Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  A hidden Doorwell, like the ones in the Caster Tunnels.

  “Where are we going?”

  Aunt Prue paused, her hand still resting on the iron pull. “Not all folks are lucky enough ta be buried in His Garden of Perpetual Peace, Ethan Wate. The Casters, I reckon they got as much right ta the Otherworld as we do, don’tcha think?”

  Aunt Prue pushed the door open easily, and we stepped out onto a rocky coastline.

  There was a house balancing dangerously on the edge of a cliff. The weathered wood was the same sad shade of gray as the rocks, as if it had been painstakingly carved from them. It was small and simple and hidden in plain sight, like so many things in the world I’d left behind.

  I watched as the waves crashed against the face of the cliff, reaching toward the house but ultimately failing. This place had stood the test of time, defying nature in a way that seemed impossible.

  “Whose house is that?” I offered Aunt Prue my arm, helping her navigate the uneven ground.

  “You know what they say about curiosity and cats. May not kill ya, but it’ll get ya inta a heap a trouble around here, too. Though trouble seems ta find you even when you ain’t lookin’ for it.” She gathered her long flowered skirt in her other hand. “You’ll see soon enough.”

  She wouldn’t say another word after that.

  We climbed a treacherous stairway carved into the side of the cliff. Where the rock wasn’t reinforced with splintering boards, it crumbled away under my feet, and I almost lost my footing. I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t about to go plummeting to my death, seeing as I was already dead. Still, it didn’t help as much as you’d think it would. That was another thing I’d learned from the Caster world: There always seemed to be something worse around the next corner. There was always something to be afraid of, even if you hadn’t figured out exactly what it was yet.

  When we reached the house, all I could think was how much it reminded me of Ravenwood Manor, though the two buildings didn’t resemble each other in any way. Ravenwood was a Greek Revival–style mansion, and this was a single-story clapboard. But the house seemed aware of us as we approached, alive with power and magic, like Ravenwood. It was surrounded by crooked trees with slanted branches that had been beaten into submission by the wind. It looked like the kind of twisted drawing you’d find in a book meant to terrify children into having nightmares. The kind of book where kids were trapped by more than just witches and devoured by more than wolves.

  I was thinking it was a good thing I no longer needed to sleep, when my aunt marched up the walk. Aunt Prue didn’t hesitate. She walked right up to the door and pounded the oxidized brass ring three times. There was writing carved around the doorframe. It was Niadic, the ancient language of Casters.

  I backed up, letting all the Harlon Jameses go in front of me. They growled their tiny dog growls at the door. Before I had a chance to examine the writing more closely, the door creaked open.

  An old man stood in front of us. I assumed he was a Sheer, but that wasn’t a distinction worth making here—we were all spirits of one kind or another. His head was shaved and scarred, faint lines overlapping in a vicious pattern. His white beard was cut short, his eyes covered by dark wraparound glasses.

  A black sweater hung from his skinny frame, which was partially hidden behind the door. There was something frail and worn out about him, like he had escaped from a work camp, or worse.

  “Prudence.” He nodded. “Is this the boy?”

  “ ’Course it is.” Aunt Prue shoved me forward. “Ethan, this here is Obidias Trueblood. Go on in.”

  I extended my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, sir.”

  Obidias held up his right hand, which had been hidden behind the door. “I’m sure you’ll understand if we don’t shake.” His hand was severed at the wrist, a black line marking the place where it had been cut. Above the mark, his wrist was severely scarred, as if it had been punctured over and over again.

  Which it had.

  Five writhing black snakes extended from his wrist to the point where his fingers would normally have reached. They were hissing and striking at the air, curling around one another.

  “Don’t worry,” Obidias said. “They won’t hurt you. It’s me they enjoy tormenting.”

  I couldn’t think of anything to say. I wanted to run.

  The Harlon Jameses growled even more loudly, and the snakes hissed back. Aunt Prue scowled at all of them. “Puh-lease. Not you, too.”

  I stared at the snake hand. Something about it was familiar. How many guys with snakes for fingers could there be? Why did I feel like I knew him?

  It hit me, and I realized who Obidias was—the guy Macon had sent Link to see in the Tunnels. Last summer, right after the Seventeenth Moon. The guy who’d died right in front of Link after Hunting bit him, in his house, this house—at least the Otherworld version of it. Back then I thought Link was exaggerating, but he wasn’t.

  Not even Link could have made this up.

  The snake that replaced Obidias’ thumb wrapped itself around his wrist, stretching its head toward me. Its tongue flicked in and out, the little fork flying.

  Aunt Prue pushed me across the threshold, and I went stumbling, only inches from the snakes. “Go on in. You aren’t afraid of a few itty-bitty little garden snakes, are you?”

  Was she kidding? They looked like pit vipers.

  I turned awkwardly toward Obidias. “I’m sorry, sir. It—they just caught me off guard.”

  “Don’t give it another thought.” He waved off the apology with a twist of the wrist on his good hand. “It’s not something you see every day.”

  Aunt Prue sniffed. “I’ve seen a stranger thing or two.” I stared at my aunt, who looked as smug as if she shook a new snake hand every day of her life.

  Obidias closed the door behind us, but not before checking the horizon in every direction. “You came alone? You weren’t followed?”

  Aunt Prue shook her head. “Me? Nobody can follow me.” She wasn’t kidding.

  I looked back to Obidias. “Can I ask you something, sir?” I had to know for sure if he’d met Link, if he was the same guy.

  “Of course.”

  I cleared my throat. “I think you met a friend of mine. When you were alive, I mean. He told me about someone who looked like you.”

  Obidias held out his hand. “You mean a man with five snakes for a hand? There probably aren’t many of us.”

  I wasn’t sure how to say the next part. “If it was my friend, he was there when you—you know. Died. I’m not sure it matters, but if it does, I’d like to know.”

  Aunt Prue looked at me, confused. She didn’t know any of this. Link had never told anyone but me, as far as I knew.

  Obidias was watching me, too. “Did this friend of yours happen to know Macon Ravenwood?”

  I nodded. “He did, sir.”

  “Then I remember him well.” He smiled. “I saw him deliver my message to Macon after I passed. You can see a great deal from this side.”

  “I guess so.” He was right. Because we were dead, we could see everything. And because we were dead, it didn’t matter what we could see. So the whole seeing-things-from-the-grave concept? Majorly overrated. All you ended up seeing was more than you wanted to in the first place.

  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the first guy who would’ve traded seeing a little less for living a little more. I didn’t say that to Edward Snakehands, though. I didn’t want to think about how much I had in common with a guy whose fingers had fangs.

  “Why don’t we make ourselves more comfortable? We have a lot to talk about.” Obidias ushered us further into the living room—really the only room I could see, except for a small kitchen and a lone door at the end of the hall, which must have led to the bedroom.

  It was basically one gigantic library. Shelves extended from the floor to the ceiling, a battered brass library ladder attached to the highest shelf. A polished wooden stand held a huge leather volume, like the diction
ary we had in the Gatlin County Library. Marian would’ve loved this place.

  There was nothing else in the room aside from four threadbare armchairs. Obidias waited for Aunt Prue and me to sit down before he chose a chair opposite ours. He removed the dark glasses he was wearing, and his eyes locked on mine.

  I should have known.

  Yellow eyes.

  He was a Dark Caster. Of course.

  That made sense, if he really was the guy from Link’s story. But still, now that I thought about it, what was Aunt Prue doing, taking me to see a Dark Caster?

  Obidias must have realized what I was thinking. “You didn’t think there were Dark Casters here, did you?”

  I shook my head. “No, sir. I guess I didn’t.”

  “Surprise.” Obidias smiled grimly.

  Aunt Prue swooped in to save me. “The Otherworld’s a place for unfinished business. For folks like me and you and Obidias here, who aren’t ready ta move on just yet.”

  “And my mom?”

  She nodded. “Lila Jane more than anyone. She’s been kickin’ around here longer than the whole lot a us.”

  “Some can cross freely between this world and others,” Obidias explained. “We all eventually get to our destination. But those of us whose lives were cut short before we could right the wrongs haunting us, we remain here until we find that moment of peace.”

  He didn’t have to tell me. I already knew it for myself—crossing was complicated business. And I hadn’t felt anything remotely peaceful. Not yet.

  I turned to Aunt Prue. “So you’re stuck here, too? I mean, when you aren’t crossing back to visit the Sisters? Because of me?”

  “I can leave if I set my mind ta it.” She patted my hand, as if to remind me I was silly to think there was ever anyone or anything that could keep my aunt from a place she wanted to go. “But I’m not goin’ anywhere till you’re back home, where you belong. You’re a part a my unfinished business now, Ethan, and I ’cept that. I mean ta make things right.” She patted my cheek. “Besides, what else am I gonna do? I got myself Mercy and Grace ta wait for, don’t I?”

  “Back home? You mean to Gatlin?”

  “Ta Miss Amma, and Lena, and all our kin,” she answered.

  “Aunt Prue, I could barely cross to visit Gatlin, and even then nobody could see me.”

  “That’s where you’re wrong, boy.” Obidias spoke up, and one of his angry-looking snakes sank its fangs into his wrist. He winced, pulling a piece of black material shaped like a mitten out of his pocket. He dropped the hood over the hissing snakes, using two pieces of cord at the bottom to tighten it. The snakes shifted and thrashed beneath the fabric. “Now, where was I?”

  “Are you okay?” I was a little distracted. It’s not every day that a guy, or even a Sheer, gets bitten by his own hand. At least I hoped it wasn’t.

  But Obidias didn’t want to talk about himself. “When I heard about the circumstances that brought you to this side of the veil, I sent word to your aunt immediately. Your aunt and your mother.”

  My Aunt Prue clicked her tongue impatiently.

  That explained my aunt wanting to bring me here—and my mother not wanting her to. Just because you told any two people in my family the same piece of news, that didn’t mean they’d agree about what they’d heard. My mom used to say the people in the Evers family were about the most hog-minded, mule-stuck bloodline you could find—and the Wates were worse. A pack of wasps fighting over the nest—that’s what my dad called the Wate family reunions.

  “How did you hear about what happened?” I tried not to stare at the snakes twisting beneath the black hood.

  “News travels fast in the Otherworld,” he said, hesitating. “More importantly, I knew it was a mistake.”

  “I told you, Ethan Wate.” Aunt Prue looked mighty satisfied.

  If it was a mistake—if I wasn’t supposed to be here—maybe there was a way to fix it. Maybe I really could go home.

  I wanted so badly for it to be true, the same way I had wanted this to be a dream I could wake up from. But I knew better.

  Nothing was ever how you wanted it to be. Not anymore. Not for me.

  They just didn’t understand.

  “It wasn’t a mistake. I chose to come, Mr. Trueblood. I worked it out with the Lilum. If I didn’t, the people I loved, and lots of others, were going to die.”

  Obidias nodded. “I know all of that, Ethan. Just like I know about the Lilum and the Order of Things. I’m not questioning what you did. What I’m saying is that you never should’ve had to make that choice. It wasn’t in the Chronicles.”

  “The Caster Chronicles?” I had only seen the book once, in the archive when the Council of the Far Keep came to question Marian, yet it was the second time I’d heard the subject come up since I got here. How did Obidias know about it? And whatever any of it meant, my mom hadn’t exactly wanted to elaborate.

  “Yes.” Obidias nodded.

  “I don’t understand what that has to do with me.”

  He was silent for a moment.

  “Go on, tell him.” Aunt Prue was giving Obidias Trueblood the same forceful look she always gave me right before she made me do something crazy, like bury acorns in her yard for baby squirrels. “He deserves ta know. Set it right.”

  Obidias nodded at Aunt Prue and looked back at me with those golden-yellow eyes that made my skin crawl almost as much as his snake hand did. “As you know, The Caster Chronicles is a record of everything that has happened in the world. But it is also a record of what might be—possible futures that have not come to pass.”

  “The past, the present, and the future. I remember.” The three weird-looking Keepers I saw in the library and during Marian’s trial. How could I forget?

  “Yes. In the Far Keep, those futures can be altered, transforming them from possible futures to actual ones.”

  “Are you saying the book can change the future?” I was stunned. Marian had never mentioned any of this.

  “It can,” Obidias answered. “If a page is altered, or one is added. A page that was never intended to be there.”

  A shiver moved up my back. “What are you saying, Mr. Trueblood?”

  “The page that tells the story of your death was never part of the original Chronicles. It was added.” He looked up at me, haunted.

  “Why would someone do that?”

  “There are more reasons for people’s actions than the number of actions that are actually set in motion.” His voice was distant, full of regret and sorrow I would never have expected from a Dark Caster. “The important thing is that your fate—this fate—can be changed.”

  Changed? Could you save a life once it was over?

  I was terrified to ask the next question, to believe there was a way I could get back to everything I lost. To Gatlin. To Amma.

  Lena.

  All I wanted was to feel her in my arms and hear her voice in my head. I wanted to find a way back to the Caster girl I loved more than anything in this world, or any world.

  “How?” The answer didn’t actually matter. I would do whatever I had to, and Obidias Trueblood knew it.

  “It’s dangerous.” Obidias’ expression was a warning. “More dangerous than anything in the Mortal world.”

  I heard the words, but I couldn’t believe them. There was nothing more terrifying than staying here. “What do I have to do?”

  “You’ll have to destroy your own page in The Caster Chronicles. The one that describes your death.”

  I had a thousand questions, but only one mattered. “What if you’re wrong, and my page was there all along?”

  Obidias stared down at what was left of his hand, the snakes rearing and striking even under the cloth. A shadow passed across his face.

  He raised his eyes to meet mine.

  “I know it wasn’t there, Ethan. Because I’m the one who wrote it.”

  CHAPTER 11

  Darker Things

  The room went quiet, so quiet you could hear the h
ouse creak as the wind pushed against it. So quiet you could hear the snakes hiss almost as loudly as Aunt Prue’s asthma and my pounding heart. Even the Harlon Jameses slunk away, whimpering behind a chair.

  For a second, I couldn’t think. My mind was completely blank.

  There was no way to process this—to understand why a man I had never met would change the course of my life, so irreparably and violently.

  What the hell did I do to this guy?

  I finally found the words, at least some of them. There were others I couldn’t say in front of Aunt Prue, or she’d wash my mouth out with more than soap and probably make me suck down a bottle of Tabasco, too. “Why? You don’t even know me.”

  “It’s complicated—”

  “Complicated?” My voice started rising, and I pulled myself up out of my chair. “You ruined my life. You forced me to choose between saving the people I loved and sacrificing myself. I hurt everyone I care about. They had to put a Cast on my own father to keep him from going crazy!”

  “I’m sorry, Ethan. I wouldn’t have wished this on my worst enemy.”

  “No. You just wished it on some seventeen-year-old kid you’d never met.” This guy wasn’t going to help me. He was the reason I was stuck in this nightmare in the first place.

  Aunt Prue reached out and took my hand. “I know you’re angry, and you’ve got more right than anyone ta be. But Obidias can help us get you back home. So you need ta sit down here and listen ta what he’s got ta say.”

  “How do you know we can trust him, Aunt Prue? Every word that comes out of his mouth is probably a lie.” I pulled my hand away.

  “You listen here, and you listen good.” She yanked on my arm harder than I would’ve expected, and I sank back down into the chair next to her. She wanted me to look her in the eye. “I’ve known Obidias Trueblood since before he was Light or Dark, before he’d done wrong or right. Spent the better part a my days walkin’ the Caster Tunnels with the True bloods and my daddy.” Aunt Prue paused and glanced at Obidias. “And he saved me a time or two down there. Even if he wasn’t smart enough ta save himself.”

 
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