“Superior worldbuilding.” —Charlaine Harris • “Really, really clever.” —Patrick Rothfuss • “Magic librarian and ass-kicking dryad adventure story we’ve all been waiting for.” —Seanan McGuire
When Isaac Vainio helped to reveal magic to the world, he dreamed of a utopian future, a new millennium of magical prosperity. One year later, things aren’t going quite as he’d hoped.
An organization known as Vanguard, made up of magical creatures and ex-Porters, wants open war with the mundane world. Isaac’s own government is incarcerating “potential supernatural enemies” in prisons and internment camps. And Isaac finds himself targeted by all sides.
It’s a war that will soon envelop the world, and the key to victory may lie with Isaac himself, as he struggles to incorporate everything he’s learned into a new, more powerful form of libriomancy. Surrounded by betrayal and political intrigue, Isaac and a ragtag group of allies must evade pursuit both magical and mundane, expose a conspiracy by some of the most powerful people in the world, and find a path to a better future.
But what will that futures cost Isaac and the ones he loves?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Testimony and Questioning of Witness Number 18: Isaac Vainio
The CHAIRMAN: This hearing will come to order.
It’s my privilege and honor to welcome the members of the Joint Committee on Magical Security, as well as the witnesses who have been called to testify as we help to shape the future of this great nation during this time of worldwide turmoil and conflict.
Mister Vainio, thank you for taking time from your work with New Millennium to join us today.
Mr. VAINIO: Your invitation made it clear I didn’t have a choice.
The CHAIRMAN: Do you affirm that the testimony you will give before this committee is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
Mr. VAINIO: Aren’t I supposed to be sworn in on a Bible?
The CHAIRMAN: For security reasons, no books will be permitted in the chamber during your testimony.
Mr. VAINIO: Don’t worry, I’m not about to try libriomancy with a Bible, or any other religious text. Gutenberg might have been able to handle that kind of intensity and belief, but—oh, sorry. Yes, I do so affirm.
The CHAIRMAN: Thank you. You may be seated. Mr. Vainio, would you please—what is that?
Mr. VAINIO: His name is Smudge. He’s a fire-spider.He’s perfectly safe as long as he’s in his cage. Don’t go poking your fingers in there, though. He’s my service animal. My lawyer advised me this was permitted under disability law.
Mr. CHILDRESS: You have a service spider?
Mr. VAINIO: He senses danger. Like Spider-Man. Having him around helps me with some . . . anxiety issues. It’s been a traumatic few years. I have a letter from my therapist if you’d like to see it.
The CHAIRMAN: That won’t be necessary. For the record, please state your history and current role with the organization known as the Porters.
Mr. VAINIO: I’ve been a member of the Porters—intermittently—for about seven years, working to protect the world from magical threats. I’ve been a cataloguer, field agent, and researcher. Ten months back, I helped to found the New Millennium project in Nevada, where I currently work as Director of Research and Development.
The CHAIRMAN: Ten months. That would be shortly after you announced the existence of magic to the world.
Mr. VAINIO: Correct.
The CHAIRMAN: You constructed New Millennium in the United States. You yourself are an American citizen, born and raised in Michigan. Are you loyal to this country, Isaac?
Mr. VAINIO: How do you mean?
The CHAIRMAN: There are hundreds of you libriomancers scattered throughout the world, and thousands of other creatures. Vampires and merfolk and werewolves and bigfoots and Heaven knows what else. What assurances does this committee have that you won’t turn against the United States of America? How do we prevent people like you from selling your abilities to the highest bidder?
Mr. VAINIO: Maybe you could start by not treating us all like potential criminals and terrorists.
“You didn’t think this would be easy, did you?”
“I knew there’d be conflict. Fear. And yah, violence too.”
“You’re mincing words. The world is headed for war.”
“Humanity has been at war for more than ninety percent of recorded history.”
“Not like this. What you’ve seen over this past year is only the beginning. The warm-up act, if you will.”
“Says you. Not even magic can see the future.”
“Not magic. Experience. I watched humanity for centuries. They fear you. Humanity works to control what it fears, and to destroy what it can’t control.”
“You’re a pessimist. Also an asshole.”
“Neither of those facts changes the truth. Your actions helped bring the world to this precipice.”
“And yours didn’t?”
“They did, but let’s be pragmatic, shall we? Of the two of us, only one is in a position to affect current events.”
“One of the advantages of not being dead, eh?”
You'd think my time in the field fighting everything from possessed libriomancers to magically animated metal monstrosities to a thousand-year-old dead necromancer would have prepared me for an afternoon testifying before a pack of Washington politicians, but by the time I emerged, I longed for the simplicity of a rabid were-jaguar whose motivation was straightforward, foamy-jawed murder.
I ignored the reporters waiting in the hallway and made my way toward a wooden bench where Lena Greenwood sat whispering with Nicola Pallas and Nidhi Shah.
“Well?” asked Nicola.
“I understand now why a group of vultures is called a committee. I didn’t turn any of them into roaches, if that’s what you’re asking.” Though in several cases, it would have been an improvement. “Why drag us out here when they’ve already decided we’re the biggest threat to world peace since the atom bomb?”
“To show that they can.” Nidhi had been a psychiatrist for Die Zwelf Portenære, the magical—and until recently, secret—organization better known as the Porters, for as long as I’d known her. Of the four of us, she was the only one with no inherent magical abilities of her own. She got paid to keep the rest of us magic-users sane. Her job was far more challenging than my own.
She’d dressed conservatively for her testimony earlier today, in a simple black jacket and matching trousers, with a subdued blue shirt and a minimum of her usual jewelry. “And a few minds haven’t yet clamped shut. Senator Clarke supports the Porters and our work. Representatives Hays and Hoffman have spoken out against the overreactions from Homeland Security and the FBI, and Secretary McGinley at DHS has said he’d be willing to sit down with representatives from different inhuman communities.”
“Our job now is to demonstrate to the world that we’re not a threat.” A pair of white earbuds hung around Nicola’s neck like a pair of anorexic pet snakes humming a faint jazz tune. She reached into her jacket pocket, and the music died a moment later. “Be thankful it isn’t worse. The Chinese Central Military Commission charged Shin-Tsu Chang with treason last month.”
Shin-Tsu Chang and Nicola Pallas were two of the six Council Masters who had taken over the Porters after the death of Johannes Gutenberg last year. I didn’t know Nicola’s Chinese counterpart well, but I’d read and respected most of his magical research from the past two decades. “Is he safe?”
“For now,” said Nicola.
Lena took my hand as we walked down the hall. “Try to think positive. If they do decide to throw us all into internment camps, you could stop stressing about that IRS audit.”
“What’s the IRS going to do, take my house?” I snorted. My home had burned to the ground last year, and I’d been commuting between a little apartment in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and my quarters at New Millennium ever since.
“As of this morning, they’re also suing the Porters for centuries of back taxes,” said Nicola. “One of our lawyers will be in touch with you about your options.”
“Just let me know how much pirate gold to pull out of Treasure Island to get them off my back.”
“It’s not that simple. Governments around the world are cracking down on magically created wealth. The Senate proposed legislation adding a minimum twenty-year sentence for magical counterfeiting. They’re worried about inflation and consumer confidence.”
“Maybe they should be worried about getting the riots under control,” I said. “Not to mention beatings, lynchings, and, oh yeah, the fact that half the world is using magic as an excuse to rekindle old wars or start new ones.”
“And the rest are preparing for the spillover,” Lena commented. “Near the end of my testimony, Senator Tindill asked what it would take for me to enlist in the Marines. Russia instituted a mandatory draft for inhumans eight months ago.”
“Along with seventeen other nations we know of.” I shook my head. “Did Tindill explain how you’re supposed to enlist if they refuse to recognize you as a citizen?”
Lena was my . . . girlfriend wasn’t strong enough, but the law wouldn’t allow us to be husband and wife, on account of her not being human. Lover and partner were the two words that came closest, and also accommodated Nidhi as Lena’s other romantic companion. We’d built our own little three-person family over the past few years, though the process hadn’t always been smooth. What relationship was?
Lena had stopped hiding her dryad nature after the revelation of magic. Today that meant a crown of budding leaves growing directly from the skin of her brow and poking from beneath her thick hair. It gave her a playful, otherworldly air.
Short, plump, and dark-skinned, with endless energy and a gorgeous smile, Lena was one of only three nonhumans who had been allowed to testify. I wondered how fast they’d have crossed her off the witness list if they’d truly understood what she could do, but she didn’t come across as the kind of person who could knock out a minotaur with one punch.
Whereas the rest of us had dressed up for the hearings, Lena wore old jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket over a tight-fitting T-shirt of Groot and Treebeard. The caption beneath the two walking trees read, GOT WOOD?
We stopped in the lobby to give Nicola time to compose herself. As frustrating as today had been for me, these hearings and the publicity had been harder on her. As the only member of the Porter Council residing in the U.S., she’d been under more scrutiny than any of us.
New strands of silver threaded through her black hair. Her eyes were shadowed, and from the way her jacket hung on her taut shoulders, she’d lost weight. Overuse of magic could do that, but so could good old-fashioned stress. She fidgeted with a pair of silver rings on her left hand as she looked through the glass doors at the waiting crowd.
“You know, when I was younger, I wanted to be famous,” I said, taking in the number of microphones and cameras waiting outside to pounce. “I wanted to be an astronaut, the first man on Mars. Or a scientist who discovered time travel and lived in a mansion guarded by robot sharks. Or Batman.”
“Your glasses would clash with the cape and cowl,” said Lena. “Besides, I’m not sure you could pull off the spandex look. I like the tie, though.” She leaned closer to read the silver type printed on the black silk. “Is that new?”
“I only owned one tie, and it had burn spots.” I glared at Smudge, who was resting at the bottom of a small rectangular cage clipped to my belt. A layer of fiberglass shielded me from the fire-spider’s heat, though if anything set him off, there was a decent chance he’d ignite the bottom of my suit coat.
I’d ordered this particular tie online. It was custom-made with the word Oook printed in small, diagonal stripes, a tribute to Terry Pratchett and his orangutan librarian from the Discworld books. I loosened the knot and unbuttoned my collar. “Remind me to assign someone from my team to look into time travel. I want to take a trip to the seventeenth century.”
“I’ll bite,” said Lena. “Why?”
“The necktie supposedly originated with King Louis XIV. Thanks to him, millions of us have to walk around with a literal noose around our necks. If I go back and kill Louis, I’ll never have to wear these things again.”
“I’m ready.” Nicola wrapped her earbuds around a small MP3 player and tucked them away in an inside pocket. “Thank you.”
I squared my shoulders, feeling vulnerable and exposed without my traditional assortment of books. Today’s unpleasantness wasn’t over yet. What I wouldn’t have given for just one paperback and the chance to pull an invisibility cloak from its pages.
Lena flexed her hands. Tiny buds sprouted from her knuckles and fingers, a pattern of green dots that made me think of henna tattoos. “Remember, the press can smell fear.”
I pulled a box of orange Tic Tacs from my pants pocket, popped one into my mouth, and gave another to Smudge to keep him occupied. “All right. Let’s go be famous.”
Young Isaac had dreamed of fame.
Young Isaac was an idiot.
The shouts hit us like ten-foot waves as we stepped through the doors. Wooden barriers edged the sidewalk. Eight uniformed D.C. police officers worked to keep the crowds back, guarding the narrow path to our waiting SUV.
The first person to spit at me was an older gentleman to my left, wearing a charming SALEM HAD THE RIGHT IDEA T-shirt.
Part of me wanted to point out that, according to Porter records, none of the people executed in seventeenth century Salem were actual witches or magic-users. Another part simply wanted to turn him into a pickled egg.
The four of us fell into a diamond formation with Lena at the head, while Nidhi and I walked a step behind to either side, helping to create a buffer for Nicola.
A reporter shoved a microphone over the barriers. “What are the Porters doing about magic-using rebels and mercenaries destabilizing Africa?”
“I’ve got this one.” I raised my voice. “Africa is a continent. A big one. You’ll have to be more specific. Are you talking about the libriomancer helping the government fight Boko Haram in Nigeria? The rumors about rebels in Mali using blood magic? Or do you mean the three adze who’ve been acting as vigilantes, most recently in the Ivory Coast?”
The adze in question had become known as the Diamond Fireflies after disrupting a diamond mining operation in Sierra Leone and freeing twenty-six child slaves. The vampire-like trio had also brutally murdered three overseers before transforming back into their firefly forms to escape.
I kept walking before the reporter could respond.
“Ms. Pallas, why are the Porters unwilling to defend this country?” asked another reporter.
“The Porters are a worldwide organization, founded in Germany. We have more members from India and China than we do from the U.S.” Nicola’s voice cut through the shouts like a shark through water, a trick of her bardic magic. “The Porters will continue to work with the international community to protect this world from magical threats. We will not support legislation to allow the selective drafting of magically gifted individuals, or any other efforts to militarize our people and our work.”
The anger wasn’t all directed at us. I spotted one small group holding signs that said JUSTICE FOR MARCUS VISSER. Visser was a young werewolf from Maine who’d been shot and killed in early September by a pair of hunters, neither of whom had been charged with any crime.