Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia

  Amma and me speaking the same words, standing over Ethan Lawson Wate—our Ethan.

  His eyes opening and Uncle Macon’s closing.

  Abraham standing over the Book as the fire threatened Ravenwood in the distance, his brother’s voice begging him to stop, right before he killed Jonah.

  I could see it all.

  All the people this book had touched and hurt.

  The people I knew and the ones I didn’t recognize.

  I could feel it pulling away from me again, and I screamed louder this time.

  Amma grabbed the Book, her hands over mine. Where parts of her skin were touching the leather, I could feel her skin burning.

  Tears formed in her eyes, but she didn’t let go.

  “Help us,” I screamed into the sky.

  It wasn’t the sky that answered.

  Genevieve Duchannes materialized in the darkness, her hazy form close enough to touch.

  Give it to me.

  Amma could see her; it was obvious from her haunted expression. But I was the only one who could hear her Kelting.

  Her long red hair blew in the wind, in a way that seemed both impossible and right at the same time.

  I’ll take it. It doesn’t belong in this world. It never did.

  I wanted to hand her the Book—to send it to Ethan and to stop Amma’s hands from burning.

  But Genevieve was a Dark Caster. I only had to look at her yellow eyes to remember.

  Amma was trembling.

  Genevieve reached out her hand. What if I made the wrong choice? Ethan would never get the Book, and I would never see him again….

  How do I know I can trust you?

  Genevieve’s heartbroken eyes stared back at me.

  You’ll only know if you do.

  The Greats looked down at us, and there was no way to know if they were going to help. Amma’s Mortal hands were burning alongside my Caster ones, and The Book of Moons was no closer to Ethan than when it was in Abraham Ravenwood’s hands, not long ago.

  Sometimes there’s only one choice.

  Sometimes you just have to jump.

  Or let go…

  Take it, Genevieve.

  I pulled my hands away, and Amma’s moved with mine. The Book jerked free as if it sensed its only chance at escape. It lurched toward the outer circle, where John and Link were holding hands.

  The glowing green light was still in place, and John concentrated his gaze on the Book. “I don’t think so.”

  It hit the light and ricocheted back into the center of the circle and Genevieve’s waiting hands. She closed her hazy palms around it, and the Book seemed to shudder.

  Not this time.

  I held my breath, listening to Amma cry.

  Genevieve pressed the Book against her chest and dematerialized.

  My heart dropped. “Amma! She took it!” I couldn’t think or feel or breathe. I had made the wrong choice. I would never see Ethan again. My knees gave out, and I felt myself falling.

  I heard a rip, and an arm caught me around the waist.

  “Lena, look.” It was Link.

  I blinked back the tears and looked at him, his free hand pointing at the sky.

  Genevieve was there in the darkness, her red hair trailing behind her. She held The Book of Moons out to Sulla, who took it from her hands.

  Genevieve smiled at me.

  You can trust me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

  She disappeared, leaving the Greats looming in the sky behind her like giants.

  Amma held her burnt hands to her chest and stared up at her family from another world. The world where Ethan was trapped. Tears ran down her cheeks as the green glow died around us.

  “You take that book to my boy, ya hear?”

  Uncle Abner tipped his hat to her. “Be expectin’ a pie now, Amma. One a those lemon meringues will do me just fine.”

  Amma choked back a final sob as her legs gave out from under her.

  I dropped with her, breaking her fall. I watched as the rain drowned out the fire and the Greats disappeared. I had no way of knowing what was going to happen next. There was only one thing I knew for sure.

  Ethan had a chance now.

  The rest was up to him.




  Lost Time

  L. Are you there? Can you hear me? I’m waiting. I know you’ll find the Book soon.

  You wouldn’t believe this place. I feel like I’m living in a ten-thousand-year-old temple, or maybe a fortress. You wouldn’t believe this guy either. My friend Xavier. At least I think he’s my friend. He’s like a ten-thousand-year-old monk. Or maybe some kind of ancient temple wombat.

  Do you know what waiting feels like in a world where no time passes? Minutes feel like centuries—eternities—only worse, because you can’t even tell which is which.

  I find myself counting things. Compulsively. It’s the only way I know how to mark the time.

  Sixty-two plastic buttons. Eleven broken strands of between fourteen and thirty-six pearls each. One hundred and nine old baseball cards. Nine AA batteries. Twelve thousand seven hundred and fifty-four dollars and three cents in coins, from six countries. Or maybe just six centuries.

  More or less.

  I didn’t know how to count the doubloons.

  This morning I counted grains of rice falling through the split seam of a stuffed frog. I don’t know where Xavier finds this stuff. I made it to nine hundred ninety-nine, and then I lost my place and had to start over again.

  That was how I spent today.

  Like I said, a person could go crazy trying to pass the time in a place with no time. When you find The Book of Moons, L, I’ll know. I’ll be out of here the second I can. I keep my stuff ready to go, by the mouth of the cave. Aunt Prue’s map. An empty flask of whiskey and a tobacco tin.

  Don’t ask.

  Can you believe, after everything, that the Book is still coming between us? I know you’re going to find it. One day. You will.

  And I’ll be waiting.

  I’m not sure if thinking about Lena makes the time pass faster or slower. But it doesn’t matter. I couldn’t stop thinking about her if I tried. Which I have—playing chess with these creepy figures Xavier collects. Helping him catalog everything from bottle caps and marbles to ancient Caster volumes. Today it’s stones. Xavier must have hundreds of them, ranging from raw diamonds as big as strawberries to chunks of quartz and plain old rocks.

  “It’s important to keep careful records of everything I have.” Xavier added three hunks of coal to the list.

  I stared at the rocks in front of me. Gravel, Amma would say. Just the right shade of gray for Dean Wilks’ driveway. I wondered what Amma was doing right now. And my mom. The two women who raised me were in two totally different worlds, and I couldn’t see either of them.

  I held up a handful of dusty driveway gravel. “Why do you collect these, anyway? They’re just rocks.”

  Xavier looked shocked. “Stones have power. They absorb people’s feelings and their fears. Even their memories.”

  I didn’t need anyone else’s fears. I had enough of my own.

  I reached into my pocket and took out the black stone. I rubbed the smooth surface between my fingers. This one was Sulla’s. It was shaped like a thick teardrop, while Lena’s was rounder.

  “Here.” I held it out to Xavier. “You can add it to your collection.”

  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need it to cross the river again. I would either find my way back home or I would never leave here. Somehow I knew that, even if I didn’t know anything else.

  Xavier stared at the stone for a long minute. “You keep it, dead man. Those aren’t—”

  After that, I couldn’t make out what he was saying. My vision started to blur, Xavier’s leathery black skin and the stone in my palm shifting until they started to bleed together into a single dark shadow.

  Sulla sat at an old wicker table, an oil lamp illum
inating the small room. A spread was laid out in front of her, the Cards of Providence lined up in two neat rows, each stamped with a black sparrow in the corner—Sulla’s mark. A tall man sat across from her, his smooth head gleaming in the light.

  “The Bleeding Blade. Blind Man’s Rage. Liar’s Promise. The Stolen Heart.” She frowned and shook her head. “Can tell you, none a this is good. What you’re chasin’, you ain’t never gonna find. And it’ll be worse if you do.”

  The man ran his huge hands over his scalp nervously. “What’s that supposed to mean, Sulla? Stop talking in circles.”

  “It means they’re never gonna give you what you want, Angelus. The Far Keep doesn’t need a spread to know you’ve been breakin’ their rules all along.”

  Angelus pushed away from the table violently. “I don’t need them to give me what I want. I have other Keepers behind me. Keepers who want to be more than scribes. Why should we be forced to record history when we can be the ones who make it!”

  “Can’t change the cards—that’s all I know.”

  Angelus stared at the beautiful woman with the golden skin and delicate braids. “Words can change things, Seer. You just have to put them in the right book.”

  Something caught Sulla’s eye, and she was distracted for a moment. Her granddaughter crouched behind the door, listening. On any other night, Sulla wouldn’t have minded. Amarie was seventeen, older than Sulla was when she learned to read cards. Sulla didn’t want the girl to see this man. There was something evil inside him. She didn’t need the cards to see that much.

  Angelus started to stand, his huge hands clenched into fists.

  Sulla tapped a card at the top of the spread, with a pair of golden gates inked across the face. “This one here’s a wild card.”

  The man hesitated. “What does it mean?”

  “Means sometimes we make our own fate. Things the cards can’t see. Depends on which side a the gate you choose.”

  Angelus picked up the card, crumpling it in his hand. “I’ve stood outside the gates long enough.”

  The door slammed, and Amarie stepped out from her hiding place. “Who was that, Grandmamma?”

  The older woman picked up the crumpled card, smoothing it with her hands. “He’s a Keeper from up north. A man who wants more than any man should have.”

  “What does he want?”

  Sulla’s eyes met Amarie’s, and for a second she was not sure if she would answer the girl. “To tamper with fate. Change the cards.”

  “But you can’t change the cards.”

  Sulla looked away, remembering what she’d seen in the cards the day Amarie was born. “Sometimes you can. But there’s always a price.”

  When I opened my eyes, Xavier was standing above me, his features twisted in concern. “What did you see, dead man?”

  The black stone was warm in my hand. I squeezed it tighter, as if it could somehow bring me closer to Amma. To the memories locked within its shiny black surface. “How many times has Angelus changed The Caster Chronicles, Xavier?”

  The Gatekeeper looked away, wringing his long fingers nervously.

  “Xavier, answer me.”

  Our eyes met, and I saw the pain in his. “Too many times.”

  “Why is he doing it?” What did Angelus have to gain?

  “Some men want to be more than Mortal. Angelus is one of those men.”

  “Are you saying he wanted to be a Caster?”

  Xavier nodded slowly. “He wanted to change fate. To find a way to defy supernatural law and mix Mortal and Caster blood.”

  Genetic engineering. “So he wanted Mortals to have powers like Casters?”

  Xavier ran his abnormally long hand over his bald head. “There is no reason to have power if you are left with no one to torment and control.”

  It didn’t make sense. It was too late for Angelus. Was he, like Abraham Ravenwood, trying to create some kind of hybrid child? “Was he experimenting on children?”

  Xavier turned away, and for a long moment he was silent. “He experimented on himself using Dark Casters.”

  A chill ran up my spine, and I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t imagine what the Keeper must have done to them. I was trying to find the right words to ask, but Xavier told me before I had a chance.

  “Angelus tested their blood, tissue—I don’t know what else. And he injected a serum made from their blood into his own. It didn’t give him the power he wanted. But he kept trying. Each injection made him paler and more desperate.”

  “That sounds horrible.”

  He turned his deformed face back toward mine. “That was not the horrible part, dead man. That would come later.”

  I didn’t want to ask, but I couldn’t stop myself. “What happened?”

  “Eventually, he found a Caster whose blood gave him a mutated version of his own power. She was Light and beautiful and kind. And I…” He hesitated.

  “Did you love her?”

  His features looked more human than ever before. “I did. And Angelus destroyed her.”

  “I’m so sorry, Xavier.”

  He nodded. “She was a powerful Telepath before she went mad from Angelus’ experiments.”

  A mind reader. Suddenly I understood.

  “Are you saying Angelus can read minds?”

  “Only Mortal ones.”

  Only Mortal ones. Like mine and Liv’s and Marian’s.

  I needed to find my page in The Caster Chronicles and get back home.

  “Don’t look so sad, dead man.”

  I watched the hands on Xavier’s clocks turn in different directions, marking the passage of time that didn’t exist here. I didn’t want to tell him that I wasn’t sad.

  I was afraid.

  I kept my eyes on those clocks, but I still couldn’t keep track of the time. Sometimes it got so bad that I started to forget what I was waiting for in the first place. Too much time will do that to you. Blur the edges between your memories and your imagination until everything feels like something you saw in a movie instead of your life.

  I was beginning to give up on ever seeing The Book of Moons again. Which meant giving up on a whole lot more than some old Caster book.

  It meant giving up on Gatlin, the good and the bad of it. Giving up on Amma and my dad and Aunt Marian. Link and Liv and John. Jackson High and the Dar-ee Keen and Wate’s Landing and Route 9. The place where I first realized Lena was the girl from my dreams.

  Giving up on the Book meant giving up on her.

  I couldn’t do that.

  I wouldn’t.

  After what had to be a few days or a few weeks—it was impossible to know—Xavier realized I was losing more than time.

  He was sitting on the dirt floor inside the cave, cataloging what looked like thousands of keys. “What did she look like?”

  “Who?” I asked.

  “The girl.”

  I watched him sort the keys by size, then shape. I wondered where they came from, whose doors they opened, as I searched for the right words. “She was… alive.”

  “Was she beautiful?”

  Was she? It was getting harder to remember.

  “Yeah. I think so.”

  Xavier stopped sorting the keys, watching me. “What did she look like, the girl?”

  How could I tell him everything was swirling in my mind, blending together in a way that made it impossible to picture her clearly?

  “Ethan? Did you hear me? You have to tell me. Otherwise you will forget. That’s what happens if you spend too much time here. You’ll lose everything that made you who you were. This place takes it from you.”

  I turned away before I answered. “I’m not sure. It’s all a blur.”

  “Was her hair gold?” Xavier loved gold.

  “No,” I said. I was pretty sure, though I couldn’t remember why. I stared at the wall in front of me, trying to picture her face. Then a single thought came to me, and I opened my eyes. “There were curls. Lots and lots of curls.”

he girl?”

  “Yes.” I looked at the rocky outcroppings at the top of the cave. “Lena.”

  “Her name is Lena?”

  I nodded as tears began to stream down my face. I was so relieved I could still remember her name.

  Hurry, Lena. I don’t have much time left.

  By the time I saw the crow again, I had forgotten. My memories were like dreams, except I never slept. I watched Xavier. I counted buttons and cataloged coins. I stared at the sky.

  That’s what I was trying to do now, but the stupid bird kept shrieking and flapping its enormous wings.

  “Go away.”

  He shrieked even louder.

  I rolled onto my side and swatted at him. That’s when I saw the Book lying in the dirt in front of me.

  “Xavier,” I said, my voice unsteady. “Come here.”

  “What is it, dead man?” I heard him call from the cave.

  “The Book of Moons.” I picked it up, and it was warm in my hands. But my hands didn’t burn. I remembered thinking they should.

  As I held the Book, my memories came flooding back to me. Just as this book had brought me back from the dead once before, so now was it bringing my life back to me again. I could picture every detail. The places I’d been. The things I’d done. The people I loved.

  I could see Lena’s delicate face. Her green and gold eyes and the crescent-shaped birthmark on her cheek. I remembered lemons and rosemary and hurricane-force winds and spontaneous combustion. Everything that made Lena the girl I loved.

  I was whole again.

  And I knew I had to leave this place before it claimed me forever.

  I picked up the Book in both hands and carried it into the cave. It was time to make a trade.

  With every step, the Book was heavy in my hands. It didn’t slow me down, though. Nothing could, not now.

  Not until there were no more steps to take.

  The Gates of the Far Keep rose before me, straight and tall. Now I understood why Xavier was so obsessed with gold. The Gates were a filthy blackish brown, but underneath I could see the gold fighting through. They rose in forbidding spires. They didn’t seem to lead anywhere a person would want to go.

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