Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  I love you, Ethan. I won’t forget you. I’ll never forget you, and I’ll never stop loving you.

  I heard her voice uncurl inside my head. When I opened my eyes, she was staring right through me.

  “Never,” she whispered.

  “Never,” I said.

  I wrapped my fingers in the curls of black hair and waited until she fell asleep. I could feel her nestled up next to me.

  I had to make sure she found that newspaper.

  As I followed Lena down the stairs the next morning, I was starting to feel a) like some kind of stalker and b) like I was losing my mind. Kitchen sent out as big a breakfast as ever—but thankfully, now that the Order wasn’t broken and the world wasn’t about to end, the food wasn’t so raw that the sight of it made you want to throw up.

  Macon was waiting for Lena at the table, and he was already digging in. I still wasn’t used to the sight of him eating. There were biscuits this morning, baked with so much butter it came bubbling up through cracks in the dough. Thick slices of bacon crowded against an Amma-sized mountain of scrambled eggs. Berries piled inside a big piece of pastry crust that Link, before his Linkubus days, would have swallowed whole in one bite.

  Then I saw it. The Stars and Stripes was folded at the bottom of a whole stack of newspapers—from about as many countries as I could name.

  I reached for the paper just as Macon reached for the coffeepot, shoving his hand right through my chest. It felt cold and strange, like I’d swallowed a piece of ice. Maybe like brain freeze from an ICEE, only in my heart rather than in my head.

  I grabbed the paper with both hands and pulled on it as hard as I could. One edge slowly peeked out from beneath the pile.

  Not good enough.

  I looked up at Macon and Lena. Macon had his head buried in a newspaper called L’Express, which looked like it was written in French. Lena had her eyes glued to her plate, like the eggs were going to reveal an important truth.

  Come on, L. It’s right here. I’m right here.

  I yanked the paper harder, and it slid all the way out from the pile and fluttered onto the floor.

  Neither one of them looked up.

  Lena stirred milk into her tea. I reached for her hand with mine, squeezing it until she dropped the spoon, splashing tea onto the tablecloth.

  Lena stared at her teacup, flexing her fingers. She leaned down to blot the tablecloth with her napkin. Then she noticed the paper on the floor, where it had landed next to her foot.

  “What’s this?” She picked up The Stars and Stripes. “I didn’t know you subscribed to this paper, Uncle M.”

  “I do. I find it’s helpful to know what’s going on in town. You wouldn’t want to miss, I don’t know, the latest diabolical plan of Mrs. Lincoln and the Ladies Auxiliary.” He smiled. “Where would the fun be in that?”

  I held my breath.

  She tossed it over, facedown on the table.

  The crossword was on the back. The Sunday edition, just like I’d planned it back in the office of The Stars and Stripes.

  She smiled to herself. “Amma would do this crossword in about five minutes.”

  Macon looked up. “Less than that, I’m sure. I believe I could do it in three.”

  “Really?”

  “Try me.”

  “Eleven across,” she said. “Apparition or phantasm. A spectral being. A spirit from another world. A ghost.”

  Macon looked at her, his eyes narrowing.

  Lena leaned over the paper, holding her tea. I watched as she began to read.

  Figure it out, L. Please.

  It was only when the teacup began to shake and fell to the carpet that I knew she’d gotten it—not the crossword but the message behind it.

  “Ethan?” She looked up. I leaned closer, holding my cheek against hers. I knew she couldn’t feel it; I wasn’t back with her, not yet. But I knew she believed I was there, and for now that’s all that mattered.

  Macon stared at her, surprised.

  The chandelier above the table began to sway. The room brightened until it was blindingly white. The enormous dining room windows began to crack into hundreds of glass spiderwebs. Heavy drapes flew against the walls like feathers in the wind.

  “Darling,” Macon began.

  Lena’s hair curled in every direction. I closed my eyes as window after window began to shatter like fireworks.

  Ethan?

  I’m here.

  Above everything, that was all I needed her to know.

  Finally.

  CHAPTER 13

  Where the Crow Carries You

  Lena knew I was there. It was hard to drag myself away, but she had figured out the truth. That was the main thing. Amma and Lena. I was two for two. It was a start.

  And I was exhausted.

  Now I had to find my way back to her for good. I crossed back in about ten seconds flat. If only the rest of the way was that easy.

  I knew I should go home and tell my mom everything, but I also knew how worried she’d be about me going to the Far Keep. From what Genevieve and my mom and Aunt Prue and Obidias Trueblood had said, the Far Keep seemed like the last place a person would voluntarily go.

  Especially a person with a mother.

  I cataloged everything I needed to do, everywhere I needed to go. The river. The book. The river eyes—two smooth black stones. That’s what Obidias Trueblood said I needed. My mind kept going back to it, over and over.

  How many smooth black stones could there be in the world? And how was I going to know which ones happened to be the eyes of the river, whatever that even meant?

  Maybe I’d find them on the way. Or maybe I’d already found them, and I didn’t even know it.

  A magical black rock, the eye of the river.

  It sounded strangely familiar. Had I heard it before?

  I thought back to Amma, to all the charms, every tiny bone, every bit of graveyard dirt and salt, every piece of string she’d given me to wear.

  Then I remembered.

  It wasn’t one of Amma’s charms. It was from the vision I saw when I opened the bottle in her room.

  I had seen the stone hanging around Sulla’s neck. Sulla the Prophet. In the vision Amma had called it “the eye.”

  The river’s eye.

  Which meant I knew where to find it and how to get there—as long as I could figure out how to find my way to Wader’s Creek on this side.

  It couldn’t be avoided, intimidating as it was. It was time to pay a visit to the Greats.

  I unfolded Aunt Prue’s map. Now that I knew how to read the map, it wasn’t that hard to see where the Doorwells were marked. I found the red X on the Doorwell that led to Obidias’ place—the one at the Snow family crypt—so after that I went looking for every red mark I could find.

  There were plenty of red Xs, but which of those Doorwells would take me to Wader’s Creek? Their destinations weren’t exactly marked like exits on the interstate—and I didn’t want to stumble into any of the surprises that could be waiting for a guy behind Otherworld door number three.

  Snakes for fingers might be getting off easy.

  There had to be some kind of logic. I didn’t know what connected the Doorwell behind the Snow family plot to the rocky path that had taken me to Obidias Trueblood, but there had to be something. Seeing as we were all related to one another around here, that something was probably blood.

  What would connect one of these plots in His Garden of Perpetual Peace to the Greats? If there was a liquor store in the graveyard—or a buried coffin full of Uncle Abner’s Wild Turkey, or the ruins of a haunted bakery known for lemon meringue pie—he wouldn’t have been far behind me.

  But Wader’s Creek had its own graveyard. There wasn’t a crypt or a plot for Ivy, Abner, Sulla, or Delilah in Perpetual Peace.

  Then I found a red X behind what my mom had said was one of the oldest tribute markers in the graveyard, and I knew it had to be the one.

  So I folded up the map and decided t
o check it out.

  Minutes later, I found myself staring at a white marble obelisk.

  Sure enough, the word SACRED was carved into the crumbling veined stone, right above a gloomy-looking skull with empty eyes that stared at you straight on. I never understood why a single creepy skull marked a handful of Gatlin’s oldest graves. But we all knew about this particular tribute, even though it was tucked away on the far edge of Perpetual Peace, where the heart of the old graveyard sat, long before the new one was built up around it.

  The Confederate Needle—that’s what folks around Gatlin called it, not because of its pointed shape but because of the ladies who had put it there. Katherine Cooper Sewell, who founded the Gatlin chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution—probably not long after the Revolution itself—had seen to it that the DAR raised enough money for the obelisk before she died.

  She had married Samuel Sewell.

  Samuel Sewell had built and run the Palmetto Brewery, the first distillery in Gatlin County. Palmetto Brewery made one thing and one thing only.

  Wild Turkey.

  “Pretty smart,” I said, circling to the back of the obelisk, where the twisted wrought iron fencing bowed and broke into pieces. I didn’t know if I would’ve been able to see it back home, but here in the Otherworld, the trapdoor of a Doorwell cut into the base of the rock was plain as day. The rectangular outline of the entrance snaked between rows of engraved shells and angels.

  I pressed my hand against the soft stone and felt it give way beneath me, swinging from sunlight into shadow.

  A dozen uneven stone steps later, I found myself on what sounded like a gravel pathway. I made my way around a turn in the passage and caught sight of light pooling in the distance. As I got closer, I smelled swamp grass and waterlogged palmettos. There was no mistaking that smell.

  This was the right place.

  I reached a warped wooden door, propped halfway open. Nothing could keep out the light now—or the hot, sticky air, which only got hotter and stickier as I climbed the steps on the other side of the door.

  Wader’s Creek was waiting for me. I couldn’t see past the first fringe of tall cypress trees, but I knew it was there. If I followed the muddy path in front of me, I would find my way to Amma’s home away from home.

  I pushed through the palmetto branches and saw a row of tiny houses, just off the edge of the water.

  The Greats. It had to be.

  As I made my way down the path, I heard voices. On the nearest veranda, three women were crowded around a table with a deck of cards. They were fussing and swatting at one another the way the Sisters did when they played Scrabble.

  I recognized Twyla from a distance. I suspected she was going to join the Greats when she died on the night of the Seventeenth Moon. Still, it was strange to see her here, hanging out on the porch and playing cards with them.

  “Now, you can’t throw that card, Twyla, and you know it. You think I can’t see you cheatin’?” A woman in a colorful shawl pushed the card back toward Twyla.

  “Now, Sulla. You may be a Seer, cher. But there’s nothin’ there to see,” Twyla responded.

  Sulla. That’s who she was. Now I recognized her from the vision—Sulla the Prophet, Amma’s most famous ancestor of all.

  “Well, I think you’re both cheatin’.” The third woman tossed her cards down and adjusted her round glasses. Her shawl was bright yellow. “And I don’t want ta play with either one a you.” I tried not to laugh, but the scene was too familiar; I might as well be home.

  “Don’t you be such a sourpuss, Delilah.” Sulla wagged her head.

  Delilah. She was the one in the glasses.

  A fourth woman was sitting in a rocking chair at the edge of the porch, with a hoop in one hand and a needle in the other. “Why don’t you go on in and cut your old Aunt Ivy a slice a pie? I’m busy with my stitchin’.”

  Ivy. It was weird to finally see her in person after the visions.

  “Pie? Ha!” An old man laughed from his rocking chair—a bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand and a pipe in the other.

  Uncle Abner.

  I felt like I knew the man personally, though we’d never met. After all, I’d been in the kitchen when Amma made him more than a hundred pies over the years—maybe a thousand.

  The giant crow flew down and landed on Uncle Abner’s shoulder. “Won’t find any pie in there, Delilah. We’re runnin’ low.”

  Delilah stopped, one hand on the screen door. “Why would we be runnin’ low, Abner?”

  He nodded in my direction. “I’m guessin’ Amarie’s busy bakin’ for him now.” He emptied his pipe, tapping the old tobacco over the side of the porch railing.

  “Who, me?” I couldn’t believe Uncle Abner was actually talking to me. I took a step closer to all of them. “I mean, hello, sir.”

  He ignored me. “I’m guessin’ I won’t be seein’ another lemon meringue unless it’s the boy’s favorite, too.”

  “Are you gonna stand there starin’ or come on over here already?” Sulla had her back to me, but she still knew I was there.

  Twyla squinted into the sunlight. “Ethan? That you, cher?”

  I walked toward the house, as much as I felt like staying where I was. I don’t know why I was so nervous. I hadn’t expected the Greats to seem so regular. They could’ve been any group of old folks, hanging out on the porch on a sunny afternoon. Except that they were all dead.

  “Yeah. I mean, yes, ma’am. It’s me.”

  Uncle Abner stood up and walked over to the railing to get a better look. The enormous crow was still perched on his shoulder. It flapped its wings, and he didn’t even flinch. “Like I said, we won’t be gettin’ any pie—or much else—now that the boy’s up here with us.”

  Twyla waved me over. “Maybe he’ll share a bit a his with you.”

  I climbed up the scuffed wooden steps, and the wind chimes tapped against one another. There wasn’t so much as a breeze.

  “He’s a spirit, all right,” Sulla said. There was a tiny brown bird hopping around the table. A sparrow.

  “ ’Course he is.” Ivy sniffed. “Wouldn’t be up here otherwise.”

  I gave Uncle Abner and his scavenger a wide berth.

  When I was close enough, Twyla jumped up and threw her arms around me. “Can’t say I’m happy you’re here, but I am happy to see you.”

  I hugged her back. “Yeah, well, I’m not all that happy to be here either.”

  Uncle Abner took a swig of whiskey. “Then why’d you go and jump off that fool tower?”

  I didn’t know what to say, but Sulla answered before I had to think of anything. “You know the answer to that, Abner, about as well as you know your own name. Now stop givin’ the boy a hard time.”

  The crow flapped its wings again. “Somebody should,” Uncle Abner said.

  Sulla turned and gave Uncle Abner the look. I wondered if that was where Amma had learned it. “Unless you were strong enough to stop the Wheel a Fate yourself, you know the boy didn’t have a choice.”

  Delilah brought a wicker chair over for me. “Now, you come on and sit down here with us.”

  Sulla was still flipping cards, but these were ordinary playing cards.

  “Can you read those, too?” It wouldn’t have surprised me.

  She laughed, and the sparrow chirped. “No, we’re just playin’ gin.” Sulla slapped down her cards. “Speakin’ a that—gin.”

  Delilah pouted. “You always win.”

  “Well, I’ve won again,” Sulla said. “So why don’t you sit down here, Ethan, and tell us what brings you ’round our way.”

  “I’m not sure how much you know.”

  She lifted her eyebrows.

  “Okay, so you probably already know that I went to see Obidias Trueblood, this old—”

  “Mmm hmm.” She nodded.

  “And if he’s telling the truth, there’s a way I can get back home.” I was stumbling over my words. “I mean, to the home where I was alive.”
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  “Mmm hmm.”

  “I have to get my page from—”

  “The Caster Chronicles,” she finished for me. “I know all that. So why don’t you go on and say what you need from us.”

  I was sure she knew, but she wanted me to ask anyway. It was only proper.

  “I need a stone.” I thought about the best way to describe it. “This will probably sound strange, but I saw you wearing it once, in kind of a dream. It’s shiny and black….”

  “This one?” Sulla held out her palm. There it was. The black stone I saw in my vision.

  I nodded, relieved.

  “Darn right you do.” She pressed the rock into my hand, closing my fingers around it. It pulsed with a kind of strange warmth that seemed to come from inside.

  Delilah looked at me. “You know what that is?”

  I nodded. “Obidias said it’s called a river’s eye, and I need two of them to get across the river.”

  “Then I reckon you’re one short,” Uncle Abner said. He hadn’t moved from the railing. He was busy packing his pipe with dry leaf tobacco.

  “Oh, there’s another one.” Sulla smiled knowingly. “Don’t you know?”

  I shook my head.

  Twyla reached over and took my hand. A smile spread across her face, her long braids slipping over her shoulder as she nodded. “Un cadeau. A gift. I remember when I gave it to Lena,” she said in her heavy French Creole accent. “River’s eye is a powerful stone. Brings luck and a safe journey.” As she spoke, I saw the charm from Lena’s necklace. The smooth black rock she always wore hanging from the chain.

  Of course.

  Lena had the second stone I needed.

  “You know how to get to the river and get on your way?” Twyla asked, dropping my hand.

  I pulled Aunt Prue’s map out of my back pocket. “I have a map. My aunt gave it to me.”

  “Maps are good,” Sulla said, looking it over. “But birds are better.” She made a clicking noise with her tongue, and the sparrow fluttered onto her shoulder. “A map can lead you astray if you don’t read it right. A bird always knows the way.”

  “I wouldn’t want to take your bird.” She had already given me the stone. It felt like I was taking too much. Plus, birds made me nervous. They were like old ladies but with sharper beaks.

 
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