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Uncharted (Arcane America Book 1)
Author:Kevin J. Anderson, Sarah A. Hoyt

Uncharted (Arcane America Book 1)

Kevin J. Anderson, Sarah A. Hoyt

When Halley’s Comet was destroyed above our Earth in May 1759, so was our old way of life, along with the natural science I had studied so intently. The Sundering did just as its name suggests: it sundered the Old World from the New.

This dramatic event created an entirely separate American continent where the laws of magic vie for equal, and sometimes superior, place with the laws of nature. The Sundering created an America where sorcery and science sit in unlikely and uncomfortable partnership. As for Europe…no one knows. That continent is lost to us. The great barrier across the Atlantic has proved impenetrable to all our best efforts, even mine, even now that I control the powers of lightning!

But Europe need not be lost to us forever. The passage east across the ocean appears closed permanently. So, my darling Keira—and any else who read these words—we must consider that the way west may be open! Unknown, yes. Perilous, undoubtedly. But open for anyone who dares to explore.

Ah, would that I were seventy again!

—From The Arcane Autobiography of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Printer, Scientist & Mage

Fire and Parry

My Dear William,

I am writing you to request you join me in a great and exhilarating enterprise. There is no one else I’d rather have at my side than you, and I am thus hastening to tell you before my mind has even ceased reeling.

But first I suppose I should explain how I came to be called to this great mission of discovery. As you might know, I was lately in St. Louis with the charge to discover a medicinal plant said to be a cure-all to the French settlers in that area.

During my visit, the great sorcerer Benjamin Franklin was also due to make an appearance. As you can imagine, I could not resist going to see, if only from a distance, a man of such immense age and such wise learning. Little did I know what I would actually witness. It changed my life forever.

—Letter from Captain Meriwether Lewis to Captain William Clark, St. Louis, February 10, 1803

In the warm sunshine, Meriwether Lewis realized that he should not have worn his greatcoat with its many capes. It wasn’t exactly warm in St. Louis in early February, but it was warm enough to make the icicles drip from the eaves of the great white houses, and the ice that covered the street mud crackle underfoot. As he walked along, swinging his cane, he began to feel too warm.

Of course, the heat he felt might also be due to his excitement.

When he’d come to St. Louis to procure black sage—much mentioned in the correspondence of the French Colonists in this city as being a sovereign remedy against pain when made into tea—he’d never expected this would give him a chance to cross paths with the ancient wizard Ben Franklin himself.

Since the cometary explosion and the magical aftermath that had isolated these American shores from the rest of the world, Ben Franklin had made the sort of name for himself that in other times would have made him a demigod.

Maybe that was true, regardless, with the New World shaking and resonating with all the changed rules of unleashed magic. And Meriwether now had a chance to meet the great man.…

He quaked with trepidation and subdued excitement. As a rational man, he knew it was not likely that Franklin would even notice him. Everywhere the great wizard went, he was surrounded by admirers, well-wishers, sycophants, and those who would be his pupils to learn the arcane sciences. If Meriwether managed to see more of the man than (what remained of) his famously coiffed locks bobbing amid the crowd as the man spoke his famous witticisms, he would be greatly satisfied, even thrilled.

And yet, he felt a strange sense of expectancy.

In the more than forty years since the comet’s arrival and the shift in the world, Meriwether couldn’t say the coming of magic had done much for him. He had been born into it, fifteen years after the change, and so this was the world he had always known since childhood. Perhaps the increased magic had enhanced his ability with herbal healing, which he had learned from his mother in childhood. Or perhaps not. Who could say? He did possess a sense that when he touched a plant he could know what it might do, but how was he to know whether that had always been in this world, even before magic started working? His mother had certainly displayed a similar skill and talked of his grandmother having it, too, which was well before the 1759 return of Mr. Halley’s comet.

But Meriwether had also experienced odd, unnatural dreams from early childhood—the feeling of wings and fire, the portent that something was about to burst forth within him. Though he was a man of twenty-nine now, he still had those dreams, still felt that brooding presence. He both feared it and desired it in a way he could not explain.

The streets here in St. Louis were more spacious than those in the east. Those original American cities had modeled themselves after the cities of Europe, the cramped and crammed-together sort of life one could expect in the weary continent that had birthed and been swallowed by civilization. But in the west, the proportions of sky and land allowed for expansive building such that in many streets three carriages could have driven abreast without danger of collision.

And yet, as he approached the Government House where Franklin was due to speak in a few minutes, Meriwether could barely move through the throngs in the streets. Well-dressed men and women walked cheek to jowl with people in work clothes, all moving in the same direction. Only with the greatest determination could Meriwether make his way to the outer edges of the plaza outside the Government House. Then his progress halted completely.

And so that’s it, he thought, half amused and half exasperated. I should have known it was foolish to hope for even a glimpse of old Franklin, much less dream of making his acquaintance. At least I shall be able to describe to my friends in Virginia the press of people occasioned by an appearance of the great wizard from Philadelphia.

Meriwether debated turning back to escape the overwhelming crowd, which would entail moving against the prevailing flow of people, but he decided to stay here, hoping he might hear some hint of his speech passed back through the crowd, sure that Franklin’s words would be distorted and exaggerated by unreliable listeners.

What he heard instead was a loud scream close up ahead.

At first he took it to be an expression for excitement of the occasion, an overexcited man or a nervous and flighty woman, but he quickly realized that something was genuinely wrong. The scream held too sharp a note, containing too much shock and fear. And then another scream resounded, and another, coming from the other side of the plaza, right across from Government House.

Perhaps the famed wizard had let loose with his notorious electrical magic. Meriwether strained to see above the turmoil of bodies, hats, coats. Then he heard the sound—not the zap of electricity, but more a sound like when the household staff would beat the rugs in spring. It was a flap, flap, as of a great piece of fabric against the air—except the fabric must be truly immense, and the sound was coming straight toward—

Though the bodies were packed together in the St. Louis square, the crowd managed to move like a living thing as people screamed and ran. Caught by surprise, Meriwether swung his arm and his cane to ward off the panicked crowd about to trample him, but he lost his footing and almost went under onto the dirty street.

Thrashing, trying to save himself, he twirled and swung his cane in all directions, forcing the maddened and blind crowd to deviate around him. When he cleared a small space, he barely managed to pick himself up, prodding with his cane to ward off the human stampede.