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Paul Kane has been writing professionally for almost fourteen years. His critically-acclaimed genre journalism has featured in innumerable magazines, and his award-winning short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic, and been collected in a number of volumes. His website, which has featured guest writers such as Stephen King, James Herbert and Neil Gaiman, can be found at www.shadow-writer.co.uk He currently lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife – the author Marie O'Regan – his family, and a black cat called Mina.

Arcana by Paul Kane

In an alternate world where real magic exists, its practitioners are hunted down by police officers called M-forcers. But some groups are fighting back!

Callum McGuire is a new M-forcer who once worked the quiet streets of London. As an orphan, Callum has been brought up to believe that all magic is evil, but the more he sees of The M-forcers' cruel methods (implemented by General Nero Stark, and his second-in-command Sherman Pryce), the more he begins to question whether or not they are right.

And when he unwittingly encounters a member of the rebel group called Arcana, he's introduced to their world and realises that nothing will ever be the same again.

Join award-winning and bestselling author Paul Kane (the sell-out phenomenon Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, the Hooded Man series, and the bestselling Before) as he shows you a kind of magic you've never seen…

CURATOR'S NOTE

There is more than one way for magic to create monsters. Sometimes it is literal, the summoning of terrible creatures. Arcana teaches us that sometimes things can be a little deeper and a lot more sinister. In its attempts to control magic and those who use it, society itself can become monstrous. – Joseph R. Lallo

 

REVIEWS

  • "Wonderfully dark and satisfying."

    – Dark Side Magazine
  • "Kane is best when taking risks with his bizarre flights of imagination."

    – SFX Magazine
  • "Arcana is a hugely entertaining read, a real rollercoaster ride of ups and downs that keep the pages turning until the very end, and another work of high quality from this prolific author."

    – Starburst Magazine
  • "Arcana by Paul Kane, a dark read. In a world where magic users are hunted and executed on the spot simply for being what they are, a young officer tasked with the hunt finds himself in deeper than he ever imagined..."

    – NetGalley Reviewer Matthew Shank, Dallas Public Library
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Prologue

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

Exodus 22:18.

They were all going to die.

But it was for the cause, and they were not only glad to do it—they felt compelled to do it. Their sacrifice would not be in vain, of that he was sure. The man looked up and back towards the rear of the packed bus, past the heads of the other passengers to where his companions were sitting. One, dark-haired with even darker eyes, glanced back, but didn't make it too obvious. The other, bearded and slightly more gaunt, didn't take his eyes off the view passing by: that of the road and the street and the people going about their everyday lives. He didn't know his allies' names, didn't need to: it was easier if you didn't. If you formed any attachments or friendships, they were bound to be short-lived.

He faced forward, gripping his haversack tightly. If the other passengers only knew what was inside. These people who were oblivious to what was going on right under their noses; the war that was being waged. Oh, they knew what they saw on TV and in newspapers, or at least what they were allowed to watch and read. But most of them had no clue about the scale of it. Nor the stakes that were being played for.

Only those involved knew that.

The bus hit a bump in the road and he looked nervously to the bag. A couple sitting diagonally opposite—mid-late twenties, holding hands—had spotted him. More importantly, they'd noted his reaction. He threw them a smile that came out all wrong. They didn't smile back. Do they suspect? he wondered. They couldn't know for certain what was in the bag, but they could certainly mess this whole operation up. One call, one word to someone in a position of authority, and it would all be over. He relaxed when they started kissing, knew only each other, forgetting about him. Good: all was not lost.

Like his comrade, he too looked out of the window now, as their target drew into sight. He saw the three turquoise domes, the expanse of orange-red walls: the architectural equivalent of a building made from children's toy bricks. No one would miss it. In the distance he could see that the car park was full, the different coloured vehicles adding to the illusion that this was just a child's scale model. Would that help to ease his conscience, to think of this as a game? That if you knocked all these wooden people down—knocked this building down—a large pair of hands could simply pick them up and put everything back together again as if nothing had happened?

But this was no game: that had been drilled into him time and time again. This was life and death, and once these people were knocked down there was no way on earth they were getting back up.

The bus finally pulled into the terminal with a hiss, shaking him from his thoughts. The driver turned and said to the passengers, "We're here folks, All Seasons."

The passengers got up out of their blue leather seats and made their way along the aisle towards the front. He let one or two go before standing, picking up his bag, and carrying it out with him. He blended into the crowd and knew that behind him, the other two men were doing the same.

The people leaving the bus met up with more of their kind, and the crowd suddenly swelled, surging forward like a force of nature, taking him along with it. That was all to the good. He was just a single face here in a sea of other faces: black, white, olive-skinned, it didn't make any difference. He risked a quick look over his shoulder but couldn't see his companions. They would be splitting up anyway once they made it to the main entrance.

The crowd took him over a bridge with clear glass sides. The inane chattering almost drove him mad: the weather; what the latest fashions were; which celebrity was sleeping with a toyboy or an older woman. It did little to feed what guilt he might be feeling. If anything it made him happy that he was going to rid the world of at least some of these morons. It would be a better place.

But that wasn't the reason he was here, was it. He should focus, had to get this right or they'd lose their one chance to make a statement.

They were approaching the main gate. Above it was a big sign that read: "Welcome to All Seasons. We hope you enjoy your visit." Not today they won't, he thought. Nobody will enjoy their visit today … It was such an insipid greeting anyway; if a person came here to indulge in whatever pleasures awaited them inside then they deserved everything they got.

He was conscious of the closed-circuit television cameras at the gate, swivelling on their armatures like cyclopean sentinels. He tried to keep his head down as he made his way inside; eager to at least appear part of the group.

There were security men stationed just inside the doors, their white and black uniforms immaculate. All must have passed a height test, because he couldn't see any that were under six foot five. Batons hung by their sides, radios on belts. From beneath peaked caps they surveyed the scene in front of them, eyes slowly gliding from left to right.

He slipped past, doing his best to hide the bag on his back. If any of them saw him, they'd almost certainly ask about it, so he tried to blend in. There was less chance of being caught when he was actually inside the inner sanctum, although he should keep an eye out for anyone who could be an undercover guard.

There were two levels to this place, this one and another below. As he walked in and looked around, the whole building opened up to him. What struck him first was the brightness. Though the turquoise bubbles above let in light from outside, there were row upon row of artificial strip-lights, too. There wasn't a corner the light didn't reach.

Next he saw the shop-fronts advertising their wares: music and DVD/Blu-ray stores with the latest albums and films proudly displayed in their windows; clothes shops with expensive designer suits and dresses modelled by anorexic mannequins with no faces; book stores promoting the most recent autobiography by some footballer or actress that had so obviously been ghost-written; furniture shops with leather sofas in the window and "distressed look" ornaments on coffee tables. The one thing you would not find here in this overblown advert for the consumer society was homeopathic or herbal shops selling pills or homemade soaps guaranteed to make your skin smoother and fresher. No, the chemists had a clear run in this shopping centre: manufactured drugs the only kind you'd find on sale today.

Dotted here and there were plants meant to give the illusion of a natural environment, but he couldn't think of anywhere more false. He would indeed be doing the world a massive favour by obliterating it and those who flocked here.

Innocent men, women and children …

He shook his head. None of them were innocent. And he'd do only what had to be done. The plan was a good one and they would succeed. When the time was right they would strike their blow.

Turning left he made for the west wing of the upper floor, passing the escalators taking people up and down. He almost collided with one of the plants, the leaves making his nose itch as he wafted them away, but he regained his composure quickly. He had to get into position.

He looked at his watch, then at the big round clock which hung above the shoppers as if to signal how much time they had left to live. At precisely one o'clock, he and his friends would detonate the devices they had in their rucksacks, crippling this mall—the biggest in the country—and bringing traffic along the motorway that ran alongside it to a standstill. There was no way anyone would be able to ignore what they'd done here today. He followed the ticking of that clock, the massive second hand making its arc around the face. 12:54, it told him. Right now, his comrades would be taking up their posts, at just the right places: one under a supporting pillar that would bring down a section of the second floor; the other in the packed restaurant section of All Seasons where punters were stuffing their faces with burgers, fries, pizza and hot dogs, washing them all down with fizzy drinks that were rotting their insides. He, on the other hand, would take out the wall facing the motorway itself, ensuring maximum damage and impact. Not long to wait now, not long.

He had the strangest feeling he was being watched.

Looking across, he saw a man in a sports jacket on the other side of the divide, pressing his finger to his ear and talking. The man then glanced up at him and nodded, talking again. Must be a hidden transmitter and receiver. Damn and blast, had he been spotted? A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead, running over his cheek and dripping from his chin to the white, polished floor. He licked his dry lips, aware of how much more suspicious it made him look, but not able to do a thing about this natural human reaction.

Another man joined the first, then a third. The man in the sports jacket was pointing across and nodding. He'd definitely been made. What confirmed it was when he looked down the length of the precinct and saw the uniformed guards from the door approaching.

The clock read 12:56.

Not yet … please, not yet! He began to back up and saw the plainclothes men stiffen. They looked ready to rush him at any moment. But would they be able to reach him in time? That was the question.

12:57.

The jacketed men began running towards him, the other two following closely behind the first. At the same time, the uniformed men sprang forwards, shoving aside shoppers.

12:58.

He couldn't let them stop him. Not now, not when he was so close. He made a break for it, darting towards the escalators. It would throw off the plan to move away from that west wall, but he was left with little choice—if he didn't shift he'd be trapped. At least this way he'd have the space to set off his device, maybe on the escalators themselves.

"Stop!" shouted one of the plain clothes security guards. Needless to say, he didn't listen.

12:59.

Scrambling past the crowds that had hidden him and secured his entry into the mall, he jumped onto the escalator, looking up at the clock. He had to get ready, the rest of his team would be taking action any second now.

"We have the other two," his pursuer shouted. "We've been on to you since you came in. You might as well give up."

No, it wasn't possible! How could they? He waited for the seconds hand to tick round and hit the twelve.

1:00—nothing happened.

He frowned. The man was telling the truth. His brothers had been captured before they'd had a chance to fulfil their destinies. They would not be a part of history now. But while he still had his bag—which he was shrugging off his back—there was time for him to act out his part. He felt a hand on his shoulder and spun round. One of the uniformed security men was behind him, baton drawn. Instinctively, he pushed the security guard backwards. The man's feet caught the edge of one of the escalator steps and he fell over the rail, plunging to the ground below.

There were more guards waiting at the bottom of the escalator. Shoppers, aware now that something was happening, were fleeing from the area like frightened wildebeest. Those people on the moving staircase on either side were giving him space. The guards below were beginning to climb the escalator. Soon they'd stop him, grab the bag and wrestle him to the ground. He couldn't let that happen.

He opened the bag and reached inside. There was a faint glow from its interior.

One of the guards climbed over a cowering shopper in an effort to reach his target. They were too late. He took out the pulsating globe, mesmerised for a moment by its blue-greenness. The bag slid out of his grasp. There were crackles of energy inside the ball, like tiny lightning strikes against clouds. He looked straight at the guards and said: "For Arcana. For freedom!"

Then he crushed the sphere with his bare hands, the resultant blast spraying over him like molten lava.

And All Seasons shone even more brightly for a few seconds.

#

Illuminated by the glow of the single gas-lamp, the gnarled hand reached out for the deck of cards.

These were stacked neatly to his left. The old man picked them up with some difficulty, but when they were actually in his hands they seemed to have a life of their own. When the man—his eyes as white as his thin, wispy hair—smiled, he showed the stumps of his yellowed teeth. He began to shuffle the deck, the painted surfaces on both sides flashing momentarily, showing a glimpse of the pictures, of the decorative pattern on the backs. But only a glimpse.

His first step was to pick out a significator. He did this now, spreading the deck on the table face up and running his fingers across each card until he found the one he wanted. He didn't look at the deck when he did this; didn't need to. It was as though his fingertips were doing the seeing for him. He picked up the card in question: it depicted a figure in a suit of armour charging across the landscape on horseback. In spite of the way the card looked, he knew the figure's mission wasn't warlike. In one hand the young man carried a piece of wood with a handful of leaves still attached. It became clear what the stick was when he "looked" down at the name of the card: The Knight of Wands.

Gathering the rest of the deck, he placed the card he'd picked face up in the middle of the table. The young man in the picture stared at him, and if he'd been able to the old man would have stared back. But his eyes were long past seeing, at least in the conventional sense of the word.

He shuffled and cut the pack three times, keeping the cards face down. The old man remained silent, as if pondering some great question. Then he overturned the first card and laid it on top of the Knight, covering it completely. A third card was produced, which he placed lengthways over these. He then lay cards to the north, south, east and west of the original trio, before placing four cards like a tower alongside, from top to bottom, in what was commonly known as a Celtic spread.

Returning to the first cards chosen, he studied them closely. The one he'd covered the significator with, he knew, represented the general atmosphere around the person he was focussing on. It showed a hand emerging from a cloud and cupping a pentagram, which was itself encircled. The old man nodded sagely. The Ace of Pentacles. A time for the realisation of goals.

The second card signified the obstacle to these: a picture this time of a small child on horseback at the bottom, with the smiling face of the sun at the top. A time of change, of new beginnings.

Next he went to the northern card in the spread, to discover that which had not yet happened but surely would. He found a picture of a young woman, blinded (not like himself, but instead with a blindfold) standing bound at the shore's edge with a row of swords behind her. Eight swords to be precise. It was upside down. A time of disquiet, treachery, difficulty … even hopelessness, the old man silently mused.

At the south he found the root of this problem: The King of Swords himself. Again, the card was upside down, the King sitting on his throne holding his sword downwards instead of aloft. Its nature was cruelty, barbarity and evil intent.

The eastern card now, and that was meant to illustrate what was happening right that minute. This one showed a sculptor engraving pentacles on stone circles with a chisel. Working away intently, reflecting the fact that whoever this person was, he was focussing on laying the foundations of future success. Or thought he was.

To the west, the old man "saw" a card he knew all too well. It showed a man with a figure of eight symbol on its side, hovering above his head. He was holding up a candle with the other symbols of the deck in front of him on the table: the pentagram, the cup, the sword and wand … all within his grasp. This was the future, the old man realised. And the name of the card: The Magician.

It made him pause, that one—the possibilities of it not wasted on the old man. The ramifications so great they practically made him shudder. So much power, but how would it be wielded? For good, or for evil?

He moved on to the four cards in the tower on his right. The bottom one again related to the person in question's current state. The picture was of a hand emerging from a cloud again, this time holding the same kind of stick the Knight had, complete with leaves. The Ace of Wands meant there was a focus on achieving potential, yet still a chance to be open to new possibilities. The blind man nodded again; that was a positive sign.

Above this was The Devil: a horned creature with wings and hairy legs, holding court over chained demons; one in the form of a man, the other a woman. This card normally related to the influences at work on the querent—signifying they were involved in a negative situation, and their ability to remove themselves was being prevented by clouded judgement. Whether they would be able to in the future was unclear at this time. But the picture was also symbolic in another way. These were the three characters who would be at the heart of this story. The key to it all revolving around a figure who might well lay claim to the title of Satan himself.

On to the next one: hopes and fears. Again he paused, knowing this card intimately as well. It brought back memories of someone's face, someone he'd lost so long ago. The card depicted two figures, male and female: both naked, to show their innocence and youth. A comparison could be made with Adam and Eve, and indeed it had been in the past when considering The Lovers. A focus on matters of the heart, to help in times of great difficulty. Attraction, beauty, romance … it meant all of these things, yes. But, as the saying went, the course of true love never did run smooth. Nor would it this time. The old man also sensed this would be tied in to a choice of some kind.

The final card was the one that struck terror into the hearts of the uninitiated, a skeletal figure on horseback. One of the apocalyptic visions, Death rode across a landscape of ragged rock. Falling beneath Death's horse, the old man saw a king, a maiden and a child. Nearby, a man of the church was praying. In the far distance, a beacon of hope: the sun of immortality shining between two towers. The seer knew the Death card did not necessarily mean what some thought. Chiefly, it denoted endings and beginnings, a stage in one's life drawing to a close, making way for another.

It was then that his meditations were interrupted by the sound of footsteps close by. A teenage boy bringing news, skidding to a stop at the doorway, completely out of breath.

The old man smiled and waved him in. "There is word, Gavin?" he asked.

"There is, Master. It's all over the news, the stations are running reports. They didn't manage to destroy the building, two were captured before they could act. But one—"

"One evaded them long enough to discharge his mission. Yes, I know."

"How did—" Gavin began, then remembered who he was talking to.

The old man steepled his fingers and pressed them to his lips. "There were many injured, many killed."

Gavin nodded. He knew that although the old man's milky eyes no longer functioned, they still saw everything. Saw him, even though he was standing some way behind.

The old man picked up the last card. Perhaps there was more to its meaning this time than simply the symbolic. There had been a great many deaths, with yet more to come.

"Tell the others," said the old man.

"Master?"

The seer turned to face him, and that cold vision made Gavin shiver. "Tell them it is time."

Gavin still looked puzzled so the old man added theatrically: "Tell them it has begun." Then, as Gavin watched, he covered the card with his other hand, and it promptly vanished.

As surely as if it had never been there at all.