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Excerpt: Quantum Shadows by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Bestselling author of The Mongrel Mage, L. E. Modesitt, Jr’s Quantum Shadows blends science fiction, myth, and legend in an adventure that pits old gods and new against one another in a far future world.

On a world called Heaven, the ten major religions of mankind each have its own land governed by a capital city and ruled by a Hegemon. That Hegemon may be a god, or a prophet of a god. Smaller religions have their own towns or villages of belief.

Corvyn, known as the Shadow of the Raven, contains the collective memory of humanity’s Falls from Grace. With this knowledge comes enormous power.

When unknown power burns a mysterious black image into the holy place of each House of the Decalivre, Corvyn must discover what entity could possibly have that much power. The stakes are nothing less than another Fall, and if he doesn’t stop it, mankind will not rise from the ashes.

Please enjoy this excerpt of Quantum Shadows, available 7/21/2020.


Great revelation is almost nigh.

You must wait for the raven to fly.

1

 

The three-forked and ornate trident stands etched in luminous black in the polished raven-gray-black stone of the wall, visible even in the darkness, as if a bolt of lightning had flared through the lightless shadows cloaking the study, not penetrating that darkness, except the man at the desk knows that the trident appeared seemingly from nowhere, and that a single long hiss filled the study as the trident made its presence known.

He studies the trident once more. To place such a trident without rendering collateral damage to the study and anyone within required far more power than that available to a mere principality, especially given the less-than-modest shadowshields that cloak his eyrie. But then, quantum transport has always required massive amounts of power.

He stands and moves toward the wall. He stops a meter away, feeling the residual heat as he studies the image, blacker than black, imbued with a light that is not light. He can also sense a residual energy, a faint aura, one unfamiliar to him, which is as one might expect of a great power invading his domain, and the quantum shadows that shield it.

A near-universal symbol, and, not unexpectedly, one with varying degrees of meaning, most of them less than auspicious. Yet an obvious one, and, because of that obviousness, one that easily could have come from at least a third of the Houses of the Decalivre, and therefore, one likely to cause quiet consternation, if not worse.

Much worse.

 

 

Raven watches from his shaded hall

still seeking foreshadows of the Fall.

2

 

In the lightless study, the individual who called himself Corvyn sat behind a plain black table desk. His eyes went to the trident black-etched upon the gray stones of the wall.

Under certain conditions, as he well knew, the so-called color charges represented by quantum chromodynamics, and manifested in the arrival and appearance of the trident’s image, not only could vary in space and time, but could inhibit or undermine the properties of otherwise strong quantum interactions, even structured matter. That should not have been surprising to most people, but most human beings still perceived matter as solid, rather than as what it was—various levels of infinitesimal waveform energy amid vast empty space. And, given certain abilities, those possessed by powers, principalities, hegemons, and a few others, that vast empty space could be treated as and handled like shadows.

All the hegemons of the Decalivre had at least some ability with the shadows, as did others who were not hegemons, of which he was one. Also, with such powers, some hegemons believed they were gods, or some form of deity, while other hegemons, with similar powers, only believed that they were prophets or speakers for a god, while at least one House of the Decalivre had neither a prophet nor a deity. Yet all hegemons were powers with whom Corvyn had dealt and with whom he would have to deal in order to preclude another Fall. And that did not include those with lesser abilities, among them minor powers; greater powers, some of which were called angels; and principalities.

But which of the hegemons might have made such an overt and potentially threatening gesture as planting a trident in stone? Especially in another power’s domain?

His eyes again went to the black impression in the stone as he pondered whether he should do what he planned. Had others sensed what had occurred? From where on the vast and high plateau of Heaven might it have come? Could he relate that trident to what he had alreadymbegun to sense? And what of the other powers?

“Cogito ergo quaero,” he murmured as he gathered the aether into a flat oblong suspended between the desk and the wall, framing what might be called either inquiry or summons, but was neither.

The slight shimmer of the aether remained blank.

He concentrated again, this time, framing the search in terms of the newest loci of power.

Immediately two images formed in the oblong of aether above the desk. In one a dark-haired man stood in the shadows, looking out at those who awaited his performance, an antique instrument that might have been either lutar or lutelin held in his left hand . . .

In the other, the fair-haired figure seated at a shimmering white desk studied the boldly inked words on the parchment before her . . .

Are they the ones who will sing or pen the words that will shape the course of the next great turn, rouse the violent spirits of the age to come from amid the Houses of the Decalivre? Can either burst through the somnolence of satiety, the prurience of prosperity leavened by the stolid corruption of societal solipsism?

Or will they fail as have so many before them? And if they succeed will it usher in a revival . . . or a Fall?

Neither image bore any direct link to the trident etched into the wall. That did not mean that there was no such link. Yet they had appeared immediately after the trident. That meant he needed to watch them.

Will they reveal where other threads of power may lead?

Also important was that neither was in Helios or nearby. That, Corvyn could sense.

Corvyn held the images in the aether a moment longer before letting them dissolve into a shower of sparkling dust motes that vanished as soon as he cleared his thoughts. In turn, the aether vanished as well, since it had only been held there by his force of will, a will conflicted by other images of other times.

So many times since the Fall. The last Fall.

In time, the conflict within him still unresolved, he rose from the chair behind the desk, not bothering to open the window hangings blocking the light, and walked to the study door, opening it and stepping from the darkened study out into the airy corridor flanking the formal dining room. He paused and glanced at the full-length mirror on the wall opposite the now-closed study door. The reflected image was accurate enough—two arms, two legs, one head, short and straight black hair, gray eyes, brown-tinged skin not quite honey-colored, thin lips, and raiment of dark gray, set off by dull-polished black boots and matching belt.

He concentrated slightly, and the image faded into a shadow, then returned as he nodded. With that, he turned right and made his way to the entry hall, his boots barely whispering on the smooth gray stone tiles of the corridor, the entry hall, and, once through the silver-bronze doors and outside, the pillared atrium set between the formal gardens. Beyond the atrium the stone tiles formed a walk to the black ironwork gate that opened inward at Corvyn’s touch.

He stepped out of the shade that cloaked his villa, a shade some called “shadows,” rendering it somehow less than discrete while not denying the solidity of its existence. Pausing momentarily on the wide sidewalk on the west side of the Avenue Pierrot, its smooth white paving stones polished by the noonday light, he noted the reflected light graying the black tunics and trousers of the Skeptics and the unrepentant, while softening the white garments of the few White Faithful who either felt they were doing penance or were trying to convert the unrepentant, if not both, by their presence. Corvyn did not see anyone from Aethena wearing the light green of the Maid, but that was anything but surprising in Helios. Officially this was Ciudad Helios, and sometimes, more colloquially, it was called simply Hel, at least by those in Ciudad Los Santos. Not that there had ever been many of the ancient sainted who had come to Helios since its founding after the forced landing of the Rapture and the days of the almost forgotten First and the scattered survivors of the previous Fall. But then, that was another story, and one that he was disinclined to reflect upon, unless he felt more charitable toward the white sheep and their shepherd than he usually did. As for the other seven Houses of the Decalivre . . . only a few of their inhabitants ever graced the paved streets of Helios. That was not true of the Saints of Nauvoo, although that village of belief was more the size of one of the smaller cities of the Decalivre.

Then, too, the numbers of followers of each House varied over the years, as beliefs shifted, or were shifted by the acts and machinations of the various hegemons.

He glanced up the avenue toward the north end of the city, graced by the black stone villa of Lucian DeNoir, outlined in white light against the pale pink sky of midday, then turned south, heading toward the river. The less he was perceived to have anything do with DeNoir, the better, although it was said DeNoir was every bit as equitable as, and far more flexible than, the White One of Los Santos, whose name was best left unuttered, since names drew notice, if mentioned enough, even of other deities and sometimes of powers and principalities. As for the Maid of Aethena . . . a faint smile crossed Corvyn’s lips before he shook his head.

An omnivan glided by him, the murmurs of conversation covering the faint hum of the motors powered by the solar sheets that shaded the dozen or so passengers seated on the six short-backed benches. Most of them were unrepentants. One, most surprisingly, wore the saffron of a pilgrim from Varanasi, and two were of Jaweau’s faithful.

Here to confirm the existence of the Dark One, no doubt.

Corvyn concentrated, forming aether into the image of a raven, just in front of the eyes of the white-clothed faithful, holding it there until the man stiffened, then letting the raven disintegrate into briefly shining dark particles.

He heard a few of the words. “A raven . . . and it was gone . . . shadow of the Dark One.”

Corvyn smiled briefly. The present incarnation of Lucian had never used darkness, and yet so many, so very many of those living in the cities governed by the Ten and their Houses, still believed that canard, when Lucian’s full name meant just about the opposite. Still, Corvyn wasn’t above exploiting that misbelief. He never had been.

He continued to walk down the Avenue Pierrot, although he could have tapped into the aether and flown, but other lesser powers in Helios might have noticed . . . and taken advantage of knowing his location. Possibly Jaweau and the Maid might have sensed it as well, though neither would have cared, so long as he was not in their cities. But it would have told them, and others, that he had left the eyrie, and Corvyn preferred to be noticed as little as possible. When he was little noticed, he could see and discern more. Also, the hegemons tended to pay less attention to him, which made his long-assigned duties far less difficult.

Besides, walking gave him a better feel for the mood of whatever quarter of the city he was traveling, as well as reinforced his powers in a way that did not bring comparison to those wielded by the Ten. The Skeptics Quarter, which began just south of the eyrie, always felt filled with disbelief, while the Unrepentants Quarter usually held an aura of defiant wistfulness. The location of the eyrie, at the edge of each quarter, always felt right for Corvyn, or at least as right as was possible in Helios, just as Helios was the best of the cities of the Decalivre for Corvyn himself, and for a few others every year, as it had grown, slowly and hopefully, while the populations of some Houses had declined, although not the believers of the White One, or, Corvyn had gathered, those of the Vedic faiths.

As Corvyn approached the next corner, where the Via Excellentia intersected the Avenue Pierrot, he smiled wryly as another omnivan passed, this one solely containing young men and women wearing black trousers and long-sleeved white shirts. His vague amusement faded as he sensed darkness of a different sort. Instead of continuing south, he turned right onto the sunlit via, his eyes and senses alert, scanning the shopfronts that displayed wares behind transparent impermite. A tall woman with flame-red hair eased to one side without seeming to do so as she passed Corvyn, her eyes avoiding his, despite his pleasant smile.

A little more than ten meters ahead of Corvyn, a sun-white- haired child walked down the sidewalk of the side street, small fingers grasping his mother’s hand as she paused to gaze into a window displaying an array of shimmering silk scarves, the kind that captured and held light well into the evening . . . or in a darkened room.

Two shops beyond the windowfront was an unnamed alleyway, and from there issued the darkness Corvyn sensed. He lengthened his stride and moved closer to the woman and the child, who was barely more than a toddler, so that he was only a few meters behind them as they passed the alleyway. As Corvyn had suspected, behind a wavering shadowshield stood two figures, a scrawny youth in faded gray trousers and shirt, wearing a gray hood, and an older man, gnarled in spirit and frame, also in gray. Behind them within the shadowshield, and in fact generating the shield, was a twin electrobike with a cargo carrier.

Before the two could move, Corvyn stepped inside the shadowshield, his eyes on the youth. “You really don’t want to be sent to Lethe . . . or to Limbo, do you?”

The youth blanched at not only the words, but at seeing Corvyn, and likely at the hint of shadow that outlined him, even at noontime.

The gnarled man withdrew, backing away down the sunlit alley, as if he feared not being able to see Corvyn.

“Go.” The single word was enough, and the youth turned and hurried away, not quite at a run.

Corvyn reached out and drew the remaining energy from the electrobike, leaving it stark, visible, and unpowered, leaning up against the stone wall.

A white and tortoise cat sitting in a tiny patch of shade on a first-story windowsill across the alley looked steadily at Corvyn, then blinked her golden eyes twice, before gracefully lifting a paw and licking it, as if to begin her toilette.

Corvyn smiled for a moment, then stepped out of the alley and looked eastward. Mother and child had paused at yet another window. He looked over his shoulder back down the alley. Neither youth nor gnarled man was anywhere in sight.

Copyright © 2020 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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