(Magic Ex Libris Book 1)
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .
Roads were blocked off, and the smell of smoke and dust choked the air. A hastily erected chain link fence circled the remains of the Michigan State University library. Yellow caution tape was woven through the fence, framing a hill of broken bricks and twisted metal. Intact sections of wall and floor jutted from the pile at random angles. Broken glass glittered in the street, illuminated by enormous halogen lamps set up around the edges. Generators and construction equipment growled like angry metal beasts.
A crew in reflective orange vests and hard hats was working to clear the debris. Others worked with dogs, presumably searching for survivors trapped within the wreckage. A bulldozer was parked a short distance away. I spotted a police car and an ambulance as well.
Ted lit another cigarette and spat the butt of the first onto the street, earning an annoyed look from one of the students who surrounded the site at a safe distance. Many were snapping photos with their cell phones. Others were murmuring to one another, and I saw several people crying. Ruined books and magazines were everywhere, the breeze ripping through their pages.
The trees around the library were gray with dust, but appeared intact. Likewise, the neighboring buildings were dirty but unharmed: not a cracked window anywhere. This had been a deliberate, carefully controlled attack on the library. On us.
“No vampire did this,” Ted growled. “Not even sparklers are this tough. Whatever busted this place, they’d swat you and me like mosquitoes.”
“We’ll see,” said Lena. She had twisted her bokken into a single thick cane, like a hand-carved double helix. It was a nifty trick, one that allowed her to retain her wooden swords without drawing much attention. She leaned on the cane and asked, “Can you tell if anyone’s alive in there?”
Ted’s odor and appearance kept the gawkers from getting too close, and the screech of tools and equipment prevented anyone from overhearing our conversation. “I’d have to get closer to be sure,” said Ted, “but I don’t think so.”
I crossed the street and gripped the chain-link fence, staring at the mess. “The attack came fast. There wouldn’t have been time for everyone to get out.”
Ted stayed a few steps back from the fence, his eyes wide. “Whatever killed your friend, they’re still inside.”
“Are you sure?” If the vampire had come here after Ray’s death, but prior to the destruction of the library, they could have been trapped inside. “Maybe the attack on the library was an attempt to stop the killer. They could be injured or even dead.”
“Definitely not dead.” Ted was still staring at the library. “No more than I am, at any rate.”
I rubbed my face. The dust was drying my eyes and throat, and it was about to get worse. I pulled a book from one of my back pockets and, hunching close to Lena to block people’s view, retrieved a folded ID badge. “Let’s go.”
Ted didn’t move. “I told you I’d help find this thing. That’s all.”
“Right,” I said. “And once I’ve laid eyes on the creature that killed Ray Walker, you’re welcome to run all the way back to Marquette.”
“You don’t understand. Whatever’s down there . . . it’s wrong.” His eyes were wide, and retained their red tinge. “What are you going to do, genius? Kill me in the middle of this crowd? I’m not going in. If you’re smart, neither will you. Call your Porters and have them send in the big guns.”
The Porters had already investigated. Why hadn’t they found the vampire hiding out in the rubble? He had a point, though. I called Pallas again, but received the same message as before. I hung up the phone. “With Gutenberg and his automatons gone and the Porters not answering my calls, we are the big guns.”
“Been nice knowing you, Isaac.” He took off through the bushes beside the sidewalk, which momentarily obscured him from view. A lean dark-furred wolf emerged from the far side. Like most Stokerus vampires, Ted had the ability to shift his form, though he was just as scraggly-looking in this shape. He loped away, eliciting shouts and screams as he fled.
I strode toward the gate. A man in a heavy jacket and a fire helmet walked over to meet me. Dark bags under his eyes betrayed his fatigue. He folded his arms, blocking our way.
I flashed my ID badge before he could speak. “We’re here to inspect the scene.”
He hesitated, then jumped back. “Sir . . . on your hip—”
My jacket had caught on Smudge’s cage when I pocketed that book, exposing him to view. “He’s a bomb-sniffing spider.” I did my best to sound officious and impatient, as if this poor fellow was the only one who hadn’t gotten the memo about the spiders. “It’s a new initiative from the feds. Spiders are even more sensitive to chemicals than dogs. He can detect microscopic amounts of explosive residue by touch alone.”
“I . . . yes, sir.” He opened the gate and backed away, giving us a wide berth. “You’ll need to sign in.”
I kept my badge open and waited. He bit his lip, scanned my ID again, and backed down.
“I’ll just make a note myself.” He scribbled something onto a clipboard, then hurried to a small trailer parked just inside the fence to retrieve a pair of hard hats. “We haven’t found any evidence of an explosion. The whole thing just collapsed. We’re thinking the water from the river could have seeped out, softening the ground beneath the library to create a sinkhole.”
“How many casualties?” asked Lena, donning her helmet.
“About thirty.” Sweat had painted lines down his dust-covered jowls. “Witnesses say one moment everyone was minding their own business, the next the whole thing was falling down.” He pointed to a second boundary of tape, strung on metal poles in the debris. “That’s the safe line. You’ll want to stay on this side. The whole structure’s still settling.”
“Thank you,” I said. I glanced at the name on his jacket, barely legible through the dirt. “How long have you been here, Akers?”
“Fourteen hours, sir.” He straightened his back and raised his chin, as if consciously trying to throw off the effects of exhaustion.
I wanted to order him home to get some rest. He’d probably obey, but as I had no real authority here, that was likely to create more problems. So I settled for clapping his arm and saying, “You’re doing good work.”
He nodded his thanks, then turned away, leaving Lena and me alone. I started to tuck the ID badge away, but Lena caught my wrist.
“What is that?” She tugged the badge free. “It’s blank.”
“Psychic paper. Works great for getting through airport security, too.” I surveyed the library. Somewhere beneath our feet was the thing that had killed Ray. All we needed to do was sneak inside past the workers and their dogs, not to mention the students with their cameras.
I reached for a copy of Alice in Wonderland. “Give me five minutes, then join me in that port-a-potty over there.”
“We’re sneaking in through the toilet?”
“Not exactly.” In some ways, the toilet would have been preferable to what I had in mind.
Our arrival had drawn a few curious looks from the workers, but most were too intent on finding survivors to care about us. As for the students, how many people were going to pay attention to a guy using the john? Even if they never saw him emerge.
By the time Lena squeezed in beside me, I had created two glass bottles marked “DRINK ME” from the book and set a bit of broken concrete in the bottom of the door to keep it from closing completely. I let Smudge out of his cage, then passed one of the bottles to Lena.
“You know, when most guys try to get a girl alone for drinks, this is not how they do it.” She eyed the bottle warily. “Dare I ask what’s in this?”
“Ask Lewis Carroll. All I know is that it will help us get inside, and that according to Deb, it works great in Jell-O shots.” The potion was an odd blend of flavors, fruity and sweet and surreal. I set Smudge on the plastic seat as I began to shrink, clothes and all. I stabilized at a mere ten inches high.
Lena grinned. “Librarians: now in convenient travel size.” She downed her own potion, and soon stood level with me once more. “So you don’t think someone’s going to notice a pair of animated Barbie dolls scampering over the debris?”
“We’re not done yet.” I flipped to chapter four of the book. As I performed yet another act of magic, a distant whisper raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
“Tut, tut, child! Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.”
“What’s wrong?” Lena raised her bokken, each one now roughly the size of a toothpick.
“Nothing. I’m fine.” I pulled out a small cake, doing my best to block out the voices.
“But I don't want to go among mad people.”
I closed the book and jammed it back into my pocket.
“You’re sweating,” said Lena.
The first line had come from the Duchess. The second was Alice herself. Alice in Wonderland tended to sneak into your head faster than most books. I had a theory that the surreal, at times psychedelic nature of the story thinned the boundaries between reality and fantasy, lending itself to libriomancy. But the same ease with which I reached into Wonderland made it that much simpler for Wonderland to whisper back.
I slowed my breathing and focused on my surroundings: the foul smell of human waste, the mechanical pounding of the equipment outside, the crease in Lena’s brow as she watched me. The more I anchored myself in this world, the easier it became to shut out those voices . . . for now.
“I’m all right,” I said quietly. “Here, have some cake.”
“Nothing serious, as long as I’m careful.”
“You’re doomed,” she said. Her tone was playful, but worry wrinkled her brow and the corners of her eyes.
I ripped the cake in half, stuffing part into my mouth. Every bite shrunk me further. I kept eating until I was roughly two inches high.
“Not bad,” said Lena as she ate. “I’m more of a cheesecake girl, myself.”
Smudge crawled down to the floor and studied us, his eight dark eyes taking in our newly diminished size. We were all roughly the same height now, but Smudge significantly outmassed us.
Lena peeked out the door. “Making our way through all that is going to take time.”
I grimaced. “It would if we were walking.”
Lena looked from me to Smudge and back again. “We’re riding the fire-spider?”
“I’ve done it once before. He should remember.” Much as I loved that spider, some primal part of me shuddered as I approached. The bristles on his back appeared to be the size of pencils, every one of them a powerful heating element. “I had to sneak into the Henry Ford Museum. A pair of kids managed to summon up the ghost of Ford himself. Smudge and I crawled in through the vents.” I took her arm, pulling her closer. “You’ll want to stand behind me.”
She slipped her arms around my waist. “Like this?”
“That’s good.” The words came out a bit higher in pitch than I had intended. Her breath tickled my left ear. I could feel her hips and breasts pressing my back, her hands resting on my stomach, just above the button of my jeans.
“What next?” she whispered.
That was when Smudge began spinning several loops of sticky silk around us both.
“This is just to help us stay on his back.” The strands reminded me of strings of rubber cement, flexible and sticky, but strong. I felt Lena tense with each pass. “Did you know spiders could produce different types of silk?” I asked. “They use lines of different strength and stickiness, and in Smudge’s case, flammability.”
“That’s so comforting.” She tightened her arms. “How long did it take to train him to carry a rider?”
“I didn’t, really.” I closed my eyes, thinking back to the report I had sent to Pallas shortly after creating Smudge. “He just . . . understood. He was written to help the ones he cared about. I think the fact that he’s a product of my magic gives him an added familiarity with my mind, making it easier for him to understand what I need.” Unfortunately, that understanding didn’t work both ways.
Once Smudge finished, he backed away and turned in a circle, tangling more silk onto his own body. When he finished, I stepped up to the narrow part where his thorax met his abdomen. “On three?”
I counted down, and we swung our legs carefully over Smudge’s back. Had Smudge been a real tarantula, this would have left us thoroughly perforated, but his bristles were thick and blunt. I tried not to think about what would happen if those bristles heated up.
“Lean forward,” I said, pressing myself down until the silk around us stuck to the lines he had wrapped around himself, gluing us in place. I slid my arms through another line. With our makeshift seat belts ready, I squeezed gently with my legs, sending Smudge scrambling out the door.
“How do you steer?”
I grinned and pulled a small laser pointer from my pants pocket. I projected a green dot onto the floor, and Smudge scrambled forward. “Red lasers don’t work. I think the green reminds him of fireflies.”
Lena rested her chin on my shoulder. Her bokken jabbed my ribs as we made our way through the shadows. “And what happens if something spooks him?”
“I try not to think about that.” We crawled over broken concrete steps, sneaking through cracks and rubble until we reached the edge of the library’s foundation. Smudge was getting warmer, but so far, it was a low, nervous heat. He didn’t like the idea of going in there any more than I did, where who knew how many tons of broken library waited to crush us. Not to mention a psychotic vampire. “He won’t hurt us, though.”
“I hope you’re right.” Lena’s arms tightened as we crawled along a steel I-beam that had twisted like hot plastic. The sides of the beam created a tight but safe passageway deeper into the darkness. Blood rushed to my head, but the spider silk kept us from falling. I gripped my jacket with one hand to keep my books from tumbling loose. “If he sets my ass on fire, I’m holding you personally responsible.”
“He can’t,” I said, trying to wrench my imagination away from Lena’s perfect posterior. “He’s completely loyal to his companions. He might singe us a bit, but he’s incapable of seriously hurting us.”
I aimed the laser to the left, and Smudge scurried toward what would have been the eastern stairwell. Only the faintest slivers of light penetrated here. I pulled a flashlight from my pocket and handed it to Lena. Smudge was perfectly comfortable in darkness, but I wasn’t.
“Where are we going first?” Lena asked.
“The archive.” That was the only reason I could think of for a vampire to come here after killing Ray.
It was a long journey to the basement. Smudge rarely broke pace, keeping to unbroken sections of wall and floor when possible. I wasn’t normally prone to motion sickness, but as he worked his way down, moving to and fro like a miniature eight-legged roller coaster, my stomach began to protest.
I sucked air through my teeth to filter out the dust, and kept my eyes on the terrain ahead. Watching a fixed point helped slightly with the motion sickness, but if this got much worse, I was going to vomit all over my fire-spider.
Lena had no such trouble. She laughed as we climbed down the underside of a fallen wall. “If you ever get tired of the library, you could make a fortune selling tickets for spider rides.”
The pounding of the work crew had dulled, muffled by the wreckage. Occasionally, deep groans and creaks echoed through the building as it continued to settle. Water dripped from broken pipes. Rubble pattered in the distance like hailstones. Unpleasant reminders that the whole place could shift and crush us like bugs at any time. And of course, if Ted was right, there was also the fugitive vampire to deal with.
Smudge grew warmer as we worked our way down. Dust soon covered us all. My throat and nostrils were caked with it. The wreckage here was worse, and we kept having to backtrack to find our way through.
Yet there were also places that had escaped most of the damage. We passed a small study area that appeared intact. Old journals were neatly shelved, and a black L. L. Bean backpack sat abandoned beside a small desk. Only a few feet beyond, girders had smashed through the ceiling.
The first body I spotted was a girl of about twenty who had taken shelter in a doorway. Good instincts for an earthquake, but the doorway had collapsed, crushing her. From the look of it, her death had been quick.
We passed two other bodies before reaching the elevator. The doors had crumpled open. Normally, the Porter archive in the hidden subbasement could only be accessed by entering a nine-digit code with the elevator buttons. But the assault on the library had pinned the elevator car overhead and ripped open the bottom of the shaft, exposing the archive.
The Porters kept six archives in the U.S., hidden rooms protected by security both magic and mundane, where locked books could be stored along with hard copies of our files and records. At last count, this archive should have held more than a thousand books, including the forty-one titles I had flagged over the past two years.
Smudge crawled upside down to the side of the shaft, then climbed down one of the thick steel cables on the wall. My legs were sweating, and I could feel Smudge shivering as we descended, as if he was fighting his own instincts. Something else was down here.
I had hoped the archive might have survived intact, given the additional protections the Porters had set up, but our first steps through the crushed elevator doors squelched that hope. If anything, this area had been hit worse. Four stories of debris had smashed through the ceiling like it was made of tissue paper. It took several minutes just to find a path out of the elevator shaft.
“Aren’t you worried about someone discovering this place when they clear out the wreckage?” Lena whispered.
“The Porters will insert someone into the reconstruction efforts to bulldoze over the basement and adjust the memories of anyone who might raise questions.” Once Smudge reached stable ground, we stopped so Lena and I could dismount, a process that involved a great deal of messy struggle. Each strand had to be peeled away like double-sided duct tape. After freeing ourselves from Smudge, we spent several more minutes ripping the rest of the spider stuff off of each other.
Smudge had an easier time of it. The instant we stepped away, his bristles began to glow red. The webbing on his body soon vanished in a puff of smoke.
Lena handed me the flashlight and readied her bokken, one in each hand. We had gone only a few steps when waves of flame whooshed to life on Smudge’s back. I searched the darkness, but the tiny flashlight beam found nothing more dangerous than a lone rat. Lena raised her weapons, and the rat scurried away.
“If any part of this place survived, it would be the vault where the books are kept. Toward the center.” I pulled out another book, retrieving a nasty-looking microwave pistol. According to the author, it should vaporize flesh without harming anything else . . . like books or the still-shifting debris.
Whispers from the book tickled the boundaries of my mind. Too much magic plus too little sleep was an equation for eventual madness, but I had time yet. I silenced the voices the best I could and concentrated on following Lena, who was climbing over a broken ceiling tile.
Down here, insulated from the chaos aboveground, every noise was magnified. My nerves were humming, and each creak and groan made me jump.
My flashlight was supposed to illuminate darkness up to seventy meters away, but shrinking had diminished the beam, so I could barely make out shapes two meters out. Nor was there enough space for us to return to our normal size.
The vault had withstood the damage better than the rest of the library. A single line of three-foot-high bookshelves ran down the center of the room. These shelves were built of reinforced steel, the fronts covered with magically strengthened safety glass: inch-thick windows that were supposed to be unbreakable.
The glass was shattered, and the shelves bowed under the weight of the fallen beams and rafters. We moved into the triangular tunnel formed by the debris leaning up against the shelves. I shone my light through the ragged line of glass teeth. Many books remained, but the bottom row was conspicuously empty. “That’s not good.”
Had the vampire managed to steal some of our books before the library collapsed? To what end? Nobody, with the possible exception of Gutenberg himself, could unlock a book. That thought seeped down into my gut, churning like a stone.
“To your left,” Lena whispered.
I spun, playing my beam over the shelves until I spied our friend the rat, his glowing eyes watching us. A second pair of eyes joined the first, then another. Smudge’s flames flared higher, illuminating our surroundings in red.
I almost wished he hadn’t. Four more rats watched us from atop the shelves. Others peeked through the rubble. Two crawled out of a shelf farther down, dragging a copy of Prey by Michael Crichton.
Smudge scurried toward them, and they dropped the book, retreating from the flaming spider. But as he moved away, more rats closed in on Lena and me. Rows of shining eyes appeared up above as well. There could be close to two hundred . . . roughly enough to add up to one good-sized vampire.
“I hate shapeshifters,” I said, raising my gun. “What we need is the Pied Piper’s flute. We could march these things out of here and hold them entranced for as long as we needed.”
“So get it,” Lena said tersely, pressing her back to mine.
“Two problems. I didn’t bring the right book, and I don’t know how to play the flute.”
The rats crawled toward us. I squeezed the trigger, and a white beam speared the nearest one, sizzling it into nothingness. “Really?” I said, my fear momentarily forgotten. “A visible beam for a microwave weapon? That doesn’t even make sense.”
Another rat scampered toward Lena. I heard the thud of wood on bone, and the rat squealed in pain. “Maybe you could critique the bad science fiction toy later?”
Three more darted in from different sides. I blasted the front leg off of one rat, while Lena clobbered another with both of her wooden swords. The third nearly caught us, but Lena spun, catching it in the jaw with the butt of one bokken, then swinging them both together. She struck hard enough to knock the stunned rat toward Smudge. Smudge pounced, setting the rat alight.
“You’re in a library, remember?” The last thing we needed was a panicked animal running about on fire, igniting everything it touched. I waited for Smudge to back away, then vaporized the rat. The stench of burnt fur lingered in the air. “I wish I knew what species this thing was.”
“You want to ask it for its pedigree?” Lena wasn’t even breathing hard.
“Some species obey the law of conservation of mass, meaning the more rats we kill, the more we hurt it. Others simply regenerate when they shift between forms.” The rats had backed away, but I could see their eyes glinting in the light. I raised my voice. “I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. If you rush us, we won’t be able to stop you all. Fortunately, this little gun comes with a self-destruct. I flip the switch, and the battery goes critical, vaporizing us all.”
The rats didn’t move.
“You killed Ray to learn about the archive, but you couldn’t bypass the protections on this place.” A vampire couldn’t, but an automaton could. It had smashed the entire library, shattering the spells shielding those books and allowing the vampire to sneak in as mist or rats or whatever. Only one person could have commanded an automaton to do that. “What have you done with Gutenberg?”
Tiny claws scraped wood, glass, and cement as the rats turned in unison and fled into the darkness. I swore and chased after them, following the clicking of their nails and firing at every rat I spotted. I took out four more before we reached the end of the vault.
Rats poured through the rubble, disappearing into a gap in the wall. I continued to shoot, trying to clog the hole with their bodies, but it wasn’t enough.
Lena tossed dead rats aside, exposing a neatly drilled tunnel roughly six inches in diameter. “Where would this lead?”
We were at the edge of the library. I frowned, trying to orient myself and visualize the other buildings on campus. “I’m not sure.”
Lena moved cautiously into the hole. I followed her through the sloping tunnel, which emerged at the base of a rectangular corridor. Light from grates overhead revealed steel pipes running along the wall. I flipped off my flashlight and grabbed my copy of Alice. A quick drink from chapter four, and both Lena and I were expanding to our normal size. I pressed a hand to the wall, trying to stifle the mad banter of the Queen of Hearts. I definitely needed to stop using this book for a while.
Smudge climbed up my jacket, resuming his customary place on my shoulder. “Steam tunnels,” I said softly. Even from here I could feel the heat wafting from the pipes. The floor was bare cement, the walls a dingy yellow. “They run beneath most of the buildings on campus.”
The ground was clean. No fur, no droppings, no tiny footprints. “Split up?” asked Lena.
I nodded and set off to the left. I could hear voices from up above, and once what sounded like a skateboard going past, but there was no sign of our vampire. The grates were closed, and I was fairly certain we would have heard if anyone had opened them. Rats could have squeezed through, but that many fleeing rats would have elicited screams.
The thing that had slaughtered my friend wouldn’t have fled. It enjoyed killing, and it hated Porters. It was here.
“What did the Porters do to you, anyway?” I called. “Trim your fangs? Send you home to your sire with your tail between your legs?” A soft chuckle in the distance made me jump. I raised my gun, trying to identify the source of the sound. “You know, you’ll be the fourth vampire I’ve killed this week.”
“Porters.” From the way the vampire spat the word, I could tell two things: it was male, and it was pissed. “So arrogant.”
His words echoed in the tunnel, making him harder to track. “Where’s Gutenberg?”
“You have no idea who he is. What he’s done.”
I whirled. How the hell had he gotten behind me? “So teach me. This is a university, after all.”
He stepped into the light, all six-foot plus of him. His skin was milky white. He had belted on a worn pair of blue jeans, but was otherwise naked. He must not have had time to finish dressing after shifting back to this form. Shaggy brown hair hung past his neck, and dust clung to his chiseled body. He paced in a tight line, head and shoulders hunched forward. “You think your weapon can stop me, Isaac?”
I tried to hide my reaction. I failed.
“Oh, yes. I know exactly who you are, little libriomancer.” He smiled, his fangs digging into his lower lip. Smudge burst into flame as the vampire stepped closer. I twisted my head away from Smudge, being careful not to break eye contact with the vampire.
“Likewise,” I said. “You’re the thing that murdered my friend.” I pulled the trigger.
His face contorted in pain, and he began to dissolve. It took me a second to realize he wasn’t disintegrating the way the rats had. Instead, he sank into a pool of pink-tinged mist that swept toward me.
I fired into the mist, burning a hole through the cloud, but it didn’t slow the vampire down. He spread out to surround me. Smudge raced down my body and jumped into the mist like a tiny butane torch, burning away the fog, but he was too small to do any serious damage. I backed into the wall. An arm solidified from the mist, and fingers seized my wrist.
“Lena, I might need some help back here!”
I snuck my other hand into an interior pocket of my jacket as he re-formed. My fingertips touched a thirty-year-old paperback. When the vampire saw what I was doing, he ripped the jacket off of me, nearly taking my arms with it. I managed to retain my grip on the book, even as he spun me around and pressed me face-first against one of the steam pipes.
I craned my arm and pulled the trigger. My shot grazed the vampire’s face, causing the skin to blister and peel. He yanked my wrist, and my gun clattered away. He switched his grip to my collar, jerking me to and fro like a dog shaking a squirrel, then slammed my back into the opposite wall.
“Beg, libriomancer.” His breath was cool and foul, like an animal had crawled into his chest to die. His left hand clutched my throat. Fingernails like razors poked the soft flesh behind my jawbone.
“What the hell are you?” I whispered. His eyes were like none in any vampire book I had read. The pupil of each eye was cross-shaped, as if someone had taken the slitted pupils of a cat and superimposed them at right angles. Golden irises glittered in the firelight.
“Would you really like to know?” His mouth opened wider.
The sad thing was, I did. A previously undiscovered species of vampire? I would have loved to know where he had come from.
I tightened my grip on the book. The rubber band marked a page I had read so many times I could have recited it in my sleep. It was one of the few books whose magic I could use without reading the page, which was exactly why I carried it. My fingers sank through the paper into hot desert air.
The vampire pulled a black-hilted skinning knife from his belt. Dried blood darkened the blade’s edge and the nasty-looking hook on the back. “Beg for me,” he whispered.
The fingers of my hand closed around the end of a metal tube. I shifted my grip, allowing the book to drop away. I flipped a switch, and a glowing blade thrummed magically to life.
My first swing severed the vampire’s arm at the elbow. The knife clanged against the ground. I ducked low, taking his legs off with the backswing. He hissed and began to dissolve into mist.
I stepped to the side, studied the pipes for a moment, and slashed through the lower one. Hot steam blasted down, directly onto the mist. He re-formed a few seconds later, dragging himself out of the steam with his remaining arm.
I pointed the humming blade at his throat. “Ray Walker was my friend.”
His expression flickered. Confusion, fear rage . . . emotions flashed past like a roulette wheel.
“You’re going to tell me where to find Gutenberg and what the hell you are,” I said. Ted had been terrified of this thing. Why?
His eyes glowed like coals, making the black cross of his pupils appear blacker. “You’ll find out soon enough, Porter.”
The flames started inside of him. Fury changed to pain, then fear as smoke poured from his mouth and nose. He cried out as fire consumed his body. Moments later, Smudge and I were alone, staring down at a layer of black, oily ash.
"This may be Jim Hines’s best work. Libriomancer is smart, silly, and deadly serious, all at the same time. It’s a book about loving books. This is the magic librarian and ass-kicking dryad adventure story we’ve all been waiting for."
— Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of Discount Armageddon
"All writers believe in the magic of books; Jim Hines has created a system where that magic becomes real, usable, and very definitely not always safe."
— Tanya Huff, bestselling author of the Blood books
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