Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  Like me, I thought. That’s what I look like, right now. Somewhere—where I still had a body.

  I heard Angelus laughing. But I could barely hear, barely think. I wanted to vomit.

  I backed away from the water. I knew he was trying to frighten me, and I resolved not to look at it again.

  Keep your mind on Lena. Get to the page, and you can go home.

  Angelus watched me, laughing harder. He called to me as if I was a child. “Don’t be afraid. Your final death doesn’t have to happen like this. Sarafine failed to achieve the tasks entrusted to her.”

  “So you do know her name.” I cracked a smile.

  He glared. “I know she failed me.”

  “You and Abraham?”

  Angelus stiffened. “Congratulations. I see you’ve been digging around in matters that are none of your concern. Which means you’re no smarter than the first Ethan Wate who visited the Great Keep. And no more likely to see the Duchannes Caster you love than he was.”

  My whole body went numb.

  Of course. Ethan Carter Wate had been here. Genevieve told me.

  I didn’t want to ask, but I had to. “What did you do to him?”

  “What do you think?” A sadistic smile spread across Angelus’ face. “He tried to take something that did not belong to him.”

  “His page?”

  With every question, the Keeper looked more satisfied. I could tell he was enjoying this. “No. Genevieve’s—the Duchannes girl he loved. He wanted to lift the curse she brought upon herself and the Duchannes children who would come after her. Instead, he lost his foolish soul.”

  Angelus looked down into the churning water. He nodded, and a single corpse rose to the surface. Empty eyes that looked too much like my own stared back at me.

  “Look familiar, Mortal?”

  I knew that face. I would’ve known it anywhere.

  It was mine. Or actually, his.

  Ethan Carter Wate was still wearing the Confederate uniform he died in.

  My heart dropped. Genevieve would never see him again, not in this world or any other. He had died twice, like me. But he would never get back home. Never hold Genevieve in his arms, even in the Otherworld. He had tried to save the girl he loved, and Sarafine and Ridley and Lena and all the other Casters who would come after her in the Duchannes family.

  He’d failed.

  It didn’t make a guy feel better. Not about standing where I stood. And not about leaving a Caster girl behind, the way we both had.

  “You will fail as well.” The words echoed across the cavern.

  Which meant Angelus was reading my mind. At this point, it was the least surprising thing happening in the room.

  I knew what I had to do.

  I emptied my mind the best I could, picturing the old baseball diamond where Link and I used to play T-ball. I watched Link throw a bum pitch in the ninth inning as I stood on home plate punching my glove. I tried to picture the batter. Who was it? Earl Petty, chewing gum, since the coach had outlawed chaw?

  I struggled to keep my mind on the game while my eyes did something else.

  Come on, Earl. Knock it out of the park.

  I glanced at the pedestal, then at the corpses floating at my feet. More bodies continued to rise, bumping into one another like sardines packed in a can. It wouldn’t be long until they were so close that I wouldn’t even be able to see the water.

  If I waited, maybe I could use them as stepping stones….

  Stop! Think about the game!

  But it was too late.

  “I wouldn’t try it.” Angelus watched me from the other side of the pool. “No Mortal can survive that water. You need the bridge to cross, and as you can see, it’s been removed. A security precaution.”

  He held his hand in front of him, twisting the air into a current I could feel all the way across the water.

  I had to brace myself to stay on my feet.

  “You will not retrieve your page. You will die the same dishonorable death as your namesake. The death all Mortals deserve.”

  “Why me, and why him? Why any of us? What did we ever do to you, Angelus?” I shouted at him over the wind.

  “You are inferior, born without the gifts of Supernaturals. Forcing us to stay in hiding while your cities and schools fill with children who will grow to do nothing more than occupy space. You’ve turned our world into our prison.” The air picked up, and he twisted his hand further. “It’s absurd. Like building a city for rodents.”

  I waited, picturing that stupid baseball game—Earl swinging, the crack of the bat—until the words formed, and I spoke them. “But you were born a Mortal. What does that make you?”

  His eyes widened, his face a mask of pure rage. “What did you say?”

  “You heard me.” I turned my mind to the vision I’d seen, forcing myself to remember the faces, the words. Xavier, when he was just a Caster. Angelus, when he was just a man.

  The wind increased, and I stumbled, the edge of my sneaker splashing at the edge of the pool of bodies. I braced myself, willing my feet not to slip.

  Angelus’ face had turned even paler than before. “You know nothing! Look what you sacrificed—to save what? A town full of pathetic Mortals?”

  I closed my eyes, letting the words find him.

  I know you were born a Mortal. All those experiments can’t change that. I know your secret.

  His eyes widened, hate raging across his face. “I am not a Mortal! I never was, and I never will be!”

  I know your secret.

  The wind picked up, and rocks flew again through the air—harder this time. I tried to shield my face as they pelted my ribs, smashing against the wall behind me. A trail of blood ran down my cheek.

  “I will tear you to shreds, Wayward!”

  I screamed over the din. “You may have powers, Angelus, but deep down, you’re still a Mortal, just like me.”

  You can’t harness Dark forces like Sarafine and Abraham, or Travel like an Incubus. You can’t cross that water any more than I can.

  “I am not Mortal!” he screamed.

  Nobody can.

  “Liar!”

  Prove it.

  There was a second, one terrible second, when Angelus and I stared across the water at each other.

  Then, without a word, Angelus flung himself into the air, lunging across the corpses in the pool—as if he couldn’t contain himself a moment longer. That’s how desperate he was to prove he was better than me.

  Better than a Mortal.

  Better than anyone else who ever tried to walk on water.

  I had been right.

  The rotting corpses were packed so tight that he ran right over their bodies until they started to move. Arms reached for him, the hundreds of bloated hands rising up out of the water. This was not like the river I had crossed to get here.

  This river was alive.

  An arm slithered over his neck, weighing him down.

  “No!”

  I shuddered as his voice echoed against the walls.

  The corpses tore at his robe desperately, pulling him down into the abyss of loss and misery. The same souls he had tortured were drowning him.

  His eyes locked on mine. “Help me!”

  Why should I?

  But there was nothing I could do, even if I’d wanted to. I knew those corpses would drown me. I was Mortal, just as Angelus was—at least part of him.

  Nobody walks on water, not where I come from. Nobody except the guy in the picture frame in Sunday school class.

  Too bad Angelus wasn’t from Gatlin; he would’ve known that.

  His hands clawed at the surface of the water until there was nothing left but a sea of bodies again. The stench of death was everywhere. It was suffocating, and I tried to cover my mouth, but the distinct odor of rot and decay was too strong.

  I knew what I’d done. I wasn’t innocent. Not in Sarafine’s death, and not in this one either. He was reading my mind and I had pushed him to this,
even if his hate and pride had propelled him into the pool.

  It was too late.

  A rotted arm slid around his neck, and within seconds he disappeared under the sea of bodies. It was a death I wouldn’t have wished on anyone.

  Not even Angelus.

  Maybe just him.

  Within moments, the pool turned milky white again, though I knew what was lurking underneath.

  I shrugged. “Wasn’t much of a challenge after all.”

  I had to find the bridge, or something I could use to cross.

  The splintering plank wasn’t well hidden. I found it in an alcove only a few yards from where Angelus stood moments ago. The wood was dry and cracked, which wasn’t reassuring, considering what I had just witnessed.

  But the book was so close.

  As I slid the plank over the surface of the water, I could practically feel Lena in my arms and hear Amma hollering at me. I couldn’t think straight. All I knew was I had to get across that water and get back to them.

  Please. Let me cross. All I want is to go home.

  With that thought, I took a breath.

  Then a step.

  Then another.

  I was five feet from the edge of the water now, maybe six.

  Halfway across. There was no turning back now.

  The bridge was surprisingly light, though it creaked and wobbled with my every step. Still, it had held up so far.

  I took a deep breath.

  Five more feet.

  Four—

  I heard a crash like a wave behind me. The water began to thrash. I felt a shooting pain in my leg as it gave way beneath me. The old board snapped like a broken toothpick.

  Before I could scream, I lost my balance, falling into the deadly water. Only then there wasn’t any water—or if there was, I wasn’t in it.

  I was in the arms of the rising dead.

  Worse.

  I was face to face with the other Ethan Wate. He was as much a skeleton as he was a man, but I recognized him now. I tried to pull away, but he grabbed me around the neck with a bony hand. Water poured out of his mouth, where his teeth should have been. I’d had nightmares less terrifying.

  I turned my head to keep corpse drool from my face.

  “Could a Mortal Cast an Ambulans Mortus?” Angelus pushed past the dead who crowded around me, pulling my arms and legs in every direction with such force I thought my limbs would rip right out of their sockets. “From under the water? To wake the dead?” He stood triumphantly on the land, in front of the book. Looking crazier than I’d thought even a crazy-looking Keeper could. “The challenge is over. Your soul is mine.”

  I didn’t answer. I couldn’t speak. Instead, I found myself staring into Ethan Wate’s empty eyes.

  “Now. Bring him to me.”

  At Angelus’ command, the corpses rose from the stinking water, pulling me with them up onto the shore. The other Ethan tossed me onto the dirt like I was weightless.

  As he did, a small black stone rolled out of my pocket.

  Angelus didn’t notice. He was too busy staring at the book. But I saw it clear enough.

  The river’s eye.

  I had forgotten to pay the River Master.

  Of course. You couldn’t just expect to cross the water anytime you wanted. Not around here. Not without paying a price.

  I picked up the rock.

  Ethan Wate, the dead one, whipped his head toward me. The look he gave me—if that’s what you’d call it, considering the guy barely had eyes—sent a shiver down my spine. I felt sorry for him. But I sure didn’t want to be him.

  Between the two of us, we owed each other that much.

  “So long, Ethan,” I said.

  With my last remaining bit of strength, I hurled the rock into the water. I heard it hit, making only the tiniest sound.

  You wouldn’t have noticed it unless you were me.

  Or one of the dead.

  Because they disappeared a few seconds after the rock hit the water. About as quickly as it took a rock to sink all the way down to the bottom of a pool of bodies.

  I fell back on the tiny stretch of dry land, exhausted. For a second, I was too scared to move.

  Then I saw Angelus standing there, glued to the book, reading in the light of the flickering green and gold flames.

  I knew what I had to do. And I didn’t have long to do it.

  I pulled myself to my feet.

  There it was. It was open on the pedestal, right in front of me.

  In front of Angelus, too.

  THE CASTER CHRONICLES

  I reached for the book, and it burned my fingers.

  “Don’t,” Angelus growled, grabbing my wrist. His eyes were shining, as if the book had some strange hold on him. He didn’t even look up from the page. I’m not sure he could.

  Because it was his page.

  I could almost read it from where I stood, a thousand rewritten words, one crossed out over the next. I could see the quill, ink-stained at the tip, almost twitching in his fingers next to the book.

  So this was how he’d done it. How he’d forced the supernatural world to bend to his will. He controlled the story. Not just his, but all of ours.

  Angelus had changed everything.

  One person could do that.

  And one person could change it back.

  “Angelus?”

  He didn’t answer. Staring into the book, he looked more like a zombie than the corpses did.

  So I didn’t look. Instead, I closed my eyes and pulled on the page, as hard and as fast as I could.

  “What are you doing?” Angelus sounded frantic, but I didn’t open my eyes. “What have you done?”

  My hands were burning. The page wanted to rip free from me, but I wouldn’t let go. I only held on tighter. Nothing was going to stop me now.

  It came off in my hands.

  The ripping sound reminded me of an Incubus, and I half expected to see John Breed or Link appear next to me. I opened my eyes.

  No such luck. Angelus reached for the page, shoving me in one direction while pulling my arm in another.

  I grabbed a dripping candle from the pedestal stand and lit the bottom of the page on fire. It began to smoke and flame, and Angelus howled with rage.

  “Leave it! You don’t know what you’re doing! You could destroy everything—” He threw himself at me, punching and kicking, almost ripping my shirt off. His nails raked my skin, again and again, but I didn’t let go.

  I didn’t let go when I felt the flames sear their way down to my fingers.

  I didn’t let go when the ink-smeared page crumbled into ash.

  I didn’t let go until Angelus himself crumbled into nothing, as if he was made of parchment.

  Finally, when the wind had blown every last trace of the Keeper and his page into oblivion, I found myself staring at my burnt, blackened hands.

  “My turn.”

  Ducking my head, I flipped through the delicate pages of parchment. I could see dates and names at the top, penned by different hands. I wondered which ones Xavier had written. If Obidias had changed anyone else’s page. I hoped he wasn’t the one who changed Ethan Carter Wate’s.

  I thought of my namesake and shuddered, fighting to keep the bile down.

  That could have been me.

  Halfway through the book, I found our pages.

  Ethan Carter’s was right before mine, the two pages clearly written by different hands.

  I skimmed Ethan Carter’s page until I reached the part of the story I already knew. It read like a script of the vision I had witnessed with Lena, the story of the night he died and Genevieve used The Book of Moons to bring him back. The night that started it all.

  I stared at the edge where the page met the binding. I almost tore it out, but I knew it wouldn’t have made a difference. It was too late for the other Ethan.

  I was the only one who still had a chance to change his fate.

  Finally, I turned the page to find I was staring at
Obidias’ script.

  Ethan Lawson Wate

  I didn’t read my page. I couldn’t risk it. I could already feel the pull of the book on my eyes, powerful enough to Bind me to my page, forever.

  I looked away. I already knew what happened in the end of this revision.

  Now I was changing it.

  I tore the page, the edges pulling away from the binding in a flash of electricity stronger and brighter than lightning. I heard what sounded like thunder in the sky above me, but I kept tearing.

  This time, I kept the candles as far from the parchment as I could.

  I pulled until the words came loose, disappearing like they had been written in invisible ink.

  I looked down at the page again and it was blank.

  I let it drop into the water around me, watching as it fell through the milky depths, vanishing into the endless shadow of the chasm.

  My page was gone.

  And in that second, I knew I was, too.

  I stared at my Chucks beneath me

  until they were gone

  and I was gone

  and it didn’t matter anymore….

  because

  there

  was

  nothing

  beneath

  me

  now

  and

  then

  no

  me

  CHAPTER 35

  A Crack in the Universe

  The toes of my Chucks hung over the white metal edge, a town sleeping hundreds of feet below me. The tiny houses and tiny cars looked like toys, and it was easy to imagine them dusted with glitter under the tree with the rest of my mother’s Christmas town.

  But they weren’t toys.

  I knew this view.

  You don’t forget the last thing you see before you die. Trust me.

  I was standing on top of the Summerville water tower, veins of cracked white paint spreading out from under my sneakers. The curve of a black heart drawn in Sharpie caught my eye.

  Was it possible? Could I really be home?

  I didn’t know until I saw her.

  The fronts of her black orthopedic shoes were lined up perfectly with my Chucks.

  Amma was wearing her black Sunday dress with the tiny violets scattered all over it, and a wide-brimmed black hat. Her white gloves gripped the handles of her patent-leather pocketbook.

 
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