and Kelting her name, until Lena finally opened the door in her purple Chinese pajamas. I remembered them from the night she told me her secret, that she was a Caster. Sitting on my front steps in the middle of the night.

  Now, sitting on hers, I told her mine.

  What happened after that was too painful to remember at all.

  We lay in Lena’s old iron bed, tangled together like we could never be taken apart. We couldn’t touch, but we couldn’t not touch. We couldn’t stop staring at each other, but every time our eyes met, it only hurt more. We were exhausted, but there was no way we could sleep.

  There wasn’t enough time to whisper all the things we needed to say. But the words themselves didn’t matter. We were only thinking one thing.

  I love you.

  We counted the hours, the minutes, the seconds.

  We were running out of all of them.


  The Last Game

  It was the last day. There was nothing left to decide. Tomorrow was the solstice, and my mind was made up. I lay in my bed and stared up at my blue plaster ceiling, painted the color of the sky to keep the carpenter bees from nesting. One more morning. One more painted blue sky.

  I got home from Lena’s and went back to sleep. I left my window open, in case anyone wanted to see me, haunt me, or hurt me. No one came.

  I could smell the coffee and hear my dad walking around downstairs. Amma was at the stove. Waffles. Definitely waffles. She must have been waiting for me to wake up.

  I decided not to tell my dad. After everything he’d gone through with my mom, I didn’t think he would be able to understand. I couldn’t stand to think what this might do to him. The way he went crazy when my mom died, I understood now. I had been too scared to let myself feel those things before. And now, when it didn’t matter how I felt, I was feeling every one of them. Sometimes life was weird that way.

  Link and I tried to have lunch at the Dar-ee Keen, but we finally gave up. He couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t either. You know how prisoners get to choose their last meal, and it’s such a big deal? It didn’t work that way for me. I didn’t want shrimp ’n’ grits or brown sugar pound cake. I couldn’t keep anything down.

  And they can’t give you the one thing you really want, anyway.


  Finally, we went to the basketball court at the elementary school playground and shot some hoops. Link let me win, which was weird because I used to be the one who let him win. Things had changed a lot in the last six months.

  We didn’t talk much. Once, he caught the ball and held it after I passed it to him. He was looking at me the same way he had when he sat down next to me at my mom’s funeral, even though the section was all roped off and only the family was supposed to sit there. “I’m not good at this stuff, you know?”

  “Yeah. Me neither.”

  I pulled out an old comic I had rolled up in my back pocket. “Something to remember me by.”

  He unrolled it and laughed. “Aquaman? I gotta remember you and your lame powers with this sucky comic?”

  I shrugged. “We can’t all be Magneto.”

  “Hey, man.” He dribbled the ball from one hand to the other. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

  “No. I mean, I’m sure I don’t want to. But I don’t have a choice.” Link understood about not having choices. His whole life was about not having them.

  He bounced the ball harder. “And there’s no other way?”

  “Not unless you want to hang out with your mom and watch the End of Days.” I was trying to make a joke. But my timing was always off now. Maybe my Fractured Soul was holding on to it.

  Link stopped dribbling and held the ball under his arm. “Hey, Eth


  “Remember the Twinkie on the bus? The one I gave you in second grade, the day we met?”

  “The one you found on the floor and gave me without telling me? Nice.”

  He grinned and shot the ball. “It never really fell on the floor. I made that part up.”

  The basketball hit the rim and bounced into the street.

  We let it go.

  I found Marian and Liv in the archive, back together where they belonged.

  “Aunt Marian!” I was so relieved to see her that I almost knocked her out cold as I hugged her. When I finally let go, I could tell she was waiting for me to say it. Something, anything—about the reason they let her go.

  So I waded in, slowly. Giving them bits and pieces of the story that didn’t quite fit together. At first, they were both relieved to hear some good news. Gatlin, and the Mortal world, wasn’t going to be destroyed in a supernatural apocalypse. Casters weren’t going to lose their powers or accidently set themselves on fire, although in Sarafine’s case it had saved our lives. They heard what I wanted them to hear: Everything was going to be okay.

  It had to be.

  I was trading my life for it—that’s the part I left out.

  But they were both too smart to let the story end there. And the more pieces I gave them, the quicker their minds fit the pieces together to create the twisted truth of it all. I knew exactly when the last piece slid into place.

  There was the terrible moment when I saw their faces change and the smiles fade. Liv wouldn’t look at me. She was winding her selenometer compulsively and twisting the strings she always wore around her wrist. “We’ll figure something out. We always do. There has to be another way.”

  “There isn’t.” I didn’t need to say it; she already knew.

  Without a word, Liv untied one of the frayed strings and tied it onto my wrist. Tears were running down her cheeks, but she didn’t look at me. I tried to imagine myself in her place, but I couldn’t. It was too hard.

  I remembered losing my mom, staring at my suit laid out on the chair in the corner of my room, waiting for me to put it on and admit she was dead. I remembered Lena kneeling in the mud, sobbing, the day of Macon’s funeral. The Sisters staring glassy-eyed at Aunt Prue’s casket, handkerchiefs wadded in their hands. Who would boss them around and take care of them now?

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