Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  I didn’t know what to think. Maybe my aunt had charted the Tunnels with Obidias. Maybe she could trust him.

  But that didn’t mean I could.

  Obidias seemed to know what I was thinking. “Ethan, you may find this hard to believe, but I know what it’s like to feel helpless—to be at the mercy of decisions that you didn’t make.”

  “You have no idea how I feel.” I heard the anger in my voice, but I didn’t try to hide it. I wanted Obidias Trueblood to know I hated him for what he’d done to me and the people I loved.

  I thought about Lena leaving the button on my grave. He didn’t know what that felt like—for me or Lena.

  “Ethan, I know you don’t trust him, and I don’t blame you.” Aunt Prue was playing hardball now. This meant something to her. “But I’m askin’ you ta trust me and hear him out.”

  I locked eyes with Obidias. “Start talking. How do I get back?”

  Obidias took a long breath. “As I said, the only way to get your life back is to erase your death.”

  “So if I destroy the page, I go home—right?” I wanted to be sure there were no loopholes.

  No calling a moon out of time, no splitting the moon in half. No curses that kept me from leaving, once the page was gone.

  He nodded. “Yes. But first you have to get to the book.”

  “You mean from the Far Keep? The Keepers had it with them when they came for my Aunt Marian.”

  “That’s right.” He looked at me, startled. I guess he hadn’t expected me to know anything about The Caster Chronicles.

  “So what are we doing sitting around here talking? Let’s get on with it.” I was halfway out of my chair before I realized Obidias wasn’t moving.

  “And you think you’ll just walk in there and take the page?” he asked. “It’s not that easy.”

  “Who’s going to stop me? A bunch of Keepers? What do I have to lose?” I tried not to think about how terrifying they had seemed when they came for Marian.

  Obidias pulled the hood off his hand, and the snakes hissed and struck one another. “Do you know who did this to me? A ‘bunch of Keepers’ who caught me trying to steal my page from the Chronicles.”

  “Lord have mercy,” Aunt Prue said, fanning herself with her handkerchief.

  For a second, I didn’t know if I believed him. But I recognized the emotion playing out on his face, because I was feeling it myself.

  Fear.

  “Keepers did that to you?”

  He nodded. “Angelus and Adriel. On one of their more generous days.” I wondered if Adriel was the big one who had shown up in the archive with Angelus and the albino woman. They were the three strangest-looking people I’d seen in the Caster world. At least until today.

  I looked at Obidias and his snakes.

  “Like I said, what can they do to me now? I’m already dead.” I tried to smile, even though it wasn’t funny. It was the opposite of funny.

  Obidias held out his hand, the snakes jerking and stretching as they tried to reach me. “There are things worse than death, Ethan. Things that are darker than the Dark Casters. I should know. If you are caught, the Keepers will never let you leave the library at the Far Keep. You will be their scribe and their slave, forced to rewrite the futures of innocent Casters… and Mortal Waywards who are Bound to them.”

  “Waywards are supposed to be pretty rare. How many can there be to write about?” I had never met another one, and I’d met Vexes and Incubuses and more kinds of Casters than I ever wanted to.

  Obidias leaned forward in his chair, cloaking his cruelly deformed hand once again. “Perhaps they aren’t as rare as you think. Maybe they just don’t live long enough for the Casters to find them.”

  There was an undeniable truth in his words that I couldn’t explain. I guess there was some part of me that knew a lie would have sounded different. Another part knew I’d always been in danger, one way or another—with or without Lena.

  Whether I was meant to jump off a water tower or not.

  Either way, the fear in his voice should’ve been proof enough.

  “Okay. So I won’t get caught.”

  Aunt Prue’s face was filled with concern. “Maybe this isn’t the best idea. We should go on back ta my house and think on it. Talk ta your mamma about it. She’s waitin’ on us, I reckon.”

  I squeezed her hand. “Don’t worry, Aunt Prue. I know a way in. There’s a Temporis Porta in an old tunnel beneath Wate’s Landing. I can get in and out before the Keepers ever realize I was there.”

  If I could walk through walls in the Mortal realm, I was pretty sure I could step through the Temporis Porta, too.

  Obidias broke the end off a thick cigar. His hand was shaking as he lit the match and held it up. He took a few puffs, until it glowed a steady orange. “You can’t enter the library at the Far Keep through the Mortal realm. You have to enter through the seam.” He delivered the news as calmly as if he was giving me directions to the local Stop & Steal, to pick up some milk.

  “You mean the Great Barrier?” It seemed like a strange place for a door to the Far Keep’s inner sanctum. “I can handle it. I did it once, and I can do it again.”

  “What you’ve done is nothing compared to what you’re about to do. The Great Barrier is just one place you can get to from the seam,” Obidias explained. “You can cross into other worlds from there that will make the Barrier feel like home.”

  “Just tell me how to get there.” We were wasting time, and every second we sat around talking was another second away from Lena.

  “You have to cross the Great River. It runs through the Great Barrier, all the way to the seam. It forms the border between the realms.”

  “Like the River Styx?”

  He ignored me. “And you can’t cross unless you have the river eyes—two smooth black stones.”

  “Are you kidding?”

  He shook his head. “Not at all. They’re very rare and hard to come by.”

  “River eyes. Got it. I can find a couple rocks.”

  “If you get across the river, and that’s a big if, you’ll still have to make it past the Gatekeeper before you can get into the library.”

  “How do I do that?”

  Obidias took a puff from the cigar. “You have to offer him something he can’t refuse.”

  “What exactly would that be?” Aunt Prue asked, as though she might have whatever it was tucked in her pocketbook. Like the Gatekeeper would be interested in three linty breath mints, some nondairy creamer, and a wad of folded-up Kleenex.

  “It’s always different. You’ll have to figure it out when you get there,” Obidias said. “He has… eclectic taste.” He didn’t say any more on the subject.

  An offering. Eclectic taste. Whatever the hell that meant.

  “Okay. So I have to find the black stones and get across the Great River,” I said. “Figure out what the Gatekeeper guy wants and give it to him to get inside the library. Then find The Caster Chronicles and destroy my page.” I paused, because the question I was about to ask was the most important detail, and I wanted to get it straight. “If I do all that and don’t get caught, I’ll get back home—my real home? How do I do that? What happens after I destroy the page?”

  Obidias looked at Aunt Prue and back to me. “I’m not sure. It’s never happened, as far as I know.” He shook his head. “It’s a chance, nothing more. And not even a good one…”

  “Nothin’s certain, Ethan Wate, ’cept for that you had a shot at a life a your own, and the Keepers stole it from you.”

  I stood up before they could finish talking.

  Lena was waiting, in my room or hers, by the crooked cross stuck in the grass at my gravesite or somewhere else. But she was waiting—that’s what mattered.

  If I had a chance in hell to get back home, I’d take it.

  I’m trying, L. Don’t give up on me.

  “I need to get going, Mr. Trueblood. I have a river to cross.”

  Aunt Prue opened her pocketbo
ok and pulled out a faded map, covered with shapes that didn’t represent any continent, country, or state I’d ever seen. This was more than a doodle on the back of an old church program. I knew what Aunt Prue’s maps were like, and I knew how important they had been to me before—the last time I found my way to the seam, for Lena’s Seventeenth Moon.

  “I’ve been workin’ on it since I got here, jus’ a little bit here and there. Obidias told me you’d be needin’ it.” She shrugged. “Reckoned it was the least I could do.”

  I leaned down and hugged her. “Thanks, Aunt Prue. And don’t be worried.”

  “I’m not,” she lied. But she didn’t need to be.

  I was worried enough for both of us.

  CHAPTER 12

  Still Here

  After we got back to our side of the Otherworld—Harlon Jameses and all—I didn’t go home. I left Aunt Prue at her house and walked the streets—more like the rows—of His Garden of Perpetual Peace.

  Peace wasn’t exactly what I was feeling.

  I stopped in front of Wate’s Landing. It looked every bit the same as when I left, and I knew my mom was inside. I wanted to talk to her. But there were other things I had to do first.

  I sat down on the front steps, closing my eyes.

  “Carry me home.”

  What was it?

  To remember. And be remembered.

  Ducite me domum.

  Ut meminissem.

  Ut in memoria tenear.

  I remember Lena.

  Not the water tower.

  What came before.

  I remember Ravenwood.

  Let Ravenwood remember me.

  Let Ravenwood—

  Carry me—

  I was lying in the dirt in front of Ravenwood, half-stuck beneath a rosebush and an overgrown camellia hedge. I had crossed again—and this time, all on my own.

  “I’ll be damned.” I laughed, relieved. I was getting pretty good at this whole being-dead thing.

  Then I practically ran up the old veranda steps. I had to see if Lena had gotten the message—my message. My only problem was that no one bothered to do the crossword in The Stars and Stripes, not even Amma. I had to find a way to get them to look at that paper, if they hadn’t already.

  Lena wasn’t in her room, and she wasn’t at my grave either. She wasn’t in any of the usual places we used to go.

  Not in the lemon grove or the crypt, where I’d died the first time.

  I even looked in Ridley’s old room, where Liv was asleep in Ridley’s creaking four-poster bed. I was hoping she’d be able to sense that I was there with her Ethan Wate–ometer. No such luck. That’s when I realized it was nighttime in Gatlin, the real Gatlin, and there was absolutely no correlation between time that passed in the Otherworld and Mortal time. I felt like I’d only been gone a few hours—and here it was, the middle of the night.

  I didn’t even know what day it was, come to think of it.

  Worse yet, when I leaned over Liv’s face in the moonlight, it looked like she had been crying. I felt guilty, since there was a strong possibility I was the reason for the tears, unless she and John had had a fight.

  But that was unlikely, because when I looked down, I was standing right in the middle of John Breed’s chest. He was curled up next to the bed, on the worn pink shag carpeting.

  Poor guy. As many times as he had screwed up in the past, he was good to Liv, and for a while he believed he was the One Who Is Two. It’s hard to hold a grudge against a guy who tried to give his life to save the world. If anyone understood that, it was me.

  It wasn’t his fault the world wouldn’t have him.

  So I stepped off his chest as quickly as I could, and vowed to be a little more careful where I put my feet in the future. Not that he’d ever know.

  As I moved through the rest of the house it seemed completely vacant. Then I heard the crackling of a fireplace and followed the sound. At the bottom of the stairs, straight off the front hall, I found Macon sitting in his cracked leather chair by the fire. True to form, where there was Macon, there was also Lena. She was sitting at his feet, leaning against the ottoman. I could smell the Sharpie she was writing with. Her notebook lay open on her lap, but she was barely looking at it. Drawing circles over and over, until the page looked like it was ripping apart.

  She wasn’t crying—far from it.

  She was plotting.

  “It was Ethan. It had to be. I could feel him there with us, like he was standing right next to his grave.”

  Had she seen the crossword? Maybe that was why she was so fired up. I looked around the study, but if she’d read the paper, there was no sign of it. A stack of old newspapers filled a brass bin next to the fireplace; Macon used them for kindling. I tried to lift a single page of newsprint, and I could barely make a corner flutter.

  I wondered if I would’ve been able to figure out the crossword without a more experienced Sheer like my mom helping me.

  Amma didn’t need to worry so much about the haint blue and the salt and the charms. This whole haunting thing wasn’t as easy as it was cracked up to be.

  Then I noticed how sad Macon looked, studying Lena’s face. I gave up on the newspaper and focused harder on their conversation.

  “You may have felt the essence of him, Lena. A burial site is a powerful place, no doubt.”

  “I don’t mean I felt something, Uncle Macon. I felt him. Ethan, the Sheer. I’m sure of it.”

  The smoke from the fire curled out from the grating. Boo lay with his head in Lena’s lap, the flames reflecting in his dark eyes.

  “Because a button fell onto his grave?” Macon’s voice didn’t change, but he sounded tired. I wondered how many of these conversations he’d endured since I died.

  “No. Because he moved it.” Lena didn’t give up.

  “What about the wind? What about someone else? Wesley could have bumped it off, considering he is not the most graceful of creatures.”

  “It was only a week ago. I remember it perfectly. I know it happened.” She was even more stubborn than he was.

  A week ago?

  Had that much time passed in Gatlin?

  Lena hadn’t seen the paper. She couldn’t prove I was still here, not to herself or my family or even my best friend. There was no way to explain about Obidias Trueblood and all the complications in my life, not while she didn’t even know I was in the room with her.

  “What about since then?” Macon asked.

  She looked troubled. “Maybe he’s gone. Maybe he’s up to something. I don’t know how it works in the Otherworld.” Lena stared into the fire as if she was looking for something. “It’s not just me. I went to see Amma. She said she felt him in the house.”

  “Amma’s feelings are not to be trusted when it comes to Ethan.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean? Of course Amma can be trusted. She’s the most trustworthy person I know.” Lena looked furious, and I wondered how much she actually knew about that night at the water tower.

  He didn’t say a word.

  “Isn’t she?”

  Macon closed his book. “I can’t see the future. I’m not a Seer. All I know is Ethan did what needed to be done. The whole realm—Dark and Light—will always be grateful to him.”

  Lena stood up, ripping the ink-stained page from her notebook. “Well, I’m not. I understand he was very brave and noble and whatever, but he left me here, and I’m not sure it was worth it. I don’t care about the universe and the realm and saving the world, not anymore. Not without Ethan.”

  She tossed the ripped page into the fire. The orange flames leaped up around it.

  Uncle Macon spoke as he watched the fire. “I understand.”

  “Really?” Lena didn’t seem to believe him.

  “There was a time when I put my heart above all else.”

  “And what happened?”

  “I don’t know. I got older, I suppose. And I learned that things often are more complicated than we think.”

>   Leaning against the mantel, Lena stared into the fire.

  “Maybe you just forgot what it feels like.”

  “Perhaps.”

  “I won’t.” She looked at her uncle. “I won’t ever forget.”

  She twisted her hand, and the smoke rose up until it curled around her and took shape. It was a face. It was my face.

  “Lena.”

  My face disappeared at the sound of Macon’s voice, fading away into streaks of gray cloud.

  “Leave me alone. Let me have what little I can, what I have left of him.” She sounded fierce, and I loved her for it.

  “Those are only memories.” There was sadness in Macon’s voice. “You have to move on. Trust me.”

  “Why? You never did.”

  He smiled sadly, staring past her into the fire. “That’s how I know.”

  I followed Lena up the stairs. Though the ice and snow had melted away since my last visit to Ravenwood, a thick gray fog hung throughout the house, and the air was colder.

  Lena didn’t seem to notice or care what was going on around her, even though her breath was curling up toward her face in a quiet white cloud. I noticed the dark rings under her eyes, the way she looked as thin and as frail as she had when Macon died. She wasn’t the same person she had been then, though—she was someone much stronger.

  She had believed Macon was gone forever, and we found a way to bring him back. I knew deep down she couldn’t hold out for any less of a fate for me.

  Maybe Lena didn’t know I was here, but she knew I wasn’t gone. She wasn’t giving up on me yet. She couldn’t.

  I knew, because if I was the one left behind, I couldn’t have either.

  Lena slipped into her room, past the pile of suitcases, and crawled into bed without even taking off her clothes. She waved her fingers, and her door slammed shut. I lay down next to her, my face on the edge of her pillow. We were only inches apart.

  The tears began to roll down her face, and I thought my heart would break, just watching her.

  I love you, L. I always will.

  I closed my eyes and reached for her. I wished, desperately, that there was something I could do. There had to be some way I could let her know I was still here.

 
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