Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia

  “Let’s leave it and see what happens,” John said.

  “Absolutely not.” Uncle Macon was done indulging me. “I’m sorry, Lena—”

  “What if it was Lila?”

  His face clouded over at the mention of her name. The question hung in the air, but we both knew the answer.

  If the woman he loved needed him, he would do anything to help—from this side of the grave or any other.

  I knew that, too.

  He studied me for a long moment. Then he sighed, nodding. “All right. You can try. But if it doesn’t work—”

  “Yeah, yeah. We can’t just ditch the most powerful book in the Caster and Mortal worlds on some grave and walk away.” Ridley was still perched on the headstone, smacking her gum. “What if someone finds it?”

  “I’m afraid Ridley’s right.” Uncle Macon sighed. “I’ll wait here.”

  “I don’t think it will work if you’re here, sir. You’re a scary kinda person, too,” Link said as respectfully as possible. “Sir.”

  “We are not leaving The Book of Moons unattended, Mr. Lincoln.”

  An idea took hold slowly, stretching out until it was perfectly formed. “Maybe we don’t need someone to stay with the Book, but something.”

  “Huh?” Link scratched his head.

  I bent down. “Boo, come here, boy.”

  Boo Radley stood up and shook his black fur, which was as thick as a wolf’s.

  I dug my fingers behind his ears. “That’s my good boy.”

  “Not a bad idea.” Rid put two fingers in her mouth and whistled.

  “You really think one dog can fight off the Blood Pack if they show up?” Link asked.

  Uncle Macon crossed his arms. “Boo Radley is hardly a common dog.”

  “Even a Caster dog can use a little help,” Rid said.

  A branch cracked, and something leaped from the bushes.

  “Holy crap!” Link yanked the garden shears out of his waistband just as Bade’s paws hit the ground.

  Leah Ravenwood’s enormous mountain cat growled.

  Uncle M smiled. “My sister’s cat. An excellent idea. She does provide a certain level of intimidation that Boo lacks.”

  Boo barked, offended.

  “Here, kitty kitty….” Ridley reached out her hand, and Bade stalked over.

  Link stared at her. “You’re a total psycho.”

  Bade growled at Link again, and Rid laughed. “You’re just mad because Bade doesn’t like you, Hot Stuff.”

  John took a step back. “Yeah, well, I’m not petting her either.”

  “So we leave the Book for a little while and see what happens.” I hugged Boo. “You stay here.” The Caster dog sat down in front of the grave like a guard dog, and Bade came over and stretched out in front of him lazily.

  I stood up, but I was having trouble forcing myself to walk away.

  What if something happened to it? The Book might be Ethan’s only chance to get back to me. Could I risk it?

  John noticed I wasn’t moving, and pointed to the rise a few yards beyond the grave. “We can hang out on the other side in case they need some backup. Okay?”

  Ridley hopped off the headstone, her platforms smacking against the border of the plot. In the South, that had to be the equivalent of something like seven years of bad luck. Maybe more in Gatlin.

  She draped her arm over my shoulders and waved a lollipop in front of me. “Come on. I’ll tell you all about my adventures in shackles.”

  Link jogged up next to us. “Did you say shackles? Those are like handcuffs, right?” He seemed a little too excited about hearing the details.

  “Mr. Lincoln!” Uncle M looked like he wanted to strangle him.

  Link stopped in his tracks. “Uh, sorry, sir. It was just a joke. You know…”

  I let Ridley drag me down the other side of the hill while Link tried to talk his way out of trouble with Uncle Macon. John trudged behind us, his boots as heavy as any Mortal’s footsteps.

  If I closed my eyes, I could pretend they were Ethan’s.

  But it was getting harder and harder to pretend. I was Kelting to him before I even realized it, the same three words over and over.

  Please come home.

  I wondered if he could hear me. If he was already on his way.

  I counted the minutes, wondering how long we should wait before checking on the Book. Even Link and Ridley’s banter couldn’t distract me, which was saying a lot.

  “I think all this quarter-Incubus stuff is going to your head,” Ridley said.

  Link flexed. “Or maybe it’s taking out the baddest badass around.”

  Ridley rolled her eyes. “Please.”

  “Do you two ever stop?” John asked.

  They both whipped around to look at him. “Stop what?” they asked at the same time.

  I was about to tell John not to bother, when I saw a streak of black in the sky.

  The crow. The same one that had watched us when we went to meet Abraham. Maybe it was following us.

  Maybe it knew something.

  It dipped and circled the area above Ethan’s grave.

  “It’s the crow.” I took off back up the hill.

  John ripped and appeared at my side. “What are you talking about?”

  Link and the others caught up to us. “Where’s the fire?”

  I pointed at the bird. “I think that crow has been following us.”

  Uncle Macon studied the bird. “Interesting.”

  Ridley smacked her gum. “What?”

  “A Seer like Amarie would tell you that many believe crows can cross between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

  We made it over the rise. Bade and Boo were staring up at the sleek black bird.

  “So what? Even if it could fly from world to world, you really think that little bird could carry The Book a Moons?” Link asked.

  I didn’t know. But the crow was connected to Ethan somehow. I was sure of it.

  “Why is it circling like that?” John asked.

  Ridley strolled up behind us. “It’s probably scared of the giant cat.”

  For once, she might be right.

  “Bade and Boo, go home,” I called. The big cat’s ears perked up at the sound of her name.

  Boo hesitated and looked up at Uncle Macon.

  He nodded to the dog. “Go on.”

  Boo cocked his head. Then he turned and lumbered through the tall grass. Bade yawned, baring her huge white teeth, and followed, her tail swishing like a lion’s from one of the nature shows Link was always watching on the Discovery Channel. He blamed it on his mom, but in the last couple of months, I’d noticed him watching it by himself more than a few times.

  The crow circled again and swooped toward us, landing on the headstone. Its beady black eyes seemed to be staring right at me.

  “How come it’s checkin’ you out like that?” Link asked.

  I stared back at the black bird.

  Please. Take the Book or make it disappear. Whatever you have to do to get it to Ethan.

  Uncle Macon looked at me from the other side of the headstone.

  He can’t hear you, Lena. You can’t Kelt with a bird, I’m afraid.

  I glared at my uncle. At this point, I would try anything.

  How do you know?

  The crow hopped down, its talons touching the thick leather cover for a split second before it squawked and pulled its legs up again quickly.

  “I think the Book burned it,” John said. “Poor guy.”

  I knew he was right. I felt the tears welling in my eyes. If the crow couldn’t touch the Book, how would we get it to Ethan? I’d left the black stone Ethan had asked for, the one from my charm necklace, right here on the grave. I didn’t know what had happened to it after that.

  “Maybe the bird has nothing to do with it, and he’s just a messenger or something,” John offered.

  I sniffled, swiping at my face. “Then what’s the message?”

squeezed my shoulder. “Don’t worry.”

  “How are we going to get the Book to Ethan? He needs it, or he can’t—” I couldn’t finish. I couldn’t stand to even think it.

  We had risked our lives to track down Abraham Ravenwood, and we had found a way to kill him—at least Link had. The Book of Moons was right here at my feet, and there was no way to get it to Ethan.

  “We’ll figure it out, Cuz.” Ridley picked up the Book, the back cover dragging across the stone. “Someone must have the answer.”

  John smiled at me. “Someone does. Especially when it comes to that book. Come on—let’s go ask her.”

  A flutter of hope filled my chest. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

  He nodded. “It is Presidents’ Day, which was still a bank holiday the last time I checked.”

  Ridley pulled on the bottom of her miniskirt, which didn’t move an inch. “Who’s thinking what, and where are we going?”

  I grabbed her arm, tugging her down the hill. “Your favorite place, Rid. The library.”

  “It’s not that bad,” she said, inspecting her purple nail polish. “Except for all those books.”

  I didn’t respond.

  There was only one book that mattered right now, and my whole world—and Ethan’s future—depended on it.


  Quantum Physics

  From just inside the hidden grating that led into the Lunae Libri, I could see all the way down to the bottom of the stairs. Marian sat behind the circular reception desk, exactly where I knew she would be. Liv was pacing at the far end of the room, where the stacks began.

  As we came down into the Lunae Libri, Liv’s neck snapped up. She bolted across the room the moment she saw John.

  But he was faster. John ripped, materializing in Liv’s path and gathering her up in his arms. My heart broke a little as I watched the relief spread across her face. I tried not to feel envious.

  “You’re all right!” Liv threw her arms around John’s neck. She pulled back, her expression changing. “What were you thinking? How many times are you going to sneak off to do something completely insane?” Liv turned her scowl on Link and me. “And how many times are you going to let him?”

  Link raised his hands in surrender. “Hey, we weren’t even there the last time.”

  John leaned his forehead against hers. “He’s right. I’m the one you should be angry with.”

  A tear rolled down her cheek. “I don’t know what I would have done—”

  “I’m okay.”

  Link puffed his chest out. “Thanks to me.”

  “It’s true,” John said. “My protégée saved our asses.”

  Link raised an eyebrow. “That better mean somethin’ good.”

  Uncle Macon cleared his throat and adjusted a cuff of his crisp white shirt. “It does indeed, Mr. Lincoln. It does indeed.”

  Arms crossed, Marian stepped out from behind the desk. “Would someone like to tell me exactly what happened tonight?” She stared at my uncle expectantly. “Liv and I have been worried sick.”

  He glared at me. “As you can imagine, their little showdown with my brother and Abraham did not go according to plan. And Mr. Breed almost met an untimely end.”

  “But Uncle M saved the day.” Ridley didn’t even try to hide her sarcasm. “He gave Hunting a sunburn where the sun don’t shine. Now let’s get on with the part where you give us a big lecture and we all get grounded.”

  Marian turned to my uncle. “Is she implying—?”

  Uncle Macon nodded. “Hunting is no longer with us.”

  “Abraham’s dead, too,” John added.

  Marian stared at Uncle Macon as if he had just parted the Red Sea. “You killed Abraham Ravenwood?”

  Link cleared his throat loudly, grinning. “No, ma’am. I did.”

  For a moment Marian was speechless. “I think I need to sit down,” she said, her knees beginning to buckle. John rushed behind the desk to get her a chair.

  Marian pressed her fingers against her temples. “You’re telling me that Hunting and Abraham are dead?”

  “That would be correct,” Uncle Macon said.

  Marian shook her head. “Anything else?”

  “Just this, Aunt Marian.” Ethan’s nickname for her just slipped out before I realized it. I dropped The Book of Moons on the polished wood tabletop next to her.

  Liv inhaled sharply. “Oh my God.”

  I stared down at the worn black leather, embossed with a crescent moon, and the weight of the moment closed in on me. My hands shook, and my legs felt like they were about to give out, too.

  “I can’t believe it.” Marian inspected the book suspiciously, as if I were returning a late library book into her system. She would never be anything less than 100 percent librarian.

  “It’s the real deal.” Ridley leaned against one of the marble columns.

  Marian stood up in front of her desk as if trying to position herself between Ridley and the most dangerous book in the Mortal and Caster worlds. “Ridley, I don’t think you belong in here.”

  Ridley pushed her sunglasses up on her head, yellow cat eyes blinking back at Marian. “I know, I know. I’m a Dark Caster, and I don’t belong in the good guys’ secret clubhouse, right?” She rolled her eyes. “I am so over this.”

  “The Lunae Libri is open to all Casters, Light and Dark,” Marian answered. “What I meant is that I’m not sure you belong with us.”

  “It’s okay, Marian. Rid helped us get the Book,” I explained.

  Ridley blew a bubble and waited for it to pop, the sound echoing loudly off the walls. “Helped you? If by help, you mean set Abraham up for you so you could get The Book of Moons and kill him, then, yeah, I guess I helped.”

  Marian stared at her, speechless. Without a word, she walked over and held up a trash can in front of Ridley’s mouth. “Not in my library. Spit it out now.”

  Ridley sighed. “You know it’s not just gum, right?”

  Marian didn’t move.

  Ridley spit.

  Marian dropped the can. “What I don’t understand is why you would risk your lives for that dreadful book. I appreciate the fact it is no longer in the hands of Blood Incubuses, but—”

  “Ethan needs it,” I blurted out. “He found a way to contact me, and he needs The Book of Moons. He’s trying to get back here.”

  “Have you gotten another message?” Marian asked.

  I nodded. “In the latest Stars and Stripes.” I took a deep breath. “I need you to trust me.” I looked into her eyes. “And I need your help.”

  Marian studied me for a long moment. I don’t know what she was thinking, or debating, or even deciding. All I know is, she didn’t say a word.

  I don’t think she could.

  Then she nodded, pulling her chair a bit closer to me. “Tell me everything.”

  So I started talking. We took turns filling in the blanks—Link and John all but acting out our encounter with Abraham, and Rid and Uncle Macon helping me explain our plan to trade John for The Book of Moons. Liv looked on unhappily, as if she could hardly bear to hear it.

  Marian didn’t say a word until we finished, though it was easy to read her expressions, which ranged from shock and horror to sympathy and despair.

  “Is that everything?” She looked at me, exhausted by our story.

  “It gets worse.” I looked at Ridley.

  “You mean aside from the fact that Link dissected Abraham with the giant scissors?” Rid made a face.

  “No, Rid. Tell her about Abraham’s plans. Tell her what you heard about Angelus,” I said.

  Uncle Macon’s head snapped up at the sound of the Keeper’s name. “What is Lena talking about, Ridley?”

  “Angelus and Abraham were up to something, but I don’t know the details.” She shrugged.

  “Tell us exactly what you know.”

  Ridley twisted a lock of pink hair around her finger nervously. “This Angelus guy is a nutcase. He hates Mortals, and
he thinks the Dark Casters and the Far Keep should be in control of the Mortal world, or something like that.”

  “Why?” Marian was thinking out loud. Her fists were clenched so tightly that her knuckles were white. Marian’s own trouble with the Far Keep was all too fresh in her memory.

  Rid shrugged. “Ah, maybe because he’s Special K-razy?”

  Marian looked over at my uncle, a silent conversation passing between them. “We can’t let Angelus gain a foothold here. He’s far too dangerous.”

  Uncle M nodded. “I agree. We need—”

  I cut him off before he could finish. “All I know is first we need to get The Book of Moons to Ethan. There’s still a chance we can get him back.”

  “Do you really think so?” Marian said the words quietly, almost under her breath. Though I couldn’t be certain, it seemed like only I could hear them. Still, I knew Marian believed in the impossibilities of the Caster world—she’d seen them firsthand—and she loved Ethan as much as I did. He was like a son to her.

  We both wanted to believe.

  I nodded. “I do. I have to.”

  She rose from her chair and came back around the desk, poised as ever.

  “Then it’s settled. We’ll get Ethan The Book of Moons, one way or another.” I smiled at her, but she was already lost in thought, looking around the library as if it held the answers to all our problems.

  Which, sometimes, it did.

  “There has to be a way, right?” John asked. “Maybe in one of these scrolls or one of these old books—”

  Ridley unscrewed the top of her nail polish bottle, wrinkling her nose. “Goody. Old books.”

  “Try to have a bit more respect, Ridley. A book is the reason the children in the Duchannes family suffered for generations.” Marian was referring to our curse.

  Rid crossed her arms, pouting. “Whatever.”

  Marian swiped the bottle out of her hand. “Another thing I don’t allow in my library.” It clattered to the bottom of the trash can.

  Ridley glared, but she didn’t say a word.

  “Dr. Ashcroft, have you ever delivered a book to the Otherworld?” Liv asked.

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