Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia

John poked me in the side. “Earth to Lena. Just make some kind of noise so I know you heard me, before I throw you to that lion in there.”

  I tried to focus. “Go. I’m fine.”

  “Five minutes. That’s all you have,” he said.

  “Got it. I’ll only need four.”

  He disappeared, and I was alone to deal with my cousin. Dark or Light. Good or evil. Or maybe just somewhere in between.

  I needed a better look. I grabbed a cask of wine, pulling it over to the space beneath the window that was cut into the wall. I climbed up and the cask wobbled, threatening to topple, but I managed to balance myself.

  I still couldn’t see.

  Oh, come on.

  I closed my eyes and twisted my hands into the air next to me, pushing myself up toward the ceiling. The light in the room began to flicker.

  That’s it.

  I wasn’t much for flying, but this was more like levitating. I rose, wobbling, until my Chucks were hovering a few inches above the cask.

  Just a little farther. I needed one good look to let me know if my cousin was forever lost, if she had joined the Darkest Incubus alive and would never come home to me again.

  One last look.

  I pulled myself up, barely level with the small window.

  That’s when I saw the bars swerving down from the ceiling, all the way around Ridley in every direction. It was some kind of gold prison. A literal gilded cage.

  I couldn’t believe it. Ridley wasn’t lounging on a chaise in the lap of luxury in Abraham’s place. She was trapped.

  She turned, and our eyes locked. Rid leaped to her feet, rattling the bars in front of her. For a second, she looked kind of like a damaged Tinkerbell, with a lot of black mascara running down her face, and even more smeared red lipstick.

  She’d been crying, or worse. Her arms looked bruised, especially around the wrists. They were marked by some kind of ropes or chains. Shackles, maybe.

  The room around her clearly belonged to Abraham—at least that’s what I thought, considering it looked like a mad scientist’s dorm room, with a lone bed next to a crammed bookshelf. A tall wooden table was covered with technical equipment. The place could have belonged to a chemist. Even stranger, the two sides of the window didn’t seem to correlate exactly, in terms of physical space. Looking through the speakeasy window was like looking through a dirty telescope, and I couldn’t tell exactly where the other end lay. It could have been anywhere in the Mortal universe, knowing Abraham.

  But that didn’t matter. It was Ridley. It was a terrible thing to see anyone like that, but for my careless, carefree cousin, it seemed especially cruel.

  I felt my hair begin to twist in the familiar Caster breeze.

  “Aurae Aspirent

  Ubi tueor, ibi adeo.

  Let the wind blow

  Where I see I go.”

  I began to twist into nothingness. I felt the world give way beneath me, and when I tried to reach my feet out to touch solid ground, I realized I was now standing next to Ridley.

  On the outside of the golden cage.

  “Cuz! What are you doing here?” she called out to me, reaching her long pink fingernails through a space in the bars.

  “I guess I could say the same to you, Rid. Are you okay?” I approached the bars carefully. I loved my cousin, but I couldn’t forget everything that had happened. She chose Dark and left us—Link, me, all of us. It was impossible to know whose side she was on.

  Ever.

  “Think it’s a little obvious, don’t you?” she snapped. “I’ve been better.” She rattled the bars. “Much.”

  Ridley sat back down on her heels and began to cry, like we were both little kids again and someone had hurt her feelings on the playground. Which didn’t happen often, and if it did, it was usually me doing the crying.

  Rid was always the strong one.

  Maybe that’s why her tears got to me now.

  I slid down to the floor across from her, taking her hand through the cage bars. “I’m sorry, Rid. I was so angry with you for not coming back when Ethan—now that Ethan—”

  She didn’t look at me. “I know. I heard. I feel terrible. That’s when everything happened. Abraham was furious, and I only made things worse when I made the mistake of trying to leave. I just wanted to go home. But he was so angry that he threw me in here.” She shook her head as if she wanted to shake off the memory.

  “I mean it, Rid. I should have known that you would’ve come unless something stopped you.”

  “Whatever. More water under another watery bridge.” She wiped her eyes, smearing her mascara even more. “Let’s blow this place before Abraham comes back, or you’ll be stuck in here with me for the next two hundred years.”

  “Where did he go?”

  “I don’t know. Usually he spends all day in his creepy lab of creatures. But there’s no way to know how long he’ll be gone.”

  “Then we’d better get on with it.” I looked around the room. “Rid, have you seen Abraham with The Book of Moons? Is it here?”

  She shook her head. “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t come within ten miles of that thing, not after the way it royally screws anyone who touches it.”

  “But have you seen it?”

  “No way. Not here. If Abraham still has it, he’s not dumb enough to keep it on him. He’s evil, but he’s not stupid.”

  My heart sank.

  Ridley rattled the bars again. “Hurry up! I’m really stuck. Protection Casts, from what I can tell. I’m going crazy in here….”

  Then I heard a terrible crash, and a pile of equipment crates next to me toppled to the ground. Broken glass and broken wood flew everywhere—like I had upset Abraham’s project for the science fair. Some sort of glowing green goop was splattered in my hair.

  Whoops.

  Uncle Macon was trying to untangle himself from John Breed, who had one foot caught in the remnants of a wooden crate.

  “Where are we?” Uncle M stared at the cage in disbelief. “What kind of twisted place is this?”

  “Uncle M?” Ridley looked as relieved as she was confused. “Were you Traveling?”

  “I found him out front,” John said. “He wouldn’t let me go. When I tried to come back, he just sort of came along for the ride.” John must have seen my face, because he got defensive. “Hey, don’t look at me. I wasn’t exactly planning on picking up hitchhikers.”

  Uncle Macon glared at John, who glared right back at him.

  “Lena Duchannes!” My uncle looked angrier than I’d ever seen him. Green goop was dripping from his otherwise impeccable suit. He glanced from Ridley to me, then pointed at both of us. “You two. Come out of there this instant.”

  I grabbed Ridley’s hand and muttered the Aurae Aspirent while Uncle Macon tapped his foot impatiently. A second later, my cousin and I reappeared on the outside of the cage.

  “Uncle Macon,” I began.

  He held up his gloved hand. “Don’t. Not a word.” His eyes flashed, and I knew better than to keep talking. “Now. Let’s focus on what we came here to do, while we still have time to do it. The Book.”

  John had already started pulling open boxes, scanning the shelves for The Book of Moons. Uncle Macon and I joined him, looking until we had searched every possible hiding place. Ridley sat sullenly on a crate, not making things easier—but not making them more difficult either. Which I took as a good sign.

  From what I could see, Abraham Ravenwood appeared to be the Caster answer to Dr. Frankenstein. I couldn’t recognize much beyond the occasional burner or beaker, and I had taken chemistry. And at the rate John and Uncle Macon were trashing the room, it was going to look like our search was conducted by Frankenstein’s monster.

  “It’s not here,” John said, finally giving up.

  “Then neither are we.” Uncle Macon straightened in his overcoat. “Home, John. Now.”

  Traveling was one thing. The speed at which John managed to get us home—without so much as another word f
rom Uncle Macon—was another. I found myself out of Abraham’s hideaway and back in my room before Ridley could wipe off her smeared, raccoon-y mascara.

  The viola was still playing Paganini’s Caprice no. 24 when I got there.

  CHAPTER 23

  Dar-ee Keen

  The next day it was raining, and the Dar-ee Keen was leaking as if it was finally giving up. More depressing, Uncle Macon hadn’t even bothered to ground me. Apparently, the situation was hopeless enough without locking me in my room. Which was pretty hopeless.

  Rain fell everywhere at the Dar-ee Keen, on the inside and out. Water dripped from the square, buzzing light fixtures. It crept down the wall like a slow stain of tears beneath the crookedly mounted Employee of the Month photograph—from the look of it, a member of the Stonewall Jackson cheer squad, of course, though they all were starting to look the same.

  No one worth crying over. Not anymore.

  I scanned the nearly empty diner, waiting for Link to show up. Nobody was out on a day like today, not even the flies. I couldn’t blame them.

  “Seriously, could you cut it out? I’m sick of the rain, Lena. And I smell like a wet dog.” Link appeared out of nowhere, sliding into the opposite side of the booth. He looked like a wet dog.

  “That smell has nothing to do with the rain, my friend.” I smiled. Unlike John, Link was apparently human enough that the natural elements still affected him. He assumed normal Link posture, leaning back in the corner of the booth and doing his best impression of someone physically capable of falling asleep.

  “It’s not me,” I said.

  “Right. Because it’s been nothin’ but sunshine and kitty cats out there since December.”

  Thunder rumbled in the sky. Link rolled his eyes.

  I frowned. “I guess you must have heard. We found Abraham’s place. The Book wasn’t there. At least we couldn’t find it.”

  “Figures. Now what?” He sighed.

  “Plan B. We don’t really have a choice.”

  John.

  I couldn’t say it. I curled my hand into a fist on the seat next to me.

  Thunder rumbled again.

  Was it me? I didn’t know if I was doing it or if the weather outside was doing something to me. I had lost track of myself weeks ago. I stared at the rain dripping into the red plastic bucket in the center of the room.

  red plastic rain

  her tears stain

  I tried to shake myself out of it, but I couldn’t stop looking at the bucket. The water dripped down from the ceiling rhythmically. Like a heartbeat or a poem. A list of names of the dead.

  First Macon.

  Then Ethan.

  No.

  My father.

  Then Macon.

  My mother.

  Then Ethan.

  Now John.

  How many people had I lost?

  How many more would I lose? Would I lose John, too? Would Liv ever forgive me? Did it even matter anymore?

  I watched the raindrops bead on the greasy table in front of me. Link and I sat together in silence, in front of wadded-up waxy paper, crushed ice in plastic glasses. A cold, soggy meal nobody was even thinking of eating. If he wasn’t trapped at his own dinner table, Link didn’t even pretend to move the food around anymore.

  Link nudged me. “Hey. Come on, Lena. John knows what he’s doing. He’s a big boy. We’re gonna get the Book and get Ethan back, no matter how crazy your plan is.”

  “I’m not crazy.” I didn’t know who I was saying it to, Link or myself.

  “I didn’t say you were.”

  “You say it every time you have the chance.”

  “You don’t think I want him back?” Link said. “You don’t think it sucks to shoot hoops without him watchin’ to tell me how bad I suck or how big my head is gettin’? I drive around Gatlin in the Beater, blastin’ the tunes we used to play, and there’s no reason to play them anymore.”

  “I get that it’s rough, Link. You know I get it, more than anyone.”

  His eyes welled up, and he dropped his head, staring down at the greasy table between us. “I don’t even feel like singin’. The guys in the band, they’re talkin’ about breakin’ up. The Holy Rollers could end up as a bowlin’ team.” He looked like he was going to be sick. “At this rate, I’m gonna have nowhere to go but college, or somewhere even worse.”

  “Link. Don’t say that.” It was true. If Link went to college—even Summerville Community College—it would mean the end of the world had finally arrived, no matter how many times Ethan tried to save us all.

  Had tried.

  “Maybe I’m just not as brave as you are, Lena.”

  “Sure you are. You’ve survived all those years in your house with your mom, haven’t you?” I tried to smile, but Link was beyond cheering up.

  It was like talking to myself.

  “Maybe I just gotta give up when the odds are as bad as they are now.”

  “What are you talking about? The odds are always this bad,” I said.

  “I’m the guy who gets bit. I’m the guy who gets the F and then even fails summer school.”

  “That wasn’t your fault, Link. You were helping Ethan rescue me.”

  “Face it. The only girl I ever loved chose Darkness over me.”

  “Rid loved you. You know that. And about Ridley…” I had almost forgotten why I’d brought him here. He still didn’t know. “Seriously. You don’t understand. Rid—”

  “I don’t want to talk about her. It wasn’t meant to be. Nothin’s ever gone my way before. I shoulda known it wouldn’t work out.”

  Link stopped talking because the bell over the door rang in the distance, and time stopped—in a flurry of bright pink flapper feathers and purple tin beads. Not to mention eyeliner and lip liner and anything else that could possibly be lined or shined or painted any of the colors of the cosmetic rainbow.

  Ridley.

  I barely thought the word before I flew halfway up out of my seat and toward her for a hug.

  I knew she was coming—I was the one who’d found her at Abraham’s—but it was a different thing to see her making her way safe and sound through the plastic tables of the Dar-ee Keen. I almost knocked her off her three-inch platforms. Nobody walked in heels like my cousin.

  Cuz.

  She Kelted it as she buried her face in my shoulder, and all I could smell was hair spray and bath gel and sugar. Glitter swirled in the air around us, knocked loose from whatever sparkly goop she’d smeared all over her body.

  Dark or Light, somehow it never mattered between us. Not when it really counted. We were still family, and we were together again.

  It’s strange to be here without Short Straw. I’m sorry, Cuz.

  I know, Rid.

  Here at the Dar-ee Keen, it was all hitting home, like she finally understood what happened.

  What I’d lost.

  “You okay, kid?” She pulled back, looking me in the eyes.

  I shook my head as my eyes started to blur. “No.”

  “Somebody mind fillin’ me in on what’s goin’ on here?” Link looked like he was about to pass out, or throw up, or both.

  “I was trying to tell you. We found Ridley, stuck in one of Abraham’s cages.”

  “You know it. Like a peacock, Hot Rod.” She didn’t look right at Link, and I wondered if it was because she didn’t want to or because she didn’t dare. “A really hot one.”

  I would never understand what went on between the two of them. I didn’t think anyone could—not even them.

  “Hey, Rid.” Link was pale, even for a quarter Incubus. He looked like someone had just punched him in the face.

  She blew him a kiss across the table. “Looking good, Hot Rod.”

  He was stammering. “You look… you’re lookin’… I mean, you know.”

  “I know.” Ridley winked and turned back to me. “Let’s get out of here. It’s been too long. I can’t do this anymore.”

  “Do what?” Link managed not to
stammer, though his face was now as red as the plastic bucket beneath the leaking ceiling.

  Ridley sighed, sticking her lollipop to one side of her mouth. “Hello? I’m a Siren, Shrinky Dink. A bad girl. I need to be back among my own.”

  “Abraham, eh? That old goat?” Ridley shook her head.

  I nodded. “That’s the plan.” For what it was worth, if it was worth anything.

  The air was dark, and the ceiling lights of Exile only seemed to make it darker, instead of adding to the light. I didn’t blame Ridley for wanting to bring us here. It was the first place she always wanted to go when she was Dark.

  But if you weren’t Dark, it wasn’t the most relaxing place in the world. You spent half the night making sure not to accidentally look anyone in the eye or smile in the wrong direction.

  “And you think getting Short Straw The Book of Moons is going to help him un-kick the can?”

  Link growled from the next seat. He insisted on coming with us for safekeeping, but I could tell he hated it here even more than I did.

  “Watch it, Rid. Ethan hasn’t kicked the can. He’s just—bent it outta shape a little.”

  I smiled. I guess Link could tell me Ethan was gone all he wanted, but it wasn’t the same when someone else said it.

  And it meant Ridley wasn’t one of us anymore, at least not for Link. She really had left him, and she really was Dark.

  She was an outsider.

  Link seemed to sense it, too. “I need to use the bathroom.” He hesitated, unwilling to leave my side. Everyone seemed to have their own brand of bodyguard at a club like Exile. My bodyguard happened to be a quarter Incubus with a heart of gold.

  Ridley waited until he was out of earshot. “Your plan sucks.”

  “The plan doesn’t suck.”

  “Abraham’s not going to trade John Breed for The Book of Moons. John isn’t worth anything to him now that the Order of Things has been set right. It’s too late.”

  “You don’t know that.”

  “You’re forgetting I’ve spent more time than I wanted to with Abraham in the past few months. He’s been keeping himself busy. He spends every day in that Frankenstein lab of his, trying to figure out what went wrong with John Breed. He’s gone back to the mad science drawing board.”

 
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