For five hundred years, the Porters have concealed the existence of magic from the world.
Now, old enemies have revealed the Porters’ secrets, and an even greater threat lurks in the shadows. The would-be queen Meridiana, banished for a thousand years, has returned in the body of a girl named Jeneta Aboderin. She seeks an artifact created by Pope Sylvester II, a bronze prison that would grant her the power to command an army of the dead.
Michigan librarian Isaac Vainio is powerless to stop her, having been stripped of his power and his place among the Porters by Johannes Gutenberg himself. But Isaac is determined to regain his magic and to rescue his former student Jeneta. With no magic of his own, Isaac must delve into the darker side of black-market magic, where he will confront beings better left undisturbed, including the sorcerer Juan Ponce de Leon.
With his loyal fire-spider Smudge, dryad warrior Lena Greenwood, and psychiatrist Nidhi Shah, Isaac races to unravel a mystery more than a thousand years old as competing magical powers battle to shape the future of the world. He will be hunted by enemies and former allies alike, and it will take all his knowledge and resourcefulness to survive as magical war threatens to spread across the globe. Isaac’s choices will determine the fate of his friends, the Porters, the students of Bi Sheng, and the world.
Only one thing is certain: even if he finds a way to restore his magic, he can’t save them all….
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My name is Bi Wei. I was born in the Ming Dynasty, shortly before the alleged death of Johannes Gensfleish Gutenberg, the man most people today know as the father of the printing press.
We knew this man not as a creator, but as a force of death and destruction. Johannes Gutenberg was a thief, a fraud, and a murderer.
Gutenberg did not die in 1468 as history claims. His body was not laid to rest at a Franciscan church in Mainz, a church later destroyed, conveniently erasing any evidence of his deception.
Johannes Gutenberg, like myself, survives to this day. And he is not alone.
At the end of the fifteenth century, Gutenberg founded an organization known as Die Zwelf Portenære. The Porters, as they are more commonly known, devote themselves to the elimination of all those Gutenberg views as a potential threat, and to the secrecy of magic.
I learned the art of magic from my great grandaunt. I touched the power of printed words my ancestors had passed down for generations. I added what strength I possessed to their work. I served my family and my people. I harmed no one.
Most of my friends and family were killed the day Gutenberg attacked our temple. My teachers fought to give the rest of us time to escape. My brother died to protect me. To this day he walks with me in my dreams. He knew death approached, and he couldn’t hide his fear from me, but he was determined to complete his duty.
Gutenberg has hidden many things from you. He has rewritten history and buried fact beneath myth and legend. He has worked to control magic, to keep it from the larger world, and he has committed atrocities for the sole purpose of “protecting” you from the truth.
He has failed.
Gutenberg and the Porters have brought this world to the edge of destruction. They have awakened the sǐ guǐ jūn duì, the Ghost Army. They are the restless dead, bound as slaves to one who would devour this world. They grow in number and in power, and they are coming. They wait like a tiger in the shadows, unseen as they creep ever closer. Their claws are bared to strike.
No doubt you will laugh and dismiss my story as the fanciful imaginings of a child. For you know that such things are not possible in the real world.
We are descended from a man called Bi Sheng, who explored the magic of books centuries before Gutenberg’s birth. The Bì Shēng de dú zhě survived Gutenberg’s assault on our home. We have returned. We ask only to be left in peace. In exchange for that boon, we offer you the gift of truth.
From Gutenberg’s computers, we have pulled the location of all Porter archives: secret libraries hidden from public view. They house magical artifacts and books deemed too dangerous for magical use. Those locations are listed below.
Use caution when investigating these archives. The Porters will defend themselves from perceived threats. They will deceive you, twist your perceptions, and alter your memories. We have watched them do all this and worse.
They would kill us for telling you this, but they cannot hide the truth forever. A friend from your time recently said to me, “You can’t stop the signal.” We will learn soon enough whether he was correct.
To Gutenberg and the Porters, the Ghost Army is coming. Give up your efforts to find and destroy us, and abandon your centuries-old lies. Turn your attention to the true enemy.
Like Shen Yuanzhi, whom stories say slumbered for a hundred years at Lanchang Palace to cheat death, we escaped our fate. We slept for five centuries, trapped alone with our nightmares, and awoke to find the world changed.
It is time for the rest of the world to do the same. It is time for you to awaken.
—From a letter that appeared in
George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons
Ted Boyer—hunter, fisherman, vampire, and general pain in my ass—was gone.
Dirt and gravel crunched beneath my sneakers as I crossed the empty lot where his yellow doublewide trailer once stood. A rectangle of flattened earth, striped by old, cracked cement, marked the site of Boyer’s former home.
There was no sign of the secret basement he had dug to hide his coffin and store his blood supply. Wherever Boyer had fled to, he wasn’t planning to come back.
“There are weeds starting to poke through the dirt.” Short, heavyset, and stronger than five humans combined, Lena Greenwood looked as tired as I felt. She crouched on the cement and touched one of the tiny green shoots. “He left at least a week ago.”
There had been a time, back when I was a field agent for the Porters, when I would have been thrilled to see Ted gone from Marquette, and preferably gone from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Let someone else take on the responsibility of checking in on him and blowing the bomb in his skull if his blood tests ever showed he had gone back to feeding on Boy Scouts.
But Ted was a lifelong Yooper, stubborn as hell and determined to live out his afterlife here in Marquette. I had resigned myself to sharing the peninsula with him until one of us was dead and buried for good.
“Do you think he left willingly?” Lena asked.
I shrugged. Ted didn’t exactly have a lot of friends, and he had collected a decent list of enemies over his lifetimes. If one of them had used the chaos last month as cover to come after Ted, he could be dead by now. Deader. But why would they bother to haul away his trailer and his truck? More likely, he simply wanted to get away before all hell broke loose.
Some would say hell had broken a month earlier, when my home town of Copper River ended up in the crossfire of a three-way magical battle between the Porters, the Bì Shēng de dú zhě—a group thought to have been wiped out more than five hundred years ago by the aforementioned Porters—and an army of mindless ghosts fighting to return to this world to kill . . . well, pretty much everything.
At least thirty-four of my friends and neighbors had died in that battle. Then there were the Porters and werewolves who had fallen trying to protect Copper River in a conflict that promised to be merely the precursor of things to come.
“Keep looking.” Fossilized beagle shit, half-hidden by weeds, turned much of the grass into a minefield. I crouched by one pile and stared as though I could use the droppings to divine where Ted had gone, but all they told me was that we were too late.
I continued to search. Cigarette butts littered the ground by the woods beyond the driveway, where Ted used to work during the night, skinning and butchering whatever game he brought back. I found a couple of old beer cans by the trees.
“Isaac . . .” Lena studied my face, then shook her head. “Never mind.”
Anger tightened my jaw. I knew what she was going to say, and I didn’t want to hear it.
The manager of the trailer park said Ted had simply vanished. He had left an envelope full of cash to pay off his bills, which was more than I would have expected from Ted. More likely, he had simply messed with the manager’s mind to make him believe everything was squared away. That would better fit Ted’s style and budget. “I need to find him.”
“How? By staring at dog crap all day? This must be a new school of magic I hadn’t heard about. My lover, the fecomancer.”
On another day, I would have smiled. That was before I had lost a fourteen-year-old girl to the Ghost Army. A girl who was potentially more powerful than any libriomancer in history, with the possible exception of Johannes Gutenberg.
A girl who had been under my care and protection.
Jeneta Aboderin had the ability to perform libriomancy using electronic media. The rest of us needed printed books to shape our magic. We could reach into the pages to create anything from futuristic laser pistols to fizzy lifting drinks from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as long as we had a physical copy of the book.
Jeneta could pull the mockingjay pin from The Hunger Games out of her smartphone, and carried an entire library around on her e-reader. Nobody fully understood how she did it, nor did we know the limits of her power.
I searched the dirt driveway next. This was my third time studying the dark patches of oil that had leaked from Ted’s old Ford Bronco. I knew a Porter who could have used that stain not only to track Ted’s truck, but to bring it to a screeching halt wherever he might be. Or there were books whose magic could help me to find him myself . . . if I had still been a member of the Porters.
If Johannes Gutenberg hadn’t locked my mind to prevent me from ever using magic again.
I closed my eyes and fought off a now-familiar surge of despair.
“There’s nothing here,” Lena said softly.
“I know.” I took a long, slow breath, trying to ease the walnut-sized lump in my throat. “We’ll have to find someone else to help me. Ted isn’t the only one who can touch people’s minds.”
“Would you really want that man messing around in your nightmares?”
“I saw her, Lena.” Two nights before, I had jerked awake, my body dripping with sweat, my hands reaching helplessly for power I no longer possessed. For two days that memory had stalked me, taunting me from every corner.
“The woman who took her.” The name darted into view like a dragonfly and vanished again before I could grasp it. “I know who she is, but something’s blocking the memory. I need help. Someone who can help me remember.”
Wisps of black hair hung over Lena’s red-veined eyes. Her lips pressed together with worry and helplessness, along with a dash of skepticism. It was an expression I had come to know well over the past month.
She wore a snug green T-shirt with the sleeves and collar cut off. The words “Tree Hugger” were written in yellow block letters across her chest. She was armed with a pair of curved wooden swords—Japanese bokken—thrust through the belt of her cutoff jeans.
Heat flared at my hip. From inside the rectangular metal cage clipped to my belt, Smudge watched the road like he was expecting a horde of zombies to claw up through the pavement and devour us. Faint red flames rippled across the fire-spider’s back. A layer of fire-resistant black fiberglass on the side of the cage prevented him from burning holes through my pants.
Lena moved to the opposite side of the lot while I returned to the relative safety of my car. The protective enchantments on the black TR-6 convertible were stronger than anything I could have prepared myself, even when I could still manipulate magic. I waited by the passenger door and searched for whatever had set Smudge off this time.
There were no zombies, only a lone man carrying an aluminum baseball bat. He had a good five inches and fifty pounds on me, and a scowl like I’d just pissed in his Budweiser. “What are you folks snooping around for?”
Normally I would have tried to talk my way around this guy, making up a story that explained our presence without raising suspicions. But I no longer had any reason to care about keeping a low profile, and in the words of a coworker, my give-a-shit gauge was stuck on Empty these days. “Ted Boyer. Have you seen him?”
He rested the bat on his shoulder, wrapping both hands around the black-taped handle. “Ted said there might be people nosing around in his business, looking to give him a hard time.”
“Do you know where we could find him?” Lena hadn’t touched her weapons. Against a man armed with a bat, she wouldn’t need them.
“What I know is that you’d better get the hell out of here by the time I count to five.”
I reached into the car, popped the glove box, and pulled out a gun. The man’s eyes went huge. “Do you know where Ted Boyer went?” I repeated.
He shook his head. “He wouldn’t say.”
“And did Ted ask you to threaten anyone who came along, or was that your idea?” I pulled the trigger without waiting for an answer. Lightning spat from the barrel, spinning a cocoon of electricity around his body. He collapsed face-first in the grass, the bat dropping to the ground beside him.
“Isaac, what the hell?” Lena ran toward him.
“The gun was on setting one.” I blinked away the afterimage of jagged light. Ozone bit my nostrils. “He’ll be fine.”
I had created my sidearm from a novel called Time Kings, back before Gutenberg locked my magic. Disguised to look like an ordinary revolver, the shock-gun had a two-stage firing mechanism. First, it shot a tiny ionized pellet toward the target. A split second later, it brought the lightning, which could deliver anything from a light stunning burst to a full-on, Earth-shattering kaboom.
“You’re sure about that?” Lena was checking the man’s pulse and respiration. “You checked to make sure he didn’t have a pacemaker before you electrocuted him? Reviewed his medical records for any preexisting conditions?”
I felt like she had reached into my gut and tied my intestines in a knot. “He looked healthy . . .” That was a stupid excuse, and I knew it. “Is he all right?”
“He seems to be, considering you just shot him with a lightning bolt.” She brushed her fingers over the singed spot on his shirt. “What were you thinking?”
“That he didn’t know anything, and we didn’t have time for this.”
“Oh, do you have plans tonight? Another exciting evening of hiding in your office with your books and shutting away the rest of the world?”
I wanted to apologize and I wanted her to keep arguing with me and I wanted her to leave me the hell alone. I didn’t know what I wanted anymore, except to find Jeneta and fix the things that had gone so damned wrong.
I circled around to the driver’s seat. “There’s nothing here. Let’s go.”
Like a paroled felon, Ted was supposed to let the Porters know if he moved, but I no longer had access to the Porter database. He might not have bothered, trusting them to be too preoccupied with the Ghost Army to worry about a lone vampire. If so, he’d better pray he found a black-market magic-user to deactivate the bomb in his skull before anyone else noticed he was missing.
I unclipped Smudge’s cage and let him climb onto the dashboard. A stone trivet protected the dash from his heat. He watched me closely, his body low against the trivet. For a big black-and-red spider with a penchant for setting things on fire, Smudge could be surprisingly expressive. He wasn’t worried about random strangers with baseball bats anymore. I was the one making him anxious.
Tension drained from my body, guilt and exhaustion replacing anger. I let my head thump against the steering wheel. I should apologize. For scaring Smudge. For snapping at Lena.
For a lot of things.