Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  “Really?” He looked interested. Or maybe sick. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was really even a face I was looking at, so it was hard to tell what the expression meant.

  “That’s right.” I tried to sound confident. When I stood tall, I was almost his height, which was reassuring.

  “Are the Keepers expecting you?” His strange, dull eyes slitted.

  “Yes,” I lied.

  He turned abruptly on his heel to go, his robe swinging after him.

  Wrong answer.

  “No,” I called out. “And they’ll torture me if they find me. At least that’s what everyone seems to think. But there’s this girl—it was all a mistake—I’m not supposed to be here—and then the lubbers came, and the Order broke, and I had to jump.” My words died out, once I realized how crazy I sounded. There was no point trying to explain. It barely made sense even to me.

  The creature stopped, tilting his head to the side, as if he was considering my words. Me. “Well, you’ve found them.”

  “What?”

  “The Gates of the Far Keep.”

  I looked past him. There was nothing around but shiny black rock and clear blue sky. Maybe he was crazy. “Um, I don’t see anything but mountains.”

  He turned and pointed. “There.”

  The sleeve of his robe slid down, and I caught a glimpse of an extra fold of skin flapping away from his body and disappearing under the robe.

  It looked like the wing of a giant bat.

  I remembered the crazy story Link told me over the summer. Macon had sent him into the Caster Tunnels to deliver a message to Obidias Trueblood. That much I’d already put together. But there was another part, about how Link was attacked by some kind of creature he ended up stabbing with his garden shears—it was grayish black and bald, with the features of a man, and deformed black bands of skin that Link was convinced were wings. “Seriously,” I remembered him saying. “You don’t want to face that thing in an alley at night.”

  I knew it couldn’t be the same creature, because Link said the monster he saw had yellow eyes. And the one standing here was staring back at me with green eyes—almost Caster green. Then there was the other thing. The whole gardening-shears-to-the-chest thing.

  This couldn’t be him.

  Green eyes. Not gold. I didn’t need to be afraid, right? He couldn’t be Dark, could he?

  Still, it wasn’t anything I’d ever seen before—and I had seen more than my share.

  The creature turned around, lowering his arm that wasn’t an arm. “Do you see them?”

  “What?” The wings? I was still trying to figure out what he was—or wasn’t.

  “The Gates.” He seemed disappointed by my stupidity. I guess I’d be disappointed, too, if I were him. I was feeling pretty stupid myself.

  I searched in the direction he had pointed a moment ago. There was nothing there. “I don’t see anything.”

  A satisfied smile spread across his face, as if he had a secret. “Of course you don’t. Only the Gatekeeper can see them.”

  “Where’s the—” I stopped, realizing I didn’t need to ask the question. I already knew the answer. “You’re the Gatekeeper.” There was a River Master and a Gatekeeper. Of course there was. There was also a snake man, a whiskey-drinking crow that could fly from the land of the living to the land of the dead, a river full of bodies, and a dragon dog. It was like waking up in the middle of a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

  “The Gatekeeper.” The creature nodded, obviously pleased with himself. “I am that, among other things.”

  I tried not to fixate on the word thing. But as I looked at his charcoal-colored skin and thought about those awful wings, I couldn’t stop imagining him as some terrifying cross between a person and a bat.

  A real-life Batman, sort of.

  Only not the kind who saves anyone. Maybe the reverse.

  What if this thing doesn’t want to let me in?

  I took a deep breath. “Look, I know it’s crazy. I left crazy behind about a year ago. But there’s something I need in there. And if I don’t get it, I won’t be able to go home. Is there any way you can show me where the Gates are?”

  “Of course.”

  I heard the words before I saw his face. And I smiled, until I realized I was the only one smiling.

  The creature frowned, his huge eyes narrowing. He put his hands together in front of his chest, tapping his crooked fingertips. “But why would I do that?”

  Exu shrieked in the distance.

  I looked up to see the massive black shape circling above our heads, as if he was prepared to swoop down and attack.

  Wordlessly, without looking up, the creature held up his hand.

  Exu descended and landed on the Gatekeeper’s fist, nuzzling his arm as if reunited with an old friend.

  Maybe not.

  The Gatekeeper looked even more frightening with Exu at his side. It was time to face facts. The creature was right. He had no reason to help me.

  Then the bird squawked, almost sympathetically. The creature made a low, throaty sound—almost a chuckle—and raised a hand to smooth the bird’s feathers. “You are lucky. The bird is a good judge of character.”

  “Yeah? What does the bird say about me?”

  “He says—slow on the switchbacks, cheap with the whiskey, but a good heart. For a dead man.”

  I grinned. Maybe that old crow wasn’t so bad.

  Exu squawked again.

  “I can show you the Gates, boy.”

  “Ethan.”

  “Ethan.” He hesitated, repeating my name slowly. “But you have to give me something in return.”

  I was almost afraid to ask. “What do you want?” Obidias had mentioned that the Gatekeeper would expect some kind of gift, but I hadn’t really put much thought into it.

  He looked at me thoughtfully, considering the question. “Trade is a serious matter. Balance is a key principle within the Order of Things.”

  “The Order of Things? I thought we didn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

  “There is always Order. Now more than ever, the New Order must be carefully maintained.”

  I didn’t understand the details, but I understood the importance. Wasn’t that how I got into this mess in the first place?

  He kept talking. “You say you need something to take you home? The thing you desire most? I say, what brought you here? That is what I desire most.”

  “Great.” It sounded simple, but he might as well have been speaking in riddles or randomly written Mad Libs.

  “What do you have?” His eyes glinted greedily.

  I stuffed my hands in my pockets and pulled out the one remaining river stone and Aunt Prue’s map. The whiskey and the tobacco—Exu’s stash—were long gone.

  The Gatekeeper lifted his hairless brows. “A rock and an old map? Is that all?”

  “That’s what brought me here.” I pointed at Exu, still perched on his shoulder. “And a bird.”

  “A rock and a crow. That is difficult to pass up. But I already have both of those things in my collection.”

  Exu pushed off from his shoulder and flew back up into the sky, like he was offended. Within seconds the crow disappeared.

  “And now you have no bird,” the Gatekeeper said matter-of-factly.

  “I don’t understand. Is there something specific you want?” I tried to hide the frustration in my voice.

  The Gatekeeper seemed delighted by the question. “Specific, yes. Specifically, a fair trade is what I prefer.”

  “Could you be a little more specific than that?”

  He tilted his head. “I don’t always know what will interest me until I see it. The things that are the most valuable are often the ones you don’t even know exist.”

  That was helpful.

  “How am I supposed to know what you have already?”

  His eyes lit up. “I can show you my collection if you would like to see it. There isn’t another one like it anywhere in the Otherworld.”
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  What could I say? “Yeah. That would be great.”

  As I followed him along the sharp black stones, I could hear Link’s voice in my head. “Bad move, man. He’s gonna kill you, stuff you, and add you to his collection of idiots who followed him back to his creepy cave.”

  This was one time I was probably safer dead than alive.

  How fair and balanced was that?

  The Gatekeeper slid through a narrow crack in the wall of slick black stone. It was bigger than the hole, but not by much. I moved along sideways because there wasn’t enough room to turn around.

  I knew this could be some kind of trap. Link had described the creature he encountered as an animal—dangerous and crazed. What if the Gatekeeper was no different, just better at hiding it? Where was that stupid crow when I needed him?

  “We’re almost there,” he called back to me.

  I could see a faint light ahead, flickering in the distance.

  His shadow passed in front of it, momentarily darkening the passage as the narrow space opened into a cavernous room. Wax dripped from an iron chandelier bolted directly into the glossy stone ceiling. The walls sparkled in the candlelight.

  If I hadn’t just crawled through a whole mountain of the stuff, I might have been more impressed. As it was, the closeness of the cavern walls just made my skin crawl.

  But when I glanced around, I realized this place was more like a museum—with an even crazier collection than what you’d find if you dug up the Sisters’ whole backyard. Glass cases and shelves lined the walls, filled with hundreds of objects. It was the randomness of the collection that intrigued me, like a child had done not only the collecting but the cataloging. Intricately carved silver and gold jewelry boxes sat next to a collection of cheap children’s music boxes. Shiny black vinyl records were piled in towering stacks next to one of those old-fashioned record players with a funnel speaker, like the one the Sisters used to have. A Raggedy Ann doll curled in a rocking chair, a huge green jewel the size of an apple resting in her lap. And on a center shelf, I saw an opalescent sphere similar to the one I had carried in my hand the past summer.

  It couldn’t be… an Arclight.

  But it was. Exactly like the one Macon had given my mom, except milky white instead of midnight black.

  “Where did you get that?” I walked toward the shelf.

  He darted in front of me, snatching the sphere. “I told you. I’m a collector. You could say a historian. You mustn’t touch anything in here. The treasures in this room cannot be replaced. I’ve spent a thousand lifetimes collecting them. They are all equally valuable,” he breathed.

  “Yeah?” I looked at a Snoopy lunch box full of pearls.

  He nodded. “Priceless.”

  He replaced the Arclight. “All sorts of things have been offered to me at the Gates,” he added. “Most people, and non-people, know it is only polite to bring me a gift when they come knocking.” He stole a look at me. “No offense.”

  “Yeah, sorry. I mean, I wish I had something to give you—”

  He lifted a hairless eyebrow. “Besides a rock and a crow?”

  “Yeah.” I scanned the rows of leather books lined up neatly on the shelves, the spines inscribed with symbols and languages I didn’t recognize. The spine of a black leather book caught my eye. It looked like it said… “The Book of Stars?”

  The Gatekeeper looked pleased and rushed to pull it down from the shelf. “This is one of the rarest books of its kind.” Niadic, the Caster language I had come to recognize, looped around the edges of the cover. A cluster of stars was embossed in the center. “There is only one other like it—”

  “The Book of Moons,” I finished for him. “I know.”

  His eyes widened, and he clutched The Book of Stars to his chest. “You know about the Dark half? No one in our world has seen it for hundreds of years.”

  “That’s because it isn’t in your world.” I looked at him for a long moment before correcting myself. “Our world.”

  He shook his head in disbelief. “How could you possibly know that?”

  “Because I was the one who found it.”

  For a moment, he didn’t say a word. I could tell he was trying to decide if I was lying or crazy. There was nothing in his expression that made it seem like he actually believed me, but like I said, there wasn’t really too much to go on—his face not really being a face and all.

  “Is this a trick?” His dull green eyes narrowed. “It wouldn’t serve you well to play games with me if you ever expect to find the Gates of the Far Keep.”

  “I didn’t even know The Book of Moons had another half, or whatever you said. So how would I know to lie about it?”

  It was true. I had never heard anyone mention it—not Macon or Marian or Sarafine or Abraham.

  Is it possible they didn’t know?

  “As I said, balance. Light and Dark are both part of the invisible scale that is always tipping as we hang on to the edges.” He ran his crooked fingers over the cover of the book. “You can’t have one without the other. Sad as that might be.”

  After everything I had learned about The Book of Moons, I couldn’t imagine what was within the covers of its counterpart. Did The Book of Stars yield the same kind of devastating consequences?

  I was almost afraid to ask. “Is there a price for using that one, too?”

  The Gatekeeper walked to the far end of the room and sat down in an intricately carved chair that looked like a throne from an old castle. He lifted a Mickey Mouse Thermos, pouring a stream of amber liquid into the plastic cup, and drank half of it. There was a weariness in his movements, and I wondered how long it had taken him to amass the collection of intangibly valuable and valueless items within these walls.

  When he finally spoke, he sounded like he’d aged a hundred years.

  “I have never used the book myself. My debts are too steep to risk owing anything more. Though there is not much left for them to take, is there?” He threw back the rest of his drink and slammed the plastic cup on the table. Within seconds, he was pacing again, nervous and agitated.

  I followed him to the other side of the room.

  “Who do you owe?”

  He stopped walking, pulling his robe tighter, as if he was protecting himself from an unseen enemy. “The Far Keep, of course.” There was a mix of bitterness and defeat in his voice. “And they always collect their debts.”

  CHAPTER 17

  The Book of Stars

  The Gatekeeper turned his back to me, moving instead to a glass case behind him. He examined a collection of charms—amulets hanging from long leather cords, crystals and exotic rocks that reminded me of the river stones, runes with markings I didn’t recognize. He opened the cabinet and took out one of the amulets, rubbing the silver disk between his fingers. It reminded me of the way Amma touched the gold charm she wore around her neck, whenever she got nervous.

  “Why don’t you just leave?” I asked. “Take all this stuff and disappear?” I knew the answer even as I asked the question.

  Nobody would stay here unless they had to.

  He spun a large enamel globe on a tall stand next to the cabinet. I watched as it turned, strange shapes spinning past me. They weren’t the continents I was used to seeing in history class.

  “I can’t leave. I’m Bound to the Gates. If I venture too far from them, I’ll continue to change.”

  He stared down at his bent, gnarled fingers. A chill rushed up my back.

  “What do you mean?”

  The Gatekeeper turned his hands over slowly, as if he had never seen them before. “There was a time when I looked like you, dead man. A time when I was a man.”

  The words were swimming around in my head, but I couldn’t find a way to make them true. Whatever the Gatekeeper was—however reminiscent his features were of a man’s—it wasn’t possible.

  Was it?

  “I—I don’t understand. How—?” There was no way to say what I was thinking without being cruel. A
nd if he was a man somewhere inside there, he had suffered more than enough cruelty already.

  “How did I become this?” The Gatekeeper fingered a large crystal hanging from a golden chain. He picked up a second necklace, made of rings of sugar candy, the kind you could buy at the Stop & Steal, smoothing it back down inside its velvet-lined case. “The Council of the Far Keep is very powerful. They have powerful magic at their disposal, stronger than anything I witnessed as a Keeper.”

  “You were a Keeper?” This thing used to be like my mom and Liv and Marian?

  His dull green eyes stared back at me. “You might want to take a seat….” He paused. “I don’t think you told me your name.”

  “Ethan.” I’d told him twice now.

  “It’s nice to meet you, Ethan. My name is—was—Xavier. No one calls me that anymore, but you can if it makes things easier.”

  I knew what he was trying to say—if it made it easier to imagine him as a man instead of a monster.

  “Okay. Thanks, Xavier.” It sounded funny, even coming from me.

  He tapped the case with his fingers, some kind of nervous habit. “And to answer your question, yes. I was a Keeper. One who made the mistake of questioning Angelus, the head—”

  “I know who he is.” I remembered the one named Angelus, the Keeper with the bald head. I also remembered the ruthless expression on his face when he had come after Marian.

  “Then you know he’s dangerous. And corrupt.” Xavier watched me carefully.

  I nodded. “He tried to hurt a friend of mine—two, actually. He brought one of them to the Far Keep to stand trial.”

  “Trial.” He laughed, only there was nothing like a smile on his nothing like a face.

  “It wasn’t funny.”

  “Of course not. Angelus must have been making an example of your friend,” Xavier said. “I was never given a trial. He finds them dull compared to the punishment.”

  “What did you do?” I was afraid to ask, but I felt like I had to.

  Xavier sighed. “I questioned the authority of the Council, the decisions they were making. I never should have done it,” he said quietly. “But they were breaking our vows, the laws we swore to abide by. Taking things that were not theirs to Keep.”

 
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