Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia

  I tried to imagine Xavier in a Caster library somewhere like Marian, stacking books and recording the details of the Caster world. He had created his own version of a Caster library here, a place filled with magical objects—and a few unmagical ones.

  “What kind of things, Xavier?”

  He glanced around the cavernous room, panicked. “I don’t think we should be talking about this. What if the Council finds out?”

  “How would they?”

  “They will. They always do. I don’t know what more they could do to me, but they would think of something.”

  “We’re in the center of a mountain.” My second one today. “It’s not like they can hear you.”

  He pulled the collar of the heavy wool robe away from his neck. “You would be surprised at what they can find out. Let me show you.”

  I wasn’t sure what he meant as he moved past a heap of broken bicycles to another glass cabinet. He opened the doors and took out a cobalt-blue sphere the size of a baseball.

  “What is that thing?”

  “A Third Eye.” He held it in his palm carefully. “It allows you to see the past, a specific memory in time.”

  The color began to swirl inside the ball, churning like storm clouds. Until it cleared, and a picture came into view…

  A young man was sitting behind a heavy wooden desk in a dimly lit study. His long robe appeared to be too big for him, much like the ornately carved chair he was sitting in. His hands were clasped together as he leaned heavily on his elbows. “What is it now, Xavier?” he asked impatiently.

  Xavier ran his hands through his dark hair and over his face, his green eyes darting around the room. It was obvious that he was dreading the conversation. He twisted the cord of his own robe in his lap. “I’m sorry to bother you, sir. But certain events have come to my attention—atrocities that violate our vows and threaten the mission of the Keepers.”

  Angelus looked bored. “What atrocities are you referring to, Xavier? Has someone failed to file a report? Lost a crescent key to one of the Caster libraries?”

  Xavier straightened. “We’re not talking about lost keys, Angelus. Something is going on in the dungeons below the Keep. At night I hear the screams, bloodcurdling screams you can’t—”

  Angelus waved off the comment. “People have nightmares. We can’t all sleep as blissfully as you. Some of us run the Council.”

  Xavier pushed back from his chair and stood. “I’ve been down there, Angelus. I know what they are hiding. The question is, do you?”

  Angelus whipped around, his eyes narrowing. “What is it you think you’ve seen?”

  The rage in Xavier’s eyes was impossible to ignore. “Keepers using Dark power—Casting—as if they are Dark Casters. Conducting experiments on the living. I’ve seen enough to know that you must take action.”

  Angelus turned his back on Xavier, facing the window that overlooked the vast mountains surrounding the Far Keep. “Those experiments, as you call them, are for their protection. There is a war, Xavier. Between Light and Dark Casters, and the Mortals are caught in the middle.” He turned. “Do you want to watch them die? Are you prepared to take responsibility for that atrocity? Your acts have already cost you enough, wouldn’t you agree?”

  “For your protection,” Xavier corrected. “That is what you meant, isn’t it, Angelus? Mortals are caught in the middle of the war. Or have you become something beyond Mortal?”

  Angelus shook his head. “It’s clear we aren’t going to agree on this matter.” He started to speak the words of a Cast in low tones.

  “What are you doing?” Xavier pointed at Angelus. “Casting? This is not right. We are the balance—we observe and Keep the records. Keepers do not cross the line into the world of magic and monsters!”

  Angelus closed his eyes and continued the incantation.

  Xavier’s skin seared and blackened, as if it was burnt.

  “What are you doing?” he cried.

  The charcoal color spread like a rash, the skin tightening as it turned impossibly smooth. Xavier screamed, clawing at his own skin.

  Angelus spoke the final word of the Cast and opened his eyes in time to watch Xavier’s hair fall out in tufts.

  He smiled at the sight of the man he was destroying. “It seems to me that you are crossing a line right now.”

  Xavier’s limbs started to lengthen unnaturally, bones cracking and breaking. Angelus listened. “You should consider having a bit more sympathy for monsters.”

  Xavier dropped to his knees. “Please. Have mercy….”

  Angelus stood over the Keeper, who was almost unrecognizable. “This is the Far Keep. Removed from the Mortal and Caster worlds. The vows are the words I speak, and the laws the ones I choose.” He pushed Xavier’s devastated body over with his boot.

  “There is no mercy here.”

  The images faded, replaced by the swirling blue haze. For a second, I didn’t move. I felt like I had just witnessed a man’s execution—and he was standing right next to me. What was left of him.

  Xavier looked like a monster, but he was a good guy, trying to do the right thing. I shuddered, thinking about what could have happened to Marian if Macon and John hadn’t gotten there in time.

  If I hadn’t made a deal with the Lilum.

  At least I knew enough not to regret what I did. As bad as things were, they could have been worse. I knew that now.

  “I’m sorry, Xavier.” I didn’t know what else to say.

  He put the Third Eye back on the shelf. “That was a long time ago. But I thought you should know what they are capable of, since you are so anxious to get inside. If I were you, I would run the other way.”

  I leaned against the cold wall of the cavern. “I wish I could.”

  “Why do you want so badly to get in there?”

  I was sure he couldn’t think of one good reason. For me, one reason was all I needed.

  “Someone added a page in The Caster Chronicles, and I ended up dead. If I can destroy it—”

  Xavier reached his hands toward me as if he was going to grab me by the shoulders and shake some sense into me. But he drew them back before he touched me. “Do you have any idea what they’ll do to you if you’re caught? Look at me, Ethan. I’m one of the lucky ones.”

  “Lucky? You?” I shut my mouth before I accidentally made it worse. Was he nuts?

  “They’ve done this to others, Mortals and Casters alike. It’s Dark power.” His hands were shaking. “Most of them have gone mad, left to wander the Tunnels or the Otherworld like animals.”

  It was exactly the way Link had described the creature that attacked him the night Obidias Trueblood died. But what Link had encountered wasn’t an animal. It was a man, or something that had been a man once—driven crazy as his body was mutated and tortured.

  I felt sick.

  The walls of the Far Keep were hiding more than The Caster Chronicles.

  “I don’t have a choice. If I don’t destroy the page, I can’t get back home.” I could almost see his mind spinning. “There has to be a Cast—something in The Book of Stars or one of your books that could help me.”

  Xavier whipped around, pointing a broken finger inches from my face. “I would never let anyone touch one of my books or use them to Cast! Have you learned nothing here?”

  I backed up. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’ll find another way, but I still have to get inside.”

  Everything about his demeanor had changed when I suggested using a Cast. “You still have nothing to offer. I can’t show you the Gates unless you give me something in return.”

  “Are you serious?” But I could tell from his expression that he was. “What the hell do you want?”

  “The Book of Moons,” he said without hesitation. “You know where it is. That’s my price.”

  “It’s in the Mortal realm. And if you haven’t noticed, I’m dead. And by the way, Abraham Ravenwood has it. He’s not what you’d call a nice guy.” I was begin
ning to think that getting past the Gates was going to be the hardest part of finding my way home, if it was even possible.

  Xavier started moving toward the slit in the rock that led back to the outside. “I think we both know there are ways around that. If you want to get through the Gates, bring me The Book of Moons.”

  “Even if I could get it, why would I give you the most powerful book in the Caster world?” I practically shouted. “How do I know you won’t use it to do something terrible?”

  His unnaturally large eyes widened. “What could be more terrible than how I am standing before you now? Is there something worse than watching your body betray you? Feeling your bones break as you move? Do you think I can risk the trade the Book might choose to make?”

  He was right. You couldn’t get something from The Book of Moons without giving something in return. We’d all learned that, the hard way. The other Ethan Wate. Genevieve. Macon and Amma and Lena and me. The Book made the choice.

  “You could change your mind. People get desperate.” I couldn’t believe I was lecturing a desperate man about desperation.

  Xavier turned to face me, his body already partially hidden in shadow. “Because I know what it is capable of—what it could do in the hands of men like Angelus—I would never speak a word from that book. And I would be sure it never left this room, so no one else could either.”

  He was telling the truth.

  Xavier was terrified of magic, Light or Dark.

  It had destroyed him in the worst possible way. He didn’t want to Cast or wield supernatural power. If anything, he wanted to protect himself and others from that kind of power. If there was anywhere The Book of Moons would be safe, it was here—safer than in the Lunae Libri or some other faraway Caster library. Safer than hidden in the depths of Ravenwood or buried in Genevieve’s grave. No one would ever find it here.

  That was when I decided I was going to give it to him.

  There was only one problem.

  I had to figure out how to get it away from Abraham Ravenwood first.

  I looked at Xavier.

  “How many powerful objects would you say you’ve got in this room, Xavier?”

  “It doesn’t matter. I told you—they’re not to be used.”

  I smiled. “What if I were to tell you I could get you The Book of Moons, but I’d need your help? Your help, and the help of a few of your treasures?”

  He made a strange expression, twisting his uneven mouth from one side to the other. I really, really hoped it was a smile.



  How I get there isn’t as important as getting there.” I said it for the fifth time.

  “To this Land of the Stars and Stripes?” he asked.

  “Yeah. Well, kinda. The office anyway. On Main.”

  He nodded. “Ah, the Mainlands. Is that past the Swamp of the Coolers?”

  “The swamp coolers? Yeah. More or less.” I sighed.

  I tried to explain my plan to Xavier. I wasn’t sure when he had been in the Mortal world last, but whenever it was, it was way before swamp coolers and newspapers. Which was kind of funny, given how much he liked lunch boxes, vinyl records, and sweets.

  I picked up another ancient book, opening it to a cloud of dust and possibility—and uncertainty. I was frustrated, and sitting on the floor surrounded by Caster Scrolls in the middle of this strange creature’s cave made me feel as if I was back working in the Gatlin County Library on the first day of my summer break.

  I tried to think. There had to be something we could do. “What about Traveling? Can Waywards use Casts that pertain to an Incubus?”

  Xavier shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

  I leaned back against a stack of books. I was close to giving up. Once again, if Link was here, he’d lecture me about being the Aquaman of the Caster world.

  “A dead Aquaman,” I said to myself.

  “Excuse me?”

  “Nothing,” I muttered.

  “A dead man?” he asked.

  “You don’t have to rub it in.”

  “No, that’s it. You don’t need Casts that work for a Mortal. You’re not a Mortal anymore. You need Casts that work for a Sheer.” He flipped page after page. “An Umbra Cast. Sending a shadow from one world to the next. That’s you, the shadow. It should work.”

  I thought about it. Could it be that simple?

  I stared at my hand, at the flesh and bones of it.

  It only looks like flesh and bones. You’re not really here, not like that. You don’t have a body.

  What was the big difference between a Sheer and a shadow?

  “I need to be able to touch something, though. It won’t work unless I can get the message to Lena, and I’ll need to be able to move some papers around.”

  He cocked his head, twisting his face into a grimace. I hoped it was his thinking face.

  “Do you need to touch something?”

  “That’s what I just said.”

  He shook his head. “No, it’s not. You said you need to move something. That’s different.”

  “Does it matter?”

  “Entirely.” He flipped a few more pages. “A Veritas Cast should allow the truth to appear. As long as you’re looking for the truth.”

  “That’ll work?”

  I hoped he was right.

  Minutes later, any doubts I had about Xavier were gone.

  I was here. I hadn’t flown across the Great River, or the Great Barrier, or any other supernatural seam. I hadn’t turned on the crow-vision. I was here, on Main, staring into the office of The Stars and Stripes.

  At least, my shadow was.

  I felt like Peter Pan in reverse. Like Wendy had unstitched my shadow from me instead of sewing it back to my feet.

  I moved through the wall and into the darkness of the room, only I was even darker. I had no body, but it didn’t matter. I lifted my hand—the shadow of my hand—and thought the words Xavier had taught me.

  I watched as the words on the page rearranged themselves. I had no time for riddles. No time for games, hidden messages.

  My words were simple.

  Five across.

  Read, in Spanish.

  L. I. B. R. O.

  Two down.

  Belonging to.

  O. F.

  Five across.


  M. O. O. N. S.

  I lowered my hand and disappeared.

  My last message, all I had left to say. Lena had figured out how to send me the river rock charm, and she would know how to send the Book to me. I hoped. If not, maybe Macon would.

  If Abraham still had it, and Lena could get it away from him.

  There were only about a thousand other ifs in between. I tried not to think about them, and all the people they involved. Or the danger that always surrounded The Book of Moons.

  I couldn’t afford to think like that. I’d come this far, right?

  She would find it, and I would find her.

  It was the only Order of Things I cared about now.




  Mortal Problems

  Sometimes Link could be a real idiot.

  “Libro what? Book of Moons? What does that mean?” Link looked from me to The Stars and Stripes, scratching his head. You would have thought I was bringing up the subject for the first time.

  “Three words. It’s a book, Link. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.” It was only the book that had destroyed our lives, and the lives of all the Casters in my family before me on our sixteenth birthdays.

  “That’s not what I meant.” He looked hurt.

  I knew what Link meant.

  But I didn’t know why Ethan was asking for The Book of Moons any more than Link did. So I just kept staring at the newspaper in the middle of the kitchen.

  Amma was behind me, and she didn’t say a word. She’d been that way for a while now—since Ethan. The silence was as wrong as everything
else. It was strange to not hear her banging around in her kitchen. Even stranger that we were sitting around Ethan’s kitchen table trying to figure out the message he’d left in today’s crossword puzzle. I wondered if he could see us or knew we were here.

  surrounded by strangers who love me

  (un)strangers made strange

  by pain

  I felt my fingers twitch, looking for the pen that wasn’t there. I fought the poetry off. It was a new habit. It hurt too much to write now. Three days after Ethan left, the word NO appeared, inked in black Sharpie on my left hand. WORDS appeared on my right.

  I hadn’t written a word since, not on paper. Not in my notebook. Not even on my walls. It seemed like forever since I had.

  How long had Ethan been gone? Weeks? Months? It was all one long blur, as if time had stopped when he left.

  Everything had stopped.

  Link stared up at me from where he was sitting on the kitchen floor. When he unfolded his new quarter-Incubus body like that, he took up most of the kitchen. There were arms and legs everywhere, like a praying mantis, only with muscles.

  Liv studied her own copy of the puzzle from the table—clipped and taped into her trusty red notebook, covered in her neatly penciled analysis—while John leaned over her shoulder. The way they moved together, you would think it hurt them not to touch.

  Unlike Casters and Mortals.

  A human and a hybrid Incubus. They don’t know how good they have it. Nothing catches fire when they kiss.

  I sighed, resisting the urge to Cast a Discordia on them. We were all here. You would have thought nothing had changed. Only one person was missing.

  Which made everything different.

  I folded up the morning paper, sinking into the chair next to Liv. “Book of Moons. That’s all it says. I don’t know why I keep reading it. If I read this thing any more times, I’m going to burn a hole in it with my eyes.”

  “You can do that?” Link looked interested.

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