In the second novel in a thrilling Cold War fantasy series, American magician Karen O'Neil travels to Cuba to find a missing young girl intertwined with a new kind of magic that threatens to upend the balance of power of the whole world.
AFTER THE WALL FELL, NOTHING COULD BE THE SAME.
In Cold War Berlin, American magician Karen O'Neil defeated the ghosts of Germany's past and sealed the breach that threatened the whole world, but in doing so she learned a terrible truth: Magic cannot be trusted.
Despite her wariness of the new and growing powers she gained in Germany, Karen agrees to help an old friend and is drawn to Cuba, a world of opulence run by a corrupt government and ruthless, magic-obsessed mobsters.
In Havana, while the fires of revolution kindle, Karen searches for a missing girl whose fate is intertwined with impossible and deadly magic. And she knows she's being watched; both the Soviets and the CIA have designs on this island paradise, and their eyes are everywhere. But spies and rebels aren't the only dangers hiding in Havana's long shadows, and Karen will learn that the future can be just as dangerous as the past.
MANKIND WILL ALWAYS FIND NEW WAYS TO CREATE MONSTERS.
About the Author
W. L. Goodwater is the author of the Cold War Magic series. He lives on the California coast with his wife, kids, and cats. When he's not writing books, he's usually reading them. Or thinking about them. Or just staring lovingly at them. His wife might like books even more than he does, and she finds his vain attempts to organize their bookshelves endearing; they are a perfect couple.
Read an Excerpt
Previously in the Cold War Magic series . . .
When the Soviets’ magical wall bisecting Berlin starts to fail, the US sends Karen O’Neil, a young researcher with the Office of Magical Research and Deployment, to investigate. Her CIA minders hope she can fix the breach in the Wall before it creates an international crisis—and before she learns the Wall’s true purpose. But that all changes when she meets Erwin Ehle, a German magician who helped create the Wall—and the one who caused it to fail.
The Berlin Wall was put in place to hide away Auttenberg, a district of Berlin corrupted by unspeakable Nazi magic. Deep inside those forgotten streets was a book with no name, written in many languages by many hands. It is known only by its opening lines:
Concerning that which must never come to pass . . .
This book has always existed, in one form or another. If it is destroyed, it will be rewritten.
Facing allies and enemies, ghosts of the past and illegal magic, Karen and Ehle enter Auttenberg and find that the book’s magic has torn open a breach in reality. Beyond the breach is pure, raw magic. This power is so strong that anything that passes beyond the breach is destroyed so utterly that it is forgotten.
Karen defeats the Nazi magicians who opened the breach and destroys the book. Before the breach closes, Ehle steps through. Karen returns home and finds an unexpected book waiting in her desk drawer, written in her own hand, starting with the words:
Concerning that which must never come to pass . . .
Such a small thing, little more than a paperweight. Gerald held it up with delicate fingertips. It was heavy for its size, and warm to the touch. Under the harsh laboratory light, he could see his own reflection in the cube's glossy black surface: bespectacled and haggard. He must have aged a decade in the last year, the result of too many sleepless nights. When he first started with the company, he'd been too busy for sleep; with new breakthroughs discovered every day, rest had been an unwelcome distraction. But now he slept even less, for a different reason.
His coworker Ray's jarring voice brayed from across the room. "What's the ID number for that one, Gerry?"
ID number. An abstraction. Easier that way.
Gerald set the cube back down on his desk. "Number 26859-C."
Ray rolled over in his chair, the metal wheels whining on the tile floor. He never walked anywhere he could roll, a laziness that too often spilled over into his work.
"What's wrong with it?" Ray stopped his chair far too close to Gerald, who nearly choked on the ensuing cloud of aftershave.
"Nothing," Gerald said.
"Then why is it out of the security locker?"
Gerald had expected Ray's insufferable nosiness. Planned on it, in fact. "Routine testing," Gerald said. "Looking for storage bleed."
Ray leaned in and peered at the cube. It gave off a soft, subtle glow that hinted at what was contained within. "And?"
"No noticeable power loss," Gerald said. He quickly tucked the cube away into its cloth bag and turned to face Ray. "Don't you have enough on your plate without worrying about my work?"
"Well, forgive me for being curious." Ray rolled back a few rotations. The chair creaked underneath him. "Just trying to be friendly."
Gerald looked over the top rim of his glasses. "Have you finished everything for the product demonstration?"
"I'll get it done, Gerry. Don't you worry."
"I do worry, Raymond," Gerald said. "I worry because Mr. Magnus worries."
"Why? Did he say something?"
"You didn't see the memo?" Gerald raised an eyebrow. "He wants a full run-through of the presentation, with all required reports, tomorrow at ten a.m."
"Tomorrow?" Ray's face went pale. "I thought it was next week."
"Tomorrow," Gerald said. "Are your reports ready?"
"Ready?" Ray said, his pitch rising. "Hell no. I haven't even started."
"Then I guess you have a long night ahead of you."
"But the labs are closed for cleaning on Mondays." He was so anxious that he actually stood up and started pacing.
Gerald shrugged. "Take your documents home, work on it from there."
"I can't! I need too many proprietary documents. The security guys will never let me out of the building with them. They'll have me on a plane in half a minute. Or worse."
Gerald took off his glasses and began to clean the lenses with a corner of his lab coat. "What do you think will happen," he asked, "if you show up to the run-through with unfinished reports?"
That was all it took. Ray rushed around the lab, frantically filling his arms with folders and notebooks. Even a man like Ray could work hard given the proper motivation, and fear of Mr. Magnus's displeasure was more than sufficient. Ray was so concerned about the consequences of failure that he never noticed as Gerald switched out the bag containing #26859-C and placed it into his briefcase.
Gerald just wished he could stop sweating. Even though it was already December, it was still nearly ninety degrees outside. The humidity was even worse. But Gerald had other reasons to sweat as he walked down the main stairwell to the facility's exit; the security personnel at the Magnus Special Projects Laboratory trusted no one, not even Magnus employees. Perhaps especially Magnus employees. He was certain his shirt sticking to his back or the steam gathering on his glasses would be a dead giveaway.
Posters lined the primary hallway out of the facility. Each one depicted hardworking magicians and scientists making the world a better place.
magnus innovations-discover the future, today!
do your best! it's the magnus way!
leaving work early? then you're helping the communists!
Near the end of the hall, prominently displayed, was one that Gerald stared at every day as he clocked in and out. It showed a devious set of slanted eyes floating over a rendering of their research facility, dark storm clouds glowering in the background. The words were written across the top in bold, bloodred script:
our enemies are everywhere. be vigilant! speak up!
Not for the first time, Gerald thought back on his days working at the Office of Magical Research and Deployment. The OMRD hadn't had much of a budget, and the research department produced only a few worthwhile innovations during his time there, but he had enjoyed the work. And more importantly, while working there, he'd never feared for his life. Or his soul.
When Gerald reached the exit, his stomach sank. Most days, a single bored-looking guard stood at the exit, watching over the mass exodus at six p.m. with a rifle and casual disinterest. But occasionally the head of security, a sour man named Alexander Sage, would decide to order a spot check. A spot check meant a dozen guards, heavy scrutiny, and random bag inspections. Today, of all days, Gerald counted at least sixteen grim-looking men flanking the doors, guns in hand. A few were armed with dowsing rods-tools for detecting magical energy-and were using them on the staff as they exited. The rods were calibrated to ignore low levels of power; the thing in Gerald's bag would make them glow like the star of Bethlehem. Sage himself was there, overlooking the procedure with his trademark scowl. The line of employees waiting to leave snaked around the corner.
Turn around, Gerald thought. Put it back before anyone notices. Once you get in that line, it'll be too late.
He sighed. It was already too late; it had been for a while now. He'd known that the moment he realized what was really going on at the facility. He got in line.
"I hate these inspections," the woman in front of him said under her breath. "What are they hoping to find anyway?"
"Traitors," said another man.
"Oh, don't be so dramatic."
"I'm serious," the man said. Gerald thought he recognized him: one of the marketing guys they'd brought on board in recent months to prepare for the product demonstration. "I heard they caught one a few weeks back. Someone trying to smuggle out secret formulas in his underwear."
"Please," the woman said with a laugh.
"Scout's honor," the marketing guy said, hand raised. "I heard they threw him down into the lower basement."
The woman scowled at this. "That's not funny." She shivered, despite the heat coming in from the outside doors. "Not funny at all."
The great secret of the Magnus Special Projects Laboratory's security was this: if the brutes with guns caught you putting the project at risk, the nicest thing they could do was shoot you, because they had other options.
Somewhere above them, they heard the rumble of thunder. Then again. And again, like footfalls. Exactly like footfalls.
"Ugh," the woman said, staring at the ceiling as the sound passed overhead. "Even the tame ones give me the creeps."
"That's good marketing copy," the man said with a chuckle. "Can I use that on one of our posters?"
Gerald wondered which one it was up there, not that it mattered; they were all unsettling. Unnatural. It was rare to hear them moving about. It wasn't like they wandered the halls where anyone could gawk at them. But they had to be tested, especially with the demonstration coming up. That was probably the real reason the labs were closed tonight.
They were approaching the front of the line. Gerald clung to his briefcase with clammy hands. He had contingencies for this; for all his mistakes, he wasn't a fool. But he was nearly at the guards and there was still no sign of-
Then he heard the sound of Ray's labored breathing. He appeared a moment later, his own bag bulging with documents he should not have. He too balked when he saw the guards, but Gerald waved him up.
"I don't have time for this," Ray whispered when he reached Gerald. "I've still got hours of work to do."
"It's fine," Gerald said. "Here, you can go ahead of me."
"Really?" Ray said. "Thanks, Gerry, that's great."
Gerald saw him tighten his grip on his bag. "Don't worry," Gerald said softly. "These guys don't care about documents. Just act natural."
"Right," Ray said. "Right."
The marketing guy made it through without an inspection. Then the woman, who just got a nod from the thick-necked guard at the door. Now the trickiest part . . .
As Ray stepped up to be inspected, Gerald put his free hand in his pocket. Inside, he felt the smooth grip of the bone-handled pocketknife his father had given him when he turned ten: his magical locus. He turned his head slightly, so he was facing away from the guards, and began to whisper the words to the spell. One of the guards waved the dowsing rod over Ray's bag; the thin stick of wood did not react. But then Gerald finished his incantation and the runes he'd traced inside Ray's bag while Ray was getting his lunch became charged with magical power.
"Wait a second . . . ," the guard said as the rod began to glow. Then spark.
The guard held up his burned-out dowsing rod. "Open your bag."
Ray nearly fainted. "What?" he asked, holding the bag to his chest. "I'm sure that was just a fluke or something. Those things break all the time."
The guard was joined by two others. Rifles appeared. Ray's bag was grabbed and its contents poured out onto a nearby table. Even from where he stood, Gerald could see the confidential and restricted stamps all over the pages. The guards looked at the documents, then one another, then Ray.
"I can explain," he said. "I needed to-"
"Take him," Sage, the head of security, said.
"No, no, no; you don't understand," Ray said. "I wasn't stealing anything! I just needed these to finish this report. I was going to bring them back, I promise!"
Everyone had stopped now and watched Ray plead his case with increasing volume as he was dragged toward a side door. Gerald felt a twinge of guilt. The punishment would be swift. Ray might keep his job, if he played nice. But it was necessary, regardless of the outcome. There was too much at stake.
"Keep moving," one of the guards said, all but pushing Gerald out the door. "Nothing to see here."
And then he was outside. Even in the evening, stepping out into the Cuban heat was an instant rebuke to whatever life choices had brought you to such a miserably hot place. But Gerald did not slow down; in truth he barely noticed the thick, sticky air or the lazy buzz of insects. As he moved away from the watchful eyes of Magnus security, he only noticed the weight of his briefcase and the thud of his heart drumming in his ears.
Gerald never felt safe in his cramped Havana apartment. There was only one window and it was covered with a threadbare curtain, but it still felt like anyone could be watching. Perhaps he'd been reading too many Magnus Innovations posters and now saw spies everywhere.
He would need to write a note. Even though he'd been planning this for weeks now, he still hadn't started it. He told himself that was in case the note was discovered, but that was a lie. The real reason was that he had no idea what to say. How could he explain what he'd seen, or the parts he could only guess at? How could he make her believe him? How could he make her forgive him?
No words were up to the task; that's why he'd stolen #26859-C. She'd have to see for herself.
He put the cloth bag and his quickly scrawled note into the box and folded it shut. Only then did he allow himself to breathe.
She would help him. She had to. There was no one else he could turn to, no one else he trusted. Not when lives were at risk. Not when lives had already been lost.
"I'm sorry for this," Gerald said. He started to write the shipping address:
Department of Theoretical Magic
Office of Magical Research and Deployment
He held the box up when he had finished. It fit in one hand. So much effort for such a small thing. He hoped it would be enough.
Karen had agonized over the wording for more than an hour already and had nothing to show for her effort. She'd written and then rewritten. She'd decided on an approach that she liked but then hated it before she finished the first sentence. Then she'd torn the page into little bits and started over. Why is this so hard? Finally, in a rush of frustration and exhaustion, she launched an assault on the typewriter with a flurry of clicks and clacks and then sat back to review the results.
Dear Director Whitacre,
Please accept my resignation from the Office of Magical Research and Deployment, effective immediately.
Head Researcher, Department of Theoretical Magic
What it lacked in eloquence, it made up for with brevity. Perhaps it was the starkness of the language, or maybe just seeing the words in black and white, but she felt untethered and more than a little frightened. The OMRD was more than her career; it was her life. Or it had been. She hurriedly folded the letter up and sealed it away in an envelope, where it couldn't hurt anyone. Not yet at least.
"Need me to mail that?" Her assistant's cheery voice startled Karen so suddenly that she nearly jumped out of her chair, banging her knee hard on her desk in the process. "Oh, that sounded like it hurt. Are you alright, Miss O'Neil?"
Karen rubbed her knee. "Yes, Madge," she said through tight teeth.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine," Karen said. She tucked the letter into a desk drawer. "And no, I don't need you to mail it. I need to think on it a bit first."
"You're the boss," Madge said in a grating singsong. Karen missed Allison, her former assistant who'd foolishly gone off and married some dummy from the third floor. After Allison had been Greta, then Muriel, and now Madge, each less competent than the last. She wasn't resigning to escape her litany of annoying assistants, but it was a small consolation to throwing away her dreams.