Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  “They look so evil.”

  Xavier followed my eyes to the tips of the spires. “They are what they are. Power is neither good nor evil.”

  “Maybe that’s true, but this place is evil.”

  “Ethan. You are a strong Mortal. You have more life in you than any dead man I’ve met.” Somehow, that wasn’t a comfort. “I cannot open the Gates if you do not truly wish to go.” The words sounded ominous.

  “I have to go. I have to get back to Lena, and Amma, and Link. And my dad, and Marian, and Liv, and everybody.” I saw their faces, every one of them. I felt surrounded by them, by their spirits, and by mine. I remembered what it was to live among them, my friends.

  I remembered what it was to live.

  “Lena. The girl with the golden curls?” Xavier sounded curious.

  There was no point trying to explain, not to him. I just nodded—it seemed easier.

  “And you love her?” He looked even more curious about that.

  “Yes.” There was no doubt. “I love her beyond the universe and back. I love her from this world to the next.”

  He blinked, expressionless. “Well. That’s very serious.”

  I almost felt like smiling. “Yeah. I tried to tell you. It’s like that.”

  He stared at me for a long moment, finally nodding. “All right. Follow me.” Then he disappeared up the dusty pathway in front of me.

  I followed him as the path twisted into an impossibly rocky staircase. We climbed until we reached a narrow cliff that dropped away into what seemed like oblivion. When I tried to look over the edge of the rock, all I could see were clouds and darkness.

  In front of me were the imposing black Gates. I couldn’t see anything beyond them. But I could hear terrible sounds—chains rattling, voices wailing and crying.

  “It sounds like Hell.”

  He shook his head. “Not Hell. Only the Far Keep.”

  Xavier moved in front of me, blocking my path to the Gates. “Are you sure you want to do this, dead man?”

  I nodded, keeping my eyes on his disfigured face.

  “Human boy. The one called Ethan. My friend.” His eyes went pale and glassy, as if he was going into some kind of trance.

  “What is it, Xavier?” I was impatient, but more than that I was terrified. And the longer we stood outside listening to the terrible sounds of whatever was going on inside, the worse it seemed to get. I was afraid of losing my nerve—of giving up and turning back—of wasting everything Lena had gone through to get The Book of Moons to me.

  He ignored me. “You propose a trade, dead man? What do you offer me if I open the Gates? How do you propose to pay your way for entrance into the Far Keep?”

  I just stood there.

  He opened one eye, hissing at me. “The Book. Give me the Book.”

  I gave it to him, but I couldn’t move my hands away. It was like the Book and I were one thing, yet somehow connected to Xavier as well.

  “What the—”

  “I accept this offering, and in return I open the Gates of the Far Keep.” Xavier’s body went limp, and he collapsed in a heap around the Book.

  “Are you okay, Xavier?”

  “Shh.” The sound coming from the heap of robes was the only thing that told me he was still alive.

  I heard another sound, like rocks falling or cars crashing, but really it was just the enormous Gates opening. It seemed like they hadn’t been opened in a thousand years. I watched the black walls give way to the world inside.

  As a rush of relief and exhaustion and adrenaline made my heart race, one thought kept running through my mind.

  It has to be over soon.

  This had to be the hardest part. I paid the Ferryman. I crossed the river. I got the Book. I made the trade.

  I made it to the Far Keep. I’m almost home. I’m coming, L.

  I could picture her face. Imagined seeing her and holding her in my arms again.

  It wouldn’t be long.

  At least that’s what I thought as I walked through the Gates.

  CHAPTER 31

  Keepers of Secrets

  I don’t remember what I saw when I walked into the Far Keep. What I remember are the feelings. The pure terror. The way my eyes couldn’t find anything—not one familiar thing—to rest on. Nothing they could understand. I was prepared in no way, by any world I’d ever encountered, for the one I was encountering now.

  This place was cold and evil, like Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. I had that same feeling of being watched, the feeling that some sort of universal eye could see what I was seeing, could sense the innermost terrors of my heart and exploit them.

  As I stepped away from the Gates, tall walls loomed on either side of me. They extended toward an overlook, where I could see the greater part of a city. It was as if I was looking into a valley from a high mountaintop. Beneath me, the city extended toward the horizon in a great recess of structures. As I looked more closely, I realized it didn’t resemble a regular city.

  It was a labyrinth, a massive, interlocking puzzle of paths carved from cut hedges. It threaded through the whole of the city between me and the golden building that rose steeply toward the horizon ahead.

  The building I needed to reach.

  “Have you come here to face the labyrinth? Are you here for the games?” I heard a voice behind me, and I turned to see an unnaturally pale man, like the Keepers who had appeared in the Gatlin Library before Marian’s trial. He had the opaque eyes and prismatic glasses I had come to associate with the Far Keep.

  Over his thin frame hung a black robe like the ones the Council members had worn when they sentenced Marian—or whatever they had planned to do, before Macon, John, and Liv stopped them.

  Those were the bravest people I knew. I couldn’t let them down now.

  Not Lena. Not any of them.

  “I’m here for the library,” I answered. “Can you show me the way?”

  “That’s what I said. The games?” He pointed to a braid of gold rope around his shoulder. “I’m an officer. I’m here to make sure all who enter the Keep find their way.”

  “Huh?”

  “You want to gain entrance to the Great Keep. Is that your desire?”

  “That’s right.”

  “Then you’re here for the games.” The pale man pointed at the overgrown green maze below us. “If you survive the labyrinth, you’ll end up there.” He moved his finger until he was pointing at the gold towers. “The Great Keep.”

  I didn’t want to find my way through a labyrinth. Everything about the Otherworld felt like one gigantic maze, and all I wanted to do was find my way out.

  “I don’t think you understand. Isn’t there some kind of door? A place where I can walk inside without having to play any games?” I didn’t have time for this. I needed to find The Caster Chronicles and get out. Get home.

  Come on.

  He slapped his hand against my arm, and I struggled to stay standing. The man was incredibly strong—Link and John strong. “It would be too easy if you could walk into the Great Keep. What would be the point of that?”

  I tried to hide my frustration. “I don’t know? How about to get inside?”

  He frowned. “Where have you come from?”

  “The Otherworld.”

  “Dead man, listen well. The Great Keep is not like the Otherworld. The Great Keep has many names. To the Norse it is Valhalla, Hall of the Lords. To the Greeks it is Olympus. There are as many names as there are men who would speak them.”

  “Okay. I’m down with all that. I just want to find my way inside this one library. If I could just find someone to talk to—”

  “There is but one way into the Great Keep,” he said. “The Warrior’s Way.”

  I sighed. “So there’s no other way? Like, a doorway? Maybe even a Warrior’s Doorway?”

  He shook his head. “There are no doors to the Great Keep.”

  Of course there weren’t.

  “Yeah? What about a s
tairway?” I asked. The pale man shook his head again. “Or maybe an alley?”

  He was finished with this conversation. “There is only one way in, an honorable death. And there is only one way out.”

  “You mean I can be more dead than this?”

  He smiled politely.

  I tried again. “What’s that, exactly? An honorable death?”

  “You face the labyrinth. It does what it will with you. You accept your fate.”

  “And? What’s the one way out?”

  He shrugged. “No one leaves unless we choose to let them leave.”

  Great.

  “Thanks, I guess.” What else was there to say?

  “Good luck, dead man. May you fight in peace.”

  I nodded. “Yeah, sure. I hope so.”

  The strange Keeper, if that’s what he was, went back to guarding his post.

  I stared down at the massive labyrinth, wondering once again what I’d gotten myself into and how I could possibly get myself out.

  They shouldn’t call death passing on. They should call it leveling up.

  Because the game only got harder once I lost. And I was more than a little worried it had only just begun.

  I couldn’t put it off any longer. The only way to get through this whole labyrinth thing, like most other crappy things, was to just get through it.

  I would have to find a path the hard way.

  The Warrior’s Way, or whatever.

  And fight in peace? What was that about?

  My guard was up as I stumbled my way down a staircase cut out of rock. I moved deeper into the valley below, and the stairs widened into layers of steep cliffs, where green moss grew between the rocks, and ivy clung to the walls. When I reached the base of the walled stairwell, I found myself in an immense garden.

  Not just a garden like the ones folks in Gatlin grew their tomatoes in, out behind their swamp coolers. A garden in the sense of the Garden of Eden—and not Gardens of Eden, the florist over on Main Street.

  It looked like a dream. Because the colors were all wrong—they were too bright, and there were too many of them. As I moved closer, I realized where I was.

  The labyrinth.

  Rows of hedges tangled with so many flowering bushes that they made the gardens of Ravenwood look small and shabby in comparison.

  The farther I walked, the less it seemed like walking and the more it felt like bushwhacking. I pulled branches out of my face and kicked my way through the waist-high brambles and brush. Root hog or die. That’s what Amma would have said. Keep trying.

  It reminded me of the time I tried to walk home from Wader’s Creek when I was nine. I had been poking around in Amma’s craft room, which wasn’t a craft room at all. It was the room where she stored the supplies for her charms. She gave me a piece and a half of her mind, and I told her I was walking home. “I can find my own way”—that’s what I told her. But I didn’t find my way, or any way. Instead, I wandered deeper and deeper into the swamplands, spooked by the sound of gators’ tails thrashing in the water.

  I didn’t know Amma was following me, until I dropped to my knees and started to cry. She stepped out into the moonlight, hands on her hips. “Guess you shoulda dropped some bread crumbs if you were plannin’ to run off.” She didn’t say anything else, just held out her hand.

  “I would’ve found my way back,” I’d said.

  She nodded. “I don’t doubt it for a minute, Ethan Wate.”

  But now, yanking dirt and thorns out of my face, I didn’t have Amma to come find me. This was something I had to do on my own.

  Like plowing the Lilum’s field and bringing the water back to Gatlin.

  Or taking a dive off the Summerville water tower.

  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was pretty much in the same boat I’d been in that day in the swamp when I was nine. I was walking down the same pathways over and over, unless some other guy was wearing the same size Converse as me. I might as well be lost on the way home from Wader’s Creek.

  I tried to think.

  A maze is just a big puzzle.

  I was going about this wrong. I needed to mark the pathways I had already taken. I needed some of Amma’s bread crumbs.

  I stripped the nearest bush of its leaves, stuffing them in my pockets. I reached out my right hand until it touched the wall of bushes, and I started walking. I kept my right hand on the wall of the maze and used my left to drop the waxy leaves every few feet.

  It was like a giant corn maze. Keep the same hand on the stalks until you dead-end. Then switch hands and go the other way. Anyone who’s ever been stuck in a corn maze can tell you that.

  I followed the path to the right until it dead-ended. Then I switched hands and bread crumbs. This time I reached out with my left hand, and I used stones instead of leaves.

  After what felt like hours of winding my way through this particular puzzle, hitting one dead end after another and stepping over the same rocks and leaves I had used to mark my tracks, I finally reached the very center of the maze, the place where all pathways came to an end. Only the center wasn’t an exit. It was a pit, with what looked like enormous mud walls. As thick rolls of white fog spread toward me, I was forced to confront the truth.

  The labyrinth wasn’t a labyrinth at all.

  It was a dead end.

  Beyond the fog and dirt, there was nothing but the impenetrable brush.

  Keep moving. Keep your bearings.

  I walked forward, kicking waves in the dense mist that clung to the ground around me. Just as I made some progress, my foot hit something long and hard. Maybe a stick or a pipe.

  I tried to navigate more carefully, but the fog made it hard to see. It was like looking through glasses smeared with Vaseline. As I moved closer to the center, the white mist began to clear, and I tripped again.

  This time I could see what was in the way.

  It wasn’t a pipe or a stick.

  It was a human bone.

  Long and thin, it must have been a leg bone, or maybe an arm.

  “Holy crap.” I yanked on it, and it pulled free, sending a human skull rolling toward my feet. The dirt around me was piled high with bones, as long and bare as the one I was holding in my hand.

  I let the bone drop and backed away, stumbling over what I thought was a rock. But it was another skull. The faster I ran, the more I tripped, twisting my ankle in the loops of an old hip bone, catching my Chucks on a piece of spine.

  Am I dreaming?

  On top of that, I had an overpowering sense of déjà vu. The feeling that I was running toward a place I’d been before. Which didn’t make sense, because I had no experience with pits or bones or wandering around being dead, until now.

  Still.

  It felt like I’d been here, like I’d always been here, and I couldn’t get far enough away. Like every path I’d ever taken was here in this maze.

  No way out but through it.

  I had to keep moving. I had to face this place, this pit full of bones. Wherever it was leading me. Or to who.

  Then a dark shadow emerged, and I knew I wasn’t alone.

  Across the clearing, there was a person sitting on what looked like a box, perched on a gruesome hill of human remains. No—it was a chair. I could see the back rising higher than the rest, the arms jutting wider.

  It was a throne.

  The figure laughed with impossible confidence as the fog parted to reveal the corpse-ridden waste of the uneven battleground. It didn’t matter to the person on the throne.

  To her.

  Because as the fog rolled back to reveal the center of the pit, I knew immediately who was sitting tall on a hideous throne of bones. Back made of broken backs. Arms made of broken arms. Feet made of broken feet.

  The Queen of the Dead and the Damned.

  Laughing so hard her black curls slithered through the air, like the snakes on Obidias’ hand. My worst nightmare.

  Sarafine Duchannes.

  CHAPTE
R 32

  Throne of Bones

  Her dark cloak flapped in the wind like a shadow. The mist swirled around her black-buckled boots, disappearing into the darkness, as if she could draw it to her. Maybe she could. After all, she was a Cataclyst—the most powerful Caster in two universes.

  Or the second most powerful.

  Sarafine pushed back her cloak, letting it fall off her shoulders, around her long black curls. My skin went cold.

  “Karma’s a bitch, wouldn’t you say, Mortal Boy?” she called across the pit, her voice confident and strong. Full of energy and evil.

  She stretched luxuriously, clasping the arms of the chair in her own bony claws.

  “I wouldn’t say anything, Sarafine. Not to you.” I tried to keep my voice even. I hadn’t wanted to see her in one lifetime, let alone two.

  Sarafine beckoned with one curving finger. “Is that why you’re hiding? Or are you still afraid of me?”

  I took a step closer. “I’m not afraid of you.”

  She cocked her head. “I don’t know that I blame you. After all, I did kill you. A knife to the chest, in warm Mortal blood.”

  “Hard to remember back that far. I guess you weren’t that memorable.” I folded my arms stubbornly. Trying to hold my ground.

  It was no use.

  She rolled a ball of mist toward me, and it wrapped around me, closing the gap between us. I felt myself moving forward, powerless, as if she was dragging me by a leash.

  So she still had her powers even here.

  Good to know.

  I stumbled over the ridge of an inhuman skeleton, something twice as big as me, with twice as many arms and legs. I swallowed. More powerful creatures than a guy from Gatlin County had met their fates here. I hoped she wasn’t the reason why.

  “What are you doing here, Sarafine?” I tried not to sound as intimidated as I was. I dug my feet into the dirt.

  Sarafine leaned back in her throne of bones, examining the nails on one of her claws. “Me? Lately I’ve spent most of my time being dead, like you. Oh, wait—you were there. You watched when my daughter let me burn to death. A real charmer, that one. Teenagers. What are you going to do?”

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]