Quantum Shadows - Tor/Forge Blog



Once a Poet….by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., author of Quantum Shadows

Image Placeholder of - 33L. E. Modesitt, Jr. is a force within the science fiction and fantasy community, but did you know his first dream was poetry? Check him out as he discusses his journey below!

As I’ve said before, although I’m known by most as a fantasy author, I never set out to be a fiction author at all. From my early teens I wanted to be a poet. In college, I was even fortunate enough to study with the late William J. Smith, who went on to become the U.S. Poet Laureate. But I never got beyond publication in small literary magazines, at least partly because I believe that rhyme and meter are an integral part of poetry, a belief not particularly fashionable in poetry venues, especially back then.

In my late twenties, after finishing my tour as a Navy pilot, failing as an industrial economist and as a real estate agent, I decided to try to write science fiction, not fantasy, and “hard” science fiction at that. I was moderately successful, if selling eight short stories, out of close to sixty submissions, over six years can be called “success.” Ben Bova changed that, by rejecting yet another story for ANALOG and refusing to look at any future stories until I wrote a novel. With that semi-dismal beginning, I wrote The Fires of Paratime, and so far, I’ve sold every novel I’ve written, thanks to Ben’s sage advice, but I didn’t give up on poetry.

For a fiction author, even a science fiction and fantasy writer, I have a lot of poetry in my work. My latest book – Quantum Shadows – even has the subtitle “Forty-Five Ways of Looking at a Raven.” That’s a double reference, both to the number of chapters in the book, and to the forty-five couplets or quatrains about a raven which precede each chapter. It’s also an oblique reference and metaphorical tip of Corvyn’s stedora to the poet Wallace Stevens, and his famed “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Quantum Shadows may be my most obvious use of poetry, but it’s far from the only one. My very first novel, later reprinted in its original version by Tor as The Timegod, contains a drinking song that the protagonist declares is terrible doggerel. And he’s right, not because I wrote it, but because it was written as such. Most drinking songs are in fact awful rhymed doggerel. Song and music are integral parts of human culture, and some of the oldest human artifacts are bone flutes, yet very few F&SF novels contain songs or musical references, particularly those written until recently, but songs can tell the reader about a culture as well as about the singer.

As a side note, one of my pet peeves about the portrayal of songs by (some) writers is when they offer lyrics or partial lyrics and there’s no rhyme or meter. Anything with an oral and/or aural tradition requires both. When I pointed this out to one writer, who shall remain nameless, that writer said, “Well, I’m translating from their language. It doesn’t have to rhyme.” To me, that’s a lame excuse. If a writer can’t even come up with a couplet to get the message across… they shouldn’t even try. Write around it, but don’t pretend that clunky words are a song.

Until the last century or so in human history there has been a close linkage between poetry and music. While this tradition continues in classical art song literature, “modern” poetry has become much more the use of words to create striking effects, unrelated or only marginally related to rhyme and meter, while the only “popular” linkage of rhymed and metered words and music, particularly in western culture, appears to be rap.

Because I believe that most cultures, particularly lower-tech cultures, will link words and music, readers will find original song lyrics throughout my books, in those places where the songs further the story. Overall, the majority of songs appear in the Saga of Recluce, invariably in ordered cultures (those dominated by ordermages, also termed “black” mages), which shouldn’t be surprising, because music is ordered and highly structured, both of which are hard on chaos-mages (also known as “whites”).

But there’s also free-standing poetry. Magi’i of Cyador and Scion of Cyador are linked to each other and to the past of the Cyadoran empire by an imbedded book of poetry passed down to one of the protagonists, and the main character – Lorn – often reads sections of those poems and reflects on them and how they relate to his situation and to the past. The book is also a plot point. For those interested, the origin of the book is revealed in “The Vice-Marshal’s Trial,” which is the first story in Recluce Tales, and the role the book plays in Cyadoran history is revealed in another story – “The Choice.” Another story in Recluce Tales – “Songs Past, Songs of Those to Come” – portrays the role of song in leading to the fall of Westwind and the rise of the isle of Recluce.

The continuity of culture and the role of song in that continuity, particularly in lower tech societies, is often overlooked by writers, with the notable exception of Anne McCaffrey and her harpers and crystal singers. That continuity is something I’ve tried to portray in the Recluce Saga where the songs crafted by Nylan and Ayrlyn in Fall of Angels show up in later time periods.

In Endgames, the last book of The Imager Portfolio, because the two main characters are limited in their conduct and behavior around each other, they write to each other, commenting on poems from a book of verse, each in order to learn more about the other. The poems which they choose aren’t “generic.” They use phrases and references to the history of Solidar, its beliefs and myths, and its cultures, present and past, which, to me, adds a depth to that society.

And, because I believe poetry is indeed universal, songs soothe the widowed Ecktor deJanes in the far future Earth of Adiamante, and Archform:Beauty, although a future high-tech mystery thriller, ends with a poem… and flowers.


L. E. Modesitt, Jr. is the author of Quantum Shadows, on sale from Tor Books now.

Buy Quantum Shadows Here:

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On the (Digital) Road: Tor Author Events in July

We are in a time of social distancing, but your favorite Tor authors are still coming to screens near you in the month of July! Check out where you can find them here:

Katherine Addison (The Angel of the Crows) and Jo Walton (Or What You Will)

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Tuesday, July 7
A Room of One’s Own, authors in conversation
8:00 PM ET

Katherine Addison, The Angel of the Crows

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Thursday, July 2
Schuler Books
7:00 PM CT

Monday, July 6
Magers & Quinn
Facebook Live
7:00 PM CT

John Scalzi, The Last Emperox

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Wednesday, July 8
In conversation with Sarah Gailey and Michael Zapata
3:00 PM ET

Jo Walton, Or What You Will

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Friday, July 10
Argo Bookshop
7:00 PM ET

Ryan Van Loan, The Sin in the Steel


Tuesday, July 14
Tor After Dark
Instagram Live
7:00 PM ET

S. A. Hunt (I Come With Knives), Alaya Dawn Johnson (Trouble the Saints), and Ryan Van Loan (The Sin in the Steel)


Monday, July 20
Loyalty Books
6:00 PM ET

L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Quantum Shadows


Tuesday, July 21
Borderlands Bookstore
7:00 PM PT

Mary Robinette Kowal, The Relentless Moon


Tuesday, July 14
Parnassus Bookstore: Book Launch Party with Anthony Rapp
6:00 PM CT

Wednesday, July 15
Anderson’s Books, in conversation with representative from Adler Planetarium
Register here
7:00 PM CT

Thursday, July 16
Brookfield Library
7:00 PM CT

Saturday, July 18
Interabang Books: Dallas Library FanCentral guest appearance
Zoom and Facebook Live
1:00 PM CT

Saturday, July 18
Quail Ridge Books in conversation with Katie Mack
7:00 PM ET

Tuesday, July 21
Worldbuilder’s Charity, signing livestream
2:00 PM ET

Tuesday, July 21
Tor After Dark
Instagram Live
7:00 PM ET

Monday, July 27
The King’s English Bookshop, in conversation with Martha Wells
8:00 PM ET

Tuesday, July 28
Old Firehouse Books
9:00 PM ET

Wednesday, July 29
Left Bank Books
7:00 PM CT

Kit Rocha, Deal with the Devil


Friday, July 24
Loyalty Bookstore, author chat with Alyssa Cole, MIla Vane/Meljean Brook
Register here

Tuesday, July 28
The Ripped Bodice, Reading / Q&A
Facebook Live

Wednesday, July 29
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, Reading / Q&A with Jacqueline Carey
Instagram Live
7:00 PM PT

Friday, July 31
Love’s Sweet Arrow, Reading / Q&A with Beverly Jenkins
8:00 PM ET

Kate Elliott, Unconquerable Sun


Tuesday, July 7
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, in conversation with N. K. Jemisin
Instagram Live
7:00 PM PT

Wednesday, July 15
Astoria Bookshop in conversation with Ken Liu
7:00 PM ET

Alaya Dawn Johnson, Trouble the Saints


Tuesday, July 28
Historical Novel Society Presents: “Story Telling as Advocacy”
Register Here
6:00 PM ET

Ferrett Stenmetz, Automatic Reload


Tuesday, July 28
Cuyahoga County Library, Reading / In-Conversation / Q&A
Facebook Live

Thursday, July 30
Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop
7:00 PM ET

Friday, July 31
Borderlands Books

Daniel Kraus, The Living Dead


Tuesday, July 28
Tor After Dark
Instagram Live
7:00 PM ET


Every Tor Book Coming This Summer

It’s almost time for summer weather and that means…SUMMER BOOKS! Due to COVID-19, we shuffled some of our on sale dates around, so check here for the most up to date list of when you can get your hands on some of the most highly anticipated books of the season:

June 16

The Unconquered CityPoster Placeholder of - 96 by K. A. Doore

Seven years have passed since the Siege—a time when the hungry dead had risen—but the memories still haunt Illi Basbowen. Though she was trained to be an elite assassin, now the Basbowen clan act as Ghadid’s militia force protecting the resurrected city against a growing tide of monstrous guul that travel across the dunes. Illi’s worst fears are confirmed when General Barca arrives, bearing news that her fledgling nation, Hathage, also faces this mounting danger. How much can she sacrifice to protect everything she knows from devastation?

GloriousPlaceholder of  -40 by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Audacious astronauts encounter bizarre, sometimes deadly life forms, and strange, exotic, cosmic phenomena, including miniature black holes, dense fields of interstellar plasma, powerful gravity-emitters, and spectacularly massive space-based, alien-built labyrinths. Tasked with exploring this brave, new, highly dangerous world, they must also deal with their own personal triumphs and conflicts.

June 23

Place holder  of - 85The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent. Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

June 30

Image Placeholder of - 96Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe

E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person, his personality an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human. As such, Smithe can be loaned to other branches. Which he is. Along with two fellow reclones, a cookbook and romance writer, they are shipped to Polly’s Cove, where Smithe meets a little girl who wants to save her mother, a father who is dead but perhaps not. And another E.A. Smithe… who definitely is.

July 7

Image Place holder  of - 62Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared. But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.

Or What You Will by Jo Walton

He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god. But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. But Sylvia won’t live forever, any more than any human does. And he’s trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.

Little Brother & Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s two New York Times-bestselling novels of youthful rebellion against the torture-and-surveillance state – now available in a softcover omnibus


July 14

In the Kingdom of All Tomorrows by Stephen R. Lawhead

Conor mac Ardan is now clan chief of the Darini. Tara’s Hill has become a haven and refuge for all those who were made homeless by the barbarian Scálda. A large fleet of the Scálda’s Black Ships has now arrived and Conor joins Eirlandia’s lords to defeat the monsters. He finds treachery in their midst…and a betrayal that is blood deep. And so begins a final battle to win the soul of a nation.

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowl

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

July 21

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Phyllis LeBlanc has given up everything—not just her own past, and Dev, the man she loved, but even her own dreams. Still, the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she keeps in her heart. And so Phyllis will have to make a harrowing choice, before it’s too late—is there ever enough blood in the world to wash clean generations of injustice?

 The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan

Buc and Eld are the first private detectives in a world where pirates roam the seas, mages speak to each other across oceans, mechanical devices change the tide of battle, and earthly wealth is concentrated in the hands of a powerful few. It’s been weeks since ships last returned to the magnificent city of Servenza with bounty from the Shattered Coast. Disaster threatens not just the city’s trading companies but the empire itself. When Buc and Eld are hired to investigate, Buc swiftly discovers that the trade routes have become the domain of a sharp-eyed pirate queen who sinks all who defy her.

Quantum Shadows by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. 

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.

Uranus by Ben Bova

Humans can’t live on the gas giants, making instead a life in orbit. Kyle Umber, a religious idealist, has built Haven, a sanctuary above the distant planet Uranus. He invites ”the tired, the sick, the poor“ of Earth to his orbital retreat where men and women can find spiritual peace and refuge from the world. The billionaire who financed Haven, however, has his own designs: beyond the reach of the laws of the inner planets Haven could become the center for an interplanetary web of narcotics, prostitution, even hunting human prey.

I Come With Knives by S. A. Hunt

Robin – now armed with new knowledge about mysterious demon terrorizing her around town, the support of her friends, and the assistance of her old witch-hunter mentor – plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all. Robin must handle new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

July 28

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Nina is an information broker with a mission—she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America. Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive. They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…Or they could do the impossible: team up.

The Baron of Magister Valley by Steven Brust

The salacious claims that The Baron of Magister Valley bears any resemblance to a certain nearly fictional narrative about an infamous count are unfounded (we do not dabble in tall tales. The occasional moderately stretched? Yes. But never tall). Our tale is that of a nobleman who is betrayed by those he trusted, and subsequently imprisoned. After centuries of confinement, he contrives to escape and prepares to avenge himself against his betrayers. A mirror image of The Count of Monte Cristo, vitrolic naysayers still grouse? Well, that is nearly and utterly false.

Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz

Meet Mat, a tortured mercenary who has become the perfect shot, and Silvia, and idealistic woman genetically engineered to murder you to death. Together they run for the shadiest corporation in the world… and realize their messed-up brain chemistry cannot overpower their very real chemistry.

August 4

The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come. Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead. We think we know how this story ends. We. Are. Wrong.

Space Station Down by Ben Bova and Doug Beason

When an ultra-rich space tourist visits the orbiting International Space Station, NASA expects a $100 million win-win: his visit will bring in much needed funding and publicity. But the tourist venture turns into a scheme of terror. Together with an extremist cosmonaut, the tourist slaughters all the astronauts on board the million-pound ISS—and prepares to crash it into New York City at 17,500 miles an hour, causing more devastation than a hundred atomic bombs. In doing so, they hope to annihilate the world’s financial system.

Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund

Driven from her kingdom, the would-be queen now seeks haven in the land of her mother, but Ashlyn will not stop until justice has been done. Determined to unlock the secret of powers long thought impossible, Ashlyn bends her will and intelligence to mastering the one thing people always accused her of, sorcery. Meanwhile, having learned the truth of his mutation, Bershad is a man on borrowed time. Never knowing when his healing powers will drive him to a self-destruction, he is determined to see Ashlyn restored to her throne and the creatures they both love safe.

A Chorus of Fire by Brian D. Anderson

A shadow has moved across Lamoria. Whispers of the coming conflict are growing louder; the enemy becoming bolder. Belkar’s reach has extended far into the heart of Ralmarstad and war now seems inevitable. Mariyah, clinging to the hope of one day being reunited with Lem, struggles to attain the power she will need to make the world safe again.Lem continues his descent into darkness, serving a man he does not trust in the name of a faith which is not his own. Only Shemi keeps his heart from succumbing to despair, along with the knowledge that he has finally found Mariyah. But Lem is convinced she is being held against her will, and is determined to free her, regardless the cost.

August 11

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Baru’s enemies close in from all sides. Baru’s own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world’s riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize. If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

The Last Uncharted Sky by Curtis Craddock

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste. But Isabelle, as a result from a previous attack that tried to subsume her body and soul, suffers from increasingly disturbing and disruptive hallucinations. Disasters are compounded when the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent, and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition.

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

Everyone thinks they know the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. The fact is they don’t know sh*t.

Arthur? An over-promoted gangster. Merlin? An eldritch parasite. Excalibur? A shady deal with a watery arms dealer. Britain? A clogged sewer that Rome abandoned just as soon as it could.

The Shadow Commission by David Mack

November 1963. Cade and Anja have lived in hiding for a decade, training new mages. Then the assassination of President Kennedy trigger a series of murders whose victims are all magicians—with Cade, Anja, and their allies as its prime targets. Their only hope of survival: learning how to fight back against the sinister cabal known as the Shadow Commission.

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

A young man in his teens is transported from our world to a magical realm consisting of seven levels of reality. Transformed by magic into a grown man of heroic proportions, he takes the name Sir Able of the High Heart and sets out on a quest to find the sword that has been promised to him, the blade that will help him fulfill his ambition to become a true hero—a true knight. Inside, however, Sir Able remains a boy, and he must grow in every sense to survive what lies ahead…

August 25

The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever. To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Terminally ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she’ll be damned if she loses her future. Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and find a cure. When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony, Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.


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

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Image Place holder  of - 81Bestselling 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.



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.



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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