Night of Wonders

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Get lost in a world of wonder and imagination!

Eighteen-year-old Anik works in India’s magical Library, where ancient books come to life and whisper their secrets. It’s a dangerous job, since Anik possesses hidden magic forbidden to his caste. If Anik’s magic is discovered, a witch known as the Dayan will remove his powers—and his soul, a fate that soon befalls his master, the Librarian.


Though horrified by this injustice, Anik accepts the position of Librarian in his master’s stead, working for the ruthless maharaja who owns the Library. For the first time, he meets the maharaja’s twins, Nyan and Ishana. They are different as night and day. Nyan is quiet and mysterious; Ishana bold and provocative. Gifted in the magical arts, the twins intend to participate in the Night of Wonders, competing with thousands of enchanters from all across India. To reach the competition, Anik must accompany the Library hundreds of miles through a haunted jungle full of unseen threats. He knows the danger of drawing attention to himself, but the more time he spends with Ishana, the more he falls in love with her.


Forbidden romance becomes the least of Anik’s problems when a dark presence arises in their midst; a creature hated and feared among the enchanters. As the Night of Wonders turns to a night of terrors, the fate of the Library itself hangs in the balance…


Author's Notes:

After finishing my Tudor series, I wanted to do something different—so I decided to try my hand once more at magical realism, alternative history, whatever you want to call it. India seemed like a fun location, and the story really came alive when I chucked all English influences out of it, and just focused on a non-determined time, a period of magical history in which you can or cannot practice or keep magic based on your caste. The story came to me, followed by the characters, and I’m quite proud of the result. I hope you enjoy this magical adventure as much as I do.



I live inside the greatest Library in India. It’s no ordinary building. Magical scrolls and ancient books fill its shelves, and no one but the Maharaja and his children may borrow them except at a Night of Wonders, which is a festival held whenever an envoy of the Cabal dies. Since the competition’s victor takes their place among those who determine our laws, many enchanters compete for the honor and use the Library to increase their skills at that time.


It’s my job to tend the books the way my master, the Librarian, tells me. Since he had no son to teach his skills, he took me from an orphanage at eight years old. In the decade since, he has taught me how to handle the books so none of them can hurt me. It takes insight to shelve magical volumes. Pair the wrong ones and they might cause an explosion; open one that should not be idly touched and it’s possible to fall into the world it contains.


While in the orphanage, my best friend, Rajan, and I practiced covert magic in the darkness after midnight in my attic room. He showed me his best creation, a white tiger with hazel eyes, and helped me cast my first illusion, a blue and gray butterfly. I dare not use my gift here. The Cabal forbids magic to my caste. Rajan is a Kshatriya, a member of the ruling class, so he may openly display his talents and compete for a place in the Cabal. I am a Sudra, the caste just above the Untouchables, so I may not. Since Kshatriyas never associate with Sudras, we should not have become friends, but it did not matter to us. We met in secret. Rajan never minded the dark hue of my skin. After working several years at the Library, I learned he left the orphanage to train as an enchanter. He has written to me many times, but our distance keeps us apart. I hope to see him soon.


The Library became my consolation after leaving my best friend. It contains so much sacred knowledge, I could not learn it all in a thousand lifetimes. The Librarian makes me hide if Maharaja Jakír or his children visit, since it’s not for me to look upon them, but I catch glimpses of them in the stacks. They are near to my age and twins, two halves of one coin, alike, but different. They remind me of long-legged, graceful deer. Her name is Ishana, and his is Nyan.


Today I wake, full of nervous excitement for our imminent trip. A member of the Cabal recently died in his sleep, so a Night of Wonders will take place. In a few days, we will depart in a convoy. Our destination is a hundred miles through a haunted jungle full of churels. They are spirits who disguise themselves as beautiful women to lure travelers to their death.


As usual, I eat breakfast and hasten to my work in the Library. Darkness awaits me across the threshold, but my vision adjusts to the glow of the ceiling. Dozens of stars and constellations float above me through its magnificent glass dome. I cannot count them all, though it’s wonderful to lie beneath it at night and try. The Library senses my arrival and lights the braziers. Their blue fire gives off no heat and casts shadows across the countless free-standing stacks. The size of this place never ceases to astound me. I have not yet found its end. The books around me whisper in ancient tongues. I understand most of them and often read them after the Librarian leaves for the night, trusting the Library to keep my secret. My master does not know I have the ability to hear the books and I do not dare to tell him.


My bare feet make no sound on the vast golden floor as I make my way through the rows of books and scrolls. My master has had me sorting the east section for the last year. I climb the circular staircase to a walkway where hundreds of stories murmur on their shelves. It’s dangerous to leave them stacked in piles for too long, in case their contents seep into each other. I love to smell and feel them, find them suitable places, and sequester any dangerous ones away from the innocent fairy tales. The contented books often hum as I shelve them. At first, I felt they did not like me, but as I proved myself gentle in how I handled them, they ceased their tricks. They used to disappear and undo all my work.


Suddenly, I hear voices in the lower chamber and creep forward to peer over the polished railing. The Maharaja, Jakír, enters the Library carrying a parcel, followed by his son and the Librarian. From the way my master acts, it must contain a new book… or an ancient one. My fingers tighten around the cloth I use to wipe the shelves, my attention fixed on the parcel as Jakír carries it to the pulpit under the enchanted stained glass window. Its image often changes. Today, it features a six-armed goddess in a garden. I wonder if the scene has anything to do with the book he holds.


My master reaches out to touch the bindings, but Jakír slaps at his hands and unties them himself. The Librarian steps back in respect, but I see a flash of anger on his face. I know the feeling. It is hard to endure abuse, but we have no choice. We are Sudras.


The wrapper falls away to reveal an exquisite manuscript, its blue cover made of dyed calfskin and embossed in golden letters. I hear its magic crackle in the gloom.

“It is The Song of the Apsara,” Jakír says proudly. “A rare find.”


When he opens it, the three men lean forward to examine its intricate illustrations. A foolish desire to climb down the ladder, snatch it from him, and flee with it comes over me. I tighten my grip on the rail until my knuckles turn white. Jakír is a formidable Maharaja, tall and broad-shouldered, impressive in his costly silks. Even if I grabbed it, I would not get ten feet before he stopped me. He is India’s greatest enchanter, invincible because he owns the Library, and the magic stored here gives him great power.

Jakír says, “It sings songs of the celestial court to lure hidden enchanters into the open. None who hears it can resist its allure.”


I believe him. The book has a strange effect on us all. From our dazed expressions, I sense that we all covet it. Its vibrations echo in the back of my skull. My grip tightens until pain shoots up my arm and returns me to my senses. I realize the book is calling to the magic within me and I must stop its siren call. No one can know about me. Frantic to resist temptation, I tear strips off the dust rag and stuff them into my ears, under my turban. Once I can no longer hear it, the urge to take it subsides and I return to my work. By the time the Librarian checks on me in the evening, my progress pleases him. He pats my back and says, “That’s good enough for today. Come and share my meal, Anik.”


No one else uses my name when they address me. I doubt any of them know it. They call me “Sudra,” to remind me of my place.


Our visits in the evening are my favorite time of day. His room is more comfortable than mine, larger and full of many trinkets he collected in his travels. He gave me permission a long time ago to touch them. My fingers stroke the carved figures, in awe of their craftsmanship. They remind me of the small jade elephant left to me by my merchant father. It is very dear to me. My master calls me to the table, where we eat and talk. I laugh at his stories about his eight sisters and read to him as usual, but he seems different tonight. Unsettled. I bid him goodnight and retreat up the stairs to my room. After I carry out my prayers, I curl up and fall asleep.


I awaken abruptly after midnight. The Library has fallen silent. This kind of stillness only happens when something is wrong. I felt it once before, when a thief crept into its stacks. Jakír trusts us to defend his books. The loss of one will earn us a punishment. Every nerve in me alive with tension, I pick up a dagger and creep out my door. A flicker of light in the darkness leads me into the shelves. I descend a flight of stairs and bow to the reliquary at their base. The small jeweled box rests in the lap of a stone idol of a celestial nymph. We call her an apsara. She has a cruel face. The reliquary she guards holds an ancient scroll. My master told me long ago the scroll is what keeps the Library alive. The apsara sends a shiver of fear through me. She gave the Library to the first enchanter. She is its Guardian, its architect, and its soul. It’s best not to disrespect or disturb her image. I wonder if the book the Maharaja brought here today has anything to do with what is happening now. After all, the title is The Song of the Apsara.


After a respectful pause, I slip past her into the shadows, but my dread grows once I enter the quiet stacks. I sense powerful magic, a disturbance in the Library’s balance of authority. I must protect, even sacrifice my life, to prevent the theft of a book, but I cannot use my magic to defend myself. It will betray me even if no one sees it. The knife feels heavy in my hands. Am I ready to wield it?


I hear movement, raise my weapon, and rush around a corner to confront… no one. A ball of light hovers there, its essence casting eerie shapes across the shelves. Sensing I am not alone, I glance around. The Librarian steps out of the darkness. As if he does not see me, he walks past me through the stacks to the niche where The Song of the Apsara rests. I lower my blade and draw near. He halts before the book. I call his name but he does not respond. From the glazed intensity of his stare, I know he hears its siren call. This shocks me. Not once in ten years has he indicated he hears the books. I never suspected him of being a hidden enchanter or of possessing such a gift.


Concerned for his safety, I slip the dagger into my waistband. I reach out to touch his shoulder, but he does not react. “Master?”


“It’s a wretched thing to live in a Library and never own a single book,” he says in an odd voice, low and full of resentment. The volume has taken possession of him. His dark gaze remains riveted on the object of his desire. “I want this one. It calls to me. It does not belong in this place. I shall liberate it from them. From him.”


Contempt for our employer fills his tone. It curdles my blood. I know this isn’t him. The Librarian is no fool. He has handled dangerous books before and knows the risks involved. His ear protection must have fallen out in his sleep. I recall what Jakír said about the book, so I caution him. “You do not want to do this. Come away before anyone sees you.”


He slaps away my hands and reaches for the tome. “I want more than this life, Anik. The magic it contains could give it to me.”


I cannot let him do this...


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