Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  Sarafine had no right to mention Lena. She’d surrendered that right when she walked away from a burning house with her baby daughter inside. When she tried to kill Lena like she’d killed Lena’s father. And me.

  I wanted to throw myself at her, but every instinct I had left told me to stay back. “You’re nothing, Sarafine. You’re a ghost.”

  She smiled when I said the word “ghost,” biting the tip of one of her long black nails. “Something we have in common now.”

  “We don’t have anything in common.” I could feel my hands clenching into fists. “You make me sick. Why don’t you get out of my sight?”

  I didn’t know what I was saying. I wasn’t in any position to be ordering her around. I didn’t have a weapon. No possible means of attack. No way past her.

  My mind raced, but I couldn’t find an advantage—and you couldn’t let Sarafine get the upper hand.

  Kill or be killed, that was her style. Even when it seemed like we should have moved past something as Mortal as death.

  Her mouth curled into a snarl. “Your sight?”

  She laughed, a cold sound that rippled down my spine. “Maybe your girlfriend should have thought about that before she killed me. She’s the reason I’m here. If it weren’t for that ungrateful little witch, I would still be in the Mortal world. Instead of stuck in the dark, battling the ghosts of lost and pathetic Mortal boys.”

  She was close enough now that I could see her face. She didn’t look too good, even for Sarafine. Her dress was ragged and black, the bodice charred into tattered pieces. Her face was smudged with soot, and her hair smelled like smoke.

  Sarafine turned toward me, her eyes glowing and white—milky with an opaque light I had never seen before.

  “Sarafine?”

  I took a step back—just as she struck me with a bolt of electricity, the smell of burnt flesh traveling faster than her body possibly could.

  I heard a psychotic scream. Saw her face, contorted into an inhuman death mask. Sharp teeth seemed to match the dagger she held in her hand—only inches from my throat.

  I winced, pulling back from the blade, but I knew it was too late. I wasn’t going to make it.

  Lena!

  Sarafine stopped short, as if smashed backward by an invisible current. Her arms stretched toward me, her blade shaking with anger.

  Something was wrong with her.

  I heard the sound of chains as she fell, stumbling back toward her throne. She dropped the blade, and her long skirt kicked open, and I saw the manacles around her ankles. The chains holding her to the ground and pinning her to the throne.

  She wasn’t the Queen of the Underworld. She was an angry dog trapped in a kennel. Sarafine screamed, beating her fists against the bones. I moved to the side, but she didn’t even look at me.

  Now I understood.

  I picked up a bone and tossed it at her. She didn’t react until it hit the throne, falling harmlessly into the pile of debris at her feet.

  She spit at me, shaking with rage. “Fool!”

  But I knew the truth.

  Her white eyes saw nothing.

  Her pupils were fixed.

  She was blind.

  Maybe it was from the fire that had killed her in the Mortal world. It all came flooding back to me—the terrible end of her terrible life. She was as damaged here as she was when she burned to death. But that wasn’t all. Something else had happened. Even the fire couldn’t explain the chains.

  “What happened to your eyes?” I watched her recoil when I said it. Sarafine wasn’t one to show weakness. She was better at finding and exploiting it.

  “My new look. Old blind woman, like the Fates or the Furies. What do you think?” Her lips curved over her teeth, into a growl.

  It was impossible to feel sorry for Sarafine, so I didn’t. Still, she seemed bitter and broken.

  “The leash is a nice touch,” I said.

  She laughed, but it was more like the hiss of an animal. She had become something that didn’t resemble a Dark Caster, not anymore. She was a creature, maybe even more of one than Xavier or the River Master. She was losing it—whatever part of our world she’d known.

  I tried again. “What happened to your sight? Was it the fire?”

  Her white eyes burned as she answered. “The Far Keep wanted to have their fun with me. Angelus is a sadistic pig. He thought they would even the odds by forcing me to battle without being able to see my opponents. He wanted me to know how it would feel to be powerless.” She sighed, picking at a bone. “Not that it’s slowed me down yet.”

  I didn’t think it had.

  I looked at the circus of bones surrounding her, the bloodstains in the dirt at her feet. “Who cares? Why fight? You’re dead. I’m dead. What do we even have left to fight about? Tell this Angelus guy to go jump off a—”

  “Water tower?” She laughed.

  But I had a point, if you thought about it. It was starting to feel like those old Terminator movies between us. If I killed her now, I could imagine her skeleton dragging itself across this pit with glowing red eyes until it could kill me a thousand more times.

  She stopped laughing. “Why are you here? Think about it, Ethan.” She lifted her hand, and I felt my throat beginning to close. I gasped for air.

  I tried to back away, but it was pointless. Even with her dog chain, she still had enough power to make my not-quite-a-life miserable.

  “I’m trying to get into the Great Keep.” I choked. I tried to inhale, but I couldn’t get a real breath.

  Am I even breathing, or am I only imagining it?

  Like she said herself, she’d already killed me once. What was left?

  “I just want to take my page. You think I want to be stuck here forever, wandering through a maze of bones?”

  “You’ll never get past Angelus. He’d die before he’d let you near The Caster Chronicles.” She smiled, twisting her fingers, and I gasped again. Now it felt like she had a hand around my lungs.

  “Then I’ll kill him.” I grabbed at my neck with both hands. My face felt like it was on fire.

  “The Keepers already know you’re here. They sent an officer to lead you into the labyrinth. They didn’t want to miss out on the fun.” Sarafine twisted around at the mention of the Keepers, as if she was looking over her shoulder, which we both knew she wasn’t. An old habit, I guess.

  “I still have to try. It’s the only way I can get home.”

  “To my daughter?” Sarafine rattled her chains, looking disgusted. “You never give up, do you?”

  “No.”

  “It’s like a sickness.” She rose from her throne, crouching on her heels like an evil, overgrown little girl, dropping the hand that was choking me. I collapsed onto a heap of bones. “You really think you can hurt Angelus?”

  “I can do anything if it will get me back to Lena.” I looked straight into her sightless eyes. “Like I said, I’ll kill him. At least part of him is Mortal. I can do it.”

  I don’t know why I said it that way. I guess I wanted her to know, in case there was any small part of her that still cared about Lena. Any part of her that needed to hear I really would do anything under the sun to find a way back to her daughter.

  Which I would.

  For a second, Sarafine didn’t move. “You actually believe that, don’t you? It’s charming, really. Shame you have to die again, Mortal Boy. You certainly amuse me.”

  Light flooded into the pit, as if we really were two gladiators competing for our lives.

  “I don’t want to fight. Not with you, Sarafine.”

  She smiled darkly. “You really don’t know how this works, do you? The loser faces Eternal Darkness. It’s simple enough.” She sounded almost bored.

  “There’s something Darker than this?”

  “Much.”

  “Please. I just need to get back to Lena. Your daughter. I want to make her happy. I know that doesn’t mean anything to you, and I know you’ve never wanted to make anyone happy
but yourself, but it’s the only thing I want.”

  “I want something, too.” She twisted the fog around her in her hands until it wasn’t fog at all but something glowing and alive—a ball of fire. She stared right at me, even though I knew she couldn’t see. “Kill Angelus.”

  Sarafine started to Cast, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Fire shot from the base of her throne, spreading in all directions. It moved closer and closer, turning from orange to blue and purple flames as it ignited bone after bone.

  I backed away from her.

  Something was wrong. The fire was growing, spreading faster than I could run. She wasn’t trying to stop the flames.

  She was the one making them grow.

  “What are you doing?” I shouted. “Are you crazy?”

  She was in the very center of the flames. “It’s a battle to the death. Absolute destruction. Only one of us can survive. And as much as I hate you, I hate Angelus more.” Sarafine raised her arms over her head, and the fire grew, as if she was pulling the flames up with her.

  “Make him pay.”

  Her cloak caught fire, and her hair started burning.

  “You can’t just give up!” I shouted, but I didn’t know if she could hear me. I couldn’t see her anymore.

  I hurled myself into the fire without thinking, falling toward her through the flames. I wasn’t sure I could stop, even if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to.

  It was Sarafine or me.

  Lena or Eternal Darkness.

  It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to sit there and watch anyone die chained like a dog. Not even Sarafine.

  It wasn’t about her. It was about me.

  I reached for the manacles around her ankles, beating on the iron with a bone at the base of her throne. “We have to get out of here.”

  The fire had completely surrounded me, when I heard the screaming. The sound tore across the barren dirt, rising into the air over the pit. It sounded like a wild animal dying. For a second, I thought I saw the distant golden spires of the Great Keep flicker at the sound of her voice through the flames.

  Sarafine’s burning body arched back, writhing in pain, and started to crumble into tiny pieces of burnt skin and bone. There was nothing I could do as the flames consumed her. I wanted to close my eyes or turn away. But it seemed like someone should bear witness to her last moments. Maybe I just didn’t want her to die alone.

  After a few minutes that felt more like hours, I watched as the last bits of the Darkest Caster in two worlds blew into cold white ash.

  It was too late to get out.

  I felt the fire crawl up my arms.

  I was next.

  I tried to picture Lena one last time, but I couldn’t even think. The pain was unbearable. I knew I was going to pass out. This was it.

  I closed my eyes….

  When I opened them again, the pit was gone, and I was standing in front of a quiet doorway in a still hallway, in a building that looked like a castle.

  There was no pain.

  No Sarafine.

  No fire.

  Exhausted, I wiped the ash out of my eyes and sank into a ball at the foot of the wooden doors. It was over. There were no bones beneath my feet, only marble tiles.

  I tried to focus on the doors. They were so familiar.

  I’d seen all of this before. It was even more familiar than the feeling I had when I saw Sarafine coming toward me.

  Sarafine.

  Where is she now? Where is her soul?

  I didn’t want to think about it, and I closed my eyes and let the tears fall. Crying for her felt impossible. She was an evil monster. No one ever felt sorry for her.

  So that couldn’t be it.

  At least that’s what I told myself, until I stopped shaking and stood up again.

  The pathways of my life had doubled back on me, as if the universe was forcing me to choose them all over again. I was standing in front of the unmistakable doorway to all other doorways, to all other places and times.

  I didn’t know if I had the strength to go any farther, and I knew I didn’t have the courage to give up. I reached out and touched the carved wood of the ancient Caster doorway.

  The Temporis Porta.

  CHAPTER 33

  The Wayward’s Way

  I took a deep breath and tried to let the power of the Temporis Porta flow into me. I needed to feel something other than shock. But they felt like two regular wooden doors, even if they were about a thousand years old and framed with Niadic script, an even older lost language.

  I pressed my fingers against the wood. It felt like Sarafine’s blood was on my hands in this world, as my blood had been on hers in the last. It didn’t matter if I had tried to stop her.

  She had sacrificed herself so I would have a chance to make it to the Great Keep, even if hate was her only motivation. Sarafine had still given me a shot at getting back home to the people I loved.

  I had to keep going. Like the officer at the Gates said, there was only one way into the one place I needed to go—the Way of the Warrior. Maybe this was how it felt.

  Awful.

  I tried not to think about the other thing. The fact that Sarafine’s soul was trapped in Eternal Darkness. It was hard to imagine.

  I took a step back from the broad wooden doors of the Temporis Porta. It was identical to the doorway I found in the Caster Tunnels beneath Gatlin. The one that took me to the Far Keep for the first time. Rowan wood, carved into Caster circles.

  I placed my palms against the rough exterior of the paneling.

  Just like always, they gave way beneath me. I was the Wayward, and they were the Way. These doors would open for me in this world as they had in the other. They would show their pathway to me.

  I pushed harder.

  The doors swung open, and I stepped inside.

  There were so many things I didn’t realize when I was alive. So many things I took for granted. My life didn’t seem precious when I had one.

  But here, I’d fought through a mountain of bones, crossed a river, tunneled through a mountain, begged and bargained and bartered from one world to another, to get myself this close to these doors and this room.

  Now I just had to find the library.

  One page in one book.

  One page in The Caster Chronicles, and I can go home.

  The nearness of it swirled in the air around me. I had experienced this feeling only once before, at the Great Barrier—another seam between worlds. Then, just like now, I had felt the power crackling in the air, too, the magic. I was in a place where great things could happen and did happen.

  There were some rooms that could change the world.

  Worlds.

  This was one of them, with its heavy drapes and dusty portraits and dark wood and rowan doors. A place where all things were judged and punished.

  Sarafine had promised that Angelus would come for me—that he had practically led me here himself. There was no use trying to hide. He was probably the reason I was sentenced to die in the first place.

  If there was a way around him, a way to get to the library and The Caster Chronicles, I hadn’t figured it out yet. I just hoped it would come to me, the way so many ideas had in the past when my future was at stake.

  The only question was, would he come first?

  I decided to take my chances and try to find the library before Angelus found me. It would have been a good plan if it had actually worked out. I had barely crossed the room when I saw them.

  The Council Keepers—the man with the hourglass, the albino woman, and Angelus—appeared in front of me.

  Their robes fell around them, pooling at their feet, and they barely moved. I couldn’t even tell if they were breathing.

  “Puer Mortalis. Is qui, unus, duplex est. Is qui mundo, qui fuit, finem attulit.” When one spoke, all their mouths moved like they were the same person, or at least governed by the same brain. I had almost forgotten.

  I didn’t say anything, and I
didn’t move.

  They looked at one another and spoke again. “Mortal Boy. The One Who Is Two. He Who Endeth the World That Was.”

  “When you say it that way, it sounds kind of creepy.” It wasn’t Latin, but it was the best I could come up with. They didn’t respond.

  I heard the murmuring of foreign voices around me and turned to see the room suddenly crowded with unfamiliar people. I looked for the telltale tattoos and gold eyes of the Dark Casters, but I was too disoriented to register anything beyond the three robed figures who stood in front of me.

  “Child of Lila Evers Wate, deceased Keeper of Gatlin.” The choral voices filled the great hall like some kind of trumpet. It reminded me of Beginning Band with Miss Spider back at Jackson High, only less off-key.

  “In the flesh.” I shrugged. “Or not.”

  “You have taken the labyrinth and defeated the Cataclyst. Many have tried. Only you have been—” There was a hitch, a pause, like the Keepers didn’t know what to say. I took a breath, half expecting them to say something like exterminated. “Victorious.”

  It was almost like they couldn’t bring themselves to say the word.

  “Not really. She kind of defeated herself.” I scowled at Angelus, who was standing in the center. I wanted him to look at me. I wanted him to know that I knew what he’d done to Sarafine. How he’d chained the Caster, like a dog, to a throne of bones. What kind of sick game was that?

  But Angelus didn’t flinch.

  I took a step closer. “Or I guess you defeated her, Angelus. At least, that’s what Sarafine said. That you enjoyed torturing her.” I looked around the room. “Is that what Keepers do around here? Because it’s not what Keepers do where I come from. Back home they’re good people, who care about things like right and wrong and good and evil and all that. Like my mom.”

  I looked at the crowd behind me. “Seems like you guys are pretty messed up.”

  The three spoke again, in unison. “That is not our concern. Victori spolia sunt. To the victor go the spoils. The debt has been paid.”

  “About that—” If this was my way back to Gatlin, I wanted to know.

 
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