Gideon Artenel, known on Earth as Ian Reeves, is finally living his dream of a peaceful existence. Working in a specialty bookstore in a Detroit suburb, he is far away from the mysterious, supernatural world he hopes he has permanently left behind. But all of that is about to change when he is suddenly confronted by a water fae from his previous life who tells him a powerful artifact is missing and it is his job to report back to the King if he chances upon it.
Momentarily shaken by the unexpected encounter, Ian arrives at work only to learn that his trusted employer has been murdered. Now Ian must come out of hiding and reveal himself to the very monsters he once escaped, join an organization he fears, and return to his past—all so he can avenge the death of his friend and locate the thief who stole an artifact of unimaginable strength. But little does he know that finding the perpetrators behind the crimes is only the beginning of his journey.
In this gripping fantasy tale, a man trapped between two lives is pulled back into a hidden world where he must face past mistakes, form allies, and tread new paths in order discover the truth.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By F. Zhang
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 Fan Zhang
All rights reserved.
The snows of winter came a little late this year in Wellsprings. Well into February in fact. But as if to make up for the delay, they came down especially hard, forcing the residents of this town located in the metros of Detroit to seek the warmth of home and family in lieu of the office and the slippery roads they must now travel to get there.
After a cloud-laden thirty-some hours, the sun finally shone again, glistening off the snow covered world that both greeted and blinded the people of Wellsprings as they opened their front doors and tried to venture outside. A rather difficult task now that their town was covered in nearly two feet of snow. Cars parked outside were almost completely buried. Roads, sidewalks, and lawns becomes indistinguishable. And snapped power lines left tens of thousands of residents in the metro area without access to modern conveniences. There were even reports of old roofs that had collapsed from the weight of the snow.
Of course, none of that mattered to me. I was safe and sound, warm and cozy in the confines of my small apartment. The problems of the outside world were nothing more than an illusion briefly glimpsed through misted windows and the occasional news program on TV. But even that was something that was far from my mind at the moment.
Wrapped in a mass of blankets, potato chips and remote control at my side, the TV flashing the newest episode of the latest sitcom, I was content ... and mildly drowsy. There was nothing else to do. Normally on this Wednesday at this particular hour, I would be working at a small specialty bookstore that dealt in rare and obscure books that had a limited audience, whether intentional or due to ignorance. But instead, the heavy snows had made the trek to the store mostly pointless. Business would be pretty much non-existent for these few days while the roads were dangerous and unusable. In fact, Walt, the proprietor of the bookstore and my employer, had called earlier this morning to inform me of the situation. I didn't have come in today. Thus my current state of relaxation.
So I sat here, pushed down into the cushions of the couch, the warmth of the blankets keeping away the chill of the sixty-six degree apartment air, and not a care in my mind. The lull of the TV pulled at my consciousness, dispersing any thoughts that might have formed. My eyelids drooped as I slowly drifted into the dreamscape.
AAAAAWWRRROOOOooooooo ... A sudden howl to my left jerked me awake. I bolted up into a sitting position. Adrenaline shot through my system and my heart raced in response. Was it a monster? Had something snuck into my apartment and sought to ambush me? Whatever it was would find me no easy prey. My mind focused as a reflex, shutting out every stray thought, I pulled at the mana that flowed through the veins of my soul and readied myself to lash out at anything that might attack. My sight changed ever so slightly in reaction to the power, augmented to perceive the flows of magic ... But there was nothing out of the ordinary in my apartment. For a second, I reveled in the mana I held, will and power given substance, augmenting my mind. My senses seemed to sharpen and with it, I peered at the shadows of apartment, seeking the source of the disturbance.
... Then it dawned on me. It was the new ringtone on my iPhone. Dammit. That sound had scared the shit out of me. I was ready to defend myself against something completely imaginary. A complete waste of a massive amount of effort for something so entirely inconsequential. Setting it as a wolf's howl wasn't meant to frighten me. But the combination of the suddenness of it and the sleepy state I was in did just that. It was a good thing I was home alone though I still felt my face burn with embarrassment.
At the second howl, my hand snaked out from under the blankets and I picked up. "Y'ello?" I answered, my voice still laced with the aftereffects of sleep.
"Ian, you need to get down here," a calm rasping voice answered, at odds with the words spoken. It was my boss, a Mr. Walter Coleman, owner and proprietor of Redstone Books.
"Walt? Is something wrong?"
"Oh nothing serious. I just need your help with a rare book I'm trying to find for a customer," he answered in that distinctive voice. The last word was punctuated by the sound of a book hitting the floor, making me flinch. This was not good. Walt had a habit of careless disregard for the health of the books that he perused. Though I did my best to prevent too much damage to the book by doing most of the shelving, which resulted in an unsurpassed familiarity with the locations of books. Thus Walt's request for my help.
Still, it was odd that someone would be at the store at this hour ... and in this weather. I just had to ask. "Now?"
"Yes. He's here with me right now."
"I thought the store was closed, y'know, 'cause of the weather."
"Well, it is, but he's an important customer and he's in a hurry. So stop being lazy and get down here already." The sound of another book dropping to the floor sounded in the background and I flinched again. There was no way around it if I wanted to stop Walt's indiscriminate slaughter of book bindings.
I sighed. "Alright, I'm on my way." Hanging up, I jumped out from under my blankets and shivered, goosebumps pebbling my skin as I stood there for a brief second only in my boxers. Then I rushed to the bedroom, I checked myself in the mirror hanging from the wall, examining the plain unremarkable face that looked back, a face that was easily lost in a crowd. I straightened my short dark hair that's been slightly messed up and pulled on a pair of slacks and shirt, got my keys, wallet, iPhone, and coat. After turning off the TV, I pulled open the door and was greeted by a small landslide of snow that buried my feet. Shit. I'd have to clear a path through the snow eventually ... but not right now.
I stepped out into the cold outdoors, shivering at the knee-deep snow that instantly went through my pants, and was greeted by a world of gray. The view before me was nothing more than a plain, cast into shadows by the setting sun, with the occasional bump that marked cars unfortunate enough to be caught outside, which included mine. The air was clear and silent dampened by the white blanket. Though the snow had stopped earlier this morning and despite the sun during the day, the road before me was still indistinguishable from parking lots and lawns. There were no tracks of cars or footprints that marked the passage of people since it seemed that everyone was still indoors, avoiding the cold and snow as evidenced by the lit windows of the apartments around me. Everyone, except for me. I sighed and a plume of warm misted breath puffed out in front of my face.
I pulled the door closed behind me, straining at the blockage and began pushing my way towards the bookstore.
The walk that normally would have taken only twenty minutes took more than double that with the snow that I now had to plow through. Within a dozen steps, my pants and loafers were soaked through and my legs were numb from the resulting ice water. But there were no alternatives. My own car having been buried back in the parking lot of my apartment. Even if I could dig it out, the roads were unusable until the city deigned to clean it up, which rarely happened in a timely manner.
When I finally did arrive at the strip mall that housed Redstone Books, the sun had completed its descent and had been replaced by the white disc of the moon and its accompanying twinkling stars. A clear sky gave the plain of snow a silver cast, interrupted at regular intervals by the yellow glare of streetlights. But immediately before me, the smooth surface vanished in a small cliff surrounded by small mountains of compact snow. It seemed that some enterprising individual had already cleared the mall parking lot and its nearby sidewalks, for which I was immensely grateful as I stepped onto dry pavement.
It took a few seconds to clear the crust of frozen ice that still clung to the outside of my pants and shoes, but it was necessary for my circulation to return some warmth and feeling to my lower extremities. Warmth that I was in dire need of as I then hurried towards the store.
Redstone Books had the smallest lot of the strip, nestled in between a laundromat and a Dairy Queen, both of which saw significantly more customers on a regular basis. It wasn't that business was bad. It was simply that most of the customers never came to the store to pick up their orders. Rather, most purchases were made online, which was handled by Walt, and then given to me to fill from the shelves. This method of running the business always made me wonder why he needed a store in the first place but I never got around to asking him about it. Oh well.
As I stepped up to the clear glass door of Redstone Books, I noted the closed sign that still hung in plain view, which made me question who this customer was that it was necessary to open the store at this time just for him. I paused with my hand on the cold doorknob, the skin of my palm freezing while a momentary sense of unease flitted through me. And I shivered from a chill that had nothing to do with the outside temperatures. Rather, memories of my past on the run flooded my mind and revived a paranoia that still gripped my soul despite the many years that had already passed. No, I reassured myself. That voice was definitely Walt's and he wouldn't do anything like that. That thought eased my fears somewhat and I finally moved, opening the door and walking inside.
The door swung closed behind me and the bell hanging above the door rang with a clear chime that echoed between the shelves. To the right of the door was a cash register sitting beside the single massive window that spanned the length of the store giving a generous view of the night outside. Other than the cash register, every other available space was occupied by rows upon rows of bookshelves that held a variety of genres ranging from autobiographies on obscure individuals to collections of science fiction shorts. Rare books that were found nowhere else.
I was still a bit worried so I strained my senses, doing my best to discern any dangers that might lurk in the small confines of the store, which was more difficult than it should have been. The interior of the store was dim, lit by a proliferation of yellow bulbs that, while numerous, did little to alleviate the darkness, making prolonged reading of the texts painful on the eyes. I had once asked Walt why he made the store so dark and he said something about bright lights being damaging to the older books. But personally, I figured that he just wanted to discourage browsing.
From what I could tell there was no one in the front of the store, but from the back I could hear the periodic thumps of books hitting the floor.
"Ian, that you? We're in the back," came a shout in Walt's distinctive voice.
Threading my way between the shelves, I arrived at the back of the store where the storeroom was located. It was here that the very rare and limited edition books were housed. Some were worth a pretty penny, necessitating a sturdy lock on the door which was useless at this particular point in time since the door was wide open. Inside was Walt with his back to me as he browsed the shelves that lined the walls, periodically taking out a book and dropping it on the floor as he peered deeper to those further in the back.
Walt stood a few inches shorter than me though in his prime he may have actually been taller. The shrinkage likely a result of diet. He sported a head of thinning gray hair, neatly combed and gelled to stay in place. Even now with his back to me, I could see the rims of the glasses that he always wore on the tip of his nose as he browsed the books on the shelves. He had on a brown sweater vest over a blue dress shirt and tie, which happens to be his usual attire, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a senior college professor, a professor with a classroom of one, namely me. As I spied Walt standing amidst the wreckage of scattered books, I always wondered why the tidiness of his attire never extended to the rest of his life. The times I had spent in his house had shown to me that other than his appearance, nothing else about him was so ordered. Every free space was clutter with random mementos, meaningless to anyone but him, the older ones partially organized with the newer placed haphazardly around them. It almost seemed as if the passage of time had worn away at the part of him that had sought order in his life, until finally, an ordered appearance was all that remained, resisting, unwilling to surrender.
"Ah Ian, there you are," a lined and weathered face partially turned to face me. "Now help me find the book that Mr. Alister there is looking for."
Walking into the room, my gaze followed Walt's thumb to the man dressed in black leaning against one of the shelves to my left. Completely at ease. He was a tall man, wearing a black fur-lined trench coat. He also wore a matching black fur hat with earflaps, an ushanka, covering a head of pure white hair that reached down and surrounded an unlined face. But in that face, something made me pause, unease fluttering through me.
It was those steel blue eyes that returned my gaze. Not so much the disinterest that they showed but rather what was behind them. For just the briefest moment, I saw a flash of white within those dark pupils to which my only response was fear. My heart jumped at the realization that this Mr. Alister was no ordinary patron of the store. No. That light behind the window into his soul was a flash of the mana that flowed through it, a mighty river revealed no doubt in a second of carelessness. No. This man was a wizard.
In the face of that calm gaze, it was all I could do to project a false air of indifference as I turned to examine the book-littered storeroom. My heart pounded, stomach clenched, and mouth suddenly dry. In truth, I saw nothing of what passed before my eyes. Memories of running, always running from those monsters that chased me, unstoppable, unrelenting, once again crowded my mind. In response to that deep-rooted fear, that paranoia that griped me, I instinctively reached out to take hold of mana, the life of my soul, but hiding it so that I might surprise him when he pounced. My sight changed in response to the mana I now held in my physical body. Eyes slightly unfocused, I saw the tiniest glow of magic about him that confirmed my suspicions. It was so weak that I had almost mistaken it for a trick of the light. But even weak as his magic was, he was still a wizard.
So I waited as seconds passed, watching Mr. Alister out of the corner of my eyes as I pretended to scan to shelves and waiting for him to make his move. But he never did. He stayed there, relaxed, unmoving, attention barely focused on the world around him, as if everything was beneath his notice.
Walt's voice reminded me of the task at hand. "The book's Various Treatises on the Denizens of the Aether by a Matthias Johnson. Right?"
"Yes," the customer replied in confirmation, the first word out of his mouth since my arrival.
I glanced again at Mr. Alister, who still hasn't moved, as I stepped forward to the shelves. "Matthias Johnson, huh? I think his specialty was in fairy tales." I did my best to play the part of a regular store employee, hoping that he would remain ignorant of my magical proficiencies ... if he was indeed ignorant of it.
"Let's see ... fables and fairy tales are near the science fiction section so ..." I continued my inner monologue as I stepped over the discarded books on the floor and past Walt. The section that I finally settled upon had yet to suffer the destruction that had gripped half the storeroom, which is probably why Walt had not yet found it. How fortunate.
"Ah here we are. Andersen, Barrie, Berechiah, Fontaine, Grimm, Henrysen. And here it is. Johnson, Matthias." With some effort I carefully pulled out a massive encyclopedic tome that was nearly half a foot thick. The book sported a plain hard leather cover with gold embossed letters maintained in good condition though the style of the printing indicated that it was written some time ago. Its weight was enough that I had to carry it in both hands as I turned back to the customer. "Mr. Alister, that'll be ... let's see ... six hundred twenty five dollars." Hey, rare books ain't cheap. "So if you'll follow me to the register."
As I began to turn my back to him, against my better judgment, and head to the front of the store, Walt spoke up. "No need Ian. He already paid for it in advance."
Excerpted from BURNING ARCANUM by F. Zhang. Copyright © 2013 Fan Zhang. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1.................... 1
Chapter 2.................... 12
Chapter 3.................... 23
Chapter 4.................... 35
Chapter 5.................... 52
Chapter 6.................... 70
Chapter 7.................... 86
Chapter 8.................... 97
Chapter 9.................... 112
Chapter 10.................... 130
Chapter 11.................... 143
Chapter 12.................... 165
Chapter 13.................... 182
Chapter 14.................... 201
Chapter 15.................... 216
Chapter 16.................... 227
Chapter 17.................... 241
Chapter 18.................... 254
Chapter 19.................... 270
Glossary of Terms and Characters.................... 285