Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  Angelus raised his hand, silencing me. “In return, you have gained entry to this Keep, the Warrior’s Way. You are to be commended.”

  The crowd fell silent, which didn’t exactly make me feel all that commended. More than anything, it felt like I was about to be sentenced. Or maybe that was how I was used to things going down in here.

  I looked around. “It doesn’t really sound like you mean it.”

  The crowd began to whisper again. The three Council Keepers stared at me. At least I think they did. It was impossible to see their eyes behind the strangely cut prism glasses, with the twisting strands of gold, silver, and copper holding them in place.

  I tried again. “In terms of spoils, I was thinking more about going home to Gatlin. Wasn’t that the deal? One of us goes to Eternal Darkness, and one of us gets to leave?”

  The crowd burst into chaos.

  Angelus stepped forward. “Enough!” The room fell silent again. This time he spoke alone. The other Keepers looked at me but said nothing. “The bargain was for the Cataclyst alone. We have made no such pact with a Mortal. Never would we return a Mortal to existence.”

  I remembered Amma’s past, revealed through the black stone I still had in my pocket. Sulla had warned her that Angelus hated Mortals. He was never going to let me walk away. “What if the Mortal was never meant to be here?”

  Angelus’ eyes widened.

  “I want my page back.”

  This time the crowd gasped.

  “What is written in the Chronicles is law. The pages cannot be removed,” Angelus hissed.

  “But you can rewrite them however you want?” I couldn’t hide the rage in my voice. He had taken everything from me. How many other lives had he destroyed?

  And why? Because he couldn’t be a Caster?

  “You were the One Who Is Two. Your fate was to be punished. You should not have brought the Lilum into matters that were not hers to resolve.”

  “Wait. What does Lilian English—I mean, the Lilum—have to do with any of this?” My English teacher, whose body had been inhabited by the most powerful creature in the Demon world, had been the one who showed me what I had to do to fix the Order of Things.

  Was that why he was punishing me? Did I get in the way of whatever he was planning with Abraham? Destroying the Mortal race? Using Casters as lab rats?

  I always believed that when Lena and Amma brought me back from the dead with The Book of Moons, they had set something in motion that couldn’t be undone. It started the unraveling that ripped the hole in the universe, which was the reason I had to right it at the water tower.

  What if I had it backward?

  What if the thing that was supposed to happen was the unraveling?

  What if fixing it was the crime?

  It was all so clear now. Like everything had been lost in darkness, and then the sun came out. Some moments are like that. But now I knew the truth.

  I was supposed to fail.

  The world as we knew it was supposed to end.

  The Mortals weren’t the point. They were the problem.

  The Lilum wasn’t supposed to help me, and I wasn’t supposed to jump.

  She was supposed to condemn me, and I was supposed to give up. Angelus had bet on the wrong team.

  A sound echoed through the hall as the great doors on the far side pushed open, revealing a small figure standing between them. Talk about betting on the wrong team—I wouldn’t have made this bet, not in a thousand lifetimes.

  It was more unexpected than Angelus or any of the Keepers.

  He smiled broadly; at least I think it was a smile. It was hard to tell with Xavier.

  “He-hello.” Xavier glanced around the intimidating room, clearing his throat. He tried again. “Hello, friend.”

  It was so quiet, you could’ve heard one of his precious buttons drop.

  The only thing that wasn’t quiet was Angelus. “How dare you show your defiled face here again, Xavier. If there is anything of Xavier left, beast.”

  Xavier’s leathery wings shrugged.

  Angelus only looked angrier. “Why have you involved yourself in this? Your fate is not intertwined with the Wayward. You are serving your sentence. You don’t need to take a dead Mortal’s battles on as your own.”

  “It is too late for that, Angelus,” he said.

  “Why?”

  “Because he paid his way, and I accepted the price. Because”—Xavier slowed his words, as if he was letting them fall into place in his mind—“he is my friend, and I have no other.”

  “He’s not your friend,” Angelus hissed. “You’re too brainless to have a friend. Brainless and heartless. All you care about are your worthless trinkets, your lost baubles.” Angelus sounded frustrated. I wondered why he cared what Xavier thought or did.

  What is Xavier to him?

  There had to be a story there. But I didn’t want to know about anything that involved Angelus and his minions, or the crimes they must have committed. The Far Keep was the closest thing I’d ever found to Hell in real life—at least in my real afterlife.

  “What you know of me,” said Xavier slowly, “is nothing.” His twisted face was even more expressionless than usual. “Less than I know of myself.”

  “You are a fool,” Angelus answered. “That I know.”

  “I am a friend. I have in my possession two thousand assorted buttons, eight hundred keys, and only one friend. Perhaps it is not something you can understand. I have not often been one before.” He looked proud of himself. “I will be one now.”

  I was proud of him, too.

  Angelus scoffed. “You will sacrifice your soul for a friend?”

  “Is a friend different from a soul, Angelus?” The Council Keeper said nothing. Xavier cocked his head again. “Would you know if it were?”

  Angelus didn’t respond, but he didn’t need to. We all knew the answer.

  “What are you doing here, then? Mortali Comes.” Angelus took a step toward Xavier, and Xavier took a step back. “Friend of the Mortal,” Angelus snarled.

  I resisted the urge to insert myself between them, hoping that Xavier, for both our sakes, didn’t try to run away.

  “You seek to destroy the Mortal, do you not?” Xavier swallowed.

  “I do,” Angelus answered.

  “You seek to end the Mortal race.” It wasn’t a question.

  “Of course. Like any infestation, the ultimate goal is annihilation.”

  Even though I was expecting it, Angelus’ answer caught me off guard. “You—what?”

  Xavier looked at me like he was trying to shut me down. “It is no secret. The Mortals are an irritant to the supernatural races. This is not a new concept.”

  “I wish it was.” I knew Abraham wanted to wipe out the Mortal race. If Angelus was working with him, their goals were aligned.

  “You seek entertainment?” Xavier watched Angelus.

  Angelus looked at Xavier’s leathery wings, disgusted. “I seek solutions.”

  “To the Mortal condition?”

  Angelus smiled, dark and joyless. “As I said. The Mortal infestation.”

  I felt sick, but Xavier only sighed. “As you wish to call it. I propose a challenge.”

  “A what?” I didn’t like the sound of it.

  “A challenge.”

  Angelus looked suspicious. “The Mortal defeated the Dark Queen and won. That was the only challenge he will face today.”

  I was annoyed. “I told you. I didn’t kill Sarafine. She defeated herself.”

  “Semantics,” Angelus said.

  Xavier silenced us both. “So you are unwilling to face the Mortal in a challenge?”

  There was an uproar in the crowd, and Angelus looked like he wanted to tear Xavier’s wings off. “Silence!”

  The chatter stopped immediately.

  “I do not fear any Mortal!”

  “Then this is my proposition.” Xavier tried to keep his voice steady, but he was obviously terrified. “The Mortal wi
ll face you in the Great Keep and attempt to regain his page. You will attempt to stop him. If he succeeds, you will allow him to do with it as he likes. If you stop him from reaching his page, he will allow you to do with it as you like.”

  “What?” Xavier was suggesting that I face off against Angelus. My odds were not good in this scenario.

  Angelus was aware that all eyes were on him as the crowd and the other Council Keepers waited for his response. “Interesting.”

  I wanted to bolt out of the room. “Not interesting. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

  Angelus leaned toward me, his eyes sparking. “Let me explain it to you. A lifetime of servitude or the simple destruction of your soul. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ll decide on a whim, as I like. When I like.”

  “I’m not sure about this.” It sounded like a lose-lose proposition to me.

  Xavier let one hand fall on my shoulder. “You don’t have a choice. It’s the only chance you have to get home to the girl with the curls.” He turned to Angelus, holding out his hand. “Is it a deal?”

  Angelus stared at Xavier’s hand as if it was infected. “I accept.”

  CHAPTER 34

  The Caster Chronicles

  Angelus swept out of the room, the other Keepers right behind him.

  I let out the breath I was holding. “Where are they going?”

  “They have to give you a chance, or they will be perceived as unjust.”

  “Perceived as unjust?” Was he serious? “Are you saying no one’s caught on to that before?”

  “The Council is feared. No one questions them,” Xavier said. “But they are also proud. Especially Angelus. He wishes his followers to believe he is giving you a chance.”

  “But he’s not?”

  “That depends on you now.” Xavier turned to me with something resembling a sad expression on what was left of his human face. “I can’t help you. Not beyond this, my friend.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “I’m not going back there. I can’t,” he said. “Not to the Chamber of the Chronicles.”

  Of course. The room that housed the book. It had to be close.

  I looked at the row of doors beyond us, bordering one side of the room. I wondered which one led to the end of my journey—or to the death of my soul.

  “You can’t go back there? And I can? Don’t chicken out on me now.” I lowered my voice. “You just took on Angelus. You made a deal with the Devil. You’re my hero.”

  “I am no hero. As I said, I am your friend.”

  Xavier couldn’t do it. Who could blame the guy? The Chamber of the Chronicles must have been some kind of house of horrors for him. And he had put himself in enough danger already.

  “Thanks, Xavier. You’re a great friend. One of the best.” I smiled at him. The look he gave me in return was sobering.

  “This is your journey, dead man. Yours alone. I can go no farther.” He put his arm on my shoulder, pressing heavily.

  “Why do I have to do everything alone?” As soon as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true.

  The Greats had sent me on my way.

  Aunt Prue made sure I got a second chance.

  Obidias told me everything I needed to know.

  My mom gave me the strength to do it.

  Amma watched for me, and believed it when she found me.

  Lena sent me The Book of Moons, against all odds and all the way from the other side of the universe. Aunt Marian and Macon, Link and John and Liv—they were there for Lena when I couldn’t be.

  Even the River Master and Xavier had helped me move forward, when all along it would have been so much easier to give up and go back.

  I had never been alone. Not for a minute.

  I may have been a Wayward, but my way was full of people who loved me. They were the only way I knew.

  I could do this.

  I had to.

  “I understand,” I said. “Thanks, Xavier. For everything.”

  He nodded. “I will meet you again, Ethan. I will see you when next you cross the river.”

  “I hope it’s not for a long time.”

  “I hope this as well, my friend. For you more than me.” His eyes seemed to twinkle for a second. “But I will keep busy collecting and counting until you return.”

  I didn’t say anything as he slipped through the shadows and back into the world where nothing ever happened and the days became the same as nights.

  I hoped he would remember me.

  I was pretty sure he wouldn’t.

  One by one, I touched the row of doors in front of me with my hand. Some felt as cold as ice. Some felt like nothing, like plain wood. There was only one that pulsed beneath my fingertips.

  Only one burned at my touch.

  I knew it was the right door, before I saw the telltale Caster circles carved into the rowan wood, just like the Temporis Porta.

  This was the doorway to the heart of the Great Keep. The one place any son of Lila Jane Evers Wate would instinctively find his way, whether or not he was a Wayward.

  The library.

  Pushing my way through the massive doors directly across from the Temporis Porta, I knew it was time to face the most dangerous part of my journey.

  Angelus would be waiting.

  The doors were just the beginning. The moment I stepped into the inner chamber, I found myself standing in an almost entirely reflective room. If it was supposed to be a library, it was the strangest one I’d ever seen.

  The crumbling stones beneath my feet, the stubbled cave walls, the ceiling and floor that grew into stalactites and stalagmites as the room circled back upon itself—they all seemed to be made of some kind of transparent gemstone, cut into a thousand impossible facets that reflected the light in every direction. It looked like I was standing in one of the eleven jewelry boxes in Xavier’s collection.

  Except less claustrophobic. A small opening in the ceiling let in enough natural light to catch the whole room in a dizzying glow. The effect reminded me of the tidal cave where we’d first met Abraham Ravenwood, on the night of Lena’s Seventeenth Moon. In the center of this room, there was a pond of water the size of a swimming pool. The body of milky white water churned as if there was a fire beneath it. It was the color of Sarafine’s sightless opaque eyes, before she died….

  I shuddered. I couldn’t think about her, not now. I had to focus on surviving Angelus. Defeating him. I took a deep breath and tried to get my bearings. What was I dealing with?

  My eyes fixed on the bubbling white liquid. In the center of the pool, a small stretch of earth rose above the water, like a tiny island.

  In the center of the island was a pedestal.

  On the pedestal was a book, surrounded by candles that flickered with strange green and gold flames.

  The book.

  I didn’t need someone to tell me which book it was, or what it was doing here. The reason there was an entire library devoted to only one book, and with a moat around it.

  I knew exactly why it was here, and why I was.

  It was the only part of this whole journey I understood. The only thing that was perfectly clear from the moment Obidias Trueblood told me the truth about what had happened to me. It was The Caster Chronicles, and I was here to destroy my page. The one that killed me. And I had to do it before Angelus could stop me.

  After all I’d learned about being a Wayward and finding my way—this was where it led. There was no way left to go, no more path to find.

  I was at the end.

  And all I wanted was to go back.

  But first I had to get to that island—to the pedestal and The Caster Chronicles. I had to do what I’d come here to do.

  A shout from across the room startled me. “Mortal Boy. If you leave now, I will leave you your soul. How’s that for a challenge?” Angelus appeared on the other side of the pool. I wondered how he got over there, and I wished there were as many ways to leave this room as there were to enter
it.

  Or at least, as many ways home.

  “My soul? No, you won’t.” I stood at the edge of the pool and chucked a rock into the bubbling water, watching it disappear. I wasn’t stupid. He would never let me go. I would end up like Xavier or Sarafine. Black wings or white eyes—it didn’t make a difference. In the end, we were all bound in his chains, whether you could see them or not.

  Angelus smiled. “No? I suppose that’s true.” He gestured with his hand, and at least a dozen rocks rose into the air around him. They fired themselves at me, one after another, hitting with uncanny accuracy. I flung my arms across my face as a rock sailed past.

  “Very mature. What are you going to do now? Tie me up and stick me in your old boneyard? Blind and chained like an animal?”

  “Don’t flatter yourself. I don’t want a Mortal pet.” He twisted his finger, and the water began to spin into a kind of whirlpool. “I’ll just destroy you. It’s easier for all of us. Though not much of a challenge.”

  “Why did you torture Sarafine? She wasn’t a Mortal. Why bother?” I shouted.

  I had to know. It felt like our fates were tied together somehow—mine, Sarafine’s, Xavier’s, and those of all the other Mortals and Casters Angelus had destroyed.

  What were we to him?

  “Sarafine? Was that her name? I had almost forgotten.” Angelus laughed. “Do you expect me to concern myself with every Dark Caster who ends up here?”

  The water churned violently now. I knelt and touched it with one hand. It was freezing cold and sort of slimy. I didn’t want to swim through it, but I couldn’t tell if there was another way across.

  I looked up at Angelus. I didn’t know how this whole challenge thing was going to take shape, but I thought it was better to keep him talking until I figured it out. “Do you blind every Dark Caster and make them fight to the death?”

  I looked back at the water. It rippled where I had touched it, turning clear and calm.

  Angelus folded his arms, smiling.

  I kept my hand in the water as the transparent current spread across the pool, though my hand was going numb. Now I could see what was really beneath the milky surface.

  Corpses. Just like the ones in the river.

  Floating upward, their green hair and blue lips looked like masks on their bloated dead bodies.

 
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