Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  “You mean the secret stairway into the Tunnels? Will it lead into the Lunae Libri?”

  “Well, I don’t mean the Gatlin County Library.” My mom smiled.

  I pushed past her into the hallway and took off running. By the time she caught up to me, I had made it all the way to Macon’s old room. I flipped up the carpet and yanked open the trapdoor.

  There they were.

  The invisible stairs leading down into the Caster darkness.

  And beyond, the Caster Library.

  CHAPTER 5

  Another Lunae Libri

  Darkness, it turns out, is about as dark as usual no matter what world you’re in. The invisible steps beneath the trapdoor—the same ones I’d stumbled and climbed and half-fallen my way down so many times before—were every bit as invisible as they’d ever been.

  And the Lunae Libri?

  Nothing had changed about the moss-covered, rocky passageways that led us there. The long rows of ancient books, scrolls, and parchments were hauntingly familiar. Torches still threw unsteady flickering shadows across the stacks.

  The Caster Library looked the same as always, even though now I was far, far away from every living Caster.

  Especially the one I loved most.

  I grabbed a torch from the wall, waving it in front of me. “It’s all so real.”

  My mom nodded. “It’s exactly as I remember it.” She touched my shoulder. “A good memory. I loved this place.”

  “Me too.” This was the only place that had offered me any hope when Lena and I faced the hopeless situation of her Sixteenth Moon. I looked back at my mom, half-hidden in the shadows.

  “You never told me, Mom. I didn’t know anything about you being a Keeper. I didn’t know anything about this whole side of your life.”

  “I know. And I’m so sorry. But you’re here now, and I can show you everything.” She took my hand. “Finally.”

  We made our way into the darkness of the stacks, with only the torch between us. “Now, I’m no reference librarian, but I know my way around these stacks. On to the scrolls.” She looked at me sideways. “I hope you never touched any of these. Not without gloves.”

  “Yeah. I got that down, the first time I burned all my skin off.” I grinned. It was strange to be here with my mom, but now that I was, I could tell the Lunae Libri had been every bit hers, as much as it was Marian’s.

  She grinned back. “I guess that’s not a problem anymore.”

  I shrugged. “Guess not.”

  She pointed to the nearest shelf, her eyes bright. It was good to see my mom back in her natural habitat.

  She reached for a scroll. “C, as in crossing.”

  After what seemed like hours, we had made zero headway.

  I groaned. “Can’t you just tell me how to do this? Why do I have to look it up for myself?” We were surrounded by piles of scrolls, stacked all around us on the stone table at the very center of the Lunae Libri.

  Even my mom seemed frustrated. “I already told you. I just imagine where I want to go, and I’m there. If that doesn’t work for you, then I don’t know how to help you. Your soul isn’t the same as mine, especially not since it was fractured. You need help, and that’s what books are for.”

  “I’m pretty sure this isn’t what books are for—visitations from the dead.” I glared at her. “At least, that’s not what Mrs. English would say.”

  “You never know. Books are around for lots of reasons. As is Mrs. English.” She yanked another stack of scrolls into her lap. “Here. What about this one?” She pulled open a dusty scroll, smoothing it with her hands. “It’s not a Cast. It’s more like a meditation. To help your mind focus, as if you were a monk.”

  “I’m not a monk. And I’m not any good at meditating.”

  “Clearly. But it wouldn’t hurt you to try. Come on, focus. Listen.”

  She leaned over the parchment scroll, reading aloud. I read along over her shoulder.

  “In death, lie.

  In living, cry.

  Carry me home

  to remember

  to be remembered.”

  The words hovered in the air, like a strange silvery bubble. I reached out to touch them, but they faded out of sight as quickly as they had appeared.

  I looked at my mom. “Did you see that?”

  My mom nodded. “Casts are different in this world.”

  “Why isn’t it working?”

  “Try it in the original Latin. Here. Read it for yourself.” She held the paper closer to the torch, and I leaned toward the light.

  My voice shook as I said the words.

  “Mortuus, iace.

  Vivus, fle.

  Ducite me domum

  ut meminissem

  ut in memoria tenear.”

  I closed my eyes, but all I could think about was how far I was from Lena. How her curling black hair twisted in the Caster breeze. How the green and the gold flecks lit her eyes, as bright and dark as she was.

  How I’d probably never see her again.

  “Oh, come on, EW.”

  I opened my eyes. “It’s no use.”

  “Concentrate.”

  “I’m concentrating.”

  “You’re not,” she said. “Don’t think about where you are now. Don’t think about what you’ve lost—not the water tower or anything that came after it. Keep your head in the game.”

  “I am.”

  “No, you’re not.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because if you were, you wouldn’t be standing here. You would be halfway home, with one foot back in Gatlin.”

  Would I? It was hard to imagine.

  “Close your eyes.”

  I closed them obediently.

  “Repeat what I say,” she whispered.

  In the silence, I heard her words inside my mind, like she was speaking aloud to me.

  We were Kelting, my mother and I. In death, from the grave, in a faraway world. It seemed familiar between us, something from long ago, something we had lost.

  Carry me home.

  Carry me home, I said.

  Ducite me domum.

  Ducite me domum, I said.

  To remember.

  Ut meminissem, I said.

  And be remembered.

  Ut in memoria tenear, I said.

  You remember, my son.

  I remember, I said.

  You will remember.

  I will always remember, I said.

  I am the one, I said.

  You will—

  I will—

  Remember…

  CHAPTER 6

  Silver Button

  I opened my eyes.

  I was standing in the front hallway of Lena’s house. It worked. I had crossed. I was back in Gatlin, in the world of the living. I was overwhelmed with relief; it was still here.

  Gatlin remained. Which meant Lena remained. Which meant everything I’d lost—everything I’d done—hadn’t been for nothing.

  I leaned against the wall behind me. The room stopped spinning, and I lifted my head and looked around at the old plaster walls.

  The familiar flying staircase. The shining lacquered floors.

  Ravenwood.

  The real Ravenwood. Mortal, solid, and heavy beneath my feet. I was back.

  Lena.

  I closed my eyes and fought away the prickling tears.

  I’m here, L. I did it.

  I don’t know how long I stood frozen in place, waiting for a response, like I thought she was going to come running around the corner and into my arms.

  She didn’t.

  She didn’t even feel me Kelting.

  I drew in a deep breath. The enormity of it all was still hitting me.

  Ravenwood looked different than the last time I was here. It wasn’t really a surprise—Ravenwood was always changing—but even so, I could tell from the black sheets hanging over all the mirrors and windows that this time things had changed for the worse.

  It wa
sn’t just the sheets. It was the way the snow fell from the ceiling, even though I was inside. The cold white drifts piled in the doorways and filled the fireplace, swirling into the air like ash. I looked up to see the ceiling crowded with storm clouds that wound all the way up the stairwell to the second floor. It was pretty cold even for a ghost, and I couldn’t stop shivering.

  Ravenwood always had a story, and that story was Lena’s. She controlled the way the house looked with her every mood. And if Ravenwood looked like this…

  Come on, L. Where are you?

  I couldn’t help but listen for her to answer, even though all I heard was silence.

  I made my way through the slick ice of the front hall until I reached the familiar sweep of the grand front stairwell. Then I climbed the white steps, one at a time, all the way to the top.

  When I turned to look down, there were no footprints at all.

  “L? You in there?”

  Come on. I know you can feel me here.

  But she didn’t say anything, and as I slipped through the cracked doorway into her bedroom, it was almost a relief to see she wasn’t inside. I even checked the ceiling, where I had once found her lying along the plaster.

  Lena’s bedroom had changed again, like it always did. This time the viola wasn’t playing by itself, and there wasn’t writing everywhere, and the walls weren’t glass. It didn’t look like a prison, the plaster wasn’t cracked, and the bed wasn’t broken.

  Everything was gone. Her bags were packed and neatly stacked in the center of the room. The walls and the ceiling were completely plain, like an ordinary room.

  It looked like Lena was leaving.

  I got out of there before I could think what that would mean for me. Before I tried to figure out how I would visit her in Barbados, or wherever she was going.

  It was almost as hard to think about as leaving her the first time around.

  I found my way out through the massive dining room where I had sat on so many other strange days and nights. A thick layer of frost covered the table, leaving a dark, wet rectangle on the carpet immediately below. I slipped through an open door and escaped out to the back veranda, the one that faced the sloping green hill leading to the river—where it wasn’t snowing at all, just overcast and gloomy. It was a relief to be back outside, and I followed the path behind the house until I came to the lemon trees and the crumbling stone wall that told me I was at Greenbrier.

  I knew what I was looking for the second I saw it.

  My grave.

  There it was, among the bare branches of the lemon trees, a mound of fresh soil lined with stones and covered with a sprinkling of snow.

  It didn’t have a headstone, only a plain old cross made of wood. The new dirt hill looked like something less than a final resting place, which actually made me feel better, rather than worse, about the whole thing.

  The clouds overhead shifted, and a glimmer from the grave caught my eye. Someone had left a charm from Lena’s necklace on the top of the wooden cross. The sight of it made my stomach flip over.

  It was the silver button that had fallen off her sweater the night we first met in the rain on Route 9. It had gotten caught in the cracked vinyl of the Beater’s front seat. In a way, it felt like we had come full circle now, from the first time I saw her to the last, at least in this world.

  Full circle. The beginning and the end. Maybe I really had picked a hole in the sky and unraveled the universe. Maybe there was no kind of slipknot or half hitch or taut-line that could ever keep it all from coming undone. Something connected my first glimpse of the button to this one, even though it was just the same old button. Some small bit of universe had stretched from Lena to me to Macon to Amma to my dad and my mom—and even Marian and my Aunt Prue—back to me again. I guess Liv and John Breed were in there somewhere, and maybe Link and Ridley. Maybe all of Gatlin was.

  Did it matter?

  When I saw Lena for the very first time at school, how could I possibly have known where this was all headed? And if I had, would I have changed a single thing? I doubted it.

  I picked up the silver button carefully. The second my fingers touched it they moved more slowly, as if I had plunged my hand to the bottom of the lake. I felt the weight of the worthless tin like it was a pile of bricks.

  I put it back on the cross, but it rolled off the edge, falling onto the mounded dirt of the grave. I was too tired to try to move it again. If someone else was here, would they have seen the button move? Or did it only seem like that to me? Either way, that button was hard to look at. I hadn’t thought about what it would feel like to visit my own grave. And I wasn’t ready to rest, in peace or not.

  I wasn’t ready for any of this.

  I’d never really thought past the whole dying-for-the-sake-of-the-world part of things. When you’re alive, you don’t dwell on how you’re going to spend your time once you’re dead. You just figure you’re gone, and the rest will pretty much take care of itself.

  Or you think you’re not really going to die. You’re going to be the first person in the history of the world who doesn’t have to. Maybe that’s some kind of lie our brains tell us to keep us from going crazy while we’re alive.

  But nothing’s that simple.

  Not when you were standing where I was.

  And nobody’s any different from anyone else, not when you come right down to it.

  These are the kinds of things a guy thinks about when he visits his own grave.

  I sat down next to my headstone and flopped back on the hard soil and grass. I plucked a single blade poking through the scattering of snow. At least it was coming in green. No dead, brown grass and lubbers now.

  Thank the Sweet Redeemer, as Amma liked to say.

  You’re welcome. That’s what I’d like to say.

  I looked at the grave next to me and touched the fresh, cold soil with my hand, letting it fall through my fingers. Not a bit dry either. Things really had changed around Gatlin.

  I was brought up a good Southern boy, and I knew better than to disturb or disrespect any grave in town. I had walked circles around graveyards, trailing my mom carefully to avoid accidentally putting a stray foot on someone’s sacred plot.

  It was Link who didn’t know better than to lie on top of the graves and pretend to sleep where the dead were resting. He wanted to practice—that’s what he said. A dry run. “I want to see what the view is like from down there. You wouldn’t want a guy to head out for the rest a his life without knowin’ where it was all takin’ him in the end, would you?”

  But when it came to graves, it was a different thing to worry about disrespecting your own.

  That’s when a familiar voice caught in the wind, surprising me with how close it was. “You get used to it, you know.”

  I followed the voice a few graves over, and there she was, red hair blowing wild. Genevieve Duchannes. Lena’s ancestor, the first Caster who had used The Book of Moons to try to bring back someone she loved—the original Ethan Wate. He was my great-great-great-great-uncle, and it hadn’t worked out any better for him than it had for me. Genevieve failed, and Lena’s family was cursed.

  The last time I saw Genevieve, I was digging up her grave with Lena, looking for The Book of Moons.

  “Is that—Genevieve? Ma’am?” I sat up.

  She nodded, curling and uncurling a loose strand of hair with her hand. “I thought you might be coming around. I wasn’t sure when. There’s been a lot of talk.” She smiled. “Though your kind tends to stay in Perpetual Peace. Casters, we go where we like. Most of us stay in the Tunnels. I feel better here.”

  Talk? I bet there was, though it was hard to imagine a town full of ghostly Sheers doing the talking. More like my Aunt Prue, probably.

  Her smile faded. “But you’re just a boy. It’s worse, isn’t it? That you’re so young.”

  I nodded in Genevieve’s direction. “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Well, you’re here now, and that’s what matters. I suppose I owe y
ou, Ethan Lawson Wate.”

  “You don’t owe me anything, ma’am.”

  “I hope to repay the debt one day. Returning my locket meant the world to me, but I don’t think you’ll see much gratitude from Ethan Carter Wate, wherever he may be. He always was a bit stubborn that way.”

  “What happened to him? If you don’t mind my asking, ma’am.” I’d always wondered about Ethan Carter Wate—after he came back to life for only a second. I mean, he was the beginning of all of this, everything that had happened to Lena and me. The other end of the thread we pulled, the one that had unraveled the entire universe.

  Didn’t I have a right to know how his story ended? It couldn’t have been much worse than mine, could it?

  “I don’t really know. They took him away to the Far Keep. We couldn’t be together, but I’m sure you know that. I learned it myself, the hard way,” she said, her voice sad and far away.

  Her words caught in my mind, snagging on others I’d tried to push off until now. The Far Keep. The Keepers of The Caster Chronicles—the same ones my mom refused to talk about. Genevieve didn’t look like she wanted to elaborate either.

  Why didn’t anyone want to talk about the Far Keep? What were The Caster Chronicles really about?

  I looked from Genevieve to the lemon trees. Here we were, at the site of the first big fire. It was the place where her family’s land had burned, and where Lena tried to face off against Sarafine for the first time.

  Funny how history repeated itself around here.

  Funnier still how I was about the last person in Gatlin to figure that out.

  But I had learned a few things the hard way myself. “It wasn’t your fault. The Book of Moons sort of plays tricks on people. I don’t think it was ever meant for Light Casters. I think it wanted to turn you—” She shot me a look, and I stopped talking. “Sorry, ma’am.”

  She shrugged. “I don’t know. For the first hundred years or so, I felt that way. Like that book had stolen something from me. Like I’d been duped…” Her voice trailed off.

  She was right. She had gotten the short stick.

  “But good or bad, I made my own choices. They’re all I have now. It’s my cross to bear, and I’ll be the one to bear it.”

 
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