Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  She knew what I was thinking.

  It didn’t involve John jumping off the Summerville water tower. It wasn’t the worst plan. I closed my eyes.

  falling not flying

  one lost muddy shoe

  like the lost worlds

  between me and you

  “I’ll do it,” John said. “I don’t like it any more than the rest of you, but this is the way it has to be.”

  It all sounded too familiar. I opened my eyes to see Liv, stricken. As the tears began to run down Liv’s face, I felt like I was going to throw up.

  “No.” I heard myself say the word before I realized I was saying it. “My uncle’s right. I’m not putting you through that, John. Any of you.” I saw the color seep into Liv’s cheeks, and she sank into the chair next to him. “It’s a last-ditch effort. A last chance.”

  “Unless you’ve got another one, Lena, I think the land of last chances is right about where we are.” John looked serious. He had made up his mind, and I loved him for it.

  But I shook my head. “I do. What about Link’s idea?”

  “Link’s—what?” Liv looked confused.

  “My what?” Link scratched his head.

  “We find our way to whatever backwoods swamp hole Abraham has been living in for the last two hundred years.”

  “And we ask him real nice to give us the Book?” Link looked hopeful. John looked like he thought I was having a stroke.

  “No. We steal it, real nice.”

  Macon looked interested. “That presumes we can even find my grandfather’s home. The nasty brand of Dark power he wields demands a lifestyle of secrecy, I’m afraid. Tracking Abraham down won’t be easy. He keeps to the Underground.”

  I looked steadily back at him. “Well, as the smartest person I know once said, these things are difficulties, not impossibilities.”

  My uncle smiled at me. John shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I don’t know where the guy lives; I was just a kid. I remember rooms without windows.”

  “Perfect,” Link snapped. “There can’t be many of those around.”

  Liv dropped her hand onto John’s shoulder.

  John shrugged. “Sorry. My childhood is one big dark cloud. I’ve done my best to block the whole thing out.”

  My uncle nodded, rising to his feet. “Very well. Then I suggest you start not with the smartest people but perhaps the oldest people. They might have a clue or two as to where you can find Abraham Ravenwood.”

  “The oldest people? You mean the Sisters? Do you think they remember Abraham?” My stomach tensed. It wasn’t exactly scary, but it was hard to understand half the things they said—when they weren’t talking crazy.

  “If they can’t, they’re likely to invent something equally plausible. They are the closest thing my exponentially-great-grandfather has to contemporaries. Even if they’re hardly what one would call contemporary.”

  Liv nodded. “It’s worth a try.”

  I stood up.

  “Just a conversation, Lena,” Uncle Macon cautioned. “Don’t get any ideas. You’re not to set out on any kind of reconnaissance mission of your own. Am I perfectly clear?”

  “Crystal,” I said, because there was no talking to him about anything that seemed dangerous. He’d been like this since Ethan—

  Since Ethan.

  “I’ll go with you for backup,” Link said, pulling himself up from the floor of the study. Link, who couldn’t add two-digit numbers, always sensed when my uncle and I were about to start fighting.

  He grinned. “I can translate.”

  By now, I felt like I knew the Sisters as well as my own family. Though they were eccentric, to put it mildly, they were also the finest example of living history Gatlin had to offer.

  That’s what the people around here called it.

  When Link and I walked up the steps of Wate’s Landing, you could hear Gatlin’s living history fighting with each other all the way through the screen door, true to form.

  “You don’t throw away perfectly good cut-ler-ee. That’s a cryin’ shame.”

  “Mercy Lynne. They’re plastic spoons. Means you’re supposed ta throw ’em away.” Thelma was consoling her, patient as always. She should be sainted. Amma was the first one to say it every time Thelma broke up one of the Sisters’ arguments.

  “Just because some people think they’re the queen a England doesn’t give ’em a crown,” Aunt Mercy responded.

  Link stood next to me on the porch and tried not to laugh. I knocked on the door, but nobody seemed to notice.

  “Now, what on earth is that supposed ta mean?” Aunt Grace interrupted. “Who’s some people? Angelina Witherspoon an’ all them partly nekkid stars—”

  “Grace Ann! You don’t speak like that, not in this house.”

  It didn’t even slow Aunt Grace down. “—from those smutty magazines you’re always askin’ Thelma ta get from the market?”

  “Now, girls…” Thelma started.

  I knocked again, more loudly this time, but it was impossible to hear over the chaos.

  Aunt Mercy was shouting. “It means you wash the good spoons same as you wash the bad spoons. Then you put ’em all back in the spoon drawer. Everyone knows that. Even the queen a England.”

  “Don’t listen ta her, Thelma. She washes the garbage when you and Amma aren’t lookin’.”

  Aunt Mercy sniffed. “What if I do? You don’t want the neighbors talkin’. We’re respectable, churchgoin’ people. We don’t smell like sinners, and there’s no reason for the cans out front ta smell any different.”

  “Exceptin’ they’re full a garbage.” Aunt Grace snorted.

  I knocked on the screen door one more time. Link took over, banging once—and the door practically gave out, one hinge swinging down toward the porch.

  “Whoops. Sorry about that.” He shrugged awkwardly.

  Amma appeared at the door, looking grateful for the distraction. “You ladies have some visitors.” She pushed the screen open wide. The Sisters glanced up from their respective afghans, looking friendly and polite, like they hadn’t been screaming bloody murder a second earlier.

  I sat on the edge of a hard wooden chair, not making myself too comfortable. Link stood even less comfortably next to me.

  “I reckon we do. Afternoon, Wesley. And who’s there with y’all?” Aunt Mercy squinted, and Aunt Grace elbowed her.

  “It’s that girlfriend a Ethan’s. That pretty Ravenwood gal. The one who always has her nose in a book, like Lila Jane.”

  “That’s right. You know me, Aunt Mercy. I’m Ethan’s girlfriend, ma’am.” It was the same thing I said every time I came over.

  Aunt Mercy harrumphed. “Well, what if it is? What’re ya doin’ around here now that Ethan’s gone and passed on ta one world or another?”

  Amma froze in the kitchen doorway. “Come again?”

  Thelma didn’t look up from her needlepoint.

  “You heard me, Miss Amma,” Aunt Mercy said.

  “Wh-what?” I stammered.

  “What are you talking about?” Link could barely speak.

  “You know about Ethan? How?” I leaned forward in my chair.

  “You think we don’t catch a thing or two ’bout what’s goin’ on around here? Wasn’t born yesterday, and we’re smarter than y’all think. We know plenty ’bout the Casters, same as we do weather patterns and dress patterns and traffic patterns….” Aunt Grace wadded up her handkerchief, her voice trailing off.

  “And the peach stand seasons.” Aunt Mercy looked proud.

  “A storm cloud’s a storm cloud. This one’s been workin’ its way through the sky for a long time now. Near ’bout all our lives.” Aunt Grace nodded at her sister.

  “Seems to me any right-minded person would try to keep outta a storm like that,” Amma bristled, tucking the edge of the blanket around Aunt Grace’s legs.

  “We didn’t know you knew,” I said.

  “Lord have mercy, you’re as bad as Prudence Jane. She
thought we didn’t have a clue between us ’bout her traipsin’ all over underneath the County and back. Like we didn’t know our daddy picked her ta keep the map. Like we didn’t tell him ourselves ta pick Prudence Jane. Always thought she was the one with the steadiest hand outta all three a us.” Aunt Mercy laughed.

  “Sweet Redeemer, Mercy Lynne, you know our daddy woulda picked me ’fore he picked you. I only told him ta ask you on account a I didn’t like my hair all curled up, the way it got in the Underground. Looked like a porkypine with a bad permanent, I swear.” Aunt Grace shook her head.

  Mercy sniffed. “You do swear, Grace Ann, and I’m the only one who knows it.”

  “You take that back.” Aunt Grace pointed a bony finger at her sister.

  “I will not.”

  “Please, ma’am. Ma’ams.” What was the plural of ma’am? “We need your help. We’re looking for Abraham Ravenwood. He has something of ours, something important.” I looked from one Sister to the other.

  “We need it ta—” Link corrected himself. “To bring Ethan home, lickety-split.” If you hung around the Sisters long enough, you started talking like them.

  I rolled my eyes.

  “What’re you fussin’ ’bout?” Aunt Grace waved her handkerchief.

  Aunt Mercy sniffed again. “Sounds like more Caster nonsense ta me.”

  Amma raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you catch us all up? Seein’ as how we all love nonsense the way we do.”

  Link and I looked at each other. It was going to be a long night.

  Caster nonsense or not, once Amma dragged out the Sisters’ scrapbooks, wheels began turning and mouths started moving. At first Amma couldn’t bear to hear the mention of Abraham Ravenwood’s name, but Link kept talking.

  And talking, and talking.

  Still, Amma didn’t stop him, which seemed like half a victory. Though talking to the Sisters themselves didn’t seem anything like the other half of one.

  Within the hour, Abraham Ravenwood was denounced as the Devil, a cheat, a scoundrel, a no-goodnik, and a thief. He’d kept their daddy’s daddy’s daddy from the southeast corner of his old apple orchard, which was rightfully his, and his daddy’s daddy from a seat on the county board, which also was rightfully his.

  And on top of all that, they were more than certain that he danced with the Devil up at Ravenwood Plantation on more than one occasion, before it burned during the Civil War.

  When I attempted to clarify, they didn’t want to get more specific than that.

  “That’s what I said. He up and danced with the Devil. He made a deal. Don’t like talkin’ ’bout or thinkin’ ’bout him neither.” Aunt Mercy shook her head so violently, I thought her dentures were going to come unglued.

  “Let’s say you did think about him, though. Where would you picture him?” Link tried again, just as we had all night.

  Finally, it was Aunt Grace who found the missing piece to the scrambled crossword puzzle the Sisters considered conversation.

  “Why, at his place, a course. Anybody with a lick a sense knows that.”

  “Where’s his place, Aunt Grace? Ma’am?” I put my hand on Link’s arm, hopeful. It was the first clear sentence we’d gotten out of her in what felt like hours.

  “The dark side a the moon, I reckon. Where all the Devils and Demons live when they’re not burnin’ down below.”

  My heart sank. I was never going to get anywhere with these two.

  “Great. The dark side a the moon. So Abraham Ravenwood is alive and well in a Pink Floyd album.” Link was getting as crabby as I was.

  “That’s what Grace Ann said. The dark side a the moon.” Aunt Mercy looked annoyed. “Don’t know why you two act like that’s such a conundy-rum.”

  “Where, exactly, is the dark side of the moon, Aunt Mercy?” Amma sat down next to Ethan’s great-aunt, taking the old woman’s hands in her lap. “You know. Come on now.”

  Aunt Mercy smiled at Amma. “ ’Course I do.” She glared at Aunt Grace. “ ’Cause Daddy picked me ’fore Grace. I know all sorts a things.”

  “Then, where is it?” Amma asked.

  Grace snorted, pulling the photo album off the coffee table in front of them. “Young people. Actin’ like they know everythin’. Actin’ like we’re one step from the home just ’cause we got a year or two on you.” She leafed through the pages madly, as if she was looking for one thing in particular—

  Which, apparently, she was.

  Because there, on the last page, under a faded pressed camellia and a stretch of pale pink ribbon, was the ripped-off top of a book of matches. It was from some kind of bar or club.

  “I’ll be danged,” Link marveled, earning himself a swat on the head from Aunt Mercy.

  There it was, marked with a silvery moon.

  THE DARK SIDE O’ THE MOON

  N’AWLINS’ FINEST SINCE 1911

  The Dark Side o’ the Moon was a place.

  A place where I might be able to find Abraham Ravenwood and, I hoped, The Book of Moons. If the Sisters were not completely out of their minds, which was a possibility that could never be discounted.

  Amma took one look at the matches and left the room. I remembered the story of Amma’s visit to the bokor and knew better than to press her further.

  Instead, I looked at Aunt Grace. “Do you mind?”

  Aunt Grace nodded, and I pulled the antique shred of matchbook from the album page. Most of the paint was scratched off the embossed moon, but you could still see the writing. We were going to New Orleans.

  You would have thought Link had solved the Rubik’s Cube. The moment we got into the Beater, he started blasting some song from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and shouting excitedly over the music.

  When we slowed at the corner, I turned down the volume and cut him off. “Drop me off at Ravenwood, will you? I need to get something before I leave for New Orleans.”

  “Hold on. I’m comin’ with you. I promised Ethan I’d keep my eye on you, and I keep my promises.”

  “I’m not taking you. I’m taking John.”

  “John? That’s the somethin’ you’re gettin’ from home?” His eyes narrowed. “No way.”

  “I wasn’t asking your permission. Just so you know.”

  “Why? What’s he got that I haven’t?”

  “Experience. He knows about Abraham, and he’s the strongest hybrid Incubus in Gatlin County, as far as we know.”

  “We’re the same, Lena.” Link’s feathers were getting ruffled.

  “You’re more Mortal than John is. That’s what I like about you, Link. But it also makes you weaker.”

  “Who are you callin’ weak?” Link flexed his muscles. To be fair, he did nearly split his T-shirt in half. He was like the Incredible Hulk of Stonewall Jackson High.

  “I’m sorry. You’re not weak. You’re just three-quarters human. And that’s a little too human for this trip.”

  “Whatever. Suit yourself. See if you even get ten feet through the Tunnels without me. You’ll be back here, beggin’ for my help, before I can say…” His face went blank. A classic Link moment. Sometimes the words just seemed to float away from him before they could make it all the way from his brain to his mouth. He finally gave up with a shrug. “Somethin’. Somethin’ real dangerous.”

  I patted his shoulder. “Bye, Link.”

  Link frowned, hitting the gas pedal, and we ripped down the street. Not the usual kind of rip for an Incubus, but then again, he was three-quarters rocker. Just the way I liked him—my favorite Linkubus.

  I didn’t say that, but I’m pretty sure he knew.

  I changed every light green for him, all the way down Route 9. The Beater never had it so good.

  CHAPTER 21

  Dark Side of the Moon

  Saying we were going to New Orleans to find an old bar—and an even older Incubus—was one thing. Actually finding him was something different. What stood between those two things was talking my Uncle Macon into letting me go.

&nb
sp; I tried my uncle at the dinner table, well after Kitchen had served up his favorite dinner, before the plates had disappeared from the endlessly long table.

  Kitchen, who was never as accommodating as you’d think a Caster kitchen might be, seemed to know it was important and did everything I asked and more. When I walked downstairs, I found flickering candelabras and the scent of jasmine in the air. With a flutter of my fingers, orchids and tiger lilies bloomed across the length of the table. I fluttered them again, and my viola appeared in the corner of the room.

  I stared at it, and it began to play Paganini. A favorite of my uncle’s.

  Perfect.

  I looked down at my grubby jeans and Ethan’s faded sweatshirt. I closed my eyes as my hair began to weave itself into a thick French braid. When I opened them again, I was dressed for dinner.

  A simple black cocktail dress, the one Uncle Macon bought me last summer in Rome. I touched my neck, and the silver crescent moon necklace he gave me for the winter formal appeared at the base of my throat.

  Ready.

  “Uncle M? Dinnertime—” I called out into the hall, but he was already there next to me, appearing as swiftly as if he was still an Incubus and could rip through space and time whenever he wanted. Old habits died hard.

  “Beautiful, Lena. I find the shoes an especially nice touch.” I looked down and noticed my raggedy black Converse still on my feet. So much for dressing for dinner.

  I shrugged and followed him to the table.

  Fillet of sea bass with baby fennel. Warm lobster tail. Scallops carpaccio. Grilled peaches soaked in port. I had no appetite, especially not for food you could only find at a five-star restaurant on the Champs-Élysées in Paris—where Uncle Macon took me at every opportunity—but he ate happily for the better part of an hour.

  One thing about former Incubuses: They really appreciate Mortal food.

 
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