Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia


  What do you want?

  “Hey, man. You okay?” I heard Link’s voice, and the pressure dissipated, as if someone had been kneeling on my chest and suddenly got up. Link was staring at me. I wondered how long he’d been talking.

  “I’m okay.” I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to tell him that I was—what? Seeing things? Having nightmares about rivers of blood and falling off water towers?

  As we made our way deeper into the cemetery, the intricately detailed tombs and the sparse, crumbling ones gave way to alleys lined with mausoleums in complete disrepair. Some were actually made of wood, like the dilapidated shacks that lined parts of the swamp in Wader’s Creek. I read the surnames that were still visible: Delassixe, Labasiliere, Rousseau, Navarro. They were Creole names. The last one in the row stood apart from the rest, a narrow stone structure, not more than a few feet wide. It was a Greek Revival, like Ravenwood. But while Macon’s house was like a picture you’d find in a South Carolina photography book, this tomb was nothing much to look at. Until I stepped closer.

  Strands of beads, knotted with crosses and red silk roses, hung next to the door, and the stone itself was etched with hundreds of crude Xs in various shapes and sizes. There were other strange drawings, clearly made by visitors. The ground was littered with gifts and mementos: Mardi Gras dolls and religious candles with the faces of saints painted on the glass, empty bottles of rum and faded photographs, tarot cards, and more strands of brightly colored beads.

  Link bent down and flipped one of the dirty cards between his fingers. The Tower. I didn’t know what it meant, but any card with people falling out of the windows probably wasn’t good. “We’re here. This is it.”

  I looked around. “What are you talking about? There’s nothing here.”

  “I wouldn’t say that.” He pointed at the door of the mausoleum with the water-stained card. “Amma went in there.”

  “You’re joking, right?”

  “Dude, would I joke about goin’ into a creepy tomb at night, in the most haunted city in the South?” Link shook his head. “’Cause I know that’s what you’re about to tell me we’re gonna do.” I didn’t want to go in there either.

  Link tossed the card back into the pile, and I noticed a brass placard at the base of the door. I bent down and read what I could make out in the moonlight: MARIE LAVEAU. THIS GREEK REVIVAL TOMB IS REPUTED BURIAL PLACE OF THIS NOTORIOUS “VOODOO QUEEN.”

  Link took a step back. “A voodoo queen? Like we don’t have enough problems.”

  I was only half listening. “What would Amma be doing here?”

  “I don’t know, man. Amma’s dolls are one thing, but I don’t know if my Incubus powers work on dead voodoo queens. Let’s bail.”

  “Don’t be an idiot. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Voodoo is just another religion.”

  Link looked around nervously. “Yeah, one where people make dolls and stab them with pins.” It was probably something he’d heard from his mom.

  But I had spent enough time with Amma to know better. Voodoo was part of her heritage, the mix of religions and mysticism that was as unique as Amma’s cooking. “Those are people who are trying to use dark power. That’s not what it’s about.”

  “I hope you’re right. Because I don’t like needles.”

  I put my hand on the door and pushed. Nothing. “Maybe it’s Charmed, like a Caster door.”

  Link slammed his shoulder against it, and the door scratched across the stone floor as it opened into the tomb. “Or maybe not.”

  I stepped inside cautiously, hoping to see Amma bent over some chicken bones. But the tomb was dark and empty except for the raised cement casement that held the coffin, and the dirt and cobwebs. “There’s nothing here.”

  Link walked to the back of the small crypt. “I’m not so sure about that.” He ran his fingers along the floor. There was a square carved into the stone, with a metal ring in the center. “Check this out. Looks like some kinda trapdoor.”

  It was a trapdoor, leading under a cemetery—in the tomb of a dead voodoo queen. This was beyond going dark, even for Amma.

  Link had his hand on the metal ring. “Are we doin’ this or what?” I nodded, and he lifted the door open.

  9.15

  Wheel of Fate

  When I saw the rotting wooden stairs, illuminated by a dim yellow light from below, I knew they didn’t lead to a Caster Tunnel. I had stepped onto my share of stairs that twisted down from the Mortal world into those Tunnels, and rarely saw them when I did. They were usually veiled with protective Casts, so it looked like you could fall to your death if you dared to make the leap.

  This was a different kind of leap, and somehow it felt more dangerous. The stairway was crooked, the railing nothing more than a few boards haphazardly nailed together. I could’ve been staring down into the Sisters’ dusty basement, which was always dark because they never let me replace the exposed bulb above the door. Except this wasn’t a basement, and it didn’t smell dusty. Something was burning down there, and it gave off a thick, noxious odor.

  “What’s that smell?”

  Link inhaled, then coughed. “Licorice and gasoline.” Yeah, that was a combination you encountered every day.

  I reached out for the railing. “You think these stairs will hold?”

  He shrugged. “They held Amma.”

  “She weighs a hundred pounds.”

  “Only one way to find out.”

  I went first, each board groaning beneath my weight. My hand tightened on the railing, tiny splinters digging into my skin. There was a huge room off to the side of the staircase, the source of both the light and the nauseating fumes.

  “Where the hell are we?” Link whispered.

  “I don’t know.” But I knew this was a dark place, a place Amma would never ordinarily go. It stank of more than gas and licorice. There was death in the air, and when we entered the room, I understood why.

  It was some kind of shop, the walls lined with shelves that housed cracked leather volumes and glass jars filled with both dead and living things. One jar held bat wings, fully intact but no longer attached to the bodies. Another container was brimming with animal teeth; others, claws and snakeskin. Smaller, unlabeled bottles held murky liquids and dark powders. But the living creatures imprisoned here were even more disturbing. Huge toads pushed themselves against the walls of glass jars, desperate to get out. Snakes slid over one another, piled inside terrariums coated with thick layers of dust. Live bats hung from the tops of rusty wire cages.

  There was something more than wrong about this place—from the scratched steel table in the center of the room to the strange altar in the corner, surrounded by candles, carvings, and a stick of black incense that reeked of licorice and gasoline.

  Link elbowed me, pointing at a dead frog floating in a jar. “This place is worse than summer school in the bio lab.”

  “Are you sure Amma’s down here?” I couldn’t imagine her in this twisted version of my great-aunts’ basement.

  Link nodded toward the back of the room, where a yellow light flickered. “Red Hots.”

  We walked between the rows of shelves, and within seconds I could hear Amma’s voice. At the end of the aisle, two low bookcases flanked a narrow walkway into the back of the store—or whatever this place was called. We dropped down onto our hands and knees and hid behind the bookcases. Chicken feet floated in a bottle next to my shoulder.

  “I need to see the langiappe.” It was a man’s voice, gravelly and heavily accented. “You would be surprised how many people find their way here and are not who they claim to be.”

  I dropped down onto my stomach and pulled myself forward so I could see around the side of the bookcase. Link was right. Amma was standing in front of a black wooden table, clutching her pocketbook with both hands. The legs of the table formed the feet of a bird, its talons inches from Amma’s tiny orthopedic shoes. She was in profile, her dark skin glowing in the yellow light, her bun tucked neatly beneath her flow
ered church hat, her chin up and her back straight. If she was afraid, I couldn’t tell. Amma’s pride was as much a part of who she was as her riddles, biscuits, and crossword puzzles.

  “I imagine so.” She opened her purse and took out the red bundle the Creole woman had given her.

  Link was on his stomach, too. “Is that the thing the lady with the doughnuts gave her?” he whispered. I nodded, and gestured for him to be quiet.

  The man behind the table leaned into the light. His skin was ebony, darker and smoother than Amma’s. His hair was twisted into rough, careless braids tied together at the base of his neck. String and tiny objects I couldn’t see clearly were woven into the braids. He traced the line of his goatee as he watched Amma intently.

  “Give it to me.” He reached out his hand, the cuff of his dark tunic sliding down his arm. His wrist was bound in thin strands of string and leather, laden with charms. His hand was scarred—the skin warped and shiny, as if it had been burned more than once.

  Amma dropped the bundle into his hand without touching him.

  He noticed her caution and smiled. “You island women are all the same, practicin’ the art to ward against my magic. But your herbs and powders are no match for the hand of a bokor.”

  The art. Voodoo. I’d heard it called that before. And if women like Amma provided protection from his magic, that could mean only one thing. He performed black magic.

  He opened the bundle and held up a single feather. He examined it closely, turning it over in his hands. “I see you’re not a trespasser, so what do you require?”

  Amma tossed a handkerchief onto the desk. “I’m not a trespasser, or one a the island women you’re used to seein’.”

  The bokor lifted the delicate fabric, examining the embroidery. I knew what the design was, even though I couldn’t see it from here—a sparrow.

  The bokor looked at the handkerchief, then back at Amma. “The mark a Sulla the Prophet. So you’re a Seer, one a her descendants?” He smiled broadly, his white teeth gleaming in the darkness. “Now, that makes this little visit even more unexpected. What would bring a Seer to my workshop?”

  Amma watched him closely, as if he was one of the snakes slithering around in the shop’s terrarium. “This was a mistake. Got no business with your kind. I’ll be seein’ myself out.” She shoved her purse into the crook of her arm and turned on her heel to go.

  “Leaving so soon? Don’t you want to know how to change the cards?” His menacing laughter echoed through the room.

  Amma stopped in her tracks. “I do.” Her voice was quiet.

  “Yet you know the answer yourself, Seer. That’s why you’re here.”

  She spun around to face him. “You think this is a social visit?”

  “You can’t change the cards once they’re dealt. Not the cards we’re talkin’ about. Fate is a wheel that turns without our hand.”

  Amma slammed her hand down on the table. “Don’t try to sell me the silver linin’ from a cloud as black as your soul. I know it can be done.”

  The bokor tapped on a bottle of crushed eggshells near the edge of the table. Again, his white teeth shone in the darkness. “Anything can be done for a price, Seer. Question is, what are you willin’ to pay?”

  “Whatever it takes.”

  I shuddered. There was something about the way Amma said it, even the shifting sound of her voice, that made it seem like an invisible line between the two of them was disappearing. I wondered if that line ran deeper than the one she crossed the night of the Sixteenth Moon, when she and Lena used The Book of Moons to bring me back from the dead. I shook my head. We had all crossed too many lines already.

  The bokor watched Amma intently. “Let me see the cards. I need to know what we’re dealin’ with.”

  Amma took a stack of what looked like tarot cards out of her purse, but the images on the cards weren’t right. They weren’t tarot cards—these were something else. She arranged them on the table carefully, re-creating a spread. The bokor watched, flipping the feather between his fingers.

  Amma dropped the last card. “There it is.”

  He balked, muttering in a language I didn’t understand. But I could tell he wasn’t happy. The bokor swept clean his rickety wooden table, bottles and vials shattering on the ground. He leaned as close to Amma as I’d ever seen anyone dare to get. “The Angry Queen. The Unbalanced Scale. The Child of Darkness. The Storm. The Sacrifice. The Split Twins. The Bleeding Blade. The Fractured Soul.”

  He spit, shaking the feather at her, his version of the One-Eyed Menace. “A Seer from the line a Sulla the Prophet is smart enough to know this is not just any spread.”

  “Are you sayin’ you can’t do it?” It was a challenge. “That I’ve come all this way for cracked eggshells and dead swamp frogs? Can get those from any fortune-teller.”

  “I’m sayin’ you can’t pay the price, old woman!” His voice rose, and I stiffened. Amma was the only mother I had left. I couldn’t stand to hear anyone talk to her that way.

  Amma looked up at the ceiling, muttering. I was willing to bet she was talking to the Greats. “Not a bone in my body wanted to come to this godforsaken nest a evil—”

  The bokor picked up a long staff wrapped in the crisp skin of a snake, and circled Amma like an animal waiting to strike. “And yet you came. Because your little dolls and herbs can’t save the ti-bon-age. Can they?”

  Amma stared at him defiantly. “Someone is gonna die if you don’t help me.”

  “And someone will die if I do.”

  “That’s a discussion for another day.” She tapped one of the cards. “This here is the death I care about.”

  He examined the card, stroking it with his feather. “Interestin’ you would choose the one who is already lost. Even more interestin’ you would come to me instead a your precious Casters. This concerns them, does it not?”

  The Casters.

  My stomach dropped. Who was already lost? Was he talking about Lena?

  Amma drew a heavy breath. “The Casters can’t help me. They can barely help themselves.”

  Link looked at me, confused. But I didn’t understand any more than he did. How could the bokor help Amma with something the Casters couldn’t?

  The images crashed down on me before I could stop them. The unbearable heat. The plague of insects infesting every inch of town. The nightmares and the panic. Casters who couldn’t control their powers, or use them all. A river of blood. Abraham’s voice echoing through the cavern after Lena Claimed herself.

  There will be consequences.

  The bokor circled around to face Amma, measuring her expression. “You mean the Light Casters can’t.”

  “No other kind I’d ask for help.”

  He seemed pleased with her answer, but not for the reason I thought. “Yet you came to me. Because I can do something they can’t—the old magic our people carried across the ocean with us. Magic that can be controlled by Mortals and Casters alike.” He was talking about voodoo, a religion born in Africa and the Caribbean. “They don’t understand the ti-bon-age.”

  Amma stared at him like she wished she could turn him to stone, but she didn’t leave.

  She needed him, even if I didn’t know why.

  “Name your price.” Her voice wavered.

  I watched as he calculated the cost of both Amma’s request and her integrity. They were opposing forces, working the extremes of a shared mysticism that was as black and white as the Light and Darkness in the Caster world. “Where is it now? Do you know where they’ve hidden it?”

  “Hidden what?” Link mouthed silently. I shook my head. I had no idea what they were talking about.

  “It’s not hidden.” For the first time, Amma met his eyes. “It’s free.”

  At first he didn’t react, as if she might have misspoken. But when the bokor realized Amma was serious, he circled back to the table and pored over the spread. I could hear broken bits of French Creole in his gnarled voice. “If what you say is true, ol
d woman, there is only one price.”

  Amma ran her hand over the cards, pushing them into a pile. “I know. I’ll pay it.”

  “You understand, there is no turnin’ back? No way to undo what will be done. If you tamper with the Wheel a Fate, it will continue to turn until it crushes you in its path.”

  Amma stacked the cards and put them back in her purse. I could see her hand shaking, jerking in and out of shadow.

  “Do what you need to do, and I’ll do the same.” She snapped shut her purse and turned to go. “In the end, the Wheel crushes us all.”

  9.19

  The Far Keep

  And then Link and I bolted like Amma was chasing us with the One-Eyed Menace. I was so scared she would know we’d followed her, I didn’t get out of bed until morning.” I left out the part where I woke up on the floor, the same way I always did after one of the dreams.

  By the time I finished telling Marian the story, her tea was cold. “What about Amma?”

  “I heard the screen door close as the sun was coming up. By the time I came downstairs, she was making breakfast as if nothing happened. Same old cheese grits, same old eggs.” Except neither one tasted right anymore.

  We were in the archive in the Gatlin County Library. It was Marian’s private sanctuary, one she had shared with my mom. It was also the place where Marian looked for answers to questions that most folks in Gatlin didn’t even know to ask, which was why I was here. Marian Ashcroft had been my mom’s best friend, but she had always felt more like my aunt than my real one. Which I guess was the other reason I was here.

  Amma was the closest thing I had left to a mother. I wasn’t ready to assume the worst of her, and I didn’t want anyone else to either. But still, I didn’t exactly feel comfortable with the idea of her running around with a guy who was on the wrong side of everything Amma believed in. I had to tell someone.

  Marian stirred her tea, distracted. “You’re absolutely sure of what you heard?”

 
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